Base Instincts May Swing Vote

Ballot Balks

The real story of this election is not whether Ralph Nader’s piddling 3 percent in the national polls will elect Al Gore or George W. Bush but whether the mass of voters will vote “none of the above” by sitting on their hands November 7. The tidal wave of disgust for politics indicates that the election may turn on tiny numbers of base constituencies in both parties. For the Republicans, that means young rural males and the Christian Right. For Democrats, it means activating the labor rank and file, blacks, and other minorities.

This year’s abbreviated presidential primaries resulted in the second lowest turnout since 1960. According to the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, the total turnout in states holding primaries for both parties comprised 17.7 percent of the eligible vote. Democratic turnout was a shocking 8.2 percent: the same as 1996 — which had been the lowest in party history — and lower than the Republican percentage. The conventions were a snore, with twice as many people watching one night of Survivor as watched any night of either convention on all networks combined. In addition to this sorry statistic, only 13.2 percent of eligible voters went to the polls to choose gubernatorial and senatorial candidates in non-presidential primaries: the lowest level in history. Turnout by every demographic group but two — African American women and the elderly — declined.

Bush, Gore, and the Toxic Nightmare

Chemical Brothers

A series of new scientific reports is pointing to an epidemic of chemical-induced illness in children. Some 12 million American kids under 18 — an amazing one out of six — are afflicted by developmental, learning, or behavioral difficulties, according to a study released last week by the National Environmental Trust, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Learning Disabilities Association of America. These maladies include mental retardation, birth defects, autism, and attention deficit disorder. Reports also suggest that chemical emissions contribute to increases in low-birth-weight and premature births. A recent study by the National Academy of Science estimates that 360,000 children suffer from neurological disabilities caused by a range of toxic exposures, and concludes that the overall impact of toxic chemicals on child development and learning is much greater.

In 1998, U.S companies reported to the Environmental Protection Agency that they had released 1.2 billion pounds of toxic chemicals into the nation’s air and water. And these reported emissions are thought to represent a scant 5 percent of all chemical releases. Although minority children are hit hardest, a poisoned environment knows no class or race boundaries. So wouldn’t you think this epidemic would be a topic for debate in the presidential election? Especially in light of the two main candidates’ falling all over each other to pander to yuppie parents. Don’t count on it. Texas under Bush ties Louisiana in putting out more chemical pollutants than all other states. Leading Lone Star emitters: Mobil, Amoco, and Dow. And close behind, in third place, is Gore’s Tennessee, where Lenzing Fibers, PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer, and Aquaglass head the list of polluters.

Are Bush and Gore complicit in the spreading epidemic? You bet they are. Bush, as this column has reported, took steps to lower pollution standards affecting chemical companies in Texas. Gore, while serving as vice president in a supposedly pro-environmental administration, did little to slow, let alone stop, chemical pollution.

Roots of Greed

Bush Family Tree

As the superior WASPs they obviously are, the Bush family feels entitled to run the country. And why not? The following thumbnail sketches of the financial exploits of six Bushes in two generations illustrate the clan’s laissez-faire derring-do. Their activities, compiled by David Scheim’s website, range from dubious stock sales to arranging U.S. business investments for an alleged Japanese mob front company to lobbying for a Mafia-linked businessman engaged in a massive Medicare fraud. It’s a family record that’s hard to beat.

George H.W. Bush. The late Jonathan Kwitny detailed the links of ex-president Bush to S&L scandal beneficiaries throughout the country. Under his administration, Kwitny reported, “investigations were called off, proposed fraud charges weren’t brought, and President Bush continued to pal around with investigative targets who got off scot-free.” Among Bush’s pals in the S&L bonanza crowd named by Kwitny was Joe Russo, who owned one failed S&L and defaulted on multimillion-dollar loans from five others.

Jonathan Bush. In 1991, President Bush’s brother Jonathan was fined $30,000 in Massachusetts and several thousand dollars in Connecticut for violating registration laws governing securities sales. He was barred from securities brokerage with the general public in Massachusetts for one year.

Prescott Bush Jr. In 1989, Prescott, brother of George H.W. and Jonathan and the namesake of the family patriarch, arranged investments by an alleged Japanese mob front company in two U.S. firms, for which he was paid $500,000. The front ultimately gained a controlling interest in the firms, both of which subsequently filed for bankruptcy. Bush denied knowledge of the mob’s role in these deals, which came under investigation in Japan.

George W. Bush. On June 22, 1990, Dubya, a director of Harken Energy, sold the bulk of his stock in the firm for $848,560. A week later, Harken stock plummeted on news of a large quarterly loss. Bush claimed that he had submitted a required report about the stock sale but that it had somehow disappeared. He refused repeated requests from The Wall Street Journal and U.S. News & World Report to discuss the sale. A Securities and Exchange Commission probe terminated without Bush being either charged or exonerated. But as Time reported, it was widely assumed that insider knowledge prompted the sale. The Wall Street Journal reported other curious circumstances concerning Bush’s involvement with Harken Energy. Throughout his business career, influential friends and contacts have bailed out George W. from initiatives that, as The Wall Street Journal put it, “did not quite make the grade.” An example was a 1989 baseball deal financed in part “out of respect for his father” that ultimately earned Shrub $15 million on a $600,000 investment. Such windfalls benefited the floundering Bush, who, in the words of one Newsweek summary, “was an academic slacker… and an unsuccessful oilman.”

Jeb Bush. The future Florida governor and a partner defaulted on a $4.5 million loan from a Florida S&L in 1988. The default helped trigger the S&L’s collapse, which cost taxpayers millions. Bush and partner repaid only 10 percent of the loan and, incredibly, also got to keep the real estate that collateralized it. In 1985, Jeb lobbied the federal government on behalf of Miami HMO owner Miguel Recarey to increase Recarey’s Medicare business to what ultimately became a total of $1 billion. The following year, Jeb was reported to have received $75,000 from Recarey. (He denied the allegations.) Recarey, who had long-standing business ties to the late Florida Mafia boss Santos Trafficante, subsequently fled the U.S. under indictment, suspected of up to $100 million in Medicare fraud.

Neil Bush. Brother of George W. and Jeb, Neil was a principal in the notorious 1988 collapse of the Silverado Bank in Denver, which cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. As a director of the bank, he voted to approve more than $100 million in unrepaid loans from Silverado to two business partners.

Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi