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.

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.

Clarence Thomas Threatens the 1st Amendment

Justice Clarence Thomas Calls for Reconsideration of Landmark Libel Ruling

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few notable politicians, writers, entertainers and well-known public figures. It’s one of the side benefits of being a journalist. One of my most memorable experiences was meeting the late New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis.

I had a chance to meet him when I was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991–92. Basically, Lewis invented the field of legal journalism. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, he had always been one of my favorite writers. They say you should never get a chance to meet your heroes. Anthony Lewis proved that wrong. After he spoke to our Nieman class, we had a chance to talk with him one-on-one. He was funny, thoughtful and super smart.

He also wrote one of my favorite books. “Make No Law.” It is the story of the 1964 New York Times vs. Sullivan case that established the 1st Amendment as we know it today. It established what’s known as the concept of actual malice. In order for a libel action to proceed, the individual who claimed libel had to prove that there was actual malice involved. That basically, the speaker or the writer had to absolutely know that they were making a false statement or had acted with “utter disregard” of the truth.

Before the Sullivan decision, public figures and politicians would use libel law like a weapon to silence any and all critics. During the early 60s, many politicians in the South were using the libel laws to attack journalists who were reporting on their racist actions. On March 29, 1960, The New York Times published an ad, “Heed Their Voices,” from civil rights groups that asked for donations to help defend the Rev. Martin Luther King Junior from perjury charges. Here is how the site Oyes describes what happened next.

“The ad contained several minor factual inaccuracies. [It said King had been jailed seven times when it was only four times]. [Montgomery, Alabama] Public Safety Commissioner, L.B. Sullivan, felt that the criticism of his subordinates reflected on him, even though he was not mentioned in the ad. Sullivan sent a written request to the Times to publicly retract the information, as required for a public figure to seek punitive damages in a libel action under Alabama law.

“When the Times refused and claimed that they were puzzled by the request, Sullivan filed a libel action against the Times and a group of African American ministers mentioned in the ad. A jury in state court awarded him $500,000 in damages. The state supreme court affirmed and the Times appealed.”

The resulting decision was a unanimous 9-0 win for the New York Times. The court ruled that if an individual was a public figure, it was not enough to prove that the media had made a false statement, the person who claimed they were libel had to be able to prove that the media knew it was false before it printed the statement and that it had acted with utter disregard for the truth.

I have little doubt that the 1964 Sullivan versus New York Times decision created one of the most important bulwarks in the defense of democracy in the United States. That decision, and the 1st Amendment that it clarified, has made the United States one of freest and safest countries in the world.

So it was with some dismay that I read Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s thoughts about the Sullivan versus New York Times decision in regards to a recently decided Supreme Court case. Thomas, whose judicial acumen is questionable at the best of times, wrote that despite the unanimous decision, the Sullivan case was decided “wrongly.” In an effort to carry water once again for Donald Trump and states’ rights, Thomas wrote that he wanted to take the law back to the early 18th century, arguing that when the founders wrote the new Constitution in 1789 they did not intend to take away states’ rights to protect its citizens from libel. This line of thinking was actually shown to be false in the Sullivan decision itself.

The Sullivan decision wasn’t merely wrong, he continued, it was a “policy driven decision masquerading as constitutional law.”

As might be expected, Thomas wrote for himself in the situation. That’s because his views are so far outside the Constitutional norm that most colleagues on the court would no doubt see them as ridiculous. Thomas, who seldom shown any signs of a sharp legal mind, never should’ve made it to the Supreme Court. His appointment was an example of a president (in this case George Herbert Walker Bush) trying to dumb down the Supreme Court as much as possible. Basically, we should’ve listened to Anita Hill instead of vilifying her. Thomas had no place on the Supreme Court then and really doesn’t now.

It’s interesting to me that an African-American judge would call for overturning Sullivan. If it had not been for Sullivan, much of the reporting that brought the treatment of blacks in the South into the living rooms of Americans across the country would not have been possible. You might even argue that the Sullivan decision, along with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, opened the door for African Americans to progress in the ways that they have, although I will be the first to admit there is still a long way to go. You could even argue that without the Sullivan decision, Clarence Thomas would never have had a chance to be appointed to the Supreme Court, nor would’ve had a chance to make our lives so miserable in every way that he could over the past decades.

I think Thomas would also be surprised that many of his fellow travelers on the far-right would be opposed to overturning Sullivan. Think of the many times that Fox News has libeled or lied or manipulated facts or abused the truth about anyone of a number of individuals. Without Sullivan, they would spend 24 hours a day in a courtroom defending libel cases. Not to mention the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Laura Ingram, Sean Hannity, et al.

I miss Anthony Lewis at a time like this. No doubt he would’ve blown up Clarence Thomas in his column. I am consoled, however, by the fact that there is little if any chance of the Sullivan decision being overturned.

It’s time for Thomas to go away. He’s rambling now. He become a little more a judicial conduit for the ridiculous tweets of the worst president in American history. Maybe, as Charlie Pierce writes in Esquire, Thomas will only be replaced by somebody worse. I doubt it. It’s hard to picture anybody who’s been so consistently wrong and so consistently against the civil liberties and the freedoms of Americans as Clarence Thomas has been during his 27 years on the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice John Roberts Moves Again Towards the Center

Supreme Court on 5-to-4 vote blocks restrictive Louisiana abortion law

By throwing his lot in with the Supreme Court liberals in yesterday’s 5 to 4 decision to block a Louisiana law that would have restricted access to a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion, Chief Justice John Roberts gave his latest signal, no doubt much to the dismay of conservatives, that he’s really not interested in having a court run on ideological guidelines.

It’s been long known that Chief Justice Roberts is more than well aware of history and how his role as chief justice will be viewed historically. The lyric from the musical Hamilton – “history has its eyes on you” – can be identified as the main theme for how Chief Justice Roberts sees his role. This seems to be especially true when it comes to long decided legal precedents. Roberts does not seem so interested in tossing the baby out with the bathwater just because the court seems less moderate and more right wing. In fact, you could describe the political views of the four very conservative justices as being more far-right than conservative.

This does not mean that Chief Justice Roberts will become the next David Souter on the court. Appointed by a conservative president, Souter went on to become one of the great liberal voices on the court during his tenure, much to the surprise and dismay of conservatives everywhere. Robert seems more headed towards the solid middle ground. He values balance more than anything else. If his court was to produce a long series of far-right decisions, it would be seen in the same ideological light as the liberal court of Earl Warren. Roberts does not seem interested in having a similar ideologically conservative label slapped on his tenure as Chief Justice.

As long as the current balance remains in the court, Chief Justice Roberts will play the role that Anthony Kennedy played for so long and Sandra Day O’Connor before him. While they tended to side with their conservative colleagues on most issues, they could not be counted on as a totally solid conservative vote and there would be times on certain important issues like reproductive choice or gay marriage when they would switch hats and vote with the liberal members of the court.

Conservatives, especially far-right conservative talking heads like Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh, will be furious with Roberts because once again it looks as if their dreams of an overwhelmingly conservative court that will undo the progress that America has made in so many important issues will once again be put on the back burner. Roberts has already dealt with this with his vote on Obamacare and as we noted above, he cares more about the voice of history and he does with the voices of the far-right rabble.

For liberals, this also emphasizes the importance of the health of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the next two years. If Ginsburg were to die or be forced to resign because of health issues, Pres. Trump would no doubt appoint another far-right ideologically motivated justice that would swing the court very far to the right regardless of Chief Justice Roberts desire for more balanced court.

As an atheist, I don’t believe in prayer, but I’m superstitious enough to keep my fingers crossed that Justice Ginsburg will enjoy good health for at least the next two years and hopefully much longer. Chief Justice Roberts probably wishes the same.

The Tediousness of Howard Schultz

“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me…Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different. ”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

How shall I describe Howard Schultz? The coffee-serving billionaire who wants to be president.

Like his coffee, rather bland. Unprepared for the rigors of presidential combat. More than anything else, however, I find Schultz tedious. Here we go again, another member of the 1% who believes that being a member of the 1% qualifies him to be president.

He doesn’t seem to be able to make up his mind whether he wants to be a Republican or Democrat, so he settled on Independent without really understand what it means to be an independent. For Schultz, being an Independent means “Well, I can’t win the Republican or Democratic presidential nomination, but I want to be president, so I’ll just make up one of my own.”

When Schultz announced he’s thinking about running for president you can’t escape the feeling that he expected rose petals to be strewn in his path and distant trumpets to announce his arrival. He would be our savior from the calamity of both the mendacious and ridiculous Donald Trump and those crazy far-left Democrats. Instead, he was greeted with tough questions and more than a healthy dose of circumspection.

The Wall Street Journal opinion page, long a bastion of the very rich and their interests, claimed that Schultz was being “bullied.” No. He was just being treated like a man who would be king. Or president in this case. What Howard Schultz and the Wall Street Journal don’t seem to understand is that the media is no longer buying the “I’m very rich so I know how to run this country” scam, and have no intention of just going along for the ride.

Fool me once…

It is very true that, unlike Donald Trump, Howard Schultz really is an American success story. He came from a poor family. He didn’t have $400 million from his father. He had to borrow money and put himself deeply in debt to open his first coffee shop. He worked his way up until he became a multi-billionaire. One would think that this background of hard work and determination would help him identify with the many millions of Americans who live in economically depressed conditions. But Schultz has been so rich for so long it’s hard to connect him with the childhood background.

Like most of the very rich, Schultz really has no understanding of how America works these days. Except that the rules have been created greatly aid people like him. That’s why he had such a violent reaction against Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s idea about a 70% tax on the very rich. People like Howard Schultz.

The positions that he is taking on important issues indicate that he has no real plan for running for president other than he wants to be president. Like Trump, he wants us to believe that he alone can solve all our problems. Being very rich, he wants us to believe he knows all the answers and that being mega-rich makes him smarter than the rest of us. Oh, he would never admit that out loud, but his true inner feelings were betrayed by his defensive reactions to the quite legitimate criticisms he received this week.

My dad, who worked in politics for much of his life, used to tell me there was a big difference between running for election and governing. Anybody can run for an office, he once said to me, but very few people really know how to govern.

There have been very rich individuals who have been president in the past. Both Roosevelts came from a wealthy family. The Bush family has more than a little bit of money. The members of these families who did run for president, however, first gained extensive experience in government.

You can see this disparity in Schultz. He knows how to run for office – after all any American over the age of 35 can run for president. But does he really have any solid ideas about governing? For instance, his answer to healthcare problems? Get people to sit around a table and talk about it. His answer to poverty? Eliminating two of the most effective anti-poverty programs that exist in the United States. These are the answers of a very rich man who only knows the world of business, not a man who knows how difficult it is to govern.

I, for one, am not worried about Howard Schultz draining enough Democratic votes away to ensure the reelection of that other megarich moron Donald Trump. Americans saw Donald Trump for years on a terrible TV show which helped create the mythical and mistaken image of him as an outstanding businessman and leader. Trump knew how to cultivate the media. Howard Schultz? He doesn’t seem to understand how the media works, let alone how to cultivate it.

Another time, my dad told me if you get too full of yourself, and you want to see how much you impress people, go stick your finger in a bowl of water and see what kind of impression it leaves. I think Howard Schultz needs to do the same thing and then quietly go back to his double lattes and cake pops.