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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 14, 2020

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” — Frederick Douglass
[via WallStreetonParade, June 1, 2020]“America’s Moment of Reckoning”: Cornel West Says Nationwide Uprising Is Sign of “Empire Imploding”
[DemocracyNow, June 1, 2020]

The catalyst was certainly Brother George Floyd’s public lynching, but the failures of the predatory capitalist economy to provide the satisfaction of the basic needs of food and healthcare and quality education, jobs with a decent wage, at the same time the collapse of your political class, the collapse of your professional class. Their legitimacy has been radically called into question, and that’s multiracial. It’s the neofascist dimension in Trump. It’s the neoliberal dimension in Biden and Obama and the Clintons and so forth. And it includes much of the media. It includes many of the professors in universities. The young people are saying, “You all have been hypocritical. You haven’t been concerned about our suffering, our misery. And we no longer believe in your legitimacy.” And it spills over into violent explosion.

And it’s here. I won’t go on, but, I mean, it’s here, where I think Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer and Rabbi Heschel and Edward Said, and especially Brother Martin and Malcolm, their legacies, I think, become more central, because they provide the kind of truth telling. They provide the connection between justice and compassion in their example, in their organizing. And that’s what is needed right now. Rebellion is not the same thing in any way as revolution. And what we need is a nonviolent revolutionary project of full-scale democratic sharing — power, wealth, resources, respect, organizing — and a fundamental transformation of this American Empire

“A Left Critique of the Current Protests” 

[Benjamin Studebaker, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-9-20]

 “As long as we have millions of alienated, armed Americans, the police will never be abolished. Calls for their abolishment will instead result in privatisation. The Democratic mayors who run our cities want to avoid responsibility for the killings that are the result of decades of their own negligent policy. Privatising the police divests them of culpability. Privatised police will be even less accountable than publicly run departments. They’ll probably kill even more people. But when it happens, the cities can blame it on the contractors. They can simply fire one outfit and hire another. The anarcho-capitalists have wanted this for ages. They are chomping at the bit to use these protests to make it happen… Sadly, our organizations are inferior to the organizations of the anarchists and the woke neoliberals, and for this reason they will continue to hasten the victory of the right nationalists, much to our chagrin.”

An excerpt of an excerpt form Thomas Frank’s new book on elites’ opposition to populism
“The Pessimistic Style in American Politics”

Thomas Frank [Harpers, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-11-20]

This essay is excerpted from The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism, which will be published next month by Metropolitan Books.

“Populism” is the word that comes to the lips of the respectable and the highly educated when they perceive the global system going haywire. Populism is the name they give to the avalanche crashing down on the Alpine wonderland of Davos. Populism is what they call the mutiny that may well turn the supercarrier America into a foundering wreck. Populism, for them, is a one-word evocation of the logic of the mob: it is the people as a great rampaging beast….

So goes the wail of the American leadership class as they endure another year of panic. They know on some level that what has happened in Washington isn’t due to majority rule at all, but to money and gerrymandering and the Electoral College and decades of TV programming decisions. But the anxiety cannot be dislodged; it is beyond the reach of reason. The people are out of control….

This is the core assumption of what I call the Democracy Scare: if the people have lost faith in the ones in charge, it can only be because something has gone wrong with the people themselves. As Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributing writer at The Atlantic, put it in the summer of 2016: “Our most pressing political problem today is that the country abandoned the establishment, not the other way around.”

In basing our civilization on the consent of the plain people, it suddenly seemed, our ancestors had built on a foundation of sand. “Democracies end when they are too democratic,” blared the title of a much-discussed essay by Andrew Sullivan in which the author applied his grad school reading of Plato to the 2016 campaign. Around the same time, an article in Foreign Policy expressed it more archly: it’s time for the elites to rise up against the ignorant masses….

In the 1880s…. something profound took place. The farmers—men and women of society’s commonest rank—figured out that being exploited was not the natural order of things. So they began taking matters into their own hands. In Kansas and a few other Western states, members of the group went into politics directly, and the People’s Party was born.

The Populists were the ones who blasted those smug assumptions to pieces, forcing the country to acknowledge that ordinary Americans were being ruined by an economic system that in fact answered to no moral laws.

From the very beginning, then, “populism” had two meanings. There was Populism as its proponents understood it: a movement in which ordinary working people demanded democratic economic reforms. And there was Populism as its enemies characterized it: a dangerous movement of groundless resentment in which demagogues led the disreputable.

Stephanie Kelton [New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 6-10-20] 

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain — President Ronald Reagan’s partner in the conservative revolution of the late 20th century — captured these sentiments in a seminal speech in 1983, declaring that “the state has no source of money other than the money people earn themselves. If the state wishes to spend more, it can only do so by borrowing your savings or by taxing you more.”

That thinking sounds reasonable to people, including me when I first absorbed it. But Mrs. Thatcher’s articulation of the deficit myth concealed a crucial reality: the monetary power of a currency-issuing government. Governments in nations that maintain control of their own currencies — like Japan, Britain and the United States, and unlike Greece, Spain and Italy — can increase spending without needing to raise taxes or borrow currency from other countries or investors. That doesn’t mean they can spend without limit, but it does mean they don’t need to worry about “finding the money,” as many politicians state, when they wish to spend more. Politics aside, the only economic constraints currency-issuing states face are inflation and the availability of labor and other material resources in the real economy.

It is true that in a bygone era, the U.S. government didn’t have full control of its currency. That’s because the U.S. dollar was convertible into gold, which forced the federal government to constrain its spending to protect the stock of its gold reserves.

“Politics aside…” Well, the politics can be crucial. As in the political power of the intellectual zombies, including on the left (see below) who cling to their belief that there are finite limits to financial resources for monetarily sovereign governments. The gold standard is an interesting point, because some of the most prominent deniers of MMT are proponents of Austrian economics and neoliberalism. The gold standard constrained the USA because it was largely an instrument controlled by the British Empire through the City of London: a form of monetary empire intrinsically hostile to the American experiment in republican self-government. As Quinn Slobidian details in his book, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, what the Austrian economists want to do is basically restore the economic hierarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, another empire intrinsically hostile to the American experiment in republican self-government. 

But another part of the politics is this: while there are no finite limits to financial resources for monetarily sovereign governments, there are limits to what public opinion will let you do. Alexander Hamilton clearly understood this, when you read his plans for having the new national government assume all the Revolutionary War debt and monetize it: money is money only so long as people think it is money and accept it as such. Allow a bunch of economic reactionaries like the Austrians to infect a large enough part of the body politic with their beliefs, and you will get hard political limits. like the  bipartisan group of 60 members of the U.S. House of Representatives who issued a letter lasy week fretting about the trillions of dollars of new debt piled up in the response to COVID19. 

And one other limit, which depends on WHAT you do with that debt. I’m a bit uneasy with the trillions in COVID19 response because almost all of it is going to prop up already inflated financial assets that have little to do with real physical economic production. Debt should be issued and directed to building new productive economic capacity, so you end up with more goods being chased by more money, instead of the same amount of goods being chased by more money. 

“The scale of this crisis is unprecedented: now we need the radical thinking to address it” 

[Tax Research UK, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-12-20]

“In that case we are not going to get a V-shaped recovery, with a quick bounceback. We are, instead, going to see a fundamental change in the level of economic activity for some time to come. That is precisely why I do think radical thinking, including a Green New Deal and the processes of change implicit within it, is necessary now. It is why I also think we need to radically rethink our relationship with what is supposedly called government debt, which is why I have issued a myth buster on that issue this morning. And yet many on the left seem to have no understanding on this. For them affordability is constrained. And debt repayment remains paramount. One of the reasons why I felt down in the last week was the consequence of exchanges with supposed progressive economists a week or so ago. They were vehemently anti-MMT. This now appears to be a necessary sign of virility or acceptability in the left of centre think tank world. John Weeks appeared quite without shame in calling MMT a cult on Twitter yesterday. The economists in question suggested that the public were right to be worried about debt, and that the goal should be to constrain it. There were issues of ‘sound finance’ involved, one said. Another described the ‘moral dimension‘ to debt and suggested it a sign of failure. These narratives play straight into the hands of the right. It is as if they wished for austerity. My belief that their comprehension of what debt really is, what it does, what its benefits are, and what it can do to deliver the economic transformation we require are exceptionally limited. But, I stress, these are people from the left, and I see the same attitudes in just about every left of centre think tank right now.”

Economic Armageddon

20 percent of US firms have debt service costs greater than profits
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 6-13-20] 
Adam Tooze @adam_tooze
Almost 20 percent of US firms now have debt service costs greater than their profits. @DeutscheBank via @SoberLook

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

Investors Were Being Blocked from Fund Withdrawals Months Before the Pandemic
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, June 8, 2020 [Wall Street on Parade]

Wall Street On Parade has previously written that a financial crisis was already well under way before the first case of COVID-19 was reported anywhere in the world. This should matter greatly to Americans because the Federal Reserve is attempting to blame the financial crisis on the virus to avoid Congressional investigations of its second epic failure in a dozen years at regulating the behemoth Wall Street banks.

America needs a comprehensive investigation of what really triggered this financial crisis in order to restructure the U.S. financial system away from a casino culture into one that doesn’t regularly need massive Federal Reserve and government bailouts….
This is the timeline of events suggesting that a financial crisis was in the works months before December 31, 2019….

[just one event excerpted here] 

September 17, 2019: The New York Fed announces it is intervening in the repo loan market for the first time since the financial crisis of 2007-2010. The Fed says it will provide a maximum of $75 billion per day to 24 Wall Street trading houses (primary dealers) with a cap of $40 billion going to any one firm. (This large cap suggests the New York Fed knows that one or more specific firms are in trouble.) There had been no news reports of coronavirus COVID-19 anywhere in the world at this point.

The Great American Housing Bubble

[Credit Slips, via Naked Capitalism 6-8-20]

Adam Levitin’s new book, The Great American Housing Bubble: What Went Wrong and How We Can Protect Ourselves in the Future. Yves Smith: “Levitin was Special Counsel to the Congressional Oversight Panel, so he had an insider vantage, and also worked a great deal behind the scenes with anti-foreclosure activists.”

The book is also a whodunnit regarding the housing bubble. It marshals a wealth of existing evidence plus some original hand-collected data to show definitively that this was a supply-driven bubble, and that the surfeit of underpriced mortgage finance was the product of the shift in financing from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to Wall Street securitization. The book explains why this shift happened and why the market wasn’t able to detect and move against the deterioration in mortgage underwriting until it was already too late. In Clue parlance words, it was Mr. Moneybags, on the bond desk, with the CDO….

The 30-year fixed is a product we take for granted in America, but it is a uniquely American product. Long-term, fixed-rate, fully-prepayable mortgages are simply not standard products anywhere else in the world (except Denmark). The American mortgage is the product of substantial government interventions in the mortgage market, and it has been a bedrock of systemic stability and of financial security for the American middle class. The housing bubble was marked by the abandonment of the American mortgage for a set of products that resembled the high-risk bullet loans that characterized the pre-New Deal market.

‘Speaking of Looting…’: Trump Admin. Refuses to Disclose Corporate Recipients of $500 Billion in Coronavirus Bailout Funds

[Journal of Economic Growth, via Naked Capitalism 6-11-20]

Abstract: Recent studies have examined the effect of political conflict and domestic terrorism on economic and political outcomes. This paper uses the rise in mass violence between 1870 and 1940 as an historical experiment for determining the impact of ethnic and political violence on economic activity, namely patenting. I find that violent acts account for more than 1,100 missing patents compared to 726 actual patents among African American inventors over this period. Valuable patents decline in response to major riots and segregation laws. Absence of the rule of law covaries with declines in patent productivity for white and black inventors, but this decline is significant only for African American inventors. Patenting responds positively to declines in violence. These findings imply that ethnic and political conflict may affect the level, direction, and quality of invention and economic growth over time.

America’s Big China Mistake
Clyde Prestowitz [Washington Monthly, via Naked Capitalism 6-8-20]
Not much of a mea culpa, but at least he recognizes he was wrong. Unlike the Obama Alumnus Club. And, Prestowitz continues to believe and promote the neoliberal animus against State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs).

Since President Nixon’s historic “opening to China” in 1972 and President Carter’s formal recognition of the communist regime in Beijing, U.S. policy has been to promote trade and investment with China. I myself was a leader of the first U.S. trade mission to Beijing in 1982. Our strategy then and thereafter was founded on the notion that free global trade and investment would stimulate not only economic growth but also the spread of democracy and peace….

But from early on, it should have been clear that this policy was misguided. The Clinton administration’s argument for bringing China into the WTO, widely supported by the economics and foreign policy establishment, was that doing so would liberalize China while dramatically reducing the U.S. trade deficit with Beijing. None of this took place. China became more authoritarian. The deficit mushroomed from about $80 billion annually to $500 billion. Many U.S. companies moved their factories to China to take advantage of cheap labor, the absence of unions, and the lack of safety and environmental regulations. Chinese State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), meanwhile, began to raise billions of dollars of new capital by listing their shares on the New York Stock Exchange without meeting the same accounting standards as U.S. corporations.

George W. Bush and Barack Obama adopted similar policies, with similarly dangerous consequences.


Why corporations buy woke insurance
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 6-10-20]

Zaid Jilani @ZaidJilani
Is it possible to convince corporate America that our lack of universal health care, guaranteed paid leave, or free community college is problematic and offensive so that every firm in America rushes to declare its support for these causes?
11:30 PM · Jun 9, 2020·Twitter Web App

Carlos Mucha @mucha_carlos
Replying to @ZaidJilani  and @jessesingal
Ha, my sides! Preventing any of that from happening is why corporations buy woke insurance. Companies publicly & financially support social liberal policy (racial justice, climate change, gay marriage) to buy allies against economic liberal policy.

Carlos Mucha @mucha_carlos  · Jun 5
Replying to @carney and @BreitbartNews
Swell, so they’re starting their own Ford Foundation. Raising starting wage to $15/hr (it’s $12/hr now) would cost Walmart billions. Spending $100M on social justice warrior projects buys them some “woke insurance” in case workers start demanding raises or, God forbid, a union.

The Pandemic

Convalescent Plasma: A COVID-19 Treatment Speeds to Clinical Trials

[Public Health (from Johns Hopkins), via Naked Capitalism 6-10-20]

“As soon as you have survivors, you have convalescent plasma,” Casadevall says.

The development of antibiotics largely made convalescent plasma obsolete, but when new infectious diseases popped up that no one could treat, the treatment was dusted off and hauled out. Desperate physicians used the plasma to treat Ebola, SARS, and MERS, and a variety of anecdotes showed both safety and efficacy. So when COVID-19 came knocking, Casadevall knew immediately that the strategy would be worth trying—and testing. (In fact, researchers in China had begun piloting use of convalescent plasma in patients in late January.)….

 “For the last decade, [Arturo] Casadevall [(Johns Hopkins)], [Michael] Joyner [(Mayo Clinic)], and a small cadre of like-minded colleagues had been pushing for the U.S. to spend more money on broad, one-size-fits-all public health measures rather than investing so much in personalized medicine. Convalescent plasma fit right in with this ethos. It was cheap and low tech, and it didn’t require months of innovation that the world simply didn’t have.”

“In Japan and France, Riding Transit Looks Surprisingly Safe” 

[CityLab, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-10-20]

Between May 9 and June 3, 150 clusters of new coronavirus cases emerged in France, according to the country’s national public health body. Defined as three cases or more of Covid-19 linked by contact, these clusters occurred largely in the sort of places you might predict they would: healthcare facilities, workplaces and homeless shelters — all sites where people mix in enclosed spaces for long periods of time and, in the case of hospitals, where people who are already infected are likely to congregate.

What was striking however, was the number of clusters associated with public transit: There weren’t any. For almost a month, not a single Covid-19 cluster had emerged on France’s six metro systems, 26 tram and light rail networks or numerous urban bus routes.

Given the enclosed, ill-ventilated nature of subways and buses and the ease with which they can crowd even during lockdown periods, this apparent lack of clustered cases might come as a surprise. But the results from France closely parallel reports from Japan, whose coronavirus containment strategy focused intently on finding these Covid-19 clusters rather than strict lockdowns, social distancing regulations and mass testing. As Science reported when Japan lifted its state of emergency in late May, most infection clusters there were connected to gyms, bars, music clubs and karaoke rooms; none were traced to the country’s famously crowded commuter trains.

A detailed timeline of all the ways Trump failed to respond to the coronavirus

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-9-20]

“‘Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) on Monday announced a plan to provide health coverage to 100 percent of African Americans in his state as part of an effort to address racial inequalities in health care. The governor made the announcement during his daily press briefing, saying he believes that health care is a ‘basic human right’ and vowed to use a multi-faceted campaign to prioritize black communities…. In Beshear’s plan, state-paid ‘health insurance connectors’ will be used to reach out to African American Kentucky residents and assist them in applying for insurance through Medicaid expansion, private plans or federal plans.”

Climate and environmental crises

“Decline and Fall: The Size and Vulnerability of the Fossil Fuel System”

[Carbon Tracker, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-9-20]

“The fossil fuel system is being disrupted by the forces of cheaper renewable technologies and more aggressive government policies. In one sector after another these are driving peak demand, which leads to lower prices, less profit, and stranded assets. The COVID-19 crisis is now accelerating this…. Our analysis finds falling demand, lower prices and rising investment risk is likely to slash the value of oil, gas and coal reserves by nearly two thirds, increasing the risk and likelihood of stranded assets.”

“Global Insect Collapse Driven By Industrial Farming, Says New ‘Insect Atlas’” 

[Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-9-20]

“Insects keep the planet’s ecological system running, and ensure our food supply – 75% of our most important crops depend on pollination by insects. Insects also improve soil quality and reduce plant pests by decomposing manure and dead plant matter. The Insect Atlas shows that insect species and pollinators are in severe decline because of pesticide-dependent industrial farming.”

Earth’s carbon dioxide levels hit record high, despite coronavirus-related emissions drop

[WaPo, via Naked Capitalism 6-7-20]

Information Age Dystopia

How to Spot Police Surveillance Tools

[The Verge, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-11-20]

“‘IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any [facial recognition] technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency,’ [IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said in a letter to Congress today]. “We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.’”

[MIT News, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-11-20]

“Standing by its commitment to provide equitable and open access to scholarship, MIT has ended negotiations with Elsevier for a new journals contract. Elsevier was not able to present a proposal that aligned with the principles of the MIT Framework for Publisher Contracts. … More than 100 institutions, ranging from multi-institution consortia to large research universities to liberal arts colleges, decided to endorse the MIT Framework in recognition of its potential to advance open scholarship and the public good. ”

How The Antifa Fantasy Spread In Small Towns Across The U.S.

[Nieman Labs, via Naked Capitalism 6-11-20]

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

ISS astronauts create FIFTH STATE OF MATTER in space for first time ever
[RT, via Naked Capitalism 6-13-20]

A new study published in the magazine Nature suggests that scientists have used a small facility called the Cold Atom Lab (CAL) to create rare Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs), also known as the fifth state of matter. The CAL is capable of chilling atoms in a vacuum down to temperatures one 10-billionth of a degree above absolute zero – lower than in interstellar space. That’s why CAL – the size of a bedside table – has a reputation for being one of the coldest spots in the known universe. BECs occur when the temperature of an ensemble of atoms almost reaches zero. These gaseous clouds of atoms then act collectively, rather than individually. First predicted by Albert Einstein and Indian mathematician and physicist Satyendra Nath Bose 95 years ago, they weren’t observed in a lab until 1995.

Democratic Party leadership insists on suicide

“How ‘Never Trumpers’ Crashed The Democratic Party” 

[FiveThirtyEight, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-11-20]

“But ‘Never Trumpers’ are increasingly involved in the Democratic Party and have gradually shifted their tactics in that direction — effectively becoming a ‘Never Trump’ and ‘Never Bernie Sanders’ coalition. And they appear to be having more success shaping their new party than the one that many of them had been associated with for much of their lives.” However, Lambert Strether observes: Republicans most definitely did not crash the Democrat Party; they were invited, starting at least with the changes Obama made to the 2008 platform preamble, which (relying on memory here, I’m clear on the concept but I’m too lazy to find the wording) argued strongly that two parties were important. That’s why Obama treated the Republicans as good faith bargainers on the ACA! That message morphed into “Leave the cray cray and join us!” from 2016 (replacing the “coalition of the ascendant” strategy that had previously been ascendant).

“Rush to Vote-by-Mail could cost Dems the Election” 

[Greg Palast, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-9-20]

“In 2016, 512,696 mail-in ballots—over half a million—were simply rejected, not counted. That’s official, from the federal Elections Assistance Commission (EAC). But that’s just the tip of the ballot-berg of uncounted mail-in votes. A study by MIT, Losing Votes by Mail, puts the total loss of mail-in votes at a breathtaking 22%. Move to 80% mail-in voting and 25 million will lose their vote. And not just anyone’s mail-in ballots are dumped in the electoral trashcan. Overwhelmingly, those junked are ballots mailed by poorer, younger, non-white Americans.”

“The Consultant Class Ran the Bernie Campaign to the Ground & Disenfranchised the Grassroots” 

[Bernie 2020 Autopsy CA, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-10-20]

Neoliberalism requires a police state

“Researchers on Atrocity Prevention Warn: US on Path to Widespread Political Violence” [JustSecurity, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-11-20]

There is a voluminous literature on the main risk factors indicating an increased likelihood of state-sponsored mass atrocities against civilians (see e.g. here and here). We are worried that key indicators are now evident, and in fact increasing, in the United States. Prime examples include:

Pentagon War Game Includes Scenario for Military Response to Domestic Gen Z Rebellion 

[Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 6-13-20]

Documents obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a Pentagon war game, called the 2018 Joint Land, Air and Sea Strategic Special Program, or JLASS, offered a scenario in which members of Generation Z, driven by malaise and discontent, launch a “Zbellion” in America in the mid-2020s….

According to the scenario, many members of Gen Z — psychologically scarred in their youth by 9/11 and the Great Recession, crushed by college debt, and disenchanted with their employment options — have given up on their hopes for a good life and believe the system is rigged against them….

During face-to-face recruitment, would-be members of Zbellion are given instructions for going to sites on the dark web that allow them to access sophisticated malware to siphon funds from corporations, financial institutions, and nonprofits that support “the establishment.” ….In the world of JLASS 2018, Gen Z’s most militant members have essentially taken to privately taxing large corporations and other institutions to combat income inequality….

The Dark Side

Ransacking the Republic
[New York Review of Books, via Naked Capitalism 6-10-20]
Walter M. Shaub Jr. is a Senior Adviser to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog group promoting integrity in government. He resigned in protest as Director of the US Office of Government Ethics and a member of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. 

These recent moves against inspectors general were not Trump’s first against law enforcement officials. When he came into office, he initially attempted to court Preet Bharara, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, by assuring him that his position was safe. Then he tried to telephone Bharara, who declined to speak with him because Justice Department policy restricts direct communication between US attorneys and the White House. After that, Trump included Bharara in a demand that dozens of Obama-appointed US attorneys resign. Bharara refused to do so, and Trump fired him. Although presidents have generally stayed out of the selection process for US attorneys to avoid appearing to politicize law enforcement, Trump then personally interviewed replacements for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York and the District of Columbia. He also took a special interest in the search for a US attorney for the Southern District of Florida. What these four districts had in common was that their jurisdictions covered important business interests of the Trump family and that of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner….

Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions the day after the 2018 midterm elections. The months Trump had spent berating Sessions for not ending the investigation of him and his campaign left no doubt as to the reason for the firing. Having also ousted Comey from his post as FBI director, Trump got away with decapitating the nation’s two top law enforcement agencies in retaliation for their investigating him….
Trump appears to recognize no line between his political career and the government’s administration of criminal justice….

Inside the White House, an obscure office may be laying the groundwork for a broader purge. Trump has packed the Presidential Personnel Office (PPO), which vets candidates for top political positions, with twenty-somethings—including three college seniors. The head of the PPO, Johnny McEntee, who recently turned thirty, is on his second tour of duty in the White House. During his first, he served as Trump’s “body man,” a kind of personal assistant. That job ended when he was reportedly escorted from the White House after failing to obtain a security clearance….

Now the Trump administration ignores congressional requests at will. Written demands for records and answers go without response. Administration officials have simply refused to testify before Congress. What has caused the breakdown is the dereliction of members of the president’s political party. The check on Trump should have been Congress. But there was no meaningful scrutiny of his administration during the first two years of his presidency, when Republicans controlled both chambers. Congressional Republicans did not hold a hearing on his decision not to divest his financial interests, unlike every president elected after the enactment of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. They did not investigate Trump’s violation of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution….

 Rather than investigating Trump’s conflicts of interest, congressional Republicans have seemed to revel in them. Since his inauguration, 128 members of Congress have visited his properties. Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, spent campaign money at Trump’s hotel in Washington’s Old Post Office building, posed for giddy photos in its atrium, and let Trump’s eldest son host a fundraiser for him there. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, has Jordan beat in total billings: according to a 2019 news report, “McCarthy’s campaign, leadership PAC, and joint fundraising committees have spent a combined $245,884.44 at Trump properties.”



Open Thread


Does Generational Character Exist?


  1. S Brennan

    Ramin Mazaheri, chief correspondent for Press TV in Paris, he writes in the Saker*:

    “But by rejecting discussion of economic unity (a.k.a. class warfare against the 1%) the West could only logically choose to emphasize other factors in its place, i.e. political, cultural, ethnic, sexual, gender and religious factors…In a crisis this disunity leads to tangible disaster….

    The problem goes deeper…there are many everyday American citizens who clearly want to increase the stranglehold of this economic crisis in order to oust Trump…because they are not in power, it’s logical to agree that Democrats are acting the most desperately and power-hungrily, however, it’s not as if Republicans are promoting consensus…”


  2. S Brennan

    Accidental post above, it was meant for the open thread but, Tony’s choice of topics makes it seem relevant here.

  3. bruce wilder

    I find I often appreciate this “week in review” feature. Thank you for doing it.

    And thanks to NC’s Lambert Strether, too for his pov.

    The last piece — by Walter Straub from David Brock’s CREW — covers an important topic, but strikes false notes with its tendentious narrative. I am sure he is right about Trump. But he disappears a lot about everyone else.

  4. Z

    Yay! AIPAC might allow our politicians to act like they oppose Israel’s annexation as long as they don’t vote against it!

    We’re crossing our fingers here in the United States of Israel that Bibi doesn’t veto this meaningless action …

    So far, the group has remained publicly silent about annexation. But in private, AIPAC is telling lawmakers that as long as they don’t push to limit the United States’ aid to Israel, they can criticize the annexation plan without risking tensions or a clash with the lobby group.


  5. Z


    The economists in question suggested that the public were right to be worried about debt, and that the goal should be to constrain it. There were issues of ‘sound finance’ involved, one said. Another described the ‘moral dimension‘ to debt and suggested it a sign of failure. These narratives play straight into the hands of the right. It is as if they wished for austerity. My belief that their comprehension of what debt really is, what it does, what its benefits are, and what it can do to deliver the economic transformation we require are exceptionally limited. But, I stress, these are people from the left, and I see the same attitudes in just about every left of centre think tank right now.”

    Sure, I’d imagine that many of these “left of centre” think tanks are either funded by corporate and/or oligarchic money.


  6. Zachary Smith

    Unusually good wrap-up. I’ll quibble about the acceptance of “Trillion Dollar Deficits” not because I know enough to put up a counter-argument, but because I instinctively believe the books must eventually balance if economic and social stability is to be maintained.

    Debt should be issued and directed to building new productive economic capacity, so you end up with more goods being chased by more money, instead of the same amount of goods being chased by more money.

    With that I fully agree, but so far as I can tell, almost all of US Deficits have been used to shovel money to the Wealthy.

    The next one was scary precisely because it’s so believable.

    Calls for their abolishment will instead result in privatisation. The Democratic mayors who run our cities want to avoid responsibility for the killings that are the result of decades of their own negligent policy. Privatising the police divests them of culpability. Privatised police will be even less accountable than publicly run departments.

    Look at how well privatizing the Intelligence Agencies and the Armed Forces has worked out.

    What has caused the breakdown is the dereliction of members of the president’s political party. The check on Trump should have been Congress. But there was no meaningful scrutiny of his administration during the first two years of his presidency, when Republicans controlled both chambers.

    The author focuses on the Republicans, and those dirtballs did start the ball rolling. But when the Democrats took back the House, Nothing Changed. Pelosi and the rest concentrated on imaginary Trump crimes rather than his very real ones, and I don’t think that’s an accident. Except for their embarrassment about Trump being so badly behaved all the time, the Dem politicians and their moneybag supporters like him nearly as much as the Republicans. So Trump continues to run amok, and that’s had some terrible consequences for the nation. He has enough time left to do even more damage.

    Again, an excellent set of links and discussion thereof.

  7. Zachary Smith

    A word I just learned at a UK newspaper site: “bathmophobia”

    This would explain The Leader’s imitation of Tim Conway’s ‘oldest man in the world’ skit, but what about the problem of taking a drink of water?

    The Founders put in a minimum age for becoming President, and it’s a shame they didn’t do likewise in the “maximum” category. FDR died in office at age 63. Eisenhower was 9 years out of the White House when he expired at age 78. Yet Biden will – if elected – be 78 years of age upon taking office! Even if Biden was an otherwise perfect candidate (and he isn’t!) the man is too freaking old.

    Thanks again, DNC.

  8. Anonymous

    I always use anonymous because of 4chan lol.
    I’m not shit.
    Except for what I say.
    Shit’s fucked up, the working class has been divided.
    Scabs were always desperate, by design.
    If we don’t figure this shit out, we’re all gonna die.
    No more thought boundaries used by the ruling class, to control their slaves.
    Is the D&C not obvious enough?
    Pay attention to the ‘magic words’ used to prompt a Pavlovian response.

  9. Hugh

    What Frederick Douglass said then is what Thomas Frank is saying now. No justice, no peace is not just about racism.

    So if Sanders’ consultants were so bad, why did Obama and Emanuel feel the need to mount a coup against him?

    Re Stephanie Kelton, yes, Stephanie, MMT is a cult.

    As Zachary says, all those trillions the government could spend on us in the lower 80% of the population don’t stay with us. They migrate upward eventually increasing wealth inequality even further. The only way this works is if you have very high marginal tax rates and estate taxes to extinguish that excess wealth and limit wealth imbalances between classes. But MMT only looks at sectoral balances: government vs public, not class ones: the rich vs the rest of us. As I have pointed out before, they don’t even think the rich should/can be taxed to any extent.

  10. John

    MMT explains the mechanics of fiat money creation. What it does not deal with is the power inherent in how money is distributed in society. Taxes are not necessary for a government to spend money. The Fed just created and spent $4 Trillion. In a “one dollar, one vote” democracy, taxes could constrain the unseemly and corrupting power of the oligarchs.

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