Amazon’s Wal-Mart problem: Why low wages, working conditions and disdain for culture will hurt us all – RICHARD (R.J.) ESKOW

Amazon drives down wages, avoids taxes and destroys intellectual life, while profiting from government subsidies

Jeff Bezos (Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton/Jeff Haynes/photo montage by Salon)

Franklin Foer, editor of The New Republic, has weighed in on the Amazon controversy with a piece titled “Amazon Must Be Stopped.” The subtitle reads “It’s too big. It’s cannibalizing the economy. It’s time for a radical plan.”

I, for one, am feeling a little less alone as a result. We proposed our own “radical” approach to companies like Amazon and Google back in July, which was to treat them as public utilities if we’re not willing to apply antitrust law. It’s good to have Foer’s company in this effort.

Public utility theory proved remarkably adaptable to corporations like Amazon and Google, at least in theory. But, while the suggestion provoked a predictable string of derisive right-wing responses, there was almost total silence on the left. It’s good to see someone else recognizing the fundamental challenge posed by a company like Amazon, as well as the harm caused by the long-term erosion of our ability to respond to monopolistic threats when they are amplified by the impact of technology.

Foer’s essay has provoked a certain amount of long-overdue discussion in left/liberal circles. The question is, where does that debate go from here?

Perhaps from an excess of caution, Foer opens with a paean to the company’s accomplishments. “Before we speak ill of Amazon,” he writes, “let us kneel down before it.” Foer tells us that “the company began with the stated goal of creating a bookstore as comprehensive as the great Library of Alexandria,” adding that it “quickly managed to make even that grandiloquent ambition look puny” and “could soon conjure the full text of almost any volume onto a phone in less time than a yawn.” He adds that Amazon’s catalogue “comes damn close to serving every human need … as cheap as capitalism permits.”

Amazon hasn’t earned those kind words. As Barnes & Noble pointed out in a 1997 lawsuit, Amazon isn’t a bookstore at all. It’s a “broker” of books, most of which it did not have directly on hand in its early years. It couldn’t “soon conjure” books onto phones. The Kindle platform wasn’t rolled out until 2007, 12 years after went online. And, as Foer himself later suggests, its products are as cheap as monopolistic practicespermit.

Escape from slavery: The harrowing story behind an African-American intellectual’s break for freedom – Ezra Greenspan `Sunday, Oct 19, 2014 10:58 AM UTC

William Wells Brown became a leading black thinker and speaker of the 19th century. First he needed his freedom


Topics: BooksAmerican Historyafrican-american historyslaveryMark TwainWilliam Wells BrownEditor’s Picks

Escape from slavery: The harrowing story behind an African-American intellectual's break for freedom

William Wells Brown’s growth into early manhood coincided with the dismemberment of his family. As (master) Dr. John Young’s fortunes fell into decline in St. Louis without a corresponding reduction of expenses, he began selling his chief assets: slaves and land. The process probably began during Brown’s year on the rivers with notorious slave trader James Walker and, once begun, accelerated. Brown’s sole account of the most devastating trauma of his early life was severely foreshortened and tantalizingly brief: “My mother, my brothers Joseph and Millford, and my sister Elizabeth, belonged to Mr. Isaac Mansfield, formerly from one of the Free States, (Massachusetts, I believe.) He was a tinner by trade, and carried on a large manufacturing establishment. Of all my relatives, mother was first, and sister next.”

Their new master was Isaac Mansfield, a longtime acquaintance of Young’s, possibly even from the time of his move from Marthasville to St. Louis. Mansfield had witnessed one of the Youngs’ earliest land transactions, and he was named as a party in Young’s final legal act in St. Louis, the drafting of his last will several months before his death. All in all, Mansfield’s role in the affairs of Elizabeth and her children was considerably greater than Brown acknowledged in his “Narrative.” A man to whom Young repeatedly turned in making slave deals, Mansfield was an uncanny presence in Brown’s recorded adolescence, casting an ominous shadow over Brown and his entire family during the later St. Louis years. Although little is stated explicitly about their relations in the “Narrative,” one fact is clear: Mansfield disliked Brown, and Brown detested Mansfield.

The few facts about Mansfield are sufficient to bring his profile into focus. A hard-working, hard-driving Northerner who migrated to St. Louis no later than 1826, Mansfield devoted himself, as Brown claimed, to his work as a tinsmith and building contractor, carrying on his trade on a large scale. One of his young workers remarked about him approvingly in 1830: “Mansfield has not wanted any work I think for 2 months, though I believe he would rather go peddling himself than discharge me for want of work. Business in our line was never known to be as dull as this season.” But later that year, Mansfield landed a large government contract for installing roof gutters and conducting pipes on the buildings of the Jefferson Barracks, a new federal military post about ten miles downriver from St. Louis. A year later, he contributed to the Missouri Auxiliary Bible Society, an organization dear to Young. He was prospering during this period and might also have been achieving some local influence. Like Young, he was politically active, aligning himself with the city’s Jacksonian Democrats and in 1831 even competing for a seat in the Missouri General Assembly.

Ukraine: Euromaidan’s heroes run for parliament in bid for reform – by Sabra Ayres October 19, 2014 5:00AM ET

 Young reformists running for parliament attempt to rally the nation’s youth in fight against corruption, for democracy

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at Oct 19, 2014 10.42

BEREZHANI, Ukraine — Vitaliy Shabunin grabbed the microphone and strutted back and forth on the stage, trying to convince his rapt audience of agriculture students about the importance of young voters’ participation in Ukraine’s parliamentary elections.

“We can be a trigger for change,” he told the room of about 150 college students in late September. “Thanks to Maidan, we have an opportunity to bring new blood into the parliament with new methods, new ways of thinking and a desire to change things. This is how we will break the old system of corruption.”

At 29, Shabunin has made a name for himself as one of the country’s young reformers, a group of 20- and 30-somethings who emerged from the Euromaidan protest movement that ousted Kremlin-favored President Viktor Yanukovych. Shabunin heads the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kiev, where from 2011 he has overseen projects that exposed and blocked $100 million in state procurement scams initiated during Yanukovych’s presidency.

Warren in Minnesota: ‘The game is rigged’ – By Paul Kane October 18 at 4:15 PM

NORTHFIELD, Minn. — Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) brought her populist message Saturday to this small college town to rev up the final weeks of Sen. Al Franken’s reelection campaign, but also to claim the mantle of the modern liberal movement’s political godfather.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks to a crowd during a rally to urge the reelection of Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) on the campus of the University of Colorado, in Boulder. (Brennan Linsley/AP)

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks to a crowd during a rally to urge the reelection of Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) on the campus of the University of Colorado, in Boulder. (Brennan Linsley/AP)

Speaking before more than 400 people at Carleton College, Warren repeatedly invoked the spirit of the late Paul Wellstone, the fiery liberal senator who died 12 years ago this month in a plane crash during his reelection campaign. Wellstone remains a revered figure in Minnesota politics, and his brand of populism — out of step in the Clintonian Democratic Party of the 1990s — is now mainstream among leading liberal activists. Warren has become the most prominent public face of that movement, and the Wellstone disciples in this town 40 miles south of Minneapolis gave their approval Saturday.

“The game is rigged, and the Republicans rigged it,” Warren said to loud cheers.

It’s part of a three-state tour of Senate campaigns for Warren, who later Saturday headed to St. Paul for a get-out-the-vote rally on behalf of Franken, Gov. Mark Dayton (D) and other candidates. Franken and Dayton are strong favorites to win reelection next month.

On Friday Warren stopped in the Denver suburbs to help Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) in his tough reelection campaign. And on Sunday, Warren will be on the stump in Iowa for Rep. Bruce Braley (D), who is in a neck-and-neck race for the seat of retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). It’s Warren’s first visit in this election season to the battleground state, home to the first-in-the-nation caucus in early 2016 for the presidential campaign.

The crowd at Carleton — where Wellstone served as a professor before launching his long-shot 1990 Senate bid — gave its loudest cheers to Warren, whose fights against big banks have made her a hero to liberal activists.

“She’s amazing. She shows that politics is a good thing,” said Rachel Palermo, 21, a senior at neighboring St. Olaf College. Some of her friends said they attended the rally just to see Warren.

Palermo and her friends said they want Warren to run for president, but Alyssa Berg, 21, also a St. Olaf senior, noted it would be “counterproductive” for Warren to run against Hillary Rodham Clinton.

They settled on them running together as a ticket — it’s uncertain whether they prefer Warren or Clinton atop such a ticket.

Warren has declined past overtures at challenging Clinton in 2016, and she made no mention of any national ambition, but the crowd reaction cemented the impression that she is atop the list of sought-after speakers to energize liberal voters.

“She’s a rock star,” Franken told reporters afterward, declining to comment on whether she should consider national campaign.

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This Quirky Indie Rocker Can Help You Win at Scrabble – By Rebecca Cohen | Sat Oct. 18, 2014 4:26 AM EDT

Stephin Merritt, the singer for the Magnetic Fields, refuses to play Scrabble with me.

I can’t help but be a tiny bit disappointed. The ubiquitous word game, after all, is the reason I’m sitting down with him in this San Francisco bakery-cafe. Merritt is in town promoting 101 Two-Letter Words, a collection of poems—illustrated by the loveably oddball New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast—that he wrote to help himself remember the shortest words in Scrabble’s official dictionary.

But when I challenge him to a match, Merritt shakes his head. “The last time I attempted Scrabble with an interviewer,” he says in his slow, gravelly voice, “I accidentally stole 12 tiles from the Bryant Park public Scrabble set.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise that he doesn’t want his attention divided. Merritt isn’t known for doing things halfway. His band’s best-known record, the aptly named 69 Love Songs, is a three-volume epic that ranges from gospel to punk. On another album, i, every song title begins with the letter I.

“‘Be yourself,’ all thinkers say; how odd they think alike. ‘Be yourself,’ says Lao Tzu; ‘Be yourself,’ says Wilhelm Reich.”

He’s also not fond of repetition. In addition to his work with the Magnetic Fields, Merritt has written several Chinese operas, a score for a silent film version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and music for the audiobook of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. This poetry collection is his first. “I think I would get bored easily if I did the same thing again and again,” Merritt says, so “I don’t.”

The idea for 101 Two-Letter Words, which hit bookshelves at the end of September, came to him while he was on tour playing Scrabble and Words With Friends to kill time in hotels and airports. His opponents included a copyeditor, a journalist, and the novelist Emma Straub. He found himself losing often. So, in a ploy to remember strategically important words like “aa” (a type of lava) and “xu” (a unit of currency), he began composing quatrains for each.

“After a few,” he writes in the book’s introduction, “I thought I’d better write all of them down, and how better to do that than to write a book? I never finish anything without a deadline anyway.”

Merritt says he doesn’t have a favorite poem from the book, as he’s “not a person who has favorite things.” But he does, disproving his own claim, have a favorite illustration: The poem for “be” reads “‘Be yourself,’ all thinkers say; how odd they think alike. ‘Be yourself,’ says Lao Tzu; ‘Be yourself,’ says Wilhelm Reich.”

To accompany it, Chast has drawn what Merritt describes as “an ugly American tourist couple with his/her shirts.” His shirt says, “Be yourself.” Hers says, “I’m with stupid.”

“It blew me away,” Merritt says.

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Jeff Iliff: One more reason to get a good night’s sleep – Filmed September 2014 at TEDMED 2014

The brain uses a quarter of the body’s entire energy supply, yet only accounts for about two percent of the body’s mass. So how does this unique organ receive and, perhaps more importantly, rid itself of vital nutrients? New research suggests it has to do with sleep.