Red, White and Screwed, Part Deux
Expanded from the 6-11-2006 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Updated 6-13-2006

Last week, I concentrated on the weakened economy and wobbly society which we have bequeathed to the class of 2006. This week, let's share some pain.

THE PHANTOM IS BACK. Back in 1981, I thought that public utility consumers had been freed from the pillage of paying for power company expenses not yet incurred. Sorry, kids. Future Test Year is back.

The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada has scheduled a June 20 hearing in Las Vegas on just that issue.

Utility rates are supposed to be based on actual, documented cost of service. The argument for Future Test Year is something called "regulatory lag," the time between when a cost is incurred and getting permission to recover it. This causes "attrition" of earnings. Poor babies.

Perhaps in a pre-emptive strike, Gov. Dudley Do-Right – a former utility CEO – just replaced Public Utilities Commissioner Carl Linvil with an inexperienced appointee.

"Linvil opposed a commission decision to recommend the use of future costs in calculating general rate increases for utilities," the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

"He dissented from the commission majority when it authorized Sierra Pacific Power an opportunity to earn an extra profit if it completed a 500 megawatt, gas-fired power plant on time. He also suggested the plant should be smaller," the paper stated.

Who's replacing Linvil? A former utility PR person and lobbyist. Tom Delay would be proud.

To quote Rosa Parks, people are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Hence, this e-mail from a reader: "Is there presently any advocacy regarding Sierra Pacific pending rate hikes? I've been here 50 years and I can no longer keep my utility bills paid up. I am on Social Security, so it's the power company or go without food. I was a member of Communications Workers Union – worked at Western Union for 12 years. Anyway, your website just about describes how I feel about this God awful place. Keep up the good work. Sincerely, Laura."

Laura, I've been fighting this fight for 30 years and will continue to do so. We've been playing musical consumer advocates on the state level recently, but the big issues lie with Washington, a compliant Congress, a weak opposition and a president who believes in exploiting people like you in the name of the free market.

The energy market is anything but free. It's a rigged game guaranteed to rip off thee and me. (Enron fell, but ARCO and its sisters are still around.) The pricing of natural gas is as Kafkaesque as that of gasoline, has been for decades. The price of a therm has no relationship to wellhead pricing or cost.

I wish I could say that political involvement might help. Nationally, you have a choice between two organizations of corporate conservatives.

You can make an impact on the state and local level, but that doesn't address your problem of skyrocketing utility rates.

I see TV news reports attempting to advise consumers how to get better gas mileage (watch your tire inflation) or cut utility bills (turn off lights), but none of that matters. The individual consumer has little elasticity of demand. You need a minimum amount of gasoline every week to get to work and live your life, just as you need a basic level to power your home.

The big decisions are made by those far richer and more powerful than thee and me.

As my Tribune colleague in columny Travus T. Hipp once presciently opined, "if voting mattered, they wouldn't let us do it." It must, because they won't.

Get the June 15 edition of Rolling Stone and read the Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., article on how Republicans rigged the 2004 presidential vote in Ohio. It offers little that I haven't written about before, but it's outrageously good nonetheless. I've been screaming about the vulnerabilities in our balloting system since I saw a Nevada election stolen in the late 1970s.

Not only do the mainstream media fail to report such depredations, soon it may cost you more to access them. Legislation pending in Sacramento and Washington, DC, may facilitate competition for cable TV monopolies, but risks the long term effect of having a few giants controlling the market just as six oil companies now keep the price of gasoline artificially high.

What's needed is really hardassed government regulation, but that seems nowhere on the horizon as corporate money continues to corrupt democracy. Travus called it softshoe fascism when he warned of it two decades ago.

Northwest Reno residents just lost a fight when they found a cell phone tower was going to be placed in a church parking lot in their neighborhood. Why? Because Congress passed a law taking regulation out of the hands of local governments. Cable TV franchise authority is in similar jeopardy.

Members get in their president's face
New York Times 6-13-2006

(Free registration required)

UAW president presents doom and gloom at Gomorrah South convention
New York Times 6-12-2006

(Free registration required)

The above article is so bad that the New York Times would have you think that the union did not have a history of givebacks. As Michael Moore wrote in Downsize This! (1) , UAW concessions were often given just because management schmoozed the union leaders and asked nicely, perhaps over a game of golf at Hilton Head followed by steaks and champagne. Sickening. They should be plotting to buy out the damned company, not sell out their members.

Some worker organizations are giving up. The formerly awesome United Auto Workers have pretty much accepted a buyout by General Motors to retire most of the unionized workforce, in essence a corporate takeover and going-out-of-business sale by the union. As Yogi might put it, if Walther Reuther were alive, he'd be turning over in his grave.

Last but not least, some good news – the cockamamie Tax and Spend Con-job petition, aka TASC, seems to be in serious trouble.

Union members and other citizen groups have been mobilizing against the aggressive, mostly out-of-state paid operatives who get almost $10 a signature. TASC is a copy of a dumbass measure which Colorado passed a few years ago and just suspended because the state was falling apart. If you see TASC circulators, call (775) 315-3682.

How bad is it? When I engaged a circulator in a debate in Reno, her supervisor actually said not to worry if this thing cuts the worst education funding in America.

Why? Because "there's lot of other ways to fund education."

I'm all ears.

Enlighten me.

Be well. Raise hell.

Smoking Guns

APOLOGETICS: "Red, White and Screwed" is the title of a new HBO comedy special starring the irascible Daily Show commentator Lewis Black, whom Mr. Barbano hopes won't be too angry at this additional expropriation of his very appropriate title for life in the USA today.

Red, White and Screwed, Part I


1. Moore, Michael; Downsize This!; "Why are union leaders so f#!@ing stupid," page 127 et seq.; Crown Books, 1996

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Copyright © 1982, 1984, 1996, 2004, 2005, 2006 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 37-year Nevadan, editor of, and a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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