Political Intelligence

Fathers and Sons



At the last minute, Secretary of State Colin Powell ducked out of attending the U.N. World Conference Against Racism, which began on August 31 in Durban, South Africa. Then, midway through the conference, the low-level delegation sent in Powell’s place ducked out as well, continuing a disturbing trend of U.S. unilateralism under the Bush administration. Among the official reasons given for the ditching were two objectionable agenda items: Israeli policy in the occupied territories and reparations for slavery worldwide, presumably including descendants of U.S. slaves. These are both subjects that the State Department is notoriously disinclined to discuss in a setting it does not control. But they weren’t the only embarrassing topics discussed at the conference. A third, unofficial reason for a U.S. no-show might have been an effort by U.S. reform groups to use the forum to discuss the war on drugs. On August 22, a group called Campaign to End Race Discrimination in the War on Drugs sent a letter–signed by over 100 celebrities, politicians, and civil rights leaders–to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan urging him to make the U.S. drug war a high priority at the conference. Some statistics cited in the letter: Blacks comprise 57 percent of those held in state prisons for drug violations; Hispanics make up 22 percent; in New York State (where the U.N. is headquartered) 94 percent of all inmates serving time for drugs are black or Hispanic. The group also sent a 10-person delegation to Durban to attend the conference and raise awareness about the racial impact of the war on drugs. What does the U.S. State Department have to say about these numbers? The world may never know.


When Carlos Hank González, the humble primary school teacher who became a billionaire politico, business magnate and symbol of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that ruled Mexico for much of the twentieth century, died of prostate cancer last month, most of the current administration maintained a discrete distance. Not so Cardinal Norberto Rivera, who described the 73-year-old power broker as a man “who knew how to be a good administrator.” Hank coined his own epitaph years ago when he declared: “A politician who is poor is a poor politician.” El Profesor, as he was known, amassed a billion-dollar fortune while working as an elected or appointed government official. His presidential hopes were dashed by a constitutional restriction that required candidates to have Mexican-born parents. (Hank’s father was born in Germany; the Constitution was later amended.) Much of the Hank fortune is now administered by eldest son Carlos Hank Rhon, who made headlines when he ran afoul of the Federal Reserve Board. (“Carlos Hank’s Nafta Bank,” March 17, 2000.) The Fed alleged that Hank Rhon played elaborate shell games with bank shares and lied about who owned Laredo National Bank. After repeated postponements, the hearing in which both father and son were to testify was finally called off last spring. The Fed announced an agreement with Hank Rhon, amounting to some $40 million dollars in fines to be paid off in seven years, along with an agreement to resign as chairman of the board and as director of the bank.


A year ago, the only Bush honored by Midland’s Petroleum Museum was George Bush père. His midcentury oilmongering earned him a place in the museum’s Petroleum Hall of Fame, a pseudo-boardroom whose walls are lined with photographs of oilmen (and one oilwoman) past. No portrait of our current president appeared there, for the younger Bush’s career as a Midland oilman in the late 70s and early 80s was brief and undistinguished.

Recently, though, George W. Bush has found a way to redeem himself in the eyes of the petroleum fathers, making up in industry-friendly policy for what he failed to contribute in raw crude. And now, fittingly enough, he has claimed a display of his own in the Petroleum Museum. We’re not talking about some boring portrait, either. Along with its panoply of pump jacks and drill bits, the museum has now put on display a collection of photographs documenting young George W. Bush’s Midland years, beneath red, white and blue bunting. Nearby is a desk he used during his stint as CEO of the ill-fated Spectrum 7, surrounded by baseballs, a Rangers cap, and Texas and American flags.

Yet the younger Bush’s picture still does not appear among the rows of portraits in the Petroleum Hall of Fame. What will it take for W. to join that doughty society? Will the scrapping of the Kyoto Agreement on greenhouse gasses be enough? How about the appointment of the museum’s director, oilman and friend Don Evans, as Secretary of Commerce? Will it take a successful fight for drilling on the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve? According to the museum’s Director of Archives, Todd Houck, all that may not even be necessary: “One of the qualifications is civic leadership, and you just can’t get any higher than President.”