Who's the Most Polarizing Republican of All? - June 30, 2004 - TimesWatch.org

Times Watch for June 30, 2004

Who's the Most Polarizing Republican of All?

David Johnston and Richard Stevenson file "Ashcroft, Deft at Taking Political Heat, Hits a Rocky Patch," on the "polarizing" attorney general, portraying an Ashcroft under the gun:

"After years in which his conservative views and his definition of the proper balance between civil liberties and security needs made him a target for liberal critics, Mr. Ashcroft has recently experienced a series of defeats and missteps that have put him under even more intense scrutiny, and not just from Democrats".Some Republicans say Mr. Ashcroft has become so polarizing a figure that he can no longer be an effective advocate for administration initiatives, like the drive to renew the expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act. While Mr. Ashcroft remains immensely popular on the right, especially Christian conservatives, he is seen within the administration as also having picked up at least his share of political baggage in leading the Justice Department through the tumultuous changes that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Republicans with ties to the White House said."

Stevenson has been on the hunt of late to bag the "most polarizing Republican" trophy, just in time for the presidential campaign. After Vice President Cheney regaled Sen. Pat Leahy with an obscene suggestion on the Senate floor, Stevenson made clear he didn't approve in his Saturday story: "The revelation, if that is what it was, that Mr. Cheney is comfortable with the use of four-letter words and is willing to direct them at political opponents, was the latest in a string of developments over the past few weeks that have put the vice president squarely in the spotlight. And as he takes on a higher political profile, it is hard to tell who is happier, Republicans or Democrats".Now more than ever, his opponents call Mr. Cheney among the most polarizing figures in politics."

For the rest of Johnston and Stevenson, click here.

" John Ashcroft | Campaign 2004 | Dick Cheney | David Johnston | Sen. Pat Leahy | Richard Stevenson

The Times' Power Failure In Iraq

James Glanz and Erik Eckholm front-page story tells us what we already know: Infrastructure is still lousy in Iraq.

However, the reporters do provide an intriguing new possibility of a contributing factor. Apparently controversy over supposedly favorable awarding of contracts to Halliburton slowed things down: "From the outset the designing of projects and awarding of billions of dollars in contracts proved slower than some officials had imagined. Among other things, planning, oversight and competitive procedures were tightened after some of the earliest postwar contracts, awarded without competition to companies including Halliburton, were tainted by evidence of waste and overcharging."

They continue: "But more than a year later, supplies of electricity and water are no better for most Iraqis, and in some cases are worse, than they were before the invasion in the spring of 2003." Glanz and Eckholm go on to relay electricity complaints from upscale Baghdad residents.

But reporter Ian Fisher has a more positive take (relegated to A11): "American officials often say the changes they made are a reason for the many complaints. Though the amount of electricity generated has not yet met their goal, the Americans point out that more power is being generated now than under Saddam Hussein, and it is distributed more fairly. That means that people in Baghdad, who were favored under Mr. Hussein, receive fewer hours of power, but once-neglected rural areas receive more."

Of course, Iraqi-based reporters often no longer venture into the hinterlands of Iraq for security reasons, and so only hear complaints of Baghdad residents no longer getting a disproportionate share of power.

Glanz and Eckholm point out: "One clear improvement is in telephone service, but an annoying patchwork system does not allow mobile phones from one part of the country to communicate easily with those in other parts." (Glanz could also have noted what a Times chart on Tuesday did-that in the Hussein era hardly anyone had cellphones to complain about: "Few Iraqis had cellphones before the war; now, more than 410,000 people own then.")

Near the conclusion, the reporters insert a big chunk of opinion, book-ended by references to amorphous "critics": "The insurgency has been an obvious source of construction delays. But critics, including some Americans who spent frustrating months in Baghdad, also say the Pentagon's approach to economic restoration was flawed from the outset-seen too much as a bricks and mortar task and in isolation from the country's political and social wounds. In the initial months of the American occupation, the hard-earned lessons of earlier nation-building campaigns by the United States and the United Nations in places like Bosnia, Afghanistan and East Timor were ignored by Pentagon planners, who tried to rush ahead with showcase infrastructure projects before securing public safety and a sense of participation, critics say."

For the full story on rebuilding Iraq, click here.

" Erik Eckholm | James Glanz | Iraq War

Come Back, Tom Friedman: All's Forgiven

The Times has found a substitute for columnist Thomas Friedman, who's taking time off to finish a book. In a staff memo, editorial page editor Gail Collins says of Barbara Ehrenreich, a writer and frequent Time magazine contributor: "We're very excited that Barbara agreed to spend next month on our pages. She's a brilliant social critic, historian and political commentator."

While Friedman's focus is on the religious wars of the Middle East (he considers himself a tough friend of Israel) with occasional forays into liberal domestic policy, Ehrenreich's religion is socialism.

Here are some of Ehrenreich's past "brilliant" comments, complied by the Media Research Center: "Today, with the health-care situation moving rapidly beyond crisis to near catastrophe, the age-old and obvious solution has the tone of a desperate whine: Why can"t we have national health insurance-like just about everybody else in the civilized world, please?"- from Time magazine, Dec. 10, 1990.

"The Declaration of Independence, which may be the most momentous divorce document in history, gave added legitimacy to what was already a venerable institution....divorce is indeed a great evil and a source of much suffering. But then so is the institution that generates it-marriage, especially marriage under conditions of gross inequality between the sexes."-from the New York Times Magazine, July 21, 1991.

"Today"s right-wing women, the spiritual descendants of the Women"s KKK, are far more overtly hostile to feminists than to any racial or ethnic 'others.'"-from the Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 1, 1991.

"The Communist Manifesto is well worth the $12 that Verso is asking. Despite the hype, its message is a timeless one that bears repeating every century or so: The meek shall triumph and the mighty shall fall; the hungry and exhausted will get restless and someday-someday!-rise up against their oppressors. The prophet Isaiah said something like this, and so, a little more recently, did Jesus."- from an April 30, 1998 book review for Salon.

If those quotes provide any hint of what Ehrenreich's NYT column will look like, Times Watch may actually be happy to see Friedman return.

" Columnists | Barbara Ehrenreich | Thomas Friedman