June 30, 2017

Bad guy vs. bad guy redux: Bad guy wins again!


As Donald Trump continues to use Twitter to give definition to the word smear, two trends of thought preoccupying the right-minded in the book industry collided the other day on his terrifying timeline, even before the Mika Brzezinski brouhaha engulfed the White House.

The first trend, admittedly, preoccupies the right-minded everywhere these days, which is the eminently documented fact that the President of the United States is a psychotic liar and, more than that, a schmuck, and on a daily basis; the other is that the Washington Post is now leading the pack in fearless truthin’ it at the dark forces, as much as it ever did in the days of yore (I’m looking at you, Woodstein).

This latter gives pause to the thoughtful in the book industry because the Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, the antichrist monopolist who has single-handedly eviscerated book culture — not just the book business but book culture itself, and in a profound way, and with a certain braying glee, no less — and who is now working rather maniacally on destroying retail in general, leaving book people to feel like canaries in the mind shaft.

Still, Jesus if the Post hasn’t been taggin’ Trumpus left and right.

Which makes it no surprise that the tweet that marked the collision was Trump’s tweet attacking the Post and its owner, Amazon founder Bezos.

Well, a busted clock is right twice a day. Trump may have garbled the language (his inability to un-garble his phenomenally garbled mind seemingly accounting for half his rage), but he was essentially right — Amazon doesn’t pay “internet taxes,” aka sales taxes, in about 20 states. In fact, as has been documented on this blog over a period of decades, Amazon avoided paying taxes in 49 states (the company was incorporated in the state of Washington in large part because it had a low state sales tax) for almost the entirety of its life to date. Then, for the last few years,  it has fought long and hard to avoid paying taxes, telling states such as Texas and Tennessee that it would open warehouses employing thousands — if its obligation to collect and pay sales taxes could be delayed.

In this way, from state to state, Amazon saved gazillions of dollars, and the books it was selling were made to seem seem all the cheaper for not having added sales tax, and therefore to seem as well that much more demeaned in true value, but  leading in the end to that much more revenue—for Amazon, not for the states, even as the costs reflected by having Amazon do business in your state went up (think roads, trucks, etc.).

I don’t know which is more depressing: That none of the geniuses in the msm who reported on the President’s tweet seemed to know that, or that they didn’t do the minimal reporting (say, a Google search) to verify that.

For example, a New York Times report by Patricia Cohen on Trump’s tweet first played coy, saying “there is no ‘internet tax,’” even though Amazon’s anti-tax scheme has been well and deeply reported upon (not just here but int he EU as well, where it has led to several lawsuits). Then Cohen reported that while Amazon had “long balked at collecting sales taxes … by 2012 it was collecting taxes in California, Texas, Pennsylvania and other states,” as if that were the entire country, and didn’t leave out the 20 or so states where Amazon still avoids collecting taxes.

An NPR report by Mara Liasson was similarly misleading. “Amazon does pay” state sales taxes, Liasson declared emphatically. Fuck you, 20 states that don’t matter.

But it gets worse. As per the Times,

… one possibility is that Mr. Trump was thinking of a proposal to allow state governments to force internet retailers to collect sales taxes from their customers. The bill — called the Marketplace Fairness Act — has been pushed for years by brick-and-mortar retailers like Walmart, which have been losing ground as e-commerce has grown.

[Amazon] even joined its former opponents that year in lobbying Congress to pass federal legislation that would compel its online competitors to follow suit.

Amazon has indeed joined that “fight.” None other than Bezos’s own newspaper, the aforementioned Washington Post, has gone out of its way to note that — such as in this report from last year by Andrea Peterson, headlined “Why Amazon is doubling down on lobbying.” It reported,

In a recent town hall meeting with Washington Post employees, Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos—who also owns The Post—cited state sales taxes as the lobbying issue he has been personally most engaged on. But so far, legislation at the heart of that change has been unsuccessful—much to Bezos’ chagrin.

“It’s even a bipartisan issue that both side agree on and we still can’t get it done,” he said. “It’s very puzzling to me as an outsider, I don’t know how you guys live here, honestly.”

Well, let me observe that Jeff Bezos has a track record that makes him seem about as honest as Donald Trump. As one former Post reporter observed to me, no one hires a lobbyist to get things done — they hire lobbyists to make sure things don’t get done. And nothing has gotten done on that national sales tax proposal in the year since that article ran (nor in the years before either).

Meanwhile, without a national policy, Amazon hasn’t had to collect taxes in twenty or so states — ever. And Bezos champions a national policy all the while, knowing that the odds of it happening are non-existent.

By the way, why do sources such as The New York Times and NPR go out of their way to report, as in the Times story, that “Amazon is a separate company” from the Washington Post? Is this some secret handshake thing between big media playesrs? Because it totally matters that Jeff Bezos owns both companies. The article about the fake lobbying campaign shows you why.

And it shows you, too, how one bad guy might outlast another. One of these guys has a much more profound understanding of how things work in Washington than the other one does, and will still be standing and braying when the smoke from this seemingly endless fiasco known as the Trump administration finally clears. (And by the way, another area where Bezos is doing a lot of lobbying is in trying to stop opposition to his desire to undo Federal highway laws and restrictions, so that they can accommodate the enormous tandem trucks he envisions shipping his goods over the public infrastructure.)

But truth be told I wouldn’t be any happier if the smarter one of these two were president. This life of finding yourself agreeing with someone you profoundly disagree with, because they are slightly less repulsive or demented, just keeps getting harder, and too many bad guys are using it as a smokescreen for exoneration.



Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him at @mobylives