Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 2, 2022
by Tony Wikrent
Happy new year!
Strategic Political Economy
“The collapse of the USSR thirty years ago helped to undermine the Cold War democracy that opposed it”
Heather Cox Richardson, December 26, 2021 [Letters from an American]
...the collapse of the USSR gave the branch of the Republican Party that wanted to destroy the New Deal confidence that their ideology was right. Believing that their ideology of radical individualism had destroyed the USSR, these so-called Movement Conservatives very deliberately set out to destroy what they saw as Soviet-like socialist ideology at home. As anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “For 40 years conservatives fought a two-front battle against statism, against the Soviet empire abroad and the American left at home. Now the Soviet Union is gone and conservatives can redeploy. And this time, the other team doesn't have nuclear weapons.”
In the 1990s, they turned their firepower on those they considered insufficiently committed to free enterprise, including traditional Republicans who agreed with Democrats that the government should regulate the economy, provide a basic social safety net, and promote infrastructure. Movement Conservatives called these traditional Republicans “Republicans in Name Only” or RINOs and said that, along with Democrats, such RINOs were bringing “socialism” to America.
With the “evil empire,” as President Ronald Reagan had dubbed the Soviet Union, no longer a viable enemy, Movement Conservatives, aided by new talk radio hosts, increasingly demonized their domestic political opponents. As they strengthened their hold on the Republican Party, Movement Conservatives cut taxes, slashed the social safety net, and deregulated the economy.
In the 1990s, as well-connected businessmen began to gather wealth and power in the former Soviet republics, that deregulation made the US and the UK attractive places for these oligarchs to place their illicit money. According to a fascinating new study from Chatham House about the UK, that investment ultimately weakened the rule of law. The study concerns the UK alone, but since the UK and US are by far the world’s top exporters of financial services, many of the report’s findings are suggestive for the US as well….
The financial deregulation that made the US a good bet for oligarchs to launder money got a boost when, after the September 11 attacks on the US, Congress in 2001 passed the PATRIOT Act to address the threat of terrorism. The law took on money laundering and the illicit funding of terrorism, requiring financial institutions to inspect large sums of money passing through them. But the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) exempted many real estate deals from the new regulations.
In the years since, the United States has become one of the money-laundering capitals of the world. Experts say that hundreds of billions of dollars are laundered in the US every year. As Representative Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) noted last year, “[I]t’s illegal for foreigners to contribute to our campaigns, but if you launder your money through a front company with anonymous ownership there is very little we can do to stop you.”
In some ways, the collapse of the USSR thirty years ago helped to undermine the Cold War democracy that opposed it. In the past thirty years, we have torn ourselves apart as politicians adhering to an extreme ideology demonized their opponents. That demonization is escalating now as Republican radicals who were born after the collapse of the USSR and who therefore see their primary enemies as Democrats, are moving the Republican Party even further to the right. North Carolina representative Madison Cawthorn, for example, was born in 1995.
That demonization has also helped to justify the deregulation of our economy and then the illicit money from the rising oligarchs it attracted, money that has corrupted our democratic system.
“Academic research is falling apart in slow motion over the last two years”
Yves Smith [Naked Capitalism 12-28-2021]
An NC regular wrote Yves:
I have watched how academic research is falling apart in slow motion over the last two years with increasing desperation and silent horror. Many people still don’t notice it, but if you are actually paying attention it is inescapable. Many labs just disintegrated during the lockdown and have not been able to reconstitute themselves because it has been wave after wave of disruption ever since, collaboration networks have been disrupted, there is little of the vibrant exchange of ideas that happened in the hallways back in the days because people are scattered, etc. The place essentially stopped being what it once was prior to March 2020 — it is now a collection of fancy shiny buildings and (some of) the people are still there, but that intangible factor that made it great is no longer present.
Really, really depressing.
I can imagine that R&D in the tech companies has been hit hard too from all the WFH but that too is not being widely understood yet. There is no substitute for two or more very smart people brainstorming in front of the whiteboard around midnight. You only understand that once you have been at that board past midnight and have seen the fruits of such exchanges.
Meanwhile I see all the time papers from China that do things we had planned to do at some point but could not because of the whole disruption.
And they are actually attracting talent, exactly the opposite of what is claimed — a lot of world class Chinese researchers who worked in US universities just went back home and they will stay there. Loss for the US, gain for China.
I am starting to see even non-Chinese people going there. For now it is cases of people who have some connection, e.g. a Chinese wife is a typical cases, but expect that to change over time as the realization slowly sets in about what the future holds and especially if the Chinese make some efforts to make the process of cultural adjustment smoother.
Of course it matters what kind of “talent” you care about — do you want to attract actually productive scientists and engineers, or does your definition of “talent” center on financial parasites?
The U.S. Military Is a Machine of Impunity
Peter Maass, December 26 2021 [Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 12-28-2021]
We tend to associate barbarism with the kind of things I saw in Bosnia: close-quarters violence in which the perpetrators look into the eyes of their victims and leave the fatal encounter with drops of blood on their boots. That’s an inadequate understanding because it excludes the killing-from-a-distance that is now central to America’s forever wars, which have increasingly moved away from ground combat. According to the nonprofit organization Airwars, the U.S. has conducted more than 91,000 airstrikes in seven major conflict zones since 2001, with at least 22,000 civilians killed and potentially as many as 48,000….
Impunity tends to begin at the top. No American general has been disciplined for overseeing the catastrophic wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, nor for lying to Congress about these disasters…. We are a society that excels in elite unaccountability. Just look at the number of bank CEOs who faced criminal charges after the 2008 financial collapse (zero), or the number of Sackler family members who were criminally charged after their company, Purdue Pharma, started the opioid epidemic with OxyContin (also zero), or the number of billionaires who avoid paying income taxes (lots of them). And let’s not forget the politicians and pundits who goaded America into an illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and suffered no consequences....
Military impunity is somewhat unique because it stretches downward, too. If an intelligence analyst or drone operator or fighter pilot follows orders and procedures for an airstrike that kills dozens of civilians in a wedding party — which has happened — they need to be excused of wrongdoing.
Biden’s Agenda Is on Its Death Bed Because the Interests of the Rich and Poor Are Irreconcilable
Branko Marcetic [Jacobin, via Mike Norman Economics 12-29-2021]
Joe Biden’s rationale for his own presidency was that he could bring oligarchs and working people together and hammer out a compromise that worked for both. The apparent death of his legislative agenda proves what a laughable fantasy that was....
How surprising is it, really, that those tasked with formulating policy miraculously come up with [climate] policies that barely touch themselves at all while falling most heavily on those who have practically no ability to effect the change notionally intended? And talk about undemocratic!…
It's the super-consumers. And they are not about to change their lifestyle.
The Critique of Apocalyptic Profit-Seeking in "Don't Look Up" Hits Close to Home
Tony Norman, January 2, 2022 [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, via Common Dreams]
The movie is a parable about an existential threat to the planet and the inability of political leaders to deal with the looming crisis except through a prism of self-interest—both personal and corporate—that ultimately endangers all of humanity…..
Recently, I watched Adam McKay's apocalyptic cautionary tale "Don't Look Up" on Netflix. I laughed out loud enough times to recommend it, even though it isn't nearly as subversive as "Dr. Strangelove" or as razor-sharp a critique of the unholy symbiosis of politics and media in this era as "Network" was about the 1970s.
Still, "Don't Look Up," written by Mr. McKay and David Sirota, is close enough to both to merit a large audience, beyond what you might expect given the plurality of critics dinging it for didacticism.
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 1-1-2022]
The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics
TW: A service economy without the service. How do you promote the general welfare and safeguard public health if private enterprise is allowed to run / ruin everything?
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 12-29-2021]
Corporate Profits Drive 60% of Inflation Increases
Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 12-30-2021]
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 1-1-2022]
The Selective Sovietization of American Capitalism
Amar Bhide [Project Syndicate, via Naked Capitalism 1-1-2022]
As Prices Rise, Biden Turns to Antitrust Enforcers
[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 12-26-2021]
How Public Workers Can Stop The Privatization of Everything
[Counterpunch, via Naked Capitalism 12-27-2021]
Green New Deal - An opportunity too big to miss
Electrify Everything in Your Home Guide
[Rewiring America, via The Big Picture 12-28-2021]
The best advice on how to electrify everything is a guide to replacing all of your fossil-fueled appliances with modern electric ones. Once you electrify: your home will be more comfortable, your indoor and outdoor air quality will be healthier, your monthly bills will be lower.
The Biden Transition and the Fight for Real Hope and Change
The 10 races that will decide the Senate majority
[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 12-27-2021]
Federal judiciary: The remarkable speed with which Joe Biden is seating judges.
[Slate, via Naked Capitalism 12-28-2021]
There are two defining features of Biden’s push to remake the federal judiciary: speed and diversity. Let’s start with speed. In his first year, just 19 of Trump’s judicial nominees had received Senate confirmation. For President Barack Obama, that number was 13; for Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, it was 28. Biden, by contrast, has seen 40 of his judges confirmed already—the most since President Ronald Reagan. Eleven of Biden’s judges sit on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals, where most federal cases are resolved. (For comparison, Obama placed just three judges on the Court of Appeals in his first year.)
Now turn to the other extraordinary aspect of Biden’s judicial nominees: their unprecedented demographic and professional diversity. In a comprehensive report, Alliance for Justice has highlighted the many firsts among this crop of judges: the first openly lesbian judge on the Court of Appeals (Beth Robinson); the first Korean American to sit on the Court of Appeals (Lucy Koh); the first Muslim federal judge (Zahid Quraishi); the first Black judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Tiffany Cunningham); the first woman of color to serve on the U.S. District Court in Maryland (Lydia Griggsby); the first Native American federal judge in Washington state (Lauren J. King)—the list goes on. According to Alliance for Justice, nearly 75 percent of Biden’s judicial nominees are women, and nearly 65 percent are people of color. For comparison, only 24 percent of Trump’s judicial nominees were women, and just 16 percent were people of color….
For too long, Democratic and Republican presidents (including Obama) have elevated a disproportionate number of prosecutors and corporate lawyers to the bench…. Under pressure from court reform groups like Demand Justice, Biden bucked this custom. He has nominated 21 public defenders, 14 civil rights attorneys, 10 plaintiff-side lawyers, three former legal aid lawyers, three consumer protection lawyers, and one labor lawyer. Already, he has doubled the number of former public defenders on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Several of his nominees previously fought for voting rights (Myrna Pérez and Dale Ho), marriage equality (Beth Robinson), and death row inmates (Holly Thomas). Their commitment to these controversial causes was not a deal-breaker for the White House; it was a selling point. At long last, courageous attorneys who stick their necks out to promote progressive values are being rewarded rather than punished by the Democratic establishment.
The dark side
The disloyal opposition is deadly
Heather Cox Richardson, December 30, 2021 [Letters from an American]
Biden and the Democrats have had to face an opposition that is working to undermine the government. Even after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, 147 Republican members of Congress voted to challenge at least one of the certified state electoral votes, propping up the Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 presidential election. Many of them continue to plug that lie, convincing 68% of Republicans that Biden is an illegitimate president.
This lie has justified the passage in 19 Republican-dominated states of 33 new laws to suppress voting or to take the counting of votes out of the hands of non-partisan officials altogether and turn that process over to Republicans.
Republicans have stoked opposition to the Democrats by feeding the culture wars, skipping negotiations on the American Rescue Plan, for example, to complain that the toymaker Hasbro was introducing a gender-neutral Potato Head toy, and that the estate of Dr. Seuss was ceasing publication of some of his lesser-known books that bore racist pictures or themes. They created a firestorm over Critical Race Theory, an advanced legal theory, insisting that it, and the teaching of issues of race in the schools, was teaching white children to hate themselves.
Most notably, though, as Biden’s coronavirus vaccination program appeared to be meeting his ambitious goals, Republicans suggested that government vaccine outreach was overreach, pushing the government into people’s lives. Vaccination rates began to drop off, and Biden’s July 4 goal went unmet just as the more contagious Delta variant began to rage across the country.
In July, Biden required federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated; in November, the administration said that workers at businesses with more than 100 employees and health care workers must be vaccinated or frequently tested.
Rejecting the vaccine became a badge of opposition to the Biden administration. By early December, fewer than 10% of adult Democrats were unvaccinated, compared with 40% of Republicans. This means that Republicans are three times more likely than Democrats to die of Covid, and as the new Omicron variant rages across the country, Republicans are blaming Biden for not stopping the pandemic. Covid has now killed more than 800,000 Americans.
Heather Cox Richardson, December 29, 2021 [Letters from an American]
Since the 1990s, Republicans have used violence and the news coverage it gets to gain through pressure what they could not gain through votes.
[Roger] Stone engineered a crucial moment for that dynamic when he helped to drive the so-called Brooks Brothers Riot that shut down the recounting of ballots in Miami-Dade County, Florida, during the 2000 election. That recount would decide whether Florida’s electoral votes would go to Democrat Al Gore or Republican George W. Bush. As the recount showed the count swinging to Gore, Republican operatives stormed the station where the recount was taking place, insisting that the Democrats were trying to steal the election.
“The idea we were putting out there was that this was a left-wing power grab by Gore, the same way Fidel Castro did it in Cuba,” Stone later told legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. "We were very explicitly drawing that analogy.” “It had to be a three-legged stool. We had to fight in the courts, in the recount centers and in the streets—in public opinion,” Bush campaign operative Brad Blakeman said.
As the media covered the riot, the canvassing board voted to shut down the recount because of the public perception that the recount was not transparent, and because the interference meant the recount could not be completed before the deadline the court had established. “We scared the crap out of them when we descended on them,” Blakeman later told Michael E. Miller of the Washington Post. The chair of the county’s Democratic Party noted, “Violence, fear and physical intimidation affected the outcome of a lawful elections process.” Blakeman’s response? “We got some blowback afterwards, but so what? We won.”
America is now in fascism’s legal phase: The history of racism in the US is fertile ground for fascism. Attacks on the courts, education, the right to vote and women’s rights are further steps on the path to toppling democracy
Jason Stanley, December 22, 2021 [The Guardian, via The Big Picture 12-26-2021]
Jason Stanley is Jacob Urowsky professor of philosophy at Yale University. He is the author of How Fascism Works
The contemporary American fascist movement is led by oligarchical interests for whom the public good is an impediment, such as those in the hydrocarbon business, as well as a social, political, and religious movement with roots in the Confederacy. As in all fascist movements, these forces have found a popular leader unconstrained by the rules of democracy, this time in the figure of Donald Trump….
Often, those who employ fascist tactics do so cynically – they do not really believe the enemies they target are so malign, or so powerful, as their rhetoric suggests. Nevertheless, there comes a tipping point, where rhetoric becomes policy. Donald Trump and the party that is now in thrall to him have long been exploiting fascist propaganda. They are now inscribing it into fascist policy….
Fascist propaganda takes place in the US in already fertile ground – decades of racial strife has led to the United States having by far the highest incarceration rate in the world. A police militarized to address the wounds of racial inequities by violence, and a recent history of unsuccessful imperial wars have made us susceptible to a narrative of national humiliation by enemies both internal and external. As WEB Du Bois showed in his 1935 masterwork Black Reconstruction, there is a long history of business elites backing racism and fascism out of self-interest, to divide the working class and thereby destroy the labor movement.
The novel development is that a ruthless would-be autocrat has marshalled these fascist forces and shaped them into a cult, with him as its leader. We are now well into the repercussions of this latter process – where fascist lies, for example, the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen, have begun to restructure institutions, notably electoral infrastructure and law….
John Ehrlichman, one of Nixon’s top advisers, said that Nixon’s campaign and administration “had two enemies: the anti-war left and Black people”, and invented the drug war to target both:
You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.
Rachel Kleinfeld, in an October 2021 article, documents the rise of the legitimation of political violence in the US. According to the article, the “bedrock idea uniting right-wing communities who condone violence is that white Christian men in the United States are under cultural and demographic threat and require defending – and that it is the Republican Party and Donald Trump, in particular, who will safeguard their way of life.”
We are now in fascism’s legal phase. According to the International Center for Not for Profit Law, 45 states have considered 230 bills criminalizing protest, with the threat of violent leftist and Black rebellion being used to justify them. That this is happening at the same time that multiple electoral bills enabling a Republican state legislature majority to overturn their state’s election have been enacted suggests that the true aim of bills criminalizing protest is to have a response in place to expected protests against the stealing of a future election (as a reminder of fascism’s historical connection to big business, some of these laws criminalize protest near gas and oil lines).
The Nazis used Judeo-Bolshevism as their constructed enemy. The fascist movement in the Republican party has turned to critical race theory instead. Fascism feeds off a narrative of supposed national humiliation by internal enemies. Defending a fictional glorious and virtuous national past, and presenting its enemies as deviously maligning the nation to its children, is a classic fascist strategy to stoke fury and resentment. Using the bogeyman of critical race theory, 29 states have introduced bills to restrict teaching about racism and sexism in schools, and 13 states have enacted such bans.
The key to democracy is an informed electorate. An electorate that knows about persisting racial injustice in the United States along all its dimensions, from the racial wealth gap to the effects of over-policing and over-incarceration, will be unsurprised by mass political rebellion in the face of persistent refusal to face up to these problems. An electorate ignorant of these facts will react not with understanding, but with uncomprehending fear and horror at Black political unrest.
Why Is Talk Radio So Right-Wing? (And How Can The Left Compete?)
[Current Affairs, October 6, 2021]
America’s leading progressive talk show host, Thom Hartmann, discusses how leftists can effectively counter the conservative talk radio behemoth.
Hartmann: On another occasion, there’s a another very large radio network with over 900 stations, and I met with the one of the two billionaires who owned that network in the offices of a United States Senator, and said “Why don’t you put”—and he had hundreds of right wing stations—and I said “Why don’t you put some left-wingers on?” I would offer myself, but just generically. And he simply said straight up, he said, “I’m never gonna put somebody on the air who’s gonna argue for raising my taxes.” This is a guy who owned 900 radio stations….
we were doing just fine in Portland, for example, because the local management in Portland hired a separate guy to sell KPOJ who built his own networks and played golf with the local liberals and got in tight with the Democratic Party. But that was not the case to the best of my knowledge on any of the other stations. And I put together a one-day seminar for sales staff in radio stations and took it on the road and traveled all around the country visiting all these radio stations that we run, saying “here’s how you sell progressive talk radio.” First of all, you have to have one person on your sales staff who is completely devoted to it, and who understands the politics of it. And then they need to insert themselves into the local Democratic Party, and they need to get involved with local businesses that have progressive values. And to the best of my knowledge, none of those stations ever took me up on that outside of the one here in Portland.…
They’re preaching a message of tax cuts and deregulation. And so, of course, the very, very wealthy and very powerful are going to be pouring money down their throats. And I’m preaching a message of “raise taxes on rich people.” And I don’t know how many rich people are therefore going to go out and buy a radio station to put me on….
Back around what must have been 2006 or thereabouts, Randi Rhodes and me and a bunch of other people from Air America went to DC to talk with a bunch of Senators, Democratic Senators, about talk radio, and we tried to convince them that that, you know, they’re raising billions of dollars every four years for elections, and with a fraction of that money, they could buy 400 or 500 radio stations or even 50 radio stations around the country. And it’s much more politically effective to have somebody 24/7 singing your praises on the radio in a way that has high credibility because people feel like they’ve built a relationship with you, than it is to buy ads every advertising cycle. And outside of Bernie Sanders, who totally understood what I was talking about, because for 11 years he had been on my show every Friday for an hour taking calls from listeners—outside of Bernie, we just got blown off, including by somebody who later became a candidate for president of the United States and lost. And I think they lost because right-wing talk radio just destroyed that candidacy….
And what’s happening is that a group of deep-pocketed Hispanic right-wingers, mostly Cuban exiles, have been renting radio stations around the country, the best estimate is there might be 200 or 300 of them now, where they’re running some syndicated and some local Spanish language, right-wing talk radio, and in some cases, they’re playing music, but they’re hiring DJs who are delivering right-wing political messages, you know, snarky comments and things between songs. I saw an article like two weeks ago saying Democrats can’t figure out why the Hispanic vote has moved 7% towards the Republican Party in the last two years. And I’m yelling at the web page going, It’s the freakin’ radio, you know?