Amazon workers worldwide denounce dictatorial working conditions

“This is modern day slavery”

 (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, file)

By Eric London
26 May 2017

The launching of the International Amazon Workers Voice has provoked a flood of messages by Amazon workers exposing dictatorial conditions imposed by the corporation in workplaces across the world.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is able to make over $25,000 each minute through the exploitation of Amazon workers in every country, forcing them to toil under constant monitoring and work long hours for low wages, subjecting them to constant surveillance by management, and firing them for the slightest sign of opposition.

One Amazon worker in the United States told the International Amazon Workers Voice that she was fired for wearing a t-shirt from an old job that had a union logo on it. Corporate management questioned her, threatened her, and fired her for “insubordination.”

Fulfillment center in Tracy, California

The worker described walking many miles each day: “My hands would be swollen after shift. I had to tape my feet up to prevent blistering.”

Another worker called the work “modern day slavery.”

A young worker in the US said that several years ago, a worker fell to his death. “Somebody fell from a second story tower and it took Amazon 4 hours to look for him, just to find out he was dead. I don’t know if this story was ever covered by the news.”

This worker explained, “It’s a mess in these warehouses. My last year I hurt my back and they still had me work and I could barely walk. I took a leave just to take care of myself and then they got mad that I went to my own doctor.”

A worker in the UK said that the company penalizes workers for getting hurt.

“Someone hurt on the job? It gets raised to a leader who then calls first aid, they take a statement then ask if you are returning to work or going home. Going home incurs a half-point penalty.”

All over the world, the company forces workers to labor at fast, tiring, and often dangerous speeds. The UK worker said: “I still have near misses and collisions from people rushing…now it’s faster, faster, faster. It’s all about being on the go, meeting rates and targets.”

A third worker, an immigrant in the UK, said she was yelled at for talking to a coworker while the two continued to work. “We are not robots to just look at the shelves,” she said. “We do not go to the prisons, we go to work and I think we have the right to talk at work!”

Truck drivers working for companies associated with Amazon also complained of brutal working conditions and humiliation by the company.

A driver in the UK explained how Amazon once told him without notice that he would not be allowed to drive into the plant wearing a hoodie. Since he was wearing two hoodies that day with no undershirt, the company forced him to walk around the facility with no shirt on as an act of punishment.

He said, “These companies take the royal piss out of their drivers and we work like dogs for peanuts. After working a week 5 long days after deductions and fuel we take home less than £200 (US$250) per week.”

An American driver expressed similar sentiments: “Don’t even get me started on their delivery driving jobs. We’re not even considered Amazon employees so we get NONE of the benefits but all the experience of long days with not enough pay.”

These abuses are not simply the product of Amazon’s greed, they are the product of the capitalist system, which secures the “right” of the corporations to subject their workers to harsh exploitation. The harder workers labor and the less freedom they have at work, the higher Amazon’s profits will be.

Many workers expressed support for the launching of the International Amazon Workers Voice, which will be a center of opposition for Amazon workers everywhere and a place for Amazon workers to share their stories and expose the corporation for exploiting its workers.

“What you’re doing is great,” a worker from the UK wrote. “I think it’s a great video,” said another in the US, referring to the one-minute video published by the IAWV that has been viewed by tens of thousands of Amazon workers worldwide. Another wrote, “I think all the people watching this video are very happy with it.”

Amazon workers around the world: share your stories with your coworkers through the pages of the International Amazon Workers Voice! Do you have a story about brutal conditions and management abuse? Message us on Facebook, sign up to receive updates, and make your voice heard.



The Death of the Republic

Posted on May 21, 2017

By Chris Hedges

Mr. Fish / Truthdig

The deep state’s decision in ancient Rome—dominated by a bloated military and a corrupt oligarchy, much like the United States of 2017—to strangle the vain and idiotic Emperor Commodus in his bath in the year 192 did not halt the growing chaos and precipitous decline of the Roman Empire.

Commodus, like a number of other late Roman emperors, and like President Trump, was incompetent and consumed by his own vanity. He commissioned innumerable statues of himself as Hercules and had little interest in governance. He used his position as head of state to make himself the star of his own ongoing public show. He fought victoriously as a gladiator in the arena in fixed bouts. Power for Commodus, as it is for Trump, was primarily about catering to his bottomless narcissism, hedonism and lust for wealth. He sold public offices so the ancient equivalents of Betsy DeVos and Steve Mnuchin could orchestrate a vast kleptocracy.

Commodus was replaced by the reformer Pertinax, the Bernie Sanders of his day, who attempted in vain to curb the power of the Praetorian Guards, the ancient version of the military-industrial complex. This effort saw the Praetorian Guards assassinate Pertinax after he was in power only three months. The Guards then auctioned off the office of emperor to the highest bidder. The next emperor, Didius Julianus, lasted 66 days. There would be five emperors in A.D. 193, the year after the assassination of Commodus. Trump and our decaying empire have ominous historical precedents. If the deep state replaces Trump, whose ineptitude and imbecility are embarrassing to the empire, that action will not restore our democracy any more than replacing Commodus restored democracy in Rome. Our republic is dead.

Societies that once were open and had democratic traditions are easy prey for the enemies of democracy. These demagogues pay deference to the patriotic ideals, rituals, practices and forms of the old democratic political system while dismantling it. When the Roman Emperor Augustus—he referred to himself as the “first citizen”—neutered the republic, he was careful to maintain the form of the old republic. Lenin and the Bolsheviks did the same when they seized and crushed the autonomous soviets. Even the Nazis and the Stalinists insisted they ruled democratic states. Thomas Paine wrote that despotic government is a fungus that grows out of a corrupt civil society. This is what happened to these older democracies. It is what happened to us.

Our constitutional rights—due process, habeas corpus, privacy, a fair trial, freedom from exploitation, fair elections and dissent—have been taken from us by judicial fiat. These rights exist only in name. The vast disconnect between the purported values of the state and reality renders political discourse absurd.

Corporations, cannibalizing the federal budget, legally empower themselves to exploit and pillage. It is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs or ExxonMobil. The pharmaceutical and insurance industries can hold sick children hostage while their parents bankrupt themselves trying to save their sons or daughters. Those burdened by student loans can never wipe out the debt by declaring bankruptcy. In many states, those who attempt to publicize the conditions in the vast factory farms where diseased animals are warehoused for slaughter can be charged with a criminal offense. Corporations legally carry out tax boycotts. Companies have orchestrated free trade deals that destroy small farmers and businesses and deindustrialize the country. Labor unions and government agencies designed to protect the public from contaminated air, water and food and from usurious creditors and lenders have been defanged. The Supreme Court, in an inversion of rights worthy of George Orwell, defines unlimited corporate contributions to electoral campaigns as a right to petition the government or a form of free speech. Much of the press, owned by large corporations, is an echo chamber for the elites. State and city enterprises and utilities are sold to corporations that hike rates and deny services to the poor. The educational system is being slowly privatized and turned into a species of vocational training.Wages are stagnant or have declined. Unemployment and underemployment—masked by falsified statistics—have thrust half the country into chronic poverty. Social services are abolished in the name of austerity. Culture and the arts have been replaced by sexual commodification, banal entertainment and graphic depictions of violence. The infrastructure, neglected and underfunded, is collapsing. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, arrests, food shortages and untreated illnesses that lead to early death plague a harried underclass. The desperate flee into an underground economy dominated by drugs, crime and human trafficking. The state, rather than address the economic misery, militarizes police departments and empowers them to use lethal force against unarmed civilians. It fills the prisons with 2.3 million citizens, only a tiny percentage of whom had a trial. One million prisoners work for corporations inside prisons as modern-day slaves.

The amendments of the Constitution, designed to protect the citizen from tyranny, are meaningless. The Fourth Amendment, for example, reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” The reality is that our telephone calls, emails, texts and financial, judicial and medical records, along with every website we visit and our physical travels, are tracked, recorded and stored in perpetuity in government computer banks.

The state tortures, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantanamo Bay, but also in supermax ADX [administrative maximum] facilities such as the one at Florence, Colo., where inmates suffer psychological breakdowns from prolonged solitary confinement. Prisoners, although they are citizens, endure around-the-clock electronic monitoring and 23-hour-a-day lockdowns. They undergo extreme sensory deprivation. They endure beatings. They must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. They can write only one letter a week to one relative and cannot use more than three pieces of paper. They often have no access to fresh air and take their one hour of daily recreation in a huge cage that resembles a treadmill for hamsters.

The state uses “special administrative measures,” known as SAMs, to strip prisoners of their judicial rights. SAMs restrict prisoners’ communication with the outside world. They end calls, letters and visits with anyone except attorneys and sharply limit contact with family members. Prisoners under SAMs are not permitted to see most of the evidence against them because of a legal provision called the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA. CIPA, begun under the Reagan administration, allows evidence in a trial to be classified and withheld from those being prosecuted. You can be tried and convicted, like Joseph K. in Franz Kafka’s “The Trial,” without ever seeing the evidence used to find you guilty. Under SAMs, it is against the law for those who have contact with an inmate—including attorneys—to speak about his or her physical and psychological conditions.

And when prisoners are released, they have lost the right to vote and receive public assistance and are burdened with fines that, if unpaid, will put them back behind bars. They are subject to arbitrary searches and arrests. They spend the rest of their lives marginalized as members of a vast criminal caste.

The executive branch of government has empowered itself to assassinate U.S. citizens. It can call the Army into the streets to quell civil unrest under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which ended a prohibition on the military acting as a domestic police force. The executive branch can order the military to seize U.S. citizens deemed to be terrorists or associated with terrorists. This is called “extraordinary rendition.” Those taken into custody by the military can be denied due process and habeas corpus rights and held indefinitely in military facilities. Activists and dissidents, whose rights were once protected under the First Amendment, can face indefinite incarceration.

Constitutionally protected statements, beliefs and associations are criminalized. The state assumed the power to detain and prosecute people not for what they have done, or even for what they are planning to do, but for holding religious or political beliefs that the state deems seditious. The first of those targeted have been observant Muslims, but they will not be the last.

The outward forms of democratic participation—voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight and legislation—are meaningless theater. No one who lives under constant surveillance, who is subject to detention anywhere at any time, whose conversations, messages, meetings, proclivities and habits are recorded, stored and analyzed, who is powerless in the face of corporate exploitation, can be described as free. The relationship between the state and the citizen who is watched constantly is one of master and slave. And the shackles will not be removed if Trump disappears.

Undercover report of super-exploitation in China’s iPhone factories

By Robert Campion
22 May 2017

A New York University (NYU) graduate recently reported his experiences working undercover at one of China’s largest Apple iPhone factories, owned by Pegatron, in Shanghai. His experiences highlight the oppressive and poor working conditions in China, which remains a cheap labour platform for global capitalism.

Dejian Zeng undertook his trip in pursuit of a Master of Public Administration in 2016, in partnership with China Labor Watch (CLW), a New York-based organization. CLW and the BBC have previously exposed super-exploitation, including excessive and illegal overtime work, at Pegatron Shanghai, which currently employs around 60,000 workers.

Zeng related his experiences on the assembly line in an interview on the Business Insider web site.

“One line might have about a hundred stations,” Zeng said, “each station does one specific thing … What I did is that I put the sticker on the case and I put a screw on it … It’s like, that’s the work. I mean it’s simple, but that’s the work that you do. Over, over, over again. For whole days.”

Zeng repeated this particular task 1,800 times a day, to the point where he could perform the task blindfolded. He regularly worked 10.5-hour days, 6 days a week. Factoring in unpaid break times and security clearances, this amounted to 12.5 hours a day spent at the factory.

Zeng reported that it was usual for managers to yell at workers and keep them working at full capacity. Many workers became fatigued with the prolonged intensity of their tasks and struggled to catch sleep in the breaks.

“Sleep is really a thing in the factory. You can see that in the lounge; we have a lot of like long sofas but it’s not really very comfortable … It’s like you can feel the iron.”

“People just sit there and sleep. But you can’t lay down. There are people walking around. If they see you lay down they will swipe the ID and take a record on it. And they put the record in your profile. And then they will publish it to your whole assembly line. So your manager would come and yell at you later. Sometimes if it happens multiple times they deduct money.”

After finishing their shifts, Zeng and his co-workers returned to 8-bed dormitories, with little energy or time left for leisure, or access to culture.

“The time left in your life is very, very limited. It’s just a couple of hours. And then there’s not much you can do … you really need to go to bed. And then the other day you wake up at 6:30. Again. And that’s just a routine.”

Zeng noted that a fellow employee worked 11 days straight.

In 2010, the world was shocked by reports of 14 suicides at iPhone factories operated by Foxconn, prompting Apple to introduce a minimal set of standards and marginally improve worker’s pay and conditions. Pegatron emerged as one of Apple’s principal manufacturing suppliers in the aftermath, taking advantage of its ability to better exploit its workforce.

As Zeng’s experiences testify, the oppressive conditions still persist, evidenced by the crude installation of suicide nets around buildings and inside stairwells, as well as bars around all windows. Toward the end of Zeng’s employment in August, the Wall Street Journal would report the suicide of a Foxconn worker in Zhengzhou.

Pegatron and Foxconn are monolithic corporations based in Taiwan. They are able to operate on low margins by brutally exploiting workforces of hundreds of thousands. One facility operated by Foxconn in Shenzhen is known as “Foxconn City.” The walled-off compound houses an industrial army of approximately 420,000, with a population density roughly five times that of the world’s most populous city, Mumbai.

In 2014 the Pegatron factory where Zeng was employed was profiled by the BBC, which found breaches of numerous of the standards supposedly put in place by Apple. These included excess overtime, bypassing the use of ID cards to record worker’s shifts, and exploitation of juvenile workers. One undercover reporter was required to work 18 days in a row, despite repeated calls for a day off.

Apple’s standards and appeals to its manufacturers to uphold them are cynical window-dressing. Details of the horrendous working conditions are also suppressed by the Beijing regime, which enforces police-state conditions on behalf of conglomerates such as Apple.

But the social tensions in China are increasingly erupting to the surface. The China Labour Bulletin recorded 2,663 strikes and protests in 2016, double the total of 2014. The real figures are likely to be higher.

According to CLW, workers’ pay was cut significantly in the eight months prior to Zeng’s employment, by eliminating bonuses, ending compensations for meals and sharing insurance payments with workers. As a result, despite Pegatron reporting an increase in wages, the hourly wage decreased from $US1.85 in 2015 to $1.60 in 2016.

Zeng spent six weeks at the factory, earning a monthly wage of 3,100 yuan ($480). This paltry figure places out of workers’ reach the products of their own labour. His 200-person assembly line churned out 3,600 iPhones a day, but workers could not afford to buy them. Instead, they worked overtime out of economic necessity in order to support themselves and their families.

“Can they save two month’s wages to get an iPhone?” asked Zeng, “They won’t do that. The phones they generally use are Chinese productions like Oppo or something like that.

“The only thing that we’re thinking about is really money, money, money. I need to get some money for my family, I need to support my life, support my kids. That’s the only thing in their mind, sometimes they don’t even care how tired they are.”

One perverse measure of the extreme exploitation at play is the $378 million “compensation” package granted to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook upon employment—it is more than 65,000 times the annual salary of a Pegatron worker.

What The New York Times gets wrong about Silicon Valley

The technocratic imagination of the Times can’t fathom a populist intervention in the tech industry

What The New York Times gets wrong about Silicon Valley

Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA(Credit: AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo published a disquieting essay this week titled “Google, Not the Government, Is Building the Future.” His article followed a familiar formula for a New York Times opinion column: point out a so-called problem and follow it up with an anodyne technocratic solution.

“The tech giants that are building the future would like some help changing the world,” Manjoo wrote, identifying massive private investment in artificial intelligence research as a problem. “We would be wise to chip in,” Manjoo said about public investment in such technology, “or let them take over the future for themselves.”

But there’s a glaring problem with Manjoo’s logic — apparent in the headline.

Manjoo fundamentally misunderstands the reason that the tech industry exists. The tech industry does not exist to “build the future.” It does not exist to change the world. It does not exist to “disrupt” or “innovate” or to cull from any of the biz-speak buzzwords that the tech industry uses to mask its sole intent — which is, of course, to turn a profit.

There’s some kind of reality distortion field that pervades Silicon Valley, one that even an esteemed Times (and former Salon) columnist sometimes can’t even see. Hype goggles removed, there is no fundamental difference between Google and Monsanto; between Apple and Exxon; between Facebook and Raytheon. These publicly held corporations pay people money to make things and try to make sure that the amount they pay their workers is less than those goods sell for. That’s it. Anything else that the tech industry tells you that it does — say, try to convince you that it’s not out to profit, but to make the world amazing — is false. All the world-change rhetoric around Silicon Valley is an act of branding that lets the tech industry get away with far more than it should.

I should note that I am not questioning Manjoo’s secondary point, which is about government investment in research. Manjoo proposed that, lest the tech industry become too dominant in artificial intelligence research, the federal government should invest more in it. “Technology giants, not the government, are building the artificially intelligent future,” he wrote. “And unless the government vastly increases how much it spends on research into such technologies, it is the corporations that will decide how to deploy them.”

In general, that’s a great idea. Private research tends to enrich only private interests, while government research has the potential to more equitably distribute the gains.

What else did Manjoo prescribe we do to combat this so-called problem? Later on in his essay, Manjoo declared that there are only “two ways to respond to the tech industry’s huge investments in the intelligent future.”

“On the one hand,” he wrote, “you could greet the news with optimism and even gratitude. The technologies that Google and other tech giants are working on will have a huge impact on society. . . .But the tech industry’s huge investments in A.I. might also be cause for alarm, because they are not balanced by anywhere near that level of investment by the government.”

His notion that there are only “two ways” to respond is not true. There are far more than two. We could break up Google with anti-trust lawsuits — a move that has been argued for, and which is probably past due. We could make Twitter and Facebook into public, worker-owned entities or government-regulated monopolies. Given that they basically function as public utilities, this would remove some of their negative externalities, like their questionable privacy policies and their use of brain hacking that stem from their status as for-profit companies.

Or we could reduce the length of time that patents last or demand that the maker of any product that was made with publicly funded science pays royalties to the American people. We could even just get rid of tax loopholes and use the money to invest in science or even provide a basic income.

The imagination of elites struggles to comprehend political alternatives that involve bottom-up, rather than top-down, power. Indeed, if you’re reading this and having trouble imagining an alternative future, know that examples abound. There are a number of worker-owned tech enterprises in the model of gig economy companies; “platform cooperatism” is the term for this. “’Platform cooperativism’ hopes to harness the power of tech to democratize the economy and advance labor rights,” Tom Ladendorf wrote in a 2016 article for In These Times. Ladendorf cited TransUnion Car Service as an example of a worker-owned, unionized taxi service (Uber but without the exploitation!) and Stocksy, a stock photo company, whose artists are also voting members and co-owners of the agency.

These ideas aren’t limited to a few small companies either. Next week Twitter’s shareholders will vote on a proposal to convert the microblogging social network into a cooperative that its users own and control.

The point is, Silicon Valley and The New York Times both suffer from a severe lack of imagination when it comes to considering what is politically possible. Silicon Valley believes that the future will be created from above, by the wise scions who impose their technological will on us. Farhad Manjoo believes that’s fine, but perhaps the government might spend a teensy bit more on science. These are both technocratic visions of a future ruled by technocrats from above. But we won’t have a future to build if we can’t imagine an alternative to the status quo.

Keith A. Spencer is a cover editor at Salon.

Productivity figures and job cuts expose Trump’s growth fraud

By Nick Beams
19 May 2017

One of the factors that led to the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency was his commitment to boost the growth rate of the US economy, striking a chord in industrial states hit by job losses and factory closures.

Just four months into his presidency these promises lie in tatters. Underlying US economic trends continue to worsen, amid increased financial parasitism. The announcement by Ford that it will cut 10 percent of its global workforce is an expression of this process—the ruthless and relentless demands by finance capital for job destruction and cost-cutting to boost “shareholder value.”

The Ford decision is only one manifestation of the parasitic processes in the US and major economies internationally. Some of the effects were highlighted in the results of research conducted by the Conference Board think tank published in the Financial Times earlier this week.

Labour productivity in the US—one of the main drivers of economic expansion—will rise this year by only one-third of the rate that prevailed before the financial crisis of 2008. While the expected increase for 2017 is 1 percent, compared with an increase of only 0.5 percent last year, it is still well below the level of 2.9 percent recorded between 1999 and 2006.

Trump said his policies of lower taxes and deregulation would lift growth in US gross domestic product (GDP) to at least 3 percent, compared with its present level below 2 percent. But their only real effect, if enacted, will be to shovel more money into the hands of the financial elites.

The prospects for growth are no better in the longer term. Even barring the eruption of another crisis, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the potential growth for the US economy is 1.9 percent from 2012 to 2017, compared to average annual growth of 3.1 percent from 1981 to 2007.

Conference Board chief economist Bart van Ark told the Financial Times: “Even an optimistic productivity scenario would not get close to the Trump administration’s target of 3 percent GDP growth.”

The US figures are part of an international trend. According to the Conference Board, the European Union will experience an increase of 1.1 percent in productivity for 2017, up from 0.8 percent last year, but well below the 1.9 percent level in the years before the financial crisis.

Japan is expected to record a 1.1 percent growth in productivity, up from 0.5 percent in 2016, but less than half the pre-crisis rate.

Commenting on the data, van Ark said the weakness in productivity reflected the impact of the global financial crisis on business investment and the “sluggishness by which new technology has been translated into faster productivity.” Companies would need to lift rates of investment to keep productivity and growth rising. Now was the time to make the investments planned for a long time.

Such expressions of hope run counter to the dominant trends in the US economy and elsewhere. The days when companies used profits to make new investments and expand production, giving rise to economic growth and improved wages, have long gone.

The road to increased profits is now savage cost-cutting in order to free up cash, which is then disbursed to shareholders—predominantly banks and hedge funds—in the form of increased dividends and share buybacks. And those firms deemed by financial markets not to be sufficiently engaged in this process come under intense pressure to change course.

As one recent Australian study noted, financial institutions exercise their power not primarily by holding directorships but “through exit”—the continual threat of withdrawal of funds if the rate of return is not sufficient. Managements, which in an earlier period were concerned with expanding and growing a business through productive investment, must now carry out the dictates of financial markets to strip resources from the firm or be removed.

The Trump administration’s claims that it will boost jobs have also been shattered by figures coming from the retail sector.

According to a report in the Financial Times on Monday, since the election of Trump last November, the retail sector has lost 89,000 jobs—more than the total employment in either coal mining or steel—with more to come. The article began: “Anyone seeking the contemplative peace of a graveyard could do no worse than park at one of America’s strip malls.”

By some estimates, the US retail sector could lose up to one third of its 16 million jobs within Trump’s term, on a par with the scale of job losses in manufacturing industry since the turn of the century.

The job shedding is the result of two factors. First, there is the general stagnation of consumer spending, flowing from the suppression of wages and rising household debt. The US economy grew at an annual rate of only 0.7 percent in the first quarter of this year, largely as a result of the weakest increase in consumer spending in seven years.

Second, there is the impact of online buying or ecommerce, epitomised by the rise of Amazon.

Amazon’s business model is not based on general economic expansion but at driving more traditional outlets to the wall, resulting in major job losses. In earlier times of general economic expansion, the job losses would have been offset by the growth of employment opportunities in other areas of the economy. But this is not taking place.

It is estimated that for every three retail jobs lost, only one is created in ecommerce. Those displaced from the retail sector are either moving out of the workforce altogether or into lower paid and more precarious jobs in other service industries.

It is this essentially parasitic business model that has made Amazon such a darling of the financial markets.

Over the past 20 years its shares have risen almost 64,000 percent—$100 invested in Amazon stock at the time of its initial public offering would have accumulated to $64,000. Amazon’s market value is now more than $450 billion, compared to $230 billion for Wal-Mart.

The rise and rise in Amazon’s market value, unlike the rise of the giants of a previous era, is not an expression of economic strength. Rather, it is a manifestation of the parasitism, based on an appropriation of real wealth produced elsewhere, that has become the mainstay of profit accumulation in the US economy, and increasingly globally.

Technological innovations in transport and information systems have fueled this rise. But they are not utilised to facilitate economic growth, but rather to enable the sucking up of wealth into the coffers of finance capital.

Is this the Death of Neoliberalism?

Invasion of the Putin-Nazis

So, here we are, a little over one hundred days into “The Age of Darkness” and the “racially Orwellian” Trumpian Reich, and, all right, while it’s certainly no party, it appears that those reports we heard of the Death of Neoliberalism were greatly exaggerated. Not only has the entire edifice of Western democracy not been toppled, but the global capitalist ruling classes seem to be going about their business in more or less the usual manner. The Goldman Sachs vampires are back in the White House (as they have been for over one hundred years). The post-Cold War destabilization and restructuring of the Middle East is moving forward right on schedule. The Russians, Iranians, North Koreans, and other non-globalist-ball-playing parties remain surrounded by the most ruthlessly murderous military machine in the annals of history. Greece is being debt-enslaved and looted. And so on. Life is back to normal.

Or … OK, not completely normal. Because, despite the fact that editorialists at “respectable” papers like The New York Times (and I’m explicitly referring to Charles M. Blow and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman) have recently dropped the completely ridiculous “Trump is a Putinist agent” propaganda they’d been relentlessly spewing since he won the election, a significant number of deluded persons, having swallowed their official vomitus (i.e., the vomitus of Blow and Krugman, and other neoliberal establishment hacks) like the hungry Adélie penguin chicks in those nature shows narrated by David Attenborough, are convinced (these deluded persons are) that the Russians are waging a global campaign not only to maliciously hack, or interfere with, or marginally influence, free and fair elections throughout the Western world, but to control the minds of Westerners themselves, in some Orwellian, or possibly Wachowskian fashion. Worse yet, these deluded persons are certain, the Russians are now secretly running the White House, and are just using Trump, and the Goldman Sachs gang, and capitalist centurions like General McMaster, as a front for their subversive activities, like denying Americans universal healthcare and privatizing the hell out of everything.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic, check out #MarchforTruth on Twitter, or its anonymous Crowdpac fundraising page, which at first glance I took for an elaborate prank, but which seems to be in deadly earnest about “restoring faith in American government,” uncovering Trump’s “collusion” with Russia, and reversing his “subversion of the will of the people.” The plan is, on June 3, 2017, thousands of otherwise rational Americans are going to pour into the streets “demanding answers” from … well, I’m not sure whom, some independent prosecutor, or congressional committee, or intelligence agency, or whomever is responsible for ferreting out the Putin-Nazi infiltrators that “respected” pundits like Blow and Krugman (and stark raving loonies like Louise Mensch) have convinced them are now controlling the government. Weirdly, these same “respected” journalists, the ones who have been assuring the world that The President of the United States is a covert agent working for Russia, have failed to even mention this March for Truth, and are acting like they had nothing to do with whipping these folks up into a frenzy of apoplectic paranoia.

Incidentally, one of my colleagues contacted Mr. Blow directly and inquired as to whether he’d be vociferously supporting or possibly leading the March for Truth, and was chastised by Blow and his Twitter followers. I found this reaction extremely troubling, and asked my colleague to contact Mensch and suggest she check with her handlers at The Times to make sure the Russians haven’t gotten to him. However, just as he was sitting down to do that, the “Comey-firing” brouhaha broke, which seems to have brought Blow back to the fold, albeit in a less hysterical manner than his Rooskie-hunting readers have grown accustomed to. We can only hope that both he and Krugman return to form in the weeks to come as Russiagate builds to its dramatic climax.

Oh, yeah, and if Russiagate isn’t paranoid enough, apparently, the corporate media is now prepared to deploy the “Putin-Nazi Election Hackers” propaganda in any and every election going forward (as they did in the recent French election, and as they tried to do in the Dutch elections, and presumably will in the German elections, and as The Guardian appears to be retroactively doing in regard to the Brexit referendum). Any day now, we should be hearing of the “Putin-Nazi-Corbyn Axis,” and the “Putin-Nazi-Podemos Pact,” and video footage of Martin Schultz and a bevy of former-East German hookers engaging in Odinist sex magick rituals in an FSB-owned bordello in Moscow. Soon, it won’t just be elections … no, we’ll be hearing reports of Russian shipments of rocks, bottles, and pointy sticks to the “Putin-Nazi Palestinian Terrorists,” and … well, who knows how far they’re willing to take this?

All joking aside, as I’ve written about previously, what we’re dealing with here is more than just a lame attempt by the Democratic Party to blame its humiliating loss on Putin (although of course it certainly is that in part). The global neoliberal establishment is rolling out a new official narrative. It’s actually just a slight variation on the one it’s been selling us since 2001. I could come up with a sixteen-syllable, academic-sounding name for this narrative, but I’m trying to keep things simple these days … so let’s call it The Normals versus The Extremists, (the Normals being the neoliberals and the Extremists being everyone else). The goal of this narrative is to stigmatize and otherwise marginalize opposition to Neoliberalism, regardless of the nature of that opposition (i.e., whether it comes from the left, right, or from religious, environmentalist, or any other quarters).

Now, as any professional storyteller will tell you, one of the most important aspects of the narrative you’re trying to suck people into is to make your protagonist a likeable underdog, and then pit him or her against a much more powerful and ideally incorrigibly evil enemy. During the Cold War, this was easy to do — the story was Democracy versus the Commies, traditional “good versus evil”-type stuff. Once the U.S.S.R. collapsed, the concept needed major rewrites, as a new evil adversary had to be found. This (i.e., the 1990s) was a rather awkward and frustrating period. The global capitalist ruling classes, giddy with joy after having become the first ever global ideological hegemon in the history of aspiring global hegemons, got all avant-garde for a while, and thought they could do without an “enemy.” This approach, as you’ll recall, did not sell well. No one quite got why we were bombing Yugoslavia, and Bush and Baker had to break out the Hitler schtick to gin up support for rescuing the Kuwaitis from their old friend Saddam. Fortunately, in September 2001, the show runners got the break they were looking for, and the official narrative was instantly switched to Democracy versus The Islamic Terrorists. This re-brand got extremely good ratings, and would have been extended indefinitely if not for what began to unfold in the latter half of 2016. (One could go back and locate the week when the mainstream media officially switched from the “Summer of Terror” narrative they were flogging to the new “Invasion of the Putin-Nazis” narrative … my guess is, it was early to mid-September.) It started with the Brexit referendum, continued with the rise of Trump, and … well, I don’t have to recount it, do I? You remember last year as clearly as I do, how, suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, the Putin-Nazi menace materialized, and took the place of the “self-radicalized terrorist” as the primary target for people’s hatred and fear. OK, sure, at first, there were no Putin-Nazis. It was just that the Brexit folks were fascists, and Trump was Hitler, and Bernie Sanders was some sort of racist hacky sack Communist. But then the Putinists poisoned Clinton, and unleashed their legions of Russian propagandists on the gullible, Oxycodone-addicted denizens of “flyover country,” and, as they say, the rest is history.

In any event, here we are now … stuck inside this simulation of “reality” where Putin-Nazi hackers are coming out of the woodwork, a partyless neoliberal banker has been elected the President of France, Donald Trump is an evil mastermind or a Russian operative, depending on what day it is (as opposed to just a completely incompetent, narcissistic billionaire idiot), and neoliberal propaganda outfits like The New York TimesThe Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN, The Guardian, NPR, et al., are perceived as “respectable” sources of journalism, as if their role in generating and occasionally revising the official narrative weren’t so insultingly obvious. Personally, I am looking forward to the upcoming German elections this Autumn, wherein Neoliberal Party “A” is challenging Neoliberal Party “B” for the right to continue privatizing Greece (and any other formerly sovereign nations the banks can get their hands on) in a demonstration of European unity, and fiscal austerity … and, you know, whatever.

If this is the Death of Neoliberalism, just imagine what awaits us at the Resurrection.


Did America Ever Really Work?

Slavery, Segregation, and Stagnation

Rather than looking at America through the lens of the present — “oh my god, what did he do today!! “— I want to ask the question: has American society ever worked?

By “worked”, you can think that I mean two economic criteria. First, according to its own standards of life, liberty, and happiness. Second, a little more formally, whether its economy has ever really been capable of delivering rising living standards broadly.

I think this is an interesting question, because most of us believe in the myth of a golden age past. The American Dream, we suppose, is something that came and went. But if we look at history carefully, I think we will see that it never really existed at all.

We can divide American economic history into three periods.

The first, which we sadly don’t need to say much about, is slavery. Obviously, society wasn’t working in the senses above during this period. Whatever gains there were were largely realized at the expense of great and immoral human suffering.

The second was segregation. Segregation was of course immoral as well, in the most basic terms of equality. Economically, it was a way to preserve many of the toxic economic “benefits” of slavery, while making repression palatable and righteous. It created a low cost labor pool, abrogated those costly things called human rights, and so on.

The third period, which we are in now, is stagnation. Note the interesting fact. Segregation ended in 1964. Stagnation began in 1971. That is when wages flatlined.

There was no intervening middle era, no golden age so to speak of. The American economy went directly from segregation to stagnation.

That tells us a few interesting things.

First, it implies that the social contract of America never really worked at all. That it depended on the exploitation (aka, the coercion, if you like) of entire groups to produce benefits for others. That is not a working society in the modern sense, only in the pre modern, the feudal, one.

Second, it implies that the roots of stagnation are deeper than we think. Stagnation has many factors that caused it to continue. The implosion of unions, the evisceration of public sector employment, a tilted playing against labour and towards capital, and so on. But the cause of stagnation cannot be all those, because they simply did not exist yet. The true cause of stagnation is simpler: without a group of people to exploit, the American economy simply began to fail, because it was predicated still on that exploitation to begin with. Except now, it is more or less everyone being exploited, in perhaps softer and less visible ways.

Now, you might object here. All this goes against what you have been taught, if you subscribe to orthodox American history, doesn’t it? So think about carefully. Go ahead and see if you can poke any holes in it. Slavery, then segregation, then stagnation. No intervening grace period. If you clear your mind of ideology, and think clearly about a working society, what does it tell you?

Third, all the above tells us the American Dream never was at all. It’s a truism to say that the American Dream came with hidden costs. Pollution, NIMBYism, and so on. But there’s a deeper truth there. Costs are only one side of the equation. What about benefits? The simple fact all the above tells us is the American economy was never able to generate enough real social benefits to be broadly shared, without exploitation, forced labour, and so on. Remember, it fell it into stagnation as soon as segregation ended, and that implies that it was dysfunctional in terms of its fundamental ability to create value to begin with.

So what going directly from segregation to stagnation tells us, in the end, is this. The faces, the people, the groups involved, changed — but the pattern didn’t. The economy remained predicated, founded on exploitation, only now it was less able to do so effectively, less viciously, less visibly. Hence, stagnation. Today, the economy is still a predatory machine — only it is so for everyone, not just specific ethnic or racial groups. That is the true historic price of the toxic legacy of hate America carries.

I’m often accused of saying “we’re doomed!”. And yet I never do, do I? So the conclusion of all the above isn’t that. Rather, it’s this.

If we are able to see clearly that the American economy, the social contract, was never functional in a genuine substantive sense at all, then perhaps now we can have a more truer discussion about how to make it so. Instead of harkening back to a mythical Golden Age that never existed at all, which is what I call Vox’n’Fox thinking converges to.

Now we can ask the wiser question. What makes societies “work”? What didn’t America develop, by going straight from segregation to stagnation?

We don’t have to look very far or think very hard. What makes Canada, Sweden, etc, work, in the sense that produce shared, enduring prosperity, is public goods. They developed those in the 1950s and 60s. America went straight from segregation to stagnation because it never had public healthcare, transport, higher education, and so on. It simply started exploiting people in a different way — but faces changed, but the pattern didn’t.

Today, it still doesn’t have public goods. And it’s because it failed to develop at precisely the time it should have that it remains stuck today — stuck in the trap of exploitation, which it never really broke to begin with.

To think clearly is to see what has been with an open mind. America is not the historic success that we, educated into the annals of exceptionalism. think. That does not mean that we should feel guilty, ashamed, bad, weak. It simply means that have the opportunity to make it one. There are two choices ahead of us. The third period, stagnation, can go on, into collapse. Or there can be a fourth period, of renewal.

May 2017