Amazon vs. The Eurozone
November 11, 2020
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“The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”― Thucydides
“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” ― Eric Schmidt
Amazon vs. The Eurozone
(Emmanuele Contini via Getty Images)
On Tuesday, Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s top antitrust, no-nonsense official, filed formal antitrust charges against Amazon for abusing its dominance in online shopping in Germany and France, the e-commerce giant’s biggest markets in the EU. More than 70 percent of online shoppers in France and more than 80 percent in Germany have bought something on Amazon in the last 12 months. “We do not take issue with the success of Amazon or its size, our concern is the very specific business conduct that appears to distort competition,” she said.
The Commission opened an official inquiry in July 2019 to examine Amazon’s dual role as marketplace and retailer. Regulators analyzed agreements between Amazon and independent retailers to see whether data from sellers was being unfairly used by the company, which also sells its own products. Commissioners found that Amazon feeds non-public seller data, such as the number of products ordered and the sellers’ revenues, into its own retail algorithms to help it decide which new products to launch and the price of each new offer. Vestager said that allows Amazon to marginalize third-party sellers and cap “their ability to grow.”
EU antitrust authorities have now opened a second investigation into whether Amazon artificially favors its own retail offers or those of marketplace sellers, who use the company’s logistics and delivery services. One area of focus is the criteria Amazon uses to select products featured in its prominent “Buy Box.” “Our concern is that Amazon may artificially push retailers to use its own related services, which locks them deeper into Amazon’s ecosystem,” Vestager said.
The EU has emerged as a key battleground for tech because of its tough rules on data protection, hate speech, taxation, and competition issues. Once Vestager, a former Danish finance minister, took over in 2014 as the EU competition chief, she quickly became known for her relentless pursuit of US tech giants that drew attention worldwide. Instead of negotiation, she slapped Google and Apple with fines worth billions. Amazon could suffer the same fate, although the Commission said its investigation must be completed before any penalties are imposed.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration sued Google last month in what is the largest US antitrust case against a tech company in more than two decades. The Justice Department accused Google of stifling competition to maintain its powerful position in the marketplace for online search and search advertising.
- European antitrust investigations failed to curb Google dominance of search (WaPo, $)
- Crashing Amazon’s Third Party (WSJ. $)
- China draws up first antitrust rules to curb power of tech companies (Financial Times)
“America First” Takes A Backseat Under Biden
- While President Trump still refuses to recognize that America has a new president-elect, Joe Biden is hard at work lining up his priorities after being sworn in on January 20, 2021. High on his to-do list is re-engaging with the world. Biden has made no secret of the speed with which he will bury “America First” as a guiding principle of the country’s foreign policy.
- For starters, he wants America to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran nuclear deal, and the World Health Organization, sign up for another five years on the only surviving nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and double down on US commitments to NATO. He plans to make Russia “pay a price” for disruptions and attempts to influence elections, including his own.
- Most urgently, but likely much harder to do, Biden wants to rebuild our allies’ trust in America — a trust that four years of the Trump administration has shattered — in order to forge a common international approach to fighting a global pandemic that has cost more than 1.2 million lives. While a Biden administration may begin successfully with a flurry of symbolic acts — undoing by executive order what Trump did by executive order — the 77-year-old president-elect will be confronted with a much different world than when he was last in the White House just four years ago.
- Power vacuums have been created, and filled, often by China. Democracies have retreated. The race for a vaccine has created new rivalries. The new world order will definitely require rethinking positions that Biden took while in the Senate and as Obama’s vice president. (NYT)
- Joe Biden Won’t Fix America’s Relationship With the World (Atlantic, $)
Ex-Google CEO Expatriates
- Eric Schmidt and his family have won approval to become citizens of the Mediterranean nation of Cyprus. Schmidt, one of America’s wealthiest people, was the longtime CEO of Google who helped make the company into an international powerhouse. He stepped down as CEO in 2011, but still serves as a technical adviser to the company and is one of its largest shareholders.
- Pursuing this foreign citizenship makes Schmidt one of the highest-profile Americans to take advantage of one of the world’s most controversial “passport-for-sale” programs. The new passport gives him the ability to travel to the European Union, along with a potentially favorable personal tax regime. Schmidt has a net worth of $15 billion and many homes around the US; his move is a window into how the world’s billionaires can maximize their freedoms and finances by relying on the permissive laws of countries where they don’t live.
- Another famous tech billionaire Peter Thiel, controversially managed to secure citizenship in New Zealand in 2011. American’s interest in non-American citizenship has spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has sharply limited their travel overseas. But it’s still uncommon to see Americans apply to the Cyprus program; it’s been far more popular among wealthy oligarchs from Russia and the Middle East.
- The program became so mired in scandal that the Cypriot government announced last month it was shutting it down. Of course, the tax advantages are no small incentive. While at Google Schmidt was a proponent for the company paying as little taxes as possible, even if it meant capitalizing on foreign countries’ tax rules. (Vox, Guardian)
Additional World News
- Sickness and society: How The Pandemic Is Affecting Democracy And Freedom (NPR)
- Biden should seek early G20 meeting, former U.S. officials say (Reuters)
- China Moves to Tame Hong Kong Opposition With ‘Patriotism’ Test (Bloomberg).
- Russian’ into a peace deal: Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal reshapes regional geopolitics & The Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Deal Is So Unpopular, Armenians Assaulted Their Own Politicians (Guardian, Vice)
- Ethiopia’s conflict spills over border as thousands flee (AP)
- The pandemic reimagined sub-Saharan education, but access to digital is urgently needed (CNN). A sub-Saharan screen test.
- The Politics of Terrorism in a Combustible Europe (NYT, $)
- In 2020, a coup is nothing new… Peru’s new president accused of coup after ousting of predecessor (Guardian)
- US-Mexico border: Bid to reunite migrant families ‘finds 121 more separated children’ (BBC)
- COVID-19 Hospitalizations Are Now at an All-Time High (Atlantic, $)
- Most States Aren’t Ready to Distribute the Leading COVID-19 Vaccine (ProPublica)
- Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech is strongly effective, data show (Stat News)
- Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine: Meet the scientists who developed the vaccine (CNN)
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The ACA Ain’t Dead Yet
(Astrid Riecken via Getty Images)
- On Tuesday, Trump administration lawyers made their argument to Supreme Court justices about why the Affordable Care Act (ACA) should be declared unconstitutional in its entirety once and for all. Their argument involved the principle of “severability,” and if one provision of a broader statute is struck down, additional provisions of the statute must fall along with it.
- Normally it’s a speculative inquiry, meaning the Court must ask what hypothetical law Congress would have enacted if it had known that a specific provision is invalid. In the case before the Court — California vs. Texas — the inquiry is not speculative, because Congress already dealt with the issue when it struck down the provision having to do with the individual mandate in 2017, but kept the rest of the law. In other words, Congress already said what should happen if the mandate cannot function — the remainder of the law should stand.
- Both Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Bett Kavanaugh signaled Tuesday that they were rejecting this key prong of the administration’s argument. This posture makes it appear that they are likely to vote with the three liberal justices — Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan — to save the law.
- If indeed there are five votes to save the law, then at least 20 million individuals who depend on Obamacare for their health insurance coverage can heave a probable sigh of relief. And everybody else with a preexisting condition can do likewise. For now anyway, because the Court has signaled that it intends to make significant incursions on the ACA in other cases. (Vox)
The Overlooked Latino Vote
- Democrats thought that their presidential candidate’s campaign message to Latino voters — that he was the opposite of Donald Trump — would be enough. After all, Latinos had just lived through four years of draconian immigration policies, scare tactics, and divisive messaging. Many Democrats presumed that Latinos would come out to vote for them with the same consistency Black voters have. They thought a growing Latino population would transform the political landscape and give the party an edge in the Southwest.
- However, plenty of those Latino voters liked Trump’s policies just fine. In fact, the president actually improved his support among Latino voters this year, from under 30 percent in 2016 to almost one-third this time. The reasons why ran from the anti-abortion evangelicals, and anti-Communist, anti-Socialist Cubans in Florida, to the anti-immigration Hispanics in New Mexico who believe “We need to take care of the people who are already here.” Turns out the Latino vote is deeply divided, and running as not-Trump was always going to be insufficient. (NYT)
Additional USA News
- Nate Cohn Explains What the Polls Got Wrong (New Yorker, $). This is the last straw (poll).
- ‘The most misunderstood state’: why California’s not as liberal as you think (Guardian)
- Atlanta’s Trump Hawks: ‘We need his voters’ in Georgia: Why Republicans embrace Trump’s last stand (Politico)
- Nearly 80% of Americans say Biden won White House, ignoring Trump’s refusal to concede (Reuters)
- Let’s get a firm understanding of things: Growing Discomfort at Law Firms Representing Trump in Election Lawsuits (NYT, $)
- Here are the GOP and Trump campaign’s allegations of election irregularities. So far, none has been proved. (WaPo, $)
- Bidenomics: More stimulus, tougher regulation, and gridlock (AP)
- Pulling Our Politics Back from the Brink (New Yorker, $)
- Banding together against tech monopolies: Voters Overwhelmingly Back Community Broadband in Chicago and Denver (Vice)
- Veterans And Gold Star Families Granted Lifetime Passes To National Parks (NPR)
- It’s official: 2020 is the busiest Atlantic Hurricane Season on record (Vox)
Old Dogs Teach Humans New Tricks
- Scientists researching the aging process in dogs and humans have found parallels between the two species. Dogs go through stages in their life just as people do, and the research is showing that dogs are similar to us in important ways, like how they act during adolescence, and what happens in their DNA as they get older.
- In fact, dogs may be a scientific model for human aging — a species we can study to learn more about how we age, and perhaps learn how to age better. Researchers in Vienna have found that dogs’ personalities change over time. Adolescent dogs have characteristics similar to humans, like “reduced trainability and responsiveness to commands.” Most interestingly, some dogs, like people, are just “born old,” meaning they are relatively steady and mature even as puppies.
- Dogs do change over time, just as people do. They become less active and less anxious, seeming to mellow. They’re also good models for aging because they suffer a lot of similar ailments, like obesity, arthritis, hypothyroidism, and diabetes. The end of aging is, of course, the same in dogs and humans. Dogs just get there more quickly, which is another reason they make good models for human aging and mortality.
- As one scientist explained: “if you want to study aging with the idea that you want to help people within our lifespan, then you want to be able to study something that’s aging much faster than us.” But what is a benefit for science is a great sadness for dog lovers. Dogs die too soon. And it’s never, ever easy. (NYT)
- Having trouble carpe’ing the diem? How to make a schedule to be most productive (Fast Company)
- 5 Common Beliefs that Can Subtly Screw You Over (Mark Manson)
- Literary puzzle solved for just third time in almost 100 years (Guardian)
- The Denialist Playbook (Scientific American)
- The Future of McDonald’s Is in the Drive-Thru Lane (Wired)
- What Makes Sand Soft? (NYT, $). Take this one with a grain of salt.
- Jupiter’s Glow-in-the-Dark Moon (Atlantic, $)
- Evaluating ecocide: Should killing nature be a crime? (BBC)
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