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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – February 12, 2023

by Tony Wikrent



Seymour Hersh: Navy Divers + Spooks + Norway Took Out Nord Stream 2 on Biden’s Orders, Using Timer

[Naked Capitalism, 2-8-2023]


How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline

Seymour Hersh, February 8, 2023

The U.S. Navy’s Diving and Salvage Center…. has been training highly skilled deep-water divers for decades….

Last June, the Navy divers, operating under the cover of a widely publicized mid-summer NATO exercise known as BALTOPS 22, planted the remotely triggered explosives that, three months later, destroyed three of the four Nord Stream pipelines, according to a source with direct knowledge of the operational planning….

There was a vital bureaucratic reason for relying on the graduates of the center’s hardcore diving school in Panama City. The divers were Navy only, and not members of America’s Special Operations Command, whose covert operations must be reported to Congress and briefed in advance to the Senate and House leadership—the so-called Gang of Eight. The Biden Administration was doing everything possible to avoid leaks as the planning took place late in 2021 and into the first months of 2022.


Sources say 

[Washington Examiner, via Naked Capitalism, 2-10-2023]

Hersh’s story — all 5,000-plus words of it — is based entirely on a lone anonymous source “with direct knowledge of the operational planning.” That’s it. Hersh supplies no further evidence proving unequivocally the United States planned and executed what would be rightly viewed as an “act of war.”



John Helmer [Dances with Bears, via Naked Capitalism, 2-11-2023]


The Top Five Lessons from Year One of Ukraine’s War 

Stephen Walt (Professor of International relations at the Harvard Kennedy School) [Foreign Policy, via Naked Capitalism, 2-10-2023]


Losses in Ukraine are ‘out of proportion’ to what NATO has been planning for, the alliance’s top general says 

[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism, 2-10-2023]


What Russia Got Wrong 

[Foreign Affairs, via Naked Capitalism, 2-10-2023]

“The Russian armed forces are not wholly incompetent or incapable of learning.”


The Economics of the Ukraine Proxy War with Michael Hudson and Radhika Desai

[Naked Capitalism, 2-6-2023]

Michael: Well the whole purpose of the war is economic, but it’s not economic just about Ukraine and the winners and losers of the United States and Europe.

President Biden has said this is a ten- or a twenty-year war, and it’s [a war] for what kind of economy [the world is] going to have.

Is it going to be a finance-based neoliberal rentier economy centered in the United States, with the United States controlling all of the monopoly rents:….

Radhika: …if you look at a map of the world, of all the countries in the world that are imposing sanctions on Russia [and] supplying arms to Ukraine — what you see is essentially the core of world capitalism as it was in 1914, with a few little additions — very tiny, very insignificant, not very economically important [additions].

Whereas the entire rest of the world is going in the other direction, and the divide between this “West” and “the rest” is growing precisely in the ways that Michael is saying.

The West [has basically been] in a long-term trend of decline, but the Western leaders have continued to pursue the policies that are responsible for the decline, because even though [those policies] are not good for the economy, they are great for the monopoly financialized corporations of the West which, as Michael says, have become more and more reliant on rentier income — on rent and interest — rather than profits from production….

Remember, all the major European countries know who blew up the Nord Stream pipeline. [They know] that the United States is so ruthless in its efforts to achieve the goals that Michael just outlined that they are willing to go as far as actually blow up a [so-called] friendly country’s infrastructure. So that’s what you’re looking at….

…recently there has been a Rand Corporation report — the Rand Corporation being very close to the U.S. administration— which has been interpreted in very different ways. The warmongers say [that] the Rand Corporation says, we have to continue this war and intensify it and prolong it and so on. Others are saying it means something completely different

So I think that what we have to realize is that the U.S. is trying to achieve a whole range of conflicting objectives. I think one [objective] is obviously to try and retain its purchase on world affairs, [and] try and retain its dominance on world affairs. It’s not succeeding but that’s what the effort is about.

At the same time the US is also trying to profit. The military-industrial complex is profiting. It’s making money hand over fist. Not only right now, but we should watch the coming U.S. budget. Basically it looks as though the Pentagon and associated interests are going to use the Ukraine war as a way of essentially increasing the contracts being given to the five major U.S corporations [which have dominated] over the 20 years or 30 years since the end of the Cold War.

What used to be dozens and dozens of military suppliers have become condensed into five. You can imagine if there are only five, they find it very easy to talk to the American government. They are making money, [and] they are going to take long term contracts under the guise of — Obviously people like them want to prolong the Ukraine war.

But there are also a whole bunch of other things. For example, we are being told [that] the United States is “aiding Ukraine.” And in order to aid Ukraine the United States has passed a new version of the Lend-Lease Act through which it had “aided” European countries during the [Second] World War. But if you look more closely at the Lend-Lease Act, what you see very clearly is the opposite of that.

Most people, when they hear the word “aid,” they think that the United States is giving money to Ukraine. It’s not giving money to Ukraine. If you look at this text of the [Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022] that was passed and look at clause 3, it says very clearly,

“(3) CONDITION.—Any loan or lease of defense articles to the Government of Ukraine under paragraph (1) shall be subject to all applicable laws concerning the return of and reimbursement and repayment for defense articles loaned or leased to foreign governments.”

Ukraine is going to have to pay for this….

The United States is also sending two kinds of weapons. Number one: obsolete weapons that it needs to get rid of anyway. This way it gets to make money out of assets that they would have had to write off otherwise. [Number two:] it wants to send those weapons which its military industrial complex corporations want to have tested in “battle conditions.”

On Youtube



Amartya Sen’s Work Shows Us the Human Cost of Capitalist Development 

Benjamin Selwyn [Developing Economics, via Mike Norman Economics, February 10, 2023]

Sen’s 1981 book Poverty and Famines was an essential intervention into the political economy of famine and the analysis and alleviation of hunger. Born in 1933, the economist grew up in British-controlled India and experienced firsthand the 1943 Bengal famine, in which at least three million people perished.

Dominant explanations of the Bengal famine as well as other famines and episodes of widespread hunger resort to food availability decline (FAD) arguments. Simply put, they argue that there were too many mouths to feed.Sen’s 1981 book Poverty and Famines was an essential intervention into the political economy of famine.

By contrast, Sen showed how in a series of cases, from Bengal in the 1940s to the Bangladesh famine of 1974, food was available at the time — often in higher quantities than during non-famine periods. Crucially, it was not the absolute volume of food that determined whether people died or lived, but the capitalist price mechanism.

Sen demonstrated that the Bengal famine was caused by rapid price inflation rather than crop failure. British military and civil construction investments, including air strips, barracks, munitions, and clothing for soldiers and civilians, fueled such inflation. It pushed up food prices in relation to agricultural wages, leaving agricultural laborers unable to afford food….

Sen’s arguments in Poverty and Famines were a necessary counterargument to the mainstream apologetics for mass hunger. Such arguments often ended up blaming the poor themselves for being too numerous, conveniently obscuring how the capitalist economy continually reproduces poverty.Despite his perspicacity, even Sen himself underestimated the deliberately manufactured causes of the Bengal famine.

However, more recent scholarship has shown that despite his perspicacity, even Sen himself underestimated the deliberately manufactured causes of the Bengal famine. His analysis is thus incomplete as an explanation for the persistence of global hunger.

Indian academic Utsa Patnaik’s study of the Bengal famine demonstrates how the price inflation in Bengal represented a deliberate British policy. This policy was recommended by none other than the famed liberal political economist John Maynard Keynes.

In the context of the UK’s wartime crisis, Keynes advocated “profit inflation” to achieve a “forced transference of purchasing power” from the mass of the population to the British exchequer. Military investments in Bengal were to be paid for by printing money, without regard for their impact upon the poor of the region.

The increased money supply pushed up prices, benefiting the region’s capitalists who were then taxed in turn by the colonial state. The state used these funds to raise its military investments in India itself while siphoning off surplus funds to the UK exchequer to finance its European war effort.

As Patnaik puts it:

“Without deliberate state policy of curtailing mass consumption, over £1,600 million of extra resources could not have been extracted from Indians during the war, with the bulk of this enormous burden falling on the population of Bengal since the Allied forces were located in and operated from that province. The state policy was to induce a very rapid profit inflation which redistributed incomes away from the working population, towards capitalists and companies, which were then taxed.”

….At present, the world already produces 1.5 times the amount necessary to feed everyone on the planet — indeed, it produces enough to feed even a population as high as ten billion by 2050.The problem of world hunger is not insufficient food but rather the poverty and unequal power relations that are intrinsic to capitalism.

The problem of world hunger now, as in the cases analyzed by Sen, is not insufficient food but rather the poverty and unequal power relations that are intrinsic to capitalism. The world’s poor simply do not have the money to pay for the food they need to live healthy lives….


Global power shift

Jeffrey D. Sachs – The New Geopolitics

[Brave New World, via Mike Norman Economics 1-5-2023]

There are at least five major theories about the current geopolitics. The first three are variants of the Hegemonic Stability Theory; the fourth is the important school of international realism. The fifth is my preferred theory of multilateralism, based on the pre-eminent importance of global cooperation to solve pressing global problems.

The Hegemonic Stability Theory, favored by American elites in politics, government, and academia, holds that the United States remains the world’s hegemon, the sole superpower, albeit a hegemon that is challenged by a rising competitor, China, and by a lesser but nuclear-armed competitor, Russia….

In the past 30 years, three basic economic changes have transformed geopolitics. The first is that the U.S. share of global output declined from 21.0 percent in 1991 to 15.7 percent in 2021, while China’s rose from 4.3 percent in 1991 to 18.6 percent in 2021. The second is that China has overtaken the United States in total GDP and has become the leading trade partner for much of the world. The third is that the BRICS, constituting Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, have also overtaken the G7 countries in total output. In 2021, the BRICS had a combined GDP of $42.1 trillion (measured in constant 2017 international prices), compared with $41.0 trillion in the G7. In terms of combined population, the BRICS, with a 2021 population of 3.2 billion, is 4.2 times the combined population of the G7 countries, at 770 million. In short, the world economy is no longer American-dominated or Western-led. China is of comparable overall economic size to the United States, and the large middle-income countries are a counterweight to the G7 nations….


The New Map Of Oil: How India Turns Russia’s Crude Into The West’s Fuel 

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 2-5-2023]


‘Shadow Fleet’ of Tankers Hauling Russian Oil Swells to 600 Ships, Trafigura Says 

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 2-5-2023]


Aiming to Harm Iran and Syria, US Federal Reserve Strangles Iraq’s Economy 

Antiwar, via Naked Capitalism 2-5-2023]


The pandemic

“Reader question: Covid risk at a conference”

[Violet Blue, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-6-2023]

[Lambert Strether’s introduction: “An excellent wrap-up of what a personal risk assessment really looks like, with tips. Well worth a read. I think most of the individual items will be familiar to NC readers, but here is a tip I have not seen:”]

“Because covid has been allowed to freely mass-infect (and mass-re-infect) communities and populations, it has evolved on a supercharged schedule and we are nearly out of treatments. Paxlovid is currently the last one left that works. Remember that many people have not been able to get their doctors to give them Paxlovid and lots of people can’t take it for a variety of reasons. Find out how the location you’re traveling to deals with Paxlovid; for instance, California has a variety of free, no-contact options. It may be that the hotel you’re staying at could help; find out in advance.”


“We Now Face an Army of COVID Viruses”

[The Tyee, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-6-2023]

“What began as an airborne pandemic driven by a single virus has become a viral cloud roiling around the globe thanks to public policies that have allowed unfettered transmission. As a consequence the pandemic now represents different threats in different regions for different classes of people at different times. The wealthy elite attending Davos may be protected by tests and clean air machines, but the rest of us face contrasting realities. Some virologists have argued that people shouldn’t be concerned by these evolutionary doings, and that the messy world of Omicron subvariants is better left to the experts. But that’s a patronizing attitude. The pandemic affects us all, demanding citizens make decisions individually and together. So the point is not to be complacent or alarmed, but curious and attentive. We have entered an epoch of biological volatility and the risks this entails demand constant vigilance. Here are six observations on viral evolution and how it may shape our lives in this, the fourth year of the pandemic.” The six: “1. One virus has become many…. 2. The new COVID soup is a unique experiment in evolution…. 3. What were viral peaks are now a constant rising sea of infections with high and low tides…. 4. One pandemic has morphed into regional epidemics…. 5. Reinfections rarely happened. Now they are commonplace…. 6. We can do more to blunt the evolutionary threat of COVID subvariants.”


What Is COVID Actually Doing to Our Immune Systems? 

[Slate, via Naked Capitalism 2-10-2023]


In Cleveland and beyond researchers begin to unravel the mystery of long COVID-19 

[, via Naked Capitalism 2-10-2023]


The pandemic after the pandemic: Long covid haunts millions of people 

[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 2-10-2023]


Scientists explain how Cuba has brought COVID-19 under control 

[The Caribbean Council, via Naked Capitalism 2-10-2023]


“Scientists discover receptor that blocks COVID-19 infection” (press release)

[University of Sydney, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-10-2023]

“University of Sydney scientists have discovered a protein in the lung that blocks SARS-CoV-2 infection and forms a natural protective barrier in the human body. This protein, the leucine-rich repeat-containing protein 15 (LRRC15), is an inbuilt receptor that binds the SARS-CoV-2 virus without passing on the infection. The research opens up an entirely new area of immunology research around LRRC15 and offers a promising pathway to develop new drugs to prevent viral infection from coronaviruses like COVID-19 or deal with fibrosis in the lungs. The study has been published in the journal PLOS Biology. ”


Strategic Political Economy

Changes in the Relationship Between Income and Life Expectancy Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic, California, 2015-2021

[JAMA, via Naked Capitalism 2-6-2023]

From the abstract: “The gap in life expectancy between the richest and poorest percentiles increased from 11.52 years in 2019 to 14.67 years in 2020 and 15.51 years in 2021.”

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 2-8-2023]


Mathew D. Rose – Democracy hasn’t failed, it just doesn’t exist any more 

[Brave New Europe, via Naked Capitalism 2-5-2023]

The annoyance at the revelations concerning “Qatargate” was surprising as corruption in the EU is endemic. What may have made this case different was that all those linked to it are numbered among the supposedly “good” of the European political class: social democrats, the General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), and heads of two humanitarian NGOs: “Fight Impunity” and ”No Peace Without Justice” (nomen est omen – both chock full of current and former “good” EU parliamentarians and officials). Two further EU social democrat parliamentarians, who the police wanted to get their hands on, had their immunity revoked yesterday. One of the accused is reportedly prepared to incriminate other “good” EU parliamentarians in a plea bargaining deal. Qatargate has exposed just how far the rot has spread in European Liberal Democracy.

Corruption is oddly still viewed as an evil aberration in Europe, not as the determining element of its politics, which it is.


“A Beautiful Portrait of My Enemy: A Review of the True Believer (Part 1)”

[From the New World, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-7-2023]

“The myth which Hoffer first executes is the myth of oppressor and oppressed, at least in the context of mass movements. The oppressed are simply not who join mass movements. This seems in line with the Brahmin Left and Merchant Right divide [important paper by Piketty] of the present day…. The second is the myth of self-interest, once again in the context of mass movements. Hoffer draws a distinction between a practical organization and a mass movement. A practical organization is one in which the main incentive is “self-advancement”, which Hoffer describes as an incremental change in oneself. In order to believe in self-advancement, one has to believe in oneself to begin with. A person who does not believe in himself will be utterly unmotivated by this type of organization. A mass movement is different. It promises rebirth.”


The Arsenal of Democracy Isn’t 

[imetatronink, via Naked Capitalism 2-5-2023]

…for all its massive plunder of the public purse, the US armaments industry is effectively a modestly scaled high-end boutique.

And there is simply no way this domestic US industry can expeditiously expand its production. It would literally take years – probably a full decade – for the US to expand its military production to a seriously potent industrial scale.

For one, the labor pool for these industries is extremely finite and highly specialized. In the overwhelmingly financialized and service-oriented US economy, there is a shocking dearth of technical expertise of ALL kinds.


Bill Clinton Has Left the Building 

Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 2-10-2023]

But a new vision emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, peddled by economists, intellectuals and corporate consultants, an argument that certain inevitable economic rules dictate what is and isn’t possible. This philosophy came to be known as neoliberalism, and the premise is that “globalization and technology” were giant uncontrollable forces instead of a set of policy choices made by human beings. Such a philosophy was cover for private financiers and monopolists gaining power over markets, but it seemed plausible at the time, when postwar abundance and public unions seemed to balance out any forms of corporate overreach….

This philosophy, in its right and left versions, guided the thinking of both parties in the 1980s, and a new generation of politicians emerged to redefine what politics was. No longer was it even conceivable that elected leaders might help address corporate power, that just wasn’t the job. By the 1990s Bill Clinton was centering his Presidency on bullshit themes like “Bridge to the 21st Century,” and millionaire political consultants were baffled as to why voters were apathetic and turning towards bitter cultural questions….

When Joe Biden got elected, I was not expecting him to break from this tradition. Just before he won, I described Biden as a ‘mild populist’ who did not like elitism, but also as a man with no firm philosophy. So far, and to virtually everyone’s surprise, Biden has governed more like Harry Truman than Bill Clinton. Gone is the powerlessness in the face of titanic forces, and back is the core view that delivering for people is the point of politics.

This week, Biden gave a State of the Union making it clear that his populist policy choices are not an accident, but the centerpiece of what he’s trying to do. And his speech used a Patman-style tradition of having politicians discuss what normal people care about. I’ll go over some of the details in the speech, but just to give you a sense of what I mean, here’s Senator Chris Murphy, after the speech, noting that Biden essentially said “Ticketmaster sucks.”

Are crappy fees from Ticketmaster the most pressing problem in America? No. But they are actually a problem that most people know about, and these junk fees symbolize the out-of-control monopolies corrupting our society. Normal people get what Biden was discussing, just like in the 1950s they understood things like roads, electricity, and telephone service….

And that’s why I was completely stunned at what Biden said, and how he said it. I knew there was going to be some monopoly-related stuff in the speech, there had been leaks that Biden would mention Big Tech and privacy, for instance. But what I didn’t realize is that the entire speech would be framed around the need to restore populist government, to place controls on powerful corporations, and to re-shore production.

To see if I was imagining things, I went back and read a few old State of the Union speeches by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. I chose the third year of the Presidency for each, to do an apples to apples comparison. And what I found was that Biden’s accomplishments and his rhetoric were wildly different from his predecessors. In 1995, Bill Clinton centered his speech on what he called a “New Covenant,” which largely meant cutting government. He bragged about eliminating $250 billion of spending, removing 100,000 jobs from the public sector, and making the Federal Government “the smallest it has been since John Kennedy was President.” He sought tax cuts, a bailout for American banks in Mexico, and an attack on “our failed welfare system.” Obama, in 2011, echoed similar themes, focusing on the deficit and reducing the size of government….

To say that Biden changed this framework is to dramatically understate the matter – his speech started with a discussion of the government bringing back semiconductor manufacturing to the U.S., and capping insulin prices charged by “Big Pharma” at $35/month for seniors. Banning non-competes got a shout-out, as did competition in hearing aids, unionization laws, domestic production subsidies, and bans on hidden fees charged by banks, hotels, airlines, and Ticketmaster. There was no apologia for government, and the villain was big business and monopoly, from nearly start to finish. He mentioned the need for stronger antitrust laws against big tech, the first time antitrust has been in a State of the Union speech since 1979….

Another way to understand the speech is to see who was infuriated. CNBC types were outraged, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page writers predictably had their aneurysms…. Wall Street Democrats were frustrated as well…. These are all the people you want to be mad, if the goal is to make the country work reasonably well again.


And Now, the Republicans Are the Party of Defending Businesses That Rip People Off

Timothy Noah, February 9, 2023 [The New Republic]

To repeat: I was wrong and Biden was right. Junk fees turn out to be a near-universal annoyance, not just an irritation to the professional-class voter who already votes Democratic. And Republicans continue to be dumber than I expect. They were presented with a choice: Defend capitalism, or defend businesses? They chose businesses, because that’s all they really know how to do.


Reasons For Hope (1): The Solutions Are Known

Ian Welsh, February 8, 2023

All of this is fairly basic. The details can be complicated, but we know what must be done and we either have the technology or can develop it.

The hard problem is not the technical stuff, complicated as it may be, the hard problem is the political question. The hard thing is that we have to change how we live and how we organize our societies in fundamental ways.

But we know, generally speaking, what has to be done. And that is cause for reasonable hope, because it means that if we do solve the political problem, we’ll be able to get moving very quickly.


The Twilight of the Deficit Hawks

David Dayen, February 10, 2023 [The American Prospect]

…The key to the success of this unpopular agenda was buy-in across the political spectrum. Politicians recognize that cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid would be hazardous to their career health. But if both sides agreed with the proposition, they could diffuse responsibility by holding hands and plunging the austerity blade in together. The middle class would get screwed but not know who to blame.

President Biden’s jujitsu this week at the State of the Union address, effectively taking cuts to Social Security and Medicare off the table in future negotiations around the debt limit, reveals how this dynamic has been ended. The deficit hawks have lost nearly all their friends in the Democratic Party, a significant sea change that makes a grand bargain to damage retirement security far less likely.

If you know where to look, you can see the angst this is causing….

The decades-old Peterson family of organizations and programs have been the primary voices doing the cheerleading. Peterson, an investment bank and private equity executive and former commerce secretary under Richard Nixon, co-founded the Concord Coalition just as Clinton took the White House, and Clinton named him to an entitlement and tax reform commission in 1994. Over the next 20 years, he spent half a billion dollars through the Peterson Foundation to put together think tanks, research shops, ostensible news organizations and programs aimed at millennials (one was called The Can Kicks Back), and other groups to encourage a deficit reduction agenda.

A look at the board of directors of CRFB, one of the few entities in the Peterson orbit left (he died in 2018), reads like a roster of political royalty that is actually tilted toward Democrats….

UNFORTUNATELY FOR CRFB, their roster of Democratic budget-cutters decidedly represents the politics of the past in Democratic circles. The desire to put aside politics and meet generational challenges is mostly confined to throwbacks like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

This White House has not shown the least bit of interest and has been openly hostile to Manchin’s core idea, a fast-track deficit commission. To the extent Biden addressed deficits this week, he offered a throwaway line about the end of pandemic-era programs, and called for a billionaire minimum tax.


Biden Forges a New Democratic Paradigm

Harold Meyerson, February 8, 2023 [The American Prospect]

The president repudiates the neoliberal ideologies of the past and puts the party on solid economic and political ground….

…Biden’s speech set the Democratic Party and American liberalism on sounder economic and political ground than they’ve been since the New Deal. Compare Biden’s analysis of what ails the American economy to those put forth by some previous Democratic presidents—Carter and Clinton most particularly, but at times, Obama as well—and what you see is a thorough repudiation of what once was the Democratic establishment’s holy writ. Biden declared that globalization, once touted as a solution, was really the problem. The doctrine of “Buy American,” so ridiculed by Wall Street Democrats and the self-proclaimed pragmatists who viewed corporate globalism as the inevitable way of the world, was not only affirmed by Biden but made a requirement for federally funded infrastructure projects.


Milton Friedman Set Us Up for a 21st Century Version of Fascism

Joseph Stiglitz, January10, 2023 [In These Times, via Avedon’s Sideshow 1-28-2023]

…Countries around the world could have levied windfall-profit taxes in ways that might actually have encouraged investment and tempered prices, using the proceeds to protect the vulnerable and to make public investments in economic resilience. As an international community, we could have adopted the Covid-19 intellectual-property waiver, thereby reducing the magnitude of vaccine apartheid and the resentment that it fuels, as well as mitigating the risk of dangerous new mutations.

….But almost 80 years after Friedrich von Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom, we are still living with the legacy of the extremist policies that he and Milton Friedman pushed into the mainstream. Those ideas have put us on a truly dangerous course: the road to a 21st-century version of fascism.

[TW: Anything that discredits the deranged anti-republicanism philosophy of von Hayek and Friedman is good. It’s a very hopeful sign that a major establishment figure—which Stiglitz is—is explicitly linking the ideas of von Hayek and Friedman to the rise of authoritariansm. Though note that Stiglitz’s article is published by In These Times, not the New York Times.]

This is plutocracy, not capitalism

Meatpacking. Healthcare. Housing Rentals. Industries Across the Board Using Tech to Fix Wages and Prices

Conor Gallagher, February 9, 2023 [Naked Capitalism]

After years of consolidation, US industries are now using advances in algorithms and the speed of data sharing to remove any vestige of market forces that are supposed to keep prices down.

In attempts to maneuver around antitrust restrictions, companies turn to data firms offering software that helps increase profits. How? By exchanging information with competitors in order to keep wages low and prices high – effectively creating national cartels.

The US Department of Justice might finally be waking up to the problem. According to Bloomberg Law:….


There Are Very Strange Things Going On at Goldman Sachs

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, February 7, 2023 [Wall Street on Parade]

Eight days after the ax fell on more than 3,000 workers’ jobs, Goldman announced that its quarterly profit had plunged by 66 percent versus the prior year and that it was taking a $972 million provision for credit losses in the quarter. That credit loss provision compared to $344 million taken a year earlier.

Ten days later, the firm announced in a regulatory filing that its Chairman and CEO, David Solomon, would be getting a compensation package that was 29 percent less than the prior year – still an obscene $25 million for one year’s toils.

Goldman is also being negatively portrayed in the business press. On Saturday, Bill Cohan reported at the Financial Times that “Goldman Sachs has lost its swagger. The market value of the venerable 154-year-old investment bank, at $121bn, is now $42bn less than its longtime arch-rival Morgan Stanley.


Bombshell Emails Raise Questions about What Sullivan & Cromwell Knew about Fraud at Sam Bankman-Fried’s Crypto Firms

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, February 6, 2023 [Wall Street on Parade]


How the Wealthy Save Billions in Taxes by Skirting a Century-Old Law 

[ProPublica, via Naked Capitalism 2-10-2023]


Rail Workers Tried To Warn Us the Ohio Train Derailment Would Happen 

Prem Thakker, February 8, 2023 [The New Republic]


Rail Companies Blocked Safety Rules Before Ohio Derailment 

David Sirota, Julia Rock, Rebecca Burns & Matthew Cunningham-Cook, February 8, 2023 [The Lever]


The good and the bad of Iowa’s bill that would bring big changes to child labor laws 

[Des Moines Register, via Naked Capitalism 2-9-2023]


Climbing cases of seafarer abandonment places profits above people as $40 million is lost in unpaid crew wages 

[Hellenic Shipping News, via Naked Capitalism 2-8-2023]


Restoring balance to the economy

Seizing the means of computation – how popular movements can topple Big Tech monopolies 

[TNI, via Naked Capitalism 2-6-2023] An interview with Cory Doctorow.


The DOJ Antitrust Suit Against Google is a Victory for the Washington Monthly

[he Washington Monthly, January 25, 2023]

This magazine and, in particular, Phillip Longman, built the intellectual architecture to prosecute the tech giant’s predatory practices….

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division attacked this very core of Google’s business model, charging in an antitrust suit filed in Virginia that the tech giant is stealing resources from news organizations and other publishers as well as from advertisers by abusing its market power in digital advertising. To break up its near monopoly, DOJ, along with eight states, including New York and California, wants Google to unload its so-called “ad tech platforms,” which are digital exchanges it controls for buying and selling ads on the internet.

The theory of the case echoes a theme long championed by this magazine that we want to note at this historic moment. As Phillip Longman wrote in “Starving the News” in 2020, Google’s cornering of the digital advertising market has eroded the financial foundations of an independent press in America, destroying tens of thousands of journalism jobs and bringing about the near demise of local journalism. Google could pull this off not because of technological genius but because the federal government, during successive Republican and Democratic administrations, failed to enforce antitrust laws and regulations that Washington once used regularly to stimulate robust competition between communications networks and media markets. Broadcast networks remained, for instance, limited in the number of stations they could own and operate, just as movie studios are not allowed to own theatre chains. The arguments in Longman’s piece are echoed throughout the DOJ’s brief.

To make it right, Longman argued, the government simply needs to reapply those traditional policies, which is what the DOJ is doing in a big way with this suit. If successful, the implications could be enormous for print and broadcast media, returning to their parched coffers the revenue stream that’s been diverted to Google.


Shell’s board of directors sued over climate strategy in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit 

[CNBC, via Naked Capitalism 2-10-2023]


Gov. Shapiro wants Pennsylvania pension funds to ditch Wall Street money managers 

[Philadelphia Inquirer, via Naked Capitalism 2-6-2023]

The Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) said in a recent report that it had paid private managers $1.7 billion in 2021….

As chairman of the Montgomery County commissioners, Shapiro in 2013 persuaded colleagues to fire dozens of traditional pension managers and replace them with low-cost index funds….

State and school district taxpayers contribute more than $8 billion a year to keep the plans healthy, with help from smaller employee contributions from future pensioners. The state also has more than 1,000 independently managed, locally funded county, public authority, municipal, police, firefighter, and other pension plans — more than in any other state.

Shapiro told reporters Tuesday that he hopes to do for Pennsylvania what he did for Montgomery County when he headed county government in the early 2010s: “Fire the money managers, saving millions of dollars that’s going to their high fees.”

He blamed the private managers for “costing the county millions and, frankly, leaving us with far worse returns than simply investing in a passive system like Vanguard” Group, the Malvern company that pioneered low-fee stock-index funds that rise and fall with broad market indexes such as the S&P 500.


“SEIU Local 1 Lays off 10 Staffers Amid Allegations That Dues Remain Uncollected”

[In These Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-6-2023]

“An Economic Policy Institute report presents evidence that suggests 60 million workers would join a union if they could. Some labor observers argue that the bottleneck preventing these workers from having a union is unions themselves. ​’There has been no investment in the army of union organizers necessary to meet demand,’ writes Hamilton Nolan in a 2022 In These Times article, citing a 2022 report showing that unions lost 23,440 organizers between 2010 and 2020, a 19% decline, even as management positions within unions grew by 28%.


Information age dystopia

“Who’s in Charge of Your World View?”

[Matt Bivens, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-6-2023]

[Bivens helped Taibbi organize data for The Twitter Files.]

“And, in the initial files we sifted through, I saw evidence for what I’d suspected beforehand, something the Files continue to flesh out: That CIA, FBI and the rest of the U.S. security state — with little to no public discussion, and probably illegally — have become way too comfortable with policing what Americans see, say and hear on the Internet. …Twitter staff could, for example, prevent a person’s tweet from showing up in searches; or prevent an entire Twitter account from being seen by anyone that did not already follow it. The company jargon for this was “visibility filtering”. They could and did filter a person out of visibility, whenever they felt that person’s views should disappear….. Visibility filtering was also applied to politicians. However one might feel about Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, it is startling to see that Twitter, without informing her, labeled her Twitter account ‘not safe for work,’ as if it were some sort of pornography site, and also weighed it down with a ‘do not amplify’ setting, which would decrease its reach on searches and retweets… If you think this is just about “Republicans on Twitter” though, think again. The Twitter Files show Facebook’s approach was no different — and this forces a reassessment of the allegations by Bernie Sanders that back in 2017, Facebook “flipped a switch” to overnight stop engagement between the popular progressive and his supporters. ‘Bernie had this tremendous rise on Facebook. We had a really successful online video program,’ recalls Ari Rabin-Havt, Sanders’ former campaign manager, in this video (start around the 22:30 mark). ‘We saw our numbers rising, rising, rising. And then one day, literally out of nowhere — this is the Senate office page, the Facebook page — it stopped getting followers. It just dead stopped.’ Meetings ensued with Facebook, including with Adam Mosseri, then in charge of Facebook’s newsfeeds and now head of Instagram. ‘During the meeting with Mosseri,’ Rabin-Havt recounted, ;it was revealed that Facebook had changed a setting on its back end that essentially shut off the pipeline of new subscribers to Bernie’s page. They could not come up with a reasonable explanation for the changed setting.’ Probably it had something to do with Facebook joining with the rest of corporate media to keep people from seeing things like this pro-Sanders video — still the best short video ever about politics in America.”


Government By Panic (excerpt)

Matt Taibbi, TK News, via Naked Capitalism 2-6-2023]

Now take a hypothetical. Say you’re a member of the American political establishment after the 2016 election of Donald Trump. You’re staring at four years as part of a government-in-exile and need a new message to solve your belief problem. What’s your answer?

My hypothesis is such people never bothered to find one. Instead, they declared a state of emergency.

What emergency? Doesn’t matter. Russian interference was a good startup disaster, but you can keep changing them. The important thing is the pattern. One, declare a crisis. Two, spread panic. Three, take emergency measures. If you do this over and over, you end up with permanent crisis, permanent panic, permanent emergency rule. So long as new crises keep evoking unconscious fear and anxiety, the legitimacy of the political establishment is continuously justified.

[Lambert Strether adds: “As usual, Taibbi simplifies brilliantly (especially on the three-stage “pattern” driving all this). However, I think that (1) “American political establishment” is vague; I would say the Democrat Party and allied factions, expressing the class power of the PMC, which came to class consciousness after the shock of Clinton’s 2016 defeat; and I don’t think (2) “state of emergency” is correct framing; rather “state of exception” (or, in Schmitt’s original German, Ausnahmezustand). The merger of the intelligence community, the Democrat Party, and the platforms into a single network is one example of such a state.” ]


A Black Professor Trapped in Anti-Racist Hell 

[Compact, via Naked Capitalism 2-11-2023]


Climate and environmental crises

Phaseout Pathways for Fossil Fuel Production within Paris-compliant carbon budgets (PDF)

The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, via Naked Capitalism 2-6-2023]

From the Conclusion: “It will be especially difficult for the poorest, oil-dependent countries to phase out production by the 2040s or 2050, yet this is exactly what is required of them for a 50% or better chance of 1.5°C. Therefore the provision of international financial support will be crucial, in addition to the differentiation of end dates for production developed in this report.”


Pumping Mississippi water to the West still being considered to address droughts

[MinnPost, via Naked Capitalism 2-6-2023]


Minnesota Moves Towards A Clean Energy Future & North Dakota Threatens To Sue Them Over It

FlannelGuy, February 08, 2023 [DailyKos]


Meet the Man Fueling Clean Energy Opposition in the Midwest 

[Distilled Earth, via Naked Capitalism 2-11-2023]


The (Anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

The Second Amendment’s Legal Landscape Is Getting Weirder

Matt Ford, February 10, 2023 [The New Republic]

Late last year, I wrote about the fallout from the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling last summer in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen. The 6–3 ruling announced a new test for lower courts to apply when reviewing gun laws in general….

Last week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a federal provision that prohibits people under restraining orders for domestic violence from possessing firearms. The following day, a federal district court in Oklahoma struck down a similar provision that applied to people who unlawfully use or are addicted to a controlled substance….

[In Bruen]… Thomas wrote for the court. “The government must then justify its regulation by demonstrating that it is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.

[The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals] closed by noting that such laws “embody salutary policy goals meant to protect vulnerable people in our society.” Had the court been able to use the pre-Bruen test, it said it would have upheld the restrictions. “But Bruen forecloses any such analysis in favor of a historical analogical inquiry into the scope of the allowable burden on the Second Amendment right,” Wilson concluded. “Through that lens, we conclude that § 922(g)(8)’s ban on possession of firearms is an ‘outlier’ that our ancestors would never have accepted.’”

[TW: The proper response to (anti)Justice Clarence Thomas’s insistence on “originalism” is to “return to first principles”:

Zera S. Fink, The Classical Republicans: An Essay in the Recovery of a Pattern of Thought in Seventeenth Century England (Evanston, Northwestern University , 1945.

[Algernon Sydney wrote in Discourses Concerning Government (for which he was executed by Charles the Second in 1683]:

…. time conferred rectitude on nothing; that laws and constitutions, however ancient, should be weighed and if bad abolished; that it was stupid to follow what one’s fathers had done if it was evil; that “we are not therefore so much to inquire after that which is most ancient, as after that which is best”; that “we are not to seek what government was the first, but what best provides for the obtaining of justice and the preservation of liberty”; that the fact that there had been kings in the past did not forever oblige men to continue them; and that “there can be no reason, why a polite people should not relinquish the errors committed by their ancestors in the time of their barbarism and ignorance, and why we should not do it in matters of government, as well as in any other thing relating to life.””

[TW: Also, note that in his magnificent February 1866 speech summarizing the principles of civic republicanism, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner explained the two overarching principles are a regard for the General Welfare, and justice.]

Justice Clarence Thomas visits Harvard Law School

[YouTube, 2013]

[TW: Note that that the fine denizens of Harvard forbear from giving Thomas the grilling he so richly deserves, but rather treat him with deference and respect. In his history of the late 19th century populists of the Farmers Alliances and the People’s Party, The Populist Moment, Lawrence Goodwyn noted that one of the most important lessons the populists had to learn before they became effective, was to lose their deference for authority. ]


The Fight Ahead: Explaining the midterms to Machiavelli

Win McCormack, February 10, 2023 [The New Republic]

Niccolò riposted: “During our conversation in the early fall, we discussed the aspect of Roman civilization that in my view enabled the Romans to become the dominant power in the Mediterranean world—the amount of freedom vouchsafed to Roman citizens prior to the advent of the empire. And I noted that America, for all the faults it might have, has achieved the greatest degree of freedom in the modern world, and that its freedom now seemed threatened by the forces of reaction. And I explained that, for the Romans, having Fortuna, or the goddess of luck, on your side was crucial, and possessing the quality of virtù, or strength of character, which the goddess admires, was crucial in that regard. It seems that all these matters are going well for you and the democratic forces in America.”

“Niccolò, that is not something we can count on. I have done some research and learned that there was also a Roman goddess of treachery and fraud named Fraus—our word ‘fraud’ derives from it. Our current Republican Party is a fraudulent organization that has no interest in fostering a community of self-governing people, as republican philosophy calls for. Rather, as we have discussed, it is bent on weakening democracy in the United States if not doing away with it completely. There is a long struggle ahead.


“Rent Regulation Is Constitutional (For Now)”

[Hell Gate, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-8-2023]

“On Monday, a federal appeals court upheld New York’s rent stabilization laws, striking down the argument that rent regulations represent a seizure of private property. But lest you think this is all good news—the decision now possibly paves the way for landlord groups to take their various complaints to the Supreme Court. The decision is the latest development in a series of legal battles launched just months after the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act, a sweeping set of rent protections, was signed into law in 2019, protections that represented a sort of apocalypse for landlords and their allies. Since the passage of HSTPA, five lawsuits have been filed challenging its provisions that, among other things, make the conversion of rent-stabilized units to market-rate housing more difficult and make it harder for property owners to evict tenants. The laws also set caps on how much of a building landlords are permitted to use personally and set further limits on how much rent for a stabilized unit can be raised. Since the moment HSTPA passed, landlord-activists and lobbying groups including the Rent Stabilization Association and the Community Housing Improvement Program have hoped to eventually bring one of their cases against the state to a conservative Supreme Court.”


(Anti)Republican Party

Ron DeSantis and the Third Wave of American Fascism 

[Eudomonia & Co., via Naked Capitalism 2-5-2023]


‘Republicans Keep Saying the Quiet Part Out Loud’: Pence Calls for Privatizing Social Security 

[Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism 2-6-2023]

In a closed-door event Thursday hosted by the National Association of Wholesale-Distributors, a corporate trade group, Pence said he believes that “the day could come when we can replace the New Deal with a better deal, literally give younger Americans the ability to take a portion of their Social Security withholdings and put that into a private savings account that the government would oversee.”

“I mean, a very simple fund that could generate 2% would give the average American twice what they’re going to get back on their Social Security today. And it could save the government money doing it,” Pence said, according to video footage obtained by the Democratic-aligned group American Bridge 21st Century….

Experts have forcefully rejected the notion that private savings accounts of the kind Pence endorsed—which would allow workers to divert a portion of their payroll tax contributions into private investment accounts—would be more beneficial than Social Security’s guaranteed benefits, as the former vice president suggested.


“Emails expose right-wing fraudsters’ scheme to use robo calls to suppress Black voter turnout in Cleveland”

[, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-10-2023]

”Hours after right-wing fraud peddlers Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl unleashed tens of thousands of robocalls on Black voters in Cleveland and other cities across the country to suppress their vote in the November 2020 election, Burkman dashed off a giddy email to his partner provocateur…. The emails bolstered Cuyahoga County prosecutors’ assertion that the men specifically sought to suppress Black voter turnout in the 2020 election between Democrat Joe Biden and then-President Donald Trump…. The email is among several pieces of evidence that prosecutors here used to charge and eventually elicit guilty pleas from Burkman and Wohl for calls that went to Cleveland and East Cleveland residents. The men also face similar criminal charges in Michigan, which are pending.”



Open Thread


Schooling Kills Creativity And Then Work Buries It


  1. VietnamVet

    There are covert signs that the Russian Winter Offensive is underway. Current casualties are said to be equivalent to the first week of the war almost a year ago. This is now World War III since it is clear that the Western global rule is threatened if the BRICS nations form their own gold-based commodity currency. The globalists cannot continue extract unlimited rents and transfer wealth to the rich if they are limited to only half of North America and they are ejected from local states like Missouri that let kids carry locked and loaded weapons in public. Transferring wealth from Westerners (the same as Bengalis were by the English in WWII) will not continue much longer when gasoline lines form in Las Vegas if a LA pumping station shuts down. There is no trust left. Surveillance and propaganda cannot change reality. Life is on the razor’s edge. The death toll from nature, pandemics and war keeps escalating. Central Europe needs an armistice before things get out of hand between US/UK/Norway Atlantic Alliance and the Russia/China/Iran Eurasian Axis.

  2. Ché Pasa

    The precipitous declines in lifespan for the Lower Orders coupled with the extended lifespans of the Overclass and those who rule us should be illuminating. But even though these data have been studied and reported on for many years now, the actuality has yet to penetrate the thick skulls of the Underclass. Why would that be?

    It’s much like understanding that famines in most cases are not acts of God or Nature but deliberately engineered by, oh, the Overclass again, for particular political and economic ends, some of which may be obvious, others opaque. The Lesser People are time and again set at one another’s throats — as we see today with the global rise in fascist belief and practice against the “libs”/dominant society or what have you — while they are simultaneously left to starve, sicken and die. It’s a dreadful social dynamic which history has seen play out over and over.

    What are we to do about it? Ian has had some rather severe suggestions. I’ve asked “Who should be first against the wall when the Revolution comes?” only the Revolution — as in a People’s Revolution, as opposed to a petit bourgeois uprising — doesn’t come. Nah.

    What’s to be done?

  3. Ché Pasa

    Lifted from an NC comment; Roger Waters deviates from the US/Nato line on forever wars and the war in Ukraine:

    Worth spending some time listening to, but of course, it will have no effect on the combatants.

    Meanwhile Medea Benjamin has been pathetic.

  4. different clue

    @Eric Anderson,

    I left a comment with some possible links to possible sources pointing a way to a physics-based economics and/or other reality-based approaches to economics. I left it on the thread to this post here . . .

  5. Adam Eran

    About the evil genius behind neoliberalism–Milton Friedman: One of his students wrote an answer to Free to Choose, Friedman’s manifesto.

    Eldon Rayack’s Not So Free to Choose is out of print (Friedman’s manifesto has been reprinted repeatedly, videos are available, etc.) but it dismantles Monetarism thoroughly. Seriously…worth paying $84 for the out-of-print volume online.

  6. Purple Library Guy

    Americans are so screwed. I mean, we’ve got big problems in Canada, but it is occasionally possible to do something halfway not too bad. But the US? Fucked.

    As to the war in Ukraine . . . on one hand, it’s not going as well for the Russians as they had originally hoped. But it’s going much worse for Ukraine than it looks to most. The bottom line is, this has become for the most part a war of attrition. What’s bad for Ukraine is, most of the attrition is on the Ukrainian side. They are in effect spending men and materiel to slow the Russian advance (and occasionally, spending even more to advance themselves). The Russians are not spending very many men for the most part–they’re spending artillery shells. They have far, far more artillery and ammunition, among other things, so the attrition game is lopsidedly in the Russians’ favour. It’s interesting to contrast Ukrainian and Russian retreats. Ukrainian retreats are generally slow, grudging, refusing to shift until they’ve lost too many to hold or are nearly encircled; Russian retreats have been quick, to prepared positions, and allowed them to bombard the advancing troops hard–almost what gamers would call “kiting”.

    The thing is that this Ukrainian tactic has actually worked. They have lots and lots of men, and lots and lots of mediocre old Soviet kit to use plus an ongoing, if smallish, stream of new NATO stuff, and they have managed to keep on fighting without breaking for the most part, and by hanging tough and just taking the losses they have managed to seriously restrict Russian territorial gains. But this cannot go on forever–what looks almost like a stalemate is actually an ongoing bleeding of the Ukrainian armed forces. At some point there’s going to be a collapse.

  7. different clue

    @Purple Library Guy,

    What if the primary RussiaGov war aim is not first and foremost to conquer, hold and keep parts of Ukraine? What if Russia’s making good its illegal conquest and annexation of Donbassia is just gravy if it works out for Russia?

    What if the primary RussiaGov war aim is first, foremost, and always to get Ukraine to attrit itself down to existential perma-destruction to essential non-viability? And to get NATO to deweaponise ( or at least de-shellify and de-tankify) itself down to long-term impotence? If that is the primary RussiaGov goal, then Russia and NATOkraine are fighting two different wars. And if the RussiaGov war goal is more reality-based, then the war will stop when NATO is too deweaponised to supply Ukraine any more and Ukraine itself is too de-developed and too depopulated to sustain any war effort at all.

    If that is how this ends up playing out, then the end of the large scale war will decay into a post-war situation where the bitter-end Ukranazi militants will divide their efforts between trying to plant bombs all over Russia to ” keep hope alive” and planting bombs all over NATO EUrope to get revenge on NATO EUrope for letting Banderazovistan down by not supporting it “enough”.

    EUrope should probably get ready for a Ukranizi terrorist future all over EUrope. And America should get ready for all kinds of Ukranazi Canadians trying to sneak into America to plant bombs all over America. ( And all over Canada too, if the Ukranazi Canadians think Canada did not support Banderazovistan hard enough. Maybe CSIS or whatever your CIA is called should start monitoring all the Ukranazi Canadians starting right now . . . to be ready for them and their bombs).

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