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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 29, 2022

by Tony Wikrent


Strategic Political Economy

Science or the academy?

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-24-2022]




They’re Worried About The Spread Of Information, Not Disinformation 

Caitlin Johnstone, via Naked Capitalism 5-24-2022]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 5-25-2022]


Liberalism, conservatism and the lack of discussion of civic republicanism

Quote of the week: Ha-Joon Chang on liberalism, ‘the most confusing term in the world’

[The Political Economy of Development, via Mike Norman Economics 5-26-2022]

“Few words have generated more confusion than the word ‘liberal’. Although the term was not explicitly used until the nineteenth century, the ideas behind liberalism can be traced back to at least the seventeenth century, starting with thinkers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. The classical meaning of the term describes a position that gives priority to freedom of the individual. In economic terms, this means protecting the right of the individual to use his property as he pleases, especially to make money. In this view, the ideal government is the one that provides only the minimum conditions that are conducive to the exercise of such a right, such as law and order. Such a government (state) is known as the minimal state. The famous slogan among the liberals of the time was ‘laissez faire’ (let things be), so liberalism is also known as the laissez-faire doctrine.

Today, liberalism is usually equated with the advocacy of democracy, given its emphasis on individual political rights, including the freedom of speech. However, until the mid-twentieth century, most liberals were not democrats. They did reject the conservative view that tradition and social hierarchy should have priority over individual rights. But they also believed that not everyone was worthy of such rights. They thought women lacked full mental faculties and thus did not deserve the right to vote. They also insisted that poor people should not be given the right to vote, since they believed the poor would vote in politicians who would confiscate private properties. Adam Smith openly admitted that the government ‘is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all’

— Ha-Joon Chang (2014), Economics: The User’s Guide, Pelican Books, p.69-70.


Make Progressive Politics Constitutional Again

Joseph Fishkin and William E. Forbath, May 23, 2022 [Boston Review]

Mounting an effective challenge to our conservative juristocracy requires understanding how we got here. It is not just that the right out-organized the left. On the contrary, liberals have contributed to conservatives’ success by imagining constitutional law as an autonomous domain, separate from politics. Liberals have likewise imagined that most questions about how to regulate the economy are separate from politics, best left to technocrats. These two ideas have different backstories, but both were at the center of a mainstream liberal consensus that emerged after World War II. For postwar liberals, constitutional law was best left to the lawyers, economic questions to the economists. These two key moves sought to depoliticize vast domains that had previously been central to progressive politics. Together they tend to limit the role of the people and the representatives they elect.

Conservatives never accepted either of these moves. They have a substantive vision of a political and economic order they believe the Constitution requires, and that vision translates easily into arguments in court—arguments against redistribution, regulation, and democratic power. Inspired by their forebears a century ago in the Lochner era, when conservative courts routinely struck down progressive reforms for violating protections for property and contract, today’s conservatives have methodically installed movement judges who reliably advance those goals. And they are succeeding. Witness the litigation over the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Although the law narrowly survived, conservatives outside and inside the courts embraced novel arguments that Congress had transgressed constitutional limits on its powers. Liberals disagreed, offering arguments that the ACA was permissible. But they never made the argument their progressive forbears might have made: that something like the ACA is required to meet our constitutional obligations.

[TW: See Erwin Chemerinsky’s 2018 book, We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century: ““If the Constitution will every truly provide for the general welfare, every child should be guaranteed a quality education and every person should have the food, shelter, and clothing needed for survival.” (P. 222).]

….Bringing the Court back in line will be a challenge. Fortunately we have precedents to draw from. For the first two-thirds of U.S. history, generations of reformers—from Jacksonian Democrats to Reconstruction Republicans to New Deal Democrats—made arguments in what we call the democracy-of-opportunity tradition. These reformers argued that the Constitution not only permitted but compelled legislatures to protect U.S. democracy in the face of oligarchy and (later) racial exclusion. The Constitution, in this tradition, not only permits, but compels, the elected branches to ensure the broad distribution of power and opportunity that are essential to a democratic society.

Reformers made these arguments in the teeth of hostile courts determined to impose court-made doctrines to shield elites from democratic encroachment. But the elected branches could and often did challenge the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution, especially about the trajectory of the nation’s political economy—the political decisions that shape the distribution of wealth and power through our laws and institutions….

Our current court reads the First Amendment in ways that undermine not only the labor unions that workers democratically elect, but also the campaign finance regimes that our elected leaders enact in an effort to preserve democratic self-rule. It has become a pro-oligarchy Amendment.

This is a neat trick. It works the same way every time. In place of democracy, the modern court sees only a bureaucratic state. Instead of people attempting to work together to govern ourselves, the modern court sees, in every First Amendment case, simply a fight between two actors: a lone individual plaintiff whose “speech claims” are pitted against the regulatory goals of a hostile government. If we look beyond the lone plaintiff and the state, we see something else: the numerous ordinary people whose power, in politics and in economic life, depends on collective self-government as a bulwark against oligarchy….

In his Citizens United dissent, John Paul Stevens argued that “our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending.” His reference to “democratic duty” is highly unusual today. It evokes a lost world of democratic lawmaking, one that acknowledged that legislators have a constitutional duty to build the countervailing political power of the democratic majority against the wealthy few….

Unsurprisingly, for decades the remnants of this vision have been squarely in the crosshairs of conservative politicians and judges. Starting with the counterrevolution of the late 1940s, the “right to work” movement has waged an ongoing campaign of legislation and litigation funded and supported by corporate executives and employers’ associations, as well as by wealthy anti-union ideological activists, to destroy the New Deal vision of labor as a source of countervailing social and political power against oligarchy….

Opponents of racial inclusion have also long understood the connection between racial inclusion and political economy. They have not trained their fire exclusively on race-conscious programs like affirmative action. Instead they have consistently chosen lines of constitutional attack that reduce the potential of public law to intervene in our political economy in ways that might promote a broader distribution of economic or political power. They have also pressed the interventions of public law downward, away from the federal government and toward the states. This gives Southern, white political elite more power to block interventions that might benefit Black people. Finally, they have worked to carve out constitutional domains where private law norms of contract and property trump public policy interventions such as antidiscrimination law….

To reach this surprising result, Roberts had to build new constitutional doctrine. Forcing states to accept a broad and universal program for the poor and the working class, or else lose the narrower and stingier program they had before, was “coercion,” Roberts held, a “gun to the head”—and therefore unconstitutional, according to an account of the relationship between the federal government and the states that elevates the constitutional entitlements of states over those of citizens. Roberts’s opinion caused well over 2 million Americans to become uninsured. But this was no random set of Americans. About nine out of ten of the people deprived of health insurance live within the boundaries of the former Confederacy, and a vastly disproportionate number of them are Black. This fight might seem very distant from the hot-button, constitutional conflicts over race. And yet it is all about race—built on centuries of laws and policies of racial exclusion, the political economy of social insurance has a profound racial dimension.


Erwin Chemerinsky, We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century [YouTube].


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Global Banks Privately Prepare for ‘Dangerous Levels’ of Imminent Civil Unrest in Western Homelands 

[Byline Times, via Naked Capitalism 5-22-2022]

Global banks and investment firms are bracing themselves for an “unprecedented” upsurge in civil unrest in the US, UK and Europe as energy and food price spikes are set to drive costs of living to astronomical levels, Byline Times can exclusively reveal….

The senior investment executive, who spoke to Byline Times on condition of anonymity because the information he revealed is considered highly sensitive, said that contingency planners at top financial institutions believe “dangerous levels” of social breakdown in the West are now all but inevitable, and imminent. An outbreak of civil unrest is expected to occur anytime this year, but most likely in the coming months as the impact of the cost of living crisis begins to saturate the lives of “everyone”.


Pete Buttigieg: Hungry Babies, Regrettably, Are Just the Price of the Free Market 

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 5-24-2022]


Personal consumption and expenditures 

Warren Mosler [The Center of the Universe, via Mike Norman Economics 5-27-2022]

Graphs: personal income and personal saving are declining; “So consumers are spending more than their incomes, mainly through borrowing”


“Apple’s Cement Overshoes”

[Cory Doctorow, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-26-2022]

“Many people have noticed that their parents used to keep refrigerators and washing machines in service for decades, but their own appliances all seem to end up beyond repair after a few short years. This is by design, and Apple led the appliance manufacturers to victory in killing Ohio’s Right to Repair bill, then they took the fight to Nebraska, where they helped kill farmers’ dreams of fixing their own tractors (they also convinced Ontario’s Ford “open for business” government to kill a repair bill, giving countless small businesses the shaft so that a tax-evading multinational headquartered in Cupertino, California could make more money off the people of Ontario)…. Eventually, it became clear to Apple and other anti-repair companies that they were going to lose the repair wars some day — it was a matter of when, not if. Apple needed a backup plan. They needed to make it look like they were taking steps to allow managed, safe repairs, while doing nothing of the sort. They needed to invent repairwashing. First came 2019’s certified independent repair program, which allowed independent shops to fix iPhones with Apple’s blessing. This program was designed to be as cumbersome and useless as possible…. This week, The Verge’s Sean Hollister got to try out Apple’s home repair program. The company shipped him 79 pounds’ worth of gear, in two ruggedized Pelican cases. Included in the kit: ‘an industrial-grade heat station that looks like a piece of lab equipment,’ to loosen the glue that holds the phone together (recall Apple’s aversion to ‘screws, not glue’). For all the gear Hollister got from Apple, following the official Apple manual and using official Apple tools was much harder than fixing your phone with an equivalent set of tools, parts and manuals from iFixit.”


Predatory Finance

JPMorgan Whistleblower Names Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair in Court Documents as Receiving “Emergency” Payments from Bank

Pam Martens and Russ Martens: May 25, 2022 [Wall Street on Parade]

An attorney turned whistleblower who worked in compliance at JPMorgan Chase, Shaquala Williams, has named former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair as one of the parties receiving improperly processed “emergency payments” from the bank. Williams is suing the bank for retaliating against her protected whistleblowing activities by terminating her employment after she raised concerns about these payments to Blair and other serious compliance issues. (The case is Shaquala Williams v JPMorgan Chase, Case Number 1:21-cv-09326, which was filed last November in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York.) The new revelation naming Tony Blair was contained in a transcript of Williams’ deposition that was filed with the court last week. Prior to that, Blair had been referred to simply as “a high risk JPMorgan third-party intermediary for Jamie Dimon…”


Restoring balance to the economy

How Corporate America’s Favorite Legal Trick Is Backfiring

Sam Mellins, May 27, 2022 [The Lever]

For decades, companies have used arbitration agreements to shirk responsibilities to their customers and employees — but now the tables have turned….

Uber is one of several companies that has been targeted by a new legal tactic for vindicating the rights of aggrieved consumers and employees: “mass arbitration,” which is based around the very same tool that corporate America has used for decades to insulate itself from legal responsibility.

The strategy relies on recruiting tens of thousands of injured customers or employees of a company to simultaneously file claims requesting that their complaints go to arbitration, a process in which a private mediator selected by the targeted company referees the dispute. Unlike a class action lawsuit, each arbitration claim must be litigated individually, one by one.

Victims of corporate malfeasance are turning to mass arbitration because it offers a way to force companies to pay up for their misdeeds — and in a world where many companies forbid customers and employees from suing them, is often the only way to do so.

This new grassroots strategy suggests that corporate America’s favorite trick of using arbitration rules to avoid liability could be losing some of its potency. This legal tactic was further watered down earlier this week, when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that companies could lose their right to arbitrate if they fail to invoke that privilege in a timely manner.


Oil Windfall Brings Free College and Day Care to One of the Poorest States

[Businessweek, via The Big Picture 5-25-2022]

New Mexico this year became the first US state to offer free college to its residents and free child care to most families, all on the back of soaring revenue from royalties and taxes on oil and gas production, which are booming on its patch of the Permian Basin. The state now ranks behind only Texas in energy production.


A Formula for Public Ownership: What the Similac debacle teaches about the consequences of arrogant corporate concentration

Robert Kuttner, May 27, 2022 [The American Prospect]

So consider: Of the two giant companies that control manufacture of this vital product, one is cavalier about sanitation and safety, and the other doesn’t want to be in the business at all. The government has a huge amount of leverage because the WIC program buys more than half of all infant formula.

The remedy is either to break the industry up into lots of smaller producers, or even better, to have a public option, where a public entity enters the market as a major producer. FDR called this “yardstick competition.” The stuff isn’t hard to make, and WIC provides a guaranteed market.


The Best (Progressive) Democrat You Probably Never Heard Of: Michael Kazin on Robert Wagner

Eric Alterman, May 27, 2022 [The American Prospect]

In 1926, Wagner won a seat in the U.S. Senate by clinging to the coattails of Al Smith, then his state’s popular governor. On Capitol Hill, he proposed measures to aid the unemployed and use government funds to stabilize the economy. When FDR became president, Wagner seized a unique opportunity to pass bold initiatives to markedly improve the lives of working Americans. Leon Keyserling, a 27-year-old economist on his staff, wrote the National Labor Relations Act, which the press immediately dubbed the Wagner Act, although it was co-sponsored with a congressman from Massachusetts. The senator also introduced bills to erect millions of units of public housing and provide every citizen with health insurance. Wagner’s reputation as the most prominent and most effective labor liberal in America made him the natural choice to oversee the drafting of the 1936 Democratic platform, on which FDR ran his campaign for re-election that carried all but two states and gave the Democrats huge majorities in both houses.

Wagner was also one of the few Democrats in Congress whose empathy for ordinary people never faded at the color line. In 1934, he proposed a bill to make lynching a federal crime and fought, in vain, to stop Southerners in his party from filibustering it to death. He also sought to amend the Social Security Act and his own National Labor Relations Act to include domestic workers and farmworkers—occupations held by two-thirds of Black workers in the South. But the New Yorker and his fellow liberals lost that struggle, too; Southern Democrats composed too large a bloc in the party and had too much power in Congress.


Should Congress Shrink the Deficit to Fight Inflation? — Stephanie Kelton

[The Lens, via Mike Norman Economics 5-28-2022]


Climate and environmental crises

The air conditioning paradox: How do we cool people without heating up the planet?  

[Vox, via The Big Picture 5-23-2022]

The world is now 1.1 degrees Celsius — 2 degrees Fahrenheit — warmer on average than it was at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. But baked into that seemingly small change in the average is a big increase in dangerous extreme temperatures. That’s made cooling, particularly air conditioning, vital for the survival of billions of people.

The devastation of extreme temperatures is playing out right now in several places around the world. A gargantuan heat wave over India and Pakistan, where 1.5 billion people live, is now in its third week. Just 12 percent of India’s population has air conditioning, but even those people are suffering. The heat has triggered power outages, created water shortages, and killed dozens, although the true toll may not be known for weeks.

Swaths of western Europe are also facing a heat wave, with temperatures forecasted to breach 40°C, or 104°F, later this week.

Closer to home, Texas is currently facing a record-breaking heat wave just as six power plants suddenly went offline. The state’s grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, asked residents to avoid using large appliances and set thermostats to 78 degrees Fahrenheit between 3 pm and 8 pm….

During warmer weather, pollutants like ozone form faster, which can lead to breathing problems. In addition, the stress from heat is cumulative. High temperatures at night are particularly worrying because it means people have little relief from the heat during the day. Because of climate change, nights are actually warming faster than daylight hours….

Cooling is not just for people. Refrigeration and freezing are essential for producing, storing, and transporting food, medicine, electronics, and, as Carrier found, books. By 2050, AC energy use is poised to triple on its current course, according to the IEA — which is roughly equivalent to the amount of electricity China uses today.

Within the current crop of air conditioners, there is wide variation in efficiency and the power sources they use. The spaces they cool aren’t all insulated the same ways, either.

There is also a huge gap in access. The IEA notes that for the nearly 3 billion people living in the hottest parts of the world, only 8 percent of them have ACs. And within countries, ACs are not distributed evenly. Access varies by income, but also by location. Last summer’s massive heat wave across the Pacific Northwest was especially worrying because so few people in the region have air conditioners due to the ordinarily mild climate. Seattle has the lowest percentage of households with air conditioning of any major metro area in the US. That likely contributed to hundreds of excess deaths.


Exxon Faces the Music


In 2019, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued ExxonMobil over the fact that it had long known about the climate crisis and its own role in making the problem worse. The fossil fuel giant sought to get the case thrown out of court, using a state law designed to prevent frivolous lawsuits against journalists and claiming the company was engaged in protected speech.

But this week, Massachusetts’ high court rejected Exxon’s spurious argument and allowed the lawsuit to go forward. There will now be a trial in a lower court to determine what Exxon knew and when it knew it — and the results could expose the company to enormous financial liability for misleading investors and the public.


A New Enzyme Found in Compost Just Set a Speed Record For Breaking Down Plastic 

[Science Alert, via Naked Capitalism 5-25-2022]


New night-time solar technology can be used to generate electricity in the dark 

[AutoEvolution, 23 May 2022, via Clean Power Roundup]

Renewable energy research may have taken an unexpected turn as UNSW scientists found a way to produce electricity from the so-called “night-time” solar power. This is possible because the Earth stores the sun’s energy as heat during the day, radiating it during the night. This heat can be harvested as infrared light using materials usually found in night-vision equipment.

A semiconductor device called a thermoradiative diode was used to generate power from the infrared light emitted at night. The amount of energy generated this way is tiny, about 100,000 times less than what you get from a solar panel during the day. Nevertheless, the researchers believe the result can be improved in the future once they will find the best materials to convert infrared light into electricity.


Information age dystopia

The Surveillance State Is Primed for Criminalized Abortion 

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 5-25-2022]


Your Phone Could Be Used to Prosecute for Getting an Abortion: Here’s How

[Scientific American, via Naked Capitalism 5-28-2022]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 5-25-2022]


The Way We Discuss “Disinformation” Is Toxic 

[Slate, via The Big Picture 5-26-2022]

Study the literature surrounding terms like misinformation, disinformation, fake news, and propaganda. Despite the terms’ complexities and heavy connotations, they’ve become buzzwords, often thrown around with little justification. The practice can have serious consequences for those accused of spreading “disinformation” and the larger media environment.


What People Misunderstand About Red-Pilling

[Slate, via The Big Picture 5-25-2022]

I’ve been doing fieldwork in far-right online communities since 2016. I hang out on white supremacist Telegram channels, comb through QAnon threads on 8kun (formerly known as 8chan), and watch TikToks that claim COVID-19 is a globalist plot. Like most people who work with far-right content, I find it emotionally draining and unpleasant. But I’m also convinced that the mainstream acceptability of extremely racist and conspiratorial beliefs is a threat to American democracy.


If You Think Free Speech Is Defined By Your Ability To Be An Asshole Without Consequence, You Don’t Understand Free Speech

[Tech Dirt, via The Big Picture 5-24-2022]

One of the more frustrating things about the various “debates” regarding “free speech” lately, is how little they are actually about free speech. Quite often, they are actually about people who are quite upset about having to face social consequences for their own free speech. But facing social consequences has always been part of free speech. Indeed, it’s part of the vaunted “marketplace of ideas.” If people think your ideas aren’t worth shit, they may ignore or shun you… or encourage others to do the same.

Over at The Bulwark, Prof. Nicholas Grossman has a really good article exploring Elon Musk’s attempt at reframing the debate over free speech. It is well worth reading. The crux of the argument that Grossman makes (in great detail that you should go read to have it all make sense) is that when you break down what Musk actually seems to be thinking about free speech, his definition hews quite similarly to what a lot of trolls think free speech means: the right to be a total asshole without consequence.


“Free Speech” Ought to Mean More than Mocking Trans People

Nicholas Grossman [The Bulwark, via The Big Picture 5-24-2022]


Where the internet went wrong – and how we can reboot it 

[New Statesman, via The Big Picture 5-22-2022]

The online world is run by tech companies that we depend on but deeply distrust. New books by Justin EH Smith and Ben Tarnoff ask: is an alternative possible?


Disrupting mainstream economics

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-26-2022]


Oligarchs’ war on the experiment of republican self-government

The Crypto Kings Are Making Big Political Donations. What Could Go Wrong? 

[New Republic, via Naked Capitalism 5-25-2022]

The list is long and spans the geographical and political spectrum: Bankman-Fried has donated to both Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. Fred Ehrsam, the co-founder of the successful cryptocurrency investment firm Paradigm, has donated to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden’s campaign and Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen’s reelection campaign as well (both are Democrats). Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (of Facebook and The Social Network fame) have also poured thousands into Senate and congressional races. Somewhat paradoxically, they’ve donated both to Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s reelection campaign and the campaign of Arizona Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters, who is seeking the GOP nomination to face Senator Mark Kelly and is a Peter Thiel protégé. The Winklevoss brothers have also donated to Donald Trump’s Save America PAC.


Democrats’ political suicide

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-25-2022]


The Liberal Obsession With ‘Disinformation’ Is Not Helping

[New York Magazine, via The Lever 5-22-2022]

“The other pernicious problem with liberals’ fixation on ‘disinformation’ is that it allows them to lie to themselves. Trump’s ascendance in 2016 posed a painful psychic challenge to liberal elites. It suggested the possibility that many millions of Americans were motivated by deep, venomous dissatisfactions with the world they had helped create, that our cultural disagreements were profound, not superficial, and that our perspectives were practically irreconcilable inversions of each other.”


Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War

Republicans on the Wrong Side of Public Outrage

Robert Kuttner, May 25, 2022 [The American Prospect]

Here’s the bizarre thing about mass gun violence that takes the lives of schoolchildren and the likely reversal of Roe v. Wade: Public opinion is not with the right. It is overwhelmingly in favor of banning civilian purchase of assault weapons. It is overwhelmingly in favor of keeping Roe. And yet a party that espouses these and other extreme views is on the verge of taking over the country. If we let it.

What can prevent this grim fate is resolute leadership that stands with most Americans—and also hangs this lunacy around the necks of Republicans and makes them squirm. In his first statement on the mass murder, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott noted that the shooter was dead. You can imagine how much comfort that offers parents.

Other Republicans have offered reassurance by pointing out that the killer acted alone. No, he did not. He had multiple Republican accomplices who keep blocking gun control and valorizing guns with open-carry laws.


Heather Cox Richardson: U.S. Politics “A Tyranny of the Minority” | Amanpour and Company [YouTube], March 27, 2022


Heather Cox Richardson, May 27, 2022 [Letters from an American] 

​​​​​​​…during the Cold War, American leaders came to treat democracy and capitalism as if they were interchangeable. So long as the United States embraced capitalism, by which they meant an economic system in which individuals, rather than the state, owned the means of production, liberal democracy would automatically follow.

That theory seemed justified by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The crumbling of that communist system convinced democratic nations that they had won, they had defeated communism, their system of government would dominate the future… In the 1990s, America’s leaders believed that the spread of capitalism would turn the world democratic as it delivered to them global dominance, but they talked a lot less about democracy than they did about so-called free markets.

In fact, the apparent success of capitalism actually undercut democracy in the U.S. The end of the Cold War was a gift to those determined to destroy the popular liberal state that had regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and invested in infrastructure since the New Deal. They turned their animosity from the Soviet Union to the majority at home, those they claimed were bringing communism to America. “​​For 40 years conservatives fought a two-front battle against statism, against the Soviet empire abroad and the American left at home,” right-wing operative Grover Norquist said in 1994. “Now the Soviet Union is gone and conservatives can redeploy. And this time, the other team doesn’t have nuclear weapons.”


Heather Cox Richardson, May 26, 2022 [Letters from an American] 

Last night, Texas candidate for governor Beto O’Rourke confronted Texas governor Greg Abbott at a press conference. Last year, Abbott signed at least seven new laws to make it easier to obtain guns, and after the Uvalde murders, he said tougher gun laws are not “a real solution.” O’Rourke offered a different vision for defending our children than stocking up on guns. “The time to stop the next shooting is right now, and you are doing nothing,” O’Rourke said, standing in front of a dais at which Abbott sat. “You said this is not predictable…. This is totally predictable…. This is on you, until you choose to do something different…. This will continue to happen. Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed, just like they were killed in Uvalde yesterday.”

Uvalde mayor Don McLaughlin shouted profanities at O’Rourke; Texas Republican lieutenant governorDan Patrick told the former congressman, “You’re out of line and an embarrassment”; and Senator Ted Cruz told him, “Sit down.”


“GOP frustration builds with Freedom Caucus floor tactics”

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-25-2022]

“[Members of the House Freedom Caucus] have forced recorded votes on normally noncontroversial bills on the suspension calendar, forcing lawmakers to hang around the chamber for hours to get their votes in rather than conduct other business…. Some GOP lawmakers are getting frustrated with the hard-line tactics of the conservative House Freedom Caucus…. [Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.)] said that he told the Freedom Caucus members: ‘​​I’m just telling y’all, just giving you a heads up, you’re getting a lot of ill will around here. This stuff will come back to you. You just can’t do this to people and think that they’re not going to remember it.’…. Bills and resolutions considered under suspension of the rules have historically passed by voice vote, often with few members in the House chamber. They account for the majority of bills passed in modern Congresses. But Freedom Caucus members last year started demanding recorded votes for those bills, drastically changing the pace of floor action. Perry and Roy in a joint interview argued that most all bills deserve a recorded vote, that it gives more time for members to review the legislation and that leadership often sneaks through controversial bills as suspension bills. Members should not be considered as on record supporting a bill that passed by voice vote if they did not get a chance to vote on it, they say. ‘What ought to happen in this body, irrespective of what we’re doing at any particular moment, is we ought to have a consensus on a fair way to move bills through appropriately, where we start with the default position of voting, and you’re only moving something by voice or consent when there’s universal agreement that is unobjectionable,’ Roy said. Freedom Caucus members have also argued that the tactic helps slow down and delay Democrats’ agenda.”


The (Anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

The Supreme Court just made it much easier to bribe a member of Congress

[Vox, via The Big Picture 5-22-2022]

A case brought by Ted Cruz is a huge boon to rich candidates and moneyed lobbyists….

The Court’s decision in FEC v. Ted Cruz for Senate is a boon to wealthy candidates. It strikes down an anti-bribery law that limited the amount of money candidates could raise after an election in order to repay loans they made to their own campaign.

Federal law permits candidates to loan money to their campaigns. In 2001, however, Congress prohibited campaigns from repaying more than $250,000 of these loans using funds raised after the election. They can repay as much as they want from campaign donations received before the election (although a federal regulation required them to do so “within 20 days of the election”).


Threat Lurks to STB’s Independence 

Frank N. Wilner, May 23, 2022 [Railway Age]

Once upon a time, conservative jurists were the best friends to federal regulatory agencies such as the Surface Transportation Board (STB). When those agencies pushed the boundaries of their decision-making independence, federal courts considered them experts in their field and accordingly deferred to their interpretations of the statutes they administered….

To be tested is a 1984 Supreme Court decision, Chevron USA v. Natural Resources Defense Council, written by former Justice John Paul Stevens, then considered part of the Court’s liberal wing. The decision—creating what is known as the Chevron Doctrine—later was celebrated by one of the court’s more conservative justices, the late Antonin Scalia, and all seemed well for activist federal regulatory agencies.

That 1984 decision held that expert federal regulatory agencies such as the STB—not federal courts—should be the primary interpreters of statutes that Congress authorized those agencies to administer. Federal regulatory agencies, holds the Chevron Doctrine, should be afforded deference in their rulemakings even if they differ from what the court considers to be the best interpretation, except where the statutory language permits only one interpretation.…

Many conservative jurists previously supportive of Chevron Deference “now disavow” it, says Harvard Law Professor Cass R. Sunstein in a review of a new book by Columbia University Law Professor Thomas W. Merrill (The Chevron Doctrine: Its Rise and Fall, and the Future of the Administrative State)…. Conservatives nowadays, wrote Sunstein in the May 26 New York Review of Books, have adopted the view “that much of the modern administrative state is unconstitutional and that there is something seriously wrong with a situation in which major policy decisions are made by [federal regulatory] agencies instead of by Congress.”


The Dark Side

This Is the Southern Baptist Apocalypse 

[Christianity Today, via Naked Capitalism 5-23-2022]


The report on Southern Baptist abuses is a portrait of brutal misogyny 

[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 5-25-2022]




Open Thread


What will it take to stop asking why are there school shootings? By Marcus Gardner


  1. Lex

    Thank you, Tony. The roundup is a weekly tradition I look forward to.

    I don’t think the Democratic Party can be saved unless people who work for a living are in charge to some degree. That’s what the Democratic Party used to have.

    Is liberalism, and as an ideology it tracks closely with European imperial-colonialism, dying? The philosophy of the right is struggling with a desire for illiberalism but can’t yet reconcile it with its fetishizing of private property. The internal contradictions are becoming structural weaknesses. And the flow of property, as well as its concentration, are dangerous prompts for near term instability.

    The ideology that provides stability always wins out in times of instability.

    Is it wrong that I agree with the freedom caucus? The “other business” is almost certainly fundraising and lobbyist face time. Congress already works a ridiculously light schedule. The people’s business is the job description.

  2. VietnamVet

    The triumph of individualism has come to full flower in America with the Democrats control of the White House and Congress:

    A proxy World War III with Russia in Ukraine.

    The sixth wave of coronavirus peaking in the USA. Inflation, shortage of goods and workers disregarded. Public Health nonexistent.

    New Mexico wildfires caused by US Forest Service prescribed burns going out of control.

    Shortage of baby formula due to the shutdown of an unsafe Abbott manufacturing site with no alternative suppliers due to industry consolidation to increase profits.

    Russiagate set in motion by the Clinton Campaign and ignored by the Muller Investigation.

    Police stood by as children were shot.

    “The United States is also a one-party state but, with typical American extravagance, they have two of them.” – Julius Nyerere

    The corruption and incompetence are inevitable in a political/economic system where only money has value.

  3. Trinity

    The theme I’m seeing in this week’s postings is just how bad the US education system really is. From the grad students in the very first article, to the article on free speech, and everything in between.

    It’s pretty hard to capture the hearts and minds of a population that has been prepared with a good education. And this may also be why there is such a push to privatize education to ensure the “right” students get the “right” education (and keep the poor ignorant, especially basic logic). It’s not just the profit motive, it never is just the profit motive, it’s also about making the population malleable and therefore easily controlled.

  4. Ché Pasa

    We the rabble are now pretty much inured to shortages, high prices, low wages, no retirement, crappy health care if there’s any available at all, rising death tolls from disease and chronic conditions (like old age, for one), school, mall, church, movie theater, grocery store shootings, crazed motorists plowing through crowds, lower life expectancy for the majority, a morbid fascination with doom, death and destruction — as if we were living through the apocalypse or something.

    This isn’t what Tony’s civic republican society has in mind, no, but truth is, there aren’t any modern examples of such societies in the West, and it is possible there never have been any, It may be an unreachable ideal, suggesting there is no systemic solution to our current and future difficulties.

    We do the best we can with what we’ve got, and hope and pray that we’ll avoid the worst of what’s to come.

    An ideal system, I think, is anarchy — which is nothing at all like the free-for-all constant riot that it’s customarily made out to be. Far from it. But… it’s not democracy, not republicanism, not authoritarianism, not totalitarianism, certainly not libertarianism. It’s a system that’s not really a system (anarchy=no government) but an agreement, a consensus among like-minded individuals and affinity groups for cooperation (not coercion) and mutual aid.

    The problem, in my view, is that it only works — when it works — among small, tight-knit societies, kinship and affinity groups, in which everyone knows everyone else very well, there is mutual trust and respect and a common willingness to forego immediate gain or pleasure for long-term benefit and survival.

    That describes very few if any present day societies and when you get down to it, very few contemporary people are adapted to function within such societies if they did exist. We are conditioned to reject that kind of social organization.

    Many seem to feel we are likely headed into a period of intense authoritarianism (wouldn’t be the first time) before the final collapse. Could be. Needless to say, afterwards, there is almost certain to be immodest and cruel authority imposed on what survivors there may be. Again, not for the first time.

    Meanwhile, it seems like the outlines of where we’re heading are becoming clearer, no?

  5. Chuck Mire


    They didn’t even get the sarcasm.

  6. Ché Pasa – in the sense that humanity is imperfect, there can never be any ideal society. Civic republicanism recognizes both the imperfect nature of humanity, AND humanity’s desire to strive for excellence and perfection. This is a Platonic-Augustinian conception: evil (imperfection) is the absence of good (perfection). Thus the Preamble to the USA Constitution states to create a MORE perfect union, not a perfect union. Or as Michelman writes in his article I’ve linked to a few times in the past, republicanism demands a “juris-generative” process in which the imperfections of society and government may be addressed and pushed toward resolution:
    “The Court helps protect the republican state — that is, the citizens politically engaged — from lapsing into a politics of self-denial. It challenges “the people’s” self-enclosing tendency to assume their own moral completion as they now are and thus to deny to themselves the plurality on which their capacity for transformative self-renewal depends.”

    There is a debate in the academy now over republicanism. In Europe, there is an attempt to define republicanism as “freedom from domination.” I think this is so limited a conception that it effectively cripples any attempt to apply republicanism as a solution. As I have argued before, a key tenet of civic republicanism is that it imposes a duty to improve the human condition. This is a duty that is imposed on both citizens and the government.

    There is a new book just published, by Joseph Fishkin and William Forbath,
    The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution: Reconstructing the Economic Foundations of American Democracy

    In a symposium on the book, Fishkin and Forbath and their interlocutors grapple with this duty, arguing that “the Constitution creates affirmative duties.” These duties of government flow from an implied vision of what promoting the General Welfare entails (as Chemerinsky argues in his book I cite in the OP). I wanted to note in the OP, but failed to, the highly relevant observation that conservatives and libertarians today believe it would greatly improve the USA Constitution if the General Welfare clause were removed. They also argue that the Preamble carries no legal weight; and that the Guarantee Clause is nothing but a historical curiosity.

    But the Guarantee Clause is the very soul of the Constitution, for what good is USA if it ceases to be a republic? (And we are finding out, because we are now living in the final stages of the transformation to oligarchy.) In the symposium,
    Fishkin and Forbath cite three examples of when the Guarantee Clause was used to impose social and political change to remove imperfections. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner argued that “the Republican Form of
    Government Clause justified radical restructuring of the South after the Civil War and quoting his characterization of the clause: “a sleeping giant . . . never until this recent war awakened, but now it comes forward with a giant’s power”. ”

    Pennsylvania Congressman and Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens invoked the Guarantee Clause to justify congressional power to impose radical changes on the Southern salve-holding states. (See speech entitled “RECONSTRUCTION”—
    introducing the joint committee’s original draft of the Fourteenth Amendment. CONG. GLOBE, 39th Cong., 1st Sess. 72–75 (1865) .

    Third, they cite Mark A. Graber, “The Second Freedmen’s Bureau Bill’s Constitution,” 94 TEXAS L. REV. 1361, 1372–73 (2016), which details how Reconstruction Republicans used the Guarantee clause to support the Second Freedmen’s Bureau Bill.

    In the symposium, Fishkin and Forbath write that after the Civil War and Reconstruction, there was a “Great Forgetting” in regards to civic republicanism. and the Guarantee clause, and I think this is an important excerpt:

    “…we all draw on a collective store of common memories and arguments—its examples remembered well and dimly—in making claims about what we should do or about what could be…. What we can do as scholars is help flesh out and bring to life some of the materials that ought to be part of that common intellectual store of memories and arguments but may be sitting neglected, needing to be dusted
    off and readied for use. That is much of what we are up to in The Anti- Oligarchy Constitution.

    “It is not our work alone. Limiting our ambit to the participants in this
    very Symposium, Sabeel Rahman, Ganesh Sitaraman [I have cited Sitaraman before], and Bob Hockett [and I have cited Hockett before] are
    all at work on books with related themes. It is no accident that all this work
    is converging: It is because of the political economy of this new Gilded
    Age. That is what inspires the work. It is also what is beginning to inspire
    Americans to come to some sort of political reckoning with inequality and
    oligarchy. We think this reckoning will inevitably be, in some significant
    measure, a constitutional reckoning as well.”

    The Democracy of Opportunity
    and Constitutional Politics:
    A Response
    Joseph Fishkin* and William Forbath**

  7. bruce wilder

    Ha-Joon Chang’s confusion about what “liberalism” has meant as a political philosophy is well-earned. Liberalism has been carried forward at many times in the past with more than a little hypocrisy and callousness. It was the bourgeois resistance to and rejection of the claims of reactionary conservatives, who in turn were defending hereditary aristocracy and imperialism and mercantilist monopolies. Judged by the enemies they chose, they look pretty good, even if their opposition often sunk too quickly into “incremental progress” if not criminal negligence, even as they touted themselves as rationalists and progressives. But, it is also true that liberals pressed the case for constitutional government and representative democracy for nation-states throughout the 19th century in place of the Empires run by hereditary aristocracies.

  8. Z

    Another reason the movement to have federal student debt fully forgiven should be knocking on the Fed’s front door …

    The New York Fed’s trading desk owning 38 percent of the 10-30 year Treasuries is also deeply alarming because it is that maturity range that has a dramatic impact on the interest rate of the 30-year fixed-rate residential mortgage, the most popular mortgage among first-time homebuyers historically. It means that the New York Fed’s gobbling up of these 10-year U.S. Treasury Notes and 30-year U.S. Treasury Bonds, to the tune of 38 percent of the market, has created artificial demand for these instruments that would not otherwise exist. That, in turn, means that mortgage rates have been artificially held lower – much lower – than they would otherwise have been.

    Not to mention the Fed also bought up a ton of Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) which led to higher home and real estate prices.

    Again, the forgive student debt movement ought to bring their energy to the Federal Reserve, which has printed about 8 trillion dollars since 2008 to keep this debtors’ prison of an economy intact and maintain our rulers’ wealth and power over us by inflating asset prices and providing a cavalcade of EZ money to our financial overlords that was also used for job-killing and rent-raising mergers and placed the cost of rent control via home ownership out of their reach, and demand the Fed dish out a couple of trillion to them to loosen some of the chains they helped shackle to them.

    And if the younger generations ever hope to confront this ecocidal economic system, which threatens to incinerate us off this planet and is built upon the anti-intellectual idiocy of infinite growth on a finite planet, they better begin to pull back the curtains on the shapeshifters who keystroke capital to defy the physical reality of its contradictions.


  9. Ché Pasa

    In a world where a handful of land and business owners and their retainers can sit around a table at the club, literally, and determine the mid-long term future for the rest of us (unpleasant, whatever it is) as well as their own pecuniary future, and we, the rest, have neither any say in the matter or any rational way to prevent a bad outcome for most, we’re seeing how an ideal of civic republicanism has been implemented in this country for hundreds of years. There is no sign of it changing or being changed to something better any time soon if ever.

    These decision makers believe — sincerely — that they are acting in the best interest not only of themselves but everyone else. If harm results from their decisions, it is ultimately for the best.If mistakes are made, they will be fixed in the by and bye, or if they aren’t, the mistakes are seen as ultimately beneficial.

    We may see them as little more than selfish, greedy fools, and many of them are, but probably more of them are not. They really do feel and believe they are fulfilling their civic duty on behalf of all. I’ve known plenty of these people as I’m sure others here have as well.

    Some even have the nub of a conscience.

    Note: it’s an exclusive and exclusionary club. Most of us will never be part of it, by design and necessity. The exclusive and exclusionary nature of this club is built in to the founding principles of the nation, taken directly from British practice and adapted to the realities and difficulties of America. Latin America has a similar practice taken directly from Spain.

    The idea that civic republicanism should be and could be understood and implemented better is a nice one, but we don’t see it happening in practice.

    What we see may be as good as it gets…

  10. different clue


    Perhaps we could coin a phrase like ” social control motive” for the social control reasons you offer for the careful and deliberate crapification of public education in the US.

    ” Social control motive” is almost as easy to say as “profit motive” and a lot easier to say than a whole paragraph full of words and letters.

  11. different clue

    People who choose to self-identify themselves as “rabble” and who choose to pre-emptively self-consign themselves to the status of “rabble” will probably succeed in getting themselves consigned to the “rabble” class. Let such people seek their happiness therein.

    People who choose to self-identify themselves as something better than ” innate natural rabble” will try to carve out for themselves a position better than ” self-chosen natural rabble”. They may not succeed. But they will at least try.

    Perhaps some mini and micro localities may be exclusively inhabited by small-focus overwhelming majorities of ” not willing to be rabble” people. Such people may well try to evolve mini Civic Republics and micro Civic Republics , at least in functional terms, right where they are.

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