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March 5, 2004 | 10:14 AM ET

TV ADS AND THE WAR

Various anti-Bush folks are complaining about the way the new Bush TV ads invoke 9/11.  You can watch them yourself, and make up your own mind, here.  Meanwhile, I think James Lileks has it right as usual:

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It’s called running on one’s record. They get to do that. But now people who were secretly relieved that Bush was in the White House after 9/11 are complaining that Bush is reminding us . . . that he was in the White House after 9/11. . . .
By this logic, FDR should have run his '44 campaign on his domestic agenda.

Lileks also offers his idea of what a really tough TV ad on the war would look like:

“Some say that we shouldn’t haven’t invaded Iraq. Even after the discovery of mass graves. Even after the realization that the UN’s Food-for-Oil program diverted billions to Saddam’s pockets. Even after seeing how the terrorists have poured into Iraq to make a last desperate stand against freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Some say we should have listened to our allies.” A stock shot of Marcel Marceau in full-mime makeup, pretending to be trapped in a box. “Some people are a little too worried about what the waiter will think the next time they take a trip to Paris.” Shot of a Kerry lookalike in a bistro, saying “No, really, I’m Canadian.”
Reality check.  That’s a cruel mean harsh nasty ad.

He's got more -- read the whole thing.  Will we see ads like those?  Probably not.  But politics ain't beanbag.  And the people who have been calling Bush an American Hitler, charging him with "deserting" from the National Guard, and accusing him of waging war just to enrich Halliburton, won't have any room to complain if the airwaves fill with nastiness.

March 4, 2004 | 10:53 PM ET

"OPTIMISTIC" ABOUT KERRY?

An article on the lefty Web site Alternet offers reasons for Democrats to be "optimistic" about Kerry.  One of them is that "The war in Iraq is going poorly."

This seems to be wrong on the facts -- Al Qaeda and Baa'thist leaders have been rounded up in large numbers, U.S. casualties are down, and Al Qaeda has redirected its efforts toward killing fellow Muslims in the hopes of stirring up sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites, which they hope will get Iraqi Sunnis to take their side instead of viewing them as foreign interlopers.  (This is producing a rather unfavorable reaction from Iraqis.)

But the spirit behind this "optimism" is revealing -- the idea that the war is going badly is a reason to be "optimistic."  And I suppose it is, if you think that getting rid of George Bush is more important than, you know, winning the war.  And the evidence is that for an unfortunately large minority of Democrats, that's where the priority lies.

That's a recipe for disaster, of course, electoral and otherwise, and more sensible Democrats know that.  The problem is that the Democratic nominee -- pretty much sure to be Kerry -- will have to deal with the baggage that the "Hurray!  We're losing!" crowd represents.  That places an extra burden on Kerry if he's to prove himself acceptable on national security grounds.  So far, he's not there, though he's offering a few reasons for, er, optimism. 

Kerry's Super Tuesday victory speech contained only one specific on national security, and it's not too specific:

We will rejoin the community of nations and renew our alliances because that is essential to final victory in the war on terror.

I'm not sure what this means -- next time we won't go to war unless the French allow it?  Hard to believe that's what Kerry meant, since he's okay with unilateralism in circumstances that are far less central to American security, saying about Haiti:

"I would intervene with the international community, and absent an international force, I'd do it unilaterally," he said, adding the most important thing was to protect democracy.

There's a lot more democracy in Iraq than there was before Saddam fell, which makes me wonder what the difference is -- besides the fact that Bush went in "unilaterally" to Iraq, except for a bunch of other countries like Britain, Australia, Spain, Poland, Japan, etc. who apparently don't count because they're not France or Germany.

Kerry's big National Security speech, given just a few days before that statement, looks a bit better.  There are some good proposals -- more linguists, more troops, better port security -- and, right up front, a generic, but somewhat reassuring statement that Kerry will use military force when necessary.

But how will he decide when it's necessary?  Like Kerry's Super Tuesday speech, the concrete list of proposals accompanying this speech seems to suggest that Kerry sees the war on terrorism as primarily a diplomatic and law-enforcement task, with occasional military involvement.  (This sounds like a somewhat beefed-up version of the Clinton approach.)  But what's missing is the big picture.  Perhaps that means that Kerry essentially agrees with the underlying Bush philosophy (as expressed, say, in the Bush "Three Pillars" speech) and merely thinks we need more troops, linguists, and port security.  I hope that's right, but I'll need to hear more before I'm convinced.

The full text of Kerry's national security speech is a bit more comprehensive than the press release linked above would suggest, enough so that Kerry ought to be unhappy with his PR guys.  Kerry doesn't give Bush credit where it's due -- for things like Libya's abandonment of its surprisingly advanced nuclear program -- but that's OK, he's the challenger.  Shorn of that predictable stuff, his speech is essentially a promise to do more than Bush is doing.

As David Adesnik at Oxblog notices, something interesting about Kerry's speech is that he seems to be promising to be, well, more violent than Bush:

What Kerry is saying is that whereas George Bush was afraid to sacrifice American lives in order to capture Osama bin Laden, John Kerry has the authority to order such a sacrifice because of his record as a war hero.

John Kerry -- the War Hawk candidate?  Some people seem to think so.  I wish I believed that, but it seems a bit inconsistent with other things he's said.

Kerry has a record of flip-flops -- as Michael Grunwald writes in Slate, "If you don't like the Democratic nominee's views, just wait a week."  (Don't miss Grunwald's handy comparison-chart on Kerry positions past and present).  So which Kerry will we get if he's elected?  Kerry the Hawk, or Kerry the Dove?  It's a good question, and I'm not sure that Kerry himself knows the answer yet.  Hopefully, we'll all know before the election.

• March 3, 2004 | 8:30 PM ET

WHAT IT'S ABOUT

John Kerry has the nomination basically locked up.  That has some pundits already desperately trying to come up with ways to keep the eight months until the November election interesting.

But while people are doing that, it's worth thinking about what the election is all about. There are a lot of issues, but the war is the issue that will decide things for me. I'd like to have enough confidence in how Kerry would handle the war to take that question off the table, and give me the luxury of basing my vote on things like biotech policy.  But Kerry isn't giving me much to work with there, and he seems to see the war on terrorism as essentially a law-enforcement strategy. Our enemies have taken note.  As James Lileks writes:

Let's just be blunt: The North Koreans would love to see John Kerry win the election. The mullahs of Iran would love it. The Syrian Ba'athists would sigh with relief. Every enemy of America would take great satisfaction if the electorate rejects the Bush doctrine and scuttles back to hide under the U.N. Security Council's table. It's a hard question, but the right one: Which candidate does our enemy want to lose? George W. Bush.

I think that's right.  Now that he's got the nomination under control, Kerry will move to the center.  He's already talking tougher.  If he's elected, I hope he'll walk the walk, as well as talk the talk,  But I don't have much hope.  So far, he's waffled, and shown himself inadequate to the task.  And just listen to his excuse for voting for the war that he's since criticized -- he thought that Bush was lying, but instead Bush was so underhanded that he told the truth!  As Debra Saunders reports:

Kerry's answer was that Washington insiders believed that Bush didn't mean what he said. "I think that you had a hard-line group (then Pentagon adviser) Richard Perle, (Deputy Defense Secretary) Paul Wolfowitz and probably (Vice President Dick) Cheney. But when Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker (former advisers to the first President Bush) weighed in, very publicly in op-eds in the New York Times and the (Washington) Post, the chatter around Washington and (Secretary of State Colin) Powell in particular, who was very much of a different school of thought, was really that the president hadn't made up his mind. He was looking for an out. That's what a lot of people thought."

What about what Bush said to the U.N.? That was "rhetorical," Kerry answered. And "a whole bunch of very smart legitimate people" not running for president thought as he did. "So most people, actually on the inside, really felt that (Bush) himself was looking for the way out to sort of satisfy Cheney, satisfy Wolfowitz, but not get stuck." Kerry continued, "The fact that he jumped and went the other way, I think, shocked them and shocked us."
So Kerry was "misled" because he believed that Bush didn't mean what Bush said.
Talk about your dirty tricks ...

Bush said he was prepared to go to war, and Kerry didn't believe him, acted in accordance with that disbelief -- and wound up complaining that he was hornswoggled.

Now consider this: Islamist terrorists repeatedly say that their plan is to conquer the world for their faith, and bring all the unbelievers to heel. And in particular, they say they want to kill as many Americans as possible along the way.
Will Kerry disbelieve them, too?

March 1, 2004 | 3:53 PM ET

ACTING VS. SINCERITY

It's all about acting, today:  First, I have a column over at TechCentralStation savaging the Bush Administration for stacking its Presidential Bioethics Council with people who oppose advanced biotechnology.  (How stacked is it?  I call it the Carmen Electra of the Executive branch.")

This has been a problem for a while, but it's getting worse, not better. The end result is that the Bush Administration's pronouncements on these issues are likely to lack credibility -- at least, saying "the Bioethics Council approves" won't mean anything since it's full of people who think alike, and hold similar antitechnology positions. The Bush Administration is acting like it's seriously considering the issues here, but in reality it has already made up its mind.

Meanwhile, I skipped the Oscars last night and if you were smart, so did you.  But you can read about them on the blog of Hollywood screenwriter Roger Simon.  (And rock-star-like law professor Randy Barnett, who guest-blogged for me here last summer, was hanging out with Elton John and Clint Eastwood the night before.)

But the real Hollywood news is that, despite their frequent moral posturing, Hollywood stars are often dreadful human beings. OK, that's not really the news. The real news is just how dreadful.  I wrote a blurb for Andrew Breitbart and Mark Ebner's new book, "Hollywood, Interrupted", which meant that I read it.  I learned a lot of things about Hollywood stars that I'd rather not know.  (You can read more about the book, and the phenomenon of "insanity chic" that has overtaken Hollywood, here. And here is the book's website, with more links and reviews.)

Actors were, until quite recently, regarded as no more than one or two steps above the criminal class. Reading this book, I wonder if the change in perceptions was justified....

There is one thing I'd like to know about actors, though.  In this  New York Times article about Saddam's bribery and kickbacks in relation to the "oil for food" program, we learn:

"In the high-flying days after Iraq was allowed to sell its oil after 10 years of United Nations sanctions, the lobby of the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad was the place to be to get a piece of the action.
"That was where the oil traders would gather whenever a journalist, actor or political figure would arrive in Iraq and openly praise Mr. Hussein. Experience taught them that the visitor usually returned to the hotel with a gift voucher, courtesy of the Iraqi president or one of his aides, representing the right to buy one million barrels or more of Iraqi crude."

I'd like to know: which actors?  (And, for that matter, which journalists and political figures?)  Perhaps the Times will name names in a future installment.

I'd like to say that this surprises me.  But it doesn't.  What does surprise me is that anyone still looks at actors as role models.  Perhaps Breitbart and Ebner's book will help to alleviate that problem, at least a bit.

Feb 26, 2004 | 3:53 PM ET

MORE ON OUTSOURCING

I've looked at outsourcing from both sides now, and still somehow I don't think I'm getting the full picture.  But here are some more articles on the subject, so that you can form your own opinions.  First, I have a column over at TechCentralStation on outsourcing and how service jobs, though often despised as superficial, can sometimes be interchangeable with "real" manufacturing jobs.  It was inspired by this essay on the subject by Virginia Postrel, from Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

Meanwhile, Tom Friedman has a column in today's New York Times that argues that outsourcing actually creates jobs in America:

"How can it be good for America to have all these Indians doing our white-collar jobs?" I asked 24/7's founder, S. Nagarajan.
Well, he answered patiently, "look around this office." All the computers are from Compaq. The basic software is from Microsoft. The phones are from Lucent. The air-conditioning is by Carrier, and even the bottled water is by Coke, because when it comes to drinking water in India, people want a trusted brand. On top of all this, says Mr. Nagarajan, 90 percent of the shares in 24/7 are owned by U.S. investors. This explains why, although the U.S. has lost some service jobs to India, total exports from U.S. companies to India have grown from $2.5 billion in 1990 to $4.1 billion in 2002. What goes around comes around, and also benefits Americans.

Let's hope.  Today, Virginia has another column arguing that internal free trade has made the United States rich, and that global free trade will do the same thing for the world.  Again, let's hope.

That, of course, hasn't stopped some people from denouncing the process -- and doing it all the way to the bank:

Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, frequently calls companies and chief executives "Benedict Arnolds" if they move jobs and operations overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
But Kerry has accepted money and fundraising assistance from top executives at companies that fit the candidate's description of a notorious traitor of the American Revolution.
Executives and employees at such companies have contributed more than $140,000 to Kerry's presidential campaign, a review of his donor records shows. Additionally, two of Kerry's biggest fundraisers, who together have raised more than $400,000 for the candidate, are top executives at investment firms that helped set up companies in the world's best-known offshore tax havens.

Hey, he's keeping the money in the country!  At least until they start outsourcing political jobs.  Then, all of a sudden, you'll see a lot of interest in outlawing the practice for real, and nobody will care whether it's good for the economy or not. . . .

Feb 25, 2004 | 12:25 AM ET

GAY MARRIAGE

Well, the gay marriage debate has heated up, with President Bush coming out in favor of an amendment to the Constitution that would ban gay marriage, though it's not clear what he means by that.  From reading his statement, it sounds to me as if he wants to constitutionalize the Defense of Marriage Act, a Clinton-era law that says states don't have to recognize gay marriages from other states under the Constitution's Full Faith and Credit provision.  Here's what Bush said:

Those who want to change the meaning of marriage will claim that this provision requires all states and cities to recognize same-sex marriages performed anywhere in America. Congress attempted to address this problem in the Defense of Marriage Act, by declaring that no state must accept another state's definition of marriage. My administration will vigorously defend this act of Congress.
Yet there is no assurance that the Defense of Marriage Act will not, itself, be struck down by activist courts. In that event, every state would be forced to recognize any relationship that judges in Boston or officials in San Francisco choose to call a marriage. Furthermore, even if the Defense of Marriage Act is upheld, the law does not protect marriage within any state or city.
For all these reasons, the Defense of Marriage requires a constitutional amendment.

This is underscored by Press Secretary Scott McClellan's statement that:

"No, no, he said that states have the right to enter into their own legal arrangements."

There is some stuff about marriage being a union of a man and a woman, but it sounds like that doesn't limit the states, though I could be wrong.  But I don't see how. 

If states are free to make their own arrangements, then there are two possibilities:  they're free on everything, or they're free on everything but the name.  The latter seems rather silly, and also rather trivial.  (And whatever the law says, most people are going to call it marriage.)  A constitutional limitation on marriage as being between men and women might prevent federally-recognized marriage benefits from going to gay couples -- but only until Congress decides to grant the same benefits to gay couples by statute directly.  That's a barrier, but not one that goes beyond the Defense of Marriage Act, which already does that, and which is subject to change by a later statute. 

In other words, the current rule under DOMA can be defeated by a statute.  And after an amendment, we'd have . . . a rule that can be defeated by a statute.  So -- bearing in mind that I haven't seen the text, and neither has anyone else, because there isn't one yet -- this doesn't seem like it does a whole lot.

If I'm right about what Bush is proposing, this is really much ado about nothing.  It seems to be widely agreed already that states don't have to recognize each others' marriages under the Full Faith and Credit clause.  What's more, the Defense of Marriage Act already provides the same thing.  Which means that we're talking about a constitutional amendment to constitutionalize a statute that recognized the constitutional status quo.

Since Bush hasn't endorsed any specific language, all we have to go on now is the two statements I've linked above.  But there seems to be much less to them than the media attention suggests:  States are still free to adopt gay marriage if they want, perhaps subject to the rule that they call it something else, officially.  And they're still free to decide whether or not to recognize other states' gay marriages.  I hope that they'll do both, but it's not clear to me that this amendment will make any difference.

That said, I'm still against it, just as I was against the Defense of Marriage Act that Bill Clinton signed.  I know plenty of gay people who are, for all practical purposes, married.  I don't see what's wrong with them getting married.  I don't understand how letting gay people get married threatens heterosexual marriage (here's an amusing post on that subject).  And, in fact, I suspect that to the extent it makes any difference at all in the wider society, gay marriage will prove to be a fundamentally conservative institution, with married gays taking the role of solid citizens that married people have traditionally taken.

I'm also against it because I don't believe in amending the Constitution easily, and I don't think that this is an issue that ought to be constitutionalized.  But I wonder why there's so much confusion on this subject, when the real news here seems to be that Bush supports leaving things exactly as they are. 

Feb 23, 2004 | 10:29 PM ET

WHERE'S THE BEEF?

Yesterday I remarked that the war in Iraq must be going well, or John Kerry wouldn't be spending all his time talking about Vietnam.

I guess most everything else must be going well, too, because he talks about Vietnam a lot.  Eisenhower didn't talk about winning World War II as much as Kerry talks about losing in Vietnam.

This is leading to questions of the "where's the beef" variety.  As Mickey Kaus notes:

I give Kerry points for his Vietnam service. But since it (along with some plug-n-play Shrum rhetoric) is almost the entirety of his campaign for president, can it really be true that he hasn't authorized release of his military records?

Forget the military-records issue -- odds are that this will turn out to be as much of a nonstory as the Bush military-records issue -- but Kaus is right about Kerry's program.  Except for the "I'll fight for you" soundbites, Kerry doesn't have much to say of substance, which I suppose is why he keeps talking about Vietnam.  To me, this is getting a bit old, since I was in elementary school back then, and have listened to baby boomers obsess about it ever since.  Nor am I the only one to feel this way. As military blogger LT Smash writes:

Can we get back to the issues at hand now? I have to say, as a member of “Generation X,” that this constant replay of the hot-button issues from the early 1970’s is getting very tiresome.  For me, the most important issues of the time were diaper training and learning to tie my shoes.

Yes.  But there's one issue that Kerry is talking about a bit:  trade.

Kerry's making a big deal -- as I predicted candidates would, both here and elsewhere many months ago -- about outsourcing and job loss.  Fair enough, it's an important subject, and lots of people are unhappy about it, either because they've lost their jobs to offshore workers or because they're afraid that they will.  But although Kerry talks about this subject, he doesn't offer much in the way of solutions.  Even NPR, generally friendly to Democrats, characterizes his positions on global trade and employment as inconsequential.

I don't blame Kerry for that, exactly.  As you know if you've read the pieces I've written here, it's a tough problem.  When jobs move overseas, poor people there get work that -- let's be honest -- probably does more to improve their lives than the loss of it hurts Americans.  They're just more desperate.  You'd think that the Left, which is supposed to be for redistibuting wealth from those who have more to those who have less, would be pleased, but apparently not.

But even if you don't care about starving people abroad, what do you do about it?  The NPR story notes that Kerry admits he can't really do anything if he's elected, and that most experts think that the policies he suggests would make little or no difference.  (It's not even clear that Kerry's claim that "tax loopholes" encourage businesses to move overseas is true.)

What's more, Kerry is to some degree running against his own record here.  He has generally been a free-trader, having "supported every trade agreement during his years in Congress."  That's admirable if you're for free trade (I am) but it limits his room to maneuver on this issue.  Going beyond substantive proposals, well, I guess Kerry could at least offer to feel Americans' pain -- but we've already been down that road with a different President, and Kerry doesn't have the personality to be a good pain-feeler anyway.  If  feeling our pain is the test, former trial lawyer John Edwards wins hands-down.  So what's left?

Say, did you know Kerry served in Vietnam?

Feb 22, 2004 | 8:59 PM ET

EXPERTS AGREE:  WAR GOING WELL!

I've written here repeatedly that things are going better in Iraq than anti-war critics have been claiming, and that the whole WMD issue is overblown.  This, strangely, has caused some people to call me a Republican shill, along with other, meaner names.  That's okay.  I'm a lawyer and we have thick skin.

But don't listen to me, listen to top Senate Democrat Tom Daschle (D-SD):

Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., on Thursday praised the Bush administration's war and nation-building work in Iraq and said he has no serious concerns about the lack of weapons of mass destruction.
Daschle told state chamber of commerce representatives meeting in the South Dakota capital that he is satisfied with the way things are going in Iraq.
"I give the effort overall real credit," Daschle said. "It is a good thing Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. It is a good thing we are democratizing the country."
He said he is not upset about the debate over pre-war intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, an issue that has dogged President Bush as Democratic presidential contenders have slogged through the primary season.

Neither am I!  And how (er, besides the above) do I know that things are going well in Iraq?  Because if they weren't, Presidential candidate John Kerry wouldn't be so anxious to talk about Vietnam instead.

Back in 1992, George H.W. Bush's record of heroic military service didn't stop Democratic opponents from calling him a "wimp" for his waffling on policy issues.  John Kerry is fooling himself if he thinks that talking about Vietnam will buy him a pass on important issues today.  Kerry's going to have to find something solid to say about this war.  Will he position himself to the left of Tom Daschle?

Feb 18, 2004 | 11:43 PM ET

HOWARD'S END AND THE INTERNET IN POLITICS

Yeah, everybody's using that pun.  But I can't help myself any more than they can.  Howard Dean's campaign is over, and there's a fair amount of talk about What It All Means.

I think it means that the Internet is a powerful tool, but no tool is better than the hand that holds it.  Dean was always an unlikely candidate:  a short, obscure governor of a small state, with no national experience of note.  So one way of looking at it is that the Internet is a tool that can enable an unlikely candidate to raise $40 million and become, for a while, the front-runner.  That's no small thing when you consider that Dick Gephardt, a longtime national figure with lots of labor support and a well-oiled midwestern machine, did a lot worse.

The other way of looking at things, of course, is that the Internet hurt Dean:  the campaign got so busy playing to its Internet supporters (which was easy, fun, and lucrative) that it forgot to talk to actual voters.  I don't think this is really true -- Dean spent a lot of money on TV ads -- but it's certainly a danger.

People other than Howard Dean are certainly still finding the Internet useful for fundraising.  But then they use the money to buy TV ads, just like Dean did.  For the foreseeable future (which means, er, this election cycle) I think the Internet will be more important for primaries than for the general election.  The Internet is a good tool for organizing and energizing interested and like-minded people -- which is very important in primaries -- but it's not so good at wholesale targeting of  the not-very-interested people (otherwise known as "undecideds" or "swing voters") who tend to decide national elections these days. 

For candidates, the Internet will be about keeping their base energized, and, yes, raising money.  For independent bloggers, it'll be about fact-checking the candidates and Big Media.

The Internet has surely played a big role in keeping things interesting, in no small part because of its boosting of the Howard Dean candidacy.  The good news for political junkies is that this will continue to be the most interesting election in many years.

Feb 17, 2004 | 4:05 PM ET

MEDIA BIAS

People are always talking about media bias, and usually it's dismissed as a mere issue of perception.  So it was interesting to see the folks at ABC News' political blog, The Note, fess up to what everyone knows:

Like every other institution, the Washington and political press corps operate with a good number of biases and predilections.
They include, but are not limited to, a near-universal shared sense that liberal political positions on social issues like gun control, homosexuality, abortion, and religion are the default, while more conservative positions are "conservative positions."
They include a belief that government is a mechanism to solve the nation's problems; that more taxes on corporations and the wealthy are good ways to cut the deficit and raise money for social spending and don't have a negative affect on economic growth; and that emotional examples of suffering (provided by unions or consumer groups) are good ways to illustrate economic statistic stories. . . .
The press, by and large, does not accept President Bush's justifications for the Iraq war -- in any of its WMD, imminent threat, or evil-doer formulations. It does not understand how educated, sensible people could possibly be wary of multilateral institutions or friendly, sophisticated European allies. . . .
The worldview of the dominant media can be seen in every frame of video and every print word choice that is currently being produced about the presidential race.

Truer words were seldom spoken.  Of course, sometimes it goes farther than that.  Though the Bush "AWOL" story has now collapsed, with witnesses coming forward to say they remember him, and with Bush's military records being released, some journalists seem to hope it can be kept alive with stories like this "cheap shot" (in the words of the Columbia Journalism Review) -- a story that frames the issue politically without looking at the evidence.  There seems little doubt that the press will slant more and more anti-Bush as the election nears, and not just in the institutional way that ABC describes.  Just keep that in mind as you read, and watch, the news.

MORE MILITARY BLOGGERS
If you want a different perspective on these issues, you might look at some of the military bloggers, who often offer things that you won't get on the nightly news.  Check out The Mudville Gazette for commentary and links to other military bloggers.  You might also be interested in the comments of Air Force reservist Baldilocks (why that name?  look at her picture!), and of former paratrooper Blackfive.  LT Smash is back from the war zone, but he continues to post, too.  And my favorite military group blog, SgtStryker.com is still up and running.  Finally, Iraq Now offers both battlefield reports, small-unit leadership training, and financial advice, all from a reservist in Iraq who writes awfully well.

And there's some interesting blog-based first-hand reporting, too.  Although he's not in the military, former MTV Veejay Adam Curry is now blogging from Iraq, and has a lot of interesting observations, along with some photos.  And so does embedded blogger Rich Galen, who's been in Baghdad and elsewhere throughout Iraq for several months now.  Check them out. 

Feb 16, 2004 | 1:49 PM ET

KERRY ON THE ISSUES

Last week, I noted that "to me, how Kerry would do on the war is a lot more important than what (er, or who) he's doing in the sack."

So what would Kerry do?  That's a question that's puzzling a lot of people.  As the Washington Post editorialized this weekend, Kerry has a problem with fuzziness on the issues in general, and he's been more fuzzy than usual where Iraq is concerned:

The most important confusion surrounds Mr. Kerry's position on Iraq. In 1991 he voted against the first Persian Gulf War, saying more support was needed from Americans for a war that he believed would prove costly. In 1998, when President Clinton was considering military steps against Iraq, he strenuously argued for action, with or without allies. Four years later he voted for a resolution authorizing invasion but criticized Mr. Bush for not recruiting allies. Last fall he voted against funding for Iraqi reconstruction, but argued that the United States must support the establishment of a democratic government.
Mr. Kerry's attempts to weave a thread connecting and justifying all these positions are unconvincing.

Yes, they are.  As Mickey Kaus notes:  "The Post is too civil to point out the obvious (that all Kerry's votes are easily explained by crude political self-interest.)"

It was short-term self-interest (better known as "opportunism") though -- Kerry did what seemed expedient at the time, and now it's catching up with him.

There's one piece of good news about Kerry and the war, however, as a passage from this Boston Globe article on Vice-Presidential picks illustrates:

Kerry is also said to be unconvinced that Edwards is experienced enough to step in as a wartime president should something happen to him. National security credentials are the most important assets that the Democratic presidential front-runner would use to choose a running mate, these aides said.

Kerry at least seems to understand that we're at war, and will be for a while, which puts him ahead of Al Gore, who seems to be in denial on this subject, among others.  But the real question is, will Kerry continue to temporize, or will he take a stand and lay out a strategy?  Senators can waffle.  Presidents can't.

Feb 12, 2004 | 10:16 PM ET

MORE TROUBLE FOR KERRY

Earlier this week, I noted that John F. Kerry's post-Vietnam behavior was likely to cause him some problems.  I was right about that, and in fact quite a few people have been criticizing it.  But that's all been eclipsed, for the moment at least, by a scandal about sex.

The buzz of the blogosphere has been this report from Matt Drudge that Kerry is at the center of an exploding infidelity scandal.  (Though in fact the blogosphere beat Drudge by nearly a week in reporting rumors that this was being investigated by major news outlets.)  Is it true?  Beats me, though politicians being what they are, that's probably the way to bet.  (Mickey Kaus has more.)

I have to say that, to me, how Kerry would do on the war is a lot more important than what (er, or who) he's doing in the sack.  I'm not a fan of Presidential infidelity -- though what do you expect with a guy who goes by the initials "JFK?" -- but plenty of previous Presidents seem to have managed to do a good job despite infidelity.

But then there's Bill Clinton.  Clinton's infidelities weren't what turned me against him -- it was more the '94 and '96 crime bills that did that.  His hypocrisy in signing draconian sexual-harassment legislation, then moaning about the injustice of public inquiries into workplace sex, made his behavior especially pathetic.  (Then there's Clinton's support of the "Defense of Marriage Act," which is surely one of history's great ironies.)  I don't mind people saying that workplace sex is just part of life, and that sexual behavior between consenting adults is no big deal, but if they really think that then they shouldn't be supporting, and signing, legislation that takes a different tack.

I don't know where Kerry stands on that subject, but I think that his biggest problem won't be hypocrisy, but exhaustion.  Rather than face another round of Clintonesque scandals, voters or Party leaders may hustle him to the exits, as the Edwards and Dean campaigns are clearly hoping.  On the other hand, it may actually work in his favor, as so many people -- even among Republicans -- are dreading a rerun of the Clinton years, perhaps enough to let the story die.

Kerry's single biggest asset has been the "electability" issue.  As Will Saletan noted recently, Democratic voters like Kerry, not because of his stands on the issues, or his personality, but because they think he can beat Bush.  The minute that sentiment erodes, he's likely to face a catastrophic loss of support.

Will that happen?  It's way too early to tell, of course.  But it's certainly helping to keep this primary season exciting for political junkies and pundits.  In the meantime, here's a roundup of reactions.  Stay tuned, as they say.

Feb 10, 2004 | 5:18 PM ET

BACK TO VIETNAM

Everyone thinks Kerry has the nomination sewed up.  They're probably right, though this amusing parody notes that they've felt this way before: 

"Kerry's Inevitability Index Hits 'Deanish' Level." 

Dean, of course, is looking far from inevitable now, with his former campaign manager blaming everyone from Al Gore to the Internet for Dean's collapse.  (Call me crazy, but I blame Dean.)

But although a lot of Democrats are touting Kerry's Vietnam record, I wonder if Kerry's Vietnam background will help him as much as his boosters think.  So does columnist Mark Steyn, who writes:

The only relevant lesson from Vietnam is this: then, as now, it was not possible for the enemy to achieve military victory over the U.S.; their only hope was that America would, in effect, defeat itself.  And few men can claim as large a role in the loss of national will that led to that defeat as John Kerry.  A brave man in Vietnam, he returned home to appear before Congress and not merely denounce the war but damn his "band of brothers" as a gang of rapists, torturers and murderers led by officers happy to license them to commit war crimes with impunity.  He spent the Seventies playing Jane Fonda and he now wants to run as John Wayne.

Kerry may have been brave in Vietnam, but his behavior when he got back was not so admirable, and it happened in front of the cameras.  As MSNBC's Chris Matthews observes, Kerry has a Jane Fonda problem, and between now and the election we'll be seeing a lot of pictures of him with her and  other antiwar activists.  Expect to hear reports like these from American P.O.W.s who are still bitter about her calling them liars for complaining about torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese, and for otherwise demonstrating her solidarity with the enemy. 

Will this kill Kerry's candidacy?  Maybe not.  But it won't help.  And it probably won't do much for Jane Fonda's career, either.

Feb 9, 2004 | 1:31 PM ET

LYING ABOUT WAR

By now, a standard story has coalesced among people critical of the Iraq war.  Bush, we're told, lied about Iraq.  He said that Iraq was an imminent threat, and that if we didn't go to war immediately, Iraqi nukes would soon be exploding in American cities.  This is a very useful story, because it allows Democratic presidential candidates, like John Kerry and John Edwards, to oppose the war now in spite of having voted for it.

The problem with this argument, however, is that it isn't true.  And that's illustrated quite clearly by what the leading Democrats in the House and Senate said when the Iraq war resolution was approved.

Tom Daschle:  Daschle, D-South Dakota, said the threat of Iraq's weapons programs "may not be imminent. But it is real.  It is growing. And it cannot be ignored."

Dick Gephardt:  "I believe we have an obligation to protect the United States by preventing him from getting these weapons and either using them himself or passing them or their components on to terrorists who share his destructive intent."

From these statements -- as well, of course, as from those that Bush made at the time, and later in the State of the Union address, it's quite clear that the war was about stopping Saddam from becoming a threat, not about responding to an "imminent threat."  Bush made clear that the threat wasn't imminent -- and, as you can see above -- Tom Daschle thought that the absence of such imminence didn't matter.

Keep this in mind, the next time you hear the "Bush lied" talk.  Because somebody's certainly lying now.

Feb 5, 2004 | 5:45 PM ET

ODDS AND ENDS

Here, in a more-bloggish-than-usual post, are some items of interest that don't require a whole entry all by themselves. 

Sonic electronic
I sometimes write about music here, so you may be interested in my recommendations to a colleague on what CDs are worth listening to as an introduction to techno music.  The post is here, over at my InstaPundit blog. 

I wouldn't go so far as to say that techno and electronica are killing rock off, but they're certainly giving it a run for its money.  At the gym the other day, the music video channel (it's not MTV, but some sort of private health club music video channel) was playing Spiller's Groovejet, with the lovely Sophie Ellis-Bextor managing to look somehow waif-like and statuesque at the same time.  She can sing, too.  (Her political views are rather puerile, but that's to be expected of musicians, alas.)  It's sugary pop, but not bad. 

Right after that was something by ATB, who is a big deal in Europe, but has never been to my taste.  Then came an Underworld video, from the Everything Everything tour.  I thought it was interesting to see that sort of thing make inroads, as the channel is usually 80s metal and contemporary hip hop.  A sign of change?  Maybe.

Do it yourself
One of the big trends of the past ten years is the growth in home studios that revolve around computers.  Programs like Pro Tools, Cubase, Acid, and Ableton Live let you do things on a computer that used to take a big expensive studio -- or that might not have been doable at all.  Many of these are available in free downloadable "lite" versions -- though even those are pretty powerful.  You can get a free download of DigiDesign's Pro Tools LE here.  It's limited to 8 tracks -- but that's more than the Beatles had for Sgt. Pepper.

NASA offers a carrot
Speaking of private technology, I'm feeling better about Bush's space plans now that Rand Simberg is reporting that the Administration is doing something that space activists been wanting for years -- using prizes to encourage private space activity.  The initiative is small, but I hope that it's the camel's nose in the tent.  Prizes did a lot to advance aviation in the early days -- perhaps they'll do the same thing for space.

Feb 4, 2004 | 10:35 AM ET

MORE ON SCHOOLS AND OUTSOURCING

My earlier post on education and outsourcing generated a lot of reader e-mail.  Most people seemed to agree that the schools have problems.  (Those who didn't were mostly teachers and administrators.)  Many, however, disagreed on whether fixing the schools would do anything to solve the job-loss problem.  Some examples:

Name: James G. Holifield
Hometown: Rolling Prairie, Indiana
You've got to be kidding.  The one and ONLY reason for outsourcing is to save MONEY.  We have one of the highest trained workforces in the world, yet you choose to blame our educational system for a problem created by business.  You translate the fact that our workers are reluctant to work for $2/hour (or less) as somehow being that they are not able to do the work.  How ignorant...and sad.

Glenn writes:  Well, cheap labor is part of it.  But the theory is that as we lose jobs abroad, we'll create new, higher-value jobs at home -- as when we lost computer chip making but leapt ahead in software.  You can't do that unless you've got an edge in capability, because then all you've got to compete on is wages.  And that's a sure loser for the United States.

Name:  Gary Hamilton
Hometown:  Montclair, NJ

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the "smartness and hard work" required to win a spelling bee is not the same as the creativity and innovation required to win a writing or robotics competition. Smartness takes many forms, and neither India or America has a monopoly on it.  Indian outsourcing is driven by lower labor costs, not by a lack of smart, hard working Americans. And, as Spellbound shows, both American and Indian cultures have their imperfections.

Name: Robert Dunlop
Hometown: Napa

Glenn,
While I completely agree that education is the key to a potentially fulfilling and productive life, I'm deeply concerned that corporate America is not only seeking well-educated people, but also that they want them to work cheaply.  I was a software engineer for the last 15 years.  And, for the last 7 years, I was a very successful independent contractor who didn't focus on
Internet-related work. 

I'm very well educated, have a broad range of skills, and possess a fund of experience in dealing with the complex issues facing businesses in a competitive environment.  However, so do the engineers in India, Russia, and China.  And they are willing to work for 4 to 5 times less than I've traditionally earned.  My market disappeared. 

I've adjusted by returning to school to earn a Master's degree in Nursing.  Something not likely to be sent offshore.  But the question I have:  What's the point of telling our youth to be well educated it there is no reward?  Is it to be, "Get an education; and, you too can work at McDonald's?"

Glenn writes:  Nothing wrong with working for McDonald's -- I had a girlfriend who paid her way through Yale Law School with money she saved (and invested rather shrewdly -- she became a tax lawyer!) while working for McDonald's in college.  But I take the point.  Most readers seemed more exercised about public schools, though:

Name: Paul Meyer
Hometown: Annapolis
School administrators today are the end product of a sieving process that started in the 60's with those college students least able to decide on a major.  They temporized up to the last moment and when forced at last to declare, discovered they were closer to an education degree than anything else.

Small wonder the system is broken.

Industry cries about shortages to trigger floods of graduates that push down wages and the colleges mutate their curriculum to maximize registrations.  Meanwhile nobody coming out of college can actually DO anything.

Name: Freda
Hometown: Atlanta, Ga

I totally agree that our education system is broken.  From my observations, the problem is with the parents and not the education system.  The education system merely follows the wishes of parents who want success for their children without the hard work.  When asked, most parents will answer that they want their children to suceed and yet they are the same people who complain that homework is cutting into their family time and so forth.  Any time when their children receive punishment of failed grades, they are the first ones to stand up and defend their kids.

Fundamentally if a system has successes, there will be failures.  There will be more failures than successes, guaranteed.  Without failures, how can you name an instance of the group a success?  Parents do not wish their children to be failures and so they want no failures at all.  Thus no child left behind.  When no children are left behind, there will be no children being ahead either.  You can't have it both ways.  We are so eager to protect our children from failure that we condemned them to failure even before they set foot in schools.  I am a parent myself and struggle with it daily.

Name: Tony Esposito
Hometown: Livermore, CA

Re: "SPELLBOUND, OUTBOUND, AND SCHOOLBOUND," (Jan. 29, 2004)
Hear, hear!  Out here in California, we're just beginning to realize how far we've fallen in educating our kids.  You might want to plug a PBS documentary that's going to be aired this week and next, titled "First to Worst," which chronicles the decline of California's public schools.  Since California has one-eighth of the population of this country, even folks outside of California should take notice.

Glenn writes:  California's schools certainly have problems.  The PBS program looks as if it mostly blames Proposition 13 for California's problems, though, which seems a bit dubious.  School officials always say they need more money, but there's not a lot of evidence that more money produces better results.

Name: Sue Balcueva
Hometown: Troy, Michigan

Mr. Reynolds,
While I agree with your statement that public schools need fixing, may I also suggest that we fix our society that sends their children to these institutuions as well.  In many instances, teachers try to enforce high standards.  Then the parents complain that there is too much homework and not enough time for soccer!  The administration backs the parents on many cases because if they do not, our failing court system lets the parents sue the district and win.  If our schools tried to enforce the expectations and rules found in Japan and India, parents and lawyers would make a fortune in lawsuits.  We need to examine our society as a whole, not just blame everything on the schools.

Name: Bradley Schwartze
Hometown: Denver, CO

Glenn,
Just read this post on Spellbound combined with outsourcing.  There is one thing about America's wealth that makes it more of a birthright than you think it is, one thing that education and hard work play only a secondary role in maintaining. That would be the ability to have that wealth protected by law (both caselaw and Constitutional protections) and by having financial institutions (insurance in particular) that are formed specifically for the purpose of protecting that wealth under certain parameters. 

One reason why that Indian parent stated "you don't get second chances in India" is because in India, there is no guarantee that the government won't keep its hands from strangling the golden goose that provides the wealth. India has been famous in recent decades for golden-goose killing. This is one thing that would likely keep outsourcing somewhat in check, and is one thing neither education nor hard work can by themselves or in tandem overcome.

Glenn writes:  That's an awfully important point.  India has gotten richer as it's moved toward deregulation and more open markets.  Legal protection for the fruits of one's labor -- and reasonably low tax rates -- is pretty much essential to economic success. 

Finally, here's a letter that ties together employers' desire for cheap wages with the problems with the education system:

Name: Dorothy Tissair
Hometown: Old Saybrook, CT

The remarks about someone not being hired because they are "too smart" for the school system are nothing new to me.  I am a 54 year-old widowed single parent who has raised two sons largely on per diem substitute teacher pay.  This despite having completed a post-degree year of teacher certification in math, chemistry, physics and biology(undergrad degree - Chemistry major with three minors) in 1989; a M.S. in Math in 1991, and a M.L.S. in School Library Media in 1998.  I have consistently answered early morning calls to cover classes and have a record of maintaining order and delivering the planned lesson for the day.  But when it comes time to hire a new teacher, the candidate chosen is young enough to be my child and possess the minimal B.A. in Education.  Why?  Because they are cheaper to hire with an 80% chance of leaving the profession before completing a Master's program.

Glenn writes:  So there you are.  Even the school systems are chasing cheap help!  I don't know the answer to these problems, but I do know that we'd better think about it.  And I don't think that protectionist legislation is going to save the day, as it never has in the past.

Meanwhile, for more on outsourcing, read this post by Daniel Drezner.

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