Left and right unite against Bezos’s sweetheart coup in New York and Virginia.
Bipartisanship in today’s Washington is as rare as a wardrobe completely free of items purchased at Brooks Brothers. But rarer still, is when that bipartisanship runs against moneyed interests. Indeed, most “bipartisan bills” should practically come with a NASCAR-style sponsor sticker, so obvious is it that they get proposed by people taking money from the same entities.
So imagine my surprise when, over this past week, an alliance between the rightmost of the right, and the leftmost of the left, not only emerged, but emerged against one of the most powerful moneyed interests of the era: Amazon.
Specifically, a bizarre alliance of everyone from Tucker Carlson, Veronique de Rugy, and Bre Payton on the Right, to new Left darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Left, formed against Amazon’s decision to practically extort taxpayer money from state and local governments in exchange for their building two new headquarters in Long Island City, NY, and Crystal City, VA. So complete was Amazon’s ability to humiliate their state and local partners, that along with $1.5 billion in “tax incentives” (read: subsidies), Amazon is also slated to have the Virginia government literally team up with it to try to help it hide information from the public. For socialists like Cortez, these are the kinds of plutocratic abuses that they came to Washington to fight; for libertarians like De Rugy, this is the kind of corporatism they have nightmares about. Left-Populism and Right-Populism have found their common enemy and his name is Jeff Bezos.
Frankly, it took them long enough.
Far from being unprecedented, the groveling behavior of New York and Virginia is in fact merely the most obvious instance of a disturbing trend when it comes to government kowtowing before Amazon. In fact, they are some of the least powerful entities to roll over and play dead for the retail giant. Those who object, for example, to the $2 billion in tax incentives for Amazon might consider looking at the scandal surrounding the Department of Defense’s very nearly permitting Amazon to rig the betting process for a $10 billion contract in their favor. Besides the paycheck, this endeavor would hand Amazon sole custody of every single piece of DoD data on its cloud servers. Worst of all, even after its potentially illegal attempts to rig this process was exposed, Amazon still looks like it will almost certainly get both things by the end of the year.
Never mind that this is potentially a massive and unfixable weak spot for hackers to exploit. Never mind the complete unfairness of holding sham bidding for such a massive contract, all while those making the choice were handpicked by one of the competitors. What Amazon wants, Amazon gets. True, New York is giving Amazon $1.5 billion just to set up shop, but the federal government will likely give it six times that, and throw in the infrastructure that enables Americans to sleep safely at night as a bonus.
Speaking of sleeping safely at night, did I mention that Amazon is listening to people while it does that, too? Just look at the little noticed story out of New Hampshire wherein a judge ordered Amazon to produce recordings from an Amazon Echo owned by one of two murder victims. Despite Amazon’s trying to claim that the Echo device is not a privacy nightmare (it is), the fact that a judge was prepared to find that there was probable cause that an Echo device literally recorded a murder while it was happening unbeknownst to its owners should start alarm bells ringing in the minds of Americans. This is the kind of data that could be used to build an Internet-of-Things maintained Panopticon enabling not just vast monitoring of people, but also control of them. And, thanks to Virginia’s toadying, it will likely be harder to find out just how much of that surveillance juggernaut Amazon is maintaining. After all, Virginia wants that Amazon money, FOIA requests be damned!
If there was ever a company plucked from central casting for the oncoming cross-partisan war by populists jealous of their ability to self-govern, against elite technocrats, then it is the shadowy, monopolistic company that Amazon has become: a black-hearted engine of crony capitalism that swoops into states, sweeping transparency and taxpayer interests in its wake, all while ruthlessly scooping up federal contracts and embedding its claws in the bureaucracy under cover of darkness. Ocasio-Cortez and her libertarian allies are right to denounce the fact that Amazon has been permitted to co-opt the governments of New York and Virginia. Hopefully, they can extend that outrage to making sure that it doesn’t stamp the Prime Logo on the American flag, as well.
Jeff Bezos greeted at the Pentagon by then Defense Secretary Ash Carter on May 5, 2016 (Wikimedia Commons)