Follow the Money and the Documents

I spent Sunday brunch with a bunch of journalists, many of them on war patrol -- doing quickie documentaries on Saddam, for example. But one producer with a major media company spent the past week trying to get a member of the Bush cabinet to return her calls and those of her even better-connected on-air reporter on an economic story.

"They just refuse," she said. "Worse, they won't refuse [outright]; they say they're too busy. Why should they spend their time answering the legitimate questions of a reporter? Why should they be accountable?"

One of the biggest underreported economic stories today (and boy is there competition) is the Vice President's attempt to withhold records of his meetings with oil companies. For the first time ever, the General Accounting Office (auditors for Congress) is going to federal court to order the executive branch to turn over documents. The 81-year-old agency wants to know which energy companies helped the Bush administration shape its policies. Yes, the energy companies were right there in the White House, all but holding the pen as policy was drafted. It's one thing to be friendly to business interests, another to walk out of the Oval Office and let them raid the till.

Cheney and other members of the Bush administration met with Enron executives six times last year. But that was just the beginning. In just four months during the dawn of the administration, February to May, Cheney and his economic task force met with hundreds of representatives from 150 corporations and trade associations. Then they set the administration's new energy policies, which included the plans to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and build hundreds of new electric plants. Now, despite a Congressional request for documents, they've been stonewalling for more than a year.

Both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have long records of allying themselves with oil interests, being rewarded in 2000 with campaign contributions, and rewarding the companies with policies that will enrich them. Cheney, who polishes his image as a thinker and policymaker, is actually much more of a wheeler-dealer than Baby Bush. As the former CEO of Halliburton, a multi-billion dollar oil and energy corporation, he once stated, "The good Lord didn't see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected regimes friendly to the United States."

At the time, Halliburton was brokering a deal with military dictators in Burma, who were using slave labor to build oil pipelines. One of the companies involved in the Burma deal was Unocal, which also courted the Taliban as a possible protector of its oil projects in Afghanistan. In addition, as CEO of Halliburton, Cheney -- the former Secretary of Defense during President Bush pere's war on Iraq -- sold $24 million in oil-related construction services to the Iraqis. Money is inherently amoral. Oil is money.

Now, to add fuel to the fire, Cheney's former firm is embroiled in an Enron-style scandal. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Halliburton for allegedly fudging its accounting numbers. Cheney has refused to answer questions about this issue as well.

There are dozens of political catchphrases that come to mind, particularly "It's not the crime, it's the cover-up." But Cheney's chicanery also reminds me of a song from Disney's animated film, "Lady and the Tramp." Two devious felines sing, "We are Siamese if you please; we are Siamese if you don't please." The Bush administration is ruthless in flouting all public accountability, and crafty in cloaking itself in the flag. It's a Siamese government, which presents the face of a grieving America to the public while continuing to cut backroom financial and political deals.

As a bona-fide internet junkie, I did a search on "White House" and "Stonewall" and came up with a little site called Disclose the Documents. It is clearly partisan -- constructed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- but, unlike the blather on Iraq coming from many Democrats, it is also clever. Once you access the site, you can email the Vice President asking him to turn over the goods. It might work.

But I suspect what might work better is simply being aware of the connection between our self-interest and the public good. Right now, the White House is telling us to ignore the economic crisis at hand in the name of patriotism. At the same time, it refuses to admit its own complicity in the decline of our economy. When you feel the pinch in your wallet or pocketbook, think how Bush and Cheney have helped siphon out the American economy. Then contact the White House and Congress, and most importantly, vote your conscience and your future.

Farai Chedeya is the founder of Pop and She is currently a Knight Fellow at Stanford University.

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