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

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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

What would a revolution look like?

Opinion polls show that more and more people–especially young people–drawn to socialism as an alternative to capitalism. But what is socialism? Is it defined by the program of individual political leaders like Bernie Sanders or something broader than that? Danny Katch, author of Socialism…Seriously: A Brief Guide to Human Liberation, answers a question on everyone’s minds when they first learn about socialism.

Fight for 15 activists demonstrate for a living wage in Milwaukee

AFTER BERNIE Sanders started shaking up mainstream politics with his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, a Vox poll in January found that a majority of Americans thought that the “political revolution” he talked about might, in fact, “be necessary to redistribute money from the wealthiest Americans to the middle class.”

This is a remarkable statement in a country where people are brought up learning that they live in the “world’s greatest democracy.” The reason this mindset has come about is the hard experience of seeing the people in charge of political and social institutions be unwilling or unable to address critical issues like growing inequality and climate change.

Among people under the age of 30, an overwhelming 68 percent agreed that a revolution might be necessary–probably because for them, the political system seems too broken to deal even with issues that strike them as basic questions of common sense and human decency.

For instance, a majority of Americans in the so-called Millennial generation support immigrant rights, the Black Lives Matter movement and transgender people’s right to use the bathroom they prefer.

But they’re stuck in a country seemingly held hostage by an aging white Republican minority that actually thinks Barack Obama is a secret Muslim and that two people with penises can’t really love each other.

This political dysfunction has now been concentrated into a presidential election featuring a “choice” between the two most widely disliked candidates in recent history. As theWashington Post put it in a recent headline, “For millennial voters, the Clinton vs. Trump choice ‘feels like a joke.'”

And Sanders–the only politician who seemed genuine to many young people–has now joined the circus. Not only is he supporting Hillary Clinton against the Republican bigot and buffoon Donald Trump, he’s telling supporters with a straight face that voting for Clinton–the textbook definition of a status-quo candidate–is a way to “continue the political revolution.”

For the millions who enthusiastically supported Sanders, there is an important question to answer in the coming months and years–long after they decide to either support the Green Party’s Jill Stein in November or hold their nose and vote for Clinton or skip voting altogether.

That question is whether they will continue to see revolution as a real thing to work toward–or follow Sanders into reducing it into just another empty advertising slogan.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE MOST important changes in U.S. history–from winning independence to ending slavery to winning greater equality for African Americans and others–have come not from voting for one rich guy over another, but by taking to the streets, going on strike, organizing our classmates and workmates, and so on.

Most protest movements don’t become revolutions, of course. That only happens when the grievances of masses of people can neither be effectively addressed nor squelched by those in power, leading much wider layers of the population to decide that the time to act has finally come.

Revolutions are rare enough that most people never see them coming. But they are regular occurrences throughout modern history: from the American and French Revolutions of the late 1700s that broke the power of kings and aristocracies, to the “Arab Spring” uprisings of recent years that unleashed a wave of first hopeful and then horrible changes across the Middle East, with more to come.

Just as geologists would have no idea about the tectonic plates beneath our feet if not for the occasional earthquake, it’s impossible to understand the forces that shape our world without looking at the revolutions that created them.

One of the most important victories for human progress in modern times–the abolition of slavery–was begun with the Haitian Revolution at the end of the 18th century and decisively won by the American Civil War in the middle of the 19th.

Another was the ending of the direct ownership of much of the globe by a handful of countries through colonialism–a struggle whose early sparks came 100 years ago in revolutions in Mexico and Ireland and that, many years later, continued with revolts across Asia and Africa in the decades after the Second World War.

Then there are the great defeated socialist revolutions of the 20th century–most famously in Russia in 1917, the only socialist revolution to create a workers’ state that survived for any length of time.

The Russian monarchy was overthrown in 1917, and the world saw the first steps toward worker-run democracy. But within a decade, the country’s isolation and poverty led to the rise of a new form of dictatorship that worked for the rest of the century to convince most people that socialism was the opposite of democracy.

Unless we think we’ve arrived at the “end of history”–a popular idea among defenders of the status quo that has been proved false many times–there will be more revolutions around the world, quite possibly including in the U.S. If anything, the pace of world events seems to be speeding up these days.

Since we’re all going to be bombarded for the next two months with proclamations that the Trump-versus-Clinton election is a world-historic event, this seems like a good time to look at some actual world-historic events to imagine what a future revolution in the U.S. might look like.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IN TERMS OF sheer numbers, our side has the decisive edge, as the poet Percy Shelly recognized back in 1819 when he wrote The Mask of Anarchy:

Rise like lions after slumber
In unfathomable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
That in sleep have fallen on you
Ye are many, they are few.

But in normal times, the few have a lot ways of keeping the many in check–from police repression to working people’s fear of losing their jobs.

Relatively small groups can win important gains–like the protesters continuing to take the streets against racist police violence, or the 39,000 Verizon workers who went on strike last spring to preserve their working conditions and set an example for the whole labor movement.

But the system depends on most people most of the time being unwilling and unable to take such an active role in shaping their own futures.

Then one day, that activist minority is suddenly no longer a minority–often to the great surprise of not only the rulers, but the ruled.

On January 25, 2011, Egyptian revolutionaries expected the usual hundreds to turn out to a protest against police repression. Instead, they were surrounded by tens of thousands, which in the coming days became hundreds of thousands and then millions–including workers in industries like textiles, whose strikes threatened the profits of the elite.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

A REVOLUTION in the U.S. would see not just larger versions of important recent protest movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, but millions of workers going on strike against Walmart, Amazon and other engines of American capitalism.

A revolution, wrote Leon Trotsky in his beautiful History of the Russian Revolution, is the “forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.”

Can’t see it happening here? In his book, Trotsky described how when a Russian general launched a coup against the revolution, telegraph workers intercepted his communications and relayed the plans to railroad workers, who made sure the trains carrying his troops never got to their destination.

Now imagine revolutionary workers at Comcast and Verizon blocking the wireless and fiber-optic networks of local police departments attempting to arrest protest leaders or break up Occupy-style encampments.

This is one of the ironies of working-class revolutions: People take over the tools they’ve created for their bosses and use them for the common good.

In Mexico, for example, railroad workers seized the locomotives that were importing machinery and products of industrial capitalism from the U.S., and turned them into a transportation network for Pancho Villa’s revolutionary army.

In a future American revolution, tech workers can take the software that companies use to send employees home on days when business is projected to be slow, and instead track surplus products to direct them to households where they are needed. Airbnb workers can share their database of vacant housing with homeless organizers–if that’s even necessary after the revolution is done taking over the empty second and third homes of rich people.

New leaders emerge in revolutions–not the typical ones who have been groomed for decades by professional handlers, but genuine leaders earn the trust and respect of their communities and who finally get the chance to show the world how much more talented they are than the mediocrities normally in charge.

Toussaint L’Ouverture was a slave who took part in the Haitian Revolution–within months, he rose to become a general who outsmarted and defeated the armies of France, Spain and Britain.

Emiliano Zapata was a horse trainer whose longstanding demands for peasant rights were turned into a national rallying cry by the Mexican Revolution.

While Northern generals wasted the early years of the American Civil War stalling for time, Harriet Tubman used her long experience in the Underground Railroad to sneak into the South as a spy and lead daring raids that freed thousands of slaves.

Perhaps future American revolutionary leaders will emerge from among the women on hunger strike inside immigration detention centers–or the students leading walkouts in their high schools against the endless use of standardized tests.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

EVERY REVOLUTION faces challenges that determine how far it can go–for example, how to create more effective and democratic governing structures than the systems they are trying to replace.

The most important accomplishment of the Russian Revolution was the creation of workers’ councils, known in Russian as “soviets.” The councils, extending from workplaces and neighborhoods up to regional and national bodies, replaced career politicians and the state bureaucracy with a system of instantly recallable delegates. It was able to impose democratic control over previously unaccountable institutions like the military, police and private industry.

These workers’ councils, which have appeared in different forms in many later revolutions, became the heart of the revolutionary vision of socialism–which isn’t about “the government owning everything,” as the right-wing complaint goes, but instead everyone becoming the government.

Socialized medicine, for example, in a future American revolution wouldn’t just mean having better access to health care. It would mean hospitals and clinics being collectively run by doctors, nurses and patients.

Then there is the task of taking on the oppressions based on race, gender, nationality and religion, which are a vital tool used by ruling classes to keep their working majority divided.

There will be many forms of oppression to combat on many different levels in U.S. society–from opening up prisons filled with Black and Latino victims of a racist criminal justice system to finding ways to challenge the ignorant attitudes of potential revolutionaries toward women, Muslims and others.

Finally, every revolution faces the question of how to spread beyond its national borders in order to survive. Haitians ended slavery and won independence from the colonial powers, but they faced a hostile, racist world that punished them for centuries for their revolution. Russia inspired workers around the world, but remained isolated in a capitalist global economy, which doomed the revolution to eventual defeat.

Future revolutions will face similar questions, particularly how to tackle the urgent questions of climate change that can only be accomplished by a dramatic global shift toward sustainable economies and renewable energy.

But where does all this talk about a future revolution leave us today, when revolutions–not the bogus rhetoric about them, but the real kind–seem very far away?

It’s important for people who want to fight for change to understand how vital revolutions are to that process. Revolutions are not only possible, but inevitable in the long run.

The truth is that political systems are almost always “broken” in the sense that they don’t serve the needs of the majority. It’s in the struggles of today against inequality and injustice–never as large as they should be–that individuals and organizations can become more effective organizers and leaders for the hopefully larger fights tomorrow.

Bringing those leaders together in explicitly socialist organization–to share their experiences, learn the lessons of past struggles, absorb Marxist theory that can explain the world and collaborate to provide a left-wing pole of attraction for new groups of people becoming revolutionaries–is a critical part of the socialist struggle today.

But the organizing of today must be guided by a vision of what we’re working toward–those rare but regular revolutionary moments when ordinary people have a chance to change the course of history.

https://socialistworker.org/2016/09/07/what-would-a-revolution-look-like

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

“Stranger Things” is a show about the internet’s dark sides

We’re all living in the “Upside Down”

Under the irresistible ’80s pastiche, “Stranger Things” explores the monstrous capabilities of digital technology

We're all living in the "Upside Down": "Stranger Things" is a show about the internet's dark sides
Winona Ryder in “Stranger Things” (Credit: Netflix/Screen Montage by Salon)

“Stranger Things” is hotter than Kayne’s Twitter feed right now and Netflix just announced that a second season is on its way. A trailer recently posted online reveals that when 2017 arrives, fans pining for more ’80s pop culture references will be returning to Hawkins, Indiana, in the fall of 1984 as the town faces the aftermath of its first contact with the alternate universe known as “the Upside Down” and the predatory “Demogorgons” that dwell therein. [Note: Spoilers ahead.]

Right now most reviews and discussions about “Stranger Things” focus on its aesthetics: how the Duffer brothers crafted such an eloquent piece of pastiche that takes the best elements of 1980s pop culture and reassembles them into something fresh and entertaining. Of course, that’s worthy of discussion in and of itself. Who wouldn’t jump at a chance to spot a “Goonies,” “Evil Dead” or “Stand By Me” reference and gush adoringly to their friends about it? But then again, there’s a lot of TV, music and film doing the same thing these days. So it’s worth asking — especially while we wait for the next season to arrive — if there is something more to “Stranger Things” that accounts for its popularity and the mass amounts of speculation surrounding its mysterious aura. I think the answer is yes, and I think that’s worth talking about, too.

Even by the end of the first episode, one gets the sense that the Duffer brothers are more than just writers and directors who have an extensive knowledge of ’80s gold. They seem to be filmic philosophers who emerged out of the shadows with this series to deliver an intriguing commentary about a world like ours, a world rife with communication technologies that can harm us just as much as they can help us.

“Stranger Things” is set in small-town America in the 1980s. On the fringes of this town is a mysterious Department of Energy compound conducting weird experiments somehow related to the U.S. military and espionage. People are not really worried about this organization, though, until they have to start worrying about it because technology, espionage, militarism, fear, surveillance and such things were all staples of the Cold War era. (But, in fact, without the Cold War, much of the technology we have today — like the internet and personal computers — simply wouldn’t exist.)

But then all of a sudden the worst thing happens that could possibly happen to a mother, older brother and a small community. A young boy is stolen away in the night to . . . where exactly? Will Byers, like other characters both major and minor in the show — #TeamBarb! — has been kidnapped and possibly eaten by a predatory creature that his friends have dubbed the Demogorgon, after a monster in their Dungeons & Dragons game. The Demogorgon travels through numerous gates between our world and another dimension — the Upside Down — that is sort of like our world but way darker and scarier. The alternate dimension and the Demogorgon are somehow connected to electricity, wires, appliances and communication devices. And they all go nuts whenever the monster lurks about in the real world.

Likewise, people trapped in the Upside Down can reach the real world only through electronic devices like telephones and radios, and the bigger the device, the better the contact. We see this clearly when Will’s mom Joyce (Winona Ryder) creates a primitive codex-like thing by painting a wall with the alphabet and assigning a light to each letter, which allows her to use it as a keyboard to communicate between dimensions with her missing son. She asks questions and Will spells out answers by flashing lights above the appropriate letters. It seems like magic, but it’s just primitive computing technology.

All of this sounds like the foundations of the internet, doesn’t it? A network of electricity, phone lines, communication devices and flashing lights that work together to connect distant worlds so that disconnected people can meet and dialogue with each other. I would wager that this intriguing little detail represents a key theme in “Stranger Things.” It also explains why the show has become so popular. Just like now, the ’80s was a paradoxical time of both hope in technology and fear of it. Deep into the Cold War by 1983, both the East and West knew that technological development was both their biggest threat and their biggest hope.

The race to space known as Star Wars — Reagan’s missile defense program, not the films — and the mass ramping up of innovations in personal computing, information technologies, communication devices and consumer entertainment systems, all combined to simultaneously strike people dumb with awe and cower in fear. Sure, an atomic bomb could hit a town at any moment and a commie spy could be running a local grocery store, but at least people had some newfangled digital devices and entertainment while they waited for all that horrible stuff to go down. Meanwhile, the military would be using all this technology to gain the upper hand on the enemy.

All of this explains why the Demogorgon and the sinister Department of Energy lab are secondary issues in “Stranger Things.” The primary issue is the Upside Down, the alternate dimension that the Department of Energy accidentally discovers. If this gate had not been opened up by Eleven, a mysterious child with telepathic and kinetic gifts who is forced to go into that world and inadvertently make contact with the Demogorgon, the monster would have never shown up in Hawkins to kidnap people in the first place. So it’s the Demogorgon’s network, the world it lives in and connects to, that enables the monster to be anywhere at any time to snatch poor Will and Barb away to the Upside Down. That is the real threat to everyone in Hawkins.

Which is to say, the Upside Down starts looking very much like an analog for the internet. Yes, the internet allows people to connect everywhere at every time, but this is not always a good thing. Just look at Kayne’s Twitter feed. Or, on a more serious note, consider the devastating social-media harassment campaign that has targeted actress Leslie Jones. Or reflect on the degree to which even our most banal online activities and conversations are being watched and collected by government agencies.

This explains why there are more seasons to come because by the end of the first season, it appears that the Demogorgon is dead. But the network itself, as well as its effects, remains. Will Byers might be back in the real world to go on D&D quests with his buddies and be bullied at school, yet the network has made an impression on him that he can’t shed. Now he is a part of the Upside Down network and he’s brought it back to Hawkins. We see this when he coughs up a little Demogorgon slug in the concluding episode. The network and its demons are taking root and growing. Pikachu is in our world now and we’d better watch out.

Once you start pulling at these thematic threads, you begin to see a deeper philosophical discussion at play in “Stranger Things.” Of course, some fans love this show because it captures several of their favorite memories of the ’80s. But at the same time, and perhaps more important, we’re intrigued by the experience of watching characters in “Stranger Things” encounter the consequences of rapid technological advancement.

There’s no better example of this than the scene when Joyce Byers finally makes semi-physical contact with Will through an opaque window that appears behind the wallpaper in the Byers’ living room. For a glimmering moment Joyce is able to reach out to Will through a translucent screen to see that he’s alive. And Will reaches back. But that window evaporates as quickly as it appeared. So Joyce takes an ax to the wall to break through to the young Will trapped in the Upside Down. She chops right through the wall and finds . . . nothing — just the world outside. Will is gone. The network escapes Joyce’s grasp, her son is still kidnapped and her life is still in shambles.

It turns out that technology can’t bring Will back, only humans can. And humans eventually do. This draws out a key thesis of the show: We don’t need more or better technology to solve our greatest problems. What we need is more courageous people — like Joyce and Sheriff Hopper; Elle; Will’s friends Mike, Lucas and Dustin; Will’s brother Jonathan, Mike’s sister Nancy and (eventually) her boyfriend Steve.

It may be difficult for some younger viewers to think about what the world was like before digital technology and the internet arrived on the scene and developed into what it is and does to us today. But artistically and philosophically “Stranger Things” helps fans get to (or back to, depending on the viewers’ age) that place. And once we’re there, we’re pressed to explore ethical questions similar to those encountered by the kids and adults of Hawkins. Will we or won’t we make contact with the Upside Down and dimensions and technologies of that kind? And if we do, how will we act when things get strange, volatile and perhaps even violent?

Michael Morelli is a PhD student who studies theological ethics, culture, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @mchlmorelli

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