Uncle Shrub’s Cabin
PHILADELPHIA—As the Republican convention opened here, the celebrating delegates fervently mouthed the mantra that—despite the selection of a vice presidential candidate arguably to the right of Dan Quayle—George W. Bush had negotiated a new, upbeat politics that would leave in the dust the rancorous ideological debates of the last decade. After all, Bush senior had been a victim of right-wing fratricide in 1992, and young George has no intention of flaming out the way Poppy did.
Absent in the sticky Philadelphia heat was the drumbeat of the fire-breathing, nay-saying Christian Right. In its place, singing the praises of the Jesus-influenced candidate and following a script laid out by the Manhattan Institute, were Reverend Herbert H. Lusk II, the former “Praying Tailback” for the Philadelphia Eagles, whose Greater Exodus Baptist Church had been transformed into a Republican revivalist stomping ground, and Stephen Goldsmith, the ex-mayor of Indianapolis, who is Dubya’s main domestic-policy adviser. In June, Reverend Lusk told a GOP platform-drafting committee in Billings, Montana, that private, faith-based groups, such as his People for People, are better purveyors of social-welfare services than government welfare agencies. “The fact is, we are there—we do it better, and we do it cheaper,” Reverend Lusk said.
In the background on Sunday, thundering the gospel of the black church, was a mass choir. After an inspiring musical opening, the social scientists from the Manhattan Institute rolled out their charts and reported that kids who go to church in poor neighborhoods do fewer drugs and thus, churches, mosques, and synagogues “should be supported as uniquely qualified agencies of social control that matter a great deal in the lives of adolescents in America’s most disorganized and impoverished communities.”
Backing up this message was Jim Wallis, who for years has led the evangelical Sojourners group in opposition to the Christian Right, and Eugene Rivers, a populist black minister from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a powerful stump preacher. Also unveiling himself in his new role as preacher was Wilson Goode, the former Democratic mayor of Philadelphia who in 1985 OK’d the dropping of a bomb on MOVE headquarters. For years, the Republicans have salivated at the prospect of enlisting black supporters. Save for the odd exception, it never happened. But in Philadelphia, some black church backing seemed to be at hand.
Indeed, everything was clicking like clockwork, at least in the early hours. On Sunday, Shrub even had his own Trojan horse at Arianna Huffington’s “Shadow Convention” at the Annenberg Center, in the form of John McCain.
After Huffington opened things up by sweet-talking the Arizona conservative (“Senator McCain, there would be no shadow convention without you”), McCain gritted his teeth and ground into a tired version of his old stump speech, including the obligatory paean to Teddy Roosevelt (“his cause endures today”), huzzahs for the U.S. (“the last best hope on earth”), and support for market-driven Social Security, topped off by a straight-up endorsement of the ticket (“I am obliged, not by party loyalty but by sincere conviction, to urge all Americans to support my party’s nominee, Governor George Bush of Texas”).
At this point, there were boos, groans of “No! No!” and stuck-pig squeals of “Get him out of here!” As the muttering increased, McCain’s irritation flared and he threatened to walk off the stage. Huffington rushed up, whispered in his ear, and primly announced, “This is a convention where you can hear everything with respect.” Quickly, all was well again. Later, Shrub’s spokeswoman, Karen Hughes, said, “We appreciate Senator McCain’s very fine and gracious remarks.”
Although George W. Bush describes himself as an “entrepreneur,” the businessmen around him don’t relish free-market competition. They are rip-off Keynesians. First among them is Kenneth Lay, CEO of Enron, the natural-gas giant, which has given Shrub’s campaign more than $550,000. Lay personally has donated over $100,000 to Bush’s political campaigns—more than any other individual, according to Pratap Chatterjee in an excellent report for the watchdog Web site CorpWatch. Lay is also one of the “Pioneers”—Bush supporters who have collected at least $100,000 in contributions of $1000 or less (most of which in Lay’s case, according to a Sunday New York Times piece, apparently came in “suggested ‘voluntary’ contributions from Enron executives”).
Enron made its name buying and selling natural gas and creating commodities spot markets. It has energy projects around the world, including ventures in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, the Philippines, Indonesia, China, India, and Mozambique. Chatterjee says some of these projects have been hit with charges of human rights abuse. In India, activists claim that Enron was involved with police in attacks on residents living near the construction site of a $2.8 billion power plant. In Bolivia, where the company has a pipeline project, indigenous communities are threatened by pollution. At home, in the banana republic of Texas, Shrub gave Enron a boost with changes in environmental regulations that benefited its big methanol plant in the Houston Shipping Channel, which emits nitrogen oxide, an ingredient of smog.
But Enron is as nothing compared to Dick Cheney’s all-time corporate welfare at Halliburton, which, thanks to Poppy’s deregulation policies, has become a kind of private-enterprise quartermaster corps for the Pentagon. About half the Pentagon’s budget goes for logistics and supply—and the government is trying to privatize much of that. A key part of Halliburton is its subsidiary, Brown & Root, long a legend in the oil business and best known for playing an important role in privatizing crucial government pipelines running from the Texas oil and gas fields to markets in New York and Los Angeles.
A diversified Brown & Root went on to become a big Pentagon supplier, building roads, digging latrines, providing laundry and kitchen services; in short, providing all that is needed to keep an army supplied in the field. During the ’60s, Brown & Root provided logistics for units in Vietnam; in the ’80s, it helped build the Navy’s rapid-deployment base on the island of Diego Garcia. In 1991, it helped refurbish damaged buildings in Kuwait.
In Somalia, Brown & Root won an $18 million Army Corps of Engineers contract to install runways, wiring, and lights, and provide other services, and it was the single largest employer in the country when U.S. troops landed there in the late 1980s. As the Marines hit the beach, Brown & Root also rushed ashore, wiring Army tents, delivering fresh bananas to soldiers in the field, fixing trucks, and activating private telephones. (It also cleaned out U.S. Embassy buildings that had been used for a goat farm.) In Somalia, as in Haiti, where the company provided long-term support for American troops, Brown & Root workers hauling garbage fought off mobs hungry for food. In Rwanda, it provided key logistical support. In Croatia, it set up staging areas.
Since 1992, Brown & Root has done about $260 million in support work for the Pentagon. Under its contract, it is paid for its costs plus a 1 percent profit, and as much as 8 percent more in “incentive fees.”
It Can Get Worse
In a recent memo to George W. Bush, Jude Wanniski, the former Wall Street Journal scribe and original supply-side wildman, remarks that the Muslim world should heave a deep sigh of relief over the naming of Dick Cheney, since it was Cheney, along with Colin Powell, who stopped General Norman Schwartzkopf from going all the way to Baghdad at the end of the Gulf War.
Wanniski notes with traditional understatement that “Cheney also understands and appreciates supply-side economics better than any of the other veep candidates, having been Present at the Creation, so to speak. I would not call him a supply-sider, because he is not that confirmed in his policy views, but it would be much easier with him on the team to persuade President Bush to name someone like Steve Forbes to be treasury secretary. This would be necessary to force badly needed reforms of the IMF and World Bank.”
The Bush family, which has long practiced its own private brand of compassion (as in Poppy’s warm embrace of the “little brown ones,” son Jeb’s offspring with Latina wife Columba), will be showing more family-values tolerance this week when they welcome Dick Cheney’s gay daughter Mary to the convention. Republican National Committee chair Jim Nicholson told the San Francisco Examiner
he “‘won’t be bothered if TV cameras pan’ to 31-year-old Cheney even if she happens to be sitting next to a lesbian partner.”
Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi