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Published: Sat, 21 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 21 Apr 2018 15:47:51 -0400


Liberals Finally Find Some Media Bias They Dislike

Fri, 06 Apr 2018 00:15:00 -0400

Last month, news anchors at Sinclair Broadcast Group's TV stations were required to read a script critical of "fake stories" and general bias in the major news networks. Because some of the phrasing mirrored President Donald Trump's overcooked critique of liberal media outlets, the story triggered widespread and overwrought warnings about authoritarianism and the rise of state-run media. It's true that Sinclair, the largest owner of U.S. TV stations, would have been better off following the lead of the big outlets: hiring and working with people who subscribe to the same worldview and then simply letting them do their thing. But as long as we have a media market and inhibit government meddling in speech—thank you, Citizens United and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai—the idea that we are powerless to turning away from "propaganda" is nothing but alarmism. Every Sinclair market has an alternative local news station for viewers, not to mention other sources of information consumers can read and listen to if they desire. Then again, having read the panicky coverage before watching the Sinclair videos, I was surprised by the innocuousness of the spots. The anchors were plainly reading a scripted public service announcement that claimed there is a "troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories" at major news outlets and then offering themselves as an alternative. They then cautioned viewers to avoid the "sharing of biased and false news" on social media, which is, I am often told, a plague on democracy. "But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short," the script goes on to say. "If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us." The rhetoric was a less sanctimonious version of CNN's apples and bananas commercial from a few months ago—another finger wagging aimed at political foes and competitors. One peculiar complaint about the Sinclair spots is that local anchors were being "forced"—a word widely used by those reporting on the incident—to read opinions they do not share. "I felt like a POW recording a message," one aggrieved newsreader told CNN. As a writer, I can sympathize with people being asked to say things that undermine their beliefs. In truth, though, no one can force you to say or write anything. If you find the words "fake" and "news" morally and professionally objectionable, quit. The concept of free will has little part in any of our national conversations these days. You'd think that Russian bots, Facebook posts, and local news anchors all have the preternatural ability to burrow into your brain and make your choices for you. CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter went as far as to claim that viewers were being "force-fed" the Sinclair viewpoint, which would mean that every time an outlet is "leaning forward" or telling us that "Democracy Dies in Darkness" or lecturing us about "fake news," it, too, is force-feeding consumers their partisan talking points. It's clear that the oversized reaction to the Sinclair script is occurring because it flaunted the wrong bias. And considering the often sycophantic treatment the previous administration received from major news outlets, it's difficult to take those acting appalled very seriously. In fact, those who act most disturbed are in part responsible for the rise of openly partisan journalism. That's because in many ways, politically motivated news is as much a market reaction as an ideological one. Take CNN's full-blown push for gun control over the past few weeks. Is the network any less culpable of the supposed manipulation of democracy when it features a virtually unchallenged—and often fact-challenged—opinion that runs in a loop for a week? CNN wasn't alone. Surely, it's not surprising that many Americans might seek out alternative coverage, especially in conservative areas, where Sinclair is strongest. If the wealthiest legacy networks—the ones the public relies on because they have the most access—keep treating one party with standards and an intensity they don't apply to the other[...]

5 Things Everyone's Getting Wrong About Sinclair Broadcast Group

Tue, 03 Apr 2018 14:37:00 -0400

"This Pravda-style propaganda," a visibly shaken Joe Scarborough said on his MSNBC show Monday morning, "has to stop." Dan Rather concurred: "It's Orwellian," the veteran newsman tweeted. "A slippery slope to how despots wrest power, silence dissent, and oppress the masses." John Oliver, the discreet Superman of American journalism, performed last rites. "A brainwashed cult," he pronounced. What is it that has the journalistic class manning their battle stations against the totalitarian menace? This Deadspin supercut of the country's biggest name in local TV news, the Sinclair Broadcast Group, beaming out to each one of its markets the exact same promotional message: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> "Sinclair's fake-news zombies should terrify you," ran the headline of a David Rothkopf piece at CNN. You can see what he means—especially given the backstory, as reported a month ago by CNN's Brian Stelter, that the notoriously Republicanoid parent company was making local anchors "uncomfortable" by insisting they record the thing word for word. (There has been at least one refusenik.) Sure, many of the melodramatic sentiments contained within the advertorial were virtually indistinguishable from recent promotional campaigns by The New York Times ("factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever" vs. "the truth is more important than ever") or The Washington Post ("this is extremely dangerous to our democracy" vs. "democracy dies in darkness"), but the hostage-video vibe was unmistakable. When reading from the exact same teleprompter language, the least you can do is smile! src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> That video above and other such cookie-cutter local-TV segments that Conan O'Brien enjoys mocking were brought to you by a company called CNN Newsource, though there is clearly a difference between syndicated goofball content that stations choose to run and heavy-handed "fake news" lectures that they're ordered to broadcast. As one Sinclairite emailed Stelter last night: "It sickens me the way this company is encroaching upon trusted news brands in rural markets." Still, a certain sense of perspective and proportion has been noticeably absent from this, a story that has captured media imaginations far in excess to the facially unconstitutional assault on free speech that Congress passed just last month. So in order to encourage more media literacy and make even more new friends on Twitter, here is my list of five things people are getting wrong about L'affaire Sinclair: 1) Sinclair is not remotely a monopoly. "Sinclair Is Bad for Democracy. So Are Other Media Monopolies," runs the Washington Monthly headline from David Atkins. "Sinclair Broadcast Group is a Media Monopoly Thanks to Bill Clinton," says Colin Kalmbacher of Law & Crime. "Sinclair Broadcast Group and Media Monopolies, Explained," offers Teen Vogue's Danielle Corcione. None of these pieces manage to explain how a company currently prohibited from operating two of the top four stations in a given television market meets any of the various definitions of monopoly. Sinclair mostly owns and occasionally operates 193 local TV stations across the country (or "nearly 250" in the inflationary math of Law & Crime), including affiliates for ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox. (Confused by that? See #3.) As Jack Shafer wrote in Politico last year, "Today, the United States has 1,775 total television stations, about 5,200 cable systems run by 660 operators reaching 90 percent of homes and so many cable channels that TV executives complain about their number. The idea that Sinclair...might banish competing viewpoints from the marketplace reeks of stupidity." According to Pew Research, only 9 percent of Americans view television without aid of cable, satellite, or internet connection. When we talk about Sinclair's market share and potential "monopoly[...]

Franklin Foer's Tech-Panic Manifesto

Sat, 23 Dec 2017 06:00:00 -0500

World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, by Franklin Foer, Penguin Press, 272 pages, $27 If you want to sell a book about tech policy these days, there's an easy formula to follow. First you need a villain. Google and Facebook should suffice, but if you can throw in Apple, Amazon, or Twitter, that's even better. Paint their CEOs as either James Bond baddies bent on world domination or naive do-gooders obsessed with the quixotic promise of innovation. Then you repackage some old chestnuts about commercialism or false consciousness. Add a dash of pop psychology and behavioral economics. Be sure to include a litany of woes about cognitive overload and social isolation. Finally, come up with a juicy Chicken Little title. Maybe something like World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. Wait—that one's taken. It's the title of Franklin Foer's latest book, which follows this familiar techno-panic template almost perfectly. Foer's arguments may not break any new ground, but he has managed to bring together in one tome the three dominant fears of modern tech criticism: the death of journalism and high culture, the growth of unstoppable tech conglomerates, and the rise of isolated, distracted individuals. This trifecta of troubles is leading us down a "terrifying trajectory," Foer says. It is eroding "the integrity of institutions," even "altering human evolution." It all sounds quite ominous. But it isn't any more convincing than those other anti-technology texts. Foer, a correspondent for The Atlantic, begins by admitting he's more than a little bitter about his own run-in with a Silicon Valley do-gooder. Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes bought a stake in The New Republic in 2012, then hired Foer to serve as editor of the magazine. But the relationship deteriorated quickly, and Foer was dismissed two years later. Foer's experience with Hughes serves as the foundation for his fusillade against the technology sector. Echoing themes already developed in books by Andrew Keen (The Cult of the Amateur), Lee Siegel (Against the Machine), Jaron Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget), and Mark Helprin (Digital Barbarism), Foer rails against Silicon Valley's "assault on journalism" and "war on professional writers," charging the internet with the "death of the author" and the "collapse of the economic value of knowledge." Like many in his profession, Foer isn't a fan of journalism being a business at all. While originally viewing Hughes as a "savior" ready to subsidize a magazine, Foer soured on him once the dreaded demands of popularity and profitability entered the picture. His indictment goes well beyond that, though. Foer lambasts what he calls the GAFA cabal (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) for an ethos that is allegedly "disrespectful of authority." GAFA isn't just undermining journalism: Its members are fighting a "war on free will" and aim "to impose their values and theological convictions on the world." Yet Foer is all for the theology of the old media order. He falls into a long list of critics who are nostalgic for a time when supposedly enlightened gatekeepers served as the "guardians of intellectual seriousness." Foer suggests that the recent artisanal food movement and "buy local" farmers market model might offer a framework for a better media age. But there already are plenty of specialized community websites and digital services tailored to almost every imaginable interest. Foer just doesn't like so many of them being associated with big platforms like Facebook. So the erstwhile editor wants the government to step in. Specifically, he wants Washington to "wage war" against these "ascendant monopolies" that "aspire to encompass all of existence." With this call to antitrust arms, Foer joins the big-is-bad chorus of Tim Wu (The Master Switch), Jonathan Zittrain (The Future of the Internet—And How to Stop It), Siva Vaidhyanathan (The Googlization of Everything), and others. A generation ago, many of the same monopoly concerns were raised about Micr[...]

The Commission on Presidential Debate's 15 Percent Polling Criterion Must Go, Argues Lawsuit from Gary Johnson

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 22:10:00 -0400

Electoral politics is like a market, argues Bruce Fein, the lawyer for Gary Johnson (the 2012 and 2016 Libertarian Party candidate for president) and other plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), the Republican and Democratic Parties, and 2012 major party candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The collusive behavior of those defendants against the L.P. and other third parties to keep them out of the electoral politics market amounts to a violation of antitrust law. Fein argued that point, and others, in an hearing this morning at the D.C. Court of Appeals. He appeared before a three-judge panel of Judges Janice Brown, Laurence Silberman, and Cornelia Pillard. (Johnson's loss in district court was reported on last August, and more details about the plaintiffs arguments were explained when the case was filed in 2015.) The CPD itself has officials who brag that its debates are the Super Bowl of politics, so Fein speculates on the value of appearing in it in terms of the value of commercial time bought during a Super Bowl broadcast, estimating that the injurious actions of the CPD and its two-party pals cost his clients up to a possible billion dollars. "When you run for president you have commercial objectives," Fein said in a phone interview this morning after the hearing, giving examples of manipulating the minimum wage, permitting or not permitting pipelines, raising or cutting taxes. And they are trying to actuate those commercial objectives through government action. "If the objective has a commercial goal, then the process by which you get into government or get government to enact economic changes should be subject to antitrust law," Fein says. As argued in Fein's appeals brief, "the concerted actions of Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney and the CPD were intended to cripple or destroy competition in the multi-billion dollar business of campaigning for the presidency....This was to be accomplished by limiting public information about credible presidential candidates through an exclusionary 15% national polling criterion for participation in presidential debates, i.e., an output limitation agreement." The full list of plaintiffs Fein represents in this case also includes Gary Johnson 2012, Inc.; Libertarian National Committee; James P. Gray; Green Party of the United States; Jill Stein; Jill Stein for President; and Cheri Honkala. Fein noted that the CPD's 15 percent criteria (adopted in 2000, and no non-major-party candidate has met it since then, which Fein thinks is exactly the point) remains ill-defined, amounting to a "we know it when we see it standard" impossible to objectively interpret. For example, why shouldn't it apply to face-to-face polls in which a third party candidate was compared only to the incumbent? The appeals brief insists that the polls by which Romney qualified generally pitted him only against Obama. His clients, Fein says, would prefer a truly cut and dried objective criteria: being on enough state ballots to literally win an electoral college majority. That would have resulted in 2016 in four such candidates on the CPD debate stage, "not an unwieldy number." "The other side claims we are arguing for an absolute right for any candidate to participate, which is a misrepresentation." Fein found many aspects of the District Court opinion from Judge Rosemary Collyer dismissing their case troublesome, including what he calls a "catch-22." What's that catch? That Collyer thinks that Johnson and the other parties had no standing to sue the CPD and its co-defendants, since the injury wasn't caused by the criteria imposed by the defendants, but rather by their failure to poll high enough to meet the criteria. And anyone who did meet the polling criteria obviously would have no standing to sue. So to Collyer, as Fein sees it, no one would ever have any standing to sue over the polling criteria. The appeals brief also tried to counter Collyer's insistence that no antitrust issue was im[...]

‘Heavy regulation creates mergers’: Matt Welch on Obama’s Cigna/Anthem Antitrust Action

Tue, 21 Jun 2016 11:34:00 -0400

Yesterday I appeared on Fox Business Network's The Intelligence Report with Trish Regan, Network to talk about the Obama administration's antitrust objections to the proposed $48 billion merger of health care giants Cigna and Anthem, and how that fits with the overall antitrust and regulatory record of the past seven-plus years. The clip is here:


Reason on antitrust here.

Justice Dept. Attempts to Block Newspaper Sale for the Absurdest of Reasons

Fri, 18 Mar 2016 12:45:00 -0400

Here's how absurd federal antitrust interventions have become: Tribune Publishing Company, owner of the Los Angeles Times and several other newspapers, filed for bankruptcy at the height of the recession in 2008 as a result of a plunge in advertising and high debt. Freedom Communications, owner of the Orange County Register and the Riverside Press-Enterprise in Riverside County, California, has filed for bankruptcy twice, in 2009 and just last year, for similar reasons. It used to be a larger chain, built by noted libertarian R.C. Hoiles, but it has since sold off most of its publications. Freedom Communications' latest bankruptcy has resulted in the company being auctioned off. Tribune Publishing won the bid with a $56 million offer. Not so fast, said the Department of Justice. They're filing suit to stop the purchase because—and try not to laugh at this explanation—they're concerned about the creation of a newspaper monopoly in Orange and Riverside counties and the impact on advertising and subscription rates. In 2016. For real: According to the department's complaint, filed in federal district court in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and the Register together account for 98 percent of newspaper sales in Orange County and the Los Angeles Times and Freedom's newspapers together account for 81 percent of English-language newspaper sales in Riverside County.  Tribune's acquisition of its most significant competitor would give it a monopoly over newspaper sales in each county and allow it to increase subscription prices, raise advertising rates and invest less to maintain the quality of its newspapers. "If this acquisition is allowed to proceed, newspaper competition will be eliminated and readers and advertisers in Orange and Riverside Counties will suffer," said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.  "Newspapers continue to play an important role in the dissemination of news and information to readers and remain an important vehicle for advertisers.  The Antitrust Division is committed to ensuring that competition in this important industry is protected."    Wherever will advertisers go if newspapers raise their rates? Wherever they've been going since they stopped going to the newspapers over the past 15 years. Here's what the newspaper advertising revenue market looks like: The Department of Justice is attempting to justify intervening by treating the newspaper market as something separate from the media environment as a whole. This reads like an analysis that came from a mass communications textbook that was published in the 1970s. And that's exactly how the Tribune's spokesperson responded to the L.A. Times: "The Division is living in a time capsule, with a framework that predates the arrival of iPhones, Google, Facebook, and modern media outlets that are killing the traditional newspaper industry," spokeswoman Dana Meyer said in a statement. "It wasn't competition from the L.A. Times that forced the Register into bankruptcy. It was the Internet and related technology." The Times also notes that the Justice Department has said that it doesn't have any issues with Freedom Communications being sold to Tribune's own competitors in the region, so the federal government is actively, intentionally or not, threatening the bottom line of a company that has already gone through bankruptcy once. And now they'll probably have to spend additional money fighting the DOJ. Were Hoiles still around, he's probably be disappointed in the way things played out with his former media empire, but he'd be utterly repulsed at the idea that the federal government would exert the authority to determine who had the "right" to own and operate his newspapers. (Though he might also get a kick out of the generally liberal Times being thwarted by the consequences of government intervention in the economy.) [...]

The Beer Companies Behind Budweiser and Miller Lite Are Merging. There’s No Need for Regulators to Get Involved.

Tue, 13 Oct 2015 10:41:00 -0400

The most unpleasant thing about the just-announced plan to merge the world’s two biggest beer-makers, Anneuser-Busch Inbev (Budweiser, Bud Light, Corona) and SABMiller (Miller Lite), in a $100 billion deal, is not the thought of mixing two foul-tasting watery light beers together (although, eww), but the idea that the deal will, once approved by British regulators, will, as USA Today reports, "likely prompt intense anti-trust reviews in both the U.S. and the European Union." It’s true that, if the sale goes through, it would be an extraordinarily large merger: the biggest beer deal ever, and among the five largest acquisitions in history. The deal would result in the newly merged BudMiller* controlling eight of the world’s 10 biggest beer brands, or about 30 percent of the global beer market. But size alone is no reason for the government to pry into a deal like this. The fact is that the U.S. beer market is incredibly competitive these days. If you’ve been buying beer at a local grocer for the last decade or two, you’ve probably watched as the aisles fill up with an ever larger number of brands and tastes and styles. At bars, taps that were once filled exclusively by Bud and Miller and now packed with regional variants and obscure tastes from across the country. If you love beer (I love beer), this is a great time to be alive. And the biggest reason why is the craft and microbrew explosion, which over the last few decades has gone from basically having no market presence to representing about 10 percent of the U.S. beer market, with roughly $100 billion in sales. In the space of a handful of presidential terms, America went from housing about 50 small breweries to more than 2,500. The current boom started in the 1980s following the end of homebrew ban left over from prohibition. (Thanks, as always, to Jimmy Carter willingness to deregulate.) Which means that Big Beer got big thanks in part to an assist from the government. The corporate beer brands still do big volume, but they have faltered in a world of intense competition. And the next generation of beer drinkers just isn’t interested. Brands like Budweiser have had a difficult time attracting young drinkers, with about 44 percent of 21-27 year old drinkers saying they’ve never tried the stuff. Craft beer and other newfangled options (some made by big beer makers), meanwhile, have made for a nearly 9 percent decline in shipments, according to The Wall Street Journal.  As a result, corporate beer marketers have resorted to hilariously inept measures to promote their offerings as pseudo-craft beers. Leaked marketing documents from Anneuser-Busch, for example, pitched the company's mediocre Shock Top as one of its sub-brand's "big bet in the battle against Micro Craft," a beer designed with a “flavoursome taste to drive Shock Top penetration with Experience Maximizers in the ‘Reward Myself’ need state." Shockingly, this company is having a hard time attracting young drinkers.  Anyway, that’s what this merger is about. Anneuser-Busch wants to buy SABMiller because big beer brands are struggling to compete and bring in new, young customers in wonderfully diverse, incredibly competitive market for beer, and figure the only way to hold their ground is to join forces.   The Big Two may perform better together, but I suspect that the post-merger landscape would look a lot like the current one, with corporate beer continuing to sell a lot of volume while microbrewers that make a product that actually tastes good continue to eat into their sales. A corporate merger isn't going to make Bud Light taste any better. Either way, there’s no reason for regulators to get involved in a market as obviously competitive and innovative (and tasty) as this one. (*I just made this name up.)[...]

Got Baseball Playoff Fever? Watch The Top 5 Pointless Congressional Hearings on Baseball

Sat, 10 Oct 2015 19:00:00 -0400

frameborder="0" src="" height="340" width="560">

It's October and that means the Major League Baseball playoffs are in full swing. Congress has held hearings on baseball throughout the years, which sometimes yield all-time classic moments like:

  1. Joe Biden contradicting himself in the same sentence when he said, "I'm angry that we're even here, having to deal with this is a Congress...but I think we should have hearings on all sports."
  2. Gov. Jesse Ventura (I-MN) calling team owners' claims of poverty "asinine," adding, "These people did not get wealthy by being stupid."
  3. Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) grilling a witness on the state of Roger Clemens' bloody pants.

To see these classic moments and a few more, watch the Top 5 Pointless Congressional Hearings on Baseball!

Original writeup below:

Congress has no authority over Major League Baseball, but that hasn't stopped them from holding dozens of hearings on the national pastime over the years. Federal legislators have relished the opportunity to show off their populist appeal in front of national TV cameras by talking "inside baseball" jargon, acting as moral scolds, and generally probing in places they don’t belong.

To celebrate Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season, Reason TV presents the Top 5 Pointless Congressional Hearings on Baseball!

Featuring Rafael Palmeiro's infamous fingerwagGeorge Will's defense of socialism in baseball, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) threatening to "hold hearings on all sports," a totally TMI investigation of Roger Clemens' bloody dress pants, Sen. Howell Heflin's (D-AL) concern about the rising costs of "basekaball" tickets, and Gov. Jesse Ventura's (I-MN) shocking star turn as the voice of sober and rational government.  

About 5 minutes.

Produced by Anthony L. Fisher.

Music: "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Are the Airlines Colluding—or Just Careful?

Thu, 09 Jul 2015 00:05:00 -0400

In recent decades, there have been many ways to make money and one virtually infallible formula for losing it: running an airline. At times, it might have made more sense for the major carriers to set up bonfires of cash on tarmacs rather than actually transport people.  Lately, though, they have figured out how to avoid squandering huge sums. Hint: It involves charging more for their services than it costs to provide them. This strange development has set off alarms among people in Congress who think aviation should be a charitable activity.  Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., recently charged, "Consumers are paying sky-high fares and are trapped in an uncompetitive market with a history of collusive behavior." He called on the Justice Department to launch an anti-trust investigation, and last week, it said it was doing just that.  The suspicion is that the big airlines have been using winks and nods to limit the number of planes in the sky. When too many seats are available, fares get slashed, profits vanish and, time after time, carriers go bankrupt. When fewer seats are offered, the opposite happens.  The department suspects that when company executives tell Wall Street analysts they have learned their lesson about overexpansion, they are sending a clear nonaggression message to other airlines. A Justice spokesperson said their talk about "discipline" on capacity suggests "potential unlawful coordination."  Yes, it could. And if New Orleans shop owners who got flooded after Katrina respond to a hurricane warning by closing, it could mean they are colluding with each other to maximize price-gouging opportunities after the storm is over. Or it could mean they have enough sense not to repeat ruinous mistakes of the past.  Investors sometimes insist on verifying the sound judgment of those who want their money. "There have been about two years of conference calls in which Wall Street analysts have browbeat airline executives to either have discipline, or they will bust their recommendations on their stock," aviation analyst Robert W. Mann Jr. told The New York Times.  Who can blame them? Those analysts weren't born yesterday, which is about when the domestic industry got flush. Between 2000 and 2009, it lost $54 billion. No wonder investing guru Warren Buffett once groused that when the Wright brothers got their flying machine into the air at Kitty Hawk, someone should have shot it down.  Year after year, American travelers took full advantage of the industry's habit of cutting fares and expanding capacity. But if something is too good to last, it won't. At some point, the airlines' need to make money to stay in business had to prevail, at least temporarily, over passengers' desire for bargains.  Lately, the airlines have managed to make money, mainly by making sure they don't fly so many planes that they can't fill them up. When seats are empty, these carriers know, loss-inducing fare wars ensue. When planes are packed, they can be assured of covering their costs.  The strategy has worked reasonably well. Since 2007, reports The Wall Street Journal, inflation-adjusted fares are up 5 percent—but they are 16.3 percent lower than in 2000. This year, fares are actually shrinking. Profits have reached record levels, thanks in part to higher baggage fees and other irksome charges.  But there is no guarantee the good times will keep rolling. A recession—a surge of growth—could upset the carriers' plans.  Airlines, like other businesses, have to worry about two dangers: having too much capacity, which requires costly discounting, and having too little, which drives customers away. Either mistake can be devastating.  Right now, many big airlines are erring on the side of caution, but they are not cutting back capacity. Total capacity in the thir[...]

Top 5 Pointless Congressional Hearings on Baseball

Mon, 06 Apr 2015 09:05:00 -0400

Congress has no authority over Major League Baseball, but that hasn't stopped them from holding dozens of hearings on the national pastime over the years. Federal legislators have relished the opportunity to show off their populist appeal in front of national TV cameras by talking "inside baseball" jargon, acting as moral scolds, and generally probing in places they don’t belong.

To celebrate Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season, Reason TV presents the Top 5 Pointless Congressional Hearings on Baseball!

Featuring Rafael Palmeiro's infamous fingerwag, George Will's defense of socialism in baseball, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) threatening to "hold hearings on all sports," a totally TMI investigation of Roger Clemens' bloody dress pants, Sen. Howell Heflin's (D-AL) concern about the rising costs of "basekaball" tickets, and Gov. Jesse Ventura's (I-MN) shocking star turn as the voice of sober and rational government.  

About 5 minutes.

Produced by Anthony L. Fisher.

Music: "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Sci-fi Icon Ursula K. LeGuin Denounces 'Profit' at National Book Awards

Thu, 20 Nov 2014 12:37:00 -0500

(image) I am a fan of Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness and her Earthsea novels. At the National Book Awards yesterday evening, LeGuin received an award for her distinguished contributions to American letters. About time! The plain fact is that so-called literary fiction has devolved into an etiolated academic enterprise while the best contemporary novels are now being written by the authors of speculative fiction like LeGuin.

However, in her acceptance speech, LeGuin weighed in on the struggle between the international publishing conglomerate Hachette and on-line retailer As NPR reports:

Once she was onstage, she pulled no punches in a fiery speech about art and commerce. "We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa," LeGuin said. "And I see a lot of us, the producers, accepting this — letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant!"

She was referring to the recent dispute between Amazon and the publisher Hachette over e-book pricing. The power of capitalism can seem inescapable, LeGuin said, but resistance and change begin in art. And writers should demand their fair share of the proceeds from their work.

"The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom."

I doubt that LeGuin plans to give away her books for free. (Available at Amazon for $8.99.) With regard to profits, LeGuin somehow failed to note that Hachette's revenues in 2013 were over 2 billion Euros with a profit of $233 million Euros. LeGuin and other authors who want their "fair share" are objecting to Amazon's discounting policy because, well, they feared that it would lower the amount of royalties (ahem, profits) they would receive. Of course, writers, like any other workers, certainly have a right to negotiate for the "beautiful reward" of higher pay. On the other hand, if books are cheaper, authors are likely to attract more readers. 

For an excellent analysis of the dispute between Amazon and Hachette read my colleague Nick Gillespie's article, "Amazon is NOT the 'Putin' of Books."

In any case, the two corporate giants apparently buried the hatchet last week.

Dollar Store Merger Attracts Anti-Trust Regulators. Really?

Mon, 25 Aug 2014 16:30:00 -0400

There’s a dollar store down at the end of the street on which I live. I sometimes shop there. So I’ve been following the three-way corporate merger drama among Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree with more than merely ideological interest.  In case you’ve been away on vacation or skipping the business pages of the newspaper, here’s a quick summary of the state of play: Back in July, Dollar Tree announced a bid to take over Family Dollar for $74.50 a share in cash and stock, or about $8.5 billion. Last week, Family Dollar rejected an all-cash offer from Dollar General at $78.50 a share, or about $9 billion. What strikes me about the whole thing is the role that the U.S. government seems to be playing in depriving the owners of Family Dollar of the extra half-billion dollars (though some of that half-billion would go toward paying a “breakup fee” to Dollar Tree). As a New York Times news article about the situation put it, “Though it may seem strange for a would-be seller to spurn a higher-priced offer,” a sale to Dollar General, the market leader, “would pose serious risk of rejection from antitrust regulators.” The Times went on, “The gap between the two companies may not be unbridgeable. Family Dollar is still demanding stronger protections against antitrust risk from its bigger competitor, according to a person briefed on the matter. Among those may be a so-called hell or high water provision that would compel Dollar General to do whatever is necessary, including divesting more stores, to satisfy regulators.” I chuckled at the concept of a “hell or high water provision.” But as a customer, I laughed, too, at the idea that government antitrust regulators are needed to protect me from a merger of dollar-store parent companies. What am I being protected against? The risk that the dollar store company will use its newly enlarged market clout to negotiate better terms from its suppliers, thus saving customers like me even more money?  Seriously, the risk to consumers in antitrust regulation seems to be that a firm might get so large it could use its monopoly power to charge consumers extortionately high prices. But the stores don’t sell admission for the dollar store experience. They sell merchandise, pretty much all of which is widely available elsewhere. The dollar store at the end of my street sells cleaning supplies — but so do a CVS, a Walgreen’s, and a supermarket within walking distance. The dollar store sells gardening supplies, batteries, and lightbulbs — but so do the hardware store across the street and a Home Depot a couple of miles away. Many of the goods are also available online from Amazon or other retailers, or at Walmart or Costco. One product that the dollar store sells — cigarettes — isn’t available at the CVS a block away only because CVS caved to government pressure to stop tobacco sales at drugstores. And anyway, if the government wanted to reduce cigarette prices, the way to do it wouldn’t be more aggressive antitrust enforcement against retailers, but a rollback of taxes, which can total $7 or $8 a pack. If there is some product that a newly merged and enlarged dollar store firm can jack up the prices on, there’s little to stop some new dollar store firm from entering the market with lower prices. It’s not like cellphones, where there’s a limited amount of spectrum bandwith, or like medicine, where drugs have patent protection. The barriers to entry in the dollar store business are low.  It’s possible that the whole antitrust issue is just a red herring promoted by Family Dollar management, which, Family Dollar shareholder Carl Icahn suggests, has a better shot at a future role in a deal with [...]

NCAA Loses Ed O'Bannon Video Game Case, Judge and Public Agree Athletes Should Be Paid When Their Likenesses Are Used

Sat, 09 Aug 2014 14:01:00 -0400

Though it can still ding schools for feeding players too much pasta, the NCAA must now compensate student-athletes when their images or likenesses are used to sell merchandise.  So says a federal court ruling issued Friday in the anti-trust lawsuit brought against the NCAA by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon.  The Kansas City Star reports: A federal judge ruled for student-athletes and against the NCAA on Friday, opening the door for some college players to share in licensing revenue after their careers are over. The ruling by U.S. District judge Claudia Wilken in the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit allows for trust funds to be established for major college football and men’s basketball players, who can cash in, after their eligibility expires, on a portion of the proceeds generated by the use of their images and likenesses. It appears that public opinion matches the judge's decision. In March, the Reason-Rupe poll asked 1,003 Americans:  When a college or company sells a jersey with a college football or basketball player’s number on it, or sells a video game with a player’s likeness in it, do you think that player should receive some of the money from the sale of his likeness or jersey, or should that not be allowed? Should be allowed................................ 64% Should not be allowed.......................... 32% Don’t Know............................................. 4% Refused.................................................. 1% USA Today's Nina Mandell notes how attitudes about the NCAA are changing, "Through the trial, Ed O’Bannon and his fellow plaintiffs became heroes who took on an organization that many felt had treated them unfairly. In a matter of only a few years, the narrative swung from athletes being thought of as spoiled jocks to a group of kids who were being unfairly taken advantage of." The ruling is the latest decision in a string of lawsuits pending against the NCAA and threatens to weaken the institutional power of the collegiate athletic organization.  In late July, the NCAA agreed to earmark $75 million toward concussion research as part of a settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed by former football players who felt that the association mismanaged head injuries.   And in March, the Chicago regional office of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that football players at Northwestern University had the right to unionize.  Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 26-30, 2014 interviewed 1,003 adults on both mobile (503) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.6%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.[...]

Amazon Is NOT the 'Putin' of Books!

Wed, 18 Jun 2014 10:30:00 -0400

This article ran at The Daily Beast on June 5, 2014. Can you believe those…those…those…sons of bitches at Amazon? After launching almost 20 years ago and making virtually every book—new, used, dead-tree, electronic, audio, and I’m guessing any day now, olfactory—available to everyone in America at good-to-great prices, the company’s true character now stands revealed. It’s not pretty, folks. Despite a huge market share, Amazon apparentlystill wants books, especially the e-books that everyone agrees are the future of the medium, to be cheaper than what publishers and big-name authors want you to pay for them. Just who the hell does Amazon think it is? Maybe a bare-chested tyrant who used to work for the KGB? Amazon is “like Vladimir Putin mobilizing his troops along the Ukrainian border,” a proprietor of an “e-book discovery site” tells The New York Times. “A bully,” offers Richard Russo, the novelist and president of the Authors Guild (which knows exactly how to bully mere “writers”). Amazon, says author James Patterson, who published 13 detective books last year, is waging “war” and doing unspeakable things for which “the quality of American literature will suffer.” No, wait. That’s all wrong. Amazon isn’t like a Russian despot waging a war, says Dennis Loy, proprietor of the small publisher Melville House. It’s more like “the Mafia.” What Loy calls Amazon’s “extortion” racket is its decision to make it annoying as hell to buy books published by Hachette, a French-based conglomerate whose imprints include Grand Central, Little Brown, Hyperion, and others. If you try to order new Hachette books, including titles from James Patterson and other best-selling authors such as Malcolm Gladwell (who likens Amazon to the biblical Goliath in this interview), the odds are high that Amazon will actually charge the publisher’s cover price and tell you it won’t arrive for several weeks. Even the electronic Kindle version! In other words, kind of what buying books used to be like 30 years ago. It may even recommend you buy a totally different book before you head over to the websites for Barnes & Noble, Hachette, or even Wal-Mart. Yes, that’s exactlyhow the mob works (well, except for the Gold Box Deals and that original miniseries featuring John Goodman as a congressman). Both Amazon and Hachette have signed confidentiality agreements, so the exact nature of the negotiations between the two companies is anybody’s guess. But it’s clear that they are duking it out over the future price of e-books (a market that Amazon, more than any other single company, made viable with its cheap, user-friendly Kindle devices and cross-platform apps). “Inside the publishing world,” reports The New York Times, “the consensus is that Amazon wants to offer deep discounts on Hachette’s electronic books, and that the negotiations are not going well.” Hachette is the first major publisher to be engaged in this sort of wrangling, but it won’t be the last. If you had heard of Hachette before this latest brouhaha, you are either an author with a very good agent or you followed that fascinating federal lawsuit settled a few years ago. You know, the one about how five of the six biggest publishers on the planet conspired with Apple and Steve Jobs to fix e-book prices when the iPad was first coming to market in 2010. Jobs wooed publishers who hated Amazon’s devotion to selling virtually all new e-books at what one executive called “the wretched $9.99 price point.” They were leaving money on the table, kind of like how iTunes does by sellin[...]

Amazon Is NOT the Vladimir Putin of Publishing! Hachette Is Not "Horatius at the Bridge"!

Thu, 05 Jun 2014 10:30:00 -0400

A bold claim, yes, and a necessary one given the way that the New York media world is characterizing the world's biggest bookstore. Amazon is in confidential negotiations with the French-owned publishing conglomerate Hachette over the future pricing of ebooks; the terms of that agreement are expected to set the template for Amazon's relationship with other major publishing houses. While the talks are going on, Amazon has effectively made Hachette titles unavailable to customers, a hardball action that has led observers to liken the retailer to Vladimir Putin and the Mafia. Hachette on the other hand is being depicted as a gentle, delicate flower—a lonely David facing off against an indomitable Goliath. Or in even more overblown comparisons, The New York Times quotes a literary agent likening the head of Hachette to "Horatius at the Bridge,"...referring to the soldier of legend who single-handedly saved ancient Rome by fighting off an invading army. "He is carrying the rest of the industry on his back." That's a real pant-load. In a new column for The Daily Beast, I argue that when it comes to the selling and buying of books over its 20-year history, Amazon has consistently been on the side of the reader/customer. This current fight isn't any different, especially since it pits Amazon against a publisher that, along with Apple and four of the other largest publishers on the planet, recently settled a lawsuit in which they colluded to force Amazon to raise its prices on ebooks. As The Wall Street Journal reported when the price-rigging case was settled in 2012, “The five publishers and Apple hatched an arrangement that lifted the price of many best-selling e-books to $12.99 or $14.99, according to the suit. The publishers then banded together to impose that model on Amazon, the government alleged.” On behalf of authors and publishers, Jobs unveiled what he called his “aikido move,” which would not only change price points but shift to an “agency model,” where the seller gets a commission on each unit sold rather than buying a certain number of units at a fixed price. “We’ll go to the agency model,” Jobs explained, “where you set the price, and we get our 30 percent [commission], and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that’s what you want anyway.” That’s an interesting line that doesn’t seem to make it into all the love being showered on Hachette by its public champions: Yes, the customer pays a little more, but that’s what you want anyway. Read the whole thing, which includes a capsule history of attacks by publishers and writers on the practice of discounting books and how most antitrust actions benefit corporations and not customers. Disclosure: The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is a supporter of Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason magazine,, and Reason TV. I have never had any contact with him or anyone at Amazon except as a customer. Although I greatly admire Amazon as a company and, as a part-time resident of a small town in Ohio, benefit greatly from its services, I am not uncritical of it, either.[...]