Jim Hightower

Profiteers for Hire


Sometimes I miss the old days. Remember back when “war profiteering†was thought to be a bad thing? Indeed, Harry Truman considered it treason. But, hey, that’s old school. In times of corporate coziness with Washington, war profiteering is business as usual—just another of the entitlements that flow from corporate campaign contributions. And far from denouncing it, top officials applaud it, ably assist it, and even become profiteers themselves. “Halliburton†Cheney is the poster boy of the revolving door between the Pentagon and war profiteers.

But now, multi-billion-dollar profiteering by such names as Halliburton, Bechtel, and Boeing has become such a booming business that a new kind of corporate consultant has sprung up: Profiteering facilitator. These are political insiders who use their Washington connections to help paying clients get fat government contracts from us taxpayers to do this or that in Iraq. Many of these boondoggles are awarded out of the political offices of the White House and Pentagon with no competitive bids and little or no congressional oversight.

Among the profiteering facilitators to set up shop is Joe Allbaugh, a longtime Texas political crony of George W.’s who was appointed honcho of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Now, he has spun through the government’s revolving door to open “New Bridge Strategies,†getting huge fees paid by corporations that want Joe’s guidance on getting a piece of that $87 billion the Bushites are dumping into Iraq this year. Of course, facilitators like Joe see no ethical conflict in profiteering on their connections. Allbaugh has proven to be ethically clueless, saying: “Because my friend is President of the United States, I’m supposed to check out of life?†No. But do you seriously think anyone would hire you if you weren’t the President’s friend?


The rich get richer the old-fashioned way: They cut insider, scratch-my-back deals with each other.

Another example of such corruption cropped up in the trial of Frank Quattrone, the former hotshot banker to the high-tech industry. Frank, a banking “superstar†for Credit Suisse First Boston, has been accused by federal prosecutors of illegally working the system to get his bank to give favorable reviews of the performance of various corporations, thus artificially inflating the value of the corporate stock and deceiving investors.

During the trial, the feds produced an email exchange between Frank and Michael Dell, the high-flying honcho of Dell Computers. Frank notified Michael that the stock of a privately held company was about to go public and that a block of the stock could be allocated to him two days before the rest of the public knew about the stock offering. Frank wrote to Michael: “My team has gotten word to me that you are personally interested in a meaningful allocation of .â€

This kind of insider scheme virtually guarantees that the Michael Dells of the world make a fat, effortless profit. Sure enough, Michael snapped up shares in the presale at $36 each, and two days later, when the stock went public, his shares almost tripled in value.

If the stock market strikes you as a rigged game, these emails show you’re right. Back-scratching deals and handpicked “analysts†are the way the game is played. And now, the Powers That Be want you and me to put our social security money in the hands of these corrupt players!


I thought I was beyond astonishment. I’ve been to the State Fair twice, I’ve been embroiled in Texas politics, and I’ve dug into the thievery of Wall Street and Washington…but I’ve never seen such jaw-dropping stupidity as the latest proposal from George W.’s Interior Department.

The boneheads in charge of administering our nation’s policies toward the world’s endangered species have decided that the way to “save†Asian elephants, Amazon parrots, and other species threatened with extinction—is to kill them!

What we have here is more of the ivory tower, laissez-faire bushwa that substitutes for thinking in this corporatized administration. Their assertion is that if America’s pet industry, circus companies, fur and skin purveyors, and safari firms were able to—ahem—“harvest†a big bunch of these already endangered animals each year, these corporations would pay harvest fees for each animal taken, thus allowing governments in these impoverished countries to funnel the money into better conservation programs for the animals that survive.

It would be akin to letting a crime syndicate pay fees for its own heists so local police could fund crime prevention lectures.

Of course, in the real world, what this harebrained scheme would do is to put a price on the head of every animal, providing an irresistible and uncontrollable market incentive for freelance entrepreneurs to kill, ship, and profit from endangered wildlife.

Yet, interior department officials are pushing blindly and unilaterally ahead with their executive “reinterpretation†of the Endangered Species Act, simply dismissing anyone who protests. To fight their perversion of this law, call the Animal Welfare Institute (703) 836-4300.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Thieves In High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country And It’s Time To Take It Back (Viking Press).