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Member since: Wed Dec 11, 2013, 03:23 PM
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From 'Old Detroit' to Delta City: Robocop's Dystopia in Detroit

In 2014, twenty-seven years after the release of Paul Verhoeven's dystopian film RoboCop, a statue of the part man, part machine will go up in Detroit on Wayne State University's tech campus. That same year, a remake of RoboCop will also be released. To both the joy and dismay of many, the futuristic cyborg has come to represent "The D" in many ways in American popular culture - supposedly symbolizing Detroit's reputation for crime and corruption.

In the film, a large company called Omni Consumer Products is planning to build a corporate-backed "New Detroit," dubbed "Delta City," to gradually replace the crime-ridden ruins of "Old Detroit," where most of the city's population lives. Privatization and gentrification are, of course, the main goals. RoboCop is created to police Old Detroit and make the city safe for corporate investment.

RoboCop, however, was a futuristic film in the 1980s. The idea of large corporate interests investing in Detroit seemed enormously fanciful. Equally fanciful was the idea that privatization or gentrification could ever come to the city. No corporate giant like the film's Omni Consumer Products would invest in a city like Detroit, right?

Yet, the intervening years have moved Detroit, in many ways, in these directions. Now, as the Motor City formally enters bankruptcy, a fight for the future of the metropolis is ramping up in earnest - and the seeds of an "Old Detroit" and a Delta City are emerging. The outcome of this fight will have long-range consequences, not just for Detroit, but also for other metropolises all across the country.


Bosses Waged Economic Terrorism Against Boeing Workers

In November of 2013 Boeing workers’ members of IAM District Lodge 751 AFL-CIO rejected a contract with deep concessions by a 67% to 33% margin. A major issue was pensions. Boeing bosses were demanding the freezing of pensions and other concessions as they moved workers from a defined benefit plan to a defined-contribution savings plan...

By rejecting that contract, IAM members were standing in the forefront of the struggle not only to defend their benefits and jobs, but the future for all workers, particularly young workers entering or new to the workforce.

The bosses were not pleased...The Union hierarchy atop the IAM and organized Labor in general has the same worldview as the boss; profits are sacrosanct, the market and capitalism must be defended. They endorse the Team Concept, the view that workers and bosses have the same economic interests, profits come first, sacrifices have to be made—–by workers of course.

Yesterday, January the third 2014, these same workers voted to accept these drastic concessions by a 1% margin. What happened in just over a month?

What has happened is what always happens when the bosses are faced with that first line of resistance, the rejection of a concessionary contract. What is really a gang composed of Boeing execs, aircraft industry bosses and politicians—– in this case representing the Democratic Party, one of the capitalist’s two major parties——and the union hierarchy got together and orchestrated a major assault on the Boeing workers and their families. They have waged a terror attack of immense proportions. This existed before last month’s rejection but went full steam ahead after it.

Leading up to this contract Boeing bosses had been threatening to move production to non union plants in the South if the Seattle Workers didn’t buckle under. As they always do, they blackmail our communities, forcing localities to offer free land, low or no taxes, and other concessions in order to keep jobs there. Boeing had already received $9 billion in subsidies from Washington taxpayers. After November’s rejection, Boeing bosses openly submitted bids to other states as the war against Boeing workers intensified.

Workers were now faced with a full-scale onslaught by the bosses’, their media, their politicians and their allies in our movement, the heads of organized labor. The leaders of the IAM International Union forced yesterday’s vote on a contract that had already been rejected and that the local leadership opposed. The month long war of terror inflicted on the Boeing workers took its toll and they got their “yes” vote, but only barely.

“We missed it by one per cent because people were confused and worried about their jobs,” one worker said, “I’m still just numb,” said another.

Once Upon a Time We Were Winning the War on Poverty

The NYT had a retrospective on the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty. One item that is worth noting is that the poverty rate actually fell sharply through the sixties and into the early seventies. Then the economy was derailed by the oil price shocks and the recessions that followed in 1974-75 and then again at the end of the 1970s. Then President Reagan got elected and surrendered.

Since the poverty rate is ostensibly based on an absolute living standard, the failure to make any progress over the last fifty years really is striking. If we had seen the same growth rate over this period with no increase in inequality, poverty would have been almost completely eliminated. The rise in inequality over the last three decades explains the lack of progress on reducing poverty.


From coding to the catwalk: This high fashion model has a secret double life

Like Superman’s Clark Kent and Spiderman’s Peter Parker, 29-year-old Lyndsey Scott has an alter ego. By day, she’s a high fashion model, walking the runway for the likes of Gucci, Prada, Calvin Klein, and Victoria’s Secret. By night, she dons square-framed Burberry glasses and transforms into probably the world’s most beautiful computer programmer...

In the post, she says:

It’s been a rather jarring experience having people see and treat me the way they suddenly do now. I was bullied and often friendless throughout puberty because people automatically judged me…The difference between then and now though is that back then, they wouldn’t give me the chance to show them that I was kinda cool, and now they readily give me a chance…and are then often disappointed that I’m kind of a nerd...


Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks

Who “owns” the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras?

Given that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just invested a quarter of a billion dollars to
personally hire Greenwald and Poitras for his new for-profit media venture, it’s a question worth asking.

It’s especially worth asking since it became clear that Greenwald and Poitras are now the only two people with full access to the complete cache of NSA files, which are said to number anywhere from 50,000 to as many as 200,000 files.

Given that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just invested a quarter of a billion dollars to
personally hire Greenwald and Poitras for his new for-profit media venture, it’s a question worth asking...

Edward Snowden has popularly been compared to major whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Wigand. However, there is an important difference in the Snowden files that has so far gone largely unnoticed. Whistleblowing has traditionally served the public interest. In this case, it is about to serve the interests of a billionaire starting a for-profit media business venture. This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.

Think about other famous leakers: Daniel Ellsberg neither monetized nor monopolized the Pentagon Papers. Instead, he leaked them to well over a dozen different newspapers and media outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post, and to a handful of sitting senators — one of whom, Mike Gravel, read over 4,000 of the 7,000 pages into the Congressional record before collapsing from exhaustion. The Papers were published in book form by a small nonprofit run by the Unitarian Church, Beacon House Press.

Chelsea Manning, responsible for the largest mass leaks of government secrets ever, leaked everything to WikiLeaks, a nonprofit venture that has largely struggled to make ends meet in its seven years of existence. Julian Assange, for all of his flaws, cannot be accused of crudely enriching himself from his privileged access to Manning’s leaks; instead, he shared his entire trove with a number of established media outlets including the Guardian, New York Times, Le Monde and El Pais. Today, Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year sentence in a military prison, while the Private Manning Support Network constantly struggles to raise funds from donations; Assange has spent the last year and a half inside Ecuador’s embassy in London, also struggling to raise funds to run the WikiLeaks operation.

The point is this: In the most successful whistleblower cases, the public has sided with the selfless whistleblower against the power- or profit-driven entity whose secrets were leaked. The Snowden case represents a new twist to the heroic whistleblower story arc: After successfully convincing a large part of the public and the American Establishment that Snowden’s leaks serve a higher public interest, Greenwald promptly sold those secrets to a billionaire.


Snowden’s biggest revelation: We don’t know what power is anymore, nor do we care

That the US and Britain spy on our allies (and on each other) is not in and of itself a shocking revelation, but this is more important than mere novelty. What matters most about the Snowden leaks is what will come of them, and what we’ll do with them, if anything. There is no guarantee that leaks lead to positive change, nothing inherently transformative about leaking, not without a larger political movement – what Joe Costello would call “a politics” — pushing it. And right now, the only thing close to a politics around leaking is Libertarianism, the worst of all political worlds.

Even with a politics, there’s no guarantee leaks end up making things better without a long fight. The last time frightening NSA spying programs (SHAMROCK, MINARET) were leaked in the 1970s, the political reforms that followed turned out to be far worse than what we had before: namely the secret FISA courts. The FISA courts were supposed to provide judicial check on the NSA, but instead turned into a nightmarish secret court that not only rubber stamps nearly every surveillance warrant the NSA asks for, but worse, has been used to restrict Americans’ constitutional rights.

For now, the question is: How can revelations about the out-of-control NSA (and GCHQ) spying program lead to something better? How do we make sense of it given all the bewildering technologies, and how can it be transformed into a politics? How, in other words, can the Snowden files avoid simply adding to the sense of “diffuse malaise” that Adam Curtis recently wrote about?

Looking back at some previous examples where US intelligence was caught spying on our allies and meddling in their politics may offer some insight. Not very encouraging insight — of the four most sensational examples from the past 50 years or so, only once did the revelations lead to real political reform — but insight nonetheless...

Meanwhile, the really important power-politics are taking place right in front of us, but we don’t seem to give a damn. For example, what the hell were those tech heads from Apple, Google, Facebook, and other tech giants doing in the White House the day before Obama’s NSA report was released?

No one seemed to think anything was weird about that picture, the picture of corporate power nakedly dictating to a democratically elected President on the eve of a report that directly concerns those tech titans’ bottom lines. We were too busy cheering on Twitter when Mark Pincus — the social gaming guy who once admitted, “I did every horrible thing in the book just to get revenues” — ineffectually sass-mouthed the President over pardoning Edward Snowden.

Such a naked power-play at such a sensitive time recalls Obama’s shameful 2009 meeting with the heads of the big banks, just as he was about to unveil the rigged “stress tests” that saved the financial industry’s power and their bailout trillions. Or the famous meeting Boris Yeltsin held with Russia’s seven bankers in 1997, just before they tanked the entire economy and ran off with the loot.

This is supposed to be a republic. The contract says power resides in the people. But if the Snowden leaks are teaching us one thing, it’s that we don’t even know what power is anymore, nor do we care.


The Extraordinary Neoliberalism of Pierre Omidyar

...What all of these orgasmic accounts of Omidyar’s "idealism" have in common is a total absence of skepticism. America's smartest media minds simply assume that Omidyar is an "exceptional" billionaire, a "civic-minded billionaire" driven by "idealism" rather than by profits. The evidence for this view is Pierre Omidyar's massive nonprofit venture, Omidyar Network, which has distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to causes all across the world.

And yet what no one seems able to specify is exactly what ideology Omidyar Network promotes. What does Omidyar's "idealism" mean in practice, and is it really so different from the non-idealism of other, presumably bad, billionaires? It's almost as if journalists can't answer those questions because they haven't bothered asking them. So let's go ahead and do that now.

Since its founding in 2004, Omidyar Network has committed nearly $300 million to a range of nonprofit and for-profit "charity" outfits. An examination of the ideas behind the Omidyar Network and of the investments it has made suggests that its founder is anything but a "different" sort of billionaire. Instead, what emerges is almost a caricature of neoliberal ideology, complete with the trail of destruction that ensues when that ideology is put into practice. The generous support of the Omidyar Network goes toward "fighting poverty" through micro-lending, reducing third-world illiteracy rates by privatizing education and protecting human rights by expanding property titles ("private property rights" into slums and villages across the developing world.

In short, Omidyar Network's philanthropy reveals Omidyar as a free-market zealot with an almost mystical faith in the power of "markets" to transform the world, end poverty, and improve lives—one micro-individual at a time...

Pierre Omidyar was one of the biggest early backers of the for-profit micro-lending industry. Through Omidyar Network, as well as personal gifts and investments, he has funnelled around $200 million into various micro-lending companies and projects over the past decade, with the goal of establishing an investment-grade microfinance sector that would be plugged into Wall Street and global finance. The neoliberal theory promised to unleash billions of new micro-entrepreneurs; the stark reality is that it saddled untold numbers with crushing debt and despair...

The idea behind micro-loans is very simple and seductive. It goes something like this: the only thing that prevents the hundreds of millions of people living in extreme poverty from achieving financial success is their lack of access to credit. Give them access to micro-loans—referred to in Silicon Valley as "seed capital"—and these would-be successful business-peasants and illiterate shantytown entrepreneurs would pluck themselves out of the muck by their own homemade sandal straps...

"An Indian company with rich American backers is about to raise up to $350 million in a stock offering closely watched by philanthropists around the world, showing that big profits can be made from small helping-hand loans to poor cowherds and basket weavers..."

In 2012, it emerged that while the SKS IPO was making millions for its wealthy investors, hundreds of heavily indebted residents of India's Andhra Pradesh state were driven to despair and suicide by the company's cruel and aggressive debt-collection practices. The rash of suicides soared right at the peak of a large micro-lending bubble in Andhra Pradesh, in which many of the poor were taking out multiple micro-loans to cover previous loans that they could no longer pay. It was subprime lending fraud taken to the poorest regions of the world, stripping them of what little they had to live on...


An Open Letter to the Makers of The Wolf of Wall Street, and the Wolf Himself

Let me introduce myself. My name is Christina McDowell, formerly Christina Prousalis. I am the daughter of Tom Prousalis, a man the Washington Post described as "just some guy on trial for penny-stock fraud." (I had to change my name after my father stole my identity and then threatened to steal it again, but I'll get to that part later...)

And you, Jordan Belfort, Wall Street's self-described Wolf: You remember my father, right? You were chosen to be the government's star witness in testifying against him. You had pleaded guilty to money laundering and securities fraud (it was the least you could do) and become a government witness...

But the record shows you and my father were in cahoots together with MVSI Inc. of Vienna, e-Net Inc. of Germantown, Md., Octagon Corp. of Arlington, Va., and Czech Industries Inc. of Washington, D.C., and so on -- a list of seemingly innocuous, legitimate companies that stretches on. I'll spare you. Nobody cares. None of these companies actually existed, yet all of them were taken public by the one and only Wolf of Wall Street and his firm Stratton Oakmont Inc in order to defraud unwitting investors and enrich yourselves...

So Marty and Leo, while you glide through press junkets and look forward to awards season, let me tell you the truth -- what happened to my mother, my two sisters and me...

So here's the deal. You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers' fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees.

And yet you're glorifying it -- you who call yourselves liberals...You have successfully aligned yourself with an accomplished criminal, a guy who still hasn't made full restitution to his victims, exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior. And don't even get me started on the incomprehensible way in which your film degrades women, the misogynistic, ass-backwards message you endorse to younger generations of men.

But hey, listen boys, I get it. I was conned, too. By. My. Own. Dad! I drove a white Range Rover in high school, snorted half of Colombia, and got any guy I ever wanted because my father would take them flying in his King Air.

And then I unraveled the truth. The truth about my father and his behavior: that behind all of it was really just insidious soul-sucking shame masked by addiction, which we love to call ambition, which is really just greed. Greed and the desire for fame (exactly what you've successfully given self-appointed motivational speaker/financial guru Jordan Belfort, whose business opportunities will surely multiply thanks to this film).

Belfort's victims, my father's victims, don't have a chance at keeping up with the Joneses. They're left destitute, having lost their life savings at the age of 80. They can't pay their medical bills or help send their children off to college because of characters like the ones glorified in Terry Winters' screenplay.

Let me ask you guys something. What makes you think this man deserves to be the protagonist in this story? Do you think his victims are going to want to watch it? Did we forget about the damage that accompanied all those rollicking good times...? I urge each and every human being in America NOT to support this film, because if you do, you're simply continuing to feed the Wolves of Wall Street.

Yours truly,

Christina McDowell

PS. Quick update on Dad: He is now doing business with the Albanian government and, rumor has it, is married to a 30-year-old Albanian translator -- they always, always land on their feet.


The Myth of the Hardhat Hawk (Vietnam)

In the popular imagination, opposition to the Vietnam War was driven largely by the privileged, while supposedly reactionary blue-collar workers supported the war effort. That memory is wrong.

On 30 April 1970, President Nixon announced that the US had invaded Cambodia...After a year of promising to wind the war down, Nixon’s expansion of the front was met with immediate outrage. When four college students were killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4, protests erupted nationwide, and hundreds of college campuses were shut down, many for the remainder of the term.

In New York City on 8 May 1970, a group of around one thousand antiwar protesters gathered at Wall Street across from the stock exchange, as part of a “day of reflection” called by Mayor John Lindsay “to reflect solemnly on the numbing events at Kent State University and their implications for the future and fate of America.” At lunchtime, an even smaller group of around two hundred construction workers arrived at the antiwar rally and angrily confronted the protesters. In the next few hours, backed by more construction workers from the World Trade Center site as well as Wall Street office employees, these counter-demonstrators raged through downtown Manhattan, assaulting antiwar protesters as well as people who looked like protesters (“longhairs” got special treatment), storming City Hall and Pace University, and injuring dozens. Over the following weeks, downtown was the site of daily lunchtime marches of workers, culminating in a rally called by the Building Trades Council named “Honor America, Honor the Flag” that drew as many as one hundred thousand people to Lower Manhattan...

“Hardhats” facing off against entitled “hippie” youth became a dominant image from the era, a shorthand for what became the ruling narrative about the class dynamics of antiwar sentiment. According to this memory, protest was the province of the privileged until the “Silent Majority” finally roared onto the scene, yelling “Love it or leave it” on downtown streets...

Yet such a neat image of class polarization distorts a more complex historical reality. Workers were less supportive of the war than their more privileged compatriots, skeptical of its aims and souring on its pursuit of them...


The Psychological Dark Side of Gmail

Some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley recently announced that they had gotten together to form a new forward-thinking organization dedicated to promoting government surveillance reform in the name of “free expression” and “privacy...”

But while leading tech and privacy experts like Jarvis...praise their heroic stand against oppressive government surveillance, most still don’t seem to mind that these same tech billionaires run vast private sector surveillance operations of their own. They vacuum up private information and use it to compile detailed dossiers on hundreds of millions of people around the world — and that’s on top of their work colluding and contracting with government intelligence agencies.

If you step back and look at the bigger picture, it’s not hard to see that Silicon Valley is heavily engaged in for-profit surveillance, and that it dwarfs anything being run by the NSA.

But while leading tech and privacy experts like Jarvis slobber over Silicon Valley megacorps and praise their heroic stand against oppressive government surveillance, most still don’t seem to mind that these same tech billionaires run vast private sector surveillance operations of their own. They vacuum up private information and use it to compile detailed dossiers on hundreds of millions of people around the world — and that’s on top of their work colluding and contracting with government intelligence agencies.

If you step back and look at the bigger picture, it’s not hard to see that Silicon Valley is heavily engaged in for-profit surveillance, and that it dwarfs anything being run by the NSA.

I recently wrote about Google’s Street View program, and how after a series of investigations in the US and Europe, we learned that Google had used its Street View cars to carry out a covert — and certainly illegal — espionage operation on a global scale, siphoning loads of personally identifiable data from people’s Wi-Fi connections all across the world. Emails, medical records, love notes, passwords, the whole works — anything that wasn’t encrypted was fair game. It was all part of the original program design: Google had equipped its Street View cars with surveillance gear designed to intercept and vacuum up all the wireless network communication data that crossed their path. An FCC investigation showing that the company knowingly deployed Street View’s surveillance program, and then had analyzed and integrated the data that it had intercepted.

Most disturbingly, when its Street View surveillance program was uncovered by regulators, Google pulled every crisis management trick in the book to confuse investors, dodge questions, avoid scrutiny, and prevent the public from finding out the truth. The company’s behavior got so bad that the FCC fined it for obstruction of justice.

The investigation in Street View uncovered a dark side to Google. But as alarming as it was, Google’s Street View wiretapping scheme was just a tiny experimental program compared Google’s bread and butter: a massive surveillance operation that intercepts and analyzes terabytes of global Internet traffic every day, and then uses that data to build and update complex psychological profiles on hundreds of millions of people all over the world — all of it in real time. You’ve heard about this program. You probably interact with it every day. You call it Gmail.

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