Monday's Must Reads

By Tim Grieve
Published August 16, 2004 4:56AM (EDT)

Those looking for proof of the liberal media conspiracy must have done a little self-congratulatory jig Sunday morning, when both the New York Times and the Washington Post fronted long enterprise pieces documenting the ways in which the Bush administration has quietly re-written the rules of federal agencies to favor big business.

The Times reports: "Allies and critics of the Bush administration agree that the Sept. 11 attacks, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq have preoccupied the public, overshadowing an important element of the president's agenda: new regulatory initiatives. Health rules, environmental regulations, energy initiatives, worker-safety standards and product-safety disclosure policies have been modified in ways that often please business and industry leaders while dismaying interest groups representing consumers, workers, drivers, medical patients, the elderly and many others."

The Post's conclusion is similar. The Bush administration "has used the regulatory process to redirect the course of government," the Post says. It has altered regulatory policy on "logging in national forests, patients' rights in government health insurance programs, tests for tainted packaged meats, Indian land transactions and grants to religious charities." The common thread: Bush has "imposed a culture intended to put his anti-regulatory stamp on government."

The Times' project was a one-day affair; the Post's is a three-part series that continues today with a piece on how the administration allows industry to trump science in the regulatory process.

The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that the trail on Osama bin Laden isn't just cold -- it's "icy."

"You can only be sure you're closing in on someone when you at least have a hint of his whereabouts," a senior Pakistani anti-terrorism officer told the Times. "With regard to Osama bin Laden himself, I would say that we are not getting any substantial leads as yet."

That's not to say they're not trying. A Pakistani source told the Times that "the next month and a half is absolutely crucial," and that, "the way the Americans are pressuring Pakistan, they want Osama bin Laden." The next month and a half? You mean between that period of time between now and, oh, October? The Times duly notes that the White House has denied any suggestion "that the United States was pressuring Pakistan to capture or kill bin Laden and other al-Qaida fugitives before the election."

Perhaps the Bush administration would have better luck hunting down bin Laden if it didn't have so many FBI agents knocking on the doors of those who might plan to protest at the Republican National Convention. As the New York Times reports, the FBI is currently working to trail, interview, subpoena and -- it's hard not to think -- generally harass potential protestors.

"In the last few weeks, beginning before the Democratic convention, F.B.I. counterterrorism agents and other federal and local officers have sought to interview dozens of people in at least six states, including past protesters and their friends and family members, about possible violence at the two conventions," the Times reports. "In addition, three young men in Missouri said they were trailed by federal agents for several days and subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury last month, forcing them to cancel their trip to Boston to take part in a protest there that same day."

The Times says investigators generally cover the same three questions: "were demonstrators planning violence or other disruptions, did they know anyone who was, and did they realize it was a crime to withhold such information."

According to the Times, FBI officials say the inquiries "are focused solely on possible crimes, not dissent, at major political events." At least some of those contacted by the FBI see things differently. "The message I took from it," said Sarah Bardwell, 21, an intern at a Denver antiwar group who was visited by six investigators a few weeks ago, "was that they were trying to intimidate us into not going to any protests and to let us know that, 'hey, we're watching you.' ''

You're not likely to find Sarah Bardwell -- or anyone remotely like her -- at the "Ask the President" sessions George W. Bush seems so fond of holding lately. The events are invitation-only, and, as Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the Times today, they have become "the near-daily warm bath" of Bush's re-election campaign. Bush may not always draw the big crowds that are starting to greet Kerry -- the fight for campaign-trail "buzz" is addressed in a Sunday piece in the Boston Globe -- but the folks who do turn out to see the president shower him with love. Here, courtesy of Bumiller's report, are some of the "questions" Bush had to face at recent "Ask the President" events:

"I'm wondering if I can get some inauguration tickets?''

"Can I introduce my mother and mother-in-law, who are new citizens to this country?''

"I'm 60 years old and I've voted Republican from the very first time I could vote. And I also want to say this is the very first time that I have felt that God was in the White House.''

The president said thank you, and the crowd applauded.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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