The Ugly Truth Behind Apple’s New iPhone 7

Posted on Sep 20, 2016

New product releases from Apple often are a time for analysis, comparison and celebration. But the arrival of the iPhone 7 has brought unwanted attention to the company’s darker side of globalization, oppression and greed.

In a report from The Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty says that Apple oppresses Chinese workers, does not pay its fair share of taxes and deprives Americans of high-paying jobs while making enormous profits.

Apple’s iPhones are assembled at three firms in China: Foxconn, Wistron and Pegatron. While Apple CEO Tim Cook says the company cares about all its workers—calling any words to the contrary are “patently false and offensive”—the facts on the ground show the opposite.

In 2010, Foxconn employees were killing themselves in high numbers—an estimated 18 attempted suicide and 14 of them died. The company responded by putting up suicide-prevention netting to catch them before their deaths. Apple vowed to improve worker conditions at the plant, yet in August, after reports surfaced that changes in overtime policies caused great stress among workers, two employees killed themselves.

At the Wistron factory, a Danish human-rights organization found it forces thousands of students to work the same hours as adults, for less pay. Students were told they were required to work if they wanted to receive their diplomas. Using young people to work is not a new revelation about Apple. In 2010, the company admitted that 15-year-old children were working in factories supplying Apple products. At a plant run by Wintek in Suzhou, China, workers reportedly were being poisoned by n-Hexane, a toxic chemical that causes muscular atrophy and blurred eyesight.

At Pegatron—the other iPhone assembler—U.S.-based China Labor Watch found staff members work 12-hour days, six days a week. They are forced to work overtime, and 1½ hours are unpaid.  One researcher working there had to stand during his entire 10½-hour shift. When the local government raised the minimum wage, Pegatron cut subsidies for medical insurance.

The Guardian reports:

While iPhone workers for Pegatron saw their hourly pay drop to just $1.60 an hour, Apple remained the most profitable big company in America, pulling in over $47bn in profit in 2015 alone.

What does this add up to? At $231bn, Apple has a bigger cash pile than the US government, but apparently won’t spend even a sliver on improving conditions for those who actually make its money. Nor will it make those iPhones in America, which would create jobs and still leave it as the most profitable smartphone in the world.

It would rather accrue more profits, to go to those who hold Apple stock—such as company boss Tim Cook, whose hoard of company shares is worth $785m. Friends of Cook point to his philanthropy, but while he’s happy to spend on pet projects, he rejects a €13bn tax bill from the EU  as “political crap”—while boasting about how he won’t bring Apple’s billions back to the US “until there’s a fair rate … . It doesn’t go that the more you pay, the more patriotic you are.” The tech oligarch seems to think he knows better than 300 million Americans what tax rates their elected government should set.

When the historians of globalisation ask why it died, they will surely find that companies such as Apple form a large part of the answer. Faced with a binary choice between an economic model that lavishly rewarded a few and a populism that makes lavish promises to many, between Cook on the one hand and [Nigel] Farage on the other, the voters went for the one who at least didn’t bang on about “courage”.

According to a new report from Global Justice Now, a group based in the United Kingdom, 69 of the top 100 economies in the world are corporate entities (an increase from 63 a year ago). Apple is one of those corporate entities. With $234 billion in revenue in 2015, Apple is the ninth-largest company in the world and is wealthier than most countries.

http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/the_ugly_truth_behind_apples_iphones_20160920

I Came to San Francisco to Change My Life: I Found a Tribe of Depressed Workaholics Living on Top of One Another

8619892327_24549fb87a_z
Hacker House Blues: my life with 12 programmers, 2 rooms and one 21st-century dream.
By David Garczynski / Salon September 18, 2016

I might have been trespassing up there, but I would often go to the 19th-floor business lounge to work and study. Located on the top floor of the a luxury high-rise in the SOMA district of San Francisco, the lounge was only accessible to residents of the building. Yet for a while I found myself there almost every day.

Seventeen floors below, I lived in an illegal Airbnb with 12 roommates split between two rooms. There were six people packed into my bedroom alone — seven, if you included the guy who lived in the closet. Three bunk beds adorned the walls, and I was fortunate enough to score a bottom bunk. Unfortunately, though, it was not the one by the window, which, with the exception of one dim lamp, was the only source of light in the room. Even at midday, the room never lit up much more than a shadowed cave. At most hours of the day, you could find someone sleeping in there. Getting in and out of bed was a precarious dance in the darkness to avoid stepping into the suitcases on the floor, out of which most of us lived.

In the shared kitchen, the sink more often than not held a giant pile of dishes, and the fridge, packed with everyone’s groceries and leftovers, emanated a slightly moldy aroma. Mixed in there were the half-eaten meals and unfinished condiment jars of tenants who had long since moved out — all left to rot, but often too far buried in the mass of food to be located.

Let’s just say the room was not as advertised.

The Airbnb posting did boast of access to a 24-hour gym, roof deck and bocce courts. The building has an indoor basketball court, an outdoor hot tub and even a rock climbing wall. The 19th-floor business lounge alone comes with a pool table, a porch, several flat-screen TVs and an enviable view of much of San Francisco. For $1,200 a month, it all seemed worth it. The post did say it was a four-person apartment, not 13, and included a picture of a sunny room with a pair of bunk beds, but I figured for a short sub-lease while I attended coding school, it wouldn’t be so bad. The reviews, after all, were pretty positive, too: mostly 5-stars. However, none of them mentioned the fact that I wouldn’t even be given a front door key.

I’d have to sneak into the building every night. The only way I entered the building was by waiting until someone exited or entered, and then I’d slip through the door before it closed. From there I’d walk straight past the front desk guard and head to the bank of elevators. Despite my nerves, that part was surprisingly easy. The building caters to the young tech elite, so a backwards hat and a collegiate T-shirt practically made me invisible. When I got to my floor, I’d make sure none of the neighbors were watching, and if no one was around, I’d stand on my tiptoes and grab the communal key hidden atop the exit sign. Once the door was unlocked, I’d return the key to its perch for the next tenant to use.

I had moved to San Francisco to break into the tech world after being accepted into one of those ubiquitous 12-week coding boot camps. I had dreams of becoming a programmer, hoping one day I could land a remote contracting gig — a job where I could work from wherever and make a good living. My life would be part ski bum and part professional.

In my mid-20s uncertainty, the coding route seemed to have the most promise — high paychecks in companies that prized work-life balance, or so it seemed from afar. I knew the road wouldn’t be easy, but any time I’d mention my ambitions to family and friends, they responded with resounding positivity, affirming my belief that it was a well-worn path to an obtainable goal.

All of the people in that Airbnb were programmers. Some were trying to break into the industry through boot camps, but most were already full-time professional coders. They headed out early in the morning to their jobs at start-ups in the neighborhood. A lot of them hailed from some of the top schools in the country: Stanford, MIT, Dartmouth. If I was going to get through my program, I needed to rely on them, academically and emotionally. Once the program started up, I would find myself coding 15 hours a day during the week, with that number mercifully dropping to 10-12 hours on the weekends. Late at night, when my stressed-out thoughts would form an ever-intensifying feedback loop of questioning despair — What am I doing? Is this really worth it? — I would need to be able to look to the people around me as living reminders of the possibility of my goals.

Every night, the people whose jobs I coveted would come home from 10- to 12-hour shifts in front of a computer and proceed to the couch, where they’d open up their laptops and spend the remaining hours of the night in silence, sifting through more and more lines of code. Beyond preternatural math abilities and a penchant for problem solving, it seemed most didn’t have much in the way of life skills. They weren’t who I thought they would be — a community of intelligent and inspiring men and women bouncing ideas back and forth. Rather they were boys and girls, coddled by day in the security of companies that fed them, entertained them and nursed them. At home, they could barely take care of themselves.

Take for example the programmer who lived in my closet: Every night he’d come home around 9 p.m. He’d sit on the couch, pour himself a bowl of cereal and eat in silence. Then he would grab his laptop and head directly into the closet — a so-called “private room” listed on Airbnb for $1,400 a month. It was the only time I’d ever see him. The only way I could tell he was home was by the glow of his laptop seeping out from under the closet door. Hours later, deep into the night, the light would go out, and I would know he had to gone to sleep. By the time I arrived, he had been living there for 16 months, in a windowless closet with a thin mattress placed right on the floor. During the day he codes for Pinterest. Yeah . . . that Pinterest.

Maybe there were people working in this city who were living out the tech dreams of everyone else, but I’ve realized the number of people who dream about it far outnumber of people who obtain it. Everyone I spoke to in this town seemed doe-eyed about the future, even while they were living in illegal Airbnbs and working at failing startups across the city.

The odds weren’t in my favor. Most likely I’d find myself in the 92 percent of start-ups that go under in three years, trapped like some of my friends — much smarter and better programmers than I’ll ever be — bouncing from failing company to failing company.
Or maybe not. Maybe I would make it, only to become like my friends who earn six-figure paychecks and still lament that they’ll never be able to buy a home here. What illusions could I continue to maintain then?

There was a good chance I’d find myself in a situation like another roommate’s. During salary negotiations for a job at a start-up, he was encouraged to accept the pay tier with a lower salary but higher equity stake. Now he works 12-hour days just to try to keep the company (and his potential payout) afloat on a paycheck not much higher than some entry-level, non-programming jobs.

The most likely scenario, however, was that I’d become like the mid-30s man who slept in the bunk above me. The reality of his situation slowly slipped him into a depressive state, until he was sleeping most hours of the day. The rest of his waking hours were spent walking around slumped and gloomy.

Programming for me was never supposed to be more than a means to an end, but that end started to feel farther and farther away. The longer I lived in that Airbnb, the longer I realized my dreams would never be met. In all likelihood I would be swept up in an economy here that traded on hopes and dreams of the people clamoring to break in. The illegal Airbnbs that dot the city can afford to charge their amounts because there is no shortage of people wanting to break in. There is another smart kid around the corner who believes that despite the working and living conditions this is just the first step to striking it big. Never tell them the odds.

I had hinged my happiness on an illusion and naively fought to get into a community that wouldn’t help me advance in the direction of my dreams. Maybe in the end I would get everything I needed or at least a nice paycheck, but I’d lose all of myself in the process. I’d be churned and beaten by the underbelly of the tech world here long before I could ever make it out.

If you are interested, it’s not that hard to sneak up to the 19th-floor lounge. I still do sometimes, despite having long since moved out and given up programming. From up there the view of San Francisco takes on the artificial quality of a miniature model. To the north, you’ll see a sea of tech start-ups, their signs and symbols a wild mash of colors. From this distance, it can all look so peaceful. Just know that somewhere in that view is another “hacker house” with bright kids living in almost migrant-worker conditions. Somewhere out there is a coding boot camp with slightly inflated numbers, selling a dream. Their fluorescent halls and cramped bedrooms are filled with the perennially hopeful looking to take the place of those who have already realized this dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

It is a beautiful view, though. Just one I no longer want for myself.

David Garczynski has lived in the Bay Area for one year now. In that time, he’s lived in an illegal Airbnb, on his cousin’s couch, in two short-term subleases, and has been evicted once. He just signed an official (and legal) lease last week.

http://www.alternet.org/labor/hacker-house-blues-my-life-12-programmers-2-rooms-and-one-21st-century-dream?akid=14654.265072.JhW8o4&rd=1&src=newsletter1063941&t=12

Standing Up to Apple

Posted on Sep 4, 2016

By Robert Reich / RobertReich.org

For years, Washington lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have attacked big corporations for avoiding taxes by parking their profits overseas. Last week the European Union did something about it.

The European Union’s executive commission ordered Ireland to collect $14.5 billion in back taxes from Apple.

But rather than congratulate Europe for standing up to Apple, official Washington is outraged.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan calls it an “awful” decision. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, who’s likely to become Senate Majority Leader next year, says it’s  “a cheap money grab by the European Commission.” Republican Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, accuses Europe of “targeting” American businesses. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden says it “undermines our tax treaties and paints a target on American firms in the eyes of foreign governments.”

P-l-e-a-s-e.

These are taxes America should have required Apple to pay to the U.S. Treasury. But we didn’t – because of Ryan, Schumer, Hatch, Wyden, and other inhabitants of Capitol Hill haven’t been able to agree on how to close the loophole that has allowed Apple, and many other global American corporations, to avoid paying the corporate income taxes they owe.

Let’s be clear. The products Apple sells abroad are designed and developed in the United States. So the foreign royalties Apple collects on them logically should be treated as corporate income to Apple here in America.

But Apple and other Big Tech corporations like Google and Amazon – along with much of Big Pharma, and even Starbucks – have avoided paying hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes on their worldwide earnings because they don’t really sell things like cars or refrigerators or television sets that they make here and ship abroad.

Their major assets are designs, software, and patented ideas.

Although most of this intellectual capital originates here, it can be transferred instantly around the world – finding its way into a vast array of products and services abroad.

Intellectual capital is hard to see, measure, value, and track. So it’s a perfect vehicle for tax avoidance.

Apple transfers its intellectual capital to an Apple subsidiary in Ireland, which then “sells” Apple products all over Europe. And it keeps most of the money there. Ireland has been more than happy to oblige by imposing on Apple a tax rate that’s laughably low – 0.005 percent in 2014, for example.

Apple is America’s most profitable high-tech company and also one of America’s biggest tax cheats. It maintains a worldwide network of tax havens to park its global profits, some of which don’t even have any employees.

Sitting atop this network is “Apple Operations International,” incorporated in Ireland. Never mind that Apple Operations International keeps its bank accounts and records in the United States and holds board meetings in California. It’s still considered Irish. And its main job is allocating Apple’s earnings among its international subsidiaries in order to keep taxes as low as possible.

As a result, over last decade alone Apple has amassed a stunning $231.5 billion cash pile abroad, subjected to little or no taxes.

This hasn’t stopped Apple from richly rewarding its American shareholders with fat dividends and stock buybacks that raise share prices. But rather than use its overseas cash to fund these, Apple has taken on billions of dollars of additional debt.

It’s a scam, at the expense of American taxpayers.

Add in the worldwide sales of America’s Big Tech, Big Pharma, and Big Franchise operations, and the scam is sizeable. Over 2 trillion dollars of U.S. corporate profits are now parked abroad – all of it escaping the U.S. corporate income tax.

To make up the difference, you and I and millions of other Americans have to pay more in income taxes and payroll taxes to finance the U.S. government.

Why can’t this loophole be closed? In fact, what’s stopping the Internal Revenue Service from doing what the European Commission just did – telling Apple it owes tens of billions of dollars, but to America rather than to Ireland?

The dirty little secret is the loophole could be closed, and the IRS could probably do what Europe just did even under existing law. But neither will happen because Big Tech, Big Pharma, and Big Franchise have enough political clout to stop them from happening.

Ironically, the European Commission’s ruling is having the opposite effect in the United States. It’s adding fuel to the demand Apple and other giant U.S. global corporations have been making, that the United States slash taxes on corporations that move their overseas earnings back to the United States.

In other words, they want another tax amnesty.

Congress’s last tax amnesty occurred in 2004, when global U.S. corporations brought back about $300 billion from overseas, and paid just a tax rate of 5.25 percent rather than the regular 35 percent U.S. corporate rate.

Corporate executives argued then – as they argue now – that the amnesty would allow them to reinvest those earnings in America.

The argument was baloney then and it’s baloney now. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 92 percent of the repatriated cash was used to pay for dividends, share buybacks or executive bonuses.

“Repatriations did not lead to an increase in domestic investment, employment or R.&D., even for the firms that lobbied for the tax holiday stating these intentions,” the studyconcluded.

The political establishment in Washington is preparing for another tax amnesty nonetheless. In a white paper published last week, the Treasury Department warned that an American corporation like Apple, ordered by the European Commission to make tax repayments, might eventually use such payments to offset its U.S. tax bill “when its offshore earnings are repatriated or treated as repatriated as part of possible U.S. tax reform.”

Rather than another tax amnesty, we need a crackdown on corporate tax avoidance.

Instead of criticizing the European Commission for forcing Apple to pay up, American politicians ought to be thanking Europe for standing up to Apple.

At least someone has.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/standing_up_to_apple_20160904

Radical new economic system will emerge from collapse of capitalism

Political adviser and author Jeremy Rifkin believes that the creation of a super internet heralds new economic system that could solve society’s sustainability challenges

Domino effect
Current economic system is headed for collapse says Jeremy Rifkin. Photograph: Linda Nylind

At the very moment of its ultimate triumph, capitalism will experience the most exquisite of deaths.

This is the belief of political adviser and author Jeremy Rifkin, who argues the current economic system has become so successful at lowering the costs of production that it has created the very conditions for the destruction of the traditional vertically integrated corporation.

Rifkin, who has advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and heads of state, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, says:

No one in their wildest imagination, including economists and business people, ever imagined the possibility of a technology revolution so extreme in its productivity that it could actually reduce marginal costs to near zero, making products nearly free, abundant and absolutely no longer subject to market forces.

With many manufacturing companies surviving only on razor thin margins, they will buckle under competition from small operators with virtually no fixed costs.

“We are seeing the final triumph of capitalism followed by its exit off the world stage and the entrance of the collaborative commons,” Rifkin predicts.

The creation of the collaborative commons

From the ashes of the current economic system, he believes, will emerge a radical new model powered by the extraordinary pace of innovation in energy, communication and transport.

“This is the first new economic system since the advent of capitalism and socialism in the early 19th century so it’s a remarkable historical event and it’s going to transform our way of life fundamentally over the coming years,” Rifkin says. “It already is; we just haven’t framed it.”

Some sectors, such as music and media, have already been disrupted as a result of the internet’s ability to let individuals and small groups compete with the major established players. Meanwhile, the mainstreaming of 3D printing and tech advances in logistics – such as the installation of billions of intelligent sensors across supply chains – means this phenomenon is now spreading from the virtual to the physical world, Rifkin says.

Climate change

The creation of a new economic system, Rifkin argues, will help alleviate key sustainability challenges, such as climate change and resource scarcity, and take pressure off the natural world. That’s because it will need only a minimum amount of energy, materials, labour and capital.

He says few people are aware of the scale of danger the human race is facing, particularly the growing levels of precipitation in the atmosphere, which is leading to extreme weather.

“Ecosystems can’t catch up with the shift in the planet’s water cycle and we’re in the sixth extinction pattern,” he warns. “We could lose 70% of our species by the end of this century and may be imperilling our ability to survive on this planet.”

Convergence of communication, energy and transport

Every economy in history has relied for its success on the three pillars of communication, energy, and transportation, but what Rifkin says makes this age unique is that we are seeing them converge to create a super internet.

While the radical changes in communication are already well known, he claims a revolution in transport is just around the corner. “You’ll have near zero marginal cost electricity with the probability of printed out cars within 10 or 15 years,” he says. “Add to this GPS guidance and driverless vehicles and you will see the marginal costs of transport on this automated logistics internet falling pretty sharply.”

Rifkin is particularly interested in the upheaval currently rippling through the energy sector and points to the millions of small and medium sized enterprises, homeowners and neighbourhoods already producing their own green electricity.

The momentum will only gather pace as the price of renewable technology plummets. Rifkin predicts the cost of harvesting energy will one day be as cheap as buying a phone:

You can create your own green electricity and then go up on the emerging energy internet and programme your apps to share your surpluses across that energy internet. You can also use all the big data across that value chain to see how the energy is flowing. That’s not theoretical. It’s just starting.

He says the German energy company E.ON has already recognised that the traditional centralised energy company model is going to disappear and is following his advice to move towards becoming a service provider, finding value by helping others manage their energy flows.

He urges large companies across all sectors to follow suit and, rather than resist change, use their impressive scale and organisational capabilities to help aggregate emerging networks.

Network neutrality: key to success

While Rifkin believes the economic revolution is likely to be unstoppable, he warns that it could be distorted if individual countries and corporations succeed in their intensifying battle for control of the internet:

If the old industries can monopolise the pipes, the structure, and destroy network neutrality, then you have global monopolies and Big Brother for sure.

But if we are able to maintain network neutrality, it would mean that any consumer who turns prosumer, with their mobile and their apps, already can begin to feed into this expanded internet of things that’s developing.

People think this is off on the horizon but if I had said in 1989, before the web came, that 25 years later we’d have democratised communication and 40% of the human race would be sending information goods of all kinds to each other, they’d have said that couldn’t happen.

The paradox of over-consumption

Isn’t Rifkin concerned that the ability to produce goods so cheaply will just lead to more strain on the planet’s limited resources as a growing global population go on a buying frenzy?

He believes there is a paradox operating here, which is that over consumption results from our fear of scarcity, so will go away when we know we can have what we want.

Millennials are already seeing through the false notion that the more we accumulate, the more we are autonomous and free. It seems they are more interested in developing networks and joining the sharing economy than in consumption for consumption’s sake.

Nonprofit sector to become preeminent

What about the concern that the end of capitalism would lead to chaos? Rifkin believes the gap left by the disappearance of major corporations will be filled by the nonprofit sector.

For anyone who doubts this, Rifkin points to the hundreds of millions of people who are already involved in a vast network of co-operatives around the world:

There’s an institution in our life that we all rely on every day that provides all sorts of goods and services that have nothing to do with profit or government entitlement and without it we couldn’t live and that’s the social commons. There’s millions of organisations that provide healthcare, education, ministering to the poor, culture, arts, sports, recreation, and it goes on and on.

This isn’t considered by economists because it creates social capital which is essential to all three of the internets, but doesn’t create market capital. But as a revenue producer, it’s huge and what’s interesting is it’s growing faster than the GDP in the private market system.

At the age of 69, Rifkin admits he may not live long enough to see his hope for a better future materialise, but says the collaborative commons offers the only viable way forward to deal with the sustainability challenges faced by humanity.

“We’ve got a new potential platform to get us to where we need to go”, he says. “I don’t know if it’s in time, but if there’s an alternative plan I have no idea what it could be. What I do know is that staying with a vertically integrated system – based on large corporations with fossil fuels, nuclear power and centralised telecommunications, alongside growing unemployment, a narrowing of GDP and technologies that are moribund – is not the answer.”

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/nov/07/radical-new-economic-system-will-emerge-from-collapse-of-capitalism?CMP=share_btn_fb

Liberal, Moderate or Conservative? See How Facebook Labels You

You may think you are discreet about your political views. But Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, has come up with its own determination of your political leanings, based on your activity on the site.

And now, it is easy to find out how Facebook has categorized you — as very liberal or very conservative, or somewhere in between.

Try this (it works best on your desktop computer):

Go to facebook.com/ads/preferences on your browser. (You may have to log in to Facebook first.)

That will bring you to a page with your ad preferences. Under the “Interests” header, click the “Lifestyle and Culture” tab.

Then look for a box titled “US Politics.” In parentheses, it will describe how Facebook has categorized you, such as liberal, moderate or conservative.

(If the “US Politics” box does not show up, click the “See more” button under the grid of boxes.)

Facebook makes a deduction about your political views based on the pages that you like — or on your political preference, if you stated one, on your profile page. If you like the page for Hillary Clinton, Facebook might categorize you as a liberal.

Even if you do not like any candidates’ pages, if most of the people who like the same pages that you do — such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream — identify as liberal, then Facebook might classify you as one, too.

Facebook has long been collecting information on its users, but it recently revamped the ad preferences page, making it easier to view.

The information is valuable. Advertisers, including many political campaigns, pay Facebook to show their ads to specific demographic groups. The labels Facebook assigns to its users help campaigns more precisely target a particular audience.

For instance, Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign has paid for its ads to be shown to those who Facebook has labeled politically moderate.

Campaigns can also use the groupings to show different messages to different supporters. They may want to show an ad to their hard-core supporters, for example, that is unlike an ad targeted at people just tuning in to the election.

It is not clear how aggressively Facebook is gathering political information on users outside the United States. The social network has 1.7 billion active users, including about 204 million in the United States.

Political outlook is just one of the attributes Facebook compiles on its users. Many of the others are directly commercial: whether you like television comedy shows, video games or Nascar.

To learn more about how political campaigns are targeting voters on social media, The New York Times is collecting Facebook ads from our readers with a project called AdTrack. You can take part by visiting nytimes.com and searching for “Send us the political ads.”

Listen, your party is the “neo” kind of liberal

Why do the Democrats always disappoint their most loyal supporters? Thomas Frank’s excellent book helps explains the party’s betraying ways, says Lance Selfa.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention

THE NEW York Times headline on July 28 said it all: “After Lying Low, Deep-Pocketed Clinton Donors Return to the Fore.”

Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chozick’s article proceeded to document the myriad ways in which corporations, from the Wall Street firm Blackstone Group to for-profit college giant Apollo Education Group, peddled influence at fancy parties around Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention.

Yes, that Democratic convention. The same one that featured dozens of speakers denouncing Wall Street and crushing student debt? Whose presidential nominee pledged to get big money out of elections?

Turns out that “it’s business as usual,” as Libby Watson of the Sunlight Foundation told the Times writers.

Author Thomas Frank wouldn’t be surprised by this latest glimpse of how the Democratic Party does business. His Listen, Liberal is an engaging and witty demolition of the party, especially its modern post-New Deal incarnation.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE DEMOCRATS don’t see it as a contradiction to issue election-year platitudes about supporting “working families” while courting millions from the “rocket scientist” financial engineers behind the Wall Street hedge funds or the self-styled “disrupters” who run for-profit educational corporations.

REVIEW: BOOKS

Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, Henry Holt and Co., 2016. 320 pages, $12.99. Find out more at ListenLiberal.com.

As the GEICO TV ad might say, “It’s what they do.”

To Frank, this provides much of the explanation for why the Obama presidency has been such a disappointment for those who believed in candidate Obama’s message of “hope and change” in 2008.

In 2008, the economy was melting down, taking free-market orthodoxy with it. The Democrats swept to power in Congress and the White House. If there was ever a time that the conditions were ripe for a bold reformist program–which would have been massively popular–this was it.

Yet it didn’t happen. Two years later, the Tea Party Republicans took back the House in the midterm elections, and the administration deepened its commitment to austerity and the search for a “grand bargain” for bipartisan support to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Frank rehearses the standard liberal excuses for Obama’s failures, quoting the president himself about how hard it is to get things done (“It’s hard to turn an ocean liner”). Frank then proceeds to knock these down, one by one.

He shows convincingly how, using only executive action, Obama could have unwound the Bush administration bailouts for the Wall Street bankers and pressed bankruptcy judges to reduce or wipe out the mortgage holders’ debt. At the very least, he could have refused to allow executives from the insurance giant AIG to collect their multimillion-dollar bonuses from the taxpayers’ dime.

Instead, Obama and his Treasury team of Ivy Leaguers on leave from Wall Street reassured the banksters that he was on their side. Frank reprises the critical scene from Ron Suskind’s 2010 book Confidence Men: A description of a high-level meeting that began with Obama warning Wall Street that “my administration is the only thing between you and pitchforks”–and ended with a relieved CEO telling Suskind that Obama “could have ordered us to do just about anything, and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t–he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.”

As Frank concludes:

Having put so much faith in his transformative potential, his followers need to come to terms with how non-transformative he has been. It wasn’t because the ocean liner would have been too hard to turn, or because those silly idealists were unrealistic; it was because [the administration] didn’t want to do those things.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

HOW DID the Democrats come to power amid the worst crisis since the Great Depression and basically operate according to the same-old-same-old model? In trying to explain this, Frank lands on an explanation that is inadequate–more on that below–despite the insights it offers.

To him, the Obama team, like Bill Clinton before him–and probably Hillary Clinton after–couldn’t conceive of a different course because they approached problems from their vantage point as wealthy, highly educated professionals.

Like the whiz kids on Wall Street or health care industry policy wonks, they appreciated complex solutions that balanced multiple interests while generally preserving the status quo. Think of Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial reform, whose enforcement regulations are still being written six years after its passage.

The roots of this worship of professional expertise and support for market-based policies, according to Frank, can be found in party operatives’ desire to build a new Democratic coalition to replace the New Deal coalition of the 1930s through the 1960s. From George McGovern’s early 1970s “new politics” to the Democratic Leadership Council’s “new Democrats” of the 1980s and 1990s, these figures sought to distance the party from organized labor in favor of the “new middle class” of credentialed professionals.

Voting statistics show that college graduates still tend to be Republican territory more than Democratic. But there’s little doubt that a middle-class ideology of “social liberalism and fiscal conservatism” reigns supreme in the Democratic Party today.

To show this in full bloom, Frank considers the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston as exemplars. Both depend heavily on the “knowledge industries” of higher education, finance and health care. And both have been Democratic bastions for generations.

If the Democratic mayors of Boston and a Democratic-dominated statehouse hand out tax breaks to corporations, enact anti-labor pension “reforms,” and promote charter schools or amenities catering to middle-class professionals, it isn’t because Republicans forced them to. It’s because the Democrats actually believe this stuff, and profit from it.

In this “blue state model,” Frank writes:

Boston is the headquarters for two industries that are steadily bankrupting middle America: big learning and big medicine, both of them imposing costs that everyone else is basically required to pay and yet which increase at a pace far more rapid than wages or inflation. A thousand dollars a pill, thirty grand a semester: the debts that are gradually choking the life out of people where you live are what has made this city so very rich.

Left behind are places like Lynn, Massachusetts, a once thriving industrial town, now depopulated and deindustrialized–“engineered by Republicans and rationalized by Democrats,” Frank writes. Or Decatur, Illinois, which Frank revisits 20 years after he had reported on the “War Zone” labor battles that dramatized the death of the American dream for thousands of blue-collar unionized workers

In the mid-1990s, Frank writes:

Decatur was far away from Washington, and its problems made no impression that I could detect on Bill Clinton’s wise brain trust. The New Economy was dawning, creativity was triumphing, old industry was evaporating, and those fortunate enough to be among the ascendant were absolutely certain about the direction history was taking.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AS WITH so much about the Democratic Party today, all this somehow works its way back to the Clintons.

Frank’s assessment of Bill Clinton’s two terms in office in the 1990s is a crucial antidote to the free-flowing Clinton nostalgia of 2016. Frank says that while he was writing the book:

I would periodically ask my liberal friends if they could recall the progressive laws he got passed, the high-minded policies he fought for–you know, the good things Bill Clinton got done while he was president. Why was it, I wondered, that we were supposed to think so highly of him– apart from his obvious personal affability, I mean? It proved difficult for my libs…

No one mentioned any great but hopeless Clintonian stands on principle; after all, this is the guy who once took a poll to decide where to go on vacation. His presidency was all about campaign donations, not personal bravery– he rented out the Lincoln Bedroom, for chrissake, and at the end of his time in office, he even appeared to sell a presidential pardon.

Frank concedes a few small positive efforts by Clinton: a small increase in taxes on the rich, a failed attempt at health care reform. But the biggest initiatives Clinton won were things that would have been considered Republican policies of an earlier era: the 1994 crime bill that put the “New Jim Crow” described by Michelle Alexander into overdrive; the destruction of the federal welfare system; free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); and various forms of financial deregulation.

Frank notes that Clinton was conducting backdoor negotiations with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich on a scheme to privatize Social Security. That attempt collapsed during the impeachment battle connected to Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Frank’s crucial point is this. It took a Democrat–one skilled in the double-talk of “feeling the pain” of ordinary people and bolstering those “who work hard and play by the rules”–to push through a wish list of conservative policies that not even Ronald Reagan could win. As Frank writes:

What distinguishes the political order we live under now is a consensus, at least in the political mainstream, on certain economic questions–and what made that consensus happen was the capitulation of the Democrats. Republicans could denounce big government all they wanted, but it took a Democrat to declare that “the era of big government is over” and to make it stick. This was Bill Clinton’s historic achievement. Under his direction, as I wrote back then, the opposition “ceased to oppose.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

MUCH OF what Frank writes will sound very familiar to regular readers of Socialist Worker. But for liberals who might know Frank from his What’s the Matter with Kansas? or The Wrecking Crew, Listen, Liberal might feel like a bucket of cold water. Especially for those who might be “ready for Hillary” in 2016.

For my money, the entire book is worth the price of the chapter “Liberal Gilt,” where Frank skewers the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and, by extension, what he calls the “liberal class’s virtue quest.”

At the center of this chapter is, of course, Hillary Clinton, whose public persona of “doing good” for “women and children” dissolves against a backdrop of her support for ending welfare in the 1990s and pushing poor women in developing countries into debt through “microcredit.”

As Secretary of State, Clinton marketed global entrepreneurship and the endless “war on terror” as crusades on behalf of women. Through “partnering” on these initiatives with the Clinton Foundation or the State Department, the likes of Walmart and Goldman Sachs can win praise for their social consciousness–or what Frank brilliantly describes as their “purchasing liberalism offsets”:

This is modern liberalism in action: an unregulated virtue-exchange in which representatives of one class of humanity ritually forgive the sins of another class, all of it convened and facilitated by a vast army of well-graduated American professionals, their reassuring expertise propped up by bogus social science, while the unfortunate objects of their high and noble compassion sink slowly back into a preindustrial state.

Frank weaves this analysis around an unforgettable eyewitness account of a Clinton Foundation celebration–held on the socialist holiday of International Women’s Day, no less! The event, at midtown Manhattan’s Best Buy (now Playstation) Theater, touted entrepreneurship for women in the global South. The Clintons, Melinda Gates, Hollywood stars, fashion magazine editors and Fortune 500 leaders came together for an afternoon of self-congratulation.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

YET FOR all that is spot-on in Frank’s critique of the Democrats, the book’s analysis is flawed on two interrelated points.

First, its theory of the Democrats as a party of educated professionals suffers from what might be called a crude class analysis.

When Marxists argue that the Democrats and Republicans are “capitalist” parties, we don’t mean that a cabal of capitalists acts as their puppet masters from behind the scenes. We mean that through various means–from political contributions to expert advice to control of the media–various capitalist interests assure that the mainstream political parties implement policies that allow the capitalist system to thrive and reproduce itself.

Scholars such as Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers have documented why we should understand shifts in the mainstream capitalist parties as shifts in blocs of capital rather than shifts in voting bases. Ferguson has even demonstrated how Obama’s support from Silicon Valley is linked to the administration’s care and nurturance of the surveillance state.

Frank doesn’t cite any of this analysis. Thus, in arguing that the Democrats’ current embrace of Silicon Valley neoliberalism is somehow a product of “well-graduated” Democrats’ fascination with “complexity,” “innovation” and “disruptive” app-driven services like Uber and AirBnB, Frank misses the close integration of the Democratic Party with the capitalist class.

The Democrats may have been capitalism’s B-Team over the last generation, but they’re not the Washington Generals, forever bested by the Harlem Globetrotters.

Second, understanding the Democrats as a party of Ivy League professionals–and not as one of the two big business parties in the U.S.–implies that it can be reclaimed as the “party of the people” or the party of the “working class,” as Frank believes it was in its New Deal heyday.

This characterization forgets that, in many ways, the Democrats were capitalism’s A-Team during that period. And if the Trumpization of the Republicans continues, the Democrats may end up as the first-stringers again. The 2016 Clinton campaign certainly hopes so.

Listen, Liberal is a great read for this election season. While Frank concludes that the state of affairs that brought us to Clinton against Trump “cannot go on,” he’s not sure where to go. Charting that course is a challenge the left faces today.

https://socialistworker.org/2016/08/04/your-party-is-the-neo-kind-of-liberal

Do You Have A Living Doppelgänger?

p0418209

Folk wisdom has it that everyone has a doppelganger; somewhere out there there’s a perfect duplicate of you, with your mother’s eyes, your father’s nose and that annoying mole you’ve always meant to have removed. Now BBC reports that last year Teghan Lucas set out to test the hypothesis that everyone has a living double. Armed with a public collection of photographs of U.S. military personnel and the help of colleagues from the University of Adelaide, Lucas painstakingly analyzed the faces of nearly four thousand individuals, measuring the distances between key features such as the eyes and ears. Next she calculated the probability that two peoples’ faces would match. What she found was good news for the criminal justice system, but likely to disappoint anyone pining for their long-lost double: the chances of sharing just eight dimensions with someone else are less than one in a trillion. Even with 7.4 billion people on the planet, that’s only a one in 135 chance that there’s a single pair of doppelgangers.

Lucas says this study has provided much-needed evidence that facial anthropometric measurements are as accurate as fingerprints and DNA when it comes to identifying a criminal. “The use of video surveillance systems for security purposes is increasing and as a result, there are more and more instances of criminals leaving their ‘faces’ at a scene of a crime,” says Ms Lucas. “At the same time, criminals are getting smarter and are avoiding leaving DNA or fingerprint traces at a crime scene.” But that’s not the whole story. The study relied on exact measurements; if your doppelganger’s ears are 59mm but yours are 60mm, your likeness wouldn’t count. “It depends whether we mean ‘lookalike to a human’ or ‘lookalike to facial recognition software,'” says David Aldous. If fine details aren’t important, suddenly the possibility of having a lookalike looks a lot more realistic. It depends on the way faces are stored in the brain: more like a map than an image. To ensure that friends and acquaintances can be recognized in any context, the brain employs an area known as the fusiform gyrus to tie all the pieces together.

This holistic ‘sum of the parts’ perception is thought to make recognizing friends a lot more accurate than it would be if their features were assessed in isolation. Using this type of analysis, and judging by the number of celebrity look-alikes out there, unless you have particularly rare features, you may have literally thousands of doppelgangers. “I think most people have somebody who is a facial lookalike unless they have a truly exceptional and unusual face,” says Francois Brunelle has photographed more than 200 pairs of doppelgangers for his I’m Not a Look-Alike project. “I think in the digital age which we are entering, at some point we will know because there will be pictures of almost everyone online.

 

https://science.slashdot.org/story/16/07/15/2039233/do-you-have-a-living-doppelgnger