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"Power to the People"

January 17, 2001

Satire by
Lauren Weinstein


Greetings. Those of you in states which are considering deregulation of their electrical power industries should take note -- today, for the first time since World War II, rolling power blackouts hit many California residents -- the result of one of the most botched attempts at legislating technology ever imagined. Getting the straight scoop on what's really going on has been difficult, but I did manage to reach Martin Kilawat, a consultant to some of the biggest energy corporations in the country.

"Marty, I hope you can bring some clarity to this situation," I said.

"I'll do my best to shed some light on the subject, Lauren. That's a power industry joke, boy! But, hey, I don't know what you're complaining about! You're one of those ingrates there in L.A. without any power shortages or rate increases, right?" asked Martin.

"Well, yes, I guess that's true. As I understand it, L.A. produces its own power, with plenty to spare for export outside the city, and we're not dependent on the outside grid, so ..."

"See what I mean? You need to be paying more! You're not contributing enough to my clients' bottom lines! There you people are all cozy with your computers running full steam, while other folks are sitting in the dark!"

"What about your clients who caused this whole mess?"

"Now that question is unfair. My clients are just good businessmen, trying to make whatever profit the market will bear. They didn't force California legislators to unanimously approve power deregulation back in '96 -- your state representatives and then-Governor Wilson did it on their own."

"But there was plenty of lobbying from the power industry, claiming that deregulation would bring all manner of lower rates and other benefits to consumers," I said.

"Well, you can't expect us not to chime in on matters that will affect our bottom line! And deregulation could still be made to work! All we need is for California ratepayers to pay the new market rates, and there'll be plenty of power for everyone, not to mention some very happy power company executives. Caviar doesn't grow on trees, you know!"

"But before deregulation, we were already paying about the highest rates in the country, even though our per-capita use of power is among the lowest. Now you expect people to pay double, triple, quadruple, or more? Where would all that money go?"

"Into our pockets and those of our stockholders, naturally. There are lots of widows and retirees who got badly burned in the dot-com stock crash, and we gotta help them somehow. And how else can all the new middlemen get their cuts?"

"I wanted to ask you about those middlemen. It seems that many of the price gouging accusations relate to the layers of power brokers that were put into place as part of deregulation, all of them trying to take a chunk of the pie and driving up prices as high as they possibly can. How does that help the average consumer?"

"Obviously it doesn't, but electricity is a luxury after all -- you can get along without it."

"You mean luxuries like lighting?"

"C'mon! Do you really need electric lights? There's always candles and incense -- those seem like they might be your style anyway ..."

"Marty, just what do you think will happen when the first news story breaks about a family killed at an intersection due to traffic lights being off from power cuts, or someone on a home respirator whose backup battery failed during a rolling blackout? Can you imagine the outcry?"

"You're being unfair again, Lauren. What kind of people do you think we are? Don't worry matey, it'll all work out for the best in the end! Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!"

"So what's next for you, Marty?"

"Well, I'd been hoping for a job in the Bush administration handling oil industry deregulation issues, but apparently I wasn't conservative enough. So I'm taking my legislative experience into a new arena," said Martin.

"And what would that be?" I asked.

"Electronic and Internet voting! I'm going to sell the California legislature on a plan to replace all those old punch card systems with PCs running an ultra-secure and error-free operating system like Windows! No more nasty recounts to worry about -- just sit back, close your eyes, put your trust in the computers and the programmers, and click your way to electoral Nirvana! And like I told the legislators about electricity deregulation, 'What could possibly go wrong?' "

= = = = = =

Lauren Weinstein

For information about the author, please see: http://www.vortex.com/lauren

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