Small government is no match for a crisis born of the state’s twin addictions to market fixes and fossil fuels.
Since the power went out in Texas, the state’s most prominent Republicans have tried to pin the blame for the crisis on, of all things, a sweeping progressive mobilization to fight poverty, inequality and climate change. “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal,” Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said Wednesday on Fox News. Pointing to snow-covered solar panels, Rick Perry, a former governor who was later an energy secretary for the Trump administration, declared in a tweet “that if we humans want to keep surviving frigid winters, we are going to have to keep burning natural gas — and lots of it — for decades to come.”
The claims are outlandish. The Green New Deal is, among other things, a plan to tightly regulate and upgrade the energy system so the United States gets 100 percent of its electricity from renewables in a decade. Texas, of course, still gets the majority of its energy from gas and coal; much of that industry’s poorly insulated infrastructure froze up last week when it collided with wild weather that prompted a huge surge in demand. (Despite the claims of many conservatives, renewable energy was not to blame.) It was the very sort of freakish weather system now increasingly common, thanks to the unearthing and burning of fossil fuels like coal and gas. While the link between global warming and rare cold fronts like the one that just slammed Texas remains an area of active research, Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, says the increasing frequency of such events should be “a wake up call.”
But weather alone did not cause this crisis. Texans are living through the collapse of a 40-year experiment in free-market fundamentalism, one that has also stood in the way of effective climate action. Fortunately, there’s a way out — and that’s precisely what Republican politicians in the state most fear.
An Energy-Market Free-for-All
A fateful series of decisions were made in the late-’90s, when the now-defunct, scandal-plagued energy company Enron led a successful push to radically deregulate Texas’s electricity sector. As a result, decisions about the generation and distribution of power were stripped from regulators and, in effect, handed over to private energy companies. Unsurprisingly, these companies prioritized short-term profit over costly investments to maintain the grid and build in redundancies for extreme weather.
Today, Texans are at the mercy of regulation-allergic politicians who failed to require that energy companies plan for shocks or weatherize their infrastructure (renewables and fossil fuel alike). In a recent appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, Austin’s mayor, Steve Adler, summed it up: “We have a deregulated power system in the state and it does not work, because it does not build in the incentives in order to protect people.”
This energy-market free-for-all means that as the snow finally melts, many Texans are discovering that they owe their private electricity providers thousands of dollars — a consequence of leaving pricing to the whims of the market. The $200,000 energy bills some people received, the photos of which went viral online, were, it seems, a mistake. But some bills approaching $10,000 are the result of simple supply and demand in a radically underregulated market. “The last thing an awful lot of people need right now is a higher electric bill,” said Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst with LendingTree. “And that’s unfortunately something a lot of people will get stuck with.” This is bad news for those customers, but great news for shale gas companies like Comstock Resources Inc. On an earnings call last Wednesday, its chief financial officer said, “This week is like hitting the jackpot with some of these incredible prices.”
Put bluntly, Texas is about as far from having a Green New Deal as any place on earth. So why have Republicans seized it as their scapegoat of choice?
A Shock to the System
Blame right-wing panic. For decades, the Republicans have met every disaster with a credo I have described as “the shock doctrine.” When disaster strikes, people are frightened and dislocated. They focus on handling the emergencies of daily life, like boiling snow for drinking water. They have less time to engage in politics and a reduced capacity to protect their rights. They often regress, deferring to strong and decisive leaders — think of New York’s ill-fated love affairs with then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani after the 9/11 attacks and Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Large-scale shocks — natural disasters, economic collapse, terrorist attacks — become ideal moments to smuggle in unpopular free-market policies that tend to enrich elites at everyone else’s expense. Crucially, the shock doctrine is not about solving underlying drivers of crises: It’s about exploiting those crises to ram through your wish list even if it exacerbates the crisis.
To explain this phenomenon, I often quote a guru of the free market revolution, the late economist Milton Friedman. In 1982, he wrote about what he saw as the mission of right-wing economists like him: “Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”
Republicans have effectively deployed this tactic even after crises like the 2008 market collapse, created by financial deregulation and made deadlier by decades of austerity. Democrats have, largely, been willing partners. This seems counterintuitive, but it all comes back to Friedman’s credo: The change doesn’t depend on the reasons for the crisis, only on who has the ideas “lying around” — a kind of intellectual disaster preparedness. And for a long time, it was only the right, bolstered by a network of free-market think tanks linked to both major parties, that had its ideas at the ready.
When Hurricane Katrina broke through New Orleans’s long-neglected levees in 2005, there was, briefly, some hope that the catastrophe might serve as a kind of wake-up call. Witnessing the abandonment of thousands of residents on their rooftops and in the Superdome, small-government fetishists suddenly lost their religion. “When a city is sinking into the sea and rioting runs rampant, government probably should saddle-up,” Jonah Goldberg, a prominent right-wing commentator, wrote at the time. In environmental circles, there was also discussion that the disaster could spur climate action. Some dared to predict that the collapsed levees would be for the small-government, free-market legacy of Reaganism what the fall of the Berlin Wall was for Soviet Communism.
None of it happened. Instead, New Orleans became a laboratory for the shock doctrine. Public schools were shut down en masse, replaced by charter schools. Public housing was demolished, and costly townhouses sprang up, preventing thousands of the city’s poorest residents, the majority of them Black, from ever returning. The reconstruction of the city became a feeding ground for private contractors. Republicans used the cover of crisis to call for expanded oil and gas exploration and new refinery capacity, much as Mr. Perry is doing right now in Texas with his calls for doubling down on gas.
Many tried to stop them. Teachers’ unions, despite having their members scattered throughout the country, did their best to fight the privatizations. Residents of public housing and their supporters faced tear gas to try to stop the demolition of their homes. But there were no readily available, alternate ideas lying around for how New Orleans could be rebuilt to make it both greener and fairer for all of its residents.
Even if there had been, there was no political muscle to turn such ideas into reality. Though the environmental justice movement has deep roots in Louisiana’s “cancer alley,” the climate justice movement was only just emerging at the time Katrina struck. There was no Sunrise Movement, the youth-led organization that occupied Nancy Pelosi’s office after the 2018 midterms to demand “good jobs, and a livable planet.” There was no “squad,” the ad hoc alliance of congressional progressives whose most visible member, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, sent shock waves through Washington by joining the Sunrisers in their occupation. There had not yet been two Bernie Sanders presidential campaigns to show Americans how popular these ideas really are. And there was certainly no national movement for a Green New Deal.
Lying in Ruin
The difference between then and now goes a very long way toward explaining why Mr. Abbott is railing against a policy plan that, as of now, exists primarily on paper. In a crisis, ideas matter — he knows this. He also knows that the Green New Deal, which promises to create millions of union jobs building out shock-resilient green energy infrastructure, transit and affordable housing, is extremely appealing. This is especially true now, as so many Texans suffer under the overlapping crises of
- racial injustice,
- crumbling public services and
- extreme weather.
All that Texas’s Republicans have to offer, in contrast, is continued oil and gas dependence — driving more climate disruption — alongside more privatizations and cuts to public services to pay for their state’s mess, which we can expect them to push in the weeks and months ahead.
Will it work? Unlike when the Republican Party began deploying the shock doctrine, its free-market playbook is no longer novel. It has been tried and repeatedly tested: by the pandemic, by spiraling hunger and joblessness, by extreme weather. And it is failing all of those tests — so much so that even the most ardent cheerleaders of deregulation now point to Texas’s energy grid as a cautionary tale. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, for instance, called the deregulation of Texas’s energy system “a fundamental flaw.”
In short, Republican ideas are no longer lying around — they are lying in ruin. Small government is simply no match for this era of big, interlocking problems. Moreover, for the first time since Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s former prime minister, declared that “there is no alternative” to leaving our fates to the market, progressives are ready with a host of problem-solving plans. The big question is whether the Democrats who hold power in Washington will have the courage to implement them.
The horrors currently unfolding in Texas expose both the reality of the climate crisis and the extreme vulnerability of fossil fuel infrastructure in the face of that crisis. So of course the Green New Deal finds itself under fierce attack. Because for the first time in a long time, Republicans face the very thing that they claim to revere but never actually wanted: competition — in the battle of ideas.
Texas officials knew winter storms could leave the state’s power grid vulnerable, but they left the choice to prepare for harsh weather up to the power companies — many of which opted against the costly upgrades. That, plus a deregulated energy market largely isolated from the rest of the country’s power grid, left the state alone to deal with the crisis, experts said.
Millions of Texans have gone days without power or heat in subfreezing temperatures brought on by snow and ice storms. Limited regulations on companies that generate power and a history of isolating Texas from federal oversight help explain the crisis, energy and policy experts told The Texas Tribune.
While Texas Republicans were quick to pounce on renewable energy and to blame frozen wind turbines, the natural gas, nuclear and coal plants that provide most of the state’s energy also struggled to operate during the storm. Officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the energy grid operator for most of the state, said that the state’s power system was simply no match for the deep freeze.
“Nuclear units, gas units, wind turbines, even solar, in different ways — the very cold weather and snow has impacted every type of generator,” said Dan Woodfin, a senior director at ERCOT.
Energy and policy experts said Texas’ decision not to require equipment upgrades to better withstand extreme winter temperatures, and choosing to operate mostly isolated from other grids in the U.S. left power system unprepared for the winter crisis.
Policy observers blamed the power system failure on the legislators and state agencies who they say did not properly heed the warnings of previous storms or account for more extreme weather events warned of by climate scientists. Instead, Texas prioritized the free market.
“Clearly we need to change our regulatory focus to protect the people, not profits,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, a now-retired former director of Public Citizen, an Austin-based consumer advocacy group who advocated for changes after in 2011 when Texas faced a similar energy crisis.
“Instead of taking any regulatory action, we ended up getting guidelines that were unenforceable and largely ignored in [power companies’] rush for profits,” he said.
It is possible to “winterize” natural gas power plants, natural gas production, wind turbines, and other energy infrastructure, experts said, through practices like insulating pipelines. These upgrades help prevent major interruptions in other states with regularly cold weather.
LESSONS FROM 2011
In 2011, Texas faced a very similar storm that froze natural gas wells and affected coal plants and wind turbines, leading to power outages across the state. A decade later, Texas power generators have still not made all the investments necessary to prevent plants from tripping offline during extreme cold, experts said.
Woodfin, of ERCOT, acknowledged that there’s no requirement to prepare power infrastructure for such extremely low temperatures. “Those are not mandatory, it’s a voluntary guideline to decide to do those things,” he said. “There are financial incentives to stay online, but there is no regulation at this point.”
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which has some authority to regulate power generators in the U.S., is currently developing mandatory standards for “winterizing” energy infrastructure, a spokesperson said.
Texas politicians and regulators were warned after the 2011 storm that more “winterizing” of power infrastructure was necessary, a report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation shows. The large number of units that tripped offline or couldn’t start during that storm, “demonstrates that the generators did not adequately anticipate the full impact of the extended cold weather and high winds,” regulators wrote at the time. More thorough preparation for cold weather could have prevented the outages, the report said.
“This should have been addressed in 2011 by the Legislature after that market meltdown, but there was no substantial follow up,” by state politicians or regulators, said Ed Hirs, an energy fellow and economics professor at the University of Houston. “They skipped on down the road with business as usual.”
ERCOT officials said that some generators implemented new winter practices after the freeze a decade ago, and new voluntary “best practices” were adopted. Woodfin said that during subsequent storms, such as in 2018, it appeared that those efforts worked. But he said this storm was even more extreme than regulators anticipated based on models developed after the 2011 storm. He acknowledged that any changes made were “not sufficient to keep these generators online,” during this storm.
After temperatures plummeted and snow covered large parts of the state Sunday night, ERCOT warned increased demand might lead to short-term, rolling blackouts. Instead, huge portions of the largest cities in Texas went dark and have remained without heat or power for days. On Tuesday, nearly 60% of Houston households and businesses were without power. Of the total installed capacity to the electric grid, about 40% went offline during the storm, Woodfin said.
CLIMATE WAKE-UP CALL
Climate scientists in Texas agree with ERCOT leaders that this week’s storm was unprecedented in some ways. They also say it’s evidence that Texas is not prepared to handle an increasing number of more volatile and more extreme weather events.
“We cannot rely on our past to guide our future,” said Dev Niyogi, a geosciences professor at the University of Texas at Austin who previously served as the state climatologist for Indiana. He noted that previous barometers are becoming less useful as states see more intense weather covering larger areas for prolonged periods of time. He said climate scientists want infrastructure design to consider a “much larger spectrum of possibilities” rather than treating these storms as a rarity, or a so-called “100-year event”.
Katharine Hayhoe, a leading climate scientist at Texas Tech University, highlighted a 2018 study that showed how a warming Arctic is creating more severe polar vortex events. “It’s a wake up call to say, ‘What if these are getting more frequent?’” Hayhoe said. “Moving forward, that gives us even more reason to be more prepared in the future.”
Still, Hayhoe and Niyogi acknowledged there’s uncertainty about the connection between climate change and cold air outbreaks from the Arctic.
Other Texas officials looked beyond ERCOT. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins argued that the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry — a remit that includes natural gas wells and pipelines — prioritized commercial customers over residents by not requiring equipment to be better equipped for cold weather. The RRC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Other states require you to have cold weather packages on your generation equipment and require you to use, either through depth or through materials, gas piping that is less likely to freeze,” Jenkins said.
Texas’ electricity market is also deregulated, meaning that no one company owns all the power plants, transmission lines and distribution networks. Instead, several different companies generate and transmit power, which they sell on the wholesale market to yet more players. Those power companies in turn are the ones that sell to homes and businesses. Policy experts disagree on whether a different structure would have helped Texas navigate these outages. “I don’t think deregulation itself is necessarily the thing to blame here,” said Josh Rhodes, a research associate at University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute.
HISTORY OF ISOLATION
Texas’ grid is also mostly isolated from other areas of the country, a set up designed to avoid federal regulation. It has some connectivity to Mexico and to the Eastern U.S. grid, but those ties have limits on what they can transmit. The Eastern U.S. is also facing the same winter storm that is creating a surge in power demand. That means that Texas has been unable to get much help from other areas.
“If you’re going to say you can handle it by yourself, step up and do it,” said Hirs, the UH energy fellow, of the state’s pursuit of an independent grid with a deregulated market. “That’s the incredible failure.”
Rhodes, of UT Austin, said Texas policy makers should consider more connections to the rest of the country. That, he acknowledged, could come at a higher financial cost — and so will any improvements to the grid to prevent future disasters. There’s an open question as to whether Texas leadership will be willing to fund, or politically support, any of these options.
“We need to have a conversation about if we believe that we’re going to have more weather events like this,” Rhodes said. “On some level it comes down to if you want a more resilient grid, we can build it, it will just cost more money. What are you willing to pay? We’re going to have to confront that.”
Mike Lofgren, a congressional staff member for 28 years, joins Bill Moyers to talk about what he calls Washington’s “Deep State,” in which elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests. “It is how we had deregulation, financialization of the economy, the Wall Street bust, the erosion or our civil liberties and perpetual war,” Lofgren tells Moyers.
this week on Moyers & Company longtime insider Mike Lofgren what he calls the big story of our times the deep state it is I would save the red thread that runs through the history of the last three decades it’s how we had deregulation financialization of the economy The Wall Street bust the erosion of our civil liberties and perpetual war funding is provided by and gumowitz encouraging the renewal of democracy Carnegie Corporation of New York celebrating 100 years of philanthropy and committed to doing real and permanent good in the world the Ford Foundation working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide the Herb Alpert foundation supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and creativity in our society the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation committed to building a more just verdant and peaceful world more information at macfound.org Park foundation dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues the Kohlberg foundation barbra jean– Fleischman and by our sole corporate sponsor mutual of America designing customized individual and group retirement products that’s why we’re your retirement company welcome if you’ve read the Espionage novels of john lecarre a you know that no other writer today has so brilliantly evoked the subterranean workings of government perhaps because he himself was once a British spy liquor a has a name for that invisible labyrinth of power he calls it the deep state and now an American you’re about to meet in this broadcast has seized on that concept to describe the forces he says are controlling our government no matter the party in power but Mike Lofgren ZnO intelligence agent although he had a top-secret security clearance he’s a numbers man a congressional staff member for 28 years with the powerful House and Senate budget committees over the years as he crunched those numbers he realized they didn’t add up in said they led him to America’s own deep state where elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests Mike Lofgren was so disgusted he not only left Capitol Hill he left the Republican Party and wrote this book the party is over how Republicans went crazy Democrats became useless and the middle class got shafted now at our request and exclusively for billmoyers.com he is written anatomy of the deep state you’ll want to read it as soon as we finish this conversation Mike Lofgren welcome good to be here again but this is a difficult subject to talk about it would be easier if it were a conspiracy you’re describing but that’s not the case is it no I’m not a conspiracy theorist of this is not some cabal that was hatched in the dark of night this is something that hides in plain sight it’s something we know about but we can’t connect the dots or most people don’t connect the dots it’s kind of a natural evolution when so much money and political control is at stake in the most powerful country in the world this has evolved over time and you call it the real power in the country correct it is a hybrid of corporate America and the national security state everyone knows what the military-industrial complex is since Eisenhower talked about it in his farewell address we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence whether sought or unsought by the military-industrial complex the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist we must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes everyone knows Wall Street and its depredations everyone knows how corporate America acts they’re both about the same thing they’re both about money sucking as much money out of the country as they can and they’re about control corporate control and political control you said this in your judgment is the big story of our time it is the big story of our time it is I would say the red thread that runs through the history of the last three decades it’s how we had deregulation financialization of the economy the Wall Street bust the erosion of our civil liberties and perpetual war you write that the secret and unaccountable deep state floats freely above the gridlock between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is the paradox of American government in the 21st century well that’s just the thing the common narrative in the last five years and on a superficial level it’s right is that government is broken it’s dysfunctional its gridlocked well that’s true and that is the visible government the constitutional government we learn about in civics 101 and it is gridlocked but somehow Obama can go into Libya he can assassinate US citizens he can collect all our phone records without a by-your-leave from anyone um he can even bring down a jet carrying a president of a sovereign country without asking anyone’s permission and no one seems to connect the two the failure of our visible constitutional state and this other government that operates according to no constitutional rules or any constraint by the governed you go on to say though that it’s not just the executive branch that is the heart of this that is just one of the several constituencies that make up what you called the deep state well it’s all the national security functions of the government it’s the Pentagon its homeland security it’s the State Department it’s also Treasury because they have a kind of symbiotic relationship with Wall Street but one thing they control the flow of money absolutely and that’s why there’s such a flow not only of money but of personnel between Wall Street and the Treasury Department there’s other aspects of government there’s a portion of the judiciary a small portion of the judiciary the so called Foreign Intelligence Surveillance courts most of Congress doesn’t even know how they operate talk a little bit more about the Nexus the connection between the national security state and Wall Street because this is a theme that runs through your essay do you know that about 30 blocks north of here there is a restaurant that will sell you a truffle for ninety five thousand dollars also in new york christie’s sold at auction a painting by francis bacon for a hundred and forty two million now a parallel situation with the national security state the NSA spent 1.7 billion dollars to build a facility in Utah that will collect one yottabyte of information that’s as much information as has ever been written in the history of the world it costs four hundred dollars by the time the Pentagon finishes paying contractors to haul one gallon of gasoline into Afghanistan that’s a real extravagant amount of money in both cases of the national security state and the corporate state they are sucking money out of the economy as our infrastructure collapses we have a tinkertoy power grid that goes out every time there’s inclement weather tens of millions of people are on food stamps we incarcerate more people than China an authoritarian state with four times our popular elation does anyone see the disparity between this extravagance for the deep state and the penury that is being forced on the rest of the country that isn’t a natural evolution something made it happen we’re having a situation where the deep state is essentially out of control it’s unconstrained since 9/11 we have built the equivalent of three Pentagon’s around the DC metropolitan area holding defense contractors intelligence contractors and government civilians involved in the military-industrial complex there are over 400,000 contractors private citizens who have top-secret security clearances and they are heart and soul of the of the deep state as you describe it absolutely it being privatized which means the power shifts from accountable officials to unaccountable in contractors about 70% of the intelligence budget goes to contracts how new is this I mean back in 2010 the Washington Post published a stunning investigation of what the editors called top secret America I mean we have known about this have we not yes we know about this but the intelligence functions of the government are too important to outsource in the manner we have it’s something where absolute discretion is needed and absolute trust that they are not violating civil liberties and to put this kind of a burden if you will on private contract employees is I think become a great disservice you say that that you came to question this it took you a while it was a gradual enlightenment that took place you were dealing with big numbers and particular details in the budgets that all of these agencies were sending to you when you on Capitol Hill right you were seeing the number solution you what works what was happening to the numbers at the end of 2001 is we appropriated a lot of money and it didn’t seem to be going to Afghanistan the proximate source of the 911 attacks it seemed to be going to the Persian Gulf region and I said what’s going on here Saddam Hussein didn’t bring down the Twin Towers so the little light went on and I began to sort of disenchant myself from the normal group think that tends to take over in any organization group think at some point in your essay you talk about how group think drives the deep state it absolutely does just as it tends to drive any bureaucratic organization what do you mean by groupthink well the psychologist Irving Janis called it groupthink it’s a kind of assimilation of the views of your superiors and your peers it’s becoming a yes-man and in many respects it’s an unconscious thing I remember what Upton Sinclair once said it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when this salary depends on him not understanding it that is certainly a part of it you described Washington as clearly and obviously the headquarters of a deep state but talk about some of some of the others who are in the game Wall Street is perhaps the ultimate backstop to the whole operation because they generates so much money that they can provide second careers for a lot of the government operatives they’re going to make more money than they ever dreamed they would on Wall Street and I think a good example of that is the most celebrated soldier of the last decade David Petraeus what did he do when he retired he went to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts a Wall Street buyout firm with 90 billion in assets under management you described him as a kind of avatar of the deep state he is in a way because he now represents both ends of it we see now our present-day Cincinnatus did not pick up the plow when he lay down the sword Cincinnatus was the roman who left his farm to become a general in the war when the war was over he went back to be a farmer that doesn’t happen today no it doesn’t the vast majority of generals seem to end up on the boards of defense contractors talk a little bit about what you call this strange relationship between Silicon Valley and the government and how it fits into the deep state well the National Security Agency could not do what it does the CIA could not do what it does without Silicon Valley now Silicon Valley unlike the defense contractors mostly sells to private individuals and to companies it’s not a big government vendor however its services are necessary and de facto they have become a part of the NSA’s operations I’m sure the CEOs of some of these companies try to obscure the fact that this has mostly been voluntary for many years Ameena surveillance the surveillance the gathering of information about unknowing citizens absolute or commercial purposes though precisely they’ve done it themselves and they’ve assisted the NSA through a FISA Court order for an intelligence or an Intelligence Surveillance Act so this has been going on for quite a while yet now like inspector Reno they are shocked shocked to find out but I think their main shock is that they’re now starting to lose market share in foreign countries these these moguls as you call them pass themselves off as libertarians who they make a big pretence about being libertarians and believing in the rugged individualism and so forth but they’ve been every bit as intrusive as the NSA has been in terms of collecting your data for commercial purposes rather than so-called national security purposes but they’re in it just as heavily as the NSA is and they somehow managed to get the intellectual property laws rigged so that you are theoretically subject to a fine up to five hundred thousand dollars for jailbreaking your phone to me which means if you don’t like the carrier on your phone that the manufacturer dictates you shall have and you change it without authorization you don’t have the right to something you bought could this symbiotic and actual relationship between Silicon Valley and the government reflecting the deep state explain the indulgence Washington has shown Silicon Valley Oh matters of intellectual property absolutely people no longer necessarily own their property that they buy if they’re buying it from Silicon Valley they simply have a kind of lease on it if as you write the ideologies of the deep state is not democrat or republican not left or right what is it it’s an ideology I just don’t think we’ve named it it’s a kind of corporatism now the actors in this drama tend to steer clear of social issues they pretend to be merrily neutral servants of the state giving the best advice possible on national security or financial matters but they hold it very deep ideology of the Washington Consensus at home which is deregulation outsourcing deindustrialization and financialization and they believe in American exceptionalism abroad which is boots on the ground everywhere it’s our right to meddle everywhere in the world and the result of that is perpetual war you see it is shadowy and more ill-defined more ill-defined than what it’s more ill-defined than simply saying Wall Street or saying the military-industrial complex or saying Silicon Valley or the corporations it’s a symbiosis of all of the above here’s your summing up quote as long as appropriations bills get passed on time promotion lists get confirmed black or secret budgets get rubber-stamped special tax subsidies for certain corporations are approved without controversy as long as too many awkward questions are not asked the gears of the hybrid state will mesh noiselessly is that the ideology that is a government within a government that operates off the visible government and operates off the taxpayers but it doesn’t seem to be constrained in a constitutional sense by the government is there a solution to the way the system works in I think we’re starting to see some discord in the ideology of the factions that make up the deep state we’re seeing Silicon Valley jumps ship they are starting protests against the NSA we’re seeing the Tea Party bailing out against the deep state they may be wrong on many economic issues but I don’t think they’re necessarily wrong on this one so the public could be doing wise I think they are there’s a much more vivid debate going on in the country about surveillance ever since the revelations by Edward Snowden Mike Lofgren thank you very much for being with me thanks to the journalist Lee Fang we have another revelation into how the deep state enterprise works writing for the Republic report a nonpartisan nonprofit that investigates money in politics he takes up that controversial trade deal called the trans-pacific partnership that President Obama is trying to push through Congress with minimum debate and no amendments controversial because some of its provisions reportedly enable corporate power to trump representative government even go around domestic courts and local laws one is said to prevent governments from enacting safeguards against another bank crisis another to empower corporations to sue governments for compensation if save environmental protections or regulations on tobacco and drugs interfered with future profits because of the secrecy we don’t know everything that’s in the draft agreement senator Elizabeth Warren calls it a chance for these banks to get something done quietly out of sight that they could not accomplish in a public place with the cameras rolling and the lights on which brings us to two officials chosen by President Obama to lead those trade negotiations leafing reports that they received multi-million dollar bonuses as they left giant financial firms to join the government Bank of America gave this man Stephan Selig more than nine million dollars in bonus pay as he was nominated to become the Undersecretary of Commerce for international trade and this man Michael Froman got over four million dollars when he left Citigroup to become the current US Trade Representative now both are no doubt honorable men they are all honorable men but when push comes to shove and the financial interest of huge corporations are on the table we can only hope they will act as independent men not faithful servants of the deep state but given the secrecy we may never know according to Lee Fang many large corporations with a strong incentive to influence public policy give executives bonuses and other incentive pay they take jobs within the government among them Goldman Sachs Morgan Stanley JP Morgan Chase the Blackstone Group Fannie Mae Northern Trust Citigroup even provides an executive contract that Awards additional retirement pay upon leaving to take a full-time high-level position with the US government or regulatory body I’m not making this up you get a bigger incentive if you leave Wall Street to go regulate Wall Street so it is the Fox is groomed for the chicken coop and the deep state grows coming up on Moyers & Company a powerful new book breaks the code of dog-whistle politics dog-whistle politics doesn’t come out of animus at all it doesn’t come out of some desire to hurt minorities it comes out of a desire to win votes and in that sense I want to start using the term strategic racism it’s racism as a strategy it’s cold it’s calculating it’s considered it’s the decision to achieve one’s own ends here winning votes by stirring racial animosity and and here’s a hard difficult truth most racists are good people they’re not sick they’re not ruled by anger or raw emotion or hatred they are complicated people reared in complicated societies they’re fully capable of generosity of empathy of real kindness but because of the idea systems in which they are reared they’re also capable of dehumanizing others and occasionally of brutal violence at our website billmoyers.com remember to read the complete text of my Clough goons essay anatomy of the deep state and then tell us what you think I’ll see you don’t wait a week to get more moyers visit billmoyers.com for exclusive blogs funding is provided by and gumowitz encouraging the renewal of democracy Carnegie Corporation of New York celebrating 100 years of philanthropy and committed to doing real and permanent good in the world the Ford Foundation working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide the Herb Alpert foundation supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and creativity in our society the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation committed to building a more just verdant and peaceful world more information at macfound.org Park foundation dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues the Kohlberg foundation barbra jean– Fleischman and by our sole corporate sponsor mutual of America designing customized individual and group retirement products that’s why
His race-baiting is impulsive and unpopular, not a brilliant strategy to win white votes.
Some columns spring from inspiration, some from diligent research. And some you’re prodded into writing because of what the other columnists are arguing about.
This is the third kind. With the Democratic debates in the spotlight, there has been a lot written on this op-ed page about the Democratic Party’s ideological evolution, its leftward march on many issues, and how this might help Donald Trump win re-election. Which in turn has prompted a recurring argument from certain of my liberal colleagues that anyone writing about the supposedly extremist Democrats should be writing about Trump’s extremism and unpopularity instead.
So this will be, as requested, a column about Trump’s extremism and unpopularity. But it’s not going to be a mirror image of the columns about the Democrats’ move leftward, because I don’t think policy substance matters as much to Trump’s prospects as it might to the party trying to unseat him.
It matters less because Trump in 2020 won’t be a change candidate. Instead, like every incumbent, he’ll be a candidate of the policy status quo — only much more so in his case, because his legislative agenda dissolved earlier than most presidents and the prospects for continued gridlock are obvious.
That means Trump probably won’t be campaigning on what he promised across 2016 — the kind of infrastructure-building, “worker’s party” conservatism whose ambitions vanished with Steve Bannon. But he also won’t be campaigning on the Paul Ryan agenda that the Republican Congress pushed in his first year, or reviving unpopular Ryan-era ideas like entitlement reform on the 2020 trail.
Instead Trump’s policy argument in 2020 will be, basically, let’s keep doing what we’re doing. That status quo includes a
- deregulatory agenda,
- a tariff push and a
- harsh border policy that are all unpopular.
But it also includes:
- free-spending budgets,
- easy money and a more
- anti-interventionist (for now) foreign policy than past Republicans, all of which are relatively popular.
And in the context of a strong economic expansion, a Trump re-election effort that rested on this record while warning against Democratic radicalism could be plausibly favored.
Except that this isn’t the kind of campaign that Trump himself wants to run. He wants the
- racialized Twitter feuds, the
- battles over Baltimore and Ilhan Omar, the
- media freak-outs and the
- “don’t call us racist!” defensiveness of his rallygoing fans.
He feeds on it, he loves it, and he’s as obviously bored by the prospect of a safe, status-quo campaign as he is obviously uninterested in the conservative intellectuals trying to transform Trumpism into something intellectually robust.
And here I agree with the left that there’s a media tendency to give Trump’s race-baiting impulses more credit as a strategy than they actually deserve. After each Twitter outburst his advisers try to retrofit a strategic vision, to claim there’s a master plan unfolding in which 2020 will become a referendum on Omar’s anti-Semitic tropes or the Baltimore crime rate. And the press gives them credence out of an imprinted-by-2016 fear that the president has a sinister sort of genius about what will help him win.
But this is paranoia, and the retrofitting is Trumpworld wishful thinking. There was, yes, a sinister genius at work when Trump used birtherism to build a primary-season constituency in 2016. But since then, his race-baiting has clearly contributed to his chronic unpopularity, and his re-election chances would almost certainly be far better if he talked like George W. Bush on race instead.
Second, in 2016 Trump won many millions of voters who disapproved of him. But in recent 2020 polling, Trump is performing below his job approval rating in many head-to-head matchups, which suggests that voters who would be responsive to the “policy status quo” argument keep getting turned off by the president’s rhetoric. The supposedly-brilliant strategy of racial polarization, then, is probably just a self-inflicted wound.
None of this means that Trump cannot be re-elected. But it means that if he wins again, it will likely be in spite of his own rhetoric, not as the dark fruit of a white-identitarian campaign.
In this sense both NeverTrump-conservative and liberal columnists can be right about the basic situation. The liberals are right that Trump is defiantly outside the mainstream — that every day, in a particular way, he proves himself extreme.
But this is a fixed reality for 2020, and the NeverTrump side is right about the variable: The campaign may turn on how successfully the Democrats claim or build an anti-Trump center, as opposed to appearing to offer an unpalatable extremism of their own.
But Trump’s theatrics were also very convenient because they disguised the fact that he cannot now, or ever, deliver on his signature promise to create a “great” infrastructure program. This is why Trump “infrastructure weeks” have become a standing joke in Washington. LaTourette was right: The Republican Party is no longer interested in spending public money to solve big problems if doing so gets in the way of cutting taxes.
LaTourette explained this in his rough-and-ready way back in 2011 when he called the 2010 tea party class of Republicans “knuckledraggers that came in in the last election that hate taxes.”
One of those newcomers was Mick Mulvaney, now Trump’s acting chief of staff and budget director. From the moment Trump, Pelosi and Schumer announced their convergence on a $2 trillion infrastructure plan last month, Mulvaney began sabotaging it. “Is it difficult to pass any infrastructure bill in this environment, let alone a $2 trillion one, in this environment? Absolutely,” Mulvaney said.
He was far from alone because the entire Republican leadership in Congress is now part of the Knuckledraggers Caucus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly signaled that he had absolutely no interest in a big infrastructure plan if it required rolling back any part of the GOP’s 2017 corporate tax cut.
Democrats argue that because business is clamoring for infrastructure, it would make sense to ask business to foot part of the bill. They have suggested raising the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from the 21 percent enshrined in the 2017 law and pulling back on some of its other provisions.
No way, say the Republicans. A “nonstarter,” declared McConnell. Faced with the choice of bridges collapsing in a heap or reining in the tax giveaways, the bridges don’t have much of a chance.
Note that the meeting Trump sabotaged was about how to finance the plan. He had no way of coming up with anything constructive because, for all of his bravado, he is totally under the thumb of Congress’s conservative ideologues. His tantrum was part of the coverup no one is talking about: The emperor has no money.
This fact underscores a widespread misunderstanding about our politics. “Normal” Republicans are regularly described as privately horrified with Trump. Trump is said to have engaged in “a hostile takeover” of the GOP.
In fact, it’s Trump who has been taken over. He campaigned as a different kind of Republican, and his infrastructure promise was a major component of his antiideological image. But on all the things the ideologues and right-wing business interests care about —
Trump caves in.
We know the president’s boast that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any votes.” Perhaps Republicans in Congress wouldn’t go that far. Otherwise, they’ll keep standing with him as long as he prostrates himself before their tax-cutting god, even if this means showing he is too weak and powerless to fix the roads.
We can save our broken economic system from itself.
Despite the lowest unemployment rates since the late 1960s, the American economy is failing its citizens. Some 90 percent have seen their incomes stagnate or decline in the past 30 years. This is not surprising, given that the United States has the highest level of inequality among the advanced countries and one of the lowest levels of opportunity — with the fortunes of young Americans more dependent on the income and education of their parents than elsewhere.
But things don’t have to be that way. There is an alternative: progressive capitalism. Progressive capitalism is not an oxymoron; we can indeed channel the power of the market to serve society.
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan’s regulatory “reforms,” which reduced the ability of government to curb the excesses of the market, were sold as great energizers of the economy. But just the opposite happened: Growth slowed, and weirder still, this happened in the innovation capital of the world.
The sugar rush produced by President Trump’s largess to corporations in the 2017 tax law didn’t deal with any of these long-run problems, and is already fading. Growth is expected to be a little under 2 percent next year.
This is where we’ve descended to, but not where we have to stay. A progressive capitalism based on an understanding of what gives rise to growth and societal well-being gives us a way out of this quagmire and a way up for our living standards.
Standards of living began to improve in the late 18th century for two reasons:
- the development of science (we learned how to learn about nature and used that knowledge to increase productivity and longevity) and
- developments in social organization (as a society, we learned how to work together, through institutions like the rule of law, and democracies with checks and balances).
Key to both were systems of assessing and verifying the truth. The real and long-lasting danger of the Trump presidency is the risk it poses to these pillars of our economy and society, its attack on the very idea of knowledge and expertise, and its hostility to institutions that help us discover and assess the truth.
There is a broader social compact that allows a society to work and prosper together, and that, too, has been fraying. America created the first truly middle-class society; now, a middle-class life is increasingly out of reach for its citizens.
America arrived at this sorry state of affairs because we forgot that the true source of the wealth of a nation is the creativity and innovation of its people. One can get rich either by adding to the nation’s economic pie or by grabbing a larger share of the pie by exploiting others — abusing, for instance, market power or informational advantages. We confused the hard work of wealth creation with wealth-grabbing (or, as economists call it, rent-seeking), and too many of our talented young people followed the siren call of getting rich quickly.
Beginning with the Reagan era, economic policy played a key role in this dystopia: Just as forces of globalization and technological change were contributing to growing inequality, we adopted policies that worsened societal inequities. Even as economic theories like information economics (dealing with the ever-present situation where information is imperfect), behavioral economics and game theory arose to explain why markets on their own are often not efficient, fair, stable or seemingly rational, we relied more on markets and scaled back social protections.
We are now in a vicious cycle: Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.
If we don’t change course matters will likely grow worse, as machines (artificial intelligence and robots) replace an increasing fraction of routine labor, including many of the jobs of the several million Americans making their living by driving.
The prescription follows from the diagnosis: It begins by recognizing the vital role that the state plays in making markets serve society. We need regulations that ensure strong competition without abusive exploitation, realigning the relationship between corporations and the workers they employ and the customers they are supposed to serve. We must be as resolute in combating market power as the corporate sector is in increasing it.
If we had curbed exploitation in all of its forms and encouraged wealth creation, we would have had a more dynamic economy with less inequality. We might have curbed the opioid crisis and avoided the 2008 financial crisis. If we had done more to blunt the power of oligopolies and strengthen the power of workers, and if we had held our banks accountable, the sense of powerlessness might not be so pervasive and Americans might have greater trust in our institutions.
The neoliberal fantasy that unfettered markets will deliver prosperity to everyone should be put to rest. It is as fatally flawed as the notion after the fall of the Iron Curtain that we were seeing “the end of history” and that we would all soon be liberal democracies with capitalist economies.
Most important, our exploitive capitalism has shaped who we are as individuals and as a society. The rampant dishonesty we’ve seen from Wells Fargo and Volkswagen or from members of the Sackler family as they promoted drugs they knew were addictive — this is what is to be expected in a society that lauds the pursuit of profits as leading, to quote Adam Smith, “as if by an invisible hand,” to the well-being of society, with no regard to whether those profits derive from exploitation or wealth creation.
Smith’s breakthrough came in 1996, with the publication of his article “Faulty Assumptions and Undemocratic Consequences of Campaign Finance Reform” in the Yale Law Journal.
In “Faulty Assumptions”, Smith laid out a case against campaign finance regulation, arguing that efforts to regulate money in politics had been based on a series of incorrect beliefs about the effects of money in politics, and that as a result reform efforts had failed to accomplish their objectives and had made many of the problems of money in politics worse. “Faulty Assumptions,” and later articles by Smith, have been cited in numerous recent Supreme Court decisions striking down campaign finance laws on Constitutional grounds, including Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In 2010 The New York Times called Smith the “intellectual powerhouse” behind the movement to deregulate campaign finance. The importance of “Faulty Assumptions” lay in its blending of existing political science research with legal and constitutional theory. Before “Faulty Assumptions”, most legal scholarship on campaign finance had followed a narrative that assumed the corruptive and anti-egalitarian effects of large campaign contributions and spending, and had then focused on the creating a legal regime to control those effects and justify regulation against First Amendment claims recognized by the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo. At the same time, these articles largely ignored a growing literature in political science based on empirical studies of campaign spending and regulatory regimes. Smith’s contribution was to bring these two arms of scholarship together, blending the growing body of empirical data to the constitutional and legal principles laid out elsewhere. The result was to challenge the very foundation of campaign finance reform in both politics and constitutional law. Smith’s analysis forced proponents of reform to rethink many basic assumptions, or at least to justify them against his critique.
.. Smith also wrote Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform, a book published by the Princeton University Press in 2001. By the time Unfree Speech was published, both Smith and his campaign finance scholarship had become something of a Rorschach test for attitudes about campaign finance. The book met with near universal praise among opponents of regulation, such as columnist George Will, who called it “the Year’s most important book on governance,” and condemnation from supporters of regulation, with journalist Eliza Newlin Carney lambasting it as “facile and boggling.” Scholars, including the British political scientist Michael Pinto-Duschinsky were more balanced and generally complimentary, but by the time of publication Smith had been appointed to the Federal Election Commission and the book was largely reviewed as a political tract, rather than as the scholarly manuscript Smith presumably intended.
.. The Brennan Center for Justice, a harsh critic of Smith’s work, nevertheless recognized him as “the most sought after witness” to make the case for deregulation of campaign finance before congressional committees.
.. Because of his contrarian, deregulatory views on campaign finance, there was a strong objection to his nomination from reform advocates.
The libertarian magazine Reason noted that virtually all reform advocates “agreed that he was the wrong person for the job”. His nomination, however, received support from supporters of deregulation of campaign finance, such as the Cato Institute.
.. After leaving the FEC, Smith returned to teaching at Capital University and founded a non-profit organization, the Center for Competitive Politics to promote deregulation of campaign finance.