Wednesday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
July 7, 2004 5:49PM (UTC)

Kerry's pragmatic choice
John Kerry's choice in running mate assures him that he won't be second-guessed within his own party, Ron Brownstein says in an analysis in the Los Angeles Times -- John Edwards was the best campaigner in the Democratic primary field. But Brownstein says Edwards is also a gamble on some fronts:

"Kerry has selected a running mate who has made his mark mostly on domestic issues in a year when voters appear to be weighing national security and foreign policy more heavily than in any election since 1980. Edwards is also a fresh face at a turbulent time when experience looms large for many Americans. His selection may signal that the Kerry campaign is serious about contesting President Bush in several Southern states. But that could prove a poor use of Kerry's resources if Bush still dominates in the region."

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"Ultimately, the greatest peril surrounding Kerry's decision may be that he chose the man many considered the front-runner for the job all along. Although generating an enthusiastic response from Democrats, its also means the pick may not be dramatic or surprising enough to help win Kerry a new look from undecided voters."

On the criticism that Sen. Edwards doesn't have enough foreign policy experience, Richard Holbrooke, United Nations ambassador under Clinton and a Kerry advisor, told Brownstein: "John Edwards has far more experience on national security today than Gov. George W. Bush had at this time four years ago."

(On the question of Edwards' appeal to swing voters, Ruy Teixeira revisited his endorsement of the North Carolina senator for V.P. on his blog yesterday. "I believe [Edwards] would make a substantial contribution to increasing the ticket's appeal among white working class voters in culturally conservative swing states, especially where it is most necessary--outside of the unionized working class ... it is among these non-unionized white working class voters that Democrats have had the most trouble and where Gore got really hammered in 2000. One particular trouble spot is among those with some college--the upwardly striving working class. Because of severe underperformance among whites with this educational credential, Gore lost the group as a whole by 6 points in 2000. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, won them by 8 points in 1996. If John Edwards can help Kerry get close to Bill Clinton's 1996 performance with these voters, there's the election.")

Not just a sunny Southern simpleton
The Washington Post profiles Edwards and describes a man who's more complex than his often simple, "relentlessly cheerful" exterior suggests.

"Far from easygoing, Edwards has shown a drive and discipline that are notable even by the standards of his former career, as a trial lawyer, and his current one, as a first-term senator from North Carolina who now has a spot on the Democratic presidential ticket."

"Edwards's sunny-side-up approach to campaigning -- which made a winning impression with voters but yielded only two actual wins in the nominating contest -- is entirely authentic, according to many people who have worked for and with him. But this cheerful exterior also obscures an ambition that was fueled in youth by resentment at the snobbery he saw aimed against his working-class father, and in middle age by the grief that flowed from the death of a beloved teenage son."

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"With a smooth-spoken style and a mop of golden hair, Edwards represents an entirely different breed of politician than the gruff and bald vice president. The Democrat became a wealthy man by suing corporations. The Republican became a wealthy man by being chief executive of a major energy services corporation, and as vice president he represents an administration that disdains trial lawyers and has sought legislation to curb their influence."

On Salon today, Tim Grieve also contrasts the styles and backgrounds of Edwards and Cheney, looking ahead to a V.P. debate that could be the most significant in years. Although we do like the Post's "smooth-spoken style and a mop of golden hair" vs. "gruff and bald" comparison, we went with "the smile vs the scowl."

9/11 panel: Cheney doesn't have new info
Speaking of the "gruff and bald" vice president, the New York Times reports that the 9/11 commission "disputed Vice President Dick Cheney's suggestion that he probably had access to more intelligence than the commission did about possible ties between the Qaeda terrorist network and Iraq. In a one-sentence statement, the panel's chairman and vice chairman said that 'after examining available transcripts of the vice president's public remarks, the 9/11 commission believes it has access to the same information the vice president has seen regarding contacts between Al Qaeda and Iraq prior to the 9/11 attacks.'"

"A report issued by the commission's staff last month found that there did not appear to have been a 'collaborative relationship' between Iraq and the terrorist network, a finding that appeared to undermine a justification cited by President Bush and Mr. Cheney for invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein. White House officials questioned the finding and insisted that there had been a close relationship between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. While he did not directly criticize the commission, Mr. Cheney said in a television interview a day after the report's release that he 'probably' knew things about Iraq's links to terrorists that the 10-member bipartisan panel did not know."

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So, the 9/11 commission says Cheney did not have any special insider information that might lead the panel to reach a different conclusion about the Iraq-al Qaida relationship. One could conclude, then, that the vice president either is lying or is wrong about a major claim about the war in Iraq. Somehow, Cheney's office claimed victory yesterday:

"A spokesman for Mr. Cheney, Kevin Kellems, said on Tuesday that the White House welcomed the statement, calling it proof that the White House had fully cooperated in providing the panel all available intelligence relevant to its work. 'We are pleased with today's statement from the 9/11 commission, which puts to rest a nonstory,' he said. 'As we have said all along, the administration provided the commission with unprecedented access to sensitive information so they could perform their mission. The vice president criticized some press coverage of the draft staff report. He did not criticize the commission's work.'"

Lucrative contracts for friends of DOD official
Of all the Iraq reconstruction waste, fraud and abuse stories, this one might take the cake. The Los Angeles Times reports that "a senior Defense Department official conducted unauthorized investigations of Iraq reconstruction efforts and used their results to push for lucrative contracts for friends and their business clients, according to current and former Pentagon officials and documents. John A. 'Jack' Shaw, deputy undersecretary for international technology security, represented himself as an agent of the Pentagon's inspector general in conducting the investigations, sources said."

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"In one case, Shaw disguised himself as an employee of Halliburton Co. and gained access to a port in southern Iraq after he was denied entry by the U.S. military, the sources said. In that investigation, Shaw found problems with operations at the port of Umm al Qasr, Pentagon sources said. In another, he criticized a competition sponsored by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to award cellphone licenses in Iraq."

"In both cases, Shaw urged government officials to fix the alleged problems by directing multimillion-dollar contracts to companies linked to his friends, without competitive bidding, according to the Pentagon sources and documents. In the case of the port, the clients of a lobbyist friend won a no-bid contract for dredging. Shaw's actions are the latest to raise concerns that senior Republican officials working in Washington and Iraq have used the rebuilding effort in Iraq to reward associates and political allies. One of Shaw's close friends, the former top U.S. transportation official in Iraq, is under investigation for his role in promoting an Iraqi national airline with a company linked to the Saddam Hussein regime. The inspector general's office which investigates waste, fraud and abuse at the Pentagon has turned over its inquiry into Shaw's actions to the FBI to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the sources said."

Voter "purge" up to local officials
The Miami Herald reports that "Florida's top election officials conceded Tuesday that they will take no legal action to force the state's 67 election supervisors to remove nearly 48,000 voters who have been identified by the state as potentially ineligible to vote."

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"This means the fate of these voters, some of whom appear to have been wrongly placed on the list, will be up to the election supervisor in each county, many of whom have been hesitant so far to remove any voter from the rolls. Some supervisors have said they were unsure if they had the time or staff needed to independently verify the background of voters prior to this fall's elections, but other supervisors have moved ahead anyway."

" ... The accuracy of the database has come under fire after The Herald and other newspapers identified felons targeted for elimination from the rolls who had had their voting rights restored by the state. A New York legal group that has challenged Florida's lifetime ban that prevents felons from voting has also questioned whether the new database includes the names of all former prisoners whose rights have been restored."

Blair: WMD may never be found
The Guardian reports that "Tony Blair admitted for the first time yesterday that weapons of mass destruction may never be found in Iraq, but he refused to apologise for the invasion and would not admit that the absence of stockpiles undermined his case for war."

"His remarks, in front of the liaison committee of select committee chairmen, come ahead of the Butler inquiry report into the flawed intelligence prior to the war. They follow a similar admission by the former chief British political representative in Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock. Until now Mr Blair has simply said, most recently on the Frost programme in January, that he did not know if weapons of mass destruction would be found."

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"Asked about the absence of stockpiles, he said: 'I have to accept that we have not found them and that we may not find them.'"

" ... He claimed the Iraq Survey Group had already found Iraq in breach of the UN's resolutions, the legal basis for war. 'I genuinely believe that those weapons were there and that is why the international community came together as they did.' The Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy described Mr Blair's position as silly."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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