The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – April 10, 2022

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy


Michael Brenner [Consortium News, via Naked Capitalism 4-9-2022].

…it is manifestly obvious that our society is not capable of conducting an honest, logical, reasonably informed discourse on matters of consequence. Instead, we experience fantasy, fabrication, fatuousness and fulmination.  At a more personal level, this impression is reinforced by messages from persons whom I’ve known and respected telling me that I’m in the pay of Russian President Vladimir Putin, “mad,” “too clever by half,”

…Third, it is self-evident that our national leaders, elected or appointed, are equally incapable of sober deliberation, of intellectual honesty (with themselves as well as us), of elementary logic, even of acknowledging factual realities. Consequently, the resulting behavior defies rational analysis.

NATO to target China – Stoltenberg 

[RT, via Naked Capitalism 4-6-2022]

The West is losing its mind:

NATO plans to deepen its cooperation with partners in Asia as a response to a rising “security challenge” coming from China, which refuses to condemn Russia’s ongoing military operation in Ukraine, the US-led bloc’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg revealed during a press conference on Tuesday.

Bill Clinton: “I Tried to Put Russia on Another Path”

Bill Clinton [[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-8-2022]

“I did everything I could to help Russia make the right choice and become a great 21st-century democracy.”

Comments were savagely on target:

Darthbobber April 8, 2022 at 4:11 pm

Clinton makes it all the way through that Russia screed without so much as mentioning the October ’93 Russian constitutional crisis, the shelling of parliament, suppression of the opposition press, end of the independence of the high court. Or of our considerable efforts at reelecting Yeltsin under-err–less than democratic conditions.

Sacrificing the fledgeling democracy of the Gorbachev constitution on the altar of shock therapy was pretty decisive in terms of Russia’s evolution since, also in terms of creating the oligarchs in the first place. Odd how none of this is worth even a passing mention. Priorities, I guess.

40 Years of the Reagan Revolution’s Libertarian Experiment Have Brought Us Crisis & Chaos

[Hartmann Report, via The Big Picture 4-3-2022]

“Please name one country, anywhere in the world, any time in the last 7000 years, where libertarianism has succeeded and produced general peace and prosperity?”

Minerals critical to U.S. national security are overwhelmingly imported (chart)

[Cowen & Co via Bruce Mehlman, via The Big Picture 4-3-2022]


Strategic Political Economy — creating new science and technology

New part of the body found hiding in the lungs

[LiveScience, via Naked Capitalism 4-6-2022]

Scientists have discovered a brand-new type of cell hiding inside the delicate, branching passageways of human lungs. The newfound cells play a vital role in keeping the respiratory system functioning properly and could even inspire new treatments to reverse the effects of certain smoking-related diseases, according to a new study.
The cells, known as respiratory airway secretory (RAS) cells, are found in tiny, branching passages known as bronchioles, which are tipped with alveoli, the teensy air sacs that exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide with the bloodstream. The new RAS cells are similar to stem cells — “blank canvas” cells that can differentiate into any other type of cell in the body — and are capable of repairing damaged alveoli cells and transforming into new ones.

TW: The title is misleading — not “new part,” nor “new” but previously unknown types of cells with specific functions in the lungs. My point is to ground an understanding of the development of science and technology in the Enlightenment philosophy of humans acting in the image of their Creator to “work on” nature and move it ever closer to perfection. This is the only proper way to understand a republic and civic republican statecraft — “to create a more perfect union.” Moreover, in a republic, the goal of developing science and technology is not to create new revenue streams or profits, but to give humanity increasing power over nature and hence their own destiny. Think of, for example, Jared Diamond’s 1999 Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies: humanity has gained some small control over its own destiny by developing an understanding of germs and how they cause diseases, thus escaping the fate of early high morbidity rates among children and birthing mothers, for example.

And a key part of this philosophy is that the knowledge of newly created science and technology is the common heritage of all humanity. This is the unassailable philosophical position from which to attack concentrated wealth, monopolies, the past half century mutilation of copyright and trademark law, and conservatism. Especially conservatism, which is inherently resistant to change and thus antagonistic to the Enlightenment civic republican goal of developing science and technology for the benefit of all humanity.

Liberalism is much weaker on these points than civic republicanism, which is why so many problems seem intractable in our “liberal democracy.”

Tracking the Price of Nails since 1695

[National Bureau of Economic Research, via The Big Picture 4-5-2022]

In The Price of Nails since 1695: A Window into Economic Change (NBER Working Paper 29617), Daniel E. Sichel tracks nail prices over three centuries. He uses this extraordinary data series to explore changes in manufacturing processes and productivity growth. He focuses on nails because they are a basic manufactured product whose form and quality have changed relatively little since the late 1600s. The production method, however, has changed dramatically. At the beginning of the period being studied, nails were hand-forged by hammering a rod of iron. Later, nails were cut from strips of iron or steel, and most recently, cut from wire.

TW: A useful counterpoint, showing how modern economists miss the most crucial points by focusing on prices, instead of increasing humanity’s power over nature

Liberalism, conservatism and the lack of discussion of civic republicanism

“Why I Am Not A Liberal”

[The Sooty Empiric, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-5-2022]

The conclusion: “I believe core elements of liberalism, derived from the central historical missions it is meant to fulfil, are untenable. We cannot have a neutral public sphere and nor would the greater good just so happen to coincide with what liberals say the neutral public sphere looks like. As such we cannot make liberal tolerance norms work. What is more, the notion of private property used to make that tolerance concrete by giving each a sphere of action over which they have control, in fact tends towards undermining what is elsewise best in liberalism, and prevents collective action that might stop its reliance on imperialist exploitation. I hence think a system which did not rely on the public/private division, or anything akin to private ownership of the means of production in a market society, is required if we are to make good on the promise of Enlightenment.”

What Common Good? Adrian Vermeule has a new constitutional theory that hides its religious foundations.

MICAH SCHWARTZMAN, RICHARD SCHRAGGER, April 7, 2022 [The American Prospect]

Common Good Constitutionalism, by Adrian Vermeule (Polity Press, February 7, 2022)

In criticizing originalism, Vermeule borrows rather liberally from what he calls “progressive constitutionalism”—the view that the Constitution should be read with its purposes and principles in mind. He argues that progressives get some important things right about the nature of legal interpretation. Indeed, throughout his book, Vermeule relies heavily on Ronald Dworkin, the most influential American legal philosopher of the 20th century and a liberal critic of originalism. Dworkin argued that our legal system comprises much more than the Constitution, statutory texts, administrative regulations, and executive orders. All those different types of laws are created against the backdrop of often unwritten legal principles, which are drawn from our best understanding of political morality.

Vermeule thinks that Dworkin was right about the importance of moral principles in understanding the law. He just thinks Dworkin had the wrong principles. Vermeule claims that progressive constitutionalism is motivated by a liberal political morality that misconceives the common good in favor of an ever-expanding conception of individual autonomy….

For Vermeule, then, originalism is fatally flawed because it is cut off from political morality. Progressive constitutionalism doesn’t make that particular mistake; its sin is to idolize individual autonomy at the expense of the community’s general welfare. Vermeule argues that the classical tradition solves both problems by connecting law to a political morality of the “common good.”

BUT WHAT, EXACTLY, is the “common good”? Despite declaring repeatedly that promoting the common good is a “proper function of the political authority,” Vermeule never adequately explains what it is….

Readers should not be gullible about what common good constitutionalism represents. It is not merely a revival of an ecumenical “classical legal tradition.” Nor is Vermeule’s argument merely for a moral reading of the Constitution—an argument progressives have been making for some time. It is an argument that underwrites a dangerous shift in jurisprudence on the right, and one that serves Vermeule’s larger goal, which is the establishment of a state integrated with—or, more accurately, subordinated to—religious ends….

The answer to the timing question—and one Vermeule is explicit about—is that originalism has “outlived its utility.” It was instrumental in casting doubt on liberal precedents, like Roe v. Wade, and in convincing the American public to support the appointment of conservative justices. But now that the Court is firmly in conservative hands, the justices don’t need to talk the rhetoric of originalism or walk its supposedly restraining walk. They can remake the state in service of the common good, defined, ultimately, in terms of religious authoritarianism.

But there is another and more profound reason for Vermeule’s rejection of originalism. Modern originalism was born in the Reagan era, and it was used to fight against the administrative state. Social conservatives and libertarians worked together to fight the welfare state, limit the power of unions, curtail civil rights, eliminate environmental protections, and so on. With Trump, the conservative legal movement has achieved success at the Supreme Court. It now has an overwhelming 6-3 majority, which is already moving into a deregulatory posture, invalidating vaccine mandatesrestricting the president’s immigration authority, and hinting at far-reaching limits on administrative agencies.

The originalist program of deregulation is, however, less appealing to a new intelligentsia on the right that calls itself “postliberal” and that includes Catholic integralists like Vermeule. What postliberals want is more government, not less. They want to use the administrative state to promote patriarchal family policyprotectionist labor and economic policies, morals/vice legislation (bans on porn, blasphemy, offensive speech), restrictions on LGBTQ rights, and public support for religious observance, including the reinstatement of blue laws—all explicitly modeled on the illiberal Christian democracies of Poland and Hungary….

The problem, of course, is that legal progressives are on the sidelines. The Supreme Court will be deeply conservative for the next generation. So, too, the intellectual apparatus that justifies and legitimates the work of that Court will partake of whatever theory of interpretation does its bidding. The more likely outcome is a politics that marries the worst of both originalism and common good constitutionalism—an administrative state that is increasingly corporatist and authoritarian. That is the pattern we have seen play out in repressive and autocratic regimes around the world, including in the states that postliberals seem to admire most.

TW: I’m amazed but not surprised that Schwartzman and Schragger do not enlist the aid of Frank Michelman’s refreshing argument for civic republicanism in his magnificent 1988 Yale Law Review article, Law’s Republic. Especially since Michelman deals in depth with Obergefell v. Hodges, which Schwartzman and Schragger correctly identify as a key target of conservatibe jurists. 

Neoliberalism requires a police state

US brings foreign banks into intelligence-sharing fold 

[FT, via Naked Capitalism 4-7-2022] What could go wrong?


[The Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 4-6-2022]

“AMAZON WILL BLOCK and flag employee posts on a planned internal messaging app that contain keywords pertaining to labor unions, according to internal company documents reviewed by The Intercept. An automatic word monitor would also block a variety of terms that could represent potential critiques of Amazon’s working conditions… ‘Our teams are always thinking about new ways to help employees engage with each other,’ said Amazon spokesperson Barbara M. Agrait.

TW: This shows why billionaires and concentrated wealth are inherently inimical to a republic. There are generations of MBAs and others in management who, because of their “trained incapacity,” see no problem with limiting the free speech of their serfs employees.

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-6-2022]


These are the words Amazon’s planned employee chat app reportedly won’t let you say 

[Twitter, via The Verge, via Naked Capitalism 4-5-2022]


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Profits Soar as U.S. Corporations Have Best Year Since 1950 

[Businessweek, via The Big Picture 4-4-2022]

The Secret Plot To Unleash Corporate Power
Matt Stoller [BIG, via Mike Norman Economics 4-8-2022]

In today’s issue, I have something for you to do that will have a real impact on antitrust and monopoly power. I’ll tell you about a secret plan in 1980 that unleashed corporate power, and how that plan has worked over the last forty plus years. Then I’ll describe what’s happening today, and how key antitrust enforcers Lina Khan and Jonathan Kanter are trying, for the first time, to reverse course. And they are asking for your help, which will take nothing more than a few minutes on your computer….

I’ve been writing about antitrust for a few years now, exposing various problems with mergers or unfair conduct in the marketplace. One of my first pieces that went viral was The Coming Boeing Bailout, which was on how the merger between Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas led to the 737 Max fiasco. Bad mergers that lead to market power are behind so many social problems, in areas like big tech, but also in niche industries like missiles, cheerleadingportable toiletsroad salt, and mixed martial arts.

But I often hear a comment or question that goes something like this. “I agree with you that consolidation is a problem. What can I do to help?”

Well, today I’m going to answer that question. A few months ago, the Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan and the Antitrust Division chief Jonathan Kanter launched a project to revamp how the government enforces antitrust law. Usually, this process would be the province of economists and insiders, who would ignore the public’s views on big business. But Khan and Kanter, for reasons I’ll go into, aren’t pursuing this path. Instead, they are actually asking the public, aka you and me, for feedback. This process, and their request to the public, is a big deal.

Corporate Profits are Soaring as Prices Rise: Are Corporate Greed and Profiteering Fueling Inflation? 

[Senate Budget Committee, via Naked Capitalism 4-6-2022]

Guest Post: America’s stainless steel shortage

[Metal Miner. via Naked Capitalism 4-8-2022]

“Your Top Priority is The Emotional Comfort of the Most Powerful Elites, Which You Fulfill by Never Criticizing Them.”

Glenn Greenwald [via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-5-2022]

“With this power matrix in place, what mattered was no longer the pain and anger of people whose towns had their industries stripped by the Clintons’ NAFTA robbery, or who worked at low-wage jobs with no benefits due to the 2008 financial crisis caused by Clintonite finance geniuses, or who were drowning in student debt with no job prospects after that crisis, or who suffered from PTSD, drug and alcohol addiction and shabby to no health care after fighting in the Clintons’ wars. Now, such ordinary people were not the victims but the perpetrators. Their anger toward elites was not valid or righteous but dangerous, abusive and toxic. The real victims were multi-millionaire hosts of MSNBC programs and U.S. Senators and New York Times columnists who were abused and brutalized by those people’s angry tweets for the crime of supporting a pioneer and avatar for marginalized people: the Wellesley-and-Yale-Law-graduate, former First Lady, Senator from New York, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” • “Smile when you say that, son.”

Big Stock Sales Are Supposed to Be Secret. The Numbers Indicate They Aren’t.

[Wall Street Journal, via The Big Picture 4-4-2022]

Share prices fall ahead of 58% of large sales, a WSJ analysis finds. Regulators are investigating.

How Advisers to America’s Ultra-Rich Plan to Win on Taxes, Again 

[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 4-8-2022]

Listening in as elite lawyers discuss ways to make the tax code work even harder for the 0.1%.

The gatekeepers who open America to shell companies and secret owners

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 4-8-2022]

With scant oversight, registered agents have long been seen as a weak point in the U.S. financial system.

The Privatization Myth

Mark Levinson, April 8, 2022 [The American Prospect]

The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back, by Donald Cohen and Allen Mikaelian (New Press, November 2021)

A deeply reported history of the past four decades of handing public services over to private companies provides a stunning account of how not to govern….

For 40 years, both Republican and, regrettably, Democratic administrations have been turning over control of health care, public water supplies, infrastructure and transportation, criminal justice, education, prisons, parks, policing, sanitation, libraries, the weather service, and more to private companies. Donald Cohen and Allen Mikaelian’s The Privatization of Everything documents, in far more detail then has ever been done, this dismantling of the public sector.

In the privatizer’s worldview, this shift from public to profit-seeking private management will lead to cost-cutting and greater attention to customer satisfaction, reduce taxes, and shrink the size of government.

Cohen and Mikaelian simply and completely demolish these arguments. They cite numerous examples and studies showing that private-sector managers have no compunction about adopting profit-making strategies that make essential services unaffordable or unavailable to large segments of the population

Day drinking, ‘Big Shot’ and billions of dollars: How the nickel market imploded 

[CNN, via The Big Picture 4-7-2022]

For the majority of the last decade, nickel prices were boring. On the London Metal Exchange, the premier trading and price-formation venue for industrial metals, nickel traded between $10,000 and $20,000 per metric ton and moved about $100 each day. Then in early March a short squeeze of epic proportions, prodded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, awoke the sleeping giant.

Google’s former HR chief says your boss wants to boil you slowly like a frog to get you back in the office, and it will be terrible for morale and productivity 

[Yahoo! News, via Naked Capitalism 4-5-2022]

Restoring balance to the economy

China’s Big Tech crackdown isn’t over yet 

[Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 4-3-2022]

“Amazon Workers in Staten Island Clinch a Historic Victory”

[Labor Notes, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-8-2022]

“The [Amazon Labor Union] clinched a decisive victory today, winning by a wide margin to create the first unionized workplace in Amazon’s extensive network of fulfillment, delivery, and sortation centers across the U.S. The company’s facilities are concentrated in metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, opening a path for more organizing.

The vote at the Staten Island warehouse was 2,654 in favor of forming a union to 2,131 against. There were 67 challenged ballots, and 17 voided; 8,325 workers were eligible to vote…. ;We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space, because while he was up there we were organizing a union,’ said ALU President Chris Smalls after official results were announced. Another warehouse at the same complex on Staten Island, LDJ5, will begin a vote to unionize with the ALU on April 25.” This is an interesting sidebar:

How We Did It

by Justine Medina

My quick-and-dirty analysis of the Amazon Labor Union’s successes so far is pretty simple. We just did the thing you’re supposed to do: we had a worker-led movement.

We studied the history of how the first major unions were built. We learned from the Industrial Workers of the World, and even more from the building of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. We read William Z. Foster’s Organizing Methods in the Steel Industry (a must-read, seriously).

But here’s the basic thing: you have an actual worker-led project—a Black- and Brown-led, multi-racial, multi-national, multi-gender, multi-ability organizing team. You get some salts with some organizing experience, but make sure they’re prepared to put in the work and to follow the lead of workers who have been around the shop longer. You get the Communists involved, you get some socialists and anarcho-syndicalists, you bring together a broad progressive coalition. You bring in sympathetic comrades from other unions, in a supporting role.

Really, you just follow the classic playbook. Do not be afraid to fight, to get as dirty as the bosses will, to match or beat the energy they’re bringing. Do not be afraid to agitate and to antagonize the bosses, as a union should. Use every tool in your toolbox; file those unfair labor practice charges, every chance you get. Protest and do collective action. Keep building.

It’s the hard work, every day: workers talking to workers. Not just media games, but solidarity, daily analysis, and adjusting as needed. It’s working as a collective, learning together, and teaching each other. Get back to fighting form. That’s how we won.

What I’m describing wasn’t my plan, but the efforts of Amazon workers who got fed up with their mistreatment. I was lucky to be recruited into this effort as a salt by the organizing committee because of my organizing experience with the Young Communist League. I was welcomed with open arms, and it has changed the path of my life completely, but I’ve always understood my role to be following the lead of the workers who were there before me.

This was a truly collective effort, led by some brilliant Amazon workers thrust into organizing by the pandemic and the conditions of their lives; Chris Smalls and Derrick Palmer in particular have been tremendous leaders. I think this union shows the true possibility of what is before us, as a labor movement—if we just remember how to do it.

Justine Medina is a member of the ALU organizing committee and a packer at the JFK8 Amazon warehouse.

Comment by Lee [Naked Capitalism Water Cooler, 4-8-2022] April 8, 2022 

“We read William Z. Foster’s Organizing Methods in the Steel Industry (a must-read, seriously).”

Organizing Methods in the Steel Industry

Written: William Z. Foster
First Published: Workers Library Publishers, Inc. October, 1936
Transcription/Markup: 2019 by Philip Mooney
Public Domain: Marxist Internet Archive 2019. This work is completely free.

This document was used by New York Amazon workers in 2022 to successfully establish their right to unionise.

How Labor Beat Amazon At Its Own Game

Andrew Perez [The Lever, April 4, 2022]

HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson published an outstanding story on Monday about how organizers at a Staten Island Amazon warehouse turned the company’s anti-union strategy against them and scored the first-ever union victory within the mega-corporation’s U.S. operations.

According to Jamieson, Amazon hired a team of anti-union consultants to speak one-on-one with workers on the ground. So Amazon Labor Union organizers researched the consultants and then followed them around the warehouse, broadcasting the sizable sums Amazon was paying them — discrediting the union-busters and turning workers against management.

What Amazon Will Do Next. What Unions Must Do Next.

Harold Meyerson, April 7, 2022 [The American Prospect]

The NLRB can—as originally intended—quickly facilitate worker organization. But workers need to act fast before the Supreme Court cancels their efforts.

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-7-2022]


The Antitrust Case Against Gig Economy Labor Platforms 

Marshall Steinbaum, Law and Political Economy, via Naked Capitalism 4-8-2022] Important!

“The antitrust case against gig companies”

Cory Doctorow [Pluralistic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-8-2022]

“A key vertical restraint tact is “resale price maintenance,” which is a fancy term for setting the price that an independent contractor charges its customers. You know how Uber sets the price for a ride, and the driver has to like it or lump it? That’s resale price maintenance….. Vertical restraint theory is very down on “Most-Favored Nation” (MFN) clauses, where a contractor has to promise not to offer their services to a rival at a lower price….. Resale price maintenance is an existential issue for Uber and Lyft, since these companies are utterly dependent on “price discrimination.” That’s when a company uses an algorithm to analyze your misappropriated personal data to estimate how much you’d be willing to pay for a ride and charges accordingly. Famously, Uber jacks up the price if its app senses that you are about to run out of battery…. If drivers and passengers can negotiate to use a different app to complete their transaction – that is, if Uber was forced not to engage in illegal resale price maintenance – price discrimination would be effectively impossible.”

Nationalize the U.S. Fossil Fuel Industry to Save the Planet

ROBERT POLLIN, APRIL 8, 2022 [The American Prospect]

Turning the biggest oil companies over to public ownership would serve several goals at once, including climate resilience.

Russia and Ukraine

U.S. stops Russian bond payments in bid to raise pressure on Moscow 

[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism 4-5-2022]

Germany is under pressure to ban Russian natural gas, but Deutsche Bank’s CEO says cutting supply would send the country into a ‘virtually unavoidable’ recession 

[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism 4-5-2022]

Germany takes control of Gazprom unit to ensure energy supply 

[Al Jazeera, via Naked Capitalism 4-5-2022]

Philip Giraldi, former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer, and founding member of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity [The Unz Review, via Mike Norman Economics 4-5-2022]
Two stories that I believe have received insufficient attention are the US government’s three decades long obsession with weakening and de facto destroying the Russian state and the dominant neocon plus associate liberal democracy promoter role in what has become American foreign policy.

To be sure, anyone who doubts that the US is currently on a course to not only replace President Vladimir Putin but also to crash the Russian economy is delusional. Washington has been trying to deconstruct the former Soviet Union ever since 1991, beginning with President Bill Clinton’s expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe in spite of a pledge not to do so and his unleashing the oligarchs who looted the country’s natural resources under President Boris Yeltsin. The pressure continued under the beatified President Barack Obama, who appointed as Ambassador Michael McFaul, who saw his mission as connecting with dissidents and opposition forces inside Russia, a role incompatible with his promotion of US interests and protecting US persons….

Based on what I am seeing and hearing, I would conclude that the neoconservatives and their liberal democracy promoting friends are working hard from the inside to make something like a war with Russia happen. Note in particular that we are talking about war with shooting and deaths, not just a reincarnation or extension of the Cold War of yore.

Why Renewables Can’t Solve Europe’s Energy Crisis 

[OilPrice, via Naked Capitalism 4-5-2022]

Information age dystopia

“Inside the Bitcoin Bust That Took Down the Web’s Biggest Child Abuse Site”

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-8-2022]

“Janczewski had followed the links of Bitcoin’s blockchain, pulling on that chain until it connected this ordinary home to an extraordinarily cruel place on the internet—and then connected that place to hundreds more men around the world. All complicit in the same massive network of unspeakable abuse. All now on Janczewski’s long list of targets. Over the previous few years, Janczewski, his partner Tigran Gambaryan, and a small group of investigators at a growing roster of three-letter American agencies had used this newfound technique, tracing a cryptocurrency that once seemed untraceable, to crack one criminal case after another on an unprecedented, epic scale…. When Bitcoin first appeared in 2008, one fundamental promise of the cryptocurrency was that it revealed only which coins reside at which Bitcoin addresses—long, unique strings of letters and numbers—without any identifying information about those coins’ owners. This layer of obfuscation created the impression among many early adherents that Bitcoin might be the fully anonymous internet cash long awaited by libertarian cypherpunks and crypto-anarchists: a new financial netherworld where digital briefcases full of unmarked bills could change hands across the globe in an instant…. Within a few years of Bitcoin’s arrival, academic security researchers—and then companies like Chainalysis—began to tear gaping holes in the masks separating Bitcoin users’ addresses and their real-world identities. They could follow bitcoins on the blockchain as they moved from address to address until they reached one that could be tied to a known identity. In some cases, an investigator could learn someone’s Bitcoin addresses by transacting with them, the way an undercover narcotics agent might conduct a buy-and-bust. In other cases, they could trace a target’s coins to an account at a cryptocurrency exchange where financial regulations required users to prove their identity. A quick subpoena to the exchange from one of Chainalysis’ customers in law enforcement was then enough to strip away any illusion of Bitcoin’s anonymity.”

The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is: A History, A Philosophy, A Warning

[Los Angeles Review of Books, via The Big Picture 4-9-2022]

The internet has lost its way and taken society with it. Since the mid-2010s, we hear warnings of “dis/misinformation.” We hear about the loss of trust in our institutions and the need to reinvent them for the internet age. In short, we are living in a “crisis moment” — one ironically experienced by many of us while stuck at home.

Never-Ending Costs: When Resolved Medical Bills Keep Popping Up 

[Kaiser Health News, via Naked Capitalism April 7, 2022]

There’s no national data to indicate how often patients or their families receive medical bills that were previously paid or forgiven, but hospital billing experts say they frequently see it happen. Patients receive bills for claims their insurers already paid. A reminder statement arrives even after a patient submitted payment.

Unlike “surprise bills,” which often result from policy gaps when a provider is out of network, these are bills that were resolved but continue to pop up anyway. They can carry financial consequences — patients wind up paying for something they don’t truly owe or bills get passed on to debt collection agencies, triggering more phones calls and red tape. But often it’s the emotional toll that wears on patients most, spending hours on the phone with customer service each time the bill resurfaces or reliving the situations that led to the bill in the first place. For families like the Rybaks, the cost can feel never-ending….

Many medical billing cases like this “boil down to human error,” said Michael Corbett, director of health care consulting for LBMC, a Tennessee-based firm that consults with health systems nationally on issues like billing and revenue. “Facilities don’t have a lack of tools [to avoid this]. It’s a breakdown in their processes.”

A billing agent may forget to mark the account as paid, he said. Or the hospital might contract its billing to an outside company and fail to inform them that this bill was covered under the hospital’s financial assistance program.

As hospitals and medical practices increasingly consolidate under large health systems, the chances for errors increase. Even hospitals and clinics within the same system may have different backend software, and within each hospital there can be separate programs for billing and electronic health records, Corbett explained.


Climate and environmental crises

Could solar geoengineering reduce human suffering?

[Grid, via The Big Picture 4-7-2022]

A contentious climate change idea might benefit from reframing a somewhat stale debate.

Staggering Photos Show Lake Powell Nearly Dried Up 

[Gizmodo, via Naked Capitalism 4-3-2022]

“Tesla-Backed Startup Made Cheap Power a Debt Burden for the World’s Poorest”

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-7-2022]

“Since solar pay-as-you-go, or paygo, was introduced almost a decade ago, it has been hailed as the answer to the elusive challenge of bringing electricity to hundreds of millions of people currently off the grid in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It began in the spirit of the microcredit model that Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist Muhammad Yunus popularized in the 1980s.” Uh oh. More: “Because solar paygo is a low-­margin, high-default business, and investors and commercial lenders often demand quick returns, com­panies end up on a funding treadmill. The former employees say the solar startups are pressured to grow at rates that can be achieved only through high prices, unreliable products, misleading sales pitches, and little or no due diligence. The consequence is “a social impact credit trap,” says Daniel Waldron, a solar specialist who analyzed the industry for the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, an organization of international development agencies, and now works at impact investment company Acumen…. In some places half the loans ended up unpaid, and those who continued paying struggled. During the pandemic, one study found, 43% of paygo customers had to cut back on food consumption to keep their ­service. Now some of Zola and D.light’s competitors are pursuing an even more vulnerable customer base: ­refugees in camps in Rwanda, Uganda, and elsewhere.”

It’s Time for a Net Zero Building Boom 

[CityLab, via The Big Picture 4-8-2022]

A mix of high-tech and old-fashioned energy efficiency tactics can deliver carbon-neutral buildings, right now. But the U.S. needs to pick up the pace….

Paul Schwer managed to get his 1967 ranch house in Portland, Oregon, to net zero energy by following the new energy-reduction mantra: Electrify everything. He replaced a gas-fueled furnace and hot water heater with electric heat pumps — “people don’t appreciate how efficient they have become over the last 10 years,” he says — and the family’s new stove is an electric induction model. Buildings can dramatically reduce their carbon footprint by removing anything that relies on oil or natural gas for fuel, assuming that grid power succeeds in ultimately eliminating fossil fuels — a big if. “The entire West Coast is on track to source 100% of its power from renewables by 2040,” Schwer says, but other parts of the country are not moving so quickly.

Schwer is the president of PAE, an engineering firm that has designed the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems for some of the lowest-emitting buildings in the U.S., including a 58,000-square-foot net zero building the company built for itself in Portland that deploys straightforward tactics like openable windows, abundant natural lighting, a well-insulated exterior and radiant floor heat — all augmented by a solar array.

Such measures could be easily adopted on a mass scale. “The vast majority of American buildings are three stories or less,” Schwer says, which makes them easier to retrofit for energy efficiency. Those improvements alone can reduce energy use by as much as 80% compared to existing buildings; adding renewables can “bring those buildings to net zero emissions now.”

For new construction, the demanding Passive House regime — imported from Europe — can reduce power demands by about 75% by relying on heavy insulation of the roof and walls while obsessively eliminating air leaks. Prefabrication can deliver that high energy performance while lowering construction costs. But shading, natural ventilation and daylight are free “passive” quantities, which work better in Auer’s view when people accept modest temperature variations rather than remaining fixated on sealed buildings that waste enormous amounts of energy to maintain 72 degrees Fahrenheit everywhere all the time.

Democrats’ political suicide

“Why Biden’s jobs boom isn’t translating”

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-4-2022]

“There is a remarkable disconnect among the American public involving the reality of the jobs market and the perception of it. A little-noticed survey by Navigator Research last month showed that 37 percent of the public thought that more jobs had been lost (yes, lost) over the last year while just 28 percent thought that they had been gained. That was particularly pronounced among Republicans, 47 percent of whom believed jobs had been lost over the last 12 months. Needless to say, that’s wildly inaccurate: The unemployment rate was 6.4 percent when JOE BIDEN took office. That these basic facts aren’t translating to the public says a lot about how news is disseminated and consumed. It’s also an illustration about how difficult it’s been for the White House to communicate its successes in light of the setbacks that have come along too…. An official with the National Republican Congressional Committee told me this week that of the 30 unique digital ad campaigns that the group has run this cycle, ‘probably 28 of them’ dealt with cost increases for goods and services; an astounding 93 percent. ‘Nothing I’ve seen in my decade of working in politics has been as salient as the inflation message with voters,’ said Michael McAdams, the NRCC’s communications director. ‘When Republicans are talking about people encountering rising prices every minute of every day versus Democrats talking about bridges that might be built in three years, it’s like an NFL team going against a peewee football team.’”

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 4-3-2022]


“Why Biden’s base is in distress”

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-5-2022]

“Democrats are desperately trying to understand what’s roiling the electorate heading into a brutal midterm environment…. On Monday night we watched discussions with two different subgroups of partisan Democrats assembled by the firm: “Black Base, Always vote for Dems, Ages 25+” and “Youth Base; Always vote for Dems, Ages 25 – 39.”… But watching the three-and-a-half hours of conversations, you notice a yawning gap between what Democrats here in D.C. are saying and what their most loyal voters are experiencing outside the Beltway. This was especially true on two big issues:” The economy and crime (!!). On the latter: “It was impossible to ignore how much it came up. A Black man from New York complained about bail reform laws in that state leading to ‘repeat offenders’ who get arrested and released and are ‘re-arrested in less than 24 hours.’ A Black woman in the Philadelphia area wanted something done about gun violence and carjackings in the city by ‘repeat offenders.’”


Multiple D.C. insiders test positive for COVID after annual Gridiron Dinner 

[Yahoo News, via Naked Capitalism 4-5-2022]

Lambert Strether concludes: “That’s a damn shame. Under Let ‘Er Rip, they’ll keep getting infected, too, and even with the best of care, which they will get, become a little bit more brain-damaged each time around the track.”

[Twitter, , via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-6-2022]


Lambert Strether comments [Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-8-2022]

At this point, I’m perfectly happy that there be more Gridiron Clubs, as Wen suggests. Two, three, many superspreader events! After all, with each bout of Covid., you accrue neurological and vascular damage, even without symptoms, and so our political class will become even stupider and physically weaker as it continues to follow Wen’s advice. Of course, we are preparing for war with two nuclear powers, so there’s that, but the prospect of the political class culling itself is really too delicious. They earned it, all of it.

Biden Offers Amazon Workers Rhetoric, But No Action

Matthew Cunningham-Cook & Walker Bragman, April 7, 2022 [The Lever]

Democrats’ Ties To Amazon

Amazon’s ties to the White House and the Democratic Party run deep.

Psaki left the Obama White House in 2011 to become a senior vice president at Global Strategy Group, a Democratic polling and consulting firm, working there for less than a year. Global Strategy Group recently worked for Amazon in its fight against the Staten Island union drive. The firm was paid to dissuade workers from supporting the union push. The firm’s representatives reportedly created and distributed anti-union materials, sat in on anti-union presentations, and monitored union organizers’ social media accounts.

Global Strategy Group often does polling for official Democratic Party committees like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as well as their allied super PACs, House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC. The firm boasts on its website that “In 2020, we were proud to serve as polling partners for [super PAC] Priorities USA in their campaign to elect Joe Biden.”

A Global Strategy Group spokesperson told the New Yorker that the firm is very sorry about its extensive work on behalf of Amazon’s union-busting effort. “We deeply regret being involved in any way,” the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, Jay Carney, a former press secretary to both Biden and Obama, has been working as Amazon’s public policy and communications chief since 2015. Anne Rung, in charge of federal procurement for Obama, joined Amazon in 2016 as the head of its “public sector” division, selling directly to the government.

Biden and his Democratic colleagues have also benefited from Amazon’s largess. Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky, who called Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls “not smart or articulate” in 2020 after Smalls led a protest against Amazon’s COVID-19 safety failures, donated $300,000 to the Biden Victory Fund that year. Other senior Amazon executives donated hundreds of thousands of dollars more to Democrats.

Employees of Morgan Lewis, Amazon’s union-busting law firm, delivered $526,000 in campaign contributions to Biden in 2020, and offered up another $194,000 to the Democratic National Committee.

In 2021, following Biden’s election, Amazon retained Ricchetti Inc, the lobbying firm founded by Biden senior adviser Steve Ricchetti and currently run by Ricchetti’s brother, Jeff. Amazon paid the company $360,000 last year, making the retailer one of the firm’s two largest clients.

Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War

A Glimpse Into a Fearful, Angry, Imaginary World

[The Atlantic, via The Big Picture 4-4-2022]

Ginni Thomas’s texts offer a window into a dark and conspiratorial mindset.

Efforts To Ban Books Jumped an ‘Unprecedented’ Four-Fold In 2021 

[NPR, via Naked Capitalism 4-5-2022]

Donald Trump, John Eastman, and the Silence of the Justice Department.

[Lawfare, via The Big Picture 4-3-2022]

It is no exaggeration to say that the history of the United States has never seen an account of a president’s conduct quite so devastating as the first nine pages of Judge David Carter’s opinion of March 28 in Eastman v. Thompson. The opinion, legally speaking, concerns the Jan. 6 Committee’s efforts to secure emails from John Eastman, the law professor who provided President Trump with advice aimed at overturning the 2020 election. But that is not why it will be remembered.

Local health officials report threats, vandalism and harassment during the pandemic

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 4-3-2022]

Local health officials handling the day-to-day response to the coronavirus crisis have faced hostility like never before, according to a new study of 1,499 episodes of harassment during the first year of the pandemic. Of 583 local health departments surveyed by Johns Hopkins University researchers, 57 percent reported episodes of staff being targeted with personal threats, doxing, vandalism and other forms of harassment from 2020 to 2021.

What Happens When Fox News Viewers Watched CNN Instead?

[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 4-7-2022]

Previous studies have shown that partisan media affect how people vote. A new study shows they also affect how people think.

The (Anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

Five-justice majority restores Trump-era policy on water pollution, provoking more criticism of emergency docket 

[SCOTUSblog, via Naked Capitalism 4-7-2022]

How Big Business Hijacked The Courts (video)

David Sirota [The Lever, April 5, 2022]

The Lever’s new video highlights the conservative movement’s longtime scheme to move the courts in a pro-corporate direction.

Rich companies are using a quiet tactic to block lawsuits: bankruptcy

[NPR, via The Big Picture 4-6-2022]

A growing number of wealthy companies, organizations and individuals accused of serious wrongdoing are using similar bankruptcy tactics, hoping to delay or permanently block lawsuits. They’ve found openings in state and federal law that allow them to leverage the sweeping power wielded by bankruptcy judges when cutting deals. But they’re not being forced to endure the financial pain and exposure that comes with actually filing for bankruptcy. Often this means creating a new subsidiary and pushing it into bankruptcy, as in the J&J case.



Open Thread


Macron (Radical Neoliberal) vs. Le Pen (Reactionary Fascist) in France


  1. bruce wilder

    Great job as usual, Tony.

    Having the week in review brings its own perspective, after the daily onslaught has faded into background noise.

    kataskopocracy — word of the day, hattip Craig Murray

  2. different clue

    This weekend wrapup report is mainly “about” economics. But we should all remember that “economics” is a notional analytical category invented in the mind. And the “economy” conducts its activity within the ecology. Kill the ecology and the economy will die.

    With that in mind, here is an interesting exchange in a thread from over at Naked Capitalism.

    . . . ” RobertC
    April 9, 2022 at 12:56 pm
    Horn, et al — “Gelpern et al. (2021) show that a significant share of China’s lending is collateralised, especially to commodity exporting countries. This implies that Chinese lending to distressed countries is not necessarily in default or non-performing but might be serviced through the proceeds of commodity exports. Russia is a case in point: an important share of Chinese lending took the form of advance payments for oil deliveries.”

    Let’s begin with a map — I like this one Eurasian Economic Union

    Re-examine China’s overseas lending from the perspective of its national security strategy, especially with the addition of food security last November.

    In which case, defaults and non-performance are conceptually charged against the national security budget.

    Re-examine China’s overseas lending from the perspective of overseas influence/power projection, not just with its huge commercial fleets but also with its three prong national security fleet: hundreds of thousands of fishing ships; the world’s largest coast guard; and the world’s second largest navy. And it has developed, trained and demonstrated global integrated coercive grayzone fishery operations with that fleet.

    In which case, defaults and non-performance are conceptually charged against the national security budget.

    My assertion is China’s overseas lending difficulties are manageable, not debilitating, from the perspective of national security especially its aggressive actions to ensure food security for its 1.4B citizens.

    And if (when) the independent international monetary and financial system described at Sausage Factory March 27, 2022 at 5:44 am comes into existence, I’m sure China’s money magicians will fix its overseas lending accounts.

    Reply ↓
    drumlin woodchuckles
    April 9, 2022 at 4:10 pm
    Is ” global integrated coercive grayzone fishery operations ” a nicer way of saying fish-piracy and aggressionist fish strip-mining in non-Chinese waters? Including in the Illegally Occupied West Bank of the China Sea?

    Reply ↓
    April 9, 2022 at 4:42 pm
    Yep. Back in 2010 when the U.S. takes a tougher tone with China there was this confrontation:

    “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact,” [Foreign Minister Yang] said, staring directly at Singapore’s foreign minister, George Yeo, according to several participants at the meeting.

    Relations have pretty much gone downhill from there. It takes a hard man to feed 1.4B people. ” . . .

    Kill the ecology and the economy will die. And fisheries are part of the ecology.

  3. different clue

    I found my way to some un-paywalled ways in to the Clinton article about how he tried to help Russia get all democratic and stuff. But I couldn’t see any of the on-track on-target savage comments.

    So all I can say is . . . . while I am sure the comments are just as on track and on target as Tony Wikrent says they are, if Jeffrey Epstein’s friend even read them, he is still laughing all the way to the bank.

  4. Willy

    I can remember when a Jerk was Steve Martin.

    Maybe somebody can develop a science about how things devolve, how mobs can go from an age of respecting group-minded attempts at problem solving, to worshipping malignant narcissism of the most ridiculously shameless flavor. I was about to play old Devo records backwards hoping for a secret message, but then a couple things happened.

    First I heard a segment on local conservative radio where the host challenged “Democrat” listeners to explain why all the waiting lists are for charter, and not public schools. I then later, briefly caught part of a segment of a Marty Walsh interview from MSNBC, where he challenged viewers to disprove that the root cause of all our labor shortage and inflation woes, was not enough immigration.

    I immediately saw the relationship between both. Charter schools are whiter and more “Christian”. And while the browning of America may keep prices low, it scares the crap out of white Christian parents.

    I thought about my own experiences in public and private schools, in both a midwestern suburb and a west coast city, back in the 70’s.

    In the midwestern suburb, all Brady Bunch and Wonder Years, about 95% of the kids were white and everybody was a Christian. In the west coast city, which was something between “That 70’s Show” and “Dazed and Confused”, 85% of the kids were white and most of the kids were Christian, with the remaining being mostly blacks bussed in from the hood who mostly kept to themselves.

    4 decades passes (imagine a calendar flipping pages).

    Today, the midwestern suburb high school had become so black and Hispanic that it was closed due to lack of funds. It’s a private “international” school now. The neighboring Catholic high school, once musty/austere, is now like a 5 star hotel.

    Today, the west coast city school, once musty/austere but residing in what would become tax-n-spend liberal latte land, was full gut remodeled for $100M and is now like a 5 star hotel. About half the kids are Asian (of all kinds) with very few blacks. And the nearby Catholic school is still pretty musty/astere.

    In either case, I don’t think white parents are necessarily systemically racist, but paranoid of things like white rabbit beatdowns and gangster rap. In both cases I think they want the familiarity of what they grew up with, for their own kids.

    Obviously, both that conservative radio host and Marty Walsh were talking about treating symptoms, while utterly ignoring root causes. IMHO, both were supplicating to their corporate sponsor overlords. I think we knew back then that giving our shameless corporate narcissists unchecked power would produce more problems than solutions, and all the subsequent de-evolution. But we decided to give it a whirl anyways.

    Maybe I went a bit off track, but I think this is related to most of the links.

  5. Lex

    The Clinton piece is emblematic of the fantasy world the elites live in. He must actually believe it; there’s no reason he needs to talk except to hear himself. Especially on the subject of Russia. He also left out how feted Putin was early on. It’s not just democractic voters who imagine the Clinton presidency as the West Wing, it’s the administration itself.

  6. different clue


    ” We” ? . . . Willy? No. Not “we”. Them. Some of Us objected to all these things, but enough of Them supported these things that Us could not stop these things.

    Us and Them. There is no “we”. “We” is a kumbaya liberal affectation.

  7. different clue


    If it is strictly computerised and ” AI” based, then human users can try re-spelling those forbidden words in such a way that human readers can read them but an Ap can’t, at least for a while.

    words like ” yoonyun” , wristrums”, bay rays, and “plantayshun”. And when the Ap learns those, just respell them a different way. Or even just move letters around within the words. Apparently such re-move-arounded-letter words are often understood by the readers. ” unoin”, retsmroos, pya rasie, palntaiton. etc.

  8. NR

    So France’s preliminary election results are in and it looks like Macron and LePen will be going to the runoff again. Macron had 28% and LePen had 23%. The last time those two faced each other in a runoff, Macron trounced LePen 66% to 34%, but polls this time show a much closer race. Macron’s neoliberal economic ideology seems to be hurting him more this time around and LePen is capitalizing on that; Macron wants to raise the retirement age by two years and LePen wants to lower it by three years.

    I think Macron is probably still the favorite, but that is by no means a certainty and LePen could easily pull off an upset.

    And finally, Melenchon came in third with 21%, just barely missing the runoff, and it’s honestly a shame that the Greens didn’t get behind him, because then France could have had a referendum over Macron’s leadership from the left instead of from the right. So many of the left’s problems in the West are self-inflicted and honestly it’s way past time we got our shit together.

  9. Willy

    Sorry dc. Me but not thee. I can remember thirty years ago when office mates quietly declared that large international companies wouldn’t be loyal to their own anymore. I couldn’t believe it, still being a religious conservative and all. Still, I do remember this weird feeling I had in my gut, easily blamed on Satan. Good thing their kind still have woke BLMs to kick around. Or maybe they’d be able figure it out as well.

    Speaking of bruce, here’s bruce to explain how we and they become us. As in us vs them…

  10. different clue

    I ran across a list of “anarchist writers” on the internet and I don’t know if it belongs here or not. Some of what the anarchists wrote about touched upon economic issues among other issues, so I’ll bring it here and hope for the best.

    One more body of thoughts that could be worth reading about before the Internet goes dark once and for all.

  11. Ché Pasa

    I think it was Lex in another thread who referred to the current situation as “this phase of WWIII”. It was an observation that resonated strongly with me.

    “We” aren’t all experiencing the same things at the same time, far from it, but the context all of us are living in is that of wartime; has been for literally decades now. And the political economy is catching up.

    Shortages and restrictions on the Lower Orders; “freedom” and madness for those Above. And no one trusts anyone else nor especially institutions, almost all of which have failed miserably.

    Ones to keep an eye on, though, are the churches. As things deteriorate more and more, faster and faster, the churches (well, some of them) take on a greater and greater role as more and more people become psychologically, emotionally, and physically dependent on them. In many ways and regions, they are already the only reliable institutions for members, and they are becoming more and more rigidly antagonistic toward non-members, government, “socialism”, and outside authority of any kind.

    It would be interesting if Tony’s Civic Republicanism were somehow a competing ideology or had trustworthy institutional backing, but neither seems to be the case.

    In fact, the whole idea of The Republic seems to be crashing down, right along with the precious notion of Our Democracy.

    What’s left? Fascism, authoritarianism, and the loved up Nazi enforcers. Right?

  12. different clue

    Tony’s Civic Republicanism could survive and grow within the context of a Protectionist Party, if such were formed. A Protectionist Party could say WHY it is Protectionist and that restoring a Civic Republicanist political-economy is one of its primary goals. it would have to spend many years holding teach-ins and seminars and etc. all over the country to see where its message and information might be favorably received.

    Hopefully it could conquer power “non-violently”, but it would have to proceed in a spirit of “violent non-violence”, waging a Civil War of Social Extermination against its Free Trade Enemies. “Social” Extermination would be better than outright physical extermination, but there will be no progress of any kind as long as several million Free Trade Supporters, Engineers, and Operatives are left “socially alive” in “public”.

    If a Protectionist Party came to comprehensive and overwhelming power within America, it would have to prepare the public for decades of ” Economic War Socialism” as the Outside World conspired to reconquer America and put us back on the Corporate Globalonial Free Trade Plantation. If America tried to become Autarkamerica, the Outside World would place a Protectionist America under the kind of sanctions which the Corporate Globalonial Free Trade Order is currently placing on North Korea, Iran, Russia and Cuba all combined into one long siege war.

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