Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos

Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos

PBS (2020)

Film Review

This new PBS documentary about Bezos and Amazon is far more extensive than prior exposes. In addition to getting six senior Amazon managers to respond (on camera) to critics, it also reflects significant moves within the federal government to limit Amazon’s monopoly power.

What comes across most clearly for me is the stark contrast between Trump’s attacks on Bezos (on Twitter)* and Obama’s fawning attitude towards the company’s stellar financial success.

This is the first documentary to make clear that Bezos deliberately set out to create a monopoly – how he deliberately operated at a loss for more than a decade to undercut (via lower prices) and destroy his competition. The list of businesses of all sizes (including authors, publishers, bookstores, and increasingly other retailers) Amazon has put out of business is substantial. Globally, the company is directly responsible for shutting down 38% of retail outlets in two decades.

In recent years, Amazon has also set out to capture the services market at well, seeking to undercut FedEx and UPS in delivery services, Netflix in film production and streaming, Apple and Spotify in music streaming services, and Dropbox, Google, and Microsoft in cloud streaming services.

The company also has health professionals worried with their expansion into pharmaceutical sales and health insurance, likewise food retailers with their purchase of Whole Foods. Moreover in the past year, Bezos has announced his intention to launch a digital advertising platform to rival Google and Facebook.

At present Amazon essentially “owns” the online Main Street, controlling 40% of the global online market place. They also spend more on lobbying US politicians than an any other single entity. However despite all the cash flowing to Washington lawmakers, both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a House Committee chaired by Congressman David Cicillini (Dem, RI) are investigating the need to restrict the range of services Amazon is allowed to offer, as well as their collection and use of customer data.

*Trump has attacked Amazon for tax avoidance and exploiting the US Post Office, and Bezo personally for his ownership of the Washington Post (and its attacks on Trump).

How the British Monarchy Subverts Democracy

The Power Behind the Throne

Press TV (2015)

Film Review

This 2015 Press TV documentary questions whether the power accorded the British monarchy is consistent with democracy. It argues the extreme wealth* of the current royal family (and their clear efforts to protect that wealth) translates into significant state power, especially as the UK has no written constitution to limit their power and privileges.

It goes on to detail a number of royal privileges and activities that directly clash with the democratic rights of British citizens.

It starts with the economic privileges Prince Charles enjoys as the personal owner of the Duchy of Cornwall:**

  • Charles is the automatic heir of anyone who dies in Cornwall without a will. Thus far, he has inherited £3.3 million in this way, which he uses to fund personal projects, including a fund to pay private school bursaries. He rejects local requests to keep these funds within Cornwall.
  • He’s exempt from usual requirements to obtain planning permission and use consents for any land development he engages in Cornwall.
  • He’s exempt from business and capital gains tax on any income his Cornwall businesses generate.

The Prince of Wales is also notorious for the letters he writes to government ministers lobbying them about specific projects and issues. In 2005, the Guardian files a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain 27 such letters he wrote between 2004-2005. Both the Blair and the Cameron government fought the release of these letters for ten years, at a total cost of £400,000. In 2015, the British supreme court ordered them release.

The filmmakers also detail the role Princes Charles and Andrew play in lobbying Saudi Arabia and other third world dictatorships to purchase British weapons systems and fighter jets. This role directly benefits royal family members as weapons industry shareholders.

*Altogether the royal family privately owns a £70 billion real estate and share portfolio, in addition to a £10 billion art collection. They also receive a £40-200 million taxpayer funded stipend for the official duties they perform.

**The Duchy of Cornwall is one of two royal duchies, the other being the Duchy of Lancaster. The eldest son of the reigning British monarch inherits the duchy and the title of Duke of Cornwall at birth or when their parent assumes the throne


When Lawsuits Aren’t Enough: Big Pharma and the Opioid Epidemic

Guest Post by Morgan Statt

Hardly a day goes by without hearing news of America’s opioid epidemic. 2016 was the worst year for opioid deaths, with overdoses claiming over 63,000 lives. With jarring statistics like this one, government officials have started to assign blame for opioid use reaching crisis levels.

Their target? Drug companies

Almost every single state in the U.S. has filed lawsuits against drug manufacturers and distributors for their involvement and essential creation of the opioid epidemic. Sadly the cost penalties, which are minuscule in the face of humongous profits, are unlikely to trigger genuine reform.

Big Pharma is Big Business.

We can assign blame to the drug companies for their involvement in the crisis, and lawsuits are an effective way to do that. However if we are genuine about stemming the current opioid crisis, we must commit to making fundamental changes in the US health care system.

Two areas in vital need of reform are clinical trial funding and massive Big Pharma lobbying.

  1. Drug companies are allowed to fund clinical trials

Each year, the National Institute of Health sets aside a portion of its budget to fund clinical trials that are needed before a drug can hit the market. In recent years, however, a Johns Hopkins study revealed that this funding has drastically fallen and is now largely supported by pharmaceutical companies. With financial interest in the outcomes of certain clinical trials, industry funding presents the opportunity for drug companies to favor positive results over negative outcomes that may affect patient safety.

Look no further than the blood thinner Pradaxa’s clinical trial RE-LY to serve as an example. Critics of this industry-funded trial pointed out that it generalized the medication’s population and failed to be a double-blind study, presenting a prime possibility for bias and misreporting.

Hasty FDA approval followed these skewed trial results, and Pradaxa was put on the market in 2010 without an antidote to reduce its blood thinning effects. For five years, an antidote failed to be introduced, and severe bleeding incidents and over 1,000 deaths occurred as a result of taking the medication. Since then, a wave of lawsuits have been filed against manufacturer Boehringer Ingelheim for its hand in the bleeding incidents. Finally in 2014, over 4,000 claims were satisfied with a $650 million settlement.

  1. The #1 Lobbying Industry is Pharmaceutical/Health

Lobbying is a legal activity that is meant to help those who don’t have direct access to members of Congress get their voices heard. Although this practice is theoretically good-hearted, the reality is that money has the power to influence decisions that negatively impact the American public. In the first quarter of 2017 alone, the pharmaceutical industry spent $78 million in its lobbying efforts, an increase of $10 million since 2016.

This phenomenal dollar spend has enabled Big Pharma to sway policy decisions in favor of big business rather than public safety. In regards to the opioid crisis, The Pain Care Forum, funded by the pharmaceutical industry, spent over $740 million to stop legislation that would have put limits on opioid prescribing habits.

Morgan Statt is a Safety Investigator at


photo credit: DES Daughter Opioid Epidemic via photopin (license)