Gaming the System
Corporate America is getting inventive in finding ways of saying "screw the consumer"
By Bryan Zepp Jamieson
May 13, 2002 -- Mt. Shasta (zeppscommentaries.com/APJP) -- The "smoking gun" memo came out just hours after one of the more abjectly right wing partisans had crowed that all the people who said Enron was going to be bigger than Whitewater were wrong.
They weren't, of course. Hell, Kenneth Lay probably stole more money in one afternoon than was lost by all the parties that got suckered in Whitewater, including the Clintons. (Note to people who think the sun shines out of Rush Limbaugh's mouth: The Clinton were VICTIMS in Whitewater, not perpetrators).
I don't hear much noise from people these days who try to claim that Californians got their "energy crisis" because they were a bunch of wasteful environmental weenies who didn't want to build atomic plants in Yosemite valley like real men would. Most of those had the good sense to shut up and slink away after the whole huge energy shortage magically vanished forever the day after Jeffords changed his registration, giving the Democrats the power of committee investigation in the Senate. For those of us who thought the whole supposed shortage was a corporate fabrication from the get-go, the sudden cessation of the crisis -- at a time of year when energy demands in the state jump 40% to accommodate the hot summers that most of the state gets -- was vindication enough.
The smoking gun tape, which details Enron's schemes to create congestion in the power grid by deliberately routing power through already overused conduits, allowing them to charge the state for shipping power OUT of the state. Then they whipped around and sold the power BACK, citing excessive demand.
Nice work, if you can get it.
There are some folks who were at Enron at the time who need to face serious jail time for conspiracy and fraud. Gray Davis estimates that Enron alone gouged the state for THIRTY BILLION DOLLARS during the five months of the alleged "shortage." In days of a $13 trillion dollar economy and a $3.5 trillion dollar budget, $30 billion dollars may sound like peanuts. Didn't we go to the moon for about that amount? All we got for that was some rocks and Nixon's autograph on a plaque for all eternity.
Obviously, thirty billion isn't much.
Except that here at ground level, it equates to NINE HUNDRED DOLLARS for each and every Californian. For folks on $550 a month fixed income, that's a fair chunk of change, even if it's spread out over six months.
While Ken Lay ran out and bought 17 mansions, the major utilities, caught between a rock and a hard place, were wiped out, years of conservation and planning wiped out in weeks by the greed of the energy companies. Newspapers filled with stories of the thousands and thousands of families who would lose their apartments or have their lights turned off if the threatened doubling of electric rates were to occur. Hospitals grimly considered what effects loss of air conditioning would have on days when it reached 110 F. Here in the mountain forests, local authorities started quietly considering how to handle an expected onslaught of tree rustling; people slipping into the forests and illegally cutting firewood.
Most disgraceful of all were the people who promoted the notion that the people of California were to blame for this. The trash right media immediately began a propaganda push: Californians as wasteful hot tub loungers. According to the right wingers, on the rare occasions Californians did stir from their hot tubs and leave their houses (leaving lights, color TVs and stereos going), they would go out and protest the construction of desperately needed power plants in order to save the snail darter. I actually had one clown living in the desert city of Phoenix, Arizona (population 3,500,000, the fastest-growing city in America) lecture me on how irresponsible Californians were about water use, as well as power. He claimed that we had no business living in a desert -- he insisted that California was all desert, and my statement that we get about fifty inches of rain here just showed I didn't know what I was talking about -- in large numbers.
There's plenty to criticize about how water has been managed in California, but when it comes to the power supply, prior to deregulation no place on earth did a better job of managing power than California did.
Between 1950 and 1990, California was not only the fastest growing state in America, it was the fastest-growing state in American history. From less than seven million people in 1940, California grew to a little over ten million in 1950, and then grew by an average of 600,000 people a year every year since.
California had growth pains like nobody's business. California alone added more schools than the rest of the country combined between 1940 and 1970. Freeways saved commuters while dooming the air quality. Only the fact that the state took over the aqueduct system made California's growth even possible.
Between 1945 and 2000, the number of power shortages California experienced was exactly zero. The greatest growth in US history, and an increase in power demand unseen anywhere else in the world, and not one light bulb flickered once in 55 years because there wasn't adequate generating power. Not once.
It was all publicly owned, you see, and without the motive to make supply secondary to profits, it ran superbly well, and incidentally made the huge private sector boom in California possible. A little something the free-market acolytes like to omit from their Randroid paeans.
Were Californians profligate wastrels? In 1998 California ranked 46th in the nation in per capita energy usage. By 2001, they had moved to 49th. Long before the Enron gouge, state and local governments were offering subsidies and rebates for energy conservation measures such as insulation, fluorescent lighting, and alternate energy sources such as solar panels and wind. California already led the nation in energy saving programs.
So not only did corporate America cheat California, but their right-wing media toadies lied about us in the bargain.
The Putsch administration has realized that it's over for Enron, and "Kenny Boy" is now "Mr. Lay," and it's not said in the respectful tones that Republican lickspittles usually reserve for the obscenely wealthy.
The propaganda machine is still trying to smear Davis, of course. They've decided to blame him for signing long-term energy contracts when FERC decided it didn't want to provide Federal Energy Regulation and told Davis he was pretty much on his own. Blaming the victim. It wouldn't have happened to California if California wasn't dressed like that.
The members of FERC, evidently intent on showing themselves as nothing more than running dogs for thieves, have a new take on the situation now that the outright theft by Enron has been proven: "There's not much we can do to them," one unidentified member of FERC said. "To a certain extent, it's like tying to squeeze blood out of a turnip."
Yeah. Well, that's the wonder of the Free Market. Corporations have limited liability, which is a nice way of saying the game is rigged so that when they cheat the public, nobody is to blame. The money is gone, sent to overseas accounts in places like the Antilles and Bermuda, and someday Ken Lay will end up with all his millions, using much of it to try and buy a government that will let him do the same thing over again.
Putsch is pretty much a disgrace as president to begin with. Enron just shows the utter lack of ethics and honesty the crony corporate crowd has. And yes, there now is a direct link between Enron's criminality, and this sleazy and vicious administration.
You see, the Enron energy trading department, the unit that planned, carried out and completed the utter rape of California and the theft of $30 billion dollars, was headed by an individual who now holds high ranking in the Putsch administration: Army Secretary Thomas White
It's time for White to resign. He, and a lot of other people who partook in the gang rape of the voters, should be facing jail time.
But don't count on the vacant and irresolute Putsch to do anything about it. Thomas, and sleazeballs like him, own Putsch's little pink ass.