In case anyone forgot, George W. Bush is still president.
The two and a half months between the election and the inaugural provide the most unpopular president and vice-president in the last half-century with plenty of opportunities to conduct all sorts of unaccountable mischief, and there is little anyone can do about it. Setting aside for a moment Bush's regular exercises in unconstitutional presidential actions, the machinery of the federal government that can be run by executive orders and regulations is a playground for last-minute skullduggery.
Just last week The Washington Post pointed out how the Bush administration has been busy chugging out new regulations favoring corporate interests over the environment. One new rule would take the responsibility for environmental impact statements away from the National Marine Fisheries Service and give it to regional councils co-opted by commercial fishing interests. There are new rules that would let energy producers put out more pollution because of eased regulations on power plants. The Post article says that according to an estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency, "it would allow millions of tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, worsening global warming."
In July, the Bush Labor Department was pushing for changes that would loosen regulations on limiting workers exposure to chemicals and poisonous substances. Instead of going through the standard (and required) methodology of announcing the proposed changes in public notices, the department only posted a cryptic item on its web site, and never publicized the actual text of the rule change. The Post managed to snag a copy through sources.
These last-minute rule changes lock in policy prescriptions that will, in effect, provide gifts that keep on giving well into the next administration, and in some cases, positively affect profit margins for the administration's corporate fat-cat friends.
Just last week, as the McClatchy newspaper service reported, the EPA weakened a rule on airborne lead standards, allowing more polluters to get away without being monitored by the government. Between the last-minute fiddles and the policy of killing reports that might produce negative publicity, we could be finding out the harmful effects of Bush's actions long after he returns to Crawford, Texas.
Over the last eight years, the troubles the Bushies have had with reality showing a pronounced liberal bias have been handled in a standard fashion: When the news is projected to be bad, simply cancel the news. The administration has a long history of selectively editing or silencing official documents that contradict their stated goals.
In 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics canceled a monthly report that listed factory closings. In a year before a presidential election, it silenced a potential avenue of criticism during a time when the president and his allies wanted to reflect nothing but good news about the American manufacturing industry. That same year the Office of Management and Budget killed the annual report that detailed exactly what federal funding went to each state under every federal program. Canning the publication allowed the administration to sneak through cuts in programs with less negative publicity. It trash-canned a report that predicted a future of chronic deficits while at the same time pushing for more tax cuts. The report was ditched right after the man who commissioned it, Paul O'Neill, was shown the door at the Treasury Department.
A 19-year-old report that detailed international acts of terrorism was given the axe in 2005 after the discovery that there were more terrorists acts the year before than in any year since 1985, the year the document was first published. This of course ran contrary to the administration's arguments that the United States was "winning" the so-called "war or terror" and the unproven assertion that Bush's actions as president have been responsible for no more attacks on the United States since Sept. 11.
On top of that, we also have the final piece de resistance to look forward to: the holiday parade of pardons. Over his two terms, Bush has been far stingier with pardons than any other president in the last 30 years, but this is the year where all of his cronies could be getting presidential presents. Just think--who doesn't believe that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby will get a full pardon (after his jail term has already been commuted) for lying to Congress? Former congressman Tom DeLay still has charges hanging over his head in Texas; he could be getting a "thank you for your service" gift with a pardon attached to the bottom. Randy "Duke" Cunningham could get a "get out of jail free" card. Newly convicted Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska might not even see the inside of a jail cell if his pal at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. puts his signature on the bottom of the right piece of paper.
There's still lots of things Bush can do before he packs up and leaves. He may be forgotten, but ol' George W. is certainly not gone just yet.
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