Man Without Qualities

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Asahara To Hang

Death penalty foes in this country and Europe often try to create the impression that the United States is the only developed nation now employing the death penalty. That impression, of course, is false, as this FT report demonstrates:

Shoko Asahara, the half-blind guru of Japan's Aum sect, was on Friday sentenced to death by hanging, nearly nine years after followers of his religious cult terrorised Tokyo by spraying deadly gas on the city's subway. ... On Friday, more than 4,000 people drew lots for the 38 seats in the court's public viewing gallery. Several people handed out anti-death penalty leaflets, though a majority of Japanese support the death penalty in this case.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose V: Choices

There has recently been something of a boomlet in articles pointing out that Senator Kerry has not released the records of his military service. Sometimes the observation is coupled with a suggestion that those records might show that the circumstances of his Purple Hearts and Silver Star are less than heroic. Frankly, the circumstances under which John Kerry served in Vietnam were - in the large - so immediately hazardous to him, that picking at the details of that combat record seems a lot more likely to be shameful to the pickers than it would be to Senator Kerry. Suppose, for example, such picking "revealed" that Kerry was thought to have experienced some periods of bad judgment in fire? At one point, for example, he left his craft to pursue a hostile combatant - leading to an expression of some exasperation from a superior officer. So what? So what if other, even more questionable examples of combat judgment can be identified? There can't be many more demeaning tasks than trying to second guess a junior officer in the heat of battle. As Oprah says: Let's not even go there, girl.

But some of those records might still be significant in evaluating some of Senator Kerry's non-combat choices in the Navy. For example, Lieutenant John Kerry served aboard 50-foot aluminum boats known as PCFs (from "patrol craft fast") or "Swift boats" (supposedly an acronym for "Shallow Water Inshore Fast Tactical Craft"). Although some critics of Kerry have (unfairly, in my view) asserted that Swift boat duty "wasn't the worst you could draw," Swift boat duty was plenty dangerous. But the unreleased records might be significant as a means of verifying claims made by Senator Kerry and reporters friendly to the Senator that the young man chose to leave the safe haven of his aircraft carrier for the danger of Swift boats. Was this a true choice? What other choices did John Kerry have at that point? Was he told that he could stay, safe and sound, on the carrier (the story he and his supporters tell) or was he told that he must "choose" from among several dangerous alternatives, Swift boat service being just one? The unreleased records might properly shed light on that kind of choice. Senator Kerry is rather mysteriously quoted by the Globe as describing one of "choices" this way: Kerry experienced his first intense combat action on Dec. 2, 1968, when he "semi-volunteered for, was semi-drafted" for a risky covert mission. What the heck does that mean? The Globe also notes:

Kerry initially hoped to continue his service at a relatively safe distance from most fighting, securing an assignment as "swift boat" skipper. While the 50-foot swift boats cruised the Vietnamese coast a little closer to the action than the Gridley had come, they were still considered relatively safe.

"I didn't really want to get involved in the war," Kerry said in a little-noticed contribution to a book of Vietnam reminiscences published in 1986. "When I signed up for the swift boats, they had very little to do with the war. They were engaged in coastal patrolling and that's what I thought I was going to be doing."

But two weeks after he arrived in Vietnam, the swift boat mission changed -- and Kerry went from having one of the safest assignments in the escalating conflict to one of the most dangerous.

Yet, Kerry supporters continue to maintain that he volunteered for dangerous service. Is that so? Did he have another chance to avoid dangerous service after he arrived in Vietnam? How else does one account for this passage, from the first of the same Globe series:

[Kerry] read a book about President Kennedy's World War II experiences on a patrol boat, PT-109, which one day would help inspire Kerry to volunteer for duty on a Navy patrol boat in Vietnam.

But the Globe say that Kerry volunteered for Swift boat service to avoid dangerous service at a time the swift boats ... had very little to do with the war.

The fact is that John Kerry has demonstrated a rather ugly habit of seriously misrepresenting himself and his major choices - and allowing others (especially at the Boston Globe) to do that favor for him, uncorrected by the Senator (and now the New York Times). There is, of course, his notorious decades-long impersonation of an Irishman in a state where that matters politically, an impersonation which the Globe substantially advanced, but where he now admits has no Irish heritage. Then there is this kind of coverage from the Boston Globe:

Kerry initially thought about enlisting as a pilot. But his father, Richard Kerry - a test pilot who served in the Army Air Corps - warned him that if he flew in combat, he might lose his love of flying. So Kerry, who sought in so many ways to emulate John Fitzgerald Kennedy, took to the water, just as his idol served on a World War II patrol boat, the 109.

This passage, and the entire Globe article in which the passage appears, completely omit all reference to the fact that at the time John Kerry made this Air Force/Navy decision, he was facing a draft into the Army, which his parole board had refused to extend so that he could study in Paris. The effect of the omission is to create the "he disagreed with the war, but felt he had a patriotic duty to join the armed services and go to Vietnam" myth that Senator Kerry has exploited so effectively throughout his political career. While the circumstances of John Kerry's joining the armed forces do not detract from his courage in combat, neither does his courage in combat imply that he joined the armed forces because he felt he had a patriotic duty to. The fact is, JFKerry - like WC Fields - had always wanted to see Paris, no doubt Philadelphia would do, but he was faced with a vastly less appealing choice by decision of his local draft board.

John Kerry's hero, the Irish-American JFK, provides an interesting parallel. There is no evidence that the real JFK sought to avoid military service - quite the contrary. But one might ask how did it come to be that a man with a bad back who was the son of a hugely wealthy and influential Democrat found himself commanding a PT boat in the middle of the Pacific war zone. JFK and his family and campaigns told the world that JFK has chosen to do that - also out of his sense patriotic duty. JFK had originally been given a desk job in Washington, from which he is said to have been extracted, sent to Charleston and eventually placed on PT-109 as a result of his sexual indiscretion - especially with the notorious and controversial Inga Arvad Fejos.

That JFK may have been sent to command PT-109 for reasons other than his naked choice does not detract from his valor in the line of fire. But, as a political matter, such a story would definitely have properly had a material effect on his electability and the degree to which one would admire him. A man who chooses to expose himself to danger out of patriotic duty and then comports himself well in the line of fire and is injured is simply more admirable than a man who is sent into danger and then comports himself well in the line of fire and is injured.

That's true for both JFK's.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose IV: Another Damn Bush Henchman!

The Washington Post reports:

As a candidate for the Senate in 1984, Kerry proposed eliminating a series of weapons systems, including the B-1 and B-2 bombers, the F-14A, F-14D and F-15 fighter jets, the Aegis air-defense cruiser, the Patriot missile system and the M1 Abrams tank, among others. Kerry told the Boston Globe last year that some of those proposals [of Kerry's] were "ill-advised, and I think some of them are stupid in the context of the world we find ourselves in right now and the things that I've learned since then."

How dare Senator Kerry impugn his own patriotism and challenge his own military record this way! Henchmen, henchmen. Everywhere henchmen. This is really outrageous, and these Bush henchmen such as Senator Kerry just go too far! And it's clearly a deliberate ploy. As Senator Kerry points out, "That's the underlying message of [the Republican] attack. [The Republicans] haven't come to you and said this [weapons] system is a great system and we need this system and John Kerry voted against this system. They're saying he voted against defense." That's exactly what's happening here. John Kerry says only that "some" of his own proposals to eliminate important defense systems are "stupid." But he doesn't say exactly which of his proposals to eliminate these defense systems are "stupid." Yes, indeed, Senator Kerry was so right when he asserted that the Bush henchmen were just trying to suggest that Senator Kerry is weak on defense:"That's the game that they play." Is someone who boldly states that "some" of Senator Kerry's proposals to eliminate important defense systems are "stupid" suggesting that Kerry is weak on defense? Of course he is!

The Post also reports that when Senator Kerry was asked Monday when he changed his mind and which proposals were ill-advised, Kerry replied, "I never voted for one of those, I don't think, so I very quickly came to that conclusion when I was in the United States Senate in 1985 and 1986." Kerry immediately amended that statement, saying he had opposed former president Ronald Reagan's missile defense system, anti-satellite weaponry and the MX missile.

Clearly this Bush henchman, Kerry, is trying to obscure matters with incomprehensible and inconsistent answers that make him look weak on national security by suggesting that he can't hold two thoughts together. In addition to his answer's overall incomprehensibility, note how Senator Kerry slyly restricts himself to listing some of the defense systems he considers "ill-advised" - but he doesn't even try to list which of his own proposals to eliminate defense systems are "stupid." As Senator Kerry points out, such willful vagueness is the clear mark of the trained Bush henchman! By Senator Kerry's own standards there is just no question that he is trying to impugn his own Vietnam military record here - and he shouldn't stand for that!

The Bush campaign has clearly planted a mole at the very top of the Kerry organization! That's the game that they play - and it isn't pretty.
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Old Age And Treachery Again Beat Youth And Enthusiasm

The Supreme Court has just seriously narrowed the applicability of a major federal civil rights act over the objections of the applicable federal agency charged by Congress with enforcing and construing that act.

A collective-bargaining agreement eliminated a company's obligation to provide health benefits to certain retired employees, except as to then-current workers at least 50 years old. Other employees who were then at least 40 but less than 50 sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), claiming before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that the agreement violated the ADEA because it "discriminate[d against them] ... because of [their] age," 29 U. S. C. §623(a)(1). That claim seemed pretty clearly correct from the statutory language, since the ADEA makes it unlawful for an employer to "discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age." §623(a)(1).

And the EEOC agreed with the obvious meaning of the statute. In fact, the EEOC actually promulgated a regulation that confirmed that meaning:

"It is unlawful in situations where this Act applies, for an employer to discriminate in hiring or in any other way by giving preference because of age between individuals 40 and over. Thus, if two people apply for the same position, and one is 42 and the other 52, the employer may not lawfully turn down either one on the basis of age, but must make such decision on the basis of some other factor." 29 C.F.R. §1625.2(a) (2003).

The federal appeals court also agreed with the EEOC. But the Supreme Court majority said the EEOC was "clearly wrong" and overtuned the regulation.

Conservative Justices Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy dissented. The Court majority was dominated by liberals. Justice Souter wrote the tortured majority opinion.

Why would a liberal dominated majority restrict a major civil rights act? Because it is more important to some judges not to establish a principle really holding Congress to the meaning of its statutory language, even though Congress only votes on language. Such a principle would narrow the Court's ability to import its own perception of legislative "policy" into federal statutes - and some judges dearly value their ability to overturn Congressional language by an appeal to incorporeal "policy." If the civil rights of some protected workers stand in the way of that Court prerogative, then the workers' rights must go.

Such "policy" judges are disproportionately, but not solely, liberal judges. It is no coincidence that the Chief Justice and his Stanford classmate are in this majority.

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Monday, February 23, 2004

Candidate Nader

Ralph Nader is again running for president. Some astute observers believe it will probably not matter because the chances that the 2004 election will be as close as the one in 2000 are minuscule.

But I disagree that there is only a minuscule chance that Mr. Nader will matter. And I don't think it is right to dismiss Mr. Nader's effort as "monomania" or the like.

Yes, the election will probably not be as close this time out. And, yes, Mr. Nader will likely attract less support this time around. But in some large states - such as California - it is possible that the election could be close - and Mr. Nader's support in some of those states may be enough to make the difference in the state and therefore the entire national election.

That means that there is a reasonable chance that Mr. Nader may find himself in a position to prevent Senator Kerry from tacking towards the center (that is, towards the right). If Senator Kerry wants to co-opt Mr. Nader's natural constituency, the Democrat will have to tack fairly far left right up to election day. Depending on what polls are showing in late October/early November, Mr. Nader may be able to significantly affect the course and outcome of the election.

OK, ... he can't win the election. But he can hope for a reasonable chance of winning other things that matter to him and his constituency. There's nothing so wrong with that.
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Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose III: Henchmen Under Every Bed!

What is the Democratic front-runner going to call Joshua Muravchik? Mr. Muravchik notes, on the pages of the Bush-henchmen-operated Washington Post

As leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Kerry accused American soldiers of "war crimes . . . committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command." ... As a first major foreign policy cause, he championed the "nuclear freeze." ... The litany of weapons systems that Kerry opposed included conventional as well as nuclear equipment: the B-1 bomber, the B-2, the F-15, the F-14A, the F-14D, the AH-64 Apache helicopter, the AV-8B Harrier jet, the Patriot missile, the Aegis air-defense cruiser and the Trident missile. And he sought to reduce procurement of the M1 Abrams tank, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the Tomahawk cruise missile and the F-16 jet. ... When U.S. troops intervened in Grenada, Kerry denounced the action as "a bully's show of force." ...[H]e made himself one of the Senate's most vigorous opponents of aiding the anti-Communist contras as a means of pressuring Nicaragua's Sandinista regime. ... When Saddam Hussein swallowed up Kuwait in 1990, Kerry voted against authorizing the use of force. ... By 1995, with the death toll there estimated to have reached a quarter-million, Congress voted to end the arms embargo hamstringing the beleaguered Bosnians. Kerry was one of 29 senators who opposed this resolution. ... He now says that some of his stands against weapons systems were "stupid." And those medals he tossed away in protest, he explains, actually belonged to someone else ... Kerry cast one of only 12 Senate votes against the administration's request for $87 billion for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan.

How dare Mr. Muravchik impugn Senator Kerry's patriotism and challenge his military record this way! Henchmen, henchmen. Everywhere henchmen.

Mr. Muravchik's list of examples demonstrating Senator Kerry's weakness on national security is far from complete. It doesn't even touch on his opposition to an adequate American intelligence system, for example. The extent of a complete list should give a good deal of pause to anyone who hopes (as I do) that Vietnam is not likely to be a major campaign theme after all. The fact is that John Kerry has a big problem with his national security record - and his constant citation to his military record is the only hope he has of countering that problem. Senator Kerry sings his ceaseless, one-note song because he must. When will the Vietnam War be over in this campaign? It will end when both candidates figure out that neither has anything to gain from it - and not a moment sooner than that. Senator Kerry has already made feeble (one might say fraudulent) efforts to suppress the Democratic ploy of exploiting the President's Vietnam-era service record. I believe that particular ploy will likely stop for real very soon, simply because it's beginning to backfire as more and more evidence is produced. (Just one example from Brad DeLong's web site.) But Senator Kerry will not cease his constant citations to his own Vietnam service in attempts to distract attention from his weak voting and political record in the area of national security. He just can't do that.

To see this, one only has to look as far as ex-senator Cleland, who was also weak on national security, and was defeated in his re-election bid by Senator Chambliss largely on those grounds. Senator Cleland used his far more dramatic and sacrificial Vietnam service as a distraction from his weak national security voting record. It didn't work, and he was voted from office - but he's still citing to that same record and to Senator Kerry's today and for exactly the same purposes: "For Saxby Chambliss, who got out of going to Vietnam because of a trick knee, to attack John Kerry as weak on the defense of our nation is like a mackerel in the moonlight that both shines and stinks," Cleland recently said.

Cleland is saying that kind of thing for the same reason he has always said that kind of thing: He has to. He has no other response with any hope of success.

The same is true of Senator Kerry. Indeed, he's at it again today: Kerry ... said he will not allow questions to be raised about his commitment to defense by Republicans "who never fought in a war." ... Asked for examples of Bush attacking his service in Vietnam, Kerry cited published reports that the campaign plans to question his outspoken opposition to the war after he returned.

Senator Kerry thinks and says that questioning his opposition to the war after he returned is the same as attacking his service in Vietnam. And people think that Dean sounded like he was nuts?

Settle in for a long, long summer.

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Sunday, February 22, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose II: The Silence of The Republicans

An astute reader e-mails:

Today's news makes it sound like Kerry's gonna push it: he's sending a letter to Bush saying, essentially, if you want to complain about my votes then let's just *have* a debate about Viet Nam. So it sounds like the plan is to avoid all discussion of his real record by trying to turn it into a discussion of Viet Nam. It's going to be a long summer.

I agree. I agree that's exactly Kerry's plan and I agree that if he sticks to it we will have a very long summer - at the end of which Senator Kerry's election prospects will resemble all the other deserted, post-summer boardwalks throughout the country.

The plan described by my reader is , in my opinion, desperate - especially since it seems that Senator Kerry intends to direct it at every one of his critics (not just the President). Criticize John Kerry's voting record and hysterical anti-war activism, and you're a "henchman." Well, I'm doing that right now - and I never met the President. Am I a "henchman?"

Senator Kerry is outright lying when he suggests - as he often does - that the President or anyone connected to the President has been criticizing Kerry's military record. But Kerry's actual military record is a lot less indicative of the kind of president he would make than his voting record and his long record of political activities. He can't hide from his voting record or his post-Vietnam hysterical denunciations of the behavior of American soldiers in Vietnam or his record in the Dukakis administration that produced the illusory "Massachusetts miracle." And he can't stop people from considering those things with his customary arrogance.

So far, the media have been very weak in discussing Kerry's post-Vietnam-return antiwar activities - or the rest of his past, for that matter. After all, many of the people now involved in the mainstream media of Kerry's age participated in many of the same activities. The nation has learned to forgive them. Even Jane Fonda has apologized for some of what she did in the depths of her Vietnam era insanity - and on this point Ms. Fonda is more responsible than Senator Kerry, who does not apologize but instead just misrepresents his past. But if Kerry keeps pushing Vietnam, the Bush campaign won't be so gentle - and, ultimately, the media won't remain gentle, either. At some point Senator Kerry is going to have to stop misrepresenting his antiwar statements and outright apologize for some of them - especially his assertions to Congress that American soldiers were routinely war criminals. Veterans on the campaign trail are going to demand that of him - to his face.

The more the Senator pushes the "I was tough in Vietnam so you can't talk about my political record" argument, the more transparent his ploy appears to more people. He is at the moment pushing it pretty hard:

In a letter to Bush, Kerry wrote: "As you well know, Vietnam was a very difficult and painful period in our nation's history, and the struggle for our veterans continues. So, it has been hard to believe that you would choose to reopen these wounds for your personal political gain. But, that is what you have chosen to do."

Even so, I don't think it's at all clear that we will get an early read on whether the Kerry ploy will work - or if he will give up trying. For example, my guess is that lots of very high profile Republican veterans are ready to come forward and strongly challenge Kerry on this point. Senator Kerry's position leads almost inevitably to his accusing any veteran who says Kerry has a weak voting and political activities record of impugning his patriotism and military record. Is this Democratic candidate going to stand up on a podium and hoot down a veteran who's saying with sincere conviction exactly what Senator Chambliss is saying? Is the Democratic candidate going to lash out from his podium and accuse the veteran of being a Bush "henchman?" That would make Howard Dean's lashing out at the old heckler ("You sit down! You had your say! Now, I'm going to have my say!") look positively like an act of political genius. Is Senator Kerry going to savage as "henchmen" a troop of veterans who follow his campaign stops and say these things outside on the sidewalk? I don't think so. Yet, the Kerry posturing leads to exactly those preposterous situations for him.

One interesting question is: Why hasn't that kind of thing happened, yet? I suspect that the White House may actually be holding such responses back at this point to the extent that can be done (the White House by no means controls all such responses, although it does have influence). I have no special information, but it's clear that Kerry's political and anti-war activism record have to be treated carefully and precisely. It's Kerry who's desperately trying to confuse matters - and that's a disgrace on his part. That means that the Republicans are right now running extensive private polls and focus groups on how to direct the criticism. It will come - and it will be very effective.

And when it comes the criticism will not be limited to Senator Kerry's voting and activism record. Kerry is by all accounts personally a complete jerk and completely out of touch with ordinary people. He is so remote that it is actually, terrifyingly possible that Senator Kerry really does think that he has opposed all those nasty "special interests." Unlike Bill Clinton, there aren't many "Friends of John" out there. He appears to be amazingly insubstantial and vulnerable. His wife, because of her efforts at influence and past activism, is also fairly subject to criticism - and her past use of her enormous, inherited fortune and her bizarre personality will likely be significant liabilities. Those criticisms, too, must be directed with precision. [UPDATE: It's so generous of Maureen Dowd and the New York Times to the Bush re-election effort to clear the way for examination and criticism of Teresa Heinz Kerry with an empty but nasty cat-swipe at Laura Bush.]

I don't think the Republicans have completed their planning. Even if they had completed it, I'm not sure they want to extensively damage Kerry right now. For example, the anti-Kerry internet ad now appearing on the Bush web site is only seen by visitors to that site - not the part of the public that will be influenced by the campaign. If the White House blew Kerry up now, Bush might end up running against some stronger candidate. My guess is that Kerry will be a bigger disaster for the Dems than Dukakis was.

UPDATE: Viking Pundit suspects a Rovian strategy in this relative Silence of the Republicans.


Easterblog opines:

Pundits of the left and right are now engaged in tormented disputes about the nuances of Kerry's Vietnam statements and actions more than 30 years ago, but this misses the big picture. The big picture is that Kerry thought the war was wrong but went anyway because he felt it was his duty.

This is wrong.

It is probably not incorrect to say that Senator Kerry felt that the war was wrong - although Senator Kerry himself says that his feeling against the war intensified enormously during his four month turn in Vietnam.

But it is just false to say that he "went anyway because he felt it was his duty" and it borders on prevaricating to suggest that this is the "big picture." It is no secret and no disgrace to John Kerry that he joined the Navy after he was told that his application for an extended student deferment that would have allowed him to study in Paris was turned down by his draft board. That is: John Kerry had no choice, he was required by law to enter the military - and then he was sent to Vietnam. As the Harvard Crimson put it in 1970:

When he approached his draft board for permission to study for a year in Paris, the draft board refused and Kerry decided to enlist in the Navy. The Navy assigned him to the USS Gridley which between December 1966 and July 1968 saw four months of action off the Vietnam coast. In August through November, 1968, Kerry was trained to be the skipper of a patrol boat for Vietnamese rivers. For the next five months, until April of 1969, Kerry was the commanding Lieutenant of a patrol boat in the Mekong Delta. He was wounded slightly on three different occasions and received a Silver Star for bravery.

The above recounting of some of the facts in the case of John Kerry's military service is not intended to disparage his actual, dangerous service once he reached Vietnam.

But, whatever the "big picture" of John Kerry's involvement with the military includes, it definitely includes his post-Vietnam activism, including his denunciations of American servicemen then fighting in Vietnam. As recounted by OpinionJournal, Kerry said in his April 22, 1971, testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (link in PDF format; the excerpt begins on page 180, the second page of the file):

Several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. . . . They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.

They told the stories [that] at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned on the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

Any putative "big picture" of Senator Kerry's involvement with the military that omits such testimony and activities, and suggests that John Kerry could have legally avoided military service but chose to go anyway, is nothing short of Orwellian.


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