Author: Chris

Lyrics: Leave This Mess Behind

I had a revelation
that everything’s not fine
we’re not this sovereign country
and we’re running out of time

we’re in the grips of maniacs
they don’t care about the rest
they think they’ve fooled us with their acts
they think that they’re the best

I have some aspirations
on how to treat this malaise
if you happen to agree with me
then repeat this little phrase:

let’s start a revolution
of the heart, soul, and mind
let’s start a revolution
we’re killing our own kind
let’s start a revolution
before we lose our minds
let’s start a revolution
and leave this mess behind

let’s prosecute the bankers
that wreck our currency
they steal from our neighbor
and everyone can’t you see

I ain’t got 10 billion bucks
and I owe my life in fees
but I’d rather stand up to you fucks
than be down on my knees

can’t trust the politicians
can’t trust the police
can’t trust the judges or the courts
and i can’t afford my lease

it’s time that we the people
reclaim our dignity
fight back with our hearts and minds
fight for humanity

let’s smash up all the gadgets
and get out in the streets
these useless games and websites
they make us weak

Big Bro is watching you
he records what you type
he knows where you’ve been and gone
he watches while you Skype

while all this happens
you sit down with a beer
flip on the NFL
and hear them roar and cheer

it’s just a corporate spectacle
that markets to your fears
brought to you my Mastercard
“we’ll see you all next year!”

Verizon’s got the cellulars
Citibank has got your loans
Comcast owns the Internet
Wells Fargo takes your home

ConAgra owns all the food
Bud Light has got the booze
Bud, Busch, Becks, Coors, Michelob
which poison do you choose?

Monsanto’s making all the seeds
Dick Cheney’s got the bombs
Goldman Sachs owns all the stocks
Obama bombed your mom

Wal-Mart owns all the retail
Pfizer’s got your pills
don’t you read those side effects
they won’t make you ill

Apple’s got technology
and Disney stole the show
Starbucks has its coffee shops
everywhere you go

Raytheon flies all the drones
and FedEx sends your mail
the CCA will rob you blind
by sending you to jail

let’s start this revolution
we’re going so insane
let’s start this revolution
so much suffering and pain
start this revolution
quit playing their little game

let’s start a revolution
of the heart, soul, and mind
let’s start a revolution
we’re killing our own kind
let’s start a revolution
before we lose our minds
let’s start a revolution
and leave this mess behind

© 2020 Chris Paulus

Amazon’s Underbelly 4.0: Consumer Data Harvesting Has Gone Too Far

Originally published on Occupy.com

This is Part 4 in a series looking at the impacts of Amazon on government, surveillance and the democratic process. Read the first partsecond part and third part.

Amazon has formed an uncomfortable, yet formidable, relationship with the government by creating surveillance technology, providing cloud storage for the government, and using its excess wealth to inordinately influence politics and policy.

On top of this, the company strives to intimately understand its customers by harvesting consumer data at unprecedented levels – ironically, without the consent or the acknowledgement of its customers.

One of Amazon’s newest privacy-shattering fetishes is developing artificial intelligence in order to enhance the shopping experience for its customers.

Amazon has developed its own search engine, A9, in order to expedite this endeavor. Like it or not, if you’ve done a search on Amazon then you’ve used the search engine. A9 claims to create a simple and convenient shopping experience for its customers.

It uses data from customers’ previous purchases and offers suggestions when users enter their queries. A9 also uses ranking algorithms to present the most relevant results to the user. It can remember everything that you’ve ever searched for, and it has the right to share that information with its retail sector. The A9 website proudly states:

“Our work starts long before a customer types a query. We’ve been analyzing data, observing past traffic patterns, and indexing the text describing every product in our catalog before the customer has even decided to search. As soon as we see the first keystroke, we’re ready with instant suggestions and a comprehensive set of search results.”

A9 is looking to expand its search capabilities to include visual searches. Amazon bought out a small startup called Snaptell to embark on its visual search journey. The visual search works by “overlaying relevant information over camera-phone views of the world around [our customers].” In other words, it allows customers to take pictures of CDs, DVDs, or video games and the app will identify the product and provide ratings and pricing information.

Amazon also acquired the website Goodreads in 2013. Amazon regularly reviews a customer’s highlighted words and notes in order to figure out what interests them. The company then sends suggestions to the person’s Kindle for e-book recommendations. It provides the same function when items are added to their cart using a collaborative filtering engine (CFE).

Even more troubling, in a letter to shareholders in 2017, CEO Jeff Bezos describes how Amazon Web Services (AWS) clients would potentially have access to these AI learning frameworks.

Many data collection schemes like clickstream analytics, data warehousing, recommendation engines, and fraud detection are all done through cloud-computing. Developers from other companies that do business with Amazon may have the ability to use the same deep-learning tracking software because of their adoption of AWS.

The companies already using AWS run the gamut, from McDonald’s, Netflix, Adobe and Capital One to GE and Pinterest. All of these companies have a vested interest in tracking the habits of their customers and will likely, and gladly, pounce on the opportunity.

Amazon candidly talks about its approach to gathering information about its customers. In fact, the company even compare its collection of information to a partner who learns more about you as your relationship grows. Of course, in this case it’s a one-way interaction: You don’t get to learn anything about how Amazon operates.

In the letter, Bezos candidly referenced the underbelly to which this series has referred: “Much of what we do with machine learning happens beneath the surface. Machine learning drives our algorithms for demand forecasting, product search ranking, product and deals recommendations, merchandising placements, fraud detection, translations, and more.”

“Though less visible,” he continued, “much of the impact of machine learning will be of this type – quietly but meaningfully improving core operations.” The type of AI to which he’s referring is focused on human behavior and habit.

That’s right: much of what they do with machine learning happens beneath the surface, so the general public has no idea of the company’s newest initiatives to expand its power.

If A9 and its counterparts represent such a glorious, reputable and helpful piece of technology, and if its intentions are truly noble and pure, then why are the majority of Amazon customers blissfully unaware of its existence? Amazon continues to be opaque about its involvement in our government and in our lives: in its sale of facial recognition technology to our government, in its supply of clandestine cloud service to national security agencies and local municipalities, in its manipulation of our political process, and our private data as well. Amazon should at least make its intentions and its actions transparent to its customers.

Amazon has access to a troubling amount of industry information: lucrative private contracts with local governments; private consumer data; financial resources to lobby political leaders; business deals to sell surveillance technology; and a massive fortune and wealth to boot. Amazon remains one of the most powerful and influential companies on Earth, and Jeff Bezos the richest man in history. He and the company have the ability and influence to change our world for the better. But instead this empire continues to consolidate power and wealth for itself.

Amazon’s continued occult actions must be brought to light so that a true examination of its power can continue.

Poem: Surreptitious Usurpers

Surreptitious Usurpers

these surreptitious usurpers –
sneakily stealing
slickly seizing
swiftly swiping
slowly sucking
like a brazen, sepulchral, slimy squid

these surreptitious usurpers –
are secretive and prodigious
grotesquely suspicious
subliminally vicious
sickeningly supercilious
conceitedly superior and vacuous

these surreptitious usurpers –
with uncompromising ruthlessness
with staggering thoughtlessness
with rapacious ravenousness
distressingly remorseless
act secretly behind subtle veils of seduction

and these surreptitious usurpers,
with silvery scales of a basilisk
with hearts, souls, and spirits of stone
with slithering tongues

spew slim veils of supposed reality
spread darkness and perplexity
sell story after story
send missiles for perverted glory
consolidate their ascendancy
praise their own pathology

these surreptitious usurpers
submerging us in seas of deceit
severing off our self-sustaining feet
subjugating and coercing as they cheat
stomping swiftly up the staircase to our defeat
almost complete

and the stupefied slaves –
slumbering and primitive
docile and submissive
stolid and passive
yet massive

soon the scales will slide from our eyes
the stupefied slaves will start to realize
and we’ll take you by surprise
overcome your lies
and send you to your demise

© 2020 Chris Paulus

Poem: The Lesser Evil Man

The Lesser Evil Man

“Vote for the lesser evil, man,
it’s the only way to vote”
well, if you take that logic, man
they’ve got you by the throat

we’ve heard this song before, my man
you say it every year
“sacrifice your vision, man”
we hear you loud and clear

we’ve tried it all before, my friend
we clenched our eyes with dread
we pinched our noses with disgust
and voted, like you said

what a wise decision, too
just look around and see
our country is in stellar shape
how much better could it be?

you claim that it was worth it, man
that we did ourselves a favor
“we dodged a bullet and a storm –
it was a good endeavor”

well, you pulled your little lever
and then went about your day
but now your lesser evil man
took more and more away

“I thought we dodged a bullet, man
how did it go so wrong?”
it should be no surprise to you –
he was evil all along

“vote for the lesser evil, man”
but you choose not to see
both are vetted figureheads
of our kleptocracy

our country has new owners now
despite what you’ve been told
a lurid, sanctioned boxing match
that’s bought out, paid, and sold

they televise their roulette game
they place their bets, conspire
it’s all the same to them, my man
which pawn do you desire?

they still run the casino, man
they still have all the power
they’ve nearly got it all, my friend
this is the final hour

so here we are again, my friend
presented with a choice
it really is quite simple, man
take notice and rejoice

to play into their hand, my friend
or expose their rigged game
to strike a blow to the status quo
or keep it all the same

to snap in line like bleating swine
at their beck and command
and vote the lesser evil man
– a spineless, trite demand

or shake the chains of the remains
of vapid, bankrupt creeds
and claim a vision that we want
unconditionally

and choose to fight against our plight
even when it’s tough
to tell our callous overlords
that we have had enough

if voting is indeed our voice
then proudly say with me:
fuck the lesser evil man
and let good come to be

 

© 2020 Chris Paulus

Decision points: compassion or hate?

The coronavirus is a not only a biological virus. It is a cultural virus. The virus is very deft at exposing our culture’s and our society’s grave shortcomings. It is causing much hardship, distress, and suffering, and in its wake, it is putting the rotting infrastructure of a decaying empire on full display.

We spend approximately 20% of our GDP on health care, but fail to even provide enough ventilators to our fellow, infected Americans. Our nurses are posting videos of themselves crying on live TV because they can get the appropriate amount of PPE. Jeff Bezos’ net worth skyrockets by a grotesque $24 billion in a couple of weeks, while Amazon will not provide adequate protection to its warehouse workers, and in fact will fire organizers trying to bring attention to that fact. Even more frightening, Whole Foods (owned by Bezos) is using a heat map to track employees to detect unionization activity. Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen gets to leave prison because of the COVID-19 threat, while many non-violent individuals in jail, many of them not even yet on trial, cannot be released from prison. Our leaders, instead of appropriately warning the American public of the dangers of COVID-19, sold stock while they were privately informed about the severity of the virus.

It is particularly disgusting that world’s rich continues to get lavishly richer, while a record number of 22 million Americans have applied for unemployment in a couple of weeks. That’s right. While most people are struggling to make ends meet, while many are losing their shitty jobs (and, along with it, their access to health care), and not even to able to pay their rent, the net worth of world’s top 10 billionaires net worth increased by a shocking $51 billion dollars. That’s with a b.

Meanwhile, our government is completely incapable of providing even the most basic needs to our citizens. Our callous and feckless leaders are staggeringly out of touch with the daily lives of even a moderately-affluent American. Steven Minuchin, the Treasury Secretary, recently suggested that Americans can live off $1,200 for 10 weeks. Nancy Pelosi, whose net worth is $16 million, recently talked about eating ice cream in front of expensive kitchen appliances, meanwhile Americans are forced to line up their cars for food distribution.

The virus is causing us to question a variety of standards of practice in our country. Why are people held in prison just because they can’t pay bail and they haven’t even gone to trial yet? Why are innocent children held in inhumane, unsanitary cages while they await deportation? How is it that we spend way more per capita for health care over any other developed country and we still can’t test everyone in the United States for COVID-19? Why is it that rich and famous people like Tom Hanks, Idris Elba, and NBA stars can get immediate testing and treatment, but the average, unsuspecting American is going to have to pay a deductible first? Don’t grocery store clerks and delivery drivers, who in the matter of weeks went from “low-skill labor” to “heroes who deserve hazard pay,” deserve a decent, living wage as well? Do we really need to stuff kids in a cement box for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week? Do we really need to keep voting for the “lesser of two evils” every election year?

Parents and guardians are now wondering: should teachers get paid more for dealing with our kids all day, all the time? Impostors like Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz are being exposed for the frauds they are. Once revered media figures, like Ellen DeGeneres, are being exposed for the selfish and tone-deaf pricks they are.

The virus is holding up a mirror, and the image in the reflection is fucking disgusting. Many people are finally willing to accept it. Unfortunately, many also are not. It is certainly dark times. But, this is our opportunity to step up and create something that actually works for the everyday American.

In response to this cultural virus, our culture is producing antibodies – antibodies that are activating our immune system and igniting an inflammatory response. This inflammatory response will manifest into populist movements. We are seeing the tinder for this: the now disenfranchised Bernie voters (which represent the majority of under 40, Latino, Arab, and young African-Americans); the worker’s strikes at Whole Foods, Amazon, Instacart, and hospitals; staggering levels of unemployment; and rent strikes. While all of this is going on, our government is unable, or unwilling, to respond rationally or urgently. Let us not forget about the smoldering ashes of the Occupy Wall Street and continuing efforts of the Poor People’s Campaign and Black Lives Matter movements. Those are just a few of the signs.

These populist movements can manifest in mainly two ways – good or bad. It might seem juvenile and reductionist to frame it in such simple terms. But I believe this is where we are truly at.

The bad will occur if the populist movement is centered on hate and ignorance (against Muslims and undocumented immigrants, e.g.) We see examples of this already. Groups of armed, white men with Confederate flags are gathering outside of the Michigan state capitol chanting “Lock her up” for simply enforcing some guidelines to keep the public safe. Not surprisingly, it has recently been discovered that these groups are funded by a political group that is indeed heavily funded by Betsy DeVos (Michgan Freedom Fund, Michigan Conservative Coalition). Trump is continuing the ignite that civil unrest by tweeting “Liberate [name of state]” for almost all of the states in the U.S.  There are now protests in Wisconsin, Texas, and Virginia, among others. His docile and vacuous sycophants are obsequiously parroting an even more docile and vacuous leader. Dumb idiots taking orders from a hateful, dumb, idiot leader. Sound familiar?

On the flip side, the good will happen if the movement is centered on compassion and love. A good populist movement will be non-violent and will focus on the issues. A true and honest movement will question the unequal institutions in our society and propose compassionate and rational solutions to our country’s problems and correctly identify the causes. We see examples of this as well. There was already a lot of tinder for this from the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements. Now, the flames have been stoked when a progressive candidate like Sanders (who is really a moderate in most countries but considered a radical in our fucked up political landscape), the political manifestation of those two populist movements, has now been denied the nomination two election years in a row (for a variety of reasons). Progressive voices and ideas are continually maligned in cable news media and on Twitter. The entire agenda of the Sanders movement was ostracized by a fabricated “Bernie bro” myth.

At this point, we can go either way. And unfortunately, given our president’s actions and his power, I would place money on the “bad” at this point. But things these days can turn around quickly. There are also plenty of signs to place your money on the “good.”

I know. I’m like you. I don’t want to rock the boat. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Many of us want to live a simple life: go to a job that makes us moderately happy, or at least is only marginally depressing; forge meaningful relationships with friends, significant others, and family; treat others with the respect that they dish out; and contribute in some meaningful way to the environment around you.

The splinter in that cute, little proverbial puppy paw is that there is an elite cadre of people whose motives are much more sinister and domineering. I’m talking about the 1% of the country that owns as much wealth as the entire middle class. I’m talking about assholes like Richard Branson who owns his own island but claims he needs government money to keep his business afloat.

The more enduring problem: they have all the power. Richard Branson will most likely get what he wants.

The scales are tipped wildly in their favor. The fact of the matter is: if their power is left unfettered, they will kill us. They truly have no end to their greed. In the middle of a pandemic, the government (that they control) shelled out $1,200 bread crumbs to the people, while the largest corporations got a $500 billion dollar bailout. Even more menacing is that their addiction to fossil fuels will cook our Earth to a level on par with Venus.

Before we can enjoy our simple lives and create meaningful communities and lives with our loved ones, we must first rein in the oligarchic elite trying to take that simple future away from us. Their looting has gone largely unnoticed by the relatively opulent. But trust me, the population will continue to get squeezed for less and less and less.

I follow the lead of Chris Hedges on the solution. The elite cadre of individuals have stripped every mechanism of power from us: the media, the Congress, the judicial system, and the economy. The only way to retake power is through massive, non-violent, civil disobedience. We must obstruct, disrupt, and paralyze the gears of the system. As Mario Savio says: “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. You have got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, and upon all the apparatus. And you’ve got to make it stop.”

That time is now. You can no longer passively take part. Which side are you on?

.

Amazon’s Underbelly 3.0: Lobbying and Bribing to Secure Market Dominance

This is Part 3 in a three-part series looking at the impacts of Amazon on government, surveillance and the democratic process. Read the first part and second part.

Amazon has continued to expand its influence on policy and on government over the past decade. We laud Jeff Bezos as the richest man in the world and how he rose to the top by his own bootstraps. Many imagine him as a self-starter, an entrepreneur, a visionary. But the fact remains that Jeff has used his vast wealth to influence policy and laws to favor his business practices. Amazon has pushed others aside in order to procure its vast influence on politics and legislation.

Granted, Amazon is not alone in this endeavor. It’s no secret that corporations endlessly lobby to get what they want – and are largely successful in buying their way to power. However, the amount that Amazon has spent purchasing political influence has recently skyrocketed. In fact, all members of Big Tech spent record amounts lobbying the U.S. government in 2018: to be precise, Google, Amazon and Facebook doled out a combined $48 million, an increase of 13 percent on the previous year. (Apple by contrast decreased its lobbying spending last year.)

For context, in 2013, Amazon spent $3.5 million on lobbying. The next year it spent $4.7 million, and in 2015 the number jumped to $9.1 million. Since 2013, Amazon’s spending on lobbying has quadrupled – rising to $13 million dollars in 2017. The company spent $14.4 million lobbying in 2018 alone, and spent more than $44 million over the last four years.

Amazon has developed a business tactic wherein the company come up with a business idea, then goes to Congress to lobby for its approval. In 2006, Amazon lobbied the USDA for the first time, ahead of launching Amazon Fresh grocery delivery in 2007. In 2012, it lobbied the USPS for the first time, before announcing Sunday delivery in partnership with the USPS.

In 2013, it lobbied the FAA on drones in the same year that Jeff Bezos announced work on drone delivery. Additionally, Amazon worked with the Treasury Department after striking a deal with Texas asking the state to drop its demand for millions in back taxes. In 2016, the company lobbied the Department of Defense before its contracts with the government became more commonplace and lucrative.

AMAZON’S REVOLVING DOOR

Interestingly, Amazon has consistently and substantially given more money to Democrats than Republicans. In total, the company has donated almost $300,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, DNC Services Corp and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign. Amazon has also donated on average $75,000 to Democrats such as Beto O’Rourke, Kim Schrier, Maria Cantwell and Heidi Heitkamp. The top donor is the With Honor Fund, an organization that works to elect “the next generation veterans to Congress”.

At the same time, some of Amazon’s executives have held previous roles in government. Jay Carney, who served as Joe Biden’s director of communications from 2008 to 2011, and from 2011 to 2014 served as the White House press secretary for President Obama, has been Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide corporate affairs since 2015.

Additionally, Open Secrets revealed that 83 of 115 Amazon.com lobbyists have previously held government jobs.

Amazon, like other Big Tech companies, reveres former government workers for their intricate understanding of the legislative process. Viveca Novak, a director at the Center for Responsive Politics, perhaps said it best: “People who have held key posts in the administration or in Congress are prized in the private sector because of their connections and their knowledge of how the process works, two things that are instrumental to getting anything done – or undone – in Washington. The private sector believes these former government workers are often worth the princely sums they are paid, given how much money can be at stake when business interests intersect with public policy.”

“To the degree that they are trying to influence government policy without registering as lobbyists – and they don’t have to as long as they are providing ‘strategic advice’, for instance, to a colleague who is doing the more direct lobbying – the public isn’t fully informed about who’s behind an effort,” Novak said.

INORDINATE INFLUENCE: CALL IT BRIBING POLITICIANS

So here’s the score: Amazon takes all of the money that it saves by not paying taxes, and the money that it receives in federal tax credits, and uses that cash to further manipulate and change policies that make room for its newest innovations. Instead of asking permission from government and the taxpayers, it bribes members of Congress and governmental institutions to sanction its latest projects and ideas.

It’s no secret that powerful companies like Amazon have gained – and maintained – their power because they use their wealth and status to inordinately influence the legislative and political process. To them, government is nothing more than a tool to get more of what they want. To that end, they hire lobbyists and use super PACS to alter laws so that they are unaffected by the standards applied to the middle class. They buy up media outlets to control the flow of information (Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post, for example) and hire previous government workers to maximize their political influence.

Imagine if the money spent on lobbying were instead donated or recycled back into the economy to support our most vulnerable citizens: the mentally ill, the elderly, the uninsured or underinsured, the hungry, the unemployed, or the terminally ill. Instead, already superbly wealthy companies use that wealth to accumulate more power – simply for the sake of acquiring more power and more wealth. The tax breaks that We the People provide these businesses, and the proverbial “green light” we give them on their new technological innovations, do nothing to improve the general public’s standard of living. They simply further consolidate unprecedented amounts of largesse and political power.

Many citizens still imagine that our government plays a role as the regulatory body over American companies and commerce. But in fact the reverse is turning out to be true: Corporations like Amazon are becoming supranational and the government is, in response, subservient to them.

Citizens must work together to reclaim the power that properly belongs to the people in order to reverse this disturbing trend.