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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 31, 2023

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 31, 2023

by Tony Wikrent



Oligarchy and Democracy

Jeffrey A. Winters [The American Interest, via The Big Picture 12-24-2023]

Winters is professor of political science at Northwestern University and author of Oligarchy, published by Cambridge University Press in 2011.

Everyone is by now aware of the staggering shift in fortunes upward favoring the wealthy. Less well understood is that this rising inequality is not the result of something economically rational, such as a surge in productivity or value-added contributions from financiers and hedge-fund CEOs, but is rather a direct reflection of redistributive policies that have helped the richest get richer.

[TW: I would argue that this is, in fact, well understood: that’s why Biden’s polling is so terrible. People generally understand the economy is rigged, and the see no effort being made to unrig it, nor any effort to rein in the worst abuses of economic predators, such as private equity. ]

The tiny proportion of wealthy actors among eligible voters cannot account for the immense political firepower needed to keep winning these policy victories. While motivated and mobilized minorities—those organized over issues like gay marriage, for example—can sometimes win legislative victories despite broad opposition from the electorate, America’s ultra-rich all together could barely fill a large sports stadium. They never assemble for rallies or marches, sign petitions, or mount Facebook or Twitter campaigns. So how do they so consistently get their way?

One increasingly popular answer is that America is an oligarchy rather than a democracy.1 The complex truth, however, is that the American political economy is both an oligarchy and a democracy; the challenge is to understand how these two political forms can coexist in a single system. Sorting out this duality begins with a recognition of the different kinds of power involved in each realm. Oligarchy rests on the concentration of material power, democracy on the dispersion of non-material power. The American system, like many others, pits a few with money power against the many with participation power. The chronic problem is not just that electoral democracy provides few constraints on the power of oligarchs in general, but that American democracy is by design particularly responsive to the power of money….

Oligarchy should be understood as the politics of wealth defense, which has evolved in important ways throughout human civilization. For most of history, this has meant oligarchs were focused on defending their claims to property. They did so by arming themselves or by ruling directly and jointly over armed forces they assembled and funded. Every great increase in wealth required oligarchs to spend additional resources on armaments, castles, militias and other means of defense. The greatest transformation in the politics of wealth defense and thus of oligarchy came with the rise of the modern state. Through its impersonal system of laws, the armed modern state converted individual oligarchic property claims into secure societal property rights. In exchange, oligarchs disarmed and submitted to the same protective legal infrastructure that applied to all citizens (in theory if not always in practice). Property rights offered reliable safeguards not only against potential antagonists without property, but also, no less important, against other oligarchs and the armed state itself that administered the entire arrangement.

[TW: Here, I think Winters commits a grievous error of omission by not considering the mental and social pathologies which characterize the rich, and the society they dominate. Theorists of civic republicanism repeatedly warned of the self-glorification the rich engage in. ]

Introducing MASTER PLAN

December 29, 2023 [The Lever]

The Lever’s upcoming podcast series exposes the 50-year plot to legalize corruption in America. Listen to the trailer now.

In MASTER PLAN, The Lever’s journalists unearth never-before-reported documents showing how a group of extremists and tycoons legalized corruption and took over the U.S. government. In this epic journey from the 1970s to the present, you’ll hear the untold history of famous villains you already thought you knew—people like President Richard Nixon, Senator Mitch McConnell and Fox News boss Roger Ailes. You’ll also meet operatives and oligarchs you’ve probably never heard of, because they’ve wielded their power in the shadows.…


Book Review: Sally Denton and Roger Morris, “The Money and the Power”

Conor Gallagher, December 25, 2023 [Naked Capitalism]

…Denton and Morris’ tale begins with Las Vegas as nothing more than a dusty intersection in the middle of the desert at a time when the state was still for the most part in opposition to runaway vice. In Vegas’ 1930s beginnings it was an organized crime outpost for money laundering and an escape for Hoover Dam construction workers. Local and state politics were largely in the pocket of organized crime, but still most contained to Nevada. While the US always has always had organized crime and corruption, it was for the most part local or regional and not in cahoots with the national state.

With World War Two, that begins to change.

The authors highlight the moment when US Naval Intelligence and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) struck a deal with Meyer Lansky, the man who put the ‘organized’ in organized crime, to suppress leftist unions on New York docks during the war by any means necessary. It was aptly called Operation Underworld.

Now the government had been hiring thugs for a long time, but this collaboration would grow into something more to the point the two sides are one and the same. As Denton and Morris describe it, this was ‘the start of what would be a growing covert alliance with organized crime, beginning during the war and becoming all but institutionalized afterward, a “continuing mode of operation,” as one scholar called it later.’

The war-time measures against leftists did not end with the war. The CIA and FBI entered into an alliance with organized crime against Communists and Leftists….

Heather Cox Richardson, December 26, 2023 [Letters from an American]

With the “evil empire,” as President Ronald Reagan had dubbed the Soviet Union, no longer a viable enemy, Movement Conservatives, aided by new talk radio hosts, increasingly demonized their domestic political opponents. As they strengthened their hold on the Republican Party, Movement Conservatives cut taxes, slashed the social safety net, and deregulated the economy.

​​At the same time, the oligarchs who rose to power in the former Soviet republics looked to park their illicit money in western democracies, where the rule of law would protect their investments. Once invested in the United States, they favored the Republicans who focused on the protection of wealth rather than social services. For their part, Republican politicians focused on spreading capitalism rather than democracy, arguing that the two went hand in hand.

The financial deregulation that made the U.S. a good bet for oligarchs to launder money got a boost when, shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks, Congress passed the PATRIOT Act to address the threat of terrorism. The law took on money laundering and the illicit funding of terrorism, requiring financial institutions to inspect large sums of money passing through them. But the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) exempted many real estate deals from the new regulations.

The United States became one of the money-laundering capitals of the world, with hundreds of billions of dollars laundered in the U.S. every year.

In 2011 the international movement of illicit money led then–FBI director Robert Mueller to tell the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City that globalization and technology had changed the nature of organized crime. International enterprises, he said, “are running multi-national, multi-billion dollar schemes from start to finish…. They may be former members of nation-state governments, security services, or the military…. These criminal enterprises are making billions of dollars from human trafficking, health care fraud, computer intrusions, and copyright infringement. They are cornering the market on natural gas, oil, and precious metals, and selling to the highest bidder…. These groups may infiltrate our businesses. They may provide logistical support to hostile foreign powers. They may try to manipulate those at the highest levels of government. Indeed, these so-called ‘iron triangles’ of organized criminals, corrupt government officials, and business leaders pose a significant national security threat.”

Tech Billionaires Need to Stop Trying to Make the Science Fiction They Grew Up on Real 

[Scientific American, via Naked Capitalism 12-26-2023]

…Billionaires who grew up reading science-fiction classics published 30 to 50 years ago are affecting our life today in almost too many ways to list: Elon Musk wants to colonize Mars. Jeff Bezos prefers 1970s plans for giant orbital habitats.  Peter Thiel is funding research into artificial intelligence, life extension and “seasteading.” Mark Zuckerberg has blown $10 billion trying to create the Metaverse from Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash. And Marc Andreessen of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz has published a “techno-optimist manifesto” promoting a bizarre accelerationist philosophy that calls for an unregulated, solely capitalist future of pure technological chaos.

The Insufferable Bros Who Run Corporate America 

Matt Stoller, via Naked Capitalism 12-27-2023]

Given the trends in American business towards monopolization since the 1980s, it won’t surprise you to learn there’s one corporation that stands between pharmaceutical firm marketing divisions and the doctor with the pen. It’s called IQVIA, and it is the result of a series of mergers, with the original seed company being IMS Health, co-founded by Arthur Sackler in the 1950s. Yes, that Sackler.

IQVIA is now embroiled in a fight with the Federal Trade Commission over a merger that will determine the future of this $600 billion of spending, and more broadly, which medicines get developed and sold worldwide. Specifically, the FTC alleges IQVIA is trying to monopolize advertising to health care professionals (HCP) by buying up two of the three key firms that run online advertising targeted at doctors. These firms have vaguely titillating names. There’s Lasso, for which IQVIA paid a rumored $400 million, and DeepIntent, for which it forked over an apparent $800 million. (The remaining one is PulsePoint.)


Restoring balance to the economy  

Where is the Party of the Working Class? 

Les Leopold, December 27, 2023

A quarter century ago, the late labor leader, Tony Mazzocchi, issued a dire warning.  Unless a labor party was created, working people would abandon the Democrats and flock towards authoritarians who would promise job protections and economic stability. Mazzocchi found enormous resonance among workers when he declared, “The bosses have two parties. We need one of our own.”

That rings even more true today for many working-class people. But is it possible to build a political party that truly speaks to the needs of working people in an era of runaway inequality and incessant mass layoffs?

Because neither Mazzocchi nor other labor leaders wanted to create a spoiler party that would siphon off Democratic votes and elect Republicans, the idea never found a way to gain significant traction. But the opportunity to create a new party would be more likely if one of the two major parties imploded, which might be happening right now to the Republican Party as it wallows in the fantasy world of Trump’s election lies and conspiracies….

Starting with Bill Clinton, the competition for Wall Street cash pulled the Democrats further away from the working-class, who the Dems thought had no place else to go. It could happen again.

Moving even closer to Wall Street could compound the difficulties that the Democrats already have.  Not only are white working-class voters moving away from the Democrats, but so are Black and Hispanic voters. Biden’s support among non-white voters has fallen from the 70 percent he received in 2020 against Trump, to 53 percent today.  And the decline has been dramatic among non-white voters with no college education and whose incomes are less than $50,000 per year.  Many of those voters are unlikely to rush towards the Trump or Cheney Republicans, but they might instead sit out the election, which would be enormously harmful to the Democrats.

This creates an opportunity for the Trump Republicans to draw working-class voters by focusing on job security. But the Republicans seem fixated on culture wars and therefore run the risk of alienating working-class people of all shades and ethnicities who have become more liberal since 2010 on key social issues, including immigration.

Celebrate Christmas With the Gilded Age’s Forgotten Christian Socialists 

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 12-25-2023]

…The only church for this Jesus was the socialist movement. Political groups like the Knights of Labor and left-wing periodicals like Appeal to Reason already invoked a working-class Christ, quoting his Sermon on the Mount as a condemnation of greed and a cry of solidarity. Protestant ministers such as W. D. P. Bliss and Herbert Casson sympathized, and in the 1890s they began establishing “Labor churches” across the country. These were not ordinary churches: Bliss’s Boston congregation lived together, studied scripture together, ran a business together, and marched for workers together. Their goal was to model a new society, a shining Christian commonwealth — and to universalize that society through socialist politics.

This was an implicitly millenarian project, gazing past the charitable acts of “Churchianity” and toward the grand arrival of God’s kingdom. Yet crucially, it was a postmillennial one, in that it enjoined the faithful to build a just world as a precondition for Christ’s return. Radical Christians were to engage in politics, not withdraw from it. “It is utter nonsense to preach the gospel of individual conversation without adding the gospel of social regeneration,” as Casson wrote.

[TW: One of the great driving forces of modern American society, and which is largely ignored, is the opposite of postmillennialism, dispensational premillennialism. Basically, postmillennialists believe that Christ will return after Christians have established justice and equality on earth. There is thus a strong incentive to work for social and economic justice. Premillennialism believes that Christ will return after a period of tribulation, in which the wicked reign over chaos and misery. Premillennialists therefore have no incentive to work for social and economic justice.]


Strategic Political Economy

Assassination Will Not Help Israel

Ian Welsh, December 29, 2023

The problem with American leaders is that they don’t believe in anything enough to die for it. Oh, they have beliefs, the beliefs of a leech (which is unfair to leeches, which are, unlike ticks, largely beneficial to their hosts.) They really, really believe in neoliberalism, because it has made them filthy rich.

But die for it, except in the sense of “destroy the world for profit?”


The leadership of Hamas, Hezbollah, even Iran to a lesser extent, have beliefs they are willing to die for, personally, not just send other people to die for.

Further, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian army (especially the Revolutionary Guards) are ideological organizations. From top to bottom, they believe in more or less the same things. You could kill the top 99 leaders of those orgs, and Mr. #100 would not be that much different.

Selfishness Cannot Be the Basis of Society

[Naked Capitalism 12-26-2023]

On Christianity

Nassim Nicholas Taleb [Medium, via Naked Capitalism 12-28-2023]

“Ironically, modernists fall for what I have called the opiate of the middle classes[i.e., the PMC], that is social science and stock market speculation. They refuse religion on rational grounds, then fall for economic forecasters, stock market analysts, and psychologists. We know that economic forecasts work no better than astrology; stock market analysts are more pompous but much less elegant than the bishop, and psychology papers do not replicate meaning their results do not hold. My co-author Rupert Read and I have argued (using evolutionary arguments) that religion, via interdicts, allows the intergenerational transmission of survival heuristics and is effective in nudging people into some classes of behavior[16]. By some irony, “nudging” theory developed by social scientists (which earned Richard Thaler a Nobel in economic sciences) has been recently shown to be nonreplicable, owing to a statistical artifact[17]. Nonreplicable is the polite scientific term to mean that it is no different from astrology. Listen to the bishop — the recipient of generations of survival wisdom — not the psychologist.”


Global power shift

How Yemen is blocking US hegemony in West Asia 

[The Cradle, December 22, 2023

…The embarrassment for Secretary Austin and White House advisor Jake Sullivan was swift. Shortly after the coalition’s announcement, key US allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt declined participation. European allies Denmark, Holland, and Norway provided minimal support, sending only a handful of naval officers.

France agreed to participate but refused to deploy additional ships to the region or place its existing vessel there under US command. Italy and Spain refuted claims of their participation, and eight countries remained anonymous, casting doubt on their existence.

Ansarallah has therefore destroyed another pillar of the White House National Security Strategy, which seeks “to promote regional integration by building political, economic, and security connections between and among US partners, including through integrated air and maritime defense structures.”

Revolutions in naval warfare

The Pentagon plans to defend commercial ships using missile defense systems on US and allied naval carriers deployed to the region.

But the world’s superpower, now largely on its own, does not have the military capacity to counter attacks from war-torn Yemen, the poorest country in West Asia.

This is because the US relies on expensive and difficult to manufacture interceptor missiles to counter the inexpensive and mass-produced drones and missiles that Ansarallah possesses.

Austin made his announcement shortly after the USS Carney destroyer intercepted 14 one-way attack drones on just one day, the 16th of December.

The operation appeared to be a success, but Politico swiftly reported that according to three US Defense Department officials, the cost of countering such attacks “is a growing concern.”

The SM-2 missiles used by the USS Carney cost roughly $2.1 million each, while Ansarallah’s one-way attack drones cost a mere $2,000 each.

This means that to shoot down the $28,000 worth of drones on 16 December, the US spent at least $28 million in just one day….

As Fortis Analysis observed, the US has eight guided missile cruisers and destroyers operating in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, with a total of 800 SM-2 and SM-6 interceptor missiles for ship defense between them. Fortis Analysis further notes that production of these missiles is slow, meaning any ongoing campaign to counter Ansarallah will quickly deplete US interceptor missile stocks to dangerously low levels. Meanwhile, the US weapons manufacturer Raytheon can produce less than 50 SM-2 and fewer than 200 SM-6 missiles annually….

While the US military is successful at producing expensive, technologically complex weapons systems that provide excellent profits for the arms industry, such as the F-15 warplanes, it is not capable of producing enough of the weapons needed to actually fight and win real wars on the other side of the world, where supply chains become even more critical….

Moscow has the industrial base and the supply chains in place to produce hundreds of thousands of the low-cost, rudimentary 152mm artillery shells – two million annually – needed for success in a multi-year war of attrition fought largely in trenches. The US, quite simply, does not. Washington’s war industrial complex is currently, at best, manufacturing 288,000 shells annually and seeks to manufacture one million shells by the year 2028, still only half of the Russian manufacturing ability.

Additionally, one Russian 152mm artillery round costs $600 dollars according to western experts, whereas it costs a western country $5,000 to $6,000 to produce a comparable 155mm artillery shell.

American Spies Confront a New, Formidable China 

[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism 12-27-2023]

The U.S. lost its human network in China just as Xi became Communist Party leader, in late 2012, and then president a few months later. Multiple, sometimes daily, CIA reports predicted he would be a different kind of Chinese leader, more forceful, nationalistic and security-focused, current and former intelligence officials said.

Several officials said the analysis was largely ignored by President Barack Obama’s White House, which hoped that as China grew economically, it would liberalize and join the U.S.-led international world order. That policy had been followed by Democratic and Republican administrations for two decades. “There was a lot of desperation to believe that,” said Gail Helt, a former CIA East Asia analyst.
[TW: It wasn’t just Obama. I remember having arguments with conservatives and Bush supporters when Dubya was President.]

Botched CIA Communications System Helped Blow Cover of Chinese Agents

[Foreign Policy, August 15, 2018]

It was considered one of the CIA’s worst failures in decades: Over a two-year period starting in late 2010, Chinese authorities systematically dismantled the agency’s network of agents across the country, executing dozens of suspected U.S. spies….

Now, nearly eight years later, it appears that the agency botched the communication system it used to interact with its sources, according to five current and former intelligence officials. The CIA had imported the system from its Middle East operations, where the online environment was considerably less hazardous, and apparently underestimated China’s ability to penetrate it.
“The attitude was that we’ve got this, we’re untouchable,” said one of the officials who, like the others, declined to be named discussing sensitive information. The former official described the attitude of those in the agency who worked on China at the time as “invincible.”

Moscow’s anti-sanctions tsarina: What the woman leading Russia’s Central Bank says about economic war with the West 

[RT, via Naked Capitalism 12-30-2023]

The head of the Bank of Russia, Elvira Nabiullina, has held the position for more than ten years. When she was just starting the job, the world’s media highlighted that Nabiullina had become the first woman to run a central bank in a G8 country. Now, however, the Western press talks about her in a completely different context. Not long ago, Politico magazine named her “disruptor of the year” because she “has managed to stave off the effects of unprecedented Western sanctions designed to drain the Kremlin’s coffers.”….

— We have been living under sanctions since 2014 and, therefore, have always considered the risk that the sanctions may increase. We did a lot of work in this respect and conducted stress tests with many financial institutions. Therefore, when the major banks fell under sanctions, they were largely prepared for it. Disconnection from SWIFT has been a threat since 2014, so we created our own national payment system. We diversified our reserves and increased the share of yuan and gold reserves. International payments were actually the biggest issue, and we are still working on it. Blocked and frozen individual assets are also a painful subject since millions of people who were not sanctioned ended up with frozen assets. We are still trying to solve this problem together with the government.

As for the frozen reserves, I think this is a highly negative signal for all the central banks, because it violates the basic principles of security. But in this regard, we were aided by the floating exchange rate and the currency restrictions, which we adopted last spring and which were quite severe. Later, as you remember, these restrictions were weakened. This helped us mitigate financial stability risks.

The Biden Administration Is Quietly Shifting Its Strategy in Ukraine 

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 12-28-2023]

For two years, Biden and Zelenskyy have been focused on driving Russia from Ukraine. Now Washington is discussing a move to a more defensive posture.


[Foundation to Battle Injustice, via Naked Capitalism 12-30-2023]

Gaza / Palestine / Israel

Israel is losing the war against Hamas – but Netanyahu and his government will never admit it 

[The Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 12-24-2023]

…Very recently there have been two further incidents. On 12 December, there was a skilful triple ambush staged by Hamas paramilitaries in a part of Gaza supposedly controlled by Israeli forces. An IDF unit was ambushed and took casualties. Further troops were sent to aid that unit, and they were then ambushed, as were reinforcements.

Ten IDF soldiers were reported killed and other seriously wounded, but it was their seniority that counted, including as it did a colonel and three majors from the elite Golani Brigade. That Hamas, supposedly decimated and with thousands of troops already killed, could mount such an operation anywhere in Gaza, let alone a district reportedly already under IDF control, should raise doubts about the idea that Israel is making substantial progress in the war….

There are other, wider indications of the IDF’s problems. Official casualty figures have shown more than 460 military personnel killed in Gaza, Israel and the occupied West Bank and about 1,900 wounded. But other sources suggest far greater numbers of wounded.

Ten days ago, Israel’s leading daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, published information obtained from the ministry of defence’s rehabilitation department. The head of the department, Limor Luria, was reported as saying that more than 2,000 IDF soldiers had been registered as disabled since the conflict began – with 58% of all those it had treated suffering from severe injuries to their hands and feet – suggesting a far higher casualty toll than the official figure. Meanwhile, the Times of Israel has reported the number of injured IDF soldiers, Israel Police and other security forces as 6,125. There have also been a number of friendly fire casualties, with the same paper reporting 20 out of 105 deaths due to such fire or accidents during fighting.

The Problem With Israel’s Military 

Larry Johnson [via Naked Capitalism 12-27-2023]

One of the strengths of an army with a solid, experienced crew of Sergeants, especially Master Sergeants and First Sergeants, is that they are men (or women) with at least 15 years of military experience. The senior Sergeants also play an important role in training newly minted Lieutenants and Captains. Just because a guy is commissioned as a Second Lieutenant after graduating from West Point or the Virginia Military Institute does not mean that new officer has a clue about how to lead men in combat. That comes with experience from following senior NCOs and Officers that are experienced. All nine of the Israeli casualties listed above would not be eligible to hold those ranks if they were in any NATO army unit.

Master Sgt. (res.) Eliyahu Meir Ohana, age 28, is holding a rank that, in the U.S. Army, is held by a soldier with at least 20 years experience. The youth and inexperience of the Israeli NCOs helps explain why the reports that Israeli soldiers are shooting and killing unarmed civilians. They are young, inexperienced and lacking in the maturity one normally expects from a Staff Sergeant or Master Sergeant.

Netanyahu Says He’s Looking for Countries to ‘Absorb’ Palestinians from Gaza 

[, via Naked Capitalism 12-27-2023]

Why moving to the Sinai peninsula is the solution for Gaza’s Palestinians 

[The Jerusalem Post, via Naked Capitalism 12-28-2023]

Gas, Gaza, and Western imperialism 

[Mondoweiss, via Naked Capitalism 12-28-2023]

Gaza Ceasefire Protesters are Shutting Down Weapons Manufacturers

[Teen Vogue, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-26-2023]

“According to organizer Lara Kiswani, she and other organizers had just a few hours to galvanize protesters to form a picket line at the port around 6 a.m. Kiswani is the executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), one of the organizations that led the demonstration…. AROC led the first campaign, in 2014, alongside a coalition of local organizations, picketing for days and discouraging rank and file workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 from working ships owned by Zim Integrated Shipping Services, the largest Israeli cargo shipping company. In 2021, when a Zim vessel attempted to return to the Port of Oakland for the first time in seven years, ILWU 10 workers refused to cross he community picket line, heeding the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions’ call for US labor unions to ‘boycott the Israeli occupation’ in part by ‘refusing to unload their ships.’” • The departing ship was delayed, but not stopped. Lots of detail in the article, which I am no longer surprised to see in Teen Vogue, and nowhere else.

Billionaires, imperialists, and antisemites: The forces behind the assault on opposition to Gaza genocide 

[WSWS, via Naked Capitalism 12-29-2023]

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Why ‘Bidenomics’ is falling flat with voters 

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 12-29-2023]

Bidenomics Puts Business, Not Workers, First 

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 12-25-2023]

Measuring income inequality: A primer on the debate 

[Brookings Institution, via Naked Capitalism 12-28-2023]

[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 12-24-2023]


IMF surcharges or surtaxes: How, in total opacity, the International Monetary Funds is making money at the expense of countries in the most precarious position [CADTM, via Naked Capitalism 12-29-2023]

From FedEx to airlines, companies are starting to lose their pricing power 

[CNBC, via Naked Capitalism 12-30-2023]

GRAPH: Average quarterly earnings and revenues for companies in the S&P 500
Year-over-year percent change

How McKinsey Destroyed the Middle Class 

[Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 12-27-2023]

Serious Medical Errors Rose After Private Equity Firms Bought Hospitals

New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 12-27-2023]

Changes in Hospital Adverse Events and Patient Outcomes Associated With Private Equity Acquisition 

JAMA, via Naked Capitalism 12-27-2023] Underlying study.

Climate and environmental crises

Genetic engineering was meant to save chestnut trees. Then there was a mistake. 

[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 12-26-2023]

40% of US Electricity Is Now Emissions-Free 

[ars technica, via Naked Capitalism 12-29-2023]

Researchers develop ‘electronic soil’ that enhances crop growth 

[PhysOrg, via Naked Capitalism 12-26-2023]

World’s tallest wooden wind turbine starts turning 

[BBC, via Naked Capitalism 12-29-2023]

The 105m (345ft) tower’s strength comes from the 144 layers of laminated veneer lumber (LVL) that make its thick walls.

By varying the grain of each of the 3mm-thick layers of spruce, Modvion says it has been able to control the wall’s strength and flexibility. “It’s our secret recipe,” says company co-founder – and former architect and boat builder – David Olivegren, with a smile.

At the factory, on the edge of Gothenburg, the thin layers of wood have been glued and compressed together to make the curved sections. Those pieces are then taken on site, glued together into cylinders and then stacked on top of each other to make the tower.

“Wood and glue is the perfect combination, we’ve known that for hundreds of years,” Olivegren says. “And because using wood is lighter [than steel] you can build taller turbines with less material.”

First EV With Lithium-Free Sodium Battery Hits the Road In January 

[CarNewsChina, via Naked Capitalism 12-30-2023]

Sodium-ion batteries are expected to play an essential role in the battery mix in the future. Their best-case use is stationary energy storage, two-wheelers, and entry-level EVs. They are cheaper than LFP, don’t need lithium, and perform better in winter conditions. On the other hand, they have lower energy density. In China, many automakers are pushing into sodium-ion development; BYD recently announced a 30 GWh sodium battery plant in Xuzhou in a joint venture with tricycle giant Huaihai Group. The total investment reaches 10 billion yuan (1.4 billion USD). Another player is CATL, which has already shown us some prototypes but hasn’t announced the mass production plans yet.


Information age dystopia / surveillance state

New York Times sues Microsoft, ChatGPT maker OpenAI over copyright infringement 

[CNBC, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-27-2023]

“In its lawsuit Wednesday, the Times accused Microsoft and OpenAI of creating a business model based on ‘mass copyright infringement,’ stating that the companies’ AI systems were ‘used to create multiple reproductions of The Times’s intellectual property for the purpose of creating the GPT models that exploit and, in many cases, retain large portions of the copyrightable expression contained in those works.’ Publishers are concerned that, with the advent of generative AI chatbots, fewer people will click through to news sites, resulting in shrinking traffic and revenues. The Times included numerous examples in the suit of instances where GPT-4 produced altered versions of material published by the newspaper. In one example, the filing shows OpenAI’s software producing almost identical text to a Times article about predatory lending practices in New York City’s taxi industry. But in OpenAI’s version, GPT-4 excludes a critical piece of context about the sum of money the city made selling taxi medallions and collecting taxes on private sales.”

Tucker Carlson Visits Julian Assange 

[Rumble, via Naked Capitalism 12-26-2023]


Disrupting mainstream politics

The Squad Has a Serious Shot at Party Leadership
Julian Zelizer, December 29, 2023 [The New Republic]

Despite attacks from their colleagues, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her peers are part of a proud tradition of influential legislators who moved their party left….

…since the early twentieth century, left legislators have been organizing, mobilizing, coalition-building, and legislating from within Capitol Hill. We have seen this in the past, and we are seeing this again today. Without New York Senator Robert Wagner, for example, much of the New Deal might never have come into being. The senator and his allies in the upper chamber had been fighting to expand the role of government before there was a Great Depression or Franklin Roosevelt was president. Even once FDR was in office, the senator was the driving force behind landmark legislation such as the National Labor Relations Act, which legitimated unions and created a government body to oversee union rights—and is correctly known as the “Wagner Act.” Many of the policies we now associate with Roosevelt were born out of Wagner’s efforts. As the political scientist David R. Mayhew wrote in America’s Congress, “it is a fair question whether the 1930s, at least as an epic legislative era, should not be labeled ‘the age of Wagner’ as much as it is the ‘age of Roosevelt.’”

(anti)Republican Party

How Mass Mail-In Voting Changes Everything

[The American Conservative, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-27-2023]

[TW: If you ever wondered why conservatives are so unhappy with efforts to make voting easier.]

“The objective of mail-in voting activists is an electoral world in which polls, historical trends, economic issues, messaging, voter enthusiasm, candidate quality, traditional get-out-the-vote efforts, candidate debates, and voter persuasion no longer matter in elections. All that ultimately matters in mass mail-in voting states is the number of absentee ballots that can be distributed, harvested, and ultimately counted in local election offices by partisan election activists over the weeks and months preceding election day. Through the strategic expansion of mass mail-in voting, Democrats are creating a new urban based, activist driven electoral playing field where they alone can win. The idea that mass mail-in voting expands general “voters rights” is not what it appears to be. Instead, the spread of mass mail-in voting since 2020 has greatly increased the political power of urban and university-based bloc voters, partisan election activists, and the many wealthy nonprofits that support them, such as the Center for Tech and Civic Life and the National Vote at Home Institute. Meanwhile, conventional, in-person suburban and rural voters see their votes diluted by a flood of questionable absentee ballots emanating from heavily Democratic cities and university towns.”

Local communities keep trying to help workers. Corporate lobbyists and Florida politicians keep teaming up to stop them. 

[Seeking Rents, via Naked Capitalism 12-24-2023]

Urged on by lobbyists for some of the state’s biggest businesses, Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee have proposed new legislation that would crush local laws meant to make corporations pay higher wages, provide better benefits, or ensure safer workplaces….

House Bill 433 would do three main things:

  • First, it would stop cities, counties and towns from making any business — even government contractors — pay their employees more than the minimum wage. That would dissolve a number of “living wage” laws that protect tens of thousands of workers in cities like Miami, Tampa and Gainesville.
  • Second, it would prevent communities from passing any other local laws regulating the “terms and conditions of employment.” That prohibition would cover a vast universe of potential ordinances — though it appears primarily aimed at stopping the spread of “fair workweek” laws that attempt to ensure more stable and predictable schedules for hourly workers.
  • And third, it would specifically preclude communities from protecting Floridians working in extreme heat. This comes as county commissioners in Miami-Dade County have been trying to craft a first-of-its kind law that would require employers to provide workers laboring in extreme heat with precautions like cool drinking water, regular breaks, and shade cover. Lobbyists for construction companies and agribusinesses have been fighting that effort.

The bill, which gets its first hearing Wednesday afternoon in the House Regulatory Reform & Economic Development Subcommittee, is an astonishingly anti-worker piece of legislation.

GOP voter-fraud crackdown overwhelmingly targets minorities, Democrats

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 12-24-2023]

Black and Hispanic people made up more than 75 percent of defendants and Democrats nearly 60 percent in a controversial push by Republicans to prosecute election cheating, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by The Washington Post.

From Resentment Politics To Vengeance Politics—a Guest Post By Zoe Roberts

[ 12-25-2023]

In the last fifteen years, our political landscape has shifted dramatically. We’ve seen resentment politics, obstructionism based on tribal identity and now we’re confronted with the very real possibility of what I call “vengeance politics.”

In many ways vengeance politics is the natural evolution of resentment politics, which can be loosely defined as the grievance politically toward another group of people. Katherine Cramer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison did an excellent job defining its impact on our politics through her field work throughout the State of Wisconsin. She found that rural communities have a resentment toward urban dwellers. Essentially documenting what many call the rural/urban divide.

Where vengeance politics differs is in that it’s about the response to a group not getting their way. Examples include, losing an election, losing a referendum vote, having a bill vetoed, and lashing out at peaceful protestors. Where resentment politics doesn’t include the threat of violence or actual violence is where vengeance politics differs and does….


14th Amendment

There are five judicial opinions out of Colorado on this Trump ballot thing

Jarvis [ThreadReader, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-26-2023]

“I think SCOTUS will reverse the decision of the Colorado Supreme Court, and will largely follow the dissent of Justice Samour. I think the SCOTUS decision will be either 9-0 or 7-2…. The trial court held that Section 3 did not apply to the President, and the trial court might be right. Justice Samour did not need to resolve that issue, though [in dissent]… Because of Section FIVE of the 14th Amendment. That section says hey — you know the whole insurrection thing we just talked about? How is this supposed to work? Who gets to decide who engaged in an insurrection? What sort of standard of proof applies? Is it a civil trial or a criminal trial? Is it a judge or a jury or someone else who decides that a particular person engaged in insurrection and therefore disqualified? What if they’re already appointed – do they still get paid while the proceedings are going on? The 14th amendment doesn’t answer any of these questions. Instead, Section 5 says that Congress gets to pass legislation to give enforcement power to carry out Section 3… And Congress did just that! Justice Samour points out that in 1870, Congress passed a law that allowed for both civil and criminal enforcement of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.”

The Meaning and Ambiguity of Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment  (PDF)

Kurt Lash, SSRN, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-26-2023]

[N]one of the multiple drafts of Section Three addressed whether the text could be enforced in the absence of congressional enabling legislation. Instead, key framers insisted that the text was not self-executing. For example, drafting committee member Thaddeus Stevens explained that Congress would have to pass enabling legislation since the Joint Committee’s draft of Section Three ‘will not execute itself.’… As far as enabling legislation is concerned, every time the subject arose the speak speaker presumed the necessity of such legislation. This was publicly announced understanding of Thaddeus Stevens, the view of Thomas Chalfant in the Pennsylvania ratifying debates, the view of Chief Justice Chase in Griffin’s Case, and the view of Lyman Trumbull during the passage of the 1869 Enforcement Act. I have not discovered a single person who thought the text was self-executing and capable of disqualifying a candidate prior to some kind of adjudication. It would have been surprising to find otherwise, given the Republican commitment to due process–a concern reflected in the opening section of the Fourteenth Amendment itself.”

The Non-Originalist Decision That May Save Trump 

Adrian Vermeule [The New Digest, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-28-2023]

 The irony looming over the situation is that our current Court, stocked with a supermajority of Justices who consider themselves ‘originalists,’ may well end up ruling in Trump’s favor on the basis of a precedent that is profoundly non-originalist in method. Indeed that precedent, Griffin’s Case, decided in 1869, underscores what I have called ‘the paradox of originalism.’ Today’s originalists look backwards to anchor the meaning of law in the public understandings of earlier eras — either the founding era or, in the case of the Reconstruction Amendments, the post-Civil War era. But the public legal cultures, and public understandings of law, of those periods were not themselves originalist…. [Chief Justice Salmon P.] Chase held [in Griffin] that the disqualification embodied in Section 3 is not ‘self-executing.’ … Chase argued, in essence, that the consequences to the constitutional order from holding Section 3 to be self-executing would be intolerable, creating a kind of political-legal chaos and inflicting forms of targeted injustice inconsistent with the “general spirit of the Constitution.” Avoiding such consequences was itself a good legal reason to weight the scales of interpretation against self-execution…..

“Interpreting Section 3 as non-self-executing would be a far more reasonable construction, Chase argued, because it would require Congress to create an orderly, regular and fair process for determining who had or had not participated or engaged in ‘insurrection.’” Chase concluded: “To accomplish this ascertainment and ensure effective results, proceedings, evidence, decisions, and enforcements of decisions, more or less formal, are indispensable; and these can only be provided for by Congress.’” • Well worth a read. Makes clear why the “self-executing” crowd pounds the table so hard when it comes to Griffen.

Some belated thoughts on the Colorado Supreme Court’s historic ruling

Roger Parloff [ThreadReader, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-28-2023]

[Lamber Strether: ”A long thread, well worth a read. The author is a Senior editor at Lawfare. so clearly an expert in the field.’]

The Colorado Court’s Ruling Banning Trump From the Ballot Is Sharp as Hell

Elie Mystal. [The New Republic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-26-2023]

“[Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment] doesn’t say ‘convicted’ of insurrection…. It says what it says: Government officers who engage in insurrection cannot be officers of the government again. Donald Trump engaged in insurrection. That’s not me saying it, or Jack Smith saying it; that’s what the first court to hear this case, the Colorado state court, ruled at trial a few weeks ago.”

The Liberal Plot Against Democracy

Samuel Moyn, Compass, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-26-2023]

“An equally grave concern is what happens in the short and long run when self-styled democrats refuse the grubbiness of democracy itself. I suspect the backlash to constitutionally disqualifying Trump would be enormous. If that happens, it isn’t clear “our democracy” will survive the storm into which a Colorado court might just have piloted the ship of state. Regardless, it would be a strange way of responding to the most plausible truth—among so many baleful lies—that Trump has stood for: that America’s ongoing crisis is a result of elite failure, which is never going to be addressed so long as popular control of politics is seen as worth circumventing, rather than reclaiming.”



Assassination Will Not Help Israel


What Was Important In 2023


  1. Curt Kastens

    The Russians need to launch a massive ariel attack on both Germany and the United Kingdom, if not other countries in addition to those two, before the fighting in the Ukraine comes to an end.
    If the Russians wait until the fighting comes to an end then the narrative in the west will be that the west appeased Putin and now that he has gotten away with carving up the Ukraine his appitite for conquest has grown and it will never be satisified. Most people will swallow that narrative hook line and sinker.
    But if he attacks before the fighting in Ukraine is even over many people will believe that his attack was just a desperate attempt to avoid defeat. That of course would not be true but I would prefer that lots of people where I live believe that narrative.

  2. Curt Kastens

    The people of Gaza are enduring such suffering that it is absurd to ever write about a Hamas victory in Gaza.

    But if the Hamas fighters can continue to launch attacks inside of occupied Palestine while the Israeli army is bogged down in the Gaza Hamas will have achieved quite a spycological accomplishment.

  3. VietnamVet

    With the oligarchs’ victory, money buys everything for the wealthy. The wellbeing, health, and shelter of those without money is of no concern. The shock therapy that engulfed the 1990s Russia has grasped the whole world. It has burdened the bottom 90% with debt so they keep working until they can’t anymore and then replaces them with immigrants. This is the very definition of power. If it makes a profit, it is good.

    Currently the world economic political system is the best money can buy. Even China ended its Zero-COVID efforts rather than take a hit economically and killed two million Chinese in the months afterwards. With a fourth of China’s population, a million Americans died with COVID due to the collapse of the public health system. Two million Americans were projected to have died if there had not been the half-assed lockdowns. Functional public health systems kept coronavirus at bay in Asian and Pacific nations for a year until their governments decided to let it rip and they were overwhelmed by the Omicron variant.

    Together with the endless wars that are escalating into regional conflicts in the Balkans and the Arabian Peninsula, there are no counter movements to end war and restore a peoples’ governments and sovereign nations with secure borders. At best, when things escalate too far, one side or the other will collapse like WWI. Then WW3 will end — hopefully without a nuclear holocaust.

    The strange aura around propaganda is that because it hides reality, it makes one’s life dangerous, short and induces a state of desperation that could be addressed by human beings if they cooperated and if they were guided by science and the truth instead of fear and greed.

  4. Z

    I would hardly be surprised if years before the Uncrowned Queen of Ukraine Victoria Kagan-Nuland ever handed out cookies in the Maidan Square, the CIA was dispensing cheap speed in Ukraine to seed the Nazi nationalistic movement.

    Speed, in fact, fueled the German Nazis and their nationalistic movement. It is heavily used in the Middle East militias.


  5. Chuck Mire

    Theocracy and White Supremacy: Behind the Culture War to Restore Traditional Values:

    The first version of this article appeared in December 1992, and reviewed the role of Dominionism inside the Christian Right. To understand the Tea Party of today, it helps to see where the trend emerged.

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