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(last updated: 7/17/2019) ]


N  O  T  E

This Web page was created in July 2011 after this website had just affiliated with Powells.com. Unfortunately, our participation in the Powell’s Books, Inc. Partner Program was also terminated, effective 29 August 2012. Click/tap here to learn more.
   As such, the following narrative no longer accurately describes present circumstances (this website ceased being anyone’s online marketing affiliate in September 2012, when I removed all of its deactivated Amazon.com and Powells.com partner links). Nonetheless, I am leaving the original narrative of events as is: to serve as a record of our unsuccessful venture at the commercial Internet, and because I still (10/5/2018) don’t have time to completely overhaul this Web page.
   I will, however, continue to update this Web page’s section of annotated media links which track the evolving Amazon.com marketplace, as well as the growing debate over taxing e-commerce transactions & companies. These are issues of utmost importance for all 21st-century enterprises, whether we have a Web presence, or not.

FYI: Amazon.com Drops Its California-Based Affiliates, including this Website

As of 29 June 2011, Amazon.com terminated its contracts with all California residents participating in the Amazon Associates Program — a fee-for-referral program that rewards Amazon.com’s online marketing affiliates (including this website) for promoting Amazon.com’s stock.

Amazon took this extraordinary action in order to block the newly-mandated Internet sales tax collection provision in a California law, signed by governor Jerry Brown on 29 June 2011. According to Amazon,

It specifically imposes the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers - including but not limited to those referred by California-based marketing affiliates like you - even if those retailers have no physical presence in the state.

(e-mail from The Amazon Associates Team, 6/29/2011 at 12:23 pm)

At issue is the price advantage enjoyed by online, out-of-state retailers such as Amazon.com (headquartered in Seattle, Washington). For example, in much of Southern California (where our own affiliate website is headquartered), the new law would add from 7.75% (San Diego county) to 8.75% (Los Angeles county) to the cost of an Amazon.com book purchase.

By jettisoning its California-based affiliates, Amazon.com hopes to avoid having to collect California state sales tax for online purchases by California residents, and although Amazon.com will lose the value-added marketing services (and increased sales) provided by its California-based affiliates, the online retailing giant has decided that the trade-off is worth it.

Small online retailers who make a good income from their affiliation with Amazon.com probably have the most at stake in Amazon’s battle with the states (thus far: New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Arkansas, Illinois, Connecticut, and now California). Amazon’s warning that

Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue.

(e-mail from The Amazon Associates Team, 6/29/2011 at 12:23 pm)

and its promise to reinstate into the Amazon Associates Program any California-based affiliates who relocate to another state that doesn’t (yet) tax online retailers, have persuaded some Amazon Associates to leave California.

We, who have never been part of this select group of high-earning Amazon.com Associates, are not so persuaded. Despite potential problems for us with the new legislation, we find ourselves moved by the states’ arguments, and in particular, by California’s dire need for additional sources of revenue. Like the editorial staff at the Los Angeles Times, we too

want to live in a first-class state with the kind of services [we’ve] long been used to — great and affordable state universities, safe streets, magnificent parks, public schools that rival any in the nation, and a safety net for those who fall on hard times.

(“Private Money, Public Service” editorial, Los Angeles Times, 3 July 2011, p. A27)

It’s past time that we step up and pay the real price for what we want — as citizens, and as consumers.

From the outset, we have provided Amazon.com book links as a value-added service for website visitors: convenient pointers to vetted, relevant information which visitors might not otherwise seek out. The pursuit of kickbacks for marketing Amazon.com products has always been a secondary aim, with the predictable result that the pin money received from our affiliation with Amazon.com doesn’t come close to covering our costs for developing and maintaining the online referrals. As such, we have less to lose than most Amazon.com Associates in shifting allegiances and partnering now with a brick-and-mortar retailer, the independent bookstore Powell’s City of Books.

Because Amazon.com still dominates the world of online book reviews (due to the quantity of its user-generated content), we will now include links to Amazon.com’s review pages (when these exist) for a recommended book, juxtaposed with links to sales pages for that book at Powells.com. For example,

pointer  Taxes Are a Woman’s Issue: Reframing the Debate (New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2006), by Mimi Abramovitz and Sandra Morgen, with the National Council for Research on Women [click/tap here for more book reviews]

which is described by the publisher as follows:

Taxes determine the quality of our lives; they are responsible for the health of our environment, the safety of the roads we drive on, the condition of our public services, and the security of our homes and communities. For every woman who pays taxes and uses public services, and every man who cares about an effective and fair tax system, Taxes Are a Woman’s Issue dares to expose not only how tax policies shape the size of our bank accounts but also sculpt our government and the nation’s identity.
     Whether you are rich, poor, a corporation or an individual, taxes provide the resources we need to sustain the nation’s civil, social, and economic life, and help support the basic welfare of all individuals and families. They also mirror the fundamental inequities that people of different races, classes, and gender experience when they try to access the opportunities that taxes provide. So when probed by the lens of women’s diverse experiences, tax policy narrates some of the ruthless realities of our economy and our society.
     Authors Mimi Abramovitz and Sandra Morgen, writing for the National Council for Research on Women, convincingly dispel myths about the current welfare system and expose how the IRS-supported tax system was created in, and caters to, a time before women entered the work force. By honestly discussing the many ways the current tax system disadvantages women, Taxes Are a Woman’s Issue courageously teaches, as Linda Basch, the President of the Council, states, “about positive changes that will improve the lives of all women and therefore their families, their communities, and the nation as a whole.”

(Publisher’s summary, 2006)


pointer  The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011), by Robert H. Frank [click/tap here for more book reviews; and click/tap here for a video podcast and transcript of Paul Solman’s PBS NewsHour interview with Frank about The Darwin Economy (originally aired 11/18/2011)]

in which Frank advocates radically reforming “our highly dysfunctional tax system” and eliminating private-sector waste by abandoning the current progressive income tax in favor of a much more steeply progressive general consumption tax.

Prescriptive regulation is fortunately not the only way to alter wasteful consumption patterns. If the problem is that people spend too much on positional consumption and not enough on nonpositional consumption, the least intrusive way to right that imbalance is by altering the relevant prices. In a world of complete information and perfect government, we could simply set a different tax rate for every good in accordance with the extent to which context shapes its evaluation. The most positional goods would be taxed most heavily, the next-most positional goods would be taxed at slightly lower rates, and so on.
     But although researchers have begun to estimate the differences in the extent to which context influences demands for specific categories of goods, existing knowledge is far too fragmentary to support such an ambitious approach. Even if we knew much more about these magnitudes, it would be politically costly to establish a separate tax rate for every good. Lobbyists would inundate legislators with studies purporting to show why their particular client’s product or service was nonpositional and therefore entitled to tax-exempt status.
     In earlier work I have argued that a simpler, more promising, approach would be to abandon the current progressive income tax in favor of a much more steeply progressive general consumption tax. This approach rests on the observation that positional concerns are stronger for luxuries than necessities. There are obvious pitfalls in trying to identify specific goods as luxuries. But given that luxury is an inherently context-dependent phenomenon, it’s uncontroversial to say that the last dollars spent by those who spend most are most likely to be spent on luxuries. A steeply progressive consumption tax is thus a luxury tax that completely sidesteps the need to identify specific goods as luxuries.
     Implementing a progressive consumption tax would be straightforward. Taxpayers would report their incomes to the tax authorities just as they do now. They’d also report how much they had saved during the year, much as they do now for IRAs and other tax-exempt retirement accounts. People would then pay tax on their “taxable consumption,” which is just the difference between their income and their annual savings, less a standard deduction. Rates at the margin would rise with taxable consumption. If the tax were revenue-neutral, marginal rates at the top would be significantly higher than current marginal tax rates on income, to make up for the revenue lost by exempting savings. But if we want to repair crumbling infrastructure, round up loose nukes in the former Soviet Union, and bring the government budget into balance as the baby boomers retire, we’ll need additional tax revenue. That would require still higher top marginal rates.
     Proposals to generate additional income tax revenue by raising top marginal rates invariably summon concern about possible negative effects on the incentive to save and invest. Under a progressive consumption tax, by contrast, people’s incentives would be to save and invest more, even if top marginal tax rates on consumption were extremely high.
     If the direct effect of the tax were to induce top spenders to save more, it would also affect the spending of others indirectly. Each individual’s spending, after all, constitutes part of the frame of reference that influences what others spend. And given the importance of context, the indirect effects of a progressive consumption tax promise to be considerably larger than the direct effects.

(R. H. Frank, The Darwin Economy, 76–77)

Frank’s goal for tax reform — building “a successful libertarian welfare state” — is more ambitious than Amazon.com’s, beginning with a public conversation that focuses

... on fundamental questions that transcend the details of any particular tax. How should property rights be designed? What’s the optimal balance between private and public goods, and what sorts of institutional arrangements might best promote that balance? How should we pay for public goods? What sorts of duties, if any, do we have toward society’s poorest members? What sorts of institutions would best promote environmental sustainability? And so on.

(R. H. Frank, The Darwin Economy, 168)


Opening quotation markUnfortunately, Governor Brown has signed into law the bill that we emailed you about earlier today. As a result of this, contracts with all California residents participating in the Amazon Associates Program are terminated effective today, June 29, 2011.… We have enjoyed working with you and other California-based participants in the Amazon Associates Program and, if this situation is rectified, would very much welcome the opportunity to re-open our Associates Program to California residents. As mentioned before, we are continuing to work on alternative ways to help California residents monetize their websites and we will be sure to contact you when these become available.Closing quotation mark

— e-mail from The Amazon Associates Team
(received 6/29/2011 at 9:40 pm)

Opening quotation markAs you may have heard, California Governor Jerry Brown has signed legislation repealing the law that had forced us to terminate our California Associates. We are pleased to invite all California Associates whose accounts were closed due to the prior legislation to re-enroll in the Associates Program.Closing quotation mark

— e-mail from The Amazon Associates Team
(received 10/5/2011 at 8:16 am)

With the 9/9/2011 approval by California state legislators of the “Amazon tax compromise” negotiated with Governor Jerry Brown, Amazon.com welcomed its California affiliates back into the fold.

Their self-serving account of events has not persuaded us to re-enroll.

Contrast Amazon’s spin on the matter in their 10/5/2011 e-mail to terminated California Associates with that offered by independent observers in the mainstream media (see my collection of links to news stories and analyses in the next section). The following is from Michael Hiltzik’s 23 October 2011 column for the Los Angeles Times:

     The [September 2011] deal pushes off Amazon’s duty to collect California sales tax until next September [September 2012], unless Congress passes a bill simplifying sales taxes nationwide first. (Don’t hold your breath.) That means the loss of one year’s revenue, which has been estimated at $200 million.
     In return, Amazon has dropped the referendum [asking California voters to repeal the new state law] and made an informal commitment to open two distribution centers, or warehouses, and create about 10,000 jobs in the state.
     [...] In other words, the compromise gained Amazon little more than three additional months free of collecting, while removing the threat that the law would be overturned.
     And what of that promise of warehouses and jobs? Although new jobs and construction aren’t to be sneezed at in today’s crummy economy, these will likely be low-wage positions.
     Moreover, to maintain its reputation for speed and efficiency Amazon eventually would need expanded distribution facilities in California, its largest domestic market, no matter what.

(Michael Hiltzik, “Putting Amazon in Its Place,” column, Los Angeles Times, 23 October 2011, pp. B1 and B7)

Hiltzik contends that “the sales tax exemption enjoyed by Amazon and other online retailers is an artifact of an earlier age,” and I agree.

So we choose instead to continue our new associate’s partnership with Powell’s City of Books, in a quixotic quest to support indie bookstores and unionized labor.

Media coverage of Amazon.com’s “Notice of Contract Termination Due to Potential New California Law” (2011) and related issues

As to be expected, Southern California newspapers are covering Amazon.com’s battle against California’s new Internet sales tax, and I have posted links to media reports on the subject here (in reverse chronological order, with the most recent entries at the top of the list).

I will continue to post new links to interesting media coverage of Amazon.com’s treatment of its Associates, sellers, customers & taxpayers, as well as monitoring how the new taxes/tax breaks imposed by federal, state and local governments play out in real life, once we are better able to judge outcomes.

Regardless of whether or not Amazon.com succeeds at getting more sweeping federal legislation enacted (they seek a “streamlined sales tax” in order to surmount the diversity in local tax rates and policies), it will take time to ascertain whether the state of California benefits as expected from the new law … or if Amazon.com’s initial prediction that the new legislation will lead “to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue” for the state was correct.

pointer  “Amazon, Seeking More Skilled Workers, Will Do the Training” by Joseph Pisani of the Associated Press (posted to the AP News website, 11 July 2019)

“The online shopping giant said Thursday that it plans to spend $700 million by 2025 to retrain 100,000 workers, or a third of its U.S. workforce.... Most of the in-house training will be free for Amazon employees, the company said. It will offer several programs, depending on skill and job level. A warehouse worker with no college degree, for example, could be trained to become an IT technician who keeps the computers and scanners in a warehouse running smoothly. More high-skilled workers, like those at its Seattle headquarters, could take software engineering classes to switch careers at Amazon or another company.” (J. Pisani, n. pag.)

pointer  “Paying for a Boom: Warehouse and logistics hubs deliver thousands of Inland Empire jobs. But residents say the deal’s tax breaks and secrecy may not be worth it,” by Margot Roosevelt (Los Angeles Times, 19 May 2019, pp. C1 and C6), retitled “Battles Erupt over Warehouse Jobs as the Legislature Moves to Curb Subsidies for online posting

Explores the debate over California Assembly Bill 485 and California Senate Bill 531, both proposed during the 2019 legislative session.
   AB 485, authored by Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside), is a transparency measure that “would break through the secrecy that routinely cloaks economic development agreements. Under the measure, when warehouses are granted subsidies of $100,000 or more, local government agencies would be required to publicly reveal the number, wages and kinds of jobs promised — whether full-time, part-time or temporary — along with plans for automation, all information that companies now see as proprietary.” (C1) AB 485 “would mandate annual public hearings and reports on the incentive deals, projected tax revenue and progress in meeting job commitments. Local governments would have to publicize measures to claw back money from businesses if goals are not met.” (C1)
   “Last year, a similar bill sped through both houses of the Legislature with little opposition. But Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the measure, saying it went ‘too far by adding reporting rules that will be overly burdensome to a single industry.’  ¶  The pushback against what critics like to call corporate welfare may gain momentum from last year’s uproar over the nationwide competition for Amazon’s second headquarters and the secrecy imposed by the e-commerce giant on negotiations with hundreds of cities. The debate culminated this February when Amazon pulled out of a deal to locate 25,000 headquarters jobs in New York after legislators and community groups objected to a $3-billion government subsidy package.  ¶  But to many in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, warehouse jobs are crucial to a region where 45% of the adult population has no more than a high school diploma.” (M. Roosevelt, C1 and C6)
   “A more radical bill,” SB 531, authored by Sen. Stephen Glazer (D-Orinda), “would outright prohibit any new agreements that give online retailers a share of the sales tax California cities collect on goods the retailers sell and ship to customers across the state.  ¶  A twist in California tax law allows cities to return to corporations part of their sales tax payments, based on operations they have in those cities. That creates an incentive for retailers to assign sales to cities where warehouses are based, rather than where their products eventually wind up. According to a study commissioned by the California League of Cities, which supports the Glazer bill, these tax breaks amount to more than $1 billion a year — money that would otherwise go into public coffers.  ¶  ‘State and local governments are scrambling to fund public safety, roads, affordable housing and tackling the homeless crisis,’ Glazer said. ‘The gains from these agreements are doubtful.’  ¶  However, Inland Empire officials argue that it’s only fair that the tax-sharing pacts encourage companies to assign their sales tax payments to warehouse locations, since those communities bear higher infrastructure costs to support the logistics industry and they suffer more from the pollution generated by trucks and trains.” (M. Roosevelt, C6)

pointer  “As Personal Data Are Sold, State Seeks Share: Legislators study how businesses that collect and sell our info could direct some profit to consumers, California,” by Jazmine Ulloa (Los Angeles Times, 5 May 2019, p. B3), retitled “Newsom Wants Companies Collecting Personal Data to Share the Wealth with Californians” for online posting

In May 2019, the governor of California “assigned a team to work with national data scientists and legislators to create a ‘data dividend’ — a payment that businesses would make to the state or to consumers if their personal data are sold.” (J. Ulloa, B3)
   “Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and tech giants such as Google have long relied on the free trade of personal information in exchange for services. But any business can package and trade the personal data they collect from users or clients in the hidden online marketplace.  ¶  Banks, insurance providers and major retailers such as Amazon possess significant information about what people buy, watch, want or need that can be bundled and sold to third parties or used to target advertising and increase profits. No state or federal law provides consumers the right to know how much the information is worth or how much businesses pay for it.  ¶  The practices have also allowed third-party traders to compile data sets from multiple companies to create profiles about consumers that can be repackaged and resold ....” (J. Ulloa, B3)
   “California took the first step to regulate the marketplace and rein in data brokers last year [2018] when state lawmakers passed a far-reaching privacy law that gives people the right to ‘opt out’ of having their data collected and allows them to ask companies to delete it.” (J. Ulloa, B3) Enacted in June 2018, AB 375, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), takes effect on 1 January 2020 and “applies to any business, including any for-profit entity that collects consumers’ personal data, which does business in California, and satisfies at least one of the following thresholds:
   “     •  Has annual gross revenues in excess of $25 million;
   “     •  Possesses the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households, or devices; or
   “     •  Earns more than half of its annual revenue from selling consumers’ personal information.” (Wikipedia page on California AB 375, accessed 6/15/2019)
   “A data dividend, data scientists said, would go further, allowing consumers to collectively leverage their power over their information.  ¶  Such a system could allow the state to redistribute the profits — or develop an entirely different system, requiring businesses to pay people for the content they upload to free platforms.... ‘I think most people recognize that there is something unsustainable going on here, where we are concentrating more and more power and wealth in a few companies, and it is not normal power. It is power over the nature of our democracy, over our families, over our personal identities,’ said computer scientist and author Jaron Lanier, who has been meeting with state lawmakers to discuss potential models for a new data dividend.” (J. Ulloa, B3)
   “Part of the challenge in crafting a state data dividend is that public officials have little idea what the data are worth. Companies have their own internal finance teams that place values on the data of different types of users or customers, and no state or federal agency has oversight over the private estimates.” (J. Ulloa, B3)
   In addition, “Dominique Shelton Leipzig, co-chair of the international law firm Perkins Coie’s Ad Tech Privacy and Data Management practice, said that in developing a data dividend, legislators and the governor will have to consider the entire internet ecosystem and all its smaller players, including bloggers, entertainment companies and students.  ¶  Putting limits on the free exchange of personal information could hinder small businesses and entrepreneurs that rely on advertising and donations and also hurt internet users, she said.  ¶  ‘The reason there is so much content available to consumers globally is because it is ad-supported,’ she said.” (J. Ulloa, B3)


pointer  California “Gov. Newsom Signs Internet Sales Tax Law” (Los Angeles Times, 28 April 2019, p. B3)

The Associated Press summation reads in full: “Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a law [AB 147, authored by Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Inglewood] requiring companies like Amazon and eBay to collect sales taxes on behalf of some out-of-state sellers.  ¶  The law comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that states can collect sales taxes from companies even if the company is based outside the state’s borders.  ¶  After the ruling, existing state law required sellers with at least $100,000 of sales in California to register as a retailer and collect taxes. The law that Newsom, a Democrat, signed on Thursday [4/25/2019] requires companies like Amazon and eBay to collect the taxes on behalf of those retailers, but only if they have at least $500,000 of annual sales in California.  ¶  State officials predict the law will generate an extra $759 million in state and local taxes by 2021.” (B3)
   For a more detailed account, seeNew California Law Requires Amazon to Collect Sales Tax for Small Online Retailers” (The Sacramento Bee, 27 April 2019).

pointer  “Here’s How We Can Break Up Big Tech: It’s time to break up Amazon, Google, and Facebook,” by presidential contender, Senator Elizabeth Warren (1,700-word article posted to the social journalism website Medium, on 8 March 2019)

Multiple commentators have pounced on the following passage in Warren’s position paper:

“The story demonstrates why promoting competition is so important: it allows new, groundbreaking companies to grow and thrive — which pushes everyone in the marketplace to offer better products and services. Aren’t we all glad that now we have the option of using Google instead of being stuck with Bing?” (E. Warren, n. pag.)

noting with a sneer that Google preceded Bing. I expect Warren knows that, and that what she meant here is that if it weren’t for government regulation forcing Microsoft to decouple its Microsoft Internet Explorer (MSIE) browser from its Windows OS, Bing would have been similarly integrated & promoted (as Windows users’ default search engine), thus driving users away from Google, and towards Bing, in much the same manner that users forsook Netscape Navigator for MSIE during the first of the “browser wars” in the late-1990s (see Wikipedia summary for actual dates & numbers).
   In her provocative position paper, Warren argues that:

     “America’s big tech companies provide valuable products but also wield enormous power over our digital lives. Nearly half of all e-commerce goes through Amazon. More than 70% of all Internet traffic goes through sites owned or operated by Google or Facebook.
     “As these companies have grown larger and more powerful, they have used their resources and control over the way we use the Internet to squash small businesses and innovation, and substitute their own financial interests for the broader interests of the American people. To restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition, and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last, it’s time to break up our biggest tech companies.
     “America’s big tech companies have achieved their level of dominance in part based on two strategies:
     “Using Mergers to Limit Competition.  Facebook has purchased potential competitors Instagram and WhatsApp. Amazon has used its immense market power to force smaller competitors like Diapers.com to sell at a discounted rate. Google has snapped up the mapping company Waze and the ad company DoubleClick. Rather than blocking these transactions for their negative long-term effects on competition and innovation, government regulators have waved them through.
     “Using Proprietary Marketplaces to Limit Competition.  Many big tech companies own a marketplace — where buyers and sellers transact — while also participating on the marketplace. This can create a conflict of interest that undermines competition. Amazon crushes small companies by copying the goods they sell on the Amazon Marketplace and then selling its own branded version. Google allegedly snuffed out a competing small search engine by demoting its content on its search algorithm, and it has favored its own restaurant ratings over those of Yelp.
     “Weak antitrust enforcement has led to a dramatic reduction in competition and innovation in the tech sector. Venture capitalists are now hesitant to fund new startups to compete with these big tech companies because it’s so easy for the big companies to either snap up growing competitors or drive them out of business. The number of tech startups has slumped, there are fewer high-growth young firms typical of the tech industry, and first financing rounds for tech startups have declined 22% since 2012.
     “With fewer competitors entering the market, the big tech companies do not have to compete as aggressively in key areas like protecting our privacy. And some of these companies have grown so powerful that they can bully cities and states into showering them with massive taxpayer handouts in exchange for doing business, and can act — in the words of Mark Zuckerberg — ‘more like a government than a traditional company.’” (E. Warren, n. pag.)

and Warren concludes that, under her proposed reforms:

     “Here’s what won’t change: You’ll still be able to go on Google and search like you do today. You’ll still be able to go on Amazon and find 30 different coffee machines that you can get delivered to your house in two days. You’ll still be able to go on Facebook and see how your old friend from school is doing.
     “Here’s what will change: Small businesses would have a fair shot to sell their products on Amazon without the fear of Amazon pushing them out of business. Google couldn’t smother competitors by demoting their products on Google Search. Facebook would face real pressure from Instagram and WhatsApp to improve the user experience and protect our privacy. Tech entrepreneurs would have a fighting chance to compete against the tech giants." (E. Warren, n. pag.)

For a sustained critique of Warren’s proposals to break up Big Tech and

“help America’s content creators — from local newspapers and national magazines to comedians and musicians — keep more of the value their content generates, rather than seeing it scooped up by companies like Google and Facebook” (E. Warren, n. pag.)

see Kristopher Saber’s “A List of Things that Are Wrong with Elizabeth Warren’s Plan to Break Up Facebook, Google, and Amazon” (posted to Medium on 11 March 2019).
   Among other things, Saber argues that the Microsoft antitrust case approved by Warren is not a good precedent for regulating today’s Big Tech:

     “The case brought against Microsoft was that it was unfair to have their operating systems bundled and lumped together with Internet Explorer (IE). Today, we might call that a tech ecosystem. Today, Apple’s Operating System (OS) comes with Safari as default, and Google’s comes with Chrome. They are actively competing with each other to provide the best ecosystem for users. While Microsoft was one of the only major technology companies with an operating system (although Apple did exist at the time also, so even then it wasn’t a true monopoly), now there are multiple big tech companies all each fighting for the customer.
     “Providing an all encompassing technological experience that’s seamless is actually great for users, and using a case that fights against that is dubious. There is no evidence that the Microsoft anti trust case laid the foundation for innovation. The result of it was actually placing 3 regulators in Microsoft to overlook all their code and software. It didn’t accomplish anything really tangible.” (K. Saber, n. pag.)

For more of Elizabeth Warren’s position papers on a wide range of subjects, see her Medium.com page.

pointer  A PBS NewsHour update on Amazon’s change of mind about the siting of its HQ2, “Political, Business Dynamics Prompt ‘Stunning Reversal’ on Amazon NYC Headquarters,” first aired 14 February 2019

SUMMARY: “Amazon abruptly announced Thursday that it will not build a headquarters in New York, after some local politicians expressed strong opposition toward the company’s plan. The ‘stunning reversal’ is a major blow to the politicians who helped broker the deal, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Judy Woodruff talks to J. David Goodman of The New York Times.”

pointer  “The Tech Revolt: A sometimes pointed, sometimes resigned conversation with engineers, designers, research scientists, and job candidates who are pushing for a more ethical Silicon Valley,” with interviews by Cameron Bird, Sean Captain, Elise Craig, Haley Cohen Gilliland, and Joy Shan, illustrations by Tim Peacock (The California Sunday Magazine, 3 February 2019, pp. 7–19)

See the interview with “The software engineer who refuses to work at Amazon, even though it tried to hire her” (p. 10).

pointer  “No Space to Be Human: Work on the Amazon assembly line,” by Alex Press (The Nation, 14/21 January 2019, vol. 308, no. 2, pp. 33–36)

This is a book review of Seasonal Associate, by Heike Geissler (translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire). Noting that “it’s now common to hear condemnations of Bezos’s business model, with its exorbitant wealth built on the backs of workers who receive paltry pay and injury, or even death, in return,” Press argues that Geissler’s Seasonal Associate “offers a contribution unique in the growing body of writing about and from within the company’s fulfillment centers.” (A. Press, 36)

pointer  “Stifling your right to repair,” by Michael Hiltzik (Los Angeles Times, 18 November 2018, pp. C1 and C6), retitled “How Apple and Other Manufacturers Attack your Right to Repair their Products” for online posting

The LA Times business columnist reports that Amazon is again terminating its contract with select e-retailers. On 1/4/2019, Amazon — which controls 50% of the dollars spent online — “will close off access to its website for unauthorized Apple resellers.” “The new restrictions coincided with a deal announced Nov. 9 [2018] by Amazon and Apple making new iPads, iPhones and Apple Watches available on Amazon for the first time (the online merchant previously sold Apple computers only).” (M. Hiltzik, C1)
   Hiltzik argues that the new alliance between Apple and Amazon further shifts the balance of power between manufacturer and consumer by exerting further control over who can sell Apple’s used products. It’s all part of an alarming trend whereby “digital technology has shrunk our personal property rights” and dominant manufacturers such as Apple — well known for its “hostility to third-party repairs of its products” — “have lobbied against right-to-repair legislation in more than a dozen states.” (M. Hiltzik, C1 and C6)
   For further discussion at Roses of dissenting groups like iFixit.org, and the right-to-repair movement, click/tap here.
   Also recommended: Jim Hightower’s “Do-It-Yourselfers Unite! Corporate ‘Repair Prevention’ Schemes Steal the Right to Fix Our Own Belongings” (The Hightower Lowdown, vol. 18, no. 6, June 2017, pp. 1–4).

pointer  “Watch Out Goldman, Capitol Hill: Amazon Is Here for Your Talent,” by Olivia Carville and Lily Katz (posted to the Bloomberg News website, 13 November 2018)

“Amazon.com Inc.’s decision to split its second headquarters was a calculated move to poach the best and brightest from two of the biggest talent pools in America: New York City and Washington D.C.” (O. Carville and L. Katz, n. pag.)
   It is expected that “the federal government will have a tough time competing with a private-sector employer that can offer higher pay and better benefits for people with needed skills.” And Wall Street firms will also feel the pinch: “Amazon’s incentive package for coming to New York City is based on adding 25,000 jobs in the area over a decade with an average wage of more than $150,000. The median base salary for an MBA grad at an investment bank in the U.S. is $125,000.” Plus, “The two tech giants [Amazon and Google] can offer working conditions ‘that are much more pleasant than those on Wall Street,’ Pollak said. Competitive salaries aren’t tied to market fluctuations, and there’s a bigger focus on work-life balance and a more casual environment, where jeans and t-shirts are the norm, Pollak said.” (O. Carville and L. Katz, n. pag.)

pointer  Another PBS NewsHour discussion, “Has Amazon Selected Its Next Headquarters?,” first aired 8 November 2018

SUMMARY: “For over a year, cities across North America have competed to lure Amazon’s next headquarters, which the company said would bring up to 50,000 jobs to the chosen site. But as Paul Solman explains, new reports indicate the company may choose two smaller locations instead of one. John Yang speaks to the University of Toronto’s Richard Florida, who has been critical of the bid process, for analysis.”
   “[JOHN YANG:] Let’s talk about those incentives. Are the incentives that the cities are offering and the states are offering — and we heard Governor Cuomo in that tape piece say that it would be a great economic asset.  ¶  Is it worth getting the headquarters to give up those tax incentives, those other — other incentives?
   “[RICHARD FLORIDA (urban studies theorist and a professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Cities):] No, absolutely not.  ¶  The level of incentives that Governor Christie was talking about, $5 billion, I think — the state of Maryland, I believe, put $7 billion on the table — there’s no way that 25,000 or 50,000 jobs are worth that.  ¶  But here’s the thing. I actually think Amazon played this just right. Amazon did what it needed to do as a company. The real fault — and when I began to speak out on this — was the U.S. mayors and governors, people I know and I like, progressive mayors, Bill de Blasio, and many others who have talked about addressing inequality, dealing with housing unaffordability, upgrading low-wage jobs, having a higher minimum wage, these mayors know one another.  ¶  They go to conferences like the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Why not have an agreement between the 20, a nonaggression pact, I called it, and say, we’re not going to give Amazon incentives, we’re going to compete on the merits? We will make investments in education. We will make investments in public space. We will make investments in transit.  ¶  But why are we going to hand out hundreds of millions or billions to a trillion-dollar company and the world’s richest man? That — it was really the thing that galled me on this and many other people, was the way our progressive cities and mayors, our blue cities and mayors, really caved into this competition.” (n. pag.)

pointer  “Is Your Item the Real Deal? Either Way, Amazon Wins: Counterfeits frustrate sellers on retail giant’s site, but experts say the company has thrived from it,” by David Pierson (Los Angeles Times, 30 September 2018, pp. A1 and A16–A17), retitled “Extra Inventory. More Sales. Lower Prices. How Counterfeits Benefit Amazon” for online posting

This is a fascinating investigation into Amazon’s evolving business model & “How the law supports Amazon” (especially “the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which grants platforms safe harbor if their users infringe on copyrights”), resulting in “millions in lost sales and reputational harm” to brands and companies with little recourse; e.g., “Birkenstock left Amazon two years ago after it grew exasperated with counterfeits, but the move did little to stem the flow of both real and fake versions of the company’s footwear on the platform.” (D. Pierson, A16)
   Of note, the growing counterfeit problem plagues publishers as well as other businesses making & selling products in 2018: “Publishers such as McGraw Hill and Pearson say Amazon has been too slow to provide information about more than two dozen sellers of counterfeit textbooks included in a lawsuit filed last year against the merchants, court filings show.  ¶  ‘Given Amazon’s well-known ability to ship goods to anywhere in the country within a single day, Amazon has no excuse for not producing the requested documents and inventory by now,’ an attorney for the publishers wrote to the court in May.” (D. Pierson, A17)
   The comments section includes additional stories from disadvantaged producers & consumers burned by Amazon, such as the response posted by “Bonnie Ferron”: “Amazon stopped selling my book ‘Angelfire’ because someone else was selling it without my permission. Once I found out who it was and threatened the unauthorized seller with a lawsuit, they stopped and Amazon went back to selling my book.” (n. pag.)

pointer  “Amazon’s Bezos Launches $2 Billion Fund to Help the Homeless,” by Molly Schuetz (posted to the Bloomberg News website, 13 September 2018)

The Bezos Day One Fund will focus on sheltering and supporting young, low-income and homeless families. “The fund’s vision statement comes from nonprofit Mary’s Place in Seattle: no child sleeps outside.  ¶  ‘We’ll use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon,’ wrote Bezos. ‘Most important among those will be genuine, intense customer obsession. The child will be the customer.’” (M. Schuetz, n. pag.)
   “As with most investment decisions by the Amazon founder, this one was likely grounded in data and science. Research shows 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of 5, yet most charitable gifts pegged for education target older children, according to [Avo Makdessian, director of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Center for Early Learning].” (M. Schuetz, n. pag.)
   There is related discussion of the debate over the value of social services (philanthropy) provided by government (and funded by taxes) versus individual plutocrats like Jeff Bezos (whose personal wealth is publicly-enabled through tax cuts & tax breaks) here.

pointer  Op-ed, “Tax Bezos. Help Workers. But Not Like This,” by Catherine Rampell (posted to The Washington Post website on 6 September 2018)

Applauds the intent of raising the living standards of low-wage Americans, but argues that “the sloppily designed” Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act — a “corporate welfare tax” on firms with at least 500 employees, sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) — is “virtually guaranteed to hurt the very low-income working families its sponsors want to help.” (n. pag.)

pointer  “Why Amazon’s Push into Prescription Drugs Isn’t a Guaranteed Success: Amazon has transformed the way Americans buy products as different as books and diapers, but with drugs, it will need to work with powerful entrenched players,” by Katie Thomas and Claire Ballentine (posted to the New York Times website, 2 July 2018)

“When Amazon announced last week that it was buying the online pharmacy PillPack, it sent stocks of drugstore companies like Walgreens and Rite Aid tumbling, as investors worried that the retail behemoth would soon upend the pharmacy market.  ¶  But even though Amazon has transformed the way Americans buy products as different as books and diapers, it may not have such an easy time with prescription drugs. That’s because to succeed, it will have to do business with powerful entrenched companies who are not necessarily wishing Amazon well.” (n. pag.)
   “Nevertheless, customers have long complained that the mail-order pharmacies run by companies like Express Scripts and CVS are cumbersome and confusing — perhaps one reason, even in an era of online shopping, that 90 percent of prescriptions are filled at a retail pharmacy counter, according to the data research firm IQVIA.  ¶  Peter Blicher, 70, of Vacaville, Calif., said he has used several different mail-order pharmacies over the years. ‘It’s very difficult to do business with them, takes multiple interaction, the customer service is very poor,’ he said. If Amazon were to begin selling prescription drugs, he said, he would sign up. ‘I haven’t found another e-commerce website that can compare,’ he said.” (n. pag.)


pointer  more re. SCOTUS’s ruling on the Internet sales tax in the PBS NewsHour discussion, “Why Justice Kennedy’s Final Supreme Court Term Is Consequential,” first aired 29 June 2018

As noted by Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal: “Well, there was one other huge case that has a lot of ramifications for the economy, for the e-commerce market.  ¶  And that was whether states would be allowed to require online retailers to collect sales taxes. And the court had an earlier precedent — in fact, two of them — in which it said, no, you can’t, unless that online or out-of-state retailer has a physical presence within the state’s borders.  ¶  Well, the court decided that we’re in the e-commerce age, and that physical presence test just cannot apply anymore. It’s out of date. It was initially used because we had catalog sales. So, the court overruled, basically, two precedents that had the physical presence test.  ¶  And that also created a strong dissent. And, actually, the dissent this time was led by Chief Justice Roberts. It was one of those strange alliances. He aligned with some of the more liberal members of the court, saying that this was really something Congress ought to deal with because it has such huge ramifications for the economy.  ¶  For the states, it’s possibly a billion-dollar windfall.” (n. pag.)

pointer  “Amazon to Buy Online Pharmacy PillPack, Jumping into the Drug Business,” by Claire Ballentine and Katie Thomas (posted to the New York Times website, 28 June 2018)

Re. Amazon’s purchase of the online pharmacy, PillPack: “Amazon has been hinting at its interest in selling drugs, but it faced the problem of securing pharmacy licenses in each state. PillPack will help overcome that hurdle, since the start-up is licensed to ship drugs in 50 states — clearing the way for the e-commerce giant to quickly become a major player in the business.” (n. pag.)

pointer  “Supreme Court Rules that Internet Businesses Must Collect All State and Local Sales Taxes,” David G. Savage (posted to the Los Angeles Times website, 21 June 2018)

pointer  “When More Jobs Is a Bad Thing,” retitled “Mountain View’s Proposed ‘Google Tax’ Reminds Us that Big Employers Bring Not Just Jobs, but Problems,” for online posting, by Michael Hiltzik (Los Angeles Times, 13 May 2018, pp. C1 and C6)

Hiltzik reports here that “superstar cities” advocate new taxes to “address the inescapable costs of runaway growth. These include ‘gentrification, mounting inequality and acute housing unaffordability,’ he [urbanist Richard Florida] says. ‘If we had a functioning federal government, it would help out with the social safety net. But mayors and city councils recognize that the federal government has gotten out of the business of helping. So they point the finger at big companies, and particularly big tech companies, because they’re the biggest companies in the world and the most highly valued.’” (M. Hiltzik, C6)
   In Seattle, “the City Council is debating whether to impose an employment head tax to address homelessness and transportation problems. The City Council could vote as soon as Monday on a plan to tax employers with at least $20 million in annual sales within the city. The tax would amount to 26 cents per employee hour, up to $500 per worker per year, with the goal of raising up to $75 million.  ¶  Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on Thursday countered with her own plan about half the size, capping the tax at $250 per worker and raising $40 million a year, but it was rejected Friday by a City Council committee. A majority of the council favors the original proposal, though not enough to overcome a mayoral veto.  ¶  About 585 businesses would be subject to the tax, the city estimates. But its prime target is Amazon, which with about 40,000 local workers is the largest private employer within the city limits.” (M. Hiltzik, C6)
   And Amazon is pushing back: “Amazon responded earlier this month with an announcement that it was putting a major skyscraper project in the city on hold and reconsidering plans to expand into a second building. The premises were to accommodate up to 8,000 more Amazon employees.” “Andrew Jassy, a top Amazon executive, called the tax proposal ‘super dangerous for cities to implement.... What company is going to want to start — or move to or grow in — a city that penalizes them for hiring full-time employees?’ Jassy said on CNBC.” (M. Hiltzik, C6)
   “Whether a head tax is the best option to raise money has been questioned in Seattle and elsewhere, in part because it comes out of total business revenue rather than as a share of profits. That makes it particularly burdensome during recessions. Chicago, for example, phased out its employee head tax in 2011, during a protracted economic slump. The levy had been in existence since 1973.  ¶  Still, interest in tying municipal revenues to employers’ impact on infrastructure is rising, if only out of a sense that they haven’t been paying their fair share....” (M. Hiltzik, C6)

pointer  “Amazon Workers’ Median Pay in 2017: $28,446,” by Matt Day (posted to the Seattle Times website, 18 April 2018)

“Most of Amazon’s employees are blue-collar workers whose starting pay is $11 to $16 per hour.” (n. pag.)

UPDATE   “Amazon Ups Hourly Wage to $15, Will Advocate for Higher Pay,” by Joseph Pisani and Michelle Chapman of the Associated Press (posted to the PBS NewsHour website, 2 October 2018).
   “Amazon said Tuesday that the wage hike will benefit more than 350,000 workers, which includes full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal positions. Employees at Whole Foods, the grocery chain Amazon now owns, will get the same pay hike. Amazon’s hourly operations and customer service employees, some who already make $15 per hour, will also see a wage increase, the Seattle company said.  ¶   Amazon has faced criticism from labor rights groups and others over pay and working conditions at its warehouses. One of its harshest critics is U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. His Twitter account, which has nearly 9 million followers, frequently points out the disparity between Amazon’s median employee pay and Bezos’ vast fortune.  ¶  Sanders congratulated Bezos Tuesday for ‘doing exactly the right thing.’” (n. pag.)
   “Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, said Tuesday that while Amazon’s wage hike is a politically savvy move, it’s also a change made out of economic necessity. With a healthy U.S. economy, Americans looking for work have an increasing number of job options, so Amazon has to find ways to entice people to join its company.” (n. pag.)

pointer  “Amazon Takes Fresh Stab at $16 Billion Housekeeping Industry,” by Spencer Soper and Josh Eidelson (posted to the Bloomberg News website, 28 March 2018)

“Amazon’s experiment signals it’s concerned that saving money by using independent contractors can compromise the customer experience and make it just another online matchmaker. Amazon had lofty expectations when it launched its Amazon Home Services marketplace in 2015, saying the hundreds of services offered combined to represent a $600 billion market. But growth has been sluggish, prompting Amazon to revisit the plan.” (S. Soper and J. Eidelson, n. pag.)
   “The contractor model can reduce expenses by as much as 30 percent by avoiding overtime costs, payroll taxes and workers compensation associated with hiring workers directly. It also prevents those workers from forming unions. Amazon uses the independent contractor model through its Amazon Flex app, which lets contract drivers deliver packages in their own vehicles.  ¶  But doing so reduces a company’s control over how the work is performed, giving customers inconsistent results.” (S. Soper and J. Eidelson, n. pag.)

pointer  “The Empire of Everything: Amazon is a radically new kind of monopoly that aims to do far more than dominate the market — it aims to become the market,” by Stacy Mitchell (The Nation, 12 March 2018, vol. 306, no. 7, pp. 22–27 and 33)

pointer  “It’s time to play Milk the Taxpayer!: Amazon re-writes the rules of an old corporate con game,” by Jim Hightower (The Hightower Lowdown, vol. 19, no. 12, December 2017, pp. 1–4)

Hightower takes on corporate welfare deals — “At a cost to taxpayers of at least $70 billion a year, practically every state, county, and city now flagrantly pimps its public resources to any corporation seeking economic development thrills.” (1) — culminating in “The Great ScAmazon of 2017”: “In September [2017], the $136-billion-a-year, multi-tentacled monopolist [aka “the voracious, e-commerce behemoth, Amazon.com”] sparked a prairie fire of excitement among state and local economic development officials when it coyly announced its intention to build a second corporate headquarters in Someplace, North America....  ¶  CEO Jeff Bezos baited his location-subsidy trap with red meat, announcing that Amazon ‘expect[ed] to invest over $5 billion in construction and grow this second headquarters to include as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs.’” (1–2) This ploy “instantly pitted taxpayers across Mexico, Canada, and the US against each other in a no-limit bidding war.” (J. Hightower, 2)
   As Hightower points out, “This is hardly Amazon’s first free ride on the taxpayer’s back. As The Lowdown reported in our August and September 2014 issues, Bezos’ ‘business genius’ includes a fine-tuned talent for tax dodging. When he started the company in 1994, Bezos invented and exploited the infamous ‘Amazon Loophole’ to avoid collecting local and state sales taxes. This strategy provided a huge, undeserved advantage over brick-and-mortar stores. In 2014 alone, it cost cities and states an estimated $625 million in sales tax and $420 million in lost property taxes. At taxpayers’ expense, Amazon’s low overhead and prices drove thousands of local shops and even entire chains out of business.  ¶  This free ride couldn’t last, however, for states, cities, and their on-the-ground, tax-paying retailers realized they were being robbed by this internet interloper. So, starting in 2012, state after state began outlawing the dodge. No problem, though. Bezos shifted to a different free ride: Instead of avoiding tax payments to governments, he would get payments from governments. In March 2012, Bezos set up a war room of experts dedicated solely to the political art of mining taxpayers’ money.” (J. Hightower, 2–3)

pointer  “Cities Dream of Wooing Amazon, but Is It Worth It?,” a PBS NewsHour report by Paul Solman (part of his “Making Sen$e” series, first aired 30 November 2017)

SUMMARY: “The pitches have been quirky, some might even say desperate. City officials across North America are trying to get Amazon’s attention in hopes that the fourth-largest company in the U.S. will build its next big tech hub in their community. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports on what they stand to gain — and pay — for the chance.”

pointer  “Cities, Don’t Sell Out to Amazon,” retitled “Memo to Civic Leaders: Don’t Sell Out Your Cities for Amazon’s New Headquarters” for online posting, by Michael Hiltzik (Los Angeles Times, 17 September 2017, pp. C1 and C9)

Business columnist Michael Hiltzik is critical of the corporate welfare deal (“tax credits/exemptions, relocation grants, workforce grants, utility incentives/grants, permitting, and fee reductions,” including “special incentive legislation”) Amazon seeks with its recent 8-page RFP “asking localities for presentations explaining why they’re the right place for what it calls HQ2” — a $5-billion, 8-million sq. ft., second corporate headquarters complex, to be located somewhere in North America.
   Hiltzik opposes any more public handouts for Amazon, which promises to bring 50,000 jobs at more than $100,000 each to the community where its big new corporate headquarters is sited, resulting in “a frenzy of civic preening. Mayors and regional pooh-bahs from coast to coast have announced their great interest in bringing the immense company to their burgs, as have real estate firms such as Irvine Co.” (M. Hiltzik, C1)
   “In its headquarters competition,” Amazon is “employing the same technique it has employed in siting its dozens of distribution facilities and data centers — playing states and localities against each other for maximum public handouts. This technique has garnered more than $1.1 billion for Amazon, by the reckoning of subsidy-tracker Good Jobs First. Bidding for HQ2 could set a record.  ¶  That would be exactly the wrong outcome, from the standpoint of public welfare. Rather than be offered bribes to move its headquarters into a community, Amazon should be made to pay for the privilege.” (M. Hiltzik, C9)
   In reality, “It’s a fair bet that political leaders will respond with lavish tax incentives and other public grants to win the prize.” Amazon’s “RFP requires communities to submit their responses by Oct. 19 [2017], with construction to start in 2019.” (M. Hiltzik, C9)

pointer  “Can Online Shopping Absorb Traditional Retail Workers?,” a PBS NewsHour report by Paul Solman (part of his “Making Sen$e” series, first aired 17 August 2017)

SUMMARY: “The growth of e-commerce continues to wreak havoc on traditional retail and its workforce, with 5,300 store closings announced in the first half of 2017 and 64,000 job cuts expected. What will become of the 16 million Americans who work in the retail industry as current trends toward online shopping continue? Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.” (n. pag.)
   “MICHAEL MANDEL [chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute]: Since 2007, we have seen about 400,000 jobs created in the e-commerce sector.... We have had a small decline in brick-and-mortar retail. We have had a large increase in e-commerce jobs. A lot of them are jobs in fulfillment centers.... On average, pay in fulfillment centers is about 30 percent higher than pay in brick-and-mortar retail in the same area. Not only that. Retail jobs tend to be part-time, maybe not paying benefits.  ¶  The fulfillment centers have a lot of full-time jobs, have the benefits. They seem to be better jobs, as far as I can figure out.... The rise of the fulfillment center jobs is having the effect of reducing inequality, because what you’re doing is you’re talking about raising the wages for people with a high school education by 30 percent. That’s significant.” (n. pag.)

pointer  “San Diego Seeks Tax Reform Tied to Online Purchases,” retitled “Online Sales Surge Prompts San Diego to Lobby for Reform of Tax Allocations” for online posting, by David Garrick (San Diego Union-Tribune, 5 February 2017, pp. B1 and B7)

Claiming that the current system in California for distributing sales tax revenue generated by online purchases is “antiquated and unfair,” San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate “sent Gov. Jerry Brown a letter last week urging him to have the state Board of Equalization conduct a pilot study in San Diego to track all online sales to the address of the buyer so sales tax can be doled out appropriately.  ¶  Cate also asked the governor to consider eliminating the ‘county pool’ system.” (Garrick, B7)
   Michael Coleman, a policy advisor for the League of California Cities and California Society of Municipal Finance Officers, “said such a change could get stymied by politics, because some cities would lose millions in revenue.... A bill on a similar topic introduced last year in the Assembly died shortly after the Board of Equalization released a report analyzing which cities would gain and lose.” (Garrick, B7)
   “A spokeswoman for the Board of Equalization, which could eliminate county pools without state legislation mandating such a move, said a change is unlikely based on administrative hurdles and an ongoing update of the board’s technology.  ¶  Cate said he’s not convinced it would be hard to make the change. He said the administrative hurdles would be ‘minimal at best’ in his letter to the governor.” (Garrick, B7)

pointer  “Super-Drones and Blimp Warehouses: Amazon’s Sci-Fi Dreams for Drone Delivery,” by The Seattle Times (posted to the Seattle Times website on 29 December 2016)

With 3 illustrations. “In a patent filing dated Thursday, the e-commerce giant says it wants to build a super-drone, made up of smaller, uniform drones stuck together in various configurations.”
   “Drones are important to Amazon because their widespread use would allow the company to bring down its last-mile delivery costs from a few dollars to a few cents for each package.”

pointer  “High cost of free shipping: Amazon drivers say delivery demands push them to the limit,” retitled “Amazon Drivers Say They Are Pushed to the Limit as Holiday Deliveries Reach a Frenzy” for online posting, by Natalie Kitroeff (Los Angeles Times, 18 December 2016, pp. C1 and C9)

“In an echo of complaints by Uber drivers and other contract workers, delivery drivers in interviews with The Times and in court documents say Amazon is working them past a reasonable point, and often avoids paying them overtime or giving legally required meal breaks.” (N. Kitroeff, C1)
   “Drivers in Arizona settled in October with Amazon, which did not admit fault. Cases against the company in California, Illinois and Washington are still being adjudicated.” (N. Kitroeff, C1 and C9)

pointer  “Rock ’em stock ’em: The number of warehouses in the state is rising, spurred by online shopping, but more of the work is going to robots,” retitled “Warehouses Promised Lots of Jobs, but Robot Workforce Slows Hiring” for online posting, by Natalie Kitroeff (Los Angeles Times, 4 December 2016, pp. C1 and C8)

pointer  “Amazon’s Already Large Distribution Empire Keeps Expanding,” by The Associated Press (posted to the New York Times website on 28 July 2016)

“On Thursday, Amazon reported second quarter net income of $857 million, or $1.78 per share, substantially beating analyst expectations of $1.11 per share. Revenue rose 31 percent to $30.4 billion, also beating analyst expectations of $29.55 billion.” (n. pag.)
   “[D]istribution spending remains a priority. Amazon’s parcel volume was an estimated 1 billion packages in 2015 — the same number that FedEx delivered three years earlier for hundreds of thousands of customers, according to Satish Jindel, president of shipping consultant ShipMatrix. With volume growing yearly in the high teens or 20-plus percent, Amazon ‘cannot rely upon third parties entirely to handle that large volume,’ he said.” (n. pag.)

pointer  “Exclusive: Amazon Expanding Deliveries by Its ‘On-Demand’ Drivers,” by Mari Saito for Reuters (posted to the Reuters website on 18 February 2016)

“Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) is quietly inviting drivers for its new ‘on-demand’ delivery service to handle its standard packages, as the online retailer known for low prices and razor-thin profit margins looks to speed up delivery times and tamp down its growing multi-billion dollar logistics bill.  ¶  The move, which has not been announced publicly, is the latest sign that the world’s biggest e-commerce company wants to control more of its own deliveries. Media reports have said the company plans to lease its own fleet of jets, and CEO Jeff Bezos eventually wants to use drones to get packages to customers.” (M. Saito, n. pag.)

pointer  “E-Commerce: Convenience Built on a Mountain of Cardboard,” by Matt Richtel (posted to The New York Times website on 16 February 2016)

SUMMARY: “Over all, the $350 billion e-commerce industry has doubled in the last five years, with Amazon setting the pace. Its Prime membership service has grown to more than 50 million subscribers, by one estimate. (And its new faster service, Prime Now, can ‘get customers pretty much anything in minutes,’ its website says).” (M. Richtel, n. pag.)
   “The environmental cost can include the additional cardboard — 35.4 million tons of containerboard were produced in 2014 in the United States, with e-commerce companies among the fastest-growing users — and the emissions from increasingly personalized freight services.” (M. Richtel, n. pag.)
   “There are possible trade-offs, for example. As people shop more online, they might use their cars less. And delivery services have immense incentive to find the most efficient routes, keeping their fuel costs and emissions down. For its part, Amazon said that delivering to consumers straight from huge warehouses cuts down the need to distribute to thousands of stores.  ¶  So far, though, shoppers appear to be ordering online while still driving to brick-and-mortar stores at least as much as in the past, according to Dr. Sperling and other academics. One recent study explored the environmental effect of Internet shopping in Newark, Del., and found that a rise in e-commerce in recent years by local residents corresponded to more trucks on the road and an increase in greenhouse emissions.” (M. Richtel, n. pag.)
   “Amazon is aware of the cardboard issue. Since 2009, it has received 33 million comments, ratings and photographs about its packaging as part of its ‘packaging feedback program.’ Amazon said it used that feedback to make sure that cardboard box size was consistent with the size of the product. It also works with manufacturers to send some products without additional cardboard packaging, said Craig Berman, a company spokesman.  ¶  Though recycling can make consumers think they are helping the environment, the process has its own costs, including the emissions from shipping it to recycling centers, which use a lot of energy and water. Don Fullerton, a professor of finance and an expert in economics and the environment at the University of Illinois, said one possible solution would be to make the retailers responsible for taking back the boxes. That would create incentives for them to come up with solutions for less packaging.” (M. Richtel, n. pag.)

pointer  “Congress Gives Final OK to Banning Local Internet Taxes,” by Alan Fram of the Associated Press (posted to The Boston Globe website on 12 February 2016)

SUMMARY: “Until now, states that imposed Internet access taxes have been allowed to continue. Under the approved bill, those states would have to phase out their taxes by the summer of 2020.  ¶  Seven states — Hawaii, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin — have been collecting a combined $563 million yearly from Internet access taxes, according to information gathered by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.” (A. Fram, n. pag.)
   “For years, the drive in Congress to permanently bar taxes on Internet service has languished alongside another effort to empower states to require online retailers to collect state and local sales taxes for online purchases. Supporters of enhancing the collection of online sales taxes say without that, brick-and-mortar stores face a competitive disadvantage.  ¶  In hopes of gaining leverage, senators backing the collection of online state sales taxes have long linked the two efforts.” (A. Fram, n. pag.)

pointer  “Congress a Step Away from Permanently Barring State, Local Governments from Taxing Internet,” by Alan Fram of the Associated Press (posted to the US News & World Report website on 11 February 2016)

pointer  “Amazon Eyes New Chapter with Local Bookstore: Venture in San Diego aimed at retail world foreign to online giant” retitled “Amazon Hiring for Bookstore in San Diego: E-commerce Giant Eyes Expansion of Brick-and-Mortar Business” for online posting, by Jennifer Van Grove and Lori Weisberg (San Diego Union-Tribune, 7 February 2016, pp. A1 and A9)

pointer  “Shipping Rivalry in S.D. Is in High Gear: Amazon tries to best Google with faster delivery service” retitled “Amazon, Google Step Up Shipping Rivalry in San Diego” for online posting, by Jennifer Van Grove (San Diego Union-Tribune, 20 November 2015, pp. C1 and C4)

pointer  “Amazon Challenges Etsy with Strictly Handmade Marketplace,” by Hiroko Tabuchi (posted to the New York Times website on 8 October 2015)

pointer  “Does Amazon Story Necessitate Response from Customers?” retitled “Boycott Amazon? It’s Not an Easy Choice” for online posting, by David Lazarus, business columnist for the Los Angeles Times (rpt. in the San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 August 2015, p. C4)

pointer  “Praise for the printed page: Will Amazon leave French bookstores in peril?,” a PBS NewsHour Weekend signature segment, first aired 21 February 2015

SUMMARY: “In France, even though the price of books was fixed years ago to prevent price differentiation, some worry the country’s thousands of bookstores may now be in jeopardy as more customers flock to online retailers, such as Amazon. The online giant has come under fire by French booksellers who believe the way Amazon sells books is threatening their business and even undermining French culture. NewsHour’s Megan Thompson reports.”

pointer  “Closing the book on the Amazon and Hachette feud,” a PBS NewsHour analysis of the issues, first aired 13 November 2014

SUMMARY: “The seven-month stand-off between Amazon and Hachette over the pricing and profits of ebooks has ended with a new agreement beginning in early 2015. Jeffrey Brown speaks with Jeffrey Trachtenberg of The Wall Street Journal about how the disagreement hurt both the retailer and authors, and whether the conflict could return.”

pointer  “Authors take aim at Amazon over fight with publisher Hachette,” a PBS NewsHour analysis of the issues, first aired 29 September 2014

SUMMARY: “Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, Ursula Le Guin and many other notable authors have joined a public fight against Amazon for wielding its commercial power against publisher Hachette in a dispute over the price of e-books. Jeffrey Brown discusses the writers’ concerns with novelist Roxana Robinson, president of the Author’s Guild.”

pointer  “Amazon’s ruthless practices are crushing Main Street — and threatening the vitality of our communities,” by Jim Hightower (The Hightower Lowdown, vol. 16, no. 9, September 2014, pp. 1–4)

This is Part 2 of Hightower’s 2-part newsletter feature on Amazon.com, Inc.: “The Amazon.com story, part 2: The tax-dodging predator.”

pointer  “Like Walmart, only with supercomputers and drones: At Amazon.com ‘cheap’ comes at a very hefty price,” by Jim Hightower (The Hightower Lowdown, vol. 16, no. 8, August 2014, pp. 1–4)

This is Part 1 of Hightower’s 2-part newsletter feature on Amazon.com, Inc.: “It’s time to pay attention to what Jeff Bezos and his online retail colussus are doing.”

pointer  “Amazon Unbound: When will the Justice Department take action?” by Steve Wasserman (The Nation, vol. 299, nos. 5 and 6, 4–11 August 2014)

N  O  T  E

   On 2 December 2013, SCOTUS declined to hear a case on whether online retailers must collect state sales tax.
   As reported by the PBS NewsHour: “The U.S. Supreme Court declined today to decide whether big online retailers have to collect state sales taxes. The justices turned away appeals from Amazon and Overstock.com after they lost a case in New York State. In the absence of a national ruling, more states may try to tax sales on the Internet.” (PBS NewsHour, News Wrap for 12/2/2013 program)

pointer  “Amazon Book Backlash Benefits Debut Author: Retailer-publisher dispute thrusts writer into spotlight,” by John Wilkens, retitled “‘California’ Author Grateful for Lucky Break: Edan Lepucki used talent, ‘Colbert Bump’ to hit best-seller list” for online posting (The San Diego Union-Tribune, 8 August 2014, pp. B1–B2)

pointer  “Amazon Starts $9.99-a-Month Service for Unlimited E-Books,” by Jing Cao of Bloomberg News (posted to the Bloomberg News website on 18 July 2014)

pointer  “Amazon CEO Unveils Smartphone to Take on Apple, Samsung,” by Adam Satariano of Bloomberg News (posted to the Bloomberg News website on 18 June 2014)

pointer  “At Book Expo, publishers and authors confront changing industry,” a PBS NewsHour report, first aired 6 June 2014

SUMMARY: “The online revolution has disrupted the traditional bookselling business over time. From the publishing industry’s annual trade show, Jeffrey Brown reports on how authors and publishers are adapting to new platforms, small startups are pushing their titles and independent bookstores have learned to survive.”
   From here you can link to Jeffrey Brown’s interview with bestselling author James Patterson (“Digital revolution threatens American literature, says best-selling author James Patterson”), who announced earlier this year that “he would donate $1 million of his own money to independent booksellers around the country, an effort to help them directly and to raise awareness for their struggle to stay afloat.”
   “... Patterson is very worried about the present and future of books in America, as the publishing world continues to grapple with the tectonic shifts brought about by the advent of ebooks and their major distributor, Amazon.”
   “... Patterson’s publisher, Little, Brown & Co., is owned by Hachette, which is currently undergoing tense contract negotiations with Amazon. As the negotiations drag on, some Hachette titles are being delayed, while upcoming titles have had their pre-order buttons removed.”

pointer  “University presses under fire: Incrementalists and Futurists battle over the mission of the university press,” by Scott Sherman (The Nation, 26 May 2014, vol. 298, no. 21, pp. 19–24)

pointer  “Hachette says Amazon is delaying delivery of some books,” by David Streitfeldmay (posted to The New York Times website, 8 May 2014)

“For at least a decade, Amazon has not been shy about throwing its weight around with publishers, demanding bigger discounts and more time to pay its bills. When a publisher balked, it would withdraw the house’s titles from its recommendation algorithms.”
   “Publishers say the bookseller, whose shares have tumbled 25 percent this year as investors itch for profits, is determined to squeeze as much margin out of its suppliers as possible.”

pointer  “Web media pioneers move on to the next frontier: Print,” by Matt Pearce (Los Angeles Times, 15 December 2013, pp. E1 and E13)

E-publishers have discovered that “there’s still a lot of money to be made in print while they’re searching for where money can be made online” (Pearce, E13).
   “[I]n some cases, the turn to print reflects a reaction to the very things that have made digital publishing so appealing: Where the Web is open-ended and interactive, print is closed and more authoritative, like a street that goes only one way. The Web is timelier, but paper lasts longer than browser tabs.” (Pearce, E13)

pointer  “U-T Econometer: Is There an Economic Benefit to Charging Local Sales Taxes on All Internet Transactions?” retitled “Should Shoppers Pay Internet Sales Tax?” for online posting (U-T San Diego [formerly San Diego Union-Tribune], 5 May 2013, p. C4)

A U-T San Diego running feature (in the Business section), wherein a panel of experts is polled each week on issues impacting the local economy, and the experts give brief explanations for their votes. This week’s panel’s answer: Yes = 6; No = 2.

pointer  “Congress Seeks to Eliminate Perk of Online Shopping by Requiring Sales Tax,” a PBS NewsHour analysis of the issues, first aired 29 April 2013

pointer  More on passage of California’s Proposition 39: “Prop. 39 OK Seen as Welcome News for Local Clean-Energy Businesses,” by Morgan Lee (U-T San Diego [formerly San Diego Union-Tribune], 9 November 2012; online edn. retitled “Election Results: What It Means for Energy in CA: Implications for Wind Farms, Electric Cars, Research”)

pointer  “Change to Business Tax Calculation Approved,” by California voters in 11/6/2012 election, as reported at the KPBS website, by Steven Herbert, City News Service (Wednesday morning, 7 November 2012)

Passage of Proposition 39 means that “Multistate businesses will be required to calculate their California income tax liability based on the percentage of their sales in the state.” As summarized in the California Voter Information Pamphlet:

Requires multistate businesses to pay income taxes based on percentage of their sales in California. Dedicates revenues for five years to clean/efficient energy projects. Fiscal Impact: Increased state revenues of $1 billion annually, with half of the revenues over the next five years spent on energy efficiency projects. Of the remaining revenues, a significant portion likely would be spent on schools.

More details about Prop. 39 (Elimination of multistate business tax break) — including the full text of the initiative, the California Attorney General’s official summary and analysis, plus data and graphs “tracking the money” spent in support and in opposition to the measure, with related news stories — are available at the website of the Los Angeles Times.

pointer  “Holiday Shopping Wars,” by Shan Li (Los Angeles Times, 28 October 2012)

pointer  “Walmart to Stop Selling Kindles,” by the Associated Press (U-T San Diego [formerly San Diego Union-Tribune], 21 September 2012)

pointer  “The Amazon Effect” — “Amazon got big fast, hastening the shift to digital publishing. But how big is too big?” — by Steve Wasserman (The Nation, vol. 294, no. 25, 18 June 2012)

pointer  “Germany, by the Book” — “Fixed-price laws curtail the power of chains and help to sustain a vibrant literary culture.” — by Michael Naumann (The Nation, vol. 294, no. 25, 18 June 2012)

pointer  “Search Gets Lost” — “Amazon now has customers doing the chores it used to do for them.” — by Anthony Grafton (The Nation, vol. 294, no. 25, 18 June 2012)

pointer  “Amazon Set to Keep Share of State Sales Tax,” by Marc Lifsher (Los Angeles Times, 20 May 2012)

pointer  “A Venerable Bookstore Fights Back: Marcus Books, a San Francisco Institution, Gains Attention as It Challenges Amazon,” by Lee Romney (Los Angeles Times, 1 January 2012)

pointer  “Info-Age Shoplifting,” an Al’s Emporium Column, by Al Lewis (reprinted on p. C5 of the U-T San Diego [formerly San Diego Union-Tribune], 18 December 2011)

pointer  “Editorial: Level the Retail Playing Field,” by The Editors (Los Angeles Times, 11 December 2011)

pointer  “California Leads Way in Putting Amazon in Its Place,” by Michael Hiltzik (Los Angeles Times, 23 October 2011)

pointer  “Amazon to Alter the Way It Does Business in California,” by Marc Lifsher and Andrea Chang (Los Angeles Times, 23 September 2011)

pointer  “Calif. Governor Signs Compromise on Internet Taxes,” by Marcus Wohlsen (U-T San Diego [formerly San Diego Union-Tribune], 23 September 2011)

pointer  “Amazon Tax Bill in CA Could Encourage Passage in More States,” Steve Chiotakis of Marketplace Morning Report interviews Kerry Rice (Marketplace public radio segment, 23 September 2011)

pointer  “How Amazon’s California Tax Romp Will Impact Us All,” by Robert W. Wood (Forbes, 12 September 2011)

pointer  “Editorial: The Amazon.com Compromise,” by The Editors (Los Angeles Times, 10 September 2011)

pointer  “Amazon Deal with Legislature a ‘Classic Compromise,’” by Marc Lifsher (Los Angeles Times, 10 September 2011)

pointer  “Calif[ornia] Lawmakers Approve Amazon Tax Compromise,” by Adam Weintraub (U-T San Diego [formerly San Diego Union-Tribune], 9 September 2011)

pointer  “California Senate OKs Web Sales Tax Compromise,” by Adam Weintraub (U-T San Diego [formerly San Diego Union-Tribune], 9 September 2011)

pointer  “Amazon Cuts Deal on California Sales Taxes,” by Anthony York and Marc Lifsher (Los Angeles Times, 8 September 2011)

pointer  “Amazon Sales Tax Deal Averts Ballot Fight,” by Marc Lifsher and Andrea Chang (Los Angeles Times, 8 September 2011)

pointer  “Lawmakers Seek Stronger Internet Sales Tax Law,” by Adam Weintraub (U-T San Diego [formerly San Diego Union-Tribune], 6 September 2011)

pointer  “Amazon’s Jobs Power Play,” by Jennifer Collins (Marketplace public radio segment, 1 September 2011)

pointer  “California Advocacy Groups Urge Boycott of Amazon,” by Marc Lifsher (Los Angeles Times, 16 August 2011)

pointer  “Amazon Takes the Low Road,” by Michael Hiltzik (Los Angeles Times, 17 July 2011)

pointer  “Amazon Sales Tax Battle Centers on Jobs,” by Andrea Chang and Marc Lifsher (Los Angeles Times, 12 July 2011)

pointer  “Amazon Aims to Have Voters Decide on Sales-Tax Law,” by Andrea Chang and Marc Lifsher (Los Angeles Times, 12 July 2011)

pointer  “Amazon Takes Its Tax Battle to the Ballot,” by Jennifer Collins (Marketplace public radio segment, 12 July 2011)

pointer  “Amazon Wants Voters to Decide on Tax Collection,” by Rachel Metz (U-T San Diego [formerly San Diego Union-Tribune], 11 July 2011)

pointer  “Amazon, California Play Waiting Game in Sales Tax Fight,” by Andrea Chang and Marc Lifsher (Los Angeles Times, 2 July 2011)

pointer  “UPDATE 2-Amazon Won’t Collect California Taxes on Friday,” by Reuters (Los Angeles Times, 30 June 2011)

pointer  “Amazon Protests California Web-Sales Tax Plan,” by Reuters (Los Angeles Times, 30 June 2011)

pointer  “California Tells Online Retailers to Start Collecting Sales Taxes from Customers,” by Marc Lifsher (Los Angeles Times, 30 June 2011)

pointer  “Amazon Cuts Off California Affiliates [update],” by Rachel Metz (U-T San Diego [formerly San Diego Union-Tribune], 30 June 2011)

pointer  “Amazon Cuts Off California Affiliates,” by Penni Crabtree (U-T San Diego [formerly San Diego Union-Tribune], 29 June 2011)

pointer  Op-Ed Dialog on Taxing E-Commerce — CON position: “Taxing E-Commerce: Measure Would Drive away Innovation,” by Dan Squiller (U-T San Diego [formerly San Diego Union-Tribune], 15 August 2010

pointer  Op-Ed Dialog on Taxing E-Commerce — PRO position: “Taxing E-Commerce: Let’s Start with Obeying the Law,” by Denise Ducheny (U-T San Diego [formerly San Diego Union-Tribune], 15 August 2010)

pointer  “States Seek Sales Tax on Online Purchases: Web-Only Companies Balk at Attempt by Governments,” by Rachel Metz (U-T San Diego [formerly San Diego Union-Tribune], 13 January 2009)

Please let me know if I’ve missed a good analysis that you think should be added to the above list of links (the analysis should be freely available online, so that everyone, everywhere, has access).

Panel from "Roses", a mixed-media work by Tuck Contreras

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“eliminating private-sector waste” — Frank contends that “there’s actually considerably more waste in the private sector than in the public sector, and not just because the private sector is so much larger.” (Frank, The Darwin Economy 59) And even though the “search for ways to eliminate private waste is still in its infancy,” there is some good news: “private waste is actually much easier to eliminate than public waste. The positional consumption beast, it turns out, can be starved by relatively simple, unintrusive changes in incentives.” (Frank, The Darwin Economy 63) ::

“In earlier work” — “Robert H. Frank, Luxury Fever, New York: Free Press, 1999; and Robert H. Frank, Falling Behind. Other authors have also discussed tax remedies for positional externalities. See, for example, Michael Boskin and Eytan Sheshinski, ‘Optimal Redistributive Taxation When Individual Welfare Depends on Relative Income,’ Quarterly Journal of Economics 92(4), 1978: 589–601; Yew Kwang Ng, ‘Diamonds Are a Government’s Best Friend: Burden-Free Taxes on Goods Valued for Their Values,’ American Economic Review 77(1), 1987: 186–191; Norman Ireland, ‘On Limiting the Market for Status Signals,’ Journal of Public Economics 53, 1994: 91–110; and Richard Layard, Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, London: Penguin, 2005.” (Frank, The Darwin Economy 222–223n7) ::

“Implementing a progressive consumption tax would be straightforward.” — “For a detailed discussion, see Laurence Seidman, The USA Tax: A Progressive Consumption Tax, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997.” (Frank, The Darwin Economy 223n8) ::

“the difference between their income and their annual savings, less a standard deduction” — “Loan repayments would be added to the savings total, thereby reducing potential tax liability. New borrowing would be subtracted from savings, increasing the potential tax. For homeowners annual housing consumption would be counted as the implicit rental value of their houses.” (Frank, The Darwin Economy 223n9) ::