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‘American Dream’ quickly becoming an illusion

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The number of Americans living in poverty and the already high income inequality could worsen further in the days to come, making the United States the most unequal society in the world, the United Nations expert on extreme poverty and human rights warned Friday.

“The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion, as the US now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, Friday, at the end of a fact finding mission to the country.

“Instead of realizing its founders’ admirable commitments, today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights,” he added.

Assumption that poor come from minorities is wrong

In his statement, the Mr. Alston also stated that the assumption that poor came from ethnic minority groups is not correct and in fact there are eight million more white people than African-Americans living in poverty.

“The face of poverty in America is not only black or Hispanic, but also white, Asian and many other colours,” he said.

He went on to add that he was “struck” by the extent to which construed narratives about supposed distinctive differences between the rich and poor have been “sold” to the electorate by some politicians and the media.

Such misconceptions included notions that “the rich are industrious, entrepreneurial, patriotic and the drivers of economic success [while] the poor are wasters, losers and scammers,” he explained.

“Despite the fact that this is contradicted by the facts, some of the politicians and political appointees with whom I spoke were completely sold on the narrative of such scammers sitting on comfortable sofas, watching colour TVs, while surfing on their smartphones, all paid for by welfare.”

“I wonder how many of these politicians have ever visited poor areas, let alone spoken to those who dwell there,” he noted.

Proposed policy and welfare cuts could ‘essentially shred’ safety nets

Further in the statement, the Special Rapporteur also expressed the fear that proposed changes in US tax and welfare policies could have “devastating consequences” for the poorest in the country and make it the “most unequal society in the world.”

“The dramatic cuts in welfare, foreshadowed by President [Donald] Trump and [House of Representatives] Speaker [Paul] Ryan, and already beginning to be implemented by the administration, will essentially shred crucial dimensions of a safety net that is already full of holes.”

“Several administration officials told me that as far as welfare reform is concerned, states are, in Justice Louis D. Brandeis’ famous phrase, ‘laboratories of innovation.’ Recent proposals to drug-test welfare recipients in Wisconsin and West Virginia, along with Mississippi’s recent purge of its welfare rolls, raise concerns that the administration would happily look the other way while states conducted what were in essence unethical experiments on the poor.”

Mr. Alston’s final report on his US visit will be available in Spring 2018 and will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2018. The statement he delivered in Washington DC today can be found here.

During his two-week mission, at the invitation of the federal government, the UN expert visited California, Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., as well as Puerto Rico.

Americas

The Silicon Valley’s ‘Code Peasants’ and ‘Code Overlords’

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The most numerous tech workers in Silicon Valley would be programmers. Their stereotypical image was keeping their heads down, busy in their coding and programming, and even spending their whole life doing so. At times they were touted as “code peasants”. Yet this is not necessarily static and unchangeable. Some of these “code peasants” took advantage of the loose corporate culture of Silicon Valley companies, and evolved to become “code overlords”, i.e., those who prioritize their side jobs over their main jobs. This has eventually become a culture that these “code overlords” hold tight to, and refuse to let go.

About half a year ago, someone went to Cancún in Mexico, during the time that was not the peak tourist season, yet he found out the hotels there were almost fully booked. A local friend of this person who was “working remotely” told him that such was already a case since a year ago. Most of the people staying in the hotels were employees of American tech companies, and they were there for the so-called “remote working”.

Although the American government announced that the country is now fully open and that companies require employees to return to the offices, for these “code peasants” in the past and “code overlords” now, they are reluctant to get back to work. Hence, hotels at the seaside of Cancún are still overcrowded. Why are they willing to spend their time there, even if that means they could possibly lose their job? This requires looking at the problem from a new perspective.

In Cancún, an invisible supply chain of American tech companies has actually been formed. To put it simply, it is because “remote working” is not efficient at all, as it is based entirely on personal ethics. Even if things can be maintained, no major work can be done through such means. The result of this is that many businesses of American tech companies have to adopt outsourcing. Thus, everyone in Cancún becomes each other’s outsourcer. While receiving the company’s salary and benefits, those who work remotely here are helping other companies in outsourcing business. At the same time, they can also enjoy Mexico’s tax relief policy. Their daily consumption is only one-third of that of the United States. Surely these people have a good life there.

For these people, forcing them to return to their companies and stick to a 9 to 5 job, that would mean zeroing-out their side income, and this is tantamount to a crime against humanity.

For such a loose corporate culture failing to deliver proper work, is it an accidental phenomenon, or has it become a common practice?

While we cannot say that everyone in the so-called Silicon Valley culture is like what is described above, there is no doubt that many of them are. Some say that the high-tech “code peasants” working in Silicon Valley companies are not much better. One such worker revealed that he joined an underground work group in the company, which was actually a discreet carpenter organization. When the riots in Portland were the most intense, they went around making wooden fences for shops. They covered each other, divided the workload, and always ensured that two people could work outside every day. This persisted for more than a year, and the company’s administration had no clue about it.

Maybe we can also cite an even more impressive case. There is one employee who appeared to go to the office daily to work, yet he spent a year writing a long science fiction novel in the company’s café. Many scenes in the novel are completely based on his company, even with some names of the characters unchanged. It is only after this is known that his “side job” was discovered.

There is another tech company in Silicon Valley that specializes in intelligent manipulators, and it too adhered to the so-called “Silicon Valley culture”. It is said that because long-distance driving became popular during the pandemic, as a result, 30% of the electrification of RVs in California at that time was completed by employees of this company in their “spare time”, and all these businesses had nothing to do with the actual company.

When personal spare time is mixed with working time, the efficiency certainly will not be high. Hence, all working time may become spare time, not the other way around. Elon Musk, who wants to do something now, made a drastic reorganization of Twitter, with the intention of dismantling the Silicon Valley culture. Those who are not willing to work under him would have to move on, to be replaced by others. It is definitely not that Musk does not understand Silicon Valley companies and their culture. On the contrary, it is precisely because he understands too well of the flexible work and the so-called Silicon Valley culture that is so hyped up by schools of business and management.

Now Musk is fighting this war against the work culture of Silicon Valley, against these “code overlords” alone. As a technology capitalist, he is the Don Quixote in this circle.

Final analysis conclusion:

The legendary “Silicon Valley culture” has mutated. For those who advocate flexible and remote work, “working time” has become “spare time”, and the “code peasants” have evolved to become “code overlords”. Elon Musk’s current massive layoff of the Twitter team is actually a challenge against such “code overlords”.

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U.S. has a vital interest in avoiding going to war for a lie

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Photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel

Last time, it was a U.S. president, George W. Bush, who dishonestly took America into a conflict, but that at least was against a weak Third World nation. The consequences were still disastrous: thousands dead and tens of thousands of wounded Americans and hundreds of thousands dead Iraqi civilians, trillions of dollars wasted, and a Middle East in flames.

But what Zelensky would do is much more serious, writes “The American Conservative”. He called the Poland strike “a really significant escalation” requiring a response, even though the issue would have nothing to do with Ukraine had the missile been launched by Russia.

In this case, entry into the war could trigger a major conventional conflict highlighted by use of tactical nuclear weapons, or even the use of strategic nuclear strikes around the globe, from Russia to Europe to the U.S. That would be a catastrophic result for all concerned, including Ukraine.

But the missile was not from Russia, and the U.S. has a vital interest in avoiding going to war for a lie. Upbraiding Zelensky, as Biden apparently did, isn’t enough.

This isn’t the first unsettling surprise by Ukraine for Washington. While the attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge was legitimate, it could escalate the conflict in dangerous ways for the U.S. So too could strikes in border Russian regions near Belgorod, and the assassination of Daria Dugina, a Russian propagandist, not combatant.

If Ukraine were operating entirely on its own, such actions would be its business. However, it has succeeded beyond any expectation only because of allied, and especially U.S., support for the Ukrainian military.

Washington also should further open diplomatic channels with Moscow, as appears to be happening, at least to some degree, given reports of CIA Director Bill Burns meeting with his Russian counterpart last week. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have also engaged with Russia, but such conversations need to be broadened to discuss possible political accommodations.

The U.S. also needs to address the Europeans, especially its most fervent hawks, who tend to be among the most lightly armed.

For instance, the Baltic states — small nations with minimal armed forces and niggardly defense efforts for governments claiming to be under imminent threat of conquest — are regarded as the most likely to engage in “freelancing,” as when Lithuania sought to block traffic between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia. Everyone knew who would be ultimately stuck fighting the war that might result if Moscow’s forces had decided to shoot their way through, and it wasn’t Vilnius.

It is easy to sacrifice someone else’s lives and money, which is essentially what most U.S. “allies” believe is their role in both bilateral and multilateral security partnerships. Washington submissively agrees to defend them, as is its duty; they generously agree to be defended, as is their right. That relationship is no longer sustainable.

America’s foreign aid should be tailored to American interests, and Washington should rethink what has become an increasingly dangerous almost “all-in” proxy war against Russia.

The U.S. should scale back military aid to Kiev, and especially Europe.

Operating as Europe’s patsy is a serious problem, even in peace.

The time for the Europeans to take their defense seriously is long overdue. But that will happen only when Washington stops doing everything for them. America’s military remain busy around the world. The Europeans should secure their own continent, relieving the U.S. of at least one needless military responsibility.

Zelensky’s misleading missile gambit reinforces the necessity of a change in course for Washington.

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Americas

Thanksgiving, The World Cup and Sports Celebrities

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Forty-six million turkeys surrender their lives so Americans can celebrate Thanksgiving.  It is an occasion where traditionally families gather together for a scrumptious meal of turkey and trimmings, numerous side dishes and pumpkin pie, followed by … college football on TV — that is American football, a game somewhat similar to rugby. 

The holiday is meant to commemorate the first Thanksgiving when the pilgrims who ventured to America gave thanks for a good harvest.  It was a time when a poor harvest could have meant famine in winter.  Never now in our sophisticated world where we import grapes from the southern hemisphere (Chile) for consumption in winter and many fruits are available year round.

This year there is the added entertainment of the soccer World Cup in Qatar, being played out in eight  purpose-built stadiums, seven new and one refurbished.  Most will be converted for other uses after the event, a change from the past.  

The US now has a team that held England, where the game was invented, to a draw.  The favorites remain  the Latin American powerhouses like Brazil and Argentina but the Europeans can on occasion pull off a surprise.

Why certain games are popular in one country and not another is difficult to explain.  India and China, the world’s most populous countries, are absent at the World Cup.  On the other hand, India is a powerhouse in another British game: cricket.  And China remains a top performer at the Olympics.

The crowd turning out for cricket matches, particularly between arch rivals India and Pakistan remain unmatched by other sports played there, even field hockey where the two countries have also been fairly successful. 

Leveraging sports celebrity into a political career is also possible but success on the cricket pitch may not always be transferred to administrative competence.  Imran Khan’s innings as prime minister led to members of his own party defecting, and ended when he lost his parliamentary majority.

Still attracting large crowds of supporters who are entertained at his rallies before he himself appears, he is asking his supporters to march to the capital — echoes of another leader this time in the US, Donald Trump, who has just announced a bid for re-election.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan has been secretly recorded planning illegal tactics and barred from holding political office by the courts in Pakistan.  Exactly how he plans to rule if his party or coalition were to win is not clear — by proxy perhaps.

If all this is not enough, he has become notorious for doing U-turns on policy leaving his party members and supporters scrambling in his wake — a reminder if ever there was of the old Chinese curse:  “May you live in interesting times.”

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