The Y2K KO

Good riddance: Y2K, the most numerically feared year in modern history, will finally slide into the history books this week. So to help give 2000 the kick in the ass that it really deserves, over the next two weeks, Bites will do that cheesy year-in-review, what-did-it-all mean, where-are-we-going thing.

It was a big year for telling contrasts and disturbing dichotomies in California, which continued to claw its way to the top of the free market heap by becoming the sixth-largest economy in the world, standing on the squishy foundation of a neglected underclass.

Oh, man, and it’s gonna be ugly with a capital “ug” if George W. Bush’s blame-game prophesies of economic doom actually do come to roost in Y2K+1. And it doesn’t even take the Capital Bites Crystal Ball of California Socio-Political Weirdness ™ (just $9.99 at SN&R offices, while supplies last) to see what’s gonna happen if the bubble bursts.

As soon as the first few thousand tight-rope workers lose their balance and go “splat” instead of “boing,” the masses are going to really have fond remembrances of that old social safety net. They’ll be marching in the streets, signs in the air and venom on their tongues, giving the term “social unrest” a fiery new flavor.

Yet 2000 was all about playing a mean fiddle while the kindling smoldered. Just look at all the recent hubbub over electricity rates. Last summer, it became crystal clear to anyone not blinded by campaign contributions and political ambition that electricity market deregulation was a spectacularly bad idea that should be undone ASAP.

Instead, Gov. Gray Davis and the Legislature just put a bailout Band-Aid on the problem and hoped that the energy capitalists would stop behaving like energy capitalists. It reminds Bites of the punch line to that old joke, “But you knew I was a snake when you invited me in …” except it’s not as funny.

Fast forward to last week and—surprise, surprise—power generators are reporting record profits, utility companies (having already tucked away tidy profits in recent years) say they’ll go bankrupt without another ratepayer bailout and Davis announces his intention to force Californians to continue to subsidize this mess.

Bites is sure that president-in-waiting Davis would like to make this whole electric deregulation thing just go away, but as his spokesman Steve Maviglio said last week, “You can’t put that genie back in the bottle.”

With utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric Co. already having sold off most of its power-generating assets, re-regulation of the industry at this point requires drastic, quasi-revolutionary action—like seizing control of California’s power grid and operating it in the public interest.

Of course, Davis hasn’t exactly been positioning himself to run for president in 2004 as the “leader who nationalized the most private assets since Fidel Castro.” It just doesn’t mesh very well with the MO he’s been cultivating as the “most blatant panderer to campaign contributors since …” Well, Davis may actually be in a class all his own on this one.

After this year having personally shot down the strict fund-raising limits of 1996’s Proposition 208, Davis and the rest of Sacramento’s power brokers are awash in cash from Big Business. Consider it a payoff for allowing them to keep exploiting the masses … because that’s certainly how the CEOs think of it.

The latest semi-annual campaign finance statements will be released in just a couple of weeks, and Bites has wagered serious cash betting that Davis’ numbers will show a continuation or even escalation of the record-setting fund-raising pace of nearly $1 million per month that he’s been on since taking office.

And that doesn’t even count the millions of dollars that various foundations and nonprofit organizations have been collecting in Davis’ name, a sleazy little trick that our governor apparently learned from insurance commissioner-turned-outcast Chuck Quackenbush.

Will Davis mend his evil ways in 2001? Will the masses finally wise up and cast the political money-changers out of the kingdom? Only the crystal ball knows, and Bites plans to really fire it up for next week’s column.