“At the end of the day, I have to sleep with myself.” Over the 18 years of publishing my literature and music website Largehearted Boy, that has always been my creed. When offered sponsorships and advertising from products I didn’t believe in, that belief guided my advertising (and lifestyle) decisions. When my bed became crowded while working for Amazon Books, insomnia set in.
My world pivoted in the mid-2010s. Then shook. Then reversed on its axis. In 2014, I separated from my wife, got a divorce, and met the love of my life. I left Brooklyn for Manhattan. Website advertising, long in freefall, plummeted even more. In 2016, my personal life disintegrated along with my savings. I attempted suicide and was forced to finally deal with lifelong mental health issues including major depressive disorder and borderline personality disorder. I returned to school in 2018 to finish my undergraduate degree in creative writing. My mental health, at long last, improved, and with it, so did I.
“Even if I had stopped it (economy), if I had closed the city for 30 days, no one goes in and no one goes out. At some point I would have had to open and at some point the virus would have gotten here.”
In a recent piece for Jacobin, climate writers Alyssa Battistoni and Thea Riofrancos drew a connection between fires burning in Greenland and those still ablaze in the Amazon rainforest: “They’re being sparked by the rich and powerful, whether by agricultural conglomerates, complicit right-wing governments, or fossil fuel executives who’ve lied to the public so they can keep spewing heat-trapping carbon up into the atmosphere for a quick buck.” The simplicity of the claim was dumbfounding, and, to that end, haunting. Was it merely the rich and powerful who lit the match?
Another writer for the magazine, Kate Aronoff, called for fossil fuel executives to be tried for crimes against humanity. “Technically speaking, what fossil-fuel companies do isn’t genocide,” she wrote, clarifying that energy CEOs don’t target their victims based on racial or ethnic animus. Yet genocidal land grabs are being carried out to expand “the Red Zone” — the agricultural frontier — eking its way deeper into the Amazon rainforest by way of roads and infrastructure backed by global capital. The Amazon, or the lungs of the earth, as it’s often referred to, is being seized from indigenous communities by mining and agribusiness interests, gutting the resiliency of one of the earth’s last great carbon sinks and producers of oxygen. But who is responsible for burning it? Bolsonaro? Corruption in Brazil? The World Bank? U.S. Financial Firms? Silicon Valley? Could the culprits be named, I wondered? Tried? Read more…
The Amazon.com Inc.'s logo at the company's headquarters in Seattle
(Kyodo via AP Images)
Some people claim to make a passive income reselling cheap Chinese products on the internet’s largest store. Matt Behdjou and Mike Gazzola, for instance, say they’ve made thousands of dollars with not much effort. Want to learn their secrets? Sign up for their coaching seminars and pay them lots of money so they can train you in their business models.
In late July, Behdjou invited me to attend his Ecommerce Mentors Live Mastermind seminar, held over two days at a Marriott in Woodland Hills, California, amid the sunny sprawl of the San Fernando Valley. It was free to Inner Circle members, though attendees still had to pay for their own airfare and lodging. About 50 of them had, coming from places as far as New York; one couple had driven all night from Arizona. They included an ER doctor who wanted a passive income so she could get a vacation home in Cancun, a young couple celebrating their wedding anniversary, and a man who owned a brick-and-mortar medical-supplies store trying to migrate his sales online.
Behdjou, who is 31, opened the seminar by repeatedly emphasizing his success stories. He pointed to two young men in the back of the room who he said were making $100,000 a month selling sunglasses on Amazon, and encouraged people to seek advice from those in the room who were “killing it” with their business. Another man, who said he’d made $30,000 from selling a wrist exerciser on Amazon, implored his fellow guests to “trust the process—it’s amazing.”
But most of the attendees were not so effusive. When Behdjou asked everyone in the room to introduce themselves, many said they were struggling. “I have launched, but I really need to crank up sales,” said Alicia Nager, a 52-year-old from New Jersey. She launched a knife-sharpener business in October 2017 after deciding to stay home with her son, who has juvenile Huntington’s disease. Another man noted that he’d made money in Bitcoin but hadn’t been able to crack Amazon yet, despite trying to sell vitamins for eight months. A Maryland woman, Allyson Pippin, who sells slime, said she was about ready to scrap her product and start all over. Henry Serrano, the man with the brick-and-mortar store, had spent $4,600 on wholesale medical kits, and hadn’t made any money back at all.
In May of 2017, Mayor de Blasio unveiled Jimmy Breslin Way, a street sign dedicating the stretch of 42nd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue to the late reporter. It was a strange press conference — half eulogy, half lecture — a chance for the mayor to laud Breslin and scold members of today’s media by whom he often feels unfairly maligned. “Think about what Jimmy Breslin did. Think about how he saw the world,” said de Blasio. He left without taking questions. What was he talking about? Did he imagine he and Jimmy Breslin would get along? In 1969 Breslin wrote a cover story about Mayor Lindsay for New York Magazine, “Is Lindsay Too Tall to Be Mayor?” was the title. Lindsay was an inch shorter than de Blasio.
In 2010, Heike Geissler took a temporary position at an Amazon warehouse in Leipzig. Geissler was a freelance writer and a translator but, more pressingly, she was the mother of two children and money was not coming in. Seasonal Associate, which was translated by Katy Derbyshire and released by Semiotext(e) this month, is the product of that job. (Read an excerpt on Longreads.) It’s an oppressive, unsettling book, mainly because the work is too familiar. The book is written almost entirely in the second person, a style that might’ve come off as an irritating affectation with a lesser writer or a different subject. Here, it’s terrifying — you feel yourself slipping along with Geissler, thoughts of your own unpaid bills and the cold at the back of your throat weaving their way through the narrative. It’s not just that this unnamed protagonist could be you, it’s the certainty that someday she will be you. “You’ll soon know something about life that you didn’t know before, and it won’t just have to do with work,” Geissler writes. “But also with the fact that you’re getting older, that two children cry after you every morning, that you don’t want to go to work, and that something about this job and many other kinds of jobs is essentially rotten.” Read more…
In the Foxconn factory in the city of Hengyang, Amazon and Foxconn can pay their temporary workers a minimum wage that’s lower than in other Chinese cities. Factory supervisors make workers ask for permission to use the toilet. But when they pay workers their standard $2 hourly rate for overtime, the factory is clearly violating Chinese labor law. The good news is that US-based labor rights investigator China Labor Watch sent an undercover agent inside the factory to document conditions. While this undercover worker cleaned dust from 1,400 Echo Dot speakers with a toothbrush in one day, she made careful observations about life inside Amazon’s factory, and CLW used her findings to try to pressure Amazon to improve conditions.
Another worker tells her she, too, is suffering: “While working at the same work position and doing the same motions over and over again each day, she felt exhausted and her back was sore and her neck, back and arms could barely take it any more.”
Alexa’s diary makes no happier reading the following day. A woman of about 45 tells her how she has been scolded because she is not fast enough: “It might be because she was getting older so her speed was slower and her reactions were slower. When the line leader was telling her off, she started crying. After I returned to the dorm, an older woman … said that last time the line leader told her off, she also cried.”
She describes long nights of repetitive and relentless work, with fellow workers close to falling asleep on their feet. During a break about midnight she sees that “many people were resting on the assembly line and sleeping, while others had pushed together some chairs and were sleeping on those. Some had even stacked together some foam boards and slept on top of them.”
Many nations have turned their natural resources into riches. Canada and the US liquidated their old-growth forests and plowed their prairies to build themselves into global economic powers. Brazil wants to do the same. Its massive Amazon basin is the world’s last terrestrial frontier. Its tropical rainforests contain 15% of the earth’s species, filter one-fifth of the planet’s rainfall and so much carbon that they play a key role in regulating the earth’s climate. They also offer enormous opportunities for logging, ranching and agricultural development, so how can Brazil serve these contradictory ambitions to develop and protect the Amazon?
For The Globe & Mail, journalist Stephanie Nolen and photographer Aaron Vincent Elkaim drove 1,200 miles on a single road, BR-163, to talk to the people who live in the Amazon, the police who chase its illegal loggers and miners, a politician fined for cattle grazing, and the villagers caught in the crossfire. Deep reporting and crisp photography show what this complicated green land looks like not from above the green forest canopy like so many familiar aerial shots, but on the ground. What Nolen finds is the complicated ways Brazil’s global ecological responsibility falls to not just of politicians and law enforcement, but to the farmers, ranchers, and illegal land speculators who cut the rainforest to capitalize on it. In a very real way, climate change has forced many Brazilians to recognize that they are not only citizens of Brazil, but citizens of the world who can no longer simply act according to their own economic ambitions. So some Brazilian leaders say they want to control illegal deforestation, and they discuss how to incentivize forest conservation while allowing development. As one soy farmer put it: “It’s not just me who needs to breathe fresh air – it’s the whole world. But the world can’t overload us, producers, with this responsibility. We need to share some of this responsibility with society as a whole.” That’s a challenge as big as the Amazon, and not everyone feels hopeful about the prospects. How could you when certain districts have a single agent to patrol 2.5 million acres of forest?
Ms. Ferreira spoke simply and gently as she explained the charges to Mr. Lima, the head of the small group of miners; Mr. de Jesus helped him ink his thumb to sign the charge sheet he couldn’t read.
“Did you know this was Jamanxim Forest and you can’t mine here?” she asked Mr. Lima.
“No,” he replied, “I never heard that.” He was standing with one foot on an old wooden sign that identified the area as protected; he couldn’t read that, either.
“The government speaks pretty words about protecting the forest – but we will lose 50 per cent of our budget next year,” said Mr. Fucks. “We need [more] employees and three times as many vehicles. We only have what we do because foreign governments donate them … We’re losing. But if we had three times as many people, we could win.”
Ms. Ferreira, peeling off her bullet-proof vest at the end of the day, questioned whether beefing up their ranks would really make a difference. The most powerful politicians in Novo Progresso, she pointed out, own the farms inside the forest. “If the punishment was serious – if the law applied here … Even if we had 100 vehicles and all these people, it wouldn’t fix it. Because it’s politics.”