Thursday, October 28, 2004

More on Ukraine

I've found some other references to my adventures at the Znayo! offices in Kyiv last week, in both English and French. I had Google do an automatic translation of the French article, which might still be available here, but please note that it's a computer-generated translation, and in the process of translating my original remarks from English to French and back to English, errors creep in. For example, I originally said "activists," the French translated that as "militants," which is really something different. So fair warning.

My analysis of the election should appear in Sunday's Tribune and on this website on Monday. In the meantime, you can read view from freelance journalist Kim Iskyan in Slate; an op-ed from Sen. John McCain from the Washington Post on October 19; an op-ed from Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl from October 25; and former ambassador Robert Hunter's UPI Outside View commentary from October 22.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

How You Get Things Done in Phoenix

Here's the column I wrote in a hotel room in Kyiv about what's going on in Phoenix. Ain't technology grand? The newspaper version is available here.

In the lede, I originally wrote "Good Thing" but my editor deleted the capitals; I guess he didn't have a British public school education. (Not that I have, but I've read about it.) Good headline, though; it describes the column better than a 100-word summary I read.

It's getting too close to the election (and I’m too emotionally involved) to write about that, so next week is Ukraine. Try not to hold your breath until then.

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 24, 2004

A new medical school for metropolitan Phoenix would be a good thing. We have too few physicians for our existing population, much less for future growth. Educating more doctors here means more residents, interns, and graduates staying to practice here.

More fundamentally, Arizona has underfunded higher education, much to our -- and our children’s -- detriment. By shortchanging universities, we’re eating our seed corn, passing the costs of today’s programs and tax cuts to future generations. It’s not just economically short-sighted, it’s morally wrong.

As the former vice-chancellor of Oxford University told the Financial Times last week, “You have got to take the most intelligent and give them the best education you can. All societies understand that this is how societies progress and remain strong.” Unfortunately, it appears that “all societies” doesn’t include the Arizona Legislature.

We lag sufficiently behind that almost anything putting more resources into higher education can’t help being worthwhile, so the following comments should be considered in the same spirit as when the rooster brought the ostrich egg to the henhouse. He meant no criticism; he merely wanted the hens aware of what’s being accomplished elsewhere.

Regrettably, and typically, we may do the right thing by expanding medical education, but in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. First, you may notice that the medical community isn’t leading this push. Doctors are famously tough to organize, and usually let themselves be led only against things they detest, like lawyers and Hillary Clinton. Anything else is just herding cats.

Instead, other players -- hospitals, ASU, the still-emerging biotech sector, political leaders, and foundations -- are driving this train. These groups know something about medical education, but it’s not their primary focus. But they do know how to get the state to fund this project by convincing enough of the public to convince the Legislature.

The leading players understand how we usually build support for a project like a new medical school. We probably will see a familiar pattern, where certain downstream costs aren’t included in the financial discussions. Cost estimates might conveniently exclude faculty salaries or maintaining the library, burying them in larger university budgets. The locations of any new facilities won’t be determined until as late as possible, to keep as many people who support the proposal for economic self-interest in the game as long as possible. Hey, it worked for the football stadium.

We won’t see one typical tactic, because it’s just not credible that another community could steal “our” new medical school. It’s somewhat awkward locate a new Arizona educational institution elsewhere. However, we will hear that other communities have used their medical schools as catalysts for their emerging science and technology economic initiatives. This argument has the advantage of being true, but without the threat (real or imagined) of Austin or San Diego eating our lunch, it’s unclear if a merely truthful argument can prevail here.

Even if the medical school proposal wins using these tried-and-true strategies, two problems will remain. First, the need to delay determining the location of any new facilities means that we won’t completely define what the school must do and how it will work until the very end. It would be more rational to plan what’s needed before getting started, but we can’t risk losing support from any eventually-jilted suitors.

Second, the typical “the most important thing for economic development” approach, which convinces most of the community to support one single-shot project just this once, doesn’t address our fundamental issue of university underfunding. Yes, it would be much harder to teach people the utter foolishness of short-changing higher education, but the full-court press lets everyone (and the Legislature) think that they’ve solved, rather than continued to ignore, the underlying long-term problem.

And one more thing. If the East Valley naysayers think that if they defeat the county transit proposition, they then can replace it with their own sweetheart road-tax deal, think again. Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe voters shouldn’t tax themselves to build roads in Pinal County -- even if we do get a new medical school downtown as part of the deal.

Monday, October 25, 2004

A Tale of Two Elections (Part 1)

You're getting the Oct. 17th column only today because when it was published, I was in Ukraine on a week-long pre-election monitoring mission with 5 other former Members of Congress and one former Member of the European Parliament, observing preparations for their presidential elections on 10/31. People are worried that the ruling party is pressuring the media, using the power of incumbency to sway the electorate, and that election procedures will be confusing and possibly chaotic. They figure Americans have useful experience with that sort of thing.

I'll try to sort out my experience in Ukraine soon enough for this week's column; if you want Newsweek's take (I'm quoted!) it's here. Once my name appeared in Newsweek, I did an interview this morning with the Ukraine service of Radio Liberty, and I'm talking with Voice of America on Wednesday. And the guy from Newsweek didn't even use my best quote (at least in my humble opinion).

If you want a brief update on my adventures on Friday, when I was detained by the Ukrainian special police at the offices of a nonpartisan voter education and participation organization, there's a brief snippet (with more to come, you bet) below.

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 17, 2004

If Democrats enjoyed pictures of Dick Cheney and John Edwards sitting together to prove that Cheney just made it up when claiming he’d never met Edwards before, imagine how much fun we’ll have with George Bush in last Wednesday’s presidential debate:

Bush, October 13, 2004: “Gosh, I just don’t think I ever said I wasn’t worried about Osama bin Laden. It’s kind of one of those . . . exaggerations.”

Bush, March 13, 2002: “So I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you. . . . I truly am not that concerned about him.”

If you haven’t seen the video yet, don’t worry -- you will. But you need to see it not just because it’s yet more evidence that Bush just makes stuff up, but because it reflects a fundamental difference between the candidates in fighting terrorism.

As noted by both Chris Suellentrop in Slate and Joshua Micah Marshall in Talking Points Memo, Bush’s 2002 statement reflects his worldview that the major source of support of terrorism is nation-states. Eliminating state support means terrorists will lack the capability to strike again. As Bush said, “I was concerned about [bin Laden], when he had taken over a country.  I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban.”

But once the Taliban was overthrown, according to Bush's view, bin Laden became irrelevant. So even if large parts of Afghanistan (and northwest Pakistan) remain lawless, terrorists without state support lack capacity to do significant harm. In the words of Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, “[t]errorist organizations can’t be effective in sustaining themselves over long periods of time to do large-scale operations if they don’t have support from states.”

Having lost control over the Afghan government, bin Laden therefore became, in the Bush view, of little moment. Capturing him, despite all the previous “dead or alive” bluster, no longer mattered. Instead, the administration immediately turned to other states that they thought might in some way perhaps offer support to terrorists -- like Iraq.

Kerry views the problem far differently. Given technological advances and transnational financial support (think Saudi oil money), terrorists don’t need a nation for large-scale operations -- like 9/11. Instead, because nations are fixed locations and even the most irrational dictators are interested in self-preservation, state actors can be deterred by the threat of overwhelming American military force. Instead, it’s the shadowy transnational terrorist networks that don’t need a fixed location, and that can communicate across continents and operate in areas without effective state control, that present the greater threat.

In the Democratic view, failed states -- lacking any effective government, where terrorists can flourish amid the chaos -- represent a greater threat than Bush’s so-called nation-state Axis of Evil. In lawless areas, money-laundering, drug production, and arms trading can give terrorists the tools they need for large-scale operations without state support. As Fareed Zakaria noted, Democratic foreign policy experts supported the war in Afghanistan not because they shared the Republican view that that Taliban was a state sponsoring and directing a terrorist network, but because the Taliban instead was a terrorist organization that controlled and guided a state.

To Democrats, overthrowing the Taliban was only part of the job; the second part is making sure that a real government has control of the entire country, to deny the terrorists yet another lawless area for resources and operations. To Republicans, it instead meant we should take out another government, hence the Iraq war.

Empirically, the Democrats have the better argument. Despite losing state support, the number of terrorist incidents worldwide has increased. Eliminating the odious Iraqi government hasn’t eliminated terror; it’s increased it.

Bush’s original statement that he was “not that concerned” about Osama bin Laden is a gaffe according to the Michael Kinsley definition: when a politician inadvertently speaks the truth. Forgetting that he said it in 2004; well, that was a gaffe according to the traditional definition of putting one’s foot into one’s mouth. The gaffe may be enjoyable -- but the world-view behind it is fundamentally flawed.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Greetings from Kyiv

I am sitting at a computer at the offices in Kyiv, Ukraine of a nonpartisan civic organization called ZNAYU!, which I am told means "I KNOW!" in Ukrainian. The group encourages civic activism and voter participation. (I can't do Cyrilic letters for this post, so I may not be doing the name correctly in Roman letters.) I'm in Ukraine as an international observer of the upcoming Oct. 31 elections, monitoring preparations for the voting next week. Earlier today, police or security officers, who refused to identify themselves, raided the offices of the organization. Supposedly they are searching for illegally copied software on the group's computers.

I forced my way in past one of the security officers, and I'm just sitting around observing. I'll let you know if there's anything really interesting. I've been directed by the security officers to sit here; I get up periodically to walk around and I'm directed to return to this seat. The volunteers at Znayu! seem fine and in good humor and spirits, there's been no violence or display of weapons, just big guys in leather coats who aren't as nimble as they think if a 49-year-old got past them.

The security guys may think they can handle mind-numbing boredom better than I can. They just don't know they're dealing with an American real estate lawyer.

Film in 11 days.

UPDATE: Around 2:30 pm, the security officers said they were finished, apologized for any delay or inconvenience to me, and left. I may write about this in my next column (and have to log off now because my plane home has just been switched to a new gate). I've also corrected the translation of Znayu!, which means "I KNOW!" and not "NO!" as I first heard.

I can't believe I spent an entire week in Kyiv without once singing "Oh the Ukraine girls really knock me out" but we were kept really, really busy.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Cheney's Lips Were Moving. And the Final Jeopardy Question Is?

We get the third presidential debate here in Arizona on Wednesday; for local folks, I'll be doing the Democratic half of the spin on Channel 12 (KPNX-TV) here in Phoenix with Sidney Hay doing the Republican side for the first local half-hour after the debate. If we're not on Channel 12, we'll be shunted over to PAX-TV, which is Channel 51. Meanwhile, the Coppersmith family was well-represented at the St. Louis debate, on the campus at Washington University. You can see our daughter's photos of the festivities here. For those of you who watched MSNBC after the debate, remember that Kerry-Edwards sign that kept moving next to Chris Matthews's head? That was America’s Favorite College Freshman (TM) who, despite the rain, did her bit for the American political process.

Newspaper view available for a while here.

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 10, 2004

Maybe we should cut Dick Cheney some slack. Anybody could get a Web site address wrong; he’s old enough that perhaps this Internet stuff is beyond him. So when instead of answering an attack at the debate over his tenure as Halliburton’s CEO, Cheney instead told people to go to, which redirected all visitors to a Web site headlined, “Why We Must Not Re-elect President Bush: A Personal Message from George Soros.” (If you visit, tell them Dick Cheney sent you.)

Probably Cheney meant to tell people to go to for responses to the Halliburton charges. Unfortunately for Cheney, that site tells you that “Edwards was talking about Cheney’s responsibility for earlier Halliburton troubles. And in fact, Edwards was mostly right.” Gulp.

OK, so perhaps Cheney really didn’t want to accept as the last word, given how they consider several of his statements, like the claim that Kerry voted to increase taxes “98 times,” as bogus. The Factcheck folks say that Cheney’s 98 number is “an inflated figure that counts multiple votes on the same tax bills, and also counts votes on budget measures that only set tax targets but don’t actually bring about tax increases by themselves.” Oops.

After all, those are numbers, and numbers are hard. Maybe Cheney really wanted to explain that he’s never “suggested there’s a connection between Iraq and 9/11” -- except for all those times he did suggest it, including claiming that Iraq was “the geographical base of the terrorists who had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11.” Ahem.

Maybe Cheney wanted us to focus on how he told Edwards that his “hometown newspaper has taken to calling you Senator Gone.” Unfortunately, that newspaper is a thrice-weekly small paper in Pinehurst, North Carolina, which isn’t Edwards’ hometown, and which used the term once in an editorial 15 months ago. The newspaper itself says they haven’t “taken to calling” Edwards anything. Sigh.

Naturally, for Cheney, newspaper stuff is hard; after all, Cheney’s boss admits he doesn’t read the papers and instead lets his crackerjack staff tell him everything he needs to know. And then there’s last Thursday, when the Tribune’s headline read “Iraq threat report refutes case for war,” but Cheney claimed the same report actually justified the war. But then you know all about liberal media like the Tribune.

So perhaps Cheney instead wanted everybody to know that the first time he’d ever met John Edwards “was when you walked on the stage tonight.” After all, Cheney said he’s the Senate’s presiding office and “up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they’re in session” -- which turns out to be 2 out of the past 127 Tuesdays. To Cheney, that’s what “most” is. And unfortunately, Cheney has met Edwards at least three times, and we’ve got pictures of the two of them together.

So who are you going to believe: Dick Cheney, or your lying eyes?

Maybe Cheney habitually overstates his case -- repeatedly. Perhaps these false claims, misstatements, and flat-out wrong assertions by Cheney are small potatoes, harmless exaggerations, mere bagatelles. I might agree that nobody should ever evaluate candidates for national office on the basis of such minor slips of the tongue, but I found these quotes from two titanic statesmen, giants of our history, recalled by, that perhaps we shouldn’t let such trifles slide:

Statesman 1: “It’s a pattern of just saying whatever it takes to win.” Asked whether the discrepancy was a big deal, he said “There’s a pattern of exaggerations and stretches to try to win votes, and it says something about leadership.”

Statesman 2 was “puzzled and saddened to learn” about such misrepresentations. These debates are “a job interview with the American people. I’ve learned over the years that when somebody embellishes their resume in a job interview, you don’t hire them.”

You may have guessed by now that Statesman 1 is George W. Bush and Statesman 2 is Dick Cheney, campaigning in 2000. Dick Chenocchio, call your office; your nose is growing.

Monday, October 04, 2004

If a Tree Spins in a Forest, and No Media Are Present, Does It Make a Sound?

Get your fresh (well, it was fresh on Sunday) "post-debate about the debate" spin right here! I'm doing my part to help my side win the debate-about-the-debate, but it raises an interesting question--if you tell people that you're spinning them, are you less effective, or more effective because you acknowledge your bias and disarm them? There's some interesting research that if you disclose your conflict of interest, you're actually likely to be more biased in your presentation--as if disclosing the conflict means you're now off the hook and it's buyer beware, and that having been warned, the recipients of the advice tend to drop their guard. I read about this in an article about stock analysts, and whether they could be independent and whether their advice should be followed. It may be that disclosure alone, without more, means you get worse information. How very post-modern.

Hey, but that's theoretical. This week, I just want people to recognize that Bush is defensive. Annoyed. Arrogant. Record of failure. Words speak louder than action. Did I mention arrogant?

Online version here.

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 3, 2004

In 2000, snap polls and pundits right after the first Bush-Gore debate showed a narrow Gore win. But then the cable TV-talk radio-RNC media operation spun into action, irresistibly convinced that never mind the merits, Bush won on style. As Al Gore later said, it’s enough to make you sigh.

So this year, Democrats know that the only way to affect the future is to stay on message about the recent past. Yes, it’s vital that we stay on message about the recent past. Our nation’s future depends on staying on message about the recent past. So, here’s your debate-about-the-debate talking points, staying on message about the recent past:

Officially-approved words describing Kerry: Strength, conviction, fresh start. Presidential. Steady command. Facts.

Officially-approved words describing Bush: Defensive, annoyed, arrogant. Repetitive. More of the same. Shallow promises. Record of failure.

Best use of restrictive debate format: Kerry says on Iraq, “my position has been consistent.” He sounds firm and sincere; Bush can’t respond. For those scoring at home, on the debate rules negotiations, that’s Janet Napolitano 1, Karen Hughes 0.

Comedic table-setter: Kerry first thanks host university and salutes “pluck and perseverance” of hurricane-ravaged Floridians. Bush then also thanks university, pauses; after two beats, Democratic wag in audience shouts out, “Florida!” Bush then resumes, saying “our prayers are with the good people of this state, who’ve suffered a lot.” Proving, again, that the secret of comedy is -- TIMING!

Biggest non-sequitur: Bush tells affecting anecdote about meeting with military widow, then dissipates emotional force of story by saying, “You know, it’s hard work to try to love her as best as I can.” Right. (That howler may compensate for Kerry’s reference to a “global test” for preemptive war; he leaves it unclear if it’s essay or multiple choice. If so, then “moolahs” tips the humor balance irretrievably against Bush.)

Best one-liners by a gay Republican and a happy Libertarian: Andrew Sullivan (R), reacting to Bush’s joke about trying to “put a leash” on his daughters: “No president who has presided over Abu Ghraib should ever say he wants to put anyone on a leash.” Jesse Walker (L) says George Bush is to “hard work” as Al Gore is to “lock box.”

Style pointers: How many Bush eye-rolls and scowls equal one Gore sigh? And please, please: Don’t forget Poland.

Overnight polls on who won: CNN/Gallup/USA Today: Kerry 53, Bush 37. CBS: Kerry 43, Bush 28. ABC Kerry 45, Bush 36, tie 17. And the best part about this newfangled Internet thingy is that we’ve got all the initial thoughts of GOP partisans down in pixels, to wave in their faces when they start reciting the different RNC talking points.

Off the talking points, remember that there were three countries in the “Axis of Evil” -- and Bush chose to invade the only one, Iraq, without an active nuclear-weapons program. On “Let’s Make a Deal,” if you pick the wrong door, you lose. Bush had it easier than the average contestant; two doors would have worked, but he picked the only wrong door. But instead of Monty Hall giving him a parting gift and sending him home, Bush insists he’s won.

Bush is a Peter Pan president; he tells us that the way to victory is “hard work” -- the hard work of speaking clearly and consistently, but not the real hard work of actually getting anything done. In the novel, flying to Neverland was hard work, too; you really, really had to believe, with childlike faith, to get there. Adults couldn’t do it. But maybe that’s not because we’re not working hard enough at believing the words; maybe that’s because what Bush oh-so-sincerely says isn’t what’s actually happening.

Maybe all you ‘wingers really want to be Lost Boys; maybe you are up to the real Bush “hard work” of believing what isn’t so, on both Iraq and Bush’s untested (and similarly expensive and unrealistic) missile defense system. But please remember, before you really mess up the country and our future: Peter Pan was fiction. Electing a president is reality.