Singing hosannas to the Almighty Market

Sins of omission: Under the category of “Duh,” congressional auditors last week slammed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for failing in its duty to protect Californians from the gaming, gouging electricity generators who held us hostage last year.

“FERC does not currently have enough staff with the skills and knowledge of competitive energy markets to effectively regulate and oversee these industries,” concluded the General Accounting Office after a year of studying the situation.

Yet the most interesting implication of the study is what it says about the free-market dogma that has crippled governments’ ability to provide needed regulation, while in the process elevating figures like Ronald Reagan and Rush Limbaugh to patron saints of the newest American religion: Church of the Market.

You see, FERC’s ineffectiveness wasn’t an accident or oversight. They were ineffective by design, pushing the mantra of deregulation rather than trying to safeguard against the inherent dangers of letting companies like Enron and Reliant have free rein.

Hallelujah: Nobody in the Capitol has a better understanding of California’s energy markets than consultant Guy Phillips, the point person on the issue for Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Fred Keeley, who led the Legislature’s response to last year’s crisis.

So when Phillips penned an internal memo on the GAO report as it was being released last week, you just had to expect some penetrating insights, and Phillips didn’t disappoint as he described the self-fulfilling prophecy of ineffective government.

“In the face of one of the largest deregulation efforts in history … FERC saw promotion of deregulation as more important as a religious proposition than as a responsibility that FERC should be prepared to meet fully,” Phillips wrote.

Deregulation really is like a religion, more based on faith than facts. And once FERC had usurped the regulatory authority of the states—making it the only government entity even capable of keeping the corporations in line—this fervent belief in the Almighty Market created a devil’s playground for generators.

“If your religious doctrine is that competitive markets are good, producers/profit maximizers are disciplined, and the ‘silent hand’ of the market will ensure just and reasonable prices, then FERC does not need effective market monitoring and enforcement procedures, tools, or even staff,” he wrote. “Thus, FERC has not sought to have the basic tools it needs to do its job. If you are of the Reagan/Stockman religion, the theme goes even further: federal enforcers are only fat bureaucrats anyway who serve to gum up what the private sector would otherwise do properly.”

Speak it, Brother Phillips. Amen.

Speech police: Summer vacation being what it is, there’s still no final word from UC Davis officials about whether Fitz Vo, new editor of the California Aggie student newspaper, will be the latest sacrifice on the altar of political correctness.

The 20-year-old Vo didn’t exactly get his tenure off to a great start when he created the paper’s annual year-end parody issue. Titled “The Ivory Basement,” the sophomoric section had it all: racial slurs, disturbing suggestions of violence, nasty character attacks, phallic symbols superimposed amid playing children.

On a campus where even the slightest breach of the “culturally sensitive” orthodoxy is grounds for harsh public condemnation, this issue caused the outrage seismograph to go off the charts, especially for prigs such as Mary Vasquez, head of the school’s ethnic and cultural affairs commission, one target of the parody who has squawked louder than anyone.

She’s probably correct that the issue’s content was “racist, sexist, homophobic and vulgar,” and that its adolescent-style humor was a bit over the top. But to assume that the Vietnamese-American Vo—who listed his title as “editor in chink”—was motivated by anything more hateful than a bad sense of humor is just ridiculous.

Suppressing vile ideas and language doesn’t make them go away, and neither did the apology that Vo ran in Monday’s paper erase the issue he produced. But hopefully it will end talk of firing a young journalist for his first politically incorrect mistake, because that’s a notion that is truly offensive.