The US Government vs Apple

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The U.S. government has apparently decided Apple is the enemy.  Two separate events have led me to this conclusion.  Consider this the case of the US government vs Apple.

First is the antitrust case against Apple.  As the Wall Street Journal editorialized, “Apple Found Guilty of Competing.”  The details are straightforward. sets the prices it charges for books.  Apple simply charges a 30 percent markup over the publisher’s price.  Yet, somehow, it is Apple that is guilty of price-fixing.

The judge in this case, Denise Cote, stated before the case had even begun, that it was her “tentative view” that Apple was guilty of antitrust.  She then proceeded to allow lawyers from the Antitrust Division to present arguments that are well beyond the precedents established over the past century of antitrust law.

Judge Cote has appointed Michael Bromwich as an external monitor to review antitrust within Apple.  Mr. Bromwich has used this appointment to conduct an inquisition within Apple, demanding access to executives who could not possibly have known anything about the iBooks business.  The list includes lead product designer Jony Ivy and board member Al Gore.  And, for his efforts, Mr. Bromwich is being paid — better sit down — a paltry $1,100 per hour. And, having no background at all in antitrust, Mr. Bromwich has been forced to retain the firm Fried Frank at an hourly rate of $1,025. Apple is paying all these bills out of stockholder income.  In his first two weeks, the total billing was $138,432.40.  Nice work if you can get it.

While this case confirms my opinion that large parts of the federal government have become little more than shakedown and extortion operations (viz., the SEC is now the Shakedown and Extortion Commission), there is one other fact that has become interesting.  This involves technology.

I use quite a bit of government data.  Long-time readers of this blog will recognize work on the labor force participation rate.  That research used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), part of the U.S. Department of Labor.  The one-screen query engine is written in Java.  This query does not work on my Macbook Pro (OS X 10.9.1, Safari 7.0.1 (9537.73.11), also doesn’t work with Firefox for the Mac.)  To run this query, I must fire up my old Windows XP computer (on which I use Firefox almost exclusively).

BLS One-Screen Query

BLS One-Screen Query

In this case, “does not work” means the query is so slow as to be useless.  I have used Safari with the BLS query engine for years, but for the last three months it has been useless.

And it’s even worse.  When I first open the query screen, I get a warning message from Apple.  Apparently BLS has not updated their Java JAR file to current standards.  I have written to them about this several times.  To date there has been no response and no fix.

Apple Warning Message

Apple Warning Message

Apple Warning Message Expalded

Apple Warning Message Expalded

Why does the U.S. government hate Apple?  After all, the company hired former EPA head Lisa Jackson.  Are Tim Cook and company not giving enough campaign contributions?  It can’t be their votes because California is a determinedly Democrat state.  On the other hand, New York is tilted almost as far left as California.  Consider the many ways New York-headquartered J.P. Morgan Chase has been shaken down by a variety of federal government agencies.  My guess is that the federal government is resorting to the ultimate bullying tactic: picking on someone that you know won’t fight back.  In this case, fighting back would mean turning either state from blue to red.  Good luck with that.

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About Tony Lima

Retired after teaching economics at California State Univ., East Bay (Hayward, CA). Ph.D., economics, Stanford. Also taught MBA finance at the California University of Management and Technology. Occasionally take on a consulting project if it's interesting. Other interests include wine and technology.