Remember, this is occurring in America’s new gilded age — similar to the first one in which a young Teddy Roosevelt castigated the “malefactors of great wealth, who were “equally careless of the working men, whom they oppress, and of the State, whose existence they imperil.
We’re in a new gilded age of wealth and power similar to the first gilded age when the nation’s antitrust laws were enacted. Those laws should prevent or bust up concentrations of economic power that not only harm consumers but also undermine our democracy — such as the pending Comcast acquisition of Time-Warner. In 1890, when Republican Senator John Sherman of Ohio urged his congressional colleagues to act against the centralized industrial powers that threatened America, he did not distinguish between economic and political power because they were one and the same. The field of economics was then called “political economy,” and inordinate power could undermine both. “If we will not endure a king as a political power,” Sherman thundered, “we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life.”
Shortly thereafter, the Sherman Antitrust Act was passed by the Senate 52 to 1, and moved quickly through the House without dissent. President Harrison signed it into law July 2, 1890.
In many respects America is back to the same giant concentrations of wealth and economic power that endangered democracy a century ago. The floodgates of big money have been opened even wider in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in “Citizen’s United vs. FEC” and its recent “McCutcheon” decision.
Seen in this light, Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time-Warner for $45 billion is especially troublesome — and not just because it may be bad for consumers. Comcast is the nation’s biggest provider of cable television and high-speed Internet service; Time Warner is the second biggest.
Last week, Comcast’s executives descended on Washington to persuade regulators and elected officials that the combination will be good for consumers. They say it will allow Comcast to increase its investments in cable and high-speed Internet, and encourage rivals to do so as well. Opponents argue the combination will give consumers fewer choices, resulting in higher cable and Internet bills. And any company relying on Comcast’s pipes to get its content to consumers (think Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, or any distributor competing with Comcast’s own television network, NBCUniversal) also will have to pay more — charges that will also be passed on to consumers.
I think the opponents have the better argument. Internet service providers in America are already too concentrated, which is why Americans pay more for Internet access than the citizens of almost any other advanced nation. Some argue that the broadband market already has been carved up into a cartel, so blocking the acquisition would do little to bring down prices. One response would be for the Federal Communications Commission to declare broadband service a public utility and regulate prices. But Washington should also examine a larger question beyond whether the deal is good or bad for consumers: Is it good for our democracy?
We haven’t needed to ask this question for more than a century because America hasn’t experienced the present concentration of economic wealth and power in more than a century.
But were Senator John Sherman were alive today he’d note that Comcast is already is a huge political player, contributing $1,822,395 so far in the 2013-2014 election cycle, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics — ranking it 18th of all 13,457 corporations and organizations that have donated to campaigns since the cycle began. Of that total, $1,346,410 has gone individual candidates, including John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Harry Reid; $323,000 to Leadership PACs; $278,235 to party organizations; and $261,250 to super PACs.
Last year, Comcast also spent $18,810,000 on lobbying, the seventh highest amount of any corporation or organization reporting lobbying expenditures, as required by law.
Comcast is also one of the nation’s biggest revolving doors. Of its 107 lobbyists, 86 worked in government before lobbying for Comcast. Its in-house lobbyists include several former chiefs of staff to Senate and House Democrats and Republicans as well as a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.
Nor is Time-Warner a slouch when it comes to political donations, lobbyists, and revolving doors. It also ranks near the top.
When any large corporation wields this degree of political influence it drowns out the voices of the rest of us, including small businesses. The danger is greater when such power is wielded by media giants because they can potentially control the marketplace of ideas on which a democracy is based.
When two such media giants merge, the threat is extreme. If film-makers, television producers, directors, and news organizations have to rely on Comcast to get their content to the public, Comcast is able to exercise a stranglehold on what Americans see and hear. Remember, this is occurring in America’s new gilded age — similar to the first one in which a young Teddy Roosevelt castigated the “malefactors of great wealth, who were “equally careless of the working men, whom they oppress, and of the State, whose existence they imperil.” It’s that same equal carelessness toward average Americans and toward our democracy that ought to be of primary concern to us now. Big money that engulfs government makes government incapable of protecting the rest of us against the further depredations of big money.
After becoming President in 1901, Roosevelt used the Sherman Act against forty-five giant companies, including the giant Northern Securities Company that threatened to dominate transportation in the Northwest. William Howard Taft continued to use it, busting up the Standard Oil Trust in 1911. In this new gilded age, we should remind ourselves of a central guiding purpose of America’s original antitrust law, and use it no less boldly.
I was watching a movie about this functionally invincible protagonist struggles to get over his own douchery. Except he’s only douchey because he feels inadequate, so it’s okay. With the help of a woman he learned that he was special and powerful. But then he let it get to his head. Fortunately the woman helped him get over himself just in time to avert catastrophe. For her.
I forget which movie it was. Maybe it was Thor. Or Iron Man. Or maybe the Lion King. Or maybe it was pretty much every single other super hero movie ever made. Maybe it was the Iliad. It’s a pretty common plot.
I’m just saying that our heroes seem to be having trouble getting their lives together. And our supervillians? Sure, they’ve got some problems too. Most of them are trying to save the world—they just struggle with criminal insanity. They’re doing the best with what they’ve got. But if your mind is shattered by the cruelty of a broken world, at least you’re rocking a decent excuse for a bit of self-obsession.
This also plays into all the articles that have been going around lately about the issues with the recent spree of female “superheros” and how they are in some ways “lacking” in comparison to their male counterpart. (An example of the articles I’m talking about: http://www.policymic.com/articles/87757/hollywood-is-creating-more-female-superheroes-but-they-re-missing-one-key-ingredient)
Neighborhoods with Concentrated Poverty, with Paul Jargowsky, Patrick Sharkey, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Sherrilyn Ifill | Economic Policy Institute | April 10, 2014
Drawn in by Ta-Nehisi Coates, left a little in love with Sherrilyn Ifill.
And now I have quite the reading list to start in on.
- American Apartheid
- Black Wealth, White Wealth
- Block Busting in Baltimore
- Sundown Town
- The Warmth of Other Suns
- Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality
- The Beautiful Struggle
- The Truly Disadvantaged
- Concentration of Poverty: An Update
A few quotes pulled out from the panel:
"African Americans making 100K more a year live in more disadvantaged neighborhoods that white families making under 30K"- @patrick_sharkey— Hilary Wething (@hilweth)April 10, 2014
…and then you’ll wonder why they didn’t read their kid Goodnight Moon, cook them a delicious meal & why they didn’t “Lean in” #highpoverty— Hannah Emple (@hannahemple)April 10, 2014
— Economic Policy Inst (@EconomicPolicy)April 10, 2014
"If George Washington is important, then redlining has to be important too." - Ta-Nehisi Coates on importance of history/legacy #highpoverty— Hannah Emple (@hannahemple)April 10, 2014
One of my favorite argument about gay marriage
The blackout on covering progressive proposals is effectively telling ambitious politicians that if they want to get ahead they better move to the right.
This gets to the second point, that the CPC budget was almost completely ignored in the media. The reporters and editors and the major news outlets undoubtedly justify ignoring the budget by the fact that it has no prayer of being passed into law. While this is true, there have been numerous budgets and budget items from the right that have no chance of being passed into law that have gotten considerable attention from the media.
Did anyone think that Congress was about to approve Representative Ryan’s proposal for replacing Medicare with a voucher system? The fact that this proposal had no prospect of being passed into law in the immediate future, did not prevent it and any number of other right-wing proposals from getting extensive and respectful coverage from the media. There can be little doubt that there is a double standard here.
And the double standard has very real consequences. By ignoring progressive proposals, the media prevents them from becoming part of the public debate. As a result it is difficult to advance ideas like a tax on financial speculation even though there is good reason to believe that the public might embrace such a proposal for some of the same reasons that so many economists have supported the idea.
The lack of attention to progressive proposals has an impact on the willingness of political figures to support them. It helps a member of Congress enormously when she has one of her proposals highlighted in major news outlets. This is the sort of thing that they trumpet to their constituents, to potential campaign contributors and to their peers in Congress. Members who can count on a receptive audience in the national media are courted by other members who are trying to push their own proposals.
The blackout on covering progressive proposals is effectively telling ambitious politicians that if they want to get ahead they better move to the right. They will be ignored as long as they push ideas perceived as being on the left, regardless of the merits of the ideas.
In short, the media are putting a very big thumb on the scale when they decide to ignore the CPC budget and other proposals coming from the left side of the political spectrum. This is not neutral reporting.
The Progressive Caucus’ Secret Budget | Dean Baker | The Guardian | March 17, 2014
In which Goldieblox puts an apology to the Beastie Boys on its front page and has to donate money to a charity over that whole copyright infringement thing.
I loooove the Beastie Boys! The money will probably be better spent and go more towards gender disparities than this product did.