Today is The Mahablog’s fifth birthday. The very first Mahablog post was written on July 3, 2002.
The first 18 months or so of Mahablog was dumped off its server by the original web host, Lycos Tripod, without consulting me first, but thanks to the Wayback Machine I was able to locate the first Mahablog page, or at least fragments of it. On the day after the commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence, this first blog post seems almost relevant. Here it is.
July 3, 2002
“It’s a tad bigger deal than Whitewater,” said my Web buddy Winston. He was referring to the revelation that George W. Bush, once upon a time, violated several SEC regulations and got away with it. (His daddy was President of the United States at the time. Coincidence?)
“You think?” I replied.
You do remember Whitewater? Or does it dimly seem to have been something about lying to Paula Jones about an oath, or about Monica Lewinsky delivering pizza in her thong, or some such? All that nonsense that, thank God, is over, along with the budget surplus and peace and prosperity and steady employment and other dimly remembered things.
What Was Whitewater About, Again?
“Whitewater” was a real-estate partnership set up in 1979 to sell 42 lots along the White River in north-central Arkansas. The partners were James B. and Susan McDougal and Bill and Hillary Clinton. The lots did not sell well; the Clintons sold their remaining interest to the McDougals for $1,000 in 1992, and lost $68,000 on the deal.
Why was this an issue?
It was alleged that the McDougals and former Arkansas Gov. Guy Tucker used McDougal’s savings and loan to create a series of phony loans to enrich themselves, and one of the illegal loans found its way into the Whitewater partnership account.
This had all happened before Bill Clinton was elected president. However, the suicide of White House Counsel Vince Foster in 1993 caused right-wingers to foam at the mouth. Why did he kill himself? Maybe because he knew something? Maybe he was killed to shut him up? We have to look into this!
Hence, Ken Starr and the endless Whitewater investigations, which began in 1994 and which, I think, are over, although I’m not going to swear to it. The investigations cost us taxpayers more than $60 million, and not enough evidence was ever uncovered to charge the Clintons with a crime.
Other people were charged, but the “crime” was essentially an Arkansas state matter and not something the entire United States government should have been wasting time and resources on for six or seven or eight years, or however long it was.
After coming up empty on Whitewater, Ken Starr and his “team” went on a fishing trip (or Tripp?) to get whatever dirt they could get on the President in order to bring impeachment charges. At the exact same time that the President was being raked over coals over Monica Lewinsky and fighting impeachment in the House, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were causing considerable trouble and needed tending to, but it seems only President Clinton and his administration noticed this.
(For details, see the Mahachronicles: Timeline of Terror! )
Oh, by the way, we still don’t know why Vince Foster killed himself. Maybe he was depressed.
Compare and Contrast:
In 1986, George W. Bush and his partners sold their failing Spectrum 7 Energy Corp. to Harken Energy Corp. Bush received more than 200,000 shares of Harken stock and was made director and consultant to the company.
Four years later, Bush unloaded those shares for a nice profit. With that money, he bought a stake in the Texas Rangers baseball club, which would eventually make him a multimillionaire.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that Harken was losing money but had concealed this from the public by some nice Enron-style manueuvering. Harken created a phony profit by selling 80 percent of a subsidiary, Aloha Petroleum, to a partnership called International Marketing & Resources. The catch was that IM&R was also Harken; the partners were all Harken insiders. Further, $11 million of the $12 million “sale” was through a note held by Harken. $12 million the company entered in its books as a capital gain was actually vapor.
In January 1990, IM&R sold its 80 percent of Aloha to a privately held company called Advance Petroleum Marketing. APM was now obligated to pay the Harken loan.
On June 22, 1990, G.W. Bush sold his Harken stock for $4 a share.
By August 22, 1990, Harken could no longer conceal it was losing money; its second quarter report was a disaster. Stocks fell to $2.37 a share. And, that fall the Securities and Exchange Commission discovered the Aloha sale scam.
The SEC investigated G.W. Bush for insider trading. Among the most damning acts of the president’s son was the fact that he filed his Form 4 report on the sale of the Harken stock 34 weeks late. The SEC usually prosecutes people for these little lapses.
But not George W. Bush, the son of the sitting President of the United States.
I’m sure if any talking head brings this up on television he or she will be promptly shouted down. And I’m not holding my breath until major media report it, either.
Now we’re back in 2007. A couple of post scripts to this story: First, when a few little details of the Harken episode slipped into mainstream media, the Right quickly claimed that Bush had been investigated by the SEC and exonerated. Not so; the SEC began to investigate him, but the investigation was dropped. Bush was not accused of a crime, but neither was he cleared of one.
Did I mention that his Daddy was President of the United States at the time, and the SEC commissioner a long-time friend of the Bush family?
The other postscript is that George Bush made a very nice profit on his Texas Rangers investment and rode the baseball owner hobbyhorse into the Texas governor’s mansion, and then into the White House. And now we’re saddled with him.
There’s an editorial about the liberation of Libby in today’s New York Times that’s worth reading:
Soft on Crime
When he was running for president, George W. Bush loved to contrast his law-abiding morality with that of President Clinton, who was charged with perjury and acquitted. For Mr. Bush, the candidate, “politics, after a time of tarnished ideals, can be higher and better.”
Not so for Mr. Bush, the president. Judging from his decision yesterday to commute the 30-month sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr. — who was charged with perjury and convicted — untarnished ideals are less of a priority than protecting the secrets of his inner circle and mollifying the tiny slice of right-wing Americans left in his political base. …
… Mr. Bush’s assertion that he respected the verdict but considered the sentence excessive only underscored the way this president is tough on crime when it’s committed by common folk. As governor of Texas, he was infamous for joking about the impending execution of Karla Faye Tucker, a killer who became a born-again Christian on death row. As president, he has repeatedly put himself and those on his team, especially Mr. Cheney, above the law.
Within minutes of the Libby announcement, the same Republican commentators who fulminated when Paris Hilton got a few days knocked off her time in a county lockup were parroting Mr. Bush’s contention that a fine, probation and reputation damage were “harsh punishment” enough for Mr. Libby.
Presidents have the power to grant clemency and pardons. But in this case, Mr. Bush did not sound like a leader making tough decisions about justice. He sounded like a man worried about what a former loyalist might say when actually staring into a prison cell.
Yeah, pretty much.
PS — I do accept birthday presents — just click the “donate” button below —
PPS — This is also my daughter Erin’s birthday, which means I remember what I was doing 27 years ago today. That was a good day.