Last week's anti-union vote by the majority of workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama
was driven by factors both local and universal. But it indisputably demonstrated both the political might of an online behemoth that has profited handsomely during the pandemic, and the complexity of American industrial relations facing President Joe Biden, who hopes to remodel the economy to make working class life a little easier.
In Alabama itself, the result was always in doubt. Despite tales of draconian working conditions for some workers, an Amazon job can be a vital gig -- especially since Covid-19 destroyed millions of jobs and in a state already hollowed out by globalization. The company's recently adopted minimum wage of $15 an hour is double Alabama's minimum wage. Some workers surely feared that unionizing would prompt Amazon to up sticks.
Pro-union interventions by Biden and liberal icon Sen. Bernie Sanders
may not even have helped, as the state is a deeply conservative bastion for former President Donald Trump. And the Seattle-based mega-corporation mounted an aggressive campaign to beat back the effort, because unionization would have encouraged Amazon workers in other states to seek new concessions.
Last week's vote is only one wrinkle in the increasingly complex dance between Amazon and the US government, though. Bezos and Biden are on the same side on the push to raise the federal minimum wage. And the Amazon boss last week backed the President's call to hike the corporate tax rate to 28%. (A cynic might note, though, that a gargantuan firm like Amazon also stands to glean a competitive advantage from both plans, which could be more painful for smaller companies.)
This all comes in the context of growing calls for tougher anti-trust enforcement -- and even for the breakup of tech giants like Amazon, whose size and reach allows them to dictate markets for goods online and in real life. Bezos knows Amazon's fate
may be decided in Washington. It's no coincidence that he's renovating a mansion here. The company's futuristic new second headquarters is also under construction on the Virginia shore of the Potomac -- within sight of the Capitol dome.
'Just another example of the liberal preference for attacking norms and institutions'
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Friday released a statement blasting Democrats for looking into Supreme Court reform
: "Of course, this is just another example of the liberal preference for attacking norms and institutions, rather than working within them," he wrote. "When Democrats lose a floor vote, it's time to change Senate rules. When they lose a presidential election, it's time to abolish the Electoral College. And when activists' cases fall flat against the rule of law, it's time to ignore Justices Ginsburg and Breyer and pack the Supreme Court."
Biden's next liberal power grab?
It's actually more complicated than Republicans let on
in their criticism of a new 36-member commission tasked with studying America's Supreme Court. The commission established by the White House
may in fact be a classic bureaucratic feint to sidestep liberal demands to expand the Court.
The Supreme Court's current conservative majority could put brakes on the President's ambitious plans to overhaul the economy -- and even those of future leaders. With the nine Supreme Court Justices appointed for life, there's every sign that the reactionary, religious and aging Court will be out of step with an increasingly young, diverse and secular country in the coming decades.
Some Democrats want more justices appointed to even things out. They believe the Court's rightwing tilt is rooted in an abuse of power by Mitch McConnell, who as then-Senate Majority leader wouldn't confirm Barack Obama's third nominee to the Court in his final year — then hypocritically changed his mind to back Donald Trump's nominee Amy Coney Barrett on his way out of the Oval Office. But left-wingers haven't yet explained how a Senate split 50-50 will unite behind a proposal that would cause a political earthquake if enacted.
Biden has previously been skeptical about expanding the Supreme Court; an attempt to do so by President Franklin Roosevelt when justices kept blocking his New Deal reforms in the 1930s backfired badly. Though his commission will examine reforms like term limits for justices who currently have a job for life, expanding the current nine-person bench and changes to how the Court selects the cases it will hear, it isn't tasked with producing recommendations.
One of the Court's remaining liberals, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, warned that progressives should think "long and hard" about packing the Court, a move that could further politicize it and erode its legitimacy. His remarks will likely increase pressure from the left for the 82-year-old's retirement asap. Liberals traumatized by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the end of Trump's term fear that if Democrats lose the Senate next year, Biden will lose the chance to add another progressive Justice to the court.
'Unless and until the vast majority of people in the world are vaccinated, it's still going to be a problem for us'
The US has a "significant responsibility," to get the world vaccinated, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press. He also said the Biden administration was putting in place a framework to share vaccines -- but wouldn't put a timeline on it -- and that it plans to distribute doses both through the WHO-backed program Covax
and directly to some countries.
"Unless and until the vast majority of people in the world are vaccinated, it's still going to be a problem for us, because as long as the virus is replicating somewhere, it could be mutating and that it could be coming back to us but similarly, the world has a very strong interest in making sure that we're vaccinated because the same thing applies if the vaccine, if the virus is replicating here and mutating here that's going to be a problem for the rest of world," he said.