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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 16, 2023

by Tony Wikrent


Global power shift

Has the West lost control of oil? 

[Unherd, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-2023]

Led by the odd pairing of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), and Vladimir Putin, the Opec Plus oil producers’ cartel exists to maintain a price floor for its fractious members in an energy environment where oil prices have crashed three times over the past two decades. But its importance in a geopolitical world defined by Sino-American competition is beginning to extend well beyond the gyrations of oil markets. Opec Plus has remained resilient even as the Beijing-Moscow-Tehran axis has hardened since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as the recent Chinese-brokered rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This raises questions about whether Saudi Arabia is now defecting into the anti-Washington camp….

Forging an association between Opec and Moscow was an act of Saudi desperation. For the previous two years, Riyadh had sought to bankrupt the American shale sector by allowing prices to slump, but largely succeeded only in emptying its own foreign exchange reserves. When they finally reversed course in September 2016, the Saudis found that, having alienated most other Opec members with their recklessness, they could no longer control prices. Two months later, Russia and 10 other states agreed to support a second Opec oil output cut, and Opec Plus was born….

Undoubtedly, some broader geopolitical convergence between Riyadh and Moscow against Washington followed over the next three years. When King Salman visited Putin in October 2017 — the first ever state visit of a Saudi monarch to Moscow — the two leaders discussed military co-operation and the possibility of the Saudis purchasing Russian arms….

When, in September 2019, Iran — either alone or acting with its Houthi allies in Yemen — destroyed the large Saudi oil processing facility at Abqaiq with drones and cruise missiles, that chasm was laid bare. While the Saudis were crushed by the failure of their Patriot missile defence system, bought at great expense from the Americans, Putin appeared with the Iranian president and mock-solemnly pronounced that Moscow could sell Riyadh protection that would actually work….

The Trump administration’s Abraham Accords, which saw the UAE and Bahrain normalise relations with Israel in September 2020, compounded the cartel’s lack of internal coherence on Middle Eastern matters. In oil terms, the Accords also appeared strategic: the UAE is the only member of Opec Plus other than Saudi Arabia with clear spare capacity, and Bahrain has been sitting on a known large offshore shale oil formation since 2018.

But for the past three years, events have conspired decidedly to strengthen Opec Plus. With the new Democratic administration in Washington unable to bring Iran into another nuclear deal in 2021, and post-pandemic growth in the shale sector nearly entirely concentrated in the Permian Basin, Biden, just eight months into office, had to ask Opec Plus to increase production. His trip to Riyadh the following summer for the same purpose yielded little. Indeed, in the months after Biden’s visit, Opec Plus appeared to toy with the American president, announcing a major production cut just weeks before the mid-term elections. Unable at any time during his presidency to influence the cartel, Biden has had to release so much reserve US oil that in March 2023 the Strategic Petroleum Reserve contained only 58% of what it did three years previously.

The World China Is Building 

[NOEMA, via Naked Capitalism 7-14-2023]

…The International Monetary Fund expects Asian countries to account for 70% of growth globally this year. China must “shape a new international system that is conducive to hedging against the negative impacts of the West’s decoupling,” the scholar and former People’s Liberation Army theorist Cheng Yawen wrote recently….

The world China is reorienting itself to is a world that, in many respects, looks like China did a generation ago. On offer are the basics of development — education, health care, clean drinking water, housing. But also more than that — technology, communication and transportation.

Back in April, on the eve of a trip to China, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sat down for an interview with Reuters. “I am going to invite Xi Jinping to come to Brazil,” he said, “to get to know Brazil, to show him the projects that we have of interest for Chinese investment. … What we want is for the Chinese to make investments to generate new jobs and generate new productive assets in Brazil.” After Lula and Xi had met, the Brazilian finance minister proclaimed that “President Lula wants a policy of reindustrialization. This visit starts a new challenge for Brazil: bringing direct investments from China.” Three months later, the battery and electric vehicle giant BYD announced a $624 million investment to build a factory in Brazil, its first outside Asia….

Across the Global South, fast-growing countries from Bangladesh to Brazil can send raw materials to China and get technological devices in exchange. The idea is that what China is today, they could be tomorrow….

The majority of human beings alive today live in a world of not enough: not enough food; not enough security; not enough housing, education, health care; not enough rights for women; not enough potable water. They are desperate to get out of there, as China has. They might or might not like Chinese government policies or the transactional attitudes of Chinese entrepreneurs, but such concerns are usually of little importance to countries struggling to bootstrap their way out of poverty.

The first world tends to see the third as a rebuke and a threat. Most Southeast Asian countries have historically borne abuse in relationship to these American fears. Most American companies don’t tend to see Pakistan or Bangladesh or Sumatra as places they’d like invest money in. But opportunity beckons for Chinese companies seeking markets outside their nation’s borders and finding countries with rapidly growing populations and GDPs. Imagine a Huawei engineer in a rural Bangladeshi village, eating a bad lunch with the mayor, surrounded by rice paddies — he might remember the Hunan of his childhood.

How China Came to Dominate the World’s Largest Nickel Source for Electric Cars

[Wall Street Journal, via The Big Picture 7-9-2023]
Across the Indonesian archipelago, new industrial plants are going up to process chunks of nickel ore for use in electric-car batteries. Five years ago, there were none. What changed? Chinese companies had a breakthrough.
They tamed a refining process that was once unwieldy, unlocking Indonesia’s expansive deposits for the nickel-hungry EV industry. In doing so, they established Chinese dominance over what has grown into the world’s largest source of the commodity.  That gives China a leg up in the global race to secure minerals that are critical to the energy transition and is a blow to U.S. efforts to lessen American companies’ dependency on China.

China beats rivals to successfully launch first methane-liquid rocket 

[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism 7-13-2023]

The Poles are rearming at a breathtaking rate and are now Europe’s rising power. Let’s embrace Warsaw – over Paris and Berlin

[Daily Mail, via Naked Capitalism 7-9-2023]

The Battle for Colombia 

[New Left Review, via Naked Capitalism 7-15-2023]


Capitalism = democracy. Not.

The terrifying rise of ‘debanking’ 

[Spiked, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-2023]

Last week, former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage announced that his Coutts bank account of over 40 years had been closed against his will and without any real explanation. The motive might have been political, he speculated. Perhaps Coutts, the prestigious private bank for the wealthy, had taken exception to his support for Brexit. Farage went on to claim that nine other banks have refused his custom, too. This seemed like a potential case of what has become known as ‘debanking’ – that is, the practice of withholding banking services to individuals, because of the views they hold….

As it stands, we do not know exactly why Farage’s account was closed. But we do know that he is not the only one claiming to have been ‘debanked’. In fact, over the past week or so, numerous cases have emerged of people being denied access to financial services, seemingly on the basis of their political views. This has included activists, parents groups and even people with no political background at all.

Unpopularity Behind Elite Demands For Spying And Censorship 

[Public, via Naked Capitalism 7-12-2023]


They’re not capitalists — they’re predatory criminals

Drexel’s Second Coming 

Marc Rubinstein [Net Interest, via Naked Capitalism 7-15-2023]

[TW: This is behind a paywall, but it appears to be an examination of how the criminals who learned predatory financial practices at Drexel Burnham Lambert have gone on to dominate the darker aspects of finance today.]

Three years after becoming the most profitable investment banking firm in America, the firm filed for bankruptcy. Since then, an entire generation of traders has passed through Wall Street, leaving few around today with first-hand recollections of dealing with the firm. Yet its legacy still lingers. Two of Drexel’s alumni now run investment banks (Jefferies and Goldman Sachs) and two of the firms that others went on to create – Apollo and Ares – are at the vanguard of the growing market for private credit.

[TW: Not mentioned in the introduction is that Drexel was forced into bankruptcy in 1990 after pleading guilty to six federal charges of fraud. Is it mentioned later in the article? I doubt it. And the mention of Apollo Global Management is interesting: Apollo was founded in 1990 by Leon Black, whose father Eli M. Black had run United Brands, the banana company that was the mafia’s favorite conduit for bringing illegal narcotics into USA in the 1960s and early 1970s. Eli M. Black was “suicided” in February 1975, just a month before an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission revealed that  United Brands had paid a $1.25-million to Honduran president Oswaldo López Arellano. At Drexel, Leon Black was a managing director, head of the Mergers & Acquisitions Group, and co-head of the Corporate Finance Department. In 1990, Black and two other Drexel executives founded Apollo. Black was chairman until July 2021, when he was forced to retire following revelations that he had paid intelligence operative and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein $158 million for “tax and financial advice” between 2012 and 2017. Epstein had also been one of the original trustees of the Debra and Leon Black Foundation since 1997.

[What if all these former executives of Drexel had been dragged into court and jailed, like the more infamous Michael Milken? And then barred from any future role in banking and finance or even corporate management? These Drexel “alums” embody the very worst training and instincts of financial predators that have ripped apart and feasted on the carcass of the USA industrial base. But these were the “Reagan years” when all this socially destructive financial behavior was decriminalized. And instead of reversing this immense damage, Bill Clinton steered the Democratic Party into financial dependence on these very financial criminals.]

Lawsuit Bombshell: Sex Trafficker Jeffrey Epstein Was “a Business Partner” with Members of JPMorgan’s Board of Directors

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, July 10, 2023 [Wall Street on Parade]

JPMorgan Chase Files a Notice of Appeal in Jeffrey Epstein Victim Case It “Settled” for $290 Million

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, July 14, 2023 [Wall Street on Parade]

…It now turns out that the case is not actually “settled.” JPMorgan Chase and its 1,000-attorney law firm that is representing it in the matter, WilmerHale, have quietly filed a petition to appeal the decision rendered by the District Court Judge, Jed Rakoff, to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The bank and its lawyers don’t like the fact that Judge Rakoff took the claims of the one plaintiff, Jane Doe 1, and certified them into a class action lawsuit on behalf of a large group of Epstein victims. The bank’s petition to appeal calls this decision by Judge Rakoff “rife with error.”

….Also, there is a secret side agreement buried in the settlement. The victims will be bound by the terms of a Paragraph 10 of a “Confidential Term Sheet,” which was crafted during mediation negotiations, but we could find no such document in the court records. We contacted the three key attorneys for the Epstein victims, seeking this document, as well as the entire Management Committee of WilmerHale, consisting of 18 attorneys, and no one was forthcoming with an answer as to how it is legal to have a secret side agreement in a class action involving potentially more than 100 victims of Epstein – many of whom have been waiting for decades for the justice system in the United States to stop cutting deals with Epstein and his accomplices and enablers.

How the Taliban crushed the CIA’s heroin bonanza in Afghanistan

[The Cradle, via Naked Capitalism 7-9-2023]

The Taliban has not once, but twice eradicated Afghanistan’s poppy cultivation, the world’s largest source of heroin. Despite western accusations, it has never been The Taliban behind the Afghan drug industry, but only ever the US and its allies, with billions in profits breezily laundered through the global financial system….

Ironically, instead of praising Kabul’s new leaders for quashing the source of illicit drugs, the international community responded to this development with criticism. Even the US Institute for Peace (USIP), which is funded by the US government, argued that “The Taliban’s successful opium ban is bad for Afghans and the world.”

….Under the guise of the “War on Terror,” the 2001 US and UK invasion was driven in part by the desire to restore the heroin trade, which the Taliban had abruptly terminated just a year earlier.

The western powers sought to reestablish the lucrative flow of billions of dollars that the heroin trade provided to their financial systems. In fact, “For 20 years, America essentially ran a narco-state in Afghanistan.”

….In late 2004, as reports of Karzai’s involvement in the heroin trade were emerging, Alfred McCoy writes that “the White House was suddenly confronted with troubling CIA intelligence suggesting that the escalating drug trade was fueling a revival of the Taliban.”

A proposal from Secretary of State Colin Powell to fight the heroin trade was resisted by US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, and then-Afghan finance minister Ashraf Ghani. As a compromise, the Bush administration used private contractors for poppy eradication, an effort that New York Times journalist Carlotta Gall later described as “something of a joke.”

Additionally, reports of a 2005 cable sent by the US embassy in Kabul to Powell’s successor, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, viewed Britain as being “substantially responsible” for the failure to eradicate poppy cultivation. British personnel chose where the eradication teams worked, but those areas were often not the main growing areas, and “the British had been unwilling to revise targets.”

Commerce, Christianity and Civilization Vs. British Free Trade: Henry Carey on the British Forcing Opium on China — 1876

Henry C. Carey [Philadelphia, Collins, 1876]


Health care crisis

On covid California’s supreme court just said the quiet part out loud 

[Ko-fi, via Naked Capitalism 7-9-2023]

The California Supreme Court just ruled against Kuciemba on the basis that a victory, while, in the court’s words, “morally” the right thing to do, would create “dire financial consequences for employers” and cause a “dramatic expansion of liability” to stop the spread of covid.

There’s a few stunning details to note in this case. First, the court agreed that there is no doubt the company had ignored the San Francisco health ordinance. In other words, they accepted the company had broken the law. And then concluded “yeah, but, capitalism.”

Secondly, the case was so obviously important to the struggle between capitalism and mass infection that the US Chamber of Commerce, the largest business lobbying organisation got involved and helped the company with its defence. Remember, this is a tiny company in a niche industry. The involvement of the biggest business lobbyists in the country tells us a lot about the importance of the principle they knew was at stake.

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 7-9-2023]


NYC Schools Bought Weaker Air Purifiers. Now Underventilated Campuses Are More Prone To COVID Cases

[Gothamist, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-13-2023]

“The New York City public schools that rely solely on open windows and portable air purifiers have seen 23% more COVID-19 cases per students and a 29% increase in staff case rates when compared to buildings with stronger ventilation, such as HVAC systems, according to a new WNYC/Gothamist investigation…. Starting in summer 2020, the city purchased two air purifiers for every classroom from a Manhattan-based startup named Delos Living and its upstate partner Intellipure — a choice officials strongly backed ahead of the school year, even though the devices lack HEPA filters, the industry benchmark for air cleaning. In interviews with WNYC/Gothamist, independent engineers warned of relying too heavily on the Intellipure purifiers and open windows, which city officials countered were adequate in reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread. To learn why Intellipure air purifiers were selected for classrooms, WNYC/Gothamist has discovered that New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) got those devices for a bargain, according to contracts obtained via Freedom of Information requests…. Yet despite the purchase of Intellipure air purifiers for schools, New Yorkers who walk into most city buildings are unlikely to find that brand of purifier humming in the background. City contracts and photos sent to WNYC/Gothamist by city employees across several departments indicate that most offices rely on other brands, all of which use HEPA filters and provide substantially higher ventilation rates compared to the purifiers in city schools. Some were purchased even as the city made new deals with Delos for non-HEPA purifiers, the contracts show.”

Wisconsin Republicans block meningitis vaccine requirement for students

[AP, via DownWithTyranny, 7-12-2023]


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Robodebt: Illegal Australian welfare hunt drove people to despair 

[BBC, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-2023]

Who Employs Your Doctor? Increasingly, a Private Equity Firm

[Upshot, via The Big Picture 7-12-2023]

A new study finds that private equity firms own more than half of all specialists in certain U.S. markets.


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-14-2023]


Judge Rules for Microsoft: Mergers Are Good 

Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 7-12-2023]

Bank of America agrees to pay $250 mln over junk fees, other violations 

[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism 7-11-2023]


[Texas Observer, via Naked Capitalism 7-9-2023]

Is the Chocolate Monopoly Under Siege? 

Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 7-9-2023]

$850 Billion Chicken Comes Home to Roost 

Andrew Cockburn [Spoils of War, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-2023]

War Reveals U.S. Military’s Longtime Disinterest in War.

Watching a recent video of Ukrainian troops scrambling out of a U.S.-supplied Bradley armored fighting vehicle just after it hit a mine, I remembered how hard the U.S. Army bureaucrats and contractors who developed the weapon had fought to keep this vehicle a death trap for anyone riding inside. As originally designed, Bradleys promptly burst into flame when hit with anything much more powerful than a BB pellet, incinerating anyone riding inside. The armor bureaucrats were well aware of this defect, but pausing development for a redesign might have hurt their budget, so they delayed and cheated on tests to keep the program on track. Prior to one test, they covertly substituted water-tanks for the ammunition that would otherwise explode. Only when Jim Burton, a courageous air force lieutenant colonel from the Pentagon’s testing office, enlisted Congress to mandate a proper live fire test were the army’s malign subterfuges exposed and corrected. His principled stand cost him his career, but the Bradley was redesigned, rendering it less potentially lethal for passengers.


Institutional legitimacy; lack thereof

Historically Low Faith in U.S. Institutions Continues 

[Gallup, via Naked Capitalism 7-12-2023]

Americans are widely pessimistic about democracy in the United States, an AP-NORC poll finds 

[AP, via Naked Capitalism 7-15-2023]

Gallup Poll: Confidence in U.S. Banks Stood at 60 Percent in 1979. Today, It Stands at 26 Percent

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, July 11, 2023 [Wall Street on Parade]

…As a result of the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act (also known as the Banking Act of 1933), trading casinos on Wall Street like JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley are allowed to own federally-insured commercial banks (and do own them) and hold trillions of dollars (yes, trillions) of complex and hard to price derivatives inside the insured banks.

By allowing mega banks to make high-stake trading gambles using federally-insured deposits (or, even worse, bankroll insanely ginned up derivatives at hedge funds), federal bank regulators have guaranteed that there will be a non-stop series of banking crises that continue to undermine the public’s trust in the banks. (See our report from April 20: Former New York Fed Pres Bill Dudley Calls This the First Banking Crisis Since 2008; Charts Show It’s the Third.)

For a deeper dive into the banking trainwreck that has ensued since the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, we highly recommend the brilliant book by Arthur E. Wilmarth, Jr., Taming the Megabanks: Why We Need a New Glass-Steagall Act.


Climate and environmental crises

Ocean temperatures “much higher than anything the models predicted,” climate experts warn

[CBS News, via The Big Picture 7-13-2023]

“We are in uncharted territory and we can expect more records to fall as El Niño develops further and these impacts will extend into 2024,” World Meteorological Organization director of climate services Christopher Hewitt said Monday. “This is worrying news for the planet.”

How fast are the seas rising? 

Jeff Masters [Yale Climate Connection, via Naked Capitalism 7-15-2023]

Global sea level has risen 6.7 inches (170 mm) over the past 100 years — and the rate of rise has doubled since the 20th century.

Why American communities are suing Big Oil for climate damages 

[Agence France Presse, via Naked Capitalism 7-13-2023]

Solar Ambitions 

[Phenomenal World, via Naked Capitalism 7-10-2023]

Summer is here. Where are the fireflies?

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 7-12-2023]

Nearly 1 in 3 firefly species in the United States and Canada may be threatened with extinction, firefly experts estimate in a recent comprehensive assessment. Surveys abroad show declines from mangroves in Malaysia to grasslands in England. New research is shedding light on how these ethereal insects are struggling to thrive in the brightly lit world we have built around them. And the problem is bigger than a single type of bug. “The fireflies are the icons that tell you that the habitat is in trouble.”

Empty Office Buildings Are Being Turned Into Vertical Farms

[Smithsonian Magazine, via The Big Picture 7-13-2023]

With office usage hovering near 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels, cities are putting the underutilized space to new use growing food.


Information age dystopia / surveillance state

The Missouri v. Biden Injunction is a Rare Win for Freedom 

[The Wayward Rabbler, via Naked Capitalism 7-9-2023]

How US Department of Homeland Security Became Global Thought Police 

Kit Klarenberg [Kit’s Newsletter, via Naked Capitalism 7-14-2023]

Are Authorities Using the Internet to Sap Our Instinct for Freedom? 

Matt Taibbi [Racket News, via Naked Capitalism 7-15-2023]

Nebraska Mom Pleads Guilty to Giving Abortion Pills to Her Teen Daughter 

[Jezebel, via Naked Capitalism 7-12-2023]

“…cops obtained a warrant for Facebook messages between her and her mother. Facebook parent company Meta complied and provided the messages, in which the pair allegedly discussed ending Celeste’s pregnancy with pills.”

Experts warn of rise in scammers using AI to mimic voices of loved ones in distress 

[ABC, via Naked Capitalism 7-11-2023]

A warning to anyone jumping over to Threads 

Ben Cohen [Substack, via Naked Capitalism 7-11-2023]

A warning to anyone jumping over to Threads: I spent a significant amount of money and time building a sizable Facebook page for my old site The Daily Banter. We had over 40,000 highly engaged followers, including some pretty well known media people who would regularly share our work (Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow to name a few). We also worked with other pages with hundreds of thousands of followers, and made a good chunk of change from Facebook mobile ads.

We spent years trying to combat disinformation, particularly on Facebook where much of the Russian content farms did their damage. Then Facebook reduced our reach by 90%, then slashed our ad revenue in half. This destroyed our business. I could pay my staff, but not myself. I lasted about a year doing that, and then had to fold. I got no explanation from Facebook. No point of contact, no way of resolving anything. Just some bullshit reply from Adam Mosseri, the then Facebook News Feed boss, on Twitter saying “you should have only seen a 25 percent decline”.

This is why I will never, ever trust Facebook/Meta or whatever social media spinoff Zuckerberg creates. It is a fundamentally dishonest, horrible company that harvests your data and sells it off for huge amounts of money. You own nothing on their sites. Not your data, not your followers, or even their contact info. They can, and will pull the rug from under you for no reason at all.

Lambert Strether: ”The irony of liberal Democrats and pundits jumping onto a Meta platform — even though Meta gutted their newsrooms and wrecked the news business — because they can’t endure contact with The Othered* is a bit much, even for the stupidest timeline. NOTE * Or curate their timelines properly.

Getting Locked Out of Your Digital Life Is Bad. Here’s How to Avoid It

[Wall Street Journal, via The Big Picture 7-12-2023]


Democrats’ political malpractice

Ruy Teixeira: How the Democrats Became the Party of the Ruling Class

[Public]. “Ruy Teixeira, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute….

[Don’t bother reading, but note Lambert Strether’s comments: “Holy moley. God can make irony that’s too heavy to lift. First, Teixeira is cashing in on work that Thomas Frank already did in Listen, Liberal! — and was ostracized for. Second, nobody did more to sever the Democrat Party from its working class roots than Teixeira, who as a dominating Democrat strategist invented the “coalition of the ascendant” (a.k.a. the Obama Coalition) ground zero for identity politics, not a working class politics by definition. Ka-ching. These people are shameless.”]

In defense of Deliverism 

Cory Doctorow [Pluralistic, via Naked Capitalism 7-12-2023]

Obama’s inside/outside game was indeed remarkable. He assembled and steered a massive, grassroots get-out-the-vote campaign that leveraged his skills as a once-in-a-generation orator to inspire huge numbers of historical nonvoters to show up and cast their ballot (recall that nearly every US election is won by “none of the above,” so GOTV is a winning strategy, if you can pull it off).

Then, after the election, he switched off that grassroots.


At the time, Obama’s grassroots was the most successful netroots in history. Talented coders and digital strategists figured out how to leverage the internet to identify, mobilize and coordinate volunteers across the country. And while netroots activists did their work across the whole internet, their home base was a server the Obama campaign controlled. Once Obama won, they switched that server off….

When Geithner told Obama he had to “foam the runway” for the crashing banks with the roofs over everyday Americans’ heads, there were no grassroots organizers foaming at the mouth in outrage. Thus did Obama end the Great Financial Crisis – by creating the Great Foreclosure Crisis:

But Obama’s signature achievement wasn’t his economic policy – it was his healthcare policy. The Affordable Care Act was a carefully triangulated compromise, one that guaranteed a massive flow of public cash to America’s wildly profitable health insurance monopoly and steered clear of any socialist whiff that Americans would get their care from the government….

That’s not how it worked out. Prior to ACA’s passage, 85% of Americans had health insurance. Today, it’s 90%. That’s not nothing! 5% of the US is more than 16m people. But what about the 85% – 282m people – who were insured before the ACA? Their insurance costs have doubled – from an average of $15,609 for a family of four in 2009 to $30,260 today. Obama promised that ACA would lower the average family’s insurance bill by $2,500/year – but instead, insurance costs increased by some $15,000….

ACA wasn’t just about cost, though: it was supposed to end discrimination, by forcing insurers to take on customers without regard to their “pre-existing conditions.” On this score, too, Obamacare has failed: thanks to the ACA’s tolerance for high-deductible plans, the number of Americans enrolled in plans that force them to pay for their chronic care out of pocket has skyrocketed from 7% to 32%.

….in The American Prospect, David Dayen and Matt Stoller point out that for most Americans, Obamacare didn’t produce any improvement to their health care. The ACA made their care far more expensive, and the ensuing concentration across the sector (mergers between insurers, and between insurers and pharmacy benefit managers and pharmacies) made their care worse, too:

The rise in health care costs is no mystery: monopolies have taken over healthcare. In particular, healthcare is now the domain of private equity rollups, where a fund buys and merges dozens or hundreds of small businesses:

Every layer of the healthcare stack is has grown steadily more concentrated since the Obama years: “Hospitals, doctor’s practices, health insurance, pharmaceuticals, ambulances, nursing homes, rehab facilities.” As Stoller and Dayen put it:

Every part of our health care world is increasingly controlled by greedy bankers who kill people for money….


The (anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

Justices take up major Second Amendment dispute 

[SCOTUSblog, via Naked Capitalism 7-11-2023]

The Supreme Court will hear oral argument next fall in a major gun-rights case challenging the constitutionality of a federal ban on the possession of guns by individuals who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders. The Biden administration had asked the justices to weigh in after a federal appeals court struck down the ban earlier this year, and on Friday the justices agreed to do so.

The announcement that the justices had granted review in United States v. Rahimi ….

The White Media Has Missed a Key Part of the Affirmative Action Ruling

Elie Mystal, July 13, 2013 (The Nation, via Eschaton]

… the real upshot of the affirmative action ruling is this: Colleges and universities must now punish Black applicants by decreasing the enrollment of Black students, by any means necessary. That’s because the only way universities can show compliance with Roberts’s new rules is to show that they’ve decreased the number of Black kids they let into school. Anything less than that will likely trigger litigation from the white supremacists who have already promised to hunt down schools that admit too many Black people, as determined by their own white-makes-right accounting system….

Only a decrease in Black enrollment is likely to satisfy Roberts. If Harvard maintains its class diversity, Roberts will accuse it of using racial preferences. If Harvard increases Black enrollment, Roberts will accuse it of using newly unconstitutional race-consciousness to promote Black applicants—beyond historical levels, he’ll likely say. Only a decrease in Black enrollment will satisfy Roberts’s unworkable standard of ignoring race. It doesn’t actually matter how Harvard goes about putting together its class: If this doesn’t produce Roberts’s desired outcome of decreasing Black enrollment, Roberts will accuse it of thinking about race.

Why Gorsuch’s Opinion in ‘303 Creative’ Is So Dangerous

Andrew Koppelman, July 12, 2023 [The American Prospect]

In 303 Creative v. Elenis, the Supreme Court has now declared for the first time that some for-profit businesses have a constitutional right to discriminate against anyone for any reason they like. Its opinion in the case is startlingly vague about the boundaries of that category. While the Court might have clearly limited the scope of its decision, some members of the Court—including Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the Court’s opinion—are drawn toward broad and dangerous specifications that can only be applied selectively to benefit claimants whom the judges happen to like….

There is evidence that Gorsuch had something else in mind—which may explain why he wrote such a vague opinion. In a 2018 case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado, a bewildering proliferation of free-speech claims were made on behalf of a baker who would not sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. He wasn’t asked to write the words “God Bless This Wedding” on their cake or design it to depict two grooms. He refused to serve them before he knew anything about what they wanted. Website design is obviously speech. But food preparation?


(anti)Republican Party

Doug Burgum is about to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on gift cards to qualify for the debate

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-11-2023]

“The North Dakota governor’s presidential campaign is offering $20 cards to donors who give his campaign as little as $1. It’s a bold and expensive fundraising tactic designed squarely to allow him to hit the donor threshold to qualify for the debate stage — while also raising a new set of legal questions. The effort — billed in a fundraising text as an attempt to “help ease the burden of Bidenflation” — is a sign of just how unafraid Burgum is to dip into his personal wealth as he seeks the Republican Party’s nomination. It also reflects the difficulties of lesser-known candidates in reaching the Republican National Committee’s donor threshold to qualify for upcoming debates. The Burgum campaign’s WinRed page indicated gift cards would be available for up to 50,000 donors — enough to make the August debate stage at a cost of $950,000 to the campaign if all donors only gave $1. A donor can only receive one gift card. His campaign said on Twitter that 50,000 people who donated would receive Visa or Mastercard gift cards at their mailing addresses.”

Scoop: GOP plan targets foreign dark money for 2024

[Axios, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-11-2023]

“Conservative groups are zeroing in on [Hansjörg Wyss, a Swiss billionaire] as a poster child for how wealthy foreign billionaires can influence U.S. elections, alleging that he has pumped $475 million into the U.S. political system. In 2021 alone, his Berger Action Fund gave some $72 million to a dozen different nonprofit organizations, including the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which advocates for progressive causes, according to the Associated Press and tax filings. Those 501(c)(4) nonprofits, like the Sixteen Thirty Fund, can give directly to superPACs that support the Democratic agenda, the New York Times has reported. ‘The problem is that c4’s are a bit of a black box when it comes to campaign finance laws,’ said Saurav Ghosh, the director of the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington-based nonpartisan watchdog group….”

Warning: A “Convention of States” Is Practicing to Rewrite the Constitution

Russ Feingold, July 7, 2023 [via DownWithTyranny 7-15-2023]

This August, a far-right group is convening its third-known practice session on how to rewrite the Constitution to advance partisan goals. The organization, Convention of States, is not only rehearsing how to amend the Constitution; it is also promoting a highly undemocratic method of doing so. If Convention of States gets its way, our country will be thrown into a constitutional crisis with no guarantee that our democracy survives….

Article V sets out two methods for amendment. One such method—and the only method to thus far be used—is to have two-thirds of Congress propose an amendment and three-quarters of state legislatures ratify it. The other method, which has never previously been utilized, is via constitutional convention….

On its website, Convention of States includes a video that claims to explain how Article V works. The video is patently wrong in several regards, most worryingly in its claim that at a convention, each state would get one vote. There is a reason Convention of States is planning for and promoting this highly unrepresentative, undemocratic method of amendment: It would enable a minority of Americans to amend our Constitution. Specifically, a white minority.

A ‘one state, one vote’ process would give Wyoming’s overwhelmingly white population of 576,000 the same voting power as California’s diverse 39.5 million people. North Dakota’s overwhelmingly white population of 779,000 would have the same voting power as New York’s diverse 19.7 million people. This disproportionate power structure is alarming in the US Senate; it would be even more alarming as the structure by which the US Constitution is amended.

And yet, the Constitution does not require that an Article V convention be representative. It does not require that democratic procedures be used to ensure inclusive consultation and genuine majority decisions. This ambiguity would certainly allow for a representative, democratic process, but it also would allow for an undemocratic “one state, one vote” procedure. It is in this ambiguity that Convention of States sees opportunity, and why more people need to be paying attention to this run at our Constitution.


Oligarchs’ war on the experiment of republican self-government

Chapter 35, “The Indecisiveness of Decisions,” A Short History of the Civil War: Ordeal by Fire, by Fletcher Pratt, originally published in 1948 as Ordeal by Fire, by William Sloane Associates, Inc., New York, NY, unabridged 1997 reprint by Dover Publications, Mineola, NY.

At Gettysburg,


The Army of Northern Virginia was all it had ever been in personnel and leadership, and Lee’s own judgment was less bad than he and some of the recent critics who claim he underestimated Meade would like to have us think. He read Meade’s mind as closely as he had Pope’s or Hooker’s—an unenterprising man with considerable ability at handling defensive positions. It was not Meade he underestimated but the Army of the Potomac, the Northern people, the thing he had failed to comprehend from the first. For if any one fact emerges from the tangled account of Gettysburg it is this—that the Union victory was achieved by no one man, but by the cooperation of a large number of men, each appearing, as though by a miracle, in exactly the right place.

When the II Corps is caught isolated on the first day, it is Reynolds, the most complete soldier in the army, who sees the importance of Gettysburg and places the corps in position to hold it; when he falls, it is Doubleday, a fourth rate tactician simply too unskillful to retreat, who keeps the corps there; of all possible officers, it has to be Howard, burning to erase the stigma of Chancellorsville, who next comes on the field; and as the rebels are making their sunset attack, who should turn up but reckless Judson Kilpatrick to over- awe them with an insane cavalry movement. It is the same on the second day; Warren, the engineer, appears at Little Round Top at the crucial moment; the perfectly drilled V Corps arrives to stop Hood. The stars in their courses fought against the Confederacy, right on through Pickett’s charge that would have gone through any line not held by Hancock. Such a chapter of coincidence is impossible; when accident is repeated a dozen times the accidental explanation will no longer serve and we must look further….

Gettysburg is simply one step farther along the line than Chancellorsville. If Antietam should have been a portent to Lee, Chancellorsville should have sent cold shivers up his spine. He won a great victory there, but it was a strategic victory only, a triumph over the mind of Joseph Hooker, not over the Union army. In all the previous battles minor Union commanders had failed or regiments had broken. At Chancellorsville their conduct was as flawless as that of the Confederates, only their general did not know how to use his machine. “Be sure to put in all your men” was Lincoln’s parting caution to Hooker before the battle, but the combination had been too big for him to grasp, and two of his corps only got in to cover the retreat.

Hooker had been trying to manage the complicated attacking maneuver; Meade was not only a better soldier, he also had a simpler problem; he simply could not help putting in all his men. Lee attacked him at every point in succession; all he had to do was keep a clear head and stand his ground. He had seen enough of war by this time—any of the Union generals had seen enough of war by this time—to do that; the rest followed as logically as conclusion succeeds premise. The appearances of Reynolds, Doubleday, Kilpatrick and the others at the right moments were not accident but incidents; the Union infantry was full of generals who knew how to take advantage of the ground, the cavalry was loaded with valiant youths. What Lee attacked at Glendale was an armed mob; what he attacked at Second Bull Run was a group of quarrelsome old men; at Chancellorsville, he attacked a man; but at Gettysburg he came into collision with a system….

The South, a democracy of the classical type, believed combination on such a scale, such regulation, impossible without the sacrifice of individuality; they conceived of the Republic as the narrowly knitted federal league prescribed by the letter of the Constitution. They looked upon it much as Chios or Mitylene on the Athenian League of Pericles.

They did not realize that the North had developed a much stronger and more imperial structure, a type of polity new in the world. Combination is not new in the world; the Romans were a people of combination; the Germans are, so are the Japanese. But all the classical combinations had obtained their strength by making the individual one grain of sugar in the sack, with no thought or will or direction save those furnished by the mass. They ruthlessly harried the oddity, even the oddity of genius, such as Scipio or Schubert. The Northern type of combination—which became the American type, since it triumphed—was something much more complex and valuable, and constitutes this nation’s one outstanding contribution to the science of human relations, a contribution not even yet thoroughly understood….

The fault, the fatal fault of the Confederacy was that … Tolerance was reserved for the small circle of the elect. It was intolerant of any but received opinion; it was inflexible, Chinese, dead, static. It was not without splendid virtues; ability (when found in the right places) made its way more swiftly to the top through the loose Southern organization than through the tighter organization of Northern society. But such ability, unless it were genius itself, arrived at the top not quite capable of performing its tasks. The Northern system furnished talent with such an elaborate apparatus of training and support that it became the equal of genius It is not without significance that the Southern commanders at the beginning of the war—Lee, Longstreet, Johnston, Bragg, Forrest—were still the Southern commanders at the end of the war, mostly older men, while the Union, with an air of prestidigitation, was producing such young tigers as Sheridan, Custer, Wilson, Upton and Kilpatrick. The South, like most aristocracies, was deficient in education, both of the corporate body and of the individual member.


Open Thread


The Elements Of Persuasion


  1. VietnamVet

    First of all, there is no General U.S. Grant on either side of the proxy World War III for the simple reason that there is no Abraham Lincoln in the leadership, anywhere, who is committed to the proposition that government by and for the people shall not perish from the earth. This lot of profiteers make WWI Imperial Staffs seem almost competent.

    Second, the conflict is existential for the separatist Ukrainians. To flank Ukrainian defenses in depth defended by satellite and drones directing artillery fire, Russia would have to seize Romania, Moldavia, or Poland. NATO will use tactical nuclear weapons if Romania or Poland is overrun. (Likewise, if Ukraine takes Crimea). To indicate how crazy they are, NATO is proposing opening a liaison office in Japan to confront China — The main supplier of goods to America and the world. As stated above, the current ruling aristocracy is deficient in education both as a whole and individually.

    Either there is an armistice and DMZ like Korea or the war continues until one side, or even both, collapse. Either way, the Western Hegemon is finished. For example, North America is so resource depleted that it cannot afford to refill the strategic petroleum reserve that contains only 58% of what it did three years previously with US shale or Alberta tar sands oil. The 1970’s energy shortages and upheavals loom.

    The Northeast and Southwest USA, the earth, is under weather attack and is in a bloody trench European War, again. Only true Democracies can meet the challenge.

  2. DMC

    A considerably more likely scenario is that the AFU collapses due to the lack of men and the Russians simply roll in and impose peace on their own terms. Unless NATO is willing to do something about it, this is inevitable. The trickle of obsolete weapons the West is sending will not turn the tide. The latest move to supply 155mm cluster munitions to the AFU is indicative of the level of desperation of the US defense establishment. Their are simply no more reserves of male citizenry untapped. They’ve already been drafted or they’ve fled the country.

  3. Willy

    I appreciated conservatism when it offered a watchdog counterpoint to government overreach and bloated dysfunctional bureaucracies. Sorta like owning a business and keeping a devils advocate on board to keep wary of blind spots.

    But I was suspicious of the trickle down thing. I became really suspicious after conservatism morphed into a full-blown disinformation racket. After doing some homework, it seems the reason is that a small group of plutocrats spending heavily may have hijacked a once reasonable devils advocate for their own selfish purposes. But we already knew that.

    I mention my in-law because he’s bred from small town decency and humility, morally conservative and with both parents kind, sweet and beloved. I’ve watched his comfy easygoing good ole boy personality morph into that of an angry asshole, prone to judge (badly) and accuse (harshly) and suddenly blurt out stuff like “COMMIES!” for no rational reason.

    I’m concerned because I watched he and his minister-son best buddy turn a once decent and humble medical clinic into a full-blown money extraction racket, where two thirds of the many online reviews are from pissed off former patients whose own experiences match mine, exactly. He and buddy persuaded their doctor-partners to sell out and become richly rewarded, and now the current owner is big private equity. I’m unaware of any competitive alternative clinics, since they all seem to be doing this. If big medical operated like big box hardware stores eliminating small shop competition with warehouse pricing and reasonable online services, I’d mind less. But the greed involved is unconscionable with no upside for any of the consumers involved, and most of the remaining employees.

    This is how I see modern conservatism. Owned by a tiny few, operated by greedy minions, with millions of badly disinformed supplicants ready to fight against manufactured enemies and having no idea who’s to blame for all the shit unfolding in their lives.

  4. Jorge

    A side point about China and nickel: trace amounts of neon gas are liberated from processing the nickel ore in Russia/Ukraine, and the Mariupol industrial works implemented this process. Processing huge amounts of nickel/iron ore there spat out an interesting part of the world’s supply of neon (sorry, don’t remember how much). Neon is required for certain semiconductor processes.

    Of course I don’t know this stuff at all, but China may be setting itself up as a major neon producer as a side product of producing nickel.

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