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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 24, 2024

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 24, 2024

by Tony Wikrent


Strategic Political Economy

Global Population Set To Fall For First Time In 700 Years 

[Modernity, via Naked Capitalism 03-23-2024]

Delayed Gratification – Why Are Global Birth Rates Falling, and Does It Matter? 

[Alpha Sources, via Naked Capitalism 03-18-2024]

[TW: It is astonishing how upset many people are about the prospect of shrinking populations. The political economic vision of civic republicans should be emphasizing that the entire aim of developing and employing technology that replaces human labor, is to diminish the need for human labor. But the benefits of new technologies must be shared equitably. ]

The Keys to a Long Life Are Sleep and a Better Diet—and Money [

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 03-21-2024]

“The top 10 percent in both the UK and the US live over a decade more than the bottom 10 percent. It’s not even that they live more, they live more healthy lives. Why is that? Well the poor often don’t have the chance to exercise, their diets are often poor, and they work multiple jobs and have problems with sleep. All these things we think we can do, they’re harder if you’re poor and have to juggle jobs, child care, et cetera. One worry I have is that if we discover sophisticated interventions—like turning on stem cells and so on, or having to give transcription factors to people intravenously—depending on the sophistication of the intervention only the rich might be able to afford them. That would make the disparity even worse. Not only are the rich living longer, they’re going to live even longer and healthier.”


Global power shift

[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 03-20-2024]


‘Make in India’: Can South Asian giant surpass China and become world’s biggest factory? 

[The Straits Times, via Naked Capitalism 03-17-2024]

China ponders mass-producing ‘God’s particle’ 

[Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 03-17-2024]

A Chinese scientist has recently reiterated the idea of building the world’s largest particle collider in China. His team had published a technical design report for it last December. Wang Yifang, director of the Institute of High Energy Physics (IHEP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, said that the country will soon draft a blueprint for the construction of the particle collider called the Circular Electron Positron Collider (CEPC), which could cost about 36 billion yuan (US$5 billion).


Gaza / Palestine / Israel

Israel’s Trojan Horse

Chris Hedges [via Thomas Neuburger, God’s Spies, 3-21-24]

The “temporary pier” being built on the Mediterranean coast of Gaza is not there to alleviate the famine, but to herd Palestinians onto ships and into permanent exile.

Piers allow things to come in. They allow things to go out. And Israel, which has no intention of halting its murderous siege of Gaza, including its policy of enforced starvation, appears to have found a solution to its problem of where to expel the 2.3 million Palestinians.

If the Arab world will not take them, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed during his first round of visits after Oct. 7, the Palestinians will be cast adrift on ships. It worked in Beirut in 1982 when some eight and a half thousand Palestine Liberation Organization members were sent by sea to Tunisia and another two and a half thousand ended up in other Arab states. Israel expects that the same forced deportation by sea will work in Gaza.

Israel, for this reason, supports the “temporary pier” the Biden administration is building, to ostensibly deliver food and aid to Gaza – food and aid whose “distribution” will be overseen by the Israeli military.…

If the U.S. or Israel were serious about alleviating the humanitarian crisis, the thousands of trucks with food and aid currently at the southern border of Gaza would be allowed to enter any of its multiple crossings. They are not. The “temporary pier,” like the air drops, is ghoulish theater, a way to mask Washington’s complicity in the genocide.

Israeli media reported the building of the pier was due to pressure by the United Arab Emirates, which threatened Israel with ending a land corridor trade route it administers in collusion with Saudi Arabia and Jordan, to bypass Yemen’s naval blockade.

The Jerusalem Post reported it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who proposed the construction of the “temporary pier” to the Biden administration….

What Biden Would Do if He Were Serious About Ending the War in Gaza 

Mother Jones, via Naked Capitalism 03-20-2024]

Robert Ford, a former US ambassador to Algeria and Syria who is now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute “has called the airdrops the greatest humiliation of the United States by Israel he has ever seen. He is struck by the fact that the US is acting as if it is ‘trying to get supplies into besieged people surrounded by an enemy of the United States.’”

[TW: In my first pass at this subject, I found an astonishing lack of information about actual physical parameters of humanitarian aid; i.e., how many tons of food and medical supplies are required to meet the needs of a specified number of people. This is astonishing, but not surprising, because one of the most baneful effects of neoliberalism has been a cultural arrogance toward any subject matter dealing with actual physical economic activity.

[This cultural disdain, of course, was fully explained by Thorstein Veblen, in his Theory of the Leisure Class, and other works, which, I suspect, has never been that popular on “the left” because it explains many socio-economic phenomena better than Marxism. Remember, the actual details of physical economy will, according to neoliberal theory, be magically worked out by “the market” without anyone every having to bother about them. Note that since warfare does not work according to this theory, one finds that the militaries of various nations often remain the only institution that understands physical logistics, and are therefore the only institution able to carry out large scale humanitarian relief.

[Here are the rough estimates. One ton of food feeds about 1,550 people for one day. About two million people in Gaza means that 1,290 tons of food need to be brought in each day.

[If Biden and other world leaders were serious about meeting this need and averting genocide, they would be using military over the shore logistics using tank landing ships and Landing Craft Air Cushions. each capable of delivering around 50 to 200 tons on beaches without any piers or other facilities.

[US military capabilities for its “Amphibious Ready Groups” are summarized in this chart. The “Connectors” column summarizes the equipment that actually moves troops, equipment, and supplies to the shore. US Navy amphibious assault ships deploy 2 or 3 LCACs (Landing Craft Air Cushion), each able to deliver 60 to 70 tons onto a beach. A pier does not need to be built to use this capability, There are probably at least 2 USN amphibious assault ships in the Med and Gulf region right now, though Stars and Stripes reported a few weeks ago that Amphibious Squadron 8, comprised of amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, dock landing ship USS Carter Hall, amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde, exited the Mediterranean on March 6, 2024. I could not find any information on what unit(s) replaced Amphibious Squadron 8, if any.

[The U.S. Navy is not the only navy that has amphibious capabilities. This website lists NATO member amphibious ships for USA, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Turkiye, and United Kingdom. These are not World War 2 hand-me-downs; most of the ships listed were built in the 1990s and 2000s. The most recent is the Netherlands’ HNLMS Karel Doorman (A833), commissioned in April 2015. However, Karel Doorman  carries only two LCVPs (landing craft vehicle personnel), each able to move only 3 to 4 tons to shore.

[Note the especially large number of amphibious ships listed for Turkiye, though many of the smaller vessels are from World War 2 and probably no longer in service. Still, Turkiye evidently has a considerable capacity to bring aid to the Palestinians in Gaza. Why has this Turkish capacity not been put to use yet? No doubt, the Israelis are extremely sensitive about this capability by a Muslim country in close proximity to Gaza and Israel.

[A few other Muslim countries in the Middle East and northern Africa also have amphibious combat ships. Egypt acquired the two Mistral class amphibious assault ships, France had built for Russia in the early 2000s, then refused to deliver. The navy of Iran has around ten amphibious assault ships, the five smallest of which were designed and built by Iran. Iran has also been able to maintain in service 14 hovercraft acquired from the UK in the 1970s. These reportedly have a payload capacity of about 15 tons.

[An interesting oddity is that NATO member Greece has 4 Soviet-designed Zubr-class hovercraft (world’s largest hovercraft), able to carry up to 150 tons. They reportedly were built in Ukraine, not Russia, though Russia has built some for China and other countries, as well as the Russian navy. ]

Egypt says won’t allow forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza 

[Anadolu Agency, via Naked Capitalism 03-18-2024]

Trump Son-in-Law Jared Kushner Calls for Ethnic Cleansing of Gaza to ‘Finish the Job’

Jake Johnson, March 19, 2024 [CommonDreams]

“You want to get as many civilians out of Rafah as possible,” Kushner told the faculty chair of Harvard University’s Middle East Initiative, Tarek Masoud, in a March 8 interview that was first reported widely on Tuesday. “I think that you want to try to clear that out. I know that with diplomacy maybe you get them into Egypt.”

“I know that that’s been refused, but [with] the right diplomacy I think it would be possible,” Kushner added. “But in addition to that, the thing that I would try to do if I was Israel right now is I would just bulldoze something in the Negev, I would try to move people in there. I know that won’t be the popular thing to do, but I think that that’s a better option to do so you can go in and finish the job.”

The War in Gaza Exposes a Disintegrated Israeli Army 

[Haaretz, via Naked Capitalism 03-20-2024]

…Brig. Gen. Barak Hiram not only ordered his troops to open fire on Israeli civilians and blew up a Palestinian university in Gaza without permission, but also stated in an interview with journalist Ilana Dayan right as the war started that Israel’s political leadership should refrain from any prospect of a political solution to the crisis. The IDF’s chief of staff didn’t say a word then either.
It’s not only the division commanders that are the issue here, but also the soldiers. The video recordings capturing the troops’ actions, their calls for Jewish resettlement of the Gaza Strip (the so-called Gush Katif settlement bloc), the troops’ usage of social media to criticize the alleged “restraint” on their ability to use deadly force, their looting and much more – all these are expressions of an unremitting agitation making its way from the ground up and which the army’s leadership finds hard or is reluctant to restrain.
[Funding the Future, via Naked Capitalism 03-21-2024]


Why the world cannot afford the rich 

Richard G. Wilkinson & Kate E. Pickett [Nature, via Naked Capitalism 03-20-2024]

Equality is essential for sustainability. The science is clear — people in more-equal societies are more trusting and more likely to protect the environment than are those in unequal, consumer-driven ones.

As environmental, social and humanitarian crises escalate, the world can no longer afford two things: first, the costs of economic inequality; and second, the rich. Between 2020 and 2022, the world’s most affluent 1% of people captured nearly twice as much of the new global wealth created as did the other 99% of individuals put together1, and in 2019 they emitted as much carbon dioxide as the poorest two-thirds of humanity2. In the decade to 2022, the world’s billionaires more than doubled their wealth, to almost US$12 trillion.

The evidence gathered by social epidemiologists, including us, shows that large differences in income are a powerful social stressor that is increasingly rendering societies dysfunctional. For example, bigger gaps between rich and poor are accompanied by higher rates of homicide and imprisonment. They also correspond to more infant mortality, obesity, drug abuse and COVID-19 deaths, as well as higher rates of teenage pregnancy and lower levels of child well-being, social mobility and public trust3,4. The homicide rate in the United States — the most unequal Western democracy — is more than 11 times that in Norway (see Imprisonment rates are ten times as high, and infant mortality and obesity rates twice as high….

Inequality also increases consumerism. Perceived links between wealth and self-worth drive people to buy goods associated with high social status and thus enhance how they appear to others — as US economist Thorstein Veblen set out more than a century ago in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Studies show that people who live in more-unequal societies spend more on status goods14.

Our work has shown that the amount spent on advertising as a proportion of gross domestic product is higher in countries with greater inequality. The well-publicized lifestyles of the rich promote standards and ways of living that others seek to emulate, triggering cascades of expenditure for holiday homes, swimming pools, travel, clothes and expensive cars.


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

The U.S. auto industry’s dirty little secret: plummeting quality 

[New Atlas, via Naked Capitalism 03-18-2024]

How the U.S. Waged a Global Campaign Against Baby Formula Regulation 

[ProPublica, via Naked Capitalism 03-22-2024]

Whatever it Takes: How Neoliberalism Hijacked the Public Purse

Pavlina Tcherneva [ Post-Neoliberlism, via Mike Norman Economics, March 22, 2024]


hey’re not capitalists — they’re predatory criminals

The Whistleblower And The Corporation: The Case Against Boeing

[FITSNews, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 03-18-2024]

“[Robert] Turkewitz, who had represented Barnett from the beginning of [his whistleblower retaliation] case, told reporters ‘it made no sense’ for Barnett to take his own life when he was so close to final vindication.”

The last days of the Boeing whistleblower

[Fortune, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 03-18-2024]

“The previous day, Barnett had been on a roll as a video camera recorded the event. “John testified for four hours in questioning by my co-counsel Brian,” says Turkewitz. ‘This was following seven hours of cross examination by Boeing’s lawyers on Thursday. He was really happy to be telling his side of the story, excited to be fielding our questions, doing a great job. It was explosive stuff. As I’m sitting there, I’m thinking, ‘This is the best witness I’ve ever seen.” At one point, says Turkewitz, the Boeing lawyer protested that Barnett was reciting the details of incidents from a decade ago, and specific dates, without looking at documents. As Turkevitz recalls the exchange, Barnett fired back, ‘I know these documents inside out. I’ve had to live it.’ That Friday, Barnett’s testimony ended at around 5 PM, and the parties reconvened an hour later. ‘John was really tired and didn’t want to testify any more that day,’ says Turkewitz. ‘He wanted to drive home to Louisiana starting that evening, as he had planned. He’d told his mom that he’d be home on Sunday, and it took him two days to drive home. I suggested that we break for a week or two. But the Boeing lawyers took the position that no more depositions could be taken until Barnett completed his testimony.”


Restoring balance to the economy    

Corporate Dominance of International Trade System Is Ending, Claim Economists After Honduras Leaves ISDS Court

Nick Corbishley, March 22, 2024 [Naked Capitalism]

“As economists, we commend (Honduran) President Castro and the people of Honduras, and hope that countries across the world follow their lead toward a fairer, more democratic trade system.”

In 2023, the small Central American country of Honduras (population: 10.7 million) was the second most sued nation at the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), with a total of nine ISDS (investor-state dispute settlement) cases against it (the only country with more was Mexico, with 10). Just one of those suits, brought by U.S. corporation Próspera Inc, a company financed by several Silicon Valley investors, including Peter Thiel, Balaji Srinivasan, and Marc Andreessen, is for $10.8 billion, equivalent to around a third of Honduras’ GDP….

But something almost unheard of is happening in Honduras’ case. Instead of waiting for the imposition of crippling fines that would almost certainly bankrupt her government, Xiaomi Castro decided in late February to withdraw her country from ICSID, arguing that the court was infringing illegally on Honduran sovereignty….

As a recent article in The Intercept explains, the legal showdown between the Honduran government and the investors behind the charter cities presents an “almost impossible-to-believe scenario”:

A group of libertarian investors teamed up with a former Honduran government — which was tied at the hip with narco-traffickers and came to power after a U.S.-backed military coup — in order to implement the world’s most radical libertarian policy, which turned over significant portions of the country to those investors through so-called special economic zones. The Honduran public, in a backlash, ousted the narco-backed regime, and the new government repealed the libertarian legislation. The crypto investors are now using the World Bank to force Honduras to honor the narco-government’s policies…

The law that established ZEDEs — short for Zone for Employment and Economic Development — effectively carved out portions of Honduras and turned them over to American investors, who operate as effective sovereign governments. The ZEDEs could one day control 35 percent of Honduras’s territory, according to the United Nations, which has said that the zones raise human rights concerns.

It took enormous political muscle more than a decade ago to force the ZEDEs into law. They only became possible when Castro’s husband, Manuel Zelaya, was removed in a U.S.-backed coup in 2009.

To cap it all off, Castro’s government is currently negotiating a trade agreement with China after announcing the establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing in October. In doing so, it became the latest in a long line of Latin American governments to jettison their decades-long ties with Taiwan, much to Washington’s chagrin. As the Washington Post ominously noted at the time, Honduras (emphasis my own) “was long among the most docile of U.S. regional partners.” Now, its government is cosying up to China, Washington’s principal strategic rival.

The Department of Justice Takes Aim at Apple’s iPhone Empire 

Matt Ford, March 23, 2024 [The New Republic]

Why the Apple Antitrust Suit Matters 

Matt Stoller [via Naked Capitalism 03-22-2024]


Disrupting mainstream economics  

The Anything Goes Market Demand Curve 

Steve Keen [via Naked Capitalism 03-20-2024]

This is Chapter 4 from my forthcoming book Rebuilding Economics from the Top Down, which will be published by the Budapest Centre for Long-Term Sustainability and the Pallas Athéné Domus Meriti Foundation

Why Are Their Lordships So Frightened of Modern Monetary Theory?

Richard Murphy [Fund the Future, via Naked Capitalism, March 17, 2024]

Entropy, the Theory of Value and the Future of Humanity

James K. Galbraith [Post-Neoliberalism—Pathways for Transformative Economics and Politics, via Mike Norman Economics, March 22, 2024]

In a keynote address to a conference on “Geopolitical Changes” at Kozminski University, Warsaw, on January 29, 2024, Professor James Galbraith called for economics to break with equilibrium dogma and re-found itself on the life principles that govern physics, biology and every existing mechanical and social system. Noting the distinguished presence of Professors Francis Fukuyama and E.S. Phelps, Galbraith called attention to the spectacular fallacies of “an end to history” and a “natural rate of unemployment,” arguing that these doctrines have helped blind our generation to the damage inflicted by rising resource costs and neoliberal policies of austerity and precarity, with dire consequences for households in wealthy societies, for their reproduction rates, and for the long-term viability of the species.

Untangling the “socialism” vs. “capitalism” dichotomy  

Alex Krainer [via Mike Norman Economics, March 23, 2024]

Interesting post that deal with some of the same concepts as MMT but is not MMT. It’s an interesting take. He has seen both sides, having grown up in a communist country (Yugoslavia). He is former hedge fund manager, commodities trader and author based in Monaco.

Top 25 Heterodox Economics Books, in chronological order.

Lars P. Syll [via Mike Norman Economics, March 22, 2024]

Health care crisis

[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 03-19-2024]


The PBM-Insurer Mafia Comes for Community Pharmacies 

MATTHEW CUNNINGHAM-COOK, March 21, 2024 [American Prospect]

UnitedHealth, CVS, and Cigna’s PBMs are using their market share and pull in Washington to drive one of the key levers to manage health care costs—independent pharmacies—out of business.


Information age dystopia / surveillance state

Public officials can be held liable for blocking critics on social media 

[SCOTUSblog, via Naked Capitalism 03-21-2024]

Discussion With Glenn Greenwald: How “Free Speech” Turned Into a “Far Right” Slogan 

Matt Taibbi [Racket News, via Naked Capitalism 03-21-2024]

India Clamps Down on Dissent with Drones 

[Tech Policy Press, via Naked Capitalism 03-18-2024]


Collapse of independent news media

What Is NBC News Even Thinking Hiring Ronna McDaniel? 

Tori Otten, March 22, 2024 [The New Republic]

NBC News seems willing to overlook all that former RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel has said in the past—including fake claims of election fraud.

A company linked to a large “pink slime” network is being hired by big publishers like Gannett 

[Nieman Labs, via Naked Capitalism 03-20-2024]

Publishing Models That Rely on Gig Workers Are Bad For Everybody 

[Literary Hub, via Naked Capitalism 03-18-2024]


Climate and environmental crises

“We Need a Plan for the Transition to Renewable Energy” 

[via Naked Capitalism, March 18, 2024]

Radia’s WindRunner to be the world’s largest aircraft ever built 

[Interesting Engineering, via Naked Capitalism 03-18-2024]

To transport wind turbines.

South Florida Proposes Lowering Insurance Costs 25% 

[South Florida Sun-Sentinel, via Naked Capitalism 03-18-2024]

Small farmers cry for help as climate change keeps killing crops 

[Floodlight, via Naked Capitalism 03-18-2024]

Droughts, complicated by climate change, result in US beef herd hitting historic low 

[Investigate Midwest, via Naked Capitalism 03-18-2024]


Creating new economic potential – science and technology

Starship rival: Chinese scientists build prototype engine for nuclear-powered spaceship to Mars 

[South China Morning Post, via Naked Capitalism 03-20-2024]

Columbia Engineers Develop Light-Controlled Molecular Devices 

[SciTech Daily, via Naked Capitalism 03-17-2024]

Doctors set to lead the way in knee joint repair with nasal cartilage therapy 

[Interesting Engineering, via Naked Capitalism 03-19-2024]


Democrats’ political malpractice

Working class Dems who campaign on economics beat Trumpists in elections

[Pluralistic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 03-21-2024]

“The Democratic Party Pizzaburger Theory of Electioneering is: half the electorate wants a pizza, the other half wants a burger, so we’ll give them all a pizzaburger and make them all equally dissatisfied, thus winning the election… But no one wants a pizzaburger. The Biden administration’s approach of letting the Warren/Sanders wing pick the antitrust enforcers while keeping judicial appointments in the Manchin-Synematic universe is a catastrophe in which progressive Dem regulators (who serve one term) are thwarted by corporatist Dem judges (who serve for life)… Jacobin teamed up with the Center for Working-Class Politics, Yougov and the Center for Work and Democracy at ASU and analyzed [the 2022 midterms]: Their conclusion: candidates from working-class backgrounds who campaigned on economic policies like high-quality jobs, higher minimum wages, a jobs guarantee, ending offshoring and outsourcing, building infrastructure and bringing manufacturing back to the US won with a 50% share of the vote in rural and working-class districts. Dems who didn’t lost with a 35% share of the vote.”

Just 116 Of The 7,400 State Legislators In The U.S. Come From Working-Class Backgrounds

Howie Klein, March 19, 2024  []

Sequeira wrote that “Just 116 of the nearly 7,400 state legislators in the United States come from working-class backgrounds, according to a biennial study conducted by Nicholas Carnes and Eric Hansen, political scientists at Duke University and Loyola University Chicago, respectively. The researchers define legislators as “working class” if they currently or last worked in manual labor, service industry, clerical or labor union jobs. They found that 1.6% of state lawmakers meet that definition, compared with 50% of U.S. workers. Only about 2% of Democrats and 1% of Republicans qualified as working class… The dearth of working-class legislators raises concerns that economic challenges such as wage stagnation and the rising cost of living will get short shrift in state capitols.”
“Working-class politicians,” he wrote, “are more likely to have personally experienced economic hardship, so they are more interested in policies to mitigate it, Carnes said. And they often propose solutions that differ from those put forward by colleagues who aren’t working class, even if it means diverging from party doctrine. ‘State legislatures make consequential decisions, and if you have an entire economic class of people that are not in the room when policy decisions are being made, that’s going to tilt the kind of problems politicians pay attention to,’ said Carnes. ‘It also dictates the kinds of solutions they consider against the interests of whoever’s out of the room.’ Working-class representation in state legislatures has always been low, he noted, but the most recent count is even lower than it was two years ago, when the percentage was about 1.8%.”

America’s Intellectual “Bloodbath” 

Matt Taibbi [via Naked Capitalism 03-23-2024]

[TW: I do not agree with Taibbi that Trump’s use of the word “bloodbath” should be dismissed because it was used in the context of discussing industrial policy. Trump is clearly a danger exactly because he understands — at least intuitively, if not expressly — that certain words and phrases arouse some of dangerous passions of resentment and anger. But, I agree with Taibbi about why Trump’s rhetoric appeals to working class people whose livlihoods were rushed by trade policies. ]

“Bloodbath” was clearly economic metaphor, and the worst thing you could say about it is that it underscored a general Trump tendency to preach doom and disaster in a way some consider irresponsible. I don’t. This rhetoric works for Trump for a reason, the same one that makes the media miss on “bloodbath” a double-insult.

This apocalyptic speech resonates in places like Dayton, a region that produced six million vehicles between 1981 and an infamous GM plant closure in 2008. There’s now a Chinese auto-glass factory on the site. Many people in that part of the world watched $30-an-hour factory jobs turned into $1-an-hour gigs for Mexican counterparts after NAFTA, which explains why crowds tend to respond to heated rhetoric about the border. You don’t have to agree with Trump’s stances on these issues, but not understanding why they work is rhetorical malpractice.


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

At The Heart Of Trumpism— As With All Authoritarian Movements— Is A Raging River Of Disinformation

Howie Klein, March 18, 2024  []

Anne Applebaum has a good understanding of how authoritarian regimes have used disinformation to grab power. Yesterday she watched clips of Trump’s MAGA rally near Dayton and tweeted about Trump’s disinformation campaign against the American people. It goes beyond Trump’s continuous unsubstantiated claims, gaslighting, attacks on the media as “fake news” and promotion of baseless conspiracy theories to discredit political opponents and shape public perception. His rhetoric undermines trust in democratic institutions and even erodes the foundations of objective truth itself! The MAGA movement in general promotes lies and conspiracy theories to advance its agenda and is barely distinguishable from QAnon’s allegations that a secret cabal of Satanic pedophiles controls the world and that Señor T is waging a secret war against. This kind of spreading of disinformation poses significant challenges to democracy, as it undermines trust in institutions, fuels polarization and threatens the integrity of public discourse.

As Predicted, Trump’s 2017 Corporate Tax Cuts Benefited Rich Executives, Not Workers

[CommonDreams, March 23, 2024]

New data explodes myth of crime wave fueled by migrants 

[Popular Information, via Naked Capitalism 03-17-2024]

Pregnancy care has changed in alarming ways since Louisiana banned abortion 

[NPR, via Naked Capitalism 03-22-2024]

As Medicare Advantage’s shortcomings echo in the press, key legislators still push to privatize traditional Medicare

[Trudy Lieberman, HEALTH CARE un-covered, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 03-21-2024]

“[Rolling Stone’s Andrew] Perez points out that one item buried in the 887-page Heritage Foundation blueprint written to inform a potential new Trump administration has attracted little attention so far. It is a scheme to ‘make Medicare Advantage the default enrollment option’ for people who are newly eligible for Medicare, he wrote. David Lipschutz, associate director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, says the Heritage plan would hasten privatization. ‘Upon becoming eligible for Medicare now everyone starts with traditional Medicare as the default but can opt out of that program and later choose an Advantage plan,’ Lipschutz says. The Heritage proposal, however, would have people start with Medicare Advantage plans, apparently with the opportunity to opt-out. With this arrangement, you can see how easy it would be for Medicare, as we know it, to ‘wither on the vine’ since many people new to Medicare are not well versed in the difference between the two options and instead are swayed by the TV advertising beckoning them to Medicare Advantage plans.”


(anti)Republican Party

Trump, GOP-led states argue presidential immunity claim to Supreme Court

[NC Newsline, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 03-20-2024]

“As a deadline loomed for briefs in the case, 18 Republican-led states filed an amicus brief Tuesday urging the Supreme Court to reverse the lower courts and grant Trump blanket immunity. Oral arguments before the high court on the immunity question are scheduled for April 25, and federal district court proceedings have been halted until the Supreme Court issues a ruling. Trump’s lawyers, led by D. John Sauer of St. Louis, in a 52-page brief argued that a strong executive with virtually no criminal liability from the judicial system was intended by the framers of the Constitution and part of a ‘234-year unbroken tradition’ of not prosecuting presidents for action taken while in office…. ‘The President cannot function, and the Presidency itself cannot retain its vital independence, if the President faces criminal prosecution for official acts once he leaves office,’ the attorneys wrote in the brief’s opening paragraph. That view is in line with how framers of the Constitution saw the presidency, they said. ‘Even if some level of Presidential malfeasance, not present in this case at all, were to escape punishment, that risk is inherent in the Constitution’s design,’ Trump’s attorneys wrote. ‘The Founders viewed protecting the independence of the Presidency as well worth the risk that some Presidents might evade punishment in marginal cases. They were unwilling to burn the Presidency itself to the ground to get at every single alleged malefactor.’ The only exception to absolute immunity is a president who is impeached by the House and convicted in the Senate, Trump’s lawyers said.” And: “They asked the court to reject an argument that another exception to presidential immunity could be made for criminal charges stemming from a president’s desire to stay in power. ‘Because virtually all first-term Presidents’ official actions carry some, at least partial, motivation to be re-elected, this exception to immunity would swiftly engulf the rule,’ they wrote. Prosecuting or not prosecuting a president is inherently a political act, Trump’s attorneys said. ‘This observation applies to former Presidents as well — and it applies most of all to a former President who is the leading candidate to replace the incumbent who is prosecuting him,’ they wrote.”

Inside The Ritzy Retreats Hosting Right-Wing Judges 

[Huffington Post, via Naked Capitalism 03-20-2024]

The Terrifying Global Reach of the American Anti-Abortion Movement 

Jodi Enda, March 18, 2024 [The New Republic]

Conservatives have not limited their attack on reproductive rights to the United States. They’ve been busy imposing their will on other countries, too—with disastrous consequences for millions of poor women….

For half a century, the United States has used the power of the purse to force poorer nations to abide by the anti-abortion values of American conservatives or forgo aid for family planning and, more recently, other health care. Of the several policies adopted over the years, two have been particularly onerous, according to several studies and more than 20 interviews with researchers and reproductive rights advocates in the United States and abroad. Touted to reduce abortions, the policies actually have driven up their numbers sharply and led to tens of thousands of unnecessary maternal deaths. “Anything that happens in the U.S. has a huge impact on the rest of the world,” said Giselle Carino, director of Fòs Feminista, an international alliance that promotes sexual and reproductive health and justice. When Washington places restrictions on abortion, “we have a lot of evidence how it hurts, particularly the women who need the most care and services.”

That anti-abortion policies would lead to more abortions seems counterintuitive, except when you consider that the organizations that perform, counsel, and educate people about abortion are often those that provide condoms, pills, IUDs, and other forms of birth control. If health care providers so much as mention abortion, they can lose money for broader health care services, including contraceptives. Fewer contraceptives equal more unwanted pregnancies. More unwanted pregnancies equal more abortions. More abortions in countries that greatly restrict them equal more unsafe abortions. And more unsafe abortions equal more maternal deaths.

How Trump’s Allies Are Winning the War Over Disinformation 

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 03-18-2024]

From the index propagandists for RussiaGate and Iraqi WMDs. “The arguments strike at the heart of an unsettled question in modern American political life: In a world of unlimited online communications, in which anyone can reach huge numbers of people with unverified and false information, where is the line between protecting democracy and trampling on the right to free speech?”

Trump’s RNC suddenly SURGES into spotlight with stunning move

[YouTube, March 21, 2023]

Marc Elias discusses the RNC’s dangerous new lawsuits to placate Trump.



Open Thread


In A Crisis We Can Only Afford What We Can Already Do


  1. bruce wilder

    HK: “Anne Applebaum has a good understanding of how authoritarian regimes have used disinformation to grab power.”

    You can bet she does and she’s not afraid to use it!

    Anne Applebaum hates Trump for opposing her favorite war against Russia, not because she really thinks he is a threat to democracy.

    I despise Trump generally but he’s right about Ukraine and Applebaum is wrong. Howie is a hack.

  2. higgins'lads

    Thank you Tony.

    The political economic vision of civic republicans should be emphasizing that the entire aim of developing and employing technology that replaces human labor, is to diminish the need for human labor.

    Civic Republicans don’t do this well. Nor do Liberal Democrats. No one seems to.

    How would you go about this, Tony? The entire zeitgeist of the society needs to change. Most ‘civic republicans’ are ‘god and country’ type people. Many have a hardened business mindset. Do business, make money, church on Sunday, donate and volunteer at the food pantry. God’s plan.

    But the benefits of new technologies must be shared equitably.

    Equitable sharing isn’t something most people even remotely associate with ‘civic republicanism’ these days. And with good reason. There is a lot of work to do here.

    How would you go about achieving ‘equitable sharing’ while maintaining ‘civic republican’ principles?

    I wonder if the firm definitions themselves are the problem. I suppose we can’t come at problems from a completely void place, but operating from the underlying ideology of ‘civic republicanism’ first principles (which need to be defined succinctly) doesn’t strike me as particularly thoroughgoing in reaching the goal of ‘equitable sharing.’

    The fact that the concept of ‘equitable sharing’ has to be introduced in the first place proves that the resources that make up the ‘means of production’ are to remain in the hands of powerful people (the untouchables) under an ‘ownership’ arrangement within which they will ‘share’ things with the rest of us ‘equitably.’

  3. VietnamVet

    The structure of the current political economic system is hidden in plain sight. It is a restructured 1800’s Austrian Empire with weak corrupt government and powerful lords.

    Today only money markets matter not the under classes. The corporate moguls have started the proxy WW3 that has turned into a replay of WWI. The aristocracy assumes falsely to feed their greed that one side or the other will not destroy mankind including them by igniting the thousands of nuclear warheads rather than losing the world war.

    All the lessons learned forgotten. All the slights remembered.

    Human population on the Earth is decreasing for the first time in 700 years. The reason is simple. War, pestilence and famine increase the wealth of the rich. The last 30 years prove that neo-liberalism cannot win wars or eradicate plagues. Never will. Victory over evil requires sovereign good government and the people working together. To avoid a replay of 1917 with the soldiers returning after WWII, the US government gave them all a free college education or training if they wanted. Once upon a time there was a USA where public education, public health, and public safety worked.

    Like 1953 in Korea, the only way to end WW3 without a nuclear exchange is a UN Armistice and DMZs to separate the combatants.

  4. Willy

    This kind of spreading of disinformation poses significant challenges to democracy, as it undermines trust in institutions, fuels polarization and threatens the integrity of public discourse.

    The best one can hope for from a malignant narcissist is that their moral clock might be accurate twice a day. While I disagree with most of Applebaum’s politics, maybe she got it right that communism requires a strongman but strongmen are very hard to control without the corrective mechanisms of a democracy. But does she ever dig into the root causes of communal anti-democratic sentiments? Still, it’s good to see somebody from that side dissing our current Dear Leaders De Jour from the honking plastic nose brigade.

  5. bruce wilder

    Population growth (which will not end soon or soon enough despite the headlines) and the advance of technology ought to be combined to reduce radically the burden and stress humanity puts the global ecology and capacity to assimilate waste.

    Advances in technical efficiency ought to be made to reduce waste and pollution, just as declining populations ought to allow us to collectively in total reduce consumption and attendant waste.

    One of the big problems with capitalism is that it is organized around growth in consumption and maximum production and effort and “full employment” when what we all need in the long-run interests of our posterity and the planet is to do less and to do with less. Much of the paid work people do in advanced economies is unnecessary. Half of the labor force is employed in some form of salesmanship aimed at persuading people to buy stuff no one really needs.

    We need to find some political way to dial back from eleven while keeping everyone fed and housed. Then we might salvage something.

  6. bruce wilder

    It is a restructured 1800’s Austrian Empire with weak corrupt government and powerful lords.

    The German-speaking bureaucracy of the late Austrian Empire was vigorous, technically efficient and not particularly corrupt (though there may have been some honest graft) and the landed aristocracy had been eclipsed by rising capitalists. Vienna was among the first cities to electrify and was home to Freud, Klimt, Mahler, Wittgenstein . . .

    Not an endorsement of the silly pretensions of the Hapsburgs to rule, but . . .

  7. Willy

    @ the Common Dreams article about the end-result effects of lowering taxes for the wealthy.

    I saw a video a while back, where a historian (or influencer) proclaimed that Republican Rome was a more equitable society than is our current USA. In that one “SPQR” was seen as a necessary ruse employed by their version of today’s conservative think tanks, aimed at covertly excusing/enhancing their own increasingly rigged patrician games. Greed is good, until it goes bad.

    Another guy more recent proclaims that their ever-increasing costs and taxations ruined the Roman Empire. Since they couldn’t stock their military with ambitious young Latins looking to gain skills, spoils and land as were provided in times past, they were increasingly going with ever cheaper barbarian labor, and all that lack of national loyalty. I called bullshit. Bullshit of the kind coming from somebody with poorly thought out libertarian values.

    In our current world national taxation rates vary wildly with rhyme-or-reason happiness favoring the higher-taxed mixed-economy citizens of advanced nations. What the citizenry reacted to, in declining Rome as now, was the daily sense that all economics was increasingly being rigged to favor the few.

  8. Reply to higgin’slads

    I suspect the “’god and country’ type people” you describe are not civic republicans as I understand the term. I think you are referring to members or supporters of the Republican Party, which I new refer to as the (anti)Republican Party. But, yes, both (anti)Republicans and liberal Democrats have lost the founding ideas of promoting the General Welfare. The General Welfare, I believe, was understood by the founders to include developing the productive powers of labor and technology so that humanity was less and less subject to the whims of nature. For example, for centuries, most members of society sustained themselves by subsistence agriculture, and famines were a common, expected occurrence. But agricultural knowledge and technology in the 1800s advanced to the point that crop yields outpaced needs, and abundance became more common and expected/ Shortages and famine became unusual.

    These advances included not only machinery and mechanization but also advances in botany, agronomy, biology, zoology, veterinary practice, chemistry, pharmacology, and other disciplines.(In fact, machinery and mechanization did not really become a large factor in agriculture until after the Civil War.) The creation and support of these advances were understood to be a basic objective of civic republican government, and a primary way by which an individual could “do good.” As first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton summarized in his December 1791 Report to Congress on the Subject of Manufacture, these advances centered on increasing the productive powers of labor. At the time, as water and wind power then steam power spread, these advances were celebrated as “one man being able to do the work of a hundred.”

    Rather grossly oversimplified, today’s (anti)Republicans are anti-labor and the Democrats are anti-technology. But, I think Thomas Frank and others are correct in assessing the Democratic Party leadership, and the professional management class from which it is drawn are also anti-labor. To further muddle the picture, USA elites today, of both parties, think of technology only as information technology: computers and communications. They have little or no interest in manufacturing technology, which is the term which comes closest today to what I mean when I use the word “technology,” though, again it also involves botany, agronomy, biology, zoology, chemistry, pharmacology and so on.

    So you are entirely correct: “the entire zeitgeist of the society needs to change.” Conservatives, (anti)Republicans, and Christianist nationalists (I refuse to call them “Christian” because they simply are not) want to change the zeitgeist by forcing a revival of what they call “civic virtue.” But their understanding of civic virtue is truncated to include only what is best understood as personal morality, shorn of any sense of social morality; in other words, no personal responsibility for the common welfare of society.

    Conservatives and (anti)Republicans appear to intuitively sense that social morality is incompatible with the “free market” which they have idealized. The “free market” is supposed to be guided by selfishness, aka self- interest. My idea of changing society’s zeitgeist is to revive the ideas and principles of what I call civic republicanism, as discussed and explained by classic political thinkers such as Plato, Cicero, and Machiavelli. People know these names. Less familiar are the political thinkers such as John Milton, Algernon Sydney, and James Harrington, who created the brief period of republican rule in Britain in the 1600s, which led eventually to the American Revolution and the creation of the United States as a self-governing republic. Milton, Sydney, and Harrington are less well known today precisely because their ideas of civic republicanism are so extremely antagonistic to oligarchy and ruling elites in general, and therefore the rich and powerful are unwilling to support institutions in which these ideas are taught.

    Consider the idea of “civic virtue,” which is indeed a fundamental principle of civic republicanism. I believe that the classic political thinkers define civic virtue as an understanding that individual self interest often conflicts with the public interest, AND a willingness on the part of an individual to set aside their own self interest when such conflicts arise. In The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1969), Gordon Wood wrote:

    “In a republic “each individual gives up all private interest that is not consistent with the general good, the interest of the whole body.” For the republican patriots of 1776 the commonweal was all encompassing—a transcendent object with a unique moral worth that made partial considerations fade into insignificance. “Let regard be had only to the good of the whole” was the constant exhortation by publicists and clergy. Ideally, republicanism obliterated the individual. “A Citizen,” said Sam Adams, “owes everything to the Commonwealth.” “Every man in a republic,” declared Benjamin Rush, “is public property. His time, his talents—his youth—his manhood—his old age—nay more, life, all belong to his country.” “No man is a true republican,” wrote a Pennsylvanian in 1776, “that will not give up his single voice to that of the public.” “ [ pp. 60-61.]

    Obviously, this definition of civic virtue is entirely at odds with the principles of market capitalism and especially Milton Friedman’s idea of the primacy of shareholder value.
    For example, in documents from the Society for American Civic Renewal, obtained recently by Talkiing Points Memo researcher Josh Kovensky, virtue is defined as “restraint and self-denial; household management; leadership and orderliness.” By “restraint and self-denial’ these rich conservatoves of SACR do not mean sacrificing self-interest to the public good, but personal heterosexual morality. According to Kovensky, “independent wealth is a requirement for membership” in SACR. (See Inside A Secret Society Of Prominent Right-Wing Christian Men Prepping For A ‘National Divorce’

    For example, a merchant or manufacturer has a self-interest in obtaining a profit in the market, but the public has an interest in “equitable sharing” which means prices must be low enough for the entire population to afford purchases in the market. Therefore, a merchant or manufacturer is expected to refrain from price gouging. In the American Revolution, merchants who attempted to hold back product and thus drive up the price were accused of “forestalling” and “engrossing” and subjected to severe penalties by local Committees of Correspondence or whatever local political authorities there were.

    There once came into my hands about a dozen original company annual reports from the 1840s and 1850s. These were annual reports for some railroad companies in the New England area, such as the Fitchburg Rail Road Company. In the Sixteenth Annual Report of the Fitchburg Rail Road Company, date January 1858, we find on page 10

    “The managers of railroads need not now have the fear, which was seriously entertained a few years since, of excessive profits — at least they need have no such fear during the life of the present generation, for as large as their profits may be they will need all, in our opinion, to give reasonable returns to their shareholders, and keep their roads in good order.”

    Fear of excessive profits?! Can you imagine any CEO, COO, CFO, director, or fund manager of today discussing seriously the danger of “excessive profits”? Clearly, the capitalism of today is a far different, more voracious beast than the capitalism of 1858. But if hundreds of local citizens had invested their capital with a company, the officers of that company would be violating the simple dictates of civic republicanism to care for one’s community, if they made excessive profits.

    I think reviving a spirit of civil virtue may do more than passing laws against corporate malfeasance. Though such laws are absolutely necessary.

    “Equitable sharing isn’t something most people even remotely associate with ‘civic republicanism’ these days.” Sharing is not a value promoted by the ideology of liberalism. Liberal political economy is founded on the idea that the clash of self-interests in “the market” will magically achieve through an “invisible hand” the most equitable distribution of resources. How were the principles of civic republicanism discarded?

    Ironically, “the entire zeitgeist of the society” was changed by campaigns to inject the ideas of John Locke, Adam Smith, and Thomas Malthus. The earliest campaigns were undertaken by the slave-holders of what became the Confederacy. A good source for the details is Heather Cox Richardson, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America (Oxford University Press, 2020). Details on the later campaigns led by William Graham Sumner, Herbert Spencer, and others are found in Michael J. Thompson, the fourth chapter, “Embracing Inequality: The Reorientation of American Democracy” of The Politics of Inequality: A Political History of the Idea of Economic Inequality in America (New York, NY, Columbia University Press, 2007). Also see Martin, Isaac William, Rich People’s Movements: Grassroots Campaigns to Untax the One Percent
    Rich People’s Movements: Grassroots Campaigns to Untax the One Percent, Cambridge, Oxford University Press (2011).

    The campaigns to introduce the ideas of Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises are detailed in a number of books on the history of neoliberalism, such as Phillips-Fein, Kim, Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan (New York City, W.W. Norton & Co., 2009); Mirowski, Philip, and Plehwe Dieter, eds. The Road from Mont Pèlerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (PDF). Harvard University Press (2009); and Maclean, Nancy, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, , New York City, Viking Press, 2017.

    The point is that the shift away from civic republicanism was not natural and self-generative. Rather its was cultivated, nurtured, and extremely well funded by the rich. The idea that spending money on political contributions or buying media outlets is merely free speech, is the obvious result of these campaigns.

    Is there a way to limit the speech of the rich? I think we should look to the prohibition against serving military officers commenting on politics and religion. This limitation on speech rights of a certain segment of citizens depends more on social and cultural pressure than an actual enforcement of the laws and military code of conduct pertaining to such speech. The sense of civic virtue must become so strong, that similar social and cultural pressure is applied to the rich, merely because they are rich. Can such popular outrage over the rich meddling in politics actually reverse the corrosive rot introduced by the Buckley v. Valero and Citizens United decisions? I am not sure, but I think we must try.

    Underpinning the social and cultural limitation on the free speech of the rich must be a widespread understanding of the dynamics of technology development and creating new wealth. It is always in the best interests of society to advance the knowledge and capability to bend the powers of nature to useful purposes, but the creation of such power always involves the creation of new interest groups that seek to protect their interests, including against new technologies. Such is the story of the rise of Silicon Valley and the IT industry: welcomed and celebrated as great economic visionaries I from the 1950s through 1980s, now hated and feared as monopolists and barriers to progress who now spend more each year on legal battles to preserve their economic power and privilege, than they spend on research and development.

    It is the great historic irony of republican political economy that we have up to now failed to recognize and place safeguards against this cycle. Our collective efforts to promote the General Welfare create new economic interests that naturally develop influence and institutions to entrench and protect those interests to such extent that they themselves eventually become hindrances and obstacles to promoting the General Welfare. You became rich developing new technologies and economic potentials? Fine. But you may not use your wealth and economic power to influence politics and economic policy. Your becoming rich had something to do with your own capabilities and merits, but history shows that even more essential to you becoming rich was the general economic and political conditions created through the collective efforts of the entire society. See Ian Welsh, September 7, 2021, It’s Not Your Money

    If you think your being rich means you have a capacity to decide policy questions superior to the mass of citizens, you are mistaken and so misguided as to be a danger to the republic. Because you do not understand and appreciate that it is exactly the diversity of beliefs and opinions that is the underlying strength of our society and system of republican self-government.

  9. different clue

    @Tony Wikrent,

    I have thought up the name National Christianists for the rising “Christianist Nationalists” as you call them, because it rhythmically “rhymes” with National Socialists.

    National Christianism is to Christianity as National Socialism is to Socialism.

    ” National Christianist – – – National Christianism”. Feel free to use those words if you feel they might be useful.

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