United States of Enron

Whether it was intentional or not, Bush family buddies at Enron pretty much ran the nation's energy policy in the early days of the Dubya presidency.

During and right after the presidential election of 2000, Enron took steps in California to manipulate markets so as to deepen the crisis. An internal company memo prepared by Enron attorneys on Dec. 6, 2000, describes a series of subterfuges with Hollywood names, in which the firm sought to make money by screwing up the market, then getting the state to pay it billions for straightening out the fake mess. At the heart of this operation was a unit called Enron Energy Services, run at the time by Thomas White, now secretary of the Army.

According to Public Citizen, "White's division traded more than 11 million megawatts of electricity in the California market alone, making nearly 98 percent of these trades with other Enron divisions at astronomical prices up to $2,500 per megawatt hour (the standard price at the time was less than $340 per megawatt hour)."

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., the company was paying Quinn Gillespie & Associates, a Washington lobby shop, more than half a million dollars in the first seven months of 2001 to lobby the "Executive Office of the President" on the "California electric crisis," according to the lobbying-disclosure report filed with Congress on April 10, 2001. Ed Gillespie, the firm's co-founder, was former communications director at the Republican National Committee and a top Bush adviser during the campaign. Quinn Gillespie was lobbying to prevent the federal government from delving into the crisis and re-regulating electricity.

By this time, Bush himself was spouting the line that the people of California would just have to face up to the crisis of their own making. On Jan. 30, 2001, the new president sought to distance his administration from the California energy crisis, arguing that his energy task force would seek long-term remedies, not short-term fixes. Bush said he believed California's energy-deregulation plan was to blame for the state's problem, which "is going to be best remedied in California by Californians."

Bush then tried to change the subject by pushing Enron's interests in another area, the petroleum reserves of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). "How do we encourage conservation on the one hand and bring more energy into the marketplace? And a good place to look is going to be ANWR," said Bush. "And I campaigned hard on the notion of having an environmentally sensitive exploration to ANWR, and I think we can do so."

What politicians in Washington have known for years is that the Alaska debate is code for the more serious efforts by the oil and gas industry to find a way to transport Alaskan natural gas to the lower 48, eventually through a pipeline across Canada and into the Midwest. As the leading broker in natural gas and owner of the nation's largest natural-gas pipeline, Enron's future was closely tied to such gas imports.

Behind the scenes, Enron CEO Ken Lay himself was twisting arms. Curtis Hebert Jr., head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), told The New York Times that he had received a phone call from Ken Lay early in 2001. Hebert knew Lay was a friend of the Bush family and a heavy contributor to the Bush campaign. Lay asked him to push for faster and deeper deregulation in electricity. If he did so, Hebert recalled, Lay said he'd continue to back him within the administration; if not, the implication was there would be a new chairman. "I was offended," Hebert told the Times. Lay subsequently denied he was trying to force out Hebert, who was replaced by Pat Wood.

All through these early days of the Bush administration, Lay and other Enron executives were consulting on policy matters with Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force.

Even with Enron in shambles, Bush's Enron bandwagon keeps rolling along. The president recently nominated Joseph Kelliher to FERC. On March 18, Kelliher—a top official of the Department of Energy—asked in an e-mail to a key natural-gas-industry lobbyist, "If you were King or Il Duce, what would you include in a national energy policy, especially with respect to natural gas issues? I am working up the policy elements and am less confident of my judgment on gas pipeline issues than other areas, and thought I would pick your brain."

WING AND A SLAYER
Since the start of the war on terrorism last autumn, more than twice as many U.S. troops have died in crashes of aircraft around the world than were killed by hostile forces. The latest figure, 23 dead in downed choppers or planes, doesn't include recent losses on training runs closer to home and stands in stark contrast to the 10 slain (eight of those in aircraft) by Talib or al-Qaida soldiers. American service members, some merely wounded, have fallen from the sky in accidents involving fighter jets, tanker planes, and a B-1 bomber—all without enemy fire.

In Afghanistan, an incomplete list of downings includes outright crashes and hard landings. On Nov. 2, four soldiers were hurt when an Army Special Forces chopper crashed in bad weather. On Nov. 20, a Marine Chinook 46 crash-landed, with four injured. On Jan. 20 of this year, a Marine Sikorsky transport helicopter crashed, killing two and wounding five. On Jan. 28, 16 soldiers of the 101st Airborne were harmed when their Chinook made a hard landing near Khost.

As the war expanded into the Philippines, an army MH-47E chopper crashed over the Pacific in February, killing all 10 troops aboard. And just last week, on May 8, two Navy T-39 Sabreliner jets went down near Pensacola, Florida, claiming the lives of seven passengers —among them two civilians and a Saudi air officer.

Military insiders say the rash of downings stems from the obvious increase in flight time, both for combat and training. Pentagon whistle-blower Chuck Spinney discounted the age of the fleet, saying aircraft should be continually overhauled anyway. Spinney said there are other forces at work. "In Afghanistan, one of the factors is the altitude and wind conditions," he said. "It gets more difficult to fly in the mountains. You have updrafts and downdrafts and side drafts, and in a combat situation, you may be tempted to land too fast. Another reason is just the gobs and gobs of dust.

"Blaming it on age is a very dangerous thing," Spinney continued. "The Marines in part want you to believe that the age is a problem because they want these V-22s"—a next-generation chopper—"which are a piece of shit."

A May 11 article in The New York Times mentioned that "thousands of satellite photographs of Afghanistan lay idly in storage at the height of the American military campaign." Could the lack of adequate maps have played a role? Were the deaths from poor training or musty equipment? One Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment. Another said the number of crashes didn't seem unusual to him.

Additional reporting by Gabrielle Jackson, Meritxell Mir and Michael Ridley.
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