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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Katharine Armstrong and the Texas aristocracy

The largest ranch in America

Shoot first, avoid questions later
The White House's secretive response to Cheney's misfire cannot be
understood apart from the society of Texas royalty.

By Sidney Blumenthal


Katharine Armstrong is linked to two family fortunes -- those of Armstrong and King -- that include extensive corporate holdings in land, cattle, banking and oil. No one in Texas, except perhaps Baker, but certainly not latecomer George W. Bush, has a longer lineage in its political and economic elite. In 1983, Debrett's Peerage Ltd., publisher of "Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage," printed "Debrett's Texas Peerage," featuring "the aristocrats of Texas," with the King family noted as the "Royal Family of Ranching." The King Ranch, founded by Richard King in 1857, is the largest in Texas, and its wealth was vastly augmented by the discovery of oil on its tracts, making the family a major shareholder of Exxon. The King Ranch is the model for Edna Ferber's novel of Texas aristocracy, "Giant."

John B. Armstrong, a Texas Ranger and enforcer for the King Ranch, founded his own neighboring ranch in 1882, buying it with the bounty of $4,000 he got for capturing the outlaw John Wesley Harding. In 1944, almost inevitably, the two fortunes became intertwined through marriage. Tobin Armstrong's brother John married the King Ranch heiress, who was also a Vassar classmate of Tobin's wife, Anne, who came from a wealthy New Orleans family.

The Armstrong Ranch developed far-flung holdings in Australia and South America. Meanwhile, President Ford appointed Anne, a major Republican activist, U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, and President Reagan appointed her a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is reportedly Anne's best friend, and Anne was instrumental in launching her political career. Tobin, for his part, worked as an advisor to Texas Republican Gov. William Clements, where he first encountered the young Karl Rove and decided to give him a helping hand when Rove struck out in the political business on his own.

The Armstrong family's Republican connections have continued and strengthened down to the latest generation of Bushes. Gov. George W. Bush appointed Anne a regent of Texas A&M University and Katharine a commission member of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the agency that filed the report on the Cheney shooting. At Tobin's funeral last year, Cheney delivered the eulogy.

While the incident continues to unfold, the Bush administration is pressing a new budget in which oil companies would receive what is called "royalty relief," allowing them to pump about $65 billion of oil and natural gas from federal land over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government, costing the U.S. Treasury about $7 billion. For Texas royalty like the Armstrongs, it would amount to a windfall profit.

The curiosities surrounding the vice president's accident have created a contemporary version of "The Rules of the Game" with a Texas twist. In Jean Renoir's 1939 film, politicians and aristocrats mingle at a country house in France over a long weekend, during which a merciless hunt ends with a tragic shooting. Appearing on the eve of World War II, "The Rules of the Game" depicted a hypocritical, ruthless and decadent ruling class that made its own rules and led a society to the edge of catastrophe.
These folks are Texans, not phonies like the Bushes.

The kind of people they make movies about.

Of course they went to the local paper. It's how they do things there. It's their world. You can bet your bottom dollar that the Bush girls would NEVER marry into this family. To them, Bush and Cheney are like loyal retainers.

The fact that the world might demand different things from them, well......

Their friend is the Vice President.

posted by Steve @ 12:00:00 AM

12:00:00 AM

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