Robert Reich Reports

billy backstay

Backstay, never bought a suit, never went to Vegas

I don’t know about you, but I look at the next 20 months leading up to the 2024 presidential election with some dread. That’s not because I’m especially worried Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis or someone equally horrific will be elected. I’m dreading the next 20 months because the entire process of selecting our president has become so fraught, divisive, and arbitrary that it threatens the foundation of our democracy.

So today I want to share with you a little political hope — not my mother’s “all things will work out fine in the end” fantasy, but something doable and practical that could even have a positive effect on next year’s presidential election.

A bit of background: About 80 percent of us have effectively become bystanders in presidential elections. That’s because most of us live in states so predictably Democratic or Republican that we’re taken for granted by candidates. Presidential elections now turn on the dwindling number of “swing” states that could go either way, which gives voters in these states huge leverage.

In 2020, Biden owed his Electoral College victory to just 43,809 votes spread over Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin. In 2016, Trump owed his Electoral College victory to 77,744 votes spread across Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

Contrast these slim margins with the results of the national popular vote. In the last five elections, candidates who received the most popular votes nationwide led their opponents by an average of 4.6 million votes — more than 100 times that of the razor-thin battleground wins.

The current state-by-state, winner-take-all Electoral College system of electing presidents is creating ever-closer contests in an ever-smaller number of closely divided states for elections that aren’t really that close.

These razor-thin battleground margins also invite post-election recounts, audits, and lawsuits — even attempted coups. A losing candidate might be able to overturn 43,809 votes with these techniques. On the other hand, overturning 4.6 million votes would be a nearly impossible task.

As such, the Electoral College system combined with the dwindling number of battlegrounds presents a growing threat to the peaceful transition of power.

And it’s become more and more likely that candidates are elected president without winning the most votes nationwide. It’s already happened twice this century.

The Electoral College is an anachronism that should be abolished. But that would require a constitutional amendment, which is almost impossible to pull off — requiring a two-thirds vote by the House and Senate plus approval by three-fourths of state legislatures.

There’s an alternative. We can make the Electoral College irrelevant by getting our states to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Don’t let that mouthful put you off. It could save our democracy. The Compact will guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes nationwide without a constitutional amendment.

How does it work?

As you know, the Constitution assigns each state a number of electors based on its population (that is, the number of its representatives in the House plus two senators). The total number of electors is 538. So anyone who gets 270 electoral votes becomes president.

Article 2 of the Constitution allows states to award their electors any way they want.

So all that’s needed is for states with a total of at least 270 electoral votes to agree to award all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote.

If they do that, the winner of the popular vote would automatically get the 270 Electoral College votes needed to be president.

The movement to make this a reality is already underway. So far, 15 states and the District of Columbia have joined the Compact — agreeing that once enough states join, all their electoral votes will go to the popular vote winner.

The current members of the Compact have 196 electoral votes among them. So if a few additional states comprising 74 electors join — agreeing to award all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote — it’s done.

Popular vote laws have recently been introduced in Michigan (with 15 electors) and Minnesota (with 10), which would bring the total to 221.

Naturally, this plan will face legal challenges. Many powerful interests stand to benefit by keeping the outdated Electoral College in place.

But if we keep up the fight and get enough states on board to reach 270 electors and withstand the predictable legal challenges, America will never again elect a president who loses the national popular vote. No longer will 80 percent of us be effectively disenfranchised from presidential campaigns. No longer will a handful of votes in “battleground” states determine the winner — inviting recounts, audits, litigation, and attempted coups that threaten our democracy.

If you want to know more or get involved, click here to read about the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. If you agree with me about the importance of this initiative but your state has not yet joined up, please contact your state senators and reps and urge them to get on board.

billy backstay

Backstay, never bought a suit, never went to Vegas
I missed this one the other day, due to 9 days in Captains School to get my license back that expired 20 years ago...

The stadium scam​

How billionaires siphon off tax money for their stadiums​

Robert Reich

With tomorrow’s Super Bowl claiming our attention, it seemed appropriate to point out how billionaires have been siphoning off our tax dollars with sports stadiums. And if we don’t play ball, they’ll take our favorite teams away.

Ever notice how there never seems to be enough money to build public infrastructure like mass transit lines and better schools? And yet, when a multibillion-dollar sports team demands a new stadium, our local governments are happy to oblige.

A good example of this billionaire boondoggle is the host of tomorrow’s Super Bowl: State Farm Stadium.

That’s where the Arizona Cardinals have played since 2006. It was finally built after billionaire team owner Michael Bidwill and his family spent years hinting that they would move the Cards out of Arizona if the team didn't get a new stadium. Their blitz eventually worked, with Arizona taxpayers and the city of Glendale paying over two-thirds of the $455 million construction tab.

State Farm Stadium is not unique. It’s part of a well-established playbook.

Step 1: Billionaire buys a sports team.

Just about every NFL franchise owner has a net worth of over a billion dollars — except for the Green Bay Packers, who are publicly owned by half a million cheeseheads.

The same goes for many franchise owners in other sports. Their fortunes don’t just help them buy teams but also give them clout — which they cash in when they want to get a great deal on new digs for their team.

Step 2: Billionaire pressures local government.

Since 1990, franchises in major North American sports leagues have intercepted upwards of $30 billion worth of taxpayer funds from state and local governments to build stadiums.

And the funding itself is just the beginning of these sweetheart deals.

Sports teams often get big property tax breaks and reimbursements on operating expenses, like utilities and security on game days. Most deals also let the owners keep the revenue from naming rights, luxury box seats, and concessions — like the Atlanta Braves$150 hamburger.

Even worse, these deals often put taxpayers on the hook for stadium maintenance and repairs.

We, taxpayers, are essentially paying for the homes of our favorite sports teams, but we don’t really own those homes, we don’t get to rent them out, and we still have to buy expensive tickets to visit them.

Whenever these billionaire owners try to sell us on a shiny new stadium, they claim it will spur economic growth from which we’ll all benefit. But numerous studies have shown that this is false.

As a University of Chicago economist aptly put it, “If you want to inject money into the local economy, it would be better to drop it from a helicopter than invest it in a new ballpark.”

But what makes sports teams special is they are one of the few realms of collective identity we have left.

Billionaires prey on the love that millions of fans have for their favorite teams.

This brings us to the final step in the playbook: Threaten to move the team.

Obscenely rich owners threaten to — or actually do — rip teams out of their communities if they don’t get the subsidies they demand.

Just look at the Seattle SuperSonics. Starbucks founder Howard Schultz owned the NBA franchise but failed to secure public funding to build a new stadium. So the coffee magnate sold the team to another wealthy businessman who moved it to Oklahoma.

Now that’ll leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

The most egregious part of how the system currently works is that every dollar we spend building stadiums is a dollar we aren’t using for hospitals or housing or schools.

We are underfunding public necessities in order to funnel money to billionaires for something they could feasibly afford.

So, instead of spending billions on extravagant stadiums, we should be investing taxpayer money in things that improve the lives of everyone — not just the bottom lines of profitable sports teams and their owners.

Because when it comes to stadium deals, the only winners are billionaires.

Have a good Super Bowl Sunday.

Here’s how stadiums stick the public with the bill. (And here’s a short video that explains this in graphic detail.)


billy backstay

Backstay, never bought a suit, never went to Vegas
FEB 14 • 6M

The death of shame​

What do Marjorie Taylor Greene, George Santos, Jared Kushner, Elon Musk, and Donald Trump have in common?​


At President Biden’s State of the Union address last week, Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene repeatedly yelled “Liar!,” Tennessee Republican Rep. Andy Ogles shouted, “It’s your fault!,” and another Republican yelled “Bullshit!”

Fourteen years ago, Republican Rep. Joe Wilson was formally rebuked by the whole House after shouting “you lie” at Obama.

Yet now, anything goes.

Meanwhile, Rep. George Santos remains in Congress despite mounting revelations of outright lies, fabrications, and shady deals that years ago would have sent a member of Congress packing.

We’ve also just learned about Jared Kushner’s quid pro quo with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

As Middle East adviser to his father-in-law, Kushner gave MBS everything he wanted — Trump’s first trip abroad, permission to blockade Qatar, a pass on imprisoning leading Saudi citizens until they paid him billions and another on killing and dismembering journalist Jamal Khashoggi (as Trump later put it, “I saved his [MBS’s] ass.”).

Then, after Kushner left the White House, MBS reciprocated by putting $2 billion from the sovereign wealth fund he chaired into Kushner’s private equity company.

Where’s the shame?

Elon Musk’s concern about the dwindling number of people seeing his tweets prompted the zillionaire to convene a group of engineers last Tuesday to discover why his engagement numbers were tanking. When one of the company’s two remaining principal engineers explained it was likely due to waning public interest in Musk’s antics, Musk fired the engineer.

We used to call such behavior shameless. Now, it’s just what the rich and powerful do.

Shame once reenforced social norms. Through most of human history, survival depended on extended families, clans, and tribes. To be shamed and ostracized for violating the common good often meant death.

Charles Darwin, in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, thought shame may have evolved as a way to maintain social trust necessary for the survival of a group and, therefore, of its members.

In a 2012 paper, psychologists Matthew Feinberg and Dacher Keltner and sociologist Robb Willer found evidence that shame and embarrassment function as a kind of “nonverbal apology” for having done something that violates social norms. A display of embarrassment shows others that the embarrassed person is still aware of the group’s expectations and is still committed to the group’s well-being.

Four centuries ago, public shaming included scarlet A’s. “Ignominy is universally acknowledged to be a worse punishment than death,” wrote Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who also sought to put an end to public stocks and whipping posts.

A more recent version of public shaming occurred in 1954 when Joseph Welch, then chief council for the U.S. Army, stood up to Sen. Joseph McCarthy before a nationwide television audience. During a hearing in which McCarthy accused the army of harboring communists, McCarthy attacked one of Welch’s young assistants for having once belonged to the National Lawyers Guild, which McCarthy considered a communist front.

Welch responded: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness …. Have you no sense of decency, sir?” Millions of Americans watching the proceedings from their living rooms saw McCarthy as the dangerous bully he was. By shaming him, Welch shamed America for having tolerated McCarthy and the communist witch hunt he was leading. It was the beginning of the end of McCarthy’s reign of terror.

But today, shamelessness has gained a certain elan. Audacity, insolence, and impudence are welcomed. Irreverence is celebrated. We hoot when someone gives society the bird. Many Americans love Donald Trump’s loutishness.

Meanwhile, instead of being directed at behavior that undermines the common good, shame is now often deployed against people who don’t fit in. Social media unleashes torrents of invective on people who do little more than say something silly or look different or are socially inept. Shaming like this can cause a sensitive teenager to take his or her life.

Why are those who violate social norms now treated like Wild West outlaw heroes, while those who are different are ridiculed? Why are bullies now applauded while those at the margin are ostracized?

billy backstay

Backstay, never bought a suit, never went to Vegas

Office Hours: Fake brand competition, monopoly power, and inflation​

Why do the media and lawmakers blame wages instead of monopoly power?​

Robert Reich

If you watched the Super Bowl last Sunday, you might have seen an ad where spokesmen for Coors and Miller Lite got into a physical fight over which beer the ad was for — only to have it revealed at the end that it was an ad for Blue Moon.

Of course, it was really an ad for all three beers, which are owned by just one big corporation, Molson Coors. In fact, Molson Coors owns over 100 beer brands.

Yesterday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that inflation slowed a tad in January. But the costs of certain items continue to rise faster than inflation — alcoholic beverages, for example. Does this have anything to do with the power of Molson Coors and a handful of other beer giants to raise prices?

Meat, poultry, fish, and egg prices also rose faster than inflation last month. These are further illustrations of fake brand competition. In reality, just four giant corporations now control 85 percent of beef packing, 66 percent of pork, and 54 percent of poultry.

Such consolidation gives a handful of giant corporations the power to raise prices.

From soda to soap, behemoths like PepsiCo and Unilever dominate store shelves with multiple brands, creating the impression of competition. But the brands disguise market power that enables these giant corporations to raise their prices and increase their profits.

PepsiCo (owner of Pepsi, Lay’s, Quaker, Gatorade, Tropicana, 7UP, Doritos, Cheetos, Ruffles, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and more than 20 other brands) raised prices 16 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier.

Unilever (owner of Dove, Hellmann’s, Knorr, Lifebuoy, Lux, Sunsilk, Vaseline, Ben & Jerry’s, and more than 300 other brands), raised prices more than 13 percent.
Profits at both companies beat Wall Street’s expectations.

So today’s Office Hours question: If monopoly power is a major factor behind inflation, why do the media and elected lawmakers continue to blame inflation on wages — which haven’t been increasing nearly as fast as the prices of the products and services of big corporations?

billy backstay

Backstay, never bought a suit, never went to Vegas
FEB 16 • 6M

Don’t let Republicans claim the mantle of patriotism​

Democrats must reclaim patriotism and affirm its true meaning​


Last Tuesday, House Republicans stood for a 43-minute recitation of the United States Constitution. This came just after Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee instituted a requirement to recite the Pledge of Allegiance before each meeting. Further pledges, flag salutes, and Constitution recitations are planned.

Why are Democrats allowing Republicans to blanket themselves with conspicuous displays of patriotism, especially when the GOP has become the party of traitorousness and treachery?
Recall that eight Republican senators and 139 Republican representatives objected to the certification of electors in the 2020 election, based on no evidence. Many continue to deny the outcome of that election. Several are still repeating Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen from him.

Last June, Rep. Liz Cheney charged members of her own party who continued to support Trump’s Big Lie with “defending the indefensible,” warning that “there will come a day when President Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

Well, Trump is now almost gone. His nascent presidential campaign is sputtering. But instead of ostracizing them, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has given those who defended Trump plum seats on congressional committees.

Democrats should repeatedly speak out against these Republican traitors.

Democrats should also criticize Republican lawmakers who are equating patriotism with white Christian nationalism.

In a recent speech, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — whose popularity in today’s GOP rivals that of Trump — called on Americans to “put on the full armor of God. Stand firm against the left’s schemes.” DeSantis has prohibited the teaching of Black history, prevented teachers from discussing gender identity, and made it easy for parents to remove books from schools. He is now asking state universities for the numbers and ages of students who have sought or received sex-reassignment surgery and hormone prescriptions.

Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado says she is “tired of this separation of church and state junk” and “the church is supposed to direct the government.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene says, “we need to be the party of nationalism and I’m a Christian, and I say it proudly, we should be Christian nationalists.”

Democrats should make clear that Christian nationalism is the opposite of patriotism. America’s constitutional and moral mission has been to separate politics from religion — providing equal rights to Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Mormon, atheist, and agnostic. Real patriots don’t fuel racist, religious, gender, or ethnic divisions. To the contrary, patriots seek to confirm and strengthen and celebrate the “we” in “we the people of the United States.”

Nor do patriots ban books or prevent teaching about the sins of our past.

Democrats must also remind the nation that patriotism requires taking a fair share of the burdens of keeping America going — sacrificing for the common good. Paying taxes in full rather than lobbying for lower taxes or seeking tax loopholes or squirreling away money abroad. Paying America’s debts rather than using the threat of national default to extract political concessions from the other party.

Above all, Democrats should be saying that patriotism involves strengthening our democracy — defending the right to vote and ensuring more Americans are heard rather than claiming without evidence that millions of people voted fraudulently. True patriots don’t put loyalty to their political party above their love of America. True patriots don’t support an attempted coup.

Patriotism means refraining from financial contributions that corrupt our politics. Blowing the whistle on abuses of power even at the risk of losing one’s job. Volunteering time and energy to improving the community and country.

And Democrats need to reaffirm that when serving in public office, patriots do not use their office to increase their wealth. When serving as judges, they recuse themselves from cases where they may appear to have a conflict of interest. When serving on the Supreme Court, they don’t disregard precedent to impose their own ideology.

In sharp contrast to the superficial demonstrations of patriotism now being utilized by the Republican Party, Democrats must remind Americans that one of the major responsibilities of lawmakers and other public servants is to maintain and build public trust in the offices and institutions they occupy.

Now is the time for Democrats to reclaim patriotism and affirm its true meaning.

billy backstay

Backstay, never bought a suit, never went to Vegas

American capitalism returns to the Gilded Age​

American families rely on three coping mechanisms while robber barons like Musk abuse their power.​

Robert Reich

American families have been relying on three coping mechanisms to maintain their standard of living despite stagnant real wages since the start of the 1980s.

First, wives and mothers have gone into paid work. For many women, this has been a blessing. Yet according to a 2021 survey, more than half of married mothers would prefer to have one parent in the home full-time with children aged 5 or younger.

Second, everyone has put in longer hours. On average, Americans now devote more hours to their jobs than workers in any other rich country.

Third, Americans have gone deeply into debt. Americans held $599 billion in consumer debt in December 1985. By December 2022, it was $4.8 trillion.

Through it all, the American economy has continued to grow — yet its fruits have been going to a smaller and smaller number at the top.

Economies aren’t zero-sum games where the rich can do better only at the expense of everyone else, of course. But power is a zero-sum game. The more of it at the top, the less anywhere else. And great wealth easily morphs into great power.

After a tweet that Elon Musk posted during Sunday’s Super Bowl game failed to achieve as much engagement as a tweet from President Joe Biden, Musk (who purchased Twitter last October for $44 billion) reportedly demanded that Twitter change its algorithm to artificially inflate Musk’s tweets by a factor of 1,000. (Many who do not follow Musk are also being served his tweets in their feed through the “For you” tab of the app’s homepage.) Last week, Musk fired a principal engineer at Twitter who told him that the reason his tweets had lost viewers is that interest in the erratic CEO is waning. Musk is also allowing the return of previously banned accounts like that of Donald Trump.

Is it a problem that the richest person in the world buys one of the biggest megaphones in the world and then alters it so his words are seen by more people than those of the president of the United States, and unilaterally decides to allow back a former president who attempted a coup?

American capitalism has returned to where it was at the turn of the 20th century, when most of the gains went to a handful of “robber barons” who wielded nearly unlimited power over the economy and politics.

It is well to remind ourselves of the warning by the progressive Herbert Croly, who wrote in 1906 (in his great The Promise of American Life):

Americans are just beginning to learn that the great freedom which the individual property-owner has enjoyed is having the inevitable result of all unrestrained exercise of freedom. It has tended to create a powerful but limited class whose chief object it is to hold and to increase the power which they have gained; and this unexpected result has presented the American democracy with the most difficult and radical of its problems. Is it to the interest of the American people as a democracy to permit the increase or the perpetuation of the power gained by this aristocracy of money?
A candid consideration of the foregoing question will, I believe, result in a negative answer. A democracy has as much interest in regulating for its own benefit the distribution of economic power as it has the distribution of political power, and the consequences of ignoring this interest would be as fatal in one case as in the other. In both instances regulation in the democratic interest is as far as possible from meaning the annihilation of individual liberty; but in both instances individual liberty should be subjected to conditions which will continue to keep it efficient and generally serviceable. Individual economic power is not any more dangerous than individual political power—provided it is not held too absolutely and for too long a time. But in both cases the interest of the community as a whole should be dominant; and the interest of the whole community demands a considerable concentration of economic power and responsibility, but only for the ultimate purpose of its more efficient exercise and the better distribution of its fruits.

What do you think? Is it time for a wealth tax, or even something more drastic?

billy backstay

Backstay, never bought a suit, never went to Vegas

Yikes! More drivel over the national debt!​

How the hell can we expect Americans to understand what the national debt means if the media doesn’t report it accurately?​

Robert Reich


Happy Presidents’ Day.

Last Thursday, The New York Times’ lead story was the Congressional Budget Office’s report that the U.S. is on track to add nearly $19 trillion to the national debt over the next decade — $3 trillion more than previously forecast.

“Yikes!” you might say. But calm down. The Times’s national debt story was alarmist nonsense.

“To put those numbers in context,” intoned the Times, “the total amount of debt held by the public will equal the total annual output of the U.S. economy in 2024, rising to 118 percent of the economy in 2033.”

If the Times believes this gives its readers context, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d love to sell the Gray Lady.

You want context? Here’s context:

The national debt is expected to rise as a percent of the total U.S. economy largely for three reasons:

(1) The Federal Reserve is busily slowing the economy and causing interest rates to rise.
As a result, the debt will become larger as a share of the total economy. And a larger portion of the total debt will be paid out in interest. Most of these interest payments will go to wealthy Americans who have lent the U.S. government money (both directly in the form of Treasury bills they’ve purchased and indirectly in all the Treasury bills bought by the funds in which they’ve invested).

(2) The giant baby-boom generation will soon collect Social Security and Medicare (or has already started to). But boomers (and post-boomers) rely on Social Security and Medicare. They’ve paid into it through their working lives. (There’s a good argument for raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes, requiring that people earning more than $400,000 a year contribute more, as President Biden has suggested, but that’s a different issue.)

(3) Republicans have slashed taxes on the wealthy, resulting in less federal revenue. Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump all reduced taxes on the wealthy (and the corporations on whose stock they collect capital gains). Note that these are many of the same people now collecting interest payments on their loans to the U.S. government.

So if you’re worried about the federal debt, one of the first things you should do is repeal these tax cuts and restore taxes on the wealthy — who, not incidentally, are now taking home a record share of the economy’s gains.

Yet Republicans want to extend Trump’s tax cuts, at the cost of another $3 trillion. And they want to repeal funding of the Internal Revenue Service, whose extra funding is expressly for the purpose of auditing wealthy taxpayers. This will cost billions more, because wealthy taxpayers won’t pay all the taxes they owe.

Another critical point: A big chunk of the projected debt will finance investments in future growth: infrastructure such as roads, bridges, pipes, and the energy grid. Critical industries such as semiconductors. And the necessary shift from fossil to renewable energies. Without these investments, the U.S. economy would grow far more slowly and the debt would be even larger in proportion to it. These investments will reduce the debt as a share of the total economy.

How the hell can we expect Americans to make any sense of the debt numbers without this context?

For the Times to make the debt numbers its lead story without explaining this stuff is sheer scaremongering. Worse, it plays into the hands of Republicans determined to hold the credit of the United States hostage to the debt ceiling. (And, of course, raising the debt ceiling has nothing to do with taming future indebtedness but only with paying the nation’s past bills.)

Economic illiteracy is dangerous for a democracy, especially when exacerbated by mainstream media that should know better.

What do you think?


What do you think?
I think the NYT lost the plot a while back. Still some good stuff on the opinion pages, and some of the hard news is OK, but domestic politics is off the wall some days. It's almost as if they don't want to offend Republicans by printing the truth about them.

billy backstay

Backstay, never bought a suit, never went to Vegas
I think the NYT lost the plot a while back. Still some good stuff on the opinion pages, and some of the hard news is OK, but domestic politics is off the wall some days. It's almost as if they don't want to offend Republicans by printing the truth about them.

I don't see NYT unless posted here without the paywall. Daughter offered me a free ride as a guest on her subscription but it would have been wasted on me, as you say it's usually not worth the time to read it......

billy backstay

Backstay, never bought a suit, never went to Vegas

Office Hours: A national divorce?​

Robert Reich


Forgive me for quoting someone whose words and thoughts I usually find reprehensible but this time reflect the views of a growing portion of Americans — including many progressives.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted on Presidents’ Day that “We need a national divorce. We need to separate by red states and blue states ….”

Twitter avatar for @mtgreenee

Marjorie Taylor Greene 🇺🇸 @mtgreenee
We need a national divorce. We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government. Everyone I talk to says this. From the sick and disgusting woke culture issues shoved down our throats to the Democrat’s traitorous America Last policies, we are…
1:43 PM ∙ Feb 20, 2023


Put aside for a moment who’s suggesting this and her typical nastiness about “woke” culture and Democrats. The fact is, majorities both in red states and in blue states do seem to want fundamentally different things, as I’ve argued on this page before.

A union of blue states could adopt universal health care, sweeping climate reform, expansive gun safety laws, and other progressive goals that now seem unattainable.

Meanwhile, the union of red states could abolish income taxes and ban whatever books they like, along with abortion, same-sex marriage, the teaching of Black history, drag shows, etc.

The Red States of America might quickly become a humanitarian and racist disaster, since many of these states already have the highest rates of poverty and murder as a result of conservative policies. But the Blue States of America would likely be welcoming to political asylum seekers.

So today’s Office Hours question: Is there any merit to the idea of amicable divorce? Can we continue to be productive as a unified nation, or are our differences becoming too irreconcilable? What do you think?

(I’ll offer my thoughts later today.)
Last edited:


Super Anarchist
If you think your political opponents are truly stupid, then education and arguments are a waste of time. If you think your political opponents are truly evil, then there is no redemption by definition. In that case, separation is the only logical resolution.


If you think your political opponents are truly stupid, then education and arguments are a waste of time. If you think your political opponents are truly evil, then there is no redemption by definition. In that case, separation is the only logical resolution.
What happened to good old assassination?

billy backstay

Backstay, never bought a suit, never went to Vegas
FEB 23 • 6M

Two notable presidential conversations with Zelensky​

And what they revealed about Donald Trump and Joe Biden​


The two men most likely to square off for the presidency of the United States next Election Day have held notably different conversations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

On July 25, 2019, then President Donald Trump spoke with Zelensky from the White House residence, ostensibly to congratulate Zelensky on his election.

During that conversation, Trump reminded Zelensky that “the United States has been very good to Ukraine.”

Trump knew full well that Zelensky was desperate for some demonstration of support from the American president. Some 13,000 of Zelensky’s people already had been killed in the five-year conflict between Russian-backed separatists and government forces in Ukraine. Nonetheless, just days before phoning Zelensky, Trump froze nearly $400 million of U.S. aid to Ukraine.

Trump continued:
“I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it…. There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it …. It sounds horrible to me.I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.”

Zelensky did not want to offend Trump but did not commit to helping Trump dig up dirt on the son of the person most likely oppose Trump in the 2020 election.

Fast forward. On February 20, 2023, the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Joe Biden spoke directly with Zelensky in Kyiv, noting that “Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands.”

For Trump, Ukraine was a pawn to get dirt on Biden before the 2020 election.

For Biden, Ukraine is a critical ally in America’s fight against global tyranny.

Trump’s goal in speaking with Zelensky in 2019 was the aggrandizement of Donald Trump. That was to be expected. As president Trump had no agenda except to feed his monstrous ego. Trump described his 2019 call with Zelensky as “perfect” because Trump saw nothing wrong in suggesting that continuing U.S. support for Ukraine should hinge on Zelensky helping him win reelection.

Yet that phone call posed a direct challenge to American democracy. The use of presidential power to solicit a foreign nation’s help in getting reelected is not only barred by law and the Constitution; it undermines public trust in our system of self-government.

Biden’s goal in speaking with Zelensky in Kyiv was the opposite — to strengthen democracy against authoritarianism. As Biden explained, he made the dangerous trip because “I thought it was critical that there not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about U.S. support for Ukraine in the war. It’s not just about freedom in Ukraine. It’s about freedom of democracy at large.”

As Biden said the next day in Warsaw, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine had tested “all democracies.” Over the last year “the democracies of the world have grown stronger, not weaker. But the autocrats of the world have grown weaker, not stronger.”

For Biden, American policy — both foreign and domestic — should be premised on protecting democracy from authoritarian forces seeking to undermine it, whether that force is Vladimir Putin or Donald Trump.

Biden’s speech in Warsaw came just hours after Putin gave his own address in Moscow. Putin characterized the war in Ukraine as an existential struggle against the West, which he claimed started the war.

In response, Biden charged that “Putin chose this war,” and that “every day the war continues is his choice. "

By traveling to Kyiv, the oldest president in American history also demonstrated the stamina and grit of someone decades younger. Biden departed Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington D.C. early Sunday morning, landed in Poland, took a 10-hour train ride from the Polish border, and arrived in Kyiv-Pasazhyrsky station roughly 24 hours after leaving Washington.

He then met with Zelensky at Marinsky Palace, joined him in laying a wreath at the Wall of Remembrance at St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, and stopped by the U.S. embassy to meet with staff, before heading back to the Polish border by train, and then on to Warsaw.

The undertaking required courage and determination. Biden is the first president since Abraham Lincoln to venture into a war zone not under the control of American forces.

Donald Trump’s notorious conversation with Zelensky in 2019 required neither stamina, nor grit, nor courage. It did show determination — but not to protect democracy. It showed Trump’s fanatical resolve to remain in power, democracy be damned.

billy backstay

Backstay, never bought a suit, never went to Vegas

A second attempted coup?​

The McCarthy-Trump-Fox-complex​

Robert Reich

This week we learned that House Speaker McCarthy turned over more than 40,000 hours of internal U.S. Capitol footage from January 6 exclusively to the conspiracy theorist and authoritarian propagandist Tucker Carlson of Fox News.

You’ll recall that Carlson called the vicious mob attack on the Capitol “a footnote” in history and “forgettably minor.” At the same time, Carlson magnified Trump’s lies about a stolen election and voter fraud in 2020.

He’s still at it — repeating baseless theories that the federal government instigated the attack. He even gave airtime to former Trump strategist Stephen Bannon hours after Bannon was convicted of contempt. Carlson has also produced a three-part documentary, “Patriot Purge,” advancing a false claim that FBI operatives were behind the assault and arguing that the Jan. 6 rioters were innocent.

New revelations from the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News expose the depth of the cynicism and greed behind Carlson and his Fox News colleagues. Emails from Carlson and the others reveal that they knowingly put guests on their shows -- including Trump lawyer Sidney Powell — to make false claims to the viewing public about fraud in the 2020 election. Carlson and the other hosts knew that their guests were lying. “Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane,” wrote Carlson in an email.

Why did Carlson and the other Fox hosts do this? Not only or even primarily to promote Trump and fuel public anger at Democrats and the so-called “stolen election,” but to maintain their ratings lead over Trump’s more extreme rightwing media outlets (such as Newsmax and OAN) — and therefore the value of their Fox stocks and stock options.

In a text chain with Ingraham and Hannity, Carlson referred to a tweet in which Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich fact-checked a message from Trump and concluded there was no evidence of voter fraud from Dominion. “Please get her fired,” Carlson said, adding: “It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.” By the next morning, Heinrich had deleted her tweet.

Having earned a fortune by getting their Fox viewers (and the ad revenue that came with them) revved up over false claims of election fraud, Carlson and his Fox colleagues feared losing those same viewers (and revenue) to even nuttier networks.

What will Carlson do with the 40,000 hours of videotape that Kevin McCarthy just turned over to him? Based on his history, he’ll probably use it to rev up Fox viewers (and ad revenue) to new heights of outrage and money.

How will he do this? By picking and choosing portions of the videotape, and presenting them out of context to create a misleading narrative that will discredit the Jan. 6 investigators and absolve Trump and the insurrectionists.

The reason McCarthy turned over the videotape to Carlson was to appease the most extreme rightwing authoritarian elements of his narrow House majority — such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, the bonkers congresswoman from Georgia who pressured McCarthy to give Carlson the tapes.

Greene has now become a close advisor to McCarthy. She has already suggested that January 6, 2021 was a false-flag operation created by the U.S. government and that the rioters were patriots who got ensnared in the plot. Should anyone be surprised if Carlson’s narrative supports Greene’s view?

Carlson’s goal is not just to reward election deniers in the House, like Greene, nor to help Trump or a Trump-like candidate become President. It’s also to make lot of money for himself in the process — as Carlson and his colleagues did when fueling Trump’s big lie in the months after the 2020 election.

McCarthy’s Republican House’s mission is to attack President Biden along with law enforcement and intelligence agencies, discredit and attack the findings of the Jan. 6 investigations and the likely upcoming indictments, and undermine the public’s confidence in our democracy and in any election results that don’t go their way. McCarthy has even named Greene to the House Homeland Security Committee.

McCarthy and his House Republicans need Fox News to amplify their bizarre views, hearings, and conclusions. Trump needs McCarthy’s House Republicans and Fox News to fuel his candidacy. Fox News needs them both to fuel its ratings and revenue.

The McCarthy-Trump-Fox-complex is internally consistent — connecting authoritarianism, rightwing Republican hackery, GOP political fundraising, Trump-boosting ratings outrage, and greed. It’s a vicious cycle designed to sow anger and distrust while advancing the power and wealth of McCarthy, Greene, Trump, Carlson, and Fox News.

This is the same combination that fueled Trump’s presidency and led to his first attempted coup. Will it lead to a second?
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billy backstay

Backstay, never bought a suit, never went to Vegas
FEB 27 • 4M

AI’s biggest impact?​

We’re reaching the inflection point, so watch out.​

Artificial intelligence (AI) is finally hitting the economy and society big time. Bing’s chatbot (Microsoft plans a wide release soon) is capable of long, open-ended text conversations on virtually any topic.

It’s caused a Times columnist to become “deeply unsettled, even frightened.” Google engineer Blake Lemoine was fired after claiming that the firm’s AI model, LaMDA, is “sentient.”

It’s causing professors like me to wonder how to distinguish between student writing on exams and AI writing.

It’s causing people who track online misinformation to worry it will undermine democracy. “This is going to be the most powerful tool for spreading misinformation that has ever been on the internet,” warned Gordon Crovitz, co-chief executive of NewsGuard, which tracks online misinformation.

It’s causing philosophers and biologists to fret that it will eventually destroy human beings and take over the world (Hal? You still there?).

But one aspect we’re not talking about enough is AI’s effect on work.

We all know what happened when complex machines first began taking over jobs. Then mechanization replaced skilled artisans. Then automation replaced repetitive jobs that could be put into software code. Numerically controlled machine tools and robotics replaced assembly lines. More recently, big data processing has replaced much analytic work.

Now comes AI — which will replace almost all professional work.

At every stage, productivity (output per worker) has increased dramatically, so fewer workers have been needed to accomplish what came before. This has reduced the bargaining power of less-skilled workers to obtain high wages, while fueling the compensation of people who produce the labor-replacing technologies.

We’re now approaching an inflection point when the financial returns to AI’s producers are heading into the stratosphere, even as professional jobs disappear.

Wall Street is going nuts over AI. Venture capitalists are pouring hundreds of billions into it, driving up startup valuations. Microsoft’s rally on Bing pushed its market capitalization to above $2 trillion. Alphabet’s stock is expected to soar more than 20 percent on its AI investments.

But after AI takes over almost all remaining jobs (including those of the venture capitalists who finance AI and the engineers who design it), what exactly will human beings be doing to make money?

Or to put the matter more baldly, who will be able to afford any of the wondrous goods and services powered by AI if we no longer have incomes?

My prediction: It will be the high-level professional class, including top business executives and the wizards of finance, who push for the most obvious solution: A guaranteed universal basic minimum income for everyone, financed by a tax on AI.

A universal basic income could be a potential solution to ensure that individuals have a basic income to support themselves and their families. UBI is a system in which every citizen or resident of a country receives a regular, unconditional sum of money from the government, regardless of their employment status. The goal of UBI is to provide individuals with enough income to meet their basic needs, such as food, shelter, and health care.

(The last paragraph, above, was generated entirely by ChatGPT. The rest of this letter came from me. Promise.)

billy backstay

Backstay, never bought a suit, never went to Vegas

Worse than hypocrisy: Ray Dalio and the heart of darkest capitalism​

The awful truth about hedge funds​

Robert Reich

Bridgewater Associates is the world’s largest hedge fund, managing roughly $125 billion of other people’s money. The New York Times recently reported that its founder, Ray Dalio, agreed to relinquish control of the firm only if it gave him what could amount to billions of dollars in regular payouts over the coming years through a special class of stock.

Dalio already has an estimated net worth of $19 billion.

I first came across Dalio in 2019 when I read his 5,000-word treatise “Why and How Capitalism Needs to be Reformed.” I was intrigued. Here was a major financial figure arguing that capitalism “is not working well for the majority of Americans because it’s producing self-reinforcing spirals up for the haves and down for the have-nots.” That widening wealth gap, Dalio noted, is “bringing about damaging domestic and international conflicts and weakening America’s condition.”

Dalio foresaw one of two outcomes: Either we “re-engineer the system so that the pie is both divided and grown well” or else “we will have great conflict and some form of revolution that will hurt most everyone and will shrink the pie.”

All of that seemed right to me — even more so today. America has already started down the second path. Trump, DeSantis, and other demagogues have been exploiting working-class anger to pump up their power.

But Dalio had no proposal for “re-engineering” the system. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t supported a wealth tax or any tax increase on people like himself. He hasn’t proposed stopping giant hedge funds and private equity funds from forcing companies to squeeze out every ounce of profits, typically by suppressing wages and abandoning workers and communities. And he certainly hasn’t proposed capping executive pay.

Worldwide, there are now some 10,000 hedge funds, which together manage about $2 trillion — and they charge their clients a bundle. On top of a 2 percent management fee, they deduct 20 percent of any investment gains. This lets hedge fund managers classify much of their income as “capital gains,” taxed at a far lower rate than regular income. Their wealth has given them so much political clout that this absurd “carried interest” tax loophole remains, despite promises from the last four presidents to close it.

So while schoolteachers and cops face a marginal tax rate of 25 percent, hedge fund managers like Dalio have for years paid only 15 percent on their enormous incomes.

Yet most of the funds Dalio manages come from schoolteachers and cops and other average working Americans. Fully a third come from public pension funds such as the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System. Another third from corporate pension funds that are supposed to guard the retirement savings of their workers, such as those at Kodak and General Motors.

Meanwhile, CEOs and star traders now routinely demand eight-figure compensation packages to keep up with their counterparts at hedge funds.

It’s a giant zero-sum game, as Dalio himself recognizes. “In order to earn more than the market return, you have to take money from somebody else,” he says.

It’s worse than a zero-sum game because hedge funds, like private equity funds, pressure corporations to lay off workers, reduce the (inflation-adjusted) pay of average workers, bust unions, and move production abroad or to anti-labor states.

They also use their wealth to distort and corrupt American politics, as I’ve already noted.

And they use piles of borrowed money — thereby blowing gigantic, dangerous speculative bubbles. When Wall Street firms got into trouble in 2008, Bridgewater was one of the funds that pulled money out of Lehman Brothers, leaving the American public holding the bag.

There is little justification for hedge funds. If pension funds want to balance out any risks they may take in the stock and bond markets, they can accomplish this far more cheaply through standard leveraging tactics.

Note to pension fund managers: Get the hell out of hedge funds. You’re wasting the retirement money of the workers you’re supposed to represent.

Meanwhile, there’s no justification for the giant compensation packages of hedge fund partners.

Note to pension fund managers: If you absolutely must be in hedge funds, make your voices heard on taming executive pay.

And there’s no justification whatever for maintaining the “carried interest” loophole in the tax code.

Note to President Biden and Congress: Get rid of it.

As Ray Dalio wrote, the system is not working well for the majority of Americans because it’s producing self-reinforcing spirals up for the haves and down for the have-nots. Dalio and his compatriots are part of that self-reinforcing spiral. The rest of us are all the worse for it.