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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 31, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-27-21]


‘Every Turn in This Case Has Been Another Brick Wall, and Behind It Is Chevron’

[FAIR, via Naked Capitalism 10-29-2021]


Strategic Political Economy


Patrick Armstrong, October 28, 2021 [via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-28-21]

I would say that the principal theme – but read it yourself, it’s an important speech (I’m almost tempted to say valedictory) – is that the West is going down. Russia, thanks to its historical experience, has lived the experience from start to finish – twice. As Putin pointed out there was plenty of “human engineering” in the early Soviet days; the USSR failed at imposing its system. Russians know that exceptionalism doesn’t work; not because they’re wiser but because they’ve lived the failure. “These examples from our history allow us to say that revolutions are not a way to settle a crisis but a way to aggravate it. No revolution was worth the damage it did to the human potential.”


Russia’s ‘Greens’ Revolution

Gilbert Doctorow, October 28, 2021 [via Patrick Armstrong]

In the question and answer session that followed President Putin’s speech to the annual Valdai Discussion Club meeting in Sochi last week, Vladimir Vladimirovich said he was thankful to the European Union for imposing sanctions on Russia in 2014, because Russia’s counter-sanctions, banning food imports from the EU, resulted in an enormous boost to its agricultural industry. Russian farming coped magnificently with the challenge. Putin mentioned the $25 billion in agricultural exports that Russia booked in the last year and he went on to thank Russia’s workers in the sector who made this possible.

These remarks would suggest to both laymen and experts in the West the emergence of Russia as the world’s number one exporter of wheat and its leading position as global exporter of other grains.

Why I see a war in the Donbass as (almost) inevitable

[The Vineyard of the Saker, via Mike Norman Economics 10-29-2021]

America’s Next Aristocracy
Mathis Bitton [Palladium, via Mike Norman Economics 10-30-2021]

As Peter Turchin observes, large-scale societies with dynamic hierarchies have outlasted and outcompeted more horizontal models since the beginning of the Holocene. Meanwhile, those who try to do away with hierarchy fail to produce anything but corruption and sclerosis. Lenin rightly argues that even revolutionary Marxists need a vanguard; for better or worse, the question of elite production is inescapable….

To fulfill both of these objectives at once, the American elite has built a stack of social technologies around the concept of meritocracy. On paper, every institution of elite production is accessible to all who deserve access. But the players who control the definition of merit and the metrics of achievement have evident incentives to limit the democratization of status. There lies the genius of meritocracy as we know it: the public mind does not grasp that a handful of institutions shape our perception of merit, that the selection processes change to protect dynastic privileges, and that meritocracy at-large consists of little more than a legitimating mechanism by and for elites. Dressed in the garb of equality, meritocracy allows hidden bastions of aristocracy to thrive in democratic societies….

On the other side of the Pacific, however, a group of philosophers adopts an altogether different approach to this question. Drawing on the Confucian tradition, thinkers such as Jiang Qing and Bai Tongdong operate within the frame of “virtue politics;” that is, they try to construct a harmonious social order in which the common good determines the virtues that elite institutions cultivate. Rejecting the Western emphasis upon moral desert, these theorists of Confucian political meritocracy seek to build political systems in which the virtuous rule well—whether the achievements are “theirs” or not.

In this sense, these intellectuals adopt a functionalist approach to elite production. Their first-order concern lies with the production of a virtuous elite that serves the common good, with little attention paid to the metaphysics of individual desert. Nonetheless, Confucian meritocrats do not necessarily envision a rigid or hereditary ruling class; they seek to make every step of the selection process widely accessible. Like the American framers, Confucians realize that functional elites integrate talent from non-elite circles, balancing functionality with continuity. Still, the frame of virtue politics departs from the liberal tradition in one central respect. Where liberal philosophers build systems to restrain the power of potentially vicious rulers with strict procedures, theorists of virtue politics elevate the selection of rulers over the restriction of their power.


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Rise of informal slums and the next global pandemic (PDF)

Journal of Infectious Diseases, via Naked Capitalism 10-29-2021]

From the Abstract: “Informal slums are growing exponentially in the developing world and these will serve as the breeding ground for a future global pandemic. Virtually every sustainable development goal is unmet in slums around the globe thus we must act now to divert a global humanitarian crisis.” I imagine the tent cities of the homeless in the United States could be considered “informal slums,” more than worthy of the “developing world.” It’s a miracle no new variants have emerged from them (assuming we would know if one had).


“An Assessment of the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act of 2021” (PDF)

[Moody’s Analytics, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-29-21]

“Homebuilding collapsed during the housing crash over a decade ago and has been slow to recover. Construction of high-end homes and apartments recovered first, and there is now an oversupply in some urban areas across the country. However, the construction of affordable housing—homes reasonably priced for lower-income households to rent or own—has only recently begun to increase and continues to lag demand. The worsening affordable housing shortage is clear in the low number of vacant housing units, which continues to decline. The percent of the housing stock for rent and sale that is unoccupied has fallen sharply since the housing crash and is now as low as it has been in more than 30 years (see Chart 1). The shortfall in affordable housing is close to an estimated 1.8 million homes, equal to more than a year of new construction at its current pace. And this housing shortage continues to get worse.”

Lambert Strether: “I searched the report; the phrase “private equity” does not appear.”


Wall Street Is Pressing ER Docs To Fleece Patients

[The Daily Poster, October 27, 2021]

Private equity-owned ER staffing firms have been frequently sued by whistleblowers on their medical staff. Last year, the Washington state doctor Ming Lin sued Blackstone-owned Team Health for removing him from the schedule after he posted on Facebook criticizing the company’s unwillingness to appropriate sufficient funds for face masks and proper infectious disease protocols at the beginning of the pandemic.

And last month, Envision Healthcare, which is owned by the private equity firm KKR & Co and is widely viewed as the staffing company that invented surprise billing, was forced to pay a $26-million jury award to a physician it had terminated for claiming that the company’s understaffing of a busy Kansas ER violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), a 1986 bill that requires hospitals to keep physicians on hand to “stabilize” patients regardless of their ability to pay.


Restoring balance to the economy

5,000 Philly Transit Workers Authorize Strike – VCU Health Nurses Walkout – Florida School Bus Drivers Walkout

[Mike Elk, via Naked Capitalism 10-27-21]


McDonald’s Workers Join ‘Striketober’ and Walk Out Over Sexual Harassment

[Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism 10-27-21]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-28-21]


Revenge of the Billionaire’s Tax?

Stephanie Kelton [The Lens, via Mike Norman Economics 10-26-2021]
Spending and taxation are separate fiscal operations,. Ideally, each should be directed at objectives in terms of the socio-economic system taking politics into account as an expression of the will of the people, spending for public purpose to promote the general welfare and common good, and taxation to make space for public spending as well as to control inflation. Taxation can also serve to regulate the system by providing positive and negative incentives, e.g., promoting investment in green and discouraging negative externality and imbalances such as excessive inequality that creates a drag on the system. Ad hoc measures and unnecessary linkage are unlikely to be effective and will likely involves unintended consequences that are not desirable….

Biden’s Nominee Omarova Has a Published Plan to Move All Bank Deposits to the Fed and Let the New York Fed Short Stocks

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, October 26, 2021 [Wall Street on Parade]

This month, the Vanderbilt Law Review published a 69-page paper by Saule Omarova, President Biden’s nominee to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Federal regulator of the largest banks in the country that operate across state lines. The paper is titled “The People’s Ledger: How to Democratize Money and Finance the Economy.”

The paper, in all seriousness, proposes the following:

(1) Moving all commercial bank deposits from commercial banks to so-called FedAccounts at the Federal Reserve;

(2) Allowing the Fed, in “extreme and rare circumstances, when the Fed is unable to control inflation by raising interest rates,” to confiscate deposits from these FedAccounts in order to tighten monetary policy;

(3) Allowing the most Wall Street-conflicted regional Fed bank in the country, the New York Fed, when there are “rises in market value at rates suggestive of a bubble trend,” such as with technology stocks today, to “short these securities, thereby putting downward pressure on their prices”;

(4) Eliminate the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) that insures bank deposits;

(5) Consolidate all bank regulatory functions at the OCC – which Omarova has been nominated to head.


Disrupting mainstream economics

Capitalism’s Core Problem: The Case for Universal Property”

[Evonomics, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-26-21]

“Before we talk about universal property, we need to look at co-inherited wealth, for that is what universal property is based on. A full inventory of co-inherited wealth would fill pages. Consider, for starters, air, water, topsoil, sunlight, fire, photo­syn­thesis, seeds, elec­­tri­city, minerals, fuels, cultivable plants, domesticable animals, law, sports, religion, calendars, recipes, mathema­tics, jazz, libraries and the internet. Without these and many more, our lives would be incalculably poorer. Universal property does not involve all of all those wonderful things. Rather, it focuses on a subset: the large, complex natural and social systems that support market economies, yet are excluded from repre­sentation in them. This subset includes natural ecosystems like the Earth’s atmosphere and watersheds, and collective human constructs such as our legal, monetary and communications systems. All these systems are enormously valuable, in some cases priceless. Not only do our daily lives depend on them; they add prodigious value to mar­kets, en­ab­ling corporations and private for­tunes to grow to gargan­tu­an sizes. Yet the systems were not built by anyone living today; they are all gifts we inherit together. So it is fair to ask, who are their bene­­ficial owners? There are, essentially, three possibilities: no one, government, or all of us together equally. This book is about what happens if we choose the third option, and create property rights to apply it.”


Economics in the real world

“Chinese magnesium shortage: Global car industry to grind to a halt within weeks amid ‘catastrophic’ halt”

[New Zealand Herald, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-26-21]

“The world’s largest carmakers and other users of aluminium could be forced to halt production within weeks amid a ‘catastrophic’ shortage of magnesium across Europe. Magnesium is a key material used in the production of aluminium alloys, which are used in everything from car parts to building materials and food packaging. China has a near-monopoly on global magnesium manufacturing, accounting for 87 per cent of production, but the Chinese government’s efforts to reduce domestic power consumption amid rising energy prices have slowed output to a trickle since September 20. In Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces, the world’s main magnesium production hubs, 25 plants had to shut down and five further plants slashed production by 50 per cent as a result of the power cuts Europe is expected to run out of magnesium stockpiles by the end of November. On Friday, a group of European industry associations representing cars, metals, packaging and other sectors issued a joint statement warning of the ‘catastrophic impact’ of the production cuts, which they said had already resulted in an ‘international supply crisis of unprecedented magnitude’. The statement called for urgent action from the EU Commission and national governments to work with China to stave off the ‘imminent risk of Europe-wide production shutdowns.’”

Climate and environmental crises

City Eyes New Push to Buy Out Flood-Prone Houses as Climate Change Hits Home

[The City, via Naked Capitalism 10-28-2021]

Buyouts and acquisitions are forms of a climate change adaptation strategy known as managed retreat, in which people, buildings and other infrastructure are moved away from risks, such as coastal or inland flooding.

In both cases, governments purchase property from homeowners. In buyouts, the property is returned to nature, not to be developed. Acquisitions, on the other hand, can lead to future development that is, at least theoretically, more resilient.


Green New Deal – An opportunity too big to miss

Supply Chains Need $100 Trillion To Become Net-Zero By 2050
Tsvetana Paraskova [, via Mike Norman Economics 10-28-2021]


Creating new economic potential – science and technology

An Ultra-Precise Clock Shows How to Link the Quantum World With Gravity

[Quanta, via Naked Capitalism 10-28-2021]


Information Age Dystopia

Wall Street Journal Provides New Evidence of Facebook Politically-Driven Intervention in Content

[Naked Capitalism 10-25-2021]


“Five points for anger, one for a ‘like’: How Facebook’s formula fostered rage and misinformation”

[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-27-21]

“Five years ago, Facebook gave its users five new ways to react to a post in their news feed beyond the iconic ‘like’ thumbs-up: ‘love,’ ‘haha,’ ‘wow,’ ‘sad’ and ‘angry.’” Nothing for empathy or compassion, one notes. “Behind the scenes, Facebook programmed the algorithm that decides what people see in their news feeds to use the reaction emoji as signals to push more emotional and provocative content — including content likely to make them angry. Starting in 2017, Facebook’s ranking algorithm treated emoji reactions as five times more valuable than ‘likes,’ internal documents reveal. The theory was simple: Posts that prompted lots of reaction emoji tended to keep users more engaged, and keeping users engaged was the key to Facebook’s business. Facebook’s own researchers were quick to suspect a critical flaw. Favoring ‘controversial’ posts — including those that make users angry — could open ‘the door to more spam/abuse/clickbait inadvertently,’ a staffer, whose name was redacted, wrote in one of the internal documents. A colleague responded, ‘It’s possible.’ The warning proved prescient. The company’s data scientists confirmed in 2019 that posts that sparked angry reaction emoji were disproportionately likely to include misinformation, toxicity and low-quality news.”


I Used Facebook Without the Algorithm, and You Can Too

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 10-25-2021]


The Facebook Papers: We’re Not Asking The Right Questions

[Heisenberg Report, via Naked Capitalism 10-26-2021]

Facebook (the company) is on the brink of failing what might one day be viewed as the first real test of humans’ capacity to merge with AI. Ideally, we can seamlessly integrate algorithms we create with the algorithms that govern our own biochemical processes….

Facebook is arguably demonstrating that this integration process can go awry, with disastrous results. The algorithm is using what it learns about billions of people to help third parties manipulate human emotions and affect decision making. The company’s intent may very well be to maximize engagement and, ultimately, revenue. But the AI’s virtually unrestricted latitude in pursuing engagement is throwing off more than just dollars. It’s wreaking psychological havoc, disrupting democracies and undermining societal cohesion. The evidence is clear.


“Facebook was born, lives and thrives in scandal. It’s been lawless for years”

Matt Stoller [Guardian, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-26-21]

”Lawlessness pays. We’ve known that Facebook is lawless and reckless for years. And yet despite all the light and heat, Facebook is still a globe-straddling monopoly over our information commons. One man is still in charge of it, making all key policy decisions, and he is worth $100bn and considered an important leader and philanthropist. To put it differently, when a bank robber robs a bank, blame the bank robber. When a bank robber robs 20 banks, and announces where he’s going to steal from next, and does it in broad daylight, repeatedly, and no one stops him, we should be blaming the cops. And that’s where we are with Facebook…. If we set up a policy system that offers a reward for destroying our social fabric in the neighborhood of $100bn and unlimited power, then this is what we’ll get. The problem is not Facebook, it’s a policy regime that creates an incentive for monopolization, securities fraud and surveillance advertising…. [T]his brings us to the reason we haven’t done anything about Facebook. In order to actually address the problem of dominant market power and conflicts of interest, we the people would have to empower our government to govern.” • What is this “law” of which you speak?


“Your ISP Might Be Collecting Much More Data Than You Think”

[Interesting Engineering, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-26-21]

“The report identified several concerning data collection practices among several of the ISPs, including that ‘they combine data across product lines; combine personal, app usage, and web browsing data to target ads; place consumers into sensitive categories such as by race and sexual orientation; and share real-time location data with third-parties.’ The report further found that even though several of the ISPs promised not to sell consumers’ personal data, they allowed it to be used, transferred, and monetized by others. They also hid disclosures about such practices in the fine print of their privacy policies. Subscribers’ real-time location data shared was found to be shared with third-party customers such as ‘car salesmen, property managers, bail bondsmen, bounty hunters, and others.’”


The Billion Dollar Code’: A David vs Goliath Battle That Shows the Tech World’s Evil Side

[ The Wire, via Naked Capitalism 10-27-21]


The Biden Transition and the Fight for Real Hope and Change This Time

Biden makes 2 key, boundary-breaking FCC nominations

[NPR, via Naked Capitalism 10-27-21]


Institutionalists = Obstructionists

“Meltdown”: How “Hope and Change” led to MAGA

Matt Taibbi, October 29, 2021

When Barack Obama was elected on November 4th, 2008, America’s political landscape appeared altered permanently. Obama’s “realigning” victory put his party in full control of the state, armed with a whopping 78-seat advantage in the House and a 59-41 edge in the Senate. Conventional wisdom held that the combination of massive youth and minority turnout and Obama’s re-conquest of so-called “Reagan Democrat” districts was a knockout blow to Republicans from which they’d never recover. The demographic picture was only going to get less white going forward, leaving Republicans, as the New York Times put it on Election Night, “contemplating where they now stand in American politics.” Pundits were convinced merely competent leadership by Obama would leave Democrats with a permanent supermajority.

What happened over the course of the next eight years, when the dream of forever-rule evaporated and the Democrats found themselves having to explain being vanquished by a foul-mouthed game show host, is the subject of Meltdown. To this day, the all-but-mandatory explanation for the Democrats’ 2016 disaster is a combination of racist reaction and Russian interference. Though race certainly played a significant role, the deeper explanation, still taboo, is the perception that the Obama administration’s handling of the 2008 crash was both corrupt and profoundly disillusioning. When the SS America struck an economic iceberg, the country watched Democrats fill the lifeboats with guilty bank CEOs, then waved from the horizon as everyone else went down with the ship.

Readers of mine are familiar with the gory details: reversed campaign promises, rigged bailout schemes, an absence of high-level prosecutions of financial criminals, failure of pittance-level foreclosure relief programs, toothless Dodd-Frank reform, formalization of such concepts as Too Big to Fail and Too Big to Jail, and so on, and so on.

Meltdown not only tells that story, it connects it to the Democrats’ political present and future. Sirota describes how the party’s misplaced faith in a Solomonesque business model — take money from Wall Street donors and deliver big for them on policy, while making gestures of sympathy toward the wider base of voters — opened the door for a canny political opportunism of Donald Trump. The psychology of the Democratic Party is to believe it’s always enough to be a little better, a little more sane, a little less craven than Republicans, but voters don’t see it that way. In a crisis, a leader in full control of the government has to act decisively, and be seen doing so, or risk being replaced by someone promising such action.

Trump hammered Obama on corruption and favoritism, painted Hillary Clinton as the sequel agent of Wall Street, and won making promises of sweeping action. This, Sirota says, is how “hope and change became MAGA and mayhem.” In an interview with Useful Idiots, he explained how the series was intended to be a wakeup call for Democrats, who continue to head off real examinations of their recent past, inviting, perhaps, repeats of the same self-inflicted disaster.


“Democrats’ Betrayals Are Jeopardizing American Democracy”

David Sirota & Alex Gibney [Rolling Stone, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-27-21]

“Democrats’ equivalent of a new New Deal — a reconciliation spending bill to bolster the social safety net — started out at $6 trillion, moved down to $4 trillion, then to $3.5 trillion, then below $2 trillion. And now party leaders are reportedly bowing to their corporate donors, stripping out wildly popular provisions to reduce medicine pricesexpand Medicare benefits, and give workers paid family leave, after they already abandoned a promised $15 minimum wage. …. Meanwhile, Biden has refused to use his existing executive authority to lower drug pricescancel student debt, and more widely distribute vaccine recipes to combat the pandemic.”


The Outer Limits Of Corporate Politics

David Sirota and Andrew Perez [The Daily Poster, October 28, 2021]

The halving of Democrats’ agenda suggests the party is still primarily intent on fulfilling Biden’s promise to donors that “nothing would fundamentally change.”

An exhaustive compilation of what has been compromised away, with scores of links. 


The Pro–Trump Tax Cuts Caucus

David Dayen, October 28, 2021 [The American Prospect]

…The Trump tax cuts actually solved a significant problem Democrats created for themselves, through the principle that all new programs in Congress needed to be “pay-as-you-go.” Because the plan included a mix of $6 trillion in tax cuts and $4.5 trillion in tax increases, suddenly there were trillions of dollars available to be rolled back and put toward the social programs Democrats have coveted for years.

The 2020 presidential primaries were in part a race between candidates on how they would use the repeal of those tax cuts and what they would devote the money toward. The Biden Jobs and Families plans made use of those proposals. The PAYGO problem was solved, and the only result would be a return to the tax code in place at the end of the Obama administration….

What’s left—that scaled-back corporate minimum tax, and maybe some other odds and ends—is perhaps enough to offset spending on universal pre-kindergarten. The extremely popular premise of Democratic social policy circa 2020, to roll back the Trump tax cuts and use the money to fund broad-based benefits, is dead, because supporters of the Trump tax cuts killed it, on behalf of their billionaire friends and business interests. Democrats are standing up for the bold proposition that tax rates under Obama were too high, that corporations were paying too much, and that billionaires should be free to never pay a cent on the vast majority of their wealth really ever.

“Every sensible revenue option seems to be destroyed,” an irritated Senate Budget Committee chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told reporters on Wednesday.


“The Owners of the Democrats’ Big Data Firm Have a Side Gig: Working to Elect Far-Right Republicans”

David Corn [Mother Jones, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-27-21]

“one of the most important data outfits on the Democratic side—and, consequently, one of the more influential players in politics today—is a for-profit company that few Democratic voters, grassroots activists, or cable news junkies have ever head of: TargetSmart. It provides crucial services to the Democratic National Committee, state Democratic parties, and a wide assortment of progressive outfits and makes millions of dollars a year. On its website, the firm has posted a significant declaration: It “has always focused on the Democratic Party, Democratic candidates, and progressive organizations” and “does not work with Republican candidates.” But a Mother Jones investigation found that the owners and founders of TargetSmart also own a company that earns millions by helping to elect Republicans, including far-right GOP state legislators who have tried to overturn the 2020 election results, who were involved in the January 6 march on the US Capitol that turned into a seditious riot, and who have been part of the Republican crusade to skew election laws against the Democrats. That is, the parent company of this vital Democratic data firm is profiting by aiding conservative and authoritarian political forces that seek to defeat the Democrats and progressives supported by TargetSmart.”


The Dark Side

Altercation: Networks of Paranoia

Eric Alterman, October 29, 2021 [The American Prospect]

The interlocking directorates at the heart of the right’s descent into lunacy….

The first is a fine investigation by Robert O’Harrow Jr., published by The Washington Post Magazine, of the extremely secretive—and extremely influential—Council for National Policy (CNP), a registered charity whose members currently include Mike Pence, Ralph Reed, L. Brent Bozell III (of the misnamed Media Research Center), and Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The council was started back in the ’80s by a group that included Tim LaHaye, author of the far-right Judgment Day “Left Behind” series, which would eventually sell more than 65 million copies, and also the man who is credited with convincing Jerry Falwell to create the Moral Majority….

A second useful injection of historical perspective comes from Laura Field’s piece on the Claremont Institute in The New Republic. Back when people were looking for some—any—hint of intellectual coherence in the Trump critique, they landed on an article published in September 2016 on the institute’s website. The “Flight 93 Election” essay argued that a Hillary Clinton victory in that year’s presidential election would effectively spell the end of civilization. Its author, Michael Anton, would later join Trump’s National Security Council, and now works for Hillsdale College, whose president, Larry P. Arnn, chaired President Trump’s stupid 1776 Commission Report, which argued for the promotion of “patriotic education.” Back then, Anton wrote that “a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.” During the 2020 election, he and other Claremont denizens were promoting the beyond lunatic threat of a “Biden coup,” while John C. Eastman, the founding director of the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, authored a six-point plan for Trump that spelled out how Pence could overturn the election on January 6….

A third piece that helps to shed some light on the current moment is an article by Elisabeth Zerofsky in The New York Times Magazine, which, while overly indulgent to a great many specious intellectual claims in this view, offers useful information on the current vogue among conservative intellectuals for Viktor Orban, the man who is destroying Hungarian democracy as he builds up his autocratic leadership…..


Jan. 6 Protest Organizers Say They Participated in ‘Dozens’ of Planning Meetings With Members of Congress and White House Staff

[Rolling Stone, via Naked Capitalism 10-25-2021]


Meet Ray Epps: The Fed-Protected Provocateur Who Appears To Have Led The Very First 1/6 Attack On The U.S. Capitol

[Revolver (Heidi’s Walker), via Naked Capitalism  10-27-21]


Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War

Thinking the unthinkable
by John Quiggin, October 27, 2021 [Crooked Timber]

If the last five years have taught us anything it’s this: the fact that something being unimaginable doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. So, it’s worth considering the prospect that Donald Trump becomes President after the 2024 election whether by getting enough votes to win the Electoral College under the current rules, or by having a Democratic victory overturned. Trump has made it clear that, in such an event, he would wish to secure at least a third term in office and perhaps a life presidency.

Even if Trump chose not to attempt the necessary constitutional change, by 2028 he would be in a position to nominate a family member as the Republican candidate and to ensure that his candidate was declared President regardless of how Americans voted. After that, the Trumps would have effectively untrammeled power, with a compliant Congressional majority and a far-right Supreme Court. There’s no obvious reason why they couldn’t rule for decades as Putin and others have done.

What would life be like in the US and elsewhere in such a case? I’ve tried to think about the political options for resistance, both through electoral politics and through direct action, and concluded that there is no obvious prospect of success. So, I think of something like the US South before and during the Civil Rights struggle, with one-party government and resistance suppressed by extra-legal violence.

The big difference is that, unlike in the Civil Rights era, there will be no federal government to step in and change things. And emigration won’t be a serious option for most.

Here: “there will be no federal government to step in and change things,” Quiggin hits on the big fact about the Civil War and the Civil Rights era: when individual states, such as Alabama and South Carolina, allowed democratic control to rest in the hands of certain oligarchic-minded elites, there was a republic at the national level that, however slowly, responded by enforcing the rule of law based on the principles of political equality — even to the extent of going top war against the states in the 1860s. A recurring topic in the letters of Union soldiers and officers was the necessity of  proving the oligarchs and monarchs of Europe wrong by fighting to vanquish the Confederate rebellion and preserve republican self government. Today, no republic remains to correct the drift into authoritarianism: the right is fully committed to a theocratic alliance with oligarchs, and the left has rejected the principles of the early republic as inherently racist capitalism, a grievously mistaken and shallow interpretation. 


Florida strips federal funding from schools as further punishment for masking

[ars technica, via Naked Capitalism 10-30-2021]


“The Department of Justice Is Letting the Coup Plotters Get Away”

[The Nation, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-28-21]

“The Department of Justice should be leading the criminal investigation into the attack on the Capitol. That is the entity that can not merely catalog but actually punish the insurrectionists. Congress’s role is oversight and lawmaking. It is therefore entirely appropriate for its members, through the Select Committee, to subpoena documents and testimony to try to understand what happened. That helps them serve their function of proposing and passing new laws so that it can’t happen again. But accountability for any crimes that happened that day is a different matter. So is any investigation into the larger criminal conspiracy that came to fruition that day. Both are supposed to come through Justice and its subordinate investigations division, the FBI. The problem is, Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray don’t seem to have the stomach for all that. Oh sure, they’ll go after the small people. They’ll prosecute the dude with the horns and charge the guy with the cattle prod. But when it comes time to prosecute the powerful—the congresspeople and the financiers who aided and abetted the insurrection—Garland and Wray have shown no desire to take on that challenge.”


“The Evangelical Church Is Breaking Apart”

[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-28-21]

“Bob Fryling, a former publisher of InterVarsity Press and the vice president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical campus ministry, has been part of a weekly gathering of more than 150 individuals representing about 40 churches. He’s heard of conflicts ‘in almost every church’ and reports that pastors are exhausted. Earlier this year, the Christian polling firm Barna Group found that 29 percent of pastors said they had given ‘real, serious consideration to quitting being in full-time ministry within the last year.’ David Kinnaman, president of Barna, described the past year as a “crucible” for pastors as churches fragmented. The key issues in these conflicts are not doctrinal, Fryling told me, but political. They include the passions stirred up by the Trump presidency, the legitimacy of the 2020 election, and the January 6 insurrection; the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, and critical race theory; and matters related to the pandemic, such as masking, vaccinations, and restrictions on in-person worship. I know of at least one large church in eastern Washington State, where I grew up, that has split over the refusal of some of its members to wear masks.”

Same thing happened to the three largest protestant denominations in USA leading up to the Civil War. 


NAACP urges pro athletes to avoid signing with Texas teams due to the state’s ‘dangerous attacks on freedoms

[The Week, via Naked Capitalism 10-30-2021]



Open Thread


China’s Economic “Miracle” Was Normal


  1. edmondo

    So the Democrats’ big idea for 2024 is “Vote for us because were incompetent but we will relinquish power when the other party wins”?

    Can’t wait to see how that turns out.

  2. Arthur

    I read the entire ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’ post on Crooked Timber. A number of good points were made, but as usual it was the comment section that was most interesting. Some commenters were wondering what will happen to dems, trans folks, and others when Trump returns triumphant. All agree it could be very bad. And yet too few seem to except the idea that it may become necessary to actually fight back with something more than pointless protest marches. So my question to the readers here is simple: Why is the left/progressive community so damn cowardly? I am not saying that we should all grab our Winchesters and take to the streets tomorrow. But doesn’t commonsense self defense have a place, too? I seem to recall years ago that the writer Ward Churchill said something to the effect that pacifism is a mental illness. I think he had a very good point.

  3. Hugh

    Not real clear on how Confucian virtue ties in with China’s real estate and banking crises, its princeling class or its treatment of Uighurs, Hong Kong, or Taiwan. What the last few months of the supply chain crisis has shown is that it is a really bad idea to be dependent on China for much of anything.

    As for Russia, its GDP has stalled out after 2014. Is this love for dictators week?

    Re Facebook, is the new 21st century excuse going to be “The algo ate my homework”?

    The death of “Biden’s” agenda shows that neither party can deliver good government. We can have the sitting on their thumbs Democratic/Biden/progressive version or the chaotic, malicious Trump version. The Democrats are useless and the Republicans are fascist. Your choice.

  4. bruce wilder

    Vaccine mandates for a sadly ineffective vaccine (ineffective in the one way that might justify a mandate: interrupting transmission of variants) and monitoring all bank deposits over $600 (because “taxing the rich”) — yeah, I’d say the evidence favors the idea that the Democrats are fascists and the Republicans crazy.

    (Seriously: the political system being a tool available only to a shrinking oligarchy is driving us toward authoritarianism as a way to subjugate the masses — this has been a bi-partisan project.)

  5. bruce wilder

    Hugh: Is this love for dictators week?

    Don’t ever change, Hugh. Don’t ever doubt the ability of your Manichean moral compass to overcome your rank ignorance.

  6. bruce wilder

    Putin: These examples from our history allow us to say that revolutions are not a way to settle a crisis but a way to aggravate it. No revolution was worth the damage it did to the human potential.

    The thread that started with Ian’s surprise at the death toll from the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror had the beginning of a discussion of “revolutions” in history.

    Putin’s remark could be construed as a striking example of a cynical convervative’s rationalization for forgetting the intransigence of reactionaries as a factor. StewartM made the point that in the French Revolution, the hopes of moderate liberals to establish a constitutional monarchy were dashed by the intrigues of Louis XVI (and his reactionary family and in-laws).

    In fact, in the French Revolution, many of the long-desired reforms advocated for by Enlightenment philosophes, were adopted almost instantly: emancipation of the Jews was accepted readily by the monarch before the French Revolution was fully underway, for example; by contrast, in the U.K., Jews were relieved of civil disabilities step by excruciating step over a roughly 70-year period culminating in 1890 (though a Jew still cannot be a British monarch or maybe even “royal”. On the other hand, the hated Corvée (a levy of forced labor on public works) was abolished and reinstated in France several times over the course of fifty years.

    Separation of Church and State occasioned some of the most horrific events in the Reign of Terror as poor and pious priests were martyred. The collapse of Church-sponsored institutions of social welfare — all such that existed in pre-revolutionary France — had terrible effects on the poorer classes. It took Napoleon to strike a workable compromise settlement for the time being, and a century after that to arrive at full separation of Church from State.

    In light of that history, Putin’s remarks about intransigence in fomenting revolution in Russia might be worth considering.

    Just over a century ago, Russia objectively faced serious problems, including because of the ongoing World War I, but its problems were not bigger and possibly even smaller or not as acute as the problems the other countries faced, and Russia could have dealt with its problems gradually and in a civilised manner. But revolutionary shocks led to the collapse and disintegration of a great power. The second time this happened 30 years ago, when a potentially very powerful nation failed to enter the path of urgently needed, flexible but thoroughly substantiated reforms at the right time, and as a result it fell victim to all kinds of dogmatists, both reactionary ones and the so-called progressives – all of them did their bit, all sides did.

    Putin’s image of himself as a “moderate conservative” is nothing new. If he honestly thinks Russia does not still contain many species of self-destructive radical dogmatism, he’s sadly self-deceived.

    Patrick Armstrong, like The Saker, tends to root for Russia, like an underdog football team. One of Russia’s biggest foreign policy problems, though, is the ill-will they earned over decades, especially among their nearest neighbors including but not limited to former Soviet provinces and dependents. Something in the Russian national character that shows up in their foreign relations seems to invite hostility. This factor too often gets left aside in the most well-informed “friendly” analyses.

  7. Hugh

    bruce, sometime you should let us know why backdoor Trumpers like you don’t have the stones to declare openly your support for the orange huckster. A lot of us here don’t have a lot of use for the Democrats but your obsessive hatred of them always with little or nothing against the Republicans is pretty much a glaring tell.

  8. Hugh

    At the time of the French Revolution, the Catholic Church was the largest property owner in French controlling about 10% of the territory, and the tax revenues (through tithing). The Revolution seized the property, made the clergy state employees, and demanded the church hierarchy be elected. This did not go down well with conservative clergy and Frenchpeople because they saw that it infringed on the power of the pope, which was the point. So these areas became centers for opponents to the Revolution and a lot of oppression and killings of priests followed. Anyway this is why following Napoleon’s 1801 Concordat with the Church, while the Catholic Church could have masses at churches like Notre Dame, the church building itself is owned by the French government.

  9. bruce wilder

    i would personally appreciate it if you, Hugh, would stop trying to refute me with playground insults, like accusing me of support for Trump, based on not fulfilling your quota of anti-Trump memes.

  10. Hugh

    One of the things I anted to bring up is that Glasgow Cop26 looks like a bust. There will be a lot of talk about the urgency of the climate crisis but countries aren’t keeping their Paris Agreement commitments and China’s Xi, head of the world’s largest polluter, won’t be there. So more talk, more promises, no serious action.

  11. Hugh

    Thanks, bruce, for proving my point about you and your Cheeto god.

  12. bruce wilder

    @ Arthur

    I used to comment at Crooked Timber regularly and very often on Quiggin’s political and economic posts. I regard the Quiggin’s OP as a masturbatory fantasy. Mind, I think the U.S. may well end up very soon in an openly authoritarian “fascist” state — that is what happens when the oligarchs dominate; I just do not buy the idea anyone as weak as Trump could take the country there on his empty faux-populist platform and reality-show “charisma”. The next new and improved (and younger) “Trump” — may be.

    It is very telling of Quiggin’s deranged political thinking that MFB @ #28 (very mild skepticism of the melodrama of the OP in the form of suggesting that economic policies that hurt most of the population rather than Trump’s toxic personality might be a driving force) is so provocative that Quiggin compares the commenter to Ernst Thälmann! And then bans “comments to the effect that Dems are as bad as Repubs” (Thälmann was the unfortunate German communist leader in the early 1930s arrested by Hitler and toward the close of the war, shot.)

    A Democratic Party that will not enact an increase in the minimum wage or forgive massive student loan debt making peons of millions, but they will take up arms for trans bathroom rights? I do not think Democrats, politicians or partisans, are particularly “cowardly”. I think most of the prominent politicians and pundits simply DO NOT CARE about the general welfare of the country. And, Republican politicians and pundits are never better, often worse. Rachel Maddow is as fake as Tucker Carlson. That is not false equivalence as Hugh would charge — it is exact equivalence. It is a system on autopilot toward an authoritarian endpoint.

  13. Hugh

    Thank goodness that the Democrats could always rely on conscientious Republicans to enact their programs to help ordinary Americans. Oh wait, zero Republicans did, but no matter, bruce, the king of false equivalence has spoken.

  14. VietnamVet

    The One Party in the USA has shown to be utterly corrupt. One branch is crazy and the other is incompetent. Divide and rule identity politics is used to stay in power. There is no attempt or plan to overcome the shortages of goods and workers – to end the pandemic. This is the direct consequence of the purposeful colonial exploitation of America’s human and natural resources by the oligarchy. A feudal 3rd world mass-up of dysfunctional states will be the end result unless the Republic is restored with a rebirth of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and the rule of law.

  15. Astrid


    Hugh is the political football equivalent of the relative who, upon a wife finally leaving her extremely abusive husband Tom after decades of abuse, condemns the wife for breaking up the family. And gaslights her with complaints about how terrible Bob is, because he’s *knows* that the wife is really secretly leaving Tom for Bob, no matter how many times she protests that she doesn’t want Tom or Bob.

    Unless she stays with Tom, she’s definitely having an affair with Bob. But if Tom is having unprotected sex with Bob within the bounds of marriage, that’s too bad but she should still stay with Tom, “for the family.”

  16. Plague Species

    Thanks to Soredemos in the previous thread for setting the record straight on Donziger. We are well past the point of relying on self-serving lawyers and judges and the corrupt court system to reconcile the mess we’re in.


  17. Hugh

    Thank you, Astrid, for your incoherent screed. I have found that with fake progressive kooks like you and bruce, all I have to do is let you talk. You discredit yourselves.

  18. Willy

    I still wonder why bruce doesn’t use his ‘nuanced knowledge’ of economics, propaganda and politics to offer ideas about how we all get out of this mess. Blaming everybody seems like a copout. Hell, I’d be happy with seeds of ideas.

    And speaking of Donziger, the Amazon Post tells it all. Please ignore that they’re owned by Chevron.

  19. Hugh

    The Donziger case is interesting because the basic fact is Chevron polluted Ecuador’s Amazon, paid a joke settlement with the Ecuadorian government that absolved it from further responsibility, and walked. What Donziger did was file a class action lawsuit in New York against Chevron on behalf of some 30,000 people affected by Chevron’s pollution, not the Ecuadorian government which Chevron had already bought off.

    Chevron has been fighting this tooth and nail and supposedly spent a billion so far on it. The reason is not that Chevron has some sense of law or justice. It and the other oil companies are scared sh—tless by the idea that such a lawsuit would make them liable for all the damage their industry has done. Quite simply it would bankrupt the lot of them.

    So Chevron demanded that the case be moved to Ecuadorian courts and said it would abide by the results. It did this because it thought it could manipulate those courts in its favor. Remember it had already succeeded with the Ecuadorian government. But in the event, Donziger manipulated those courts better than Chevron and Chevron was facing an $18 billion payout.

    So Chevron filed a civil RICO case against Donziger in New York. Chevron moved its principal witness to the US and paid for him and his family to stay here. That witness has since recanted his testimony but that’s another story. The real story at this point is about the federal judge in all this Lewis Kaplan. Chevron was going to sue Donziger for $60 billion. That would have required a jury trial, but when they heard they had Kaplan as a judge. They dropped that claim so that everything could be decided by Kaplan, not a jury.

    Because Chevron had waived its damage claims, the heart of its civil RICO case, Kaplan referred a criminal RICO case to the Southern District of New York (SDNY). What you need to know about this is that SDNY is probably the most aggressive US Attorney’s in the country on financial crimes. But they declined to pursue Kaplan’s referral.

    Did this stop or chasten Kaplan? Not a bit of it. He ordered Donziger to allow Chevron search his phones and computers for “assets.” When Donzieger refused on the grounds that it would expose information on his clients to Chevron. Kaplan suspended Donziger law license, appointed a private law firm that worked with Chevron to pursue a case against Donziger, and named a judge for that case, rather than the usual practice of one being named at random, who just happened to be a high up in the Federalist Society.

    The long and short of it is this case stinks. Chevron thinks it should be free to destroy the environment for its profit. I don’t know but wouldn’t be surprised that Ecuadorian courts are corrupt. I know that Chevron certainly hoped so. And Donziger probably did things down there he would not have done in New York. But corrupt Ecuadorian courts have nothing on Kaplan. He is a walking talking example of judicial abuse. Like Chevron, he has no use for law or justice. They are just excuses. They give him a hammer and he will use it on anyone who gets in his way

  20. different clue


    The non-pacifist left was largely purged and burned out of existence in two waves of oppression:

    Wave One: Woodrow Wilson’s suppression of every left-sourced point of opposition to his conspiracy to trick America into World War One.

    Wave Two: the Trumam-McCarthy era persecution of communist, socialist, and left-adjacent people from out of public life and out of labor unions.

    The left we were left with after all those government purge-waves was deeply polluted and contaminated by ethical subhuman pacifist ethical subhumanism by believers in the religion of ethical subhuman pacifist ethical subhumanism by such ethical subhuman pacifist ethical subhuman moral filth as the Quakers and A. J. Muste and so forth.

    So the “left” we have now is deeply polluted and contaminated by the anti-moral filth of pacifist religiosity and philosophy. It is a matter of evil anti-moral pacifist belief and the cowardice is deliberately taught and instilled in all its victims by pacifist anti-moralist anti-humanists.

    Black Americans have remained largely unpolluted by the vile filth of pacifism. They are getting ready for the Republicanazi Fascistrumpanon return.!

    No doubt the lefto-pacifists will want to disarm all these black people. I hope they try it up close and personal so they can get what they deserve.

  21. Plague Species

    Thanks for that recap, Hugh. It underscores what I said above.

    We are well past the point of relying on self-serving lawyers and judges and the corrupt court system to reconcile the mess we’re in.

    You do know the Ecuadorian activists had soured on Donziger and no longer trusted they would get the money had Chevron been required to pay, don’t you? So, the little people once again get screwed by the law. So much for the rule of law.

    When Bad Guys are Wearing White Hats

    In transnational class actions, judicial oversight and client control is closer to a real impossibility. As a starting point, as described in greater below, 39 few foreign systems have a similarly extensive history of experimentation with class actions that produced the admittedly weak, but nevertheless important, client safeguards that exist in the United States. This institutional hole is especially gaping in foreign systems, described in greater detail below, that adopt class or aggregate claim procedures hastily and in response to dismissals from the U.S. courts under forum non conveniens. As a result, difficult obstacles to protecting client loyalty obligations in the United States become insurmountable hurdles in foreign class actions.

    In addition to structural challenges to judicial control in international class action and aggregate litigation, the prospect of clients exercising any control is also further diluted. The lack of incentives that individual class members have in domestic litigation is aggravated by linguistic, cultural, geographic, and informational barriers that exist in transnational settings.

    Judith Kimerling, a law professor at City University of New York and author Amazon Crude, the book that is touted as having brought problems underlying the Chevron litigation to light, has represented members of the Huaorani community of Ecuador. Members of the Huaorani tribe appear to have credible, compelling claims of personal injury attributable to Chevron’s (then-Texaco’s) activities in Ecuador and were originally part of the Alien Tort case brought in the United States. According to Kimerling, however, now the tribe members “have reason to believe” that the Donziger-led team “will not properly distribute any portion of the judgment proceeds to compensate, mitigate, and remediate the harm to [the] plaintiffs.”41

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