"I'm the master of low expectations."
-George W. Bush, aboard Air Force One, June 4, 2003
THE ACCIDENTAL CANDIDATE
(1) As a young man, George W. Bush got his jollies by shooting frogs or blowing them up with firecrackers.
(2) During the Vietnam War, Bush received academic deferments to avoid service, then ducked combat by getting into the National Guard, though there was a nationwide waiting list of 100,000. While in the Guard he dodged signed commitments but faced no consequences.
(3) After losing a congressional race and heading a series of failed business enterprises funded by men with connections to his father, George W. Bush returned to Texas in 1988 (after Bush Sr.’s successful presidential campaign) and used his connections to buy the Texas Rangers, though he put up only 2% of the money. Once the deal went through, the Rangers owners used eminent domain and a sales tax increase to get a new stadium built, mostly on the public dime. [In 1998, Bush received $14.9 million from the sale of the Rangers after putting in just over $600,000 initially.]
(4) In 1989, GOP movers asked George W. Bush to run for governor of Texas, but he was more interested in baseball, and as one strategist told him, “You haven’t done shit.”
(5) According to Rolling Stone, “On June 22nd, 1990, when Harken's stock price was unusually strong [Bush was serving as director of Harken at the time]…Bush sold 212,140 shares of Harken stock at $4 a share, for $848,560. On August 2nd, Iraq invaded Kuwait and Harken's stock dropped to $3 a share. On June 30th, Harken had released a quarterly report disclosing a $23.2 million loss for the second quarter, which Bush had known about before he sold his stock, since he was on Harken's audit committee.”
(6) “Bush waited until March 1991 -- eight months later -- to file the required insider-trader forms with the SEC. When he was subsequently accused of insider trading, Bush justified his lateness by saying that the proper paperwork had been filed on time but lost by the SEC.” The head of the S.E.C., George Bush Sr.’s former aide Richard Breeden, filed no charges.
(7) In 1993, George W. Bush began a campaign to become the governor of Texas when he wasn’t chosen Commissioner of Major League Baseball. To keep things simple, Bush strategist Karl Rove "put together a winning strategy: Bush would campaign on four issues -- reform of the education, welfare, tort and juvenile-justice systems -- and nothing else.”
(8) During the campaign, Bush’s surrogates conducted a whisper campaign against his opponent, then-governor Ann Richards, insinuating that the unmarried Richards was a lesbian, while Bush publicly claimed to take the high road with an issues-based campaign.
(9) Bush won the race and quickly established his hostility to the environment as governor of Texas. According to Bob Herbert of The New York Times, “In early 1995 Houston and Dallas began emissions programs to deal with their smog-choked air. Upon coming into office, Governor Bush signed legislation killing these programs, and when the lead contractor (emissions tester) sued Texas, Bush used $130 million of money from environmental protection funds to pay the lawsuit.”
(10) Bush’s first appointment to the state's environmental protection agency, the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, was Ralph Marquez, an executive who had spent 30 years with the Monsanto Chemical Company.
(11) On Bush's lackadaisacal watch, Houston won the distinction of being the smoggiest city in the U.S.
(12) Texas as a whole had more smog alerts in 1999 than any other state, and was number one in the discharge of carcinogens into the air (13), the number of factories violating clean water standards (14), and the injection of toxic waste into underground wells (15).
(16) Governor Bush’s priorities were equally clear in other policy areas. In 1995, he vetoed an HMO reform measure. In 1997, the law passed without his signature [Bush later falsely took credit for the measure when he ran for president.]
(17) Despite his own history of substance abuse, Bush increased penalties for youthful drug offenders, (18) “ok’d the housing of 16-year-olds in adult correctional facilities,” and (19) slashed funding for inmate substance-abuse programs.
(20) Governor Bush signed a death warrant every two weeks and even lowered the time he spent reviewing death penalty cases from thirty minutes to fifteen.
(21) In 1995, Governor Bush “signed an NRA-backed bill to allow private citizens to carry concealed handguns in Texas, ending a 125-year ban on concealed weapons,” and in 1997 "Bush signed a bill that allowed Texans to bring their guns into churches and synagogues (22) unless a sign specifically barred them from doing so.”
(23) In another sop to the gun industry, Bush opposed mandatory child safety locks in favor of voluntary safety locks.
(24) In June 1998, James Byrd Jr., a black man, was “chained to a truck and dragged three miles to his death.” When the Texas Legislature introduced a hate crimes bill in Byrd’s name, Bush opposed it.
(25) Bush did, however, support a law that gave the state of Texas permission to “take adopted children away from gay and lesbian couples and give them to straight couples” (Salon, 10/12/00) and (26) a gays-only sodomy law that criminalized private consensual sex (New Republic, 10/13/00), and (27) opposed laws protecting gays and lesbians from employment discrimination.
(28) Governor Bush fought to limit access to CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) to children who were up to 150% of the poverty rate, though the federal government would match funding up to 200%. Bush’s move would have denied health coverage to 200,000 underprivileged children.
(29) Bush did, however, show compassion for one of his friends in the embalming business, by sending a letter to investigators asking them to spike an investigation of shady dealings.
(30) Despite running for president on the issue of education, “Texas had over 40,000 classrooms without permanent teachers to start the 2000 school year.” Bush’s chief of staff, Clay Johnson, told Gail Sheehy of Vanity Fair, "I don't think there's any correlation at all between pay of teachers and quality of education…There might even be a negative correlation."
(31) In a portent of things to come countrywide, Governor Bush tried to establish his bonafides as a "limited government conservative" by suggesting a decrease in property taxes, even as he proposed an increase in the sales tax and introduced a new tax on business. The Texas legislature passed a tax cut after some modifications, and “…these tax cuts turned out to be a sham. After they kicked in, school districts across the state boosted local tax rates to compensate for the loss of revenue. A 1999 analysis in the Dallas Morning News found that 'many [taxpayers] are still paying as much as they did in 1997, or more.’” Republican Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry [Bush’s future successor as governor of Texas] called the cuts "rather illusory."
(32) Presidential candidate Bush chose as his (Vice) President Dick Cheney, a right-wing extremist whose public service had included votes against the creation of the Martin Luther King holiday, sanctions on the brutal South African regime, and a nonbinding resolution urging the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. Cheney had also been one of only 13 members of the House of Representatives to oppose a landmark 1988 bill that initiated federal funding for AIDS testing and counseling. Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson would later say of Cheney, "He became vice president well before George Bush picked him…And he began to manipulate things from that point on, knowing that he was going to be able to convince this guy to pick him, knowing that he was then going to be able to wade into the vacuums that existed around George Bush — personality vacuum, character vacuum, details vacuum, experience vacuum."
(33) While campaigning for president, Bush stopped at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, which had a ban on interracial dating, and (34) said that the issue of flying a confederate flag in the capital was “up to the people of South Carolina.”
(35) Though he was running to become the most powerful person in the world, Governor Bush exhibited a work ethic that would make any slacker proud. According to Vanity Fair, “Even today, nothing engages Bush's attention for more than half an hour, an hour max—more like 10 or 15 minutes. His workday as governor of Texas is ‘two hard half-days,’ as his chief of staff, Clay Johnson, describes it. He puts in the hours from 8 to 11:30 a.m., breaking it up with a series of 15-minute meetings, sometimes 10-minute meetings, but rarely is there a 30-minute meeting, says Johnson. At 11:30 he's ‘outta here.’ He tries everything possible to have at least two hours of what he calls private time in the middle of the day to go over to the University of Texas track or run a hard three to five miles on a concrete path at a pace of 7.5 minutes a mile, then relax and return to the office at 1:30, where he'll play some video golf or computer solitaire until about three, and then it's back to the second ‘hard half-day’ until 5:30.”
(36) Preferring to dodge questions about his lack of qualifications or stances on important issues beyond predigested platitudes, Bush and his surrogates ran an empty presidential campaign that “questioned the integrity, courage and moral character of Vice President Al Gore,” future global citizen and Nobel prize-winner.
(37) “Bo” Polk, described as “an old family friend” of the Bushes, said of the man that wanted to be president, "it's an accident that [George W. Bush] got into politics."
DEEP DOWN IN FLORIDA
“Even if he loses, his friends say, he doesn’t lose. He’ll just change the score, or change the rules, or make his opponent play until he can beat him.”
-from “The Accidental Candidate,” October 2000
(38) In the run-up to the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush’s brother Jeb, governor of Florida – in concert with the Republican-controlled Florida legislature -- used a corrupt mayoral election in Miami as an excuse to exhume a Florida law from 1868 to outlaw voting by Florida felons, a move guaranteed to disenfranchise 17% of Florida’s voting-age black males.
(39) The State of Florida chose a private company with Republican ties, Database Technologies (now ChoicePoint Inc.), to create a database of Florida felons that grew to 174,583 people. When Database Technologies became concerned that their list was including too many non-felons (by ensnaring individuals with the same name, or a name similar to a felon), Emmett Mitchell, the assistant general counsel to the Florida Division of Elections, told them “Obviously, we want to capture more names that possibly aren’t matches and let the [county elections] supervisors make a final determination rather than exclude certain matches altogether.” [Mitchell was later rewarded for his efforts with a position in the Bush Administration’s Education Department]
(40) The purge lists were very flawed, erroneously including 8,000 people who had committed misdemeanors in Texas prior to moving to Florida, people who had committed felonies in states that restored voting rights (after the convicted had served their sentence) prior to moving to Florida, and people who were accused of committing felonies in the future. Yet state Republican election officials dictated that people on the list were guilty until proven innocent: local election officials were instructed to not call those on the list (though this had been an original stipulation of the "electoral reform" legislation that justified the purge), but to simply send them a letter. Some voters received letters, some didn’t.
(41) According to The Nation, “The lists targeted black voters in extremely disproportionate numbers. In Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, where only 15 percent of voters are black, 54 percent of the names on the purge list were African-Americans. In Miami-Dade, where blacks make up 20 percent of the population, a list of 5,762 people contained the names of 3,794 blacks, or 66 percent. In Leon County, which includes Tallahassee, the state capital, 29 percent of the people are black, but 55 percent of the purge list names were African-Americans.” This targeted disenfranchisement was guaranteed to help candidate Bush, as Al Gore would go on to receive 93% of Florida’s black vote on election day.
(42) After reviewing a list with 690 names, Ion Sancho, the Elections Supervisor for Leon County, found so many errors that he sent just 33 letters. Other county officials were not so careful.
(43) Even after the flaws were obvious, the State of Florida asked Database Technologies to loosen standards further, for example expanding the list to include voters whose names (the letters in their name) matched a felon by 80%, down from the original 90% standard.
(44) To have one’s voting rights reinstated, those on the list had to jump through onerous bureaucratic hoops such as having to retrieve old court records and appeal to a State Office of Executive Clemency, with a 6-month wait. The Clemency office was chaired by Jeb Bush. State literature on the subject included outstanding child support, traffic tickets, and drug/alcohol dependence as justifications for denying petition.
(45) While the purge was going on, county supervisors sent long lists of new voters to the state to be processed, particularly black voters, but Republican state election officials lagged on processing the new names and made no preparations for a predictably large turnout. In fact, Katherine Harris [Florida’s then-Secretary of State and co-chair of Bush’s presidential campaign in the state; see photo to the right] and Clay Roberts [the Division of Elections chief] later told the Federal Civil Rights Commission that they never even talked about the contingencies of high voter turnout. A post-election lawsuit by The NAACP listed voters who couldn’t vote because of the state’s delays.
(46) “$100,000 requested by county elections supervisors for voter education--which would have helped voters use the punch-card system and decipher confusing ballots--was deleted from the Division of Elections budget.”
(47) Seminole County elections chief Sandra Goard “allowed two GOP operatives [to come into her office ten days before the election and] add voter identification to more than 4,000 flawed [Republican] absentee ballot applications that had been rejected before the election. The workers were then allowed to resubmit the corrected applications, in violation of a 1998 law that [said that ] only the voter, an immediate family member or legal guardian may fill out an application for an absentee ballot.” Technically, these actions constituted a third-degree felony. No such action was taken on behalf of disqualifiable Democratic ballots. A post-election lawsuit to invalidate these ballots was rejected.
(48) According to the Palm Beach Post article “Breaking Florida Law,” Peggy Robbins, a County Elections Supervisor in Martin County, did the same with 500 Republican applications in her county. “The result in both counties was a windfall in a ratio of 2-1 for Texas Gov. George W. Bush in absentee votes. That represents more than 5,000 Bush votes that were cast illegally.”
(49) On election day 2000, Florida was in chaos. Among many other problems, numerous polling places with large Hispanic and Haitian populations lacked proper bilingual assistance as required by the Voting Rights Act, disenfranchising thousands of voters.
(50) Black voters were hit the hardest, making up 54% of disenfranchised voters according to a post-election analysis by the federal Civil Rights Commission, and were five times as likely as white voters to have their votes disqualified, with one in ten votes being tossed statewide. Many new voters weren’t on voting lists and their polling sites lacked the computer resources to verify eligibility (comparable shortcomings did not typically exist in white majority districts). Black voters were also far more prone to having their ballots disqualified because urban areas tended to use outdated punchcard voting machines that lacked a verification mechanism (updated electronic voting machines in many majority-white districts allowed voters to check their ballot for errors before submission).
(51) In Palm Beach, on the infamous butterfly ballot, Al Gore’s name was listed second, but his punchhole was placed third, resulting in Gore losing 6,600 votes (more than ten times Bush's official margin of victory), according to the Palm Beach Post.
After election day, a mandatory recount narrowed Bush’s lead in Florida to a few hundred votes. According to an exhaustive post-election New York Times investigation, “How Bush Took Florida: Mining the Overseas Absentee Vote,” Bush lawyers in Florida then conducted a ruthless campaign to drive Bush’s lead up to a more comfortable margin.
From the article:
“By 4 p.m. the day after the election, the Bush campaign had begun a pre-emptive strike, faxing a letter to each of Florida's election supervisors. Under Florida law, candidates and parties can obtain the addresses of overseas voters. But to make it difficult for Mr. Gore's campaign to track those voters, Bush aides wanted the supervisors to reject any post-election requests for the identities of voters who had not yet sent in ballots (52).”
“But elsewhere, the Bush team was itself exploring the legality of late voting -- not by Floridians in Israel [mainly Democrats] but by members of the military, who, according to its internal memorandums, were ‘presumed’ to ‘represent conservative electors.’”
(53) “The Republicans decided they had to make sure as many military ballots as possible arrived in Florida in time to be counted on Nov. 17… The Pentagon soon faced pressure from the Bush campaign. Leading Republicans in Congress wrote letters and made calls.”
“When the ballots arrived, Republican lawyers (54) cajoled county elections officials in Republican counties to bend state law to accept illegal overseas absentee ballots even as they pushed elections officials in Democratic counties to apply exceptionally strict standards, in violation of the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.”
According to the Times (55), “The effectiveness of the Republican effort [was] demonstrated by striking disparities in how different counties treated ballots with similar defects. For instance, counties carried by Mr. Gore accepted 2 in 10 ballots that had no evidence they were mailed on or before Election Day. Counties carried by Mr. Bush accepted 6 in 10 of the same kinds of ballots. Bush counties were four times as likely as Gore counties to count ballots lacking witness signatures and addresses.” Gary King, “a Harvard expert on voting patterns and statistical models,” estimated that Bush picked up 245 votes in the process.
Even after the initial (mis)count of overseas ballots provided Bush with an additional cushion, “the Bush campaign (56) unleashed a full-scale legal and public relations offensive with a single aim: persuading selected Bush counties to reconsider hundreds of overseas military ballots rejected the night before.”
“As a legal matter…not a single judge agreed with the Bush campaign's argument that Florida's postmarking requirements were invalid,” yet “By the end of the week, canvassing boards in about a dozen Republican-leaning counties had reconvened for a second round of counting. In each place, longstanding election rules were bent and even ignored (57). Boards counted ballots postmarked as many as seven days after the election.” 288 ballots that had been rejected just days before were then counted, helping Bush further pad his narrow lead by 109 votes.
Bush’s Florida campaign co-chair and Florida’s Secretary of State Katherine Harris (58) certified the vote totals (and thus, the election) for Bush, and ignored Palm Beach supervisors’ request for additional time to conduct a hand recount. When Florida’s Supreme Court refused to shut down the vote count, Republican operatives (59) staged a riot in Miami-Dade county that convinced election officials to stop counting votes there (Bush called the rioters afterward to thank them). In addition, Bush’s recount spokesman James Baker twice (60) threatened to do an end run around the vote-counting process and simply have Florida’s Republican legislature declare Bush the winner, vote tallies be damned.
Ultimately, a Republican-majority federal appeals court in Atlanta refused to block the recount, but five Republican appointees on the federal Supreme Court previously steadfast in their ideological aversion to federal encroachment on state rights overruled (61) the Florida Supreme Court and shut down the vote count as being a violation of the Equal Protection clause.
Post-game analysis of the votes by the Washington Post, Alan Lichtman of the federal Civil Rights Commission, investigate journalist Greg Palast, and University of Michigan professor Walter Mebane showed that had the “clear indication of the intent of the voter” carried the day in Florida, as per state law, Al Gore would’ve won Florida by tens of thousands of votes, as exit polls had indicated.
Instead, George W. Bush became president (62) despite losing the popular count by over half a million votes, a distinction carried by no other president-elect since 1888.
A DIVIDER, NOT A UNITER
“What we need is to be able to reach across the aisle. Put together coalitions of Republicans and Democrats and build the kinds of coalitions that will get something done in Washington. George Bush is a man of great integrity that will make a first-rate president.”
-Dick Cheney, in the 2000 Vice Presidential debate
“America has a long tradition of uniting once elections are over…Secretary Cheney and I will do everything in our power to unite the nation, to call upon the best, to bring people together after one of the most exciting elections in our nation’s history.”
-George W. Bush, after winning the presidency by a partisan-line 5-4 Supreme Court decision
Promises to the contrary, George W. Bush governed as a hyper-partisan Republican from moment one. Immediately upon taking office Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew Card, put a large assortment of Bill Clinton's labor, consumer, and environmentally-friendly regulations on ice (63). Not long after, Bush let his patrons at Enron bleed California by refusing (64) to re-authorize a cap on energy prices put in place by Bill Clinton, while falsely claiming in public that the spike in energy costs was a result of California’s prohibitions on construction of new power plants.
With rare exceptions, Bush’s appointments were right-wing Republicans that had no intention of carrying out their department’s historic missions. Bush made Larry Thompson - a director of Providian, which had paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars for fraud - a watchdog over corporate crime (65), Harvey Pitt, a lawyer who had specialized in ensuring that his corporate clients would not pay the price for their negligence, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (66), and John Ashcroft (67), a right-wing extremist that had made his name in Missouri politics by opposing integrated busing, the nation's top law enforcement official.
As one example of many of Ashcroft’s theocratic modus operandi, he appointed two members of the “Independent Women's Forum” - Margot Hill (68) and Nancy Pfonhauer (69) - to a domestic violence advisory committee, though they had both opposed the Violence Against Women Act, a Bill Clinton had signed into law in 1994.
Bush appointed Gale Norton (70) head of the Department of Interior, the agency that oversees federal land use. Norton was known for suing the state of Colorado for enforcing environmental regulations. Among her career highlights was a comment that the Southern states “lost too much” in the Civil War and her threat to sue the federal government over ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) requirements that the Colorado statehouse add a wheelchair ramp that she said was “a really ugly addition to the state capitol.”
Bush’s pick for the Department of Energy (71) was Spencer Abraham, who had supported abolishing the Department of Energy just a few years prior, while in Congress. Abraham was perfectly representative of Bush’s preference for people who were ill-intentioned, ethically-challenged, or just plain incompetent, as were David Hager (72), a highly controversial doctor who had written that women should use prayer to reduce the symptoms of PMS--to the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Commission, and Rod Paige (73), a Secretary of Education that called the National Education Association a “terrorist organization.”
Among Bush’s judicial choices were:
(74) Jay Bybee (who defended employment discrimination against gays in the Department of Defense)
(75) Dennis Shedd (a protégé of arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond)
(76) Peter Keisler (a former clerk for the notorious Robert Bork, who had been one of the rare Supreme Court appointments so extreme that he was deep-sixed by the Senate)
(77) Terry Boyle (a former staff member of Jesse Helms)
(78) Priscilla Owen (the most extreme member of Texas's far right Supreme Court)
(79) Jeffrey Sutton (who had earned his Republican street cred by fighting protections for the disabled)
(80) Brett Kavanaugh (an author of the salacious Starr Report)
(81) Bill Pryor (an Alabama attorney general who had filed a brief in defense of an anti-sodomy law which was later overturned by the Supreme Court)
(82) Charles Pickering (a Mississippi judge who had tried to convince a jury to be more lenient in its treatment of bigots who had burned a cross on a black family's lawn)
The partisan juggernaut was also evidenced in Bush’s tax and budget priorities. As encapsulated by Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz: “[in Bush’s first tax cut, (83)] Those with incomes over a million got a tax cut of $18,000—more than 30 times larger than the cut received by the average American. The inequities were compounded by a second tax cut (84), in 2003, this one skewed even more heavily toward the rich. Due to these tax cuts, in 2012 the average annual reduction for an American in the bottom 20 percent will be $45, while those with incomes of more than $1 million will see their tax bills reduced by an average of $162,000.”
Moreover, Bush lied repeatedly about his tax plan (85), saying during the campaign "The vast majority of my [proposed] tax cuts go to the bottom end of the spectrum," and claiming that the estate tax phaseout portion of his plan would “keep family farms in the family," though The New York Times couldn’t find a single instance of this being true (86).
“Bush's tax policies have (87) necessitated hikes in federal fees, state and local taxes, and co-payment charges to needy veterans and families who rely on Medicaid, along with cuts in loan programs to small businesses and college students, and in a wide range of state services.”
At the same time that he lowered the tax burden on the well-off, Bush reduced IRS enforcement of rich tax cheats (88)and increased IRS investigations of the working poor (89), enacted steroidal increases to America’s already-bloated defense budget (90), and proposed decidedly un-Christian budget cuts to a whole host of important government services, including but not limited to the libraries (91), advanced pediatric training for doctors (92), worker re-training (93), public housing (94), the Women and Infants Nutrition program (95), the Childcare and Development grant (96), money used to investigate cases of child abuse and neglect (97), Americorps (98), community policing programs (99), cuts to payments to people suffering from cancer and other illnesses as a result of cold war atomic weapons projects (100), the Veteran’s Administration (101), childcare for needy children (102), Medicaid (103), Headstart (104), school lunches (105), youth opportunity grants for at-risk children (106), HUD community development block grants (107), the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (108), and training schools for teachers at children's hospitals (109).
As additional aspects of his compassionate conservative agenda, Bush
(110) convinced Congress to nullify ergonomic rules put in place by Bill Clinton that would have helped workers with repetitive stress injuries
(111) proposed a re-working of overtime laws that would have allowed employers to base overtime on an 80-hour cycle, instead of the current 40, and allow employers to replace overtime with comp time for any employees loosely classified as management
(112) repealed a Clinton rule that allowed states to use unemployment money to help people claim family leave to have babies or adopt children
(113) sought the dismissal of a class-action lawsuit filed in the United States against Japan by Asian women forced to work as sex slaves in World War II
(114) signed a “Bankruptcy Reform” bill (vetoed by Clinton) that punishes the working poor and anyone else with out-of-control medical bills
(115) sold and signed a prescription drug plan written by pharmaceutical lobbyists that prohibited the federal government from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for more reasonable prices or allowing cheaper generic drugs from Canada, leaving enrollees with limited coverage and the highest prices in the world
(116) vetoed an expansion of CHIPS (Children’s Health Insurance Program) that extended insurance to children with no coverage
(117) cut funding for schools that was necessary to help them meet the tough new academic standards mandated in his No Child Left Behind Act
Bush did, however, find enough money in the budget to give his Attorney General John Ashcroft over $8,000 so that a blue robe could be thrown over the nude statue of lady justice during Ashcroft's press conferences (118) .
-George W. Bush, September 29, 2000
Arguably Bush’s biggest stamp in domestic policy was in the area of environmental policy. While Bush’s first opponent, Al Gore, has become a Global Citizen and Nobel-winning environmentalist, President Bush took a distinctly different tack. Not months after taking office, President Bush abandoned (119) the Kyoto Protocol to regulate greenhouse gases, which Gore had negotiated. (Documents later emerged that indicated “that the decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, in 2001, was influenced by the Global Climate Coalition, an industry group with ties to Exxon.”)
Bush’s environmental appointments shared consistently destructive impulses. He appointed Gail Norton (see #70) as Secretary of Interior; Steven Griles, an oil and coal lobbyist, as Deputy Secretary of the Interior (120); Lynn Scarlett, a global warming denier and opponent of clean air regulations, as Undersecretary of the Interior (121); Bennett Raley, who had supported the repeal of the Endangered Species Act, as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science (122); and Monsanto executive Linda Fisher as deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (123).
Among Bush’s achievements in environmental policy:
(124) The administration immediately suspended the hallmark of Clinton's environmental legacy, his rule against development in big portions of publicly-owned forests
(125) The administration replaced Clinton's strict New Source Review policy, which forced old coal-fired plants to upgrade to cleaner burning technologies, with the "Clear Skies" plan, which relied on the facade of voluntary compliance and actually increased the net amount of allowable pollutants, and stonewalled (126) on handing over documents to Senate Environmental Works head Jim Jeffords about the polluter-friendly rewrite of New Source review
(127) The administration lifted a strengthened standard for arsenic in drinking water drawn up in the Clinton presidency and lied about why they were doing it: they said the proposal had been rushed, though in fact it had been the result of length scientific deliberations. According to a former Bush speechwriter, the move was really a ploy to try to win the swing state of New Mexico, which had high naturally occurring levels of arsenic in its water
(128) The administration cut the EPA enforcement budget to weaken the EPA, tried to hand enforcement off to the ill-equipped state regulatory agencies, and supported (129) a technique used by West Virginia coal companies called mountaintop removal, whereby mountaintops are sheared open to get to the seams, dumping pollutants and debris into surrounding forests and streams
(130) Where the Clinton EPA had continued the traditional practice of defending environmental laws in court, the Bush EPA preferred to settle out of court, giving polluters a slap on the wrist
(131) The administration nullified a Clinton rule protecting wetlands, another rule that regulated run off from big industrial farms (132), and (133) weakened energy-saving standards set by Clinton for air conditioners and heat pumps
(134) The administration declared a moratorium on expansions of the National Park system, pushed (135) proposals to eliminate environmental impact statements and public participation when private companies wanted to drill, log, mine or develop publicly-owned lands, abandoned (136) a plan to change the Missouri River flow to avoid the extinction of endangered fish and birds, reversed (137) a Clinton rule banning mining for copper, gold, zinc and lead on public lands, and issued (138) a legal opinion allowing Glamis Gold Ltd., a Nevada company, to dig an open-pit gold mine near El Centro, California, a desert considered sacred by local Quechan Indian tribe (Clinton had opposed the mine)
In addition, the Bush Administration extended (139) amnesty to livestock producers from the Clean Water Act, slashed (140) funding for the cleanup of Superfund sites and shifted (141) the cost of Superfund cleanups from chemical companies to the taxpayers.
Moving along, the administration:
(142) Allowed snowmobiles back into the Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks in Wyoming
(143) Gutted a regulation mandating public notification of sewer spills
(144) Overturned regulations against personal watercraft in eight national parks
(145) Backed away from a Clinton plan to create a national seashore just north of Santa Barbara
(146) Lifted wildlife protections on federal lands
(147) Reversed a Clinton policy of not approving construction of a geothermal plant in the Modoc National Forest, a sacred Indian ground
(148) Published a rule in the federal register delaying a measure to force oil and gas industries to follow water pollution standards at drilling sites
(149) Put off Hudson river dredging (of PCBs) until 2006
(150) Forced conservation groups to sue in court to protect Clinton's long-negotiated Northwest Forest Plan
(151) Ignored Clinton's plan to restore salmon and steelhead habitat in Snake River
(152) Gutted Clinton's Sierra Nevada plan and Clinton's sand dune protections in southeastern California against dune buggies (153)
(154) Ended the environmental fellowship program for students pursuing environmental sciences
(155) Tried to pry the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve - and innumerable other publicly-owned natural treasures - to commercial exploitation
(156) Declined to tighten regulations on annual emissions of soot
(157) Extended tax credits to SUV buyers
(158) Reversed a Clinton-era rule, and said that carbon dioxide could not be 'regulated as a pollutant,' reversing a Clinton policy
(159) Supported drilling in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
(160) “White House Minimized the Risks of Mercury in Proposed Rules, Scientists Say”
(161) “Interior Dept. Is Denounced”: “A court-appointed investigator has resigned from his job probing the federal government's management of hundreds of millions of dollars owed Native Americans, and charged that the Department of the Interior blocked his work in a bid to conceal its deals to enrich energy companies and cheat American Indians.”
(162) “Challenge to Alaska Wolf Control Rejected”: “The Interior Department has rejected a national wildlife group's challenge of an Alaska wolf control program that allows hunting from airplanes.”
(163) “Earl Devaney, currently the [Interior] department’s inspector general, reported to Congress that on 15 separate occasions the department’s political appointees had weakened protections for endangered species against the advice of the agency’s scientists, whose work they either ignored or distorted.”
(165) In June 2003 a climate change report put out by the EPA was doctored. 60% of EPA scientists claimed to have “experienced political interference with their work since 2002.”
The Bush Administration’s War on Science and Empiricism was so extreme that the Union of Concerned Scientists sent a public letter (signed by sixty top-notch scientists, including twenty Nobel prize winners) that said of the administration: "When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions…”
This onslaught took its toll on career employees at the EPA, producing a record number of departures, voluntary and otherwise: Forest Service head Michael Dombeck (166); Eric Schaeffer, head of EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement (167); EPA ombudsman Robert Martin (168), along with his partner Hugh Kaufman (169); James Furnish (170), a self-described evangelical Christian disappointed with what he termed the Bush administration's "strident pro-development policy"; Martha Hahn, state director of Bureau of Land Management in Idaho (171); Sylvia Lowrance, former acting head of the office of enforcement and compliance (172); and David Mihalic, superintendent of Yosemite National Park (173).
The Bush Administration’s negligence also crossed into the area of public safety:
(174) “Michael Baroody, who was Executive Vice President of the National Association of Manufacturers…was nominated by Bush on March 1, 2007 to head the Consumer Products Safety Commission.”
(175) Bush proposed cuts to the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the middle of the SARS epidemic
(176) Despite serious concerns in the air about security at chemical plants and nuclear facilities, Bush and congressional Republicans caved to the chemical lobby and passed over a Democratic plan for strict safety guidelines in favor of voluntary compliance
(177) On Dick Cheney's suggestion, Bush fought to bring nuclear energy back from the dead; Bush’s Chief of Staff Andrew Card shrugged off public concern by explaining that "apart from Chernobyl and Three Mile Island" nuclear energy had had a bright track record (178)
(179) The administration also downgraded the safety standards for radioactive leaks so that they could push for a nuclear waste repository in the earthquake zone of Yucca Mountain, not far from one of the fastest-growing parts of the country
(180) Bush's FDA reversed a Clinton requirement that drugmakers test their products to determine whether they are safe and effective for children and (181) stacked the Center for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning with people sympathetic to the lead industry, including two people with direct lead industry ties
(182) To help his good friends at the Pentagon, Bush put a gag order on a risk health assessment of perchlorate (a rocket fuel component that has seeped into the groundwater in many states which has been known to cause neurological damage)
(184) Bush made steep cuts to mining enforcement not long before 12 miners provided Bush with a dynamite photo op by dying down a Sago, West Virginia mineshaft in January 2006. Before that, Bush had nominated former mining company executive Dan Lauriski as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health (185), and had suspended federal rules aimed at making it easier for coal miners with black lung disease to be properly compensated (186), which was overturned in court. After the mineshaft tragedy the following headlines came out: “Bush Ignored Explicit Warnings In 2002 About Mine Safety” and “Mine fines routinely ignored." in which it came out that Bush's Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration failed to levy fines for 4,000 violations over a six-year span.(187)
Even after the Sago disaster, Bush appointed Richard Stickler, a former mining industry executive with a spotty record on mining safety (188) to be his mine safety czar. Stickler’s appointment was so inappropriate that he couldn’t even pass a vote in a Republican Senate, so Bush appointed him during a congressional recess (189).
As reported in “Under Bush, OSHA Mired in Inaction,” “…during the Bush administration…political appointees ordered the withdrawal of dozens of workplace health regulations, slow-rolled others, and altered the reach of its warnings and rules in response to industry pressure (190).
“The result is a legacy of unregulation common to several health-protection agencies under Bush: From 2001 to the end of 2007, OSHA officials issued 86 percent fewer rules or regulations termed economically significant by the Office of Management and Budget than their counterparts did during a similar period in President Bill Clinton's tenure, according to White House lists.” (191)
When it wasn’t rooted in quid-pro-quos with industries that were major contributors, Bush’s War on Science often stemmed from a desire to kowtow to his evangelical base. When Bush first ran for office (and many times thereafter), he said that the jury was still out on evolution (192), though, as a friend told New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, “he doesn’t really care about that kind of thing.”
Bush also supported the teaching of the pseudo science Intelligent Design in schools (193), had information about the effectiveness of condoms (194) and a study showing the lack of a link between abortion and breast cancer (195) removed from federal agency websites, overruled FDA scientists’ recommendation that emergency contraception become available over the counter (196), greatly increased funding for abstinence-only education (197), replaced his first top advisor on AIDS, Scott Evertz, because conservatives complained about Evertz's support for condoms in AIDS prevention workshops (198), appointed Jerry Thacker, who had called AIDS the "gay plague,” to serve on the Presidential Advisory Commission on HIV and AIDS (199), and gave the United States the unique distinction of being one of the only first world countries to oppose international family planning (200).
Bush’s decision to handcuff stem-cell research (201) could prove fatal to many people in the future that suffer from diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, spinal cord injuries, and heart disease. Not only did Bush stifle potentially life-saving research, he lied (202) about the number of existing lines that did exist:
“At the time of Bush's announcement, most scientists working in the field knew that although 60 lines might exist in some form somewhere, the number of robust and usable lines was much lower. Indeed, the NIH had published a report in July 2001 that…estimated the total number of available lines at 30. Because that initial figure wasn't enough for the administration, according to Time magazine, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson asked the NIH to see if more lines ‘might conceivably exist.’ When NIH representatives met with Bush a week before his speech with an estimate of 60 lines scattered around the world in unknown condition, the White House thought it had what it wanted. In his announcement, Bush proclaimed, without qualification, that there were ‘more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines.’
“Within days, basic inquiries from reporters revealed that there were far fewer than 60 viable lines. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has so far confirmed only 11 available lines.”
Moreover, Bush stacked (203) his Council on Bioethics with people opposed to stem cell research, who covered Bush’s tracks by overemphasizing (204) the “promise of adult stem cells (cells that can be obtained without the destruction of embryos)” while downplaying the potential of embryonic stem cells. Elizabeth Blackburn, one of the rare dissenting voices on Bush’s Council, was the lone member not to be re-appointed (205).
Bush also blocked (206) forward motion on therapeutic (as distinct from human) cloning and showed his disregard for science by (207) taking “seven months to choose a White House science adviser for the Office of Science and Technology Policy,” then “[demoting] the rank of the position, [moving] the office out of the White House, and [cutting] the number of associate directors from four to two.” Bush took even longer to name (208) an FDA director – 20 months – and a director (209) for the National Institute of Health, 14 months.
Among many other examples, Bush also catered to the evangelical minority by stirring up a media circus by trying to intervene (210) in the case of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who had been in a vegetative state for fifteen years following cardiac arrest, and trying to overturn (211) the right of Oregon residents to die with dignity, a right that had twice been confirmed at the ballot box.
And then there were many examples of good old gay-bashing, including but not limited to asking applicants for governmental positions their sexual orientation (212), killing an annual Pride celebration of gay employees in the Justice Department (213), proposing that religious groups receive federal housing aid even if they discriminate against employees on the basis of religion or sexual orientation (214), and pushing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage (215) in the lead-up to the 2004 election, though, according to the deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, David Kuo: “After the 2004 election they cut the White House faith-based staff by 30 percent, 40 percent, because it became clear that it had served its purpose.”
THE NATIONAL INSECURITY PRESIDENCY
"I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."
-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, on 5/16/02
"Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people."
-George W. Bush, on 5/17/02
“[Bush] failed to act prior to September 11 on the threat from al Qaeda despite repeated warnings and then harvested a political windfall for taking obvious yet insufficient steps after the attacks.”
-Richard Clarke, George W. Bush’s counterterrorism czar on 9/11
According to a lengthy, fully-sourced report by the Center for American Progress, quoted hereafter: “The federal government was rapidly increasing its counter-terrorism efforts at the time President Bush took office. As the New York Times reported, Attorney General Janet Reno ended her tenure as ‘perhaps the strongest advocate’ of counterterrorism spending. Similarly, Newsweek and the Washington Post reported National Security Adviser Sandy Berger was ‘totally preoccupied’ with the prospect of a domestic terror attack, telling his replacement that they [needed] to be ‘spending more time on this issue’ than on any other.”
-“In January of 2001, the U.S. Government's bipartisan Commission on National Security gave the White House a report that warned of an attack on the homeland and urged the new Administration to implement its specific recommendations to prevent acts of domestic terrorism.” Instead, the Bush administration decided to come up with their own plan, a task force to be run by Dick Cheney. The task force wasn’t announced until May 2001 and didn’t meet once before 9/11. (216)
-In early 2001, “The new Bush Treasury Department disapproved (217) of the Clinton Administration's approach to money laundering issues, which had been an important part of the drive to cut off the money flow to bin Laden. Specifically, the Bush Administration opposed Clinton Administration-backed efforts by the G-7 and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that targeted countries with ‘loose banking regulations’ being abused by terrorist financiers.”
-“…in the spring of 2001, the [Bush’s] attorney general [John Ashcroft] had an extraordinary confrontation with then FBI Director Louis Freeh at an annual meeting of special agents…Ashcroft laid out his priorities (218) for Freeh: ‘basically violent crime and drugs,’ recalls one participant. Freeh replied bluntly that those were not his priorities, and began to talk about terror and counterterrorism. ‘Ashcroft didn't want to hear about it,’ says a former senior law-enforcement official."
-On April 23, 2001, “The Bush Administration released the government's annual report on terrorism, but unlike previous Administrations, it decided to specifically omit (219) an ‘extensive mention of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. A senior State Department official told CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Laden.’”
By the summer of 2001, “A rash of intelligence [was coming in], including reports entitled ‘Bin Laden planning multiple operations,’ ‘Bin Laden’s network’s plans advancing,’ and ‘Bin Laden threats are real.’ The intelligence mentioned potential hijackings and hostage plots, and the CIA warned that the attacks could occur ‘on a catastrophic level, indicating that they would cause the world to be in turmoil.’”
During this period, Bush’s main anti-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke sent e-mails to Condoleezza Rice with the following titles: “Bin Ladin Public Profile May Presage Attack” (May 3), “Terrorist Groups Said Co-operating on US Hostage Plot” (May 23), “Bin Laden’s Networks’ Plans Advancing” (May 26), “Bin Laden Attacks May Be Imminent” (June 23), “Bin Laden and Associates Making Near-Term Threats” (June 25), “Bin Laden Planning High-Profile Attacks” (June 30),” and “Planning for Bin Laden Attacks Continues, Despite Delays” (July 2).
According to Clarke: “We went into a period in June where the tempo of intelligence about an impending large-scale attack went up a lot, to the kind of cycle that we’d only seen once or twice before. And we told Condi that. She didn’t do anything (220). She said, ‘Well, make sure you’re coordinating with the agencies,’ which, of course, I was doing. By August, I was saying to Condi and to the agencies that the intelligence isn’t coming in at such a rapid rate anymore as it was in the June-July time frame. But that doesn’t mean the attack isn’t going to happen. It just means that they may be in place.”
-On July 20, 2001, when senators "sent a copy of draft legislation on counterterrorism and homeland defense to Cheney's office…they were told by Cheney's top aide‘that it might be another six months before he would be able to review the material.’” (221)
With all this scary intelligence coming in, what did President Bush do?
He went on “the longest presidential vacation in 32 years” (222), “after signing off on a plan to cut funding for programs guarding unsecured or ‘loose’ nukes in the former Soviet Union (223)." (Bush would eventually set the record for the most vacation days of any president, 224)
On August 6, 2001, while Bush vacationed in Crawford, Texas, the CIA sent a briefer out who gave the president an intelligence memo titled “Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US” that mentioned the possibility of hijackings. According to "The One Percent Doctrine" by Ron Suskind, after reading the memo Bush told (225) the briefer “All right. You’ve covered your ass now.” [The White House would later stonewall requests for the August 6th document, 226]
Three days later, on August 9, “the Administration distributed a strategic plan to the Justice Department highlighting its new goals from a list of Clinton Administration goals. The item that referred to intelligence and investigation of terrorists was left un-highlighted (227).” In the time before 9/11, the Justice Department also “curtailed a highly classified program called 'Catcher's Mitt' to monitor Al Qaeda suspects in the United States (228)," and Attorney General John Ashcroft “proposed a $65 million cut for a program that gives states and localities counterterrorism grants for equipment, including radios and decontamination suits and training (229)."
Despite firing off scores of frantic e-mails, Richard Clarke wasn’t able to get a meeting with Bush and Cheney until September 4th (230), and at that meeting, Clarke couldn’t convince the White House to send an armed predator drone to find and attack bin Laden (who had been spotted three times in 2000 by an earlier model of unarmed drone) because the Pentagon and the CIA couldn’t agree on a plan (231).
“On September 9…Congress proposed a boost of $600 million for antiterror programs. The money was to come from [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld's beloved missile defense program, the eventual price tag of which was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office at between $158 billion and $238 billion. Congress's proposal to shift $0.6 billion over to counterterror programs incurred Rummy's ire, and he threatened (232) a presidential veto.”
On September 10, Ashcroft denied (233) FBI requests for “$58 million for 149 new counterterrorism field agents, 200 intelligence analysts and 54 additional translators” and “sent his Justice Department budget request to Bush. It included spending increases in sixty-eight different programs…[none of which] dealt with terrorism (234). Ashcroft passed around a memo listing his seven top priorities. Again, terrorism didn't make the list (235).”
On September 11, 2001, George W. Bush was struggling. According to the administration’s own internal polls (which didn’t ask “a single question … about foreign policy, terrorism, national security”), Bush’s approval rating was hovering around 50%, and he was on the defensive on a host of issues, as he’d lost control of the Senate a few months earlier when Senator Jim Jeffords had bolted the GOP because of Bush’s right-wing agenda (and perhaps his Rovian tactics as well, such as punishing Jeffords for his occasional dissent by not inviting him to a White House ceremony honoring the Teacher of the Year, from Vermont, Jeffords’ home state). As Newsweek would later report, the administration had received "as many as 10 to 12 [terror] warnings" up to this point, more than two of which “mentioned the possibility of hijackings," yet terrorism was the topic in only two of the roughly one hundred meetings (236) Bush’s national security team had had before September 11. On the morning of September 11, Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was set to give a big national security speech - on the imminent need for national missile defense (237).
According to Richard Clarke, “That night, on 9/11, Rumsfeld came over and the others, and the president finally got back, and we had a meeting. And Rumsfeld said, ‘You know, we’ve got to do Iraq,’ and everyone looked at him—at least I looked at him and Powell looked at him—like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ And he said—I’ll never forget this—'There just aren’t enough targets in Afghanistan. We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re, you know, big and strong and not going to be pushed around by these kind of attacks'...And I made the point certainly that night, and I think Powell acknowledged it, that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. That didn’t seem to faze Rumsfeld in the least.” (238)
Also in the days after 9/11, the White House made the EPA issue “false assurances on [the] air quality” at Ground Zero, which has resulted in respiratory and other illnesses for thousands of rescue workers and other citizens in the area. (239)
It soon came out that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally that Bush had been particularly close to – because of lucrative financial ties his inner circle had with Saudi Arabian royalty and businessmen, despite known Saudi connections to al Qaeda. After 9/11, President Bush repeated the mantra that "if you aid a terrorist, if you hide terrorists, you're just as guilty as the terrorists" and yet Bush “was going ‘out of his way to compliment the Saudis.’” (240) The Los Angeles Times would later report that the "Saudi government not only provided significant money and aid to the suicide hijackers but also allowed potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to flow to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups." (241) Moreover, according to investigative journalist Greg Palast, reporting for the BBC, “after Bush took office, ‘There was a major policy shift’ at the National Security Agency. Investigators were ordered to ‘back off’ from any inquiries into Saudi Arabian financing of terror networks, especially if they touched on Saudi royals and their retainers.” (242)
Similar privileges were extended to Saudi Arabian kin of Osama bin Laden, who were allowed to fly out of the United States immediately after 9/11, though air travel was officially in lockdown (243).
On September 13, 2001, Bush said, “The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him," yet when the United States had a chance to capture bin Laden, Bush botched (244) it by relying on Afghan militia and Pakistan frontier forces sympathetic to the Taliban, against the advice of military commanders. Bin Laden escaped, and on March 13, 2002, Bush said, "I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority." (245)
Rather than harness the unique upsurge of good will after 9/11 to unite the country, as Bush had promised to do during the presidential campaign, the administration leveraged the fear spawned by 9/11 to seize executive power and trample civil liberties with the Patriot Act (246), warrantless wiretaps (247), secret military commissions (248), a detention center at Guantanamo Bay (249), and the authorization of torture (250).
In April 2002, amid calls for an independent investigation to study the biggest national security failure in sixty years, Bush said that the investigation into 9/11 should be confined to (a Republican-controlled) Congress (251). Vice President Dick Cheney followed suit in May of that year in an appearance on Fox (252).
When the administration did give in to an independent investigation after many months of public pressure, they appointed war criminal-cum-cover-up artist Henry Kissinger to head up the committee (253). When Kissinger stepped down for being politically radioactive, Bush chose Philip Zelikow, a close friend of Condoleezza Rice and the man who had written their official policy paper justifying pre-emptive war, to be the chairman (254).
In June 2002, after opposing the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, the Bush Administration reversed itself with a very public pronouncement on the same day that FBI employee Coleen Rowley was set to testify about the FBI’s gross incompetence in the run-up to 9/11 (255). After Bush agreed to the creation of the Homeland Security department, he fought Democrats over unionization of department employees, and Bush's Republican Senate candidate of choice in Georgia, who had avoided service Vietnam with a bad knee, ran a smear ad accusing Georgia's Democratic senator Max Cleland (who had been wheelchair-bound since getting a Purple Heart in Vietnam) of being unpatriotic for supporting unionization (256). Cleland lost his seat.
In 2003, as the congressional investigation of 9/11 was about to be made public, the Administration classified 27 pages of the report that "examined interactions between Saudi businessmen and the royal family that may have intentionally or unwittingly aided al Qaeda or the suicide hijackers." (257) “The LA Times reported that ‘the 27 classified pages…depict a Saudi government that not only provided significant money and aid to the suicide hijackers but also allowed potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to flow to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups through suspect charities and other fronts.’ (258) In addition, according to Newsweek, “thousands of dollars in charitable gifts from Princess Haifa, the wife of Prince Bandar [an “Executive Policy Advisor to Bush, pictured to the right], "ended up in the hands of two of the September 11 hijackers," (259) and George Bush Sr.’s former Secretary of State James Baker's law firm represented the Saudi Arabian government in a trillion dollar lawsuit filed against them by families of 9/11 victims (260).
Despite heated rhetoric about protecting the homeland, Bush opposed government regulation of chemical plant security (see #176) and shunted an IRS plan to increase investigations of terror financing (261) in March of 2004.
Also in 2004, the Administration opposed requests from the 9/11 independent commission for testimony from Condoleezza Rice (262) until avoidance became politically untenable. As Colin Powell’s former Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson put it recently to Vanity Fair: “John [Bellinger] and I had to work on the 9/11-commission testimony of Condi. Condi was not gonna do it, not gonna do it, not gonna do it, and then all of a sudden she realized she better do it. That was an appalling enterprise. We would cherry-pick things to make it look like the president had been actually concerned about al-Qaeda…They didn’t give a shit about al-Qaeda. They had priorities. The priorities were lower taxes, ballistic missiles, and the defense thereof.” (263)
Condoleezza’s incompetence was seconded by David Kay (the chief weapons inspector in Iraq), who referred to Rice as “probably the worst national security adviser since the office was created.” (264)
When the president agreed to speak to the commission, the administration set out very restrictive conditions:
(265) Bush would only do an off-the-record interview with select commissioners in the Oval Office – with Dick Cheney (266) at his side.
(267) Neither Bush nor Cheney would have to take an oath.
(268) The testimony would not be recorded or transcribed, and notes of the meeting would not be public information. (269)
Meanwhile, according to New York Times reporter Philip Shenon, Bush’s hand-picked committee chairman Philip Zelikow not only had four phone conversations with Bush’s strategist Karl Rove during the election season (270), but ran interference for Condoleezza Rice on the commission, by “[making] it clear to the team’s investigators that [Richard] Clarke should not be believed, that his testimony would be suspect.” (271)
Also from Shenon: “When 9/11 Commission historian Warren Bass uncovered a smoking gun email from Clarke to Rice written on September 4, 2001, which asked, ‘Are we serious about dealing with the al-Qaeda threat?,’ Zelikow reverted to defending Condi…Months later, Bass threatened to resign over what Shenon calls Zelikow’s repeated “attempts at interference”…Bass felt the White House was trying to sabotage his work by its efforts to limit his ability to see certain documents from the NSC [National Security Council] files (272) and take useful notes from them…”
Even as the Bush Administration did everything it could to cover up its failures to protect the country before 9/11, Bush ran for a second term as the person that could keep America safe (273) and his surrogates, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, questioned the honor of Bush’s opponent (274), John Kerry, a decorated war veteran, claiming he had given “aid and comfort to the enemy.” While Kerry was on the defensive from these deceptive and brutally effective ads, the Republicans held their 2004 convention in New York City, and even made the convention unusually late so that it would coincide with the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks (275).
Worse yet, as veteran journalist Jack Newfield pointed out at the time, “The Bush Administration [had] treated New York City like a battered wife who [is] displayed for photo-ops and state dinners.” In detail, Newfield listed the ways in which the Bush Administration had used and abused New York City:
-In the time between 9/11 and the 2004 election, Bush and a Republican Congress cut homeland security money for New York City by two-thirds, doling out big sums of money to cities and towns at far lesser risk in red states (276). “On a per capita basis, New York State ranks forty-ninth among the states in antiterrorist funding, far below rural, sparsely populated Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota.”
-“Or consider the Bush Administration's treatment of first responders. It has recently eliminated (277) its only program providing funds for upgrading police and fire department radio communications. On 9/11 the FDNY's radios did not function. Warnings over police radios to evacuate the towers immediately were not received by the firefighters trying to rescue trapped office workers. On that one day, 343 New York City firefighters died, and about 120 of these deaths have been attributed to the futile radio transmissions.”
-“[Bush’s] Homeland Security Department has killed (278) a federal program to integrate police and fire communications systems; New York will lose $6 million. Bush and [Homeland Security head Tom] Ridge have announced a $200 million cut in similar programs for next year, and a cut of 33 percent in the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (279).”
-“The FDNY [New York Fire Department] has requested $250 million from the Bush Administration for the next three years for antiterrorist equipment and technology. The NYPD has requested $261 million. But according to NYPD testimony last November, the city has received less than $60 million so far--for all first-responder agencies.” (280)
-“The FDNY has only one dedicated hazardous materials unit for the entire city of 8 million (281). Meanwhile, the fire department in Zanesville, Ohio (population 25,600), has federally funded thermal imaging technology to find victims in dense smoke and a test kit for lethal nerve gases. The FDNY is still asking for radios that work in a crisis.”
-[Bush’s prescription drug bill] “is especially damaging to New York, where poor people depend on teaching hospitals for care. The law's funding formulas give preferential treatment to rural hospitals and to states with less dense population patterns (282)…The bill made a 15 percent cut in payments to teaching hospitals (283), which are concentrated in New York City. In practice, this is a 15 percent cut in healthcare services for the poor and elderly, who depend on Medicare.”
-“New York City is the biggest recipient of Title I funds in the country--Title I being the largest federal program put under the NCLB [No Child Left Behind} umbrella--with 900 out of 1,200 schools eligible…A study released by New York City Representative Anthony Weiner showed that Title I schools in New York City lost $657 million (284), disabled pupils lost $513 million (285) and teacher-training programs lost $39 million (286). There was $17.5 million less for computers in poor communities (287), and $12 million for programs that include school nurses and counselors (288).
-“Bush's proposed budget for 2005 does add (at least on paper) about $1 billion for the poorest schools. But at the same time, in a bit of fiscal flim-flam, his budget cuts or eliminates dozens of other education programs that help all cities. Among the programs being cut are those for drug treatment, guidance counselors, childcare, dropout prevention, increased parental involvement in low-income communities and a national writing project (289).”
-“Buried in Bush's $2.4 trillion budget for 2005 is another battering blow: The budget provides $2 billion less than the Congressional Budget Office estimates is needed to fund Section 8 housing vouchers for the 2 million impoverished, elderly or disabled people already enrolled in this rent-subsidy program nationally. With 80,000 New Yorkers now in the Section 8 program, this means up to 10,000 New York families are now in jeopardy of losing their vouchers and their homes (290).”
A WAR OF CHOICE
Q: Do you think the U.S., or U.N. forces, should have moved into Baghdad? [in the first Gulf War, when Dick Cheney had been Secretary of Defense]
Q: Why not?
A: Because if we'd gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn't have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq.
Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what are you going to put in its place? That's a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it -- eastern Iraq -- the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years. In the north you've got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey.
It's a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.
“If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us; if we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us. And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that's why we've got to be humble, and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom.”
-George W. Bush, in a 2000 presidential debate
“I think they had a plan from day one they wanted to do something about Iraq. While the World Trade Center was still smoldering, while they were still digging bodies out, people in the White House were thinking: ‘Ah! This gives us the opportunity we have been looking for to go after Iraq.’”
-Bush counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke
Though he had campaigned in 2000 on a “humble” foreign policy, George W. Bush made it clear early on that under his leadership, the United States would do whatever it wanted in international affairs. The administration dropped out of, sabotaged, or forced its heavy hand on a whole host of international agreements: the 1972 ABM Treaty (291); the world tobacco treaty (292); the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (293); the 1972 treaty on germ warfare (294); the Biological Weapons treaty (295); the UN meeting on racism (296); a treaty that banned exportation of diamonds mined and sold illegally (297); a UN vote on an international torture convention (298); the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (299), a War Crimes Court (300); the World Summit on Sustainable Development (301); a U.N. pact to stem the illegal flow of small arms (302); and the 1993 START II nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia pushed by Bush’s father (303).
As counterproductive as all of these decisions were, the Bush Administration’s fixation on an invasion of Iraq was far more irresponsible, destructive, and damaging to America’s standing abroad. Though the decision to go to war was publicly presented as something that had to be done for America’s safety, ample evidence and testimony show that Bush had made his mind up long before the invasion.
-In 1999, George W. Bush told interviewer Mickey Herskowitz, “One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief. My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it. If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it (304).” [Bush also told Herskowitz, “…that as a leader, you can never admit to a mistake. That was one of the keys to being a leader."]
-According to Bush’s first Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, the administration began planning an invasion of Iraq within days of Bush’s inauguration (305).
-“In March 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney met with oil company executives in what has been described as the Cheney Energy Task Force. Cheney has refused to reveal who attended the Energy Task Force meetings (306) or who provided energy policy recommendations to the task force...Lawsuits by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club were unsuccessful at obtaining the records related to the task force players…However, Judicial Watch was able to obtain through the Freedom of Information Act process, maps of Iraqi oil fields as well as documents that list foreign suitors for Iraqi oilfield contracts, both of which were elements of the Cheney Energy Task Force meetings (307).”
-According to Richard Clarke, immediately after 9/11, "The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this. I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.' He came back at me and said, 'Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection'. And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report. It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer…Do it again (308).’"
-Bob Graham, a retired Democratic senator from Florida recently told Vanity Fair, “In February of ‘02, I had a visit at Central Command, in Tampa, and the purpose was to get a briefing on the status of the war in Afghanistan. At the end of the briefing, the commanding officer, Tommy Franks, asked me to go into his office for a private meeting, and he told me that we were no longer fighting a war in Afghanistan and, among other things, that some of the key personnel, particularly some special-operations units and some equipment, specifically the Predator unmanned drone, were being withdrawn in order to get ready for a war in Iraq (310).”
- On June 1, 2002, Bush gave a speech to the graduating class at West Point wherein he said that the U.S. had the right to respond to threats pre-emptively. “Preparations for war with Iraq [were] not yet publicly acknowledged, but earlier in the spring, as Condoleezza Rice [discussed] diplomatic initiatives involving Iraq with several senators, Bush [poked] his head into the room and [said], “Fuck Saddam. We’re taking him out (311).”
-“July 23, 2002: Senior British defense, diplomatic, and intelligence officials meet in London to discuss the American position on war with Iraq. An account of the meeting, known as the Downing Street Memo, is drawn up by one of the participants, but remains secret for several years. In the meeting, Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence, gives an assessment of his recent talks in Washington: ‘Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy (312).’”
-“In July 2002, [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld had a one-word answer for reporters who asked whether Iraq had relationships with Al Qaeda terrorists: ‘Sure.’ In fact, an assessment issued that same month by the Defense Intelligence Agency (and confirmed weeks later by CIA Director [George] Tenet) found an absence of ‘compelling evidence demonstrating direct cooperation between the government of Iraq and Al Qaeda.’ What's more, an earlier DIA assessment said that ‘the nature of the regime's relationship with Al Qaeda is unclear’, a finding later echoed by the independent 9/11 commission and the U.S. military (which the administration successfully kept off the worldwide web, 313).
Rumsfeld’s disregard for factual reality was shared throughout the administration. As reported by journalist Ron Suskind:
“In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.”
“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That's not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’''
-“On August 26, 2002, in an address to the national convention of the Veteran of Foreign Wars, Cheney flatly declared: ‘Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.’ In fact, former CIA Director George Tenet later recalled, Cheney's assertions went well beyond his agency's assessments at the time.” Another CIA official, referring to the same speech, told journalist Ron Suskind, “Our reaction was, 'Where is he getting this stuff from?'" (314) This skepticism was shared by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, a former British ambassador to the United Nations and British special representative in Iraq, who told Vanity Fair, “When I arrived in New York, in July 1998, it was quite clear to me that all the members of the Security Council, including the United States, knew well that there was no current work being done on any kind of nuclear-weapons capability in Iraq."
Cheney’s speech dovetailed with the administration’s strategy to beat the war drums right before congressional elections in which the Republicans sought to regain control of the Senate by turning the media focus to national security issues (315). Asked why they had waited until September to make their case, White House Chief of Staff told the New York Times, “From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." The next day, all the media faces of the Bush Administration began parroting lines about the purported threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
As another part of the strategy, the administration cajoled the Democratic leader of the Senate, Tom Daschle, to hold a vote on the use of force in Iraq – before the mid-term election (316). According to Daschle, “I asked directly if we could delay this so we could depoliticize it. I said: ‘Mr. President, I know this is urgent, but why the rush? Why do we have to do this now?’ He looked at Cheney and he looked at me, and there was a half-smile on his face. And he said: ‘We just have to do this now.’ ”
Former Florida senator Bob Graham seconded Daschle’s suspicion of the timing: “Unlike the first George Bush, who had purposefully put off the vote on the Persian Gulf War until after the elections of 1990—we voted in January of 1991—here they put the vote in October of 2002, three weeks before a congressional election. I think there were people who were up for election who didn’t want, within a few days of meeting the voters, to be at such stark opposition with the president.”
September 15, 2002: “In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the assistant to the president for economic policy, Lawrence Lindsey, estimate[d] the cost of a war with Iraq to be in the neighborhood of $100 billion to $200 billion. Mitch Daniels, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, quickly revise[d] the figure downward to $50 billion to $60 billion, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld call[ed] Lindsey’s estimate ‘baloney.’ Lindsey was fired in December… Years later, an analysis by Nobel-laureate economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda J. Bilmes will estimate the cost of the Iraq war to be $3 trillion (319) .”
-“In the closing days of September 2002, with a congressional vote fast approaching on authorizing the use of military force in Iraq, Bush told the nation in his weekly radio address: ‘The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. . . . This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.’ A few days later, similar findings were also included in a much-hurried National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction - an analysis that hadn't been done in years, as the intelligence community had deemed it unnecessary and the White House hadn't requested it (320).”
In October of 2002, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, went to the White House: “The most remarkable thing was the talk that we had with the vice president before we were taken to Mr. Bush… Much of it was a fairly neutral discussion, but at one point he [Dick Cheney] suddenly said that you must realize that we will not hesitate to discredit you in favor of disarmament (321).”
The fear-mongering in September and October worked wonders for the administration. Helped by Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone’s fatal plane crash, Max Cleland’s defeat in Georgia (see #256), a successful phone-jamming operation in New Hampshire (see #566), and a one-point win in the Missouri Senate Race, Bush won back narrow control of the United States Senate (and was applauded by the media, including Washington Post journalist David Von Drehle, for his tactical brilliance.) Not long after, Dick Cheney proposed another round of tax cuts for the rich (see #84). When Bush questioned giving the well-off another windfall, Cheney reportedly said, "We won the midterms. This is our due (322)." When Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill publicly questioned the second round of tax cuts, he was forced out. O’Neill would later say that Bush was “like a blind man in a room full of deaf people.”
On December 2, 2002, “Donald Rumsfeld sign[ed] off on a memo from the Defense Department’s legal counsel, Jim Haynes, permitting the use of aggressive interrogation techniquesat Guantánamo, including stress positions, isolation, and sleep deprivation. Rumsfeld [wrote] on the memo, ‘I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?’” (323)
In January 2003, two months before the invasion, “Bush was startled to learn…that there was a difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Responding to the three Iraqi exiles whom he had invited as guests to the Super Bowl, Bush looked at them and said, ‘You mean...they're not, you know, there, there's this difference. What is it about?’” (324)
In his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003, Bush said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” though the CIA had made it clear that this assertion was dubious. (325) [In July 2003, Joseph Wilson, who had been sent to investigate, penned a New York Times op-ed in which he said that the uranium claim was bogus. In retaliation, the administration outed Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent (326). In the firestorm that followed, Bush said he would fire anyone who had leaked the identity of a CIA agent, but after Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby was found to have done just that, and convicted of lying to a grand jury, Bush commuted Libby’s sentence (327).]
On January 31, 2003 Bush met with Tony Blair. “A secret account of the meeting, written by Sir David Manning, Blair’s chief foreign-policy adviser and later ambassador to Washington, [became] public three years later. The administration’s public stance [was] that it hope[d] to avoid war with Iraq. In the meeting, however, Bush and Blair agree[d] on a start date for the war, irrespective of the outcome of U.N. inspections: March 10. Bush propose[d] that a pretext for war might be provided if an aircraft were painted with U.N. colors and sent in low over Iraq, in the hope that it would draw fire. According to the memo, Bush also ‘thought it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups’ in Iraq once Saddam was removed from power (328).”
Also in late January, Bush told Secretary of State Colin Powell, "We've really got to make the case" against Hussein…"and I want you to make it." Only Powell had the “credibility to do this," Bush said. "Maybe they'll believe you." (329)
On February 5, 2003 Colin Powell appeared before the United Nations Security Council. “A nationwide poll released just that morning had found that ‘when it comes to U.S. policy toward Iraq,’ Americans trusted Powell more than Bush by 63 to 24 percent.” Powell proceeded to make a long list of false accusations about Saddam Hussein’s WMD ambitions and connections to al-Qaeda (330). Though much of the intelligence Powell used was based on questionable sources, sometimes single sources (331) that hadn’t even been interviewed by U.S. intelligence, Powell told the world, "every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence." Powell’s Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson, who had been in the middle of writing the speech, later referred to the affair as "the lowest moment of my life."
“The next day, opinion polls indicated that national opinion had shifted literally overnight; most Americans surveyed said they believed an invasion was justified to protect the nation.”
On February 25, 2003 “General Eric Shinseki, the army chief of staff, tells a congressional hearing that ‘something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers’ will be required to mount a successful occupation of Iraq. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz publicly rebukes Shinseki, stating that the general’s estimate is ‘wildly off the mark.’ Shinseki is forced to retire early (332).”
Also in February 2003, “the Army War College prepared a report saying that ‘the possibility of the United States winning the war and losing the peace in Iraq is real and serious ... The United States may find itself in a radically different world over the next few years, a world in which the threat of Saddam Hussein seems like a pale shadow of new problems of America's own making.’” Similar predictions were made by the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency and Join Staff, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and the CIA's National Intelligence Council.
In early March, “an influential adviser to the Pentagon [neocon Richard Pearle] received a secret message from a Lebanese-American businessman: Saddam Hussein wanted to make a deal…Iraqi officials, including the chief of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, had told the businessman that they wanted Washington to know that Iraq no longer had weapons of mass destruction, and they offered to allow American troops and experts to conduct an independent search."
"Iraq submitted a report to the UN, as required, indicating that it possessed no weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration immediately and definitively asserted that Saddam was lying," but according to Hans Blix, the inspections were bearing Iraq’s claims out: “What you can do is to say that we have performed 700 inspections in some 500 different sites, and we have found nothing, and we are ready to continue…If we had been allowed to continue a couple of months, we would have been able to go to all of the some hundred sites suggested to us, and since there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction, that’s what we would have reported.”
Around the same time, Dick Cheney appeared on Meet the Press. When asked by host Tim Russert about the possibility of an insurgency after the invasion and a drawn out war, Cheney responded “I don't think it's likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators." (333)
Two days before the invasion, Bush gave Saddam Hussein two days to leave, said "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised," and again conveyed the false impression that he was threatening war as a last resort: "Should Saddam Hussein choose confrontation, the American people can know that every measure has been taken to avoid war and every measure will be taken to win it."
Soon after a lightning quick attack and occupation, Iraq’s National Museum was looted in full sight of the U.S. military, who did nothing to stop the pillaging (334). When asked about this negligence, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shrugged it off with the words, “Stuff happens.” The initial looting would be only the first example of a major assault on some of the world’s oldest, most precious antiquities and archeological digs throughout Iraq.
On March 30, Rumsfeld claimed of Iraq’s WMDs: “We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat (334).”
In early April, with its nuclear program still nascent, Iran “offered a dramatic set of specific policy concessions [to the Bush Administration, including] an overall bargain on its nuclear program, its policy toward Israel, and al-Qaeda.” The proposal was ignored by the Bush Administration (335).
On May 1, 2003, George W. Bush clambered aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in a flight suit, then later gave a speech in which he said that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended” while he stood under a banner that read “Mission Accomplished (336).” In the middle of that same month Bush’s people in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) banned members of the Baath Party (Saddam Hussein’s party) that had constituted the bulk of Iraq’s government bureaucracy from serving in significant positions in Iraq’s reconstituted government (337) and disbanded the Iraqi army, which “put 250,000 young Iraqi men out of a job, out on the streets, angry, and armed—and all but guaranteed the violent chaos to come (338).”
Moreover, “Most of the Americans sent to staff the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) had no technical or professional training or experience in the work to which they were assigned. Rather, they were chosen because they were Republican Party loyalists (339).”
And, "in one of his last official acts before leaving Baghdad, Bremer issued an order (340)—prepared by the Pentagon, he says—declaring that all coalition-force members 'shall be immune from any form of arrest or detention other than by persons acting on behalf of their Sending States.' Contractors also got the same get-out-of-jail-free card. According to Bremer's order, 'contractors shall be immune from Iraqi legal process with respect to acts performed by them pursuant to the terms and conditions of a Contract or any sub-contract thereto.' The Iraqi people, who had had no say over Saddam Hussein's illegal conduct during his dictatorship, would have no say over illegal conduct by Americans in their new democracy."
These early decisions were harbingers of the many mistakes the Bush Administration’s agents in Iraq would make in the nation-building enterprise Bush had said he didn’t believe in as a candidate. According to a thorough recounting of the Iraq reconstruction efforts in the New York Times:
-“An unpublished 513-page federal history of the American-led reconstruction of Iraq [written by a Republican lawyer] depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the idea of rebuilding a foreign country (341).”
-The plan became “a $100 billion failure [beset] by bureaucratic turf wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure (342).”
-“…when the reconstruction began to lag — particularly in the critical area of rebuilding the Iraqi police and army — the Pentagon simply put out inflated measures (343) of progress to cover up the failures.
“In one passage, for example, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is quoted as saying that in the months after the 2003 invasion, the Defense Department ‘kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces — the number would jump 20,000 a week! We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000.’”
-“In an illustration of the hasty and haphazard planning, a civilian official at the United States Agency for International Development was at one point given four hours to determine how many miles of Iraqi roads would need to be reopened and repaired. The official searched through the agency’s reference library, and his estimate went directly into a master plan (344).”
While the Bush administration made a hash of things in Iraq, they were covering their mistakes up back home, among other examples by banning the photographing of the coffins of returning soldiers (345).
But Bush still appeared to have no second thoughts about his decision. Four months after the invasion of Iraq, at an Israeli-Palestinian summit, according to Nabil Shaath (then a Palestinian foreign minister), Bush said “I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan.’ And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq.’ And I did (346)." And according to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, “During a December 2003 interview with Bush, I read to him a quote from his closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, about the experience of receiving letters from family members of slain soldiers who had written that they hated him. ‘And don't believe anyone who tells you when they receive letters like that, they don't suffer any doubt,’ Blair had said.
‘Yeah,’ Bush replied. ‘I haven't suffered doubt.’
‘Is that right?’ I asked. ‘Not at all?’
‘No,’ he said.” (347)
On January 23, 2004, “David Kay, the chief U.S. weapons inspector, resigns his position, affirming his belief that no W.M.D. stockpiles will be found in Iraq; the following week he discusses his conclusions at the White House. Nine months later his successor, Charles Duelfer, will conclude officially that Iraq not only did not possess W.M.D. but did not have an active program in place to develop them.
On March 25, 2004, at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Association gathering, Bush “displayed a series of photos that showed him searching the Oval Office, peering behind curtains and looking under the furniture. A mock caption had Mr. Bush saying: ‘Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere (348).”
In December of 2004, by which time it was common knowledge that the war was not going well and had been sold to the public with false claims, Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to three of the war’s architects, George Tenet, L. Paul Bremer and Gen. Tommy Franks. (349)
The folly of the decision to go to war would become ever more obvious in 2005 and 2006, with the onset of a civil war unleashed by the invasion. Even as administration officials and other Republicans branded their critics as “cut-and-run Defeatacrats” or appeasers that weren’t “supporting the troops,” it was clear that the invasion was not improving America’s security. In June 2006, Matthew Yglesias reported in the American Prospect eleven much more fundamental ways the Bush Administration could’ve kept the U.S. safe with the money spent on Iraq and on 9/24/06, a headline read “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat.” (350)
Bush’s troop surge, initiated in early 2007, has brought relative calm to Iraq, but even so, Iraq is a mess. Iraqis struggle with 50% unemployment (351), a lack of access to electricity (352) and clean water (353), and a breakdown in institutions – including schools -- and basic public services (354), in part due to the brain drain (355) of middle-class professionals precipitated by the invasion and subsequent civil war.
Among the many other casualties of the Iraq War have been:
-Anywhere between 100,000 and one million-plus dead Iraqi civilians and many times that injured (356), and four million refugees (357)
-Over four thousand dead American troops (358), and many times that injured, physically and psychologically (359)
-The gratuitous invasion of a muslim country has boosted terrorist recruitment around the globe, coincided with increased suicide bombings, and ruined our image abroad (362), though Barack Obama’s ascension to office is certain to repair this to a degree.
-The opportunity costs of the war are immense. The money spent on the war has bled the elemental priorities of a civilized society back home (363), translating into budget cuts for hospitals, shuttered libraries, collapsing bridges, closed nursing homes, and education cuts, including pink slips for teachers. The time and energy sapped by the Iraq excursion diverted the United States from far more pressing matters in Afghanistan, where the Taliban are resurgent (364), Iran (365), which is now as powerful as ever, swimming in oil revenues and moving toward a nuclear program that could recalibrate the whole balance of power in the Middle East, and Pakistan (366), a nuclear-armed country that is teetering on the brink of all-out civil war that threatens to engulf the whole region.
As Ahmed Rashid put it in his recent book Descent into Chaos, "the US-led war on terrorism has left in its wake a far more unstable world than existed on that momentous day in 2001" and “Rather than diminishing, the threat from al Qaeda and its affiliates has grown, engulfing new regions of Africa, Asia, and Europe and creating fear among peoples from Australia to Zanzibar. The US invasions of two Muslim countries...[has] so far failed to contain either the original organization or the threat that now comes from its copycats...in British or French cities who have been mobilized through the Internet.”
Not only has the war on balance been a disaster, but it’s crystal clear that the American public was lied into it. Approximately one year ago, the Center for Public Integrity reported on the “orchestrated campaign” the administration deployed to lead “the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.” The Center found that key members of the administration had made 935 false statements, including 260 from Bush (367), 254 from Colin Powell (368), 109 each from Donald Rumsfeld (369) and the first White House spokesman Ari Fleischer (370), 86 from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (371) , 56 from Condoleezza Rice (372), and 14 from the second White House spokesman Scott McLellan (373), who later admitted that the administration’s p.r. campaign in defense of an invasion was “propaganda.” And yet, despite the overwhelming evidence that the invasion was unnecessary, ill-advised, and driven from moment one by Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld’s ulterior motives, Bush’s sole regret in one of his exit interviews was that he “Wishes the intelligence had been correct (374). ”
DEFINING DEMOCRACY DOWN
“Nothing is more central to a functioning democracy than free and fair elections.”
-George W. Bush, in a statement to the Iraqi Parliament (9/24/08)
[Republican Congressman] Peter King: “It’s already over. The election’s over. We won.”
Reporter: “How do you know that?”
King: “It’s all over but the counting, and we’ll take care of the counting.”
[Ohio Secretary of State and Bush campaign co-chair Kenneth] “…Blackwell apparently seeks to accomplish the same result in Ohio in 2004 that occurred in Florida in 2000.”
-Federal Judge James Carr, commenting on Blackwell’s decision to allow poll workers to determine whether or not voters not on the voter rolls could receive provisional ballots
In the 2004 presidential election, Ohio was the pivotal battleground state. As the lack of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq and absence of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda became public knowledge, the Bush Administration shifted the rationale of the war to a desire to democratize the Middle East. At the same time, the Bush Administration and its surrogates did everything they could to rig the election in Ohio.
Fortunately for George W. Bush, once again he had friends in the right places: as had been the case in Florida in 2000, Bush’s campaign co-chair in Ohio in 2004 just happened to be the Secretary of State, the state’s top election official. Going according to a familiar script, Ohio’s Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell -- whose personal motto was "A passion for truth, a quest for excellence” -- made one decision after another to benefit Bush (quoted text below is from “Was the 2004 Election Stolen?” from Rolling Stone):
-Prior to the 2004 election, Blackwell tried to mandate electronic voting machines with no paper trail statewide, to be purchased from Diebold, a machine manufacturer whose CEO Wally O'Dell had said in a 2003 Bush fundraiser invitation that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year (375)." [Republicans backed down from this scheme, but they did succeed at getting Issue 1 (a divisive constitutional amendment to force cities and universities to end domestic partner benefits) on the Ohio ballot (376).
-“Against a backdrop of record Democratic voter registrations drives…Blackwell cited an arcane elections regulation to make it harder to register new voters. In a now-infamous decree, Blackwell announced on September 7th  — less than a month before the filing deadline — that election officials would process registration forms only if they were printed on eighty-pound unwaxed white paper stock, similar to a typical postcard (377)…He further specified that any valid registration cards printed on lesser paper stock that miraculously survived the shredding gauntlet at the post office were not to be processed; instead, they were to be treated as applications for a registration form, requiring election boards to send out a brand-new card (378)…Under the threat of court action, Blackwell ultimately revoked his order on September 28th — six days before the registration deadline…But by then, the damage was done. Election boards across the state, already understaffed and backlogged with registration forms, were unable to process them all in time. According to a statistical analysis conducted in May by the nonpartisan Greater Cleveland Voter Coalition...a total of 72,000 voters were disenfranchised through avoidable registration errors (379),” most of them Democrats.
-“To stem the tide of new registrations, the Republican National Committee and the Ohio Republican Party attempted to knock tens of thousands of predominantly minority and urban voters off the rolls through illegal mailings known in electioneering jargon as ‘caging (380).’ During the Eighties…[the GOP] was forced to sign two separate court orders agreeing to abstain from caging. But during the summer of 2004, the GOP targeted minority voters in Ohio by zip code, sending registered letters to more than 200,000 newly registered voters in sixty-five counties…Notices to challenged voters were not only sent out impossibly late in the process, they were mailed to the very addresses that the Republicans contended were faulty (381).”
“On October 27th, ruling that the effort likely violated both the ‘constitutional right to due process and constitutional right to vote,’ U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott put a halt to the GOP challenge — but not before tens of thousands of new voters received notices claiming they were improperly registered. Some election officials in the state illegally ignored Dlott's ruling (382), stripping hundreds of voters from the rolls. In Columbus and elsewhere, challenged registrants were never notified that the court had cleared them to vote (383).”
-“Republicans in Ohio also worked to deny the vote to citizens who had served jail time for felonies. Although rehabilitated prisoners are entitled to vote in Ohio, election officials in Cincinnati demanded that former convicts get a judge to sign off before they could register to vote (384).”
-“[Bush’s state campaign co-chair Kenneth] Blackwell permitted election officials in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo to conduct a massive purge of their voter rolls, summarily expunging the names of more than 300,000 voters who had failed to cast ballots in the previous two national elections (385). In Cleveland, which went five-to-one for Kerry, nearly one in four voters were wiped from the rolls between 2000 and 2004.”
-“Blackwell worked from the beginning to curtail the availability of provisional ballots. (The ballots are most often used to protect voters in heavily Democratic urban areas who move often, creating more opportunities for data-entry errors by election boards.) Six weeks before the vote, Blackwell illegally decreed that poll workers should make on-the-spot judgments as to whether or not a voter lived in the precinct, and provide provisional ballots only to those deemed eligible (386).”
-Though Blackwell had allowed provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct to be counted in the 2004 Ohio primary, in the months just prior to the 2004 presidential election he ruled that provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct would be invalidated (387). This move guaranteed that Kerry votes (minorities and students in particular) would be disqualified at a high rate, as city precincts were much more likely to have changed in the 2000 Census redistricting, low-income voters move with far greater frequency than those further up the economic ladder, and some polling places had multiple precincts within the same building. “On October 14th, Judge [James] Carr overruled the order, but Blackwell appealed…[Blackwell] enjoyed the backing of Attorney General John Ashcroft, who filed an amicus brief in support of Blackwell's position — marking the first time in American history that the Justice Department had gone to court to block the right of voters to vote (388). The Sixth Circuit, stacked with four judges appointed by George W. Bush, sided with Blackwell.”
-“A federal judge also invalidated a decree by Blackwell that denied provisional ballots to absentee voters who were never sent their ballots in the mail (389). But that ruling did not come down until after 3 P.M. on the day of the election, and likely failed to filter down to the precinct level at all — denying the franchise to even more eligible voters.”
George W. Bush also greatly benefited by the shortage of voting machines in Democratic precincts, which produced unusually long lines: “The long lines were not only foreseeable — they were actually created by GOP efforts. Republicans in the state legislature, citing new electronic voting machines that were supposed to speed voting, authorized local election boards to reduce the number of precincts across Ohio. In most cases, the new machines never materialized — but that didn't stop officials in twenty of the state's eighty-eight counties, all of them favorable to Democrats, from slashing the number of precincts by at least twenty percent (390).”
Also, as just one example of many, months before the 2004 election William Anthony (the chair of the Franklin County Board of Elections, which includes Columbus, Ohio) had publicly requested more voting machines - due to a study showing that Franklin would need 5,000 voting machines (at the time, Franklin had barely more than half that) to accommodate the county's 25% increase in voter registration - but was turned down by Matt Damshroder, the Republican head of the Franklin County Board of Elections (391). Also, “According to The Columbus Dispatch, precincts that had gone seventy percent or more for Al Gore in 2000 were allocated seventeen fewer machines in 2004, while strong GOP precincts received eight additional machines. An analysis by voter advocates found that all but three of the thirty wards with the best voter-to-machine ratios were in Bush strongholds; all but one of the seven with the worst ratios were in Kerry country (392).”
“According to an investigation by the Columbus Free Press, white Republican suburbanites, blessed with a surplus of machines, averaged waits of only twenty-two minutes; black urban Democrats averaged three hours and fifteen minutes.”
This pattern generally held across the state: “Would-be voters in Dayton and Cincinnati routinely faced waits as long as three hours (393). Those in inner-city precincts in Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo — which were voting for Kerry by margins of ninety percent or more — often waited up to seven hours . At [liberal] Kenyon College, students were forced to stand in line for eleven hours before being allowed to vote, with the last voters casting their ballots after three in the morning (394)…At [Kenyon], where students had registered in record numbers, local election officials provided only two voting machines to handle the anticipated surge of up to 1,300 voters. Meanwhile, fundamentalist students at nearby Mount Vernon Nazarene University had one machine for 100 voters and faced no lines at all.”
“A five-month analysis of the Ohio vote conducted by the Democratic National Committee concluded in June 2005 that three percent of all Ohio voters who showed up to vote on Election Day were forced to leave without casting a ballot (395). That's more than 174,000 voters. ‘The vast majority of this lost vote,’ concluded the [the senior Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee John] Conyers report, ‘was concentrated in urban, minority and Democratic-leaning areas.’”
“By midmorning, when it became clear that voters were dropping out of line rather than braving the wait, precincts appealed for the right to distribute paper ballots to speed the process. Blackwell denied (396) the request, saying it was an invitation to fraud…As day stretched into evening, U.S. District Judge Algernon Marbley issued a temporary restraining order requiring that voters be offered paper ballots. But it was too late: According to bipartisan estimates published in the Washington Post, as many as 15,000 voters in Columbus had already given up and gone home.”
“The median turnout in Franklin County precincts won by Kerry was fifty-one percent, compared to sixty-one percent in those won by Bush. Assuming sixty percent turnout under more equitable conditions, Kerry would have gained an additional 17,000 votes in the county.”
Electronic voting machines around the state also magically defaulted to Bush (397): “In heavily Democratic areas around Youngstown, where nearly 100 voters reported entering ‘Kerry’ on the touch screen and watching ‘Bush’ light up, at least twenty machines had to be recalibrated in the middle of the voting process for chronically flipping Kerry votes to Bush” and “an electronic machine at a fundamentalist church in the town of Gahanna recorded a total of 4,258 votes for Bush and 260 votes for Kerry. In that precinct, however, there were only 800 registered voters.”
In other Bush-friendly oddities, in Coshocton County, write-in votes for Kerry defaulted to Bush when run through voting machines (398), in Trumbull County, voters testified that they had received punchcard ballots with Bush's name already punched in (399), and in Mahoning County, 25 - 30 electronic voting machines had to be recalibrated following numerous reports of votes hopping from Kerry to Bush (400).
Moreover, “some 95,000 ballots in Ohio recorded no vote for president at all — most of them on punch-card machines. Even accounting for the tiny fraction of voters in each election who decide not to cast votes for president — generally in the range of half a percent, according to Ohio State law professor and respected elections scholar Dan Tokaji—that would mean that at least 66,000 votes were invalidated by faulty voting equipment…Most of the uncounted ballots occurred in Ohio's big cities,” treasure troves of votes for John Kerry (401). “
“On the evening of the vote, reporters at each of the major networks were briefed by pollsters at 7:54 P.M. Kerry, they were informed, had an insurmountable lead and would win by a rout: at least 309 electoral votes to Bush's 174, with fifty-five too close to call…Based on exit polls, CNN had predicted Kerry defeating Bush in Ohio by a margin of 4.2 percentage points. Instead, election results showed Bush winning the state by 2.5 percent…The greatest disparities between exit polls and the official vote count came in Republican strongholds. In precincts where Bush received at least eighty percent of the vote, the exit polls were off by an average of ten percent. By contrast, in precincts where Kerry dominated by eighty percent or more, the exit polls were accurate to within three tenths of one percent — a pattern that suggests Republican election officials stuffed the ballot box in Bush country.”
(402) “…in twelve sparsely populated counties scattered across southern and western Ohio: Auglaize, Brown, Butler, Clermont, Darke, Highland, Mercer, Miami, Putnam, Shelby, Van Wert and Warren…John Kerry's numbers were suspiciously low in each of the twelve counties — and George Bush's were unusually high…Kerry tallied 667,000 more votes for president than [Democratic candidate Ellen] Connally did for chief justice, outpolling her by a margin of thirty-two percent [statewide]. Yet in these twelve off-the-radar counties, Connally somehow managed to outperform the best-funded Democrat in history, thumping Kerry by a grand total of 19,621 votes.”
At the same time, “Statewide, the president outpolled Thomas Moyer, the Republican judge who defeated Connally, by twenty-one percent. Yet in the twelve questionable [Republican] counties, Bush's margin over Moyer was fifty percent — a strong indication that the president's certified vote total was inflated. If Kerry had maintained his statewide margin over Connally in the twelve suspect counties, as he almost assuredly would have done in a clean election, he would have bested her by 81,260 ballots. That's a swing of 162,520 votes from Kerry to Bush — more than enough to alter the outcome.”
-“In Clermont County…sworn affidavits by election observers given to the House Judiciary Committee describe ballots on which marks for Kerry were covered up with white stickers, while marks for Bush were filled in to replace them (403).”
-“In Miami County, where [Democratic State Supreme Court candidate Ellen] Connally outpaced Kerry, one precinct registered a turnout of 98.55 percent — meaning that all but ten eligible voters went to the polls on Election Day. An investigation by the Columbus Free Press, however, collected affidavits from twenty-five people who swear they didn't vote (404).”
“Ohio, like several other states, had an initiative on the ballot in 2004 to outlaw gay marriage. Statewide, the measure proved far more popular than Bush, besting the president by 470,000 votes. But in six of the twelve suspect counties — as well as in six other small counties in central Ohio — Bush outpolled the ban on same-sex unions by 16,132 votes. To trust the official tally, in other words, you must believe that thousands of rural Ohioans voted for both President Bush and gay marriage (405).”
“Immediately after the polls closed on Election Day, GOP officials — citing the FBI — declared that [Warren] county was facing a terrorist threat that ranked ten on a scale of one to ten. The county administration building was hastily locked down, allowing election officials to tabulate the results without any reporters present…In fact, there was no terrorist threat. The FBI declared that it had issued no such warning (406), and an investigation by The Cincinnati Enquirer unearthed e-mails showing that the Republican plan to declare a terrorist alert had been in the works for eight days prior to the election. Officials had even refined the plot down to the language they used on signs notifying the public of a lockdown (407).”
“A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004 …In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots.” (408)
Late on election night, Kenneth Blackwell stepped before the cameras and said "This has been a good day for Ohio." Not long after the election, the Green and Libertarian Party presidential candidates filed for a recount in Ohio. Kenneth Blackwell issued two orders: 1) that ballots had to be locked up/could not be examined by public interest groups until the recount, which 2) would not begin until the electoral votes had been certified for Bush (409).
On the same day that electors cast their votes for Bush, a lawsuit was filed in federal court alleging that Kerry would have won in a fairly administered, fully-funded election. Richard Hayes Phillips, a PHD in Geomorphology, filed a suit in which he tabulated projected vote losses for Kerry in uncounted ballots (16,650), provisional ballots (5,370), Cleveland (17,500), Columbus (17,000), Toledo (7,000), Butler/Clermont/Warren counties (27,154), Miami County (6,000), and Mahoning (2,200), among other counties, totaling 101, 020 votes. An addendum at the bottom of the filing added possibilities of extra Bush votes in Butler County, to the tune of over 20,000 votes, enough in combination with the other projections to have handed the presidency to Kerry.
“Under state law, county boards of election were required to randomly select three percent of their precincts and recount the ballots both by hand and by machine…But election officials in Ohio worked outside the law to avoid hand recounts. According to charges brought by a special prosecutor in April , election officials in Cleveland fraudulently and secretly pre-counted precincts by hand to identify ones that would match the machine count (410)…’If it didn't balance, they excluded those precincts,’ said the prosecutor, Kevin Baxter, who has filed felony indictments against three election workers in Cleveland. ‘They screwed with the process and increased the probability, if not the certainty, that there would not be full, countywide hand count.’”
“In Hocking County, deputy elections director Sherole Eaton caught an employee of Triad — which provided the software used to count punch-card ballots in nearly half of Ohio's counties — making unauthorized modifications to the tabulating computer before the recount. Eaton told the [Democrat John] Conyers committee that the same employee also provided county officials with a ‘cheat sheet’ so that ‘the count would come out perfect and we wouldn't have to do a full hand-recount of the county (411).’ After Eaton blew the whistle on the illegal tampering, she was fired (412).”
“The same Triad employee was dispatched to do the same work in at least five other counties. Company president Tod Rapp — who contributed to Bush's campaign — has confirmed that Triad routinely makes such tabulator adjustments to help election officials avoid hand recounts. In the end, every county serviced by Triad failed to conduct full recounts by hand (413) .”
George W. Bush officially won Ohio by 118,000 votes. In the time since, the following things have happened:
-“On Sept. 11, 2006, U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley ordered the election boards ‘to preserve all ballots from the 2004 Presidential election, on paper and in any other format, including electronic data, unless and until such time otherwise instructed by this Court.’”
-In January of 2007, M.R. Kropko reported that “Two election workers were convicted Wednesday of rigging a recount of the 2004 presidential election to avoid a more thorough review in Ohio’s most populous county.” (See #410 above)
-In July of 2007, Steven Rosenfeld of Alternet revealed that “Two-thirds of Ohio counties have destroyed or lost their 2004 presidential ballots and related election records (414), according to letters from county election officials to the Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner…The lost records violate Ohio law, which states federal election records must be kept for 22 months after Election Day, and a U.S. District Court order issued last September that the 2004 ballots be preserved while the court hears a civil rights lawsuit alleging voter suppression of African-American voters in Columbus…The destruction of the election records also frustrates efforts by the media and historians to determine the accuracy of Ohio's 2004 vote count, because in county after county the key evidence needed to understand vote count anomalies apparently no longer exists.”
-On December 14, 2007, Greg Gordon of McClatchy reported that, “The Justice Department's voting rights chief [John Tanner] stepped down Friday amid allegations that he'd used the position to aid a Republican strategy to suppress African-American votes (415)…Tanner has been enmeshed for months in congressional investigations over his stewardship of the unit that was established to protect minority-voting rights. He drew increased focus this fall after he told a Latino group: ‘African-Americans don't become elderly the way white people do. They die (416).’
-Earlier that year, Stephen Rosenfeld and Bob Fitrakis had reported on Alternet.com that “There is more than ample documentation to show that on Election Night 2004, Ohio's ‘official’ Secretary of State website -- which gave the world the presidential election results -- was redirected from an Ohio government server to a group of servers that contain scores of Republican web sites, including the secret White House e-mail accounts that have emerged in the scandal surrounding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's firing of eight federal prosecutors (see # 587)…The software created for the Ohio secretary of state's Election Night 2004 website was created by GovTech Solutions, a firm co-founded by longtime GOP computing guru Mike Connell.”
-Late last year, Connell was in the hot seat over these machinations, and was about to be grilled by election fraud attorneys if Bush’s surge in Ohio on election night 2004 (which overperformed exit polls by over six percentage points) had been tied to GOP control of official vote count servers, but the answer to this question may never be known, as Connell died in a plane crash on December 19th, 2008.
HECK OF A JOB, BROWNIE
-a message from the Heritage Foundation (a right-wing think tank) to the incoming Bush Administration after the 2000 election
“I think we’ll look back on this period as one of the most destructive periods in American public life . . . both in terms of policy and process.”
-Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution
“The Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] issued a report in early 2001 that identified the three catastrophes most likely to hit the United States: a terrorist attack on New York, an earthquake in San Francisco and a hurricane in New Orleans.”
And yet, despite this warning, “In 2002 the [Army] corps' [of Engineers] chief resigned, reportedly under threat of being fired, after he criticized the [Bush] administration's proposed cuts in the corps' budget, including flood-control spending (417).”
These cuts became even steeper after the Bush Administration decided to invade Iraq in 2003:
-“The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the [New Orleans] Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars…In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed (418) for Lake Pontchartrain [which borders New Orleans], according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.”
-“On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."
-“The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in decades. In spite of that, the federal government came back this spring [of 2005] with the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history (419).”
-“The effects of the budget cuts at the Army Corps of Engineers were severe.
In 2004, the Corps essentially stopped major work on the now-breached levee system that had protected New Orleans from flooding. It was the first such stoppage in 37 years, the Times-Picayune reported (420).”
-“The Army Corps' New Orleans office, facing a $71 million cut, also eliminated funds to pay for a study on how to protect the Crescent City from a Category 5 storm, New Orleans City Business reported in June (421).”
As George W. Bush was slashing funds that could’ve helped protect New Orleans, his appointees were busy ruining the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA had been a well-oiled machine under Bill Clinton’s appointee James Lee Witt, who had had disaster experience in Arkansas, but Bush replaced Witt with Joe Allbaugh (422), who had no disaster experience – though Allbaugh had served with distinction in his role as a white collar thug in the successful GOP effort to shut down a vote recount in Miami-Dade county in the 2000 election battle (see #59).
Allbaugh lowered expectations of what Bush’s FEMA could do as early as May 2001 when speaking before a Senate appropriations subcommittee: “Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management…Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level (423)."
“At FEMA, Allbaugh launched a purge, forcing out many of the most experienced officials (424). Allbaugh…also abandoned a recent agency tradition of hiring experienced professionals and filled high FEMA positions with political operatives lacking familiarity with emergency disaster management (425).” In addition, “FEMA changed the way in which the agency handled contracts, awarding them to numerous firms with political connections but little in the way of corporate infrastructure to handle the work. Some of these recipients were merely Enron-style shell corporations that subcontracted all the work to others, keeping a sizable share of the profits (426).”
On November 25, 2002, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was formed. As part of the organization of DHS, FEMA was downgraded from the cabinet status it had under Bill Clinton (427) and crowded under DHS along with 22 other departments (428). Once under the DHS umbrella, FEMA was underfunded (429) and disaster planning shifted from natural disasters to terrorist attacks.
On March 1, 2003 Michael Brown was appointed to replace Allbaugh as head of FEMA. Brown had once been the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association, but like Allbaugh, he had no disaster relief experience (430). Meanwhile, Allbaugh “immediately began setting up a network of lobbying interests to benefit from his connections. His clients quickly won major contracts from several government agencies, notably the Brown-led FEMA (431).”
-In 2004, “FEMA spent $250,000 to conduct an eight-day hurricane drill for a mock killer storm hitting New Orleans. Some 250 emergency officials attended. Many of the scenarios [that would happen after Hurricane Katrina], including a helicopter evacuation of the Superdome, were discussed in that drill for a fictional storm named Pam….[In 2005], the group was to design a plan to fix such unresolved problems as evacuating sick and injured people from the Superdome and housing tens of thousands of stranded citizens…Funding for that planning was cut, said [Eric] Tolbert, the former FEMA disaster response director (432).”
-In 2004, “James Lee Witt, who won bipartisan praise for his leadership of the agency during the Clinton years, said at a Congressional hearing: ‘I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded. I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared.’”
-In February 15, 2005, Michael Chertoff became Michael Brown’s boss when he became the second head of the Department of Homeland Security. Chertoff had no experience in disaster relief (433).
On Friday, August 26th, 2005, “weather forecasters at CNN predicted that Katrina was aiming for Mississippi and Louisiana, which CNN posted online, along with the weather warning that a ‘Deadly hurricane could hit again Monday as a Category 4.’” That day, “a veteran FEMA employee arrived at the newly activated Washington headquarters for the storm. Inside, there was surprisingly little action. ‘It was like nobody's turning the key to start the engine,’ the official recalled (434).”
FEMA's National Situation Update for Saturday, August 27, 2005, reported that Katrina had already become a Category 3 hurricane and that in "anticipation of a possible landfall, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco declared States of Emergency Friday.” George W. Bush stayed on vacation in Crawford, Texas (435).
“At 4:00 PM on Sunday, August 28th, ‘National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Chris Lauer said Katrina was still on track to hit the New Orleans area as a devastating Category 5 hurricane as its eye comes ashore’ on Monday morning,” as reported by Gordon Russell for the [New Orleans] Times-Picayune.
On the night of the 28th disaster officials had a video conference with President Bush, who was still at his ranch in Crawford. According to AP, “In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage,” yet “Bush's confidence on Aug. 28 starkly contrasts with the dire warnings his disaster chief and a cacophony of federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm (436).”
"Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29 (437), but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: 'We are fully prepared (438).'" [And stayed on vacation, 439.]
On Monday August 29th Katrina made landfall and the first reports of water breaching levees came out. Rather than head to New Orleans, Bush flew to Arizona to meet John McCain on an airport tarmac to grip and grin over John McCain’s birthday cake (440), then went to two different stops to plug his prescription drug plan (441).
Tuesday August 30th, “as New Orleans was drowning and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] officials were still hours away from invoking the department's highest crisis status for the catastrophe, some department contractors found an important e-mail in their inboxes…Attached were two documents…that spelled out in numbing, acronym-filled detail the planned ‘national preparedness goal.’ The checklist, called a Universal Task List, appeared to cover every eventuality in a disaster, from the need to handle evacuations to speedy urban search and rescue to circulating ‘prompt, accurate and useful’ emergency information…But the documents were not a menu for action in the devastated Gulf Coast. They were drafts, not slated for approval and release until October, more than four years after 9/11 (442).”
Meanwhile, in California, “After dispatching Katrina with a few sentences of sanctimonious boilerplate (‘our hearts and prayers are with our fellow citizens’), [Bush] turned to his more important task. The war in Iraq is World War II. George W. Bush is F.D.R. And anyone who refuses to stay his course is soft on terrorism and guilty of a pre-9/11 ‘mind-set of isolation and retreat (443).’"
"Yet even as Mr. Bush promised ‘victory’ (a word used nine times in this speech on Tuesday), he was standing at the totemic scene of his failure. It was along this same San Diego coastline that he declared ‘Mission Accomplished’ (see #336) in Iraq on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln more than two years ago. For this return engagement, the Washington Post reported, the president's stage managers made sure he was positioned so that another hulking aircraft carrier nearby would stay off-camera, lest anyone be reminded of that premature end of ‘major combat operations (444).’”
Later that day, as New Orleans was suffering the worst natural disaster since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, Bush seized another fanciful photo op as he strapped a guitar on with country star Mark Wills at his back (445).
Though the levees had been breached on Monday, Bush’s Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff told the media, “It was on Tuesday that the levee–may have been overnight Monday to Tuesday–that the levee started to break. And it was midday Tuesday that I became aware of the fact that there was no possibility of plugging the gap and that essentially the lake was going to start to drain into the city (446).”
On Wednesday, August 31st, “Even military resources in the right place weren't ordered into action. ‘On Wednesday,’ said an editorial in The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., ‘reporters listening to horrific stories of death and survival at the Biloxi Junior High School shelter looked north across Irish Hill Road and saw Air Force personnel playing basketball and performing calisthenics. Playing basketball and performing calisthenics!’ (447)
That same day, George W. Bush made his first appearance at the scene of the hurricane, 48 hours after the hurricane had made landfall (448). Arianna Huffington spoke for many:
“The president's 35-minute Air Force One flyover of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama was the perfect metaphor for his entire presidency: detached, disconnected, and disengaged. Preferring to take in America's suffering -- whether caused by the war in Iraq or Hurricane Katrina -- from a distance. In this case, 2,500 feet.”
Also on Wednesday, Karl Rove sent a message to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco suggesting she declare martial law (449), Michael Chertoff said "We are extremely pleased with the response of every element of the federal government (and) all of our federal partners have made to this terrible tragedy," at a D.C. news conference (450), and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was spotted shopping at Salvatore Ferragama on Fifth Avenue in New York, and attended the Broadway comedy Spamalot that evening (451).
On Thursday, September 1st, The Institute for Public Accuracy put out a news release that provided another example of how the war of choice on Iraq was contributing to the disaster in New Orleans. Nancy Lessin of Military Families Speak Out said, “The numbers we have are that there are 11,000 National Guard personnel from Louisiana, of whom about 3,000 (452) are in Iraq with most of the heavy equipment. This included generators and high-water and other vehicles which could assist with the rescue effort (453)." Lessin then lasered in on the human cost: “My daughter is in New Orleans in a hotel with no plumbing and no electricity. Meanwhile, the residents of New Orleans -- particularly working and/or poor people -- do not appear to be having the rescue attempts that they desperately need right now."
That same day, in a reprise of his purported astonishment that anyone could use airplanes as a weapon, George W. Bush told an ABC interviewer “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees,” though this possibility had been long known (454). Diane Sawyer later reported that Bush had assured her after this appearance that despite the decimation of a major American city, "There won't have to be tax increases (455)."
Also on the 1st, Dick Cheney came back from his vacation. “[When] asked by reporter Roger Simon "why he did not return from his vacation earlier than three days after the hurricane hit, the vice president replied: 'I came back four days early (456).'”
Department of Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff “told NPR that he had ‘not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water’- even though every television viewer in the country had been hearing of those 25,000 stranded refugees for at least a day (457) .”
On Friday, September 2nd:
-President Bush’s allies at Fox News reported that “Evacuees who had taken refuge in the Superdome were waiting hours to get onto buses that were taking them 350 miles away to the Houston Astrodome, which can hold 27,000 people. Conditions in the Superdome had become horrendous: There was no air conditioning, the toilets were backed up, and the stench was so bad that medical workers wore masks as they walked around (458).
-Terry Ebbert, head of New Orleans' emergency operations, warned that the slow evacuation at the Superdome had become an "incredibly explosive situation," and he bitterly complained that FEMA was not offering enough help.
"This is a national emergency. This is a national disgrace," he said. "FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control (459). We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans."
-Newt Gingrich, former Republican attack dog and Speaker of the House said of the federal government’s handling of Katrina, “I think it puts into question all of the Homeland Security and Northern Command planning for the last four years, because if we can't respond faster than this to an event we saw coming across the Gulf for days, then why do we think we're prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack (460)?”
President Bush finally made a visit to the disaster scene in person four days after landfall (461), but it didn’t go so well. Dan Froomkin, a blogger for the Washington Post, provided some details:
“From a statement by [Louisiana] Sen[ator Mary] Landrieu about Bush's trip to New Orleans on Friday: ‘[P]erhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment (462).’”
“And Michelle Krupa writes in the New Orleans Times-Picayune: ‘Three tons of food ready for delivery by air to refugees in St. Bernard Parish and on Algiers Point saton the Crescent City Connection bridge Friday afternoon as air traffic was halted because of President Bush's visit to New Orleans, officials said (463).’
Though FEMA Director Michael Brown had clearly made a mess of the federal government’s hurricane response to much human misery, and while doing so had even “sent a series of embarrassing e-mails to colleagues discussing his appearance, the care of his dog, and, as the storm was making landfall, his desire to ‘quit’ and ‘go home (464),’ Bush told Brown at a public appearance, “"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job (465).”
The Monday following, September 5th, Bush “skipped the hardest-hit coastal areas entirely (466), choosing instead to visit Baton Rouge, the state capital about 80 miles northwest of New Orleans, which sustained no damage. He also went to Poplarville, Miss., to walk the streets of a middle-class neighborhood that seemed to suffer little more than snapped trees, a couple off-kilter carport roofs and a downed power line or two,” while his mother, Barbara Bush, said of the thousands of refugees stranded at the Houston Astrodome, “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this -- this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them (467)."
Meanwhile, not happy with reality, the Administration once again attempted to contort perception with a full-court public relations blitz in which they tried to keep the media from photographing the dead (468), sent administration principals out to disaster-stricken areas after the fact, and attempted to shift the blame (469) to state and local officials for the catastrophe. Michael Brown did his part by resigning as head of FEMA.
As New York Times columnist Frank Rich noted, Bush put his political strategist, Karl Rove, who had zero disaster experience, “officially…in charge of the reconstruction effort (470). The two top deputies at FEMA remaining after Michael Brown's departure, one of them a former local TV newsman, are not disaster relief specialists but experts in P.R., which they'd practiced as advance men for various Bush campaigns (471).”
In addition, Rich pointed out that, “The Salt Lake Tribune discovered a week after the hurricane that some 1,000 firefighters from Utah and elsewhere were sent not to the Gulf Coast but to Atlanta, to be trained as ‘community relations officers for FEMA’ rather than used as emergency workers to rescue the dying in New Orleans. When 50 of them were finally dispatched to Louisiana, the paper reported, their first assignment was ‘to stand beside President Bush’ as he toured devastated areas (472).”
But the spinmeisters couldn't save the day:
“On Thursday night [ September 15,2005] , Mr. Bush wanted to appear casually in charge as he waged his own Battle of New Orleans in Jackson Square. Instead, he looked as if he'd been dropped off by his folks in front of an eerie, blue-hued castle at Disney World. (Must be Sleeping Beauty's Castle, given the somnambulant pace of W.'s response to Katrina.)”
“All Andrew Jackson's horses, and all the Boy King's men could not put Humpty Dumpty together again. His gladiatorial walk across the darkened greensward, past a St. Louis Cathedral bathed in moon glow from White House klieg lights, just seemed to intensify the sense of an isolated, out-of-touch president clinging to hollow symbols as his disastrous disaster agency continues to flail.”
“In a ruined city - still largely without power, stinking with piles of garbage and still 40 percent submerged; where people are foraging in the miasma and muck for food, corpses and the sentimental detritus of their lives; and where unbearably sad stories continue to spill out about hordes of evacuees who lost their homes and patients who died in hospitals without either electricity or rescuers - isn't it rather tasteless, not to mention a waste of energy, to haul in White House generators just to give the president a burnished skin tone and a prettified background?” (473)
The catastrophic scale of the Bush Administration’s failure was so obvious that post-mortems were going to press less than a week after Katrina made landfall. From “Storm Exposed Disarray at the Top,” printed in the Washington Post on Sunday September 4th:
“Despite four years and tens of billions of dollars spent preparing for the worst, the federal government was not ready (474) when it came at daybreak on Monday, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former senior officials and outside experts.”
“…[Department of Homeland Security Head Michael] Chertoff waited a crucial, unexplained 36 hours before declaring Katrina an ‘incident of national significance,’ the trigger needed for federal action (475).”
“…several current and former senior officials charged that [concerns about natural disasters] were never accorded top priority -- either by FEMA's management or their superiors in DHS…[DHS] emphasized terrorism at the expense of other threats (476).”
“New leaders such as [Joe] Allbaugh were critical of FEMA's natural disaster focus and lectured senior managers about the need to adjust to the post-9/11 fear of terrorism.”
“’Allbaugh's quote was 'You don't get it,' recalled the senior FEMA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ‘If you brought up natural disasters, you were accused of being a pre-9/11 thinker (477).’ The result, the official said, was that ‘FEMA was being taxed by the department, having money and slots taken. Because we didn't conform with the mission of the agency.’"
"We are so much less than what we were in 2000," added another senior FEMA official. "We've lost a lot of what we were able to do then."
“’What we were afraid of, and what is coming to pass, is that FEMA has basically been destroyed as a coherent, fast-on-its-feet, independent agency,’ said Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.).”
“Other officials said they were warned well before Monday [the day the levees were breached] about what could happen. For years, said another senior FEMA official, he had sat at meetings where plans were discussed to send evacuees to the Superdome…But DHS did not ask the U.S. military to assist in pre-hurricane evacuation efforts, despite well-known estimates that a major hurricane would cause levees in New Orleans to fail (478).”
“Others who went out of their way to offer help were turned down, such as Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who told reporters his city had offered emergency, medical and technical help as early as last Sunday to FEMA but was turned down. Only a single tank truck was requested, Daley said (479).”
“Red tape kept the American Ambulance Association from sending 300 emergency vehicles from Florida to the flood zone, according to former senator John Breaux (D-La.) They were told to get permission from the General Services Administration. ‘GSA said they had to have FEMA ask for it,’ Breaux told CNN. ‘As a result they weren't sent.’” (480)
At the time, Republicans in Congress did the White House’s bidding by stonewalling an independent investigation of the governmental failures of Hurricane Katrina (481), but even the report put out by Bush’s servants in the Republican Congress was unflattering to the White House:
-“The response to Hurricane Katrina was ‘a national failure’ and ‘an abdication of the most solemn obligation to provide for the common welfare.’”
-“The report, entitled A Failure of Initiative…criticizes the homeland security chief, Michael Chertoff, saying his detachment from events led him to implement federal emergency response measures ‘late, ineffectively or not at all.’”
-“It adds that the White House did not ‘substantiate, analyze and act on the information at its disposal.’ It also questions why the ‘untrained’ Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chief, Michael Brown, was selected to lead the response to the disaster, noting that he and the US military set up rival chains of command.”
Meanwhile, disgraced FEMA head Michael Brown opened a disaster preparedness consulting business.
Unfortunately for the United States, George W. Bush’s calamitous mishandling of Katrina was the administration’s modus vivendi. In September 2007, Washington Post blogger Dan Froomkin reported that Pew Research Center public opinion polls in 2006 and 2007 showed that the number one word associated with Bush was "incompetent.” (482)
A thorough study (“Broken Government”) recently released by the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity bore the public instinct out. In what is certainly an abbreviated list, the study listed dozens of instances of the Bush Administration’s failure of governance:
-45 million Americans without health care (483)
--1,273 whistleblower complaints filed from 2002-2008 (484); 1,256 were dismissed (485)
-190,000 U.S.-supplied weapons missing in Iraq (486)
-$212.3 million in overcharges by Halliburton for Iraq oil reconstruction work (487)
-$9.91 billion for government secrecy in 2007 — a record (488)
-809 government laptops with sensitive information lost by FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (489)
-30 million pounds of beef recalled in 2007 (490)
-$300 billion over budget for Department of Defense weapons acquisitions (491)
-Less than 3 percent of U.S. electricity needs met by alternative energy (492)
-2,145 troops killed and 21,000 injured in Iraq from March 2003 through November 1, 2008, by IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and other explosives — many while awaiting body armor (493)
-34.8 percent of oil used in America imported during Nixon administration; 42.2 percent during first Gulf War; 59.9 percent in 2006 (494)
-$100 million for failed FBI computer network (495)
-$100 billion in federal tax revenues lost annually to corporations using off-shore tax shelters (496)
-2.5 million toxic toys recalled in summer of 2007 (497)
-$12.5 billion for defective National Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellite System (498)
-$4 billion to upgrade National Security Agency computers that often crash, have trouble talking to each other, and lose key intelligence (499)
-60,000 flights made by 46 Southwest Airline jets in violation of FAA safety directives due to lax FAA enforcement (500)
-12.8 percent job turnover at Department of Homeland Security in 2006 — double that of any other cabinet-level agency (501)
-20,000 U.S. deaths annually from lack of pollution controls on diesel vehicles and power plants (503)
-60,000 newborns a year at risk for neurological problems due to mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants (504)
-Two-thirds fewer clean ups of EPA Superfund toxic waste sites during 2001-2006 than in previous six years (505)
-At least $500 million for FEMA trailers contaminated by formaldehyde occupied by thousands displaced after Hurricane Katrina (506)
-558 detainees at Guantanamo detention facility reduced to 255 after court-ordered case reviews (507)
-26 percent of corporations holding at least $250 million in assets audited in 2006; percent audited in 1990: more than 70 percent (508). IRS audit staff slashed by 30 percent (509)
-$9 billion in federal oil and gas royalties mismanaged by agency linked to drug-and-sex scandal (510)
-275 largest U.S. corporations pay, on average, about 17 percent in taxes in 2007, half the standard corporate tax rate (511)
-$45 trillion in credit-default swaps, without federal oversight, in 2007 (512)
-760,800 disability claims backlogged, awaiting hearings at Social Security Administration as of October 2008 (513)
-806,000 Veterans Affairs disability claims in 2006, up 39 percent since 2000; backlog reached 400,000 claims by February 2007 (514)
-2,640 days Osama bin Laden at large since September 11, 2001 (as of December 10, 2008) (515)
As the report said, “Many of the failings are tied to Bush appointees who appear to have been selected primarily on the basis of ideology and loyalty, rather than competence. Every administration has its share of political cronies, of course, but the examples of the past eight years seem especially stark:
-a National Aeronautics and Space Administration inspector general who blocked multiple investigations — Republican Senator Charles Grassley said of his leadership: “I thought he’d be gone by now. . . . You’d like to have him get the message.” (516)
-a secretary of Housing and Urban Development who openly encouraged his staff to consider political affiliation when awarding contracts. (517)
-a team leading the Department of the Interior that was so flagrantly involved in political activity that the department’s own inspector general noted that ‘short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior.’ (518)
“The administration has also displayed what’s at best a lukewarm interest in independent oversight, often siding with business over consumers and special interests over the public. The results have had dramatic consequences in a variety of sectors. Among the examples:
-an Environmental Protection Agency that largely ignored and underutilized its own office and task force on children’s health, leaving the governmental entity responsible for air quality and other regulations without any “high-level infrastructure or mandate” to protect children. (519)
-a Food and Drug Administration unable to guarantee food and drug safety — causing conservative Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas to repeatedly blast the agency for “stonewalling, slow-rolling, and plain incompetency.” (520)
-a Federal Labor Relations Board that in the past year has been without a general counsel and the required quorum necessary to handle hundreds of complaints regarding unfair labor practices. (521)
-Much of the function of the federal government shifted from public employees to private contractors, as federal spending on contractors nearly doubled from FY 2001 to FY 2006, jumping from $234.8 billion to $415 billion. These contracts often lacked competitive bidding processes and effective oversight and suffered from cost overruns and poor execution. (522)
RESTORING HONOR AND DIGNITY TO THE WHITE HOUSE
“During the year and a half that I covered George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, I must have heard his stump speech a thousand times. The lines changed little over the months, and the ending almost never changed -- Bush would raise his hand, as if taking an oath, and promise to restore honor and dignity to the White House.
He also vowed to restore civility to the poisonous atmosphere of the nation's capital, declaring at a GOP fundraiser in April 2000 that "it's time to clean up the toxic environment in Washington, D.C."
A few months later, Bush told voters at a campaign event in Pittsburgh that his administration would "ask not only what is legal but what is right, not what the lawyers allow but what the public deserves."
-Washington Post reporter Terry Neal, in “Bush Should Live Up to 2000 Pledge”
"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."
-George W. Bush, Business Week, July 30, 2001
Despite what he promised on the campaign trail, George W. Bush quickly established his administration’s penchant for secrecy and being above the law. Early in the administration, Bush reversed Clinton policy on the Freedom of Information Act to narrow the circumstances under which documents would be open to the public (539). In a similar vein, Bush rewrote the Presidential Records Act by executive fiat:
“President Bush became intimately familiar with this position [the national Archivist] when the Archivist sent him a little notice that he was preparing to release the presidential papers of President Ronald Reagan on January 20, 2001. This was done under the Presidential Records Act, which mandates the release of unclassified records at the end of a twelve-year period. Not only do some of these documents involve President Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, but they also involve over a dozen current high-ranking officials, including Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Historians are particularly interested in the material to shed further light on the Iran-contra scandal as well as other controversies that led to the conviction of various Reagan Administration officials…After a series of delays (540)to review the material, President Bush responded with an executive order that effectively rewrites the Presidential Records Act in its inverse image (541), converting the Act from a measure guaranteeing public access to one that blocks such access. The order strips the Archivist of authority to give the public access to these papers and gives a former president the ability to indefinitely delay their release.” [Bush also requested a Freedom of Information exemption for the Department of Homeland Security (542)]
Also, “[the Bush] administration has asserted that the president is perfectly free to violate federal laws on such matters as domestic surveillance and the torture of detainees. When Congress has passed legislation to limit those assertions, Bush has resorted to issuing constitutionally dubious ‘signing statements,’ which declare, by fiat, how he will interpret and execute the law in question, even when that interpretation flagrantly violates the will of Congress (543).” ["Minimum number of laws that Bush signing statements have exempted his administration from following: 1,069"]
As late as December of 2008, Bush was still at it, trying to keep records of his administration’s activities from the public (544): “…the Bush administration may be determined to make one last play for secrecy by taking its records and storing them in a Dallas warehouse, pending a Bush library. In these waning weeks, a group of us is locked in legal combat with Vice President Dick Cheney and his corps of unseen advisers, seeking an injunction to prevent them from leaving office with their e-mail records...Cheney and his team are resisting at every turn, following a strategy of running out the clock and thereby implicitly admitting their intention to destroy or take their records.”
At the same time as the Bush Administration fought government transparency tooth and nail, it leveled a major assault on civil liberties, first and foremost with the Patriot Act of 2001 (545), which “[gave] the government the power to access to your medical records, tax records, information about the books you buy or borrow without probable cause, and the power to break into your home and conduct secret searches without telling you for weeks, months, or indefinitely.” According to the ACLU, the Patriot Act violates half of the amendments in the Bill of Rights.
Not several weeks after the Patriot Act was passed, Bush’s Attorney General John Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists — for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends (546)."
In addition, Bush authorized secret spying on citizens without court orders (547). Roughly two years later, “On the night of March 10, 2004, as Attorney General John D. Ashcroft lay ill in an intensive-care unit, his deputy, James B. Comey, received an urgent call…White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and President Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., were on their way to the hospital to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush's domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department [over which Ashcroft had purview] had just determined was illegal (548)."
“In vivid testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Comey said he alerted FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and raced, sirens blaring, to join Ashcroft in his hospital room, arriving minutes before Gonzales and Card. Ashcroft, summoning the strength to lift his head and speak, refused to sign the papers they had brought. Gonzales and Card, who had never acknowledged Comey's presence in the room, turned and left.”
Later, when the Bush Administration discovered that The New York Times was going to out their domestic spying, they tried to kill the story and told the editor of the New York Times “You’ll have blood on your hands” when it became obvious that freedom of the press would win the day (549). At the time the story came out, “Bush said in a statement that only people in the United States who were talking with terrorists overseas would have been targeted for surveillance,” but on Obama’s first day in office a whistleblower revealed that “in truth, the spying involved a dragnet of all communications”…‘The National Security Agency had access to all Americans' communications,’ he said. ‘Faxes, phone calls and their computer communications…They monitored all communications.’”
Bush’s people also proposed the The Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS), a program that, as the normally staid Boston Globe put it, “is a scheme that Joseph Stalin would have appreciated. Plans for its pilot phase, to start in August, have Operation TIPS recruiting a million letter carriers, meter readers, cable technicians, and other workers with access to private homes as informants to report to the Justice Department any activities they think suspicious (550)." To run TIPS, Bush exhumed John Poindexter, who had been at the center of the Iran-Contra scandal in the eighties (551). [TIPS was later abandoned when even many Republicans said it went too far.]
Though he famously told Katie Couric “We don’t torture,” among the things the self-proclaimed Christian George W. Bush will be best known for is his administration’s plunge into the draconian policy of torture (552). In June of 2006, in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that George W. Bush’s policy of indefinite detention of enemy combatants was unconstitutional.
Eager to reverse this rare limitation on Bush’s expansive executive power and milk their “toughness on terrorism” theme to the max just before the upcoming congressional elections, the Republican Congress drew up a bill (The Military Commissions Act of 2006) which opened the way for the steamrolling of the Geneva Conventions, the gold standard of international human rights, by allowing the government to inflict “serious pain” – though they sternly drew the line at “severe pain.” The bill also gutted Habeas Corpus (553), the 800 year-old legal principle that the government must bring charges against someone under arrest or let them go, denied the right to appeal in the federal courts, allowed the gathering of evidence without a warrant, and gave retroactive immunity to members of the CIA who had engaged in torture (during the 200 or more extraordinary renditions of prisoners to foreign countries with more lenient laws), though CIA director Porter Goss had said a year earlier that the CIA didn’t engage in torture. [In 2008, the Republican-dominated Supreme Court voided the bill’s provisions on Habeas Corpus.]
On December 13th, 2008, Scott Horton reported in Harper’s that the Senate Armed Services Committee had released a report – that had the unanimous backing of all committee members, Republican and Democrat – that “concluded that Donald Rumsfeld and other high-level officials of the administration consciously adopted a policy for the torture and abuse of prisoners held in the war on terror” and “enlisted ethics-challenged lawyers to craft memoranda designed to give torture ‘the appearance of legality’ (554) as part of a scheme to create the torture program despite internal opposition.”
Among other findings, the report “[looked] into the use of psychotropic drugs which were, with Donald Rumsfeld’s approval, routinely administered to prisoners in order to facilitate their interrogation” and “torture techniques…[that] were reverse engineered from the SERE program—used to prepare American pilots to resist interrogation techniques used by the Soviets, North Koreans, Chinese and North Vietnamese. By ‘reverse engineering,’ we mean [the United States] was adopting the techniques used by the nation’s Communist adversaries in prior generations.”
Moreover, “…when photos and other evidence of abuse first surfaced, the Bush Administration firmly denied any connection between their policies and the abuse (555), then attempted to scapegoat a group of more than a dozen young recruits (556).”
While the administration had claimed all along that torture was necessary to keep us safe, the bipartisan report said that “The administration’s policies concerning [torture] and the resulting controversies damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority (557).”
Torture was only one of the most visible malignancies that grew from the Bush Administration’s cancerous core. As Bush was about to start a second term, Salon printed a lengthy scandal sheet from just Bush’s first term which included the following, as quoted from the original:
-Memogate: The Senate Computer Theft (558)
The scandal: From 2001 to 2003, Republican staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee illicitly accessed nearly 5,000 computer files containing confidential Democratic strategy memos about President Bush's judicial nominees. The GOP used the memos to shape their own plans and leaked some to the media.
The problem: The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act states it is illegal to obtain confidential information from a government computer.
-Halliburton's No-Bid Bonanza (559)
The scandal: In February 2003, Halliburton [Vice President Dick Cheney’s former employer] received a five-year, $7 billion no-bid contract for services in Iraq.
The problem: The Army Corps of Engineers' top contracting officer, Bunnatine Greenhouse, objected to the deal, saying the contract should be the standard one-year length, and that a Halliburton official should not have been present during the discussions.
The outcome: The FBI is investigating. The $7 billion contract was halved and Halliburton won one of the parts in a public bid. For her troubles, Greenhouse has been forced into whistle-blower protection. [Alan Grayson, a Washington, D.C., lawyer for whistle-blowers who have worked for American contractors in Iraq, says simply that during that first year under the Coalition Provisional Authority (see #s 337-340) Iraq was turned into "a free-fraud zone."]
-Halliburton: Pumping Up Prices (560)
The scandal: In 2003, Halliburton overcharged the army for fuel in Iraq. Specifically, Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root hired a Kuwaiti company, Altanmia, to supply fuel at about twice the going rate, then added a markup, for an overcharge of at least $61 million, according to a December 2003 Pentagon audit.
The problem: That's not the government's $61 million, it's our $61 million.
-Halliburton's Vanishing Iraq Money (561)
The scandal: In mid-2004, Pentagon auditors determined that $1.8 billion of Halliburton's charges to the government, about 40 percent of the total, had not been adequately documented.
The problem: That's not the government's $1.8 billion, it's our $1.8 billion.
-Money Order: Afghanistan's Missing $700 Million Turns Up in Iraq (562)
The scandal: According to Bob Woodward's “Plan of Attack,” the Bush administration diverted $700 million in funds from the war in Afghanistan, among other places, to prepare for the Iraq invasion.
The problem: Article I, Section 8, Clause 12 of the U.S. Constitution specifically gives Congress the power "to raise and support armies." And the emergency spending bill passed after Sept. 11, 2001, requires the administration to notify Congress before changing war spending plans. That did not happen.
The outcome: [a Republican] Congress declined to investigate. The administration's main justification for its decision has been to claim the funds were still used for, one might say, Middle East anti-tyrant-related program activities.
-Iraq: More Loose Change (563)
The scandal: The inspector general of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq released a series of reports in July 2004 finding that a significant portion of CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority, the governing body the Bush Administration established in Iraq after the invasion] assets had gone missing -- 34 percent of the materiel controlled by Kellogg, Brown & Root -- and that the CPA's method of disbursing $600 million in Iraq reconstruction funds "did not establish effective controls and left accountability open to fraud, waste and abuse."
The problem: As much as $50 million of that money was disbursed without proper receipts.
-Wiretapping the United Nations (564)
The scandal: Before the United Nations' vote on the Iraq war, the United States and Great Britain developed an eavesdropping operation targeting diplomats from several countries.
The problem: U.N. officials say the practice is illegal and undermines honest diplomacy, although some observers claim it is business as usual on East 42nd Street.
-The Medicare Bribe Scandal (565)
The scandal: According to former Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.), on Nov. 21, 2003, with the vote on the administration's Medicare bill hanging in the balance, someone offered to contribute $100,000 to his son's forthcoming congressional campaign, if Smith would support the bill.
The problem: Federal law prohibits the bribery of elected officials.
-Busy, Busy, Busy in New Hampshire (566)
The scandal: In 2002, with a tight Senate race in New Hampshire, Republican Party officials paid a Virginia-based firm, GOP Marketplace, to enact an Election Day scheme meant to depress Democratic turnout by "jamming" the Democratic Party phone bank with continuous calls for 90 minutes.
The problem: Federal law prohibits the use of telephones to "annoy or harass" anyone.
The outcome: Chuck McGee, the former executive director of the New Hampshire GOP, pleaded guilty in July 2004 to a felony charge, while Allen Raymond, former head of GOP Marketplace, pleaded guilty to a similar charge in June. In December, James Tobin, former New England campaign chairman of Bush-Cheney '04, was indicted for conspiracy in the case. [AP would later report that “Phone-Jamming Records Point to White House”]
-The Medicare Money Scandal (567)
The scandal: Thomas Scully, Medicare's former administrator, supposedly threatened to fire chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster to prevent him from disclosing the true cost of the 2003 [Republican prescription drug] Medicare bill.
The problem: Congress voted on the bill believing it would cost $400 billion over 10 years. The program is more likely to cost $550 billion.
-The Bogus Medicare "Video News Release" (568)
The scandal: To promote its Medicare bill, the Bush administration produced imitation news-report videos touting the legislation. About 40 television stations aired the videos. More recently, similar videos promoting the administration's education policy have come to light.
The problem: The administration broke two laws: One forbidding the use of federal money for propaganda, and another forbidding the unauthorized use of federal funds.
The outcome: In May 2004, the GAO concluded the administration acted illegally, but the agency lacks enforcement power.
-Pundits on the Payroll: The Armstrong Williams Case (569)
The scandal: The Department of Education paid conservative commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote its educational law, No Child Left Behind.
The problem: Williams did not disclose that his support was government funded until the deal was exposed in January 2005.
Bush’s second term provided more of the same:
“A senior White House budget official who resigned abruptly last week was arrested Monday on charges of lying to investigators (571) and obstructing a federal inquiry involving Jack Abramoff (572), the Republican lobbyist who has been under scrutiny by the Justice Department for more than a year.”
-“Former Top Bush Aide Accused of Md. Thefts: Refund Scam Netted $5,000, Police Say (573)
Though the administration had tried to downplay their closeness to him, Lobbyist Jack Abramoff [who had received 70 months in prison in March of 2006 for conspiracy, fraud, tax evasion, and bribery] “claimed in billing records that he and his associates had at least 485 contacts with White House officials during President George W. Bush's first term (574), according to a report by a U.S. House panel.” [the White House would later stonewall (575) on 600 pages relating to the administration’s contacts with Abramoff, pictured at right]
“The former director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives violated ethics rules by requiring 20 employees to help his teenage nephew prepare a high school video project, part of a wide-ranging pattern of questionable expenditures on a new ATF headquarters, personal security and other items, according to a report issued yesterday (576).
-Number of times FDA officials met with consumer and patient groups as they revised drug-review policy in 2006: 5; Number of times they met with [pharmaceutical] industry representatives: 113 (577)
On November 6, 2006 Salon reprised a second scandal sheet, just as American voters were about to overwhelmingly reject the Republican Party at the polls. Among the findings:
-Trumped-up Terror Busts (578)
The scandal: It wasn't just the "Lackawanna Six" who got the Kafka treatment after 9/11. In February 2006 director of national intelligence John Negroponte warned Congress about "a network of Islamic extremists" in Lodi, Calif. Two men there were charged -- Umer Hayat, an ice cream truck driver, and his son, Hamid -- but the cases, riddled with faulty intelligence and coerced testimony, crumbled in court. FBI agents had pushed the two men into separate accounts about a training camp in Pakistan, but the confessions didn't square. "You can hear the agents literally dictate to [Hayat] what it is that they thought he was involved in," James Weddick, a 35-year FBI veteran who reviewed the interrogation tapes, told "Frontline" this fall. "And then he mimics back to them what he thinks that they want to hear."
"Then there was the highly publicized bust by the feds in Miami this summer: A group calling itself the "Seas of David" stupidly dreamed out loud of blowing up the Sears Tower -- but lacked weapons, means of transportation and the al-Qaida "uniforms" they hoped to purchase from a terrorist-cum-FBI operative. FBI deputy director John Pistole admitted the group was "aspirational" rather than "operational." And then there were the three Arab-Americans locked up this year for the menacing act of buying a bunch of cheap cellphones at Wal-Mart."
-Pat Tillman: The Hero Myth, the Ugly Truth (579)
The scandal: Attempting to deceive the American public about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was nothing new from the P.R. department of Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon -- think back to the Jessica Lynch fable (580) or the various Pentagon efforts to hide U.S. casualties (581) -- but the Pat Tillman affair perhaps stands as the Bush administration's most craven and cynical attempt to bury a painful truth while maximizing political spin. When the former football star and Army Ranger was killed in Afghanistan in 2004, the Pentagon put out a press release implying that he'd died while courageously taking "the fight to the enemy forces." It wasn't until long after Tillman was awarded a Silver Star and his memorial service was televised nationally that the truth came out: He'd accidentally been killed by his fellow soldiers. In June 2005, columnist Robert Scheer reported that files from an internal military investigation given to him by Tillman's mother made it "unmistakably clear that the true cause of Tillman's death was known in the field shortly after he was killed and reported as fratricide up through the military command. Yet those facts were systematically kept from the family (582)-- including Pat's brother and fellow Army Ranger, Kevin Tillman, who was serving in the same unit in Afghanistan -- while a markedly inaccurate story played itself out in the world's media."
The problem: The campaign of deception went all the way to the heart of the White House. According to a memo included in the Army's investigation, in late April 2004 -- right as the Abu Ghraib torture scandal was sending shock waves around the world -- a White House speechwriter requested information on Tillman ahead of the president's appearance at the upcoming White House correspondents dinner. There, Bush declared: "Corporal Tillman asked for no special attention. He was modest because he knew there were many like him, making their own sacrifices." By then the White House had already told the press that Tillman was among those who had "made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror."
-Bush's Unethical Judges
The scandal: With the appointment of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court got most of the attention over the last year -- but the White House has also worked to stack the nation's appellate courts with right-wing, corporate-friendly judges, some of them a little too corporate-friendly. As Salon and the Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered earlier this year, two Bush nominees to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge James H. Payne and Judge Terrence W. Boyle,broke federal ethics law by ruling in numerous cases involving corporations in which they owned stock (583). Meanwhile, a Salon/CIR exposé published just last week revealed that at least two dozen federal judges confirmed under Bush made political contributions to leading Republicans who were influential in their appointments, or to the president himself, while under consideration for their judgeships (584).
-Hushed Up About Corporate Media
The scandal: In September 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that during Michael Powell's tenure as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, two internal draft reports exposing the ill effects of corporate media consolidation were quashed [because the Bush administration favored media consolidation, 585]. What the agency prevented from getting any airtime: A 2004 report that found locally owned TV stations did a better job covering local news and issues, and a 2003 report pointing out a decrease in the number of radio station owners.
The problem: Powell and his aides denied knowing about the studies (586) -- but clearly his corporate-friendly agenda would necessitate flipping the channel on such troublesome findings. Both Powell and his successor, Kevin J. Martin, supported reduced restrictions on television station ownership and the lifting of a ban preventing companies from owning a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same market.
Barely a month later, on December 7, 2006, Bush’s Justice Department fired “seven United States attorneys without explanation (587). Attorney General Alberto Gonzales calls the controversy an ‘overblown personnel matter (588),’ but the legal battle over the firings plays out to this day as it becomes clear that the attorneys were fired for having insufficient partisan zeal. Harriet Miers, the White House counsel, and Karl Rove are cited for contempt of Congress when they refuse a summons by the House Judiciary Committee to discuss the firings (589).”
When Bush’s Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was brought before Congress to explain these transparently partisan maneuvers, he suffered serial amnesia (590) and later resigned in disgrace, but in a recent interview he whined that he was “one of the many casualties of the war on terror (591).”
The scandals continued apace in 2007 and 2008:
“Under criticism that it has been lax in policing the $85 billion student loan industry (593), the Education Department announced yesterday that the chief official responsible for overseeing the loan program was stepping down.
The resignation of the official, Theresa S. Shaw, was made public two days before Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is to testify to a Congressional committee. Ms. Spellings is expected to face tough questions about the oversight of lenders’ practices and her department’s enforcement of policies against conflicts of interest. “
World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz resigned yesterday, effective June 30, yielding to demands from governments around the world that he leave to end the ethics controversy (594) that has consumed the institution.
“Former Deputy Interior Secretary James Steven Griles [see #121] - who pleaded guilty in March to a single felony charge of obstructing justice by lying to a Senate committee about his relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff (595) - was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court to 10 months in prison and a fine of $30,000.00.”
“At the request of Sara Taylor, the former White House Director of Political Affairs, John Walters, the nation’s drug czar, and his deputies traveled to 20 events with vulnerable Republican members of Congress in the months prior to the 2006 elections. The trips were paid for by federal taxpayers (596) and several were combined with the announcement of federal grants or actions that benefited the districts of the Republican members.”
“Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses… The common perception of Walter Reed [the medical facility] is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.”
“A senior State Department official in charge of foreign aid who had used an escort service owned by a woman charged with running a prostitution operation abruptly resigned on Friday, ABC News reported.”
-“Julie MacDonald, a former deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, resigned last year after an earlier report found that she had run roughshod over agency scientists and violated federal rules by giving internal documents to industry lobbyists (599).” [Minimum number of Bush appointees who have regulated industries they used to represent as lobbyists: 98] (600)
“Howard J. Krongard, the State Department's inspector general, has repeatedly thwarted investigations into contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan, including construction of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad (601), and censored reports (602) that might prove politically embarrassing to the Bush administration, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform charged yesterday in a 13-page letter.
“The main U.S. disaster-response agency apologized on Friday for having its employees pose as reporters in a news briefing on California's wildfires that no journalists attended (603).
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, still struggling to restore its image after the bungled handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, issued the apology after the Washington Post published details of the Tuesday briefing.”
A top aide to President George W. Bush has resigned over allegations that he misused US government money (605), the White House said Friday.
“Robert Coughlin admitted in federal court Tuesday that he accepted meals, concert tickets and luxury seats at sporting events from a lobbyist. He pleaded guilty to a single conflict-of-interest charge (606) and faces up to 10 months in prison under a plea deal with the government.”
“It has been 11 months since investigators found that Lurita Doan, chief of the General Services Administration, violated the Hatch Act’s ban on politicking on the job, asking her staff how they could “help our candidates (607).” This week, the White House finally got around to ousting Ms. Doan from the government’s principal agency for awarding rich contracts in goods and services…She denied any violation, but she made her philosophy of government clear early on in trying to cut the funding of her agency’s inspector general office. Inspector generals are supposed to track complaints of waste and fraud. She called them bureaucratic “terrorists (608).”
“In three reports delivered to Congress on Wednesday, the department’s inspector general, Earl E. Devaney, found wrongdoing by a dozen current and former employees of the Minerals Management Service, which collects about $10 billion in royalties annually and is one of the government’s largest sources of revenue other than taxes.”
According to the report, “officials accepted gifts (610), steered contracts to favored clients (611) and engaged in drugs and sex with oil company employees (612).
“Short of a crime,” Mr. Devaney said, “anything goes at the Department of the Interior.”
-Percentage change since 2001 in U.S. government spending on paper shredding: +466 (613)
“In case any Bush administration officials have trouble summing up the boss' record, the White House is providing a few helpful suggestions.
A two-page memo that has been sent to Cabinet members and other high-ranking officials offers a guide for discussing Bush's eight-year tenure during their public speeches.
Titled "Speech Topper on the Bush Record," the talking points state that Bush "kept the American people safe" after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, lifted the economy after 2001 through tax cuts, curbed AIDS in Africa and maintained "the honor and the dignity of his office."
ONE LAST FIASCO
After presiding over the biggest national security failure in sixty years on 9/11, abandoning Afghanistan, where our foes were, for Iraq, where they weren’t, and unleashing chaos there, and failing the city of New Orleans in its moment of need, it would seem that one president couldn’t possibly birth another grand-scale debacle, but George W. Bush once again proved to be exceptional. In an epic piece entitled “White House Philosophy Stoked Mortgage Bonfire,” New York Times reporters Jo Becker, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, and Stephen Labaton detailed the Bush Administration’s contribution to the mortgage crisis that was central to the worst economic downturn in decades:
-“As early as 2006, top advisers to Mr. Bush dismissed warnings from people inside and outside the White House that housing prices were inflated and that a foreclosure crisis was looming (614). And when the economy deteriorated, Mr. Bush and his team misdiagnosed the reasons and scope of the downturn (615); as recently as February, for example, Mr. Bush was still calling it a “rough patch.”
As Bush’s Treasury Secretary John W. Snow put it, “The Bush Administration took a lot of pride that homeownership had reached historic highs…But what we forgot in the process (616) was that it has to be done in the context of people being able to afford their house. We now realize there was a high cost.”
Along the way “Bush’s second SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] chairman was removed after he was found to be too aggressive by [the mortgage] industry.” (617)
-“When states tried to use consumer protection laws to crack down on predatory lending, the comptroller of the currency blocked the effort, asserting that states had no authority over national banks.” (618)
-“…in early 2003, Arnando Falcon Jr, head of the Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight agency overseeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac wrote a report which ‘outlined a worst-case situation in which Fannie and Freddie could default on debt, setting off…a financial meltdown…He also raised red flags about the companies’ soaring use of derivatives, the complex financial instruments that economic experts now blame for spreading the housing collapse.’ The White House tried to fire Mr. Falcon on the day he issued his report (619), at least in part because Franklin Raines, Fannie CEO, didn’t like the criticism.”
-“The president did push rules aimed at forcing lenders to more clearly explain loan terms. But the White House shelved them in 2004, after industry-friendly members of Congress threatened to block confirmation of his new housing secretary.”
-“in March 2008, right before Bear Sterns collapsed, in a speech at the Economic Club in New York [Bush] cautioned against Washington’s temptation ‘to say that anything short of a massive government intervention in the housing market amounts to inaction,’ and added that ‘government action could make it harder for the markets to recover.’” (620)
-“[Bush Administration Director of the Oversight Board of the Federal Housing Finance Agency James] Lockhart in July on CNBC said that ‘the companies [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] were well managed and ‘worsts were not coming to worst’…not long after the companies’ stocks “lost half their value in a single day.” (621)
After stubbornly resisting governmental intervention when it could’ve helped out of a misplaced ideological rigidity, Bush supported a massive bailout - but only after it became a stone-obvious necessity (622).
As the economy tanked late in his term, Bush appropriately closed his presidency with a long list of going away presents – signed off with little or no public participation or consultation with Congress -- for industry groups that had paid his way:
-A measure to “allow power companies to build coal-fired power stations nearer to national parks.” (623)
-Another that would “allow coal-fired stations to increase their emissions without installing new anti-pollution equipment.” (624)
-“a rule that opens up millions of acres of land to oil shale extraction, which environmental groups say is highly pollutant.” (625)
-A rule that “surrenders government control of rerouting the rail transport of hazardous materialsaround densely populated areas and gives it to the rail companies.” (626)
-A rule that “would exempt factory farms from reporting air pollution from animal waste.” (628)
-“On Election Day, the Bush administration announced it would open 360,000 acres of public land in Utah to oil and gas leasing (629), including about 100,000 acres near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and Dinosaur National Monument.”
-“a rule that largely frees federal agencies from having to consult independent biologists before constructing something that could lead to the extinction of birds, fish or other endangered species.” (630)
-A rule that would allow uranium mining near Grand Canyon (631)
-A rule that ensures that “many injured consumers would no longer be able to sue negligent manufacturers in state courts.” (632)
-“In October, two weeks after consulting with industry lobbyists, the White House exempted more than 100 major polluters from monitoring their emissions of lead, a deadly neurotoxin.” (633)
-“the administration will also allow industry to treat 3 billion pounds of hazardous waste as ‘recycling’ each year (634), and to "burn another 200 million pounds of hazardous waste reclassified as ‘fuel,’ increasing cancer-causing air pollution." (635)
-“Under Bush, the Labor Department issued only one major workplace-safety rule in eight years — and that was under a court order. But now the Labor Department is finalizing a rule openly opposed by Obama that would hamper the government's ability to protect workers from exposure to toxic chemicals.” (636)
-“In another last-minute shift, the administration has rewritten rules to make it harder for workers to take time off for serious medical conditions under the Family and Medical Leave Act.” (637)
-In addition, the administration has upped the number of hours that long-haul truckers can be on the road. The new rule — nearly identical to one struck down by a federal appeals court last year — allows trucking companies to put their drivers behind the wheel for 11 hours a day, with only 34 hours of downtime between hauls. The move is virtually certain to kill more motorists: Large-truck crashes already kill 4,800 drivers and injure another 76,000 every year. (638)
-“In a rule that went into effect on December 8th, the administration also limited vision and dental care for more than 50 million low-income Americans who rely on Medicaid. ‘This means the states are going to have to pick up the tab or cut the services at a time when a majority of states are in a deficit situation,’ says [Gary] Bass of OMB Watch. ‘It's a horrible time to do this.’ (639)
-“To make matters worse, the administration has also raised co-payments for Medicaid, forcing families on poverty wages to pay up to 10 percent of the cost for doctor visits and medicine. [One study suggests that co-payments could cause Medicaid patients to skip nearly a fifth of all prescription-drug treatments.]” (640)
-“The administration is seeking to lock in the domestic spying it began even before 9/11. One rule under consideration would roll back Watergate-era prohibitions barring state and local law enforcement from spying on Americans and sharing that information with U.S. intelligence agencies.” (641)
Moreover, “To protect the new rules against repeal, the Bush administration began amping up its last-gasp regulatory process back in May [of 2008]. The goal was to have all new regulations finalized by November 1st, providing enough time to accommodate the 60-day cooling-off period required before major rule changes — those that create an economic impact greater than $100 million — can be implemented.” (642)
“Now, however, the administration has fallen behind schedule — so it's gaming the system to push through its rules (643). In several cases, the Office of Management and Budget has fudged the numbers to classify rules that could have billion-dollar consequences as ‘non-major’ — allowing any changes made through mid-December to take effect in just 30 days, before Obama is inaugurated. The administration's determination of what constitutes a major change is not subject to review in court, and the White House knows it: Spokesman Tony Fratto crowed that the 60-day deadline is ‘irrelevant to our process.’”
“Once a rule is published in the Federal Register, the Obama administration will have limited options for expunging it. It can begin the rule-making process anew, crafting Obama rules to replace the Bush rules, but that approach could take years, requiring time-consuming hearings, scientific fact-finding and inevitable legal wrangling. Or, if the new rules contain legal flaws, a judge might allow the Obama administration to revise them more quickly. Bush's push to gut the Endangered Species Act, for example, was done in laughable haste, with 15 employees given fewer than 36 hours to review and process more than 200,000 public comments.” (644)
Lest we be too hard on George W. Bush, we must give credit where credit is due.
On January 8, 2009, Salon posted “W. and the damage done,” which summarized some of the legacies of the Bush presidency:
-"’An average recession is one in which we lose about 3 percent of GDP. Three percent of GDP is about $500 billion," UCLA economist Lee Ohanian told Salon. ‘It's not inconceivable that this could be twice as [bad], which would be close to a trillion.’" (645)
“Expected shortfall of gross domestic product below normal growth path in 2009: $900 billion” (646)
“Number of manufacturing jobs lost since 2000: 3.78 million” (647)
“Increase in number of unemployed workers from 2001 to 2008: 4 million, a jump of 2.7 percent in the unemployment rate” (648)
“Number of detainees who have died in U.S custody: Human Rights First claimed that as of February 2006, nearly 100 had died (649), a figure the Pentagon disputes. In addition, Amnesty International says that more than three dozen individuals believed to have been in U.S. custody have essentially disappeared (650).”
Discussing Hurricane Katrina, “W. and the damage done” said that “Estimates vary greatly, but deaths directly caused by the August 2005 storm are generally believed to be in excess of 1,100, perhaps about 1,500, with total direct and indirect deaths in excess of 1,800.” (651)
The city's population is still only at 72 percent of its pre-Katrina level of 450,000. (652) Louisiana and North Dakota are the only two states whose populations declinedbetween 2000 and 2008.
There has also been a financial impact on people who were spared the wrath of Katrina, who have never heard of a levee and live far from Louisiana and Mississippi. Home insurance has become more costly and/or more difficult to procure. After the storm, many national insurers simply stopped issuing policies for homes that were too close to coastlines.” (653)
In addition, Bush made his mark by:
-pushing tax and budget policies that have led to the most extreme income disparities since the years leading up to the Great Depression [Portion of all U.S. income gains during the Bush Administration that have gone to the top 1 percent of earners: ¾ (654) ; increase since 2000 in the number of Americans living at less than half the federal poverty level: 3,500,000 (655)]
-turning the biggest surplus in American history (projected to be 5.6 trillion dollars over ten years when Bush took office) into the biggest deficit (656) [Vice President Dick Cheney had at one point said that “Reagan taught us that deficits don’t matter”; Reagan, incidentally, was the only other president to have increased the national debt more in eight years than all of his predecessors combined]
-saddling future generations with a total debt (“the total new debt combined with the total new accured obligations”) of $10.35 trillion, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz (657)
-presiding over a loss of over 2,300 points in the Dow Jones, a record (658), and a wave of foreclosures (659) helped along by his fixation on lax regulation (see numbers ), a record number of personal bankruptcies (660), the worst job losses in over three decades (661)
As a result:
-America’s prestige has plummeted, or, as The Economist (which endorsed Bush in 2000) recently put it, Bush has “presided over the most catastrophic collapse in America’s reputation since the second world war” (662)
-Bush has the unique distinction of having gone from having the highest approval ratings in recorded history to among the lowest (663)
-92 “U.S. cities and towns…have passed resolutions calling for the impeachment of President Bush” (664), and U.S. emigration to Canada has increase 79% since 2000(665)
A recent CBS news article quoted Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Joseph Ellis, who said that Bush “might very well be the worst president in U.S. history.” Ellis also said “He's unusual…Most two-term presidents have a mixed record. Lyndon Johnson, one of the greatest achievements in the 20th century was civil rights legislation; on the other hand you have the extraordinary tragedy of Vietnam. Even Richard Nixon opened the door to China and had foreign policy credentials. Bush has nothing on the positive side, virtually nothing."
Going on, the same article pointed out that Ellis’s view was common among well-informed citizenry:
“In a 2006 Siena College survey of 744 history professors, 82% rated President Bush below average, or a failure” and “Last April , in an informal poll by George Mason University of 109 historians, Mr. Bush fared even worse - 98% considered him a failed president. Sixty-one percent judged him, as Ellis does, one of the worst in American history.”
Given a chance to offer an apology, or at least a degree of remorse, for the wreckage he had wrought in a going-away interview, George W. Bush told Charles Gibson of ABC: “I don’t spend a lot of time really worrying about short-term history. I guess I don’t worry about long-term history, either, since I’m not going to be around to read it.” (666)
Stepping into this accountability vacuum with a column on January 3rd was former theater critic Frank Rich. One of the few mainstream journalists that didn’t blink during the Bush years, Rich pulled back the curtain to reveal the naked truth:
“The last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on Bush’s presidency found that 79 percent of Americans will not miss him after he leaves the White House. He is being forgotten already, even if he’s not yet gone. You start to pity him until you remember how vast the wreckage is. It stretches from the Middle East to Wall Street to Main Street and even into the heavens, which have been a safe haven for toxins under his passive stewardship. The discrepancy between the grandeur of the failure and the stature of the man is a puzzlement. We are still trying to compute it.”
© Dan Benbow, 2009