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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dick Cheney's Dance Card

The Big DickWe tend to think of the Bush administration as beginning on 9/11. Things obviously happened before then, but it all seems inconsequential. The future at that point seemed pretty clear; Bush was a not very smart guy who was going to misspeak a lot and give late night talk show hosts nightly material. And Dick Cheney was going to be...

Well, pretty much exactly what he is now. Secretive, way more powerful than any vice president should be, and in the hip pocket of big oil. That much became clear when Dick put together an energy task force in 2001. He met with zero environmentalists personally and spent months with executives and lobbyists from oil and energy companies.

The conclusion of the task force was that we had to drill in the Arctic Refuge, where there was about five minutes worth of oil, or America was doomed. By April 2001, the new energy policy was clear. Cheney gave a speech in Toronto, where he said that we should burn every damned thing that we could get our hands on, that there was plenty of stuff left to burn, and that "conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." The new policy was buy fossil fuels, burn fossil fuels, and -- if at all possible -- feed fossil fuels to kids in free hot lunch programs. The new energy policy could be summed up in your choice of three words -- 'extract and consume' or 'buy, buy, buy.'

That didn't go over very well. Cheney's made a habit of underestimating the american people and this was the first instance of it. Just about everyone knew this was ridiculous crap, that this new energy policy had been written by corporations, and that Dick had no shame. People started calling for information about the task force -- specifically, who was on it -- but VP Secret Squirrel insisted that who had actually written the people's government's energy policy was not the business of the people or other branches of their government. This fight went on until the White House's pet Supreme Court ruled in favor of Cheney in 2004. The secret was secure.

That is, until yesterday. Michael Abramowitz and Steven Mufson of the Washington Post scored documents showing who had attended these meetings and published them. There are a few familiar names here, most notably Kenny Boy Lay, of Enron infame. In fact, a lot of these people are now in jail -- mostly in relation to Jack Abramoff. As I said earlier, Cheney himself met with no environmentalists and the task force heard from all of them on one day -- fourteen people representing all of thirteen groups on April 4 at 10 a.m. WaPo quotes Erich Pica of Friends of Earth, who tells us that this was "about half a meeting" and that "It was clear to us that they were just being nice to us." In other words, the only reason for the meeting was PR. Dick could say that the policy was written after consulting with environmentalists. The truth is that, by April 4, the policy had most likely already been written.

It's been said that if you put stickers on Bushies, representing who paid for them, they'd look like NASCAR racers. In Dick's case, you wouldn't even be able to see him. The names of the people his task force met with aren't as familiar as who they represented. Here's just a partial list -- Exxon, Enron, American Petroleum Institute, British Petroleum, Berry Petroleum Company, California Independent Petroleum Association, Cabot Energy, Tidelands Oil Production Company, Nucor Oil & Gas, Vintage Petroleum Inc., CONOCO, Sinclair Oil, Aleyska Pipeline Service Company, Shell Oil, Marathon Oil, General Electric, National Hydrogen Association, Philllips Petroleum, etc., etc., etc.

You kind of get a feel for why the White House was so late to admit that humans cause global warming and why they're still dragging their feet on doing something about it. Most of these corporations were Bush contributors -- some, like Exxon, very big contributors -- and, as Molly Ivins used to say, "You dance with them that brung ya." Dick's dance card was very, very full.

Interestingly, the task force had zero meetings with Haliburton Oil Field Services. Haliburton has the most powerful lobbyist in Washington and I guess there was no reason for Dick to meet with Dick.

So why was Cheney so protective of this list? Mostly because it's just his nature. Dick Cheney is a sort of a nosferatu who shuns the light of public scrutiny as an instinct, not a strategy. And when you have so much to hide that you can barely keep track of it all, it's better to just hide everything.

But part of it is that it shows that his claims environmentalist input are BS and another part is that it reads like a list of Bush contributors. It stinks of pay-to-play politics, where access to power comes with a price tag, and that ain't so legal. 'Pay-to-play' is the polite term -- the technical term is 'bribery and corruption.'

There's nothing here that's extremely surprising. And that's the most damning part of all of this -- that this is exactly what we'd expect from the vice president. We are very, very poorly served by this administration and by this VP in particular. When leaked documents showing that Cheney is hopelessly mired in special interests and corruption comes as no surprise at all, it's a measure of just how screwed we really are.


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