JANUARY 12, 2022

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seasoned nuts: quotable

“My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate.” – Thornton Wilder

in a nutshell: must read

Broken Trust

(Artur Widak via Getty Images)

After years of taking a laissez-faire approach to the tech giants, regulators and lawmakers of both stripes grew increasingly concerned about the influence that the biggest tech companies wield over how people live, work, shop, and receive information about the most vital topics of the day, like presidential elections and the coronavirus pandemic. A House Judiciary Committee panel investigated Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google for 16 months, afterward declaring them monopolies that should be broken up. 

In October 2020, the U.S. Justice Department and 11 state attorneys general filed a blockbuster lawsuit against Google, accusing it of being an illegal monopoly because of its stranglehold on Internet search. Two months later, the Federal Trade Commission and 48 attorneys general filed separate anti-trust lawsuits against Facebook, accusing the social media giant of crushing competition and stifling other would-be competitors by cutting their access to its valuable data and systems. The complaints took particular aim at Facebook’s blockbuster acquisitions of photo-sharing app Instagram, for $1 billion in 2012, and messaging app WhatsApp, for $19 billion in 2014. “For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition…” said New York Attorney General Letitia James, who led the states’ investigation. 

In June 2021, Facebook got a reprieve when Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for D.C. threw out the plaintiffs’ complaints. The judge dismissed the states’ case “with prejudice,” saying they’d waited too long to challenge the purchases of Instagram and WhatsApp. Boasberg determined that FTC attorneys had failed to prove Facebook had a monopoly in social networking, but he dismissed the FTC complaint “without prejudice,” giving the agency 30 days to refile as long as it could explain how it concluded that Facebook has a market share of at least 60%.

President-elect Biden promised to go hard on Big Tech by taking Facebook to task for not doing enough to curb disinformation, and calling for the repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law long used as a legal shield for Internet platforms. In March, President Biden chose Lina Khan to lead the FTC. Kahn is a prominent antitrust scholar and outspoken critic of Big Tech who advocates for stricter regulation. She joins other high-profile legal progressives pushing for an overhaul of existing laws, like fellow Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu. The FTC filed its Amended Complaint, and on Tuesday, Judge Boasberg issued his latest ruling. He suggested the FTC was “second time lucky,” said it had shown “enough facts to plausibly establish that Facebook exercises monopoly power in the market for [personal social networking] services,” and that the case could now proceed. (NPR, Verge)

mixed nuts: quick takes on world news

A Citizenship CrISIS

  • Hoda Muthana is the daughter of a diplomat from Yemen. She was born in New Jersey in 1994 and raised in Alabama. In 2014, after becoming radicalized online, Muthana left Alabama to join ISIS. While she was overseas, the government determined she was not a U.S. citizen and revoked her passport, citing her father’s status as a diplomat at the time of her birth. 
  • Her family sued to enable her return to the U.S. In 2019, a federal judge agreed with the government that children of diplomats aren’t entitled to birthright citizenship, and that Muthana, now 24 with a young son, wasn’t a U.S. citizen. The family’s lawyers appealed, arguing that because Muthana’s father’s diplomatic status had ended before her birth, she was automatically a citizen. 
  • Muthana said she regretted joining ISIS, and wanted to return to the U.S. with her child, but former President Trump directed Secretary of State Pompeo not to allow her back in. Muthana’s lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court; on Monday the Court declined to hear her appeal. (Al Jazeera)

A Vax Tax

  • The premier of the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec announced Tuesday that adult residents who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 will be charged a financial penalty. The levy will only apply to people who don’t qualify for medical exemptions. Only about 10% of adults in Quebec are unvaccinated, but they represent about 50% of intensive care patients. 
  • Last week, Quebec’s health minister said beginning January 18, people will be required to show proof of vaccination when entering government-run stores that sell cannabis or alcohol. The province already requires people to present proof of vaccination when entering health-care facilities, indoor sports venues, movie theaters, bars, and nightclubs. Exemptions apply to children under 13 and certain adults. Quebec, home to Canada’s second-most-populous city, Montreal, also has a curfew that runs from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. (NPR, WaPo)

Additional World News

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nuts in america

Disappointing Test Results

(Frederic J. Brown via Getty Images)
  • Spring semester for the Los Angeles Unified School District started Tuesday. District guidelines required all students and employees to get tested for COVID-19, regardless of their vaccination status, between January 3 and January 10, and prove a negative result to go to school. 
  • As of 4 p.m. Monday, 65,630 students and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 in that week, a positivity rate of 16.6% for students and 14.9% for employees. All students and staff must submit to weekly testing throughout January, regardless of their vaccination status. Anyone who tests positive must isolate for at least five days; further isolation will depend on their symptoms. 
  • The district is also requiring that masks be worn at all times, indoors and outdoors, and employees must wear surgical grade masks or higher. Omicron has created the largest spike in cases yet since the pandemic began in early 2020. As of January 9, the nation has a daily average of over 674,000 Omicron cases – more than 95% of all COVID-19 cases in the country. (CBS News)

The Art Of The Steal

  • A sheriff in Real County, located in southwest Texas near the Mexican border, is accused of regularly ordering his deputies to seize cash and vehicles from undocumented immigrants during traffic stops, even if they weren’t stopped for an alleged crime. Sheriff Nathan Johnson is under criminal investigation after officials with the Texas Rangers and the Attorney General’s Office raided four locations last month. 
  • According to search warrants, Johnson acknowledged that money was regularly seized from undocumented immigrants by deputies during traffic stops before they handed people over to U.S. Border Patrol agents. Under Texas’s civil-asset forfeiture law, police can take cash and other property believed to be related to some kind of criminal activity, even if the person is never charged. 
  • However, prosecutors must file civil lawsuits for police to keep possession of seized assets. If charges are brought and Johnson is convicted of third-degree felony theft by a public servant, he could face two to 10 years in prison and fines up to $10,000. However, it’s unclear whether he’ll be charged. (WaPo)

Additional USA News 

loose nuts: fascinating news

A Heated Debate

  • There are 7 million people living in poverty in the U.K., and half of those are disabled or live in a family with a person in a wheelchair. Wholesale European gas prices have jumped by 400% over the previous year and electricity prices have increased by 300%, driven by cold weather, nuclear plant outages in France, and reduced gas flow from Russia. It’s estimated that over 4 million U.K. households are in the grip of fuel poverty. 
  • SSE is a British energy supplier that’s owned by OVO Energy. Somebody at SSE apparently thought it was a good idea to send customers a link to an OVO Energy web page containing 10 “simple and cost-effective ways to keep warm this winter.” Whoever thought it up may have had the best intentions, but they should have gotten a second opinion. The recommendations included eating bowls of hot oatmeal, doing rigorous exercises like star jumps, and a personal favorite, cuddling pets. 
  • After a wave of angry responses from lawmakers and campaigners, OVO Energy took down the web page and offered their sincerest apologies. A British lawmaker who chairs Parliament’s business select committee tweeted: “Good, I’m glad they apologized. I’m not sure who signed off a marketing campaign telling people to wear a jumper and eat porridge instead of turning on the heating if you can’t afford it.” The head of race equality think tank The Runnymede Trust, criticized the “offensive” and “inconsiderate” advice, particularly in regard to the exercise suggestion and the implications for those who are disabled. “And they should star jump to maintain their basic right to warmth?” she wrote on Twitter. (CNN)

Additional Reads

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