Americans had prepared today (and also last week) for MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell to unleash his nebulous avant-garde invention, Frank: a social media platform billed as a cross between YouTube and Twitter with elements of newspapers and television, except with free speech. We’ll have to wait a little longer to see the nexus realized.
Frank is currently down for an indeterminate length of time, but Lindell is offering an alternative spectacle. The homepage of FrankSpeech.com currently hosts the “Frankathon,” a 48-hour Lindell-hosted livestream broadcast set in a sort of news studio. He has a mug. The event opened today in full meltdown conspiracy mode.
“It was the biggest attack on a website, probably in history,” Lindell said of the failed launch. While Lindell has not yet specified exactly who attacked his website and how, the theory seems to be evolving live, with increasing certainty that this was the biggest cyberattack of all time. (A bucket of clues include attackers from “all over the world,” “Zuckabuck from Facebook,” and the inability to talk about “vaccines and machines.”) At this writing, Lindell says that 15 million viewers have tuned in.
We’ve reached out to My Pillow for comment and will update when we hear back.
Lindell’s headline news, though, is the announcement that My Pillow is counter-suing Dominion Voting Systems for $1.6 billion for defamation, which he has framed as a defense of free speech. Court records show the lawsuit, which claims violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, was filed on Monday in the U.S. District Court in Minnesota.
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The sum is slightly higher than the $1.3 billion in damages Dominion is currently seeking from Lindell in its own defamation suit, targeting Lindell’s wild fabrications that the company conspired with Democrats to steal the election from Donald Trump. (The site showed a looping video of Lindell’s claims, which I won’t repeat here. Dominion has also sued Fox News for allowing Lindell to make such claims without challenging their veracity.) Lindell has enlisted a legal A-team including prominent First Amendment attorney Nathan Lewin and Alan Derschowitz, primarily known for advising on the O.J. Simpson trial and defending Harvey Weinstein. (Both, the Daily Beast has noted, are longtime registered Democrats.) In a motion to dismiss, My Pillow’s attorneys argue that Dominion has engaged in “lawfare,” using the suits to “restrict the marketplace of ideas to one viewpoint.”
Dominion has argued that Lindell’s “viewpoint” (read: hysterical accusations) has caused them irreparable harm and led to an onslaught of violent threats against employees.
Dershowitz, appearing on the Frankathon this morning via video, made a crystal clear point to distance himself from certain harmful misinformation that would likely be welcome on Lindell’s platform. Unprompted, he said, of free speech:
I defend the right of bigots and ignoramuses to say the Holocaust didn’t occur. It’s wrong, it’s foolish, it’s bigoted, it’s insulting. It affects my family. But I think they’re right to say it. If you want to say the Earth is flat, say the Earth is flat. The geologists will come and prove you wrong, historians will be wrong about the Holocaust.
Lindell also said:
“…It would be like if My Pillow was out there, and all these people were saying there’s rocks and knives in my pillows. And I would just say what I would do as the owner. I would say, ‘hey, everybody, look… there’s no rocks or knives.’”
Dershowitz does plan to uncover the truth behind Dominion’s election conduct in discovery, in which he’ll demand access to Dominion’s machines and source code, in case completely unsubstantiated social media-sourced conspiracy theories prove to be true.
You can watch unfolding events here. Steve Bannon and Diamond and Silk are on the docket. And you can view the lawsuit below.
Most of us don’t give much of a thought about how the sausage of our electric bill is made. It comes, we maybe yell at our roommates about leaving the TV on or groan with our spouses about how cold it was last month, pay it, and move on. But more often than not, our utility bills reflect how big money and special interests are at play in a complex and opaque set of rulemaking that affects us all.
And it’s not just important to understand for your own finances. The future of the clean energy transition is looking increasingly like it’s going to be in the hands of America’s utilities. And it’s more important than ever to understand who is calling the shots, and how that can be changed so it’s fair for ratepayers.
“People need to recognize what a fundamentally important thing their utility bill is, and need to learn what it is going to actually pay for,” said Lee Ziesche, a community engagement coordinator at Renew NY.
Why are utilities set up the way they are?
As electricity became more advanced and widespread in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the market was open. Utilities functioned in the capitalist system like any other businesses, competing with each other for customers. But it quickly became clear that delivering electricity on the free market created a whole host of new problems.
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“When there was some degree of competition, it was kind of like the Wild West,” said David Pomerantz, the executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute. “In a few places, there were different companies who were trying to string up lines, like competing electric grids.”
In other areas, companies who successfully made the investments to set up the infrastructure first enjoyed nearly unlimited power over prices. This presented a conundrum: How should we make sure everyone gets electricity in their homes at a fair price? In the aftermath of the Gilded Age, as Congress was in the middle of passing the foundation of antitrust law in the U.S., most people were loath to allow another kind of monopoly to spring up by keeping utilities fully private. But there was also a worry over giving too much responsibility over to the public sector due to increased attention on civic corruption. One of the first pieces of muckraking journalism, published in 1904, was an investigation into how political machines like Tammany Hall in New York controlled major American cities. That raised concerns that public utilities would allow corrupt groups to, quite literally, control the power.
States settled on a compromise: keep the utilities private, but make sure they’re closely regulated. Between 1910 and 1920, 29 states set up their own public utilities commissions, a set of appointed regulators whose job it is to keep an eye on how private companies deliver electricity.
These public utility commissions, or PUCs, form the backbone of how most utilities are regulated today. Most of the names you’d probably recognize on a bill—ConEdison, PG&E, Entergy, Duke Power Company—are investor-owned utilities regulated by PUCs. According to the EIA, there’s only 168 investor-owned electric utilities in the country, but they serve the majority of customers—around 110 million customers in the U.S., or 72% of households. And the way PUCs work is a large part of why we’re stuck in many ways in advancing our electric grid.
What’s the problem with this regulatory system?
In theory, the way investor-owned utilities are regulated is pretty simple. If utilities want to make any changes to what customers see on their bills, they have to bring them before the state’s PUC in what are known as ratemaking cases to explain what is going into the changes and why they’re justified. PUCs are supposed to make sure that the company’s math is fair, and accurately charges customers for the total cost of getting electricity to them. The utilities are not allowed to make money on most of these types of changes; their role is simply to be a conduit between energy and the customer.
In practice, it’s a lot trickier. The central tension comes from the fact that utilities are, at the end of the day, beholden to their investors to return a profit, despite providing what is arguably a public service.
“Historically, the way the incentive structure is set up is terrible,” Pomerantz said. “The utilities want people to use more electricity, not because they profit from selling electricity, but because the more we use, the more they can try to justify building stuff.”
Crucially, utilities are allowed to make money from one thing: building new infrastructure, like power plants or transmission lines. Pomerantz said they tend to get about a 10% rate of return on those project, which is pretty good money. Naturally, utilities are very motivated to create more infrastructure projects in order to justify turning a profit. (Publicly-owned utilities are generally nonprofits, so this incentive structure doesn’t exist since there are no shareholders to appease.)
And all that resulting money is attractive to politicians. Many utilities, Pomerantz said, have managed to keep a “revolving door” between PUCs and employment at the utilities themselves. It’s not uncommon to see a former PUC commissioner step down to take a job at a big utility. And while the PUCs are technically nonpartisan, in a majority of states, PUC members are appointed by the governor, making the nominations open to political football.
As a result, the utility industry is a pretty heavy hitter money-wise in both Washington, DC, and statehouses around the country. In 2020, the utility industry spent more than $104 million on lobbying at the federal level alone and gave nearly $20 million to individual politicians. In Virginia, Dominion Energy successfully managed to fight against a tide of reform-minded Democrats who were elected in 2019 by spending millions lobbying against legislation that would lower electric bills. Pomerantz’s group has documented instances of utilities giving to charities that then send members to show up to testify for the utility in rate cases, or give money to universities or academics that can then author papers to support the utility’s claims.
“Basically, every way that a corporation influences politics, utilities do that,” Pomerantz said.
Then there’s the looming energy transition. While utilities are more than happy to take advantage of the increasingly plummeting prices of wind and solar, there’s still much more aggressive action that could be taken to set up a just transition, both from the utility side and on how the PUCs can push these companies for change.
“PUCs have as much authority as really anyone in the country to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy,” Pomerantz said. “And not only to speed it up, but to make sure we’re doing it in the most equitable and cost effective ways so that it’s good for everyone. Their history to date has been that they haven’t done that kind of thing…they’re captured agencies.”
“Our system would be much more reliable and democratic and we could make the transition to renewables much faster if these corporate utilities weren’t in the middle and weren’t making the system based on profit,” Ziesche said. “They’re in this to make money.”
So what can we do to change this?
The downside of being a customer of an investor-owned utility is that there’s not a lot you can do to change your reliance on their grid for your needs. While the regulation from state governments mean that these companies aren’t technically monopolies, they still control the infrastructure that powers your home. You can’t shop around for new wiring to bring power to your house, or new repair crews to fix downed lines after a storm.
There’s an emerging retail electricity market that provides customers of big utilities in some areas with options for electricity providers, which work with the utility to deliver power. However, the utility still owns the infrastructure needed to transport the power, and will still charge for its services.
Some states let customers under some circumstances choose their electric providers, in what is known as a deregulated market. For example, in New York, if you choose to use a different electricity provider, you’ll get a split bill: one from the electricity provider, and another from ConEdison. More economic freedom isn’t always a good idea: Texas was the most deregulated electric market in the country, and providers were able to prey on customers during the February blackouts.
But both Ziesche and Pomerantz said that knowing what goes into your monthly bill should be much more motivating to people—and that, in turn, can help change the system. Part of the reason the status quo has stagnated for so many years is because utilities have, deliberately or otherwise, kept us all confused as hell about this whole system. PUCs break down public hearings “into these siloed proceedings that aren’t very accessible,” Zische said. “The rate case proceedings are very complicated and take a long time to be a part of, and they aren’t democratic.”
Ziesche recommended that people concerned about their utility start with learning about what groups are working on utility accountability in their city or region and getting involved with them. Those groups can help guide concerned citizens through the process of publicly available options to get involved in ratemaking cases, like attending hearings or writing a public comment letter.
Public comment letters may not sound particularly groundbreaking, but “it’s building power over time,” she said. “We’re showing them people are paying attention to this and that people have these demands.”
There’s also a growing movement in many cities to overhaul the entire system itself, including transitioning utilities from private to public ownership. In New York, for instance, the Public Power NYC campaign is pushing a series of bills that would take over the distribution system from ConEdison and establish utility-scale renewables in public ownership. Overthrowing a big private utility like ConEdison might seem extreme, but there are models of public utility ownership across the country, and Ziesche said it may be the best way forward.
“I just don’t see us reaching our climate goals and centering the communities that have been most impacted by the fossil fuel industry while we still have corporate utilities,” she said.
Pomerantz isn’t as eager to throw the whole system away (he pointed out that there are several publicly-owned utilities, like Tennessee Valley Authority, that have been historically pretty terrible at actually doing their jobs). But he said that if voters become more educated about the political calculus behind PUCs, and if they make their voices known to their elected officials, it could help transform our energy system for the better.
“There’s a group of people [in every state] who can basically single-handedly clean up the electricity grid and accelerate our switch away from these dirty, polluting fossil fuels causing climate change,” he said. “And all we have to do is figure out how to make that happen. That’s an incredible, exciting opportunity for anybody who cares about climate change.”
It could soon become a lot easier to take an electric car on some pretty cool road trips. A group of powerful utilities said Tuesday that they’re teaming up to make chargers for electric cars more accessible on highways.
The newly-formed Electric Highway Coalition is made up of six big regional utilities—American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy, Southern Company, and Tennessee Valley Authority—that provide electricity across the South. The utilities said they will work together to “provide EV charging solutions within their service territories,” according to an industry press release announcing the move. A map provided in the release shows a map of the projected area of the network, which includes more than 15 states, with highways stretching from Texas to Florida up to Virginia and over to Indiana.
The details of Tuesday’s announcement are pretty thin, though. None of the utilities named provided specifics on how many charging stations they’re planning to install, where they’ll be located, how those locations would be determined, or any other details, really. But the fact that utilities are moving on a project like this could be a big development both in terms of electric vehicle adoption and how utilities think about electric vehicles’ presence on the grid.
“It’s exciting to see utilities engaging more in this space,” said Kathy Harris, the Eastern clean vehicles and fuels advocate at Natural Resources Defense Council. Harris pointed out that while utility investment in electric vehicle infrastructure “isn’t a new concept,” most of the billions of dollars spent around the country on it have been focused in California and the Northeast. Last year, for example, a coalition of West Coast utilities announced they’re working on a plan to electrify shipping routes to phase out diesel trucks.
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The announcement didn’t specify whether or not customers would have to pay for the charging stations, or how much costs could be, which actually isn’t surprising given the number of different states covered by the coalition. Harris said that different states have different laws on the books regarding paying for EV charging stations. Some states require customers to pay a set dollar amount to use stations, while others have them pay directly for the electricity used.
And it could be a lot of electricity up for grabs. Harris pointed out that the types of charging stations being proposed—which could theoretically charge cars within half an hour—are much more energy-intensive than the overnight chargers some electric vehicle owners have in their homes. That energy use puts a strain on grids already under duress in many cases.
“It’s important that utilities start to look at this load and think of ways to optimize the electric grid in ways that are cost effective for customers,” Harris said.
The news that utilities are thinking about how to build out their own car charging infrastructure signals that they are considering how to prepare their grid for a coming onslaught of electric vehicles. With 20 million electric vehicles projected to be on the road by 2030, utilities have a lot to do in order to prepare for how to manage the new demand. Charging networks like these, Harris said, are a step in the right direction.
“We think utilities have a really important role here,” Harris said. “It’s great utilities are starting to consider this and help to optimize the electric grid.”
MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, the rabidly pro-Trump pillow magnate who bafflingly became one of the key figures in the ex-president’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 elections, is now facing a billion-dollar defamation lawsuit from election tech manufacturer Dominion Voting Systems. While the suit appears to be a slam dunk, the pillow truther claims to be thrilled.
Dominion was smeared by right-wing conspiracists with an elaborate hoax theory that the company acted as a fraud factory that flipped countless thousands of votes for Trump to Biden—possibly in collusion with China, Venezuela, or some other nefarious foreign power. This did not occur, and multiple states have confirmed Dominion’s vote counts were accurate, but the company says the viral conspiracy theories immensely damaged its reputation and financial standing. Lindell, who sells pillows to conservatives with ads on networks like Fox News, was one of the most active promoters of the Dominion angle. He repeatedly used his now-banned Twitter account and right-wing networks like Newsmax and One America News to spread lies about the company.
Dominion is now suing Lindell for more than $1.3 billion in damages in federal court, per the New York Times, arguing that the pillow man is a “talented salesman and former professional card counter—[who] sells the lie to this day because the lie sells pillows.” The voting tech firm also alleged that Lindell was running a “defamatory marketing campaign,” to profiteer off conservatives’ disbelief that Trump would go out a one-term President. MyPillow sales skyrocketed 30-40% after Lindell started using promo codes like “FightforTrump” and “QAnon” to lure Trump’s gullible followers into believing the pillow bucket was somehow connected to the fascism bucket.
The suit names dozens of times Lindell lied about Dominion, claiming the pillow man was “well aware of the independent audits and paper ballot recounts conclusively disproving the Big Lie.”
“No amount of money can repair the damage that’s been done by these lies, which are easily disproved,” Dominion wrote in the suit. “Hundreds of documented audits and recounts have proven that Dominion machines accurately counted votes. We look forward to proving these facts in a court of law.”
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According to the Associated Press, Lindell explained that he was in fact very excited about being sued (he previously told the Daily Beast he has lured Dominion into a clever little legal trap, as he believes the discovery process will turn up evidence proving the fraud occurred.)
“It’s a very good day,” Lindell told the AP. “I’ve been looking forward to them finally suing… I’d love to go to court tomorrow with Dominion.”
In a separate statement to the Wall Street Journal, Lindell said that “I have all the evidence on them. Now this will get disclosed faster, all the machine fraud and the attack on our country.”
Dominion was also very excited about going into the discovery process, because it will not prove the fraud occurred.
“… Through discovery, Dominion will prove that there is no real evidence supporting the Big Lie,” the suit states, according to CNN. “Dominion brings this action to vindicate the company’s rights, to recover damages, to seek a narrowly tailored injunction, to stand up for itself and its employees, and to stop Lindell and MyPillow from further profiting at Dominion’s expense.”
If, as Dominion’s suit argues, Lindell was in it for the money, it may have backfired big time. Retailers that have dropped MyPillow products in the past few months have included Bed Bath & Beyond and Kohl’s, though both companies told the Journal the change was due to lagging sales of Lindell’s pillows rather than his campaign to put Trump back in office.