The Crooks in the White House

This is exciting. Will Dick Cheney keel over from his fifth heart attack before he becomes the first veep since Spiro Agnew to resign in the face of charges of financial crookery? Or will Bush fire him to divert attention from his own seamy business past?

Over last weekend President Dumbo poked his head above the rubble of the WorldCom scandal and made a stand: “No violation of the public’s trust will be tolerated… Executives who commit fraud will face financial penalties and, when they are guilty of criminal wrongdoing, they will face jail time.”

Sunday morning brought more ringing pledges to protect the public weal: “If anybody violates the law, we go after them”, SEC chairman Harvey Pitt told Sam Donaldson on ABC’s This Week.

In an earlier incarnation Pitt was one of the guys who successfully lobbied the SEC to make it easier for Arthur Andersen and the other big accounting firms to cook the books on behalf of Enron, MCI/WorldCom and others.

Bush, flush with campaign contributions from Enron, MCI/WorldCom ($100,000 last summer), duly signalled his gratitude by putting Pitt in charge of the SEC, where he put the agency in snooze mode amid a ripening cloud of scandal involving the biggest names in corporate America.

But even Pitt couldn’t choke off the investigation into Halliburton, one of the largest oil service companies in the world, headed until July, 2000, by Cheney who was the company’s CEO.

The SEC is probing whether Halliburton reported over $100 million in disputed costs on big oil contracts as revenues so that it could prop up its profits while negotiating a merger with a rival, Dresser Industries. These accounting shennanigans took place in 1998 on Cheney’s watch, and yes, the accounting firm was Arthur Andersen. (Small world. Dresser was the company Bush Sr worked for in the early days in Texas.)

Noting Bush’s promise that CEOs “who have mismanaged their company in some fraudulent way will have to pay”, Donaldson asked Pitt, “Will that be the case with Halliburton if you find wrongdoing under Mr. Cheney’s reign?”

Quivering with integrity, Pitt bravely declared, “I head an independent regulatory agency. We don’t give anyone a pass.”

What else could he say? Up till now the Halliburton scandal has been rumbling along, just under the radar. But now it’s nearing critical mass. Hence it may not be long too before Dick Cheney announces that on doctor’s orders, and the better to deal with these outrageous accusations of chicanery, he’s stepping down, which is, if you believe friends of Tom Ridge in Philadelphia, what Cheney waplanning to do before 9/11, making way for the former Pennsylvania governor.

Of course anyone with a memory longer than the day before yesterday would have doubled over with laughter at the spectacle of Bush calling for jail time for corporate crooks.
Remember Spectrum? Back in 1986 George W. Bush’s oil company, Spectrum, was about to go belly up, until kind friends folded it in to Harken Energy. Various accounts, including the Daily Enron site, narrate that from being on the threshold of the debtor’s prison, Bush suddenly had $500,000 worth of Harken stock, an $80,000-a-year salary and a stock option arrangement that allowed him to buy Harken stock at 40 per cent below market value. Bush made more than a million off Harken, even though the company itself lost a ton of money.

Sounds familiar? Here’s more, culled from the Daily Enron site. Bush also borrowed $180,375 from the company – a loan that was later “forgiven”, in accordance with Christ’s instructions on the subject of sinners. (In 1989 and 1990 alone – according to the company’s Securities and Exchange Commission filing – Harken’s board “forgave” $341,000 in loans to its executives.)

Now it’s spring 1990. Iraq is menacing Kuwait and thereby casting a shadow over Harken Energy’s only pending contract, a drilling project in Bahrain. Harken’s financial advisors, Smith Barney, have just issued a bleak assessment of the company’s position and future. Harken sets up a “restructuring board” and Bush is on it.

In June 1990 claiming ignorance of Harken’s desperate plight and the Smith Barney report, Bush sells his 212,140 shares of Harken Energy for $848,560.00.

The sale falls under the SEC’s insider stock sale rule requiring almost immediate formal notice, but Bush does not report the sale until seven months later. At the time the SEC is headed by George H. Bush’s appointee, Richard Breeden.

Bush sells his Harken stock less than thirty days after his father’s National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft, sent the President a secret memo warning that hostilities between Iraq and Kuwait were likely. As the Daily Enron asks , ” Did dad share this information with his son? If so, W. Bush traded on “non-public” information of an extraordinary nature indeed.”

Sure enough, two months after Bush Jr made his killing, the shit hits the fan in the Gulf, and Harken’s shares go south, losing 25 per cent of their value the day Saddam sends his troops into Kuwait. If Bush hadn’t baled out he’d have lost $250,000.

Sure, this is old stuff, just like Whitewater. And they talk about this man restoring “trust” in the White House?

The Incredible Shrinking President (continued)

Derisive comments about Bush, particularly on his current role as Ariel Sharon’s errand boy continue to flow in from foreign shores. In Britain the Sunday Telegraph ran a piece last week by John Simpson, BBC World Affairs editor, quoting senior civil servants in Whitehall, normally a purse-lipped bunch, particularly on the topic of a US president, as scathing on the topic of President Dumbo, describing his policies, particularly on trade and the Middle East as “puerile”, “absurdly ignorant” and “ludicrous”.

Meanwhile the dollar continues to plunge and the stock market market dithers around in the toilet.

I’ll say this for the Pres. He’s lucky, just like Bill. Of course under Bill the country felt it was sharing in the luck, whereas under W it’s been one damn thing after another. Thus far the history of the Bush Presidency has been the history of falling masonry. President Rubble. But, just like Bill, W. has been the huge beneficiary of Terror. With Bill it was the Oklahoma Bombing. It turned his presidency around. With W it was 9/11. Without it he’d be a laughing stock inside the national jurisdiction as well as overseas.

And now he’s has the gift of a California court’s ruling that the pledge of allegiance runs counter to the Constitution, thereby allowing every politician in the country up to and including W the pleasures of posturing in front of the flag and declaring unflagging trust in God, who is doing little or nothing these days to merit such childish confidence.

Welcome to Bush’s America, where the Supreme Court has now ruled that vouchers are okay. So a child is free to go to Catholic School at public expense and be sodomized by a priest, preferably while both recite the pledge of allegiance.

My own view is that the Pledge should be compulsory for children at school, along with prayer. As I always say, a childish mind not innoculated with compulsory religion is open to any infection. Make smoking compulsory too, along with training in weaponry from small arms up to heavy artillery. It would swiftly revive the peace movement. Five prostrations to the Flag a day, a twofer for the Muslims in our midst.

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Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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