The harder they fall

Layed off: It’s not nice to laugh at the misfortune of others. Yet Bites can’t help but chuckle over the financial tailspin of once mighty Enron Corp., which was squeezing Californians with outrageously high wholesale energy rates just a year ago.

Considering CEO Kenneth Lay is a close friend and adviser to President George Bush, who was blocking efforts to cap energy prices, Enron came to epitomize the public-private partnership that was screwing California ratepayers.

Lay was the guy who California Attorney General Bill Lockyer infamously threatened to throw into a jail cell with an amorous new roommate named Spike. That’s the kind of well-deserved animosity that has been flung in Enron’s general direction.

So this week’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing—a last-ditch effort to save a company that has been in fiscal free-fall for six weeks, triggered by failed capital ventures and revelations of cooking the books in recent years—was a bit of poetic justice.

Lay may never meet Spike, but it’s good to know he won’t be spiking our energy bills anymore.

Microcosm: Enron was more than a powerful company, it was the embodiment of corporate-sponsored globalization: a conglomeration of narrow interests that was aggressively seeking to control the basic necessities of people all over the world: electricity, water, telecommunications and other infrastructure needs.

At the same time, they used their clout to avoid public accountability for their actions, preferring to influence powerful policy-makers behind closed doors rather than engage in public debate. While Governor Gray Davis privately met with Lay many times during the power crisis, Enron contemptuously defied demands by the California Legislature to turn over subpoenaed documents.

So while Enron may have overreached a little on its plans for world domination, coming up a bit short of cash to finance its far-reaching plans, there are thousands of little Enrons out there trying to do the same thing: control the world’s resources, increase the public’s cost of accessing those resources, and then cover their asses by supporting powerful friends for public office.

Das Capital: If the above perspective on world affairs sounds vaguely Marxist to you, well, that’s only because “I can’t help it if reality is Marxist,” or so says Michael Parenti, a noted author and progressive thinker who spoke in West Sacramento last week.

To refuse to look at the world through Karl Marx’s lens of class conflict is to refuse to see the world as it is, whether you’re looking at profiteering corporations or the slashing of upper-income American tax rates or the reasons why so many have-nots around the world want to fly airplanes into our biggest buildings.

Parenti made that connection with the title of his speech, “Globalism and Terrorism,” before going on to assess the state of world affairs as an effort by the ruling classes to consolidate their wealth and power because, “The poorer you are, the harder you will work for less and less.”

All the gains Americans have made over the last century—better working conditions, improved health and safety safeguards, a higher average standard of living—have been made through working class struggles within a democratic system that is now being dismantled in the name of globalization and unhindered free markets, Parenti warned.

After all, even though the average Californian may be far more rich and powerful than the average world citizen, we still watched helplessly earlier this year while energy corporations and markets conspired to steal our money, and there wasn’t a damned thing any of us could do about it except hope they would show us mercy at some point.

And guess what, folks? It’s only going to get worse. Because, as Parenti said, “There’s only one thing the ruling class wants: everything.”