Monday, December 08, 2008

Bush is securing his legacy of disaster

NOT HOME YET: The Terrible Carnage of Bush's Final Days

Bush is going out as he came in, acting aggressively and recklessly in the absence of any support from the people. In 2000, he came to office after losing the popular vote, but behaved as if the country had handed him a resounding conservative mandate. Rather than ruling from the center of a deeply divided nation, he placed his throne to the far right, driving the country even further apart. In 2004, he squeaked by with a contested count in Ohio, reminiscent of Florida 2000. He won only the narrowest of victories with less than a majority of the vote, but continued on as if he had a vote of confidence, ignoring the growing pressure of voter discontent. Now, after the election of Barack Obama, in which the American voters have spoken clearly, Bush has turned a deaf ear to the ringing cry for change.

Subverting the will of the people, our lame duck president is hell-bent on institutionalizing his far-right-wing agenda, so clearly repudiated in the last election. He is doing so through an extensive series of rules changes, the Executive Branch version of passing legislation. With typical disdain for the law, Bush has twisted to his own purpose the process of modifying the Federal Register to force through as many changes as possible in his waning weeks. Federal standards require at least a 60 day notification period for any "significant" rules changes that would carry an economic cost of more than $100 million, while lesser changes require only 30 days. In a self-serving monomaniacal power grab, Bush has simply declared that the distinction is "irrelevant" to him, giving him the shorter window at his whim.

His minions are working furiously with reckless abandon to ensure that the new rules will all take effect before the magic day of January 20. In an unprecedented flurry, Bush has pushed 53 such rules changes through the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in just the last few weeks of his Administration. We are witnessing an orgy of changes that will severely tie the hands of his successor and bypass the Congress. Bush has blithely ignored the change demanded by the electorate.

These are not benign or trivial changes to the nation's rules and regulations. Have no doubt that Bush's assault on the Federal Register threatens our civil liberties, limits a woman's right to choose her own reproductive destiny, attacks the environment and endangers the planet. Just a cursory overview will highlight the extent of the damage.

• The Department of Justice has proposed a rule that would give state and local police more authority to collect intelligence on American citizens on the basis of nothing but "reasonable suspicion" that the target "might" be engaged in criminal activity. The rule does not define reasonable suspicion or who would have the authority to designate a suspect of being suspicious.

• The Department of Health and Human Services leaked a rule that would classify oral contraception as a form of abortion.

• Bush will narrow the scope of services that can be provided to poor people under Medicaid's outpatient hospital benefit.

• Bush has changed how the government calculates occupational risks with the goal of downplaying their severity; the rule also hampers the government's ability to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job.

• Bush will accelerate oil shale development by weakening environmental standards across more than 2 million acres of public land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

• He will auction drilling rights for lands contiguous to national parks, allow mining wastes to be dumped into rivers and streams, and exempt factory farms from critical environmental regulations.

• He has weakened air pollution standards for mercury and lead, abandoned the Endangered Species Act, and let loose gun-toting weekend warriors in our national forests.

Let us look at a few of these rule changes in more detail to get a sense of how much damage Bush has done.

Rambo Meets Smokey the Bear

The most recent in this flurry of rules changes came on December 5, when Bush overturned a 25-year-old federal restriction on carrying loaded guns in national parks. Thank goodness he is focusing on the important issues plaguing our country.

The new rule allows national park visitors to carry concealed hand guns, not to mention loaded shotguns and rifles. Ronald Reagan is simply not conservative enough for Bush and his friends at the National Rifle Association, because the original weapons ban was proposed and implemented by none other than the cowboy hero of the right. Reagan imposed rules that only allowed unloaded guns secured in a trunk or truck bed to pass through the park, with the idea of allowing hunters to transit to hunting grounds outside the park.

Bush now comes to the rescue for all those living in fear that criminals are lurking behind every tree in our protected forests. Other than pleasing the NRA, this rule change has no justification. NRA lobbyist Chris Cox claims that families need loaded handguns for protection while enjoying nature's bounty. Chris conveniently ignores the fact that the lowest crime rates in the United State are found in our national parks. Introducing loaded guns will have no impact other than to create a new threat to visitors, park officials and unsuspecting wildlife like killer raccoons and vicious attack squirrels.

Smokey Mountains -- Literally

Weekend Rambos are not the only danger to our national parks. Bush is oddly offended by clean air and clear vistas in our nation's protected forests. So much so that Bush has proposed a rules change on behalf of dirty air by modifying how air pollution is measured in America's iconic wilderness areas. Existing rules logically seek to ensure that national parks provide visitors with the cleanest air by imposing the strictest safeguards against pollution. But the change would allow coal-fired power plants to be built adjacent to parks, ignoring the impact of smog and haze. Apparently Bush pines for an urban experience when visiting woodlands.

The new rules would also allow 17,000 existing power plants to dump pollutants into the air with abandon. While the relaxed pollution standard was proposed by EPA political hacks under White House direction, many of that organization's own scientists opposed the change. Such opposition is understandable, because this action would undermine a key component of the Clean Air Act, recognized globally as one of the most successful pieces of environmental legislation ever enacted.

The details of this rules change are worth examining because they expose Bush's deep disdain for the law and for the people. Under the original law, existing power plants at the time of enactment were exempted until the time the plant did any major upgrade. Routine maintenance was excluded. But Bush has cynically redefined "routine maintenance" in a way that intentionally guts the law, allowing a plant to virtually rebuild without meeting modern pollution standards.

The result of this rules change will be an additional 34 tons of mercury dumped into the air by 2010, an amount 6 times what would have been emitted under enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Bush's approach to mercury is particularly sad because economically viable technologies exist to reduce mercury pollution by 90%. Bush will not be satisfied until we have dense smog that offers each of us air we can taste. His legacy will linger for generations in the haze of toxic smog blanketing our once-pristine forests.

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Species

In perhaps his greatest act of destruction, Bush has gutted the Endangered Species Act by imposing the most significant changes since 1986 to the regulations protecting animals and plants threatened with extinction. He did so while ignoring more than 200,000 overwhelmingly negative comments on the proposed change. Now, with no care for public or scientific concerns, Bush will exclude from consideration the emission of greenhouse gases when evaluating if a species could be harmed by a new project. A double blow to wildlife and climate change.

Bush will also now exclude advice from his own government biologists who evaluate the impact of federal projects, such as dams, on endangered species. Bush is silencing the scientists hired specifically to do the job the Administration is now undermining. This is an amazing admission that if facts are inconvenient to Bush's faith-based objectives, then those facts will be ignored. No other president has ever sought to silence his own scientists because he did not like the answers yielded by the natural world. But for Bush, if reality proves tiresome he simply changes the rules.

As if eight long years of hell under Bush were not enough, we now have to suffer this accelerated push to destroy our future in the last days of his reign of terror. Bush's utter disdain for the inconveniences of democracy has never been clearer. In his final backdoor assault on reason, logic, science and the rule of law, Bush has secured his legacy as the nation's worst president ever.