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What Are ‘Food Barons’ And Why Should You Care?

I’ve known Austin Frerick since 2019, when he was a researcher at the Open Markets Institute. After he became a fellow at Yale’s Thurmond Arnold Project, another anti-monopoly thinktank, we collaborated to report a feature for Vox on “The Hog Barons.” He’s gone on to expand this idea to a full book, titled Barons: Money, Power, and the Corruption of America’s Food Industry, that provides a portrait of our food system through stories of its oligarchs. Austin enlisted me for some editorial consultation while the book was under contract, and today I asked him a few questions about the book and how it helps us understand American food system.

US TikTok Ban Aims To Weaken China And Protect Tech Monopolies

The US government has for years threatened to ban TikTok, one of the most popular social media apps in the country. It’s now looking like this might actually happen. This March, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to pass legislation called the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act”. This bill states that it “prohibits distributing, maintaining, or providing internet hosting services for a foreign adversary controlled application (e.g., TikTok)”. It passed with an overwhelming majority of 352 votes in favor and just 65 votes against.

Is America’s Merger Fever Breaking?

In the summer of 1982, the United States government sent corporate America a love letter. President Ronald Reagan’s top antitrust official, William Baxter, who made no secret of his desire to use his position to assist the country’s largest companies, issued the Justice Department’s new merger guidelines, instructing staff how to determine whether a merger violated antitrust laws and should be blocked. Baxter’s new rules made it clear to big business that federal agencies would no longer limit their ability to amass power. An era of nearly unrestricted corporate consolidation followed.

Monopolies, Prosecution Of Assange Drive Drop In US Press Freedom Rank

CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin interrupted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a Washington Post-sponsored World Press Freedom Day event on May 3, taking the stage where a Post journalist was interviewing Blinken. Benjamin demanded that the U.S. and United Kingdom free imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. A group of men in suits, presumably Secret Service agents, immediately charged onto the stage and forcibly removed Benjamin and another activist who joined her. Blinken, however, failed to address either Assange’s persecution or the U.S.’s continued decline in press freedom after the disruption.

Utilities’ Failures And Shady Practices Show We Need Energy Democracy

In June of 2021, torrential rains flooded the City of Detroit and surrounding areas, causing over $100 million in damages, mostly in poor, Black, and Brown neighborhoods. Kamau Clark, an organizer for the nonprofit We The People Michigan, moved into his apartment in Detroit’s West Village neighborhood just two days before the storm. “I came home at 2AM and the apartment was flooded,” he recalls. Overwhelmed and unsure of where to turn, Clark went to a town hall on the city’s east side, where representatives from water and sewage authorities tried to explain the situation to him and a crowd of angry residents. According to officials, the city’s infrastructure was not fit to handle the unprecedented volume of rain. However, there was another problem — the storm had also caused a power outage at the city’s wastewater facilities, rendering some of their pumps only partially operational. At the time, city officials told residents that it was these outages, combined with the heavy rain, that caused the record flooding.

The Grain Giants Have Made A Bonanza From Hunger

As economies tumble, inflation surges and global food prices soar to critically high levels, two sectors seem to have hit the jackpot in 2022 – energy giants and grain traders. An estimated 345 million people may now be in acute food insecurity, compared with 135 million before the pandemic. Vulnerable populations face destitution in poorer food-importing countries such as Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia. Poor consumers in rich countries are struggling to put food on the table. Supply shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been the spark for this inferno of hunger. But the kindling for the fire was already stoked: the severe, underlying weaknesses in our food system. These include many countries’ heavy reliance on food imports, entrenched production systems, financial speculation, and cycles of poverty and debt.

How New Federal Antimerger Guidelines Can Restore Competition

When the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice announced plans to revise their merger guidelines earlier this year, it marked a dramatic shift from business as usual. Their announcements set the stage for a new era in antitrust regulation where mergers are not seen as inherent benefits to the market to be encouraged but rather as inherent threats of which to be skeptical. In “Rolling Back Corporate Concentration: How New Federal Antimerger Guidelines Can Restore Competition and Build Local Power,” the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) provides context illuminating why the departments’ new stance on merger activity is both enormously consequential for today’s economy and also entirely consistent with what Congress intended when creating antimerger law in the mid-20th century.
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