20,000 Leagues Under the Lincoln Bedroom
Where once the Clintons’ donors bought a night in the White House, now Bush’s beloved oil and gas executives have snapped up stints at the controls of our machines of war—a practice that ended badly on February 9 when a nuclear sub carrying civilian dignitaries crashed into a Japanese fishing boat, killing nine people. In politics these days, you can buy anything. The new Lincoln Bedroom is at the bottom of the sea. In sync with the times, a Texas oilman was handling controls at the helm of the U.S.S. Greeneville as it burst through the water in a surfacing maneuver and crashed into the Japanese vessel.
Seven days later, with renewed Middle East adventurism signaled by the sudden attack on Iraq, military recklessness seemed to be the most significant aspect of Bush’s first month in office. The Iraq strikes were under way as Bush left the U.S. on Friday to meet with Mexican president Vicente Fox. Earlier in the week, the administration had taken a seemingly more relaxed position, with Secretary of State Colin Powell declaring in a UN visit that the U.S. would not tighten sanctions. While the U.S. insisted that the strike was a “defensive measure” and aimed at military targets, Iraq was quick to report civilian casualties.
At the same time, Bush’s programs in Congress seemed to be going nowhere. New Mexico’s Republican senator Pete Domenici, who heads the Budget Committee, admitted that the president’s $1.6 trillion tax plan didn’t have the votes to pass, and it was common knowledge that it would be torn to shreds by the time the special interests get at it. Bush’s ballyhooed education plan rearranges the chairs on the deck of the Titanic and carries no price tag.
Although the president set up an office for his much-touted faith-based action plans, pols rightly spotted an attack on their turf, and liberals raised questions about separation of church and state that promise to tie up the scheme in court for years. One morning Bush shut down the White House AIDS office only to reopen it in the afternoon. The president even seems to be waffling about setting a cap on legal suits against doctors, a subject that makes conservatives froth at the mouth. He still seeks to play to his right wing, and despite a stated desire to “move on,” last week gave the go-ahead for a criminal investigation of the Marc Rich pardon.
Even the international uproar over the sub accident brought only a presidential order to “review” civilians going on maneuvers, and the Navy merely halted civilians from being on board during “emergency procedures.”
Meanwhile, mum’s the word on the growing energy crisis and increasing signs of serious economic problems at home.
The energy crisis is spreading, with rates for rural electrical cooperatives in Washington soaring and price hikes starting to spill over into Arizona irrigation districts and onto the big Indian reservations. Across the West, supermarkets are cutting back on lights and cooling systems.
As things get worse, Bush backers in Houston are cleaning up. Last week, Mondo looked at Enron’s ties to the president. Now, in a new report, Public Citizen points out that Jim Baker, a director of Reliant Energy and a longtime Bush family adviser, who played a crucial role in winning Florida for the Republicans, is a partner in Baker Botts, the prestigious Houston firm that specializes in oil law. According to Public Citizen, Baker Botts was one of the largest contributors to the Bush campaign, shelling out $113,621 in 2000.
Two members of Reliant’s top brass are Bush “Pioneers,” a group of wealthy business people who each raised at least $100,000 to get Dubya’s presidential bid off the ground. Public Citizen reports: “Bush Pioneer Don D. Jordan was CEO and chairman of Reliant Energy until June 1999 and December 1999 respectively. Pioneer Steve Letbetter, Reliant Energy’s current CEO, is a longtime corporate officer of the company. The company and its employees gave $47,000 to Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns in 1994 and 1998, and gave Bush and the RNC $289,000 for last year’s election.”
Reliant, along with Enron and Dynegy, made big profits last year. According to SEC reports, Enron had a 42 percent increase in profits. Reliant’s profits went up 55 percent and Dynegy’s leaped 210 percent. Public Citizen claims that one trade association and the top nine companies in the California market, along with their executives, gave Republican candidates and party committees nearly $4.1 million. That included $1.5 million to Bush and the Republican National Committee. In addition, they donated $500,000 to the Bush-Cheney inaugural committee.
Footnote: Farmers, already reeling from Congress’s free-market “reforms,” are facing a near knockout blow with sky-high energy costs and fertilizer prices that have almost doubled over the last year. The Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri says farm loss could run to $9 billion by 2003.
Democratic soreheads who blame Al Gore’s loss on Ralph Nader should read John Harris’s recent account in The Washington Post about the frank postelection meeting between Gore and Clinton during which each blamed the other for the Democratic defeat. Gore is said to have told Clinton that the sex scandal and his low personal-approval ratings had brought the Democrats down. Clinton, reportedly stunned, retorted that Gore’s failure to run on the administration’s record was responsible. Neither man mentioned Nader.
In fact, most pols have grown bored with scapegoating the consumer advocate, who two weeks ago met privately (and cordially, by all accounts) with House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and later with Representative Cynthia McKinney and Jesse Jackson Jr., key liberal voices in the House. Even Eleanor Holmes Norton dropped her spaniel-like obeisance to Clinton-Gore, and declared she was prepared to work with Nader. And congressional officials would be fools not to. In California, Nader groups are leading the battle against the energy industry, and it was a Naderite—Jamie Love—who took the lead in negotiating the deal making AIDS drugs from an Indian firm available in South Africa at much cheaper prices than those charged by the big international pharmaceutical makers.
Nader aides report he is about to launch a fund-raising campaign asking supporters for initial contributions of $100. In addition, Naderites are tooling up to target 30 key House seats in 2002.
When the matter of Marc Rich and Pincus Green was first brought to his attention, U.S. pardon attorney Roger Adams testified last week, the White House counsel’s office told him there would be “little information about the two men because . . . they have been living abroad for several years.” Although Rich had been on the FBI’s “10 Most Wanted” list for years, Adams didn’t know anything about him. “I was not told they were fugitives,” he testified. “I learned that from the FBI.”
Additional reporting: Rouven Gueissaz and Adam Gray