AMAZON’S FUSION WITH THE STATE SHOWS NEO LIBERALISM ‘S DRIFT TO NEO FASCISM- By Elliott Gabriel – (MINT PRESS)

In Part 1 of our investigative series on Surveillance Capitalism, MPN spoke to author Yasha Levine and Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster about the rise of the Amazon.com empire and its fusion with the U.S. state apparatus.

In our next installments, we will continue exploring the rise of Surveillance Capitalism and the implications of Amazon-fueled spying technology, both in the workplace and in U.S. city streets.

“Capitalism is a system that seeks to transgress all boundaries in its production and sale of commodities, commodifying everything in existence, which today, in the age of monopoly-finance capital and surveillance capitalism, means intruding into every aspect of existence,” John Bellamy Foster told MPN.

SEATTLE – This year may go down in history as a turning-point when the world finally woke up to the dark side of the ubiquitous presence of popular Silicon Valley companies in our daily lives. One can only hope so, at least.

From Amazon to Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and PayPal – among others – revelations poured out confirming the ongoing abuse of user data by monopolistic corporations, as well as their growing role as vendors of surveillance technology to the U.S. police state, military, and migrant detention agencies.

In March, the lid was blown off of the violation of user data on Facebook, with Cambridge Analytica mining user information for the purpose of providing millions of detailed “psychological profiles” to the Trump campaign, among others. Scarcely two weeks later, the Google campus was in an uproar over the development of its “Project Maven,” which was building an AI-fueled platform to vastly upgrade the automatic targeting abilities of the U.S. military’s global drone fleet. Faced with public outrage and internal dissent, the company pulled out of bidding to renew its Pentagon contract, which ends next year.

Now, employees and shareholders of Amazon.com – the world’s largest online marketer and cloud-computing provider – are demanding that chief executive Jeff Bezos halt the sale of its facial recognition or Amazon Web Services (AWS) Rekognition service to law enforcement agencies across the U.S., including to the Department of Homeland Security – Immigration and Customs Enforcement (DHS-ICE).

“As ethically concerned Amazonians, we demand a choice in what we build, and a say in how it is used,” the letter said. “We learn from history, and we understand how IBM’s systems were employed in the 1940s to help Hitler.

“IBM did not take responsibility then, and by the time their role was understood, it was too late,” it continued, referring to collusion with the operation of Nazi extermination camps during the Second World War. “We will not let that happen again. The time to act is now.”

Unveiled in November 2016 as a part of the AWS cloud suite, Rekognition analyzes images and video footage to recognize objects while providing analytics to users. It also lets clients “identify people of interest against a collection of millions of faces in near real-time, enabling use cases such as timely and accurate crime prevention,” according to promotional material. Law enforcement agencies like the Washington County Sheriff’s Department pay as little as $6 to $12 a month for access to the platform, giving deputies the ability to scan its mugshot database against real-time footage.

Amazon employees cited a report from the ACLU that notes that AWS Rekognition “raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns” owing to its “capacity for abuse.” Its uses could include monitoring protest activity, as well as the possibility that ICE could employ the technology to continuously track immigrants and advance its “zero tolerance” policy of detaining migrant families and children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the letter distributed on email list “we-won’t-build-it,”  Amazon employees lay out their opposition to their employer’s collusion with the police and the DHS-ICE migrant-capture and mass-incarceration regime:

We don’t have to wait to find out how these technologies will be used. We already know that in the midst of historic militarization of police, renewed targeting of Black activists, and the growth of a federal deportation force currently engaged in human rights abuses — this will be another powerful tool for the surveillance state, and ultimately serve to harm the most marginalized.”

The furor surrounding AWS Rekognition is hardly a revelation to journalist Yasha Levine. Instead, as is the case with Google and other flagship firms’ work for Washington, it’s just another chapter in Silicon Valley’s long-time integration into the repressive state apparatus.

“This isn’t so much a big step to some ‘Surveillance Apocalypse,’ it’s just an indication of where we’ve been for a long time,” Levine told MintPress News.

Yet the Amazon workers’ outrage was likely provoked by recent headlines highlighting the Trump administration’s separation of Central American migrant families at the concentration camps along the Southern border — along with the key role Amazon plays for ICE’s data “ecosystem,” crucial to the operation of ICE’s immigrant enforcement, mass incarceration, and removal regime.

In their letter, Amazon’s employees decried the role the company plays in the platform Palantir provides for ICE:

We also know that Palantir runs on AWS. And we know that ICE relies on Palantir to power its detention and deportation programs. Along with much of the world we watched in horror recently as U.S. authorities tore children away from their parents. Since April 19, 2018 the Department of Homeland Security has sent nearly 2,000 children to mass detention centers … In the face of this immoral U.S. policy, and the U.S.’s increasingly inhumane treatment of refugees and immigrants beyond this specific policy, we are deeply concerned that Amazon is implicated, providing infrastructure and services that enable ICE and DHS.“

In 2014, ICE gave Palantir a $41 million contract for the Investigative Case Management (ICM) system, which expanded its capacity for data-sharing between the bureau and other agency databases including those of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, among others. The contract allowed ICE to significantly boost its ability to capture and incarcerate unauthorized migrants based on the disparate data Palantir collated and hosted on Amazon Web Services’ servers.

Watch | Palantir 101

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/e6OebM0dQ8g?rel=0&showinfo=0

“What Amazon has simply done is allow everyone to lease that [Rekognition] capability the way that you would lease its web space, or have a pay-as-you-go plan with Amazon,” Levine commented.

In his new book, Surveillance Valley: The Hidden History of the Internet, Levine details the romance enjoyed between Big Data and the U.S. repressive state. In the introduction to his book, he notes :

From Amazon to eBay to Facebook — most of the Internet companies we use every day have also grown into powerful corporations that track and profile their users while pursuing partnerships and business relationships with major U.S. military and intelligence agencies. Some parts of these companies are so thoroughly intertwined with America’s security services that it is hard to tell where they end and the U.S. government begins.”

 

Having conquered retail and the internet, Amazon looks to the state and says “Forward”

President Barack Obama shakes hands with workers after speaking at the Amazon fulfillment center in Chattanooga, Tenn., July 30, 2013. Susan Walsh | AP

Conceived by founder Jeff Bezos as an “everything store” selling products from books to DVDs and music, Amazon has long been a scourge to the traditional brick-and-mortar marketplace, spending the late 1990s and the 2000s sweeping big and small booksellers alike into the ash-heap of retail history.

facto store for everything in America –  it’s shocking to think about how much we buy from it and how much money we give away to it,” Levine said, adding that the company’s power as a business “is kind of depressing.”

The company has also become the world’s premier internet hosting firm through its Amazon Web Services cloud computing platform. From 2006 on, AWS played a similar role to Amazon.com’s retail platform in regard to small-fry-displacing traditional corporate data centers and information technology (IT) professionals, providing a previously unimaginable level of centralization in terms of data storage and IT functionality at a low cost. For some time even Dropbox found shelter under the AWS cloud.

Watch | Amazon.com and Jeff Bezos In 1999

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/3VUGj34jTqY?rel=0&showinfo=0

The company’s success as the world’s biggest retailer and cloud computing service was closely related to Amazon’s surveillance efforts directed not only toward consumers, but against its huge and heavily-exploited employee workforce. As Levine detailed in his book:

[Amazon] recorded people’s shopping habits, their movie preferences, the books they were interested in, how fast they read books on their Kindles, and the highlights and margin notes they made. It also monitored its warehouse workers, tracking their movements and timing their performance.

Amazon requires incredible processing power to run such a massive data business, a need that spawned a lucrative side business of renting out space on its massive servers to other companies.”

In the 2012 U.S. presidential election, AWS software provided nearly all aspects of then-incumbent President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign software and big-data analysis, ranging from web management to mailing-list management, data modeling, volunteer dispatching, voter-information database maintenance and “massive transaction processing” for donations.

Watch | Obama for America on AWS

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/0XY39eRFA9I?rel=0&showinfo=0

By early 2013, a secretive deal awarded Amazon a 10-year, $600-million contract to provide cloud services to the Central Intelligence Agency and the 17 agencies comprising the intelligence community.

Langley’s contract with such a commercially-oriented company as Amazon, rather than rival bidder IBM, sent shockwaves through the tech industry, but the company boasted that it reflected the “superior technology platform” it could provide to the CIA along with its ability to deliver “the confidence and security assurance needed for mission-critical systems.”

Amazon’s platform will soon be the venue for a major intelligence project by the CIA dubbed “Mesa Verde,” which will see the agency’s AWS-built C2S cloud software deployed in multiple experiments meant to parse thousands of terabytes of data, including public web data, using natural language processing tools, sentiment analysis, and data visualization.

According to a Bloomberg Government report in May, AWS is the only private cloud platform granted clearance to store agency information marked “Secret.”

 

Amazon’s CIA partnership: Surveillance Capitalism in action

Rev. Paul Benz, center, and Shankar Narayan, legislative director of the ACLU of Washington, right, stand with others as they wait to deliver petitions at Amazon headquarters, June 18, 2018, in Seattle. Representatives of community-based organizations urged Amazon at a news conference to stop selling its face surveillance system, Rekognition, to the government. They later delivered the petitions to Amazon. Elaine Thompson | AP

Amazon’s partnership with Langley is just another case of surveillance capitalism in action, according to sociology professor and author John Bellamy Foster, the editor of the venerable independent socialist journal Monthly Review.

Speaking to MintPress News, Foster explained:

Amazon now seems to be landing one contract after another with the military and intelligence sectors in the United States … [The CIA cloud] is built on the premises of a private corporation, a kind of ‘walled castle’ for intelligence [spy] agency communication separate from the rest of the Internet, but principally operated by a for-profit corporation. Amazon also has a $1 billion contract with the Security and Exchange Commission, works with NASA, the Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies.”

In a 2014 essay for Monthly Review, Foster and Robert W. McChesney introduced the term surveillance capitalism in reference to the process of finance capital monetizing data extracted through surveillance operations performed in collusion with the state apparatus. The two trace the political-economic roots of the the data-driven Information Age from the early stages of the military-industrial complex to the 1950s fusion of consumer capitalism – corporations, ad agencies, and media – with the permanent warfare state, eventually leading to the birth of satellite technology, the internet, and the domination of a handful of monopolist tech firms during the present era of neoliberal globalization.

From the tech sector’s role in police-state operations to the expansion of “Smart” technology like Amazon’s Alexa into our homes, the use of drones and AI for keeping tabs on the entire population, and the manipulation of Facebook user data by the Trump campaign’s partnership with Cambridge Analytica, Foster is unequivocal in his judgment of surveillance capitalism’s metastasizing growth and its omniscient role in our daily lives:

The implications for the future are staggering.”

Not everyone shares Foster’s pessimistic perspective. To former CIA cybersecurity researcher John Pirc, the agency contract with Amazon represented the removal of a “clouded judgment”-based stigma over cloud computing security. Speaking to The Atlantic, Pirc commented:

You hear so many people on the fence about cloud, and then to see the CIA gobble it up and do something so highly disruptive, it’s kind of cool.”

 

Holy Disruption and the “Gale Force of Creative Destruction”

Creation, epiphany, genesis, prophecy, rapture, sacrifice, wrath; such sacred words pepper the Old and New Testaments and still carry divine significance for the faithful. Beloved by clergy and revered by the flock, such consecrated terms hardly apply to Apple’s bitten-fruit logo or Alexa’s profanely secular robotic voice.

But in today’s cult of high technology and the internet — where entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have been elevated to the level of prophets or pharaohs, and start-ups are evangelized at TED Talks as the panacea to problems ranging from physical fitness to refugee crises — a new ecclesiastical lexicon is used. Central to this pseudo-religion of Big Data is the phrase disruption, an oft-invoked term signifying the replacement of old markets and business models by new technological innovations.

As Silicon Valley pioneer, computer scientist, and critic Jaron Lanier noted in his 2013 book Who Owns the Future?:

The terminology of ‘disruption’ has been granted an almost sacred status in tech business circles … To disrupt is the most celebrated achievement. In Silicon Valley, one is always hearing that this or that industry is ripe for disruption. We kid ourselves, pretending that disruption requires creativity. It doesn’t. It’s always the same story.”

For Lanier – a fervent defender of capitalism —  the D-word is misused to convey the liberating potential of new technology, when in fact the reign of big tech firms has led to a shrunken market dominated by “a small number of spying operations in omniscient positions.” Thus the digital landscape has become the fiefdom of monopoly firms who exercise an iron grip on competitors and Big Data’s primary commodities – internet users and their data.

To Foster, this process is little more than neoliberalism – the prevailing capitalist ideology dictating the unimpeded control over all aspects of public life by finance capital and the market. Foster notes that neoliberal orthodoxy is rooted in the concept of creative destruction, the concept from which the “disruption” buzzword is derived.

Creative destruction was introduced in 1942 by Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter to describe a process of constant change under capitalism, whereby emerging entrepreneurs act as “innovation powerhouses” through a “perennial gale of creative destruction” that disorganizes and displaces competition, reshapes global markets, and paves the way to an emergence of new monopolies such as, for example, Silicon Valley’s leading firms.

Watch | Greenspan on Schumpeter’s “Creative Destruction”

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/CVALfc-nayY?rel=0&showinfo=0

“One of the key components of neoliberal ideology has been the opening up of the system to the unrestricted growth of monopolistic corporations and monopoly power,” Foster said to MintPress News, adding:

The neoliberal age has thus seen one of the greatest periods of growth of monopoly power, particularly in the cyber or digital realm, in all of history. If you take Google, Amazon, and Facebook, none of them even existed 25 years ago, and Facebook didn’t exist 15 years ago. Amazon had a 51 percent increase in market capitalization between 2016 and 2017 alone. These are giant monopolistic enterprises.”

Continuing, Foster explained:

In general, capitalism is a system that seeks to transgress all boundaries in its production and sale of commodities, commodifying everything in existence — which today, in the age of monopoly-finance capital and surveillance capitalism, means intruding into every aspect of existence as a means of manipulating not only the physical world, but also the minds and lives of everyone within it. It is this that constitutes the heart of surveillance capitalism.

But this same system of monopoly-finance capital has as its counterpart a growing centralization of power and wealth, increasing monopoly control, expanding militarism and imperialism, and an expansion of police power. It is what the political theorist Sheldon Wolin called ‘inverted totalitarianism,’ the growth of totalizing control of the population, and the destruction of human freedom under the mask of an ideology of individualism.”

As Amazon now approaches its 25-year anniversary, Foster notes, it’s become “a vast cultural (or anti-cultural) commodity empire” – and its wnership of The Washington Post has made clear the monopoly firm’s fusion with the state apparatus of U.S. imperialism.

 

Amazon clutches the “Newspaper of Record,” or “Democracy Dies in Darkness”

The front page of the Washington Post is displayed outside the Newseum in Washington, , 2013, a day after it was announced that Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250 million. Evan Vucci | AP

Since Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post in 2013 for $250 million, the leading newspaper of the U.S. capital has stood at the ramparts of Fortress Amazon. Beyond any elite squadron of lobbyists or contracts with the Homeland Security or National Security State, the newspaper’s influential role shaping public and policymaker opinion gives Jeff Bezos and his fellow Amazon executives unparalleled access to the halls of imperial power.

“Of course it’s a problem when a powerful, monopolistic business like this with a very controlling owner is in the media business as well,” Yasha Levine commented, adding:

Let’s be honest, Amazon is a major CIA contractor now, and now this major contractor owns one of the most important newspapers in the country – which also happens to report on the CIA and national security issues.”

Since President Donald Trump came to power last January, “Amazon Washington Post” has been the target of the former reality-TV star’s ire as a top example of “fake news media.” While many of Trump’s attacks on the Post have been his standard Twitter outbursts against legitimate journalistic scrutiny, the newspaper once celebrated for publishing the groundbreaking 1971 Pentagon Papers is now both a bully pulpit for the president’s detractors in the Beltway liberal “resistance” and a mouthpiece of an aggressively neoliberal wing of the U.S. establishment.

“The Washington Post was always a liberal-capitalist paper, an arbiter of capitalist ideology and a defender of U.S. empire, [but] it has now become, as part of the Bezos empire, something worse,” Foster observed.

Scarcely a day passes without the Post publishing a torrent of stories seeking to expose “Russian interference” favoring Trump through social media or “fake news.” Citing the “experts” in “nonpartisan” media criticism group PropOrNot, the Post has smeared MintPress News and publications like Black Agenda Report, CounterPunch, and Truthout as propaganda platforms tied to the Kremlin without citing so much as a shred of evidence. Through its de facto blacklist, the group has also attempted to tie disparate independent media organizations to hard-right and white-supremacist outlets like Alex Jones’ Infowars and neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer.

Watch | WaPo refuses to add disclosure about $600M CIA contract

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/274Z97UI158?rel=0&showinfo=0

The Washington Post has generally waged what amounts to an ideological war on basic progressive causes, Foster explained:

It recently ran an article describing the ‘far left’ as those who believed in single-payer health insurance or protecting national parks, as if even these traditional left-liberal causes were now far outside the range of acceptable political discourse — a stance clearly designed to ratchet the political discourse further to the right. Bezos and Amazon are simply symbols of this social retrogression, as is the current autocrat in the White House.”

To Levine, the trend – like the ownership of muckraking news website The Intercept by billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur and eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar — goes beyond the Post alone. Levine commented:

It’s a larger issue of Silicon Valley coming into its own, and businesses built on top of the internet dominating business; and if you dominate business, you dominate society and news media coverage – that’s just the way things work.”

Foster agrees, and minces no words depicting the danger Amazon’s growing power in U.S. society represents:

Democracy can be judged in various ways, but no definition of democracy – no matter how specious – is consistent with a society in which such vast class and monopoly power exist, and where the infrastructure of genuine democracy (education, communications, science, culture, public discourse, means of public protest) is demolished.

For this and other reasons, U.S. society and much of the capitalist world is shifting from neo-liberalism to something better described as neo-fascism.”

In our next installments, we will continue exploring the rise of Surveillance Capitalism and the implications of Amazon-fueled spying technology, both in the workplace and in U.S. city streets.

Top Image |  Elliott Gabriel | MintPress News

Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.

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What the Koch Brothers Want Students to Learn About Slavery – By Adam Sanchez / Zinn Education Project

Human Rights
The Koch brothers empire is seeking to promote an alternate narrative to slavery.
 

‘The Treaty,’ vintage engraved illustration. Journal des Voyage, Travel Journal, (1880-81).
Photo Credit: By Morphart Creation / Shutterstock.com

Given that the billionaire Charles Koch has poured millions of dollars into eliminating the minimum wage and paid sick leave for workers, and that in 2015 he had the gall to compare his ultra-conservative mission to the anti-slavery movement, he’s probably the last person you’d want educating young people about slavery.

Yet the history-teaching wing of the Koch brothers empire is seeking to promote an alternate narrative to slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. The political goal of these materials is to ensure students see racism and slavery as flaws in an otherwise spotless U.S. record, rather than woven into the fabric of our country from its inception.

 

The Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) is the education arm of the network of front groups the Koch brothers use to promote their far-right ideology. Maureen Costello, the education director from Teaching Tolerance, has pointed out the many factual inaccuracies in the “Homework Help” video the BRI has recently promoted to teach students about slavery. She concludes that the history presented is “superficial, drained of humanity, and neglects to reckon with the economic and social reality of what opponents called ‘the slave power.’”

 

A dive into their “Documents of Freedom” readings reveals an even more disturbing agenda. The BRI bills the “Documents of Freedom” as a “modern take on the traditional textbook” — a “completely free digital course on history, government, and economics” authored by unnamed “teachers.” It’s essentially an online textbook that aims to promote a particular version of history, government, and economics that aligns with the interests of the Kochs.

The main “Documents of Freedom” reading on slavery, titled “Slavery and the Constitution,” is essentially a defense of the founding fathers and the Constitution against “some scholars” who “portray the founding fathers as racists.” The reading cherry-picks quotes from “the Founders” to argue that they believed slavery was morally wrong. Although the authors write that “most of the signers of the Declaration and the Constitution own[ed] slaves,” they steer clear of the brutal reality of chattel slavery.

They paint Thomas Jefferson as an anti-slavery crusader who “attacked the slave trade in harsh language” and “included African Americans in the universal understanding of the promise of liberty and equality.” But the Kochs’ curriculum fails to mention that Jefferson wrote Black people were “inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” Jefferson kept nearly 200 people in bondage, and even in his death emancipated only five. He regularly sold human beings away from their families to raise money to buy wine, art, and luxuries that only wealthy planters could afford. Nothing in the BRI reading acknowledges any contradiction between “the Founders’” awareness of “the immorality of slavery and the need for action” and their actual actions defending and protecting slavery.

Furthermore, the reading justifies the so-called three-fifths compromise — whereby an enslaved person was counted as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of congressional representation — by arguing “the Founders” had to make a “prudential compromise with slavery because they sought to achieve their highest goal of a stronger Union of republican self-government. Since some slaveholding delegations threatened to walk out. . .” Not only is this type of “compromise” immoral, but the problem with this logic is that the “slaveholding delegations” that threatened to walk out were themselves “Founders” who played an important role in crafting the Constitution.

In addition to selectively quoting the founders, the authors use quotations from Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln to bolster their argument that the Constitution was an anti-slavery document. It ignores that most politicians, including Lincoln, believed that the Constitution protected slavery where it existed. It also ignores the very large wing of the abolitionist movement, whose most prominent figure was William Lloyd Garrison, that viewed the Constitution as a “devil’s pact,” one “dripping with blood.” Douglass himself was part of that wing of the movement until he broke with Garrison in the 1850s, when he became convinced that framing the Constitution as an anti-slavery document could be a useful tool in the struggle to end slavery.

The reading also ignores how central slavery was to the economic growth of the United States, with phrases like “the number of slaves steadily grew through natural increase.” Natural? There was nothing natural about the expansion of slavery. Slavery expanded because it was profitable. The authors seek to divorce the expansion of slavery from the economic design of the capitalist cotton empire and from the horrific practice of breeding, which became a large source of revenue, especially for Virginia slaveholders.

What is most egregious is what the reading leaves out. Even today’s corporate textbooks will include a paragraph or two that attempt to provide the perspective of enslaved people. However, this reading concludes by arguing there was a steady “rise of freedom” after the Constitution because “the new nation was mostly bent on expanding liberty and equality.” The only way the Koch brothers’ Bill of Rights Institute can draw this conclusion is by completely ignoring the perspective of those whose land and labor were violently stolen by the wealthy U.S. elite.

As if that reading wasn’t bad enough, the follow-up reading, titled “Civil War and Reconstruction,” is a long, boring account that almost exclusively focuses on the battles between Radical Republicans in Congress, who the authors claim wanted to “punish the South,” and Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, who favored more “moderate” reconstruction plans. It might be the first reading I’ve ever looked at on Reconstruction that makes almost no mention of what Black people were doing during the era and barely discusses anything happening in the South.

Only in a pro-KKK film like Birth of a Nation and in the Koch brothers’ curriculum is Reconstruction reduced to a punishment for white Southerners. Let’s look at Reconstruction from the standpoint of those who were freed from more than 200 years of enslavement. It was a time when the formerly enslaved became congressmen; when the Black-majority South Carolina legislature taxed the rich to pay for public schools; when experiments in Black self-rule in the Georgia Sea Islands led to land reform, new schools, and a vital local governance. During Reconstruction Blacks and poor whites organized Union Leagues, and led strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, and educational campaigns. During this period other social movements, especially labor and feminist movements, were inspired by the actions of African Americans to secure and define their own freedom.

As the late historian Lerone Bennett Jr. wrote: “It had never happened before, and it has never happened since, in America.” During Reconstruction, “the poor, the downtrodden, and the disinherited present[ed] their bills at the bar of history.” Of course, today’s elites like the Kochs have no interest in students learning this radical history. In the Kochs’ history, the only mention of Black people’s actions comes in one sentence at the end of the reading that papers over the massive accomplishments of the era: “Although African Americans soon made up the majority of voters in some southern states and even elected some black representatives to Congress, the right to vote was curtailed by southern states through several legal devices. . .”

Tellingly, the Koch authors finish off this reading with a quote from James Madison about the “Tyranny of Majorities.” The authors claim that Jim Crow was an example of when “African Americans in the post-Civil War South discovered firsthand the dangers of majority tyranny in a republic.” That’s the main lesson the Bill of Rights Institute wants students to draw from the Civil War and Reconstruction: You can’t trust the masses, so leave politics to elites like the Koch brothers. Of course, the inconvenient truth is that when one actually focuses on the South during Reconstruction, we see an era where poor white and Black people took political power away from elites. It’s this history that the Koch brothers don’t want students to learn.

© 2018 Zinn Education Project

 

Why Fracking Is a Symptom of the Eco-Destructive Neoliberal Order—and a Serious Human Rights Issue – By Anna Grear / Center for Humans and Nature

Environment
 
The battle over fracking pits corporate power against communities whose very health is imperiled.
 

Protesters against fracking at a rally in New York City, October 19, 2013. New York state banned fracking in 2014.
Photo Credit: a katz/Shutterstock

[Editor’s note: This article was originally published by the Center for Humans and Nature as part of their Questions for a Resilient Future series: Does fracking violate human rights? To read more responses to this question and to share your thoughts, click here.]

Which human rights?” By positioning this question next to the central question driving this discussion (“Does fracking violate human rights?”) I don’t mean to imply that we examine various individual human rights as selected from a general list of rights protected by human rights law. That interpretation of my question is well addressed by others in this discussion—as is the nature of fracking and its dangers.I mean “Which vision or version of human rights?” and—relatedly—“Whose human rights?”

 

In response, you might think to turn to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and to its progeny in multiple instruments since. That’s the true vision of human rights, some will say. And the closely related question of whose human rights is likewise addressed, you might think, by looking at the “human being” whose “inherent dignity” grounds human rights. This response has powerful appeal and the accumulated weight of official human rights progress stories behind it.

But the critical legal scholar in me interjects, “Not so fast! Human rights are not as benign as they look!” And if that is the case, it should matter to us in discussing if and how fracking violates human rights—not least because human rights are a central element of the overarching, environmentally-destructive neoliberal order of which fracking is such a potent symptom.

It matters that a wide range of scholarship insists that “the human” of human rights is not what it seems.[1] It matters that stripping back the surface of the dignified universal human at the heart of human rights exposes a very particular historical subject that simply cannot stand for all of us. It matters that serious historical studies reveal that once human rights leave behind the abstract language of their enunciation to become concrete, human rights mostly reinscribe the historical priority of the interests of white, European, property-owning men.[2] It matters that the system-critical energies of human rights, which so often are authored by human beings collectively crying out against injustice, are tamed when human rights become institutionalized.[3]

It matters too, that human rights have operated as ideological cover for the political and economic imperialism of Western/Global North capitalist state powers. Human rights—after all—are central components of an entire international legal order predicated upon unjust capitalistic “relations between imperial and subordinate states.”[4] And accordingly, it shouldn’t surprise us that serious comparative sociology of human rights reveals that the UDHR order of human rights has already mutated into a recognizably “trade-related, market-friendly” order of rights for global corporate interests or that human rights are core components of a de facto global constitution for neoliberal corporate capital and its powerful transnational elite.[5, 6] After all, corporations now claim human rights for themselves extensively.[7] All this matters. And it matters for the present debate not least because the battle lines over fracking fundamentally reflect corporate power and profit-driven imperatives lined up against communities whose very health and wellbeing as living beings is imperiled.

It is not even certain—at this point—if human rights can survive the assault of legalism.[8] Douzinas, a well-known human rights scholar, argues that human rights are set against themselves by their instantiation as positive law.[9] What does this mean? It means that human rights are schizoid. On the one hand, they rise in the heart-cries of communities burning with a sense of injustice and pain. On the other hand, human rights are made to speak in legal rules and precedents—to invoke ideals and legal abstractions that, in the final analysis, all-too-often cloak the law’s formalization and legitimation of unjust structural relations.

This, then, is our background context, and we’d best remember it when calling upon human rights to argue against fracking. Yes, human rights law addresses the kinds of violations enacted by toxic fracking practices—as others have rightly argued in this discussion. But human rights also serve those who line up to exploit the ambiguities of human rights law armed with a phalanx of well-paid lawyers.

Douzinas once put the paradox of human rights like this:

A new ideal has triumphed on the world stage: human rights. It unites left and right, the pulpit and the state, the minister and the rebel, the developing world and the liberals of Hampstead and Manhattan. Human rights have become the principle of liberation from oppression and domination, the rallying cry of the homeless and the dispossessed, the political programme of revolutionaries and dissidents. But their appeal is not confined to the wretched of the earth. Alternative lifestyles, greedy consumers of goods and culture, the pleasure-seekers and playboys of the Western world, the owner of Harrods, the former managing director of Guinness Plc as well as the former King of Greece have all glossed their claims in the language of human rights.[10]

We cannot afford to forget that human rights can be turned back against the violated by the violator. We cannot afford to ignore the complicity of human rights in an international legal order predicated upon unjust structural relations—nor the way in which human rights have been deployed to marginalize those whose interests and identities were (and are) oppressively colonized by that same international order.[11]

The question is important: Which human rights? Whose rights?

Which human rights do we call upon against fracking as a violation? Not merely the pallid shadows that human rights become in law. Yes, use law: Deploy the legal rights that human rights become—but retain a critical distance. For we urgently need also to speak with the prophetic fire of human rights—to speak the poetry of human rights as claim-making, as a politics untamed by law. We need to call on human rights beyond human rights to summon them in pursuit of the justice that slips beyond law’s horizon.

Whose human rights do we call upon? Not those of the bloodless abstract human universal. Not the market-friendly human rights of corporate capital. No, our passion for justice must burn in defense of all those systemically disadvantaged even by human rights.


Author’s note: Human rights are also criticized for being anthropocentric. The “human” of human rights can be re-imagined to embrace the rights of non-human animals and living systems—but space did not allow for a nuanced discussion of this important theme.

NOTES (show)

[1] See, for example, the arguments in D Otto, ‘Disconcerting Masculinities: Reinventing the Gendered Subjects of International Human Rights Law’ in A Manji and D Buss, International Law: Modern Feminist Approaches (Oxford, Hart 2005) 105-129.

[2] M Ishay, The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era (California, University of California Press 2008).

[3] N Stammers, Human Rights and Social Movements (London, Pluto Press 2009).

[4] EM Wood, Empire of Capital (London, Verso 2005), at 12.

[5] U Baxi, The Future of Human Rights (Oxford, OUP 2008).

[6] T Evans and A Ayers, ‘In the Service of Power: The Global Political Economy of Citizenship and Human Rights’ (2008) 10/3 Citizenship Studies 289-308.

[7] C Mayer, ‘Personalizing the Impersonal: Corporations and the Bill of Rights (1990) 41 Hastings Law Journal 577; Baxi, above n 5; M Emberland, The Human Rights of Companies: Exploring the Structure of ECHR Protection (Oxford, OUP 2006); A Grear, ReDirecting Human Rights: Facing the Challenge of Corporate Legal Humanity (Basingstoke, Palgrave McMillan 2010).

[8] C Gearty, Can Human Rights Survive? (Cambridge, CUP 2006).

 

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Anna Grear is Professor of Law and Theory at Cardiff School of Law and Politics in the United Kingdom.

America is Disneyland – By Chris Kanthan (Sott.net)

USA disneyland

Welcome to America!

Disneyland is the Happiest Place on Earth! Millions of families visit the theme park every year to enjoy the magical place of rides, spectacular shows and cheerful cartoon figures. Everything is clean, perfect and joyful. Unless … you realize that Cinderella might actually be homeless. That’s right, 10% of Disneyland’s employees are actually homeless, many more are on food stamps, and 75% struggle to make ends meet.

Does this ring familiar? Think of America. Behind the façade of being the greatest country on earth with the largest GDP and the wealthiest billionaires, there are tens of millions of Americans who are left behind just like Disney’s employees.

This neo-feudalistic model isn’t isolated to Disney or Walmart, it’s systemic. For example, the bus driver at Apple – which has $280 billion in cash – is forced to sleep in a van because he can’t afford the Silicon Valley rent; Facebook’s cafeteria workers live in a garage; and thousands of American Airlines’ employees are forced to depend on food stamps.

America is being eaten alive by corporate greed; and Disneyland has been taken over by Scrooge.

Let’s look at some Disney Inc. statistics.

Total profit per year: $9 billion

Total employees: 200,000

Notice that the profit reflects what’s left after all the expenses, including the salaries, have been paid. So, in a utopian world, the Disney management will do the math ($9 billion / 200,000 = $45,000) and send a check for say, half of that, or $22.5K to every employee, Mickey included. That kind of profit-sharing would really make Disneyland the happiest place on earth. Does that happen? No way!

Does Cinderella get a check for perhaps $20K, $10K, $5K or even $1K? Nope, nope, nope, nope. Cinderella gets nada, zero, zilch. She should be content with the $12/hour salary and must smile happily for the kids.

In Disneyland, Cinderella never gets to meet her prince.

Disney’s CEO gets paid $46 million a year, which translates to $23,000 an hour. Imagine Disney’s CEO coming to work on Jan 2nd. He wishes a few people “happy new year,” orders coffee, sits on his desk, makes a few phone calls … and he has already made more money than what Ariel would make during the rest of the year.

Of course, the CEO should get paid more, but does he deserve a salary that’s equivalent to 2,000 Disney employees? If the CEO doesn’t show up for work for a day, Disneyland will continue running. If 2,000 employees take a day off, the park would be shut down.

In the 1960s, the CEO-to-worker salary ratio was 25. Today it’s often 600 or more, sometimes even more than 1000 (for example, at Walmart). Much of the executive compensation comes in the form of stock options and bonuses based on stock performance. In a rational and unrigged world, the CEOs would increase their revenues and profits to get bonuses. Not anymore.

Now, the CEOs simply use a no-brainer solution to boost the stock prices – it’s called stock buybacks or share repurchases. This involves a firm using corporate profits (or even borrowed money) to buy its own stocks. BTW, this used to be illegal until the 1980s.

Since 2007, US corporations have spent trillions of dollars on stock buybacks. In 2018 alone, they will spend $800 billion on this financial engineering tool (which has also led to a massive stock market bubble). They won’t use the billions to hire Americans, boost wages or innovate new products. Instead, the CEOs will buy yachts and tell you that Chinese or Mexicans stole your jobs.

Do the low-wage employees of Disneyland get any shares or stock options? A silly question, indeed.

Thus we have a situation where American employers ruthlessly exploit American workers. This isn’t a good model for a country. China and Mexico don’t make us poor; predatory capitalism does. Note, not capitalism, predatory capitalism. Any good things can be distorted until it becomes a mirror image of what is was meant to be.

Paying good wages to hardworking employees is not socialism or communism. Henry Ford understood this when he more than doubled the wages of his workers in 1914.

However, 100 years later, maximizing profit has become a fundamentalist dogma. You can imagine a conversation among the factory-farming executives:

Guy #1: Why the heck are these chickens roaming out in the farms? We would save so much money if we lock them up in cages.

Guy #2: Brilliant idea! Let’s lock up five chickens in a cage. We will save more. More is always better.

Guy #3: I really don’t understand why we feed them expensive salads and healthy stuff. Let’s feed them cheap GMO corn and GMO soy from my friends at Monsanto.

Guy #4: Experts tell me that if we give them caffeine and anti-depressants, the chickens will stay awake longer, eat more, and get fatter.

Guy #5: And when they get sick, load them up with antibiotics and steroids.

Guy #5: These stupid chickens are also so small. Let’s drug them with some growth hormones. I am getting a lot of pressure from the private equity funds about profits per chicken.

Apart from being inhumane and psychopathic, this system forgets, or more likely ignores, the fact that we have to eat these chickens, and that we will also ingest hose antibiotic-resistant bugs and steroids too, but who is going to trace the negative health effects back to the chicken doctors? Sick chicken = sick people. Call it Karma or “revenge of the chickens.”

Similarly, poor workers = poor country. And you can imagine a similar conversation among corporate executives regarding workers – “cut their wages and benefits”, “make them work overtime”, “hire part-time employees rather than full-time” and so on.

You can’t grow the economy if American workers don’t get paid enough, especially by profitable multi-billion dollar corporations. 2/3rd of our GDP is based on consumer spending. It’s no wonder that in the last ten years, the US economy cumulatively grew only by a dismal 35%. Compare that to China, which grew by an astounding 200% during that same period.

China US GDP growth comparison

And it’s no coincidence that China’s average wages have more than doubled in the same period:

China wages growth

The solution for low wages primarily lies in the hands of corporate elites. Labor unions are almost non-existent in the US private sector these days; and the government doesn’t have much control over corporate America – in fact, corporations exert massive control on the U.S. political system. Free market doesn’t have to translate to cancerous greed and extreme exploitation. Free market also means that corporations are free to share their profits with their employees. Finally, free market can and must also incorporate patriotism, responsibility to the society and strategies for sustainable prosperity for all.

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Chris Kanthan (Profile)

Chris Kanthan is the author of a new book, Deconstructing the Syrian war.. Chris lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, has traveled to 35 countries, and writes about world affairs, politics, economy and health. His other book is Deconstructing Monsanto.. Follow him on Twitter: @GMOChannel

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