America’s monopolies, of thee I sing


David Leonhardt writes in the NY Times about a subject that really motivates me: Monopolies. No, they don’t just happen. They’re the result of a political system that rewards their lobbying with deregulation and favorable legal treatment at the expense of the rest of us:

The federal government, under presidents of both parties, has largely surrendered to monopoly power. “The ‘anti’ in ‘antitrust’ has been discarded,” as the legal scholar Tim Wu puts it in his new book, “The Curse of Bigness.” Washington allows most megamergers to proceed either straight up or with only fig-leaf changes. The government has also done nothing to prevent the emergence of dominant new technology companies that mimic the old AT&T monopoly.

This meekness has made possible the consolidation of one industry after another. For a long time, though, it’s been hard to figure out precisely how much consolidation. The available statistics just aren’t very good, which isn’t an accident. In 1981 — around the time that the Reagan administration was launching the modern pro-monopoly era — the Federal Trade Commission suspended a program that collected data on industry concentration.

Fortunately, researchers in the private sector have recently begun filling in the gaps. On Monday, the Open Markets Institute — an anti-monopoly think tank — is releasing the first part of a data set showing the market share that the largest companies have in each industry. You can see the main theme in the charts here: Big companies are much more dominant than they were even 15 years ago.

Why are so many consumers cutting the cable cord?

Cut the Cable (Bill) - 10 Alternatives to Cable Television

Report: 33 million will cut the cable cord this year–higher than previous estimate

Research firm eMarketer says it underestimated how many people might become cord-cutters this year. The firm now believes that 33 million individuals will drop traditional pay TV service in 2018, meaning its previous prediction from July 2017 was off by about 6 million people.

eMarketer seemed to believe that TV providers such as Comcast would slow the bleeding by loading Netflix and other streaming services onto their boxes. Instead, those services continue to cannibalize cable and satellite TV service outright, while live TV services like DirecTV Now and Sling TV allow people to retain many of the same channels they had with traditional pay TV service.

They never seem to mention the high cost. Right now, my monthly cable bill is about the cost of a monthly payment on a luxury car — which, of course, I don’t have. (I have a 16-year-old car. I always pay cash.)

How can that be?

When I call to complain and try to lower my costs, they spout a bunch of word salad that says I can give up both premium channels and it will save me… $10. (I only have cable in one room, I don’t have DVR service.)

One of the reasons I founded CUFF is that I dream about the day that I can speak for 50 thousand or so activist consumers when I talk to politicians.

Student loan watchdog quits, says administration abandoned consumers

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Via Talking Points Memo, some news that will disturb just about anyone with a student loan:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “Student Loan Ombudsman,” responsible for guarding student borrowers against predatory lenders and scammers, has resigned in a scathing letter aimed at acting CFPB director Mick Mulvaney.

“Unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting,” Seth Frotman’s resignation letter, obtained by NPR, read. “Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.”

In his role at CFPB, NPR reported, Frotman oversaw the review of thousands of complaints from student borrowers.

The Trump administration — namely Mulvaney, who also serves as the White House’s budget director, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — has worked diligently to burn pages of Obama-era protections for student borrowers.

[…] Frotman’s letter pointed to specific wrongdoing by Mulvaney, NPR reported, including the alleged suppression of a report from his office revealing that big banks were “saddling [students] with legally dubious account fees.”

This is what deregulation looks like


What’s for breakfast? Via USAToday, unsafe levels of weed killer in your kids’ cereal!

A number of popular breakfast foods, including cereals, granola bars and instant oats, were tested and found to contain potentially dangerous amounts of cancer-linked glyphosate, the main ingredient in weed killer.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental advocacy organization that conducted the study, said Wednesday that glyphosate was found in all but five of 29 oat-based foods that were tested.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, the most heavily used pesticide in the United States. Every year, according to the EWG, more than 250 million pounds of glyphosate is sprayed on American crops.

The World Health Organization has determined that glyphosate is “probably carcnogenic to humans” and the Environmental Protection Agency has set a safety level for the potentially dangerous chemical. Just last week, Monsanto was ordered by a court to pay nearly $300 million to a man who claims his terminal cancer was caused by exposure to Roundup. Hundreds of other cases are working their way through the courts.

Unsafe food means higher profits for manufacturers. Now factor in the cost of treatment for childhood cancer, and this lack of regulation is very, very expensive for those of us on the purchasing end.