Taxing Amazon and Starbucks: Seattle Passes Corporate Wealth Tax to Fund Low Income Housing

According to the The Guardian, Seattle City Council has passed a new tax that will charge large corporations $275 annually per worker to help address the city’s growing homelessness crisis.

About 60% of the tax revenue will go to new housing projects for low and middle-income Seattle residents. The remainder would go to homeless services, including shelter beds, camps and overnight parking.

Source: Tax Amazon: Seattle Passes Corporate Wealth Tax to Fund Housing

Offline is the New Luxury

Offline is the New Luxury

VPRO (2017)

Film Review

This documentary is about taking back control of our Internet connectivity. Ironically it starts by recommending a new app that allows you to identify increasingly rare “white spots” – areas of the earth that aren’t blanketed with WiFi signals. One MIT psychology professor, who bans cellphones, laptops and tablets in her classes, is part of a movement to create sacred spaces in these white spots – areas where people fully engage with each other instead of their electronic devices.

The filmmakers also talk about the late Steve Jobs and other prominent Silicon Valley moguls not allowing their kids to have cellphones and tablets and sending them to low tech Montessori and Waldorf schools. Increasingly the well-to-do are seeking out expensive retreats and detox facilities to cure their Internet addiction. While growing numbers of law firms and security agencies patronize a highly successful Dutch firm selling Faraday cages and microwave shields to protect clients from electronic snooping and damaging microwave radiation.

The Amish, of course, have a cheap low-tech solution to Internet addiction – namely a value system that rejects most advanced electronic technology.

The video concludes by explaining the concept of “surveillance capitalism,” in which our personal information is “monetized,” ie in which the data Google, Facebook and Amazon collect on us is sold to advertisers.

A key strategy of surveillance capitalism is to use drones, satellites and giant balloons to expand connectivity to remote areas of the developing world. At the time of filming, Facebook was pressuring the Indian government to allow the introduction of Free Basics (free Internet connectivity) to all Indian residents, with Facebook retaining control of their Internet access. Google, meanwhile, is pushing to extend 100% connectivity to Sri Lanka by launching giant WiFi balloons.

According to one analyst, the drive to acquire massive troves of Indian personal data is a ploy to placate shareholders. The latter are understandably concerned about a drop-off in Facebook users in the developing world – due to privacy concerns and the recognition that most Facebook content is meaningless drivel.

What Silicon Valley Has Planned for Public Education

What Silicon Valley Has Planned for Public Education

Alison McDowell (2017

This troubling presentation concerns a well-advanced plan by corporate America to gradually replace public schools with 100% digital education. The attack on American schools is multi-pronged – with anti-public school forces closing schools, laying off teachers and neglecting crumbling infrastructure while stealthily increasing the availability of digital notepads, Chrome books and other digital platforms in existing schools.

Education Reform 2.0 would build on high stakes testing and school closures to replace teachers with digital learning platforms designed to incorporate “cradle to grave” tracking of students’ skill sets and online activity. Increasingly employers would rely on this information to determine suitability for employment.

The institutional backers of this digital revolution include some of the most powerful corporations and foundations in the US. Prominent names include the Gates Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Goldman Sachs, the Institute for the Future (offshoot of Rand Corporation), Amazon, Google, Dell (the company Snowden worked for), and Halliburton.

The US military is also involved and planning and development of 100% digital learning with Army Research and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) assuming responsibility for the “behavior modification” (ie mind control aspects) that reward students for appropriate engagement with the digital platform.

McDowell describes how many schools across the US are already replacing class time with Skype sessions with Halliburton “mentors” and on-line math lessons with carton “peers.”

Proponents of 100% digital learning are working closely with focus groups to “market” this new technology that tracks and mind controls children to skeptical Americans who value their privacy.

At 38 minutes, McDowell shows a promotional film for “tracked online learning.” It explains how high school and adult learners are earning “edu-blocks for a variety of learning experiences (including reading books, volunteer work, watching videos and “teaching” skills to other learners. Also how companies are already using your ledger blocks to evaluate potential employees’ suitability for specific projects or even investing in their university education by paying their tuition. One edu-block enthusiast describes how participating in the online program is enabling her to reduce her student loan debt.

The ledger is designed to keep track of all the YouTube videos you watch and even all the texts you send (and delete).

Chevron vs the Amazon

Chevron vs the Amazon

Abbey Martin (2016)

Film Review

 

Chevron vs the Amazon is an Abbey Martin documentary about Texaco-Chevron’s deliberate dumping of oil and toxic waste in Ecuador’s Amazon rain forest and the vicious dirty tricks they have engaged in to avoid responsibility for cleaning it up.

Texas began drilling for oil in Ecuador in 1964, under a US-installed dictatorship that agreed not to regulate their activities. The amount of oil they spilled into the Amazon was 1700 times the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and 140 times that of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Indigenous groups filed suit for the extensive damage to their water, health and livelihoods in 1993, a year after Texaco abandoned their Ecuadoran well sites. Texaco settled this first suit by agreeing to a phony remediation scheme that never happened.

Part 1 consists of great footage of the vast amount of oil remaining in Ecuador’s Amazon rain forest and interviews with indigenous Ecuadorans whose entire families have been devastated by the health effects (cancer, leukemia, rashes, miscarriages, birth defects) of the contaminated water they are forced to drink.

Part 2 provides background to the second class action lawsuit brought against Texaco by 30,000 indigenous residents – the largest environmental lawsuit in history. Texaco has a really ugly human rights history, beginning with the bankrolling of Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco and illegal provision of oil, financial support and secret intelligence to Hitler and Mussolini. After losing a series of punitive lawsuits over its environmental crimes, they were forced to merge with Chevron in 2000.

The latter has its own history of human rights and environmental crimes in Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Chad, Cameroons, Equatorial Guinea and Richmond California.

After fighting the suit for eight years in US courts, Chevron eventually won a court ruling that that the suit had to be tried in Ecuador instead. When it was re-filed in Ecuador, Chevron engaged in blackmail, extortion, bribery, illegal surveillance, “judicial terrorism” (bringing 30 lawsuits against oil spill victims for “racketeering”), and “financial terrorism” (suing all the non-profit groups supporting the indigenous plaintiffs).

In 2011 the Ecuadoran plaintiffs ultimately won their suit for $9.6 billion – a ruling confirmed by Ecuador’s supreme court. Instead of paying up, Chevron forced them to file suit in various countries where Chevron has financial assents (including Canada, Brazil and Argentina). A 2016 ruling in US court makes it illegal for Ecuador to file a claim against Chevron’s US holdings.

Part 3 explores the long history of US economic colonization in Latin America (on behalf of Wall Street corporations) via direct military intervention, the installation of puppet dictators and the paramilitary death squad terrorism carried out through Henry Kissinger’s notorious Operation Condor. All this has changed with the 2007 election of Rafael Correa (who granted Julian Assange asylum in London’s Ecuadoran embassy).

At present Chevron seek to perpetuate their economic imperialism via a secret World Bank tribunal in the Hague. There 20 hand picked corporate “judges” have found that the successful lawsuit against Chevron retroactively violates of the 1997 US-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty (Texaco-Chevron left Ecuador in 1992) and ordered Ecuador to pay Chevron $112 million in damages.

2017 update: In March 2017 lawyers representing the Ecuadoran plaintiffs have petitioned the US Supreme Court to overturn the flawed (by bribery and corruption) racketeering conviction  against the Ecuadoran plaintiffs and their lawyers. (See Chevron in Ecuador )

Psychedelics: A Miracle Cure for PTSD?

Soldiers of the Vine

Directed by Charles Shaw (2016)

Film Review

This documentary traces the experience of six US veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who undergo treatment with the psychedelic ayahuasca, owing to their failure to respond to conventional treatment.*

Ex-GIs who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer extremely high rates of PTSD, traumatic brain injury and suicidal depression. They commit suicide at twice the rate of the general population and US prisons, mental hospitals and homeless shelters are full of disabled veterans.

Studies show that psychedelic drugs, such as ayahuasca and ibogaine** are often helpful in treating heroin addiction and alcoholism. Their use in PTSD is still experimental.

In the film the six veterans travel to the Amazon jungle, where ayahasca is viewed as a sacred plant, to undergo a nine day healing ceremony with an indigenous shaman.


*Western medicine has no recognized treatment for PTSD.

**Ibogaine is legal for treating drug addiction in over 190 countries, including Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Russia, China and Ukraine. See Why Are We Sending Vets to Costa Rico (and Canada and Mexico).

The Ugly Truth About Amazon and Online Retailers

Permanently Temporary: The Truth About Temporary Labor

VICE News (2014)

Film Review

This is a shocking documentary about the seedy world of temporary warehouse workers who supply America’s big box retailers (eg Walmart, Kmart, Nestle), as well as online merchants such as Amazon. Because they’re technically contract labor employed by staffing agencies, workers have no employment rights. In addition to making minimum wage ($8 per hour), they can be dismissed for complaining about sexual harassment or workplace safety, talking to reporters or failing to use staffing agency vans to get to work. Filmmakers describe one incident in which a temporary worker was accidentally doused with acid and the warehouse refuse to call 911. In the end, a co-worker drove him to the hospital in his truck.

Seventy percent of US consumer goods are imported from overseas. They all end up in super warehouses, where temporary workers unpack, sort and repack and label them. At Christmas, Amazon fills 300 order per minute, all thanks to a vast army of temporary labor. Despite being referred to as “temporary,” some of these laborers have worked in the same warehouse as long as fifteen years.

Most of the temps interviewed in the film are fully aware they’re being maltreated but have no other job options. Since the 2008 downturn, the temp industry is America’s fastest growing industry. Streets in immigrant neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Chicago are lined with temporary staffing agencies. The latter prey on immigrants because they have limited English and tend to be naïve about their employment rights. In Chicago, vans called “raiteros” charge workers $8 each way for driving them to work, plus an additional charge for cashing their paychecks.

Since watching this video, I’ve opted to boycott Amazon (I boycotted Walmart and K-Mart several years ago). I hope others will, as well. I have absolutely no desire to help fuel this brutal exploitation. In future, I will stick with local, or at least New Zealand, retailers who don’t rely on sweatshop labor conditions to make a profit.

Anonymous: A Global Force to be Reckoned With

We are Legion: The Story of the Hactivists.

Brian Knoppenberger (2012)

Film Review

We are Legion lays out the history of Anonymous, the leaderless global network of Internet activists who can shut down and/or hack the website of virtually any government or corporation. In June 2011, sixteen members of this anonymous network became publicly  known after the FBI arrested them for attacking the websites of Paypal, Mastercard and Amazon for their refusal to process Wikileaks donations.

I was quite surprised to learn that the origins of Anonymous were totally apolitical. The hacker culture that led to the formation of Anonymous originally grew out of MIT prank culture. The MIT student body’s IRL (in-real-life) pranks preceded their online pranking. I visited the MIT campus for my daughter’s graduation, and the tour she gave me include a history of some of the more clever pranks, eg the Volkswagen MIT’s model railroad club put on the roof of the administration building.

Interest in online pranks and hacking led to the formation of online hacking groups, such as Cult of the Dead Cow, LOPHT and Electronic Disturbance Theater. It was in these groups hackers learned how to launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. The goal of a DDoS attack is to shut down a website by having tens of thousands of people link to it simultaneously.

Over time these early groups morphed into 4Chan, an image-based bulletin board where people used their anonymity to post the vilest and most disgusting images, comments and memes they could think of. The primary goal was to think up new ways of offending people. This included creative trolling and hacking of mainstream websites, often by plastering them with pornographic images.

4Chan Becomes Political

4Chan’s first political target was Hal Turner, a Neo-Nazi Internet radio producer. The techniques used against Turner included DDoS attacks, delivering hundreds of pizzas and industrial pallets to his home, signing him up for escort services, posting phony Craigslist ads in his name and hacking his email account.

By 2008, this weird international network of Internet pranksters numbered in the millions, and they took in their first major political target: the Church of Scientology. Their run-in with the Scientologists stemmed from a ludicrous promotional video Tom Cruise made for YouTube, which they posted to tens of thousands of websites. This, in turn, generated a barrage of threats from the Church’s legal team. The Scientologists have a long history of threatening journalists and educators who try to investigate their cult-like activities.

4Chan retaliated by tying up the Scientology hotline with prank calls and DDoS’ing their website. They also disseminated a simple, open source (free) computer game called Low Orbit Ion Canon which enabled each of their members to link to the Scientology website 800,000 times.

Anonymous is Born

On January 21, 2008, 4Chan activists launched their first video under the name of Anonymous. It called for mass protests at all worldwide Scientology offices. Protestors were instructed to bring no weapons and cover their faces to keep from being identified. The choice of the Guy Fawkes Mask (from the 2006 film V for Vendetta) was a lucky accident.

guy fawkes mask

The protests started in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne. Eventually several hundred people turned out in every major city in the world. As it was the first time any of them had met offline, teen 4Chan nerds were astonished at the number of female and older activists in their midst.

Operation Avenge Assange

More online Anonymous protests followed, culminating in Operation Avenge Assange in December 2010. Following Wikileaks’ release of more than 100,000 secret US diplomatic cables, Paypal, Amazon and Mastercard tried to cripple them by suspending financial services to their website. Anonymous responded by DDoS’ing and shutting down the websites of Paypal, Amazon and Mastercard.

In February 2011, Anonymous provided assistance to Tunisian and Egyptian activists whose governments were trying to suppress their Internet access.

Following the Arab Spring protests, the formation of Lulz Sec caused a split in the Anonymous membership. Lulz Sec hactivists were into stealing credit card numbers and other personal information for malicious purposes. Other Anonymous members strongly believed their hactivism should only be a force for good.

In June 2011, 16 Anonymous members became visible for the first time when the FBI arrested them** for their role in Operation Avenge Assange. These and many nameless Anonymous members would go on to play a major role in the September 2011 Occupy protests.


*See Britain’s Famous Anarchist Superhero
**In 2014, the thirteen with outstanding charges pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and received maximum sentences of one year probation and $5600 restitution. See The Paypal 14

photo credit: Behind the Mask – Guy Fawkes 02 via photopin (license)

The Corporate/CIA Role in the Rise of Fundamentalism

thy will be done

Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil

By Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett

1995 Harper Collins

I recently picked up this book again – after reading it when it first came out nearly 20 years ago. Charlotte Dennett, one of the authors, got a of media attention prior to Obama’s election in 2008, due to her her efforts to bring murder charges against George W. Bush.

Thy Will Be Done lays out the systematic economic colonization of the Amazon Basin by US corporate interests (led by Nelson Rockefeller) and the CIA – and their unscrupulous use of fundamentalist missionaries and Bible translators to indoctrinate and displace indigenous tribes who stood in the way of clear cutting for agriculture and oil and mineral extraction.

As CIA-liaison during the Eisenhower administration, Rockefeller developed close and enduring relationships at the CIA. This would lead to an ongoing collaboration in opening up Central and South America – and Southeast Asia – to U.S. corporate interests.

In addition to examining the Rockefeller/CIA campaign to introduce fundamentalist Christianity to the native tribes of Central and South America, this 960-page book also catalogs, in extensive detail, the full range of illegal CIA activities (and direct or indirect involvement of Rockefeller and the Rockefeller Foundation) under Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter.

The book also chronicles the CIA role in installing brutal genocidal dictatorships in Guatemala and El Salvador.

The material presented is from presidential libraries, declassified documents and Congressional. It’s meticulously referenced and features a comprehensive index.

 

The Corporatization of the Internet

bill gates

Guest post by Steven Miller and Satish Musunuru

(Part 3 of a five-part series about the corporatization of Internet surveillance.)

Bill Gates Dismisses Open Source Pioneers as Communists

From the beginning, Bill Gates argued that no public discussion of who controls the Internet should even be permitted. He famously called open-source pioneers  “new modern-day sort of communists”. (6)  Bill Clinton opined that corporations were the best way to develop the Internet. Al Gore and Gates re-defined the web as the “Information Super Highway”.

Of course, we know that super highways often have tollbooths, where you pay for the privilege of driving your car. Clinton began the massive wave of privatization, of both society in general and of the Internet in particular, that flourished under George W Bush and is expanding even more with Barack Obama. Clinton’s de-regulation of Wall Street set the stage for the looting of American by Wall Street banks, the 1% and their corporate attack dogs. Rajiv C. Shah & Jay P. Kesan amply describe this in “The Privatization of the Internet’s Backbone Network” (7)

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulated the entire electromagnetic spectrum of the atomic vibrations we use for communication. This energy spectrum is as fundamental as the sun, but it was given away to corporations for chickenfeed. This was a huge step encouraging the privatization of Nature and natural processes.

Then the insurance model, essentially the cable-TV model, was imposed on the Internet: you pay a corporation for access to something that could easily be accessible for everyone for nothing. After all it’s simply a process of how you configure the software.

This massive centralization was clearly the exact opposite to the original intent of the Internet. The few massive super-corporations that already controlled the airwaves became ever more powerful. The great Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano stated, “Never have so many been held incommunicado by so few”. (8)

The essential structure of the Internet is simply written down as code. It can be designed to benefit the public, or it can be configured to benefit private profit. Larry Lessig explains:

The architecture of the original Internet minimized the opportunity for control, and that environment of minimum control encouraged innovation…. At its birth, the Internet gave individuals great freedoms of speech and privacy.

But the story about liberty on the original Net had a sequel: what the architecture could give, it could take away. The inability to control was not fixed in nature. It was a function of the architecture. And as that architecture changed, the ability to control would change as well…. Technologies were being deployed to better monitor and control behavior, with the consequence, for better or worse, of limiting the liberty of the space. As the architecture changed, the freedom of the space would change, and change it did.” (9)

Privatization is therefore not something that just happens. It is engineered. This goes deeper. These days, people like to imagine the Internet as a vast network, spanning the globe, where gigabytes of information send pictures and blogs around the world in microseconds. However, the Internet is dwarfed by a larger, and far more sinister system of networks, the Intranet. The Intranet is the collection of corporate and military networks that are protected from the public by firewalls. These have expanded again into extranets – including collaborators from other private concerns into shielded activities. Needless to say, individuals have no access to their computers, but corporations and the NSA have access to yours.

Dan Schiller described the formative role of the Internet’s evil twin – the Intranet – back in 1999:

Corporate applications of Internet technology – intracorporate and business-to-business – comprise the true fulcrum of Internet system development. Corporate networks are the guiding hand of technical experimentation within cyberspace and comprise the leading site of its creative ferment. (emphases added)”   (10)

Fast forward to 2013 – the corporate control of digital technology today has a evolved far from the original vision of a vast global network where everything is open for everyone. We could have public servers at no cost – we have public airports and roads – but we don’t. Increasingly everything is in the Cloud, and corporations own and control the Cloud. Software components, like those Berners-Lee accessed for free, are now sold as apps. Corporations determine who can use them, for a price. Even if certain corporate products are free, it is largely because corporations stand to gain even more from the data they have about users using those products. Facebook is a good example here because while the social networking service is arguably free, the data that they collect and analyze on a daily basis is far more valuable.

Almost all of the data and intelligence reside on the cloud, which is a fancy way of saying massive data centers spread around the world, owned by massive corporations like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft. etc. These data centers account for up to 10% of the worldwide usage of electricity.

The computers and cell phones we now use constantly reach out to the cloud for even the smallest of activities. When we speak into a cellphone and see our words appearing on the screen, what’s happening is that our voice is sent over to the cloud, where it gets converted into English language words, and then sent back to the phone. It takes only milliseconds to do this and is not easily visible to the user. The cloud stores every word we ever say to the phone at least for a period of time. Such a simple act of converting spoken words to written words can actually be done on the phone itself, if it had the program, but it has become cheaper and more advantageous for corporations to do it on the cloud.

A more recent evolution is the development of “computers” with greatly devolved capacity, really just shells of computers, with little storage and an always-on connection to the cloud. Unlike normal computers, these computers cannot function without the Internet. They are simply a window into the cloud. If you lose one of these “computers” you lose only the hardware and none of the data because everything is stored in the cloud, which is owned by these private corporations. This is cited as a convenience to consumers but, as we see with the NSA, it can be potentially dangerous to live life in the cloud. Facebook claims they own everything ever posted on their platform – photos, videos, writings, songs, you name it.

Microelectronics drives all this and is changing the nature of property. In the 16th Century most private property was in land; all of it was tangible. Today lots property is intangible, including things like software, algorithms, and ideas. But private property is still the divine right of thugs. Thanks to the Supreme Court, we understand these thugs are “corporate people”. So what kind of people are these?

The great book, The Corporation, points out that corporations exhibit characteristics of a very specific kind of person – namely psychopaths! (11)  Like psychopaths, corporations are grandiose, manipulative, both charming and deceptive, unable to feel remorse and always refuse to accept responsibility. So we happily trust all of our technology and most of our military to the tender mercies of… psychopaths. You know, nice people like Ted Bundy!

We can draw some conclusions here:

  • As long as society allows the private ownership of information technology by corporations for profit, the unlimited positive potential of technology will be deformed to guarantee that profit, short-term, regardless of the long-term destruction of society and the planet.
  • Corporations control the Surveillance State, not vice-versa.
  • Corporations control every technology as private property. The sad lessons that Global Warming is trying to tell us, the utter corporate incompetence in the abuse of antibiotics, (just two examples!) shows that corporate control is inherently incompetent and short sighted.
  • Therefore only the expansion of real public ownership and control of technology, at every level, in every branch of the economy, can release the wondrous potential of technology without abuse. The world of the very near future is going to be either all corporate, with no public, or all public, with no corporations. Which future it will be is up to us.

Background and Notes

7)  “The Privatization of the Internet’s Backbone Network” by  Rajiv C. Shah & Jay P. Kesan (http://www.governingwithcode.org/journal_articles/pdf/Backbone.pdf‎)

8) Zinn, Howard. A people’s history of the United States: 1492-present. 2003

8)  Lessig, op cit p 140

9)  Lessig, op cit, p 140

10)  Dan Schiller. Digital Capitalism. 1999, p 17

11)  Bakan. The Corporation – The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. 2004. p 56  (You can also view the fine movie of the same name – on
DVD.)

 To be continued.

photo credit: Domain Barnyard via photopin cc

Reposted from Daily Censored

Steven Miller has taught science for 25 years in Oakland’s Flatland high schools. He has been actively engaged in public school reform since the early 1990s. When the state seized control of Oakland public schools in 2003, they immediately implemented policies of corporatization and privatization that are advocated by the Broad Institute. Since that time Steve has written extensively against the privatization of public education, water and other public resources. You can email him at nanodog2@hotmail.com

***

Satish Musunuru draws upon his training as an engineer and his experience as a professional in Silicon Valley to understand the relationship between technology and corporate capitalism and how it has brought us to the ecological and societal crisis we find ourselves in. You can email him at guruji323@hotmail.com