June 29, 2002:  For four weeks, I've been too busy to update this.  During that time, the spreading network of financial scandals that emerged from the collapse of Enron has been much in the news, as company after company has been exposed as faking their profitability figures.  Most talked about lately has been MCI WorldCom, which is now admitting that it faked a record amount of nonexistent profit -- $3,800,000,000 -- and which is now threatened with possible bankruptcy.  Merrill Lynch apologized for "inappropriate communication" after getting caught hyping stocks they privately knew to be garbage.  (The wording sounds almost like they're expressing regret for getting caught, rather than for lying.)  Martha Stewart, of all people, is being investigated for insider trading.  (Is nothing and no one sacred any more?)  (Stewart's stockbroker worked at Merrill Lynch, and is now  <ahem> on leave.)  Things have gotten so blatantly bad that even the Paladin of Privilege, our Partially-elected President, is now vowing to smite the corporate evildoers who have undermined investor convidence.  Or at least hinting that he might think about it.

Of course, he's going to pass lightly over the obvious fact that his Vice President is one of the offenders.  Sort of like how he passes lightly over Saudi Arabia when making lists of evildoing countries that have supported terrorism.  (Check out this overview of corporate crookedness in the career of Dick Cheney... who, by the way, didn't even really bother to properly fulfill the constitutional requirement of living in a different state from the presidential candidate he ran with.)  From all this news coverage, one almost gets the impression that something constructive is being done about all this.  Almost.  But what is being done to actually recover any stolen money?  Damn near nothing, it looks like.  You can bet that plenty of offshore bank accounts are still untouched.  And the crooks who stashed the money in them still walk free.  And the Bush administration is still, even now, fighting against any measures to control the use of offshore shelters to evade taxes.  They say it would have "harmful effects on the US economy" to take these companies' tax shelters away.

Andersen was found guilty of obstruction of justice for shredding Enron documents, and was ordered by the court to no longer do business as accountants.  They should have settled when they had the chance, but after a good general display of contrition, they apparently got just a little too self-righteous when it came right down to it.  Now they're facing worse consequences than they could have escaped with.

(Note: Andersen was apparently Dubya's second largest campaign contributor after Enron.  WorldCom was #7.  The date they reported that their funny accounting began was the beginning of 2001, when Dubya took office.  The tendency of these companies to fall apart when deprived of a stock market bubble to feed off of tells you something about what kind of honest businessman really thinks Bush's policies are good for him.)

In other corruption news...  We thought that the McCain-Feingold campain finance reform bill would win victory or defeat either in Congress or in the courts, right?  Well, maybe not.  The Federal Election Commission is now implementing the regulations called for in the bill, and it turns out that, in their capacity as regulators, they are making a few adjustments to the rules called for by the bill that Dubya eventually signed.  In particular, they are making a small change to the rule against collecting "soft money", which is the core of the bill.  The adjustment, at bottom, consists of making soft money legal again, with a little loophole that basically allows contributors to contribute just as much as before.  McCain and the other sponsors of the bill, naturally, are pissed.  I am too.  McCain is pushing to oust the FEC member principally responsible for this.

And here's something that isn't, so far as I've seen, getting any news coverage at all:  tons of California power plants are still offline, staying out of the electricity market and keeping power supplies tight.  Now this may be due to people continuing with established conservation habits, not to mention the reduced demand for power by high-tech companies in the sagging economy.  But we're flirting with power shortage alerts again.

About a year ago, I put up a graph on this page showing how the amount of generating capacity offline, producing no power, had skyrocketed as the electricity price spiral took place:

Well, with electricity prices back down to reasonable levels, has this curve dropped back down?  It has not, except briefly.  Here's how it looks when we add another year's data:
After absorbing the initial shock of price caps and Governor Davis's long term contracts in the late spring of 2001, the amount of generating capacity kept out of production soon climbed nearly back to its previous peak -- an outrageously unprecedented level by any previous standard -- and stayed there right through the cold of winter.  We still have not really fixed the Enron-designed power market law that encourages generating companies to withhold supply.  We have only fixed it so that major price spirals get capped.

One other factor we should note is that, according to the California Energy Commission group that gathers these figures, the numbers have been somewhat unreliable since mid-1998, due to "incentives existing to both over- and under-report."

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