Monday, February 17, 2014

U.S. No Longer a Democracy, Part 2: Comcast

 I hate to repeat the obvious (especially after the Senate just voted once again to not extend unemployment benefits despite the fact that 69% of Americans want them to do so1), but the U.S. is no longer a democracy. The latest example of this is Comcast’s proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable.
Now why, you may ask, should I worry that one cable TV company is taking over another? Good question. The answer is that a democracy is dependent upon the free flow of ideas and when one company (or, to be generous, let’s say six companies) control all (or, to be conservative, 90%) of those ideas, that is not good for democracy.
I’m shocked that, thus far, there has been nary a peep about this proposed takeover from our government. But I should not be surprised because, as The New York Times reported, “Mr. Roberts [chief executive of Comcast] has golfed with the president and hosted him at his residence on Martha’s Vineyard.
“David L. Cohen, who oversees the company’s relationship with regulators in Washington, has been a big bundler of donations for the president and staged a fund-raiser for him at his home in Philadelphia that raised $1.2 million. In recognition of those close ties, Mr. Cohen was one of the guests at a state dinner at the White House for the French president, François Hollande, last week.”2
Remember when monopolies were illegal? Now, as I mentioned earlier, six companies—Comcast, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS—control 90% of the media in America.3 (That's consolidated from 50 companies back in 1983.)
Just like the banks that were “too big to fail” in the financial crisis got even bigger, the media companies that control 90% of the media in this country have become even more consolidated. And our government institutions are so bad at regulating them that the chief executive of Comcast is already presenting this deal as a fait accompli.
And why is that? Because the people who are supposed to be regulating these industries become lobbyists for the very industries they’re supposed to be regulating. Again, to quote the New York Times, “… one of the Federal Communications Commission regulators who approved the NBCUniversal deal, Meredith Attwell Baker, now works for Comcast as a lobbyist. Since that deal, there has been a change in leadership at the commission, and it is now run by Tom Wheeler, who was previously a chief lobbyist for the cable industry. (Comcast is among the biggest spenders on lobbying, having written checks for $18 million in 2013 alone.)”4
So when your cable bills goes up yet again after this takeover goes through and there aren’t any competing cable companies you can take your business to, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
But this is about more than just a higher cable bill. It’s about the very foundation of our country. If you really want to get angry (or just be more informed), I suggest you read The Price of Inequality by Joseph E. Stiglitz (, so you can learn in detail about all the myriad ways our economy and political system is rigged in favor of the 1%, and how that’s destroying our democracy.


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