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ND-Dem's Journal
ND-Dem's Journal
February 6, 2015

Amazon charges Kindle users for free Project Gutenberg e-books (after stealing them)

Kindle readers, take note: You may have been paying for books you could legally download for free--in nearly identical editions--elsewhere.

The titles in question aren't just public-domain books that have long been freely available at such sites as Project Gutenberg. They appear to be the exact Gutenberg files, save only for minor formatting adjustments and the removal of that volunteer-run site's license information.

Gutenberg contributor Linda M. Everhart complained in an e-mail in late October that Amazon was selling a title she'd contributed to Gutenberg, Arthur Robert Harding's 1906 opus "Fox Trapping," for $4.

"They took the text version, stripped off the headers and footer containing the license, re-wrapped the sentences, and made the chapter titles bold," wrote Everhart, a Blairstown, Mo., trapper. She added that "their version had all my caption lines, in exactly the same place where I had put them..."

Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation chief executive Greg Newby expressed frustration about what he called an old problem for the non-profit organization. "Is this legal? Yes," he wrote in an e-mail Nov. 11. "Is it ethical? I don't think it is..."

Amazon spokeswoman Sarah Gelman did not deny the basic allegation in an e-mail last Wednesday that followed a series of queries to the company's PR department: "These books were uploaded by a third party using our self-service platform. I've sent your note to the appropriate team internally." She did not reply to a message asking follow-up questions sent that afternoon and repeated on Monday.

Newby noted that when Gutenberg had complained about copyrighted, non-public-domain works showing up on Amazon, the site "took immediate action." But he said the Seattle-based retailer had ignored its suggestion that it directly offer Gutenberg titles as no-charge, DRM-free downloads--something Apple did in its iBooks store, mostly to Newby's satisfaction.


February 6, 2015

Jeff Bezos wants to privatize schools and get rid of teachers unions. (Surprised, Amazon-lovers?)

Lee Fang, brilliant investigative journalist for The Nation, has looked closely at Jeff Bezos’ interest in education, and the news is bad...

Bezos is throughly smitten with the idea that the way to improve education is to privatize public schools and to eliminate teachers’ unions.

—The Bezos Foundation has donated to Education Reform Now, a nonprofit organization that funds attack advertisements against teachers’ unions and other advocacy efforts to promote test-based evaluations of teachers. Education Reform Now also sponsors Democrats for Education Reform.

—The Bezos Foundation provided $500,000 to NBC Universal to sponsor the Education Nation, a media series devoted to debating high-stakes testing, charter schools, and other education reforms.

—The Bezos Foundation provided over $100,000 worth of Amazon stock to the League of Education Voters Foundation to help pass the education reform in Washington State. Last year, the group helped pass I-1240, a ballot measure that created a charter school system in Washington State. In many states, charter schools open the door for privatization by inviting for-profit charter management companies to take over public schools that are ostensibly run by non-profits.

Other education philanthropy supported by the Bezos Foundation include KIPP, Teach for America, and many individual charter schools, including privately funded math and science programs across the country...


February 6, 2015

jeff bezos buys washington post, cuts employees' retirement, benefits

Jeff Bezos made his fortune fending off his employees’ attempts to organize into unions, but now that he owns the Washington Post he’s going to have to take a seat at the negotiating table, and it’s not off to a great start. Several dozen Posties, upset with Bezos’s proposed cuts to their pensions and severance pay, turned 15th and L into a picket line Thursday afternoon.

The Post, now a year into the Bezos era, wants to freeze its unionized workers’ pension plan and introduce a cash-balance model, which provides a lump sum or annuity on retirement, rather than the traditional plan which guarantees benefits regardless of market conditions. The switch only affects people hired before September 2009; newer employees will be given 401(k) retirement plans and supplemental savings accounts.

Bezos’s side also proposes cutting severance benefits in half from two weeks’ pay for every year saved to just one. A flier printed by Local 32035, the union representing Post employees, suggests that employees could be let go with even less if Bezos’s proposals go through. “[The] Post thinks that an employee who served two years—doing things such as covering a hurricane, or delivering newspapers in a hurricane—should be okay with two weeks’ pay,” the flier reads. “Oh, and cake.”

These are suggested changes that longtime staff writer Fredrick Kunkle, a co-chair of the local, says will turn the paper from a career destination to a “way-station” where journalists only stay for a few years before moving on. And the Post’s pension plan, unlike many other newspapers’, is relatively robust. It was $604 million ahead of its outstanding liabilities when Bezos bought the paper, a financial position earned by following some smart advice Warren Buffett offered Katherine Graham in 1975.

That Bezos would try to pare back the union’s benefits comes as no shock to many Posties, though. Amazon has successfully busted every one of its employees’ unionization efforts, most recently in June when workers at a warehouse in Delaware voted against joining a union after what labor organizers called “intense pressure” from management and outside consultants.


February 6, 2015

Amazon belonged to ALEC until pressured to quit in 2012. What's the problem with pressuring them

over their unfair labor practices?

Protesters Confront Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos
Richard (R.J.) Eskow May 29, 2012

During Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting on Thursday, May 24, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos was confronted by protesters from Working Washington, a coalition which includes community groups, unions and members of Occupy Seattle. As police evicted demonstrators, Bezos told shareholders that nine out of Amazon’s ten best-selling products were either digital content or digital platforms like the Kindle. Bezos was making a point: the physical world is being phased out of Amazon’s business plan...

Amazon has received intense and well-deserved criticism for working conditions in its warehouses, where temperatures can reportedly rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The people working inside them are underpaid, overworked, subject to firing without cause and deprived of employee benefits. Amazon gets away with this because it uses a variety of legal tricks, like demanding that its employees call themselves “independent contractors.”

Amazon has also taken heat for its membership in ALEC—the American Legislative Executive Council—a corporate-funded group that backs right-wing politicians. ALEC also drafts and promotes laws like those that effectively disenfranchised large numbers of minority voters, the “Stand Your Ground” legislation that has resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin and a number of other people, and the anti-union laws brought to national attention by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

If nothing else, Bezos offered symbolic gestures of conciliation today...Bezos did not announce that employees in Amazon’s warehouses would receive the benefits they’re due under state and national law, or that Amazon would stop forcing them to declare themselves independent contractors.

And Amazon was behind the curve in withdrawing from ALEC, lagging well behind companies such as KFC, Taco Bell, Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Intuit, McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Kraft Foods. Most of these companies left ALEC more than a month ago, when revelations about its role in “Stand Your Ground” gave renewed momentum to demands that corporations leave it.

But then, ALEC has treated Amazon very well. It has defended the “Amazon loophole” that allows online sellers to avoid charging sales taxes the way other businesses do. This unfair advantage has given Amazon a lot more clout against neighborhood bookstores and retail book chains—clout it has used to drive many of them out of business....A recent report in the Seattle Times noted that, unlike Microsoft and Boeing, Amazon gives virtually nothing to Seattle-area charities.

Bezos is a libertarian who reportedly exults in the fact that Amazon’s loophole prevents the government from collecting taxes. He appears to exemplify a certain kind of Internet or computer entrepreneur—call them “digital libertarians”—who can be visionaries in technological and cultural ways and yet blind to social and economic realities....


February 5, 2015

Amazon one of largest US h1b employers

Amazon actually was originally founded as a real, brick-and-mortar bookstore by Jeff Bezos. However, it expanded operations to online bookselling, was incorporated in 1994 and sold made its first online book sale in 1995. Amazon grew slowly throughout the 90s; in fact, it didn't even reach a modest profitability until 2001... The company also has extended its operations to the technology field, becoming a consumer electronics and tablet producer, and a provider of cloud services.

The company also had become one of the USA's biggest H1B visa sponsors; weighing at 26 on the list, having filed for 342 visas in the first two quarters of FY2012. It filed LCAs for occupational categories including Software Development for Applications and Systems Software, Financial Analysis, Operations Research Analysis, Computer and Information Systems Management, Computer Systems Analysis, Marketing Management, and General and Operations Management, among others.


February 5, 2015

Amazon's overseas labor policy: Trust us/Foxconn produces Kindle Fire

While Apple and some other corporations have increased public reporting about their global suppliers, Amazon has not released information about who produces its brands or the results of watchdog audits.

Overseas suppliers manufacture thousands of Amazon.com products ranging from Kindles to pillows to lawn chairs. All the suppliers are supposed to comply with an Amazon code of standards that includes a ban on child labor and forced labor.

But in an era when worker- and human-rights activists are pressing for increased disclosure, Amazon remains mum about which international suppliers make these products and about the results of watchdog audits.

Amazon officials said the company works with Bureau Veritas, a global firm that offers inspection, audit and certification services, and Amazon managers participate in many audits. But they declined to disclose any of the audit results...

Amazon's most publicized labor issues have flared in the United States, where it employs tens of thousands of workers in fulfillment-center warehouses....Earlier this year, The Seattle Times reported on harsh conditions at a Campbellsville, Ky., warehouse, where employees who complained about the workplace feared losing their jobs and a former human-resources employee said managers strategized on how to shed injured workers.

With the past half-decade, Amazon also has rapidly expanded a network of overseas suppliers to manufacture products such as Kindle e-readers, as well as lines of furnishings, electronics and other private-label merchandise.

Earlier this year, The New York Times published a lengthy examination of Foxconn's treatment of workers producing iPhones. Foxconn also does contract work for Amazon, according to Ken Hui, a Hong Kong-based analyst for Jefferies, a banking and investment firm. Hui, who says his information is based on supply-industry sources, says Foxconn produces Kindle e-readers and one model of the Kindle Fires...


Amazon taps Foxconn for 10-inch Kindle Fire, says report

Amazon will consign production of a 10-inch Kindle Fire tablet to Foxconn, according to an Asia-based report. If true, this would mean that Amazon has its sights on a slightly bigger tablet than previous reports have claimed.

Shipments of the 10-inch class Fire would begin in the second quarter, according to a report in DigiTimes.


Apple, Amazon contractor boss calls workers “animals”

The chairman of the Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn, Terry Gou, referred to his workers as “animals” during an appearance at the Taipei City Zoo on Friday. The remark caused an uproar. He later apologized and said the media had distorted his comments.

Foxconn produces around 40% of the world’s consumer electronic devices, including Apple’s iPad, the Amazon Kindle, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and many more.


February 5, 2015

Supreme Court Liberals rule with conservatives in favor of Amazon wage theft

Opinion analysis: No overtime pay for after-work security check

Workers who are required to stay after their normal hours on the job to undergo a security screening are not entitled to overtime pay while they wait for that process and then go through it, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Tuesday.

The decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. (Amazon's pet temp agency) v. Busk overturned the one federal appeals court that had ruled in favor of workers in that scenario — an increasingly common practice in the workplace.

The overtime pay case involved workers at two warehouses in Nevada, which served as storage and order-filling facilities for the online retail giant Amazon.com. Two of Integrity’s hourly workers sued the company after it began requiring all workers to go through screening before they left the premises, a policy designed to deter theft of goods.

The two workers, who filed a class-action lawsuit, contended that they had to wait up to twenty-five minutes to be searched, at which point they then had to remove their wallets, keys, and belts and pass through a metal detector. Their lawyers argued that because this procedure was a mandatory part of their job, imposed by their employer, they were entitled to be paid overtime for the additional time.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Integrity had to pay overtime for the screening process, concluding that this after-work review was a job requirement and was for the company’s benefit.

Reversing that result, and reaching the same conclusion reached by all other federal appeals courts that had considered the issue, the Supreme Court declared that such screening procedures were not an “integral” part of the job. Integrity’s staff at the warehouses, the Court said in an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, were hired to take products off the shelves and package them for shipment to Amazon’s customers, not to go through security screenings.

The Court also found that Integrity could have eliminated the screenings without affecting the workers’ ability to complete their normal tasks. The decision commented that the Ninth Circuit was wrong in focusing on whether the employer had required the extra activity at the end of the workday. If that were the test, Justice Thomas wrote, it would sweep into the realm of paid employment the very kind of activities that Congress had enacted the Portal-to-Portal Act, passed in 1947 to narrow the scope of wage and hour rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act, to address.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, wrote a brief concurring opinion, elaborating on their understanding of the standards the Thomas opinion had used.


What a travesty. The company REQUIRES you to go through the screenings to keep your job. It's irrelevant that they "could" eliminate the screenings, or that the "normal" job consists of moving merchandise. The company requires its workers to be searched before they can leave the workplace, and the searches steal the workers' time for the benefit of the employer.

February 5, 2015

Like Walmart, only with supercomputers and drones: At Amazon.com "cheap" comes at a very hefty price

At first blush, you might wonder why the Lowdown is digging into a company that has built a strong reputation with millions of consumers and even has a rather hip vibe going for it. After all, isn't Amazon considered a model of tech wizardry, having totally reinvented retail marketing for our smart-phone, globally-linked age? Yes. And doesn't it peddle a cornucopia of goods through a convenient "1-click" ordering system, rapidly delivering the goods right to your doorstep? Yes, yes, and yes. Also, doesn't it offer irresistibly steep discounts on the price of nearly everything it sells (which is nearly everything)? Yes, again.

However, as an old saying puts it: The higher the monkey climbs the more you see of its ugly side. Amazon certainly has climbed high in a hurry. Not yet 20 years old, it's already a household brand name and America's 10th largest retailer...

But what is the source of those "efficiencies" and the low prices that are so greatly admired by Wall Street and so gratefully accepted by customers? Are they achieved strictly by being a virtual store, selling everything through the World Wide Web, meaning that it doesn't have to build, staff, and maintain any retail outlets? Or is Amazon achieving market dominance the old-fashioned way--by squeezing the life out of its workers and suppliers, by crushing its competitors (from small shops on Main Street to big chain-store rivals) with monopolistic muscle, and by manipulating our national and state tax laws?

Voila! There's the ugly side. Thus, in both this month's issue and September's, the Lowdown will take a hard look at what Amazon is doing to whom--and where that is leading our society.

Amazon screams for scrutiny because it, more than any other single entity, has had the infinite hubris to envision a brave new, computer-driven oligarchic order for our society--then has proceeded to assemble it.

For some 30 years, corporate control has steadily (and stealthily) enveloped major elements of our society--workplaces, politics, education, media, upward mobility, etc. This encroachment has even been given a benign name: "The new normal." But it's not normal, and it's not the result of some immutable economic force, marching through history--it is the product of corporate money and power being relentlessly asserted by individuals.

No one has imagined corporate domination more expansively nor pushed it harder or further than Bezos, and his Amazon stands today as the most advanced and the most ambitious model of a future under oligarchic control, including control of markets, work, information, consumerism, media... and beyond. He doesn't merely see himself remaking commerce with his vast electronic networks, algorithms, and metrics--but rebooting America itself, including our society's concept of a job, the definition of community, and even our basic values of fairness and justice. It amounts to a breathtaking aspiration to transform our culture's democratic paradigm into a corporate imperium, led by Amazon.

Bezos, an admirer of Walmart's predatory business strategy, didn't just duplicate it--he wired it into his supercomputers, applied the Big Data techniques of the NSA to it, and routed it through the matrix of his own grandiose imagination. Walmart, the "Beast of Bentonville," is now yesterday's model of how far-reaching and destructive corporate power can be. Amazon is the new model, not just of tomorrow's corporate beast, but the day after tomorrow's...


February 5, 2015

Why Jeff Bezos’ Amazon Is More Evil Than Walmart and McDonald’s

1. At Amazon, any a particular employee’s promotion isn’t his or her boss’s decision, but rather, depends on whether that boss can convince his or her peers that an employee is promotion-worthy. In other words, not only does an AMZN worker need to suck up to his or her supervisor, but it would behoove them to suck up to every other boss in the building. This can make office politics very tricky — as well as cut-throat — in that it allows someone to keep a better employee (i.e. competition) ineligible for any kind of advancement where they might become a threat.

2. The average warehouse worker, which is a huge segment of the AMZN employee base, earns an average annual paycheck of $23,582. That’s on par with Walmart’s lousy pay. In some of those warehouses, Amazon employees were forced to raise a serious stink before air conditioners were installed. (Note: $23,582 = $11.33/hour, and if that's a typical wage average, it's right-skewed, meaning the typical worker makes less but the 'average' is raised by a minority of higher-paid workers)

3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Jeff Bezos has created a culture at AMZN where any customer complaint is presumed to mean an employee has made a mistake, or an employee is ultimately somehow at fault. Example: Any emailed customer complaint that Jeff Bezos receives — and apparently that’s a great number of them — are simply forwarded to the appropriate individual with nothing more than a question mark added by the CEO. A resolution and a plan of action to prevent the problem from arising again is expected within hours; there’s no one at AMZN who doesn’t know what the lone “?” actually means...

And make no mistake — Jeff Bezos isn’t simply being efficient by adding a sole question mark to complaint e-mails. He uses plenty of words when he feels it’s merited. He has been credited with saying the words “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” and “You’re a total idiot, but do it anyway” plenty of times.

There are better ways to get someone’s attention, and it might be less humiliating to simply fire an employee who’s truly an idiot, incompetent or lazy. Under the right circumstances, harsh words like that can lead someone to commit suicide.

Unfortunately, Jeff Bezos doesn’t seem to have any other way of making his point.


and here's a comment from someone who worked in one of bezos' warehouses (the ones that are locked and allowed to heat up to over 100 degrees while compassionate Bezos keeps ambulances stationed outside to take away any workers who drop from dehydration)

AMZNhorrorshow's avatar

As a former masters level manager for AMZN, I could not even bear to watch what was done to the hourly warehouse workers, let alone participate. Worst job I ever had. I have never seen such contempt for workers, and I've managed globally, including China! Young, naive MBA's can bring their dogs to work at AMZN Seattle, but warehouse workers don't even have time to get to their lunch and back within 30 mins, in a million square foot bldg during a 12 hour shift, and that's just a minor problem. ( Most Chinese workers, btw, have a chef on the premises)

All of the sheeple excuses about "at least they have a job," plays right into the hands of Jeff "Beelzebub" Bezos...but as long as you get free shipping, who cares.( until they eat the competition, and end it) I am not religious, but that place made me believe in evil! True story.


February 5, 2015

Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers

When I first did research on Walmart’s workplace practices in the early 2000s, I came away convinced that Walmart was the most egregiously ruthless corporation in America. However, ten years later, there is a strong challenger for this dubious distinction—Amazon Corporation. Within the corporate world, Amazon now ranks with Apple as among the United States’ most esteemed businesses. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, came in second in the Harvard Business Review’s 2012 world rankings of admired CEOs, and Amazon was third in CNN’s 2012 list of the world’s most admired companies. Amazon is now a leading global seller not only of books but also of music and movie DVDs, video games, gift cards, cell phones, and magazine subscriptions. Like Walmart itself, Amazon combines state-of-the-art CBSs with human resource practices reminiscent of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries...

Amazon’s shop-floor processes are an extreme variant of Taylorism that Frederick Winslow Taylor himself, a near century after his death, would have no trouble recognizing. With this twenty-first-century Taylorism, management experts, scientific managers, take the basic workplace tasks at Amazon, such as the movement, shelving, and packaging of goods, and break down these tasks into their subtasks, usually measured in seconds; then rely on time and motion studies to find the fastest way to perform each subtask; and then reassemble the subtasks and make this “one best way” the process that employees must follow.

As with Walmart so at Amazon, there is a quasi-religious cult of the customer as an object of “trust” and “care”; Amazon “cares about the customer,” and “everything is driven” for him or her...Amazon’s larding of its customer cult with the moral language of “care” and “trust” comes with a strong dose of humbug because Amazon’s customers are principally valued by the corporation as mainstays of the bottom line...There is still more humbug in the air because Amazon treats a second significant grouping of men and women with whom it has dealings—its employees—with the very opposite of care and trust...

In its US and UK fulfillment centers, Amazon management is hegemonic. There is no independent employee voice to contest management’s demands for increased output unmatched by increases in real wages...at all Amazon’s centers...in the United States and the United Kingdom, the cult of the customer is a serious matter and provides the rationale for the extreme variant of scientific management whose purpose, as at Walmart, is to keep pushing up employee productivity while keeping hourly wages at or near poverty levels.

As at Walmart, Amazon achieves this with a regime of workplace pressure, in which targets for the unpacking, movement, and repackaging of goods are relentlessly increased to levels where employees have to struggle to meet their targets and where older and less dextrous employees will begin to fail. As at Walmart, there is a pervasive “three strikes and you’re out” culture, and when these marginal employees acquire too many demerits (“points”), they are fired...

Amazon’s system of employee monitoring is the most oppressive I have ever come across and combines state-of-the-art surveillance technology with the system of “functional foreman,” introduced by Taylor in the workshops of the Pennsylvania machine-tool industry in the 1890s...Beyond this poisonous mixture of Taylorism and Stakhnovism, laced with twenty-first-century IT, there is, in Amazon’s treatment of its employees, a pervasive culture of meanness and mistrust that sits ill with its moralizing about care and trust—for customers, but not for the employees. So, for example, the company forces its employees to go through scanning checkpoints when both entering and leaving the depots, to guard against theft, and sets up checkpoints within the depot, which employees must stand in line to clear before entering the cafeteria, leading to what Amazon’s German employees call Pausenklau (break theft), shrinking the employee’s lunch break from thirty to twenty minutes, when they barely have time to eat their meal...

Perhaps the biggest scandal in Amazon’s recent history took place at its Allentown, Pennsylvania, center during the summer of 2011. The scandal was the subject of a prizewinning series in the Allentown newspaper, the Morning Call, by its reporter Spencer Soper. The series revealed the lengths Amazon was prepared to go to keep costs down and output high and yielded a singular image of Amazon’s ruthlessness—ambulances stationed on hot days at the Amazon center to take employees suffering from heat stroke to the hospital. Despite the summer weather, there was no air-conditioning in the depot, and Amazon refused to let fresh air circulate by opening loading doors at either end of the depot—for fear of theft. Inside the plant there was no slackening of the pace, even as temperatures rose to more than 100 degrees. On June 2, 2011, a warehouse employee contacted the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration to report that the heat index had reached 102 degrees in the warehouse and that fifteen workers had collapsed. On June 10 OSHA received a message on its complaints hotline from an emergency room doctor at the Lehigh Valley Hospital: “I’d like to report an unsafe environment with an Amazon facility in Fogelsville. . . . Several patients have come in the last couple of days with heat related injuries.”

Union success would unquestionably raise Amazon’s costs and slow the growth of employee productivity. Wages would begin increasing in line with employee productivity, and productivity growth itself would slow as the union and the Betriebsrat together blunted Amazon’s practice of pushing employees to the limit and beyond. We can be sure that at this point, Amazon would play the “cult of the customer” for all its worth and would do the same in an American setting if faced with the same challenge. So customers would have to start paying more for their packages and could no longer be absolutely certain of receiving delivery of them the very next day.

But should these marginal benefits to customers really be purchased at the price of a system that treats employees as untrustworthy human robots and relies on intimidation to push them to the limit, while denying them the rewards of their own increased efficiency? This is not a choice to be made solely with the economist’s narrow calculations of monetary costs and benefits. In quantitative, monetary terms, the cost to Amazon customers of a benign reengineering of the company would far outweigh the monetary benefits to employees. But what is the real value of such customer inconvenience when set alongside the value lost with the millions of lives damaged by Walmart, Amazon, and their ilk?


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