Wednesday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
June 30, 2004 5:37PM (UTC)

Iraq worse off, CPA wasted millions
The General Accounting Office reports that in key areas like overall security, electricity and the judicial system, Iraq is worse off now that before the U.S. invasion last year, Knight-Ridder reports.

"The 105-page report by Congress' investigative arm offers a bleak assessment of Iraq after 14 months of U.S. military occupation. Among its findings:

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-In 13 of Iraq's 18 provinces, electricity was available fewer hours per day on average last month than before the war. Nearly 20 million of Iraq's 26 million people live in those provinces.

-Only $13.7 billion of the $58 billion pledged and allocated worldwide to rebuild Iraq has been spent, with another $10 billion about to be spent. The biggest chunk of that money has been used to run Iraq's ministry operations.

-The country's court system is more clogged than before the war, and judges are frequent targets of assassination attempts.

-The new Iraqi civil defense, police and overall security units are suffering from mass desertions, are poorly trained and ill-equipped.

-The number of what the now-disbanded Coalition Provisional Authority called significant insurgent attacks skyrocketed from 411 in February to 1,169 in May.

The report was released on the same day that the CPA's inspector general issued three reports that highlighted serious management difficulties at the CPA. The reports found that the CPA wasted millions of dollars at a Hilton resort hotel in Kuwait because it didn't have guidelines for who could stay there, lost track of how many employees it had in Iraq and didn't track reconstruction projects funded by international donors to ensure they didn't duplicate U.S. projects."

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Conservatives apoplectic over Fahrenheit
The Wall Street Journal (free link) looks at conservative anger over Michael Moore's new film, and says it's reaching "fever pitch -- but figuring out how to prevent the movie from becoming an even wider cultural phenomenon is dividing the political right."

"Some activists want to confront the movie's controversial assertions or even stop theaters from showing it; others, including the White House, are keeping a low profile to avoid hyping the film and thus broadening its potential audience four months before Election Day."

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"The Bush administration has kept largely silent about Mr. Moore's film, which portrays the president as out-of-touch, accuses him of connections with the bin Laden family and questions whether he is beholden to Saudi interests. A Republican National Committee spokeswoman says the committee believes the movie won't affect voters' decisions come November and doesn't plan to dignify it with a response. The White House has declined to comment, saying it doesn't 'do movie reviews.'"

"'The eagle doesn't talk to the fly,' says Keith Appell, a Republican consultant and the senior vice president of Creative Response Concepts, a public-relations firm based in Alexandria, Va."

Tough to be Ashcroft these days
The New York Times today looks at the turbulent times faced by the attorney general, and cites Republicans saying they'll be surprised if he's around for a second Bush term, if that happens.

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"After years in which his conservative views and his definition of the proper balance between civil liberties and security needs made him a target for liberal critics, Mr. Ashcroft has recently experienced a series of defeats and missteps that have put him under even more intense scrutiny, and not just from Democrats."

"On Monday, the Supreme Court repudiated the administration's contention that the president alone could determine the fate of enemy combatants, in effect slapping down one of Mr. Ashcroft's most important legal positions. And last week the White House disowned a legal opinion drafted by the Justice Department regarding how far interrogators could go in using coercive techniques to wring information from detainees. Mr. Ashcroft's role in the preparation of that legal paper is unclear."

"Among well-connected Republicans in Washington, there is some private grumbling that Mr. Ashcroft too often pursues his own agenda rather than that of President Bush. Some Republicans are wondering whether Mr. Ashcroft would be asked to return for a second Bush term if the president is re-elected in November, or whether he would choose not to serve again, perhaps to pursue his own run for the presidency in 2008."

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"Some Republicans say Mr. Ashcroft has become so polarizing a figure that he can no longer be an effective advocate for administration initiatives, like the drive to renew the expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act. While Mr. Ashcroft remains immensely popular on the right, especially Christian conservatives, he is seen within the administration as also having picked up at least his share of political baggage in leading the Justice Department through the tumultuous changes that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Republicans with ties to the White House said."

Kerry courts minorities
Yesterday we told you about a Washington Post story about some African-Americans concerned that Kerry wasn't doing enough to attract black voters. So here's a follow-up: The New York Times looks at Kerry's plan to energize minority voters by promising blacks and Hispanics he would expand access to college.

"'This administration says this is the best economy of our lifetime,' he told the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition in Chicago. 'They say this is the best that we can do. They've even called us pessimists because we dared to tell the truth about the people without health care' and about shortcomings in the Bush administration's education and prescription-drug initiatives, he said."

"'Well, I say, the most pessimistic thing that you can say is that we can't do better in the United States of America,' Mr. Kerry continued, trying out a new rhetorical riff. The Rainbow/PUSH gathering was the same event where, in June 1992, Bill Clinton infuriated the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the group's leader, by questioning why the rap artist Sister Souljah had been invited to speak after making remarks about killing white people."

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"By contrast, Mr. Kerry said nothing to antagonize his hosts. In a race where both parties are seeking to energize their base, he is courting the same strong minority support that Mr. Clinton and Al Gore enjoyed but has been criticized for not having enough minority representation in senior positions in his campaign."

" ... In his Chicago speech, Mr. Kerry worked hard to assure the Rainbow/PUSH audience that he was sincere. 'I'm wary about standing up in front of you,' he said, 'because I know there's a cynicism. I know you're tired of the words. So am I.'"

Kerry: Divorce records stay sealed
After the revelations in Illinois senate candidate Jack Ryan's divorce records sunk his campaign, Matt Drudge suggested that reporters were after John Kerry's divorce records, too. According to the Los Angeles Times, John Kerry told reporters on Tuesday that he would not unseal his divorce records. 'I have no intention of doing that at all,' Kerry said in response to a reporter's question. 'There's no reason whatsoever. It's history, ancient history.' Kerry and Julia Thorne were married in 1970 but separated in 1982. They were divorced in 1988. Kerry said neither he, Thorne nor their daughters, Alexandra and Vanessa Kerry, see any reason to open that chapter of their lives to the public."

"'My ex-wife and I are terrific friends, very proud of our children,' the Democrat said. 'We've stayed close as an extended family in a sense and it's none of anybody's business.'"

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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