The cows come home

Enough time has passed to allow comparisons between the Bush Two and Clinton administrations. As you might expect, there are some pluses and minuses on each side.

In Bush’s favor is that, by all accounts, he hasn’t shot his sperm all over any fat intern’s blue dress, and thereby has considerately avoided having the government tie up staffers and millions of dollars on a repeat of the Starr Report.

On the other hand, the economy is now a mess. The stock market slide has wiped out the savings and pensions of millions, including some who planned to retire and who now may instead be planning to work for food. Corporations who listened, with a wink and a nod, to what the Shrub told them about ethics are now found to have lied to everyone, often with the help of their “independent” accountants. They’ve mistreated and abused their stockholders, their employees, the government and themselves.

It gets better. In diplomacy, we seem to have returned to a primitive, other-nations-are-mostly-bad foreign policy. Best of all, we have gotten involved in an incomprehensible war against an enemy we can neither see nor define. Nor do we have any idea whether we are “winning” or “losing.” Granted, after the Sept. 11 surprise attack, the enemy hasn’t even blown up a mailbox, at least in this country.

And we have bombed Afghanistan to smithereens, killing a few thousand civilians here and there, mostly there. But Osama bin Laden and his one-eyed sidekick, the Mullah Omar, are by all indications alive and well, perhaps because we want them that way. They are extremely useful to frighten the kiddies, distract us from embarrassing domestic problems and increase defense contractors’ profits.

Yessiree, we’ve really come a long way since those bad old Clinton days. But in the past few weeks, there have been a few disturbing signs that the truth may be catching up with Dick Cheney and his front man. In many cases — WorldCom, Qwest and, of course, Enron — corporate America is proving to be even more corrupt than a high-school Marxist could daydream. Last week, the U.S. Senate voted to stop such companies from making huge questionable loans to their chief executives.

That, by the way, is exactly how George Bush Minor got $180,000 10-plus years ago, from something called the Harken Energy Corp. Later, the Shrub pulled a Martha Stewart and sold 212,040 shares of its stock in 1991 to a mysterious buyer in a transaction that ought to have been investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Naturally, it wasn’t, and the tooth fairy and I both know that there was absolutely no connection with the fact that his daddy was president of the United States at the time. Indeed, the Shrub’s very own pet head of the Securities and Exchange Comission, one Harvey Pitt, said Sunday that he saw absolutely no need to release the files on Bush’s 1991 caper.

“The matter is closed,” said Lord Pitt.

Yet even before this news, principled Republicans such as John McCain had been howling for Pitt’s head, saying he was far too cozy with corporate America. (When a Republican says something like that of a fellow Republican, you know you’ve seen only the tip of the “b” in buried corruption.)

All this was not really surprising to anyone with a passing familiarity with the world, especially if they knew anything about Bush Minor’s business career, a textbook study in using other people’s money to make bad investments. What was especially delicious is that the selected president then made a speech about business ethics. Whether this was for comic relief or sheer contempt for the intelligence of the public isn’t clear, but it was, as syndicated columnist Gene Lyons wrote, “enough to make a cow laugh.”

And for the first time, there were some faint signs the cows might be coming home to roost. Polls showed that the issue was beginning to stir the public, some of whom were starting to make vague connections between the corruption of Bush’s corporate pals and the fact that their nest eggs had been wiped out.

Even the Democrats, invertebrates that most of them are, seemed emboldened at the thought of an issue they could use in the midterm elections without being called Osama sympathizers. By week’s end, even Lord Pitt felt the need to make noises, insincere though they be, about investigating Lon — oops — Dick Cheney’s oil firm.

Whether this issue will have enough “legs” to hand Congress back to the Democrats is far from certain. Whether the Democrats would know what to do with it is less clear. But the Shrub soon may be facing a game of hardball, and the Texas Rangers can tell you how well he does with that.

Incidentally, there is another human tragedy going on right now that is entirely of Bush’s making. Fewer agencies do as much good with as few resources as the United Nations Population Fund, which mainly helps improve family planning and maternal health in developing countries. It also promotes contraception, but not abortion.

But earlier this year, Bush refused to release America’s contribution of $34 million to the Population Fund, which even in the best of times is woefully underfunded.

Why? A far-right nut group accused the fund of being involved in forced abortions in China. These charges have been completely discredited. But Bush still refuses to release the money, or the results of a study he ordered into the affair.

Thoraya Obaid, an impressive, liberated Saudi woman and Wayne State University Ph.D. who runs the Population Fund, told me she was baffled by the United States’ actions. I don’t think there’s anything baffling at all. The Shrub values his right-wing pals more than poor women’s lives. This fall, try not to forget to vote again, OK?

Correction: Last week's column said that Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus opposes abortion even when necessary to save the life of the mother, my understanding from an earlier discussion with him. However, his aides insist I was wrong, and he would make an exception in a life-or-death situation.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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