Thursday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
March 11, 2004 7:33PM (UTC)

From 9/11 memorial to fundraiser
Making good on his promise to keep 9/11 at the center of his re-election campaign, President Bush will attend a 9/11 memorial service on Long Island, then hit a fundraiser where he'll be greeted by protesting 9/11 families. Newsday reports today that local Long Island Democrats who planned the memorial didn't expect Bush to actually accept the invitation, although it makes perfect sense that he'd make time for it a week after he unveiled campaign ads using footage from the terror attacks. Some Long Island Dems are cringing that the memorial service plays into Bush's re-election strategy and undermines critics, including John Kerry, who say Bush is exploiting the tragedy for political gain.

"'Karl Rove was probably saying, 'Whoa, perfect timing,'" said one top Nassau Democrat who spoke on condition of anonymity, referring to Bush's political strategist. 'This really blunts the whole Kerry argument. I'm horrified.' One county government aide said officials invited Bush on a whim and didn't expect him to accept -- and that no one could have anticipated the timing. 'Our guys are having the president come here,' the Democratic aide sighed, almost in disbelief."

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Newsday notes that given recent polls, Bush has really no choice but to keep campaigning on 9/11 and national security, because a survey this week showed "the war on terror was the only major issue out of a list of 12 on which the public trusts Bush more than Kerry."

But was it a good PR move for Bush to also raise money today? Newsday says: "Other Democrats said Bush has opened himself to fresh criticism by pairing today's groundbreaking with a campaign fund-raiser nearby. One group of victims' relatives, 9/11 CitizensWatch, plans to stage a protest at the fund-raiser."

Bush losing support from military families
Knight-Ridder takes a look at how the "war president" is faring with military families and concludes that "as guerrilla warfare drags on in [Afghanistan and Iraq], casualties mount and the Army is stretched ever thinner, many voters in or affiliated with the military are no longer saluting the commander in chief. The failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or evidence that Saddam Hussein was in league with al-Qaida, lengthy deployments of active-duty soldiers and reservists and proposed cuts in veterans' benefits and perks to military families are threatening to erode Bush's once-strong support among military voters."

"A bipartisan Battleground poll of likely voters conducted in September found that Bush's approval rating among relatives of military personnel was only 36 percent. Family members upset by Bush's policy on Iraq are venting through Web sites and public protests. Military Families Speak Out, an antiwar group of relatives of deployed troops, plans to observe the Iraq war's first anniversary next week with processions outside Dover Air Base in Delaware, where the bodies of dead soldiers are returned, and at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, where wounded soldiers are treated."

"I voted for Bush in 2000, and I'm not going to vote for him again," said Jean Prewitt, a group member from Birmingham, Ala. Her 24-year-old son, Kelley, was in the Army's 3rd Infantry Division when he was killed on April 6 just south of Baghdad. "I just feel deceived. He just kept screaming, screaming, weapons of mass destruction, weapons of mass destruction, we've got to get in there. We got in there and now there aren't any."

McCain wouldn't use 9/11 image in ad
The Hill newspaper says the International Association of Fire Fighters, vocally critical of Bush's campaign ads and a group that has endorsed John Kerry, plans an aggressive anti-Bush campaign if the president ever again uses the image of firefighters to win votes.

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"[IAFF general president Harold] Schaitberger said the administration had 'failed the profession,' and he listed initiatives for first responders that the administration cut, including programs to add staff and equipment to firehouses. The IAFF has called on Bush to apologize for including the images in his ad campaign and to pull it from the air. Schaitberger said a delegation of local firefighters submitted a resolution passed on the issue to Bush's campaign headquarters, but was left waiting for 45 minutes and departed without meeting any campaign officials."

Not surprisingly, Republicans on the Hill dismissed the IAFF's complaints as partisan politicking. Interestingly, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told The Hill he "wouldn't have run the part [of the Bush ad] where the body was brought out," either. Still, he defended Bush's defense of his leadership after 9/11 as a campaign issue.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.)'s response to the firefighters was: "I love firefighters and policemen as individuals and as a group, [but] I dont think much of their unions.

White House ads flawed by omissions
The New York Times reports on the General Accounting Office's legal opinion that White House ads and brochures that publicize a new Medicare law aren't illegal, they're just chock full of misleading information. The ads have been criticized by MoveOn.org among other groups for being overtly political and a misuse of federal funds. MoveOn.org asked CBS not to run the ads. But this perfectly legal White House misinformation will be broadcast and sent as brochures to all 41 million Medicare beneficiaries, elderly and disabled Americans who will have to fend for themselves to learn the truth about their new benefits.

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From the Times: "The fliers and advertisements do not violate restrictions on the use of federal money for 'publicity or propaganda purposes,' but they are flawed by 'omissions and other weaknesses,' said the legal opinion by Anthony H. Gamboa, general counsel of the accounting office. For example, Mr. Gamboa said, the administration did not point out that beneficiaries might be charged up to $30 for drug discount cards that become available in June. Likewise, he said, the administration incorrectly suggested that the law set a premium of $35 a month for drug coverage, beginning in 2006. That amount, he said, is only an estimate and ignores the penalties that could be imposed on people who delay enrolling."

The administration plans to spend more than $22 million on the advertisements and brochures. "Democrats said the advertisements were campaign commercials for President Bush, who has taken credit for delivering drug benefits long promised by lawmakers of both parties," the Times wrote.

DOD pushed to estimate cost of war
The Pentagon refuses to estimate the cost of future military operations in Iraq, but the Seattle Times reports that "the ranks of disbelievers are growing -- in Congress and among private defense analysts. Some say the Bush administration's refusal to estimate costs could erode American support for the Iraq campaign, as well as the credibility of the White House and lawmakers."

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In a recent hearing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he can't estimate needs for Iraq or Afghanistan for the next fiscal year "because there are so many uncertainties," the Times said. "Those include how violent Iraq will be then, the number of troops that will be required, whether allies might contribute forces and whether a new Iraqi government will let the U.S. military stay."

"White House budget chief Joshua Bolten acknowledged in a briefing with reporters last month that the military will need money over and above the defense request -- up to $50 billion, which the administration will seek in an emergency budget request for Iraq and Afghanistan. It used a similar supplemental spending measure last fall to ask for $87 billion for Afghanistan and Iraq.

"But administration officials do not plan to ask for that supplemental measure, or specify what it might include, until sometime after Jan. 1, 2005 -- about two months after November's presidential election. Had Bush included it in the budget proposal he sent to Congress in February, the government's surging deficit problem would have looked even worse."

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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