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Geraldine Sealey
February 13, 2004 7:30PM (UTC)

Bush popularity at career low
President Bush's popularity has sunk to its lowest point as questions continue about the Iraq war, frustrations persist on the economy and as John Kerry has sparked public interest, the latest joint ABCNEWS and Washington Post poll finds.

Bush's popularity is at 50 percent, while fewer than half of Americans say the war with Iraq was worth fighting -- for the first time ever. Fifty-seven percent disapprove of Bush's performance creating jobs. And John Kerry leads him in a head-to-head match-up, 51 percent to 43 percent.

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"Context is critical: These results come at the zenith of the Democratic primary season, after a period of intense and positive coverage of Kerry; and they follow a slump for Bush extending from his poorly reviewed State of the Union address through his admission that Iraq might not have had weapons of mass destruction after all," writes ABC polling director Gary Langer in his analysis of the numbers.

But Langer also says the continued questions about Bush's National Guard duty during the Vietnam War lack traction with the public so far. Americans by more than 2-to-1 -- 66 percent to 30 percent -- say it's not a legitimate issue in the election campaign. More, by contrast, say it is legitimate to look into questions about Kerry's fundraising as a U.S. senator (a 42 percent to 46 percent split).

"But there's no doubt that the president's in some difficulty. The number of Americans who view him as honest and trustworthy has dived from 70 percent before the Iraq war to 52 percent now. It is threatening for a president to have his fundamental veracity in some doubt, particularly on issues of policy rather than (as with Bill Clinton) personal conduct," Langer writes.

Bush's elusive Guard colleagues
The New York Times reports today on the informal search for "someone, anyone, who recalls encountering First Lt. George W. Bush in 1972 in the Alabama Air National Guard.

"At Fort George C. Wallace, the Montgomery headquarters of the Alabama National Guard, officials have responded to growing scrutiny of President Bush's military record by searching through records for proof of his service in the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group. Former comrades from the 187th have been calling and e-mailing one another, always with the same basic question: Did you see him? So far, it appears that their efforts have come to naught. Indeed, in interviews this week with The New York Times, 16 retired officers, pilots and senior enlisted men who served among hundreds with the 187th in 1972 all said that they simply could not recall seeing Mr. Bush at Dannelly Air Base, the sprawling compound adjacent to Montgomery's airport that is home to the 187th."

The records dribbling continues
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reports, the White House responded to pressure from reporters and Democrats for the third time this week by releasing yet more records about the president's guard duty -- but they're still not releasing all of them.

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White House spokesman Scott McClellan showed reporters a copy of an application that had been blacked out when released during the campaign four years ago. The document shows Bush was cited for a prank in college and that as a teenager he was involved in two traffic collisions and received two speeding tickets. The prank has been known about for some time, but the collisions and speeding tickets are new details about the president's youth.

The Times says: "White House officials previously said they had released all relevant records available to them; but this week they repeatedly provided new information, much of which suggested that Bush did in fact fulfill his Guard obligation. Pilot logs and unit diaries that might be part of a Guard pilot's record have not been released. It is not known whether those documents exist in Bush's record, but such information would add details of his service experience. The White House has not fully explained several aspects of Bush's Guard record, including two suspensions for 'failure to accomplish' a physical examination and the fact that no one has stepped forward from the Alabama squadron who remembers Bush being there."

Halliburton employees have proof of rip-off
The AP reports on the two former Halliburton employees who have evidence the company routinely wasted U.S. taxpayers' money and the Democratic lawmakers who are bringing the issue to Pentagon auditors.

"While one ex-employee asked that his name not be disclosed, a second, Henry Bunting, agreed to testify Friday before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee -- an organization of Democratic senators. Two of the most persistent Halliburton critics wrote Pentagon auditors on Thursday specifying the allegations of wasteful practices. Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and John Dingell, D-Mich., said 90 percent of the company's global support contract -- worth $3.7 billion so far -- is for work in Iraq. Halliburton, run by Cheney before his 2000 vice presidential campaign, has consistently denied overcharges."

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Bush defies scientific evidence, pushes abstinence-only
The AP reports on Bush administration plans to double spending on sexual abstinence programs that bar any discussion of birth control or condoms to prevent pregnancy or AIDS "despite a lack of evidence that such programs work." The CDC credits prevention programs that include both abstinence and contraceptive education for the declining teen birth and pregnancy rates.

But Bush seems to have better information than the leading scientists in the field. "In his State of the Union address, President Bush said, 'We will double federal funding for abstinence programs, so schools can teach this fact of life: Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases.'"

Bush wants to spend $270 million on abstinence-only education, compared with $100 million annually when he took office, and wants to move the programs into the same agency within the Health and Human Services Department that oversees religious-based programs and the president's proposal to promote marriage, the AP says.

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"Advocates of comprehensive sex education said the shift, coupled with the additional money, is part of Bush's election-year appeal to conservatives. They said the administration's proposal flies in the face of research that credits both abstinence and contraception with reducing the teenage birth rate by 30 percent in the past decade to historic lows."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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