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Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, is one of the most important people in the world. His company is one of the best known and most highly valued in the world, and that is because Bezos had the foresight to see, analyze and understand where the Internet was headed in the 1990s.
His concept of Amazon was born, first, as a universal offer for books; but that developed so quickly that, in time, already in his Internet store he had music and audiovisual materials, then he simply hit on the ultimate “clip”: sell everything, anytime and dispatch them wherever you are.
“From family memories to clues to his business decisions,” a Portafolio article explains, among other things, why Bezos left the investment fund where he worked in 1994 to start his own company. “In 1994, few people had heard of the Internet. It was a thing for physicists and scientists. We had little use for it, but I noticed it was growing at 2,300% a year. Anything that grows at that rate, no matter how small, will become something big.”
Bezos was a visionary. He saw the Internet as an opportunity to make money and change the world because Amazon is just that: a platform that changed the way people shop online.
And the numbers back up Jeff Bezos’ success: in 2015, he entered the top five richest people on the planet, and in two years, he took the first place. He was also the first person to exceed $100 billion on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires and, in 2019, his fortune approached the figure of $108.7 billion, positioning him as the billionaire businessman who has increased his fortune the most.
As a curious fact, Bezos was adopted by Miguel Bezos (from his biological father. There is not so much information and, anyway, it is not important because Jeff considers the adoptive father his real father) when he married his wife, Jackie Gise. Miguel is a Cuban immigrant who came to the USA as part of “Operation Peter Pan.”
Not only a billionaire, but a political actor
But Jeff Bezos’ life is not only linked to his resounding success as the undisputed leader of Amazon. Political and communicational battles also revolve around the entrepreneur.
“Unity, empathy and decency are not characteristics of a bygone era,” was what Bezos said in his congratulations to the Democratic formula Biden-Harris for their victory in the elections. The tycoon openly supported Joe Biden in the race against Donald Trump, after relations with the Republican were quite heated for four years.
“Congratulations President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. By a vote with record numbers, the people of the United States proved again that our democracy is strong,” Bezos wrote in an Instagram post.
Trump was a fierce critic of Jeff Bezos from the White House, touching on issues such as The Washington Post‘s purchase, controversies by tax authorities with Amazon and its relationship with the US Postal Service.
The former president pointed out that the U.S. postal service lost between $3 and $4 per package for delivering Amazon orders. But even so, there are studies that refuted Trump’s claim.
But Trump has not been the only politician to criticize Bezos; in fact, Progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), one of the most radical leftists in the country, was one of the political figures who expressed outrage over how Amazon ran its fiscal year.
Cortez tweeted about press reports of an investigation by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) that showed Amazon paid no U.S. income taxes for two years.
This does not mean that Amazon did not pay any taxes, but there are tax strategies to reduce tax burdens, as is common in the business world. The company’s strategy was so effective that it even requested refunds from the government.
According to Revista Semana, Amazon reported “that it should not pay federal taxes on its income in the United States for 2017 and 2018, and that, in fact, it should receive refunds from the federal government for those years.”
Why? Because “its U.S. tax income rose 100% to US$11.2 billion, the company said in its official documents. Its tax burden was lower due to deductions for stock-based compensation and depreciating assets.”
“As a result of the 2017 tax cuts, which reduced U.S. corporate tax rates from 21% to 35% previously, Amazon also estimated it would receive a benefit of US$789 million.”
This whole situation generated criticism and protests against Amazon. What consequences did this bring? Amazon decided not to invest any more in New York after everything had been agreed for “The city that never sleeps” to become the second official headquarters of Bezos’ company.
New York was happy, everything was ready for the construction of Amazon’s US$2.5 billion real estate development to begin, something that would generate 25,000 jobs, but the fall of the project frustrated New York authorities who see how large companies are shying away from investing in the state because of its complex tax regime.
Communicational war: Jeff Bezos vs. Trump
But Jeff Bezos being questioned by politicians is just the tip of the iceberg. In 2013, the tycoon bought the highly regarded newspaper The Washington Post.
The purchase was made for $250 million. For this amount, he acquired the newspaper The Washington Post and its affiliated publications.
Whoever has been attentive to the communication war that has been waged in the last decades will have noticed that, in the last four years, with the political irruption and presidential rise of Trump, the liberal media, mostly aligned with progressive ideas, maintained a policy especially critical of the former Republican president.
And The Washington Post was precisely one of those media that positioned themselves as unequivocal enemies of Trump. On par with CNN or The New York Times. This communicational battle between traditional and progressive media against Trump explains how, today, only 17% of Republicans in the US trust traditional media.
Today, trust towards traditional media is at historic lows: only 27% of Americans trust and 56% of citizens agree with the statement that “journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false.”
This stance of his media regarding Trump, of course, earned Jeff Bezos a lot of criticism from the conservative segment of American society, mainly among Trump supporters, but, even so, that is not the only thing that shows how Bezos acts as a political actor from the communicational arena.
Beyond the WaPo‘s systematic negative stories about Trump’s figure, the situation escalated to a major point, “Amazon’s persecution of Trump’s speech.”
After Google and Apple banned the social network Parler, removing it from their app stores, Amazon decided to give the final blow to the famous platform among conservative users and Trump supporters: it took it offline from its servers.
Parler, having no app, and no online site, was virtually dead. The company sued Amazon, suggesting that Bezos’ company has made a baseless and unfounded decision because its standards for evaluating how content is regulated are disparate and biased.
They also allege in the lawsuit that Amazon should have given a 30-day notice of Parler’s removal from its servers. It remains to be seen how the case plays out.
Amazon and a health lobby?
In addition to the communication battle, which reaches the political sphere, Amazon might be interested in generating a political lobby in Washington to promote its incursions in the health area.
A few days ago, after Donald Trump’s departure from the White House became official, Amazon issued a statement saying that they were willing to help incoming President Joe Biden with the vaccination process.
“Amazon is offering to lend President Joe Biden its operational expertise to quickly transport coronavirus vaccines across the country as the government wrestles with the logistics of the inoculation rollout,” according to Politico. “But the move could also help the company boost its own ambitions to expand in the $3.8 trillion health care market.”
“The company made a proposal Wednesday, just hours after Biden’s inauguration, offering few details on how it plans to help the struggling vaccine delivery effort. But if accepted, the offer could give Amazon a valuable new trove of health data just as it is expanding into pharma and digital health. That worries critics, including progressives who are calling on Biden to keep big tech companies at arm’s length,” the media outlet explained.
Politico contacted Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University professor who specializes in public health law, who explained his concerns about Amazon’s proposal: “It has to be transparent, and it has to be a genuine offer of help and not a quid-pro-quo,” he said. He further explained “that he was concerned that Amazon could use any federal agreement to leverage their own corporate advantage “because they are very well known as a company to literally try to dominate the market and force any competition.”
Conservatives also criticized Jeff Bezos’ company for waiting more than a month to make its services and expertise available for the vaccination process. This is easily explained: Bezos did not get along with Trump and supported Joe Biden. So it makes sense that Amazon offered help after the current president was sworn in. Working with a like-minded Administration is much simpler.
However, if this is the case, Amazon’s suppossed public health help is not free of political interests.
In any case, an Amazon spokesperson said, “There are things that we, as a country, will have to do to overcome this pandemic, and that includes lending our experience and expertise in things like logistics and the testing program that we have created.”
Jeff Bezos vs Elon Musk
Recently, Elon Musk surpassed Jeff Bezos as the world’s richest man, according to Bloomberg data.
Musk, who is a director of Tesla and CEO of SpaceX, recently packed his bags and left California for Texas. Musk criticized the Golden State’s fiscal policy and called the state an unmotivated old team that is no longer fighting for the championship, referring to the fact that California is no longer incentivizing entrepreneurs.
This public Musk stance on tax regimes and his recent criticisms of socialism have generated some sympathy from conservative and right-wing voices. Thus, the competition to see who is the richest man in the world between Musk and Bezos, a figure more akin to Democrats and Big Tech, is generating a lot of media morbidity.
But not only that, days ago, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk had a trade-off for their space fleets.
Musk’s SpaceX requested permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate its Starlink communications satellites in a lower orbit than initially planned.
For its part, Amazon said the move could generate interference and put its Kuiper satellites, which, like Musk’s Starlink satellites, are designed to transmit Internet services from space, at risk of collisions.
“It does the public no good to stop Starlink today, today for an Amazon satellite system that, at best, is several years away from starting up,” Musk commented in response to CNBC reporter Michael Sheetz.
Amazon responded on Twitter, “SpaceX’s proposed changes are what would cripple competition among satellite systems. SpaceX seeks to stifle competition, but it certainly would not be in the public interest.”
According to Bloomberg, “Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has launched more than 1,000 satellites for its Starlink Internet service and is signing up customers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. Last year, Amazon got permission from the FCC for a fleet of 3,236 satellites; it has yet to launch any.”
More criticism and polemic surrounding Bezos
A few days ago, Amazon said it did not want its workers to vote by mail on a unionization election Why? Bezos’ company claims such a vote would not be “valid or fair.”
The company is seeking to suspend the election at an Alabama warehouse while it urges federal labor authorities to reconsider the decision to allow mail-in ballots because of the pandemic.
Workers are seeking representation from the Retail, Wholesale, and General Stores Union according to The Wall Street Journal.
This stance is diametrically opposed to the position taken to the Bezos-backed candidate, President Biden, regarding mail-in voting. Recall that Democrats pushed for mail-in voting and the Trump campaign was against it. Some have pointed to Amazon’s stance as double standards.
This election process to approve or not approve unionization is historic for the company. Therefore, it is vital that the rules of the game be sufficiently clear.
Other controversies about Amazon’s owner are related to the treatment of workers.
For example, James Bloodworth is a writer who infiltrated Amazon with the aim of exposing the working conditions of the company’s employees, and he said “There have been reliable reports (revealing) that Amazon warehouse workers sleep outside in tents because they cannot afford to rent housing on the wages the company pays them.”
On the other hand, many will remember that controversy surrounding the hacking of Jeff Bezos’ phone involving the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
“American billionaire Jeff Bezos’ phone (…) was allegedly hacked by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia,” wrote the BBC, “These are the conclusions drawn from an exhaustive digital forensic analysis of the Amazon owner’s cell phone, which was published by the British newspapers The Guardian and The Financial Times and which led UN human rights experts to call for an immediate investigation.”
On the other hand, “the UN also linked the Jeff Bezos iPhone X hack to news coverage of Saudi Arabia by The Washington Post,” according to an article by Cnet.
But the story has many gaps and loopholes on both sides. There were accusations that the forensic tests done on Jeff Bezos’ phone have not been thorough and, at the same time, the United Nations commented that there is enough evidence to launch an investigation.
Billionaire, successful entrepreneur, and political actor
Bezos’ contribution to online commerce is undeniable. The brilliance with which he seized a market opportunity has taken him to the top and allowed him to stand out to a small number of people.
But, the world is entering an era where the private sector – made up of large monopolies – is allying itself with governments aligned with its ideas or political interests. Therefore, it is worrying how Big Tech players (such as Jeff Bezos, Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg) are generating lobbies in Washington.
The last few weeks have seen Big Tech companies banning the President of the United States and a smaller competitor like Parler, and that without major consequences, beyond some losses in the market.
We will have to wait and see if Amazon continues to grow and if, in fact, it ends up being a key ally of the Biden Administration.
For the time being, several events are unfolding around Jeff Bezos that are worth following closely: Parler’s lawsuit against Amazon, the Bezos vs. Musk feud, how Amazon’s healthcare business is developing, The Washington Post‘s coverage, the union elections in Alabama and the hand that Bezos’ company wants to play in the vaccination process.
Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.