News & Views » Politics & Prejudices

Asleep at the switch

by

So why did Russia attack Georgia when it did, right when the Summer Olympic Games were about to begin?Because they gambled that they could get away with it, that's why. Our Great Leader, President George W. Bush, was in Beijing, and it took his handlers some time to craft a coherent response.

Which, when it came, was in the usual diplospeak, but really meant something like this: America thinks it's a bad thing that this big country is whomping on this little country. We think they should quit it. However, we aren't going to do anything about this, since we don't care that much, and besides, we can't do anything about it anyway, since we don't have no extra troops or money.

Later in the week, Bush seemed to get a little more agitated about the war. This may have happened partly because some of his own conservative base was angered, especially since Georgia is now a reliable American ally. U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, a Livonia Republican, published a blistering essay in The Washington Times. McCotter professed to be attacking U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, a not terribly important Democrat from New York, for cozying up to the Russians. Reading between the lines, however, it's fairly clear McCotter was none too satisfied with the Bush administration either.

So Bush talked a little tougher, and Vladimir Putin, the real leader of Russia, smiled politely and paid no attention whatsoever.

Naturally, there were those who said that this was a total misunderstanding of President Bush. They said he was actually very concerned about the Russian aggression, for a very good reason:

If the Russians could invade Georgia, some say he asked Condoleezza Rice, what was to prevent them from rolling right on into his brother Jeb's state of Florida next?

Naturally, I swore that I would refuse to print that, because of its utter disrespect for our president's intellectual abilities.

However: Your state legislators (remember them?) do mostly have utter disrespect for your ability to figure out what they are doing to you. That's made a lot easier, as they know very well, because the newspapers don't much cover what they do anymore.

Three months ago, I told you about this wonderful new plan they had to really screw us over the cost of energy ("Getting jacked again," May 7). The House and the Senate then were quickly moving to pass a package of what were billed as "renewable energy" bills.

They told us this would require the big utilities to start converting to renewable, i.e., wind and solar power. Gov. Jennifer Granholm herself is a big wind-power booster, and members of her administration have been known to wax poetic about all the money our poor state could make by making and selling windmill parts.

Accordingly, both houses passed fine packages of "renewable energy" bills. Fine, that is, till you read them carefully.

What they have actually done is pass bills designed to cement into law the virtual monopoly status of both Consumers Energy and DTE, which old-timers still call Detroit Edison. The bills aren't law yet; each house has passed a slightly different version, and they haven't resolved the differences.

But what they have done is severely limit any competition DTE and Consumers will ever have to face. Both versions mandate that no more than 10 percent of either utility's customer load can ever go to alternate energy suppliers! This means if another company can come up with a better, cheaper and more efficient way to provide Michigan consumers with energy, well, they can go screw themselves.

This has been denounced by principled conservatives, such as Hillsdale College economist Gary Wolfram — who actually believes in a free market — and liberals, including the Consumer Choice Coalition, which includes consumer groups and alternative energy suppliers.

What these bills mean, Wolfram noted in an essay a few weeks ago in The Detroit News, is that "there will be little incentive for alternative energy providers to develop new resources in Michigan."

He thinks this is not only stupid, it's downright scary: "If the Legislature can make sure Detroit Edison's customers don't leave, why not do the same for AT&T, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Mackinac Island fudge?" There was, in fact, an economy that did work like that. It was called the Soviet Union, and it didn't work so well. So why are the good Republican and Democratic lawmakers lining up to stick it to us? Simple. They don't think we are paying much attention.

They are right, of course. We are so consumed with Kwame's Krap these days we barely had time to worry about John Edwards' dick. However, if we cared, there might still be time to stop this train. That's because the lawmakers can't agree on how much of a farce they should make the whole "renewable energy" part of the package.

Currently the package that passed the Democratic-controlled House calls for 10 percent of each utility's electricity to come from renewable sources seven years from now, in 2015. The Senate wants to make that only 7 percent — and allow part of that target to be met through "energy efficiency programs," among other things. In other words, it gives them an easy out.

What, by the way, happens if a utility doesn't meet that puny target? Virtually nothing legally, so far as I can tell. In all probability, that year's crop of lawmakers will just give the utilities an extension. That, or agree to count soft coal as a "renewable" fuel. You never can tell when lobbyists are throwing money around.

However, the dream of making big money by manufacturing windmill components may be a bit diminished. Last week Vestas, a prominent renewable energy company, announced it would create 1,350 jobs manufacturing wind turbine blades.

That's the good news. The bad news is that those jobs will be in ... Colorado. See, Colorado passed a strong renewable portfolio standard last year. More than 20 other states have done the same, while Michigan is dithering. But not to worry.

DTE will probably always have some jobs for meter readers.

What they're asking in the suburbs: Dennis Waldron of Royal Oak wrote me to say he still loves Detroit, which he left years ago, "only because the city became unlivable — and not from a racial standpoint, either. It became physically life-threatening." Not surprisingly, he doesn't think much of Kwame Kilpatrick. But he isn't in favor of booting him out. "The question is not whether the city would be better off without [him] but whether the city would be well off at all with whomever might come after him." This is something he thinks this column has ignored entirely.

Fair question. Well, for at least a few months, he would be succeeded by Ken Cockrel Jr., now the City Council president.

From what I've seen — and I have known him slightly for a long time — Cockrel is honest, decent and smart. His votes on City Council are consistently rational and intelligent. He is not the world's best public speaker, true. However, he does seem to be an essentially normal guy who likes to go home to his nice wife and kids.

Most importantly, he does not have 10 felony indictments against him. Frankly, while it's long been clear that the city would be better off with just about anyone else on this side of the prison walls, trading Kilpatrick for Cockrel would be a classic no-brainer.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at letters@metrotimes.com

comment