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The extortion of California: The wrath of Bush and the Texas power cabal

by Larry Chin

California teeters on the brink of darkness. The state is threatened with daily power blackouts. Natural gas may be cut off in the coming weeks. With a predicted hot and dry summer approaching, state politicians are scrambling for eleventh hour remedies. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the consortium of Texas power companies could not be more pleased. The state that overwhelmingly rejected Bush and the Republicans at the polls is being brought to its knees. The Democrats of California—-which include many of Bush’s staunchest foes—- are being embarrassed and politically damaged. As Governor Gray Davis struggles with bailout plans, Bush’s Texas power supplier friends and campaign contributors, led by Kenneth Lay of Enron Corporation, are raking in billions of dollars by selling power at inflated prices into the sputtering California power system. Enron reported a record fourth quarter profit. Now, California has become its own power buyer (and is in the process of signing long-term contracts locking in power prices at historic highs), and “fast tracking” new power plant construction. Texas suppliers will make billions more in the years ahead. Extorting California is even more fun than Florida election fraud. And considerably more profitable.

Bush’s Partners in Crime: Follow the Money

Enron, TXU, Dynergy, AES, Reliant and other oil-soaked Bush corporate surrogates are holding a gun to the head of California, whose economic and political future are at stake. Governor Davis has branded the Texas power players as ‘pirates and plunderers.’ He was being kind. Two of the big Texas energy operatives, Enron’s Kenneth Lay and TXU’s Earl Nye, have served on the energy team of Bush’s transitional administration and were major campaign contributors. Enron contributed over $555,000—-the most of any Bush corporate donor. Lay, a former Pentagon operative, is a long time friend to the Bush crime family. Enron, which has done business throughout the developing world with CIA assistance, was involved with the George H.W. Bush administration in a number of questionable Middle East business deals after the Gulf War. Lay employed two of former president George H.W. Bush’s closest friends and cabinet operatives, James Baker and Robert Mosbacher, to hustle contracts after they left office. Lay’s residence is a stone’s throw from Bush Jr.’s Texas ranch The two have shared many beers and Houston Astros games (at Enron Field). According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Lay and Enron president Jeffrey Skilling personally donated $100,000 to Bush. Lay personally lobbied other top Enron executives to give at least $1,000 to Bush. The Bush campaign borrowed Enron’s corporate jets eight times in 2000. W’s cozy business alliance with Lay and the Texas energy cabal is not news. While governor, Bush pushed aggressively and successfully for relaxation of environmental and consumer protection regulations. This in turn allowed the companies to post record profits, while polluting the skies and water of Texas. Lay was rumored to be Bush’s first choice to be energy secretary, prior to the appointment of Spencer Abraham. Many believe Lay serves in this capacity today, from behind the scenes. Although Lay has denied a quid pro quo relationship with the new administration, his denials are as believable as Jeb Bush’s recusal during the Florida vote “recount.” When you are a friend of the Bush family, you are a friend for life.

Call It What It Is: War

The Bushes are old hands when it comes to staging, waging and benefiting from war. War is force designed to compel an adversary to submit to one’s will. In wars of attrition, isolation (political, geographic and economic), and the choking off of supplies (including electricity, light, gas and heat) are standard techniques designed to inflict maximum suffering. Over an extended period, frustrated populaces (be they Iraqi, Nicaraguan or Californian) are softened to the point that they will accept whatever ends the torture. With California, Bush/Cheney pursue a number of “divide and smash” end games. They are attacking on three fronts: 1) Open doors to power companies to pillage California itself. By selling the severity of the crisis, and the myths of the benefits of deregulation and the free market, Bush and the Texans seek to rip apart environmental laws, and open up markets. 2) Use corporate media to promote, exploit and exaggerate the “power crisis” to justify other parts of the Bush corporate/right wing agendas—including drilling in Alaska (“it will help relieve California’s supply problem) and even the tax cut plan (“a tax cut will help pay higher energy bills”). 3) Inflict maximum political damage to Democrats and other opposition, and fuel outrage among voters.

Build Power Plants Now!

In one of his first and most telling comments about state’s power problem, Bush said, “California must be aggressive about increasing the supply of power. We (Americans) cannot conserve our way to independence.” This statement encapsulates Bush’s entire energy “policy.” Forget conservation, forget alternative energy, and just let The Boys plunder for profit. Bush and the power companies are pushing the idea that California’s increased energy demand (fueled by the high-tech economy) has led to a shortage. But according to Public Citizen, the “skyrocketing demand” is a sham. After analyzing hourly load data compiled by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), Public Citizen has concluded that power demand in California during the past six months has actually been lower than during the same period in 1999. The Bush junta is misrepresenting the facts, allowing the power companies to gouge consumers, and speed the reopening of old power plants and the construction of new plants by suspending environmental standards. They also seek to block the ability of communities to oppose new plants. In other words, bring a little Texas to California. The supply side of the argument is also questionable. The problem has never been the supply of power, only the price state utilities can or cannot pay for the power coming from Texas. There is an additional suspicious element. According to Public Citizen, “plants servicing the state with 11,000 megawatts of capacity have been taken out of service for a variety of reasons—most undisclosed.” Bush finds it “interesting” that the harshest critics of a “balanced” environmental policy are “having rolling blackouts in their state.” By balanced, he means one more accommodating to polluters. (Ominously, the phrase “balanced approach” has been used repeatedly and robotically by incoming environmental plunderer, Gale Norton, who is on record for supporting more drilling across the US.) The “build more power plants” mantra is working. Threatened with blackouts (and increasing public frustration) the governor, the state legislature and local officials are fast tracking power plant repair and new construction—including plants previously rejected for environmental problems.

Deregulation: Fatten Corporate Wallets, Screw Consumers

When first approached by Gray Davis for help, Bush “bluntly rejected” price caps and other short-term measures. “I’m against price controls,” he told the Associated Press. Bush has robotically echoed the business strategy statements of Lay and the other Texas power wholesalers and natural gas pipeline bandits. “California got itself into this mess. It’s their law that didn’t allow forward contracting of gas (and) forced wholesalers to purchase at the spot market,” Bush muttered. “That’s fine as long as the price of gas is dropping. The failure of (the) energy policy has made the price of gas go up.” In other words, if prices go up, California’s consumers should pay up and shut up. Pushing For a Drilling Frenzy. Everywhere. By raising fears of a power supply problem in California, they make drilling within California and off the California coast more acceptable. A moratorium that limits drilli
ng off the California coast is due to expire this year. The timing of the crisis is no coincidence. Bush is also using California as an excuse to sell the idea of drilling in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge and other pristine lands.

Selling the Tax Cut

Brazenly, Bush is trying to sell California on the benefits of his inherently foolish (and economically crippling) tax cut. In recent days, articles have abounded regarding how the tax cut would particularly help “high wage” Californians. Casually Bush has bragged, “lower taxes will help offset the higher energy bills for Californians.” As if energy prices should be high to begin with. As if higher energy prices in the future are a given. As if a tax cut that takes place over a ten-year period can provide one bit of immediate “energy bill-paying relief.”

Smash the Democrats

The political roots of the California “crisis” are Byzantine and tangled. The history of California power stretches back nearly 100 years. The cast of villains is dizzying, including the operators of the corrupt and monopolistic state utilities (Pacific Gas & Electric Company and Southern California Edison), and the corrupt state and local politicians of both parties that have colluded with the utilities for generations. What is undisputed fact is that California’s flawed deregulation plan was conceived and spearheaded by former Governor Pete Wilson—a Republican—in 1996. Yet today, the state’s current Democratic leaders at every level are taking 100 percent of the political blame. Bush and Cheney have taken every opportunity to fan public outrage. They have not lifted a finger to help (except for their middle finger). What better way to cripple any Democrat up for election or re-election in 2002 and 2004? For instance, Gray Davis, a darling of the DNC with future presidential aspirations, has suffered irreparable damage. And what better way to distract and neuter the likes of Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and Maxine Waters, than a rigged California disaster (at a time when Republicans are trying to ram through a number of extreme policies)? If public frustration in California ratchets up, it will not be long before a “throw them all out” mentality kicks in—opening up an opportunity for the Republicans to finally seize a Democratic and progressive stronghold.

Tyranny With A Smirk

California’s “crisis” is providing an alarming showcase of what nightmares occur when corporations and corrupt politicians have the absolute power to play games with basic necessities. It is a spectacular example of Bush tyranny. An illegitimately installed and ruthless president is exploiting the miseries of common citizens to benefit wealthy corporations run by cronies and fellow political operatives. Going forward, there is no end to the convenient uses that a battered and helpless California offers Bush and the Texans. As the administration postures for new military forays in the Gulf, pumping up the threats posed by Saddam Hussein, and Middle East terrorists, it is certain that the administration will point to the California “supply problem” as a national problem that could justify military action. Lay and Enron have been aggressive in pushing for deregulation in other states, using California as an example of how “partial” deregulation (price controls) should be avoided. Upon discovering a CIA/corporate conspiracy in the 1970s film “Three Days of the Condor,” Robert Redford’s character whispers in shock and disgust: “Oil. This whole damned thing is about oil.” Yes, the whole damned thing is indeed about oil. And electricity. And money. And it’s no movie.

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