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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 31, 2024

by Tony Wikrent


Strategic Political Economy

There Are Four Postelection Scenarios, and Not One Is Good 

Brynn Tannehill, March 22, 2024 [The New Republic]

Secret RCMP report warns Canadians may revolt once they realize how broke they are 

[National Post, via Naked Capitalism 03-24-2024]

“The coming period of recession will … accelerate the decline in living standards that the younger generations have already witnessed compared to earlier generations,” reads the report, entitled Whole-of-Government Five-Year Trends for Canada.

“For example, many Canadians under 35 are unlikely ever to be able to buy a place to live,” it adds.

The report, labelled secret, is intended as a piece of “special operational information” to be distributed only within the RCMP and among “decision-makers” in the federal government.

Global power shift

This is the way the West ends 

[Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 03-30-2024]

With the United States entangled in conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza and the threat of a war with China looming large, Professor Michael Brenner’s insights and views on the state of the US-led liberal order are arguably as timely and important as ever….

MB: The entire foreign policy community in the United States now shares the basic tenets of neoconservatives. Actually, the scripture is Paul Wolfowitz’s notorious memorandum of March 1991 wherein he laid out a comprehensive, detailed strategy for systematizing American global dominance. Everything that Washington is doing, and thinking, now is derivative of that plan.

Its core principles: the United States should use all the means at its disposal to establish American global dominance; to that end, it must be ready to act preventively to stymie the emergence of any power that could challenge our hegemony; and to maintain full spectrum dominance in every region of the globe. Ideals and values are relegated to an auxiliary role as a veneer on the application of power and as a stick with which to beat others. Classic diplomacy is disparaged as inappropriate to this scheme of things.

For Biden himself, a confident, assertive, hard-edged approach to dealing with others derives naturally from belief in Americanism as a Unified Field Theory that explains, interprets and justifies whatever the US thinks and does. Were Biden reelected, this outlook will remain unchanged. And were he to be replaced by Kamala Harris mid-term, which is likely, inertia will keep everything on the fixed course.

‘Structural’ problem: top China scholar says US tensions will be ‘with us for a long time’ 

[South China Morning Post, via Naked Capitalism 03-25-2024]

India’s coal & lignite production at ‘historical’ one billion tonnes .

[The Hindu, via Naked Capitalism 03-25-2024]


[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 03-26-2024]


Gaza / Palestine / Israel

What Really Happened on October 7?

Maureen Tkacik, March 20, 2024 [American Prospect]

And why, wonders a new Al Jazeera documentary, did the media go to such lengths to concoct gruesome X-rated versions of an attack that was harrowing enough to begin with?

How Biden Boxed Himself In on Gaza 

Jonathan Guyer, March 14, 2024 [The American Prospect]

The president draws on 50 years of unflagging support for Israel, and not even a humanitarian crisis can dislodge him from that viewpoint.

Washington aims to complete Gaza pier to enable maritime aid by May 1, says official 

[Times of Israel, via Naked Capitalism 03-24-2024]

Israeli war to end with Jews settling northern Gaza: Knesset member 

[Anadolu Agency, via Naked Capitalism 03-25-2024]

The Corrupt Trifecta of Yass, Trump, and Netanyahu

Robert Kuttner, March 27, 2024 [The American Prospect]

Trade Unionists Shut Down UK Arms Factories Demanding Halt Of Arms Exports To Israel 

[Defend Democracy Press, via Naked Capitalism 03-28-2024]

German bank freezes account of anti-Zionist Jewish association 

[nadolu Agency, via Naked Capitalism 03-28-2024]

‘Obscene’: Biden Quietly OKs More 2,000-Pound Bombs, Warplanes for Israel

Brett Wilkins, March 29, 2024 [CommonDreams]



The Billionaire-Fueled Lobbying Group Behind the State Bills to Ban Basic Income Experiments

Scott Santens [UBLI Guide, via David Sirota, The Lever 03-28-2024]

The Foundation for Government Accountability – a Florida-based lobbying group backed by the richest 1% – is working to get basic income experiments banned by state legislators across the U.S….

 Over 150 guaranteed basic income pilots are now ongoing or recently completed in 24 states as of this writing, and so far, bills in seven states have been introduced to stop them. All of the bills are the result of efforts by the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) – a lobbying group with a billionaire-fueled junk science record every American should know about.

First, to bring every reader up to speed, basic income (or UBI) is “a periodic cash payment, unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement.” Although such payments without conditions already exist upon a mountain of evidence, post-2020, experiments have exploded in cities across the U.S. thanks to the efforts of Mayors for Guaranteed Income (MGI) which was founded in 2020 by former Mayor Michael Tubbs after the success of the pilot in Stockton, CA that provided $500 a month to 125 people for 2 years. The biggest findings there were that full-time employment grew at twice the rate of the control group, and mental health improved significantly.

Billionaires sought to help fund Trump bond in civil fraud case, sources say 

[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 03-27-2024]

“Billionaire hedge fund founder John Paulson was involved in the behind-the-scenes effort by donors concerned about Trump’s legal woes and looking to help provide money toward the bond, two of the sources told Reuters. Oil and gas magnate Harold Hamm was also involved, one of those sources said… A fourth source, a Trump ally, said he had direct knowledge of one donor who offered more than $10 million toward the bond over the weekend, before being told it was not necessary. After Monday’s court decision allowing a smaller bond, Trump said he would now be able to pay…. Surety companies would have likely required Trump to post about $558 million in collateral for the original bond, or 120% of the judgment, according to Trump’s lawyers. Full details of the billionaires’ efforts to raise funds, such as how much each donor had potentially pledged, were not immediately available. One source said the group had pooled the full amount originally due Monday. It was not clear whether the mega-donors would offer to help fund the new bond.”

PIC tweet on Sam Bankman-Fried’s parents sense of entitlement

[via Naked Capitalism 03-29-2024]

Billionaire Larry Fink of BlackRock, Which Grabbed Fed Bailouts in 2020-2021, Lectures Struggling Seniors on Making More Sacrifices

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, March 27, 2024 [Wall Street on Parade]

Yesterday, billionaire Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of the giant investment manager BlackRock, released his annual letter to shareholders. In it, Fink revives the same ole trope that billionaires Kenneth Langone and Stanley Druckenmiller were taking on a road show in 2013. Back then the billionaire propaganda was called: “Generational Theft: How Entitlement Spending is Stealing Opportunity from America’s Youth.”

Every time there is talk of raising taxes on the super-rich, some of whom pay less in taxes than plumbers and teachers through a tricked-up tax dodge known as “carried interest,” the billionaires launch a concerted effort to scapegoat struggling seniors living on an average monthly Social Security retirement benefit of $1772.51.

The inability of younger Americans to save enough for retirement couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Wall Street gobbling up two-thirds of lifetime retirement savings in fees, as Frontline documented back in 2013. The late John Bogle explained in the program that if a person works for 50 years and receives the typical long-term return of 7 percent on their 401(k) plan and Wall Street’s fees are 2 percent, almost two-thirds of their retirement account will go to Wall Street. Wall Street On Parade checked the math and documented it for our readers….

Fink also offers this preposterous analysis of the 2007 to 2010 Wall Street crash in the U.S.:

“In Europe, where most assets were kept in banks, economies froze as banks were forced to shrink their balance sheets. Of course, U.S. banks had to tighten capital standards and pull back from lending as well. But because the U.S. had a more robust secondary pool of money – the capital markets — the nation was able to recover much more quickly.”

Fink is brazenly attempting to rewrite Wall Street history. The capital markets in the U.S. were in free-fall; giant financial institutions were collapsing (Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Citigroup, AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Washington Mutual and Wachovia to name a few). Internal emails released by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission showed that Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs were likely to be next.

The capital markets did not save Wall Street. The secret and unprecedented $29 trillion money spigot from the Fed saved Wall Street and resuscitated the very villains who had brought on the financial crisis through unbridled greed and crony capitalism.


Deindustrialization — Boeing

Boeing is paralyzed, and this failing of its executives and directors is to blame

[Morningstar, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 03-28-2024]

“While some have been keen to frame Boeing’s problems as a consequence of its DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) efforts, this argument is wildly unconvincing. What Boeing’s problems actually illustrate is that despite corporations adding more women and minorities to boards and C-suites over the past several years, conformity of thought and the strength of social ties are more powerful. The actual problem isn’t a lack of controls, visibility or knowledge. Rather, it is group dynamics. Nell Minow, a leading corporate governance specialist, has decades of experience directly observing board dynamics. She has this to say about boardroom groupthink: ‘We take these people of extraordinary ability and achievement. We put them in a boardroom, and there they suddenly become totally incompetent. Why is that? My answer is that these are people who have a genius for sizing up the norms of the room and adapting to them. And that’s a fabulous quality to have. But unfortunately, you’ve got 11 people like that – and one very visionary, dynamic leader who controls their information, their access to other people in the organization, and even their tenure and their compensation. That’s not a good system.’ Board selection criteria vary, but while efforts have been made to increase the independence of board members, personal and social connections still predominate. Many studies demonstrate that members tend to have similar backgrounds, political affiliations and even religious beliefs. Bonding on the golf course remains a hallowed professional practice. At Boeing, its 2021 $246 million fine did lead to the addition of aviation and safety experts to the board, and 30% of its directors are women. But neither factor is enough to offset the complex web of connections, relationships and loyalties between its members.”

[TW: So, it does not matter if an organization is run by men, or women — human nature remains human nature. ]

Suicide Mission

Maureen Tkacik, March 1, 2024 [American Prospect]

What Boeing did to all the guys who remember how to build a plane….

But [whistleblower Barnett, recently found dead with a gunshot to the head] was mired in an institution that was in a perpetual state of unlearning all the lessons it had absorbed over a 90-year ascent to the pinnacle of global manufacturing. Like most neoliberal institutions, Boeing had come under the spell of a seductive new theory of “knowledge” that essentially reduced the whole concept to a combination of intellectual property, trade secrets, and data, discarding “thought” and “understanding” and “complex reasoning” possessed by a skilled and experienced workforce as essentially not worth the increased health care costs. CEO Jim McNerney, who joined Boeing in 2005, had last helmed 3M, where management as he saw it had “overvalued experience and undervalued leadership” before he purged the veterans into early retirement.

“Prince Jim”—as some long-timers used to call him—repeatedly invoked a slur for longtime engineers and skilled machinists in the obligatory vanity “leadership” book he co-wrote. Those who cared too much about the integrity of the planes and not enough about the stock price were “phenomenally talented assholes,” and he encouraged his deputies to ostracize them into leaving the company. He initially refused to let nearly any of these talented assholes work on the 787 Dreamliner, instead outsourcing the vast majority of the development and engineering design of the brand-new, revolutionary wide-body jet to suppliers, many of which lacked engineering departments. The plan would save money while busting unions, a win-win, he promised investors. Instead, McNerney’s plan burned some $50 billion in excess of its budget and went three and a half years behind schedule.

“It is worth noting here that Swampy’s [Barnett’s] former co-workers universally refuse to believe that their old colleague killed himself. One former co-worker who was terrified of speaking publicly went out of their way to tell me that they weren’t suicidal. ‘If I show up dead anytime soon, even if it’s a car accident or something, I’m a safe driver, please be on the lookout for foul play.’…. Discussing Swampy’s death and the whistleblower lawsuit he left behind, the longtime former Boeing executive told me, ‘I don’t think one can be cynical enough when it comes to these guys.’ Did that mean he thought Boeing assassinated Swampy? ‘It’s a top-secret military contractor, remember; there are spies everywhere, he replied. More importantly, he added,’ There is a principle in American law that there is no such thing as an accidental death during the commission of a felony. Let’s say you rob a bank and while traveling at high speed in the getaway you run down a pedestrian and kill them. That’s second-degree murder at the very least.’”


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Nobel laureate economist savages his own profession as clueless and unethical 

[Crikey, via Naked Capitalism 03-25-2024]

Nobel Laureate economist Angus Deaton has delivered a ferocious rebuke to his own profession, saying economists have failed to understand that capitalism is about power….

Deaton’s main point is a recognition of how power distorts policy: “Our emphasis on the virtues of free, competitive markets and exogenous technical change can distract us from the importance of power in setting prices and wages, in choosing the direction of technical change, and in influencing politics to change the rules of the game.”

What’s extraordinary is that a Nobel Laureate economist has only achieved this realisation so late in his career. Anyone with practical experience of policymaking, or with training as a historian, or even someone who has worked as a lobbyist or consultant, has a grasp of what Deaton has only belatedly realised: modern capitalism, particularly in its neoliberal form that disempowers governments and rivals like trade unions, is about the use of power by corporations to “change the rules of the game”, to increase certainty for themselves and reduce it for competitors, workers and consumers. It speaks volumes about how sheltered many mainstream academic economists really are.

Kids as young as 14 were found working at a Tennessee factory that makes lawn mower parts for John Deere and others 

[NBC News, via Naked Capitalism 03-27-2024]

Behind the Baltimore bridge collapse is a familiar story of a corporation cutting corners 

[Salon, via Naked Capitalism 03-30-2024]


Predatory finance

Almost 10,000 U.S. Banks Have Disappeared Since 1985, Leaving 4 Mega Banks Controlling 39 Percent of Bank Assets

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, March 26, 2024 [Wall Street on Parade]

According to Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) data, there were 14,417 federally-insured banking institutions in the U.S. in 1985. As of December 31, 2023, the FDIC reports there are only 4,587 remaining. The vast majority of the 9,830 banks that have disappeared since 1985 did not fail – they were merged with other banks.

Today, just four banks control $9.3 trillion in consolidated bank assets or 39 percent of all bank assets. Those four banks are JPMorgan Chase with $3.395 trillion in consolidated assets; Bank of America with $2.540 trillion; Wells Fargo with $1.7 trillion; and Citigroup’s Citibank with $1.685 trillion. (All asset figures are as of December 31, 2023 and come from the Federal Reserve’s statistical release of the largest banks.)

Report: Five Banks Have a Combined Half Trillion Dollars in Commercial Real Estate Loans; Number 1 is JPMorgan Chase

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, March 28, 2024 [Wall Street on Parade]

Yesterday, American Banker released a report showing that five banks in the U.S. hold a combined half trillion dollars in commercial real estate (CRE) loans. It came as a big surprise to a lot of folks that the bank holding the largest amount of CRE loans is JPMorgan Chase – whose bank holding company is also exposed to $49 trillion in derivatives as of December 31, 2023 according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. (See Table 14 at this link.)

JPMorgan Chase is already considered the riskiest bank in the U.S. according to its regulators.

American Banker reported the following CRE totals for the five banks: JPMorgan Chase, $173 billion; Wells Fargo, $139.65 billion; Bank of America, $82.8 billion; U.S. Bank, $55.66 billion; and PNC Bank, $48.89 billion.


They’re not capitalists — they’re predatory criminals

Food inflation: The math doesn’t add up without factoring in corporate power 

[CADTM, via Naked Capitalism 03-26-2024]


[Federal Trade Commission, via David Sirota, The Lever 03-28-2024]

As regulators review the proposed Kroger-Albertsons grocery merger, a new federal report finds that food and beverage companies used their market power to fleece everyone. “Food and beverage retailer revenues increased to more than 6 percent over total costs in 2021” and in the first three quarters of 2023, “revenue reach(ed) 7 percent over total costs.” The report concludes that: “This casts doubt on assertions that rising prices at the grocery store are simply moving in lockstep with retailers’ own rising costs.”

Jeffrey Epstein’s Island Visitors Exposed by Data Broker 

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 03-29-2024]

“[M]any of the coordinates captured by Near point to multimillion-dollar homes in numerous US states.”


Restoring balance to the economy

Monopoly Round-Up: How FTC Chair Lina Khan Cut Inhaler Costs to $35 

Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 03-25-2024].


Disrupting mainstream economics  

What Have Fourteen Years of Conservative Rule Done to Britain? 

[New Yorker, via Naked Capitalism 03-27-2024]

The stories we tell each other about the economy in which we live are more important than the data we collect about it 

[Funding the Future, via Naked Capitalism 03-29-2024]

The Connection Between Jobs and Housing

Robert Kuttner, March 26, 2024 [The American Prospect]

This year’s newly released Economic Report of the President, under the direction of Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey of the Council of Economic Advisers, is a superb piece of work. Two of the most instructive chapters deal with full employment and with housing, and the connection between the two.

If you ever needed a compendium of all the benefits provided by full employment, here is your reminder. The chapter is dedicated to our friend and longtime Prospect board member, Howard University economist Bill Spriggs, a longtime crusader for full employment, who died an untimely death last June.….

…as the report explains, though the supposed trade-off between unemployment and inflation is a staple of orthodox economics, the terms of that trade-off can be improved by the kinds of smart policies the Biden administration has pursued. Those include industrial and infrastructure programs to relieve supply bottlenecks, targeted job training and apprenticeship programs, as well as antitrust and pro-competition strategies to relieve sources of price hikes that reflect market power, such as drug prices and junk fees, which have nothing to do with general inflationary pressures. Biden has also acted to remove illegitimate employer tactics to suppress wages, such as mandatory noncompete clauses and illegal anti-union activity.

Giant Pictures & Kanopy Acquire ‘Finding The Money,’ Documentary That Explodes Myth Of Deficit Spending

Matthew Carey [Deadline, via Mike Norman Economics, March 28, 2024]

Rinse and repeat – Truss chaos – the new benchmark

Bill Mitchell [Modern Monetary Theory, via Mike Norman Economics, March 26, 2024]

For years, those who want selective access to government spending benefits (like the military-industrial complex and other parasitic sectors), while claiming the government cannot afford to provide adequate income support to the most disadvantaged citizens have used various ruses to give an air of authority or legitimacy to their claims. So in the UK, the lie in 1976 by the then Labour government that it was going to have to borrow from the IMF to stay solvent has been regularly wheeled out. In Europe, it was the ‘tournant de la rigueur’ (austerity turn) introduced by the French government of François Mitterrand in 1983 that effectively cancelled the commitment to the progressive – Programme commun – that is often cited as a demonstration of the limited capacity of governments to resist the global power of the financial markets. The fact that it was progressive governments that instigated these events made it more emphatic – the Left essentially swallowed the fictions introduced by the Right and the corporate elites that governments were now powerless against the power of the financial markets. The macroeconomic contest was essentially ceded to the conservatives and it has been that way since. There is now a new ruse that the elites are using that the progressives are also spreading – the Liz Truss Ruse. This apparently tells us that governments must appease the financial markets or face currency destruction and rising bond yields. Like its predecessors, there is no validity to the claims. But the Left is so bereft that it cannot see through the smoke and mirrors. And that is why the world is in the parlous state that it is – the contest of ideas is non-existent. It is a case of rinse and repeat – except all is happening is lies and posturing is being recycled…

Are you a democrat, or not? That is the question that MMT poses, and which everyone needs to answer.

Richard Murphy [Funding the Future

…The real issue is one of political economy, and not economics. The question that MMT seeks to answer is, does the government have the power to create new money to fund its spending, and does it, in that case, have the right to create money at will (subject to the physical constraints that exist within the economy as to what is possible) to achieve its economic, social and industrial objectives, such as the delivery of full employment on a sustainable basis, with everyone having a sufficient income to meet their needs?

As a matter of fact, economics now says that governments can create money. There is no major central bank that now pretends otherwise. The Bank of England has been particularly explicit, saying in 2014 that the economic textbooks suggesting otherwise were wrong. It also made clear at that time that suggestions that banks act as intermediaries between savers and investors borrowers are wrong, that models of fractional reserve banking are simply incorrect, and that in the commercial sector, it is bank lending that creates sums that are saved, and it is not sums that are saved that create loans.

Monetary Sovereignty and Mark Blyth’s critique of MMT 

Peter May [Progressive Pulse, via Mike Norman Economics, March 25, 2024]


Health care crisis

Medicare Advantage is overbilling Medicare by 22% 

[Morningstar, via Naked Capitalism 03-27-2024]

Puerto Rico health officials declare dengue fever a public health emergency, more than 500 cases reported 

[FOX, via Naked Capitalism 03-28-2024]


Information age dystopia / surveillance state

The New Persuaders

Robert Wright, March 30, 2024 [Nonzero Newsletter]

Traditionally, deploying an army of online influencers has cost real money, since “keyboard warriors” don’t work for free. With the advent of large language models, you can deploy thousands and thousands (and thousands, and so on…) of sophisticated chatbots that do work for free.

Last week researchers at two European universities provided evidence that the problem is even worse than that. Their study found that LLM-based chatbots, in addition to being cheap and verbally fluent, are better than humans at persuading humans—and better in a particularly ominous way.

The researchers, from Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and Italy’s Fondazione Bruno Kessler, recruited 820 humans and one chatbot (ChatGPT-4) and placed them in short, structured online debates. Half of the debates were human-on-human and half were human-on-bot. Before the debates, the humans were asked for their views on a given issue (abortion, death penalty, arming Ukraine, etc.). Then they were randomly assigned to defend one side of the issue. They then debated a person or a bot (they weren’t told which), and afterwards they were asked again about their views on the issue.

In the bare bones version of the experiment, the bots were only slightly better than humans at moving their debate opponents toward their position; the difference wasn’t big enough to pass the test for statistical significance. But when bots were given demographic data about their debate opponents, they got much better at changing minds. Humans, given the same data about their opponents, got slightly worse at persuasion. The authors write, “Not only are LLMs able to effectively exploit personal information to tailor their arguments, but they succeed in doing so far more effectively than humans.”

The demographic data given to the chatbots wasn’t very extensive: just gender, age, ethnicity, education level, employment status, and political affiliation. That’s the scary part. There’s more voluminous and fine-grained information about us online, information that a bot could readily find and digest—our history of social media posts, for example.

Maintain Your Brain 

Matt Taibbi, March 20, 2024 [Racket News]

… I started to worry over what looked like the removal of multiple lanes from the Information Superhighway. Wikipedia rules tightened. Google search results seemed like the digital equivalent of a magician forcing cards on consumers….

Now I think differently. After spending months talking to people in tech, I realize the problem is broader and more unnerving. On top of the political chicanery, sites like Twitter and TikTok don’t want you leaving. They want you scrolling endlessly, so you’ll see ads, ads, and more ads. The scariest speech I heard came from a tech developer describing how TikTok reduced the online experience to a binary mental state: you’re either watching or deciding, Next. That’s it: your brain is just a switch….

Generations ago it wasn’t uncommon for educated people to memorize chunks of The Iliad, building up their minds by forcing them to do all the rewarding work associated with real reading: assembling images, keeping track of plot and character structure, juggling themes and challenging ideas even as you carried the story along. Then came mass media. Newspapers shortened attention span, movies arrived and did visual assembly for you, TV mastered mental junk food, MTV replaced story with montages of interesting nonsensical images, then finally the Internet came and made it possible to endlessly follow your own random impulses instead of anyone else’s schedule or plot….

Inventions like TikTok, which I’m on record saying shouldn’t be banned, are designed to create mentally helpless users, like H addicts. If you stand there scrolling and thinking Next! enough, your head will sooner or later be fully hollowed out. You’ll lose the ability to remember, focus, and decide for yourself. There’s a political benefit in this for leaders, but more importantly there’s a huge commercial boon. The mental jellyfish is more susceptible to advertising (which of course allows firms to charge more) and wll show less and less will over time to walk out of the Internet’s various brain-eating chambers….

We’re entering a stage of history where, like the underground resistance in Bradbury’s book, we’ll have to build some consciousness as a movement to save the human mind.

Israel quietly rolled out a mass facial recognition program in the Gaza Strip 

[The Verge, via Naked Capitalism 03-30-2024]

Brands Add AI Restrictions to Agency Contracts—Behind the Growing Trend

[AdAge, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 03-28-2024]

“Brands are demanding stronger AI safeguards in their contracts with ad agencies, setting up tension between marketing firms, which are racing to adopt generative AI, and clients, who are worried about all of the ways the technology could steer them wrong. ‘Recently, we won three new pieces of business and in the [master service agreement] it says, ‘you’re not allowed to use AI of any kind, without prior authorization,” said one independent ad agency CEO, who spoke with Ad Age on condition of anonymity to protect the identities of clients. ‘So, that even means they don’t want us to use AI to help work on concepts, not just anything that goes out the door.’ The agency is not alone, as these strict AI terms are becoming more common, according to ad industry leaders. Last year, the Association of National Advertisers updated its guidance to brands, advising them to include clauses about AI and consent in their agency deals. Now, those restrictions are being applied. ‘There is this juxtaposition of agencies ramping up their AI knowledge and usage, and then clients clamping it down,’ the agency CEO said.” • So clients think AI is “box office poison.” Interesting. Let’s wait and see if this holds up.

U.S. Sues Apple Over iPhone Monopoly 

Michael Tsai [via Naked Capitalism 03-25-2024] A good round-up.

The Pentagon’s Silicon Valley Problem: How Big Tech is losing the wars of the future 

Andrew Cockburn [Harpers, via Naked Capitalism 03-26-2024]

Slowly Suffocating Assange, Like its Other Enemies 

Caitlin Johnstone [Consortium News, via Naked Capitalism 03-29-2024]


Climate and environmental crises

Exploring China’s Water Usage Trends and Sustainability 

[Chinese Academy of Sciences, via Naked Capitalism 03-24-2024]


[Morris, V., Jacquet, J. The animal agriculture industry, US universities, and the obstruction of climate understanding and policy. Climatic Change 177, 41 (2024), via David Sirota, The Lever, 03-28-2024

Why did America’s livestock industry remain largely unregulated after a United Nations’ report exposed the industry as a major contributor to the climate crisis? A new study documents how agribusiness conglomerates responded to the data “by minimizing their role in the climate crisis and shaping policymaking in their favor” — specifically by forging relationships with academia. “The animal agriculture industry is now involved in multiple multi-million-dollar efforts with universities to obstruct unfavorable policies as well as influence climate change policy and discourse,” the new study shows.


Democrats’ political malpractice

The U.S. Economy’s Rebound Since COVID Is Kind of Incredible. Why Doesn’t Anyone Seem to Realize This?

Zachary  Carter [Slate, via David Sirota, The Lever, 03-28-2024]

…For much of his presidency, Biden has been the victim of a centrist revolt against his economic program that the progressive wing of the party has been either unable or unwilling to put down. Everyone expects Republicans to give a Democratic president a hard time, but sharp and sustained economic criticism from Biden’s ostensible allies established a narrative of failure that has proved alarmingly resistant to reality.

Biden frequently draws distinctions between himself and the progressive left on police reform, immigration, and other issues where he thinks liberal ideas don’t fit the national mood. But this is not the way he has handled economic policy. From his first day in the Oval Office, Biden has embraced nearly every progressive criticism of Barack Obama’s approach to the economy, and translated those critiques into policy. Obama scoffed at labor unions; Biden walked a picket line and appointed the most pro-worker National Labor Relations Board in decades. Obama’s Education Department screwed over student debtors; Biden has canceled $138 billion in student debt. Obama defended big businessBiden has been an antitrust warrior. Obama was a free trader, while Biden subsidizes domestic manufacturing. Obama offered to cut Social Security; Biden just torched Republicans during his State of the Union for planning the same thing.

The list goes on. But the most important economic distinction between Biden and Obama is on crisis relief….

The chief lesson Biden’s advisers took from this miserable experience was that the government didn’t spend enough in Obama’s 2009 stimulus package to get unemployment under control. More money would have meant more jobs, and more jobs would have put upward pressure on wages.

So Biden opted to spend much bigger out of the gate—$1.9 trillion to Obama’s $800 billion—and continued to secure additional rounds of support right up to the 2022 midterms. Obama began calling for budget cuts with unemployment still stuck above 9 percent, but Biden never pivoted to austerity, and ultimately secured well over $1 trillion in additional public investment after his initial stimulus bill had been enacted….

[TW: The bad feelings will continue until we bring to account the CEOs responsible crapification, or enshittfication. For example, it’s no longer safe to fly on Boeing aircraft. Remember, establishment pundits like Tom Friedman, who sang the praises of free trade and globalization, repeatedly called Boeing the “crown jewel” of American industry up until a couple years ago. Boeing is as good as dead at this point; only its defense contracts are going to keep it on life support.

[The destruction of Boeing as a properly functioning aircraft builder is just one clue to the general economic discontent reflected in poll after poll. This is supposed to be a service economy, but you can no longer get customer service. Trying to solve a problem with billing or a foreign-made product defect is always a reminder that the post-industrial, out-sourced US economy sucks. Having to deal with interminable phone tree menus, often never reaching a live human being, or being shunted to someone in a low wage country like India or Costa Rica whose English just is not that easy to understand.

[How many people look forward to computer or cell phone updates? So more screen space is plastered over with ads? There are little reminders like these every damn day that the balance of power is totally out of whack, and working people are screwed. Yet companies are making record profits? And CEOs are still getting bonuses?

[There were people who warned us that globalization and financialization and the war against organized labor was going to head to exactly these results. Decades ago. The United Auto Workers warned about NAFTA. The International Association of Machinists warned about outsourcing and relocating manufacturing to anti-union states like South Carolina. National Nurses United warned about what private equity is doing to health care. Why aren’t these crusaders against globalization and financialization — who turned out to be correct — featured on MSNBC or CNN or in the New York Times or Washington Post every day?

[And remember that national accounting statistics are deeply, deeply flawed. If every Boeing airliner crashed in the next few months, and a half million or so people were hired to investigate the wreckage and identify the bodies, that jump in employment would register as a big positive leap in NAS.

[Forty years now I’ve witnessed fellow Democrats dismiss and ignore the anger and discontent of working people. I even warned, back in 2008-2009 (want me to find the links?), that if Obama did not use the financial crash as an opportunity to smash Wall Street and thereby restore some balance to the economy, there would a populist backlash with a dangerous possibility of being right-wing instead of “far left.” So I was not at all surprised by the rise of Trump. ]

State of Working America Wages 2023

[Economic Policy Institute, March 21, 2024]

Historically disadvantaged low-wage workers saw the fastest wage growth after decades of stagnation, but it’s still not enough.

Joe Lieberman, Iraq War Cheerleader and Killer of Public Option, Dead at 82 

[CommonDreams, March 27, 2024]

“Joe Lieberman’s legacy will live on as your medical debt.”

Joe Lieberman Is Dead

[Atrios, Eschaton, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 03-28-2024]

“He was a bad and dishonest person who delighted in making other people suffer for petty or grotesque reasons, all while basking the glow of praise from a political press who treated him as The Last Good Man In Washington. Embrace being bad, don’t wrap it in sanctimonious smug and demand people you deserve it.”

[Lambert Strether added: “Lieberman made ObamaCare worse by ripping away even the fig leaf of the so-called public option. Lieberman was a giant Iraq war hawk. And people forget this, but Lieberman gave as the Department of Homeland security, from whence the Censorship Industrial Complex metastasized, among other things. He also defeated an insurgency led by Jane Hamsher and the blogophere. Lieberman was a bad man.”]


(anti)Republican Drive to Civil War

Conservative Judges Sound Alarm: Trump Will Shred Our Justice System

Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling, March 29, 2024 [The New Republic]

Donald Trump’s attacks on the judges and court staff overseeing his criminal trials have much deeper legal implications than petty fines. Instead, the attacks—and the responding “passivity, acquiescence, and submissiveness by the nation”—are actively undermining the entire judicial system, prominent conservative judges are warning.

In a CNN interview Thursday evening, Republican-appointed federal District Judge Reggie B. Walton felt compelled to announce that Trump’s continued attacks could result in “tyranny.” Just hours later, former Appeals Court Judge J. Michael Luttig, also a conservative, issued his own warning cry, declaring that Trump is responsible for the “dismantling” of the nation’s “system of justice.”

Donald Trump’s attacks on the judges and court staff overseeing his criminal trials have much deeper legal implications than petty fines. Instead, the attacks—and the responding “passivity, acquiescence, and submissiveness by the nation”—are actively undermining the entire judicial system, prominent conservative judges are warning.

In a CNN interview Thursday evening, Republican-appointed federal District Judge Reggie B. Walton felt compelled to announce that Trump’s continued attacks could result in “tyranny.” Just hours later, former Appeals Court Judge J. Michael Luttig, also a conservative, issued his own warning cry, declaring that Trump is responsible for the “dismantling” of the nation’s “system of justice.”

Meet the Hidden Architect Behind America’s Racist Economics

Lynn Parramore, May 30, 2018 [Institute for New Economic Thinking, via Avedon’s Sideshow 03-21-2024]

Ask people to name the key minds that have shaped America’s burst of radical right-wing attacks on working conditions, consumer rights and public services, and they will typically mention figures like free market-champion Milton Friedman, libertarian guru Ayn Rand, and laissez-faire economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. James McGill Buchanan is a name you will rarely hear unless you’ve taken several classes in economics. And if the Tennessee-born Nobel laureate were alive today, it would suit him just fine that most well-informed journalists, liberal politicians, and even many economics students have little understanding of his work. The reason? Duke historian Nancy MacLean contends that his philosophy is so stark that even young libertarian acolytes are only introduced to it after they have accepted the relatively sunny perspective of Ayn Rand. (Yes, you read that correctly). If Americans really knew what Buchanan thought and promoted, and how destructively his vision is manifesting under their noses, it would dawn on them how close the country is to a transformation most would not even want to imagine, much less accept.”

MAGA’s Ugly, Hateful Response to Bridge Horror Is About to Get Worse 

Greg Sargent, March 30, 2024 [The New Republic]

If they can try to turn the tragic Baltimore bridge collapse into a culture war, they’ll go anywhere—hurting their own people in the process….

Now, after the disastrous collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, MAGA figures and some GOP politicians are reviving that playbook yet again, in some cases with hateful, conspiratorial gusto. But this time the absurdities are of a next-level sort. That’s because the disaster, by severely hampering Baltimore’s port operations, is impacting regions and industries that rely on the port to export goods. Those include areas sometimes called “MAGA country,” places in the agricultural and industrial heartland throughout the Midwest.

In short, the Baltimore collapse demonstrates with unusual clarity that when it comes to calamities of this sort, we really are all in it together. That, of course, is exactly what the MAGA worldview seeks to deny at all costs—and is once again trying to do here.

This week, Pennsylvania GOP Representative Dan Meuser slammed President Biden for calling on Congress to fully fund the response to the Baltimore collapse. Meuser insisted it’s “outrageous” that Biden wants to fund repairs in their “entirety,” and even demanded that some of this money must be taken from “ridiculous EV expenditures.”

Georgia Republicans Pass Bill Making It Easier to Purge Votes in 2024

Tori Otten, March 29, 2024 [The New Republic]

…The bill increases the number of reasons that a person’s voter registration can be challenged, such as registering in another state or jurisdiction, using a different residence to obtain a homestead tax exemption, or registering at a nonresidential address. In smaller Georgia towns, where there aren’t enough residents in the zip code for the post office to deliver mail to home addresses, many residents use their post office box as their voter registration address. This would also be banned.

The (anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts


Conservatives Don’t Have a Monopoly on Originalism

Simon Lazarus, March 29, 2024 [The New Republic]

Last month, the conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru published an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing that Democrats “have lost the debate about the role of courts in our democracy.” He detailed how conservatives over two generations “developed a comprehensive strategy, including politically powerful rhetoric,” to shift the federal courts toward their way of thinking. “….

Ponnuru is right. Conservatives have won this debate—or at least are winning it handily—because they recognized ages ago that they’re engaged in a political war, that the war is about the substantive meaning of the Constitution, and that politically effective rhetoric is critical to victory. The left, with a few notable exceptions I’ll highlight below, has not. That must change, quickly and drastically, if there’s to be any hope of preserving liberal governance from the Supreme Court supermajority we may have to live with for decades and from the broader threats to constitutional democracy we’re witnessing on a scale unequalled since the Civil War.…

As Harvard Law’s Cass Sunstein wrote in this magazine nearly a quarter-century ago, while “Justice Scalia is the most famous originalist; in the law schools the most influential originalist may be Akhil Reed Amar, an ingenious and prolific scholar.” Unlike conservative originalists, he observed, Amar contends that “a fair reading of text and history supports liberal, sometimes even radical, conclusions.” Amar was soon joined by his Yale Law colleague Jack Balkin, who likewise stressed, “We follow the original meaning of words in order to preserve the Constitution’s legal meaning over time, as required by the rule of law.” But along with Amar, Balkin recognized that the Constitution’s terse terminology, many of its specific provisions, and key explanations by the Framers prescribed broad authority for future generations to adapt to changing circumstances and evolving political and moral precepts.

The vision elaborated by the two Yale professors and their followers is not simply a liberal spin on the right’s approach to originalism. If anything, it’s more punctilious in plumbing the original meaning of particular text and in contextually grounding interpretations in the overall—amended—document.…

Liberal originalists’ most important contribution is the insight they share with Ponnuru and his conservative allies: that constitutional interpretation is not just for judges and lawyers in lawsuits but rather forged in what Amar has called a “constitutional conversation” and others have labeled “popular constitutionalism.” ….

[TW: I have pointed a number of times to Harvard Law Professor Frank Michelman’s 1986 article, “Law’s Republic,” in the Yale Law Journal in which he explains how we are nudged to become a “more perfect Union” through “juris-generative” changes to the laws and the Constitution. ]

Undated Pennsylvania mail-in ballots should not be counted, appeals court rules

[Pennsylvania Capital-Star, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 03-28-2024]

“Pennsylvania mail-in ballots that are not dated on the outside envelope by the voter should not be counted even if they arrive at a county election office on time, a three-judge appeals court panel ruled on Wednesday. The 2-1 decision from the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down a lower court ruling and sets up a potential Supreme Court battle over Pennsylvania’s mail-ballots that began in 2020, and will almost certainly affect how the swing state’s ballots are handled in the upcoming presidential election. At issue is the materiality provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits officials from denying anyone from voting because of an error or omission ‘on any record or paper relating to any application, registration, or other act requisite to voting,’ unless it is material to the person’s qualification to vote. ‘Because the date decision is irrelevant to whether a vote is received timely, the blink response is to believe a voter’s failure to date a return envelope should not cause his ballot to be disqualified,’ Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro wrote in the decision Wednesday. But the provision only applies when the state is determining who may vote, Ambro added, ‘and does not apply to rules, like the date requirement, that govern how a qualified voter must cast his ballot for it to be counted.’” •



Open Thread


The Hard Problem of Leadership


  1. Chipper

    TW: I think your headline “‘Structural’ problem: top China scholar says US tensions will be ‘with us for a long time’” is linked to the wrong article. It’s linked to a Business Insider article about the IMF and China (Much to my surprise, the word “austerity” doesn’t pop up anywhere).

    The article is actually here:

  2. bruce wilder

    . . . the complex web of connections, relationships and loyalties between its members.

    or maybe it is greed

  3. Z

    America has no Ukraine Plan B except more war
    US foreign policy establishment blindly intent on beating Russia on the battlefield and crushing its economy. Neither will happen

    No one disputed the data I presented. And no one believed that Russia is taking 25,000 casualties a month. Facts weren’t the issue: The assembled dignitaries, a representative sampling of the foreign policy establishment’s intellectual and executive leadership, simply couldn’t imagine a world in which America no longer gave the orders.

    They are accustomed to running things and they will gamble the world away to keep their position.


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