Secrets and lies

When it comes to sticking it to the people, the ‘people’s governor’ has a plan

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Photo By Governor’s office

How much longer are we going to take it? The secrets our leaders keep from us and the lies they tell in the truth’s place?

Consider Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entire political career. It essentially began in May 2001, in a secret meeting with Enron CEO Ken Lay at a swanky Beverly Hills motel.

During the previous year, Lay and Enron—along with its partners Reliant Energy, Williams, Dynergy and Entergy—had gamed California’s electricity market to the tune of $8.9 billion. Groups representing California’s ratepayers sued to get that money back.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission negotiated a settlement in which Enron would pay back $1.5 billion, about 17 cents on the dollar—to the state’s ratepayers. However, the agreement required the consent of Gov. Gray Davis, who refused to sign off on it.

So what happened after Arnold’s secret meeting with Lay? A bunch of right-wingers bankrolled by the usual suspects forced a recall election. Arnold ran for governor, citing Davis’ supposedly inept handling of the energy crisis and the state’s budget, which was $8 billion in the red, or roughly the same amount Enron owed the state.

You know the rest, or at least half of it. Arnold was elected. One of his first acts in office was to sign off on the $1.5 billion settlement, letting Enron off the hook for $6.5 billion.

I experienced my own brush with Schwarzenegger’s penchant for secrecy in 2007, after reading Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Jeremy Scahill’s exposé on the private security company that’s become infamous for various atrocities its employees have committed in Iraq.

In the book, Scahill cited an article from The Virginian-Pilot newspaper that claimed the North Carolina-based company and the Schwarzenegger administration had discussed the possibility of Blackwater providing emergency services if a Hurricane Katrina-type disaster were to befall California. The information, according to the article, came straight from the governor’s office.

That’s interesting, I thought, considering that at the time Blackwater was involved in a contentious battle with local residents in Potrero, east of San Diego near the Mexican border, who opposed the by-now-notorious company’s plans to build a major training base in the area.

So I called the governor’s office and asked about the Blackwater conversation. They said it never happened. I called the Virginian-Pilot, where one of the story’s reporters informed me that a Schwarzenegger official had indeed given her the tip. I called Blackwater, twice. First, the spokesperson said the conversation took place, then she said it didn’t.

Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe (pronounced “zee”), opened its Potrero facility last year. Earlier this month, Scahill scored another Blackwater scoop, as reported in The Nation. In a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Iraqi civilians, two former Blackwater officials swore under oath that CEO Erik Prince may have murdered or facilitated the murders of witnesses in an ongoing government investigation of the company. They also said Prince imagines he’s waging a holy war against Islam.

None of this is to say Schwarzenegger paved the way for Blackwater’s entry into the state. However, there’s no doubt that Prince and the governor share friends in high places, and given Arnold’s fondness for backroom dealing, we’ll probably never know for certain.

I couldn’t help but think of this penchant for secrecy upon learning of the proposed legislative committee that’s been cooked up (see “Sea change,” by Dan Bacher, SN&R Green Days) to shove through the project Arnold hopes will be his legacy, the peripheral canal and the expansion of the State Water Project.

The state’s voters have rejected this project multiple times, and Schwarzenegger couldn’t even get his proposed $11 billion water storage and reliability initiative on the ballot last year. Nevertheless, he persists. If you can’t get it done in public, do it in secret, and make sure you stack the committee with your Southern California Republican cronies.

Rumor has it that the committee will be recommending construction of a peripheral canal by the end of the legislative session in September. If that should come to pass, Schwarzenegger will find it difficult to claim the mantle of Governor Green. Not that it matters. That was just another lie, too. By the time the canal is built, he’ll be long gone, leaving us to pick up the environmental pieces.

How long are we going to put up with this?