March 15, 2002:  It's national drag-everybody-into-court week.  The Andersen accounting company just got indicted by the Department of Justice for shredding Enron papers.  Their later attempt to make a strong and visible effort to clean up their act is apparently insufficient, as they are losing clients right and left -- about thirty large ones are gone so far.  It looks like it's touch and go whether they'll manage to stay out of bankruptcy court.  If they go under, that will reduce their field to four players... some of which are allegedly no less crooked than Andersen, but are probably trying to become less crooked as fast as they can... for now.  The Securities and Exchange Commission is telling companies that it will temporarily accept un-audited financial statements -- essentially, they're giving a grace period to companies that are switching accountants.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General of California, Bill Lockyer, is filing suit against four generating companies for manipulating prices: Dynegy, Reliant, Mirant, and Williams Energy Marketing and Trading.  The suit isn't over the main escalation of power prices by holding back supply, since that wasn't illegal.  It's about a contractual technicality that mostly applies to business done in 1998 and 1999.  At that time these companies would, as Lockyer put it, often "sell the same electrons twice."  The four companies are claiming that there was nothing illegal about them doing this, but it looks to me like breach of contract.  Even if successful it won't recoup very much of the money we lost, but Lockyer says that he's just warming up with this and more legal action will follow soon.  There is some hope that the pressure of this suit will help California's position in the governor's effort to renegotiate the long-term power contracts which helped break the price spiral, but which also have us continuing to pay inflated prices today.

Thank god that asshole Dan Lundgren isn't Attorney General any more.  He'd probably be raiding cannabis clubs for the TV cameras instead.

(I actually registered as a Republican to vote for Dennis Peron against Dan Lundgren in the GOP primary last time.  I was a bit embarrassed to find, in the recent primary, that I'm still a Republican.  I tried to decide which way to vote for the gubernatorial nomination, and couldn't support either Riordan, Jones, or Simon, so I voted for the Mad Bulgarian, Jim Dimov.  But the cool thing about being a Republican is the propaganda they send you.  I got a phone call from Ahnuld urging me to vote for Riordan.  I also got a message from a superior court candidate saying that he stood for integrity, ethics, and George W. Bush.  You can't buy entertainment like that.)

Today at work I got asked for a bit of tech support help with a problem that one of my company's customers was having.  It turned out the customer was Duke Energy.  I told the tech support guy that when we fix the problem we should bill them for $1,000,000,000.00.

The U.S. Senate failed to pass a new car mileage standards bill, on the grounds that soccer moms have a God given right to use 6000 lb SUVs to cart kids around, and it would be totalitarian to force tall American men to scrunch themselves into tiny Euro-cars.  How about forcing New Yorkers to commute by boat?  I would think that's pretty un-American too, and that's what can happen if we do nothing about global warming.

[Update:  According to the reform group Public Campaign, the average senator voting down this measure got $18,000 in auto company contributions.  Unless there are larger payments that are hidden from us -- that is, unless there are also thoroughly illegal bribes as well as legal ones -- the most appalling thing to me is that these senators are willing to sell out for such a small amount.  Has our representation become so debased that chickenfeed payments like this can control it?]

One thing I've noticed is that nowadays, in dealing with these types of crookedness, we are more dependent than we used to be on those public officials who make it their business to oppose corruption... because without them, the news media are not making much of an issue out of it.  Today's newspapers and news broadcasts have cut way back on the amount of reportorial legwork they do to gather news -- they rely far more on stuff that gets handed to them without effort, such as public statements by officials and politicians.  This is partly a trend that followed September 11, in which a wave of "patriotism" has made the media unusually compliant and incurious about the pronouncements of our leaders, but it is also an ongoing trend from before then, in which more and more news providers are being bought up by fewer owners (in a manner which was illegal in my youth), and those owners are squeezing a lot harder to maximize profits.  We're also, by the way, seeing more mainstream news agencies starting to show an overt partisan bias (which was also illegal in my youth) -- usually toward the right, belying the old shibboleth about the "liberal media".  But whether biased or not, the biggest trend is toward simply gathering less news.  Even in my local area, the community paper that used to report in depth about city council and school board candidates no longer tells us anything useful since they got bought out.

The Reagan administration played a role in this de-newsification of news -- their press handlers found that if they provided one pre-masticated story every single day, the reporters would go home satisfied and not go out looking for other material.  The tactic is now commonplace.

One interesting effect that's coming about is that the news shows are losing the younger viewership.  Not many people under 30 watch TV news any more.  Since this is a prime demographic that advertisers want to reach, some broadcasters are responding to this loss by making their shows even glitzier and flashier and emptier, figuring that this is what catches the interest of the young.  They are apparently giving no thought to the possibility that maybe this empty froth is what drove them away in the first place.  In the public radio story where I heard this reported, the reporter asked random young people on the street why they don't watch the news shows any more, and the response came through loud and clear:  "Stop with the stupid jokes that aren't funny, and just tell me the news!"

All in all, I've never seen the major news media descend to such a state of weakness and uselessness as they have reached today.  I was kind of hoping that the Enron-Bush connection might become the stimulus that could wake them back up, as Watergate did 28 years ago.  So far, though, it isn't doing much for them.  The people who are digging up the important backstage information in the Enron mess have generally not been reporters, and often we've been hearing that material from news reports only to the extent that whoever else is announcing it is considered a newsworthy personality.

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