Fineman and the Beginner's Mind

Friday, May 26, 2006

One almost has to admire the Zen-like simplicity of Howard Fineman's mind. Surely each moment is new for him. He seems blissfully unencumbered by the travails of history, or even, of recent months. Fineman lives completely in the "now" of each dawning news event.

If you want a date to mark the beginning of the end of the Bush era in American life, you may as well make it this one: May 25, 2006. The Enron jury in Houston didn't just put the wood to Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. The jurors took a chainsaw to the moral claims of the Texas-based corporate culture that had helped fuel the rise to power of President George W. Bush.

Those of us more attached to the events of the last few years would be more likely to mark the decline of the presidency by things like a war of escalating tragedy three years after Bush declared "Mission Accomplished," the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, a speech on immigration that managed to offend Republicans and Democrats alike, the collapse of his grand vision for converting Social Security to private accounts, the squandering of international good will after 9/11 to the extent that America is now reviled around the world, the David Copperfield-like magic trick that turned an inherited surplus into the largest projected deficit in US history which continues to be fed by endless tax cuts for the wealthy, etc. etc. etc... Americans have retained knowledge of these occurrences even if Fineman hasn't and the demonstration of their impact is the death spiral of Bush's poll numbers, which have wallowed in the 30s for months.

Even though Fineman has chosen in the present moment to mark Bushco's demise by the happy event of Lay and Skilling's convictions, he wishes into the cornfield the enmeshment of this Administration with the machinations of Enron. Says Fineman:

First, caveats. There's no evidence that the president or anyone in his entourage knew about or benefited financially from the house of cards that Lay and Skilling built—and that a federal jury now has found to have been an edifice of fraud.

The Bush Crowd was old school in the energy bidness and viewed Lay & Co. as hustling parvenus who had no real interest in finding and pumping oil—what real men in Texas do.

Most of what Enron concocted was assembled in the go-go Clinton years. Bush's idea of an oilman was his old Bible-study buddy, the upright, clean-as-a-whistle Don Evans. As the Enron scam was falling apart, Lay frantically sought help from Evans—by then the Commerce secretary—among others (including Democrats such as former Clinton Treasury secretary Robert Rubin). He got nowhere, and had the chutzpah to be bitter about it.

It must be lovely to enjoy a mind so untroubled by facts. For a record more grounded in reality, Robert Parry has a memory span longer than the single beat of a hummingbird's wing.

Contrary to the official story, the Bush administration did almost whatever it could to help Enron as the company desperately sought cash to cover mounting losses from its off-the-books partnerships, a bookkeeping black hole that was sucking Enron toward bankruptcy and scandal.

As Enron's crisis worsened through the first nine months of Bush's presidency, Lay secured Bush's help in three key ways:

--Bush personally joined the fight against imposing caps on the soaring price of electricity in California at a time when Enron was artificially driving up the price of electricity by manipulating supply. Bush's resistance to price caps bought Enron extra time to gouge hundreds of millions of dollars from California's consumers.

--Bush granted Lay broad influence over the development of the administration's energy policies, including the choice of key regulators to oversee Enron's businesses. The chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was replaced in 2001 after he began to delve into Enron's complex derivative-financing schemes.

--Bush had his NSC staff organize that administration-wide task force to pressure India to accommodate Enron's interests in selling the Dabhol generating plant for as much as $2.3 billion.

That's just the overview. For an article rich in detail on an effort on Dabhol that reached all the way the Vice President's office, Bush's complicity in extorting California, and Lay's involvement in the shaping of Federal energy policy, read the entire article here.


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