By BONNIE ERBE
The worse it gets for the Bush administration, the harder the executive branch seems to be stretching to make it even worse still.
Last week produced some of the most stunning public-relations disasters on record for the Bush boys (as in, "good ol' "). And this speaks volumes for an administration that mishandled the Katrina response, prevaricated about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and has done its darnedest to run us into impossible debt.
Opposition Democrats were joined by a chorus of the most loyal of Bush Republicans on the latest faux pas. Both parties are urging the special counsel investigating the CIA leak of a secret agent's name to find out whether Vice President Dick Cheney authorized his former chief of staff to leak this classified information.
So it wasn't torturous enough that court documents disclosed last week revealed that Cheney's former chief of staff, the now-infamous Lewis "Scooter" Libby, claims he was told to leak the information by his superiors.
It wasn't disastrous enough that even the most conservative of conservatives, Sen. George Allen, R-Va., told "Fox New Sunday" he doesn't think anybody should be releasing classified information and Libby's charges deserve a full airing.
Guess the White House wasn't reading last month's Gallup poll, which showed: "A majority of Americans say that George W. Bush's presidency has been a failure, rather than a success, so far."
What better time, then, to do something even less popular than running up billions of dollars in debt and sending honorable American servicemen and servicewomen to be maimed or killed in Iraq? The San Francisco Chronicle's Web site reports that "the Bush administration identified Friday more than 300,000 acres of national forest, including about 85,000 acres in California, that could be sold to pay for services in rural areas across the country.
"National Forest Service officials said they want to sell about 200,000 acres to raise about $800 million over the next few years to pay for schools and roads in rural counties hurt by logging cutbacks on federal land. The Bureau of Land Management has said it also plans to sell federal lands to raise an estimated $250 million over five years."
Once again, a decision of unparalleled bad timing and award-winning maladroitness.
Guess those boys didn't "pay no mind" to Gov. Robert Ehrlich, R-Md., who suffered months of political backlash against attempts by top aides to market large tracts of environmentally sensitive land to developers. The Washington Post reported: "In one deal, the Ehrlich administration tried to sell 836 acres of woodlands in St. Mary's County to a Baltimore builder, despite strong resistance from experts in the state's land preservation unit. In another, Ehrlich's allies on the University System of Maryland Board of Regents were advocating a plan to sell off portions of an 840-acre environmental research lab ..."
Ehrlich's gang is still backpedaling and excuse-making to try to regain Marylanders' support after that stunt _ a thinly disguised sop to his financial backers. Guess the Bush administration wasn't paying any attention. Nor was it watching when hundreds of thousands of voters opened a fire hose of protest onto members of Congress last year, preventing the opening of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. This, despite Republican control of both chambers of Congress.
Americans have spoken loud and clear. The administration isn't listening. Preservation of precious open space is popular. Destruction of it is not. Yes, rural areas need better services: better schools, better health care and better roads. But there are as many sensible ways to pay for those services as there are facets in the Hope Diamond.
Selling federal land to raise money is senseless. Try scaling back Halliburton's take in the rebuilding of Iraq. Try getting rid of congressional "earmarks" and other forms of pork. But don't destroy environmental treasures. The more this administration continues to dig itself into the deepest of holes, who knows? By the time the Bush gang heads back to Texas, those treasures might be all we have left.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes a column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)
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