WHO WANTS an ethics investigation?
It's not that the targets aren't plump. They are ripe and starting to ooze.
You could start with a peep into Vice President Dick Cheney's secret
sessions with energy industry executives called together these past months to
craft an energy policy that, surprisingly enough, turned out to be all about
them. At least the vice president from Halliburton cashed in his stake in the
global oil-services firm first.
During the campaign, he had recoiled in disbelief at the suggestion that he
should cash in his stock and options, should he get elected. Cheney gave us the
first glimpse into how the millionaire's club sometimes known as the Bush
administration views this annoying matter of ethics and public service.
"I'd like not to have to give away all my assets in order to serve in
public," Cheney said last August.
The big giveaway ended up netting Cheney $20.6 million.
This was a preview to the slow-motion divestiture of Treasury Secretary
Paul O'Neill. His office has announced he's finally managed to sell all his
stock in Alcoa, the industrial giant he ran before moving to Washington. The
stock sales took place only after O'Neill, whose job involves overseeing taxes,
trade, international finance and every other economic matter that could
conceivably affect an international industrial conglomerate, first said he saw
no need to divest at all.
But it was worth the wait: O'Neill's stock gained as much as $62 million,
according to calculations by Salon Magazine, since March, when the secretary
first said he would sell.
Heck, all this makes Karl Rove, the president's chief political guru, a
piker. All Rove did was meet with executives from Intel, the high-tech company,
while it was seeking administration approval of a big merger. Rove happens to
have owned about $100,000 of Intel stock which-surprise!-he hadn't sold off at
the time of the sit-down.
There are some Democrats in Congress, notably Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.),
who suggest that perhaps this might be worth looking into. You have to worry
For years Waxman has sat next to Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the
House Government Reform Committee and champion subpoena-issuer (more than 1,000
and counting) of all things Clinton. Burton is now plumbing the circumstances
of a fugitive former county commissioner from Miami whose 9-year-old case
(involving a stolen car that wasn't stolen, a crack house and sex, need I say
more?) was the subject of a 4 1/2-hour hearing on Friday. As it happens, that
case was handled by the office of a former local Florida prosecutor named Janet
Anyway, Waxman may have caught something from Burton. But let's hope not.
There is no reason at all to probe the ethics of the Bush administration, for
there is nothing new to be learned from it.
The broad purpose of ethics laws is to ensure that high government
officials serve no one but the general public. Not their buddies in the
corporate clubhouse. Not their political contributors. Not their investment
managers. Not their own bottom lines.
To figure out who the Bushfolk serve, you don't have to look at their
portfolios. Just their policies.
The tax cut gives nearly 40 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent of
taxpayers-those making $373,000 or more. The energy policy gives the energy
industry its decades-old wish list. The HMO policy gives the insurance industry
a path out from under any real chance of being held accountable for bad medical
The tobacco policy gives the cigarette industry a chance to negotiate its
way out of what was once the government's get-tough lawsuit. This came with the
up-front announcement that the Justice Department suddenly thinks its own case
is weak. Surely Big Tobacco cowers.
The policy on arsenic in drinking water is a tonic for the mining industry.
The policy on global warming is a gift to the coal and oil industries that are
busy warming the globe.
Really, who needs a fishing expedition to get at secret administration
documents about their dealings on behalf of private interests? All we need to
know is in the newspapers.
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