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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 7, 2022

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 7, 2022

by Tony Wikrent


Restoring balance to the economy

Becoming the Workers’ Party Again

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), August 5, 2022 [The American Prospect]

…A toxic combination of shareholder capitalism and pliant politicians gutted our middle class, hollowed out our towns, and dried up opportunity for people outside big coastal cities and people without college degrees or inherited wealth.

And it upended our politics…. The “blue wall” was crumbling. Between 2012 and 2020, Democrats lost nearly 2.6 million votes in small and midsized towns in Ohio and the Midwest. A recent report sheds light on how it happened—and what progressives can do to fix it….

The people I grew up with knew that Republicans would sell them out to corporations—Bush negotiating NAFTA, Gingrich fighting to bring China into the WTO, Trump granting corporate tax breaks. That surprised no one.

But many Democrats’ active encouragement of the corporate outsourcing agenda came as a shocking betrayal. Those decisions stung much worse coming from the party of Roosevelt—the party that for generations these workers had trusted to be on their side.


Stealing America Back From the Right

The American Prospect, August 1, 2022]

In this excerpt of the latest bonus episode, the hosts interview New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie about reclaiming American traditions and institutions from conservative Republicans who want to destroy them.



The new pandemic

Monkeypox vaccinations in Africa would have spared the whole world from this emergency
[Quartz, August 3, 2022]

[TW: Back in the mid-1980s, a number of times I joined a small and forlorn groups of activists  protesting in front of the World Bank building in DC. One of our points was that if the IMF and the World Bank were not stopped from imposing “conditionalities” (austerity) on developing countries, the resulting economic carnage would literally turn those countries into petri dishes for the evolution and emergence of new and ever more deadly pandemic diseases. 

We also warned that the consequences of Henry Kissinger’s December 1974 National Security Study Memorandum 200 “Implications of Worldwide Population Growth. For U.S. Security and Overseas Interests” (pdf) would be deadly for USA and Europe, not just the developing countries targeted by Kissinger for destablization and depopulation. ]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 8-3-2022]



Global power shift as USA and west commit suicide by neoliberalism

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-2022]



China’s C919 poised to challenge Boeing, Airbus 

[Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 8-4-2022]


The U.S. made a breakthrough battery discovery — then gave the technology to China 

[NPR, via The Big Picture 8-6-2022]

Department of Energy officials declined NPR’s request for an interview to explain how the technology that cost U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars ended up in China. After NPR sent department officials written questions outlining the timeline of events, the federal agency terminated the license with the Chinese company, Dalian Rongke Power Co. Ltd.


FBI investigation determined Chinese-made Huawei equipment could disrupt US nuclear arsenal communications 

[CNN, via The Big Picture 7-31-2022]

Multiple sources familiar with the investigation say there’s no question the Huawei equipment has the ability to intercept not only commercial cell traffic but also the highly restricted airwaves used by the military and disrupt critical US Strategic Command communications, giving the Chinese government a potential window into America’s nuclear arsenal.


China’s 7nm chip surprise reveals more than Beijing might like 

[The Register, via Naked Capitalism 8-2-2022]

“The 7nm process is a copy of the N7 node TSMC put into mass production four years ago. China has had access to any number of ex-TSMC engineers and is spending infinite money to play chip catch-up, so the existence of a cloned fab still two cycles behind earns a ‘well done, I guess’ by itself.”


Intel Cuts Fab Buildout by $4B To Pay Billions In Dividends

[Semianalysis, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-2022]

NC contributor adds: “It’s a disgrace that Intel has decided to cut fab buildouts while begging the US government for subsidies through the chips act and committing to growing their dividend.”



China’s Solution: The rise of China’s networked state (through the lens of Wang Huning)

John Robb [via Naked Capitalism 8-4-2022]

To understand China’s approach to the networked state, we need to start with the thinking of its architect, Wang Huning. Wang is:

  • Xi Jinping’s (President/Chairman/General Secretary of China for life) closest


  • The author of China’s future economic, social and technological plans.
  • Seen as a founding father of modern China (Hugh Hewitt: “roll Hamilton,

    Jefferson and Madison together, and that approaches Wang’s stature in China.)  ….

Here are the elements of the US ‘control system’ Wang focused on:

Commercial commodification. He concludes (rightly) that a large modern society is too complex for a government to rule centrally. The commercial commodification of critical systems (housing, health care, food, etc.) creates a self-organizing platform that lightens the load on government decision-making.

Tradition. He concludes that the US is conservative (slow to change) in its approach to values and that it has found a way to turn its short history into traditions and commonalities that support an enduring civil religion that grounds the conduct of individuals (implication: this design reduces the burden on the government to maintain stability). This system stabilizes the US, allowing it to freely embrace technological and material innovations that would swamp other nations of a similar size. Due to this system’s design, technological and material innovations don’t damage the nation’s core values; they enriched them (Wang: in contrast, “the culture of some societies… are unified with all kinds of things related to values, which often tend to constrain technological and material progress”).

Individualism. The US focus on individuality drives technological and material innovation. Novelty creation is a method of differentiating individuals and the basis of social recognition. As long as the US values individualism, it will continue to produce the novelties that drive technological and material progress.

Decentralization. Political decentralization, from independent state governments and a plethora of local governments, allows adaptation to complex challenges created by rapid technological and material advances. This structure enables the US to experiment with adaptations because it serves as a brake on changes in values that may destabilize society. Additionally, the proliferation of decentralized religious and non-conforming social groups (Amish, etc.) also slows changes in social values that have the potential to create instability. Wang notes that despite its decentralized political structure, a unified commercial commodification platform — travel, communications, computers, etc. — keeps the US unified.


Nancy Pelosi, China and the Slow Decline of the U.S. Military 

Matt Stoller [via Naked Capitalism 8-4-2022]

The defense base has shrunk in dangerous ways, mostly because defense contractors have consolidated power. A few members of Congress are trying to fix the problem.


Oligarchs’ war on the experiment of republican self-government

Londongrad is Falling Down: Inside London’s Struggle to Wean Itself From Russian Billions

[Vanity Fair, via The Big Picture 8-5-2022]

Some say the uproar over sanctions unfairly targets elite U.K. citizens. Others are skeptical an oligarch diet can last.


How the Elites Use Identity Politics to Wage Class War 

[CounterPunch, via Naked Capitalism 8-6-2022]


When The Profit Motive Is Unnecessary Or Harmful

Ian Welsh, August 3, 2022

Markets are good for some activities, but for others they are actively harmful. There are a lot of jobs that people want to do, and all you have to do is give them a decent salary and whatever tools are necessary and they’ll work hard. A good example is curing cancer, or, indeed, most medical research. People love the idea of helping people and saving lives. As long as they know that if they do cure whatever it is they can move on to curing something else (ie. their economic welfare is not dependent on not solving the problem) they’ll bust their asses.

On the other hand, if the profit motive is involved, some problems don’t get solved. If you’re a pharmaceutical company, you don’t want to cure diseases: you want to sell a pill or shot or treatment that people have to take over and over again. You want to develop palliatives, not cures. Using for profit companies to try and cure something, including Covid, is deranged: it would cost them hundreds of billions of future profits if they actually cured the plague or cancer, or anything else.

This is also why, when they do come up with actual cures, they price them massively high. After all, you only get to sell a cure once to each patient.


Are Our Elites Starting To Get It? 

Ian Welsh, August 1, 2022

Elites finally seem to be starting to understanding that climate change is serious and that the rich are out of control. I think that the rich will come to regret the Russian oligarch sanctions hunt, because it taught everyone how easy it actually is to take everything from rich people, a lesson of the post-war era which has been forgotten because most who remember it are old or dead.


The Kleptocrat Who Bankrolled Rudy Guiliani’s Dive for Dirt on Biden

Casey Michel [August 4, 2022 [The New Republic]

For the past few years, as Rudy Giuliani gallivanted around the world looking for any kind of conspiracy that could help then-President Donald Trump remain in office, one question hung over Giuliani’s rambles: Who actually paid for his travels?

Thanks to a report in this week’s New York Times, we have a better idea. Giuliani’s paymaster wasn’t his client, nor was it any of the other Americans in the conspiratorial cabal working to help Trump steal the 2020 election. Instead, Rudy’s benefactor was the pro-Putin oligarch who stood at the center of Trump’s first impeachment—and who arguably stood to gain most by Trump retaining the White House: Dmitro Firtash.


Who’s Shocked that Kyrsten Sinema Went to Bat for Hedge-Funders?

Timothy Noah, August 5, 2022 [The New Republic]


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

We blitzed it [Oil geopolitics]

[London Review of Books, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-2022]

Disorder: Hard Times in the 21st Century
by Helen Thompson.
Oxford, 384 pp., £20, February, 978 0 19 886498 1

The price of oil follows three benchmarks: Brent, Dubai and West Texas Intermediate…. Although the benchmarks track the current (or spot) price of oil, they are affected by the far more financially significant futures contracts, whose rise and fall are reflected in spot prices. Futures and options contracts incorporate political, economic, climatic and social risks in calculating the future price of a contracted commodity and allow speculators to wager on the direction of futures prices via derivative financial instruments. The volume of futures and options trade in energy on the New York Mercantile Exchange can reach 1.5 million contracts a day, with each contract representing a thousand barrels of oil: orders of magnitude more than the three to five million barrels a day produced in West Texas.

In spring 2020, even though the price was falling, oil was still being pumped out, since it’s difficult to shut down an active well without damaging its capacity to produce. Commodity traders took advantage by buying the oil cheap and storing it in tankers at sea. The lower the price fell, the higher the charter price of hydrocarbon carriers rose, and even old rust-buckets were brought out of mothballs. In the US, meanwhile, pipelines were still carrying oil to storage facilities in Oklahoma that were already near capacity, and on 20 April traders began to dump their futures contracts rather than take delivery of oil they had nowhere to store. In Benfleet in Essex, a dozen independent traders assembled by a pit trader known as ‘Cuddles’ forced the price crash by flooding the futures markets at the rate of 153.5 contracts a minute. The price of West Texas Intermediate plunged to -$37.63. When it recovered to $10 the next day, the Essex Boys, as Bloomberg dubbed them, made $700 million. Court records show the jubilant traders celebrating their windfall on WhatsApp: ‘We pushed each other so hard for years for this one moment … And we fucking blitzed it boys. Please don’t tell anyone what happened today lads.’

Futures contracts for oil are relatively recent innovations, introduced in 1983 and 1986 for West Texas Intermediate and Brent respectively. Financialisation of the trade in hydrocarbons followed hard on the heels of the nationalisation of Middle Eastern oil during the 1970s… financialisation – unmooring trade from the physical delivery of the commodity – helped to make up for the Euro-American loss of ownership of oilfields….

The final section focuses on the causes of the long-term decline of democracy in the US, Britain and Europe. Thompson suggests this was effectively preordained, since in her view postwar democratisation and the welfare state had their roots not in popular struggles for better working and living conditions and more participatory politics, but in nationalism. The welfare state was bestowed by statesmen like Bismarck, moved by ‘patriotic spirit’ to ‘provide some economic protection to national citizens’. Because nationhood, rather than redistributive politics, was central to the welfare state, inequality continued to grow alongside representative democracy. In response to early 20th-century crises, from world war to the Great Depression, ‘the democratic tax state’ came into being on both sides of the Atlantic. The growing strength of unions in 1970s Europe, Thompson argues, made it ‘difficult for their governments to bring down inflation’. The energy crisis of that decade exacerbated inflationary pressure, brought down social democratic governments, and led to the removal of international capital controls. Internationalised and financialised economies in turn eroded the welfare state, weakening democracies at every turn. In Europe and the US, a politics beholden t0 the interests of capital – debt and credit, migration flows, free trade agreements, austerity measures and other economic requirements – has made the word ‘democracy’ all but meaningless.


Corporate profit greed is driving inflationary pressures

Bill Mitchell [BillyBlog, via Mike Norman Economics 8-3-2022]

Despite all the hysteria about the current inflationary pressures and the reversion of central bank policy committees to the New Keynesian norm – interest rates have to rise to kill of inflation otherwise it becomes a self-fulfilling process where wage demands are made in ‘expectation’ of more inflation and firms (passively in their view) have to pass on the higher unit costs, I remain of the view that this period is transitory. That doesnt win me any friends (other than my true friends). It also leads to another hysterical line of Twitter-type statements that the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) have gone silent because they were wrong about fiscal deficits not causing inflation and are too ashamed to admit it. I haven’t gone silent. I have been continuous in my advocacy both privately and publicly. The rise in fiscal deficits during the pandemic and the central bank bond purchases have had little to do with this inflationary episode. Covid, sickness of workers, War, natural disasters (floods, fires) and uncompetitive cartels and energy marktes are the reason for the inflation (variously in different countries) and interest rate increases won’t do much at all to target changes in those driving factors. New ECB research (released August 3, 2022) in their Economic Bulletin (Issue 5, 2022) – Wage share dynamics and second-round effects on inflation after energy price surges in the 1970s and today – reinforces my assessment of the situation.…


Corporate Landlords ‘Aggressively’ Evicted Tenants During Pandemic, House Report Says

[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 7-31-2022]

A new report from a House subcommittee alleges that four companies, including Invitation Homes and Premium Partners, used harsh tactics to push out thousands of renters.


The Single Most Important Thing to Know About Financial Aid: It’s a Sham.

[Slate, via The Big Picture 7-31-2022]

Colleges claim to award scholarships based on merit or need. In reality, they’re just charging the most they think families will pay.


“NLRB demand for UMWA to pay Warrior Met Coal strike costs ‘outrageous,’ threatens American workers’ right to strike”

[United Mine Workers, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-3-2022]

“The United Mine Workers of America today made it clear that it will vigorously challenge an outrageous assessment of damages made by the National Labor Relations Board Region 10 regarding the UMWA’s 16-month strike against Warrior Met Coal in Alabama. ‘This is a slap in the face not just to the workers who are fighting for better jobs at Warrior Met Coal, but to every worker who stands up to their boss anywhere in America,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. ‘There are charges for security, cameras, capital expenditures, buses for transporting scabs across picket lines, and the cost of lost production.’ ‘What is the purpose of a strike if not to impact the operations of the employer, including production,’ Roberts asked. ‘Is it now the policy of the federal government that unions be required to pay a company’s losses as a consequence of their members exercising their rights as working people? This is outrageous and effectively negates workers’ right to strike. It cannot stand.’ The union entered into a settlement agreement in June with NLRB Region 10 regarding charges the company had made about picket line activity in order to save striking members and families from days of hostile questioning by company lawyers. On July 22, the NLRB sent the union a detailed list of damages totaling $13.3 million dollars, more than 33 times the estimated amount NLRB lawyers had initially indicated would be assessed.”


“Warrior Met Coal Declares Special Cash Dividend”

[BusinessWire, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-3-2022]


Disrupting mainstream economics

Fractional Reserve Banking And “Fraud” 

Brian Romanchuk [Bond Economics, via Mike Norman Economics 8-2-2022]

Although I like the title of my banking primer “Fractional Reserve Banking and its Discontents,” the problem is that I need to deal with some really loopy theories.

The economist Robert Solow provided us with a very good quote regarding the dilemma of such discussions.

Suppose someone sits down where you are sitting right now and announces to me that he is Napoleon Bonaparte. The last thing I want to do with him is to get involved in a technical discussion of cavalry tactics at the Battle of Austerlitz. If I do that, I’m getting tacitly drawn into the game that he is Napoleon Bonaparte.

In the area of banking disputes, we run into internet Austrians who argue that fractional reserve banking is “fraudulent” based on alleged historical arguments. I have done my best to blank this nonsense out of my skull, but I will run through what I believe was the logic.…


Stephen King Says That “Consolidation Is Bad For Competition” In Testimony At Penguin Random House-Simon & Schuster Antitrust Trial 

[Deadspin, via Naked Capitalism 8-3-2022]


The weird contradictions rendering the US economy inexplicable

[Quartz, via The Big Picture 8-4-2022]

Thanks to the pandemic and how advanced economies responded to it, we’re in a very strange place indeed. The typical relationships between one signal from the economy and another have diverged in surprising ways. As the Federal Reserve (and the rest of us) try to navigate this moment, here are the top paradoxes.


Climate and environmental crises

Inefficient Building Electrification Will Require Massive Buildout of Renewable Energy and Seasonal Energy Storage

[Nature, via Naked Capitalism 8-5-2022]


Building electrification is essential to many full-economy decarbonization pathways. However, current decarbonization modeling in the United States (U.S.) does not incorporate seasonal fluctuations in building energy demand, seasonal fluctuations in electricity demand of electrified buildings, or the ramifications of this extra demand for electricity generation. Here, we examine historical energy data in the U.S. to evaluate current seasonal fluctuation in total energy demand and management of seasonal fluctuations. We then model additional electricity demand under different building electrification scenarios and the necessary increases in wind or solar PV to meet this demand. We found that U.S. monthly average total building energy consumption varies by a factor of 1.6×—lowest in May and highest in January. This is largely managed by fossil fuel systems with long-term storage capability. All of our building electrification scenarios resulted in substantial increases in winter electrical demand, enough to switch the grid from summer to winter peaking. Meeting this peak with renewables would require a 28× increase in January wind generation, or a 303× increase in January solar, with excess generation in other months. Highly efficient building electrification can shrink this winter peak—requiring 4.5× more generation from wind and 36× more from solar.


The audacious PR plot that seeded doubt about climate change

[BBC, via The Big Picture 7-31-2022]

Thirty years ago, a bold plan was cooked up to spread doubt and persuade the public that climate change was not a problem. The little-known meeting – between some of America’s biggest industrial players and a PR genius – forged a devastatingly successful strategy that endured for years, and the consequences of which are all around us.


Looking for someone to blame for the extreme heat? Try Wall Street

[The Guardian, via The Big Picture 7-31-2022]

Banks’ financing of coal, oil, and gas was higher in 2021 than it was in 2016, the year after the Paris agreement was adopted.


Youth-Led Climate Change Lawsuits Are a Tactic to Hold Governments Responsible 

[Teen Vogue, via Naked Capitalism 7-31-2022] Held v. State of Montana.

A similar case, Juliana v. United States, is hung up on standing. NOTE Climate Case Chart looks like a useful resource., via Naked Capitalism 7-31-2022]


Creating new economic potential – science and technology

Supercharged biotech rice yields 40% more grain 

[Science, via Naked Capitalism 8-1-2022]


Two Weeks In, the Webb Space Telescope Is Reshaping Astronomy 

[Quanta Magazine, via The Big Picture 8-4-2022]

In the days after the mega-telescope started delivering data, astronomers reported exciting new discoveries about galaxies, stars, exoplanets and even Jupiter.


Democrats’ political suicide

“Mainstream Democrats Picked Henry Cuellar. Look Where It Got Them”

[Teen Vogue, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-2-2022]

“Last week, Cuellar was called out for co-sponsoring a bill earlier in July which many see as a weakening of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, alongside two Republicans. The so-called ‘Worker Flexibility and Choice Act‘ amends the act, and establishes ‘worker flexibility agreements’ which serve to exempt gig workers from the federal minimum wage, preempting state- or city-level laws that enshrine a minimum wage. This could have disastrous consequences for American workers. As explained by Jacobin columnist Liza Featherstone, ‘The bill creates whole new ways for employers to get out of paying minimum wage and overtime, extending the gig economy’s stress and chaos to millions more workers.’”


“The Democrats Didn’t Just Fail to Defend Social Programs. They Actively Undermined Them” (interview)

Lily Geismer [Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-3-2022]

Lambert Strether: “I think most of us know this history, but it’s nice to see it laid out all in one place.”

Historian Lily Geismer’s new book Left Behind: The Democrats’ Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality is a comprehensive and critical look at the development of the Democratic Party, from the Watergate Babies to the neoliberal turn under Bill Clinton and beyond. In Geismer’s account, the Democratic Party has not simply been playing defense for half a century; instead, Democrats actively undermined New Deal–era social programs as they sought to marketize public goods for maximum efficiency….

the goal was to transfer to the private sector work that was once the responsibility of the public sector.

The idea was that you could turn to the private sector to fulfill traditional liberal goals that were left up to the social welfare state in previous Democratic initiatives, like the Great Society or the New Deal. And at the same time, there was the idea of making government itself more efficient: streamlining bureaucracy and bringing market tools into the actual practices of government in order to use what is conceivably effective about this private sector and make government more effective….

The Watergate Babies arrived on the scene in the aftermath of Watergate and Nixon’s resignation in the 1974 election…

They also felt the party becoming too beholden to what they called “special interests,” including — although they were evasive about this — groups of people of color and the feminist movement. But they were especially upset about the Democratic Party’s ties to organized labor and felt that this relationship was dragging the party down.

They were particularly opposed to people like Hubert Humphrey and Tip O’Neill. When Gary Hart won his election, he said, “We’re not going to be a bunch of little Hubert Humphreys.” That was a special dig at his relationship to the labor movement.


This One Election Could End Democracy (also, Susan Sarandon On Being Liberals’ Scapegoat) (podcast)

David Sirota, August 3, 2022 [The Lever]

[TW: David Sirota explains why the Manchin deal is “diabolically evil” because it requires funding fossil-fuel projects in tandem with clean energy projects. ]


“Slice of Profits From North Carolina Casino Goes to Relatives of Politicians”

[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-2-2022]

“A company profiting from a new North Carolina tribal casino gave shares to politicians’ family members and high-profile political figures as the casino’s backers were seeking federal approval for the project, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. One of the stakes is held by John B. Clyburn, a brother of Rep. James Clyburn, the powerful South Carolina Democratic congressman who introduced a bill in Congress last year that smoothed the way for the new Catawba Two Kings Casino. Other stakes went to Michael Haley, husband of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican who served in the Trump administration as ambassador to the United Nations; Butch Bowers, a lawyer who has represented both Ms. Haley and former President Donald Trump; and Patti Solis Doyle, a Democratic political operative who helped manage campaigns in 2008 for Hillary Clinton and then-vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, according to the documents. The stakes, held indirectly through another entity, gave each of the recipients a slice of a slot-machine leasing company called Kings Mountain Equipment Supply LLC, whose major shareholders include financial backers of the casino or their associates, according to the documents. The company gets 20 cents of every $1 in profits the casino generates from hundreds of slot machines. The shareholdings are small—far less than 1% ownership for each recipient, the documents show. Those involved deny any quid pro quo.”


The dark side 

How a Child-Killer Set the Stage for Today’s Republicans to Revel in Cruelty

thomhartmann, August 1, 2022 [DailyKos]

Ayn Rand’s novels have informed libertarian Republicans like former Speaker of the House of Representatives and current Fox News board member Paul Ryan, who required interns to read her books when they joined his staff.

Powers added, “He [Trump],” told her that he “identified with Howard Roark, the protagonist who designs skyscrapers and rages against the establishment.”

Rand’s hero Roark, in fact, “raged” so much in her novel that he blew up a public housing project with dynamite.

Rand, in her Journals, explained where she got her inspiration for Howard Roark and the leading male characters in so many of her other novels. She writes that the theme of The Fountainhead, for example, is, “One puts oneself above all and crushes everything in one’s way to get the best for oneself.”

On Trump’s hero Howard Roark, she wrote that he “has learned long ago, with his first consciousness, two things which dominate his entire attitude toward life: his own superiority and the utter worthlessness of the world. He knows what he wants and what he thinks. He needs no other reasons, standards or considerations. His complete selfishness is as natural to him as breathing.”

It turns out that Roark and many of her other characters were based on a real person. The man who so inspired Ayn Rand’s fictional heroes was named William Edward Hickman, and he lived in Los Angeles during the Roaring Twenties.

Ten days before Christmas in 1927, Hickman, a teenager with slicked dark hair and tiny, muted eyes, drove up to Mount Vernon Junior High School in Los Angeles and kidnapped Marion Parker — the daughter of a wealthy banker in town….

The Pittsburgh Press detailed what Hickman, in his own words, did next.

“It was while I was fixing the blindfold that the urge to murder came upon me,” he said. “I just couldn’t help myself. I got a towel and stepped up behind Marion. Then, before she could move, I put it around her neck and twisted it tightly.”

Hickman didn’t hold back on any of these details: he was proud of his cold-bloodedness….

Young Ayn Rand saw in Hickman the “ideal man” she based The Fountainhead on, and used to ground her philosophy and her life’s work. His greatest quality, she believed, was his unfeeling, pitiless selfishness.

Hickman’s words were carefully recounted by Rand in her Journals. His statement that, “I am like the state: what is good for me is right,” resonated deeply with her. It was the perfect articulation of her belief that if people pursued their own interests above all else — even above friends, family, or nation — the result would be utopian.

She wrote in her diary that those words of Hickman’s were, “the best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I ever heard.”

Hickman — the monster who boasted about how he had hacked up a 12-year-old girl — had Rand’s ear, as well as her heart. She saw a strongman archetype in him, the way that people wearing red MAGA hats see a strongman savior in Donald Trump….

Astounded that Americans didn’t recognize the heroism Hickman showed when he proudly rose above simply conforming to society’s rules, Rand wrote, “It is not the crime alone that has raised the fury of public hatred. It is the case of a daring challenge to society. … It is the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatever for all that society holds sacred, with a consciousness all his own.”

Rand explained that when the masses are confronted with such a bold actor, they neither understood nor empathized with him. Thus, “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy [was] turned [by the media] into a purposeless monster.”

The protagonist of the book that Rand was writing around that time was a boy named Danny Renahan. In her notes for the book, she wrote, “The model for the boy [Renahan] is Hickman.” He would be her ideal man, and the archetype for a philosophical movement that would transform a nation.

“He is born with the spirit of Argon and the nature of a medieval feudal lord,” Rand wrote in her notes describing Renahan. “Imperious. Impatient. Uncompromising. Untamable. Intolerant. Unadaptable. Passionate. Intensely proud. Superior to the mob… an extreme ‘extremist.’ … No respect for anything or anyone.”


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 8-5-2022]


“The Press is Already Working Overtime to Elect Trump Again”

Matt Taibbi [TK News, via Naked Capitalism 8-5-2022]

“[Trump] won because he had the most consistent disapproval of an increasingly hated Washington political establishment…. Suppressing the fringe became harder when it grew and started winning primaries. The distinguishing feature of Trump’s 2016 run was extraordinary media attention, which most analysts (including me, at one point) incorrectly assumed gave him an edge by allowing him to get his message out for free. But Trump’s candidacy only really took off when the press attention went sharply negative…. The legacy press is still in denial about these coverage strategies. They also still ignore evidence of a similarly impotent showing in the 2020 Democratic race. Efforts by outlets like Vanity Fair and New York to hype elite-approved candidates from Kamala Harris to Beto O’Rourke to Pete Buttigieg to Kamala again to Amy Klobuchar to Mike freaking Bloomberg all flatlined, as in zero-point-zero levels of voter response… Trump and Sanders both surged in 2016 when they described a country divided into a small corrupt establishment and everyone else, and declared themselves on the side of everyone else. The journalistic priesthood that’s spent the last 6-7 years denouncing these people and their voters has done the opposite, proudly aligning itself with the hated inside, celebrating credentialism, and worst of all, cheering a censorship movement that’s now proven to be an abject failure. That story is among the biggest taboos in media now.”


Yes, Social Media Really Is Undermining Democracy: Despite what Meta has to say.

[The Atlantic, via The Big Picture 7-31-2022]


Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War

Red states are building a nation within a nation.

[CNN, via The Big Picture 7-31-2022]

It was the latest example of how red states, supported by Republican-appointed judges, are engaging in a multi-front offensive to seize control of national policy even while Democrats hold the White House and nominally control both the House and Senate.

The red states are moving social policy sharply to the right within their borders on issues from abortion to LGBTQ rights and classroom censorship, while simultaneously working to hobble the ability of either the federal government or their own largest metro areas to set a different course.
To a degree unimaginable even a decade ago, this broad offensive increasingly looks like an effort to define a nation within a nation — one operating with a set of rules and policies that diverge from the rest of America more than in almost any previous era.
“The only time I can recall in American history even remotely like this [divergence] was after the Civil War when the separate but equal doctrine began to emerge” across the South as a backlash against the attempts of the 13th, 14th and 15th Constitutional amendments to ensure equality for the freed slaves, says Donald Kettl, the former dean of the public policy school at the University of Maryland and author of the book, “The Divided States of America.”

“The Kansas Abortion Message”

[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism 8-5-2022]

“The press corps is making a big deal of the defeat of the Kansas abortion referendum on Tuesday, and for once they’re right. The 20-or-so point rout of the effort to strip abortion protections from the state constitution is a message to Republicans and the anti-abortion movement that a total ban isn’t popular even in a right-leaning state…. One message is that voters are wary of extremes on either side of the abortion issue. A majority of the public supports a right to abortion at least up to several weeks of pregnancy. This is disappointing to those who believe life begins at conception, but it means the pro-life side has persuading to do if it wants to win the abortion debate. That’s the burden of democracy, which is what the Supreme Court allowed to return on abortion in overturning Roe. Urging Congress to pass a national abortion ban, as some on the right want, looks like a certain loser—in addition to likely being unconstitutional. Abortion is an issue for the states to decide.”


State Legislatures Are Torching Democracy

Jane Mayer [The New Yorker, August 6, 2022

…according to one study, the laws being passed by Ohio’s statehouse place it to the right of the deeply conservative legislature in South Carolina. How did this happen, given that most Ohio voters are not ultra-conservatives? “It’s all about gerrymandering,” Niven told me. The legislative-district maps in Ohio have been deliberately drawn so that many Republicans effectively cannot lose, all but insuring that the Party has a veto-proof super-majority. As a result, the only contests most Republican incumbents need worry about are the primaries—and, because hard-core partisans dominate the vote in those contests, the sole threat most Republican incumbents face is the possibility of being outflanked by a rival even farther to the right. The national press has devoted considerable attention to the gerrymandering of congressional districts, but state legislative districts have received much less scrutiny, even though they are every bit as skewed, and in some states far more so. “Ohio is about the second most gerrymandered statehouse in the country,” Niven told me. “It doesn’t have a voter base to support a total abortion ban, yet that’s a likely outcome.” He concluded, “Ohio has become the Hindenburg of democracy.”

Fight Back, Blue America! Red states are using the Dobbs decision to reach into blue states to try to change our way of life. They want a culture war? Let’s give ’em one.

Lindsay Beyerstein, August 2, 2022 [The New Republic]

Soon after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a group of far-right Texas state legislators accused the partners of one of the largest law firms in the country of committing felonies for reimbursing abortion travel expenses. A letter from the Texas Freedom Caucus alleged that the 150-year-old firm had reimbursed employees who traveled to other states for abortions or, as the caucus saw it, left Texas to “murder their unborn children.” Having struck the requisite unhinged tone, the caucus went on to offer a sneak preview of the anti-abortion agenda it has planned for the next legislative session. Its members hope to make it a felony for any Texas employer to pay for any abortion-related expenses. They also plan to let anyone sue anyone else who helps a Texas resident get an abortion, “regardless of where the abortion occurs, and regardless of the law in the jurisdiction.”….

Even states that criminalize abortion generally exempt the pregnant person from prosecution, but that taboo is unlikely to last, now that Roe no longer presents an obstacle to such prosecutions. Anti-choicers are obsessed with the idea of women circumventing their bans, whether by leaving the state or by obtaining abortion pills through the mail. Pregnant people may already be at risk of prosecution in some states because it’s an open question as to whether general-purpose criminal statutes like murder or child endangerment can be used to prosecute women for ending their own pregnancies. If states start passing so-called fetal personhood bills, which imbue fertilized eggs with full legal rights, it becomes difficult to imagine how the taboo against criminalizing the pregnant person for abortion can be sustained….

Meanwhile, the anti-choicers know they’re up against a nation of would-be helpers. Overall, 72 percent of U.S. adults are willing to help a friend or family member who needs an abortion, according to a recent paper analyzing pre-Dobbs data from the long-running General Social Survey. More than 40 percent of those morally opposed to abortion say they would help make practical arrangements for someone they care about to terminate a pregnancy, and more than 20 percent of morally opposed respondents said they would even help pay for abortion-related expenses. “[The reason] red states are going so hard [with] this intimidation is they recognize that even for people who are against abortion, your gut instinct is to help someone in need,” Weitz said. “They want to shut that down, and they want to shut it quickly.”

The red states have declared war not only on abortion rights and women’s equality, but also on the bedrock principles that allow states to co-exist in a functional federal union. They have set us on a course of rancor and division, of escalating provocation and reprisal….

Another important part of the capacity overhaul is protecting providers from harassment and abuse, both homegrown and from out of state. New York Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed legislation that protects providers from losing their malpractice insurance or having to pay higher premiums if they are sued under a bounty law. The governor recently announced millions in grants to increase security for abortion providers. New York now allows abortion providers, their families, and even clinic volunteers to enroll in the same address protection program that serves victims of domestic violence and human trafficking….

Blue states must also act to stymie red states seeking to impose their laws beyond their borders. According to David S. Cohen, a professor of law at Drexel University in Philadelphia and an expert on abortion law, four states have already passed legislation forbidding state employees from cooperating with investigations into legal abortions on their own soil… Without a law to exempt state employees from the normal rules of comity, New Mexico police officers might be obligated to drag a Texan out of a New Mexico abortion clinic, if Texas were to pass a law that criminalizes traveling to another state to obtain an abortion….

Connecticut, under Democratic Governor Ned Lamont, is leading the nation with its shield law, designed to neutralize the bounty laws. A person in the Nutmeg State who is sued under a bounty law is given the right to countersue. Under the new law, Connecticut residents who are sued by bounty hunters for receiving or providing reproductive health care will be eligible to recover “money damages treble the amount of any money damages award contained in the judgment entered in another state.” ….

The current situation, with blue states scrambling to protect their residents and red states scheming to impose their will beyond their borders, reminds many legal scholars of the conflict that the nation faced over slavery in the run-up to the Civil War…. A 50-year-old constitutional right has evaporated overnight. The states will soon be split about 50–50 between abortion rights and abortion prohibition. The fight to come will strain the legitimacy of our institutions to the breaking point, test our faith in the rule of law, and tear the country apart. As tragic and as ugly as the struggle will be, it’s a fight blue states can’t shy away from.


Sidley Targeted as Republicans Warn Firms on Abortion Pledges

[, via The New Republic]

A group of Texas Republican state legislators plans to introduce a bill targeting Sidley Austin and other law firms that have made pledges to cover travel expenses for employees seeking abortions in states where the medical service will be unavailable.

The Texas Freedom Caucus said it will introduce legislation in the next session that imposes “additional civil and criminal sanctions on law firms that pay for abortions or abortion travel,” according to a letter sent to Sidley and shared by the caucus on Twitter on Thursday. The letter was addressed to Yvette Ostolaza, the Texas-based chair of Sidley’s management committee, and claimed that the firm was exposing itself to criminal liability.

“A law firm in Texas pledged to reimburse the travel costs of employees who leave Texas to murder their unborn children,” the caucus tweeted. “We are putting them and others on notice of the illegality and consequences of their actions under pre-Roe statutes.”


Book-banning is on the rise, as part of the far-right’s assault on democracy

[Los Angeles Times, via The Big Picture 7-31-2022]

Attacks on books occupy a special place among the signposts of philistinism and anti-democratic suppression. So it’s proper to be alarmed at the upsurge of efforts to ban books from public schools and libraries, largely because they represent political views, lifestyles and life experiences that organized groups characterize as objectionable.


‘US democracy will not survive for long’: how January 6 hearings plot a roadmap to autocracy

[The Guardian, via The Big Picture 7-31-2022]

Trump’s efforts to subvert the elections laid bare the system’s weaknesses, exposing it to greater exploitation


An Ode to Trump’s Outtakes

[The Atlantic, via The Big Picture 7-31-2022]

His post-insurrection-speech rehearsals are even more revealing—and disturbing—than the final version


The (Anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

The Supreme Court Is Making America Ungovernable

[The Atlantic, via The Big Picture 7-31-2022]

The West Virginia v. EPA ruling signals a future in which no one in power has the ability to tackle the biggest issues society faces


“Delegitimizing the Administrative State”

[Nonsite, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-3-2022]

“In West Virginia v. EPA, the Supreme Court held that the Environmental Protection Agency did not have the authority to enact a plan it had proposed (but never implemented) because the EPA’s actions presented an “extraordinary case” that triggered application of the major questions doctrine.1 That doctrine, in short, asserts that when issues are very important an agency cannot act on them unless Congress explicitly told the agency it could address the issue in the way it planned to act. It should be apparent in that brief description that the major questions doctrine is a powerful tool in limiting the ability of the administrative state to effectively respond to public policy crises. But the immediate outcome in the case—limiting the ability of the EPA to combat climate change—is only one part of the decision’s significance to constitutional government. The decision by the Court and the concurring opinion by Justice Gorsuch make clear that the Court is waging a war on the legitimacy of the administrative state itself.”


The Case Against Judicial Review

Ryan Cooper, July 11, 2022 [The American Prospect]

…The Court does not have the sole power to interpret the Constitution, nor the power to strike down any law it choses, and it’s time to say so.

Even fairly hard-bitten progressives are often unsettled by this idea. Most Americans learn in high school civics that the Supreme Court gets final say on whether laws are constitutional, and that this is core to the functioning of the constitutional system.

Yet this view is incomplete. Judicial review does not appear in the Constitution and is not firmly rooted in American tradition. For roughly the first three-quarters of the 19th century and the middle third of the 20th, those powers were heavily circumscribed by tradition and competition from the other branches of government. And for good reason: When the Court has exercised sole power to interpret the Constitution, with rare exceptions it has used that power to obliterate Americans’ constitutional rights, uphold white supremacy, and protect abusive corporations from unions and the regulatory state….

In his inaugural address, Lincoln directly attacked judicial review: “[T]he candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court … the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.” In this, Lincoln followed the thinking of Jefferson, who argued that judicial review makes the Constitution “a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.”



Open Thread


How to Deal with Anxiety and Trauma Using Meditation


  1. bruce wilder

    The greatest threat to the representative democracy instituted by the Constitution in the republic is the absolute and thorough-going refusal of anyone prominent in the mainstream to tell the truth in defending those traditions.

    Sherrod Brown says, “. . . Bush negotiating NAFTA, Gingrich fighting to bring China into the WTO, Trump granting corporate tax breaks” while pleading for the utter hopelessness of a campaign to redeem the thoroughly corrupted Democratic Party. Could he name Clinton, Obama, Biden for their roles. No, of course not.

    It is too bad Tony missed Chris Hedges writing in Sheerpost/Salon last week.

    Here is another proof that the U.S. far from being “on the road to fascism” has arrived.
    You will look in vain for indication of any crime for the FBI to investigate.

    And here is President Manchin’s NLRB protecting workers right to organize and strike . . . NOT!

    There cannot be effective organized opposition to authoritarian politics in the U.S. if no one but authoritarian right-wingers are even willing to acknowledge reality. The marginalization of voices is as frightening to me as the normalization of official violence and open corruption. Outrage is manufactured in quantity but always fake and misdirected. I am so disgusted.

  2. Z

    Kagan is thy name and starting wars is thy game …


  3. Trinity

    “we’re in a very strange place indeed.”

    And it’s also very dark.

  4. VietnamVet

    Today’s crisis is the culmination point of the last decades of individualism run rampart, propaganda, and the dismantling of government to enrich plutocrats at the expense of everyone else. Those who are still making out okay with their cut of the loot will try to keep the contraption running as long as possible, until it stops. There are Cassandras but they will be ignored unless they raise TV ratings. Then, if one has power but doesn’t play along, they will be squashed like the Cheney Clan is trying to do with the January 6th hearings to Donald Trump and to Missouri Senator Josh Hawley (as a sideshow).

    I have no doubt neoliberal end-stage capitalism could last for decades longer. There is no progressive movement in the West like during the Gilded Age. It still took WWI and the Depression before the New Deal was enacted in the USA and then it was torn down starting in the 1970s to make the rich richer, once again. Russia, China and Iran are intentionally breaking free of the corporate/state (Wall Street & City of London) financial Empire. The proxy world war in Ukraine and the Chinese military drills around Taiwan reflect this.

    The options are very limited. They all result in the downfall of the western hegemon. The Eurasian Axis has the energy, resources, labor and industry to isolate the West. North America and Europe will have to build new Iron Curtain – DMZs to supplant tactical nuclear weapons as the sole means of defense plus live within their means. Except, the current global oligarchs and their overseers/managers will risk a nuclear war not to lose their status, wealth and power. Unfortunately, the oligarchy is so corrupt and incompetent that only the restoration of working democratic republics and good governance can guide western societies through the tortuous path to the sustainable survival of humans on the planet earth.

  5. Willy

    If you’re into anything progressive, hell, anything that wants to solve national problems and make the world a better place, then I’d think you figured out that the Democratic Party was far from ideal long ago.

    But if you’ve lost your fucking mind then you’ll think the GOP is where it’s at.

    I’m open to plausible alternatives and strategies though. A couple alternative strategies I think which are certain to be sure fire fails: to not vote for either party and just wait for everything to magically change or to collapse entirely and be replaced by something magically better, or to wait for another “outsider” demagogue to show up and magically fix everything. In short, it might be best to avoid the magical thinking if you actually want things to change.

    At least Sherrod Brown’s talking in the right direction.

  6. different clue


    There are those who think a non-magical solution can exist in the real world of today, and who think that Sherrod Brown is talking in the right direction, and who think the DemParty can be turned into a tool and a vehicle for right-direction thinking and action.

    Are such people prepared for a several decades long project of careful purging and burning and Stalinist-style elimination and purging of every single wrong-direction-thinking Democrat from out of the Democratic Party? Because the Clintonite-Shitobamacrat scum are not going to leave the Democratic Party on their own. Do the Sherrod Brownians have a plan, or even have the desire, to exterminate every trace of DLC Hamilton-Project Pink-Pussy-Hat Clintonite feces and pus from out of the Party?

    If they don’t , they have nothing to offer me. Thinking you can have a “right direction” political party with Clinton/Pelosi/Obama supporters in it is magical thinking itself.

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