September 1, 2002:  The United States has been taking a certain amount of crap internationally in recent days for staying out of the Earth Summit in Johannesberg.  But though Bush is dismissing the conference as not even worth going to, sending only a "low level" delegation led by Colin Powell, there are reports that US pressure groups are very active behind the scenes.  And they seem to have produced some dramatic results.  (When did General Powell become "low level"?   Probably when he started resisting war against Iraq, in opposition to the White House's collection of bloodthirsty draft dodgers.)  The European Union went in with a plan in mind to strongly boost renewable energy development, and were expected to try to establish sizeable target goals for renewable energy production over the next five years or so.  But two groups opposed this: the OPEC countries, such as Saudi Arabia, and those currently in power in the United States.  To widespread surprise, the EU delegation abandoned their support for large scale renewable energy development, and proposed an insultingly tiny growth target for it.

Now the EU has walked out of the conference, largely over inability to reach agreements with the US.  It seems strange to me that the ones who showed up had to leave, while the ones who ostentatiously held back from participating fully are the ones staying on... but that shows what kind of muscle and pressure the US is actually throwing around there.  It all contributes to the constantly rising infuriation against the United States in other countries.  In this as in seemingly every other international dealing we're involved in nowadays, the US stance is based on two invariants: the assumption that the interests of the US are privileged and should count for more than the interests of other countries, and the refusal to ever accept that US behavior is part of the problem.

Now, nobody is going to come out in public and say that renewable energy production is a bad thing in itself and should be stopped.  The most they'll say is that it should have to develop and become competitive on its own without help.  But the actions of these groups behind the scenes show that, to some, it is seen as something to be stopped.  When such a group succeeds in imposing their will, they are working directly against the public interest.  (If they were not, they wouldn't have to keep it quiet.)  How long do we permit our government to be misused for such purposes?

They probably figure that since we let them get away, mostly, with such an enormous theft as the California electricity crisis, they can pretty much pull any scam they want to.

To return to the subject of Enron:  Why is Thomas White still Secretary of the Army?  In any normal Washington environment, someone as blackened with scandal as he is would have been unceremoniously shoved out months ago.  Even now, more stories are emerging about crooked behavior by White when he was at Enron: some of the most egregious fake accounting to conceal losses happened in the Enron division that White was in charge of:  Enron Energy Services, the same one that was most deeply involved with market manipulation in California.  The answer may be in this report: an anonymous army officer working with White says he heard Bush say to White, "As long as they're hitting you on Enron, they're not hitting me.  That's your job.  You're the lightning rod for this administration."  The reporter remarks that "Perhaps no one is more surprised that Thomas White is still around than Thomas White."

That reported statement of Bush's is rather peculiar logic, since retaining White only increases the appearance of disregard for the law by Bush himself.  To me the preservation of White looks less like a public relations spin maneuver than an attempt to assert supremacy over the normal Washington rules.  Like the covert special interests who set out to sabotage renewable energy in Johannesburg, the Bush team is committed to the principle that it can make its own rules and be accountable to no one.  This attitude has marked every part of its relations with other countries, with established institutions in Washington, and even with the voting public.  The question of whether their agenda has a popular mandate is not allowed any consideration at all.

To allow White to be forced out would be a concession that Cheney or Bush could legitimately be sent packing after him.  They will not admit the legitimacy of any conceivable grounds for blocking their access to power, except (we hope) the next election.  I don't know if we've ever had in American history a group in power that came so close to genuine fascism in how it operated.  Remember that fascism is not just a word for dictatorship with suppression of dissent at home and aggressive adventurism abroad: the term also refers to an economic system in which state power backs chosen corporate interests, making profitability in the marketplace a privilege dispensed to the favored.

In other Enron news, the company has now offered its remaining physical assets (mostly pipelines) for sale.  Now that Michael Kopper has pled guilty and agreed to hand over $12,000,000 in ill-gotten gains, a group of Enron's creditors has filed a claim with the court that they should get the money.  Andersen has agreed to a payment of $60,000,000 to settle some of their Enron-related lawsuits, and has announced it is leaving the business of auditing publicly-owned companies.

And a new story has come out of Enron trying to get the government to help them make more money overseas:  this time it's a request that they sent to the Treasury department to ask them to put pressure on the World Bank, in order to help them make deals for power plants in Turkey.  This news came out of the pile of subpoenaed documents gotten from the White House -- the ones in which many of the messages are censored.  I mean, "redacted".  The censored passages have, as of the last report I saw, made it impossible to tell yet if the treasury department followed through on the request.  They certainly gave the question some time and attention.

To switch our attention over to Congress, the Associated Press did an analysis of congressional spending a few weeks ago, and found -- no surprise -- that the districts of the current party in the majority tend to get more than their share of spending than the opposition party's districts do.  When the Democrats were in charge before 1994, the average democratic district got $35,000,000 per year more than the average republican district.  Since 1994, that pattern has naturally reversed.  Or rather, it has more than reversed.  The amount of extra spending that republican districts receive, above and beyond what democratic districts get, is now not $35,000,000 apiece per year, but $612,000,000.  That's a seventeen-fold increase.  Some of this massive shift in spending is due to cuts in social services that are concentrated in democratic urban areas.  But a lot more of it is due to new spending directed toward businesses and affluent individuals.  One of the biggest individual items is the gigantic recent farm bill -- something that I should have paid more attention to at the time it was happening, I now realize.  It spends $190,000,000,000 over the next decade or so, largely to subsidize agribusiness.  Family farmers don't get much of a share, the way this one is written.  It is one of the biggest recent acts of corporate welfare our government has produced lately, and with this administration, that's really saying something.  The spending shift towards GOP districts also includes lots of "investment" in non-farm businesses.

If we looked at what really leads to long term economic growth, we'd choose investment in people.  Things like education, and public health (which includes dealing with pollution).  There is probably no better predictor of a city's future prosperity than the city's population of educated young people, and their interest level in that city as a place to stay.  If you want one reason why the San Francisco area continues to be an economic powerhouse, while cities like Cleveland struggle, that's why: one area attracts the young and educated, and the other does not.  Research into this link is new and scarce, but persuasive so far.  No public investment pays off better in the long run than education.  But certain political interests find their best voting pools among the uneducated...

Here's a peculiar one:  the GOP is still trying to get more tax cuts passed, but now they are openly admitting that there is no chance of more tax cuts which the country can't afford getting past the Senate.  But they are still going to make a big show of them for the November election.  Why?  Because the party "needs something to run on".  They still have the idea that tax cuts are the way to win votes.  But tax cuts weren't even very popular in 2000, when we had a surplus, let alone now.  That issue is not how they won (?) the election.  They pushed tax cuts then because their donors wanted them to, not because the public wanted it.  As I explained at the time, the public knew perfectly well that the wise thing to do was to pay down the federal debt, which would save more money in the long run.  But now, this move is a winner with neither the public (who see that we just bankrupted ourselves with the poor timing of the last tax cut) nor the corporate donors (who know the cut won't pass, because the GOP just said so right out in the open).  So why push it?  I can only presume that it's because they no longer have anything else to point to as something positive that the party stands for.  They've thrown away so much credibility that, from a standpoint of policy principle, the party is self-destructing.  They've used up and thrown away all of their issues -- especially issues of financial responsibility -- except those of the fringe Christian right.  (I can only hope that they are also self-destructing politically.  If you assume that California is a good predictor of future trends for the rest of the country -- in the past, it has been -- then they are indeed headed down the drainpipe.  Even in Texas, they are losing their hegemony.)  The only practical outcome they can get from this tax cut measure is to let the privileged groups who want it see the Senate democrats publicly depicted as the ones who killed it.

Another example of this administration's disregard for mandate, contempt of obstacles to the exercise of power, and deep commitment to the art of the financial quid-pro-quo is this report:  the White House now intends to implement large parts of the "faith-based" social services program -- the dispensing of tax money to (mostly Republican) religious groups that claim to provide a social service, in spite of the Constitutional separation of church and state -- without congressional approval.

In other news of government/corporate interfacing, you will recall that Congress decided that the best way to handle airport security after 9/11 was to retain the private contractors that do the work, but have them work for the government.  Surprise surprise, it has now come out that this arrangement has led to price increases, overcharging, and fraudulent billing, all leading to significantly more expensive service that is still lax in quality.

In a final note, I recently read a statement by the writer Joe Haldeman that "Most web pages need an editor."  I immediately thought of this page.  I may be attempting some kind of organization and simplification here in the coming weeks.

< Previous Next >