Friday, December 31, 2004

But Is It Good for the Jews?

The Jewish News of Greater Phoenix asked for a piece on going to Ukraine to monitor the elections, which I wrote about 10 days before my most recent visit. I can't find it on their website (or if it was on the website, it appeared only while I was actually in Ukraine). I most certainly didn't write the headline, because I've been told in no uncertain terms that it isn't "The Ukraine," but simply Ukraine. The "the" reminds people of the Soviet days and is a retrograde political statement. You have been warned.

In breaking news, Prime Minister Yanukovych submitted his resignation, but plans to pursue his election protests, which have been rejected by the Central Election Commission but he can appeal to the Supreme Court. There's no word if he is sharing the same lawyers as now-losing GOP Washington state governor candidate Dino Rossi in seeking a "best 2-out-of-3". Finally, here's a good collection of links about the reaction of the Ukrainian Jewish community to the elections.

Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, Dec. 24, 2004

This Christmas, instead of Chinese food and a movie, I’m going to Ukraine, along with other former U.S. representatives and European parliamentarians, to serve as international election observers. It’s not the usual Jews-subbing-for-gentiles-on-Christmas activity, but trying to help democracy in one of Eastern Europe’s largest and most important countries seems worth doing.

In a stunning decision earlier this month, the Ukrainian Supreme Court declared the country’s Nov. 21 presidential runoff election invalid due to widespread fraud and faulty administration. The Court ordered a new election between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko on Dec. 26. That date doesn’t affect Ukrainians, who celebrate Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7. But it may bother some international election observers who need to travel over the holiday – making Jewish international observers particularly useful, this time.

I previously visited Ukraine with another delegation of former representatives and parliamentarians 10 days before the initial Oct. 31 election. During that visit, we saw evidence of a grimly unfair election campaign. The ruling party had used its and its allies’ media control lavishly to advance Yanukovych and attack Yushchenko, selectively enforced tax laws against the opposition, and unleashed both alarming and petty intimidation, including suddenly-mandatory Saturday university classes or perfectly-timed street or railway closures to hinder opposition rallies.

I personally experienced some ruling-party heavy-handedness, better suited to the Soviet era. We learned of a government raid on Znayu, an independent voter-education organization, which I had visited earlier in the week. At Znayu’s office, two young men with burr haircuts and black leather coats stood outside and refused to identify themselves. Only when local police arrived did the guards identify themselves as SBU, the Ukraine State Security Forces. The guards refused to recognize our official election observer credentials, but I managed to slip inside.

I was treated politely during my “detention” but could see that the official justification for the raid – that the SBU had “found” evidence of bomb-making equipment at the offices of Pora, a separate student group, and that documents there somehow mentioned Znayu – didn’t jibe with the agents’ actions. Instead, they leisurely downloaded everything from Znayu computers while trying to look vaguely ominous. The SBU agents didn’t take any precautions for explosives, making it obvious that they really wanted to harass independent voices before the election.

The Oct. 31 first-round election, according to independent observers, did not meet international standards, but there was hope for a better second round. But the Nov. 21 runoff was markedly worse, and – to the surprise of the government and outside observers – hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians rejected the results and forced the government to accede to the Supreme Court’s order for a new runoff election.

Since the Court decision, the government and the opposition reached a compromise on new voting procedures that should eliminate most of the government’s opportunities for fraud, and which will reduce presidential power and create a more parliamentary-style system. But Ukrainian people (and the security services, which probably provided Yushchenko with some of the more sophisticated proof of electoral fraud, like telephone intercepts) have demonstrated that they want real democracy.

When I return to Ukraine next week, I expect it will be much colder than in October – but I also hope to observe a much more vibrant and healthy democracy.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Visionary Leadership

My column got printed on Dec. 27 instead of in the weekend "Lack of Perspective" section. I'm back from Ukraine, safe and sound; more on that once the jet lag wears off. The newspaper version is available here.

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 27, 2004

There are some cranky newspaper readers (I realize that demographically, that’s redundant) who say that I’m just always complaining but never have anything positive to say. Well, having studied the transcript of our president’s most recent news conference, I’ve decided it’s time for me to show similar positive, visionary leadership. Here goes.

I can be the same kind of leader as George W. Bush. You already may know that I think his proposal to “end Social Security as we know it” is complicated, expensive, and unneeded nonsense.

But he’s a leader, right? And he’s got a mandate, right? And he got a mandate for his plans, whatever they may turn out to be, to trade Social Security for the opportunity for you to negotiate complex insurance and annuity policies, right?

Well, I can show that kind of leadership, too. Of course, “you’re not going to get me to negotiate with myself.” I’m not going to get bogged down in details and take positions, so “don’t bother to ask me.” After all, “Congress writes legislation,” and “I will negotiate at the appropriate time with the law writers, and so thank you for trying.”

So just as the president can say he’s going to do all sorts of unspecified-but-wonderful things to make Social Security cost less and pay more, I too wish to unveil my bold leadership plans to the upcoming Congress, letting those folks write legislation that gives the American people my vision of what they want.

On Social Security, I agree with the president; we shouldn’t raise taxes or cut benefits for current retirees, those near retirement, and those who may be thinking about being near retirement. Like Bush, I, too, boldly support getting something for nothing and leaving it to Congress to invent the required financial perpetual-motion machine.

But why stop with Social Security? My bold visions also include ending obesity in America. I believe everybody should be able to eat all the chocolate they want without gaining any weight. My program is strictly voluntary, so people who don’t like chocolate can choose to eat cookies or pie instead.

Those are my ambitious goals, and I look forward to negotiating with those who write legislation to make sure that every American, especially those now retired or nearing retirement, can eat more and not gain weight.

I also believe that I have a mandate to deal with Arizona’s increasingly onerous parking problem. Didn’t driving around the mall parking lots this holiday season make you sick from the wasted fuel, time, and effort spent looking for a space? I believe that every American deserves to park right next to the mall entrance, in a space that’s safe, close, and free.

If we do nothing, then current projections say that by 2042 it’ll be impossible for you to park any closer than yards away.

Those are my principles, and I see no reason to start taking specific positions or get bogged down in details just yet. I intend to spend my political capital on this bold vision of each and every American getting a parking space right next to the mall entrance. It’s up to Congress to translate this vision into legislation, and I look forward to working with them in making it happen.

Finally, I also believe that high school sports are the veritable foundation of American life, but too often, the enjoyment that students and their families derive from competition is limited because in any contest, one team must lose. That may build character, but we really know that it’s winning that matters, and it’s so much more enjoyable, too. I have a vision of an America where every team wins every time. I don’t want to negotiate against myself; it’s up to lawmakers to draft legislation to translate this bold agenda into reality so that we preserve sports for future generations against the emotional downer of losing.

I look forward to passage of the “Everybody’s a Winner Act,” because it makes just as much sense as what President Bush is saying about Social Security.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Ending Social Security As We Know It

My column was held from the weekend because the editor wanted to devote the "Lack of Perspective" section on Sunday to a brawl about the role of religion in public life--and I wasn't invited. So I got rolled over to today. I love the term, "Symington-style scam." I hope you like "end Social Security as we know it," too. Maybe that phrase will help.

I leave tomorrow for Ukraine to observe the re-run of the presidential runoff election. I think I'll be in the provinces away from Kyiv, so I may not have Internet access during most of the trip. My next column will probably be about those elections. For those of you in Phoenix (or if the paper posts the piece on its website), I have a piece coming out in Friday's Jewish News of Greater Phoenix which I won't be able to post until I return. I explain that instead of dim sum and a movie, this Christmas I'm helping democracy in Ukraine. It's not the usual Jew-substitutes-for-Gentile-on-Christmas story, but it'll have to do.

In run-up to the Rock 'n Roll Arizona Marathon news, my time at the Desert Classic 30K last weekend was about 2 minutes behind last year's; I finished in 3:00:11, having lost time on the turns or something. Hopefully I've now learned enough about running a marathon that it won't take me about as long to run (well, more walk than run) from the 30K mark (18.6 miles) to the end at 26.2 miles. I also hope that borscht (and the Ukrainian winter) is good for my blisters.

Social Security
'Reform' plan a Symington-style scam

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 22, 2004

President Bush wanting to “end Social Security as we know it” should seem familiar to Arizonans. The mumbo-jumbo required to get people to trade a defined-benefit plan for pie-in-the-sky defined-contribution promises resembles the real estate shenanigans of former Gov. Fife Symington.

Yes, people who missed having their retirement sunk into the Mercado now can let GOP politicians use their pensions for fun and games -- without knowing how to operate heavy construction machinery.

First, the Social Security “crisis” is based on a very long-term estimate. An administration that has budgeted exactly zero dollars for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- because, they claim, it’s just too hard to predict what will happen during the next 12 months -- can predict exactly future trends in population and economic growth, immigration, and productivity 40 years out.

Congressional Republicans stopped their budget office from issuing 10-year budget projections, formerly standard, claiming that anything longer than 5 years is just too uncertain. (Actually, the real reason was that 10-year projections show exactly how awful the still-phasing-in Bush tax cuts and Medicare drug benefit spending makes the deficit.)

But these same “don’t make me estimate more than 5 years out” types are rock-solid certain that they know what’s going to happen to Social Security in 2042.

And that 2042 date? Keep in mind that in 1994, the Social Security trustees issued a report saying that, under the worst of their three long-term projections, current revenues and redemption of trust fund bonds would not fully meet promised benefits in 35 years. Ten years later, under the same worst-case scenario, benefits don’t exceed revenues and bond redemptions until 2042.

In other words, 10 years later, “doomsday” is now 3 years farther out. That’s their crisis.

And that “doomsday” -- what would happen is that after redemption of the bonds we’d purchased with our excess FICA taxes not needed to pay current benefits, Social Security revenues still will cover 81 percent of promised benefits.

Compare that to the Bush administration’s current budget practices; right now General Fund revenues cover only 68 percent of non-Social Security spending. But, says the President, we can grow and borrow and pretend our way out of today's General Fund crisis, and the real problem is a smaller gap three or four decades from now!

Of course, the greatest risk to the Social Security trust fund is repayment, with interest, of today’s government borrowing to fund current spending. Remember how Bush inherited a surplus, then turned it into a deficit? Well, you’re supposed to forget and pretend it’s all Social Security’s fault.

There’s more! It’s the Medicare trust fund that’s facing the real crisis, one accelerating with increases in healthcare costs and changing demographics. The same trustees say the Medicare trust fund will be exhausted in 2019, and that date keeps moving closer.

But there’s no real money for Wall Street in Medicare, and solutions are much tougher; better to fake a crisis in a program that’s actually in pretty good shape, that needs only minor tinkering, because as Willie Sutton said about robbing banks, that’s where the money is.

But back to Symington. The Bush administration plans to “fix” what might happen to Social Security in 2042 by how? By borrowing -- but we won’t call it borrowing, it’s an investment! -- trillions. We’ll borrow now, people will invest it, and we have lots of really cool projections showing that in 40 years we’ll have repaid the loans and have oodles of extra money besides.

That’s exactly how Fife justified using different financial statements depending on whether he was borrowing or trying to avoid repaying. If it was repayment time, he used real numbers; he had no cash and no equity. If he wanted to borrow money, he talked about how much money his real estate was going to be worth in the future, you should live so long.

That’s what Bush wants to do with your Social Security: Borrow it like Fife did, then “transform” the program into “Symington Security.” If you swallow this sodden political pastry, you’ll deserve the resulting retirement heartburn.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Abstaining from Science

Here’s this week’s column on never letting the facts get in the way of ideology. The really scary thing is the Gallup Poll results on evolution cited below, where almost half of Americans believe that humans didn’t evolve, don’t share the vast majority of their genes with other primate species, and that humans and dinosaurs shared the earth. Hey--they saw it on The Flintstones, right?

The editor paired my piece with a column by a guy named Morton Throckmorton. I didn't know there were people in real life and not old movies actually named Throckmorton. Finally, in other news, I'm on the list as an international observer for the rerun of the runoff of the presidential election in Ukraine on Dec. 26. I promise to be careful; I won't order the poisoned soup and I'll think twice about the sushi, too.

The Abstinence Debate
Programs are based on junk science

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 13, 2004

Who could have known that when Republicans spend tax money on “abstinence-only” education, they really meant education that abstains only from knowledge of science?

Forget for the moment the continuing and disappointing studies of such programs. Both outside researchers and state agency sponsors simply haven’t found statistically-significant positive results. These programs do seem to increase students’ “favorable attitudes toward abstinence” but don’t seem to have any material positive long-term effects on behavior.

But actually working as promised is certainly no requirement for increased federal spending by the Bush administration and GOP Congress. Lacking solid evidence of these programs’ effectiveness hasn’t prevented Republicans from doubling funding over the past 5 years.

Of course, abstinence-only education is only a drop in the bucket compared to the really big GOP “faith-based” program, missile defense. We’re spending billions on unproved technology, which the administration refuses to test in advance, because why bother testing when you have faith? Either way, lots of money will go to favored defense contractors. Naturally, we’ve got billions to spend on the chimera of missile defense, but when it comes to giving U.S. troops the armored vehicles they need to protect themselves in Iraq, well, “you go to war with the Army you have.”

But enough about Star Wars; let’s talk about sex. A recent study for Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) discovered that the vast majority of federally-funded abstinence-only programs contain incredibly bad science. The programs present false or misleading information as scientific fact, including misrepresentations about contraceptives, abortion, and AIDS prevention.

The programs cite a discredited 1993 “meta-analysis” of condom effectiveness which claimed that condoms reduce HIV transmission by 69 percent, a conclusion which the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control called “flawed” and based on “serious error.” (For those of you with really long memories, a similar meta-analysis -- a study based on combining results of prior studies of child sexual abuse -- was condemned by Congress in 1998. It doesn’t take a meta-analyst to figure out that to politicians, the value of a meta-analysis totally depends on whether it supports your ideology.)

These abstinence-only programs also cite 30-year-old studies on abortion risks, which reflect methods no longer widely used and do not accurately report today’s far lower statistics. The programs portray religious beliefs, like fundamental theological questions such as “when life begins,” as scientific facts. The programs also preach gender stereotypes as science, teaching that women need “financial support” while men need “admiration,” or telling girls that “occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.” Sheesh.

In short, it’s garbage science, but garbage science that’s politically useful to Republicans and which they continue to fund and refuse to correct. GOP Senate leader Bill Frist, himself a physician, was asked about one program that suggests that HIV can be spread through tears and sweat. Frist knows the science, but couldn’t bring himself to disagree, conceding only after being pressed that transmitting HIV through tears and sweat would be “very hard.”

But if Republicans, with one eye on the recent Gallop Poll that found only 35 percent of Americans believe evolution is well-supported by evidence, and 45 percent believe that human beings were divinely created “essentially as they are today (that is, without evolving) about 10,000 years ago,” don’t want to criticize the scientific ignorance of their political base, they shouldn’t be surprised when others find scientific ignorance useful as well.

If even a physician like Sen. Frist won’t admit the real risks of HIV transmission through tears and sweat, no Republican should complain if Nevadans view the risks of storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in similarly overblown terms. If the federal government funds such faulty science for ideological reasons, nobody should be surprised if lay people (and jurors) see big dollars in negligible threats from cell phones, vaccines, mold, or whatever.

Why do GOP politicians hate science? Because it’s not politically correct.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Arizona Tax Credit Roundup Redux

It's time again (the now-traditional first Sunday in December) for the annual Arizona tax credit column. Those of you living in other places can skip directly to the last two paragraphs; they need blood where you are, too. If you want to see how it looked in the newspaper, the link is here.

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 5, 2004

In Arizona, December doesn’t just mean colder (by our standards) weather, holiday shopping, and the Cardinals getting mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. It’s also your last chance to take advantage of Arizona’s lengthy menu of state income tax credits, loopholes that let you be a hero -- at no net cost. That assumes you’re in the upper strata of taxpayers itemizing deductions and aren’t subject to Alternative Minimum Tax, but if so, take advantage of bad public policy to do some good.

First, there’s a credit against state income taxes for donations to “private school tuition organizations.” Whatever you contribute, up to $625 for married couples filing jointly or $500 for individuals, lowers your state income tax bill.

The Arizona Department of Revenue website lists some PSTOs, but I recommend Schools With Heart, 1131 E. Highland, Phoenix, AZ 85014; designate your check for the Family School, a unique school serving children from diverse backgrounds.

Second, as part of the political deal that created the PSTO credit, taxpayers also got a separate-but-not-equal credit for public school contributions. Couples can give and get back up to $250, or $200 for individuals. You must write the check directly to the school, not to a PTO or foundation, then you’ll pay that much less in taxes in April.

Given tight school financing and the rapid increase in activity fees, parents with kids in school probably already hit the limit. But if you haven’t donated yet this year, consider a gift to the Isaac School District, 3348 W. McDowell Road, Phoenix, AZ 85009.

Isaac receives far less (about $3 per student) in tax credit donations than do wealthier suburban districts like Mesa (about $35) and Scottsdale (about $60). The tax credit system is a perfect example of a government program that takes money from the lower half of taxpayers (who can’t itemize) and gives it to the upper half of taxpayers -- and whose schools don’t face nearly the challenge that Isaac does, with the vast majority of its students (over 90 percent) at or below poverty level (over 90 percent) and in non-English-speaking homes (about two-thirds). You can make this “reverse Robin Hood” law somewhat less perverse by sending a check to Isaac by Dec. 31.

Third, donations to charities assisting the “working poor” qualify for another tax credit if you make an additional contribution above your “baseline” charitable giving. If so, Arizona will repay you up to $200, for both married and single taxpayers.

The ADOR Web site lists qualifying charities, but as a board member I can strongly recommend Devereux Arizona’s “My Little Stocking” fund, which provides holiday treats to children in foster care and residential or group home treatment programs. These kids and their families often can’t afford necessities, much less holiday gifts. Call Kelly Gonzales at (480) 998-2920 ext. 2105, or click here. If you’ve finished your holiday shopping and can do another good deed, call Kelly and volunteer to help wrap the presents on Dec. 23 or 24.

Fourth, help fund Arizona’s system of publicly-financed elections. Individuals can contribute up to $550 and couples filing jointly up to $1,100, or up to 20% of their state tax liability -- whichever is greater. Again, write this check by Dec. 31, then pay exactly that much less in state income taxes in April. Send your check to the Citizens Clean Election Fund at 1616 W. Adams, Suite 110, Phoenix, AZ 85007.

Contributions to charities and governments -- again, assuming you itemize, and ignoring potential AMT effects -- are deductible for federal taxes, so the alchemy of converting state taxes into credit-eligible donations won’t affect your federal tax liability.)

Finally, give something other than money: Blood. The holidays always seem to stretch supplies, so if you’ve always meant to donate but never seem to get around to it -- do it already. Call United Blood Services at (602) 431-9500, or go to, to schedule an appointment.

Don’t let another year go by without taking full advantage of this crazy smorgasbord of credits (plus guilt-free cookies after donating blood). You live here, it’s the law, and you might as well play. Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Exit Polls Are Great. This Opinion Valid in the Eastern Hemisphere Only.

Here’s this past Sunday’s column, which due to the publishing deadlines brought on by the Thanksgiving holiday, had to be written Tuesday night and submitted by Wednesday, November 24. So I feared it might be a bit dated, but the crisis in Ukraine has continued unabated. The column is a summary of how the Nov. 21 runoff election was conducted, or more accurately mishandled and stolen, by the ruling party. The Supreme Court heard arguments about election fraud allegations on Monday, Nov. 29, but it’s not clear if and when the court will issue a decision. Also on Monday, current president Kuchma said that a new vote -- which would be held on Dec. 12 -- might be the only way to resolve the dispute, which (if he meant it) might be a signal that both sides might begin to see a do-over as the only possible resolution.

You can view the current situation in Independence Square in Kyiv through a television station’s webcam (Channel 1 + 1) here. The square was basically empty last night in Phoenix, which was 5 am in Kyiv, but last time I checked 2 hours ago it was filled with people again. Also, the newspaper version of my column is available at the newspaper’s website.

But enough international politics; I know what you really want to know is, how did Louis’s bar mitzvah go? If you want to know, email me at sam at cgson dot com for the full report.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 28, 2004

       Ukraine held a bad election -- but the so-far peaceful protests, reminiscent of the “Rose Revolution” which followed a similarly-flawed election in the Republic of Georgia, could lead Ukraine to a better democracy in the end.  The world must hope that the demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of outraged Ukrainians lead the various factions to recognize their mutual interest in to a more democratic and transparent political process.

        The election didn’t have to go so badly.  Many observers thought that despite myriad problems, the election still might meet recognized international standards.  International monitors even noted some improvements before the Nov. 21 runoff.  Media coverage improved and appeared more balanced -- but as the campaign rhetoric got more heated and less issue-oriented, the noise drowned out any improvement.

        But the runoff saw more election irregularities.  The number of absentee ballots and “mobile votes” increased, creating both greater opportunities for ruling party hanky-panky and greater doubt in the officially-announced results.  In some voting districts in eastern Ukraine, the home region of ruling party candidate Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, turnout supposedly increased by 21 percent to an absurd 98.5 percent.  An international observer, with a taste for understatement, called that jump “unrealistic and highly suspicious.”

        International observers saw an election less transparent and orderly than not just the 2002 parliamentary elections, but also the initial Oct. 31 balloting.  Reports abounded of intimidation, some isolated violence, and unauthorized persons interfering with voting.  The counting process itself appeared less well-organized and less secure.  And the problems appeared worse in the central and eastern regions, Yanukovych’s base -- and where the ruling party would be more likely to use fraud and force to tip the national results in its favor.

        The official Central Election Commission gave Yanukovych a narrow lead over challenger Viktor Yushchenko, leading to mass demonstrations in Kyiv and other major cities.  Some Ukrainians were surprised by the lack of military and security personnel in the capital, especially after major military parades prior to the Oct. 31 first-round voting.  But the size of the demonstrations seemed to catch the government by surprise, and may force some kind of negotiations or coalition that would have greater public legitimacy than the officially-announced results.

        After our recent elections, some Americans might be hesitant to condemn official election results because they didn’t conform to initial exit polls (which, while favoring Yushchenko, disagreed significantly on his margin).  Also, in U.S. terms, the larger cities and more European-oriented western areas, where Yushchenko’s support was greater, are Ukraine’s “blue states” often lectured by more rural and conservative areas as not representative of the “real” Ukraine.

        And don’t forget the George Soros factor, who put resources into trying to defeat Bush here and support Yushchenko there, which the Bush administration opposed here but supports there.  It’s amazing how somebody who gets it exactly wrong here somehow gets it exactly right overseas.  And vice versa.

        Moreover, Americans should criticize foreign elections with more humility these days.  We might not be the very best model of media coverage, use of state assets in campaigns, and voting procedures.  On Nov. 2, the last Arizona voter cast a ballot at 11:55 p.m. -- after five hours in line.

        Our elections don’t meet recognized international standards largely because of the Electoral College and because we let partisan elected officials count the ballots.  We wouldn’t let one of the kids running for office count the ballots for high school class president, but we allow the Secretary of State and county recorders to oversee counting of ballots for elections in which they themselves (or their political allies and patrons) are candidates.

        But despite the institutional problems, our elections reflect public sentiment within the terms of our legal structure.  In Ukraine, both domestic and international observers -- and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians -- saw a flawed election process that did not.

        Ukraine now must decide on the soundtrack for its future.  Is it “Back to the USSR,” or instead “Georgia on My Mind”?  In this case, let’s pray it’s Ray and not the Beatles.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Which Is Scarier: The Government, or Your Mom?

This week's column is (yawn!) Social Security privatization. The newspaper version is available here.

But first, this past Saturday was the El Tour de Tucson 111-mile bicycle race and, avoiding the "wardrobe malfunction" (the cleat coming out of my shoe) that afflicted me in 2000, I finished in the "gold" category at 5:48:16, which is a bit more than 1.5 hours better than my previous time. (That's 934 out of 3692 unofficial finishers.) A special shout-out to my cousin Andrew Fredman, who flew in from Westchester County and finished somehow in the "silver" category, in his second century ride this year. Finishing times are available here; use your browser's edit/find feature if you don't feel like scrolling through nearly a thousand names before you get to your happy correspondent. So that means this year I've done 2 century-plus rides (each about 110 miles--and who decided that the additional 10 miles was a good thing?) and a marathon. Telling you? As the joke says, heck, I'm telling everybody!

UPDATE: Revised (but still unofficial) results have me finishing 898 out of 3567 instead of the numbers in the previous paragraph. Also, here's a photo of me at the Sabino Creek crossing about 45 miles into the ride.

Finally, the inside joke in this column is that the Andrew Tobias column was printed in the January, 1986 edition of Playboy. Yes, I must have read it for the articles.

You may be a whiz at picking investments, but what about your market-unsavvy kin?
East Valley Tribune, Nov. 21, 2004

Maybe you can handle Social Security privatization. But can your relatives?

Ignore the trillion-dollar costs of transitioning from pay-as-you-go system, or how transferring funds to private accounts only accelerates when the system can’t pay boomer retirements. Forget about the transaction costs of managing millions of small accounts.

Before you start salivating at Social Security privatization, remember that you’ll need more than the investment expertise necessary for your own retirement. You’ll also need to generate returns large enough also to cover your relatives’ losses on their private accounts.

If you think you’re up to that challenge, then congratulations -- but if so, why not quit your current job and start running a hedge fund?

Every single American believes that he or she is (1) an above-average driver and (2) an above-average investor. It almost goes without saying that you must certainly be both. However, your mother and father (or, for older readers, your son, daughter, and son-in-law) also firmly believe that they are above-average drivers and investors. You may know better. But they’d still get their own private account and be responsible for investment results.

Maybe your mother really is an above-average driver. And maybe she’s the Queen of England. But if mom isn’t really a stock market expert, then her Social Security payments after privatization won’t be as much as she’d expected. And at that point, she’ll be looking at you kids to help her out.

It’s one thing to be a savvy enough investor to sock away enough for your own retirement. If you think you’re savvy enough to cover both your retirement, and also make up for your son-in-law’s pigheadedness, then remember that the Greeks had a word for that attitude: Hubris. Maybe there’s a free lunch for you. But for your parents and kids as well? That’s a lot of free lunches.

Don’t assume that the government will step in to protect people from their investment errors. If there’s a guarantee that no matter how badly mom does with her investment choices she’d still get at least as much as she would have gotten under traditional Social Security benefits, it will cost a bundle to make up for millions of mistakes -- increasing the already trillion-dollar transition costs.

More importantly, it means that privatized accounts would come with a “heads you win, tails we lose” government guarantee, encouraging millions of investors to take lots of risks. If your bet pays off, you win. If the bet fails, the government comes to the rescue.

Unless (for some unfathomable reason) we want people to invest their privatized accounts in companies which buy lottery tickets, knowing that there’s a small chance of a huge windfall but little downside, because basic benefits are guaranteed anyway. We tried that once; it was called the S&L bailout. There’s little need to try it again with 150 million little S&Ls.

Back in 1986, Andrew Tobias wrote a tongue-in-cheek column describing how he had invested $2,000 in his IRA during the previous year. He bought one obscure company that went from 50 cents to 1 5/8 a share, then some more stocks that went from 17 to 24, and sold puts on stocks that declined from 14 to 10 and 23 to 14 ½. (Of course, if you can decide what you should have bought and sold after the fact, it’s amazing how well you can do.)

Still, the vast majority of his “gains” came from a stock tip he got from some CIA guys, who had decided to quadruple quietly the stock of an obscure electronics company as a way to pay off certain persons whom it might be embarrassing to pay directly; they’d just be told what stock to buy. It took months, but shares bolted from 2 1/8 to 10. Bingo! On December 31, Tobias supposedly could retire on his IRA.

If you served in the Agency -- or get the chance to buy a piece of the Texas Rangers franchise on the cheap -- then sure, privatization makes sense. You’ll make enough to cover your “above-average” mom, dad, and kids. For the rest of us: Are you kidding?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

More Former Congressional Commentary on Ukrainian Elections

A letter from a number of observers of the Ukraine elections appears in the Nov. 14 edition of The Washington Times. Jim Slattery and Richard Balfe also participated in the October delegation with me. I would have signed on to the letter but didn't respond soon enough.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Genetically Speaking, Values Is a Recessive Trait and Politics Is the Dominant Trait

I am a column behind--my anger-at-the-results column ran on 11/7, and my paper that morning got soaked in some unseasonable rain that day, and I haven't gotten around to pulling another copy off the Internet, so I'll post it someday, now that everybody is getting over the anger and is moving on, as former Scottsdale resident Dr. Kubler-Ross would posit, to acceptance. Hey, at least I got out of bed on Nov. 3.

This week's message is that if you want politics to have more discussion of values, it'll sound more like politics than a discussion of values. Careful what you wish for.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 14, 2004

I read the emails. But people who spent eight years hating Bill Clinton (how “tolerant” are Arkansas jokes, anyway?) really shouldn’t lecture about being reasonable and respectful. After months of “anti-Kerry hatred,” it’s pretty obvious it’s not about “values”; it’s the “politics of resentment.”

Sure, Democrats will have an earnest discussion of values, making it clear that we do too believe in religion and stuff. But the election wasn’t a philosophical discussion, it was a knife fight.

Kerry won among independents. Instead, Republicans motivated their base, despite controlling the whole federal government, with wedge issues to convince them to resent Massachusetts gay matrimony and liberal media bogeymen more.

But it’s called popular culture because it’s popular. It’s not elite liberal snobs buying Britney Spears records. Why were Democrats responsible for Janet Jackson’s breast? She was hired by the NFL, a pretty pro-Republican group.

If Democrats bear responsibility for all media, aren’t Republicans responsible for sports? If we’re stuck with Michael Moore, then Republicans better do something about the Diamondbacks.

Notice how Republicans, having beaten Tom Daschle, have switched to all Michael Moore, all the time. Moore isn’t a Democratic official; he’s a popular (among some people) entertainer, and just as accurate as the Republican’s Rush Limbaugh, but without the drug addiction and divorces. But no Republican need apologize for Limbaugh’s excesses, while every Democrat somehow bears responsibility for everything Moore does.

So far, the “values” discussion is being conducted on the humor-impaired level of “You Democrats are all alike, always making generalizations about Republicans.” But so-called “values voters” weren’t reacting to calm discussion of policy or faith-based social programs’ efficacy, but to visceral arguments like the official GOP mailer with a picture of the Bible labeled “BANNED” and two guys holding hands. That was this year’s discussion of “values.”

Was Dr. James Dobson making a respectable “values” argument when, according to The Daily Oklahoman, he said Sen. Patrick Leahy “is a G-d’s people hater. I don’t know if he hates G-d, but he hates G-d’s people.” This isn’t a polite debate among people of different faiths but common beliefs; it’s war between believers and infidels.

Watch the framing. First, 48 percent of Americans no longer matter. Bush got 51 percent, so the beliefs of everybody who voted against him became irrelevant. It’s a mandate!

Second, it’s supposedly Democrats who aren’t tolerant enough, when it’s Republicans empowering people with strictly limited tolerance of those who don’t believe exactly as they do. Mark Scarp complains that most Americans want abortion to be rare but legal, but the debate is between zealots who want to ban abortion and those who want to -- well, keep abortion rare but legal.

The anti-choice side wants to impose its morality, by law, on everybody. Only the pro-choice side accommodates the desire to keep abortion safe, legal, and rare. So who’s really intolerant?

Third, take a page from the Republicans, who discuss values in terms of “the other” -- gays, atheists, Bostonians -- and certainly not in terms of results. How often did you hear that abortions have increased under Bush? It’s rhetoric, not results, that matters! Being positive won’t work. Talking values means going negative, just like Dr. Dobson.

Some Democrats say we should use Clinton as a model for talking values. Yes and no. If the Clinton model means Kerry should have supported the Defense of Marriage Act, then include me out. You don’t fight anti-gay prejudice by showing kinder and gentler bigotry than your opponents.

When Clinton succeeded, he used values as a sword, not a shield, attacking GOP proposals as incompatible with American beliefs. Real Americans don’t ask if people with different beliefs hate G-d. Real Americans don’t think it’s right to make only wages taxable so coupon-clippers and rich kids avoid paying their share. Real Americans don’t want James Dobson deciding how (and with whom) we can live.

It makes me personally queasy, but if both sides get to fight using the same rules, “values” will become just another political fad. We’ll see if swing voters can be taught to resent GOP bogeymen as much as Democratic bogeymen. It worked for you; with practice, it could work for us.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

More on Ukraine

Here is a summary transcription of an interview I gave to Radio Liberty on October 25, which was translated into Ukrainian and back into English, regarding the pre-election environment. The double-translation makes me sound more definite about how the vote will go; there was still some doubt in my mind that the ruling party wouldn't find it "necessary" to cheat extensively. But the OSCE report puts that doubt to rest.


Former U.S. congressman witnessed the search of a Ukrainian non-governmental organization.

by Serhiy Kudelia

Washington, DC, October 27, 2004. The creation of additional polling stations in Russia and pressure by the law enforcement agencies on non-government organizations only prove that the current Ukrainian government has no intention to ensure the clean and transparent count of votes at the election. This was said in an interview with Radio Liberty by Sam Coppersmith, former U.S. congressman from Arizona.

Last week, the former congressman was in Ukraine as part of a delegation of former Members of the U.S. Congress who observed the course of the presidential campaign in Ukraine. Their visit to the Chernihiv and Kyiv oblasts was organized by the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation. On October 22, the last day of his trip in Kyiv, Congressman Coppersmith witnessed the search of the office of “Znayu!” (“I Know!”), an educational non-profit organization.

Former congressman Sam Coppersmith said that he became convinced of the possibility to hold fair elections in Ukraine during his contact with many Ukrainian citizens. He said that everyone was certain that they can ensure an honest vote count. At the same time, according to Coppersmith, he was amazed at the ability of the Ukrainian people to resist manipulations of the pro-government mass media.

“Ukrainians, whom we met, seemed quite savvy when it came to processing information they hear on television. They do not trust everything they hear and see on television. They realize that in Ukraine there is no tradition of a free mass media. A number of TV programs report under a certain angle and represent a certain point of view”.

After meetings with Ukrainian voters, former U.S. congressman Coppersmith felt optimistic about the future presidential elections in Ukraine. However, in his last day of visit he witnessed how the Security Forces of Ukraine (SBU) searched “Znayu!,” whose main goal is to inform voters about their rights. Former U.S. congressman Coppersmith is convinced that there is political connection to the search and does not believe the law enforcement’s official explanation that it is a fight against terrorism:

“Police did not evacuate the building and did not use any special equipment during the search and no one looked for explosives. They only checked the computers and copied files on to CDs. As far as I know, searches at other non-government organizations took place at the same time, and as in the case with ”Znayu!,” the grounds for searches were not clear. Therefore, it looks like the government is trying to limit or obstruct participation in elections of those citizens whom it can not control.”

Coppersmith considers such behavior on the part of law enforcement as pure intimidation of the voters and independent observers. According to him, during the search, law enforcement agents refused to show their IDs, did not allow him to freely move around the room, and he was basically detained for one and a half hours. After this incident, the former congressman returned from Ukraine with a more pessimistic take on elections: “My personal observations: there are grounds to assume that the elections will not be honest, transparent or fair. There are questions regarding the elections at foreign polling stations. Ukraine did not organize a good election campaign. The mass media carries out information on only one presidential candidate. Government uses its power to intimidate the opposition or interfere with its campaign.”

As former U.S. congressman Sam Coppersmith concluded, because of the aforementioned problems, elections in Ukraine most likely will not meet international standards.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Into the Gulf

The Newsweek International story on the run-up to the Ukraine election (with my quote) was reprinted in the Bahrain Tribune of October 27, 2004.

Also, the full OSCE/ODHIR preliminary statement on the October 31 election is available here (in English, which is the official version; the Ukrainian translation is not official).

Monday, November 01, 2004

Ukraine's Election Doesn't Fail to Disappoint

Here's the Ukraine column I promised. Most newspapers, including the Tribune, have a "blackout period" immediately preceding the election so that columnists (like me) can't raise a charge right before an election where the target won't get the usual opportunity to reply before Election Day. I figured that there wasn't any way this column could be translated into Ukrainian before the polls closed (at 10 am Phoenix time), so it ran during the election anyway.

For those of you following this story, the latest results indicate that Yanukovych got about 40% and Yushchenko about 39%, meaning that there will be a runoff between those two on Nov. 21. The good news is that the vote for Yanukovych wasn't close enough to 50% that the ruling party stole the election in the first round. However, that will be scant comfort if the government treats the runoff campaign as poorly as it did the initial election campaign.

The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) issued their statement earlier today in Kyiv (2 pm local time) that the election did not meet OSCE and Council of Europe standards, which is significant. Here's the BBC report on the election and the OSCE statement. You can read the full OSCE statement on their website. Most of the OSCE complaints have to do with the conduct of the campaign, not the election; we'll just have to see if the ruling party plays things more fairly with media treatment of the two campaigns and with governmental hindrances of opposition campaigning. The more international scrutiny, the better. As an election itself, however, you'd figure that Yanukovych is more akin to the incumbent, and that in the run off, far more of the votes for other candidates would go to Yushchenko--which gives the ruling party even more incentive to cheat during the runoff.

I'm told that you can view the Channel 5 newscast of the security police search of ZNAYO! (and my detention) here, but I couldn't get the link to work. And if I did, it would be in Ukrainian. I've got links to some other media coverage, in English and French, of my little adventure, along with some commentary on the Ukrainian election, below.

The newspaper version is available here.

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 31, 2004

Right now, votes are being counted in a vitally-important presidential election -- in Ukraine. Most outside observers (including yours truly, after spending last week in Kyiv with the US-Ukraine Foundation) gravely doubt that the election will be fair, transparent, and democratic. If not, the consequences for Ukraine, and the world, could be dramatic and dismal.

The election (initial balloting today, with a runoff on Nov. 21 if, as expected, no candidate receives 50 percent) still could meet international standards. But there’s plenty of basis for suspicion that the ruling Regions of Ukraine party could steal the election.

The election campaign hasn’t met international standards. The ruling party, through control of state media and alliances with media-owning business oligarchs, has dominated television, treating opposition parties like Democrats on Fox and Sinclair. The government spiked domestic spending, jeopardizing fiscal solvency to provide pensioners with several benefit increases, like the GOP’s Medicare “drug benefit.”

The government uses foreign policy to make their candidate, the bland Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, seem more dynamic and important, just as the Bush campaign claims ownership of the war on terror. The ruling party has run a divisive, negative campaign, ignoring its own sorry record to pound the supposed shortcomings of the leading challenger, Viktor Yushchenko of the Our Ukraine party, while stirring up nationalistic and cultural fears, just like -- well, you get the idea.

While the ruling party ran a savvy campaign that even Karl Rove could admire and the opposition made several tactical errors, the playing field hasn’t been level. Regions of Ukraine might have eroded Yushchenko’s leads in all independent polls without cheating, but didn’t. The government selectively enforced tax laws against the opposition, and unleashed both alarming and petty intimidation, including suddenly-mandatory Saturday university classes or perfectly-timed street or railway closures to hinder opposition rallies.

This spring, the ruling party clearly stole a municipal election in western Ukraine, and prior to today’s election, took several steps (easier overseas voting in Russia than elsewhere; “controlled votes” in state facilities, like prisons and schools; using government buildings for campaign offices; having managers at government-run enterprises pressure employees to vote for Yanukovych; and welcoming “international observers” from Russia and other former Soviet states favoring the ruling party) that could help it steal the election.

I personally experienced such tactics, getting detained in the offices of an independent voter education organization while state security officers languidly searched for supposed evidence of an erstwhile connection to another reported group with an alleged connection to explosives. Or something; the special police never really explained. The raid was part of a series of raids against voter groups, and it reeked of government intimidation of independent voices.

The ruling party, whether shrewdly or by chance, has done these bad things, but never so outrageously to prove in advance that the election will be stolen. People we met expressed surprising confidence in their local election officials and procedures, but worried that the election could be stolen elsewhere. Unfortunately, it could be.

The most interesting aspect of the election, at least for Americans, is the interplay between Ukrainian and American domestic and foreign policies. Yanukovych has wrapped himself around Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the most popular politician in Ukraine -- which troubles U.S. diplomats, who prefer Ukraine to choose a path more open to the West. The ruling party also tries to associate Yushchenko with President Bush, who is quite unpopular in Ukraine -- but who also got Putin’s quasi-endorsement for reelection, just like Yanukovych.

Many U.S. politicians (mainly Republicans) strongly support Yushchenko as the more pro-Western candidate, and appear ready to judge the fairness of the election solely on whether Yushchenko wins -- but it’s the ruling party that sent Ukrainian forces to Iraq, while Yushchenko announced that if elected, he immediately would order Ukrainian troops withdrawn. It’s all pretty confusing, even without jet lag.

The Ukrainian people have suffered mightily, and achieved greatly. They deserve a stable, honest democracy, not a corrupt government concerned only about retaining power. Today, 48 million Ukrainians decide their future -- if the election is fair.  American call elections crucial or historic all the time, but in Ukraine today, it’s the truth.

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.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Welcome to Keating-Enron Memorial Hospital!

Local Arizona news this week. I have two anecdotes about this particular column. First, the guys at the Tribune wanted a citation or reference for the Keating CC&Rs story; it's been long enough, and Keating is enough of a distant historical figure to them, that they didn't remember his government-subsidized moralizing. (Keating used to run anti-abortion ads using American Continental and Lincoln Savings money -- on the theory that it was a proper business expense because he wanted to have those unborn embryos as future customers. Unfortunately, ACC and Lincoln had a lifespan left at that time roughly the same as the human gestation period.) The guys at the Tribune didn't believe me without backup. Now if only they'd do the same to Marianne Jennings.

Second, it was the Arizona Republic that broke the deed restriction story in 1988; the Cincinnati Post was running some sort of "famous people of the 20th Century in Cincinnati" series in 1999 and repeated the CC&R story, giving credit to "the local newspaper in Phoenix." But that would require the Tribune to acknowledge the Republic's original reporting, and they weren't willing to do it without a copy of the original story (which isn't available online). I also asked that the credit to the Post be "as the paper recounted" or "remembered" in 1999, because the reporting was in 1988, but that didn't make it. Credit where credit isn't due. Competition in the marketplace of ideas--ain't it wonderful?

Newspaper version available here. For a while, anyway.

East Valley Tribune, Sept. 26, 2004

Maricopa County Supervisor Andy Kunasek is worse than Charles Keating, Jr. -- while the other supervisors are acting like Enron’s management.

For those of you who can’t remember the 1980’s, Keating was a rugged-individualistic-but-government-guaranteed economic colossus. He figured out how to create temporary real estate profits: buy a savings and loan, then lend its federally-insured deposits to your own development schemes.

The S&L crash may be ancient history, but the Keating “legacy” lives on -- in Kunasek’s attempt to dictate terms of the transfer of the county hospital to the new Maricopa County health care district.

As the Cincinnati Post reported in 1999, one of Keating’s master-planned developments had deed restrictions that allowed the homeowners association to seize “adult materials” from private homes. The CC&Rs also mandated that “no owner or tenant shall intentionally terminate a human pregnancy.”

(See, disputes over flying the flag or unpaid assessments are actually an improvement. The most out-of-control homeowners association today isn’t monitoring Internet use. Maybe that’s why conservatives rail against government “control” -- they prefer to control your life themselves.)

Unfazed by Keating’s example, Kunasek insists that the deed transferring the hospital property to the health care district contain an anti-abortion restriction. Never mind that the statute authorizing the district requires that the hospital provide at least the same services as on January 1, 2003. Never mind that the restriction violates the terms under which the county originally got the land from the state. Never mind that the hospital may lose its ability to provide graduate medical education, which requires a full obstetrical program. Never mind that the restriction jeopardizes the hospital’s accreditation and financial health. Never mind that the consultant hired by the supervisors to assist in the transfer told them not to impose the deed restriction.

Kunasek still wants to emulate Charlie Keating by imposing morality through deed restrictions. And Kunasek is worse than Keating, because once a newspaper got the story, Keating backed down, claiming he had nothing to do with the “mistake.” Instead, Kunasek is charging ahead -- with the other supervisors’ consent.

The problem is that each county supervisor is wearing two hats, but ignoring one. County voters will elect new directors in November, but meanwhile the supervisors are the district’s interim directors. In that capacity, they must act in the best interests of the health care district, which may not be the same as a supervisor’s own political interests -- but this conflict of interest is obvious to everybody but them.

If the county and the health care district were publicly-traded corporations, this behavior would be a stock-fraud violation. Kunasek has made it clear that he wants this deed restriction -- against the advice of the county’s own consultants -- not because it’s good for the hospital, but because being anti-abortion is his personal political priority. And it looks like the other supervisors/directors may go along which, in a corporation, would make them liable, too.

The feds nailed Enron’s Andy Fastow on exactly this particular crime. While an officer of Enron, he acted to benefit himself as an investor and officer of Enron’s off-balance-sheet entities. Just like Fastow, Kunasek as director of the health care district is acting to benefit Kunasek as a county supervisor and future candidate for other political office. Fastow went to jail for placing his own interests ahead of his responsibilities to shareholders. Kunasek wants to be rewarded for doing the exact same thing.

And it’s not just Kunasek. The other four supervisors know what Kunasek is doing, but they’re going along despite his and their conflicts of interest. Maybe Enron’s Ken Lay can pretend that while he was CEO he really had no idea of what was happening (and that's why they paid him the big bucks). But the other supervisors can’t. They know, and they know better.

It would be nice if the supervisors would manage the new health care district for the next few months better than Lay and Fastow ran Enron. But it apparently isn’t going to happen. So in addition to the deed restriction, they should require changing the hospital’s name to something more appropriate -- like “Keating-Enron Memorial.”

Monday, September 20, 2004

Which Choice Is Worse?

No, it's not the presidential race, it's the general election for Maricopa County Attorney, the county's chief legal officer and prosecutor.

I'm not quite sure I understood the headline my editor gave me when the column ran yesterday. Don Harris may have been a Republican until the day before he filed to run for County Attorney as a Democrat, but he still needed more of us Democratic voters to support him than his opponent. So I'd have written "Voters picked pair," but when I guess you get Viagra jokes into the Tribune, you can't be too picky. I couldn't get the accent in Jesús Cristos in the paper, however. Must be that conservative East Valley thing.

East Valley Tribune, Sep. 19, 2004

The election is still six weeks away, and I’m already dreading having to vote for a new Maricopa County Attorney. Only the collective majestic wisdom of the less than one-fifth of eligible voters who bothered to cast ballots in the primary election could choose a general election matchup this dreary.

You have to feel sorry for Andrew Pacheco, who did about everything he could, and still came in third in the GOP primary. He ran a serious campaign and got the endorsement of both incumbent Republican U.S. Senators and the other daily newspaper. But, seriously, what chance does a guy named Pacheco have in a Maricopa County GOP primary? Jesús Cristos himself would need to change his name to something much more Anglo to have, yes, a prayer with that crowd.

(That’s assuming they also wouldn’t find “Jesus Christ” too foreign-sounding a name, and could look past his unfortunate public statements in favor of helping the poor and infirm. Any competent political consultant would know that Jesus could do so much better politically if only he would change his name to something like “Buck” or “Joe” and start preaching about turning our backs on illegal immigrants. You’ll never win any elections around here fretting about the least among us. Forget faith, hope, and charity; it’s tax cuts 24/7 if you actually want to win.)

So we get a choice in November of Andrew Thomas, the Republican who thinks the county attorney’s job is to fight abortion and illegal aliens, and Don Harris, the recently-reregistered Democrat who thinks what the county attorney’s office needs is a more creative sexual harassment policy -- because you’d have to come up with something really creative for Don Harris to consider it sexual harassment.

You also have to feel sorry for the career prosecutors, who really make the office work. After a decade of leaks, publicity-hounding, and political vendettas against the Democratic governor and the Republican sheriff, they probably were looking forward to new leadership that would focus on getting the job done right. Now we’re facing a choice between an ideological right-wing kook and a non-ideological kook, each of whom seems to have other priorities than representing the county and prosecuting crime fairly and properly.

Prosecutors will have to confirm charging decisions and plea agreements according to new standards. If Thomas is elected, defense attorneys will tell prosecutors that they can’t ask for jail time, because will keep the defendant from his regular occupation of picketing abortion clinics. “Community service” will include distributing anti-abortion fliers at churches, or guarding against those pesky Pinal County immigrants who keep crossing into Maricopa County. If Harris is elected, plea agreements will have to be reviewed at the very top, if the defendant is a babe. Defense attorneys looking for better results for their clients will file briefs accompanied by Viagra prescriptions.

Career prosecutors will have to decide if any possible shot at a judgeship is worth all that.

Media reaction to the primary results has shown an interesting bias, plus a new joke: In Arizona, what do you call a moderate Republican? A former legislator.

When the minority of Democrats active in primaries flirted with Howard Dean, pundits fretted that Democrats shouldn’t give in to their most loyal liberals, because nominating a full-throated liberal might scare moderates and swing voters. But when the minority of Republicans active in primaries chose the most conservative and right-wing candidates, that’s just the way things are.

With Republicans in full-fledged “irrational Kerry-hatred” (remember when it was supposed to be bad for Democrats to be so angry at Bush?), and with the GOP throwing moderates over the side like so much bilge water, when do the same pundits begin to fret that Republicans have moved too far to the right?

Or is it just not possible to be too far to the right these days? If so, that makes it pretty hard to find middle ground -- so don’t be surprised if the election really is a duel to drive turnout among each party’s base.

Monday, September 13, 2004

The Race to the Bottom Accelerates!

It had been a while since I stirred up the wingnuts, and apparently the hot button is the Swift Boat Veterans for Lying About Stuff. Nice to get the angry emails again.

I'm not exactly sure how I feel about this political race to the bottom, but here we are. So the Republicans want this election to be about character, but Bush's character is off-limits for discussion? I don't think so. We Democrats shouldn't play the Dukakis role anymore; we learned that lesson in 1988. If we go down, we should go down fighting just as hard and just as tough as the other side. And even the best argument for Bush is pretty much limited to "Kerry is worse." I guess that means we're allowed to make our argument that Bush is far worse than Kerry. (After all, we certainly don't want to oversell our guy.)

People say they don't like negative campaigning. But there's really no more results-oriented business than politics. If voters actually didn't pay attention and either rejected or ignored negative ads, you'd be amazed at how quickly the campaigns would drop them and move to something else. But the GOP is getting traction with going after Kerry personally; there's no reason for Democrats not to try the same and cut into Bush's post-convention bounce. Hang on to your hats, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Basically, the Bush campaign depends on keeping Iraq off the news. Even the people who write those "here's the good news" columns are having a tough time explaining away all the casualties and the loss of more strategic areas of the country. We've pretty much run out of options, and it's only getting worse. Kerry does need to figure out how to keep Bush accountable for getting us into a war (for what reason, exactly?), then wrecking the peace. If he can do that, I think he wins. If Bush is able to avoid responsibility for his own policies (like of like how he avoided his Guard obligations--and that's what U.S. News says, not me, so maybe there's a connection to the larger issue, and maybe can help make things closer while Kerry tries to remind people that there's a war going on even if you don't see it on TV), then Kerry loses. I think it's pretty simple.

Does anyone really think that if there had been fewer mentions of Kerry's service that the Republicans would have said, oh, never mind? How many months before the convention did the Swifties start working on their book?

Here are the links: My column, and the Bob Schuster column that triggered the parting shot.

East Valley Tribune, Sept. 12, 2004

This past week, some guy sent me dozens of emails supporting the Swift Boat Veterans for Making Stuff Up. All I can say is “the facts are John Kerry served. He served honorably. And that’s why he was honorably discharged.”

Oh, wait. My emailer won’t consider that nearly enough to rebut slurs against Kerry’s service record and medals. That kind of non-response is available only for George W. Bush. (With only the name changed to protect the innocent, it’s exactly how White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett responded to new evidence casting more yet doubt on Bush’s National Guard record.)

Apparently, Bush needn’t explain why what he’s saying now about his past differs from what he said in 1999, or in his 2000 campaign autobiography, or this year. We’re at war. If facts and documents don’t support Bush, the facts are biased!

Consider the “Christmas in Cambodia” attack. Kerry said that while serving in Vietnam, he entered in Cambodia in December, 1968, but now there’s a good reason to think that it actually happened in January, 1969. (The claim that Kerry couldn’t have been in Cambodia has vaporized, once researchers unearthed the 1969 White House tape in which John O’Neill, head of Swift Boat Liars, tells President Nixon about crossing into Cambodia. Now we’re arguing just about timing.) This one-month discrepancy in events nearly 40 years ago, about which Kerry last spoke 18 years ago, is trumpeted as evidence that Kerry’s unfit for office.

Of course, if you’re George W. Bush, and you said last month that you fulfilled all of your National Guard commitments, and earlier this year the White House said that it had released all of the documents from Bush’s National Guard service -- and both statements turn out to be false -- that isn’t a character flaw, it’s yet more proof of your sterling leadership despite the truth.

To Republicans parsing every mote of Kerry’s public service, it simply doesn’t matter when Bush gets it wildly wrong. Bush’s National Guard service apparently gets the same scrutiny as his Middle East democracy-promotion “policy,” or proposed spaceflight to Mars -- Bush gets credit for talking. Actually doing anything is irrelevant.

GOP partisans now describe Vietnam draft deferments as “honorable” while criticizing Kerry for not serving long enough, or in the right branch, or getting wounded severely enough for their taste. Republicans won’t say exactly how long Kerry should have fought in Vietnam, or how much shrapnel he needs in his leg, to satisfy them. But these critics have no problem with Bush performing his Guard duty only when convenient.

Yes, the 2004 election probably shouldn’t hinge what happened four decades ago. But, Republicans, it’s a little late to complain now. You started it, and you should reap what you’ve sown.

Republicans could have condemned the Swift Boat Prevaricators for Distortion. John McCain, who knows something about how a Bush campaign uses wacko fringe veterans to attack a military record unfairly, called on Bush to denounce the ads. Bush steadfastly refused until the attacks had run their course.

So now that we’re about to see Bush’s “young and irresponsible” years dredged up in books of dubious veracity, it’s a tad late to complain when nobody on the GOP side had any problem when books of dubious veracity attacked Kerry. If it’s so vital to Republicans what Kerry did in the 1960’s, don’t Democrats get to inquire about what Bush did -- or didn’t -- do then?

If Republicans consider these latest attacks unfair, then Kerry simply can do what Bush did with the Swifties. Kerry should say that books have attacked him, too; that he thought the campaign finance reform law eliminated these kinds of unfair books; and that we need to ban all books about political candidates.

That, of course, would be an absurd and unconstitutional position -- but hey, it worked for Bush.

Parting shot: Last week we Democrats got “friendly” advice from an unlikely source. If Bob Schuster can give us advice, then I say to my Republican friends that here in Arizona, we need a GOP that’s more Barry Goldwater -- and less Goldwater Institute.