Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Medford teachers thrown out of Bush rally
01:05 AM PDT on Friday, October 15, 2004
By kgw.com and AP Staff

CENTRAL POINT, Ore. -- Three Medford school teachers were threatened with arrest and thrown out of the President Bush rally at the Jackson County Fairgrounds Thursday night, after they showed up wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Protect our civil liberties."

All three women said they were carrying valid tickets for the event that they had received from Republican Party headquarters in Medford, which had been distributing event tickets to Bush supporters.

Teacher Janet Voorhies said she simply wanted to bring a message to President Bush, but did not intend to protest.

"I wanted to see if I would be able to make a statement that I feel is important, but not offensive, in a rally for my president," said Voorhies, 48.

The women said they were angered by reports of peaceful protesters being thrown out of previous Bush-Cheney events. They said they chose the phrase, "Protect Our Civil Liberties," because it was unconfrontational.

"We chose this phrase specifically because we didn't think it would be offensive or degrading or obscene," said Tania Tong, 34, a special education teacher.

The women got past the first and second checkpoints and were allowed into the Jackson County fairgrounds, but were asked to leave and then escorted out of the event by campaign officials who allegedly told them their T-shirts were "obscene."

Democrats were quick to pounce on the incident and claimed the GOP has routinely sought to disclude anyone from public appearances by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney who might question the administration. There was no immediate comment from Republican officials.

"Thursday's actions in Oregon set a new standard even for Bush/Cheney - removing and threatening with arrest citizens who in no way disrupt an event and wear clothing that expresses non-disruptive party-neutral viewpoints such as "Protect Our Civil Liberties," said Adam Green, a spokesman for the Oregon Democratic Party.

When Cheney visited Eugene last month, the Register-Guard newspaper reported that Perry Patterson, 54, was cited for criminal trespassing for blurting out the word "No" after Cheney claimed that the Bush administration had made the world safer.

Monday, October 18, 2004

I took advantage everything the great state of Florida has to offer today and cast my vote a full two weeks early for presidential elections. There was only one downside I could see - although I knew my picks for Senate and President, I had not a fucking clue how to cast my vote for the 20 or poorly written amendments that populated most of the four pages of the ballot. Luckily, a woman on line had a copy of an Orlando Sentinel column which explained the amendments in decent enough detail to comprehend the issues. It made me long for my New Jersey past of election day palm cards.

The process of early voting - new to me - was fairly simple. All public libraries in Orange County offer early voting and you don't have to appear any particular one. Your show up with photo ID (drivers license). The poll workers search your name in a computer database and once found, provide the proper ballots for your vote (there's a wide variety as they have to have all county ballots).

I showed up at 6:15 pm at the Winter Park Library and found a line of about 20 people ahead of me. It moved slow (but steady) as there were only two poll workers checking IDs. Surprisingly, it seemed that everybody on line was a Kerry supporter. That shocked me as Winter Park is a well-heeled community and I expected the Republican blue-bloods to be out in force. But in the 30 minutes I spent on line, it was clear that Kerry supporters ruled. When filling out my ballot, a white-haired guy in a golf shirt sat next to me. I pegged him for a Bush man, but in peeking at his ballot, I found him voting a straight Democratic line. Interesting. Florida's vote might turn out to be a bigger surprise that anyone imagines.

By 6:45 pm, nearly 250 votes had been cast in this station (Orange County uses optical scanners so one can read the number of ballots run through the machine). I'm pleased to say I saw no problems or arguments - everything seemed to be working smoothly. However, I wasn't encouraged by the middle-aged Indian fellow who wandered onto the line behind me.

You can vote here? Now? he asked. What do they do with the ballots?

I made the obvious wise-ass remark - Jeeze, I hope they don't throw 'em out! But he got me thinking. There are a lot of days between now and November 2nd. Florida voter weirdness is already running rampant. How do I know these ballots will be counted? Maybe the middle-aged Indian guy knew more than I about the electoral process?

On another note, we got this very amusing email from campus police.

Submitted by: Sgt. Troy Williamson, Police Spokesperson
Submitted for: UCF Police Department

Subject: Voter Registration Fraud

On September 29, 2004, a student was approached at the student union by
a middle age couple who were soliciting a change for child molestation laws. The student was asked to complete some personal information. On October 13th, 2004, the student reported to the UCF Police Department that her political party affiliation had been changed without consent. It was believed that this couple had data to change her political party status. The student was concerned that she could not vote for intended party in the primary election. If this situation had occurred to you on the UCF campus, please contact the university police department to make a report. For more information about voter registration and voter fraud, please contact your county voter registration office.

There are a few problems here. First, there are no primary elections coming up in which to vote. Second, even if her party had been changed, how would that stop her from voting for whomever she wanted? I love the story, but there's a certain amount of paranoia on display that leads me to suspect this girl doesn't have all her flippers working.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

If you read Doonesbury today, you might have seen a link to an email sent by a Wall Street Journal reporter based in Iraq. The link was wrong and I had a hard time digging up the actual letter. Having done that, I decided to reprint it here, for anyone who couldn't locate it themselves. I pulled this from http://poynter.org/

WSJ reporter Fassihi's e-mail to friends
9/29/2004 2:58:10 PM

From: [Wall Street Journal reporter] Farnaz Fassihi
Subject: From Baghdad

Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make difference.

Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't. There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second.

It's hard to pinpoint when the 'turning point' exactly began. Was it April when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq's population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked 'how are thing?' they reply: 'the situation is very bad."

What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.

Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground. They melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive, cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there were a dozen landmines per every ten yards. His car snaked and swirled to avoid driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate them as soon as an American convoy gets near. This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

For journalists the significant turning point came with the wave of abduction and kidnappings. Only two weeks ago we felt safe around Baghdad because foreigners were being abducted on the roads and highways between towns. Then came a frantic phone call from a journalist female friend at 11 p.m. telling me two Italian women had been abducted from their homes in broad daylight. Then the two Americans, who got beheaded this week and the Brit, were abducted from their homes in a residential neighborhood. They were supplying the entire block with round the clock electricity from their generator to win friends. The abductors grabbed one of them at 6 a.m. when he came out to switch on the generator; his beheaded body was thrown back near the neighborhoods.

The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down. If any thing, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day. The various elements within it-baathists, criminals, nationalists and Al Qaeda-are cooperating and coordinating.

I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with the military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly told our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal gangs grab you and sell you up to Baathists in Fallujah, who will in turn sell you to Al Qaeda. In turn, cash and weapons flow the other way from Al Qaeda to the Baathisst to the criminals. My friend Georges, the French journalist snatched on the road to Najaf, has been missing for a month with no word on release or whether he is still alive.

America's last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National Guard units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being murdered by the dozens every day-over 700 to date -- and the insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out 30,000 cops they just trained to get rid of them quietly.

As for reconstruction: firstly it's so unsafe for foreigners to operate that almost all projects have come to a halt. After two years, of the $18 billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction only about $1 billion or so has been spent and a chuck has now been reallocated for improving security, a sign of just how bad things are going here.

Oil dreams? Insurgents disrupt oil flow routinely as a result of sabotage and oil prices have hit record high of $49 a barrel. Who did this war exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer because Saddam is holed up and Al Qaeda is running around in Iraq?

Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for insecurity. Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.

I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were allowed to run for elections he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad.

Then I went to see an Iraqi scholar this week to talk to him about elections here. He has been trying to educate the public on the importance of voting. He said, "President Bush wanted to turn Iraq into a democracy that would be an example for the Middle East. Forget about democracy, forget about being a model for the region, we have to salvage Iraq before all is lost."

One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it's hard to imagine what if any thing could salvage it from its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can't be put back into a bottle.

The Iraqi government is talking about having elections in three months while half of the country remains a 'no go zone'-out of the hands of the government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists. In the other half, the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling stations. The Sunnis have already said they'd boycott elections, leaving the stage open for polarized government of Kurds and Shiites that will not be deemed as legitimate and will most certainly lead to civil war.

I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate in the Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to some degree elect a leadership. His response summed it all: "Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?"


BTW - it seems Farnaz' email and opinions were not welcome back on Wall Street...

Los Angeles Times
Wall Street Journal staffers tell Tim Rutten that Farnaz Fassihi isn't allowed to write about Iraq for the paper until after the election, presumably because her e-mail about the bleak situation in the country calls into question the fairness of her journalism. Rutten asks managing editor Paul Steiger: "If this correspondent wishes to write about Iraq for the Wall Street Journal, is she free to do so?" His reply (via a PR man): "She is going on a long-scheduled vacation outside Iraq and has no plans to work during that time."