Trouble in the Middle East, Amazon Skirts Taxes, and the EU Cracks Down on Consumer Privacy

Saudi Arabia was hit by attacks on its oil fields, ratcheting up tensions in the Middle East. The attacks used twenty-five drones and cruise missiles to target two oil fields in Saudi Arabia in an attempt to cripple the country’s oil production, the largest in the world. It is unclear who carried out the attacks. The Saudis have been firm in their stance that Iran was behind this malicious act, even as Houthi rebels in Yemen have publically taken credit.

Meanwhile, the United States is examining information and evidence following the attack in an attempt to nail down the culprit:

Saudi Arabia oil fields

“Analysts are poring over satellite imagery of the damage sites, and assessing radar tracks of at least some of the low-flying cruise missiles that were used. Communication intercepts from before and after the attacks are being reviewed to see if they implicate Iranian officials.

Perhaps most important, forensic analysis is underway of missile and drone parts from the attack sites. The Saudis have recovered pristine circuit boards from one of the cruise missiles that fell short of its target, providing forensics specialists the possibility of tracing the missile’s point of origin, according to a senior American official briefed on the intelligence.”

However, the Saudis are confident in Iran’s involvement. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has made it known that the global oil industry will be completely flipped on its head if Iran is not stopped. He warned of lower supplies and skyrocketing oil prices that have not been seen in this generation.

Despite rising sales, Amazon Europe reported a pre-tax loss of €493 million in 2018, further extending its ability to write-off losses for the year. In total, the company received €241 million in tax credits over 2018, leading many to wonder if the company is gaming the system.

The company claims that due to its continued investment in the region, its profits have been lacking and therefore it should not have to pay higher taxes.


“Amazon pays all the taxes required in every country where we operate,” said a spokesman for the company. “Corporate tax is based on profits, not revenues, and our profits have remained low given our heavy investments and the fact that retail is a highly competitive, low-margin business.”

This isn’t the first time Amazon Europe has been caught up in a tax scandal. In 2017, Amazon Europe was forced to repay €250 million in illegal state aid to Luxembourg, as the EU deemed this aid was allowing almost three-quarters of the company’s profits to go untaxed.

While the United States has issued a warning against e-cigarette vaping after reported lung illnesses in users, Europe is taking a different stance. Public health officials in the UK continue to endorse e-cigarettes and related products. In the UK it is estimated that 6.3% of adults are already vaping:

e-cigarette vaping

“If you’re a smoker and you have not stopped smoking, try vaping,” Martin Dockrell, head of tobacco issues at Public Health England, said in an interview posted on his Twitter feed this month. The government agency has repeatedly said vaping is 95% less harmful than cigarettes.

The UK has yet to see the public health crisis that is occurring from vaping in the United States. To date the US has reported about 380 vaping-related health reports with multiple deaths, while the UK has only received seven reports, none of which led to fatalities. It is unclear how public health officials in the UK will act if such a crisis becomes a domestic problem.

Climate change is hurting the tree population in Europe. According to a recent report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 58% of tree species in Europe are in danger of becoming extinct. The report cites diseases, pests, and more importantly, human activities as the main reasons for this crisis.

Climate change

Luc Bas, director of IUCN’s European Regional Office, said: “This report has shown how dire the situation is for many overlooked, undervalued species that form the backbone of Europe’s ecosystems and contribute to a healthy planet. “We need to mitigate human impact on our ecosystems and prioritize the protection of these species.”

This news comes on the heels of other environmental warning signs of mass extinction. A study released in September reported that in the previous 50-years, close to 3 billion birds in North America have been lost, leading to a 29% decline in bird populations over the time period.

The European Union is taking even more measures to secure and protect consumer data. The EU’s newly appointed “Tech Chief” Margrethe Vestager announced she would be tightening the screws even harder for internet-based businesses.

Protect consumer data

“And as the world changes, and new types of power and influence grow, the rules we have need to keep up with those changes. Today, for example, digitisation is finding its way into every part of our lives. It’s given us new ways to stay in touch with our friends. It’s put the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, and given us control of the way we shop or read the news or watch TV. And those changes have also given some digital businesses new power over our lives.

Digitisation creates enormous possibilities for connection. But we need a way to filter those possibilities – to find the product that we want, or the information we need. And the digital platforms that help us to do that – the search engines and social media networks and online marketplaces – can become enormously powerful, by controlling our access to the benefits of digitisation.”

Vestager will have her work cut out for her. Just this month, Google won a digital privacy case in the European Court of Justice which ruled the company is not required to remove global links which may include sensitive personal data, as these links are outside the jurisdiction of the EU. This gives pushback against previous legislation known as “the right to be forgotten”, which requires online platforms to erase online links including sensitive information which are deemed no longer relevant and outdated.           

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