In 2017, consulting giant Booz Allen cut a deal with the government to extract junk fees from Americans who want to use Federal lands and waters for hunting or fishing. Will Congress or Biden act?
I use Red Rock National Conservation NV area 2-3 days a week, and I attended both public commentary meetings this summer(live and online). These meetings were advertised as being about adding a gate to Red Springs(part of Red Rock) to restrict access and collect more fees. In the course of the meeting, I learned that in the eyes of the BLM this meeting was also serving as some kind of retroactive "commentary period" for the reservation system/fee. That fee has now been reinstated.
Of all those that attended and commented 100% were opposed to the fee primarily because $0 of the $2 reservation fee goes to the park. In 2021 the NPS says they received 297 million visits. I don't know how many had to pay this reservation fee but this $2 fee alone is hundreds of millions and doesn't include all the other fees(camping, lotteries....). So over the 10 life of his contract, Allen stands to easily collect over a Billion!
I don't bother making a "reservation" when I go to Red Rocks midweek but I still have to drive through the gate and pay the "reservation fee"! So calling it a reservation fee is a lie! It is an access fee because you must pay it every time you enter Red Rock Scenic loop(and in a few years Red Springs)
The Access Fund has filed an appeal trying to fight the addition of gating off the Red Springs area. So not only is Allen renting us back our land he is expanding the areas he can rent. I wonder if this is happening in other parks across the country?
Thanks, and please keep covering this story.
Biden administration announced recently they are spearheading the elimination of junk fees on everything from bank overdrafts to restaurant service fees.
Ironically forgetting to look first in their own back yard!
Thanks for heads up on this Matt! Henry George lives on..spread the word
Thanks for the "honest graft" illustration, and thanks, too, for the information on Henry George and GW Plunkitt. I live in Philly, and somewhere close to me is a street marker for Mr. George. Interesting fellow, interesting period.
Great piece, thanks Matt. Two things 1) it’s fascinating to me how the early libertarian movement was born of anti-monopolists like Henry George, completely unrecognizable from today’s libertarians (I think this irony is worth exploring, if for no other reason than to point out the hypocrisy and stupidity of today’s libertarians) and 2) I recommend reading Katarina Pistor’s “Code of Capital,” which devotes an entire chapter pointing out the various ways in which Google ringfences public resources and charges rent for their use (e.g. Google maps, Google books)
This posting on the Booz Allen ripoff is excellent and revealing. Thank you.
I have taken the liberty to include a recent article I wrote on the Kroger/Albertson merger from the cattle rancher's perspective. You might find it useful.
Montana Cattlemen's Association
Release Date: November 17, 2022
Contact person: Gilles Stockton
THE KROGER AND ALBERTSONS MERGER IS BAD FOR CATTLE PRODUCERS
By Gilles Stockton, Montana Cattlemen’s Assn. President
The proposed merger of Kroger and Albertsons grocery chains cannot but result in fewer market choices and higher prices for consumers of beef, and therefore decreased competitiveness in the cattle market. Kroger is the second largest supermarket chain in America, while Albertsons sits at number four. Walmart is number one and Costco number three. Together these four chains sell 45% of the food bought by the American consumer. If the merger goes forward, only three companies will control nearly half of the food market, which of course includes half of the beef.
Kroger and Albertsons own dozens of other brand name stores between them, so you may be buying from them without knowing so. For instance, Kroger owns Fred Meyers and Harris Teeter while Albertsons owns Safeway, Buttrey, and ACME. This Kroger-Albertsons merger might seem remote from our daily ranching duties, but inevitably it will have a negative effect on the price of feeder calves.
The farm to retail spread has not been going in our favor for a long time. Over the last fifty years the producer’s share has been cut in half from 71.3% to 36.5%. This is also the time period where the four largest packers went from controlling 26% of the market to 85%. Most of the retail spread redistribution resulted in increased profits for the retailers, although the packers have also taken their cut.
When Congress rescinded Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) in 2015 something changed in the market dynamics. We ranchers experienced that change as a nearly 50% cut in the price of feeder calves, but retailers also began losing ground to the packers. According to research from Iowa State University (Multi-plant Coordination in the US Beef Packing Industry. C Pudenz and L Schulz, 2022) the packers have developed cattle purchasing algorithms that allows them to strategically coordinate the buying and slaughter of cattle across their multiple plants. This gives them a more efficient procurement capability but also gives us lower cattle prices.
The Iowa State paper does not speculate, but we can assume that these same computerized algorithms allow each of the dominate packers to anticipate and coordinate with the purchasing behavior of their rivals. This capability must also extend to the selling of the beef. Hence, the pressure the retail sector is experiencing in procuring wholesale beef at the profit margin they have come to expect.
Part of the packer strategy has been to purchase fewer cattle on the spot market, and therefore more through unpriced captive supplies (i.e. Alternative Marketing Arrangements or AMAs). Research from Georgetown University (Buyer Power in the Beef Packing Industry: An Update on Research in Progress. N Miller et. all. 2022) shows that “a one percent increase in the AMA share of transactions is associated with a five percent decrease in the cash market prices.” With captive supplies approaching 80% it is no wonder that ranchers have been getting terrible prices and independent feeders are going out of business.
According to Dr. Robert Taylor (Harvested Cattle, Slaughtered Markets. 2022) we have lost 83,000 independent feedlots over the past 25 years with 48,000 of those just in the last ten. Meanwhile, the number of feedlots with a capacity of over 50,000 head have increased from 45 to 77. Independent feeders have disappeared, but the feeding capacity has stayed the same. The operating expenses of a small independent feedlot is essentially the same as that of a large. Costs of calves, feed, labor, management, and finance has to be close to identical over a wide range of feedlot sizes. Differences in economy of scale is not a convincing explanation for the loss of independent feeders.
Dr. Taylor asks that if feeding cattle has been unprofitable over the last 10 years, why is it only the independent feeders go out of business while the large feedlots with close ties to a packer thrive? One possible explanation is that what is being reported to USDA as the market value of a fed steer is not the true price paid. Vertically aligned feedlots are possibly getting an unreported premium or other nondisclosed advantages. Clearly the cattle industry is now rapidly experiencing vertical integration, much as the pork industry did in the 1990’s.
As mentioned, 2015 was the year that Congress rescinded COOL, thus allowing imported beef to masquerade as US product in the retail markets. Couple that with the ability of the packers to coordinate the buying of fat cattle through increased use of captive supplies and we have an explanation of why the cattle market collapsed by almost half with an inevitable result in the loss of independent feeders.
Vertical integration will probably not extend overtly into the cow/calf sector of the industry, but most certainly our choices for buyers of feeder calves is being rapidly reduced. We are becoming a part of a vertically integrated captive supply chain without even knowing so.
As to the proposed merger of Kroger and Albertsons, that will not be to ours or the consumer’s benefit. But there are other trends going on at the retail level that are also problematic. The dominant retailers are developing their own vertically integrated supply chains. Costco has invested in egg and broiler production. Walmart has created a dedicated supply chain for Angus Beef called Verified Angus Beef. On the surface this may appear to be an additional market channel, but do cattle producers, or for that matter consumers, actually benefit?
The Kroger-Albertson merger is not a done deal. It still needs approval by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. There is a chance it will not be approved but this is a small chance because virtually all mergers over the past forty years have been allowed, even mergers that blatantly do not benefit the consuming public.
As for the Walmart owned Verified Angus Beef subsidiary, that should also be illegal under the Packers and Stockyards Act which clearly states that a packer cannot favor one buyer over another in the selling of beef. If the packer is owned by the retailer, this is a conflict of interest, and therefore a violation. Of course, the Packers and Stockyards Act, along with the other antitrust laws, has been ignored over the last forty years, which explains the mess that this country is in. We can ask the question: If Walmart owns their supply chain for beef, wouldn’t the next logical step be for Costco and Kroger to buy JBS and Tyson?
These are complex issues threatening the cow/calf rancher’s financial viability and independence. We cow/calf producers tend to take our public market for calves for granted. Chickens and hogs used to be sold in a public market forum – but no longer. The publicly reported spot market for fed cattle is already almost non-existent. It can’t be long before the public market for feeder calves is also made to disappear.
These are all threats to our markets and independence. We need to oppose the Kroger-Albertson merger and challenge the legality of the Walmart investment in Angus Beef. We also need to continue the fight to restore Country of Origin Labeling and demand a rule from USDA that requires packers to buy fed cattle in a competitive market – no more captive supplies. If producers don’t come together to protect our industry from vertical integration, then we might as well pack it up and get used to being a serf on our own land.
FYI - In 2012 I had to be rescued in Bryce Canyon National Park. If you have a life threatening injury its free. Once I was carried up to the rim, the initial bill for the monopoly ambulance company was over $18,000 for a 17 mile journey.
I read these things and shake my head. "The number one cause of problems is solutions." And the government is really great at coming up with solutions.
Wow! great piece, thank you Matt!
"As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed." - Adam Smith The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter VI
at its core, monopolization and it's sibling, privatization, is always focused on fencing in and seizing "claims" to the "commons". Land: all humanity was born into a shared responsibility and bounty.
when you have more than you need, then the lust for more dictates, use one's existing excess to fence off, and control, what others enjoy.
It is my belief, governments are formed, not for flowery reasons and meaningless rhetoric like "liberty" and "freedumb" of the common man, but by generational wealth, to secure things they never had a reasonable thread to. governments are often but legal strawman, proxies, exclusively intended to justify "claims", "rights", to commons, used establish armies, force, to defend these claims.
new boss just like the old boss. some dominion believing inbred, that imagines their being born into perverse wealth, and attendent power, justifies, their controlling it all.
Stepping back: why do we even need fees in the first place? Can't Congress just fund upkeep? Do we need fees to maintain the White House? (can we ask reps point blank why they would let a national treasure go to shit?) I get the restricted access/permits to cut down Christmas trees but do we need Booz-Allen to build a website (& read the ACA fiasco - we're easily 20 years into building websites, so the answer should be no)? My state is 1/3 federal land. Writing to Senators, who brag about protecting our parks, and will comment. Great reporting but as usual, ticked off. Sharing this.
Thank you for the comparison, it informs what I've believed but been inarticulate about. Greed and corruption!
Here's an eye- popping example.
If it's going through the notice and comment process, the agency will still need to substantively respond to comments before issuing the final rule to stave off further legal challenges - even if that final rule is "Lolz, no." Do you think it makes sense to try to submit comments as you have encouraged people to do in previous instances to slow things down and draw attention from some members of Congress to fix it legislatively?
Sorry fat fingers on a phone
And (3) the cabin crew was totally ignoring the FAA regs on the max size of carry ons for the hard sided luggage.
So, I asked myself why?
Less baggage in the hold; less work for more expensive ground crew; fewer potential complaints about lost luggage. And FAA regs be damned.
And remember, one cannot argue with cabin crew now.
Not national parks but an observation on airline junk fees implications. Just finished a set of holiday flights and the tragedy of the ( overhead) commons. Passengers with backpacks, duffels and other soft sided carry on bags were repeated told by cabin crew to ‘ put those bags under the seat in front of them so as to leave room in the overheads for hard sided carry ons. This despite the fact that: (1) most of these soft sides were too big to fit underneath the seat in front of them; (3) that left no room for the small bag with one’s personal items that by FAA regs had to go underneath that same seat and
Interesting read Matt, unaware of this. Thank you for your work and time.
I been thinking about Health care and that cost to Gov.- people. I been told of Physicians is getting 10% or less of the fees charge to the Medi-Cal being $400-$600 for a ten minute simple appointment or a check-up. Or, Having to make a appointment to just get a appointment to set-up one. That last been just madding to me personally.
My question is, has companies-CEO`s which many cases-companies has NO Medical education, but run the Corp.- head offices is just fining ways to Raking the system?
Wow, this is so terrible. I remember when they started doing reservations for movie theaters, it just drove me up the wall and actually detered me from going, because I hate planning my off-time. It actually stresses me out, locking me into a rigid schedule.
At Red Rock Canyon there's another land issue that's a problem. They've developed ugly residential sprawl way too close to it in the last maybe 5 years as Vegas has expanded. It used to be that you could drive through meandering nature to get to it, but now it pops up just right behind houses. It's weird and wrong for a wilderness area to be so close to a built city.