Naomi Klein on the Great Clash Between Capitalism and the Climate


Klein discusses her new book, “This Changes Everything.”
 Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate is coming out just as the UN is meeting on climate change, and a massive rally to protest the lack of progress on global warming is shaping up in Manhattan on Sunday. Klein is the author of The Shock Doctrine, one of the most influential books of the past 50 years. She sees her new book as the natural successor to The Shock Doctrine as she deepens her critique and insists we need to fundamentally rethink our approach to climate. The inconvenient truth about global warming is that it isn’t really about carbon, but rather capitalism. Our economic model is waging war on the earth, and unless capitalism is dramatically changed, we are doomed. Yet Klein is no pessimist. She sees the seeds of a broad cross-sectional mass movement emerging that will lead to a transformation of our failed economic system to something radically better. Sunday’s People’s Climate March in New York is a key step toward a future we must create in order to survive and thrive.

AlterNet editors Don Hazen and Jan Frel spoke with Klein via phone in Canada, where she lives, on Friday, Sept. 12, prior to her traveling to New York and participating in a wide range of protest events, debates and discussions. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

AlterNet: Let’s start with the big climate march on Sunday and your support of and involvement in it. Do you have a reaction to Chris Hedges’ critique of the march which seems to be consistent with your critique of the big enviro groups in your book? Basically he says the demands are amorphous, anybody can join, it doesn’t have much meaning.

Naomi Klein: Knowing the amount of work, energy and coalition-building and care that has gone into the organizing, the march—which you know obviously it’s not perfect—but I think it was grossly mischaracterized as being simply some big green thing. When It’s actually been incredibly grassroots.

Do I think a march is going to do anything? No. The point is this march is different in that it’s a manifestation of real rooted movements that are fighting fracking in their backyard, and refineries that are giving their kids asthma, and students who are demanding divestment of fossil fuels at their universities, and faith groups who are doing the same in their churches and synagogues. And what the march will be is a moment where people feel the size of this movement, and it will give people the strength to go home and continue at these moments of convergence too. Every once in a while it’s nice to see how big you are. Especially since so many of these movements are local. It can feel small and isolated. There haven’t been many moments of convergence like this for the climate movement, so I think it’s great.

And I don’t see the point of throwing stones. The decision was made to have an open call so that any group could endorse the march as long as they abided by certain organizing principles. And so the groups that are drawing attention, some of which I’ve gone after in the book, are not the groups who organized it. They’re just groups that endorsed because, for whatever reason, they thought it would be useful for them. Which I think speaks to more of the strength of this movement, and that everyone wants to be a part of it. But I just think to dismiss all of this incredible organizing in this kind of guilt-by-association way; frankly I’m a little offended by.

AlterNet: Hedges seems to have sit-ins and protest at the U.N. as his priority.

Klein:Well there’s going to be direct action. And I support the direct action, I support the Flood Wall Street action on Monday as well, and the people who are organizing that also support the climate march. So I don’t see what the point of sowing these divisions is right now. I don’t. I’m not saying it’s perfect. But there was a big debate about the fact that Zionist groups are also marching. And the response to that is that there’s going to be a really strong Free Palestine bloc, which I think is fantastic, and they have all my support…I’ll just leave it there.

AlterNet: Here’s a different kind of question. You mentioned privatization and deregulation as pillars of neoliberalism, which of course are true, but shouldn’t we add militarization? And there’s nothing like wars to really screw up the environment. And since 9/11 we’ve had nothing but war, and now we’re heading into a new war with massive pollution. And there’s no end in sight: more bombs, more deaths, more messes. How do you reconcile the constant presence of war all over the world with the need to change everything in terms of the climate?

Klein: Well, it’s a huge piece of the puzzle and I think a lot of the original peace organizing activities in the region had fossil fuels at their heart, and continue to. So it’s intimately linked. It’s something I do talk about—the pollution associated with the military, carbon pollution, and also the need to just get that money, huge resources that are spent on the military, and funnel it toward the building of the new economy that we need. Because part of what’s standing in our way is that we’re told that we’re broke all the time. And we’re not broke, it’s just that the money is in the wrong places. So we need to get more of the resources from polluters, whether they’re fossil fuel companies or whether it’s the military.

But I could easily have had a chapter in the book on drawing stronger connections between the anti-war movement and the climate movement. It’s a big book and it does a lot, but it doesn’t do everything. And my greatest hope, frankly, and already in having conversations about the book, is that it will inspire lots of smart people to go, hey it’s about this, and what about this, this is also a climate issue. And, it’s like, yes, exactly, write that. Having the anti-war movement more engaged in climate and vice-versa, is exactly what we need.

AlterNet: Speaking of how a book can’t do everything, your previous book, The Shock Doctrine, had a tremendous impact and influenced many people. The book basically makes the case that capitalism is at its worst when there are crises. And as the climate crisis gets worse, isn’t the response of capitalism going to get worse if we believe what you wrote in your previous book? Do you see any contradiction here?

Klein:I don’t think it’s a contradiction. I think that’s exactly why I wrote this book. The Shock Doctrine really ends with the disaster of apartheid in New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina and this is the future that we will have if we stay on this road. We can count on neoliberalism to respond to climate change as an opportunity for land grabbing, for trading weather futures. If we don’t radically change course the weather is going to get hotter, things are going to get way more brutal. And I think we, on some level, know that.

That’s why every disaster flick seems to be about a future of post-apocalyptic 1 percent, the 1 percent of the 1 percent at the front of the train or up on a planet of their own. Whatever it is—Hunger Games, Elysium, Snowpiercer—we just keep telling ourselves the same story. What I argue in The Shock Doctrine is that crisis either makes us fall apart or makes us grow up.

And there are precedents of crises being progressive moments. That’s what brought us the New Deal. We responded to crisis in a way that actually got at the roots of why the crisis was happening. So that’s when you had the most dramatic regulation of the banking sector. And that’s when you had the kind of huge investments in the public sphere that we need in this moment. So we are capable of responding to crisis differently than in the way that I described in The Shock Doctrine. And the fact that I argue in The Shock Doctrine that the whole technique was developed by right-wing think tanks because they knew that in natural crises, if you don’t get in there, it will become progressive moments. The Right is afraid of another New Deal moment. Everything about the right in the states is about undoing the gains of the New Deal and making sure it never happens again. That’s why the whole think tank infrastructure exists. And that’s why that whole tactic was developed.

So, yes, there are lots of precedents for crises being moments where inequality is deepened unless things get a whole lot worse. And no one knows that better than me. I don’t see there’s a contradiction there. I’m trying to prevent that from happening with climate change. For me, it follows quite naturally.

AlterNet: So would you say you are more optimistic after writing this book than after writing Shock Doctrine?

Klein:You know, what makes me optimistic is that I see a lot of movement. I saw a lot of things changing, in the first couple of years I was writing this book. At first I think I was really quite depressed because I was seeing Shock Doctrine tactics repeated all over Europe in the context of the economic crisis, and in the U.S., and even though people were resisting, it wasn’t working to prevent even worse things from happening. And the climate science is never fun. But in the last few years of this research, there’s just been such an explosion of grassroots activism. And this new militancy within the climate movement, led by indigenous people and by young people. As I say at the end of the book, it’s been happening so fast that I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with it. So I feel more hopeful because I feel like we are at the beginning of a real movement moment.

I think things are changing and it isn’t about a brand-new movement. It’s about so many of our past movements coming together. You know, I’ve talked to journalists, and they’re like, well movements don’t work, look at Occupy. Occupy didn’t disappear. Everybody who was engaged during Occupy is still deeply involved in trying to fight for a better world, and lots of them are now engaged on climate change, and a lot of them are involved in the Flood Wall Street organizing. And many were involved in Occupy Sandy. So movements change and different strings come together, and I think we’re in one of those movements of convergence where we’re seeing patterns, we’re seeing common threads, and people are feeling more courageous, too. So that always makes me feel hopeful.

AlterNet: As your book opens, you talk about your “aha” moment, meeting with the young Brazilian ambassador Angélica Navarro Llanos, and how her imagination of how first-world countries, the major polluters, must come to the aid of third-world countries suffering from climate change through mostly no fault of their own. Can you tell us how her vision helped shape your vision?

Klein: I was in Geneva at the time writing a story for Harpers about reparations for slavery and colonialism and was covering a UN conference where somebody told me that I should meet with Angélica Navarro. And I did and she put the case to me that the perennial question of how we address these deep scars left behind by colonialism and slavery that has so distorted the distribution of wealth around the world and within the our own country in the Global North—that climate change could be a tool to heal these wounds.

Because, of course, the history of colonialism and the history of slavery are intimately tied to the history of fossil fuels. You know, coal built the modern world. And when European countries gained access to the steam engine, that sort of supercharged the coal exchange between North and South. And while that was happening we were also pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And the thing about carbon is it sticks around for a couple of hundred years and is steadily warming the planet. So the legacy of that today is the legacy of climate change. So in addressing climate change in a just way and a way that recognizes historical responsibility, which our governments have all agreed to do when they signed the UN Climate Convention, we have an opportunity to address these core inequalities. We have another chance, really.

And that was Angélica’s argument. If we live up to our historical responsibilities and have a just climate response it would mean that the countries that created the crisis would lead the way, would cut our emissions first, but also help developing countries to pull themselves out of poverty without repeating our errors by leapfrogging over fossil fuels and moving straight to clean energy. Which would mean that this could really be a tremendous force for social justice.

And when she laid out this case, which she called the Marshall Plan for Planet Earth, I suddenly saw how climate change could be a catalyst for tremendously positive change. And then as I started paying attention to climate negotiations and going to Copenhagen and covering the Copenhagen Summit, it became clear that this issue of whether or not the Global North is going to live up to its responsibilities, whether there’s going to be a just response, its the fundamental issue at the heart of the negotiations. And it’s why so little progress has been made because Northern countries refuse and generally refuse to acknowledge that responsibility. And that’s the intractable problem.

AlterNet: As you point out clearly in the book, climate deniers know full well the ramifications of dealing with climate change. It’s going to mean a huge dent in capitalism, which is probably why they’re deniers. How will they be convinced to provide the billions of dollars for the Marshall Plan when they’re going to think, at least economically, that they’re going to be victims of climate change as well?

Klein: Well, I don’t think this is about convincing climate deniers. It’s about engaging a much larger constituency of people who do believe that climate change is real, or not actively denying the science, but are looking away because there doesn’t seem to be a way out of this crisis that is in any way hopeful, is any way inspiring, is any way doable. So really the book is a call for a revival of the kind of broad-based social movements that have won mass progressive victories in the past. We don’t have that anymore. We have slick NGOs, and everybody’s in their silos, and everybody tackles their issue and they only talk to each other. And climate change connects the dots between so many issues: labor, women’s right, indigenous rights, like I said, reparations, the decay of our cities, the dismantling of the public sphere, racial justice. I mean it’s everything, immigration. And why wouldn’t it be? This is our home, this is not an issue. This is everything. So it is a framework, really, for bringing movements together.

And that is the only way that we have ever changed our economy. If we think about, how did social movements win the victories of the New Deal? Or win social security and healthcare? Any of the great progressive victories of the past have been won by large broad-based social movements. And climate change hasn’t had that kind of movement before. There’s been a theory that you had to do it from the top down. It had to be a former vice-president and billionaires and Hollywood celebrities who are going to get together and fix this for us. And I think that’s part of the reason why a lot of lefties tuned out, because it seems to be this very elite. And it was, but it doesn’t have to be.

And I think that that’s really changing. We’re going to see in New York in the Climate March, the face of a much broader grassroots climate movement that is born out of frontline struggles against fossil fuel extraction. And it’s the flip side of the fossil fuel frenzy that has been ripping up our continent of late, and these fossil fuel companies have been so aggressive in laying claim to more and more land and more and more waterways that they’ve built their own opposition in the form of the anti-fracking movement, and the anti-tar sands and anti-tar sands pipeline movement, anti-coal movement. They’ve gone into a lot of hostile territory. People are fighting back but they’re also connecting with one another. And I think what will be exciting about the Climate March is that a lot of these connections are happening online, and are happening in small pockets, but I think we’re going to see the physical manifestations of that on the streets of New York.

AlterNet:Following up on your last answer you must have grappled many times as you wrote this book with the effects that messages of looming apocalypse have on people. Setting up the situation where informing people of the nature of the problem encourages them to do nothing about it, not unlike, say, telling someone that their shoelaces are untied. Did you feel like you arrived at the best way to convey these messages for social change?

Naomi Klein: Because the climate movement has been so ineffective, it’s very sort of faddish in terms of messaging. So one year it will be like, okay, scare people, make them really scared. And then the next year it’s like, okay don’t scare people, don’t scare people. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with scaring people if it’s true. I think we need to be honest that this is a scary moment and we don’t have that much time left. What I think is ineffective is thinking that just scaring people is going to turn people into activists. Just scaring people just makes people scared. And when people are scared, they want to curl up in a ball.

I think it’s the combination of telling the truth about how serious the situation is and that we’re out of deadlines, that this is the real one, and that there’s nowhere to run to. We need to leap, but we need somewhere to leap to that is exciting. Like you go to a UN conference and it’s on mitigating the effects climate change. And it’s just like, is that the best we can do, mitigating it back? It just sounds terrible. And is there a way that we can survive? Is there a way that we can have better cities, and better communities, and better relationships, and better jobs, and a better relationship to work, and can we address so many other things that aren’t working in our societies?

So I think if we allow ourselves to dream a little bit and take a picture of a place that could leap to, I believe that we may leap. And I say leap because I’m not here to be Pollyannaish about this. I don’t believe we are doomed, nor do I believe that success is guaranteed. I think we’ve got a shot and we have to do our best. But in terms of being afraid of scaring people and painting pictures of looming apocalypse, when the World Bank is telling you you’re headed for 4 degrees warming, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers is saying no, it’s 6 degrees, you’ve got to listen up, you know, and pay attention to what that actually means. Because that, first of all, is Celsius. Somebody made the argument that the big problem of climate change is that it’s all in Celsius and Americans think it’s vaguely Communist.

At any rate, I think it’s the combination of that real fear and we should be scared. And the deadline, and I really believe in deadlines because I’m a writer, and I know how important deadlines are, and having somewhere to run. I think that’s the combination.

AlterNet: One followup on this question of “we.” There is the mass society but there’s pretty clear evidence from history and in our industrial past, that the strongest arrangements are between manufacturers, financiers and governments that preside over them. And say, for example, in the case of Bangladesh, where there were factories that collapsed, and huge media attention, there were only just the slightest tweaks in the arrangements between those parties. So you have, say, a warning from Pricewaterhouse Coopers, but how do you actually get the folks who are part of “we” but really have a much bigger role in the way society is structured in reforming those agreements when they’re hugely profitable and they’re the means of staying powerful. Have you entertained the possibility that those are the very parties that are going to need to have a way to stay rich and powerful revealed to them without extracting carbon-based fuels?

Klein:It’s not that there’s no money to be made and no wealth in a green economy, in a renewable economy, or regenerated economy. That it’s not going to generate the kind of wealth that fossil fuels develop. Fossil fuels really do create a hyper-stratified economy. It’s the nature of the resources that it’s concentrated, and you need a huge amount of infrastructure to get it out and to transport it. And that lends itself to huge profits and they’re big enough that you can buy off politicians.

And the problem with renewable energy is not that you can’t make money off of it, but you’re never going to make that kind of huge money off of it because it’s inherently decentralized. The air and wind are free, first of all, and they’re everywhere. So it’s a different kind of economy. It’s a more decentralized economy. It’s a more level economy. So does power concede anything without a fight? No. It doesn’t mean that there’s no role for the powerful in this, but the idea that they’re just going to do it for us, which is basically the model that the UN is still advancing. If you look at the plans for the official summit in New York, it’s all about the politicians and it’s the idea that they are going to address this problem of the goodness of their hearts… Well it’s not going to happen that day. So we haven’t quite solved it. We haven’t solved the problem of entrenched wealth. I’m going to leave that to you guys.

Visit Naomi Klein’s official website to learn more about her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate.

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

Forty five million in poverty in the US

http://kstp.com/kstpImages/repository/2012-07/B-US-Poverty.jpeg

By Andre Damon
17 September 2014

Forty-five million people are living in poverty in the United States, according to figures released Tuesday by the Census Bureau. The 2013 Income and Poverty in the United States report found that the number of people in poverty remained at a record high last year, while the income of a typical household remained stagnant. According to the Census figures, the median household income in the US has fallen 8 percent since 2007.

The continuing prevalence of mass poverty and the stagnation of the incomes of working people are an expression of the fact that the so-called economic “recovery” touted by the Obama administration is a recovery only for the financial elite: corporate profits hit a record in the year covered by the report, while stock values increased by a third that year, fueled by the Federal Reserve’s money printing operations.

The White House praised the report, saying that it showed that “key indicators of poverty and family income improved.” In reality, the report is yet another confirmation of the fact that there has been no real improvement in the living conditions of working people.

The report follows the publication earlier this month of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, which found that between 2007 and 2013, the income of a typical US household fell 12 percent. According to the survey, the median American household now earns $6,400 less per year than it did in 2007.

The poverty threshold, which currently stands at $23,624 for a family of four with two children, or $12,119 for an individual without children, is abysmally low. Using this measure, the latest Census Bureau report finds that the official poverty rate fell by .5 percent, to 14.5 percent, the first fall in the poverty rate since 2006. While the poverty rate fell, the total number of people in poverty remained at the same level as the year before.

One in five children in the US were in poverty in 2013, and the child poverty rate stood at 19.9 percent in 2013, down from 21.8 percent the year before.

The stagnation of real wages shown in 2013 is part of an ongoing decline in workers’ wages. According to an analysis of the Census figures by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the inflation-adjusted median earnings for a man in 1973 was $52,419, higher than the present figure of $50,033. According to the EPI’s data, “the decline in median non-elderly household income from 2000 to 2013” was $7,337, or 11.2 percent.

According to the Census figures, while the Gini coefficient, a measure of social inequality, increased 4.9 percent from 1993 through 2012, it remained largely unchanged in 2013.

The report also noted that there were 42 million people in the United States, or 13.4 percent of the population, who did not have health insurance in 2013. The share of the population that does not have health insurance dropped as a result of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which imposes fines on those who do not have health insurance.

As a result of the 2008 economic crash, a growing number of people avoided getting their own homes or apartments, or moved back in with their parents or acquaintances. According to the Census Bureau, such “shared households” are defined as “those that include at least one ‘additional’ adult: a person 18 or older who is not enrolled in school and is not the householder, spouse or cohabiting partner of the householder.” The number of such households had increased from 17 percent to 19 percent by spring 2014, according data referred to in the Census report.

The Census figures do not reflect a series of drastic cuts to social spending that were implemented in 2013, including elements of the “sequester” budget cuts, $11 billion in cuts to food stamp benefits, and the expiration of federal extended jobless benefits at the end of the year. These draconian spending cuts together removed tens of millions of dollars in income from the poorest and most vulnerable sections of the population.

The Census report follows the publication of a number of social indicators showing growing poverty and social distress in the US. In April, Feeding America published its annual report on hunger, which showed that 49 million people, or 16 percent of the population, lived in food insecure households in 2012, up from 11.1 percent in 2007. The level of food insecurity among children is even worse, affecting 16 million children, or 21.6 percent of all children in the US.

The collapse of workers’ incomes and the growth of inequality express the basic response of the ruling class to the economic crisis that erupted in 2008. The Obama administration seized upon the economic downturn in order to carry out wage-cutting in the auto companies it restructured, incentivize companies to slash workers’ health care benefits through the Affordable Care Act, and slash billions of dollars in social programs.

As a result of these policies, the top 1 percent of income earners in the US took in 95 percent of all income gains between 2009 and 2012.

Obama Declares Perpetual War

Posted: 09/16/2014 10:56 am EDT Updated: 5 hours ago
OBAMA
 President Barack Obama escalated the drone war he has conducted for the past five and a half years by declaring his intention to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, or ISIL. Since August 8, Obama has mounted at least 154 airstrikes in Iraq. He will send 475 additional U.S. troops, increasing the total number in Iraq to about 1,600. Obama announced he would conduct “a systematic campaign of airstrikes” in Iraq, and possibly in Syria. But, not limiting himself to those countries, Obama declared the whole world his battlefield, stating “We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are… if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

If, indeed, there were an imminent threat of attack on the United States, Obama would be legally entitled to launch a military operation. The United Nations Charter, which prohibits the use of military force, allows an exception when a country acts in self-defense. Under the well-established Caroline doctrine, the “necessity for self-defense must be instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” The only problem is, Obama admitted, “We have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland.” Citing only the vague possibility of future “deadly attacks,” Obama nevertheless declared a perpetual war with no specific end time.

The only other exception to the UN Charter’s prohibition on military force is when the Security Council has given its approval. Obama said he would chair a meeting of the Council in two weeks’ time to “mobilize the international community.” But the Charter requires that the Council countenance the military operation before it occurs. The proposed resolution the Council is slated to adopt will reportedly call on countries to criminalize recruitment and travel of foreign fighters that join extremist military forces, and require the sharing of airline passenger information. It will not, however, authorize military force. Obama’s war violates the UN Charter, a treaty the United States has ratified, making it part of U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Obama’s war also violates the War Powers Resolution, which permits the president to introduce U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities only in three situations. First, after Congress has declared war, which has not happened in this case. Second, in “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces,” which again, has not occurred. Third, when there is “specific statutory authorization.” Obama has not asked Congress to authorize his military attacks.

Indeed, Obama declared, “I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL.” He was relying on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress passed in 2001, which President George W. Bush used to invade Afghanistan. But that AUMF only authorized force against individuals, groups and countries that “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the September 11 terrorist attacks. ISIS did not even exist in 2001. In fact, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s leader, formally kicked ISIS out of al-Qaeda earlier this year.

When it passed the 2001 AUMF, Congress specifically rejected the Bush administration’s request for open-ended military authority “to deter and preempt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.” Moreover, in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, Congress specified, “Nothing in this section is intended to… expand the authority of the President or the scope of the [2001 AUMF].”

Apparently, Obama is also relying on the 2002 AUMF, in which Congress authorized the president to use the armed forces as he determines necessary and appropriate to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq, and to enforce all relevant UN Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq. But since that threat and those resolutions were aimed at Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, that license, too, has ended. Indeed, in June, the White House declared that the 2002 AUMF “is no longer used for any U.S. government activities.” That means Obama’s current war is not simply a continuation of Bush’s Iraq war, and the 2002 AUMF does not provide Obama with legal license to mount his military attacks.

The War Powers Resolution requires Obama to secure a new Congressional authorization for his war within 60 days of launching “hostilities,” or he must withdraw US forces within 30 days. The 60-day period runs out on October 7. Obama apparently feels unconstrained to comply with this law.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama told the Boston Globe, “The President does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” Earlier this year, Obama said, “no country can maintain its freedom in the face of continual war.” Yet that is exactly what he is doing with his declaration of perpetual war.

Obama is violating both U.S. and international law. He is also risking even more blowback against the United States. The U.S. government has destabilized the region with Bush’s Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and Obama’s killing of thousands of people with drones. Many Sunnis are less afraid of ISIS than they are of the puppet Shiite government the United States installed in Iraq, which tortured, raped, murdered and arbitrarily detained Sunnis during the last two and a half years.

ISIS is a brutal group. But Obama is imploring Congress to fund the New Syrian Army, which according to the New York Times, “went on to behead six [captured] ISIS fighters.”

Playing both ends against the middle, Obama wants to fight ISIS in Syria without emboldening President Bashar Assad, who is also fighting ISIS. And Obama reserves the right to bomb in Syria, a sovereign country, in defiance of Assad. Obama is playing with fire.

Besides being illegal, Obama’s war promises to exacerbate the volatile situation in the region, resulting in more hostility against the United States. Obama has said in the past there is no military solution to this conflict. He should use his leadership in the Security Council to secure a cease-fire, create a peacekeeping force, mount an embargo of all arms being sent to the region, and pursue a regional diplomatic solution enlisting Iran and Syria in the process. Perpetual war is not the answer.

Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marjorie-cohn/obama-war-powers_b_5829232.html

Uber may be a bum deal for drivers and cabbies alike, threatening the future of full-time work

How Uber’s Efforts to Squeeze Drivers Have Compelled Them to Fight Back

Last week in Long Island City, a waterfront neighborhood in western Queens, over 1,000 Uber drivers went on strike, protesting against several recent policy changes that directly cut into their wages. LIC is cab country, home to countless car service companies, and it can sometimes feel like every passing vehicle is a taxi of some sort: a classic yellow cab, a town car, a green taxi or, more likely than not, a ridesharing car. So it came as no surprise that drivers who work for Uber—a smartphone app that connects drivers with people looking for a ride—chose the company’s Long Island City headquarters to protest their labor practices.

One driver grievance was the decision to extend a summer discount, where the base price for standard rides was slashed from $12 to $8, into the fall, requiring drivers to work more hours to make the same money. The other is slightly more complex, but just as damaging to workers’ earning potential. There are several distinct tiers of Uber service (UberX and Uber XL, the cheapest services offered in New York City, and UberBlack and UberSUV, the higher-end black car services), and drivers for the higher-end versions earn more, in part to compensate for the higher costs of their vehicles, which they must supply themselves. Without any advance warning, the company told drivers for “Black” and “SUV” that they would now be sent cheaper fares as well, and that declining those fares could lead to their deactivation from the service.

The coordinated outcry from their workers got Uber’s attention, and, in an abrupt turnaround late on Friday morning, the company sent a mass email to their New York drivers giving them permission to decide if and when to receive UberX requests. Though this conflict may seem like a minor technical issue, it speaks to the increasingly fraught dynamic between the San Francisco-based company and its international network of independently contracted drivers.

Uber has built its reputation on providing reliable, safe rides at any time and at any location in the urban centers where it operates. In 205 cities in 45 countries across the world, it is now possible to take out your phone, select a car from a map showing nearby Uber vehicles, and have a cab waiting at your doorstep in under five minutes. Because customers’ accounts are linked to their debit or credit cards, payment is seamless. The convenience and usability of the app have inspired devoted fans, and few would argue against the practicality of Uber and its ever-expanding list of peers, including Sidecar, Lyft, SheTaxis and Halo. But in their focus on customer service, ridesharing companies have pushed the concerns of their workers aside.

* * * * *

Since it’s founding in 2009, Uber has become the poster child for the sharing economy, a nebulous concept that basically boils down to companies taking on the role of middlemen. Companies like Uber, Airbnb and Snapgoods use technology to connect people to various goods and services (apartments, cars, ball gowns, bikes) that they can rent temporarily. The sharing economy has been heralded as a resource-saving, efficient, collaborative system that allows people to make a profit from items they wouldn’t otherwise be using. In another light, it can be seen as a sign of our economically insecure times. People who don’t make enough at their day jobs can try to cover expenses by renting out an extra room of their apartments, or driving strangers around a few afternoons per week. It is evidence of the fragile finances of people who are underpaid for minimum wage work or cobbling together full-time schedules from an assortment of temporary and seasonal gigs.

Investors love this economic model, for obvious reasons. Because these service providers are tech companies first and foremost and do not own the products being rented, much of the business risk, from upkeep to scheduling, is shifted to the workers. Companies like Uber—which received a valuation of $18.2 billion back in June—can make enormous profits while washing their hands of any responsibility to their employees.

Uber has exploited their position as middleman in two principal ways, both of which have a serious impact on people who drive cabs for a living. One, they claim that they are “disrupting” the overly regulated, outmoded taxi industry in the name of competition and the free market. What goes unmentioned are the thousands of full-time taxi drivers, many of whom belong to associations that help them fight for decent wages and other benefits, being put out of work by the rise of ridesharing companies. Furthermore, for a company that so values competition, Uber has systematically worked to quash their rivals in cities across the country, engaging in underhanded tactics to poach drivers from other car services.

The other way Uber takes advantage of their middleman status is in their treatment of workers. Uber drivers are not technically considered employees. Instead, they are “independent contractors,” meaning that they don’t receive any of the benefits or protections employers are typically expected to provide. The company tries to play this both ways. On the one hand, they claim that Uber drivers—or “partners,” as they’re known—typically work part-time, and drive as a way to make some extra cash. Yet the company also markets itself as a job creator and promises drivers the opportunity to make up to $90,000 a year in places like New York—no one’s idea of pocket change, if it is in fact true.

The contractor model has been tested by a number of corporations that want to do away with the inconvenience of having to be accountable to their labor force. In one recent example, FedEx Ground lost a landmark court case for misclassifying their drivers as “contractors,” saddling them with the burden of providing their own healthcare, FedEx-brand equipment, gas, insurance and much more. FedEx may now have to pay hundreds of millions in backpay. By shifting much of the risk and cost of operations onto the workers, companies like FedEx and Uber are relieved of the responsibility of dealing with the day-to-day hazards of running a business. In a blog post about the downsides of the sharing economy, Maureen Conway of the Aspen Institute, a centrist think tank, writes:

“If someone gets sick in the car and that driver has to spend the rest of the day cleaning the car, that’s not Uber’s problem….The risks associated with illness, injury or just the ups and downs of customer demand are largely borne by workers.”

Uber drivers use their own vehicles, pay for their own gas, parking and repairs, receive no benefits or worker’s compensation, and, once they are hired, have hardly any interaction with the company for which they work. Taken together, these additional costs make a significant dent in what workers bring home at the end of the day. Yet the company and its acolytes promote Uber as a source of well-compensated, stable employment. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced last week that they are adding 50,000 new “driver jobs” each month, and they have hundreds of thousands of drivers in their network. In promotional materials, Uber brags that their drivers can make salaries in the upper five figures in particularly busy markets like New York and San Francisco, and that they earn far more on average than taxi drivers. This would all seem to imply that the company acknowledges that drivers operate vehicles for Uber as their primary source of income. As the recent protests in New York City (and Los Angeles, and Santa Monica) suggest, many of the people who work for Uber consider driving their full-time job and are struggling to make ends meet.

Yet the company also markets itself as a form of part-time employment, a stopgap measure between full-time jobs or a way for grad students or stay-at-home moms to make a few extra bucks. This is certainly the case for some drivers, who enjoy the ability to create their own schedules and serve as their own employers. Nina Beck, a sunny 26-year-old from the Bay Area, told me in a phone interview that she started working for Uber because she was getting married and needed a job with flexible hours. Maria Vargas, an Uber driver who lives in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood, began working for the company when her kids moved out and she no longer needed to work at her full time job sewing for a garment factory.

“I love it,” she said. “You can go on vacations. They don’t care if you’re working or not. The money is never enough, but for me, it is.”

For many others, it is not. Haroon, a Pakistani immigrant who has been working for Uber for two years, told me that he works 12-hour shifts six days per week in order to support his wife and two young sons. Most of the drivers who he knows from Uber, and from a previous stint working for Lyft, work full-time, often clocking far more than 40 hours per week. Anyone hoping to earn a decent income as a ridesharing driver should expect to treat it as a full-time job, whether or not the company admits it. Though Uber is surely aware that casual part-time workers aren’t the reason the company has been able to move into scores of new markets at a blistering pace. No corporation would function with a labor force of individuals who only worked for an hour or two a day. Uber’s popularity is based on its reliability and availability, and the company needs knowledgeable, friendly drivers working on a steady basis to ensure that they maintain it.

Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, NYC’s union for yellow taxicab drivers, put it to me this way: “Ridesharing companies like Uber are informalizing driver labor. Throughout the world, whenever workers’ labor is deprofessionalized, they lose protections and rights…As much as Uber supporters talk about their model being something modern, I really think it seems quite backwards as far as workers’ rights are concerned.”

* * * * *

The ability to make “enough” as a ridesharing driver depends largely on where Uber drivers are located geographically. They can earn much more in cities with high customer demand, like San Francisco and DC, but the issue has become more complicated by Uber’s recent fare cuts. As a means of boosting ridership and offering customers the cheapest possible rates, Uber has drastically cut fares in many states, including New York and New Jersey. Customers are understandably thrilled by the cheaper prices, but a lower fare translates to a pay cut for drivers, who earn 80% of the cost of each Uber ride. The company says that drivers will benefit from this system since they will get many more trips as a result of the spike in rider interest. Drivers don’t seem so sure.

“You can’t keep cutting people’s rates in half and telling them, ‘Oh, you’re going to get twice as many customers!’” Jonathan Cousar, a part-time Uber driver who runs the website Uber Driver Diaries, told me in a phone interview. “There are only so many people that you can physically drive around in one hour. It basically translates to drivers doing more work for more time while making a smaller profit.”

Another barrier to earning a decent wage is the surplus of drivers. Because Uber is desperate to prevent other ridesharing services from hiring new drivers, and because their business model relies on providing people with cab rides anywhere and at any time, the company has far more drivers than Uber workers say they actually need. This cuts into business both for traditional cab drivers and for ridesharing drivers. The Uber driver thread on Reddit is flooded with posts by drivers upset about their lack of trips. “I haven’t had a single fare this weekend (sixteen hours online),” user ImagineFreedom, who is based in San Antonio, fumed in a posting. “All of a sudden it seems like driver numbers have quadrupled and ads are still being posted for drivers.” On a recent afternoon, my Uber app showed six available cars in a two-block vicinity on a quiet corner in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights.

Cousar, who operates in northern New Jersey, told me that when he first joined the company, he easily made his goal of $500 per week to supplement the income he made from his web hosting business. But now it’s impossible to make that much thanks to the combination of fare cuts and the surplus of drivers on the road.

“It makes me wonder how reliable this is as a future full-time or even part-time income. They’ve already brought in far more drivers than the market can support, and they’re still recruiting so aggressively.”

This is where the lack of accountability comes in. Uber doesn’t care if drivers are only getting one fare an hour, as long as all of their customers are getting picked up on time. It’s not their problem if drivers have to work longer hours to make the same money, or to waste hours waiting around for a trip that never comes. Uber’s concerns are customer satisfaction and profit, and in those regards, they’re doing as well as any company could hope to.

* * * * *

If Uber drivers are fed up with this lack of consideration, traditional taxi drivers are in despair. The highly regulated industry has strict requirements that determine standards for licensing, rates and training. Uber isn’t subject to these regulations, meaning its drivers have a significant advantage over taxi drivers who have to comply with county and state regulations that specify when and how a for-hire car can be booked. Kalanick, the CEO, has scoffed at the taxi industry as a “protectionist scheme,” and blames excessive regulation for strangling competition in the field.

There is certainly some merit to his claims, and customers have plenty of legitimate complaints about the traditional cab industry (the difficulty of finding a ride at odd hours, high prices, a lack of options). Ask why people use Uber and they’ll respond with complaints about cabbies talking on the phone while driving, taking unnecessarily long routes to jack up the fare, or subjecting them to unwanted flirtations.

Beck, the San Francisco-based Uber driver, told me, “Personally I’m not really concerned about taxi drivers losing their jobs. I can’t tell you how many creepy cab drivers I’ve had in my life; it’s just like ‘good riddance.’ They never innovate. I guess that’s not the fault of individual cab drivers but the industry itself.”

This last line is key. Why are we blaming individual taxi drivers for the effects of strict regulations they had no part in creating? And isn’t it a bit unfair for people to write off an entire industry based on a few negative experiences? Imagine passing judgment on the food service industry based on the one time a waiter happened to be rude to you. Moreover, most of the regulations that “encumber” the taxi industry are designed to protect consumers. Taxi commissions exist to control fares, enforce training, licensing and safety standards for drivers, and to provide a platform for customers to file complaints or report lost property. Most of the negative press about Uber has involved customer complaints: female riders being sexually harassed by drivers or passengers being charged exorbitant rates under the surge pricing system, where fares go up, sometimes dramatically, during times of increased demand. In August, Uber riders in San Francisco took to social media to rail against the $400-plus fees they were being charged to get to and from a popular local music festival. Clearly, consumers expect some degree of liability and oversight from the companies with which they do business.

So who are the people who are so vigorously applauding Uber’s fight against industry requirements? A March Daily Beast article, which recounts a visit from Republican Senator Marco Rubio to Uber’s DC office, gives us some indication.

“Regulation,” Rubio told the gathered group of Uber employees, “should never be a weapon used by connected and established industry to crowd out innovation and competition, and this is a real world example.”

* * * * *

Uber’s cutthroat tactics are not restricted to the taxi industry. In a remarkable scoop at The Verge, Casey Newton details the underhanded methods the company uses to hurt the business of other ridesharing services. The anecdotes read like the pages of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, except instead of sending spies to steal recipes from rival candy manufacturers, Uber sends undercover “brand ambassadors” to convince drivers from Lyft and Sidecar to switch companies. Their campaign against Lyft, their main competitor, is particularly underhanded and systematic. CNN reported in August that the company had employees around the country order and then cancel 5,560 Lyft rides, disrupting the company’s operations and causing Lyft drivers to lose business.

Cousar, the Jersey-based driver and blogger, expressed his discomfort with these aggressive tactics. “I think they’ve done some terrible things. From a moral standpoint they make me cringe, and they make me less proud and more leery about working with them.”

For now, at least, the legality of Uber’s tactics hasn’t been seriously questioned. As any defender of the company will tell you, all competing companies try to hire each other’s workers and undercut each other’s business. But Uber is already the colossus of the ridesharing industry, with a budget and international presence that far surpass any of its rivals. Though Kalanick and other Uber reps constantly preach the gospel of competition to reporters, their methods are as anti-competitive as they come. As Andrew Leonard at Salon puts it, “There’s little doubt that Uber is the closest thing we’ve got today to the living, breathing essence of unrestrained capitalism….This is how robber barons play.”

After all, wasn’t the whole reason that Uber came into being to shake up the taxi industry monopoly and open it up to new ideas and innovations? Basic economics tells us that competition is essential to provide companies with an incentive to keep prices reasonable, ensure quality and moderate supply. So do we really want Uber to be our only option?

People lover Uber because it’s reasonably priced, it’s reliable and it’s easy to use. But we love plenty of products and services that depend upon the exploitation of workers: disposable fashion from H&M and Forever 21, fast food from Wendy’s, discount furniture ordered on Amazon. The traditional taxi industry may suffer from an excess of regulation, but regulations exist for a reason. If we want workers to be protected from exploitation, have stable, full-time jobs, and benefit from decent working conditions, we need to treat them like the employees that they are. If Uber turns out to be the industry-transforming technology it claims to be and becomes the new universal model for hiring taxis, we need to seriously consider some of these questions. Because if the sharing economy is the way of the future, the future of full-time, permanent work is at stake.

Allegra Kirkland is AlterNet’s associate managing editor. Her writing has appeared in the Chicago Reader, Inc., Daily Serving and the Nation.

http://www.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/how-ubers-efforts-squeeze-drivers-have-compelled-them-fight?akid=12245.265072.efeL2-&rd=1&src=newsletter1019485&t=5&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Mediterranean shipwrecks leave over 700 refugees dead

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…many fleeing Mideast wars

By Bill Van Auken
16 September 2014

Over 700 refugees from the Middle East and Africa are feared dead in a pair of catastrophic shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea over the past week, the world’s main international migration agency reported Monday.

This tragic loss of life is directly bound up with the series of military interventions carried out by the US and its allies, which have plunged the Middle East and much of Africa into chaos, turning millions into homeless refugees.

The worst of these maritime disasters became known over the weekend from the accounts of two Palestinian refugees who were pulled from the sea after clinging to flotation devices for a day and a half. They reported that their ship, carrying some 500 migrants from the Palestinian territories, Syria, Egypt and Sudan, had gone down last Wednesday after a violent confrontation with human traffickers who deliberately rammed the vessel.

Meanwhile, a boat carrying over 250 other refugees capsized off the coast of Libya on Sunday, with only 36 survivors rescued from the sea. The rest of the passengers are believed to have drowned.

The confrontation that led to the 500 migrant deaths reportedly erupted after the traffickers attempted to force the refugees to abandon the ship that they had embarked upon from the Egyptian port of Damietta for an even less seaworthy boat off the coast of Malta. When the migrants resisted, their ship was rammed and sunk.

The Palestinians were rescued by a Panamanian-registered container ship, while seven other survivors were pulled from the sea by the Maltese navy and other vessels. The same Panamanian-flagged ship that rescued the Palestinians managed to save another 380 refugees whose boat had also sunk in the Mediterranean over the past week.

“If this story, which the police are investigating, should be confirmed, it would be the gravest case of recent years, since it was not an accident, but a mass murder perpetrated by criminals without scruples or respect for human life,” the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a statement Monday.

The IOM, however, did not limit itself to denouncing the direct perpetrators of this crime. The agency’s statement added: “The only way to neutralize these criminal organizations is to start opening legal entry channels to Europe for all people, men, women and children, who flee from their countries in search of protection.”

The “Fortress Europe” policy pursued by the member states of the European Union has been aimed at a diametrically opposed objective—namely, the sealing off of the continent from the flood of refugees.

In a statement on the disaster, Amnesty International denounced the EU’s policies as directly responsible for the tragic mass deaths. “The response of EU member states to the refugee crises in the Middle East and North Africa has been shameful,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia director, said in a statement released Monday.

He added, “European leaders want to prevent people from reaching Europe at any cost, forcing desperate people to take more hazardous routes.”

“It is without any doubt the deadliest weekend ever in the Mediterranean,” Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said Monday. She added that the UN agency was seeking to confirm as many as five shipwrecks in the region in just the past several days.

These latest disasters have already made 2014 the deadliest year in terms of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, which now approach 3,000, more than four times the number of refugees who lost their lives crossing the sea over all of last year. These figures, which reflect only deaths confirmed by the authorities, undoubtedly represent a considerable underestimation of the real human toll.

The leap in the number of migrants seeking to make the dangerous crossing is directly bound up with the multiple crises unleashed by imperialist interventions in the region.

The sectarian civil war instigated by Washington and its allies in pursuit of regime change in Syria has turned over 3 million Syrians into refugees and another 6.5 million into internally displaced persons.

Millions more have been displaced by the descent of Iraq into civil war in the wake of nearly a decade of US occupation. Libya, from which many of the refugee boats embark, has disintegrated in the aftermath of the 2011 US-NATO war to topple the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, with bloody fighting between rival militias forcing both African refugees in the country and Libyans themselves to flee for their lives.

During the first 10 months of fiscal year 2014, as millions more joined the ranks of Syria’s refugees and displaced persons, Washington admitted a grand total of 63 Syrian refugees into the United States. The European Union has done little better in terms of providing refuge to those fleeing the region’s wars.

There is no doubt that the launching of another major war in the region by the US and its allies under the pretext of combating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will only deepen the humanitarian catastrophe, leading to an even greater flow of refugees.

The worst previous tragedy involving migrants attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean took place in October 2013 near the Italian island of Lampedusa off the coast of Sicily. The sinking of a refugee boat there claimed the lives of nearly 400 refugees, in their overwhelming majority from Africa.

In response, Italy mounted an operation dubbed Mare Nostrum (Our Sea), a phrase previously employed by the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini to promote Italy’s imperial ambitions. While touted as a humanitarian search-and-rescue mission, the main aim of this militarized naval operation has been to interdict and detain refugees, many of whom are summarily deported back to their home country or to Libya, where they face imprisonment and torture in detention camps.

This Italian operation is slated to be replaced by the end of November by an interdiction program dubbed Frontex Plus, to be run by the EU’s border-control agency Frontex.

Frontex has already participated in the Italian program by providing intelligence gleaned from satellites and drones operated by EUROSUR, the EU’s border surveillance system. This allows the speedy interception of refugee boats, which in many cases are forced to turn back to Libya, or their interdiction, with their passengers relegated to camps on the Italian mainland awaiting immigration processing that most often ends in deportation.

The objectives of the Frontex operation were spelled out earlier this year in new Sea Borders Regulations instituted by the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. The regulations grant the border agency the power to block and forcibly send back boats carrying refugees. They constitute a violation of the so-called non-refoulement principle embodied in the Geneva Refugee Convention, which prohibits the return of refugees to countries where they face the threat of human rights abuses.