The Hightower Lowdown

PG&E's shell game, Bush Incorporated & Nestle's genetic engineering

PG&E's Flim-Flam

You don't have to go to a carnival side show to get suckered by the old shell game -- all you've got to do is be a customer of Pacific Gas and Electric, California's giant utility.

It's true that poor Pacific Gas and Electric is bedeviled by rolling blackouts, and it just filed one of the largest bankruptcies in history. This company is portrayed as the poster child of California's deregulation plan that left big utilities like it at the mercy of money-grubbing, out-of-state power traders.

Before you get weepy over Pacific's woes, however, consider three points. First, this utility demanded, helped write, and then lobbied through the legislature the deregulation plan it's now whining about. Second, Pacific Gas and Electric is a wholly owned subsidiary of PG&E Corporation, which also happens to be the third-largest power trader in America. Much of PG&E's power-trading profits come from selling power at high rates to California utilities, including its own subsidiary, Pacific Gas and Electric!

Third, while Pacific Gas and Electric is in bankruptcy, its parent company, PG&E, is wallowing in money. PG&E says it can't be held responsible for its subsidiary's debts, because it quietly snuck off to federal energy regulators just three months prior to Pacific Gas and Electric's bankruptcy filing and restructured the corporation in a way that separates the assets and profits of PG&E from its own utility.

An audit reveals that the utility recently funneled $4 billion to its parent corporation. So, the money it could have spent on efforts to avoid the rolling blackouts went instead to the very corporate structure that now washes its hands of its utility's debt.

It's a shell game scam that would embarrass a flim-flam man.

The Company Bush Keeps

Not content to fill his cabinet with corporate CEOs, directors, and lobbyists, George W. Bush is trying to corporatize all the other top policy-making positions of government, too.

Take the Defense Department, the most bureaucratic, wasteful, fraud-ridden agency of all, which funnels billions of our tax dollars each year into the pockets of such weapons makers as Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics. So guess who George chose to be secretary of the Air Force? James Roche, vice-president of Northrop Grumman, which happens to be seeking billions of dollars in new contracts from the Air Force. For secretary of the Navy, George chose Gordon England, vice-president of General Dynamics -- which happens to be seeking billions of dollars in new contracts from the Navy.

Bush has named Linda Fisher to be deputy administrator of the EPA. She was top Washington lobbyist for Monsanto, which is seeking many environmental favors from the EPA. Also, to head the Council on Environmental Quality, George chose James Conaughton, a Washington attorney for General Electric, ARCO, and other polluters. To be number two at the Interior Department, which oversees mining on public lands, Bush picked J. Steven Griles, a lobbyist for the National Mining Association.

A spokesman for a corporate-funded think tank praised George W for putting these corporate creatures in charge of agencies that can benefit their former employers: "Who better to know how the business runs than those who have run the business?" he said. Of course, that's exactly the problem -- the people who were outside experts at twisting government to serve corporate interests are now on the inside to do the twisting. The only difference is their location -- and the fact that their paychecks now come from us taxpayers, rather than from the corporations they serve.

There's no pretending in this administration about who's in charge -- our government is now openly controlled by Bush Incorporated.

Reformulating Nestle

Many mothers today are unwittingly putting something in the mouths of their babies without realizing where it comes from. The something is infant formula made by Nestle Inc., which markets its formula under such brand names as Alsoy, Good Start, and Follow-up. Mothers know from reading the package that these baby formulas are made from soybeans. What Nestle doesn't tell mothers, however, is that these are not nature's own soybeans, but ones that have been genetically engineered.

Such biotech manipulation of the genetic makeup of soybeans has not been tested for its long-term impact on human health, nor is there a medical monitoring program in place to detect health problems that might derive from consuming Nestle's Frankenfoods. Infants are especially vulnerable, for their bodies are so tiny and their only source of nutrition might be this genetically altered formula. Yet Nestle has fought every effort to require labeling to inform American mothers, so they can decide for themselves whether they want to put this stuff in their babies' mouths.

In Germany, where there's been a widespread campaign against genetic tampering, Nestle agreed back in 1996 to quit using genetically engineered ingredients in the baby food products. Why not do the same here? A corporate official airily dismisses this notion, declaring that Nestle is "providing our consumers in each market with the products they want and with the information they need." Earth to Nestle: If you don't provide the information, how do you know we want the product?

A citizen's action group called has launched a campaign calling on Nestle to stop messing with our babies:

Jim Hightower's latest book, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, is now available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.
For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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