Why Amazon Failed in New York


HQ2: Understanding What Happened & Why

This piece, written by Barry L. Ritholtz, the co-founder and chief investment officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management LLC, is the best piece I’ve read yet about the real reasons that Amazon ditched its planned New York HQ. The fault lies not in ours stars but in mistakes made by Jeff Bezos.

A fascinating and comprehensive read.

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The Death of Shame in American Politics

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away but in a time that seems many years ago, when a politician or some other public figure was caught acting in a reprehensible manner, the shame of being caught would normally lead them to step aside. While they might not do so willingly, they eventually did so.

It was only a decade ago when former Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport for disorderly conduct. The disorderly conduct involved allegedly seeking sexual connection to another man in an airport restroom.

Although Craig initially denied he had done anything wrong, claiming that he only had used a “wide stance” while in the restroom in regards to his foot touching the foot of the police officer who had stationed himself in the stall next to Craig, the shame of this act, and other questionable activity that emerged from Craig’s past (which might’ve been excused if he had been openly supportive of the LGBTQ community instead of so harshly critical of it) led to his resignation and decision not to run for reelection. The shame of the incident effectively ended Craig’s political career.

Republicans have not been the only ones to fall victim to shame. New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, he of sexting infamy, comes to mind. And who can forget Democratic Congressman Wilbur Mills in 1974, intoxicated, bruised from a fight with stripper Fanny Fox, jumping into the capitol’s Tidal Basin trying to escape the police. Although he did not resign immediately, and in fact won reelection in his Arkansas district, his second intoxicated incident eventually led to his resignation.

Growing up in Canada, I can remember several prominent politicians and public figures resigning their posts as a result of shame. Often these resignations had nothing to do with sexual activity but had to do with lying to the public or some form of public corruption.

That was then. This is now.

Now, shame seems to be a thing of the long forgotten past. It is become the political equivalent of the eight-track tape or the typewriter. It seems a quaint relic of bygone days.

It’s not hard to trace the absence of shame in American politics, because it can be traced to one person in particular: our president, Donald Trump.

Trump doesn’t feel shame about anything. Trump will make racist, bigoted, misogynist, homophobic comments, topped off by more lies than you can use a calculator to count and he doesn’t feel one iota of shame. Not that he ever has. He can cheat on his wive(s) and shrug it off. But when Trump was a minor celebrity in New York, his shameless behavior was smiled at by the media and others in public. “Oh, that’s just Donald,” people would say.

Now that Trump is president, however, his lack of shame is on display for all to see and many others have followed suit. Three that come to immediate mind are Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. None of them seemed to show any pronounced signs of shame for their alleged misdeeds.

Technological giants like Google and Facebook openly lie to our faces about how they use our personal data and when confronted with these lies, show few if any signs of shame. They occasionally mumble something about “making improvements,” and then find some new way to steal our information. The shame of being caught means nothing to them.

Large corporations which have been victimized by sweeping hacker attacks that steal millions of files on credit card information and other personal data don’t release news about these hacks until months or even years after they happened. If they had felt any shame that they had failed to neglect our personal information, it is overwhelmed by the need to keep shareholders happy.

No, instead of feeling shame public figures and corporations now hire public relations resuscitation teams. Instead of admitting fault or relinquishing power, the goal becomes holding onto it all costs. Resurrecting one’s brand or media image is now more important than holding oneself accountable for one’s behavior. Often they feel it is better to to pretend it never happened and full steam ahead.

Which brings us back to Trump. Whether we like it or not, the president of the United States set a tone that worms its way into the public consciousness. Sometimes that tone is good: the resilience of FDR, the courage of JFK, the optimism of Ronald Reagan. In Trump’s case, the tone is bad. Never feel ashamed about anything, anything that you do, no matter how deviant or mendacious.

It’s just another way that Donald Trump is changing America in a bad way. When we lose the ability to feel shame, we lose the ability to hold ourselves and our politicians accountable. And that means problems for America.

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The Difference between Neo-Nazis and Incels

Why incels are a ‘real and present threat’ for Canadians

Canada’s excellent TV newsmagazine, The Fifth Estate, has a compelling story about Incels, (a shortened form of involuntarily celibate) a group largely composed of white males who literally can’t get a date. The result is they feel an overwhelming hatred towards all women and “Chads” (in Incel speak, those are the guys that get girls and are good-looking and physically fit).

As The Fifth Estate piece points out, this group of insecure white males (who number in the tens of thousands on the three main Internet forums where they can be found) is extremely dangerous. The article goes on to point out several very violent acts of murder committed by Incels, including an incident in Toronto last year when 10 people were mowed down by one of these destructive males in a van.

Incels believe women owe them sex, and in some cases, people active on incel forums advocate for government-sanctioned girlfriends and sexual encounters.

“[Incel] became a religion of sorts, and it’s a recent ideology,” Arntfield of Western University, said. “These are people who’ve found each other online and can ruminate over what they can do.”

As I was reading the piece, and other recent pieces that I’ve read about this group, I came to the conclusion that this group is actually much more dangerous than the neo-Nazis that like to parade around in places like Charlottesville, Virginia or Portland, Oregon or other groups of mostly white males who somehow feel society has left them behind.

Neo-Nazis, and similar white supremacist groups, largely bond together over their hatred of minorities and other religious groups like Jews. Neo-Nazis certainly can be violent but most of the time they just make a lot of noise. They want to be noticed. Law enforcement in both Canada and the United States don’t pay as much attention to these right-wing whack job groups as they should, but they do pay some attention and the result is if there have been any violent plots planned by neo-Nazis or similar white supremacist groups in the past few years, the FBI or the RCMP and other government agencies have largely sniff them out and arrested the concerned individuals before they had a chance to act.

Incels are different, however. They don’t like making a big noise, except when they commit murderous acts of violence. They don’t hold Incel parades, and there is no Imperial Grand Wizard of Incels. They aren’t asked for their opinions on political events nor are they likely to give speeches in public forums. Instead, they lurk on the web where they can share their insecurity and their hatred of women amongst each other. (It’s interesting to note the community was originally started by a woman back in the early 90s but it has morphed into the twisted group we see today.) If you walked up to a person on the street and asked them what they thought about Incels, the chances are most people (especially over the age of 30) wouldn’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

The one thing that Incels share with neo-Nazis is that they both absolutely believe in the supremacy of males, in particular white males.

Many of the Incels who have committed these horrible acts of violence are lionized by other members of their community. There seem to be very few checks on their attitude towards women and self-pity and they use these feelings of inadequacy to fuel each other to commit these horrible acts. It’s not that everyone who belongs to the Incel movement is a potential murderer or domestic terrorist. There are enough members of this group, however, who may be only one or two steps away from taking such incomprehensible steps.

One of the experts quoted in The Fifth Estate piece about this group said that it is useless to try to talk to them or change their minds. As a result, she said there needs to be increased police awareness about their activities.

I completely agree. If they aren’t doing so already I think it’s time for the authorities in both Canada and the United States to pay attention to a group that has committed so many acts of violence over the past decade. (It’s interesting to note that over the last 30 years in Canada over 120 acts of violence have been committed by right-wing groups – which are of course largely composed of white males – while there have been only seven acts of violence committed by Islamicist-inspired extremists.)

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Why I Quit Facebook

One thing I have is a lot of opinions (as you may have guessed). And as a columnist for 20 to 25 years, I could express those opinions on a regular basis, 3 times a week, sometimes as often as five times a week in the early days. But as I grew older, and moved away from daily journalism, I found that I was missing that little shot of adrenaline you received every time a column bearing your name appeared in print or online.

Not to mention I was a lot busier now. I didn’t have a full-time journalism job anymore and so I found work in other places. At that time, those jobs did not permit me to create and regularly update my own website. Besides, I found I had little appetite at that time for the 600- to 800-word daily opus ground out by columnists everywhere.

And that’s when I found Facebook.

Here was a way I could express my opinions in a public forum to a relatively large group of people in a very quick fashion. I had about 500 friends and acquaintances that I could reach through Facebook and I was happy expressing my opinions to them. I knew they frequently passed them onto a larger audience. I joined a Facebook group devoted to political conversation. My views got me kicked off once but my fellow group members made such a racket the moderators were forced to return me to the group. I truly was very humbled by their actions.

Even better, Facebook was allowing me to have those little jolts of satisfaction that I used to get from column writing.

Facebook was really the only form of social media I used. I had abandoned Twitter several years ago because to me Twitter is just a place where idiots go to sound stupid. If everybody could use twitter like Alex Ocasio-Cortez, I might feel differently. Alas, people don’t use it that way, as is shown by the drivel produced by our president on a daily basis. Besides, I had more to say then you could put into 140 or now 280 characters.

I loved the way Facebook allowed me to reach out and touch my friends and other family members in faraway places. I reconnected with many people I had not seen or heard from in decades. I enjoyed the news articles posted on Facebook by media organizations of all stripes.

So why did I quit?

Facebook is like a drug. And the people that operate Facebook lie to you, use you for their own purposes, and they say they’ll do things differently in the future when they don’t. Not to mention what a particular danger to democracy Facebook has turned out to be.

And Zuckerberg, well, all he really cares about is the Benjamins. He can appear in front of Congress, do a little dance, baffle them with bullshit, and move on without really changing anything. Oh sure, Facebook made a few cosmetic changes, perhaps a few less Russian trolls will be able to use Facebook. But what about what they’re doing with all your private information, the way they are using it, the way they’re selling it, often in ways they told you that they wouldn’t?

I’m not a Luddite I had my first Internet account in 1992. I put the first newspaper on the web in Canada in 1993/94. I helped build the original website of the Christian Science Monitor in 1995/96. I was the executive director of the Online News Association for several years. I won an award for my contributions to the development of online media.

I love technology. I just don’t love it when it’s used in the wrong ways.

As the trickle of negative stories about Facebook became a tsunami, I found myself increasingly uneasy about using it. Like a person who smokes too much, several times I told myself, well, I’ll stop soon. But just like any drug addict, I kept right on going.

Then one day, in the midst of a Facebook post, I stopped and thought “What the hell am I doing? I think these Facebook people are scum. Why am I supporting these sleazy, lying creeps?”

And that was it. The dam was broken. I informed my Facebook friends that I was leaving, collected email addresses from those folks I want to stay in touch with, announced a date for my departure. And when that date arrived, I left.

It’s been just over a month. I won’t lie, there are days when I see a story that tweaks my interest and I wish I could just jump online and expound about it at length. When I told one of my friends that I was leaving she said “Oh you’ll be back. I don’t know anybody who has left who hasn’t come back.”

Maybe. But there will have to be new ownership. And have much more rigorous protections around privacy. It’ll have to be run by a group of people care more about democracy than care about profit. I just don’t see that happening any time soon, if ever

In the meanwhile, I’m doing this. I know I don’t have the same number of people reading this as I did reading my daily Facebook posts but I really don’t care. I realized in the end that I was just doing it for myself anyways. And you’d be surprised how much free time you have when you are no longer doing Facebook, constantly checking it, constantly posting comments and stories.

I feel pretty good about walking away from Facebook. This must be what it feels like when someone kicks cigarettes or some other drug habit. A tiny sense of regret, a large dose of relief.

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On Being a Boston Sports Fan

It was the best of times… And has kind of stayed the best times, to be honest.

I am among the most despised of human beings. I am a Boston sports fan. I love the Red Sox and the Bruins and cheer for the Patriots and the Celtics.

For me, there is only one sport that really counts and that’s baseball and as a Canadian, I grew up loving the Montréal Expos. (Although I always have always despised the Toronto Blue Jays.) In my youth, I flirted with being a Yankees’ fan. This was largely due to the fact the first movie I ever saw was 1962’s Safe at Home, a story about a kid who loves the Yankees so much that he runs away to join the team.

But that flirtation vanished the moment the Expos appeared. When the Expos finally died in the mid-90s and the franchise was moved to Washington (I like but really do not care for the Nationals) I happened to be living in Boston and so my affiliation drifted to the Red Sox. In those days the Red Sox, well, stunk. Better days were ahead but in 1994 the Sox were the perennial disappointment they had always been.

I loved the Bruins because of father’s and uncle’s affiliation with the team. In the 50s, before hockey became unionized, players’ salaries were nothing to write home about. Therefore professional teams would do barnstorming tours across Canada. My dad and my uncle arranged for the Bruins to do such a tour in Nova Scotia in the late 50s. As a result, my wall was plastered with pictures of Milt Schmidt, Bronco Horvath and John Bucyk (who remain my favorite player until he retired in the late 70s). In my books, the greatest hockey player ever is Bobbie Orr, not Wayne Gretzky. I can remember lying in my bed at night with my little transistor radio when we lived in Saint John, New Brunswick, tuning the radio so I can hear a distant and scratchy broadcast of the Bruins games.

I’m not much of a football fan, but I kind of fell into liking the Patriots because I lived in Boston and they were the Boston team. Growing up I had been an Ottawa Roughriders fan and I really didn’t care much about the NFL and truth be told, I still don’t. For instance, I haven’t seen the last few appearances of the Patriots in the Super Bowl (there have been so many it’s hard to remember which ones in particular) because I was busy doing things with my family. I was glad when the Patriots won but it wasn’t super important to me. Not like the Red Sox.

Which brings me to the past 20 years. As an Expos fan and then as a Red Sox fan I was familiar with losing, sometimes in heartbreaking fashion. (Damn you Rick Monday!) But when the Pats won in 2001, 2003 and 2004 and then the Red Sox broke the curse in 2004 (although coming back from three down to the Yankees was perhaps the best moment) it’s been nothing but gravy.

I would’ve been happy with the World Series victory over the Dodgers this year. But it looks as if fate has decided that it’s necessary for a Boston team to beat a Los Angeles team in a championship game once again this sports calendar.

Several years ago, a friend who worked for ESPN told me that after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, ESPN the magazine had planned to feature a story abut how many championships the Boston teams had collected over the previous decade. The picture that the magazine originally wanted to use on the cover showed a fist with the middle finger erect and on that finger a championship ring of each of the four Boston teams. While I cannot think of a better picture that describes the attitude of Boston fans towards the rest of the country than that one, ESPN decided to just use a regular fist with four fingers erected with a ring on each finger.

It was the best of times…And it will probably stay that way for a while yet.

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Travails of the Children of the 1%

A Canadian “pom-pom” hat, also known as a toque.

Wealthy NY School Begs Kids to Leave Home $350 Moncler Hats

In Canada, we call “pom-pom” hats “toques.” You can pick up a decent one at Canadian Tire for, oh, $25 Canadian. But apparently at this New York Middle School “fashion is “very important” to the children of the 1%. So they are paying $350 US for a fancy toque-like hat. And apparently losing them, which has led to much sturm and drang.

“We understand that fashion is very important to our middle schoolers,” administrators at Great Neck North Middle School wrote in a letter to parents obtained by the New York Post.

Which only goes to prove two things: 1) A fool and his or her money are soon parted and 2) George Carlin was right when he said if you stuck together two things that have never been stuck together before, some schmuck will buy it.

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“The Soul of America”

Trump claims he never said Mexico would cut a check for the wall. Let’s go to the tape.

I just finished reading Jon Meacham’s wonderful book, “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.” It is both a delightful read and at the same time a cautionary tale. Meacham cautions us, as the New York Times reviewer notes, that America’s survival is not automatic. The book examines times in the past when fear, confusion, and hatred have gripped the country in situations very similar to our own.

I took two main things away from “The Soul of America.” Something that I have told my own children many times – that the struggle never ends and never will and that we have to keep fighting for what’s right because the forces that would haul us backward never stop striving to undo the progress that we have made as a nation. And secondly, when faced with a crushing tsunami of lies and obstructions to the truth, the media needs to continue to publish the facts, even if those facts are unpopular.

Sometimes this requires the media to publish or broadcast those facts again and again. Such is the current situation in which we find ourselves. President Donald Trump is the master liar. He lies, and lies, and lies… And then lies again. He continues to lie even when his lies have been totally debunked and shown to be lies and half-truths. Trump never uses reasoned arguments against his critics but attacks and slanders them as unworthy or cowards or haters of America because they are unwilling to accept his malignant vision of the nation.

The same is true of those minions that doing his bidding like his children, Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Homeland Security Sec. Kirstien Nielsen, to name just a few. They lie in service to Trump. One senses occasionally that they wish they could be more truthful. But access to power numbs any personal misgivings they may have.

This is not the first time a demagogue has sought to rend our country asunder and to divide us into camps. Never before, however, has that person been the president of the United States. As Meacham points out, flawed as they were, past presidents were the ones that help the country move beyond these moments of crisis even if they sometimes did so halfheartedly.

Now we face a crisis unlike any the country has known before. Our president is a man totally devoted to mendacity, to egotism, to personal gain, to the retention of power and not the welfare of the people. This crisis will not be solved easily. Even if Trump is impeached and through some miracle, enough Republican senators voted to convict him and throw him out of office, his malicious and dangerous spirit would survive to haunt us. For, as Meacham again notes, you do not get someone like a Trump without some of the people wanting someone like a Trump.

And so, at the end of his wonderful book, Meacham calls for Americans who care about their country to take up the struggle. And for most of us, that means to take up the struggle politically. To knock on doors, lick envelopes, put up signs or even run for office. We must not shrink from that struggle, and to find a way to talk to and communicate with those who feel differently than we do.

Because the reality is that now that we’ve had one Trump, the chance that we will have another Trump-like politician in our future will be that much more assured. The struggle never ends.

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The Canadian Busily Blowing up Pseudoscience – Musings 01/01/19

Has Tim Caulfield become the Canadian nemesis of pseudoscience?

A very nice piece on Tim Caulfield, who makes his home in Edmonton, Alberta, and his efforts to blow up the pseudoscience of people like Gwyneth Paltrow and Deepak Chopra. Like Caulfield, I believe that if it doesn’t have a scientific basis it is just so much humbugery, not very different from the snake oil peddlers who used to sell their wares across the American frontier. Just a new group of suckers easier to reach because of social media.

“If you are willing to believe this one magical thing, I think it’s easier to believe other magical things,” he says. “And I think this is a significant problem in this day and age: This deep erosion and loss of trust and critical thinking in how our world works.”

Homeopathic cures, anti-vaxxers, GMO haters, vaginally eggs, the endless stream of bogus health cures and wellness routines that never ends especially when these phonies realize that coming up with bogus concoctions can make them millions. Thank the stars above for people like Caulfield.

In the same vein, I would also recommend the podcast “Sawbones” which is done by one of the normally very funny McElroy brothers and his doctor wife which relentlessly seeks out and demolishes bogus medical theories while alternating with interesting looks at medical history.

This Western Mass. town rejected Comcast and will build its own broadband network

The Western Massachusetts town of Charlemont said thanks but no thanks to Comcast. And who can blame them? Especially after the FCC did away with Net Neutrality rules, largely thanks to the interventions and “donations” made by large networks to Republican politicians to support the measure. There is also the reality that when the deal with Massachusetts runs out in a few years, how much do you think Comcast is going invest in new equipment in small towns in western Massachusetts? Probably not much.

I think it is very smart of the people of the town to build their own network. I hope many other small towns in America make the same decision.

What the Believers Are Denying (The denial of climate change and the denial of racism rest on the same foundation: an attack on observable reality.)

When I heard that Chuck Todd would no longer allow guests on Meet the Press who are climate change deniers I wanted to add him to my Christmas card list. I, like Todd, also believe that it’s time to stop messing around with these foolish people. Climate change is an undeniable fact and because so many people in power, like Pres. Trump, choose to ignore it means really bad things for our planet, some of which we are just starting to see now.

“I don’t believe it,” President Donald Trump said in response. “No. No. I don’t believe it.”

I have heard this before. I can relate.

“No. No. I’m not racist,” Trump has said repeatedly. Evidence be damned.

It would also be nice if some national TV host said: “I’m not going to interview racists on the show anymore.” This, of course, would mean that Pres. Trump could never be interviewed, not to mention too many Republican members of Congress to enumerate. Heck, if Fox News ever adapted such an idea (I’m not an idiot, I promise you, I’m just daydreaming here to make a point) almost their entire nighttime lineup would be off the air not to mention three-quarters of the guests they interview.

Racism, like climate change, is an observable fact in the United States and the people who deny that are just as wrong as the climate change deniers are.

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How Russian Money Bailed Out Trump

How Russian Money Helped Save Trump’s Business

A great investigative piece by Foreign Policy that shows just how much Donald Trump owes to Russian oligarchs and banks.

As the early 90s, American banks were finished with Trump and his money-losing ways. He was a terrible businessman. As late as 2003 he was in desperate financial trouble and pressed his siblings to sell off his late father’s estate which Fred Trump had warned them not to do when he was alive. Then he declared bankruptcy again in 2004.

But Trump made a comeback largely due to an influx of foreign capital in particular from Russia.

But remember, he has no business dealing with Russia. The Donald told us so himself…

Faces of a new capitalism: How Millennials are embracing socialist values

I’m not sure why socialism is a “new capitalism,” but this is still a good piece from the Christian Science Monitor and spot on. As a longtime socialist myself (and a strong supporter of the NDP in Canada) I have seen much of this change in my own children and their friends. It’s been seven years since the Occupy Wall Street movement. While it didn’t make big inroads at the time, its ideas spread, particularly among young people.

On the one hand, you see the growth of corporations like Amazon, which has been tagged as being anti-worker for many of its practices. Yet even Amazon is paying its workers more money these days, attuned to the change in public perception about the way businesses treat workers.

There is something happening in the American economy. It’s not gonna happen all at once. But ten years from now the American economy will be a much socialist (in the Canadian or European model) as capitalist. Can’t happen fast enough for me.

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