The Dumbest Take Yet On the Whitefish Energy Scandal

I know I shouldn’t be picking on left-leaning goofballs (because they’re powerless these days, and all the damage is being done by the right) but Kate Aronoff at In These Times has written the dumbest thing I’ve seen yet about the Whitefish Energy scandal.

The article is titled “Repulsed by Whitefish Energy? Maybe You Also Hate Capitalism.” That sounds like it might be a defense of the Whitefish mess in the name of greed-is-good capitalism. Or it could be a snarky send-up of that kind of that argument. But what it turns out to be is an argument that if you hate the Whitefish scandal, you might also want to start hating capitalism.

…Whitefish Energy is to disaster capitalism as Martin Shkreli is to America’s for-profit healthcare system: the most obviously bad actors in industries that are full of bad actors by design.

As Myerson wrote, “Satisfying though it might be to adorn his face with a black eye … there are more worthy objects of our loathing. All of Shkreli’s appalling antics and characteristics are in fact emblematic of the real villain: capitalism. Shkreli is capitalism embodied, and if you hate him, you’d do well to take up hating capitalism with at least equal fervor.”

The same goes for the eminently punchable team at Whitefish Energy. […] They did enter into a $300 million contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to perform work that they are grossly unqualified to do, on a scale that dwarfs any of the contracts they’ve had thus far. Whitefish’s social media arm also got in a public spat with San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, at one point writing, “We’ve got 44 linemen rebuilding power lines in your city & 40 more men just arrived. Do you want us to send them back or keep working?”

To review what we know: Whitefish Energy, a small company owned by a guy who is friends with with U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, received a $300 million no-bid contract from the government-owned electricity provider of Puerto Rico. In other words, a government-run entity gave a very sweet contract to a guy with good contacts in high political offices. This is not — in any way, shape, or form — free-market capitalism.

Ironically, the Whitefish scandal could prime the pump to privatize PREPA entirely, a long-sought goal of corporate-friendly interests on the island. The federally-appointed fiscal oversight board that oversees Puerto Rico’s government recently announced that it would move to install a Flint-style emergency manager to oversee the utility with an eye toward selling off large chunks of it. Included in their official reasoning for the decision was PREPA’s contract with Whitefish.

Aside from the gratuitous reference to the awful mess in Flint, Michigan (also largely a failure of governmental entities) this sounds like maybe a step in the right direction. (Although if the privatization effort is overseen by the same corrupt people who ran the government entity, things are unlikely to improve much.)

There’s a general moral sickness to this that’s all-too-common, particularly when corporations and right-wing governments decide to profit off of disasters—financial, ecological or otherwise. Take the case of Jeffrey Chiesa, the lawyer appointed by his friend and ally Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor, to put Atlantic City’s indebted fiscal house in order.

This is more of the same: The elected leaders of Atlantic City screwed up its finances, and the elected governor of New Jersey gave a sweetheart deal to one of his friends, and somehow that’s capitalism’s fault?

Look, just because a corporation is involved doesn’t mean it’s capitalism. The Whitefish Energy scandal looks like standard-issue government corruption: Somebody with influence got somebody with power to give them the public’s money. It’s insane to call that a problem with capitalism.

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