Who’s To Blame for the Amazon Pullout?


Full disclosure: I live in Northern VA, relatively close to Arlington, so I am not completely unaffected by HQ2. Not directly impacted, but not unaffected either. It is also worth noting upfront that I am 100% opposed to corporate welfare of any kind, including subsidies to entice corporations to establish any sort of facilities in a given region. With that out of the way…

Amazon decided to give a special Valentine’s Day present to the people of New York City, a sort of “fuck you too” to the protesters and politicians who have been demanding significant changes to the deal that had been negotiated between their company and the city to bring 25,000 jobs to Long Island City in Queens. This has apparently thrilled some Amazon opponents such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who according to the Washington Post tweeted “Today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world.” If you say so Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. Personally I don’t see the benefit. But maybe I’m missing something, which is not surprising since (a) I’m not a progressive and (b) a tweet is hardly conducive to explaining nuanced policy views.

Let’s consider another quote from the Post:

“Amazon showed its true colors today and every American should be outraged,” Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said in a statement. “Jeff Bezos had the opportunity to listen to the voices of working families and support the good-paying jobs New Yorkers deserve.

“But now we can see this is all about blind greed and Jeff Bezos’ belief that everyday taxpayers should foot the bill for their new headquarters even as the company actively works to eliminate millions of American retail jobs. No company that refuses to invest in hard-working men and women should be allowed to stuff their pockets with taxpayer-funded subsidies. Make no mistake, this fight has only begun,” Perrone said.

This is at least more detailed, although hardly more nuanced. I’ll have to take it point by point, as there’s a bit here to unpack:

  • “Amazon showed its true colors today and every American should be outraged.” I both agree and disagree. Yes, Amazon did show its true colors. It is a business, and one that is not interested in being held hostage or shaken down. Regardless of how you feel about the original deal, that was the deal that brought them in, the one they agreed to, and unless you have some very disturbing role models you don’t generally become “outraged” when someone pulls out of a deal when the other party decides to change the terms.
  • “Jeff Bezos had the opportunity to listen to the voices of working families and support the good-paying jobs New Yorkers deserve.” Not sure exactly what this is supposed to mean. I guess I’m one of those libertarian nuts who doesn’t believe people are “entitled” to a job, good paying or not. But even if I did think people were entitled to a job, my understanding of the plan was that Amazon was going to build a campus with at least 25,000 jobs with an average salary of $150,000 a year. I realize that “average” doesn’t mean “every job will pay at this rate”, but I seriously doubt the intention was “one extremely well paying job and 24,999 crappy ones.” (Sidebar: this same article from the Post says that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez among others “protested that the influx of Amazon employees, to be paid an average salary of at least $150,000 a year, would cause housing costs to skyrocket, drive out low-income residents and worsen congestion on the subway and streets.” So I’m confused – is the pay too low or too high?)
  • “But now we can see this is all about blind greed” – I’ll resist the temptation to take a cheap shot here and simply offer a rebuttal. I believe this is about two competing forces: corporate finance and local politics. And when push came to shove it turned out that the local political groups in NYC (including the labor unions, activists, and local and apparently national politicians) had not yet learned a critical lesson of negotiation: the next best option. When trying to push for more, consider what your opponent’s next best option is before you put your offer on the table; if walking away is their next best option, they will take it. And they did.
  • “Jeff Bezos’ belief that everyday taxpayers should foot the bill for their new headquarters” – I specifically singled out this statement because this is the only sentiment I can unequivocally agree with. As noted at the outset, I am completely opposed to corporate welfare in all its forms, and this deal is no exception. Whether Mr. Bezos personally negotiated the deal or not is irrelevant; Amazon is his company, and he is ultimately responsible for the direction it takes. Certainly such a major decision as HQ2 would not proceed without his significant input, and he could not have been unaware of the massive “incentive” package involved.
  • “Even as the company actively works to eliminate millions of American retail jobs.” And this is the kind of foolish statement that works to undermine practically anything of value Mr. Perrone might have had to say. I understand if he feels the need to defend his membership, but this smacks of defending buggy whip makers in the era of the automobile. Last I checked nobody was coerced into using Amazon, although the same cannot be said for unionized labor.
  • “No company that refuses to invest in hard-working men and women” – According to an article at Business Insider, Amazon does invest in “hard working men and women”, with a benefits package for full-time employees that makes me envious, and even “[p]art-time employees who work more than 20 hours per week receive benefits, including life and disability insurance, dental and vision insurance with premiums paid in full by Amazon, and funding towards medical insurance.” But perhaps what Mr. Perrone had in mind was investing in their future: “Both full-time and part-time hourly employees are eligible for Amazon’s innovative Career Choice program that pre-pays 95 percent of tuition for courses related to in-demand fields, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a future career at Amazon. The company has built dedicated Career Choice classrooms at more than 25 fulfillment centers to make it easier for employees to go back to school by offering classes onsite.” To be fair, this article is from 2017, and Amazon’s culture may have changed for the worse. But I’d be willing to take that bet against the likelihood this is simply more political posturing on Mr. Perrone’s part. Unless he had something else in mind for “investing in hard working men and women”.
  • “Should be allowed to stuff their pockets with taxpayer-funded subsidies” – It actually feels misleading to separate this from the previous phrase, as this is a dependent clause, so let’s put them back together: “No company that refuses to invest in hard-working men and women should be allowed to stuff their pockets with taxpayer-funded subsidies.” This is actually a bit more uncomfortable for me than the previous incarnation, as the implicit contrapositive is that “Any company that does invest in hard-working men and women should be allowed to stuff their pockets with taxpayer-funded subsidies.” If we are to be generous and assume that is not his intent, I am right there with Mr. Perrone; however I am rather cynical given the company he keeps.
  • “Make no mistake, this fight has only begun.” Which fight exactly? The fight to drive Amazon out of NYC? Fight’s over. You won. Congratulations. The fight to keep Amazon in NYC, on your terms? Sorry, not gonna happen. Short of nationalizing the company (something that I will not accuse anyone of seriously contemplating, no matter how many Atlas Shrugged comments are tossed my way) there’s nothing to be done. Amazon made their choice. Do you perhaps intend to shame them into coming back? Good luck with that. What I expect the rest of the country to see is that NYC won the lottery and then a small group of people decided to tear up the ticket because the jackpot wasn’t big enough. That won’t garner much sympathy outside of a vanishingly small circle, most of whom live in Manhattan.

For myself, I won’t dispute that there are flaws with the HQ2 deals. And I will freely admit that there are reasonable arguments to be made that one or both of them go past flawed and into the realm of bad. But none of the arguments that I have heard coming out of NYC strike me as reasonable, and most of them sound at best partisan and at worst childish and churlish. The fact that many of them are contradictory (either with facts on the ground or with each other) does nothing to enhance the position of those who are making them. Worst of all, the time to fight against a deal is before it is made, not after. And demonizing someone who pulls out of a deal that you have changed the terms of is quite literally blaming the victim, and does even more damage to your business reputation than your already shady tactics have done.

My advice to NYC and the people who created this mess? Shut up, suck it up, and learn from this mess. Before you create another one.


Who Do You Believe?


How many men have been felled by the #MeToo movement? 100? 150? Hardly significant. The infamous Hollywood blacklist that was a direct result of the House Un-American Activities Committee snared at least 300 people. On the other extreme, the Salem Witch Trials couldn’t have gotten more than 20 or so, but you have to grade on a curve – as a percentage of population they really hit the ball out of the park with that one.

As moral panics go this one is only in its infancy, and that is in large part because it is closer to the “moral” side than usual. There are legitimate grievances and concerns driving this movement, which have been ignored and belittled for far too long, and that is not something I am ignoring or in any way trying to justify. The issue I am trying to address is the oft-cited concern of “men claiming to be victims” or “why do men think they have a right to be scared” or “if you haven’t done anything wrong you don’t have anything to be afraid of”. Well as a matter of fact sometimes men are victims, all men do have a right to be scared, and I’ll be sure to let the DA know you’ve waived your rights because you’re innocent.

Why are men claiming to be victims? Surely not for the same women that women are coming forward to tell their stories! Well – that’s the interesting thing. If you go all the way back to the very beginning of the #MeToo movement, you might remember before things got steamrolled into this becoming about women being abused by men, this was about survivors of sexual assault telling their stories. Did you notice how that was gender neutral? If not I couldn’t blame you, because apparently neither did the media or most anyone else. Some famous examples would be Terry Crews, James Van Der Beek, and Brendan Fraser. I’ve even had a few uncomfortable experiences myself with both men and women that I don’t know rise to the level of sexual assault, but definitely stick with me even now decades later. And no I don’t want to share them, thanks for asking. I realize this isn’t the victimization among men that is being complained about on social media or in the news, and in some ways that’s even worse, because this isn’t being talked about.

But let’s talk about what is happening. Some men (#notallmen) feel they are already being victimized because there is a movement to #BelieveSurvivors. Not just in their families, their friends, or their support communities, but in workplace disputes, on college campuses, and in our legal system. Let us not forget the highest court in the land, the Court of Public Opinion, in the person of High Justice Social Media. In the absence of directly contradictory evidence, the new normal is to believe an accusation as whole truth. As opposed to the old normal, which was to bury, ignore, downplay, evade, minimize, shame, and in every way possible prevent women (and men) from coming forward with an accusation in the first place. So the impulse is understandable; the pendulum has swung the other way.

But this comes with its own issues. As noted by columnist Emily Yoffe:

We don’t even have to imagine the dangers of a system based on automatic belief—Britain recently experienced a national scandal over such policies. After widespread adoption of a rule that law enforcement must believe reports of sexual violation, police failed to properly investigate claims and ignored exculpatory evidence. Dozens of prosecutions collapsed as a result, and the head of an organization of people abused in childhood urged that the police return to a neutral stance. Biased investigations and prosecutions, he said, create miscarriages of justice that undermine the credibility of all accusers.

So let’s talk about why men might feel scared. This comes back to questions of power and privilege. Often these sort of discussions seem to be oversimplified where you live in one of two camps: Privilege or Oppression, and you never get to move between the two. But life really isn’t like that. In media and social media, which is where many men are getting their impressions and knowledge of this latest front of the culture war, Men are cast as a homogenous group that exists perpetually in the camp of Privilege, and is often used as shorthand for “Rich Straight White Cisgender Middle Aged Ivy League College Educated Married Family Career Man”. The average man looks at that caricature and says “that’s not me! I don’t have any of that privilege!” Because he sees that he’s not rich, he didn’t go to an Ivy school (or maybe didn’t go to college at all), and maybe he doesn’t have a family, there’s a good chance he isn’t above middle management at best, and all that is assuming he’s white, straight and cisgender, which is invisible to him (yes, I know that’s the nature of privilege, but work with me here).

So he’s being lumped in with these powerful men, far more powerful than he is, and they are having their lives destroyed over an accusation. No, I’m not talking about the ones like Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby who either admitted to it or got their day in court. I’m talking about guys like Al Franken, who welcomed a Senate Ethics Committee but was hounded into resigning before he got one. And sadly some men do end up empathizing with men like Brett Kavanaugh, who may not be guilty of what he has been accused of by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford but I for one believe is guilty of lying under oath.

But really, what’s the worst thing that happens to Brett Kavanaugh? He doesn’t get to be on the Supreme Court? Actually, the worst thing that happens to Brett Kavanaugh, assuming no formal charges are brought against him, is that he is impeached from his current position as a Circuit Court Judge, he’s already lost his teaching position at Harvard and likely won’t be teaching anywhere else again. And all of that with nothing but an accusation.

And that sort of smug “the worst that happens to” pronouncement by many #BelieveSurvivors supporters is the sort of thing that drives men to be scared. Because they start to think about “what’s the worst that can happen” to themselves. And they think about stories they have heard from friends – stories from bad divorces, vindictive ex-girlfriends, ruthless coworkers – stories that may be one-sided, may be exaggerated, may not even be true. And who would even believe those stories anyway? Those are uncorroborated accusations that may be years or even decades old, after all. But maybe they have some truth to them. And they realize that powerful men of privilege are having their lives destroyed over an accusation. And they themselves are not powerful men of privilege.

But hey, they haven’t done anything wrong, so there’s nothing to be afraid of. Just like every story they heard from all of their friends. Just like everyone who appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Just like Giles Corey had nothing to be afraid of. Justice is swift so long as you only give weight to one side of the story.

I cry “more weight”.


Some Questions for the Nominees


To this point I have (with great restraint) avoided voicing any sort of opinion on the Kavanaugh controversy, and I will continue to do so, except to say that I believe very strongly that the best course of action is to investigate the allegations seriously so as to avoid any uncertainty in the event that Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed.

Democrats also need to accept the reality before them, which is that even if Kavanaugh is not confirmed (whether he withdraws or is down-voted), the very real likelihood is that there will be another conservative justice on the court. The only way this wouldn’t happen is the near-impossible confluence of events whereby the current nomination is dragged out past the current election cycle, Democrats take over the Senate, they manage to keep any and all vacancies open for two full years, and then keep control of the Senate and win the White House. Impossible? Stranger things may have happened, but not by much.

What I am interested in however is the discussion that is not happening. Once again we are being presented, by both sides, with the rankest sort of hypocrisy, and nobody is being called out on it because it is politically unfeasible to do so. Without getting into the specifics of “did he or didn’t he”, “is she telling the truth or is she lying”, my concern is with the way both sides have already taken a stance on whether a person’s actions as a teenager should determine their fitness for higher office (much) later in life. This is particularly galling as in their standard approach to criminal justice the left and the right tend to have opposite stances to the approach they are taking in this case.

Liberals tend to be very much in favor of rehabilitation over incarceration, with the eventual goal being reintegration into society. Judging someone in their fifties by a crime they committed in their teens, let alone something they were merely accused of committing, is seen as a horrendous offense…usually.

Lest anyone think I am letting Conservatives off the hook, think again. Conservatives cast themselves as “law and order”, with incarceration being the law and “paying your debt to society” being the order. Like a loan shark that debt never seems to quite get paid in full for most people once you get under the thumb of Johnny Law… unless you happen to be of the privileged class. “Pearl clutching” and “NIMBY” are phrases that seem to have been tailor-made to go hand-in-hand for these folks.

Consider then that this year and in the years to follow we have hundreds if not thousands of individuals on both sides of the political divide who could be considered nominees for political office. With that in mind, I have a few questions I would like to pose to them:

  • If someone were accused of a misdemeanor as a minor, should they be able to vote?
  • Should they be able to hold any public office?
  • What if it was a nonviolent felony?
  • What if it was a violent felony?
  • What if they were convicted?
  • Same questions as above, only the crimes occurred when they were an adult.
  • If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, is there any specific limit of time they need to wait? Are there any actions they need to take beyond serving their sentence if any (e.g. restitution) before they would be eligible?

Feel free to make your answers as short or as long as you like, but please none of the usual dodging or bloviating. Everyone seems both eager and capable enough to take a clear stand on whether or not they believe and support either Judge Kavanaugh or his accusers. Just this once it would be nice to get that kind of clarity on something else.


You Can’t Spell “Treason” Without “Reason”


Now that President Trump has expanded the definition of treason to include “anyone or anything that I personally don’t like”, I would like to be the first person to applaud his gross overreach of power disturbing authoritarian tendencies brilliant political insight and statesmanship. In that vein, I would like to “nominate” my own small but important list of people who are equally, if not more so, deserving of being branded as traitors as everyone Trump has levied the charge against to date:

·         Every kid who ever beat me up
·         The first girl who ever broke my heart
·         My 11th grade English teacher for failing me and making me take summer school
·         My “friend” who got me hooked on Magic: the Gathering
·         Everyone who ever laughed at me, not with me
·         The people responsible for “Highlander II: The Quickening”
·         My Not So Humble Sister (YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID)
·         That one kid who stole my Halloween candy
·         The second girl who ever broke my heart
·         That one guy who gave me a wet-willie that one time

Hopefully we’ll see the kind of bold, decisive action we’ve come to expect from this administration against these traitors. If not, I’m sure we can expect to see the administration held accountable by Congress, where we have Republicans in control of both the House and the Senate. Otherwise I guess both sides are to blame.


What Do You Bring to the Table?


As the new school year begins, seniors in high school and college are dreaming of wrapping up their experience at their current institutions, and even high school juniors are planning their next stage of life. Most people save their advice for the end of the year around graduation, but I’m going to hit you with it now when it might have a chance to do some good. Let me start with a story.

Many years ago, I studied acting. By all accounts I was talented – just how talented I couldn’t say, since nobody is an objective judge of themselves, but for the sake of argument let’s say I was talented enough to go far. That was the problem. I was used to get by on talent, and not used to having to rely on other things like skill, hard work, or even being a decent human being to the rest of the troupe.

Fast forward a few years. By the time I got to college I was surrounded by people who had talent, and most of them were at least as good as I was. I wasn’t just a little fish in a big pond at this point; I was swimming with sharks, and they were hungry. Now it wasn’t “aren’t you amazingly talented”, it was “what do you bring to the table”? Talent was a given, and for the folks who didn’t have it they kept in the running by being twice as skilled or three times as valuable in some other way. I’ll be honest: I didn’t last long.

That dose of humility was bruising, but it was just what I needed. If I had managed to get it much earlier, I might have stayed in acting a lot longer, because I would have taken the time to develop more of what I needed sooner. Fact is once you get out in the world, people will stop handing you things (and yes, believe me, whether you realize it or not people are handing you things right now). Once you are nothing but the next person in line, the question isn’t going to be “how well did you do on the test?” or “do you have a degree?” because the assumption is you passed the test, or you have a degree.

Here are the things you need to be thinking about moving forward: How well do you engage with other people? How much of a team player are you? Can you be a leader and a follower as the situation requires? What sets you apart from everyone else in your field, but in a good way? Why should an employer want you on their team?

What do you bring to the table?


The Government You Deserve


It’s another election year, and this one may be the most important year of all. Before you decide who to vote for this year, I’m asking each and every American to look deep inside and ask yourself one very important question: how do you really feel about your fellow Americans?

Let’s face it folks, anyone who says they actually “like”, “respect”, or “would piss on them if they were on fire” about their fellow Americans is spreading FAKE NEWS. Our country is falling apart faster than a meatloaf without breadcrumbs, and we all know who’s to blame: the other guy. That’s right, that low-down bastard who doesn’t really love their country, isn’t really a patriot, and would probably spit on the flag and/or a veteran first chance they got.

So what’s the answer? Sure, you could waste your vote by trying to go with one of the major parties, but let’s be honest, what have they done for you lately? The Republicans have had their chance, and they’ve managed to take things from bad to “we need a Space Force so we can nuke the site from orbit; it’s the only way to be sure”. As for the Democrats… oh the Democrats. Just when you think they can’t find new ways to snatch defeat right out of the jaws of victory, they look you right in the eye and say “hold my beer”. You think nobody can lose against Donald Trump? Think again. You think nobody can lose running against Donald Trump and a House full of spineless Republicans? Watch and see.

But there’s another way. A better way. Look deep inside yourself, and discover the Truth that’s always been there but you’ve always been afraid, nay, compelled to deny. Deep down, you know you really want someone who feels the same way you do. Deep down, you know you want:

The Misanthrope Party.

Yes folks, this year it’s time to send a clear message and vote Misanthrope. As that great moral philosopher A. Skywalker said, “Search your feelings; you know it’s true.”

What do I stand for? Absolutely nothing. Not in a nihilistic sense of “nothing is real, nothing matters”, but in a very real sense of “screw you guys, I’m going home”. I promise to not even bother to show up. I’ll just collect a paycheck and not even bother to show up for floor debates, because really, what’s the point? Everybody who isn’t already bought and paid for has already made up their mind, they don’t change anything, and nobody watches them anyway.

I already live near enough to D.C. that if I decide to show up for a vote because I’m bored I can drive in, which will make me look all fiscally responsible, which I hear some people actually like. I’m far enough away that I’m technically not a “Washington insider”, which apparently is the hip thing these days.

Here’s the best thing: I’m a completely dishonest politician in the classic sense, because I don’t stay bought. Want to buy my vote? Go ahead and try. I’ll take your money and I still won’t vote. The best you can do is pay me not to vote for an issue, and even then you’ll be left wondering: did we just get had? I’m not saying. I’ll just run for re-election.

Face it folks: At least I’m honest. And I’m as good as it gets these days.


A Small Man


Every day I have to ask:
Is this the hill I want to die on?
The forgotten soldier in an unknown battle in an unforgiving war?

You make it sound so easy – the battle lines are clear.
This is right, that’s wrong.
Pick a side, do good, stand up.
Use your privilege.
But it’s not that simple.

You say I’m no better than you, and I agree –
I have to go to work every day to keep body and soul together,
I have bills to pay, mouths to feed,
I have people to answer to,
You say to use my privilege –
On who?

Privilege is relative.
When you take a stand, it only matters if you stand up to someone bigger than you.
Speaking truth to power requires mouthing off to the powerful.

Every day I have to ask:
Is this the hill I want to die on?

Most days the answer is:
Not this hill.
Not today.