mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Media’s Collusion With Politicians?”: Should A Member Of The Press “Clear The Air” With A Politician?

One of the arguments that is often used to point out unfairness is to suggest what things would look like if roles were reversed. For example, pointing out that a remark was sexist by asking what it would look like if the same thing were said to a man.

That kind of argument is so often abused that I tend to avoid it. Nevertheless, it was the first thing that came to mind when I heard that Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly had a private meeting with Donald Trump and reported that they had a chance to “clear the air.”

Let’s remember what happened here. In a Republican presidential debate Kelly asked Trump some tough questions. He didn’t like them and went on for days and weeks to say horribly sexist things about her. The feud disturbed the relationship Fox News had with the presidential contender and became the focus of a lot of press reports.

Here is where I want to employ the role change argument. What would we be saying about a media reporter who asked a Democratic candidate tough questions that eventually led to a private meeting to clear the air? I submit that holy hell would break out about the media’s collusion with politicians and failure to play their role as watch dogs.

In no way do I mean to imply any sympathy for Megyn Kelly. She is part of a media institution that, while pretending to be “fair and balanced,” is nothing more than a mouthpiece for conservatives. I’d propose that is why so few people find this whole episode to be unremarkable…it’s what we expect from Fox News.

I’ll not be breaking any new ground when I point out that this is actually a perfect example of how that network is not a news organization, but a PR arm of the Republican Party. But in this case, I think it still needs to be said out loud.

 

By: Nancy Letourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 14, 2016

April 15, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Media, Megyn Kelly | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Sense Of Disgust With Airlines”: Enough With The Crazy Change Fees

In 2014, airlines in the United States billed more than three billion dollars in “change fees”—fees charged to customers who cancelled or changed itineraries. This bounty came after most of the industry (minus Southwest) tacitly agreed to create a new industry standard of two hundred dollars per change, plus, in some cases, an additional fifty-dollar service fee for tickets booked on non-airline Web sites. And the worst may be yet to come: as the airline-revenue-optimization consultant Tom Bacon wrote a little while back, “Don’t be surprised if you see change fees increase again. … My guess is that change fees will eventually hit $300.” Meanwhile, fees can be four hundred dollars on international routes; on some first-class fares, they are as much as seven hundred and fifty dollars. The size of the fees alone may cause many a sense of disgust: Why pay so much for something that feels like nothing? But the strongest case against high change fees is that they introduce a rigidity into the travel system that is inconsistent with the fast-moving contemporary economy.

Modern life moves quickly, and we change plans constantly, but if we need to change our travel plans we face harsh punishments. It’s as if this one part of modern life—planning how we move through the air—is stuck in another age, while everything else is in flux. This rigidity translates into an economic case against high change fees, based on what an economist might call “the deadweight costs” created by stranded passengers.  Consider two travellers—each is on a trip and, due to changed circumstances (perhaps a meeting is cancelled, or a family member falls ill), each should come home early. The first pays the two-hundred-dollar change fee. The second does not, either because she cannot afford it or because she cannot, subjectively, bring herself to pay it. The second traveller creates stranding costs—wasted time, missed meetings, neglected children, and so on—without any benefit to the airline.

Airlines prefer the high change fees for reasons both obvious and less so. The obvious reason is the money. The less obvious reason is that change fees “protect” revenue and help airlines keep their planes as full as possible (achieving “higher load factors,” in the jargon). Without high fees, last-minute changes would be more common, leaving behind seats that are hard to fill on short notice and at the high price that airlines charge last-minute travellers.

High change fees surely both generate and protect revenue for the airlines. But the potential losses from empty seats caused by changes are mitigated in several ways. For one thing, travellers who change their tickets usually absorb any increase in fares, and sometimes the airlines profit from the change, by effectively selling the same seat twice. When changes are made far in advance, there’s plenty of time for the airline to resell the seat. No one can deny that high change fees yield higher profits (for what’s presently a profitable industry). But the fact that Southwest charges no change fees yet remains highly profitable counters the argument that an airline cannot be run without them.

Sometimes airlines defend their change fees by pointing out that they also sell “fully refundable” tickets without such fees, effectively blaming consumers for failing to read the fine print. This argument comes close to a sham, for it ignores the fact that the fares without fees are so expensive that, in practice, only customers in highly unusual situations would purchase them, particularly given that the refund process is itself highly unreliable. This pricing actually serves to protect the change-fee racket, because no rational person would buy a ticket at, say, three times the normal fare instead of one at the regular price, plus a potential change fee. In other words, offering a fully refundable fare simply creates an illusion of choice that the airlines exploit.

Are high change fees a problem that we can expect competition to solve? In an ideal world, yes. But the airlines find it more profitable to collude instead of compete when it comes to fees, despite this being a country where price-fixing is supposedly a felony. To its credit, the Justice Department is currently investigating the price-fixing of fares through agreements to place limits on the number of available seats. But, when it comes to change fees, the airlines rely on a legal form of collusion. The major airlines simply take turns initiating fee increases and then play follow-the-leader. The latest increase (to two hundred dollars) was quietly initiated by United, in the spring of 2013, and copied almost immediately by the other major airlines. If the agreement were explicit, it would be a crime, but the same results are achieved legally, neutering the power of competition. Consolidation after rounds of mergers does not help; Southwest Airlines’ continued defection from the fee cartel has exerted no apparent competitive pressure on larger airlines such as United, Delta, and American.

The Department of Transportation is supposed to prohibit “unfair” and “unreasonable” practices in air transportation. All this suggests that the D.O.T., or perhaps Congress, ought do more hard thinking about what an “unfair” or “unreasonable” change fee looks like. If free changes are too much to ask for, imposing a return to the fifty-dollar fees that were charged in the late nineteen-nineties might more fairly balance the airlines’ interest in dealing with constant changers with the national interest in a more flexible and adaptable travel system. The consumer group flyersrights.org has filed a petition with the D.O.T. requesting a limit on international fees at the reasonable level of a hundred dollars. The major airlines would surely protest, but it is worth remembering that they, like the banks, have been protected by taxpayers against financial failure. In exchange for providing a safety net and putting up with so much else, the public deserves more in return.

 

By: Tim Wu, Professor, Columbia School of Law, The New Yorker, July 21, 2015

July 25, 2015 Posted by | Airline Industry, Change Fees, Flying Public | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Limits Of Free-Market Capitalism

Until a few years ago, my spiritual devotions were  limited to the free market and the music of Patsy Cline. I’m sorry to say it’s  just me and Patsy now.

Karl Marx may have been wrong where it really mattered—communism, to paraphrase Churchill, is government “of the duds, by the duds,  and for the duds”—but he was spot on about the pitfalls of capitalism,  particularly when it came to the entrenchment of social classes, the fetish of  consumption, the frequency of recession, and the concentration of industry. Yet,  like trained seals, we continue to leap through the flaming rings of a system  that is contemptuous of the public good while rewarding those who feed off  “free” markets and the politicians who rig them. Nearly three years after the  global economy almost collapsed under the weight of a corrupt and inbred  financial order, Washington is still mired between the false choice of the  state or private enterprise as the proper steward of the general welfare.

It should be clear to anyone who has lost a cell phone  signal in our nation’s capital or been denied health coverage because of a  pre-existing ailment that capitalism’s endgame is not freedom of choice and  efficiency, but oligarchy. Many of America’s top industries—agriculture,  airlines, media, medical care, banking, defense, auto production,  telecommunications—are controlled by a handful of corporations who fix prices  like cartels. As Marx predicted, the natural inclination of players in a  market-driven economy is not to compete but to collude.

Reporting in Asia and the Middle East for many years, I  prayed to the same kitchen gods of untrammeled commerce that now bewitch the  Republican Party faithful and the neoliberals who inhabit the Obama White House. In Asia more than a decade ago, I covered the liquidation of state  assets as prescribed by the International Monetary Fund, perhaps the  largest-ever transfer of wealth from public to private hands, as if it were a  new religion that would transform economies from the Korean peninsula to the  Indian subcontinent. Laissez-faireism, I wrote, would liberate consumers and  domesticate once overweening state-owned enterprises.

In fact, privatization merely shifted economic control  from corrupt apparatchiks to their allies in business, a transaction lubricated  with kick-backs and sweetheart deals. That’s what happened in the Middle East,  and it became the spore that engendered the Arab uprising.

The corruption of capitalism in America is all the more  appalling for its legality. With the economy still struggling to recover from a  housing crisis fomented largely by Wall Street’s craving for mortgage-backed  securities, prosecution of those responsible has been confined to a single lawsuit filed by the Securities Exchange Commission against a  lone financier. The system is still lousy with loopholes, and the Republican  Party, which demographically as well as ideologically is becoming a gated  community for white, southern males, is calling for more deregulation, not  less.

Which brings us to the central failure of American  capitalism: the excoriation of the state.

So deep is the mythology of the free market that we  ignore the consequences of starving our schools, libraries, public media, and  roads and railways. We expect our teachers to assume the burdens of parenthood  and then blame them for failing education. We lament our dependence on foreign  oil and the aviation cartels, but we refuse to underwrite a passenger-rail  equivalent of the interstate highway system. We disparage the coarse  reductionism of corporate-owned news outlets while neglecting public  broadcasting, an isolated archipelago of smart, responsible journalism.

Our hostility to the public sector—fountainhead of  the Hoover Dam, Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Los Angeles  Coliseum, our national parks, and countless other public utilities and services  in addition to the federal highway system—is inversely proportional to our  reverence for private consumption. As the economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in his 1958 book The Affluent Society, “Vacuum cleaners to ensure clean houses are  praiseworthy and essential in our standard of living. Street cleaners to ensure  clean streets are an unfortunate expense. Partly as a result, our houses are  generally clean and our streets are generally filthy.” Galbraith also noted the  uniquely American conceit of sanctioning debt when households and private  investors hold it but condemning it when  governments do.

Should the feds nationalize banks and appropriate soy  fields? Certainly not. At its essence, there is probably no more efficient way  of establishing the price of a particular good or service than market  economics. Not all transactions are so simple, however, and there are some  services—healthcare, for example, or transportation—that often fare better  more as public goods than as private commodities. In order to save American capitalism,  we must appreciate its limits even as we struggle to harness its power.

By: Stephen Glain, U. S. News and World Report, June 2, 2011

June 3, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Capitalism, Conservatives, Consumers, Corporations, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Financial Institutions, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, Republicans, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: