Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Your Liberal Media

After sleeping off my champagne hangover, I picked up my morning paper to see what it had to say about the conviction of Jeff Skilling and Kenny Boy. As the newspaper industry continues its long, slow slide to skid row, the Boston Globe no longer employs reporters to cover national business news, but the benefit for me is that I get to see what the national coverage is like.

They have a long main story by Carrie Johnson of the WaPo; an analysis by Johnson and Brooke Masters; a biography of Lay by the Associated Presss; and a sidebar on Skilling, with considerable discussion of his relationship with Lay, also by the AP. The coverage totals a full page and half of the business section, plus a quarter page photo and caption on page A-1, and the day's lead editorial.

The only mention of the name Bush comes in paragraph 19 of Johnson's article: "Both Lay, who once mingled with members of the Bush family and earned the name 'Kenny Boy' from President Bush, and Skilling, who during boom years persuaded Wall Street analysts of Enron's genius and his own, took the witness stand . . ." Lay's biography discusses his sojourn among the Houson elite, and says he donated millions to "various causes," but never mentions any specific politician or family.

Fortunately, I don't have to depend on the liberally biased corporate news media any more. This is from Robert Parry for Consortium News:

By the 2000 presidential campaign, Lay was a Pioneer for Bush, raising $100,000. Enron also gave the Republicans $250,000 for the convention in Philadelphia and contributed $1.1 million in soft money to the Republican Party. Not only was Lay a top fund-raiser for the campaign, but he helped out during the recount battle in Florida in November 2000.

Lay and his wife donated $10,000 to Bush’s Florida recount fund that helped pay for Republican lawyers and other expenses. Lay even let Bush operatives use Enron’s corporate jet to fly in reinforcements. After Bush secured his victory, another $300,000 poured in from Enron circles – including $100,000 from Lay and $100,000 from Skilling – for the Bush-Cheney Inaugural Fund.


Once in the White House, a grateful Bush gave Lay a major voice in shaping energy policy and picking personnel. Starting in late February 2001, Lay and other Enron officials took part in at least a half dozen secret meetings to develop Bush’s energy plan.

After one of the Enron meetings, Vice President Cheney's energy task force changed a draft energy proposal to include a provision to boost oil and natural gas production in India. The amendment was so narrow that it apparently was targeted only to help Enron’s troubled Dabhol power plant in India. [Washington Post, Jan. 26, 2002]

Other parts of the Bush energy plan also echoed Enron’s views. Seventeen of the energy plan’s proposals were sought by and benefited Enron, according to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. One proposal called for repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, which hindered Enron’s potential for acquisitions.

Bush also put Enron’s allies inside the federal government. Two top administration officials, Lawrence Lindsey, the White House’s chief economic adviser, and Robert Zoellick, the U.S. Trade Representative, both worked for Enron, Lindsey as a consultant and Zoellick as a paid member of Enron's advisory board.

At least 14 administration officials owned stock in Enron, with Undersecretary of State Charlotte Beers and chief political adviser Karl Rove each reporting up to $250,000 worth of Enron stock when they joined the administration.

Lay exerted influence, too, over government regulators already in place.. .


The California energy crisis also was spinning out of control. Rolling blackouts crisscrossed the state, where the partially deregulated energy market, served by Enron and other traders, had seen electricity prices soar 800 percent in one year.

After taking power, Bush turned a deaf ear to appeals from public officials in California to give the state relief from the soaring costs of energy. He also reined in federal efforts to monitor market manipulations.

As California’s electricity prices continued to soar, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and Sen. Dianne Feinstein voiced suspicions that the “free market” was not at work. Rather they saw corporate price-fixing, gouging consumers and endangering California’s economy.

But California’s suspicions mostly were mocked in official Washington as examples of finger-pointing and conspiracy theories. The administration blamed the problem on excessive environmental regulation that discouraged the building of new power plants.

Again, Lay was influencing policy behind the scenes. An April 2001 memo from Lay to Cheney advised the administration to resist price caps. “The administration should reject any attempt to re-regulate wholesale power markets by adopting price caps or returning to archaic methods of determining the cost-base of wholesale power,” Lay said. [San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 30, 2002]

Cheney and Bush echoed Lay’s position in their political exchanges with Davis and other Democrats. On April 18, 2001, Cheney told the Los Angeles Times that the Bush administration opposed price caps because they would discourage investment. [L.A. Times, April 19, 2001]

In May 2001, Bush traveled to California on a trip choreographed like a President visiting a disaster area. Only this time, Bush wasn’t promising federal help to a state in need. He was carrying the same message that Lay had sent to Cheney. In effect, Bush was saying: Read my lips. No price caps. “Price caps do nothing to reduce demand, and they do nothing to increase supply,” Bush said. [L.A. Times, May 30, 2001]


In June 2001, the White House went to bat for Enron on another touchy issue, the natural gas power plant that Enron had built in Dabhol, India. The plant had become something of a white elephant. Its cost of electricity was several times higher than what India was paying other providers, which led to an impasse over unpaid bills. Enron wanted India to pay $250 million for the electricity or buy out Enron’s stake in the plant, worth about $2.3 billion.

These sorts of contract disputes between U.S. companies and foreign governments are normally handled by the Commerce Department or possibly the State Department. But Enron’s Dabhol problem became a priority of Bush’s National Security Council staff.

That level of interest over a contract dispute was almost unprecedented, according to former NSC officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations. The administration’s intervention even involved direct appeals from top U.S. officials.

On June 27, 2001, Cheney personally discussed Enron’s problem with Sonia Gandhi, the leader of India’s opposition Congress Party. “Good news is that the Veep mentioned Enron in his meeting with Sonia Gandhi yesterday,” said one NSC e-mail dated June 28, 2001. (I obtained this and other documents under a Freedom of Information Act request.)

Throughout summer 2001, while intelligence warnings about an expected al-Qaeda terror attack went unheeded, the NSC staff met frequently to coordinate U.S. pressure on India over Enron's plant, drawing in the State Department, the Treasury Department, the Office of U.S. Trade Representative and the Overseas Private Investment Corp., which had committed $360 million in risk insurance to the Dabhol project.

While the NSC held no follow-up meetings on the Aug. 6, 2001, intelligence warning entitled “Bin Laden Determined To Strike in U.S.,” national security adviser Condoleezza Rice organized and led the “Dabhol Working Group.”

The working group sought to broker meetings between Lay and senior Indian officials, including Brajesh Mishra, the national security adviser to Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. During a trip to India, a senior State Department official delivered a “demarche” or official warning to the Indian government, but New Delhi still resisted the U.S. pressure.

Also in the summer of 2001, Enron was consolidating its influence at FERC. . . .

Ahh, go read the whole thing. Then write a letter to the editor. Vast acreage of ancient forest was laid to waste so they could tell us what amounted to nothing about a small-time land deal in which the Clinton's lost a few thousand bucks. Control of the national energy policy by felons isn't worth a paragraph.

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