Dean Clough

March 20, 2023

Portico Darwin: It Wasn't Just Jack Welch


4 Minute Read
Happy Monday and I am just now wrapping up my latest read, Sally Denton's "The Profiteers".  It has the exactly correct subtitle of "Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World."

Except "Built the World" - while true in the sense you're probably imagining - also reflects something far more sinister.  To this writer, in addition to a whole bunch of airports, nuclear reactors, and oil refineries, they also built the nefarious aspects of the partnership between the US government and favored US corporations.  Sadly, that sleezy marriage did indeed build the world in which we live today.  After reading this Killer (but mostly depressing!) book, I see it this way:

It Was Bechtel and then Jack Welch that ruined America.

Oversimplification?  I am not so sure.  I've written previously about Welch and his tenure eventually wreaking General Electric, and then, as his mentees infected other board rooms, Boeing, and many other fine US companies, too.  Welch's part of it was the financialization of everything, and prioritizing shareholders above all else.  Indeed, Jack Welch appeared to almost derive pleasure from stiffing stakeholders - you know, meaningless bystanders like employees and the towns in which they (used to) work and live.

But before then, it was Warren "Dad" Bechtel and his generational spawn:  for the first time, they brought scale to the old (white) boy's club, using taxpayer money.  It is that last bit that separates the Bechtel family from the Rockefellers, or the robber and rail barons of the late 19th century.  While there's certainly not a choir boy among any of them, the fact is most risked large amounts of their own capital to build their fortunes.

Instead, Dad Bechtel lead a consortium that built the Hoover Dam for the US government in the 1930s; at the time, it was the largest public works project in US history.  Never mind the abhorrent labor conditions and resulting worker deaths - the patriarch set the tone by making exorbitant profits by knowing who's who in Washington and thus where the money was.  Cozy up to the Feds, keep the workers down, and all is well.  Oh, and keep the company private such that you have to tell no one about the amounts of money you extract and the family keeps - year after year - from US taxpayers.

I'll put it as simply as I can:  the festering swamp containing the US government and our country's largest corporations began with Warren "Dad" Bechtel.  What began as a region-changing dam on the Colorado River metastasized into the fully-gamed system with which we live today.  The book makes it clear why corporations like being able to give unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns:  they get it right back, plus a lot more.


As I was reading about Dad, and then his son Steve Sr. and grandson, Steve Jr., my overall takeaway is their appalling arrogance.  Each had a deep conviction that what was right for Bechtel was by definition right for the United States, and the world at large.  That is a continuing theme.  From the completion of the Hoover Dam, and on into the later 20th century when Bechtel essentially had become the infrastructure and logistics arm of the CIA, no project was too big for the Bechtel family and its namesake company.  Or too corrupt or with too rogue a set of actors.

So when the US intelligence community needs things done such that the Shah can be installed in Iran, and open his country's oil wealth to western corporations, Bechtel is there.  The Saudis (at the time, literally at war with Israel) want a completely new city for 400,000 built from scratch, in the desert?  On it.  Encourage nuclear proliferation in order to further line Bechtel's coffers?  No prob.  Yes, benevolent things like BART, too, but their trademark was doing massive things for very sketchy regimes.  Think mob attorney, but one that builds airports and power plants for them.

And while you may have a vague idea of Bechtel being a secretive and perhaps even bad actor, you likely don't know the depth of their revolving door into and out of various administrations in Washington.  Indeed, their peak influence came from the start of the Nixon administration and ran until the end of Reagan's, with a brief exile during Carter's.  In went their executives to a given Presidential administration, out came Presidential administration senior officials to join Bechtel Corporation.  This goes on and on and on and everyone at the top and on the inside gets filthy.  Dirty.  Rich.  Sounds like great work if you can get it.

Here is an AI-generated image of the same - the opacity and depth, among other things, is exactly correct.
4162692873_Revolving_Door_painting__HQ__4k (1).png

Donald Rumsfeld.  George Shultz.  Caspar Weinberger.  Each of these beltway heavyweights played the Bechtel revolving door game.  They made millions as execs at Bechtel Corporation, millions more in blind trusts while in government, and still more after leaving government and knowing which buttons to push to land their again-employer, Bechtel, the biggest, most outrageous government contracts.  One example of many:  guess the prime contractor for taking Saddam Hussein's former 4 square mile palace grounds and turning it into the Green Zone, from where our brilliant strategy for occupying Iraq was run?

Not So Fun Fact:  much of the evil doings done by these ultimate insiders was (and still is) planned at a place famous to Northern Californians:  The Bohemian Grove.  This private enclave, in the redwoods and on the Russian River north of San Francisco, and itself an outpost of SF's ultra-exclusive Bohemian Club, is renowned for its tippy-tippy-top power broker members charting the course of our world at what has been described as an ongoing elite bacchanal that puts something like Davos to shame.  But until reading this book, I had no idea how . . . fucked up and corrupt it really is, and what gets decided there. 

Here is the club's downtown private bar, from a great article on SF in Esquire in1967.

I could go on, but as I said, it's depressing, so I won't.  Bechtel is literally the poster child for Ike's Military Industrial Complex warning, but I say Bechtel's poison went far beyond "just" our military.  Their way of doing business, via inside information and regulatory capture, has resulted in many other fill-in-the-blank Industrial Complexes (and a whole lot of very wealthy people):

  • Oil Industrial Complex
  • Healthcare Industrial Complex
  • Technology Industrial Complex
  • Airline Industrial Complex
  • Food Industrial Complex
  • Beverage Industrial Complex
  • Commercial Real Estate Industrial Complex
  • Financial Services Industrial Complex
  • Homeless Industrial Complex (yes, Bechtel infected everything)

Thanks, Dad.


Prepare to be shocked:  Hunter Deuce had opinions on my KLUF:  Modern Rock playlist.  As a service to you, my dear reader, I will not subject you to his delusionary fantasy world, one where his musical knowledge is superior to mine.  I'll always be older and to use just one example, I LIVED through Talking Heads and their career, and didn't just read about it in magazines, son.

But while I think he had help, he indeed named three glaring omissions from my list.  There's just no way he could have come up with these on his own.
  • The English Beat
  • The Smithereens
  • The Lemonheads (a bad miss by me)

These have all been added, and for good measure, I also added tracks from M83's Diamond Certified new album, Fantasy.  And to placate my biggest fan, I tossed in two Wilco songs he begged for, such that his beloved Jeff Tweedy is in Heavy Rotation.  Of course the playlist's contents have been updated at TIDAL and Spotify, and you can see its metadata here.

(His other suggestions were a who's who of nobody cares.  Indeed, I'll send a KLUF t-shirt to anyone that can name a song or an album by Japandroids or Car Seat Headrest without cheating.)

Back in the real world:  a major thank you to my incredibly gracious hosts, Arthur and Mrs. Crup.  I failed to mention this Friday, but they hosted me to a wonderful and Textbook Peninsula afternoon/evening last Thursday.  A fine sushi lunch, followed by deep and quite lively conversations over a whole bunch of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, on the veranda overlooking their garden?  Yes, please, and thank you very much.

Fun Fact:  the oddly-named Sushi+Plus in Redwood City may be the best strip mall sushi yet.  Just amazing quality and value.  A must if and when you're down there. 

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.


This has no real connection to anything today, but it's damned good and I just came across it, so why not?  It's unusual, in that it's a tribute album, yet the honoree performs throughout, with a whole bunch of guest stars.  Here is All My Friends:  Celebrating The Songs & Voice Of Gregg Allman. 

About Dean Clough

Plans To Enjoy Life.