Praising PG&E

Test case: Listen up, folks, because Bites is gonna break it down to its essential truth. All week, the politicians, press and punditry have been slicing and dicing what Pacific Gas & Electric’s bankruptcy filing means.

Will the bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali raise consumer rates? Will California taxpayers be repaid for billions of dollars in power purchases? Will PG&E’s parent company be able to keep the billions it siphoned out of the state before the problems began? Who will suffer more: PG&E customers or shareholders? Will PG&E remain a powerful behemoth, or will the people gain more direct control over its vast assets?

Those are all important questions, but they only hint at the main issue. In these days of increasingly virulent battles between the forces of global corporate capitalism and the masses of sign-wielding, slogan-chanting people who protest the WTO, IMF, NAFTA and other oppressive acronyms, the central question is more basic: people or corporations?

That’s the question that will confront Montali during every facet of this complicated case. Do you protect the interests of the people of California, or the interests of Corporate America: not just PG&E, but also power generating giants like Duke, Reliant and Enron.

While Montali may not be able to actually nationalize PG&E’s assets, he could order assets to be sold (with the state as most likely buyer), seize back ratepayer cash that was transferred to the parent company and opt for giving consumers a seat at the bargaining table.

Or he could shut consumers out of the process, acting solely in the interests of Wall Street and shareholders, and otherwise protect corporate profits from public scrutiny. But he can’t do both at the same time. It’s a clear clash between Joe Consumer and Joseph CEO.

So starkly does this case pit public versus private interests, and on such a grand scale, that they might as well change the name of the case to People power vs. Corporate power, because that’s really what it’s about.

Over the last century, free market activists disguised as judges have handed down a string of decisions that have equated corporations with living, breathing individuals, with similar rights and protections.

Now, Montali has the power to reverse that trend, and to recognize that corporations aren’t people, but artificial entities empowered by the people. At least in theory, we live in a system that vests ultimate power with the people, and when corporations become hostile to the public, they need to be taken down just as surely as spies who threaten our national security.

So Bites wants to extend a hearty “thank you” to PG&E chairman Bob Glynn and the rest of his board for its decision to file for bankruptcy. Governor Gray Davis might never cross his corporate masters, but now you’ve given Judge Montali the opportunity to bring the power of the people back on-line.

Crunching numbers: If you need any more evidence that this country is in the grips of a Class Cold War, the Sacramento-based California Budget Project provided it this week by analyzing President George Bush’s massive proposed tax cut, and concluding that one in four Californians will receive almost no benefit.

Which one in four? Why, the poorest, of course. While 49 percent of Bush’s tax cuts will go to the wealthiest 1 percent of Californians, the poorest 20 percent will receive less than 1 percent. In actual dollars, that’s a $59 average tax cut for the poorest 2.8 million Californians, and a $50,563 average tax cut for the richest 184,000 Californians.

Wake up, people! The tax system that Georgie’s daddy decried as “voodoo economics” is nothing more than a ploy to consolidate wealth and power. It isn’t some secret conspiracy. Hell, it’s not even subtle. When Dubya talks about letting people keep their money, he’s talking about the people who have all the money, and it will come at the cost of basic services we all need.

With the dark clouds of an economic downturn looming on the horizon, and with a summer of blackouts creeping ever closer, it’s becoming more important than ever for people to speak up, to seize power, to resist the onslaught.

We’re at a pivotal point in history. When you tell your grandchildren about what you did at the dawn of the 21st century, whose side do you want to tell them you were on? Do you want to be a collaborator, or part of the resistance?