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Former President George H.W. Bush dies at age 94

HOUSTON

George H.W. Bush, a patrician New Englander whose presidency soared with the coalition victory over Iraq in Kuwait, but then plummeted in the throes of a weak economy that led voters to turn him out of office after a single term, has died. He was 94.

The World War II hero, who also presided during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the final months of the Cold War, died late Friday night, said family spokesman Jim McGrath. His wife of more than 70 years, Barbara Bush, died in April 2018.

The son of a senator and father of a president, Bush was the man with the golden resume who rose through the political ranks: from congressman to U.N. ambassador, Republican Party chairman to envoy to China, CIA director to two-term vice president under the hugely popular Ronald Reagan. The 1991 Gulf War stoked his popularity. But Bush would acknowledge that he had trouble articulating “the vision thing,” and he was haunted by his decision to break a stern, solemn vow he made to voters: “Read my lips. No new taxes.”

He lost his bid for re-election to Bill Clinton in a campaign in which businessman H. Ross Perot took almost 19 percent of the vote as an independent candidate. Still, he lived to see his son, George W., twice elected to the presidency — only the second father-and-son chief executives, following John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

After his 1992 defeat, Bush complained that media-created “myths” gave voters a mistaken impression that he did not identify with the lives of ordinary Americans. He decided he lost because he “just wasn’t a good enough communicator.”

Once out of office, Bush was content to remain on the sidelines, except for an occasional speech or paid appearance and visits abroad. He backed Clinton on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which had its genesis during his own presidency. He visited the Middle East, where he was revered for his defense of Kuwait. And he returned to China, where he was welcomed as “an old friend” from his days as the U.S. ambassador there.

He later teamed with Clinton to raise tens of millions of dollars for victims of a 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean and Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005. During their wide-ranging travels, the political odd couple grew close.

“Who would have thought that I would be working with Bill Clinton, of all people?” Bush quipped in October 2005.

In his post-presidency, Bush’s popularity rebounded with the growth of his reputation as a fundamentally decent and well-meaning leader who, although he was not a stirring orator or a dreamy visionary, was a steadfast humanitarian. Elected officials and celebrities of both parties publicly expressed their fondness.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Bush quickly began building an international military coalition that included other Arab states. After liberating Kuwait, he rejected suggestions that the U.S. carry the offensive to Baghdad, choosing to end the hostilities a mere 100 hours after the start of the ground war.

“That wasn’t our objective,” he told The Associated Press in 2011 from his office just a few blocks from his Houston home. “The good thing about it is there was so much less loss of human life than had been predicted and indeed than we might have feared.”

But the decisive military defeat did not lead to the regime’s downfall, as many in the administration had hoped.

“I miscalculated,” acknowledged Bush. His legacy was dogged for years by doubts about the decision not to remove Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi leader was eventually ousted in 2003, in the war led by Bush’s son that was followed by a long, bloody insurgency.

George H.W. Bush entered the White House in 1989 with a reputation as a man of indecision and indeterminate views. One newsmagazine suggested he was a “wimp.”

But his work-hard, play-hard approach to the presidency won broad public approval. He held more news conferences in most months than Reagan did in most years.

The Iraq crisis of 1990-91 brought out all the skills Bush had honed in a quarter-century of politics and public service.

After winning United Nations support and a green light from a reluctant Congress, Bush unleashed a punishing air war against Iraq and a five-day ground juggernaut that sent Iraqi forces reeling in disarray back to Baghdad. He basked in the biggest outpouring of patriotism and pride in America’s military since World War II, and his approval ratings soared to nearly 90 percent.

The other battles he fought as president, including a war on drugs and a crusade to make American children the best educated in the world, were not so decisively won.

He rode into office pledging to make the United States a “kinder, gentler” nation and calling on Americans to volunteer their time for good causes — an effort he said would create “a thousand points of light.”

It was Bush’s violation of a different pledge, the no-new-taxes promise, that helped sink his bid for a second term. He abandoned the idea in his second year, cutting a deficit-reduction deal that angered many congressional Republicans and contributed to GOP losses in the 1990 midterm elections.

An avid outdoorsman who took Theodore Roosevelt as a model, Bush sought to safeguard the environment and signed the first improvements to the Clean Air Act in more than a decade. It was activism with a Republican cast, allowing polluters to buy others’ clean-air credits and giving industry flexibility on how to meet tougher goals on smog.

He also signed the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act to ban workplace discrimination against people with disabilities and require improved access to public places and transportation.

Bush failed to rein in the deficit, which had tripled to $3 trillion under Reagan and galloped ahead by as much as $300 billion a year under Bush, who put his finger on it in his inauguration speech: “We have more will than wallet.”

Seven years of economic growth ended in mid-1990, just as the Gulf crisis began to unfold. Bush insisted the recession would be “short and shallow,” and lawmakers did not even try to pass a jobs bill or other relief measures.

Bush’s true interests lay elsewhere, outside the realm of nettlesome domestic politics. “I love coping with the problems in foreign affairs,” he told a child who asked what he liked best about being president.

He operated at times like a one-man State Department, on the phone at dawn with his peers — Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union, Francois Mitterrand of France, Germany’s Helmut Kohl.

Communism began to crumble on his watch, with the Berlin Wall coming down, the Warsaw Pact disintegrating and the Soviet satellites falling out of orbit.

He seized leadership of the NATO alliance with a bold and ultimately successful proposal for deep troop and tank cuts in Europe. Huge crowds cheered him on a triumphal tour through Poland and Hungary.

Bush’s invasion of Panama in December 1989 was a military precursor of the Gulf War: a quick operation with a resoundingly superior American force. But in Panama, the troops seized dictator Manuel Noriega and brought him back to the United States in chains to stand trial on drug-trafficking charges.

Months after the Gulf War, Washington became engrossed in a different sort of confrontation over one of Bush’s nominees to the Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas, a little-known federal appeals court judge, was accused of sexual harassment by a former colleague named Anita Hill. His confirmation hearings exploded into a national spectacle, sparking an intense debate over race, gender and the modern workplace. Thomas was eventually confirmed.

In the closing days of the 1992 campaign, Bush fought the impression that he was distant and disconnected, and he seemed to struggle against the younger, more empathetic Clinton.

During a campaign visit to a grocers’ convention, Bush reportedly expressed amazement when shown an electronic checkout scanner. Critics seized on the moment, saying it indicated that the president had become disconnected from voters.

Later at a town-hall style debate, he paused to look at his wristwatch — a seemingly innocent glance that became freighted with deeper meaning because it seemed to reinforce the idea of a bored, impatient incumbent.

In the same debate, Bush became confused by a woman’s question about whether the deficit had affected him personally. Clinton, with apparent ease, left his seat, walked to the edge of the stage to address the woman and offered a sympathetic answer.

Bush said the pain of losing in 1992 was eased by the warm reception he received after leaving office.

“I lost in ‘92 because people still thought the economy was in the tank, that I was out of touch and I didn’t understand that,” he said in an AP interview shortly before the dedication of his presidential library in 1997. “The economy wasn’t in the tank, and I wasn’t out of touch, but I lost. I couldn’t get through this hue and cry for ‘change, change, change’ and ‘The economy is horrible, still in recession.’

George Herbert Walker Bush was born June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts, into the New England elite, a world of prep schools, mansions and servants seemingly untouched by the Great Depression.

His father, Prescott Bush, the son of an Ohio steel magnate, made his fortune as an investment banker and later served 10 years as a senator from Connecticut.

George H.W. Bush enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday in 1942, right out of prep school. He returned home to marry his 19-year-old sweetheart, Barbara Pierce, daughter of the publisher of McCall’s magazine, in January 1945. They were the longest-married presidential couple in U.S. history. She died on April 17, 2018.

Lean and athletic at 6-foot-2, Bush became a war hero while still a teenager. One of the youngest pilots in the Navy, he flew 58 missions off the carrier USS San Jacinto.

He had to ditch one plane in the Pacific and was shot down on Sept. 2, 1944, while completing a bombing run against a Japanese radio tower. An American submarine rescued Bush. His two crewmates perished. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery.

After the war, Bush took just 2½ years to graduate from Yale, then headed west in 1948 to the oil fields of West Texas. Bush and partners helped found Zapata Petroleum Corp. in 1953. Six years later, he moved to Houston and became active in the Republican Party. In politics, he showed the same commitment he displayed in business, advancing his career through loyalty and subservience.

He was first elected to Congress in 1966 and served two terms. President Richard Nixon appointed him ambassador to the United Nations, and after the 1972 election, named him chairman of the Republican National Committee. Bush struggled to hold the party together as Watergate destroyed the Nixon presidency, then became ambassador to China and CIA chief in the Ford administration.

Bush made his first bid for president in 1980 and won the Iowa caucuses, but Reagan went on to win the nomination.

In the 1988 presidential race, Bush trailed the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, by as many as 17 points that summer. He did little to help himself by picking Dan Quayle, a lightly regarded junior senator from Indiana, as a running mate.

But Bush soon became an aggressor, stressing patriotic themes and flailing Dukakis as an out-of-touch liberal. He carried 40 states, becoming the first sitting vice president to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836.

He took office with the humility that was his hallmark.

“Some see leadership as high drama, and the sound of trumpets calling, and sometimes it is that,” he said at his inauguration. “But I see history as a book with many pages, and each day we fill a page with acts of hopefulness and meaning. The new breeze blows, a page turns, the story unfolds.”

Bush approached old age with gusto, celebrating his 75th and 80th birthdays by skydiving over College Station, Texas, the home of his presidential library. He did it again on his 85th birthday in 2009, parachuting near his oceanfront home in Kennebunkport, Maine. He used his presidential library at Texas A&M University as a base for keeping active in civic life.

He became the patriarch of one of the nation’s most prominent political families. In addition to George W. becoming president, another son, Jeb, was elected Florida governor in 1998 and made an unsuccessful run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

The other Bush children are sons Neil and Marvin and daughter Dorothy Bush LeBlond. Another daughter, Robin, died of leukemia in 1953, a few weeks before her fourth birthday.


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editor's pickcenterpiece
Islanders learn to adjust amid frequent street flooding

GALVESTON

Jeff Patterson figured there had to be an engineering solution.

During heavy rain storms, Patterson, a retired engineer who once helped design petrochemical plants, would find himself bailing out his house, using buckets to prevent rising water on 16th Street from rushing into the finished bottom floor of his 131-year old home on the corner of Ball Avenue.

It’s a tiring exercise that he found himself repeating, as rain storms in Galveston began to flood streets above the curb and higher with greater frequency.

So, Patterson decided to build a dam.

“I had to do something different,” he said.

In a city known for its historic efforts to rise above flood waters, more Galveston residents and business owners are making small adjustments to their lives and properties so they can continue to live and work on the island.

When water on 16th Street starts rising, Patterson drills a piece of wood across the gap in the wall that leads to his home’s downstairs. He’s placed anchors in the stone to secure a tight seal.

Nearby, he’s sunk a bucket into the ground that’s large enough to hold a sewer pump. To that, he attaches a double-spouted PVC pipe. When the heavy rains come, most of the flood water is kept on the street side of the dam. The water that falls behind the dam drains in the bucket, and is shot, fountain-like, back into the street.

It works well and Patterson said he hopes to build a more permanent system that blends into the house a little more seamlessly.

His house is like a scale model of Galveston, he said

“It rains, and there’s nowhere for the water to go, so it starts backing up,” Patterson said. “The water’s getting higher, the tides are getting higher. We’re either going to need to raise the island again or you’re going to have to put in a pumping system.”

YESTERDAY, TODAY, TOMORROW

One thing that is undeniable about Galveston Island streets: they have always flooded.

Alumni from Ball High School share the generational experience of wading through high water on 43rd Street to get to class after a rain storm. In the archives of the Galveston County Museum, black and white photos show Model T-type cars driving along a flooded Market Street.

Since the city’s first drainage systems were installed, a combination of high tides, tropical rains and low elevation have conspired to flood roadways. Such is life on a barrier island.

But in recent years, a seemingly increasing number of islanders say they feel street flooding is happening more often during typical rain storms. This year, for instance, street flooding happened on Sept. 3, then again Sept. 14, and on Sept. 28, and finally on Oct. 9.

“When you start seeing a 100-year storm every year, something’s changed,” Patterson said.

About 24 inches of rain fell on Galveston in September. More than half the rain so far in 2018 fell in that single month. It was the second-wettest recorded September in the island’s history.

Recent climate predictions say this year might not be an anomaly.

In a chapter focused on Texas climate changes in the Fourth National Climate Assessment, published by U.S. Global Change Research Program last week, U.S. government researchers wrote that while conditions are expected to become generally drier and hotter, there may also be an increase in the intensity and frequency of “intense precipitation.”

The assessment also predicts sea levels along the Texas coast, which have risen between 5 inches and 17 inches in the past 100 years, will rise between a foot and 4 feet over the next century.

Local officials say one of the root causes of street flooding in Galveston is that water is unable to drain when tides are high, leaving rain water to collect on city streets until the tide goes out.

RISING ABOVE

Another undeniable part of Galveston’s history is making changes to help live with the weather. After the 1900 Storm, the island was raised multiple feet to accommodate the new seawall and to help prevent the storm surge that leveled the island and killed as many as 6,000 people.

Most of the island is categorized as being in a special flood hazard area, meaning it has a 1 percent or more chance of being inundated by floods each year, and island homeowners have also long raised their houses on stilts and pilings so they stay above the water when floods come.

After September’s flooding, the city of Galveston announced plans to build a $30 million pump station on Harborside Drive that could help ease some flooding downtown by draining streets more quickly. But the pumps won’t prevent flooding, officials have said.

That still leaves islanders to continue to find other ways to protect themselves

Kathleen DiNatale began planning for adjustments to her Market Street yoga studio after Hurricane Harvey’s rains flooded the island in August 2017. The flood destroyed her studio’s bamboo flooring. It took six weeks to clean up from that storm.

During that time, she was inspired to find a different solution to help prepare for future floods. Instead of buying a new bamboo floor, DiNatale found a German company that produces floor panels made out of recyclable materials.

DiNatale built a new studio floor out of the mats, which are lightweight and durable, not unlike yoga mats.

The floor rests on 6-inch risers, and if floodwaters threaten to enter the studio, DiNatale can pull up the pads and stack them on higher ground.

Underneath, there’s just a concrete floor that DiNatale can clean using a shop vac.

While DiNatale installed the new floor with a big storm like Harvey in mind, it was tested twice during September’s street floods, she said.

The floods didn’t inundate the building, but water was high enough in the street that passing vehicles pushed waves inside with enough force to reach the back wall of the studio.

It would have done significant damage before she made the flooring change. By being able to pull up her mats, she only lost two days of business, she said.

“It’s saved me already twice this year,” DiNatale said. “It’s paid for itself already, because I didn’t lose the floor.”

In 14 years on Market Street, the studio had only ever flooded during major storms, like Hurricanes Harvey and Ike, DiNatale said.

She suspected September’s flood were exacerbated on her street by recent drainage work done by the city farther west on Market, she said.

“We’ve never had street flooding like we did this year, where it wasn’t a hurricane,” she said. “I bear a certain amount of responsibility, certainly. But I think it’s up to the city to try to organize and plan for what we’ve got going on.”


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Long-awaited sewer system to come to Sunny Beach

GALVESTON

After more than 10 years of waiting, the Sunny Beach subdivision is on track for a $2 million project that would bring sewer lines to replace septic systems.

The project could begin as early as January and should take about eight months to complete, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.

The city allotted a maximum $2.4 million for the project, including contingency funding, Barnett said.

This is welcome news to residents of Sunny Beach, said Judy Shorman, president of the Sunny Beach Neighborhood Association.

“There would be some people that really want sewer because they don’t want to deal with septic,” Shorman said.

The project has been a long time coming. Sunny Beach was slated to get sewer improvements in 2008, but when Hurricane Ike hit, those funds were diverted to recovery projects, she said.

After Hurricane Ike, some residents invested heavily in updated septic systems because of severe storm damage, resident Ron Binkley said.

He lives in Austin, but has owned a home in Sunny Beach for 15 years, he said.

“Mine including everybody else’s just about popped right out of the line,” Binkley said.

These septic systems are costly to maintain, he said.

“People that spent money buying a septic tank in the last few years don’t really feel any rush to have sewer,” Shorman said. “But most people see the long-range benefit.”

With more homes being built in the subdivision, it’s time for sewer, she said.

The city has been working to bring sanitary sewer improvements to the West End for several years.

“Another subdivision checked off the list from septic to sewer,” District 6 Councilwoman Jackie Cole said.

The long process of getting sewer systems to the West End has to do with the expense of bringing pipes that far away from the city core, Cole said.

“Most cities that are 32 miles in diameter are giant big cities with lots of resources,” Cole said. “It’s a lot of piping. It’s a lot of servicing for that distance for relatively not very many homes.”

But the Sunny Beach project is standalone, Barnett said.

“The city is pursuing federal grant funds for other West End projects,” Barnett said.

The current project will run along 8 Mile Road from Stewart Road to Sunny Beach

For Binkley, getting sewer isn’t just about maintenance. The project is about hurricane-proofing his property, he said.

“If we have sewer, then the city is obligated to get it up and running as soon as possible,” Binkley said.

Replacing his septic system after 2008 was extremely expensive, he said. Getting sewers at Sunny Beach has been a long time coming, he said.


Coming Sunday

The Daily News continues its series on race relations in Galveston County.


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UTMB to study respiratory health after Harvey

A new University of Texas Medical Branch study aims to find out how Hurricane Harvey affected the indoor air quality of hurricane victims’ homes, as well as how that air might have affected people’s health.

The study, which is accepting participants and will follow them for a year, will focus on how people’s respiratory health changed after they moved back into homes that were damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

The results of the study could help shape the way houses and other structures are rebuilt after a natural disaster takes place, said Sharon Croisant, director of community-based research for the university’s Center for Environmental Toxicology.

“There are no existing standards for remediation,” Croisant said, referring to rules about how houses should be rebuilt or repaired after a hurricane. “How mold is remediated and what methods are used to do that — that’s what we’re concerned about.”

Cases of respiratory illnesses spiked after natural disasters Croisant has studied in the past, including Hurricane Katrina and river flooding in Iowa, she said. The purpose of the study is to try and find out what role unsafe rebuilding practices plays in this phenomenon.

An Episcopal Health Foundation survey of more than 1,600 people in Harris and Galveston counties found that more than 250 people reported they or someone in their household have a new health condition or one that has worsened since Harvey, according to the study.

Thirty-two percent of those people pointed to respiratory issues as their biggest concern, with mental health problems and high blood pressure following at 26 percent and 10 percent.

Cases of asthma can more than double after a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey, Croisant said.

In Iowa, where cases of asthma jumped from 8 percent of the population to 26 percent in communities alongside the Mississippi, English and Cedar rivers after they flooded last summer, many of the health concerns were related to how people’s homes were repaired after flooding, Croisant said.

“In the homes that were remediated after flooding, you had increases in asthma and respiratory complaints,” she said.

Croisant’s study will establish a baseline of people’s health before they move back into their homes that have been repaired after Harvey. This will involve blood, urine and lung testing, which will continue on for a year or more, Croisant said. At the same time, researchers will test the air quality in test subjects’ homes to see whether there’s a correlation.

Because there aren’t any mold-prevention or mold-cleaning standards, only guidelines, the effect that rebuilt houses can have on respiratory health varies, Croisant said. Depending on the materials that contractors use to repair walls, floors and roofs, there can be different levels of gas emitted.

“Different wall boards or carpeting, they tend to off gas for a period of time,” Croisant said. “That was a problem with FEMA trailers after Katrina — some of them off-gassed formaldehyde.

“We joke about the new car smell, or the smell of new carpet. What you’re actually smelling are new products that are releasing gases, and some can be harmful, especially if there aren’t any rules governing them.”

To learn more about the study or to ask about participating, people should contact 409-772-9110.