One of the current news topics that we’ve been following with a longer story arc is the impact that Amazon has had on inflation in the short-term, as well as the broader consequences on the future of the U.S. economy. First, let’s review some of the seminal news stories about this topic that have been published over the last year or so. At the end of last year, Bloomerg News was among the first to substantiate the notion that Amazon’s immense market power was putting so much pressure on other retailers to lower prices that this single point of influence was having a measurable impact on the economy’s overall rate of inflation. Mark Whitehouse points out, “Economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., for example, estimate that pressure from online retail may be subtracting about 0.1 percentage point from the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation.”
A few months later, The Atlantic had an interesting piece about Amazon/Whole Foods gearing up to offer two-hour food delivery service. Titled The Amazonification of Whole Foods, the article makes clear that the development is about more than just making grocery shopping more convenient. “Enriching Prime is arguably Amazon’s most important goal, given the lifetime value of a Prime subscriber. What’s more, as Amazon becomes the top-of-mind destination for not only books but also toiletries, medicine, and chicken breasts, it becomes the first-stop destination for all of its customers’ searches.”
We’ve also noticed a corresponding shift in the marketing industry and the dominant strategies for marketing in the retail space as well as other sectors of the economy. rDialogue has made Amazonification the cornerstone of their loyalty marketing philosophy, which boils down what has made Amazon so successful into three parts:
- Make customer-centricity an explicit and consistent business strategy.
- Use data aggressively to deliver relevance.
- Recognize that customer loyalty drivers are much more than just financial. They are experiential.
The marketing agency also noted that several companies have tried, but failed, to emulate Amazon’s approach. From retail to groceries to other consumer commodities, it’s unclear how broad this Amazonification of the economy might eventually become. It’s also unclear whether other companies will be able to capture customer loyalty in a way that competes with Amazon’s influence, even within their own industries and segments of the economy. What happens if Amazon’s dominance turns away all competitors? We noticed, for example, in planning to raise membership costs that Amazon Prime itself isn’t immune from inflationary pressures. And this brings us full circle to the question of inflation and what lies ahead when the process of Amazonification is complete. It’s a question for which nobody seems to have a satisfying answer.
John McCain died on August 25th, 2018. He was 81 years old. The senator was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, in July 2017 and, until recently, had been treating the cancer with radiation and chemotherapy. Even during the treatment, Senator McCain continued to travel, correspond with loved ones, and serve in his role as U.S. Senator, most notably to cast the decisive No vote to preserve the Affordable Care Act.
The final passing set off a wave of memorials and tributes, as well as a few people who pushed back, albeit mildly, against the idea of actual sainthood. From the somewhat mischievous youth to his war heroics and time as prisoner of war—and then coming back to serve his country as a congressman, senator, presidential candidate, and stateman—the importance of his vote and the significance of his stature only increased throughout his life and political career. Surveying some of the most well-respected writers and publications, one of the most striking qualities that stands out is the longevity, not just of the man but of the legacy itself.
From Robert D. McFadden, The New York Times, in demonstrating McCain’s heroic posture while serving as a prisoner of war:
Once he was visited by a group of North Vietnamese dignitaries. A prisoner, Jack Van Loan, said Mr. McCain shrieked at them. “Here’s a guy that’s all crippled up, all busted up, and he doesn’t know if he’s going to live to the next day, and he literally blew them out of there with a verbal assault,” Mr. Van Loan told Mr. Timberg. “You can’t imagine the example John set for the rest of the camp by doing that.”
From Philip Elliott, Time Magazine, in describing McCain’s dark sense of humor and one his favorite sayings, “It’s always darkest before it’s totally black.”
The accompanying glint in McCain’s eye captured the combination of fatalism, determination and comic relief that defined his distinctly American spirit. Few knew better than the former prisoner of war, veteran legislator and two-time presidential contender that life is cruel, the fates are fickle and the situation can always get worse. Best to call it like you see it, crack wise and forge ahead.
Early on Sunday, July 22nd, Iranian President Rouhani cautioned President Trump about pursuing hostile policies, saying “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.” President Trump responded with a tweet, reading [sic]: “To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!”
This exchange comes in the wake of a Trump administration campaign designed to discredit Iran’s leaders. Several sources told reporters at Reuters that Trump would pressure Iran’s leaders through tough sanctions and an information campaign meant to erode their support. A recent statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicates that this shift is already beginning to take place. In a speech earlier on Sunday evening, Pompeo likened the Iranian regime to the mafia, accusing the clerics that rules the country of enriching themselves and funding terrorism. He said, “To the regime, prosperity, security, and freedom for the Iranian people are acceptable casualties in the march to fulfill the Revolution.”
On Monday, a senior officer in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Commander General Gholam Hossein Gheibparvar, described Trump’s remarks as “psychological warfare.” Trump’s response to President Rouhani has been likened to the tone and approach taken with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un; prior to agreeing to a summit, President Trump taunted and threatened the leader on social media.
When asked if President Trump risked inciting a war with Iran with his tweet, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Monday morning, “if anybody is inciting anything, look no further than to Iran.” However, Sanders declined to say if Trump had consulted with his national security team before sending the Tweet.
A mass shooting in Toronto has left two dead and thirteen injured. A 9-year-old girl was left in critical condition, and at least thirteen people were struck by bullets Sunday night when a man fired shots at groups of people in the city’s Greektown neighborhood.
The gunman, identified only as a 29-year-old, opened fire on Danforth Avenue, shooting between 15 and 20 rounds during the spree. At least nine were hospitalized. The gunman was found dead in a nearby alley after exchanging gunfire with police, but it is unclear if he killed himself or died as a result of the exchange. Terrorism is not being ruled out as a motive. Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said the authorities were investigating every possible motive. Investigators in the city’s forensic, homicide, guns and gangs, and victim service units have remained on the scene in addition to the Toronto Police canine unit.
Authorities received a call shortly after 10PM on Sunday, July 22nd, about the incident in Toronto’s Greektown neighborhood. The area is a lively residential neighborhood with crowded restaurants and cafes. Witnesses reported hearing shots and described the suspect walking past restaurants, cafes, and patios on both sides of the street, firing into them. Mayor John Tory said the attack is “evidence of a gun problem” in Toronto, and that “Guns are too readily available to too many people.” A Toronto Councilor said the shooting was “not gang related.” He continued, saying, “It looks like someone who is very disturbed.”
All surviving victims are in serious and critical condition. A 10-year-old girl and an 18-year-old woman were pronounced dead on the scene, but their identities have yet to be released. Over the past weekend, Toronto police deployed dozens of additional officers to deal with a recent spike in gun violence in the city. This shooting comes a few months after the driver of a van plowed into pedestrians on a Toronto sidewalk, killing 10 people and injuring 14.
Nearly 300 White Helmet rescue workers have been trapped in Syria after an evacuation on Sunday, July 22nd. The Israeli-led evacuation brought hundreds of rescue workers and their family members to safety, but there are still 300 White Helmets left. These volunteers are calling on the UK, Canada, Jordan, and America to continue their efforts in evacuating the remaining members. The remaining White Helmets were unable to reach the evacuation point in southern Syria because of blocked roads—a result of fighting in the area between Syrian forces and ISIS affiliate Khalid ibn al-Walid. The fighting has intensified in recent days as Syria tries to eradicate remaining ISIS pockets in the southern part of the country.
The White Helmets rescue group operates primarily in opposition-held parts of Syria, acting as an informal emergency services provider in areas devastated by the war. Though there are 300 currently trapped, there remain more than 3,000 members within the country, most of whom are civilian volunteers. These groups travel to the scenes of air strikes and other bombardments to rescue individuals and families trapped in the rubble.
The Syrian government, backed by its ally, Russia, has seized control of much of southwest Syria—the area where an insurgency against President Assad first began in 2011. According to British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, the White Helmets have saved over 115,000 lives during the Syrian conflict. The United Nations estimates that more than 300,000 Syrians have been displaced since the government offensive began in June.
Transferred Syrians and White Helmets will remain in a restricted area in Jordan for the time being. However, the remaining White Helmets are still in extreme danger. They are considered “terrorists” by the regime, but Israel’s help with the evacuation could lead to a new charge: of being collaborators with Israel. There are no current plans to evacuate the remaining White Helmets and civil defense workers in the area.
The Israeli Air Force recently launched a wide-scale attack against Hamas military targets in Gaza on Friday, July 20th. This information comes from a statement issued by the Israeli military. The Israeli Defense Forces stated that the attack was in response to a shooting carried out against its soldiers earlier in the day. Palestinian protesters had gathered along the fence that separates Israel and Gaza, resulting in the death of four protestors by Israeli forces.
The fence between Israel and Gaza has seen rising tensions in recent months, frequently erupting into violence. Similarly, Israel has seen a dramatic increase in arson attacks from balloons and kites launched from Gaza. Israel has claimed that Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, is orchestrating the protests and violence. As a result, Israel has significantly tightened restrictions on the flow of goods to this part of the country.
Israeli army snipers and other troops have killed around 140 Palestinians since the wall protests began in March of 2018. Thousands of others have been injured. The protestors have stated their intent to continue until Israel halts its twelve-year siege of Gaza. Israel says that fires started by the protestors have destroyed large areas of farmland and crops.
Gaza has suffered greatly in recent years. Electricity is sparse, and access to water, medicine, and jobs continues to dwindle dangerously. Some experts believe that Israel’s decision to end their occupation of Gaza has a lot to do with ending rivalries between Palestinians political factions—specifically Haas and Fatah. Israel began its air, land, and sea blockade on Gaza in 2007 when Hamas took control of the territory.
This recent attack by Israeli forces comes in direct response to the killing of an Israeli guard by Palestinian sniper. The military said a “terrorist squad” fired at troops and that one soldier was severely injured and later died of his wounds. After this initial fire, Israel’s military said it struck 15 Hamas positions, including weapons warehouses, command and control centers, and training facilities.
According to several news outlets, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former attorney, recorded a conversation he had with the President two months before the 2016 presidential election. In this conversation, then men discussed the possibility of paying Karen McDougal, also known as Stormy Daniels. That recording is now in the hands of the FBI.
In this recording, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and Mr. Cohen discussed the possibility of purchasing the rights to McDougal’s story. Karen McDougal and Donald Trump had previously engaged in an extramarital affair, but she sold her story to the National Enquirer in exchange for $150,000. The recording allegedly includes President Trump’s considering of purchasing the story from the National Enquirer. Some analysts are speculating that this was a way for Donald Trump to pay the company back for what they paid McDougal—this suggests that then-candidate Trump may have been behind the initial sale.
The tape has yet to be released to the public, but news outlets across the ideological spectrum are beginning to speculate on its implications. Federal authorities are also trying to understand the role the National Enquirer played in the alleged coverup.
The recording obtained by federal authorities was less than two minutes long, and it cut off while the conversation was ongoing. President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed the existence of the recording to the Times, but downplayed its importance by commenting about its length and the lack of action that followed. The recordings were among the personal effects of Mr. Cohen seized in an April raid by federal agents. Other seized items included his computer, his phone, and several records.
On March 18th, 2018, incumbent Vladimir Putin won is reelection campaign as the President of Russia. He won with 77% of the popular vote, beating out Pavel Grudinin, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Ksenia Sobchak, Grigory Yavlinsky, and Boris Titov. Events, deaths, and arrests leading up to the election have provoked suspicion that this election was not entirely democratic. China was, reportedly, the first country to react to the election news, sending its congratulations to Putin. This message was followed by similar congratulatory phone calls from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Egypt, Cuba, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and—finally—the United States.
News sources report that both President Trump and select aids were “furious” after the leak of sensitive notes for briefing the president before a call with Vladimir Putin. The leak was designed to embarrass Trump for congratulating, rather than confronting, Putin—he went against the note’s recommendation. Public knowledge of this story means that someone leaked the president’s briefing papers, and offense which is, according to a White House official, “likely illegal.”
According to a fact-checking resource, former U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated Putin on his 2012 win. According to an official summary, “President Obama called Russian President-elect and Prime Minister Putin to congratulate hi on his recent victory in the Russian Presidential election.” International observers raised doubts about the legitimacy of Putin’s 2012 win; Obama’s State Department noted concerns about the conditions under which the campaign was conducted. Previously, in 2008, President George W. Bush called Dmitry Medvedev following his successful presidential bid.
Commentators are pushing back on the notion that Trump’s outreach is akin to that of his predecessors, noting Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. The countries are experiencing strained diplomatic relations, and the recent nerve gas attack in the United Kingdom (allegedly by Russian operatives) has put further pressure on the already weakened ties.
On the early morning of Wednesday, March 21st, Mark Anthony Conditt—the primary suspect in the wave of bombings terrorizing Austin, Texas—killed himself. Police at the scene described his death as occurring from an explosion inside Conditt’s car, mildly injuring at least one officer. This bomb was detonated just before dawn on the side of Interstate 35 in Round Rock, Texas, just north of Austin.
Police believe that Mark Anthony Conditt was responsible for five explosions, killing two people and injuring another five in and around Austin, Texas beginning on March 2nd. Austin police and the FBI tracked Conditt to a hotel parking lot in Round Rock; they found him inside his vehicle, but wanted to wait for tactical units to arrive before engaging the suspect. Conditt began to drive away, eventually stopping on the side of Interstate 35. As Austin SWAT officers approached, he detonated a bomb within the care, killing himself and knocking one officer backward.
Shortly after this explosion, a SWAT officer fired at the suspect, who died inside the vehicle. Currently, it is unclear whether the suspect died from explosion or gunfire; Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said that the suspect sustained “significant” injuries in the blast. Conditt was identified using receipts, internet searches, witness sketches, and surveillance video of an area FedEx store.
Though Conditt’s death may assuage the fears of many Austin residents, there is no information regarding how the suspect spent his last 24 hours. Police do not yet understand the suspect’s motivations for the bombings, though an investigation is still underway. Additional bombs may exist throughout the Austin metropolitan area, and it is advised that all residents remain on high-alert. If you see a suspicious package, please contact the authorities.