Opinion | This Peeler Did Not Need to Be Wrapped in So Much Plastic – The New York Times

Pamela L. Geller and 

Drs. Geller and Parmeter are associate professors at the University of Miami.

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Credit…Illustration by Nicholas Konrad/The New York Times; photograph by Getty Images

“The year 2020 may have been heartbreaking for most humans, but it was a good one for Jeff Bezos and Amazon. His company’s worldwide sales grew 38 percent from 2019, and Amazon sold more than 1.5 billion products during the 2020 holiday season alone.

Did you need a book, disposable surgical mask, beauty product, or garden hose? Amazon was probably your online marketplace. If you wanted to purchase a Nicolas Cage pillowcase or a harness with leash for your chicken, Amazon had your back (They’re #17 and #39 on a 2019 Good Housekeeping list of the 40 ‘weirdest” products available on the website “that people actually love.”) From pandemic misery came consumer comfort and corporate profit.

And plastic. Lots and lots of plastic.

In 2019, Amazon used an estimated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging, according to the nonprofit environmental group Oceana. The group also estimated that up to 22 million pounds of Amazon’s plastic packaging waste ended up as trash in freshwater and marine ecosystems around the world. These numbers are likely to rise in 2021.” . . .

Mark Pryor | F.D.R. Took Down Giants. Biden Can, Too. – The New York Times

Mr. Pryor, a lawyer, is a Democrat who was a U.S. senator from Arkansas from 2003 to 2014.

Credit…George Wylesol

“During his nomination hearing, Attorney General Merrick Garland said he would “vigorously” enforce U.S. antitrust law. As the Biden administration actively considers who will lead that enforcement effort as the head of the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, they should look to the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt for inspiration.

Often overlooked in comparison to other aspects of his presidency, President Roosevelt’s push to revive languishing antitrust enforcement helped set the United States back on the right track, creating job and wealth opportunities for Americans at one of the lowest points in the nation’s history.

The reinvigoration of antitrust enforcement helped usher in an era of entrepreneurship and small-business growth. The United States was able to assert itself as a global economic leader, establishing a model of corporate decentralization that would be adopted by democratic nations across the world. But reinvigorating antitrust did not come without substantial opposition from business interests as well as judicial and enforcement bodies that lost their way. Indeed, Roosevelt’s plans were only as strong as the people he appointed to turn his vision of an open market economy into reality.” . . .

How Amazon Crushes Unions – The New York Times

“RICHMOND, Va. — Five years ago, Amazon was compelled to post a “notice to employees” on the break-room walls of a warehouse in east-central Virginia.

The notice was printed simply, in just two colors, and crammed with words. But for any worker who bothered to look closely, it was a remarkable declaration. Amazon listed 22 forms of behavior it said it would disavow, each beginning in capital letters: “WE WILL NOT.”

“We will not threaten you with the loss of your job” if you are a union supporter, Amazon wrote, according to a photo of the notice reviewed by The New York Times. “We will not interrogate you” about the union or “engage in surveillance of you” while you participate in union activities. “We will not threaten you with unspecified reprisals” because you are a union supporter. We will not threaten to “get” union supporters.”

Amazon posted the list after the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers accused it of doing those very things during a two-year-long push to unionize 30 facilities technicians at the warehouse in Chester, just south of Richmond. While Amazon did not admit to violations of labor laws, the company promised in a settlement with federal regulators to tell workers that it would rigorously obey the rules in the future.

Opinion | Amazon and the Breaking of Baltimore – The New York Times

” . . . At its peak in 1958, the Beth Steel plant on the Point employed some 30,000; in its final years at the turn of this century — even as imports, domestic “mini-mills” and feckless management threatened its existence — veteran workers were still making at least $35 per hour, with excellent union benefits. The work was strenuous and frequently dangerous, but also purposeful and well-paid enough that many people spent their whole career there.

Since the plant closed in 2012, the Point has been wiped clear of virtually all traces of it. Starting in 2017, a new sort of work filled the void: logistics. The Point’s new owners leased land to first one and then a second Amazon fulfillment center, as well as warehouses for Under Armour, FedEx, Home Depot and Floor & Décor.

The work at Amazon was physically taxing in its own right, and was far more socially isolating than the foxhole camaraderie that had characterized Beth Steel, which helped explain why turnover was so much higher at the warehouse than during the steel years.

“It was a family thing — they looked out for one another,” said Bill Bodani Jr. of his time at Beth Steel, where he lasted three decades despite several workplace accidents. By the time he left in 2003 he, too, was drawing $35 an hour.

Over a decade later he went back to work at the Point, driving a forklift at Amazon. His pay was around $15 an hour. He lasted only three years with the company, after clashing with a supervisor over his bathroom breaks and his encouragement of labor organizing among the younger workers.” . . .

Thomas Friedman | Made in the U.S.A.: Socialism for the Rich. Capitalism for the Rest. – The New York Times

“. . . There has been so much focus in recent years on the downsides of rapid globalization and “neoliberal free-market groupthink” — influencing both Democrats and Republicans — that we’ve ignored another, more powerful consensus that has taken hold on both parties: That we are in a new era of permanently low interest rates, so deficits don’t matter as long as you can service them, and so the role of government in developed countries can keep expanding — which it has with steadily larger bailouts, persistent deficit spending, mounting government debts and increasingly easy money out of Central Banks to finance it all.

This new consensus has a name: “Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest,” argues Ruchir Sharma, chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, author of “The Ten Rules of Successful Nations” and one of my favorite contrarian economic thinkers.

“Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest” — a variation on a theme popularized in the 1960s — happens, Sharma explained in a phone interview, when government intervention does more to stimulate the financial markets than the real economy. So, America’s richest 10 percent, who own more than 80 percent of U.S. stocks, have seen their wealth more than triple in 30 years, while the bottom 50 percent, relying on their day jobs in real markets to survive, had zero gains. Meanwhile, mediocre productivity in the real economy has limited opportunity, choice and income gains for the poor and middle class alike.” . . .

NYT Editorial | Visa Is Doing What Big American Companies Do to ‘Protect This Business’ – The New York Times

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The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.

Credit…Illustration by Nicholas Konrad/The New York Times; photograph by Getty Images

“Visa dominates the lucrative business of processing debit card transactions. Merchants must choose between paying the financial services company’s fees or forgoing sales to the millions of Americans who carry cards emblazoned with Visa’s logo.

A San Francisco technology start-up named Plaid threatened that dominance. The company planned to debut a rival service next year that would charge half as much as Visa.

So Visa did what big American companies have learned to do: It agreed to buy the smaller company, pledging a king’s ransom to eliminate the threat of competition.

Last month, the Justice Department sued to block the deal as a violation of antitrust law. The intervention is necessary to protect the interests of merchants and consumers, and the health of the broader economy. The federal government has been far too permissive in allowing large companies to swallow potential rivals, particularly in the rapidly evolving technology sector.”

ThriftBooks is not just an Amazon seller anymore | Retail Dive

Secondhand booksellers are ideal when it comes to discovery for anyone who’s willing to browse the aisles (and maybe the piles on the floor) and take a chance with what’s there. If you do find something, you can have it for a fraction of its original cost — especially if you don’t mind the note penned by the original owner’s Aunt Martha, wishing him happy birthday in black ink.But it’s hard to go to a used bookstore with a particular title in mind because inventory is dependent on the quirks of its sources, including people who’ve just watched Marie Kondo’s Netflix show, or who are moving or renovating houses, or whose children have outgrown their copies of Dr. Seuss or Harry Potter.

Source: ThriftBooks is not just an Amazon seller anymore | Retail Dive

Opinion | With the Google Lawsuit, the Long Antitrust Winter Is Over – By Tim Wu – The tim New York Times

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Mr. Wu is the author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.”

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“The true significance of the federal antitrust lawsuit filed against Google on Tuesday cannot be captured by any narrow debate about legal doctrine or what the case will mean for the company. This is a big case, filed during an important time, and it merits a commensurately broad understanding. The complaint marks the return of the U.S. government to a role that many of us long feared it had abandoned: disciplining the country’s largest and most powerful monopolies.

President Theodore Roosevelt best explained the role played by antitrust law after his Justice Department filed suit in 1902 against the Northern Securities Company, formed by J.P. Morgan and others. Roosevelt wrote to a friend that “the absolutely vital question” was whether “the government has the power to control the trusts.” As he had said earlier in a speech, the “immense power” of aggregated wealth “can be met only by the still greater power of the people as a whole.”

Can the power of the people prevail over the power of Google and other business giants? As in the days of Theodore Roosevelt, the power of today’s biggest private companies rivals that of the government, and they arguably have more influence over how we live.

Historically, the reaction to unfettered private power has often taken one of two forms. One is passive acceptance, in the hope that the private sector will do what is best for the public. That is unfettered capitalism. The other form is an aggressive attempt to nationalize (or at least heavily regulate) powerful companies, with the aim of converting them, in effect, into public servants. That is socialism.

Opinion | What Years of Emails and Texts Reveal About Your Friendly Tech Companies – By Tim Wu – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Wu is the author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.”

Credit…Denis Charlet/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The spectacle of the chief executives of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google testifying before Congress last week made for good TV drama. Yet the theatrics of the showdown distracted from the real payoff of the hearings: the accompanying cache of subpoenaed emails and texts from the past decade and a half. These documents provide compelling evidence — long rumored but seldom established — that the companies, especially Facebook and Amazon, in their rise to dominance did not always play by the rules and apparently violated antitrust laws.

Both public opinion and American law distinguish between two kinds of dominant company. The first is the monopoly fairly held: a corporation like Ford Motor that achieves dominance by virtue of its incomparable greatness. The second, its evil doppelgänger, is the company that achieves dominance unfairly — for instance, by suffocating or absorbing would-be challengers.

The Big Tech companies insist that their rise to power has been the first story, a saga of ingenuity and courage, and that their market dominance is a byproduct of continued excellence. They may be giants, the story goes, but they are friendly giants. Their immense size and power is simply what is necessary to offer users the best possible services.

The subpoenaed documents destroy that narrative. No one can deny that these are well-run companies, loaded with talent, and that each at some point offered something great. But it appears that without illegal maneuvers — without, above all, the anticompetitive buying of potential rivals — there might be no Big Tech, but rather a much wider array of smaller, better, more specialized tech companies.”

Editorial | How to Hold Big Tech’s Feet to the Fire – The New York Times

Here are some questions subcommittee members ought to consider:

The subcommittee will probably focus on the company’s relationship with third-party merchants that use the site to sell directly to consumers. Such merchants represent about 60 percent of Amazon’s sales. The company also operates an enormous shipping network, an advertising sales business and a cloud computing service that may raise alarms among regulators. Amazon’s trove of sales data gives it incredibly detailed insights into both customers and merchants.

  • After an investigation by German regulators, Amazon vowed last year to overhaul its contracts with third-party merchants. Did the company adequately do so? Does Amazon have contracts that require lower prices than other retailers’? Does it require exclusivity, meaning merchants cannot offer their goods on other sellers’ websites?

  • An Amazon lawyer told the panel, “We don’t use individual seller data directly to compete” with other businesses on Amazon’s site. But a Wall Street Journal report showed evidence that Amazon does just that, helping it create tailored private-label products that undercut competitors. What is the extent of Amazon’s use of seller data?

  • Amazon offers its sellers warehousing and shipping services worldwide. What does it seek in return, beyond a commission? Does Amazon use sales data from small merchants to source new products or to help larger sellers succeed, forcing out smaller ones?

  • In 2010, Amazon dropped diaper prices well below profitability, in a successful effort to force a competitor, Diapers.com, into acquisition talks. Amazon has since shuttered that site. Does Amazon view such actions as exclusionary? And is the company engaged in other such pricing wars in order to force a competitor to sell?

  • A Washington Post investigation showed that Amazon pushes consumers toward its private-label products even when they appear to want to buy name brands. Does Amazon favor its own products in consumers’ searches? Does it require fees or advertising purchases from merchants or brands to ensure their products rise to the top of searches?

While Apple is best known for its iPhones and laptops, it also has healthy competition from companies like Samsung and Lenovo in hardware sales. As a result, Mr. Cook is most likely to be asked about the structure of Apple’s App Store, where millions of software developers offer their apps for download.

  • Why does Apple permit only its own app store on iPhones?

  • Developers are generally required to offer their in-app purchases and paid subscriptions through Apple’s App Store, rather than on their own websites, where they may avoid Apple’s commissions. Apple has threatened to remove apps that don’t abide. How is this in the best interest of consumers and app developers?

  • Some app developers have alleged that Apple uses the detailed data it collects about app downloads to copy their ideas and that the company favors its own apps in searches. Is this true? If so, how does the company defend such practices?

Facebook’s aggressive acquisition strategy — including the giants Instagram and WhatsApp — makes it vulnerable to a breakup if regulators find that it was trying to rid the market of real competition.

  • Reportedly, the Federal Trade Commission had documents demonstrating Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 in an explicit bid to stifle a competitor. Were those documents mischaracterized? How did Facebook’s buying Instagram benefit consumers, and how did it determine the $1 billion price?

  • British lawmakers released emails showing Facebook used an analytics app to collect detailed data about competitors in order to snuff them out. That helped Facebook decide to buy WhatsApp for $19 billion, the emails show. Couldn’t that be called an abuse of market power? Does Facebook still cull proprietary data on rivals in order to protect its market leadership?

  • Advertisers can target customers on Facebook with incredible accuracy, in part because of the platform’s ability to track users’ internet browsing activity across the web. Shouldn’t users consider those terms onerous? Also, has Facebook made assurances about the privacy of customer data that it later reneged on? What assurances do consumers have that their data will remain private and not be repurposed for Facebook’s benefit?

  • According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook quashed efforts to make its site less politically divisive because partisan content drives more use of the site, which is beneficial to its advertising business. How can suppressing opposing views for users be viewed as anything but an abuse of power?