EDITORIAL | Amazon.com: A profile in expediency

Seattle’s political correctness assumes numerous guises: At times, it can be numbing and paralyzing; at other times, it makes the right thing happen, which was the case last Thursday, May 24, at Amazon’s shareholders meeting at the Seattle Art Museum.

Two major announcements were made at the gathering: Amazon will improve conditions at its warehouses, and it will not renew its membership in the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The news was greeted with cheers by a hundred or so demonstrators outside, brought together by the advocacy group Working Washington.

Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos was quoted as telling the shareholders, while showing an aerial photograph of an air-conditioning unit attached to one of its overheated warehouses, “We’re really leading the way here.”

Really?

This issue only arose in 2011, after the Pennsylvania press reported on debilitating, dangerous, summer working conditions in its closed warehouses.

Amazon was embarrassed; the outcry wouldn’t go away. “Leading the way” is a disingenuous, Orwellian twist.

Just as troubling has been the connection with ALEC, the darling of the industrialist billionaire Koch brothers.

ALEC came to mainstream attention after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. ALEC has been a steadfast supporter of “Stand Your Ground” gun laws in various states.

Even The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — that paragon of virtue — had given grants to ALEC, though it announced earlier this year those would cease. Other corporate giants like Pepsi and Kraft Foods have pulled their memberships when they could no longer stand the heat in the kitchen.

Make no mistake: ALEC is a front group that claims to be “nonpartisan,” just as Fox News claims to be fair and objective.

In fact, ALEC wields an empire of influence that includes local and national political races, think tanks, lobbying efforts, seminars for judges at cushy resorts and links to the Tea Party — which, if it was ever pure, is now the beneficiary of dollars up to no good. 

Too many in Congress are less concerned about the scientific facts on climate change and other issues than what the Koch brothers think.

Conservatism has an impressive history of intellectual gravitas, from Edmund Burke to William F. Buckley. But the play of ideas is not what ALEC is about. ALEC is about doing what it takes to improve the plutocratic bottom line. 

This is the background to last week’s assembly at SAM. 

Amazon is a corporate success story. Its workforce of some 10,000 is on a path to reach 20,000. Amazon is remaking Seattle. 

But there’s a future lesson here for the rest of us: Amazon announced it would do the right thing only because it had to.

 
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