Devil in the Details

Bush Flips and Flops

On August 3, 2000, in Philadelphia, Republican candidate George W. Bush accepted his party's nomination for president and delivered a stirring address. As we await the president's upcoming convention speech four years later, let us reflect on the promises he made then and the realities he's created. Can you say “flip-flop”?

Flip: “America has a strong economy and a surplus. We have the public resources and the public will, even the bipartisan opportunities, to strengthen Social Security … .”

Flop: Projected deficit for 2004: $445 billion. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that, if Bush's tax cuts are made permanent, the revenue loss over the next 75 years will be triple the size of the Social Security shortfall over the same period.

Flip: “We will set [Medicare] on firm financial ground and make prescription drugs available and affordable for every senior who needs them.”

Flop: The new prescription-drug law covers less than a fourth of the total drug costs of the elderly and disabled, actually reducing drug benefits for millions currently covered by both Medicare and Medicaid, and prohibits Medicare from negotiating with drug companies for lower prices.

Flip: “My administration will give taxpayers new incentives to donate to charity.”

Flop: The Congressional Budget Office reported in July that permanently repealing the federal estate tax will result in a 6 percent to 12 percent overall decline in charitable giving.

Flip: “Now is the time to make Head Start an early learning program to teach all our children to read and renew the promise of America's public schools.”

Flop: Bush pushed in 2003 to transform the program into a state block grant, eliminate performance standards, and reduce its social-service components.

Flip: “I will work to reduce nuclear weapons and nuclear tension in the world.”

Flop: The administration announced in late July that it now opposes the inspection and verification provisions of an international treaty regulating nuclear materials. (See also, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran.)

Flip: “We're learning to protect the natural world around us. We will continue this progress, and we will not turn back.”

Flop: See road programs in national parks, rollback on Superfund, drilling in Alaska, snowmobiles in national parks, arsenic in the water, the energy task force, the Kyoto Protocol … .

Flip: “A generation shaped by Vietnam must remember the lessons of Vietnam: When America uses force in the world, the cause must be just, the goal must be clear, and the victory must be overwhelming.”

Flop: Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Flip: “I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect.”

Flop: Dick Cheney to Pat Leahy (“Go f*$@! yourself.”).

-- Sam Rosenfeld

Nukes from Kooks

Remember North Korea? The charter member of the “axis of evil” that the Bush administration neglected to stop from acquiring nuclear weapons because it was otherwise occupied in Iraq? Yes, that North Korea. Well, according to an August 4 report in Jane's Defense Weekly, those busy NoKos now have sea-based ballistic-missile systems capable of delivering nuclear warheads more than 2,600 miles. But the Bush administration isn't worried.

After all, wrote The New York Times on August 5, paraphrasing unnamed government officials, the People's Republic “does not have a submarine capable of carrying the missile to within striking distance of the United States.” Well, pfoo, then. After all, it's not as if the United States bases any soldiers in the Far East or would like to keep the north Asian shipping lanes open. And what if the North Koreans put the missiles on freighters and just sail them to within 2,000 miles or so of our Pacific coast? No big whoop. “Officials also expressed doubts” to the Times that our Korean friends had any intention of doing so. Very reassuring.

But maybe, as journalist John Gorenfeld pointed out on his blog, the administration's nonchalance has a little something to do with the source of Kim Jong-Il's newfound missile fun. According to Defense Intelligence Agency documents, that source would be a “Japanese trading company” called Touen Hoji, which, it turns out, is a front for the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Yes, that Unification Church. The same one that owns The Washington Times, setting the right's agenda in the capital and providing sinecures to many a conservative writer. The same Washington Times, in fact, that ran an article downplaying the significance of the sale back in 1994.

And the same Reverend Moon, come to think of it, who was crowned by Representative Danny Davis at a bizarre March 23 ceremony in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, during which the reverend informed the audience that Hitler and Stalin had, from beyond the grave, proclaimed him “humanity's savior, messiah, returning lord and true parent.” And before a crowd that included John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Curt Weldon, who is -- drumroll, please -- the founder and co-chairman of the House missile-defense caucus. Of course we would have less need for our very expensive but nonfunctional missile-defense system if Weldon's friends would stop giving ballistic missiles to North Korea.

-- Matthew Yglesias

Wage Wars

Taking the old magician's trick of misdirection to a new extreme, New York Governor George Pataki waited until the day of John Kerry's Democratic convention speech, when every political reporter in the Western world was in Boston, to veto New York's new minimum-wage law, which the state Legislature had passed on July 21. The reason for Pataki's discretion was clear enough: The measure was highly popular with state voters and had passed overwhelmingly in both the Democratic-controlled Assembly (by a 116-to-19 majority) and the Republican-controlled Senate (51 to 7). New York may be one of the nation's most liberal states, but oddly -- and partly due to the perpetual gerrymander that has given Republicans control of the Senate for time immemorial -- it has not been one of the states to set a higher minimum than the anemic federal standard of $5.15 an hour. The new statute would raise the New York minimum to $6.15 next January 1 and eventually to $7.25 two years thereafter.

The bill's champions (chiefly, the excellent Working Families Party) have not given up hope that the Legislature will override Pataki. “These are New York Republicans [running the state Senate], not national Republicans,” says the party's executive director, Dan Cantor, who believes an override is possible after the GOP convention.

In Florida, meanwhile, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) has qualified (with 984,000 signatures) an initiative for the November ballot to establish a state minimum wage pegged at $6.15 an hour. The measure boasts such lopsided support in the polls that business is split on opposing it. Only restaurants and retailers are talking about running an opposition campaign.

The initiative marks a further evolution in the history of the living-wage movement, says Florida ACORN Director Brian Ketterning, moving from the city and county ordinances of the 1990s that raised wages for relatively small numbers of workers to more recent large-scale campaigns in New Orleans and San Francisco, and the one now going statewide in Florida. Just as important, in a year when the right is counting on anti–gay-marriage initiatives in more than a dozen states to bring out its sometime voters, the Florida initiative is one of all too few ballot measures that will help turn out sometime voters for progressive causes and candidates in minority communities this November. ACORN has already registered 116,000 new voters in Florida's African American and (largely non-Cuban) Hispanic communities this year, and getting them and lower-income voters to the polls could enhance not only working-class Floridians' living standards but also work wonders for John Kerry's presidential prospects.

-- Harold Meyerson

Citizen Thad

Thad Anderson was minding his own business when he came across a New York Times article reporting that a top assistant to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham had written an e-mail to a natural-gas-industry lobbyist that read, “If you were King, or Il Duce, what would you include in a national energy policy?” This gave Anderson, who was unaccustomed to the notion that the government should extend royal treatment or totalitarian indulgence to energy lobbyists, some pause. Worse, he quickly discovered that various energy lobbyists' wish lists had actually become Bush administration policy. “If what this article was saying was true,” Anderson recalled, “I couldn't believe that more wasn't being done about it.”

So Anderson, a North Carolina native and second-year law student at St. John's University in Queens, New York, began combing the Internet for public records. He wanted to create a site that offered the cold, hard facts on the Bush administration without the media's dizzying spin and counterspin. What Anderson found, buried throughout the Web sites of government departments and watchdog nonprofits, were primary documents -- e-mails, internal memos, and reports -- that exposed some of the worst moments of the Bush administration. So he created a Web site,, and put them online. “The documents don't even require explanation,” Anderson explained. “All I have to do is post them on the site and they make my point for me.”

Thus far, the site has not attracted the attention of the American political press.
But it has caught the eye of technology magazines like Wired and the technology sections of big-time European media outlets like The Guardian and Le Monde. The reason? As well as posting primary documents on his Web site, Anderson shares them over peer-to-peer file-sharing programs like Limewire and KaZaA, programs that are usually used to illegally download music or movies off the Web. The possible consequences are startling: Now, the millions of people who every day download songs off the Internet have easy access to some of the most important -- but usually extremely hard to find -- documents making the case against Bush and his cronies. For people in search of new music and the erosion of American democracy, Anderson offers one-stop shopping.

-- Rob Anderson

While You Were Sleeping

The good news is that we've found a Republican who understands that tax cuts don't cure all ills. “The politicians who tell you they will cut taxes are playing you like the shareholders of Enron,” says the Web site of James Hart, Republican candidate for Congress in the solidly Democratic 8th District of Tennessee. The bad news is that he's crazy. “Taxes cannot be cut,” Hart tells us, “because the budget cannot be balanced because of usury.” His solution? Stop borrowing money and just print “usury-free dollars.”

But unlike erstwhile free-silver champion William Jennings Bryan, Hart is a believer in evolution, or, as he terms it, “eugenics,” by which he means racism in its most wing-nut dimensions. If African Americans had integrated with whites centuries ago, his site informs us, the electric light, the automobile, and the airplane would never have been invented.

The top item on his platform? “Stop Welfare and Immigration, Replace it with a War on Poverty Genes.” Our cities, you see, “are being destroyed by dysgenic welfare and immigration.” Hart campaigns, according to The Associated Press, by showing up on doorsteps with a gun and a bulletproof vest, proclaiming, “White children deserve the same rights as everyone else.”

All this is a bit much for the Tennessee GOP establishment, which has rallied behind write-in candidate Dennis Betrand in an effort to derail Hart and spare the party some embarrassment. In related news, David Duke, white supremacist and former Louisiana GOP gubernatorial candidate, was released from prison over Memorial Day and is eagerly awaiting the release of the Arabic translation of his Jewish Supremacism, the sales of which, he predicts, will “go into the millions.”

-- Matthew Yglesias

Brave New Words

SERVED WITH Served somewhere else, as when the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” say they served with John Kerry when, in fact, they either served on the same boat at a different time or on a different boat elsewhere in Vietnam at the same time. Synonym: DIDN'T SERVE WITH.

EXTREME MAKEOVER According to GOP spinners, what happened at the Democratic convention, where the party donned a moderate mask to conceal its liberal face. Not to be confused with what will transpire at the forthcoming Republican convention, where featured speakers Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Arnold Schwarzenegger will endeavor to convince viewers that the moderates actually matter in Karl Rove's big tent.