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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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