Joe Kenehan Center

Thursday, August 15, 2002
Where’s the West Coast’s Refund?

Bush’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission finally issued a preliminary report that shows what progressives have known all along -- Enron and other energy corporations gouged consumers by manipulating West Coast energy supplies.

Like a lot of progressives, I feared that energy deregulation would leave the markets susceptible to greed-driven market manipulation. But I have to admit that even I was a little surprised that California’s free market experiment was completely dominated by greed right from the start.

California’s energy deregulation plan was the most far-reaching dismantling of oversight of energy since the deregulation fad began, so a lot was riding on it. So much that you would have thought that Kenny Boy and the folks at the Cato Institute could’ve organized a little meeting to arrange a gentlemen’s agreement among the energy players: let’s take it easy on the rice-pay ouging-gay during the first year or so, so deregulation can look good for a little while.

FERC’s report verifies a lot of “told you so’s” on the left, but the real problem is that the energy deregulation disaster is still affecting the economy.

In Seattle, where I live, we’re still paying inflated prices. Our city public utility didn’t privatize but nonetheless got thoroughly snookered by the deregulation hype.

Our taxpayer-owned utility decided to “act like a corporation.” It sold off control of significant chunks of its own power generation because market forces were supposedly going to drive wholesale energy prices so low that there wouldn’t be any need to generate power “in-house.”

Of course, the exact opposite occurred. During the crisis, Seattle City Light sank deep into debt buying exorbitantly expensive power at prices juiced up by Enron and the gang.

That debt hasn’t gone away, and we’ve got the light rates to show it. More than half of my montly bill goes toward the debt. Even worse, FERC says we can all trust the energy companies to do the right thing again.

Organizing the Organizing

Everyone in the labor movement remembers the 1930s as a remarkable time when working Americans spontaneously rose up to challenge the social rot that had hollowed out our economy during the Depression.

It’s important to remember, however, that the union movement of those years figured out a way to channel that rage into organizations that could effectively take on the corporate powers of the day.

When John L. Lewis, Sidney Hillman, John Brophy, and millions of other men and women built the CIO, they united enough workers in the same industries together to have a meaningful voice in the direction of that industry. The UAW focused on carmakers, the Steelworkers focused on steel, the Mineworkers kept their focus on coal, the UE aimed hard at electronic industry, and so on.

In today’s union movement, we’ve lost that focus. Union members want our unions to grow, but in the haste to organize, too many unions are reaching out to workers from a cluttered sample of different industries. As a result, unions can grow in numbers but lose strength in actual effectiveness.

The AFL-CIO announced that it’s convening an Organizing Summit to look at ways to refocus organizing to build organizations that can really take on the Wal-Marts, the Overnites, the McDonald’s, and the Manpower, Inc.’s.

Within the labor movement, this is an enormously controversial idea. But it’s an idea that needs to be thought through.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002
Tim Eyman’s Search For A Paycheck

Tim Eyman has a problem.

Eyman, a telegenic young anti-tax zealot who over the past several years has sought to literally make a living from churning out anti-tax ballot initiatives in Washington State, wants a certain lifestyle. And pesky rules for publc disclosure of campaign contributions are standing in the way.

For readers who don‘t live in Washington: for years, Tim Eyman insisted that he was running his initiative campaigns purely as a citizen volunteer. He sneered at “overpaid” politicians, public employees, and union leaders for making money from politics. He sanctimoniously postured as a true honest citizen who made his living selling watches to fraternity brothers.

It was a pretty inspiring tale, but unfortunately for Eyman it a complete lie. In reality, he was siphoning out a comfortable salary for himself from the initiative campaign fund. When reporters asked about his income, he just lied and lied. Finally, someone within his organization blew the whitle.

Eyman just paid a $50,000 fine for lying on campaign finance disclosure filings.

But now he’s got another initiative on the ballot. He wants to be on TV as often as possible again. Oh, and he wants the lifestyle again.

Because Eyman can’t make enough selling fratty boy bling-bling to support a Lexus life, he’s been forced to come clean about a key motive for his endless ballot initiative war: his own desperate need for cash.

Eyman’s sent out a mailing that actually asks people to write checks directly payable to him. And he doesn’t intend to offer any disclosure at all about who's picking up the tab for his life.

Not surprisingly, it hasn’t taken long for Washington State’s campaign finance oversight officials to notice Eyman’s clumsy attempt to exempt himself from the law.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002
John Sweeney Is My President

Sweeney says all the things that should have been said in a real discussion about the economy.

Sunday, August 11, 2002
Repeal Taft-Hartley

A bullish forecast for a resurgent labor movement from (of all places) the Business Pages of the Dallas Morning News. Commenting on the post-bubble economy, investing columnist Scott Burns predicts that “the long decline of labor unions is over.” Burns goes on to predict that “health care will be nationalized” and that George W. Bush is a one-termer.

Burns forecasts that the political center will move leftward “faster than either party can conceive.” If he’s right, progressives should get ready to take one easy step to restore working people’s ability to have a meaningful voice in the economy: repeal Taft-Hartley.

As things stand today, it’s clear that large employers don’t have to seriously negotiate with their employees so long as a friendly White House is ready to quash any uppity impulses among workers.

Also, a long piece in the New York Times explains why something’s got to give in the American health care system.