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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 17, 2023

by Tony Wikrent


Oligarchs’ war on the experiment of republican self-government

Constitution in the Crosshairs: The Far Right’s Plan for a New Confederacy

Nancy Maclean, Arn Pearson, December 11, 2023 [, via Naked Capitalism 12-15-2023]

Frustrated by the surprise defeat of Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race, a group of breathtakingly rich and highly strategic actors on the radical right, including the Koch brothers, quietly launched an ambitious new campaign to lock in their political control once and for all. They had used their immense wealth and institution-building savvy to capture a majority of state legislatures in 2010, so the groundwork was already in place.

This campaign would be spearheaded by a corporate pay-to-play group they had long funded to influence state laws—the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—and a dark money group with deep ties to Charles and the late David Koch (who died in 2019), as well as the Tea Party movement—Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG). When legislators arrived at ALEC’s annual meeting in August 2013, they were given detailed instructions and model text to bring back to their statehouses for a resolution demanding the first Constitutional convention since 1787….

In the decade since those first secretive meetings, Meckler’s Convention of States has managed to rack up wins in nineteen states for a convention that would address sweeping proposals to radically curtail the powers of the federal government. ALEC-led groups also claim to have twenty-eight states behind their call for a more limited convention to propose a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Should a convention be convened, what is it that the ultra-rich backers want? Their chosen so-called grassroots leaders mince no words when speaking to friendly audiences. Meckler has declared that the purpose is “to reverse 115 years of progressivism.” In fact, the endgame is even more consequential: to return this nation to its pre-Constitution roots under the Articles of Confederation, with a weak central government and sovereign states….

Indeed, most of what ALEC, CSG, and their billionaire backers want to achieve flies in the face of public opinion. And that’s what makes their plan so devious. “Voters have no role to play in the right’s vision of a Constitutional convention,” a report by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) concluded. Delegates would be handpicked by legislative leaders, and here’s the kicker: The votes taken at such a convention would be based not on population but on one vote per state in order to grossly underrepresent the majority of Americans.

In audio obtained by CMD, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania, told an ALEC audience in 2021 how this strategy could be used to circumvent what most Americans want. “Because their [Democrats’] population is concentrated and ours isn’t,” Santorum said, “rural voters [Republicans] . . . actually have an outsized power granted under this process.”

He added, “We have the opportunity as a result of that to have a supermajority, even though . . . we may not even be in an absolute majority when it comes to the people who agree with us.”


Gaza / Palestine / Israel

[TW: The most disconcerting aspect of Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Gaza is not the brutality and inhumanity of it, or the shamelessness of Israeli officials, but the complete lack of any plan or even proposal for a constructive alternative to the killing and destruction.


[Israeli leaders are clearly intent on driving Palestinians out of Gaza. And they say they will not accept a Palestinian state. But a Palestinian state is the only humane solution. Whether or not a Palestinian state will include Gaza and the West Bank is, at this point, entirely subject to Israeli intransigence.

[Palestinians must be given hope for building a better future, otherwise they can never be expected to be peaceful. Give them a chunk of Sinai and the resources to begin building new farms, villages, and cities, new schools, universities, and hospitals, and they will soon enough cease harboring a hatred for the state of Israel. They will be too busy building a new future to listen to jihadists who want to exterminate Israel. This is the only true way to lasting peace.

[The only place for a Palestinian state, given Israeli intransigence, is the Sinai. The Egyptian government has very good reasons to oppose the displacement of over two million Palestinians into a peninsula that currently is home to only 600,000. But if the international community can summon the will, it is possible to offer Egypt much, much more than the complete forgiveness of its $160 billion in debt.

[Gathering $1 trillion to create a new state of Palestine in Sinai would also force a break with the bankers dictatorship that has enforced neoliberal austerity on the world’s poor countries for three quarters of a century. Over $30 trillion is sitting in hot money centers around the world. Impose a mere one percent tax on those holdings world wide and you have a third of what’s needed. The oil rich Middle East countries can surely come up with another third. That leaves some $330 billion to be provided by the rest of the world. By contrast, the US has already provided $111 billion in weapons, equipment, humanitarian assistance and other aid to Ukraine. ]

John D. Liu’s journey to the Sinai

[The Weather Makers, YouTube, 2019]

[TW: John Dennis Liu is a Chinese American film-maker and ecologist who helped establish the CBS News bureau in Beijing in 1981. In 1995 he began documenting the Chinese government’s reclamation and rehydration of the Loess Plateau, a 35,000 square kilometer area slightly larger than the state of Maryland. The Loess Plateau is adjacent to the Gobi Desert. The video features footage of areas in the Loess Plateau before and after rehydration, showing the dramatic changes, including the successful establishment of vegetation corridors to protect roads in shifting deserts. ]

Regreening the Sinai : Ties van der Hoeven of the Weathermakers

[Climate Water Project, YouTube, February 2023]


Egypt Needs Cash and Gaza War Gives World New Reasons to Help Out 

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-2023]

…Israel’s war with Hamas has put Egypt center-stage. It’s the only gateway for aid to reach Gaza, and besieged Palestinians to escape. It’s a key player in hostage talks that allowed a truce after six weeks of fighting. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the former army chief set to be re-elected as president in a barely contested vote next week, is suddenly high on the must-visit list for global leaders.

Kirby: White House knows two-state solution to Israel-Hamas war ‘elusive,’ not giving up 

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 12-15-2023]

In shift, a top Hamas official floats Israel recognition 

[Al Monitor, via Naked Capitalism 12-15-2023]

[TW: This is major news, but an internet search showed it is only being covered in some Israeli and Arab media.]

Israel Rejected Peace with Hamas on Five Occasions

Zachary Foster, October 25, 2023 []

Death and Destruction in Gaza

John Mearsheimer [via Naked Capitalism 12-12-2023]

Half of Gazans Are Starving, Warns UN Food Agency Chief 

[yahoo news, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-2023]

Civilians make up 61% of Gaza deaths from airstrikes, Israeli study finds 

[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-2023]

[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-2023]


Israel’s Netanyahu Rejects U.S. Plan for Postwar Gaza 

Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism 12-13-2023]

Rifts between Biden and Netanyahu spill into public view 

[CNN, via Naked Capitalism 12-13-2023]

Israel-Hamas war: ‘For the moment, Netanyahu strongly rejects the two-state solution’ 

[Le Monde, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-2023]

Can an Israeli security zone succeed in Gaza when it failed in southern Lebanon? 

[Arab News, via Naked Capitalism 12-13-2023]

All of 2024 likely to be spent in ‘war mode’ against Hamas, IDF says 

[YNet News, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-2023]

“[O]n the ground, the army is amazed every day by how strong Hamas is. It is a real army (…) that was established 50 minutes from Tel Aviv over the past years.”

Jordan’s foreign minister says Israel aiming ‘to empty Gaza of its people

[Al Jazeera, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-2023]

John Mearsheimer: There is no two-state solution Unherd or if you prefer YouTube John Mearsheimer: There is no two-state solution

[via Naked Capitalism 12-16-2023]



Global power shift

China’s economy is now a staggering 22% bigger than America’s, but for differing reasons, neither nation wants to acknowledge this fact 

[Eastern Angle, via Naked Capitalism 12-16-2023]

[TW: Only 22%? China has been producing over one billion tons of steel a year for almost a decade. The USA has produced less than 100 million tons a year all that time. And have you seen a map of China’s passenger rail network? China’s economy is probably two or three times larger than USA’s at this point. Especially if you remove “financial services” from the computation of GDP.]

The Clueless American Elite’s View of the NATO-Russian Ukrainian War 

Gordon Hahn [Russian & Eurasian Politics, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-2023]

The World’s Top Thinkers 2024: ideas for a world on the brink

Prospect Team, December 6, 2023 [Prospect]

America’s undoing

Samuel Moyn, December 6, 2023 [Prospect]

[TW: Moyn is professor of law and history at Yale, and author of Liberalism against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times (Yale University Press, 2023) ]

Today, it is clearer than ever that the war in Ukraine is deadlocked. Bogged down by criticisms of mainstream foreign policy and wracked by its record of military quagmires, the US is no longer credible as the lynchpin of freedom and justice worldwide. Gaza has reinforced this conclusion without the carnage-filled wait that Ukraine involved; after Hamas acted, illusory yearnings for restored credibility for US leadership were shattered within days, not months or years. And worse will be to come, if America has put its own democracy on the line even as it has invested in another endless war….

When Trump blindsided Democrats and Republican warmongers alike, who continued to preach the need for the US’s indispensable role amid the haze of one failed war after another, many could still take offence—but they were unceremoniously cast from the circle of power for four years.

Yet instead of prompting a reckoning with how endless war abroad had led to Trump’s unexpected victory, many openly treated Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 as providential. According to the New York Times, it provided the cadre of Beltway elites who were perturbed by the immediate past with “a new sense of mission”, and “re-energized Washington’s leadership role in the democratic world just months after the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan ended 20 years of conflict on a dismal note.”

…The global south doesn’t buy into the revivalist sloganeering of Beltway policymakers chanting about freedom. Of course, it is familiar with being bypassed and ignored. But the Gaza conflict is showing that its misgivings about American beneficence are hitting home with Americans themselves—especially the young. A shift in opinion has thrown American global leadership into doubt.

‘The U.S. May Not Be Coming To Save Us.’ Why, And How, Europe Might Have To Battle Russia By Itself. 

[Forbes, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-2023]

Gaza and Ukraine: How the US Risks Losing the Global South 

[, via Naked Capitalism 12-12-2023]

Why China Is Stepping Up Its Maritime Attacks on the Philippines 

[Foreign Policy, via Naked Capitalism 12-14-2023]


Hollowed-out superpower

Experts: New Disruptive, Asymmetric Approaches Needed to Rebuild US Advantages 

[Air and Space Forces Magazine, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-2023]

… Quoting from the recent National Defense Industrial Strategy Report, he contended the DIB “‘does not possess the capacity, capability, responsiveness, or resilience required to satisfy the full range of military production needs at speed and scale.” The war in the Ukraine has made the DIB’s deficiencies “obvious and urgent,” he added….

Pentagon Stupidity Is a Design Choice 

Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-2023]

…In August, I wrote up an important shift among antitrust enforcers, in a piece titled “Government Stupidity Is a Design Choice.” In it, I described how the Federal Trade Commission and Antitrust Division, prompted by Congress, tweaked a form, called the Hart Scott Rodino form, that companies must fill out when they want to engage in any corporate acquisition worth over $100 million….

…the big D.C. and New York corporate law firms that advise all large companies, private equity funds, foreign governments, and large institutions were absolutely furious about the shift. (Here are, for instance, angry notes to clients from Wilmer HaleSteptoeKirkland and EllisDechertWilson SonsiniSullivan and CromwellCovington & Burling. Etc.)….



World’s Richest Families Got $1.5 Trillion Richer in 2023 

[The Morning News, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-2023]

That Insufferable Billionaire Tyrannizing Harvard Enriches Himself by Tyrannizing the Bond Market

Timothy Noah, December 15, 2023 [The New Republic]

Bill Ackman, chief executive of the giant hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management, is getting a lot of bad press right now for his vicious campaign against Harvard president Claudine Gay, and deservedly so. He’s just about the perfect example of a particular social type: the plutocrat who thinks that being very rich entitles him to run more or less everything.

The United States is populated with many more such preening oligarchs than it was 30 or 40 years ago, because income and wealth are now much more concentrated at the very top. The most stupendously arrogant of them tend to emanate from tech (see Musk, Elon). The Princeton historian David Bell, in a thought-provoking recent essay in Liberties on “The Triumph of Anti-Politics,” judged the Silicon Valley technocrats even more dangerous to democracy than Trumpian MAGA-heads. But Ackman shows that Wall Street financiers are no slouches at this oligarchy game….

Meet all 3,800 graduates of Klaus Schwab’s globalist WEF education programs by name 

[Riot Times, via Naked Capitalism 12-16-2023]

The Untold Story of Vienna’s Global Influence 

[Foreign Policy, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-2023]

The Revenge Of The Ottoman Empire 

[Gavekal, via Naked Capitalism 12-14-2023]

[Lambert Strether: Well worth a read for some long-awaited, Arrighi-esque historical and economic perspective on multipolarity (in the Fifteenth Century, and now).]


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Corporate America Is Testing the Limits of Its Pricing Power

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 12-12-2023]

Big companies that had previously pushed through one standard price increase per year are now raising prices more frequently. Retailers increasingly use digital price displays, which they can change with the touch of a button. Across the economy, executives trying to maximize profits are effectively running tests to see what prices consumers will bear before they stop buying. Huge disruptions to supply chains pushed up corporate costs during the pandemic and forced many companies to think more creatively about their pricing strategies, Mr. MacKay said. That supercharged a trend toward more rigorous pricing, and showed many companies that they could more boldly play with prices without chasing shoppers away. The experimentation continues even as costs ease.

Hospitals across the country are dumping Medicare Advantage plans and canceling their contracts with insurers 

[HEALTH CARE un-covered, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-2023]

…There’s a new twist to the Medicare Advantage story this year that is slowly seeping out. Hospitals across the country are dumping Medicare Advantage plans and canceling their contracts with insurers, which means their patients must select new plans. The CEO of the Brookings Hospital System in Brookings, South Dakota, Jason Merkley, was one hospital executive willing to speak about the problems with Advantage plans. “The difference between original Medicare and Medicare Advantage is vast,” he said, noting that MA plans “pay less, don’t follow medical policy, coverage, billing, and payment rules and procedures, and they are always trying to figure out how to deny payment for services.”

He said his 49-bed hospital is getting 17% less in reimbursement from Advantage plans than the payments from regular Medicare, noting plans used other tactics such as being slow to approve, partially approve or deny medically necessary services.  Sometimes they don’t get back to the hospital until after discharge to say they were denying those services, he said. Merkley said the hospital spent “a lot of time and resources to appeal,” adding “we estimated it required three times more labor and expense to collect from Medicare Advantage plans than from traditional Medicare.”

Giant food companies are quietly ruining your favorite snacks — and hoping you don’t notice

[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-14-2023]

“[T]he Coke didn’t taste as good as it used to — and it left a weird aftertaste. I thought there might be something wrong with the can, or perhaps my rosy childhood memories clouded my judgment. But as I indulged my urge, I found the same thing. Even Coke-drinking friends I spoke to agreed: The taste had changed. It wasn’t just Coke; other foods from my childhood taste different now. The Dairy Milk chocolate bars I used to enjoy after school aren’t as creamy and taste too sweet. Lay’s potato chips don’t pack the same flavor punch they used to. A stroll through Reddit shows I’m not alone: Thousands of people have noticed the quality of their favorite snacks getting worse.” Perhaps some other factor is affecting taste? However, texture and mouth feel have degraded as well: “‘Ritz crackers. For some inexplicable reason, maybe around 5 years ago the crackers went from being nice and firm and dippable to nowadays easily crumbling to bits with even the lightest dip,’ one user complained a few years ago. ‘You could bite into a Twix and feel your teeth travel through a heavy layer of caramel,’ another Redditor lamented, adding, ‘Now they snap in half and taste like a sugar cookie with some chocolate on it.’” And: “People aren’t imagining these changes — manufacturers are quietly modifying their recipes to save money and maintain their profit margins. The phenomenon, which has been called ‘skimpflation’ and ‘flavorflation,’ is a way to hide the impact of inflation and avoid passing higher costs on to the consumer. But by replacing expensive ingredients with cheaper ones, companies are also making food less tasty, less healthy, and less satisfying.”


Restoring balance to the economy

FTC opens inquiry of Chevron-Hess merger, marking second review this week of major oil industry deal 

[AP, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-2023]

FCC votes to ban termination fees for cable and satellite services

[CNBC, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-14-2023]

“The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday voted to pass a measure banning cable and satellite companies from charging early termination fees. ‘Consumers are tired of these junk fees,’ FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said before casting the deciding vote at an open commission meeting. ‘They now have more choices when it comes to video content but these friction-filled tactics to keep us subscribing to our current providers are aggravating and unfair,’ Rosenworcel added. ‘So, today we kick out a rulemaking to put an end to these practices.’”

The war on ‘junk fees’ is gaining ground, but the fight is not yet won

[LA Times, via The Big Picture 12-13-2023]

If you’ve rented a car, bought an airline ticket, booked a hotel room or paid a cable bill, you probably know what the White House is talking about: hidden, surprise charges for services you may not even have used, transaction charges for buying online or downloading a concert ticket instead of picking it up at the box office, etc., etc.

The Telecom Industry Is Very Mad Because The FCC MIGHT Examine High Broadband Prices

[TechDirt, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-12-2023]

“We’ve long noted how the FCC (regardless of party) largely ignores how muted competition and monopolization drives up prices for consumers. The agency often talks a good (if ambiguous) game about ‘bridging the digital divide,’ but they don’t collect and share pricing data proving market failure, nor are they capable of admitting monopolies exist and are harmful in public-facing messaging.,,, Back in November, the agency issued a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) pondering whether they should more seriously analyze the cost of broadband when making those determinations (yes, duh)…. But even the faint possibility of the FCC looking at expensive U.S. broadband has been enough to send telecom lobbyists into a tizzy, with cable lobbying organizations arguing in filings that even asking the question is ‘inappropriate’…. The majority of Americans live under a monopoly or duopoly for broadband access protected by state and federal corruption. This muted competition consistently results in spotty coverage, high prices, slow speeds, and comically terrible customer service. And again, FCC officials can’t even openly admit there’s a monopoly/duopoly problem, much less field concrete solutions to the problem…. The fact that it’s 2023 and the FCC and [National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)] have only fairly recently realized they should be considering affordability in broadband access policy genuinely speaks for itself.”


Climate and environmental crises

How lending-based climate finance is pushing poor countries deeper into debt 

[France24, via Naked Capitalism 12-14-2023]

‘Small minority’ of nations blocking progress on fossil fuels at COP28, says at-risk Vanuatu 

[France24, via Naked Capitalism 12-11-2023]

What Ails Offshore Wind: Supply Chains, Ships and Interest Rates

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 12-13-2023]

Government officials and energy developers misjudged the difficulty of building huge clean energy projects in the United States, which has built very few of them.

Why Repairing Your EV Is So Expensive

[Wall Street Journal, via The Big Picture 12-12-2023]


Creating new economic potential – science and technology

Why scientists are making transparent wood 

[Ars Technica, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-11-2023]

“Transparent wood could soon find uses in super-strong screens for smartphones; in soft, glowing light fixtures; and even as structural features, such as color-changing windows…. Wood is made up of countless little vertical channels, like a tight bundle of straws bound together with glue. These tube-shaped cells transport water and nutrients throughout a tree, and when the tree is harvested and the moisture evaporates, pockets of air are left behind. To create see-through wood, scientists first need to modify or get rid of the glue, called lignin, that holds the cell bundles together and provides trunks and branches with most of their earthy brown hues. After bleaching lignin’s color away or otherwise removing it, a milky-white skeleton of hollow cells remains. This skeleton is still opaque, because the cell walls bend light to a different degree than the air in the cell pockets does—a value called a refractive index. Filling the air pockets with a substance like epoxy resin that bends light to a similar degree to the cell walls renders the wood transparent. The material the scientists worked with is thin—typically less than a millimeter to around a centimeter thick. But the cells create a sturdy honeycomb structure, and the tiny wood fibers are stronger than the best carbon fibers, says materials scientist Liangbing Hu, who leads the research group working on transparent wood at the University of Maryland in College Park. And with the resin added, transparent wood outperforms plastic and glass: In tests measuring how easily materials fracture or break under pressure, transparent wood came out around three times stronger than transparent plastics like Plexiglass and about 10 times tougher than glass. ‘The results are amazing, that a piece of wood can be as strong as glass,’ says Hu, who highlighted the features of transparent wood in the 2023 Annual Review of Materials Research.”


Information age dystopia / surveillance state

Polish Hackers Repaired Trains the Manufacturer Artificially Bricked. Now The Train Company Is Threatening Them

[404 Media, via Naked Capitalism 12-14-2023]


Veena Dubal [Columbia Law Review, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-2023]

E-books are fast becoming tools of corporate surveillance

[Fast Company, via Naked Capitalism 12-13-2023]

…Major publishers are giving Big Tech free rein to watch what you read and where, including books on sensitive topics, like if you check out a book on self care after an abortion. Worse, tech and publishing corporations are gobbling up data beyond your reading habits—today, there are no federal laws to stop them from surveilling people who read digital books across the entire internet.

Reader surveillance is a deeply intersectional threat, according to a congressional letter issued last week from a coalition of groups whose interests span civil rights, anti-surveillance, anti-book ban, racial justice, reproductive justice, LGBTQ+, immigrant, and antimonopoly. Our letter calls on federal lawmakers to investigate the harms of tech and publishing corporations’ powerful hold over digital book access.

News Publishers See Google’s AI Search Tool as a Traffic-Destroying Nightmare

[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-14-2023]

“Shortly after the launch of ChatGPT, the Atlantic drew up a list of the greatest threats to the 166-year-old publication from generative artificial intelligence. At the top: Google’s embrace of the technology. About 40% of the magazine’s web traffic comes from Google searches, which turn up links that users click on. A task force at the Atlantic modeled what could happen if Google integrated AI into search. It found that 75% of the time, the AI-powered search would likely provide a full answer to a user’s query and the Atlantic’s site would miss out on traffic it otherwise would have gotten.

What was once a hypothetical threat is now a very real one. Since May, Google has been testing an AI product dubbed ‘Search Generative Experience’ on a group of roughly 10 million users, and has been vocal about its intention to bring it into the heart of its core search engine. Google’s integration of AI is crystallizing for media outlets the perils of relying on big technology companies to get their content in front of readers and viewers. Already, publishers are reeling from a major decline in traffic sourced from social-media sites, as both Meta and X, the former Twitter, have pulled away from distributing news. As bad as the social-media downshift is, Google’s generative-AI-powered search is the true nightmare for publishers. Across the media world, Google generates nearly 40% of publishers’ traffic, accounting for the largest share of their ‘referrals,’ according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from measurement firm Similarweb. • “[T]he AI-powered search would likely provide a full answer to a user’s query” because Google stole the publisher’s data for its training sets. That’s the only reason it works. A classic case of “original accumulation,” as the Bearded One puts it.


Democrats’ political malpractice

John Fetterman Finally Announces He’s Not the Progressive He Pretended to Be 

Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling, December 15, 2023  [The New Republic]

Replacing Kamala Harris

Thomas Neuburger, December 12, 2023 []

by Guy Saperstein

…The mayor and later Speaker of the California Assembly, Willie Brown, was a personal friend and political supporter of trial lawyers….

Willie was married and estranged from his wife. It was well-known he had a young — 30 years younger — black girlfriend. He didn’t even try to hide it. The girlfriend was Kamala Harris, then a nondescript assistant city attorney. Next thing I knew, Kamala was running for District Attorney, supported by Willie’s powerful political machine against the then DA, Terence Hallinan, a progressive. Willie’s machine won and Kamala became San Francisco DA.

Next next thing I knew, assistant San Francisco DAs were calling me and asking, “Where is Kamala?” They knew I was a friend of Willie’s. Apparently, she wasn’t showing up for work.
A few months later, I read that Kamala had been read the riot act by a solid Democratic judge for not maintaining good chain of custody for evidence.… Kamala was hauled before three liberal judges who were outraged by her sloppiness.

A Moral Theory for Why People Don’t Like Bidenomics

Ryan Cooper, December 15, 2023 [The American Prospect]

After all, people do not just view prices as an accounting convenience; they are also thought to carry moral implications, which can be seen in the language of buying and selling itself. A price viewed as acceptable to a buyer is a fair price. If you paid too much for something, you got ripped off. A seller who exploits market conditions to raise prices is gouging the customer.

One might call this a sentiment of market egalitarianism. Prices are morally sound insofar as they are transparent and fair—meaning neither party to a transaction is leveraging some advantage to make a disproportionate, unearned profit. That’s why a really serious violation of price norms, like gas stations that jack up prices after a natural disaster, can spark protests or even violence.

The economist Richard A. Radford once examined this thinking in a famous paper on the economics of a POW camp….

Libertarian economists often mock this kind of thinking. Complaining about unfair prices is simply irrational, they believe, because the market always maximizes utility by letting supply calibrate to demand on its own.

But this is not true even on its own terms, particularly in conditions of inequality or emergency. If the supply of taxis is limited during a time of high demand and high inequality, for instance, it is “rational” in the economic sense for everyone but the rich to prefer taxis be allocated by queuing rather than price, because otherwise the rich (who may not even notice the cost) will get all the taxi rides, and everyone else will be priced out.

This is most evident during wartime. The Roosevelt administration understood during the Second World War that it would be disastrous to let prices float, because the price of goods vital to everyday life like gasoline, rubber, steel, and food would surge upward, harming the citizenry, while randomly well-placed companies would enjoy massive unearned profits. It would have been unfair and would undermine the social solidarity on which necessary wartime sacrifices rested. It also would have been inefficient, because big chunks of economic production would have surged into mega-profits for defense contractors and commodity producers rather than into guns, tanks, and planes.

Trump is overperforming, but there’s a way back for Biden

Stanley Greenberg [Financial Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-13-2023]

“The reason Donald Trump is currently overperforming as an anti-system, anti-immigrant candidate is that Joe Biden hasn’t realised yet the rules of the next US presidential election.  The 2024 race is being shaped by three exceptional factors. First, the inflation produced by the economy restarting after the pandemic, supply chain problems, rising energy prices following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the high cost of food. Second, heightened anger at profiteering by big companies and increasingly visible monopolies. And third, surging levels of migration caused by wars, political unrest and extreme weather…. So, Trump will overperform as long as almost 60 per cent of voters choose him and the Republicans over Biden and the Democrats on ‘your wages and salary keeping up with the cost of living’, handling ‘crime’ and the ‘border’. And those are three of the top four issues facing the country. When voters hear the Inflation Reduction Act is here ‘to save you money’, that message is welcomed by 52 per cent of voters — seven points above Biden’s vote. The Biden administration is also well placed to talk about profiteering and what it has done to shift power from Wall Street and big corporations. Its appointments to regulatory agencies have made it clear workers have a right to organise, have brought a fresh antitrust lawsuit against Amazon and have issued new guidelines for mergers. And messaging on the economy that begins with the contention that ‘economic power is concentrated in the hands of big banks’ and insists Biden has ‘an agenda to shift power away from corporate giants and corporate executives’ is welcomed by 53 per cent of voters.”

Calls grow for Congress to subpoena Jeffrey Epstein’s flight logs despite Democrat ‘stonewalling’

[FOX, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-13-2023]

[“Calls are growing for Congress to subpoena convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s flight logs in order to identify possible perpetrators who may have partaken in his sex trafficking ring. In a Monday letter to the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., said there were still many unanswered questions surrounding Epstein’s operation, including the identities of “America’s most powerful and well-known people” who may have been involved.”


(anti)Republican Party

Who Exactly Is Paying To End Democracy In America? There Are Actual Bad Guys Worth Naming …And Shaming

Howie Klein, December 14, 2023 []

How Far Has The Fascist “Hungarian Model” Seeped Into The Republican Party?

Howie Klein, December 11, 2023 []

Yesterday, Flora Garamvolgyi and David Smith reported that Orbán allies from the the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs and staff from the Hungarian embassy are in DC to hold closed-door meetings with Republicans today and tomorrow to map out a strategy to end U.S. aid to Ukraine. The fascist-oriented Heritage Foundation is hosting.

Yet Another State Shuts the Door on Partisan Gerrymandering Complaints 

[Bolts Mag, via Naked Capitalism 12-10-2023]

Project Veritas CEO Jumps Ship After Finding ‘Evidence of Past Illegality’

[The Daily Beast, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-12-2023]

“Hannah Giles, the CEO of conservative nonprofit Project Veritas, announced her resignation ‘effective immediately’ on Monday, saying she’d unwittingly ‘stepped into an unsalvageable mess’ upon taking the job earlier this year. Giles was named the group’s chief executive four months after its messy breakup with founder James O’Keefe in February. In a statement posted to X, she claimed she’d taken over an organization ‘wrought with strong evidence of past illegality and past financial improprieties.’ Suggesting she’d had no prior knowledge of the infamously embattled nonprofit’s alleged improprieties, Giles continued on to say that once she’d ‘discovered’ the evidence, ‘I brought the information to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.’”

The Republican leading the probe of Hunter Biden has his own shell company and complicated friends

[Associated Press, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-14-2023]

“Rep. James Comer, a multimillionaire farmer, boasts of being one of the largest landholders near his rural Kentucky hometown, and he has meticulously documented nearly all of his landholdings on congressional financial disclosure documents – roughly 1,600 acres in all. But there are six acres that he bought in 2015 and co-owns with a longtime campaign contributor that he has treated differently, transferring his ownership to Farm Team Properties, a shell company he co-owns with his wife. Interviews and records reviewed by The Associated Press provide new insights into the financial deal, which risks undercutting the force of some of Comer’s central arguments in his impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden. For months, the chairman of the House Oversight committee and his Republican colleagues have been pounding Biden for how his relatives traded on their famous name to secure business deals. In particular, Comer has attacked some Biden family members, including the president’s son Hunter, over their use of ‘shell companies’ that appear designed to obscure millions of dollars in earnings they received from shadowy middlemen and foreign interests… But as Comer works to “deliver the transparency and accountability that the American people demand” through the GOP’s investigation, his own finances and relationships have begun to draw notice, too, including his ties to prominent local figures who have complicated pasts not all that dissimilar to some of those caught up in his Biden probe…. Comer created the company in 2017 to hold his stake in the six acres that he purchased two years earlier in a joint venture with Darren Cleary, a major campaign contributor and construction contractor from Monroe County, Kentucky, where the congressman was born and raised…. Cleary, his businesses and family have donated roughly $70,000 to Comer’s various campaigns, records show. He has also lauded Comer on social media for “For Fighting For Us Everyday” and has posted photos of the two on a golf course together.”

Good Is Bad– Very, Very Bad… And The Nut Primarying Him Is Even Worse! Virginia GOP Politics!

Howie Klein, December 13, 2023 []

How Trump netted evangelical votes in Iowa — with help from a young Christian operative

[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-14-2023]

“Before Donald Trump stepped on stage for a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in early December, several leaders joined him in a prayer on behalf of a candidate whose latest presidential quest they see as a mission ordained by God. ‘The gates of hell will not prevail over him,’ Iowa state legislator and pastor Brad Sherman told the prayer circle. ‘There is a great victory coming for this nation and the world because of the calling you’ve placed on this man.’ That moment, captured in a video that went viral, was orchestrated by an aide just a few years out of college who has been locking in the crucial Iowa evangelical vote for Trump. Since joining the campaign in September as Iowa director of faith outreach, Jackson Lane, the 25-year-old son of prominent Christian activist David Lane, has rounded up key endorsements and shored up evangelical support, helping the Trump team blunt a push by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to win over conservative Christian voters with his hard-line stances on abortion and other issues. Evangelical voters make up more than half of the Republican electorate in Iowa, whose population is around 90% white and where the caucuses on Jan. 15 kick off voting in the Republican primary race.”

The Bogus Historians Who Teach Evangelicals They Live in a Theocracy

[Politico, via The Big Picture 12-10-2023]

A new book on the Christian right reveals how a series of unscrupulous leaders turned politics into a powerful and lucrative gospel.


The (anti)Federalist Society assault on the Constitution

How a Supreme Court Leak Helped Conservative Justices Unite to Overturn Roe

Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling, December 15, 2023  [The New Republic]

Summarizes the major New York Times report.



Open Thread


National Futures In The Age of China & Collapse


  1. StewartM

    No, the “only humane solution” to the ethnic cleansing and potential genocide being enacted by Israel is NOT the “two state solution” but the destruction of the state of Israel and its replacement by a secular state. That is the only solution that allows people to coexist together.

    Of course, what would have to happen to let this occur is that Palestinians must reject living under Muslim state, Israelis must reject the notion of a Jewish state, and finally Israelis must financially compensate Palestinians for the property that they stole–either by giving it back, or paying rent to them for it, or some other solution (paying rent is better than a one-time cash payout). That would be the most just solution. Neither side will likely agree what must be done, regrettably.

  2. StewartM

    On the “Why people don’t like Bidenomics” ..

    I still think this is mostly due to the hype of the right-wing media. Inflation is down to 3.2 %, and it is projected to be 2.5 % next year.

    By contrast, the beloved “Morning in America” Reagan economy had inflation higher:

    1982: 6.16 %
    1983: 3.21 %
    1984: 4.32 %
    1985: 3.56 %
    1986: 1.86 %
    1987: 3.63 %
    1988: 4.14 %
    1989: 4.82 %

    Yet you didn’t hear non-stop the cry of how inflation was “ruining us” and how ordinary people were suffering because inflation was higher than the magical 2 % fairy the Fed cites. You can’t understand US politics until you understand how much of the media are nothing but damned open cheerleaders for the Right (“Sis-boom-ba! Go Team Go!”)

    And for commentators to content that Biden could resort to wage-price controls like WWII is fatuous commentary. Do you think he could have gotten the Senate votes for achieving this legislatively when he couldn’t get Manchin and Sinema to even pass a very popular minimum wage increase? As for executive authority, the conservative courts won’t even let him meaningfully let students off the hook for their debt, something that by precedent was considered actionable by the executive. To me, I would ask people who contend otherwise how they would achieve this if they or someone they trust, were thrust into the presidency. All I usually get to that is arm-waving.

    Not that I believe Biden is trying to do everything right–far from it. I think one of the things to help his re-election chances is to NOT back down on the R’s immigration demands on the recent continuing resolution measure. Let funding for Israel and Ukraine expire if need be. This both helps Biden politically with much of his base (especially the young) and switches the blame to the Rs for whatever transpires (which may actually be *peace*, for crying out loud, if both Israel and Ukraine are forced to settle for less-than-their-maximalist demands).

  3. bruce wilder

    The most disconcerting aspect of Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Gaza is not the brutality and inhumanity of it, or the shamelessness of Israeli officials, but the complete lack of any plan or even proposal for a constructive alternative to the killing and destruction.

    Here’s a wild and crazy idea: a permanent ceasefire followed by Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

    That Israel will be able to continue a genocide for a year(!) is preposterous politically even as it is horrific to contemplate morally.

  4. Ian Welsh

    Those inflation numbers aren’t credible.

    Grocery prices in Canada are up about 2/3rds since 2020. I know this for a fact and cannot be told otherwise because I see my grocery bills for buying the same basket of goods.

    Rent and real-estate prices are also completely out of control, though Canada’s worse than the US in this regard, the number of homeless people in America makes it quite clear the economy is not “good” for a lot of people.

    In any case, Reagan had the advantage of coming after the high inflation of the late 70s. I was alive then: the price of some things went up four-fold (chocolate bars and comic books, for example) and doubling of some things was quite common.

  5. Re: Trump Is Overperforming

    Gods! It’s always “we need better PR” with the Democrats, or “we need a plan.” No. You need results. I can watch the homeless encampments grow from the window of my Legal Aid office as affordable housing disappears, yet there are “luxury” apartments sitting empty because rents for a studio are upwards of $2000.

  6. VietnamVet

    A neo-feudal corporate and financial plutocracy has seized control of the globe. China, Russia and Iran have broken away from the Western Empire but a new peaceful multi-polar world has not yet emerged.

    The bottom 90% of the human population don’t matter. Servants (workers) are replaceable:
    3.1 million Children a year die from poor nutrition and hunger.
    The War on Terror led to 4.5 million deaths.
    7 million died in the COVID-19 outbreak.
    2 million Chinese died after Zero-Covid was ended.
    1 billion people are homeless worldwide.

    To continue the capitalist oligarchs’ exploitation of labor and natural resources, Democracy, Communism, and the New Deal were terminated. Neo-colonialism (good old fashion divide and rule), Newspeak (Woke Talk), and electronic surveillance implemented. Gulags privatized. Fanatical true believers took over, funded by rich radicals, who ended secular constitutional nation states. Endless wars were started to pay for mercenary armies. The imposition of religious beliefs and holy wars are the result. This is fervently hidden by corporate-state media or labelled as lies and misinformation.

    The mission statement for the first US Civil War forgotten: “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

    Likewise, The Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal”.

    A repeat Joe Biden and Donald Trump 2024 US election is proof that Democracy is no more. Without peaceful succession of rulers by fair elections in sovereign nation states with secure borders, western civilization will fall.

  7. bruce wilder

    Sinema and Manchin were originally elected as Democrats. “Build Back Better” was converted into billions for war in Ukraine at the instigation of the Biden Administration and with the full support of Democrats in Congress including I note AOC. Biden himself was a principal architect of the bankruptcy legislation that prevents people from shedding onerous student loan and credit card debt. Obama got a lot of mileage out of calling for increases in the minimum wage without doing anything just as he got credit for a health care insurance reform that has restrained bad practices of health insurers and hospitals and big pharma hardly at all.

    The domination of politics by plutocratic oligarchs and corporate business interests is a systematic and very possibly hopeless situation, but it only becomes more hopeless when people of good will credulously lend their intelligence to a Manichean view of partisan struggles that cast the Democrats as well-intentioned angels and Republicans as a mix of “normal” (anti-Trump) devils and radically extreme and stupid devils (e.g. MTG)

    If you really think Democrats are heroically resisting the encroaching “fascism” and “racism” of Donald Trump on behalf of “our democracy” while ignoring, say, the Russiagate hoax or the determined provocation of Russia that set off the Ukraine War, you really are not paying attention even though you think you are.

    Yes, the legacy Media cheerlead globalist financialized capitalism, because . . . guess who owns and controls the mainstream Media? Who controls the “platforms” of commercialized social media? Who knows what evil lurks in hearts of men? The Algorithm knows!

  8. Purple Library Guy

    That thing about the oligarchs conspiring to use ALEC to change the US Constitution to drastically reduce the powers of the central state so they can . . . I guess, better dominate the shithole Red states and suck up whatever wealth the people of those states have left?

    Anyway, that’s amazing. As an evil plot it’s on one hand pretty impressive, but it’s also kind of an incredible own goal. It may be terrible news for the people of the United States, but for the rest of the world the headline goes “Country dominating us and taking all our money decides to commit suicide as global power, make self into powerless loose federation” and “World War III no longer imminent as US no longer remotely capable of challenging rising powers”! I feel like cheering them on and hoping nobody points out to those rich right wing bastards “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.”

  9. StewartM

    Ian, I agree the current inflation numbers are flawed; how much they underestimate inflation is unclear (the increase in housing prices are a biggie here).

    But neither were Reagan’s inflation numbers–in fact, his administration was the first to start cooking the books regarding inflation. The fact is that even by his numbers, we weren’t achieving a policy goal of 2 % which the Fed has set for Biden’s administration. Nor was there any hue and cry over that in the media. After all, it was “morning in American, no?”

  10. different clue

    @Purple Library Guy,

    If the smartALECs get their Articles of Confederation 2.0 America, who gets the A bombs and the H bombs? Probably a coalition of smartALECs, the kind of Gilead Christians that Margaret Atwood wrote a novel about, and a seething cauldron full of Rapturaniacs and Armageddonites ( of whose existence Atwood may not be so well informed).

    Still feel better about it?

  11. StewartM

    Bruce Wilder

    Sinema and Manchin were originally elected as Democrats. “Build Back Better” was converted into billions for war in Ukraine

    Sinema and Manchin were bribed. “Build back better” was defeated by both even before Ukraine happened. BBB and Ukraine are NOT related, Bruce.

    And I note that you had to go back almost twenty years to call out Biden on his role as Obama’s VP. As I have said, you types have long mistaken Biden’s actions on things like this as some allegiance to some ‘principle’ that he does not actually hold. Biden is a politician who goes with the flow. When neoliberalism was in vogue, he supported it; but he also passed legislation like the child tax credit and the stimulus packages during Covid (strongly opposed by committed neoliberal ideologues like Larry Sumners) which are not neoliberal.

    For better, or for worse, he’s a politician who seeks to satisfy his constituencies and win elections. And if you think that’s bad, consider both the Clintons and Obama, who were definitely willing to LOSE Congressional elections when they thought they couldn’t do things like privatize or gut SS and Medicare with Congressional Democrats. The Clintons and Obama, along with Larry Summer and Timmy Geithner and their types, are the ideologues, not Biden. This fits in why Bernie conceded to Biden in 2020 far sooner than Clinton in 2016 (as he realized, correctly, “this guy will give us some of the loaf” whereas Clinton or Obama would have made sure progressives would get NOTHING if not out of spite. It’s also why privately Obama didn’t think much of his vice president; preferring that his former Secretary of State, Clinton, win the Democratic nomination in 2016.

    If you really think Democrats are heroically resisting the encroaching “fascism” and “racism” of Donald Trump on behalf of “our democracy” while ignoring, say, the Russiagate hoax or the determined provocation of Russia that set off the Ukraine War, you really are not paying attention even though you think you are.

    If you really think that Trump’s fascism and the sins of even the neoliberal Dems are morally equivalent, then you need to re-read history. In particular you need to re-read the history of German in the 1930s, and of those who made similar stupid moral equivalencies and calculations.

    Understand this, Bruce. People are not perfect. Politicians are not perfect. There is nobody, but nobody, in power or even remotely near power who would do what I would like. Even the best politicians I could vote for either proposal imperfect or inadequate solutions, and sometimes even bad solutions or ‘solutions’ to problems that don’t exist.

    Nor is that something only true of today. Even the “good war”, WWII, involved:

    The British Empire (estimated deaths vary; 150 million is one)

    The US (genocide of Native Americans, legalized second-class citizenship for swaths of its population)

    The USSR (modern estimates of Stalin’s death toll are up to 9 million, including the Ukraine famine and collectivization; Lenin killed a few million more)

    China under Chiang Kai-Shek (estimates of 10 million killed from 1928-1949)

    Against Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan.

    So even the ‘good guys’ in the ‘good war’ didn’t come with clean hands. But supporting even the ‘not-so-good-guys’ was the right thing to do, as the alternative was far, far, far worse. Same with Trumpism. All the evils you decry now would either continue or be accelerated under Trump (save possibly Ukraine, but as a counter Trump would increase support for Israel, as anything that kills non-white people is good to him and his base).

  12. bruce wilder

    I read that short essay by Howie Klein on Orban and Hungary. About all it proves is the utter worthlessness of Howie Klein as a polemicist. No insight and no integrity.

    Leaving aside his implicit racism, the most problematic thing for me is that he cannot question the wisdom of the Ukraine War, because Orban questions it.

  13. Steve

    The only place for a Palestinian state is in Palestine, not the Sinai. Israel may be in a bloodthirsty frenzy, but there are many cards left to be played. Even if Israel were to attain its goal of clearing all the Palestinians from Palestine, it would be even more of a pariah state chained to an aging sclerotic hegemon rapidly losing ground to a multipolar world. Resettling Palestinians in Sinai plays into Israel’s hands at a time when they are at their peak.

  14. Ian Welsh

    Reagan’s numbers were a lot less cooked. I don’t say this because I like Reagan, I despise the man, but cooking has been institutionalized at a level that wasn’t even conceived of back in the 80s. In many areas our numbers aren’t even related to reality, like the idea that auto prices didn’t increase in 20 years. It’s complete cloud-cuckoo land.

  15. bruce wilder

    Thanks for your answer, StewartM

    No one thinks Biden follows any principle or personal conviction. I don’t think he has enough functioning brain cells to hold an ideology. For some of us, the fecklessness of the former Senator from MBNA was discouraging even before he descended into senility. I still do not understand why none of that is a problem for you.

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