Sunday, August 24

The Long-Awaited Recall Essay

Some folks related to me (not my side) were waxing conservatively to us on the phone the other day about the California recall mess. From a safe distance away from the borders of this state, they were lobbing in verbal grenades about how Gray Davis ripped off the state for billions of dollars and that we needed a fiscally-responsible (read that "Republican") replacement and soon.

Now, I love all my relatives both in-laws and outlaws, and I always refuse to get into any political falling out with them because I'm one of those peaceniks. I'd rather keep the peace in the family rather than not have a place to crash during the holidays. But they were trying to sell us the same exact storyline that Rush Limbaugh (whose home base in Palm Beach, FL is also far from the action) is propagating on his show. Yeah, they get their news and opinions from Rush, and it bothers the hell out of me.

Ironically, it's the Limbaugh lifestyle that got California into huge financial trouble. Tempting as it may be, I'm not blaming him, but I am blaming the opulent consumption of his minions which is transforming this state from the environmentally aware outpost it was to the energy-choked Jabba the Hutt it's become.

The story, simply, is that Gray Davis bowed to a ton of pressure from the entire state, and in his quest to keep everyone happy, we all got screwed. But not by him. Not intentionally, anyway.

When California was faced with rolling blackouts to conserve energy almost three years ago, the hue and cry here was to do anything possible to keep the lights on. That was paramount. Gray Davis was evil for allowing this to happen and he must do anything and everything to feed the electricity machine.

Enter Enron, Williams Energy and all the other utilities who smelled blood, and went on one of the biggest fraud rampages in history. Enron alone willfully took advantage of California's desperation by charging for imaginary flow congestion (like sending 2900 megawatts over a 15 megawatt line in a 16-hour period - do the math), manipulated the energy market for profit, and fraudulently drove up prices while making farm-out deals with other utilities.

Williams didn't deliver on its promises either. But it was too late. The deals were made and California got screwed. Not by Gray Davis. But the energy companies who are/were shamelessly pals, business partners and major contributors to Bush and Cheney.

That was 2001. In May 2002, the New York Times reported:

On Tuesday, Gov. Gray Davis and the state's senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to open a criminal inquiry into Enron's trading practices. Enron is already under federal criminal investigation for its accounting practices.
Ashcroft recused himself from the inquiry because he received $57,000 from Enron. End of that.

The bills have now come in. And the same people who screamed for Davis to keep the electricity on are now screaming for his head.

But the story the rest of America is getting from Rush and friends is simply that Davis spent all that money and now he must be canned in favor of a more responsible Republican. Gee, it seems so simple when it's put that way, doesn't it?

So as I sit here looking over the Pacific from my third-floor perch, watching a hummingbird repeatedly climb and dive-bomb for whatever reasons hummingbirds do that, I'm proud to be living in California. I've had more opportunity here than anywhere else I've lived. In one short decade, I've worked my ass off to be fortunate enough to live a good life here. And I object when people with loads of money simply try to buy a way to overturn the decisions we helped make (or even the ones we rallied for and didn't succeed) when we went through the proper process - like voting.

Somehow, I get the feeling that California will continue to be screwed as long as it's a Democratic stronghold. We keep hearing how much better things will be if we had a Republican governor. And you know what? With Bush at the helm of this country, it would not surprise me one bit if that were true. We'd magically receive all the federal help and support we needed.

Unfortunately, some people still have to lie to get the political power they want. They too work their asses off - but to lie and cheat - not to earn it through constructive behavior and honesty. Sometimes they get the results they want, evidenced by the 2000 elections. But when the game's over, they leave with no trust and no respect. It happened in Florida. It almost seemed as if it were going to happen here. Happily, California might luck out in 2003.

Democrat Cruz Bustamonte is trouncing Arnold Schwarzenegger in the latest L.A. Times poll. Sweet.