Amazon: Taking Over the Global Economy

The World According to Amazon

Directed by Adrian Anon and Thomas Larfarge

Film Review

In this documentary, filmmakers express grave concerns about Amazon corporation assuming monopoly control over the entire global market place. At present the company has three million customers across five continents. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s first centibillionaire.

Amazon destroys two jobs for every one it creates. Owing the monopoly’s power to undercut all competitors, it is largely responsible for the closure (over 10 years) of 85 small businesses and 35,000 small and medium size manufacturers.

Amazon controls half of online US commerce and leads the market in sales of books, electronics, personal care products, DVDs toys, and clothing (which it also manufactures). It also sells drugs, insurance, video on demand, music streaming, video games, and cloud data storage. I was surprised to learn that 60% of Amazon’s profits derive from its 120 data centers, which host web servers in addition to providing cloud storage.

Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, Whole Foods, and Blue Origin, a private rocket manufacturer and spaceflight services company.

Bezos’ immense wealth affords him immense political power. Last year, he forced Seattle City Council to repeal a $275 per employee tax on the city’s largest companies to fund an emergency housing program.*

Largely thanks to Amazon, which has its headquarters there, Seattle has the highest per capita homeless rate in the US. At present, 1,000 people move to Seattle every week, most to work for Amazon. With no possible way for the city’s housing market to keep up, this pushes many existing residents (who can’t afford 10% year rent increases) onto the streets.

Bezos’ steady takeover of the global marketplace receives little mainstream media attention. The only serious push back he has received has been from striking German unions and from Dehli merchants determined to keep Amazon out of India. Owing to its immense monopoly power, Amazon can afford to operate (for years) at a loss in India. Dehli merchants, who are a major base of support for Narenda Mohdi’s BJP party, are busy organizing national bus tours to warn other small business owners of the risk Amazon poses to their survival.

Unlike Europe, where Amazon faces no major competition, both Flipkart (started by two former Amazon employees) and Paytm (a subsidiary of China’s giant e-commerce platform Alibaba) are both major competitors in India.


*Bezos, who initially agreed to the tax, changed his mind 24 hours after the city council enacted it unanimously.

Anyone with a public library card can see the documentary free on Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine to register.

America’s Homeless Middle Class

How Poor People Survive in the USA

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about homeless members of middle class America whose wages are too low to cover rent. Filmmakers visit San Diego, Los Angeles, Richmond Virginia, Appalachia and Waco Texas.

In San Diego they film a parking lot in which thirty people working as Uber drivers, security guards, secretaries, cleaners, carers and computer technicians sleep in their cars overnight. A charity provides them with portapotties, a water point, and an open air kitchen facility. One of the carers who sleeps there works nine hour days seven days a week.

In Los Angeles, which filmmakers refer to as the homeless capitol of the US (with 59,000 homeless), the documentary profiles a full time volunteer who builds wooden tiny houses (which have been legally banned by the city council) for people currently living tents.

In Richmond, filmmakers follow local sheriffs carrying out an eviction at gunpoint. They also visit one of the budget motels that have sprung up in the Richmond outskirts due to the city’s high number of evictions.*

In Appalachia, they visit one of the poorest counties in the nation, where volunteers run a daily food truck to distribute food to the area’s children. They also profile a military-style field hospital that provides once-a-year medical and dental treatment for the uninsured. The field hospital, held on a local sports field, is funded by a national charity and staffed by volunteer health providers.

In Waco, the filmmakers visit a church program that recruits candidates from all over the US to pay 60 dollars to experience sleeping rough first hand.


*In Virginia, a landlord can legally evict a tenant once their rent is five days past due.

 

Black Homeless Americans

Black Lives: America’s Homeless Epidemic

RT (2018)

Film Review

In this RT documentary, filmmakers visit homeless areas in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and St Louis. As a group, African Americans experience the highest levels of unemployment and poverty. This means they are disproportionately represented among America’s homeless.

In New York, RT interviews a homeless African American who has two masters degrees and worked 17 years as a marriage counselor. He became homeless after his wife died of breast cancer, which led him to a bout of psychotic depression and drug and alcohol abuse. He can’t obtain drug treatment owing to a history of violence associated with his mental illness.

In Los Angeles, filmmakers visit the now infamous tent city that has sprung up in Skid Row.

In Philadelphia, they visit the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, a privately run facility that serves three meals a day and runs a 180-bed shelter. Because 40% of Philadelphia residents are only two paychecks away from homelessness, they are full most nights and turn people away.

In St Louis, they interview the founder of Showers to the People. The latter converted a large box truck into a portable shower facility for the city’s homeless residents.

 

 

 

America’s Homeless Working Poor

The Working Poor and Homeless in the US

Four Corners (2017)

Film Review

This Australian documentary challenges whether job growth in the US (25 million new jobs in ten years) really represents economic recovery. The film makes three important points: 1) the vast majority of new American jobs are minimum wage part-time jobs, 2) well-paid middle class jobs continue to vanish, and 3) approximately one-half of US workers live in poverty.

The film follows three families. The first, in Orlando Florida, consists of a single mother of three who works 70 hours a week for Dunkin’ Donuts and MacDonald’s. Earning $8 an hour, she and her family live in a cheap motel because they can’t afford rent. She sleeps 1-2 hours a night, and her mother-in-law provides childcare while she works.

The second family is a couple with two children who live in a homeless camp in the parking lot of a Seattle church. The wife works full-time as a cashier at Seattle Center, and her husband takes temporary construction jobs when he can find them. Most of the camp residents are employed workers with kids.

The third individual is a middle aged machinist in Erie Pennsylvania who has been just been laid off from General Electric Transport after 13 years. The factory is moving to Fort Worth Texas. GE anticipates cutting wages in half because Texas in a non-union state. In addition to losing millions of industrial jobs when manufacturers moved overseas in the eighties and nineties, the US lost an additional five million industrial jobs in the last 15 years.

 

Is South African Gearing Up for a Race War?

Reaping Divine Justice: South African Farmers Brace for Race War and Land Expropriation Debate

RT (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns proposed constitutional changes by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa that would allow the ANC government to expropriate white farmers’ land without compensation. Twenty-five years after the fall of Apartheid, 35,000 white families and businesses own 80% of South African land.* Meanwhile the Black majority suffers from 30% unemployment (50% in youths under 25), accompanied by high levels of homelessness, malnutrition and lack of clean drinking water. In fact, several studies reveal that Black Africans are now worse off economically than they were under Apartheid.

The highly religious Afrikaans farming community are arming themselves to the teeth for civil war. They anticipate that with Ramaphosa’s recent reelection, the ANC government will try to confiscate their land by force, as occurred in neighboring Zimbabwe.

The extreme racism revealed by some of their comments is mind blowing. They have no shame whatsoever in expressing their belief that God created them to fulfill a role superior because Black South Africans “lack a civilized way of life” and are “incapable of managing their own farms.”

The only serious drawback of this documentary is its failure to examine the role played by  white and foreign  owners of South Africa’s rich diamond, gold and platinum mines. These mine owners are notorious for their mistreatment of their Black workforce (which can include killing them when they strike for better wages and working conditions – see Police Fire Teargas at Miners and South Africa Miners on Strike)

There was a shortlived campaign by the ANC’s youth wing in 2011-2012 to nationalize South Africa’s mines. It was quickly sniffed out by President Jacob Zuma’s notoriously corrupt administration.**

The main argument South African economists used to oppose nationalization was that it would ruin the South African economy. They claimed the government would suck out all the profits, leading to a loss of productivity. I don’t buy it. It implies letting foreign investors suck out all the mining profits (thus systematically impoverishing the Black population) isn’t ruining the economy.

Ramaphosa purposely delayed his proposed constitutional changes pending the May 8, 2019 election results. He has now been reelected. At this point, homeless Black Africans have been peaceably squatting on large white and foreign land holdings, where they build shacks and grow small amounts of food. Thus far, the courts have sided with the landowners, but evictions are on hold pending an appeal.


*According to the New York Times, companies and trusts own the largest share of South Africa’s land (much of it acquired since the end of Apartheid). There are also a large number of white farmers with 50-year leases to farm on public land.

**In February 2018, the ANC forced former president Jacob Zuma to resign (replacing him with Ramaphosa). A clear pattern was emerging of Zuma and other ANC leaders accepting bribes and kickbacks from domestic and foreign businesses.

 

 

Working Class Reality TV: The Final Episodes

Hard Earned – Episodes 5 and 6

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

The final episodes of Hard Earned (“Fight for Fifteen” and “New Beginnings”) reveal mostly positive outcomes for the five families – in part due to their resourcefulness and in part (in my view) to extremely good luck.

Chicago: DJ loses his union job because it requires a car and he can’t afford the expense and upkeep. He finds a new job as field director for a voter mobilization campaign.

Montgomery: The couple finally find a house and mortgage they can afford and refurbish it to enable Elizabeth’s parents to move into their basement. They have been paying the $1700 mortgage on her parents’ home since her father developed cancer. Jose finally passes his math class and starts a part-time internship at a radio station to supplement his full time job at the courthouse.

Silicon valley: Hilton quits his Google job after he learns enough English to pass a food handlers exam. However he is forced to take a second job as a busboy to pay their medical bills and higher housing expenses (they have moved out of the garage into a house they share with another couple). His girlfriend takes a minimum wage job at a market.

Milwaukee: Percy finally lands a full time maintenance job that pays $11.25 and hour, and his wife, who has severe arthritis in her knees, is finally able to retire.

Evergreen Park: Emilia finally finds a good-paying waitress job and receives additional income from speaking tours about her struggle with drug and alcohol recovery.


For earlier episodes see Fighting Homelessness: Reality TV That Depicts Reality and  Reality TV: More Truth About the American Working Class

Still Dreaming of Racial Justice in St Louis’ Black Neighborhoods

Black Lives: Struggle, Still Dreaming of Racial Justice in St Louis’ Black Neighborhoods

RT (2018)

Film Review

This RT documentary provides a brief glimpse into the lives of Ferguson residents since the murder of Michael Brown in 2015. It highlights the extreme poverty, homelessness, absence of services or jobs (in contrast to white St Louis) and the staggering number of abandoned homes. Reportedly St Louis has the highest proportion of abandoned homes of any US city.

The documentary also highlights a half dozen activists who are organizing to improve conditions in the African American community. Some have begun arming themselves in self-defense. In addition to harassment and arbitrary shootings by St Louis cops, a growing number of African American men (activists especially) are being targeted by the KKK and other white supremacist groups. Few of these homicides are investigated or prosecuted by police, resulting in a mounting number of unsolved murders.