Latest Candidates’ Debate Turns to Antitrust Law

Andrew Yang argues why universal income isn't a 'handout'

The Story:

On Tuesday, October 15, the leading twelve candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States met on a stage in Westerville, Ohio for a fourth round of DNC sponsored debate. One unusual feature of this debate, compared to other such events in recent campaigns in the United States, was the amount of attention paid to issues of antitrust law and enforcement, arising in the context of Big Tech.

Warren v. Yang:

Elizabeth Warren, who is by many accounts the new front-runner in this political campaign, believes that antitrust laws should be used to break up the large tech companies, especially Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon.

The other candidates on the stage all had, at the least, reservations about that idea. One candidate, Andrew Yang, was the founder of an academic test prep company in 2005. His company was acquired by Kaplan, one of the giants in that field, much to Yang’s enrichment, in 2009. Perhaps due to that experience, Yang does not believe business consolidation is necessarily a bad thing.

The Thing to Know:

Regarding Big Tech, Yang suggested, instead of an antitrust remedy, a new understanding of private property in information: “Our data is our property, How many of you remember getting your data checks in the mail?”

 

The US Senate and an Unexpected Retirement

Official Senate photo of Johnny Isakson

The Story:

Senator Johnny Isakson (R – Ga), who has represented Georgia in the US Senate since January 2005, announced last week that due to bad health he is retiring, effective December 31, 2019. This means that the Governor of Georgia will appoint an interim Senator, and that the seat will be the subject of an election next November. Had Isakson remained in office, he would not have had to stand for reelection until 2022.

Background:

Isakson has a voting record of 84.25, according to the American Conservative Union. The highest possible rating — available only if one votes as the ACU thinks right on every issue, is 100.

Isakson won each of his three elections for Senator by sizeable margins. The most impressive of these was his election to a second term in 2010, when he received 58.31% of the votes cast. His Democratic opponent received only 39%, with another 2.69% going to a Libertarian candidate that year.

The Thing to Know:

The other Georgia Senate seat, that currently held by Senator David Perdue (R), is also up for grabs next year. Perdue is expected to run for reelection. But this sets up the very rare situation in which both of a state’s Senate seats are filled at one time. The national Democratic Party is happy at the extra opportunity to chip away at the Republican’s majority in that chamber.

 

Grassroots Opposition to Deportations

The Story:

An incident in Nashville, Tennessee, on July 22, shows that whatever happens in legislative halls and courtrooms, the arrest and deportation of undocumented aliens can be a tricky and contentious matter in the streets and, literally, in the driveways, of America.

The Standoff:

On Monday morning in a working-class neighborhood in Nashville, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attempted to pull over a white van. A man was driving the van; his 12 year old son was also inside.

The driver did not pull over, but drove into his home’s driveway, and once there locked the doors of the van and refused to leave. An ICE vehicle blocked the end of the driveway. Neighbors saw the standoff, informed activists what was going on, and those activists informed their networks. The neighbors also filled up the van’s gas tank to ensure that the two people inside could keep their air conditioner working in the late-July Nashville heat.

While the stand-off continued, others arrived in the dozens to show their support. One activist live-streamed an hour of footage, which as of this writing has more than 133,000 views on Facebook.

The ICE officers did not have a warrant, so they were not willing to make forcible entry into the van (or the home). They were acting only on the basis of an administrative order from their superiors within ICE.

The Thing to Know:

ICE officers eventually gave up, and left the scene. Then the neighbors and volunteers formed a “human chain” to surround the two people in the vehicle. Those two finally left the van, walked up their driveway, and into the door of their home.

 

An Unlikely Partnership: Koch and Soros

Is Soros playing a role in anti-Kavanaugh protests?

The Story:

Both George Soros and Charles Koch believe that the foreign policy of the United States has become unhinged from any defensible conception of national interest or human rights, and together they hope to use their vast fortunes to move the US toward diplomacy and peace, away from the endless war to which it now seems committed.

The Background:

Their new partnership is unlikely. Charles Koch is one of the “Koch Brothers,” renowned as the offerers of financial assistance to Republican and conservative candidates for public office over decades now. Soros is the Hungary-born financier who notoriously said in 2003 that removing President George W. Bush from office would be the “central focus of my life” over the following year, as it was “a matter of life and death.”

A headline in the Boston Globe has called it an “astonishing turn” that these two men have teamed up.

The Thing to Know:

Koch and Soros are combining to endow a new foreign-policy think tank, called the “Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.” The name is in homage to the sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, who said that though the United States is  a well-wisher to freedom around the world, “she is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

Huawei Seeks $1 Billion from Verizon

The Story:

Chinese telecomm giant Huawei has sent a demand letter to another multinational telecomm giant, New York based Verizon, claiming $1 billion as a licensing fee for intellectual property of Huawei’s that it claims Verizon is using. There are more than 230 individual patents involved, and they include rights to core network equipment as well as internet-of-things technology.

Background: 

The demand comes at a time of heightened tensions between the US and China over a range of trade issues. Alleged Chinese infringement of the IP of US-based companies has long been a standard American complaint on the agenda of trade talks. In this instance, a plausible complaint going in the opposite direction, by a Chinese company, has obvious political/diplomatic value for Beijing.

In May, the Trump administration put Huawei on a blacklist on security grounds that bars it from doing business with US firms without government approval. Despite the blacklist, Huawei remains one of the world’s critical suppliers of equipment for the so-called 5th generation of cellular networks (5G).

The Thing to Know:

In the words of the headline on a Hong Kong newspaper (the South China Morning Post), “Huawei has 56,492 patents — and it’s not afraid to use them.”

LaGuardia Inspires End to Govt Shutdown

Ground Stop Issued At LaGuardia Airport Due To Staffing Issues | Hallie Jackson | MSNBC

The Story:

On the morning of January 25, Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration effectively closed LaGuardia Airport in New York City due to staff shortages — people, in particular air traffic controllers, were calling in sick and there were not enough still working to ensure traveler safety.

Background:

Due to a budget dispute, the U.S. government had been on a (partial) shutdown for more than a month. Air traffic controllers, who are federal employees, were expected to continue to work, but weren’t receiving pay. Some controllers were of necessity taking other jobs on their off hours, but this simply raised concerns that they weren’t getting enough sleep, and so they could not safely perform their high-stress task.

The Thing to Know:

Later Friday, in an announcement in the Rose Garden at the White House, President Trump said that he had agreed to a budget bill that would end the shut-down. By then the LaGuardia closing, though it lasted only an hour, had had cascading effects on flights throughout the northeast. Many see the LaGuardia incident as having been the ‘last straw’ forcing the administration to agree to re-opening the government even in the absence of any “Wall Money” in the budget.

The 2d Amendment and a Dog that Seldom Barks

Second Amendment supporters hit with death threats

The Story:

In several recent announcements, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear challenges to the constitutionality of specific state and municipal restrictions on the individual ownership and possession of firearms. This is despite a pair of decisions in 2008 and 2010 that said that the second amendment is an individual right (not a right relevant only to “militia” as collective entities) and that it is protected as such not only against the US Congress but against state and municipality restrictions.

Sherlock Holmes:

In one of Conan Doyle’s stories about his fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, the detective must solve a case involving mysterious comings and goings in a certain stable.  A detective from Scotland Yard asks Holmes, “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes, “To the curious incident of the dog in the night time.”

“The dog did nothing in the nighttime.”

“That was the curious incident.”

The Thing to Know:

If the guard dog in question is the Supreme Court, and the horse stable it has been assigned to protect is the individual right to bear arms, then it seems curious that this dog should bark during some second amendment “night times,” but remain mysteriously silent during others. The principled difference, if any, may be discernible only to a Holmes.

Meng Wanzhou’s Arrest and What it Means

The Story:

Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, the vice chairperson and chief financial officer of giant Chinese tech company Huawei. The arrest, on December 1, 2018, was at the request of the US government, which contends that Meng has conspired “to defraud multiple international institutions” in order to help Iran evade US sanctions.  

What Comes Next:

On December 11, Meng was released on bail, in Canada.

The US now has until the end of January 2019 to submit its formal extradition papers to Canada, laying out the case against her.

China has arrested three Canadians since Meng’s arrest in what are seen as tit-for-tat cases. One of the three was soon released, the others are still in custody as of this writing.

The Thing to Know:  

Whatever the merits of the charges with regard to trading with Iran, or related bank fraud, there is naturally much suspicion that the real position of the US government with regard to Meng is that she serves as a hostage in the ongoing trade disputes with China.


The Shifting Boundaries of What a “Shutdown” Entails

Watch Live: FEMA holds briefing on Tropical Storm Michael

The Story:

On December 26 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) posted a notice on its website that it would not “issue new contracts for flood insurance during a lapse in authority [the partial shut-down] unless Congress passes legislation.” The uproar was such, though, that within two days FEMA reversed this decision, reviving flood insurance.

Background:

The government’s National Flood Insurance Program, created in 1968 as part of the Johnson administration’s Great Society agenda, insures millions of homes in participating communities, largely in areas where flooding risk makes private insurance unavailable. Though the original intention was that the program would fund itself through premiums, it has been in the red for most of the 21st century, and so has had to borrow from the US Treasury.

The US government entered partial shutdown on December 22 because Congress has not accommodated the administration’s demand for $5 billion for a border wall with Mexico. How partial is partial? That is the question.

The Thing to Know:

The White House Office of Management and Budget appears to have been involved in FEMA’s change of heart, as were a number of legislators of both parties. Flood policies continue to be issued.


Noted Political Scientist Dies

A look at the big issues facing the Supreme Court this fall

The Story:

An influential political scientist died on December 20: David M. O’Brien (1951-2018) had devoted his professional life to the study of the politics of the US Supreme Court. Storm Center (1986) is the best known of his books.

Contributions:

O’Brien was a research associate to Chief Justice Warren Burger for a period in the mid 1980s, and this experience gave him insight into the workings ‘behind the curtain,’ and especially into the way the Justices compete with one another for influence in setting the court’s agenda.

O’Brien’s scholarship shows how this jockeying, combined with increases in the number of law clerks and the proliferation of individual dissents and concurrences, has over time undermined collegiality on the court and turned the Justices into administrators of their own separate fiefdoms.

The Thing to Know:
O’Brien’s final book, published in 2017, looked back at the institutional politics of the Brown v. Board decision, the epic school desegregation case of 1954. O’Brien emphasizes that the Justices thought it necessary to step up, to overcome their reluctance to force such an intense and partisan issue, in the face of Congressional indifference.