Antitrust The Process
October 7, 2020
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“In general, if any branch of trade, or any division of labour, be advantageous to the public, the freer and more general the competition, it will always be the more so.” — Adam Smith
Antitrust The Process
(Graeme Jennings via Getty Images)
Democrats and Republicans in Congress don’t agree on much these days. But in recent years, one issue has united legislators from both sides of the aisle: a pervasive distrust of the world’s largest tech companies. This rare form of bipartisanship kickstarted a 15-month antitrust investigation from the House Judiciary Committee, which featured a high profile hearing with tech’s most influential CEOs and culminated on Tuesday with a damning 449-page report on the state of online competition.
The report, presented by the committee’s Democratic leadership, takes aim at Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook — accusing all four tech giants of abusing their monopoly power and stifling competition. It outlines the most ambitious set of antitrust legislation to date, and claims that the once “scrappy” start-ups have transformed into “the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.” The report features a wide array of policy recommendations, including a call on Congress to consider passing commercial nondiscrimination rules that would force large companies to offer equal terms to companies selling products and services on their platforms. It even goes so far as to call for a novel definition of antitrust violations, proposing that new laws should be “designed to protect not just consumers, but also workers, entrepreneurs, independent businesses, open markets, a fair economy, and democratic ideals.”
While the investigation itself began with bipartisan support, partisanship and polarization found a way to seep into this blockbuster report. The release of the 449-page document was delayed over political disagreements between Democrats and Republicans. Most of the policy recommendations outlined came from Democratic leadership, and some House Republicans felt that the scathing review of Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook failed to address what they saw as anti-conservative bias in the tech world. Both sides agree that the US government needs to rein in tech giants, but they lack a shared vision moving forward.
Representative Ken Buck (R-CO) even released an alternative report, titled “The Third Way,” where he describes Democratic proposals as “non-starters for conservatives.” Despite enduring disputes over how to best enforce new antitrust laws, Buck concedes that much of the Judiciary Committee’s report reflects the views of the entire Congress. “I agree with about 330 pages of the majority report, that these tech companies have been acting anti-competitively,” Buck said. “It’s very common for Republicans and Democrats to agree on a problem and offer different solutions to solve a problem.”
The majority proposals could drastically change the way companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon operate in the United States — treating them more like cellular and cable companies due to their ability to boost their own standing on their own platforms. “By functioning as critical intermediaries that are also integrated across lines of business, the dominant platforms face a core conflict of interest,” the report reads. “The surveillance data they collect through their intermediary role, meanwhile, lets them exploit that conflict with unrivaled precision.”
Partisan discrepancies on this seemingly bipartisan issue will have to be smoothed out in order for this report to have a tangible effect on the tech landscape, but one thing seems to be noncontroversial on Capitol Hill: Big Tech is too big, and antitrust laws will soon aim to change that.
Moscow and Washington Are On The Same Team For Once
- You know things are getting serious when Russia, France, and the United States put their geopolitical differences aside. Such is the case in the Nagorno Karabakh region between Azerbaijan and Armenia, where the three global powers have called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire between the warring Caucasus states.
- US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, issued a joint statement on Monday, condemning violence “in and outside of the Nagorno Karabakh zone” and warning that continued attacks on civilian centers “constitute an unacceptable threat to the stability of the region.”
- In the two weeks since fighting broke out, nearly 250 people have died and hundreds more have been injured. The Nagorno Karabakh zone falls within Azerbaijani borders but has maintained an Armenian majority since borders were drawn following the fall of the Soviet Union. The recent flare-up in tensions has been exacerbated by Turkey, who unequivocally backs Azerbaijan and refuses to support a ceasefire. Armenian President Armen Sarkissian has called on the international community to put pressure on the Turkish state.
- “My plea is Turkey will be restrained with the help of Russia, US and France, then [we] will have a chance of a ceasefire, further, negotiations and then we will have a chance to go back to the negotiation table,” he said. (CNN)
Flood, Sweat, and Tears
- For those who still mischaracterize Africa as a country, consider this — as Southern African nations like Zambia and Zimbabwe suffer from extreme drought, record-breaking floods have affected nearly six million East Africans in Sudan and Somalia. The floods — caused by torrential downfall coming off the Indian Ocean — have forced more than 1.5 million from their homes in search of higher ground.
- The UN reports that the number of East Africans hit by seasonal flooding has increased more than five fold in four years, as the Nile River surges to its highest levels in more than half a century. Some parts of the region are seeing the most annual rainfall they’ve seen in a century, compounding pre-existing food insecurities brought on by a historic locust outbreak and COVID-19 pandemic.
- Floodwaters present a myriad of problems for those in developing countries who still face basic health predicaments. “They are exposed to malaria, waterborne diseases and snakebites as floodwaters overwhelm their homes and farms,” the medical charity Doctors Without Borders says. And while annual records already shattered following the summer months, experts don’t expect the rains to stop anytime soon.
- “We fear the worst is yet to come, with the peak of flooding season normally in November and December,” said U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock. (BBC)
Additional World News
- Mike Pompeo lashes out at China at ‘Quad’ meeting in Japan (BBC)
- Not playing games: Raab says UK boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics possible over Uighur abuses (Guardian)
- German official quashed intelligence report on China’s influence (Axios)
- Russia rejects accusations of ‘pressure tactics’ after journalist’s suicide (CNN)
- Dissident spills the tea: Navalny demands EU crackdown on oligarchs close to Kremlin (Reuters)
- The Short Tenure and Abrupt Ouster of Banking’s Sole Black C.E.O. (NYT, $)
- Staying up in the UK: Boris Johnson Keeps Defying Gravity (Atlantic, $)
- Kyrgyzstan election: Opposition ‘seize power’ after protests (BBC)
- Threat of home demolitions sparks protests among Egypt’s poorest (Guardian)
- Guatemala turns around U.S.-bound migrant caravan from Honduras (CBS)
Another Tragedy In Texas
(Montinique Monroe via Getty Images)
- Once again, a white police officer has been arrested and charged with the murder of an unarmed black man. This time the tragic news comes from Texas, where preliminary investigations determined that Wolfe City police officer Shaun Lucas’ decision to shoot Jonathan Price was “not objectionably reasonable”
- The arrest comes two days after an altercation out front of a Kwik Chek convenience store turned deadly when police attempted to detain the 31-year-old former college football player, whose family members claim was attempting to break up a fight. “Officer Lucas made contact with a man, later identified as 31-year-old Jonathan Price, who was reportedly involved in the disturbance. Officer Lucas attempted to detain Price, who resisted in a non-threatening posture and began walking away,” said the Dallas Police Department in a statement. Wolfe City lies about 70 miles north of Dallas.
- The Texas Department of Public claim that police first tried to subdue Price using his taser, and then resorted to his service weapon. Autopsy reports reveal that Price’s death came as the result of three gunshot wounds. It is unclear why such drastic measures were taken to detain an individual who was reportedly unarmed and retreating. “The situation was resolved before law enforcement arrived, according to witnesses,” Price’s attorney said. “Why this officer still felt the need to Tase and shoot Jonathan is beyond comprehension.”
- “I’m glad they done got him off the street. My son didn’t deserve this,” Price’s mother, Marcella Louis said in response to Lucas’ arrest. “He helped everybody in his community and had a big heart and spirit. Whatever he wants to strive for, he tried get out there and do it.” (NPR)
Big Tech Loves Biden
- Accusations that Silicon Valley holds an overwhelmingly liberal bias won’t be going away anytime soon. A recent report from Wired reveals that roughly 95% of political contributions from employees of the six big tech firms — Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Oracle — have gone to Joe Biden.
- The Federal Election Commission requires that anyone who donates over $200 to a presidential campaign report their employer, and an analysis of public data shows that employees from tech’s big six have contributed nearly 20 times as much money to Biden than Trump since the beginning of 2019.
- Trump’s troubled relationship with tech has given Biden a cash advantage going into the final stretch of the campaign — as employees at these six companies have contributed $4,787,752 to Biden and just $239,527 to Trump. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has been Biden’s biggest financial backer. Wired found that Alphabet employees have donated nearly $1.8 million in the months leading up to the election, which accounts for one third of all of the big six’s donations.
- Oracle — who recently secured a massive TikTok deal thanks to Trump — has been the most balanced in their contributions. Data shows that about 20% of their employee donations have gone to Trump, which is more than double what other tech giants are willing to give to the sitting president. Facebook employees, surprisingly, have donated the least amount of money to Trump when compared to their competitors. Perhaps the fact checking fiasco brought on by Trump has caused too much of a headache.
- Take this news with a grain of salt, however, as Hilary Clinton also commanded Silicon Valley contributions in 2016. But it appears their commitment to Biden is stronger, as he has garnered almost twice as much money than Clinton did four years ago. (Wired)
Additional USA News
- Trump tanks the stimulus: Trump abruptly scraps stimulus talks, punting on economic relief until after Election Day (CNN)
- Powell Warns of Prolonged Economic Pain Without Help as Trump Calls Off Stimulus Talks (NYT, $)
- Trump’s Medical Care: Low Cost and High Access (Atlantic, $)
- Domestic Workers React With Anger After Trump Says ‘Don’t Be Afraid of Covid’ (NPR). Backlash from the bully pulpit.
- US military chiefs in quarantine as Covid chaos spreads and Trump recuperates (Guardian)
- The Justice Department May Have Violated Attorney General Barr’s Own Policy Memo (ProPublica)
- Courting catastrophe: Supreme Court shows its hand in the 2020 election in South Carolina absentee ballot case (Vox)
- Facebook bans QAnon across its platforms (NBC)
- Does Door-Knocking Matter? (New Yorker). Knock knock, who cares?
Incarceration and Campfire Songs
- Remember the song “Baby Shark,” the one that reminds you of childhood and elicits a mandatory “doo, doo, doo?” Prisoners at Oklahoma County Jail certainly will. According to charges filed on Monday, it was common practice amongst two prison guards to chain prisoners to the wall and force them to listen to the monotonous nursery song for hours on end.
- This sick, twisted form of punishment was “said to be a joke” between detention officers Gregory Cornell Butler Jr. and Christian Charles Miles, who have now been charged with misdemeanor counts of cruelty to a prisoner and conspiracy. They thought the mind-numbing practice would “teach [incarcerated people] a lesson because they felt that disciplinary action within the Detention Center was not working in correcting the behavior of the inmates.”
- Investigators called the punishment “inhumane” and District Attorney David Prater told the press that he wishes he could take on more charges to the prison guards. “It was unfortunate that I could not find a felony statute to fit this fact scenario. I would have preferred filing a felony on this behavior,” he said. (Vice)
- 3 Scientists Awarded Nobel Prize In Physics For Discoveries Related To Black Holes (NPR)
- You gotta hand it to him: A Poker Pro Accused of Cheating Wants $330M in Damages (Wired)
- How chasing the memory of Nathan Bedford Forrest revealed America’s truth (CNN)
- As The Job Market Collapses, Gen Z Is Making Résumés On TikTok (Vice). For you page, for hire.
- Why the ‘Free Britney’ Saga Feels So Familiar (Atlantic, $)
- Grin and bear it: Nobody knows why this mother bear is so aggressive, but her fans online love it (Guardian)
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