The Crowning of Bush

The lavish inaugural will cost you a lot—as if it's any of your business

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Next Thursday's lavish inauguration is payback time for the people and corporations that financed Bush's re-election campaign. Companies and executives contributed 96 percent of the $17.8 million collected as of late last week to pay for the festivities, according to a new study by Public Citizen. The inauguration has a reported price tag of $40 million.

Wall Street is the largest contributor, with $5 million so far. The finance and securities industry, which has already given Bush $21.7 million for his presidential campaign, is eagerly awaiting the green light for the enormous new business of managing individual accounts under a new Social Security setup. Wall Street would get to tailor a mutual fund for every person in the country and extract management and brokerage fees from each one.

The energy industry's $2.3 million is the second-biggest contribution. It gave Bush $5.2 million for his election campaign last year. The energy business looks forward to incentives for drilling for more oil and gas on the outer continental shelf, along the eastern front of the Rockies, and in Alaska. And under Bush it has seen profits leap ahead with sky-high prices for natural gas and gasoline.

Bush and his buddies
photo: Master Sgt. James Bowman/U.S. Air Force
Bush and his buddies

Much of the cost of next week's binge will be borne by the citizens of the District of Columbia. Their taxes will pay for $11.9 million of the cost of the event. Included will be $8.8 million in overtime pay for 2,000 D.C. police officers, $2.7 million for out-of-town cops brought in to help out, $3 million to build reviewing stands, and $2.5 million for public works, such as health care, transportation, and firefighters.

The money for these things will come out of Homeland Security funds that were meant to increase hospital capacity and better equip firefighters. During last summer's political conventions, Congress paid both New York and Boston for local security costs.

Taxpayers across the country will foot a bill of around $66 million, the cost of giving federal workers in the capital area a day off on Thursday. It's unclear how much the government pays for half a day off before the inauguration, when it wants to clear the city so it can begin closing off streets for security purposes.

"It's an unfunded mandate of the most odious kind," a spokesman for Republican Tom Davis, chair of the House Government Reform Committee, which oversees D.C. affairs, told The Washington Post. "How can the District be asked to take funds from important homeland security projects to pay for this instead?"



If you're going (crazy) . . .

Some great package deals at the inaugural:

"Candlelight dinner," at Union Station, the Washington Hilton, or the National Building Museum: $2,500.

"Underwriter" package: Two tickets for a lunch banquet with the president and vice president, plus 20 tickets to one of the three candlelight dinners: $250,000.

"Sponsor" package: 10 candlelight dinner tickets, for a total of $100,000.

Bleacher seats on Pennsylvania Avenue to watch the parade: $15, $60, or $125 each.

A seat, at the Capitol's East Front, for the swearing-in: $250.

Mementos: "Medallion Collection," $1,190; silver cuff links, $95; crystal ice bucket and flute set, $84.95; crystal paperweight, $42.95; key chain, $7.95; button, $3.

Jefferson Hotel package: For $1 million, guests get 24-hour limousine service, spa treatments, his-and-her gold Presidential Rolex watches, fashions by the couture designer of choice, Tiffany diamonds, and for those interested, a trip to Chicago for a private tour of "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years," a Field Museum exhibit.

Sofitel Lafayette Square package: For $75,000, the "Don't Mess With Texas" package treats guests to a suite filled with yellow roses, and you get sterling silver spurs bearing the inaugural logo.

Black Tie and Boots gala: For as much as $1,455 per ticket, each attendee gets to be photographed on a bull. (Sorry, but this is already sold out.)

Items banned from the inaugural for security reasons: packages, bags or backpacks; vacuum bottles; coolers; food, alcohol, and other beverages; firearms, knives, or pocket tools; explosives or fireworks; umbrellas (ponchos are permitted); strollers; animals (except service animals); laser pointers; Mace or pepper spray; pole-mounted posters or signs. Signs made of cardboard, poster board, or cloth, no larger than 20 inches by 36 inches, are allowed. Cameras are allowed but not tripods or large equipment bags.



Warning: Mad cow crossing

Driven by its enthusiasm for deregulation and free trade, the Bush administration seems poised on the edge of an abyss from which there is no retreat: introducing an epidemic of mad cow disease to North America.

Last week the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed a second case of mad cow disease. There now have been four confirmed mad cow cases in North America within the past two years. The most recent case is especially ominous, because the cow in question was born after 1997, when a ban on certain animal parts in feed was put into place in both the U.S. and Canada. Scientists believe that the disease is spread through the feed system, which has generally contained bits and pieces of other animals. A study by Canadian food inspectors showed that two-thirds of the Canadian feed and half the imported feed labeled "vegetarian" in fact contain animal parts.

"This latest case of mad cow highlights that dangerous loopholes in both countries' laws still exist," says Michael Hansen, a scientist at Consumers Union. "In the United States, for example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still allows cattle remains to be fed to other animals, such as pigs and chickens, whose remains can then be fed back to cows. Even the remains of an animal known to carry a form of mad cow disease could go into rendered feed, under current FDA rules." Not only are these feed bans inadequate, Consumers Union points out, but they are not well-enforced.

The border has been closed to Canadian beef imports since May 2003. But the Bush administration, under pressure from the feed industry, is intent on reopening it this March, come hell or high water. The American Feed Industry Association, which represents 690 companies that produce three-quarters of the commercial feed and pet food sold in the U.S., is pushing hard to get the border open, and so is the American Meat Institute.

But not everyone is for dropping the ban. "This news, coupled with reports of frequent violations of the feed ban in Canada, should move the U.S. Department of Agriculture to withdraw or at least suspend its rule allowing a resumption of Canadian beef imports into this country," Roger Johnson, North Dakota's agriculture commissioner, said last week. "The Canadians need to trace and test all cattle that may have come in contact with contaminated feed." The lobbying group R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America has sued the Agriculture Department to block entry of Canadian beef. According to the Canadian Press, "The U.S. beef ban has cost the Canadian industry some $4 billion [Canadian] and thousands of jobs."

The most recent mad cow discovery doesn't seem to have changed anything. After meeting with American ag officials, Dr. Brian Evans, Canada's chief veterinarian, told the Canadian Press last week that U.S. officials "are committed to" dropping the import ban, adding, "They feel the [new] rule [dropping the ban] is fundamentally sound and that Canada is fundamentally a minimal-risk country that fully meets those criteria." Ann Veneman, the outgoing secretary of agriculture, stood by the decision to open the market. "We will continue to investigate this process and determine if there's any different actions that need to be taken. But at this point, everything that we've put in place remains on track."

But John Stauber, who has written about mad cow and is executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, said, "Britain's experiences . . . prove that only with a total and complete ban on the feeding of rendered slaughterhouse waste to livestock can the spread of mad cow disease be halted. In both Canada and the United States annually, billions of pounds of rendered slaughterhouse waste—primarily mammalian protein, fat, and blood—are still legally fed to cattle and other livestock. The 1997 regulations, the so-called 'firewall feed ban,' are a joke."


Additional reporting: Nicole Duarte and David Botti

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