Originally Published in The Village Voice
5/05/1992 -- "It's a question of knowing right from wrong, avoiding conflicts of interest, bending over backwards to see that there's not even a perception of conflict of interest," George Bush explained in his first week as president, while promising that he would oversee a new age of squeaky clean White House ethics.
Within a month of his inauguration, Bush had to face a disclosure that, in direct violation of White House policy, ethics czar C. Boyden Gray was receiving a salary from a family business. The New York Times editorialized that "the commission he [Bush] appointed to tighten standards seems to have spent three weeks loosening them."
Throughout the spring of 1989, President Bush entertained America with stern lectures on morality delivered to government bureaucrats and politicians alike. When Bush's nomination of John Tower for secretary of defense ran aground, The Economist commented sarcastically that "after preaching to the nation about ethics and the end of greed, he [Bush] has to spend all his energy denying charges that one of his senior appointees was a drunken womanizer who accepted large sums for peddling influence."
Since then, presidential son Neil Bush has become the personification of the looting of America's S&Ls. Another presidential son, Jeb Bush, Republican fundraiser and unofficial White House liason to Miami's Cuban exile community, did business with, socialized with, and got campaign contributions from a cast of characters who are a living commercial for the Miami Vice lifestyle. First son George Bush, Jr. recently imported from Texas to Washington to kick-start the Bush reelection campaign, has been up to his eyeballs in business dealings with members of the CIA-connected BCCI Arab mafia.
These persistent White House scandals would be bad enough even if George Herbert Walker Bush could maintain an appearance of personal honesty--as Ronald Reagan did during the Iran-contra debacle. But in fact, George Bush has proven himself to be a liar. Look it up in the record; George Bush has lied about ethics reform, about taxes, education, and the environment.
Bush's legendary talent for moral flexibility and political spinelessness, which surfaced in a career built on professional coattailing, appears to be a family trait, an identifying characteristic--the way the Kennedy clan will always be associated with hot sex and rum-running.
As early as World War II, the U.S. government seized several businesses that George Bush's father, Prescott Bush, helped run, for trading with the enemy. Much evidence has surfaced linking George Bush with secret deals to arm America's most fanatical enemy, Iran, as part of the Iran-contra arms-and-drugs network. Village Voice writer Murray Waas has written numerous stories revealing how George Bush helped Saddam Hussein build up his military machine, only to later declare war on Iraq, reaping tremendous public relations benefits in the process. Presidential sons Neil, George, and Jeb have all been involved in business dealings with members of the worldwide financial underworld that spawned the characters that peopled the October Surprise and Iran-contra scandals.
To uncover the forces that shaped George Bush's character, and to understand how as vice-president he could simultaneously act as "lapdog" to Ronald Reagan and as a covert warrior be implicated in dirty little wars around the world, the diligent Bush-watcher must start at the beginning.
In this issue, the Voice begins a series on the Bush family tree, starting with Prescott Bush, the president's father. We will explore the questionable dealings of three generations of the family, for whom no business practice is beneath contempt, and no business partner is beyond the pale.
LIFE WITH FATHER
When James Ridgeway and Alexander Cockburn asked Barbara Bush in 1980, "Who do you think is the greatest influence in George Bush's life? You?" the Silver Fox responded, "No. His father. He says it, not me."
Prescott Bush was one of those fathers who is like a giant elm tree; impressive at a distance, and overshadowing up close. The man was simply too perfect, too punctual, too impressively well-rounded to be true. "My father was very strong," Bush recalls. "He was so strong and so big and kind of overpowering--loving but overpowering."
Prescott Bush could sing and dance and knew the secret of survival among the predators on Wall Street, where he worked as senior managing partner of the private banking firm Brown Brothers Harriman and Co. from 1931 until 1949. "This was the company General Smedley Butler claimed was behind the 1909 U.S. invasion of Nicaragua; in 1938 they arranged for a load of tetraethyl lead to the Nazi Luftwarre," recounts muckraking trading card impresario Paul Brancato, creator of the Bush League set of cards. "They helped finance Time, Inc....and Newsweek." At various times Prescott Bush served as a board member of CBS, Prudential Insurance Company of America, Dresser Industries, Pan American Airways Corp., Union Banking Corp., and the United States Guarantee Corporation.
Despite an impressive-sounding resume, Prescott Bush was really just a pilot fish swimming in the wake of Great White Sharks like the Harrimans and Walkers, picking up crumbs here and there. Bush pere managed money for the wealthier blue bloods, and often held some token amount of stock in their joint ventures, but never attained the level of wealth the Harrimans and Walkers enjoyed. The famous Bush Compound in Kennebunkport, which we've all seen many times on TV, is named Walker's Point, and originally belonged to the father of Prescott senior's wife, Dorothy.
"We never felt that Dad had any kind of wealth at all," recalls George Bush's younger brother Jonathan. "We had a cook and a maid and a chauffeur, but other kids had a lot more."
Although not a major player in international financial circles, during World War II Prescott Bush found himself present at the birth of the 20th century's industrialized global war economy, a historical crossroads where patriotic considerations coincided with calculations of profit and loss.
From 1934 to 1942, Prescott Bush served as a board member of the Union Banking Corp., an affiliate of Brown Brothers Harriman. (The Union Banking Corp. had originally operated out of the offices of W.A. Harriman & Co. The president of Harriman was George Herbert (Herbie) Walker, Prescott Bush's father-in-law and George Bush's grandfather and namesake. In 1931 Harriman merged with the British-American investment house of Brown Brothers, and Brown Brothers Harriman was born.)
The U.S. government seized Union Banking as a front for the Nazis in October 1942 under the Trading With the Enemy Act, according to a recent article in the Austin Chronicle by David Armstrong. The government found that the bank was controlled by the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart, N.V., of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, and that this Dutch bank was in turn controlled by German industrialist Fritz Thyssen and his associates. Thyssen was instrumental in financing Adolf Hitler's rise to power; then, fearing he had "ruined Germany," fled to Switzerland, was captured by the Vichy police, and returned to Germany, where the Nazis kept him captive for the duration.
Thus, the Bush and Walker families were intimately involved in operations at Union Banking throughout the time that the Baron Thyssen was funneling his money between America and Europe and channeling over a million dollars to Hitler during the crucial years of his rise to power.
"Brown Brothers Harriman owned two German intermediaries, like the Schroeder bank, which the Nazis also used," explains Burton Hersh, author of the explosive new book The Old Boys: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA.
Hersh explains that big German industrial combines like I.G. Farben--the notorious arms dealer, chemical manufacturer, and beneficiary of concentration camp labor--scoured the world for investment capital during the 1920s and 1930s in an attempt to rebuild their tattered fiefdoms.
"Farben tried to put together a chemical cartel. They put together a steel cartel and a potash cartel," Hersh recounts. "In order to do that, they did substantially what Michael Milken did. They tried to find somewhere to get enough money to recapitalize. Since we had most of the money in the world at that time, they came to New York and the big brokerage firms and banks like Dillon, Read; Brown Brothers Harriman; and Citicorp went out and sold bonds in tremendous numbers to American bondholders in German firms, which then used that money to create the big cartels. These brokerage firms were getting a big slice of whatever they raised. They were delighted to do it. There was no risk."
Union Banking was not the only Nazi-friendly company affiliated with the Harriman-Walker-Bush group. At the end of World War I, Herbie Walker had brokered a deal granting investment bankers at W.A. Harriman control of the North American operations of a German shipping company called the Hamburg-Amerika Line.
A congressional investigation found that the Hamburg-Amerika line had subsidized a wide range of pro-Nazi propaganda efforts both in Germany and in the United States. Averell Harriman, Herbie Walker, and Prescott Bush were the directors of the Harriman Fifteen Corp., a holding company that controlled the North American subsidiary of the Hamburg-Amerika line, American Shipping and Commerce Corporation, during the period prior to 1934.
The Harriman Fifteen Corp. also held stock in the SilesianAmerican Corp., a holding company with assets in German and Polish steelmaking and zinc- and copper-mining operations. In 1942, the U.S. government reported that "these [steel and mining] properties have been operated by the German government and have undoubtedly been of considerable assistance to that country in its war effort." Government agents seized both the Hamburg-Amerika line and the Silesian-American Corp. under the Trading With the Enemy Act in 1942. (The seizure perhaps presaged the Iran-contra and Iraq-gate scandals in which George Bush appeared to be involved in both trading with the enemy and building up aggressive militaristic dictatorships.)
How did Bush, Walker, and Harriman come to have such close ties with Nazi Germany?
According to historians, they were merely typical representatives of America's
During the period between the two world wars, it was natural that Wall Street financiers and high-powered international attorneys like "Wild Bill" Donovan and the Dulles brothers, schooled in the realpolitik of the global marketplace, would act as amateur spooks and ambassadors without portfolio. Balance-of-power politics, which rested on a rigorous pragmatism, influenced the worldview of these American shapers of today's global economy. In realpolitik, the geopolitical needs of the moment condition the president's position on human rights around the world, freeing him to make alliances with military dictators and other unsavory, but perhaps useful, characters. In the global marketplace the need to maximize profits conditions businesspeople to forge alliances with countries considered "unfriendly"
to their own. Thus the same qualities that impelled the Wall Streeters to cut deals with Nazis made them perfect candidates for positions of power in the OSS, during World War II, and later in the CIA, which was primarily built up around the personnel recruited from Wall Street law firms.
"I think that there was a real desire in the States after 1929 to find a stable place for investments," says John Loftus, author of Unholy Trinity: The Vatican, the Nazis, and Soviet Intelligence. Loftus explains that at that time, German officials had promised that by 1933 they would rescue the German mark from runaway inflation. These assurances paved the way for massive loans from American and British financiers to the German government, which used the money to pay off its debts incurred under the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I. The German government kept its word, the mark stabilized, and Anglo-American bankers and investors made a fortune.
"There was nothing wrong with investing in Germany in 1931," says historian Burton Hersh, "Germany was in a bad recession, and 'maybe we can help' was the notion. Put American capital in there and get these big industries back on their feet and then Hitler will pass and it won't be any problem."
William Stamps Farish, grandfather of President George Bush's longtime hunting buddy William Stamps Farish III, heir to the Standard Oil fortune, was also targeted by Congress for the extensive deals Standard Oil made with Nazi firms--including I.G. Farben--supplying the Nazis with exclusive contracts for rubber products needed to keep the Nazi war machine rolling along. Farish received a wrist-slap fine of $1000 after a Justice Department investigation, but all the negative publicity surrounding him contributed to a fatal heart attack.
By contrast, Prescott Bush managed to avoid most of the unpleasant fallout from his business partners' international wheeling and dealing, and the scandal proved to be no real problem in Prescott Bush's successful 1952 campaign to become U.S. senator from Connecticut.
"The postwar investigations of Prescott Bush...show that he hung around with bad companions," Loftus argues, "[but I don't think there was ever any direct proof that Prescott was really supporting the rearmament of Germany or wittingly endorsed Nazi ideals. I think he was a genuine isolationist. Those guys wanted to make a profit on both sides of the war. You know--sell arms to Germany, sell arms to Britain. It's not our business."
"What you'll find about George Bush is that his life is almost too good to be true," boasted the president's son George Jr. in an eerie echo of his father's own words about Prescott Bush Sr.
The standard retelling of the George Bush saga portrays a plucky young man of great independence--striking off on his own at great risk to become an oil wildcatter in Texas, then giving up an opportunity to become Texas rich in order to enter politics and serve his country.
Yet despite efforts to emphasize Bush as entrepreneur and downplay his patrician background, recent Washington Post polls show that a majority believe that George Bush is personally honest but just doesn't understand what it's like for Americans who live on salaries.
Growing up in Connecticut, George Bush enjoyed being chauffeured to Greenwich Country Day School. Later he attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he excelled in sports and studies, attended cotillions with the daughters of the Northeastern establishment, and vacationed in Maine, where old money goes to sea.
Bush went straight from Andover into the navy, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944 when he was shot down over the Pacific. He married Barbara Pierce in 1945; he had met his future bride at a Rye-Greenwich dance party before the war.
George Bush, following in his father's footsteps, attended Yale and joined Skull and Bones. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in economics. As he approached graduation, his father's business partners reached out to young George in a very special way. In keeping with his social standing, George was to be offered a job at Brown Brothers Harriman--even though the firm had a rule against nepotism.
George said no. He and Barbara made up their minds to have an adventure, to travel to the farthest outpost of the American empire--the rough-and-tumble but rich colony called Texas--where sons and daughters of Eastern privilege had been making their fortunes during the Great Depression as the Texas economy shifted from farming to oil production. Those blue bloods who took the long road to Texas socialized together in their dusty exile in what became known as the "Texas Raj", a group of aristocratic oil families. Barbara and George Bush would soon join them.
Neil Mallon, chair of Dresser Industries--where Prescott Bush sat on the board of directors--offered George a job with the company's West Texas oil-field equipment subsidiary. George accepted the position and paradoxically saw the job as a way to prove his independence from his all-powerful father.
"If I were a psychoanalyzer, I might conclude that I was trying to, not compete with my father, but do something on my own," Bush told reporter Harry Hurt III in 1983. "My stay in Texas was no Horatio Alger thing, but moving from New Haven to Odessa...was quite a shift in lifestyle."
For a couple of years, Bush withstood the rigors of being a salaried employee, but by 1950, at the age of 27, George had made some new friends in the oil patch and could no longer resist using his family's connections to start up his own business.
"George would've been just another carpetbagger if he hadn't rode in on a silk carpet," old-time oilman J.C. Williamson told reporter Barry Bearak of the Los Angeles Times in 1987.
Herbie Walker, the investment banker who had so many strange dealings with Nazi financiers and German industrialists during the run-up to World War II, provided $300,000 to start the new company, called Bush-Overbey Oil Development, which concentrated on buying up oil leases.
By 1953, Bush had a reputation as a man with a pipeline to big money, and two members of the Texas Raj, Hugh and Bill Liedtke, who owned an oil business in Tulsa but had been schooled in Massachusetts, offered to join forces with Bush-Overbey. Once again, Herbie helped out with young George's share of the equity capital, and Zapata Petroleum was born.
The Liedtke brothers were the business brains of Zapata Oil. Big brains, by their record. The partners found what Hugh Liedtke described as a "first-rate second-rate oil field" and drilled 127 producing wells in a row during the next few years. In 1959, Bush split with the Liedtkes, taking the offshore business and leaving them the rest of the company, which the brothers would build into the world-spanning Pennzoil Corporation. Bush managed to cash out with 600,000 dollars. Once Bush had generated a family nest egg and proven himself in the cutthroat world of the Texas "oil bidness," Bush expanded Zapata Offshore into a
global enterprise and indulged his passion for politics.
"In those days," says Mexican oil magnate and convicted white-collar criminal Jorge Diaz Serrano, "I remember very clearly, [Bush] was a very young chap and when we were talking business with him at this office, he spent more time on the telephone talking about politics than paying attention to the drilling affairs. He was a born politician."
Diaz Serrano, Bush's business partner in a 1960 oil business venture and subsequent boss of Pemex, the giant Mexican state oil company, was convicted for defrauding the Mexican government of $58 million; he served a five-year jail sentence.
From 1960 to 1964, Bush and Serrano set up a company called Permargo, which was ostensibly owned by Mexican nationals but really controlled by Bush and other American insiders (Mexican law favored companies owned by Mexican citizens).
Permargo competed directly with Bush's own company, Zapata Offshore, but there is no record that Bush ever told his shareholders that he had another, covert company in a foreign country. SEC records for Zapata from 1960 through 1966 were "inadvertently destroyed" a few months after Bush became vicepresident in 1981.
At a time when Zapata's yearly profits were around $100,000 on revenues of $6 million, Bush personally arranged the sale of a Zapata drilling rig to Permargo--which one former Permargo associate valued at $500,000 to $1 million. The sale of the rig placed Bush in a conflict of interest. While it's clear that Permargo undermined Zapata, it's unclear why Bush founded it at all.
WHAT MAKES GEORGE RUN
Bush's dabbling in the murky waters of the offshore oil industry came to an end in 1964, when his infatuation with politics turned into a lifelong love affair. Bush's father personally requested that George get more involved in politics, and George heeded his father's call, this time with a run for the U.S. Senate. In a particularly acrimonious race against legendary liberal Ralph Yarborough, Bush tried to hitch a ride on Barry Goldwater's coattails and followed in the right-wing godfather's footsteps by coming out against the civil rights bill, for use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam, and in favor of Texas's right-to-work law.
Bush's support for nonunion labor extended far beyond mere rhetoric. As usual, Bush's political position was directly tied to his own economic interests. The Harris County AFL-CIO Council attacked Bush in the summer of 1964 for sanctioning illegal antiunion practices at Camco, Inc., a Houston-based oil field equipment company where Bush sat as a director. When confronted with the charge that Camco allegedly broke the law by failing to carry out a 1962 National Labor Relations Board order directing the reinstatement of 11 workers who had allegedly been fired for attending a union meeting, Bush responded that he had been too busy with Zapata Offshore business to help manage Camco.
Bush lost that election to Yarborough, but won over 1.1 million votes, making him the biggest Republican vote-getter in Texas history. Barry, unlike Herbie, had let George Bush down, but Bush's career trajectory within the Texas Republican Party soared. He had become, almost by default, a Republican standard-bearer of national significance, and the conditions for a successful march upward within the nation's political hierarchy were suddenly in place.
Then, Bush got lucky. Redistricting had carved out a new, all-white, affluent, Republican congressional district on Houston's West Side. Bush won a landslide vote there in 1966. Once he got to Congress, his father interceded with the congressional powers-that-be to help George obtain a plum beyond the reach of even many senior representatives: a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Bush profited from his high-profile committee position when Texas became a focus for President Richard Nixon's attention after Nixon nearly carried the state in 1968. Here, George Bush had hit the political jackpot, surrogate father-wise. Soon Nixon was encouraging Bush to run against Yarborough again in 1970, and even provided Bush with a $106,000 cash contribution from a $1.5 million secret presidential dirty-tricks slush fund called the Townhouse Operation. Bush did not report the donation at the time, and it would be years before the secret funds became public knowledge.
But Bush lost again--this time to conservative Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, who had beaten Yarborough in the primary. Despite Bush's loss, his newest attachment to yet another in a long line of father figures transformed the loss into a victory.
Nixon appointed Bush ambassador to the United Nations early in 1971. Bush remained at the U.N. throughout the 1972 election, while his close friends Bill Liedtke and Robert Mosbacher gathered $700,000 in secret campaign funds, flew the cash in Pennzoil's private plane to Washington, and deposited their stash at the offices of the Republican Party finance committee. Later, about $100,000 of the money ended up in Watergate burglar Bernard Barker's bank account.
After the election, as Watergate exploded, Nixon asked Bush to take over an utterly thankless job as head of the Republican National Committee. Over Barbara's objections, Bush took the assignment. Bush's patrician demeanor and propensity for behind-the-scenes politicking made him the perfect flak-catcher. Although top Republicans complained that Bush's mindless defense of Nixon was actually hurting the party, Bush stood by his man and emerged from the rubble of the Nixon presidency with his Teflon intact.
"The thing about George Bush's loyalty; George Bush is almost Hitlerian," explains Harry Hurt III, author of Texas Rich.
His loyalty was rewarded when newly sworn-in president Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon and appointed Bush first as envoy to mainland China in 1974 and then as head of the CIA.
In 1975, George Bush blossomed in the hothouse Company atmosphere of international intrigue and shifting alliances his father, Prescott Bush, and the Harrimans had inhabited before him. When he took over as head of the CIA, Bush demonstrated an affinity for right-wing "strongman" governments. Ever since Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had suggested that Israel start funneling arms to the South Africans, a long-term American effort to coordinate arms sales and secret police activities with military dictatorships around the world--code-named Operation Condor--had waxed and waned. Operation Condor, included police in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay. In 1976, it set up what was, in effect, an international dragnet designed to suppress dissident factions in all the countries involved.
That network is thought to have been responsible for the 1976 assassination of Chile's former foreign minister, the Socialist Orlando Letelier, in Washington, D.C. At that time, Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George Bush maintained an "open door" for friendly intelligence agencies and created an atmosphere in which the cooperation epitomized by Operation Condor could flourish.
Former CIA agent John Stockwell, who worked for George Bush during the tail end of the Agency's Angola operation, wrote in his book, The Praetorian Guard, that Kissinger, previous director William Colby, and CIA functionaries broke various laws during that operation, the perjured themselves to cover up their criminal actions.
"Bush's policy was not to investigate, not to dig out the truth, and not to punish the perpetrators," Stockwell charges. "His policy was to cover up for us. He called it 'restoring the CIA's morale.'"
As at the RNC, Bush combined a love of dirty tricks with an ability to appear blameless and above it all. Bush's most enduring accomplishment as DCI was the replacement of the CIA's Soviet analysts with a "Team B" of hardcore hawks who proceeded to grind out misleading studies showing a level of Soviet military spending that was actually far beyond the USSR's capablilities. The Team B analysis concluded that the USSR wanted nuclear superiority and believed it could win a nuclear war. (The Team B plan provided Reagan/Bush with a campaign issue in 1980, and established the need for the trillion-dollar military buildup that bankrupted the Soviet Union--and helped transform America from one of the world's largest creditor nation into the world's largest debtor.)
Although his policies did little to advance the cause of democratic values, international law, or human rights, George Bush made a lot of friends while DCI--friends who helped him in his presidential campaigns later. Overall, Bush had every reason to be happy with the plum Nixon had given him in return for his torturous tenure at the Republican National Committee.
As with Nixon, throughout his career George Bush would use family connections and personal charm as a lure, then attach himself to powerful entrepreneurs and older, more powerful politicians who would help him build an impressive resume, suitable for a presidential candidate. In his role as loyal lieutenant to the rich and powerful, Bush again followed in his father's footsteps. In his blind loyalty to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan--two bosses revealed as con men and abusers of presidential power--Bush reached a zenith of self-abnegation and spineless expediency that paradoxically continued to empower him politically and financially. This was an enduring behavior pattern detectable in George Bush's childhood relations with Prescott Bush.
"He always placated his father," psychoanalyst Ray Walker, Herbert Walker's son and George Bush's cousin remembers. "Then, later on, he placated his bosses. That is how he relates--by never defining himself against authority. If you have a history of deferring to somebody up the line--of saying, I'm not really free to have my own moral position--that's not going to change when you become president."
What better way, finally, for a plucky but insecure young lad to prove his worth to his beloved father than to become president of the United States?
No presidential campaign ever enjoyed the institution-wide support the intelligence community threw behind George Bush in 1980. The George Bush campaign staff included Ray Cline (CIA Taiwan station chief from 1958 until 1962), two former directors of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and at least 26 retired company men.
Bush supporter Angelo Codevilla testified to Congress that he was "aware that active-duty agents of the central Intelligence Agency worked for the George Bush primary election campaign," an allegation that, if true, would constitute illegal activity. Codevilla amended his story in short order to say he had "heard" of CIA involvement in the Bush campaign--a version that forestalled legal action.
A GOOD BIDNESS CLIMATE
To those who say George Bush has no vision of his own presidency, I say they've never been to Houston, Texas. During an appearance at the Houston rodeo, Bush recently promised an unenthusiastic crowd of steer wrestlers, country club cowpokes, and boutique cowgirls that he would do everything in his power as president during his second term of office to make America just like Texas. That same week, The Houston Post bannered headlines proclaiming, "Houston Feels Back to the Wall." This gives us all something to look forward to.
Houston is a city where concepts like zoning and public health care are seen as part of a worldwide communist conspiracy that will not be defeated until America returns to the good old days of the 19th century, when paupers were punished by law and the power of capital reigned supreme.
George Bush--and his onetime partners the Liedtkes--moved in the early 1960s to Houston, where Bush would socialize with a particularly predatory group of blueblood oilmen that included longtime Bush companion and campaign fundraiser Robert Mosbacher.
In Houston, the Texas Raj reached their philosophical, political, and financial zenith. George Bush would faithfully reflect their values, pursue their interests, and benefit financially from their friendship through the years as his power waxed in Washington.
The Texas Raj--and Houston's entrepreneurs in particular --have always had a hypocritical attitude toward government. They "love government subsidies but hate government regulation and hate paying sufficient taxes to protect the environment," explains sociology professor Joe Feagin, author of Free Enterprise City.
"From Houston's earliest days government has assisted and subsidized private profit making," Feagin writes "The Allen brothers [who founded Houston] relied on the local and Texas governments to ease profit making in land speculation. Since then a broad range of local and federal government subsidization has ranged from dredging the Ship Channel for waterborne commerce, to federal capital for the petro-chemical industry, to subsidies for the extensive Houston highway system, to local government financing of the Houston Economic Development Council."
Members of the Raj--and indeed the entirety of the Texas elite--have always believed that those who pay the bills for a Texas politician's campaign should receive direct financial benefits from the government for their support. In return, politicians can expect the Texas elite to help them out with their personal finances. It's considered bad form for an elected official to appear less than prosperous, and reflects badly on that official's patrons. (Former House speaker Jim Wright is a tragic example of how these Texan traditions can destroy a political career.)
"Texas political life has been directed by a single moneyed establishment," assert Neal R. Peirce and Jerry Hagstrom authors of a study of the 50 states. "In no other state has the control been so direct and unambiguous." The truth of this statement is reflected in the following statistic: In 1982, lobbyists in Texas spent an average of $5500 on each member of the state legislature, and at that time a legislator's salary amounted to a mere $7200.
HOUSTON SUGAR DADDY
The symbiotic relationship between George Bush and the Texas Raj emerged crystal clear during the late 1970s after Bush left the CIA. From Carter's victory in 1976 until the end of 1980, George Bush conducted a continuous campaign for president and/or vice-president. This took its toll on the Bush finances.
As usual, a powerful, sharklike father figure came to Bush's rescue. In 1978, future Bush Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher, oilman, real estate entrepreneur, business crony of Ferdinand Marcos, and Republican fundraiser for presidents Nixon, Ford, and Bush, cut George Bush in on a partnership in one of the largest tank-barge companies in America, called Hollywood Marine Inc., a subsidiary of Hollywood Holdings. Secretary of State James Baker also invested in the same Hollywood partnership beginning that same year.
In 1980, as Bush continued his never-ending campaign for president, he managed to scrape together an income of only $36,063, of which $5000 came from Hollywood Marine. So far, Bush has reportedly received $130,000 from this investment and stands to receive $20,000 a year in the future.
Mosbacher told The Washington Post that he considered the barge business to be a "very, very good investment" and admitted that allowing Bush into his limited partnership constituted "not a big favor, but a favor."
Mosbacher, whom the president calls "as close a confidant as I've had," currently oversees an agency charged with monitoring American waterways for pollution, yet apparently sees no conflict of interest in owning large chunks of a company that is one of the largest polluters of American rivers, harbors, and other inland waterways, according to Common Cause, Hollywood's barges, small marine trailer tanks for use on the nation's fragile inland waterways, have spilled over 200 times since 1980, according to government documents.
Apparently, the fact that Mosbacher involved the president in his business as a favor, that this cash cow is vital to the president's financial well-being, and that Bush appointed Mosbacher as one of the major regulators of his own business bothers neither Mosbacher, Baker, nor Bush.
The Texas Raj has always believed that those who bear the burden of government should also profit from it. That's one proposition that both George Bush and Ronald Reagan could agree on--probably the only one during the 1980 primary season, when they bashed one another mercilessly in their quest for the Republican nomination.
When Bush lost Texas to Reagan, it was clear that the Gipper had won, voodoo economics and all. Bush, the eternal fair-haired boy, managed to convince a hostile Ronald Reagan to take him on as surrogate son, establishing for himself an activist, involved vice-presidency under Reagan's sometimes wandering tutelage.
By this time, Bush's sons were certainly old enough to consciously absorb the lessons of the 1980 campaign--fight like hell to be your own man and to achieve power on your own, but if you fail, use every available means to ingratiate yourself with a real man of power, and you'll win in life every time.
Reagan always found it hard to believe that George Bush was a real conservative. But if being a real conservative means enabling the rich to profit from the dismantling of government programs, as Reagan demonstrated, then Bush and his friends in the Texas Raj certainly had no quarrel with that.
To prove his commitment to using government as a vehicle for private gain, as vice-president Bush headed the Task Force on Regulatory Relief, a typically hard-nosed administration witch-hunt that sparked a wave of mindless deregulation of all types of industries, creating the climate for environmental and financial hazards ranging from the dumping of hazardous waste in sewers to the trillion-dollar savings and loan scandal.
Bush proclaimed in 1988 that one of his "proudest accomplishments as Vice President has been to help eliminate needless government regulations that have stifled our economy, raised prices and cost jobs."
But Ralph Nader's Public Citizen found that in case after case Bush and his deregulatory zealots "placed the economic interests of the oil, drug, auto, chemical and other industries above the health and safety of the nation."
The most damning indictment of vice-president Bush remains the host of unanswered questions surrounding his role in the Iran-contra scandal, since it is known that several of Bush's deputies coordinated Oliver North's guns-and-drugs pipeline, and that Bush himself engineered a sweet aid deal for Honduras in exchange for Honduran acceptance of a new role as contra military base in the Nicaraguan war.
George Bush's pivotal role in coordinationg Ronald Reagan's secret little wars was institutionalized in 1981, when Reagan set up the National Security Planning Group (NSPG) and charged chairman George Bush with running America's "real crisis management unit" with "final authority for covert operations by the CIA," writes John Prados, in Keepers of the Keys.
Reagan took the NSPG quite seriously--he attended three NSC or NSPG meetings a week. The sordid Iran-contra episode probably did more to damage Washington ethics than any other single event in modern history--but it was far more than a mere national security scandal. It sent a larger moral message as well, one with personal implications.
"Part of the explanation for the collapse of any serious conflict-of-interest yardstick to restrain the mingling of party politics, personal business and the for-profit modification of U.S. foreign policy is simple," charges Kevin Phillips, author of The Politics of Rich and Poor. "Back in the mid 1980s, the line between private industry, private financial bankrollers and foreign policy was dissolved in the Iran-contra blueprint to aid the Nicaraguan rebels. Since then, Persian Gulf bankers and Washington consultants have become de facto assistant secretaries of state and assistant U.S. trade representatives."
Saddam Hussein in Duty Uniform, public domain photo, courtesy Wikimedia
Nor was this the only instance in which Vice-President George Bush played a crucial role in trading with America's enemies. George Bush successfully lobbied to have over $800 million in loan credits and technology delivered to Saddam Hussein, over the objections of the Pentagon, between 1987 and the start of the gulf war. Covert assistance also flowed to Iraq during the Reagan-Bush years.
"Bush's efforts reflected a pattern of personal intervention and support for aid to Iraq that extended from his early years as vice president...through the first year of his own presidency and almost to the eve of the Persian Gulf war," Murray Waas and Douglas Frantz reported recently in the Los Angeles Times. Following in Prescott Bush's footsteps, George Bush helped with the re-industrialization of a belligerent dictatorship that America eventually had to confront in battle.
If this is how George Bush imparts family values, and aristocratic notions of high-minded public service, then America had better find another role model. Meanwhile, the Bush family dynasty, with all its cousins and campaign handlers, will continue to promote the president's reputation as a patrician exemplar of noblesse oblige. That facade will come in handy on the campaign trail, where George Bush and his family continue to prove the truth of an old adage by Mark Twain: "Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves--and
how little we think of the other person."
Bush family research coordinated by Billy Treger. Further assistance by Jane Ludlam, Erica Nicotra, and Sabine Guez.