…so…star wars day…I guess maybe we start with a tech thing?
You’re probably reading this on a browser built by Apple or Google. If you’re on a smartphone, it’s almost certain those two companies built the operating system. You probably arrived from a link posted on Apple News, Google News or a social media site like Facebook. And when this page loaded, it, like many others on the Internet, connected to one of Amazon’s ubiquitous data centers.
Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — known as the Big 4 — now dominate many facets of our lives. But they didn’t get there alone. They acquired hundreds of companies over decades to propel them to become some of the most powerful tech behemoths in the world.
The Washington Post reviewed multiple data sets and studies to show the scope of these purchases, which have drawn the attention of critics who worry the practice will dampen innovation and hurt consumers. In October, the House Judiciary Committee released a report that addressed the dominance and acquisition strategy of these four companies. The Post’s list is likely incomplete because many acquisitions were not public or were too small to be announced.
For decades, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department have been charged with vetting mergers and acquisitions and challenging them in court if they threaten market health. But now, as the tech giants grow more powerful, critics who accused these companies of using monopoly power to weaken competitors have also called for more scrutiny, saying the acquisitions are not rooted in innovation but total market control — part of a tactic known as “copy, acquire, kill” — to eliminate competition.
“These monopolies have exploited the weaknesses of the existing law and lax enforcement to maintain and expand their market dominance by buying up or burying those that they perceive as competitive threats,” said Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), who chaired the House committee that reviewed more than a million documents as part of its antitrust investigation into Big Tech.How Big Tech got so big: Hundreds of acquisitions [WaPo]
…if you’ve got a minute do check that out…there’s a bunch of graphics & it’s kind of interesting…although it may leave you wondering if we’ve all gone to the dark side while we weren’t looking…particularly in light of this sort of thing
Fresh questions have been raised over Amazon’s tax planning after its latest corporate filings in Luxembourg revealed that the company collected record sales income of €44bn (£38bn) in Europe last year but did not have to pay any corporation tax to the Grand Duchy.
Accounts for Amazon EU Sarl, through which it sells products to hundreds of millions of households in the UK and across Europe, show that despite collecting record income, the Luxembourg unit made a €1.2bn loss and therefore paid no tax.
In fact the unit was granted €56m in tax credits it can use to offset any future tax bills should it turn a profit. The company has €2.7bn worth of carried forward losses stored up, which can be used against any tax payable on future profits.
Paul Monaghan, the chief executive of the Fair Tax Foundation, said: “These figures are mind-blowing, even for Amazon. We are seeing exponentially accelerated market domination across the globe on the back of income that continues to be largely untaxed – allowing it to unfairly undercut local businesses that take a more responsible approach.
Last month Joe Biden tabled plans at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a club of mostly rich countries, for sweeping changes to the global tax system, including a minimum corporation tax rate in an attempt to stop multinational companies exploiting loopholes in the system. Germany and France have backed the plans but the UK has remained silent.
Under the US president’s proposals, large technology companies and corporations would be forced to pay taxes to national governments based on the sales they generate in each country, irrespective of where they are based.
Amazon is not alone in creating complex corporate structures to avoid tax. The big six US tech firms – Amazon, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Apple and Microsoft – have been accused of avoiding $100bn of global tax over the past decade, according to a report by the campaign group the Fair Tax Foundation. All have said that they pay the correct amounts of tax.
The report singles out Amazon as the worst offender. It said the group paid just $3.4bn (£2.6bn) in tax on its income so far this decade, despite achieving revenues of $961bn and profits of $26.8bn.
The Fair Tax Foundation said this meant Amazon’s effective tax rate was 12.7% over the decade when the headline tax rate in the US had been 35% for most of that period.Amazon had sales income of €44bn in Europe in 2020 but paid no corporation tax [Guardian]
…I guess it doesn’t exactly have me thinking they have any kind of public interest in mind…& I’d say that’s a problem
[…]the Facebook Oversight Board, an outside group funded and created by Facebook to review the social media giant’s thorniest policy choices, has made a decision on the case. It is expected to announce on Wednesday whether Facebook can uphold its suspension of Trump or if it has to allow him back on the site.
The board will announce its decision on this case — its most significant by far — at approximately 9 a.m. Wednesday. The ruling is being closely watched by politicians around the world, as well as social media researchers and other tech companies that similarly banned Trump in January.
The board was created to appease critics who thought power over the world’s largest social network and its 3.45 billion monthly users (including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) was too concentrated in a group of Facebook executives, specifically Zuckerberg. However, critics say it outsources individual decisions without creating meaningful internal change and shields Facebook from responsibility for difficult decisions.
So far the board has ruled on Facebook moderation decisions around blackface, threats of violence and covid-19 misinformation. It has overturned Facebook’s decisions six times, upheld them twice, and was unable to complete a ruling once.https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/05/03/facebook-trump-decision-faq/
The panel meets over Zoom and considers Facebook’s own lengthy Community Standards bylaws and consults with outside experts and organizations. The affected account holder can also submit a statement, and there is a public commenting period for any regular people to weigh in. The Trump case received more than 9,000 public comments, almost as many as all the board’s past cases combined.
The breaking point came Jan. 6 when Trump posted a video on Facebook and Instagram, and other social media sites, telling rioters to go home. But in the video he also said, “We love you, you’re very special.” Facebook suspended the president for 24 hours. The next day, Zuckerberg announced the suspension would be indefinite, saying, “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”
Twitter, on the other hand, has made no bones about its plans: Trump is banned permanently, regardless of what other companies decide or whether he runs for office again.
…given how much of a difference to the baseline level of sanity in the headlines the absence of the tangerine man having a direct method of spraying the place down with his patented firehose of bullshit approach…it’s hard to see any way that not upholding that ban is in any kind of public interest
…but…well…lets just say I’m not entirely at ease about the odds on that one…& speak of odds I don’t like the look of
Early in the pandemic, when vaccines for the coronavirus were still just a glimmer on the horizon, the term “herd immunity” came to signify the endgame: the point when enough Americans would be protected from the virus so we could be rid of the pathogen and reclaim our lives.
Now, more than half of adults in the United States have been inoculated with at least one dose of a vaccine. But daily vaccination rates are slipping, and there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever.
Instead, they are coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long-promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers.Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe
US pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens are responsible for the vast majority of wasted vaccine doses, which total more than 180,000 reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to a story from Kaiser Health News.
As of late March, the CDC recorded 182,874 tossed doses. CVS and Walgreens combined wasted 128,500 doses – CVS wasted about half and Walgreens 21%.
Reasons for wasted doses included broken supplies, storage errors, and leftover doses that expired. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both have a limited shelf life: a vial of Pfizer’s vaccine, which contains multiple doses, must be used within six hours, while Moderna’s must be used in 11 hours.
This means no-show appointments can affect distribution. Both vaccines also require extremely cold storage, and many of the wasted doses were due to freezer malfunctions or doses being left at room temperature for too long.https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/may/03/covid-vaccines-wasted-cvs-walgreens-us-doses
While the federal government collects data from some states, 15 states and the District of Columbia are not included in CDC data, creating a potentially incomplete picture of dosage waste.
…it’s almost as though some people just don’t want things to get better for everyone
If there was one moment that summed up the current state of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, it was when the floor at the agency’s gun-tracing center caved in a couple of years ago under the weight of paper.
The accident was not entirely accidental.
The gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, has for years systematically blocked plans to modernize the agency’s paper-based weapons-tracing system with a searchable database. As a result, records of gun sales going back decades are stored in boxes stacked seven high, waiting to be processed, against every wall.
Now the long-suffering A.T.F. (somehow the “explosives” never made it into the abbreviation) is at the center of President Biden’s plans to push back at what he has called “the international embarrassment” of gun violence in America.
First, though, the bureau will have to overcome its past. In the 48 years since its mission shifted primarily to firearms enforcement, it has been weakened by relentless assaults from the N.R.A. that have, in the view of many, made the A.T.F. appear to be an agency engineered to fail.
At the N.R.A.’s instigation, Congress has limited the bureau’s budget. It has imposed crippling restrictions on the collection and use of gun-ownership data, including a ban on requiring basic inventories of weapons from gun dealers. It has limited unannounced inspections of gun dealers. Fifteen years ago, the N.R.A. successfully lobbied to make the director’s appointment subject to Senate confirmation — and has subsequently helped block all but one nominee from taking office.
“A.T.F. has all this potential, and they do a lot of good things, but it’s time somebody asked, ‘What is it going to take for us to succeed rather than just treading water?’” said Thomas Brandon, who served as the bureau’s interim director from 2015 until retiring in 2019.
“What’s been done to the A.T.F. is systemic, it’s intentional and it’s a huge problem,” said T. Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at Brady, a gun control advocacy group that has proposed a plan for executive action centered on enforcement by the agency.
To say the A.T.F. is outgunned is an understatement. Staffing levels have remained essentially flat for two decades, with the number of inspectors who are responsible for overseeing gun dealers actually decreasing by about 20 percent since 2001. The number of firearms sold over the same period has skyrocketed: over 23 million guns in 2020, shattering the previous record of 15.7 million in 2016.
“The A.T.F. is the only federal organization that is basically the same size it was in 1972,” said Dale Armstrong, a retired 28-year veteran of the agency who ran its national gun-trafficking unit.
The Biden administration, for all its talk about supporting the bureau, has yet to commit to a significant increase in resources, proposing a 5 percent bump in A.T.F. funding in this year’s discretionary budget. That is a far more modest increase than those given to many other agencies, like the Education Department, that Mr. Biden sees as instrumental to his agenda.
Over the past year, A.T.F.’s inspection program virtually evaporated. Inspections plummeted from around 13,000 for the 2019 fiscal year to only 5,827 in 2020. Bureau officials attributed the drop-off to the coronavirus pandemic, which shut some sellers down for months, and the diversion of some personnel to counseling stores on protecting their inventory during the health crisis and the civil unrest.
Critics say those explanations are inadequate, given the huge spike in gun sales last year.
“We knew it was going to be bad, but it was far worse than we could have imagined,” said Joshua Scharff, legal counsel for Brady.
But for weeks after the inauguration, the White House and its allies in the Senate stalled, in part to spare gun-friendly Democrats, like Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, from a tough vote when they were focused on the pandemic and spending bills.
The paper records, which must be fed by hand into scanning machines to be stored as visual images, represent three distinct layers of dysfunction: the lack of a modern online filing portal, the prohibition against allowing records to be input as searchable data — so they would not have to be scanned like old family photos — and the failure of Congress to fund enough people to process the information as quickly as it comes in.
The rotating pool of 200 contract workers who unpack the boxes never quite know what they will find when they pop a lid. Sometimes, store owners urinate on documents in protest. It is not uncommon to find guns stashed by dealers in the files, or cash, or, in one memorable instance, an old hand grenade. It turned out to be a dud.
It is telling that among the only significant improvements to the process in recent years came not from Washington, but from big-box sporting-good shops that have worked with the bureau to make it easier to file their forms online.
But the digitization, purely voluntary, barely made a dent in the daily shipments of boxes. And none of the new filings can be stored in searchable form — just like the paper ones.How the A.T.F., Key to Biden’s Gun Plan, Became an N.R.A. ‘Whipping Boy’ [NYT]
…still…at least we can console ourselves with the thought that things aren’t exactly going the N.R.A.’s way these days
A U.S. bankruptcy administrator asked a federal judge Monday to dismiss the National Rifle Association’s efforts to declare bankruptcy or appoint a trustee or examiner to oversee the gun rights organization — a setback for the group at the close of a federal court hearing to consider its petition.U.S. trustee opposes NRA bankruptcy petition in blow to gun rights group [WaPo]
On Monday, Gerrit Pronske, an attorney for New York state, called the gun lobby’s attempted move “a circus sideshow” designed to avoid legal accountability, warning that approving its reorganization plan risked turning bankruptcy courts into “a haven for wrongdoers.”
The NRA has said it is in sound financial condition but needs to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because of the existential threat presented by James’s lawsuit.
…& speaking of curious stuff involving guns
“The FBI is reviewing an agent-involved shooting that occurred at approximately 6 p.m. on Monday, May 3, 2021. An individual involved in a security incident outside Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters in McLean, VA, emerged from his vehicle with a weapon and was engaged by law enforcement officers,” a statement from the field office said.https://edition.cnn.com/2021/05/03/politics/cia-headquarters-standoff/index.html
The suspect initially drove up to the CIA’s gates late Monday morning and made statements suggesting there was a bomb in their vehicle, according to a law enforcement official and another source familiar with the incident.
Justice Clarence Thomas, who once went a decade without asking a question from the Supreme Court bench, is about to complete a term in which he was an active participant in every single argument.
Justice Thomas’s switch from monkish silence to gregarious engagement is a byproduct of the pandemic, during which the court has heard arguments by telephone. The justices now ask questions one at a time, in order of seniority.
In the telephone arguments, he asked tough questions of both sides and almost always used his allotted few minutes. The idiosyncratic legal views that characterize his frequent concurring and dissenting opinions were largely absent from his questioning, which was measured and straightforward.
“His questions are clear, fair and focused on resolving the heart of the dispute before the court, not tangential issues,” Mr. Garre said. “Often, his questions have a practical element to them, testing the real-world ramifications of a party’s position. He’s not trying to set traps or debate academic issues.”
Justice Thomas has explained his silence in the courtroom as a matter of simple courtesy driven by an aversion to the free-for-all barrage of questions from the bench that characterizes modern Supreme Court arguments.
“I think it’s unnecessary in deciding cases to ask that many questions, and I don’t think it’s helpful,” he said at Harvard Law School in 2013. “I think we should listen to lawyers who are arguing their cases, and I think we should allow the advocates to advocate.”
The justices hope to return to the courtroom when the new term starts in October. Once he is back on the bench, will Justice Thomas revert to his usual taciturnity?
Irv Gornstein, the executive director of Georgetown’s Supreme Court Institute, said that “there is one and only one way he will not return to form — if they retain justice-by-justice questioning.”
“And the odds of that happening,” he said, “are approximately zero.”Justice Clarence Thomas, Long Silent, Has Turned Talkative
…so…it’s fair to say one could come to a number of conclusions about clarence thomas…but I’m inclined to think there’s at least a couple of things there that merit at least a bit of thought…whatever you might think about what he says in rulings it turns out he actually asks pretty decent questions…& we know some of those who are more vocal from the bench don’t really seem to think that’s as important as hearing the sound of their own voice…so I find myself in the strange position of thinking it might be good to hear more from the man…ideally anytime we might otherwise hear from brett-likes-beer or the patron saint of underqualified sinecures herself…but then if it were up to me those two would have been knocked clean off the bench anyway…so…make of it what you will…which I might just as easily say about this stuff
More than 600 million people worldwide have been at least partially vaccinated against Covid-19 — meaning that more than seven billion still have not. It is a striking achievement in the shadow of a staggering challenge.
Half of all the doses delivered so far have gone into the arms of people in countries with one-seventh of the world’s people, primarily the United States and European nations. Dozens of countries, particularly in Africa, have barely started their inoculation campaigns.
Nationalism and government actions do much to help explain the stark inequity between the world’s haves and have-nots. So, for that matter, does government inaction. And the power of the pharmaceutical companies, which at times seem to hold all the cards, cannot be ignored.
But much of it comes down to sheer logistics.
Immunizing most of humanity in short order is a monumental task, one never attempted before, and one that experts say the world wasn’t ready to confront. They note that things have already moved with unprecedented speed: A year and a half ago, the disease was unknown, and the first vaccine authorizations came less than six months ago.What Would It Take to Vaccinate the Whole World? Let’s Take a Look.
Pharmaceutical and biotech companies, also feeling pressure, sought on Monday to head off such a move, which could cut into future profits and jeopardize their business model. Pfizer and Moderna, two major vaccine makers, each announced steps to increase the supply of vaccine around the world.
The issue is coming to a head as the World Trade Organization’s General Council, one of its highest decision-making bodies, meets Wednesday and Thursday. India and South Africa are pressing for the body to waive an international intellectual property agreement that protects pharmaceutical trade secrets. The United States, Britain and the European Union so far have blocked the plan.Pressure Mounts to Lift Patent Protections on Coronavirus Vaccines [NYT]
One of the drug industry’s fears about a patent waiver for coronavirus vaccines is that it could set a precedent that would weaken its intellectual property protections for other medicines, which are central to how it makes money.
It is not apparent, though, that such a move in the unique circumstances of the pandemic would have implications for intellectual property protections for other treatments after the coronavirus crisis has passed, industry researchers said.
…& despite all the practice we’ve had of late…it’s not clear most of us are all that good at assessing risk
…still…if it all feels like it’s a bit fucking much to take…you’re not alone
At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms that we all had in common. Friends mentioned that they were having trouble concentrating. Colleagues reported that even with vaccines on the horizon, they weren’t excited about 2021. A family member was staying up late to watch “National Treasure” again even though she knows the movie by heart. And instead of bouncing out of bed at 6 a.m., I was lying there until 7, playing Words with Friends.
It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.
Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.
As scientists and physicians work to treat and cure the physical symptoms of long-haul Covid, many people are struggling with the emotional long-haul of the pandemic. It hit some of us unprepared as the intense fear and grief of last year faded.There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing [NYT]
…& who knows what that might have to do with this…but…I’m getting the feeling that one group who haven’t been short of work of late might be divorce lawyers…some of whom would probably be willing to break some fairly substantial laws to get to the commission on this one
…I have to admit…I was going to start with a space thing…but…well…I guess I didn’t really like the look of it?
Part of a huge rocket that launched China’s first module for its Tianhe space station is falling back to Earth and could make an uncontrolled re-entry at an unknown landing point.
The 30-metre high core of the Long March 5B rocket launched the “Heavenly Harmony” unmanned core module into low Earth orbit on 29 April from Wenchang in China’s Hainan province.
The Long March 5B then itself entered a temporary orbit, setting the stage for one of the largest ever uncontrolled re-entries. Some experts fear it could land on an inhabited area.
On Tuesday the core was orbiting Earth around every 90 minutes at about 27,600km/h and an altitude of more than 300km. The US military has named it 2021-035B and its path can be seen on websites including orbit.ing-now.com.
Since the weekend it has dropped nearly 80km in altitude and SpaceNews reported that amateur ground observations showed it was tumbling and not under control. This, and its speed, makes it impossible to predict where it will land when Earth’s atmosphere eventually drags it down.
The Long March 5B core stage is thought to be about 21 tonnes.
Based on its current orbit the rocket is passing over Earth as far north as New York, Madrid and Beijing and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand, and could make its re-entry at any point within this area.
Given its velocity, a small change in its path could make a big difference to where it ends up, although experts believe the most likely event will see any debris that survives the heat of re-entry fall into one of the oceans, which cover about 70% of the surface.https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/may/04/out-of-control-chinese-rocket-tumbling-to-earth