Saturday, November 04, 2006

Captain Future's Log

The Wave

In close election seasons, particularly with saturation coverage of the same news story by so much media at the same time, the weekend before an election is often when the final shift in the political winds can determine the outcome on the following Tuesday.

But not this year. The electorate began moving towards a decision against President Bush, barely if actually reelected in 2004, at least a year ago. Primaries this spring suggested it would affect the Republican Congress. In September a discernable wave against Republicans nationally began to build, and it may still be building, but mostly by feeding on itself. It is ready to roll through Tuesday.

What can stop it or slow it down? Nothing. However, the more pertinent question is: what can prevent it from being fully expressed in votes? The possible barriers are these:

1. Voters against Bush and Republican candidates will stay home while a superior get out the vote effort will be mounted by Republicans;

2. cheating, by repressing registration and intimidating voters, chaos and unlawful activities at the polls to eliminate as many voters as possible who demographically vote Democrat, and fraud by electronic machine or otherwise to manage the outcome, especially where Republicans control the process;

3. so-called wedge issues, like gay marriage, or local issues as well as strengths and weaknesses of individual candidates, that could determine specific races counter to national trends.

But here's how these factors look to me at the moment:

1. GOTV: It seems that part of the building wave is expressed not only in numbers but in intensity. Polls over the past week or so pretty consistently show that Democrats and Independents likely to vote Democratic are motivated to actually vote. As for the Republicans' superior Get Out the Vote technology, Democratic political operative and observer Joe Trippi makes the point that Republican efforts are concentrated in a few races where they expected a fight, but they've gotten a fight in many more places, where they aren't so well equipped, and where other organizations (like labor unions) are gearing up to do their GOTV. This bodes well for Democratic House pickups in particular. Also, passion can compensate for technology, and in close Senate races there appears to be a lot of passion for Democratic candidates.

2. Cheating: News media is/are paying a lot more attention to this possibility, partly because of clearly demonstrated vulnerabilities in electronic voting systems, and partly because of the chaos in certain primaries this year and difficulties caused by the changes that take effect this time in many states that have adopted new rules and machinery. In 2000 and even in 2004, a lot of people didn't believe this was an issue. This year, a lot of people know that it is. That attention may help, if and when there are suspicious instances.

There's also the question of where it may happen. Florida and Ohio are notorious, and they both had Republican state governments where the Secretary of State was a Bush activist with higher ambitions. Both of them (Katherine Harris running for Senator in Florida and Ken Blackwell running for Governor in Ohio) are so far behind in the polls that victories would be highly suspect. The Democrats are expected to win a lot of Ohio House seats and do well in Florida. These aren't "battleground" states this year. In states that are, observers will be watching closely. Cheating is still possible, but it won't be uncontested this time.

There are a few interesting related questions that can't yet be answered but which might influence outcomes. People concerned about problems and cheating may have voted with absentee ballots, or participate in early voting in states where that is permitted. This may skew predictions based on past profiles of absentee and early voters. Also, there may be new voters that skew the "likely voter" profiles of polls. Whether they actually get to vote is another question.

3. Wedge and individual issues/candidates: So far, polls are showing that wedge issues--like the New Jersey Supreme Court decision upholding the rights of gay couples--aren't playing a significant role. Iraq is almost everything. The exception may be in the Missouri Senate race where the issue of stem cell research may make a difference. Although it is hard to believe it will help the Republican, some analysts claim that it may be at the moment.

It finally does come down to individual races, particularly in the contests that will likely determine control of the Senate. But the wave influences how those may go, too. Because the pattern has been set, anything that reinforces it will add to the wave's power, and anything that runs counter to it will have to be very powerful to change momentum.

So the news of Friday, for example, all very negative for Republicans, reinforces the already negative view of Republicans as corrupt, and ineffective on Iraq and even on terrorism. Some of these may have strong enough impact in certain contests to push Democrats over the top. The latest scandal of a prominent evangelical-politico (patronizing a gay prostitute and buying meth) may further depress the religious right vote, but it may have the most tangible effects on close races in Colorado, where said evangelist lives.

The most dramatic may happen Monday, when (according to NBC) the four newspapers of the Military Times Media Group--the Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force Times--will call for the firing or resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, because he has lost the confidence of military officers and soldiers. (Kos now has the full text.) As NBC's David Schuster points out, these are the publications that military families read, and this editorial could very well be the final impetus for those with serious doubts about Iraq to vote that way.

There are a lot of military families in Virginia, where Democrat Jim Webb--former Secretary of the Navy--seems to have the momentum to win Senator George Allen's seat. There are a fair number of military families in Tennessee as well, and even though Democrat Harold Ford appears to have fallen behind, this could be a plus for him.

Assuming for the moment that energized and motivated Democrats work hard to show that they can do GOTV, too, and that Democrats and Independent voters turn out in expected numbers or higher, I feel good about the Democrats' chances.

Then there's the distinct possibility that core Republicans, especially religious right voters (as opposed to their currently squabbling and compromised leaders) don't vote in their usual numbers, or don't vote Republican. If that happens, or if there is a much larger turnout than anticipated, the wave could become a tidal wave. Democrats could pick up 50 seats in the House, though they need 15 for a majority. They could sweep all the close Senate races, and even pick up a couple that Republicans don't notice are still up for grabs.

Because it's obvious from reading the latest polls, where something like 8% support Bush's handling of Iraq, that if public sentiment is truly reflected in voting results, we're in for nothing less than a political tsunami.

UPDATE Sunday: Some final polls are showing tightening benefitting Republicans generally, though not all polls agree. Senate races may be in flux, going both ways. Which reminds me that there is one additional and potentially powerful factor mitigating against the wave: habit. To vote for change requires that people change, and voters who have been voting Republican in recent elections may find it difficult to switch. It is in the final moments that voters who feel queasy about changing become most receptive to the messages they accepted before: it increases their comfort level. So the wave can break at the voting booth, if voters don't have the courage to change. Still, the Democrats are likely to control the House and at least come close in the Senate, with the tidal wave of double digit margins in the House and control of the Senate still very possible.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A movie from the 1980s,"The Day After."suggests what
is still an imminent danger, a generation after the Cold War. Posted by Picasa
Bush's More Dangerous Nuclear World

They make you take your shoes off before boarding a plane, but they don't adequately inspect cargo coming into our ports for terrorist bombs entering the country. They put children with common names on no-fly lists but they don't adequately protect nuclear power plants against terrorist acts. They keep people in jail for years without charge, torture people caught in random round-ups, and they demand to know what books American citizens read from their public libraries--yet the New York Times revealed, the Bush government actually posted what amounted to "a basic guide to building an atom bomb" on the Internet, for the world to see.

Now Bush Administration officials are all over the airwaves blaming everybody but themselves for this serious lapse of security. For weeks this information was available to Iran and any other country or group in the world. It was posted on a web site as documentation of the Iraqi nuclear program that had been abandoned in 1991, but which ostensibly was the reason for the Bush invasion of Iraq, even though there was little or no evidence it existed in 2002 and evidence that it did not.

It is one more illustrations of the fact that the Bush administration is not adequately protecting Americans, they only say they are. They are more interested in spreading fear that might help them politically, and in creating scary phantoms and simplistic imagery to make themselves look strong and competent, than in paying attention to what needs to be done.

But the Republican failure to act competently, intelligently and effectively on behalf of U.S. security is only part of this story. This criminal lack of attention to nuclear information dramatizes one of the most dangerous aspects of Bush policy: its attitudes on nuclear weapons.

With inconsistent and ineffective policies on Iran and North Korea, the Bushites are ill equipped to deal with the near term possibilities of significant nuclear proliferation in the world. It's estimated that as many as 40 countries have the technical skill to make atom bombs. Yet the Bush administration opposes international agreements that have restrained proliferation since the 1960s, when President Kennedy brought worldwide attention to this danger.

One reason is that the Bushites want to develop new nuclear weapons. With all the concerns if not panic over North Korea and Iran, the largest nuclear threat is overlooked. The idea that the end of the Cold War automatically ended the threat of thermonuclear apocalypse in the U.S. and for the world at large is false. Here are the facts, from Helen Caldicott, president of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute:

Of the 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, the United States and Russia possess 96 per cent of them. Of these, Russia aims most of its 8,200 strategic nuclear warheads at U.S. and Canadian targets, while the U.S. aims most of its 7,000 offensive strategic hydrogen bombs on Russian missile silos and command centres. Each of these thermonuclear warheads has roughly 20 times the destructive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, according to a report on nuclear weapons by the National Resources Defense Council, a U.S. environmental group.

Of these 7,000 U.S. strategic weapons, 2,500 are deployed on intercontinental ballistic missiles that are constantly maintained on hair-trigger alert ready for immediate launching, while the U.S. also maintains some 2,688 hydrogen bombs on missiles in its 14 Trident submarines, most ready for instantaneous launching.

A Rand study found that the chances of accidental thermonuclear war have actually increased since the end of the Cold War.

Terrifyingly, the early warning systems of both Russia and the U.S. register false alarms daily, triggered either by wildfires, satellite launchings or solar reflections off clouds or oceans. Of more immediate concern in both the United States and Russia is the threat of terrorists or hackers entering and disrupting the computerized early warning systems and command centres.

Now experts warn that the widely predicted and feared U.S. attack on Iran could trigger an accidental nuclear exchange if the Russians misinterpret missile launchings as an attack on their terroritory.

The process of deciding to launch these thermonuclear arsenals is designed to take minutes. In such an exchance, big cities like New York would be destroyed by several hydrogen bombs, and virtually everyone would die within days.

Most towns and cities with populations over 50,000 on the North American continent are targeted with at least one hydrogen bomb. Only 1,000 bombs exploding on 100 cities could induce nuclear winter and the end of most life on earth.

Why is this so? Perhaps the Bushite desire for new nuclear weapons discourages talking about the existing arsensals, but clearly the Bush Administration is not focusing attention on this major threat to America and the world. The Bushites would rather start a needless and tragic war, that now claims attention and resources that we need to be placing elsewhere.

With Bush and Cheney in the White House, together with a Congress they tightly control, we will not address this issue. We endanger ourselves and the world. This is perhaps the most silent and most deadly danger in the present moment.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Senator John Kerry at one of several funerals of soldiers
killed in Iraq he has attended. President Bush has attended
none. Posted by Picasa
Iraq and At Home: Rummie's Fantastic Job

On Wednesday, President Bush said that Don Rumsfeld, the architect of military policy in Iraq, will be Secretary of Defense as long as he is in the White House, and Dick Cheney, the strongest supporter of attacking Iraq who recently reaffirmed his belief that the war is going well, will also remain. "Both those men are doing fantastic jobs and I strongly support them," Bush said in an interview with The Associated Press and others.

Also Wednesday, the New York Times published a secret chart from the United States Central Command showing the situation in Iraq edging ever closer to chaos. And this estimate by the U.S. military was made two weeks ago. A few days ago the Prime Minister of Iraq purportedly told his inner circle that the situation in Iraq is nearly out of control.

Now on Thursday, the New York Times releases results of a devastating poll. Showing a sure understanding of the Bush position (reinforced by his Rumsfeld statement), 70% believe that Republicans will stay the course or increase troop committment if they retain Congress. 81% believe that if Democrats are elected, they will try to bring the troops home sooner.

This poll verifies what many others have: that for weeks now, the electorate has been set in its assessments, especially about Iraq and Bush. At this late date, less than a week before the election, the numbers here are truly extreme: "The poll showed that 29 percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is managing the war, matching the lowest mark of his presidency. Nearly 70 percent said Mr. Bush did not have a plan to end the war, and 80 percent said Mr. Bush’s latest effort to rally public support for the conflict amounted to a change in language but not policy. "

In terms of the elections, the poll verifies the same approximate divide in the "generic" party split nationally: some 52% say they will vote for Democrats, 33% for Republicans. But perhaps most significant in these waning days is the Independent vote: 50% say they'll vote Democratic, and only 23% for Republicans.

The President and Vice-President have been hammering on terrorism the past week, yet the poll shows that slightly more voters believe terrorism would increase under Republicans than under Democrats. Voter intensity also favors Democrats.

According to a story in Thursday's Washington Post, Republicans were in danger of losing their congressional majority just on the issue of corruption--at least nine of their candidates are currently embroiled in scandals.

But as the Times survey and every other poll shows, Iraq is the prime issue. And in reporting from Iraq, detailing the extent of the chaos--the fighting, the deaths and death squads, a million and a half people fleeing their homes-- Patrick Cockburn writes: As American and British political leaders argue over responsibility for the crisis in Iraq, the country has taken another lurch towards disintegration.

From US Central Command. NY Times. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Burial of Scott Dyer. Photo: Doug Mills, NY Times. Posted by Picasa
P.R. War, Real Death and Cost

The Pentagon has admitted to seven families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan that they weren't told the true circumstances of those deaths. The seven includes Pat Tillman, the football star who quit the NFL to volunteer after 9-11, who was apparently killed by other American troops, though it wasn't reported that way at first. His family has been quite vocal about uncovering the truth surrounding his death, and it seems likely to me that this Pentagon announcement was mostly cover for their supposedly inadvertent misreporting of the facts of his death. The other six may just be diversions.

Because Tillman's death wasn't just misreported--it was made into a story of heroism for the media. Through the Pentagon or otherwise, the Bush administration has hardly been shy about fabricating stories to make them sound like Hollywood war movies--perhaps the most notorious case was one of the first stories out of the Iraq war, concerning Jessica Lynch. There was hardly an element of the official story that Lynch hasn't since denied, or that others support.

Now the Pentagon wants to spend even more money on a special PR unit to "better promote its image" because the only war Don Rumsfeld concedes the U.S. is losing is an image war. But this shouldn't really be surprising. Controlling imagery and information has been key to the Bush administration's success at selling the war until now. No flag-draped coffins or body bags unloaded from airplanes in the sight of cameras. Very little information from Iraq that isn't controlled in one way or another.

And even though the news media is partly at fault for failing to cover this war objectively and thoroughly, there is one little known fact that is well worth mentioning: more journalists have died covering the Iraq war than died covering Vietnam, Korea or World War II.

But this is part of a larger pattern. All administrations have tried to control information and present a favorable face--they all use PR. It can be a legitimate and useful communcations tool. But this Bush administration is all about PR at its core, with no respect for truth or truth-telling. Lying has become its art.

As Iraq itself demonstrates, the image is more important than the reality, the name of a program or a law is more important than the program or the law itself, and the Administration's chief occupation is PR for itself. To this end it has put so-called journalists on the payroll as propagandists, changed the content of scientific reports by government agencies, and used the power of the Presidency to sell and promote statements, assertions and imagery that have no basis in reality, and which facts and reality often contradict. Let's not forget that ex-cheerleader George W. Bush's only success outside government was doing PR for a baseball team.

Now American voters may have disenthralled themselves, and stopped buying the made for TV version of reality that the Bush government has been selling. They may have even come out from the carefully controlled grip of fear--or in Barack Obama's great phrase, the 9-11 fever may have broken--so they are no longer terrorized by talk of terrorists winning if Democrats obtain a meaningful role in government through election.

The war fever has definitely broken, and that may be why the polls have shown for many weeks now that no matter what else happens, Iraq is foremost on American minds. The public may finally be dealing with the reality. They've stepped back from the administration's game to look underneath the shells, and they see nothing. Except the reality of Iraq.

There is a news report on Iraq that is worth quoting at length:

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki is telling his inner circle that the situation in Iraq is "nearly out of control," according to CBS News intelligence sources. Pentagon sources tell the network that General Casey will require 100,000 more Iraqi troops than the 325,000 who were to be trained in order to secure the nation. The security situation, however, has worsened and Iraqi troops have proven to be less effective than their American counterparts. Additional American troops may be called up to help train the new Iraqi security forces, and the U.S. may also double the number of advisors in each Iraqi unit.

An AP report says that Rumsfeld has already approved spending an additional $1 billion on more Americans doing more training of Iraqi forces.

The David Edwards report continues:

Prime Minister Maliki has ordered that all checkpoints in Baghdad be lifted. Lara Logan of CBS News reports that some American troops expect that violence will now increase and are left questioning why U.S. Commanders would allow checkpoints to be removed now. The move is widely seen as a victory for Muqtada al-Sadr of Sadr City, who controls one of the largest militias in Iraq.

The Inspector General warns that Iraqis don't even have the capacity to fund or maintain their army. The Pentagon is being called upon to provide better weapons and armored vehicles to Iraqi security forces. The Pentagon's Inspector General has found that 14,000 small arms provided to the Iraqis are now missing. The lost weapons were never registered and can not be audited.

The Washington Post added this:

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., predicted last week that Iraqi security forces would be able to take control of the country in 12 to 18 months. But several days spent with American units training the Iraqi police illustrated why those soldiers on the ground believe it may take decades longer than Casey's assessment.

The problem now is that reality has become more fantastic, verging on madness, than the simple imagery of the Bush PR machine. It is out of control, not only of PR efforts to gloss it over, but tragically, of other efforts in reality.

But the Bushite Republicans cannot afford to allow for sensible debate and a sincere search for solutions, on Iraq or stem cell research or the Climate Crisis, because they are standing on a foundation of phony images and deception. The only tool left to them is the smear, the diversion, the false accusation, and what they know best: inflating and creating an image to distract the public from their lies and failures.

They're doing it in a wave of negative commercials, in the shameful speeches of the president and vice-president, and they've attempted to do it by seizing on an awkwardly delivered sentence to accuse John Kerry of maligning the troops in Iraq. But Kerry drew the line:

"If anyone thinks a veteran would criticize the more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they're crazy. This is the classic G.O.P. playbook. I'm sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did.

The people who owe our troops an apology are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney who misled America into war and have given us a Katrina foreign policy that has betrayed our ideals, killed and maimed our soldiers, and widened the terrorist threat instead of defeating it. These Republicans are afraid to debate veterans who live and breathe the concerns of our troops, not the empty slogans of an Administration that sent our brave troops to war without body armor.

Bottom line, these Republicans want to debate straw men because they're afraid to debate real men. And this time it won't work because we're going to stay in their face with the truth and deny them even a sliver of light for their distortions. No Democrat will be bullied by an administration that has a cut and run policy in Afghanistan and a stand still and lose strategy in Iraq.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Burial of Sidney Dyer, killed in Afghanistan. Photo:
Doug Mills in the New York Times. Posted by Picasa

Burial of Corporal Carl Johnson. Photo: Doug Mills, NY Times. Posted by Picasa

Burial of Capt. Adcock of VA. Photo: Doug Mills, NY Times. Posted by Picasa
Finally, the Reality

On Monday the New York Times printed a series of searing photographs taken recently at the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was published on the day that the death toll of American soldiers killed in Iraq this month exceeded 100. It was the talk of cable TV. Nancy Grace devoted her hour, normally assigned to castigating alleged criminals, to talking about individual soldiers killed in the Iraq war.

This attention could not come at a worse time for Republicans, and it also happened as the Democratic party unveiled several new campaign ads all focusing on the Bush administration's responsibility for Iraq. The one for James Webb, running for the Senate in Virginia, is devastatingly powerful. The one for Senator Robert Menendez in New Jersey is less impressive by comparison, but Menendez has a strong backup to his message: he voted against authorizing the Iraq invasion. (Webb wasn't in office but wrote a newspaper piece against it before it happened that predicted a lot of what has resulted.)

New polls show Webb moving ahead, Menendez slightly ahead, and one poll shows the incumbent Democrat in Maryland substantially ahead; Ford is moving ahead in Tennesssee. The last week emphasis on Iraq could be the coup de grace.

But I can't help wondering why it took some three years for these images to make it onto the front page and on television. These funerals have been going on every week, somewhere in America. This is one face of war we should always have to face. Finally, some reality.