Molly Ivins

DeLay's Delightful Bacardi Fix


What I like about the new radical right-wing Republican takeover of this country is how easily they blow past all our defenses against deja-vu, they-all-do-it cynicism.

There you are—thinking you’re way too old and have been around this block too many times to suddenly up and evince moral outrage over a little callousness here or a dollop of favoritism there. Suddenly, you find yourself whomperjawed, outraged, stupefied with disbelief. A Girl Scout again, after all these years. It’s enough to make me believe in that nutty fundamentalist theory about “secondary virginity,†which claims you can become a virgin again even if you’re not a virgin. I swear to goodness, these folks can indeed produce miracles.

My latest walking-on-water moment came whilst I was reading an Austin American-Statesman article about Brother Tom DeLay, now the second-most powerful man in America, right after Dick Cheney. It was a familiar story to those of us who follow DeLay (who is, he has said, hell-bent to “stand up for a Biblical worldview in everything I do and everywhere I am.â€)

Brother Tom is given both to preaching holy propriety and running a political machine so shameless it would make Boss Tweed blush. Those who were privileged to see him in action during the last days of the peculiarly hideous process of redistricting the State of Texas know that ruthlessness and Christianity can be combined, no matter what Jesus had to say on the subject.

Among those newly startled by DeLay’s tactics last week were, according to the American-Statesman, “Four House Judiciary Committee members who protested after an article in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported that DeLay planned to slip an amendment revising U.S. trade statutes into the annual defense authorization bill.â€

Now, you may think that revising trade statutes by way of a defense-authorization bill is procedurally unusual—and such was the content of the protest: “The amendment had not been properly vetted by the Judiciary panel, which is supposed to oversee trademark law.†Still not in a stew over this, eh?

The amendment itself is a little charmer designed to help the Bacardi rum folks (vague memories of many good tropical drinks are stirred) with a trademark problem they have with one of the world’s oldest rum labels, Havana Club. Not being an expert on fundamentalist theology, I have no idea whether assisting a rum company fits into a Biblical worldview, but I can tell you that Bacardi-Martini, Inc. is a Bermuda-based company run by a family of prominent Cuban exiles who happen to be very generous, very large campaign donors. They have been especially generous to Tom DeLay for several years now.

This li’l ol’ amendment of DeLay’s carries some history. In 1998, then-Sen. Connie Mack, a Florida Republican, inserted an obscure amendment called Section 211 into a bill that was 4,000 pages long. Turns out 211 gave Bacardi a way to win its long-running lawsuit over Havana Club, a label also claimed by Pernod-Ricard, the French company that now sells that brand name in partnership with the Cuban government.

Oops, this touched off a major international stink. France complained to the World Trade Organization, which ruled the United States had violated treaty obligations to protect copyrights. The WTO has given the United States until the end of the year to revise the law.

So what DeLay is trying to do here is fix 211 to bring it into technical compliance with the WTO ruling, while continuing to give Bacardi the edge. According to the Statesman: “Critics charge the ‘fix’ would still violate U.S. treaty obligations going back to the 1930s. Several major corporations have joined in asking Congress to repeal Section 211 altogether to avoid possible retaliation by the Castro government against their own trademarks.â€

Citizens Against Government Waste, a conservative watchdog group, opposes special treatment for Bacardi. “We think it has an adverse influence on the taxpayers, on consumers and on the economy,†said the group. (Note: In the now-defensive, formerly liberal media—“Oh God forbid anyone should ever call us part of the Liberal Mediaâ€â€”we are pleased to have an actual conservative group protesting along with us here, because if it were just liberals, who would care? A connection between special legislation for Bacardi and huge campaign contributions? What are you, a commie?)

OK, now that you have been fully prepped on this deal, I give you the Outrage Moment. One Jonathan Grella, spokesman for Tom DeLay, when asked about all this, said, “It’s wrong and unethical to link legislative activities to campaign contributions.â€

Let’s make sure we all understand what is being said here. Grella asserts that there is no conflict of interest between a public official using his power to change the law in exchange for a hefty campaign contribution—the immorality occurs when the press and/or public interest groups point out this connection. That’s when I went slack-jawed.,/p>