Here’s a welcome from New York 9-11 Veterans for Truth, a big hello for Republicans from a city hit by a couple of swift jets 35 months—not 35 years—ago. It’s matched by just as friendly an insistence that the convention focus on how Bush-Cheney responded to our riverbank assault, rather than on an ancient Mekong attack, where the first test of courage was being there. With the president scheduled to barely show up here all week, wouldn’t it be respectful if the delegates and media actually got around town to see just what he’s done to us since the bullhorn bravado of 2001? They could start with NYPD Blue, that All-American army deployed all over midtown. There are actually 5,879 fewer city cops than in 2000, partly due to the nearly 90 percent Bush cuts in Bill Clinton’s COPS programs. Even with the post-9-11 invention of homeland security funding, NYC is getting $61 million less in federal public-safety subsidies than it did before our cops became America’s front line. Bush’s 2005 budget proposes even more cuts. Though most conventioneers would prefer to forget it, George W. Bush has slashed the troop strength that host committee hero Rudy Giuliani put on duty.
With the Bush administration also opposing legislation backed by Mayor Bloomberg that would’ve compensated the city for revenue lost due to 9-11, six firehouses were closed as well. That includes one on 125th Street in East Harlem, an engine company that might well have been summoned to Madison Square Garden in a multi-alarm fire. Of course, should anything catastrophic happen there during convention week, the firefighters whose brothers died on 9-11 will still be communicating on the same, reprogrammed, radios that cost lives three years ago, thanks to a president who refused to pony up the $120 million needed for new ones. Bush has also de-funded the SAFER program even after Congress passed it—blocking NYC from hiring more firefighters—and limited equipment purchases under the FIRE program to a puny cap of $750,000, putting NY’s allocation on a par with Poland, Ohio’s, with Montana getting $9 per capita for federal firefighter aid and NYC nine cents.
Delegates still mesmerized by that NY’s Bravest luster might want stop at another East Harlem landmark—Mount Sinai Hospital—where thousands of Ground Zero rescue workers are still being screened for the lingering effects of their misplaced faith in post–9-11 health advisories emanating from Bush’s White House–scripted EPA. Though the first Bush-Cheney commercial featured a flag-draped coffin carried through Ground Zero by firefighters, the administration actually fought the paltry $90 million allocation for Mount Sinai and firefighter screening programs, as if it still believed its own altered press releases about that historic toxic cloud.
Indeed, conventioneers taking a swing by GZ should be sure to visit Battery Park City or Independence Plaza and hear what the 20,000 residents of Lower Manhattan have to say about a White House that thought they or their buildings’ owners should clean up the asbestos aftermath on their own. They could even drop in at EPA’s NY office just a few blocks away at 290 Broadway—which got a partial super-vacuuming from emergency government crews while the agency decided that virtually no one else who worked or lived downtown was entitled to one.
GOPers who arrive by train, of course, will be taking precisely the same risks passengers did before 9-11: no bag searches, no bridge, tunnel, or even significant station security boosts, with the proposed Bush budget blasting Amtrak and other mass-transit funding like a time bomb. If Tom DeLay had achieved his cruise ship dream-hotel for delegates, they might actually have seen cargo ships pulling into port virtually as insecure as pre–9-11, with a lesser percent of containers inspected than speeders stopped on the Jersey Turnpike. In fact, delegates from Cheney’s Wyoming, for example, will have reason to be jittery, leaving a state that gets $40 per capita in homeland security funding to visit a state that gets $10, especially since they will have entered a twilight zone on orange alert for the last 1,080 days or so.
When this attacked city was selected to host the convention way back in January 2003, Bush might have believed he’d come here as a hero, with bin Laden’s head in tow, a new tower rising, $20 billion in thank-you’s awaiting, and a landslide on the way, beginning in NY. Instead, along the same westside route where Bush was cheered lustily on September 14, 2001, protesters may gather by the hundreds of thousands, a revolution in receptions marking the ugly shift in national spirit that’s infected Bush’s years. A president who came then to our battlefield as a unifier is returning as a user—turning our city into a carnival rationale for his war and re-election.
The Ten Worst Ways Bush Has Hurt Us
1 Will any convention speaker dare mention the name of Osama bin Laden? What ever happened to Bush’s cowboy threat to “smoke ’em” out? Osama, Omar, and Ayman al-Zawhiri became instant and explicit “Wanted Dead or Alive” Bush targets after 9-11, but when the Pentagon came up with a card deck of the hunted, the faces were all Iraqi. The RNC is still replaying the president’s bullhorned GZ promise that “the people who knocked down these buildings” would “hear all of us soon,” and the president and wife are even now airing a commercial that vows to bring “an enemy to justice before they hurt us again.” Who knew when Bush was strapping on that holster three years ago that High Noon would require a second term? Or is Jeb going to get ’em after 2008?
Can you imagine the Fox drumbeat if a Democratic president moved from the smoke-Osama-out soundbites we never see anymore to declaring, “I just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with ya”? Why were key Special Operations forces and CIA operatives moved out of Afghanistan in 2002 to prepare for an Iraq invasion? Why weren’t American forces guarding the Pakistani border when bin Laden reportedly escaped at Tora Bora? Why were 11,000 U.S. troops sent to fight the Afghan war and 140,000 to Iraq? Is there any way to square the Bush boast that he’s eliminated two-thirds of Al Qaeda’s leadership with the recent Tom Ridge high alert based on the seizure of four-year-old plans? Why did Bush and the GOP Senate defeat a Chris Dodd amendment that got 40 Democratic votes to permit the U.S. to cooperate with any future International Criminal Court prosecution of bin Laden?
NYers will not put our attackers on a political back burner. Bush promised regime change at Al Qaeda; he cannot use Saddam as his beard. If we believed that this administration laser-beamed American might on bin Laden and came up empty, we could accept it. We know that Bush instead exploited it to go after a target selected at the first meeting of his National Security Council, long before 9-11.
2 Why was Bush so afraid of a 9-11 investigation? As recently as last week’s interview with Larry King, Bush tried to tap-dance around his record of resistance to the 9-11 Commission. It was a lie, reliant, as always, on the assumption that no one under a klieg light would make an issue of it. Tom Daschle, who was Senate majority leader in 2002, says Dick Cheney called him and “expressed the concern that a review of what happened on September 11 would take resources and personnel away from the war on terrorism.” Bush’s revisionist press guru, Karen Hughes, tried to insist on a March Meet the Press that Bush only had “concerns” about a probe, adding, “I don’t know that the president ever opposed the creation of it.” The families know better. Monica Gabrielle, whose insurance broker husband died in the attack, said: “The White House is blocking everything.” Photogenic presidential hugger John McCain knows better. He said Bush tried to “slow-walk and stonewall it.”
Bush at first put Henry Kissinger in charge. His Federal Aviation Administration and Defense Department had to be subpoenaed to give up records. He insisted on “minders” accompanying any federal official interviewed by the commission. He would be interviewed only if Cheney was at his side—and no oath or transcripts were taken, guaranteeing that his comments would barely be quoted in the eventual 567-page report. When he was finally forced by public pressure to allow Condi Rice to testify publicly, he won a concession that no other White House official would be questioned publicly or privately again. He opposed an extension of the commission’s deadline. He deleted its funding altogether from one supplemental budget request and ultimately funded it at one-fourth the cost of Ken Starr’s probe of a dress stain. His wholly owned cable network and NY tabloid derided it repeatedly.
And then, when the commission produced a report with bipartisan unanimity that factually decimated Bush’s first nine months of terrorist indifference, but gave reporters too little conclusory language to write a lead, Bush glowingly welcomed the chair and vice-chair at the White House. A month later, after Donald Rumsfeld poured cold water on the key recommendations at a Senate hearing, it’s clear Bush will move only if compelled.
3 Was the Bush team awake in the nine months before the attack? The press, always seeking balance, has apparently decided that if Bill Clinton was out to lunch on Al Qaeda, then Dubya’s vacationing vacillation is not news. But Clinton is not seeking four more years. With CIA director George Tenet telling the commission that “the system was blinking red,” the White House appears in the report as glazed as it did the first seven minutes after the second plane hit.
“In sum,” the commission concluded about the Bush response to what it said were “unprecedented” warnings, “the domestic agencies never mobilized in response to the threat. They did not have direction, and did not have a plan to institute. The borders were not hardened. Transportation systems were not fortified. Electronic surveillance was not targeted against a domestic threat. State and local law enforcement was not marshaled to augment the FBI’s efforts. The public was not warned. The terrorists exploited deep institutional failings within our government.”
Incredibly, these words have received far less media than, for example, the recollections of Swift boat crewmen who never sailed under John Kerry’s command. Yet, with five Republican commissioners voting, each word was so carefully parsed they shout with the collective voice of minimum truth. Prediction: No one in the national media will quote them through four nights of endless TV gab. Even though they are Republican conclusions, our talking heads would view citing them as the electronic equivalent of belching in an in-law’s living room.
No one will mention the 40 bin Laden articles in Presidential Daily Briefings from January 20 to September 10, 2001; the first day of vacation’s August 6 wake-up PDB headline of “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S.,” and the fishing trip that ensued; the failure to even convene a principals’ meeting on terrorism until September 4, 2001; the president’s uncertainty about whether he ever discussed the August 6 PDB with Justice officials; the acting FBI director’s sworn recollection that AG Ashcroft told him he didn’t want to hear about the Al Qaeda threats anymore; and the telling testimony of senior counterterrorism staff that they considered resigning during it all to “go public with their concerns.”
New Yorkers cannot forget that the most infamous of the PDBs contained three incredible warnings: a WTC reprise of ’93, hijackings, and Al Qaeda surveillance of buildings here. No counter-terrorism group or National Security Council meetings were “held to discuss the possible threat of a strike in the U.S. as a result of this report,” the commission said, while the longest presidential vacation in modern history dragged on.
4 Iraq plus tax cuts adds up to a deficit that will force a second-term squeeze on social programs vital to NYC. Bush didn’t cause the recession. He didn’t cause 9-11. Any president would’ve had to take on the added costs of homeland security and Afghanistan, maybe even spent more on them. But $75 billion here and $87 billion there, and Iraq becomes a pretty big bill, with no end to installment payments in sight. Deficits of a half-trillion might, in a real world, slow the march to making $4 trillion in high-end tax cuts permanent, but a second Bush term will almost undoubtedly include even more cuts. He’s already talking about converting us from an income- to consumption-tax system, with every form of investment income insulated from taxation.
There’s only so much blood the White House can drain out of health and social programs, but that promises to be a focus of Term II. Shock & awe for Head Start. “You’ll see huge cutbacks in these programs in the budget that’s released in early 2005,” predicts Brookings Institution economist Bell Sawhill. This anticipated calamity appears on this Voice list of current, as opposed to future, Bush assaults on the city because the fiscal madness of the last three years leads inexorably to it. With 75 percent of budget deterioration due to lower revenues, not higher spending, and the Bush Garden party exploding in celebration next week whenever tax cuts are mentioned, have no doubt that every federal dollar of social responsibility is up for grabs.
5 Bush did OK on the $20 billion, but he’s still shortchanging us on the edges of the minimal pledge he made to a city whose economy took an $80 billion hit. For example, when Florida collects hurricane aid, it will likely also get another 15 percent of whatever FEMA spends on emergency assistance for “hazard mitigation”—funding that federal law requires to help a disaster-hit locality figure out ways to avoid such a crushing blow again. NY only got 5 percent. Even George Pataki, who’s as likely to publicly criticize Bush as he is Libby, has complained about that one.
The White House explanation is that the city got all its emergency costs reimbursed—a higher percentage than usual—so it’s receiving less mitigation aid. But Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who’s been a tiger in the House on every dollar due New York, cites chapter and verse of other localities that have collected full emergency and mitigation funding. Fifteen percent mitigation would add $840 million to our coffers.
Bush is hardly the only one responsible for another missing $3 billion. Instead of demanding the $20 billion in hard cash the minute Bush agreed in the White House meeting with our senators, Giuliani, Pataki, and the senators decided they wanted billions of it in the form of tax incentives for downtown projects that have never materialized. It’s a synchronized bipartisan mess that includes the White House. But this screwup, combined with Pataki’s snail-like rebuilding pace on the site, has given Bush nothing to showcase here. He’s planning no GZ extravaganza because it still looks like a moonscape.
6 Senator Schumer says NY doesn’t expect a share of Idaho’s farm subsidies, so why does Idaho take a chunk of NY’s security subsidies? It’s a question no speaker at the GOP convention is likely to address even though a national Democrat like Hillary Clinton raised it from the DNC podium. Iowa is spending bioterrorism funding on corn feed. Maybe that state should, because with NY ranked 35th in anti-terrorism per capita funding and 50th in bioterrorism, it’s all becoming pork anyway. When security dollars are allocated, the red states should be the ones that have shed or are likely to shed blood.
This is not just a Tom DeLay problem. The White House has been almost as deplorable as Congress. In fact, a 2004 Bloomberg report says that a key funding source, the Urban Area Security Initiative, which was originally targeted at the seven most vulnerable cities, is now dispersed among 80 cities and that the White House is preparing an October surprise. The president will name more cities eligible for this limited pot—with NYC’s total already sliced from $281 million to $47 million and Bloomberg saying there is “no public formula detailing the factors” Bush will use in making his pre-election grants. The mayor who brought the convention here says that he fought hard “to get money allocated for high-threat areas, but the funds are being diluted as cities are added.”
7 What could be worse than lying to GZ workers and residents about the air they were breathing? The original EPA draft of a September 13, 2001, press release, for example, said that the agency considered even the low levels of asbestos that surfaced in their GZ tests “hazardous in this situation.” The final White House version of the release simply scratched out the phrase. And when a September 16 EPA draft warned of “higher levels of asbestos,” the White House changed it to the hot-air hoax that “ambient air quality meets standards and is not a cause for public concern.” The EPA chief of staff conceded in an interview with the agency’s inspector general that the “desire to reopen Wall Street” factored into the releases, saying she did not feel the releases were her own.
NYC will live with the consequences of what the IG concluded were White House efforts to “add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones” for years, if not decades, to come. Asbestos is a long-term and relentless killer. We have already learned that 2,500 firefighters alone have diminished lung capacity due to inhaling WTC debris. Six hundred have already retired with GZ disabilities or are seeking these costly pensions. Lower Manhattan residents are suing EPA because it left them to fend for themselves, dodging interior cleanup responsibilities until a year after the attack. Eighty percent of the homes have still never been tested or cleaned. Do you think that will be the Bush attitude in a post-hurricane swing state?
8 Bush has left most New York children behind. Congressman Anthony Weiner has calculated that the administration has shortchanged the city by $2.5 billion through cuts in the five key education programs funded under the Bush schools initiative, No Child Left Behind. NCLB hasn’t just hurt the pocketbook, it’s also forced traumatic overcrowding by widening parental choice, damaging high-performing schools and emptying low-performing ones.
9 Ten thousand NY families are in jeopardy of losing their housing subsidies and homes. Bush has proposed a $107 million cut in NY’s Section 8 housing vouchers. If passed, it will be the first time this voucher program has ever been reduced. The administration is also trying to recapture $50 million in subsidies the city already got. Since Bush took office, the city’s housing authority, which is home to one in every 12 NYers, has taken, according to Maloney, Weiner, and other House Democrats, a $175 million drop in federal funding.
As damaging as the school and housing cuts are, they are part of a fabric of fiscal warfare against the city. The attempt to reconstitute the highway and transit formula threatens to financially cripple our subway system (will any delegates ride it even once?). Workforce Investment Act funding for job training has fallen by 41 percent even as our employment figures have nosedived. Safety net programs for the uninsured, called the Healthy Community Access Program (HCAP), plummet from $120 million to $10 million in Bush’s proposed budget. These cuts may well be a precursor of the decimation of these programs in a deficit-reducing Term 2.
10 With NYC the No. 1 target of bio and nuclear terrorists, the go-it-alone Bush administration has torpedoed international treaties that would make us more secure. Earlier this month in Geneva, the U.S. reversed Clinton’s support of a U.N. agreement banning the production and supply of highly enriched uranium essential to building nukes. Strongly supported by allies like Britain, the fissile material cut-off treaty, as it’s called, would’ve reduced the chances of terror groups acquiring a nuclear capability. In 2001, Bush did the same to scuttle a biological-weapons convention, though 55 nations had signed on after seven years of negotiation. Elisa Harris, who oversaw proliferation issues for Clinton’s NSC, said that the Bush administration was sending “a very dangerous message,” acting on the neoconservative distrust of any binding restraints on America First policy.
Research assistance: Abby Aguirre, Caitlin Chandler, Ben Reiter, Marc Schultz, Ben Shestakofsky, and Ned Thimmayya