A People Power Upsurge Meets a 'Public Agency's' False Front
At every juncture of public policy, from nuclear waste to Uranium mining to home construction to overall renewable energy protocols and plans, expertise and bureaucracy confront ordinary citizens. Realistically, a lot of 'just folks' don't want to fiddle much with matters of these varied sorts. On the other hand, as times get tougher and the stakes escalate, more and more people might look to an example such as the little state of Vermont and to national and international 'transition' models as possible templates for community capacitation and action.
As THC's output in the first installment of an irregular series on Georgia's nuclear plans makes clear, the history of 'public service' interventions on consumers' behalf is a checkered one. On the one hand, these developments almost always emanated from the discovery of corruption or double-dealing or price-gouging on the part of effective monopolies. On the other hand, these institutional forms often cozied right up to the businesses that they had a mandate to oversee, much to the detriment of the public to which they purportedly owed allegiance.
Moreover, repeatedly, readers have born witness to the at best superficial and at worst explicitly fraudulent nature of the regulatory process itself, so that community advocacy or voice transpires in a strictly pro-forma manner, or actual payoffs and malfeasance can occur that undermines or destroys both public interest and public confidence.
In Georgia, the present day PSC began with the State's intervention, in 1879, in the setting of freight rates by railroads, which were wont to leave farmers with shipping charges for cotton that were equivalent to the sale-price of their cash crop. Smaller and more isolated tillers faced crushing economic burdens under this system, even though they represented much of the population of the State.
The present name and general procedural and legal basis for current operations dates from the 1920's. Today, the PSC is a Statewide commission with nearly a hundred expert staff in addition to the five elected commissioners.
In particular, the Vermont experiences referenced above, despite the vaunted high-priesthood of knowing technocrats at work in PSC garb, present a stark contrast to the inputs and outputs of almost every other State in the Union in such matters as this. Nowhere is this disparity more pronounced than it is in the Peach State.
A variety of analytical, primarily academic sources speak to the weaknesses of the present-day model, in terms of both protecting actual rights and interests, and in terms of providing real opportunities for community involvement and articulation of concerns, perspectives, etc. These only examine the most obvious surface elements of the PSC's inadequacy, but they are telling nonetheless.
For example, one Public Administration site speaks of legal, bureaucratic, and process drawbacks to the PSC model. "Analysis ... considers the inadequacies of private law remedies to instances of market failure (such as monopolies, inadequate or asymmetric information, externalities and co-ordination problems)..." that are endemic in this type of public/private interface.
An MIT study is more stringent in its assessment of the parameters, even though it does not follow up on this analysis with evidence as of its current status. "Public decision makers are given a vague mandate to regulate industries. Restrictions on their instruments or scope of regulation affect their incentives to identify with interest groups and the effectiveness of supervision by watchdogs. This idea is illustrated in the context of the regulation of a natural monopoly. Much of the theoretical literature has assumed that a benevolent regulator is prohibited from operating transfers to the firm and maximizes social welfare subject to the firm's budget constraint. The tension between the assumptions of benevolence and of restrictions on instruments in such models leads us to investigate the role played by the mistrust of regulators in the development of this institution."
For better or worse, whether citizens manage to engage an arguably attenuated process such as already exists, or whether they can organize to create a more vibrant and truly participatory set of protocols that put power where it should belong in a democracy, under the guidance of the people themselves, ongoing development faces every individual and many communities with choices and opportunities on every day of the year. Recently, in Georgia, the Southern Company's utility here has undertaken to begin building two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. Their cost will be high, perhaps astronomical.
The following section of this article looks at recent investigations and examinations of the PSC, in terms of public trust and the ethics of regulation. The next section of this article will also examine the background to this pair of construction projects to create radioactive water boilers, about which Georgia Power, having already obtained close to 100% loan guarantees from the Department of Energy, has recently requested Georgia's Public Service Commission to approve rate hikes so that the company can recover the cost of the guaranteed money up front, from the rate paying working people of the State.
After looking at this years-long planning process, where things stand now, and brief projections into the near future, this humble correspondent will then present the people's response to this utility request for a cash advance. This dialogic process, as paltry as it was designed to be, actually included THC and a significant grassroots upwelling of fellow citizens whose overwhelming response to their 'deregulated provider' was a resounding, 'NO, THANK YOU ALL THE SAME!'
A recent 'down-ticket' election for an open seat on Georgia's Public Service Commission(PSC) replaced the one 'people's advocate' on the five person body. This 'populist' Republican, one of five on the five person body, has been roughly as 'people-friendly' as a rattlesnake is 'rabbit-friendly' because it advocates the freest possible 'marketplace' in snake bites. Bobby Baker worked for the Southeast Legal Foundation, generally believed that the 'market' was the only protection necessary, and consistently backed the nuclear priesthood in its agenda.
His replacement, a GOP newcomer by the name of Tim Echols, plays a not altogether pleasant part in the drama of last week. HIs election presents onlookers with the stuff of daytime Soap Opera, at its best or worst, depending on one's favoring farce over tragedy.
Nothing of this melodramatic political nausea shows up on his own website, of course. There, he comes across as a hunky fellow with a compassionate smile, seven kids, a happy wife, and a fervent enough commitment to Christian Service that he's transferred his commodity-oriented entrepreneurial roots to a faith-based package, running a national civic-orientation program for home-schooled young Christians.
And he's written a book, which, in the estimation of this humble correspondent, starts with some beautiful and completely appropriate touches, before it veers into the thickets of imperial hegemony and utter disregard for any class-conflict in a good 'Christian' society. He speaks with heartfelt intelligence of the need for "enlightened citizenship." That this means backing the military-industrial complex, viewing abortion as criminal, and generally having many other markings of a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary, ready to turn over a leaf toward fascism in troubled times, doesn't necessarily follow from lines like these.
“Unless we have an enlightened citizenry, our government will turn from a protector of liberty to a source of tyranny.“ As THC has said, Real Citizenship ends up a doozy, and this fifth GOP 'horseman' on an already apocalyptic panel does not augur well for Georgia workers and other regular folks, despite Echols' consistent promises to stand up for renewable energy, and to stand up to Georgia Power's rapacious profiteering regarding its 'nuclear renaissance.'
All of that remains for viewers to witness prospectively, as the present pass unfolds. What we can know in advance is the nature of the beast from the campaign itself. Echols moved to the electoral main stage from a position behind the scenes, in which he managed the third attempt of former Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine for Governor.
Of course, 'guilt-by-association' is not admissible in many instances, but when one commits to a candidate at the level of becoming a campaign manager, the candidate's peccadilloes might legitimately impact the manager's judgment, if not his reputation. Oxendine frequently ran afoul of decent ethical practice, both in his personal behavior and in his political practice.
On the one hand, in just one of the many instances when Oxendine toed a very fine line indeed as Insurance Commissioner, sworn to protect consumers mandated to purchase many such products, he approved a rate increase for the firm that employed his wife as an executive. His personal slips were on occasion much more a mtter of innuendo, although THC, an open-minded sort, would never judge a politician badly just because he has stirred up gossip about wife-swapping.
But Oxendine had this irrefutable proclivity for frequently going really fast while he was driving himself to his various assignations. At times, he would weave in an out of Interstate traffic, using the police-blue flashing light that accompanied his position as State Fire Marshall to arrive at dinner dates on time. So much did old-John fly along life's highway that on two or more occasions he totaled the State's car and wrecked other drivers' autos as well.
"An accident is an accident," he responded when asked about this. The State Attorney General, Thurbert Baker, investigated whether taking away Mr. Oxendine's 'blue-light privileges' might not be appropriate. Not to worry, whenever the Insurance chief wrecked one vehicle, he upgraded to something more luxurious and capacious.
Were this the only issue to Tim Echols' detriment, one might shrug and say, 'there's lots worse than that around.' However, in addition to his mixing of church and state and a virulent pro-life position, he has sold the smiling outreach-capacity of his kiddy-Republocrat teen volunteers on the open market. As one example, he received $12,500 from Mr. Oxendine, while Echols was preparing his own PSC bid, to provide John with handsome lads and lissome lasses to go door to door as campaign volunteers.
Two other 'Christian-civics' groups turned Oxendine's offer down, judging it not seemly for a tax-exempt enterprise like TeenPact, but not Georgia's and this humble correspondent's new Public Service Commissioner. Perhaps he has a broad view indeed of the parameters of 'public service,' believing that padding his own war chest counts as helping the popular good, inasmuch as he writes swell-sounding books and promulgates a good Christian life style for himself, his wife, and his seven kids.
Many were the commentators, however, who found a smell of something putrid in such business. Even the Atlanta Constitution, not normally a 'rag' to sniff too closely at the shenanigans of the Republocrats that it favors, wrote a critical report about this situation.
A 'commenter' on one blog about some of this brouhaha, who named himself "Old Vet," may have stated, elliptically since his point was to stick up for the people when the political turf is overrun with cretins and thugs, the basis--warts and all--for Echols' having won the Republocrat runoff, thereby practically guaranteeing his victory. Echols' opponent, John Douglas, had sought and received the endorsement of a notoriously opportunistic old pol, Mac Collins. Old Vet said, "Mac 'Feather My Nest' Collins and John 'Mr. Sunshine' Douglas deserve each other."
In any case, this crusty observer posed a whopper of a rhetorical question, following it up with irony and bitter humor at the present prospects of Georgia's democracy. It's not a pretty picture, as much so at the PSC as anywhere else in State Government.
"Will we be left with no one on the PSC who gives a darn about we the people? Since Sonny deep-sixed the Consumer Utilities Council, which represented the only consumer voice the PSC members heard, rate increase cases have become pretty much closed hearings where the PSC routinely ignores the recommendations of its own staff and gives the utilities whatever they want. Come to think of it, couldn’t we save a lot of money by letting the Southern Company, AGL, etc. provide the PSC staff? Or go a step further and have the regulated companies go ahead and pay the salaries of the members directly."
Politics, inherently a "form of corruption that works," whether the jurisdiction is THC's Georgia, Tbilisi--Atlanta's 'sister city' in the former Soviet Georgia--or any other venue on the planet, always yields dicey propositions, ethically speaking. Perhaps old Tim Echols will turn out to be a 'firebrand for justice,' despite early evidence to the contrary. He looks like a friendly fellow. THC is certainly not one to cast aspersions, even as he insists on a full report.
Political spending is another indicator of the depth and sway of democracy. In this regard, the one Vermont-like aspect of the Georgia scene--literally, the only slight approximation of stewardship or ombudsmanship, at least statewide, was the PSC's very own Consumers Utility Counsel(CUC).
Among the heroism that it promoted, in its nerdy, punctilious, technocratic way, was the only rollback of electric prices in the past fifty years. Over the course of three years, Georgia power actually 'refunded' a billion dollars to rate payers, by discounting monthly bills, as a result of a settlement that CUC worked out in 1998.
Though 'punctilious and technocratic' is perfectly compatible with an anti-democratic process, here in the Sahara of the Bozart and the 'belly of the beast,' CUC was as close to heaven as we ever approached in the modern era. Thus, Sonny Purdue's 2008 decision, bless his heart, to extract some of his six per cent shaving of Georgia's budget by reducing CUC remuneration to zero was particularly dispiriting. Given Purdue's corrupt and plutocratic inclinations, however, and the willingness of CUC staff to take on the Southern Company and others, such an outcome is also one that folks here might have anticipated.
A 'progressive' regional NGO, angling to take CUC's place, summed up this devolutionary drama, even if its assertion that a poorly-funded "SERUCA Fills Void Created from Defunded Georgia Consumer Utility Counsel" was wildly optimistic. Purdue's "decision to “defund” the CUC doesn’t formally eliminate the agency, which is written into state law. However, it means nobody will be in the job that state law requires, which in effect, eliminates the CUC in practice effective September 11, 2008."
A more likely candidate to fill CUC's shoes, though pitifully--if not pathetically, underfunded and inherently less than stalwart as an exemplar of democracy(that means popular rule, not popular lobbying) in such a capacity, is the estimable Georgia Watch. Led by the truly magnificent Angela Speir, she who shook up the good old boy PSC in her single term in office by, for instance, as a matter of law, disallowing ex-parte(back room wheeling and dealing) communication between commissioners and regulated businesses, Georgia Watch does redoubtable service for otherwise beleaguered citizens here.
A year ago, Ms. Speir made a pitch for more public support for her agency--sort of a necessary 'citizen's ad valorem' tax to redress the reactionary viciousness of 'Sonny's' regimen. "Most Georgians realize the impact energy bills have on their family’s budget, especially at this time of year when our natural gas bills rise. But what many may not realize is that last year, the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs completely defunded the Consumer’s Utility Counsel (CUC), a branch of the executive office that spoke up for average Georgians during the billion dollar utility cases being decided by the Public Service Commission (PSC)."
Clearly, the jingoistic phrase, "that's what I like about the South" would only apply here for paid-in-full members of the Money-Bag-Club. Ordinary citizens, meanwhile, can either pay up or, depending on the season, shiver or swelter. This humble correspondent has been alternating between sweat and icicles for about two years now.
Utility company lobbying expenses are yet another telling sign that Hotlanta stands much closer to the perquisites of Roman imperial corruption than it does to anything even vaguely akin to majority rule. The Southern Company, as its much-loved(though falsely labeled) 'deregulation' and the equally adored and even more vile 'nuclear reanaissance' percolated on the national stage, has spent close to fifteen million dollars per year on PR since 2007, in addition to laying out another quarter-million or so in direct campaign contributions.
That this phenomenon extends throughout the industry, and indeed characterizes the SOP of modern capital richly confirms the rigorous critiques of much less radical critics that THC. As for this humble correspondent, the phrase 'to the ramparts!' is close at hand.
$110 million since 1996--Southern Company's acknowledged lobbying expenses during that span--indicate the vast extent of the subversion of democracy, of course stringently protected and enforced by the Supreme Court's insistence that to permit any other practice would impeded the precious right of 'free speech' for 'persons' that have no blood circulating in their veins, but are rich in the currency and coin of the realm with which to scheme and achieve the evisceration of democratic forms.
Georgia Watch warns that things may in fact worsen more, before they show even a semblance of a sign of improvement. "In addition to a massive rate hike and a higher profit margin, Georgia Power is also proposing a new arrangement in which two-thirds of its annual losses could be offset by imposing higher rates on customers without having to file a formal rate case. 'It’s clearly an attempt to shift the financial burden from shareholders to ratepayers. It’s an unprecedented move and would eliminate an established review process for rate increases,' said Speir Phelps. 'The Public Service Commission is responsible to the people of Georgia to review and evaluate the fairness of rate increase requests. How can they establish just and reasonable rates without a review?'"
How indeed. Georgia's newest Commissioner can certainly talk the talk; heaven knows if he'll walk down that straight and narrow path that his faith preaches, what he heretically propounds as the necessity to "return America to its godly heritage." All presumption aside, if one can look past the arrogant conflation of church and state that this new public defender totally advocates--if one can recall the truly revolutionary roots of the man from Nazareth, in other words, Tim Echols does at times call out to something that might speak to those who honor citizenship and not just dogmatism.
At other times, he both blasphemes against the man who overturned the tables of rulers who worshipped mammon over a more holy expression of godliness, and brings the chill of a wary snarl to the voice of any true democrat. "As we live out Christlike consideration for our fellow citizens, and Christ-like respect for the procedures and people involved in the political process—attitudes which can only come from placing our hope in Christ, we will be examples of 'real' citizens."
The present status of Plant Vogtle, meanwhile, as this humble correspondent has noted, and the background of which he has also explored, is full-throttle, straight ahead. THC has witnessed the hornet's nest of activity currently transpiring on the Savannah River, just across the streaming waters from the cesspool toxic waste pit in place at the Savannah River Site, in preparing an upcoming story on that sorry process.
Tim Echols has promised--a 'Christian commitment,' one might hope--to oppose Georgia Power's recovering its profligacy at Plant Vogtle in advance. No matter that, only a miracle will save Georgians from another several decades of fleecing from the nuclear juggernaut, after we've born the same treatment for the past twenty-one years, since Vogtle One and Two came online, at fifteen times the original anticipated price tag.
This leaves out of the picture the health and safety consequences of this technology, which THC has investigated at other stages in the Nuclear-Fool-Cycle, and which, in terms of reactors and such, will show up in these pages soon, Lord willing and the creek don't rise. In any event, this commitment to fission--and all its costly, toxic offshoots--has characterized the Southern Company since at least the surly tenure of Richard Cheney, who plotted out this deadly resurgence almost a decade ago.
Southern Nuclear amplified that potent predilection with its persistent lobbying that favored the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Capital's overweening vow to create an atomic Phoenix, at least in part in the peach state. With Southern Company's application for a site permit in 2006, and its more recent unreserved crowing about its progress toward completion later in the decade, the pathway to plutocracy looks like a straight run, with only the occasional citizen blockade and $20 billion of rate-payer 'tax' between now and start up.
Over the past few decades, what Georgia Power has requested, it has almost always gotten, albeit at times the PSC has lessened the hit on consumer pocket books. In fact, the one rollback mentioned above, and one flat-out rejection of a rate hike, in 1979, are the only two, among scores of such wheedling imprecations, that have gone completely against the asked-for increases in rates, subsidies, and other access to funds in the form of shareholder profits.
The text of PSC enabling authority makes such outcomes nearly inevitable. Title 46 of the Official Code of Georgia, in which Chapter Two deals with the PSC and Chapter Three deals with Electrical Service, establish accounting formula and documentation that, short of showings of fraud or other criminal malfeasance--which has on occasion appeared(INTERLINK, Vogtle II), guarantee that Georgia Power gets funds that it is, in essence, demanding as a matter of statutory right.
In this context--on the one hand, the purported support for ombudsmanship and honest hearing of citizen perspectives, on the other hand, a clear mandate to provide 'regulated companies' with what they request so long as they jump through hoops that their entire structure revolves around jumping through anyway--the Public Service Commission opened a 'public input' process for Georgia Power's billion-dollar plus requested rate hike increase.
A substantial turnout, much larger than anyone had anticipated, spoke overwhelmingly in opposition to paying for the nuclear highway in advance. Another set of public comments is on the horizon, at which,Southern Company's flunkies hope, minions of crony-capitalism and fleece-the-poor professors will also take hold of the microphone. In any event, readers today now have a chance to read what Georgians communicated to the PSC, though this humble correspondent doubts whether PSC 'experts' will turn away Georgia Power's ten per cent front-loading of their already guaranteed atomic investment.
A FAKE PROCESS IN WHICH REAL CITIZENS HAVE SHOWN UP
This humble correspondent was writing up a storm this week, while computers went into death-spirals and the PSC was 'listening' to input. THC sent a faithful proxy to deliver his words to the PSC. Whether useful or not, they are real and heartfelt, By way of inclusion, they appear here now, interspersed throughout this portion of this article.
"This entire process is a travesty. Everyone here with a functioning brain knows that the deal, in relation to nuclear power in Georgia, is already done. Nothing that anyone says here today can derail that process/established fact, which is about increased profits and power for utilities, manufacturers, and bankers, the Plutocratic establishment."
THC's interlocutor ended up being one of the first to speak, and has a link to his statement, with one of his droll cartoons, on his own blog. He finds all manner of "reasons to oppose pouring scarce public resources into nuclear projects:
*1. the high cost of nuclear reactors...
*2. the fact that a nuclear plant to a terrorist, is a pre-positioned nuclear device that can create a sacrificial population and an immense dead zone.
*3. Even without the terrorist factor, safety is problematic. ... A recent New York Academy of Science report puts the world-wide Chernobyl death count near one million, an assertion it would be criminal to ignore.
*4. Since the early 1980s, just after reactors began operating in Maryland, Calvert County's cancer death rate jumped from 2 percent below to 16 percent above the state rate.
*5. The more plutonium we create the greater the risk of proliferation. Policy-makers seem oblivious to this troubling fact, exhibiting a pathological, alcoholic-like denial.
*6. Over 100 radioactive chemicals are created in reactors. ... Releasing these toxins into our delicate life system, and leaving what isn’t released to countless, unconsulted future generations to safeguard, can hardly be considered responsible, especially considering that there are benign alternatives.
*7. Solar technology and wind generators suffer from none of these liabilities...
*8. The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research(IEER) has released a publication titled, Carbon-Free and Nuclear Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, (which) persuasively details alternatives to dirty energy and could save us a great deal of suffering and wasted treasury. Please do not enable the addicted, oppose this rate increase."
THC's statement continued in a similar vein. "Nevertheless, nuclear power will be a disaster for ordinary citizens. It will bankrupt the economy; it will cause mushrooming cancers and other environmental catastrophes; the Nuclear FOOL cycle will kill and maim from its start among benighted Native American communities to its conclusion among the ‘Disposable Soldiers’ of the American Empire."
A guiding participant in the process summed up the sense of this community congress as follows, thankful and gratified that, happenstantially, a certain segment of critique ruled the roost, as it were. "Well, I have to say that yesterday we ROCKED! Have you thought about the fact that yesterday (since nobody else showed up)--WE RULED THE TESTIMONY TIME! We commanded the stage for an entire hour with our unified message that new nukes are a toxic idea!"
This gracious and indefatigable negotiator continued: "I am sorry you were not all there at the beginning of the afternoon session when a woman who arrived late in the morning got permission to speak. ( What do you figure got into Bubba agreeing to that?) This unassuming African American woman--who had heard about the rate case on the news the night before, became outraged, and showed up to speak her mind--quietly walked to the podium. She firmly grabbed the podium with both hands, bowed her head, and in this amazing, strong, authoritative, lilting I-have-known-suffering voice began to PRAY! She began with something like, "God /Almighty/, I'm askin' you to come /visit /this situation because we are in need of a /healin'!"/ She got stronger and stronger as she went on. It was absolutely wonderful. The commissioners didn't quite know what to do. (-: And, of course, she's right!"
Yet another high-level priestess of the process agreed. "A quick email to say how amazing you all were yesterday morning at the PSC meeting. Thank you for coming out on such a cold morning and making your views known. I was so pleased that we stayed on the financial messages (poor fiscal planning, $84 million, over $1 billion overall, frequency of increases, yet to come CWIP financial burden in January, untimely increase when so many are suffering economic hardship) and also hit home hard on the choice that Georgia Power has made to engage in high risk energy (nuclear energy!)."
Apparently, in keeping with his promise to remain the one seat of the PSC quintet that would 'listen to the people,' Tim Echols spent a quarter hour or more with this litany of well-versed critics of the fake 'renaissance' of the FOOL cycle. However, his view, as readers shall see, was that instead of a populist outpouring, an orchestrated public relations campaign would have been more effective.
Had this humble correspondent been present for that, he might have spoken as follows. "Dear Sir, with any respect that is actually due, those who sit in the thrones of power have not yet realized that they have much to learn from the voices of the people. These lessons are such that learning them is inevitable; only the degree of difficulty in the dialogue is at issue."
In the event, THC's own portentous document continued like this. "In any event, as utility bills skyrocket and mounting piles of noxious waste pile up, citizens may eventually ask themselves, 'What can we do about all of this endemic vomitous that seems to be proliferating everywhere around us?'"
And a soulful proponent of the life cycle over the FOOL-cycle would quip, in her inimitable drawl, "No nukes, y'all!" She struggled not to feel dispirited in the aftermath of the Echols input.
|"I was TOTALLY DEPRESSED after hearing Echols say we should, effectively, hire a PR person and match GA Power’s slickness! For a publicly elected official to casually tell a large group of volunteers on a Monday morning that our folksy, emotional (‘scuse me, FACT-BASED) testimonies were ineffective! The bold audacity, or grotesque insensitivity -- take your pick! The only solace I felt yesterday was that Ellen got the whole thing on video. Remember when he said we should do like he did on the campaign trail and never say anything even off-the-cufrf that a speechwriter hasn’t written? Well, he should have had a speech writer coach him on at least pretending to give a hoot what a constituent says!!!"|
Another guiding goddess of the process put a positive spin on things, as is her wont. "I know that some of you may have felt a bit depressed by the comments of our newly elected PSC commissioner Tim Echols... . The good news is that a) he is going to go down to Shell Bluff and visit the community there ... for a full day. b) he wants to know all about the lack of environmental monitoring for... near Vogtle, and also near SRS that was cut by the DOE eight years ago and is now ALMOST reinstated. He (seemed supportive that) we are working on to watchdog the area and stay on top of things."
Wary as he is wont to be, THC is well able to stand corrected. Perhaps this Mr. Echols will end up being a proponent of working people and average folks. Maybe his announced worship of things Christian and things based on the free-enterprise-system that has never been free (and not necessarily in that order) will give way to a 'conversion' experience to a strong position of popular advocacy. THC, for one, is not counting on that.
His diatribe against Plant Vogtle and the rate increase continued, speaking of matters that no amount of cash can make right. "Listeners may mark my words. Georgia, or one of its neighbors almost equally enthusiastic about the FOOL cycle, will quite likely experience a cataclysm equivalent to Chernobyl in the next few years. That would be both tragic and a well-deserved result of willful ignorance." Unfortunately, of course, most of those who would sicken and die would be the ones who least were culpable in compounding this homicidal technology--murder, from beginning to end.
A general resignation, that stopping the rate increase altogether would be unlikely at best, was palpable. "So, whatever ... do I think we can affect the PSC’s vote ... honestly, no. Can we mobilize an aroused public to give them hours of testimony next time? Oh, yes, lets!!! We have to use every forum at our disposal and let go of the direct results in any given forum. The national and world trend is favorable to our cause."
A more optimistic observation was also possible. "It will be unbelievable if they have the audacity to pass it--but I, too, figure they will. I believe there will be a backlash, and it will be interesting. This really and truly is going to push folks who are barely hanging on by a thread right over an edge. Then what? Maybe God Almighty WILL visit the situation and bring a healin'!! Stan Wise and Chuck Eaton are up for re-election in two years." Perhaps, exiting them from their $117,000-per-annum cushions might jump-start such a therapeutic process.
The universal acclamation about 'what next must transpire' was as with one voice. "Well, I think we absolutely MUST ... pack the room with enough public witnesses on Dec. 1 to take up hours. How shall we go about making that happen? I really want to see some of our state legislators there--ramp up the pressure another notch."
An even more important 'witness' albeit plausibly silent in its judgment, comes on the solstice, when the important thing is "to show up with everyone we know on December 21 when the thugs vote. You know they are counting on nobody paying attention 4 days before Christmas. Shall we give them a huge Christmas present?? I plan to be there. Let's do some funky caroling and bring them lumps of coal."
This same astute participant put a nice concluding sort of spin on the process that all and sundry here were in, too. "Oh yes, and don't pay one bit of attention to Tim Echols' know-it-all attitude. Brush it off! We were awesome, being our brilliant selves. He doesn't know what he's talking about. He's got a thing or two to learn from this crowd. I guarantee you we know more than he does about this stuff (which is scary since he's about to sit on the commission!)."
For all of the good feelings and sense of having discharged civic duties and so forth, a rational observer would nevertheless have difficulty viewing the week as anything other than a stark demonstrations of democracy's continuing evisceration in the great State of Georgia. This is an objective take--even though, by all measures of justice and disputation, one set of disputants--perhaps we might call them the 'good guys'--carried the day; somehow, though, they lost, because the 'forms' of democracy in Georgia do not emanate from an empowered people's community movement.
This assessment does not ignore the fact that a big slice of the State's population seems as happy as pigs in slop. But this analysis does insist on a necessary distinction: the forces of reaction are not now, nor can they ever be, the friends of the forces of social and economic justice.
”(S)aid Georgia Watch executive director and former Public Service Commissioner, Angela Speir Phelps,“ just a few short months ago, “'We’re in one of our state’s worst recessions and Georgia Power is filing one of the biggest rate increase requests in history and asking for more profit. Itʼs essential for ratepayers to get involved so they can protect their pocketbooks.”
Yesterday, this humble correspondent took to task some tough-minded and beautifully brilliant worker bees for not paying enough attention to strategy. He might repeat that declamation here; however, unlike the Beehive, which perfectly articulated the essential importance of class relations and class-conflict, many of those who would 'lead' the attempt to defend the citizenry in Georgia ask that we ignore class issues and accept as brethren those who have not demonstrated even an inkling of capacity to be on the right side, which is to say the side of the working class and THC.
Perhaps readers need to hear the buzzing bounty of the bees' point of view once more. Those who would lead have no choice but to "shine a light on the biggest culprits from Wall Street (including Citi-Group and Bank of America) and Capitol Hill" and, here in Georgia, at the PSC "to demonstrate their complicity" in environmental mayhem.
"Always in cahoots, these financiers and regulators offer their answer to dirty energy... green capitalism... .(T)hey pretend the same logic they’ve been using to create these problems is going to solve them--while earning them profits all the while! Full of hot air and bending over backwards to rubber stamp legislation and legitimize destruction and distraction, floppy tubey wind-sock men representing Big Green environmental groups (like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Nature Conservancy) usurp funds, confuse public opinion, and undermine grassroots power to get 'a seat at the table.'"
The Bees name some names. They ruffle some feathers. This humble correspondent can critique colleagues and still recognize their heartfelt brilliance. So be it.
The point is this: the inherent conflict between those who would eviscerate the common people in order to increase profits and maintain certain structures of rule in the 'marketplace,' on the one hand, and the regular working citizens of the world--and of Georgia, on the other hand, is as tangible as the breast cancer that results from radiation every year surrounding Plant Vogtle, as breath-stopping as the pneumonia that follows apace from rising electricity prices that poor families cannot afford, as hideous as the elevation of money's security over the health and comfort of citizens.
"Which Side Are You On?" is much more apt as a hymn just now than are the feel-good nostrums that emanate from "I'm Going to Teach the World to Sing," and Coca Cola's ad-men--as the corporate behemonth backs up the carnage of Plan Colombia(INTERLINK, Coal)--attest to how malapropos is any such buddy-buddy orientation. Snuggling up to the Southern Company--or partying heartily with those who do its bidding, consigns the future to the nuclear FOOL cycle and the death spiral of Gaia's immolation.
Given that this makes sense--and to THC, the sense is like polished crystal in its transparency, any aspect of strategy or tactics that deviates from this veracity at best diverts what needs to happen; more likely it undermines or even destroys what needs to come to pass, which is an overturning of one order and its replacement--one way or another--with a different order of business. Vermont has shown one way to proceed; hopefully, Georgians will have the ability, despite ever so much more complicated and daunting webs of deceit and division, to trek down just such a peaceful path.
This humble correspondent will not lose sight of the most fundamental truth necessary to finding and ambling down such a roadway, however. The troubles of the world come from one class' domination of another, in the process of which the entire world might as well sink into a cesspool of oblivion, for that makes the job of those who would rule ever so much easier.
THC, for one, shall never again pretend obliviousness. He asks for those who say, "Oh, I want to make things better" to declare themselves. "They say in Harlan County, there are no neutrals there: You either be a union man or a thug for J.H. Blair." The substitutions might not be so tuneful, but the appropriate parties in the first part and the second part are obvious to all and sundry. So again, "Which Side Are You On?"
If history 'teaches' anything, one of its lessons is surely that, given enough opportunity, forces that seek self-enrichment will find a way to fleece the public purse. Frederick Douglas, in a speech that he delivered a century and a half ago, spoke directly to those--in Georgia, on JustMeans, anywhere--who want improved process and technique of governance and society. Renewable Energy and Sustainable Business both come to mind.
Douglass advises, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."
A recent irreverent intervener in a Blog battle about such matters as those under discussion here echoed Douglass, after he first scoffed at the slogan that had driven Tim Echols' primary campaign.
"'(A)dvance conservative ideals of less government, individual liberty, and the protection of human life?' How does that not sound like he’s going to let Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light have their way? The point of the PSC is to represent the people of the state in their dealings with some corporate monopolies. We don’t want a hands-off attitude, because that gets us garbage like" the Georgia Legislature's corrupt accession to Georgia Power's recovering its free-spending ways in advance.
An inability 'to fight City Hall' notwithstanding, many are the other ways of imagining how the world's cousins--here in Georgia, on the Korean Peninsula, in the South of Chile, anywhere that communities are capable of empowerment and courage--might grapple with life's challenges. This humble correspondent used his creative faculties to suggest as much last week.
"The answer is simple: a political movement of the people, independent of Demopublicans and Republocrats, that replaces the Nuclear FOOL cycle with the Human Life Cycle, that rids the planet of radioactive coffee boilers that employ a privileged few and puts in their place sun-based technologies that could provide all the electric and motive power that we need, starting today, as well as offering jobs with justice for tens of millions of people hungry for meaningful, useful work. The answer is simple, but the process is not. On the other hand, the only alternative is the death spiral of the FOOL cycle, to the bitter end of all hope for democracy, justice, and peace."
For all of the fellowship and profound feeling of validation that were transparently clear at the podium and otherwise last week, as intelligible and intelligent articulation of a more sustainable renaissance emanated from the cries of hard-working people, nevertheless, democracy here has come to a Rubicon. What its icy waters might consist of is not obvious to THC, but that any pretense of majority capacity and input is at risk among the peaches and pecans of the former plantations that Sherman burned should leap out of the current political context in Georgia.
Strategic thinking, radical tactics, and a commitment to movement that has zero connection with the Demopublican or Republocratic parties are one sort of choice. The other type of decision is to let the current carry us cross the fateful waters and 'hail Caesar!' in hopes that any one of us might be a survivor as everything comes completely to pieces.
A brilliant legal tactician, addressing such issues of people-power, grapples with a decidedly different component--concerning immigrants' rights to which THC has often alluded--from that which THC is contemplating here. She nevertheless speaks directly to THC and, should they still be following along, dear readers who want to resolve these matters on democratic terms.
|"(C)itizenship is a problematic notion. One of its core difficulties is the way its inclusive and emancipatory rhetoric can mask a dangerous reliance on exclusion. Declarations of citizenship are circle-drawing exercises. As Alexander Aleinikoff has noted, 'By defining insiders, the concept of citizenship necessarily defines outsiders . . . .' As members establish their privileges in contrast with those who are not members, the idea of citizenship crystallizes in opposition to those who have not and cannot achieve that status. Since Aristotle developed his foundational definition of citizenship, which excluded women, foreigners, and slaves, society after society has proudly proclaimed the universality and inclusiveness of its citizenship framework while continuing to formally and informally exclude significant numbers of its residents—and enormous numbers of nonresidents—from the status and/or the benefits of citizenship. In the United States, 'universal' citizenship long excluded women, African-Americans, and other people of color. Although the legal status of citizenship was extended to these groups over time, many continue to experience a diminished or “second-class” version of its privileges."|
This contemplation of citizenship as expansive, as expanding, is critical, in the estimation of this humble correspondent. All too often, at times approaching a universality that frightens one such as THC, who sees dire straits just ahead, a meandering willingness to assume that 'business as usual' will continue because, well, it always has so far, maintains its grip on the consciousness of both complainants about and proponents of the present SOP.
A pair of proponents in this regard, in a glaring 'admission against interest,' since they simply presumed that technocracy and exclusion would continue to rule, instead of allowing stewardship and inclusion to have a crack at the intractable morass of difficulties daunting things just now, quipped as follows about thinking strategically. "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there."
Generally speaking, this shrugging acceptance of 'whatever' the masters and commanders propose continues. Citizens will fall further, however, unless they rise to the occasion, in two necessary ways. to resist such passivity and to activate their involvement. They must strengthen their capacity--individually and jointly, in terms of both knowledge and process--to take part. And then they must manifest a strategy for obtaining a 'people's agenda' that they proactively put into practice on a persistent basis and in a consistent fashion.