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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 1, 2023

by Tony Wikrent

The dark side

Dress Rehearsal: Trump’s attempt almost two years ago to undermine the 2020 election reads today like a blueprint drawn for a future autocrat.

Fintan O’Toole, January 19, 2023 issue [The New York Review]

To understand the attempted coup that culminated in the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, it is useful to go back to Donald Trump’s immediate response to the election he actually won, in 2016. The head of his transition team, Chris Christie, then governor of New Jersey, presented Trump with a detailed plan for the transfer of power to his incoming administration. It was literally trashed. As Christie recalled in his self-pitying memoir, Let Me Finish, “All thirty binders were tossed in a Trump Tower dumpster, never to be seen again.”  Trump didn’t want an orderly transition to his own presidency, let alone to Joe Biden’s. To a raging narcissist a plan is an impertinence, a Lilliputian restraint on the inspired instincts of a giant….

A coup, in this context, does not mean tanks on the streets, helicopter gunships strafing public buildings, thousands of people rounded up by soldiers, and a junta of generals or colonels addressing the nation on TV. On the contrary, the story that needed to be told by the plotters of 2020–2021 was not the overthrow of democracy, but its defense. Trump, as his chief of staff and co-conspirator Mark Meadows put it in his book The Chief’s Chief, was merely seeking “to uphold the democratic process.”….

To understand what Trump could have done instead, it is necessary to revisit a long meeting at the White House on the evening and night of December 18, 2020. This episode is easy to dismiss because it was described by Hutchinson as “unhinged” and because the proposals aired at it were called “nuts” by one of the saner attendees, the former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann. These characterizations are accurate. Yet the meeting matters for two reasons. The first is that it immediately preceded Trump’s fateful decision to summon his followers to Washington on January 6. The other is that one of the ideas put forward at this meeting would be of great interest to any future conspirator.

In spite of all of this idiocy, however, Byrne did have one seriously interesting proposal to put to Trump at the meeting. It was that, having seized control of the voting machines through some kind of military task force, there would then be a live TV event in which all of the paper ballots in the six most contested states would be counted in front of the cameras: “If there are not big discrepancies, Trump concedes. But if there are big discrepancies, we would rerun the election in those six counties, or states, using that federal force.” This was actually quite an intelligent idea. By appearing to commit to conceding defeat if no discrepancies were found, Trump could pose, as he had to do if a coup were to succeed, as the defender of American democracy….

Most importantly, there would be a public drama, an elaborate spectacle of “democracy” in action. It is not hard to imagine how Trump’s enablers in the media would sell this show: Why are the Democrats afraid to see what the paper ballots say? The mechanics of this performance remain obscure. How were “discrepancies” to be created? What would the Supreme Court have done? To have a chance of success, the plan would surely have to have been put into effect much earlier—well before the Electoral College met on December 14 to confirm Biden’s victory. Yet Byrne had the germ of the right idea. The best way to steal a presidential election would indeed be through a staged display of democratic process backed by elaborate precooked “evidence” of foreign conspiracy and amplified by Fox News, social media campaigns, and other media. This is the upside-down shape of a successful American coup. Democracy is destroyed by the enactment of its protection.


Strategic Political Economy

The Contest on Corporate Purpose: Why Lynn Stout was Right and Milton Friedman was Wrong

Thomas Clarke [From the journal Accounting, Economics, and Law, via Avedon’s Sideshow 12-15-2022]

It is now 50 years since Milton Friedman set out his doctrine that ‘The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.’ This paper seeks to add fresh and compelling new evidence of why Lynn Stout was correct in her resolute critique of the thesis of shareholder primacy at the heart of the Friedman doctrine, and how this doctrine remains profoundly damaging to the corporations that continue to uphold this belief.”


Global power shift

Preparing for the Final Collapse of the Soviet Union 

[Hudson Institute, via Naked Capitalism 12-25-2022]

[TW: As Lambert Strether noted, this is a glimpse at what USA ruling elites really believe. ]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 12-28-2022]


The CIA Is Using a European NATO Ally’s Spy Service To Conduct a Covert Sabotage Campaign Inside Russia Under The Agency’s Direction, According To Former U.S. Intelligence And Military Officials 

Jack Murphy [via Naked Capitalism 12-27-2022]


The Kissinger Continuum: The Unauthorized History of the WEF’s Young Global Leaders Program 

[Unlimited Hangout, via Naked Capitalism 12-28-2022]


Israel: Far-right coalition raises spectre that doctors could refuse treatment on religious grounds 

Middle East Eye, via Naked Capitalism 12-26-2022]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 12-26-2022]



Health care crisis

ER Doctors Call Private Equity Staffing Practices Illegal and Seek to Ban Them 

[Kaiser Health News, via Naked Capitalism 12-27-2022]


The Great Big Medicare Rip-Off 

Ezekiel J. Emanuel [The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 12-27-2022]


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Industrial Policy is Not a Remedy for Income Inequality 

[Counterpunch, via Naked Capitalism 12-25-2022]


“Hey guys, SWA pilot with a little information”

[r/SouthwestAirlines, Reddit, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-27-2022]

“This is entirely managements fault. Gary Kelly, and the new CEO, and corporate barons have completely gutted the philosophy Herb believed in, which was investing in employees. They’ve known for months that many crews were stretched to the absolute limit. It was only a matter of time before something caused a cascading series of failures that spiraled out of control. The board and CEO knew this, and chose to instead give themselves multi-million dollar bonuses and threaten to fire staff, along with dragging out contract negotiations with the unions in the hopes there will be a recession. This is corporate mismanagement to a level I’ve never seen in this industry during my 25 years.” And: “”I have friends in CS and the hotel assignment side too. There were 2 specific problems, the software for scheduling is woefully antiquated by at least 20 years. No app/internet options, all manual entry and it has settings that you DO NOT CHANGE for fear of crashing it. Those settings create the automated flow as a crewmember is moving about their day, it doesn’t know you flew the leg DAL-MCO it just assumes it and moves your piece forward. In the event of a disruption you call scheduling and they manually adjust you. It does work, it just works for an airline 1/3 the size of SWA. So the storm came and it impacted ground ops so bad that many many crews were now ‘unaccounted’ for and the system in place couldn’t keep up. Then it happened for several more days. By Xmas evening the CS department had essentially reached the inability to do anything but simple, one off assignments.”


Southwest’s meltdown was born in America’s cheapskate corporate culture 

Mike Hiltzik [Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism 12-30-2022]


Southwest Airlines’ Christmas Meltdown Shows How Corporations Deliberately Pit Consumers Against Low-Wage Workers 

Adam Johnson [The Column, via Naked Capitalism 12-329-2022]


State Officials Warned Buttigieg About Airline Mess 

David Sirota & Andrew Perez, December 28, 2022 [The Lever]

Americans during the holiday season is not some unexpected crisis nor the normal consequence of inclement weather — and federal officials are not powerless bystanders. Before the debacle, attorneys general from both parties were sounding alarms about regulators’ lax oversight of the airline industry, imploring them and congressional lawmakers to crack down.

The warnings came just before Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg appeared on national television insisting travel would improve by the holidays, and before Southwest executives — flush with cash from a government bailout — announced new dividend payouts to shareholders, while paying themselves millions of dollars.

Four months before Southwest’s mass cancellation of flights, 38 state attorneys general wrote to congressional leaders declaring that Buttigieg’s agency “failed to respond and to provide appropriate recourse” to thousands of consumer complaints about airlines customer service.


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-27-2022]

Karens for Hire 

Adam Levitin [Credit Slips, via Naked Capitalism 12-28-2022]

…the central problem of consumer law, namely that the dollar amounts at issue in almost every dispute are way too small to litigate. Instead, consumers have to work through customer service and hope that they receive some sort of resolution, but that’s a process that imposes substantial transaction costs (wait times, e.g.) and in which the consumer has no guaranty of a positive resolution, even if the consumer is in the right.

There’s some level of reputational discipline on companies with bad customers service, but it’s pretty weak and indirect: when was the last time you investigated a company’s customer service reputation before making a purchase?

There are a few attempts to regulate customer service of which I am aware—TILA/EFTA error resolution procedures and RESPA loss mitigation procedures—but there’s no general system of public regulation.

“Nothing will fundamentally change”

“Socialist candidate Will Lehman exposes massive voter suppression in the UAW elections”

[WSWS, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-30-2022]

“One million out of 1.1 million eligible members did not vote in the election because the UAW leadership deliberately kept them in the dark. This is not a matter of opinion but of provable fact. Lehman’s protest describes, for example, how the UAW national “Member News” web page, which is incorporated into many local union web sites, made no reference to the election whatsoever between July 29 and November 29. While it maintained a conspiracy of silence around the union’s internal elections, the bureaucracy devoted vast resources to campaigning for the Democratic Party in the national midterm elections. In those elections, which took place at the very same time as the union election, the bureaucracy utilized advanced techniques, organized public events, and bombarded union members with advertising in an effort to increase turnout by reminding workers of voting deadlines. There is no innocent explanation for this contrast.”


Information age dystopia

Twitter Files: What We’ve Learned So Far 

Matt Taibbi, via Naked Capitalism 12-25-2022]

Climate and environmental crises

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

[MIT Technology Review, via Naked Capitalism 12-26-2022]

Several researchers MIT Technology Review spoke with condemned the effort to commercialize geoengineering at this early stage. Some potential investors and customers who have reviewed the company’s proposals say that it’s not a serious scientific effort or a credible business but more of an attention grab designed to stir up controversy in the field.

Luke Iseman, the cofounder and CEO of Make Sunsets, acknowledges that the effort is part entrepreneurial and part provocation, an act of geoengineering activism.


Restoring balance to the economy

Tim Wu’s White House Tenure Marks Historic Antimonopoly Shift

[American Economic Liberties Project, December 30, 2022]

The American Economic Liberties Project released the following statement in response to news that Tim Wu, special assistant to the president for competition and tech policy, would soon be leaving his role at the White House.

“We congratulate Tim Wu for his historic tenure in the Biden White House as a key advisor on antimonopoly policy,” said Sarah Miller, Executive Director of the American Economic Liberties Project. “For forty years, Presidential administrations of both parties tolerated and even fostered the growth of monopolies in every sector of the economy. That ended under President Biden. Economic structure determines what kind of society we live in, whether it is one controlled by a few gatekeepers and experts, or one run by workers, businesspeople, engineers, artists, and farmers. It is Biden, with Wu’s advice and counsel, who has ensured that monopolists no longer have free rein in the White House.”


Democrats’ political malpractice

“Sam Bankman-Fried had four White House meetings THIS YEAR: Bombshell report reveals disgraced crypto mogul met with top Biden aides as recently as September”

[Daily Mail, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-30-2022]

“The Democratic donor, 30, awaiting trial for what prosecutors say is one of the biggest financial frauds in U.S. history held talks with senior White House advisor Steve Ricchetti on September 8, Bloomberg reported on Thursday. He has had at least two other meetings with Ricchetti on April 22 and May 12 and another with top aide Bruce Reed. Bankman-Fried’s brother Gabriel also participated in a meeting on his own on May 13. The latest report is further evidence of the deep ties Bankman-Fried had with Washington before he was charged with swindling investors out of at least $1.8 billion. The White House has refused to say whether Biden will give back some of the $5.2 million in donations from the fallen FTX founder gave to his campaign and connected groups in 2020.”


The Democrats’ Failure of the Year: Letting the Expanded Child Tax Credit Die

Grace Segers, December 30, 2022 [The New Republic]

As a policy, the 2021 expansion was historically successful, cutting child poverty nearly in half. But it died by politics this year. Can it be revived in 2023?


Making the Senate Work for Democrats

Alexander Burns [The New York Review]

…John A. Lawrence, Pelosi’s former chief of staff, in Arc of Power: Inside Nancy Pelosi’s Speakership, 2005–2010, his meticulous account of Pelosi’s early years as a congressional leader. Facing mass layoffs and crumbling financial markets, Pelosi told Obama that Democrats needed to discard “incrementalism and the old ways of thinking.” The two party chiefs hoped to resurrect a shattered economy and, in so doing, repair the country’s frayed social welfare state and strengthen the rights of workers, families, and immigrants….

As early as 2009, some Democrats spoke out about the country’s degraded social fabric and what it could mean for the party. Among the most perceptive was Tim Kaine, then the Virginia governor and Democratic National Committee chairman. Kaine wrote a series of memos for his friend the new president sketching this dark landscape.

Gabriel Debenedetti, a reporter at New York magazine, discusses those memos in The Long Alliance: The Imperfect Union of Joe Biden and Barack Obama….

Debenedetti’s book is framed as an inside account of the Obama–Biden relationship. It is most memorable not for its nominal argument—that the political union of those two men is a partnership of singular endurance and consequence, a claim complicated by much of Debenedetti’s own reporting—but for its valuable material on the lazy response of mainstream Democratic leaders to populist forces on both the left and right, most consequentially in the form of Trump.

While Kaine was warning of a national unraveling, Debenedetti writes, other Democrats close to Obama were pushing him to present the country with a more pointed message about the economy, perhaps infused with themes of nationalism that could resonate with an electorate understandably incensed about the 2008 financial crisis. Biden was among them: Debenedetti writes that Obama’s vice-president lobbied him to put off health care reform in favor of an agenda focused on “middle-class economics,” a term that the book does not define and that Biden himself seems not to have done much to flesh out. The president ultimately dismissed his proposal. Debenedetti paraphrases Obama’s reply to Biden: “We’re already doing everything we know how to do for the economy, so all you’re proposing is giving up on health care.”


Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War

The Devastating New History of the January 6th Insurrection 

[New Yorker, via Naked Capitalism 12-28-2022]


The Man Who Created a President From Beyond the Grave [Roy Cohn]

[Hosted by Robert Scheer,, Oct. 11, 2019

There is a common link between Joseph McCarthy, Ronald Reagan, Roger Stone and Donald Trump, and that link is a lawyer named Roy Cohn. From a young age, the wealthy, well- connected New Yorker was already involved in influencing decisions such as Ethel Rosenberg’s death sentence in 1953, and was Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel during the during the Army–McCarthy hearings, as well as his co-conspirator in what’s known as the Lavender Scare. In the 1980s, Nancy Reagan apparently even called Cohn to thank him for getting her husband elected to office. And although the lawyer died in 1986, he might even deserve the credit for minting another president: Donald Trump, his protégé.

Yet despite lurking manipulatively behind right-wing figures who shaped modern-day America, Cohn is not a household name. That might change once more people watch the bone-chilling documentary “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” whose director Matt Tyrnauer spoke with Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer on the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence.”

In a broad conversation about the impact of Cohn, traced throughout the film, the Truthdig Editor in Chief argues that the most impactful part of “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” is the question of a specific brand of American evil, and whether Cohn or Trump could be labeled as such.




Open Thread


Obvious Predictions For 2023


  1. Mark Hendriks

    Shame on Tony for promoting Elon Musk’s propaganda. Matt Taibbi, who used to be considered a serious journalist, has descended to being a useful idiot for a far-right malignant narcissist.

    The so-called “Twitter Files” aren’t about truth, or freedom of speech, but just Musk cherry-picking “evidence” to support the persecution complex of the far right.

    Let’s be clear, Twitter was always a s***show, and like any large corporation, run exclusively for the benefit of the shareholders, rather than the “customers.” Trusting notions like “freedom of speech,” or “public conversation,” to a private company was always naive at best.

    Having said that, Elon Musk is absolutely not the guy who will make things better.

  2. Mark Hendriks: I fail to see how an ardent Sanders supporter (Taibbi) has now become a tool for the “right wing”. Though I’m no fan of Musk myself, the evidence of collusion between Twitter and the FBI and other US intelligence agencies is something that needs more daylight, not less. The censorship they were engaged in has undoubtedly killed thousands (at least) by preventing the use of effective early covid treatments (and yes, I know of multiple people who stopped covid dead in it’s tracks by taking it).

  3. bruce wilder

    The “Twitter Files” seem to be about intelligence agencies of the Federal government taking a dominating role in media distribution of political information, opinion and controversy.

  4. VietnamVet

    The still extant Empires are corporate-states that have been seized by organized crime syndicates that are mostly modeled on feudal mob families. Joe Biden is a Godfather and senile too. 2023 is the year that they go to the mattresses. January 6th was a skirmish between the Global and American clans over who controls the “Benjamins”. Homeland Security and the Pentagon declined to get involved. Only, the Washington DC Metro Police retaking the Capitol saved the Congressmembers from themselves.

    The biggest push for war is the Profiteers. If we are lucky again the Pentagon will refuse to push the red button like Soviet officers in the first Cold War. Maybe not.

    Even the Chinese Communist party is “letting ‘er rip” to avoid an economic shut down. This is “profits over lives”. Public health across the globe is terminated. Actually, with millions no longer able to work due to Long-COVID, and incompetent/corrupt rulers, the global economy and the Ukraine proxy world war could get out of hand.

    Union Pacific Railroad has embargoed service in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin for two weeks and Southwest Airlines collapsed. Winter is blamed. But if there are no workers, there is no transportation of food or goods. If businesses are milked of their wealth, sooner or later, they stop working.

  5. GrimJim

    “The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev as president of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the start of the USSR’s collapse—but not the collapse itself. While the USSR ceased to exist as a legal entity after 1991, the collapse of the USSR is still happening today. The two Chechen Wars, Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the on-and-off border skirmishes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and the 2020 Second Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan are just a few examples showing that the Soviet Union is still collapsing today. ”

    You can hardly read the article; it is drowning in so much saliva.

    This is what our Reich-Wing has been praying for, for years. The “final collapse” of Russia.

    They really can’t wait to get their knives out and carve it up into Corporate-Oligarch Cantons, where the Russian people and treasure will be divvied up, reduced to wage slavery, and properly plundered, making the post-Soviet era seem positively genteel by comparison.

    No pity for Putin here, mind you. Just loathing for those who see this collapse as nothing more than a chance to engorge themselves on power and wealth, at the cost of possible freedom and peace.

    We need a Marshall Plan for Russia, not a Treaty of Versailles!

    Read another article the other day, can’t remember what it was, it was some highly placed Ukrainian politico, writing the Russians to tell them, “How much Putin is lying to them,” and how one of the things he is making them fear is that “their wealth will be stolen to pay for reparations to Ukraine” if Russia loses. He assures them that it is a lie, and then several paragraphs later, he reminds them that “when Russia loses, you will have to pay reparations to Ukraine.” Huh.

    All this kind of talk plays right into Putin’s hands. The vast majority of Russians are victims of Putin no less than the Ukrainians. It is not like they live in a democracy. The more these stupid talking heads talk about looking forward to carving up Russia, “taking control of their nuclear weapons,” and “making them all pay,” the more the Russians will join with Putin, because they will have nothing to lose.

    This is just going to end so badly for EVERYONE.

  6. Ché Pasa

    If we look over Tony’s compendiums during the past year, we’d have to acknowledge it’s pretty grim. In no way is his ideal of civic republicanism realized anywhere under any circumstances. We are enthralled to oligarchs and their demands — not solely, but mostly for ever more wealth and power — everywhere.

    We have essentially no influence on and through the political process which is fully under the control of a relative handful of truly evil people who see their interests as the only ones that matter.

    We can’t change it through ordinary politics. Campaigning and voting, no matter our passion, leads to more of the same policies — while having various levels of entertainment for the masses. Relatively quiet times alternate with wild, over-the-top, indeed outrageous, “rule breaking” and “norm subverting” behavior by public facing politicos and their sponsors. What’s going on in the background is nevertheless kept relatively secret, unknown by most of us. But we sure feel the effects.

    I think Vietnam Vet is largely correct in his overall assessment of what’s going on and why. There’s almost nothing we can do about it. Any attempt at a mass movement for positive (or really negative) change is promptly subverted, compromised or crushed — I would include even the MAGATs. It’s clear now that that movement was heavily infiltrated by law enforcement and intelligence operatives, many of whom were/are sympathetic and yet served as a compromising force which ultimately undid the “movement.” Only the highest levels have escaped — so far.

    So what do we do when there’s nothing we can do?

    I’m at a loss.

  7. marku52

    A commenter at NC puts it this way:
    “Vote for anyone you want for any reason you imagine.
    Just don’t think it will change anything.”

    Sounds about right….

  8. different clue

    ” So what do we do when there’s nothing we can do? ”

    Do nothing.

    Also, lie back and think of England.

  9. different clue

    I haven’t read the Taiibii files about GovIntel organizations manipulating what would or would not appear on Twitter. I have read items about them on NaCap. ( Yes, I still read NaCap).

    There have been non-shit non-show elements to Twitter. It was on Twitter that some ” covid is airborne” scientists were able to break through the cone of silence dropped on that fact by the WHO-CDC conspiracy. Without access to a Twitter to post on about that, would they have ever broken through the WHO-CDC’s Great Wall of Silence about the airborne nature of covid?

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