The Bush Files

A sampling of the day's best independent news, views, and resources on US politics, keeping an eye on the Bush Administration. Updated each weekday.

| Fri Nov. 2, 2001 4:00 AM EST

Nov. 2, 2001

Administration's verbal bumbling -- Chicago Tribune
Since Sept. 11, it seems the Bush administration has collectively adopted the President's propensity for verbal miscues. Mike Conklin outlines 10 cases in which a member of the administration made a statement which was later retracted, qualified, or otherwise corrected. There was Bush's use of the word "crusade" to characterize the coming US miliatry efforts, for which White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer later apologized after it was pointed out that the Crusades were a Christian religious war against Muslims. Bush later announced that Osama bin Laden would be brought to justice "dead or alive"; later Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted that the man might not ever be caught (even later, Rumsfeld qualified his comments again, saying he believed bin Laden would be captured). Administration officials have repeatedly denied initial reports that US bombs have hit civilian targets (such as a Red Cross warehouse, and two hospitals), only to withdraw their denials in the face of overwhelming evidence. As the retractions pile up, Conklin says, it's "turning into a seven-course meal of crow."

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George W., Harry Truman and Prince Hal -- Washington Times
"George Bush will either fulfill the ideal notion that a president can rise to the requirements of his time, or he'll fail," writes Suzanne Fields. Hard for a prediction like that to prove false, but Fields goes on to draw an interesting parallel between Bush and Harry Truman, a man of dubious education who was tested by the Second World War. Truman, of course, proved his presidential mettle in a time of crisis. Fields sees a further fictional parallel in Shakespeare's Prince Hal, the irresponsible young royal who eventually became Henry V. "Prince Hal, like George W. the former frat boy, enjoyed carousing with fun fellows, his drinking and sporting companions, but when he was called on to take reins of power, he put away his childish things," writes Fields.

Nov. 1, 2001

Spinning the war -- Los Angeles Times
Seeking an edge in the propaganda war being fought in the Muslim world, President George W. Bush has enlisted Charlotte Beers, described by Times reporter Norman Kempster as "one of the towering figures of the advertising business." Beers, officially the new Undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs, took office a month ago. A former chairwoman of Ogilvy & Mather and J. Walter Thompson, Beers told Advertising Age that she would rely on product-style advertising strategies, perhaps even buying time on al-Jazeera, the Arab world's leading television network, to deliver pro-American messages. Critics worry that while Beers may be good at peddling products to consumers, she has no qualifications for the subtleties of war-time propaganda. The Wall Street Journal 's Al Hunt noted that Beers "recently talked about using the Internet to get out the American message. That'd reach only the 1% of the Arab world that is wired."

Halliburton and Hussein -- San Francisco Bay Guardian
During Vice President Dick Cheney's five-year reign as CEO of oil-services company Halliburton Inc., the firm made several major deals worth a total of some $24 million with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, according to Martin A. Lee. Halliburton reportedly used European subsidiaries as intermediaries to get around sanctions barring US companies from doing business with Iraq. Under the agreements, Halliburton helped rebuild the country's oil infrastructure following the Gulf War. "[T]hese greasy transactions helped Saddam Hussein retain his grip on power while lining the pockets of Cheney and company," writes Lee.

Oct. 31, 2001

Judge calls Norton "contemptuous" -- Denver Post
A federal judge in Colorado lambasted Interior Secretary Gale Norton Tuesday, calling her actions related to native American trust accounts "contemptuous on their face," Bill McAllister reports. The judge's statements came during a hearing on a five-and-a-half-year old lawsuit charging that the federal government has bungled the management of more than 300,000 trust accounts worth more than $10 billion. In February, Norton ordered her office to conduct statistical sampling to determine the severity of the problems with the accounts, a strategy the judge had already warned the agency's previous head, Bruce Babbit, not to pursue. If the judge makes good on his threat to hold Norton in contempt, she will be the first Bush Administration official disciplined by a federal court.

The politics of kids' dollar bills -- San Francisco Chronicle
Some parents and teachers are getting a bit queasy about the enthusiasm with which kids are cleaning out their piggy banks to send money to the White House -- ostensibly to help suffering Afghan children half a world away. Meredith May reports that adults are wondering if President Bush's call for American children to help might just possibly be more a public relations ploy than an effective strategy to relieve children's suffering. Says teacher David DeHart: "[I]t's sort of odd to get kids to bring dollars for the government when you see all these huge bailouts for the airline and insurance companies happening."

Oct. 30, 2001

Air conditioner flap cools agency relations -- Associated Press
So much for unity in a time of crisis. While the rest of the Bush administration is focused on domestic terrorism, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department are at each other's throats over, of all things, air conditioners. At issue, reports H. Josef Herbert, is the Energy Department's move to rescind a Clinton-era regulation aimed at making residential air conditioners one-third more efficient. The Energy Department has recommended lowering the new efficiency benchmark to 20 percent, citing unreasonable burdens the higher standard would put on the air conditioner manufacturing industry. But the EPA rejects that estimates, suggesting the Energy Department is seeking to sacrifice air quality as a favor for big business.

Spinning Bush's weight loss -- The Times (UK)
With seven weeks of crisis starting to take a toll on President Bush, Roland Watson and Damian Whitworth report that White House staff "are rewriting biology and stretching credulity" in trying to explain the president's weight loss. Watson and Whitworth report that Bush's Chief of Staff Andrew Card deflected questions about the president's new, slimmer look, saying, "I think what you might be seeing is a redistribution of weight." Card reportedly says Bush is running an extra mile every day on the treadmill in the White House gym. "He has exercised with a little more vigour these days, because he's anxious to rout out the terrorists," says Card.

Oct. 29, 2001

Bush hands a victory to mining industry -- The Associated Press
You might not know it by watching the news, but some things in George W. Bush's Washington haven't changed: the Bush Administration repealed yet another Clinton-era environmental regulation late last week, The Associated Press reported. Interior Secretary Gale Norton has nixed a rule which gave her office power to block the construction of new mines or the expansion of existing mines on federal land if the construction would significantly hurt local communities or ecology. Conservationists have indicated they plan to sue to reinstate the rule, which allowed citizens to launch complaints to compel the federal government to evaluate the impact of such mines before approving them.

Bush's secrecy game -- National Journal (via Government Executive)
President George W. Bush and members of his administration have been devoting an awful lot of time railing against leaks by government sources during recent public appearances. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in particular, "sounded this week as if Bush's battle was being waged as much inside the Pentagon as outside it," writes Alexis Simendinger of the National Journal. Still, Simendinger says it's important to remember how many presidents have faced a similar challenge, weighing intelligence against the public's right to know. "Bush's desire to control information about his assault on terrorism is not novel," says Simendinger. "What is important is how far his administration decides to go to keep its confidences, believing it knows best about the public's right to know. "

Has Bush set the bar too high? -- Business Week
The Bush administration made key errors early in its public relations approach to the new war on terrorism, according to Business Week. By presenting the likelihood of wiping out Osama bin Laden and the Taliban as a slam-dunk surety, the administration set American expectations high. Now, as the first weeks of the attacks pass by and the Taliban prove a tough foe, and as near panic grips America in the wake of repeated anthrax attacks, the administration is stuck appearing to be on the verge of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Part of the problem, writes Richard Dunham, is that the administration went overboard in its attempts to exert strict control over the information to which the public was privy. "The Administration would be far better served with more TV video of U.S. soldiers repeating the company line instead of talking heads fretting about defeat," Dunham argues. "President Bush has to be concerned about the collateral damage that could occur if the public's resolute support for the war effort weakens. In this case, it's possible that tight lips could sink ships, too."

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