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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – February 13, 2022

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Thoughts on the Canadian Trucker “Freedom Convoys”

Lambert Strether, February 10, 2022 [Naked Capitalism]

Let me confess at the outset that, sadly, I have come to regard “freedom” as a tell for the expression of today’s brand of sociopathic and therefore highly adaptive libertarianism[1]. So, when I see “the Canadian truckers” (as I will call them) branded as a (highly replicable) “Freedom Convoy,” my back teeth start to itch….

If we ask ourselves what sort of trucker is able to drive their rig to Ottawa, stay there for days, and even render their truck dysfunctional[4], the answer is clear: Owner operators (that is, (100% – 64%) * 50% = 18% of all truckers).[5] Without real data, it’s impossible to be certain, but I’m not the only one who’s come to this conclusion. From Passage:

“It’s safe to assume that the people who made the trek to Ottawa aren’t the same people filing labour violation claims with the federal Labour Program. Rather than exploited workers in a deregulated industry, my guess is that the ‘truckers’ actually present in Ottawa were by and large self-employed owner-operators: the small contingent of wealthier small proprietors who have made out quite well in the new wild-west of for-hire trucking. It was a ‘revolt’ of the petit-bourgeoisie, financially backed[6] by wealthy right-wing grifters.

“This weekend’s idiotic pageantry was thus a political consequence of the decades-long class project to remake the trucking sector, a project which has dismantled a highly unionized industry, formerly made up of relatively well-paying and stable jobs, and replaced it with a poorly regulated labour market of hyper-competition among small owner-operators and other precariously-positioned workers.”

 ….Given that democidal elites are a parsimonious explanation for Covid policy in Canada as well as the United States, we can surmise that the Canadian truckers gave Trudeau and the Liberal Party the excuse and the cover to do what they have wanted to do all along….

One of those organizers was Pat King, a former organizer with the Western Canada separatist party Wexit. King gained notoriety after he helped organize a rally in Red Deer, Alberta, that turned violent, and thanks to his repeated attempts to weaponize his misunderstanding of the law to repeal Alberta’s COVID-19 measures. King is a prolific streamer, using his social media pages to warn of “Anglo-Saxon replacement” and to make disparaging remarks about immigrants and the LGBTQ community, per videos cataloged by Anti-Hate Canada….

TW: Best to read the entire essay, before getting to the excellent, precision targeted end. 

Facilitating Civic and Political Energies for the Common Good

Ralph Nader [Counterpunch, via Naked Capitalism 2-6-2022]

Corporate power stems not from votes (corporations don’t vote, yet) nor so much from the campaign money. It comes as a byproduct of the almost wholly unorganized populace not utilizing its powerful exclusive sovereignty (“We the People”) under our Constitution. In our country’s history, it is remarkable what a small percentage of people (often under one percent) when organized and representing broad public concerns, have achieved against all odds. (See my book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think, 2016).

Resource Limits to American Capitalism & The Predator State Today (interview)

James Galbraith [GPE Newdocs, via Naked Capitalism 2-10-2022]

GALBRAITH:  ….the development of the system [described by Galbraith’s father] does start really in the early 1930s. It starts with Roosevelt’s New Deal. I mean, you had an earlier system which was very unstable; which went through an explosive period of growth in the 1920s and then collapsed. And the collapse didn’t go away. It lasted for four very long and painful years in which the factories were idle and the people on the farms couldn’t sell their products and then there was mass migration and all kinds of ecological disaster.

Then Roosevelt in the New Deal created an entirely different structure within which the American economy could function. And that was a federal project and it culminated in the vast industrial mobilization at the time of the Second World War.

FRIES: Let’s turn now to the shift from the form of American capitalism described by your father in The New Industrial State to what you describe in The Predator State as a corporate republic. So talk now about your argument that when weakened by adversity, the US model was destabilized from within and made vulnerable to fraud, predation, and looting.

GALBRAITH: Here’s another case where we can talk a little bit about convergence between the late Soviet model and what happened in the United States. In the Soviet Union when it was no longer profitable or no longer possible to produce in the previously existing structures, the people who had control of the assets liquidated them….

GALBRAITH: Well to begin with it wasn’t my father who directly advised the Chinese. Actually, I did that. In the 1990’s I had for four years a position in a consultancy under the United Nations Development Program as chief technical advisor to the State Planning Commission for Macroeconomic Reform. It was mostly an exercise in providing training and exposure to the people who were working there, rather than direct policy advice.

The interesting thing though is that when I got there in 1993, I got a whiff of a fact that I’ve later confirmed through the work of a young economist named Isabella Weber who has written on this in a very important book about China. The people I was dealing with were very, very familiar, especially, with the American experience with price control in the Second World War. Which was my father’s doing.

And the things that they knew about it were what he’d written about it. And they had his books. They’d been translated internally. They’d studied them. And so this fed into if you like the historic Chinese economic management. Which has always been about stabilizing prices, agricultural prices and then the new problem was industrial prices. And that’s where they drew on my father’s work.

That approach is completely opposite to the idea in Western economics that the prices are supposed to adjust. And that the markets are supposed to, you know, let them go up and down and do whatever. Now that’s just not the way it works.

In the thousands of years of Chinese history, the emperor has always bought the grain when it was cheap and sold it when it was expensive in order to keep the peasants from rising up in revolt. And by and large, it worked. So this is a big difference.

Book Review: How China Escaped Shock Therapy: The Market Reform Debate by Isabella M. Weber

[London School of Economics Review of Books, via Mike Norman Economics 2-9-2022]

In Guanzi, a political textbook which was written 2000 years ago and preached diverse wisdom about how to conduct ‘politics’, it is taught that administrators should control what is ‘heavy’ (important and essential) for the sake of people’s lives and social stability, and let go of what is ‘light’ (unimportant and peripheral). Guanzi’s original aspiration was to elucidate how to strengthen the capacity for enlarging and wielding resources so that kings could overwhelm rivals in an era of warfare. Therefore, how to achieve ‘prosperity’ and the stable functioning of a society was central to Guanzi. Later, in imperial dynasties, abstract lessons were transformed into concrete practices, such as monopolies on salt and iron, the granary system used to flatten the price of grain, etc.

Thus, contingency and necessity are intertwined here. Debates in the 1980s did not convince Chinese decision-makers of the benefits of shock therapy but exposed the potential risks of such reform. The long-tested political logic also told them to avoid actions which could endanger stability. Out of the gradualist approach grew eventually a market mechanism in the 1990s and 2000s.

The Super Wealthy versus the Merely Rich

Barry Ritholtz, February 7, 2022  [The Big Picture]

Realtime Inequality data set and charts show just how lopsided wealth in America actually is; sure, the top 10% and top 1% have seen their wealth increase substantially over the past four decades, but it is almost modest compared to the top 0.1% and 0.01%. Those at the top of the pyramid have seen their fortunes disproportionately soar since the 1980s.

Chart real wealth growth by income group

The “Crapification” of the U.S. Economy Is Now Complete 

Charles Hugh Smith [Of Two Minds, via Naked Capitalism 2-11-2022]

‘Capitalism is not a redeemable system for us’: AOC says capitalism does not benefit the vast majority of Americans and is a system run by a wealthy minority 

[Daily Mail, via Naked Capitalism 2-7-2022]

The epidemic

Vastly unequal US has world’s highest Covid death toll – it’s no coincidence 

[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 2-6-2022]

Stark County schools invest in air cleaning technology to prevent the spread of COVID-19 

[The Repository, Canton, OH. via Naked Capitalism 2-6-2022]

“A majority of the school districts have turned to a new technology, called bipolar ionization.,,, Money sent to school districts to help them with COVID-19 mitigation strategies, known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, has covered the cost of nearly all of the projects.” The EPA:

“[Bipolar ionization] is an emerging technology, and little research is available that evaluates it outside of lab conditions. As typical of newer technologies, the evidence for safety and effectiveness is less documented than for more established ones, such as filtration. Bipolar ionization has the potential to generate ozone and other potentially harmful by-products indoors, unless specific precautions are taken in the product design and maintenance.”

As opposed to HEPA, a proven technology. Yet another opportunity squandered by the Biden Adminstration…

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-9-2022]

These pundits and pols say they’re ‘done with COVID.’ But COVID’s not done with us”

Michael Hiltzik [Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-9-2022]

“At a certain level, it’s understandable that nearly two years of pandemic-related restrictions have people fed up and desperate to get back to some semblance of normal life. But that’s no excuse for the premature and dangerous declarations by elite commentators and vote-scrounging politicians that the crisis is over. For them and their social circles and fellow ideologues, perhaps it is over. Many live in a bubble that has protected them from the worst ravages of COVID-19. For millions of Americans, however, it’s not nearly over. They’re the survivors left behind by the 67,000 Americans who died of COVID in the last month, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not to forget the survivors, relatives and friends of the nearly 900,000 Americans who have perished in the pandemic, and the countless more suffering “long COVID” — those whose health has been compromised for months or possibly years by their encounter with the virus…. That brings us back to examining who has suffered the most from the pandemic. “Among working-aged Americans, those with 2019 household incomes less than $25,000 were 3.5 times as likely to report missing an entire week of work mainly due to their own or loved ones’ COVID-19 symptoms, relative to those earning $100,000 or more,” reports Julia Raifman of Boston University. Access to and uptake of vaccines and boosters are closely correlated with income. The share of fully boosted Americans with incomes less than $25,000 is only 22.2%, compared with 43% among those with incomes in the $75,000-to-$100,000 range and 56.6% of those with incomes of $100,000 or more.”

Democidal elites

How the Establishment Functions

Craig Murray [MRonline, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-7-2022]

Lambert Strether: “I want to call out this nugget for the record:”

“On Alan Duncan’s birthday on 7 June 2017 Ian Burnett and his wife were part of the dinner celebration, alongside former Tory leader William Hague, and the arms dealer Wafic Said and wife. Wafic Said was central to the largest bribery scandal in British history, the Al-Yamamah BAE contract for arms to Saudi Arabia, where an eighty billion pound contract involved hundreds of millions in corrupt bribery payments swirling around Wafic Said and his friend Mark Thatcher. The only reason several very rich people did not go to prison is that Tony Blair – another Oxford University man – and Jack Straw, the recipient himself of BAE largesse, made a historic decision that the Serious Fraud Office investigation must be stopped ‘in the public interest’. The Serious Fraud Office subsequently ‘lost‘ all the thousands of documents proving the corruption. Thus enabling the central fixer, arms dealer Said, to enjoy a jolly dinner and banter with the new Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, rather than eat his dinner in Ford open prison. That, my friends, is how the British Establishment functions.”

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-7-2022]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-8-2022]


“Ghislaine Maxwell Trial: Day 18” (podcast)

[TrueAnon, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-7-2022]

Concluding sentence: “The message is very clear here: If you have enough money in your bank account, you can rape a kid. And it’ll be fine.”

“The paradox that leads professionals into temptation”

[Financial Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-7-2022]

“Now a professor at Cornell University and an honorary fellow at Cambridge’s Judge Business School, [Sunita Sah] has filled in more gaps with a new study that sheds light on the dark side of professionalism and how to avoid it. Her findings are stark and surprising. The greater a manager’s sense of professionalism, the more likely he or she is to accept a gift or bribe. Worse, high-minded professionals may be more susceptible to unconscious bias towards gift-givers, precisely because they are convinced they think they know how to ignore their blandishments…. ‘I NEVER turn down something for free that I know isn’t going to kill me!” retorted one manager in response to Sah’s survey. “A free lunch from someone? Go for it! If the guy is fool enough to think his free lunch/dinner/use of cabin, etc, is going to influence me, he doesn’t know me at all! People don’t influence me beyond what I, and I alone, allow!/. In the study for the Academy of Management Perspectives, Sah equates this ‘professionalism paradox’ to the Dunning-Kruger effect, according to which poor performers lack even the ability to recognise their own hopelessness…. Professionalism ‘isn’t an individual characteristic, or a feeling’, says Sah. Instead, she would like to redefine it as ‘repeated behavioural practices that demonstrate a deep understanding of the concept, backed by appropriate rules and codes. In that form, anyone can aspire to deep professionalism.” • ”We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” –Aristotle. See above: “The Democrat Party is as ‘unreformable’ as the PMC is ‘unreformable.’”

The coming backlash against growth and jobs: How America’s rich are trying to drag us back to 2008  

Ryan Cooper [The Week, via Naked Capitalism 2-9-2022]

Republican Senator Ron Johnson (Wis.) won’t try to convince OshKosh Defense, a Wisconsin-based company, to make vehicles for the Post Office in his home state. “It’s not like we don’t have enough jobs here in Wisconsin,” he told reporters over the weekend. “The biggest problem we have in Wisconsin right now is employers not being able to find enough workers.”

He’s not alone in that thinking. “We don’t have a lack of work but a lack of willing workers,” claimed Heritage Foundation research fellow Joel Griffith in a recent statement, adding that “[w]hat’s to blame are welfare handouts that don’t require any effort to get back to work[.]” Others aren’t so blatant, but the message is the same. “If I were the Fed chair … I would have raised rates early in the fall,” Bank of America researcher Ethan Harris told CNBC Monday. “When we get this broad-based increase, and it starts making its way to wages, you’re behind the curve, and you need to start moving.” That is: Workers are making too much, and their pay needs to be cut.

These comments are reflective of a growing movement to strangle the American economy. Everyone claims to love growth and jobs in this country, but the fact is the rich have done very, very well over the last decade of slow growth and high unemployment. They’ll try to re-create that situation if they can.

From the standpoint of business owners, a high-growth, high-employment economy has two big downsides. The first is eroded control over labor….

Second, a tight economy isn’t great for the stock market and the rate of corporate profits, particularly relative to the rest of the economy. The economic lost decade from 2008 to 2018 was horrible for workers, wages, and the overall growth of the economy, but it was fantastic for asset owners.

TW: Like most commentators, Cooper fails to mention the political alienation, polarization and instability caused by the rick tightening their screws on the working class. “A republic — if you can keep it.” The rich aren’t even interested anymore. 

“The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Has a New Corporate Megadonor”

[ReadSludge, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-7-2022]

“E-commerce, web hosting, and media giant Amazon donated $1.8 million to the Congressional Black Caucus’ (CBC) affiliated foundation and institute last year, according to new lobbying contributions filings. The majority of the money, $1.7 million, was donated to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that researches how policies affect Black communities, publishes legislative reports, and hosts an annual legislative conference.” The foundation has eight House representatives and CBC members on its board of directors. The donations are a dramatic increase in Amazon’s prior giving to CBC groups.”

The tech giants are doling out political donations to antitrust skeptics in Congress 

[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 2-7-2022]

How the Sugar Industry Makes Political Friends and Influences Elections 

[ProPublica, via Naked Capitalism 2-7-2022]

Health Care Crisis

Opioid Overdose Deaths Cost U.S. Economy $1 Trillion A Year, Study Finds 

[Forbes, via Naked Capitalism 2-9-2022]

Disrupting mainstream economics

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 2-6-2022]


Is This What Winning Looks Like? Modern Monetary Theory, the buzziest economic idea in decades, got a pandemic tryout of sorts. Now inflation is testing its limits.

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 2-7-2022]

Climate and environmental crises

Plants are flowering a month earlier – here’s what it could mean for pollinating insects 

[The Conversation, via Naked Capitalism 2-7-2022]

“What If I Can’t Insure My Home At All?”

[The Daily Poster, February 6, 2022]

Major insurance companies are choosing to protect the fossil fuel industry while abandoning homeowners whose safety and livelihoods are being threatened by the industry’s carbon emissions.

Insurance giants Chubb, Liberty Mutual, and AIG are three of the biggest insurers of fossil fuel infrastructure around the world. But the companies have just announced plans to scale back their homeowner coverage in California, where they insist future climate-related losses will likely prevent them from turning a profit.

Predatory finance

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 2-9-2022]


Litigation finance pits greed against greed 

Cory Doctorow [via Naked Capitalism 2-10-2022]

When A Swap Becomes A Swipe

[The Daily Poster, February 10, 2022]

With its subtropical climate and proximity to Disney World, Orlando, Florida has become one of America’s fastest growing cities  but it has a big problem: It is one of the largest mass transit deserts in the United States, gridlocking vast swaths of its population in some of the country’s worst traffic.

Worse, when the region’s highway authority had the opportunity to invest in its mass transit infrastructure, money that could have gone to buses and trains was instead siphoned to a handful of the world’s most powerful banks, thanks to a complex municipal loan deal signed in the leadup to the financial crisis more than a decade ago.

As that so-called interest-rate swap scheme continues to blow a hole in the highway authority’s budget, Orlando is now at the center of a landmark legal battle to unwind the transactions with UBS, JPMorgan, Citi, Morgan Stanley, and the Royal Bank of Canada….

The financial carnage from such deals has been widespread.

Detroit paid $85 million in termination fees during its bankruptcy in 2014 as it was cutting services across the city.

Illinois paid $618 million to large banks, with a total cost of more than $1.4 billion.

New Jersey spent $720 million to terminate their swap agreements.

In Denver, the local school district paid $215 million in termination fees to banks to unwind a deal negotiated by then-superintendent Michael Bennet, before he was appointed to the U.S. Senate.

Rampant misconduct in the negotiation of swaps forced JPMorgan to cancel the $647 million it said it was owed by Jefferson County, Alabama.

The big banks earned nearly $400 million in termination fees from swaps gone south in Puerto Rico.

Higher education has gotten caught up in such arrangements as well. Harvard spent $1.25 billion winding down its swaps. The City University of New York system spent nearly $200 million, and Michigan State spent more than $130 million.

Perhaps most egregious was Chicago, which spent $537 million in swap termination fees during the mayoral tenure of Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, a period that coincided with the closure of 48 public schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods in the city. The Chicago Teachers Union has frequently assailed the school district’s usage of swaps, organizing protests at the banks and financial firms that profited from the arrangements. In 2014, the Chicago Tribune caught then-Mayor Emanuel lying when he said that he had not negotiated any swap deals, when in fact he had negotiated four of them.

Private Equity’s Airline Strategy Could Draw a Challenge

[The American Prospect, February 11, 2022]

Budget airlines Frontier and Spirit, buoyed by a private equity investor, announced a merger earlier this week. But a revamped antitrust enforcement atmosphere awaits….

At first glance, the Frontier/Spirit deal might appear to be two smaller players creating a formidable competitor to the four other dominant airlines, by offering low-cost alternatives for flyers on a budget.

Behind the curtain, however, it’s a deal orchestrated by Bill Franke, founder and managing partner of the airline buyout–focused private equity firm Indigo Partners. Franke has served as chairman and a key shareholder of both Spirit and Frontier. His firm also has stakes in Wizz Air, JetSMART of Chile, and Mexico’s Volaris, as well as 83 percent of pre-merger Frontier.

If the deal is approved, Franke’s Indigo Partners is expected to own a 43 percent stake in the newly combined Frontier and Spirit’s $6.6 billion valuation, a massive return on Indigo’s initial $36 million investment into Frontier back in 2013, which was purchased through selling shares of Spirit.

Frackers Restrict the Flow and Raise the Price: After a decade of flooding the market with cheap fossil fuels, investors have cut back on production.

[The American Prospect, February 10, 2022]

Following two decades of steeply rising corporate returns, Wall Street profits soared to extraordinary highs last year, despite inflation and the increased costs of securing and transporting goods. The stock market is thundering along, with S&P 500 earnings rising 45 percent in 2021, according to FactSet.

As the economy has staggered back from the pandemic, investors have ridden rising prices to higher returns. (Higher public investment during the past two years also explains some of the extraordinary profits.) “What we really want to find are companies with pricing power,” Giorgio Caputo, one portfolio manager, told Bloomberg. “In an inflationary environment, that’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

Stock buybacks helped retailers remit profits to shareholders. Best Buy CFO Matt Bilunas told investors on a November earnings call that the consumer electronics chain would spend more than $2.5 billion on buybacks in 2021 while hiking prices on appliances. “In most cases, we’ve flowed those prices on to the consumer,” he explained….

Commodity traders, who arbitraged across pandemic-induced dislocations and benefited from the volatility of fossil fuel commodities, are poised to further exploit bottlenecks in fossil fuels.

Vitol, the world’s biggest oil trader, distributed $2.9 billion to partners in just the first half of last year, averaging a $7 million bonus per partner. That’s on top of $2 billion in payouts in 2020—the same year oil prices went negative. The pandemic-time profits weren’t a one-off. The private trading houses are gearing up for years of sustained higher profits, anticipating that the same chronic underinvestment facilitated by the fracking pullback will now deliver a “commodities supercycle.”

When Private Equity Becomes Your Landlord 

[Pro Publica, via Naked Capitalism 2-8-2022]

During the past decade, private equity-backed firms such as Greystar have stormed into the multifamily apartment market, snapping up rentals by the thousands and becoming major landlords in American cities, according to ProPublica’s analysis of National Multifamily Housing Council data on the nation’s biggest owners of apartment buildings with five or more units. Private equity is now the dominant form of financial backing among the 35 largest owners of multifamily buildings, the analysis showed. In 2011, about a third of the apartment units held by the top owners were backed by private equity. A decade later, half of them were… Private equity firms often act like a corporate version of a house flipper: They seek deals on apartment buildings, slash costs or hike rents to boost income, then unload the buildings at a higher price.

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

“Where Did All the Workers Go?”

[The Ethical Skeptic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-9-2022]

The Real Reason America Doesn’t Have Enough Truck Drivers 

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 2-10-2022]

A 1,000-mile journey through the middle of America reveals the fundamental reason for truck driver shortages: It is a job full of stress, physical deprivation and loneliness.

Why Trucking Can’t Deliver the Goods: The yearly turnover rate among long-haul truckers is 94 percent. And you wonder why you’re not getting your orders on time?

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

Perhaps one-fifth of port truckers actually are independent contractors; nearly everyone else is, like Alvarez, misclassified as independents. Over the past decade, dozens of lawsuits from misclassified drivers have resulted in judgments affirming that they’ve been misclassified and awarding them compensation from the companies that misclassified them. XPO recently paid a $30 million fine to a large number of its drivers. But neither XPO nor any of the other fined companies have stopped misclassification. It’s cheaper for them to pay a fine than to pay their drivers a living wage.

Not surprisingly, given the long waits and meager rewards, a lot of drivers have simply stopped showing up. According to Gene Seroka, the executive director of the Port of L.A., fully 30 percent of the port’s 12,000 drivers no longer show up on weekdays, a percentage that rises to 50 percent on weekends. Once the waits exceed six hours, as they now sometimes do, drivers would run the risk of exceeding the 11-hour federal limit on trucker workdays if they then were to actually get a load—which means the port must turn them away, and they’ll have spent an entire workday for no pay at all.

And you wonder why the supply chain isn’t working very well?

THE PLIGHT OF THE PORT TRUCKERS may seem extreme, but the plight of the great majority of long-haul truckers is dismal as well. It wasn’t ever thus. Until 1980, long-haul truckers were generally employed by regulated companies whose routes and rates had to pass muster with the Interstate Commerce Commission. Under the terms of the 1935 Motor Carrier Act, the ICC kept potential lowball, low-wage competitors out of the market. Drivers were also highly unionized, under a Master Freight Agreement between the Teamsters and close to 1,000 trucking firms. For which reasons, truck driving was a pretty damn good blue-collar job, with decent pay, livable hours, and ample benefits.

The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 changed all that, scrapping the rules of the 1935 act so that startups, charging far less than the pre-1980 rates and paying their drivers far less as well, flooded the market. Facing that competition, established companies dropped their rates and pay scales, too. By 1998, drivers were making between 30 percent and 40 percent less than their pre-1980 predecessors had made. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, following the steep decline in wages in the decades after the 1980 deregulation, trucker income has flatlined for the past 20 years.

The Meat Industry’s Middlemen Are Starving Families and Farmers: How monopolization in the meatpacking and processing industry affects us all

[The American Prospect, February 10, 2022]

The Biden Transition and the Fight for Real Hope and Change This Time

Biden’s Big Chance to Lower Drug Prices

David Dayen, February 9, 2022 [The American Prospect]

A decision on whether to open a costly cancer drug to generic competition will be made shortly. It doesn’t require congressional approval.

Any day now, the National Institutes of Health will render a decision that will signal whether the Biden administration is serious about using all available tools to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

The NIH decision involves a prostate cancer drug called enzalutamide, marketed as Xtandi. The price of Xtandi in the U.S. is three to five times higher than in similarly situated, industrialized countries. Patients must take four pills a day to stay on track. Though prostate cancer is common, and Xtandi does not eliminate it from the body, the average U.S. listed wholesale price for a full course is an eye-popping $188,900 per year. More than half of global sales revenue from Xtandi comes from the U.S.

Even with insurance, co-pays range as high as $10,000 or more. Most Xtandi patients are on Medicare, but the high price also puts it on a private insurance tier that often requires prior authorization for use, restricting access.

Xtandi was invented due to grants from the U.S. Army and the NIH; all three of its patents disclose those funders. In the case of publicly developed drugs, under the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 the government has so-called “march-in rights” to effectively extinguish such patents if the drug is not being distributed on “reasonable terms.” After that, generic companies could market their versions and create competition on price….

THIS IS THE SECOND REQUEST to use march-in rights on Xtandi. The NIH and the Defense Department rejected the first in 2016, and prices on Xtandi subsequently accelerated higher. The following year’s National Defense Authorization Act directed DOD to exercise march-in rights on any treatment the Pentagon helped fund to develop, if the list price in the U.S. cost more than the median of seven high-income countries. The Army’s participation in developing Xtandi made it subject to the directive, but the Pentagon has ignored it.

Congress just passed an extremely important bill protecting victims of sexual misconduct

[Vox, February 10, 2022]

The Senate passed a significant bill on Thursday that effectively prevents employers, universities, and other institutions from immunizing themselves from lawsuits alleging sexual harassment or assault. The bill passed the House on Monday, and President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law.

The bill, known as the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, targets “forced arbitration,” a practice championed by Republicans on the Supreme Court. Forced arbitration allows companies to shield themselves from lawsuits — and to shunt legal disputes into a privatized arbitration system that overwhelmingly favors corporate parties.

The new legislation provides that plaintiffs alleging sexual assault or sexual harassment may elect to have their dispute decided by a real court, even if they previously signed a forced arbitration agreement.

Employersbanksnursing homes, and numerous other companies require their workers, customers, and patients to sign contracts containing a forced arbitration provision. Under these provisions, if a legal dispute arises between the company and its workers or consumers, the dispute will not be resolved in a real court. Instead, the case will be resolved by a private arbitrator — often one supplied by an arbitration provider that is chosen by the company that drafted the forced arbitration provision.

Data shows that corporate parties are far more likely to prevail before an arbiter, as compared to a court. And when non-corporate plaintiffs do prevail before an arbiter, they typically receive much less money than they would if their case had been litigated.

The Court’s Republicans often present forced arbitration cases as ordinary contract disputes. As Neil Gorsuch argued in one of his first decisions as a justice, workers and companies both signed forced arbitration agreements, so they should both be bound by them.

But non-corporate parties rarely have the choice not to sign such an agreement. Many companies refuse to do business with anyone who doesn’t submit to forced arbitration. And the Supreme Court’s decision in Epic Systems v. Lewis (2018) permits employers to order their employees to relinquish their right to sue the employer under pain of termination. The upshot of that decision is that employees can easily be forced into a situation where their options in a legal dispute are arbitration or nothing.

Interestingly, while the Supreme Court frequently splits along party lines in forced arbitration cases — with Republican justices cheerleading the practice and Democratic justices dissenting — the new bill passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support. The bill passed the House by a lopsided 335-97 vote margin, with 113 Republicans joining all House Democrats. It passed the Senate in an unrecorded voice vote.

Green New Deal – An opportunity too big to miss

Battery-powered trains are picking up speed

[Ars Technica, via Naked Capitalism 2-7-2022]

“Sunlight as Infrastructure”

[Boston Review, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-7-2022]

What would the energy transition look like if—at least, in part—we tried to make free, public light even freer and more democratic?…. By the end of the 1950s, passive solar had become the province of boutique suburban and rural houses and a handful of urban projects, mostly in Europe. Little has changed. In 2020 a beautiful eighteen-unit building of subsidized housing opened in Vienna. Along the entire five-story south façade, glass and automatic sliding doors afford winter gardens, thermal masses, and terraces for each unit. The structure is—to quote a review of its ground-floor café and bike shop—“a wonderful place where lovely and open people stand up for the quarter and have great visions for the public space!” Meanwhile, back in New Jersey, I teach in a top-floor classroom with two small panes of glass. They cut horizontal light to a shard while the solid roof without skylights blocks overhead insulation. Two feet below that roof and various ducts, fluorescent bulbs illuminate my students and me. This is nonsensical and wasteful: the building throws away free energy to replace it with costly electrons generated somewhere else. This is the windowless, all-electric, not-so-great vision that we are supposed to embrace.”

Information age dystopia

“The Blue Stack Strikes Back”

Zaid Jilani [Tablet, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-9-2022]

“If you look back at any of the recent controversies over free speech—from QAnon to COVID to the last two presidential elections—this is how things work when a development or outcome is seen as unfavorable or undesirable by the favored political camp: First, activists create a panic about misinformation or offensive speech. Second, the social media platforms try to meet them halfway by introducing measures like warning labels. Third, the activists realize they’ve drawn blood, and continue to push for outright censorship. Finally, the social media platforms give in and remove the offending voice from their platforms altogether. The institutions successfully driving this push for ideological conformity across American life—progressive nonprofits, large portions of the news media, woke corporations, Democrats in government—can collectively be called the “blue stack,” which represents an enforcement mechanism for the ruling ideology to express hegemony over American democracy. The blue stack presents America’s elite with something they’ve always craved but has been out of reach in a liberal democracy: the power to swiftly crush ideological opponents by silencing them and destroying their livelihoods. Typically, American cultural, business, and communication systems have been too decentralized and too diffuse to allow one ideological faction to express power in that way. American elites, unlike their Chinese counterparts, have never had the ability to imprison people for wrong-think or derank undesirables in a social credit system. But the alliance between the media, progressive activists, certain government officials and bureaucrats, technology firms, and other powerful institutions like business and banking now allows them to shape events through what Tablet’s Wesley Yang has called the vertical messaging apparatus. When a politically inconvenient story appears at an inopportune time—one about, say, the corruption of the Democratic presidential candidate’s son—the blue stack takes unified action to quickly suppress it. Dozens of former officials from the intelligence community can sign a letter baselessly insinuating that the Hunter Biden story was just Russian disinformation, the mainstream media can publish it, and social media companies friendly to or fearful of the Democratic Party can collude to limit access to the original reporting.”

The danger is still on our devices 

[Columbia Journalism Review, via Naked Capitalism 2-10-2022]

Pegasus may be an Israeli-made tool, but it has long been embroiled in similar scandals all around the world. NSO Group, which created Pegasus, has insisted that it only licenses its software to governments for legitimate law-enforcement purposes, but authoritarian regimes have abused it to spy on opponents and critics as well. Last summer, a consortium of seventeen major news organizations led by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based group that works to amplify the reporting of threatened journalistsobtained a list of more than fifty thousand phone numbers globally that NSO clients selected for possible surveillance. It’s not clear how many of those were actually targeted, but Forbidden Stories worked with researchers at Amnesty International to prove that dozens of listed phones had been successfully infected with Pegasus, including devices belonging to journalists in India, Hungary, Morocco, and elsewhere.

Since then, the fallout has continued. French intelligence authorities confirmed traces of Pegasus on the phones of three journalists, including a senior staffer at the international broadcaster France 24; India’s supreme court ordered an independent inquiry into that country’s alleged use of the tool, while targeted journalists in Hungary moved to sue both their government and NSO. Fresh allegations have come to light, too, many of them involving the press. In November, Apple warned two journalists in Uganda that their phones may have been compromised by state-sponsored actors. In December, the Washington Post reported that an agency in the United Arab Emirates put Pegasus on the phone of Jamal Khashoggi’s wife in the months before Khashoggi was murdered by the Saudi state. Last month, meanwhile, civil-society groups reported that Pegasus was used to hack dozens of female activists and journalists in Bahrain and Jordan as well as dozens of reporters in El Salvador, including more than half the staff of the renowned investigative outlet El Faro. (Implicated governments have routinely denied such allegations, as NSO has continued to insist that it has no oversight of their conduct.)

In November, the Biden administration effectively blacklisted NSO, complicating the group’s access to US-made equipment used in its operations. Israeli officials were reportedly furious about the decision—not least because the US itself had previously tested Pegasus. According to a detailed recent report by Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazzetti in the New York Times Magazine, the FBI acquired the software in 2019; Israel initially banned NSO from allowing its tool to target US phone numbers, but it approved a special version of the software, known as Phantom, that would be able to hack American devices for the exclusive potential use of US law-enforcement agencies. The FBI eventually decided not to deploy NSO tools, but it continued to pay to license them for two years while it reached a decision. Bergman and Mazzetti also reported, meanwhile, that the CIA paid for the nation of Djibouti to acquire Pegasus despite human-rights concerns there, including the persecution of journalists and the torture of opponents.

Corporate Media Is The Misinformation Problem

David Sirota [The Daily Poster, February 9, 2022]

The largest media outlets are platforming con artists, skewing the news, and immersing the country in a flood of lies.

Democrats’ political suicide

Are the Democrats in trouble? Gallup editor explains why the real story is that Americans hate both parties 

[AlterNet, via Naked Capitalism 2-7-2022]

‘Taking the Voters Out of the Equation’: How the Parties Are Killing Competition 

[DNUZ, via Naked Capitalism 2-7-2022]

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-11-2022]


The (Anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

Supreme Court, in 5-4 Vote, Restores Alabama’s Congressional Voting Map 

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 2-9-2022]

Comment on U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in Alabama Redistricting Case

[ACLU of Alabama, via Naked Capitalism 2-9-2022]

The Supreme Court Has Crossed the Rubicon 

Linda Greenhouse [New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 2-10-2022]

Brett Kavanaugh’s Defense of the Shadow Docket Is Alarming 

[Slate, via Naked Capitalism 2-10-2022] Merrill v. Milligan.

The Supreme Court is leading a Christian conservative revolution 

[Vox, via The Big Picture 2-6-2022]

Almost as soon as Justice Barrett was confirmed, the Court handed down a revolutionary “religious liberty” decision. It hasn’t slowed down since.

The dark side

The revealing Trump White House debate over whether to seize voting machines 

[Vox, via The Big Picture 2-6-2022]

Trump Had Role in Weighing Proposals to Seize Voting Machines

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 2-6-2022]

New accounts show that the former president was more directly involved than previously known in plans developed by outside advisers to use national security agencies to seek evidence of fraud.

The GOP has become the Jan. 6 Party. It stands for insurrection and authoritarianism

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 2-8-2022]

The Jan. 6 Party has little in common save its name with the one I joined in the 1980s. It is no longer a conservative party but a radical nationalist-populist party that poses a dire danger to U.S. democracy — and to the lives of ordinary Americans. The fact that so many voters are flocking to the Republican banner anyway sends a dismaying signal about America’s future.

The Corporate Cash Going To Republican Attorneys General Group Working to Undermine Democracy 

[Documented, via The Daily Poster, February 6, 2022]

“Some corporate donors might have been momentarily nervous about giving [to the Republican Attorneys General Association] after January 6th…. But the damage doesn’t seem to have been lasting. Their total revenue for the second half of 2021 was down a little, but not by much compared to 2019, the previous non-election year ($6.1m in 2021 vs $6.6m in 2019). At least one corporation has gone back on its promise to not fund RAGA. A spokesperson for CenterPoint Energy told Documented on January 19, 2021 that: ‘CenterPoint Energy will not make any contributions to the Republican Attorneys General Association in 2021.’ According to the latest filing, it gave $20,000 in November 2021, and then another $20,000 in December.”— .

How the Capitol attacks helped spread Christian nationalism in the extreme right

[Religion News Service, via The Big Picture 2-6-2022]

Destruction of institutional credibility 

“When People Lose Trust In The Mainstream, They End Up Swimming With Crocs”

[, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-7-2022]

The author writes from Sri Lanka: “Take the American CDC for example. They’re issuing obviously corrupt and politicized advice and failing on every front. You can’t trust them. But then who do you trust? Everybody has to do their own research and that can lead to very different places. Some people like me are furious for the CDC not doing enough. Others are furious for them doing too much. Into this void of authority step all kinds of snake-oil salesmen and women, telling people even worse bullshit and selling them ever worse ‘solutions’. You fall out of the mainstream and suddenly you’re swimming with crocs and logs. What do you cling onto? One will float and the other will tear you apart…. I have found that in times of trouble you often attract the worst people, people trying to profit from your misery, people preying on you when you’re weak and separated from the herd. This is where so many Americans are now. I dunk on America but I honestly feel so bad for Americans. Collectively y’all suck, but individually it’s hard.”

“The Covid Policy That Really Mattered Wasn’t a Policy”

[Ezra Klein, New York Times] (original, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-7-2022]

“More unexpected was what the researchers found when they looked at the factors that predicted how many people got infected. Some of the obvious candidates — population density, G.D.P. per capita, and exposure to past coronaviruses — failed to predict much in the way of outcomes. But both trust in government and trust in fellow citizens proved potent. This yields the paper’s most striking finding: Moving every country up to the 75th percentile in trust in government — that’s where Denmark sits — would have prevented 13 percent of global infections. Moving every country to the 75th percentile of trust in their fellow citizens — roughly South Korea’s level — would have prevented 40 percent of global infections.”


Has Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour been found? Debate rages, but here’s what’s usually involved in identifying a shipwreck The Conversation L 1-6


Open Thread


The Pro-Death Lobby & Pro-Death Protesters


  1. different clue

    About the Super-wealthy versus the merely rich . . .

    I once came up with an acronym for this. It seems unwieldy yet at the same time it is kind of cute. So here it is, in case anyone might find it useful.

    OPOOP = One Percent Of One Percent.
    OPOOPOOP = One Percent Of One Percent Of One Percent.
    OPOOPOOPOOP = One Percent Of One Percent Of One Percent Of One Percent.


  2. Jim Harmon


    That reminds me of Harlan Ellison’s boast: “I write from the gut.”

  3. Ché Pasa

    Here in the Wilderness, we’re still facing shortages and high prices. Some of us are adept at navigating in this new more or less permanent reality. Others, not so much. Some of us have the resources to get by for the time being. Others, not so much.

    Because of the ending of various pandemic relief payments to individuals, families and small businesses, the old, the poor, and the sick especially are enduring some really tough times. Most of the ones I know who are trying to get through this lean, very lean, period are blaming Biden and the Dems for blowing it big time.

    This seems to be missing from most discussions of the political economy. The fact is that people who were just beginning to get out of severe poverty during the early-panic era of the pandemic thanks to various payments from the state and federal government were slammed right back into the poverty straitjacket hard with the ending of those payments and now face paying more, much more, for housing, utilities, food, clothing and transportation but with fewer resources. Neat, eh?

    And yes, Biden and the Dems blew it and will pay with their political lives. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. The obliviousness of the Dems to this situation is mirrored and paralleled by the obliviousness of pretty much everyone who thinks and writes about The Way Things Are — because it doesn’t (yet) affect them. They might care about “truckers” getting uppity, or the Looming Conflict Over Ukraine, but when it comes to domestic issues, the suffering of the Underclass doesn’t register. “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

    And it’s getting bad. We have two food pantries run by churches out here, and they are barely able to keep up with the growing need. They always say that, but it is truer now and they anticipate it’s going to get worse as costs increase and more peoples’ incomes declines. Oh, but there are jobs aplenty and some are paying more! Well, no, there aren’t, not out here. A number of businesses closed due to the pandemic, you see, and nothing has taken their place. Job opportunities that were slim to begin with have shrunk. We can go to the city if we can afford gasoline and have a car that runs (ha), and maybe get a job there, but moving is out of the question (can’t afford it), and any little thing can monkeywrench getting a job in the city.

    Poverty and homelessness are increasing and it’s becoming obvious even to those who can otherwise be oblivious.

    We also endured a very cold snap a week or so ago; overnight temperatures well below zero for an extended period. Unusual for this area. It was too cold for routine precautions. We had frozen lines for almost a week. I know of two households where the pipes burst and there’s no way they can afford repairs. Multiply that by many more beyond our little community.

    A neighbor was able to buy what she thought would be a reliable used car with the early pandemic payments. After a year or so, it broke down and now she can’t afford to get it fixed. Her mechanic friends tried to get it running again but failed. She thinks it will cost about $1200 to do necessary repairs, and if she still had the child tax credit payments, she’d be able to make it. But those payments ended, didn’t they? So now she’s juggling what little money she has to ensure the kids are fed and there’s a roof over their head. The car will have to wait.

    And so it goes. We may be out in the wilderness, but what we see and experience here will eventually affect those who may think of themselves as immune.

  4. somecomputerguy

    The problem of professionalism isn’t that people stuffing free pens into their pockets, and thinking it doesn’t influence them, but it does.

    The problem of professionalism is that it pretends there is a commercial exception to morality. Doctors and lawyers being required to serve the indigent and reprehensible in their dire need, doesn’t equate to a moral requirement to get rich defending a corporation’s right to have child slaves.

    “Professional ethics” tell us that not only is it “Okay” to be a lobbyist for Exxon, bribing politicians to destroy the planet, but once you endure the sacrifice of accepting their giant amounts of cash, you are morally required to be the most effective angel of death that you can.

    So doing evil is okay, as long as you are being paid for it. In fact, if you’re being paid, and the client wants it, it’s required.

    I once said in a test question in graduate school, that any occupation that styles itself a profession, should consider whether it has begun emulating the oldest one.

    I was told I was out of line, and I agree. The average sex worker only promises a modest amount of pleasure, for a very modest fee.

    The don’t charge a life-altering amount of money to educate someone, and pretend that handing them a piece of paper means they have done that.

    There are two distinct types of professionalism, depending on who is signing the paycheck.

    If someone else is signing the paycheck, then what the client is entitled to is a matter of professional judgement, in terms of fair value.

    If Johnny has a B.A. in his hand but can’t formulate a coherent paragraph, that’s his problem.

    If you are signing the paycheck, then the customer is always right. If a subordinate who makes a quarter your salary is in every weekend for a year, well, they accepted the paycheck, so they have to do the job. They are to be commended. Everyone please applaud.

  5. different clue

    @Che Pasa’,

    I remember one-time commenter Hugh noting that it would be fair to say that President Trump engineered the death of several hundred thousand covid victims through his studied and aggressive action-prevention and action-obstruction initiatives.
    ( Operation Warp-Speed was a beneficial initiative, however. And we have seen Trump’s own cannibal deathcult zombies turn on Trump with furious hatred when he suggested to them that they get para-vaccinoided for their own protection).

    In all fairness, since we have seen the Joemala Administration pursue actions which have led to way more deaths than the Trump Administration led to, in all fairness we have to say that President Joemala is at least twice as big a mass murderer as President Trump was.

    If we are being fair and balanced about it.

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