CAMPAIGN FINANCE UPDATE
As the Senate geared up for a debate on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill (McFein for short), which bans soft money, Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli was again grumbling about how the bill is flawed because it doesn't close down the issue-ad loophole. He's essentially right, but that's no reason to vote against McFein, which does close another big loophole. If McFein passes, some soft money might be diverted to issue ads, but some would not, its sponsors believe. Sparking more valid concerns is a provision in the bill that bars corporations and unions from spending money on issue ads within sixty days of an election. That worries labor because the plan does nothing to curb individual spending on such ads. There are plenty of wealthy people with pro-corporate axes to grind. So even if corporate funding of issue ads is banned, the pro-business message will flood out in ads paid for by well-heeled individuals. Labor has few individual supporters with such deep pockets. The unions also oppose raising the $1,000 cap on hard money. Campaign reform groups are wobbling on this one, with some risking a compromise that would index hard-money limits to inflation. But any increase in the hard-money limit makes it easier for wealthy special interests to buy influence and access and does nothing to open up the system to ordinary Americans.
EXTRA! GORE WINS FLORIDA! HELLO?
The Palm Beach Post's recount of undervotes--hanging, dimpled, pinhole chads--gave Al Gore 784 additional votes in Palm Beach County. If the same recount method were followed statewide, Gore would win overwhelmingly. The butterfly ballots, on which confused voters marked both Gore and Pat Buchanan, cost Gore some 6,600 votes, the Post estimated; another 2,908 voted for Gore and Socialist David McReynolds.
RUN JEB RUN
There has been speculation recently that Jeb Bush may not run in 2002 because of "family concerns." We hope he stays the course. It would be democracy's loss if he didn't give African-Americans and other Floridians a chance to register a protest against the electoral shenanigans last fall.
YOU CAN ALWAYS TELL A HARVARD MAN...
Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, named as Harvard's new president, is on record as saying that Africa is "under-polluted." This phrase, Jon Wiener reminds us, appeared in a 1991 memo Summers wrote while he was chief economist for the World Bank. In it he recommended that the bank encourage "more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs" (less developed countries). He went on to give three reasons: (1) The cost of sickness caused by pollution--in terms of lost wages--is lower in the LDCs, since their average wages are so low, (2) LDCs are "under-polluted" by industry and (3) demand for a clean environment for health and aesthetic reasons is small in countries with high mortality rates. After the memo became public, Brazil's secretary of the environment wrote Summers, "Your reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane."
BUSHISM OF THE WEEK
In a talk to Treasury Department workers: "The way I like to put it is this: There's no bigger issue for the President to remind the moms and dads of America, if you happen to have a child,
be fortunate to have a child."
THE CREDITORS' BALL
The bankruptcy bill passed by the House denies bankruptcy protection to small borrowers who get in over their heads. The bill contains a special provision exempting American partners in Lloyd's of London from having to pay their share of the insurer's added costs from payouts on recent disasters. The bill also protects wealthy deadbeats' real estate holdings in Florida, Texas and other states that local laws have made into bankruptcy havens. Those laws allow the wealthiest debtors to convert their hidden assets into lavish homes, immune from seizure.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
Another of Bush's conflict-of-interest Cabinet members can join Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, the man from Alcoa, and the boys from Big Oil. Say hi to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who served on the board of directors of Northwest Airlines. Nothing to do with the untimely sixty-day cooling-off period Bush slapped on the mechanics' union at Northwest.
There were so many brilliant entries to our Name the President Contest that our judges were hard pressed to choose the winning five. (Up to the February 19 deadline the count was over 750, and they're still trickling in, from people who say they know they've missed the deadline but still want to vent their frustrations over the election.) So we decided to turn over the final decision to our readers. The judges have narrowed the field to eight. Vote for your favorite title among those listed on the official absentee ballot displayed on this page (no write-ins, overvotes or dangling chads, please). Address mail entries c/o Name the President Contest. You may vote on our website as well--www.thenation.com. The deadline is April 2. Authors of the five entries with the highest number of votes will win a Nation T-shirt bearing the face of George W. Neuman (disgruntled losers will be able to purchase them from this magazine).
Given the skepticism about judges these days after the way the Supreme Court handed the election to Bush, we decided that the final decision should rest with the people. We pledge that the votes will be counted according to uniform standards and equal protection by a crew of honest, idealistic Nation interns.
Our effort to devise a suitable terminology that encapsulates the illegitimacy of the current White House tenant for readers who could not bear to utter the words "President Bush" prompted brief second thoughts when the Miami Herald announced that its recount of Florida overvotes in four counties showed Bush the winner. But other counts suggest otherwise, and a statewide recount by a newspaper consortium is still under way. We may never know for sure, but we believe Gore would have taken Florida in a fair and properly run election [see David Corn, "The Florida Fog," March 19].
So the contest must go on. Also, we admit to an ulterior motive: posing a cheeky challenge to the mainstream punditry, politicos and politicized lawyers who rolled over when the five Justices on the Supreme Court anointed George Herbert Walker Bush's son President of the United States. The vociferous objection of many Americans to this selection process was evident in the outpouring of responses to our contest, and they deserve to be preserved for the historical record.
Because of the volume of entries, we can print only a sampler of them here, but it should give an idea of their high quality and perhaps provide some irreverent laughter as well. These entries may also be regarded as responses to a sociological survey that reveals what one passionately politicized slice of the American populace thinks about the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Many of the entries clustered around certain themes. In one category that emerged, readers focused on the concept of illegitimacy and borrowed from the precedents of royalty. Thus, Pretender (a lot of Big Chill-generation types suggested The Great Pretender), Pretendant, Usurper, Dauphin and the like.
The royalty motif was popular because of the dynastic aspects of Bush I and Bush II. Most suggestions in this grouping played on George II or George III. The latter takes account of our only other George--Washington--but also harks back to mad George III of Revolutionary War times (one reader said, Now that we have a George III, we should have a revolution). And then there were George the Lesser and Poppyseed.
For some, Bush's II's first name conjured up the popular children's book character Curious George. Variations included Spurious George, Dubious George and Clueless George. And from the realm of rock and roll: Boy George.
Also popular were titles granting Bush only residential rather than full presidential status, e.g., Resident (variants: pResident, pWesident), Occupant (so we may refer to the current Administration as "the Occupation"), Squatter and White Housekeeper.
The Supreme Court's intervention inspired a raft of names: (Supreme) Precedent, Supreme Highness, Our Supreme President, Supreme Chosen One, President Designate, President-Select, Presumptive President, Court-Appointed President. A popular variant was President-with-an-asterisk* (*appointed by the Supreme Court). One entrant suggested Cheney be called Little George's Court-Appointed Guardian.
But more cynical readers ignored even the slightest pretense of legality. To them Bush is Commander or Commandeer(er) and Thief, Cheater of the Free World, President Putsch and El Presidente (a Banana Republican, of course).
The cutoff of the Florida recount tally reminded some readers of the Southern epithet Count No Count or President No Count. Not to mention His Floridancy and Florident.
To some he'll always be Dubya; others spun off variations on that moniker: George Dubious Bush, Dubious Dubya and Dubya-C. Dubya's wayward way with pronunciation spawned His Illegititude and George the Unifactor, among others. His intellectual shortcomings inspired His Dimness, Presidunce, Oaf of Office, Bush Lite, Dim Son.
Then there were the readers who made acronym puns on the term POTUS, such as BOGUS POTUS and PSEUDOPOTUS. (Also, PUS--President of the United States.)
Reflecting the erudition of Nation readers, there was a slew of Latin terms, viz., President Pro Forma, Pro Tem, De Facto and Per Curiam. Not to mention the elegant In Loco Presidentis.
Thanks, readers, for your suggestions. Now, vote for your favorite by April 2. Watch this space for the winning names.
We learned a few things from Dan Burton's hearings into the Clinton pardons. We learned that Bill Clinton's pardon of billionaire expatriate Marc Rich was no last-minute rush job. According to testimony by White House aides and lawyers, Rich's pardon application was the subject of multiple White House meetings over a span of weeks, with White House lawyers opposing clemency for Rich every step of the way. Clinton, always his own worst enemy, alone assented to the lobbying efforts of Rich lawyer and former White House counsel Jack Quinn.
We also learned that Burton, while filling a few nights' bandwidth on the scandal-dependent cable news channels, would evade every attempt to place the pardon controversy in perspective, rejecting repeated requests by Democrats to call witnesses and solicit evidence on pardons past. This is not to make excuses for Bill Clinton, but Burton's refusal to examine past abuses of the presidential pardon starkly reveals an inquiry called merely to humiliate and punish a political enemy and those who worked for him, rather than to explore policy questions.
If Congress were serious, these hearings would necessarily address pardons by Clinton's predecessors, starting with Bush the First. Poppy Bush's pardons of Caspar Weinberger and other Iran/contra felons have been widely discussed but still deserve closer scrutiny: Not only did Weinberger & Co. break federal laws, abuse high office and deceive Congress; their pardons gave every appearance of protecting Bush himself from investigation. Then there is Armand Hammer, who in 1989 gave $100,000 to the Republican Party and another $100,000 to the Bush-Quayle Inaugural Committee just weeks before Bush pardoned him for illegal campaign contributions. And now comes Time.com's special report on Bush's last-minute pardon of Edwin Cox Jr. for bank fraud after James Baker wrote a note to the White House counsel, with a copy to Bush, describing Cox's father as "a longtime supporter of the President's." The elder Cox later pledged at least $100,000 to the Bush presidential library. CNN followed up with a report that the Cox family was a substantial contributor to the Bush family's campaigns and the GOP, including $31,500 to George W. Bush's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns.
The point is that Clinton's pardons of Rich et al. are scarcely unique outrages. Clinton exercised his unreviewable pardon power in ways that reveal much about his character but provide no hint of illegality. So what is the purpose of further hearings, beyond retribution? Surely not some constitutional amendment aimed at curtailing presidential pardons, which despite the abuses by both Clinton and his predecessors remain the only tool for a courageous executive to correct a serious injustice (a category for which a few of Clinton's pardons qualify).
The Clinton pardon fiasco does raise some important issues. Quinn invented a giant loophole in the law barring revolving-door influence-peddling in order to lobby his former boss. And cash for clemency remains an outrage whether it's about Marc Rich or Armand Hammer. But such pardons are scandalous in the same way that Congressional legislation friendly to corporate donors is scandalous. The pardon flap matters primarily because it further erodes public confidence that anything in our constitutional democracy can survive the polluting power of big-money donations.
Future Marc Rich-type pardons can be cured only by radical campaign finance reform--a far cry from the partisan dart-throwing on display in Dan Burton's hearing room.
It's grimly appropriate that the legislative weapon Senate Republicans (joined by six anti-labor Democrats) used to kill OSHA's ergonomics regulations--the Congressional Review Act (CRA)--is a holdover from Newt Gingrich's Contract on America. Passed in 1996, the CRA is a ten-megaton regulations-buster that enables Congress to obliterate a federal rule by a majority vote with minimal hearings and debate. Once voted down under CRA, a new rule on the same subject needs authorization by an act of Congress. (Labor Secretary Elaine Chao promised to consider new rules, providing cover for wavering legislators, while Ted Kennedy's call for further discussions was spurned by GOP senators, nostrils flaring at the scent of total victory.) The attack on OSHA's rule, which orders employers to eliminate ergonomic hazards after an employee is diagnosed with a workplace-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)--like back injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injury, tendonitis--was a top priority of business lobbying groups. In the truncated debate GOP senators recited a parade of horribles (the regulation would cost astronomical sums to implement, was not backed by scientific opinion, did not deal with a real problem) and cast the rules as another Clinton eleventh-hour regulation (actually the standard was first proposed by Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole in 1990 and issued last year after nine weeks of public hearings and testimony by hundreds of witnesses). The Bureau of Labor Statistics says every year more than 600,000 workers suffer serious job-related MSDs. The AFL-CIO reports women suffer 64 percent of repetitive motion injuries, even though they are 46 percent of the work force and 33 percent of all employees who are hurt on the job. The GOP House leadership immediately rammed the bill through to give George W. Bush a famous victory. Since W. took office, labor has been dealt a series of blows for its support of Al Gore. Bush has issued executive orders hurting union political activities and revoking a rule requiring union contractors on federal projects. Congress's OSHA standard repeal, however, is surely the most painful defeat--literally--to real workers.
BUSHISM OF THE WEEK
Speaking in Omaha on February 28, during his tour to tout his tax plan: We "understand how unfair the death penalty is, er...the death tax."
ON THE WEB: email@example.com
President Bush's determination to give the superrich an eternal tax shelter by repealing the estate levy has revealed contradictions in the nonprofit sector and confusion about what it values and where it stands. Read Mark Rosenman's web-exclusive "Charity for All" at www.thenation.com.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
Among the revelations attending the Robert Philip Hanssen spy flap was that the FBI does not administer lie detector tests to veteran agents. One worry, apparently, is that electronic prying might elicit embarrassing personal data. We suggest that what's the practice at the FBI, guardians of the nation's internal security, should apply to private-sector polygraphing.
The loudest applause during George W. Bush's first budget address to Congress--a thumping, shouting, jump-to-your-feet outpouring of enthusiasm--erupted in response to his first mention of his proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut. Coming at the end of a masterful but deceitful description, with more concealed trapdoors than a funhouse ride (they have the fun and we get taken for a ride), of how he could do everything from funding Social Security to paying down the debt and have money "still left over," Bush's proposal argued for returning that money "to the people who earned it in the first place."
The country is not buying. The latest Pew Research Center poll finds that only 19 percent of Americans think the current budget surplus should be used for a tax cut, and 79 percent believe the proposed Bush tax cut will most benefit the wealthy. Meanwhile, 60 percent want any surplus used for domestic programs as well as Social Security and Medicare.
Why, then, was the response to Bush's tax cut proposal so enthusiastic? Perhaps for the same reason that the words "campaign finance reform" never crossed Bush's lips, an omission Senator John McCain wryly noted in a CNN interview. The Wall Street Journal reported the morning after the speech that industry groups have formed a coalition to push the tax cuts in what one White House adviser described as "the largest PR campaign this party has ever conducted." The same adviser went on to say that the effort "will test if we can use the power of the White House and congressional control and the lobbying world to work our will."
With the cat thus out of the bag, Bush's budget should be pronounced dead on arrival. Now is the moment for the minority party to put forth a sensible alternative: No new tax breaks for the wealthy. An earlier, bigger check--either in the form of a tax credit or a "prosperity dividend"--for middle- and low-income earners, to jump-start the economy. Prescription drug coverage for seniors and affordable healthcare for all. Investment in schools and teachers' salaries. Investment to combat the growing shortage of affordable rental housing. Electoral reforms that will insure that every vote is counted.
In opposition, Democrats find it difficult to speak with one voice. A few have already thrown in their lot with Bush. Others are looking to deal. Still others seem stuck on paying down the debt as their prime concern. Thus it is vital that progressives in the party--and the increasingly vibrant base of the party that is central to its electoral hopes--speak out independently to force the debate. Here the Progressive Caucus has done well by pushing its prosperity dividend, which would give every American a $300 check in contrast to Bush's tax giveaway to the rich. Responsible Wealth has done remarkable work organizing the statement by about 120 of America's richest men and women against estate-tax repeal. The large coalition of groups convened to fight the tax cuts--under the leadership of progressive unions, civil rights groups and the public interest community--will help stiffen the backbone of faltering legislators. The Campaign for America's Future's plan for creating a progressive leadership organization will help define and broadcast the choice we face.
Bush has benefited, of course, from the continuing press focus on former President Clinton's tawdry unpardonables and his legacy of political timidity and tactical retreat. Now, progressives must force Democrats to shed that defensiveness. The country did not vote for the Bush agenda, and the vast majority will not benefit from it. Time to go on the attack. This is a fight that can be won.
New Hampshire State Senator Burt Cohen thought that putting up a plaque honoring the Abraham Lincoln Brigade would provide a history lesson about Americans who volunteered to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. He did not foresee that the gesture would instruct about another kind of history--McCarthyism. When it was announced that the bronze plaque would be hung in the Statehouse at a ceremony on Lincoln's Birthday, the archreactionary Manchester Union Leader rallied Granite State granite heads. The Republican leadership in the legislature ordered the plaque removed. When Cohen, along with an ALB vet, relatives of another vet and supporters of the plaque went ahead with the dedication ceremony in the legislative office building on Lincoln's Birthday, an angrily buzzing swarm of Republican legislators descended. One addressed "Comrade Cohen"; another told a reporter, "Thank God for Franco--he saved us in Spain." When a plaque supporter stalked out saying, "McCarthyism is alive in this hall and in this state," an onlooker yelled, "Goodbye, Communist." The following week a legislative committee voted to ban the plaque from all state property, although it said another one might someday be displayed. Senator Cohen vowed to go ahead with a redesign. As for the insidious commie plaque, it now reposes in a Statehouse vault. Said Cohen (who has written for this magazine), "I thought the cold war was over."SPEAK & BE ARRESTED
C. Clark Kissinger, head of Mumia Abu-Jamal support activities at Refuse & Resist!, was sentenced to ninety days last December for violating his probation (see David Lindorff, "Mumia and Free Speech," December 18, 2000). The violation? Traveling to speak at a Mumia rally. He was scheduled for release on March 5, but supporters worry he may be in for more harassment, such as demands for names of contributors. A larger issue is the chilling message his imprisonment sent to dissidents in this country. An open letter championing Kissinger, signed by Terry Bisson, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, Norman Mailer, Grace Paley, Barbara Kingsolver, Adrienne Rich and others sums up: "It is not polite, sanctioned, or permitted speech that the First Amendment is intended to protect. It is political dissent--and dissidents." For a copy of the letter and more information call (212) 571-0962; firstname.lastname@example.org.BUSHISMS OF THE WEEK
Asked after his meeting with Tony Blair what he and the British Prime Minister had in common, George W. Bush replied: "We have both got great wives. We are both dads, and proudly so. That's our most important responsibility, being loving dads." Advocating his education reform package: "You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test."
LIBERTÉ, EGALITÉ, FÉMINISME
"Feminism...is the most popular and most effective movement to emerge from the sixties left," writes Katha Pollitt in her introduction to Subject to Debate, the volume of her selected columns published in The Nation over the past seven years. Dismissed by the right and the left as identity politics, proclaimed "dead" by Time in 1998, eschewed--as denoted by the term "feminist"--by young women everywhere, the women's movement, Pollitt declares, "moves on."
And it's a good thing, too. Although, as Pollitt writes, "political feminism is still with us: regulations are challenged and proposed, candidates funded and campaigned for, lawsuits fought and not infrequently won"--there's much work to be done. And many of the essays included in Subject to Debate have worked, and still do, as a call to action. Writing on issues including reproductive rights, school vouchers, privacy, welfare, the culture wars, religion, the workplace, education and "family values" with wit and a perspective simultaneously personal and political, Pollitt has composed pieces that, collected in this volume, articulate a larger argument for social change. She reminds us that "feminism is not a single, independent, all-powerful force, but is connected in complicated and even contradictory ways with other historical forces--egalitarianism and individualism, hedonism and puritanism, capitalism and the critique of capitalism," and that "gender equality requires general equality."
Indeed, Pollitt notes, "rights are free; social justice costs a fortune." This has been especially evident in the welfare debate, which she plumbs often. In a signature lampoon, she writes in "Deadbeat Dads: A Modest Proposal" that "Marion Barry's views...are shared by millions: Women have babies by parthenogenesis or cloning, and then perversely demand that the government 'take care of them.'" In "Of Toes and Men," a 1996 column responding to the exposed relationship between Clinton "family values" strategist Dick Morris and Sherry Rowlands, a $200-an-hour dominatrix, Pollitt quips: "[Since] family values don't seem to generate much work.... welfare moms should take a leaf from struggling single mother Sherry Rowlands.... [and] become dominatrixes. Here is a lucrative profession with flexible hours that combine well with childrearing, which...it resembles in many ways."
On a different tack, Pollitt worries in "Opinionated Women" that women in the media are largely confined to certain issues in terms of giving their opinions: "As Saint Augustine put it, men need women only for the things they can't get from a man. For procreation (the one thing Saint A. could come up with), substitute 1,000 words on breast implants or day care, and that view still holds a lot of sway." Luckily, as Subject to Debate makes plain, Pollitt has never been so constricted.
George W. Bush's description of the US-British bombing of Iraq as a "routine mission" unwittingly summed up the mechanical nature of the US-British air operations in Iraq, which have been bombing on autopilot since 1992. These sorties continue because no one has a better idea of what US policy toward Iraq should be. The only rationales for the February 16 strike were to tell Saddam Hussein that the mindless air campaign will continue under a new administration and to reduce the possibility that Iraq's improved air defenses might shoot down a US plane on the eve of Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip to the Middle East.
But the attack's main outcome was to remind the world of the emptiness of US policy in the area. The sanctions regime is now widely ignored; US European allies, led by the French, are furious at Washington's unilateralism (even Tony Blair's foreign minister was preparing to relax sanctions). Bush spoke of enforcing "the agreement that [Saddam Hussein] signed after Desert Storm," but the Clinton Administration helped undermine the UN inspection regime instituted after the war by making it an anti-Saddam operation. UNSCOM inspectors pulled out, never to return, just before December 16, 1998, when cruise missiles were unleashed against Baghdad in Operation Desert Fox. Washington's obdurate support of the sanctions, despite massive suffering among the Iraqi people, eroded the anti-Saddam consensus in the Arab world that developed after his invasion of Kuwait. Finally, the failure of Mideast peace talks and Ariel Sharon's victory in Israel lend credence to Saddam's claim to be the champion of the Palestinians, and it provided him with another opportunity to play to the Arab streets and mendaciously blame US-Israel conniving.
Far from strengthening Powell's mission, the bombings stirred up renewed hostility among the Arab people. The Bush team's campaign pronouncements on Iraq do not allow hope that Powell brings any new ideas to the region. Indeed, the ineluctable drift of events in the past year has left the new Administration few options. The old, cruel sanctions policy is discredited, and there is scant hope at this point that the Iraqis will agree to accept UN inspectors, who are the best check on Saddam's efforts to rebuild his war machine. As it happens, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was to meet with the Iraqi foreign minister February 26-27 to discuss reinstating them; the bombing surely hasn't helped this initiative. And there is virtually no international support for any of the Administration plans to beef up support for Iraqi opposition groups. Without the backing of a wide coalition of countries, no policy has any chance of success.
The wisest future course for the United States is to forge a more modest containment and sanctions policy that might win the support of America's partners. It should aim to put in place limited and precisely targeted sanctions designed to curtail Iraq's import of advanced military technology and to contain Saddam. That means abandoning unilateralism (something that goes against the grain of this new White House) and reaching out not only to the UN and allies in Europe and the Middle East but to regional players like Turkey and Russia.
It is ironic that Colin Powell, the architect of Desert Storm, must now deal with its long-term consequences--its failure to bring peace and stability to the region.
As George W. Bush so fuzzily put it, "The California crunch really is the result of not enough power-generating plants and then not enough power to power the power of generating plants." Whatever that means, his main responses to California's deregulation crisis have been to tout drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and to bar federal intervention that would curb the profiteering by big generating companies.
Since a tiny percent of the nation's electricity is produced by burning oil, drilling in the refuge is irrelevant to the problem. But, of course, it's quite relevant to the big oil and gas companies' expectations of a payoff from this Administration, in which they had invested millions in campaign contributions. They're salivating for exploration on hitherto off-limits federal lands with ANWR as the opening wedge. Bush plays along by fanning fears of power crises nationwide to overcome the pro-environment sentiment among voters. (Recent polls show that two-thirds of Americans favor a ban on drilling in the wildlife refuge.)
As for withholding federal intervention, that's simply the old-time deregulation religion preached by conservative pundits who blame the failure to deregulate fully for the California crunch. Actually, California's deregulation bill was drafted by the power companies, which made hefty contributions to grease its way through the legislature. Seeking to recapture from consumers the costs of their bad investments in nuclear plants, the utilities devised the very freeze on consumer rates on which they now blame the current crisis, and which they are trying to overturn in the courts. They also agreed to divest themselves of much of their generating capacity, leaving them vulnerable to the market manipulations of independent power producers--including their own parent companies, which are reaping huge profits from this contrived crisis. Those same parent companies are using their "near bankrupt" utilities to launder more than $20 billion in the stranded-cost bailouts that prompted the crisis in the first place.
Clearly, more bailouts for utilities and unleashing Big Oil to ravage the wilds are not the solutions to California's--or the nation's--power problems, especially when there is a native California solution at hand: municipal ownership and conservation. The model is the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which, after closing down its one nuclear reactor in 1989, held prices steady, invested heavily in wind and solar power and promoted energy efficiency through programs like subsidized buyouts of old, energy-guzzling home refrigerators.
Unfortunately, Governor Gray Davis and the California legislature have chosen to ignore the lesson of Sacramento and to "solve" the crisis by throwing more billions in public money at the utilities. Davis should be using public money and eminent domain to buy the assets of these rogue utilities out of bankruptcy and turn them over to direct public control. A statewide network of public-owned, democratically run municipal utilities would work just fine.
Municipal ownership like Sacramento's is now being urgently considered by San Francisco and other beleaguered California cities. Rather than catering to his energy "adviser" Ken Lay of Enron (who injected $500,000 into Bush campaign coffers, making him the largest single contributor in the last election cycle) and the rest of the oil and gas companies, Bush should recognize that the wind and sun provide more than enough "power to power the power of generating plants" and that power is rightfully owned and most efficiently operated by the public itself.