“Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are.”
- From the 19th-century English poem, “The Star,” by Jane Taylor –
The Big Picture
by Glynn Wilson –
Way to go, working folks. You voted for former Riley aide Twinkle Cavanaugh for the Alabama Public Service Commission, and now you’ve got it. A twinkle, twinkle little star who is going to go out of her way to become even more of a Newhouse media star by drumming up fake controversies and driving traffic to the Newhouse/Advent/al.com nut job comment section.
Twitter and Facebook are all atwitter for the past few days over a combination of stories provided to titillate online viewers. But I’m here to tell you, it is all sound and fury signifying nothing.
Now I am reluctantly going to feed the media frenzy, because it didn’t take me but a minute of checking around to find out what’s really afoot here.
It all started when Ben Raines of the Mobile Press Register did a story indicating that Alabama Power customers pay more for electricity rates than people hooked up to Georgia Power, a state also served by Southern Company.
If you thought you were getting real, honest news here independent of corporate influence, think again. You can see the Alabama Power “Always On” ad right on the damn story online.
Then came another story about Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn, who thought it might be a good idea to take a look at the rates to make sure they are fair. That is, after all, the sole job of the Public Service Commission. And he’s no liberal Democrat. He’s a Republican with the Dunn Development Corporation and Dunn Investment Group who has held the state license in municipal utilities contracting for the past 25 years, according to Wikipedia and other sources.
Of course Dunn was immediately shouted down by other Republicans, including Twinkle, who voted with the other Republicans on the commission to block any formal rate review, according to the conservative Birmingham News, for the sole purpose to “exclude environmentalists” from any discussion of such a thing as doing the job she was elected to do.
Now there’s an e-mail making the rounds from the so-called JobKeeper Alliance from a Republican public relations guy named Patrick V. Cagle of the Southeastern Strategy Group, who is spearheading the campaign to fool unions and union members into believing that “radical environmentalists” are out to get their jobs.
Nothing could be further from the truth, but that never stopped any Karl Rove clone from drumming up a fake controversy to distract people from the real economic issues at hand and get them all divided up into little camps so they can be defeated at the polls.
It’s a classic divide and conquer strategy designed to make working folks think anyone who advocates for clean air and water must be a radical, flag burning hippie and an enemy of America.
The problem is, it just might work in this case, because the fake controversy also happens to serve perfectly the monopoly media strategy of Newhouse, which owns al.com. There’s nothing like a little controversy to drum up traffic for a Website that is clearly designed to bankrupt the newspapers and get everybody in the state hooked on the anonymous, right-wing comment section. They’ve never done an honest story on organized labor in their 100-plus years of publishing. Newspaper publishers, or owners, you see, have always, always been anti-union. They’ve fought reporters unions and pressmen unions since the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s.
I would loved to have been a fly on the wall in the meeting when the new managers of al.com discussed their strategy for the future. Since newspapers put up their first Websites about 12 years ago, the Newhouse plan was never to use the Web product to help the print product. They set up separate corporations and just had the print people hand over all their content for free to the Web company, which then went about trying to figure out how to make money from the Websites like al.com and nola.com in Louisiana. If the Times-Picayne and the Birmingham News had been in control of their own Websites and had a say in what happened on them, including the revenue generated by them, they may have been able to hang on a while longer without shutting down the print operations to only three days a week.
But that does not serve the long-term Newhouse plan, you see. Clearly they are planning to bankrupt the print operations to avoid paying debt service on all the new buildings they built across the state and country back during the Bush years, never anticipating the impact the Bush Great Recession would have on their bottom lines.
I wonder what happened to those accountants who were projecting growth in print circulation and advertising revenue for the next 20 years? Did they get axed and indicted like the staff at Richard Srushy’s HealthSouth? Or did they get big bonuses and raises, like the Wall Street Bankers who engineered the Bush and Obama bailouts? Is the Newhouse chain of newspapers, Websites and TV stations an empire that is too big to fail? Let’s hope not.
We will never know, because neither the Newhouse papers, or their Web counterparts, will ever do the reporting on that. They will just run the Alabama Power ads right on the stories about Alabama Power and gin up fake controversies to drive traffic and comments to the new corporate Websites, and distract us all from an inescapable fact.
Federal environmental regulations actually provide more high paying, union jobs than they cost the economy. Ask the plumbers and pipefitters at UA Local 91 in Birmingham, Alabama, who built every one of Alabama Power’s coal-fired power plants and maintain them to this day, including installing pollution control equipment.
The same is true of the UA unions who serve the Tennessee Valley Authority’s nuclear power plants in north Alabama.
The coal miners might have a reason to fear environmentalists and new federal regulations, as well as the natural gas fracking industry, since there is a move afoot to move toward natural gas instead of coal to fire the power plants of the future. On some issues, these controversies will pit one union against another, not that you would ever find that out by reading the Newhouse papers either.
There are many environmentalists who don’t like that plan, however, but that is no reason for union workers to get all in a huff about people who care about clean air and water.
We are all going to have to work together to find solutions to serve our energy needs in ways that do not continue to damage everybody’s health. Coal miners know a lot about this. They work in it every day.
Nobody is trying to take their jobs. Some people are just trying to make their jobs a little safer and healthier for everybody, including the ones who climb down in the holes to dig the coal out of the ground.
As a nation, we should be moving beyond that old technology anyway, but those jobs are not going to disappear over night. We will still need coal for many years to come, just like we will need oil and natural gas — until alternatives are fully developed and come online. When they do, these will also be high paying jobs.
If the unions were playing it smart, they would be thinking ahead to getting in a position to unionize those workers, instead of thinking backwards trying to protect the dwindling jobs in old industries. Instead of falling for Republican rhetoric and allowing themselves to be divided away from a potentially winning political coalition, let’s all work together to create a better future.
Like the White Queen said, “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”
© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.