More than one in five local papers in the US have closed in just the last 15 years or so. And, yes, people are moving away from print as a form. But who is filling the void of regular, relevant, local reporting, informing people at the level at which most people engage? Activists are tired of lamenting rampant consolidation, and the exclusion of new and diverse voices in news media. They’re working around the country on projects that both demand accountability from existing institutions and envision new systems, new processes, new ways of doing journalism that more accurately reflect and support communities. We’re joined now by Craig Aaron, co-CEO with Jessica Gonzalez of the group Free Press. He joins us now by phone from Maryland. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Craig Aaron.
This is an old problem, not a new one, but somehow, we continue to try the same things over and over again, no matter how poorly they are working. This new problem may be Amazon since they have now grown to more than one million workers and rising globally. In the USA, Amazon is the second largest private sector employer behind Wal-Mart, but Wal-Mart is a prime example of the old problem. The old problem, simply put, is that unions have not successfully organized a single mass employer with more than 100,000 workers in the US in the last fifty years. Or, 50,000 workers. Or, 30,000 workers. Think about any of the tech conglomerates. Think about any of the massive fast-food chains from McDonalds or Starbucks on down.
Chicago – President Joe Biden is signaling that his administration will get tough on monopoly. With the appointments of Columbia University law professors Timothy Wu to the White House National Economic Council and Lina Khan to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), he has selected two well-known proponents of breaking up the Big Tech monopolies. Moreover, these appointments come on the heels of a major antitrust reform bill that Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota introduced in the US Senate last month. Klobuchar’s bill aims to bolster antitrust enforcement in a number of ways. It would increase funding for the FTC and the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, establish new bureaucratic offices to investigate and monitor antitrust compliance and market conditions, slap new civil penalties on violators, and expose firms to liability for anticompetitive business practices that currently fall through the cracks.
Since rooftop solar became possible, electric utilities have struggled to incorporate it into their outdated business model. In recent years, this lag in utility recognition has become increasingly problematic, risking the health, environmental, and financial impacts of over-investment in large fossil fuel power plants. In over 30 states, monopoly utilities submit plans for new power plants to public regulators without adequately considering how customers will serve themselves. However, a new modeling approach from Vote Solar and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) might finally put distributed solar on the same footing in grid planning as the large power plants that utilities prefer. Our method, first filed in a resource plan in early 2021 for Minnesota-based Xcel Energy, showed that the utility could cost-effectively add nearly 2,000 megawatts more distributed solar than it plans to, saving customers billions of dollars.
This landmark proposal to temporarily suspend the application and enforcement of certain intellectual property obligations under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement), or the “TRIPS waiver” is to facilitate the effective prevention, containment, and treatment of COVID-19. Developing countries have stressed that the “TRIPS waiver” is an essential starting point for countries to ramp up and diversify the production of therapeutics, vaccines and other medical products needed to address the global pandemic. However, a handful of countries — mostly those who have a stake in the protection of monopoly-based pharmaceutical industry — including the European Union, the United States, Japan, Switzerland, and Canada, have been blocking the waiver.
A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliances shows that America’s monopoly problem is bigger than you might think. While last year’s Big Tech hearings and House antitrust report spotlighted monopoly abuses at Amazon, Google, and other tech giants, the report from ILSR makes clear that America’s monopoly problem has spread into many other sectors of the economy — including the electricity sector. The report is the latest in a series from ILSR focused on fighting monopoly power throughout several sectors of our economy, including Banking, Broadband, Food and Farming, Pharmacy, Waste and Recycling, and Small Business.
Amazon doesn't fit comfortably within the free-market fable of how capitalism is supposed to operate. We are, in theory, supposed to get freedom, competition, the reward of innovation, the elimination of all-powerful centralized bureaucracy. But consider this recent Wall Street Journal report on how Amazon destroys its competitors. Essentially, because Amazon is gigantic and has vast sums of money at its disposal, it does not need to “innovate” the same way smaller companies do. It can simply lift the innovations of others, and because it can undercut their prices, it can put them out of business. The Journal cites a number of examples.
Figuring out what we want our tech to look like is crucial if we’re going to get out of this mess. Today, we’re at a crossroads where we’re trying to figure out if we want to fix the Big Tech companies that dominate our internet or if we want to fix the internet itself by unshackling it from Big Tech’s stranglehold. We can’t do both, so we have to choose. I want us to choose wisely. Taming Big Tech is integral to fixing the internet, and for that, we need digital rights activism.
Gannett—the largest newspaper publisher in the country, as measured by total daily circulation—has merged with GateHouse Media, owned by Wes Edens’ New Fortress Investment Group, which also owns New Fortress Energy, which deals in natural gas. The merger is terrible for the usual journalistic reasons: This sort of consolidation means fewer resources for reporting, usually fewer reporters, and less informed attention to local affairs. As for the fossil fuel connection, it’s maybe not so much what it means for USA Today as for the 666 other publications involved nationwide. Like in Florida, where as New Fortress, Edens owns a liquefied natural gas export terminal, with big eyes on Puerto Rico, and as GateHouse, he owns 31 publications, including four newly acquired Gannett papers.
"Google creates, operates, and controls its platform and services, including but not limited to Google Search, Google Ads, and Gmail as a public forum or its functional equivalent by intentionally and openly dedicating its platform for public use and public benefit, inviting the public to utilize Google as a forum for free speech. Google serves as a state actor by performing an exclusively and traditionally public function by regulating free speech within a public forum and helping to run elections." (p22)
Our findings illustrate the failure of contemporary antitrust policy. For nearly four decades, the two agencies that enforce the antitrust laws, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, have given corporations like Walmart a free hand to use their size and financial might to consolidate markets. This lax approach was supposed to generate widespread benefits for Americans. Instead, it has left a remarkable number of places without a competitive market for even the most basic of daily needs.
On June 11th, the House Judiciary Committee launched an investigation into the market dominance of the four leading “big-tech” companies — Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), who oversees the subcommittee hearing, proclaimed, “these are monopolies,” warning that they dominate the digital marketplace and it might be time for new legislation to increase competition. “We know the problems; they’re easy to diagnose,” Cicilline said. “Shaping the solutions is going to be more difficult.”
A newly-formed coalition of advocacy groups has launched a campaign to end Duke Energy's longstanding monopoly control over most of North Carolina's electric system in hopes that permitting competition among power generators would hasten the shift to clean energy and bring pollution relief to vulnerable communities. The members of the Energy Justice NC coalition include local, regional, and national environmental and social justice organizations. Among them are 350.org, Appalachian Voices, Center for Biological Diversity, Down East Coal Ash Coalition, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, and the NC Environmental Justice Network.
ON MONDAY, THE Open Markets Institute released new evidence of increased corporate concentration in 32 different industries, from cellphone providers (where four firms control 98 percent of the market) to peanut butter (four firms control 92 percent). The data, which has gone uncollected by the federal government since President Ronald Reagan’s Federal Trade Commission stopped the practice in 1981, came from a private industry analyst called IBISWorld. Open Markets intended to publicize the data to show the enormity of America’s monopoly problem. But never-before-seen polling obtained by The Intercept suggests that the public already knows about, and is gravely concerned by, the concentration of economic power in fewer and fewer hands.