Enron Mail

To:mark.frevert@enron.com, greg.whalley@enron.com, john.lavorato@enron.com,louise.kitchen@enron.com, tim.belden@enron.com
Subject:National Post Column
Date:Wed, 20 Jun 2001 04:13:00 -0700 (PDT)

At least some reporters/columnists get it. This is a column from the
National Post in Canada.

Priggish and piggish in California
Mark Steyn
National Post
A hurricane devastated Tristan da Cunha last month. It swept in May 23, but
no one heard about it till the other day because it damaged the island's
radio link to the outside world. The storm blew sheep into the chilly South
Atlantic, killed many cattle, damaged every single home on the island,
demolished the hospital and community centre, blew the roof off the radio
station, and wrecked the Albatross, the only pub in the only village,
Edinburgh of the Seven Seas. For a week after the storm, the entire island
was without electricity.
And no one in the rest of the world knew a thing about it! Not the island's
colonial masters in London. Not the Governor, who doesn't actually reside
there but prefers to live 1,260 miles away on St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha's
nearest neighbour. (St. Helena is Manhattan to Tristan's Weehawken, New
Jersey.) Plunked in the ocean midway between Argentina and South Africa,
Tristan da Cunha is the world's most isolated human settlement. Its contact
with the rest of humanity is limited to one annual visit from a British
supply vessel, plus the occasional cruise ship, which anchors offshore when
it's safe to do so.
Now that's living off the grid.
The East India Company won a charter to settle Tristan in 1658, and it's been
a Crown colony since 1834, populated by a handful of families from the
Scottish borders. There are just seven surnames on the island: Glass, Green,
Hagan, Lavarello, Repetto, Rogers and Swain. All 290 of them turned up in
London 40 years ago, when the island's volcano erupted and they were
evacuated to the Imperial capital. In the roaring traffic's boom, midst the
glitter of one of the world's great cities, the islanders voted to return
home -- though even getting there was tricky, as their landing dock was
covered in lava. Today the colony is virtually self-sufficient in food and
has a reasonably thriving economy based on crawfish and selling its
commemorative postage stamps to overseas philatelists.
London has offered o75,000 to repair the communications equipment and pay for
a new hospital. (You can build a hospital for under 75,000 quid? Amazing.)
Otherwise, the islanders are just doing what they usually do: making the best
of things. While they're waiting for the new hospital, they've arranged for a
South African fishing vessel to ferry out a second-hand X-ray machine when it
sails next week.
Now, consider by way of contrast, the inhabitants of what George W. Bush
amusingly calls "the great state of California." Once upon a time, California
was, like they say of Tristan da Cunha, "the furthest thing," at least in
terms of the North American continent. Today, with a population the size of
Canada's, it's one of the world's largest economies, the home base of
America's biggest industry -- entertainment. But inside many a studio
vice-president is a Tristan da Cunha islander trying to get out. Deep in
their hearts (assuming, for the purposes of discussion, that studio
vice-presidents have hearts), they share the same rugged virtues as the
Tristanians, though they prefer something a little better than a $100,000
hospital and they've no desire to scrape a living from catching crawfish, but
if the pool boy wants to have a go up the deep end he's welcome to try.
And therein lies the contradiction. California's self-inflicted energy crisis
has exposed the preposterousness of poseur-conservationism in a booming
economy. Which state has the most rigorous conservation program? California.
Which has the lowest per capita electricity consumption? California. And
which state is panicking at the prospect of a summer of rolling blackouts? By
now impeccably progressive California should have learned the hard way that
conservation is not a viable policy for a non-stagnant economy.
Instead, a rolling blackout here, a rolling blackout there, and they're
running around like headless chickens. Governor Gray Davis is lashing out at
everyone in sight -- Bush and Cheney are "irresponsible," the power
generators are "unconscionable" -- no, wait, they're "snakes" and "robber
barons." And how do you treat unconscionable robber snakes like Ken Lay, CEO
of Enron Corp.? "I would love," said Bill Lockyer, California's
Attorney-General, "to personally escort Lay to an 8x10 cell that he could
share with a tattooed dude who says, 'Hi, my name is Spike, honey.' "
As the state's Attorney-General, Mr. Lockyer cannot summarily sentence
citizens to anal rape, but no doubt, once the guy's convicted, he can make
some quiet recommendations as to appropriate cell mates. Fortunately for Mr.
Lay, as chief exec of the world's largest energy trader, he doesn't live in
California, he lives in Texas. Indeed, very few of the folks the State of
California would like to sic Spike on are within their jurisdiction:
Doubtless the taxpayers of British Columbia, whose BC Hydro has been living
high off the hog on California's woes, could also use a little light buggery,
but I can't see a Canadian court approving extradition. Nevertheless, in a
state that's over-regulated, bans new power plants and is addicted to price
caps, Mr. Lockyer has ingeniously managed to come up with yet another
disincentive for anybody in the energy business to relocate to La-la-land.
California bought into the soft-eco Sierra Club illusion -- that somehow one
could be a conservationist, with no consequences for one's economic
well-being. To put it in terms Californians can understand: Suppose you build
a house out in the desert. But you don't want to buy a car, because that's
bad for the environment, isn't it? So instead every morning you call a
taxicab in the city to drive out, pick you up and take you into the office.
Not only does it have no environmental benefit but there's no point bitching
and whining because the driver charges you a fare that bears no relation to
the cost of gas.
Yet that's what Governor Davis and the Anal Attorney are demanding: price
caps. Through its own incompetence, California is wholly dependent on energy
generators and distributors from other jurisdictions. But it expects those
companies to forgo the interests of their own stockholders and service
California -- i.e., Hollywood and Silicon Valley -- as an act of public
welfare. "A 500% profit is swine-like, piggish and totally unreasonable,"
says Medea Benjamin of the California human rights group Global Exchange.
She may have a point, but, if California's going to institute price caps,
they might like to start closer to home. After all, if Enron's board members
don't really need those big salaries, do Paramount's or Universal's? I mean,
sure, Ken Lay has an easy job, but how difficult is it for an exec honcho in
Century City to sit at a desk and greenlight another John Travolta flop every
couple of months? I mean, surely, the guy could do the job on, oh, $25,000 a
year. And that'd be good for conservation, 'cause he'd have to give up the
Merc and the Cherokee and the LearJet and take the bus. And how about
Travolta? Instead of $20-million per picture, maybe he could get by on just
two or three and the remaining $17-million could be put into those renewable
energy projects he's so keen on. I mean, a $20-million salary isn't just
swine-like, it's piggish, right?
Since its entry into the Union, California has had what we 19th-century
imperialists call "responsible government." Tristan da Cunha doesn't. Yet its
community leaders are behaving far more maturely and responsibly than
California's. Gray Davis is acting not like the elected Governor of an
American state but the appointed Governor of a Crown colony, feverishly
cabling head office to send somebody out to rescue him. You're on your own,
man. And, if California conservationists find rolling blackouts too onerous,
they should try spending a week in the dark, cut off from the outside world
and knowing that, even when the radio starts working again, it's going to
take months for the second-hand X-ray machine to arrive.