Monday's must-reads

By Geraldine Sealey
Published March 15, 2004 2:44PM (EST)

Rapid response
Here's Cox News' assessment of the John Kerry campaign: It's "the most aggressive presidential campaign a Democrat has run in decades." And the Bush-Cheney team is taking notice.

"The tactics already seem to have caused a sputter in the much vaunted Bush political machine at a crucial point in the campaign -- when the president is anxious to define the Massachusetts senator before the senator can define himself, much as the president's father defined his opponent, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, in the 1988 campaign."

"John Kerry is no Michael Dukakis," said Darrell West, a Brown University professor who has closely followed Kerry's 19-year career in the Senate. "He will respond immediately to any Bush attacks to make sure news stories carry the rebuttal. His goal is to make sure negative information does not stick to him. If you can rebut charges right away, it reduces the odds that voters will believe them."

" In most instances last week, the Kerry rebuttal was public record before the Bush charges aired, a much more aggressive approach than that of Bill Clinton's famed war room of 1992, where the objective was to merely respond to attacks during the same news cycle."

Narrowing the field
The Washington Post lays out the state of the electoral battleground and pins the outcome of the 2004 race on 18 states. A handy map is here. "The principal battlegrounds range from familiar swing states of Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania to new arrivals of Nevada, West Virginia and Minnesota that reflect changing demographics or the clash of cultural values that can affect voters' behavior as much as the unemployment rate," the Post writes. "Judging from interviews with strategists on both sides and with outside analysts, 10 of the closest states from four years ago are seen as the most competitive as the campaign begins. Bush and Gore split them five-five. The Bush states that may be most vulnerable to Democratic takeover are Florida, Ohio, Missouri, New Hampshire and Nevada, while the five Gore states eyed by the GOP are Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Mexico."

Faux news as Medicare propaganda
The New York Times looks at the latest development in the White House's misleading advertising of changes in Medicare. Last week, legal counsel for the congressional watchdog General Accounting Office said that while ads and literature produced by the White House to "educate" the elderly and disabled about Medicare changes weren't an illegal use of federal funds, they did contain errors of omission and "other weaknesses." Now, the administration is trying to pass off this misleading information as fake news reports.

From the Times: "Federal investigators are scrutinizing television segments in which the Bush administration paid people to pose as journalists praising the benefits of the new Medicare law, which would be offered to help elderly Americans with the costs of their prescription medicines. The videos are intended for use in local television news programs. Several include pictures of President Bush receiving a standing ovation from a crowd cheering as he signed the Medicare law on Dec. 8. The materials were produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, which called them video news releases, but the source is not identified. Two videos end with the voice of a woman who says, 'In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting.' But the production company, Home Front Communications, said it had hired her to read a script prepared by the government."

It's time for another GAO investigation: "Gary L. Kepplinger, deputy general counsel of the accounting office, said, 'We are actively considering some follow-up work related to the materials we received from the Department of Health and Human Services,'" the Times wrote. "One question is whether the government might mislead viewers by concealing the source of the Medicare videos, which have been broadcast by stations in Oklahoma, Louisiana and other states."

Distraction du jour
The Los Angeles Times, like pretty much every other paper and television outlet, covers a campaign trail controversy that followed John Kerry around all weekend -- one of those nearly substance-free flaps that doesn't really give voters too much information about anything. It all started when John Kerry said several days ago that some foreign leaders told him they hope he beats President Bush in the fall election. Over the weekend, Kerry was asked about it by a hostile Republican in the crowd at a campaign event, and Colin Powell mentioned the remark on a Sunday morning talk show, saying Kerry should name names.

Kerry's response was to say "he had merely heard from leaders who felt alienated by the administration. 'I'm talking about our allies; I'm talking about people who were our friends nine months ago,' he said, as hundreds of people in the auditorium of a Bethlehem community college rose in a sustained standing ovation. 'I'm talking about people who ought to be on our side on Iraq and aren't, because this administration has pushed them away."

Spain's blow to Bush
About those nations feeling alienated by this administration: The New York Times provides a political analysis of Spain's milestone election over the weekend that turned the ruling party, a Bush ally, out of office.

"The ouster of the center-right party in Spain, only days after a terrorist bombing that may be linked to Al Qaeda, is the first electoral rebuke of one of President Bush's most steadfast allies in the Iraq war. When France and Germany balked at supporting the war on Iraq, the Spanish prime minister, Josi Marma Aznar, stood publicly by Mr. Bush at a summit meeting in the Azores a year ago this week, and just days before the war began. Now voters have elected the opposition Socialists, although the center right was leading in the polls until the terrorist attack. The Bush administration must now fight the perception, accurate or not, that acts of terror against America's allies can sway nations into rethinking the wisdom of standing too closely with Mr. Bush."

"Time after time, President Bush has responded to critics who say he has alienated America's closest allies by pointing to Mr. Aznar as a courageous example of a leader who ignored poll numbers -- upward of 90 percent of Spaniards opposed the war -- and who acted in Spain's best interests."

Britons tell of Gitmo abuse
The BBC reports on three twenty-something Brits released from Guantanamo Bay after two years of imprisonment who have returned to their home country and say they were abused by U.S. troops. Their stories are similar to two other Brits released from Gitmo. "While being held by US troops in Afghanistan they were made to kneel bent double, with their foreheads touching the ground. 'If your head wasn't touching the floor or you let it rise up a little they put their boots on the back of your neck and forced it down. We were kept like that for two or three hours," one of the released prisoners said.

Another said he was also kicked, punched and knelt on by troops. The three "endured three months of solitary confinement in Camp Delta's isolation block last summer after they were wrongly identified by the Americans as having been pictured in a video tape of a meeting in Afghanistan between Osama bin Laden and the leader of the 11 September hijackers Mohamed Atta," the BBC reported.

"US Secretary of State Colin Powell has dismissed claims of mistreatment, saying Americans 'don't abuse people who are in our care,'" the BBC said. Powell added: It is "not in the American tradition to treat people in that manner."

As for the interrogations taking place on Gitmo, one prisoner said he stopped being scared when his questioners started asking him things like: "If I wanted to get hold of surface-to-air missiles in Tipton, where would I go?  Towards the end the questions just seemed stupid," he said. One prisoner said "before they were released, the FBI tried to persuade the men to sign a form admitting links with terrorism. None of them did so," the BBC said.

Read his lips: No new jobs
The Washington Post provides a reality check on President Bush's frequent assertion that his tax cuts will create jobs. "When President Bill Clinton raised taxes in 1993, the unemployment rate dropped, from 6.9 to 6.1 percent, and kept falling each of the next seven years. When President Bush cut taxes in 2001, the unemployment rate rose, from 4.7 to 5.8 percent, then drifted to 6 percent last year when taxes were cut again," the Post writes. "It has become conventional wisdom in Washington that rising tax burdens crush labor markets. Bush castigated his political opponents last week for 'that old policy of tax and spend' that would be 'the enemy of job creation.' Yet an examination of historical tax levels and unemployment rates reveals no obvious correlation."

"The fact of the matter is, we have much higher rates of employment today than we did in 1954, but our level of taxation is considerably higher," said Gary Burtless, a labor economist at the Brookings Institution. "You simply can't look at total taxation to find employment levels."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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