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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 26, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 26, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

“Biden Just Made A Big Promise To His Wall Street Donors” 
[David Sirota, Too Much Information].

“….Biden told his Wall Street donors that actually, he is not proposing any new legislation to rein in corporate power or change corporate behavior — and this was reported exactly nowhere, even as his campaign blasted it out to the national press corps.”

Perhaps the kindest way to explain Biden is that he is an institutionalist, and just can’t walk away from his belief that nothing needs to “fundamentally change.” The problem is, that all institutions are failing, spectacularly. And this is a potentially large vulnerability for the Democrats, if the pandemic slows down enough to allow Trump to invoke right-wing populist attacks: 

Whose century?
Adam Tooze [LRB, via Naked Capitalism 7-24-20]

“In 1949, ‘Who lost China?’ was the question that tortured the American political establishment. Seventy years later, the question that hangs in the air is how and why America’s elite lost interest in their own country. Coming from Bernie Sanders that question wouldn’t be surprising. But it was more remarkable to hear William Barr, Trump’s attorney general, describe American business as ‘part of the problem’ because its corporate leaders are too focused on their stock options and have lost sight of the ‘national view’ and the need to ensure that ‘that the next century remains a Western one’. He warns corporate executives lobbying for China that they may be treated as foreign agents.”

This model forecast the US’s current unrest a decade ago. It now says ‘civil war’
[, June 17, 2020]

In the early 1990s, when Bill Clinton was in the White House and the United States looked unshakeable, the administration appointed Jack Goldstone to study how states fail. They meant other states; not the US. Few expected that his model would later predict their country’s collapse.

In an unpublished paper submitted for peer review, Professor Goldstone, who is a sociologist, and Peter Turchin, an expert on the mathematical modelling of historical societies, have concluded that the US is “headed for another civil war”. The conditions for civil violence, they say, are the worst since the 19th century — in particular the years leading up to the start of the American Civil War in 1861.

The reason for this are trends that began in the 1980s, “with regard to inequality, selfish elites, and polarisation that have crippled the ability of the US government to mount an effective response to the pandemic disease,” they write. This has also “hampered our ability to deliver an inclusive economic relief policy, and exacerbated the tensions over racial injustice.”

What You Need To Know About The Battle of Portland
Robert Evans, July 20, 2020 [bellingcat]
A superb detailed account of events, by someone who lives in Portland, and has written about the city’s protest culture for years. 

Why Portland Became the Test Case for Trump’s Secret Police
[TheNation, via Naked Capitalism 7-24-20]

The groundwork for federal intervention in Portland was laid long before this summer’s protests by right-wing groups and media, which turned the city into a bogeyman. While Oregon has a legacy of state-sanctioned racism and is still home to a disproportionately large number of hate groups, Portland has also long been the site of antifascist organizing and other left protest movements. (Demonstrations in Portland against George H.W. Bush between 1989 and 1991 were so notorious that a member of the administration dubbed the city “Little Beirut.”) Extreme groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer have repeatedly targeted the city over the past few years, holding rallies that inevitably drew counterprotests and created media spectacles….

…National Review, for instance, devoted a cover in 2018 to a story by Kevin Williamson in which he described anti-fascist “goons and thugs” as being in effective control of Portland. In July 2019, clashes between the alt-right and counterdemonstrators drew attention from Trump (“Portland is being watched very closely… Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job,” he tweeted) and prompted Texas Senator Ted Cruz to call for federal prosecution—a premonition of what was to come.

Federal agents are snatching protesters off the streets of Portland. These companies are profiting.
[Popular Information, via The Big Picture 7-23-20]

We Reviewed Police Tactics Seen in Nearly 400 Protest Videos. Here’s What We Found.
[Pro Publica, via Naked Capitalism 7-20-20]

We asked experts to watch videos showing officers using tear gas, pepper balls and explosives on protesters. Police actions often escalated confrontations.

The Epidemic

Trump said Covid-19 testing ‘creates more cases.’ We did the math
[STAT, via Naked Capitalism 7-21-20]

….Florida has seen a sevenfold increase in cases in the past month, said Youyang Gu, who developed a well-respected, machine-learning-based model of Covid-19 whose projections have been quite accurate. “In the same time span, the number of tests only increased by a factor of two,” he said. “Obviously, if you double the testing but the number of cases increased sevenfold, then the virus is clearly spreading.”


Other states with soaring cases tell the same story as Florida. In Arizona, the case-finding rate rose from 90 in May to 140 in June to 208 in July. Of its 2,537 cases on July 12, 1,441 were due to increased prevalence. South Carolina has also experienced a steep rise in prevalence as its case count quintupled: Of the 2,280 cases on July 9, 1,869 were due to rising prevalence, not more testing. Texas and Georgia are similar: rising case counts well beyond increases in testing. In all, 26 states that did more testing in July than in May found more cases because Covid-19 was more prevalent. In 15 of them, the number of cases per 1,000 people tested had more than doubled.

Seven states (Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin) meet the three criteria needed to support Trump’s claim that we’re seeing more cases only, or mostly, because we’re doing more testing. The criteria are doing more tests in July than in May, finding more cases on a typical day in July than May, but seeing the number of cases per 1,000 tests decline or remain unchanged from May to July….

California comes close to meeting the three criteria, but doesn’t quite. Its number of daily tests more than quadrupled from May to July, from roughly 32,000 to 137,000. But the rate of cases being found has risen, though only about 10%, from 55 to 61 per 1,000 tests. So a big reason — but not the main reason, as in Missouri — more cases are being found is that more testing is being done. Washington is similar: more testing, more cases, but also slightly greater prevalence of disease in mid-July compared to mid-May; its worsening situation is real.

New York tells the opposite story: more testing found fewer cases. The state nearly doubled its daily tests from May 13 (33,794) to July 12 (62,418). But its cases fell from 2,176 to 557. If the case rate had not dropped (by 86 %), New York’s expanded testing would have found 3,995 cases on July 12.

Why Florida Teachers Are Suing the Governor
David Dayen, July 21, 2020 [American Prospect]

Latst Friday the governor of Missouri, Mike Parson, told a right-wing radio host that coronavirus would infect children and we all just have to put up with it. “If they do get COVID-19, which they will,” Parson said, “they’re going to go home and they’re going to get over it.” The nonchalance of this comment reinforces the impression of the Republican Party as a literal death cult….

The flashpoint for this is Florida, where yesterday state and national teachers unions filed suit to block Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order reopening public schools. School districts in the state begin classes as early as August 10, and teachers must report a week earlier. So this is a last-minute effort to prevent a public health disaster.

….the state Constitution states explicitly that “[a]dequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.” The words “safe and secure” are paramount here, requiring the Governor and the Commissioner of Education institute policies meet that standard, the lawsuit explains. And they have not done anything close to that.

Face Coverings, Aerosol Dispersion and Mitigation of Virus Transmission Risk

[Cornell Univesity Medical Physics, via Naked Capitalism 7-25-20]

From the abstract: “[A]ll face covers without an outlet valve reduce the front flow through jet by more than 90 per cent. For the FFP1 and FFP2 masks [FFP = Filtering Facepiece] without exhalation valve, the front throughflow does not extend beyond one half and one quarter of a metre, respectively. Surgical and hand-made masks, and face shields, generate several leakage jets, including intense backward and downwards jets that may present major hazards.”

“Why COVID-19’s biggest impact on healthcare may not be until 2022” 

[HealthCare Dive, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-23-20]

 “Three significant shifts in healthcare financing are occurring as a result of the pandemic’s economic impact. First, as a result of job losses, there will be a shift in commercial insurance to government-funded insurance programs. Second, revenue for funding Medicare, based on payroll taxes, will be significantly decreased. Finally, states will have less tax revenue to pay for Medicaid, threatening the viability of this program as well. … This will result in millions of people seeking coverage through Medicaid programs, the individual marketplace or simply becoming uninsured. Healthcare providers have relied upon margins from commercial insurance to offset costs from poorer reimbursing government funded programs and uncompensated care. With more than 156 million Americans receiving employer sponsored insurance at the start of this year, and given recent projected job losses, providers may see a 17% shift in payer mix. The reliance on commercial insurance and cost shifting has become a necessary way for providers to financially sustain operations. With a 35% margin with commercial insurance compared to Medicare, a 17% shift in payer mix on a trillion dollar spend would result in a substantial reduction in financial resources available to hospitals…. On average, states are projecting about a 10% reduction in revenues in 2020, rising to almost a 25% reduction in 2021. Even without considering the growth in Medicaid enrollment hitting states, this reduced tax revenue will make sustaining current Medicaid program funding increasingly difficult.”

Sustaining Rural Hospitals After COVID-19 The Case for Global Budgets
[Journal of the American Medical Association, via Naked Capitalism 7-20-20]

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is a financial stress test for US hospitals.1,2 Revenues have declined from the suspension of elective procedures and nonessential services, and many hospitals have experienced a surge of critically ill patients. These circumstances have created an unprecedented challenge for rural hospitals, many of which entered the crisis in poor financial condition due to the loss of patients to regional referral centers and rural depopulation.3 Of the 4663 acute care hospitals in the US, approximately 47% are located in rural areas across 49 states.4 The added financial strain of COVID-19 has the potential to accelerate the closure of rural hospitals, draining health care resources and jobs from rural communities that have lost 130 hospitals since 2010.5,6

Economic Armageddon: The COVID Collapsed Economy

Mitt Romney Wants to Use the Crisis to Cut Your Social Security
David Dayen, July 23, 2020 [American Prospect]

The bill is a nightmare and it puts the two parties miles apart as the cliff looms.

But this may not be the worst of it. To placate angry conservatives who think you can only break budgets with trillion-dollar tax cuts and unlimited military spending, not help for unemployed or sick people, a measure facilitating future cuts to Social Security and Medicare could find its way into the bill. And the prime mover behind that is every Democrat’s favorite 2012 presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

Romney has been pushing publicly for including a bill of his in the relief package called the TRUST Act. Written with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Romney’s TRUST Act would create bipartisan “rescue committees” to come up with plans to make each federal trust fund—Social Security and Medicare primarily, but also the Highway Trust Fund and others—solvent for the next 75 years. It’s modeled after the “Catfood Commission” in the Bowles-Simpson process. Like with that, once the plans are approved, they get a fast-track delivery to the House and Senate floor, with no ability for amendment. The plans would still need to reach a 60-vote final threshold to pass the Senate….

Moreover, it’s designed to trap Democrats. Mitch McConnell wants nothing more than to kill social insurance spending while keeping his fingerprints off it. Passing the TRUST Act would set in motion a runaway train that has to move inexorably toward chipping away at Social Security and Medicare. It would restart the fiscal mania in Washington, and pressure Democrats to be “serious” by degrading the most popular programs the party ever created. Fierce grassroots pushback stopped this cold during Bowles-Simpson, but the deficit hawks only have to be right once. It would also conveniently be an enormous distraction during what’s expected to be an extended economic downturn.

Republicans scheme to clash Social Security
David Dayen, July 24, 2020 [American Prospect]

….Mitch McConnell did confirm that the TRUST Act is part of the base package. As I reported yesterday, the TRUST Act, written by Mitt Romney, is a vehicle to guarantee a fast-track vote to cut Medicare and Social Security, circumventing normal Congressional rules. The idea that you would even think about deficit reduction in the middle of this crisis is appalling. And if followed through, these cuts would likely kick in during the next presidential term, with both parties on the hook for slashing grandma’s Social Security check, just the way McConnell wants it.

Predatory Capitalism in the Time of COVID19

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-21-20]

Warren Gunnels @GunnelsWarren

Today, 7 billionaires ⬆️’d their wealth by $30 billion:
⬆️$13 billion: Jeff Bezos
⬆️$5.74 billion: Elon Musk
⬆️$4.58 billion: M Bezos
⬆️$2.93 billion: Steve Ballmer
⬆️$1.99 billion: L Page
⬆️$1.89 billion: S Brin
⬆️$1.25 billion: Mark Zuckerberg
While 28 million face eviction.

11:01 PM · Jul 20, 2020

NY Dems Created McConnell’s Corporate Immunity Template Amid A Flood of Cash

David Sirota [Too Much Information, via Naked Capitalism 7-22-20]

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial legislation granting nursing home CEOs legal immunity during the COVID-19 pandemic became a template this week for Washington Republicans, who are reportedly finalizing a national version of the liability shield for corporate executives.

Now, new campaign finance records show that the landmark provision in New York was inserted into the state’s budget by Democratic legislators as they were benefiting from a boost in campaign cash from the health care industry lobbying group that sculpted the provision. Those same New York legislators may now face a vote on whether to pass existing legislation to repeal the immunity language, or water down that repeal bill.
Meanwhile, the same health care industry lobbying group has been funneling millions to Democratic lawmakers in Washington, who could soon face votes on the federal version of the New York initiative.

A Doubling Of Campaign Cash From The Health Care Group That Drafted The Immunity Bill

David Dayen, July 22, 2020 [American Prospect]

….our lives have become governed, to a strong and sometimes hidden degree, by a small group of corporations. When you recognize how this system works, you find the influence of monopoly lurking in every corner, even the Country Time bailout. It can sometimes be hard to talk about because it’s so expansive, so I encourage you to read this exclusive excerpt from the book at our site today, about how monopolies caused shortages of IVs—salt and water in a bag….

Chevron is buying Noble Energy, the first of many dominoes to fall in the oil and gas sector, where the big companies we have today all come out of mergers in previous moments of financial stress. Liberty Media got the go-ahead to increase its stake in broadcast radio giant iHeartMedia (owner of 850 stations), when it already owns a controlling interest in satellite radio giant SiriusXM (itself the product of a merger of the only two satellite companies), and streaming giant Pandora (a direct competitor of streamer iHeartRadio). CHI Franciscan and Virginia Mason, two hospital networks, have signed a joint operating agreement, the latest in a growing trend that saw 1,667 mergers in the sector from 1998 to 2018. One of the biggest deals of the year brings together two semiconductor makers. Here’s a roundup of mergers in digital marketing, electric vehicles, convenience store operators, health insurance software, are rare earth mineral mining. A German man is monopolizing rare endangered parrots.

There are real-world effects to this activity. The coronavirus has proven a lesser impediment to moving goods from Wuhan, China than recent flooding. An astounding number of facemasks and other PPE still originate from there, and that’s driving shortages in U.S. hospitals, beyond the surge in COVID cases. (That Uighur slave labor is being used to make these items is just a cherry on top.) When a Facebook software bug malfunctioned earlier this month, dozens of apps shut down, because Facebook is embedded in their product. This story on the horrors that Amazon Handmade sellers go through is typical of that company using its private law to govern and immiserate its partners. Meatpacking plants blamed shortages for skyrocketing grocery costs while upping exports to China and pocketing the increase on both sides.
Workers, entrepreneurs, citizens suffer at the hands of monopoly. Quality suffers. Reliability suffers. Choice suffers.

The good news is that there is a small but growing movement fighting back, and building that movement is the only way to infuse the political will to reverse the conditions that created this age of corporate power. Also just in the last few weeks, we’ve seen a comprehensive guide to fixing federal contracting so monopolists cannot gouge the government; a comprehensive guide to fighting monopoly power at the state and local level; and a petition signed by 30-plus organizations to ban exclusive dealing, where monopolists use contracts to formally block rivals. Groups are fighting monopoly price fixing in the prison phone market. The work that the Writers Guild of America has done to reverse the damage of monopolized talent agencies is inspiring, and bearing fruit.

Neoliberalism requires a police state

“Tearing Down Black America”

[Boston Review, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-23-20]

 “In the wake of Michael Brown’s killing by Ferguson, Missouri, police, the U.S. Department of Justice found that the city’s harsh policing of its Black residents was the result of a systemic effort to raise revenue. The recent allegations that Breonna Taylor’s murder by Louisville police was tied to a special police squad—”Place Based Investigations”—makes the linkage between policing, municipal revenue creation, and redevelopment even clearer. According to attorneys for Taylor’s family, the warrants associated with narcotics investigations were meant to address one of the ‘primary roadblocks’ to a multimillion-dollar redevelopment initiative. As the attorneys put it, ‘When the layers are peeled back, the origin of Breonna’s home being raided by police starts with a political need to clear out a street for a large real estate development project and finishes with a newly formed, rogue police unit violating all levels of policy, protocol and policing standards.’”

Progressive Policies into the Breach

[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-21-20]

Predatory Finance

Private Equity Captures Rather Than Creates Value
[Newsweek, via Naked Capitalism 7-24-20]
Of interest because this obvious truth finally made it into Newsweek.

The Debt Predators
[Project Syndicate, via Naked Capitalism 7-23-20]

Minting debt has little to do with conventional credit intermediation. It is all about investors and fee-charging intermediaries, not about debtors. They and their assets only provide the input to sustain the production line. And whenever it breaks down, which it does when the quality of inputs deteriorates or external factors (like a pandemic) disturb its operation, central banks stand ready to absorb the risk and recycle the financial junk….

Here is where the Federal Reserve and other central banks come in. The Fed backstops this system by facilitating, in times of distress, the recycling of these assets once investors have deemed them junk, and by offering liquidity support for unregulated financial intermediaries – even ordinary non-financial companies that find themselves in a liquidity squeeze. It assures investors that they will always find a buyer, even in the midst of a crisis. No wonder that Goldman Sachs could make $4.24 billion in profits from its fixed-income-asset division between April and June, at a time when the US economy was in lockdown and many businesses were in free fall.

The Making of Neoliberal Globalization: Norm Substitution and the Politics of Clandestine Institutional Change (PDF)
[American Journal of Sociology, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-20]

Since the 1980s, neoliberal policies have been diffused around the world by international institutions established to support a very different world order. This article examines the repurposing of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to become the world’s leading promoter of free markets. Social scientists commonly point to two modes of global-level institutional change: formal and fundamental transformations, like renegotiated treaties, or informal and incremental changes of a modest nature. The case of the IMF fits neither of these molds: it underwent a major transformation but without change in its formal foundations. Relying on archival material and interviews, the authors show that fundamental-yet-informal change was effected through a process of norm substitution—the alteration of everyday assumptions about the appropriateness of a set of activities. This transformation was led by the United States and rested on three pillars: mobilization of resources and allies, normalization of new practices, and symbolic work to stabilize the new modus operandi. This account denaturalizes neoliberal globalization and illuminates the clandestine politics behind its rise.

The Double Horseshoe Theory of Class Politics
Michael Lind [The Bellows, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-20]

In The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite (2020), building on my argument in The Next American Nation (1995), I offered an answer. I proposed that, while the proletariat is still the proletariat, James Burnham, Bruno Rizzi, John Kenneth Galbraith and other thinkers were correct that by the mid-twentieth century power had passed from individual bourgeois business owners to a new ruling class of technocrats or bureaucrats, whose income, wealth, and status is linked to their positions in large, hierarchical organizations, (i.e. nonprofits, government agencies, industrial and financial firms, and so on).

Where do profits come from? A Guide to the Kalecki-Levy Profits Equation
Nathan Tankus, July 23, 2020

….governments play a distinctive role in contemporary economies. What’s unique about government budget deficits is their ability to make everyone more financially secure. U.S. government budget deficits can even provide safe assets to the rest of the world (in addition to the domestic private sector) through increasing imports. On the flipside, government budget surpluses are a drag on aggregate profits, and drain financial net-worth from the economy.

If you look at the graphic below closely, you’ll see an illustration of a point I’ve been making over and over: cash payments to households is indirect financial support to businesses. You give them money, they’ll pay their rent. You give households money, they’ll make purchases. You give households money, they’ll pay interest which becomes business profits (paying down principal is a form of household saving, a point we’ll discuss below). However, readers shouldn’t take the lesson from this that all government budget deficits do is goose profits. They can also provide more financial security to households themselves.


Climate and environmental crises

Isabel Schnabel: Never waste a crisis – COVID-19, climate change and monetary policy
[Bank of International Settlements, via Naked Capitalism 7-20-20]

COVID-19 provides a chance to build a greener economy. It is a chance to break the vicious circle of weakening entrepreneurship and the slow diffusion of new and green technologies that have held back productivity growth and prosperity in Europe for too long. And it is a chance to build a deeper and greener financial market that reduces the costs of transitioning towards a low-carbon economy. The ECB will be no bystander on this journey. As climate change poses severe risks to price stability, central banks are required, within their traditional mandates, to strengthen their efforts to support a faster transition towards a more sustainable economy.

Fact-check of viral climate misinformation removed from Facebook: Facebook does not treat climate misinformation the same as coronavirus misinformation because “climate change is not an urgent problem.” 
[Heated, via The Big Picture 7-22-20] see also How Facebook Handles Climate Disinformation: Exempting opinion articles from fact-checking amounts to a huge loophole for climate change deniers. (New York Times, via The Big Picture 7-22-20]

“After 40 years, researchers finally see Earth’s climate destiny more clearly”

[Science, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-23-20]

“It seems like such a simple question: How hot is Earth going to get? Yet for 40 years, climate scientists have repeated the same unsatisfying answer: If humans double atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) from preindustrial levels, the planet will eventually warm between 1.5°C and 4.5°C—a temperature range that encompasses everything from a merely troubling rise to a catastrophic one. Now, in a landmark effort, a team of 25 scientists has significantly narrowed the bounds on this critical factor, known as climate sensitivity. The assessment, conducted under the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and publishing this week in Reviews of Geophysics, relies on three strands of evidence: trends indicated by contemporary warming, the latest understanding of the feedback effects that can slow or accelerate climate change, and lessons from ancient climates. They support a likely warming range of between 2.6°C and 3.9°C, says Steven Sherwood, one of the study’s lead authors and a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales. ‘This is the number that really controls how bad global warming is going to be.’ … Humanity has already emitted enough CO2 to be halfway to the doubling point of 560 parts per million, and many emissions scenarios have the planet reaching that threshold by 2060. The report underscores the risks of that course: It rules out the milder levels of warming sometimes invoked by those who would avoid emissions cuts…. In recent years, another uncertainty in the climate future has also narrowed: Global emissions seem unlikely to reach the worst-case scenarios IPCC helped craft 15 years ago, ruling out some forecasts of extreme warming.”

Top Scientists Just Ruled Out Best-Case Global Warming Scenarios 

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 7-23-20]

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

Tulane scientists build high-performing hybrid solar energy converter
[Eurekalert via Naked Capitalism 7-21-20]

Experimental Blood Test Detects Cancer Up To Four Years Before Symptoms Appear

[Scientific American, via Naked Capitalism 7-23-20]

Collapse of Independent News Media

Worker-Run News Outlets Are Good News for the Labor Movement
[Truthout, via Naked Capitalism 7-20-20]

Disrupting mainstream politics

AOC’s Powerful and Historic Floor Speech
[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 7-23-20]

Representative Ted Yoho of Florida, an ineffective Tea Party howler scheduled for retirement in January, was on the express to oblivion. But this week he decided to verbally attack Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol, then called her a vulgar, sexist expletive in front of a reporter as he walked away. Now he’ll be remembered as the doormat on which a rising young star wiped her shoes…. A young congresswoman from New York delivered one of the most thorough thrashings the Capitol has seen since Representative Preston Brooks brutally caned Senator Charles Sumner on the Senate floor in 1856. And she did it all with dignity, eloquence and poise. She never raised her hand. She didn’t even raise her voice.

“Who is the Most Dangerous Fascist?”
[Black Agenda Report, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-23-20]

Most American leftists are incoherent on the term fascism, and Democrats have utterly destroyed the word’s meaning…. Homeland Security agents are actually behaving much like local cops anywhere in the United States. Chicago police for years ran a not-so-secret torture center into which Black men disappeared until they confessed to crimes they didn’t commit. Cities around the nation routinely deploy “jump-out-squads” of plainclothes officers that leap from unmarked vehicles to snatch people from neighborhood streets. And most local cops assigned to suppress anti-police protests remove their badges and identifying markers. Both local and federal SWAT teams routinely wear masks to hide their identifies. This, too, is “reminiscent” of fascism, but it didn’t arrive with Trump in January, 2017.

Indeed, Trump is a relative amateur in the dark arts of domestic repression, his past experience limited to terrorizing tenants in his apartment buildings and “apprentices” on reality TV shows. The tools of state repression Trump deploys as The Mad White Avenger were already well-used by past presidents. Barack Obama’s FBI coordinated the national police crackdown on Occupy sites , nearly a decade ago – a huge roll-up of dissent involving the synchronized actions of a Black Democratic president and mostly Democratic mayors and their police chiefs. The Black woman mayor of Baltimore called the people that took part in the 2015 Freddie Gray rebellion “thugs ” – dehumanizing her own constituents — as did Obama , whose U.S. attorneys demanded and got draconian sentences for defendants charged with property damage.

Obama made police state history when he got Congress to pass legislation allowing U.S. citizens to be indefinitely detained without benefit of trial or charge – a leap into the abyss that even George W. Bush dared not make….

President Obama was an operative of that fascism – which is no cartoon, and kills millions. So are all the corporate Democrats. They are the most dangerous because so few people conceive of them as fascists, despite their abject subservience to corporate dictatorship, the carceral state, and endless warfare. We will beat Trump, for the simple reason that he does not represent the actual capitalist ruling class. The oligarchy wants him beaten – and they want us to thank them for pursuing their own interests, and getting rid of their own problem: the kind of service that oligarch Michael Bloomberg performs when he buys control of the Democratic Party’s infrastructure and purchases the loyalty of a substantial section of the Black political (misleadership) class.

Biden’s Cabinet and the Thin Progressive Bench
Robert Kuttner, July 24, 2020 [American Prospect]

There are groups making lists of progressives for Plum Book jobs, as well as lists of prospective Cabinet officials. Here is a particularly thoughtful one, from Data for Progress.

The most instructive item is the list of progressive nominees for Treasury secretary. The Treasury secretary needs to know all the byzantine details of the plumbing of how the financial system works—and also the abstruse details of the accumulated financial-engineering abuses that need to be remedied.

What’s interesting is how short is the list of plausible candidates. Wall Street has had such a lock on Treasury secretary and related subcabinet jobs for so long that the bench is rather thin. Under Carter, Clinton, and Obama, lefties simply did not get these posts…. It’s time to rebuild the progressive bench, so that we have a more plausible farm-team system. Only by breaking the Wall Street link and lineage can progressives take back the government as well as taking back the presidency.

Progressive Cabinet Project: Shaping a Progressive Administration (pdf)
Data for Progress, July 2020

Two Economic Ideas for Biden
Robert Kuttner, July 20, 2020 [American Prospect]

Not all big decisions are on policy. How you structure your presidency is just as important, since it dictates your policy path. 

First, get rid of the National Economic Council. It was created by Bill Clinton as a power perch for Robert Rubin. The post was later held under Obama by Larry Summers. The idea was always malarkey that the head of the NEC would merely be an honest broker sifting alternatives for the president. The director of the NEC is where the power resides. The NEC has crowded out the very useful role of the older Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) as a direct source of expert advice to the president. NEC chairs have treated the CEA as merely technicians. The NEC has also created power struggles with other Cabinet officials, and given Wall Street yet another seat at the table. Not helpful.

Second, pay very close attention to whom you name to the key economic Cabinet power posts. Those would be the secretaries of Treasury, Commerce, Labor, U.S. trade representative, and budget director. Typically, Democratic presidents find a Wall Streeter to lead Treasury, a business mogul to head Commerce, and a deficit hawk at OMB….

If Biden wants to be as good as his recent, very progressive words, he needs to change these patterns of political capture. Elevate labor secretary. Name a Treasury secretary committed to reining in Wall Street, not enabling it. Find a commerce secretary who believes in industrial policy; and a trade rep who really believes in the great statement Biden put out on rebuilding domestic manufacturing.

At the end of the day, when an administration takes shape, campaign policy papers don’t matter. Personnel does.

The Dark Side

“Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder arrested in $60 million bribery case”
[Columbus Dispatch, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-21-20]

“Republican Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four colleagues were arrested by federal officials Tuesday as part of a bribery investigation involving the state’s $1 billion nuclear plant bailout and Householder’s maneuverings to secure support to lead the legislative chamber. Householder, 61, of Glenford, is charged in the alleged racketeering conspiracy involving the funneling of energy company funds through Generation Now, a dark money group formed by a longtime associate, with some proceeds used to back the campaigns of legislative candidates supportive of Householder’s run for Speaker…. Investigators allege the nonprofit used energy company money to back the campaigns of 21 different state candidates in the 2018 primary and general elections, including Householder. More than $1 million was spent on negative ads against those candidates’ opponents, with additional funds paying for Householder’s campaign staff, according to documents. Most of the backed candidates won in 2018, and all supported Householder’s election as Speaker, investigators said.” • Holy cow. $60 million is real money at the State level.

 “Federal prosecutors say Republican Speaker Larry Householder and four others — including a former state GOP chairman — perpetrated a $60 million federal bribery scheme connected to a taxpayer-funded bailout of Ohio’s two nuclear power plants. How many others got caught up in the sweeping probe is yet to be known. The scope of the accusations threatens to unfurl the GOP’s tight hold on Ohio’s governing body, which is set to draw new congressional maps in 2021 in one of the country’s most gerrymandered states. The chance to control Ohio’s representation in Washington for the next decade has put flipping at least some legislative seats on Democrats’ national radar. The scandal’s potential political fallout for Republicans was evidenced by the swift rebukes of Householder by politicians and party leaders alike. Practically before he’d left the federal courthouse Tuesday, a who’s who of top Republican brass was calling for Householder’s resignation.” • Bipartisanship: “An angry GOP Chair Jane Timken went further. Emphasizing that Republicans stand for ‘accountability and rule of law’ she distanced the organization from Householder and hinted that Democrats who participated in his bipartisan election to the speakership should share culpability for placing him in power.”

An FBI investigation shows Ohio’s abysmal energy law was fueled by corruption
Leah Stokes [Vox, via Naked Capitalism 7-24-20]

“The Great Reset Is Already Underway”
[Driftglass, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 7-24-20]

“By sheer force of their vastly overrepresented presence in the mainstream media, Never Trumpers like Bill Kristol have almost finished resetting 2016 as the new Year Zero of modern political history. Once that reset is finalized, everything that happened before Year Zero will effectively be off-limits. Everything that happened after that is a damn shame. And no one but Donald Trump (and the Extreme Left) are to blame for any of the havoc and tragedy you see all around you. Of course if you live a normal life and do normal things you might not have realized yet that a small gang of well-connected Republicans are putting the finishing touches on a new, revised edition of Modern American History which is already being incorporated into the HR regulations and style books of most of the mainstream press.”


Open Thread


American Social Collapse Is Far Closer than Most Will Admit


  1. Zachary Smith

    Nice set of links, but depressing.

    I’d noticed the substantial “blowback” of the loose-fitting surgical masks, but hadn’t understood it was a problem. Found a heavy old wire coat hanger and will make some “C” clips sized to fit my head. A “bra clip” loaned to me by a relative last week had caused a snug but uncomfortable fit because the clip was too small with regard to my head. I’m going to use the surgical masks only in “social” settings. When I want protection, it’s N-95 time! Lots of garbage out there about the exhale valves on the N-95 dust mask, so I tried an experiment with a burning candle. First run was with a surgical mask. I and a bunch of relatives tried to blow it out wearing the cheap surgical masks. Huffing and puffing and much laughter, but none of us could do it. Back home, I put on a valved N-95 and tried again. Exact Same Result! I’ll grant these ought to be banned from surgery in Operating Rooms, but I cannot see any issue at all with them regarding Covid. In both cases the contents of the person’s lungs reach the open air, and in both cases the velocity of that exhaled air is just above Zero Miles Per Hour. Any germs which might exist reach the open air, and Social Distancing and low room populations do the rest. The UV light in my main air conditioner duct presumably executes the little buggers when they blow past the long naked bulb.

    The news is that some moron Indiana Sheriffs have undercut the Governor’s mask mandate by announcing they won’t enforce it. Naturally the He-Man Republican Governor folded like a wet noodle on the issue.

    Romney wants to destroy Social Security. What a surprise. I’ve read that one of Obama’s great regrets from his 8 years was that he hadn’t been able to do the job. Both parties want this done. Just like with the destruction of the US Postal System.

  2. Hugh

    Bbbbbuuuuttt Romney is one of the good Republicans–who made his big bucks with the pirate (but I repeat myself) private equity firm Bain.

  3. js

    I’ve worn cloth masks over N95s with the exhalation valve, it’s doable especially with cotton masks with ear loops, but I suspect the exaltation valve is less of an issue than it’s being made too.

  4. nihil obstet

    I wonder how much longer until the Democratic Party resets itself as follows: there will be a few Democratic leaders who will serve as spokespeople for the party — the positions currently occupied by Pelosi, Schumer, previously Biden, and the like. Along with them will be good, reasonable Republicans who as guests and allies will displace the lower Democrats, like Romney and Kasich. There will be a roster of earlier statesmen, most of whom will be nauseating Republicans, like Reagan (who got more praise at the 2016 Democratic National Convention than any former Democratic president) and the Bushes.

    This will prove that all important people should love the Democratic Party, unlike the deplorables who want a government that functions for the welfare of the people.

  5. Stirling S Newberry

    Atlantic Tropical Storm “I” may be taking shape. Look out 2005, when may have a challenger.

    “Science” need to be in the constitution. Like republic and democracy, it is part of the core principles of America.

  6. steelyman

    Hi Ian,

    Been following your site for years now. Never commented until now when I saw the link (re the Portland protests) to the notorious MIC and UK secret service funded website \”Bellingcat\” a seminal source of massive pro-imperialist fake news. I know this latest post is put together by Tony Wikrent not you but still – Bellingcat FFS!!

  7. Ché Pasa

    Everything’s going according to plan, as “Lambert” at NC would say.

    The uprisings, protests and demonstrations are almost as widespread now as they were in June, and they are much more intense, focusing for now on the corrupt and rotten policing and justice systems as exemplified by courthouses, jails, police stations and the police officers themselves. For their part, many are frustrated and terrified. I’m just waiting for their ranks to break and some to go over to the side of the people.

    The protest models come from Hong Kong, Paris, Kiev, and other cities where uprisings against Stupid Power have taken place since the suppression of Occupy. The Color Revolution model of Gene Sharp has largely been bypassed though colors are being used to identify affinity groups within the demonstrations. (Moms, Dads, Vets, etc.)

    Police suppression efforts are either serious and scared or unserious and bored. The Feds in Portland appear to be in the latter category — and who knows might be among the first to switch allegiance. Despite their extraordinary expenditures of teargas and munitions on the crowds, they haven’t put down the protests, nor have they rounded up more than a few relatively minor offenders.

    Local police and sheriff’s departments have been rioting all over the country, however, behaving lawlessly and mostly with impunity. They’re scared. Many will lose their jobs whether or not their locality “defunds the police.” The economic collapse will ensure it. Federal intervention isn’t helping. In fact, it’s making the situation worse, as the uprisings become more and more widespread and attract the participation of broader cross sections of the public.

    Erica Chenoweth’s and Maria Stephan’s study of nonviolent civil resistance is being resurrected by those who hold to quiet revolutions that don’t break things as definitive proof of the effectiveness of nonviolence, while John Lewis is being hailed the hero for adhering to nonviolence and working within the system — no matter how long it takes and no matter how badly he and others are injured — or as it sometimes happens, killed.

    The federal courthouse in Portland has not been burned to the ground, nor is it likely it would be, despite the nightly attacks with fireworks, flares, and burning garbage. I heard last night though that it’s essentially uninhabitable/unusable at least up to the seventh floor due to the massive amounts of tear gas deployed from and blown back on the building. Other courts and police buildings have become targets, and officers themselves are subjected to insult and injury when in crowd suppression mode. These protesters may be unarmed, but they are not afraid to fight back.

    The plan, such as it is, is to let this fester, spread and grow in “Democrat” cities right up to election day, and then crack down hard. I see signs that the feds, local police unions, and the various militias and boogaloo boyz are trying to consolidate into a common force to suppress and intimidate not only the protesters but government itself.

    The virus, the economic collapse, and the consequences of decades of misrule on behalf of a tiny elite have brought us to this climactic point. The denouement won’t be pretty.

  8. Trinity

    Stupid Power

    Unfortunately, they are not. I wish they were. We fight for control of a building, they are fighting for control of the planet. And trillions in the bank is not quite enough, apparently.

    The western pacific states created an alliance to fight covid (obtain supplies, protect their shipments, share resources, etc.) and I am wondering just how far that will go. CA has rattled its GDP before, like a saber, but the virus is knocking all States back on their heels. If anyone was going to secede, it’s them.

    The problem would be the resulting crush of people trying to move there.

  9. bruce wilder

    confiscatory inheritance taxes combined with summary execution might be a good counterproposal to Romney’s plan to cut Social Security.

    if we are heading to civil war, might as well make it pay

  10. bruce wilder

    In that excerpt from Science on ruling out the best case scenarios for climate change is a link to a nature article claiming we can and should rule out the worst-case scenarios. The former is about figuring out how climate will respond to what we do, the latter is focused on figuring out what we are likely to do. The former is climate science. The latter is so-called social science.
    It is idiotic, really — the discourse that results from the collision of science — particularly the science of modeling the dynamics of climate responding to additions to the carbon cycle — with the absolutely pathetic wet dishrag of neoliberal economics.
    On one level, of course, peak oil has put a slight damper on the use of fossil fuels, even while accelerating the damage done. Why does that not cheer me up?
    Can no one do fundamental analysis? Can no one tame “hope” long enough to emit a coherent thought? If Zeke Hausfather writing for nature is the test case, the answer is, no. It is all such nonsense. The question he should be trying to answer — what would be a practical approach to reducing fossil fuel use to zero without destroying the standard of living for most people? — he does not acknowledge is even a question, let alone a serious challenge.
    We do not need a scenario from the economists, we need a possible path.
    And, this they are loathe to even mention explicitly.
    We doom ourselves by letting Zeke and his kind congratulate themselves on fighting the good fight, when they refuse to do anything but gaze at their navels.

  11. Reply to Stirling S Newberry – thanks for the point about watching the storms this year. I shall try to keep that in mind.

    Regarding science in the Constitution: If you read Alexander Hamilton’s definition of the general welfare in the December 1791 Report to Congress on Manufactures, he writes that the general welfare is whatever Congress decides it is. This must be taken in the context of that entire report, one of the major themes of which was the development of the economy by introducing labor saving machinery; i.e., advancing the productive power of labor. This means, of course, technology, which in turn means science. The example I give is the moon landing program: it would have made no sense for Congress to approve such a program in the 1790s, or 1820s, or 1870s, or 1920s because the frontiers of science simply did not include such capabilities. Yet, all the minerals and elements that went into the vehicles and structures and equipment of the Apollo program EXISTED at those points in time. What was required to change those minerals and elements into the things needed to put humans on the moon was the result of advancing science and technology.

    This issue actually depresses me quite a bit. Why? Well, that the Republicans and the “right” have rejected science is pretty damn clear. But a large part of Democrats and the “left” have rejected technology. These types prefer to wallow in the “dismal science” of Malthus, and refuse to learn the lessons of Hamilton, which were passed on by John Quincy Adams, then by Henry Carey, to the infant Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln, which supplied ,The Blueprint for Modern America, as Leonard P. Curry titled his 1968 book. These ideas were then transmitted through Friedrich List and E. Peshine Smith to Germany, Japan, and other countries. Ha-Joon Chang has written about how these ideas were transmitted to South Korea in the 1950s and 1960s, but unfortunately both academia and the news media have framed Chang’s work as “protectionist” rather than deal squarely with the subject of an active government role in promoting science and technology.

    I read just a few days ago that some SJW activists have argued that an emphasis on science and rationality must be taken as evidence of white racism. News like this really depresses me.

    Here’s my feeble attempt to discuss the subject, first posted in July 2014: “The Higgs boson and the purpose of a republic”

    And, a few years ago, I initiated my faltering effort to tell the story of How America Was Built, by pushing aside the so-called “captains of industry” like Carnegie, Frick, Rockefeller, and Ford, and focusing instead on the scientists and engineers who “sucked the government teat” as the libertarians like to say. The fact is, there is not a single technology in our computers and cell phones that did not originate as a government research program or project (see Maria Mazzucato’s excellent book The Entrepreneurial State. This is one of my favorite posts, because it was inspired by my meeting a retired NASA engineer who actually worked side by side with the post’s subject, NASA aerodynamacist Richard Whitcomb: “HAWB 1954-1976: The three major developments in aerodynamics”

    Sadly, this appears to be history not many people are interested in. But I remain convinced that this is the true foundation story of industrial society was built, and it concerns me greatly that the science and technology part is ignored while the exploitation part is the major area of concern and inquiry. Perhaps that is as it should be, to give us a fighting chance to remedy the undeniable inequities and injustices of the past. But, I have a sense of dread that the “left” is almost as hopelessly lost intellectually as the “right” is.

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