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!