Friday, February 15, 2019


Image by Justin Metz via The Economist.

Silliest response to the Amazon decision to give up on their Long Island City project was, I'm sorry to say, from Senator Professor Warren:

So now you're going to complain about corporations not taking bribes? There's just no satisfying you!

That said, it looks like the decision was for all the right reasons, and speaking as a New Yorker I'm feeling more and more not sorry it's ended this way:

As long as it seemed to be all about the tax breaks, I thought the opposition was being stupid—these discounts are standard, available to any company that wants to move in, and if the amount seemed to be awfully large, at $3 billion, that's because the amount of revenue they'd have been bringing the state and city was proportionately large, around $27 billion (according to estimates that may no doubt have been too optimistic, but in that case the discount would have been smaller too; that's how it's calculated).

But the real issue seems to have been organized labor, and Amazon's hatred for it, and that's another matter. Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island have been trying to unionize since December, and the company has been balking. Two days ago (Natalie Kitroeff reports at The Times) they'd had a big meeting with local labor leaders, and everything seemed fine:
Then, on Wednesday at 11 a.m., Stuart Appelbaum, the head of the retail union, decamped to Governor Cuomo’s Manhattan office. In an interview, Mr. Appelbaum said he was joined at the meeting by officials from the Teamsters and the A.F.L.-C.I.O., while Amazon was represented by several executives. The governor presided over the exchange, which lasted more than an hour, according to Mr. Appelbaum and one other person present.
“It was a very productive meeting, and we were ready to move forward,” Mr. Appelbaum said in an interview. “We left there thinking we were on the road to dealing with our concerns.” Amazon and Governor Cuomo’s office would not comment on the meeting.
Apparently it wasn't as productive as he thought; the next day the company abruptly announced that they were taking their ball home, with a brief and snippy explanation:
“A number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward,” Amazon said in a statement.
So screw them. It would not have been a good fit.

There's also this weird thing about ICE—Amazon owns a technology called Rekognition which allows users to identify people by face through a Cloud app—
Available as an API within Amazon cloud services, Rekognition came under scrutiny earlier this year after a report from the ACLU of Northern California showed the feature was being used by a number of small law enforcement agencies, some for as little as $6 a month. Amazon has not submitted its algorithm to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Facial Recognition Vendor Test or similar programs that publicly test for racial bias, which is a persistent concern in facial recognition systems.
—and they'd been trying to sell it to a division of ICE that pursues smugglers, but there were fears it could be used to catch and snatch the undocumented.

Finally, Amazon had been insisting on the right to bypass aspects of local building regulation:
A contentious oversight meeting [December 12] became an opportunity for the council to grill city Economic Development Corporation President James Patchett and Amazon executives on whether they would be willing to go through the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) before Amazon builds its 8-million-square-foot HQ2 campus on the Queens waterfront.
“I don’t think that’s an option,” said Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy.
It was always dicey anyway whether the deal would work out as promised, providing jobs to people in the neighborhood instead of gentrifying them out of it. A Jackson Heights friend of mine was certain it wouldn't, the gentrification being already bad enough—
LIC is rapidly becoming a colonial outpost that does not interact with the current population. The jobs were not going to people living here, most hirees would be moving there & making the situation even worse.
Mayor de Blasio hoped it would, but he seems to be rethinking too, if only because of Amazon's sheer bad faith showing they were a lousy and untrustworthy negotiating partner:
“We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world,” Mr. de Blasio said. “Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity.”
OK, good enough for me.

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