To understand the depth and breadth of Jeff Bezos’ ambitions for the company he built, type www.relentless.com into your browser. The domain Bezos registered in 1994 will redirect to Amazon, the company aptly, and ambitiously, nicknamed The Everything Store. He tells his shareholders that the company will act like an aggressive startup — that at Amazon, it is always Day One.
Throughout the months of November and December, a steady stream of corporate CEOs flowed in and out of the White House to discuss the impending fiscal cliff. Many of them, such as Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, would then publicly come out and talk about how modest increases of tax rates on the wealthy were reasonable in order to deal with the deficit problem. What wasn’t mentioned is what these leaders wanted, which is what’s known as “tax extenders”, or roughly $205B of tax breaks for corporations. With such a banal name, and boring and difficult to read line items in the bill, few political operatives have bothered to pay attention to this part of the bill. But it is critical to understanding what is going on.
Walmart, the Most Powerful Company in the World, Admits that Protests and Strikes Lead to Wage Increases
For the first time ever, a strike is taking place in America aimed at the most company in the economy: Walmart. Workers at Walmart stores across the country, as Josh Eidelson reports, are threatening to walk out on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. These labor actions are coming on top of earlier labor actions at Walmart’s warehouse contractors linked to “non-payment of overtime, non-payment for all hours worked, and even pay less than the minimum wage.”
Neil Barofsky’s new memoir Bailout, is not just a great read, it’s also a very important story about what happened after the financial crisis. Barofsky, who was the Special Inspector General for TARP, was in a vantage point to view the entirety of the Obama policy apparatus, from the use of TARP to pad bank balance sheets to Treasury’s PPIP program to the reorganization of the auto industry to the housing crisis. And he doesn’t disappoint, packing the story full of flashy anecdotes which give more than any book I’ve read a sense of what it’s like to be in DC in a powerful position where your goal is not to get along with the actors controlling the status quo. The book paints the atmosphere in DC’s melange of agencies, bureaucracies, and Congressional halls as a mix between the drudgery and petty bureaucracy of Office Space and the world-cleaving tension of Too Big to Fail. As a Congressional staffer, I worked a bit with Barofsky’s office, so I’m going to give a slightly different perspective on the book than what you might have read elsewhere. You see, what very few have picked up on, even those who liked this book, is that it’s essentially a story about the importance of Congressional oversight in reigning in corruption, and the problems of our imperial Presidency.
Last year, a new company called Lightsquared promised an innovative business model that would dramatically lower cell phone costs and improve the quality of service, threatening the incumbent phone operators like AT&T and Verizon. Lightsquared used a new technology involving satellites and spectrum, and was a textbook example of how markets can benefit the public through competition. The phone industry swung into motion, not by offering better products and services, but by going to Washington to ensure that its new competitor could be killed by its political friends. And sure enough, through three Congressmen that AT&T and Verizon had funded (Fred Upton (R-MI), Greg Walden (R-OR), and Cliff Stearns (R-FL)), Congress began demanding an investigation into this new company. Pretty soon, the Federal Communications Commission got into the game, revoking a critical waiver that had allowed it to proceed with its business plan.
The most perplexing character in Congress, ideologically speaking, is Ron Paul. This is a guy who exists in the Republican Party as a staunch opponent of American empire and big finance. His ideas on the Federal Reserve have taken some hold recently, and he has taken powerful runs at the Presidency on the obscure topic of monetary policy. He doesn’t play by standard political rules, so while old newsletters bearing his name showcase obvious white supremacy, he is also the only prominent politician, let alone Presidential candidate, saying that the drug war has racist origins. You cannot honestly look at this figure without acknowledging both elements, as well as his opposition to war, the Federal government, and the Federal Reserve. And as I’ve drilled into Paul’s ideas, his ideas forced me to acknowledge some deep contradictions in American liberalism (pointed out years ago by Christopher Laesch) and what is a long-standing, disturbing, and unacknowledged affinity liberals have with centralized war financing. So while I have my views of Ron Paul, I believe that the anger he inspires comes not from his positions, but from the tensions that modern American liberals bear within their own worldview.
Every era has an iconic image, like a protester standing up to a tank in Tiananmen Square, a military officer shooting a handcuffed Vietnamese prisoner in the head at point-blank range, or the famous zeppelin Hindenburg crashing in flames. These images can end wars, destroy industries or memorialize a moment for a nation forever. The image speaks to us through its raw potency and ability to freeze an instant into a frame. It becomes iconic because it captures a particular cultural zeitgeist. These two elements – authenticity and timeliness – grant such images power.
I suppose they should formalize it yet.