The Bush cabinet
The Bush cabinet: Corporate crooks and right-wing kooks
BY NORM DIXON George Walker (“Dubya”) Bush wasted no time before signalling that his government will move rapidly to implement sweeping pro-big business measures and right-wing social policies. Bush and his cabinet are already training their sights on abortion rights, public education, access to welfare, affirmative action and environmental protection regulations. On January 22, his first day on the job, Bush banned US government funds going to international family planning groups that, even indirectly, acknowledge a woman's right to have an abortion. The decision was a calculated “thumbs up” to thousands of right-wing anti-choice zealots who had mobilised that day in Washington to demand the reversal of the US Supreme Court's 1973 landmark “Roe versus Wade” ruling which in effect legalised abortion. A message delivered to the demonstrators on Bush's behalf by anti-choice leader and Republican Congressperson Chris Smith declared that the Bush regime was committed “to build a culture of life”. The anti-choice crusaders were reminded that Bush has ordered a review of the US government's approval of the RU-486 birth termination drug and will approve legislation banning late-term abortions if the Clinton-vetoed bill is again passed by Congress. On January 23, Republicans introduced into Congress measures to implement Bush's plan to dismantle the public education system and transfer it over time to privately owned and religious institutions. Bush wants to introduce annual literacy and maths tests for public school students to establish “standards”. Schools will have three years to boost students' scores to a set level. If they cannot, federal funds would be stripped from them and allocated as “vouchers” to parents to spend at private institutions. Bush's agenda closely mirrors, especially his welfare, education and reproductive rights policies, that pushed by the US corporate-sponsored right-wing think tanks and foundations. Most of his cabinet members have close associations with big business and individuals and organisations from across the far-right of US capitalist politics — from the “mainstream” to the outright kooky — including Bush junior himself. During his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential election itself, Bush carefully cultivated support from the far-right Christian fundamentalist organisations inside and outside the Republican Party. These organisations provided many of Bush's campaign foot soldiers and will expect a lot in return. According to the January 21 Christian Science Monitor, “Observant evangelical Protestants, the core constituency of the `religious right', voted 84% for Bush, making up almost one-third of all his supporters. Together with observant mainline Protestants and Catholics, religious conservatives accounted for better than half of all Republican ballots.” Last February, Bush gave a speech at the notoriously anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic and racist Bob Jones University in South Carolina. In response to criticism, Bush's spokesperson Mindy Tucker stated: “From our point of view, this is a place where there are lot of South Carolina conservative voters.” Bush's nominee for the key post of attorney general, John Ashcroft, made the pilgrimage to Bob Jones University on May 8, 1999, to accept an honourary degree. In his speech, Ashcroft paraphrased (badly) passages from the bible upon which Christian fundamentalists base their anti-Semitic rantings. These passages have been used down the ages as the theological basis for pogroms against Jews. Ashcroft is closely aligned to the Christian Coalition and far-right evangelist Pat Robertson. A former state attorney general in Missouri and a former senator, he is in favour of passing legislation and amending the US constitution to ban abortion even if the woman is the victim of incest or rape. He is a leader of the campaign to criminally outlaw late-term abortions. At the same time, he has attempted to ban the birth control pill and IUDs. Ashcroft's control of the Justice Department will give the radical right control of the selection of federal judges, including the Supreme Court. It is the Supreme Court that can overturn the Roe versus Wade ruling. Ashcroft was the author of the “charitable choice” provision of the 1996 welfare “reform” law, which legalised the delivery of publicly funded welfare services by churches and “faith-based” organisations. It permitted religious groups to promote their religious beliefs while delivering services and refuse to employ people with different or no faith. He has sponsored another bill, the “Charitable Choice Expansion Act”, that if passed will speed the privatisation of government services and make their delivery more dependent on the moral dictates of right-wing religious outfits. Now responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws, Ashcroft once hailed Confederate generals and politicians who fought the US Civil War to defend slavery as “patriots” and stated that they should not be portrayed as having fought for “some perverted agenda”. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial noted that Ashcroft has “built a career out of opposing school desegregation ... and opposing African Americans for public office”. Other notable supporters of Ashcroft are the reactionary National Rifle Association and the more extreme Gun Owners of America. The “pro-life” Ashcroft loves a good execution and he successfully organised to prevent the appointment of a judge who he considered not sufficiently enthusiastic about imposing the death penalty. Another Bush cabinet member who seems to have a soft spot for the slavocracy is interior secretary Gale Norton. In a 1996 speech to the right-wing Independence Institute, Norton, who was Colorado attorney general at the time, declared that “We lost too much” when the South was defeated in the civil war. While state attorney general, Norton used the slogan “states' rights”, the battle cry of Southern slave states, to fight federal environmental controls, and land and cultural rights for indigenous people. She also opposed affirmative action. `Conservative labyrinth' Beginning in the 1960s, the US right began marshalling its resources to shift US capitalist policy debate sharply to the right. Researcher Sally Covington points out that the assault was spearheaded by “a core group of 12 conservative foundations” backed by the fortunes of some of the richest capitalists in the US. These foundations in turn funded and promoted dozens of “think tanks” and “researchers” — many with dubious political backgrounds. The influence of these organisations reached their peak during the Reagan, Bush senior and Clinton administrations. Their ideas dominate Bush junior's team. According to Covington, “In 1994, [the 12 core foundations] controlled more than $1.1 billion in assets; from 1992-94, they awarded $300 million in grants, and targetted $210 million to support a wide array of projects and institutions. They channelled $80 million to right-wing policy institutions actively promoting an anti-government, unregulated markets agenda. Another $89 million supported conservative scholars and academic programs, with $27 million targeted to recruit and train the next generation of right-wing leaders in conservative legal principles, free-market economics, political journalism and policy analysis. And $41.5 million was invested to build a conservative media apparatus, support pro-market legal organisations, fund state-level think tanks and advocacy organisations, and mobilise new philanthropic resources for conservative policy change.” Covington added that the foundations singled out “aggressive and entrepreneurial organisations committed to government rollback through the privatisation of government services, devolution of authority from federal to state and local governments and deep cuts in federal anti-poverty spending”. This powerful and rich “new conservative labyrinth” launched its most sustained and vitriolic attacks on the welfare system and its recipients. Behind the seemingly learned discourse that emerged from this army of “experts”, “researchers” and “analysts”, lurked good old-fashioned racism. Vast sums of corporate money, a legion media-savvy spokespeople and professors with impressive credentials allowed KKK politics to become respectable and mainstream again, and it was embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike. In the 1980s, the CIA-linked Manhattan Institute sponsored and heavily promoted a book by Charles Murray, Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-80, which claimed that anti-poverty programs reduced the incentive to marry, discouraged workers accepting low-wage jobs and encouraged poor unmarried women to have children. The underlying argument was that it was the moral failings of the poor that made them poor and government welfare perpetuated poverty, rather than alleviating it, and traps them in a cycle of “welfare dependency”. Murray is best known as one of the authors of the 1994 book, The Bell Curve, which continues the theme began in Losing Ground. The books' central claim was that African-Americans have a lower IQ than whites and Asians. The book claimed that African-Americans and Latinos are disproportionately poor because they are objectively less intelligent, not because of institutionalised racism and poor environments. The message of The Bell Curve was that improved welfare and affirmative action programs could not improve the position of blacks and the poor. More than that, Murray wrote, “The United States has policies that inadvertently social-engineer who has babies, and it is encouraging the wrong women... We urge that these policies, represented by the extensive network of cash and services for low-income women who have babies, be ended.” Racism Murray's respectable mask had slipped just enough to reveal the ugly face of racism. It soon emerged that almost all the “research” that Murray relied on to justify the central arguments of The Bell Curve had been funded by the Pioneer Fund, a racist outfit whose mission is to promote the elimination of “genetically unfit” individuals and races. Established in 1937 by Wickliffe Draper, a millionaire textile industry magnate and admirer of the Nazis who campaigned to have African-Americans sent ``back'' to Africa, the Pioneer Fund's charter stated the foundation's mission was “racial betterment” and to help the people “deemed to be descended primarily from white persons who settled in the original 13 states prior to the adoption of the Constitution of the United States”. Draper was not a lone kook — he had plenty of company. The 1930s eugenics movement had the support of many leading US capitalists, including the Rockefellers, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, Andrew Mellon, Averell Harriman and Prescott Bush, Bush junior's grandfather. Many, including Prescott Bush, were admirers of Hitler and had invested heavily in Nazi Germany. The fund's first president, Harry Laughlin, advocated the forced sterilisation of the “genetically unfit” and argued that Jews were innately “feebleminded”. Another founder, Frederick Osburn, described Nazi Germany's forced sterilisation of the disabled and others as “a most exciting experiment”. The Pioneer Fund's current president, Harry Weyher, has refused to distance the fund from its founders' views and has denounced the desegregation of schools in the US South. The fund's treasurer is a former leading member of the fascist Coalition of Patriotic Societies and was a supporter of apartheid South Africa's “well-reasoned racial policies”. Other beneficiaries of the Pioneer Fund's largess have included Roger Pearson, a well-known neo-fascist activist in Europe and the US, and Arthur Jensen, who published research in the 1970s that also claimed blacks were less intelligent. While advocating the crudest forms of racist eugenics — like gas chambers, sterilisation and deportation — is no longer possible, far-right elements like Murray, the Manhattan Institute and the Pioneer Fund seem to believe their goals can be achieved by the elimination of welfare. Which brings us back to Bush junior and his crew. Murray's Losing Ground and The Bell Curve have become handbooks for the anti-welfare, anti-affirmative action and school privatisation lobbies. Welfare “reform” pin-up boy Tommy Thompson has been appointed by Bush to deprive the poor of welfare services. As Bush's secretary for health and human services (HHS), Thompson will be in charge of the department that oversees the Medicare and Medicaid health system and other welfare services. Thompson, who was elected governor of Wisconsin in 1986, succeeded in slashing the number of people in the state receiving welfare by 92%. Wisconsin under Thompson also set the pace in diverting public education funds to private and religious schools by way of vouchers. The Bell Curve's Charles Murray was a consultant for Thompson's Wisconsin Works (W-2), which eliminated welfare for families with dependent children and replaced it with a system that forced recipients to work, regardless of their circumstances, for an average of $7 an hour wage. There is no safety net for those that cannot meet the stringent requirements. In the first year of W-2, the black infant mortality rate in Milwaukee increased by 37%. Thompson will also have responsibility for the food and Drug Administration and US Surgeon General's office, both of which can restrict women's reproductive rights. As governor, Thompson restricted Wisconsin women's right to have abortions. He signed into law the most restrictive abortion law in the US, including life imprisonment for doctors who perform late-term abortions. The law was later overturned by a federal court. While Thompson is the most prominent operative of the right-wing think tanks in Bush's team, he is not alone. Two of Bush's senior domestic policy advisers, Stephen Goldsmith and Floyd Flake, are listed as Manhattan Institute “experts”, along with the ubiquitous Charles Murray, on the institute's web site. Goldsmith has referred to Murray as a “brilliant scholar”. Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, multimillionaire shareholder and CEO of Alcoa, is a fellow at the Rand Corporation and the American Enterprise Institute. Gail Wilensky, architect of Bush's plans to “reform” Medicare, is a John M. Olin Foundation grant recipient and serves on the boards of eight health care corporations. Labour secretary Elaine Chao, who will be responsible for industrial relations, is a former vice-president of Bank of America Capital Markets Group and a Heritage Foundation fellow. She won Bush's nomination after Linda Chavez was forced to withdraw when it was discovered she had employed an undocumented worker in her home. Chavez was a researcher at the Manhattan Institute and has received $200,000 in grants from the John M. Olin Foundation. Despite her Latino heritage, she was a leader of the racist English First Movement. On its web site, Chavez quotes from Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve. Energy secretary Spencer Abraham is a founder of the right-wing Federalist Society. It's goal is to politically dominate the legal profession, especially at the level of the judiciary. It stands for eliminating welfare, affirmative action and bilingual education. It is funded by the leading foundations. Its most prominent members are Supreme Court judges Scalia and Clarence Thomas, whose votes were crucial in delivering the ruling that put the George Bush junior's in the White House with a minority of popular votes. `Welfare' for the rich While Bush junior's gang rails against welfare for the poor, they are not averse to state “welfare” for themselves. In the 1980s, Bush's oil business partners used him as the front-person for the purchase of the Texas Rangers baseball team. They felt that being George Bush's son would attract investors so they handed him 10% of the team. The new owners promptly threatened to relocate the team unless the city of Arlington built a new stadium. Arlington spent $150 million on the stadium, which boosted the value of the Texas Rangers franchise. So much so, that when the team was sold, Bush junior pocketed a cool $14.9 million. Not bad, considering his initial investment was $600,000 of borrowed money. In 1990, Bush junior's struggling oil company Harken Energy was granted a contract to drill for oil off the coast of the Gulf state of Bahrain, shunting aside the oil giant Amoco, even though the company had no experience in off-shore operations. Suggestions that the Bahrain government was attempting to curry favour with the US president, George Bush snr, were denied. Just as suddenly, a Harken Energy director was invited to participate in private White House briefings on Middle East policy. In May 1990, the Harken board member learned that Washington was considering an oil embargo of Iraq. In June, Bush junior suddenly sold 212,000 of his Harken shares, raking in more than $848,500. In August, Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait and the value of Harken's shares dropped 25%. After Dick Cheney, President Bush senior's defence secretary during the 1991 Gulf War and now Bush junior's vice-president, left the Pentagon, he became CEO of Halliburton, a Texas construction and engineering outfit that services oil companies and the US military. He cashed in on his official contacts within the government, military, the oil industry and Middle east governments. Almost overnight, the middle-sized Halliburton's business swelled to $15 billion in annual sales with contracts in 120 countries. Cheney entered the White House this year, around $50 million richer.