An inside look at the awful working conditions in ‘fulfillment center’ warehouses

A recent episode of the radio show Radiolab had a story from seven years ago by an award winning writer and investigative reporter Gabriel Mac who managed to get hired at an internet retailer warehouse. The show is careful not to mention the name of the company where he was a ‘picker’ and worked in a giant warehouse that was the size of about 17 football fields, referring to it by the generic name of Amalgamated. He said that at the beginning of the day they are given these scanner devices that tell them where to locate an item on the shelves to put it in a plastic bag and place it on a conveyor belt. The items seem on the surface to be placed on the shelves at random with the same item scattered all over the warehouse and placed in bins with other unrelated items. But the seeming randomness is misleading. The computer knows where things are and they have been placed so as to make collecting the items ordered by customers quicker.
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Avoiding confronting capitalism’s predatory nature

When a social affliction affects only the poor or people of color, it tends to be either ignored or treated cursorily. But as soon as the same affliction hits white people, it suddenly becomes worthy of study by social scientists and lead to calls for finding solutions. We saw this with the drug epidemic. As long as the problem of drug abuse was seen as mainly in the black community in the form of marijuana or crack cocaine, the reaction was harsh policing and punitive jail sentences, leading to the massive overcrowding of prisons and the ruination of lives and families, not to mention the numerous killings of black men by police where the initial interaction was caused by the police stopping and searching them for drugs. But when the opioid epidemic hit that largely affected white people, we have seen more humane approaches being taken, with an understanding that drug use is more a health problem than a criminal problem.
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Trump’s predictions were all wrong

In Trump’s final days in office, he seemed to relish the idea that things would fall apart in the US after he was out of office. He must be seething that none of his dire warnings have come true.

In October 2020, he had warned that the stock market, the only economic indicator that he cares about, would crash if Biden were elected, wiping out people’s wealth. But that has not happened. The stock market keeps rising to record levels. This does not mean that most people are doing well, but just that the investor class and the very wealthy are doing just fine.
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The problem with cryptocurrencies

I know almost nothing about cryptocurrencies or the blockchain technology that undergirds it. I was aware that all transactions by currency holders are recorded on a distributed public ledger, which apparently is what is meant by a ‘blockchain’. I had been aware that these currencies, of which there are many in addition to the best known one of bitcoin, are not backed by any government like ‘real’ currencies are. Their value is maintained by having their production limited by having it ‘mined’, which is a metaphor for actions that are done by computers.

Elizabeth Kolbert writes about how this ‘mining’ works.
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For many ordinary people, declaring bankruptcy is a way to escape from crushing debt often caused by circumstances beyond their control, like health care bills, and start a new life, though it is never an easy out. In addition, they are made to feel ashamed for doing so. In 2005, the credit card companies lobbied for a new law that made made it much harder for individuals to declare bankruptcy. As a then senator, Joe Biden fought in favor of the new law, no doubt because his home state of Delaware is home to many credit card companies.

In yesterday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver describes how the current bankruptcy laws are confusing and hard to maneuver and of a new proposal to simplify it. Of course Republicans will filibuster it.

John Oliver on the Texas freeze fiasco

He roundly criticizes all those responsible for what was a foreseen and avoidable disaster.

Meanwhile, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shames Ted Cruz by raising $5 million to help Texans while he was gallivanting off to Cancun.

We should also recall that Cruz was one of those people who objected to aiding people in other states who got hit with natural disasters. I am sure that he is opposing all federal aid to Texas now because he is a person who stands on principle, right?

Going big on stimulus is a no-lose proposition for Biden and the Democrats

Republicans are fighting to reduce the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan put forward by Joe Biden. I hope the Democrats do not agree. As I see it, there is nothing to lose by going big.

If they go big and the pandemic is curbed and the economy bounces back in a year or two, they will be praised for their actions. If the economy does not recover as much as expected, the stimulus cannot be blamed for being too big and instead it could be argued that it was not big enough. On the other hand, if the stimulus is trimmed back by a lot and the economy does not recover, Biden and tee Democrats will be blamed for going too small.

Republicans are saying that the large stimulus will add to the deficit and ‘overheat’ the economy and cause inflation. But we know that Republican concerns over the deficit are bogus and are always, always, just a way to oppose spending that does not benefit the wealthy. Furthermore both Fed chair Jerome Powell and treasury secretary Janet Yellen (who was Powell’s predecessor as Fed chair) have discounted the danger of inflation and said they have the tools to curb it if it does occur.

So Biden and the Democrats should go big and ignore the ‘sky is falling’ bad faith arguments of the Republicans.

The myth of the Chinese debt trap

The US and China are now locked in a competition for global leadership. There is a prevailing narrative that the Chinese government is using its Belt and Road initiative to gain power over developing countries as it seeks to expand its geopolitical influence. Their alleged strategy is to offer countries low-interest loans for big infrastructure projects that it knows that the countries cannot pay back but will likely accept because of those countries’ leaders’ grandiose ambitions. When the countries later find it hard to service those loans and are on the brink of default, China steps in and takes control of the asset it financed, in the process making those countries subservient to them.
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