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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 25 2020

by Tony Wikrent


See something? Report voter suppression and obstacles to voting.

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-8-20

Strategic Political Economy

The Enemies Briefcase
Andrew Cockburn [Harpers, November 2020, via Wall Street on Parade 10-18-20]

At some point in the first term, however, experts surmise that an even more secret briefing occurs, one that has never been publicly acknowledged. In it, the new president learns how to blow up the Constitution.

The session introduces “presidential emergency action documents,” or PEADs, orders that authorize a broad range of mortal assaults on our civil liberties. In the words of a rare declassified official description, the documents outline how to “implement extraordinary presidential authority in response to extraordinary situations”—by imposing martial law, suspending habeas corpus, seizing control of the internet, imposing censorship, and incarcerating so-called subversives, among other repressive measures. “We know about the nuclear briefcase that carries the launch codes,” Joel McCleary, a White House official in the Carter Administration, told me. “But over at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department there’s a list of all the so-called enemies of the state who would be rounded up in an emergency. I’ve heard it called the ‘enemies briefcase.’ ”

These chilling directives have been silently proliferating since the dawn of the Cold War as an integral part of the hugely elaborate and expensive Continuity of Government (COG) program, a mechanism to preserve state authority (complete with well-provisioned underground bunkers for leaders) in the event of a nuclear holocaust. Compiled without any authorization from Congress, the emergency provisions long escaped public discussion—that is, until Donald Trump started to brag about them. “I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about,” he boasted in March, ominously echoing his interpretation of Article II of the Constitution, which, he has claimed, gives him “the right to do whatever I want as president.” He has also declared his “absolute right” to build a border wall, whatever Congress thinks, and even floated the possibility of delaying the election “until people can properly, securely, and safely vote.”

Rochester AFL-CIO Calls for General Strike if Trump Steals Election

[Payday Report, via Naked Capitalism 10-19-20]

Evo Morales’s Party’s Massive Victory Is a Rebuke to US Elites Who Hailed the Coup

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 10-20-20]

How an Aversion to Masks Stems From ‘Toxic Masculinity’ 

New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-20]

When President Trump returned to the White House on Oct. 5, after spending three days hospitalized with Covid-19 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he stepped out onto the balcony and ripped off his face mask to greet his supporters. He was sending a clear signal: He had gone to war with a ruthless enemy and come out unscathed, still standing strong.

“I’m better and maybe I’m immune, I don’t know. But don’t let it dominate your lives,” he said in a video later that day, minimizing the danger of the virus that has now killed more than 220,000 Americans.

That same day, when the Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr., posted a video of himself on Twitter wearing a face mask, the Fox News host Tomi Lahren suggested that he “carry a purse with that.” The implication: No strong, powerful man would resort to mask wearing.

I know some people who get angry at everyday people for not wearing masks. I think their anger is misplaced and misdirected. I get angry at the conservative / libertarian leaders such as Trump and the management of Fox News, who have created a political environment that celebrates and encourages selfishness.

Economic Armageddon: The COVID Collapsed Economy

Time’s up: After a reprieve, a wave of evictions expected across U.S.

[Reuters, October 19, 2020, via The American Prospect]

September’s reprieve by the CDC, which protected many, but not all, renters will expire in January.

At that point, an estimated $32 billion in back rent will come due, with up to 8 million tenants facing eviction filings, according to a tracking tool developed by the global advisory firm Stout Risius and Ross, which works with the nonprofit National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. The nonprofit group advocates for tenants in eviction court to secure lawyers.

In a typical year, 3.6 million people face eviction cases, according to the Princeton University Eviction Lab, a national housing research center.

How The Fed Rescued Corporations And Let Everyone Else Suffer 

[The Daily Poster, via Naked Capitalism 10-20-20]

 “Is capital finally losing faith in Trump?”

Adam Tooze [Guardian, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-23-20.

“What has kept Donald Trump in the presidential race is his electoral base. It consists of white men, rural and small-town voters and small-business owners [and “American gentry”]. . The big bucks for the campaign come from a coterie of wealthy loyalists. This bloc will stick with Trump whatever he says or does. But the attitude of other groups that one might expect to be Trump’s natural supporters, such as big business, financial markets, a lobby like the chamber of commerce – ‘capital’, in other words – is far less clear cut. If anything, as Joe Biden’s lead has stabilised, so too has their optimism. With an eye to an impending shift of power, the Chamber of Commerce has endorsed a cluster of Democrats in tight House races, provoking outrage from the president. These unexpected alignments point to the scrambling of assumptions that is characteristic of the Trump era… If, as seemed possible at the beginning of this year, the US economy had stayed on course and the Dems had selected the leftwing Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders as their candidate to run against Trump, the battle lines would have been clearly drawn. But that is not what happened. The Democrats selected Biden, a centrist who as senator for Delaware between 1973 and 2009 represented one of the greatest tax havens in the western world during the height of financialisation.

Maybe Biden is good for “electability,” by being acceptable to the usurers, speculators, and financial con-men running things, but for actually saving the planet and the economy, the last thing we need is more financialisation.

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

The Corporatization of Nursing Homes: A tragic history of how we’ve treated elderly citizens, for profit

[The American Prospect 10-20-2020]

By mid-September, the nationwide death toll from long-term care facilities had reached more than 77,000 residents and staff, 40 percent of the country’s total….

Roughly 70 percent of the nation’s 15,400 nursing homes are for-profit, and the gross understaffing on display at Colonial Hill is the flip side of extreme profiteering….

Amplifying this neglect are the dozens of state laws passed hastily in the spring, granting the entire health care industry immunity from legal liability. “Dehydration, malnutrition, falling, bedsores—they’re saying, ‘Look, we’re not liable for any of that right now because of COVID,’” says Steven Levin, an Illinois trial lawyer who has spent his career suing nursing homes and is working on more than 100 wrongful-death suits right now. These laws comprise the single coherent national policy response to the nursing home bloodbath of spring 2020.

In the absence of an accessible long-term care system for all families, older Americans are callously warehoused in these institutions, which in the crisis have descended into death traps. But for decades before the pandemic, for-profit nursing homes have been robbing seniors of their dignity and their money. And where you find extraction of value and indifference toward horrors inflicted on human beings, you inevitably find a financier’s spreadsheet.

THE AMERICAN NURSING home industry is a hellscape whose history is generously paved with bad intentions. I began my research under the assumption that senior care facilities were much like other private equity–stripped health care institutions: bought up and saddled with debt and forced to cut costs wherever possible, leading to unconscionable outcomes for workers and residents. I assumed financial firms perverted a formerly well-intentioned system for providing vital care. The truth is almost the inverse. The private equity guys learned a lot of their tricks from the original nursing home predators. Most good people were driven out of the business generations ago, and the ones who have hung on have been mostly punished for refusing to play the game.

Barry Ritholtz, October 21, 2020 [The Big Picture]


….Sarah Ponczek of Bloomberg News: Epic S&P 500 Rally Is Powered by Assets You Can’t See or Touch discusses several consequential issues impacting investing today….

“Take all the physical assets owned by all the companies in the S&P 500, all the cars and office buildings and factories and merchandise, then sell them all at cost in one giant sale, and they would generate a net sum that doesn’t even come out to 20% of the index’s $28 trillion value . . . Back in 1985, before Silicon Valley came to dominate the ranks of America’s biggest companies, tangible assets tended to be closer to half the market’s value.”

How The Bankruptcy Code Protects Lenders And Harms Student Debtors — And What One Lawyer Is Doing About It 

[Above the Law, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-20]

The National Collegiate Student Loan Trust is a shadowy LLC that somehow oversaw $12 billion in private student loan debt from the mid-2000s that encompassed 800,000 borrowers. But what, exactly, did this company do? They didn’t originate, issue, or service their student loans. They didn’t even have a website, an office, or employees. But they held a massive amount of private student loan debt, their borrowers were defaulting in higher numbers than any other pool of loans, and they were aggressively pursuing repayment, prompting their army of debt collectors to file hundreds of lawsuits on their behalf against borrowers every year. What was going on?

The answer, it turned out, was Wall Street. Mirroring the subprime mortgage crisis, lenders of student loans discovered that they could make tons of money if they bundled up all of their loans into securitized trusts and sold tranches to investment banks. These student loan asset-backed securities, known as SLABS, became an enticing way to make money out of thin air for Sallie Mae as well as private banks who had no relationship to the federal government but wanted to stick their hand in this massive cookie jar.

The creation of SLABS also ushered in the financial depersonalization of student debt. This B-rated tranche wasn’t 25,000 kids living in their parents’ basements, dreams slashed at becoming engineers or nurses or computer programmers, sequestered to their local Starbucks so they could make the minimum monthly payment on their loans. Oh no. It was a reliable slice of warm investment pie. Ah, the bankers could almost smell it. And the changes in the bankruptcy code that made these loans non-dischargeable? Well, that layer of protection was the scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

By 2007, nearly every dollar that had been lent out to students across all lenders was bundled into SLABS and sold off to Wall Street. NCSLT wasn’t the only one doing this; they were just the most brazen player in this new Wild West financial landscape. If Sallie Mae and other banks had pistols clipped to each hip, NCSLT carried a bazooka atop their shoulders. Smith, who himself had been approached by borrowers whose loans traced back to NCSLT, was shocked: The National Collegiate Student Loan Trust was nothing more than a way for student loans to be bundled into asset-backed securities and sold off to Wall Street. It was here that the head of the snake finally revealed itself — the real reason these loans were being issued in the first place.

Disrupting mainstream economics

How Would President Biden Approach Corporate Power?

Matt Stoller [Big, via Naked Capitalism 10-20-20]

The Obama White House, as well as the Democrats and Republicans in Congress during his administration, had an unrecognized pro-concentration philosophy, and so what people normally chalk up to ineffectiveness or corruption was actually by design. Airlines and telecoms consolidated with the permission of the Obama Department of Transportation and FCC. Obama pledged to go after ag monopolies, but dropped the case against Monsanto and didn’t do anything on meatpackers until 2016. Both the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank were oriented around concentrating power in banks, hospitals, health insurers, and so on, while putting a regulatory overlay on top of them. Top White House advisor Larry Summers did his best to block anti-monopolization efforts. At some points it got comical, with the cartoonishly evil Ticketmaster merging with Live Nation without a real challenge. And on and on.

To put it a different way, the Obama White House intentionally concentrated corporate power, because he and his advisors thought it was the right thing to do. Though today they pretend otherwise, at the time they were straightforward about how awesome a job they did. In 2016, several of his enforcers – including FTC Chair Jon Leibowitz and DOJ official Fiona Scott Morton – helped co-author an antitrust transition report for Donald Trump in which they dismissed popular critiques of lax enforcement, and noted that “competition enforcement has been in good hands” for decades.

Only at the end of his administration, prodded by a different set of arguments, did a few officials start to re-imagine what might be possible. I don’t want to be too harsh to Obama, as the overall environment was corrosively pro-monopoly in a way that’s hard to remember. After all, Obama’s attitude of disinterest wasn’t unique. Republicans were fiercely pro-monopoly, and the left was completely uninterested; in 2011, Occupy Wall Street protesters honored billionaire Steve Jobs with a moment of silence. In other words, it’s been four years and a lot of shifting norms since then. So for a lot of reasons, the consensus is that Joe Biden is likely to break from what Obama did.

Making Economics Fun Through Groundbreaking Research
Barry Ritholtz, October 19, 2020 [The Big Picture]

[Dr. Lisa] Cook’s research is unique and groundbreaking, backed by deep mathematical proofs, and often revealing of overlooked truths. Her study on academia found that of all academic PhDs. granted, only 0.6% in economics went to Black women. (see Black women are underrepresented in economics, which is bad for everyone). Her research showed the lack of diversity in economics was even more egregious than even the profession’s most harsh critics believed it to be.

Some of her most fascinating research is on the nature of patents, violence, innovation and race. African American patents peaked in 1899 and have since fallen dramatically. Only 6 patents per million go to African Americans in the population, versus 40 per million for women, and 235 per million for all others. Surprised at the results of her research, she presented her preliminary findings to a variety of economists.

“The Unlikely Coalition That Made the New Deal (with Thomas Ferguson)” [YouTube, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-21-20]


[Twitter below, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-20]


When We Talk About Fox News, We Need to Talk About the Murdoch Family Too

Peter Maass, October 24 2020 [The Intercept]

The Murdochs own Fox News but rarely get the scrutiny they deserve for bankrolling racism and hatred.

Collapse of Independent News Media

[Twitter below, via Naked Capitalism 10-21-20]


Creating new economic potential – science and technology

The two months in 1980 that shaped the future of biotech

[Stat, via Naked Capitalism 10-18-20]

Event 3: A new innovation law

… on October 21, President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Stevenson Wydler Technology Innovation Act. It responded to concerns that government-sponsored technologies were not being commercialized frequently enough. The act encouraged U.S. national laboratories, such as Fermilab, Brookhaven, Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, among others, to spread information about government-owned technology, in part by requiring them to establish Offices of Research and Technology Applications that were to identify and promote technologies with strong commercial potential. The Carter administration supported this bill in part because it kept control over who would commercialize those new technologies in the hands of the federal government.

Event 5: Bayh-Dole becomes law

The fifth and final event took place on Friday, December 12, when then-lame duck President Jimmy Carter signed the Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act, better known as the Bayh-Dole Act. This law gave universities and other nonprofit research institutions a clear and easy way to own intellectual property they created, in whole or in part, with federal research funding. It is often credited with having kickstarted the biotech industry.

Why Does the U.S. Have Three Electrical Grids?

[IEEE Spectrum, via Naked Capitalism 10-21-20]

“Wind Turbine Tutorial”

[, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-21-20]

“This is a Vertical Axis Wind Turbine which uses wind energy to drive things like an alternator/generator for producing electricity, or air and water pumps for cooling, irrigation and similar. The turbine uses the 35-40% mechanically efficient Lenz2 lift+drag design. It is made almost entirely from scrap materials, and should cost about $15-$30 for the six vane version, which can be made by two people in four hours without much effort.”



If recycling plastics isn’t making sense, remake the plastics

[Ars Technica, via Naked Capitalism 10-19-20]

It’s Official: Solar Is the Cheapest Electricity in History

[Popular Mechanics, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-20]

Information Age Dystopia

Congress Needs To Take Seriously The House Reports On Big Tech’s Anticompetitive Behavior 

The Federalist, via Naked Capitalism 10-18-20]

“Microsoft just force restarted my Windows PC again to install more unwanted apps”

[The Verge, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-19-20]

“I stepped away from my computer for dinner, halfway through writing a story for The Verge. When I got back, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Windows 10 had restarted my computer without permission yet again — to install yet another forced OS update onto my solid state drive… Microsoft doesn’t respect your ownership of your own PC, the latest example of Microsoft installing anything it likes in a Windows update up to and including bloatware, and the latest example of Microsoft caring more about the bottom line than whether a few people might lose their work when Windows suddenly shuts down their PC.” • MacOS doesns’t do this at all. iOS would if it could bring itself to, but currently it contents itself with constant nudging.

Disrupting mainstream politics

[Twitter below, via Naked Capitalism 10-19-20]


[Twitter below, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-22-20]


Disrupting mainstream politics

“ActBlue’s stunning third quarter: $1.5 billion in donations”

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-23-20]

“Democratic candidates and left-leaning groups raised $1.5 billion through ActBlue over the last three months — a record-smashing total that reveals the overwhelming financial power small-dollar donors have unleashed up and down the ballot ahead of the 2020 election….. “Small-dollar donors are showing an unparalleled commitment to change,” Erin Hill, ActBlue’s executive director, said in a statement shared with POLITICO. “In the final weeks of the 2020 election, they are showing up and investing in races across the board. This people-powered movement will expand the map for Democrats for years to come and sets a powerful precedent for civic engagement. Small-dollar donors are leading the way to victory.’”

Lambert Strether: “I’d like to see the pre- and post-Sanders figures broken out, because I would bet they’re very different.”

The beginning of the end of machine politics in Rhode Island

Ryan Cooper, September 17, 2020 []

In the state’s primary elections last week, left-wing challengers ousted a slew of Democratic incumbents, and won a couple additional open seats. It’s very likely the start of a serious political realignment in the state, and another instance of the left chipping away at a corrupt Democratic establishment that has completely lost touch with its voting base.

This is interesting not only for the result, but for how it was accomplished. In Rhode Island, as in many other states, the Democratic Party had all but ceased to exist as a normal political party that serves its constituents, so the challengers built an external organization as a substitute for traditional party infrastructure and focused on basic issues that impact voters directly. The left, in other words, is bringing democracy back to America’s tiniest state….

….the machine had very little organic political support. Mendes took on incumbent Senator William Conley, who is also the powerful chair of the Senate finance committee, in his East Providence district. He essentially “had never had to run a campaign before,” said Mendes, and she clobbered him by a whopping 62-38 margin. As that and the other victories reveal, the establishment had been caught napping. All somebody had to do was point out their failure to do much of anything to actually represent their constituents, credibly promise to do better — including stuff like aggressive climate policy, higher taxes on the rich, constituent service, and so on — and multiple top-ranking senators and representatives folded like wet noodles. A tax on the top one percent, joining the Renew New England regional clean energy and job creation alliance, and extending health insurance coverage were particularly attractive, Mendes said. “Those are exciting for people.”

The Bernie Organizers Who Want to Elect Biden—Then Defeat Him

Isabel Cristo, October 23, 2020 [The New Republic]

In a post–Bernie Sanders electoral field, candidates like Jones and groups like Our Revolution face the awkward double-step of having to throw their support and organizational capacity behind a presidential candidate who has repudiated many of the broad social-democratic programs and working-class politics that they stand for. They are under no illusions about the odds of a Biden presidency suddenly pivoting to enact a bold progressive agenda. Instead, grassroots organizers on the left who found an ideological home in the Sanders campaign, as well as a sizable number of former Sanders operatives themselves, are all now in the position of fighting like hell to elect their own opponent…. As Jonathan Smucker, an organizer with Not Him, Us, put it, “For us to get anywhere, to put demands on the system, we need to have someone who is at the very least vulnerable to our pressure. Donald Trump is not vulnerable to our pressure.”

On November 4, organizers will wake up and see whether their ground game paid off; whether, in the days or weeks that may be required to count every vote, they won or lost. But the campaign is also bigger than one election: No matter what, the outreach, deep organizing, and local conversations about stakes and power they will have engaged in are precisely the kind of turnout strategy that Sanders tried to build but that organizers rightly observed will take longer than the course of one campaign cycle. That work has to penetrate deeper, pull more people in, and construct a coalition that strategizes and fights in all the battles to come. In the end, for many on the left, this moment, which has been billed as a once-in-a-lifetime event and a singular showdown between good and evil, is really about the essentially timeless work of building power….

 “This is necessarily a two-step campaign,” Dan Sherrell of Vote Trump Out told me. As the name of his organization would suggest, ending the current regime is the first step. The second step is to take position so that the moment Joe Biden steps into office, he finds a well-organized coalition breathing down his neck….

 “We’re not trying to sell Biden to the left,” Wong explained. Casting Biden as a kind of covert progressive is not just in bad faith, it’s bad strategy. It will ring hollow to the people Wong and her colleagues are trying to reach. Instead, the idea is to meet people where they’re at, including and especially if that means feeling disaffected about the state of electoral politics. There is no need to pretend that Biden and the Democratic Party will hand over anything willingly—they will need to be beaten. The approach, as Sherrell puts it, goes something like: “We don’t like this guy either, but he’s the target we’d far rather have in the White House.”

Lambert Strether comments on Biden’s proposal for “Bidencare.”

[Naked Capitalism 10-23-20]

I assume the Democrats will go with what Biden actually said (and not “Joe’s Plan”) because that’s mean-tested, and doubles down on the “because markets” paradigm that would already have driven down costs under ObamaCare, were it true. In fact, costs increased, while gaps in coverage remained. Fortunately, it will only take another two or three Presidential cycles before the political class admits that the public option was a scam all along. You can do the math on the deaths; over time, they’re social murder on a pandemic scale.

“Preventing a Disrupted Presidential Election and Transition” (PDF)

[Transition Integrity Project, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-19-20]

Lambert Strether: “This is the exercise where liberal Democrats and Bush Republicans gamed out the election results. It’s worth a read. This caught my eye:”

During the exercises, Team Biden and Democratic elected officials took the following steps:

  • Organizing 1,000 “influencers” to denounce efforts to steal the election.
  • Organizing all living presidents to stand with Biden and denounce Trump administration efforts to subvert the democratic process.
  • Recruiting moderate Republican Governors such as Baker (MA) and Hogan (MD) to form an “Election Protection” Coalition.
  • Working with local Democratic elected officials to call on the Adjutant General of the National Guard, along with representatives from the technology sector, to monitor vote counting.
  • Organizing a bipartisan “National Day for Restoration of Democracy” and a “National Day of Unity,” both including faith leaders.
  • Attempting a capital strike and a work stoppage as part of an overall effort to push corporate leaders to insist that all ballots to be counted.

“Considering these simply as a list of techniques drawn from the liberal Democrat hive mind, it’s interesting to speculate how many of them would have been used against Sanders, had he won TX in addition to CA. And how many would be used during, or after, the general. The last bullet for example?

And then there’s this:”

TIP’s scenario exercises underscored a basic truth: an incumbent running for re-election can use the powers of the presidency to great advantage, particularly if traditional norms are viewed as unimportant and the incumbent is willing to take the risk that a court will eventually rule his actions to be unlawful. The exercise identified the following presidential powers as most likely to be misused to manipulate electoral outcomes or disrupt the transition: the President’s ability to federalize the national guard or invoke the Insurrection Act to deploy active duty military domestically; his ability to launch investigations into opponents; and his ability to use Department of Justice and/or the intelligence agencies to cast doubt on

election results or discredit his opponents. The President and key members of his administration can also reference classified documents without releasing them, manipulate classified information, or selectively release classified documents for political purposes, fueling manufactured rumors. Participants noted that additional presidential powers subject to misuse include the ability to the freeze assets of individuals and groups the president determines to be a threat, and his ability to restrict internet communications in the name of national security.

The Dark Side

Trumpworld’s Corruption Is as Globalized as the Ultra-Rich the President Mingles With 

[Foreign Policy, via Naked Capitalism 10-19-2020]

Court Packing? It’s Already Happening at the State Level

[Governing, via Naked Capitalism 10-23-2020]

In recent years, Republican-led legislatures have been adding state supreme court seats and working to change nominating rules, aiming to bolster conservative majorities….  In FloridaIowa and other states, Republican legislatures have changed the rules for judicial nominating commissions to give governors more control. High-court justices have been threatened with impeachment for issuing rulings that legislatures didn’t like.

Some Republican legislatures also have added seats to their states’ supreme courts to create new conservative majorities that are still in power today. In 2016, for example, Republicans in Georgia added two seats to the state Supreme Court to create a new conservative majority, giving GOP Gov. Nathan Deal two appointments.

Republicans in Arizona did the same thing that year, adding two high-court seats to allow GOP Gov. Doug Ducey’s appointments to create a new conservative majority. Ducey then manipulated the Arizona Constitution’s rules for appointing the state’s judicial nominating commission in an effort to push the court further to the right.

Charles Koch Should Be on the Presidential Debate Stage Tonight, Not Donald Trump
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, October 22, 2020 [Wall Street on Parade]

Lots and lots of details of the many Koch usurpations of the national government. Just one example:

As for the Interior Department, Huffington Post reported that the man nominated by the Trump administration to be its top lawyer, Daniel Jorjani, had “held a senior policy position at the Charles Koch Foundation and Charles Koch Institute from 2010 to 2012 and served as general counsel at the Koch-backed Freedom Partners from 2012 to 2017.”

Why would Charles Koch have an interest in the Interior Department and its public lands? In 2000, the CBS investigative program, 60 Minutes, did a story on Koch Industries, revealing the details of what one of the dissident brothers, Bill Koch, was alleging in Court documents. “Bill Koch filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that much of the oil collected by Koch Industries was stolen from federal lands. At the trial, 50 former Koch gaugers testified against the company, some in video depositions. They said Koch employees had a name for cheating on the measurements.” It was called the Koch Method. “The company used the Koch method with virtually all its customers. In the 1980s alone, Koch records show those so-called adjustments brought the company 300 million gallons of oil it never paid for. And it was pure profit. Bill Koch says that profits from that oil were a minimum of $230 million…In December 1999, the jury found that Koch Industries did steal oil from the public and lied about its purchases – 24 thousand times.”

Psychoanalysis in combating mass non-adherence to medical advice

[The Lancet, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-21-20]


Trump’s America Remains Stuck in the Shadow of Reagan…

Trump’s ‘Stephen Miller acolytes’ in the civil service could destroy a Biden administration from within, insiders say

[Independent, via Naked Capitalism 10-24-20]

The result of Trump’s and McEntee’s efforts has been an exodus of the most experienced, most qualified senior civil servants from government service, the likes of which the country has never seen. In their place, the White House has largely eschewed the practice of allowing top career agency employees who are part of the Senior Executive Service to occupy management positions, instead installing so-called Schedule C political appointees — who take orders directly from the White House — in day-to-day direct management roles rather than the policy-centric positions they have traditionally occupied.

Everett Kelley, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees — the largest union representing federal workers — said the use of political appointees to micromanage federal workers based on White House diktat is a practice that Congress may need to step in to prohibit going forward.

“The Prophet of the Revolt” (interview) [Martin Gurri, The Pull Request, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-22-20] “the book shows the elites to be in a state of confusion bordering on panic. They are baffled by anything digital and utterly clueless about where all the nonentities shouting angrily outside their windows come from. But why? In the last century, two generations of elites tackled the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, and came ahead on every count. They built the great dams and nuclear plants that electrified the country, and threw in the interstate highway grid for good measure. What has changed?” • Martin Gurri was formerly a member of CIA’s global media analysis team.

“A Message to Democrats from Your New Ally” [Stuart Stevens, The Bulwark, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-22-20] “ve spent a lot of my life—far too much in retrospect—waging war on the Democratic party. It was my job and I was good at it but in all those battles, even in the toughest of races, I never hated the other side. I wanted to win each race with the heat of a thousand suns and when I did lose, I found it sickening in a way that hung with me longer than any victory. But I never feared for the country if the Democrats won…. Today’s Republicans are not worthy of the great legacy they inherited.”

How Conservatives Dreamed Up Their Own Jesus

[L.A. Progressive, 10-22-2020]

This is the question historian Tony Keddie sets out to answer in his bracing new book, Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels. [Read an excerpt from the “Family Values” chapter here on RD — eds] Scholarly but accessible and gracefully written, Keddie’s study first introduces the figure of Repubican Jesus through the lens of Killing Jesus, the bestselling 2013 book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard that was subsequently made into a National Geographic film by Ridley Scott. [In fact, Tony Keddie first exposed the anti-Semitism of the Reilly/Dugard book in here on RD.]

Keddie then traces the formative influences behind this strange figure before concluding the book with a granular discussion of specific Republican Jesus “positions” on issues ranging from family life and sexuality, to charity, taxes, guns, immigration, climate change, and even Zionism. He illustrates how the Christian Right gaslights Americans on each and every one of these….

To my mind the book’s most valuable material is found in Keddie’s middle section, where he expertly identifies the historical currents that feed conservative Christian ideation. Whereas many historians oversimplify by identifying Calvinism as the Ursprung of free market capitalism, Keddie more precisely singles out Arminianism, the deviation from orthodox Calvinism that reserved some room for human effort in the work of salvation. He pinpoints the crucial contribution of Hugo Grotius, whom the Dutch government locked up for his Arminian heresy, in laying the legal groundwork for unrestricted pursuit of private gain and the exploitative merchant capitalism of the Dutch East Indian Company.

[Youtube, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-22-20]


Open Thread


Election Scenarios


  1. Plague Species

    Here’s an excellent, albeit dated but still highly pertinent, comprehensive article about natural gas and its green-ness, or lack thereof.

    The media, including and especially the “liberal” corporatist faction of it, chastised Biden this past week for his critical commentary about fracking.

    Natural gas is not a bridge fuel. It’s not even a bridge to nowhere. It’s a bridge to damnation because it, once again, gives false hope (when isn’t hope false?) to the dolts who think growth is an endless proposition.

    The article interestingly underscores that natural gas, when burned in power plants, has 100% less CO2 emissions than coal, but the reason is because plants that burn natural gas are modern plants and thus are much more effective at burning any fuel cleaner, not just natural gas.

    But a good deal of the benefit of gas in electricity generation comes from the fact that it is used in modern combined-cycle gas turbine plants. A combined-cycle plant is one in which waste heat is captured and redirected to drive a mechanical system that powers a generator that creates additional electricity. These plants can be nearly twice as efficient as conventional single-cycle plants. In addition, if combined with cogeneration (the trapping of the last bits of heat for local home heating or other purposes), they can reach efficiencies of nearly 90 percent. That means that nearly all the heat released by burning the fuel is captured and used—an impressive accomplishment.

    In theory, you could build a combined-cycle plant with coal (or other fuels), but it’s not often done. You can also increase coal efficiency by pulverizing it, and using a technique called “ultra super-critical black coal.” An expert report compiled by the Australian Council of Learned Societies in 2013 compared the efficiencies of a range of fuels, including conventional gas and shale gas, under a variety of conditions, and concluded that greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation using efficient forms of coal burning were not that much more than from gas.

    What this means is that most of the benefit natural gas offers comes not from the gas itself, but from how it is burned, and this is mostly because gas plants tend to be new and use more efficient burning technologies. The lesson, not surprisingly: if you burn a fuel using twenty-first century technology, you get a better result than with late nineteenth or twentieth century technology. This is not to defend coal, but to provide an important reality check on the discussion now taking place in this country. There is a real benefit to burning gas in America, but it’s less than often claimed, and much of that benefit comes from using modern techniques and new equipment. (If the coal industry weren’t so busy denying the reality of climate change, they might publicize this fact.)

  2. bruce wilder

    Did anyone read the Esquire essay, ‘Something Extremely Bad Is Happening Here’ about a cluster of teen suicides in Phoenix suburbs and elsewhere? (It was linked at NC a couple of days ago as an example of “deaths of despair”)

    I was struck in the course of the essay by the suffocating culture of the PMC evident in all the reporting of how activists, administrators and academic experts behaved:
    “One of their recommendations was to respond proactively”

    The author reports but does not criticize or resolve contradictory impulses to blame and suppress the news of a suicide.

  3. bruce wilder

    natural gas, when burned in power plants, has 100% less CO2 emissions than coal

    Someone is doubly challenged on the math and the physics.

  4. Consider this, the pandemic of the century …

    If Our Very Own Very Stable \”J is for Jenious\” Jenious Tea Pot Dictator is re-elected, we won\’t see half the masks we see today, the next day. It is what it is.

  5. bruce wilder

    for a lot of reasons, the consensus is that Joe Biden is likely to break from what Obama did.

    Matt Stoller has chosen to take on concentrated economic power, but one of the great weaknesses of his argument is that he leads with a rhetoric of “monopoly” that had already lost the war of ideas more than forty years ago. To go in another direction, we have to have an alternative concept that is a bit more elaborate than just railing against “monopoly” or “big”.

    Thinking change in a positive direction is likely to come from the parasites gathered around an expired bologna sandwich like Biden is delusional.

    China, Russia and the EU — all of whom has interests in breaking the power of American dollars and big tech — that is where the impetus for change is gathering strength. If any domestic interests want to play, they need to be preparing to leverage these assaults from without.

  6. Hugh

    I guess I was being too optimistic. My rule of thumb has been to take the valuation of American companies and divide by 4 to get an idea of their real worth. The take home remains the same. Most of those trillions in valuation are air, –markers for the rich, indicators of their power over the rest of us.

  7. Plague Species

    You’re right, bruce, that doesn’t make sense. Here’s what they said. Thanks for pointing that out so it could be corrected and clarified.

    One study by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University concluded that while the probability of reducing GHG emissions at least somewhat by replacing coal with gas in electricity generation was 100 percent, the substitution of natural gas as a transportation fuel actually carries a 10 percent – 35 percent risk of increasing emissions.

    The researchers don’t mention by how much GHG emissions would be reduced by replacing coal with natural gas in electricity generation. It could be 1% or it could be 30%. The point remains, whatever it is, it will in all likelihood be negated and some by the increase in GHG emissions by substituting natural gas as a transportation fuel.

    Conclusion: Natural gas is neither green nor sustainable.

  8. Hugh

    “China, Russia and the EU — all of whom has interests in breaking the power of American dollars and big tech — that is where the impetus for change is gathering strength. ”

    What does this mean? All are neoliberal/kleptocratic. Xi wants to take China back to the good old days of the 1600s when China was an empire, albeit ruled by the non-Han Manchus. In Russia, Putin wants to go back to the Romanovs. And the EU spends most of its time fragmenting. None of them have an effective climate change program. All of them have an interest in exploiting the world order. None of them want the cost or responsibility of maintaining one, no matter how poorly.

  9. Zachary Smith

    Nice set of links, but I want to focus on “How Conservatives Dreamed Up Their Own Jesus”.

    Learning the Murdochs (who bought National Geographic) had used their new acquisition to hype Bill O’Reilly was a shock. I need to see the book, but the author seems to be unaware of how Big Business has been re-defining Jesus for a long time.

    “America is not a Christian nation: The dark capitalist roots of our country’s most destructive myth”

    My link mentions Bruce Barton’s “The Man Nobody Knows”. From another site:

    In a string of books and articles published across the decade Barton examined what he claimed were the New Testament origins of monopoly capitalism, arguing that the repression of desire, and the failure of the individual to pursue personal self-fulfillment (in private acts of consumption), were the greatest of all sins. His most famous book, The Man Nobody Knows, turned the life of Jesus into a template for the new commercial practices of the 1920s, citing the parables (“the most powerful advertisements of all time”) alongside the insights of Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan. By making Jesus like a businessman, Barton made businessmen like Jesus. This reassuring message sat easily with the colossal extension of the market into all areas of American life during the 1920s, and The Man Nobody Knows itself sold 750,000 copies in its first two years.

    Christmas is an invented holiday which has been very good for Big Business – or at least it was until the US started its dive into second or third world nation status.

    During the Depression, business leaders were on the defensive. The public blamed them for the Great Crash and the New Deal had constructed a new regulatory state and empowered labor unions, two developments that corporate America readily resented.

    Some of the best “Thirties” movies show how Big Business bought themselves some good propaganda to counter their well-deserved image. Lots of them feature a filthy rich guy who – by the end – demonstrates he has a heart of gold.

  10. Hugh

    It is hard to see how “business christianity” can finesse the story of Jesus and the rich man told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We all remember it for the line about how hard it is for a rich man to enter heaven.

    Matthew 19: 20-23 (NIV)

    20 “All these [commandments] I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

    21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

    23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

  11. Ten Bears

    I have been watching with alarm as people I’ve known as life-long “christians” turn away from their God to bow down to Trump, to worship a false prophet, if not the anti-christ himself, fulfilling the fever-dreams of the Book of Revelations. I never put much stock in that stuff in the past, but …

    Wars and rumors of war, signs and portents in the skies …

  12. bruce wilder

    Hugh: All of them have an interest in exploiting the world order. None of them want the cost or responsibility of maintaining one, no matter how poorly.

    China wants a world order centered on China. What is the Belt and Road Initiative if not an enormous investment in the infrastructure of a system of trade centered on China? I am sure they expect a return on their investment. The one thing China is not is neoliberal; they cooked up their own economic ideology, to rationalize systematically building an industrial powerhouse capable of overmatching Europe and the U.S. commercially and industrially.

    Russia wants a multi-polar world order in which Russia is a pole around which its neighbors and much of Europe revolve. The Russians have made the equivalent of a protectionist wall out of the weakness of their currency in international exchange and American sanctions, and are trying with some success to overcome the resource curse sufficiently to develop a depth and breadth of industrial and tech capacity. Russia, with its mix of oligarchic capitalism, crony capitalism, and state capitalism, is playing with close calculation against the U.S. and China and EU, all of which have vastly greater populations and financial resources; they seek allies among an array of smaller powers many with reasons to be hostile. Ultimately, the Russians will be lucky to survive into the emergence of another world order, but they need some order to survive, but are not willing to continue with the U.S.-sponsored order that persecutes them, nor are they optimistic about their chances in a China-ordered world. The stupidity of the Russiaphobia that dominates U.S. foreign policy “thinking” is remarkable.

    The EU is the only one of the three mentioned that is committed to neoliberalism, and the EU is practically committed to neoliberalism on a constitutional level. Their hostility to the U.S.-sponsored world order is not ideological. Their challenge to U.S. dominance in finance and tech monopoly is instrumental. They will go after Google or Apple or the dollar as opportunities present themselves, producing the euro, Airbus, and whatever else as seems feasible and timely. Nordstream stands out as an illustration of EU ambivalence, though, about a world order that leaves them without an American Daddy.

  13. Willy

    So Giuliani claimed that his Borat fiasco was part of a Deep State hit job. Cohen said that Giuliani is drunk all the time (Trumps Cohen). Trump then called the Borat Cohen a creep. Then the Borat Cohen said that Trump isn’t funny, though he does gets lots of laughs from around the world.

    Dismayed by the unusually sad state of our elites, I decided to study a little about Arminianism after seeing the “How Conservatives Dreamed Up Their Own Jesus” bit. I only got into it for a few minutes before I realized the incredible mental masterbatoriousness of it all. I mean, holy cow, so much thinking and puzzling over spiritual elites who never just physically show up anymore, like they used to back in olden times. Not even the evil ones, those dark and sinister rulebreakers who’d do anything to soil a soul. You’d think they must be dying to be allowed to just pop out and say “Boo!”

    I occasionally visit an evangelical conservative blog, just to say “Boo!” This seems to give them hope. Apparently, I’m proof enough for them that demons do indeed exist.

    Texas topped California as our top coronavirus death state. I’d compare the mess in Texas with conservatives beloved loser nation Venezuela, which has one tenth the infection rate, but they’d probably just call it a Deep State hit job. I sometimes wonder what the evangelical conservatives next move will be, if Trump loses. Will they turn to worshipping Charles Koch?

  14. Zachary Smith

    Just a few of the low points

    Treats like this are the reason I keep the Hullabaloo site bookmarked.

    The Stable Genius looking straight at the sun during a partial eclipse is something you’d caution a 3-year-old not to do. Throwing paper towels at Puerto Ricans. Ah, but Memory Lane is quite a treat.

  15. different clue

    @Plague Species,

    Actually, it is literally correct that burning a set weight ( mass) of natural gas will release less carbon dioxide emissions than burning that same weight-load ( mass-load) amount of coal. And the reason for that is . . . is that the coal is mostly elemental carbon with some impurities, whereas natural gas ( Carbon TetraHydride) has four Hydrogen atoms for every Carbon atom that it contains. So burning the natural gas all the way completely to completely oxidised oxidation products will yield two molecules of DiHydrogen Monoxide for every molecule of Carbon DiOxide which it yields.

    And what is this compound, the mysterious and deadly dihydrogen monoxide? Here is a link about the hazards of dihydrogen monoxide. It is titled: Ban dihydrogen monoxide!

  16. Zachary Smith

    Two related links:

    “Natural gas is not a clean fuel” (2018)

    Natural gas leaks into the air at all stages of its extraction and distribution, and natural gas is methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. There are no satisfying assessments of the “life cycle” warming impact of methane versus coal or oil and, given that, it is not at all clear from a climate perspective that natural gas is much cleaner than other fossil fuels.


    “Solar is now ‘cheapest electricity in history’, confirms IEA” (2020)

  17. nihil obstet

    On Matt Stoller. Much of his writing is persuasive, but then I end up thinking about the things I want to be centralized. It is true that where there’s one hospital or medical practice serving an area, it can provide poor service at an obscene price. However, I’d still prefer something like a National Health Service to efforts to increase competition in health care.

    The break-up of the Bell system, which Stoller treats as a win, lost us the ability to find people’s phone numbers reliably. Despicable as Facebook is, it provides a way for virtually everyone to communicate. How would it work if there were healthy competition, and you wouldn’t know how to set up groups for your local non-profit service agency? I want, not a competitive alternative, but a public utility alternative.

    In a high tech world, where lots of different things need to work together, we need more than anti-monopoly.

  18. different clue

    @nihil obstet,

    As powerful as Facebook is, we will never forcibly nationalize it and use it as a public utility. Nor will we ever regulate it as a public utility. And given how much mass death and mass disease Facebook has fostered all over the earth, it does more harm than good, and more harm than good is all it will ever do. Our survival requires that Facebook be exterminated from existent and wiped off the face of the earth.

    And there is no governmental way to do that.

    The only way I can think of, in a more beautiful world than this one, would be for a profitable-enough-to-survive subscription model search and social service to arrive and win enough paying recruits to be able to connect all its profitably paying subscribers and survive on public-utility-level profits. It could be called Harmless Search and Social. Or maybe Shinola Search and Social. It could charge its subscribers enough to make its 5% profit with zero advertising and zero user- data-retention, hence zero user-data-sales.

    People who were ready to pay for shinola service could pay to subscribe to Shinola Search and Social. People who wanted shit for free could keep their Shitsearch and their ShitFace Book.

  19. Damage to the United States from the coronavirus pandemic could be $ 16 trillion, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and Harvard University economist David Cutler said in an article. Bloomberg writes about it.
    It is estimated that about half of this amount is due to GDP losses as a result of quarantines and the suspension of the work of some sectors of the economy. Also, significant damage was caused due to diseases and high mortality among Americans. For the average family of four, the loss is projected to be nearly $ 200,000.

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