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Between the Lines

August 31, 2004

Debating the wrong war

Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis notes that while the GOP convention is guarded by 37,000 cops – a force he says is twice the size of the Canadian army – the candidates are wasting time debating the wrong war.

As this strange spectacle unfolds, the Bush and Kerry campaigns are arguing furiously about the 30-year-old Vietnam War -- at a time when the U.S. is losing the wars it is now waging in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Neither candidate has advanced any cogent or realistic plan for dealing with these military-political quagmires. Bush keep intoning meaningless platitudes like "we've got to stay the course." But at least he has been consistent about Iraq, even though consistently and disastrously wrong. Kerry keeps shifting his position, and has seriously damaged his credibility by trying to be both pro-war and anti-war at the same time.

Perhaps they'll get around to the real issues post-convention. But don't count on it.

Meanwhile, Bush the optimist appears to have become a pessimist on the "war on terrorism":

“I don’t think you can win it. 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.”

This is the same president who has been telling us confidently for the last three years that we can prevail and that we will prevail, no matter what it takes. Now, instead of turning them into grease spots on the sand, it sounds like we're going to subject them to peer pressure. Can you imagine what the president's supporters would be saying about Kerry had he uttered those words? Wimp; appeaser; friend of the terrorists; why does he hate America so? Bush performs one of those flip-flops he so derides in others and … nothing. Where's the outrage, war hawks?

I view Bush's acceptance of a minimal level of reality as a step forward for him. Not a big enough one to make me want to vote for him, but progress at least. He ought to get out of the White House more often. Permanently. Of course, for that to happen Kerry needs to start acting like he deserves to live there.

Well, we've got two months.

Posted by tbrown at 12:02 PM


The Florida voting solution

View it here.

Posted by tbrown at 11:58 AM


Backyard bloggers

They've arrived and they're doing a good job. Check 'em out here.

Posted by tbrown at 11:56 AM


August 30, 2004

What's wrong with protest coverage

Blogger David Adesnik marched the protest route in New York yesterday to interview participants and gives a good critique of mainstream media coverage of the event.

The first thing wrong with these stories is their focus on the few inconsequential arrests and mishaps that took place. Many of the journalists I saw just seemed to be waiting for something to go wrong. Because things going wrong is news, whereas the actual ideas and policies favored by the protesters are supposedly boring.

If I were a protester, I'd probably feel that the NYT [New York Times] and WaPo [Washington Post] did the marchers a disservice by failing to recognize just how orderly and peaceful the protest was and how the organizers successfully defused the most important potential conflict of the day, i.e. the disappointed hope that the protest march would culminate with a massive rally in Central Park.

At the same time, Adesnik says, the big papers also failed to adequately describe how far out on the left fringe many of the protesters are.

Now, if I didn't like the protesters, I would tell you that the NYT and WaPo did them a tremendous favor by downplaying the degree to which they represented the leftmost edge of the American political spectrum. I've posted before about what UFPJ [United for Peace and Justice, the main organizer of the protest] stands for, so I won't repeat myself. Suffice it to say that neither the Times nor the Post tells you anything about UFPJ's history or what it stands for.

If you read the NYT or the WaPo, you get the impression that the protest was filled with reasonable people who just don't like George Bush. All of the (wo)man-in-the-street interviews in both papers are with soothingly moderate and even humorous people. "Bring the troops home now" is the most radical sentiment you'll find in the NYT.

So there you have it. The big papers managed to be unfair to both sides while failing to provide critical information. Let's hope things get better from here.

We'll see. Coverage of the protests is likely to be a big part of convention coverage.

Posted by tbrown at 02:31 PM


Uh, Sheri who?

That was my reaction when I heard a woman named Sheri Dew is going to give the invocation at the GOP convention tonight. Atrios fills in the blanks. It's not pretty. This woman actually compares the rise of Hitler with what she perceives as the threat to family life posed by gay marriage. Unbelievable.

Posted by tbrown at 02:29 PM


What Kerry's antiwar efforts say about his inclinations

John Kerry, as is widely known by now, fought in Vietnam then returned home and opposed the war. That was all a long time ago. But clearly Vietnam was a central event in Kerry's life, so it's certainly fair to try to figure out what this means about the kind of president he would make. Kerry has, for obvious reasons, concentrated on the combat part of the story. Blogger Gregory Djerejian takes a different tack and examines what Kerry's antiwar testimony before the U.S. Senate says about him in this lengthy, thoughful post.

One of his key conclusions is this:

… I think, to his core, Kerry's Vietnam experience has left him highly suspicious of the use of American power. He appears to think it an overly blunt instrument that, more often than not, causes more harm than good on the world stage.

And there's this:

What I'm saying is that I don't really know what Kerry is willing to fight for[his emphasis]. I feel a dearth of true conviction in this man (war hero one day; dissident the next; medals good; medals, or ribbons, bad).

I don't agree with all of what he has to say, especially since he hangs his major conclusions on stuff Kerry said 33 years ago, when all of us were a lot younger. And unlike Djerejian, I think we need a president who'll take a more skeptical look at the likely result of, let's say, invasions of other countries -- before plunging in.

Still, I think he's touched on something that troubles a lot of people about Kerry, who -- accurately or not -- often comes across as a fuzzy, ill-defined personality. In this case, I'll take the devil I don't fully know any day over the one I do. Still, Djerejian's piece is well worth a read.

Posted by tbrown at 02:26 PM


August 27, 2004

The meaning of Vietnam

Neil Sheehan, one of the premier Vietnam War correspondents, who subsequently uncovered the Pentagon Papers for The New York Times and won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, "A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam,'' has some acute reminders of what happened there and some pertinent thoughts about the meaning of Vietnam in the current political debate (free New York Times site registration may be required):

The nation has yet to come to grips with what really happened in Vietnam, and Mr. Kerry's accusers are among those who simply cannot and never will. They are driven by more than a political desire to further the fortunes of George Bush. Their remarks make clear that what they really hold against Mr. Kerry are his antiwar activities after his return and his testimony then that atrocities were being committed in Vietnam. They regard these as undermining the war effort and casting aspersions on their service. "We won the battle,'' one of Mr. Kerry's accusers, former Navy commander Adrian Lonsdale, said. "Kerry went home and lost the war for us.'' The group's second television commercial focuses on this issue, running bits of old news film of Mr. Kerry's testimony in a 1971 Senate hearing, excerpting his remarks to twist their meaning.

The truth is that atrocities were committed in Vietnam. The worst and most horrendous atrocity was officially sanctioned. The American command coldbloodedly set about to deprive the Communists of the recruits and other assistance the peasantry could provide by emptying the countryside. Peasant hamlets in Communist-dominated areas were deliberately and relentlessly bombed and shelled. Free Fire Zones - anything that moved, human or animal, could be killed - were redlined on military maps.

By 1968, civilian deaths, the great majority from air strikes and artillery, were estimated at about 40,000 a year and seriously wounded at 85,000. The wholesale killing cheapened the value of Vietnamese life in American eyes. It created an atmosphere that fostered the massacre at My Lai hamlet on March 16, 1968, when 347 Vietnamese old men, women, boys, girls and babies were butchered. That same morning another 90 unarmed Vietnamese were slaughtered at a nearby hamlet by a second army unit.

In Vietnam, America the exceptional joined the rest of the human race and demonstrated that it could do evil as easily as it could do good. Mr. Kerry undoubtedly said some intemperate things in 1971. That is the way of youth. But he also showed the moral courage to try to persuade his fellow citizens to halt actions that were disgracing their nation.

There is a way to honestly confront the reality of Vietnam and yet still honor the men who fought there. One must learn to distinguish between the war and the warrior. It always galls me when I hear the generation of World War II referred to as the "greatest generation.'' They were a great generation, but so were the men who served in Vietnam. The soldiers and Marines, sailors and airmen who fought there did so with just as much courage as anyone who fought in World War II. The generation of Vietnam had the ill luck to draw a bad war, an unnecessary and unwinnable war, a tragic, terrible mistake. But valor has a worth of its own, and theirs deserves to be honored and remembered.


Posted by tbrown at 12:14 PM


August 26, 2004

The tipping point in Najaf

The bloody battle to oust cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia from a sacred shrine in Najaf has reached a critical moment. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has entered the city, while thousands of civilian followers wait on the outskirts as he seeks a peaceful settlement to the standoff between al-Sadr on one side and the provisional Iraqi government and U.S. troops on the other.

Posted by tbrown at 11:34 AM


Is Kerry blowing it?

It's been clear for at least a few months now that this election was John Kerry's to lose. And losing it he may be. The latest L.A. Times poll (free site registration may be required) shows Bush edging narrowly ahead of Kerry for the first time this year in the Times poll:

For the first time this year in a Times survey, Bush led Kerry in the presidential race, drawing 49% among registered voters, compared with 46% for the Democrat. In a Times poll just before the Democratic convention last month, Kerry held a 2-percentage-point advantage over Bush.

That small shift from July was within the poll's margin of error. But it fit with other findings in the Times poll showing the electorate edging toward Bush over the past month on a broad range of measures, from support for his handling of Iraq to confidence in his leadership and honesty.

I'll offer the usual caveat: any single poll is just a snapshot of a moment in time and is not definitive. But any way you look at it this is bad news for Kerry. He is paying the price for his vagueness, which is letting his opponents define the campaign.

Here's a link to a pdf with all the poll details.

Posted by tbrown at 11:33 AM


Some voters are less than fired up

Alaskans, for example. Our neighbors to the north had a primary this week and the turnout was a whopping 25 percent. As in one-quarter of registered voters.

Election officials point out that the figures are skewed to some degree by laws which make it difficult to purge voter rolls – an important consideration in a state that's more transient than most:

Those figures don't accurately represent true voter turnout, according to election officials. Alaska cannot purge its voter rolls unless it gets a response to mailed notices, and some registered voters have not cast a ballot in eight years, Elections Director Laura Glaiser has said.

As a result, the number of voters on the rolls is high, and voter turnout is generally understated.

Still, these are pretty dismal numbers. Maybe they're just waiting for November.

Posted by tbrown at 11:30 AM


Watching the watchers

The Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk Web site has a pretty good piece on how the mainstream media blew the story on the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

In the end, as always, the information that voters receive depends entirely on the way in which the press frames the story. The problem is that once an easy storyline is entrenched -- that Kerry and his detractors disagree -- too many reporters fail to press on. In this case, they neglected to either test the veracity of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth or to compare their ads with those financed by other 527s like MoveOn.

There have been dozens of press failures during this presidential campaign. But this one, even given the [New York] Times' and the [Washington] Post's belated efforts to get to the bottom of things, has to rank as a low point.

To Bush's benefit, it would appear.

Posted by tbrown at 11:29 AM


August 25, 2004

Ever wonder what terrorist 'chatter' sounds like?

Freewayblogger has the "tape."

T2: I'm on Travelocity - making a bunch of reservations for my uncle "Allah-Akbar Jihadi Al-Tikriti" on El Al.

T1: Really? I use Priceline.

T2: I've always had good luck with Travelocity.

T1: Yes, but on Priceline you get to name your own price.

T2: Sure, that's what they say...

T1: True, but what the hell: I get a kick out of William Shatner.

T2: He's Canadian you know.

T1: Everybody knows that... So come on, tell me - what're you doing this afternoon?

T2: Me and my cousin Farouk were gonna go shoot down a commercial airliner with some Stinger shoulder-launched ground-to-air missiles supplied to us by John Poindexter and Oliver North in the 1980's.

T1: (Stern) Hey!


Posted by tbrown at 11:32 AM


Setting the record straight on Bush

He's no party animal. So say Pleasure Boat Captains for Truth, who would know (via TBogg). Be sure to check out the Pleasure Captains Quotes link.

Posted by tbrown at 11:29 AM


Shorter George Bush, absurder John Kerry

Blogger Mark Kleiman's quick analysis of the prez's "opposition" to so-called 527 organizations:

I'll ask my friends to stop lying about John Kerry, if he'll ask his friends to stop telling the truth about me.

Then we have the spectacle of John Kerry dispatching triple-amputee vet Max Cleland to the presidential ranch to demand that Bush denounce the ads of one of those 527s, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Can we all just move on (and I don't mean MoveOn) please?

Posted by tbrown at 11:27 AM


Wait – you mean there is a(nother) connection? I'm shocked!
A lawyer for President Bush's re-election campaign disclosed Tuesday that he has been providing legal advice for a veterans group that is challenging Democratic Sen. John Kerry's account of his Vietnam War service.

Benjamin Ginsberg's acknowledgment marks the second time in days that an individual associated with the Bush-Cheney campaign has been connected to the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which Kerry accuses of being a front for the Republican incumbent's re-election effort.

He resigned, just like the Swiftie who was on Bush's veterans committee.

Posted by tbrown at 11:25 AM


Good for Cheney

Has an odd ring, doesn't it? But here's an issue he's at least half-right on: he's parted company with his boss on gay marriage.

At a campaign rally in this Mississippi River town, Cheney spoke supportively about gay relationships, saying "freedom means freedom for everyone," when asked about his stand on gay marriage. "Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue our family is very familiar with," Cheney told an audience that included his daughter. "With the respect to the question of relationships, my general view is freedom means freedom for everyone. ... People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.

Cheney isn't calling for legalization of gay marriage, but he says the decision should be left to the states – the opposite of the proposed amendment to the U.S. constitution supported by Bush.

Posted by tbrown at 11:24 AM


Mincing Malkin

Seattle blogger David Neiwert takes on Michelle Malkin, ingenue of the fringe right (and, by the way, a former columnist for The Seattle Times), for her new book, "In Defense of Internment," which attempts to justify the caging of tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans during War 2, and blesses the racial profiling of Muslims in our current wonderful world. Here's David:

Malkin, somewhat correctly, is annoyed that some commentators have referred to her as "self-hating":
The idea that since I am an Asian-American who has defended the so-called Japanese-American internment, I must therefore hate myself, is absurd. What in the world does my ethnic heritage (Filipino) have to do with the book's thesis?

Of course, she's quite right that the presumption that because she's Asian American she "ought to be" opposed to the Japanese American internment is nonsense. However, the fact that she is of Filipino descent in fact has a great deal to do with her book's thesis.

Malkin, you see, makes great hay of the fact of "dual citizenship" among the Nisei as a clear indicator of "torn loyalties" and a cause to suspect them of potential sabotage or espionage.

But Malkin, as it happens, is a dual citizen herself.

Under Filipino law, any child born to Filipino parents, whether living abroad or not, is reckoned a Filipino citizen. Malkin was born in Philadelphia in 1970 to Filipino-immigrant parents.

But David -- she's above suspicion.

Posted by tbrown at 11:22 AM


August 24, 2004

Fighting the wrong war

What happened on the rivers of Vietnam 35 years ago has for the moment become more important than what is happening in the cities of Iraq today. Since their current war is a political loser, some Bush partisans are fighting a different one. So I'm going to deal with it again today. I'd like to be able to say this is the last time I'll write about it, but I'm not that sanguine. It'll be with us until election day.

It seems to me quite clear that Kerry wins about 80 percent of the argument over his war record, based on the facts as we know them today. His one big problem is the "Christmas in Cambodia" story, which appears to be either faulty memory or a lie. Either way, Kerry should clear it up.

For some Vietnam vets – including those among the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth – Kerry also sinned unpardonably by opposing the war after he got home, recounting at a U.S. Senate hearing atrocities he said had been related to him by other veterans.

Millions of words are being spent on all of this. Some of them are actually worth reading.

An L.A. Times editorial today (free site registration may be required) pretty well reflects my feeling about the anti-Kerry ads by the Swift Boat group and the anti-Bush ads by MoveOn.org, which backs Kerry:

…There is an important difference, though, between the side campaign being run for Kerry and the one for Bush. The pro-Kerry campaign is nasty and personal. The pro-Bush campaign is nasty, personal and false.

No informed person can seriously believe that Kerry fabricated evidence to win his military medals in Vietnam. His main accuser has been exposed as having said the opposite at the time, 35 years ago. Kerry is backed by almost all those who witnessed the events in question, as well as by documentation. His accusers have no evidence except their own dubious word.

Not limited by the conventions of our colleagues in the newsroom, we can say it outright: These charges against John Kerry are false. Or at least, there is no good evidence that they are true. George Bush, if he were a man of principle, would say the same thing.

On Sunday, William Rood of the Chicago Tribune, who commanded a swift boat that accompanied Kerry's on one river mission questioned by the Swift Boat Vets group, stepped forward for the first time, following a phone call from Kerry, to tell his version of what happened that day (full disclosure: I shared an occasional beer with Rood when we both worked in Sacramento in the late 1970s). Here's how he explains why he decided to speak up:

Many of us wanted to put it all behind us--the rivers, the ambushes, the killing. Ever since that time, I have refused all requests for interviews about Kerry's service--even those from reporters at the Chicago Tribune, where I work.

But Kerry's critics, armed with stories I know to be untrue, have charged that the accounts of what happened were overblown. The critics have taken pains to say they're not trying to cast doubts on the merit of what others did, but their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us. It's gotten harder and harder for those of us who were there to listen to accounts we know to be untrue, especially when they come from people who were not there.

Rood's piece is interesting not only for its careful retelling of this mission, but for its recognition that at this distance from the events we're unlikely to ever get a much better understanding of what happened in Vietnam than we have now.

There's at least one mistake in that citation [for his own Bronze Star]. It incorrectly identifies the river where the main action occurred, a reminder that such documents were often done in haste and sometimes authored for their signers by staffers. It's a cautionary note for those trying to piece it all together. There's no final authority on something that happened so long ago--not the documents and not even the strained recollections of those of us who were there.

But I know that what some people are saying now is wrong. While they mean to hurt Kerry, what they're saying impugns others who are not in the public eye.

Phil Carter, a former Army intelligence officer who writes the excellent military-affairs blog Intel Dump, wasn't even born when the events cited by Rood and the Swift Boat Vets occurred. So he's carrying no particular baggage from the conflict. He does have an opinion, though:

The undisputed facts still show that Sen. Kerry volunteered for active-duty naval service, went to Vietnam once, then volunteered again for Swift Boat service, and was then cited several times during the course of that service. The documentary evidence shows that he was wounded three times — however slight — in combat. And the documentary evidence shows that he was decorated three times — two Bronze Stars and one Silver Star — in combat, which means that at least some of his chain of command concurred in the award. For all we know, Sen. Kerry was a pompous ass who didn't get along with all his shipmates and engendered a great deal of anger once he came home from the war to speak out against it. But even if that's true, it doesn't change what this documentary evidence attests to — that Sen. Kerry went to Vietnam, fought, was decorated for his valor.

Unsurprisingly, Kerry's actions in Vietnam and his actions when he returned home are inextricably tangled up in the eyes of some. One of those is Mac Owens, the military affairs analyst for National Review Online. He scorches Kerry in a current piece, in which he accuses the senator of "hypocrisy of the highest order" for first fighting in the war, then publicly opposing it. I don't buy it, but read it here and decide for yourself.

The real problem with the focus on Vietnam, whether it's Kerry's war record or George Bush's and Dick Cheney's lack of one, is that it detracts from what should be the real issues of this campaign.

"As Churchill would warn us, we have far more urgent and serious challenges to face as a people, and this presidential campaign is where we should be hashing them out. We need to stop hiding from harsh realities and get on with it," David Gergen, who was Ronald Reagan's director of communications, writes at USNews.com.

For starters, we desperately need a more comprehensive, bipartisan, and sustainable strategy to win this war on terrorism. So far, we have relied almost exclusively on our military power. While our troops have performed extremely well, it is now clear that our guns alone will not prevail. Terror threats are spreading, not shrinking. Last year brought the highest number of terror attacks in 20 years. We may have broken up al-Qaida at the top, but there are ominous signs of a grass-roots terrorism movement growing up in its place. Iraq itself remains chaotic, and we seem unlikely to realize our ultimate goal: creation of a stable anchor and a steady source of oil in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Iran edges toward a nuclear bomb, and if it succeeds, the Saudis may follow.

Our next president--Bush or Kerry--must be willing to use force but must combine that threat with a far more robust, imaginative effort to win hearts and minds. We must reach out more effectively to friends in Europe and Asia and, yes, the United Nations. More to the point, we must convince the vast Muslim communities--almost 20 percent of the world's population--that we are on their side. Progress will depend on sending a better message, but equally so, on helping them live better lives. One in five Arabs lives on less than $2 a day; two in five are under 14 years of age and are running out of hope. A hopeless young man is a ticking time bomb.

We haven't been hearing much about that, have we?

Unfortunately, as Phil Carter accurately notes, slime trumps substance most of the time:

It upsets me as a veteran to see these sorts of old wounds picked apart and used for political purposes. It also upsets me as an American to see the electorate manipulated in this way. But as long as "going negative" will produce electoral results, I think we're stuck with it. And the duty falls to us, as political consumers and voters, to figure out how to wade through this crap in order to find the truth. That's where the hip boots come in. You can buy a camoflauge hip boot set from L.L. Bean, or find an appropriate set at any fine sporting goods store near you. But I promise you this — you're going to need 'em by November.

Sixty-eight days and counting.

Posted by tbrown at 05:06 PM


August 20, 2004

Pump watch

From Reuters:

Oil prices raced to fresh highs on Friday, carrying U.S. crude over $49 a barrel, driven by escalating violence in Iraq and unabated demand growth from China and India.

U.S. light crude set a record $49.27 a barrel, up 57 cents and has risen $12 a barrel, more than 30 percent, since the end of June. Prices have set records in all but one of the last 16 trading sessions.

Expect higher gasoline prices shortly. Oil prices are nowhere near the $80 per barrel level (adjusted for inflation) they reached in the early 1980s. But they could get there.

And in the longer run, the increased energy demands of the developing world – not the endemic violence in the Middle East – will spell the end, forever, to cheap oil. This is going to come as a profound shock to Americans, and it could happen rather quickly. I plan to write more on this soon. Until then, here's a piece that outlines what's going on in China.

Posted by tbrown at 01:22 PM


Torpedoed

Last week, conservatives were clamoring for the mainstream media to pay attention to the allegations in the Swift Boat Veterans for Bush, er, Truth ad. Now that they have, they're whining about that, too. The truth? They can't handle the truth.

From today's New York Times (free site registration may be required):

A series of interviews and a review of documents show a web of connections to the Bush family, high-profile Texas political figures and President Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove.

…

… on close examination, the accounts of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth prove to be riddled with inconsistencies. In many cases, material offered as proof by these veterans is undercut by official Navy records and the men's own statements.

Several of those now declaring Mr. Kerry "unfit" had lavished praise on him, some as recently as last year.

In an unpublished interview in March 2003 with Mr. Kerry's authorized biographer, Douglas Brinkley, provided by Mr. Brinkley to The New York Times, Roy F. Hoffmann, a retired rear admiral and a leader of the group, allowed that he had disagreed with Mr. Kerry's antiwar positions but said, "I am not going to say anything negative about him." He added, "He's a good man."

In a profile of the candidate that ran in The Boston Globe in June 2003, Mr. Hoffmann approvingly recalled the actions that led to Mr. Kerry's Silver Star: "It took guts, and I admire that."

George Elliott, one of the Vietnam veterans in the group, flew from his home in Delaware to Boston in 1996 to stand up for Mr. Kerry during a tough re-election fight, declaring at a news conference that the action that won Mr. Kerry a Silver Star was "an act of courage." At that same event, Adrian L. Lonsdale, another Vietnam veteran now speaking out against Mr. Kerry, supported him with a statement about the "bravado and courage of the young officers that ran the Swift boats."

"Senator Kerry was no exception," Mr. Lonsdale told the reporters and cameras assembled at the Charlestown Navy Yard. "He was among the finest of those Swift boat drivers."

Those comments echoed the official record. In an evaluation of Mr. Kerry in 1969, Mr. Elliott, who was one of his commanders, ranked him as "not exceeded" in 11 categories, including moral courage, judgment and decisiveness, and "one of the top few" - the second-highest distinction - in the remaining five. In written comments, he called Mr. Kerry "unsurpassed," "beyond reproach" and "the acknowledged leader in his peer group."

Then last night, there was Chris Matthews' "Hardball," whose shouting heads usually put me in a stupor. Not this time. Watching Matthews demolish Larry Thurlow's tissue of fabrications – particularly his bizarre assertion that Kerry had a "plan" to win medals so he could go home a hero (which for the Purple Heart requires a wound, and for the Bronze and Silver stars requires exceptional courage) – reminded me that once in a while TV still manages to do something right.

MATTHEWS: Can you honestly tell me now, sir, that you could swear in open court that you know that John Kerry, when he was a lieutenant JG in the same theater you were in had some plan for winning medals? Do you know that for a fact?

THURLOW: OK. In other words, present evidence that he had this plan?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

THURLOW: Of course, I couldn‘t.

But he'll keep saying it as long as anyone will listen. Read the transcript. It's interesting.

Posted by tbrown at 01:19 PM


August 19, 2004

Dueling ads

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad questioning John Kerry's actions in Vietnam is getting the thorough dissection it deserves, and isn't holding up well. Among the basic problems are that these vets did not serve on Kerry's boat (as their ad leads you to believe they did), make many unverifiable assertions and on facts are contradicted by Navy records.

Don't take my word for it. Visit FactCheck.org, which dissects ads from both parties. Here's how FactCheck begins its analysis:

A group funded by the biggest Republican campaign donor in Texas began running an attack ad Aug. 5 in which former Swift Boat veterans claim Kerry lied to get one of his two decorations for bravery and two of his three purple hearts.

But the veterans who accuse Kerry are contradicted by Kerry's former crewmen, and by Navy records.

The Washington Post reported today (free site registration may be required) that Larry Thurlow, one of Kerry's chief Swift Boat critics, is contradicted by his own Navy records, some of which the Post obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. From the Post:

Last month, Thurlow swore in an affidavit that Kerry was "not under fire" when he fished Lt. James Rassmann out of the water. He described Kerry's Bronze Star citation, which says that all units involved came under "small arms and automatic weapons fire," as "totally fabricated."

"I never heard a shot," Thurlow said in his affidavit, which was released by Swift Boats Veterans for Truth. The group claims the backing of more than 250 Vietnam veterans, including a majority of Kerry's fellow boat commanders.

A document recommending Thurlow for the Bronze Star noted that all his actions "took place under constant enemy small arms fire which LTJG THURLOW completely ignored in providing immediate assistance" to the disabled boat and its crew. The citation states that all other units in the flotilla also came under fire.

"It's like a Hollywood presentation here, which wasn't the case," Thurlow said last night after being read the full text of his Bronze Star citation. "My personal feeling was always that I got the award for coming to the rescue of the boat that was mined. This casts doubt on anybody's awards. It is sickening and disgusting."

Yeah, whatever. It is, however, part of the official record.

The swifties also, and most tellingly, are contradicted by Lt. Jim Rassmann, the Green Beret who credits John Kerry with saving his life under enemy fire. "He risked his life to save mine," Rassmann, a Republican, says in a new ad for Kerry, which you can view here.

Kerry has disassociated himself from this ad by MoveOn.org, which questions President Bush's record in the Texas National Guard during the Vietnam war. It would be nice if Bush would distance himself from the Swift Boat crowd. But I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by tbrown at 02:18 PM


How to read polls

Kevin Drum has a brief, useful, to the point post on how to figure out the probabilities presented by poll results, and even includes both a table and a tiny spreadsheet file you can copy for your own purposes.

Posted by tbrown at 02:14 PM


August 18, 2004

Who's undecided?

Not many of you, according to the polls I'm reading. Here in Washington state, according to the national polling company SurveyUSA, a mere 2 percent of likely voters have yet to decide who they'll give their presidential vote. Same thing in California. With John Kerry ahead of President Bush by 8 points in Washington and 11 in California, the presidential campaign – barring such potential decision-changing shocks as a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 -- could be about over in these two left coast states.

Not so elsewhere, however.

Charlie Cook, a respected D.C. analyst and columnist for the National Journal, says 10 states are still too close to call, and that a relative handful of undecided voters in those states will determine the outcome in November.

At this point, there remains 10 states that are too close to call: Florida with 27 electoral votes, Iowa (7), Minnesota (10), Missouri (11), Nevada (5), New Hampshire (4), New Mexico (5), Ohio (20), Pennsylvania (21) and Wisconsin (10). While too close to call, these states are not necessarily dead even. In Pennsylvania, President Bush, after holding a consistent lead over Kerry, finally slipped behind last month, but not far enough to warrant moving it into the "Lean Kerry" column. The same case exists in Florida, where a recent poll by a Republican firm for a private client put Kerry up by four points, but no one believes that the state is anything but a toss up. In Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Mexico, Kerry seems to be up by a bit, but again not quite enough to move those into the Kerry column. Bush is ahead in Missouri, but it's a close call as to whether the lead is big enough to justify moving it into the "Lean Bush" column.

In adding up all the electoral votes that are in the safe and lean columns for each candidate, President Bush has a tight 211 to 207 lead in the Electoral College. Bush also has 120 votes in the toss up column. However, if you pushed each of the 10 toss up states to Kerry -- who seems to be ahead by a slight margin -- he would come out on top.

Which leaves the outcome squarely in the hands of undecided voters Nov. 2. The number of undecided varies from poll to poll, but it is in single digits in the national polls, with 5 to 8 percent a common range, and similar slim slices of the electorate exist in most individual states.

Gallup says its polling shows that in the last few weeks Bush has consolidated his lead in the so-called "red" states he won last time and, more significantly, has edged closer in some key battleground states:

The shift has been slight, to be sure, from a situation in which Bush was down by eight points to a situation in which he is down by three points. And, changes in the ballot within broad state groupings can be misleading. A candidate can gain overall among the group of swing states and not gain in terms of electoral votes if all gains are in one or two large states. The gains need to be distributed across specific states such that these states tip from one candidate to the other.

Still, above all else, the current data suggest that the race is quite close in competitive states. Gore received 49% of the vote in these same showdown states in 2000, compared with Bush's 48%. So Kerry is in roughly the same position that Gore was in four years ago. The battle for the electoral votes in several of these states in 2000 was, of course, extremely close, and the 2000 election in the final analysis hinged on just thousands of votes in states such as Florida, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Iowa, and Oregon. The data we have now suggest that the possibility for such razor-thin margins exists again this year.

In an election between a well-known incumbent and a challenger, however, it is rare for a majority of undecided voters to go for the incumbent. As Cook explains,

Keep in mind two important factors: First, when an elected president is seeking re-election, the contest is a referendum on the incumbent far more than it is a competition between candidates. Second, undecided voters historically have broken heavily against well-known, well-defined incumbents. This has proven true on the congressional, senatorial, gubernatorial and presidential level. That's the origin of the phrase in politics for incumbents, "what you see is what you get" -- you get pretty much the percentage on Election Day that the last round of polls indicate that you will get, while the undecided vote goes elsewhere.

Furthermore, Cook says, according to AP/Ipsos national polls of registered voters from April through early August,

While 49 percent of all registered voters approve of Bush's overall job as president, another 49 percent disapprove. Among just the undecided voters, only 25 percent approve, and 68 percent disapprove. Those are very ugly numbers for an incumbent. Not surprisingly, this pool of undecided voters tend to be disproportionately more Democrat than Republican, with 43 percent identifying themselves as Democrats, 32 percent as independents and only 25 percent as Republicans.

With 75 days until election day, in what still looks like a potential replay of 2000 in terms of closeness, the one critical factor that Bush and Kerry can control is the quality of their campaigns. In my book, this is where Bush has a clear edge. He doesn't have much of a message, but at least it's understandable. Kerry needs to do some hard work in this area in order to prevail.

Posted by tbrown at 12:34 PM


August 17, 2004

The stakes in Najaf

The battle against Muqtada al-Sadr's militia in the holy city of Najaf, spearheaded by U.S. forces, is a high-stakes encounter for the U.S. The city is one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam, and our troops are viewed by some Iraqis as infidel desecrators. This has led a reported 3,000 Iraqi civilians to enter the shrine of Imam Ali, the key site in the city, as human shields. How this confrontation plays out may well help define the U.S. effort in Iraq for a long time to come.

Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor and Middle East expert who also writes a widely respected blog, answered readers questions online at The Washington Post's Web site today (free registration may be required). It's an illuminating read. Here are some snips.

Muqtada [al-Sadr] wants an Iran-style government in Iraq, and is a follower of the ideas of Ayatollah Khomeini. He is also a strong Iraqi nationalist and finds foreign, Christian Occupation impossible to accept. Obviously, he cannot get a Shiite-dominated, clerical theocracy in Iraq as long as the Americans are occupying the country. So he has to try to get them out first. I think his dedication to an independent Iraq is primary, since he is risking his life for it. If he only wanted power, he would operate more carefully so as to ensure he was alive to get it.

…

No, I don't think Iran is behind the Sadr movement or the Mahdi militia. It is a homegrown phenomenon, springing from the Shiite Iraqi ghettoes. Actually the Sadr movement are very critical of Iranian dominance of Iraqi Shiism. The Iranians probably give Muqtada some money and supplies, but they give money to all major Iraqi factions-- Ahmad Chalabi, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Kurds, etc. They seem to want to make sure that whoever comes out on top has reason to be grateful to them.

…

I think that if the Shrine of Ali in Najaf (it is not just a mosque) is stormed by Iraqi troops or by Americans, the effects will be horrible for everyone. Shiites all over the world are already enraged by what the US military has done to the sacred cemetery. We had a demonstration here in Dearborn, Michigan, by Iraqi Shiites who used to support the Bush administration policies toward Iraq. I think the Allawi caretaker government has undermined itself and will be completely shot if it takes this step. And I think Americans will suffer for years to come from the rage of Shiites. The shrine of Ali is a very major thing in people's spiritual lives there and they feel it is being desecrated.

High stakes indeed. Here's an update on today's events.

Posted by tbrown at 12:13 PM


Terror arrests in Britain

The Brits charged eight men with conspiracy to commit murder and other terrorist offenses today and a ninth with possession of a prohibited weapon. Some of the men were charged with possessing detailed information about the major U.S. financial institutions determined to be possible targets following arrests earlier last month in Pakistan.

There also was concern over a possible new terror plot that could have been hatched at a "terrorist summit" in Pakistan.

Posted by tbrown at 12:10 PM


Kerry's war record

The L.A. Times (free site registration may be required) has a good wrapup of the flap over the allegations lodged by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth – 13 men who didn't serve under John Kerry but who claim, nonetheless, that he's lying about at least some details of his Vietnam service. The ad the group is running in Ohio, Wisconsin and West Virginia is, to put it politely, at least as inaccurate as anything Kerry has said, but it clearly has the Kerry campaign worried.

Posted by tbrown at 12:09 PM


Movies – liberal answer to talk radio?

Have movies become the liberal answer to right-wing talk radio? Maybe, says Political Animal Kevin Drum, who lines up a pretty extensive list of flicks that are unlikely to do George Bush any good.

Posted by tbrown at 12:07 PM


August 16, 2004

While I was gone …

Vacations are great, as those lazy Europeans know. I spent much of mine on our boat in the Canadian Gulf Islands. Eighty-five degree days. Cool nights lit by the bright trails of the Perseid meteor shower. Bobbing porpoises. Soaring eagles. No wave higher than a foot. No Iraq. No Bush. No Kerry. Sublime.

But, of course, all those things vacation makes remote are waiting when one returns. So we have some catching up to do. Today, the high points. Later, more detail.

The New Iraq: same as the old one?

The tenuous grip on power of the Iraqi government of Ayad Alawi, to which we have so tightly bound ourselves, is daily revealed by the renewed uprising by Moktada al-Sadr in Najaf, the unpopular U.S. assault on his positions there, and the political fallout in Baghdad and elsewhere.

John Burns of The New York Times sums it up in a piece today on how the conference on Iraqi elections in Baghdad disintegrated in the face of outrage about the fighting in Najaf (free site registration may be required).

In many ways, the scene seemed like a metaphor for America's problems in Iraq, with the rebel attacks that have spread to virtually every Sunni and Shiite town across this country of 25 million threatening to overwhelm plans for three rounds of national elections next year, ending with a fully elected government in January 2006.

Just as American troops in Najaf have failed so far to quell an uprising by a rebel Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, so on Sunday's showing here, American political plans for Iraq remain hostage to the violence that has made much of the country enemy territory for the Americans.

David Broder gives up on Bush

You know President Bush – or any other incumbent – is in deep trouble when David Broder, The Washington Post political columnist who's been on the beat for decades, throws in the towel on him, as he did in his column Sunday.

Plame update

Five reporters subpoenaed by the federal prosecutor investigating the leak of the identity of CIA covert agent Valerie Plame. This investigation appears to be reaching its climactic stage: federal prosecutors do not routinely subpoena reporters because a) it generates bad press for them, and b) long-standing policies require them to exhaust other remedies before hauling newsies before grand juries. The prosecutor has kept a tight lid on what's happening in this case, and it remains unclear whether he'll seek indictments of the two "senior administration officials" cited by columnist Robert Novak in the piece in which he triggered this furor. But subpoenaing reporters indicates he does plan to turn over all the available rocks, which will give him political cover if he concludes no prosecutable crime occurred.

Yes, brains matter

This should be self-evident, but it hasn't been. Being a successful president demands brains. Bush isn't up to the task, and blogger Matthew Yglesias details the consequences.

Intelligence matters. The job of the president of the United States is not to love his wife; it’s to manage a wide range of complicated issues. That requires character, yes, but not the kind of character measured by private virtues like fidelity to spouse and frequency of quotations from Scripture. Yet it also requires intelligence. It requires intellectual curiosity, an ability to familiarize oneself with a broad range of views, the capacity -- yes -- to grasp nuances, to foresee the potential ramifications of one’s decisions, and, simply, to think things through. Four years ago, these were not considered necessary pieces of presidential equipment. Today, they have to be.

If brains don't matter, here's your write-in

Barbie is running for president on a platform that could have been written by any of a number of Seattle City Council members.

Posted by tbrown at 12:43 PM




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Debating the wrong war
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