Uber cuts protested by New York City drivers

By Steve Light and Isaac Finn
2 February 2016

In response to a 15 percent fare cut announced by the company over the weekend, hundreds of Uber and other taxi drivers protested Monday at the Uber headquarters near Queens Plaza in New York City. They expressed anger that their already meager incomes would be reduced even further by the company’s action, forcing them to work even longer hours.

Uber driver rally against rate cuts

Uber is an international “ride share” service, whose drivers are treated as independent contractors rather than as employees. As of last summer, the company was valued at $17 billion. The rate cut was reportedly undertaken to increase the company’s market share, in competition with Lyft, another ride-share service, as well as regular taxis and car services.

The super-exploitation of Uber and other taxi workers is just one aspect of the ever-widening economic inequality in the city that is the financial capital of the world. With astronomically high living expenses, millions of low-wage workers are barely eking by in a city where are workers, according to a recent report, need to earn an hourly wage of least $38.80, roughly four times the current minimum wage, in order to afford the city’s 2015 median asking rent of $2,690.

A significant proportion of the rally was composed of drivers from countries such as Nepal, China, Russia, and the Caucasus region, reflecting the super-exploitation of immigrant workers. Signs expressed anger at wage cuts by billionaire owners. Trucks, cars, and taxis rolling by the rally blew their horns in support and were met with cheers from the drivers.

Many Uber drivers are part-timers, and net an average $300 per week for 25 hours worked, from which they still have to pay for gasoline, insurance, vehicle expenses, and self-employment taxes. Recent reports show drivers making $2.89 an hour, less than half the official minimum wage.

The development of Internet-based service using cell phone apps has greatly intensified competition, forcing drivers to work longer hours to try make sufficient income and pay off their investments for cars. The technology-based changes in the taxi industry have led to protests against Uber in at least nine countries in Latin America, Europe, Canada and the Far East.

Uber and other drivers at the rally spoke to reporters from the WSWS .

Victor, an immigrant from Russiam with two years experience, stated, “Even before they dropped the price we were working with very low margins. We already have to pay for inspections and insurance. We are always risking getting a ticket, and if we do we have to pay it.

“One of the guys did the math, and if you work about 57 hours, under the new rate, after expenses you are making about $9.50 an hour. Why not work in a warehouse, if they are only going to pay that much?

The protest at Uber headquarters

“When I joined Uber two years ago, I knew the rates and then the company changed the rules. I have already bought the car, the dealer doesn’t change the cost because of this, and my insurance is the same. I know in other states things are different and a lot of the drivers just work part-time, but we already paid out thousands of dollars for these cars.

“They say we are ‘partners’ but they didn’t ask us anything before making these changes. I think a lot of people will leave Uber, and then there will be less drivers. We might be really busy, but eventually the market will adjust and this will hit us hard.”

Pemba Sherpa, an immigrant from Nepal, who has worked for Uber for five months, decried the rate cuts, “They are trying to kill us. We have to pay rent, plus the cost of a car, which is between $60,000 and $65,000, and they are asking us to work for just over $4 an hour.

“When I started working for Uber, I asked them, ‘should I get the black car?’ and they told me to get it. Then they told me I had to pick up UberX clients for less money, or do pulls, which means I have to pick up multiple clients at the same time. If you are doing pulls, I could be picking up six people and they are all paying $2 each that is less than a subway ride. It is like I am a bus driver, but I did not sign up to be a bus driver.

“We are entrapped because we already bought the cars, and they just keep changing the rules. They send us our times and conditions every night, and we have to accept them or we won’t be able to work.”

Another Uber driver, added, “They want us to work for $4.89 an hour, and you can’t take care of your family for that. We will be working longer hours for the same amount of money, and that is an insult.

“We already have to pay for the cars, for insurance. We have to pay for dry cleaning for our shirts, and we are getting less money than if we worked at McDonalds.”

Parminder Singh, an Uber driver and former taxi driver, explained “Uber just keeps adding cars, and making things worse for us. New York taxi companies can’t add more cars, because that increases congestion on the roads and makes things worse.

“We just want to raise our kids, but you can’t do that on this much money. I work from noon until 1 or 2AM. My son is nine years old, and I never see him. He wants to see me, but I can’t because I am at work.”

Asked about the political issues raised by his working conditions, Singh added, “The city should be responsible for taking care of the people that live here. When I was in Yellow Cab we had protested in front of the Governor’s office, to make things better for all the drivers, but the politicians still have not done anything.

“My feeling is that the city should be providing jobs to people with qualifications. We should not have people becoming drivers, when they are trained for something else.”

“Uber is 1,500 drivers, and they will make us homeless” Bahkyti Yori asserted. “What happens when we cannot cover our insurance, financial costs? We will lose our cars, everything.”

Pasand Sherpa told the WSWS, “Uber lowered the rate 15 percent but Uber takes a high percentage, 30 to 35 percent, but there is no percentage increase for us. It was $8 at the start for riders but now it is $7. Every trip they charge us 35 percent. They discount from the customer’s side but not from the driver’s side. Wages are going down but we are working harder. It was better but now we would have to drive 500 miles. We don’t have a union. The Taxi Workers Alliance organized this.”

Medallion (yellow cab) taxi drivers joined the rally in support of the Uber drivers. Iqbal Singh, a yellow cab driver for 25 years, was there in support of the Uber drivers. “We came out to fight with them. Uber made $62 billion. If they are cutting back the fare, so they make less, then yellow cabs also make less money. They can then cut the fare again and make it even worse. We want Uber to have a set price.”

An Uber driver for two years, Shamsu Uddin said, “The jobs came online before for $3 per mile, then $2.15, and now again forty cents less. We can’t even make $100 to $150 an hour. How can we make the mortgage payments or pay for the new car or take care of our family. I drive twelve hours a day. Everything goes up in price, every bill, but not us. We built the billionaire boss. There are many competing companies–Yellow, Green, LYFT, Uber, Gate, Bayer, and now Juno is coming in April. [Mayor] De Blasio said it is not good for the driver but he set this up.”

Tenzin Wangyal assessed the situation, “I think there is a decent amount that can be made by drivers but the company takes 30 percent and the driver is left not making much. They structure the system to get people to fight against each other. It needs to be structured to bring people together. This should not only be including taxi but all people should support this fight. It is about fairness and justice. People just keep talking. No one is doing anything. That is why we are here, for our voice to be heard. They make the same speech, but it is the same old reality. It is time to act now and do the right thing. It is for democracy and justice.”

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/02/uber-f02.html

Cheap cab ride? You must have missed Uber’s true cost

When tech giants such as Google and Uber hide their wealth from taxation, they make it harder for us to use technology to improve services

A striking French taxi driver protests against Uber in Paris.
A striking French taxi driver protests against Uber in Paris. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

To understand why we see so few genuine alternatives to US technology giants, it’s instructive to compare the fate of a company like Uber – valued at more than $62.5bn (£44bn) – and that of Kutsuplus, an innovative Finnish startup forced to shut down late last year.

Kutsuplus’s aspiration was to be the Uber of public transport: it operated a network of minibuses that would pick up and drop passengers anywhere in Helsinki, with smartphones, algorithms and the cloud deployed to maximise efficiency, cut costs and provide a slick public service. Being a spinoff of a local university that operated on a shoestring budget, Kutsuplus did not have rich venture capitalists behind it. This, perhaps, is what contributed to its demise: the local transport authority found it too expensive, despite impressive year-on-year growth of 60%.

On the other hand, “expensive” is everything that Uber is not. While you might be tempted to ascribe the low costs of the service to its ingenuity and global scale – is it the Walmart of transport? – its affordability has a more banal provenance: sitting on tons of investor cash, Uber can afford to burn billions in order to knock out any competitors, be they old-school taxi companies or startups like Kutsuplus.

A recent article in The Information, a tech news site, suggests that during the first three quarters of 2015 Uber lost $1.7bn while booking $1.2bn in revenue. The company has so much money that, in at least some North American locations, it has been offering rides at rates so low that they didn’t even cover the combined cost of fuel and vehicle depreciation.

Uber’s game plan is simple: it wants to drive the rates so low as to increase demand – by luring some of the customers who would otherwise have used their own car or public transport. And to do that, it is willing to burn a lot of cash, while rapidly expanding into adjacent industries, from food to package delivery.

An obvious but rarely asked question is: whose cash is Uber burning? With investors like Google, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Goldman Sachs behind it, Uber is a perfect example of a company whose global expansion has been facilitated by the inability of governments to tax profits made by hi-tech and financial giants.

To put it bluntly: the reason why Uber has so much cash is because, well, governments no longer do. Instead, this money is parked in the offshore accounts of Silicon Valley and Wall Street firms. Look at Apple, which has recently announced that it sits on $200bn of potentially taxable overseas cash, or Facebook, which has just posted record profits of $3.69bn for 2015.

Some of these firms do choose to share their largesse with governments – both Apple and Google have agreed to pay tax bills far smaller than what they owe, in Italy and the UK respectively – but such moves aim at legitimising the questionable tax arrangements they have been using rather than paying their fair share.

Compare this with the dire state of affairs in which most governments and city administrations find themselves today. Starved of tax revenue, they often make things worse by committing themselves to the worst of austerity politics, shrinking the budgets dedicated to infrastructure, innovation, or creating alternatives to the rapacious “platform capitalism” of Silicon Valley.

Under these conditions, it’s no wonder that promising services like Kutsuplus have to shut down: cut from the seemingly endless cash supply of Google and Goldman Sachs, Uber would have gone under as well. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that Finland is one of the more religious advocates of austerity in Europe; having let Nokia go under, the country has now missed another chance.

Let us not be naive: Wall Street and Silicon Valley won’t subsidise transport for ever. While the prospect of using advertising to underwrite the costs of an Uber trip is still very remote, the only way for these firms to recoup their investments is by squeezing even more cash or productivity out of Uber drivers or by eventually – once all their competitors are out – raising the costs of the trip.

Both of these options spell trouble. Uber is already taking higher percentages from its drivers’ fares (this number is reported to have gone up from 20% to 30%), while also trying to pass on more costs related to background checks and safety education directly to its drivers (through the so-called safe rides fee).

The only choice here is between more precarity for drivers and more precarity for passengers, who will have to accept higher rates, with or without controversial practices like surge pricing (prices go up when demand is high).

Moreover, the company is actively trying to solidify its status as a default platform for transport. During the recent squabbles in France – where taxi drivers have been rioting to get the government to notice their plight – Uber has offered to open up its platforms to any professional taxi drivers who would like a second job.

Needless to say, such platforms – with properly administered and transparent payment, reputation and pricing systems – ought to have been established by cities a long time ago. This, along with the encouragement and support of startups like Kutsuplus, would have been the right regulatory response to Uber.

Unfortunately, there’s very little policy innovation in this space and the main response to Uber so far has come from other Uber-like companies unhappy with its dominance. Thus, India’s Ola, China’s Didi Kuaidi, US-based Lyft and Malaysia’s GrabTaxi have formed an alliance, allowing customers to book cabs from each other’s apps in countries where they operate. This falls short of creating a viable support system where innovators like Kutsuplus can flourish; replacing Uber with Lyft won’t solve the problem, as it pursues the same aggressive model.

The broader lesson here is that a country’s technology policy is directly dependent on its economic policy; one cannot flourish without the active support of the other. Decades of a rather lax attitude on taxation combined with strict adherence to the austerity agenda have eaten up the public resources available for experimenting with different modes of providing services like transport.

This has left tax-shrinking companies and venture capitalists – who view everyday life as an ideal playing ground for predatory entrepreneurship – as the only viable sources of support for such projects. Not surprisingly, so many of them start like Kutsuplus only to end up like Uber: such are the structural constraints of working with investors who expect exorbitant returns on their investments.

Finding and funding projects that would not have such constraints would not in itself be so hard; what will be hard, especially given the current economic climate, is finding the cash to invest in them.

Taxation seems the only way forward – alas, many governments do not have the courage to ask what is due to them; the compromise between Google and HM Treasury is a case in point.

 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/31/cheap-cab-ride-uber-true-cost-google-wealth-taxation?CMP=fb_gu

Europe joins the economic “gold rush” to Tehran

20141101_WBD010_0

By Peter Symonds
30 January 2016

Just two weeks after the lifting of punitive international sanctions on Iran, a scramble is underway to take advantage of trade and investment possibilities. A two-day visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Tehran last week was followed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s trip this week to Italy and France, leading to a series of multi-billion dollar deals.

The international sanctions were lifted on January 16 only after Tehran implemented the onerous demands of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA) reached last July with the P-6 group—the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany—over its nuclear programs. Iran, which has repeatedly denied allegations that it planned to build a nuclear weapon, was compelled to ship out its low-enriched uranium, dismantle thousands of gas centrifuges and incapacitate its heavy-water reactor.

For the European powers, the opening up of Iran provides opportunities to boost their own depressed economies and to make up ground lost to China as a result of the US-led sanctions. For Iran, investment and trade is a dire necessity to boost its crippled economy as the government confronts mounting social tensions. As a result of falling oil prices, the economy grew last year by just 0.8 percent, compared to 4.3 percent in 2014. Iran is hoping to attract up to $50 billion in foreign investment annually.

Rouhani’s European tour was the first by an Iranian president in well over a decade. He was accompanied by a 100-strong trade delegation of ministers, senior officials and business representatives. He received red carpet treatment and met with top leaders in Italy and France, including both prime ministers, and French President Francois Hollande, as well as Pope Francis in the Vatican.

In Rome, Rouhani declared that the nuclear agreement had been a “win-win” for both sides. “We invite you to invest and we will provide stability and ensure that you can make adequate returns,” he promised. In Italy, agreements were signed worth an estimate $18 billion in industries ranging from natural gas to high-speed rail.

In Paris, Rouhani told business leaders that he wanted to “turn the page” on the old “bitterness” between Iran and France and “open a new relationship.” Pierre Gattaz, president of the French employer federation Medef, urged French companies to “rush” to Iran and “not waste any time.”

At Rouhani’s meeting with Hollande, a range of deals were formally signed, including the purchase of 118 Airbus aircraft and an oil contract with Total to buy 150,000–200,000 barrels of oil a day from Iran. PSA Peugeot Citroen sealed a joint venture with Iran Khodro to produce 200,000 cars a year and invest more than $280 million over the next five years.

Other major European powers are also lining up. On January 16, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond commented: “I hope British businesses seize the opportunities available to them through the phased lifting of sanctions on Iran.” Just days earlier, former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was part of a large German trade delegation to Iran, seeking to revive longstanding economic ties that were hard hit by sanctions.

Even before the lifting of sanctions, Tehran had become a magnet for business delegations. The New Yorker commented: “The Great Race—for what a Western ambassador in Tehran described as ‘the last gold mine on Earth’—has begun. With 80 million people, Iran is the largest economy to return to the global marketplace since the Soviet Union’s demise, a quarter century ago. It urgently needs to refurbish its crumbling infrastructure. Unlike Eastern Europe, however, Iran is flush with cash, after gaining access to $100 billion in oil revenues that had been locked away in foreign banks during sanctions.”

Moreover, Rouhani’s pledge to “provide stability” and ensure profits is a guarantee to foreign investors that the reactionary clerical regime in Tehran will implement its pro-market agenda and use police-state measures to suppress any opposition in the working class. Last May, the government hiked up fuel prices by a massive 40 percent and ended the rationing system that provided cheap subsidised petrol.

Rouhani is part of a faction of the ruling elite that has repeatedly sought to establish a rapprochement with the US as a means of opening up the country to Western investment. The government is hoping for a much-needed economic boost to stem mounting social tensions. Some 60 percent of the population is under the age of 30 and the official youth unemployment rate is 25 percent.

The European “rush” to Iran has left the United States on the economic sidelines. While most international sanctions have been lifted, the US trade embargo will not be lifted for another eight years, with a few exceptions, including passenger aircraft. Having lost out in the initial round to Airbus, Boeing will no doubt be keen to bid for the next round of sales. Iran has indicated it wants to purchase a total of 400 aircraft.

Washington has previously used threats and provocations against Iran as a means of disrupting the plans of its rivals to secure close relations with the energy-rich state. In 2004–05, the so-called EU Three—France, Germany and Britain—attempted to negotiate an agreement with Iran over its nuclear programs, only to have the talks effectively sabotaged by the US. Having frozen its uranium enrichment program, Tehran reacted angrily to a US-EU deal, which, in the words of one Iranian negotiator, was “too ridiculous to be called an offer.”

The breakdown of talks led to escalating tensions as the US ratcheted up its threats of war against Iran. After Obama came to office, Washington pressured its allies and the UN to impose draconian sanctions that cut Iran off from the international financial system and dramatically reduced its exports of oil.

Last year’s nuclear deal is often hailed as a triumph for peace and stability. In reality, the US agreed to the JCPA in part because it feared a breakdown of the sanctions coalition. More fundamentally, however, it was a tactical shift aimed at preparing for confrontation and conflict with larger adversaries, China and Russia.

The United States cannot simply stand by and allow its European and Asian rivals to consolidate an economic base and political ties with Iran. The country is the second largest economy in the Middle East and has the fourth largest reserves of oil, and second largest of gas, in the world. US imperialism will either have to join in the scramble, or, as it has done before, use sanctions and military threats to undermine its rivals, and thus bring the region to the brink of another new war.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/30/iran-j30.html

War and the destruction of social infrastructure in America

US_DeclineandFalloftheAmericanEmpire-400x256

28 January 2016

As the water crisis in Flint, Michigan continues to occupy national headlines in the United States, scientists and environmental officials have revealed a dirty secret of American life: the poisoning of drinking water with toxic chemicals is not unique to Flint, Michigan, but takes place all over the country.

Counties in Louisiana and Texas, as well as the cities of Baltimore, Maryland; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Washington D.C. and Boston, Massachusetts all reported that substantial numbers of children have been exposed to elevated lead levels, largely through municipal drinking water.

This week, the head environmental regulator in the state of Ohio called national water regulations “broken,” saying that they dramatically understate the true scale of lead poisoning in American cities. As Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards put it, “Because of the smoke-and-mirrors testing, Flint is meeting the standard even as national guardsmen walk the street.”

Many water pipes in the United States are over 100 years old, and a large number of cities still have 100 percent lead plumbing.

The reasons are not hard to find. According to the Congressional Budget Office, public capital investment in transportation and water infrastructure, already underfunded for decades, has been slashed by 23 percent since its peak in 2003.

The year 2003 is significant as it coincides with the beginning of the illegal invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration. The “war on terror” has entailed a vast expansion of the military at the same time that spending on anything not directly related to the accumulation of wealth by the financial aristocracy has suffered from continual cutbacks.

The response of the political establishment to the poisoning of tens of thousands of people in Flint and potentially millions more throughout the United States has been characterized by indifference. The politicians responsible, from Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to local Democratic Party officials and the Obama administration, pull long faces, pretend to take responsibility or seek to shift blame, while doing nothing to address the issue.

Nowhere is there a single politician who has responded to the disaster by demanding what is clearly required: the immediate allocation of a relatively modest sum, $273 billion according to the Environmental Protection Agency, to replace all of the municipal lead pipes in the US. This is equivalent to the annual spending on the US Army, just one of the four branches of the US military. There is simply “no money” for such a proposal to be considered, much less approved.

While politicians pore over any allocation of resources for social spending with a fine tooth comb, almost unimaginable sums are made available to the military without a second thought. How many know that the US military is shelling out over a trillion dollars to defense contractor Lockheed Martin to fund its beleaguered F-35 program? Or that it is spending another trillion dollars to “modernize” its nuclear arsenal by making atomic bombs smaller and more maneuverable?

The US spends more on its military, as Obama boasted in his most recent State of the Union address, than the next eight countries combined. Yet more is continuously demanded.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently evaluated the Defense Department’s so-called pivot to Asia, in which military hardware has been either procured or restationed in the Western Pacific to counter the economic and military rise of China. Strikingly, the CSIS report gave the US military a failing grade. It called for the expansion and development of every aspect of US military capacity in the Pacific if it was to maintain superiority in the event of a shooting war with China.

Since the early 1990s, the US military has operated on the basis of a strategic doctrine that it will allow the existence of no other power that can challenge its military authority on even a regional level. That means that the US must be able to field such overwhelming military force that it would be able to defeat another major power, such as China, in a conventional war far away from the borders of the US.

This is a recipe for the bleeding white of American society in an insane attempt to maintain its military dominance, which can only end in catastrophe for the population of the US and the entire world.

Of course, it would be simplistic to say that war is the only cause of America’s social problems. The most conspicuous element of life in the US continues to be the vast chasm between the rich and the poor. However, the rise of war and militarism are interrelated and have a common root.

In response to the the longterm decline in the global position of American capitalism, the American ruling class responded on the one hand by promoting a wave of financial speculation, mergers and acquisitions, wage cuts, and the transfer of social wealth from the great majority of the population to its own pockets. On the other hand, it has sought to use its predominant military power to counteract the consequences of its economic decline by force.

In the insane and socially destructive priorities of the American ruling class, one sees in concentrated form the inextricable connection between war and capitalism, and at the same time the inextricable connection between the fight for all the social rights of the working class and the struggle against imperialism.

Andre Damon

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/28/pers-j28.html

US think tank outlines master plan for war with China

010203china-us

26 January 2016

A new Center for International and Strategic Studies (CSIS) report released last week is a chilling warning of the accelerating preparations of the United States for war with China—a conflict that would likely plunge the world into a nuclear catastrophe.

The report, which was commissioned by the US Defense Department, represents above all the voice of the vast American military establishment, which regards China as the chief threat to untrammeled US strategic dominance in Asia. The document calls for a huge military expansion in the Asia Pacific not only by the United States, but also by all of its allies and strategic partners in the region. The report makes clear that every country in the region, large and small, is to be drawn into the maelstrom.

The CSIS published a similar study in 2012 laying out the military buildup associated with the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia,” including the positioning of 60 percent of the Pentagon’s air and naval assets in the region by 2020. Since then, the US has proceeded to restructure its military bases in Japan and South Korea, expand facilities on Guam, establish new basing arrangements in Australia and the Philippines, and strengthen ties with virtually every country in Asia.

The military preparations have gone hand-in-hand with a relentless diplomatic offensive to justify the stationing of more than half of US military might on China’s doorstep. In the process, Washington has recklessly inflamed flashpoints throughout the region, focussing in particular on maritime disputes between Beijing and its neighbours. In his latest foray into Asia, US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday prevailed on the prime minister of Laos, currently chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), to ensure a unified response to so-called Chinese “expansionism” in the South China Sea.

Despite the US military, diplomatic and political offensive, the CSIS report warns that China has increased its “tolerance for risk.” In other words, Beijing has failed to buckle to US demands.

The CSIS cites China’s expansion of “anti-access” weaponry to counter an annihilating American attack on the Chinese mainland as the pretext for escalating Washington’s own military preparations. The think tank emphatically rules out any US retreat from the Western Pacific, criticises the Obama administration’s defence spending cuts, and proposes trillions of dollars in new outlays to expand the American military presence in Asia and develop new weapons systems. “At the current rate of US capability development,” it warns, “the balance of military power in the region is shifting against the United States.”

The claim that the US will be outgunned by China without further massive military spending is not only absurd, but expresses the insane logic of American militarism. The US defense budget already dwarfs that of any of its potential rivals, including China.

American military spending last year was greater than the combined total of the next seven largest powers. The Pentagon has by far the largest and most sophisticated fleet of aircraft carriers; its latest generation fighters and bombers are “forward deployed” in bases ringing the Chinese mainland; its nuclear arsenal could obliterate China’s military and industrial capacity many times over. Yet, the Chinese “threat” is the pretext for demands for greater military spending.

Driven by the worsening crisis of global capitalism, Washington’s objective is nothing less than world domination—an impossible task that can end only in disaster. In the flush of capitalist triumphalism following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance elaborated a new overall strategy that required that “we endeavour to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.”

As the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) explained at the time, the final betrayal of the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy did not represent the failure of socialism or the triumph of the market, but foreshadowed the breakdown of the world capitalist order. The response of US imperialism to its historic decline has been, at every stage, to exploit its residual military might, resulting in an unending series of wars in a desperate and reckless drive to establish global hegemony.

Obama initiated the “pivot to Asia” from mid-2009 in response to the eruption of the 2008 global financial crisis and mounting criticism in American ruling circles that the Bush administration had failed to counter the consequences of China’s economic rise and instead mired the American military in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the world economic slump worsens, the US is engaged not only in an accelerating arms race in Asia, but a new war in the Middle East and a military build-up in Eastern Europe against Russia.

The US war drive is not simply the product of deranged individuals, but of the fundamental contradictions of the moribund capitalist order—between world economy and the outmoded nation state system on the one hand, and socialised production and the private ownership of the means of production on the other. The US, like its imperialist rivals, seeks to overcome these contradictions by expanding its control of global resources, markets and labour power.

World politics in 2016 bears an eerie resemblance to the periods that led to the eruption of the first two world wars. In “War and the Fourth International,” written in 1934, Leon Trotsky warned five years before the second global conflagration: “All governments fear war. But none of the governments has any freedom of choice. Without a proletarian revolution, a new world war is inevitable.”

In a remarkable insight that is even truer today, Trotsky wrote: “US capitalism is up against the same problem that pushed Germany in 1914 on the path to war. The world is divided? It must be redivided. For Germany it was a question of ‘organising Europe.’ The United States must ‘organise’ the world. History is bringing humanity face to face with the volcanic eruption of American imperialism.”

The relentless drive to war is inextricably bound up with the same processes that are propelling the working class into struggle against the profit system. The trillions of dollars to be squandered on armaments by the US and its allies in preparation for war with China will be paid for through the destruction of social services, the gutting of essential infrastructure, and the further impoverishment of working people.

The response to Washington’s mounting threats on the part of the Chinese Communist Party leadership, which represents the interests of a tiny super-wealthy layer that has enriched itself through capitalist restoration, is to engage in a futile arms race and whip up reactionary nationalist sentiment, which only divides Chinese workers from their counterparts in Asia, the United States and around the world.

The threat of global war can be answered only by rejecting all forms of nationalism and chauvinism and building a conscious and unified anti-war movement of the international working class to put an end to capitalism and fashion a world socialist economy.

 

Peter Symonds

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/26/pers-j26.html

The Flint water crisis and the criminality of American capitalism

inside-flint-pipes-min-tang-and-kelsey-pieper

20 January 2015

In the midst of growing anger over the poisoning of residents of Flint, Michigan and the exposure of criminal actions by state and local authorities, Governor Rick Snyder gave a State of the State address Tuesday night in which he insisted that neither he nor any other top official should be held accountable.

The governor’s tone betrayed something of a siege mentality, as more than a thousand protesters marched outside the state capitol building in Lansing, many calling for his resignation and indictment.

After hailing record profits for the Michigan-based Big Three auto companies and touting the supposed “turnaround” of Detroit in a year the city emerged from bankruptcy, Snyder came to the subject of the Flint water crisis. The millionaire former corporate executive gave an empty apology to the people of Flint and asserted that it was “now time to tell the truth about what we have done,” promising to release his emails concerning Flint the next day.

After the obligatory “the buck stops here” declaration, he evaded any responsibility for decisions that have permanently disabled thousands of Flint residents, including infants and children, and will likely result in an unknown number of early deaths.

His effort at cover-up and damage control involved striking a pose of contrition (“The government has failed you”) and acknowledging that various officials had made “mistakes”—meaningless statements that were meant to evade any real accountability.

Snyder pled ignorance concerning the 17 months between April 2014, when his handpicked Flint emergency manager switched the city’s water supply to the highly polluted Flint River to cut costs, and September 2015, when he claims he first learned of the crisis. In the future, he admonished, such things “had to come to his desk immediately, with no excuses.”

He omitted the fact that immediately after the water was switched, Flint residents complained of its foul smell, color and taste and the spread of rashes and sickness. Even after a “boil only” warning had been issued by city officials, tests by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) showed lead levels to be acceptable under the federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, Snyder maintained.

In May 2015, the governor continued, Dr. Mona Hannah-Attisha of Hurley Medical Center found alarming levels of lead in blood samples of city children, but “DEQ failed to reach the same conclusions.”

Again, Snyder neglected to note that his office targeted Dr. Hannah-Attisha with a slander campaign, saying she was “splicing and dicing” data and needlessly causing hysteria. With consummate cynicism, the governor asked the doctor to rise to the applause of state legislators.

While Snyder claimed that he was first briefed in September 2015, his chief of staff wrote a July 2015 email to the Department of Health and Human Services expressing concern over the stonewalling of Flint residents. “I really don’t think people are getting the benefit of the doubt,” he wrote. “Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the lead level studies they are receiving from the (DEQ) samples… These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us…”

In a transparent effort to protect himself from future prosecution, the Republican governor warned Democrats that they too were complicit. He noted that President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency had also ignored resident complaints and remained silent even after tests showed dangerous levels of lead, and the Democratic-controlled Flint City Council had approved the change in the city’s water source.

There is certainly a case for putting local, state and federal Democrats in the dock along with Snyder. This includes former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, currently the emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools.

The poisoning of Flint is linked to the 2013-14 Detroit bankruptcy, which was carried out with the backing of the Obama administration. The pensions and health benefits of city workers were slashed and public assets were sold off or privatized, including the treasures of the Detroit Institute of Arts and the city’s century-old public water system. This led to sharp increases in water prices in Detroit, Flint and other cities, and mass water shutoffs of working-class customers.

The modus operandi of the conspiracy of politicians and corporate holders of city bonds to plunder the incomes of city workers and seize public assets in Detroit has become a model for similar attacks across Michigan, in other US states and now in Puerto Rico. Municipalities and school districts have been starved of resources by federal, state and local authorities, forced to take on immense levels of debt, and then put under financial dictators who do the bidding of the banks.

Working-class youth are jailed for minor offenses, but those responsible for decisions that deprive families of water and electrical power and lead to fatal house fires and other tragedies essentially get away with murder.

Flint is a symbol of the criminal character of American capitalism. In 1960, the “Vehicle City” had one of the highest per capita incomes in America, the result of the sit-down strikes and mass struggles of autoworkers that forced the then-largest corporation in the world, General Motors, to recognize the United Auto Workers union. Over the last 35 years, the corporation, facing increasing international competition, has waged a relentless war against the workers, with the indispensable and unstinting assistance of the UAW.

GM has reduced employment in the city from 80,000 to 5,500. It has shut down and flattened the sit-down plants “Chevy in the Hole” and Buick City, which alone once employed 28,000 workers. Exacting huge tax cuts and polluting the Flint River with impunity, GM has left its birthplace in ruins.

During the 2009 restructuring of GM, the Obama administration worked with the UAW to shut more plants and halve the wages of all new-hires, while granting legal immunity to GM in any future lawsuits over pollution or defective vehicles. The company has taken in billions in profits and spent them, not on the people of Flint, but on stock buybacks and dividend payments to its biggest shareholders, which includes the UAW.

President Obama is coming to Detroit today, where he will speak at a UAW-GM facility and hail the “return” of the auto industry and the “rebirth” of Detroit. Meanwhile, young autoworkers cannot afford to buy the cars they build and Detroit teachers have organized sick-outs, independently of the unions, to protest rat-infested schools with no heat, overcrowded classrooms, and cuts in wages and benefits.

As for Flint, the president who has allocated trillions to bail out the Wall Street criminals and fund illegal wars has approved a derisory $5 million in federal aid for the city’s people. The government of “the most powerful country in the world” is no less indifferent to working people in Flint than its predecessor was to Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.

These disasters arise from the failure and bankruptcy of the capitalist system, an outmoded and reactionary economic order that subordinates the most elemental needs of society to the enrichment of the corporate and financial aristocracy.

In the 21st Century, no one should go without water, or, for that matter, a well-paying job, health care, education and affordable housing. The fight for these elemental rights places the working class on a collision course with American capitalism and all of its political representatives.

Jerry White

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/20/pers-j20.html

We now have threat scores to match our credit scores

“Minority Report” is coming true: 

“Beware” analyzes arrest reports, property records and commercial databases to calculate our potential for violence

"Minority Report" is coming true: We now have threat scores to match our credit scores
(Credit: Dreamworks)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

Police have found a new way to legally incorporate surveillance and profiling into everyday life. Just when you thought we were making progress raising awareness surrounding police brutality, we have something new to contend with. The Police Threat Score isn’t calculated by a racist police officer or a barrel-rolling cop who thinks he’s on a TV drama; it’s a computer algorithm that steals your data and calculates your likelihood of risk and threat for the fuzz.

Beware is the new stats-bank that helps officers analyze “billions of data points, including arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, deep Web searches and…social-media postings” to ultimately come up with a score that indicates a person’s potential for violence, according to a Washington Post story. No word yet on whether this meta data includes photos and facial recognition software. For example would an ordinary person, yet to commit a crime, be flagged when seen wearing a hoodie in a gated Florida community?

The company tries to paint itself as a savior to first responders, claiming they want to help them “understand the nature of the environment they may encounter during the window of a 911 event.” Think of it like someone pulling your credit score when you apply for a job. Except, in this instance you never applied for the job and they’re pulling your credit score anyway because they knew you might apply. It’s that level of creepiness.

Remember the 2002 Tom Cruise movie Minority Report? It’s set in 2054, a futuristic world where the “pre-crime” unit arrests people based on a group of psychics who can see crimes before they happen. Only, it’s 2016 and we’re not using psychics, we’re using computers that mine data. According to the Post piece, law enforcement in Oregon are under federal investigation for using software to monitor Black Lives Matter hashtags after uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson. How is this new software any different? In fact, this is the same kind of technology the NSA has been using since 9/11 to monitor online activities of suspected terrorists—they’re just bringing it down to the local level.

According to FatalEncounters.org, a site that tracks deaths by cop, there were only 14 days in 2015 in which a law enforcement officer did not kill someone. So, leaving judgment up to the individual hasn’t been all that effective in policing. But is letting a machine do it any better? Using these factors to calculate a color-coded threat level doesn’t seem entirely practical. Suppose a person doesn’t use social media or own a house but was once arrested when he was 17 for possession of marijuana. The absence of data might lend itself to a high threat level. The same can be said for online meta data that might filter in extracurricular interests. Could a person who is interested in kinky activity in the bedroom be tagged as having a tendency toward violence?

The Fresno, Calif. police department is taking on the daunting task of being the first to test the software in the field. Understandably, the city council and citizens voiced their skepticism at a meeting. “One council member referred to a local media report saying that a woman’s threat level was elevated because she was tweeting about a card game titled ‘Rage,’ which could be a keyword in Beware’s assessment of social media,” the Post reported.

While you might now be rethinking playing that Mafia game on Facebook, it isn’t just your personal name that can raise a flag. Fresno Councilman Clinton Olivier, a libertarian-leaning Republican, asked for his name to be run through the system. He came up as a “green” which indicates he’s safe. When they ran his address, however, it popped up as “yellow” meaning the officer should beware and be prepared for a potentially dangerous situation. How could this be? Well, the councilman didn’t always live in this house; someone else lived there before him and that person was likely responsible for raising the threat score.

Think what a disastrous situation that could be. A mother of a toddler could move into a new home with her family, not knowing that the house was once the location of an abusive patriarch. The American Medical Association has calculated that as many as 1 in 3 women will be impacted by domestic violence in their lifetimes, so it isn’t an unreasonable hypothetical. One day the child eats one of those detergent pods and suddenly the toddler isn’t breathing. Hysterial, the mother calls 911, screaming. She can’t articulate what has happened, only that her baby is hurt. Dispatch sends an ambulance, but the address is flagged as “red” for its prior decade of domestic violence calls. First responders don’t know someone new has moved in. The woman is giving CPR while her husband waits at the door for the ambulance. What happens when the police arrive?

It’s a scenario that can be applied to just about any family and any situation. Moving into an apartment that previously was a marijuana grow-house; buying a house that once belonged to a woman who shot her husband when she found him with his mistress in the pool. Domestic violence calls are among the most dangerous for police officers. Giving police additional suspicion that may not be entirely accurate probably won’t reduce the incidents of of accidental shootings or police brutality.

The worst part, however, is that none of these questions and concerns can be answered, because Intrado, the company that makes Beware, doesn’t reveal how its algorithm works. Chances are slim that they ever will, since it would also be revealed to its competitors. There’s no way of knowing the accuracy level of the data set given in the search. Police are given red, yellow or green to help them make a life-changing or life-ending decision. It seems a little primitive, not to mention intrusive.

“It is deeply disturbing that local law enforcement agencies are unleashing the sophisticated tools of a surveillance state on the public with little, if any, oversight or accountability,” Ryan Kiesel of the Oklahoma ACLU told me. “We are in the middle of a consequential moment in which the government is unilaterally changing the power dynamic between themselves and the people they serve. If we are going to preserve the fundamental right of privacy, it is imperative that we demand these decisions are made as the result of a transparent and informed public debate.”

While mass shootings are on the rise, violent crime and homicides have fallen to historic lows. You wouldn’t know that watching the evening news, however. Is now really the time to increase the chances of violent actions at the hands of the police, all while intruding on our civil liberties under the guise of safety?

 

http://www.salon.com/2016/01/15/minority_report_is_coming_true_we_now_have_threat_scores_to_match_our_credit_scores_partner/?source=newsletter