Sunday, October 31, 2004

OK, so I promised myself not to post until after the election and concentrate on the work. But I posted anyway, a testament to my lack of enduring willpower. So while I'm at it, here is a link: if you are in any way affiliated with academia, go to to see something hilarious ("trauma scholar" is my personal favorite).

Interestingly, John Kerry is not the first presidential candidate in recent memory to make charges of frayed alliances a central part of his platform.

And W. isn't the first president to accuse his opponent of being just a little bit too nuanced.

Election blues.

If you are still undecided, or a Bush voter, here is my last pitch to convince you to vote for Kerry.

Lets go back to much-revisited moment in the third debate:
BUSH: I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations.
Democratic operatives quickly dug out a video from an old White House press conference:
Q: Mr. President, in your speeches now you rarely talk or mention Osama bin Laden. Why is that?

BUSH: Deep in my heart I know the man is on the run, if he's alive at all. Who knows if he's hiding in some cave or not; we haven't heard from him in a long time. And the idea of focusing on one person is -- really indicates to me people don't understand the scope of the mission.

...So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you...

Q: But don't you believe that the threat that bin Laden posed won't truly be eliminated until he is found either dead or alive?

BUSH: Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him, when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban.
I bring these quotes up not to score some cheap political points by bringing up Bush's misrepresentation. Rather, lets look at the substantive point he is tryingto make here.

Back in the day, when this press conference was done, the debate on terrorism split experts into two groups. One the one hand were people who believed that terrorism exists primarily due to state sponsorship. The reason suicide bombings persisted in the middle east was due to states like Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria who gave various levels of support to terrorists. By eliminating these states, we would strike a fatal blow against terorrists.

On the other hand was a group who believed that terrorism does not exist primarily because of states. Rather, terrorism was a spontaneous political movement that arose out of the poisonous political climate in the middle east. A corollary would be that a destruction of the above states would produce a rather small dent in Islamic terrorism.

In that press conference, the substance of Bush's argument was an endorsement of the first view. He is not worried about Bin Laden, he says, because Bin Laden no longer has a state. Without safe haven provided by a friendly government, he is now on the run.

It goes without saying that this view has been utterly discredited by now: we have taken out the Taliban and Iraq, yet suicide bombers persist in increasing numbers in Iraq. Terrorism has not, by any sensible empirical measure, decreased.

This is my argument against Bush: he doesn't get the war on terror. He doesn't understand the enemy we are fighting against. American troops are in Iraq today largely because of the mistaken view on terrorism held by this administration; and the President shows no signs at all that he realizes his mistakes.

The United States cannot have an effective terrorism policy as long as it doesn't understand terrorism. This, in my mind, is the most convincing case for voting Kerry: Bush, as far as we can tell, plans on pursuing the same failed policies based on the same wrong assumptions.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

So I keep looking at the Geraghty column at NRO. It really is apalling stuff.

Geragthy writes,
Suppose the U.S. and another country were in a trade dispute. The other country would want different policies, and thus would want the incumbent party out of power. So they would seize on any criticism from the challenging party, and use it for rhetorical purposes to strengthen their case both with their own population and in other countries. “Even the American challenging party says the incumbent leader’s policies are unfair and a failure.” No party wants to be seen as putting foreign interests ahead of their own citizens’ interests, so they have to be on guard that their arguments aren’t providing fodder for foreign powers with different interests than America.

Over the last three years or so, we have seen that concept obliterated. We’ve seen a truly unparalleled deluge of criticism of the president that well beyond policy differences. He is tarred as a war criminal, a fool, an idiot, a warmonger, a man who trades blood for oil, a mass murderer of innocent civilians, a stooge of sinister corporate interests, a puppet of Cheney, a terrorist himself, the anti-Christ, the second coming of Hitler, a slave to Ariel Sharon, an anti-Muslim hatemonger… and I’m sure I’ve left out plenty.

This rhetoric has been picked up by ... anti-American interests around the globe.
In passing, let me mention the double standard here. Nobody in the mainstream left called Bush a war criminal, a mass murderer, a terrorist, the anti-Christ and so on. Many on the mainstream left, including myself, have called Bush a fool, an idiot, and a stooge for corporate interests, considerably milder than the incendiary list Geraghty sites. By contrast, many on the mainstream right have referred to Kerry as treasonous, as someone who aided the enemy and hurt U.S. troops.

More important, though, is that Geraghty makes a prototypical fascist statement. Its not the first coming from the right. But if we agree that the statement {criticism of the govermnent is wrong because it helps the enemy} is fascist, its difficult to see how this is not a fascist argument.

I may be late to the party in taking apart the latest idiocy from David Brooks, but here goes.

Brooks writes,
Kerry did say that we are all united in the fight against bin Laden, but he just couldn't help himself. His first instinct was to get political.

On Milwaukee television, he used the video as an occasion to attack the president: "He didn't choose to use American forces to hunt down Osama bin Laden. He outsourced the job."
I'm not the first to point out the contradiction in this, but so many normally reasonable right-leaning commentators have written much the same thing recently: a plea for national unity, for not politicizing the Bin Laden tape, followed by attacks on John Kerry.

The argument is ridiculous on its face: should a Bin Laden tape mean that Kerry ought to cease criticizing the President? The President certainly hasn't ceased criticizing Kerry; he gave his regular anti-Kerry stump speech in Columbus, Ohio today.

The disingenuousness of the using a call for unity to hack away at the candidate you don't like is apalling, to say the least.

Brooks continues,
One of the crucial issues of this election is, Which candidate fundamentally gets the evil represented by this man? Which of these two guys understands it deep in his gut - not just in his brain or in his policy statements, but who feels it so deep in his soul that it consumes him?
No, no, damn it, no! This election is not about who hates terrorists more. This isn't a masculinity contest. This election is about policy. I'm glad Bush thinks terrorists are really, really super evil - but the fact remains is that his policies for fighting terrorism have been counterproductive. Kerry offers a smarter, better set of policies.

I'd be glad to be arguing terrorism policy with reasonable conservatives - but the fact is, it seems like at heart most conservatives want to vote for Bush not because he offers a better, more coherent policy but because he wins the macho man contest. And thats crazy.

Update: So I forgot to mention - Brooks also claims that Kerry flip flopped on the use of U.S. troops in Tora Bora - a lie. Laura Rozen collects the details.

Jim Geraghty writes at the National Review about the trecherous left:
I'm not going to go looking for too many "Well, now I agree with Osama" comments from lefties...But I had these comments by Daily Kos readers forwarded to me...
I'm going to make it easy for him: I agree with Osama.

This whole thing strikes me as a manifestation of the manichean anti-intellectualism that is prevalent on the right, where calling John Kerry "nuanced" passes for an insult. If Osama Bin Laden says X, am I obliged to believe Not X? Its not obvious to me why the views I hold should be the precise opposite of the views my enemy holds. If Bin Laden proclaims that he likes java chip frappucinos (mmm), should I stop purchasing them on trips to the local starbucks?

As it happens, I agree with Osama that that Patriot Act is not a good thing. Let us say I am puzzled at the exquisite concern he is showing for my civil liberties. But my opinion on the patriot act is based on logical premises that are not in any way altered by Osama's statement.

One could also turn the question around and point out that Osama would agree with the right's stance on abortion and gay marriage. Is that reason enough for them to look in the mirror and ask how they reached the point where they agreed with Osama Bin Laden?

Osama bin Laden speaking on the recent tape,
O American people, I am speaking to tell you about the ideal way to avoid another Manhattan, about war and its causes and results.

Security is an important foundation of human life and free people do not squander their security, contrary to Bush's claims that we hate freedom. Let him tell us why we did not attack Sweden for example...

...we fought you because we are free and because we want freedom for our nation. When you squander our security we squander yours.

I am surprised by you. Despite entering the fourth year after Sept. 11, Bush is still deceiving you and hiding the truth from you and therefore the reasons are still there to repeat what happened.

God knows it did not cross our minds to attack the towers but after the situation became unbearable and we witnessed the injustice and tyranny of the American-Israeli alliance...
Overall, a surprisingly coherent response to the nonsense "they hate us because we are free" rhetoric of this administration. But why release this 72 hours before the election? Why now? What is he trying to accomplish?

Update: So as I mentioned in passing above, I was struck by how coherent this video this. You have to admit - it really is a response to the pervasive claims in the U.S. public discourse that terrorists attack us purely because we are free. The arguments it makes are arguments that are accepted by many on the west: Israel is abusive, America supports it, American policies cause destruction in the middle east, and so on. The video shows a degree of political sophistication I would not have expected from an Islamic fundamentalist.

But now I wonder: the original video was 18 minutes, Al Jazeera trimmed it down to 5. We don't know what Bin Laden said in the other 13 minutes. Did Al Jazeera edit out the fundamentalist rants?

Friday, October 29, 2004

I liked Marty Peretz' column in The New Republic today - as much as one can like an inchorenet politically charged rant. The column, interestingly, reveals more about Peretz than about John Kerry, the putative subject of the piece.

Peretz notes...
Now, of course, the WMD rationale for war has dissolved like a mirage in the Mesopotamian desert. For Kerry and for Democrats, this has simply dissolved the case for the war. Finis. Which leaves us with the dilemma of how we deal with regimes that commit genocide. Saddam's genocides seem not to have provoked Kerry at all, nor, for that matter, did the genocide in Rwanda. (When U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright finally tried to focus the Clinton administration on the government-sponsored massacres there, Kerry was not exactly an ally.) It is true that, during the first presidential debate, Kerry limply suggested that perhaps, as a last resort, some American troops should be sent to Darfur, Sudan. But I haven't heard him mention it much since, which says something about his seriousness.
Genocide: the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group. Peretz, like those who want to apply the term to Israel's dealing with the Palestinians, is willfully ignoring its plain meaning. I assume he is referring to Saddam's murders of roughly 200,000 Kurds and 50,000 Iraqi Shiites in the late 80s and early 90s, respectively. These were reprehensible but they were not genocide because Saddam did not attempt to wipe out either the Kurds of the Shiites.

It may seem like I am splitting hairs here - and if you kill 250,000 people does it matter whether you intended to destroy a race or a culture? The answer is that it does. Collectively, the community of nations - humanity - has come to the conclusion that large numbers of massacres and murders is something we have no choice but to accept - try totalling up the number of people that die in the various wars in Africa every year - but that we won't tolerate efforts to erace races or cultures from the face of the globe. Its important, therefore, not to misuse the word genocide.

Moving on to Peretz' broader point - the humanitarian case for war - I think its difficult to argue the U.S. has accomplished much on that front. A study by researchers at John Hopkins published today puts the total death toll as a result of the war at 100,000. Now this is not a tally of deaths directly attributed to U.S. military action, which stands at ~15,000. Rather, this is a tally of deaths that result from increased mortality rates in Iraq now compared to Saddam's Iraq - that is, one is much more likely to die of violence, lack of adequate health care, and so on in today's Iraq - 1.5 times more likely if you exclude residents of Fallujah from the equation. This 1.5 amounts to roughly 100,000 more deaths.

Given that Saddam, according to the best information available, was killing about 2,000 people a year before America invaded, its difficult to see what the humanitarian case is. Besides the hundred thousand extra deaths in the last 18 months, we have created a violent situation that will result in lots more deaths for years to come.

By the way: conservatives have been linking to this post that supposedly "demolishes" the study mentioned above. The criticism seems to be that its tricky to approximate a non-uniform distribution like violence in Iraq, which is not spread uniformly throughout the country but rather concentrated in a number of pockets. However, given that you have a large number of samples this shouldn't be a problem - the probability that your result is skewed because a disproportionately large number of people you polled lived in violent areas goes to zero. The "demolishing" is therefore reduced to pointing out that the study, believe it or not, has a finite sample size and comes with a margin of error and a confidence interval.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

I've always been puzzled at the way some on the left throw around incendiary terms when it comes to Israel without much thought. Genocide, a word that means the extermination of an entire people, is suddenly used to refer to things like unintentional civilian casualties from military operations, and so on.

Today's Daily Kos brings a good example of this - a generally evenhanded post on the ramifications of Arafat's demise that contains a by-the-way accusation of ethnic cleansing against the Israeli government. Follow the link and you find out that the "ethnic cleansing" refers to Israel's denial of a visa to a Palestinian scholar.

Now I don't know the specifics of the case and Israel may very well be justly criticized here; but to call the denial of a visa to one man "ethnic cleansing" is downright insulting to Kosovars, Kurds, Armenians and other nations that really were subject to violent ethnic cleansing.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

There seem to be a spate of papers lately that purport to analyze the rhetoric of empire prevailing in America today (see for example The Ideology of American Empire from the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture and A Post-National Theology of Empire in the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory). The central point is that every U.S. president in the post-cold war era has explicitly endorsed the goal of creating U.S. domination (I hesitate to use the word "hegemony") in world affairs. The sort of rhetoric has seeped through virtually the entire mainstream media, to the point that most public discourse implicitly assumes the need for America to mould the nations of the world in its own image.

The parallels between today's advocates of an American "empire" and those of the past are downright eerie. One which keeps puzzling me is the way advocates of U.S. military action use the word "burden" to describe America's role. Haven't they read Kipling?

I wonder, though, about the extent to which today's far left has contributed to this. People like Noam Chomsky have been criticizing the United States for decades for its failures to get involved in stopping genocides oversees. From East Timor to Turkey to allied governments in Latin America, socialist academics like Chomsky and Zinn criticized the U.S. for doing nothing while friendly governments we dealt with massacred their citizens. And after the Rwanda genocide, we were bombarded by critical voices - mostly on the left - faulting the United States for doing nothing to save the hundreds of thousands of victims.

Lurking behind this criticism is the same implicit assumption of empire: that the United States has a responsibility to prevent masssacres and genocides carried out beyond its borders, by force if necessary. Once you accept that, it takes only a small step to be neoconservative. Chomsky might not like being called that, but there is little difference between his ideology and Wolfowitz's.

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Jim Lindgren accuses Kerry's speechwriters of plagiarizing. The evidence: when Kerry refers to recent facts, he takes his language out of the newspapers:

Kerry, the New War: "Russian mobsters have been arrested in Germany for extortion, car theft, counterfeiting, prostitution, selling drugs and illegal weapons, and smuggling everything from icons to uranium."

Phil. Inquirer: "Suspected Russian mobsters have been arrested in Germany and charged with extortion, car thefts, counterfeiting, prostitution, gambling, and selling drugs and illegal weapons. They have been caught smuggling everything from religious icons to uranium."
This is patently silly. Kerry isn't writing research papers here. What he says and what he writes doesn't come with detailed bibliographies. When he refers to facts, he loosely paraphrases newspaper reports. This, incidentally, is what most books for the general public, and most public speakers do. News flash: not too many books at Barnes & Noble have bibliographies. Not too many politicians will give you citations for every factual assertion they make.

Trying to hold Kerry to the standard of a college student writing a research paper doesn't pass the laugh test.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Today is one of those days when I manage to find conservatives amusing.

The Washington Times brings us a scoop: when Kerry claimed to have met with all the members of the security council...he didn't meet with every single one. Indeed, intrepid Times reporters have found some UN ambassadors who have not met with Kerry:
...former ambassadors who said on the record they had never met Mr. Kerry included the representatives of Mexico, Colombia and Bulgaria. The ambassador of a fourth country gave a similar account on the condition that his country not be identified.

After conversations with ambassadors from five members of the Security Council in 2002 and calls to all the missions of the countries then on the panel, The Times was only able to confirm directly that Mr. Kerry had met with representatives of France, Singapore and Cameroon.

In addition, second-hand accounts have Mr. Kerry meeting with representatives of Britain...

...after being told late yesterday of the results of The Times investigation, the Kerry campaign issued a statement that...did not repeat Mr. Kerry's claims of a lengthy meeting with the entire 15-member Security Council, instead saying the candidate "met with a group of representatives of countries sitting on the Security Council."
Stop the presses!

Meanwhile, Fox News brings us the following gem:
Twice on Sunday, the Democrat said he was basking in Boston's 10-9 win in Game 1 the night before.

Problem is, the Red Sox won 11-9...

Kerry spokesman David Wade said the senator got the score wrong because 10-9 was the last update he got from the pilot during his late-night flight to Florida.

Problem is, the score never was 10-9. The Red Sox won on a two-run homer, meaning they went from 9 runs to 11.
What a slimebag.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Juan Cole urges his readers to mobilize in support of Joseph Massad, a lecturer at Columbia:
Those who care anything for freedom of speech and academic integrity should please rise to the defense of Professor Joseph Massad at Columbia University. A concerted campaign has been gotten up against him by the American Likud, aimed at getting him fired.

We don't fire professors in the United States for their views when we are in our right minds. It happens when the US is seized with an irrational frenzy, as during the McCarthy period. A researcher at the University of Michigan was let go in the 1950s for "tending toward Scandinavian economics."
What strikes me about this plea is how utterly dishonest it is. The criticism at Joseph Massad is based on the following incident:
...a former Columbia undergraduate, Tomy Schoenfeld, recalls attending a lecture about the Middle East conflict given by Mr. Massad in spring 2001. At the end of the lecture, Mr. Schoenfeld prefaced a question to the professor by informing Mr. Massad that he was Israeli, Mr. Schoenfeld told The New York Sun. "Before I could continue, he stopped me and said, 'Did you serve in the military?'" Mr. Schoenfeld, who served in the Israeli Air Force between 1996 and 1999, recalled. He said that he told Mr. Massad he had served in the military and that Mr. Massad asked him how many Palestinians he had killed. When Mr. Schoenfeld refused to answer, Mr. Massad said he wouldn't allow him to ask his question.

Mr. Massad did not return phone calls for comment yesterday.
This is just one student's opinion, so it may very well be possible that the incident didn't happen. The point, however, is that the calls to fire Massad have nothing to do with his beliefs. No one is suggesting Columbia ought to fire him because he holds pro-Palestinian views. But professors are supposed to answer questions from students - and professors who refuse to do so on racial/ethnic grounds don't belong in the classroom.

This blog exists mainly for therapeutic reasons. I am not arrogant enough to think that I post many original or interesting thoughts here. Rather, every once in a while I run into a piece of political commentary so obtuse, so uninformed by facts that I must write an entry if only to contain the violent instincts such a commentary provokes.

One such piece is Fetal Positions by Jacob Sullum in today's Reason, a supposed indictment of John Kerry's position on abortion - from a libertarian outlet:
"I oppose abortion, personally," Kerry told the Dubuque, Iowa, Telegraph Herald in July. "I believe life does begin at conception."

Yet the senator supports not only unfettered access to abortion but taxpayer-funded subsidies for women who cannot afford the procedure. "I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist," he explained. "We have separation of church and state in the United States of America."
Makes sense, no? Not according to Sullum who goes on,
That position would make perfect sense if Kerry were talking about attending Mass or abstaining from meat on Fridays. But abortion is different, isn't it? If "life does begin at conception," abortion is the deliberate taking of a human life, which is the sort of thing that even a completely secular government usually tries to prevent.
Let's summarize: in a typically brilliant insight, Sullum discovers that "life begins at conception" is not a religious statement per se. And so the readership of Reason gets a column pointing out that the separation of church and state does not necesserily apply here.

Let me spell out the obvious. Yes, Kerry's personal belief is that life begins at conception. However, Kerry recognizes that others may not agree with this. Being aware that he cannot simply legislate personal beliefs - religious or secular - into law, he opposes abortion bans. What in the world is intellectually dishonest here?

Friday, October 22, 2004

I wouldn't normally link to The Nation, but this pro-Kerry argument deserves a link.

Interesting: a research center at U. of Maryland has released the results of a survey on voter beliefs in this election under the headline The Separate Realities of Bush and Kerry Supporters. The punchline seems to be that Bush and Kerry supporters have radically different opinions on a number of factual questions, i.e. what were the conclusions of the 9/11 commission, did Saddam have WMDs and so on.

Buried deeper in the report (page 14) is an interesting statistic: relative to Kerry the vast majority of Bush supporters are confused about Bush's stances on foreign policy. Bush, for example, opposes signing the Test Ban Treaty - but only 24% of his supporters think he does - versus 77% of Kerry supporters that correctly identify Kerry as supporting it. Similar statistics hold for positions on the land mine treaty, Kyoto, missile defense, and labor standards in trade agreements.

UPDATE: Er, I see Kos and Kevin Drum posted much the same thing - and I thought I was the first to the punch.

Incidentally, in the next post over Kevin Drum writes that the election would most likely go smoothly in Florida; his argument makes me wonder whether he took a probability course that taught him the difference between absolute and conditional probability:
...what are the odds that Florida's vote is going to be within 0.01% for two elections in a row?

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Reason number ten million and one not to vote for Bush: today's NYT carries a story on the science-policies of the administration,
...three NASA scientists and several officials at NASA headquarters and at two agency research centers described how news releases on new global warming studies had been revised by administrators to play down definitiveness or risks. The scientists and officials said other releases had been delayed. "You have to be evenhanded in reporting science results, and it's apparent that there is a tendency for that not to be occurring now," said Dr. James E. Hansen, a climate expert who is director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan...

Earlier this year, after continuing complaints that the White House was asking litmus-test questions of nominees for scientific advisory panels, the first question asked of a candidate for a panel on Arctic issues, the candidate said, was: "Do you support the president?"

"Under the Clinton-Gore administration, you did have occasions when Al Gore knew the answer he wanted, and he got annoyed if you presented something that wasn't consistent with that," Dr. Hansen [from NASA] said. "I got a little fed up with him, but it was not institutionalized the way it is now."
Science policy is, generally, not terribly important. But the same flaws that characterize this administration's science policy - a reluctance to listen to experts, an active seeking out of people who will tell the President what he wants to hear, an inability to consider opposing viewpoints - have characterized the foreign and economic policies of the last four years, with disastrous consequences.

A hypothesis: this post is just sheer speculation, but...

We know that:

1. In two polls about the results of the third debate, John Kerry won by ~15%. A third poll showed Kerry leading by 1%, but the sample was very disproportionately Republican.

2. Since the third debate, John Kerry lost a couple of percentage points in the national polls - a small, barely statistically significant movement that is nevertheless there.

2. Since the third debate, John Kerry gained in the electoral college math, taking over President Bush and improving in the crucial swing states (Florida, Ohio, Pensylvania) - again, a very small and barely statistically significant movement.

I wonder if the simple explanation is that the Mary Cheney remark cost Kerry in the south but not elsewhere.

I think intuitively this explanation makes some sense. The south is the most socially conservative region of the country; more people think of homosexuality as something to be embarassed of, as something one does not talk about. More people would be offended by such a lack of manners. Lets not forget that a lot of people on TV arguing that Kerry's mention of Mary Cheney was bad are southern family-values types (James Dobson and so on).

And it would explain the situation: a shift to Bush in the south would cost Kerry in the polls but not in the electoral college math.

Or am I just reading into statistical noise here?

Monday, October 18, 2004

Can Kerry credibly claim to increase the allied troop presence in Iraq? Actually, it wouldn't be all that hard,
...Crown Prince Abdullah personally lobbied President Bush to agree to deploy a unit of several hundred troops from Muslim nations to help prepare for January elections.

Washington, the newspaper said, turned down the proposal because the troops would have been under U.N. control under the Saudi plan rather than the U.S. commanders...
Let's not forget that the administration rejected troop commitments from European nations immediately after the end of the war based on the same reasoning - an instinctive distrust of troops under UN command. After months of violence, when the US warmed to the idea of a UN-led force, the offer was gone.

It seems like Bush's learning curve isn't very steep; but then this is hardly news. Is there any doubt Kerry would do a better job?

Saturday, October 16, 2004

An article in tomorrow's NYT magazine describes the following encounter,
In the Oval Office in December 2002, the president met with a few ranking senators and members of the House, both Republicans and Democrats. In those days, there were high hopes that the United States-sponsored ''road map'' for the Israelis and Palestinians would be a pathway to peace, and the discussion that wintry day was, in part, about countries providing peacekeeping forces in the region. The problem, everyone agreed, was that a number of European countries, like France and Germany, had armies that were not trusted by either the Israelis or Palestinians. One congressman -- the Hungarian-born Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress -- mentioned that the Scandinavian countries were viewed more positively. Lantos went on to describe for the president how the Swedish Army might be an ideal candidate to anchor a small peacekeeping force on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sweden has a well-trained force of about 25,000. The president looked at him appraisingly, several people in the room recall.

''I don't know why you're talking about Sweden,'' Bush said. ''They're the neutral one. They don't have an army.''

Lantos paused, a little shocked, and offered a gentlemanly reply: ''Mr. President, you may have thought that I said Switzerland. They're the ones that are historically neutral, without an army.'' Then Lantos mentioned, in a gracious aside, that the Swiss do have a tough national guard to protect the country in the event of invasion.

Bush held to his view. ''No, no, it's Sweden that has no army.''

The room went silent, until someone changed the subject.

A few weeks later, members of Congress and their spouses gathered with administration officials and other dignitaries for the White House Christmas party. The president saw Lantos and grabbed him by the shoulder. ''You were right,'' he said, with bonhomie. ''Sweden does have an army.''
Fucking incredible.

Friday, October 15, 2004

I imagine a whole bunch of people will be up in arms over Kerry's comment that Bush's policies have "great potential for a draft." Most likely, these will be the very same people who defended Cheney's comment that if Kerry is elected, "the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating."

I too think the rhetoric of some on the left regarding the draft is rather distastful - Howard Dean has taken to claiming that Bush has a "secret plan" to bring back the draft. That, of course, is ridiculous. However, I fail to see whats wrong with Kerry claiming Bush's policies bring us closer to the point where we will be forced to reinstitute the draft. Much as I fail to see something wrong with Cheney claiming Kerry's policies will make us more vulnerable to terrorists - a wrong but legitemate argument to make in a democracy.

Can anyone reconcile thinking one of these arguments is legit but not the other?

Why I am optimistic about Kerry's chances: a profile of pollster John Zogby in the New Yorker contains the following story,
"How do I get a handle on this election or any other?" [Zogby] asked..."I asked one question the Saturday before the election in 2000. I called my call center in Utica and said, 'Put this in the poll: "You live in the land of Oz,and the candidates are the Tin Man, who's all brains and no heart, and the Scarecrow, who's all heart and no brains. Who would you vote for?"' The next day, I called Utica and said, 'Whaddaya got?' They said, 'Wel we've got Gore--,' I said, 'I don't care about Gore. What's Oz?' It was 46.2 for the Tin Man and 46.2 for the Scarecrow. It was right there that I knew I wasn't going to know what was going to happen. But I asked this question again two weeks ago and the Tin Man led by ten points."

Thursday, October 14, 2004

I'm with the Republicans (sort of) on the Mary Cheney business.

We all know that the only reason Kerry mentioned her at all is that it might cost Bush with his evangelical base.

Yes, Mary Cheney is publicly homosexual, yes she is the campaign manager of Dick Cheney, so she is not an off-limit topic for discussion. Yes, Kerry was not criticizing her at all, but rather the contray. Nevertheless, its difficult not to feel uncomfortable with this tactic - embraced by both Kerry and Edwards - of bringing her up repeatedly in the hopes of lowering the evangelical turnout. It is cheap.

Andrew Sullivan's argument to the contrary is worth reading.

Update: Is it possible to get cable without Fox News? As long as its accessible, I turn to it to see what the conservative view on current events is. Why oh why do I do it - every time I come away irritated.

Today was no different - James Dobson came on and argued, incredibly, that it was bad for Kerry to "out" (of course Cheney had spoken about Mary Cheney's homosexuality many times before so it was not outing) her because it is "embarassing." I still maintain that this was not a good move on Kerry's part - but the reactions I saw only confirm Andrew Sullivan's point that almost all of the "outrage" over this seems to be based on the idea that homosexuality is something to be ashamed of.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Kerry won. I assume this is everyone else is saying (though no doubt that the instapundits of the world will declare this a win for Bush).

What happened to Bush's speaking skills? Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, but I remember him as being able to communicate better in 2000. I suppose this is what comes after four years of keeping unscripted moments to a minimum.

I wonder what effect the Roe v. Wade moment will have. Republicans are normally able to play the part of undermining Roe v. Wade with judicial appointments while publicly denying they are doing so. Will Bush's 15 second evasion of the Roe v. Wade question alert more people to this? Maybe, maybe not.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released shortly after the debate indicated that more who watched it gave Kerry the edge. Among the poll's 511 respondents, 53 percent said Kerry did better, and 39 percent said Bush did. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Other polls: CBS News poll gives the debate win to kerry by 14%, ABC News shows a tie among an overwhelmingly Republican panel.

I've bitched about this before, but once again: it seems fairly obvious that conservative bloggers as a group have become little more than spinsters for the Bush/Cheney campaign.

Right after writing the post, I did in fact go to instapundit and saw a deluge of links to bloggers all arguing that Bush had won.

Now when we all debate who won, we are arguing about a falsifiable claim. We are not discussing who had better arguments. We are discussing whose performance will help his campaign more. And we can observe the boost/drop in the polls to see who was right.

Now if you make 3 predictions in a row (Bush won, Cheney won, Bush won) and each one gets falsified by subsequent polls, don't you think it makes sense for you to reconsider the way you made those predictions?

Apparently not. The unanimous opinion among the conservative bloggers is that this was a solid win for Bush. Which explains why I find reading them no more appealing than reading the Bush Cheney official blog.

Update: Daniel Geffen has an interesting response.

Can Kerry convince more allies to join the Iraq effort as he claims? Today's Financial Times carries an interesting story,

Germany might deploy troops in Iraq if conditions there change, Peter Struck, the German defence minister, indicated on Tuesday in a gesture that appears to provide backing for John Kerry, the US Democratic presidential challenger....

Mr Struck also welcomed Mr Kerry’s proposal that he would convene an international conference on Iraq including countries that opposed the war if he were to win next month's election.

Germany would certainly attend, Mr Struck said. “This is a very sensible proposal. The situation in Iraq can only be cleared up when all those involved sit together at one table. Germany has taken on responsibilities in Iraq, including financial ones; this would naturally justify our involvement in such a conference.”
I am skeptical that Kerry will succeed but its not at all implausible as many on the right have claimed.

Update: The next day, Schroder repudiated the comments of his foreign minister and said that Germany will not send troops to Iraq regardless of who wins.

As I said before, I think its very unlikely Germany would send troops to Iraq. Nevertheless, incidents like this show that Kerry's claim - that he would be better able to convince the allies to help in Iraq - if not to actually deploy troops - sounds about right.

Monday, October 11, 2004

GOP Senate candidate Tim Coburn urges us to think about teenage lesbians.

...lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma...Now think about it. Think about that issue.
In the spirit of bipartisanship, I'm going to go do this.

More on the war on terror: Can it be won? Listening to the President, the answer is not so certain.

We have a clear vision on how to win the war on terror and bring peace to the world.
-- George W. Bush, July 30th 2004.

I don’t think you can win [the war on terror]. But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are — less acceptable in parts of the world.
-- George W. Bush, Aug. 29th, 2004.

See here for documentation of the quotes.

The quotes are nothing new: many liberals have gleefully linked to them in the course of the last couple of months. What interests me is why George W. Bush is so confused here.

Consider the following sentence:

The war on terror is a war and not a law-enforcement action.
What does it mean?

Its a sentence. Its made up of words. It certainly follows the laws of English grammar. But when we string these words together in this way, do we end up with any concrete meaning?

After all, not every string of words that follows the laws of english grammar automatically has a meaning. And if this string of words has meaning, it has eluded me over the past few years.

Certainly "war" and "law enforcement operation" mean something different. If you look these words up in the dictionary, you will see that their definitions are not identical. And one could try to make sense of the statement by saying that the "war on terror" shares more features with the definition of "war" rather than the definition of "law enforcement operation."

But this is clearly not what the people who say it mean. After all, people who make the above statement often like to attack Kerry for his "law-enforcement approach to terrorism." What, exactly, does that mean? What is the "law-enforcement approach to terrorism?" And how does it stand in opposition to the "war" approach to terrorism?

My point is that these are meaningless concepts. Both Kerry and Bush supported invading Afghanistan. Bush thinks invading Iraq was a good idea, and Kerry thinks it was a mistake, not because invading countries is wrong but because Iraq had no connection to Al Qaeda and no WMDs. If there is a difference between the "war" and the "law-enforcement approach" to terrorism, its very difficult to see when any real policy comes up.

Can anyone thinks of a policy where these approaches would have different recommendations?

This is why Bush is so confused: because he is tossing around terms that have no meaning.

Take the "war on terror." Is it a war?

Its not a war that can be won, in the sense that there will always be terrorists.

As a corollary, its not a war that will ever end.

Its not a war in the sense of us facing an army; rather, we face terrorists cells that try to blend in with civilians.

Its not a war in the sense of it requiring a large commitment of troops (this administrations invasion of Iraq nonwithstanding - its been demonstrated by now that Iraq's connections to terror weren't anything to write home about).

In what sense is it a war? It certainly involves blowing stuff up.

So is it a war? It depends on your definition of war.

And when Bush takes these words - "war" and "law-enforcement" - and tries to use them in a metaphorical sense to convey some of their aspects and not others and ends up stringing together quite meaningless sentences at the end - and tries to attack Kerry by claiming he is on the wrong metaphorical side - well, its no wonder he gets confused.

Eugene Volokh goes on a rant: New York Times magazine quotes Kerry as saying the following,

When . . . Kerry [was asked] what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview. "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance," Kerry said. "As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life."
Sounds like a truism, doesn't it? There will always be terrorists around; as long as bombs are not impossible to obtain, there will always be people who want to blow things up; the goal should be to come up with a set of policies and actions that reduce terrorism to an absolute minimum. Duh.

Apparently it bothers Eugene Volokh:

...what remarkable analogies Kerry started with: prostitution and illegal gambling. The way law enforcement has dealt with prostitution and illegal gambling is by occasionally trying to shut down the most visible and obvious instances, tolerating what is likely millions of violations of the law per year, de jure legalizing many sorts of gambling, and de jure legalizing one sort of prostitution in Nevada, and de facto legalizing many sorts of prostitution almost everywhere; as best I can tell, "escort services" are very rarely prosecuted, to the point that they are listed in the Yellow Pages.

These are examples of practical surrender...
I've observed Republicans trying to paint Kerry as "soft on terrorism" for a while now and it always comes down to a distortion of something Kerry said. This, however, is plainly comical: pick a couple of examples Kerry briefly tossed around and write long, detailed posts examining other aspects of these examples that Kerry plainly did not mean. How does one get to be such a wilfully bad reader?

Saturday, October 09, 2004


The Education Department this summer destroyed more than 300,000 copies of a booklet designed for parents to help their children learn history after the office of Vice President Dick Cheney's wife complained that it mentioned the National Standards for History, which she has long opposed...

In a widely read opinion piece published in 1994, [Lynne Cheney] complained that "We are a better people than the National Standards indicate, and our children deserve to know it."

The standards contained repeated references to the Ku Klux Klan and to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the anti-Communist demagogue of the 1950s, she said. And she noted that Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave who helped run the Underground Railroad, was mentioned six times.

But Revere, [Robert E.] Lee, the Wright brothers and other prominent figures went unmentioned, she said.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Bush from the debate:

Another example would be the Dred Scott case, which is where judges years ago said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights. That's personal opinion. That's not what the Constitution says. The Constitution of the United States says we're all - you know, it doesn't say that. It doesn't speak to the equality of America.
We already knew that Bush is not too bright, but now we know that he thinks that the US constitution of 1857, the date when the Dred Scott case was decided, did not allow slavery.

Thoughts on the debate: there is no question that Bush did much better on this one than the previous one. He started off pretty poorly, I thought, coming across as constantly angry, cutting off the moderator, winking and looking strangely bemused each time the camera focused on him. But his performance improved throughout the debate and he got in some pretty good lines (about the timber company and so on) - definitely better than Kerry in the closing part of the debate. Kerry was good too, I thought - certainly better as far as substance was concerned. Who will popular opinion say won? I haven't the slightest idea.

I don't know to what extent Bush's anti-intellectualism will play with the public. A transcript of the debate is not available as I write this, but the exchange on partial birth abortion went something like this:

Bush: I support a ban partial birth abortion and Kerry voted against it.
Kerry: I support a ban on partial birth abortion too, but only as long there is an exception allowing mothers whose health is in danger to abort. Thats why I voted against the Senate bill: because it did not have this exception.
Bush: I don't know what to say. He had a chance to vote for it and he voted against it. You cant have both sides of an issue. Either you support it or not.

Such inability to make logical distinctions is the main reason why I find Bush such a personally distasteful candidate - beyond just disagreeing with his positions. But what will the average American think? I imagine more people will sympathize with Bush here.

Off to have the media tell me who won.

UPDATE: From ABC news:
Among registered voters who watched Friday night's debate, 44 percent called John Kerry the winner, 41 percent said President Bush won and 13 percent called it a tie.
So it looks like my intuition was correct: no clear victor.

Not so sure how this will get spun though. I came away from watching MSNBC with some distaste for Republican pundits. Television seems to be full of the equivalents of Hugh Hewitt - who called the first debate for Bush and the VP debate for Cheney - wrong on both counts, polls showed the first to be a Kerry victory and the second a tie. That is, TV is full of "experts" who will argue that Republicans won no matter what.

Now this is to be expected from partisan spinsters; but this should not be expected from supposed, even partisan, pundits. The reason we are playing this "who won" game, rather than "who was right on the issues," is that we are assuming that we can, in good faith, forget our partisan orientation and look objectively at the political ramfications of the debate. Whereas the democratic-leaning pundits tended to ruminate on good moments for Bush and good moments for Kerry, the republican-leanings ones seemed content to declare the event a victory for Bush and pronounce Kerry a wishy-washy flip flopper.

Then again, it might just be MSNBC.

Given that I've become mildly obsessed with the Bush-Kerry race, I feel the need to do a non-politics related post for my own sanity.

Lately, I've been reading Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, by Dava Sobel, an amusing biography of John Harrison, a now-forgotten clockmaker who constructed a series of elaborate clocks designed to keep accurate time at sea.

Back in the day (mid-to-late 18th century) the holy grail of science was the question of finding a method for a ship at sea to locate its position. One can determine latitude simply by the length of the day or the trajectory of the sun; determining longitude is more tricky. There was no practical way of doing this based on the sky, and, as a result, ships constantly got lost.

Besides the large number of ships lost to navigational problems, much was also lost to piracy: ships tended to stick to known navigational routes, which consisted of keeping the same latitude in the trip across the oceans; pirates had an easy time preying on these routes; and one must remember that most empires of the time made their earnings not so much from taxes but from trans-oceanic trade, so the losses were immense.

The problem had assumed mythical proportions with time. In Gulliver's travels, for example, when Lemuel Gulliver imagines himself as one of the immortals, he wonders about seeing such things as "the discovery of the longitude, the perpetual motion, the universal medicine, and many other great inventions brought to the utmost perfection."

One could figure out longitude by knowing the time back in the home port and comparing it with the local time; but there were no clocks accurate enough to keep time at sea. The constant shaking set them off; the changes in temperature, dryness, wetness caused metals to expand and contract and keep time at a different pace; moreover, the best clocks at a time erred by as much as 15 minutes per day. By contrast, to be useful for telling longitude on a trans-atlantic journey, a clock could not err by more than 3 seconds per day.

Harrison was the man who solved the puzzle, devoting his entire life to constructing an intricate series of clocks which could keep time at sea with sufficient accuracy. He made clocks out of different metals such that the expansion of any one metal at a higher temperature would be balanced by the natural contraction of another; he spent his entire life perfecting the idea into a workable, mass-producible clock.

The most intriguing part of the book is dedicated to the harebrained schemes for computing longitude that existed before Harrison came along:
...the most colorful of the offbeat approaches was the wounded dog theory, put forth in 1687. It was predicated on a quack cure called the powder of sympathy. This miraculous powder, discovered in southern France by the dashing Sir Kenelm Digby, could purportedly heal at a distance. All one had to do to unleash its magic was to apply to an article from the ailing person. A bit of bandage from a wound, for example, when sprinkled with powder of sympathy, would hasten the closing of that wound. Unfortunately, the cure was not painless and Sir Kenelm was rumored to have made his patients jump by powdering - for medicinal purposes - the knives that had cut them, or by dipping their dressings into a solution of the powder.

The daft idea to apply Digby's powder to the longitude problem follows naturally enough to the prepared mind: Send aboard a wounded dog as a ship sets sail. Leave ashore a trusted individual to dip the dog's bandage into the sympathy solution every day at noon. The dog would perforce yelp in reaction, and thereby provide the captain a time cue. The dog's cry would mean, "the Sun is upon the Meridian in London." The captain would then compare that hour to the local time on ship and figure the longitude accordingly. One had to hope, of course, that the powder really held the power to be felt many thousand leagues over the sea , and yet - and this is very important - fail to heal the telltale wound over the course of several months. (Some historians suggest that the dog might have had to be injured more than once on a major voyage.)

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The most amusing moment of the debate, for me, was hearing the vice president sing the virtues of multilateralism:
IFILL: Mr. Vice President, in June of 2000 when you were still CEO of Halliburton, you said that U.S. businesses should be allowed to do business with Iran because, quote, "Unilateral sanctions almost never work." you still believe that we should lift sanctions on Iran?

CHENEY: No, I do not. And, Gwen, at the time, I was talking specifically about this question of unilateral sanctions.

What happens when we impose unilateral sanctions is, unless there's a collective effort, then other people move in and take advantage of the situation and you don't have any impact...
You said it, mate.

In the spirit of partisanship, here is a link to the DNC website with the latest ad based on the vice-presidential debate - this one is right on target, I think.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Cheney at last night's debate:
...the reason they keep mentioning Halliburton is because they're trying to throw up a smokescreen. They know the charges are false.They know that if you go, for example, to, an independent Web site sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, you can get the specific details with respect to Halliburton.
From FactCheck:
Cheney...wrongly implied that we had rebutted allegations Edwards was making about what Cheney had done as chief executive officer of Halliburton.

In fact, we did post an article pointing out that Cheney hasn't profited personally while in office from Halliburton's Iraq contracts, as falsely implied by a Kerry TV ad. But Edwards was talking about Cheney's responsibility for earlier Halliburton troubles. And in fact, Edwards was mostly right.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Interesting: ABC News quotes their instant response poll as saying Cheney won by an 8% margin. I am having somewhat of a hard time believing that: I thought Edwards' performance was pretty impressive. But perhaps my partisan instincts coloured my judgement.

Cheney started off well; he performed particularly well in the first half an hour of the debate. Yet it felt to me like Edwards had the better answers for the last hour- more eloquent, better on substance. Cheney seemed uncharacteristically lost. His silence on gay marriage did not pass over well; his inability to engage Edwards' Halliburton charges no doubt damaged him. More importantly, Edwards' message simply reasonated: given the poorly performing American economy and the constant stream of bad news on Iraq, Cheney's efforts to paint an optimistic face fell short.

By the way: what kind of a dumb question is, "John Kerry comes from the state of Massachusetts, which has taken as big a step as any state in the union to legalize gay marriage. Yet both you and Senator Kerry say you oppose it. Are you trying to have it both ways?"

UPDATE: On the other hand, CBS had Edwards at 41 and Cheney at 28 among undecided voters. Interesting to see what the later polls say.

BY THE WAY: Speaking of dumb questions, "You both just sang the praises of the tops of your ticket. Without mentioning them by name at all explain to us why you are different from your opponent?" Without mentioning their names? What is this, first grade?

Monday, October 04, 2004

My writings here have been getting more and more partisan as the election approaches - virtually every item is overtly pro-Kerry and I am writing less and less that a prospective Bush voter would find interesting.

The trend seems to mirror where the blogsophere as a whole is going. It used to be that the same topic was discussed, in a fairly civil way, both by avowed liberals and conservatives. Now it seems there are two sets of discussions - one tossed around on right-wing blogs and one tossed around on left-wing ones.

Why is this?

I can't answer the question because there is no way for me to step out of the bubble: being fairly consistently liberal, I cannot objectively evaluate my own views and my own behavior.

Nevertheless, I can write down my partisan impressions of the topic. And these are that I can't help but thinking discourse of the conservative half of the blogsophere has remarkably degenerated in quality.

Of course, it may very well be that my own level of discourse has degenerated, leading me to think that the other side has lowered their standards - who knows?

But take, for example, the global test bit.

Here is Kerry at the debate:

No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it, Jim, you've got to do in a way that passes the test-that passes the global test-where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.

Here we have our own secretary of state who's had to apologize to the world for the presentation he made to the United Nations...
The point seems pretty clear to me. Yet it is consistently misunderstood on the right half of the blogsophere; for example:

...John Kerry explained that the US always has the right to act alone, as long as the world approves first.
From JustOneMinute

Going to and searching for "global" gives you links to a series of articles with similar pronouncements.

It seems like this is an incredibly stupid point to make - one that speaks either of a fundamental lack of English comprehension or (more likely) of a willful desire to misunderstand.

Its very difficult to read the Kerry quote without understanding its message: America will not give up its right to unilaterally protect itself, but if it does, the cast for action must be more than a collection of lies and exaggerations (what else to call the Iraqi WMD business?).

I am not particularly surprised at Bush's desire to spin Kerry's words to the effect of "Kerry wants decisions about American security to be made in foreign capitals." That would be rather consistent with Bush pattern of being "less than candid" with the American public. But I am surprised at the way conservative bloggers have acted, in these last few months, as mouthpieces for misleading claims by the Bush-Cheney campaign.

In light of this, is any kind of thoughtful discussion possible?

That's my partisan take.

Sunday, October 03, 2004


Can't feel anything but disgust at the Dean wing of the Democratic party for spreading insinuations that Bush will reinstate the draft. There is absolutely no evidence of any kind that Bush would undertake this (politically suicidal) move.

Its one thing to argue that Bush's policies have overstretched the military and thus brought us closer to the reinstitution of the draft. Its another to argue, as I just saw Dean do on CNN, that Bush has a "secret plan" to impose the draft after the election.

Polls show that 51% of Americans believe that Bush would be likely to reinstate the draft if elected and some Democrats have seized on this to make their accusations. In this, they are no different from the current administration which conflated Saddam with Al Qaeda in the hope of inseparably linking the two in the American mind - despite having no actual evidence that they are linked. Its deceitful and its wrong.

...and I'm glad Kerry has not jumped on the bandwagon with this.

Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger
Herman Goering, at the Nuremberg Trials.

Appearing in the Rose Garden yesterday with Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, Bush said Kerry's statements about Iraq "can embolden an enemy." After Kerry criticized Allawi's speech to Congress, Vice President Cheney tore into the Democratic nominee, calling him "destructive" to the effort in Iraq and the struggle against terrorism.
From the Washington Post.

...terrorists are going to throw everything they can between now and the election to try and elect Kerry...Democrats are consistently saying things that I think undermine our young men and women who are serving over there.
Senator Orin Hatch (R-Utah) speaking on Fox News.

His words embolden the enemy.
GOP Senatorial candidate John Thune about John Kerry, speaking on Meet the Press. the same time young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief.
Zell Miller, speaking at the Republican National Convention.

See the Post article for documentation of the quotes.

I do not object to the argument that Kerry, if elected, will pursue wrong-headed national security policies and thus make the US vulnerable to attack. That is an incorrect but perfectly legitimate claim to make in a democracy. But the statements made by the administration & Republicans in Congress go way beyond that to claim that Kerry's criticism of the President is undermining our troops and helping terrorists. And if that's not what Goering was talking about, I don't know what is.

(found via legal fiction)

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The first post-debate poll (done by Newsweek) has Kerry up 49-46 (by contrast the last Newsweek poll available, done before the debate, had Bush up 50-45).

This Sunday's NYT magazine carries a feature on the muddled intelligence in the runup to the Iraq war. Although formally there is nothing earth-shattering here, this is the first piece that offers a detailed timeline of how discredited intelligence came to be repeatedly peddled by high-ranking members of the administration:

...the [CIA's] first reports on the tubes [acquired by Iraq], which went to senior members of the Bush administration on April 10, 2001. The tubes, the report asserted, "have little use other than for a uranium enrichment program."

This alarming assessment was immediately challenged by the Energy Department, which builds centrifuges and runs the government's nuclear weapons complex.

The next day, Energy Department officials ticked off a long list of reasons why the tubes did not appear well suited for centrifuges. Simply put, the analysis concluded that the tubes were the wrong size - too narrow, too heavy, too long - to be of much practical use in a centrifuge...But if the tubes were not for a centrifuge, what were they for?

Within weeks, the Energy Department experts had an answer.

It turned out, they reported, that Iraq had for years used high-strength aluminum tubes to make combustion chambers for slim rockets fired from launcher pods. Back in 1996, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency had even examined some of these tubes, also made of 7075-T6 aluminum, at a military complex, the Nasser metal fabrication plant in Baghdad, where the Iraqis acknowledged making rockets. According to the international agency, the rocket tubes, some 66,000 of them, were 900 millimeters in length, with a diameter of 81 millimeters and walls 3.3 millimeters thick.

The tubes now sought by Iraq had precisely the same dimensions - a perfect match...
Despite the ongoing debate in the intelligence community over the tubes - with, incidentally, most of the experts concurring with the assesment of the Department of the Energy that the tubes were not likely to be used for centrifuges - members of the administration presented the case with certainty:

Mr. Cheney, who has a history of criticizing officials who disclose classified information, typically refuses to comment when asked about secret intelligence. Yet on this day, with a Gallup poll showing that 58 percent of Americans did not believe President Bush had done enough to explain why the United States should act against Iraq, Mr. Cheney spoke openly about one of the closest held secrets regarding Iraq. Not only did Mr. Cheney draw attention to the tubes; he did so with a certitude that could not be found in even the C.I.A.'s assessments. On "Meet the Press," Mr. Cheney said he knew "for sure" and "in fact" and "with absolute certainty" that Mr. Hussein was buying equipment to build a nuclear weapon.

"He has reconstituted his nuclear program," Mr. Cheney said flatly.
Meanwhile, as the UN inspectors went into Iraq, it became possible to gather more evidence:

At the end of 2002, with the resumption of United Nations arms inspections, it became possible to seek answers inside Iraq. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency immediately zeroed in on the tubes.

The team quickly arranged a field trip to the Nasser metal fabrication factory, where they found 13,000 completed rockets, all produced from 7075-T6 aluminum tubes. The Iraqi rocket engineers explained that they had been shopping for more tubes because their supply was running low.

Why order tubes with such tight tolerances? An Iraqi engineer said they wanted to improve the rocket's accuracy without making major design changes. Design documents and procurement records confirmed his account.

The inspectors solved another mystery. The tubes intercepted in Jordan had been anodized, given a protective coating. The Iraqis had a simple explanation: they wanted the new tubes protected from the elements. Sure enough, the inspectors found that many thousands of the older tubes, which had no special coating, were corroded because they had been stored outside.

The inspectors found no trace of a clandestine centrifuge program.
Despite this, members of the administration continued to argue for the discredited theory and misrepresent the consensus of the experts. Cheney was not alone in this; apart from Condoleeza Rice's similar statement on Meet the Press, Colin Powell also made the same case before the UN:

Mr. Powell made claims that his own intelligence experts had told him were not accurate. Mr. Powell, for example, asserted to the Security Council that the tubes were manufactured to a tolerance "that far exceeds U.S. requirements for comparable rockets."

Yet in a memo written two days earlier, Mr. Powell's intelligence experts had specifically cautioned him about those very same words. "In fact," they explained, "the most comparable U.S. system is a tactical rocket - the U.S. Mark 66 air-launched 70-millimeter rocket - that uses the same, high-grade (7075-T6) aluminum, and that has specifications with similar tolerances."

Friday, October 01, 2004

From the Post's assortment of quotes today:

"When I look at my children, sometimes I wish I remained a virgin."

-- Jimmy Carter's late mother, Lillian, according to White House reporter Helen Thomas
I'll second that.

Entitled "Fact Check," the Times runs a post-debate feature designed to evaluate the consistency of Kerry's position on the war and Bush's charge of flip-flopping.

The conclusion:

...a review of Mr. Kerry's public statements found that his position had been quite consistent. But as the politics changed, Mr. Kerry repeatedly changed his emphasis. News accounts reflected what he was emphasizing at the time. And Mr. Kerry was often unclear in expressing his views.

Since well before the presidential campaign began, Mr. Kerry has maintained that Saddam Hussein was a menace and that removing him from power was a worthy goal. He has said that the president needed the authority to use troops in Iraq.

But Mr. Kerry has also said that Mr. Bush should not have gone to war without exhausting all diplomatic alternatives and without mobilizing international support...

...before he voted to give Mr. Bush the authority to use force in Iraq, he declared on the Senate floor: "I will support a multilateral effort to disarm him by force, if we ever exhaust those other options, as the president has promised, but I will not support a unilateral U.S. war against Iraq unless that threat is imminent and the multilateral effort has not proven possible under any circumstances."
The article then launches into 12 paragraphs - 12! - detailing the various curves John Kerry's position went through over the past year. I won't quote them here because the Times treatment of the issue grates on my nerves, but they are full of long unedited Kerry quotes elaborating each aspect of the above quote. This is supposed to show poor consistency on Kerry's part.

For the life of me, I can't understand the thrust of this piece - Kerry is consistent but he doesn't say the same thing in the same words every day? Imagine that. His emphasis depends on the news? You mean that when that statue of Saddam Hussein fell Kerry struck a different note than when it became clear that Iraq had no WMDs? Wow!

Everyone seems to be focusing on the style of the debate - the conventional wisdom seems to be that Bush's sighs, winces, and impatient I'm-out-of-it looks did him no good while Kerry earned points by looking presidential.

What struck me most was the glaring difference in substance:

KERRY: ...95 percent of the containers that come into the ports, right here in Florida, are not inspected. Civilians get onto aircraft, and their luggage is X-rayed, but the cargo hold is not X- rayed.

Does that make you feel safer in America?

This president thought it was more important to give the wealthiest people in America a tax cut rather than invest in homeland security. Those aren't my values. I believe in protecting America first.

BUSH: My administration has tripled the amount of money we're spending on homeland security to $30 billion a the way, we've also changed the culture of the FBI to have counterterrorism as its number one priority. We're communicating better. We're going to reform our intelligence services to make sure that we get the best intelligence possible.

KERRY: The president just said the FBI changed its culture. We just read on the front pages of America's papers that there are over a hundred-thousand hours of tapes unlistened to. On one of those tapes may be the enemy being right the next time. And the test is not whether you're spending more money. The test is are you doing everything possible to make America safe. We didn't need that tax cut. America needed to be safe.

BUSH: Of course we're doing everything we can to protect America. I wake up every day thinking about how best to protect America. That's my job. I work with Director Mueller of the FBI. He comes into my office when I'm in Washington every morning talking about how to protect us. There's a lot of really good people working hard to do so. It's hard work. But again I want to tell the American people: We're doing everything we can at home, but you better have a president who chases these terrorists down and brings them to justice before they hurt us again.
And so it went - intelligent, well thought-out points from Kerry, followed by simplistic, meandering "rebuttals" from Bush.

By the way, this is what Kerry was talking about.