Tuesday's must-reads

By Geraldine Sealey

Published May 4, 2004 12:58PM (EDT)

The billion dollar men
This presidential election, already historic for what's at stake, will be one for the record books on another score: Its outlandish, unprecedented cost. The campaign is on track to be the first to cost $1 billion, the Los Angeles Times reports, and is being funded by more individuals than ever -- some who've never given before and some who can't even vote.

"In part, it represents unprecedented interest in the campaign from people throughout the country. Together, President Bush and his presumptive challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry, have drawn money from 700,000 more individual donors than those who contributed to Bush and Democrat Al Gore in the entire 2000 campaign, according to figures provided to The Times by the three campaigns."

"Already, donations to Bush, Kerry and the Democrats who had contested the Massachusetts senator for the party's nomination have exceeded more than $400 million -- more than double what was raised at this point four years ago. By the time it's all over, when all the money spent by the political parties, state party organizations, independent groups, conventions and the candidates themselves is tallied, several campaign finance experts said the total will be up to $1 billion or more."

"'The numbers are phenomenal,' said Anthony Corrado, a campaign finance expert at Colby College in Maine. 'Something's happening here. It's like the explosion of civic participation in fundraising.'"

Partisan split on abuse probe
The Hill newspaper reports that Democrats and Republicans disagree over whether Congress should launch an investigation into the abuses of Iraqi prisoners.

"Key Democratic lawmakers are calling for Congress to launch an independent inquiry, but several Republicans dismissed the notion that Congress should get involved before the administration concludes its own inquiries. The contrasting views on how Congress should respond to the abuses of Iraqi detainees are expected to attract widespread attention this week on Capitol Hill. The Bush administration says the abuses were carried out only by a small group of U.S. soldiers acting on their own, but recent media reports have suggested the soldiers were under orders to torment the prisoners."

"Images surfaced worldwide last week of Iraqi prisoners being hooded, stripped naked and otherwise humiliated by American soldiers. The Pentagon criticized the U.S. soldiers' actions and launched an investigation. The Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), is scheduled to receive a briefing by Department of Defense officials on the status of the investigation this morning. But Democrats are seeking more than a briefing. 'I'm appalled by the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners,' Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) told the Hill. 'We need an independent investigation into these reports to find out how and why it happened, exactly who was responsible and how widespread it was,' said Murtha, the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, in a statement. 'I want the truth.'"

"Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said, 'Clearly a full investigation is essential to restoring the worlds confidence that the United States is obeying the basic rules of international law.'"

Military lawyers attack tribunals
The New York Times reports that the Bush administration's plan to use military tribunals to try Guantanamo detainees is getting some of its strongest criticism from the military lawyers who are taking part in the process.

"Senior government planners once expected that the first of the prisoners to go before a tribunal would plead guilty as part of an agreement to reduce their jail time. But the five military lawyers assigned to defend the first group of prisoners have radically altered that hope, the officials now acknowledge."

"The uniformed lawyers have been especially forceful, not only in asserting their clients' innocence but also in denouncing the tribunal system as inherently unfair and rigged."

"... The military lawyers, in playing the kind of attack-the-system role that William Kunstler was known for, have become widely quoted around the world and acclaimed by some as heroes after appearances in London and Australia in which they denounced the tribunals."

Bush's selective secrecy
The Boston Globe examines the Bush administration's tendency to allow "political concerns to determine what it deems to be sensitive national security material after a series of document declassifications that critics contend were timed for strategic advantage."

"In several recent cases, the administration first refused requests for information by saying that releasing it would jeopardize national security, then released that same information itself at a moment when it became politically convenient to do so -- leaving the impression that it was safe to release all along."

"After first refusing to allow Congress to see a memo about Al Qaeda from a month before the 2001 attacks, and then letting only some of the 9/11 Commission see it in private, the White House released the entire document to quell rising public pressure. After the Justice Department fought the American Civil Liberties Union in court to suppress statistics on how often it used the Patriot Act, Attorney General John Ashcroft called a news conference and announced them."

"Last week, President Bush himself rebuked Ashcroft for declassifying Justice Department memos from the Clinton era showing deliberations involving Jamie Gorelick, the number two Justice official under Clinton who is now a member of the 9/11 Commission, over how the CIA and FBI could share terrorism information."

Medicare underestimate apparently illegal
"The Congressional Research Service says the Bush administration apparently violated federal law by ordering the chief Medicare actuary to withhold information from Congress indicating that the new Medicare law could cost far more than White House officials had said," New York Times reports.

"... The actuary, Richard S. Foster, has testified that he was ordered to withhold the cost estimates last year, when Congress was considering legislation to add a drug benefit to Medicare. The order, he said, came from Thomas A. Scully, who was then the administrator of Medicare. Mr. Foster said Mr. Scully threatened to discipline him for insubordination if he gave Congress the data. The research service, a nonpartisan arm of Congress, said Mr. Scully's order 'would appear to violate a specific and express prohibition of federal law.' The actuary, it said, has a duty to 'make professional and reliable cost estimates, unfettered by any particular partisan agenda.'"

"In March, Bush administration officials suggested that they would provide the actuary's cost estimates to Congress. 'We have nothing to hide, so I want to make darn sure that everything comes out,' Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, said on March 16. But a month later, in a letter to Congress, the administration refused to provide the documents."

Nader's ballot problems
Ralph Nader's campaign workers say city ordinances are stopping them from gathering signatures to get their candidate on the presidential ballot in Texas and elsewhere, the Washington Times reports. Nader isn't on the ballot in any state yet. But the Naderites aren't worried.

"'None of the states has had its deadline for ballot access yet,' said Nader campaign spokesman Kevin Zeese. But Mr. Zeese said local ordinances have cropped up around the country banning signature collecting at public events, and that will hamper the campaign's effort to get Mr. Nader on some ballots."

"'These petitioners are being blocked by universities and cities,' Mr. Zeese said. 'There are a lot of restrictions that did not exist in 2000.'"

"Although many Democrats have criticized Mr. Nader's run for the presidency, fearing he will take the votes of liberal and left-wing voters away from Sen. John Kerry, the Nader campaign said yesterday that Democrats have not interfered with its ballot-access efforts."

"But Texas, with its difficult state laws regarding independent candidates, is proving particularly formidable, with its May 10 deadline and 60,000-signature requirement. Getting those signatures 'is a very, very steep uphill battle this time,' said petition drive organizer Scott Crow, adding that several new city ordinances have made matters tougher for the Nader team."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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