From corporate crimes to murder in Iraq
February 6, 2004 | Pages 6 and 7
THE GREAT myth about the United States is that we live in a "meritocracy," where the "best and brightest" will rise to the top, and anyone can make it with intelligence and hard work. The slightest examination of the Bush family tree proves that all this is a lie. As DAVID ZIRIN explains, the Bush saga--from George W. Bush in the White House today to the great grandfathers on both sides of the family--is the story of four generations amassing their fortunes and achieving the heights of power through the cronyest of crony capitalisms.
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THERE ARE no think-tank theorists or college professors, no surgeons or artists among the Bush men. From root to branch, the Bush family's rise to power and wealth has gone hand in hand with the fortunes of the oil industry and the military-industrial complex.
"[I]f Presidential family connections were theme parks, Bush world would be a sight to behold," writes Kevin Phillips, author of new book American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush. "Mideast banks tied to the CIA would crowd alongside Florida Savings and Loans that once laundered money for the Nicaraguan contras. Dozens of oil wells would run eternally without finding oil, thanks to periodic cash deposits by old men wearing Reagan-Bush buttons and smoking 20-dollar cigars."
To paraphrase Karl Marx, the Bushes truly came to us dripping from head to foot with blood and dirt. The Bushes claim an ancestry that goes back to British royalty. But the rotten modern house of Bush began with George W. Bush's maternal great-grandfather, George H. Walker.
Walker was president of Wall Street-based W.A. Harriman & Co. He made his fortune as a war profiteer, working alongside the House of Morgan in purchasing billions in armaments for Britain and France during the First World War. In a foreshadowing of things to come, Walker got a taste for the emerging importance of oil as the engine of profits and war when he oversaw the rebuilding of the Baku oil fields after the war in the 1920s.
At his peak, Walker was the director of 17 corporations and maintained homes around the country--including a 10,000-acre hunting preserve in South Carolina, where according to his granddaughter, "We were waited on by the most wonderful Black servants."
Dubya's other great grandfather, Yale graduate Samuel Bush, was the president of the Ohio-based Buckeye Steel. Like Walker, Samuel Bush made his fortune during the First World War by producing material for small arms. Of course, it helped that Samuel became head of the Ordnance, Small Arms and Ammunition Section of the federal government's War Industries Board in 1918.
Not unlike a virus, each generation has produced a deadlier strain of Bush. George W. Bush's grandfather was Prescott Bush. He became his father-in-law's heir apparent at the merged firm of Brown Brothers Harriman. Prescott Bush handled the "German work" for Brown Brothers in the 1930s, raking in a fortune by rearming Hitler's Germany.
Brown Brothers set the pace for a 49 percent increase in U.S. investment in Germany during the 1930s--while investments declined throughout the rest of Europe. But this profiteering in the country that would become a U.S. enemy during the Second World War didn't prevent Prescott from sitting on two boards that "covertly" provided material for the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb.
Like other U.S. rulers who had kept a financial and political finger in Germany during the 1930s, Prescott Bush got in on the ground floor in Germany after its defeat in the Second World War. He helped the notorious Dulles brothers in establishing the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA--thus, getting the Bush family into the spy business.
George H.W. Bush--Prescott's son, and Dubya's father--was born with a siliver foot in his mouth. A Yale University alumnus like his father and grandfather, he gravitated to the oil industry through family connections and made a fortune.
Viewed as "intellectually light," George Bush Sr. couldn't win elected office before he became Ronald Reagan's vice president--beyond a seat in Congress as representative of an oil-rich Texas district with the country's highest number of Rolls Royces per person. Instead, "Poppy" held just about every non-elected post that the Republican Party could arrange for him. He was chief of the Republican National Committee, head of the CIA, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, where he was famous for writing "thank you notes" to political donors during sessions and debates.
After losing in the 1980 Republican Party presidential primaries to Reagan--during which Bush Sr. coined the phrase "voodoo economics" to describe Reagan's proposals for tax cut giveaways to the rich--he joined the ticket and became vice president. During the Reagan presidency, his connections as both a former spymaster and an oil industry crony made him the point man for the administration's funneling of dollars and weapons to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.
At the same time, Bush helped with the scandalous deal with Iraq's arch-enemy Iran--where the U.S. illegally sold weapons and used the profits to support the brutal contra guerrillas fighting to overthrow the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Bush managed to win the presidency in 1988.
He is best known as the "butcher of Baghdad," responsible for the deaths of some 200,000 Iraqis during the first Gulf War in 1991--which was dominated by the most intensive aerial bombardment in the history of war. After the war, Bush had an approval rating of nearly 90 percent.
But this support melted away in the face of the early 1990s recession, and Bush got only 37 percent of the popular vote in 1992, one of the lowest-ever results for a sitting president. His campaign wasn't helped by a photo op where he appeared surprised by a supermarket's scanner system--and the high price of milk.
How to succeed in business by failing
BUSH SR. must wonder how his son, George W. Bush, did it--the idiot son who followed his father's footsteps into the White House. Dubya spent many years under the influence. This included the use of influence to avoid the Vietnam-era draft and get into the Texas Air National Guard--where Bush got himself transferred to Mississippi, and eventually chose not to show up at all.
Then Bush Jr. tried to use his family influence to make a fortune in oil. He should have been a colossal failure. His company Arbusto--nicknamed Ar-Busto in the industry--lost $3 million.
Fortunately for him, a Cincinnati group that included a Yale classmate bought him out. The son of the then-vice president became chair of the newly constituted Spectrum 7 Energy Corp. Yet once again, no success for Dubya.
But as Britian's Observer newspaper put it, "Whenever he struck a dry well, someone was always willing to fill it with money for him." Harken Energy bought out Spectrum 7, and Bush was put on the board of directors and given 16 percent of the stock.
Asked why he wanted to buy a failed company, Harken's founder said, "His name was George Bush." Harken was also losing money hand over fist, yet it concealed its losses. Only a few weeks before the bad news broke and Harken's share price tumbled, the fortunate George Bush Jr. sold off two-thirds of his stake, for $848,000.
An internal Securities and Exchange Commission memo concluded that Bush had broken the law by trading on inside information, but no charges were filed. This, everyone insists, had nothing to do with the fact that his father was president of the United States. All records of SEC investigations into Bush's insider trading and bankrupt companies are sealed--and unavailable to the public.
Blood on both their hands
THE STORY of the latter-day Bushes returns again and again to Iraq. As head of the CIA in the mid-1970s, George Bush Sr. inherited the agency's covert history of support for Saddam Hussein's rise to the top of the Iraqi regime.
As vice president under Ronald Reagan, one of his chief tasks was to oversee the administration's support for Iraq. "It is increasingly clear that George Bush, largely operating behind the scenes through the 1980s, initiated and supported much of the financing, intelligence and military help that built Saddam's Iraq into an aggressive power that the United States ultimately had to destroy," said ABC News' Ted Koppel in 1992.
Bush and other Reagan administration officials facilitated transfers of intelligence, military supplies, and even the components for advanced chemical and biological weapons. When Saddam Hussein stepped out of line with the invasion of Kuwait, which threatened the flow of Middle East oil, Bush organized the first Gulf War.
After killing as many as 200,000 people during the seven-week war, Bush urged the Iraqi people to rise up against the regime. But when Kurds and Shiites did rebel, the Bush White House decided they were better off with Saddam's Ba'ath Party in power--and allowed the regime to repress the rebellions. Thus, Bush Sr. bears direct responsibility for the recently discovered "mass graves of Iraqi Shiites" discovered by U.S. forces after Bush Jr.'s invasion.
Much has been made of the idea that Bush Jr. was "finishing the job" in Iraq that his father started. But it would be a mistake to see the second Gulf War as a matter of family revenge.
For one thing, scores of Democrats supported the war and occupation. The second Bush administration, backed up by a host of right-wing fanatics led by Donald Rumsfeld, is determined to remake the Middle East, and Iraq is the first stage.
It is true, however, that history has repeated itself--and another George Bush is responsible for the deaths of masses of Iraqis. Hopefully, like his father before him, the post-war scrutiny of the bloody invasion of Iraq will lead to Bush Jr.'s undoing, too.
The Skull and Bones fanatics
ONE BUSH after another has attended Yale University, and each one has been a member of the elite and highly secretive Skull and Bones society. Fifteen Yale students--overwhelmingly men--are chosen every year. They come from "the best families" and are meant to stay connected in business and social circles throughout their lives.
Skull and Bones is fodder for conspiracy theorists alarmed that a "secret society" could claim so many of the country's elite. Look at the society's creepy practices, and you can understand why.
Initiates into Skull and Bones are brought into the "tomb," a dark, windowless crypt in New Haven, with a roof that serves as a landing pad for the society's private helicopter. They are sworn to silence and told that they must forever deny that they are members.
During initiation, the juniors wrestle in mud and are physically beaten--to represent their "death" to the world as they have known it. Then the initiates are given a new name as a member of "The Order." At this point, the new members are introduced to the artifacts kept in the tomb--which include Nazi memorabilia, such as a set of Hitler's silverware, dozens of skulls, and an assortment of coffins and skeletons.
Skull and Bones was the foundation of the OSS spy agency. There were so many secrety society members in the OSS that Yale's drinking tune--the "Whiffenpoof Song," --became the agency's "unofficial" song as well.
Some of the world's most famous and powerful men alive today are "bonesmen." Among them is another politician, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry--meaning that the 2004 presidential election could pit Skull vs. Bones.
What does this prove? Not that the world is run by a secret society, but that the political establishment in Washington is infested with the sons and daughters of the super-rich who spent their college years at Ivy League universities.
Has the right wing taken over?
HAS WASHINGTON been taken over by a shadowy right-wing cabal, with the Bush family as its head? That's the logical conclusion of Kevin Phillips' book American Dynasty--which provided the bulk of the information for this article.
Phillips, a former top adviser to the Nixon administration and respected figure in the Republican Party, is biting the hand that fed him--and revealing facts about how the U.S. government operates that are usually kept well hidden. But the picture that he draws of Washington isn't wholly accurate.
Phillips essentially believes that the Bush dynasty has become a kind of "royalty"--based on hereditary--that usurped power in Washington. But this suggests that there was ever a more democratic system--and a group of politicians more responsive to the real interests of ordinary people in the U.S.--to be usurped.
Phillips fails to recognize how the rest of the Washington establishment--including the Democratic Party, the supposed "opposition" to the Republican power brokers--is organized around serving the same interests and maintaining the status quo.
Take the question of Iraq. During the eight years between the two Bush presidencies, Bill Clinton carried out a military and economic war on the country that was every bit as deadly.
Some 1 million Iraqis died between the two Gulf Wars because of United Nations economic sanctions backed up by the U.S.--which the Clinton administration continued without hesitation. In reality, Clinton's shift toward "regime change" as the goal in Iraq paved the way for Bush Jr.'s more aggressive posture.
On other important issues, Clinton's record is actually to the right of Bush Sr. Papa Bush may have wanted welfare "reform," for example, but it took Bill Clinton and the Democrats to deliver on the disastrous law that threw millions of people deeper into poverty.
The Bush family may be one of the ugliest faces of the system. But they are only part of a political establishment in the U.S. that is committed to promoting the interests of the rich and powerful. Our struggle to stop Bush Jr. means challenging the whole corrupt set-up in Washington and throughout the U.S.