How much are you paying Amazon? I don't mean how much you're shelling out for that set of bed linens or the latest computer gizmo you bought. No, no. I'm asking how much money you and your neighbors are simply giving to the world's largest and richest online retailer.
If you live in Indianapolis; Newark, New Jersey; Miami; Austin; Philly; Chicago; Atlanta; or 13 other lucky cities, congratulations, for you're a finalist in the magnificent "Throw Your Money At Amazon" Sweepstakes! It's like Bonnie & Clyde but on a corporate scale. And instead of robbing banks, Amazon has enticed city and state officials to rob their own citizens and then hand over the loot in the form of tax breaks, cash grants, land and other bribes to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and America's wealthiest human. The locality that offers the most booty "wins" the grand prize of having this thieving corporate behemoth become its new neighbor. At least until Bezos gets a better offer.
So, again I ask: How big of a pile of your tax dollars and public assets are your officials offering?
Shhhh, it's a secret. Nearly all of the 20 official accomplices to this grand larceny are pulling it off in the dark, not even telling city council members (much less taxpayers) how many billions they're throwing at Bezos. Making the deals even shadier, many cities turned their negotiations over to such business associations as the chamber of commerce, letting this handful of unelected, self-interested private elites secretly make binding promises that would affect the entire public without consulting or even informing them. In the few cases where information has been released, it's amounted to an unfunny joke — Montgomery County, Maryland, for example, issued a 10-page document listing "incentives" it was offering, but every word on every page was blacked out!
This whole flimflam is abominable and ought to be criminal. Amazon will rake in a quarter-trillion dollars in sales this year, and Bezos is sitting on $166 billion in personal wealth. Shame on him for demanding public handouts, and shame on local officials for robbing the public till to further bloat his ego and fortune.
As any CEO will tell you, corporations are no-nonsense problem-solving organizations. When trouble pops up and things get sticky, chief executives don't just wring their hands and try to dodge the issue. No-siree, the chief gets paid the big bucks to step forward confidently and seize control ... by ringing up the company's consultants and having them try to dodge the issue.
Bezos is figuring this out. The uber-rich mega-peddler of everything — from sex toys to military espionage systems — has been hit with a long string of exposés about the corporation's nasty practices. From profiteering as a flagrant tax dodger and predatory killer of independent local businesses, to running a massive network of publicly subsidized warehouses with sweatshop labor, Amazon's carefully crafted image as a "cool" company is ... well, getting fried in negative headlines and online chatter.
Thus, Bezos (known for thinking outside the cage) has hired a flock of tweety birds who the corporation says are former warehouse workers, paying them to tweet full time about how absolutely wonderful the warehouse jobs are. The air circulation in the warehouses, the tweeters tell us, is "very good"; in a 10-hour shift, they assure us, lucky workers get not one but two 30-minute breaks; and workers are even allowed bathroom breaks (within reason, of course). Bezos has given this select group of Twitter testifiers the title of Amazon "ambassadors," and each of their Twitter accounts looks exactly alike, complete with the corporate smile logo atop their page.
Amazon's PR flacks insist that the tweeters are not scripted or told what to write. But imagine if they were to write something "unapproved." And note that Amazon won't let reporters interview any of them.
As Sen. Bernie Sanders, the diligent corporate watchdog, put it, "If Amazon actually paid all its workers a living wage and treated them with dignity, they would not have to pay dozens of people to tweet all day."
Populist author, public speaker, and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes The Hightower Lowdown, a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America's ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.