August 2013

The New York Times had an interesting piece on ESPN – “To Potect Its Empire, ESPN Stays on Offense”. Although the article talks to just one company, it shines a light on what’s wrong with American politics.

The article details how the cable TV Goliath expanded its reach and protects its turf. Two techniques are paramount – bundling and buying politicians. Bundling is the practice of selling multiple channels as packages, rather than letting the customer order à la carte. Buying politicians is the practice of insuring that bundling remains legal.

Aniother player in the sandbox

Another player in the sandbox

After years of growth, ESPN’s unrivalled success is being threatened on three fronts. People, who are sick and tired of paying expensive cable bills, are abandoning TV for other media. Fox TV established the Fox sports network. And there is a renewed push to outlaw bundling – supporters even include Sen. Blumenthal (D-CT) in whose state ESPN makes its home.

ESPN is included in most cable providers’ basic package, so everybody with cable is paying the $5.54 monthly that ESPN charges – four times the next most expensive bundle. To most people being forced to buy something you don’t use, would seem to smack of socialism. But not to Disney (ESPN’s parent company). It claims that if they couldn’t sell ESPN in a bundle, people who wanted ESPN would have to pay $15. Well why not?

America is supposed to be a country of free markets. But when it comes to cable (and cell phones, airlines and banks) we are approaching monopoly. A monopoly protected by politicians.

You do not want to mess with the mouse. Disney has some powerful allies in Congress. Typical is Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican and the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has purview over television legislation.

You don't mess with the mouse

You don’t mess with the mouse

As the NY Times reports, he was flown to Orlando during the 2005 Superbowl and feted by Disney executives. Mr. Barton’s travel disclosure form for Feb. 5 to 7, 2005, shows that Disney spent $3,354 on the Bartons’ lodging, $1,616 for airfare and $1,200 for meals. He recorded the purpose of the trip as “Speak to executives and fact finding.”

Barton presumably has a telephone, so it is unclear why he would have to go Florida. Except, of course, it was a big old bribe. Two nights in a hotel for $3,354 – that’s some pretty luxurious speaking and fact finding. But let’s give Barton the benefit of the doubt – perhaps his position is a result of a dispassionate analysis of the facts.

OK, you can stop laughing.

Barton’s  love affair with corporate America and his disdain for the individual was best highlighted by his apology to BP – when he characterized the agreement between the Obama administration and BP, to put $20 billion into an escrow account for cleanup after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, as a “shakedown”.

He has long been a poodle for energy companies, whose cash he has gladly taken. He once said, “Global warming science is uneven and evolving.” And argued that climate change isn’t man-made by using the biblical flood to show that climate change is God-made.

Of course, it isn’t just Barton. It isn’t even just Republicans. It is every politico in DC who, because of friendly Supreme Court decisions, now funds their campaigns with oceans of corporate money. Politicians may go to Washington with every intention of being Mr. Smith but they soon end up as Senator Paine.

If there is any chance for the government to be “for the people” again Disney and every other corporation will have to be banned from giving any money to any politician. But as long as politicians write the rules that will never happen – especially if this Supreme Court has anything to say about it.





Do You Know How Much University Tuition Is Around the World? The Answer May Stun You.

August 26, 2013

Americans pay more for a university education than any other nationality on the planet – a fact which comes as no surprise to students and their parents. (For a list of tuition in other countries see the end of this post) Total student loan debt ($1 trillion+) in the US is now greater than consumer […]

Read the full article →

The 11 Worst Things to Buy at the Supermarket

August 25, 2013

Food companies want to make more money. To do so they get us to pay more with specious health and nutrition claims. They can dress-up crappy food with bright packaging. And they can take basic foods and process them into an expensive nutrition-free hype. (For example, a potato that costs 60 cents a pound is […]

Read the full article →

Are Romney’s Despised “47%” a Core Democratic Consituency? (Spoiler Alert) No.

August 22, 2013

Conservatives console themselves that they lost the 2012 election because the poor are freeloaders; that they are “takers” preying on the “makers”. Or as Mitt Romney put it – so arithmetically – the 47% which, he added, would never vote for him. The debate has been over just how “leech-like” the 47 % are. But […]

Read the full article →

Retailer ‘Forever 21’ Cuts Back Employee Hours to Avoid Giving Them Health Insurance.

August 19, 2013

‘Forever 21’, the disposable clothing retailer, cut its full-time employees down to a maximum of 29.5 hours a week. The company claimed that it had nothing to do with Obamacare – which requires that companies with more than 50 employees, must provide health insurance to workers working 30 hours or more. Presumably it was just […]

Read the full article →

Big Brother is Alive and Well in the UK.

August 19, 2013

The UK has the reputation as the most “surveilled” country in the developed world – with over 4.2 million CCTVs, many with microphones. People taking public transport can be tracked by their “oyster card” (payment card). And cameras, used to enforce anti-congestion traffic laws, can track license plates. The 2002 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) […]

Read the full article →

Did Steve Jobs found Apple because of favorable tax rates? Hardly.

August 18, 2013

It is an article of faith among conservatives that lower tax rates spur entrepreneurship. Are they right? The movie “Jobs” opened this weekend, so let’s start there. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started the Apple Computer Company  in 1976 – when the top individual tax rate was 70%; and the corporate tax rate was 48%. […]

Read the full article →

What are the Republicans for? What’s their plan?

August 16, 2013

It is really easy to be a Republican politician today. You just figure out where the Democrats are on issues and take the other side. It doesn’t even require much thought as there are plenty of conservative pundits to tell you what the Democratic positions are (truth need not apply). It isn’t that the Democrats […]

Read the full article →

North Carolina GOP restricts the vote. North Carolinians aren’t happy about it.

August 14, 2013

North Carolina has just enacted tough new voting laws, which Gov. Pat McCory (R-NC) claimed were supported “overwhelmingly by North Carolinians”. He also claimed that North Carolina is doing what 34 other states do – in requiring some kind of ID to vote. Is he telling the truth? On the law’s popularity he is lying. […]

Read the full article →