When it comes to regulating, the Right is downright irregular.
Now that Republicans control the House, they're hell-bent on further deregulating corporations -- now, thanks to the conservative Supreme Court, designated as "people" -- while threatening the freedoms of actual people, such as those with preexisting medical conditions or public-sector union memberships.
The absurdity starts with the fact that deregulation of banks and insurance companies was a crucial component to our current financial crisis. For those and other monopolistic industries, reasonable government regulation with real teeth -- not just fines that corporations can write off as "cost of doing business" -- is the quickest way to ensure that ordinary Americans get a fair shake. (Improved intercity transit is a must for the long term.)
Take the airlines. Please. When corporate chaos at a handful of U.S. air carriers exacerbated the natural chaos of last week's East Coast blizzard, tens of thousands of travelers -- the ones without access to private jets -- got up close and personal with unregulated anarchy.
My significant other, Wendy, and I were among the lucky. Our odyssey from New York back home to L.A. -- a surreal week-long, multi-city tour that evoked Jack Kerouac meets the Rolling Stones, sans drugs -- didn't include sleeping on the floor at JFK or blowing important business meetings. And once we gave up on the epically unresponsive Jet Blue (where a faux-chirpy voicemail enthused about "our signature Terra Chips and chocolate chunk cookies" before dismissing customers with "This call will end now"), we paid Delta a mere $2800 for two one-way tickets, a steal compared to what others had to fork over for ducats that had originally gone for a fraction of that amount. (Note to chirpy voicemail: You've replaced chocolate chunk with a tasteless entity devoid of chocolate.)
The vast stretches of time we spent online, on hold and in airports at the mercy of the airlines reinforced the truism that these companies aren't "people" or freely competitive entities trying to lure the public with, say, better customer service. They function -- or dysfunction -- as robotic virtual monopolies able to name where, when and for how much helpless passengers can fly.
But every cloud has a silver lining, even the cloud that dumps the snow that closes the airport and strands the traveler. In this case, the crucial moment arrived when Wendy -- pointing out that the only lasting solution was re-regulation -- shifted into activist mode.
What happened next reminded me of something very un-Buddhist: Sometimes, acting as pissed off as one feels can produce mighty results.
As I say, we began the ordeal in New York, found a flight that stopped in Milwaukee and ended up spending a month -- I mean, a couple of days that felt like a month -- in fogged-in Madison. When yet another flight landed us in Salt Lake, a Delta operative rendered inoperative our "confirmed" seats on the night's last departure to L.A. While I was doing my best to remain equanimous about a situation over which I had no control, the activist in Wendy went the other way and angrily let the Delta rep have it: "This is unacceptable. You are getting us on that flight to L.A. Period."
Mirabile dictu, we had two seats on what had been, moments before, "a totally full flight."
Let's review. New House Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans have pledged as a first order of business to repeal the 2010 health care reform act, effectively barring coverage for millions of Americans and throwing the whole system back into corporate-controlled craziness. (Thank God the new House regime is tone-deaf -- they're calling their proposal, ''Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.") (Check out the CBO report for a glimpse of the counter-productive financial consequences of repeal.)
Not to be outshone, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has pledged as his number one priority -- when he isn't micro-investigating President Obama, who he's already dubbed "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times" -- to focus like a laser on further corporate deregulation, by asking a parade of corporate execs what kind of America they'd like to live in. All this while a chorus of right-wing politicians and commentators is busy with its demonization du jour: public-sector employees. You know, the folks who keep us safe, teach our kids and fight our fires.
Republicans like to present themselves as regular de-regulatory folks who can relate to regular Americans. But with friends like this, who needs enemies?
(Stay tuned for Part 2, from Wendy, on airlines, corporate regulation and activism.)