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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 26 2024

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

The Middle-Out Moment Is Here

[Democracy Journal. Spring 2024, No. 72]

Eleven years ago, this journal published a symposium called “The Middle-Out Moment,” touting a new theory of growth no one had heard of. Today, everyone has heard of middle-out economics, but most people still don’t know exactly what it is. With this issue, we revisit the topic: naming its core tenets, touting its successes, acknowledging its hurdles and complexities—but still arguing forthrightly that this is the economic future the country needs.

A New Economics Takes Hold

Industrial Policy’s Triumphant Return

Moving Past Global Neoliberalism


Vladimir Roosevelt and Franklin Putin

Chuck Lindeberg, January 8, 2023 [VoteNo2BigDough Newsletter]

The prevailing popular understanding is Roosevelt and Churchill saw eye to eye on World War II grand strategy. In fact there were fundamental differences between them from the outset, as indicated by this exchange between the two heads of government at the Atlantic Charter conference held aboard ships anchored in Argentia Bay, Newfoundland, in August 1941:

“I [Roosevelt] am firmly of the belief that if we are to arrive at a stable peace it must involve the development of backward countries. Backward peoples. How can this be done? It can’t be done, obviously, by eighteenth-century methods. Now – “

“Who’s talking eighteenth-century methods?” [replied Prime Minister Winston Churchill]

“Whichever of your ministers recommends a policy which takes wealth in raw materials out of a colonial country, but which returns nothing to the people of that country in consideration. Twentieth-century methods include increasing the wealth of a people by increasing their standard of living, by educating them, by bringing them sanitation – by making sure they get a return for the raw wealth of their community.”

This disagreement was no mere tempest in a teapot. It played out in the deliberations of the Combined Chiefs of Staff that established the joint UK/USA strategy to be pursued, which in turn determined why, where and how many soldiers, sailors and airmen would be dying. From FDR down the Americans were determined no Americans should die to preserve the British colonial empire, and Churchill was determined the sun would not set on that Empire on his watch….

As we have seen President Roosevelt believed colonialism was the underlying cause of the wars of the 20th century. However he saw that a much more imminent threats existed and that were Facism and Nazism. Their appeal extended beyond Europe to the dictators the USA supported in Latin America and also, most disturbingly, to more than a few of America’s elite financiers and industrialists. Not to mention the southern wing of his own party, representing states the racist laws of which Hitler used as templates for Nazi legislation. Roosevelt felt it was so urgent the USA join the hostilities against Germany that he risked political suicide by deliberately putting the Pacific Fleet at risk. He understood that only a direct attack on the USA would overcome the America First movement that held sway right up to December 6, 1941. For Roosevelt, World War II was all about defeating Nazism in Germany so thoroughly the movement would never raise its ugly head again. Also it was likely the reason he pushed for the controversial phrase “unconditional surrender” as the ultimate war objective to be included in the Casablanca Conferences communique.

Well before World War II ended President Roosevelt, Vice President Henry Wallace, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Treasury economist Harry Dexter White and Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles began planning for a post-war international structure intended to promote widespread prosperity, while minimizing incentives toward war. Historians have dubbed their program “Rooseveltian Internationalism,” and it envisioned two main thrusts: to foster the recovery of the war-torn countries; and to assist former colonies to become prosperous and truly independent sovereign states now that the decolonization movement was re-energized by the exhaustion of the European colonial metropoles. The plan was fully fleshed out when it was presented to the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference held in the summer of 1944.

That gathering is better known by the name of the small resort town in New Hampshire where it was held, Bretton Woods….

But President Roosevelt died in April of 1945, 26 days before the end of the war in Europe and 4 ½ months before the surrender of Japan. This is widely assumed to be the turning point toward the demise of the Rooseveltian vision of the post-war world, however an equally significant pivot took place nine months earlier during the Democratic National Convention. About 10:00 PM July 20, 1944, the delegates were returning to their seats after marching around the floor of the Chicago Stadium celebrating the renomination of President Roosevelt by acclamation, and they were in a mood to do likewise for the incumbent Vice President Henry Wallace. At that point a cabal of southern Democrats and big city party bosses buttonholed the temporary chairman and leaned on him to gavel the session closed. There followed a sleepless night of wheeling and dealing. Wallace led the votes on the 1st ballot the following day, but he was short of the majority needed for the nomination. His support collapsed and Harry Truman, a machine pol from Kansas City in the border state of Missouri won the necessary majority on the 2nd ballot. Wallace was fully on board with Roosevelt’s domestic and internationalist agendas. Truman was not….


These Choke Points Pose Global Shipping’s Biggest Risks 

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 05-24-2024]


Global power shift


Russia & China — Two Against One 

Ray McGovern [Consortium News, via Naked Capitalism 05-20-2024]

Xi Jinping’s reception of Putin yesterday in Beijing sealed the increasingly formidable strategic relationship, fundamentally misunderstood in Washington.


[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 05-25-2024]


The War in Ukraine is Over as Russia Has Destroyed Ukraine’s Army (interview)

Jacques Baud [Dialogue Works, via Naked Capitalism 05-19-2024]

Gaza / Palestine / Israel

Why Israel is in deep trouble: John Mearsheimer with Tom Switzer [Video]

[Centre for Independent Studies, May 17, 2024, Youtube]

[TW: Mearsheimer explains that there are only four options for Israel: a two-state solution; maintain an apartheid state; ethnic cleansing; and genocide — murdering the Palestinian people en masse.  The faction of Israel lead by Netanyahu will never agree to a functional Palestinian state because it would have the military capabilities to threaten Israel. Netanyahu and his faction had been successfully managing the apartheid state with Gaza and the West Bank as open air prisons, until the Hamas attack in October last year. The apartheid state is no longer a viable solution. Netanyahu hoped that the Israeli bombardment of Gaza would make the place unlivable and drive out the Palestinians, achieving ethnic cleansing. Mearsheimer only discusses much too briefly the refusal of Arab states to accept Palestinian refugees. With nowhere to go, Palestinians have not left, forcing Netanyahu to apply ever more military violence until it has become a program of genocide.

[About 20 minutes in, Mearsheimer reveals that the United States used Oman as intermediaries to discuss with, and influence, Iranian officials’ plans to retaliate in April against Israel’s bombing of the Israeli embassy in Damascus. The result was not just humiliation of Israel, without endangering Israel’s existence, but also an important defeat for Israel’s policy of deterrence. ]

ICC Goes Off The Reservation & Issues Referral For Arrest Warrants For Netanyahu & Hamas’s Leader

Ian Welsh, May 21, 2024

…It’s hard to overstate how massive this is. Netanyahu can’t travel to Europe unless Europe gets rid of the Rome statute, in which case that’s pretty much the end of international law. Or they can hope these two prosecutions are all there will be, but if you’ve already gone after Netanyahu, why stop?

Of course the US can sanction the Criminal Court, but talk about a huge propaganda and legitimacy loss.

Turns out that open genocide is enough to even make some technocrats, almost certainly chosen for loyalty, rebel.

Don’t underestimate this. This is going to move the locus of legitimacy away from the US, hard.

[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 05-25-2024]

More than 900,000 displaced in Gaza in two weeks amid surge in fighting: UN 

[Aljazeera, via Naked Capitalism 05-21-2024]


How Extremist Settlers Took Over Israel 

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 05-21-2024]



US Government Is of the Wealthy, by the Wealthy, and for the Wealthy

Jim Hightower, May 25, 2024 [CommonDreams]

Even though half of America’s jobs are working class, barely 1% of our nation’s 7,300 state legislative seats are held by the working class people who actually make America work.


America’s 813 Billionaires Must Have Been Extremely Happy With The Biden Administration Yesterday

Howie Klein, May 21, 2024  []

The Wall Street Journal has a headline yesterday that probably pissed off a lot of Democrat: A Global Tax on Billionaires? Janet Yellen Says ‘No’. The idea was to prevent the rich “from shifting wealth into countries where they can avoid paying the tax. Andrew Duehren reported that Yellen in opposing the proposed global wealth tax on billionaires, the U.S. “is rejecting an idea floated by Brazil, France and other nations to tip the economic scales away from the megarich.” ….

The Biden administration’s decision to nix the global minimum tax framework belies the urgency of addressing wealth inequality. The gap between the wealthy and the rest of society continues to widen, and Biden talks a good game but… like he said when he was running, assuring a bunch of wealthy donors, “essentially nothing will change.” What they’re doing is protecting the interests of the ultra-wealthy rather than addressing the extreme wealth inequality. By rejecting a wealth tax, the U.S. is missing an opportunity to redistribute wealth more fairly and to fund essential public services that could benefit the majority. The wealth amassed by billionaires always  stems from systems that exploit workers and evade fair taxation, making a far more stringent wealth tax than what Brazil and France are proposing a necessary corrective measure.


Follow the Money: How Israel-Linked Billionaires Silenced US Campus Protests 

[Scheerpost, via Naked Capitalism 05-25-2024]


A Five-Year Prison Sentence for a Public Hero

Reuven Avi-Yonah, May  21, 2024 [The American Prospect]

On May 1, 2024, Charles Littlejohn began serving a five-year prison sentence for unauthorized disclosure of tax information. His crime is described by the Department of Justice as follows: Littlejohn, a contractor with the IRS, stole documents associated with “Public Official A” and provided it to “News Organization 1,” which published several articles using the information.

As anyone following this case would recognize, Public Official A is President Donald J. Trump, and News Organization 1 is The New York Times.

Littlejohn performed a public service. A presidential tax return contains information highly relevant to the voting public, and President Trump broke decades of tradition by refusing to disclose his returns. Moreover, when President Nixon’s tax return was leaked in the 1970s, the IRS leaker was not even indicted.

Littlejohn followed up, according to the Justice Department complaint, by stealing tax information for thousands of ultra-wealthy individuals, uploading it to a private website, and providing it to “News Organization 2,” where it became the source of nearly 50 articles.

News Organization 2 was ProPublica, which published articles about the tax returns of the wealthiest Americans such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg. This was also a public service. Information about how little tax the super-rich pay is even more important because it reveals the deep policy flaws of an income tax system that allows Warren Buffett to pay a lower tax rate than his secretary….


‘Sad Day for Free Speech’: Media Matters Layoffs Follow ‘Thermonuclear’ Attack by Elon Musk

John Queally, May 24, 2024 [CommonDreams]

“This is how free speech is actually chilled—vengeful dipshit billionaires,” said one media executive, after more than a dozen staffers let go from nonprofit watchdog whose mission is to combat right-wing disinformation and propaganda.


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Suit: Cheap Prison Labor Is Keeping People Locked Up Longer

[Businessweek, via The Big Picture 05-19-2024]

Inmates do billions of dollars of work for companies and governments each year. A landmark lawsuit alleges many are being kept in prison because the business is just too good.


Monopoly Round-Up: Google Tries to Pay Off the Antitrust Division (excerpt)

Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 05-20-2024]


Menace on the Menu: The Financialisation of Farmland and the War on Food and Farming 

[Countercurrents, via Naked Capitalism 05-19-2024]


Ian Angus’s The War Against the Commons: A Vital New History of the Bloody Rise of Capitalism 

[Firebrand, via Naked Capitalism 05-23-2024]


Predatory finance

State of Wisconsin Buys Nearly $100M Worth of BlackRock Spot Bitcoin ETF 

[CoinDesk, via Naked Capitalism 05-24-2024]


They’re not capitalists — they’re predatory criminals

How Live Nation’s Monopoly Works

Luke Goldstein, May  24, 2024 [The American Prospect]

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit on Thursday to break up Live Nation’s monopoly over the live entertainment industry, which it has abused through a range of alleged anti-competitive practices. This long-awaited lawsuit seeks to rectify a 2010 mega-merger between concert promoter, venue owner, and artist management company Live Nation and the ticketing service provider Ticketmaster. Barack Obama’s Justice Department, under the direction of Antitrust Division chief Christine Varney, cleared the deal, only imposing a weak consent decree that the combined behemoth has since repeatedly violated, and a divestiture of some of the ticketing business to a third party that gained scant market share….


‘Historic’ DOJ Antitrust Suit Could Topple Live Nation-Ticketmaster Monopoly

Edward Carver; May 23, 2024 [CommonDreams]

“For far too long, Live Nation-Ticketmaster has acted as the mafia boss of the live events industry—using its power to rip off fans with sky-high prices and junk fees, exploit musicians and artists, and bully workers,” an expert said.


Restoring balance to the economy    

Why the Alabama Mercedes Union Campaign Faltered 

[Labor Notes, via Naked Capitalism 05-24-2024]


Review: How Reformers Doubled Vermont AFL-CIO Membership 

[Labor Notes, via Naked Capitalism 05-24-2024]


Information age dystopia / surveillance state

Here’s How the CIA Plans To Use Your Ad Tracking Data 

[Reason, via Naked Capitalism 05-19-2024]


Librarians Are Waging a Quiet War Against International “Data Cartels” 

[The Markup, via Naked Capitalism 05-20-2024]


The Low-Paid Humans Behind AI’s Smarts Ask Biden to Free Them From ‘Modern Day Slavery’ 

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 05-24-2024]


OpenAI Just Gave Away the Entire Game

Charlie Warzel [The Atlantic]

The Scarlett Johansson debacle is a microcosm of AI’s raw deal: It’s happening, and you can’t stop it.


Biden Admin Working With Social Media Companies to Limit Pro-Palestinian Content

[Ken Klipperstein, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 05-24-2024]

“A little-noticed readout for a May 15 Hague meeting between the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism Elizabeth Richard and other governments said that Richard ‘updated the group on U.S. efforts to engage tech companies in voluntary collaboration to limit Hamas’ use of online platforms, including social media, for terrorist purposes.’ The readout also notes that another similar meeting took place on December 13, in which the U.S. coordinated with partner governments to ‘target Hamas’ online propaganda.’ Platforms like Instagram, TikTok and Facebook have long banned terrorist organizations like Hamas. Now, however, the federal government is pressuring companies to ban ‘Hamas-linked’ accounts and those of pro-Palestinian Americans. Hamas is a formally designated terrorist organization, so it makes sense that counterterror officials like Richard would target their communications broadly speaking. But with overwhelming evidence that Americans are getting banned from social media for posts regarding the Israel-Hamas war, the U.S. government needs to make clear what the exact nature of its coordination with social media companies is on this subject and how Americans’ speech is being protected. (The State Department and the National Security Council did not immediately respond to requests for comment.) Virtually every major social media platform has banned Hamas from their platforms. But some like Meta, parent company to apps like Instagram and Facebook, went a step further, banning ‘Hamas-linked’ accounts and even ones without any link to Hamas for alleged ‘praise’ of ‘dangerous organizations’ — a category the company relies heavily on the U.S. government’s list of terrorist organization to define.”


Climate and environmental crises

Collapse of the Thwaites Glacier Has Accelerated

Thomas Neuburger, May 22, 2024 [God’s Spies]

The Thwaites Glacier, a Florida-sized mass of ice at the coast of Western Antarctica, has been called the “doomsday glacier” because of its potential to wreak havoc all by itself.


A Big Tool to Fight Climate Change Is Hiding in Plain Sight 

Aaron Regunberg, Donald Braman, May 21, 2024 [The New Republic]

Civil forfeiture is usually used against people suspected of drug offenses. Instead, we could be using it to make Big Oil pay for its role causing mass death.

Democrats’ political malpractice

Biden Unites With Republicans Against International Criminal Court

Spencer Ackerman, May 22, 2024 [Forever Wars Newsletter]

It’s a death spiral for the ‘Rules-Based International Order’ as Team Biden says it’s open to retaliation against the war-crimes court for indicting Israel’s genocidaires.

Why Does the Biden White House Hate Its Own Agenda? 

Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 05-23-2024]

It’s not a mystery why voters don’t know what Biden has done. The White House communications team systematically refuses to talk about the Biden agenda to reorient big business.

A few weeks ago, the Federal Trade Commission revealed evidence of oil sector price-fixing, showing that domestic shale corporations had colluded with foreign producers in 2021 and 2022 to withhold oil from the market so gas prices would go up. This alleged scheme cost Americans hundreds of billions of dollars collectively, and those who have heard about this scandal are pretty mad.

So you’d think that the FTC evidence would be a big deal, and that the Biden administration would talk about this conspiracy they just discovered, one that confirms what polling shows most Americans believe about corporate greed. But you’d be wrong….

The White House communications team routinely tells voters the government doesn’t do anything for them. That is, it’s not that Biden doesn’t have a message. He does. That message is “we don’t do anything for you.” And Americans hear that message loud and clear….

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

Why Republicans Want and Need a Permanent Economic Underclass

Thom Hartmann, May 24, 2024 [The New Republic]

The past seven years have seen a near-fivefold increase in documented child labor violations by employers. States have responded to this alarming trend in two ways: Democratic-controlled states are putting more teeth into their laws and upping enforcement; Republican-controlled states are loosening their laws and cutting back on enforcement so children can drop out of school and go to work….

Social mobility in America today, however, is lower than in any other developed country, a huge change since the 1950–1980 decades before the Reagan revolution, when we led the world in social mobility. Most American children today are locked into the social and economic class of their parents; the opportunity for advancement that union jobs used to provide is half of what it was when Reagan became president….

On March 4, 1858, slave plantation owner and South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond rose to speak before his peers in the U.S. Senate. At the time, his speech wasn’t noted as exceptional, but over the following year it was published in the newspapers and caught the imagination of the plantation owners and “scientific racists” of the South; it was soon the talk of the nation.

Hammond asserted that for a society to function smoothly, it must have a “foundational” class of people who, like the way a mudsill stabilizes the house that rests atop it, bear the difficult manual labor from which almost all wealth is derived. “In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties,” Hammond proclaimed, “to perform the drudgery of life.”  Hammond claimed that every society throughout history rested on a mudsill class; that even Jesus advocated this when he said, “The poor you will always have with you.”

To stabilize society, he additionally argued, such a group of people must be locked rigidly into their mudsill class….

These days, Republicans generally take Hammond’s point of view, while today’s Democrats embrace Lincoln’s perspective. This didn’t happen by accident or in a vacuum. Russell Kirk was the twentieth century’s philosopher king of the mudsill theory, although he never used the phrase. As I laid out in detail in The Hidden History of American Oligarchy, Kirk’s 1951 book, The Conservative Mind, argues forcefully, like Hammond did, that society must have “classes and orders” to ensure stability.

Kirk argued in the 1950s that if the American middle class—then under half of Americans—ever grew too large and well paid, then such access to “wealth” would produce a social disaster. His followers warned that under such circumstances, minorities would forget their “place” in society, women would demand equality with men, and young people would no longer respect their elders.

The dire result, Kirk warned, would be social chaos, moral degeneracy, revolution, and the eventual collapse of American society….

While at first Kirk was mostly only quoted by cranks like Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley Jr., when the 1960s hit and the civil rights movement was roiling America’s cities, women were demanding access to the workplace and equal pay, and young men were burning draft cards, Republican elders and influencers concluded Kirk was a prophet.

Something had to be done.

Ronald Reagan came into office with the mandate to save American society from collapse. To that end, he set out to reestablish a mudsill class in America by ending free college and gutting public schools, destroying the union movement, and weakening enforcement of child labor laws….


Spreading the Bad News: Right-wing evangelicalism’s moral and religious descent into Trumpism has been near-total. Is there a way out?


…In The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism, journalist and Atlantic staff writer Tim Alberta provides important and fascinating insights into the emergence and establishment of Trumpian evangelicalism over the past several years. Alberta offers snapshots of this world through his eyes as both a participant and an observer….

…my ministry and career are sequestered in the evangelical world. But I am also an immigrant. I went to Ivy League schools in addition to evangelical ones. I hold more progressive social and political views. Until recently, I had managed to find a home in the larger U.S. evangelical world. But Trumpian evangelicalism changed the equation. The lines of orthodoxy I had learned and embraced had changed—not over actual theological issues, but over politics. My utility and relevance to the current iteration of evangelicalism are under scrutiny, as evidenced by cancellations of speaking engagements and vitriolic e-mails and social media posts. Alberta narrates the change I have experienced on a small scale in the context of the larger U.S. evangelical world, and in the process he demonstrates just how similarly U.S. evangelicalism has been redefined.

In our book Return to Justice, my co-author Gary VanderPol and I distinguished between big “E” Evangelicalism and little “e” evangelicalism….

Alberta points to several key factors in the rise of the extreme form of Trumpian evangelicalism. First, he identifies the idolatrous love of America by evangelicals, over even Jesus Christ himself. Not even the founder of the faith, the one who died for their sins, holds a place of favor over their love of the nation. Devotion to their nation leads to the assertion of American exceptionalism—an identity that, to the evangelical, is under siege by outsiders and foreigners. Therefore, a savior is needed to rescue the United States and “Make America Great Again.”….

In evangelicalism’s transition from a spiritual to a corporeal identity, the values of the Kingdom of God have been shirked for the values of the social and political world. Instead of the grace of God and the self-sacrificing example of Jesus, the defensive and bombastic example of Donald Trump leads the way. Further, the electoral defeat of their champion would not be acceptable or even possible in the imagination of Trumpian evangelicals. The only appropriate posture, therefore, would be to fight the demonic powers that have led to this democratic injustice. The potential loss of American greatness through the electoral loss of Donald Trump would be the capstone catastrophe in a string of them going back decades: desegregation, changes in immigration laws, Roe v. Wade, the election of Barack Obama, same-sex marriage, and more. Crisis requires all hands on deck to turn this grim tide. Supporting Trump is now tantamount to saving the Christian faith. One parishioner Alberta meets tells him that, in Alberta’s words, “an attack on Trump…was indeed an attack on Christianity.”….

The main shortcoming of The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory is its overemphasis on the white male perspective. While Alberta captures the story of white U.S. evangelicalism, he does not engage the fuller story of the movement beyond that subset; women, immigrant churches, and BIPOC evangelicals are significantly absent from the storyline. He therefore misses what may be a redemptive thread.

Burton D. Sheppard, May 24, 2024 [The New Republic]

…Trump’s refusal to accept that he lost cost him and his allies nothing. Yet as early as February 6, 2021, according to The Washington Post, election deniers had already cost all levels of government—are you ready for this?—an estimated $519 million. The costs included massive legal fees, enhanced security costs, repairs to the damaged Capitol, massing of National Guard troops, and more. The result, the Post reported, was that in just the first month after the insurrection, costs “have mounted daily as government agencies at all levels have been forced to devote public funds to respond to actions taken by Trump and his supporters.”

Some costs were borne by states. California alone had spent an estimated $19 million for its National Guard and State Troopers. At the federal level, as of January 5, 2024, the U.S. Department of Justice reported spending almost $24 million investigating and prosecuting Trump and co-defendants—direct costs of Jack Smith’s special counsel team and related DOJ support. In response to proliferating security threats to Jack Smith and his colleagues, DOJ reported spending $4.4 million on protection of the special counsel team between April and September 2023. And because of appeals, costs of housing inmates, vast and necessary expenditures on new voting technology, lawyers to write revised election regulations, expert consultants to advise on improved vote counting and recounting procedures, and additional election personnel at all levels of government, these numbers are fractions of what 2020 election deniers will ultimately cost taxpayers….

…to date, no laws have been changed to impede prospective election deniers if they lose in November. State legislatures need to act; they have the power to hold election deniers to account. Here’s how.

Under this proposal, state legislatures would require candidates to sign binding pledges, under penalties of perjury, that they will accept the declared, official election results (after challenges, recounts, litigation, and so on). Candidates should be afforded an option to pledge early—within one week of Labor Day, say.

For candidates who agree to sign the pledge, that’s the end of it. But candidates who do not sign the pledge within a certain reasonable time frame will be forced, under these new laws, to put down a deposit….


Trump’s Shocking Scheme: A Permanent Get Out of Jail Free Card 

Talia Jane, May 24, 2024 [The New Republic]

As Trump’s legal troubles pile up around him, he’s come up with a plan to make himself immune forever…. Trump has held meetings with “several” Republican lawmakers and attorneys about passing legislation to indemnify former presidents from nonfederal prosecutions, according to Rolling Stone…. Trump hinted at his new scheme during a break from his hush-money trial, telling cameras Congress needs to “pass lots of laws” to prevent “things like this” (Trump being charged for crimes). Whether the ploy will work is a matter of elections: Trump would need to win in November, and Republicans would need to control the House and Senate.

Greg Sargent, May 23, 2024 [The New Republic]
Yes, the campaign took down the “Unified Reich” video. Meanwhile, Trump and his allies are aggressively seeding the discourse with fascistic language that’s much, much worse….
It’s a key tell that the Republicans alarmed by this kind of politics immediately saw the broader significance of this video’s genesis. As longtime GOP strategists Brian Riedl and Alyssa Farah Griffin pointed out, the video’s very creation—and even the blaming of a Trump staffer for sharing it—only illustrate the existence of a large junior staffer set that’s fluent in online fascistic political language, which Trump and his operatives see as indispensable to their own movement.

Meanwhile, Trump and his leading propagandists are aggressively seeding the discourse with their own fascistic language. In recent months, Trump has described migrants as “poisoning the blood of our country,” invented a new category called “migrant crime,” threatened to root out “vermin” in the government who oppose him, floated terminating parts of the Constitution, and vowed to be “dictator,” albeit only “on day one.”

On another front, Trump and MAGA Republicans have concocted a new conspiracy theory: that FBI agents who searched Mar-a-Lago were supposedly authorized to kill Trump. As Andrew Egger shows at The Bulwark, this is based on an absurd misreading of FBI regulations, but the point of this is surely not to persuade anyone that the FBI is really out to assassinate him. Instead, it’s about plumbing how far MAGA can go in manufacturing fake pretexts for the uprooting of the “vermin” to come.

Then there are the vows by Trump and his allies to unleash the Justice Department on political enemies, to stock the bureaucracy with corrupt loyalists, to convert intelligence agencies into MAGA enforcement battalions, to launch deeply sadistic mass removals of millions of immigrants (Stephen Miller advertised this as “spectacular,” seemingly gauging public excitement about its cruelty), to hobble international institutions and empower international dictators and autocrats, and more.

As The New Republic’s great new series on “American Fascism” details, you can see in these proposals a far-reaching blueprint for autocratic rule—and for a new mode of political savagery directed at assorted enemies within.….

Danny Hakim, Ken Bensinger and Eileen Sullivan, May 19, 2024 [New York Times, via Heather Cox Richardson, May 20, 2024]
…Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, refused to rule out violence if he were to lose in November. “It always depends on the fairness of the election,” he said in an interview late last month….
Last year, more than 450 federal judges were targeted with threats, a roughly 150 percent increase from 2019, according to the United States Marshals Service. The U.S. Capitol Police investigated more than 8,000 threats to members of Congress last year, up more than 50 percent from 2018. The agency recently added three full-time prosecutors to handle the volume.
More than 80 percent of local officials said they had been threatened or harassed, according to a survey conducted in 2021 by the National League of Cities.
“People are threatening not just the prosecutor, the special counsel, the judge but also family members,” said Ronald L. Davis, director of the U.S. Marshals Service. Lisa Monaco, the deputy attorney general, said she saw “an environment where disagreement is increasingly tipping over” into “violent threats.”

The Texas School District That Provided the Blueprint for an Attack on Public Education

Jessica Winter, May 25, 2024 [New Yorker]

When conservative activists began waging battle against diversity plans, some had a much bigger target in mind.


Handmaids in America

As Trump’s willingness to let Christian nationalist elements hold increasing sway over his policy decisions became apparent, people who pointed to “The Handmaid’s Tale” were dismissed as alarmist. But they were not. We live in an America where legal abortion is increasingly off the table while hunting down women who go out of state to access care is under discussion. Today, Trump refused to commit that people had a right to use contraception.

Today, in the most recent attack on American women in the wake of Dobbs, the Supreme Court case that reversed Roe v. Wade, the Louisiana GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed a new law. It adds the two drugs used for medication abortion to the state’s list of controlled dangerous substances, making possession of the drugs without a valid prescription a crime. The bill now goes to 28-11 Republican-controlled State Senate, where its passage is all be assured.

After that, the bill goes to the desk of Republican Governor Jeff Landry for signature. In 2022, as Attorney General, Landry threatened the medical licenses of doctors who continued to provide abortion care after a judge temporarily blocked the state’s abortion ban. In 2023, as Attorney General and then Governor-elect, he personally solicited the Louisiana State Bond Commission to withhold millions in funding necessary to prevent saltwater from intruding into New Orleans’ water supply because the city government refused to arrest and prosecute women after the state passed its abortion ban. In 2022, Landry said, “If you don’t like the laws of the state, you can move to one which you like.” But the following summer, he joined 17 other state attorneys general who signed a letter Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch sent to the Biden administration demanding access to information about residents who obtain abortions or gender-affirming care in other states.

You get the point. Barring something completely unforeseen, this bill is about to become the law. Women and people who help them, including women who need an abortion to protect their lives or their fertility will be imprisoned under this state law if they choose to try and take control of their health.


The (anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

Supreme Court approves gerrymandering

Heather Cox Richardson, May 23, 2024 [Letters from an American]

Today, by a vote of 6–3, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision and signed off on the new South Carolina congressional map that dilutes Black votes. It approved the map because, it said, the gerrymander was politically, rather than racially, motivated. And, it said, “as far as the Federal Constitution is concerned, a legislature may pursue partisan ends when it engages in redistricting.”

From now on, as Mark Joseph Stern noted in Slate, it will be virtually impossible for Black voters to prove that lawmakers targeted their race rather than their politics when redistricting, and partisan gerrymandering has just gotten the Supreme Court’s approval (previously, as Stern noted, the court had said federal courts could not intervene even if partisan gerrymandering violates the Constitution; today they said it does not violate the Constitution). Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) said: “Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision…is further affirmation that this Court has chosen to disenfranchise Black voters and rob us of our fundamental access to the ballot box. Equitable representation is the hallmark of a healthy democracy and in this case, the Supreme Court is attempting to steer the country back to a dark place in our history.”

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the Supreme Court has no power to redraw district maps at all. As Stern noted, Thomas places the blame for what he sees as judicial overreach on the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional. After that decision, Thomas says, the court invented powers to remedy the problem. If Brown invited overreach, all the landmark voting decisions of the 1960s did, too.

[TW: It’s sad that liberals, progressives, and “the left” in general are not attacking this horrible, retrograde decision by pointing to some of the Framers’ deep hostility to political parties. In his September 1796 Farewell Address, George Washington warned that

“the spirit of party… serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.

[Alexander Hamilton wrote that political parties are “the most fatal disease” of republican governments. In The Federalist No. 10, James Madison wrote that a basic function of a “well-constructed Union” is “to break and control the violence of faction.”

[Under this reasoning of the founding philosophy of civic republicanism, political gerrymandering especially should be illegal and strictly prohibited. Instead, Alito and Thomas have destroyed any semblance of civic republicanism to throw a mask of legality on a practice so glaringly unfair and harmful to the national interests/ ]

Clarence Thomas Is a Big Fan of Racial Gerrymandering

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

In a Supreme Court decision siding with South Carolina Republicans, the right-wing justice took the opportunity to attack landmark civil rights rulings that protected Black voters’ political representation….

In a scathing dissent, Justice Elena Kagan condemned Alito for what she saw as myriad errors on his part. She noted that precedent had required the justices to give “significant deference” to a lower court’s factual findings. In her view, the plaintiffs had “introduced more than enough evidence of racial gerrymandering to support the district court’s judgment,” which should have resolved the case in their favor under the court’s existing rules.

But it didn’t. “The majority’s attempt to explain its contrary result fails at every turn,” Kagan wrote, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson. “The majority picks and chooses evidence to its liking; ignores or minimizes less convenient proof; disdains the panel’s judgments about witness credibility; and makes a series of mistakes about expert opinions.”

Alito Writes Again

[Civil Discourse with Joyce Vance, May 19, 2024]

…this situation illustrates the problem with the loss of public confidence in the Court. This case is about voting, it’s about whether politicians who are in control at the moment can rig the system by drawing election maps that permit them to retain control in future elections, even when they become a minority, by gerrymandering. In this case, the Republican majority that includes Justices Alito and Thomas ruled consistently with the views of powerful people from whom they have accepted favors. Inevitably, that means people will question the decision. Is it fair? Is it about following the law in a difficult case? Or is it about favoritism and the return of favors?

The campaign to gut Washington’s power over corporate America

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 05-22-2024]

A decade-long conservative crusade against financial regulators will come to a head soon with a crucial Supreme Court ruling, part of a legal strategy that has spread across multiple Washington agencies into a broad attack on a core power of the federal government.

The court’s ruling on Securities and Exchange Commission v. Jarkesy, a case challenging the power of in-house federal judges, could hobble a whole range of agencies in unpredictable ways, cutting the powers of antitrust enforcers, labor regulators and consumer finance watchdogs….

Inside The Ritzy Retreats Hosting Right-Wing Judges

Molly Redden, Mar 19, 2024 [Huffington Post]

During Koch-funded trips to mountain resorts, Trump judges huddled over a new strategy to advance “history and tradition” as the law of the land….

The runaway success of conservatives’ decadeslong campaign to dominate the federal courts is not without its challenges. With a 6-3 stranglehold on the Supreme Court and Donald Trump-nominated judges dominating federal appeals courts, the right wing has increasingly pushed the legal view that the law must be interpreted based on “history and tradition.” Yet few have failed to notice how perfectly “history,” in these judges’ rendering, aligns with current Republican beliefs on issues like guns and abortion. Corpus linguistics offers one way to dodge these criticisms. A judge who could keyword-search millions of lines of historical text, the thinking goes, is a judge who could ward off accusations that his version of history was invented for a partisan outcome.

As James C. Phillips, a conservative legal scholar, has put it, “Corpus linguistics is the tool that originalists have been waiting for.”….

The runaway success of conservatives’ decades long campaign to dominate the federal courts is not without its challenges. With a 6-3 stranglehold on the Supreme Court and Donald Trump-nominated judges dominating federal appeals courts, the right wing has increasingly pushed the legal view that the law must be interpreted based on “history and tradition.” Yet few have failed to notice how perfectly “history,” in these judges’ rendering, aligns with current Republican beliefs on issues like guns and abortion. Corpus linguistics offers one way to dodge these criticisms. A judge who could keyword-search millions of lines of historical text, the thinking goes, is a judge who could ward off accusations that his version of history was invented for a partisan outcome.

As James C. Phillips, a conservative legal scholar, has put it, “Corpus linguistics is the tool that originalists have been waiting for.”

The 9 worst court decisions since Trump remade the federal judiciary

[Vox, via The Big Picture 05-19-2024]

This is what happens after four years under an insurrectionist president. It will get much worse if he gets eight.

At last, a challenge to ‘qualified immunity’

Judd Legum [Popular Information, via Thomas Neuburger, May 24, 2024]

In February 2023, [Desmond] Green sued [Jackson Police Department Detective Jacquelyn] Thomas, alleging that the detective violated his Constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Green also sued the City of Jackson and Hinds County, which operated the detention center where Green was incarcerated.)

Thomas sought to have Green’s lawsuit against her dismissed, citing the doctrine of qualified immunity. A federal judge, Carlton Reeves, rejected Thomas’ motion on Monday.

It has received scant media attention, but it is a very big deal. In a decision praised by legal scholars for its “power and beauty,” Reeves establishes why the doctrine of qualified immunity, which can protect law enforcement officials sued for misconduct, is “unsupportable as a matter of history, text, and policy.” Reeves calls on the Supreme Court to acknowledge its mistake and eliminate the doctrine of qualified immunity entirely. […]

A Reuters investigation in 2020 found that, between 2015 and 2019, more than half the time police officers are sued for using excessive force, appellate courts dismiss the suit on the basis of qualified immunity. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor argues that the doctrine of qualified immunity has increasingly become an “absolute shield” for police officers’ misconduct….

The Supreme Court has created legal doctrines that are necessary to “give life and substance” to the rights delineated by the Bill of Rights, Reeves notes. Qualified immunity, however, has the opposite effect. It takes rights guaranteed by the Constitution and renders them null and void.

The Curious Money Trail Behind the Supreme Court/Clarence Thomas Decision to Rescue a Federal Agency that Wall Street Hates

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, May 20, 2024 [Wall Street on Parade]

 Last Thursday, in a stunning 7-2 win for the little guys and gals in America, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau et al v Community Financial Services Association of America, Ltd., et al. Making the decision all the more stunning, it was written by Clarence Thomas, the sitting justice who has been under withering attack in the press for selling out to special interests. (There is speculation that the Thomas name is on the decision to quiet the media uproar against him.) The two dissenting votes came from Justices Samuel Alito (target of a ProPublica investigation in 2023) and Neil Gorsuch, around whom conflicts of interest controversy is also swirling. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been the target of Wall Street lobbyists since before its birth under the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation



Quick Takes: Hamas, China Semis and More


How The Great Space Failure of the Seventies Doomed Industrial Society


  1. bruce wilder

    The trouble with a wealth tax as a remedy for “inequality” is conceptual. It abstracts, which I suppose, is basic to its appeal: it seems so simple. And, that abstractness matches the bloodless abstractness of the problem it addresses: “inequality”.

    I don’t think it possible to enact and enforce a wealth tax that actually works to reduce overweening wealth, wealth which dominates politics. Complexity in political economy is unavoidable in any case. As is, justice and morality.

    The problem of great wealth is not some abstract “inequality” that offends our delicate aesthetic sensibilities. The problem of great wealth in the first instance is the concentration of private power that it represents and enables, and in the second, the unbalancing of social relations as the political economy becomes a casino in which the wealthy are the house that always wins and everyone else becomes the maniacally festive gamblers, who are destined to play the game and, in the short-run or long, lose.

    It is a strange and impractical theory of politics that imagines a wealth tax could ever be enacted and enforced effectively without first tackling the corruption and decadence of political governance that allowed wealth to accumulate and concentrate.

    What I would like to ask the advocates of a wealth tax: where were you when income taxes were made less progressive and when inheritance taxes were rolled back? Where were you when anti-monopoly legislation was left moribund? Where were you when financial regulation prohibiting the assembly of monopolizing universal banks was gutted? Where were you when limits on usury disappeared?

  2. VietnamVet

    The Roosevelt Administration and the fight against colonialism is true but like much forgotten by the current Corporate/State Empire propaganda. The Philippines freedom was guaranteed in 1946 even before Pearl Harbor got WWII started for the USA. Now Antony Blinken and Joe Biden are girding them along with Taiwan and Japan to be the front line in the proxy World War III with China to enrich war profiteers.

    Also, not mentioned is that true democracy is no more when the 2024 Presidential Campaign is identical to 2020. Americans, North and South, are now all colonial flunkies to be exploited to enrich the globalists along with both Continents’ resources. The current group in charge in the West are identical to the original bunch of leaders in WWI, corrupt to the core and incompetent – Empire Killers. The people do not matter. And unless there is a change of governments to ones that work for its people and peace, WWIII will end up the same as WWII with the use of nuclear weapons; not to mention, looming Climate Change and the profiting from the depletion of fresh air and water.

  3. someofparts

    Those nice people touting the Middle-Out Moment need to listen to Michael Hudson. Not only is Joe Biden not the reincarnation of FDR, he seems likely to lead us into WWIII. I would suggest as an alternative listening to some of the podcasts from the Watson Institute website. For example, this afternoon I listened to a very interesting interview with Angus Deaton by Mark Blyth about the reasons why economists have not studied inequality.

  4. Jan Wiklund

    A short note on Chuck Lindeberg’s article about the US war and postwar development policy: According to Alice Amsden, the US attitude to development of poor countries after the war was not that bad, provided they didn’t ally with the Soviet Union. It was only after the 1973 disaster it changed track and became hellbent on keeping its own economic advantages to the ruin of others (Alice Amsden: Escape from empire, 2007).

    After all, it was the so called debt crisis that ruined the developmental policies of for example the Latin American countries, up to then they had succeeded fairly well. And the debt crisis was engineered by the Fed, rising interest and with it the exchange rate of the dollar. Those who had borrowed to a low dollar rate and a low interest rate suddenly found themselves in an impossible situation.

  5. Willy

    What I would like to ask the advocates of a wealth tax: where were you when income taxes were made less progressive and when inheritance taxes were rolled back? Where were you when anti-monopoly legislation was left moribund? Where were you when financial regulation prohibiting the assembly of monopolizing universal banks was gutted? Where were you when limits on usury disappeared?

    Sucking on the tit of folly, I guess. There seemed to be something soothing and hopeful in that stuff. The economic “think tanks” producing it were places where our greatest minds were thinking our greatest thoughts, were they not? Me, I was working the max-overtime and filling the rest of the hours with home improvement projects. And sex too maybe. My wife was a hottie back then. Best to let the experts do all that expert stuff because they got the time.

    But what’s this then? You mean that at the end of the day, we’ve realized that those think tanks were only thinking their own particular kind of greatest thoughts, all patrician-tribal, echo-chambery, virtue-signally, and self-entitled full-retard? Sorta like a typical Elon Musk X-criment?

    I tried telling the tale of working at a mid-level multinational when the offshoring craze happened, about how a group of geekish techno-dweebs, supposedly well-trained in the scientific skepticism arts, had their minds overthrown by a single uneducated alpha-appearing, macho-man male, almost like he was able to reach into our subconscious monkey brains and bewitch us into believing that our prospects would be improved by cannibalizing the lesser monkeys (who he alone would determine), instead of heroically pulling our talents together for our own common good. But they said, you already told that one before. Keep it fresh man.

    And so they proceeded to tell their own tale about the mob always ruining stuff. Sure, you’ll start with a few finger snapping beatniks jiving to the snarky smart takes, but we always wind up with hordes of drug-addled hippies partying like it’s 1969. It’s a numbers game they said. There’s only a few of us, but mobs of them. What we invent, they’ll pervert. So maybe it’s best to just stampede them off a cliff.

    I then reviewed the marketing of ideas like ‘societal best fit’ (or sweet spot if you prefer) balance between ambition and altruism. Give all the temperaments a seat at the table. They said no, the people prefer their inbred Habsburgs. And double that if the stage show involves a large crew of dancers.

    I tried selling the idea that it’s better to have a common citizen/comrade dedication to the glory of the Roman Republic. But no again. The people want their learned-helplessness hit-bottom phase, so they can quietly watch as the barbarians just walk into Rome and sack the place. Cycles of renewal, or some shit.

    Anyways, we did wind up agreeing that a major problem with concentrating power into imbecilic-heir hands, is that it wrecks the communal mob culture. Selfishness, mistrust, and cynicism become rampant. And so maybe it’s not about snarky smart takes or snapping fingers, but stampeding herds. Could it be that we need better cowboys?

    So how was that?

  6. bruce wilder

    Could it be that we need better cowboys?

    Do the flock of sheep notice the good shepherd’s sheepskin coat and lamb stew?

  7. different clue

    ” What I would like to ask the advocates of a wealth tax: where were you when ” etc. etc. etc. . . . ?

    If the question is asked with serious ( non-rhetorical) intent, then it could be answered for some of the present day advocates of a wealth tax, individually and in detail, advocate by advocate by advocate . . . with enough painstaking research.

    First we would have to determine the age of each personally name-able advocate of Wealth Tax. Those of them who are too young to have been aware of the various anti-New-Deal policies at the time those policies were rolled out would have been literally no-where. So the question does not apply to them.

    Those who were old enough to have been aware of these anti-New Deal policy reversals at the time they were still being suggested and attempted could be divided into the uninvolved and unaware majority of low-functioning dull normals and the involved and aware minority of high-functioning sharp normals. The low-functioning dull normals can also be ruled out as being beneath freedom, dignity and the reach of this question. The high-functioning sharp normals can be studied in personal named-individual detail to see which side of the Bonfire of the New Deal Reforms they were on.

    Jimmy Carter was the first Anti New Deal President. He began the anti-New Deal festival of neo-liberal Forcey FreeMarket reforms and repeals where he could . . . airline deregulation, trucking deregulation, etc. He also tried forcing through what little Forcey FreeTrade Agreements he could.

    Ronald Reagan was the second Anti New Deal President. He successfully sold Anti NewDealism to some and conned others into accepting it under false pretenses. He set into motion the negotiating of various Forcey FreeTrade Agreements, the initiation of anti-union anti-labor policies ( including fast-forward runaway illegal immigration to destroy domestic wage structures and workplace safety structures and labor unions in industries targetted for flooding by the waves of government-permitted illegal immigration . . . such as the meatcutting industry and etc.

    President George ” Opium Poppy” Bush tried moving these policies along.

    President Clinton succeeded in attaining all the Forcey FreeTrade Agreements and memberships which the previous 3 Presidents had teed up for him. Also the Final Bonfire of the New Deal Laws, Rules and Regulations ( except for Social Security which the Monica Lewinsky affair derailed Clinton from being able to co-abolish along with his co-conspirator Newt Gingrich).

    And it should be possible to see which borderline famous people lined up with or against Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton in this long game against the New Deal. It would take time to get this answer, but it could be gotten after enough time and effort, if indeed the question is sincere rather than rhetorical.

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