Incorporating the The Germantown Chronicle & The Northwest Independent

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A Tale of Two Monopolies

History has repeated itself in Philadelphia with respect to how two very powerful men can fully control a huge segment of the economy and influence political decisions at the highest level for their own gain.  With incredible irony, both of those men lived unassumingly in the bucolic Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia, ran their corporate entities from this city, and controlled city, state and federal politicians at the highest levels.

In the case of the first, a whole new division of the federal government was created to curtail the kind of activity and power he was able to amass, and his massive holdings were among the most significant to be sued and divided under Federal Anti-Trust laws.

The two men I refer to were Frank Gowen of the late 19th Century and David L. Cohen, his 21st Century replacement.

Frank Gowen was the Chairman of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company.  From his estate in what is now known as East Mt. Airy, near the Mt. Airy station on the Reading Railroad (now SEPTA) and his center city offices, he ran what was in 1891 the wealthiest corporation in the world.

Despite standing state regulation, this corporation owned most upstate Pennsylvania coal mines, processing convertors, iron mines and the primary railroad system that brought all of it to market and ran the passenger transportation operations of eastern Pennsylvania, into New Jersey, and on to New York city.

Gowen ran roughshod over all competition with substantial political assistance, used public and private law enforcement to his own advantage, and saw a number of union organizers hung from the jail near the Carbon County Court House.  Although Gowen died under mysterious circumstances, his financial empire continued to expand for some time and its standing monument is the former Reading Terminal building in center city, now the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

However, the results of “trust busting” at the national level begun under Republican Theodore Roosevelt,    brought major implementation of the Anti-Trust laws, and the corporation was broken up into separate mining and railroad entities.  Gowen’s fiefdom, monopolistic practices, and price fixing ended with markets open to competitive enterprise and some of the first major effective union organizing.  The reasoning behind those anti-trust laws is that the public was denied an open competitive market for an essential product as one entity owned and priced both the “content” (coal) and the “conduit” (railroad).  In both cases the monopolistic tactics crowded all others out of the marketplace.

History has repeated itself however, as David L. Cohen, mastermind of the twisted political and legal octopus that runs Philadelphia and Pennsylvania politicians through his own handiwork known as Ballard Spahr, then moved to run Comcast, an enterprise that also became a monopoly through some clever misuse of our legal system all the way to the Supreme Court, and making a number of elected leaders his pawns on the chessboard.

So powerful is David L. Cohen that he was instrumental in being one of five men known to have been the largest “bundlers” of campaign contributions that elected President Obama, and our president makes Cohen’s home in Mt. Airy his first stop whenever he comes to Philadelphia.  When the President made a little noticed side trip to Cohen’s house for dinner recently some folks wondered what David wanted.  Now we know - - they want a bigger monopoly with the help of the Federal Communications Commission.

The best example of how this 21st Century monopoly operates is that it has plans to grow enormously one more time if the FCC will give them another pass on the federal anti-trust laws.  Yes, that same FCC has already given Comcast clearance on acquiring NBC and that in itself was a clear violation of the standards by which other monopolies were broken up.  You see Comcast now has too much oversight over both the content and the conduit of news and information - - they are so big they own those who create the news stories and they have the cable network that distributes it – without any competition in many areas.  If they get the latest deal done they will own even more outlets and the citizens will have fewer options.

Just as with Frank Gowen’s coal and railroad operation, David L. Cohen’s Comcast got things done through who they know and contribute to at the political level.

Santayana said:  “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

Jim Foster


The Independent Voice

6661 Germantown Ave.

Philadelphia Pa. 19119