Power connections

Review the past week’s daily newspaper headlines from across California and you’ll find that three separate lead stories—discoveries in the Enron scandal, anxiety over the state budget deficit and release of the long-awaited 2000 state census data—can be viewed together to reveal how politics really works in this state and who the winners and losers are.

First, let’s scan the Enron stories. They dissect internal documents, discovered by investigators, that prove that the Houston energy company ran cynical (possibly criminal) scams on California—ones they dubbed “Death Star,” “Fat Boy” and “Get Shorty.” As a result of the findings, we are delivered the mind-bending news that—guess what!—there never really was an energy crisis, there never really was a shortage of electricity. Lead investigator and state Senator Joe Dunn advises that what we Californian’s experienced “was not a crisis in electricity, it was a crisis in economics” as Enron and others figured out a way to falsify traffic on the electric grid through sham trading. Altogether, the ordeal cost California as much as $30 billion to $40 billion in 2000 and 2001.

OK, now let’s move across the front page to coverage of the state budget deficit. The papers describe how a projected $12.5 billion shortfall from five months ago has ballooned suddenly into a $23.6 billion hole. We read details of the predicted cuts and new taxes Governor Gray Davis deems necessary to bridge the gap. Facing re-election this fall, and sensing his own culpability regarding the energy debacle, Governor Gray Davis does not mention the budget deficit in even the vicinity of a context where the state has also lost tens of billions to Enron and the power companies. (Note: Davis’ adversary in the upcoming election, Bill Simon, fairs even worse on this since he remained a stern defender of Enron until recently as well as a stalwart proponent of deregulation.)

What does Davis want to cut? The bulk of his proposed savings would come from a draconian and dangerous $8 billion reduction in health-care spending for the poor. And this in a state that already has 7 million uninsured residents.

Finally, we move to the third big story of last week, the 2000 census data. Bluntly put, the numbers reflect a state where the rich-poor gap has widened intensely and beyond belief. California has become nothing less than a two-tiered state—and that’s whether you measure by income or education.

So we have a widening gap between rich and poor and a state budget deficit of tens of billions of dollars that has prompted the governor to propose a fix that does nothing but exacerbate that gap. Meanwhile, despite the bombshell nature of the energy scam disclosures in D.C., we citizens are still left holding the bill (also in the tens of billions) for a California-hating deregulation fiasco cooked up by ultra-wealthy Houston power traders.

Power upheld, privilege protected, poverty prolonged. The daily papers (and broadcast media) cover the above as separate, disconnected stories. But their interlocked truths are evident to anyone who takes the time to look.