Pluralistic: 14 Aug 2020

Today's links

The CARES Shock Doctrine (permalink)

It's been 13 years since Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine described the neoliberal playbook: crises are seized as a moment to smuggle in policies that could not pass public muster under normal circumstances, ratcheting private gains at public expense.

In March, Congress pass the CARES Act, sweeping law that nominally offered relief to Americans. It was the opening salvo in a fusillade of interventions whose workings are poorly understood – which have served to make the already wealthy immeasurably wealthier.

If you've wondered how the stock and bond markets could be soaring even as unemployment has also climbed to apocalyptic levels, as an eviction crisis looms, as Americans form mile-long lines for food banks — this is how.

If you're only going to read one longread this week, read Robert Brenner's "Escalating Plunder," in the New Left Review. It's long, but not as long as the legislation it analyzes, and it is much, much clearer about what that legislation accomplishes.

Start with the full scope of the bailout: the $454b that Congress gave to America's largest corporations is table-stakes. Congress also created a bull market in corporate debt by guaranteeing to buy bonds issued by the companies if no one else wanted them.

Even junk bonds issued by companies whose mismanagement and corporate autophagia – buybacks, executive compensation, layoffs – had driven them to death's door before the crisis.

That guarantee allowed corporate America a tenfold leverage of its "relief" through debt, yielding ~$4.54 trillion. The public's relief budget – unemployment, cash, and student loans weighed in at a mere $603B.

Put that another way: the USG just handed the largest companies in the US 200% of their total annual profits in "relief," with no strings attached, save for some minor constraints on the aviation industry.

And while the bills that created this corporate welfare program originated with Senate Republicans, that's only because Congressional Dems explicitly asked them to do so, abdicated Congress's power of the purse to let the GOP decide who would get money, and how much.

It's hard not to interpret this as Dems handing the donor class a cash bribe on the eve of an election. It's not just letting the Senate write the bills – it's passing them by "voice vote," which lets Dem Congressjerks vote in favor without having their support recorded.

It's an unbelievably idiotic piece of tactics, a bet that corporations will reward Dem complicity with GOP looting by helping Dems, instead of the GOP. The bet that plutes will hate racism more than they love money is painfully stupid.

Contrast that with what Dems COULD have spent on: health care, more unemployment/paycheck protection, food and rent money. The could have dared the GOP to deny Americans the basics of human survival – again, on the eve of an historic election.

Instead, they sat idly by as the Fed's bond guarantee ensured a supply of easy money for corporations whose ability to borrow had vanished prior to the crisis as investors had finally wised up to the foolishness of loaning to firms dedicated to devouring themselves.

That ready access to credit then boosted the stock market: the bull market for bonds begat a bull market in stocks. If you want to know how America's billionaires made more billions during the crisis, that's how.

It's not merely investor confidence in e-commerce that made Bezos his excess billions: its Amazon's ability to borrow $10 billion at 0.4 percent on a three year bond.

The corporate wing of the Dems is pretty open about all this. Look at Richard Neal, who trumpeted that he wasn't voting for "stimulus" (which would help all of us), but rather "relief" – for the investors and execs he'd just bailed out.

Neal was an architect of the post-2008 bailouts too, playing a key role in the decision not to help everyday Americans – who had been preyed upon by unimaginably wealthy financiers – with their mortgages, but rather, to make the finance sector whole.

(Neal is at the center of another scandal: Leaked internal comms from the Mass College Dems reveal that they conspired to smear Neal's primary opponent, Alex Morse, with false sexual abuse allegations)

Congressional Dems have, once again, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The CARES Act they let the GOP write and then rammed through into law includes $174b worth of new tax breaks for the super-rich that were jettisoned from Trump's 2019 tax bill as too extreme.

We are living through a shock doctrine. This could be the moment in which America recognizes the brittleness of its public sphere and corporate arrangements and restructures them to survive the wave of climate emergencies on our horizon.

Instead, both parties have conspired to double down on that brittleness, that fragility, that precarity, with hardly a peep in objection from lawmakers in either house.

The major exception, naturally, is AOC, who called it "One of the largest corporate bailouts with as few strings as possible in American history [with] crumbs for our families."

NYC homeless lose bathroom access (permalink)

The homelessness epidemic in America predates the covid pandemic, but the latter is about to make the former much worse – and as horrifying and dehumanizing as homelessness was in The Before, it's a million times worse today.

Start with the obvious. Everybody poops. Despite San Francisco's decades of insisting that the public human defecation problem was the result of humans, and not the absence of toilets, the solution to pooping is toilets. There is no other solution.

New York City is notoriously short of public toilets, even for employed, homed people – it's the land of the "Bathrooms are for customers only" sign.

At Patrick Nielsen Hayden once told me, whatever demerits the explosion of Manhattan Starbuckses meant for the city, at the very least, it solved NYC's urgent "Nowhere to go" crisis.

But not anymore.

New York's restaurants and cafes no longer allow homeless people to use their facilities. Even Penn Station has excluded homeless people from its bathrooms.

With the loss of access to toilets comes a loss of access to water, too: the 3600 New Yorkers who live on the streets and in subways no longer have reliable access to drinking water, and are suffering severe dehydration.

Writing in The City, Reuven Blau interviews Jared Mitchell, a 24 year old homeless man who had the humiliating experience of "going on himself" when he couldn't locate a toilet. Richard Parry, a 51 year old homeless man, tells Blau, "You probably smell me now."

Mayor de Blasio put 12 toilets out for public use early in the crisis, but withdrew them after the were vandalized. They were not replaced.

Meanwhile, the tourists and office workers homeless people depend on when panhandling are gone, leaving homeless people with no money for food: Charmain Hamid, a 45 year old homeless person, is wasting away.

Ashley Belcher, a 27 year old homeless woman with ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome asked to use the bathroom at the Lenox Health Greenwich Village medical facility, but was denied entry because she doesn't have a mental disorder.

As soup kitchens move to outdoor service, homeless people can no longer use their toilets, either.

It's not clear what will solve this, apart from the proven Housing First approach of providing homes to homeless people.

When a standalone "Portland Loo" can cost $200k to install merely to provide ONE toilet, it's easy to see how providing homes isn't just humane – it's cost effective, too.

(Image: Eden, Janine and Jim, CC BY)

NYC Street View, WPA edition (permalink)

During the New Deal, the WPA and the NYC Tax Department sent photographers to every municipal building in the five boroughs, producing a geotagged archive of the city's streetscenes from 1939-41.

These images were placed in an interactive map system by Julian Boilen, called "Street View of 1940s New York," which lets you click around a map of the city to navigate these photos geographically.

It's a legit masterpiece, and endlessly fascinating, a veritable time-machine.

One note: Boilen says that the use of the images is limited to NYC's terms and conditions, but these were federally commissioned works and are presumptively in the public domain.

The NYC guidelines basically say, "Don't violate copyright." These are neither copyrighted nor copyrightable. As far as I can tell: you're good.

PS: Don't miss the photographers' outtakes, which are a delightful mix of impromptu portraits, fatfingers, and bloopers:

Maidan in Belarus (permalink)

Alexander Lukashenko is president of Belarus: they call him "the last Soviet dictator." He is responsible for decades of brutal human rights abuses and comic mismanagement, and he led a coronavirus response that was so inept, it even made the US look good by comparison.

Lukashenko's not even good at being a dictator. His master plan to maintain the pretense of free and fair elections this year involved purging the establishment candidates running against him, "businessmen" running on a ticket of "efficiency."

He also purged a popular anti-corruption Youtuber.

This left only one opposition candidate at the fore: Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, running as a proxy for her imprisoned husband Sergey Tikhanovsky.

Tikhanovskaya was a powerful rival to Lukashenko, who has used populism to style himself a champion of ordinary Belarusians – the sort who might have looked skeptically upon business leaders promising to replace him.

But Tikhanovskaya *actually& champions causes important to everyday Belarusians, winning support from the country's workers, as well as political freedoms like a release of political prisoners and free and fair elections.

Her platform was so obviously, visibly popular that it led many to predict an imminent change in power in Belarus, a new Maidan moment. So when Lukashenko stole the election, claiming a brazen 80% majority, the people rose up.

For days, larger and larger crowds have taken to the streets, demanding political change, braving vicious police violence that only seemed to inspire larger turnouts. Lukashenko's claims that the protests are driven by outsiders have not convinced anyone.

The perseverance of the protesters is a moral lesson to everyone else in the country – including, incredibly, some of the police who had been beating and gassing them. Even though 6700 people have been arrested and tortured, the protesters keep facing down police lines.

Military officers, appalled by the crackdown, are posting social media videos in which they destroy their uniforms. Police officers are giving media interviews in which they proclaim their unwillingness to follow "illegal orders."

The interior minister went on TV to formally apologize to the protesters for their treatment.

And 50 riot cops dropped their shields and embraced the protesters, switching sides.

Solidarity is a powerful force. Everyday people always have more in common with each other than we do with our leaders. Getting your soldiers to shoot the other soldiers is one of the hardest problems in any military.

Many people know the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when German and British soldiers emerged from their trenches to fraternize in no man's land, singing carols, playing football and exchanging gifts.

Less well known is the utter horror this provoked in their command structures, the generals who took every step possible to avert such an occurrence again.

Something like the scene in Belarus was on my mind when I wrote the climax of my 2017 novel Walkaway (I won't give away any more spoilers). For me, the ultimate lesson here is that the two sides are "bosses vs everyone else" – not "everyone vs the bosses' shock troops."

So much of the status quo depends on people who should be on the same side fighting one another on behalf of minorities of powerful people, who, while formally opposed to one another, are only contesting who should be dictator, not whether dictators should be abolished.

(Image: Serge Serebro, Vitebsk Popular News, CC BY-SA, modified)

This day in history (permalink)

#5yrsago Chinese theme-park queue-jumping techniques

#5yrsago Student suspended for tweeting two words will get to sue his school, police chief

#5yrsago Australian court hands copyright trolls their own asses

#5yrsago Even when you turn on Win 10's "privacy" flags, it still spies on you

#5yrsago Trickle-down kids' TV: Sesame Street will air on HBO 9 months before PBS

#1yrago In conversation: Cardi B and Bernie Sanders

#1yrago Training bias in AI "hate speech detector" means that tweets by Black people are far more likely to be censored

#1yrago My appearance on the MMT podcast: compelling narratives as a means of advancing complex political and economic ideas

#1yrago Ohio State University files for a trademark on "THE";=SERIAL_NO&searchType;=statusSearch

#1yrago Schadenfreude watch: Porno copyright trolls' investors sue, say the grifters they backed stole their money (the grifters say their lawyer stole the money from them first!)

#1yrago Manhattan DA served Google with a "reverse search warrant" in a bid to prosecute antifa protesters

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Deth Veggie (

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  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 548 words (49478 total).

Currently reading: Null Set, SL Huang; How to Argue with a Racist, Adam Rutherford.

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 12),

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