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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – February 25, 2024

by Tony Wikrent

Gaza / Palestine / Israel

Opinion: I’m an American doctor who went to Gaza. What I saw wasn’t war — it was annihilation 

[Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism 02-22-2024]


Global power shift

[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 02-19-2024]


SCOTT RITTER: Mike Turner’s Folly 

[Consortium News, via Naked Capitalism 02-18-2024]


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

You paid more in income taxes last year than a corporation with billions in profits

[Popular Information, via The Big Picture 02-18-2024]

On February 2, for example, General Electric (GE) reported about $7 billion in profits for 2023. GE CEO and Chairman H. Lawrence Culp Jr. was effusive. “In 2023, our teams delivered an excellent year, more than tripling earnings and generating almost 70 percent more free cash flow,” Culp said in a statement. Culp noted the company was able to fatten the pockets of its shareholders by spending $7 billion on “dividends, buybacks, and retiring our preferred equity.”
You might expect that, with such a profitable year, GE sent a giant check to the federal government. Instead, GE received a refund of $423 million.
Data from Americans for Tax Fairness shows that GE is not an anomaly. Earlier this month, T-Mobile reported over $10.9 billion in profits in 2023 but paid just $42 million in federal income taxes, an effective tax rate of just 0.4%. Meanwhile, Tesla recorded $3.2 billion in domestic profits in 2023 but paid just $48 million in federal income taxes, an effective tax rate of 1.5%.
The 2023 annual reports of public companies will be filed throughout the year. But in 2020, “55 of the largest corporations in America paid no federal corporate income taxes… despite enjoying substantial pretax profits in the United States,” according to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). Those 55 companies collectively brought in over $40 billion in pre-tax domestic profit. But instead of paying federal income taxes, they received $3.5 billion in rebates from the federal government.
Another ITEP report found that 39 profitable companies paid no taxes over the three-year period from 2018 to 2020. This group included FedEx, Salesforce, Penske, and Advanced Micro Devices. And T-Mobile paid no taxes over that three-year period despite collecting $11.5 billion in profits. Another 79 profitable corporations paid less than half of the statutory rate of 21% between 2018 and 2020.
Companies are able to pay little or no taxes in part due to “long-standing tax breaks preserved or expanded by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” the signature tax policy of former President Trump. Companies can continue to take advantage of tax loopholes, including huge write-offs for giving executives stock options, shifting profits off-shore, and accelerated depreciation of equipment purchases. But the statutory tax rate was also reduced from 35% to 21%. So, companies are taking these deductions off of a much smaller base.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was supposed to “broaden the base” by eliminating loopholes and lowering the rate. It ended up just lowering the rate and keeping most of the loopholes. As a result, many companies are paying little to nothing.

Thanks to the IMF, Zambia’s fuel prices have nearly doubled in two years 

Grieve Chelwa [Africa Watch, via Naked Capitalism 02-18-2024]


Restoring balance to the economy  

Why Four Million Student Borrowers Got Debt Relief

David Dayen, February 23, 2024 [The American Prospect]

It’s just a matter of Biden’s Education Department fixing existing forgiveness programs that previous presidents failed to follow for decades.

Restoring the 52% Corporate Tax Bracket Would Make America Stronger

ThomHartmann, February 22, 2024 [CommonDreams]

…just the mostly tech companies listed in the S&P 500 bought back $882 billion of their own shares in 2021 and over $1 trillion in 2022. And that’s nearly $2 trillion spilling out of just one or two market sectors! Two trillion dollars is four times the cost to eliminate all poverty in the United States.



How Should An Equitable Society Deal With People Who Insist On Having Private Jets?

Howie Klein, February 24, 2024  []

…corrupt conservatives— bribed by several industries— have written the e tax code to encourage private and corporate jet use is through depreciation rules which allow businesses to deduct the cost of assets over time, including the cost of purchasing or leasing aircraft. The tax code provides favorable depreciation schedules for business aircraft, allowing owners to recover the cost of the aircraft more quickly through tax deductions. On top of that, businesses are generally allowed to deduct the expenses incurred in the operation of the business, including the easily abused expenses related to business travel. That includes the cost of operating and maintaining corporate jets, such as fuel, maintenance and pilot and other crew salaries. These deductions incentivize businesses to invest in corporate jets for executive travel and other business purposes. The notorious Section 179 of the tax code allows businesses to deduct the full cost of certain qualifying property, including aircraft, in the year it is placed in service, rather than depreciating it over time. This provision can provide significant tax benefits for businesses purchasing or leasing aircraft.

On top of that, conservatives rigged the tax code to give exemptions for the personal use of corporate aircraft by employees and executives….
Last year, our friends at Patriotic Millionaires put together a report that has become a must read for anyone looking at this topic. In their intro, they noted that “Private jets have rightfully earned their reputation as symbols of excess. As society’s wealth has concentrated in fewer hands over the last several decades, there has been an explosion in private jet purchases and travel. This expensive, carbon-intensive form of travel is bad for both the earth and the taxpayers who subsidize it for the ultra-rich… Billionaire Elon Musk, to take one example, took one private jet flight about every other day in 2022, producing 2,112 tons of carbon dioxide emissions last year alone. That’s 132 times more than the entire carbon footprint of an average individual in the United States. That’s why lawmakers in a number of countries are now preparing to levy new taxes on the sale of private aircraft, short flights, and related emissions.”
[TW: Klein ends with 7 proposals to change the tax treatment of business aircraft.]
Harold Meyerson, February 22, 2024 [The American Prospect]
… the rulers of the new economy, who, having already downsized that middle class by appropriating an ever larger share of the proceeds from its work for themselves, actually want to strike down the NLRA. In the past few weeks, three pillars of that economy—Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’s Amazon, and the Albrecht family’s Trader Joe’s—have all asked federal courts to declare the core functions of the NLRA unconstitutional, on the grounds that the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) administrative courts, like those of other regulatory agencies, mix judicial functions with executive branch functions. In actual practice, what those bodies do is hear and rule on cases such as those brought by workers on organizing campaigns who’ve been illegally fired. What Elon and Jeff would prefer is that federal courts hear such cases directly, which guarantees that by the time they reach the bench, those organizing campaigns will have become a dim memory. Or maybe, they want no one to hear such cases. Or perhaps, given the deep hatred that Sam Alito holds toward unions, they hope that Alito can persuade enough of his colleagues to toss the NLRA altogether, as he did with Roe v. Wade.
Their arguments are the same that came before the Court in 1937, when the most reactionary corporate overlords of that era sought to destroy the threat of some modestly countervailing worker power, which then had been rising for several years. That same dynamic clearly threatens the Musks and Bezoses today, with unions’ approval rating at its highest levels in 60 years, with young workers particularly bent on winning a say in their work lives, and with Joe Biden’s NLRB working to restore some teeth to the NLRA, which had been largely defanged by decades of decisions from pro-corporate courts.

Wall Street Law Firm Sullivan & Cromwell Gets Sued Over Allegations It Aided and Abetted the FTX Crypto Fraud 

Pam Martens and Russ Martens: February 21, 2024 [WallStreetonParade]

The 144-year old Wall Street go-to law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, may be getting rich on the FTX bankruptcy legal fees, but it’s also doing a helluva job destroying its reputation as a prudent law firm. Last Friday, a federal lawsuit was filed against the law firm alleging civil conspiracy, aiding and abetting fraud, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, and violations of civil federal racketeering law in regard to its work for the collapsed crypto exchange, FTX, which looted customer funds to the tune of billions of dollars…. Sullivan & Cromwell had previously represented the kingpin of the fraud, Sam Bankman-Fried, who was convicted in November 2023 on seven counts of fraud and conspiracy.

[TW: Sullivan & Cromwell is one of the pillars of the old “Eastern Establishment.” in the 1880s, Sullivan & Cromwell steered John Pierpont Morgan in consolidation of Edison General Electric and later U.S. Steel. In the 1950s, Allen Dulles and John Foster Dulles were both partners — while Sullivan & Cromwell “represented” United Fruit Co. ]


Health care crisis

Data analyst Greg Travis speaks on COVID pandemic-related excess deaths in the US  [WSWS].

[WSWS, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 02-20-2024]

“One of the critical byproducts of the ‘forever COVID’ policies implemented by the ruling elites, abandoning any fight against the pandemic and even dismantling monitoring of COVID cases by public health agencies, has been the emergence of a layer of principled health care experts, data analysts and researchers who are providing real-time information on the actual state of the pandemic. The COVID-19 infection trackers maintained by Dr. Mike Hoerger and data scientist Jay Weiland, with modeling based on wastewater levels of SARS-CoV-2, have documented the massive scale of infections that have been sweeping across the United States and the rest of the world. Their weekly reports underscore the continuing high rates of daily infections, giving a glimpse into the public health catastrophe that is taking place under a complete media blackout of the pandemic. Viral sleuths like Ryan Hisner, Raj Rajnarayanan and others have turned to their social media channels, which function as information hubs to accumulate information on the latest subvariants and their mutations. Many of their initial reports, such as on Pirola in August and then JN.1 in September 2023, were critical in giving the world a substantive alert on the massive wave of infections that has since washed over the globe, while national public agencies like the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were taking pains to cover up these developments.”

Americans Paid $11 Billion To Make Drugs You Can’t Afford


A bombshell report reveals that taxpayers spent billions developing medicines that drugmakers say shouldn’t face Medicare price negotiations.


Information age dystopia / surveillance state  

Artificial intelligence is making critical health care decisions. The sheriff is MIA 

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 02-20-2024]

How the US government began its decade-long campaign against the anti-pipeline movement 

[Grist, via Naked Capitalism 02-18-2024]

New bill would let defendants inspect algorithms used against them in court 

[The Verge, via Naked Capitalism 02-18-2024]

The US justice department must drop spy charges against Julian Assange 

Margaret Sullivan [The Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 02-22-2024]

Google reneged on the monopolistic bargain

Cory Doctorow [Pluralistic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 02-21-2024]

How Google is killing independent sites like ours

[HouseFresh, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 02-21-2024]

[Lambert Strether: “A must-read, that clearly demonstrates how both Better Homes and Gardens and Real simple faked product reviews of air purifiers. Fake labs, fake photos, fake experts, fake everything, doing great in SEO and infesting everything, including Reddit threads. Hat tip, private equity.” ]


Disrupting mainstream politics

6 Rules for Actually Changing People’s Minds

[Strong Towns, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 02-20-2024]

“We all know on some level that there’s a big difference between being right and being convincing. Yet in practice, a lot of us are confident in the former but unstrategic about the latter. When we find that being right in a public forum is not enough to bring people around, we respond by trying to be right more forcefully, aggressively, or exasperatedly. Results are predictably poor…. 1. People are persuaded by stories, not by facts… 2. The spread of beliefs is a social process, not an individual one…. 3. Our minds are changed by trusted messengers…. 4. Nobody trusts a jerk (except the jerk who’s already on their side)…. 5. Our fundamental beliefs are changed bit by bit, not all at once…. 6. Social consensus is less solid than it seems.” More on point 6: “What appears to be a monolithic consensus often isn’t: rather, it’s a handful of loud voices in a feedback loop with each other, and many others who fall somewhere between passive mild agreement and choosing to just stay quiet. Arguing directly with the loudest and most demagogic participants in such a community—and thus with the apparent social consensus—doesn’t work very well. So what does? How do you start to shift that social consensus if you think that there’s a whole community that has got something basically wrong? You start to crack open some doors. Point out things that aren’t at 180-degree odds with the majority view, but that complicate it or introduce nuance. Point out a perspective that isn’t usually heard (those of renters in a conversation dominated by homeowners; those of people who walk or use wheelchairs or strollers in a conversation dominated by drivers). Don’t be preachy or obnoxious about it. Don’t act like you’re trying to win a debate. Do it with an awareness of the core narratives of the space you’re in. Do it in a way that one or two of the group’s trusted messengers—those who are prominent voices but also appear amenable to nuance and disagreement—will hear you as a basically friendly countervailing voice.”


Conservative / Libertarian / (anti)Republican Drive to Civil War

Utah’s new ‘Sovereignty Act’ sets up a process to overrule the federal government. But is it constitutional? 

[CNN, via Naked Capitalism 02-20-2024]

West Virginia GOP Passes Deranged Bill That Could Put Librarians in Jail 

Tori Otten, February 19, 2024 [New Republic]

Oklahoma Pols Want a Database of Everyone Who Has an Abortion 

[Daily Beast, via Naked Capitalism 02-21-2024]

Alabama Supreme Court Cites the Bible in Terrifying Embryo Ruling  [

Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling, February 19, 2024 [New Republic]

Koch Injected Nearly $500 Million into Hundreds of Colleges and Universities Between 2018 and 2022

Colleen Scerpella, February 23, 2024 [Center for Media and Democracy]

Nonprofits controlled by Charles Koch funneled $458.7 million to 338 higher education beneficiaries between 2018 and 2022, according to a Center for Media and Democracy analysis of IRS filings by the donor conduits.

Texas Soldiers Say Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star Is ‘A Show 

[Huffington Post, via Naked Capitalism 02-21-2024]

Rightwing mega-donors drift back to Trump as election rematch looms 

[The Guardian, via 02-19-2024]

“Donald Trump’s efforts to court and cajole rightwing billionaires into financing his presidential campaign are bearing fruit as even sceptical conservative mega-donors face up to the prospect he will again be the Republican candidate…. Trump’s campaign is pushing the inevitability of his victory over the former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, the last remaining challenger in the Republican primaries, in order to shift the focus to the general election as he pursues Wall Street and Silicon Valley money.

Trump successfully wooed the biggest donor to the Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s failed presidential campaign during a visit to Las Vegas last month, the billionaire developer Robert Bigelow. After meeting Trump and then joining his motorcade through Las Vegas to a political rally, Bigelow pledged $20m to the former president’s campaign – the same amount he gave to DeSantis – along with another $1m toward the mounting costs of his myriad legal problems. Trump also won commitments from other well-heeled donors on the Las Vegas trip while the billionaire investor John Paulson held a dinner for the former president and major Republican party contributors earlier this month, according to Politico.” ….

in October, Trump’s representatives were pointedly excluded from a meeting of the American Opportunity Alliance, a conservative donor network founded by Griffin and another Wall Street billionaire, Paul Singer, while aides from rival Republican primary campaigns were present. In 2016, Singer was the biggest donor to a super political action committee focused on stopping Trump winning the Republican nomination.

But, in a sign that at least some donors have shifted their focus to November, Trump’s aides were invited to an AOA meeting in Florida last month. The New York Times reported that a majority of those donors still backed Haley, including Griffin after he lost confidence in DeSantis’s inept campaign. But the presence of [Trump’s] representatives was taken as evidence that they were going to have to support him if they wanted to lever Biden out of the presidency….

The Adelsons were Trump’s single largest donor at the last election and the former president has held regular meetings with Miriam Adelson to ensure that continued support since her casino magnate husband, Sheldon, died three three years ago. It’s highly likely that Miriam, who is estimated to be worth more than $30bn, will support Trump again principally because of his position on Israel.

Miriam, who is Israel’s richest woman, has praised Trump for his policies as president such as recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy there from Tel Aviv as well as cancelling the Iran nuclear deal which had been strongly opposed by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In 2018, Trump awarded Miriam Adelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Trump will also be looking to the billionaire industrialists Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein. The couple have been among the most enthusiastic financial backers of political groups and elected officials pushing conspiracy theories that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. They were the largest conservative donors in the 2022 midterm elections, giving about $90m according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

It May Have Been A Hostile Takeover But There Was Virtually No Opposition… So Not TOO Hostile

Howie Klein, February 19, 2024  []

A little over a week ago, conservative columnist David Books penned a column about The GOP: Trump Came For Their Party But Took Over Their Souls. “[T]he party of Eisenhower, Reagan and McCain is just stone cold gone— and not only among House Republicans, but apparently among their Senate colleagues too. My progressive readers are now thinking: Have you not been paying attention? Donald Trump has owned this party for years. If he told them to kill the immigration compromise because he needed a campaign issue, they were going to kill that proposal. To which I respond: I don’t think you quite understand what just happened. This wasn’t just about Republicans cynically bending their knee to Trump. Rather, I’m convinced that Trumpism now pervades the deepest recesses of their minds and governs their unconscious assumptions. Their fundamental mental instincts are no longer conservative, but Trumpian.” Again, this guy hasn’t been paying attention. Souls? The GOP? Ha! He noted that to assume their new personas they had to agree to 5 core MAGA principles:

  • Democracy is for suckers

  • Entertainment over governance

  • Foreigners don’t matter

  • Lying is normal

  • America would be better off in a post-American world

Trump’s ‘Show Me the Money’ Campaign—Full YOLO in 2024

[Talking Points Memo, February 23, 2024]

…A friend this morning pointed me to an article in The Daily Beast as an example of things to come, both at the Trump campaign and now at the RNC. It requires a bit of explanation. But it’s worth it.

National political campaigns usually must refund substantial amounts of money, often totaling into the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. The need to do this is straightforward. Political contributions in the United States exist under various donation limits. A donor may contributes too much money, or a recurring donor may donates again and the new donation goes over this or that donation limit. The accounts likely haven’t been reconciled at the front end. So the money passes into the campaign’s coffers. But once they’re tabulated it becomes clear that Joe Jones has given over his limit. So the campaign refunds back to Joe the sum of money necessary to come back under the limit. That means giving up a small but not insignificant amount of money and it also provides a clue to outside observers about how many of the candidates’ regular donors are maxing out and thus not available to give more.

The problem is that Trump’s campaign and affiliated committees have essentially stopped issuing refunds. There’s simply no way a campaign of that scale doesn’t have a vast scale of refunds to make. So by analyzing the available evidence and finding hints in various FEC filings, political money advocates and the Beast conclude that Trump has just stopped coughing up the money and instead resorted to either handing off the money to other Trump entities or ascribing it to other non-tapped out donors. How can this possibly be okay?

….Key parts of this amount to what is best termed illegal. But who knows?, the Trump operation seems to reason. They a legal theory. And if the FEC decides in 2025 or 2026 that it’s not okay they’ll deal with it then. For now, they’re doing it. And in their defense the FEC not infrequently decides that things that look pretty illegal are in fact fine. And it may not even matter since Republican Commission members have generally prevented the FEC from making such decisions or enforcing them for years.…

The point here isn’t this one non-refunding gimmick. It’s better seen as an example of the kind of at best shady, bust-out style stratagems the Trump campaign seems to be resorting to. In other cases noted by the Beast, the campaign seems to be just holding on to the cash as long as it can, or until someone forces them to give it back without any particular accounting gimmick at all. The campaign and the RNC are already in a bit of a cash crunch. Some part of that may be tied to a lack of enthusiasm on the part of potential donors — something that is affecting both campaigns, at least to some degree. But the big driver is the fact that Trump has had a contested primary whereas Joe Biden has not. Second is the fact that Trump and his various committees have already spent a staggering $76.7 million on legal expenses over the last two years.

That is an almost unimaginable amount of money for a campaign to be paying to expenses entirely unrelated to the campaign. Pay a few grand in campaign dollars to pay your mortgage and you can go to prison. Fork over $100 million to pay your legal bills and it’s fine.…

Trump allies prepare to infuse ‘Christian nationalism’ in second administration

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 02-20-2024]

“An influential think tank close to Donald Trump is developing plans to infuse Christian nationalist ideas in his administration should the former president return to power, according to documents obtained by POLITICO. Spearheading the effort is Russell Vought, who served as Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget during his first term and has remained close to him. Vought, who is frequently cited as a potential chief of staff in a second Trump White House, is president of The Center for Renewing America think tank, a leading group in a conservative consortium preparing for a second Trump term…. One document drafted by CRA staff and fellows includes a list of top priorities for CRA in a second Trump term. “Christian nationalism” is one of the bullet points. Others include invoking the Insurrection Act on Day One to quash protests and refusing to spend authorized congressional funds on unwanted projects, a practice banned by lawmakers in the Nixon era…. Vought, who declined to comment, is advising Project 2025, a governing agenda that would usher in one of the most conservative executive branches in modern American history. The effort is made up of a constellation of conservative groups run by Trump allies who’ve constructed a detailed plan to dismantle or overhaul key agencies in a second term. Among other principles, the project’s ‘Mandate for Leadership‘ states that ‘freedom is defined by God, not man.’” • An, “Mandate for Leadership.” In 2004, Bush the Younger prattled about his mandate. Google bombing was still possible, back in the day, so I arranged for Mandate magazine to be the top hit for a search on “Bush Mandate”; a gentleman wearing a sailor’s cap, if I recall. I hope the same thing happens to these guys, except a lot worse.

Theocratic Trump Tells Right-Wing Christians They Will Have Power at ‘Level You’ve Never Used Before’

Jon Queally, February 24, 2024 [CommonDreams]

Trump Vows ‘Judgement Day’ for Opponents and ‘Largest Deportation in History’ If Elected

Jon Queally, February 24, 2024 [CommonDreams]

CPAC, 2024– Even Worse Than Just A Nest Of Anti-American Traitors

Howie Klein, February 24, 2024  []

…NBC News reported that “Nazis appeared to find a friendly reception at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year. Throughout the conference, racist extremists, some of whom had secured official CPAC badges, openly mingled with conference attendees and espoused antisemitic conspiracy theories. The presence of these individuals has been a persistent issue at CPAC. In previous years, conference organizers have ejected well-known Nazis and white supremacists such as Nick Fuentes. But this year, racist conspiracy theorists didn’t meet any perceptible resistance at the conference where Donald Trump has been the keynote speaker since 2017….

…In 2012, the John Birch Society, the original GOP neo-Nazi conspiracy nuts, had been banned from CPAC. They’re back. Elaina Plott Calabro wrote that “The John Birch Society, once the scourge of some of the nation’s most prominent conservatives, relegated to the outermost edges of the movement, now fits neatly into the mainstream of the American right. David Giordano, another field coordinator for the organization who was attending CPAC, credited Trump for hastening the shift, challenging the global elite in ways that past Republican presidents had only ever talked about doing. ‘What were the things they said about him? “Racist” and “anti-Semitic”— that got my attention,’ Giordano told me, smiling. ‘What’d they say about the John Birch Society? “Racist” and “anti-Semitic.” That’s when you know you’re over the target.’….

Where Is the Oversight for Republican State Attorneys General? 

Toni A. Rosenthal, February 21, 2024 [The American Prospect]

Often a stepping stone to higher office, Republican AG offices have played host to a repeated set of scandals in recent years.


The (anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

Alito Renews Threat to Overturn Marriage Equality

Julia Conley, February 21, 2024 [CommonDreams]

Trial attorneys in the U.S. frequently stop potential jurors from serving on cases based on their stated biases, but U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito indicated on Tuesday that he was disturbed by a case out of Missouri in which three people were eliminated from a jury after expressing homophobic views—and suggested the high court should reconsider marriage equality to prevent such outcomes.

The Supreme Court declined to take up Missouri Department of Corrections v. Jean Finney, with none of the justices dissenting. But Alito appeared reluctant in his agreement with the other eight justices and released a five-page statement saying the case “exemplifies the danger that I anticipated in Obergefell v. Hodges,” the 2015 case in which the court ruled 5-4 that same-sex couples in the U.S. had the same right to marry as heterosexual couples.


Civic republicanism

The Founders’ antidote to demagoguery is a lesson for today

Jeffrey Rosen, February 20, 2024 [Washington Post]

…When they drafted the Constitution, the Founders’ greatest fear was that a populist demagogue would flatter the mob, subvert American democracy and establish authoritarian rule. “The only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion,” Alexander Hamilton wrote to George Washington in 1792. “When a man unprincipled in private life[,] desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper … is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity … It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’….

Thomas Jefferson agreed with Hamilton about very little, except for the danger of populist demagogues. After he read a draft of the Constitution, his main concern was that an unscrupulous candidate in the distant future might lose an election and refuse to leave office. “If once elected, and at a second or third election outvoted by one or two votes, he will pretend false votes, foul play, hold possession of the reins of government, be supported by the States voting for him,” Jefferson wrote to James Madison in 1787.

In the Founders’ view, the only thing standing between America and an authoritarian demagogue was the virtuous self-control of citizens who would find the wisdom to choose virtuous leaders. “I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom,” Madison said at the Constitutional Convention. “Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure.”

When the Founders talked about the need for virtuous citizens and leaders, they were referring to the four classical virtues: prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice. (By contrast, the three theological virtues are faith, hope and charity.) Following the classical and Enlightenment moral philosophers, the Founders believed that personal self-government was necessary for political self-government. In their view, the key to a healthy republic begins with how we address our own flaws and commit to becoming better citizens over time….

The Founders believed that virtuous self-mastery was necessary for both personal and political happiness. Today, we think of happiness as the pursuit of pleasure. But classical and Enlightenment thinkers defined happiness as the pursuit of virtue — as being good rather than feeling good. Just as individuals can use their powers of reason to achieve psychological happiness, so can groups of citizens use theirs to achieve political happiness.

Washington made the connection between public and private virtue and happiness repeatedly in his career. “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” he warned in his Farewell Address. In his Circular to the States in 1783, he said that four things were necessary for the people’s political and social happiness: an “indissoluble Union,” a “sacred regard to public Justice,” a “proper Peace Establishment,” and the cultivation of private virtue, which he defined as “the prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among the people of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies” and “to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the community.”…

It remains to be seen whether Americans today can find the virtuous self-restraint to put the public interest before the angry partisanship the Founders most feared. What’s clear, however, is that nothing less than the future of the Republic is at stake. As Madison wrote in Federalist 57: “The aim of every political Constitution is or ought to be first to obtain for rulers, men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous, whilst they continue to hold their public trust.”



Open Thread


Macron & Many European Leaders Call For WWIII?


  1. Mark Level

    I once corresponded with Howie of DownWithTyranny a bit– I had recommended the site to several co-workers, & when he did a column comparing Trump to Alfred Jarry’s “Pere Ubu” tyrant, he misstated that “Ubu’s” origin was unknown, which I corrected & he shared as a special comment. (As a young student, Jarry and his friends started doing puppet shows starring their most hated teacher, Mr. Hebert. Hebert got chopped & reduced linguistically to Heber, Ubehr, Ubu eventually.)

    I am disappointed at how out-of-control Klein’s TDS is. I did get a good laugh at your summary of his article (on how Trump will defeat the senile & genocidal Biden) here–

    Democracy is for suckers

    Entertainment over governance

    Foreigners don’t matter

    Lying is normal

    America would be better off in a post-American world

    So let’s respond to each fairly– “Democracy is for suckers”. This country has been an OPEN oligarchy for the 0.1% since Bush stole the election in 2000, & Obama’s “Hope” & “Change” became the 3rd & 4th Bush 2 terms, forgiving the Wall St. Looters & subsidizing them, continuing & pointlessly escalating the 2 failed Bush Wars (“the Surge”), letting the torturers off scot-free, etc.

    Entertainment over governance. Guy DeBord’s Society of the Spectacle came out in the 1960s, basically 2 generations ago. Can anyone who sees our current corporate campaigns deny this? Will Lawfare keep the Trump 2nd term from happening (likely not, but do notice that the R’s are keeping “Nikki” Haley in the wings just in case.) Let’s just admit, Trump is the better entertainer, thus after the utter downward spiral he will win, just as Biden beat him. Americans don’t have long memories but many do know who screwed them over last.

    Foreigners don’t matter. Well, the Biden admin is locking up kids in cages just as Trump did; sanctioning Cuba as a “terrorist” state just as Trump did. Trying to extradite Julian Assange (he is at least a white foreigner) to further torture & kill just as Trump & Pompeo tried to do. Plus ca change, y’all.

    Lying is normal. Well, yes, it is for the political class. I just watched a video of the senile Pelosi angrily telling a critical reporter (surprised at this aspect) that the US bears NO responsibility for all the dead Palestinian women & children despite sending the bombs, the Intel on who to bomb, & profiteering thereby. And Chuck Schumer continues to declaim that if we just shuffle several billion$ more to the corrupt fascists in Ukraine, they will win by 2025!! (Note the utter contempt for the public’s intelligence; which to be fair seems somewhat warranted.)

    America would be better off in a post-American world. I’ll give Klein a tiny smidgen of credit for not saying “The world would be better off . . . ” He may know how false & disingenuous that would be? In any case, Americans would be better off, taxes could go to Health Care, Infrastructure, Education and other actual needs of Americans if the nearly $1 Trillion annually to the Pentagon to set fires all around the world were ceased. If Howie had any actual “Leftism” still coursing in his veins he might acknowledge this. But like the morons who follow Rachel Maddow he believes Russiagate was real, Putin & Teflon Don are bffs, etc.

    I’m reminded of that old saying attributed (perhaps mistakenly) to Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” I think once upon a time Howie Klein was a good man. But not now. And while I would never vote for Either of the Evils given, as a rational thinker I have to conclude that Biden’s full-barrel funding of the ongoing Palestinian Genocide (in Jerusalem & the W. Bank as well as “Hamas-voting” Gaza) as well as supporting Ukranian Nazis is more than a little worse than Trump’s vulgarity and shambolic narcissism.

  2. VietnamVet

    The basic failing is the belief that the West is an “Equitable Society”. It is not. It is everyone for themselves. Its sole purpose is to further enrich the wealthy. If the middle class wants healthcare, education, transportation, or safety they must pay for it themselves, individually. Most go into debt. This is why the current World War Three in Ukraine and Gaza is so similar to WWI. The same arrogant incompetent imperial aristocracy that ruled the West back then runs things now.

    In 1916 there was a chance for an armistice but the peace initiatives “failed because until the last months of the war, neither side ever really lost confidence that they could prevail over their opponents by force.” The exact same reasons there is no diplomacy to end the wars between NATO and Russia or Israel and Iran. The USA is splintering apart for the simple reason that the American people (as in all colonies) do not matter to the outsiders. The Axis of Resistance (China, Russia & Iran) has the industry, manpower and resources to outlast the Western Empire. As Ernest Hemingway described it; “How did you go bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

    Diplomacy, Armistices, and new DMZs to separate the combatants are the only way to avoid the collapse.

  3. Chuck Mire

    Trump is no Navalny:

    I label him as “The MAGA Messiah” with a cult-like following of sycophants.

  4. Ian Welsh

    Navalny was a racist, fascist piece of human garbage.

    He was, however, brave, in a way that Trump has never shown any evidence of.

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