404: Information Missing From Your Daily News
Summaries of under-reported news, updates on previous Monitor stories
In the days following the inauguration, recall that Clinton still dominated the headlines. There were those questionable last-minute pardons (although it would still be a few weeks before the Marc Rich pardon would take the spotlight). There were accusations that the Clintons had accepted expensive and inappropriate gifts (debunked in the February 404 report). But the tales that set tongues wagging were reports that embittered Clinton staffers had trashed the White House, and that the Clinton family had looted Air Force One on their farewell flight.
Most famously, the White House damage included "W" keys removed from some computer keyboards. But soon new details began to spill out. Fox News anchor Brit Hume told viewers that the vandalism included "pornographic pictures left in computer printers, scatological messages left on voice mail, and cabinets and drawers glued shut. And the Washington Times reports that the presidential 747 that flew Bill and Hillary Clinton to New York on inauguration day was stripped bare... silverware, and salt and pepper shakers, blankets and pillow cases, nearly all items bearing the presidential seal, were taken by Clinton staffers who went along for the ride.." The New York Daily News quoted a "senior Bush official" as saying, "We've been told not to say anything about it... his command decision has been made not to comment in the hopes that it helps set the new tone we've been talking about. It's not very George W. Bush to discuss things like this. We prefer to be gracious rather than talk about the past."
It may not be "very George W. Bush" to trash the Clintons, but it was second nature to elements of the press. Soon the stories became the signature epilogue for the Clinton era. A cache of Colgate toothpaste was pilfered from the airplane. Vandalism was found throughout the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, with its hundreds of offices. Glass desktops were smashed. Obscene graffitti was found in bathrooms. Door locks were jiggered so that Bush staffers were locked inside. "Bush Sucks" was spray painted on a hallway. Computer keyboards were "doused with fluids." U.S. emblems were pried off of doors. Voice mail messages were changed to obscene greetings ("one Bush staff member's grandmother was horrified by what she heard on the other end of the line when she called," reported the Birmingham Post). The vice-president's office was in "complete shambles." The final bill to clean up the whole mess could reach up to $200,000.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer took the high road. The new adminstration was going to be "cataloging what took place," but the compassionate Bush was not going to pursue the issue. "The president understands that transitions can be times of difficulty and strong emotion," he said. "He's going to approach it in that vein." Pressed to describe more about the vandalism, Fleischer said, "I choose not to describe what acts were done that we found upon arrival, because I think that's part of changing the tone in Washington. I think it would be easy for us to reflect and to discuss these things, and to be critical... as far as we're concerned, it's over."
But this last Clinton presidential scandal was far from over. Letters and editorials appeared in newspapers for weeks. A sample:
Mr. Speaker, graffiti on the walls, furniture destroyed, doors glued shut, garbage in refrigerators. Sounds like Animal House, but I am talking about the Clinton White House. Now if that is not enough to wax your windows, former President Clinton has said, and I quote, he wants "a complete and thorough investigation into this crime at the White House." Beam me up. This is the same President that wanted no investigation into Chinese Communist cash being funneled to the Democrat National Committee, and we let him get away with it. Unbelievable.(Traficant, by the way, was indicted earlier this month for bribery, tax evasion, racketeering, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice -- charges that have outraged the right-wing press, who seek to blame Janet Reno hold-overs in the Justice Department for the indictments. The use of "Beam me up" is apparently a favorite Traficant catch phrase; at his web site one can hear him shouting it while enjoying the dancing graphic seen to the right.)
Another Clinton foe, Rep. Bob Barr (R - Georgia) -- an outspoken leader in the effort to impeach the president -- called for the General Accounting Office (GAO) to begin an "immediate investigation" into the cost of the vandalism. That agency finished its work last month, releasing its findings in mid-May.
And they found that nothing had happened.
Yes, there were a few pranks (more about that below), but there was nothing that could be called vandalism, much less "sabotage" -- a favorite term used in angry letters to the editor. Bernie Ungar, director of physical infrastructure issues at the General Services Administration wrote a four-paragraph memo to Rep. Barr. "The condition of the real property was consistent with what we would expect to encounter when tenants vacate office space after an extended occupancy."
The memo continued, "No wholesale slashing of cords to computers, copiers and telephones, no evidence of lewd graffiti or pornographic images. GSA didn't bother to nail down reports of pranks, which were more puckish than destructive."
Ungar told the New York Times, "my sense is there probably was some phones pulled or whatever; I don't have a way to determine that. But there wasn't indication of real, significant, widespread damage."
Barr was not mollified. "This is very disappointing," he wrote to the GAO. "And it is a disservice to the American taxpayers who deserve a full accounting of taxpayer property."
Given the outrage over the vandalism claims just a few months before, you might expect the debunking of the story to be a bombshell. But the news was consistently downplayed in the media; when it was mentioned, it usually appeared in catch-all "News in Brief"-type summaries. Most often used were snippets from the NY Times and the Kansas City Star.
Okay, so Clinton aides didn't trash the White House; ol' Slick Willie still looted Air Force One, right?
No, it turns out that those stories were made up, too.
A spokesman at Andrews Air Force Base, where Air Force One is maintained, said that the only things missing after the Clinton's last flight were 15 glasses and 6 hand towels. Total value: about $140. "The allegations of missing china and silverware during the Jan. 20, 2001, flight are incorrect."
As with the White House vandalism story, few in the press bothered with offering a correction. The only newspaper in the country that apparently reported the petty $140 value of the damaged or missing items was the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
While the Air Force One story was a complete lie, some feeble excuses can be made for the White House rumors. The offices really were in disarray -- but not because of Clinton staffers. The new Bush administration had insisted on a complete remodelling job to be done in 48 hours. Furniture was moved about as carpets were replaced and walls painted. It certainly must have looked like chaos.
And as the GSA memo noted, there were "puckish" jokes left by Clinton staffers. Signs were placed on a few doors mocking Bush-speak: "Office of Strategerie" and "Division of Uniting." Bumper stickers for "GORE 2000" were placed at the bottom of printer papertrays -- pretty harmless stuff. (By comparison, the departing 1993 Bush-Quayle troops had their stickers glued to many desks and had cut pencils into inch-long stubs, according to The Washington Post.) So combine the redecorating mess with the real pranks, add the Washington Rumor Mill and stir well: If you're the generous sort, perhaps you'll say that it was an innocent mixup. If you believe that, you would be wrong. Both stories offered classic examples of how the right has manipulated truth to advance its agenda.
The White House vandalism story first appeared in Rich Galen's newsletter, " Mullings." Galen -- a former staffer for Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich and former executive director of Newt's controversial GOPAC -- wrote on January 24: "Vice President Dick Cheney's staffers trying to move into the Office of the Vice President space in the Old Executive Office Building right next to the White House found the offices had been left in complete shambles by the Gore staff on its way out on Friday and Saturday. Every cord and wire, in many offices -- telephone, power, computer and lamp -- was slashed. Furniture was tossed..."
Hours later, the story was oozing down the same pipeline that had dumped on the Clintons so many times before. There was an item in the Drudge Report: "The Bush Administration has quietly launched an investigation..." It was then quickly picked up by Fox News and the viciously anti-Clinton Washington Times. From there, it made the jump to CNN, the Washington Post, and other mainstream media sources. Soon the concocted story was being reported with no doubt of its accuracy. From U.S. News & World Report, Feb 5: "It resembled a scene from the movie Animal House, where the frat boys from Delta trashed their own house before being thrown off campus. Only this time the frat boys were Bill Clinton's aides..."
As far as can be determined, the Air Force One story began January 25 with a column in the Washington Times, where John McCaslin claimed that he was told that the presidential plane was "stripped bare." Wrote McCaslin, "Missing from the plane on arrival in New York, Inside the Beltway is told, was all the porcelain china, silverware, salt and pepper shakers, blankets and pillow cases -- most of it bearing the presidential seal. What most astonished the military steward was that even a cache of Colgate toothpaste, not stamped with the presidential seal, was snatched from a compartment beneath the presidential plane's sink..."
Both stories leaned entirely on anonymous sources -- "Bush officials," "a well-place source," "an air force steward," "an outraged member of the Bush team," "a GSA worker." But when Reuters reported on January 25 about the prank removal of "W" keys and Ari Fleischer added that they were "cataloging what took place," the appearance of a White House investigation and the report of a true prank were exploited to lend gravitas to the bogus reports. From that point on, it snowballed, with new embellishments added by everyone who repeated the stories.
Although the Bush Administration may not have had a role in spreading the lies, it clearly was responsible for not stopping them. At any point, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer could have said, "look, there was no vandalism here, nor looting of Air Force One. These are unfounded rumors." Instead, he not only allowed the falsehood to stand unchallenged, but also dishonestly used the fib to make his boss appear victimized, yet gracious. It was not only a dishonest trick, it was cheap.
No one on the Bush team will likely ever admit their role in the development of these anti-Clinton propaganda tales (and that is the other skill they have learned so well from Richard Nixon: Plausible deniability), but the Bush White House is as culpable for spreading the lies as The Washington Times. Mr. Bush has set a new tone in Washington, indeed. (May 26, 2001)
[The] conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience... we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist...
Two generations of activists have rallied to the fight against Ike's military-industrial complex, often pinning the label on any large military contractor. But read the segment again and you'll see that Eisenhower's was condemning something beyond a business relationship between the Pentagon and companies who grow rich making bombs. Specifically, it was the acquisition of unwarranted influence by a new kind of coalition.
Meet the poster child for that mysterious military-industrial complex: The Carlyle Group.
Less than 15 years old, Carlyle Group Inc. has grown into the largest "private equity" corporation on the planet, worth over $13 billion. Large investors such as banks and insurance companies buy shares in different Carlyle funds, then Carlyle uses these monies to either invest in businesses or buy them outright. These deals are often complex; just last week, Carlyle was at the table when the owner of Trojan condoms and other products was split apart -- Carlyle became a backer of a newly-created biz that will sell cough syrup and other health-care items. High-finance, it seems, is often not so much about creating new businesses as rearranging older ones.
But owning shares in cold medicines does not a multi-billion dollar company make. Most of Carlyle's fortune comes from the defense and telecommunications industries. Here the company excels. Carlyle Inc. is number 11 on the list of top defense contractors; with only the Air Force, last year's contracts topped $142 million.
Much of Carlyle's meteoric rise is credited to its all-star lineup of talent. This month alone, three political superstars came onboard:
There are regulations stopping these ex-officials from becoming Washington lobbyists, but Carlyle doesn't need to stoop to something so crass as that. As described in a recent New York Times article, Frank Carlucci recently dropped in on some old friends. Besides visiting his old college classmate, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he also met with Vice President Cheney (who was Secretary of Defense under George Bush I) to chat about military issues. At the same time, according to the Times, Carlyle was seeking approval for the $13.7 billion Crusader tank as well as protesting a $4 billion contract turned down by the Pentagon.
Although Carlyle represents exactly that sort of dangerous nexus that scared Dwight Eisenhower, there has been little in-depth media coverage of Carlyle's power base, except for that March article in The Times. To their credit, the newspaper placed the story on the front page and raised the question of ethical conflicts by Carlyle's most well-known bag man: Ex-president George Bush.
Bush Senior has never shown qualms about trading on his famous name. He long has been a shill for the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his Unification church (see 1998 MONITOR story), where he reportedly was paid up to $500,000 per appearance at Moon's sport-stadium rallies. For Carlyle, the 41st president of the United States is their senior advisor for Asia, where he often uses connections made during his years of public service. While George W. was campaigning for president, dad was discussing Carlyle deals with the Saudi Crown Prince and King Fahd.
Carlyle Group connections have also helped George Jr. directly. It was during his father's presidency that George W. became a multimillionaire from family ties, first with the sweetheart deal for the Texas Rangers baseball team and then with a stock deal that skirted the law (see MONITOR feature "The Unexamined Man"). Padding out his resume in 1990 was a seat on the board of Caterair, an airline food company and subsidiary of Carlyle.
Even without lobbying, Carlyle's ties to the new Bush Administration offers the investment group enormous opportunities for influencing policy and budget decisions. The NY Times article also quoted Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit public interest group based in Washington:
"Carlyle is as deeply wired into the current administration as they can possibly be. George Bush is getting money from private interests that have business before the government, while his son is president. And, in a really peculiar way, George W. Bush could, some day, benefit financially from his own administration's decisions, through his father's investments. "The average American doesn't know that," he said, "and, to me, that's a jaw-dropper."
Barely ten years ago, George Bush proclaimed that the fall of the Soviets would usher in a "New World Order." Now we know what he meant: it's Ike's fearsome military-industrial complex, with Bush and his cronies at the helm. (May 13, 2001)
But there's another energy scandal on the West Coast that has received almost no national attention: Aluminum factories in the Northwest have closed because they can make obscene profits just by reselling energy that would have been otherwise used to operate the plants.
The groundwork was laid in 1996, when the eight corporations signed a 5-year contract with the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). The aluminum smelters were almost the only companies that could buy directly from this federal agency, and at a fixed price of about $23 per megawatt/hour. A provision in the contract gave the companies the right to resell the power. When energy prices recently skyrocketed to as high as $550 per megawatt/hr, the aluminum tycoons found they could make a windfall 2,500 percent profit by shutting almost all the plants down and selling their promised megawatts to others, including selling their rights to the unused power back to BPA. The aluminum companies will make over $1.5 billion in profit this year from the deal.
As with California's energy problems, the Northwest can expect no help from Washington. Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill came from Alcoa Aluminum, which is making about a quarter of a billion dollars by selling something it didn't really "own" in the first place. But that enormous sum only ranks Alcoa #4 in this aluminum rogue's gallery; at the top is Kaiser Aluminum, expected to grab about $425 million. For their profiteering, the top five Kaiser officers were paid bonuses ranging from $250,000 to nearly $1 million. Another fun fact about Kaiser Aluminum: it is controlled by MAXXAM -- the infamous Texas corporation of junk-bond king Charles Hurwitz. MAXXAM is the company that also controls Pacific Lumber, long hated in Northern California for its irresponsible logging of old redwoods.
Alas for the smelters, the party's over on October 1. That's when the contracts expire, and they certainly won't be renewed at the current give-away rate. BPA wants all of the plants to completely shut down at that time for two years, when new generators are expected to be available to solve our energy shortage. During those two years, BPA needs those spare megawatts to make up for the ongoing shortfall; generating capacity is down sharply because of drought conditions (more about that in a moment).
Here's where it gets interesting, so follow closely: BPA says that if the aluminum plants don't shut down, home and business electricity rates will jump 200-300 percent. Fifty thousand people in the region could lose their jobs in the fallout.
But the aluminum industry says that a two-year shut down will put 7,000 of their workers on the street (many of those employees are currently laid off, of course) and have a ripple effect that will unemploy three times that many. The industry wants compensation for the closures (although many of those plants are already closed). The industry also demands another subsidized energy contract (but acknowledges that it won't get the sweetheart deal they currently enjoy).
And here's the twisted punchline: if the aluminum industry gets its cheap energy and consumer rates triple, the smelters would still lose money if they actually operated the plants. According to an analysis in the Eugene, Oregon Register-Guard, the industry would pay $2-5 for the electricity needed to make a pound of aluminum that's only worth 70 cents.
Are these New World Order economics a great thing, or what?
There's no easy win-win solution. Jason Eisdorfer, a member of the consumer-rights Citizens' Utility Board, told the Eugene newspaper that it's "obvious it is time to let those dinosaurs just die." Pulling the plug on an industry that makes 40 percent of the nation's aluminum may be impossible, however, given the current political climate.
Enviros are also alarmed because no matter which side wins, it looks like wildlife will suffer. There was concern in March that the BPA was prepared to sacrifice a whole year's worth of Endangered Species Act salmon and steelhead species for energy's sake. Water must be spilled over the Bonneville Dam for smolts to make it to the ocean, and stream flow is at the lowest level in 70 years. Every drop that doesn't go through a turbine engine makes the power crisis that much worse.
The Chinook made it over the dam this year, although the value of this "wasted" water was estimated at over $2 million. BPA acting director Steve Wright made it clear that future spills for the salmon's sake are no sure thing. Assuring adequate power supplies and nurturing Bonneville's cash flows are his highest priorities, Wright told reporters. (May 16, 2001)
Albion Monitor Issue 87 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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