On March 22nd, Senator Bernie Sanders and Elon Musk entered a debate over the fate of the world.
It began when Sanders published a very in-character tweet. "We are in a moment in American history where two guys — Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos — own more wealth than the bottom 40% of people in this country," he wrote. "That level of greed and inequality is not only immoral. It is unsustainable."
Elon Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO who briefly surpassed Jeff Bezos in early 2021 to become the wealthiest man in the world, had a ready-made response. In a Tweet, he wrote, "I am accumulating resources to help make life multiplanetary & extend the light of consciousness to the stars."
@cleantechnica I am accumulating resources to help make life multiplanetary & extend the light of consciousness to the stars— Elon Musk (@Elon Musk) 1616304691.0
Sanders's reply remained laser-focused on his lifelong mission to fight income inequality on Earth. He wrote, "Space travel is an exciting idea, but right now we need to focus on Earth and create a progressive tax system so that children don't go hungry, people are not homeless and all Americans have healthcare. The level of inequality in America is obscene and a threat to our democracy."
Musk's starry-eyed statement has since faded into the ether of Twitter, but the context of this debate raises larger questions about futuristic technologies, the present-day interests and needs of humans on Earth, and the ongoing battle between them.
Billionaires dream of flying machines
As the Earth speeds towards irreversible climate disaster, many people's minds have naturally turned towards the stars. The distant, spinning nebulae and gleaming planets above us have long been idealized as potential escape routes for the unhappily earthbound.
But as the climate crisis grows more dire on Earth and space travel ramps up, thanks to ambitious patrons, some (like Elon Musk) have proposed that space may be our best shot at collective survival.
Famously, Musk founded SpaceX because he believed that NASA was not working hard enough to bring humans to Mars, and he feared that humanity is approaching its last chance to escape Earth before our planet becomes an uninhabitable hellscape.
His fellow Bernie Sanders nemesis Jeff Bezos has expressed similarly apocalyptic concerns. Bezos, who founded a rocket and aerospace travel company called Blue Origin in 2000, recently stepped down from his position as CEO of Amazon, claiming he planned on investing more time in his work with Blue Origin and his efforts to fight climate change.
Like Musk, Bezos aims to colonize space by investing ambitiously in new technologies that could help people reach the stars. And also like Musk, he fears for the future of civilization — and sees space as the place where these problems might be solved.
"Hundreds of years into the future, we will move all the polluting industries to space and other planets, where we have infinite resources for all practical purposes and Earth will only be (used for) light industries and residential," Bezos stated in a conversation with Amazon India chief Amit Agarwal in New Delhi.
This plan, which Bezos calls the New Inversion, is a long-term vision that would effectively move all pollution to the cosmos. "I would think, kind of [a] time frame of hundreds of years," Bezos added, reiterating that "we have to preserve this planet and we can do that using the resources of space."
The "space escape" as an escape route for the super-rich
Bezos, Musk, and their future-focused peers may claim that their plans to reach the stars are efforts to ensure a future for humanity, but their own reputations and vast fortunes have raised many questions about who this interplanetary future would actually serve.
At the moment, the future of space travel appears to be reserved for the super-rich — the sort of people who are already least affected by earthly calamities like climate change, despite unleashing the vast majority of the world's carbon emissions. For example, private spaceflight companies such as Axiom reportedly charge up to $55 million to send travelers into specially designed rooms located in the International Space Station.
It is likely that even if space travel begins to evolve in step with Moore's law (the theory that computers' processing power tends to double every two years), whatever world we build in the cosmos will remain reserved for the 1% for quite a long time. In this light, the futures preached by techno-prophets like Bezos and Musk start to look like thin cloaks for a kind of moon-eyed eugenics that would leave billions of people in the literal dust.
"The space barons are shrewdly — one might say cynically — tapping into our respect for astronauts and our idealism about what space represents," Ceridwen Dovey writes in The New Yorker. "They seem to be counting on us to be awestruck by whatever it is they do in space, and to overlook the fact that their motives are not exactly pure, nor are their methods of getting us there egalitarian."
Humans are drawn to mystery and beauty, and space is such a tantalizing frontier that it's difficult to completely write off billionaires' ambitious plans to penetrate it, even though we know their earthly work typically involves hoarding vast amounts of wealth while underpaying and mistreating masses of workers.
The ongoing battle between technological innovation and human-centered reform
Similar contradictions plague a multitude of existing plans to address climate change on Earth, and they are particularly endemic to plans broadcasted by corporate entities who have nothing to gain and everything to lose from substantial climate action.
For example, Jeff Bezos recently pledged $10 billion of his $188 billion net worth to the Bezos Earth Fund, yet his overall approach to climate and philanthropy has continuously come under fire.
First, there's the fact that despite all his talk of concern about climate change, Bezos's company continues to belch out carbon emissions, releasing around 51.17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2019 – up 15% from the previous year despite various green pledges. The company has also been slammed with reports about its poor treatment of workers, and prior to the Capitol riots, Bezos also reportedly donated thousands of dollars to conservative politicians such as progressive disruptor-in-chief Mitch McConnell.
Then there's the fact that Bezos failed to donate more than roughly 0.1% of his net worth prior to his 2020 donations — and the latter comprised less than 8% of his vast net worth, a sum that, along with Musk's wealth, is equivalent to the collective wealth of the United States's poorest 40% of people.
The $10 billion Bezos did donate via the Earth Fund was also met with criticism, particularly from groups invested in climate justice. The vast majority of Bezos's donations went to established environmental organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund and World Wildlife Fund, most of which already possess endowments in the millions. Critics said that many of these contributions will never reach communities already subject to the worst effects of climate-caused floods, wildfires, pollution, and destruction, and many of their ultimate goals involve conserving an existing status quo rather than addressing interconnected crises like racism and economic inequality.
In a statement released in December, a group of community-focused NGOs called the Climate Justice Alliance released a statement in protest of Bezos's donations. It found that "less than a quarter of the first-round grants will go to intermediary funds that support thousands of grassroots communities cultivating solutions on the frontlines of the climate emergency. The inequities couldn't be more striking."
This could also be said of the work of many of the "Big Green" environmental groups, particularly those historically focused on conservation rather than human-focused social change. Conservation movements have historically been bound up with white supremacy, and a look at the bigger picture reveals that white supremacy created and perpetuates the conditions for climate change, itself is an inherently racist crisis.
Other billionaires and corporations' efforts have been subject to similar critiques. For example, Elon Musk recently launched a competition offering $50 million to whomever could invent the best carbon capture techniques. Carbon capture technology has long been an alluring yet elusive potential solution to climate change, and it has also been the recipient of generous funding.
Despite all this investment, no miracle technology with the ability to stop climate change has ever emerged, and waiting for one feels more and more like waiting for a doomsday savior who will never arrive.
False promises further threaten any chance of climate action
An April 2020 study from Lancaster University argues against promises that glorify miraculous technologies, because "overreliance on promises of new technology to solve climate change is enabling delay."
Hinging the solution of climate change on miraculous technological breakthroughs like ice-restoration, nuclear fusion power, massive carbon-eating machines, and extraterrestrial offshoring can "feed systemic 'moral corruption', in which current elites are enabled to pursue self-serving pathways, while passing off risk onto vulnerable people in the future and in the global South," say researchers Duncan McLaren and Nils Markusson, who encourage "cultural, social and political transformation" over placing hopes in instant solutions.
It seems that any genuine "cultural, social and political transformation" will not come directly from billionaires and massive corporations, who naturally often benefit most from current cultural, social, and political structures and hierarchies. Recent corporate efforts to combat climate change have been hollow and hypocritical; and many corporations are being accused of greenwashing as they release statements and pledges that appear to be commitments to fighting climate change but that are really efforts to deflect opposition.
A January 2021 report from the Sierra Club entitled "The Dirty Truth About Utility Climate Pledges" graded utility companies on their plans to cut emissions and transition to clean energy solutions and issued many failing grades to companies that have released "carbon neutral" pledges and similar statements. "
The infuriating truth is that many utilities are not only protecting their coal plants from retirement, but are also actively planning to build out climate destabilizing gas plants," said Mary Anne Hitt, who is the Director of Campaigns at the Sierra Club. "The consequences of allowing utilities to continue to delay the transition to clean energy will be particularly disastrous for low-income communities and communities of color."
Learning from the people and the planet
So where will change come from, if not rockets to stars or carbon pledges or the latest addictive inventions of Silicon Valley coders? Perhaps the answer is not above us but rather below our feet. Perhaps we have everything we need already here on Earth.
"We already have a safe and natural technology for carbon capture and storage (CCS)," writes Francis Seymour in a report for the Center for Global Development. It's called 'tropical forests.'"
We already have everything we need to transition to clean energy, and we already have enough food to feed the world's population. What is needed is a redistribution of wealth and resources — something billionaires, conservative politicians, and oil companies have fought against since climate change was exposed as a dangerous reality in the '80s.
Slowly but surely, the idea of wealth redistribution as an investment in fighting climate change is seeping into reality in the form of modern politics. Joe Biden's infrastructure plan will be paid for, in part, by taxing the super-rich. Still, there's a long way to go.
As things grow more dire, environmentalists increasingly view a cross-racial, cross-class movement as the only feasible solution to climate change. This framework, long supported by environmental justice movements and knitted into intersectional plans like the Green New Deal, sees the solutions to climate change as bound up with ending capitalism, racial injustice, and other interconnected global plagues.
The new vanguard of the climate movement also acknowledges how important Indigenous knowledge of land stewardship and conservation, frontline communities' understanding of environmental racism and the stakes of the climate crisis, and ongoing working class and BIPOC struggles for justice are to any just transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy.
Clearly, billionaires' expensive efforts to colonize space would be low on the priority list of any intersectional response to climate change.
Is there any place for space in the climate fight?
All this being said, it's unlikely that humans will ever totally abandon our desire to explore distant galaxies. Our desire to know the cosmos is as innate as our childhood desires to explore the deep green mysteries of the nearby woods. Fortunately, we don't have to write space exploration out completely in the fight for Earth.
Actually, Jeff Bezos wasn't wrong when he said space could be key to helping us fight climate change. NASA, the UN, and other organizations have consistently reported that some solutions to the climate crisis might be found through space-based technology capable of deepening our understanding of the climate crisis and providing key evidence of its effects.
For example, satellites can detect changing temperature levels, rising sea levels, and other factors that could be vital in the current global effort to halt warming at 1.5°C. On a more theoretical level, thinking about how alien civilizations may have responded to climate change could help us address our own situation.
It seems that for now, space travel's greatest contribution is its ability to help humans look back at Earth — either to measure its changes or to feel awed by what Carl Sagan called our "pale blue dot," as many astronauts have been when they viewed Earth from space and experienced the famous "Overview Effect." (Upon seeing the Earth from space, astronauts report a newfound sense of compassion for and responsibility to the planet and for the interconnected webs of life that live upon it).
Plus, the sheer ambition of the space race provides an excellent blueprint for the kind of effort it will take to actually address the climate crisis. All in all, there is room for space travel within a just transition to an ethical future.
But for now, it seems that the "light of consciousness," as Elon Musk put it, would be best directed towards Earth's living, breathing beings rather than towards a few billionaires and their efforts to further puncture the edges of our already damaged, airless, eternally silent atmosphere.
Mackenzie Scott's charitable giving has exposed how stingy and selfish Jeff Bezos has been in a time of tremendous need.
Back in June, a representative for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reached out to nonprofit Feeding America to determine whether they could effectively channel his philanthropy.
A network of hundreds of food banks, the organization was providing crucial aid to the tens of millions of Americans who were then out of work. And they apparently impressed Bezos enough that he cut them a check for $100 million.
The fact that this sum constituted around 0.07% of Bezos' wealth at the time — the equivalent of an average American family giving about $65 to charity — didn't seem to figure in most of the headlines praising the donation. He was widely lauded for his generosity.
But by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, millions of Americans had experienced food insecurity for the first time in their lives, and Jeff Bezos had added around $70 billion to his 2019 wealth. So it's kind of like he did a tiny fraction of what was needed while profiting immensely off the crisis that was causing these problems in the first place… Hmm.
But just in case the issue wasn't already obvious, Bezos' ex-wife, novelist Mackenzie Scott, just stepped up to show him what philanthropy is supposed to look like. On Tuesday night Scott announced that she had donated more than $4.1 billion to nearly 400 charities in recent months, focusing on areas and issues closely connected to the COVID pandemic.
MacKenzie Scott says gave more than $4 billion to charity amid pandemic www.youtube.com
Compared to her remaining wealth of around $55 billion, it's a relatively paltry sum. But compared to the charity Jeff Bezos has provided to those dealing with the worst financial impact of the pandemic, it seems shockingly adequate.
In a blog post entitled "384 Ways to Help" Scott discussed her data-driven philanthropy, and wrote, "This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling ... Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires." None more so than her ex-husband.
This is hardly the first time Scott has publicly humiliated her ex. She set a precedent for doing just that when they got divorced and she absorbed nearly $40 billion in Amazon shares in the largest divorce settlement in history.
She continued that tradition back in July when she signed the Giving Pledge, promising to give at least half of her wealth to charity in her lifetime. Initiated by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, the Giving Pledge is a campaign to encourage the super-wealthy to put some portion of their vast hoards to good use. Jeff Bezos has yet to sign on…
That same month, she announced that she had already given away around $1.7 billion to 116 charities. But Scott's latest announcement truly highlights what a stingy, greedy man Jeff Bezos has been.
While Americans have been facing an unprecedented rent crisis — with tens of millions living under the threat of eviction, and at least $70 billion in unpaid household rent — Jeff Bezos was making that amount of money for himself alone. And unlike Scott, he has held onto the vast majority.
But the incredibly wasteful business model of direct-to-consumer hyper-convenience that has allowed him to amass so much money is incompatible with a serious approach to climate change. And Bezos' pledge came around a month after it was revealed that Amazon had threatened to fire employees who were pushing for more environmentally sustainable business practices.
Prior to that scandal, Jeff Bezos was recognized as one of the least charitable of the world's real-life dragons — sitting smugly on his hoard of gold and saying things like, "The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel."
But just in case there was any doubt what kind of man Jeff Bezos really is, Mackenzie Scott has now exposed him more effectively than Saudi phone hackers (or his girlfriend's brother) ever could. In one dramatic move, she gave away more than six times as much as he has in 2020, despite having less than one third his wealth.
Scott has given away nearly $6 billion so far in 2020. That's around 10% of her wealth, meaning that Jeff Bezos would need to give away more than $17 billion in the next two weeks just to match her generosity.
In reality, of course, neither of them are doing enough. They should both give away enough money to no longer be billionaires, because the concept of a billionaire is a disgusting insult in any world where homelessness and hunger are still rampant.
Amazon Workers striking in May
But what's even worse is that Jeff Bezos has amassed unheard-of riches by perfecting the very system of consumer capitalism that is ravaging the planet. What's even worse is that Amazon thrives while local businesses collapse around the country and wealth becomes consolidated in the hands of a few corporations. What's worse is the systematic way they squash efforts to unionize among their exploited workers.
What's even worse is a system of pro-billionaire propaganda, funded by corporate tax cuts, propagating the idea that the government's only role is to protect the interests of the wealthy. What's even worse than Jeff Bezos's failure to donate his wealth is a prevailing political discourse that treats the simultaneous growth of billionaires and homelessness as "meritocracy."
But, since Jeff Bezos is apparently incapable of feeling the shame that these practices should evoke in him, public humiliation is a nice consolation prize. So if Mackenzie Scott wants to continue absolving herself of wealth in gestures that undermine Amazon's pathetic PR bandaids, more power to her.
Studies have suggested that Rekognition less accurately recognized dark-skinned faces.
Amazon announced this week that they would be implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of Rekognition, a facial recognition software.
Launched in 2016, Rekognition has been sold to a number of government agencies, including various police departments and ICE. In 2017, it started being used by law enforcement for help identifying suspects.
Black people are already mistaken for suspects at alarming rates, and the use of Rekognition in law enforcement poses extreme dangers for them. In a statement on their blog, Amazon stated that they've advocated for stronger regulations on facial recognition technology, however the company has sold Rekognition to various police departments in the past.
Read their statement below.
"We're implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of Amazon's facial recognition technology. We will continue to allow organizations like Thorn, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Marinus Analytics to use Amazon Rekognition to help rescue human trafficking victims and reunite missing children with their families.
We've advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge. We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested."
What recession? A new report suggests that the Amazon CEO could earn his first trillion much sooner than originally predicted.
As many businesses have been tanking in 2020, Amazon sales have been doing just fine.
A Microsoft and Apple become trillion-dollar companies—with Amazon just a hair behind—the possibility of the world's first trillionaire is within arm's reach. Amazon's CEO and the richest person to ever live, Jeff Bezos, is projected to earn his first trillion by 2026. Especially in the wake of the worldwide health crisis and the recent strike of Amazon employees, Bezos has especially come under fire for his financial habits.
Here are just a few things Bezos could buy:
New Water Lines for Flint:
In 2017, the state of Michigan set aside $97 million for lead or galvanized steel water lines to be replaced in Flint as a solution to the city's ongoing water crisis.
The current naturalization fee in the U.S. is $640. Although the exact number of undocumented immigrants in the United States is understandably difficult to pinpoint, the Pew Research Center estimated that there were roughly 10.5 million as of 2017. It would cost about $1 billion to pay for naturalization fees for all undocumented immigrants in the U.S., which Bezos could pay 100 times over and still have $40 billion to spare.
The San Francisco Bay Area and New York City account for two of the country's highest rates of homelessness. Reports in 2019 estimate that it would cost just under $13 billion to end homelessness in both San Francisco and New York City, which Bezos could pay and still have $100 billion for himself.
According to a 2018 report, the four richest universities in the U.S. are Harvard University ($38.3 billion), the University of Texas system ($30.9), and Yale University ($29.4 billion). Bezos could buy them all, with a few billion left over.
Bezos could permanently double the budgets (about $4.5 billion) of World Health Organization programs that address communicable diseases, health emergencies, vaccinations, and other global health threats—you know, the organization Trump just threatened to defund?
Workers at Amazon, Target, Instacart, and other companies were planning to strike May 1.
In just the most recent example of his utter uselessness and misdirected energy, President Trump has declared May 1, 2020, as Law Day in the United States.
"We know that our Republic can continue to shine as a beacon of liberty only if Americans diligently defend our Constitution and ensure that its limits are strongly enforced," reads a statement signed by Trump on the official White House website. "On this Law Day, I urge all Americans to honor our shared inheritance of respect for the principles of the rule of law, limited government, and individual liberty. Let us rededicate ourselves to remaining ever vigilant in defending our rights secured by the Constitution so that our experiment in self‑government continues in perpetuity."
This coincides with the massive strike scheduled to occur May 1 by essential employees at Amazon, Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Instacart, and other companies in demand of better protections and benefits in the wake of the health crisis. Over the past few weeks, organizers have called for shoppers to boycott such companies and participate in the strike in support of essential workers.
Trump's unanticipated declaration of Law Day, then, scans as a deliberate effort to suppress workplace strikes. Many of his supporters have been protesting stay at home orders and mask mandates, despite evidence suggesting that reopening the country this early could pose greater risk. Those who dismiss these preventative measures often claim to do so on the basis of protecting the country's economy, seemingly without taking into account the health care workers who have been serving on the front lines of the virus.
Trump's statement continues: "I urge all Americans, including government officials, to observe this day by reflecting upon the importance of the rule of law in our Nation and displaying the flag of the United States in support of this national observance; and I especially urge the legal profession, the press, and the radio, television, and media industries to promote and to participate in the observance of this day."
Instead of sanctifying a 200-year-old document, Trump must focus his energy on undoing the damage he's done as the crisis takes over. The Americans who have died of the virus have him to blame.
Whether you're unemployed, working from home, or an essential worker, there's a lot to fight for right now
According to a report published in The Intercept on Tuesday, essential workers at major companies like Amazon, Walmart, Instacart, Target, Whole Foods, and FedEx are planning a walkout as part of a May Day general strike, fighting for workers' rights.
A lot of Americans probably don't know the history of May Day, or the fact that May 1st is known as International Workers' Day—or Labour Day—in much of the world. That ignorance, and the fact that we have our own Labor Day in September, can best be understood as part of a deliberate effort to undermine class consciousness and solidarity in the US, and is all the more reason why more workers need to participate in Friday's strike.
The power structures of our country have long maintained a hostile relationship toward labor and have successfully suppressed unionization and other efforts by workers to agitate for their rights. But this May 1st is the perfect time to correct that tendency and join the world in celebrating workers–because the historic event that International Workers' Day commemorates took place here in America in 1886, and it upset the established hierarchy in a way that should serve as inspiration for people currently struggling to make ends meet.
Prior to 1886, May Day had traditionally been celebrated in European cultures with a variety of festivals celebrating spring, but that year American workers took the occasion as an opportunity to fight for their rights. A massive, nationwide work stoppage began on May 1st and continued for several days, with thousands of striking workers demonstrating in every major city. At the time, workers were often made to work long hours in dangerous conditions, and they were fighting for the eight-hour workday—so if you've ever gotten overtime pay, or just enjoyed clocking out at 5:00, then you have them to thank.
On May 3rd police efforts to quash the protests in Chicago resulted in at least one death and several injuries.The next day an unknown assailant came prepared. When police once more attempted to disperse the crowd in Haymarket Square with violent tactics, that person threw a dynamite bomb. The explosion and the ensuing gunfire killed seven police officers and at least four civilians. Dozens more were badly hurt. Police then rounded up hundreds of organizers, and four men—none of whom had thrown the bomb—were hanged after a lengthy, internationally publicized trial.
It would take another 30 years of fighting before a federal law established an eight-hour work day for any private industry—and even longer before FDR's administration made it standard across most types of work. But those four men became martyrs for the cause of workers' rights and galvanized people around the world to take action. According to historian William J. Adelman, "No single event has influenced the history of labor in Illinois, the United States, and even the world, more than the Chicago Haymarket Affair," yet few Americans are aware of these events or the holiday they spawned. While the violence and death that took place back then was obviously regrettable—and no one should be hoping for its recurrence—we are about due for another turning point in labor history.
The cracks in our system are being exposed like never before, and millions are falling through. Tens of millions of Americans find themselves suddenly unemployed or underemployed. Shockingly few have been able to sign up for unemployment benefits, and the federal government's $1,200 checks are being treated as a long-term cure-all. People aren't making money, yet most of them are still expected to pay their rent in full, and many have lost their health insurance amid a viral pandemic. It's no wonder people are protesting for their states to reopen; but seeing as that would plainly backfire (and is a push being secretly driven by wealthy backers who won't have to risk their lives), we need to direct that energy toward measures that would actually help.
Meanwhile, many of the people who never stopped working—in healthcare, retail, food service, and other industries deemed "essential"—are being asked to risk their lives working without safety equipment, hazard pay, or even adequate sick leave. These conditions would be unacceptable at the best of times, but now—at the worst of times—we have no choice but to fight back and demand immediate relief and lasting reforms.
A rent strike is a good start, but a general strike—in which workers across industries and around the country participate—sends a real message. So if it's at all possible for you to join the general strike on Friday, May 1st, and/or participate in a (safe, socially-distant) demonstration, consider what you'd be fighting for: A rent and mortgage freeze; liveable stimulus payments; guaranteed healthcare; and hazard pay, sick leave, and PPE for all essential workers.
These are the absolute bare minimum measures that can get us all through this crisis, and if we don't demonstrate the collective power of the American working class—to drive or shut down the economy—we will continue to be deprived of even these. It's time to stand up.
On Valentine's Day, Amazon pulled out of its plan to build a second headquarters in Queens, citing the efforts of citizen protestors and politicians who opposed its imminent arrival.
The moment Amazon announced that it would be building its second headquarters in NYC's Long Island City, people took to the streets.
On November 26th, a coalition of immigrant advocates and anti-HQ2 groups gathered to protest Amazon's involvement with ICE, Paladir, and other organizations responsible for deportations. Citizens marched again on Cyber Monday, launching a " day of action" and flooding an Amazon Bookstore in Manhattan, holding signs aloft and chanting sing-song rhymes about Jeff Bezos. Together, over two dozen community groups organized these protests, including local unions and nonprofits. Following the protests in Manhattan, Amazon workers employed in warehouses in Staten Island made the decision to unionize, citing low pay and impossible performance quotas, and leveraging Amazon's impending move to Queens to draw attention to their case.
Image via The New York Times
Their protests attracted the attention of some of New York City's political officials, such as City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who initially supported Amazon's entry but denounced it after learning more about the circumstances surrounding the deal. He began to stand with the protestors, complaining that a general lack of transparency and the fact that Amazon bypassed NYC's standard review process mandated further investigation.
In December, a public hearing was held at City Hall, and protestors gathered outside while council members grilled economists and officials who had been instrumental in making the deal with the world's most profitable corporation. "We are not in the business of corporate welfare here at city council," said Johnson.
It was this so-called corporate welfare—the $3 billion in government and tax incentives that Amazon was promised, in exchange for the 25,000 jobs it promised to create—that became the foundations of the anger stewing around the sales conglomerate's impending arrival, anger which resulted in Amazon's decision to pull out of its promise to develop a huge corporate campus in Queens.
Image via Vox.com
The people's anger came from different places, and their protests were haphazard efforts, but their rage had been brewing for a long time, and Amazon's imminent arrival fed a variety of fears about corporate greed and pervasive gentrification, which opponents feared would tear apart places like Long Island City, sucking it clean of culture and community. Amazon's arrival was predicted to catalyze a wave of homelessness; the announcement that it was setting up shop in Long Island City was instantly followed by dizzying spikes in rent—chilling lower-income residents in a city already plagued by stretches of empty storefronts.
Long Island CityImage via AM NY
Protestors cited Amazon's effects on Seattle, Amazon's first home city, as reasons why the conglomerate shouldn't move on with its plan. Some people argue that Amazon made Seattle into a hull, a kind of paper city that existed only to facilitate its metallic corporate heart; and Seattle's homeless corporation did rise in tandem with rising housing prices, making it home to the
third-highest number of homeless people in the country, after New York and Los Angeles.
HQ2 opposition united a great deal of unlikely allies—including an unlikely ally in the Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board, who argued that the deal was "crony capitalism at its worst." Their article continued, "Amazon's case is aboveboard, but it still amounts to a company with a market capitalization of nearly $800 billion getting paid to create jobs it would have created somewhere anyway."
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was the most visible face of a group of politicians who protested Amazon's HQ2 establishment, and her resistance might have been one of the central reasons for its decision to abandon ship. "It was that the environment over the course of the past three months had not got any better," said Joni Seth, Amazon's head of policy communications. "There were some local and state elected officials who refused to meet with Amazon and criticized us day in and day out about the plan."
This deal wasn’t a simple tax break. It was $3 BILLION dollars. When the community wanted to negotiate, Amazon said… https://t.co/Q9E8zF3tZZ— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) 1550243136.0
Ocasio-Cortez had long denounced Amazon's plans to move into Queens, and she celebrated Amazon's retraction on Twitter. So did other political figures, including Cynthia Nixon. Following the company's Valentine's Day breakup announcement, the actress-turned politician triumphantly tweeted, "The fight against Amazon laid bare their union-busting, corporate welfare, ICE-abetting practices and shows why we need to break up monopolies like Amazon."
In addition to its ties to law enforcement giants, Amazon had also been accused of developing facial recognition technologies to gain information about customers without them knowing; and many protests have cropped up among its warehouse workers, especially in Europe, where employees have staged walkouts against low wages and poor working conditions.
A protestor stops an Amazon truck in Spain.Image via apnews.com
Despite Amazon's shady ethics, many people were not as enthusiastic about the company's foiled New York City dreams, arguing that the demise of HQ2 will compromise what could've been an economic boom for the city, criticizing Ocasio-Cortez's decision to favor ideology over economics. Amazon may have hiked up rents, but rents are high anyway; and its arrival would have created thousands of jobs, including consistent positions for lower-level staff members and service workers.
Plus polls showed that 56% of New Yorkers approved Amazon's arrival, which was initially billed as a triumph by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo—both central players in the deal's initial success who believed that the arrival would help NYC solidify its position as a worldwide hub of tech and industry. Bill DeBlasio's tweets following Amazon's decision resembled those of a spurned ex. He also lashed out at Ocasio-Cortez, stating that "a small group of politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community—which poll after poll showed overwhelmingly supported bringing Amazon to Long Island City—the state's economic future and the best interests of the people of this state," the governor said in a statement.
But even so, a great deal of major political figures opposed the deal, including Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who initially supported Amazon's arrival but, like Johnson, changed his mind after learning about its policies. Still, Amazon in Long Island City's demise all started with those first street protests, which erupted directly after De Blasio's announcement as politicians remained silent. Ultimately, community members and citizen organizers catalyzed the start of the resistance that led to the downfall of Amazon's Queens campus.
Image via Marketwatch
There's something deeply satisfying about the image of the world's richest man and his behemothic corporation getting kicked out of New York by impassioned Queens residents, ready to unite and fight for the integrity of their home borough. Still, Amazon's departure won't stop gentrification, won't fill up empty stores, and won't bring back the days when young artists could gallivant around Greenwich Village with pennies in their pockets and working-class families could call Manhattan home.
In a way, Amazon's departure is a symbolic victory for its opposition, a tantalizing promise that the people can triumph over corporations. Of course, this move will not deter Amazon from building its global empire, and America's supermassive wealth gap will remain. It just won't be as tangibly visible in New York.
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter at @edenarielmusic.
Amazon's contest for two cities to house dual new headquarters has likely winners in Queens, NY and Crystal City, VA.
Amazon is looking to hire a total of 50,000 employees divided between two new headquarters. Leaked reports spotlight the Crystal City area of Arlington, VA and Long Island City in Queens, NY as the next locations for the Seattle-based retail giant.
While both are expensive real estate markets, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is reportedly prepared to offer hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies, according to The New York Times.
"Amazon Cuomo"Times Union
"I am doing everything I can," Governor Cuomo commented on Monday. "We have a great incentive package." He added, "I'll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that's what it takes. Because it would be a great economic boost." Assuming Cuomo hopes to retain the respect of his supporters during his third term as governor, he won't be changing his name.
Governor Cuomo's enthusiasm, however, does set him apart from Virginia officials, who are staying mum on the prospect of Amazon's HQ2. In Crystal City, developer and land owner JBG Smith declined to comment. If chosen, the new Amazon headquarters would be in close proximity to Washington, DC's labor force.
Amazon is refraining from confirming or denying its final decision. Since announcing its plans to expand in September 2017, the company has been shortlisting locations based on availability of trained workers, access to public transportation, and quality of city infrastructure. Amazon is expected to invest $5 billion into its expansion.
Wherever Amazon chooses to expand, its previous impact on its home base of Seattle suggests that it will create an economic boom, but also an increase in housing and traffic congestion. In fact, in Seattle, Amazon has been "singularly blamed for a rapid influx of wealthy techies who...worsen traffic and increase housing problems." To that point, some residents in Queens are wary of the worsening effect 25,000 more employees could have on the already sub-par MTA subway service.
Steve Kovach at CNBC notes, "The 7 train, the subway line that runs through much of Queens, is already straining to service the influx of new residents in the Long Island City area. That would only get worse with 25,000 Amazon workers commuting into Long Island City every day."
If Amazon hopes to fulfill its goal of preparing 500,000 square feet of office space for thousands of new employees to begin work next year, secrecy and rumor need to give way to signed deals and a wave of hiring.
With high tech security measures becoming the norm, you'd think we'd be a lot safer.
From smartphones to smart cars to smart hotels, the market for interconnectivity has never been higher. The ability to control the majority of one's home from an app– everything from the thermostat to the alarm system– is ubiquitous. There are definitely benefits to this tech; speed, comfort etc.- but are our attempts to make everything smart leaving us vulnerable?
When it comes to smart homes, the technologies involved can vary, but more often than not they're centered on security. Some using motion-sensing technology to automatically turn on cameras. Others contain sensors for all types of issues including flood water, burglary, smoke, and carbon monoxide. The requisite paranoia required to purchase one of these systems aside, there is a growing concern that these security programs can be hacked and easily monitored by would-be burglars. While self-driving cars are still a work in progress (Uber just killed a woman with one of theirs), hackers were able to shut down security features on a Jeep and prove how connected utilities are just as easy to hack as anything else connected to the Internet. The same principle can applied smart homes.
Alexa and her hackable friends
On one end of the hacking spectrum, you have a previous home's owner. There are currently no standards in place to prevent a seller from having access to their old home's smart features. This means the flickering of your lights and the constant opening and closing of your home's garage door could be part of a prank by the last person living in your house. This can also leave home owners vulnerable to burglary, though the police would probably have an easy time cracking that case. Burglary is more likely to occur from an outside force, one that you haven't met and agreed to purchase a house from. That said, tech savvy burglars could have just as easy a time robbing you while you're at work or on a vacation.
Direct denial of service (DDoS) attacks have been used to disrupt the Internet connection for entire corporations, and can now, via the Internet of Things (IoT), be accomplished with ordinary devices such as TVs and washing machines. When these devices were designed, many of the companies hectically released them without putting much thought into their (the devices) security. There are now over six billion everyday items connected to the Internet, with IoT spending to hit around 1.7 trillion by 2020. But how and why would burglars perform cyber attacks on smart homes, when it'd be just as easy to break a window wearing facemasks and steal as much as they can carry before the police arrive? While burglars could perform DDoS attacks on homes and shutdown security systems, this could raise suspicions, as homeowners might notice that their cameras and motion sensors aren't working. Burglars can however, hack into less obvious devices and use them as a means of surveillance, casing their target at a safe distance. Recently, it was discovered that the MyQ garage door system could be hacked and used to spy on homeowners, alerting hackers when the door opens and closes, and giving them the ability to reopen the door after residents leave. This sort of thing is much more useful to burglars performing smash and grab robberies and makes it far too easy for robbers to keep track of a homeowner's schedule.
New security systems are at risk.
So, what can you do?The fact of the matter is, smart homes are no more or less secure than regular homes. If someone is dedicated to robbing your house, they're going to find a way to get the job done. That said, smart homes do provide a baseline of coverage against standard, non-tech savvy burglars and having visible cameras on the outside of your house can be a serious deterrent. If none of the devices in your house are smart though, it might be worth it to wait until cyber-security measures become standard before buying that new app-controlled washer. As for alarm systems, at this point the old school systems that alert the police department via a landline rather than the Internet are far safer and effective. Like anything though, it's important to do your research before buying.