STATE SIDE BY JOHAN FERNANDEZ
What a week it has been. First it was Hurricane Wilma that swept through Florida causing death, damage and destruction. Though not of the scale of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it did enough damage to send southern Floridians reeling.
This week also marked a new milestone in the Iraq war with the number of American soldiers killed passing the 2,000 mark. In addition there are more than 15,000 injured, some very seriously.
The deaths have ignited protests and the debate as to whether the US should bring its troops home, though President Bush has always maintained that he would stay the course as that was the right thing to do to honour the dead.
On Thursday, the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers, withdrew her nomination suddenly, a move that was hailed by the conservative wing of the Republican party.
Miers and President Bush cited their concern with requests of members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for documents dealing with her work as White House counsel that the administration has chosen to withhold as privileged.
The nomination of Miers to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was already in deep trouble, as it had little support in the Senate, with senators from both sides of the aisle openly criticising her nomination.
Miers’ withdrawal was the only way for her to save the president any embarrassment should she have failed to get the votes in the Senate.
Republican conservatives are now rejoicing and hailing Miers for helping to save the embattled president.
But worse could be ahead this weekend for the president when Special Counsel in the CIA leak investigation, Patrick Fitzgerald, is expected to wrap up his investigations and possibly announce indictments.
Fitzgerald’s investigations into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, who is the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson Jr, has been focused on President Bush’s top political adviser Karl Rove and I. Lewis Libby Jr, who is Vice-President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff.
On Friday, Libby resigned after a federal grand jury charged him with lying to investigators in the CIA leak probe. Rove escaped indictment but would remain under investigation.
The president is facing battles on all fronts and almost one year after his re-election, his second-term agenda has hardly taken off.
One interesting development with the Bush administration is the question of cronyism. It is a term bandied around so often these days to describe some of his appointments.
For as long as anyone can remember, that word cronyism was always reserved to describe some leaders of developing countries or people who the western media did not like.
When Miers was nominated to the Supreme Court, it angered conservatives who said that by choosing a friend, Bush ensured that his nominee would face questions about her credentials and whether she benefited from cronyism.
Pat Buchanan in a statement posted at Human Events Online said: “In selecting her, Bush capitulated to the diversity-mongers, used a critical Supreme Court seat to reward a crony, and revealed that he lacks the desire to engage the Senate in fierce combat to carry out his now-suspect commitment to remake the court in the image of (Justices Antonin) Scalia and (Clarence) Thomas.
“Were she not a friend of Bush, and female, she would never have even been considered.”
Miers, 60, was once Bush’s personal lawyer in Texas and a successful player in a large Dallas law firm.
Another Bush appointee who brought the issue into the spotlight was Michael Brown, who was appointed the first Under Secretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response in the newly-created Department of Homeland Security in January 2003.
As the head of the Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Brown was in charge of federal disaster response and recovery operations and coordinated disaster activities with more than two dozen federal agencies and departments and the American Red Cross.
But when Hurricane Katrina struck in September, Brown, who had virtually no background in emergency response before coming to the agency, proved to have utterly misjudged the situation. FEMA was not prepared to handle such a disaster.
Later investigations showed that he was not qualified for the job and his resume was in question.
Brown’s resignation was welcomed by members of Congress who accused the administration of making the agency a dumping ground for his political cronies.
Then there is Julie Myers, Bush’s nominee to head the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security, even though she has no experience in this field.
Myers uncle is Air Force Gen Richard B. Myers, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She is married to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s current chief of staff.
Crony capitalism, it appears, too is alive and well in the US. The billion dollar reconstruction contracts in Iraq on a non-competitive basis were given to companies with close ties to the administration.
US Congressman Henry A. Waxman and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi have introduced the Anti-Cronyism and Public Safety Act, which would prohibit the president from appointing unqualified individuals to critical public safety positions in the government.
“President Bush has handed out some of the country’s most difficult and important jobs, leadership positions in public safety and emergency response, to politically well-connected individuals with no experience or qualifications,” Rep Waxman said.
“This common sense legislation will end this practice and ensure that public safety is back in the hands of those who are trained and experienced in protecting the public.”
The bill would require any presidential appointee for a public safety position to have proven, relevant credentials for that position. In addition, the legislation bars from appointment to an agency any individual who has been a lobbyist for an industry subject to the agency’s authority during the preceding two years.
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