Barack Obama, in his first press conference as president-elect, stressed that the U.S. has only one president at a time. The rest of us would do well to remember that.
George W. Bush is still in office and still has all the powers he did for the first seven years of his presidency, though his ability to set an agenda is diminished and he can give an exclusive interview to CNN that gets less hype than one from Sarah Palin does.
It’s been tradition for a while among presidents to save their shadiest business for their lame duck period, since our celebrity-worship culture will be enamored of its shiny new plaything, the president-elect.
One of those shady business practices is burrowing, or transferring political appointees into career positions in civil service—where they can continue to share their ideological wealth with the rest of the country for years on end. The gift that keeps on giving, so to speak. This isn’t a practice that Dubya has invented, but it’s definitely one he’s taking advantage of, seeding the bureaucracies with conservatives who will continue to push a Bush agenda for years to come.
In an even nastier move, Bush is rushing to relax endangered species regulations, allowing the federal agencies in charge of building projects to decide for themselves if an endangered species would be harmed by their building projects. Kind of like letting factories police themselves on air pollution, eh?
The New York Times reported another story under the innocuous headline “Protests Over a Rule to Protect Health Providers”. But what this rule would actually do is allow doctors and health professionals who have religious objections to abortion and birth control not to perform or prescribe anything that offends their religious beliefs.
Great, let’s protect people’s religious beliefs. But why isn’t it obvious that these same people shouldn’t be in a position to have power over women’s reproductive health if they don’t believe in women’s right to make choices about it?
Nondiscrimination rules already on the books could force employers to hire people who then would refuse to do their jobs. So said religious beliefs are, in fact, being protected at the expense of women’s health and well-being.
This rule seems to have missed a Bush administration deadline that was supposedly there to prevent last-minute rule changes, but they claim it is an “extraordinary circumstance,” without giving any justification. Perhaps the “extraordinary circumstance” was the election of a president committed to women’s control over their own bodies?
Still scarier is a proposal to expand still further the government’s domestic surveillance powers—in layman’s terms, our government’s ability to keep tabs on us.
The administration has also approved developing new oil shale deposits without first considering environmental impacts, a rule that would require HIV/AIDS prevention organizations to denounce prostitution, and would deny funding to any organization that advocates for the legalization of prostitution. Kind of like the global gag rule, but with HIV/AIDS. The administration also wants to deny funding to organizations that help victims of sex trafficking if they also advocate legalized consensual prostitution. These and others can be found on ProPublica.org’s list of midnight regulations.
What can be done about these regulations? Well, they can be undone easily if they have not yet taken effect by the time Obama is sworn in.
But if they have, the rulemaking process must start over again, which allows for legal challenges and ties up the business of the new administration for months. There’s also a provision that allows Congress to challenge new rules. Under the Congressional Review Act, passed in 1996 by the Republican Congress planning to thwart last-minute Clinton rules, the legislature can stop rules from going into effect, but this is a cumbersome process. Politico.com has more.
Finally, there’s a new status of forces agreement with Iraq, negotiated quickly because the administration seems to not have wanted Obama getting his hands on the deal. According to a McClatchy article, Pentagon officials claim the agreement made unprecedented concessions to the Iraqi government. In the Arabic version, the agreement was called a “withdrawal accord.”
So if it’s an agreement to withdraw troops, why was Bush in such a rush to get his name on it, when he’s been opposed to withdrawal for, well, ever?
I don’t know, but I don’t trust this White House as far as I could throw it. The text of the agreement is here. Among other things, it gives the Iraqi government the right to exercise jurisdiction over U.S. troops and contractors who may commit crimes when they are off duty.
It also states that “All U.S. forces are to withdraw from all Iraqi territory, water and airspace no later than the 31st of December of 2011.”
Funny how little press that one sentence is getting. Or any of these rule changes, frankly. It’s much more fun to talk about Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, isn’t it?