Sunday, February 28, 2021

Deregulation always benefits -- somebody

           Class, who can tell me what the Telecommunications Act of 1996 did to radio?

            I teach a college media class, so my students know. But I doubt a percent of a percent of Americans does.

            Spawned in a laboratory of a Republican Congress but given the electric jolt of life by Bill Clinton's pen, the law lifted limits on ownership of radio stations.

            It resulted in behemoths like Clear Channel (now named iHeart Media) and Cumulus gathering up stations like so many truffles.

            Today iHeart Media owns 855 stations. Cumulus has 445.

            In other words, deregulation fed radio to the hogs.

            It resulted in massive monopolies, homogenization, the decimation of broadcasting jobs, and the loss of the local nature of radio with programming piped in from afar.

            That piece of free-market folly came to mind as Texans endured the frozen fruits of electric deregulation.

            First the blackouts. Then crippled water systems. Now unconscionable electric bills. Oh, and the excuses.

            There really is no excuse -- not even with a near-unprecedented freeze in Texas. A similar event happened in 2011, with the requisite mumble-fest about it not happening again.

            However, what came to mind had nothing to do with once-every-decade winter calamities. It had to do with every-month electric bills in Texas.

            A Wall Street Journal analysis finds that in 20-plus years of deregulated power, Texas customers paid $28 billion more than they would have in states with regulated electricity.

            As one who resided in Texas and moved to a regulated market, I can affirm it. When I got my first power bill in Colorado, I had to rub my eyes. At first it looked like what I experienced in Texas, a sizable August bill. Unbelievably to me, what I assumed was my bill for electricity alone was actually for electricity AND natural gas.

            Compared to my Texas energy bills, one for electricity, one for natural gas, I was getting natural gas for free.

            Few who experienced deregulation in Texas could claim it saved them money or that the system was easy to understand and compare plans. The reason is clear. The breaking up of regulated utilities simply resulted in a few behemoths, aka monopolies, cornering the market.

            And so, class: Deregulation equals monopolies. Monopolies don't benefit consumers. But they do benefit – somebody.

            We know those somebodies to be investors, boards of directors, CEOs, corporate consumers.

            That's how deregulation works. That's how it always works. Deregulation awards the big and penalizes the small. It awards sameness and penalizes difference.

            The power of deregulation is just something in which certain factions want to believe. Facts be damned.

            Like tax cuts paying for themselves.

            Like climate change being a hoax.

            Like COVID-19 being overblown.

            Like Donald Trump being a visionary, not a grifter.

            Like calling NPR and network news and print newspapers fake news.

            Like the free market being our savior, no matter the task.

            Deregulation saves nothing, particularly when dealing with the most crucial of human needs – air, power, water, medical care.

            It's one thing to deregulate airlines as was done in 1978. Not everyone flies. But everyone needs electricity and water. Everyone needs health care and life-saving drugs.

            The thing is that often deregulation and privatization aren't even done for the reasons purported – to do the job better at less cost to taxpayers.

            Back in the previous decade, under the Rick Perry regime, Texas privatized mental health services. I sought to find out how much this was saving the taxpayers, and to what end. The answers: Private bidders weren't expected to outperform state services, cost-wise. The privatization was the thing.

            This is called putting the cart before the horse, or in the case of deregulation, the truffles before the swine.

            Why? Because the ideologues in charge believe in all of these things, especially for their pals.

            Back to radio and deregulation: The punch line about the battlefield spoils gained by media giants is that with ad revenue shrinking and having over-extended itself, iHeart Media sought the government's shelter in obtaining Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Hmm. Just like business genius Donald Trump.

            Who will protect Texans whose electric service went to the hogs?

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Governing? Or deflecting it down the fairway?

           It seems we need another economic indicator to gauge successful governing.

            Here we obsessively focus on the CPI, the GNP, the GDP, when we should be tracking LE – life expectancy.

            Unbelievably – or too believably – Americans' life expectancy declined by a full year in the first half of 2020.

            More stunning, black Americans lost three years LE, Latinos almost two.

            It's called Making America Grim Again.

            Put a cork in all that blather about stock market gains. If Americans are dying at the highest rate since the 1940s, that's bad governing.

            As we slide past a horrific marker -- 500,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 -- we hear in the course of defending the last regime, "There's nothing we coulda done about it."

            Medical journal Lancet begs to differ. Its analysis finds that the last regime "caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths" with its antipathy toward science and an attitude toward the pandemic which ranged from half-hearted to flat-out mocking.

            That hands-thrown-in-the-air response to all the suffering should feel familiar to Texas residents who spent a week literally trying to stay alive.

            In response to their cries: a symphony of deflection from Republican office-holders. Who knew Alexandria Ocasio Cortez controlled the Texas grid?

            After a week of no water, who's with Rick Perry on his sword-in-the-sand call against a federal role in making sure things like this never happen again?

            The term is "public servant." Who meets the criteria these days? Well, Beto O'Rourke and Kacey Musgraves are civilians, but they have done more to ease the suffering than many Texas elected leaders. Et tu, Ted?

            By the way, AOC just raised $3 million for Texans, and she doesn't even represent them.

            The clear difference is that she acts on her concern about her fellow human beings when too many Republican leaders care mainly about their brand, the Trump brand.

            What did Ted Cruz come to Washington to do, anyway? To make public schools, highways, water systems, parks systems and international relations better? No, he came to blast away at and disable government.

            He came mainly to offer himself as the face and voice of a culture war.

            Little did he expect that someone – Donald Trump -- would employ destructive language even better and ace him out in his quest to reach Republican Valhalla.

            But of course, little of what Trump said or did could be translated to governing, not to managing a pandemic or addressing just about any other challenge of governing.            

            Posturing is not governing. Governing is doing. Governing is leading.

            Has anybody seen what Joe Biden has been doing? Just about everything imaginable to get this nation out of its hole, in addition to helping victims of the great freeze-out.

            The administration's daily White House briefings have been the best thing since FDR beamed his voice into America's living rooms. The message: We are not just talking. We are acting.

            What was Trump doing in the last month of his presidency? Oh, yes: He was promoting the Big Lie about an election he lost bigly, and cradling his nine-iron.

           As he lied, people died, observed the Lancet authors in their denunciation of him, Trump "exploited low- and middle-income white people's anger over their deteriorating life prospects to mobilize racial animus and xenophobia and enlist their support for policies that benefit high-income people ad corporations and threaten health."

            Those people never imagined that "deteriorating life prospects" would mean some would die from a virus once derided as a hoax, or thousands would beg for drinking water in a state where a go-it-alone gospel left them dangling like icicles on a ceiling fan.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Wanted: jurors who aren't accomplices

            Someday, under an actual oath, before an actual jury, he'll face actual questions to explain what he actually did.

            One from me:

            Mr. Ex-President, when you told the mob, "I'll be right there with you," why weren't you?

            Forget your baseball bat? Body armor two sizes too small?

            Along with a vast swath of Americans, I look forward to the day when Donald Trump appears before a real, lawful, sworn-in tribunal, and not a jury of his accomplices.

            Considering the high bar to convict via impeachment, the fact that the man came 10 votes short of being rubbed out as a political figure is a stunning statement.

            Call it acquittal, sure, but as Mitch McConnell says, in this matter it doesn't really matter that Trump did it, which he did.

            Summoned mob. Assembled mob. Lit match.

            For Liz Cheney to be the one censured -- oh, Mama.

            The night of Day 1, I happened upon a documentary of this sort of justice, just not set in this century.

            On trial were the two men who killed 14-year-old Emmett Till, only to be acquitted by a jury of their Mississippi peers.

            In grainy black and white, with a stone-faced, all-white jury, impaneled before a bleached audience, no one could assume any other result.

            Observing this with today's events in mind, I could assign names to all: Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Mitch McConnell, Tommy Tuberville, Mike Lee, so on.

            In the 1955 footage from the sweltering courtroom you could make out the kind of crowd expecting the very result they got from a stacked deck. It made me think of some other players in our national drama.

            There in white shirt-sleeves – was that Kevin McCarthy? Why, yes. There, Louie Gohmert; John Carter; Paul Gosar; Mo Brooks -- all good ol' boys devoted to something other than justice.

            Emmett Till didn't have a chance when a towns-woman accused him of looking at her lustily.

            Her husband and another assailant took him in the night and battered him beyond recognition, shooting him for good measure.

            Indeed, when found in the Tallahatchie River, the boy's face was gone.

            Did I say Trump justice? Though evidence was as plentiful as motive, the Emmett Till jury relied on a technicality to get on down the road.

            The victim was so disfigured, ruled the jury, who could be sure it was him?

            And anyway, like the 43 Republican hold-outs in today's Senate, these jurors weren't interested in litigating the facts. They were interested in ruling for their kind.

            So here we are in 2021, and that imperative has prevailed on Trump's behalf, as with all that stirs today's GOP.

            The great poser for those who love their guns more than their country, for those who can recite Bible verses but lose their voices at the sight of rampant corruption, bloody insurrections and brown children ripped from their parents.

            He's the "pro-life" hero with barely a word to say about the deaths in a pandemic he pooh-poohed, much less those killed or maimed in his very own riot.

            What's the deal, Mr. Ex-President? Twitter got your tongue?

            It's going to be fascinating when he is ordered to swear on a Bible before an actual jury that wants the truth and nothing but.

            It's true that he did that once upon a time in another venue. Four years later a solid majority of voters deemed that among his many lies was his pledge to preserve, protect and defend the document that awarded him his post.

            If there was any doubt about this, for his final act, he incited a mob, snuck away to watch, did nothing to stop the mob, and refused to answer questions about it.

            He knew that he could trust his good ol' boys to go to bat for him.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.