View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Friday, July 30, 2004

Hispanics Key in '04 

The Mangled Cat has a great post about the Denver Post's coverage of how the national Democratic party, and its Hispanic caucus, see the Senate race here in Colorado. Go, now, don't wait, do not pass Go, do not collect 100 Pesos.

Like Jared, I will, for the moment, have to promise rather than post. But I picked up Jorge Ramos's book this afternoon, so maybe I'll have learned something by tomorrow.

On the Other Hand 

Schaffer is also touring the state, meeting with newspaper editorial boards. It's not just the hustings, it's also the newsroom, where a candidate gets free pub. He had a solid meeting with the Ft. Morgan Times last week, and also got a write-up from the Durango Herald today.

The article, though, makes it sound like Schaffer spent the whole time trying to reassure the teachers' unions. This can't be in any way representative of the discussion. The man strongly supports vouchers, didn't even try to court the teachers' unions, and the whole article reads as though the only problem in the schools is lack of funding.

During his days in Congress, Schaffer supported a bill to give individuals and businesses a tax credit for contributing to education, a concept he thinks would work well in Colorado and would like to see come to fruition.

"I believe Americans want to help schools, and the tax code should support it," Schaffer said. "Superintendents don't have options as to where to go for money. My hope is that a tax credit would help that."

These meetings generally cover a lot of topic, but the smaller papers only have limited space. Schaffer's idea is an interesting one, and one that might well eventually generate more support for vouchers. But it also underscores the need to control the message, something that it's harder to do outside of paid advertising.

Schaffer is also working the western part of the state for a few days, another smart thing to do for the general election. Salazar has some unusual strength there, and the Republicans aren't going to be able to take the area for granted.

More From the Front 

Ben is all over the campaign spending issue, including the latest spending and fundraising numbers. He's got a fine analysis of it, although I'd differ on a couple of points.

Spending doesn't necessarily mean weakness. You don't only spend to define yourself for the primary, but also to position yourself for the general, and these ads will be seen by the general voting public, too.

We also don't really know how close the election is. There's been no reliable polling for weeks. One might just as esaily say that the single-minded passion of the Schaffer supporters has kept their candidate afloat. And, as Hugh Hewitt points out, activists can scare people.

Also, the Daily Camera Obscura discusses where the candidates' money is coming from in "Out-of-State Cash Floods Senate Race". Only Salazar and Coors have been able to generate much out-of-state interest, so it's not just Coors's personal fortune that's at issue, it's also the ability to raise enough money to compete effectively without having to go to the national committee.

It's also not Coors's only selling point, as this endorsement from the Greeley Tribune makes clear.

We believe Coors' experience running Coors Brewing Co. and the Adolph Coors Co. has given him a leg up in the bargaining arena and in terms of leadership ability. Adept at international and national negotiations, Coors cites his ability to create a common ground among groups with diverse interests. We think that's an important attribute as well.

For his business savvy, years of management and life skills working with various boards and organizations, we also believe Coors is more likely to offer a substantial challenge to the Democratic nominee, whether Ken Salazar or Mike Miles, for the office of U.S. senator.

Newspaper endorsements don't carry nearly the weight they they used to, of course, but it is from Weld County, where Schaffer ran ahead of the rest of his district (which he still won easily). To be sure, the paper isn't unkind to Schaffer, it just prefers Coors. Which is where many Coors supporters come down.

The Daily Camera Catches Up 

The Boulder Daily Camera Obscura opines about the GOP Senate primary, taking Coors to task for inexperience, Schaffer for going negative, and both candidate for trying to outflank each other on gay marriage.

This is one of the most competitive Senate races in the country, and at first it was relatively civilized. The campaign between Democrats Ken Salazar and Mike Miles still is. But the race between Coors and Schaffer has taken a turn so negative that the state GOP chairman deplored it, warning that the divisiveness would hurt the party in the general election.

What happened? Well, for one thing, the GOP candidates began sparring over their respective credentials as opponents of gay rights.

The paper goes on to assume that Coors is acting out of expediency and not conviction, and uses that to convict to the entire Republican party of homophobia. It also fails to distinguish between Bob Schaffer and Bill Armstrong.

The Camera is a liberal paper writing for a left-wing audience in a communitarian town, so if Ken Salazar were to switch parties tomorrow, they'd endorse Mike Miles. But it's always good to see what kind of tactics the other side is up to.

Terror in the Skies, Part III, and More Corroboration 

Annie Jacobsen has posted her third article on Flight 327, this time recounting her efforts to get the Syrian Ambassador to the US to help identify the musicians in question, and perhaps even to help put her in touch with them. It turns out the Syrian Ambassador wrote the Washington Times about the incident:

"I am responding to Audrey Hudson's article 'Scouting jetliners for new attacks' (Page 1, Thursday). We are shocked by this article. It only reflects paranoia verging on the point of hysterics. The woman mentioned most prominently in this article, Annie Jacobsen, is an advocate of ethnic profiling who survived a horrendous ordeal: a flight with 14 harmless Syrian musicians.

"After this ordeal, and despite the fact that she reached her destination safe and sound, she 'spread 3,000 bigoted and paranoid words across the Internet,' as put it.

Well, it's good to know that the Syrian Ambassador is keeping his eye on the electronic media. Who knows, maybe he even reads the blogosphere. In the event that he's Googling himself, his name is Imad Moustapha. Hello, Dr. Moustapha!

Now, it's worth bearing in mind that the Syrians learned their covert ops techniques at the feet of the Soviets. They come from the "Who, Me?" school, only they're not nearly as urbane and sophisticated as "Shoe" Khrushchev or Mr. Gromyko. I'm sure this guy fancies himself, for his straight-talking, a latter-day Joseph Choate. Maybe this is what passes for tact in Damascus.

Maybe Dr. Moustapha -- of all people in the United States -- with his long list of credentials and his diplomatic pull, might actually be able to get me in touch with these 14 members of Nour Mehana's back-up band. Maybe he could help put the lid back on Pandora's box.

I mean, could it all really be as simple as reporter Joe Sharkey from The New York Times says it is -- that these Syrian individuals simply confused how to act on a 757 jet in America with how one might act on a bus in Damascus? The same way that someone from the North Pole might think it's OK to wear a ski mask into an American bank?

Read the rest.

And read this Adobe PDF, letters from passengers which provide further corroboration that Mrs. Jacobsen wasn't out of her mind.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Flight 327 Activity Corroborated 

It looks as though a second passenger, one traveling in first class, has corroborated, in general terms, Annie Jacobsen's acount of the unusual activity she saw there.

The passenger, who was riding in first class, said the constant foot traffic and strange behavior she witnessed in the front cabin frightened her as much as it did Annie Jacobsen, the first passenger who publicly reported the incident.

"I thought I was going to die," the second passenger told The Washington Times. "And that makes me furious because that's the whole point of terrorism, to make people afraid. It makes me mad that they achieved that. But I'm not letting it stop me from taking other trips."

Now there's an interesting thought. Psy-ops rather than real-ops. It's going to be real hard to commandeer a flight now. But you sure can scare a lot of people making it look like you're trying.

The second passenger said she did not share her concerns with the flight attendants because "I thought I was just crazy, and I didn't want to be the crazy person on the flight that stands up and says something is wrong, but I will now in the future. I praise Annie for what she did, because I didn't have the guts to."

The more we talk about this stuff, the harder it makes it for the bad guys to pull something off. We're all soldiers in this war. If you're flying, bring a small digital camera. If you see something suspicious, burn the guy, and then burn a CD. (Don't post the pictures on your blog. We're looking out for safety here, not random invasions of privacy. Most people really are innocent.)

What's alarming here is the number of passengers and flight attendants who are coming forward to say they've also seen what look like dry runs, or probes. Sometimes with a lot of detail. Obviously, this was sort of an open secret in the passenger airline industry. Annie Jacobsen deserves a lot of credit for opening it up for discussion.

We're Still Looking, Too 

For the reader who got here searching on MSN for "Kerry Tax Returns," we're still looking, too. Possibly November 3. Hopefully never.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

NY Times To Annie Jacobsen: Drop Dead 

The New York Times, ever on the lookout for a way to minimize the terror threat, has an article explaining why the whole thing was one big cross-cultural misunderstanding. Interestingly, "Now Boarding, Cultural Misperceptions" appears in the Business section, rather than the News or Travel sections. So if you're a tourist, you should still worry?

As lingering questions get answered, however, the impression grows that Flight 327 was an example of how, in a general atmosphere of fear, cultural misperceptions can create big trouble.

Well, not all the lingering questions have been answered (See below), and I'm still not persuaded there wasn't something funny going on.

It might help to understand that ethnic musicians flying from the Detroit area (a center of Arab-American culture) to back up an Arab pop singer at some shows in Southern California do not exactly travel like Jennifer Lopez. They fly coach. They tote big McDonald's bags. They speak in a language that is incomprehensible to many fellow passengers. Being a band, they tend to be both cohesive and restless, meaning that on an airplane they are likely to get up and gather in small groups, just as Ms. Jacobsen and her husband noticed with increasing alarm during the flight.

Non-sequitur city, but one that raises lots of lingering questions. If these same ethnic musicians were traveling from Minneapolis, er, Kansas City, would they have been able to upgrade? Sure, they're Syrian, but they were here to play a gig. What difference does it make where they transferred? Or did they stay in Detroit. And if so, what were they up to there?

Nobody expects them to travel like Jennifer Lopez. J-Lo would travel in first class. Which, come to think of it, is where the 9/11 guys were caught hanging out by James Woods. Mrs. Jacobsen didn't care what kind of bag they had. She cared that it was full going to the bathroom, and empty coming back. Unless Mr. Sharkey can tell us what was in the bag.

Bands are more likely to get restless? Like women with children won't get restless? Ever been on a flight from New York to Tel Aviv, Mr. Sharkey? That's restless. You don't fly to Israel, you walk. These guys were on a plane for what, 4 hours, and they were up and down like a bunch of jack-in-the-boxes.

"Sometimes, fear can cause you to look at things the way you want to believe them to be," said Mr. Azmeh, who often plays with an internationally known Syrian band called Kulna Sawa. Kulna Sawa, by the way, has been incorrectly identified in several online accounts as being the band on Flight 327.

I think I know what website they're talking about. Read it again, Mr. Sharkey. It was a joke.

They are members of a shifting group of musicians who sometimes are hired to back up an Arab pop singer named Nour Mehanna, who is a popular act at casinos and nightclubs in areas with sizable Middle Eastern ethnic populations.

Mr. Mehanna himself was not on Flight 327. Besides backing him up in a show at Sycuan, a tribal casino near San Diego, the Syrian musicians accompanied him during a show at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Garden Grove, Calif., before flying back East on JetBlue. That flight was uneventful.

One other strange note sounded on the trip. The musicians were all traveling with Syrian passports and special United States visas issued for cultural visits. On arrival at the Los Angeles Airport, the men were questioned by federal air marshals and by the F.B.I., but not by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who might have noticed, as the F.B.I. says it did not, that at least some of the visas had expired in June.

Visas for entertainers from Syria, a nation defined as a state that supports terrorism by the United States government, are notoriously difficult and time-consuming to arrange and keep valid, according to Syrian musicians. The musicians left the country this month, and attempts to reach any of them so far have been unsuccessful.

It wasn't like the Times dug any of this up on its own. Would it really have been too much trouble to give credit to Mr. Taylor? Evidently, since they didn't even bother linking to Mrs. Jacobsen's original article. (The online version did, however, contain numerous in-story links to Times advertisers.) And catch that "nation defined" as a state sponsor of terrorism. Hezbollah probably has their subscription to the Times delivered under its own name to its press offices in downtown Damascus, but it's only the US that "defines" Syria as a problem. Heck, Times reporters have probably been to the Hezbollah press offices in Damascus. And it's not surprising they haven't managed to contact any of the musicians. Remember, they couldn't find the casino is question.

Meanwhile, federal officials familiar with Flight 327 have not questioned the gist of Ms. Jacobsen's narrative, just her interpretation.

Others openly question that interpretation. "What was the motive for people to look at them like that?" asked Ali Rayes, owner of Transtour Express, a travel agency in Anaheim, Calif., that booked the trip. He said the men were unsophisticated and thus not inclined to be acting like wise guys egging on terrified passengers. "They were innocent people who have families to feed, and that's why they're doing all this traveling."

What was the motive? What rock did Mr. Rayes just crawl out from under?

If there's anything we learned from the 9/11 guys, it's that Islamist terrorists tend to be a curious mixture of planners and dolts. Nobody thinks they were deliberately freaking out passengers for fun. And nobody thinks that they shouldn't have been on the plane, as musicians. It's what they did while they were on the plane that got people a little exercised. Like this...

Ms. Jacobsen's account included an assertion, which federal officials have not refuted, that seven of the men got up from their seats seemingly as a group during the final approach into Los Angeles.

At that stage, even the flight attendants are strapped in. Under almost any circumstances, that could be reasonably interpreted as an overtly provocative gesture.

But cultural differences can suggest an explanation. "Have you ever been on a bus in Damascus when it gets near the stop?" asked someone who e-mailed me to protest the implications that these men were being deliberately intimidating.

Right. Ever been on a bus in New York? Ever been on a crowded subway? These men had already been on at least two flights headed into domestic airports. Either this flight was different, or they got spilkes two other times and weren't told to cut it out.

Making excuses for people behaving badly, especially Islamic Middle Easterners traveling in groups, backing up a musician who glorifies suicide bombing, who behave badly, doesn't do anyone any favors. It's only going to get people killed when they're so anesthetized they don't bother to react in time.

Tenor in the Skies - Update 

Heather Wilhelm has more on the Syrian Wayne Newton. Turns out "Dankaschoen" isn't his greatest hit. Closer to "Lili Marlene"...

Coors Makes Things Worse 

One of the emerging themes of the Republican Senate primary has been the campaign itself - the increasingly personal and unpleasant tenor of it. If House District 3 Republicans have managed to pull off relativley issue-driven race, the lack of real issues has driven the Senate candidates to attack each other. It's now become both a source of comfort to the Democrats, and the focus of much of the press coverage.

The Rocky, in a story about the Democrats, leads with the Republicans:

Republicans might be waging a civil war over Colorado's U.S. Senate race, but Democratic leaders were preaching a different message Monday in hopes of quelling a rift in their own ranks.
The Republican rivals, former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer and beer baron Pete Coors, have attacked each other in ads even though actual policy disputes have been few and far between. State Republican Party Chairman Ted Halaby made his own plea for civility in recent weeks after an outside group led by former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong, a loyal Schaffer backer, began running ads attacking Coors.

Here's how the Ft. Morgan Times began its review of a editor-to-candidate interview with Schaffer:

After making an appearance at Fort Morgan's United States Military Historical Museum Friday morning, Senate hopeful Bob Schaffer sat down with The Times staff to discuss important issues surrounding his campaign, namely negative advertising, term limits, being conservative and the major differences between him and his opponent.

According to Schaffer, the recent barrage of negative advertising directed at him from the Pete Coors camp is based in untruth.

Schaffer responded to Coors' tactics as "cowardly" as well as voicing his opposition to ads broadcast on his behalf, stating that he did not authorize the ads bashing Coors.

The Boulder News picks up the AP Story:

That hasn't stopped Schaffer's supporters from taking aim at Coors. Ads linking the beer magnate to homosexual causes and saying he supports a lower drinking age were aired by Colorado Conservative Voters, whose president is former Sen. Bill Armstrong.

The Coors campaign responded with a frequently aired ad describing Schaffer as a career politician who padded his resume to exaggerate his experience outside government.

The Ft. Collins Coloradoan issued a blistering editorial taking both candidates to task for this stuff:

Former Congressman Bob Schaffer and businessman Peter Coors are not doing themselves any favors with their very public squabble playing out in campaign commercials prior to the Aug. 10 GOP primary.

The Republican Senate candidates started out trading mild barbs about Schaffer's lack of business experience and Coors' lack of political experience.

But the squabbling has gotten uglier as the primary nears, with a Schaffer supporter placing a TV ad suggesting Coors supports homosexual causes.


That's not the way to do it.

No, it's not. Peter Blake now brings us the story of more campaign ads gone bad. Turns out the Coors folks are accusing Schaffer of junketing while in Congress. Sure. To the Ukraine. I don't know about you, but my idea of a scenic vacation isn't Kiev, Chenobyl, and the seaside slums of Odessa. Maybe he was there to campaign for revoking Duranty's Pulitzer, but I suspect that he and W.C. Fields had at least one thing in common during the trip.

Coors claims the airing was a mistake.

It's back in the can now, but will probably be resurrected the moment Colorado Conservative Voters, the independent committee headed by Armstrong, brings to Denver its radio or TV ads attacking Coors and promoting Schaffer. CCV, which was airing in Colorado Springs, is already rumored to be asking about local rates.

No matter what the Coors campaign says, there are no "accidental" airings of TV spots. If you don't want them in the rotation, you don't bring them to the station. What happened was that Coors expected Armstrong's committee to renew or expand its buy, which expired Friday. By the time they learned Friday it hadn't, it was too late to take "Traveling Bob" out of the stations' weekend rotation, which is set by mid-Friday.

Blake's reconstruction makes a lot of sense, and before we turn this into the Senate Primary equivalent of Pearl Harbor, take another look at those quotes up above. Still, less like Pearl Harbor and more like Dresden is bad enough. It wastes time, it wastes money, it doesn't go after the real target, and it makes both guys look bad. Imagine making Ken Salazar look Senatorial.

Even if Blake's right, it doesn't speak well for Coors. They committed money and time responding to an attack that never happened. It gives the moral high ground back to their opponent. Worse, we don't know if they we faked into it by Armstrong & Co. That may be giving CCV too much credit, but you can't blame people for not running attack ads. It adds to a number of mis-steps by the Coors camp, including the earlier (honestly mistaken) airing of a Coors Beer ad featuring the candidate, and the presence of a Coors truck in a campaign parade. None of this exactly reeks of competence.

The reason Coors and Schaffer are going after each other on non-issues is that they agree on so much. This primary should be decided on electability, for exactly that reason. Electability isn't so much how far to the center a candidate can appear to be, but how effectively they can make the case for themselves and against Salazar. So you know what you do? Make the case. Show that you're the best man to run by taking on the Attorney General, and making the case. Instead of creating ill will and bad impressions of the eventual nominee, it'll be helping to prepare the ground for the fall.

Dammit Jim, I'm a Surgeon, Not a Computer Technician! 

Well, I'm not a surgeon, either. Would you want a surgeon who spilled coffee on his laptop keyboard? No? What, are you biased against the coordinationally challenged? I think we have an ADA suit here...

I sat down, ready to code away, put down your coffee, brought up the laptop, and then turned to the desktop machine for serious work. Two or three times, I reached over for a swig of java, so I figured I had this down pat. Naturally, the fourth time, splasho!

I dried out what I could, and then gave it a try. At first, the keyboard, all on its own, like one of those robots, started typing >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. A reboot, and now it wouldn't come up at all. So, of course, I started taking things apart.

When that didn't work, I turned to Dell. A brief plug for Dell. Their support has always been first-rate, as far as I'm concerned. Twice, I had to send my machine in for repairs, and twice, they had it back the next day. Do you know what this means? It means that they had it fixed in-between Airborne's morning delivery and afternoon pickup.

Ahh, but I had let the warrantee lapse. Which means that I'm now looking at parts & labor & delivery charges. Dell, however, helpfully puts their how-to manuals online. Not those screws, dummy, those screws. Voila! A whole ocean of coffee hiding underneath the keyboard, just waiting for the Apprentice to mop it up.

One of the interview questions I got asked recently was about my proudest achievement, work or not, in the last few years. No, this isn't it. But it is why Home Depot makes so much money.

Update: Now the computer boots and works, but in-between the pleasant Dell blue screen and the Windows Starting text screen, it screams "Danger, Will Robinson" at the top of its beeping little lungs. That's going to be very annoying.

The Dems and the Senate 

The four themes of this convention:

  1. We hate Bush. He stole the election, and suppressed the black vote
  2. John Kerry. He's not Bush
  3. We are unified and disciplined. In our hatred of Bush
  4. The Senate

Yes, the Senate. They've given the Keynote Address to Barack Obama. They put Tom Daschle, the only man likely out-bore John Kerry, front and center to show what was at stake. Um, oops.

I think there's a little push-me/pull-me going on here as well. The Dems seem to be hoping that Kerry can ride a number of close states on the coattails of Senate candidates:

Kerry could grab some coattails from fifth-generation Hispanic Ken Salazar if the attorney general wins his Aug. 10 Senate primary. But it won't get him over the hump in November.

This almost never works. Most of the center is perfectly happy splitting its ticket. Look at Florida, where Jeb was re-elected very easily, but George is, by all accounts, locked in a very tight race.

But it's also clear that the Dems really want to use the convention to push the Senate races, the first time I've seen it used for that. The other close races are all in states that are hopelessly lost - Alaska, Oklahoma, South Carolina. States where Kerry has no chance, and can only do damage. That's why those Senate candidates aren't at the convention - Kerry's so toxic in those states that campaigning with him is liable to bring and EPA citation.

Problem is, Tom Daschle's not much better. Which is why giving him a prime-time speaking slot is likely to have hurt more than it helped. I'm not sure you want people in those states to be reminded of the stakes. Like the presidential race, the Democrats' best hope is to hide rather than run.

Homing Kestrel 

The Kestrel has returned from his southerly peregrinations, touring Mexico, delivering books to Guatemalan schoolchildren, and getting gored by ocean-front pigs, and is now reduced to writing about the international press rather than seeing it firsthand.

Welcome back, and readers, check out his blog. The articles on the central American trip will teach you something about neighbors to the south who haven't yet moved north. Important stuff, since we want to get along with these people.

Pound-for-pound, Kestrel's got some of the best coverage of the foreign press in the blogosphere. Plus Chris Muir.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Live! From Deepest-Darkest 

Just discovered a local blog, geared towards Israeli security. The Zioneocon has comprehensive photoblogging of the Hands-Across-Israel event, as well as a suitably gloomy Tisha B'Av news roundup. Not bad, considering she's probably taking her life in her hands writing this stuff from Boulder.

Kudos to Scott Simon 

In this morning's OpinionJournal, Scott Simon of NPR takes Michael Moore to task for masquerading as a journalist. Those of us who've listened to NPR over the years harbor no illusions about Simon's politics, and unlike the Democrats this year, he doesn't make any secret of them. Also unlike the Democrats, he appears to be genuinely embarassed and more than a little angry at Moore's dishonesty. Simon takes on Moore on pretty much all fronts: he's not a journalist, he's discrediting my views, and he's lowering the standard of the debate. Good for him. To quote Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "Diogenes, put down your lamp."

In the New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote that, "Viewers may come away from Moore's movie believing some things that probably aren't true," and that he "uses association and innuendo to create false impressions." Try to imagine those phrases on a marquee. But that is his rave review! He lauds "Fahrenheit 9/11" for its "appeal to working-class Americans." Do we really want to believe that only innuendo, untruths, and conspiracy theories can reach working-class Americans?

Governments of both parties have assuaged Saudi interests for more than 50 years. (I wonder if Mr. Moore grasps how much the jobs of auto workers in Flint depended on cheap oil.) Sound questions about the course, costs, and grounds for the war in Iraq have been raised by voices across the political spectrum.

But when 9/11 Commission Chairman Kean has to take a minute at a press conference, as he did last Thursday, to knock down a proven falsehood like the secret flights of the bin Laden family, you wonder if those who urge people to see Moore's film are informing or contaminating the debate. I see more McCarthy than Murrow in the work of Michael Moore. No matter how hot a blowtorch burns, it doesn't shed much light.

Tisha B'Av 

It's the Jewish fast day known as Tisha B'Av, or the 9th of Av. It commemorates a series of national tragedies, beginning with the destruction of the two temples, six and a half centuries apart, to the day. In essence, it serves as the national day of mourning for the Jewish people.

Needless to say, blogging's going to be light today.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Sorry To Do This 

I had really hoped to avoid the subject of Michael Moore as much as possible. But Jared has a disheartening and depressing report from the front, concerning the effect that this malicious propaganda is having on many of our troops. Men who are daily being asked to help defend a fledgling democracy are being told their lives are being wasted. It's one thing to lie to the home front. It's another thing altogether to get to men whose lives are on the line.

Troop morale is critical. Men who are in tough straits, under fire day after day, can at least console themselves with the morality of their mission. Morale matters, and men who are down on themselves, unsure of the rightness of their mission, are more likely to be depressed, more likely to get sick, injured, or wounded. Men who are prone to self-doubt are more likely to get killed.

And veterans are among the most effective anti-war speakers. One of them is now running for President.

Sadly, we on the right insisted on looking at Moore's film as ineffective argument, rather than the potentially effective propaganda. In the absence of effective pro-American propaganda of our own, all we have left is the facts.

I've posted links to, Christopher Hitchens's takedown, and Michael Isikoff's dissection over at the right. They'll stay up as long as we're over there. If you know anyone over in theater, send them the links, or send them the whole article. Their recollections of the film may be as muddy as the arguments they're seeing, so tell them to see the film again, having read the articles. Tell them to highlight the relevant passages, and look for those scenes in the film.

Above all, tell them that their mission is important, and that we're counting on them.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Ken Gordon Loses It 

State Senator Ken Gordon has earned a reputation for being among the more pugnacious of Colorado Democrats. This past week, he outdid even himself. He booked a hall, and invited his supporters to a debate with an unnamed Republican about Fahrenheit 9/11. Without bothering to invite a Republican. Had no one shown, Gordon would have proclaimed a victory by no-show. None of this shows up in the Denver Post report; it's only available to those who happened to get Mr. Gordon's email to local Democrats. Fortunately, Representative Shawn Mitchell showed up, faced the lion's den, and acquitted himself nicely.

In the meantime, Gordon let loose with a couple of whoppers:

Gordon said Moore's movie, which has grossed almost $100 million, opens a dialogue for how the rest of the world views America.

"I'm glad that Americans are seeing the pain that war causes," Gordon said.

"Whatever it was like in Iraq the day before we started bombing them, it was worse the day we started bombing," Gordon said.

Charming. The Democrats have done nothing but harp on the "damage" the war has caused to our relationships with France and Germany, but it takes Michael Moore to "start a debate" on how we look. As has been repeatedly pointed out, our targeting has come a long way from the days of the Norden bomb sight.

The last line, for all the world, looks as though Gordon thinks that we should have left Saddam in power. Saddam, subsidizer of Hamas suicide bombers. Funny position for a Jewish state senator representing a largely Jewish district to take. Good thing state legislators don't run foreign policy.

Mitchell: "I think it is sad for the American left if Michael Moore and his tone has become a champion to you." Good for him. But it's more than sad, it's dangerous, and it's going to get good men killed.

Gordon, by the way, is a state delegate to the Democratic Convention. Keep that in mind when someone says that the party hasn't gone over to the lunatics.

Constitutionally Illiterate 

With yesterday's edition, the Denver Post editorial staff has officially crossed the line into Constitutional illiteracy. Its opinion on the unfortnately-named "court stripping" bill (now there are some visuals you just don't want) demonstrates an ideologically-driven willful ignorance of Constitutional provisions that should disqualify them from further comment on the document, until further notice.

Just when we thought the gay marriage debate couldn't get any more offensive ...

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives outdid itself this past week by passing a make-believe bill that would strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over same-sex marriage cases.

Yes, a "make-believe bill." Presumably the make-believe vote on this make-believe bill will be referenced in the Congressional Record, a journal not exactly given to parliamentary flights of fancy. This bill was actually quite real, although it may become a fairy tale once Tom Daschle gets a hold of it.

Republicans called it a fallback measure to keep "activist judges" from ordering states to recognize same-sex marriages allowed by other states.

In reality, it was a political maneuver to polarize the fall campaign.

Note the scare quotes around activist judges. Just because Colorado isn't in the 9th Circus is no reason not to have heard of it. Does the Post really believe that federal judges, even this Supreme Court, are above this sort of thing? Maybe they believe that activist judges are similarly make-believe. Personally, it looks to me as though judicial restraint has passed into myth and legend.

Set aside the social and moral implications of the gay marriage argument for a moment, if you will, and look at this bill at face value: Do we want Congress to tell the U.S. Supreme Court what it can or cannot review? What system of government is that? Lawmakers are attempting to rig the separation of powers and unbalance the three branches of government.

That system of government is called "Constitutional Republicanism." Now, the editors of thePost may have heard of one or both of those terms, but let me refresh their memory. This comes from Article III, Section 2 of the "Constitution:"

In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

Findlaw, a terrific site, includes some judicial and legislative history on this point. It says, without much fanfare or controversy on the general issues, that Congress has the explicit right to do just what the Republican leadership wants to do. At first, there was question as to whether the Courts required explicit permission to decide a case, but since the Courts were doing the deciding, that issue was settled pretty quickly. The editors of the Post might want to read this sometime. Preferably before they write their next editorial on the subject.

If it were ever to see the light of day, the legislation would prevent courts from ordering states to recognize gay marriage by denying all federal courts, including the Supreme Court, jurisdiction to rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. That law, passed in 1996 and signed by President Clinton, says no state has to recognize same-sex unions from other states.

This past spring, Massachusetts began sanctioning same-sex marriages.

Memo to the 223 lawmakers, including 27 Democrats, who approved this bill: Contrary to what you may wish, in our system the Constitution reigns supreme.

Memo to the Post editors: read the Constitution before invoking it. You might be surprised what's in there.

"This bill is a mean-spirited, unconstitutional, dangerous distraction," Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern was quoted as saying. "They couldn't amend the Constitution last week, so they're trying to desecrate and circumvent the Constitution this week."

Alarmingly for a US Congressman, Mr. McGovern doesn't know the Constitution any better than the Post, but he certainly knows what side of the aisle he's on. Using Project Vote Smart, you can find out the most amazing things about voting records...

Friday, July 23, 2004

Meeting the Great Man Himself 

It's late, and Shabbat is almost upon us, so I'll be quick. Much of the Alliance gathered in line to meet Mr. Hewitt himself, and to get the books signed. He was gracious enough to pose for pictures with all of us, and kind enough to plug the Alliance en masse to the assembled hundreds.

The books sold out, the line wound through the store twice, so he couldn't linger too long. Thanks to Jonathan for getting there first. No doubt Jared, Bob, Richard, Clay, and Jonathan will have postings of their own.

And hopefully, we'll be able to crush Ken Salazar and his brother John this fall. Nothing personal, you understand. Just politics.

UPDATE: Here's the picture. Michele, I hope it's proportioned ok...

Convention Coverage 

Fred Barnes just said on Hugh's show that the networks are going to allot 3 hours total to each convention. If that's true, there will be almost no bounce of any significance. Instead of coming home each night to see the convention, people will only see the candidates' acceptance speeches, unless they watch cable. (Fred pointed out that mostly, the people who watch cable have already made up their minds.) Deprived of the more dynamic speakers, the focus will really be on the two principles.

This, I think, works significantly to the President's advantage. Kerry's not a great speaker, to say the least, and Bush's rhetoric has really flown since 9-11. Assuming Bush doesn't get bogged down in a State of the Union Address, and if Kerry sticks to his typical level of rhetoric, the President will compare very favorably. Since the conventions are so far apart, this really amounts to taking better advantage of his chance.

The 9/11 Report (and Ken Salazar) 

I have to admit, my first reaction to the Commission's recommendation for an intelligence chief was positive. It took Charles Hill's excellent article, reprinted in Powerline, to persuade me otherwise. In fact, there already exists such a chief - the DCI.

In all likelihood, the administration is waiting to appoint a new one because that job is about to get much tougher. Not only will he have to change the way the CIA does business, he's going to have to tackle and harness bureaucracies that are institutionally hostile to him. The administration has a chance to seize the initiative here, and make a fresh start of things.

Ken Salazar immediately accepted the commission's recommendation (Adobe PDF). Which suggests another line of attack: Salazar want more bureaucracy, when what we need is leadership. Coors and Schaffer both pointed out in the NFIB debate that Salazar's position on the Death Tax was basically a bureaucratic one: pick a number below which we'll let people inherit the family business. What we need is a principled one: the money's already been taxed, why break up the business or force its sale to someone even bigger?

This may well be a theme that the Republicans can pick up after August 10.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Coors Primary Endorsements 

Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera has endorsed Pete Coors in the Republican promary. It's kind of a two-fer for Coors, since it comes in the heart of Schaffer's conservative base, the Springs, and Rivera's a hispanic, whose support may be helpful against Salazar. The chance for Rivera to campaign statewide may also help the party among hispanics in the state, longer-term.

Rivera has some recent currency with social conservatives. Focus on the Family praised him only a few weeks ago, for refusing to issue a proclamation honoring the gay Pridefest Parade in the Springs.

At the same time, Jack Kemp, he of the Kemp-Roth Tax Reform of 1981, has also endorsed Coors over Schaffer. Kemp hasn't been much of a personal force since 1996, and I'm not sure how much weight this is going to carry. But to the extent that a tax-cutting, free-marketeer like Kemp matters, Schaffer can't be happy about this.

Armstrong's Polling Issues 

The Coors campaign has been touting the results of a "push-poll" to bolster its claim of being the front-runner. For those of you who don't know, push-polling is usually telephone polling where the respondent is asked who he is supporting, and then asked follow-up questions like, "If you knew that Bob Schaffer mangled cats in his spare time, would that make you more or less likely to vote for him?" Sometimes, then, at the end, the respondent is again asked whom he supports, and, surprise!, maybe his answer has changed. It basically invalidates the entire polling process, and produces results that are more useful for press releases than for strategy.

Now, it turns out that Bill Armstrong has been using a little manipulative polling of his own to fend off accusations that his anti-Coors ads are hurting the party. According to David Hill, Texas-based Republican pollster,

Over the weekend, Armstrong asked my firm to conduct a poll of Colorado GOP primary voters to see what they think about the whole affair.

We asked voters this question: “Some people say controversial issues like these should not be discussed in Republican primary campaigns because they are divisive and negative; other people say such issues provide information that is helpful to voters in deciding which candidate should be nominated or elected. Which point of view comes closest to your own: Should issues like this be avoided because they are divisive, or should they be discussed to better inform voters?”

• 79 percent of voters said such issues should be discussed.

• 13 percent said they should be avoided.

• 5 percent were unsure.

• 3 percent declined to answer.

Of course, there's a difference between "discussed" and "debated with the seriousness and intensity of a college debating society."

Hill also claims that, "Coors, incredibly, has made a plank of his campaign platform the lowering of the drinking age to 18." As mentioned before, the matter first came up when Bob Schaffer raised the matter of an op-ed that Coors had written several years ago making that argument. Nothing the matter with that. Coors, given the chance to dissemble, chose instead to stand by his position. He doesn't raise the issue much, and it's not a centerpiece of his campaign.

But it is a centerpiece of those 527 ads.

UPDATE: One of the commentors below notes that this, technically, isn't push-polling, and I stand corrected. Armstrong's history here has been an honorable one. Nevertheless, he is deliberately asking about one thing, and using it to respond to something else. Having made one mistake, the 527 ads, he's now compounding it with another.

Terror in the Skies - More Questions 

Band or Terrorists?

But isn't it possible they were both? It's not like Jihadi is a full-time profession for most people. Recent history suggests that guys in the field get one operation and then qualify for either long-term disability or probate.

The Washington Times article appears to accept that possibility, and even the Carrot Top-loving Cullen says that "some came in from Detroit, others from Lebanon." Who was already in the country, and for how long? When was this particular band put together? Ad-hoc arrangements happen all the time, and could be an excuse for infiltrating people into the country. One-way tickets? They were planning to defect, maybe, and got cold feet?

The guys who got up after the landing announcement, were they the guys from Lebanon, or from Detroit, who might be expected to know enough English? If these guys didn't know enough English to stay put, where was their guide or docent? Wouldn't TSA send someone out to look for the guy at the top of the escalator with the hand-lettered "Mehanna" sign?

They were confident enough to come here in the first place, but didn't say anything to their agent about being detained at the airport? What explanation did they have for being late? Obviously, Cullen knew what flight they were on and when to expect them. Did he think they swung by Knott's Berry Farm on the way in?

Look, people's lives have all sorts of inconsistencies and spur-of-the-moment events. But large groups of men, from suspicious countries, traveling abroad, tend to try to adhere to schedules and protocol. Some of these questions are along the lines of "how clueless can you be, Mr. Cullen?" But some of them still bear a little detective work.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Terror In the Skies - Answer 

It would appear that the Mystery of the Syrian Musicians has been solved. Amazingly, they apparently don't teach actual reporting in journalism schools, anymore.

The Peace President 

Both Ramesh Ponnuru over at NRO, and Andrew Sullivan, who's just getting grouchier by the minute, are upset over this NY Times report from the President's campaign:

Mr. Bush noted: "The enemy declared war on us. Nobody wants to be the war president. I want to be the peace president. The next four years will be peaceful years." He repeated the words "peace" or "peaceful" many times, as he has done increasingly in his recent appearances.

We know this administration values speechwriters. So, how about this from Peggy Noonan in last Thursday's Wall Street Journal:

Here is a criticism I have spoken of but not written of regarding President Bush. When you are president and you are doing hard things in history like making war, and you are doing it in the jingle-jangle of the modern media environment, you have a kind of moral responsibility to make it clear that you hate war, really hate it, and love peace. This would seem obvious, but is not. Men and women in the midst of planning war forget to say it and insist it. Sly old FDR didn't forget, though. Lincoln didn't forget it either. He always made it clear he thought the impending and then ongoing war a painful tragedy. Mr. Bush has not made it clear, or has not repeated often enough, that he hopes for peace, yearns for peace, loves it. He seems part of the very drama he has been forced to wage, and seems sometimes to enjoy it.

This is delicate. A leader cannot seem ambivalent about crucial actions and decisions, and he can't seem so weighed down by the facts and implications of those decisions that people begin to wonder if he's lost his fight. There's a reason people like a happy warrior. A happy warrior tends to be a winning warrior. And yet. In the world we live in a leader must seem almost palpably yearning for life and peace even as he makes tough decisions that will soon deny either or both to some.

Is it possible that the White House just took a hint? Now, maybe they went about it a little ham-handedly, or maybe the Times mucked up the quote, or maybe the President freelanced a little. But I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people in this White House read the OpinionJournal. Peggy Noonan is somewhat controversial, even in conservative circles. But she's onto something here, I think, and maybe the campaign thinks so, too.

Welcome... all the Northern Alliance readers directed here from Powerline, without a doubt one of the blogs most generous with its links.

Intramural Food Fight 

As Ben and Clay have been noting all week, Pete Coors and a pro-Schaffer 527 group backed by Bill Armstrong have been slinging around mud, er, negative advertising.

It appears that Armstrong was the first to start doing this, essentially accusing Coors of being not all that conservative. Coors responded by accusing Schaffer of being a career politician and of padding his resume. Resume-padding has been a problem for college football coaches of late, so maybe Coors is counting on that.

I'm sure that Schaffer will counter by saying that Coors accused him of voting to raise taxes, and Coors will talk about the Prime Minister of Canada, whose name he probably knows by now. (For any company, there's only room for one set of senior management. You know that ad where the Italian businessman comes back to find a phone he doesn't understand? How about coming back to find a Maple Leaf over your office door and a moving van outside? Guys, it was a leave of absence, not a pack-up-and-leave-in-my-absence.)

Also, while Schaffer has publicly disapproved of the ads, it's probably illegal for him to actually ask Armstrong to pull them. Independent 527 groups aren't allowed to coordinate with campaigns or parties, although, to be honest, they'd both have to be pinball wizards not to pick up the paper and get cues from each other.

The point is that nobody cares who said what first, and what pledges got signed about negative campaigning. As has been pointed out before, negative campaigning can help define differences. That's what these ads try to do. Armstrong really believes Schaffer is a more committed conservative; Coors really is running on his business background, as compared to a political background like Schaffer's.

The problem is that they both have the potential to be weapons in the general election. Coors essentially attacks Schaffer's honesty and character. But those charges are hard to transfer from primary to general. Should Armstrong be successful in getting conservatives to doubt Coors's credentials, it could leave a lasting impression that leaves conservatives more likely to sit at home on Election Day.

This is going to get worse over the next three weeks. But Armstrong's ads are probably more damaging to the party in the fall, and need to be pulled.

UPDATE: The Ft. Collins Coloradoan is reporting that Armstrong will not pull his ads. If Coors is really spending $250K a week on his, he's going to enter the general election with his main advantage - a warchest - pretty much neutralized. If Coors wins, will Armstrong keep his 527 up and running for the general?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Boulder Prairie Dogs 

Prairie dogs are cute. From a distance. From the side of a road. In a prairie dog village with little binoculars.

But not necessarily on your property. For this reason, the State of Colorado has a law empowering landowners to kill the little vermin if you end up with them on your property. Boulder (of course) has traditionally protected its prairie dogs, but the state is now telling it that this law conflicts with state law and needs to be changed.

Tonight, the Boulder City Council is trying to vote on a bill to permit poisoning. A fair number of Boulderites, whose sensitivity towards animals apparently never got beyond those 4th-grade "Save the Whales" posters we're now embarassed we made, have decided to protest. Tell ya what. If they pay for the ankle splints from the holes, the rabies treatments, and the hanta-virus quarantines.

Of course, there's always this option:

Sandy Berger 

I waited on this mostly because I didn't have anything new to add, and because the jokes kept getting better. It turns out now that Berger has resigned his unofficial position with the Kerry campaign, saying that "he didn't want anything associated with the 9/11 Commission to be used for partisan political purposes." Mmmm.

Isn't this a great reminder as to why we put the adults back in charge in 2000?

Terror in the Skies - Question 

Here's what I don't get.

This is supposed to be a Syrian band of some sort.  The lunatic fringe, also known as Erika Green, knows knows knows that it isn't her friend Kulna Sawa, or Kama Sutra, or whatever.  Fine.  It's the only Syrian band we can find, but the picture's got a girl in it, and we know there weren't any girls sneaking around, disabling lavatory music sensors, and planting flute parts where later bands could find them.  So let's say it wasn't them.

Why hasn't anyone involved with the gig come forward?

Really. The guys on the plane were clearly aware they were freaking people out.  How hard would it have been for a musician to nudge the guy next to him and say, "eh, you know, what's the best way to the Mojave from the airport?  We've got a gig there tonight."  It would have embarrassed the hell out of whomever he told, and probably defused a situation that, instead, ended up with a regiment of armed federal agents doing triage on the passenger list.

Since then, it's been three weeks since the flight (whose number, origin and destination, and flight number were given, for crying out loud), and one week since the article.  And silence.  Nothing.  Chirp-chirp-chirp, as the crickets play a capella.  No band, who might well be back in Syria being questioned by their government about what went wrong.  No booking agent.  No party host.  No casino owner.  No pissed-off hotel manager wanting to know who to bill for dry-cleaning the prayer mats.  Nobody - at all - telling us that everything's ok, move along, there's nothing to see here.

We're supposed to be chasing down these folks to find out who they are.  But if everything's as innocent as all that, why wouldn't they avail themselves of the chance to make us all look bad, and maybe pick up a few bookings by famous lefties who want another platform to lecture us about the evils of racist profiling?  Seriously, if it were you, wouldn't you say something?

Because of an Editing Error... 

an article on Thursday about British prewar intelligence on Iraq misstated the location cited by President Bush in his State of the Union address when he talked about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium. Basing his comments on a British report, the president said Iraq had made those efforts in Africa. He did not specifically mention Niger, though that country was identified several weeks earlier — along with Somalia and Congo — in the National Intelligence Estimate provided to members of Congress on Iraqi purchase attempts.

New York Times, Corrections, July 20, 2004

These have got to be the most-reported-on 16 words in the history of State of the Union addresses. At least one short-lived media career and several journalistic ones have been launched and now crashed over them. They served as the basis for virtually the entire "Bush LIED!!!!" hysteria that the Left has used to discredit the administration and the President. They received months of front-page coverage when apparently untrue, and several days of middle-page below-the-fold discussion when proven correct.

And yet the Times got them wrong. Amazing.

Salazar on Foreign Policy 

In a taped-for-TV debate with Mike Miles, Ken Salazar has apparently fallen into line with John Kerry's views on Iraq:

"In a word, we need to de-Halliburton Iraq," said [Mike] Miles, only to see Salazar follow up momentarily with:

"I agree we need to de-Halliburton Iraq."

Salazar called for more international involvement in Iraq, including that of the United Nations, and blamed the war on "some of the most massive intelligence failures seen in this country."


When asked about homeland defense and the Patriot Act, Salazar referred to his two terms as Colorado's attorney general in calling for more training for police and other authorities who might find themselves dealing with terrorist attacks.

The Patriot Act, he said, needs amending, but he didn't say how.

"De-Halliburton Iraq?" Sure, let's turn over contracting and reconstruction to the UN, who did such a bang-up job with UNSCAM program. I understand they may have very close relations with the insurgents there.

This is just irresponsible talk, and more indication of why the Democratic party needs another four years' rest to get their foreign policy act together. Salazar is willing to bash the Patriot Act rather than defend its provisions. He wants to bring in a UN which, in its hostility to the US, is willing to sacrifice freedom on the altar of its sovereignty fetish.

Worst, he shows no understanding of the larger picture. For Ken Salazar, the war in Iraq was about intelligence failures. In reality, it was about helping people in Middle East get a sandbox where they can build something of their own, rather than destroy what they can't have.

I can see why he'd rather talk about health care.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Salazar - Not So Independent 

State Attorney General Ken Salazar has decided he's John Edwards. At least, he's decided that that's the campaign he wants to run.

What are the characteristics of an Edwards campaign? A liberal trying to appear centrist. This can work if people don't know you all that well. It worked, for instance, in North Carolina, the first time. Now, Edwards is too well-known to win a second term.

The rest of the campaign is lifted directly from Edwards. He talks about "two Colorados." He's the guy from a dirt-poor background who became a lawyer and got out. He's kind of stuck with the trial-lawyer thing, because of all the support they've given him.

It helps if you're an attorney general. It gives you the dual advantage of being "for the little guy" and being "for law and order." It also gives you a record to defend. In theory, this should be easy. The popular stuff you own. The unpopular stuff you blame on the legislature. That line of defense is harder, though, if you bail when the legislature goes against your party. So much for defending state sovereignty.

It helps if you have Mike Miles as an opponent. But it doesn't help so much if you have to put your positions down in black and white. Or as little black and white as you can get away with. Take a look at the list, and see if you can find where Salazar differs from the traditional, liberal (although not Leftist) party line.

It's going to be the job of the Republican candidate to point this out.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat? 

This is too good to be true:

Associated Press

FIGEAC, France -- Lance Armstrong finished ninth in Thursday's stage of the Tour de France and accused French reporters of trying to rummage through his hotel room in hopes of finding evidence of doping.


The Texan said one reporter has been following the team for months, calling the conduct "scandalous."

The France 3 investigative reporter in question, Hugues Huet, confirmed he went to the hotel to talk to Armstrong aides about his teammates and chatted to the hotel manager for a few minutes. But he denied he sought access to the champion's room.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

WaPoll Overstates Dems (Again) 

Readers of this spot are by now familiar with the polling maxim: Check the Party Mix, and no, we don't mean this. The Washington Post has another poll out, and while the news is better for the President, the results are still skewed by the party mix. Consistently, on the most important questions, the Post has a mix with about 5% more Democrats than Republicans.

I'm not going to go into each specific question here, but it's very important to document the analytical methodology I'm using. I use Microsoft Excel's Solver function. Now, Solver works by starting with a set of suggested numbers, and converging on a solution. If there are multiple solutions, Solver will pick the solution closest to the starting point. This is important, because there are an infinite number of solutions to the party mix for any questionnaire answer. I chose to start with a 33-33-34 D-R-I mix. In every case, Solver found that the total percentage for both answers (Kerry/Bush or Good/Bad) needed about 5% more Democrats. Solving for both answers was necessary due to rounding error - the Post only published results to the nearest percent.

Seized by self-doubt, I wanted to make sure that there wasn't some mix like 30-30-40 that would get the Post's results. There wasn't. In one case, a 20-20-60 mix worked, and in another, there was no solution with equal party proportions that gave the aggregate result. I ran beginning guesses from 50-50-0 to 0-0-100, and never did a reasonable mix with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans work. Finally, it's worth noting that in every case, the Democrats needed to outnumber the Republicans to get the Post's results. If the errors were purely rounding error, or random, one would have expected the Republicans to outnumber the Democrats just as often.

Look, 5% is nothing like the L.A. Times's double-digit oversample. But it's consistent, it skews the results, and after having it pointed out multiple times, it's negligent. Partisans always take heart from favorable polls, and are disheartened by unfavorable ones. A 50-50 country needs to be represented by a 50-50 sample. Anything else, anything this consistent, isn't reporting, it's campaigning.

Retail Sales 

The Commerce Department reported that retail sales dropped 1.1% in June. No doubt the Paul Krugmans of the world will use this as an indication that the economy has topped out, and that it's 1937 again.

Before we hit the panic button and all start buying gold to stuff under our mattresses, let's look at three things: a little history, the stock market, and inventories.

First, the market. When this news broke, the market barely moved, and the Dow is currently up 17 points. This indicates that the market had already priced in this information. When the market doesn't go down on bad information, that's frequently a sign that it's headed upwards. Since the Dow is well up from its lows of the year, this is a very good sign. The market is also an excellent leading indicator of economic activity. Its dip earlier in the year probably predicted this pause, and its rise since then probably indicates robust growth will resume.

This is exactly the same sort of pattern we saw in 1984, following similarly strong consecutive quarters. The St. Louis Fed doesn't have actual retail sales information from that far back, but it does have Personal Consumption Expenditures, which is close. Indeed, in February 1984, personal consumption dropped 1.4% (in 2000 dollars) in one month, before resuming its upward climb.

Finally, the thing people care most about: will this lead to layoffs? Probably not. The inventory/sales ratio actually went down, indicating that businesses are not finding themselves backlogged. This number has been trending downwards since the Fed first started tracking it, in 1992. It's currently at an all-time low, so it's unlikely that manufacturers will be laying people off. In fact, improved inventory management is being increasingly credited for longer periods of growth and shorter recessions. Rhetoric aside, the last two recessions have been painful mostly by comparison with their surrounding prosperity.

All of this suggests that we're not about to enter another recession, and that we can probably count on a strong economy for the last half of the year.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Israel's Tourism Ministry Discovers Christians 

I don't usually listen to Laura Ingraham, but since the alternative here in town is either Morning Sedition or a fairly lame replacement for Tony Kornheiser, I do check in from time to time. It's on the Salem network, which carries Hugh, Michael Medved, and Dennis Prager. A lot of the advertising is geared to religious Christians, of which, obviously, I am not one.

This morning, though, an ad did catch my attention. The Israel Tourism Ministry ran an ad geared towards that demographic. Israel's tourism economy began suffering mightily after the 2000 Intifada started. Most Israeli tourists were American, and most Americans don't consider "Quick, Spot the Bus Bomber" to be the ideal family game. Even for most American Jews, a trip to Israel was now considered more an act of solidarity than a vacation.

Evidently, the tourism ministry figured out that there were as many American Christians who cared about Israel as there are American Jews. (Yes, there are plenty of Jews from Europe, but they're probably more interested in pitches from the Housing Ministry at the moment.) A local church, Faith Bible Chapel, paid to bring Bus 19, the skeleton of a bus destroyed by a suicide bomber, here to Denver. "Friends of Israel" logos decorate conservative Christian web sites. Clearly, this is a market waiting to be tapped.

Most Jews are still uncomfortable with all this attention. Historically, the Christians who haven't been trying to kill or get us to move on have been trying to convert us. Then they try to kill us or get us to move on. So we're not quite sure how to handle a religious Christianity that takes itself seriously, and yet doesn't treat us with condescension or hostility. Having been burned by trusting before (see Europe, 18th, 19th, 20th Centuries), we're a little wary.

But unlike European Christians, these are people comfortable with the idea of living Jews, not just remorseful over the dead ones. And apparently, the Israelis have figured this out.

Thursday, July 08, 2004


Diane Carmen on Vouchers 

Sometimes, it takes a little while to catch up. Diane Carmen, the Denver Post's reliably liberal columnist, turns out to be less than reliable on her facts. In her column celebrating the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling against vouchers, she states:

Only 11 of the state's 178 school districts would be included in the program. Only children in the lowest of the low-performing schools would be eligible.

This is about 25% correct. Districts with a certain number of lousy schools would have been required to participate. While the number of districts participating is correct, any district could have volunteered to be included. Surprisingly, none did.

For participating districts, the eligibility criteria was the student's performance, not the quality of the school. So far more students would have been eligible than Carmen admits. And if parents were able to push a district to participate, many more students could be eligible.

Carmen is entitled to her opinions; that's what an opinion column is about. But, to quote Mr. Buckley, she's not entitled to her own facts. The Post has editors for this sort of thing. It should think about using them.

Senate Campaign Cash 

The Rocky carries the latest FEC filings for the Colorado Senate race, and it pretty much confirms what we knew: Mike Miles has no chance, with only $60K on hand, and Bob Schaffer trails Pete Coors badly in both amount raised and cash on hand. Coors only has about $760,000 on hand, though, about half as much as Ken Salazar. Schaffer may be hoping for a large infusion from the Club for Growth, but it had better come soon. In the meantime, Coors is facing the prospect of a two-front campaign up until August 10. The good news is that while he'd rather not self-fund, Coors is able to do so should he need to.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Salazar Spins Edwards 

In a story about the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, a bill (that eventually passed) to allow maintenance clearing of fire-prone forests, the Grand Junction Sentinal quotes Ken Salazar as having this to say about Sen. John Edwards:

“John Edwards represents the American Dream,” said state Attorney General Ken Salazar.

Salazar, running for U.S. Senate, was endorsed by Edwards earlier this year.

“He came from humble beginnings, the son of a mill worker, to now serving in the U.S. Senate,” Salazar said. “He has spent a lifetime standing up for people; he knows their struggles and their hopes. He represents a fresh start for America, and he is a great choice for John Kerry.”

Salazar is stuck running with, rather than away from, the national ticket, so I wouldn't expect him to say anything different. But if suing your way to the top is the American Dream, that says all you need to know about Ken Salazar's commitment to tort reform.

Edwards and the Colorado Senate Race 

Yesterday, I surmised that Edwards's profession as a trial lawyer wouldn't do him much good here, and that it might even hurt Attorney General Ken Salazar's run. Salazar was clearly put on the defensivelast Thursday by his support from the ATLA, but he's also seemingly decided to run vocally with Kerry and against Bush. By closely associating himself with the Democratic ticket, he opens an opportunity for the Republican nominee.

This morning's Rocky discusses exactly this issue:

In Colorado, Democratic U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Mark Udall both noted Tuesday that being a lawyer became controversial in 1996, when Democrat Tom Strickland first ran for U.S. Senate.

Republican U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard bashed Strickland then, and in their rematch in 2002, for his work as a corporate lawyer and lobbyist.


The campaign for Attorney General Ken Salazar - who also has won Edwards' support in his quest for U.S. Senate - said Edwards' work as a trial lawyer is "irrelevant."

Udall disagreed, noting, "Our history is replete with leaders who have been lawyers who understand the way the law works.

"The trial bar at its best looks after the little guy. ... And that's what John Edwards does," he said.

Salazar not only has Edwards's support, according to the FEC, he's got campaign contributions from him. Strickland, an attorney himself, downplays the role that had in his two losses, and Udall, running in a safe Boulder seat, is free to play up the angle. But if Salazar's campaign is as terse as it sounds, he may be a little worried. He's also the only current office-holder or candidate who wants to claim this doesn't matter.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Used Book Stores 

I know we're coming out of the recession. The news is still basically good, and anyone could have predicted this little pause by looking at the markets, and at history. The last time we blew off an 8% quarter and a 4% quarter, we also paused before picking up for another 5 years of growth.

Still, every time we go through one of these things, something changes. This time, it seems to be used book stores. Denver/Boulder has lost at least 6 of them over the last couple of years: Willow Creek, the Bohemian Bookworm, Aion, Abracadabra, another one in Boulder, and one in Colorado Springs. Some converted to on-line only sales, others gone altogether. One even picked up and moved - I'm not kidding - to a barn in Sweetwater Junction, Wyoming.

One of the first things I do when I'm visiting a town is to look up the used book stores and see if there are any near where I'll be. It's not always bargains, of course. I once dropped 3 bills on an Encyclopedia Britannica 11th Edition (1911), and had it shipped back to DC. But I can always buy that one book, if it's something I've been looking for.

I know about ABE books, of course, and if I'm really looking for something, I'll try there, too. There's no use explaining it, though. Like most obsessions, explanations are either superfluous or pointless.

I need three things to browse. A cup of coffee. A little money. And knowledge that I'll have time to read what I'm buying. Maybe not that afternoon, but sometime. Going back to school has just about killed this passion. Two years of homework stealing every spare moment and student loans obligating every incoming dime have made every purchase a struggle. Another reason to finish up and get on with life.

For the last 20 years or so, I've made a habit of writing my name and the date on the flyleaf of new purchases. I'm not the only one who does that, of course, and sometimes I'll find myself adding my name to a list of those of two or three previous owners. But recently, I've taken to adding the name of the shop where I bought the book, too. Don't ask me why.

The best places for used book stores are college towns. Professors die or retire, and get rid of a lifetimes of books. It's why Boulder, until recently, had better used book stores than Denver, and why Georgetown still has a little used book row on P Street.

Still, even the ones there are going out of business. One wonders where the books go. Most of them are bought up by consolidators or other stores, it seems. Still, in a mere 200 years, we've gone from books being a luxury item to a throw-away.

Like anything, it can be overdone. Jefferson bankrupted himself buying books, when they were a little rarer. My own collection runs to about 3000 books. Last summer, when I was threatened with having to move to Austin for work, I started cataloging them, so I know. I've basically run out of places to put them, which also takes some of the edge of off browsing. When you know that those five books are going to mean a major reorganization when you get home, you think twice.

Ah, well. Enough of this. Back to the homework.

Schaffer & Taxes 

One other note on Thursday's debate. Pete Coors tried to mix it up a little with Bob Schaffer over the tax issue again, and Schaffer was having none of it. Good for him.

He's on pretty firm ground here. He voted to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, and according to the remarkable Project Vote Smart, voted to reduce taxes just about every vote I could find. He also received a $1000 campaign contribution from Douglas Bruce, author of the TABOR Amendment we're trying to preserve.

Coors isn't going to make any headway with this. Coors has plenty to run on without pursuing this red herring, unless it's just a tactical move to get Schaffer to self-destruct in a puff of blue smoke and indignation.

Kerry the "Realist" 

Over the weekend, John Kerry published an op-ed piece detailing his "realistic" "vision" for Iraq. The Bush campaign should hope that he finds time to keep writing.

Our military performed brilliantly in the war's first mission: ending the regime of Saddam Hussein. And all Americans share President Bush's desire for Iraqis to live with the blessings of democracy and security. But we are a practical people, and we know that all the rhetoric we've heard hasn't been accompanied by a realistic plan to win the peace and bring our troops home. We know that a chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Eric Shinseki, was right when he argued that more troops would be needed to establish security and win the peace in the weeks and months after Saddam Hussein's fall. And we know, especially, that we should have brought more friends and allies to the cause.

By carefully avoiding any mention of why we went to war, and how success in Iraq makes the US more secure, Kerry is trying to frame the question entirely in terms of an exit strategy. The issue is no longer how to win a war against radical Islam, but rather how to shift the burden so we can bring the troops home.

The point here is not to revisit history but to forge a new policy based on what we know and on what will be most effective. We still have an opportunity to prevent Iraq from becoming a failed state and a haven for global terrorists and Islamic extremists. We can still succeed in promoting stability, democracy, protection of minority and women's rights, and peace in the region, even at this late hour, if we construct and follow a realistic path. But if we are to reduce the overwhelming military and financial burden America is bearing and maximize the chances of success, we will need help from others. Getting that help will require not only convincing our friends and allies that we share an interest in preventing failure but also giving them a meaningful voice and role in Iraqi affairs. That is the only way to forge real cooperation, and it is long past time for this to be done.

Follow the bouncing ball here. Again, Kerry fails to show any understanding of why we fought in Iraq in the first place. The only issue now is how to avoid catastrophe. The risks that he posits were exactly the reasons for going to war initially, but Kerry sees them only as consequences of intervention. Note also that Kerry doesn't consider these dire consequences, with worldwide implications, to be sufficient to recruit the allies he believes to be necessary. And finally, our "allies" should have a "meaningful voice and role in Iraqi affairs." So, while sovereignty was the rallying cry for Saddam's Iraq, it's dangerous to allow too much of it for a democratic Iraq.

On the economic front, that means giving them fair access to the multibillion-dollar reconstruction contracts. It also means letting them be a part of putting Iraq's profitable oil industry back together. In return, they must forgive Hussein's multibillion-dollar debts to their countries and pay their fair share of the reconstruction bill.

Huh? We're offering portions of multibillion-dollar contracts in return for forgiveness of multibillion-dollar debt, and promises to pay their "fair share" of those very contracts. In other words, we're offering a net financial loss as a financial incentive. From this equation, the "allies" we're trying to buy, er, bribe, er, persuade, are better off staying invested in Iraq's future by holding onto those loans.

We should also give them a leadership role in pursuing our wider strategic goals in the region. As partners, we should convene a regional conference with Iraq's neighbors. Such a conference would have two goals. First, it should secure a pledge from Iraq's neighbors to respect Iraq's borders and not to interfere in its internal affairs. And second, it should commit Iraq's leaders to provide clear protection for minorities, thus removing a major justification for possible outside intervention. Together, we should jump-start large-scale involvement with an international high commissioner to coordinate economic assistance and organize and implement these diplomatic initiatives.

Now, Kerry's spinning off into deep space without a tether. He carefully avoids enumerating Iraq's neighbors. They include such defenders of the international order as Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. All three countries have powerful reasons to see Iraq fail. Such faith in international conferences, after the 20th Century, is touching in its naivite. Appropriate, perhaps, for an op-ed writer, dangerous in a President.

After we take all these steps, and dramatically secure Iraq's external security through Iranian, Syrian, and Saudi promises, NATO can step in as a police force.

Sure. Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia are all just itching to help us get out of the quagmire that Kerry imagines Iraq to be. Let's stipulate that Iraq is a quagmire (it's not) and that NATO has tens of thousands of extra, well-trained troops looking for police duty (it doesn't). Knowing that the purpose of leaving Iraq alone is to help the US out of a mess, and to replace the coalition with NATO troops, why on earth would they agree to such a thing? Indeed, they have every incentive not to, knowing that a democratic Iraq poses a serious threat-by-example to their own regimes.

Worse, they'd have an incentive to do what regimes in that part of the world do so well - lie. Get us to "internationalize" the mission, and then proceed to undermine the country, anyway. After we've started to bring the troops home.

We're going to give "a leadership role in pursuing our wider strategic goals in the region" to countries that plainly are hostile to those goals. Leadership roles are earned, not given away as sops to countries that have obstructed us every step of the way. If democracy, stability, and economic growth aren't enough to persuade Germany and France and Russia that our interests coincide, does Kerry really have such a low opinion of his friends that he believes that a few billion in cement contracts is going to win them over?

Most ominously, Kerry doesn't discuss what he thinks our "strategic goals" in the region are supposed to be. Kerry shows no signs of understanding the larger strategic role that Iraq is supposed to play. He shows no signs of being willing to support Israel in the face of European hostility.

In short, candidate Kerry is promising a President Kerry who is willing to put the national interests of the US, as he sees them, in the hands of bought allies and honest enemies. Now all he needs is a peanut farm and a toothy grin.

Good News from Iraq? 

The AP is reporting that a local, home-grown Iraqi group of indeterminite - well, everything - is taking on al-Zarqawi publicly, telling him to get out of Dodge, or face the consequences. This may or may not be a good thing.

A group of armed, masked Iraqi men threatened Tuesday to kill Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi if he did not immediately leave the country, accusing him of murdering innocent Iraqis and defiling the Muslim religion.

The threats revealed the deep anger many Iraqis, including insurgent groups, feel toward foreign fighters, whom many consider as illegitimate a presence here as the 160,000 U.S. and other coalition troops.

In a videotape sent to the al-Arabiya television station, a group calling itself the "Salvation Movement," questioned how al-Zarqawi could use Islam to justify the killing of innocent civilians, the targeting of government officials and the kidnapping and beheading of foreigners.

"He must leave Iraq immediately, he and his followers and everyone who gives shelter to him and his criminal actions," said a man on the video.

The video marked the first time that an Iraqi group made such a public threat against al-Zarqawi.

Now, on the surface this certainly looks hopeful. If it's the beginning of Iraqis themselves retaking possession of their country and their religion, it's hopeful. But I can think of a lot more ways this is bad than good.

In the first place, if the group has higher political aspirations, they may capitalize on any success to further those. It's probably unhealthy for a democracy to be encouraging political success through violence. This group doesn't seem to be under the control of the government, and doesn't seem to like us, much, either. They could turn out to be a gun aimed at us. Even if they are what they seem to be, an amateur political player is frequently prey for more professional organizations. If Saddam still has any friends, they could infiltrate or subvert the group to their own purposes.

Assuming everything is on the up-and-up, I'd still like to see some professions of loyalty to the new government from these guys, before we start rejoicing too heartily at Iraqi public-spiritedness.

Kerry, Edwards, and Colorado 

In Thursday night's debate, the Republican candidates (both of them, not just Schaffer) were able to put Salazar on the defensive regarding his support from the American Trial Lawyers Association. Salazar spent time from a number of succeeding questions justifying this clearly unpopular position.

When Kerry selected John Edwards as his running mate, a man who has made all of his money in lawsuits, some of them backed by very questionable science, he didn't do himself, or Ken Salazar, any favors here in Colorado. Salazar has already signalled his intention to run against George W. Bush. He clearly belived that nationalizing the race would help him here. Now, it just clarifies a likely line of attack on him. And with the Senate taking up class action reform today, either Coors or Schaffer should have a rich trove of horror stories to illustrate their point.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Happy Independence Day 

I haven't developed any particular July 4th routine over the years. Sometimes I go hiking, sometimes I go to a national park, sometimes I barbecue, or go for a long drive. This year, we're at a friend's condo in Carbondale, outside of Aspen.

I remember Fairfax City's parade (complete with little Shriner cars) growing up, and watching the county fireworks from our driveway. Later, we used to go to the Capitol steps to hear the concert and watch the fireworks.

This year, we'll watch the fireworks in Aspen, and drive home tomorrow over Independence Pass.

Friday, July 02, 2004

NFIB Debate Report 

One thing's for sure. Republicans who have been holding out hope that Mike Miles can upset Ken Salazar can forget about it. While Miles has a committed base of activists, he's completely unprepared to be Senator. Democrats who want to win won't give him a second look, and it's no surprise he's failed to generate much buzz, despite his extensive road-tripping. His facts are thin, he talks in populist generalities, and clearly doesn't have the faintest idea how the legislative process actually works.

The debate, while sponsored by the National Federation of Independent Business, was probably 50% attended by activists already committed to one candidate or party. This made it hard to gauge the debate's effect, or even which candidate was most popular with the actual businessmen in attendance. The format was also somewhat restrictive, given the time constraints. Three newspaper panelists were given three questions each, and three pre-selected audience members were each given a question. Each candidate had 90 seconds to respond, with no time for rebuttal. Candidates had to fund time for interplay out of subsequent questions.

The debate focused almost exclusively on business issues: taxes, regulation, health care, and trial lawyers. Until Schaffer broached the topic in his closing remarks, national security was barely mentioned, except in terms of immigration policy.

One of panelists asked what committees each candidate wanted to serve on, which provoked one of the few real exchanges. Salazar immediately answered, "the Judiciary Committee, prevent any more Antonin Scalias," roundly applauded by his supporters. Coors gave a straight answer. Then Schaffer said that he wanted to be on the Finance and Tax Committees, but that "Ken, you've given me an idea. Because I can't stand all this judicial meddling and activism, and if I have to serve on the Judiciary Committee to keep other people off of it, I will." Got a good laugh. Although Salazar stole time from his next question to promote Bush v. Gore as "activism being in the eye of the beholder."

I was disappointed that only Coors opposed drug importation. All the other candidates, Schaffer included, promoted buying price-controlled medicine from Canada as a free-market solution. Schaffer claims to be versed in business, but someone needs to point the absurdity of his position out to him. Miles came out in favor of a single-payer system, which Salazar called unworkable and unrealistic.

But the biggest differences were between the parties. Both Republicans came out in favor of privatizing a portion of Social Security; both Democrats opposed, with Salazar pointing to the stock market as an example of why that wouldn't work. Both Republicans supported the President's energy plan, Schaffer a little more energetically; both Democrats opposed it. But once again, Coors's understanding of economic issues came through when he pointed out that oil is a world market now, not a local one, implying correctly that "energy independence" is a pipe dream.

And both Republicans pointed out $75000 that Salazar has gotten from the trial lawyers to oppose medical liability and tort reform. Coors once again had the best facts, that some doctors are being forced to choose different fields because of medical liability insurance. Salazar wanted to wish the problem away, blaming costs on the big drug and insurance companies. Referring to the trial lawyers, Coors said, "well they're in business, too, in a very twisted, er, different way..." Which did get a good laugh.

A few style points. Salazar has an appealing, somewhat folksy style, despite his stint as Attorney General. His Colorado accent is actually pleasant to listen to, even though I disagree with everything he says in it.

Coors looks and acts patrician, coming to conclusions and opinions slowly, but seeming to hold them with integrity and confidence once they're arrived at. He made a mistake by calling the Coors Beer of 30 years ago a "small business" - people will never believe that, and it sounded like pandering. It seemed to me that he had a hard time connecting with people and looked a little uncomfortable; a few stories and illustrative anecdotes would help him a lot. And his closing statement, written and read, was stiff enough to put cardboard to shame. But he seems, I think, trustworthy in a way that Salazar can't quite pull off.

Schaffer is every inch the political pro. For him this was business. During the pre-debate introductions, he neither clapped nor smiled, transcribing notes and talking points instead. And he made a point of noting personal familiarity with two of the questioners and their businesses.

To the extent that this was a dry run for the general election, Salazar has made it clear he intends to run against President Bush, which may not actually be so wise. His examples of bi-partisanship were Tom Harkin & John McCain, which leaves the intelligent opposition candidate to ask about Zell Miller. He's also got some real vulnerabilities in his understanding of economics, which along with the environment, he wants to make the center of the campaign.

Coors is probably best-positioned to take advantage of those on the merits, and on his personal history. But Schaffer's verbal sparring and familiarity with public policy also play to his advantage. Still, he's not infallible, as he stumbled a few times, and lost track of time during his closing remarks, really a blunder for a skilled debater. The best that can be said right now is that last night exposed some chinks in Salazar's armor that a skilled opponent should be able to exploit.

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