Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Part 9. Corporate Power is Protected



"Looking at the present I see a more probable future: a new despotism creeping slowly across America. Faceless oligarchs sit at command posts of a corporate government complex that has been slowly evolving over many decades, In efforts to enlarge their own powers and privileges the are willing to have others suffer the intended or unitended consequences of their institutional or personal greed. For Americans, these consequences include chronic inflation, recurring recession, open and hidden unemployment, the poisoning of air, water, soil and bodies, and more important, the subversion of our constitution. "  

Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power In America
By Bertram Gross
Published in 1980 by South End Press

If you want to see a clear cut example as to how Republicans favor and protect corporate greed over the interests of the American People, you should come to Wisconsin, where the utility and power companies have bought themselves a Republican-dominated state legislature.  

We're all familiar with hair-raising reports about corporate lobbyists openly writing Republican-backed legislation in Washington, but all too often abuses of power are over looked at the state level. Here in Wisconsin, we have an example in which the Republican Party talks the talk about individual rights but walks the walk of corporate/state control over elected local officials.  

I am writing about the GOP authored Bill AB 437 which passed the Republican controlled Wisconsin State Assembly by a measure of 61-35, and which provides for the transference of public land to the American Transmission Company. For those of you who are not familiar with this particular issue, ATC intends to build a $420 million, high voltage power line which, when completed, would carry 600 to 700 megawatts of power, providing electricity to approximately 180,000 to 225,000 homes. The line itself would stretch from Wausau, Wisconsin, to Duluth, Minnesota. The project would also run through   2.5 miles of public property in Dodge County, a fact which prompted the Douglas County Board to vote against negotiations with ATC in February of this year. What followed was entirely predictable. ATC filed suit in the Douglas County Circuit Court where it asked a judge to force the sale of the land, while, the Wisconsin State Assembly (our equivalent of the United States House of Representatives, or the 1939 German Reichstag—take your pick) took up legislation which, if passed by the GOP controlled State Senate, and if signed by our Democratic (yeah, right) Governor, Jim Doyle, would force local governments to sell public land to power cooperatives or utility companies when they want to construct power lines.  

These are not the standard, 30 foot wood poles with which most of us are so familiar. These are 140 foot, steel monstrosities which hardly blend into the natural landscape. But that's only a minor issue. The bill effectively deprives town, village, city, and county officials of the right to serve and protect local citizens. Power cooperatives and utility companies would merely go to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (an appointed entity) from which they would obtain a construction permit, after which the company and local officials would have a 180 day window of opportunity in which to negotiate. In the event that a fair price could not be agreed upon, the matter would be settled through mandatory arbitration.  

Translated into modern English, the "local control" Republicans have backed legislation which deprives locally elected officials of their legal and constitutional right to protect both, environmentally sensitive areas and their own constituencies from corporate greed.  

The reasons behind the legislation are obvious. It is a payback to the utility companies and power cooperatives for their financial support (i.e. bribes in the forms of contributions) that they have made to candidates and political parties during our increasingly corrupt election cycles. It works like this: Corporate America gives contributions to our political candidates. When elected, the political candidates—now our elected officials—repay their corporate masters by appointing members of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, which already has the power to approve or deny rate increase requests by the utility companies. Note that Wisconsin once had very low gas and electric rates, but after 12 years under former Governor, Tommy Thompson, and now, under a Republican-controlled state legislature, gas and electric rates in Wisconsin are beginning to sky rocket—compliments of a GOP appointed PSC, which is clearly in cahoots with the utility companies, and has yet to see a rate increase that it didn't like.  

The same will undoubtedly be true when for-profit utility and power companies demand the acquisition of locally controlled public land Indeed, according to records with the State of Wisconsin Ethics Board, major state utilities such as Madison Gas & Electric, Alliant Energy and Wisconsin Public Service have lobbied law makers to pass the above mentioned legislation, claiming that they only want to provide power to Wisconsin customers. Of course, the part that they fail to mention is that the Wisconsin PSC will almost certainly give an official thumbs up to rate increases on customers to pay for the new power line.  

Seldom discussed, however, are ideas such as conservation and alternative fuel sources, none of which would benefit the fossil fuel industries—this at a time when Republicans in Washington promote an energy bill which includes huge tax breaks and kick backs to oil and other fossil industries; promotes cuts in energy assistance programs for the poor and elderly, and does little to nothing to promote conservation and the creation of alternative fuel sources.  

You don't need to be a Yale Graduate to see that something has gone very wrong. We live under a system in which our campaign finance system promotes the interests of a few wealthy corporations over the interests of the American People. We seem to have evolved from a system of "one person one vote" to a corrupt system of representation in which the powerful few are preferred to the average many. We have become an Orwellian perhaps even proto-fascist society in which all individuals are represented but some individuals are more represented than others


Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power In America
By Bertram Gross
Published in 1980 by South End Press


Getting a Line on Electricity
By Thomas Content
From the online edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 29 2006

Hearnings Set for Proposed Transmission Facilities
From The Beaver Dam Daily Citizen
Friday September 8m 2006

Residents Fight Power Lines
by Ed Garvoille
November 15, 2005
From the online edition of The Capital Times

Power Line Not Needed So Soon
Wisconsin State Journal
WSJ Staff and wire services
December 28, 2005

Petition:  Bury new Power Lines
By Anne Marie Ames
From The Capital Times
January 24, 206

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