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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 5, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

The pandemic and (de)population policy

Background: Henry Kissinger’s December 1974 National Security Study Memorandum 200, Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests (NSSM 200)

“Omicron’s Message”

[Nonzero, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-2-2021]

“[T]he acceleration of global vaccination… is something the world’s most powerful leaders aren’t focused on. If they were focused on it, we’d be seeing the unfolding of a project that looked something like this: (1) loosening the intellectual property rights enjoyed by vaccine makers; (2) compelling them to share the know-how that would allow factories around the world to take advantage of this loosening and ramp up vaccine production; and (3) making sure, with subsidies if necessary, that (a) the vaccine makers who thus sacrifice profits are rewarded amply enough to preserve their incentive to innovate; and (b) the newly abundant vaccines are inexpensive, especially in low-income countries. So incompetent are the world’s leaders that they can’t even get to step 1 of this project.”

Lambert Strether: “Incompetence is the charitable explanation.” 


2.5 Million Nurses Demand UN Probe Into ‘Covid-19 Criminals’ Blocking Patent Waiver

[Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism 11-29-2021]

More than two million nurses from 28 countries across the globe filed a complaint Monday calling on the United Nations to investigate the rich countries that are blocking a proposed patent waiver for coronavirus vaccines, an appeal that came as public health experts raced to understand the newly detected Omicron variant.

In a detailed letter addressed to Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Physical and Mental Health, dozens of nursing unions noted that “the end of this pandemic is nowhere in sight” as “Covid-19 cases continue to soar in numerous parts of the world, while pharmaceutical companies and governments have failed to ensure that critical treatments and vaccines are distributed equitably in order to respond to the pandemic.”


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 11-30-2021]


We Still Aren’t Treating the Pandemic as a Global Problem

[The New Republic, December 1, 2021]

As a result of the travel bans, scientists leading the sequencing initiatives in South Africa are now running out of the very supplies they need to track the new variant—and to report to the world exactly how worrisome it may be. Tulio de Oliveira, director of South Africa’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation, tweeted on Monday that supplies like reagents, which scientists use to conduct tests, are running low. Without these tests, it will be impossible to know how quickly the virus can spread.


Strategic Political Economy

More Than a Third of World’s Population Have Never Used Internet, Says UN 

[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 12-2-2021]

Cell phone penetration in Africa is only 50% and that likely includes some dumbphones


The racist roots of American anti-socialism

Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, December 3, 2021

The American horror of socialism came long before Russia’s 1917 Bolshevik Revolution tried to put socialism into practice. Americans began to worry about socialism in 1871, the year after the federal government started to protect Black male voting with the Fifteenth Amendment. Also in 1870, Congress had established the Department of Justice to guarantee that Black southerners could enjoy the rights former Confederates were trying to terrorize them out of. Suddenly, attacking their Black neighbors on the basis of race became unconstitutional, and the federal government began to prosecute those who did so.

In 1871, unreconstructed white southerners began to argue that they did not object to Black rights on racial grounds—which was unconstitutional—but objected rather on class grounds. They did not want Black men voting, they said, because formerly enslaved people were poor and were voting for leaders who promised them things like roads and hospitals. Those benefits could be paid for only with tax levies, and the only people in the South with property after the war were white. Thus, Black voting amounted to a redistribution of wealth from white men to Black people, who wanted something for nothing. ‘

Black voting was, one popular magazine insisted, “Socialism in South Carolina.”

After World War II, Americans of all parties rallied around the idea of using the government for the good of the majority. But the idea that Americans who want the government to work for the good of the community were “socialists” regained traction with the rise of Ronald Reagan to the presidency. Republicans under Reagan focused on slashing regulations and the social safety net.


“StubHub refund ruling highlights Calif. precedent companies despise”

[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-29-2021]

“U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam of Oakland on Monday refused to compel arbitration of California state-law claims by a class of consumers who allege that StubHub Inc wrongfully changed its cash refund policies when COVID-19 forced widespread event cancellations. StubHub’s terms of service include a provision requiring individual arbitration of consumer claims, but Gilliam ruled that the company cannot enforce the provision for claims under California law because of state supreme court precedent from 2017’s McGill v. Citibank NA…. The StubHub case is a good example of how McGill has empowered plaintiffs to push for class litigation. It also shows why the California precedent is so bitterly despised by corporate defendants that are now hoping for help from the U.S. Supreme Court.”


Wall Street Has Deployed a Dirty Tricks Playbook Against Whistleblowers for Decades

Pam Marten, November 29, 2021 [Wall Street on Parade]

For more than two decades, the general counsels of Wall Street’s mega banks have been meeting together secretly once a year at ritzy hotels and resorts around the world. This would appear to be a clear violation of anti-trust law but since Wall Street’s revolving door has compromised the U.S. Department of Justice over much of that time span, there has been no pushback from the Justice Department to shut down these clandestine meetings.

Wall Street insiders say that among the top agenda items at this annual confab are strategy sessions on how to keep Congress from enacting legislation that would bring an end to Wall Street’s privatized justice system called mandatory arbitration. This system allows the most serially corrupt industry in America to effectively lock the nation’s courthouse doors to claims of fraud from its workers and customers. This private justice system also keeps the details of many of Wall Street’s systemic crimes out of the press.

Wall Street’s McJustice system is just one element of a fully-loaded dirty tricks playbook that Wall Street uses to crush an honest worker who is intent on holding the firm to account. The playbook includes gaslighting; a campaign of ordered ostracizing by coworkers; demotion; an internal investigation with a preordained outcome to malign the reputation of the whistleblower; blackballing in the industry; and, frequently, the ultimate humiliation of being escorted out of the building by security guards. As the dirty campaign unfolds in front of colleagues, it achieves the intended additional goal of silencing any coworkers who might be thinking about reporting illegal activities.


Wall Street Is Not Only Rigging Markets, It’s Also Rigging the Outcome of its Private Trials

Pam Martens and Russ Martens: November 12, 2021 [Wall Street on Parade]

When it comes to sycophants, Wall Street has no shortage of them willing to shill for its egregious private justice system called mandatory arbitration – a system which systematically guts the guarantee of a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Think about that carefully, the industry that is serially charged with rigging markets and other felonious acts, is allowed by Congress to run its own privatized justice system. This is something one would expect to find in a banana republic, not in a country that lectures the rest of the world on democratic principles.

Wall Street’s private justice system effectively locks the nation’s courthouse doors to both its workers and customers, sending the claims before conflicted arbitrators who do not have to follow legal precedent, case law or write legally-reasoned decisions.


Kentucky v. Biden

Order, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, November 3, 2021 [via Naked Capitalism 12-1-2021]

Grants preliminary injunction v. the vaccine mandate for Federal contractors in Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Judge Gregory Frederick Van Tatenhove was appointed by George W, Bush.

On the power and responsibility of the federal government to use quarantine to protect the public health, perhaps so lessons can drawn from challenges to the Plant Quarantine Act of 1912. 

Balancing Trade and Economic Security: Andritz v. United States
and the Role of Customs and Border Protection in Enforcing the
Plant Protection Act

Alexandra Khrebtukova [University of Miami International and Comparative Law Review, Fall 2020, Vol. 28, Iss. 1 (2021)]

….The recent case of Andritz v. United States provides an interesting case study. This case involved the importation of steel mill components into the Port of Houston in wood packaging infested by certain wood wasps that have been identified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture(USDA) as presenting a serious risk to United States pine trees and forests. Although the cargo itself did not appear to present any concerns as a matter of the customs laws governing the entry of merchandise – i.e., although the cargo appeared to be precisely the sort of legitimate trade that it is part of CBP’s mission to facilitate 10 – CBP Inspectors and Agriculture Specialists detected the presence of wood wasps of the Siricidae family, as later identified by the CBP Laboratory and ultimately confirmed by USDA experts based on DNA testing, infesting the wooden crates in which the cargo was packaged.11 The USDA considers the Siriciadae family wood wasp “a nonnative, invasive … major pest of pine trees,”12 and USDA regulations specifically include the Siricidae family within the list of “organisms which are or contain plant pests.” ….

According to the experts at USDA, these insects pose a serious threat to valuable pine forests, plantations, and landscape plantings in the United States which, “[i]n addition to the large economic benefits of pine resources, … also provide valuable and unique habitat to a variety of flora and fauna throughout the United States.”24 When this invasive wood wasp was inadvertently introduced in the Southern Hemisphere, “it has caused up to 80 percent tree mortality in plantations planted with North American pine species,” suggesting that it “has the potential to cause extensive damage and mortality in commercially mature timber and future growing stock timber in the United States.”25 Given the seriousness of this risk, swift action was required once live pests were discovered in order to prevent their escape and dissemination into the pine trees near the Port of Houston.


The importer filed an administrative protest with CBP under 19 U.S.C. § 1514,“challenging the EANs and requesting permission to separate the Cargo from the infested WPM.”39 Two days later, before CBP had formally issued a decision on this protest,40 Andritz filed a complaint and application for a temporary restraining order in the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT)….

…the court held that the importer had “failed to satisfy its burden to demonstrate that CBP’s decision to require re-exportation of the Cargo and the infested WPM in which the Cargo is packaged was arbitrary and capricious,” denied plaintiff’s application for a temporary restraining order, and vacated its prior status quo order, effectively reinstating the June 20, 2018 EANs requiring immediate re-exportation of the shipment.


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


[Crime Reads, via Naked Capitalism 11-28-2021]


Top Bosses at Goldman Are Finding New, Creative Ways to Juice Their Own Pay

[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 12-3-2021]

The notion that top bankers reeling in more than $20 million a year are underpaid is yet another exclamation point on this era of turbocharged wealth. At a time when Elon Musk is worth $300 billion — and each day seems to bring news of another fortune in technology, crypto and private equity — the old yardsticks of success are being tossed out.


Alternative Assets Hit $9 Trillion This Year. Here’s What Investors Should Be Worried About.

[Institutional Investor, via The Big Picture 12-3-2021]

In 2021, fundraising for alternative assets, including private equity, real estate, infrastructure, private debt, and natural resources, surpassed $1.1 trillion, and total assets under management in alternatives exceeded $9 trillion, according to Moody’s 2022 asset management outlook released Tuesday. Moving into 2022, Moody’s analysts expect alternative asset fundraising to remain strong as institutional investor demand for long-term returns with low-yielding liquid assets continues.

Unsurprisingly, private equity remains one of the most popular asset classes. In 2021, the asset class raised $737 billion and reached $5.8 trillion in assets under management after delivering an annual return of 45.2 percent through March 2021. In 2022, Moody’s analysts predict that private equity will continue to deliver strong returns.


“Everyone Gets Rich… Except The People Who Put Money In.”

[The Daily Poster, November 29, 2021]

Ohio retirees and whistleblowers are on the verge of exposing how hedge funds and private equity firms are abusing workers’ retirement savings….

Former Ohio public school teacher Dean Dennis hadn’t paid too much attention to what was going on underneath the hood of STRS Ohio, which had paid his modest pension since he retired in 2008, after teaching for 35 years. That changed in 2013, when the fund began to cut the cost of living adjustment (COLA) he had been promised as part of his pension when he retired.

“First they eliminated our COLA for one year, and then reduced it from 3 percent to 2 percent for another three years, and then by 2017, they took the COLA away and it’s never been restored,” said Dennis….

The alternative investment industry has generated some of the wealthiest individuals on the planet. Close Donald Trump confidante Stephen Schwarzman, who heads the private equity megafirm The Blackstone Group, has a net worth of $41.3 billion, while Jim Simons, who heads the major hedge fund firm Renaissance Technologies, has a net worth of $25.4 billion.

The alternative investment industry’s “2 and 20” fee mode (2 percent of assets and 20 percent of performance, typically over a threshold rate) can be 10,000 percent higher than the fees paid to low-cost index fund managers, who can charge fees as low as 0.035 percent of invested assets. At the same time, alternative investment funds typically deliver performance that fails to beat the market.

A 2017 Economic Policy Institute study found that in the 10 most populous states, the typical wage theft victim loses on average $3,300 annually due to being paid less than the legally mandated minimum wage, causing them to make only $10,500 in average yearly wages.


Corruption’s War on the Law

[Project Syndicate, via Naked Capitalism 11-28-2021]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 11-28-2021]


Biden’s message to Wall Street: Mass death will not interfere with corporate profits

[WSWS, via Naked Capitalism 12-1-2021]


To Fix the Supply Chain Mess, Take on Wall Street

[Washington Monthly, via Naked Capitalism 12-2-2021]


Didn’t see this coming

“Capital One says it is ditching all consumer overdraft fees, giving up $150 million in annual revenue”

[CNBC, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-3-2021]

“It’s the largest U.S. bank yet to end the industry practice of charging customers a hefty fee, typically $25 to $35 each instance, for allowing transactions that exceed a customer’s balance, according to the McLean, Virginia-based lender. The move will cost the bank an estimated $150 million in lost revenue per year, according to a company spokesperson. Customers who paid the fees will be automatically rolled over into a free overdraft protection service early next year, the bank said. Those who opt out of the service will simply have overdrawn transactions declined at no fee.”

Has the financial system reached a depth of depredation that truth in lending is now a competitive advantage? 


Collapse of independent news media

Documents show Bill Gates has given $319 million to media outlets to promote his global agenda

[Gray Zone, via Naked Capitalism 11-29-2021]


Addressing the Power Imbalance Between News Publishers and Digital Platforms: A Legislative Proposal for Effectuating Competitive Payments to Newspapers (PDF) Hal J. Singer, Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, via Naked Capitalism 12-4-2021]

“The best way to correct this market failure is for the government to permit the news publishers (either newspapers alone, or all news publishers) to coordinate in their dealings with the digital platforms over payment terms and conditions….”


Donzinger injustice

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 11-28-2021]


Restoring balance to the economy

The Great Escape: Why workers are quitting their jobs, after the trauma of the pandemic

David Dayen, November 29, 2021 [The American Prospect]

Work at the low end of the wage scale has become ghastly over the past several decades. With no meaningful improvements in federal labor policy since the 1930s, employers have accrued tremendous power. Workers were afraid to voice any disapproval, taking whatever scraps they could get. “The U.S. needs a reset, needs a big push, to get to a place where work is more secure and livable for a lot of the population,” said MIT economist David Autor, who has tracked the misery of American deindustrialization and the shock of China’s rise as a manufacturing powerhouse….

…from my talks with workers, they’re really seeking something more ineffable than a couple more bucks an hour. Work is the largest time block of the day, in a moment where we’ve all learned how precious time can be. People simply want to spend that time getting the dignity and respect denied to them for so long.

WORKERS ARE QUITTING ACROSS the labor force; people I’ve talked to range from minimum-wage employees to senior executives. But quit rates and job-to-job transitions in the Great Resignation are mostly taking place among workers with less than a high school education, whose daily toil is typically spent in dead-end low-wage jobs, an engine for corporate profits that produces some of the grimmer existences in the industrialized world….

…The lack of appreciation, the lack of integrity, the feeling of being used pervaded all my discussions with workers.


In the Era of “The Great Resignation,” Baseball Players Want to Choose Where They Work

Mike Elk, via Naked Capitalism 12-2-2021]


Pavlina Tcherneva, Thomas Piketty — Democratising Work

[Brave New Europe, via Mike Norman Economics 12-4-2021]

Thomas Piketty highlights the value of a Job Guarantee. He also speaks to the importance of property rights and political power (as discussed at: At the Global Forum on Democratizing Work in November 2021.


Why MMT Haters Have It Wrong: Economist Michael Norman — Jane Wollman Rusoff interviews Mike Norman

[ThinkAdvisor, via Mike Norman Economics 12-2-2021]


Information age dystopia

Infiltrating Amazon: What I learned going undercover at the corporate giant

[The Breach, via Naked Capitalism 11-28-2021]

Amazon has largely limited the use of temporary agency work; but it has essentially created an internal temp system. White badges, unlike blue badges, are seasonal workers who can be let go at any point. The badge system creates an essentially desperate and docile workforce among those hired as seasonal workers. Amazon will tell white badges there is the possibility of becoming a blue badge, but it requires them to satisfy their rates and win the approval of management and HR….

The delivery station where I worked north of Montreal is different from the stadium-like fulfillment centres that many associate with Amazon. These delivery stations, introduced across the continent, are part of Amazon’s strategy to dominate e-commerce by creating its own last-mile logistics system. No longer relying on FedEx, UPS, Purolator, or Canada Post, it can now manage last-mile delivery for its own products and also for third-party sellers….

Warehouse work is challenging to automate because it requires much thought, troubleshooting, and carrying varied sizes of boxes and packages. Amazons’ solution has been to merge technology with human labour to essentially turn workers into industrial robots.

Every day as I started my shift, I would don our robotic armature. We would grab what’s called a TCI device—which looks like a giant smartphone—and strap it to one arm, and with the other hand pick up a scanner. We’d log into our device, and from that moment on no longer be in control of our actions….

Of course, we were told constantly to move things safely, that our health was a priority, never to run, never to lift items too heavy. But these recommendations began to feel like a joke, because the bottom line was that our rates were everything. If we became too slow, boxes would pile up rapidly and cause a nightmare at the end of the line. According to my calculations, keeping on top of it meant moving a box about every six to eight seconds….

At Amazon, the almost omniscient power of technology is always in the background. At first, no one speaks of it, and no one tells you how the existing system works and how you are surveilled. As an employee I eventually learned that my bosses could in real-time monitor my every movement, my metrics, and the number of boxes I was stowing. This is when I began to realize that almost half of the workers at Amazon, once they are promoted, must constantly monitor and audit employees below them.

The most insidious form of surveillance inside the warehouse comes in the form of artificial intelligence cameras. Since they are visible everywhere, at the beginning of each shift we would be reminded of Big Brother watching us. Amazon claims the benefit of these cameras was to ensure that we followed COVID-19 protocols. Similarly, Amazon in the U.S. justified the addition of AI cameras inside their delivery vans by claiming it was to monitor and detect risky behaviour to ensure the safety of drivers….


Concentration: “New Report: Amazon’s Toll Road”

[Institute for Local Self-Reliance, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-1-2021]

One of the most striking measures of Amazon’s monopoly power is the extraordinary amount of money that it’s able to extract from the independent businesses that rely on its site to reach customers. In this report, we find that, over the last two years, Amazon’s revenue from the fees it levies on third-party sellers has more than doubled. In 2019, Amazon pocketed $60 billion in seller fees.This year, its take will soar to $121 billion, our new research finds.

To put that in perspective, had Amazon’s third-party marketplace been a stand-alone company in 2020, when it took in $90 billion in seller fees, it would have ranked 31st on the Fortune 500 list of the world’s largest corporations — bigger than Citigroup, Facebook, and General Electric. This year, with its revenue from seller fees expected to swell by an additional $31 billion, Amazon Marketplace may end up large enough to qualify for a spot in the top 25 (if it were a stand-alone company).

The staggering scale of these fees provide evidence of Amazon’s monopolization of the online market and the high costs that come with it. Businesses that make or sell consumer goods and want to reach shoppers online have little choice but to sell on Amazon’s site. That’s because more than 60 percent of Americans looking to buy something online start their product search on Amazon, rather than a search engine.[1] In 15 of 23 major product categories, the tech giant captures more than 70 percent of online transactions.[2] Companies large and small must either sell on Amazon or forfeit access to much of the market.

As we detail in this report, Amazon is exploiting its position as a gatekeeper to impose increasingly steep tolls on these businesses. Using a variety of fees, Amazon now pockets a 34 percent cut of the revenue earned by independent sellers on its site, our analysis found. That’s up from 30 percent in 2018, and 19 percent in 2014.


“Amazon’s strategy to squeeze marketplace sellers and maximize its own profits is evolving”

[Recode, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-2-2021]

“The new [Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR)] report [in yesterday’s Water Cooler]. found that Amazon’s seller fees accounted for an average of 19 percent of sellers’ earnings in 2014. That’s almost doubled to 34 percent in 2021. And while seller fees accounted for 14 percent of Amazon’s entire revenue in 2014, that figure is up to 25 percent in 2021. Amazon will pull in $121 billion from seller fees alone, ILSR estimates…. That revenue translates to a lot of profit — more than even Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s cloud computing platform typically believed to be the company’s most profitable arm. AWS netted $13.5 billion in 2020, according to Amazon’s financial data. ILSR estimates seller fees netted $24 billion. (Amazon says these figures are inaccurate but did not provide its own; the company’s public earnings statements also don’t combine seller fees in this way.) ‘Everyone thinks AWS generates all of Amazon’s profits,’ [ILSR’s Stacey] Mitchell said. ‘But in fact, Marketplace is this massive tollbooth that gushes profits.’ Seller fees primarily come from three things: sales, fulfillment, and ads. Every item sold is subject to a referral fee, which is Amazon’s commission. Over the years, that’s stayed pretty consistent at 15 percent (it may be lower or higher, depending on the product category). According to ILSR, those referral fees made up the majority of seller fees as recently as 2017. Since then, however, the majority of fees come from Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), Amazon’s service that stores, packs, and ships sellers’ items to customers. Ad revenue is steadily gaining ground as more sellers pay for more ads to get prominent placement on Amazon’s site, including on product pages and search results.”


Dead-End SF Street Plagued With Confused Waymo Cars Trying To Turn Around ‘Every 5 Minutes’”

[CBS SF Bay Area, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-30-2021]

“A normally quiet neighborhood in San Francisco is buzzing about a sudden explosion of traffic. Neighbors say their Richmond District dead-end street has suddenly become crowded with Waymo vehicles…. They come all day, right to the end of 15th Avenue, where there’s nothing else to do but make some kind of multi-point turn and head out the way they came in. Not long after that car is gone, there will be another, which will make the same turn and leave, before another car shows up and does the exact same thing. And while there are some pauses, it never really stops…. At several points this Tuesday, they showed up on top of each other. The cars, packed with technology, stop in a queue as if they are completely baffled by the dead end.”

Lambert Strether: “They’re trapped! Can we kill them with fire?”


Green New Deal – An opportunity too big to miss

Vermont just a adopted a Climate Action Plan. Here’s how it says we should reduce emissions.

[Vermont Public Radio, via Naked Capitalism 12-2-2021]

Let’s look at the numbers. What is this going to look like on the ground?
Preliminary modeling for the Climate Action Plan found that by 2030, Vermont needs to:

  • Weatherize at least 90,000 additional homes
  • Install 112,000 additional heat pumps
  • Get 160,000 additional light electric vehicles like passenger cars and trucks on the road
  • Get 12,500 electric industrial trucks and vehicles, like school buses, on the road
  • Really ramp up and fund programs that help low and moderate income Vermonters access all of these things.

Could Roads Recharge Electric Cars? The Technology May Be Close.

[New York Time, via The Big Picture 12-1-2021]

In July, the Indiana Department of Transportation and Purdue University announced plans to develop the world’s first contactless wireless-charging concrete pavement highway segment.

The project is being undertaken by an engineering research center called Advancing Sustainability Through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification (ASPIRE). It is funded by the National Science Foundation….

The multiyear project will use a magnetizable concrete technology — developed by the German company Magment — enabling wireless charging of electric vehicles as they drive.

The technology works by adding small particles of recycled ferrite — a ceramic made by mixing iron oxide blended with slivers of metallic elements, such as nickel and zinc — to a concrete mixture which is magnetized by running an electrical current. This creates a magnetic field that transmits power wirelessly to the vehicle.

The futuristic plan to fix America’s power grid 

[Vox, via The Big Picture 12-4-2021]

This year, millions of Americans across the country lost power at times when they needed it most. As the US power grid deals with an onslaught of heat waves, winter storms, and stronger hurricanes caused by climate change, these kinds of failures are happening more often, taking longer to fix, and harming more people. Power blackouts, which used to be mostly seasonal occurrences, now occur year-round. Winter is often the season for blackouts. Smart grids could change that.


Disrupting mainstream politics

“Democrats can’t win elections and can’t govern, so stop supporting them and send your money somewhere that will actually help”

[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-29-2021]

“In local elections, progressives and socialists won important seats at the table, like the election of Michelle Wu as mayor of Boston. Candidates backed by the Democratic Socialists of America won elections in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and elsewhere. And more critically, a wave of non-electoral radicalism is sweeping the country: Tens of thousands of workers, from machinists at John Deere to film production workers in Hollywood, have gone on strike and demanded higher wages and better benefits. Even the much-maligned nationwide labor shortage can be viewed as a progressive win: It’s an unofficial general strike. Americans have decided they would rather not work than give in to appalling working conditions and low pay. Polls show Americans support progressive policies and support for unions is higher than it’s been in 50 years. These are all signs of a swelling progressive movement in this country. But for this movement to continue, the average Democrat has to completely reconfigure their own priorities: How much bigger could each strike be if the billions of dollars committed to failing electoral campaigns were instead committed to strike funds and local labor organizations? How many more local candidates who really have a chance of enacting significant change could win elections were Democrats’ attention spans not filled up with ineffective national politics? Democrats are currently operating according to the sunk cost fallacy — like a gambler who thinks just one more hand will get him out of debt. The only option now is to simply walk out of the casino.”


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-2-2021]


Capitalism vs. Liberty 

Robert Kuttner, December 1, 2021 [The American Prospect]

The slide into oligarchy has forced Kuttner into an extended piece of soul-searching: “To be an effective liberal today, you need to be a socialist.” Kuttner’s historical knowledge is always useful, but this is more noteworthy as a marker of the shift of thinking forced on the old guard. Kuttner has arrived at the same conclusion if did a few years ago, reading Corey Robin and Philip Mirowski: “Not only is liberalism too weak to resist the predations of metastatic capitalism; so is social democracy.” But he has yet to turn to the historical tradition that created the United States as a republic. [Classical Republicanism and the American Revolution, by Gordon S. Wood, 66 Chicago-Kent Law Review 13 (1990).]


Why Would Anyone Expect Republicans to Implement the Biden Agenda?

David Dayen, December 2, 2021 [The American Prospect]

Yet that’s what the Build Back Better Act does with practically all of its family care programs….

For two reasons, it’s very likely that many more states would hold off on setting up pre-K and child care. First, the federal match is lower; while the government will cover more than 90 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion, with child care that tops out at 90 percent after a ramp-up, and with pre-K it’s only 63 percent in the final year. In both cases, states get far less than that in the first three years. The second reason states would hold off is that the programs, unlike Medicaid expansion, are temporary. No state legislature would be thrilled about setting up an entire framework for social spending, when the federal share is not guaranteed after six years.

And that’s even before you get to the ideological rigidity Republicans have against social spending in general. Several states denied a better deal on Medicaid expansion, and earlier this year 25 states refused to extend enhanced unemployment benefits paid for entirely by the federal government, on the grounds that it was disincentivizing a return to the workforce. (This wasn’t true.) The idea that Republican-run states will bend over backwards to help out Joe Biden’s signature legislative initiative, when they might get stuck having to pay for all of it, is fanciful. Indeed, just this week, Republicans in several states told The Washington Post that they would be disinclined to vote to approve a pre-K program.


Polite, Legal, and Unacknowledged: The Devastating Biases of Well-Heeled Suburbia

Richard D. Kahlenberg, December 2, 2021 [The American Prospect]

Build Back Better highlights how upper-income whites engage in discrimination every bit as harmful as that ascribed to working-class whites. It also aims to stop it.


The dark side

“Trump’s Capacity to Steal the 2024 Election Is Only Growing”

[Vanity Fair, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-30-2021]

“American democracy narrowly passed the stress test Trump put it through in 2020. But his relentless, multi-pronged pressure campaign also underscored major vulnerabilities in the system. Among them: That system is highly dependent on officials up and down the line performing their jobs in good faith…. Trump, who is making louder and louder noises about a 2024 bid, seems to be supporting challengers who have no such limits. ‘This is a great big flashing red warning sign,’ as former Michigan Republican Party chair Jeff Timmer, a critic of the former president, put it to the Post. ‘The officials who fulfilled their legal duty after the election are now being replaced by people who are pledging to throw a wrench in the gears of the next election. It tells you that they are planning nothing but chaos and that they have a strategy to disrupt the certification of the next election.’”


Republicans are quietly rigging election maps to ensure permanent rule

[The Guardian, via The Big Picture 12-2-2021]

The past decade in Ohio shows how bad it can get – and how quickly. Despite the state’s voters often swinging Democratic, 75% of its congressional delegates are Republican


“GOP courts anti-vaxxers with jobless aid”

[Axios, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-30-2021]

“Republican officials around the country are testing a creative mechanism to build loyalty with unvaccinated Americans while undermining Biden administration mandates: unemployment benefits. Driving the news: Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee have changed their unemployment insurance rules to allow workers who are fired or quit over vaccine mandates to receive benefits. Extending unemployment benefits to the unvaccinated is just the latest in a series of proposals aligning the GOP with people who won’t get a COVID shot.”


Sons of Guns The story of the 1977 Revolt at Cincinnati, and the men who changed the course of the NRA forever.

[Medium, via The Big Picture 11-28-2021]

These men saw an entirely different future for the NRA, led by two rising members, both originally from Texas. Harlon Carter, the former head of the U.S. Border Patrol, was the voice of the NRA’s growing political heft, creating its Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) in 1975 to lobby, testify, and rake in new members. Meanwhile, Neal Knox, an editor who had led the publications Gun Week, Handloader, and Rifle, built power from the periphery, writing widely-read pieces on every niche of gun legislation that passed through Congress. They were the figureheads of the NRA’s New Guard, whose foot soldiers had been rallying support from American gun owners for months, and wanted the Old Guard out of the way.


The (Anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

How Lobbyists Are Protecting The Corporate Court

Andrew Perez, December 2, 2021 [The Daily Poster]

Lobbying groups are fighting to protect the GOP’s Supreme Court majority, which is great for business….  The lobbying groups warn that expanding the Supreme Court would damage perception of its legitimacy and independence. It’s a ridiculous argument, given that Republicans blocked President Barack Obama from filling a Supreme Court seat in 2016, stacked the court with conservative ideologues under President Donald Trump, and confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett days before the 2020 election. Some of the business organizations are even claiming that adding seats on the Supreme Court would harm the U.S. economy.

The Supreme Court Will Overturn Roe v. Wade

Matt Ford, December 1, 2021 [The New Republic]

Wednesday’s oral arguments in a challenge of Mississippi’s abortion law reveal that a majority of justices want to gut abortion rights in America….

The court’s conservative bloc, after all, is the product of a deliberate and methodical political strategy to place an anti-Roe majority on the Supreme Court. Former President Donald Trump famously pledged to nominate justices for the high court who would overturn Roe v. Wade “automatically.” And with six seats in their control, there is little reason among conservatives to believe the court will shift toward the center—let alone the left—any time in the next 15 to 20 years.

Reading the writing on the wall, the court’s three liberals focused largely on the institutional damage to the court itself that would come with overturning Roe. Justice Stephen Breyer, who spent the summer defending the court from claims of partisanship and politicization, went on multiple soliloquies about respect for precedent and the damage that overturning Roe would do. Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke more bluntly. “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” she asked.


Neoliberalism requires a police state

“The population prevalence of solitary confinement”

[Science, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-1-2021]

“Solitary confinement is a severe form of incarceration closely associated with long-lasting psychological harm and poor post-release outcomes. Estimating the population prevalence, we find that 11% of all black men in Pennsylvania, born 1986 to 1989, were incarcerated in solitary confinement by age 32. Reflecting large racial disparities, the population prevalence is only 3.4% for Latinos and 1.4% for white men. About 9% of black men in the state cohort were held in solitary for more than 15 consecutive days, violating the United Nations standards for minimum treatment of incarcerated people. Nearly 1 in 100 black men experienced solitary for a year or longer by age 32. Racial disparities are similar for women, but rates are lower. A decomposition shows that black men’s high risk of solitary confinement stems primarily from their high imprisonment rate. Findings suggest that harsh conditions of U.S. incarceration have population-level effects on black men’s well-being.”



Open Thread


Power, Pleasure, and Evil


  1. bruce wilder

    Robert Kuttner’s piece on the dissolution of left-liberal idealism in the political cesspool of Democratic Neoliberalism has a poignant, concrete illustration of how it went:

    . . . an idealistic and smart community banker named Ron Grzywinski, . . . had built the South Shore National Bank in Chicago (later renamed ShoreBank) as a model institution to finance low-income homeownership and local business on Chicago’s mostly Black South Side. A little later, after I moved back to journalism, other legislation used that bank as a template for a new kind of lender, the community development financial institution, spawning dozens of others following the ShoreBank model.

    While we liberals were idealistically promoting community reinvestment, the real power players on Wall Street and their allies in Washington were inventing subprime. Bill Clinton was supporting ShoreBank and kindred community lenders with one hand. (He actually made the ShoreBank model part of his 1992 campaign stump speech.) But with the other, he was promoting the extreme financial deregulation and speculation that led to fraudulent mortgage-backed securities and the 2008 financial collapse. Subprime “exploding” mortgages designed to default were cynically targeted at exactly the populations and communities our work on community reinvestment sought to help. In the wake of the collapse, close to ten million families, disproportionately Black and brown, lost their homes. Three decades of work increasing homeownership for working people was wiped out.

    In a perfect final touch, the government bailed out all the big investment banks that had bankrolled the subprime lenders and underwritten the faked mortgage-backed bonds that collapsed in 2008. They were too big to fail. But ShoreBank, which had not participated in subprime at all, got caught in the general downdraft of falling property values. It was deemed too small to matter. Barack Obama was not embarrassed to bail out Wall Street. But since ShoreBank was in his old neighborhood, his handlers were concerned that saving the local community bank might not look good. So ShoreBank got no federal aid and was allowed to fail.

    Look at the past century, and you see good people doing hard and noble work that produces results that stick—for a time: labor organizers, community activists, civil rights workers. And then much of it, even most of it, gets wiped out and worse.

    It is a pessimistic, even fatalistic view that flows from that experience. I do not think Kuttner has fully absorbed his own lesson. In the same essay, he is quite emphatic:

    I’m also uneasy in the company of some people to my left . . . who are unhelpfully scornful of President Biden’s efforts. (Where do they expect him to find the votes in Congress for an even more robust left program?) Conversely, some admired friends from my generation who were once founders of Students for a Democratic Society and who are unabashed socialists are fervent Biden supporters. They’re political realists, while also pushing Biden to be more progressive in his aspirations. That’s my stance, too. So this essay is an exploration of the deepening toxicity of capitalism and the alternatives, not a brief for no-enemies-on-the-left.

    If you know how your political idealism was trashed by Clinton and Obama and then you turn around to don fantasies about the corrupt, senile Biden being a reincarnation of FDR, and call that “political realism”, you are the problem, not the solution to neoliberalism.

  2. Chicago Clubs

    Yes, once again solutionism rears its ugly head. Since there *must* be a way forward to a good future and Biden is the only thing on offer, that means reaching the conclusion that Biden must be the way forward to a good future, no matter how absurd on its face such a conclusion may be.

  3. bruce wilder

    Yeah, if you cannot offer a solution, what’s the alternative, eh?

  4. Ché Pasa

    The obsession with the belief in the Reincarnation of FDR needs to be examined.

    Who believes it and why?

    What sort of person was FDR and why?

    What was his ruling animus? (Perhaps in both senses.)

    Why is his Reincarnation so devoutly to be wished and by whom? Be specific.

    Is it even a real phenomenon, or is it mostly a media construct, shorthand for convenience sake? Ie: someone who takes an apparently big and bold stand against (malefactors of great wealth… or fill in the blank) who are making some portion of the population miserable.

    No one I know remembers FDR, though my parents were fondly devoted to him and believed he had done tremendous service to the nation and the people. “He got us out of the Depression.” Did he? “He won the War.” Did he? My mother, however, despised his decision to allow the internment of Japanese Americans during the War (among her closest friends were a Japanese American family). She also despised his decision not to interfere in the South’s peculiar custom of lynch law (it wasn’t just in the South, btw, and it wasn’t just Blacks who were tortured and strung up for the pleasure of the crowd).

    My father was well aware that FDR didn’t — by any means — “end the Depression” but at least he spread the poverty widely and helped provide succor to more people and with less opprobrium than Hoover had. He also rather gleefully and publicly defenestrated some of the worst corporate and banking offenders, but life was still rough for many Americans, and it didn’t get particularly less rough during FDR’s many terms in office. Rough living was more widely accepted, and he was cheery about it. (Reagan was a great admirer by the way.)

    FDR was an aristocrat, steeped in public service from early on, considered a fine example of what his class should be but wasn’t.

    So in truth, he was something of an anomaly, someone whose intentions were mostly positive, driven by a sense of public good, and whose policies were… better than what had gone before but by no means what was needed for the People. In retrospect, they were baby steps, and by the time of Reagan they were being either undone or transformed into something negative.

    Rather than nostalgia for FDR (or Reagan if you’re so inclined) or devotion to Trump’s smash and burn behavior, what about having a real consideration of the kind of leadership we need going forward?

    We don’t need a new FDR or Reagan or Trump. The global rising fascist tide is happening in part because of a near vacuum of thought and action in opposition. An absence of something better in mind and deed. Countering it doesn’t mean going back or trying to revivify the corpse of what used to be.

    Create what needs to be — or be overwhelmed by the fascist tide.

  5. anon

    Ian predicted that Roe v. Wade would be overturned in around the time of RGB’s death leading to the confirmation of Amy Coney Barret. The overturn of Roe v. Wade should not surprise anyone. This is what the conservatives have been working diligently toward for decades. RBG should have seen this coming and retired from the bench a decade prior to her death. She could have spent the remaining ten years of her life giving talks and working for women’s organizations in DC to prevent what is happening today.

  6. bruce wilder

    FDR was an anomaly — a small-d democrat and an institutionalist in an age of global authoritarianism.

    Authoritarians are always sure they are right; they centralize and suppress social and economic conflict, celebrate confomity and the success of predators and bullies.

    FDR was an institution builder, and balancing conflicting interests and representing local politics in governance was part of his design. Some of the greatest achievements of the New Deal were the work of “opponents” — like Carter Glass devising the complex financial repression of banking.

    Say what you will about FDR’s leadership, he promoted great followership and we need that latter now more than the former.

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