Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

Tag: Bezos

Peckergate: Bezos, Pecker and Bezos’ Pecker

Amazon/Washington Post chief Jeff Bezos and National Enquirer (AMI)  boss David Pecker have squared off in public over Pecker’s threatened publication of purloined pictures of Bezos’ penis. AMI threatened to publish photos Bezos sent to Lauren Sanchez, his paramour, unless Bezos made a public statement that AMI’s earlier airing of Bezos’ extramarital affair wasn’t politically motivated.  Post Publisher Bezos is a frequent political target of Donald Trump, and Pecker and the future ex-president, who has stumped for tougher libel laws, are old chums.  Bezos believes that the Enquirer’s attack was politically motivated, and he went public with AMI’s threat, calling it blackmail and extortion, rather than knuckling under. 

Legal pundits took promptly to the airwaves.  Alan Dershowitz, one-time hero of the Left, presented the first section of his future appellate brief on the subject of libel and extortion. The constitutional law scholar argued that AMI is protected by the first amendment, which, when it comes to extortion, needs “some breathing space.” Dershowitz pulled the term from the existing body of first amendment jurisprudence, in which it has been used to limit government’s ability to restrict speech or to punish the speaker. 

In  the 1963 landmark case of NY Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court ruled that a media defendant could not be held liable for libel unless its publication was motivated by actual malice. In his opinion, Justice William Brennan employed the breathing space parlance to justify enhanced press protection.  

Breathing space has become a fixture in first amendment cases.  In 2012, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a federal law making it criminal to lie about earning a military honor, referencing  the necessary breathing space.  Even a lie about valor deserves a little oxygen. 

Dershowitz repeated the phrase several times, suggesting that he was trying to sell the concept’s  application.  He argued that, under the principle of breathing space, the first amendment protects coercive extortion if carried out by a member the media. 

Blackmail and extortion are types of coercive speech; threats to cause a listener to do something he or she might not otherwise do. Blackmail is the demand for payment in exchange for not disclosing something concerning the listener.  Such as “Give us $140 billion or we’ll publish a picture of your pecker.” That’s illegal, no question.  But “ Make an announcement that our reporting about your affair wasn’t politically motivated or we ’ll publish a picture of your pecker.” Not illegal, according to Dershowitz and AMI. 

The latter is speech designed to influence a listener’s decision. If the listener has a legitimate choice in response, the threat can be considered persuasive speech. “Endorse the Wall to prevent the country from being overrun by a caravan of Honduran refugees or we will report that you want the country to be overrun by a caravan of Honduran tefugees,” is of the persuasive sort, arguably. “Endorse the Wall or we’ll publish a picture of your pecker?” Feh.  

In the former case, the threatened reaction is related to the subject of the demand. More to the point, the listener has a legitimate choice that flows from the subject. In the latter case, the response has no connection to the threat. The threatened action is meant to cause the listener personal humiliation and economic loss,

havng nothing to do with his political position on the Wall. 

Coercive speech doesn’t deserve breathing space.  In fact, it should be smothered in its sleep.  Free speech is intended to enable an open exchange of ideas, free of official repression.  The first amendment wasn’t intended to protect someone threatening personal harm to a listener.   that instance, it is the listener, also a member of the media,  whose first amendment rights need protection. 

Amazon’s Right on Target

In his effort to become the only merchant left in the world, Jeff Bezos is now planning to acquire Target. What a surprise.  Bezos not so quietly has assembled pieces that enlarge Amazon’s sales and distribution system.  Assembling is not the right word, though.  More like the Anaconda indigenous to the namesake river – I say, River – Amazon is swallowing companies whole.  If you think it’s an accident that in 1994 he named his startup after the world’s longest river, think again.  Bezos has created the biggest stream of commerce ever assembled, and he is not done. It will make the Silk Road look like a two-lane blacktop.

Investors might have been surprised when Amazon picked off Whole Foods in June. Afterwards, the acquisition made sense.  Whole Foods had assembled a blue-ribbon inventory of store locations; for which it was paying top rents and charging the top prices needed to pay said rent.  Amazon is perhaps the only company whose supply deals, distribution and marketing could create the efficiencies and volumes to make good on Whole Foods’ costs.

Just the other day, some friends were sounding the death knell for Target.  The Minnesota-based retail giant had effectively pulled down premium department stores on clothes and grocery chains with competitive food prices. But Target is in trouble now; has been for a couple of years. Target’s first big problem was that it outgrew its supply chain, hampering sales growth.  The shelves, once expelling goods at customers like projectiles , were merely groaning and bursting at the seams. 

After Target got back on its feet, it felt Amazon’s breath on its neck and Wal-Mart squeezing in from the side.  Target began to falter. Its e-commerce division, rebounding from the 2013 credit card breach, was being dwarfed by Amazon. Wal-Mart, a head to head competitor, is viewed as a cheaper alternative to Target, even if that is not the case across all product categories.  However, Wal-Mart pulled ahead decisively in its online business. In fact, Wal-Mart supposedly was clogging up Amazon’s rear view mirror.  

Once the limping Target became separated from the herd, it was time for Amazon to pounce.  In October Target was a rival; in November it was prey.  Target will be Amazon’s brick-and-mortar general retail arm to go with the Whole Foods grocery appendage.  Home Depot, anyone?  You can almost feel the stock accelerating and pulling away from Wal-Mart till they are out of sight.

So. Another Johnny Rocco moment. More, Bezos?  You want more? Will you ever have enough?  No, I don’t suppose he will.  However, this market consolidation doesn’t create jobs.  At best it’s job-neutral. At worst, there will be redundancies in the management system.  Prices?  Consolidation doesn’t help prices; efficiencies should. But if Amazon pulls down Wal-Mart too, it will have no effective competition.  Once there is no competition, there is no pressure on prices.

The net net of this deal is that jobs don’t increase on higher sales volume and the consumer dollar, shrinking through inflation predicted in several core sectors for 2018, won’t stretch as far with the new behemoth.  In the current environment, only media companies are vulnerable to antitrust claims by the government.  Amazon’s acquisition might not even pass muster as anti-competitive for purposes of the the antitrust law.  It sure feels like Amazon will be the General Store on Main Street in Everyplace, USA.

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