All ready for the long overdue return of our favorite bad boy President?
No, I don't mean Willy.
Georgy's (or would that be Gyorgy?) up at bat again, with smarmy pictures for sale to rich supporters and stories of long-ago victories just waiting to be again once-told.
The most relevant factoid you must never forget about those Bushes (no matter how hard you try) is how easily their personal failings (lies, illegal actions, false testimony, deaths, etc.) can be forgotten by the all-forgiving American populace, and how little they themselves remember of their own lives (according to the public statements they make).
Daddy George H. W. Bush jumps to first place in the queue by virtue of his own lack of memory about where he was on the day of the Kennedy assassination in 1963 (Dallas, right - there's proof of this in several different studies). Or how he was out-of-the-loop on Iran-Contra (even though he had been head of the CIA before being Vice President during this time under Reagan (who said, essentially, that he didn't remember either - must have been a brain virus going around then) when all these nefarious doings were taking place out of sight of the American press).
Dubya, dubious Dubya, is all ready to reclaim his lost crown of glory/ineptitude after doing a short sentence in a glittering Dallas palace (residence) as his policies took firm root in the country (and out of it). And he didn't have to wear the anklets or not travel to fund raisers galore (but travel out of the country was a mite dangerous to his "freedom").
I could go on, but the articles below should help to reframe just exactly why he left office under a cloud that only deepened after he departed (and eventually encompassed everyone). And how "everybody's doing it now" as it worked so well with the public's sense of right behavior heretofore.
Friday, 16 May 2014
The only article I ever had published in The Nation involved the offspring of a powerful politician trading on his White House connections to advance his private fortune. The piece was written 12 years ago, as the Enron scandal was breaking. (And boy, doesn't that seem several centuries ago now, looking back over the vast flooded plains of blood and ruin that our bipartisan elites have bequeathed us since then.)
It was a short article, dealing with the key role that the accounting firm Arthur Andersen had played both in the unfolding Enron morass in 2002 and the murky political machinations that kept George W. Bush from facing charges over what appeared to be a fairly flagrant - and highly profitable - bout of insider trading in 1990. That was when yet another Bush business was bailed out - yet again - by sugar daddies currying favor with his sour daddy in the White House; in this case, Harken Energy. Bush became a company director and member of the audit committee - then cashed out just weeks before Harken's stock took a deep dive.
The deal netted L'il Dub a cool $800,000+, while ordinary investors in the company took an acid bath. The hijinks were so blatant the SEC was forced to investigate but in the end declined to take "enforcement action" against the president's son. However, as I noted in the article, the SEC made a point of declaring that
this [decision] "must in no way be construed as indicating that the party has been exonerated or that no action may ultimately result from the staff's investigation." (Of course, this has never stopped Bush from claiming that he was "exonerated" by the SEC.)
All in all, the Harken caper was pretty small beer when viewed against the Bush Family's mammoth record of corruption, going back many decades, mixing politics and private profit with a cheerful amorality that easily encompassed mobsters, tyrants, gun-runners, drug dealers, religious extremists, spies and, yes, the Nazis.
I wrote a lot about this interesting history (as did others, most notably Robert Parry), and always found a ready audience on the left eager to see, rightly, the true face of American power - sleazy, greasy, brutal, cold - in the machinations of this clan of ruthless clowns.
But I don’t think we will see an equal eagerness to pursue a very similar story that broke this week about the offspring of a powerful politician trading on his White House connections to advance his private fortunes. And unlike the Harken deal (although not dissimilar from many other Bush Family deals, including the one with German fascists), this particular piece of elite corruption could have — or is already having — deadly international consequences.
We speak, of course, of the news that the son of the US Vice President, and the stepson of the US Secretary of State, have been given lucrative positions with a Ukrainian energy firm whose future fortunes depend on the Kyiv coup regime’s control of western Ukraine — where pro-Russian forces are in the ascendant. As Yahoo News reports:
In the span of a few weeks, an energy firm little-known inside the United States added two members to its board of directors — scoring connections to Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden in the bargain.
On April 22, Cyprus-based Burisma announced that financier Devon Archer had joined its board. Archer, who shared a room in college with Kerry’s stepson, Christopher Heinz, served as national finance co-chair for the former senator’s 2004 presidential campaign.
Then, on Monday, the firm announced that Biden’s younger son, R. Hunter Biden, would join the board of directors.
Why would the company, which bills itself as Ukraine’s largest private gas producer, need such powerful friends in Washington?
The answer might be the company’s holdings in Ukraine. They include, according to the firm’s website, permits to explore in the Dnieper-Donets Basin in the country’s eastern regions, home to an armed pro-Russian separatist movement. They also include permits to explore in the Azov-Kuban Basin of the strategic Crimean peninsula, annexed earlier this year by Moscow.
So: a Ukrainian energy firm with holdings in pro-Russian Ukraine has just hired the son of the US Vice President — who has been Washington’s point man in supporting the coup regime in Kyiv — to a prominent and no doubt well-remunerated position. At the same time, Washington has been fierce and forceful in its support for the Kyiv regime’s violent efforts to quell the kind of opposition in Western Ukraine that it employed to take power in the capital; i.e., occupation of public spaces with the support of armed militias, with support from foreign entities (the Kremlin in eastern Ukraine; Washington (and US oligarchs) in Kyiv).
America policy in Ukraine — securing control of eastern Ukraine by the Kyiv regime, and, if possible, the rollback of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea — has now become directly tied to the personal family fortunes of the American Vice President and Secretary of State. In what way is this remotely differently from the corruption of the Bush Family that once stuck so painfully in “progressive” craws? And yet, is it even remotely conceivable that we will see the same angry attention to this blatant baksheesh that we saw back in those Bush Regime days of yore?
UPDATE: It looks like L’il Hunter and Devon might be in high cotton. On Thursday night, the New York Times reports that Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man and once a major backer of Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian president, Victor Yanukovich, has now thrown his support and his money behind the American-backed Kyiv regime.
According to the Times (which of course doesn’t breathe a word of Akhmetov’s unsavoury past), Akhmetov has ordered “his” workers onto the streets of Mariupol, Donetsk and other eastern Ukrainian cities to reassert the control of the Kyiv government. The pro-Russian forces have “melted away,” even in Donetsk, ground zero of the resistance, and oligarchical control is being re-established.
Of course, Akhmetov has long-standing ties to John McCain and his rightwing network, so it’s not surprising to see him turning his ermine coat this way and that as the prevailing winds blow across Ukraine. The oligarchs are banding together on every side of the ostensible conflict — Ukranian, Russian, Republican, Democrat — and the fix, as always, as ever, is in.
So good luck, Hunter! I expect we’ll see you on a national ticket someday — maybe with Chelsea Clinton — running against one Bush or another, with Ukrainian oil money (suitably laundered) pouring into your campaign coffers — and into that future Bush campaign as well.
* (See bottom of essay for comments.)
January 30, 2002
George W. Bush must be feeling an acute sense of déjà vu these days, as the dubious dealings of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, LLP take center stage in the Enron scandal. Because the last time Bush was entangled in charges of insider trading and influence-peddling - during the 1991 federal investigation of his sale of oil company stock - Andersen was right in the thick of things.
In June 1990 Bush sold his shares in Harken Energy Corporation, the "white knight" that had rescued his failing Spectrum 7 oil company in 1986. (Spectrum had itself stepped in to save Bush's failing Arbusto Energy Inc. in 1984.)
Harken was selling at $4 a share at the time of the sale, which netted Bush $835,000, according to the Washington Post. He used the money to pay off the loan he had taken out to buy into the Texas Rangers - the deal that ultimately made him a multimillionaire in his own right.
Two months after Bush sold his shares, Harken announced unexpected second-quarter losses, and the stock price tumbled.
This left Bush, a Harken director and member of the firm's audit committee, exposed to accusations of insider trading: dumping stock before the company's troubles became public knowledge.
What's more, Bush failed to report the sale to the Securities and Exchange Commission until eight months after the required deadline. The SEC launched an investigation - a tricky business for a federal agency when the target happens to be the President's son.
Bush denied all charges of impropriety, and the probe ended ambiguously. The SEC declined to take any "enforcement action" against Bush, but the agency's associate director for enforcement, Bruce Hiler, noted that this "must in no way be construed as indicating that the party has been exonerated or that no action may ultimately result from the staff's investigation." (Of course, this has never stopped Bush from claiming that he was "exonerated" by the SEC.)
So where does Andersen come in? At a key juncture - just as in the Enron case. Bush sold his stock on June 22, 1990. Less than two weeks before, on June 11, he and the other members of the audit board (including Harken's president, former Arthur Andersen accountant Mikel Faulkner) met with Harken's accountants: Arthur Andersen.
But according to Robert Jordan, Bush's lawyer during the SEC probe, neither the accountants nor the committee members discussed the company's budget woes at that meeting - despite the fact that Harken was about to take a hefty $23.2 million loss for the second quarter of the fiscal year, which was just ending at that time.
The minutes of the meeting would verify this claim of blissful (and profitable) ignorance, Jordan told the Washington Post, in a campaign profile of Bush in 1999. But Harken refused to release those records. As with Dick Cheney's energy panel, we simply have to take the assertions of integrity on faith.
Bush has maintained a cozy relationship with Andersen executives over the years. In fact, according to the Center for Public Integrity, Andersen's ties to the Bush Administration rival those of Enron. Andersen has given Bush more than $200,000 since 1998 alone.
Stephen Goddard Jr., the managing partner of Andersen's Houston office - and supervisor of David Duncan, now being left to twist slowly in the wind for the firm's frantic shredding of documents - was part of Bush's inner circle of "Pioneers": big money men pledged to bring in $100,000 or more to Bush campaign coffers. Goddard has been relieved of his management duties in the wake of the scandal.
In all, Andersen has spent more than $8 million on lobbying, campaign contributions and "soft money" since 1998, says CPI. Some of that money went toward a special interest that Andersen shared with Enron, and with Bush: energy deregulation. Two of its Aandersen's former lobbyists, Nicholas Calio and Kirsten Chadwick, now work for the White House as part of Bush's Legislative Affairs Office.\
It remains to be seen if Bush will back away from his Andersen connections as quickly as he has dropped his old pal and financial patron, "Kenny Boy" Lay, Enron's founder. (It's not for nothing that Bush's handlers have taken pains to have him photographed with a biography of Theodore Roosevelt lately. Teddy was infamous for courting the favor - and money - of the magnates of his day, then turning on them when the political winds shifted. "We bought him, but he didn't stay bought," the bosses used to say.)
But Bush's old pals and financial patrons at Harken were way ahead of the game. They severed their longtime relationship with Andersen on August 28, 2001 - just two weeks after Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling's sudden resignation on August 15 gave the first signal that something was rotten in the state of Texas.
Harken didn't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Bush may be a bit slower on the uptake, but watch for him to tack sharply away from the Andersen shoals in the coming weeks. "Arthur Andersen? Never met the man. Isn't he that guy who ran against my dad back in 1980? He's no friend of mine."
What unites the midterm election results, the Federal Reserve's decision to spend another $600 billion to keep interest rates down, the failure to address the foreclosure crisis, and America's worsening relations with its G-20 partners? And, more generally, what explains the Obama Administration's toothless response to the financial crisis, in particular its reversion to status quo regulatory and economic policies, over the past two years?
In making my documentary on the financial crisis, Inside Job, I obsessed over these questions. Some argue that President Obama, as a matter of individual personality, is averse to confrontation; others say that, lacking financial experience while being forced to confront the most severe crisis since the Great Depression, he was hostage to his campaign advisers, who happened to be Clinton-era insiders who had helped cause the crisis. Gradually, however, I have come to a different conclusion, one based on a more fundamental, structural problem in American politics.
My answer is this: far from being in an era of brutal partisan warfare, as conventional wisdom holds and as watching the nightly television news might suggest, the United States is now in the grip of a political duopoly in which both parties are thoroughly complicit.
They play a game: they agree to fight viciously over certain things to retain the allegiance of their respective bases, while agreeing not to fight about anything that seriously endangers the privileges of America's new financial elites. Whether this duopoly will endure, and what to do about it, are perhaps the most important questions facing Americans. The current arrangement all but guarantees the continuing decline of the United States as a nation, and of the welfare of the bottom 90% of its citizens.
First, consider Obama Administration policy. The Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates down, which greatly enriches the financial services industry. And while, to its rare credit, the Obama Administration has sought to repeal some of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, it has avoided any serious attempt to tax or control financial sector compensation, to recover any of the massive amounts taken by bankers during the bubble, to penalize or prosecute those who caused it, or to reverse the extraordinary rise in inequality that has transformed America over the last generation. The Republicans go even further in catering to the wealthy and the financial sector, but the differences are relatively minor.
The financial services industry and the most successful American multinational firms now obtain rapidly increasing fractions, often already the majority, of their investment, employees, and revenues from (a) other wealthy individuals and corporations and/or (b) outside the United States. Over the last two decades their political interests, contributions, and lobbying have gradually followed these larger trends. As a result, the political duopoly has overseen a massive disinvestment in the future of the United States and the American people, and a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom 90% of the population to the top 1%. Taxes on dividends, high incomes, capital gains, and estates have sharply declined, while tuition at public universities, hours worked per family, household debt, and government deficits have all increased.
And yet there is, obviously, real political fighting out there. Of what, therefore, do these vicious partisan fights consist? The two parties and their supporters attack each other on vague ideological grounds (big government, being a Washington insider, socialism, whatever), issues of personnel and power (holding up Obama appointments, redistricting, earmarks), or, more excitingly, with regard to social values issues dear to their bases: abortion; gay rights; don't ask - don't tell; sex education versus religion in schools; guaranteed-health-insurance-as-socialism; gun control; welfare; global warming. On these issues, each side can credibly tell its base that defeat would mean real losses. People do care about abortion and gay rights, for excellent reasons, and so many people on both sides grudgingly continue to participate in the charade.
The losers, of course, are the American people, and particularly America's younger generation. For at least the bottom half of the population, America's educational system is a disaster, with our high school graduation rate at 78 percent and declining (versus, for example, 96 percent for South Korea and over 90 percent for most developed nations); broadband infrastructure generally rated at about 20th in the world; and gradually deteriorating physical infrastructure. Quietly, as inequality has grown and the financial sector rose to political power, the wealthy in America have constructed increasingly separate, parallel, and private infrastructure systems for themselves - elite private schools and universities, gated communities, private planes, the hedge fund universe.
The political duopoly arrangement, with its emphasis on intense fighting over values issues, serves to divert attention from the financial sector's "quiet coup," to use the economist Simon Johnson's phrase, and to divide potential opposition to it. People who should be aligned in calling for fairer taxes, campaign finance reform, stricter financial regulation, better public education, and investment in America's infrastructure are instead divided by their opposing views on gun control, abortion, and gay marriage. It is a strategy that has worked remarkably well for both parties.
Even so, the American people have begun to sense that the system is rigged, and the recent election results are partially a consequence of this. Fewer people are voting, more people are registering as independents, and voters are more willing to switch parties. Of course, as long as the duopoly holds, there is very little that they can do. The big question is: can it hold?
Forming third parties and social movements in this kind of situation is difficult. The financial sector and the wealthiest 0.1% of the country have the twin advantages of great wealth and great cohesion. America's election districts, campaign finance arrangements, and voting rules discourage populist third parties whose base would be dispersed and, individually, not at all wealthy.
At the same time, however, there are many precedents in American history for such a rebellion - the Progressive movement, FDR's post-Depression reforms, and more recently the nonpartisan civil rights, feminist, and environmental movements. In my personal conversations, I sense an emerging consensus based on nothing more complicated than a sense of basic honesty, fairness, and common sense, qualities which the American people still have in abundance. Let us hope that this can be translated into some organized force that can put an end to the present political cartel.
(Charles Ferguson is the director the documentary Inside Job, a documentary film about the financial crisis now playing in theaters nationwide. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from MIT.)