Sunday, October 18, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 18, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy –  October 18, 2020

by Tony Wikrent


See something? Report voter suppression and obstacles to voting.

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

The Epidemic

Steps for Reducing COVID Transmission 

[GoogleDoc) Cyrus Maher [UCSF, via Naked Capitalism 10-11-20]

Lambert Strether’s intro: “This is the must-read for the week. It’s not only a review of the literature, it’s packed with useful, pragmatic information, and very simply and clearly written. Slide 11: Aerosol FTW; slide 20: the “Swiss Cheese” model; plus a series of slides on preventing exposure, reducing exposure, and improving your odds if you are exposed starting at slide 24; see especially slide 48. (Caveat lector: There is a pitch to enroll in UCSF’s clinical trial.)”

Inside the Fall of the CDC 

[Pro Publica, via Naked Capitalism 10-11-20]

Lambert Strether notes: “ the first real explanation, nine months after the fact, of the CDC Covid testing debacle* (originally blamed on contractors, IIRC). My preference for coverage priorities would be: 1) Neoliberal hollowing out; 2) the testing debacle; and 3) political interference, because the first two corrode the clout of the CDC and lead to the third, and this article reverses that order, but it’s nevertheless very good. NOTE * Casting doubt on the ability of the PMC to regulate itself, exactly like the ObamaCare MarketPlace launch debacle. PMC professional associations also have this issue.”

Strategic Political Economy

How Deep Will the Depression Get? – Paul Jay interview of Rana Foroohar and Mark Blyth

[, October 8, 2020, via comments on Ian Welsh 10-12-20] the elites get it? Yeah, they absolutely get it. And let me give you a couple of examples. They get it, and they think they’re going to be able to weather the storm….  But the idea was in their minds that the biggest companies, the Googles, the Facebook’s, the Buydo’s, the Alibaba’s had become so big that they were like the East India Company now. They are sort of sovereign international states that float above the nation-state, . . . and that they actually kind of formed their own consensus... these corporations now have so much control and big tech does have way more control even than big finance did because it can actually influence our behavioral patterns because of surveillance, capitalism, and algorithmic behavioral manipulation….

“. . .I used to do . . . finance conferences with big finance. [so I] have 25 of them in the room, all of . . . the big money in the room and I would say the following, talking about politicians and the quality of political capital, ‘it’s gone down over time, and that’s a big problem’

” ‘So how many of you folks would let the people that you [put in office to] run countries by funding them, run your money and your firm?’ and they would all burst out laughing. And then when the laughter died down, I would say, and now you can tell me what’s funny about that because ultimately your firms are dependent on the governments of those countries, the policies that they provide. And it was almost a moment of shame where they went. . . . this points to something that our Marxists colleagues have known for the longest time that while it’s irrational for any individual capitalist to maximize their short-run interests, it’s collectively suicidal.”

Uber is attempting to colonize the California government (with Prop 22)

Ryan Cooper [The Week, via Naked Capitalism 10-14-20]

Prop 22 is one of the worst ballot initiatives I have ever seen, and that is saying a lot. It would blow a huge hole in California labor law, creating a permanent sub-caste of workers vulnerable to exploitation, and turn over a huge chunk of California's political sovereignty to ruthless money-torching corporations by requiring a seven-eighths majority in the legislature to amend it. Naturally, it is being sold on lies. For God's sake, Californians, vote this thing down.

“It’s no wonder hundreds of millions have been spent on Prop. 22. A lot is at stake” 

[Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-16-20]

“California has never seen anything like this. Nor has any state — a record $200 million spent on a single ballot measure…. It’s Proposition 22, a ballot initiative bankrolled by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and the like to override a new state law that requires their ride-hailing and delivery drivers to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors. If the drivers are reclassified as employees, their pay and benefits would increase. But the app-based gig companies say there’d be far fewer jobs because customer fares would rise and demand for rides would fall. The companies probably couldn’t even operate in California, they say.”

Lambert Strether: “So, they should go. We did fine without them, and they’re parasites anyhow, as Huber Horan has exhaustively shown.”


[Twitter below, via Naked Capitalism 10-13-20]


The Town That Went Feral: When a group of libertarians set about scrapping their local government, chaos descended. And then the bears moved in.

[The New Republic, October 13, 2020]

….Hongoltz-Hetling is an accomplished journalist based in Vermont, a Pulitzer nominee and George Polk Award winner. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (and Some Bears) sees him traversing rural New England as he reconstructs a remarkable, and remarkably strange, episode in recent history. This is the so-called Free Town Project, a venture wherein a group of libertarian activists attempted to take over a tiny New Hampshire town, Grafton, and transform it into a haven for libertarian ideals—part social experiment, part beacon to the faithful, Galt’s Gulch meets the New Jerusalem…. 

the Free Towners spent years pursuing an aggressive program of governmental takeover and delegitimation, their appetite for litigation matched only by their enthusiasm for cutting public services. They slashed the town’s already tiny yearly budget of $1 million by 30 percent, obliged the town to fight legal test case after test case, and staged absurd, standoffish encounters with the sheriff to rack up YouTube hits. Grafton was a poor town to begin with, but with tax revenue dropping even as its population expanded, things got steadily worse. Potholes multiplied, domestic disputes proliferated, violent crime spiked, and town workers started going without heat. “Despite several promising efforts,” Hongoltz-Hetling dryly notes, “a robust Randian private sector failed to emerge to replace public services.” Instead, Grafton, “a haven for miserable people,” became a town gone “feral.” Enter the bears, stage right….

What was the deal with Grafton’s bears? Hongoltz-Hetling investigates the question at length, probing numerous hypotheses for why the creatures have become so uncharacteristically aggressive, indifferent, intelligent, and unafraid. Is it the lack of zoning, the resulting incursion into bear habitats, and the reluctance of Graftonites to pay for, let alone mandate, bear-proof garbage bins? Might the bears be deranged somehow, perhaps even disinhibited and emboldened by toxoplasmosis infections, picked up from eating trash and pet waste from said unsecured bins? There can be no definitive answer to these questions, but one thing is clear: The libertarian social experiment underway in Grafton was uniquely incapable of dealing with the problem. “Free Towners were finding that the situations that had been so easy to problem-solve in the abstract medium of message boards were difficult to resolve in person.”

Grappling with what to do about the bears, the Graftonites also wrestled with the arguments of certain libertarians who questioned whether they should do anything at all—especially since several of the town residents had taken to feeding the bears, more or less just because they could. One woman, who prudently chose to remain anonymous save for the sobriquet “Doughnut Lady,” revealed to Hongoltz-Hetling that she had taken to welcoming bears on her property for regular feasts of grain topped with sugared doughnuts. If those same bears showed up on someone else’s lawn expecting similar treatment, that wasn’t her problem. The bears, for their part, were left to navigate the mixed messages sent by humans who alternately threw firecrackers and pastries at them. Such are the paradoxes of Freedom…. Caught up in “pitched battles over who was living free, but free in the right way,” the libertarians descended into accusing one another of statism, leaving individuals and groups to do the best (or worst) they could. Some kept feeding the bears, some built traps, others holed up in their homes, and still others went everywhere toting increasingly larger-caliber handguns.  

Next Big Shift in Economics Takes Shape Under Covid Shadow 

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 10-12-20]

A rare regime-change in economic policy is under way that’s edging central bankers out of the pivotal role they have played for decades.

Fiscal policy, which fell out of fashion as an engine of economic growth during the inflationary 1970s, has been front-and-center in the fight against Covid-19. Governments have subsidized wages, mailed checks to households and guaranteed loans for business. They’ve run up record budget deficits on the way — an approach that economists have gradually come to support, ever since the last big crash in 2008 ushered in a decade of tepid growth.

And the public spending that put a floor under the pandemic slump is increasingly seen as vital for a sustained recovery too. When it looks like drying up, as it did in the U.S. last week, investors start to worry…. Fiscal stimulus packs a bigger punch than the monetary kind because it can channel cash directly to households or businesses, and it’s better suited for delivering targeted aid to those who need it most in a crisis, like the unemployed. Central bankers can only inject more spending power into the economy via an indirect channel: the price of borrowing from banks or financial markets.

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

“Inequality in America: Far Beyond Extreme”

[Counterpunch, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-14-20]

“Of America’s inflation- and population-adjusted increase in wealth between 2006 and 2018, over 87 percent went to the top 10 percent. Over 60 percent went to the top 1 percent. The top .01 percent, a baseball-park-sized group of just 32,669 Americans, grabbed over 23 percent of the country’s increase in wealth. And nearly 10 percent of that increase went to the 400 wealthiest Americans. The 290 million or so unlucky souls who make up the so-called bottom 90 percent, meanwhile, saw just 13 percent of the nation’s wealth gains between 2006 and 2018, not much over half of what went to the top .01 percent. Our bottom 50 percent actually lost wealth over that 2006-2018 period.”

Exclusive: America’s true unemployment rate 

Felix Salmon [Axios, via Naked Capitalism 10-16-20]

A person who is looking for a full-time job that pays a living wage — but who can't find one — is unemployed. If you accept that definition, the true unemployment rate in the U.S. is a stunning 26.1%, according to an important new dataset shared exclusively with "Axios on HBO."

Why it matters: The official unemployment rate is artificially depressed by excluding people who might be earning only a few dollars a week. It also excludes anybody who has stopped looking for work or is discouraged by a lack of jobs or by the demands of child care during the coronavirus crisis.

GRAPH: True and official unemployment, Jan. 2000 to Sept. 2020

Fix America by Undoing Decades of Privatization

[The Atlantic, October 11, 2020]

Investing in public infrastructure should be at the center of a 21st-century civil-rights agenda…. When I refer to public infrastructure, I mean something much more expansive than roads and bridges; I mean the full range of goods, services, and investments needed for communities to thrive: physical utilities such as water, parks, and transit; basics such as housing, child care, and health care; and economic safety-net supports such as food stamps and unemployment insurance. But under America’s reigning ideology, public infrastructure like this is seen as costly, inefficient, outdated, and low-quality, while private alternatives are valorized as more dynamic, efficient, and modern. This ideology is also highly racialized. Universal services open to a multiracial public are vilified, coded in dog-whistle politics as an undeserved giveaway to communities of color at the expense of white constituents. The result has been a systematic defunding of public infrastructure since the 1970s….

On an economic score alone, massive investments in public infrastructure would pay off. Every dollar invested in transit infrastructure generates at least $3.70 in returns through new jobs, reduced congestion, and increased productivity, without accounting for the environmental and health benefits. For each dollar invested in early-childhood education, the result is $8.60 worth of economic benefit largely through reductions in crime and poverty. A universal health-care system would save Americans more than $2 trillion in health-care costs (even accounting for the increased public expenditure that would be needed) while securing access to life-saving care for more than 30 million Americans. The fact that federal and state governments fail to make these investments is not a matter of limited resources, but rather of skewed priorities. The 2017 Trump tax cuts of $1.9 trillion sent most of its gains to corporations and the wealthiest Americans….

Robert Lighthizer Blew Up 60 Years of Trade Policy. Nobody Knows What Happens Next. 

[Pro Publica, via Naked Capitalism 10-14-20]

Lighthizer’s divergence from conservative orthodoxy began in the 1990s, when the Republican Party left him, and embraced the orthodoxy that globalization and national specialization were all to the good.

After leaving government, Lighthizer joined Skadden Arps Meagher & Flom, becoming a heavy-hitting tax lobbyist known for his deep expertise and quick wit. As the tax revision wars wound down, he refocused on trade, representing a coalition of American steel companies charging foreign competitors with benefitting from unfair practices like government subsidies. Lighthizer became known as the unofficial king of “the petitioners bar,” lawyers who argued cases before the government entities that enforce trade rules. It was hardly a glamorous field. Moving plants to cheaper locales all over the world was rapidly becoming the default setting for American companies, and plenty of attorneys were making good money helping them do it.

“The message Bob had was not one that the big business groups were supportive of,” said Terry Stewart, a longtime trade lawyer who worked with Lighthizer. “That led to a failure of the mainstream business community and economists and politicians to recognize the challenges that led to the disenfranchisement of blue collar workers.”

India’s Big Bad Billionaires Are United in Their Arrogance, Entitlement and Disdain for Laws 

[The Wire, via Naked Capitalism 10-12-20]

News media

Here’s a list of the 10 greatest works of journalism of the past 10 years. Care to argue about it? 

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 10-17-20]

There’s a new ranking from the New York University’s Carter Journalism Institute looking at the decade 2010-2019, intended to “honor really great work that has already stood the test of time.” 

1. Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” the Atlantic.

The judges, 14 outside judges and 24 NYU faculty members, called it “the most powerful essay of its time.” Published in 2014, “it influenced the public conversation so much that it became a necessary topic in the presidential debate.” (Coates is a writer in residence at NYU; he did not participate in the judging.)

The judges called this 2010 book “a masterwork by one of our greatest writers and most diligent reporters. . . . essential reading to understand America.”

Economic Armageddon: The COVID Collapsed Economy

How Biden Can Jump-Start Recovery Before Becoming President

David Dayen, October 15, 2020 [The American Prospect]

….news outlets have gotten around to reporting what I said a week ago, that Mitch McConnell has given up on the 2020 election, and wants mostly to deny Joe Biden a smooth start to his presidency by immiserating millions of people, as part of a pivot to austerity that would foster a 2022 comeback. Bloomberg catches a GOP advisor making this case, and there’s more from Greg Sargent.

This strategy didn’t exactly work out well for the Republicans of the 1930s, but McConnell did pull it off to an extent after the financial crisis of 2008. So do we have FDR coming into the White House, or Barack Obama? And what can be done for the 8 million people who have fallen into poverty since May and the millions more suffering from food insecurity, in the now-certain absence of an agreement?

McConnell’s “Skinny” Relief Bill Might Not Even Be a Bill

David Dayen, October 16, 2020 [The American Prospect]

In other words, the bill McConnell’s bringing on Monday is likely to be a fake bill. Nothing about his process is sincere, because he doesn’t want to provide an ounce of help to a future Joe Biden presidency, and is indeed seeding the ground for a snap return to austerity and fiscal probity. You don’t need Nancy Pelosi doing whatever Nancy Pelosi does to tell that story.

And just to be clear: Pelosi and the Democrats set the stage for this in March by passing inadequate relief that ended before the national emergency, and giving up their leverage. I get why people are angry that nothing can be done now, but… nothing can be done now.

[Twitter below, via Naked Capitalism 10-13-20]


Predatory Finance

New Book Proves U.S. Is Living Under a Disastrous Banking Model from a Century Ago
Pam Martens and Russ Martens: October 13, 2020 [Wall Street on Parade]

….Written by Arthur E. Wilmarth, Jr. and titled Taming the Megabanks: Why We Need a New Glass-Steagall Act, the book brilliantly takes the reader through a riveting guided tour covering the past century and the resurrection of this same disastrous U.S. banking model in 1999…. We can envision it becoming one of the most important works of this century in providing the impetus for Congress to finally restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the 1933 to 1999 law that mandated the separation of stock trading and stock underwriting firms from federally-insured, deposit-taking banks. That legislation protected the U.S. financial system for 66 years. It took just nine years after its repeal for the universal banks on Wall Street to blow up the financial system in a replay of 1929…. 

If You’re Baffled as to Why JPMorgan Chase’s Board Hasn’t Sacked Jamie Dimon as the Bank Racked Up 5 Felony Counts – Here’s Your Answer
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, October 12, 2020 [Wall Street on Parade]

For years we’ve been trying to figure out why JPMorgan’s Board of Directors hasn’t sacked its Chairman and CEO, Jamie Dimon, as the bank racked up two felony counts in 2014 for its failure to alert U.S. regulators to glaring red flags in the bank account it held for Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme; one felony count in 2015 for rigging foreign exchange markets; and two more felony counts just last month for rigging the precious metals and U.S. Treasury market. (The bank admitted to all five counts.) In addition, the bank came under another criminal investigation in 2012 and 2013 when it lost $6 billion of its bank depositors’ money gambling in credit derivatives in London (the London Whale scandal).

Turns out Jamie Dimon has been taking very good care of the Directors on his Board and they have been taking very good care of Dimon – turning him into a billionaire, notwithstanding the worst criminal record of any major  bank in the history of the United States.

The JPMorgan Chase Board of Directors has a stunning number of incestuous conflicts of interest, few of which have not been properly spelled out to shareholders. Others have never been mentioned to shareholders.

Take the case of Stephen Burke, the current Chairman of NBCUniversal and former CEO of NBCUniversal from 2011 to 2019. Burke has sat on the Board of JPMorgan Chase since 2004 as a fixture on the bank’s Compensation and Management Development Committee which has turned Dimon into a billionaire despite the trail of felony counts, criminal fines and scandals under his “leadership.” Also for the past 16 years, Burke has sat on the Board’s Corporate Governance and Nominating Committee and is currently its Chair.

Information Age Dystopia

The Man Who Speaks Softly—and Commands a Big Cyber Army 

[Wired, via The Big Picture 10-17-20]

Meet General Paul Nakasone. He reined in chaos at the NSA and taught the US military how to launch pervasive cyberattacks. And he did it all without you noticing. 

“Thousands of Mathematicians Join Boycott Against Police Collaboration” [Shadowproof, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-14-20]

“Over 2,000 mathematicians have signed a letter agreeing to boycott all collaboration with police, and insisting their colleagues do the same. They are organizing a wide base of mathematicians in the hopes of cutting off police technologies at their source. The letter’s authors cite ‘deep concerns over the use of machine learning, AI, and facial recognition technologies to justify and perpetuate oppression.’ Predictive policing is one key area where some mathematicians and scientists have enabled the racist algorithms now animating broken-windows policing, which tell cops to treat specific areas as “hotspots” for potential crime. Activists have long criticized the bias inherent in these practices. Algorithms trained on data produced by racist policing will reproduce that prejudice to ‘predict’ where crime will be committed and who is potentially criminal. ‘The data does not speak for itself, it’s not neutral,’ explains Brendan McQuade, author of Pacifying the Homeland: Intelligence Fusion and Mass Supervision. Police data is ‘dirty data,’ because it does not represent crime, but policing and arrests. ‘So what are its predictions going to find? That police should deploy their resources in the same place police have traditionally deployed their resources.'”

Climate and environmental crises​​​​​​​

In Mexico, Cross-Border Fight Over Water Erupts 

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 10-15-20]

The farmers armed themselves with sticks, rocks and homemade shields, ambushed hundreds of soldiers guarding a dam and seized control of one of the border region’s most important bodies of water.

The Mexican government was sending water — their water — to Texas, leaving them next to nothing for their thirsty crops, the farmers said. So they took over the dam and have refused to allow any of the water to flow to the United States for more than a month.

“This is a war,” said Victor Velderrain, a grower who helped lead the takeover, “to survive, to continue working, to feed my family.”

The standoff is the culmination of longstanding tensions over water between the United States and Mexico that have recently exploded into violence, pitting Mexican farmers against their own president and the global superpower next door.

“Over Half of the People Who Used to Grow Crops Here Can’t Do It Anymore”

[The New Republic, October 16, 2020]

Canyon de Chelly, part of Navajo Nation lands in Arizona, has been suffering from worsening droughts.

Disrupting mainstream politics

Why Are Democrats So Afraid to Say Fracking Is Bad?

[The New Republic, October 8, 2020]

I Note the Absence of a Quorum: Three Republican Senators in quarantine due to COVID-19 gives Democrats some new options.

David Dayen, 

Dayen explains how the Senate rules requiring a physical quorum would allow the Democrats to completely shut down all Senate business — if they really wanted to. 

Why Liberals Pretend They Have No Power 

[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 10-11-20]

This tension underscores a deeper paradox of liberalism that has arguably reached its apex in the Trump era. Since the president’s election four years ago, the political and intellectual leaders of America’s supposedly reform-minded opposition have issued warnings about the existential threat that Trump poses to democracy. Amid it all, senior Democrats have mostly maintained both the regular operation of government and a standard of congressional etiquette that connotes normalcy more than it does any state of exception: applauding the president’s speeches, approving his military budgets, awarding him new domestic spying powers, and even fast-tracking his judicial nominees. A line from one 2019 CNBC report detailing the overwhelming House approval of Trump’s marquee NAFTA renegotiation sums up the absurdity of this posture: “Democrats also wanted to show they can work with Trump only a day after they voted to make him the third president impeached in American history.” Determined opposition to Trump has sometimes been so nonexistent that Democratic partisans have had to invent it, as when an image of Pelosi during the 2019 State of the Union address went viral on the entirely spurious grounds that the speaker had intended for her clapping to look sarcastic….

The contradictory posturing of today’s most powerful liberals is not fully attributable to the shock and disorientation brought about by the 2016 election; its roots go back to the Clinton era at least—the period (not incidentally) when Democratic leaders formally abandoned their commitment to the New Deal and absorbed key parts of a Republican agenda.

Trump’s America Remains Stuck in the Shadow of Reagan 

[Boston Review, via Naked Capitalism 10-11-20]

….Trump’s most enduring deformation of U.S. political life may derive from his slavish devotion to unchecked corporate power and his work in further consolidating power in the hands of a few billionaires. As Christian Lorentzen recently wrote in Bookforum, the Republican Party under Trump should primarily be understood as “an electoral entity that reliably obtains tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation for big business, increased budgets for the military, and little of anything else for anyone else.”

How did the United States end up here? How did a country that prides itself on the opposing concentration of power—on extensive checks and balances—end up generating a corporate autocracy so complete that it is nearly impossible to imagine its end? Any attempt to understand and dismantle this current regime must begin with an appreciation of how it evolved in the first place. On this front, historian Rick Perlstein’s new book, Reaganland: America’s Right Turn 1976–1980 (2020), provides invaluable context, alongside a timely reminder that this political development is still quite new.

[Twitter below, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-12-20]


Amy Coney Barrett: Republicans cross the Rubicon for final assault on republicanism

“Amy Coney Barrett’s Judicial Neutrality Is a Political Fiction”

[Eric Levitz, New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-13-20]

“Barrett is hardly unique in selling herself as a disinterested umpire. Justices both left and right have offered the Senate similar avowals of judicial modesty. But as a self-described ‘originalist,’ Trump’s nominee puts exceptional weight on her supposedly disinterested adherence to the ‘original public meaning’ of the U.S. Constitution.”

Lambert Strether summarizes: “This is a good assult on originalism by Levitz. What I don’t see is why Democrats don’t have ideological litmus tests for nominees. They will focus on cases (Roe) but never on judicial philosophy. The baseline attitude is: If you’ve got the credentials, you’re good to go. Why is it not possible to say (for example) “I will never vote for a member recommended by the Federalist Society, because their jurisprudence is antithetical everything I think this country should be about”? One imagines today’s Democrats, at Roger Taney’s confirmation hearings, making sure he went to the right school, but never asking him about slavery.”

Senator Whitehouse Named Names in Dark Money Tutorial at Amy Barrett’s Confirmation Hearing

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, October 14, 2020 [Wall Street on Parade]

The Whitehouse tutorial was a summation of a 29-page treatise by Whitehouse that appeared earlier this year in the Harvard Law School Journal on Legislation. That article provides an in-depth look at how dark money has plied its corporate agenda to steal representative government from the American people.

If you are searching for answers as to how America arrived at this perilous moment in time and how to change the future course for our nation, we strongly encourage you to watch the video below, then read the full article by Whitehouse.

In Whitehouse’s presentation yesterday, he called out the Judicial Crisis Network, saying it had received two anonymous $17 million donations to put right wing justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. Noting that the funds could have come from the same individual, Whitehouse said: “Someone spent $35 million to influence the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court – tell me that’s good.”

Whitehouse repeatedly invoked the name of Donors Trust as well as its affiliated Donors Capital Fund, two dark money groups that allow the super wealthy to peddle influence anonymously.



Climate Denial Is Disqualifying 

David Sirota, October 16, 2020

To understand how judges’ views about science can shape their rulings, consider the precedent-setting 2007 ruling Massachusetts v. EPA.

In that case, environmental groups backed by the state of Massachusetts asked the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate automobiles’ greenhouse gases. George W. Bush’s EPA countered that it lacked authority “to regulate new vehicle emissions because carbon dioxide is not an ‘air pollutant,’” and it asserted that plaintiffs had no standing to even bring such climate cases in the first place.

The court’s ruling for Massachusetts was anchored in its acceptance of science. The majority ruled that yes, climate change has “resulted from a significant increase in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.” The majority then declared that the state has standing in court because “EPA’s steadfast refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions presents a risk of harm to Massachusetts.”

This angered Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who had advocated limiting environmental groups’ access to the courts since the 1980s. In the Massachusetts v. EPA case, he issued his own dissenting opinion that employed climate denial to try to argue that Massachusetts had no standing.

Republicans Have Already Packed the Courts. It’s Up To Democrats How To Rebalance Them.

David Atkins, October 10, 2020 [WashingtonMonthly, via Naked Capitalism 10-12-20]
It is Republicans who have spent the last six years “packing” the courts. Republicans in the Senate mounted a historic blockade of President Obama’s judicial nominees during the final two years of his second term, resulting in shortages on federal benches and backlogs in cases, all in the hopes of leaving them open for a Republican president. Republican Senate Leader McConnell has been laughing about it for years, considering it finest accomplishment. Most crucial was the refusal by McConnell to even allow a hearing for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland….

The result of the Republican strategy has been a historic packing of the courts by ultra-conservative activist judges. As of this writing, Trump and the Republican Senate have confirmed an astonishing 218 federal judges, mostly conservative white men, many of them deeply unqualified far-right activists with little judicial experience. These judges have altered the balance not only of the Supreme Court, but also myriad lower circuit courts. These judges are not just temperamentally and philosophically conservative: most are committed Republican partisans, approved by the arch-right Federalist Society, and subscribe to a view of the Constitution in Exile premised on the belief that essentially every progressive reform since the New Deal and even Teddy Roosevelt has been an unconstitutional infringement on corporate and property rights. It is a degree of far-right judicial radicalism that most Americans barely begin to appreciate, only because the cases challenging long settled law have only just begun to wind their way through the courts.

The left is ideologically and philosophically incapable [see pdf by Philip Mirowski “Hell Is Truth Seen Too Late”] of dealing with this cultural warfare by the right. There must be a clear explanation of the philosophy of government - what should government do, and how should government do it? Socialists and Marxists generally believe that once private property is abolished, and it is no longer possible to exploit other people through property relations, there will be no need for government anymore. So, the Chicago boys, Ayn Rand acolytes, the Koch libertarians, have simply demolished the left in the political combat of the past half century. As Mirowski, Corey Robin, and just a few others have tried to expIain, neoliberals do NOT envision the complete subordination of the state to the market economy; rather, they very sneakily redefine the role of the state as the enforcer of the market economy. I have concluded that the ideas and principles of classical republicanism must be revived, especially that any concentration of wealth and economic power is dangerous and must be dismantled, and the idea of civic virtue - that a citizen has a civic duty to set aside their own self interest when it conflicts with the General Welfare.

“The radical mysticism of identitarian reductionism”
[Carl Beijer, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-12-20]
“It is hard to overstate how historically and ideologically bizarre — how breathtaking in its counterintuition and metaphysical ambition — this doctrine of identitarian reductionism actually is. This is not just the usual identitarian claim that there are causal forces in our politics that cannot, ultimately, be traced back to the material economy. This is a second declaration: that somehow, the material economy is not also playing a role in our politics. At all. The fear, misery, and bitterness of poverty; the anxiety over one’s precarious standing in the so-called middle class; the insular luxury and jealous ambition of wealth; the concentration of wealth, the evaporation of jobs, and so on — none of this, evidently, plays any role whatsoever in the emergence of demographic tribalism, in interpersonal attitudes, in voting behavior, and so on. This is obviously not the socialist position, but it is not even an ordinary capitalist position.”

[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 10-12-20]

The Dark Side

The Crisis of Conservatism 

[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 10-12-20]

John Micklethwait is editor in chief of Bloomberg, and Adrian Wooldridge is the political editor of the Economist, so this is an interesting look at the current state of mind of leading “conservative” functionaries of the financial oligarchy. Yeah, it sucks, but it is good practice to know what you’re enemy is thinking. 

The right has been the natural party of government in America and Britain for four decades. Now it needs to reinvent itself….

Will a new conservatism emerge? Perhaps, but only once it comes to terms with the two great themes of our age. The first, equality and fairness, is often tough territory for the right. The left’s call to punish the rich is a powerful one, particularly in an age of monopolistic tech tycoons and tax-dodging hedge funders. But conservatives can argue that the best way to include those who had been left behind is to grow the economy, and that the best way to advance non-discrimination is through meritocracy and equality of opportunity rather than affirmative action and equality of results.

Trump Built His Swamp In A Marsh Of Legalized Corruption

David Sirota, October 12, 2020

Trump’s corruption illustrates the kleptocratic system created by a judiciary that would become even worse with Amy Barrett on the Supreme Court….

The Times says that this is “the swamp that Trump built” — but the insinuation is a bit off. Yes, Trump certainly built his own egregiously rancid bog that needs to be drained in this election. However, he built it inside a giant wetland of graft that was constructed by a series of court rulings and enforcement policies that have effectively legalized corruption.

David Sirota, October 12, 2020

Inside the Republican Plot for Permanent Minority Rule: How the GOP keeps cheating its way into power—and may get away with it again in 2020

[The New Republic, October 15, 2020]

“There Are Mechanisms to Move Him Out”: Biden’s Campaign Is Prepping For Worst-Case Scenario: Trump Refusing to Concede” 

[Vanity Fair, via Naked Capitalism 10-17-20]

“Though Biden’s polling lead has stayed constant, internal numbers showing a tight race have kept anxiety high.”

“Trump in trouble? Rank-and-file Republicans are as confident as ever of victory”

[McClatchy, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-15-20]

“Far outside the political media centers of Washington, D.C. and New York, the Trump voters who propelled the reality TV star to a shock victory in 2016 once again see him on a glide path to victory that will stupefy only a hostile media and out-of-touch elites. The frenzied crowds he’s attracting as he returns to the trail and the Trump banners flying in their neighborhoods measure enthusiasm that can’t be accurately tracked by surveys, they argue. The cascade of negative stories from his downplaying of the pandemic to his private insults of military service members are shrugged off or disbelieved. And remember how wrong many of the state-based polls were last time? They certainly do… An alarmingly visceral and hardened distrust of the media among Republicans has created a parallel political universe around the country: One where a Trump defeat is almost unfathomable, especially when that possibility is perpetuated by sources they have viewed as hostile for the last four years.”

“These 3 White Women Voted for Trump in 2016—Here’s Why They’ve Flipped” [Vogue, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-15-20]

“Vogue spoke with three white female voters—a young professional, an executive approaching retirement, and a wife and mother in a conservative military community, all of whom requested anonymity—about why they voted for Trump in 2016…. Over the past four years, this is going to sound weird, because it goes against what I said previously, he really embarrassed me to be an American on a national and international stage. I traveled a lot for work. America used to be the biggest world power. Now we’re a laughingstock….. I already voted for Joe Biden. My husband is high-risk, so we did absentee ballots. It felt really good. It wasn’t a party issue. It was, “I got to vote for somebody who’s not a bad guy.” It’s starting to feel like a dictatorship, where the guy living in the big house on the hill is just going to do what he wants to do. No matter what, this is a democracy…. Yes, I do like the economy piece, but I also care about professionalism. I care about the bedside manner. I care that when my president speaks, he’s not offending masses of marginalized people. I couldn’t even listen to Trump. He just was so ugly and not what I think of when I think of a leader, someone like Barack Obama or even George Bush. • Worth reading in full; there’s a lot to unpack. (The women are social media manager, an HR executive, and an engineer.)

“Government Of, By, and For the Elite” (interview)

[Chris Arnade and J.D. Vance, American Compass]. Interviewer: Oren Cass, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-15-20]

This one nugget from Arnade is interesting: “I think of Michael Lind’s book [The New Class War] talking about how populism basically fails because it doesn’t have people to staff it. The machine—I don’t want to use the term “deep state” because I don’t think that’s fair, but—our ruling bureaucracy embraces free markets and austerity and all those things that drove people toward Trump. The irony is, Trump is a politician who defines himself by what he’s against, and he was very fortunate to have Jeb Bush as his opposition in 2016, so that he could run against that consensus. Then the reality is, four years later, he ends up being basically a Jeb Bush conservative in how he legislates. So if he loses, I think that’s why: He didn’t deliver; he didn’t fight the consensus, certainly not economically. I think that really matters. I want to keep emphasizing this because it’s just something that it’s really hard for me to communicate, how disinterested a lot of people are in this whole process because they don’t really see a difference. The only difference they see is cultural, and that’s why it’s very frustrating.”

Lambert Strether adds: “I think Sanders would have faced what Trump faced: A professional services strike by the PMC. I suppose one way to look at 2020 is that the PMC achieved class consciousness — in and through the Democrat Party — in reaction to Clinton’s defeat in 2016 (I use the word reaction quite deliberately). The interview as a whole is interesting, but both Arnade and Vance treat politics as bipolar — and it is, it is! — by confusing the Left and liberals.

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