How the Amazon deal fell apart
By JOSEPH PISANI
AP Retail Writer
Monday, February 18
NEW YORK (AP) — In early November, word began to leak that Amazon was serious about choosing New York to build a giant new campus. The city was eager to lure the company and its thousands of high-paying tech jobs, offering billions in tax incentives and lighting the Empire State Building in Amazon orange.
Even Governor Andrew Cuomo got in on the action: “I’ll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that’s what it takes,” he joked at the time.
Then Amazon made it official: It chose the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens to build a $2.5 billion campus that could house 25,000 workers, in addition to new offices planned for northern Virginia. Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Democrats who have been political adversaries for years, trumpeted the decision as a major coup after edging out more than 230 other proposals.
But what they didn’t expect was the protests, the hostile public hearings and the disparaging tweets that would come in the next three months, eventually leading to Amazon’s dramatic Valentine’s Day breakup with New York.
Immediately after Amazon’s Nov. 12 announcement, criticism started to pour in. The deal included $1.5 billion in special tax breaks and grants for the company, but a closer look at the total package revealed it to be worth at least $2.8 billion. Some of the same politicians who had signed a letter to woo Amazon were now balking at the tax incentives.
“Offering massive corporate welfare from scarce public resources to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong,” said New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris and New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Democrats who represent the Long Island City area, in a joint statement.
The next day, CEO Jeff Bezos was on the cover of The New York Post in a cartoon-like illustration, hanging out of a helicopter, holding money bags in each hand, with cash billowing above the skyline. “QUEENS RANSOM,” the headline screamed. The New York Times editorial board, meanwhile, called the deal a “bad bargain” for the city: “We won’t know for 10 years whether the promised 25,000 jobs will materialize,” it said.
Anti-Amazon rallies were planned for the next week. Protesters stormed a New York Amazon bookstore on the day after Thanksgiving and then went to a rally on the steps of a courthouse near the site of the new headquarters in the pouring rain. Some held cardboard boxes with Amazon’s smile logo turned upside down.
They had a long list of grievances: the deal was done secretively; Amazon, one of the world’s most valuable companies, didn’t need nearly $3 billion in tax incentives; rising rents could push people out of the neighborhood; and the company was opposed to unionization.
The helipad kept coming up, too: Amazon, in its deal with the city, was promised it could build a spot to land a helicopter on or near the new offices.
At the first public hearing in December, which turned into a hostile, three-hour interrogation of two Amazon executives by city lawmakers, the helipad was mentioned more than a dozen times. The image of high-paid executives buzzing by a nearby low-income housing project became a symbol of corporate greed.
Queens residents soon found postcards from Amazon in their mailboxes, trumpeting the benefits of the project. Gianaris sent his own version, calling the company “Scamazon” and urging people to call Bezos and tell him to stay in Seattle.
At a second city council hearing in January, Amazon’s vice president for public policy, Brian Huseman, subtly suggested that perhaps the company’s decision to come to New York could be reversed.
“We want to invest in a community that wants us,” he said.
Then came a sign that Amazon’s opponents might actually succeed in derailing the deal: In early February, Gianaris was tapped for a seat on a little-known state panel that often has to approve state funding for big economic development projects. That meant if Amazon’s deal went before the board, Gianaris could kill it.
“I’m not looking to negotiate a better deal,” Gianaris said at the time. “I am against the deal that has been proposed.”
Cuomo had the power to block Gianaris’ appointment, but he didn’t indicate whether he would take that step.
Meanwhile, Amazon’s own doubts about the project started to show. On Feb. 8, The Washington Post reported that the company was having second thoughts about the Queens location.
On Wednesday, Cuomo brokered a meeting with four top Amazon executives and the leaders of three unions critical of the deal. The union leaders walked away with the impression that the parties had an agreed upon framework for further negotiations, said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union.
“We had a good conversation. We talked about next steps. We shook hands,” Appelbaum said.
An Amazon representative did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The final blow landed Thursday, when Amazon announced on a blog post that it was backing out, surprising the mayor, who had spoken to an Amazon executive Monday night and received “no indication” that the company would bail.
Amazon still expected the deal to be approved, according to a source familiar with Amazon’s thinking, but that the constant criticism from politicians didn’t make sense for the company to grow there.
“I was flabbergasted,” De Blasio said. “Why on earth after all of the effort we all put in would you simply walk away?”
Associated Press Writers Alexandra Olson and Karen Matthews in New York, and David Klepper in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.
Amazon aims to cut its carbon footprint
By JOSEPH PISANI
AP Retail Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon, which ships millions of packages a year to shopper’s doorsteps, says it wants to be greener.
The online retail giant announced plans Monday to make half of all its shipments carbon neutral by 2030.
To reach that goal, the online retail giant says it will use more renewable energy like solar power; have more packages delivered in electric vans; and push suppliers to remake their packaging.
McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and other big companies that generate lots of waste have announced similar initiatives, hoping to appeal to customers concerned about the environment.
Amazon is calling its program “Shipment Zero,” and plans to publicly publish its carbon footprint for the first time later this year.
‘Digital gangsters’: UK wants tougher rules for Facebook
By MAE ANDERSON and JILL LAWLESS
Monday, February 18
LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers issued a scathing report Monday that calls for tougher rules to keep Facebook and other tech firms from acting like “digital gangsters” and intentionally violating data privacy and competition laws.
The report on fake news and disinformation on social media sites followed an 18-month investigation by Parliament’s influential media committee. The committee recommended that social media sites should have to follow a mandatory code of ethics overseen by an independent regulator to better control harmful or illegal content.
The report called out Facebook in particular, saying that the site’s structure seems to be designed to “conceal knowledge of and responsibility for specific decisions.”
“It is evident that Facebook intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws,” the report said. It also accused CEO Mark Zuckerberg of showing contempt for the U.K. Parliament by declining numerous invitations to appear before the committee.
“Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law,” the report added.
U.K. parliamentary committee reports are intended to influence government policy, but are not binding. The committee said it hoped its conclusions would be considered when the government reviews its competition powers in April.
The government said it welcomed the “report’s contribution towards our work to tackle the increasing threat of disinformation and to make the U.K. the safest place to be online. We will respond in due course.”
While the U.K. is part of the 28-country European Union, it is due to leave the bloc in late March, so it is unclear whether any regulatory decisions it takes could influence those of the EU.
Facebook said it shared “the committee’s concerns about false news and election integrity” and was open to “meaningful regulation.”
“While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago,” said Facebook’s U.K. public policy manager, Karim Palant.
“We have tripled the size of the team working to detect and protect users from bad content to 30,000 people and invested heavily in machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer vision technology to help prevent this type of abuse.”
Facebook and other internet companies have been facing increased scrutiny over how they handle user data and have come under fire for not doing enough to stop misuse of their platforms by groups trying to sway elections.
The report echoes and expands upon an interim report with similar findings issued by the committee in July . And in December , a trove of documents released by the committee offered evidence that the social network had used its enormous trove of user data as a competitive weapon, often in ways designed to keep its users in the dark.
Facebook faced its biggest privacy scandal last year when it emerged that Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct British political data-mining firm that worked for the 2016 Donald Trump campaign, had accessed the private information of up to 87 million users.
Conservative lawmaker Damian Collins, who heads the media committee, said “democracy is at risk” from malicious, targeted disinformation campaigns, often directed from countries such as Russia and spread on Facebook and other social networks.
“We need a radical shift in the balance of power between the platforms and the people,” he said. “The age of inadequate self-regulation must come to an end.”
Anderson reported from New York.
PRESIDENT’S DAY PROTEST AT SEN. ROB PORTMAN’S OFFICE
Central Ohioans call on representatives to denounce Trump’s fake emergency
COLUMBUS, OH—In response to President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, MoveOn and more than 100 other co-sponsoring organizations are holding protest rallies across the United States. In central Ohio, several activist groups—including Indivisible groups representing Congressional Districts 3, 12, and 15; the Columbus Sanctuary Collective; and Faith in Public Life—will hold a rally outside of Senator Rob Portman’s downtown Columbus office at noon today.
Rally participants will call out Trump’s fake emergency and call on Senator Portman, Representative Stivers, and Representative Balderson to stand up against the president’s unconstitutional—and unwarranted—power grab.
Speakers will include:
Michelle Esparza—Third-year Ohio State University law student from El Paso who published a recent opinion piece in the Columbus Dispatch (below)
Thomas Cartwright—Indivisible leader who published a recent opinion piece in the Columbus Dispatch about his experience working with immigrants at the El Paso border (below)
Ruben Castilla Herrera—Immigrant activist with the Columbus Sanctuary Collective
Reverend Katherine Shaner—Minister of Missions, First Community Church
Professor Daniel Kobil—Constitutional law professor at Capital University Law School
Imam Horsed Noah—Executive Director, Abubakar Assisiq Islamic Center
Honorable Mary Jo Kilroy—Former Congresswoman
Mia Lewis—Indivisible OH District 12 leader
WHAT: President’s Day Protest
WHO: Central Ohioans. Hosted by Indivisible groups from OH3, OH12, and OH15; the Columbus Sanctuary Collective; and Faith in Public Life.
WHERE: 37 West Broad Street
Columbus, OH 43215
WHEN: Monday (Feb. 18), 12–1pm
The Columbus Dispatch Opinion
Column: El Paso native disputes president’s border narrative
Posted Feb 12, 2019
I am from the U.S.-Mexico border, or la frontera. Last Tuesday, President Donald Trump delivered the State of the Union and talked about my hometown — El Paso, Texas. He falsely stated there is an “urgent national crisis” on the southern border. He painted a picture of chaos, crime and disorder.
The president attempted to make an example of El Paso by claiming that the city used to be “one of the most dangerous cities before a barrier was put in place.” He alleged that immediately after a wall was built, it became one of the safest cities in the country. This is a lie. El Paso has never been one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S., and it was safe long before a barrier was built.
In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act directing the Department of Homeland Security to erect 700 miles of reinforced fencing in different areas along the southwest border, including El Paso. Construction of the barrier began in 2008, yet FBI crime data shows that from 2005 to 2007, El Paso was one of the safest cities in the nation with a population of over 500,000 people.
In fact, violent crime peaked in 1993, then dropped more than 30 percent between 1993 and 2007. As crime fell, nothing but a silver chain-link fence stood between El Paso and Ciduad Juárez. FBI crime data also shows that violent crime rose again between 2007 and 2010, after the 18-foot steel barrier was erected in the city. Still, El Paso has remained one of the country’s safest cities. In 2017, El Paso had the second-lowest murder rate in the country with 2.8 murders per 100,000 people. First was San Diego, another border city, with a rate of 2.2 murders per 100,000 people.
The president’s representation of the border is misleading and harmful to the reputation, economic development and job creation of a safe and vibrant community. He has fabricated a false narrative to justify shutting down the government for a multibillion-dollar border wall that is supposed to keep us safe. President Trump does not know the border. El Pasoans know the border. We know that it was a safe city before any barrier was built, and we know that it is safe now because of its people, its exceptional law enforcement and its unwavering sense of community.
The border is more than a geographical demarcation between the United States and Mexico — it is a symbol of our bi-national reality. Border communities are inseparably intertwined. More than 80 percent of El Paso’s population is Hispanic and Latino. We are bilingual, bicultural and shaped by both sides of the border.
Our unique location is a sense of pride for many of us. There are three international bridges that link the city to Ciudad Juárez. The bridges facilitate trade, migration and travel for a combined population of over 2.5 million people. Texas is the largest exporting state in the country and Mexico accounts for 36 percent of the state’s foreign trade. Thousands of El Pasoans cross to and from Mexico by foot or car every day to have lunch, have a drink, visit family, see a doctor or go to work.
Like many El Paso families, I grew up in a bicultural home. My mother is a naturalized American citizen from Mexico and my father is a first-generation American of Mexican parents. My father served in the military after high school and taught my brother and I that first and foremost, we are American and to never let anyone make us feel that we are anything but. My mother taught us to speak Spanish, to embrace our heritage and to never forget that we have a family on the other side of the border.
Like my family, El Paso families are remarkably blended. For this reason, President Trump’s wall is seen by many as an attempt to cut off the circulation of a region. It would be a symbol of division in a place where two nations merge into one.
Even if we put aside what the wall would represent, the data shows that the president disparaged El Paso with erroneous claims. His rhetoric has hurt our city’s reputation, but it will not hurt our spirit.
Michelle Esparza is from El Paso, Texas, and a third-year law student at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Columbus Dispatch Opinion
Column: From the front lines: no invasion of ‘criminal’ refugees
Posted Feb 6, 2019
I spent 2½ weeks from mid-December to January on the border in El Paso, Texas, working in one of the more than 10 shelters run by a charity that provides support to refugees immediately following their release from ICE custody to begin their journey to sponsors to advance their legal asylum claims. My shelter housed up to 80 to 100 people some nights.
I feel compelled to tell the truth about border crossings to dispel the enraging lies of the White House, bolstered by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and harbored in complicit silence by Republicans in Congress, including Sen. Rob Portman.
Shelters receive refugees immediately following their release from 7 to 10 days of Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Volunteers respectfully feed, clothe, provide showers and lodging. Very importantly, volunteers connect the refugees with their sponsors and coordinate travel to their sponsors to begin the court asylum process. Shelters receive no governmental support, financial or otherwise. This support system exists all along our southern border, generally operated by various religious organizations.
There is a profound border humanitarian crisis, one originated and perpetuated by the White House through its odious nationalistic policies. I met more than 500 refugees and saw no evidence of a crisis spurred by an “invasion” of criminals, adults or traffickers using children as props, rapists or drug runners. Most crossing are Central Americans seeking compassion and safety from the horrific dangers they face in their countries. According to U.S. law, crossings to surrender to Border Agents and petition for asylum can be made at ports of entry or other points along the border.
The people were gentle, many deeply religious, and the families close and loving. They were hardworking, taking responsibility for, and pride in, cleaning the entire shelter each day. Volunteers ended their day around 10 p.m., but one volunteer each night would sleep in the shelter in case of emergency and to dispense medicine. I spent numerous nights alone on that shift and not for one second feared for my safety.
Many refugees were very sick, especially little ones, not from their journey, but from the torturous conditions of seven to 10 days in ICE captivity. Consistent refugee accounts were that groups of 12 to 25 were held together in overcrowded concrete cells with no heat (it snowed) and only mylar blankets (like aluminum foil) for warmth. They slept on the floor, so close together that walking was impossible.
There were no showers and only communal toilets. The food was cold, generally sandwiches. There is no reason for ICE to maltreat people like this unless they want to dissuade others from legally seeking asylum.
When ICE buses dropped off refugees, a wonderful volunteer nurse from West Virginia watched for who needed medical attention, especially children or babies. Flu was rampant. Some days I spent day and night taking children to the ER and to a local doctor who would treat the little ones with compassion and kindness and the parents with respect. Although prescriptions were at noninsurance prices, the hospitals and doctors never asked who would pay. They just cared for the children like they were their own. That is my country.
Multiple little ones were admitted to the hospital. One baby, sent immediately upon shelter arrival from ICE, was admitted to ICU for five days. At discharge, the ICU nurse told me three more hours without treatment and the baby would have died. That volunteer nurse saved the baby’s life.
My encounters and experiences along the border were not unique, based on conversations with “permanent” volunteers. I have spent many weeks in Greece working in refugee camps, but this was different. This is my country; a country I want to believe desires to open its arms to those in need, rather than cross them with disdain and disgust and spew blatant lies to support a political ideology that effectively denounces our humanity.
This can be solved. If the administration can build “temporary” refugee child prisons for 7,000 in nine months and send thousands of troops to the border, it can find a way to process asylum seekers quickly, safely, with fairness and dignity. That is not complicated. That is compassion and justice.
That is what this country should stand for. If you disagree, I challenge you to volunteer at a border shelter. Then we can talk.
Thomas H. Cartwright of Gahanna was a volunteer at Annunciation House, which operates shelters in the El Paso, Texas, area.
411 jobs lost by abrupt closure of 90-year-old Kroger bakery
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Hundreds of workers are trying to figure out their next steps after the abrupt closure of a Kroger bakery in Ohio eliminated 411 jobs.
The Cincinnati-based company announced the closure of the 90-year-old bakery in Columbus on Feb. 11. Kroger cited the “outdated layout and age” of the plant’s equipment.
The grocery chain says workers will be paid 60 days before receiving severance based on years of service according to a collective bargaining agreement. The company is encouraging workers to apply for jobs at other Kroger facilities.
Chase Ragland worked at the bakery for almost seven years. He tells The Columbus Dispatch he’s looking for another job while hoping to go back to school for a physical therapy degree.
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com