Friday, August 20, 2004

Connections and Contradictions

Swift Boat Veterans For Truth has a web of connections to the Bush family, to high profile Texas political figures, and to President Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove.

The NY Times has put this together in a graph.


Abu Ghraib Probe Points to Top Brass

Washington Post

An Army investigation into the role of military intelligence personnel in the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison reports that the scandal was not just caused by a small circle of rogue military police soldiers but resulted from failures of leadership rising to the highest levels of the U.S. command in Iraq, senior defense officials said.

Full article at:


Voting While Black

August 20, 2004


The smell of voter suppression coming out of Florida is getting stronger. It turns out that a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation, in which state troopers have gone into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando in a bizarre hunt for evidence of election fraud, is being conducted despite a finding by the department last May "that there was no basis to support the allegations of election fraud."

State officials have said that the investigation, which has already frightened many voters and intimidated elderly volunteers, is in response to allegations of voter fraud involving absentee ballots that came up during the Orlando mayoral election in March. But the department considered that matter closed last spring, according to a letter from the office of Guy Tunnell, the department's commissioner, to Lawson Lamar, the state attorney in Orlando, who would be responsible for any criminal prosecutions.

The letter, dated May 13, said:

"We received your package related to the allegations of voter fraud during the 2004 mayoral election. This dealt with the manner in which absentee ballots were either handled or collected by campaign staffers for Mayor Buddy Dyer. Since this matter involved an elected official, the allegations were forwarded to F.D.L.E.'s Executive Investigations in Tallahassee, Florida.

"The documents were reviewed by F.D.L.E., as well as the Florida Division of Elections. It was determined that there was no basis to support the allegations of election fraud concerning these absentee ballots. Since there is no evidence of criminal misconduct involving Mayor Dyer, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement considers this matter closed."

Well, it's not closed. And department officials said yesterday that the letter sent out in May was never meant to indicate that the "entire" investigation was closed. Since the letter went out, state troopers have gone into the homes of 40 or 50 black voters, most of them elderly, in what the department describes as a criminal investigation. Many longtime Florida observers have said the use of state troopers for this type of investigation is extremely unusual, and it has caused a storm of controversy.

The officers were armed and in plain clothes. For elderly African-American voters, who remember the terrible torment inflicted on blacks who tried to vote in the South in the 1950's and 60's, the sight of armed police officers coming into their homes to interrogate them about voting is chilling indeed.

One woman, who is in her mid-70's and was visited by two officers in June, said in an affidavit: "After entering my house, they asked me if they could take their jackets off, to which I answered yes. When they removed their jackets, I noticed they were wearing side arms. ... And I noticed an ankle holster on one of them when they sat down."

Though apprehensive, she answered all of their questions. But for a lot of voters, the emotional response to the investigation has gone beyond apprehension to outright fear.

"These guys are using these intimidating methods to try and get these folks to stay away from the polls in the future,'' said Eugene Poole, president of the Florida Voters League, which tries to increase black voter participation throughout the state. "And you know what? It's working. One woman said, 'My God, they're going to put us in jail for nothing.' I said, 'That's not true.' "

State officials deny that their intent was to intimidate black voters. Mr. Tunnell, who was handpicked by Gov. Jeb Bush to head the Department of Law Enforcement, said in a statement yesterday: "Instead of having them come to the F.D.L.E. office, which may seem quite imposing, our agents felt it would be a more relaxed atmosphere if they visited the witnesses at their homes.''

When I asked a spokesman for Mr. Tunnell, Tom Berlinger, about the letter in May indicating that the allegations were without merit, he replied that the intent of the letter had not been made clear by Joyce Dawley, a regional director who drafted and signed the letter for Mr. Tunnell.

"The letter was poorly worded,'' said Mr. Berlinger. He said he spoke to Ms. Dawley about the letter a few weeks ago and she told him, "God, I wish I would have made that more clear." What Ms. Dawley meant to say, said Mr. Berlinger, was that it did not appear that Mayor Dyer himself was criminally involved.


How Dick Cheney Got Away With $35 Million Right Before the Government Launched a Probe into Halliburton

Read the article by Jason Leopold, the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires, here:


The S-word applies to Bush and Cheney, too

Aug. 19, 2004


A "more sensitive" war on terror? That's a joke, except when Team Bush wants to have one.

Such is the not-so-subtle message in Vice President Dick Cheney's ridicule of John Kerry's call for a "more sensitive" war on terror.

"America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive," Cheney told supporters in Dayton, Ohio, last Thursday. "A sensitive war will not destroy the evil men who killed 3,000 Americans. ... The men who beheaded (U.S. citizens) Daniel Pearl and Paul Johnson will not be impressed by our sensitivity."

Cheney's implied message to a crowd heavy with men and women who, unlike Cheney, are military veterans was that war vet Kerry sounds like a wussy compared to the manly men and women of Team Bush. Was Cheney right about Kerry? Or, astonishing as it may be to comprehend, was he quoting Kerry out of context? I report; you decide:

Cheney was referring to Kerry's statement a week earlier at the UNITY Convention for journalists of color in Washington, D.C. In context, the Democratic presidential nominee said: "I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history."

Got that? Kerry called for a "more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive" war on terror, as well as more "sensitive," the adjective upon which Cheney chose to wail away.

"Those who threaten us and kill innocents around the world do not need to be treated more sensitively," Cheney also said, triggering applause. "They need to be destroyed." Sage words from a man who said on national television that triumphant American troops would be greeted with flowers in the streets of Iraq. Our troops are still waiting for those flowers.

"As our opponents see it," Cheney said, "the problem isn't the thugs and murderers that we face, but our attitude. We, the American people, know better."

But Cheney's own superior doesn't seem to agree with him on the matter of sensitivity.

President Bush just happened to speak to the same UNITY Convention a day after Kerry and in answer to a question there, Bush said, "Now, in terms of, you know, the balance between running down intelligence and bringing people to justice, obviously we need to be very sensitive on that," emphasizing the S-word.

Does Cheney not pay much attention to what his boss actually says about foreign policy?

Or, for that matter, does Cheney pay much attention to what Cheney says about foreign policy? I raise that question because Cheney himself spoke on conservative Hugh Hewitt's syndicated radio show regarding the siege of the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, declaring that the shrine "is a sensitive area and we are very much aware of its sensitivity."

That's reassuring. As Kerry was trying to say, a little sensitivity goes a long way. In its hasty run-up to war with Iraq, U.S. missteps show a need for this nation to be more "sensitive," not to its enemies, but to its allies. Instead of throwing American might, money, men and women into battle alone or nearly alone against all threats, America needs the sort of leadership that brings other nations along with us as effective partners. That's how George Bush built a truly strong coalition to chase Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

As candidate Bush said during a debate with Vice President Al Gore in 2000, "If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us, if we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us. And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power and that's why we've got to be humble, and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom."

I can hardly improve on that. America does not need to seek a "permission slip," as Bush more recently put it, from anyone, but we should seek the cooperation of everyone. Whether Bush or Kerry wins the November contest, it is not enough simply to show our neighbors, enemy and allies alike, how tough we are. Our neighbors have received that message, but we should not always expect them to love us for it.


Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Bushmanian Candidate

Cartoon by Ted Rall


Official Records Show SWVFT Ad Is A Lie

From the Washington Post

Records Counter a Critic of Kerry
Fellow Skipper's Citation Refers To Enemy Fire

By Michael Dobbs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 19, 2004; Page A01

Newly obtained military records of one of Sen. John F. Kerry's most vocal critics, who has accused the Democratic presidential candidate of lying about his wartime record to win medals, contradict his own version of events.

In newspaper interviews and a best-selling book, Larry Thurlow, who commanded a Navy Swift boat alongside Kerry in Vietnam, has strongly disputed Kerry's claim that the Massachusetts Democrat's boat came under fire during a mission in Viet Cong-controlled territory on March 13, 1969. Kerry won a Bronze Star for his actions that day.

Larry Thurlow in an anti-John Kerry ad (by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth). Thurlow said he would consider his own Bronze Star "fraudulent" if coming under enemy fire was the basis for it. (AP)

But Thurlow's military records, portions of which were released yesterday to The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, contain several references to "enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire" directed at "all units" of the five-boat flotilla. Thurlow won his own Bronze Star that day, and the citation praises him for providing assistance to a damaged Swift boat "despite enemy bullets flying about him."

Full article:


Our Government Allowed Civilians to Breathe Contaminated Air After 9/11

On August 21, 2003, the Inspector General for the federal Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") released a disturbing 165-page report documenting the fact that the White House Council on Environmental Quality blocked health risk information that EPA wanted to release to the public following the September 11, 2001 attack. That, however, is only part of the story.

This report picks up where the EPA Inspector General's report left off. It identifies how not only EPA but also the Federal Emergency Management Agency ("FEMA") and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") failed the Ground Zero community, misinforming them about hazards and failing to take proper action to prevent exposures. It explains how the "know-nothing" tone of the federal government in this emergency had disastrous consequences for the people who serve on the "front line" of terror response. While news stories emerged as early as October 2001 about firefighters suffering from something called "World Trade Center Cough," most people outside New York are unaware of the wide range of workers and community people who have been afflicted by Ground Zero pollution. This report describes these people, their unmet needs and some continuing exposure risks.

This report documents why the federal government's failures cannot be excused by ignorance, surprise or emergency conditions, or by blaming workers who didn't wear protective masks. It warns that the Bush administration intends to make some of these failures into standard procedure for national emergencies. Finally, it recommends specific steps that the federal administration must take to change course, limit the harm from its failed approach to Ground Zero pollution, and promote better safety for the public in future national emergencies.

Details and the full report available at:


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Bush's Withdrawal From the World

Bush's Withdrawal From the World

By Ronald D. Asmus

Wednesday, August 18, 2004; Page A19

Harry Truman must be turning over in his grave.

The planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Europe and Asia that President Bush announced this week, if allowed to stand, could lead to the demise of the United States' key alliances across the globe, including the one that Truman considered his greatest foreign policy accomplishment: NATO.

The president proposes something that generations of U.S. diplomats and soldiers fought to prevent and that our adversaries sought unsuccessfully to achieve: radical reduction of U.S. political and military influence on the European and Asian continents. The Bush message, delivered at a campaign rally, also smells of political opportunism. Under pressure but unable to withdraw troops from Iraq, the president has instead reached for what his advisers hope is the next best thing politically -- a pledge to bring the boys home from Europe and Asia.

Whether this is good or bad politics remains to be seen. But there is little doubt that it is bad strategy and bad diplomacy, for which the United States is likely to pay a heavy price. The reasons are fairly simple. In Europe after the Cold War, the United States decided to significantly reduce its former troop levels but to leave sufficient military forces on the ground to accomplish three objectives: help ensure that peace and stability on the continent would endure; have the capacity to support NATO and European Union expansion and project the communities of democracies eastward; and provide the political and military glue to enable our allies to reorient themselves militarily and prepare, together with the United States, to address new conflicts beyond the continent's borders.

Each of these goals remains important. Each will be undercut by the president's plan. With transatlantic relations badly frayed, Russia turning away from democracy and the United States facing the challenge of projecting stability from the Balkans to the Black Sea, Washington should be putting forward a plan to repair the transatlantic alliance, not ruin it.

In Asia the stakes are just as high and the challenges perhaps greater. There the United States faces the long-term challenge of managing the rise of China as a great power. North Korea's eventual collapse and the unification of Korea will raise the question of that country's future geopolitical orientation. And such seismic events will undoubtedly have a considerable impact on the evolution of Japan's role and orientation as well.

U.S. diplomats will have their hands full over the next decade or two trying to win the war on terrorism and help manage these multiple strategic transitions -- and will need every ounce of U.S. political and military leverage and muscle if they are to get it right. In an act of diplomatic hara-kiri, the president proposes to destroy one of the key pillars of U.S. influence just when this kind of leverage and influence is likely to be needed the most.

The president's plan is unfortunately further evidence of the strategic myopia that has afflicted this administration and is undercutting the United States' standing in the world. At a time when we should be mobilizing and reinvigorating our alliances in Europe and Asia, we are dismantling them. Instead of creating multilateral structures to mobilize the world in a common struggle against terrorism and new anti-Western ideologies and movements, we opt for a unilateral course that leaves us with fewer friends. As opposed to balancing the political and military requirements of a new era and coming up with a new troop deployment plan that meets both needs, the administration allows the Pentagon to ride roughshod over broader U.S. strategy and diplomacy and destroy the work of generations of diplomats and soldiers.

Is there room for reconfiguring the U.S. military deployment plan overseas and modernizing it for a new era? Of course, there is. But such a review must also be part of a new strategic approach to alliance-building to confront the new threats we face. It must take into account our political and military requirements and the views of our allies. The president should have given a speech in Ohio on how he planned to repair the United States' alliances for the future -- and our new global military posture should reflect that goal as well. Why has no administration official come forward with any ideas on repairing the United States' alliance relationships?

Sen. John Kerry has recognized that the lesson of Sept. 11 is that the U.S. need for allies is going up, not down. He has pledged to make the reinvigoration of U.S. alliances a foreign policy priority. He has claimed that his election would allow for a "fresh start" and close a remarkably divisive chapter in relations with many of our close allies. There is little doubt that Kerry's election would be enthusiastically welcomed in both Europe and Asia. But it is time for the senator to take the next step and lay out a concrete plan for how his administration would reverse the damage done by President Bush and reinvigorate the United States' alliances to meet the dangers we face. Part of that plan should be to freeze and review the ill-conceived plan the president put forth this week in Ohio.


Army flip flops again regarding Halliburton

August 18, 2004

Army, in Shift, Will Pay Halliburton

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 (Reuters) - The Army reversed a decision late Tuesday to withhold payment on 15 percent of future payments to the Halliburton Company on its contracts in Iraq and Kuwait, giving the company more time to resolve a billing dispute.

The Army had said earlier Tuesday that it had decided that starting Wednesday it would withhold 15 percent of payments on future bills from the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root because it had not issued paperwork justifying its costs. But the Army later indicated it would continue to reimburse the company in full.

Government contractors normally cannot be paid more than 85 percent of their invoices until they fully account for their costs. Twice this year, the Army set this rule aside for Halliburton as the company cataloged its costs and explained how it was billing the government. The most recent reprieve expired Sunday.

The waivers granted to Halliburton have annoyed several members of Congress, who say the company has had undue privileges because of its former ties to Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney led the company from 1995 until he became the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2000. (Note: Cheney still has a vested interest in the firm being profitable -- he collects $150,000 a year from Halliburton.)

Halliburton, an oil services and construction company that has more than $8 billion in Iraq-related contracts, said shifting needs and the intricacies of providing logistical support to American troops made it difficult to account for its many costs quickly.

"Because of the size and scope of the tasks in Iraq and the fact that the process is complex and constantly changing," the Army Matériel Command and Kellogg Brown & Root "have agreed to work closely together to produce the final results," Wendy Hall, a Halliburton spokeswoman, said Monday in an e-mail message.

There have been confusing signals from both the military and the company in recent days over the billing dispute and whether the Army would take any action.

The company put out a statement on Monday that money would not be withheld, but then announced Tuesday along with the Army that it had been told payment of 15 percent of future invoices would be withheld starting Wednesday.

So far, Halliburton has been paid more than $4.3 billion under its logistics contract in Iraq.


Many Children Left Behind

August 18, 2004
Bad News on the Charter Front

The Bush administration's education program received a devastating setback this week when long-awaited federal data showed that children in charter schools were performing worse on math and reading tests than their counterparts in regular public schools. Among other things, the data casts doubt on a central provision of the No Child Left Behind Act that encourages the states to hand over failing schools to commercial companies and nonprofit community groups that want to run them as charter schools.

Such schools can circumvent some union rules and customary management methods while operating outside the influence of school boards and state authorities.

The new data is consistent with what states like Michigan and California have already learned about the pitfalls of the charter process. There have been individual success stories among the charter schools, but no one seems to have found the key to replicating them on a wider basis. And eliminating the much-criticized educational bureaucracy seems to have created at least as many problems as it has solved.

In addition to poor academic performance, there have been many cases of financial and administrative failures. Some charter schools have been forced to close after being cited for financial irregularities that resulted from a lack of oversight by the states and the local school boards. In some cases, charter schools that boasted about high student achievement have been unwilling to share test data that would support their claims. Others have been accused of generating better scores by screening out the disabled and dumping weaker students back into the public system.

The new data that came to public attention this week was unearthed from a mound of federal reports, where it seemed to have been buried. While government officials denied that they were trying to hide the report, there's no denying that it casts a cloud on the gospel of privatization pushed by the Bush administration.

The report shows that there is nothing magical about the charter system when it comes to rebuilding failing schools. Instead of encouraging the states to set up thousands of unsupervised charter schools, the education secretary, Rod Paige, and his associates should concentrate on the No Child Left Behind provisions that require the states to place a qualified teacher in every classroom and make sure that all of the country's children are being held to the same high standards. That means more oversight and more scrutiny by the states, not less.


Financial Firms Hasten Their Move to Outsourcing

August 18, 2004


BANGALORE, India, Aug. 16 - Last February, when the online lending company E-Loan wanted to provide its customers faster and more affordable loans, it began a program in India. Since then, 87 percent of E-Loan's customers have chosen to have their loans financed two days faster by having their applications processed in India.

"Offshoring is not just a fad, but the reality of doing business today," said Chris Larsen, chairman and chief executive of E-Loan, "and this is really just the beginning."

Indeed, seemingly a myriad of financial institutions including banks, mutual funds, insurance companies, investment firms and credit-card companies are sending work to overseas locations, at a scorching speed.

From 2003 to 2004, Deloitte Research found in a survey of 43 financial institutions in 7 countries, including 13 of the top 25 by market capitalization, financial institutions in North America and Europe increased jobs offshore to an average of 1,500 each from an average of 300. The Deloitte study said that about 80 percent of this went to India.

Deloitte said the unexpectedly rapid growth rate for offshore outsourcing showed no signs of abating, despite negative publicity about job losses. Although information technology remains the dominant service, financial firms are expanding into other areas like insurance claims processing, mortgage applications, equity research and accounting.

"Offshoring has created a truly global operating model for financial services, unleashing a new and potent competitive dynamic that is changing the rules of the game for the entire industry," the report said.

Michael Haney, a senior analyst at research firm, Celent Communications, said: "With its vast English-speaking, technically well-trained labor pool and its low-cost advantages, India is one of the few countries that can handle the level of offshoring that U.S. financial companies want to scale to." .

In a recent report "Offshoring, A Detour Along the Automation Highway," Mr. Haney estimated that potentially 2.3 million American jobs in the banking and securities industries could be lost to outsourcing abroad.

Girish S. Paranjpe, president for financial solutions at Wipro, a large outsourcing company in India, said, "Pent-up demand, recent regulatory changes and technology upgrade requirements are all making global financial institutions increase their outsourcing budgets." His company's customers include J. P. Morgan Chase, for which it is building systems for measuring operational risk, and Aviva and Prudential, the British insurers.

Several recent studies concur that there has been an unexpected and large shift of work since the outsourcing pioneer Citigroup set up a company in India two decades ago. They cite cost advantages as the primary reason. According to Celent, in 2003 the average M.B.A. working in the financial services industry in India, where the cost of living is about 30 percent less than in the United States, earned 14 percent of his American counterpart's wages. Information technology professionals earned 13 percent, while call center workers who provide customer support and telemarketing services earned 7 percent of their American counterparts' salaries.

Experts say that with China, India, the former Soviet Union and other nations embracing free trade and capitalism, there is a population 10 times that of the United States with average wage advantages of 85 percent to 95 percent.

"There has never been an economic discontinuity of this magnitude in the history of the world," said Mark Gottfredson, co-head of the consulting firm Bain & Company's global capability sourcing practice. "These powerful forces are allowing companies to rethink their sourcing strategies across the entire value chain."

A study by India's software industry trade body, the National Association of Software and Services Companies, or Nasscom, estimated that United States banks, financial services and insurance companies have saved $6 billion in the last four years by offshoring to India.

But cheap labor is not the only reason for outsourcing. Global financial institutions are moving work overseas to spread risks and to offer their customers service 24 hours a day.

"Financial institutions are achieving accelerated speed to market, and quality and productivity gains in outsourcing to India," said Anil Kumar, senior vice president for banking and financial services at Satyam Computer Services, a software and services firm. Satyam works with 10 of the top global capital markets firms on Wall Street.

Mastek, an outsourcing company based in Mumbai, is another example. Two years ago, Mastek turned from doing diverse types of offshore work to specializing in financial services. The results are already showing. In the year ended in June, 42 percent of Mastek's revenues, $89.28 million, came from offering software and back-office services to financial services firms, up from 22 percent last June.

Fidelity Investments, the world's largest mutual fund manager, started outsourcing to Mastek 18 months ago and is now among the top five clients in its roster.

Sudhakar Ram, chief executive of Mastek, said, "It is rare that within a year a new customer turns a top customer; this illustrates the momentum in the market."

Another Mastek customer, the CUNA Mutual Group, which is based in Madison, Wis., and is part of the Credit Union National Association, started a project billed at less than $100,000 two years ago. Now the applications that Mastek is building for CUNA, to handle disability claims, amount to a multimillion-dollar deal.

In the transaction-intensive financial services industry, offshoring of high-labor back-office tasks is becoming the norm.

ICICI OneSource, based in Mumbai, has added 2,100 employees in six months and signed on four new financial services clients, including the London-based bank Lloyd's TSB, for which it provides customer service.

In one year from March 2003 to March 2004, ICICI OneSource grew to $42 million in revenues from $17 million. Today, more than 70 percent of its revenues come from the financial services industry, up from 40 percent two years ago.

For India's outsourcing firms, growth has not been without hiccups. Earlier this year, Capital One canceled a telemarketing contract with India's biggest call center company, Spectramind, owned by Wipro, after some workers were charged with enticing the credit-card company's customers with unauthorized free gifts. Weeks earlier, the investment bank Lehman Brothers canceled a contract with Wipro saying it was dissatisfied with its workers' training.

In response, outsourcing companies are improving their offerings. Leading companies are investing in privacy and security due diligence as they handle sensitive customer data, doing reference checks on employees, providing secure physical environments with cameras, and banning employees from using cellphones and other gadgetry on the work floor.

Deloitte forecasts that by the year 2010, the 100 largest global financial institutions will move $400 billion of their work offshore for $150 billion in annual savings. Its survey forecasts that more than 20 percent of the financial industry's global cost base will have gone offshore in that period.

With competence levels rising, Indian companies are tackling more complex tasks. DSL Software, a joint venture of Deutsche Bank and HCL Technologies, a software company, is handling intricate jobs for the securities processing industry. "Indian firms are taking offshoring to the next level; in the banking industry for instance, they are getting into wholesale banking, trade finance and larger loan processing type tasks," said Mr. Haney, the analyst from Celent.

But the relentless demand for skilled workers is putting pressure on wage rates, narrowing the wage gap with the United States and other Western economies. Simultaneously, companies are plagued by higher attrition rates that may lead to quality and deadline pressures.

For the moment, however, there is no indication the industry cannot cope with the unflagging demand to send work offshore. "If India can continuously pull less paid, less educated people into the labor pool," Mr. Haney said, "a substantial wage gap will continue to exist."


Just Keep It Peaceful, Protesters; New York Is Offering Discounts

August 18, 2004


Thinking about smashing windows or overturning cars during the Republican National Convention? Think again: that will cost you a discounted buffalo chicken salad from Applebee's or a cheaper ticket to see "Tony n' Tina's Wedding."

In a transparently mercantile bid to keep protesters from disrupting the Republican National Convention later this month, the Bloomberg administration will offer "peaceful political activists" discounts at select hotels, museums, stores and restaurants around town during convention week, which begins Aug. 29.

Law-abiding protesters will be given buttons that bear a fetching rendition of the Statue of Liberty holding a sign that reads, "peaceful political activists." Protesters can present the buttons at places like the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Sex, the Pokémon Center store and such restaurants as Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too and Applebee's to save some cash during their stay.

If only the Romanovs had thought of this.

"It's no fun to protest on an empty stomach," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday, when he announced the program at NYC & Company, the city's tourism office, which will distribute the buttons to all comers to its Midtown office.

Protesters can also get the buttons from groups that have a legal permit to rally. But Mr. Bloomberg conceded yesterday that not everyone who wore a button would be strictly vetted for his or her peacefulness. "Unfortunately, we can't stop an anarchist from getting a button," he said, though he doubted any of them would want to wear one.

The discount program comes at a time when Mr. Bloomberg is under increasing pressure from the largest protest group, United for Peace and Justice, which is demanding the right to protest in Central Park, a request the city has repeatedly rejected. As a result, the city faces the prospect that the largest rally, planned the Sunday before the convention, will be an illegal gathering.

A spokesman for the group, Bill Dobbs, dismissed the discount program yesterday as a publicity stunt.

The city contends that it wants to give as warm a welcome to protesters as to delegates. "Most times, people try to keep protesters from coming," the mayor said, "and they certainly don't go out of their way to accommodate them."

In offering the discounts, the city also has its economy in mind. Officials want to make sure that hotels and restaurants are as fully booked as possible during the convention week; many have reported that reservations are slow for that week.

The discount program for protesters is modeled on one for delegates to the convention, and there are some notable differences. Protesters are offered $5 off admission to the Museum of Sex, while delegates are not. But delegates get $3 off the space show at the American Museum of Natural History, a discount not offered to protesters. The Republicans get "Rent," the people who oppose them get "Tony n' Tina's Wedding."

Bloomberg administration officials say the list of offerings for protesters may grow. An up-to-date list appears on; visitors to the site can click on "Welcome peaceful political activists." There, the discontented but hungry can also find information about the city's history and tour guides for the "politically minded visitor."

Mr. Bloomberg also said that the police officers and firemen who had been holding loud demonstrations at his public appearances in the past few weeks would qualify.

Yesterday, outside the mayor's news conference, Joe Miccio, a firefighter who came to hector the mayor, fingered the button presented to him by a reporter with some confusion. "We are peaceful political activists," he said, puzzling over the notion of discounted hamburgers and office supplies (at Kroll's Office Products, free magic marker included). "We'll take a look at it."

The city says it expects at least 200,000 people - both out-of-towners and aggrieved New Yorkers - to protest around the city between now and the end of the convention on Sept. 2. And, as Mr. Bloomberg pointed out, they will need to eat.

With the convention a week and a half away, there are already some who may not qualify for the discounts. Yesterday, four members of Code Pink, a women's protest group, were arrested for trying to dangle a 40-foot-long banner from their ninth-floor window at the Sheraton Hotel across from Mr. Bloomberg's news conference, the police said.

Jodie Evans, a co-founder of the group, identified the women as Andrea Buffa and Colleen Galbraith of San Francisco, Claire Varoney of Los Angeles and Danielle Feris of New York City. The charges against the women are pending, the police said yesterday afternoon.

Gary Ferdman, the executive director of Sensible Priorities, a business consortium, said yesterday that he came up with the idea for the discount program when the city decided it needed to reach out to protesters. "I'm afraid this Central Park thing is really going to blow up," he said after the news conference, perhaps speaking more bluntly than city officials about the motivations for the program.

In announcing the program, Mr. Bloomberg was joined yesterday by former Mayors Edward I. Koch and David N. Dinkins. While Mr. Dinkins said that he might have handled the request to protest in Central Park "differently," Mr. Koch said he agreed with the Bloomberg administration's plan to keep the largest protest off the Great Lawn. That decision has angered many New Yorkers, particularly those who have ambivalent feelings about the convention, which Mr. Bloomberg has repeatedly said will be an economic boon for the city.

Among more veteran protesters, the city's offer had a certain appeal. "Since we're both guests, New York City should treat us equally," said Aron Kay, who is also known locally as the Mad Yippie Pie Thrower. Mr. Kay is the organizer of a protest planned for outside Mayor Bloomberg's townhouse on the Upper East Side on Aug 22.

"Maybe we would like to eat in a restaurant or catch a play," he mused. Before or after haranguing the mayor? "I would say after," he said.


Inquiry Into F.B.I. Questioning Is Sought

The New York Times
August 18, 2004


WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 - Several Democratic lawmakers called on Tuesday for a Justice Department investigation into the Federal Bureau of Investigation's questioning of would-be demonstrators about possible violence at the political conventions, saying the questioning may have violated the First Amendment.

In a letter to the department's inspector general seeking an investigation, the three lawmakers said the F.B.I. inquiries appeared to represent "systematic political harassment and intimidation of legitimate antiwar protesters."

Signing the letter, which was prompted by an article on Monday in The New York Times, were Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and two other Democrats on the panel, Jerrold Nadler of New York and Robert C. Scott of Virginia.

Officials at the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said they had not seen the letter and could not comment on its specific points. They defended the recent efforts by the bureau to question potential demonstrators around the country, saying the inquiries have been aimed solely at detecting and preventing violence at the Republican convention in New York and other major political events.

"The F.B.I. is not monitoring groups or interviewing individuals unless we receive intelligence that such individuals or groups may be planning violent and disruptive criminal activity or have knowledge of such activity," Cassandra M. Chandler, an assistant director of the bureau, said in a statement released late Monday.

After having received reports of possible violence, Ms. Chandler said, "the F.B.I. conducted interviews, within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution, in order to determine the validity of the threat information.''

"Violent acts,'' she added, "are not protected by the U.S. Constitution, and the F.B.I. has a duty to prevent such acts and to identify and bring to justice those who commit them."

In recent weeks, beginning last month before the Democratic National Convention in Boston, F.B.I. agents have contacted a number of people who have been active in political demonstrations in at least six states: Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri and New York. Many of those contacted have been active in past demonstrations, and agents have

asked whether they planned acts of violence at upcoming protests, whether they knew of anyone who did and whether they realized it was a crime to withhold such information.

Three young men in Missouri were also trailed by federal agents and subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury last month to tell what they knew of protest plans, forcing them to cancel a planned trip to Boston to participate in a demonstration there.

Officials of the F.B.I. would not say how many interviews the bureau had conducted. Civil rights advocates who have monitored the process estimated that at least several dozen people had received visits from agents at their homes and elsewhere in recent weeks. They said they were continuing to collect anecdotal information from demonstrators who had been approached by federal agents.

In a newly disclosed episode in Colorado, two college students said that an F.B.I. agent approached the faculty adviser for their campus group late last month and that the agent showed photographs of the students, Mark Silverstein, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said. The students did not want their names or college disclosed, Mr. Silverstein said, because "they're really scared out of their minds."

The inquiries were made after a legal opinion in April by the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department endorsed the constitutionality of past efforts by F.B.I. counterterrorism agents to solicit help from local police forces to gather intelligence on antiwar and political demonstrations. The opinion said any chilling of First Amendment rights was "quite minimal" and was "substantially outweighed" by concerns for public safety at big demonstrations.

Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said on Tuesday that he was troubled by the pre-emptive nature of the inquiries, which he said had deterred some demonstrators from protesting.

"This looks like it's much more about intimidation and coercion than about criminal conduct," Mr. Romero said. "It's not enough for the F.B.I. to say that there's the potential for criminal activity. That's not the legal threshold, and if that were really the case, they could investigate anybody."

Representative Conyers and his colleagues raised similar concerns in their letter. They asked the inspector general to examine internal documents at the Justice Department and F.B.I. on political protests and to determine if the inquiries "focused on actual threats of violence or merely involved legitimate political and antiwar activity."


Who Needs Assault Weapons?

August 18, 2004


MERIDIAN, Idaho — If you've been longing for your very own assault rifle and 30-round magazine for the next holiday season, you're in luck.

President Bush, sidestepping a promise, is allowing the ban on assault rifles and oversized clips to expire on Sept. 14. So at a gun store here in Meridian, a bit west of Boise, the counter has a display promising "2 FREE HIGH-CAPACITY MAGAZINES."

All you have to do is purchase a new Beretta 9-millimeter handgun and you'll receive two high-capacity magazines - on the condition, the fine print states, that the federal ban expires on schedule.

President Bush promised in the last presidential campaign to support an extension of the ban, which was put in place in 1994 for 10 years. "It makes no sense for assault weapons to be around our society," Mr. Bush observed at the time.

These days Mr. Bush still says that he'll sign an extension of the ban if it happens to reach his desk. But he knows that the only way the ban can be extended on time is if he actually urges its passage, and he refuses to do that. So his promise to support an extension rings hollow - it's not exactly a lie, but it's not the full truth, either.

Mr. Bush's flip-flop is surprising because he has generally had the courage of his convictions. Apparently he's hiding from this issue because it's so politically charged.

Critics of the assault weapon ban have one valid point: the ban has more holes than Swiss cheese.

"The big frustration of my customers is that [the ban] removed things that were kind of fun and made it look cool, but didn't affect how the gun operated," said Sean Wontor, a salesman who heaved two rifles onto the counter of Sportsman's Warehouse here in Meridian to make his point.

One was an assault weapon that was produced before the ban (and thus still legal), and the other was a sanitized version produced afterward to comply with the ban by removing the bayonet mount and the flash suppressor.

After these cosmetic changes, the rifle is now no longer considered an assault weapon, yet, of course, it is just as lethal.

Still, assault weapons, while amounting to only 1 percent of America's 190 million privately owned guns, account for a hugely disproportionate share of gun violence precisely because of their macho appeal.

Assault weapons aren't necessary for any kind of hunting or target shooting, but they're popular because they can transform a suburban Walter Mitty into Rambo, for a lot less money than a Hummer.

"I've got a ton of customers shooting squirrels with AK-47's," said Kevin Tester, a gun salesman near Boise. "They're using 30-round magazines and 7.62-millimeter ammunition, they're shooting up the hills, and they're having a blast."

I grew up on an Oregon farm that bristled with guns to deal with the coyotes that dined on our sheep. Having fired everything from a pistol to a machine gun, I can testify that shooting can be a lot of fun. But consider the cost: 29,000 gun deaths in America each year.

While gun statistics are as malleable as Play-Doh, they do underscore that assault weapons are a special problem in America.

They accounted for 8.4 percent of the guns traced to crimes between 1988 and 1991, and they are still used in one in five fatal shootings of police officers. If anything, we should be plugging the holes in the ban by having it cover copycat weapons without bayonet mounts, instead of moving backward and allowing a new flood of weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The bottom line is that Mr. Bush's waffling on assault weapons will mean more dead Americans.

About 100 times as many Americans are already dying from gunfire in the U.S. as in Iraq. As many Americans die from firearms every six weeks as died in the 9/11 attacks - yet the White House is paralyzed on this issue.

Mr. Bush needs to live up to his campaign promise and push to keep the ban on assault weapons. Otherwise, we'll bring more of the Iraq-like carnage to our own shores, and his refusal to confront our gun problem will kill more Americans over time than Osama bin Laden ever could.


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Bush's Big Business Agenda



Analysis by The Washington Post and The New York Times shows the Bush
administration is continuing to use regulatory action, exempt from
Congressional oversight and often hidden from public scrutiny, to further a
big business agenda despite demonstrated risks to public health and
safety. An extensive analysis by the WP reveals the administration has
employed regulatory action " to implement far-reaching policy changes
...Under Bush, these decisions have spanned logging in national
forests, patients' rights in government health insurance programs, tests for
tainted packaged meats, Indian land transactions and grants to religious
charities." The NYT notes the public has been distracted by Iraq and
the fight against terrorism. Meanwhile, "Health rules, environmental
regulations, energy initiatives, worker-safety standards and product-safety
disclosure policies have been modified in ways that often please
business and industry leaders
." The weakening of regulations has possibly endangered "consumers,
workers, drivers, medical patients, the elderly and many others." Check
out American Progress' and OMB Watch's report on the Bush
administration's dismantling of public safeguards

THE RECORD: According to the Post's analysis, President Bush's
deregulatory record represents a radical departure from previous
administrations. "All presidents have written or eliminated regulations to further
their agendas," the Post notes. "What is distinctive about Bush is that
he quickly imposed a culture intended to put his anti-regulatory stamp
on government
( ."
In the past 3 1/2 years, the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA), the branch of the Labor Department in charge of workers'
well-being, "has eliminated nearly five times as many pending standards
as it has completed. It has not started any major new health or safety
rules, setting Bush apart from the previous three presidents, including
Ronald Reagan. Unlike his two predecessors, Bush has canceled more of
the unfinished regulatory work he inherited than he has completed."

the Bush administration's disregard for public safety: On Saturday, the
NYT highlighted a controversial regulation published by the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration forbidding the release of some
data relating to unsafe motor vehicles
. Following the lead of auto company lobbyists, the administration said
"publicizing the information would cause 'substantial competitive harm'
to manufacturers," even though it might help consumers choose safer
cars. Chief spokesman Ray Tyson said he was sure the now-suppressed
information, which includes "warranty-claim information, industry reports on
safety issues and consumer complaints," would not be " of much interest
to the general public
." Last week, the NYT documented how the administration is trying to
rewrite coal regulations
( in favor of
owners, rescinding "more than a half-dozen proposals intended to make
coal miners' jobs safer, including steps to limit miners' exposure to
toxic chemicals."

QUESTIONING THE DATA: Since it would be embarrassing to simply tell
consumers and workers it's not willing to make businesses pay to protect
them, the Bush administration has developed a different strategy for
achieving regulatory roll backs: question the science. In today's WP
addresses with the Data Quality Act
( , a
little-known piece of legislation "written by an industry lobbyist and
slipped into a giant appropriations bill in 2000 without congressional
discussion or debate." The act is supposedly meant to ensure new
regulations are based on "sound science," but the WP found it has been used
predominantly by industry to challenge scientific data indicating risks
to workers or consumers. Included among the petitions so far: sugar
interests challenged dietary recommendations to limit sugar intake;
logging groups challenged calculations used to justify restrictions on timber
harvests; and the American Chemistry Council challenged data meant to
justify bans on wood treated with heavy metals and arsenic in playground


Saving the Vote

August 17, 2004


Everyone knows it, but not many politicians or mainstream journalists are willing to talk about it, for fear of sounding conspiracy-minded: there is a substantial chance that the result of the 2004 presidential election will be suspect.

When I say that the result will be suspect, I don't mean that the election will, in fact, have been stolen. (We may never know.) I mean that there will be sufficient uncertainty about the honesty of the vote count that much of the world and many Americans will have serious doubts.

How might the election result be suspect? Well, to take only one of several possibilities, suppose that Florida - where recent polls give John Kerry the lead - once again swings the election to George Bush.

Much of Florida's vote will be counted by electronic voting machines with no paper trails. Independent computer scientists who have examined some of these machines' programming code are appalled at the security flaws. So there will be reasonable doubts about whether Florida's votes were properly counted, and no paper ballots to recount. The public will have to take the result on faith.

Yet the behavior of Gov. Jeb Bush's officials with regard to other election-related matters offers no justification for such faith. First there was the affair of the felon list. Florida law denies the vote to convicted felons. But in 2000 many innocent people, a great number of them black, couldn't vote because they were erroneously put on a list of felons; these wrongful exclusions may have put Governor Bush's brother in the White House.

This year, Florida again drew up a felon list, and tried to keep it secret. When a judge forced the list's release, it turned out that it once again wrongly disenfranchised many people - again, largely African-American - while including almost no Hispanics.

Yesterday, my colleague Bob Herbert [article below] reported on another highly suspicious Florida initiative: state police officers have gone into the homes of elderly African-American voters - including participants in get-out-the-vote operations - and interrogated them as part of what the state says is a fraud investigation. But the state has provided little information about the investigation, and, as Mr. Herbert says, this looks remarkably like an attempt to intimidate voters.

Given this pattern, there will be skepticism if Florida's paperless voting machines give President Bush an upset, uncheckable victory.

Congress should have acted long ago to place the coming election above suspicion by requiring a paper trail for votes. But legislation was bottled up in committee, and it may be too late to change the hardware. Yet it is crucial that this election be credible. What can be done?

There is still time for officials to provide enhanced security, assuring the public that nobody can tamper with voting machines before or during the election; to hire independent security consultants to perform random tests before and during Election Day; and to provide paper ballots to every voter who requests one.

Voters, too, can do their bit. Recently the Florida Republican Party sent out a brochure urging supporters to use absentee ballots to make sure their votes are counted. The party claims that was a mistake - but it was, in fact, good advice. Voters should use paper ballots where they are available, and if this means voting absentee, so be it. (Election officials will be furious about the increased workload, but they have brought this on themselves.)

Finally, some voting activists have urged a last-minute push for independent exit polling, parallel to but independent of polling by media groups (whose combined operation suffered a meltdown during the upset Republican electoral triumph in 2002). This sounds like a very good idea.

Intensive exit polling would do triple duty. It would serve as a deterrent to anyone contemplating election fraud. If all went well, it would help validate the results and silence skeptics. And it would give an early warning if there was election tampering - perhaps early enough to seek redress.

It's horrifying to think that the credibility of our democracy - a democracy bought through the courage and sacrifice of many brave men and women - is now in danger. It's so horrifying that many prefer not to think about it. But closing our eyes won't make the threat go away. On the contrary, denial will only increase the chances of a disastrously suspect election.


Suppress the Vote?

August 16, 2004


The big story out of Florida over the weekend was the tragic devastation caused by Hurricane Charley. But there's another story from Florida that deserves our attention.

State police officers have gone into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando and interrogated them as part of an odd "investigation" that has frightened many voters, intimidated elderly volunteers and thrown a chill over efforts to get out the black vote in November.

The officers, from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which reports to Gov. Jeb Bush, say they are investigating allegations of voter fraud that came up during the Orlando mayoral election in March.

Officials refused to discuss details of the investigation, other than to say that absentee ballots are involved. They said they had no idea when the investigation might end, and acknowledged that it may continue right through the presidential election.

"We did a preliminary inquiry into those allegations and then we concluded that there was enough evidence to follow through with a full criminal investigation," said Geo Morales, a spokesman for the Department of Law Enforcement.

The state police officers, armed and in plain clothes, have questioned dozens of voters in their homes. Some of those questioned have been volunteers in get-out-the-vote campaigns.

I asked Mr. Morales in a telephone conversation to tell me what criminal activity had taken place.

"I can't talk about that," he said.

I asked if all the people interrogated were black.

"Well, mainly it was a black neighborhood we were looking at - yes,'' he said.

He also said, "Most of them were elderly."

When I asked why, he said, "That's just the people we selected out of a random sample to interview."

Back in the bad old days, some decades ago, when Southern whites used every imaginable form of chicanery to prevent blacks from voting, blacks often fought back by creating voters leagues, which were organizations that helped to register, educate and encourage black voters. It became a tradition that continues in many places, including Florida, today.

Not surprisingly, many of the elderly black voters who found themselves face to face with state police officers in Orlando are members of the Orlando League of Voters, which has been very successful in mobilizing the city's black vote.

The president of the Orlando League of Voters is Ezzie Thomas, who is 73 years old. With his demonstrated ability to deliver the black vote in Orlando, Mr. Thomas is a tempting target for supporters of George W. Bush in a state in which the black vote may well spell the difference between victory and defeat.

The vile smell of voter suppression is all over this so-called investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Joseph Egan, an Orlando lawyer who represents Mr. Thomas, said: "The Voters League has workers who go into the community to do voter registration, drive people to the polls and help with absentee ballots. They are elderly women mostly. They get paid like $100 for four or five months' work, just to offset things like the cost of their gas. They see this political activity as an important contribution to their community. Some of the people in the community had never cast a ballot until the league came to their door and encouraged them to vote."

Now, said Mr. Egan, the fear generated by state police officers going into people's homes as part of an ongoing criminal investigation related to voting is threatening to undo much of the good work of the league. He said, "One woman asked me, 'Am I going to go to jail now because I voted by absentee ballot?' "

According to Mr. Egan, "People who have voted by absentee ballot for years are refusing to allow campaign workers to come to their homes. And volunteers who have participated for years in assisting people, particularly the elderly or handicapped, are scared and don't want to risk a criminal investigation."

Florida is a state that's very much in play in the presidential election, with some polls showing John Kerry in the lead. A heavy-handed state police investigation that throws a blanket of fear over thousands of black voters can only help President Bush.

The long and ugly tradition of suppressing the black vote is alive and thriving in the Sunshine State.


Misconceived Military Shuffle

August 17, 2004

The troop redeployment plan announced yesterday by President Bush makes little long-term strategic sense. It is certain to strain crucial alliances, increase overall costs and dangerously weaken deterrence on the Korean peninsula at the worst possible moment. Meanwhile, it will do nothing to address the military's most pressing current need: relieving the chronic strain on ground forces that has resulted from failing to anticipate the long, and largely unilateral, American occupation of Iraq.

Mr. Bush provided few new details yesterday, confirming only that over the next 10 years, about 60,000 to 70,000 uniformed troops, along with some 100,000 family members and civilian employees, would be transferred from bases and other military installations in Europe and Asia to the United States.

It has been known for some time that the Pentagon wants to pull back perhaps half of the roughly 70,000 soldiers now in Germany and a third of the nearly 40,000 troops in South Korea. Further cuts in Europe and Asia will be needed to reach Mr. Bush's totals, especially since some of those withdrawn from South Korea may be headed toward other parts of Asia.

The Bush administration justifies these movements by pointing to fundamental changes in the geography of threats since the end of the cold war. In Asia, however, that geography has not changed all that much.

The most dangerous threat still comes from North Korea, which is now thought to be building nuclear weapons. At a time when negotiating a halt to that buildup is imperative, Washington has inexplicably granted Pyongyang something it has long coveted - a reduction in American troop levels - instead of building those reductions into a bargaining proposal requiring constructive North Korean moves in return. The Korean pullback also sends a dangerous signal to the North that America is devaluing its alliance with South Korea.

In Europe, the withdrawals are less immediately dangerous, but they will be expensive because Germany pays a hefty share of the costs for the American military bases located there.

While sending military personnel back to Kansas or Colorado may avert some base closings and make local politicians happy, it will cost the taxpayers money. Furthermore, the military will also lose the advantage that comes with giving large numbers of its men and women the experience of living in other cultures.

The administration seems to be planning to establish new installations in Eastern Europe, but they are more likely to be used for occasional exercises than as permanent bases. An increased presence in Eastern Europe is fine, but it need not come at the expense of our German bases. Although it is certainly true that American troops no longer have to sit in Germany to protect Western Europe from the Red Army, many of today's battlefields, like Iraq and Afghanistan, are in fact closer to Germany than they are to the United States.

The Pentagon is right to stress lighter, more mobile Army brigades. It is also good to aim to reduce the number of job and location changes in a typical Army career. With the huge personnel demands of Iraqi operations forcing repeated tours, extended tours and involuntary callbacks, such sensible steps aimed at raising morale and encouraging re-enlistments are welcome. But over all, this plan marches in the wrong direction. Instead of reflecting and reinforcing America's core alliances, the new plan dilutes them.

Despite the Pentagon's denials, it seems deliberate that the two largest withdrawals have been proposed for countries that the Bush administration has had serious differences with in recent years, over Iraq in the German case, and over negotiating strategy with North Korea in the case of Seoul. Both countries have been working hard to patch up relations - South Korea is one of the few American allies with troops in Iraq - but the Pentagon does not seem interested in reciprocating.


Illinois to Help Residents Buy Drugs From Canada, and Afar

August 17, 2004


CHICAGO, Aug. 16 - Opening a new front in the fight over the cost of prescription drugs, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois is preparing to help residents of his state buy cheaper medicines from Britain and Ireland, as well as Canada.

Aides to Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, said he would announce on Tuesday that Illinois would create a program, accessible on the Internet, so people could buy 100 of the most common drugs for 25 percent to 50 percent less than in most American drugstores.

Federal authorities say it is illegal to buy drugs from outside the United States, but since early this year, officials in at least four other states - Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Wisconsin - have set up Web sites that link residents to Canadian pharmacies. Expanding the market to Britain and Ireland, Mr. Blagojevich's aides said, will spread demand beyond Canada, where some suppliers have reported shortages of certain drugs.

"The drug companies have pretty aggressively been shutting supplies to Canada, and we want to ensure that the supply will meet the demand," Abby Ottenhoff, a spokeswoman for Mr. Blagojevich, said. "Ultimately, they can't shut down supplies to the world to keep prices high in the United States."

William K. Hubbard, an associate commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration, said Mr. Blagojevich's plan "sounds like yet another expansion of an effort to import unapproved drugs from foreign countries that will be illegal under U.S. law and will raise serious concerns on the part of the F.D.A."

The notion that Illinois was reaching even beyond Canada, Mr. Hubbard said, made matters worse. "The more they go into other countries, the more concerns we have," he said.

Illinois' move is the latest in what has become a political and economic standoff over how Americans buy their drugs: the F.D.A. and drug companies contend that medications from other countries may be counterfeit, mislabeled or otherwise unsafe, while a growing number of local and state officials argue that their residents must be allowed to buy the least expensive drugs.

Illinois plans to contract with a Canadian company to create a clearinghouse of more than 35 approved pharmacies and wholesalers in Canada, Ireland and Britain. The state hopes to first reach the estimated 2.8 million Illinois residents who have no prescription drug coverage. If only 100,000 of them bought drugs through the clearinghouse, they would save as much as $29 million a year, Ms. Ottenhoff said.

Wanda Moebius, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents drug makers, said Illinois would not be able to guarantee that drugs said to be from Britain or Ireland really came from there. "We have serious safety concerns," Ms. Moebius said.

The Illinois program is designed for state residents only. Customers will have to provide billing and shipping addresses in the state.

Minnesota, the first state to start a Web site, in late January, had 117,000 visitors to its site by the end of July. Other states are using different methods to press for change. Vermont authorities have announced that they plan to sue the F.D.A. for rejecting their plan to bring Canadian drugs to their residents.

"On this issue, you can see the waves lapping up at the fortress," said Gary C. Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics. "The question is, What will they do about these waves?"

The F.D.A. considers it illegal to buy drugs, or cause the sale of drugs, from other countries, but so far the agency has not taken legal action against states with Web sites that help people get drugs from abroad.

Mr. Hubbard said he could not say whether the agency might take legal action against Illinois because he had not seen details of its plan.


Monday, August 16, 2004

Revolt of the Press Corps

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, August 16, 2004

The press corps appears to have had about enough of those hokey "Ask President Bush" events.

Instead of taking questions from reporters, President Bush has become increasingly partial to playing talk-show host to an audience of sycophantic fans.

There were four "Ask President Bush" events last week and in each case, after a long speech and staged interviews with prepped guests, Bush opened the floor to some incredible softballs.

The format allows the president to come off as very smooth.

As John Harris writes in The Washington Post: "In loosening his style, Bush tightened his message. Fielding friendly questions at 'Ask President Bush' forums, or lathering up the crowds at pep rallies like the one here on Saturday afternoon, he presented his case for reelection with a force and fluency that sometimes eluded him at important moments over the past year."

There's never a nasty question, never a heckler, nothing but love. That makes for great imagery and great soundbytes.

But now the press is pulling back the curtain.

Bill Plante did a long report on the CBS Evening News on Friday, showing video of campaign wranglers trying to pump up the hand-picked crowd.

"The art of TV-friendly political stragecraft reaches new levels in this campaign," Plante says. "This tight control means that hecklers . . . are almost never seen at Bush events. . . .

"At events like these, it's all about getting the message without any distraction, and making sure that there's no public argument to spoil the party."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in her White House Letter in the New York Times: "Bush campaign officials readily say that they carefully screen the crowds by distributing tickets through campaign volunteers. . . .

"The result is often a love-in with heavily religious crowds. Bush relaxes, shows off his humor and appears more human than in his sometimes tongue-tied and tense encounters with the press."

Bumiller notes: "As of Wednesday in Wisconsin, Bush will have had 12 such campaign forums, which is one fewer than the number of solo news conferences he has had in three and a half years in the White House."

AFP writes: "President George W. Bush famously dislikes press conferences but has embraced 'Ask President Bush' sessions packed with supporters at least as eager to pay tribute to him as get an answer."

Here's the text ( of the most recent "Ask the President," in Beaverton, Ore. Here are the transcripts ( from previous events.

Religious Themes

Another defining aspect of these events is that the audiences are packed with evangelical Christians.

Maura Reynolds writes in the Los Angeles Times: "At town hall-style events from Niceville, Fla., to Albuquerque to Beaverton, Ore., many supporters posed the president with religiously themed questions and comments about faith, prayer and issues such as abortion and stem cell research.

"And although the president does not usually shy away from discussing his personal faith, he sometimes found himself in an awkward position -- trying to validate his supporters' views without endorsing them in a way that would alienate more-moderate swing voters. . . .

"Which is why the president deflected the comment with a joke when a 60-year-old man in Niceville, Fla., said Tuesday, 'This is the very first time that I have felt that God was in the White House.'

"'Thank you. Thank you all. Let me ask you a question: Do you like Jeb?' Bush asked, referring to his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush."

As John F. Harris and Jonathan Finer wrote in Saturday's Washington Post: "Bush had to calm the ardor of the crowd at Southridge High School in Beaverton. One woman noted that Oregon has one of the nation's highest percentages of 'unchurched' citizens and asked the president to 'take a minute to pray for Oregon.'

"Bush, who had won loud applause earlier when noting his Christian faith, told the woman 'I appreciate what you say' but then seemed to rebuke her statement. 'People can choose church or not church, and they're equally American,' he said, adding that it is important that 'we jealously guard' the tradition of protecting religious freedom.

"The crowd, seemingly surprised by Bush's refusal to endorse the woman's statement, responded with only a smattering of applause."

Character Assassination

The format also offers a highly public airing of unsubstantiated charges against Bush's opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry, that the campaign would never make directly.

And Bush doesn't jump to refute those.

For instance, in Beaverton:

"Q On behalf of Vietnam veterans -- and I served six tours over there -- we do support the President. I only have one concern, and that's on the Purple Heart, and that is, is that there are over 200,000 Vietnam vets that died from Agent Orange and were never -- no Purple Heart has ever been awarded to a Vietnam veteran because of Agent Orange because it's never been changed in the regulations. Yet, we've got a candidate for President out here with two self-inflicted scratches, and I take that as an insult. (Applause.)

"THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you. Thank you for your service. Six tours? Whew. That's a lot of tours.

"Let's see, who've we got here? You got a question?"

No Substitute

These "Ask the President" events are no substitute for news conferences.

As White House press corps veteran and columnist Helen Thomas recently put it in an interview in the Progressive: "The President of the United States should be able to answer any question, or at least dance around one. At some time -- early and often -- he should submit to questioning and be held accountable, because if you don't have that then you only have one side of the story. The Presidential news conference is the only forum in our society, the only institution, where a President can be questioned. If a leader is not questioned, he can rule by edict or executive order. He can be a king or a dictator. Who's to challenge him? We're there to pull his chain and to ask the questions that should be asked every day, for every move."
Troop Withdrawal on Today's Agenda

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "In a speech Monday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Cincinnati, Bush will announce one of the largest troop realignments since the end of the Cold War.

"Senior administration officials say Bush's plan affects 70,000 or more uniformed military personnel plus 100,000 of their family members and support personnel."

The Washington Post's Mike Allen and Thomas E. Ricks wrote on Saturday that Bush "plans to say that the change is necessary to adapt the nation's military to the demands of the global war on terrorism and to take advantage of new technologies, said a senior aide involved in developing the plan. "

Anne E. Kornblut writes in the Boston Globe: "Armed with the advantage of incumbency, President Bush is preparing to showcase his role as commander in chief this week while his Republican allies are attempting to cast doubt on the national security credentials claimed by his Democratic rival, Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts."

After his speech in Cincinnati, Bush heads to Traverse City, Mich., for a campaign rally.

John Flesher writes for the Associated Press: "Traverse City and the rest of the northwestern Lower Peninsula is mostly friendly turf" for Bush.

All About Iraq

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times: "By challenging Kerry to say whether he too would have invaded Iraq, Bush has targeted what may be Kerry's greatest weakness with voters: a reputation for vacillation and hairsplitting.

"But Bush simultaneously may be spotlighting what many voters like least about him: a reluctance to change course even amid changing circumstances and a belief in his own decisions so unwavering that it straddles the line between confidence and arrogance."

Hugh Sykes reports from Washington for the BBC: "There is widespread - and, I sense, slowly growing - mystification about the Iraq war of George Bush and Tony Blair."

Broder Watch

The blogosphere is chattering about the significance of David S. Broder's column in The Washington Post on Sunday, in which he writes: "The factors that make President Bush a vulnerable incumbent have almost nothing to do with his opponent, John F. Kerry. They stem directly from two closely linked, high-stakes policy gambles that Bush chose on his own. Neither has worked out as he hoped.

"The first gamble was the decision to attack Iraq; the second, to avoid paying for the war."

Blogger Joshua Micah Marshall writes that Broder's words "mark a significant milestone simply because of Broder's role in defining conventional wisdom in Washington."

Bush and Florida

Ceci Connolly writes in The Washington Post: "With Gov. Jeb Bush as guide, the president saw the devastation wrought by Hurricane Charley, pledging speedy relief to a state that still smarts from the slow response by his father's administration to Hurricane Andrew in 1992."

Bush was asked about suggestions the tour was about Campaign 2004. "If I didn't come, they would have said, 'He should have been here more rapidly,' " he said. Here's the text ( of his remarks in Punta Gorda.

Henry Hamman and James Harding write in the Financial Times that the hurricane is "a natural disaster loaded with unforeseen costs for the state government of Jeb Bush, his brother, and for his re-election."

Congressional Quarterly columnist Craig Crawford tells Keith Olbermann on MSNBC: "Hard to know what's worse, the hurricane or the politicians that file in after them."

Who's Sensitive?

Bush administration critics have been quick to note just how many times Bush and Vice President Cheney have stressed the need to be sensitive in military affairs (see for instance, the Center for American Progress [ ].)

But now a reader of the Eschaton blog points out that in the course of the very same interview with Hugh Hewitt on Thursday in which Cheney savaged Kerry for his use of the s-word, Cheney then used it twice himself, in comments about the fighting around a shrine in Najaf.

"Well, from the standpoint of the shrine, obviously it is a sensitive area, and we are very much aware of its sensitivity," Cheney said.

Writing Regulations

The Washington Post is publishing a series about how the Bush administration has used the regulatory process to redirect the course of government.

The stories show "how an administration can employ this subtle aspect of presidential power to implement far-reaching policy changes. Most of the decisions are made without the public attention that accompanies congressional debate."

Amy Goldstein and Sarah Cohen write about "the way OSHA has altered its regulatory mission to embrace a more business-friendly posture. In the past 3 1/2 years, OSHA, the branch of the Labor Department in charge of workers' well-being, has eliminated nearly five times as many pending standards as it has completed. It has not started any major new health or safety rules, setting Bush apart from the previous three presidents, including Ronald Reagan."

Rick Weiss writes about how "the Data Quality Act, a little-known piece of legislation that, under President Bush's Office of Management and Budget, has become a potent tool for companies seeking to beat back regulation."

The New York Times also weighs in on the topic. Joel Brinkley writes: "Allies and critics of the Bush administration agree that the Sept. 11 attacks, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq have preoccupied the public, overshadowing an important element of the president's agenda: new regulatory initiatives."

Poll Watch

The latest Zogby poll shows Bush's approval rating up three points to 47 percent, with 52 percent disapproving. In the horserace, Zogby shows Kerry at 47 percent, Bush at 43 and Ralph Nader at 2.

Richard Morin and Christopher Muste write in The Washington Post: "Mounting concerns over the war and the sluggish economy have sent President Bush's popularity plummeting among young adults in the past four months, complicating his bid for reelection and challenging Republicans to increase their efforts to win over new or lightly committed young voters."

Valerie Plame Watch

Howard Kurtz asks in The Washington Post: "Do journalists deserve blanket immunity when accepting information that is illegal to leak, as in the Plame case?"

Tax Policy Watch

William Neikirk writes for the Chicago Tribune: "A once-quiet campaign by several top Republicans to abolish the IRS and replace the federal income tax with a European-style national sales tax has burst into the open, leading President Bush to withhold his blessing of the controversial proposal."

Karen Hughes Watch

It's official.

Ken Herman writes for Cox News Service: "The most important woman in President Bush's political life is back on the payroll as of today.

"Longtime adviser and friend Karen Hughes traveled with Bush on the campaign trail this past week for the first time in the current election cycle."

In the 2002 campaign, as Herman notes, "The Bush-Hughes connection became the stuff of legend as reporters noted her penchant for mouthing words as Bush said them."


Sunday, August 15, 2004

Cheney and Edwards: The Me 2 Campaign

Cheney and Edwards: The Me 2 Campaign
In the Midwest, Aiming for Second Best

By Mark Leibovich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 15, 2004; Page D01

DAYTON, Ohio -- Dick Cheney and John Edwards have a few things in common: They are both running for vice president and they are both Homo sapiens.

But you would struggle to find two greater stylistic opposites in American politics.

Edwards is a populist outsider; Cheney is a capitalist insider.

Edwards, who is 51 but looks younger, is known for his oratorical flair and exuberance. Cheney, who is 63 but looks older, is known for his reticence and discretion. He takes as a mantra, "You never get in trouble for something you don't say." (A quote he attributes to former House speaker Sam Rayburn.) Edwards's wife, Elizabeth, calls her relentlessly sunny husband "the most optimistic person I know." Cheney once took a personality test that found him best-suited to a career as a funeral director.

Edwards runs four miles a day. Cheney has had four heart attacks.

Edwards is "very beautiful," according to Teresa Heinz Kerry. Cheney is "not the prettiest face in the race," says President Bush.

"People keep telling me that Senator Edwards got picked for his good looks, charm and great hair," Cheney said in a speech here Thursday. "And I say to them, 'How do you think I got this job?' " The line -- a staple of his stump routine -- always brings giggles. But it also is revealing. These are very different men touting very different tickets to very different constituencies. To compare their manners, themes, applause lines and crowds is to glimpse the distinct anthropologies of the two campaigns for the presidency.

Traditionally, vice presidential candidates have served a set of prescribed functions. They are cheerleaders for their running mates and attack dogs against their opponents. In this campaign, they are playing to carefully screened audiences, who have usually been issued tickets. The crowds cheer, make noise, wave signs and do what they're supposed to do -- look good and giddy for television news clips, convey a sense of momentum.

Both men campaigned last week in battleground states of the Midwest. It's unknown whether either changed any minds. But their performances yield broader lessons.

On With the Show

Campaign venues in a general election are essentially TV studios. This is what it looked like Wednesday when Cheney, accompanied by his wife, Lynne, held a "town meeting" in the southwestern Missouri city of Joplin. The Cheneys sat side by side on a small stage amid flags, Bush-Cheney signs and 300 supporters who filled four risers around them. There were, at first glance, no more than two non-whites in the audience.

With muscled security guards standing everywhere, the setting looked a little like the "Jerry Springer Show" -- except that there was absolutely no disagreement here about anything. One member of the audience began a question by saying, "Just let Brother Ashcroft know that his fellow Missourians are praying with you guys."

The iconic town meeting provides a forum for citizens to engage community leaders in a vigorous exchange of concerns. The election town meeting provides true believers the chance to ask softball questions and applaud answers they already know and agree with.

On Friday, Edwards participated in a Kerry-Edwards version in front of a little yellow house in Flint, Mich. The "front porch" meeting -- a staple of the Kerry-Edwards campaign's roving studio -- convenes the candidate with a group of "regular people" who are going through some hardship, usually economic. The candidate will then tell the "regular people" how his prospective administration would address their concerns.

This could be any neighborly lawn scene, except for the bright lights and boom mikes and huge speakers and the mob of photographers on a flatbed truck and the entourage of about 200 staffers, media members, Secret Service agents, police officers and onlookers swarming 4021 Cuthberton.

Otherwise it all looked very intimate, authentic and unstaged.

Friday's meeting was actually held on a front yard because its host -- Philip Phelps, a 25-year-old pizza delivery man -- doesn't have a porch. Phelps was one of three "regular people" meeting with Edwards, all of whose hardships jibe neatly with the campaign's "Real Plan for a Strong Economy."

"It's very hard, isn't it?" Edwards asked after Phelps detailed his struggle to put himself through college. Edwards, deeply tanned, was hairsprayed and in a blue dress shirt with no tie. His hands were folded on his lap and his head bobbed in a slow, understanding nod while dozens of cameras clicked and a loud TV reporter did a live shot 25 feet away.

It started to rain.

Shirley Wood was telling Edwards how she was just laid off from her job at GM. He told her he was the son of a mill worker and had seen, firsthand, the ravages of plant closings. And that he and John Kerry are committed to keeping jobs in the United States and enforcing trade agreements.

It started to rain harder.

"Time to wrap up," an advance man said, and the lights went off and everyone slopped through the mud back to their vans and buses and limousines.

And Edwards thanked his panel of regular people for a "really great discussion," which lasted a total of 12 minutes.

Holding an Audience

Both Cheney and Edwards are at their best before small groups. Cheney, who had planned to teach political science before he entered politics, speaks into his chin, in the matter-of-fact mumbles of a professor who has been teaching the same class for 35 years. Sometimes, when the questions are asked, he looks distracted (he began swabbing his ear with his pinkie in Joplin). But he conveys the authority of one who has clearly been around and knows more than he's telling.

Edwards honed his speaking skills in front of juries. He is a whiz at eye contact and holding his hands far apart to project openness. He looks like a terrific listener, cocking his head, nodding rhythmically, asking empathetic questions. He looks like he feels your pain.

Cheney has been briefed on your pain. But his mind is heavy with the ominous. He is at his most commanding when discussing the prospective horrors of the post-9/11 age -- bioterror, beheadings. Speaking in a grave monotone, like the narrator of a Civil War documentary, Cheney leaves the hope-and-optimism stuff for the president.

The enemy is "sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal," Cheney said in a speech in Dayton, quoting from the 9/11 commission report. It's inevitable that the United States will be hit again. He leaves people nodding.

Edwards leaves them pumped. He is a rollicking speaker, with a booming, drawling voice that gains momentum as he goes. After the front porch meeting, Edwards addressed a rally of 1,000 people who waited in the rain for him to arrive at Mott Community College in Flint. "HELLO, FLINT!" Edwards yelled like an arena rocker, making sure to sure to "thank y'all for waitin' out in the rain" and stirring his crowds to responsive chants of "Hope is on the way."

Edwards's surefire applause lines include: The GOP is bent on "tearing us apart, not bringing us together," any reference to nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the president's "go it alone" foreign policy, the shame of having 35 million people living in poverty in the United States, the need for a higher minimum wage and the acknowledgment that the country has "a long way to go" on civil rights.

Cheney's applause lines include: the need to confirm the Bush administration's judicial nominations, the need to curtail "junk lawsuits," mentions of God, particularly as relating to attempts to strike the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, and any mention of "the sanctity of life," tax relief, the right to bear arms and George W. Bush.

Edwards is often accompanied by his two young children, ages 4 and 6. Cheney was joined last week by his daughter Liz, who was backstage bottle-feeding her 5-week-old son, Philip. Lynne Cheney mentioned Philip while introducing her husband in Battle Creek, Mich., assuring everyone that they are "training him to be a Republican."

Cheney often begins his speeches by saying something about the place he's visiting. "People call Battle Creek the breakfast capital of the world," he said of the city that is home to the Kellogg corporation. "From the looks of things," he said, looking out at the ticket-holding crowd of 400, "Battle Creek is the Bush-Cheney capital of the world."

From the looks of things, the Bush-Cheney capital of the world ends at the walls of Lakeview High School. Outside, 150 protesters were holding Kerry-Edwards and other signs ("Where are the jobs? Where are those WMDs?)."

As he did during his campaign for the Democratic nomination, Edwards talked relentlessly about his humble beginnings as a millworker's son in the Carolinas. He told how he was the first person in his family to go to college and how he saw the injustice of racial discrimination firsthand growing up in the South. Edwards -- who is likely to run for president in 2008 or 2012 -- talks much more about himself in speeches than does Cheney, who has no interest in seeking the Oval Office.

Edwards's speech in Flint was interrupted by chants of "Edwards, Edwards," which he acknowledged with pumped fists.

Cheney's was interrupted by chants of "four more years," which he acknowledged by quipping "I accept," a retort that serves the dual purpose of drawing laughter and shutting people up so the vice president can get on with his speech.

Attack Dogging

Cheney's attacks are often sarcastic. He frequently quotes Kerry's statement that he both supported and opposed the funding to provide resources to U.S. troops in Iraq: "I actually voted for the $87 million before I voted against it."

"Well," Cheney says, "that certainly clears things up."

Lynne Cheney is an able attack dog in her own right.

"I'd like to direct this question to Mrs. Cheney," one supporter asked in Joplin. "Senator Kerry has made the statement that he'd like to fight a more sensitive war on terror. What could he possibly mean by that?"

He was referring to a speech by Kerry last week in which he said, "I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history."

Kerry's "more sensitive" quote would become the centerpiece of an attack that Cheney would launch against him in a speech the next day. Bush-Cheney spokeswoman Anne Womack said none of the town meeting questions were scripted and that the timing of the man's question was "purely coincidental."

Either way, Lynne Cheney can wax sarcastic in her own right . "I can't imagine al Qaeda is going to be impressed with our sensitivity," she said, going on to say that Kerry's philosophy is akin to "the kind of left-wing foolishness that suggests that problem is somehow with us, not the terrorists who attacked us."

While Dick Cheney derides Kerry with a kind of grandfatherly disdain, Edwards attacks Bush with the polished outrage of a lawyer. His eyes go squinty and his voice low and even. At the Flint rally on Friday, Edwards defended Kerry from Cheney's attack the previous day.

"The vice president picked out one word and distorted it to argue that John Kerry will not keep America safe." He reeled off the standard litany of Kerry's Vietnam exploits: how he volunteered for duty after college, how he suffered injuries, how he saved the life of a crewmate. And the home crowd loved it.

Pressing the Flesh

Cheney says he likes to campaign, to meet people. But his manner on the stump often betrays all the joy of someone cleaning an oven. After speaking to a rally at a high school in Battle Creek, the vice president grimaced forth and worked a ropeline, the back of his bald head now covered in red, white and blue confetti. Edwards lunges into crowds, grabbing for every hand and clutching them for several seconds at a time. Cheney approaches handshakes as if trying to pick mosquitoes out of the air with one hand. He makes quick and minimal contact.

Edwards loves babies and toddlers. In Flint, he leaned four-deep into a crowd so he could grab tow-headed Bennett Rauscher, 2 1/2, of East Lansing. He held him, hugged him and hoisted him for the cameras.

"Hey, he has a sister, too," Bennett's mom yelled to Edwards, and Edwards gladly performed the same routine with twin sister Audrey.

When a woman in Battle Creek handed Cheney her baby, he carried the kid for a few seconds and then handed him back, no kiss. In the next three minutes, he would quick-pinch about 100 more hands.

As he walked out a back door, the vice president vigorously rubbed his hands with sanitizing lotion provided by an aide.

Faces in the Crowd

One of the odd things about a Dick Cheney event is that many people in the crowd and dignitaries on the podium look like Dick Cheney. There appears to be a higher proportion of bald, white men wearing glasses here than in the general population. They exude calm, certainty and, not surprisingly, unabashed love for the president and his Christian values, and flagrant distaste for his opponent.

"I just saw something on 'Hannity & Colmes' about Kerry," said Teece Davenport, a bartender from Joplin. "Some of his shipmates in Vietnam were questioning his integrity. He sounds like a big liar to me."

Of Edwards, Joe Barfield of Carl Junction, Mo., said, "I have no respect for some guy who goes around chasing ambulances."

And the sentiment is mutual.

"I think Cheney is a [expletive] corporate thug," said Larry Roehrig, the secretary and treasurer of Michigan AFSCME Council 25, who attended both Edwards events in Flint. "And his buddy Bush comes off like a spoiled rich kid to us union members."

"Finally, after four years, we'll have a vice president who smiles," said former Minnesota governor Wendell Anderson, who introduced Edwards at a rally Friday night in Minneapolis. "We'll even have a vice president who enjoys campaigning, that loves people."

Who says this country is divided?