Getting jacked, again

May 7, 2008 at 12:00 am

Whatever finally happens in the presidential race, most of us will still have to live here and scratch out a living a year from now. And you might be interested to know that the state Legislature is close to quietly sticking it to you on electric and gas rates.

Unless you do something to stop a package of bills in the state Senate — and soon — residential customers will pay more for light and heat. Big business will pay less. The bills will also make life cozier for the big utilities — Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, which will find it far easier to raise their rates. And they won't have to worry as much about competition, or some pesky little company making a breakthrough and selling us energy for less.

How did this happen? Largely by misrepresenting what these bills really mean. Your elected leaders have already quietly rammed a package of bills through the House that are deceptively referred to as the "green energy bills." Indeed, they do call upon the utilities to sell more "renewable energy," which means wind or solar power.

Can't get any more environmentally correct than that!

Except it is largely a sham. As far as I can tell, the bills don't specify any penalty if the utilities miss their targets, as has happened with other "clean energy" mandates.

What they clearly do is shift $70 million in annual energy costs from business to homeowners. They also would allow any rate hikes proposed by the utilities to automatically go into effect in 90 days, unless the Michigan Public Service Commission says something. That means the utilities can jack up the price without any politician having to take the blame. The bills may not be specific on renewable energy targets, but they are clear on killing competition.

They restrict all other companies to 10 percent of the market, combined. That sounds bad for their competitors, but if these bills pass, you will be the real losers. The main legislation is Senate Bill 1246, sponsored by the bombastic Bruce Patterson (R-Canton).

Make some noise now, or pay later. The governor, by the way, loves these bills; she thinks they will create renewable energy jobs. You can see those new jobs, floating right next to that blueberry pie in the sky.

Wright angles:
Last week's column was mainly about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who has been lately portrayed by the media as the worst black radical in history. I wrote that column, by the way, before his remarks at the National Press Club in Washington. There, Wright came across as more cocky and combative. But the fact remains that many of his comments are jarringly true, and others were taken pretty much out of context.

True, some of what he says is wrong or even just plain wacky. There is no evidence that the government deliberately spread AIDS throughout the black community. But as Wright said, given that our government deliberately used black men as guinea pigs in the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, it is small wonder that some blacks might suspect that. (That doesn't excuse repeating what Wright is smart enough to understand is only a myth in terms which would suggest otherwise.)

Nor do most authorities think the ideas Wright expressed in Detroit about the ways in which black and white children learn differently are valid (except maybe in a cultural context). That he would appear to believe their brains are biologically different seems puzzling since Wright, like Barack Obama, clearly did very well at learning through conventional "European" methods. It is even more puzzling when you reflect that virtually all African-Americans, like Wright and Obama, are of mixed ancestry.

But the main distorter here is the mainstream media. Their obsession with Wright's remarks is a tacit way of saying that we should judge Obama's campaign, or predict what he would be like as president, by what comes out of the mouth of his former pastor. This was true even before the candidate repudiated the retired minister, and is even truer now. What the media ought to do in the interest of fairness is deeply examine whatever strange things John McCain's and Hillary Clinton's pastors might think. Then we should define those candidates on that.

Wright's biggest misstep has been failing to recognize that his connection to Obama is the only reason he has been given such a wide forum for his comments. You can argue that by not being more discreet, he did a terrible disservice to a man who had been his friend (so much so that some blacks wondered if this was deliberate sabotage. Wright's comment in Washington that he was willing to run for vice president really made him sound loony.)

However he did say, over and over, something that bears repeating. Every place he showed up, he made a point of emphasizing that he wasn't speaking for Obama, but for the black church.

Here's something Wright told the National Press Club that I didn't see reported: "I said to Barack Obama last year, 'If you get elected, November the 5th I'm coming after you, because you'll be representing a government whose policies grind under people."

So much for the idea that the two are joined at the hip. Incidentally, you also didn't see much mention made of the very last question Wright was asked. Almost pompously, the questioner referred to that great philosopher Chris Rock, the comedian. Rock had quipped, "Of course Reverend Wright was angry. All 75-year-old black men are angry." The minister was asked what he thought: "Is that funny? Is that true? Is it unfortunate? What do you think?"

Wright then hit it out of the park. "I think that's just like the media. I'm not 75." He is, in fact, 66. (When it comes to the Washington press, what's nine years of inaccuracy among friends?)

Mondo bizarro:
The Detroit News' Charlie LeDuff, a veteran of The New York Times, has a highly respected national reputation, especially for writing about race. So what the hell was he doing acting out a bad sitcom with the apparently addled Monica Conyers?

Conyers went after City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr., calling him "Shrek" and sounding for all the world like a nasty eighth-grade girl who has never really fit in. Since then, she has been asked to behave like an adult by a group of authentic eighth-graders (she essentially said, no).

LeDuff interviewed her with a video camera about all this, which is perfectly fine. But then he seemingly flipped out. He produced a transcript of the heated exchange with Cockrel and suggested they do a dramatic reading. LeDuff would read Conyers' part and she would read Cockerel's words. Naturally, she went for it, since getting herself before cameras seems to be Conyers' definition of public service.

They both got into it, in the manner of a couple drunken frat brothers reading Monty Python. This then ran on The Detroit News Web site — still was, last time I checked. My question: Why would a serious reporter voluntarily play a role in a bizarre sideshow to what is clearly the most important news story in the city today?

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]