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March 31, 2004

The O'Franken Factor

Okay, my expectations were low to begin with, but the first show was abysmal. I've heard NPR fundraisers that were more exciting. Before today I never could have imagined a roomful of people in which Bob Kerrey was the least boring person present. I eventually had to tune out because it was depressing me. It wasn't merely boring in the benign, passive way in which a physics lecture is boring. Rather, it had that kind of bleak, hopeless, dispiriting boredom which, left unchecked, can lead one to despair. Something tells me Limbaugh and Hannity aren't exactly peeing in their pants.

Anyway, does anyone else think Al Franken sounds like Art Bell?

Air America

So who's gonna listen? The new liberal talk radio "network" is going to debut today at noon with "The O'Franken Factor" (I am not making this up). The affiliate station here in New York is 1190 AM, WLIB (I am not making this up), formerly a station dedicated to Caribbean music.

I can't get decent AM reception from my office, alas, so I will try to tune into the webcast. The rest of you can do so as well, in case you live out there somewhere in the benighted provinces of Red American where the enlightened voice of Air America has yet to penetrate.

March 29, 2004

Hey, check this out. It's

Hey, check this out. It's from Richard Clarke's interview on Meet the Press
(emphasis mine):

MR. RUSSERT: But Saddam is gone and that's a good thing?

MR. CLARKE: Saddam is gone is a good thing. If Fidel were gone, it would be a good thing. If Kim Il Sung were gone, it would be a good thing. And let's just make clear, our military performed admirably and they are heroes, but what price are we paying for this war on Iraq?

Hoo boy! He gives Condi a hard time (erroneously, as it turns out) for never having heard of al Qaeda. Shouldn't Clarke have heard that Kil Il Sung *is* gone? It was in all the papers.

George Shultz on Iraq

George Shultz's editorial in today's Wall Street Journal is worth a read, if you can get drive that mental image of his tattoo out of your head.

Secretary Shultz begins his piece, Clarke-like, with his self-description of a lone voice crying out in the wilderness against the terrorist threat. Well, I suppose this kind of thing is pretty much de digeur these days, akin to the way in which all Frenchmen suddenly became "members of the resistance" after the war.

Getting past that, Shultz puts forth the case for the war in Iraq:

  • There has never been a clearer case of a rogue state using its privileges of statehood to advance its dictator's interests in ways that defy and endanger the international state system.

  • The international legal case against Saddam--17 resolutions--was unprecedented.

  • The intelligence services of all involved nations and the U.N. inspectors over more than a decade all agreed that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat to international peace and security.

  • Saddam had four undisturbed years to augment, conceal, disperse, or otherwise deal with his arsenal.

  • He used every means to avoid cooperating or explaining what he has done with them. This refusal in itself was, under the U.N. resolutions, adequate grounds for resuming the military operation against him that had been put in abeyance in 1991 pending his compliance.

  • President Bush, in ordering U.S. forces into action, stated that we were doing so under U.N. Security Council Resolutions 678 and 687, the original bases for military action against Saddam Hussein in 1991. Those who criticize the U.S. for unilateralism should recognize that no nation in the history of the United Nations has ever engaged in such a sustained and committed multilateral diplomatic effort to adhere to the principles of international law and international organization within the international system. In the end, it was the U.S. that upheld and acted in accordance with the U.N. resolutions on Iraq, not those on the Security Council who tried to stop us.

As for the WMD issue, critics will no doubt find Shultz's response disingenuous, but I think he makes some good points.

The question of weapons of mass destruction is just that: a question that remains to be answered, a mystery that must be solved. Just as we also must solve the mystery of how Libya and Iran developed menacing nuclear capability without detection, of how we were caught unaware of a large and flourishing black market in nuclear material--and of how we discovered these developments before they got completely out of hand and have put in place promising corrective processes. The question of Iraq's presumed stockpile of weapons will be answered, but that answer, however it comes out, will not affect the fully justifiable and necessary action that the coalition has undertaken to bring an end to Saddam Hussein's rule over Iraq. As Dr. David Kay put it in a Feb. 1 interview with Chris Wallace, "We know there were terrorist groups in state still seeking WMD capability. Iraq, although I found no weapons, had tremendous capabilities in this area. A marketplace phenomena was about to occur, if it did not occur; sellers meeting buyers. And I think that would have been very dangerous if the war had not intervened."

When asked by Mr. Wallace what the sellers could have sold if they didn't have actual weapons, Mr. Kay said: "The knowledge of how to make them, the knowledge of how to make small amounts, which is, after all, mostly what terrorists want. They don't want battlefield amounts of weapons. No, Iraq remained a very dangerous place in terms of WMD capabilities, even though we found no large stockpiles of weapons."

He ends the piece with a call to action and invites a comparison with World War II.

If we put this in terms of World War II, we are now sometime around 1937. In the 1930s, the world failed to do what it needed to do to head off a world war. Appeasement never works. Today we are in action. We must not flinch. With a powerful interplay of strength and diplomacy, we can win this war.

Here I think Shultz is overly optimistic. I think it's more like 1943 out there. All the more reason to strengthen our resolve.

March 28, 2004

Victims' families on Clarke

Families of some 9/11 victims have written an open letter taking issue with Richard Clarke. They don't think it's mere coincidence that the release of his book was timed for optimal political and financial gain, among other things.

It was very disturbing, then, to learn that Mr. Clarke would be releasing his book immediately before his scheduled public testimony before the 9/11 Commission.

We are well aware that the friends and family members of those killed in 9/11 do not speak with a single voice on all issues. Nonetheless, the notion of profiteering from anything associated with 9/11 is particularly offensive to all of us.

We find Mr. Clarke's actions all the more offensive especially considering the fact that there was always a high possibility that the 9/11 Commission could be used for political gain, especially now, with the presidential election less than eight months away.

Surely, Mr. Clarke knew this. Yet he decided to risk the actual and perceived impartiality of this important process to maximize book sales.

As family and friends of those killed on 9/11, we believe it inappropriate for Mr. Clarke to profit from and politicize 9/11, and further divide America, by his testimony before the 9/11 Commission.

Indeed, we are now seeing some partisans more interested in somehow laying blame for 9/11 at the feet of President Bush - even though what we heard from both Bush and Clinton administration officials confirms what we already believed: that while al Qaeda was a known threat, no one could have known that 19 terrorists already in the United States would hijack domestic aircraft and fly them in to the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Had there been real evidence, "actionable" or otherwise, that this was being planned, we believe that President Bush, President Clinton - indeed, any president of the United States - would have done everything possible to prevent it.

March 27, 2004

Saddam's new lawyer

It looks like Saddam now has legal representation. And he's French. Figures.

March 26, 2004

Kerry on jobs

Kerry promises a plan for 10 million new jobs.

...or was that "10 million new job plans"?

March 25, 2004

Photos from the anti-war protests

Check 'em out. They're some photos from the recent anti-war demonstration in San Francisco. Funny, but I hadn't previously seen any of this in any of the major media coverage. Funny, but not surprising.

Yeah, I know. "What liberal media?"

March 24, 2004

Another wake-up call for Europe

And this time with no loss of life, thank God. The Madrid bombings certainly had an impact on European opinion, but it was too easy for pacifists to attribute the attack wholly to Spanish participation in the war to topple Saddam. Granted, it's still too early to know who's responsible, but this could prove much harder to explain:

French railroad worker found an explosive device buried in the bed of a railway line heading from France to Switzerland on Wednesday, the Interior Ministry said.

Bomb disposal experts neutralized the device, which was half-buried under a track in the village of Montieramey, on a train line heading from Paris to Basel, Switzerland, the ministry said in a statement. It was discovered shortly after noon.

Richard Clarke testifies

I agree with Daniel Drezner that Richard Clarke's criticisms of the Bush White House should not be ignored. His consistent advocacy for decisive action against al Qaeda throughout the Clinton years is a matter of record. In fact, Clarke was a useful source for conservative pundits in their efforts to blame Clinton for laxity in facing the threat from Islamist terror head-on. It seems a bit disingenuous that many of these same pundits are now discrediting Clarke as a partisan axe grinder and a shameless book promoter.

It is appropriate, however, to examine the motives behind Clarke's increasingly partisan tone, and some of his anecdotes should be viewed with skepticism.
What Clarke says on a book tour is one thing, but it will be fascinating to see how he testifies under oath before Congress.

March 21, 2004

Score one for the good guys

Here's some welcome news in the war between terror and freedom. It looks like the Israelis have taken out Sheik Ahmed Yassin, Hamas leader and founder. Props, guys.

March 17, 2004

The American-European Divide

There's a piece by German writer Peter Schneider entitled "Across a Great Divide" currently making its rounds on the internet. The article is poorly argued and simplistic to the point of absurdity, which is ironic, given Western Europe's predisposition to decry naive American simplisme in favor of their more sophisticated, "nuanced" ways of thinking. It is an ugly, thinly disguised exercise in European anti-Americanism, and I'm going to fisk it. I am including the text of the article below, interspersed with my comments (emphasis mine).

The war in Iraq has made the Atlantic seem wider. But really it has had the effect of a magnifying glass, bringing older and more fundamental differences between Europe and the United States into focus.
These growing divisions -- over war, peace, religion, sex, life and death -- amount to a philosophical dispute about the common origins of European and American civilization. Both children of the Enlightenment, the United States and Europe clearly differ about the nature of this inheritance and about who is its better custodian.

Start with religion. The United States is experiencing a revival of the Christian faith in many areas of civic and political life, while in Europe the process of secularization continues unabated. Today the United States is the most religious-minded society of the Western democracies. In a 2003 Harris poll 79 percent of Americans said they believed in God, and more than a third said they attended a religious service once a month or more. Numerous polls have shown that these figures are much lower in Western Europe.

Mere belief in God does not constitute religious fundamentalism, and the 79 percent figure cited here is indeed high compared to Europe, but it has been higher still in the past. It's hard to interpret this as a "revival" in faith of any sort.

What really bugs Schneider is that America is not openly hostile religion, as is (say) France, with its recent headscarf ban.

In the United States a majority of respondents in recent years told pollsters that they believed in angels, while in Europe the issue was apparently considered so preposterous that no one even asked the question.

Gee, I'm sorry we're so gullible. Does anyone remember "The Horrifying Fraud" by French author Thierry Meyssan? Despite its absurd premise that the 9/11 attacks were the actions of the American military-industrial complex, as part of an elaborate conspiracy to increase defense budgets, the book was a runaway bestseller in France. Color me "unimpressed" by claims of superior European "skepticism".

When American commentators warn about a new fundamentalism, they generally mention only the Islamic one. European intellectuals include two other kinds: the Jewish and Christian variants.

Yeah, well, there's a reason for that, Peter. The Islamic variety is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans, in our own homeland, as well as in places like Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and others. The Christian variety gives us the death of the occasional abortion doctor every decade or so. I'm sorry, there's a difference.

Terms that President Bush has used, like "crusade" and "axis of evil," and Manichaean exclusions like his observation that anyone who is not on our side is on the side of the terrorists, reveal the assumption of a religious mantle by a secular power, which in Europe has become unthinkable. Was it not, perhaps, this same sense of religious infallibility that seduced senior members of the Bush administration into leading their country into a war with Iraq on the basis of information that has turned out to be false?

That's quite a stretch. The terms "crusade" and "evil" certainly have meanings other than in the religious sense. President Bush went out of his way after 9/11 (as well as before, if anyone cares to remember) to reach out to the Muslim community, and to remind us that Islam is a religion of peace, despite the actions of a few murderous radicals.

The separation of church and state is alive and well in America, Peter. Remember when Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing explicitly called for a "Christian" European Union? That was your guy, not ours. Nobody would argue that M. d'Estaing is a religious fundamentalist, so why would he say such a thing? Why, to keep out the Turks, of course! Hurray for European tolerance and diversity.

As far as our religious inflexibility luring us into a war in Iraq, I'd like to remind Mr. Schneider that 34 nations sent troops into Iraq. More European countries stood with the States than against us. Do the same notions of religious infallibility fuel these 34 countries? Mr. Schneider does not say. Of course he, like many Europeans, prefers to believe that America acted "unilaterally" in Iraq. His definition of "unilateralism" seems to reduce to "France and Germany don't like it".

Another reason for Europe's alienation from the United States is harder to define, but for want of a better term, I call it American narcissism.

When American troops in Iraq mistakenly shoot an Arab journalist or reduce half of a village to rubble in response to the explosion of a roadside bomb, there will inevitably be a backlash. Only a fool would maintain that an occupying power could afford many such mistakes, even if it is under constant threat of suicide attacks. The success of an occupation policy -- however temporary it is meant to be -- depends on the occupier's ability to convince the population, by means of symbolic and material gestures, that it is prepared to admit to mistakes.

What?!? This is classic European appeasement-speak. I'm all for being willing to admit mistakes, but is it really the single determining factor in a successful occupation? Is that how Alexander the Great did it, by being "prepared to admit to mistakes"? The Romans? The European colonial powers of recent centuries? It must be, I guess, or else they wouldn't have been successful.

In its use of the language of power the Bush administration has created the opposite impression, and not just in Iraq. The United States apparently cannot be wrong about anything, nor does it have to apologize to anybody. In many parts of the world people have come to believe, fairly or not, that Americans regard the life of their countrymen as infinitely more valuable than the lives of any other of the earth's inhabitants.

This is not only insulting, but demonstrably false. America has proven itself willing, time and time again, to place the lives of its best and brightest young men and women on the line to bring relief to the world's suffering. Europe would have dithered forever in impotent paralysis during the genocide in the Balkans had the Americans not stepped in to put an end to it. It seems the Europeans, rather than the Americans, are chronically averse to risking their own skin to help others. Can Mr. Schneider say "projection"?

Of course, even in Europe only a pacifist minority denies the existence of necessary, unavoidable, justified wars. The interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan were supported by many European nations, even if some took a long time to make up their minds. European soldiers took part in those wars and continue to play a part in the peacekeeping aftermath.

I'm sorry, it didn't take "a long time" to make up their minds, it took American resolve to make up their minds.

What arouses European suspicion, though, is the doctrine of just, preemptive wars President Bush has outlined. Anyone who claims to be waging a preventive war in the cause of justice is confusing either a particular or a partisan interest with the interests of humanity.

How dare he. If Mr. Schneider wants to pretend that Western Europe's foreign policy is guided by "the interests of humanity", how can he possibly justify turning a blind eye to the suffering of 25 million Iraqis? When did the European left lose its stomach for confronting fascism? Or torture? Or systematic human rights abuses? You want to have an isolationist foreign policy? Fine, but don't dress it up as concern for "humanity".

A president who makes such a claim would be arrogating the right to be the ultimate arbiter of war and peace and to stand in judgment over the world. From there it is but a short step to dismissing a basic insight of the Enlightenment, namely that human judgment and decisions are fallible by their very nature. This fallibility cannot be annulled or ameliorated by any political, legal or religious authority. The same argument goes for the death penalty.

Sure. Had to get the death penalty in there. Never mind that it's an out-of-context non sequitur.

There follows a few nonsense paragraphs in which Mr. Schneider bemoans that fact that America, despite being the most diverse and multicultural nation in the world, is neither diverse nor multicultural. It seems we don't watch enough foreign films, or some damn thing.

He then goes on to apply a thin veneer of impartiality to conceal this vapid, anti-American diatribe. Too little, too late, Peter.

So what's to be done? Can we meet in the middle?

These disagreements will be influenced but cannot be resolved by the the American presidential election in November. The divisions are too deep, and Europe cannot meet the United States halfway on too many issues -- the separation between church and state, the separation of powers, respect for international law, the abolition of the death penalty -- without surrendering its version of its Enlightenment inheritance.
Yeah, God forbid that you meet us halfway. And yet the Americans are portrayed as intransigent and uncompromising. There's that "projection" thing going on again.

And once more I have to object to this ridiculous, recurring "church and state" issue. Mr. Schneider is German, and the last time I checked, Germany, home of the Christian Democrats, funded its major churches via a "church tax", a notion which would be repellent here in the United States. Mr. Schneider certainly has some big shiny brass ones to criticize us on that score.

That jibe about "respect for international law" is a howler too. The French and Germans had no qualms about violating the U.N.-mandated sanctions against Iraq when it was in their financial self-interests to do so. Nor did they object to bombing Kosovo without a U.N. mandate. It seems their passion and zeal for international law is selective, at best.

Regarding the death penalty, I don't have much to say, since I oppose it myself. Nonetheless, it must be said that it is very difficult to execute a criminal in the States. There are a raft of protections and automatic appeals which (rightly) render the ultimate sentence rare and exceptional. My personal beliefs on the death penalty notwithstanding, I resent the haughty air of European superiority on the matter. The French, in particular, are recent converts, abolishing capital punishment only in 1981. Please, spare me your moral outrage, Francois.

Mr. Schneider sums up:

On other contentious issues the United States feels as strongly: the universality of human rights and the need to intervene -- if the United Nations is unable to act -- when there is genocide or ethnic cleansing, or when states are failing.

So are we standing on the threshold of a new understanding or a new historic divide, comparable to the evolutionary split that occurred when a group of pioneer hominids thousands of years ago turned their backs forever on their African homeland?

So far it has usually been the Americans who have had to remind the Europeans of these common origins, which the Europeans, in turn, have so often betrayed. Maybe this time it is up to the Europeans to remind the Americans of the promises of the Enlightenment that the United States seems to have forgotten.

Yeah, yeah, yeah...

March 15, 2004

What unilateralism looks like

Here is a list of current troop deployment levels in Iraq, courtesy of the Drudge Report:

1. United States: 130,000
2. Britain: 9,000
3. Italy: 3,000
4. Poland: 2,460
5. Ukraine: 1,600
6. Spain: 1,300
7. Netherlands: 1,100
8. Australia: 800
9. Romania: 700
10. Bulgaria: 480
11. Thailand: 440
12. Denmark: 420
13. Honduras: 368
14. El Salvador: 361
15. Dominican Republic: 302
16. Hungary: 300
17. Japan: 240 (rising to 550 by the end of March)
18. Norway: 179
19. Mongolia: 160
20. Azerbaijan: 150
21. Portugal: 128
22. Latvia: 120
23. Lithuania: 118
24. Nicaragua: 113
25. Slovakia: 102
26. Czech Republic: 80
27. Philippines: 80
28. Albania: 70
29. Georgia: 70
30. New Zealand: 61
31. Moldova: 50
32. Estonia: 31
33. Macedonia: 37
34. Kazakhstan: 25

A defeat for freedom

There are days when I absolutely hate being right. Al Qaeda surely now believes, erroneously or not, that they can not only decide elections but dictate policy with a few well-placed bombs.

The leader of Spain's victorious Socialists said Monday he will withdraw his nation's support for the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, restating a campaign promise a day after his party won elections overshadowed by terrorist bombings.

This is exactly the wrong move. I don't care if the troop withdrawal was a campaign promise. Even if Zapatero intends to follow through with it, announcing those intentions four days after the bombings sends precisely the wrong message: "Bomb us and we'll do what you want."

March 14, 2004

Socialists win in Spain

Great. Al Qaeda has now achieved regime change in a Western power.

Mohammed Horton?

I thought the furor over Bush's first ad was ridiculous. Given the frequency with which its critics tossed around the words "corpse" and "body", one might expect a Sam Peckinpah movie rather than the muted, split-screen, split-second image of a flag-draped stretcher.

This is even more absurd. The "terrorist" in this ad isn't even of Arab extraction, and yet we're led to believe its intent is to exploit and fan the flames of anti-Arab hatred. Mohammed Horton? Give me a break. At least Willie Horton was actually black!

I would say that the only acceptable way to portray a "terrorist" would have been to use a Swede.

March 12, 2004

The attacks in Spain

It took me a while before I felt like I had anything coherent to say about the senseless violence in Spain. At first, I could only sit dumbly and listen to the reports and watch the images. All the old feelings were brought back, familiar and half-forgotten at the same time.

I am assuming, based on the scanty evidence we have, that this was the work of al Qaeda. Many of my fellow hawks are saying that this is a wake-up call for Europe, and that other European leaders will, like Tony Blair, finally "get it".

I hope they're right, but I'm not convinced. Frankly, I think this viewpoint is naive, and it gives the European left too much credit. I think they will be quite happy to blame the entire tragedy on Spain's support of the U.S. in the war against Iraq: "If we had only turned a blind eye to Terror, it would turn a blind eye to us". This attitude is delusional, of course, but I predict that it will become the prevailing sentiment from Western Europe over the weeks and months to come.

I don't deny that Spain's pro-American stance was a factor, but it goes well beyond that. These forces are at war with the West in general, and Spain in particular has long been a sore point for them. The re-Christianization of Spain in the 15th century was a milestone in the rollback of Muslim expansionism, and we know our enemy has a long memory for such indignities. The Wahhabist ideology that spawned al Qaeda places a priority on recapturing Muslim lands that have been lost to the infidel.

In any case, this is a sobering reminder that the war is very real and very present and that much remains to be done. I hope my colleagues are correct about Europe's reaction to this attack, and that I am wrong. Otherwise, we could find ourselves waging a lonelier war than we currently are.

March 10, 2004

Kerry's website hit by "virus"

Okay, I thought Drudge's story about profanity on Kerry's website was ridiculous, but the "explanation" from Kerry's camp is even more so. They blamed it on a "virus"

A spokesman for Kerry said he believed the Web site was struck by "a virus" yesterday. He then promised to get back to us with a better story, but never did.

Fat Chance

Now here's a novel idea:

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said Wednesday he will ask Americans earning more than $200,000 a year to pay the taxes they paid under President Clinton and pledged to retain the Bush tax cuts for the middle class and even add to them.

Of course it's empty posturing and shouldn't be taken seriously, but it does raise an interesing question. I've met plenty of people who opposed the Bush tax cuts, but I have yet to meet one who's turned them down. Why?

March 09, 2004

Jesus H., Ted Rall is still whining

This makes more than a week in which Ted Rall has done absolutely nothing in his blog except to bitch about the New York Times dropping his offensive, unfunny cartoons from their website. Get over it, Ted, this is unseemly! And learn the definition of "censorship" while you're at it. Believe it or not, everyone who does not like your puerile, adolescent scribblings is not automatically a fascist.

A little late, but...

I guess I wasn't the only one who thought Kerry's "second black president" remark was ludicrous.

The head of a civil rights and legal services advocacy group wants Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to apologize for saying he wouldn't be upset if he could be known as the second black president.

"John Kerry is not a black man -- he is a privileged white man who has no idea what it is in this country to be a poor white in this country, let alone a black man," said Paula Diane Harris, founder of the Andrew Young National Center for Social Change.

March 08, 2004

World leaders are pulling for Kerry

...or so he would have us believe, anyway.

Without naming anybody, Kerry said he had received words of encouragement from leaders abroad who were eager to see him defeat Bush on Nov. 2.

"I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy they look at you and say, 'You've got to win this, you've got to beat this guy, we need a new policy,' things like that," he said.

Man, wouldn't you just love to hear him name names?

Heh, heh

Scrappleface has my favorite headline of the day.

Quick tunraround

So Iraq has a new constitution:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Iraq's Governing Council signed a landmark interim constitution Monday after resolving a political impasse sparked by objections from the country's most powerful cleric. The signing was a key step in U.S. plans to hand over power to the Iraqis by July 1.

Last week the major media was full of despair and gloom and had basically given up on the whole process. It's further evidence that the situation over there is not as bleak as we are being conditioned to believe.

9/11 happened to all of us

Debra Burlingame is a life-long Democrat whose brother was a pilot on one of the doomed jets that flew into the World Trade Center. In the Wall Street Journal today, she takes issue with some of the "9/11 families" who have criticized Bush's recent campaign ads. It's worthwhile to read the whole thing, but here is my favorite paragraph:

The images of Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Shanksville have been plastered over coffee mugs, T-shirts, placemats, book covers and postage stamps, all without a peep from many of these family members. I suspect that the real outrage over the ads has more to do with context than content. It's not the pictures that disturb them so much as the person who is using them. This is demonstrated in their affiliation with, a rabidly anti-Bush group that sponsored a rally they held last Friday calling for the president to pull his ads off the air. But by disingenuously declaring themselves "non-partisan" and insisting that it is a matter of "taste," they retain a powerful weapon that they have learned to exploit to their advantage. They are "9/11 family members" and therefore enjoy the cloak of deference that has been graciously conferred upon them by the public, politicians and, most significantly, the media.

March 05, 2004

What is Teresa Heinz's connection to the "furor" over the Bush ads?

And what is Peaceful Tomorrows anyway? It's a pacifist organization comprising relatives of 9/11 victims. You've heard some of them lately complaining about how "inappropriate" Bush's campaign ads are.

So who funds this organization? Well if you navigate their website to find out how you can contribute, you'll be told you can write a check to Peaceful Tomorrows/Tides Center. So what the hell is the Tides Center?

I'm glad you asked that. Tom Randall of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review can answer better than I can (emphasis mine):

Known as the Tides Center for Pennsylvania, formerly the Tides Center for Western Pennsylvania, it is a creation of the Tides Foundation and Center, headquartered in San Francisco, and two Pennsylvania-based foundations -- the Vira Heinz Endowment and the Howard Heinz Endowment-- chaired by Teresa Heinz Kerry, heir to the Heinz food company fortune and wife of Democrat presidential contender Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Well, isn't that special? First we learn that the fire fighters we heard criticizing the Bush ads belonged to a union that had endorsed Kerry. Will we now find out that the entire brouhaha was bankrolled by Teresa Heinz?

Martha Stewart guilty?

That's the rumor, and they appear to have suspended trading in MSO. There aren't many details yet, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, can someone explain something to me? Why are so many people defending Ms Stewart on the (sophistic) grounds that it costs much more to prosecute her than the amount of illicit profit under consideration? How does that make any sense at all? I can guarantee you that if I go out and hold up a liquor store and make off with five Franklins, absolutely no one will argue that I shouldn't be prosecuted because the court costs would outweigh more than the money I stole.

UPDATE: Arrrggghh!! We have to wait until June for the sentencing!! Ah well, I can't complain. I think I'll go crack open a cold beer to celebrate.

Bill Gates is evil

And just in case you needed further proof of that, here it is. His latest bright idea is to charge people "postage" to send e-mail. I guess he's seeking more creative ways of making a buck now that people aren't upgrading their Microsoft products as frequently as they once did.

Kim Jong-il loves John Kerry?

The Financial Times is reporting that North Korea is getting warm fuzzies for Senator Kerry. Kerry must be thrilled. It's hard to imagine a less welcome endorsement, except, of course, for Al Gore's.

March 04, 2004

Surprising poll numbers

Hindrocket is as surprised as I am at a new AP poll showing Bush leading Kerry 46% to 45%. We all knew the Kerry bubble wouldn't last, but has it burst already? It seems like less than a month ago that he was topping Bush in every survey out there. What's changed? God knows there hasn't been any good news for the president lately, so I suspect it's merely the inevitable drop-off in media attention as Kerry morphs from "comeback kid" into "foregone conclusion".

I've gotta say though, the fact that Nader's pulling 6% makes the whole thing somewhat suspect to me. We'll see.

Being John Edwards

Tom Opliphant points out that John Edwards actually fared much better than Kerry did among independents. He thinks there are lessons here that the Kerry team must learn now that we are moving into the general election season.

I think his analysis is spot-on, and that Edwards does indeed have a broader appeal to the segment of the electorate that will ultimately decide this contest. I can now 'fess up that Edwards scared me much more than any other Democrat in the field. By the same token, I viewed Kerry as the least threatening of the serious candidates, and still do.

Kerry would certainly do well for himself and his party if he could now simply turn himself into John Edwards, but how does one do that? The answer isn't obvious. I'm just not sure that "Being John Edwards" can be taught or learned. Their voting records in the Senate are not all that different, nor is the substance of their stump speeches. I'm afraid much of what separates them is charisma, charm, a certain telegenic appeal and what Simon Cowell would call "the X factor". Either you've got it or you don't, I'm afraid.

Kerry always has the option of tapping Edwards as a running mate, but how much good will that really do? Choosing a running mate is a bit like navigating a minefield, because even a good choice isn't going to net you a lot of additional votes, but a bad choice can certainly cost you plenty.

I'm sure Kerry's handlers will read this piece. They'll also probably not in agreement with much of it. Knowing that something needs to be fixed and knowing how to fix it, however, are two very different things.

Kinky Friedman for governor

Now how did the major media miss this one?

Bush's new campaign ads

Some people are unhappy about what they see as Bush's exploitation of 9/11 for political gain. Gee, I'm just glad no one has tried to exploit Vietnam.

Partisan hypocrisies aside, however, I'm less than thrilled with these ads. If this is any indication as to how the campaign is going to be run, the Bush team is in deep, deep trouble. For them not to have anticipated these criticisms is just further evidence of how tone-deaf the White House has become.

Moreover, these ads support the (erroneous) belief that this president has no accomplishments worthy of mentioning, other than a single, fateful moment more than two years ago where he stood atop a heap of rubble with a bullhorn.

Well how about this? After a devastating terror attack at the beginning of his first term, we went on to topple two brutal tyrannies, and have gone for two-and-a-half years without a second attack on U.S. soil. Libya is disarming, Arafat has been marginalized, and intense international pressure is being brought to bear on Iran.

How about this? After beginning his first term with a recession (exacerbated by the devastating effects of 9/11), inflation and unemployment are historically low, while productivity, exports, and domestic growth are all historically high.

What about taxes? Although much has been made of higher income beneficiaries, the lowest income tax bracket was reduced 33%. In fact, it would probably be more correct to say the lowest rate was cut to zero, since nearly 40 million of the country's poorest families were relieved of any income tax burden whatsoever. In addition, there was the increase in the per-child tax credit to $1,000 and the reduction of the marriage penalty.

I think these are all good questions, but why am I the one asking them? This administration has essentially unlimited money and resources at its disposal. Why am I able to come up with a more effective ad campaign than theirs off the top of my head?

These people need to get a clue, and get one fast.

Geraldine Ferraro for veep?

John Kerry has given Jim Johnson the task of heading up his search for a running mate. Johnson was Walter Mondale's 1984 campaign manager. This does not inspire confidence.

March 03, 2004

More "Plame Affair" nonsense

So now Joe Wilson is milking the whole "scandal" for a book deal. What's more, he claims to know the identity of the leaker, but will only reveal it in his book. What's he more interested in, justice being served or having a best seller? I guess the answer to that is obvious. What's less obvious is why some people continue to regard these self-aggrandizing limelight-grabbers as reluctant celebrities and persecuted innocents.

Karenna Gore redux

Looks like Vanessa Kerry is shaping up to be every bit as annoying as Al Gore's progeny:

"I believe this administration just helped overthrow, basically overthrow, a democratically elected president," Vanessa Kerry, 27, said during a campaign stop at Stony Brook University of the ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. "We basically, in our silence, allowed him to be deposed."

If she's going to help Daddy out on the campaign trail, they would do well to coordinate their messages a little better. In the very next paragraph, we see Daddy complaining about how Bush didn't "overthrow" the Haitian president quickly enough:

At a debate Sunday among Democratic presidential candidates in New York City, John Kerry said Bush's actions were "late, as usual." Sen. John Edwards, his chief rival, agreed.

Maybe taking both sides of all issues is getting a little much for Kerry, so he's letting his daughter shoulder some of the burden. Fence-straddling can be a family affair.

Our second black president

John Kerry wants to be our second black president.

"President Clinton was often known as the first black president. I wouldn't be upset if I could earn the right to be the second," Kerry told the American Urban Radio Network.

It was just as moronic when Clinton said it, but at least it was original. As I remember, much of Clinton's claim to "blackness" lay in his relatively humble beginnings in a backward Southern state. What is Kerry's claim? His liberal voting record? Are all liberals therefore "black" by definition? I'm confused.

By the way, if anyone has doubted Kerry's ability to stoke the masses with his unbridled enthusiasm, fear no longer!

"Boy, wait until you see the fire in my belly," he told a TV interviewer.

Boy, we can't wait, John! Just a question: do people who really have fire in their belly have to go around talking about how much fire they have in their belly?

The Kerbala bombings and the Zarqawi letter

The recent bombings in Kerbala were a tragic setback for the cause of peace in the area. It's made me think again of the alleged Zarqawi letter, found by U.S. forces a couple of weeks ago. At the time, the letter was roundly denounced as a forgery by many war critics. It may well have been, but this recent attack is certainly right out of the Zarqawi playbook. In his letter he had explicitly strategized about fomenting civil war by attacking the Shi'ites in exactly this way. Maybe there was something to it after all.

Super Tuesday

Well, that was exciting (yawn). My wife, the resident Democrat of the household, went out and duly cast her quixotic vote for Senator Edwards. Here in New York, alas, Edwards needed a lot more help than that. (By the way, I forgot to mention that I saw honest-to-God Kucinich volunteers on my sidewalk last weekend, handing out flyers. Hope springs eternal).

I guess Edwards is giving his official concession speech tonight, but it changes little. Edwards has been running for vice president for some time now, perhaps for the entire campaign. He'd better hope he wins, too, or else he's unemployed (as is my wife's cousin, who works for the senator's office). Kerry is beginning to drop hints about picking Edwards as his running mate, which I think is a no-brainer.

And God bless the fine folks of Vermont for handing Howard Dean his first (last?) primary victory. As a transplanted Southerner, I understand the romance of the Lost Cause.

March 02, 2004

Problems with E-voting

It looks like there have been some fairly major electronic voting glitches reported in the primaries today. I was never a fan of E-voting, but I'm glad that these problems are coming to light during the primaries, and primaries that are not especially close at that. We cannot afford to have this kind of confusion come November. It already looks like it's going to be another squeaker.

March 01, 2004

Interesting NYT piece on copyrights and intellectual property

It's encouraging to see a major newspaper acknowledge that there are tough questions surrounding the whole intellectual property issue. The issue is nowhere near as clear-cut as the RIAA, for example, would have us believe. It seems obvious that it is a mistake to treat intellectual property exactly the same as tangible property. New technologies bring new problems, and new problems require new solutions, not the retrofitting of old laws to conform to new realities for which they were not designed. Arriving at the proper answers will not be easy, but at least the discussion has begun within the mainstream media.

Fascinating piece on gay marriage

...from a religious/historical perspective. There's some very interesting information in this article. It poses some tough and pointed questions for Christians who oppose gay marriage on religious grounds. Read the whole thing.

The very idea of a Christian homosexual marriage seems incredible. Yet after a 12-year search of Catholic and Orthodox church archives Yale history professor John Boswell has discovered that a type of Christian homosexual "marriage" did exist as late as the 18th century.

Contrary to myth, Christianity's concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has evolved both as a concept and as a ritual. Prof Boswell discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient church liturgical documents (and clearly separate from other types of non-marital blessings such as blessings of adopted children or land) were ceremonies called, among other titles, the "Office of Same Sex Union" (10th and 11th century Greek) or the "Order for Uniting Two Men" (11th and 12th century).

These ceremonies had all the contemporary symbols of a marriage: a community gathered in church, a blessing of the couple before the altar, their right hands joined as at heterosexual marriages, the participation of a priest, the taking of the Eucharist, a wedding banquet afterwards. All of which are shown in contemporary drawings of the same sex union of Byzantine Emperor Basil I (867-886) and his companion John. Such homosexual unions also took place in Ireland in the late 12th/early 13th century, as the chronicler Gerald of Wales (Geraldus Cambrensis) has recorded.