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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – September 4, 2022

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

US Life Expectancy Continues To Plunge Below China’s

[ZeroHedge, 9-1-2022]

Life expectancy in the US has fallen for the second consecutive year as Covid-19 and overdoses increased mortality rates. An empire’s death may start with its people, and as the world shifts, China, an emerging power, has a life expectancy that is above the US and widening.

According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans’ life expectancy fell .9 years to 76.1 years in 2021 – the lowest since 1996.

The year prior, life expectancy dropped by 1.8 years. The combined figures were the largest two-year decline since the 1920s.


EU can’t let Putin set energy costs – Austria

[, via Mike Norman Economics 8-28-2022]

“Electricity prices across Europe are tied to the price of gas, which now costs around ten times what it did last year. However, while some EU countries are heavily dependent on Russian gas for heating and industry, they use alternate fuels to generate electricity. Austria, for example, generates more than three quarters of its electricity from renewables, per 2020 figures from the International Energy Agency. [Austrian Chancellor Karl] Nehammer argued that decoupling electricity and gas prices would result in a fairer bill for consumers that more accurately reflects electricity production costs.”


The Real Student Debt Debate 

Zachary D. Carter [In The Long Run, via Naked Capitalism 9-1-2022]

In the United States, a college degree is about much more than securing a higher wage. People without college degrees aren’t just excluded from a lot of jobs that pay well. They’re more likely to be laid off and less likely to be hired during recessions. They’re less likely to have health insurance, and more likely to have a disability (the causal arrow there probably points both ways, but the combination is particularly cruel). People who do not graduate from college even have shorter life expectancies than people who do. Higher education is perhaps the single most important factor in determining who has access to a financially secure lifestyle and the leisure to pursue intellectually interesting activities. A college degree confers respect and prestige.

In a better world, the simple fact of being human would command equal respect for everyone. That is not our world, but we can imagine such a place and work toward realizing it. Prestige, by contrast, is inherently exclusive….

After World War II, millions of new college students arrived on campuses around the country to receive an education funded by the G.I. Bill. Suddenly, an experience that had once been restricted almost exclusively to the very rich became open to infantrymen. And though the vast majority of colleges and universities continued to exclude Black students, millions of white people who had never dreamed of going to college eventually earned degrees. For many prior graduates, this step toward democratization was threatening. Their credential was being diluted….

Student debt allows a certain kind of prestige-hoarder to pay lip service to the ideal of universal education, while also looking down on some graduates as, well, not quite the real thing. “Technically, you have a degree, but we all know you don’t truly belong up here, dear.” Erase that debt, and this distinction disappears. College graduates are all just college graduates again. A little bit more equality has entered the picture, and a little bit of prestige has departed.

I suspect this is what most people really mean when they say student debt relief is “unfair.”

[TW: As I excerpted last week from Forrest A. Nabors’ book, From Oligarchy to Republicanism: The Great Task of Reconstruction, quoting West Virginia Senator during the Civil War, Waltman Willey, explaining why the South had no system of free public education: “Sir, the true reason of this hostility to popular education is hostility to democratic institutions.” ]


Historian Nicole Hemmer’s latest book “Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s” focuses on the conservatives who remade U.S. politics in the 1990s. Hemmer speaks with Walter Isaacson about how that decade’s politics paved the way for Donald Trump’s presidency.

From the transcript:

You grow up believing … the thing that everyone believes… Democracy as a form of government. What you begin to see over the course of the 1990s is a real questioning of that… Not just of whether democracy is the best form of government,  but whether everyone in the U.S is actually fit for democracy…. In the 1960s, when the United States really opened up in terms of voting rights, in terms of immigration, and by the 1990s you have books like The Bell Curve, that argue for genetic differences in intelligence based on race; books like Alien Nation that say that only white people should be allowed to immigrate to the United States because only they are fit for democracy…


Why Obama-Era Economists Are So Mad About Student Debt Relief

Lindsay Owens, David Dayen, August 31, 2022 [The American Prospect]

Moments after the announcement, former Council of Economic Advisers Chair Jason Furman took to Twitter with a dozen tweets skewering the proposal as “reckless,” “pouring … gasoline on the inflationary fire,” and an example of executive branch overreach (“Even if technically legal I don’t like this amount of unilateral Presidential power.”). Brookings economist Melissa Kearny called the proposal “astonishingly bad policy” and puzzled over whether economists inside the administration were “all hanging their heads in defeat.” Ben Ritz, the head of a centrist think tank, went so far as to call for the staff who worked on the proposal to be fired after the midterms.

Histrionics are nothing new on Twitter, but it’s worth examining why this proposal has evoked such strong reactions. Elizabeth Popp Berman has argued in the Prospect that student loan forgiveness is a threat to the economic style of reasoning that dominates Washington policy circles. That’s correct. But President Biden’s elegant and forceful approach to tackling the student loan crisis also may feel like a personal rebuke to those who once worked alongside President Obama as he utterly failed to solve the debt crisis he inherited.

Let’s be very clear: The Obama administration’s bungled policy to help underwater borrowers and to stem the tide of devastating foreclosures, carried out by many of the same people carping about Biden’s student loan cancellation, led directly to nearly ten million families losing their homes. This failure of debt relief was immoral and catastrophic, both for the lives of those involved and for the principle of taking bold government action to protect the public. It set the Democratic Party back years. And those throwing a fit about Biden’s debt relief plan now are doing so because it exposes the disaster they precipitated on the American people.


Global power shift

The China-ASEAN rail map takes shape

[Asia Media Centre, via Naked Capitalism 9-2-2022]

China’s plan to build a pan-regional railway is gaining speed. This unfolding story combines infrastructure investment, trade logistics and strategic diplomacy with travel, tourism and potential challenges for shipping and aviation….

Since it inaugurated the first line in 2007, China has built the world’s largest high-speed rail network, totalling 40,000km at the end of 2021. It provides fast, punctual train transport nationwide, and China plans to expand the network to 75,000km by 2035.

Now, with China and South East Asia seeking new growth drivers after the economic dislocations of the pandemic, China wants to accelerate the connection of its high-speed rail system with a series of railways that will open trade routes through South East Asia.

In contrast: After a decade of hype, Dallas-Houston bullet train developer faces a leadership exodus as land acquisition slows.

[Texas Tribune, via Naked Capitalism 9-2-2022]


Why US hegemony is incompatible with a ‘rules-based international order’ 

Responsible Statecraft, via Naked Capitalism 8-30-2022]

Decades of lawless interventions in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America have left nations of the Global South deeply and rightly skeptical of the United States as an upholder of international law. Younger Americans increasingly reject U.S. exceptionalism and global military dominance as well.

As America’s relative power declines and we move toward an increasingly multipolar international system, the contradictions inherent in Washington’s version of the liberal order will become even harder to ignore. A United States that faces more and greater challenges to its power will likely turn to increasingly coercive means to defend that power, rendering its “liberal” guise increasingly threadbare.


How Russia Views America 

Philip Pilkington [American Affairs Journal, via Mike Norman Economics 8-31-2022]

…the Russian view of the West has changed dramatically. In 2007, the Russians were annoyed at what they viewed as Western overexpansion, but they were making this case as a smaller country pleading with a unipolar hegemon. Today, however, the Russians view the West—and especially America—as being in a state of terminal, ever-accelerating decline….

In 2021, a Russian military specialist and graduate of the prestigious Kirov Naval Red Banner School named Andrei Martyanov released a book entitled Disintegration: Indicators of the Coming American Col­lapse. The book is perhaps the most insightful statement of contemporary Russian attitudes toward America available in English. Martyanov has lived in the United States since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s; he is thus a competent observer of both Western political developments and the Russian perception of these developments….

What he finds most disturbing about contemporary America are the deep divisions that exist in the country. He notes that this was not always the case. When he first arrived in the United States in the early 1990s, he found it, in contrast to the collapsed Soviet Union, remarkably stable….

Martyanov is shocked by the racial divisions which have become so acute in the country. In general, he finds modern American life lawless and chaotic. He says that many American people feel scared to express themselves in public, a situation that reminds him of his early life in the Soviet Union….

But this is not Martyanov’s core critique, which is that the American military is simply not tailored to the needs of today’s world. It is structured for incursions against much weaker opponents—such as Iraq in 1991 and 2003. But it is not in a position of strength when faced with a peer that can compete in terms of troop deployment and firepower….

The book really comes into its own in the long sections on the American economy. These chapters seem especially prescient after Western sanc­tions against Russia failed to stop the invasion or decisively cripple the Russian economy, while causing increasing strains in the West. In a word, Martyanov views American prosperity as largely fake, a shiny wrapping distracting from an increasingly hollow interior.


Why Kennan’s containment won’t work on China

[Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 8-29-2022]

…Kennan’s proposed strategy of containment was premised on the United States’ remaining the dominant global economic power – and using this abundance, and leverage, to exert collective discipline among the key Western centers of industrial and military power in their dealings with Moscow.

In China, by contrast, it will face a peer that is without precedent in America’s brief but illustrious history – one whose economic size, and therefore the material capabilities at the government’s disposal, will vastly outstrip those of the United States as far as the eye can see.


In a first, India refers to ‘militarisation’ of Taiwan Strait by China

[The Hindu, via Naked Capitalism 8-29-2022]


The epidemic

New data shows long Covid is keeping as many as 4 million people out of work

[Brookings, via The Big Picture 8-29-2022]

16.3 million people (around 8%) of working-age Americans currently have long Covid.


COVID drives down U.S. life expectancy for the second straight year – CDC data 

[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism 8-31-2022]

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Elites using monetary policy to deal with paranoid fears that power might shift towards workers

Bill Mitchell [billy blog, via Mike Norman Economics 8-29-2022]

What a world we live in where we are snowed with propaganda from the elites about how the only way forward is that we accept “pain” or “sacrifice” to prevent some inflationary catastrophe from accelerating out of control and that if workers dare seek some cost-of-living redress as corporations go for broke in their margin push, then the pain the policy makers will inflict will be greater. The annual gathering of the elites at Jackson Hole in Wyoming over the last days has been one of those ‘can you believe this lot’ moments. First, we had the US Federal Reserve boss almost joyfully telling Americans that he will inflict pain on them because “these are the unfortunate costs of reducing inflation”. At the same event, the ECB Board member Isabel Schnabel told the gathering that the central banks had to inflict higher unemployment rates to control inflation to stop wages getting driven by inflationary expectations. And then we look at wages growth in Europe and see that real wages are in free fall (dropping 5.9 per cent in the June-quarter 2022).…


Don’t Mention The Fiscal Stagflation Paper

[, via Naked Capitalism 9-2-2022]

If central banks can’t fix cost-push shocks and their capacity to curb inflation by destroying demand is limited by shifting perceptions of fiscal policy, what exactly is the point?

But, upon perusing the paper, I was struck by how eminently readable the first half-dozen pages are. Working papers and peer-reviewed journal articles aren’t famous for being page-turners….

However, I’m skeptical of the notion that average citizens understand enough about economic theory to adjust their expectations based solely on the perception that a given fiscal policy regime lacks credibility or is otherwise unsustainable. Certainly, people know prices are rising for goods and services. But I (still) find the notion that the public is savvy enough (or cares enough) to attribute the situation to a fiscal credibility deficit (or any other deficit) somewhat implausible.

There are two caveats. First, political propaganda can make the public more aware than they otherwise might be. Stickers of Joe Biden with the caption “I did this” designed to be placed next to the digital readout on gas pumps, are one example. Second, I’ve long argued that the biggest risk associated with Modern Monetary Theory’s meteoric rise was the extent to which making the public aware of how government finance actually works risks un-anchoring inflation expectations. The public’s “Aha! It does grow on trees!” moment might be the beginning of the end. In that case, Stephanie Kelton would go down as one of the most tragic heroes in world history….

Without further ado, I wanted to highlight a few selected passages from “Inflation as a Fiscal Limit.” The full paper is more than three-dozen pages long, and I do encourage anyone interested to read it in full, although as with all academic papers, you can generally skip the sections which detail the math.


Lakewood cut down Town Square trees to deter homeless 

[Asbury Park [NJ] Press, via Naked Capitalism 9-1-2022]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-31-2022]

[TW: Under the bankers dictatorship of neoliberalism, more and more employers have lost any sense of civic republicanism and become anti-democratic petty despots. Recall the eBay executives who plotted to unleash insects on the editors of a newsletter critical of eBay. ]


Book publishers just spent 3 weeks in court arguing they have no idea what they’re doing 

Constance Grady [Vox, via Naked Capitalism 8-29-2022]

The Justice Department is suing to block Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster’s proposed merger. The publishers’ defense hinged on their own incompetence….

Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster are two members of what’s called the “Big Five” of publishing, with the other three slots filled by HarperCollins, Hachette, and Macmillan. The Big Five control roughly 80 percent of the trade market for books in the US, and Penguin Random House, with a market share of 25 percent in 2020, is the biggest one of all. Penguin Random House is itself the product of many mergers, with one independent publishing imprint after another joining together to form a massive conglomerate, culminating in the merger of Penguin and Random House in 2013 that brought the then-Big Six down to the Big Five….

Should PRH and S&S combine forces, they would be publishing what the Wall Street Journal estimated to be one-third of all the books in the US every year. The government’s model is more specific. It sets a market of what it’s calling “anticipated top-sellers”: books for which publishers pay an advance of $250,000 or more, which they presumably expect will sell very well when they hit bookstores. The government estimates that in such a market, a combined PRHS&S would have a 50 percent market share. The next largest publisher, HarperCollins, would have less than half that.


At $249 per day, prison stays leave ex-inmates deep in debt 

[AP, via Naked Capitalism 8-28-2022]


America’s Affordable Housing Problem

[Our Built Environment, via The Big Picture 8-30-2022]

How America got to be so unaffordable, and what we can do to make it more affordable; an analysis of good-in-theory v. outcome based policies


Predatory Finance

Goldman Sachs’ Secrets Spill Out in New Book by a Former Managing Director

Pam Martens and Russ Martens: August 29, 2022 [Wall Street on Parade]

Tomorrow, Simon & Schuster will release a new book by Jamie Fiore Higgins, a woman who worked her entire Wall Street career at one firm. Over the span of just under 18 years, beginning on September 2, 1998 and ending officially on May 31, 2016 according to BrokerCheck, Fiore Higgins achieved a level of financial success rarely attained by a woman on Wall Street…. Now, six years after she resigned her post (possibly heretofore restrained by the customary non-disparagement agreement one is asked to sign when leaving a Wall Street investment bank) Fiore Higgins is spilling the beans on what she saw and heard and experienced at Goldman Sachs. The book title says it all: Bully Market: My Story of Money and Misogyny at Goldman Sachs….

She writes as follows about her experience during the 2008 crash:

“Part of my job, once we got our hedge funds short, was to keep them short. That meant we always had to borrow the stocks that the hedge funds wanted to short. In return, the hedge funds would pay us a fee, a percentage rate applied to the market value of the trade. The harder the stock was to find, the more expensive the fee. Clients would pay high fees (upwards of 100 percent). Since there wasn’t a published market for short fees, you couldn’t just look it up on an exchange like a stock price. The broker quoted the fee at the time of the initial trade, but they could change day to day.”

….Much of the book focuses on the sick Goldman culture that eventually envelopes Fiore Higgins, including her affair with a Goldman colleague. She assesses what she had become as follows:

“I felt like human poison. I ruined everything I touched – marriages, careers, and relationships. After working for years in this awful environment, I’d become just as toxic as Goldman Sachs.”


Restoring balance to the economy

“The State Of The Unions 2022” (PDF) 

Ruth Milkman and Joseph van der Naald [City University of New York, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-2-2022]

Some of the most dramatic union wins occurred in New York: the first Starbucks stores where unionization votes succeeded in 2021 were in Buffalo, and the warehouse where the independent Amazon Labor Union famously won an election in April 2022 is in the New York City borough of Staten Island. More generally, as pages 4-9 below document, New York City leads the nation in the recent wave of union organizing ” But: ” the scale of this new wave of organizing has been insufficient to reverse the long-term downward trend in privatesector union density. To do so would require far more extensive, large-scale efforts. ”


The Politics of the Child Tax Credit

Stanley B. Greenberg, September 1, 2022 [The American Prospect]

Voters see it as a strong Democratic accomplishment, and a key Republican vulnerability.

Big Health Care Is Already Too Big: The UnitedHealthcare/Change Healthcare merger would make things even worse

Matt Stoller, Matt Seiler, September 1, 2022 [The American Prospect]


California Tries Something Novel: Enhancing Worker Power 

Harold Meyerson, August 31, 2022 [The American Prospect]

The legislature enacts industry-wide bargaining in fast food—something new under the American sun….

Under the terms of the legislation, the state will establish a ten-member council, consisting of two representatives of franchise owners, two from the corporate chains, two fast-food workers, two fast-food “advocates” (likely SEIU), and two who are the governor’s appointees to head labor-related state agencies. The council is charged with regulating pay and conditions in the sector. The legislation also sets a minimum hourly wage for the half-million workers in the sector at $22, and stipulates that the wage will be adjusted annually in accord with the consumer price index, so long as the increase doesn’t exceed 3.5 percent. The council is also empowered to set industry-wide standards for a host of working conditions and nondiscriminatory practices (California fast-food workers being heavily Black or Latino). In theory, the state agency heads in a Republican gubernatorial administration could side with the employer representatives to retard or repeal worker protections; in practice, for the foreseeable future, Republicans are about as likely to elect a governor in California as the Trotskyists are.


Private sector responding to government incentives

Heather Cox Richardson, August 29, 2022 “Letters from an American”:

Yesterday, Honda and LG Energy Solution announced they would spend $4.4 billion to construct a new battery plant in the U.S. to join the plants General Motors is building in Ohio, Michigan, and Tennessee; the ones Ford is building in Kentucky and Tennessee; the one Toyota is building in North Carolina; and the one Stellantis is building in Indiana. The plants are part of the switch to electric vehicles.  According to auto industry reporter Neal E. Boudette of the New York Times, they represent “one of the most profound shifts the auto industry has experienced in its century-long history.”

Today, Kentucky governor Andy Beshear (D) announced that Kentucky has secured more than $8.5 billion for investment in the production of electric vehicle batteries, which should produce more than 8,000 jobs in the EV sector. “Kentuckians will literally be powering the future,” he said.

Also today, First Solar, the largest solar panel maker in the U.S., announced that it would construct a new solar panel plant in the Southeast, investing up to $1 billion. It credited the Inflation Reduction Act with making solar construction attractive enough in the U.S. to build here rather than elsewhere. First Solar has also said it will upgrade and expand an existing plant in Ohio, spending $185 million.

Corning has announced a new manufacturing plant outside Phoenix, Arizona, to build fiber-optic cable to help supply the $42.5 billion high-speed internet infrastructure investment made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. AT&T will also build a new fiber internet network in Arizona.

The CHIPS and Science Act is spurring investment in the manufacturing of chips in the U.S. Earlier this month, Micron announced a $40 billion investment in the next eight years, producing up to 40,000 new jobs. Qualcomm has also committed to investing $4.2 billion in chips from the New York facility of GlobalFoundries. Qualcomm says it intends to increase chip production in the U.S. by 50% over the next five years. In January, Intel announced it would invest $20 billion, and possibly as much as $100 billion, in a chip plant in Ohio.


Climate and environmental crises

‘Do Not Drink The Water’: Jackson Water System Failing For 180,000 People 

[Mississippi Free Press, via Naked Capitalism 8-31-2022]


America’s Water Supply: The Corrosion of a Proud Tradition 

[Scientific American, via Naked Capitalism 9-2-2022]

The debacle in Flint, Michigan was a betrayal of the public trust at every level of government. The horror of people drinking poisoned water is a microcosm of the sad deterioration of one of America’s greatest accomplishments: the creation of infrastructure to provide virtually universal access to clean water and wastewater treatment.

Across America, water and sewer plants, pipes, and valves are reaching or beyond the end of their useful lives. By failing to invest in maintaining the city’s drinking water infrastructure, Flint officials acted no differently than those in thousands of other communities – high- and low-income – who are neglecting the promise of government that all residents have the right to clean water

In early twentieth century America, it was not safe to drink water from public taps. Cities routinely dumped raw sewage into nearby rivers, thus causing their downstream neighbors to suffer epidemics of waterborne diseases, such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. This practice finally ended after Congress passed the 1972 Clean Water Act, which underwrote the costs of municipal water treatment plants…. But, in subsequent decades, spending on water and wastewater infrastructure plummeted….

Our water infrastructure consists of approximately 54,000 drinking water systems, with more than 700,000 miles of pipes, and 17,000 wastewater treatment plants, with an additional 800,000 miles of pipes. A 2012 report of the American Water Works Association concluded that more than a million miles of these pipes need repair or replacement. That’s why communities across the nation suffer 240,000 water main breaks per year. The major cause of pipe failure is age.


How Long Droughts Make Flooding Worse

[Wired, via The Big Picture 8-30-2022]

Parched ground is less likely to absorb water and increases the risk of dangerous flash floods. But there are ways to mitigate these conditions.


Pakistan floods: One third of country is under water – minister

[BBC, via Naked Capitalism 8-30-2022]

[TW: Pakistan is 307,00 – square miles, just slightly larger than Texas and Oklahoma combined. But with 242 million people, Pakistan is the world’s fifth-most populous country. Oklahoma has 4 million people, and Texas has 29 million. The total US population is now around 332 million. ]


Pace of Climate Change Sends Economists Back to Drawing Board 

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 8-30-2022]

They underestimated the impact of global warming, and their preferred policy solution floundered in the United States.


2021 saw record-high greenhouse gases, sea levels and ocean heat, new report shows

[ABC, via Naked Capitalism 9-1-2022]


The Hank Hill Solution to Climate Change 

Ryan Cooper, August 31, 2022 [The American Prospect]

What do we put in the future billions of air conditioners and heat pumps?

….Both ammonia and propane are relatively environmentally safe, with no long-term by-products, and have global warming potentials of zero and 3.3, respectively. Carbon dioxide is virtually harmless, and has a global warming potential of one (by definition, since it is the reference point), though it does require high pressure and therefore more expensive equipment. All three are also much cheaper to obtain than synthetic refrigerants.

Indeed, in heavy industrial applications like meatpacking plants or frozen food factories, ammonia is still used because its excellent efficiency (something like 10 to 40 percent better than synthetic refrigerants, depending on the application) and cheaper price make up for the heavier equipment it requires. The danger of leaks is also mitigated by ammonia’s sharp smell, which people notice very quickly.

Ammonia is probably impractical for most home uses, as is carbon dioxide because of pressure requirements, but propane could be used in most home refrigerators (as it’s already used in most small bar fridges), air conditioners, and heat pumps with only slight modifications.


What’s going on with the Greenland ice sheet? It’s losing ice faster than forecast and now irreversibly committed to at least 10 inches of sea level rise 

[The Conversation, via Naked Capitalism 9-1-2022]


Does California have enough electricity to ban gas cars? 

[Quartz, via Naked Capitalism 8-30-2022]


California asks residents not to charge electric vehicles, days after announcing gas car ban 

[WFLA, via Naked Capitalism 9-1-2022]


Dealership Quotes $30,000 to Replace Battery in a $10,000 Chevrolet Volt 

[The Drive, via Naked Capitalism 9-1-2022]


Climate Costs Are Not ‘Inflation’ 

Robert Kuttner, August 31, 2022 [The American Prospect]

Climate disruption will raise prices to consumers. The Fed, seconded by orthodox economists, misunderstands what’s happening—needlessly adding to economic pain.

Economists need to fundamentally change the way they comprehend inflation. The reason is climate change. Many items in the household budget, like food, that have been relatively cheap, will become more expensive.

This has nothing to do with supply and demand in the usual sense, and everything to do with the ravages of climate disruption. In discussing inflation and calling for higher interest rates at the Jackson Hole Conference last week, Fed Chair Jay Powell did not say word one about the impact of climate on prices. Nor did the usual chorus of inflation hawks in the economics profession.

Exhibit A is the American West, which is in a deepening water catastrophe. Likewise much of the Third World.

It is only a matter of time before factory farms in irrigated semi-deserts such as California’s Imperial Valley, which provide much of the nation’s cheap food, cease to be viable. They have underpriced traditional family farms serving regional markets such as New England, driving many out of business.


Information age dystopia

FTC Sues ‘Massive’ Data Broker for Selling Location Info on Abortion Clinics 

[Vice, via Naked Capitalism 8-30-2022]

“Defendant’s violations are in connection with acquiring consumers’ precise geolocation data and selling the data in a format that allows entities to track the consumers’ movements to and from sensitive locations, including, among others, locations associated with medical care, reproductive health, religious worship, mental health temporary shelters, such as shelters for the homeless, domestic violence survivors, or other at risk populations, and addiction recovery,” the lawsuit reads.


Civilian AI Is Already Being Misused by the Bad Guys 

[SpectrumIEEE, via Naked Capitalism 8-30-2022]

Last March, a group of researchers made headlines by revealing that they had developed an artificial-intelligence (AI) tool that could invent potential new chemical weapons. What’s more, it could do so at an incredible speed: It took only 6 hours for the AI tool to suggest 40,000 of them.

The most worrying part of the story, however, was how easy it was to develop that AI tool. The researchers simply adapted a machine-learning model normally used to check for toxicity in new medical drugs. Rather than predicting whether the components of a new drug could be dangerous, they made it design new toxic molecules using a generative model and a toxicity data set.


Class-Action Lawsuit Accuses Oracle of Tracking 5 Billion People 

[PC Magazine, via Naked Capitalism 8-29-2022]

This claim is backed up by a video on the ICCL website(Opens in a new window) of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison describing how the company’s real-time machine learning system collects this information and confirms the 5 billion profiles stored in the “Oracle Data Cloud.” The profiles are referred to as a “Consumers Identity Graph.”


Hackers have laid siege to U.S. health care and a tiny HHS office is buckling under the pressure 

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 8-30-2022]


Collapse of independent news media

The Murdoch Family Exposes Its Hypocrisy in Lawsuits Over Fox News

Peter Maas, August 29 2022 [The Intercept]

In separate defamation suits in the U.S. and Australia, the owners of Fox News contradict themselves by trying to avoid the punishment they seek to inflict on others.


Graduates of Elite Universities Dominate the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, Study Finds 

[The Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 8-31-2022]

Authors Jonathan Wai, a research fellow at Geisinger Health System at the Autism and Developmental Medicine Institute, and Kaja Perina, the editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, collected a sample of 1,979 employees working at two of America’s most prominent and influential newspapers, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, during 2016.

They set out with a simple question: How many of those employees attended elite schools for college (if they attended college)? The researchers sought to address the question of whether journalism, at the highest level, “is a profession only of the culturally elite,” or it is also “a profession of the cognitively elite.”


Democrats’ political suicide

Biden Stalls Crackdown On Student Debt Predators

Julia Rock, September 2, 2022 [The Lever]

While the president claims he’s “holding colleges accountable,” he’s dragging his feet on a rule that would stop institutions from defrauding students in the first place.


Why Is Biden’s DOJ Still Targeting Student Debtors?

Julia Rock & David Sirota, September 1, 2022 [The Lever]

…this spring The Lever reported on cases where student debtors had won rare victories in bankruptcy court and the Biden administration had appealed those victories. The administration subsequently dropped the appeals, and Senate Democrats called on the administration to update its guidance on how it approached these cases. But that hasn’t happened, and Warren now says the administration has been unresponsive.


Ruy Teixeira on the Democratic Majority That Never Emerged 

[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism 8-30-2022]


Democrats can’t win until they recognize how bad Obama’s financial policies were (no paywall)

Matt Stoller [Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 9-1-2022]

Lambert Strether advises: “From 2017, and more true than ever. A must-read.”


Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-30-2022]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-31-2022]

[TW: It’s fun, and not very hard, to poke fun at the comic manifestations of conservative / libertarian beliefs, but the serious questions that must be addressed: how do we deal with such a large part of the population that is so estranged from the political system they believe they have to train themselves for some sort or armed resistance? This is one reason why I keep promoting a resurrection of the ideology of civic republicanism. ]


The Deranged Demands of the “Anti-ESG” Movement

Kate Aronoff, August 29, 2022 [The New Republic]

Making good on a long-promised threat, Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar last week announced a list of 10 financial institutions and more than 300 funds his office deems to be “boycotting energy companies,” a.k.a. fossil fuels. Accordingly, state entities—including pension funds for teachers and government workers—will be required to divest from these financial institutions as the state moves to implement Senate Bill 13, which Governor Greg Abbott signed into law last year. Under the same bill, Texas has since September required any financial company entering into new contracts or renewing contracts with state entities to affirm they do not and will not “boycott energy companies.”

Since the Texas “energy discrimination elimination” law passed last year, similar efforts to fight what’s known as “environmental, social, and governance,” or ESG, criteria in investing have cropped up in at least 15 other state legislatures and passed in four. Republicans have begun to embrace the fight as an election issue, as well, turning “ESG” into a base-rallying bogeyman much like CRT, or “critical race theory.” The conservative argument in each case, as I’ve previously reported, is that any decrease in investment in oil, gas, and coal is a form of discrimination.…

The attorneys general claim specifically that requiring publicly listed companies to disclose emissions would violate the “major questions doctrine,” the novel legal concept that the court’s right-wing majority, in its West Virginia v. EPA opinion, more or less invited litigants to use in challenging the administrative state. This doctrine holds that the court should review the executive branch’s interpretation of congressional statutes when such interpretations constitute questions of serious political or economic significance.


“Defendants targeted in DeSantis’ voter fraud crackdown were told they could vote”

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-30-2022]

”Several people who were arrested last week as part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ voter fraud crackdown were notified by official government entities they were eligible to vote, according to court documents and interviews. The defendants told authorities they had no intention of committing voter fraud, according to affidavits, and in some cases were baffled by their arrests because counties had sent them voter registration cards and approved them to vote. The defendants were vilified by the governor during a high profile press conference last week, at which DeSantis announced the arrest of 20 people — convicted murderers and sex offenders — who allegedly cast votes in the 2020 election when they weren’t eligible to. The defendants, because of their convictions, weren’t permitted to vote.”

[TW: Remember, DeSantis went to Harvard Law, and as a Navy JAG was responsible for ensuring the rights of prisoners at Guantanamo. This crackdown is an obvious publicity stunt — performed by a very intelligent man. This is a frightening level of cunning, ruthless disregard for the rights of the lesser members of our society, and malevolent intent. DeSantis’s political career must be destroyed before he has the chance to become a nominee for President.]


Altercation: Ron DeSantis Is an Honest-to-God Semi-Fascist

Eric Alterman, September 2, 2022 [The American Prospect]

Members of the mainstream media have long been wary of applying the term “fascist” to any American politician. They say it is not their job to characterize Republicans; they just “report the news,” even when what they are actually doing is passing along Republican lies and deliberate misinformation. Joe Biden has therefore done them a favor by referring to the ideology of Donald Trump and his followers as “semi-fascism.” The word is now, as journalists say, “in play.” (And by the way, while it may have been off-the-cuff, “semi-fascism” is a good term for employing fascist-like tactics at every available opportunity in a country that has not yet turned its institutions over to a fascist leader.) Now, take a look at just a few of DeSantis’s recent moves….


How a Corporate Law Firm Led a Political Revolution

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 8-29-2022]

The untold story of Jones Day’s push to move the American government and courts to the right.


Biden’s pre-Civil War speech

[TW: Here are two very different reactions to Biden’s speech. I think it is important to keep Taibbi’s critique in mind, but I think Taibbi fails to recognize how dangerous it is to have so developed and so entrenched a political philosophy that is simply hostile to democracy, equality, the rule of law, and the other tenets of civic republicanism that the US Constitution was intended to embody. Unfortunately, Sullivan’s approbation of Biden’s speech also fails to recognize the true depth of ideological war underway.

Also, neither Taibbi nor Sullivan consider the role of the reactionary rich,, who have carefully and consistently funded the conservative and libertarian movements in order to advance an agenda of economic liberalism tending toward radical libertarianism. As I have alluded to this process repeatedly, it is the creation of these movements that have fastened on the United States an ideology that is hostile to the civic republicanism the country was founded on. Billions of dollars have been spent to rewrite USA history, and to change the ideology of government in the United States: to replace civic republicanism with economic liberalism. This is why I believe “the left” in USA is so ineffective: by insisting that the USA was founded on racism, the left ignores the fact of this ideological war that has been going on since the country’s founding. People like Charles Koch and Rupert Murdoch should be subjected to the same cultural rejection and legal persecution that the Copperheads were during and after the Civil War. ]

Biden Brings the War on Terror Home

Matt Taibbi, TK News

Biden’s speech was an exact domestic analog [to Bush’s 9-11 war on terror speech]. Like Bush’s sweeping description of enemies wedded Satanically to tyranny and death, Biden’s MAGA Republicans “embrace anger,” “thrive on chaos,” and live “not in the light of truth but in the shadow of lies.” He repeated almost verbatim Bush’s theory of preventive action, saying it is too dangerous to allow “MAGA Republicans” to run for office. He said “they” are working “as I speak” in “state after state” to pack vote-counting bureaucracies with “partisans and cronies,” with the express purpose of “thwarting the will of the people.”

….This is why it matters when Biden describes “MAGA Republicans” as a “threat… to the very soul of this country,” or as “extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic,” representing “dangers around us we cannot allow to prevail.” It’s hard to see how these terms are substantively different from War on Terror constructions like the “continued and imminent threat to U.S. interests” or a “serious and continuing threat to the American people.” Biden sounded like a man preparing followers for an enforcement response to Trumpism itself, and even if that wasn’t what he was doing, it’s clear many Trump supporters heard things that way….

Seventy-four million people voted for Trump in 2020. It’s beyond delusional to think they are all violent extremists. A smart politician would recognize the overwhelming majority are just people who pay taxes, work crap jobs, raise kids, obey the law, and give at most a tiny share of attention to politics. The University of Virginia did a study arguing that as many as 8 million previously voted for Obama, so there’s that. I’d bet more than half would pick a screening of Thor: Love and Thunder over a Trump speech. The only sure way to radicalize the lot is to call them one big terror cell, or have the president go on TV to describe them as an existential threat to national security.

Having done that, Biden now has a bigger problem than ever. What a mess, but how perfectly in character for our leaders! Metaphorically we’re always blowing up villages and pyramids to chase a terror suspect into the desert. Now we’re factory-producing enemies at home, too, and it doesn’t look like anyone up there knows how to stop.


Biden bumps back

Tom Sullivan, September 2, 2022 [Hullabaloo, via Daily Kos 9-2-2022]

Whaddya know? The anti-democracy, pro-insurrection, authoritarian cult of personality that gleefully brands Democrats America-hating, child-trafficking, Marxist pedophiles can dish it out but can’t take it….

Biden did what Wisconsin Democratic state chair Ben Wikler told an August Netroots Nation panel he’d heard from a former Republican debate champion [timestamp 54:30]:

“What you want to do is draw the circle that includes you and your audience around values, things that you all agree on, and then push the other side out of the circle.”

“Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal,” Biden began and then pushed. Hard…. Biden violated the rules of the extremists’ game that say Republicans get to use Democrats as punching bags and Democrats must never punch back. Biden did….

Esquire‘s Charlie Pierce anticipated the discomfort that the “both sides” media would have in stating the facts as bluntly as Biden did:

“Here’s the problem for the elite political media: To cover the threat to the republic truthfully, they’re going to have to write/broadcast things that have collateral benefits to the Democratic Party. No way around it. The point is not to worry about that.”

As Heather Cox Richardson warns in her August 29, 2022 “Letters from an American:

The question of the stolen documents is not about politics, but rather about the rule of law. When Graham threatens that gangs will take to the streets, he is saying that violence can overrule laws, a key sign of authoritarian rule. That sort of violence is not new to America. It dominated the Reconstruction South, of course, when white gangs terrorized their Black neighbors and the white men who voted as they did, suppressed labor organization at the turn of the last century, and fed rising fascism in the 1930s.

It has been a growing threat in the U.S. since the 1990s, as right-wing activists egged on by talk radio armed themselves against the federal government, but that violent organization took off under the former president, first as he condoned the violence at the August 2017 riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, and then as he urged on the “American Patriots” who demanded their state governments reopen their states during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Those gangs were Trump’s troops on January 6, 2021, and on that day they quite literally illustrated the attempt to use violence to overturn the rule of law at the heart of our democracy.


The (Anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

Supreme Court Justice Alito’s Crusade Against a Secular America Isn’t Over 

[New Yorker, via Naked Capitalism 8-29-2022]

Alito is the embodiment of a conservative majority that is ambitious and extreme. (He declined to be interviewed for this article.) With the recent additions of Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett to the Court, the conservative bloc no longer needs Roberts to get results. And Alito has taken a zealous lead in reversing the progressive gains of the sixties and early seventies—from overturning Roe v. Wade to stripping away voting rights.

“We saw an emboldened Alito this term,” Lazarus said. “Unlike when he first joined the Court, he no longer needs to curry favor from the Chief.” Roberts’s view of Dobbs was characteristic: he has long favored narrowly tailored opinions that foster consensus among the Justices and, perhaps, avert political chaos. He once observed, “If it’s not necessary to decide more to dispose of a case, in my view it is necessary not to decide more.” Thomas and Alito have adopted a more combative approach—one that finds no great value in privileging precedent, especially if the precedent emanates from the sixties, when Chief Justice Earl Warren was pushing the Court leftward….

Alito was born in 1950, in Trenton, New Jersey, in a mostly Italian American enclave. His family later moved to Hamilton Township, a nearby suburb. The Alitos were Catholic and belonged to the Our Lady of Sorrows Parish. By the time Alito entered high school, he had developed a keen interest in the law, and was taking note of the Warren Court’s reshaping of American life, which included landmark rulings desegregating schools and other public facilities; recognizing a right to contraception for married couples and to interracial marriage; barring state-sanctioned school prayer; and guaranteeing access to public defenders for indigent criminal defendants. As Alito later recalled, he joined the debate team, where he grappled with such Court opinions as Mapp v. Ohio (1961), which established that the “exclusionary rule”—prohibiting prosecutors from using evidence in court that has been obtained in violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights—applied not just to the federal government but also to the states. In a 2015 interview, Alito told the conservative commentator Bill Kristol that the experience made him “start to think about the Constitution and what it meant,” adding, “There’s nothing in the Constitution about the exclusionary rule. The Fourth Amendment says no unreasonable searches or seizures. But that’s it. So where did this come from? . . . What legitimizes something that is not in the Constitution?”

[TW: Ignores 13th Amerndment, and ignores the ideology of civic republicanism that the Constitution is intended to embody.]

….In a successful 1985 job application for the Reagan Administration’s Office of Legal Counsel, he declared that he “first became interested in government and politics during the 1960s,” and that “the greatest influences on my views were the writings of William F. Buckley, Jr., the National Review, and Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign.” He added that he had particularly opposed the Warren Court’s decisions “in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment.”

[TW: “What legitimizes something that is not in the Constitution?” The answer is the doctrine of implied powers, first explained by Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, approved by President George Washington, and cast into judicial precedent by Chief Justice John Marshall, and Justice Joseph Story in his 1833 magnus opus Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (3 volumes). This is why the issue of philosophy of government is so important, and why I believe we need to resurrect the civic republicanism that informed the actions and decisions of Franklin, Hamilton, Marshall, Story, and others. Senators steeped in the ideas of civic republicanism would have understood the philosophical enmity harbored by anti-republican people like Alito, and fought to keep him from sitting on any bench, not just the Supreme Court.

As Justice Story wrote on the decision of Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816):

The Constitution unavoidably deals in general language. It did not suit the purposes of the people, in framing this great charter of our liberties, to provide for minute specifications of its powers, or to declare the means by which those powers should be carried into execution. It was foreseen that this would be a perilous and difficult, if not an impracticable, task. The instrument was not intended to provide merely for the exigencies of a few years, but was to endure through a long lapse of ages, the events of which were locked up in the inscrutable purposes of Providence. ]



Open Thread


The Delusional Dishonesty of the G7 Russian Oil Price Cap


  1. darms

    “Democrats can’t win until they recognize how bad Obama’s financial policies were (no paywall) Matt Stoller”

    Sorry, major paywall there, same as always…

  2. Anthony K Wikrent

    The WaPo article by Matt Stoller on Democrats not winning until they recognize Obama’s error of saving the banks and Wall Street instead of homeowners may not be accessible to some people. I can open the link OK, but some people are reporting they cannot. You can try this link at New America.

  3. bruce wilder

    Higher education is perhaps the single most important factor in determining who has access to a financially secure lifestyle and the leisure to pursue intellectually interesting activities.

    Correlation is not causation. They teach you that in college, if you’re awake.

    There are a whole lot of factors tied to socio-economic “class”, and given largely by parents, and one of those is the ability to go to college and graduate without significant debt. There is something fundamentally dishonest in the politics of endlessly repeating the doctrine that education “causes” higher incomes or a more secure economic position, when, in fact, educational credentials are mostly a means of economic discrimination wielded by the rich and privileged against the poor and working classes.

  4. VietnamVet

    In the 1970s, fiat currency replaced gold spent on the Vietnam War and the energy crisis hit when the oil sheiks unilaterally raised the price of petroleum and nothing could be done until the opening of the Alaska and North Seas Oil Fields. This turned the world upside down. The global jet-set used it to seize power and with the naivety of the last leader of the USSR who just died, the USA with assistance from the UK became the sole world empire. The corporate/state took over. Democracy dismantled. The people disenfranchised. Profits outweigh human life. Divide and conquer rules the world. With the overwhelming power of propaganda, this has been ignored. Greece was subjugated. The Kremlin provoked by a regime change campaigns. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Ukraine devastated.

    On February 24, 2022; the globe turned upside down, once again. This is now a multi-polar world, one more time. The West is the poor, depleted, badly led side now. The Eastern Axis has the resources, manpower and industry. China is mitigating the Coronavirus Pandemic — building high speed rail infrastructure tying Eurasia together inland.

    Joe Biden’s, Imperial Red, Independence Hall speech blamed 74 million Americans who didn’t vote for him for the changed circumstances. He, professionals, and corporate managers cannot accept the truth. They dismantled good government. The West has no way to command the people, resources and industry to win the ongoing proxy world war. If the West cannot deal with reality, and government by and for the people not restored, all is lost. If shortages this winter shut down industry and its inhabitants freeze and there are food shortages, the United Kingdom, France and the USA have a history of people’s revolutions.

  5. bruce wilder

    Tony makes an essential point when he points to the role of the reactionary rich in funding an “intellectual” right-wing ready and willing to re-write history and the constitution. (I honestly wonder whether that has included some funding of successor ideology and the obsession with the politics of trans.)

    What passes for the liberal-left could certainly use some civic republicanism. Really any genuine conviction or care or thought for the country and its People as a whole would be a surprising tonic for the deep corruption that pervades our propaganda-soaked culture.

  6. NR

    There are a whole lot of factors tied to socio-economic “class”, and given largely by parents, and one of those is the ability to go to college and graduate without significant debt. There is something fundamentally dishonest in the politics of endlessly repeating the doctrine that education “causes” higher incomes or a more secure economic position, when, in fact, educational credentials are mostly a means of economic discrimination wielded by the rich and privileged against the poor and working classes.

    It’s true that college graduates from better socioeconomic backgrounds do better than college graduates from worse ones, but it’s also true that even first-generation college graduates end up better off financially than non-college graduates. See here:

  7. Trinity

    “he finds modern American life lawless and chaotic.”

    So do I, and I didn’t have to move here to realize it. In just the last six years, I can cite multiple examples at the local level, along with all the lawlessness and chaos going on at other levels we all know about.

  8. Trinity

    “educational credentials are mostly a means of economic discrimination wielded by the rich and privileged”

    Agree, because I’ve been both (lacking a degree for half my adult life). We continue to buy into their value system. Teachers are an excellent example, though, being credentialed but ridiculed and treated very poorly by the sociopaths. They lack value by the sociopaths, but are so critical to any nation. Teachers can literally change the value system, if allowed. They are therefore dangerous.

  9. Trinity

    “Billions of dollars have been spent to rewrite USA history, and to change the ideology of government in the United States: to replace civic republicanism with economic liberalism. This is why I believe “the left” in USA is so ineffective: …”

    Ineffective? The answer is right there: the ideology is about the money. I recently learned more about the Free Staters in New Hampshire, with their demands to secede from the US continuing, right alongside their efforts to fill commissions, local governments, and other political positions with one stated purpose of, for example, privatizing a very well managed resort owned by a county in NH. It’s so well managed by the county’s appointees (and therefore popular) that it returns money back to the county, which they need because the County Admin drastically reduced the Sheriff’s budget, the library budget, and practically closed the county administered (affordable) nursing home by reducing their budget, probably the same ones trying to take over the resort to sell it to pirates (that’s what they are, let’s be real).

    It appears the “Free Staters” failed to privatize the resort owned by the county residents, but I’m sure they’ll have another go at it. They also tried to eliminate resident-owned communities (usually affordable homes) throughout the state, also voted down. This was clearly so that they could be privatized, with the same rigmarole of reducing costs (performing no maintenance) while increasing rents to maximize profits for PE somewhere else.

    All the articles about Biden clearly (to me, at least) indicate he is stumping for votes with his cosmetics-only changes (positive optics, bragging rights), while essentially changing nothing that really matters (predatory student loans, for one). Why does this keep being referred to as “ineffective”? It’s very effective for the predatory overclass of sociopaths. In terms of the rest of us, it’s criminal. Not so very long ago, people used to go to jail for things that corporations now do every single day.

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