July 30th, 2009

From the Voluminous Secret Files of VDB: In Stunning Corporate Tour de Force, Entergy Rebrands Incompetence as Equity

by Philip Baruth

In April of 2008, Entergy announced an ambitious new project: they would form a pair of limited liability corporations to acquire their interest in, and responsibilities for, Vermont Yankee and other unregulated nuclear assets. We called it a shell game, at the time; since then, more powerful voices have picked up the refrain, most notably Howard Dean, who refined the idea to “a Wall Street shell game” in a recent VPR interview. Which is some pretty good refining, at least to our way of thinking.

workers at VY

Just two weeks ago, Entergy announced that they would sweeten the deal, in an effort to get regulators and legislators to sign off on the transfer of the assets to Enexus, which had been widely criticized as under-capitalized. But make no mistake: the new offer is still a brazen attempt to off-load responsibility onto an essentially collapsible legal fiction. Here, from the files of VDB, is the original April post on Enexus, just to keep everyone up to speed. And because we love the phrase “cologne-scented hands.”

April 29, 2008:
In Stunning Corporate Tour de Force,
Entergy Rebrands Incompetence as Equity

Back in the day, Philip Morris really had it working: they produced the world’s most profitable brands of tobacco, the nicotine levels of which they were secretly manipulating, and they owned half the US Congress, which made it difficult for anyone to complain. But after decades of anti-smoking activism, the words “Philip Morris” became synonymous with death and wasting disease. Ouch.

Their support in Congress collapsed not long thereafter. Activists beat the brand, in other words.

And so the two words “Philip Morris,” like a blackened pair of lungs, were exchanged for something new and minty-fresh: Philip Morris became Altria.

Suddenly no one cared a whit that the maker of Marlboro cigarettes also marketed Jell-O and Kool-Aid.

Those of you in marketing (a staggeringly high percentage of the VDB demographic, actually) know this move well: bring in a neutral created term, built from partial syllables with vaguely positive connotations.

Which brings us to Entergy, owner/operator of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant, the safety record of which has become something of a running joke over the last year.

As we’ve reported at various points over that same year, Entergy is involved in a multi-stage attempt to transfer corporate responsibility away from the parent company, and in so doing, to rebrand the entire effort, moving away from the whiff of incompetence and mendacity that now drifts in when the name “Entergy” surfaces in conversation.

That effort is now seriously upon us.

In a press release last week, Entergy announced the creation of not one, but two new companies: “Enexus Energy Corporation,” which will eventually own Entergy’s six unregulated nuclear reactors, including Yankee, and “EquaGen LLC,” a joint venture between Entergy and Enexus which will operate those same plants.

Confused yet? That is, of course, the point.

Under the new dispensation, Entergy will be removed not once, but twice from the activities and liabilities of Vermont Yankee. Activists will need, perforce, to concentrate on EquaGen to influence daily practice, and Enexus to press long-term issues like transparency and decommissioning.

Corporate spokesman Rob Williams, according to industry scuttlebut, will be known henceforth as “Equabob.”

To take EquaGen as a case in point, we should offer the industry explanation of the created term first:

“The goal for the joint venture naming was to capture an identity that would stress the company‚Äôs track record of safe nuclear operations and its expertise in leading the industry in a new direction. EquaGen (ekwa-jen) gets its origins from the words ‘equity’ and ‘generation.’ EquaGen stands for a company focused on providing world-class safety, operations, security and productivity.”

not so cool
The stunning 2007 cooling tower collapse

It’s worth noting that this mass of gibberish comes from the very high-priced shop of an “international brand architect” based in California, the RiechesBaird Company.

We don’t know about you, but if we were looking for someone to rebrand our rapidly aging nuclear operation, we might select a catchier bidder than “RiechesBaird.”

But be that as it may, the new brand names would seem to fit Entergy’s pressing linguistic needs: they are vague, they are built of positive partial syllables, and best of all, neither of them is “Entergy.”

It’s interesting, though, to consider the lengths to which RiechesBaird has gone to control the pronunciation of Equagen, which might well be pronounced “EEK-wa-gen,” if the corporate press release hadn’t specifically instructed otherwise. This fixed pronunciation, of course, is designed to enshrine the word “equity” in the minds of those who find themselves using the new word.

And “equity,” for a progressive state like Vermont, is all good.

But you have to wonder how it figures, in any way, shape or form, into the corporate planning of any of the three E-themed shells now encompassing Vermont Yankee. Yes, everyone has an equal right to purchase the power produced by the plant. But equity exhausts its usefulness as a concept at that point.

bernie stares down lunch

But that’s the genius of RiechesBaird. A wave of their cologne-scented hands, and suddenly “equity” is all we talk about when we talk about Yankee.

July 28th, 2009

Is That a Facebook Page, Or Is VDB Just Happy To See Me? The Answer Is Both/And (Now With Breakthrough Shatner Update!)

by Philip Baruth

We’re shooting for 300 supporters by August 1, over at the State Senate campaign So if you’re only blowing 9.5 hours per day on social networking, and you want to take it into double figures, love to have you as a supporter. It’s turned out to be a pretty lively place, like VDB with comments. Y’all come, as Michael Steele likes to say.

Late Update, 1:21 pm:

Of course, you may be asking yourself, “Sure, the campaign Facebook page sounds fine. But will it be another deadly dull recitation of biographical facts and boilerplate political cliches? In short, what can I expect to see if I move my right index finger sufficiently to ‘click’ this ‘link’”?

No sooner asked than answered, thanks to VDB’s resident Canadianist Paul Martin. Now showing on the Facebook screen, the single greatest event in recent human history: William Shatner reads Sarah Palin’s farewell speech as Beat poem. Which is crazy, daddy, crazy. Dig it.

Whoops . . . The YouTube version has been 86ed, but you can click here for the NBC footage.

July 27th, 2009

One James DeFilippi Revealed To Be “Don,” VDB Accomplice and Noir Crime Author

by Philip Baruth

Long-time readers will recognize “Don” in the photo below, doing serious damage to the spread at the Hamburger Summit. And of course, “Don” is actually Jim DeFilippi, author and beloved teacher in the Winooski school system. Jim writes in the comic-noir tradition of Elmore Leonard, and if you’re looking for cheap hilarious summer reading, you’re in luck: DeFilippi has a new website where you can download his latest book, Everyday Malfeasance, for free. Every story involves what the Italians call “fregatura,” normal activity just this side of criminal behavior. Divertiti!


July 26th, 2009

BREAKING: Newly Declassified Global Warming Photos Show Bush Not As Honest And Forthcoming As Previously Believed

by Philip Baruth

Very tough for us to believe here in Vermont, given our die-hard support for George W. Bush right to the bitter end of his brave freedom-inducing Presidency, but apparently the Bush Administration had extremely clear photographic evidence of global warming and chose not to share. Which certainly doesn’t square with the W. we came to know and respect over the course of eight long years. The white stuff in these newly declassified satallite shots is polar ice. At least, you know, in the earlier one on the left.

July 25th, 2009

Palin Spokeswoman: “I Cannot Express Enough There Is No Plan After July 26.” That’s It. End of Humorous Headline.

by Philip Baruth

Today is a huge, even a sacred day here at VDB: Sarah Palin’s last full day as Governor of Alaska, before she hands over the reins of power tomorrow, unprompted by true emergency of any sort, at a big picnic in Fairbanks. What will Sarah do post-picnic? Only Sarah and her hairdresser, who tweeted recently that her client is not either going bald, know for sure. But we hope step one is finding a new spokeswoman. Why? Oh, just because. From the Times:

sarah, failin

Spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton disputed the notion that Palin is running for president or has media deals lined up. ‘’I cannot express enough there is no plan after July 26. There is absolutely no plan,'’ she told The Associated Press earlier this month. ‘’The decision (to quit) was made in the vacuum of what was best for Alaska, and now I’m accepting all the options, but there is nothing planned,'’ Stapleton said.

VDB smells 2012 bumper sticker:
Palin. There Is Absolutely No Plan.

Or maybe:
Palin. In The Vacuum Of What Is Best For America.

Either way, we’re not talking Politics as Usual. We’re talking Politics As A Place Where We Make No Sense, Ever. Which is, uh, refreshing, as Bill Kristol will rush to add.

July 22nd, 2009

Prepare To Produce A Real Birth Certificate, Pledge Your Allegiance, Or Be Shot Down In A Delaware Street Like a Yaller Dog

by Philip Baruth

Perhaps the most frightening video clip you’ll watch all week: Mike Castle (R-DE) is confronted by one of the spookiest, screechiest GOP women you’ll ever see, on the question of Obama’s birth certificate. To his credit, Castle stays within the realm of accepted fact, but his sanity enrages the crowd, and the Woman In Red enforces an immediate Pledge of Allegiance. Very spooky stuff. And of course, Congress is just now moving to make it legal to conceal weapons and transport them across State lines. Nice.