Joe Conason's Journal

In times of trouble, the Greens gather to gloat. Plus: Is Bush granting federal favors to Florida to help his brother?

By Salon Staff
Published July 22, 2002 1:58PM (EDT)

What color is the sky in a Green world?
With corporate-dominated America crashing down around us, the Greens are finding it difficult not to gloat. The natural self-righteousness of tiny, non-governing parties is always emphasized in circumstances such as these. Having played no significant role in any government at any time, minor party leaders can easily say, "I told you so" whenever crisis arises.

That's what they were saying at the Green national convention in Philadelphia last week, which received less coverage than it deserved. The most salient events for the Greens over the past few months have been their nomination of a potential Senate spoiler against Paul Wellstone in Minnesota, and the attempt by Republicans in New Mexico to subsidize (or bribe) them with $250,000 for two congressional candidacies. (The New Mexicans are somewhat less addled than the Minnesotans. They turned down the GOP money and decided not to field candidates for those House seats.)

The most discerning story on the Green convention appeared in Saturday's Boston Globe (available only to subscribers at Interviewing the delegates, Tatsha Robertson evidently challenged them to justify the party's attempt to unseat Wellstone and return the Senate to Republican control. The responses proved that at least some party activists can think as well as talk. Or try to think. "Wellstone is no prize," said one Green genius from South Boston (of all places), "but you have to look at the bigger picture. Bush should not have full power."

The campaign manager for the Green gubernatorial candidate in Maine succinctly expressed the dominant perspective, however: "Our responsibility is to the Greens; the broader picture does not matter." In other words, business as usual for the Naderites: luring voters who worry about Republican policies, while ensuring that Republican power is enhanced.

Brother's keeper
Conservatives like to lampoon government's sometimes absurd spending priorities, so they must have loved Ryan Lizza's eye-popping lead in the New Republic about the federal subsidy underwriting a certain local purveyor of sex toys and pornographic videos. Or maybe they didn't love this tale, because the store is in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and Lizza uses its bizarre Small Business Administration loan to kick off a scorching examination of how George W. Bush is abusing his office to help his brother keep his. Wondering where the Cabinet is, when they're not meeting with lobbyists in Washington? They're usually down in the Sunshine State, propping up Jeb with our money. If this were Clintonwell, you know. [Posted: 4:14 p.m. PDT, July 22, 2002]

Chicken-fried stakes in WorldCom
Before aggrieved Republicans complain again that linking them to the corporate malefactors is unfair, they (and everyone else) should read Neil Weinberg's fascinating Forbes scoop on the WorldCom implosion. Weinberg reveals that the fraudulent accounting maneuvers now considered so shocking by everyone from WorldCom directors to SEC chairman Harvey Pitt were exposed more than a year ago in a shareholder lawsuit that included copious evidence. The board ignored that evidence, which included statements from at least a dozen former WorldCom employees and scores of others knowledgeable about the company's dishonest practices.

The plaintiffs who filed the complaint against WorldCom management were obliged to do so in the U.S. District Court in Jackson, Miss., where the company is located. By some unfortunate coincidence, the judge to whom the case fell was William H. Barbour Jr., a Reagan appointee -- and first cousin of Haley Barbour, the supersmooth K Street lobbyist, political strategist and former Republican National Committee chairman.

Judge Barbour might have thought about recusing himself from the WorldCom case, since he no doubt owed his appointment to the influence of cousin Haley, who is also the judge's former law partner. The Forbes article only suggests the multiple connections between Haley Barbour and WorldCom, which include massive donations from WorldCom to GOP causes over the years, and a $1 million donation to the notorious "Trent Lott Leadership Institute" at Ole Miss, for which Haley Barbour served as chief fundraiser. Also overlooked is another significant bit of information about Haley Barbour's relationship with WorldCom. Three years ago, when the Mississippi telecom giant swallowed SkyTel, Haley was a member of the SkyTel board who voted for the merger. I can't help wondering how many shares of WorldCom Haley might have received as part of that deal, and whether he sold them or held them.

Unfortunately, Haley's cousin William didn't recuse himself. Instead, as the Forbes story points out, the judge dismissed the shareholder lawsuit last March with prejudice, indicating in his opinion that the plaintiffs had fabricated their amazing allegations about the company's chicken-fried books.

By another remarkable coincidence, Haley is now managing the reelection campaign of Chip Pickering, the Republican representative from Mississippi who was by far the largest recipient of WorldCom political largesse. Although various Republican and Democratic political committees wisely have returned or given to charity their donations from WorldCom, Haley told the Associated Press a few weeks ago that Pickering will do no such thing. "Why even look like he's done something wrong?" was his rhetorical reply. Maybe his cousin the judge ought to have considered that same question before he railroaded WorldCom shareholders. [Posted: 7:50 a.m. PDT, July 22, 2002]

For more Conason, click here.

Salon Staff

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