Rock the Cash Box

The Halliburton(s): They not only sing, but they talk economics as good as they rock

You may be going tone-deaf from listening to Bush's band of neocons. Time, then, for the Halliburton(s), protest rockers in Dallas who recently returned from a Lick Bush '04 tour of Ireland, where they played with the likes of White Cholera and Christy Moore. (See the poster for a June 25 Bush Comes to Shove gig in Dublin here.)

This summer, they've also been eagerly plugging it in right outside the offices of Dick Cheney's Halliburton in Texas, and are trying to line up gigs in New York for next week's Bush-league coronation.

This band, promoting what frontman Nat Berg calls "town-hall resistance-rock democracy," has some special numbers: Berg is a 31-year-old economics professor at the University of Texas–Dallas, and he's a prof with chops: He was a jazz-bass prodigy who got rave reviews in New York City when he was a teen playing with Maynard Ferguson, and later turned to Zappa-inspired rock. Along the way, he got a Ph.D. in economics. (Berg is the Cecil and Ida Green Assistant Professor of Economics and Political Economy in UT-Dallas's School of Social Sciences.) As a result, his bullshit detector has a built-in number cruncher.

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"The reason I think it's nice to have economists around," Berg tells me, "is to check that assertions about public policy issues—like taxes, health insurance, and the need for war—hang together." And many of those assertions, of course, don't.

"The gaping logical holes in the arguments put forth by the Bush administration," Berg says, "imply that Bush policy is made either by stupid people or by profoundly dishonest propagandists who feel unconstrained by fact. They are the most dramatic and successful postmodernists I can think of: making up their own highly subjective and impressionistic discourse while asserting that it can be reality—and pressuring enough media-mogul buddies to make it the reality of 35 to 40 percent of Americans."

OK, let's spin some platters. Here's a snatch of the group's tune "Lick Bush." Click here for all of the lyrics. Following is the first part:

Sipping their tea
They thought the children playing outside were safe, though not free
Now freed by bombs and smart missiles, You dead Iraqi
Your leader's mad and so is dad [dad Bush]
The Bushes cannot see
They cover dirt and
Lie to me, Spy on me, My money
War's not for free
Look out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
Sickened baby, a deal for Cheney
I know you can
Lick Bush: throw that crew out the back door
We got a new song, sing it loud on into '04
You fly first class, I sit near the back door
Just to say so, isn't a class war. Depressed chads, push, Lick Bush

We're back. And we're talking with Nat Berg of the Halliburton(s) about how the Bush regime is always touting its "conservative" creds, when in fact it ain't very conservative.

"The trade policies of the Bush administration," Berg says, "amount to anti-competitive giveaways to Bush cronies, rather than any principled implementation of conservative economics. I am not a conservative economist. But these contradictions, together with the huge expansion of federal expenditures and unprecedented budget deficits, should offend principled conservatives and inspire wrath from the economic right."

Reminder: The company from which this band stole its name is one of those cronies. See 4.3 billion reasons why that happened, courtesy of the Center for Public Integrity. (And if the thorough work on defense contractors by another watchdog, POGO, doesn't make you hit the roof, well then, Casper, you just can't jump.)

Berg grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, a breeding ground for dissent since it was founded by New England abolitionists in 1854. Among other notables, New York commie-lover Ron Kuby went to school there, at the University of Kansas; Boston Herald sportswriter and erstwhile Village poet George Kimball ran for sheriff in Lawrence as a two-fisted hippie back in '70; and William Burroughs spent his retirement years in the progressive town. In "one of the biggest media events of the '80s," shortly after I left there, Lawrence was nuked in the film The Day After. Its many stalwart citizens, including the Reverend Tim Miller's kith and kin, survived unbowed.

Berg, likewise, is unafraid. "We have played several protest gigs in front of the Halliburton corporation," he tells me, "and we face counterprotesters. We invite the disagreements. It's a microcosm of what the nation is going through."

Money talks, and it always will, but that doesn't excuse the current doublespeak that Berg tries to untangle. Now let's hear a little more from the Halliburton(s). This ditty is "Close Your Mind." (Listen here. See the lyrics.)

We're back. I'm wrapping it up with Nat Berg of the Halliburton(s), who's explaining how his two loves—economics and music—fit together.

"I want more competition in the economy," says Berg, "especially in the realm of ideas, and less senseless spending that serves only to enforce an unfair social hierarchy built on illegitimately gotten and inherited wealth, rather than anything approximating merit. You can see why George Bush exemplifies the problem—and is therefore a favorite song subject for me."

Most of the media don't do their jobs in reporting any administration's economic policies, he notes. (Let me add that we're really in trouble when major vulture capitalists like Pete Peterson blast the Bush regime for going too far.)

Berg says: "When the press—with notable exceptions, like the Voice, gratefully acknowledged—are, in the aggregate, failing to provide a transparent window into the decisions of the White House, then it falls to artists to make noise and, if possible, turn out angry voters in the street.

"Michael Moore is cool for what he is. But in the pundit class, there are so few with both fangs and facts. There are de-fanged, fact-equipped critics who ramble, and there are fun but rather fact-light rabble-rousers who, at best, enliven the left. Who can do it and pack a punch? That's why I'm an economist. And that's why I'm a protest rocker."

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