Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

The Hard Truth-Use the Power, dammit!, Part II

2nd April 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Min. J. Kojo Livingston
Contributing Columnist

They meet once per month for a few hours, but those few hours impact our lives.

In those few hours they make decisions that will affect your life, your finances and your family around the clock, every day for years. “They” are the Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC). They decide what you will pay for utilities like lights, gas and phone service. Their decisions will make life easier or harder for you.

But for the most part, the one thing they DON’T think about is YOU.

Like most government regulatory bodies in the United States, the PSC is virtually controlled by the wealthy, powerful corporations it’s supposed to regulate. The result? A nation where Big Oil, Big Pharma, the prison, hospital, and every other big industry all regulate themselves through the façade of governmental bodies like the FDA, DEQ, EPA, FCC and of course, the PSC.

According to history, corporations have used lobbying, pressure and in some cases outright bribery (especially in Louisiana) as tools to ensure that regulatory bodies don’t get in the way of increasing the bottom line…cash…which happens to be the real god this nation trusts.

Most of the people on these bodies don’t think about you and me after they meet because they don’t have to. Whether they are elected or appointed, most have no intention of serving your interests. Members of bodies like the PSC are not like you and me. They can make decisions that harm your family then leave their meetings, go have an expensive meal and a drink and pretend that you and I don’t even exist.

That’s why three of the five members of the PSC voted to allow prison phone companies to rip off their customers with arbitrary charges and unjustified fees for another six months, after deciding in December that the practice should stop. Since December the phone companies have been pushing to get their “right to cheat” restored. It’s both fascinating and disturbing that most of the state’s law enforcement officials agree this is acceptable because there is no honest way to make money to pad their budgets.

In the Bible, the Messiah is quoted as saying ‘Whatever you do to the least of these, you do also to me.” In that passage in Matthew there is a direct reference to people in prison. Whatever religion those three members of the PSC practice, it ain’t the same one that Jesus promoted. The same bible repeatedly teaches against cheating and mandates being kind to the poor…and we all know that in Louisiana prisons are for the poor.

Meanwhile, these companies can use inflated charges to rob and pillage our communities. Families of prisoners have to pinch pennies and struggle to communicate with their loved ones just because of the greed of these companies and the sheriffs they enrich. You and I are expected to suffer with the results of their decisions while they are out partying or enjoying festive events, often with the same wolves they have set loose on the public.

I think it’s time to make these decision makers as uncomfortable as we are with the decisions they have made. I believe that Foster Campbell and Clyde Holloway should be openly commended standing for what is right. I also believe that Eric Skrmetta, Scott A. Angelle, Lambert C. Boissiere, III should be taken to task for supporting that which is unjust and unacceptable. Families of inmates should be flooding the offices and homes of PSC members with calls and visits and even picket lines concerning their decision to support exploitation. If we have to live with their decisions around the clock, then they should too.

Then let’s go after the corporate culprits: City Tele Coin, Global Tel-Link, Securus Technologies and Intellical Operator Services. Let’s get their phone numbers, identify and expose their executive officers and investors and contact them where they work and live. Let’s identify and expose the politicians that they contribute to and research their voting history on issues related to these companies.

This is a lot of work, but anyone with a computer or library access can do it. This would also be an ideal non-partisan project for high school or college level Civics classes to take on. The students could learn how the system really works and the information they pine could be published for everyone to know. It could be an ongoing project with the theme “Who Owns Your Officials?”

It would be interesting to know how much “under-the-table” money our elected officials get from these big corporations. How­ever there is probably no legal way to do that…and I certainly would not want to encourage illegal hacking.

Remember, there are more of us than them. Let’s use the sheer weight of our numbers to turn this one decision around and bury the issue for good. But let’s not stop there. Let’s use that momentum to gain other victories with the ultimate aim of making every government body on every level accountable to the people and not big business.

These people have already shown that they are not going to do right just because it’s right. Frederick Douglass was right, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” Let’s start using our power before it’s too late.

Now Whatchagonna DO?

This article originally published in the April 1, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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