Sean O’Donnell: ‘Bush’s stock trading in Harken is, of course, a very legitimate story, but is only of secondary importance relative to the main issue – the collapse of corporate governance. There is a real fear that (given our Clinton experience) chasing the President can so consume the media that it forgets other issues. It would be a tragedy if this rare opportunity to take real action and remedy some of the most glaring problems in corporate governance is lost because the media start losing interest in the story because they can play ‘catch the president.’ So – the Bush story is a good story, but it should get second billing.’

☞ I completely agree. And I would also like to say that I will be delighted if it turns out that President Bush did nothing wrong with Harken . . . that he was unaware of the Aloha deal, that he was not trading on inside information when he sold his stock, that he was not intentionally 34 weeks late in reporting the transaction.

It seems that the US News report I was relying on in reaching some of my conclusions Monday was misleading. It said Bush sold his stock ‘just one week’ before Harken posted its rotten earnings. What it should have said is that he sold just one week before the close of the quarter for which, two months later, rotten earnings would be posted. While this doesn’t exonerate Bush – or justify his having said he was exonerated – it does make the case against him, in my mind, less open and shut. So let’s release the S.E.C. file on this matter, have a couple of crack investigative journalists root around for a while, and then move on to the next thing. I’m not looking for a multi-year $40 million investigation.

But neither should anyone feel that Harken’s accounting was justifiable when it clearly was not (and W. was on the three-man audit committee!); or that Bush was exonerated when thus far, he hasn’t been; or that his sale was unobjectionable if it violated insider trading regulations; or that the 34-week delay in filing was innocent if it was intentional. Where are Woodward and Bernstein when we need them? Is a ’60 Minutes’ team at work on this?

TOBACCO

A story in the Metro section of yesterday’s New York Times marveled at ‘How a Popular State Bill to Restrict Smoking in Restaurants Faltered.’ No one seemed quite sure how it happened – even 76% of the restaurant owners favored the bill – but the article concluded it may have had something to do with the money Philip Morris pumped into the state’s legislative process, $117,500 to Republicans in 2001 and $11,000 to Democrats. (Note the ratio.)

And then you had this from Michael Moore, author of Stupid White Men, alleging that matches and butane lighters are OK to take aboard airplanes – have remained so even after Richard Reid tried to blow up his shoe and his fellow passengers – because of the clout of the tobacco industry within the Bush administration:

I was sure after this freakish incident [writes Moore] that the lighters and matches would surely be banned. But, as my book tour began in February, there they were, the passengers with their Bic lighters and their books of matches. I asked one security person after another why these people were allowed to bring devices which could start a fire on board the plane, especially after the Reid incident. No one, not a single person in authority or holding an unloaded automatic weapon, could or would give me answer.

My simple question was this: If all smoking is prohibited on all flights, then why does ANYONE need their lighters and matches at 30,000 feet — while I am up there with them?!

And why is the one device that has been used to try and blow up a plane since 9-11 NOT on the banned list? No one has used toenail clippers to kill anyone on Jet Blue . . .

BUT SOME FRUITCAKE DID USE A BUTANE LIGHTER TO TRY AND KILL 200 PEOPLE ON AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT #63. And this did nothing to force the Bush Administration to do something about it.

I began asking this question in front of audiences on my book tour. And it was on a dark and rainy night in Arlington, Virginia, at the Ollsson’s Bookstore a couple miles from the Pentagon that I got my answer. After asking my Bic lighter question in my talk to the audience, I sat down to sign the books for the people in line. A young man walks up to the table, introduces himself, and lowering his voice so no one can hear, tells me the following:

“I work on the Hill. The butane lighters were on the original list prepared by the FAA and sent to the White House for approval. The tobacco industry lobbied the Bush administration to have the lighters and matches removed from the banned list. Their customers (addicts) naturally are desperate to light up as soon as they land, and why should they be punished just so the skies can be safe?’

The lighters and matches were removed from the forbidden list.

I am not a great Michael Moore fan. I almost am – he’s wonderfully talented and funny, and his passion and energy are admirable. But unlike Dave Barry, whose exaggerations and flights of fancy are so wonderfully wild that only the dimmest wit could miss them, my sense is that Michael Moore strays from fairness in ways that the average reader could easily miss. So maybe he’s done that in the passage above. But what’s scary to me about the Bush administration and the long-time influence of the tobacco industry on the Republican Party (with a few tobacco-state Democrats thrown in) is that this story has the ring of truth.

Wouldn’t you be curious to know for sure?

Tomorrow: Back to Money!

 

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