Wednesday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
August 4, 2004 5:56PM (UTC)

The New York Times story today on the terror alert in New York and Washington highlights the confusing, shifting messages coming from the Bush administration since Sunday. "Senior government officials" now claim that "new intelligence pointing to a current threat of a terrorist attack on financial targets in New York and possibly in Washington -- not just information about surveillance on specific buildings over the years -- was a major factor in the decision over the weekend to raise the terrorism alert level."

"The officials said the separate stream of intelligence, which they had not previously disclosed, reached the White House only late last week and was part of a flow that the officials said had prompted them to act urgently in the last few days. The officials disclosed the information a day after the Bush administration acknowledged for the first time that much of the surveillance activity cited last weekend by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to justify the latest, specific warnings had been at least three years old."

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The Times reporters note the fluctuation in the administration's urgency from one day to the next: "The language used by senior administration officials on Tuesday in warning of a possible attack was at least as strong as that Mr. Ridge used in announcing the alert on Sunday, and much stronger than the language used on Monday, when the officials acknowledged that the reconnaissance reports dated back to the period surrounding the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Among other things, one official disclosed on Tuesday that one intelligence report had pointed to a possible attack 'in August or September.'"

"That shifting tone may prove frustrating to the public, providing little guidance for assessing the gravity of threat information whose details remain shrouded in intelligence reports not available to anyone outside the highest ranks of the government."

" ... Though the case reports do appear to have been completed before the Sept. 11 attacks, as Bush administration officials first acknowledged on Monday, some of the computer files appear to have been updated or accessed more recently. One was a file modified in January and including a photograph of a building, a senior White House official said. The official also said there was reason to believe that people associated with Al Qaeda who are still at large would have had access to the reports. The officials would not identify the building that appears in the recently modified file, except to say that it was not one of the five that have been named. Those five are the New York Stock Exchange and the Citigroup Center in Manhattan, the Prudential building in Newark and the headquarters of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington."

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The Boss will join more than 20 artists in a Battleground concert tour in early October, the Los Angeles Times reports. "Directly entering partisan politics for the first time, rock icon Bruce Springsteen will join a loose coalition of high-profile musicians in an unprecedented early October concert blitz aimed at mobilizing opposition to President Bush. The concert tour ranks among the most ambitious efforts ever by entertainers of any kind to influence the outcome of a presidential race. ..."

"'What we are doing here is the direct outgrowth from the ideas that I've tried to sing about for the past 25 years,' Springsteen said in an interview. 'Hopefully we have built up a lot of credibility with our fans over the years. There comes a moment when you have to spend some of it. This is that moment.'"

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on the approval of an amendment to the Missouri constitution banning gay marriage. "'I think that Missouri values have spoken,' said [Vicky] Hartzler, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Protect Marriage in Missouri. 'This is a message of the heart, and here in the Heartland, we value marriage.'"

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"State constitutions have become the battleground of the gay marriage debate, after an anti-gay marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution failed in the Senate last month. Hartzler said Missouri -- which has a reputation as a bellwether state -- had sent a message with its vote ... Opponents of the amendment had hoped that a blitz of television ads in the days before the primary would change public opinion."

"The campaign was fueled by nearly $400,000 in donations, most of it gathered through house parties in St. Louis and Kansas City. Supporters of the gay marriage ban raised little for their cause -- less than $10,000 -- relying instead on dozens of church congregations to carry the message via newsletters and announcements from the pulpit."

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The Illinois GOP is down to two finalists in its search for an opponent for Barack Obama in the Senate race, the Chicago Tribune reports: Arch-conservative radio talk show host from Maryland, Alan Keyes, and Dr. Andrea Grubb Barthwell, who used to work in the Bush administration's drug czar office.

"Even before becoming a finalist, Barthwell had already been stung by controversy. While working in the drug czar's office, where she served as a deputy director, an internal report showed she engaged in 'lewd and abusive behavior' at a party for workers. Barthwell apparently made remarks questioning the sexual orientation of a male subordinate and used a kaleidoscope to make sexual gestures. Barthwell has said she had joined with a few staff members who were making jokes about a male staff member's sexual orientation. She called it 'lighthearted humor' and said the man who was the subject of the jokes did not seem to take offense. She also denied any inappropriate use of the kaleidoscope."

"Still, she has acknowledged, 'I made an error in judgment.'"

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More for the Florida voting fiasco file: The Miami Herald reports that Miami-Dade Commission Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler sent a strongly worded message to County Manager George Burgess this week, calling the county's election department 'the laughingstock of the nation,' and telling him to address problems by Aug. 16 -- 15 days before the primary election."

'''At this point, with less than 30 days before the 2004 primary, I find it unacceptable that our ability to conduct a proper election is being questioned locally and nationwide,' Carey-Shuler wrote."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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