Momentum: CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY? SAY WHAT?
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Let me get this straight. Last week, while standing in front of a specially prepared backdrop with the words "corporate responsibility" plastered all over it, President George W. Bush told Wall Street he is outraged by the kind of corporate malfeasance that is now causing the stock market to tank.
Then Monday, standing in front of a special backdrop that said "Strengthening our Economy," he promised to crack down on corporate greed.
Greed, eh? Corporate responsibility, eh? How about cashing in on family influence, insider trading, running with con men, and stealing the taxpayers blind? Can you write all that on a fancy backdrop, George?
What is he going to do? Put his entire family and most of his friends in jail?
Back in 1992, Stephen Pizzo, author of "Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans," wrote a long article for Mother Jones Magazine about the Bush brothers. You can still find it - all 32 pages of it - at www.motherjones.com/news_wire/bushboys.html.
I'll just pass on some of the highlights, because the current focus of media attention on the President's Harken Energy adventure doesn't tell the half of it.
Back in 1983, when his oil company, Bush Exploration, failed, it seems he was rescued by Spectrum 7, a oil-exploration company run by well-heeled Reagan-Bush supporters. But by mid-1986, a soft oil market had pushed Spectrum 7, along with many other oil companies, close to bankruptcy. While other companies failed, Harken rode in on a white horse, absorbed Spectrum, and gave the man who is now our President stocks, options, a cushy consulting job, access to low-interest loans, and a seat on the board.
"The deal put well over $1 million in Bush's pocket over the next few years, even though Harken lost millions," Pizzo wrote.
Once George Bush, Sr., became president, little Harken, with no off-shore oil drilling experience, was suddenly chosen for a lucrative and exclusive off-shore oil drilling contract in Bahrain.
However, only a few months later, the U.S. State Department sent a classified report to the first Bush administration warning that an out-of-control Saddam Hussein was threatening his neighbors. Around the same time, Smith Barney reported that Harken's financial condition was deteriorating. The man who became President George W. Bush unloaded Harken and used the money to buy into the Texas Rangers. Iraq took Kuwait. Bush, Sr., attacked Iraq.
Talk about insider trading! Martha Stewart may have gotten a tip at a party, but she didn't have the entire intelligence-gathering network of the United States of America protecting her investments!
After all this, it hardly seems to matter that our President was months late in reporting his Harken insider trading maneuvers to the SEC. By the way, the SEC then did a desultory investigation and closed the case, although - to its credit, considering that daddy was president - it did not exonerate him.
And speaking of the Rangers, check out Tuesday's New York Times, where Nicholas D. Kristof details the brutal land-grabbing done by President Bush and his partners when they wanted to build a new stadium. Kristof calls it an "avaricious bruising of the public interest."
Speaking of abusing the public interest, then there's brother Jeb, current governor of Florida. One of his first actions after moving to Miami was to partner with a Cuban-American scam artist. Together, they bought an office building with a $4.56 million bank loan. Later, they defaulted. Just as Bush, Sr., started running for president, federal regulators investigating the bank's failure discovered the loan. Instead of forcing the partners to pay back the money, or foreclosing on the building, the regulators gave Jeb a free pass and devalued the building. By saying it was only worth $500,000, they let these two con men pay off the smaller figure and keep the property. Taxpayers picked up the tab for the missing $4 million.
Jeb then started working for another Cuban-American con artist, a man who created an HMO that scammed billions of dollars out of Medicare.
And let us not forget about Neil, a director of the Silverado Savings & Loan in Colorado, which went broke and ended up costing taxpayers about $1 billion.
"(George H.W.) Bush says he is proud of his sons," Pizzo wrote. "One of them rented himself out to a crooked developer who also scammed HUD and helped pry millions out of Medicare to fuel a giant health care scam. Another may have profited from an insider stock transaction in a gulf oil deal at the very time that U.S. soldiers were dying to make that region safe for oil. And the third son ran a savings and loan into the ground while shoveling millions of its tax-payer backed dollars into the pockets of two deadbeat partners."
Ah yes, family values. Did the Bush Boys learn them at their father's knee? Or perhaps it was their grandfathers' knees?
In the Village Voice, James Ridgeway (http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0228/ridgeway.php) gives a similar account of our President's corporate irresponsibility, mainly taken from "The Buying of the President 2000." He also traces the Bush family fortune back a few generations.
"During the Second World War, for example, the government investigated (President Bush's) grandfather, Prescott Bush, and his maternal great-grandfather, Bert Walker," Ridgeway writes. "Under the Trading With the Enemy Act, officials seized Bush stockholdings, charging that 'huge sections of Prescott Bush's empire had been operated on behalf of Nazi Germany and had great assisted the German war effort.'"
So when our President tells us he is shocked, shocked over the corporate ethics which have enriched so many of his friendly CEOs, broken the back of the American stock market, put thousands of innocent, hard-working people out of work, and cost so many others their pensions and retirement savings, one can only wonder, is he a fool? Or does he think we are?
But wait! Harken! President Bush has now created a corporate crime watchdog team to save us, and the good news is that he has tapped Larry Thompson, the deputy attorney general, to head it.
Then comes the bad news. Thompson was a director of Providian Financial Corp., a San Francisco credit card company which is in the business of making high-interest loans to people with bad credit ratings. In other words, price-gouging. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the company's founder, Andrew Kahr, wrote that in lending to the kinds of high-risk customers Providian specialized in, the "problem is to squeeze out enough revenue and get customers to sit still for the squeeze."
Two years ago, Providian paid more than $400 million to settle charges that it cheated consumers. Thompson, who was on the board when the company got busted, claimed he hadn't known about its shoddy business practices. When he learned, he said, he forced the company to do the right thing. But he must have known that Providian was victimizing people - after all, wasn't that the company's entire business plan?
And now Thompson is heading the white-collar crime task force. Heck, I feel safer already.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.