Tuesday's must reads

By Tim Grieve
Published August 17, 2004 7:08AM (EDT)

The Los Angeles Times takes a long look today at the anti-Kerry allegations made by John O'Neill and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The Times' verdict: While memories from Vietnam can be murky and conflicting, the best evidence appears to support John Kerry.

"What military documentation exists and has been made public generally supports the view put forth by Kerry and most of his crewmates  that he acted courageously and came by his Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts honestly. This view of Kerry as war hero is supported by all but one of the surviving veterans who served with him on the two boats he commanded."

The Times notes that "none of the critics quoted" in the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth TV ad "actually served on the boats with Kerry," and that some of them have given "contradictory accounts and offered conflicting recollections."

George W. Bush was campaigning in Ohio Monday, and at the end of his stump speech -- just after the part where he mocks John Kerry for his votes on Iraq -- the president unveiled a plan for a massive worldwide redeployment of U.S. troops.

The Washington Post looks at the politics behind the president's announcement. "Bush's announcement of the plan -- which drew mixed assessments from military analysts -- gave him a chance to talk about bringing troops home at a time when his opponent . . . has pledged to substantially reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq."

Bush said changes in U.S. troop deployments are necessary "for the sake of our military families." The Post says the "overture to military families in a national security speech reflected the political stakes and timing of the speech. This is the second week of an effort by Bush and his campaign to undo any success Kerry had in using the Democratic National Convention to portray himself as worthy of the title commander in chief. Veterans and military families, traditionally a Republican constituency, are thought to be in play this year because of Kerry's credentials in Vietnam and concern over unexpectedly long deployments and continuing casualties in Iraq."

Democrats questioned both the timing of Bush's announcement and the merits of his plan. According to the Post, former U.N. Ambassador and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke criticized Bush for slipping a "historic announcement" into essentially a campaign speech and warned that Bush would further undermine relations with allies. "It's not good diplomacy. It sends the message that this administration continues to operate in a unilateral manner without adequately consulting its closest allies. It's a mistake, driven by the fact that we're stretched too thin in Iraq and the presidential election."

In the final installment of its series on how the Bush administration is re-shaping government through regulatory changes, the Washington Post explains how the White House has made it easier for mining companies to engage in something called "mountaintop removal."

Mining companies don't like to call it "mountaintop removal," of course. But the Post says that the term "aptly describes" the method: "Miners target a green peak, scrape it bare of trees and topsoil, and then blast away layer after layer of rock until the mountaintop is gone."

Beginning in the 1980s, the Post says, coal miners used "mountaintop removal" to flatten "hundreds of peaks across a region spanning West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. Thousands of tons of rocky debris were dumped into valleys, permanently burying more than 700 miles of mountain streams. By 1999, concerns over the damage to waterways triggered a backlash of lawsuits and court rulings that slowed the industry's growth to a trickle."

Then came George W. Bush. The Post says that the "mountaintop removal" business is "booming" again, and the practice of dumping mining debris into streambeds is "explicitly protected" by the federal government. The trick: Bush administration officials "reclassified the debris from objectionable 'waste' to legally acceptable 'fill.'"

The Post calls it a "case study" in how the administration has "attempted to reshape environmental policy" by "taking existing regulations" and making "subtle tweaks that carry large consequences."

Finally, a piece in today's New York Times provides new ammunition for your next argument about the safety of SUVs. The latest figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that people driving or riding in SUVs in 2003 were nearly 11 percent more likely to die in an accident than were people driving or riding in cars.

Although SUV owners cling to the notion that their vehicles are safe and getting safer, the new NHTSA statistics reveal the largest safety gap ever between cars and SUVs. The reason: rollovers, still. NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson told the Times: "In certain types of crashes, you're more likely to be better off in an SUV, but that is offset by the fact the you're more likely to roll over."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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