Thursday, December 16, 2004

Is Torture an Appropriate Interrogation Method?

This article is an answer to Andrew Sullivan's comment on his website today (16 Dec 04).

While I agree most Americans that torture is not something anyone can endorse as a routine interrogation method, I believe it has its times and places.

The reasons we don't torture enemy soldiers (recognized members of an enemy's military) are twofold: we don't want our POWs tortured (fat lot of good that does us, because American POWs have been tortured in every conflict this country has been in), and there is generally nothing to be gained from torture that can not be obtained by less ethically-repulsive means.

However, there are exceptions. In some instances torture can be (and has been) extremely effective. Take the case of the US light colonel who threatened to shoot an Iraqi terrorist a year or so ago in northern Iraq, and who then fired a shot from his pistol next to the terrorist's head. That terrorist quickly gave up valuable information that saved American lives and facilitated the capture of more terrorists. While firing a pistol next to someone's head is pretty benigh as far as torture goes (psychological rather than physical, if you discount ringing ears and a headache), it was effective. And, the colonel was forced to retire from the military shortly thereafter. I'm sure his regret wasn't for his actions, and my regret is that he was forced out rather than awarded a commendation.

On the other hand, much of the amateurish, brutal abuse of prisoners is pointless at best, and counterproductive in many cases. The North Vietnamese were psychopathic in their torture of American POWs, and they did get some information, but because they went overboard physically they were not as effective as they could have been. Many US POWs remarked upon their repatriation that if the North Vietnamese had been less interested in hurting them and more interested in getting information they would have gotten far more useful intelligence. Everyone has his breaking point, but brutal physical torture breaks its victims for the sole value of breaking them instead of learning something useful.

Would you rule out physical torture in all circumstances? Think of the "Dirty Harry" scene where Detective Callahan has the Scorpio Killer writhing on the 50 yard line, stomping on his shot-up leg until the location of the buried-alive teen girl is revealed. The girl is found (too late, she has already suffocated), but the killer is freed because torture is illegal, and Dirty Harry is in serious trouble. If my daughter were the one kidnapped, I'd be in line to do a little leg stomping.

Or how about another current-day scenario? Like, say, we intercept a message telling us that Al Qu'aida has planted a nuke somewhere in Manhattan, and that intercept leads us to capture an Al Qu'aida operative in Brooklyn who has just returned from planting that nuke, and arming it to detonate in 3 hours. We can't evacuate Manhattan in time and that bomb will kill millions when it goes off. If we can possibly extract the location of the bomb from the terrorist via torture, should we do it? Or do we sentence millions to death by refusing to torture?

It comes down to this: if one side breaks the rules to gain advantage, and one side refuses to break the rules and cedes the advantage, then the 'rule-following' side will lose. If our enemies are willing to fight a no-holds-barred conflict and we aren't, then we are (literally and figuratively) going to get our heads handed to us.

One of the tenets of game theory is "tit for tat." The only way to maintain parity in a contest is to accept no more limits on your strategy and tactics than your opponents do. When the Germans protested the use of shotguns by our troops in WWI (they outnumbered us in machineguns, so we went the low-tech route) and threatened to execute any US soldier captured with a shotgun, Woodrow Wilson let it be known that we would execute one German POW for every executed US POW. The Germans decided that perhaps, if mustard gas was legitimate, then shotguns were also. Similarly, chemical weapons weren't used in WWII by the Germans because the British and US informed Hitler that any tactical use of such weapons would be countered with a massive strategic chemical strike against German cities. Hitler took us at our word. And, in 1991, George Schultz took Tariq Aziz aside and informed him that the US would respond to any use of WMDs as if nukes were involved... and that we would burn Iraq off of the face of the earth. Saddam got the message.

Letting terrorist know that we will not use torture is telling them that there is no downside to keeping their mouths shut. I would submit that this is an advantage we cannot cede. And while I don't support brutal physical torture (because it is both morally wrong and as harmful to the torturers as to the recipients), I don't have a problem with humiliating terrorists by making them walk around naked and get barked at by German Shepards. Heck, that passes for fun in many US cities with the whips-and-leather crowd. Further, I think any form of psychological torture (lying to prisoners, telling them their family will be killed if they don't cooperate, or intimidation like threatening to kill them as the Army colonel did) is legitimate -- as opposed to actually carrying out the threats. If we fake killing one terrorist (complete with special effects like fake blood and brains on a wall) and the others talk, what's the problem? We should also be willing to use chemical means (sodium pentothal or other drugs) that enable us to extract information without actually physically torturing terrorists. And, in the extreme (as in the planted nuke scenario above), all bets are off.

I know these views aren't going to be popular with the "treat terrorists as criminals" law-enforcement-approach-favoring types, but then I think their approach is wrong, dangerous, ignorant, and naïve. The American public seems to agree: that's why they didn't trust John Kerry and the Democratic approach to the War on Terror.

Does that make us bad people? Nope. A society offers the mercy and compassion it can afford. Torturing someone because they haven't paid a parking ticket is way out of bounds. Torturing someone because they've planted a nuke in an American city (or because they've planted an IED by an Iraqi road) and we want to know where it is before it goes off) is appropriate, and the level of torture should reflect the threat to innocent human life.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Why the Democrats Lost (Again)

William Saletin's explanation of why Bush won was very entertaining... and very wrong. Bush didn't win because he's simple. Nor did he win because he explains his positions better. Please...

Those 'explanations' are yet another symptom of why Dems are losing politically. You guys just don't get it. So, I'll explain it to you.

Here's the deal: red-state America by-and-large thinks that the so-called "liberal elites" are full of crap. We don't think you're smarter than us, we don't think you're wiser than us, and we don't think you're as competent as we are. We're fed up with your lack of respect for the military. We know that we can't count on you to join the fight or support the troops if we're attacked, and we make up most of the military anyway. Besides, we don't want you in the military because you're mostly useless anyway -- just get out of the way and let those of us who know how to fight do it and save your asses. We saw what you did to the military during Vietnam and how your "bright ideas" and lack of courage got lots of Americans killed in what ended up as a loser not because the military lost but because you "elites" threw in the towel. We believe you lack the courage of your convictions, and every time you take a poll before you take a stand our belief is reinforced.

We look at your solutions and they are so obviously flawed that we have no faith in your perception or your judgement. Your ideas are tired, and they don't work, but you refuse to open up your minds to any alternatives because of your belief in your superiority. We find your arrogance repulsive, and especially puzzling because we can't honestly see what reason you have to be arrogant. You're all talk.

We see the candidate you put up for president, John Kerry, and we ask "Is this the best they have, or do they just think we're that stupid?" We wonder why, if John Kerry was such a war hero, does just about everyone who served with him despise the man? A lot of us have been in the military, and all of us have experiences with teams or groups. And we all know of the one guy who doesn't fit in, who is always kept on the bench, who always seems to screw up, who is never given any responsibility on the job, and who is never invited out with the guys. We see John Kerry as that guy... the guy who brags about "Christmas in Cambodia" or clutching false memorabilia (like his boonie hat talisman he keeps in a briefcase) and then is caught lying about it -- Kerry was never in Cambodia! We don't know if the SwiftVets were right about everything, but we do know that Kerry doesn't pass the sniff test. Something is wrong about him.

The exit pollers had one very interesting statistic: the single largest concern of voters was about cultural values. Bush exudes values in spades, while Kerry is bereft of values. Like him or hate him, everyone in the world knows what George Bush believes, and knows that his beliefs aren't subject to the latest polls. We won't elect a president we don't trust, and we trust Bush to say what he believes and to believe what he says. Even though we may disagree with him on this or that, we believe that he will do what he thinks is right even if it's unpopular. We can respect that.

To the contrary, John Kerry reflects what greater America despises about politicians: a willingness to adopt a position based not upon values but upon political expediency. Running for president and you need to look tough? Vote for war with Iraq. Getting clobbered in the Democratic primaries by a radical-left candidate? Vote against the war. Things going good in Iraq? Remind people you voted for the war. Things going bad? Remind people you voted against the war -- or call the other guy a liar. Those of us in red-state America wouldn't hire you to work at our jobsite, on our farms, or in our businesses. Think we're going to elect you president? You must be dreaming.

Oh, and quit trying to pull the wool over our eyes with bogus "just one of the guys" events, like that ridiculous goose hunt. The guy is loaded, and he's an avid hunter (or so he says), but he has to borrow clothes and a gun. And what hunter doesn't carry his own game? We know that when a group of hunters walks out of the fields and everybody but one guy is carrying a dead goose, chances are that guy didn't get a goose. We can spot a phony a mile away.

The Dems will continue to lose until they can find a candidate who is believable. Not believable like Clinton (who needed Perot to give him the White House both times), who fooled us once but who won't fool us again. A Clinton endorsement is the political kiss of death in red-state America. Certainly not Hillary, the epitome of a pushy know-it-all. She'll get the same reception from us at the polls as she did from the firefighters and police at the post-9/11 concert.

Can the Dems find that candidate in their ranks who hold principled values that we agree with and who isn't afraid to articulate them? I don't think so. I think the amalgamation of the Democratic Party as a coalition of radical special interests with disparate views each of which is unacceptable to the vast majority of Americans precludes the ability of the Dems to choose a candidate who is acceptable to red-state America. Hint: it's not a Dukakis, a Teddy Kennedy, a Hillary Clinton, or a John Kerry. But it's not going to happen, because the "elites" hold red-state America in contempt. Until that changes, until the Dems realize that maybe they've been wrong, maybe flyover country isn't so stupid after all, and perhaps their candidates need to be honest, authentic, principled, and have values that are aligned with ours, better get used to the GOP running things.

Monday, October 18, 2004

What's Right About George Bush (and wrong about John Kerry)

Hugh Hewitt has posed the following question: "In 250 words or less, why vote for Bush and what's wrong with Kerry?" Here is my take:

Every four years, each presidential campaign announces that 'this presidential election is the most important in our lifetime'. This time they're right. This election is the culmination of the political battle that started in 1968 when the radical left decided to take over the Democratic Party. The battle was joined in 1972 with the election of Richard Nixon and the subsequent coup that used Watergate to unseat him, escalated with the judicial nomination battles in the 1980s, boiled over after the 1992 Democratic executive and legislative sweeps, and then exploded after the 1994 Republican legislative takeover and the subsequent battles over Whitewater and the Monica Lewinsky scandals. The 2000 election illustrated the chasm that divides us, with Al Gore refusing to concede until the US Supreme Court forced him to. Most Democrats still adamantly reject that decision.

Since then, the Democrats have done everything possible to thwart the Republicans’ ability to govern effectively because to them regaining political supremacy is the only priority. Not even September 11 has been able to alter the dynamic. The Democrats are so sure their agenda is best that they’re willing to destroy the country if that’s what it takes to regain power. That’s why Zell Miller, a life-long Democrat, is so angry. That’s why he endorsed George Bush.

Why vote for George Bush? Because he isn’t afraid to take a position. Because he is willing to recognize evil, and call it what it is. Because he’s principled and courageous.

In short, because he isn’t John Kerry.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Nightline: Very Clever, But Not Very Smart

Tonight's (14 Oct 04) Nightline featured an "investigative piece" on the controversy over John Kerry's Silver Star award. For those of you who haven't read "Unfit for Duty" here's the deal: John Kerry received a Silver Star (the Navy's fifth highest award) for his actions on February 28th, 1969. The SwiftVets allege that the award was the result of an inflated combat report written by Kerry himself, and that the true story of the incident is not something for which someone should receive a highly-regarded award such as the Silver Star. Here's how Nightline told it:
On Feb. 28, 1969, a convoy of three American Swift boats came up the river under the command of Lt. John Kerry, arriving at the village of Tran Thoi. According to Kerry's medal citation, the boats "came under intense automatic weapons and small arms fire from an entrenched enemy force less than 50 feet away. Unhesitatingly, Lieutenant [junior grade] Kerry ordered his boat to attack."

The Swift boats, which were transporting a group of the Americans' South Vietnamese allies, turned into the ambush and beached. According to the after-action report, the South Vietnamese troops stormed ashore, overwhelming the local insurgents.
But there's more:
According to the Navy's official report, following the initial ambush, Kerry's boat, PCF 94, and another Swift boat continued up the river to an area where gunshots had been reported.

Less than a kilometer upriver is Nha Vi, a small hamlet. Vo Van Tam, now 54, was a local Viet Cong commander during the war. According to him, the area was a hotbed of guerrilla activity. They had recently been reinforced by a 12-man unit, supplied with small arms and one B-40 rocket launcher. He said the reinforcements had been dispatched from provincial headquarters specifically to target the Swift boats.

According to the citation for Kerry's Silver Star, when the boats approached the hamlet, "a B-40 rocket exploded close aboard PCF 94" — Kerry's boat. He "personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the enemy," the citation says, before commending Kerry's "extraordinary daring and personal courage" for "attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire."

That account is disputed by Swift boat veteran John O'Neill, author of "Unfit for Command," who maintains in his book that the statement "is simply false. There was little or no fire."
What Ted Koppel and ABC News fail to tell you is that John Kerry's account as explained in two books for which he was the source ("Tour of Duty" and "John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography By the Boston Globe Reporters Who Know Him Best" which I'll refer to as the "Globe biography") back up the SwiftVets' version and are in complete contrast with the version ABC obtained from Vietnamese "eyewitnesses" during their trip to Vietnam. In fact, the ABC/Vietnamese version differs from that of John Kerry in several important instances. Again from Nightline:
According to the after-action report, after beaching the Swift boat, Kerry "chased VC inland, behind hooch, and shot him while he fled, capturing one B-40 rocket launcher, with round in chamber."

None of the villagers seems to be able to say for a fact that they saw an American chase the man who fired the B-40 into the woods and shoot him. Nobody seems to remember that. But they have no problem remembering Ba Thang, the man who has been dismissed by Kerry's detractors as "a lone, wounded, fleeing, young Vietcong in a loincloth." (The description comes from "Unfit for Command," by Swift boat veteran John O'Neill.)
A break here, to point out that this basic description—a wounded youthful fighter wearing only a loincloth who is fleeing—is also given in "Tour of Duty" and the Globe bio. So, it would have been fair and factual to say that everyone except the Vietnamese agree on this issue. Having clarified that, let's continue with the Nightline story:

"No, this is not correct," Nguyen Thi Tuoi, 77, told ABC News. "He wore a black pajama. He was strong. He was big and strong. He was about 26 or 27."

Tuoi said she didn't see Ba Thanh get shot either, but she and her husband say they were the first to find his body. They say they found him a good distance from his bunker, though she could not confirm that Kerry — or anyone else — had pursued him into the bush.

Her husband, Nguyen Van Ty, in his 80s, had a slightly different account of how Ba Thang died.

"I didn't see anything because I was hiding from the bullets and the bombs," he said. "It was very fierce and there was shooting everywhere and the leaves were being shredded to pieces. I was afraid to stay up there. I had to hide. And then, when it was over, I saw Ba Thanh was dead. He may have been shot in the chest when he stood up."
There are a lot of discrepancies between the Vietnamese/Nightline version of events and the Kerry-authorized version of events, much less the SwiftVets' version of events. Here's a quick encapsulation:

The Vietnamese version leans against proving Kerry shot the wounded VC. The villagers all say that Ba Thang, the purported name of the dead enemy combatant, ran "a good distance" before dying and any evidence of a final shot from Kerry was inconclusive at best. "He [Ba Thang] may have been shot in the chest when he stood up." Kerry's version claims that the VC sprinted around the back of a 'hootch' (primitive shack) and Kerry followed him, dispatching the still-alive and armed enemy. My take: sounds like the Vietnamese and Kerry are talking about two different guys.

The Vietnamese version differs from Kerry's version over details of the enemy VC. The Kerry-authorized Globe bio states "Out of the bush appeared a teenager in a loin cloth, clutching a grenade launcher." That agrees with the SwiftVets and the "Tour of Duty" version. The Vietnamese disagree. "No, this is not correct," Nguyen Thi Tuoi, 77, told ABC News. "He wore a black pajama." My take: again, sounds like the Vietnamese and Kerry are talking about two different guys.

Here's some things I don't understand:

Why on earth would anyone voluntarily give up cover and mobility—the Swift boat—to go running around in the jungle? It should be obvious to anyone that there was a reason for the Navy's discouraging people from beaching their boats and turning into infantry: it separates sailors from their floating pillbox and puts them at a tactical disadvantage to any dug-in enemy onshore. Let's extend this thought: why on earth would anyone, under intense enemy fire, jump off a Swift boat and run after a wounded and fleeing enemy when the obvious thing to do would have been to shoot him? The answer is: Kerry was not under intense enemy fire. The Vietnamese version has all of the bad guys hunkering down due to the intense incoming fire (outgoing from the Swift boat point-of-view).

Why on earth wouldn't a VC equipped with a loaded rocket launcher fire a shot at a Swift boat that was very close, and choose to run away instead? John Kerry and his crew were very lucky that day, and Kerry was very foolish. There is nothing inherent to the design of the Soviet-supplied RPG-7 launcher tipped with a B-40 anti-tank warhead that would have precluded the VC from taking a shot at very close range, and the shaped charge would not have unduly threatened the VC... certainly not as much as a Swift boat crew behind all of their weapons. It makes me wonder if the VC was, in actuality, the one who fired the rocket and initiated the ambush, and when Kerry's boat charged in right at the smoke trail he was taken by surprise and failed to reload... and that's why he ran. But again, this is all hypothesis and based on the facts I have to assume that Kerry did what he did.

The reason the SwiftVets have brought this story up is because they feel Kerry's real actions (as opposed to the after-action report version) do not warrant the award of a Silver Star. They claim that this incident is one of many that fit a pattern of an officer who was desperate to make a name for himself and who wanted decorations that would be useful in a later political career to the point of inflating his actions to receive medals that he would otherwise not be considered for. They are not claiming that Kerry was a coward in this incident—just that his actions on the ground didn't meet up with what they allege to be his embellished after-action report.

I don't understand why ABC went all the way to Vietnam. What did they really uncover? Ted Koppel spent much of the post-story interview with John O'Neil (of SwiftVet fame) asking O'Neil why the Vietnamese "eyewitness" version differs from the SwiftVets' version—and Koppel felt that quoting John Kerry was no defense. Isn't it obvious to Koppel that if the Vietnamese were right, then Kerry was lying?

O'Neil was angry, and in my opinion justifiably so, at Koppel's attitude of assuming the Vietnamese version was the truth by which all other versions must be measured. O'Neil kept stressing that the Vietnamese have a picture of Kerry hanging up in their War Museum where Kerry is given credit for helping the North Vietnamese achieve victory, and so why anyone give the Vietnamese version any credibility over that of Kerry himself? Koppel doesn't get it (or doesn't choose to get it); the SwiftVets are using Kerry's version to discredit Kerry. O'Neil should have told Koppel that, if he did have a problem with the details of Kerry's story, then Nightline should have gotten Kerry on to defend himself.

O'Neil did urge Koppel to investigate the other SwiftVets claims (Christmas in Cambodia, the Rassman/Bronze Star incident, the Purple Hearts, Kerry's meeting with North Vietnamese officials in Paris while still a commissioned officer in the US Navy, etc.). Koppel's response: maybe, if we have time to do it later. Sheesh... they can send a producer and TV crew to the boonies in Vietnam but they can't even take the time to sit down and interview people in the United States? Who are they fooling? ABC's goal was to kill the SwiftVets once and for all... and they failed. Koppel's closing commentary about how ABC felt compelled to tell the story regardless of which way the facts went was not very convincing, and came across as an excuse for a failed hit piece against the SwiftVets and John O'Neil.

And finally, I do think the Vietnamese version was less than truthful, yet in many ways supports the SwiftVets main charge: Kerry was not under intense enemy fire and so didn't deserve the Silver Star. Recall a VC saying "It was very fierce and there was shooting everywhere and the leaves were being shredded to pieces. I was afraid to stay up there. I had to hide." The heroic Viet Cong soldier with the rocket launcher couldn't be a frightened teen (as so many of them were), forced into the Viet Cong, ill-trained, malnourished, and scared to death. Instead he was a mid-20s 'hero of the people' who was big and strong and well-equipped with an issue VC uniform. There was no evidence of any US bravery. And of course, the heroic Vietnamese people fooled the imperialists by stealing a lot of US weapons and hiding them where Kerry overlooked them and they're still hidden under the garden in the village! Sure... then why didn't they dig one up for the TV cameras?

The show came across as a badly-executed attempt to "get" the SwiftVets and John O'Neil, to convince the public that the SwiftVet allegations are false. Instead, O'Neil called Ted Koppel on it, pointed out repeatedly that attacking the SwiftVet version was also attacking Kerry's version, and challenged Koppel to examine the SwiftVet charges fairly and impartially (to which Koppel replied maybe, if they have time).

Why won't ABC's Nightline or some other mainstream news organization go after the SwiftVet story? There's got to be a Pulitzer Prize to the reporter who, once and for all, destroys either the SwiftVets or John Kerry. I used to think it was a conspiracy. After watching Nightline I believe it's laziness and sheer incompetence.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Third Presidential Debate: Bush Crushed Kerry

The title says it all. Bush's performance tonight was the campaign equivalent of Lance Armstrong's domination of a mountain stage on the Tour de France. Bush's performance looked effortless, while Kerry strained and struggled. My favorite part of the debate (and the most telling, in my opinion) was a Bush follow-up where he pointed out that Kerry voted against the '91 Iraq War:

In 1990, there was a vast coalition put together to run Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The international community, the international world said this is the right thing to do, but when it came time to authorize the use of force on the Senate floor, my opponent voted against the use of force.

Apparently you can't pass any test under his vision of the world.
The TV coverage had a split screen up during this follow-up, and to say Kerry looked pained is an understatement. This was the debating equivalent of a short, hard right to the gut.

I'd say the debate was the exact opposite of the first presidental debate, where Kerry won on style while Bush won on substance, except that Kerry lost both on style and on substance. From the beginning Bush painted Kerry as a tax-and-spend liberal to the left of Ted Kennedy who had accomplished absolutely nothing of worth in his two decades in the Senate. The Bush money quote:

You know, there's a main stream in American politics and you sit right on the far left bank. As a matter of fact, your record is such that Ted Kennedy, your colleague, is the conservative senator from Massachusetts.
Kerry tried to duck and got pasted. Kerry tried to run and got pasted. Kerry dragged in Cheney's daughter to deflect attention away from himself—truly a despicable tactic—and ended up looking petty and mean. In the meantime, Bush continually put the rhetorical boots to him. After enduring a beating for ninety minutes, Kerry truly looked grateful for the chance to get offstage.

Even Kerry's spinmeisters were dismayed, saying that "at the least, Kerry got two wins and a draw" over the three debates. As at the last debate, when your team says you got a draw, that means they think you lost. Despite their spin, the Kerry camp knows that the only good debate for Kerry was the first one... and it wasn't that good. Kerry's debate record is now 1-2 and the Kerry campaign is at 1-3, a losing one in anyone's book.

When you consider that Kerry lost, on substance and on style, the debate which was supposed to favor him the most, there is no other reasonable conclusion than Kerry was crushed. His high point in the polls was before the Cheney-Edwards debate, and he's been losing ground ever since. He will only go down in the polls henceforth.

This race was Kerry's to lose. To win, Kerry had to convince a majority of the voters two things: that Bush doesn't deserve re-election and that Kerry is an acceptable choice for president. He failed to do so, and never was that more apparent than tonight. A skillful opponent, say for example a Bill Clinton, most likely would be able to wrest the presidency from the incumbent (for the same reasons Clinton was able to defeat Bush 41 in '92). Kerry is not that skillful.

Fred Barnes has an interesting aside at the bottom of his debate analysis article over at The Weekly Standard:

Now here's a strange twist on the debate. Bush was the winner in a focus group of uncommitted voters conducted by pollster Frank Luntz last night. The 23 voters thought Kerry, not Bush, won the debate. But they split 17 to 5 in favor of Bush on whom they now plan to vote for (one will vote Libertarian). "They still don't trust what John Kerry is saying," Luntz said, though they thought he said it well.
What good are debating skills when people are more concerned about character? And who really won, if three-fourths of the undecideds in this poll group have gone over to Bush?

This debate continues the trend. Game, set, and match for President Bush.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Insomnia Series: Why Instant Runoff Voting Is A Bad Idea

This article is the result of waking up way too early and tuning into PBS. Note to self: Don't watch idiotic TV programs if you want to be able to go to sleep again afterwards!

The October 8th edition of "NOW with Bill Moyers" featured a "debate" between David Cobb and Michael Badnarik, two third-party candidates who represent established political parties albeit ones which have a snowball's chance in hell of actually winning the presidency. I tuned in little more than halfway during the show, expecting to see more on the real presidential debate--you know, the one between Kerry and Bush--and caught the show as Cobb was explaining the Greens' support of the Instant Runoff Vote idea. After listening for a few minutes, my one hope was that somebody, anybody, grab this guy by the lapels and shake him while shouting "David! This is America, you Euro-socialist!"

Cobb whined about how our winner-take-all electoral college system meant that voters were forced to support one of the two major party candidates or else their vote "didn't count." His solution is to change our current voter system to one where voters can vote for their top three choices instead of a single candidate. Under the Instant Runoff Voting system he proposes, voters select their top three choices for office, and if no candidate gets a majority of the votes then the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and the voters who voted for that candidate (and that candidate only) get their votes switched to their second choice and then all of the votes are recounted. For example, if 45% of the voters choose Bush, 40% choose Kerry, and 15% choose Cobb (heaven forbid!), then there is no majority winner, so we recount while eliminating Cobb as a choice. Assuming the Cobb voters chose Kerry as the second choice, that would give us Bush 45%, Kerry 55%, and Kerry would win the election with a majority of votes.

Instant runoff voting would, therefore turn our voting system towards a parliamentary style of government where building coalitions is important. Major party candidates would be forced to pander to extremist third parties in an attempt to secure that all-important second-choice vote, and extremist voters would have no incentive to moderate their views. Instead, their influence would be magnified when they voted to support fringe parties on either end of the political spectrum. In short, the power of third parties would be multiplied disproportionately to their level of actual voter support, and the coalition-building would not be between left and right but instead between moderates and extremists of the same ilk (liberals and radicals, conservatives and reactionaries). This, of course, plays into the hands of the Greens who have used this artifact of parliamentary systems to exercise a level of influence way beyond their popular support in European politics. In short, instant runoff voting threatens majority rule instead of assuring it, and the Greens know it.

Our electoral college system has been around since the birth of our country, and it has resulted in the longest continual constitutional republic with the greatest amount of individual liberty in the history of the world. That's something that can't be said for any of the European so-called democracies. The beauty of the electoral college is that it tempers the volatile political mood swings of the electorate, ensures that moderates (on both sides of the aisle) control the political system, and encourages compromise across the political divide. Our founding fathers were a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

The electoral college means that you have to work within the system, as opposed to being an ideological bomb-throwing anarchist. The Libertarians were effectively changing the GOP (the Reagan revolution was the result of an infusion of Libertarian philosophical blood into the Republican Party) until they took their ball and went home. Similarly, the Socialists did effectively change the Democratic Party enough so that the current Democratic Party supports all of the Socialist Party platform planks of the 1920s. The crossovers from these parties understood, and more importantly believed, something that Cobb and Badnarik, and Nader, and Peroutka, and other third party candidates do not: legitimately affecting political change in America requires you to work within the major parties and garner the support of a large number of the population nationwide.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Great Debate Moments I'd Like to See: Exposing Kerry's Lies

Once, just once, I'd like to see George Bush respond thus when Kerry calls him a liar in the next debate:

"Now Senator Kerry, you keep accusing me of lying to the American people in order to influence policy. That's not fair or accurate and you know it. You had access to the same intelligence information that I did, and you reached the same conclusion: Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. You also know that there were many reasons I went into Iraq; reasons that you supported. You know that I have not lied to the American people, and the act of you calling me a liar is in itself a lie. It's a lie that's almost as bad as lying to the American public about spending Christmas in Cambodia in 1968 because Nixon ordered you to... when you didn't spend Christmas in Cambodia and Richard Nixon wasn't even the president! Senator Kerry, why did you lie on the floor of the United States Senate about spending Christmas in Cambodia? Was it to influence US policy in Central America? Is that why you lied?"

I know that George Bush won't touch any of the SwiftVets' allegations against John Kerry with a ten foot pole... even though Kerry has tacitly admitted to the veracity of many of those charges including the 'Christmas in Cambodia' whopper. I just wish he would hit his challenger right smack between the eyes, so the public could see the depth of hypocrisy that comprised John Kerry. SwiftVets, are you listening? Make this commercial!

Friday, October 08, 2004

The Second Presidential Debate: A Clear Bush Win

In contrast to last week's debate, Bush was the clear winner. He gave no ground to Kerry on rhetoric, and clearly outscored him on attacks. The Bush of the first debate -- halting, confused, exhausted -- was gone, replaced by the humorous, focused, and righteously indignant Bush. Kerry had some well-prepared comebacks and he did a good job of delivering them, but those comebacks were of the type that plays well to the anti-Bush crowd while falling flat with the undecided voters.

The questions were mostly good, although I find it hard to believe that the person who asked the loaded "Patriot Act" question is really an undecided voter. The moderator did a good job also, and didn't get in the way while keeping control. The last question, asking Bush what his three biggest mistakes were, was certainly not a fair one, but Bush handled it well.

The debate format favored Bush, I think. He's at his best in an informal situation as compared to giving a presentation. It was interesting to watch each candidate work the crowd at the conclusion. From what I could see Bush (and especially his wife Laura) were the crowd favorites.

Why do I score this a Bush win? Because Bush was successful at painting Kerry as a liberal who had the nerve to complain about a faulty intelligence organization when he voted to drastically cut funding for that organization. Because Bush was successful at pointing out the numerous contradictions that Kerry has offered during the campaign. Because Bush was successful at communicating the idea that unlike Kerry he'll choose what he thinks is right over what he thinks is popular. Kerry scored a few rhetorical points, but his main attacks against Bush just weren't believable to any but the anti-Bush crowd. Does any neutral person believe Bush lied, as opposed to believing Bush (and Kerry, and the rest of the world) were deceived by faulty intelligence?

It will be interesting to see the poll returns. I think that diehard Dems will insist that Kerry won, and of course diehard Republicans will insist that Bush won. I also think that the truly undecided will be reassured by Bush's performance and flock to him. Kerry was about the same as he was for the last debate (he is a good debator), but Bush was on a whole different level and definitely came across as the stronger, more forceful personality. Combined with Cheney's performance on Tuesday, tonight's performance by the President was bad news for the Kerry campaign.

John Kerry's Position on Dealing With Foreign Leaders

I got a big laugh out of this picture and the caption contest on Captain's Quarters and so I thought I would share my entry with all fifteen of my readers. Enjoy!

I want all of America to know that John Kerry has a plan to get our allies, France and Germany, behind us! And my plan is better than the president's! I will reach out to other countries and be more sensitive to their needs and concerns! I understand what other countries are looking for in a relationship with America, and I know foreign leaders like Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder prefer my position to that of the current administration. I ask the voters to look at my position, and compare it to the president's, and they will see why my position is preferred by the rest of the world! If you agree, if you believe that my position is the proper one for America, then vote for John Kerry!

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The Coming Nuclear War

This article was provoked, if you will, by Hugh Hewitt's challenge to the blogworld concerning John Kerry's debate remarks on our country's nuclear "bunker buster" bomb program. I thought about commenting on the specific subject but decided to open up the discussion.

Why do we need nuclear-equipped "bunker buster" bombs? The current US military inventory has conventional bunker busters, made from artillery cannon barrels filled with high explosive, that work by penetrating deeply into the earth and through several meters of concrete before detonating in a focused explosion, analagous to pressing a tank gun up against the side of a pillbox before firing. Dropped from sufficient height, our bunker busters were able to destroy Iraqi bunkers as deep as 100' below the surface of the earth. These seem awfully effective, so why do we need to nuclearize them?

I'll tell you why: so that we are ready to defend ourselves in the coming nuclear showdown. It is a virtual certainty that, within the next two decades, the US will find itself at the brink of nuclear confrontation with an enemy that, for whatever reason, will not back down. They may think they can out-bluff us, or they may just not be all that concerned that our counterstrike will affect their physical safety, or they just may not care. Now, you may agree with me, or you may not. Either way, it behooves us to prepare for the worst-case scenario because if history has taught us one thing it is that wars are not lost due to preparedness. To the contrary, wars are often prevented by preparedness. If an enemy realizes that attacking carries no benefits and results in serious consequences, the incentive for aggressive action disappears.

Given that parabellum philosophy, why on earth would Senator Kerry be opposed to American development of a weapon that can surgically devastate our enemies regardless of how deeply they are hunkered down, and regardless of the amount of concrete they have overhead—concrete that would defeat any conventional bunker buster? What logical reason is there for his position?

The answer is, there is no logical reason. There is, however, a philosophical (or ideological) reason that should, in my opinion, preclude Senator Kerry or anyone else with that belief from being president of the United States. Kerry and his ilk are opposed to nuclear bunker busters because they are opposed to nuclear weapons, because they are opposed to all weapons. This opposition, which Kerry has demonstrated by two decades of votes against all of the weapons systems that make America safe by making us the strongest country in the history of the world, was only confirmed by Kerry's remarks during the first presidential debate.

It all comes down to this: perhaps because of his Vietnam experiences, perhaps because of his ideological indoctrination, John Kerry lacks a fundamental understanding of the right and proper use of force. Does it matter why his beliefs are what they are? No. What matters is, without understanding that morality sometimes demands the use of force, that the credible threat of the use of force is the only thing that makes diplomacy effective, that we must base our diplomacy solely on our national interests instead of deferring to world opinion, and that our president must be able and willing to use force before we are backed into a corner where force is truly the last resort because it is the only resort left to us, no one can safely and effectively lead the world's most powerful nation.

Our last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, suffered from the same deficiency (it seems to be a common deficiency of most Democrats since the late 1960s). How else can one explain why the world's most powerful country decides to respond to an attempted assassination on a former president by attacking a building late at night specifically to avoid harming the very people who planned that assassination? (It was, evidently, okay to kill a janitor or two.) How else can one explain why a president would expose troops to attack by expanding their mission in Somalia, yet deny them a single company of M1A1 tanks because the mere presence of these tanks might offend world opinion by appearing too menacing? How else can one explain a president who, after suffering 18 deaths because his policies handicapped those who were tasked with carrying those policies out, backed down and negotiated with the very warlord who was responsible for those 18 deaths? I submit that Bill Clinton's misuse of American force encouraged our enemies and in many ways led to the cataclysm of September 11. After all, why should Osama bin Laden, al Quaida, and the Taliban have been worried about the repercussions of an attack on the United States? What were the repercussions of the Battle of Mogadishu? Of the first World Trade Center bombing? Of the Khobar Tower bombing? Of the embassy bombings? Of the attack on the USS Cole? A couple of destroyed tents, a ruined factory (in Sudan!), and the pullout of US forces from Somalia. No wonder they held us in contempt.

So, why fight against nuclear bunker busters? For the same reason they fought against development of the neutron bomb. It's not that these weapons aren't effective, it's that they'll be too effective... and that in many ways these weapons minimize or eliminate the objectively bad aspects of nuclear weapons (by reducing or eliminating fallout and long-term radiological hazards). Forget about the morality of nuclear weapons for a moment and imagine them instead as really big conventional bombs. Is a 15 kiloton 'daisy cutter' fuel-air explosive bomb worse, from a moral standpoint, than fifteen 2000 lb. conventional bombs? Most of us (the rational ones, at least) don't want to die, and I for one can't see how it's worse to die by being directly under a nuclear explosion than, say, being in the path of a napalm splash or an 8" artillery round, or a bullet from an AK-47. After all, dead is dead, isn't it? And that's just the point: the anti-nuke types are philosophically opposed to any use of force, and weapons which make that more likely because they are more effective are especially to be opposed.

From a purely rational standpoint, our enemies have an advantage over us. Being the sort who don't mind holding onto a tongue with a pair of pliers while reaching in with a straight razor to amputate it, the morality of a nuclear weapon never enters into the equation. Instead, the only questions they consider are, can we do it, and how many people can we kill? Does anyone really think we can peacefully coexist with those holding this mindset?

The answer is, of course not. The world is still a jungle and ruled by the Law of Claw and Fang. Wishing it weren't so, or believing that humanity is more evolved than that is just avoiding the problem. The world is only one generation away from barbarism... if that far.

That is why we need to develop nuclear bunker busters... and a working anti-ballistic missile system... and a technologically overwhelming conventional military. The wolf is out there. He needs to know that we aren't sheep that are there for the taking. If he's too dumb, or too hungry, or too irrational to understand, then we need to be able to shred him—deep in his lair—before any of the sheep get eaten.

And that is why, after eight years of Bill Clinton and the problems we are facing today caused by his abrogation of his responsibilities, this country cannot afford another weak and indecisive leader. It's not about nuclear bunker busters. It's about a fundamental understanding of the use of force. Kerry lacks that understanding. His election would unravel the War on Terror and leave us unprepared for the inevitable nuclear confrontation that is coming.

Friday, October 01, 2004

The Proof is in the Pudding

If there was any doubt as to who won strategically (see my earlier posting, below), then that doubt should be erased by looking at what each campaign is emphasizing.

The Bush campaign is focusing on Kerry's statements during the debate, pointing out Kerry's contradictions not only with other debate remarks but also with earlier Kerry statements made on the campaign trail. There's a lot of rhetorical grist here for the mill, and Kerry's conflicting statements have given Bush a lot of ammunition to shoot at him. In contrast, the Kerry campaign is touting Bush's facial expressions. I don't understand this strategy; do Kerry and his advisors really believe that poking fun at Bush is sufficient to pull undecided voters into the Kerry camp? What a juvenile response, and a pathetic one. Is this the best they can do with Kerry's performance?

Kerry did a good job last night of appearing presidential. He clearly was the better debator. Too bad the goal was to be the more credible leader instead of the more polished debator. Too bad he's not running for president of the Yale Alumni Debate Club. Kerry blew it.

The proof is in the pudding. The Kerry campaign response will make the rounds of the MoveOn types, get some laughs, and then fade in the archives with the Bush-as-Hitler ads. The Bush campaign response will provide talking points, zingers, and even more opportunities to reinforce major campaign themes -- Kerry is a flip-flopping, unserious candidate who is stuck in a pre-9/11 mentality. And they'll get to do this over and over again until Election Day, long after Kerry's visual impression fades.

One campaign gets a moral boost from a polished appearance. The other gets even more material to attack its opponent with his own words. Who really benefited from the debate?

Thursday, September 30, 2004

The First Presidential Debate: Kerry won on style, lost on substance...

Update: Looks like the big bloggers (who were frankly a little depressed at the strength of Kerry's performance) are starting to realize that Kerry's tactical victory is not leading to strategic success. Check out the poll results, too.

Fans of John Kerry will surely be heartened by his performance at the first debate. He was personable, articulate, and had obviously prepared well for his encounter. He responded quickly to the anticipated questions and barbs with well-scripted answers that were clearly designed to neutralize earlier gaffes (such as the "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it"). Unfortunately, while Kerry definitely won on style, he lost on substance. His performance was surprisingly good, but it doesn't matter. Too many people distrust him.

I believe the majority of Americans who have been paying any attention at all to the presidential campaign will not have been swayed by Kerry's performance. I say this after watching the debate with members of my wife's family, many of whom voted for Clinton back in 1992. While many of them have expressed displeasure at aspects of Bush's presidency and were willing to give Kerry the benefit of the doubt earlier in the campaign, subsequent Kerry fumbles and equivocations have shaken his credibility in their eyes. The Bush campaign's charge of "flip-flopping" has taken hold in their consciousnesses, and they now look skeptically at his statements. Many of them disagreed with my observation that Kerry was the better debator, but they all liked Bush's answers better.

Bush's performance was adequate from a stylistic point of view but devastating on substance. As he reiterated, we know where he stands and what his positions are. Bush hammered his themes of consistency, the will to win the war on terror, and the determination to take the fight to the enemy wherever they may be. At times he showed exasperation, and at times it seemed that he was genuinely annoyed at Kerry. In short, he was George Bush... sometimes inarticulate, always plain-spoken, never subtle, and eminently believable.

Bush's major shortcoming tonight was his failure to take advantage of several opportunities to bloody his opponent after Kerry repeatedly exposed himself to withering ripostes. George Bush could have destroyed Kerry tonight -- the opening was there -- but he failed to finish his opponent off when given the chance. His best salvo was when he picked up on Kerry's "global test before preemptive action" remark. Everyone sitting around our TV agreed with Bush that this was a bad idea, but Bush missed a real opportunity to say something along the lines of "If you think America needs to pass a 'global test' administered by France or Germany or the UN then vote for my opponent. But as long as I'm president I promise you this: under my watch this country will never have to ask permission or seek approval before we can defend ourselves." This failure to capitalize on a rhetorical mistake wouldn't have been made by Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, and it could have been disastrous... if Kerry was a more serious challenger.

If Kerry had done a better job earlier in the year -- if he had been consistent with his message -- then his performance at the debate would have been worth something to his campaign and he very likely would have gained substantial ground in the polls. Fortunately for Bush and unfortunately for him, he didn't. A majority of the voters see Kerry as a politically expedient candidate rather than a person who believes in and stands on principle. Regardless of what he says now, he has said something previously that contradicts it. Kerry has lost credibility, and he won't regain it in the eyes of enough voters before the election. He is stuck in the muddy ground of his misstatements and the rainy season has started.

Oh well, take heart John! Think of all of that free time you'll have to go skiing or windsurfing.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Tawdry and Distasteful: Is Challenging a Candidate’s Military Record Worse Than Refusing to Investigate It?

Bill O’Reilly is way off-base on his condemnation of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's efforts as “tawdry and distasteful.” To the contrary, Kerry's shameless exploitation of his service record for political gain is tawdry and distasteful. So is the mainstream media’s pass on the issue.

John Kerry touts his four months of service in Vietnam as his primary qualification to be our Commander-in-Chief. He arguably owes his ascent to the top of the Democratic ticket to his service record; when his campaign was faltering in the days before the Iowa caucus, Kerry's skillful use of Jim Rassman and the "Band of Brothers" allowed him to draw votes and defeat the frontrunner Howard Dean. At the Democratic convention, Kerry spent the majority of his time either directly or indirectly alluding to his Vietnam service—and very little time on his two decades of Senatorial experience and accomplishments. And Kerry uses the fact that he served in Vietnam as a club to fend off any attacks on his post-Vietnam record, as if "I served in Vietnam" trumps questions about his voting on military, intelligence, and budget issues. Why then is questioning his service record off limits, especially since he has steadfastly refused to release his own service record after calling on President Bush to release his?

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has scored one hit on Kerry’s military record when they debunked his "Christmas in Cambodia" claim. Not only has Kerry had the repeated claims of his Cambodian experience in the Congressional Record ‘corrected’, his personal biographer Douglas Brinkley has updated the Kerry bio “Tour of Duty” to reflect the change—yet there was no mention either in the Record or in the biography that the experience which Kerry claimed was "seared" into him was, in fact, invented out of whole cloth. Rather than being “tawdry and distasteful” the SwiftVets have done what the press has not; they have exposed the truth about a part of Kerry's history. They have caught Kerry in one lie about his Vietnam experience, a lie that was used repeatedly for partisan political advantage. Is the Rassman/Bronze Star/Purple Heart incident another example of Kerry’s prevarication?

Like Bill O’Reilly, I believe in Jim Rassman’s sincerity. However, I also find the SwiftVets’ anti-Kerry claims about the Rassman incident entirely plausible. It is entirely reasonable to me to expect that a soldier who is literally blown off a boat into the water, ears ringing and stunned from the explosion, struggling to keep afloat but just barely to avoid any possible enemy fire, might not be able to understand which way the bullets are going through the tremendous crescendo of gunfire when numerous Swift boats open up with their .50 and .30 caliber machine guns, Mark 19 grenade launchers, and individually-fired M16s, raking the banks to suppress any possible enemy fire even if there is no enemy present. I certainly would have kept my head low, as Mr. Rassman did, and I too would have been deeply appreciative to the commander and crew of the boat that picked me up. However, there is nothing inconsistent with his reporting of what happened and with the SwiftVets’ report.

Additionally, the official US Navy report (quoted on Kerry’s website and based on Kerry’s after-action report) has Kerry’s Swift boat towing the disabled boat (PCF-3, which hit the mine and from which Rassman fell) back to their base. If there was indeed a full-fledged ambush at the site where the boat struck the mine, and the boats were fired upon over a 5,000 meter (more than three mile) stretch of the river as they fled the ambush then why on earth did the boat patrol stop, return, board the disabled boat, and tow it back? If Kerry did indeed suffer severe injuries, wouldn't it have been more important to hurry him back to medical care than to have his boat tow a disabled boat back? Things just don't add up here.

In contrast, the version of the Rassman incident reported by the SwiftVets matches the agreed-upon facts. Here’s how they tell it: one boat in the patrol, PCF-3 upon which Rassman was riding, struck an underwater mine and was disabled. All of the other boats with the exception of Lt. Kerry’s craft immediately closed around the disabled vessel; Kerry’s boat sped away and only turned around and rejoined the group after a short interval had elapsed and Kerry realized there was no ambush. Other Swift boats had already commenced picking up sailors who had fallen overboard with Rassman, and the Swift boat commanded by Larry Thurlow preparing to take the disabled PCF-3 under tow when Kerry’s craft returned and assisted, picking up Rassman. According to the SwiftVets, Kerry’s boat played no heroic role nor did Kerry engage in individual heroics.

The tell-tale here is the nature of Kerry’s buttock wound. Kerry claims he was struck by shrapnel from the exploding underwater mine, while his critics claim he was struck in the buttocks by rice after he had attempted to destroy a VC food cache earlier that day. Kerry’s own account of that day, quoted in the Brinkley biography “Tour of Duty” has him stating “I got a piece of small grenade in my ass from one of the rice bin explosions” and mentions that Kerry had pieces of rice and slivers of grenade fragments removed from his buttocks later that day. How do you get rice and grenade fragments in your buttocks from an underwater mine explosion?

That the SwiftVets have easily busted Kerry on the “Cambodian Christmas” incident, an incident which should never have gone uninvestigated by the press for more than twenty years if they were doing their job of keeping America informed in the first place, means this; it is ethically indefensible journalistic malpractice to refrain from investigating the allegations of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against a candidate running for the single most powerful political office in the world. I'll go further. It is tawdry and distasteful to give a presidential candidate a pass on his record when serious allegations have been raised by a source which has proven reliable.

Maybe Kerry is fully deserving of the accolades his supporters heap on him. Maybe he's not. The fact is, Kerry has chosen to make his war record a campaign issue and therefore his war record is open to scrutiny. The media's role is not to refuse to investigate that record in the face of serious and well-documented allegations because they favor a certain political agenda, it is to examine the records of political friend and foe with the same magnifying glass. Bill O’Reilly, if you were really looking out for us, you would insist on a full investigation and let the chips fall wherever they may.

To do anything less is, indeed, tawdry and distasteful.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Apocalypse Now

Anyone who has been following the presidential campaigns this year has heard about the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" and their allegations against John Kerry. Over 200 former Navy officers and enlisted men who served alongside Kerry in the Brown Water Navy in Vietnam have gotten together to, in so many words, set the record straight. These former comrades-in-arms allege that John Kerry has continually and consistently "sexed up" his combat record, received unwarranted medals, and lied about his and his fellow sailors' actions during the war. One veteran, John O'Neil, along with co-author Jerome Corsi, has compiled all of the information presented into a book, "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry," which is currently Number One on Amazon and Barnes & Noble's websites. However, the cover really blew off the story with the public airing of the anti-Kerry TV ad by the group in several key battleground states.

As would be expected, the Kerry campaign has come out swinging. They have angrily denied the charges, questioned the motives and political backing of the group, threatened to file lawsuits against any stations airing the group's ads, and called upon President Bush to condemn the group and their ad. However... a careful reading of the Democratic responses is very illuminating. Instead of a point-by-point refutation of the group's charges, the response is legalistic, ad hominem, and in my opinion disingenious.

Take, for instance, the letter sent by the DNC andKerry compaign to TV stations (link provided courtesy of The Drudge Report. In the letter, the Kerry campaign demands the stations refuse to air the ad since it contains falsehoods, yet the "falsehood" identified is a bogus misstatement of the ad's contents, charging that the Swifties' claim of "serving with John Kerry" is false because "they weren't on the same boat." Unfortunately, one sailor who did serve on Kerry's boat with Kerry has stood up with the Swifties.

Why don't the Democrats want this ad to run? Well, having seen the ad on the Internet (here is one source), I can see why. It is devastating. John Kerry has made his service in Vietnam the central theme of his campaign, and this ad attacks his campaign at the core. Either the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are lying, or John Kerry is lying. Certainly someone is lying.

John Kerry does have his "Band of Brothers," sailors and soldiers who served with him in Vietnam. However, his boat crew in the "Band" only served with him for the last two weeks of his tour, and the Swifties include a couple of Kerry's crew members who spent most of Kerry's tour under his command, who were along on the controversial occasions, and who dispute Kerry's account of those occasions. I can believe the "Band of Brothers" yet also believe the Kerry crew among the Swifties. It's like the story of the blind men describing the elephant: each person provides a different impression of the elephant's physical description based upon which part of the elephant they can reach. Similarly, I can believe Jim Rassman's sincerity in his telling of the events that led to his rescue by John Kerry yet also believe the skippers of the other Swift boats that were present; getting blown out of a boat, tossed into the water, stunned, and hearing the suppressive firing of numerous light and heavy machine guns (by the Swift boats in order to keep any potential snipers' heads down) would probably not leave one in the best state of mind to observe and understand what was occurring for a half-mile up and down the river.

I disagree with John McCain's assertion that the Swifties' ad, book, and tactics are "dishonest and dishonorable." Certainly Kerry's war record is part of his public record: Kerry has repeatedly emphasized his four months in Vietnam all out of proportion to his two decades in the Senate. It is arguable that Kerry owes his successful primary campaign over Howard Dean to his "Band of Brothers." If Kerry the man invented Kerry the legend, the public has a right to know, and to judge him accordingly. More important, the Swifties have earned their right to exercise free speech and McCain of all people should understand that.

The first crack in the Kerry armor appeared last week, when one of the charges leveled by the Swifties, that Kerry lied when he repeatedly claimed to be "5 miles inside Cambodia" on Christmas Eve 1968, was tacitly admitted to by the Kerry campaign. The story now is that Kerry was actually in Cambodia in either January or February of 1969. Of course, say Kerry supporters, Kerry didn't actually lie about this incident which was "seared in his memory" and repeated by him since the early 1970s. He just was mistaken about the date. Yeah, right.

Kerry could answer many of the Swifties' most devastating charges against him if he would just release his full military records, as he called on Bush to do during the brouhaha over Bush's service in the National Guard (and which Bush did). Why won't Kerry release his records?

Kerry's problems are just starting. Despite his campaign's best efforts, the story is gaining traction. The Cambodian flip-flop has boosted media interest. The New Yorker magazine has decided it will investigate the charges raised by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth extensively. Other news organizations are also looking into the story. If additional allegations against Kerry are proved true, the feeding frenzy will start and it won't be pretty. If the Swifties are telling the truth, their salvo may well end up sinking Kerry's campaign.

It's Not What We Don't Know...

"... that hurts us, it's what we do know that just isn't so." The quote is from Will Rogers, noted pundit of the mid-20th century, but it's just as applicable today.

Case in point: all of the badmouthing of the USA Patriot Act. According to some out there (such as all of the Democratic presidential contenders including the party's nominees for the ticket) passage of the Patriot Act has turned America from a democracy to a police state and shredded our Constitution. Of course, what the Kerry/Edwards ticket fails to mention is that they both voted for the Patriot Act!

It's been almost three years since the Act passed, and there is not one instance of rights abuse under the Patriot Act. Despite the claims of the doomsayers, the Patriot Act really did two things: it made the same laws that apply to the Mafia (racketeering) and drug traffickers apply to terrorism suspects, and it updated federal wiretap provisions to stay with current technology (mobile phones, email).

I don't have a problem if the next Al Qaida hijacking team will now have their cell phones monitored (after a court order has been applied for and provided), or if the next time we capture a suspected terrorist the FBI can examine the contents of his laptop computer and turn over any information to our intelligence services.

Since 9/11 there have been several publicized arrests of alleged terrorists. Some have been released, but many more have pled guilty (or have been convicted). We have not suffered another terrorist attack anywhere in the world (I don't include Iraq and Afghanistan because we are still militarily involved in these countries). We have seized bank accounts, broken up terrorist cells, and yet we are not rounding up all people of Middle Eastern descent and putting them into prison camps (as FDR did to Americans of Japanese descent during WWII).

In short, we are at war. We've been attacked by an enemy whose stated goal is the eradication of our country, our culture, and our predominant religions. The president and his administration have a very narrow row to hoe... protecting the country without throwing away the things that make our country great (our liberties). So far they've done an admirable job.

So, the next time you hear someone complaining about John Ashcroft or the Patriot Act and how bad and unconstitutional and un-American they all are... ask them to cite one instance of someone who has had their rights unjustly violated. Just one.

They can't do it, because it hasn't happened.