STUDS’S KIND OF TOWN
We join the city of Chicago in congratulating our friend and colleague Studs Terkel on his ninetieth birthday. By mayoral proclamation, May 16 was Studs Terkel Day, and there was a star-spangled celebration at the Historical Society. Given Studs’s gift for talking–and listening–the Windy City was the right place for him to grow up. He’s a man of many words–gales of eloquent ones on TV, radio, in books, speeches. His oral history books, including, most recently, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (New Press), stitch together a great patchwork quilt of hundreds of American lives. Hail to our national griot with a tape recorder.
NO SYNERGY CRISIS
Jeff Chester writes: Both the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal recently delivered off-the-mark appraisals of media colossi AOL Time Warner and Vivendi Universal, gloomily stressing their huge quarterly losses while ignoring the longer-term implications of the old media’s incursions into the new media landscape. The US mainstream press keeps a narrow focus on the role of “synergies” in the media marketplace. But it’s not the opportunity to turn last summer’s blockbuster movie into this fall’s TV hit or fast-food giveaway trinket that drives merger mania. The real prize is locking up key segments of the broadband cable delivery platform and digital TV spectrum, which will loom large in the media empires of the twenty-first century. Also off the mainstream press’s radar screens: the enormous lobbying campaigns that helped create the deregulatory environment that will allow a handful of corporate giants to wield unprecedented power in the media marketplace, synergy or no.
ENRON ECHOES IN PENNSYLVANIA
**From Dave Lindorff: Pennsylvania, which has one of the most open, deregulated wholesale electricity markets in the world, was the scene of a market ripoff by PP&amp;L, one of the two dominant electricity generating companies in the state. What the company was doing was similar to Enron’s tactics in California: holding back generation of power during peak load periods. Under Pennsylvania utility regulations, the power distribution companies competing for retail business have to pay a “deficiency payment” for not meeting their contractual delivery of power. What made this nice for PP&amp;L was that these deficiency payments had to be paid to the generator, i.e., PP&amp;L. This market dominance netted the company $11.7 million during a six-week cold snap in January-February 2001. But the reason the company got caught (it’s currently being investigated by the state’s public utility commission, which may hand over the case to the state or the Feds for prosecution) is that NewPower, one of the new firms competing for retail electricity customers, complained. Why did NewPower, alone among PP&amp;L’s customers, figure out what was afoot? Because NewPower is a subsidiary of Enron, which was doing the same thing to other power distribution companies in California at the same time!
TAKE THAT, PALEFACE!
**Mica Rosenberg writes: The use of offensive Native American stereotypes (e.g., the Atlanta Braves’ “tomahawk chop”) as mascots is nothing new. But one small sports team has held a mirror up to the mascot problem. Solomon Little Owl, director of Native American Student Services at the University of Northern Colorado, started an intramural basketball team called the Fighting Whites. The team is protesting nearby Eaton High School’s team name–the Fightin’ Reds. Eaton’s mascot, a caricature Indian with a misshapen nose, wears a loincloth and eagle feather. The Fightin’ Whities, as they are affectionately known, have as their mascot a cheesy 1950s-style caricature of a middle-aged white guy over the phrase “Everythang’s gonna be all white!” Do they think their satire will convince Eaton school officials to abandon the offensive icon? Charles Cuny a 27-year-old Indian on the team, says, “Going to the school board is like going to Congress and asking for our land back–it’s not going to happen.” But T-shirt sales are soaring.
STUDENT TEACHER, OR AL QAEDA SLEEPER?
**Martin Austermuhle writes: Stephen Jones, a student teacher of social studies from the graduate program at the state university, was removed from his job at the high school in Old Town, Maine, after parents complained to the school board that his teaching of Islamic history threatened their children’s religious upbringing. Jones was using selections from the Bible, the Torah and the Koran to combat the stereotypes he encountered in his tenth-grade world history class (to the question “What is Islam?” students had responded, “crazy terrorists,” “dirty,” “camels”). His unexplained removal was a shock to Jones, whose lesson plans had been approved by the school’s social studies teacher and principal. James Dill, chairman of the school board, said “a couple of board members told me in passing that they thought there should be more separation between church and state…maybe there was some teaching of religion going on that may have been out of place.” School officials bucked any comment to Jones’s university, which claimed a vow of silence under student privacy laws. Says Jones, “I’m willing to learn something from experience, but I’m concerned about what these kids are learning. If they can become informants, if accused people can’t have due process, if the approved course of events involves secret decision-making, no appeal and the teacher disappears, that doesn’t smell like democracy. It smells very different.” It smells, period.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
According to the Wall Street Journal, after five years and $929 million in federal funding, drug czar John Walters has discovered that antidrug ads don’t work–teen drug use is as high as ever, and the ads may actually encourage young kids to try pot. But as Cynthia Cotts notes in the Village Voice, that piece of news wasn’t widely reported; it didn’t even rate a mention in the New York Times or the Washington Post–both of which profited handsomely from running the ads.
Who elected him? George W. Bush at a Florida rally for Jeb: “Mr. Castro, once–just once–show that you’re unafraid of a real election. Show the world you respect Cuban citizens enough to listen to their voices and to count their votes.”