Jeff Bezos

Llewellyn King: Will Bezos's kiss be lethal?

On the waterfront of the Long Island City part of New York City. It’s the flood-prone area where Amazon will put one of its “Second Headquarters.’’

On the waterfront of the Long Island City part of New York City. It’s the flood-prone area where Amazon will put one of its “Second Headquarters.’’

Having run around the country as a modern Prince Charming in search of Cinderella, Jeff Bezos, Amazon's boss, has decided that two hopefuls fit the slipper: Crystal City, Va., part of Arlington, and the Long Island City part of the New York city borough of Queens.

But these Cinderellas aren’t to be carried off to live happily ever after in Amazon Castle. No, there are dowries to be paid -- about $2 billion each in tax abatement and other goodies. These beauties are no bargain.

In fact, New York City and Washington, D.C. -- Queens is a borough of New York and Crystal City is a Virginia suburb, south of Washington -- may be prostrating themselves to gain possibly 25,000 jobs in an unhappy, taxpayer-funded alliance.

The theories as to why Bezos chose these locations abound. The dominant one is that high-tech companies must follow high-tech workers. That explains why Boston and San Francisco are overheated along with, yes, New York and Washington.

This overheating might be described as more people trying to get into a city than its housing base and infrastructure can absorb. Result: skyscraper-high living costs, hideous commutes and wretched lives for those on the economic bottom rung. High rents and homelessness go together.

I'm more persuaded that the decision has been made more to suit Bezos and his executives than to snare talent. Washington is the site of one of the Bezos's mansions and he owns The Washington Post. New York has always had special appeal to the ultra-rich: Wall Street and the gilded social set.

Palo Alto, in California’s Silicon Valley, is white-hot in terms of desirability for high-tech jobs. But it was underdeveloped 45 years ago when a visionary scientist, Chauncey Starr, established the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) there. Starr told me he chose the location not because of the talent pool, but because he wanted the independence he feared he wouldn’t get in a big city, close to the electric companies which funded EPRI. The high-tech talent was yet to move in.

The point here is that it’s not necessary to go to the labor, the labor will come to you. Had Amazon chosen, say Upstate New York or somewhere in Kansas, and hung out a shingle for help, it would’ve poured in: Build and they’ll come.

The great Washington hostess and diplomat Perle Mesta said, “All you have to do to draw a crowd to a Washington party is to hang a lamb chop in the window.” The same goes for labor.

The downside to Washington these days is that its roads and bridges, to say nothing of its troubled subway, are inadequate for the stunning growth it has seen since the late 1960s. It has some of the worst traffic jams anywhere and is said to have overtaken Los Angeles for traffic congestion. As the greater Washington area is split between the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, regional problems are hard to solve and often go unsolved as a result.

New York needs infrastructure spending in the worst way, from the tunnels into Penn Station to the estimated $48 billion the subway needs to modernize. But an increasing amount of the city's capital budget is going to have to be devoted to building barriers against sea rise, particularly in lower Manhattan and to a lesser extent in Brooklyn and Staten Island. Is it a good investment to sink money into any location which is going to have to throw its treasure at Neptune, not improving the rest of the infrastructure?

As someone who lived most of his adult life in Washington, I don’t celebrate its helter-skelter growth, gridlocked roads, potential water shortages or the just-upgraded sewage treatment plant, Blue Plains, which has been known to flood, sending the raw stuff into the Potomac River in big rainstorms.

Virginia and New York, have you bought into a cyber-dream from Amazon which denies reality? You’re paying for a tenant who should pay you for the stress of his buildout.

Prince Bezos, there were so many other pretty feet.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com and he’s based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.


Jim Hightower: Trump's bid to use Postal Service to hit Amazon may backfire big time

Photo by Chensiyuan    Close up of the James A. Farley Post Office,  in Manhattan. Read the inscription over the columns:  " Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds''

Photo by Chensiyuan

Close up of the James A. Farley Post Office,  in Manhattan. Read the inscription over the columns: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds''

Via OtherWords.org

The U.S. Postal Service has 30,000 outlets serving every part of America. It employs 630,000 people in good middle-class jobs. And it proudly delivers letters and packages clear across the country for a pittance.

It’s a jewel of public-service excellence. Therefore, it must be destroyed.

Such is the fevered logic of laissez-faire-headed corporate supremists like the billionaire Koch brothers and the right-wing politicians who serve them.

This malevolent gang of wrecking-ball privatizers includes such prominent Trumpsters as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (a former Wall Street huckster from Goldman Sachs), and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney (a former corporate-hugging Congress critter from South Carolina).

Both were involved in setting up Trump’s shiny new task force to remake our U.S. Postal Service. It’s like asking two foxes to remodel the hen house.

Trump himself merely wanted to take a slap at his political enemy, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, by jacking up the prices the Postal Service charges to deliver Amazon’s packages. The cabal of far-right corporatizers, however, saw Trump’s temper tantrum as a golden opportunity to go after the Postal Service itself.

Trump complained about the Postal Service not charging Amazon enough for mailing packages. But instead of simply addressing the matter, the task force was trumped-up with an open-ended mandate to evaluate, dissect, and “restructure” the people’s mail service — including carving it up and selling off the parts.

Who’d buy the pieces? For-profit shippers like FedEx, of course. But here’s some serious irony for you: The one outfit with the cash and clout to buy our nation’s whole postal infrastructure and turn it into a monstrous corporate monopoly is none other than… Amazon itself.

I’d prefer my neighborhood post office, thanks. To help stop this sellout, become part of the Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service: www.AGrandAlliance.org.

Jim Hightower, an OtherWords columnist, is a radio commentator, writer and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown

 

Jim Hightower: Jeff Bezos wants the key to your house

Amazon is watching you.

Amazon is watching you.

Via OtherWords.org

Would you give your house key to a complete stranger, letting that person (whose name you don’t even know) walk right into your home when you’re not there?

One stranger who’s brazenly asking you and millions of other people to do just that is Jeff Bezos.

He’s the head honcho of Amazon, the e-commerce behemoth whose vast supercomputer network routinely compiles and stores dossiers on every one of his customers. He’s obsessed with having the most data on the most people — it’s a little creepy.

Now, adding to the creep factor, Bezos literally wants Amazon to get inside your home. And, ironically, he’s using “security” as his rationale.

Rather than simply delivering the products you order from Amazon to your doorstep, the corporation wants a key to unlock your door, allowing its delivery crews to go inside and do you the favor of placing the packages securely in your abode.

What could possibly go wrong with that?

Other than you being robbed, of course, either by rogue Amazon employees or by hackers who will certainly gain access to the corporation’s computerized key codes. Or maybe “Crusher,” your pitbull, mauls the Amazon intruder and you get sued.

Need I mention that Bezos expects you to pay for the privilege of having his employees enter your home? First, his dicey, open-sesame program, which he calls “Amazon Key,” is available only to customers who shell out $99 a year to be “Amazon Prime” members.

Second, you must buy a special Internet-unlocking gizmo and a particular camera to join his corporate key club. And guess where you must go to buy this entry technology? Yes, Amazon — where prices for the gizmo and camera setup start at $250.

This is Jim Hightower saying… What a deal! For Amazon, that is.

Bezos’s  real goal — indeed, his only goal, always — isn’t so much to get inside your home. It’s to get inside your wallet.

Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also the editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

 

Sam Pizzigati: Retailers connive to tighten screws on public-school budgets

 "The Old Beggar,'' by Lewis Dewis.

 "The Old Beggar,'' by Lewis Dewis.

Via OtherWords.org

Back to school! These three simple words used to leave America’s public-school teachers giddy with anticipation. Now they leave them opening up their wallets and worrying.

The problem? Teachers have been spending out of their own pockets for generations to decorate their classrooms and the like. Now many have to spend their own money for basic school supplies — everything from pens and pencils to cleaning supplies.

One national study last year by Scholastic and YouGov found teachers spending an average of $530 a year on classroom supplies. The number of teachers who spend over $1,000 out of pocket, adds a National School Supply and Equipment Association report, has doubled.

In Oklahoma, third grade teacher Teresa Danks has been spending $2,000 annually of her own money. Earlier this summer, with her school district facing a $10 million budget cut, Danks actually started panhandling. She took to a busy street corner with a simple hand-made sign: “Teacher Needs School Supplies! Anything Helps.”)

Many passers-by did help. But the fiscal squeeze on America’s public-school budgets and teacher wallets is now threatening to get even worse.

That’s because big-box retail giants — the very stores where many teachers go to buy school supplies — have unleashed a fierce lawsuit offensive to significantly lower their local property- tax bills.

Property taxes remain, in most of the country, the single most pivotal source of local public school funding. If corporate retail powers like Home Depot and Target succeed in their new greed grab, the state comptroller in Texas recently warned, local public schools in his state alone would lose $1.2 billion annually, with another $703 million in school funding lost from the state level.

Our top big-boxers are flourishing: Home Depot profits last year jumped nearly 14 percent to $8 billion. And Home Depot CEO Craig Menear took home $11.5 million.

So on what grounds should the big-box boys be taxed less? Retail CEOs, Education Week reports, are having their lawyers make the astonishingly audacious argument that “the massive stores they operate ought to be appraised as if they were vacant.”

This ridiculous “dark store theory” has been winning lawsuits in Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, and school districts in the Midwest have already lost millions of dollars in revenue. In some cases, court rulings have actually forced local governments to reimburse big-box retailers for the higher property taxes they’ve already paid.

The new attack on local public-school funding isn’t just coming from brick-and-mortar retailers. Amazon, the online retail king, is taking new steps to avoid taxes, too.

Amazon now collects sales taxes on the goods consumers buy online in states that impose them.But Amazon is only collecting taxes on about half the goods that people who click onto Amazon itself buy. The half of sales that go through the third-party vendors that the Amazon site spotlights go untaxed.d.

The State of South Carolina is demanding that Amazon end this tax avoidance. Amazon is disputing the South Carolina claim, and the case is going to the courts. All the big online retailers will be watching closely. A South Carolina victory could mean higher tax revenue nationwide from big online retailers.

All these big-time retailers can afford to pay higher taxes. Our biggest retail empires, after all, have already made their emperors into some of the world’s richest people. The chief executive of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, now holds the third-largest individual fortune in the world.

Panhandling Oklahoma teacher Teresa Danks says she’s “tired of not having enough funding for our classrooms but being expected to always make it happen.”

The super rich who run retail in America could ease that fatigue. They could start paying their taxes.

Sam Pizzigati, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, co-edits inequality.org. 

 

Robert Whitcomb: In the Amazon jungle

  amazon

Amazon is an impressive if rather creepy company, with its style set by its cold, “data-driven’’ founder/CEO, Jeff Bezos. An Aug. 15 New York Times piece, “Inside Amazon,’’ laid out the travails of the monopolistic and Darwinian enterprise’s white-collar workforce. Their issues have gotten more attention than the much worse Dickensian conditions of the blue-collar employees in its warehouses and the company’s relentless accumulation, like the also Orwellian Google’s, of our personal information. Amazonianism’s causes?

One is in the mirror. Americans have grown addicted to buying stuff online -- of course, the cheaper the better. They seem to want to avoid face-to-face interactions in stores -- and community engagement in general -- and Amazon’s power ensures that they’ll get low prices, at least for now (see below), even as their local stores close because of such online competition.

The preference for communicating via screens rather than person-to-person is especially common among the young, who grew up in the Internet Age. Human-resource managers have told me that young job applicants often don’t look them in the eye because in-person encounters make them anxious.

The disappearance of many well-paying jobs, and static (or worse) compensation except for top executives and investors, have encouraged consumers to seek out cheaper stuff than a few decades ago. But – irony of ironies! – Amazon and other high-tech automators have helped destroy good U.S. jobs in their “data-driven’’ mania to take full advantage of the international low-wage, cheap-goods machine.

Physical-store chains such as CVS and Home Depot are doing their bit to kill jobs --- by, for instance, installing automatic checkouts. I try to boycott stores with these machines because I know that each means the loss of another entry-level or second job for someone who needs it. This makes me feel better for a few minutes.

If Amazon’s workplace brutalities offend some consumers, they could resume shopping in their own communities and thus help employ some of their neighbors. Most won’t.

And look to Washington, where ideology and campaign contributions ensure that the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division doesn’t go after such monopolies as Amazon and Google. Until about 1980, Republican and Democratic administrations actually enforced laws against monopoly. The long disinclination to do so will hit consumers hard when Amazon, which has been undercutting other retailers to gain maximum market share, killing many brick-and-mortar competitors, suddenly jacks up prices big time.

Also consider the collapse of the private-sector union movement. If there were unions at Amazon, the Third World work environment would quickly go away. Gilded Age working conditions helped spawn the union movement in the first place. Now, management’s utter dominance has employees ready to put up with anything to keep their jobs.

Meanwhile, the “Big Data’’ revolution is turning workers into organic robots, soon to be replaced by real, inorganic robots. When every move of workers is measured for maximum productivity and profit potential, as at Amazon, kindly treatment of employees pretty much disappears. Employees are mere data points.

This process started with assembly-line and other blue-collar workers. The generally affluent types who read, say, The New York Times didn’t care that much. But turning employees into metrics is now heading rapidly up the food chain. Physicians, lawyers, tech engineers, middle managers and journalists (monitored for the number of Internet clicks their work gets) are being measured daily by senior executives who see their employees as entirely fungible and disposable.

And don’t expect the executive suite to share the riches from this speed-up with lower-level employees. The tendency for more and more of the wealth of companies to be shared by fewer and fewer people continues apace. We’re on a selfishness wave.

Amazon has created a fascinating machine for distributing goods. (Its delivery drones are next -- maybe equipped with surveillance gear?) Mike Daisey, writing in The Guardian (“Amazon’s brutal work culture will stay: bottom lines matter more than people,’’ Aug. 22), quoted comedian Louis C.K. as saying about such enterprises that “everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy’’ . Well, some are.

Anyway, most Americans seem to adore Amazon, which will repay them good and hard.

xxx

Lovely dim late-summer light today, and  leaves are falling off the plane trees from sheer exhaustion.

Robert Whitcomb (rwhitcomb51@gmail.com) is a  Providence-based editor and writer, a partner at Cambridge Management Group (cmg625.com) and a Fellow of the Pell Center, in Newport, He used to be the editorial-page editor of The Providence Journal, the finance editor of the International Herald Tribune and an editor at The Wall Street Journal, among other jobs.