Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Apocalypse Watch

Another 47 bodies found in Baghdad in 24 hours, apparent victims of torture and sectarian execution.

Peacekeepers are about to leave Darfur, which is expected to accelerate the ongoing genocide that may very well kill millions of people before it's over.

The Taliban is gaining strength again in Afghanistan.

The melting of the sea ice in the Arctic, the clearest sign so far of global warming, has taken a sudden and enormous leap forward, in one of the most ominous developments yet in the onset of climate change, says the Independent. Said the New York Times: Scientists have long suspected that the recent melting of Arctic Ocean ice in the summer might be a result of heat-trapping gases building up in the atmosphere. But yesterday NASA scientists reported that higher temperatures and a retreat of the sea ice over the last two winters offered new evidence that the gases were influencing the region’s climate.

A Defining Moment for America says the Washington Post: The president goes to Capitol Hill to lobby for torture.

The Bushites are updating their plans to bomb Iran.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Centaurus Posted by Picasa

Campaign Memo

Why the Polls Mean Nothing

The polls continue to show Bush slumping, the Republicans fading and Democrats favored by double digits nationally. (UPDATE: Except for the new Zogby which shows Republican gains.) One pundit after another declares that the Democrats are poised to take back the House and maybe even the Senate, and bloggers as well as the columnists are debating who will be the new congressional leaders, as Democrats jockey for positions and committee chairmanships.

It all could happen, but it all could also be a recipe for disaster, not to mention humiliation that would make the past two presidential elections look like Christmas. So what could go wrong?

It's not about how the country feels about this or that; we know how the country feels about just about everything, and even the polls are showing little is being changed by events or Bush speeches. It's not even Democratic fumbling of an effective message. The problem for Democrats is much more basic: in order to win elections, they have to get more voters to go to the polls and vote for them. And that's exactly what they are not so good at.

The Republicans are way ahead in identifying and motivating their voters. With the lax attention of the Democrats to new techniques and technologies, and with their continuing blindness to successful Republicans tactics in suppressing minority votes and probably stealing votes through fraudulent means, they are grinning their way to defeat.

If anything should be a wakeup call, it's this week's primary elections. Rhode Island is the prime example of continued Republican success at getting their voters to the poll. As the Washington Post put it:

In the past two national elections, in 2002 and 2004, Republicans outperformed Democrats in bringing their backers to the polls, but many Democrats and independent analysts have suggested that the competition may be different this year, in part because of slumping morale among GOP activists. But Chafee's performance -- combined with reports of late-starting organization and internal bickering on the Democratic side -- suggest that the Republican advantage on turnout may remain intact even as many other trends are favoring the opposition.

The Hotline provides the gory details, once the national Republican party stepped in to engineer Chafee's victory, because they realized that his conservative opponent had no chance to win in the general election:

Rhode Island will become a case study in the effectiveness of the Republicans’ 72 Hour Program. Behind the curtain, Chafee’s campaign spent $500,000 to squeeze out every conceivable voter from neighborhoods across the state. They searched for independents who voted Democrat in municipal elections but who had once upon a time voted for a Republican for president or governor or senator. There were a few of those. They looked for non-affiliated voters in Republican neighborhoods. Using microtargeting techniques, they even tried to figure out which committed Democrats might be tempted to vote for Chafee.

By the end of the summer, Chafee’s campaign had identified 42,000 potential supporters. Then the second part of the program kicked in. Message, here, is a verb. The campaign “messaged” these voters, often individually. Chafee himself called more than 100 of them who were identified as being capable of swinging the votes of colleagues and friends. The standard complement of robocalls, mailings and personal visits were employed. In the twelve days of September, Chafee, the RNC and NRSC made more than 198,000 phone calls to the voters on their list. Many voters received one every two days.

On election day, the Chafee campaign stationed poll watchers at 100 key precincts across the state. By 10:00 am, the RNC and the NRSC were confident that Chafee would win.
It didn’t faze them when Laffey’s campaign bragged about meeting their targets. Chafee had simply found more voters.

Contrast all the money and expertise that the Republicans can command to win elections with the paltry resources and attention that anyone pays to the actual election process, even in a blue state like Maryland, where poll workers were in short supply, and Diebold was saving money on training people to deal with their machine glitches. And speaking of Diebold, how many studies is it going to take showing that these electronic voting machines are fatally flawed and massive cheating is easy, before people get alarmed enough to do something. There was another one today. If it takes as long as accepting climate crisis science, we're in even more trouble.

Then there is the low turnout, even in states with hotly contested races. When less than 20% of the electorate turns up, can you still call it an election? More to the point here, it's a sign that people may simply be more fed up with all of it than motivated to change anything at the ballot box.

UPDATE: Dionne's column in the Post says that this Republican operation includes crafting negative ads on specific Democrats in local races, emphasizing personal and local attacks. The Roving hand smears, and moves on. With so much discontent out there now, this is more likely to motivate people to stay home in disgust and not vote, a pox on all their Houses and Senates. This of course helps the party better able to deliver its own voters.

Here's the thing. People are fed up with the people currently running government, and on the federal level that means Republicans. Bush can make all the speeches on national security he wants, and his oil conglom pals can drop the price of gasoline another buck, it's not going to change many minds.

So there should be a Democratic landslide in November. But instead there could be a perfect storm: people more disgusted than mad who don't go to vote, plus suppression of Democratic voters and votes through various nefarious means at the polling places, plus Republicans better able to identify, motivate and deliver their votes. The result: Republicans stay in power, and people are even more disgusted and disillusioned. After that, I don't want to even think about it.

Democrats had better forgo congratulating themselves for the election they haven't won, or they'll blow the best chance they're going to have for a long time, and maybe the last best chance to save this teetering Republic. Besides clarifying a strong message, they need to pay serious attention to identifying, motivating and delivering Democratic votes, and pay close attention to ensuring Democratic votes are registered correctly at the polls--- and counted.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mandala at Princeton Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go."

Theodore Roethke
Murrow of the Moment

In the firestorm of idiocy that was the Clinton impeachment circus, the only reliably sane coverage I could find on television was by a new guy on cable named Keith Olbermann. Then as soon as that national nightmare was over, he disappeared, back to sports reporting, from whence he apparently came.

But a few years ago he came back to news, just in time to become the only reliably sane and therefore courageous voice in the current international nightmare that threatens to become the Big Sleep of western civilization. Until recently his show featured a few barbed witticisms, some minutes of incisive interviewing and some odd but often apropros cultural references for maybe half of his alloted time (minus commercials), and then the tabloidish silliness that presumably pays the bills. For at least part of that time--I think starting pretty recently-- he's used the Edward R. Murrow sign-off that became the title of the George Clooney movie about Murrow's on-air showdown with Joe McCarthy, "Goodnight and Good Luck."

But within the past several weeks Keith Olbermann added something more--a series of commentaries, three of which are already classics--that have taken on the entire Bush administration with a directness and eloquence that has made him the Murrow of the moment.

Thanks to the Internet, you can see for yourself here. He has twice defended the critics of Bush policies on Iraq against the attacks by Bush officials seeking to demonize those critics by comparing them repeatedly to Nazi appeasers. (Although I don't believe he has yet noted the irony that some of the targets of McCarthyism and the Blacklists of the 50s were people classified as subversives for having been "prematurely anti-Fascist" in the 1930s.)

The second of these commentaries was in response to Bush's supposedly non-political TV addresss on 9/11, which was also effectively skewered by that other reliable voice of sanity, Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, our cable channel court jester. As far as I'm concerned, the most hopeful signs for a national moment of sanity are not opinon polls but the higher ratings for Stewart and Olbermann, while O'Reilly and Faux News sink.

Olbermann's commentary on the failure to erect so much as a memorial on the site of the Twin Towers also began as a defense against the implications of Bush and his Roving Bushites, in very strong terms: And anyone who claims that I and others like me are "soft,"or have "forgotten" the lessons of what happened here is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante and at worst, an idiot whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.

He recounted the enormous support Bush got after 9/11, and what he did with it. "History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage. Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people. The President -- and those around him -- did that."

How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death, after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections? How dare you -- or those around you -- ever "spin" 9/11?"

And with another statement, in a way Olbermann comes full circle:

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had 'something to do' with 9/11 is "lying by implication." The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."

Having been one of the few to forthrightly show his astonishment and chagrin at the spectacle of the Republicans inflating and distorting a petty financial adventure never proven to be illegal, before they obsessively promoted a minor sex scandal into the second impeachment of a President in American history, he has returned to be probably the only TV commentator to utter the suddenly forbidden word "impeachment" about a President who has prima facie committed more outrageously impeachable offenses than Richard Nixon.

I would not be surprised that if this Republic happens to survive this moment he is the Murrow of, Keith Olbermann disappears again, perhaps to turn his attention back to something that may not make any more sense but is at least less harmful, like the stirring sport of studio poker.

(And as a little journalistic aside, having just seen Goodbye and Good Luck again, I noted that in the first few minutes, someone--presumably a journalist-- introducing Murrow at a journalism banquet, misuses the word "historical," when he meant "historic." It is a distinction spelled out in the AP Handbook, which a good journalist should know. I'm still curious whether that 1950s journalist made the mistake, or the 21st century screenwriter.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


As I was packing to leave Seattle yesterday, two members of the 9-11 Commission were on C-Span marveling at how few of their "no brainer" recommendations have been instituted. The glaring examples: first responders still can't talk to each other on their radios. Fire can't communicate and coordinate with police, etc. U.S. port cargo inspections are still nearly nonexistent. The transponders that track airplanes can still be turned off simply, in the cockpit.

Why? They didn't say, so I will. Failed leadership and greed. To provide first responders with a common radio frequency might cut into the public airwaves wholly devoted to corporate self-interest. Big media companies rule, and the Bushite Republicans do whatever they want. It's the same thing generally with port security and the airlines: they don't want to spend money, or add time and effort to their costs. So the Bushites smile and say, okay! When is the next campaign contribution coming?

The symbiotic relationship of the Bushites and big media for mutual enrichment is one of our biggest dangers. We see more obvious signs of it, arguably not as important as what we don't see so blatantly in a single act, but they're good reminders of what's going on. Like ABC's supposed movie of the week event on 9/11 that is totally a product of partisan conservatives--liars certainly (as Lee Hamilton of the 9-11 Commission attests, not to mention American Airlines; or as the New York Times said,when attempting to recreate real events on screen, you do not show real people doing things they never did), though apparently inept ones. Like the Washington Post hiring a Bush speechwriter for a columnist. While that's not totally unprecedented for broadcast media, it's a further devolution for major print.

Meanwhile in their online-only ghetto, the Post keeps one of their best, Dan Froomkin, who had this to say about the latest Bush campaign to inflame 9-11 fears and link them to Iraq, culminating in his speech last night (hat tip to kos):

"What's also telling, as usual, is what Bush didn't say yesterday, and doesn't say, period. He doesn't say we won't allow ourselves to be terrorized, and we won't be afraid. (That would run counter to the central Republican game plan for the mid-term election.) He doesn't say that in our zeal to fight the terrorists, we won't give up the qualities that make America great. He acknowledges no mistakes, he calls for no sacrifice, he refuses to reach out to those who disagree with him.

Indeed, there's a compelling argument to be made that by learning the wrong lessons, Bush compounded the disaster of Sept. 11 -- creating more terrorists than he has killed, for instance, and endangering America's moral standing across the globe."

But is it working this time? This story suggests it isn't--even with former Bushite partisans. Though what few moments of media saturation I could stomach dwelt on fear and emotion, some people I saw interviewed talked more about the positive lessons they recall and have since built on, like the need for people to help one another, and the possibilities for participation, communication and shared creativity.

My experience flying on the 9-11 fifth anniversary suggested the same. There were several police cars around a vehicle at the highway entrance to the Seattle airport, though that could have been a traffic thing. Otherwise there was little conspicuous police presence in the airport. The absurd "precautions" against exploding shampoo (which has happened how many times?) and shoes (how many times has this been tried, vs. how many people have to take their shoes off to get on a plane?) were handled with dispatch and good humor on the part of passengers and, finally, efficient but non-uptight personnel.

I personally believe a lot of these security "precautions," besides shifting the burden onto passengers instead of airlines and government, function mostly as humiliations to keep passengers cowering, and feeling insignificant and docile in contrast to the militant government--classic totalitarian tactics.

But yesterday at Seattle both passengers and personnel acted with good grace, and I detected no special fear because of the date. It could just be this one experience, or because it was on the other side of the country, but it may also indicate that the nation is coming out of its fight/flight or freeze response, and exercising conscious judgment. We'll see in November.