Sunday, January 9, 2022

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 9, 2022

 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 9, 2022

by Tony Wikrent


Strategic Political Economy

Yes, Maggie, There Is Such a Thing as “Society”

Lambert Strether, January 3, 2022 [Naked Capitalism]


The Iron Lady, the late Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thacher, famously remarked: “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”

In this short and simple post, I will show that we can prove Thatcher wrong, using what we have learned about airborne transmission in the current pandemic. First, I will present an experiment, and then I will show why it is disproves Thatcher (and, if one should wish to undertake the task, a lot of libertarian and libertarian-adjacent foofra about “methodological individualism” as well, although that is a task for another day).

First, the experiment. (I am using The Asahi Shimbun‘s coverage; here is the original study.) Here is a photo of the setup….

Now, let’s reframe the experiment as a model, the sort of simple model that pseudo-Nobel prize-winning economists construct. Let’s model “interactive coexistence” of humans or “persistent social interaction” as two mannequins locked in a box together, sharing air. This is, in fact, not as far-fetched a model of humanity as it seems at first. We are an indoor species:

“We spend more time in our homes, than whales spend submerged beneath the surface of the ocean,” said Dr. Richard Corsi of Portland State University, who has studied indoor air quality for 30 years. “The average American lives to 79 and spends 70 of those 79 years inside buildings.”

And unless we are Ted Kaczynski, in solitary confinement, leaving on the street, or Simeon Stylites — all surely edge cases — we spend our time indoors with others, sharing air. In other words, breathing is a social relation[2]. We have the most material social relationship possible — sharing air — between two individuals, and they do not have to be family. Ergo, Maggie Thatcher is wrong….

It’s interesting to rethink the arguments for “freedom” — a word, though not a concept, I am coming to loathe — in terms of seat belts or cigarette smoking. Ultimately, seat belts became mandatory, and cigarette smoking in shared air was forbidden. Auto accidents and cancer weren’t multiplying exponentially in the space of days, however….


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 1-7-2022]

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“The liberty of local bullies”

Noah Smith [Noahpinion, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-4-2021]

“I have often remarked in the past how libertarianism – at least, its modern American manifestation – is not really about increasing liberty or freedom as an average person would define those terms. An ideal libertarian society would leave the vast majority of people feeling profoundly constrained in many ways. This is because the freedom of the individual can be curtailed not only by the government, but by a large variety of intermediate powers like work bosses, neighborhood associations, self-organized ethnic movements, organized religions, tough violent men, or social conventions. In a society such as ours, where the government maintains a nominal monopoly on the use of physical violence, there is plenty of room for people to be oppressed by such intermediate powers, whom I call ‘local bullies.’ The modern American libertarian ideology does not deal with the issue of local bullies. In the world envisioned by Nozick, Hayek, Rand, and other foundational thinkers of the movement, there are only two levels to society – the government (the ‘big bully’) and the individual. If your freedom is not being taken away by the biggest bully that exists, your freedom is not being taken away at all.”



How The Meltdown Became An Insurrection: January 6th is not an anomaly — it is part of a larger story. 

David Sirota, January 6, 2022 [DailyPoster]

The Republican Party is now a corporate-sponsored insurrection creeping through right-wing media, state legislatures, and Congress.

Democrats’ stunned, deer-in-headlights reaction to that insurrection’s January 6th riot — and the belated fears about the end of democracy — only underscore that they remain totally out of touch with the political environment their party was complicit in creating. Their shock also illustrates how oblivious they are to the erosion of democracy that’s been going on for a half century.

At its core, the January 6th insurrection was the weaponized manifestation of virulent anti-government sentiment in a putatively democratic country where a majority has not trusted its own government for two decades, according to the Pew Research Center polls….

Let’s remember: The ideological crusade against government has always been a part of American politics. But it really began coalescing in modern form in the late 1970s when conservative demagogues, moguls, and business interests began building a movement to demonize public institutions — and to insist as Ronald Reagan did that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.’”

When these right-wing forces gained power, they enacted policies that turned their ideology into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tax cuts for the wealthy starved government institutions of resources, and when those hobbled agencies then delivered worse services, Republican politicians cited those failures to justify even more budget-starving tax cuts, privatization, and deregulation.

Conservatives tilled this bumper crop of anti-government resentment in soil made fertile by a liberal establishment that was at the time discarding the proven political formula of Franklin Roosevelt….

As economic inequality grew to levels not seen since the before the Great Depression, the topline message to millions of Americans over decades has been clear: Despite saccharine campaign speeches to the contrary, and despite some begrudging policy improvements at the margins, governmental leaders have been telling us that they are at best uninterested in aiding most people unless it enriches their donors. More often, they are actively hostile to helping anyone other than the rich and powerful….



The American polity is cracked, and might collapse. Canada must prepare 

Thomas Homer-Dixon [Globe and Mail, via Naked Capitalism 1-5-2022]

I’m a scholar of violent conflict. For more than 40 years, I’ve studied and published on the causes of war, social breakdown, revolution, ethnic violence and genocide, and for nearly two decades I led a centre on peace and conflict studies at the University of Toronto.

Today, as I watch the unfolding crisis in the United States, I see a political and social landscape flashing with warning signals.

I’m not surprised by what’s happening there – not at all. During my graduate work in the United States in the 1980s, I sometimes listened to Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing radio talk show host and later television personality. I remarked to friends at the time that, with each broadcast, it was if Mr. Limbaugh were wedging the sharp end of a chisel into a faint crack in the moral authority of U.S. political institutions, and then slamming the other end of that chisel with a hammer.

In the decades since, week after week, year after year, Mr. Limbaugh and his fellow travellers have hammered away – their blows’ power lately amplified through social media and outlets such as Fox News and Newsmax. The cracks have steadily widened, ramified, connected and propagated deeply into America’s once-esteemed institutions, profoundly compromising their structural integrity. The country is becoming increasingly ungovernable, and some experts believe it could descend into civil war….

According to Harvard’s renowned sociologist and political scientist Theda Skocpol, in the early 2000s fringe elements of the Republican party used disciplined tactics and enormous streams of money (from billionaires like the Koch brothers) to turn extreme laissez-faire ideology into orthodox Republican dogma….

This is why Mr. Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him – a falsehood that nearly 70 per cent of Republicans now accept as true – is such potent anti-democratic poison. If the other side is willing to steal an election, then they don’t play by the rules. They’ve placed themselves outside the American moral community, which means they don’t deserve to be treated as equals. There’s certainly no reason to concede power to them, ever.

Willingness to publicly endorse the Big Lie has become a litmus test of Republican loyalty to Mr. Trump. This isn’t just an ideological move to promote Republican solidarity against Democrats. It puts its adherents one step away from the psychological dynamic of extreme dehumanization that has led to some of the worst violence in human history. 


Covid and China’s Victory

Ian Welsh, January 6, 2022

In the West, with some minor exceptions, Covid was treated as a profit event. It was a way for the richest and most powerful to become even more rich and powerful. That millions would die and millions more would be crippled (Long Covid rates seem somewhere between 10 to 20% depending on definitions) was secondary to the possibility of funneling more power and wealth to those who already had the most. Billionaires, just one group among elites have seen their wealth double during the pandemic.

China, or more accurately, the Chinese Communist Party did not treat the pandemic primarily as being about internal competition. To them it was important that large numbers of citizens did not die, and were not disabled.

This means that China will come out of this stronger than the West, because the economy fundamentally and always is people, and there’s aren’t mass-disabled and/or dead, plus the legitimacy of the ruling class, rather than being reduced by their pandemic response has been increased….

Covid pretty much proves that barring outside shocks, China has already won the hegemonic competition between it and the US. Oh, it’ll have to play out, but the CCP governs its country basically competently, and US elites are fools who let their society’s power run down.

America’s military superiority, in the face of nukes and the Russia/China alliance is insufficient to alter this fact. China has the industry, it has more competent government and its government’s legitimacy is riding high while the legitimacy of the West is in tatters...


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Interview: Ryan Petersen, founder and CEO of Flexport 

Noah Smith [Noahpinion, via Naked Capitalism 1-3-2022]

...Ryan Petersen, the founder and CEO of the supply chain software company Flexport, took a trip around the port of Long Beach and tweeted about a specific outdated regulation that was holding up the flow of goods….

Petersen:

In my opinion, what’s caused all the supply chain bottlenecks is modern finance’s obsession with Return on Equity (ROE). To show great ROE, almost every CEO stripped their company of all but the bare minimum of assets. “Just-in-time” everything with no excess capacity, no strategic reserves, no cash on the balance sheet and minimal investment in R&D. We stripped the shock absorbers out of the economy in pursuit of better short-term metrics. Large businesses are supposed to be more stable and resilient than small ones, and an economy built around giant corporations like America’s should be more resilient to shocks. However, the obsession with ROE means that no company was prepared for the inevitable hundred-year storms. Now as we’re facing a hundred-year storm of demand, our infrastructure simply can’t keep up.

Most global logistics companies have no excess capacity, there are no reserves of chassis, no extra shipping containers, no extra yard space, no extra warehouse capacity. Brands have no extra inventory and manufacturers don’t keep any extra components or raw materials on hand.

And let’s not forget the human aspect of the workforce that makes this all happen. A lot of companies in the industry haven't invested in taking care of their people, especially during market downturns, so now they can't staff up quickly to meet surging demand.

Lambert Strether added: “What Yves (for years) has been calling “tight coupling.” “


Billionaires Should Not Exist — Here’s Why 

[Teen Vogue, via Naked Capitalism 1-2-2022]

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez explains how the ultra-rich can be seen as beneficiaries of an unjust economic system where she says billionaires don’t make money, they take money. It’s impossible to have that much money without profiting off of other people's lack of it. Even if individuals are only implicated discreetly, the capitalist class generates profits upwards by denying workers a living wage, engaging in exploitative labor practices (directly or indirectly along the supply chain), ensuring that medicine and health care costs remain high, or lobbying for or even simply benefitting from favorable taxation policies and cushy government subsidies. Wealth is also able to accumulate via close proximity to power, with corporate connections leading to elected office, or merely allowing people to use their influential status to set the agenda according to their own interests. This is known as plutocracy, or rule by the rich, and it undermines democracy. It’s no coincidence that Donald Trump’s landmark 2017 tax cuts were driven largely by big business and helped billionaires pay less than the working class for the first time. When the capitalist class is able to write the rulebook and lobby for preferential tax rates, it’s virtually impossible to achieve social and economic reform in a way that is meaningful to the majority of working- and middle-class Americans.


They're not capitalists - they're a criminal predatory class

Fintech Is a Scam — A Listicle in Eight Parts 

Cory Doctorow [Marker, via Naked Capitalism 1-3-2022]

Fintech uses some combination of the following eight tactics to transfer money from investors and users to the finance sector:

I. Disguise the true function. For example, supply-chain finance exploits disclosure rules so it can treat debts as accounts payable, disguising unsecured personal finance as a secure business, leading to spectacular losses….

II. Mask the true economics. How do you make a 26% APR look reasonable? Both BNPL and supply-chain finance manage it….

IV. Exploit and expand regulatory blind-spots. Fintech boosters have convinced regulators that they need “regulatory sandboxes” to “innovate in.” ….

VI. Obscure risks. Use “soft credit checks.” Lend money to your shareholders. Borrow against non-existent future revenues. Use short-term funding mechanisms (like supply-chain finance) for long-term capital expenditures. Engage in large, “related party” transactions, where two closely related entities trade money back and forth.


Meet Jed Rakoff, the Judge Who Exposed the “Rigged Game” 

Matt Taibbi [via Naked Capitalism 1-6-2022]

On November 27, 2011, a federal judge named Jed Rakoff threw out a $285 million regulatory settlement between Citigroup and the Securities and Exchange Commission, blasting it as “neither fair, nor reasonable, nor adequate, nor in the public interest.” The S.E.C. and Citigroup were stunned. Expecting to see their malodorous deal wrapped up, the parties were instead directed “to be ready to try this case” the following summer.

Try a case? Was the judge kidding? A pattern had long ago been established in which mega-companies like Citigroup that were implicated in serious offenses would be let off with slaps on the wrist, by soft-touch regulators who expected judges to play ball. These officials in many cases were private sector hotshots doing temporary tours as regulators, denizens of the revolving door biding time before parachuting back into lucrative corporate defense jobs. A judge who refused to sign the settlements such folks engineered was derailing everyone’s gravy train.


There’s a News Blackout on the Fed’s Naming of the Banks that Got Its Emergency Repo Loans; Some Journalists Appear to Be Under Gag Orders

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, January 3, 2022 [Wall Street on Parade]

Four days ago, the Federal Reserve released the names of the banks that had received $4.5 trillion in cumulative loans in the last quarter of 2019 under its emergency repo loan operations for a liquidity crisis that has yet to be credibly explained. Among the largest borrowers were JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, three of the Wall Street banks that were at the center of the subprime and derivatives crisis in 2008 that brought down the U.S. economy. That’s blockbuster news. But as of 7 a.m. this morning, not one major business media outlet has reported the details of the Fed’s big reveal.

On September 17, 2019, the Fed began making trillions of dollars a month in emergency repo loans to 24 trading houses on Wall Street. The Fed released on a daily basis the dollar amounts it was loaning, but withheld the names of the specific banks and how much they had borrowed. This made it impossible for the public to see which Wall Street firms were experiencing the most severe credit crisis.

It was the first time the Fed had intervened in the repo market since the 2008 financial crash – the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The COVID-19 crisis remained months away. The first reported case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was not reported by the CDC until January 20, 2020 and the World Health Organization did not declare a pandemic until March 11, 2020.


The epidemic

COVID, Capitalism, and Collapse: A Roundtable Discussion with NYC Nurses and Teachers 

[Strike Waves, via Naked Capitalism 1-3-2022]


Covid Fueled by Neoliberal Austerity 

[Black Agenda Report, via Naked Capitalism 1-8-2022]


Can OSHA Keep Workers Safe? The Court Hears the Case Tomorrow.
Debbie Berkowitz, January 6, 2022 [The American Prospect]

Berkowitz is former chief of staff at OSHA, now at Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor.

As COVID-19 cases surge to record highs and workplace outbreaks continue to endanger workers and cause labor market disruptions, the Supreme Court has decided to hear its first case in 30 years involving the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). On Friday, the Court will hear arguments on whether a stay should suspend OSHA’s standard requiring large employers to mitigate worker exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 by ensuring that their workers are either vaccinated or masked and tested weekly. The case comes after the Sixth Circuit, in a bipartisan decision in late December, supported the OSHA rule, and lifted a stay imposed earlier by the Fifth Circuit….

Even the justices and staff of the Supreme Court are worried about their exposure and require that all attorneys arguing before the Court undergo a PCR test the morning before a case is heard. If they test positive, they cannot argue in person. Furthermore, all attorneys must wear the most protective masks. Without the OSHA standard, other workers have no such right to be protected from COVID-19.

OSHA issued its COVID-19 emergency temporary standard on November 5th, to be in effect for six months. But on November 7th, the Liberty Justice Center challenged the order in the nation’s most conservative jurisdiction, the Fifth Circuit, and won a stay despite OSHA’s clear statement that over a six-month span the standard would prevent 250,000 hospitalizations and save 6,500 lives. The center is a conservative organization largely funded by right-wing billionaires, and had no previous history of weighing in on OSHA issues. It did, however, have a long track record opposing workers’ ability to advocate collectively in unions.

The Fifth Circuit’s ruling was the first court-ordered stay of an OSHA standard in over 35 years.


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-7-2021]

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Restoring balance to the economy

“Review: How Labor Can Stop ‘The Privatization of Everything’”

[Labor Notes, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-6-2021]

“As private companies have grabbed a bigger share of the $7 trillion spent every year on public services, the impact of privatization on pay, benefits, and income inequality has become more pronounced. In their many case studies, [Dan Cohen and his co-author Allen Mikaelian] show how contracting out has been a win-win for the rich and powerful, but rarely for anyone else…. The authors also show how Democrats have been complicit with Republican office holders in “treating us as mere consumers of public services rather than citizens.” President Bill Clinton ‘found privatization useful for precisely the same reasons that Reagan Republicans had—it gave the appearance that government could be cut without cutting services.’ But the news isn’t all bad: “Between 2003 and 2019, more than 70 U.S. communities were able to take control of local water systems back from private contractors. In Felton, California, city officials created a public co-op to take their local water infrastructure back from the investor-owned California Water Company. In Missoula, Montana, concerned residents and city leaders waged a long but successful battle to buy its waterworks from the Carlyle Group, one of the largest private equity funds in the world.”


Finland ends homelessness and provides shelter for all in need 

[Scoop.me, via Naked Capitalism 1-3-2022]

In Finland, the number of homeless people has fallen sharply. The reason: The country applies the “Housing First” concept. Those affected by homelessness receive a small apartment and counselling – without any preconditions. 4 out of 5 people affected thus make their way back into a stable life. And: All this is cheaper than accepting homelessness.


How California Got So Blue: Liberals owe thanks to two notable progressives who are stepping down from their posts.

Harold Meyerson, January 6, 2021 [The American Prospect]

...Over the past decade, both houses of the California legislature have seen the Democrats in control of between two-thirds and three-fourths of the seats, but the colleague who’s really pushed them to enact life-enhancing changes has been San Diego Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, who announced earlier this week that she was stepping down from her post there.

A former labor leader who once headed the San Diego AFL-CIO, Gonzalez played a key role in pushing the state to set a $15 minimum wage. She authored the acts that grant part-time workers paid leave and enabled farmworkers to qualify for overtime pay. She authored AB-5, which forbade employers from misclassifying their workers as “independent contractors”—for which Uber, Lyft, and their ilk spent a couple hundred million dollars on an initiative campaign that hoodwinked California voters into repealing the act in 2020. She authored laws that strengthened protections against workplace harassment and gender discrimination, and laws that made it easier to vote. And when Tesla’s founder refused to temporarily shut down his factory during the first wave of COVID-19, she tweeted, “F*ck Elon Musk.”

Gonzalez isn’t about to vanish over the horizon, however. By all accounts, she’s preparing to succeed another notable California progressive—Art Pulaski—as head of the state’s two-million-member AFL-CIO. Since Pulaski took the helm of the state’s labor movement in 1996, he’s made it an election-season powerhouse. In tandem with the late Miguel Contreras, who headed the Los Angeles AFL-CIO from 1996 until his death in 2005, Pulaski devised election programs that not only prompted union members to go to the polls and vote for progressives, but also mobilized other potentially progressive communities whose rates of voter participation had been historically low. In particular, the state Federation was among the first groups to identify and devote considerable resources to mobilizing the state’s burgeoning Asian American communities, which today constitute roughly 15 percent of California’s population, and whose support for progressive candidates and causes has at times been as high as 80 percent.


A Million People Sign Petition to Strip Tony Blair of Knighthood 

[Sputnik, via Naked Capitalism 1-8-2022]

Perhaps a petition to strip Bill Clinton of his presidential pension?


Creating new economic potential - science and technology

China’s ‘Artificial Sun’ Just Broke a Major World Record For Plasma Fusion 

Science Alert, via Naked Capitalism 1-8-2022]

Just seven months after it announced a milestone record for plasma fusion, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has absolutely smashed it.

Their 'artificial Sun' tokomak reactor is has maintained a roiling loop of plasma superheated to 120 million degrees Celsius (216 million degrees Fahrenheit) for a gobsmacking 1,056 seconds, the Institute of Plasma Physics reports.


Democrats’ political suicide

A Tale of Two Authoritarians: The appearance of Dick Cheney in the House of Representatives on the anniversary of January 6th helped identify the true villain on the scene 

Matt Taibbi, January 7, 2022

...All those things Trump is rumored to be, Dick Cheney actually is. That’s why it’s so significant that he appeared on the floor of the House yesterday to be slobbered over by the Adam Schiffs and Nancy Pelosis of the world. Dick Cheney did more to destroy democracy in ten minutes of his Vice Presidency than Donald Trump did in four years.

Seeing leading Democrats nuzzling the man George W. Bush called “Iron Ass” summed up the essential problem of the ordinary person trying to find a political home in this landscape. Even if you find the Trump phenomenon troubling, his opposition is not only authoritarian, but organized and armed with the intellectual tools to understand and appreciate how the technological elimination of democracy might be achieved in the 21st century….

Where have we seen this style of intentional line-blurring to justify the expansion of executive authority before? From Cheney, who took emergency politics to places even a sober Joe McCarthy could never have dreamed of. On the pretense that new powers were needed to combat the sweeping global threat whose existence 9/11 supposedly proved, Cheney institutionalized executive assassination, torture, mass surveillance, secret prisons, secret budgeting, and the wholesale elimination of congressional oversight over most of his program, turning the world into what one Pentagon adviser who talked to Seymour Hersh back in the day called a “global free-fire zone.”

It was under Cheney’s watch that we turned into a country that snatched people off the streets all over the world, put them in indefinite detention in an archipelago of secret hell-holes, threatened to rape their family members, and resorted to techniques like “rectal feeding”….

The core principle of Cheney’s politics was protecting his new bureaucracies of murder and open-ended detention from legal challenge. That meant creating structures that were legally invisible. Are you on a watch list? Has the FBI sent out a National Security Letter to your telecom provider? Have you been approved for “lethal action” and put on the “distribution matrix,” a.k.a. the kill list? Courts repeatedly declined to listen to complainants with such questions because the secrecy of the programs made it difficult or impossible to prove they had a cause of action, a perfect Catch-22.


“Joe Biden’s Lobbyists Are Helping Big Pharma Profiteers”

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-6-2021]

“President Joe Biden’s top media buying firm is helping Big Pharma’s efforts to kill his party’s watered-down drug pricing legislation and targeting Senate Democrats up for reelection this year. It’s the latest reminder that for the Beltway consultant class, money is far more important than ideology. While Big Pharma’s allies in Congress have already succeeded in scaling back the Democrats’ drug pricing plan, the provision in Biden’s Build Back Better legislation still represents the party’s most sincere effort to fulfill its longtime promise to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. The idea of allowing the government to negotiate drug prices — like most other high-income countries do — is one of the most popular items in the Biden social agenda bill. Yet, a top Democratic Party media buying firm, Canal Partners Media, is placing ads for drug industry front groups that want to block Democrats from lowering drug prices as promised in the Biden reconciliation bill.”


The risk of a coup in the next US election is greater now than it ever was under Trump 

Lawrence Tribe [Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 1-4-2022]


“The insurrection will be decentralized: The next Jan. 6 will happen in the state houses”

[Salon, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-6-2021]

“A year later, we must again look to our state houses for a preview of what is to come. In key battleground states, Republicans are steadily building toward a future where they can engineer election outcomes. GOP-controlled legislatures are setting the stage for another attempted coup. The next insurrection will be decentralized, coming from our state houses with the sheen of legal authority. If we do nothing to stop their plans, then as the 2024 votes are tallied in our states, the laws and rules governing the process and outcome will have been rewritten for a particular outcome: Republican wins, regardless of the votes. And an arch-conservative Supreme Court could stand poised to thwart a constitutional challenge to this state power grab. We have the opportunity to stop this in its tracks — by pouring resources and attention into key state legislative chambers and races immediately. What we do next for our states could determine the fate of our democracy.”


‘How Civil Wars Start,’ a Warning About the State of the Union

[New York Times 1-3-2022]

America lucked out, Walter says, because “its first modern autocratic president was neither smart nor politically experienced.” She ticks off the risk factors that have already been met here — factionalism, democratic decay, lots of guns. There is also, crucially, a once-dominant group whose members are fearful that their status is slipping away. It isn’t the downtrodden masses that start a civil war, Walter says, but rather what she and her fellow scholars call “sons of the soil.” Their privileged position was once so unquestioned and pervasive that they simply assume it’s their due, and they will take to violence in order to cling to power.

The Critical Power of State Legislatures: A Q&A with David Toscano, the former Democratic leader of the Virginia House of Delegates, on nullification, federalism, voting rights, Glenn Youngkin, and more

Gabrielle Gurley, January 6, 2022 [The American Prospect]

Gurley: Another tool for control, preemption, is used in red states with blue major cities. How will that affect the relationship between states and their major municipalities?

Toscano: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis went after Leon County, which embraced a vaccine mandate. The state sued them saying that they were outside of their authority, the locality couldn’t do what the state wouldn’t permit them to do. The state got a big judgment, almost $4 million, against the county for doing this. But you see it all across the country, where the locality tries to adopt a minimum wage that might be higher than the state’s minimum wage and the state comes in behind it and says, you can’t do that. The state has plenary power over these localities. It ends up resolving itself in court disputes, where federal courts or most likely a state court intervenes to make a decision about what localities can do.


“Jan. 6 shows impunity is the rule for American elites”

Ryan Cooper [The Week, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-6-2021]

“When Lucius Sergius Catilina attempted to overthrow the Roman Republic in 63 BCE, he was hunted down by the military and killed along with all his followers. When Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, invaded England to try to depose Henry IV, he was defeated, beheaded, and his head displayed on the London Bridge. When a group of army officers attempted to overthrow the French Republic in 1961, they were arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned (though some later had their sentences commuted). At the risk of belaboring the obvious, all this happened because of the incumbent government’s self-preservation instinct. States punish insurrectionists both as a signal that sedition won’t be tolerated and to take specific dangerous figures out of play. Historical exceptions to this practice only further the point: When Adolf Hitler attempted a putsch in 1923, for instance, he got off with a slap on the wrist thanks to a sympathetic right-wing judge. A decade later he was chancellor. It’s not hard to imagine what a normal country would do in response to something like Jan. 6. The putschists who stormed the Capitol would be prosecuted, of course, but the principal organizers would get the primary attention of law enforcement. We don’t need medieval barbarities to deter sedition — enforcing existing laws would be just fine…. But America is not a normal country. The low-level chumps, lunatics, and small business owners who made up the bulk of the putschists are being prosecuted, thus far exclusively for relatively minor crimes like trespassing or disorderly conduct. And Trump and other organizers are getting off scot-free…. That, I submit, explains Garland’s refusal to prosecute someone who is certain to try to seize power again if he can: Whenever something awful happens to demonstrate that the U.S. is just another ordinary country with many foibles, or that the political class is full of deranged criminals, the chauvinist instinct is to sweep it under the rug and deny anything is wrong.”


‘THIS IS NOT AN ABERRATION’: JAN. 6 AND AMERICA’S HEART OF DARKNESS

[The Real News Network, January 6, 2022]

In this conversation, Marc and Fletcher Jr. are joined by world-renowned journalist and historian of the American right Rick Perlstein. Perlstein’s most recent book, the fourth in an award-winning series investigating the history of modern American conservatism, is Reaganland: America’s Right Turn 1976–1980. Bill Fletcher Jr. has been an activist since his teen years and previously served as a senior staff person in the national AFL-CIO; he is the former president of TransAfrica Forum, a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, and the author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction, including ‘They’re Bankrupting Us!’ And 20 Other Myths about Unions and The Man Who Fell from the Sky….

Bill Fletcher Jr.:      So I think Marc what’s important about this moment is that we’re looking at a crisis of constitutional democracy. And so we’ve seen the Republican Party morph into a party for dictatorship. A party that embraced the coup attempt of Jan. 6, a party that is encouraging gangs to attack elected officials – Election officials, I should say – As well as voters. And so this is a different kind of moment. This is not a moment simply of a clash of Republicans versus Democrats. It’s not even a clash of the Newt Gingrich Republicans. We’re looking at something different….

Rick Perlstein:       I think that the subject of what the media is missing may be the biggest part of all this. I’ve been trying to pull together my thoughts on the totality of what we’re talking about. This hinge moment for Americans, America’s Republican form of government, small hour Republican, obviously. And I’ve been going back really to the beginning of the American project and theorizing that there’s always been this reactionary minority that believes that the country is theirs to rule.

I mean, it was the slavocracy before the civil war, it was the post Reconstruction attempt to recreate that in all but name. It’s generally been rooted in the South. But one of the most important things in the history I’ve been writing about talking about the right from the ’50s until the present is the nationalization of that Southern anti-democratic, feudalist project….

...if you read Politico and The New York Times and The Washington Post, they’re willing to use the word lie when it comes to Trump now, but basically they’re talking about the upcoming off-year elections as if it’s an election. And not an apocalyptic confrontation between people who believe in the formal raiments of democracy and people who believe that anyone who’s liberal or minority or isn’t part of their tribe is not a legitimate partner in governing the country and is willing to enforce that, as Bill says, through arms, through violence, and the media’s just constitutionally unprepared to think about that….

So we have no organized voice within the Democratic Party who is really naming the stakes with any clarity and aggressiveness that has the power to do something about it, or maybe not. And that’s why we’re on the precipice. And you still have this Adlai Stevenson-Obama strain on the Democratic Party that says the problem is polarization and we’re saying too many mean things about the opposition. And that’s a real problem….

Bill Fletcher Jr.:      So we have at least 70% of the population that has not lost its mind. I mean, that’s very significant. And I think that what is critically important – And Marc you and I have talked about this – Is that people have to organize at the base. And it can’t be relying on the eloquence of Barack Obama or the feistiness of Biden in order to stop this plague. When the right shows up at school board meetings we need to be there. When the right attacks or tries to stop the vaccine we need to be there. When they come after election officials we need to be there. Now, I realize the implications of this. I realize that that may lead to physical altercations. But in general I have found the right to be quite cowardly. This is true, not just in the United States, but in other places. They are bullies….

Bill Fletcher Jr.:        I want to just add to that. I agree with you 100% Rick. And I’ll just point out something that your comment triggered. In response to the ’50s and ’60s there was what you described, but there was also the response from the right, the what became a right-wing populous movement. And this politics of revenge, revanchism, that we see germinating in the late ’60s and then spreading out. And I thought about that a lot after 2020 because we had this historic post George Floyd murder movement around the country. We had demonstrations, uprisings, everything. And so there were two responses. Part of corporate America and the political establishment responded with greater attention to so-called diversity, to reexamining US history, et cetera, et cetera.

But then there was equally this right-wing authoritarian backlash that I would argue that the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole was completely unprepared for because that right-wing backlash was organizing it, wasn’t just protesting. They were organizing. And the George Floyd Black Lives Matter movement was protesting, but did not create lasting organizations and points of pressure. It was predictable. It’s what we saw in 1968. Nixon didn’t appear out of nowhere. George Wallace didn’t appear out of nowhere. It was a particular response that we have to always keep in mind. It’s part of this virus in the US system.

I think Fletcher’s and Perslstein’s view is more accurate than Corey Robin’s Republicans Are Moving Rapidly to Cement Minority Rule. Blame the Constitution. There have always been factions in USA opposed to the Constitution and its rule, beginning with the anti-Federalists. We should take the clue from the oath of office administered to US Senators, written during the Civil War — I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic...” As Frank Michelman explains in “Law's Republic” (The Yale Law Journal, Volume 97, Number 8, July 1988), "It is the very purpose of our Constitution ... to declare certain values transcendent, beyond the reach of
temporary political majorities," 

Michelman argues that there is a natural conflict between democratic majoritarianism and the rule of law. Yet, despite this conflict, the political process of democratic majoritarianism shapes the rule of law, just as the rule of law shapes the political process. From this dialectic arises the potential for citizens, as “the people” to participate and engage in “transformative self-renewal,” to ameliorate, change, and remove those political, social, economic, and Constitutional imperfections in a never ending process of creating “a more perfect union.” To denote this process, Michelman adopts the term jurisgenerative politics.

“Too often,” Michelman writes, “the invocation of democracy… signifies little more than… a determination of law can only, at bottom, be a matter of acceding to someone's preferences, [that] the people should be ruled by the sum of their own preferences (as mediated by the system of representation) rather than by the preferences of a few judges.” (1498-1499)

As we have seen, when policy making, and the practice of law, are captured by one faction , which has amassed more economic resources than the rest of the people, then the fairness and even legitimacy of both the political process and the rule of law becomes increasingly suspect in the minds of more and more people. This is not a normal development of a republic, but a corruption of it.

That is why Sirota’s argument that there has been an ”erosion of democracy that’s been going on for a half century”, in his essay How The Meltdown Became An Insurrection, linked and excerpted above, resonates so strongly.


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