Take A Bite Of The Apple
February 16, 2021
The Good News
- New, Daily Coronavirus Cases Drop Below 100K For First Time In Months (NPR)
- Hundreds of people are volunteering to escort elderly Asian Americans to help keep them safe (CNN)
“Regulation needs to catch up with innovation.” — Henry Paulson
Taking A Bite Out Of The Apple (And The Google)
(Karen Bleier via Getty Images)
For years, gargantuan tech firms like Apple and Google have used their well-trained army of lawyers and lobbyists to defeat any legislative threats in Washington and in the courts. However, the fight is moving to a new turf where they have far less experience: Bismarck, North Dakota.
Shortly after being approached by a local lobbyist, North Dakota state senator Kyle Davison, a Republican, introduced a law to stop Apple and Google from forcing companies in the state to fork over a portion of their app sales. Currently, Apple and Google take a cut of up to 30% from app sales, which reportedly made the two companies a combined $33 billion last year. Months ago, under scrutiny for the same policy, Apple reduced the cut to 15% of some sales for companies earning less than $1 million from their apps, but small business owners argue that is still a hefty line item.
The bill Davison proposed would allow apps to use their own payment systems, rather than being forced to use Apple’s or Google’s, and collect their own commissions. Otherwise, Apple and Google can take a large cut of sales and force apps to use their payment platform because of their dominance in the market — almost every smartphone in the world must sell through the iOS App Store or Android Google Play Store.
North Dakota’s 47 senators will vote on the bill this week, and opposition is taking many forms. State senator Jerry Klein opposes the bill because it could put North Dakotans at risk of cyberattacks and make way for expensive lawsuits, as Apple and its lobbyists told him.
Additionally, according to Klein, many of his colleagues are wary of passings laws on subjects they don’t understand. “All people here know is that they’ve got their phone plugged in, it has power, they can take pictures and show photos of their grandkids,” he said. “This goes beyond some of us.”
Even if the North Dakota bill fails, the fight won’t stop there. Georgia and Arizona lawmakers are considering almost-identical app store legislation, and a Massachusetts state representative said he plans to introduce a comparable bill this week. Lobbyists are also pushing for the app store bills in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
A single bill in Georgia or Massachusetts won’t “end the iPhone as we know it,” as Apple’s chief privacy engineer claimed it would, but it will certainly open the floodgates, beginning a trend away from big tech control, for better or worse. (NYT, $)
France’s New Crime: DUFI (Driving Under Foreign Influence)
(Geoffroy van der Hasselt via Getty Images)
- After weeks of fierce debate, 313 amendments, and attacks from both the left and the right, France’s lower house will vote Tuesday on the “Islam separatism law,” over the strong objections of 200 representatives from the country’s Muslim population, which totals over 5.7 million. The bill aims to separate “Islam in France” from an “Islamist separatism” ideology France describes as “the enemy of the Republic.”
- The repeatedly-amended bill bans all private contractors of public services, like employees of transport companies, from voicing political views or wearing religious symbols like the hijab. The same ban has already been applied to public sector employees. The bill also increases punishments for offenses committed in connection with religious communities, and allows authorities to close any place of worship for up to two months to stop those who preach hate.
- Some other key takeaways: Financial controls on foreign funding of religious organizations will be tighter. Homeschooling will need to be state-authorized by 2024, aiming to end clandestine schools with their own agenda. Rules will be put in place to prevent polygamy. And, doctors will be fined and face a prison sentence for issuing virginity certificates. (Al Jazeera)
It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like China
- Freedom of expression in Hong Kong has been severely limited following the introduction of Beijing’s National Security Law (NSL) in mid-2020. The law prohibits “secession, subversion, ‘terrorism’ and ‘collusion with foreign forces’” and stops citizens from inciting hatred against the central and Hong Kong governments. Police reports have stated that 97 people have been arrested for breaching the NSL since it came into effect, with more arrests announced on a daily basis.
- The usage of VPNs and encrypted messaging apps have become more commonplace as people live in fear of arrests for expressing their views. Recent government actions have shown that there will be further limitations on freedom of expression. At the end of January, the government launched a month-long consultation on plans requiring people to provide their full name, date of birth, and copies of their identity documents when buying mobile phone SIM cards – a rule used in mainland China. A week later, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced a “bold” slate of measures to tackle “fake news” and doxxing – though many of the measures will make it harder for journalists to conduct public interest investigations.
- Many journalists in Hong Kong have expressed concerns about their freedoms eroding “at a frightening pace.” Chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, Chris Yeung, said “In previous cases, media could go to court to challenge requests and ask for more details, but under NSL they can’t do so … the media have no alternative to cooperate, no chance to appeal or question. With zero checks and balances – it all depends on the self-restraint of law enforcement bodies, but we have seen zero restraint so far.” (Al Jazeera)
Additional World News
- In a Dangerous Game of Cat and Mouse, Iran Eyes New Targets in Africa (NYT, $)
- Border agency reports spike of nearly 6,000 immigrant children crossing into US alone (Guardian)
- The Taliban Close In on Afghan Cities, Pushing the Country to the Brink (NYT, $)
- Dragnet, planned law boost French fight of Islamic radicals (AP)
- The Pandemic Pushed This Farmer Into Deep Poverty. Then Something Amazing Happened (NPR)
- Brittany Higgins’s Parliament Rape Claim Roils Australia (NYT, $)
- Duterte’s Forces Have a New Target: University Students (NYT, $)
- Bill Gates: Solving Covid easy compared with climate (BBC). Just in case the vaccines made you think we were finally on top of things.
- India: activist arrested over protest ‘toolkit’ shared by Greta Thunberg (Guardian)
- Group urges foreign officials to locate, freeze Myanmar assets (Al Jazeera)
- Harry and Meghan’s second child could be US citizen (Guardian). Could there be an all-American royal wedding?
- Economic sanctions are damaging the environment (Al Jazeera)
- Mario Draghi presents Italy’s new cabinet after EU funds revolt (CNBC)
- There is still hope for the British left (Al Jazeera). It’ll be tough; they’re going to need to put in some serious Labour.
- Japan’s economy shrinks 4.8% in 2020 due to Covid (BBC)
- ‘It’s all so cheerless’: Rio mourns loss of carnival’s noise and passion (Guardian)
- Risk of global food shortages due to Covid has increased, says UN envoy (Guardian)
- In Philadelphia, a mass vaccination clinic opened with fanfare, then closes amid rifts of trust (WaPo, $)
Running On Empty
- The United States is now administering an average 1.7 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine every day, but as states are steadily increasing access to vaccinations and ramping up vaccination sites, a new problem has arisen: there aren’t enough vaccines. State and city officials claim to be confident in the systems set up to administer vaccinations, but have a growing concern about the constrained supply of vaccines.
- Some states have begun administering vaccines to a broader population, making the issue of supply shortages a more imminent problem. Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said expanding eligibility too quickly could backfire.
- “People are going to be angry when they are promised a second dose and don’t get it on time,” he said. Some districts in states such as Atlanta have been forced to stop scheduling new vaccine appointments because federal deliveries were falling so far short of the demand. (NYT, $)
Missouri’s Not Ready To Forget, Or Forgive
- 46,000 Missourians owe their state over $150 million. The debt comes from the Missouri government sending out unemployment benefits to people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic who they later realized were not eligible. While the most recent federal COVID-19 relief bill allows states to forgive debt for overpaid federal unemployment benefits, Missouri has declined to act on this and expects its citizens to pay back their debts in full.
- The state is offering its new debtors zero-interest payment plans, but if they refuse to pay, they could find their wages garnished. When asked about forgiving the debts, Missouri Governor Mike Parson pointed out a state law which prevents forgiveness of unemployment benefits overpayments. Missouri is one of just ten states that have such laws. Parson also said the state had a “responsibility” to go after the misplaced funds on behalf of taxpayers.
- One workers’ rights expert from the National Employment Law Project stated that the effort to reclaim the money “actually creates more work for the states to collect that money,” by backing up bureaucratic systems already heavily impacted by COVID-19’s economic damage. (NPR)
Additional USA News
- ‘The last straw’: the US families ending love affair with grocery chain after Capitol riot (Guardian)
- Winter Storm Brings Icy Temperatures and Cuts Power Across US (NYT, $)
- Inauguration was supposed to bring her parents back from QAnon. Instead they’ve gone deeper (CNN)
- ‘Likely a Death Sentence’: Officials Fear Cold Weather Is Greater Risk for Homeless than Virus (NYT, $)
- Wall Street Short Sellers: The Hate Didn’t Start With GameStop (NPR). It’s a practice as old as stocks themselves, but many still short-sell it.
- As Addiction Deaths Surge, Profit-Driven Rehab Industry Faces ‘Severe Ethical Crisis’ (NPR)
- A Trump criminal probe in Georgia expands to include Sen. Lindsey Graham (Vox). After this year’s defeat, the Georgia Republican Party is trying to be more inclusive.
- Immigration Hard-Liner Files Reveal 40-Year Bid Behind Trump’s Census Obsession (NPR)
- How President Joe Biden is moving on after Donald Trump’s acquittal (USA Today)
- ‘Distressed and tired’: Remote students worry more than peers in the classroom, study shows (NBC). The only thing worse than being forced to go to school at 8 am is being forced to go to school AND stay under your parents’ supervision.
- Pandemics have spawned extremist movements since ancient times (WaPo, $)
- Voting Laws Roundup 2021 (Brennan Center for Justice)
- Many Republican mayors and governors support Biden’s $1.9 trillon covid relief plan (WaPo, $)
- Biden calls on Congress to ban assault weapons and institute other gun restrictions (CBS)
Two Heroes Of The Cheese World Are Moo-ving On
- Two revolutionaries of the American cheese world announced their retirement last month. Sue Conley and Peggy Smith of California’s Cowgirl Creamery were credited with sparking a renaissance in American artisan cheesemaking when they founded their business twenty years ago.
- Cowgirl Creamery’s “Red Hawk” and “Mt. Tam” cheeses are consistently recommended by food publications including Bon Appetit and Food & Wine, and have also finished first at the American Cheese Society and Good Food Awards. Their business tapped into the food culture of California, highlighting locally sourced ingredients and craftsmanship at a time when American cheese was either mass produced or imported.
- According to Smith, the original purpose of founding their creamery north of San Francisco in Tomales Bay “was less about making our cheeses and more about showcasing the local culture and celebrating the region.” The area was a major player in the state’s dairy industry and has a perfect environment for cheesemaking, with moderate temperatures to keep animals calm and high humidity for flora and bacteria crucial to the cheesemaking process to flourish.
- While Cowgirl has deep roots in Northern California, it has also expanded its operations and is well prepared to go on without its founders. The company was purchased by Emmi, a Swiss dairy company, in 2016, allowing Conley and Smith to smoothly transition into retirement. (Guardian)
- Twitter Is Turning Birds Into Celebrities and Birders Against One Another (NYT, $)
- Scientists Accidentally Discover Strange Creatures Under a Half Mile of Ice (Wired)
- The Economic Case for Regulating Social Media (NYT, $)
- 3 New Albums Retell the History of Black Composers (NYT, $)
- What will the next decade bring? Here are 20 predictions from trend forecasters (Guardian). Might have to take these with a grain of salt… or a truckload.
- New Virtual Reality Tool Aims To Reduce Aviation Crashes (NPR)
- What the heroin industry can teach us about solar power (BBC). Can we get people hooked on sunlight?
- Nearly 200 Florida manatees filmed basking in shallow waters with dolphins (Guardian)
- The joy of pancakes: 10 top chefs on their favorite recipes – from apple crepes to duck dosa (Guardian)
- Valentine’s Day cards in the time of Covid (Vox). Much like Love in the Time of Cholera.
- In Violation of Einstein, Black Holes Might Have ‘Hair’ (Wired)
- The Enduring Mystery of Critchfield’s Spruce (Undark)
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