October 18, 2002: This page has gone without updates for quite a while. Reasons include buying a new computer and having hardware troubles with it, searching for a new HTML writing tool, and the uncertain future of the gning.net domain name. I've finally begun the slow process of rebuilding readership on the new gning.org name, since the guy who grabbed gning.net is apparently no longer answering his mail (hopefully because he's in jail), but as yet there's almost nobody here. As part of that process, I have changed the Enron & Friends URL from "gning.org/electricity.html" to "gning.org/enron/".
[Later update: The current URL is now paulkienitz.net/enron/, or enronandfriends.org.]
Criminal actions against Enron's principals are getting somewhere. Andrew Fastow, the CFO, was finally arrested on October 2. His lawyer says he did all the crooked financial games he did because Ken Lay and the board told him to! Yet his personal gains from the shenanigans, that we know of, are $30,000,000. Lesser players are plea-bargaining, like Timothy Belden (head of trading in Portland), and testifying under oath that yes, there was a criminal conspiracy to rob the state of California.
Over at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, our friend Judge Curtis L. Wagner has ruled that El Paso Natural Gas artificially pushed up gas prices during the California electricity crisis, and recommended that FERC should penalize them. This is yet another administration official who, just last year, had a remarkable blindness to the thievery that he is now sternly cracking down on. The state of California is asking that El Paso be made to refund at least $200,000,000, which is roughly how much profit they made on the scheme -- the total cost to the state was more like $1,000,000,000. El Paso, of course, is arguing that they should pay $0.00.
The California Public Utilities Commission finished a report on the electricity crisis, finding that the price spiral was largely caused by power being held back by these companies: Duke, Mirant, Dynegy, Reliant, and AES/Williams. They found that at the worst times of crisis, these companies were holding back more than half of their capacity.
Congress, as we know, is moving forward with legislation to reform many of the problems with the corporate system that were revealed last fall, which are needed to restore investor confidence... except that Congress is actually not doing anything at all. The whole reform effort has quietly died off, at least for this period. And investor confidence remains notably un-restored, with the entire stock market still in the toilet and the economy showing no signs of coming out of recession. (Which Dubya is, of course, claiming is Clinton's fault.) The need for these reforms is so clear that even Dubya could not avoid it, but Congress is still showing itself unwilling to act. Each individual reform measure upsets someone who has clout at election time, and at least until after the upcoming election day, nothing is being done.
What do you bet that after the election is over, many in Congress will do their best to forget that the job stil needs doing?
The Republican strategy was to put off all domestic issues until after the election, and use the time before election for only one issue: Iraq. It baffles me why the Democrats, who are supposedly in just as strong a position, did not work to do the opposite: deal with domestic issues (almost all of which are currently embarrassing to the GOP) before the election, and postpone a vote on Iraq until after. The Iraq bill was timed perfectly to maximize the pre-election cowardice of the voting, and so it passed. The President now has authority to start an undeclared and unprovoked war against a country that has never harmed us in any remotely direct way, and whose only connection to September 11 is to act as a scapegoat.
This doctrine of unprovoked preemptive war -- reportedly first proposed by people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld back in 1992, when the elder Bush rejected it as outrageously unamerican -- is as egregious as anything the US government has ever done since its founding. The only other time we've done something this bad was President Polk's war against Mexico in 1846, which began when he announced that the Louisiana Purchase reached all the way to the Rio Grande and moved the army down there to "defend" it against a Mexican "invasion". Then as now, Congressional cowardice was the key... one of the few representatives to oppose the war was Abraham Lincoln, who for his pains was denounced as a traitor and lost re-election. His words in defense of that position are perfectly apt now:
"Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose, and you allow him to make war at his pleasure.... The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood."
President Polk's trumped-up war of conquest was the most shameful act in the history of America's foreign policy, and now Bush, with the doctrine of preemptive strikes, wants to make such actions routine.
(I just saw the movie "Bob Roberts", an excellent fictional documentary about a folk-singing right wing Senate candidate. Its set at the time of the last big propaganda campaign against Iraq, and the resonances with current events are eerie. Remember the pundits on TV telling us that Saddam Hussein was possibly only months away from building a nuclear bomb... twelve years ago? Hell, now the North Koreans just admitted they'd been building a bomb. Apparently they were helped by Pakistan, a country far more closely involved with groups like Al Qaeda than Iraq ever was. Why the hell are people still believing that Saddam is the one we have to fight?)
Even if Saddam had a bomb, who would he use it on without getting nuked right back? Iran? I wonder if the great fear in Washington is just that with the bomb, Iraq could protect itself against being invaded by people like us. After all, that's what the bomb has done for Israel and France... both suffered repeated invasions, up until they got the bomb, and now nobody tries it. But neither can risk using it first; they'd be on the shit list of every country on the planet.
There's a ton of material on various corruption going on now, but I can't cover so much material in any depth. For now, I will simily make a brief listing of some corrupt actions being carried out by our government lately. Some items may get further coverage if interesting angles crop up. For now I just need to get back in the saddle, even if I don't ride very far.
And there's no doubt lots more; I'm still almost two weeks behind on the news!
There are a few bright spots, though: one is that oil companies like Unocal are now going to be held more accountable for civil rights violations they're involved in overseas -- the lawsuit that they tried to have thrown out has been reinstated by the Court of Appeals, which may help broaden such companies' legal liability in cases of this kind. And a House bill to allow more political activism by religious institutions without losing tax-exempt status was defeated.
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