It's Evening in California
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It's Evening in California
The Reagan Legacy & GOP Dementia

As Ronald Reagan lies ill with Alzheimer's disease— his health, in the words of a doctor who visited him, "gradually declining"— mass media outlets are busily laying out elaborate obituaries for the 88-year-old former president.

One can, however, imagine Reagan getting a chuckle out of the congressional Republicans' current push for a 10-year tax cut that would drain the treasury of any projected surplus, ensure drastic cuts in what's left of welfare, and force Social Security into the stock market. It is the baldest effort yet at crippling the operations of government— and it remains to be seen whether Clinton will veto the package outright or try to go along with part of the cut.

Meanwhile, who would have thought the torch of the Reagan revolution would be passed to the son of his successor? As president, the elder Bush was anathema to conservatives, and he was stilted— almost Nixon-like— in front of the cameras. Now it's George W. whose easygoing ways on camera mark him as an apparent shoo-in for the GOP nomination and the odds-on favorite against the wooden Gore. For conservatives in '99, what makes young Bush attractive is the possibility of a big tent revival of Reagan-era programs.

It was, of course, Reagan who made the first real slashes in the New Deal social welfare net, proposing in the '80s that private charity could replace government. Last week, Dubya, parroting his father's "kinder, gentler" clichés, proposed harnessing the churches in a new war of compassionate conservatism against poverty. "Government can spend money," young Bush told a congregation of Indianapolis Methodists, "but it cannot put hope in our hearts or a sense of purpose in our lives. That is done in churches and synagogues and mosques and charities that warm the cold of life."

As Dubya mouthes such platitudes, it is well to remember that, for all the revisionist talk about Reagan as the "conquerer of the Kremlin," his administration was first and foremost a wrecking machine aimed at privatizing government, curbing social welfare, slashing taxes for the wealthy, and laying the groundwork for privatizing education and social security.

It should also be remembered that the foundation of the Reagan revolution came under Jimmy Carter, with Carter's move to deregulate natural gas. Liberals, led by Ted Kennedy and his aide, Stephen Breyer— now on the Supreme Court— then argued for airline deregulation to spur economic competition. And the programs that Reagan set in motion, notably "welfare reform," were pushed forward most vigorously not by Bush-Quayle but by Clinton-Gore.

The Plane Truth
Conspiracy Buffs Flying After Crash

Clinton conspiracy theorists are joining forces with JFK conspiracy buffs to sort out the truth behind the JFK Jr. plane crash. They note that while JFK Jr. had no direct link to government, Clinton personally got behind the costly, all-out effort to find the bodies of Kennedy, his wife, and her sister. This, buffs observe, was in marked contrast to what happened after deputy White House counsel Vince Foster died of a gunshot wound in 1993 and after Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's death in a plane crash in 1996.

In both cases, say conspiracists, the administration sought only limited probes that left many questions unanswered. Foster, a personal friend of Clinton and Hillary's former law partner, was found dead in a Virginia park clutching a revolver. Though his death has been ruled a suicide, conspiracy nuts point to a statement by Clinton to White House staff the day after Foster's body was discovered. "In the first place, no one can ever know why this happened," Clinton said. "So what happened was a mystery."

Likewise, it is noted, after Brown's military jet crashed in Croatia in April 1996, the Air Force dispensed with an investigation. Conspiracists also point to the fact that an autopsy was never conducted on Brown's body, and rumored observations by three military pathologists and a forensic photographer who supposedly said later that Brown had what looked like a gunshot wound to his head when his body arrived at Dover Air Force Base three days after the crash.

Crude Scam
How Big Oil Stole Billions

Government whistleblowers have had some impact recently raising issues that have resulted in more evenhanded policies, most spectacularly against Big Oil. Earlier this year, information from two government analysts provided the basis for a suit by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) against large oil companies, charging that they had paid below-market prices for oil produced on federal lands (see Mondo Washington, June 15).

Mobil, the first company to settle with the Justice Department— which joined the suit— agreed to pay $45 million in alleged royalty underpayments, although it did not admit to any wrongdoing. The Justice Department also joined whistleblower-based actions pending against seven other companies: Shell, Burlington Resources, Conoco, British Petroleum-Amoco, Texaco, Unocal, and Occidental. Recently, Chevron, which had been targeted by Justice as well as the Interior Department, offered $95 million to settle, but Interior, which oversees leasing of wells, maintains this isn't enough. Department officials contend that Chevron— one of the top three federal leaseholders— owes $130 million.

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