Dean Clough

August 2, 2021

Portico Darwin: Teddy, Where Art Thou?

What a great weekend.  Thank you to Arthur and Mrs. Crup for hosting the Killer BBQ party on Saturday, and it was then a musical Sunday, spent with the inestimable Joan Jett & The Blackhearts in the supernatural Stern Grove here in SF.  I Love Rock & Roll, indeed, and thanks Fi and Hunter for the invite!  FYI the 62 year-old Jett can still rock the house, and if you have a chance to see this quasi-living-legend, by all means do so.

But with a new week comes a new rant.  I've railed on the problems facing America plenty in these pages.  Climate change, wealth and justice inequality, shitty infrastructure, no safety net for many - the list goes on.

I see the completely unbridled power and size of corporations in America as a pre-existing condition for these ailments.  And for a change, I'm not talking about just Facebook, Amazon, Google, blah blah blah.  There's a paucity to the overall competitive landscape in this country that you may not have considered.  While you weren't looking, most industries - and not just the sexy and fun ones - have consolidated in ways that markedly increases their power and avoids regulation.

Consider the competitive environment in the meat-packing industry.  There isn't one.  Something mundane, like burial caskets?  Same.  Pharma?  Food and beverage?  Consumer packaged goods?  Same.  And think about your last airline flight?  Why does flying suck so thoroughly and totally?  Because there is little or no competition (especially at the large hubs from which many of us fly).

Compounding the issue exponentially is the complete capture of our Federal legislature by the same industries.   No need to say more - the enormity of the problem is sadly understood by most of us already.

There is limited hope with the election of Papa Joe.  Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is leading a bipartisan group in attempting to bring these leviathans to heel.    She certainly has studied the subject (and put it down in a massive tome, in case you want some deep background). 

But I fear her efforts, while better revealing a miasmic situation, will come up short.  Put bluntly:  do you know how much fucking money and resources these corporations have, compared to the Federal agencies chartered to govern them?  We're talking David v. Goliath, except this time, it's us and our government that is David and it's the hooded sociopath Zuckerberg et. al. as Goliath. 

How can we turn the tables?

It's going to take something in as equally short supply today as competition:  leadership from the very top.   More specifically, we need our own Teddy Roosevelt

In other words, we need a super rich guy or gal, ideally from one of today's big monopolistic/duopolistic industries, to renounce the whole rigged game.  Better still, a Republican.  To LEAD in the drive to regulate (or break up) these modern-day trusts for the good of the country.   As compared to playing the greasy K Street game at the Olympian level they do today.

The oil, railroad, finance, meatpacking (then as now), and many other industries in the late 19th century were similar in scale and influence (for their time) to those I listed above are today.  In many sectors, there were only one or a few massive players, that could dictate pretty much all of the terms for everyone. 

But there were meaningful changes in the early 20th century.  A lot of the push was by one their own, the aristocratic, and also adventurous, Theodore Roosevelt.  When he was president from 1901 - 1909, he led or at least helped to regulate or break-up a number of entrenched companies.  From these efforts we went from things like "The Jungle", to safe meat and poultry, and from the octopus-like oil and railroad trusts, to actual competition.  

Was it utopia?  Of course not, but I don't know who can say the status quo today should stand.  A large number of companies have grown far too powerful, to the point that regular capitalism can't contain them.  Here are some ideas, and also some industries that have been allowed to overly-consolidate for which I have no proscription.

  • No more pharmaceutical advertising - kids, some of us remember when this wasn't allowed
  • Amazon must divest itself of Amazon Web Services (AWS)
  • Amazon can't sell private label goods any more
  • Apple must change the App Store and their 30% take of pretty much everything
  • Alphabet must divest itself of YouTube
  • Facebook must divest itself of Instagram and WhatsApp
  • The airlines?
  • The medical industrial complex?
  • The prison industrial complex?
  • The (even-worse-than-Ike-said-it-would-be) military industrial complex?
  • Big Non-Alcoholic Beverage?
  • Big Alcoholic Beverage?
  • Big Telecom?
  • Big Finance?
  • Big Food?
  • Big Commercial Real Estate?
  • Big Media?
  • Big Agriculture

For the Milton Friedman and St. Ronnie acolytes out there who still believe no government regulation is good government regulation:  I ask you to recall the original AT&T, a.k.a. The Bell System.  This was a government-sanctioned total monopoly on all things telephone and communications in this country, basically since the advent of the telephone in the mid-1800's, through most of the 20th century.  For much of that time, it was the largest corporation in the world.

Yet despite the howls of protest that the U.S. Government was destroying the finest communication system ever created in the world - and I heard these howls in my own home, as my father worked for The Bell System for 37 years - AT&T was broken up in 1982.   What happened?   

We got a couple of things.  Cell phones and The Internet, for starters.   And world domination in tech.  I'm exaggerating.  Slightly.

Think of it.  The old AT&T saw no business interest in wireless phones, nor commercializing the nascent ARPANET (precursor to the modern Internet), so we got neither.  And the oxygenation of the telecom industry from the 1982 breakup led in part to America's dominance today in tech.  Yeah, I know, Intel, IBM, and Microsoft, too, of course, but you get my point.

A theme in this blog is I wish to repudiate fully the concept that the Federal government can never do any good, ever, anywhere.  Right now, our Federal government can do good by bringing these companies and industries back to historical norms of influence, power, and consolidation.

But to do so, we need our own Teddy Roosevelt - Teddy, where art thou?

I anticipated pushback from some quarters, re:  my comedy movie listing, and I wasn't disappointed.  This (rant? mental breakdown?) from Hunter Deuce is an impassioned, if not patronizing, example:
"Your movie list is kind of all over the place. 

Setting aside any omissions I think there may be, some of these selections really don't jibe with the others.  The two that really stick out for me are 'After Hours' and 'Deconstructing Harry'.  I like both films, but 'nonsensical' isn't a term that I think applies to either one (feasible or not). 

Now, if we're going to include a Woody Allen film in a list of films that rely heavily on the National Lampoon-era of films [I count 5] then I would probably go with something like 'Sleeper' or 'Take The Money And Run'.  Also, I'd argue that 'The Sure Thing' is, in fact, a romantic comedy."

Know this:  Hunter is no stranger to laying on the couch watching movies.  For hours.  Days.  Weeks.  Years.  Really, a lifetime.  So I mostly defer to him on the topic of film.  But only mostly:  "After Hours" is nothing but nonsense (is the film's protagonist being encased alive in plaster of Paris, and then loaded into a van by Cheech and Chong, not farcical enough for you?), and Robin Williams evaporating ("Deconstructing Harry") is not "nonsensical"???  Huh?  HE EVAPORATES, Hunter!  And let's leave Daphne Zuniga out of this, OK?   

And a doff of my toque to the dynamically comical Max "Madras" Ryder.  He informed me that he was having both volumes of my cookbooks printed on special-order gloss paper, and then bound with fine suede leather, in a pleasing taupe color.  Who can blame him?   

In case you missed either of these incredible tomes, or are perhaps in need of a dartboard:

Portico Darwin:  The Cookbook Volume I
Portico Darwin:  The Cookbook Volume II

Thank you to any one that is reading this blog.

Welcome to The Machine!   Here is the prescient Pink Floyd with the appropriately dystopic "Wish You Were Here" in high resolution.  

Lists . . . always with the lists.  But wow, is there a band with a consecutive string of albums that equal this?

  • "Dark Side of The Moon" (1973)
  • "Wish You Were Here" (1975)
  • "Animals" (1977)
  • "The Wall" (1979)

(Hmm:  "Aerosmith", "Get Your Wings", "Rocks", and "Toys In The Attic"?)

About Dean Clough

Plans To Enjoy Life.