The D.O.J. Puts Google on Notice – The Wrap (10/26/20)

This week: D.O.J. files an antitrust suit against Google, the 2020 presidential campaign reaches its home stretch, plus One Last Thought on gun access.

Welcome to The Wrap! Each Monday, we’ll walk through some of the big news and policy headlines from last week so you know what to look for in the week ahead.

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Now to the thing.

As of Sunday night, we’ve seen 8.7 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. Over 225,000 people have reportedly died.

Last week, the U.S. reached a new high in daily COVID-19 cases: 83,757 on Friday. (Saturday was also high, within 40 cases of this number.) Cases are spiking almost everywhere, but more so in rural counties. Here’s an analysis on the recent spike from the Associated Press. It also appears the White House is still reeling from its own virus outbreak: At least five aides to V.P. Mike Pence tested positive for COVID last week.

Here’s one big story from last week:

The Department of Justice filed an antitrust suit against Google.

A few weeks ago, we covered a House Judiciary Committee’s report on Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple that was arguably the most important congressional document on monopoly practices in at least 40 years. Stemming from this, the Department of Justice is filing an antitrust lawsuit against Google.

The majority of the suit’s focus involves Google’s search engine and how it has blocked competition through exclusionary deals with other tech companies. (E.g., Google is the standard search engine/app on Apple and Android phones.)

If you aren’t familiar with what “antitrust” means exactly, are unsure of why monopolies are bad, or are unsure of why Google is specifically being sued, read this very brief but good explanation from The New York Times’ David Leonhardt:

The common thread in these investigations is a concern that big companies have become so powerful that they’re bad for the country. They can distort government policy through lobbyists, lawyers and campaign donations. The companies can hold down wages, because workers don’t always have good employment alternatives. And the companies often squash, or buy, any competitors that threaten their position.

Google is different from past behemoths in that it does not charge money for many of its products (like web search). But there is still reason to worry about its dominance. Its control over web search means it can charge high prices for ads, a particular problem for small businesses. It can also hurt consumers by cluttering its search results with ads, knowing users can’t easily use a rival search engine.

Leonhardt has more to say in the NYTimes’ The Morning newsletter here (paywall).

I’m not sure how far this one case will go, but it’s widely agreed that it could very serve as the starting point for a new period of corporate regulation. This is also an area that has growing bipartisan support, specifically when focused on Big Tech; prominent Democrats and Republicans have been saying for some time that these companies are simply too big and dominant to be operating responsibly.

Related: The DOJ was joined in its suit by several Republican state attorneys general, but not Democratic ones. That’s because Democratic AGs are looking to file a separate suit. Per Politico, this suit follows concerns that the DOJ’s own moves use a “narrow approach.”

Developments on the Campaign Trail

  • The two candidates participated in the final presidential debate of the 2020 cycle. During this, President Trump declared himself the least racist person in the room, said former V.P. Joe Biden would cause an economic depression, and took responsibility for the federal response to the coronavirus before reversing and blaming China. Meanwhile, Biden repeated that he regretted parts of the 1994 crime bill, distanced himself from the hardline immigration policies under President Obama, and focused heavily on his plan to boost the economy and fight climate change with a clean energy strategy. Politico has a more exhaustive recap here.
  • However, there’s also word Biden is considering several former Republicans for other positions in his potential cabinet.

Latest on Voting Access & Turnout

  • Ballots in a drop-off box in California caught fire, likely started by an arson.
  • In the latest example of foreign interference in our elections, Iran sent emails to thousands of voters in battleground states under the guise of the Proud Boys. The emails included threats of violence by the hate group if the receiver did not vote for President Trump.
  • A story in two parts: Michigan’s secretary of state banned the open carry of guns at the polls to prevent voter intimidation. Two separate lawsuits have since been filed.
  • In a 5-3 decision, SCOTUS approved Alabama election officials’ decision to ban curbside voting… during a pandemic, no less.

As of Sunday, a whopping 58 million people have already voted early. According to the AP, this exceeds early voting turnout from 2016 despite nine days remaining before Election Day. Turnout is especially high among younger voters. Hays County, Texas, became the first county to surpass its entire 2016 turnout.

SCOTUS Watch:

  • A month after its introduction in Congress, a bill that would establish 18-year term limits for Supreme Court Justices has gotten a fair amount of support from 30 legal scholars.
  • Former V.P. Joe Biden announced he would establish a bipartisan commission to produce a list of recommendations on reforming SCOTUS if he wins election this November. This follows his town hall two earlier this month, in which he neither supported nor opposed adding justices to the court.
  • Senate Democrats pulled an all-night protest in the chamber on Sunday night to call for more discussion on Barrett’s credentials before giving her the seat.

The Latest on an Economic Stimulus

Things appear simultaneously more hopeful yet just as messy as they did earlier this month:

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have shared several times that they’re making progress.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly told his caucus in private not to accept anything agreed upon by these two.
  • All the while, President Trump has been calling for a “big” stimulus package—which is completely at odds with the Senate GOP—and has pointed the finger at Pelosi regarding why a deal hasn’t been struck.

What else?

  • The New York Times found that the parents of 545 migrant children, victims of the U.S. immigrant family separation policy, cannot be found (paywall).
  • Meanwhile, a recent study found assertions that sanctuary city policies contribute to crime have virtually no supporting evidence.
  • In the latest example of the U.S. buddying up with authoritarian countries, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed an international pledge to reduce access to abortion. Included in the list of signatories: Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Uganda, and Saudi Arabia.
  • In a recent report on its investigation into President Trump’s taxes, The New York Times shared he had a few overseas bank accounts, including in China (paywall). Interestingly, he apparently paid more taxes overseas over the last two decades than he has in the U.S.
  • You might have seen Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Guiliani tipped off the New York Post on allegations that Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s use of the vice presidency to enrich their business activities in Ukraine. It turns out (paywall) that not only was the Post a paper of last resort for Guiliani, as no other outlet would write the story due to its questionable validity but that the paper had trouble getting its own reporters to agree to write the story and have their names in the byline.
  • Purdue Pharma, the multibillion dollar company that produces OxyContin, has agreed to pay $8 billion, which includes funds for opioid treatment and abatement programs and fines. The company will also dissolve following payment.
  • Snow is expected to significantly reduce the spread of the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires in Colorado. These are two historically large wildfires in the state’s history.
  • Five more states will leave it up to the voters on whether or not they’ll legalize recreational marijuana, per Roll Call.
News from abroad:
  • With a turnout of 88%, Bolivians overwhelmingly and peacefully voted to reinstall a leftist government and selected socialist Luis Arce to be president. This comes a year after an election that 1) prompted widespread protests, 2) forced then-President Evo Morales to flee the country for fear of his life, and 3) put an an ultra-conservative administration in power. Arce was previously Morales’ economy minister at a time of sharp reductions in poverty.
  • In Nigeria, protests have ceased for the time being against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a state-run police force that has terrorized and killed countless Nigerians for the past 30 years. In an op-ed for The New York Times, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said the country’s government isn’t just allowing SARS to continue its atrocities, but is actively encouraging the murdering of its citizens (paywall).
  • Speaking of the E.U., a poll of Europeans in member states showed huge majorities in support of a proposed “rule of law” provision tied to E.U. funding for its members. That provision would require countries to meet certain standards—such as free press and independent judiciaries—in order to get E.U. cash set aside in the bloc’s long-term budget and coronavirus relief fund. It’s a touchy subject for Hungary and Poland, both of which might not meet those standards.
  • The World trade Organization is selecting its next director-general, and for the first time, both remaining candidates are women: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, formerly Nigeria’s finance minister, and Yoo Myung-hee, South Korea’s trade minister.

What Congress is up to: Next steps on confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court; stimulus negotiations.

Interesting Reads

  • Two pieces on the right’s attitudes toward state and federal courts. The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer revisits how the Supreme Court has stepped in the way of universal suffrage over the course of U.S. history, and posits the conservative majority on the SCOTUS and other federal courts “have now concluded that their role is to help the Republican Party continue to wield political power, by inhibiting voters’ ability to make a different choice.”
  • Plus the AP explains that the GOP, though speaking out against the possibility of Democrats packing the Supreme Court, has done exactly that with state supreme courts. Further interested in state supreme courts? Read 101PC’s primer here.
  • The New York Times explores Iowa’s handling of the coronavirus (paywall). The state did not go into a full lockdown like most others, yet it still has seen significant economic decline.

One Last Thought: Gun Access

According to The Trace, last September was one of the highest months on record for gun sales, a 67% increase from September of 2019. That spike is a continuation of widespread sales during the pandemic; at the same time, gun violence has been widely higher this year than previous ones, particularly in cities like Chicago which has strict gun laws.

These developments prompted me to revisit a question we hear frequently: Do restrictions on gun access really prevent gun violence in the U.S.? Plainly, yes, but it’s more complicated than this simple answer.

Let’s revisit three things we know definitively:

  1. Other countries do not have the same problem (paywall) with gun violence and mass shootings that we do. That’s likely because we have far more guns available than any other place in the world.
  2. There does exist a cocktail of policies and laws that reduce gun violence in the U.S. As CityLab put it last year, these three are most effective when implemented together: “universal background checks, bans on violent offenders purchasing guns, and ‘may-issue’ laws (which give police discretion in issuing concealed-carry permits).”
  3. It’s not enough for one state to implement restrictions, since there is frequently a spillover effect from neighboring states that have looser gun laws. (This is why Chicago, despite its and Illinois’ strict gun laws, still sees great deal of gun violence every year.)

So what can be done, short of stricter federal-level laws? For starters, cities and states can collectively agree to institute stricter laws, preventing that spillover effect.

But this can be complicated by itself, especially for cities. Those that would like to have stricter laws within their boundaries than the rest of the state might be prevented or undone due to preemption laws, which can stop local governments from implementing laws within their jurisdiction.

One solution to this—suing the state, as Philadelphia has done to Pennsylvania.

___

That’s a wrap. Check out 101PC’s latest piece on intergovernmental dysfunction (and solutions). Plus, we now have a 2020 Presidential Election Voter Guide so you can see how Trump and Biden compare on the big policy issues.

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