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History > 2008 > USA > Politics > President George W. Bush (VI)





Gary Brookins



The Richmond Times-Dispatch


29 December 2008


L: President George W. Bush
















John Sherffius

Boulder Daily Camera        Cagle        26 December 2008

















Ed Stein

The Rocky Mountain News, Colorado        Cagle        18 December 2008
















Steve Sack

Minnesota        The Minneapolis Star-Tribune        Cagle        13.11.2008


L to R:

The White House, vice-president Dick Cheney, president George W. Bush.


Context: Barack Obama's new puppy.















Obama Defers to Bush,

for Now, on Gaza Crisis


December 29, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — When President-elect Barack Obama went to Israel in July — to the very town, in fact, whose repeated shelling culminated in this weekend’s new fighting in Gaza — he all but endorsed the punishing Israeli attacks now unfolding.

“If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” he told reporters in Sderot, a small city on the edge of Gaza that has been hit repeatedly by rocket fire. “And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Now, Mr. Obama’s presidency will begin facing the consequences of just such a counterattack, one of Israel’s deadliest against Palestinians in decades, presenting him with yet another foreign crisis to deal with the moment he steps into the White House on Jan. 20, even as he and his advisers have struggled mightily to focus on the country’s economic problems.

Since his election, Mr. Obama has said little specific about his foreign policy — in contrast to more expansive remarks about the economy. He and his advisers have deferred questions — critics could say, ducked them — by saying that until Jan. 20, only President Bush would speak for the nation as president and commander in chief. “The fact is that there is only one president at a time,” David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, reiterating a phrase that has become a mantra of the transition. “And that president now is George Bush.”

Mr. Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, talked to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday. “But the Bush administration has to speak for America now,” Mr. Axelrod said. “And it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to opine on these matters.” As the fighting in Gaza shows, however, events in the world do not necessarily wait for Inauguration Day in the United States.

Even before the conflict flared again, India and Pakistan announced troop movements that have raised fears of a military confrontation following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. North Korea scuttled a final agreement on verifying its nuclear dismantlement earlier this month, while Iran continues to stall the international effort to stop its nuclear programs. And there are still two American wars churning in Iraq and Afghanistan. All demand his immediate attention.

Mr. Obama’s election has raised expectations, among allies and enemies alike, that new American policies are forthcoming, putting more pressure on him to signal more quickly what he intends to do. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, Mr. Obama has not suggested he has any better ideas than President Bush had to resolve the existential conflict between the Israelis and Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza.

“What this does is present the incoming administration with the urgency of a crisis without the capacity to do much about it,” said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington and author of “The Much Too Promised Land,” a history of the Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. “That’s the worst outcome of what’s happening right now.”

The renewed fighting — and the international condemnation of the scope of Israel’s response — has dashed already limited hopes for quick progress on the peace process that Mr. Bush began in Annapolis, Md., in November 2007. The omission of Hamas from any talks between the Israelis and President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls only the West Bank, had always been a landmine that risked blowing up a difficult and delicate peace process, but so have Israel’s own internal political divisions.

Mr. Obama might have little to gain from setting out an ambitious agenda for an issue as intractable as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But the conflict in Gaza, like the building tensions between India and Pakistan, suggests that he may have no choice. “You can ignore it, you can put it on the back burner, but it will always come up to bite you,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a former Palestinian peace negotiator.

For Mr. Obama, the conundrum is particularly intense since he won election in part on promises of restoring America’s image around the world. He will assume office with high expectations, particularly among Muslims around the world, that he will make an effort at dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Early on as a candidate, Mr. Obama suggested that he did not necessarily oppose negotiations with groups like Hamas, though he spent much of the campaign retreating from that position under fire from critics.

By the time he arrived in Israel in July, he suggested he would not even consider talks without a fundamental shift in Hamas and its behavior, effectively moving his policy much closer to President Bush’s. “In terms of negotiations with Hamas, it is very hard to negotiate with a group that is not representative of a nation-state, does not recognize your right to exist, has consistently used terror as a weapon, and is deeply influenced by other countries,” he said then.

Mr. Obama received an intelligence briefing on Sunday and planned to talk late on Sunday to his nominee for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and his choice as national security adviser, James L. Jones, according to a spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson.

One option would be for an Obama administration to respond much more harshly to Israel’s policies, from settlements to strikes like those this weekend, as many in the Arab world and beyond have long urged. On Sunday, though, Mr. Axelrod said the president-elect stood by the remarks he made in the summer and, when asked, noted the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel.

Otherwise, Mr. Obama could try to pressure surrogates to lean on Hamas, including Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza. He can try to build international pressure on Hamas to stop the rocket attacks into Israel. He can try to nurture a peace between Israel and Mr. Abbas on the West Bank, hoping that somehow it spreads to Hamas. All have been tried, and all have failed to avoid new fighting.

“The reality is, what options do we have?” Mr. Miller said.

Jackie Calmes contributed reporting from Honolulu.

Obama Defers to Bush, for Now, on Gaza Crisis, NYT, 29.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/29/washington/29diplo.html






Expansion of Clinics

Shapes a Bush Legacy


December 26, 2008
The New York Times


NASHVILLE — Although the number of uninsured and the cost of coverage have ballooned under his watch, President Bush leaves office with a health care legacy in bricks and mortar: he has doubled federal financing for community health centers, enabling the creation or expansion of 1,297 clinics in medically underserved areas.

For those in poor urban neighborhoods and isolated rural areas, including Indian reservations, the clinics are often the only dependable providers of basic services like prenatal care, childhood immunizations, asthma treatments, cancer screenings and tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

As a crucial component of the health safety net, they are lauded as a cost-effective alternative to hospital emergency rooms, where the uninsured and underinsured often seek care.

Despite the clinics’ unprecedented growth, wide swaths of the country remain without access to affordable primary care. The recession has only magnified the need as hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance along with their jobs.

In response, Democrats on Capitol Hill are proposing even more significant increases, making the centers a likely feature of any health care deal struck by Congress and the Obama administration.

In Nashville, United Neighborhood Health Services, a 32-year-old community health center, has seen its federal financing rise to $4.2 million, from $1.8 million in 2001. That has allowed the organization to add eight clinics to its base of six, and to increase its pool of patients to nearly 25,000 from 10,000.

Still, says Mary Bufwack, the center’s chief executive, the clinics satisfy only a third of the demand in Nashville’s pockets of urban poverty and immigrant need.

One of the group’s recent grants helped open the Southside Family Clinic, which moved last year from a pair of public housing apartments to a gleaming new building on a once derelict corner.

As she completed a breathing treatment one recent afternoon, Willie Mai Ridley, a 68-year-old beautician, said she would have sought care for her bronchitis in a hospital emergency room were it not for the new clinic. Instead, she took a short drive, waited 15 minutes without an appointment and left without paying a dime; the clinic would bill her later for her Medicare co-payment of $18.88.

Ms. Ridley said she appreciated both the dignity and the affordability of her care. “This place is really very, very important to me,” she said, “because you can go and feel like you’re being treated like a person and get the same medical care you would get somewhere else and have to pay $200 to $300.”

As governor of Texas, Mr. Bush came to admire the missionary zeal and cost-efficiency of the not-for-profit community health centers, which qualify for federal operating grants by being located in designated underserved areas and treating patients regardless of their ability to pay. He pledged support for the program while campaigning for president in 2000 on a platform of “compassionate conservatism.”

In Mr. Bush’s first year in office, he proposed to open or expand 1,200 clinics over five years (mission accomplished) and to double the number of patients served (the increase has ended up closer to 60 percent). With the health centers now serving more than 16 million patients at 7,354 sites, the expansion has been the largest since the program’s origins in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty, federal officials said.

“They’re an integral part of a health care system because they provide care for the low-income, for the newly arrived, and they take the pressure off of our hospital emergency rooms,” Mr. Bush said last year while touring a clinic in Omaha.

With federal encouragement, the centers have made a major push this decade to expand dental and mental health services, open on-site pharmacies, extend hours to nights and weekends and accommodate recent immigrants — legal and otherwise — by employing bilingual staff. More than a third of patients are now Hispanic, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers.

The centers now serve one of every three people who live in poverty and one of every eight without insurance. But a study released in August by the Government Accountability Office found that 43 percent of the country’s medically underserved areas lack a health center site. The National Association of Community Health Centers and the American Academy of Family Physicians estimated last year that 56 million people were “medically disenfranchised” because they lived in areas with inadequate primary care.

President-elect Barack Obama has said little about how the centers may fit into his plans to remake American health care. But he was a sponsor of a Senate bill in August that would quadruple federal spending on the program — to $8 billion from $2.1 billion — and increase incentives for medical students to choose primary care. His wife, Michelle, worked closely with health centers in Chicago as vice president for community and external relations at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

And Mr. Obama’s choice to become secretary of health and human services, former Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, argues in his recent book on health care that financing should be increased, describing the health centers as “a godsend.”

The federal program, which was first championed in Congress by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, has earned considerable bipartisan support. Leading advocates, like Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, and Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, the House majority whip, argue that any success Mr. Obama has in reducing the number of uninsured will be meaningless if the newly insured cannot find medical homes. In Massachusetts, health centers have seen increased demand since the state began mandating health coverage two years ago.

At $8 billion, the Senate measure may be considered a relative bargain compared with the more than $100 billion needed for Mr. Obama’s proposal to subsidize coverage for the uninsured. If his plan runs into fiscal obstacles, a vast expansion of community health centers may again serve as a stopgap while universal coverage waits for flusher times.

Recent job losses, meanwhile, are stoking demand for the clinics’ services, often from first-time users. The United Neighborhood Health Services clinics in Nashville have seen a 35 percent increase in patients this year, with much of the growth from the newly jobless.

“I’m seeing a lot of professionals that no longer have their insurance or they’re laid off from their jobs,” said Dr. Marshelya D. Wilson, a physician at the center’s Cayce clinic. “So they come here and get their health care.”

Studies have generally shown that the health centers — which must be governed by patient-dominated boards — are effective at reducing racial and ethnic disparities in medical treatment and save substantial sums by keeping patients out of hospitals. Their trade association estimates that they save the health care system $17.6 billion a year, and that an equivalent amount could be saved if avoidable emergency room visits were diverted to clinics. Some centers, including here in Nashville, have brokered agreements with hospitals to do exactly that.

Many centers are finding that federal support is not keeping pace with the growing cost of treating the uninsured. Government grants now account for 19 percent of community health center revenues, compared with 22 percent in 2001, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration, which oversees the program. The largest revenue sources are public insurance plans like Medicaid, Medicare and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, making the centers vulnerable to government belt-tightening.

The centers are known for their efficiency. Though United Neighborhood Health Services has more than doubled in size this decade, Ms. Bufwack, its chief executive, manages to run five neighborhood clinics, five school clinics, a homeless clinic, two mobile clinics and a rural clinic, with 24,391 patients, on a budget of $8.1 million. Starting pay for her doctors is $120,000. Patients are charged on an income-based sliding scale, and the uninsured are expected to pay at least $20 for an office visit. One clinic is housed in a double-wide trailer.

Because of a nationwide shortage of primary care physicians, the clinics rely on federal programs like the National Health Service Corps that entice medical students with grants and loan write-offs in exchange for agreements to practice as generalists in underserved areas. Of the 16 doctors working for United Neighborhood, seven are current or former participants.

Dr. LaTonya D. Knott, 37, who treated Ms. Ridley for her bronchitis, is among them. Born to a 15-year-old mother in south Nashville, she herself had been a regular childhood patient at one of the center’s clinics. After graduating as her high school’s valedictorian, she went to college on scholarships and then to medical school on government grants, with an obligation to serve for two years.

She said she now felt a responsibility to be a role model. “I do a whole lot of social work,” she said, noting that it was not uncommon for children to drop by the clinic for help with homework, or for a peanut butter sandwich. “It’s not just that we provide the medical care. I’m trying to provide you with a future.”

Despite such commitment, national staffing shortages have reinforced concerns about the quality of care at health centers, notably the management of chronic diseases. This year, the government started collecting data at the centers on performance measures like cervical cancer screening and diabetes control.

“The question is not just, ‘Are you going to have more community health centers?’ ” said Dr. H. Jack Geiger, founder of the health centers movement and a professor emeritus at the City University of New York. “It’s, ‘Are you going to have adequate services?’ ”

A deeper frustration for health centers concerns their difficulty in securing follow-up appointments with specialists for patients who are uninsured or have Medicaid. All too often, said Ms. Bufwack, medical care ends at the clinic door, reinforcing the need to expand both primary care and health insurance coverage.

“That’s when our doctors feel they’re practicing third world medicine,” she said. “You will die if you have cancer or a heart condition or bad asthma or horrible diabetes. If you need a specialist and specialty tests and specialty meds and specialty surgery, those things are totally out of your reach.”

    Expansion of Clinics Shapes a Bush Legacy, NYT, 26.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/26/health/policy/26clinics.html






Bush Approves $17.4 Billion Auto Bailout


December 20, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Bush announced $13.4 billion in emergency loans on Friday to prevent the collapse of General Motors and Chrysler, and another $4 billion available for the hobbled automakers in February with the entire bailout conditioned on the companies undertaking sweeping reorganizations to show that they can return to profitability.

The loans, as G.M. and Chrysler teeter on the brink of insolvency, essentially throw the companies a lifeline from the taxpayers that will keep them afloat until March 31. At that point, the Obama administration will determine if the automakers are meeting the conditions of the loans and will continue to receive government aid or must repay the loans and face bankruptcy.

The money to aid the automakers will come from the Treasury’s $700 billion financial stabilization fund and shortly after Mr. Bush’s announcement, the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., who will oversee the aid to the auto industry, said Congress would need to release the second $350 billion for that program in short order.

By law, once Mr. Paulson makes a formal request, Congress has 15 days to reject it and deny the additional money. It was unclear when that request would be sent or if lawmakers who have left Washington for the holidays, would return to debate it. The administration’s handling of the program has come under sharp criticism and several lawmakers in both parties have suggested they would oppose the release of more money.

Mr. Bush made his announcement a week after Senate Republicans blocked legislation to aid the automakers that had been negotiated by the White House and Congressional Democrats, and the loan package announced by the president includes roughly identical requirements in that bill, which had been approved by the House.

Mr. Bush, in a televised speech before the opening of the markets, said that under other circumstances he would have let the companies fail, a consequence of their bad business decisions. But given the recession, he said the government had no choice but to step in.

“These are not ordinary circumstances,” Mr. Bush said. “In the midst of a financial crisis and a recession, allowing the U.S. auto industry to collapse is not a responsible course of action.”

He said that bankruptcy was not a workable alternative. “Chapter 11 is unlikely to work for the American automakers at this time,” Mr. Bush said.

The loan deal requires the companies to quickly reduce their debt by two-thirds, mostly through debt-for-equity swaps, and to reach an agreement with the United Auto Workers union to cut wages and benefits so they are competitive with those of employees of foreign-based automakers in the United States.

The debt reduction and the cuts in wages were central components of proposal by Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, who tried to broker a last-minute deal. Those talks had deadlocked on a demand by Republicans that the wage cuts take effect by a set date in 2009, while the union had pressed for a deadline in 2011.

The plan announced on Friday offered a compromise between the positions, by making the requirements non-binding and allowing the automakers to reach different arrangements with the union, provided that they explain how those alternative plans will keep them on a path toward financial viability.

To gain access to the loans, G.M. and Chrysler must agree to a range of concessions, including limits on executive pay and the elimination of private corporate jets.

Under the plan, Mr. Bush essentially handed off to President-elect Barack Obama what will become one of the first, most difficult calls of his presidency: a political and economic judgment about whether G.M. and Chrysler are financially viable. Ford is not seeking immediate government help.

If, by March 31, Chrysler and G.M. cannot meet that standard — and clearly they could not meet it today — the $13.5 billion in Treasury loans would be “called” for immediate repayment, with the government placed in priority, ahead of all other creditors.

In effect, the White House has required the auto companies to cut the equivalent of $13.5 billion in costs within three months, in order to repay the federal money and receive another infusion of capital that will keep them operating for the rest of the year outside of bankruptcy protection, or else providing financing while they reorganize in bankruptcy.

That is an enormous amount of savings to find in such a short period, industry analysts said, especially given the bleak conditions under which the companies are operating. Auto sales are the worst since the early 1980s, and there has been no sign that banks or the car companies’ financing arms would loosen tight restrictions on loans.

However, the car companies have already retained bankruptcy and restructuring advisers, who have been providing regular updates to board members on the steps the automakers would be required to take under a number of possibilities.

To avoid that fate, the companies will need to complete negotiations with the unions, the creditors, the suppliers and the dealers by March 31. Any judgment on the accords they reach with those groups will inevitably be both economic and political.

President-elect Barack Obama, in a statement, praised Mr. Bush’s action and warned the automakers not to blow their chance at achieving financial stability.

“Today’s actions are a necessary step to help avoid a collapse in our auto industry that would have devastating consequences for our economy and our workers,” Mr. Obama said. “The auto companies must not squander this chance to reform bad management practices and begin the long-term restructuring that is absolutely required to save this critical industry and the millions of American jobs that depend on it.”

Mr. Obama and his economic team will have to make a convincing, public case that the wage cuts, plant closings and creditor agreements so change the landscape of the industry that the carmakers can turn profitable in short order.

But Mr. Obama will be under tremendous political pressure as well. If his new team concludes that the automakers have not struck the right deals, it would mean a move to bankruptcy court, and probably widespread layoffs that would ripple far beyond the companies themselves.

Mr. Obama was elected partly with the support of the unions, who liked his talk of protecting jobs by renegotiating trade agreements. Now, in his first months, he will be asking them to give back gains they have negotiated over decades.

Because the bailout legislation failed in Congress, administration officials said that the loan package would essentially take the form of a contract between the government and the automakers. Officials said they expected the agreements would be signed by the end of the day.

In recent days, G.M. and Chrysler have found themselves in an increasingly precarious financial position, with some industry experts predicting that they could not survive through the month without government aid.

Both companies have announced drastic cutbacks, including an extension of the normal holiday-season idling of factories, with some operations to be suspended for a month or more. Other automakers, including Honda and Ford, have announced cutbacks in production as the entire industry deals with the economic downturn and a plunging demand for cars among consumers.

Ford, which is in better financial condition that G.M. and Chrysler, has said that it does not intend to tap the emergency government aid.

Ford, in a statement, applauded the move by the White House.

“All of us at Ford appreciate the prudent step the administration has taken.” Ford’s chief executive, Alan Mulally said in a statement. “The U.S. auto industry is highly interdependent and a failure of one of our competitors would have a ripple effect that could jeopardize millions of jobs and further damage the already weakened U.S. economy.”

And while the legislation that was rejected by Congress would have created a new position within the executive branch to oversee the automakers, a so-called “car czar” Mr. Bush said on Friday that while he remains in office, the emergency loan program will be supervised by Mr. Paulson.

In a statement, G.M. reacted with a mixture of gratitude and relief.

“We appreciate the president extending a financial bridge at this most critical time for the U.S. auto industry and our nation’s economy,” Greg Martin, a company spokesman, said. “This action helps to preserve many jobs, and supports the continued operation of G.M. and the many suppliers, dealers and small businesses across the country that depend on us.”

In a statement to employees, Robert Nardelli, the chief executive of Chrysler, said the company would hold up its end of the bargain.

“The receipt of this loan means Chrysler can continue to pursue its vision to build the fuel-efficient, high-quality cars and trucks people want to buy, will enjoy driving and will want to buy again,” Mr. Nardelli said.

G.M. and Ford shares rose sharply after the opening and Mr. Bush’s announcement helped send the broader markets higher as well. Chrysler is not publicly traded.

The relief of the auto companies was matched by quick criticism from angry lawmakers who said that Mr. Bush was making a mistake.

Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, who was a lead negotiator in devising the $700 billion financial bailout legislation back in the fall, warned that Mr. Bush had set a dangerous precedent by extending aid to a particular industry.

“These funds were not authorized by Congress for non-financial companies in distress, but were to be used to restore liquidity and stability in the overall financial system of the country and to help prevent fundamental systemic risks in the global marketplace,” Mr. Gregg said in a statement.

Others warned that the money will just be wasted on companies which are suffering not because of the recent economic downturn but because of decades of failed business decisions.

Mr. Bush chided Congress for failing to approve the auto rescue legislation, but he did not note that it was his fellow Republicans in the Senate who were responsible for scuttling the bill in what amounted to a sharp rebuke to the White House in the waning days of his administration.

The decision to use the stabilization fund was also a major turnabout for Mr. Bush, who for weeks had insisted that the Treasury program should not be used to help the automakers.

In the end, it was clear, however, that Mr. Bush did not want G.M. or Chrysler, both American icons, to go down on his watch.

Bill Vlasic and Micheline Maynard contributed reporting from Detroit.

    Bush Approves $17.4 Billion Auto Bailout, NYT, 20.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/20/business/20auto.html






Bush Makes Final Iraq Visit


December 15, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — President Bush flew to Iraq on Sunday, his fourth and final trip to highlight the recently completed security agreement between the United States and the country that occupied the bulk of his presidency and will to a large extent define his legacy.

But his appearance at a news conference here was interrupted by a man, apparently ajournalist, who leaped to his feet and threw one shoe at the president, who ducked and narrowly missed being struck. Chaos ensued. He threw a second shoe, which also narrowly missed Mr. Bush. The man was roughly 12 feet from the lecturn in the center of two rows ofchairs, about two feet from a pool of reporters. A scrum of security agents descended on the man and wrestled him, first to the floor and then out of the ornate room where the news conference was taking place. The president was uninjured and brushed off the incident. “All I can report is it is a size 10,” he said jokingly. An Iraqi accompanying the pool of reporters, colleague said the man had shouted, “This is a farewell kiss, dog.”

Bush’s arrival here during daylight hours had been one measure of progress; his first visit on Thanksgiving Day 2003 took place entirely at night.

As with previous visits — in November 2003, June 2006 and September 2007 — preparations for the visit were secretive and carried out with ruse. The White House schedule for Sunday had Mr. Bush attending the “Christmas in Washington” performance at the National Building Museum in downtown Washington. Instead, he left the White House by car on Saturday night, arriving at Andrews at 9 p.m. Air Force One remained inside its immaculate hangar until moments before taking off. A dozen journalists accompanying him were only told of the trip on Friday and allowed to tell only a superior and a spouse — and only in person.

Air Force One arrived in Baghdad at 4 p.m. after a 10-and-a-half-hour overnight flight from Andrews Air Force Base near Washington. It was Mr. Bush’s fourth visit to IraqOn arriving here, he met the two senior American officials, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Gen. Ray Odierno, on the tarmac. He met with Iraqi leaders and was expected to meet with American troops.

The president and his aides have touted the security agreement as a landmark in Iraq’s troubled history, one made possible by the dramatic drop in violence over the last year. They credit the large increase in American troops Mr. Bush ordered in 2007 for creating enough security to allow political progress to take root.

The new security agreements, which take effect on Jan. 1, replace the United Nations Security Council resolutions that authorized the presence of foreign troops in Iraq. Iraqi officials extracted significant concessions from the Bush administration over several months of hard bargaining, including a commitment to withdrawal all American forces by the end of 2011.

Mr. Bush’s national security advisor, Stephen J. Hadley, said the situation in Iraq today was “a pretty optimistic place,” a phrase that few would have credibly used even a year ago. He described the security agreement that will govern American military operations after the new year “a remarkable document.”

Referring to the Iraqi parliament’s contentious and lively debate leading up to a vote last month, Mr. Hadley added that the agreement was a public one: “I think the only one there is in the Arab world, and publicly debated and discussed in an elected parliament.”

There was an unmistakeable hint of triumphalism in Mr. Hadley’s remarks, as in Mr. Bush’s valedictory visit, even though the president is leaving office with the war very much unfinished.

”If you’ve been through 2005 and 2006,” Mr. Hadley told reporters en route to Baghdad, when asked whether the president was “feeling pretty good” about the situation here now, “it’s hard not to feel awfully good about 2008 and into 2009.”

After arriving at the airport, Mr Bush quickly flew into Baghdad itself aboard a military helicopter, under extraordinary security. The flight passed uneventfully, swooping low over neighborhoods along the once notorious airport road. He landed at Salam Palace, boarded a civilian S.U.V. and drove a short distance to an honor guard with Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani.

The president made brief remarks at the end of his meeting with Mr. Talabani and Iraq’s two vice presidents, Adil Abd al-Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi. The three comprise Iraq’s Presidency Council. The two leaders sat in arm chairs before their respective flags. Mr. Talabani spoke first, praising the president: “Thanks to him and his courageous leadership we are here now in this building.”

Mr. Bush then spoke, calling the security agreements “a reminder of our friendship and as a way forward to help the Iraqis realize the blessings of a free society.”

“The work hasn’t been easy,” he said, “but it’s been necessary.”

    Bush Makes Final Iraq Visit, NYT, 15.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/15/world/middleeast/15prexy.html?hp

    Related > http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2008/dec/15/bush-shoes-iraq






White House Memo

On His Way Out, Bush Leads Others In


December 7, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Word was leaking out that President Bush had bought a new house in Dallas, workers were building the inauguration stage for his successor right outside his front door and his top aides were helping the new guy to prepare to take over.

Still, on Tuesday alone, Mr. Bush hired 18 people “to serve in his administration,” a White House news release said.

The appointments and nominations mostly involved multiyear terms to small boards and commissions that most Americans have never heard about.

But they highlight both the vestiges of power Mr. Bush can still exercise to leave a lasting mark on government, and the external limits to that power that are, in large part, the result of eight bruising years of partisan warfare.

All told, Mr. Bush has made roughly 30 personnel moves since the November election, some in nominations that will require Senate approval, and others in direct appointments that will last well into President-elect Barack Obama’s term and beyond.

Yet, unlike some of the contentious, late regulatory moves by the president, none of the appointments, and reappointments, have raised a peep of protest from the Democrats, Mr. Obama, or even the liberal interest groups that have so closely monitored his personnel decisions.

In part, Mr. Bush’s ability to make confrontational or highly ideological appointments is somewhat limited by the Democratic-controlled Congress in ways his predecessors were not.

For instance, in late December 2000, President Bill Clinton got around a standoff with Republicans by appointing a federal judge, Roger L. Gregory, when Congress was in recess. (Under provisions set out in the Constitution, the recess appointees can stay in their positions without Senate confirmation until the end of the next session of Congress.) Eight years earlier, the first President George Bush used the Congressional recess to beat back a constitutional challenge from the United States Postal Service’s board of governors by appointing a longtime friend to sit on the board, tipping the balance of power in his favor. But the current president will have no such option: For the last year or so, the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, has sought to keep the Senate in session to prevent such appointments.

Even during holiday weeks, when most lawmakers have left Washington for their home districts, Mr. Reid has assigned a member to stay behind and gavel the empty chamber into session.

Proving that the intragovernmental bitterness is not fading with the end of Mr. Bush’s presidency, Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, said Mr. Bush had only himself to blame for Mr. Reid’s maneuver. “The only reason why we got into this situation was because of the complete unwillingness of the president to treat Congress as a co-equal branch of government,” he said.

Tony Fratto, a spokesman for Mr. Bush, said the president might have been inclined to make outgoing recess appointments were it not for Mr. Reid’s legislative blockade.

“Given the fact that the Senate was so intransigent on so many nominations, we certainly would have liked to have used the option of recess appointments,” Mr. Fratto said. “This process is broken, absolutely broken. The majority leader has taken it to the point of abuse.”

But there are some areas of cooperation that would preclude the need for recess appointments. Democratic leaders support the confirmation of Mr. Bush’s choice as the inspector general overseeing the allocation of money for the economic bailout plan, Neil M. Barofsky, a federal prosecutor from New York.

And a deal is in the works to confirm the four people Mr. Bush reappointed for six-year terms on the board of the Inter-American Foundation, which makes grants to businesses and organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Among them is Roger W. Wallace, a supporter and major fund-raiser for Mr. Bush.

There are also appointments that require no Congressional approval but have terms that run for years. None of those have created much of a stir, either.

Mr. Bush nominated six people for four-year terms on the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, which is charged with scientifically evaluating Department of Energy plans to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada — a plan Mr. Bush has supported and Mr. Obama has opposed. But the board’s members, while appointed by the president, are recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, and their recommendations are not binding. (If anybody was going to raise a flag on the appointments it would have been Mr. Reid, who represents Nevada and passionately opposes the Yucca plan; his office said it had no complaints on the matter.)

“We are apolitical,” said one of the people reappointed to the panel, Andrew C. Kadak, a professor at M.I.T. “Whoever is president, we are indifferent to that — we are attempting to see that the work that the D.O.E. is doing is technically correct and appropriate.”

On Dec. 2, Mr. Bush made seven appointments to the Commission to Study the Potential Creation of a National Museum of the American Latino. But the board of 23 is bipartisan in nature. And, given that the title of the commission includes the word “potential,” the appointments were met with a certain lack of urgency in the Capitol.

That same day, Mr. Bush appointed a longtime family friend and former business partner, Fred V. Malek, to the board of visitors of the United States Military Academy. Mr. Malek, who was a partner with Mr. Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball team, will serve for three years. A West Point graduate, he has donated generously to its campus; his appointment, like the others, provoked no complaint.

Mr. Fratto pointed out that Mr. Bush’s term is a full four years — not 3 years, 10 months and 4 days — and the president will not pull punches as he makes potentially still more appointments. “We actually do have not just the authority,” he said, “we have an obligation to do what we think is best for the country up until 11:59 a.m. on January 20.”

    On His Way Out, Bush Leads Others In, NYT, 7.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/washington/07memo.html?hp






Grass-Roots Effort Paves Path to a Pardon by Bush


November 30, 2008
The New York Times


For Leslie O. Collier, the operator of a 600-acre grain farm, it was not so much the felony conviction for killing two bald eagles that stung the most, and that stung plenty. It was the loss of his hunting rifles that went with it.

For his mother, June S. Collier, it was the pain of seeing her son’s name sullied in their town of roughly 5,000 people in southeastern Missouri, where the family had lived, farmed and hunted for four generations.

And for Lanie Black, a former Missouri state representative and a close family friend, it was the perceived injustice of the felony branding that prompted him to help Mr. Collier and his mother as they began, roughly a decade ago, to seek the ultimate redemption: a presidential pardon.

The effort proved successful last week, when Mr. Collier, 50, became one of 14 people to receive pardons from President Bush, one of the stingiest granters of them in modern history.

The presidential pardon — providing absolution to felons, often in the final days of a presidency — is as American a tradition as Thanksgiving. The framers of the Constitution established presidential pardon power to help a president spread goodwill, particularly at crucial moments after insurrection or rebellion.

Public attention has usually focused on the more celebrated or disputed cases, like George Washington’s pardons for the participants of the armed Whiskey Rebellion against high liquor taxes in 1795; Gerald R. Ford’s preemptive pardon of Richard M. Nixon in 1974; and Bill Clinton’s pardon in 2001 of the fugitive financier Marc Rich, whose former wife was a major contributor to his presidential library.

Public speculation on the expected next round of pardons from Mr. Bush has mostly focused on Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., and other administration officials involved in challenged policies like the domestic wiretapping program, or former Representative Randy Cunningham of California, who was convicted of fraud.

But in recent history, the list of those who have received pardons has been dominated less by convicts with connections to the upper echelons of American power than by people of modest means in the heartland — an odometer cheat from Mississippi; a bootlegger from Tennessee; Mr. Collier — whose relatively minor crimes ultimately led them to be labeled felons.

For most of them, it is a leap of faith to file an application with the pardon attorney’s office at the Justice Department, which culls through thousands of requests before making recommendations to the president that he is under no obligation to follow.

And in the case of Mr. Collier, who had no high-level Washington connections of his own, and who had never given a federal political donation, it was a matter of “just plain folks pursuing the path,” Mrs. Collier said in an interview last week.

“The goal for me was to have his name cleared,” she added, still tearful days after the pardon was granted.

Mr. Collier’s crime was unlikely and, he said in an interview, unintended. While hunting, he began noticing the reappearance of wild turkeys, decades after they were believed to have died away. But he feared that a pack of coyotes in the area would not give them a chance to breed. “I got it in my head that if we got rid of the coyotes, the turkeys would get off to a better start,” Mr. Collier said. So he laid a trap of ground beef laced with the pesticide Furadan, which, under federal law, may not be used as animal poison.

Seven coyotes died after eating the beef. But several other animals fed on their carcasses and died as well, including the bald eagles.

The dead eagles were found by a passerby who alerted the federal authorities who, in turn, identified the poison that killed them and tracked its purchase to Mr. Collier. He pleaded guilty to two counts of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and to the misdemeanor charge of illegal use of a pesticide.

With no prior criminal history, he was sentenced to two years of probation and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.

As a convicted felon, Mr. Collier would have to give up his collection of hunting guns, a blow to his lifestyle. “We kind of got a hunting heritage in this family,” he said. “It’s what we do.”

A local Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms official told him that only a presidential pardon would get him his guns back, Mr. Collier said. “He said, ‘Good luck with that’ — like, ‘Fat chance,’ ” he said.

Of the thousands of petitions for pardons and shortened sentences Mr. Bush has received during his presidency, he has granted clemency 171 times and commuted eight sentences. At the end of his term, Mr. Clinton had granted 396 pardons and commuted 61 sentences.

Usually, the Justice Department goes through the submissions — guidelines call for an expression of contrition and the completion of any punishment — and sends the requests to the White House with recommendations.

The president is not bound to follow them. Neither the Justice Department nor the White House would comment on how Mr. Bush made his pardon decisions. And the process can be a mystery even for those with high-level connections.

“All you can do is be familiar with the process, wait and hope,” said Michael Nussbaum, a lawyer for the rapper John E. Forté, who was halfway through a 14-year sentence on cocaine charges when Mr. Bush commuted it last week. Among Mr. Forté’s supporters were the singer Carly Simon and Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah.

Mr. Collier had no such star power behind his effort. He began exploring the possibility when Mr. Clinton was president, he said, and local Democrats hinted he would have to make some high-level political contributions. But, he said, “We got to talking to some of the government officials, and they said, ‘Oh no, it’s not a pay deal.’ ”

After years of hesitation and a long wait to get the application, Mr. Collier said, he submitted his request in 2001 with no help from lawyers or contributions. He expressed contrition but argued that his punishment seemed overly severe.

Mr. Black, the former Republican state legislator who was at Mr. Collier’s hospital bedside years earlier when he lost his foot in a grain elevator accident, counseled patience. “I said that if we went through all of the effort to get one, it would not come until very near the end of Bush’s term,” said Mr. Black, who was among those to provide a character reference.

Mr. Black asserted that Mr. Collier was unfairly coaxed into a confession after he was given the impression that he would not be prosecuted, making him all the more angry that Mr. Collier’s felony conviction “became common knowledge” in their town of Charleston.

“We all know each other, we farm together, we eat breakfast together, we talk — it’s vintage Hillary Clinton ‘It takes a village to raise a child’-type of environment,” he said. “Sometimes that’s good, sometimes that isn’t so good. That’s just the way it is.”

As the years passed, friends at Mr. Collier’s church wrote letters and buttonholed local federal officials at farm bureau meetings for news.

An F.B.I. agent came to town and interviewed Mr. Collier years ago but was not heard from again.

Several months ago, Mr. Black said he was contacted by Catherine L. Hanaway, a former colleague in the Missouri House who was the executive director of Mr. Bush’s campaign in her state in 2000, and, in 2005, was named as a United States attorney.

Telling Mr. Black that the White House had asked her to look into the matter of his friend, he said, “I told her the story and she said, ‘O.K., that’s what I need to know.’ ”

Mr. Collier said he got the news of his pardon on Monday while working at a cattle auction. He was out hunting for deer by Tuesday with a “thirty-ought-six” — that is, he said, with “a real gun.”

    Grass-Roots Effort Paves Path to a Pardon by Bush, NYT, 30.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/washington/30pardon.html






Bush Aides Rush to Enact

a Safety Rule Obama Opposes


November 30, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Labor Department is racing to complete a new rule, strenuously opposed by President-elect Barack Obama, that would make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job.

The rule, which has strong support from business groups, says that in assessing the risk from a particular substance, federal agencies should gather and analyze “industry-by-industry evidence” of employees’ exposure to it during their working lives. The proposal would, in many cases, add a step to the lengthy process of developing standards to protect workers’ health.

Public health officials and labor unions said the rule would delay needed protections for workers, resulting in additional deaths and illnesses.

With the economy tumbling and American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush has promised to cooperate with Mr. Obama to make the transition “as smooth as possible.” But that has not stopped his administration from trying, in its final days, to cement in place a diverse array of new regulations.

The Labor Department proposal is one of about 20 highly contentious rules the Bush administration is planning to issue in its final weeks. The rules deal with issues as diverse as abortion, auto safety and the environment.

One rule would make it easier to build power plants near national parks and wilderness areas. Another would reduce the role of federal wildlife scientists in deciding whether dams, highways and other projects pose a threat to endangered species.

Mr. Obama and his advisers have already signaled their wariness of last-minute efforts by the Bush administration to embed its policies into the Code of Federal Regulations, a collection of rules having the force of law. The advisers have also said that Mr. Obama plans to look at a number of executive orders issued by Mr. Bush.

A new president can unilaterally reverse executive orders issued by his predecessors, as Mr. Bush and President Bill Clinton did in selected cases. But it is much more difficult for a new president to revoke or alter final regulations put in place by a predecessor. A new administration must solicit public comment and supply “a reasoned analysis” for such changes, as if it were issuing a new rule, the Supreme Court has said.

As a senator and a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama sharply criticized the regulation of workplace hazards by the Bush administration.

In September, Mr. Obama and four other senators introduced a bill that would prohibit the Labor Department from issuing the rule it is now rushing to complete. He also signed a letter urging the department to scrap the proposal, saying it would “create serious obstacles to protecting workers from health hazards on the job.”

Administration officials said such concerns were based on a misunderstanding of the proposal.

“This proposal does not affect the substance or methodology of risk assessments, and it does not weaken any health standard,” said Leon R. Sequeira, the assistant secretary of labor for policy. The proposal, Mr. Sequeira said, would allow the department to “cast a wide net for the best available data before proposing a health standard.”

The Labor Department regulates occupational health hazards posed by a wide variety of substances like asbestos, benzene, cotton dust, formaldehyde, lead, vinyl chloride and blood-borne pathogens, including the virus that causes AIDS.

The department is constantly considering whether to take steps to protect workers against hazardous substances. Currently, it is assessing substances like silica, beryllium and diacetyl, a chemical that adds the buttery flavor to some types of microwave popcorn.

The proposal applies to two agencies in the Labor Department, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Under the proposal, they would have to publish “advance notice of proposed rule-making,” soliciting public comment on studies, scientific information and data to be used in drafting a new rule. In some cases, OSHA has done that, but it is not required to do so.

The Bush administration and business groups said the rule would codify “best practices,” ensuring that health standards were based on the best available data and scientific information.

Randel K. Johnson, a vice president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, said his group “unequivocally supports” the proposal because it would give the public a better opportunity to comment on the science and data used by the government.

After a regulation is drafted and formally proposed, Mr. Johnson said, it is “all but impossible” to get OSHA to make significant changes.

“Risk assessment drives the entire process of regulation,” he said, and “courts almost always defer” to the agency’s assessments.

But critics say the additional step does nothing to protect workers.

“This rule is being pushed through by an administration that, for the last seven and a half years, has failed to set any new OSHA health rules to protect workers, except for one issued pursuant to a court order,” said Margaret M. Seminario, director of occupational safety and health for the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

Now, Ms. Seminario said, “the administration is rushing to lock in place requirements that would make it more difficult for the next administration to protect workers.”

She said the proposal could add two years to a rule-making process that often took eight years or more.

Representative George Miller, a California Democrat who is chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said the proposal would “weaken future workplace safety regulations and slow their adoption.”

The proposal says that risk assessments should include industry-by-industry data on exposure to workplace substances. Administration officials acknowledged that such data did not always exist.

In their letter, Mr. Obama and other lawmakers said the Labor Department, instead of tinkering with risk-assessment procedures, should issue standards to protect workers against known hazards like silica and beryllium. The government has been working on a silica standard since 1997 and has listed it as a priority since 2002.

The timing of the proposal appears to violate a memorandum issued in early May by Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff.

“Except in extraordinary circumstances,” Mr. Bolten wrote, “regulations to be finalized in this administration should be proposed no later than June 1, 2008, and final regulations should be issued no later than Nov. 1, 2008.”

The Labor Department has not cited any extraordinary circumstances for its proposal, which was published in the Federal Register on Aug. 29. Administration officials confirmed last week that the proposal was still on their regulatory agenda.

The Labor Department said the proposal affected “only internal agency procedures” for developing health standards. It cited one source of authority for the proposal: a general “housekeeping statute” that allows the head of a department to prescribe rules for the performance of its business.

The statute is derived from a law passed in 1789 to help George Washington get the government up and running.

The Labor Department rule is among many that federal agencies are poised to issue before Mr. Bush turns over the White House to Mr. Obama.

One rule would allow coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into nearby streams and valleys. Another, issued last week by the Health and Human Services Department, gives states sweeping authority to charge higher co-payments for doctor’s visits, hospital care and prescription drugs provided to low-income people under Medicaid. The department is working on another rule to protect health care workers who refuse to perform abortions or other procedures on religious or moral grounds.

    Bush Aides Rush to Enact a Safety Rule Obama Opposes, NYT, 30.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/washington/30labor.html?hp






Bush Shows a Reflective Side

to an Unusual Interviewer


November 29, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Bush has been described by his wife, Laura, as a man not comfortable with introspection. But he opened up a bit in a recent interview, reflecting on life in office and beyond.

The president acknowledged that he would miss some things about life in the White House, including the comfort of the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., the convenience of traveling on Air Force One and not having to worry about traffic jams on the ground.

But, Mr. Bush told the interviewer, “I’m not going to miss the limelight all that much.”

“It’s been a fabulous experience to be the president,” he said, “but it’ll be nice to see the klieg lights shift somewhere else.”

The interviewer asked no bothersome questions about the financial crisis, wars overseas or Republican setbacks in the elections. Chances are that the interviewer, Doro Bush Koch, already knew how her brother the president felt about those and other weighty issues of the day.

“I would like to be a person remembered as a person who, first and foremost, did not sell his soul in order to accommodate the political process,” Mr. Bush said. “I came to Washington with a set of values, and I’m leaving with the same set of values.”

Mrs. Bush said she would “always have a special place in my heart” for the women and girls of Afghanistan, able in the post-Taliban era to go to school or walk outside without male chaperones.

The president and first lady were interviewed by Ms. Koch on Nov. 12 for StoryCorps, an organization that collects oral histories. Parts of the session were broadcast on Thanksgiving Day on National Public Radio, and the entire interview will be archived in the Library of Congress.

Mrs. Bush said she would miss looking out the window of her upstairs dressing room and seeing her husband in the Oval Office. She and her husband will both miss the people at the White House — not just the famous, but also those who make the place run year in and year out.

Mr. Bush expressed his fondness for his father, the first President Bush, who he said had given his children the gift of “unconditional love.”

Finally, Mr. Bush reflected on his religious faith and the place of religion in American life.

“I have recognized I am a lowly sinner seeking redemption,” he said. But the greatness of America, he said, “is that you can worship or not worship and be equally American. And it doesn’t matter how you choose to worship; you’re equally American.”

    Bush Shows a Reflective Side to an Unusual Interviewer, NYT, 29.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/29/washington/29bush.html






Bush: Time for Klieg Lights to Go 'Somewhere Else'


November 27, 2008
Filed at 1:56 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President George W. Bush is relishing the chance to see ''the klieg lights shift somewhere else,'' although he admits he'll miss perks like White House cooking and flying on Air Force One.

''Frankly, I'm not going to miss the limelight all that much,'' Bush said in an intimate family conversation with his sister, Doro Bush Koch, about how he'll feel when he leaves the White House to make way for Barack Obama on Jan. 20.

''Been a fabulous experience to be president,'' Bush told Doro in the conversation recorded for the oral-history organization StoryCorps. But he said he'll be ready to go when the time comes.

Bush did acknowledge in the Nov. 12 conversation -- aired Thursday on National Public Radio's ''Morning Edition'' -- that he would miss the trips on the presidential jet and not having to worry about traffic. He and first lady Laura Bush both agreed in the talk that they would miss the chefs at the Executive Mansion, but disagreed about who would be in charge of meals when they move back to Texas in January.

''I'm sure I'm going to lose a lot of weight, because Laura's going to be the cook,'' Bush deadpanned. The first lady responded, ''You're going to be the person grilling, though, I think.''

The president also said he would miss spending time with his sister, who lives in the District of Columbia area.

''This is a job which, you know, obviously had a lot of stress to it; it has a lot of pressure,'' Bush said. ''But when you're around your family at all, all that pales.''

Since 2003, the nonprofit StoryCorps has helped people record nearly 25,000 interviews at stationary booths in New York and with mobile operations traveling around the country. Participants receive a CD of their 40-minute interview, and all recordings are archived at the Library of Congress.

    Bush: Time for Klieg Lights to Go 'Somewhere Else', NYT, 27.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/washington/AP-Bush-Looking-Ahead.html






Diplomatic Memo

President Looks Back in Goodbye From Peru


November 23, 2008
The New York Times


LIMA, Peru — An unfamiliar emotion — wistfulness — is settling in over President Bush and his White House.

As the sun sets on his administration, Mr. Bush is spending the weekend in this city on a cliff where the sun sets, spectacularly, over the Pacific. It is his last scheduled foreign trip (there is some betting he will make another visit to Iraq) and it features a forward-looking official agenda: the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, where Mr. Bush delivered an impassioned plea on Saturday for free trade and free markets.

But the unofficial agenda is, simply, a presidential goodbye.

Mr. Bush engaged in an unusually sentimental look back over his presidency in a speech here on Saturday morning, beginning with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: “I remember the flag flying from every fire truck in Montreal, Canada. I remember children kneeling in silent prayer outside our embassy in Seoul. I remember baseball players in Japan observing moments of silence.” He continued: “The bonds of unity we felt then remain today, and they will always remain.”

Mr. Bush has never been one for introspection; his aides often say he detests “navel-gazing.” He arrived in Washington eight years ago with a kind of Texas swagger and quickly earned a reputation for a go-it-alone style of “cowboy diplomacy” that infuriated much of the rest of the world. Now, as he leaves office, amid two wars, a grave economic crisis and historically low job approval ratings, Mr. Bush seems a changed man, offering occasional hints he is reflecting about the world he leaves behind.

“I’ve worked hard on a lot of fronts,” he told America TV, a Peruvian news outlet, in an interview in the White House Map Room before leaving Washington. “I have given it my all. And now I am very hopeful that the man who succeeds me as president of the United States succeeds in his job.”

Mr. Bush’s aides bristled at talk of Peru as a lame-duck farewell tour.

“This is a serious meeting, it is not a farewell,” Dan Price, the president’s chief economics adviser for international affairs, said last week. “Lame duck, low approval ratings — I think that completely misses the point.”

Yet on the way to Lima on Air Force One, another foreign policy adviser to Mr. Bush, Dennis Wilder, was talking in past tense, reviewing Mr. Bush’s efforts in the region. “I think he would say that he worked hard to understand this region, worked hard to build really strong relationships with leaders,” Mr. Wilder said.

The president has long been an avid practitioner of personal diplomacy, and here in Lima he seems almost sorry to break off some of his relationships. Just hours after arriving on Friday, he confessed to President Hu Jintao of China that he was already “feeling a little nostalgic” about their last meeting as heads of state. Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada told Mr. Bush on Saturday that he wished him “all the best” if they did not see each other before Jan. 20, when Barack Obama is sworn in.

“Before forced retirement,” Mr. Bush shot back.

Nostalgia aside, Mr. Bush is still not above delivering a poke in the eye to leaders with whom he disagrees. Case in point: President Dimitri A. Medvedev of Russia, who sent troops into Georgia over the summer. Hours before Mr. Bush was to meet Mr. Medvedev on Saturday, the White House issued a statement celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Rose Revolution in Georgia, in which a pro-Western government that the Kremlin loathed came to power, as “one of the most inspiring chapters in the history of freedom.”

As presidential goodbye trips go, the Lima visit — just two nights away from the White House — is strikingly low key.

Initially, there was talk at the White House that the president would visit Brazil and Colombia as part of this final swing. But Mr. Bush saw the Brazilian president at last week’s global economic summit meeting in Washington. And with Democrats in Congress blocking adoption of Mr. Bush’s free trade pact with Colombia, Mr. Bush could not exactly take a victory lap there.

Bill Clinton trotted the globe late into his presidency. In December 2000, Mr. Clinton had a stormy meeting in Northern Ireland with lawmakers who opposed a peace accord he forged there. One month before that, Mr. Clinton took a five-day tour of Asia, including a historic trip to Vietnam, where he stood on the edge of a rice paddy and watched, his eyes welled up with tears, as laborers sifted through dirt to search for the remains of an American serviceman.

There are unlikely to be any such overt expressions of emotion from Mr. Bush. His Lima itinerary is devoid of any cultural excursions; in addition to Saturday’s speech, his schedule consists of meetings with fellow world leaders, a gala dinner Saturday night, and a drop-in at the United States Embassy.

On Monday in Washington, Mr. Bush will be back to saying goodbye, this time to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel, who is stepping down amid corruption allegations and whose approval ratings are even worse than Mr. Bush’s. Mr. Bush once had hopes of presiding over a peace agreement that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state; the White House now concedes that this is highly unlikely.

Instead, said its press secretary, Dana M. Perino, the two leaders will talk about “the path forward” in the next two months.

“I’m sure that Prime Minister Olmert will want to talk about old times, but also what the future holds,” Ms. Perino said. She did not say if Mr. Bush, too, would want to talk about old times.

    President Looks Back in Goodbye From Peru, NYT, 23.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/23/world/americas/23prexy.html?hp







Another Parting Gift


November 7, 2008
The New York Times


Gale Norton has to be happy. In 2003, Ms. Norton, then President Bush’s secretary of the interior (and now a senior oil executive at Royal Dutch Shell), struck a deal with the governor of Utah that would open about 3 million pristine acres of federal land to oil and gas drilling.

Environmental groups and the courts managed to keep the drillers at bay. No longer. In the last few days, the Bureau of Land Management has completed six long-range management plans for Utah that will expose these acres (and as many as 6 million more) to some form of commercial exploitation.

On Tuesday, the bureau announced that it would soon begin selling oil and gas leases — essentially the right to drill — in some of the most beautiful and fragile areas.

Conservationists are aghast, and rightly so. Apparently without consulting the National Parks Service, one of its sister agencies at the Interior Department, the bureau plans to auction more than two dozen leases adjacent to Arches National Park and very close to Canyonlands National Park, risking the parks’ air and water.

Also on the auction block, among other rare and spectacular vistas, is Desolation Canyon, so named by the explorer John Wesley Powell in 1869 while he traveled down the Green River to the Grand Canyon.

This sort of pillage would be hard to justify even if Utah’s reserves were large enough to make a difference, which they are not. The Energy Information Administration says that Utah has 2.5 percent of the country’s known natural gas reserves and less than 1 percent of its known oil reserves. And even if those reserves were worth going after, it would still be essential to protect areas of special cultural, scenic and recreational value.

The Interior Department’s writ is to manage the public lands for “multiple uses,” a difficult and ambiguous task. The Clinton administration issued many leases but tried hard to balance the competing claims of commerce and nature; the Bush administration heard only the voice of Vice President Dick Cheney and his one-sided mantra of “drill now, drill everywhere.”

This is but the latest of President Bush’s last-minute assaults on the environment. The incoming Obama administration will have to quickly review and reverse these decisions or find ways to mitigate the damage.

    Another Parting Gift, NYT, 7.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/07/opinion/07fri2.html






Bush Warns of Vulnerability in a Transition


November 7, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Bush, warning that terrorists “would like nothing more than to exploit this period of change,” said Thursday that he intended to talk to President-elect Barack Obama on Monday about issues that will face his administration, including the turmoil in the financial markets and the war in Iraq.

The White House is especially concerned that the nation will be vulnerable during the transition between the Bush and Obama administrations. In one sign of that, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, flew to Chicago to present Mr. Obama with his first top-secret intelligence briefing on Thursday.

“For the next 75 days, all of us must ensure that the next president and his team can hit the ground running,” Mr. Bush said in an emotional speech to hundreds of employees of the executive branch on the South Lawn of the White House. He urged them to “conduct yourselves with the decency and professionalism that you have shown throughout my time in office.”

Mr. Bush has said he is determined to conduct an orderly transition. The White House wants to avoid a repeat of the kind of news reports that plagued President Bill Clinton when he left office amid questions about whether members of his staff, irked at having to turn their offices over to Republicans, removed the letter W from some computer keyboards.

To that end, the president has established a formal transition council that has already sought advice from outside experts, among them a former Clinton chief of staff, Mack McLarty. In an interview on Thursday, Mr. McLarty praised the effort as “more formal, more focused, more intense” than any he had seen, adding, “The times call for it.”

The administration is already providing transition offices in downtown Washington to the Obama team. Congress provided roughly $40 million for transition-related activities in an omnibus spending bill signed by Mr. Bush in September. The money includes $8.5 million for the General Services Administration, which will provide office space, computers, telephones and support services to the incoming administration.

Members of the Obama team are not federal employees and will therefore not have access to the secure government computers used by federal agencies, Bush administration officials said. But they will have access to e-mail and the Internet through a virtual private network.

The new law also provides $8 million for the Executive Office of the President, which will see a big increase in personnel work for officials entering and leaving the government; $5.7 million for the White House to prepare electronic records for transfer to the National Archives; $15 million for security costs associated with the inauguration; and about $600,000 to cover the cost of a pension, office space and other benefits for Mr. Bush after he leaves the White House.

The Bush-Obama transition is the first since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and much of the work is being conducted with an eye toward national security. At the Department of Homeland Security, for instance, Elaine C. Duke, an under secretary, is developing a “transition and succession plan” to be delivered to the Obama team by Dec. 1, as required by a 2007 law.

“We know that terrorists perceive government transitions to be periods of increased vulnerability,” Ms. Duke said.

She cited the bombing of the World Trade Center five weeks after Mr. Clinton took office in 1993; the Madrid train bombings in 2004, three days before national elections in Spain; and the car-bomb plot in London and an attack in Glasgow just days after a new British prime minister took office in 2007.

Elsewhere in the administration, officials are racing to complete budget options for the Obama team, without knowing whether they will be accepted or rejected. There is little choice; the business of government must go on, and the new administration will be expected to submit a budget to Congress in February, within weeks after Mr. Obama takes the oath of office.

For example, said Loren B. Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a policy research organization, senior Pentagon policy makers have developed a request for an additional $57 billion, above and beyond the regular Pentagon budget, to cover items like new weapons and rising fuel and health care costs.

“This will be a minefield for the new administration,” Mr. Thompson said. “If Obama says no, he will be off to a bad start with the military.”

John M. Kamensky, a management expert at the I.B.M. Center for the Business of Government, said he was “very encouraged” by the progress Mr. Obama had made in his first hours as president-elect.

“Obama announced his transition team on Wednesday, not just one person, but a roster of people,” said Mr. Kamensky, co-author of an “Operator’s Manual for the New Administration.”

“The most important thing for the new team is to focus on how the White House will operate,” Mr. Kamensky added. “At this stage, it’s less important for them to think about specific policy decisions than about the decision-making process — how they will filter the flood of information, who will make decisions, and how.”

Even as he prepares to hand off his responsibilities to Mr. Obama, Mr. Bush has a full plate of his own. He is trying to wrap up negotiations with the government of Iraq on the continued United States presence there, is dealing with the worldwide financial crisis and will welcome leaders of 20 nations at a conference on the economy in Washington this month.

As he spoke on the South Lawn on Thursday, the president was joined by his wife, Laura, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, and members of the cabinet. The White House was at his back; in front of him the South Lawn trees were ablaze with autumn colors under gray November skies.

The speech sounded like a valedictory. At the end, Mr. Bush vowed to keep his promise to “sprint to the finish,” a remark that seemed to push him to the verge of tears.

“As we head into the final stretch, I ask you to remain focused on the goals ahead,” Mr. Bush said, his lips pursed and his face reddening slightly. “I will be honored to stand with you at the finish line.”

    Bush Warns of Vulnerability in a Transition, NYT, 7.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/07/us/politics/07transition.html







The Next President


November 5, 2008
The New York Times


This is one of those moments in history when it is worth pausing to reflect on the basic facts:

An American with the name Barack Hussein Obama, the son of a white woman and a black man he barely knew, raised by his grandparents far outside the stream of American power and wealth, has been elected the 44th president of the United States.

Showing extraordinary focus and quiet certainty, Mr. Obama swept away one political presumption after another to defeat first Hillary Clinton, who wanted to be president so badly that she lost her bearings, and then John McCain, who forsook his principles for a campaign built on anger and fear.

His triumph was decisive and sweeping, because he saw what is wrong with this country: the utter failure of government to protect its citizens. He offered a government that does not try to solve every problem but will do those things beyond the power of individual citizens: to regulate the economy fairly, keep the air clean and the food safe, ensure that the sick have access to health care, and educate children to compete in a globalized world.

Mr. Obama spoke candidly of the failure of Republican economic policies that promised to lift all Americans but left so many millions far behind. He committed himself to ending a bloody and pointless war. He promised to restore Americans’ civil liberties and their tattered reputation around the world.

With a message of hope and competence, he drew in legions of voters who had been disengaged and voiceless. The scenes Tuesday night of young men and women, black and white, weeping and cheering in Chicago and New York and in Atlanta’s storied Ebenezer Baptist Church were powerful and deeply moving.

Mr. Obama inherits a terrible legacy. The nation is embroiled in two wars — one of necessity in Afghanistan and one of folly in Iraq. Mr. Obama’s challenge will be to manage an orderly withdrawal from Iraq without igniting new conflicts so the Pentagon can focus its resources on the real front in the war on terror, Afghanistan.

The campaign began with the war as its central focus. By Election Day, Americans were deeply anguished about their futures and the government’s failure to prevent an economic collapse fed by greed and an orgy of deregulation. Mr. Obama will have to move quickly to impose control, coherence, transparency and fairness on the Bush administration’s jumbled bailout plan.

His administration will also have to identify all of the ways that Americans’ basic rights and fundamental values have been violated and rein that dark work back in. Climate change is a global threat, and after years of denial and inaction, this country must take the lead on addressing it. The nation must develop new, cleaner energy technologies, to reduce greenhouse gases and its dependence on foreign oil.

Mr. Obama also will have to rally sensible people to come up with immigration reform consistent with the values of a nation built by immigrants and refugees.

There are many other urgent problems that must be addressed. Tens of millions of Americans lack health insurance, including some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens — children of the working poor. Other Americans can barely pay for their insurance or are in danger of losing it along with their jobs. They must be protected.

Mr. Obama will now need the support of all Americans. Mr. McCain made an elegant concession speech Tuesday night in which he called on his followers not just to honor the vote, but to stand behind Mr. Obama. After a nasty, dispiriting campaign, he seemed on that stage to be the senator we long respected for his service to this country and his willingness to compromise.

That is a start. The nation’s many challenges are beyond the reach of any one man, or any one political party.

    The Next President, NYT, 5.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/05/opinion/05wed1.html







So Little Time, So Much Damage


November 4, 2008
The New York Times


While Americans eagerly vote for the next president, here’s a sobering reminder: As of Tuesday, George W. Bush still has 77 days left in the White House — and he’s not wasting a minute.

President Bush’s aides have been scrambling to change rules and regulations on the environment, civil liberties and abortion rights, among others — few for the good. Most presidents put on a last-minute policy stamp, but in Mr. Bush’s case it is more like a wrecking ball. We fear it could take months, or years, for the next president to identify and then undo all of the damage.

Here is a look — by no means comprehensive — at some of Mr. Bush’s recent parting gifts and those we fear are yet to come.

CIVIL LIBERTIES We don’t know all of the ways that the administration has violated Americans’ rights in the name of fighting terrorism. Last month, Attorney General Michael Mukasey rushed out new guidelines for the F.B.I. that permit agents to use chillingly intrusive techniques to collect information on Americans even where there is no evidence of wrongdoing.

Agents will be allowed to use informants to infiltrate lawful groups, engage in prolonged physical surveillance and lie about their identity while questioning a subject’s neighbors, relatives, co-workers and friends. The changes also give the F.B.I. — which has a long history of spying on civil rights groups and others — expanded latitude to use these techniques on people identified by racial, ethnic and religious background.

The administration showed further disdain for Americans’ privacy rights and for Congress’s power by making clear that it will ignore a provision in the legislation that established the Department of Homeland Security. The law requires the department’s privacy officer to account annually for any activity that could affect Americans’ privacy — and clearly stipulates that the report cannot be edited by any other officials at the department or the White House.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has now released a memo asserting that the law “does not prohibit” officials from homeland security or the White House from reviewing the report. The memo then argues that since the law allows the officials to review the report, it would be unconstitutional to stop them from changing it. George Orwell couldn’t have done better.

THE ENVIRONMENT The administration has been especially busy weakening regulations that promote clean air and clean water and protect endangered species.

Mr. Bush, or more to the point, Vice President Dick Cheney, came to office determined to dismantle Bill Clinton’s environmental legacy, undo decades of environmental law and keep their friends in industry happy. They have had less success than we feared, but only because of the determined opposition of environmental groups, courageous members of Congress and protests from citizens. But the White House keeps trying.

Mr. Bush’s secretary of the interior, Dirk Kempthorne, has recently carved out significant exceptions to regulations requiring expert scientific review of any federal project that might harm endangered or threatened species (one consequence will be to relieve the agency of the need to assess the impact of global warming on at-risk species). The department also is rushing to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list — again. The wolves were re-listed after a federal judge ruled the government had not lived up to its own recovery plan.

In coming weeks, we expect the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a final rule that would weaken a program created by the Clean Air Act, which requires utilities to install modern pollution controls when they upgrade their plants to produce more power. The agency is also expected to issue a final rule that would make it easier for coal-fired power plants to locate near national parks in defiance of longstanding Congressional mandates to protect air quality in areas of special natural or recreational value.

Interior also is awaiting E.P.A.’s concurrence on a proposal that would make it easier for mining companies to dump toxic mine wastes in valleys and streams.

And while no rules changes are at issue, the interior department also has been rushing to open up millions of acres of pristine federal land to oil and gas exploration. We fear that, in coming weeks, Mr. Kempthorne will open up even more acreage to the commercial development of oil shale, a hugely expensive and environmentally risky process that even the oil companies seem in no hurry to begin. He should not.

ABORTION RIGHTS Soon after the election, Michael Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, is expected to issue new regulations aimed at further limiting women’s access to abortion, contraceptives and information about their reproductive health care options.

Existing law allows doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in an abortion. These changes would extend the so-called right to refuse to a wide range of health care workers and activities including abortion referrals, unbiased counseling and provision of birth control pills or emergency contraception, even for rape victims.

The administration has taken other disturbing steps in recent weeks. In late September, the I.R.S. restored tax breaks for banks that take big losses on bad loans inherited through acquisitions. Now we learn that JPMorgan Chase and others are planning to use their bailout funds for mergers and acquisitions, transactions that will be greatly enhanced by the new tax subsidy.

One last-minute change Mr. Bush won’t be making: He apparently has decided not to shut down the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the most shameful symbol of his administration’s disdain for the rule of law.

Mr. Bush has said it should be closed, and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and his secretary of defense, Robert Gates, pushed for it. Proposals were prepared, including a plan for sending the real bad guys to other countries for trial. But Mr. Cheney objected, and the president has refused even to review the memos. He will hand this mess off to his successor.

We suppose there is some good news in all of this. While Mr. Bush leaves office on Jan. 20, 2009, he has only until Nov. 20 to issue “economically significant” rule changes and until Dec. 20 to issue other changes. Anything after that is merely a draft and can be easily withdrawn by the next president.

Unfortunately, the White House is well aware of those deadlines.

    So Little Time, So Much Damage, NYT, 4.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/04/opinion/04tue1.html


















Mike Keefe

The Denver Post        Cagle        3.11.2008

US president George W. Bush
















Lame Duck Summit


November 3, 2008
The New York Times


President Bush will be the lamest of ducks by Nov. 15, when leaders of 20 nations meet in Washington to discuss the global financial crisis. With only two months left in office, he will not be around to implement any policy changes he proposes or agrees to.

Mr. Bush’s bigger problem is his utter lack of credibility when it comes to the central question of how to regulate national and global financial markets to ensure that this disaster never happens again. Eight years and a huge financial crash later, and Mr. Bush is still extolling the corrective powers of unrestrained markets.

Still, the meeting could not, and should not, wait until a more opportune time in America’s political cycle. With the world entering a United States-led recession, the global economic powers need to air their concerns and global markets need to see that political leaders are ready to work together to restore stability.

What this first meeting should not do is try to impose any real policy changes. With the crisis still unfolding, it’s too soon for extensive reforms. Philosophical differences are also too deep and with Mr. Bush on his way out, the Americans are in no position to sign anything.

When he first proposed a meeting last month, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France called for everything from the “moralization of financial markets” to stricter bank supervision and government aid for national industries. Mr. Bush emphasized the need to preserve “free markets, free enterprise and free trade.”

The two finally agreed that the meeting would “review progress” on settling the crisis and “seek agreement on principles of reform.” At this point even that is probably too much.

The summit meeting could still be useful if the leaders used it to begin a serious discussion about the roots of the financial crisis and agree to a series of future meetings to discuss substantive reforms.

They could start the process by calling for formation of an international high-level group of nongovernment experts to analyze the causes and implications of the crisis. Once there is some agreement, another group of experts could lay out a list of potential policy changes. That would give the next president a running start.

We congratulate Mr. Bush for insisting that the invitation list be expanded beyond the wealthiest industrial nations to include other economically important ones like China, India, Australia and Brazil. They are also being hard hit by the made-in-America crisis, as turmoil in the financial markets weakens economies worldwide, threatening vital trade. And these countries deserve a voice in any long-term solution.

We’d like to believe that Mr. Bush, after eight years of disdaining diplomacy and anything with the word multilateral attached to it, has finally figured that the United States cannot go it alone.

Given the country the next president will inherit — heavily indebted, oil-dependent and the source of the prevailing financial calamity — he will be in no position to dictate terms to the rest of the world. If the Nov. 15 meeting can set the stage for real collaboration, it will be a success.

    Lame Duck Summit, NYT, 3.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/03/opinion/03mon1.html






Next President Will Face Test on Detainees


November 3, 2008
The New York Times


They were called the Dirty 30 — bodyguards for Osama bin Laden captured early in the Afghanistan war — and many of them are still being held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Others still at the much-criticized detention camp there include prisoners who the government says were trained in assassination and the use of poisons and disguises.

One detainee is said to have been schooled in making detonators out of Sega game cartridges. A Yemeni who has received little public attention was originally selected by Mr. bin Laden as a potential Sept. 11 hijacker, intelligence officials say.

As the Bush administration enters its final months with no apparent plan to close the Guantánamo Bay camp, an extensive review of the government’s military tribunal files suggests that dozens of the roughly 255 prisoners remaining in detention are said by military and intelligence agencies to have been captured with important terrorism suspects, to have connections to top leaders of Al Qaeda or to have other serious terrorism credentials.

Senators John McCain and Barack Obama have said they would close the detention camp, but the review of the government’s public files underscores the challenges of fulfilling that promise. The next president will have to contend with sobering intelligence claims against many of the remaining detainees.

“It would be very difficult for a new president to come in and say, ‘I don’t believe what the C.I.A. is saying about these guys,’ ” said Daniel Marcus, a Democrat who was general counsel of the 9/11 Commission and held senior positions in the Carter and Clinton administrations.

The strength of the evidence is difficult to assess, because the government has kept much of it secret and because of questions about whether some was gathered through torture.

When the administration has had to defend its accusations in court, government lawyers in several cases have retreated from the most serious claims. As a result, critics have raised doubts about the danger of Guantánamo’s prisoners beyond a handful of the camp’s most notorious ones.

But as a new administration begins to sort through the government’s dossiers on the men, the analysis shows, officials are likely to face tough choices in deciding how many of Guantánamo’s hard cases should be sent home, how many should be charged and what to do with the rest.

The Pentagon has declined to provide a list of the detainees now being held or even to specify how many there are beyond offering a figure of “about 255.” But by reviewing thousands of pages of government documents released in recent years, as well as court records and news reports from around the world, The New York Times was able to compile its own list and construct a picture of the population still held at Guantánamo Bay.

Much of the analysis is based on records of Guantánamo hearings for individual detainees, which have been made public since 2006 as a result of a lawsuit by The Associated Press. The Times has posted those documents on its Web site arranged by detainee name.

The analysis shows that about 34 of the remaining detainees were seized in raids in Pakistan that netted three men the government calls major Qaeda operatives: Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Al Hajj Abdu Ali Sharqawi. Sixteen detainees are accused of some of the most significant terrorist attacks in the last decade, including the 1998 bombings at American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2000 attack on the destroyer Cole in Yemen, and the Sept. 11 attacks. Twenty others were called Mr. bin Laden’s bodyguards.

The analysis also shows that 13 of the original 23 detainees who arrived at Guantánamo on Jan. 11, 2002, remain there nearly seven years later. Of the roughly 255 men now being held, more than 60 have been cleared for release or transfer, according to the Pentagon, but remain at Guantánamo because of difficulties negotiating transfer agreements between the United States and other countries.

Two of those still held, government documents show, were seen by Mr. bin Laden as potential Sept. 11 hijackers. The case of Mohammed al-Qahtani, whom the government has labeled a potential “20th hijacker,” has drawn wide notice because he was subjected to interrogation tactics that included sleep deprivation, isolation and being put on a leash and forced to perform dog tricks.

The other detainee deemed a potential hijacker, whose presence at Guantánamo has gone virtually unmentioned in public reports, is a Yemeni called Abu Bara. The 9/11 Commission said he studied flights and airport security and participated in an important planning meeting for the 2001 attack in Malaysia in January 2000.

The Guantánamo list also includes two Saudi brothers, Hassan and Walid bin Attash. The government describes them as something like Qaeda royalty. Military officials said during Guantánamo hearings that their father, imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, was a “close contact of Osama bin Laden” and that his sons were committed jihadists.

Walid bin Attash is facing a possible death sentence as a coordinator of the Sept. 11 attacks. Hassan bin Attash was accused of having been involved in planning attacks on American oil tankers and Navy ships.

Hassan bin Attash’s lawyer, David H. Remes, said the government’s claims about the detainees were not credible. He and other detainees’ lawyers say that the government’s accusations have been ever-changing and that much of the evidence was obtained using techniques he and others have described as torture.

“You look at all of this stuff, and it looks terribly scary,” Mr. Remes said. “But how do we know any of it is true?”

The extensive use of secret evidence and information derived from aggressive interrogations has led critics around the world to conclude that many detainees were wrongly held. Nearly seven years after Guantánamo opened its metal gates, only 18 of the current detainees are facing war crimes charges.

While both presidential candidates have said they would close the detention center, they have not said in detail how they would handle the remaining detainees.

Mr. McCain has said he would move the Guantánamo detainees to the United States but has indicated that he would try them in the Pentagon’s commission system established after 9/11. After the conviction at Guantánamo last summer of a former driver for Mr. bin Laden, Mr. McCain said the verdict “demonstrated that military commissions can effectively bring very dangerous terrorists to justice.”

Mr. Obama has said that the Bush administration’s system of trying detainees “has been an enormous failure” and that the existing American legal system was strong enough to handle the trials of terrorism suspects.

But in a speech on the Senate floor in 2006, Mr. Obama suggested that the charges against many of the detainees needed to be taken seriously. “Now the majority of the folks in Guantánamo, I suspect, are there for a reason,” he said. “There are a lot of dangerous people.”

Some of the remaining prisoners have appeared determined to show how dangerous they are. “I admit to you it is my honor to be an enemy of the United States,” said a Yemeni detainee, Abdul Rahman Ahmed, a hearing record shows. Officials said Mr. Ahmed had been trained at a terrorist camp “how to dress and act at an airport” and to resist interrogation.

A Saudi detainee, Muhammed Murdi Issa al Zahrani, was described by Pentagon officials as a trained assassin who helped plan the suicide-bomb killing of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Afghan rebel leader, on Sept. 9, 2001.

“The detainee said America is ruled by the Jews,” an officer said at a hearing after interviewing him, “therefore America and Israel are his enemies.”

One man caught with Abu Zubaydah insisted on his innocence but described a training camp outside Kabul, Afghanistan, where, according to information he gave to interrogators, men were given “lessons on how to make poisons that could be inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin.”

Mr. bin al Shibh was caught with a group of six Yemenis, all of whom are still held, after a two-and-a-half-hour gun battle. The records of those detainees include allegations that some were “a special terrorist team deployed to attack targets in Karachi.” One of the men, Hail Aziz Ahmad al Maythal, was trained in the use of rocket-propelled grenade launchers, machine guns and “trench digging, disguise techniques, escape methods, evasion and map reading,” according to the military’s accusations.

The records include many of the murky cases that typify the image of Guantánamo, where detainees take issue with their own supposed confessions and, sometimes, their identities. And those doubts too are to be part of a new administration’s inheritance.

“I was forced to say all these things,” an Algerian detainee, Adil Hadi al Jazairi bin Hamlili, said at his hearing when confronted with his confession to murder and knowledge of a plot to sell uranium to Al Qaeda. “I was abused mentally and psychologically, by threatening to be raped,” he said, adding, “You would say anything.”

Abdul Hafiz, an Afghan accused of killing a Red Cross worker at a Taliban roadblock in 2003, told a military officer that he had the perfect alibi. “The detainee states again that he is not Abdul Hafiz,” the officer reported to a military tribunal.

Andrei Scheinkman contributed research.

    Next President Will Face Test on Detainees, NYT, 3.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/03/us/03gitmo.html?hp






Op-Ed Contributors

What I Will Miss About President Bush


November 2, 2008
The New York Times


As the world knows, America will elect a new president on Tuesday. Barring unforeseen electoral circumstances, this is George W. Bush’s last Sunday to hold the presidential stage to himself. The Op-Ed editors asked six writers to reflect on what they have most admired about him.

Loyal to a Fault

One spring morning last year, I happened to be strolling through the Congressional cemetery east of Capitol Hill with the White House press secretary Dana Perino as she walked her dog. Ms. Perino was candidly describing the challenges of her job, which were only mounting as George W. Bush’s approval rating continued to drop. Then she looked directly at me and said, “But it’s all worth it, because I so believe in the president.”

It would have been easy for me to dismiss Ms. Perino as a bright and likable but ultimately Kool-Aid-stricken peddler of talking points, were it not for two things. First, my interviews with current and former Bush staffers constantly veered off into similar testimonials. Their belief in Mr. Bush transcended ideology: as much as anything else, they just loved the guy. They loved how he treated the elevator man with the same courtesy as a foreign leader; how he often picked up the phone to congratulate the bride of a junior staffer; how he never pointed fingers, harbored grudges, snubbed, publicly belittled or boasted. Above all, they loved how they never had to worry which George W. Bush would show up to the Oval Office. It was fitting that he worked at a desk carved from a British warship, the H.M.S. Resolute — clarity of purpose being the admirable flip side to his at times infuriating certitude.

I saw some of these qualities firsthand during my six interviews with the president between December 2006 and May 2007. When I asked him if he felt betrayed in any way by the former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s errors relating to the war in Iraq, Mr. Bush refused to assign blame. “No,” he said. “See, every decision’s mine.” During my final interview with him, he told me that he held back his doubts and worries in front of subordinates because “I don’t want to burden them with that.”

President Bush has paid a price for his human decency. Seeking to buck up his Katrina-whipped FEMA director, he delivered the single most damning one-liner of his presidency: “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” His sense of loyalty blinded him to the shortcomings of several senior aides — among them Scott McClellan, who rewarded Mr. Bush’s generosity with a lacerating tell-all book. He kept the press away from his two daughters, when their charm could have been deployed to buoy up his sagging numbers.

When the vault of the 43rd presidency is sealed, it will include, among many things, evidence of President Bush’s virtue.

— ROBERT DRAPER, a correspondent for GQ and the author of “Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush”

A Clear View

I’ll miss President Bush’s moral clarity. The president’s critics hated his willingness to label things right or wrong, and the press used to bang me around for it, but history will show how right he was.

Shortly after 9/11, the president gave a speech in which he talked about the fight between good and evil, and that good would win. Afterward, I told him I thought he was being simplistic: “There are a lot of shades of gray in this war. I think it’s more nuanced.”

He looked at me and said, “If this isn’t good versus evil, what is?”

Then he reminded me that when Ronald Reagan went to Berlin, he called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” — not to put a gate in it or to remove some bricks. Mr. Reagan said to tear it all down.

Mr. Bush saw the presidency as the place to call the American people to big challenges — in morally clear terms. As his spokesman, I knew that many people would be uncomfortable with how easily he made such moral judgments. I also knew that many Americans welcomed his tough, direct and unambiguous moral clarity.

I’ll miss that direct talk. In the age of terrorism, the one thing we have to fear more than anything is moral relativism.

When Israel was attacked during the Bush years, the president always stated that Israel had a right to defend itself. After 9/11, he never referred to Israel’s counterattacks as a “cycle of violence.” He understood that when a democracy strikes back against terrorists, it’s not a “cycle.” It’s self-defense.

We haven’t been attacked since 9/11, Libya no longer has nuclear weapons, Syria was stopped from acquiring them, Saddam Hussein is gone, and Iraq is on its way to being a nation that fights terrorism — all on President Bush’s watch. His job approval may now be low, but he should leave office with his head held high. I hope his successors recognize the strength that moral clarity can provide.

— ARI FLEISCHER, the White House press secretary from 2001 to 2003

A Compassionate Conservative

During the last eight years, when I’ve mentioned to people that I’m completely fascinated by Laura Bush, most think I’m kidding. They see her as a traditional wife and mother, a gracious and well-mannered conservative. And while this might, depending upon whom you ask, be an admirable description, it doesn’t tend to prompt fascination. Oh, I say, but there’s so much more to her!

Among my favorite facts: She spent her 20s working at ethnically diverse, low-income schools and was a Democrat until she married George Bush at the age of 31 — after knowing him just 12 weeks. As first lady of Texas, she’d eat at hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants, shop at Wal-Mart and fly Southwest Airlines to visit friends. In the White House, in addition to organizing literary events that featured writers who have publicly disagreed with her husband’s policies, she has been far more politically involved than people realize — traveling to Africa and the Middle East to raise awareness for, respectively, AIDS and breast cancer, and advocating for the opposition leader of Myanmar, who has long been under house arrest.

Of course, what’s most intriguing to Democrats like me are the suggestions that Mrs. Bush might still be considerably less conservative than her husband: She has said that she does not think Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Asked in 2004 whether she and the president have gay friends, she told a reporter, “Sure, of course. Everyone does.” And earlier this year, Mrs. Bush spoke publicly of her admiration for Hillary Clinton’s “grit and strength.”

I will miss Mrs. Bush not only for keeping me guessing but also for seeming like an intelligent and compassionate presence in a White House not widely recognized for its intelligence or compassion — for being the one person in there whom I’m pretty sure a lot of us would like even more if only we knew her better.

— CURTIS SITTENFELD, the author of the novel “American Wife”

Victory Speech

I was listening to George W. Bush speak at a rally in New Hampshire, in January 2000, when he came up with what remains my favorite of his miscues: “I know how hard it is to put food on your family.” This could be an amusing few months, I remember thinking.

The only slow period for Bushisms was right after Sept. 11, when the president’s inadequacies no longer seemed very funny. Then Mr. Bush declared that normality was returning: “I am here to make an announcement that this Thursday, ticket counters and airplanes will fly out of Ronald Reagan Airport.”

The president’s critics see such flubs as proof of his idiocy. His defenders believe that calling attention to them is hostile. But the president’s verbal stumbles have only made me like him better. It’s hard to despise someone who just wants “to make the pie higher” or who says he won’t answer your question, “Neither in French nor in English. Nor in Mexican.”

Maybe the greatest expression of his befuddlement was something he said when asked to respond to an article by the writer Gail Sheehy claiming he was an undiagnosed dyslexic. “The woman who knew that I had dyslexia — I never interviewed her,” he sputtered.

Mr. Bush’s battle with English has enriched our political language. It is no longer possible to say a person or a factor has been underestimated. Thanks to him, that word is now misunderestimated. In trade negotiations, tariffs and barriers have become bariffs and terriers. Kosovo is the land of the Kosovians, Greece the ancient homeland of the Grecians, a Reagan-loving people with no gray hair. There is no strategy, only “strategery,” a term coined by the comedian Will Ferrell and adopted inside the administration.

Most politicians don’t care about language and abuse it through euphemism, vagueness and cliché. Mr. Bush is not so indifferent. When words won’t do what he wants, he tries to wrestle them into submission. His memorable coinages — Hispanically, arbo-treeist — express the frustration we all feel at those moments when language won’t go our way. In the face of defeat, Mr. Bush remains unbowed by grammar. You’ve got to admire that, kind of.

— JACOB WEISBERG, the editor in chief of the Slate Group and the author of “The Bush Tragedy”

In Good Faith

What I will miss most about George W. Bush as president is his sincere concern for promoting human dignity.

I was at his side when he met with defectors from North Korean forced-labor camps, listened to firsthand accounts of the unconscionable atrocities Saddam Hussein committed, shared the elation of women freed from the injustices of the Taliban, worked to dramatically increase government funding to combat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa, and pressed other world leaders to stop genocide in Darfur. The compassion President Bush showed for the oppressed and suffering in these moments was inspiring.

It also helped obscure his flaws to those of us who worked for him, making it difficult for us to realize that his presidency was veering off course.

While he did not always choose wisely in his efforts to advance human dignity, his motives were genuine. And in those somber moments when he visited wounded troops or families of those who’d made the ultimate sacrifice, I saw — ever so briefly — a glimmer of self-doubt.

President Bush bears responsibility for the consequences of the war he chose to wage in Iraq. But alongside his profound flaws and the mistakes he made, I can also see and respect his inner decency. Let’s hope the next president will share his passion for human dignity — and also find ways to express it with greater wisdom and judgment.

— SCOTT McCLELLAN, the White House press secretary from 2003 to 2006 and the author of “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception”

Past Perfect

I feel nostalgic about the person I knew as Gov. George W. Bush. I miss that guy. He was the best politician I ever saw. He really was “a uniter, not a divider.” He refused to kowtow to the far right. He worked with Democrats to strengthen public education, while Republicans were pushing vouchers. He had four vacancies on the Texas Supreme Court and he filled them all with centrist judges. The extreme right wing of the Republican Party was his enemy, not his ally. His administration was untainted by scandal. Karl Rove remained an outside consultant rather than a gubernatorial staffer.

But when he reached the White House, Governor Bush vanished, to be replaced by President George W. Bush — a person I didn’t recognize. He was never to return.

— PAUL BURKA, the senior executive editor of Texas Monthly

    What I Will Miss About President Bush, NYT, 2.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/02/opinion/02bush.html?em






The state of America after Bush

This week the George W Bush era will draw to a close. His was a momentous presidency, shaped by some of the most epic events in recent history - 9/11, the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the meltdown on Wall Street. But how will history judge President Bush? Here seven leading US authors reflect on his eight years in the White House, and the type of America that the 43rd president is leaving behind


Sunday November 2 2008
The Observer
This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday November 02 2008 on p4 of the Features and reviews section.
It was last updated at 11.51 on November 02 2008.


Tobias Wolff

Celebrated novelist and memoirist. His latest short story collection, Our Story Begins, was published in August. Won the 1985 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for The Barracks Thief (1984)

Last week I was roused from sleep by a strange dream - that my bearded, hairy-backed, happily married older brother Geoffrey, now 70 and up to his eyeballs in grandchildren, had decided to get a sex change. My mentioning this to anyone who knows him has unfailingly produced peals of laughter. All right - dreams are funny, when they're funny. But imagine waking every day to the dream that George W Bush is your president.

I simply can't, as Justice Scalia has advised, 'get over it'. As I grind my coffee to the morning newscast and the image of our confident president appears, the bile rises in the gorge, boiling over into tantrums and rants and declarations of despair that, even in the moment, strike me as clownish and pitiable, and are certainly viewed by my family in that light, until they join in.

No, I can't get over it, and neither can my friends, hard as we all try. When we meet for dinner we do our best to take up other subjects - books, gossip, movies, our children - but then, like the addicts we've become, we sneak back to the drug of outrage, shooting up the latest barefaced lie and squalid revelation, not forgetting to list yet again the national and global catastrophes brought about by the incompetence, hypocrisy, muddleheadedness, venality, truculence, mendacity, callousness, zealotry, machismo, lawlessness, cynicism, wishful thinking, and occasional downright evil of the administration of George W Bush. Our economy is in freefall, our public school system a disgrace, our military exhausted, the wounded and traumatised dying of neglect, yea, the very earth groaning for relief - and he's optimistic! Yessiree! Looking forward to it! Leaning toward us over the podium with that exasperated little squint and that impatient, dentist-drill voice, utterly at a loss as to how he got saddled with a nation of such gloomy Guses and crybabies.

Eddying around our own indignation again and again, as if caught in some Bermuda Triangle of complaint, we are unable not to remind each other of the fatal character of George Bush's incomprehension, the thousands upon thousands who have died by his blithe actions and inactions, and his inability to understand at any level - political, moral, emotional - the terrible damage he has done, this man whose idea of sharing in the grief of parents who've lost a son or daughter in Iraq is to give up playing golf! If he really did.

There - I've stepped in the trap again. I can't help it. And for many of us that has been a defining condition of life in George W Bush's reign, this unanswerable need to register anew and aloud our shock and dismay, indeed our disbelief, at finding him at the wheel as we wake each morning.

Was it ever so? Nixon, especially in his last months, inspired fits of revulsion, but never incredulity that he had achieved the office in the first place. Same with Johnson. They were at least very smart, and deeply experienced.

So how did George W Bush do it? On the face of it, such a man getting himself elected President of the United States would seem an impossibility - this party boy, this tangle-tongued, failed businessman who always managed to save his own bacon while his investors went under, this tough-talking supporter of the Vietnam war who hid out in the Texas Air National Guard when his turn came to serve. Karl Rove's strategic exploitation of social divisions and resentments deserves some of the credit. The Supreme Court, to be sure - Bush vs Gore. Chicanery at the polls and a lot of dumb luck, most notably in the form of 3,000 old folks flummoxed by a confusing ballot. All this and more. But there had to be something else, a meta-narrative if you will, that established him in the hearts of the large minority who voted for him in 2000 and the decisive majority who returned him to power in 2004. And what else could that have been, but what it always is with such empty shirts? Nostalgia.

In short, he presented himself as a man of the past - that star-spangled past when it only took one ranger to quell a riot, and you drove big cars without getting sneered at by sissies on bicycles, and you could make a few million without having to divvy it up with the lazy pathetnoids next door; when neighbours talked over the fence and could depend on each other, and the rivers ran straight and clear and teeming with trout, and you could dredge them for gold without the government breathing down your neck, and the trees were really big and you could chop them down, and you won wars, and men wore hats to work and meant what they said, and nobody was gay, and the queers all lived in New York, and you could say under God and have a Christmas tree on the town green without people in turbans and sidelocks getting up your nose about it.

That was the America we think we grew up in, and we want it back, and George W Bush, with his down-home voice, and gunslinger swagger, and no-nonsense contempt for the complications of a modern society, gave clear promise of a right of return to that good and simple past. That was his appeal, in both senses of the word. And in this one thing, alas, he was sincere.

He wants the fictional past to become the actual present.

This might be risible if he weren't President. But he is, and it isn't, because he has resolutely declined to prepare for any future he doesn't approve of, say the one where his war perversely ignores the script, and 4,000 young Americans get killed, and 40,000 more come home with wounds to their bodies, and still more thousands return with wounds to their minds and souls that may never heal, and find themselves, for lack of any foresight at all, in understaffed, rat-infested hospitals and psych wards, while the people we claimed to be saving are killed and crippled in even greater numbers - numbers unknown, because it has been our stated policy not to count them. George W Bush wouldn't countenance that future. Or the future where we start running out of oil. Or the future where glaciers disappear and McMurdo Bay starts looking like a good bet for a Club Med. Or the future where our economy begins to melt into foreign hands. Or the future where foreign hands begin to refuse our economy.

We have been in dire need of someone who could adapt to, even, within reason, anticipate manifestly changing conditions in this country and the world at large. But we have had George W Bush, who views change as illicit, even as betrayal, and will not compound the betrayal by any change in himself. And under his unmoving hand you can feel the country straining to move forward, like some great engine shrieking toward the breaking point as the driver presses the pedal to the floor but refuses to shift from neutral into gear.

Of course he could not have staged this astonishing performance without support. I'm not speaking of Rove, Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Feith, Perle, Gonzales, Ashcroft, Bremer, Tenet, 'Scooter' (!) Libby, David Addington and John Yoo and the rest of that scabrous crowd of armchair warriors, perjurers, torturers, and fools. No, they didn't put him in office; the American people did. 'My fellow Americans' - to use the term by which every lying speech is prefaced. And the fact of his election, as much as the incessant abrasion of George W Bush's misgovernment, oppresses me with embarrassment and, I confess, a certain despair for our future.

Yes, embarrassment - because his electors really are, after all, my fellow Americans, and I have always wanted to believe in their basic good sense, as I want them to believe in mine. That trust is in fact the very ground of a democratic society. Yet enough of my fellow Americans played the sucker to give this man two terms as President. Amazing! In truth, you never saw such a transparently smug, happily ignorant, unread, unthinking candidate for high office, let alone this office. Surely his unsuitability was plain to everyone. It should have been - he had a nearly unbroken record of personal unreliability and professional incompetence going into the first election, and by the second his record was perfect. There was simply no good argument to be made for his election, and every good argument to be made against his re-election. What did he have to offer, after all, beyond nostalgia? The bribe of lower taxes, already proven to be a sham for all but the richest few, and the continued sacrifice of our young people and our dwindling resources in a deceptively-undertaken and stupidly-executed war. By no reasonable standard could my fellow Americans, most of them anyway, see him as representing their interests. But they voted for him anyway. Why? Because Jesus is his 'favourite philosopher'. Because they felt more comfortable with him than with either of the serious, substantial men who opposed him. Because they'd rather have a beer with him!

As the old saying has it, the turkeys voted for Thanksgiving.

And though it is snobbish of me to say so, elitist and undemocratic, I will say that the embarrassment I've been feeling for the last seven years proceeds exactly from that sense of my fellow Americans cheerfully volunteering to be plucked, gutted, bled and hung upside down. It has made me embarrassed, as of some public foolishness by one's family, and it has made me vindictive. When I see someone being rude to a waiter, or blocking the road in a Ford Expedition, or yakking loudly on a cell phone in a crowded elevator, I naturally assume they voted for George W Bush. And - this is really mean, I know, really unfair and unreasonable and inhumane, and I scold myself for this, believe me, but - when a tornado tears off a few roofs in Texas, I think, serves you right! And I have friends in Texas. That's some of what the last seven years have done to this writer.

Well, boo hoo, what did I expect? Didn't Jesus, and Chuang Tzu, and Shakespeare, and Mark Twain, and my other favourite philosophers all warn me about politics and politicians? Aren't I a little old for all this gnashing of teeth? I am, I am, and I fear I have years more of it ahead of me, because even now the mud is flying, and the fear machine is humming, and we're on our way back to the past.

Edmund White

Novelist, short story-writer and critic, best-known for his autobiographical novels, which include A Boy's Own Story (1982). Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

I moved back to the States from France 10 years ago and soon after my repatriation (after 16 years in Paris) Bush was elected. Although I am perhaps the least political person I know (the first time I voted in my long life was against Bush in the last presidential election), nevertheless a bad president has a depressing effect on the entire culture, no matter how strenuously one ignores him. As a gay man who has always felt that society at large despises me and that I'd be considered a criminal by most of my fellow citizens, I've never wanted to participate in electoral politics - or politics of any sort. I remember that during the Watergate trials I dismissed the whole brouhaha as 'their scandal'.

But I had known two moments of political euphoria - Mitterrand's election and Blair's. I was in Paris for the first with French friends who were delirious, and for gays there were immediate benefits. Mitterrand acknowledged that the gay vote had helped him and he dissolved that part of the police force that was supposed to run after gays having sex in the parks at night. I was at a book party that Martin Amis and his wife were giving for me the night Blair was elected, and again I felt the exultation and got caught up in it. Unfortunately, both men turned out to be corrupt or seriously misguided.

With Bush it was a different matter. Here was this grinning, supercilious frat boy who'd adopted a fake Texas accent (his family is from Maine), who'd managed to be 'born again' in order to attract the votes of the Christian Right, who'd been responsible for more public executions of criminals than any official in recent memory, who denied global warming, who'd evaded military service but was soon enough sending thousands of American soldiers to their deaths. Here was an oaf who wanted to give the president of Germany back rubs - which she angrily rejected - and who surrounded himself with the most blatant emblems of corporate greed in American history. During Bush's watch in the last eight years there have been four major disasters - 9/11, Iraq, Katrina and the Wall Street crash - and Bush has responded slothfully to each one. He started the war, he bungled the post-hurricane relief effort, and the deregulation that the Republicans fought so long and hard for has produced the crash.

Perhaps the most depressing moment in the last eight years was Bush's re-election. As a teacher, I've long lamented the dumbing down of America; now I was tempted to see our educational failure as a plot to keep the electorate stupid and gullible. In America, a tiny elite receives a rigorous education and the rest of the population is kept in darkest ignorance, just as a small percentage of our youngsters constitute Olympic champion athletes and the rest of the population is grotesquely obese: a strange idea of democracy. I was prepared to believe that Dubya's first election had been a mistake or a cheat, but the idea that the voters could re-elect him was too grim to contemplate.

As a writer, I found the whole climate under Bush particularly disheartening. Funding for the arts and humanities was at an all-time low. Whereas small bookshops have been saved in France by the Jack Lang law, which forbids discounting of books, in America independent bookstores (including the 50 or so gay ones) were wiped out by the big chains, which are now beginning to go under as well, driven out by Amazon. With our passion for deregulation and the freedom of the market, we would never defend the rights of consumers to have community bookstores (which in America are often community cultural centres) alive and well on every corner.

After 9/11 the press was at its weakest and least vocal. I'd always been used to the liberal papers in America examining every governmental excess or infringement with a magnifying glass; now no one seemed to be looking. Most people were getting their news online and most newspapers were cutting back or closing down - and more and more of them belonged to Rupert Murdoch. Similarly, all the small independent publishers were being bought up by conglomerates, many of them in no way previously connected to the book industry. More and more titles were being published but in smaller and smaller runs; it seemed that there were no longer any common talking points among Americans.

They lived isolated in their suburban houses, looking at hundreds of cable channels, driving through streets empty of pedestrians; America had become the saddest place on earth. The very rich had become even richer and everyone else was considerably poorer. Conveniently for the Republicans, the last great taboo in America is class. No one is allowed to mention it, not even novelists. Whereas British novelists are always beavering away defining ever more minute class differences, American writers can get a sense of contrast only by looking at the Third World. As a judge two years ago for the Granta top 20 American writers under 35 contest, the trend I most noticed is what I'd call the Peace Corps novel. Everyone is writing about India and South America and the Philippines and Vietnam - no one is writing about the big city or rural poor in America.

I have a good friend who is a descendent of President Pierce, who was against abolition in the years leading up to the Civil War. Until now he's always been considered the worst president (there are two or three other candidates). My friend is grateful to Bush for knocking out all the competition.


Yiyun Li

Won the Guardian First Book Award for her short story collection A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. Her first novel, The Vagrants, will be published in the UK in February

America in the late 1990s seemed a happy place. Or perhaps it was just my exuberant naivety; having recently arrived in the country in my early twenties as a science student, I lived contentedly on a graduate stipend of $15,000 a year, watching network news and sitcoms every night to understand America. One evening I burned my hand while cooking and the next day the nurse at the students' clinic took a look at it and said, 'Honey, what on earth did you do to yourself?'

I replied, rather shamefully, that I had been watching the coverage of the Clinton impeachment and wasn't paying attention to the bursting oil. The nurse guffawed and told me that she wanted to be the one to inform the doctor of this accident, as she could not wait to see his face when he heard the story.

How bad could a country become when there was so much laughter around? The economy was strong, wars and genocides happened on other continents, and a mother not far from where I lived gave birth to seven babies. The biggest fear, as the turn of the century drew near, was the millennium bug - remember Y2K? - but the millennium arrived with fireworks, and without any disaster. George W Bush became President, but at the time even this looked like a laughable joke to the circle of foreign students living in our apartment building. So we laughed, not understanding how Americans could have made such a decision.

Happiness is like childhood, always ending before one is prepared. Two years later I found a part-time job in a lab in a hospital basement, where fluorescent lamps buzzed in the windowless room. I had by then given up my science career for a dream of becoming a writer, and my lab work was simply to pay the bills. My job - rather appropriate for an aspiring writer - was to assist in research on the formation of voice. Twice a week I would go to a cardiology lab, where an exchange scholar from Bangladesh running cardiology tests on dogs would, at the end of the experiments, turn off all the switches that stopped the circulation. The dogs, still warm to the touch, waited to be dissected.

My companion at the ordeal was Sanyukta, a PhD student from India whose dream was to become a professor in America. Neither of us wanted to perform the dissection alone, even after we had honed our skills. Having a fellow sufferer did not lessen our individual pain, but we clung on to each other's presence in those days, and walked back together to the basement with plastic bags containing the dog's vocal tissues which we had managed to cut out, and which we later tried to culture in Petri dishes.

On other days, when we received a phone call from the autopsy unit alerting us that a human patient had agreed to donate vocal tissues, we would walk across the hospital with a bucket of dry ice, and wait for the precious tissue. It was on those days, when we felt happy that we did not have to open up a dog, that Sanyukta and I began to talk about our lives, and our conversation, inevitably, would turn to America and its present state. Our biggest fear then was that four years of a Bush administration would be a turning point for America. We understood each other's concern well; after leaving our native countries both of us had made the decision to make America home.

'Never in history has there been a superpower that could remain a superpower,' Sanyukta liked to say.

'For every empire that rises there will be a journey going downhill,' I would agree. 'Take China, for example.'

'Take India,' Sanyukta agreed. 'Take Britain.'

Toward the end of the next summer I decided to quit the job, which, like America and many of the disastrous decisions the administration had already made, had become depressing. On my last day Sanyukta bemoaned the loss of a companion to the cardiology lab. 'Ask someone else from the lab to accompany you,' I said, but she replied that the Americans in the lab, as dog lovers, would be too sensitive to take over the responsibility. 'The humility of life. That's what I think they don't know. The country has not been invaded and the people have not been ruled by another people,' Sanyukta said. 'Americans don't understand humility.'

Bush has remained president for eight years, rather than four years as Sanyukta and I had hoped, and these years seem to have confirmed our fear in that basement lab that America is going downhill. Bad news is prevalent, both from within the country and outside: the national debt, the questionable tax cuts, and now the financial crisis; wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with human costs as high as the monetary costs; disasters of foreign policy and public diplomacy. America, at some level, reminds me of China in the late 1800s, when the country proudly considered itself the Middle Kingdom at the centre of the world.

America no longer seems to me to be the euphorically happy place it was when I arrived. This is to be expected, as, after all, I am no longer a young Alice, eyes widened by the discovery of a marvellous wonderland. Still, America, which I consider now as my home, has taken on a soberness that would not have seemed the right mood for the country eight years ago, and perhaps this soberness will accompany America in its ongoing journey, whether it is one that goes uphill or downhill.


Walter Mosley

Renowned for his crime fiction, notably the mystery series featuring detective Easy Rawlins which began with Devil in a Blue Dress (1990).

The reign of George Bush II marks, with its passing, the end of absolute white male hegemony in American politics. Bush, along with his cronies - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Rove - received the strongest hand that could be dealt a sitting president and squandered the potential for true personal, party, national and international advancement. After the World Trade Centre disaster we (Americans) had the sympathy and support of much of the globe on our side. But instead of capitalising on this largesse we declared war on the world and upon our own people - especially the poor.

Masquerading as conservative, God-fearing Republicans, Bush and his lackeys sought to shore up the cracks in white male domination through the primary religion of America - capitalism. They empowered the wealthy by eliminating restrictions on how the rich did business, by cutting the taxes of the most affluent, and by sending the poorest among us, those young people who found themselves floundering in the new economy, off to war with vague promises of glory and possible financial support later on.

Our soldiers have been killed and maimed, scarred physically and psychologically. Most have seen no remuneration and their homeland is no safer or any more secure.

Bush has done many things wrong. Sometimes these transgressions have hurt us but even when we are wounded we learn. We now have a glimmer of understanding why so much of the world hates us and why so many others have disdain for our archaic sense of pride and vacuous moral authority.

Knowing something is wrong is the first step toward rehabilitation. The war we cannot win, the job we cannot save, the mortgage we cannot afford ... Much of this can be laid at the doorstep of our lame duck, bailout President. But, to be fair, he has shown many Americans the fallacy of their convictions. We can see now, better than ever before, that business as usual will not see us through.

This said, it's hard for me to gauge the positive against the negative of the second George Bush administration. We needed to understand that the old America is gone. We have women and poor people and people of colour that must be added into the equation. We have neighbours that must be heard and questions that must be asked. Without the travesty of the past eight years I don't know how we would have gotten there. I mean, I suppose that Bush could have toned down his response to those he didn't understand; he could have sought a more peaceful coexistence with those that are different. But he didn't have the acuity to achieve a higher goal. And his excuses for his actions have some validity: his constituency placed in power the man they wanted to lead them.

But even with all that Bush has done to throw off the balance of our world, some things have changed for the better despite him.

The most important change occurred because of our President's conviction that he didn't mind who worked for him as long as they were faithful to his misguided worldview. Therefore he could have two African-American Secretaries of State, one after the other. This action helped to open the door for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And once the door is opened it can never be fully closed again.

The black apologists for Bush's lies and Cheney's avarice cleared the way for Obama. Americans, millions of them, are, for the first time, considering somebody other than the white male candidate. This was bound to happen sooner or later but Bush's racial blindness and political irresponsibility, I believe, pushed the envelope a bit faster.

Never again will we be the nation concerned only with the liberation and security of the white man's property. It doesn't matter who wins our election. America has changed for good. The people will continue to demand fairness and equality. They will demand that our actions in the world be considered and considerate of different points of view. Black and brown and Asian men and women will throw their hats into the ring, not as brainwashed servants but as people who see us all as a part of that pulsing, bulging mass of humanity that struggles to survive in this ever-growing, ever-shrinking world.


Rick Moody

Bestselling novel The Ice Storm (1994) was made into a film directed by Ang Lee. His memoir, The Black Veil (2002) was also widely acclaimed.

'The business of America is business,' Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States, was reputed to have said in January of 1925, just four years shy of Black Friday and the onset of the Great Depression.

It's not hard to think of George W Bush mangling some similar perception, though at the time of his own ascension to the presidency in January 2001, Bush hadn't yet been very successful at business. Not if his stewardship of Arbusto Energy or Harken Energy is any indication. It wasn't until Bush became general partner of a professional baseball team, the Texas Rangers, that he made any real money at all. Nevertheless, Bush drank deep of the lessons of American capitalism, as he pointed out himself in December of 2000: 'I understand small business growth. I was one.'

This was W as we first experienced him. The President who timidly, awkwardly succeeded Bill Clinton and who oversaw the bitter end of the so-called New Economy. It would be easy to pin all the blame for diminished corporate earnings and emptied tax coffers and a weak dollar and a huge trade imbalance on Bush, but neither was Clinton's administration free of its share of economic bluster, and neither was Clinton shy about transitioning away from investment in the public sector, as with predecessors like Ronald Reagan and Bush the Elder. This part of the march of history George W Bush inherited, the period after the internet stock bubble, which meant that things were already, early in his presidency, grim, unstable, uncertain. According to the only political model he knew, the business model, Bush's newly minted administration immediately moved to invite Kenneth Lay (of the soon-to-be former Enron Corporation) to closed-door meetings with Dick Cheney, as well as to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. Other CEOs found similar welcome. The hangover from the internet bubble was hard enough to live with, but Bush, by putting all or most of federal operations up for sale, inaugurated an even more challenging epoch. Call it the 'Years of Shareholder Value', since, as Bush often opined, government needed to behave more like a business.

After 11 September, though, the sinister legacy of the Bush years has lain in the free-market approach to the war itself, to the war and its aftermath. How quickly after the initial air campaigns and the collapse of Baghdad were Vice President Cheney's former corporate colleagues, Halliburton, and its subsidiaries, engaged in the securing of Iraqi resources for American corporations and their shareholders. Bush then attempted to bring home the same lessons to domestic affairs.

The Ownership Society! That was the name for this second term of Bush's America, and it's logical to assume Bush didn't come up with the coinage himself, because how could he have? He has trouble getting through a simple sentence. Probably some staffer, gifted with ad speak, came up with it, coining what was already de facto policy, the notion that the government needs to remove itself entirely from the business of regulation and owning industries, leaving the oversight of corporate capital - as well as derivatives, packaged mortgages, and so on - to an ill-equipped marketplace.

What the Ownership Society came to feel like to the overwhelming majority of Americans was feudalism. The modern return of the robber barons. No backstop in the case of catastrophic illness. No backstop in case of corporate malfeasance. No backstop in the case of a despoiled natural environment. No backstop in the case of cascading corporate bankruptcies. The wealthy and the large corporations, now largely unregulated, were free to do as they wished in most if not all areas, in order to increase the bounteous riches of their executives. If only the barely getting by worked harder and saved more, they too might count on the American Dream coming true in their own lives! If not in this generation then in the next!

Home ownership is perhaps the shining example of this heartless model of economic progress. The first Bush term yielded to the second, and the unregulated market for homes and mortgages helped make possible the fiscal environment in which a great number of Americans were using real estate speculation as a way to create wealth that was otherwise lost to them in a flat stock market and in the galloping disappearance of the middle class. The banks, initially thriving on the loans and fees required for all this transacting, turned a blind eye to the kind of money being borrowed and often to the desperate people doing the borrowing. Which brings us to where we are today: mired in a precipitous slump in part inaugurated by the failure of booby-trapped mortgages that ought not to have been tendered, loans that ennobled neither borrower nor lender. In addition to facing energy and food prices that are climbing as steadily as their credit card bills, regular middle-class Americans are finding that they are now less likely to be members of the Ownership Society than of the Insolvent Society.

The darker American fears meanwhile remain. The fear, the uncertainty, that end-of-empire anxiety. You can see the fear in the demonisation of undocumented workers in the United States. Fear of anything that will unsettle a rank-and-file white voter, the white voter who fears the United States of the future will no longer have a place for him. All of this fear pushes both sides of the electorate toward divisive political rhetoric, class hatred, racialist thinking, and so on. And it sure doesn't improve our diminished reputation abroad.

Turns out, meanwhile, that Calvin Coolidge said a lot of other things in that speech from January 1925 - the one in which he said: 'After all, the chief business of the American people is business.' He also said: 'We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honour, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilisation. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists. That is the only motive to which they ever give any strong and lasting reaction.' The bulk of Coolidge's speech seems to have been effaced in these Years of Shareholder Value. These days, a speech remarking that there are 'many things we want more than wealth' might be construed as being anti-business. And in the United States, the anti-business political candidate is even harder to elect than the atheist. Still, maybe, just maybe, these ideals to which Coolidge alluded to are still throbbing in the American consciousness somewhere. Let's hope the years after the Years of Shareholder Value come quickly.


Siri Hustvedt

Novelist, essayist and poet whose most recent novel, The Sorrows of an American, came out this year. Married to fellow writer Paul Auster.

Every political moment has a particular rhetorical climate. Language matters, not only because it articulates the dominant ideas of a period but because it shapes our perceptions of the world. For years, Americans have been listening to a president who has essentially cut the world in two. We are 'the protectors of freedom' fighting the 'evil-doers' who 'hate freedom'. Manipulating words for ideological purposes is hardly new. When it is effective, it creates an emotional response in the listener, a rush in the limbic system that can call on the deepest feelings we have as human beings. George W Bush and his administration chose to appeal to our fears.

Playing on the age-old fear of malignant outsiders and foreigners, both those residing on American soil and elsewhere, the administration successfully created an atmosphere of absolutism after 11 September 2001. The exhortation 'If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists' is a form of political speech that makes dialogue impossible. There is no legitimate response because anyone who counters with another thought has already been lumped with an inhuman enemy. In psychiatric parlance, rigid polarities like those the President has made time and again are regarded as pathological: 'splitting'. The patient is unable to tolerate ambiguity and insists on viewing the people in his life through an 'all good' or 'all bad' lens. Bush and his cohorts have been masterful splitters, employing a language that gives no room for exchange and necessarily distorts reality, which, unfortunately, is usually murky. This kind of speech does not recognise an interlocutor, a real human other. It is speech without empathy, and it is startlingly similar to the rhetoric of the Muslim radicals who spew venom on the West and 'the enemies of Islam'.

To be sure, there is something all too human about this phenomenon. The need for simple juxtapositions of good and evil, heroes and villains, is ubiquitous. It is the stuff of most Hollywood movies and many popular books. Nuance is discarded for easy clarity. It is possible that George W Bush actually views the world in these black and white terms, that his mind is as blunt and unrefined as his impromptu sentences. His now well-known emphasis on loyalty from those who work for him may be an indication of an 'all for' or 'all against' way of thinking. I don't know. I do know that the ironies are multiple.


Aleksandar Hemon

Bosnian-Herzegovinian writer and journalist based in Chicago. His latest novel, The Lazarus Project, is a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award.

I became an American citizen in November 2000, around the time of the infamous electoral impasse and the Supreme Court decision that gifted George W Bush his first presidency. I had ended up in the USA in 1992 because of the war in Bosnia. For eight years I was an alien resident - a contradiction in terms - before I decided to cross the big threshold and fully enter the home of the brave. Hence my first fledgling-American sentiment was full-fledged embarrassment at the democratic process that allowed the candidate for whom the minority of voters had cast their ballots to become the President of all.

What made things worse was that W was/is the American stereotype come true - ignorant, incurious, congenitally uncomfortable with thought. Take this: in January 2000, at an Iowa community college, he succinctly laid out his future foreign policy, complete with its idiocy, in these immortal words: 'When I was coming up, it was a dangerous world, and you knew exactly who they were. It was us vs them, and it was clear who them was. Today we are not sure who the they are, but we know they're there.'

But the quaint days of mere embarrassment ended abruptly on 11 September 2001, when the 'they' conveniently arrived in hijacked planes and tragically split American history into pre- and post-9/11 periods. I distinctly remember Bush addressing the discombobulated nation that day and saying: 'Freedom itself was attacked.' This at the time when television still showed footage of desperate New Yorkers leaping into certain, horrifying death off the Towers that would collapse in the next image. It seemed possible at that moment that tens of thousands had perished.

It was impossible not to feel, deep in your body, the horror and the solidarity in response to the immense suffering. But all that our good President could come up with was a vacuous stock phrase. 'We're fucked,' I remember thinking. If he was capable of converting the terrible concreteness of human pain into a cheap abstraction, then American - let alone human - lives mean nothing to him.

And fucked we were. Before long, the stock abstraction exploded into splendid and insufferable fireworks of banality celebrating the now-eternal struggle between the US and the freedom-hating they. Few Americans today wish to recall the time that led up to the invasion of Iraq and the Mission-Accomplished pageant, the time when Bush's approval rating was happily in the nineties; when Arab-looking citizens, including a number of Sikhs, were subject to vengeful assaults; when vulgar patriotism was enforced by ranting pundits and radio-talk-show hosts calling for nuking the towelheads; when French fries became freedom fries (and French kissing became freedom kissing.) This was the shameful time when editorial boards rushed to endorse the new-fangled Bush doctrine and the upcoming cakewalk in Iraq; when journalists at the White House press conferences dully followed the pre-approved script and war correspondents eagerly signed up to be embedded. This was when a vast majority of Americans, liberal and conservative, believed in the mirage of Saddam's WMD, which were - if I may say so as a novice at things American - blatantly and obviously non-existent. Few Americans care to recall those days because the only appropriate reaction to them is deep and humbling shame, and we are a proud people.

George W Bush is the worst president in American history not only because everything he and his flunkeys touched instantly turned into long-lasting shit but because he brought out the worst in my fellow citizens and even some fellow foreigners (say, Tony Blair). He built a coalition of the willing participants in a criminal, immoral debacle that the Iraq adventure has been from start to not-in-sight finish. Any war criminal knows that if moral self-denial attains the shape of national pride, anything is possible, any crime can be explained away as either necessary or an honest mistake. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, the destruction of Fallujah, torture as government policy, waterboarding as a common word, extraordinary renditions, the suspension of habeas corpus, unfettered eavesdropping, the diminishment of mechanisms of American democracy, the unaccountable government - not only did it all become acceptable to the majority of voters in the 2004 elections, it appeared as pride-inducing strength.

I am no historian but it is my guess that the Bush regime would be in the running for the worst elected government in the history of Western civilisation. The score sheet is catastrophic: American foreign policy and international prestige are in tatters; the deficit and the national debt are reaching Zimbabwean proportions; states are impoverished and national infrastructure is falling apart; the practices of democracy have been so devalued that a militant bimbo is a viable vice-presidential candidate, while race-baiting is acceptable campaign practice. What to say of the destruction of New Orleans and the collapse of financial markets, neither of which the Bush court seemed particularly interested in until it was too late? Nothing Bush and his administration handled has remained undamaged, no stone misturned, all children left behind to forage through the debris in the aftermath of the past eight years.


Uzodinma Iweala

Won John Llewellyn Rhys prize for Beasts of No Nation (2005). Chosen as one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists in 2007. He now attends Columbia University medical school.

George W Bush was elected President of the United States just after my 18th birthday on 7 November 2000. I remember clearly the atmosphere on Harvard's campus. It was a bit subdued because Harvard and its students tend to favour the left, but at the same time somewhat triumphant because whichever candidate, Bush or Gore, won, there would be a Harvard man in the White House. I also remember that I didn't vote. I couldn't vote because I was new to the political process and I didn't register to vote in time. And that ignorance is something that haunts me to this day.

This was before 11 September 2001, when President Bush was caricatured as an idiot, but a thoroughly benign one who, if he didn't choke on another Pretzel, would at most spend four years under the direction of his tutor Vice President Cheney before America came to its senses and booted him out in favour of someone more worthy of the office, when his ideas of compassionate conservatism were wholly embraced by some and met with cautious acceptance by others, when as a nation we were still optimistic about our future and sure of our role as a shining example for the world. That has all changed.

It sometimes seems that the last eight years have been a highly comical nightmare for the US and President Bush has been the comedic villain. This is the man who instructed us to shop our way out of a national tragedy, who plotted an illegal war based on the most nonsensical of lies that some of us chose to believe. This is the man who transformed torture into enhanced interrogation. This is the man who sat back unconcerned while one of his appointees mismanaged one of the biggest crises in American history - Hurricane Katrina - saying 'he's doing a heck of a job'. And now towards the end of his term, as he chest bumps graduating college seniors and tap dances before the start of press conferences, the war into which he has dragged young Americans rages and our economy slowly disintegrates. That has been the last eight years. For someone who doesn't get nearly enough sleep, I have never wanted to wake up so badly.

But perhaps most troubling is what his presidency has done to America's opinion of itself. Where once we were a society that honoured excellence and achievement, the last eight years of President Bush have taught us to aspire to the lowest common denominator. As a country, we now feel that we shouldn't have to pay taxes and yet we still feel entitled to government services. As a country, we feel that we should take the easy road and drill for more oil instead of tightening our belts, parking our SUVs and investing money in alternative energy. As a country, we have allowed our news media to turn politics into a farce with personalities who rant and rave and journalists who trade integrity for access, reporting spoon-fed propaganda as actual news. As a country, we now collectively prefer presidents whom we could 'have a beer with' instead of leaders who will challenge us to rise above our petty insecurities and wants to risk something for our country.

But it makes perfect sense. Why should we aspire to more when the decider in chief of the last eight years is a man who waltzed into the presidency on the legacy of his father (just as he waltzed into college, business and the governorship of Texas) and has refused to take responsibility for any of his failures? In my opinion, 'giving up golf', as he claimed, is not atonement enough for the American and Iraqi lives he has jeopardised. When our President has time and again refused to take the hard road towards excellence and deem torture illegal, and tell Americans we need to reduce our energy footprints, or truly invest in education for our young people, what are we supposed to do?

The lowest moment of the last eight years for me happened at a school in Baltimore. I gave a talk to an auditorium full of high school students on the subject of war. We began speaking about the Iraq war and, of 500 students, 499 seemed to believe that Iraq had attacked us first and that we were totally justified in invading their country. Only one diminutive freshman in that school of mostly large athletic boys stood up and said: 'Guys. What we're doing over there is not right.' It hurt me to think that after eight years of President Bush, this is the future of America - group-think based on falsities and jingoist myths with dissent offered by only a very few.

This has been my political coming of age, watching our President preside over a gaggle of squabbling politicians too fearful to do their jobs and drive the country towards excellence, and a population too beholden to the pursuit of personal gain and the politics of fear to demand more of them.

It's only in George W Bush's America that 'community organiser' can be used as a slander and the words 'hope' and 'change' can be ridiculed as meaningless and empty.

This is not the same country that I lived in as a teenager, when Teach for America was as important as military service and the word American was golden in the ears of our fellow global citizens. Like I said, I want to wake up. Many of us do, and for the first time in Barack Obama we have found a candidate who seems ready to ring the alarm clock, no matter how annoyed we get as a nation. I'm not an Obamaniac, as people derisively call his supporters, but I recognise that, for the first time in my political life, someone has stood up and said: 'America, it's time to make some hard choices.'

In two months, this eight-year journey under the guidance of President Bush through the valleys of mediocrity will either come to an end with Barack Obama or continue for another four, perhaps even eight years with John McCain.

On 7 November 2000 I could claim I was naive. On 4 November 2008, there can be no excuses.




Andover to Afghanistan: The life of George W Bush


6 July 1946 In New Haven, Connecticut, the oldest child of Barbara Bush and George HW Bush, US President from 1989 to 1993. At the age of two, Bush moves with his family to Texas where his father enters the oil business. Bush Jr has four siblings, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy. Another sister, Robin, died from leukaemia at the age of three.

Pre-presidential years

1961 Attends Phillips Academy, Andover, an all-boys private school in Massachusetts.

1964 Enrols at Yale to study history. Helps his father in the first of two unsuccessful runs for the US senate in Texas.

1968 After graduation enlists as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, thereby avoiding the Vietnam War draft.

1973 Studies for an MBA at Harvard.

1975 After graduating from Harvard returns to Texas to work in the oil business.

1976 Is arrested for drink-driving in Maine and receives a driving ban.

1977 Meets and marries Laura Welch, a schoolteacher and librarian.

1978 Runs for the House of Representatives in Texas's 19th congressional district and loses by 6,000 votes. He returns to the oil industry.

1981 Laura Bush gives birth to twin daughters Barbara and Jenna.

1988 Works on his father's successful presidential campaign.

1989 Part owner and managing general partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team.

1992 Campaign adviser for his father's re-election campaign.

Political career

1994 Elected Governor of Texas.

2000 Wins presidential election after defeating his opponent Al Gore by a narrow, hotly disputed, margin in Florida.

2001 Sworn into office as 43rd President of the United States. Following the 11 September terrorist attacks, Bush announces a global war on terrorism, followed by an invasion of Afghanistan.

2001 Signs the Patriot Act.

2001 Enron crisis.

2001 Announces $1.3tn tax cuts.

2002 Establishes the Guantánamo Bay camp on Cuba to hold terror suspects. Refers to 'axis of evil' and 'weapons of mass destruction' at State of the Union address.

2003 Invades Iraq.

2004 Campaigns for re-election as 'war President'. Wins with 50.7 per cent of the popular vote against his opponent John Kerry's 48.3 per cent.

2005 Sworn in for a second term. In August comes under fire for insufficiently responding to Hurricane Katrina.

2008 Announces that the war in Iraq has 'turned a corner'.

2009 Will leave office on 20 January.

Imogen Carter




Read his lips: Bush quotes

On being elected

'It's amazing I won - I was running against peace, prosperity and incumbency.' Discussing his win with Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, unaware he was still on live TV, June 2001

On Africa

'I believe to whom much is given, much is required ... I believe America's soul is enriched, our spirit is enhanced, when we help people who suffer.' Discussing his achievements in Africa, BBC interview, February 2008

On Osama bin Laden

'I want justice. And there's an old poster out west that said, "Wanted, Dead or Alive".' Press conference at the Pentagon, September 2001

On the special relationship

'America has no truer friend than Great Britain.' Address to Congress and the American people, 20 September 2001, attended by Tony Blair

On the environment

'Goodbye, from the world's biggest polluter.' Concluding a Private address at the Tokyo G8 summit, July 2008

On reading

'One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures.' Quoted in US News & World Report, January 2000

    The state of America after Bush, O, 2.11.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/nov/02/george-bush-legacy-usa






Bush Decides to Keep Guantánamo Open


October 21, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Despite his stated desire to close the American prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, President Bush has decided not to do so, and never considered proposals drafted in the State Department and the Pentagon that outlined options for transferring the detainees elsewhere, according to senior administration officials.

Mr. Bush’s top advisers held a series of meetings at the White House this summer after a Supreme Court ruling in June cast doubt on the future of the American detention center. But Mr. Bush adopted the view of his most hawkish advisers that closing Guantánamo would involve too many legal and political risks to be acceptable, now or any time soon, the officials said.

The administration is proceeding on the assumption that Guantánamo will remain open not only for the rest of Mr. Bush’s presidency but also well beyond, the officials said, as the site for military tribunals of those facing terrorism-related charges and for the long prison sentences that could follow convictions.

The effect of Mr. Bush’s stance is to leave in place a prison that has become a reviled symbol of the administration’s fight against terrorism, and to leave another contentious foreign policy decision for the next president.

Both presidential candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, have called for closing Guantánamo and could reverse Mr. Bush’s policy, though probably not quickly since neither has spelled out precisely how to deal with some of the thorniest legal consequences of shutting the prison.

Mr. Bush’s aides insist that the president’s desire is still to close Guantánamo when conditions permit, and the White House has not announced any decision. But administration officials say that even Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the most powerful advocates for closing the prison, have quietly acquiesced to the arguments of more hawkish advisers, including Vice President Dick Cheney.

A senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s internal deliberations said it would be much harder to fulfill a campaign promise to close the prison than either candidate has stated. “This may not be the ideal answer, but what we are trying to do is work with the system we’ve got,” the official said.

Mr. Bush’s decision followed a review of the implications of the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that the 250 detainees at Guantánamo have the right to make habeas corpus appeals.

The ruling, Boumediene v. Bush, undercut a core rationale for keeping the prison off American soil, raising expectations that Mr. Bush might at last move to close it, a prospect he first raised in June 2006, when he said, “I’d like to close Guantánamo, but I also recognize that we’re holding some people that are darn dangerous, and that we better have a plan to deal with them in our courts.”

In August 2007, Mr. Bush said “it should be a goal of the nation to shut down Guantánamo,” adding, “But it is not as easy a subject as some may think on the surface.”

Mr. Bush has harshly criticized the ruling, including at least twice in fund-raising speeches for Republicans. When he met with his senior security advisers, no options for closing the prison were on the agenda, the administration officials said.

“This is an administration that believes very, very strongly in certain things it has done,” said Matthew Waxman, a professor at Columbia Law School who served in the Department of Defense overseeing detainee polices, “and Guantánamo is one that some administration officials at high levels believe was right all along.”

Mr. Cheney and his chief of staff, David S. Addington, have made it clear in the internal discussions this year that keeping Guantánamo open under a new president would validate the administration’s decisions dealing with terrorists, the officials said.

Closing Guantánamo would most likely mean abandoning prosecutions against some detainees and risking the release of others who still pose a threat to the United States and its allies.

An administration official who favors closing the prison suggested that the next president might reconsider after having access to the classified evidence that the Bush administration believes justifies the indefinite detention of dozens of detainees.

“The new president will gnash his teeth and beat his head against the wall when he realizes how complicated it is to close Guantánamo,” the official said.

Mr. McCain has suggested moving the detainees to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., home of the Army’s prison. His remarks prompted a letter in June from the two Republican senators from Kansas, Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, objecting to the idea on a variety of grounds.

Mr. McCain’s campaign did not respond to requests for comments about Guantánamo. The Obama campaign declined to comment specifically, but in his platform, Mr. Obama promises to abolish military tribunals and conduct a review to determine which prisoners to prosecute, which to hold under the laws of war and which to release. His proposal does not specify where detainees would be held.

Other sites that have been mentioned include the United States Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C., and the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, known as supermax, in Florence, Colo.

Beyond political opposition in those regions, the officials involved in the administration’s discussions said that bringing the detainees to American soil would allow additional legal challenges beyond habeas corpus and raise the prospect that judges could free them in the United States.

The prospect of that became more acute on Oct. 7, when a federal judge ordered the release of 17 Uighurs from China who were swept up in 2002 and held in Guantánamo. The administration had already dropped efforts to declare the men as enemy combatants, but refused to return them to China because of concerns about the treatment they would receive there, trying unsuccessfully to find a third country to accept them.

The judge, Ricardo M. Urbina of Federal District Court, ordered the detainees brought to his court in Washington to free them, but the Justice Department appealed and won a stay.

One official said that the Justice Department’s arguments — that the 17 men remained dangerous — complicated diplomatic efforts to find a country other than China willing to accept them.

The government’s lawyers filed the arguments for a continued stay on Thursday, and on Monday a federal appeals court refused to allow the Uighurs’ immediate release into the United States to give it time to hear the government’s full appeal.

Since the Supreme Court decision in June, Mr. Bush and his aides have remained focused on legal strategies for coping with the wave of habeas corpus appeals now flooding the federal court system and seeking new legislation that would allow the government to continue to hold foreign terrorists without charge.

A version of that legislation was introduced by Senators Lindsay Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, two of Mr. McCain’s closest friends and advisers. But the legislation stalled and appears unlikely to be adopted during the current session of Congress.

The senior administration official involved in the deliberations said that the Supreme Court’s ruling did not grant judges the authority to release detainees in the United States, comparing it to allowing an illegal immigrant to live in the country legally without legal standing.

That official and others said that officials from the Department of Homeland Security, along with the Justice Department, have argued most vigorously for keeping Guantánamo open, largely because a ruling like the Uighur case could result in foreign fighters being freed into American communities.

“The federal courts have an absolute right to release these people, but the court didn’t say where, and what does that mean, to release them,” the senior official said.

“And in our view, the Supreme Court didn’t say, and the district courts don’t have the power, to order the United States to bring somebody from a foreign country — a foreigner — into the United States in complete disregard for our immigration law.”

Advocates for closing Guantánamo argued that Mr. Bush is still following the same flawed logic that has made it a reviled symbol, especially abroad.

Mr. Waxman, the former defense official, acknowledged the difficulties of closing the prison and the risks involved, but he argued that after seven years, a radical change was required.

“Whatever consequence they’re worried about,” he said of the administration’s concerns, “has to be weighed against the damage we continue to incur by keeping the status quo.”

    Bush Decides to Keep Guantánamo Open, NYT, 21.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/21/washington/21gitmo.html?hp






On the White House

Bush Struggles to Be Heard in Economic Crisis


October 18, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — With the economy in full roller coaster mode, President Bush has been working overtime to convince the nation that the situation is under control.

Hardly a day has passed this month without Mr. Bush appearing in the Rose Garden, or meeting with business leaders, or convening his cabinet, or giving a speech, as he did at the United States Chamber of Commerce on Friday, to talk about the “systematic and aggressive measures” his government has taken to put the fragile economy back on track.

The headlines on the White House Web site all sound the same: “President Bush visits Ada, Mich., Discusses Economy,” or “President Bush Meets with G7 Finance Ministers to Discuss World Economy” or simply, “President Bush Discusses Economy.” On Saturday, there will be another, when Mr. Bush has the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, to Camp David.

It is, in short, an intensive public relations effort, designed, White House officials say, to keep Mr. Bush front-and-center in explaining the intricacies of a complicated and fast-moving financial crisis. At times, the president sounds like an economics professor, with his talk of interest rates and capital and tightening of credit.

“Let me explain this approach piece by piece,” he said Friday.

But while Mr. Bush is doing plenty of talking, Americans do not appear to be taking much reassurance from his words.

The sheer volatility of the markets suggests that investors remain unconvinced when he says, as he did on Friday, that the government’s bank rescue plan is “big enough and bold enough to work.” On Wednesday, hours after Mr. Bush said he was ‘’confident in the long run this economy will come back,” the Dow Jones average plunged 700 points. Nine in 10 people now say the country is on the wrong track.

“One of the things we’re seeing here is the perils of a weakened presidency,” said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota. “If the president were very strong and had a high approval rating, he would be the guy to reassure America right now. He’s unfortunately not in a position to do that, and we’re finding that we pay a price for that as a country.”

In the earliest days of the crisis, Mr. Bush seemed to cede his platform to his treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., only to face criticism that the president seemed disengaged. Once his administration settled on a plan — a $700 billion rescue package, which has since been eclipsed by a new plan for the government to take a stake in the nation’s banks — Mr. Bush delivered a prime-time televised address to sell Congress on the idea.

More than 52 million households tuned in, a respectable number by any standard. About the same number watched the first presidential debate this fall. Yet now that the White House has changed tactics, with Mr. Bush delivering remarks on the economy nearly every day, analysts and historians see Mr. Bush struggling to command the nation’s attention.

“I think he’s trying to make himself useful but I don’t think he’s having much of an impact,” said Alan Brinkley, a historian at Columbia University. “It would be strange in this kind of crisis if the president was invisible, but on the other hand, I don’t think his visibility is what’s shaping these events.”

Still, Mr. Bush gets credit in some quarters for trying. “I think he’s been wise to continue speaking out on a daily basis, because it shows him engaged, and in the early days of this financial crisis it was almost like he was an ethereal creature floating above it, as if Paulson and Bernanke were running the government,” said David Gergen, who has advised presidents including Ronald Reagan, Gerald R. Ford and Bill Clinton. “So I think he’s been wise to speak, but I don’t think many people have been listening.”

Americans have always looked to their presidents to provide comfort in times of crisis, especially through wars and economic turmoil. Franklin D. Roosevelt was brilliant at it. “He understood that the radio was an extraordinary vehicle for reaching millions of Americans, making them feel that the president was on their side,” the historian Robert Dallek said.

And Mr. Bush has used his presidential platform to great effect. One of the most lasting images of his administration will be that of the new president, standing amid the rubble of the ruined World Trade Center just days after Sept. 11, 2001, shouting spontaneously into a megaphone: “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

But now, with fewer than 100 days left in office, Mr. Bush’s megaphone, both figuratively and literally, has disappeared. The nation often seems to have moved past Mr. Bush; people frequently seem more interested in what the presidential candidates, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, have to say. And with a situation as volatile as the current economic crisis, scholars say, it might be difficult for any president to make the public feel better — let alone a lame duck president whose approval ratings were already as dismal as Mr. Bush’s.

“Presidents can rarely move public opinion,” said George C. Edwards III, a political scientist at Texas A & M University who wrote ‘On Deaf Ears: The Limits of the Bully Pulpit,’ published in 2003 by Yale University Press. Even Roosevelt faced obstacles; Mr. Edwards says a substantial number of Americans never listened to the fireside chats.

Aides to Mr. Bush say he understands the challenge. Just as he knew, during the darkest days of the war in Iraq, that the mood of Americans would not improve until they saw fewer fatalities and less violence, he knows that the nation will not be convinced his economic rescue package will be successful until people see the stock markets stabilize and credit markets loosen up.

“Look at the language he uses,” said Kevin Sullivan, Mr. Bush’s communications director. “It’s very realistic. He uses the word crisis; he talks about their anxiety, their concerns. There’s no rose-colored glasses, but by explaining how it’s going to work, that it’s not going to happen overnight, he hopes that people are going to be reassured.”

So the daily drumbeat continues. On Monday, Mr. Bush heads to Alexandria, La., to meet with business leaders and talk about — what else? — the economy.

    Bush Struggles to Be Heard in Economic Crisis, NYT, 18.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/18/us/politics/w18memo.html?hp






Bush Says Bailout Package Will Take Time


October 18, 2008
The New York Times


President Bush warned on Friday that paralyzed credit markets will “take awhile” to return to normal, but he again tried to reassure Americans that the federal government’s $700 bailout was “big enough and bold enough to work,” and would accelerate a recovery.

Speaking before business leaders at the United States Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Bush pushed back against critics who have called the bailout an expansion of government power tantamount to socialism. He insisted that the emergency measures, which include the government taking ownership stakes in some banks, were only taken as a “last resort.”

“The government intervention is not a government takeover,” Mr. Bush said. “Its purpose is not to weaken the free market. It is to preserve the free market.”

President Bush’s message was similar to those throughout the week by other Washington officials, including Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.

He said the government intervened only as a “last resort” to prevent the crisis in stock and lending markets from spiraling out of control.

“I know many Americans have reservations about their government’s approach,” Mr. Bush said. “I would oppose such measures under ordinary circumstances. But these are not ordinary circumstances.”

While the measures represent “an extraordinary response to an extraordinary crisis,” the president said they would be limited in size, scope and duration, and he said the government would recoup much of its $700 billion investment in troubled assets and financial institutions.

While the Treasury Department has pledged $250 billion to buy equity in large and small banks, Mr. Bush said the government would only buy a small percentage of stock, and would not act as a voting shareholder. He said the government would collect dividends and would encourage banks to buy back publicly held shares by increasing the government’s dividend after five years.

Mr. Bush’s speech preceded the opening of financial markets, which have swung wildly all week as investors fret about whether the government actions can help avoid a deep recession. Financial markets in New York were poised to open slightly lower Friday morning.

Shares have remained in a tumult even after Congress passed the $700 financial bailout on Oct. 1. Mr. Bush and other global leaders have made dozens of public statements to reassure jittery investors and lenders, pledging to do anything necessary to quell the crisis.

    Bush Says Bailout Package Will Take Time, NYT, 18.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/18/business/economy/18bush.html?ref=business






Bush Statement on Financial Crisis


October 11, 2008
9:30 am
The Wall Street Journal

The following is President Bush’s statement Saturday on the financial crisis, as released by the White House. He spoke in the Rose Garden after meeting with financial ministers from the G-7 nations:

Thank you all very much. Good morning. [Treasury] Secretary [Henry] Paulson, Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice and I just had a productive discussion with finance ministers of America’s partners in the G7 — Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan. I’m pleased to be with Prime Minister [Jean-Claude] Juncker of Luxembourg, who is the president of the Eurogroup of countries, Managing Director [Dominique] Strauss-Kahn of the International Monetary Fund, President [Robert] Zoellick of the World Bank, Chairman [Mario] Draghi of the Financial Stability Forum. Thank you all for coming.

I appreciate the spirit and common purpose that these leaders have brought to Washington. We recognize that the turmoil in the financial markets is affecting all our citizens. Citizens are rightly concerned about the crisis. And we understand that in dealing with the financial crisis, we’re really helping people be able to have a better future themselves.

In my country, it is important for our citizens to have understood that which affects Wall Street affects Main Street as well. And all of us recognize that this is a serious global crisis and, therefore, requires a serious global response for the good of our people. We resolve to continue our strong efforts to return our economies to the path of stability and long-term growth.

The United States has a special role to play in leading the response to this crisis. That is why I convened this morning’s meeting here at the White House, and that is why our government will continue using all the tools at our disposal to resolve this crisis. At our meeting, Secretary Paulson and I described the bold actions the United States has taken over the past few weeks.

To help thaw frozen markets, the Federal Reserve has taken unprecedented measures to boost liquidity. The Securities and Exchange Commission has cracked down on abusive practices in the markets. Federal agencies have significantly expanded the amount of money insured in bank and credit union accounts. My administration worked with the Congress to pass legislation authorizing the government to recapitalize banks by purchasing troubled assets or providing insurance or purchasing equity in financial institutions.

These extraordinary efforts are being implemented as quickly and as effectively as possible. The benefits will not be realized overnight. But as these actions take effect, they will help restore stability to our markets and confidence to our financial institutions.

I’m pleased that other G-7 countries are taking strong measures. Finance ministers and central bankers have acted to provide new liquidity to markets, strengthen financial institutions, protect citizens’ savings, and ensure fairness and integrity in the financial markets.

As our nations confront challenges unique to our individual financial systems, we must continue to work collaboratively and ensure that our actions are coordinated. The joint interest rate cut earlier this week was a good example of effective cooperation. Yesterday, G-7 finance ministers and central bankers agreed to a plan of action.

The G-7 nations have pledged to take decisive action to support systemically important financial institutions and prevent their failure, provide robust protection for retail bank deposits, and ensure financial institutions are able to raise needed capital. We’ve agreed to implement strong measures to unfreeze credit, ensure access to liquidity, and help to restart the secondary markets for mortgages and other assets. We’ve all agreed that the actions we take should protect our taxpayers. And we agreed that we ought to work with other nations such as those that will be represented this afternoon in the G-20 forum.

As our nations carry out this plan, we must ensure the actions of one country do not contradict or undermine the actions of another. In our interconnected world, no nation will gain by driving down the fortunes of another. We’re in this together. We will come through it together.

I’m confident that the world’s major economies can overcome the challenges we face. There have been moments of crisis in the past when powerful nations turned their energies against each other, or sought to wall themselves off from the world. This time is different. The leaders gathered in Washington this weekend are all working toward the same goals. We will stand together in addressing this threat to our prosperity. We will do what it takes to resolve this crisis. And the world’s economy will emerge stronger as a result.

Thank you very much.

    Bush Statement on Financial Crisis, WSJ, 11.10.2008, http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2008/10/11/bush-statement-on-financial-crisis/






White House Memo

In Final Months in Office, Bush Is Burdened but Still Confident


October 11, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — George W. Bush began his presidency with the worst terrorist attack on American soil and he is ending it with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. In between, he confronted a hurricane that nearly wiped New Orleans off the map as his administration showed ineptitude in its response.

Now, as he spends his last months in office trying to avert a global economic collapse, Mr. Bush has been telling people privately that it’s a good thing he’s in charge.

“He said that if it was going to happen at all, he was glad it was happening under his presidency, because he had a good group of people in D.C. working for him,” Dru Van Steenberg, one of several small-business owners who met with Mr. Bush in San Antonio earlier this week. The president expressed the same sentiment, others said, during a similar private session in Chantilly, Va., the next day.

“He said that whoever was going to take over in January was going to have a huge crisis on their hands the day they come into office,” Ms. Van Steenberg added. “He thought by this happening now, that perhaps everyone could see signs of improvement before the next president comes into office.”

Mr. Bush will spend Saturday as the host of an extraordinary emergency meeting of international finance ministers at the White House. For him, the economic turmoil is the financial equivalent of 9/11 — a bookend to a presidency that has grappled with challenges brought on by terrorists, Mother Nature and two long-running wars. No longer will Iraq be the sole determinant of the Bush legacy; now the president’s fate is tied up in the economy as much as the war.

Mr. Bush has always been confident of himself, even when the American public was not, and that has not changed. Just as he is convinced he did the right thing in Iraq, he is convinced he is doing the right thing on the economy — despite job approval ratings at historic lows and a presidential campaign in which both candidates have used him as kind of a battering ram.

“He seems burdened, and he seems confident,” said David Guernsey, the owner of Guernsey Office Products, who hosted the Chantilly, Va., session. “He seems sort of like a guy who’s saying, ‘Boy, I’m kind of winding this thing down and now this happens, so the next four months are going to be anything but quiet.’ But he seemed very confident that what Bernanke and Paulson and that crowd have put together is the fix.”

Even if burdened, he also has the lightness of a man who knows the burden will soon be lifted. At a closed-door fund-raiser in St. Louis last Friday night, Mr. Bush was humorous and relaxed, said John C. Danforth, the former senator from Missouri, who was there. The president sounded a note about “tough times,” in reference to the economy, and “seemed relieved” that his presidency was nearly over, Mr. Danforth said.

“It was very unusual, I thought,” Mr. Danforth said. “I think it was a man who was relaxed and funny and looked as though he was about to shed this burden of the presidency. In a way, his speech seemed kind of like a valedictory. I took it as though, ‘I’ve done the best I can, I think I made the right decisions and now it’s almost over.’ ”

The White House declined to discuss Mr. Bush’s private appearances. “This is typical New York Times nonsensical pseudo-analysis,” Tony Fratto, the deputy White House press secretary, said in an e-mail message.

From the outset of the financial crisis, Mr. Bush has sought to use his public platform to lay out the gravity of the situation, and to offer reassurance to jittery markets and a nervous public. But while he was able to persuade a skeptical Congress to pass a $700 billion financial rescue package, he has since had to confront what he described in the Rose Garden on Friday, as “a startling drop in the stock market — much of it driven by uncertainty and fear.”

In Virginia, Mr. Guernsey and his fellow business owners told Mr. Bush he needed to do a better job of allaying those fears, and urged him to “share your optimism” by explaining precisely why he thought the $700 billion package would work. The president, Mr. Guernsey said, told them he was waiting for more specifics, such as precisely how the government would buy distressed mortgage assets.

“We made suggestions to him like, ‘Describe this thing in detail, bring it to a level we can understand,’ ” Mr. Guernsey recalled. “He said, ‘You’re absolutely right, I need to do that, I will do that. But right now we’re in the throes of working out the mechanics.’ He said, ‘When I explain this to people, it can’t be merely cosmetic. It’s got to have substance.’ ”

After the private session, Mr. Bush delivered a speech in the company warehouse and took the unusual step of fielding questions from the audience. The questions were plaintive and personal; Mr. Bush was asked if bank deposits were safe (yes, up to $250,000, he said) and if retirement accounts would suffer (yes, he said, at least in the short term).

Mr. Bush was plaintive and personal as well. “I wish I could snap my fingers,” he said at one point, “and make what happened stop.”

But as the markets have grown more volatile in recent days, Mr. Bush seems well aware that he will be dealing with this crisis for the rest of his time in office. “We got a couple more hard months to go,” he said last weekend in Midland, Tex., during a visit to his boyhood home.

After a particularly challenging presidency, Mr. Bush clearly views himself as battle-tested in a way a new president could not possibly match. On Monday in San Antonio, sipping a chocolate malt at an old-fashioned lunch counter called the Olmos Pharmacy, Mr. Bush said so outright — though not within earshot of reporters waiting outside.

“He said, ‘I can’t imagine what it would be like to be brand new and have to deal with this,’ ” said Mark Cross, the general manager of an auto dealership, who attended the private session. “I asked him ‘Are you anxious to get back to Texas?’ He said, ‘I am, but I’ve got a lot of work to do.’ ”

    In Final Months in Office, Bush Is Burdened but Still Confident, NYT, 11.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/11/business/11bush.html






Bush: Financial rescue plan will take some time


6 October 2008
USA Today


SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AP) — As global markets plunged, President Bush on Monday said "it's going to take awhile" for the government's $700 billion financial rescue plan to bolster the troubled U.S. economy.

Bush said the purpose of the package was to unlock the nation's credit freeze "to get money moving again." But, he added: "We don't want to rush into the situation and have the program not be effective."

The president, after a weekend at his ranch in Waco, met with small business owners at an old-fashioned soda shop in San Antonio, and sought patience from a jittery country.

Congress last week approved a massive plan of federal intervention that allows the government to buy up devalued assets from financial companies in hopes of unlocking frozen credit lines.

Bush, who quickly signed the bill into law, said "it's going to take awhile" to get the program working fully and effectively. He called it a big step toward solving the problem.

A proponent of free enterprise, Bush said the government intervention was necessary. Otherwise, he said, people like the business owners he met with "would be a lot worse off."

Bush's comments came as his top economic advisers pledged to work with their counterparts around the world to restore confidence and stability to financial markets roiled by tight credit and worries about a global economic slowdown.

To that end, the administration was expected to announce shortly that it had tapped a 35-year-old former Goldman Sachs executive, Neel Kashkari, to head the government's rescue effort on an interim basis, according to an official who asked not to be named.

The President's Working Group on Financial Markets said in a statement Monday it planned to quickly implement the expanded authorities granted to federal regulators by the $700 billion rescue package passed on Friday. The working group was formed after the 1987 stock market crash.

Bush will speak about the rescue package on Tuesday after touring Guernsey Office Products in Chantilly, Va., a Washington suburb.

    Bush: Financial rescue plan will take some time, UT, 6.10.2008, http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2008-10-06-bush-economy_N.htm






Bush Makes a Wistful Trip to a Boyhood Home


October 5, 2008
The New York Times


MIDLAND, Tex. — The last time George W. Bush came here, on Jan. 17, 2001, an estimated 10,000 people clogged the downtown to cheer a hometown hero who was about to be inaugurated as the 43rd president of the United States. The streets were bedecked with American flags, and Mr. Bush’s sunny optimism filled the air as he spoke of “a spirit of possibility that was as big as the West Texas sky.”

Now the sun is setting on the Bush presidency, and on Saturday, he made a wistful return to Midland, stopping at one of his childhood homes to reflect, if only briefly, on what had changed and what had stayed the same.

“You know, I’ve told my friends here, I said, ‘You know, I’m not going to change as a person because of politics or Washington’ — that’s what I said when I left,” said Mr. Bush, standing outside the small gray-shingled ranch-style house on West Ohio Avenue where he and his family lived for four years. He added, “I’m wiser, more experienced, but my heart and my values didn’t change.”

Mr. Bush’s modest boyhood home, which has been restored to its 1950s condition — complete with family photos, his mother-in-law’s teal 1955 General Electric refrigerator and a red tricycle in the yard — is now a museum. His visit was not announced; the official reason for the trip to Midland was to raise money for Republican Congressional candidates. The president is spending the weekend at his ranch in Crawford, about an hour’s plane ride from here, and he will attend a fund-raiser on Monday in San Antonio.

Together, the two events are expected to raise $1 million, party officials said. On Friday, in St. Louis, Mr. Bush raised $1.5 million for Kenny Hulshof, a congressman who is running for governor of Missouri.

All of the events were closed to reporters, which gave Mr. Bush’s visit to Midland an entirely different feel from the one he made nearly eight years ago, when the town was strung up with banners proclaiming him “Midland’s Rising Son.”

Mr. Bush slipped into Midland quietly. Just a handful of people, including his old friend Donald Evans, the former commerce secretary, and the mayors of Midland and nearby Odessa, were on hand to greet him when Air Force One touched down.

There were no banners and no cheering crowds along the motorcade route, just a sparse group of curious onlookers, some of whom took snapshots with cellphone cameras of Mr. Bush’s black limousine as he and his wife, Laura, made their way to the home of Representative K. Michael Conaway, the host of the fund-raiser.

After the event, the president’s aides announced that Mr. Bush would make an “O.T.R.” — White House lingo for an off-the-record stop — at his boyhood home.

The three-bedroom house, operated by a private nonprofit group, is called the George W. Bush Childhood Home, although it was also the home of Mr. Bush’s father, the former president, and his brother Jeb, a former governor of Florida. It is one of three homes the president lived in as a child; his parents, who had moved to Midland in 1948, bought the house in 1951, when Mr. Bush was about 5, and kept it until 1955. On Saturday, the president confessed that his memory of the place was a little fuzzy.

“I kind of remember it,” he said, adding, “The bedroom — actually I do remember the wood on the wall.”

Mr. Bush and his wife returned to Midland in the 1970s, when he was trying to get started in the oil business. He made his first run for office, a failed bid for the House, from Midland in 1978.

The president spent only a short while inside the West Ohio Avenue home on Saturday, and when he came out he called it “a very heartwarming experience.” He also referred briefly to the $700 billion rescue of the financial system that Congress passed last week and to the economic crisis that is likely to dominate the rest of his presidency.

“You know,” he said, “we got a couple more hard months to go.”

    Bush Makes a Wistful Trip to a Boyhood Home, NYT, 5.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/05/us/05bush.html






Bush: Lawmakers 'Must Listen' Vote Yes


October 2, 2008
Filed at 12:42 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush and congressional backers of a $700 billion financial industry bailout carried out high-intensity lobbying Thursday, on the eve of a crucial House vote that Bush said ''a lot of people are watching.''

Bush resumed his plea for passage from the White House as both Democratic and Republican party leaders worked the offices and halls of congressional office buildings. The goal: secure enough votes to send Bush a bill that he said presents the ''best chance'' to combat the widening credit crunch.

Speaking to reporters during a meeting with business executives, Bush said the increasingly tight credit markets are in some instances threatening the existence of small businesses. He said Congress ''must listen'' to those arguing for passage of the bill, derided by many on Capitol Hill and within the general public as a handout to a risk-taking Wall Street.

The much-maligned measure was returned to the House after the Senate resuscitated it with tax cuts and other sweeteners in a 74-25 vote late Wednesday. The bill had been defeated in House narrowly on Monday.

The fierce lobbying came as the head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, urged people to remain calm.

''I think overall the banking system remains very sound so that's why I think it's so important for everybody to keep their head,'' commission Chairman Sheila Bair said on C-SPAN. ''What I don't want is to see otherwise healthy institutions start to get into trouble just because of liquidity pressure ... Wall Street should be taking their cue from Main Street right now. Main Street deposits are staying there.''

But the drumbeat of bad news rattled on. A government report said that orders to U.S. factories plunged by the largest amount in nearly two years as the credit strains smashed manufacturers with hurricane-like force.

Stocks declined on Wall Street early Thursday after the number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to a seven-year high. The Dow Jones industrials fell by about 135 points, their fourth straight triple-digit move.

Bush said the issue is affecting employees and families across the country and that lawmakers ''must listen'' so confidence can be restored in markets and financial institutions.

The bailout package was never in danger in the Senate. Lawmakers there played catalysts for the House instead, adding tax provisions popular with the left and right in a bid that House leaders hope -- but cannot guarantee -- will persuade enough of the House rank-and-file to switch from ''nay'' to ''aye'' on a highly contentious bill a month before Election Day.

They were especially targeting the 133 House Republicans who voted against the package.

Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., said Thursday he will vote for the bill, as he did Monday, despite some misgivings.

''I will tell you, the American people are angry and frustrated,'' he said on ABC's ''Good Morning America,'' saying he's been hearing messages like ''the woman who said she was concerned about getting access to a student loan for her daughter.''

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat, said on the same program that she plans to vote no.

''I will not support this legislation because it's the wrong medicine,'' she said. Kaptur argued that the problem should be solved by the market itself, not through governmental intervention.

After the Senate vote, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, ''We've sent a clear message to Americans all over that we will not let this economy fail. This is not a piece of legislation for lower Manhattan. This is legislation for all America.''

The rescue package would let the government spend billions of dollars to buy bad mortgage-related securities and other devalued assets held by troubled financial institutions. If successful, advocates say, that would allow frozen credit to begin flowing again and prevent a serious recession.

To some degree, at least, House GOP opposition appeared to be easing as the Senate added $100 billion in tax breaks for businesses and the middle class, plus a provision to raise, from $100,000 to $250,000, the cap on federal deposit insurance.

House Republicans also welcomed a decision Tuesday by the Securities and Exchange Commission to ease rules that force companies to devalue assets on their balance sheets to reflect the price they can get on the market.

There were worries, though, that the tax breaks might cause some conservative-leaning Democrats who voted for the rescue Monday to abandon it because the revised version would swell the federal deficit.

''I'm concerned about that,'' said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic leader.

The Senate-backed package extends several tax breaks popular with businesses. It would keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting 20 million middle-income Americans. And it would provide $8 billion in tax relief for those hit by natural disasters in the Midwest, Texas and Louisiana.

Leaders in both parties, as well as private economic chiefs almost everywhere, said Congress must quickly approve some version of the bailout measure to start loans flowing and stave off a potential national economic disaster.

But critics on the right and left assailed the rescue plan, which has been panned by their constituents as a giveaway for Wall Street with little obvious benefit for ordinary Americans.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a leading conservative, said the step was ''leading us into the pit of socialism.''

But proponents argued that the financial sector's woes already were being felt by ordinary people in the form of unaffordable credit and underperforming retirement savings. Still, they said voters were unlikely to reward those who vote for the measure.

''There will be no balloons or bunting or parades'' when the rescue becomes law, said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., the Senate Banking Committee chairman.

Tax cuts new and old are favorites for most House Republicans. Help for rural schools was aimed mainly at lawmakers in the West, while disaster aid was a top priority for lawmakers from across the Midwest and South.

Another addition, to extend the deductibility of state and local taxes for people in states without income taxes, helps Florida and Texas, among others.

Increasing the deposit insurance cap was a bid to reassure individuals and small businesses that their money would be safe in the event their banks collapsed. It was particularly geared toward small banks that fear customers will pull their money and park it in larger institutions seen as less likely to fold.

The Senate vote lacked the drama of Monday's House vote, but it had its celebrity moments. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and his GOP rival, John McCain, came off the campaign trail to vote for the package, thrilling tourists who glimpsed them in the Capitol's corridors and drawing hordes of reporters and photographers.


AP White House Correspondent Terence Hunt contributed to this story.

Bush: Lawmakers 'Must Listen' Vote Yes, NYT, 2.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/business/AP-Financial-Meltdown.html



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