Pluralistic: 13 May 2021

Today's links

A vision of Hell from Hieronymus Bosch's 'Garden of Earthly Delights,' with a superimposed kicking donkey in red, white and blue livery with white stars, in the style of the Democratic Party mascot.

The Democratic establishment (permalink)

Sometimes, a casual conversation turns out to be prophetic and stays with you for decades to come. In 2006, I had lunch at the LA World Science Fiction Convention with Eric Flint when the subject of Barack Obama came up. I admitted that his incredible rhetoric gave me hope.

Flint – a union organizer from Chicago – quickly disabused me. Obama, he said, was a Chicago Machine Democrat, and that meant he was a cynical horse-trader whose version of "democracy" was for insiders to do deals in back-rooms, without accountability or transparency.

Those words stayed with me through the Obama years, as Obama literally shut off the server that grassroots organizers used to coordinate the campaign that got him elected and told us all to shut up and go away so he could strike deals with the GOP to get stuff done.

Flint's compact description of Chicago Democrat politics has been an invaluable guide to understanding everything from Rod Blagojevich's criminal corruption to Lori Lightfoot's ghastly handling of the Black Lives Matter uprising last summer.

Above all, Flint's description is how I've come to understand Rahm Emanuel, a terrible person even by the standards of the Chicago Democratic machine, whom Obama brought into the White House, evidently a necessity of Byzantine Democratic machine politics.

There's no other way to say this: Emanuel is a piece of shit.

He's an emotionally incontinent, corrupt bully, a guy who once stabbed a table "while shouting the names of people who betrayed Bill Clinton."

It's not like Democrats don't know this. Obama himself once joked that after Emanuel accidentally cut off part of his middle finger, it "rendered him practically mute."

It's not just his demeanor, it's his actions. Emanuel's turn as Mayor of Chicago included an all-out blitz to suppress the footage of a Chicago police officer murdering Laquan McDonald, a Black 17 year old.

If the Biden administration was the progressive bastion we're hoping for, it would be distancing itself from Emanuel. Instead, it's embracing him.

As Alex Shephard writes for the New Republic, the Biden admin is running two very distinctive federal jobs programs.

The first is the progressive infrastructure/clean energy/health program in the American Jobs Plan.

That program will spend $2t to create hundreds of thousands of good jobs where hard-working Americans will be well-compensated as they labor to repair America's sagging infrastructure, care for its sick people, and transition it to sustainable energy.

But there's another program, this one devoted to finding one federal job for one American: Rahm Emanuel. Biden seems to have put Emanuel in charge of this, despite Rahm's initial delusional idea that he would be a great Transport Secretary:

Progressive activists within the Democratic Party killed that idea, but now it looks like Emanuel will head to Japan to serve as ambassador, a job that famously requires an even, diplomatic (!) temper. No one – no one – would use the word "diplomatic" to refer to Emanuel.

As Shephard points out, this kind of cronyism – where key diplomatic appointments are handed out as favors to party bosses – is not the norm among other advanced democracies.

And while cronyistic governance by asshole party bosses is a bipartisan affair, it's not bipartisan in its effect. When Republican Presidents kowtow to party bosses, they do so to advance the Republican agenda and usually it works.

But listening to Rahm Emanuel – a lavishly corrupt abettor of racist police murders – doesn't advance the Democratic Party agenda.

If anything, it also advances the GOP agenda, both directly (by preserving the murderous status quo) and indirectly, by helping the GOP paint the Democrats as the party of corrupt insiders.

A US $100 bill in which Benjamin Franklin has been replaced by the icon of a bank robber in a hoodie, his face an Uber logo.

Uber (Ch)eats (permalink)

Uber is not a business in the traditional sense. It's a "bezzle" ("the magic interval when a confidence trickster knows he has the money he has appropriated but the victim does not yet understand that he has lost it").

The only reason Uber was able to attain growth was because investors gave it billions to lose. First, it was the Saudi Royals, hoping to spend their way to a transportation monopoly.

When that didn't work, the company's investors suckered the public into taking their shares off their hands in an IPO premised on two things:

I. Self-driving cars

II. All buses and subways in the world being scrapped and replaced with Ubers.

Neither of those things have happened, of course. Uber actually had to pay someone else $400m to "buy" the self-driving car division it sank $2.5b into (the resulting cars could not travel for one mile without a serious accident).

Replacing all the world's transit is also a long-shot. That means that Uber's bezzle is running out, forcing the company into ever-more-desperate measures to keep money flowing from suckers ("investors") who believe that a pile of shit this big must have a pony under it.

Measures like spending hundreds of millions of dollars on California's Proposition 22, which legalized worker misclassification. Measures like rampant wage-theft from drivers. Measures like waging legal wars against whistleblowers.

Uber's "innovation" wasn't self-driving cars. It was cheating. Uber is really fucking good at cheating.

How good? Well, last year, Uber managed to dodge tax on $6b in global revenues by laundering its income through fifty Dutch shell companies.

A report from the Australian NGO Center for International Corporate Tax Accountability and Research (CICTAR), reported in the Dutch press, describes Uber's tax evasion innovations as "the Champions League of tax avoidance."

It's quite a whirlwind of socially useless financial engineering, composed of obvious frauds like "selling" its IP to a Dutch subsidiary financed with a $16b "loan" from a Singaporean subsidiary, garnering 20 years' worth of $1b annual tax credits.

The Netherlands may be a bastion of progressive politics, but it's also one of the world's leading onshore-offshore tax havens, joining Cyprus, Luxembourg, Delaware, Wyoming and the City of London as a key player in the global money-laundry.

Its lax enforcement didn't just encourage Uber to create 50 shell companies – it also let the company get away with failing to file "mandatory" disclosures for many of these "businesses."

All of this redounds around the world – in India, Uber pays only half of the mandatory 6% tax owed by multinationals (India could really use that cash about now).

(Image: Vectors Point, PK, Ian Merchant, CC BY, modified)

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Steven Levy on Facebook’s ironic privacy charge against Google

#10yrsago DHS’s “Secure Communities” program will deport battered woman for calling 9-1-1 on her abuser

#10yrsago TSA: we’ll search your baby and it will make the country safer

#5yrsago Clicking “Buy now” doesn’t “buy” anything, but people think it does

#1yrago Senate Dems want to ban internet disconnection

#1yrago NSO Group tried to sell malware to US law enforcement

#1yrago Feds want national snitchlines for bosses whose workers don't want to die

#1yrago How Marcus Hutchins saved the world and lived to tell the tale

#1yrago University requires students to buy nonexistent webcams

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing:

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  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

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Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

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  • The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022

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