Arabian Business Weekly Update October 9, 2005

The White House is drowning in a sea of scandal that threatens the president’s future legacy. Ever since Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in August, George Bush and his ailing Republican Party have been in danger of drowning in a rising tide of sleaze allegations. The president’s stuttering and bungling response to the storm’s aftermath has cost him dearly. His approval ratings are in freefall and only 42% of the US population are currently barely satisfied with his performance.

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By  Stuart Qualtrough Published  October 9, 2005

Rising tide of sleaze|~||~||~|The White House is drowning in a sea of scandal that threatens the president’s future legacy. Ever since Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in August, George Bush and his ailing Republican Party have been in danger of drowning in a rising tide of sleaze allegations. The president’s stuttering and bungling response to the storm’s aftermath has cost him dearly. His approval ratings are in freefall and only 42% of the US population are currently barely satisfied with his performance. However, acts of incompetence are one thing, corrupt practices are another. With the news that an official probe has been launched to investigate claims that pro-White House firms have captured lucrative post-Katrina rebuilding contracts, the wolves are beginning to gather. The inquiry is only one of many that are suddenly engulfing the current presidency. Tom DeLay, one of Bush’s closest allies and Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives, was forced to stand down last week after a Texas grand jury charged him with conspiracy. He was also subsequently charged with money laundering. Bill Frist, the Senate’s Republican leader, is under investigation for alleged insider share-dealing and it is said there are more to come as the leaden hurricane skies are being replaced with political storm clouds. Particular focus is on scandals directly affecting the White House. A special prosecutor’s inquiry into the illegal, politically motivated leaking of a CIA agent’s name to the media has reportedly implicated Lewis Libby, chief-of-staff to VP Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove, Bush’s political strategist. A new official report has uncovered unlawful media manipulation amounting to “covert propaganda” by the Bush administration, which became commonplace as taxpayers’ money was used to purchase favourable news coverage, partly by paying supposedly independent commentators. And last month, a senior official in the White House Office of Management and Budget was arrested on charges of obstructing investigations into Republican lobbyists. All these inquiries are set to produce sensational disclosures and indictments. Every administration has its scandals and no president apart from Richard Nixon has been brought down in modern times. But the ethics storm battering the Republicans may further weaken Bush’s authority, endanger his already frail legislative agenda and, more importantly, feed concerns about White House honesty over Iraq.||**||Back of the queue|~||~||~|With the impending bird flu pandemic set to claim the lives of up to 7.5 million people worldwide, why is it that the Middle East has to wait until next March for an effective stockpile of antiviral drugs? For months the World Health Organisation has warned governments to start stockpiling Tamiflu, the only drug on the market known to counter the avian flu threat. But its makers, Roche are struggling to fulfil their bulging order books as governments across Europe have already stepped in to snap up all available doses. Its over-stretched capacity means that Middle East countries will not be able to react quickly to an outbreak for months. According to leading health experts, the question of bird flu is not whether it will sweep across the globe, but when. So surely protecting the lives of millions of people should be uppermost on the agenda of the pharmaceutical industry. Roche should, therefore, approach some of its rivals to share their capacity and offer the instant protection the Middle East requires.||**||The writing’s on the wall|~||~||~|The year 2005 has certainly been one that Arab politicians should reflect on. Stirrings of dissent on the streets of Beirut, Cairo and elsewhere in the region have shown that people are yearning for change, and are no longer afraid to voice their disappointment with their present leaders and political disenfranchisement. This trend is highlighted in this issue by an exclusive poll which shows widespread disgruntlement with regional leaders — further evidence of the upsurge in political awareness that has followed 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. Its findings demonstrate that a transformation in the political processes of countries across the region must take place, and one that will bring about genuine change. Dawdling moves by governments towards democracy and half-hearted elections may work for now, but the tide is heading in a different direction over the longer term.||**||

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