George W. Bush’s Last 90 Days

January 20, 2009

On December 2, 2008 the Washington Post published an article about President George W. Bush granting an interview with Charles Gibson of ABC News the day before. In the interview Bush was reflecting on his tenure as President. Just prior to the interview with Gibson, Bush said in front of the microphone that one of the most important initiatives of his administration was his program to combat HIV/AIDS. Admittedly, that program was somewhat a success and it just may be Bush’s only success that wasn’t a partisan or ideology effort.

Bush once said “I really do not feel comfortable in the role of analyzing myself”. That is very understandable. Most psychoanalysts will tell you that feeling that way about ones self is a trait of a person who not only knows their personal history is nothing to be proud of, but is also one that would not be considered morally responsible.

Bush leaves office tomorrow, much to the enjoyment of 79% of American citizens. Nearly half of those think he will go down as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history; some are even in his own party. No president has done more to harm the country, just as I reported in my post on George Bush’s presidency. But he and his “supervisor”, Dick Chaney, haven’t gone quietly. They spent their last 90 days furthering their neo-conservative causes, and most of it will come back to haunt our country.

Like many have in the past, President Bush has tried to implement a few policies in an effort to build a positive legacy that he will be remembered by. One such effort was to protect two vast areas of the Pacific Ocean from fishing and mineral exploitation. However, Dick Cheney fought that effort because it would bar energy exploration, something near & dear to Cheney’s heart. Laura Bush even admitted that if the area was not protected, it would “burnish the president’s record for history”. Those two Pacific areas were chosen after Bush backed off from designating two areas closer to home; one off the southeastern coast and one in the Gulf of Mexico. Special interest groups, primarily oil companies, objected, so Bush gave up on those.

One area that Bush knew was going to stick with the general public for years to come was his foreign policy attitude. As such, he started changing his way of thinking on some of his policies in another effort to help his legacy. The results, say many observers, is Bush’s policies started resembling Obama’s policies. Some of those were his stance toward Iran and North Korea, and he agreed to a “time horizon” for reducing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. I particular liked his term “time horizon”; there’s no way anyone would ever confuse that with “time line”, a term used by Obama for the same objective.

Bush also embarked on a “Farewell Tour” of sorts in early December in an effort to boost his image. Unfortunately, since the country and the next four or five generations will be paying dearly for his failures, his legacy is already established. Of course, the neo-conservative machine will build some sort of monument to him such as a Navy vessel that will be named after him just as they did for his father and Ronald Reagan. But no monument will clean away the stench that goes with the George W. Bush name.

Paul Krugman wrote a piece on his blog he calls “The Monster Years” where he referred to the past fourteen years being dominated by the likes of Bush, Tom Delay, Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney. Krugman said “in our national discourse, we pretended that these monsters were reasonable, respectable people. To point out that the monsters were, in fact, monsters, was ‘shrill'”.

Articles & reports that have surfaced on Bush in the past 90 days.

A Quite Windfall For U.S. Banks

“While attention was focused on the bailout debate, the Treasury Department made changes to tax policy”; paraphrased from a Washington Post article. Henry Paulson issued a five-sentence notice that attracted almost no public attention which gave American banks a windfall of as much as $140 billion. With the stroke of his pen, Paulson wiped away a 22-year old tax law designed to prevent banks from sheltering taxes when they merged or allowed them to create a shell company to hide bad assets. The law had always been considered a bad law by banks and corporations, but lawmakers were afraid to repeal it because it would certainly be seen as yet another give-a-way to corporations.

This was an blatant illegal move by treasury, but Paulson will get away clean because lawmakers worry that revoking it will unravel recent bank merges and cause more problems. The law was lifted by Paulson just one day before Wachovia agreed to acquire Citigroup in a government-brokered deal. The ruling will be worth about $25 billion to Wells Fargo, and is estimated to cost taxpayers between $105 billion to $140 billion. Banks went wild on this news, and several mergers resulted. Many lawmakers say this is just a mirror of the way Congress authorized the war in Iraq; slight of hand.

Bush’s “Bench” Appointees

Bush appointed 311 federal district and appellate judges. One-third of them were lawyers and/or lobbyist on behalf of the oil, gas and energy industries. A far cry from him what he said in 2001; that he would not impose an ideological litmus test for his appointees. Many of Bush’s judges would not allow groups with little or no financial interest to intervene in court proceedings. They felt that anything that wasn’t measured in dollars had no place in their courts.

No where else had justice ideology shown its ugly face than in Ohio. Bush’s appointed federal courts there have overturned several appellate verdicts when the latter said convictions of criminals were unjust. The federal judges have repeatedly organized full court rehearing’s to overturn rulings by panels dominated by Democratic appointees. Laws that are very clear in their understanding are ignored by Bush appointees and other Republican judges. Boyce Martin, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, has complained in dissents, that the new majority takes great pains to “legalize unlawful police conduct” by overlooking it or wishes for the “expansion of police powers beyond what the Constitution allows”.

The latest attempt by the Ohio judges to bend the law was when they ruled that states were obligated to check voter registration lists against driver’s license databases and supply lists of mismatches to county workers. This was two weeks before the presidential election. Obviously, this was a slap in the face due to the fact that polls were leaning heavily toward Barack Obama. The Supreme Court overturned that ruling.

Under Bush, OSHA Mired In Inaction

John L. Henshaw (pictured here) was Bush’s first appointee to head up OSHA. john-l-henshawIn his first meeting with career officials in OSHA Henshaw told them that employers were OSHA’s real customers, not the nations’ workers. Then he spent his first two years withdrawing regulations that were not friendly to employers.

Henshaw’s past jobs was with several chemical firms. When he left OSHA in 2006, he was replaced with Edwin G. Foulke Jr., a lawyer and fundraiser for Bush. Foulke had spent years defending companies cited by OSHA for violations. During his tenure his biggest reputation was sleeping during meetings, briefings, and conferences. He even fell asleep during an interview. But he remembered his friends; he paid a lawyer friend nearly $600,000 over a two year period for “consultation”.

In 2001 an epidemiologist with OSHA wanted to publish a bulletin that would warn dental technicians of the dangers of grinding fillings that had beryllium alloys in them. One health study said just a single day’s exposure could lead to incurable lung disease. But political appointees in the department gave copies of the bulletin to a lobbying firm hired by the beryllium manufactures. The results were a huge watering down of the bulletin before it was issued. Career officials with OSHA said this was very common under the Bush administration, as political appointees ordered the withdrawal of dozens of regulations, and altered many more. Under Bush, OSHA issued 86% less warnings than the previous administration. Robert Harrison, chairman of the occupational health section of the American Public Health Association, said “The legacy of the Bush administration has been one of dismal inaction”.

Iraq War

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has criticized Bush for the way he has paid for the Iraqi War. They said Bush has paid for the war through giant emergency spending measures, then borrowing the money to pay for it, instead of going through the normal appropriations request. CSBA said the war is going to cost at least $1 trillion by the end of next year, and could grow as high as $1.7 trillion by 2018.

Guantanamo Bay Detainee

Shortly before they were required to hand over exculpatory evidence to the defense, Justice Department lawyers withdrew allegations that a detainee was connected to a “dirty bomb” plot in the United States. The courts seriously questioned if the allegations were ever true. The detainee had “disappeared” for 3 years while under detention.

In a related story, six other detainees have been held since 2002 who were accused of trying to blow up a US embassy in Sarajevo. In November 2008, when the detainees were scheduled for trial, the government suddenly dropped the charges related to the embassy and many other charges. The remaining charge is that the six were preparing to travel to Afghanistan to fight US forces.

The Senate Armed Services Committee recently issued a report that says top Bush administration officials, including Donald Rumsfeld, are responsible for the harsh treatment in Gitmo, and those decisions led to more serious abuses in Iraq and other places. The report accuses Rumsfeld and his deputies of being “the authors and chief promoters of harsh interrogation policies that disgraced the nation and undermined US security”. Republican John McCain, one of those that released the report, was the biggest critic of the action by the Bush administration.

Labor Department Accused of Straying From Enforcement

Under the Bush administration, the Labor Department has drastically strayed from enforcement of labor laws that require employers to treat workers fairly. The budget has shrunk every year since Bush has been in office. Instead of overseeing employers who may be straying from labor laws, the department has focused on labor unions, becoming aggressive in overseeing those organizations. New rules were put in place that requires more rigorous financial reports from unions. As such, the Bush administration has turned the Labor Department from a force that police’s employers to a force that polices unions.

Political Appointees Being Hired As Career Employees

Bush appointees are bypassing regulations which call for new positions to be awarded on a competitive basis, and are being given permanent jobs as career employees. The American Federation of Government Employees is protesting the action. Naturally, with the AFGE being something liking to a union, the Bush administration is ignoring them. But the AFGE is saying that these political appointees are being placed in senior executive positions that they are not qualified for.

One example is appointees getting jobs administering scientific policies without having any scientific training or any background knowledge of science. Todd Harding, age 30, a political appointee at the Energy Department is getting hired by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He will be working on a space-based science using satellites for geostationary and meteorological data. His bachelor’s degree is in government and he chaired the Kentucky Federation of College Republicans at Kentucky’s Centre College where he got his degree.

Two other political appointees who were involved in controversial environmental decisions were awarded senior civil service jobs.

Democrats Tell White House to Preserve Records

With the reputation the Bush and Cheney offices has for “loosing” emails and records, the Senate Democrats on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees formally told the White House to preserve all records produced by the Bush administration, and they expressed particular concerns whether or not Dick Cheney’s office will comply with the law. Both are required by federal law to turn over all records. The White House has already “lost” hundreds of thousands of emails, and Congress is concerned they may “loose” more.

You may remember that in 2003 Cheney said his office was not held to the 1978 law that require all records to be turned over to the Archives at the end of the term. Then in 2007 the Democrats threatened to defund the Cheney office if Cheney didn’t comply with the law. Cheney reluctantly complied, or at least they think he did. So Cheney tried to find a way around that by having meetings at his personal residence. And in 2006 he told the Secret Service that visitor records for the vice president’s personal residence are and shall remain subject to the exclusive ownership, custody and control of the office of the vice president.

The biggest fear Bush & Cheney have is the public will find out about their deliberations and interactions with outside groups. Not that they are worried about prosecution or anything like that (they have too many powerful friends to worry about that), it just that they don’t want any confirmation that they have both lied to the public on who they catered too over the past 8 years. The public already knows that, it’s just there is no written documentation. The documents could also show that Cheney had a lot of influence over Bush and Bush’s policy decisions.

White House Visitors Logs

On January 9, 2009 federal judge Royce C. Lamberth rejected the Bush administration’s attempt to keep White House visitors secret. He further declared that the government illegally deleted Secret Service computer records as far back as 2001.

In 2006, after the Jack Abramoff scandal, the White House and the Secret Service secretly signed an agreement that said the White House logs are not open to the public. They felt this agreement was necessary because of an order in 2004 that prohibited the Secret Service from deleting any records on their computers that had been transferred to the White House.

Oil & Gas Drilling

Over the past 8 years there have been 35,000 new drilling permits issued for public lands as a result of Bush policies. Some of these permits were issued on lands deemed “special” because of their beauty or fragility. More drilling rigs are operating inside the United States than in the rest of the world combined.

Bush Rule Changes

When he became President, George Bush immediately reversed almost all of President Bill Clinton’s rule changes made during the last few months of Clinton’s tenure that had not yet taken effect. There were 254 rules withdrawn or modified to reflect Republican ideology. The Republican-controlled Congress had passed a law in 1996 that allowed them to review and eliminate any Clinton rule they didn’t like. On the day of Bush’s inauguration, Andrew Card, White House chief of staff issued an order blocking Clinton regulations that hadn’t taken effect. There were ninety (90) of them. Learning from his own underhandedness, Bush wanted to get all his rule changes completed and into effect before he left office. A letter was sent out to all agencies that said all requested rules should be in by June 1, 2008 so the rules could be issued by November 1, 2008, thus avoiding the “midnight regulations” run. Unfortunately, for the Bush administration, the law they passed back in 1996 falls under one of my personal quotes; “be careful of the rules you make, you may have to live by them”.

During the month of November, Bush approved 61 new regulations on environment, security, social and commercial matters. White House estimates say that these rules economic impact will exceed $1.9 billion annually. Many of these rules will benefit key industries such as oil & gas companies, banks, and farms. Most rules were deliberately left ambiguous in order to give Bush’s appointees broad discretion to follow their own policy preferences.

One of the rules from November not quite finished at that time will prohibit Congress from halting logging, mining, and oil & gas extraction on public land. Another will allow federal agencies to proceed with development projects without undergoing independent scientific review under the Endangered Species Act.

Take a look at some of Bush’s “successes” during his last 90 days.

  • On December 18, 2008 Bush granted sweeping new protection to health workers who refused to provide care that violated their personal beliefs. The new regulation will cut off funding to any state or local government, hospital, health plan, clinic or any entity that does not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacist, and other employees who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable.
  • On December 2, 2008 Bush finalized the rules that will make it easy for mountaintop mining companies to dump their waste near rivers and streams, something that has been prohibited for 25 years. Just a few days afterwards, although not related to this rule change, the Tennessee Valley Authority accidentally dumped more than a billion gallons of coal ash sludge in rivers and drinking water. The sludge contained high levels of arsenic and seven other toxic chemicals ranging up to 300 times higher that what is considered safe for drinking water. Of interesting note, coal ash ponds are subject to less regulation than landfills accepting household trash, even though the industry’s own estimates show that ash ponds contain tens of thousands of pounds of toxic heavy metals.
  • In early January, the Bush administration started pushing through a change in the US Forest Service that would make it easier for mountain forests to be converted to housing subdivisions. Mark E. Rey, a former timber lobbyist heads the Forest Service. He’s Bush’s man who will push the changes through to completion before January 20th. The change will allow Plum Creek Timber Company to pave roads through Forest Service land.
  • In November the Bush administration finalized new air quality rules that will make it easier to build coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and other major polluters near national parks and wilderness areas. The majority of the EPA’s regional administrators, most who are political appointees, formally criticized the action in writing. Then in December, the EPA suddenly abandoned the attempt to follow through on the Bush initiative. No real explanation was offered, except they were abiding by an order against “midnight regulations”. But the real reason was that they probably knew the Obama administration would reverse the rule as soon as he was in office.

The incoming Obama administration knows they will have their hands full trying to erase some of Bush’s rules. Their focus will be with the EPA and Interior Department, the two places that Bush’s rule changes will have the most devastating effect if not corrected, primarily environmental effects. Obama will need to shore up their budgets; budgets that have been cut under the Bush administration. Frank O’Donnell, who heads Clean Air Watch, said “the Bush administration has cut so many special deals for industry that it could be a Herculean effort reversing them all. The new team is going to have to muck out the regulatory stables”.

Some Other Bush “Midnight Regulations” (A few were just attempts)

Bush had a list of about 130 rules he wanted to get completed before he left office. The following are just a few more.

  • End a ban on carrying loaded guns in national parks.
  • A plan that would make it harder for women to get federally funded reproductive health care.
  • A proposal that would change the way Labor Department regulators assesses risk for jobs, especially those that expose workers to chemicals.
  • Drastically reducing disability rights.
  • Tighter controls on Medicaid reimbursements.
  • Extending the rules on how long a truck driver could be on the road.
  • 60 rules were put in place that will make it impossible to sue in state courts for negligence on the part of manufactures.

Good riddance to a terrible President. Unfortunately, the country, our citizens, and, for that matter, many in the rest of the world, will be paying for his arrogant, miss-managed, selfish, and partisan tenure for more than a hundred years.


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