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Once from China - by nate

16 January 2002


William Pitt

"Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." - Samuel Johnson

Some time just before January 7th, 2002, an asteroid capable of pulverizing a good-sized nation flashed through the void, passing perilously close to Earth. Had it struck our planet, the impact would have had global consequences. The energy of the strike would have been equivalent to the explosion of a number of large atomic weapons. From the media perspective, it would have been the biggest story since the extinction of the dinosaurs.

At some point in the next six months, a small, darkened corner of George W. Bush's consciousness will wish the thing had hit us. The apocalypse he and his fundamentalist buddies have been waiting for would have been at hand, and a number of potentially calamitous questions about to be put to his administration would have been avoided.

Sadly for him, the planet spins on. Beneath the unpierced stratosphere, the electronic beams of news agencies like CNN and the Associated Press have begun to spread like a widow's web from city to city and house to house. Carried on this invisible wind are rumors of doom, negligence and greed. Each and every one of these rumors lead inexorably back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which will soon be issuing significant numbers of visitor passes to lawyers if the pattern holds much longer.

Whichever part of the nation that never heard of the energy giant Enron Corporation has recently been introduced to the company in odious context. The story thus far is nothing less than astounding: Enron, a company valued in the billions on Wall Street, suddenly filed for the largest bankruptcy claim in the history of the known universe. 4,000 employees were abruptly shown the door after having been barred from dumping the company stock, meant to fund their retirement, while it was worth something. Meanwhile, Enron executives in the know were able to dump the stock, back when it was the gold standard on the Street, for a cool $1 billion.

Apparently, Enron was ailing for quite a long time. The aforementioned executives were able to maintain the mirage of financial viability by stuffing the debt into what are called 'off-balance-sheet partnerships.' In essence, each of the executives built personal banking bunkers and hid what has been revealed to be staggering Enron debts within them, keeping fact that the company was hemorrhaging money off the publicly displayed balance sheets. This maintained the company's credit rating, and allowed it to continue doing business.

This went on for four years, which means several things. It means most of the Enron executives were aware of and/or actively participating in this highly criminal and irresponsible activity. It means the stockholders, including 4,000 loyal Enron employees, were lied to. It probably means that the executives knew the stock value was doomed when they bailed out and cashed in several months ago. It means they let their employees lose the retirement funds they believed were growing within their Enron stock portfolios. It means a lot of people got screwed by a pack of sharp operators who didn't give a damn about anyone but themselves.

All this could simply be chalked up as yet another story of corporate greed run amok, until the umbilical political and financial connections between Bush and Enron are illuminated. Enron's capo, Kenneth Lay, was perhaps the best financial friend George W. Bush has ever known. Lay and a number of Enron employees essentially bankrolled Bush's 2000 Presidential campaign, going so far as to lend Bush an Enron corporate jet for trips between whistle stops. Before Bush got White House stars in his eyes, he worked very closely with Enron on energy policy in Texas.
This close connection led to the Bush administration's hiring of a number of influential individuals within Enron's orbit for important government positions:

- Thomas E. White, Bush's Secretary of the Army, was once Vice-Chairman of Enron Energy Service, and held millions in Enron stock;
- Presidential Advisor Karl Rove owned as much as $250,000 in Enron stock;
- Economic adviser Larry Lindsay leapt straight from Enron to his current White House job;
- Federal Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick did the same;
- SEC Chairman Harvey Pitts was hand-picked by Kenneth Lay for the position, due to his notorious aversion to governmental regulation of any kind.

There are some thirty one Bush administration officials who had a line item for Enron in their stock portfolio, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. It is fair to say that the woebegone corporation held, and continues to hold, enormous influence over the day-to-day machinations of Federal government policy. One wonders if Bush's recent gutting of the Clean Air Act, a decision designed to improve the fortunes of companies like Enron, was the brainchild of people with deep connections to the energy industry.

The trail of influence left by Enron leads also to the scabrous heart ventricles of Vice President Dick Cheney, who admitted recently to six separate meetings with Enron executives while formulating the Bush administration's energy policy. Cheney, a former executive of the Halliburton Petroleum interest, was in charge of creating this policy. For reasons soon to be exposed by subpoena, Cheney refused to detail the specifics of the creation of this policy, which included the multiple Enron meetings.

The General Accounting Office was preparing to sue Cheney to reveal this information when the September 11th attacks took place. Those subpoenas may be dusted off and mailed within a month. In the meantime, the Justice Department is preparing a serious criminal investigation into the collapse of Enron. The democratically-controlled Senate is planning hearings on the matter as well. Columnist Robert Scheer has referred to the Bush administration's involvement in the Enron debacle as "Whitewater in spades." One wonders if "Watergate" would be a more appropriate comparison.

Bush's own dealings within the energy industry carry a disturbingly familiar echo to the Enron situation: once upon a time, he was a high-ranking officer of a petroleum interest called Harken Oil. On June 22, 1990, Bush sold his Harken stock and made $848,560, earning him a 200% profit. One week later, Harken announced a $23.2 million loss in quarterly earnings and its stock dropped sharply, losing 60 percent of its value over the next six months. Bush made a bundle while the other investors lost millions. Harken was Enron in miniature, and might have served as a warning to the American people if the press had chosen to pay any attention to it during the 2000 Presidential campaign.

There is a school of thought, espoused primarily by Republicans, that any investigation into potentially dishonorable or illegal actions by the Bush administration is tantamount to treason. We are at war, undeclared though it may be, and Bush must be free to prosecute this war vigorously, so as to defend our freedom and bring the murderers of American civilians to justice. If reports recently aired on CNN have any credence, however, Bush and his people may well have to answer for actions that make the Enron catastrophe look like a jaywalking offense, actions that led directly to the incredible carnage in New York and Washington, D.C.

In 1998, during the Clinton administration, the U.S.-based energy concern Unocal canceled plans to exploit massive natural gas deposits in Turkmenistan. They had planned to run a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, where the natural gas could have been processed for Asian and Western energy markets. The idea was scuttled after Clinton ordered the cruise missile bombing of Afghanistan in response to a terrorist attack upon U.S. embassies in Africa which were planned and executed by Osama bin Laden. The pipeline would have had to pass through Afghanistan, and Unocal was given the message in Technicolor by Clinton's people that Taliban-controlled Afghanistan was not to be given any sort of financial boon.

Apparently, the Bush administration found no moral dilemma in dealing with the Taliban to get to the gas. Immediately upon their arrival in Washington, a vigorous courtship of the Taliban was undertaken by Bush's people. In fact, if former U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler is to be believed, the Bush administration had a vested interest in strengthening and stabilizing the Taliban regime, because a stable regime would compel investors to revive the Turkmenistan natural gas pipeline deal. The Taliban, demon of the moment, was the Bush administration's idea of a 'stable' government. Stable enough, anyway, to see the pipeline through.

The connections between Bush and the Taliban became so close that the Taliban went so far as to hire an expert on U.S. public relations named Laila Helms, so as to smooth the way between the two regimes. Meetings between the two nations continued at a high level, the last of which occurred in August, scant weeks before the September 11th attacks. All of these actions were taken to exploit the vast energy reserves in Turkmenistan for the benefit of American energy corporations.

The cozy relationship between Bush and the Taliban frustrated the investigative efforts of former Deputy Director of the FBI John O'Neill. O'Neill was the FBI's chief bin Laden hunter, in charge of the investigations into the bin Laden-connected bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993, the destruction of an American troop barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the African embassy bombings in 1998, and the attack upon the U.S.S. Cole in 2000.

O'Neill quit the FBI in protest two weeks before the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. He did so because his investigation was hindered by the Bush administration's connections to the Taliban, and by the interests of American petroleum companies. O'Neill was quoted as stating, "The main obstacles to investigating Islamic terrorism were U.S. oil corporate interests, and the role played by Saudi Arabia in it." After leaving the FBI, O'Neill took a position as head of security for the World Trade Center. He died on September 11th, 2001, trying to save people trapped by the attack, when the towers came down on top of him. The irony in this, simply, is horrifying.

In essence, the Federal agent who knew more about bin Laden than any living American was kept from investigating terrorist threats against this country. He was hindered because the Bush administration was desperate to cultivate the favor of the Taliban, who held terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in great esteem, so as to gain access to lucrative natural gas deposits in Turkmenistan.

If these allegations prove true, Bush and his friends allowed this affinity to hamstring investigations that could have thwarted bin Laden's September plans. If these allegations prove true, everything since September 11th has been a massive cover-up operation in which American soldiers and thousands of Afghan civilians have died. If these allegations prove true, the Bush administration has the blood of thousands of American civilians on its hands.

If these allegations carry even the faintest whiff of credibility, George W. Bush and members of his administration stand in taint of high treason and murder.

On November 7th, 2000, a clear majority of Americans came to the conclusion that George W. Bush was unfit to govern this nation. For a variety of dark and controversial reasons, that conclusion was thrown over. Sometime soon, if the media's electronic web continues to carry these sordid stories of corruption, greed and death, the American people will come to fully understand the consequences of that failed election.

It is one thing to coddle and court a corrupt energy company for political and financial gain. It is quite another to coddle and court a murderous terrorist-supporting regime, hindering anti-terrorism investigations in the process, for the purpose of exploiting valuable natural resources. The former cost a number of people their retirement funds. The latter has cost thousands of people their lives. One is criminal. The other is abominable. George W. Bush is deeply implicated in both. There will be hell to pay.

William Pitt is a teacher in Boston (