Off the top: in the latest issue of Discover Magazine, a featured article "Advice for the Next President" includes my own humble thoughts, alongside to those of Edward O. Wilson, Steven Weinberg, Jack Horner, C. Everett Koop, Danny Hillis, Peter Singer and other luminaries. Our combined suggestions - to whoever wins the White House - are important, if we're to reclaim America's role as a dynamic leader in world science, education and technology.
= What-ifs to Watch For: A Bouquet of October Surprises =
With four weeks to go, and the GOP writhing in desperation, I find myself doing what I am paid to do, as a thriller-writer... coming up with “what-if” scenarios for the next four weeks till the election... and the next four months till inauguration. Caveat: I do not necessarily believe any of these. But I have ranked them in order of likelihood.
And you are welcome to place bets on InTrade. Each may be lower than 50%, but the odds of something jarring happening before February? Almost certain.
1) John McCain will vacillate till the end over whether or not to go for the respect and reverence that were the rewards given to Wendell Wilkie, Barry Goldwater, Robert Dole, and Jimmy Carter, after they lost elections but -- having behaved well and honorably -- came away with respect as elder statesmen, consulted by the mighty. I expect that, if he had taken the High Road, McCain would arise out of defeat as a beloved figure, invited by President Obama to serve as a right-side conscience. (Perhaps in a manner that I recommended to the Obama Campaign.)
Instead, alas, we have wild oscillations that exemplify the word “erratic.” At one moment, a churlish, snarling, bitter side of John McCain, both in his own words and through proxies, who egg crowds until some spontaneously erupt with Obama-hating shouts like “Kill-him!” Yes, McCain has lately tried to quell this a bit. But not enough to have any real effect upon the wave of Timothy McVeighs who are sure to swell over our nation, as the inevitable fruit of Culture War. Indeed, the more he swings toward being a reasonable adult, the more surely he will be blamed for the Republicans' coming electoral debacle.
Let’s make this plain: in times of national crisis, to pre-wound the next freely-elected president, deliberately striving to reduce his effectiveness, is nothing less than an act of selfish egotism. By some interpretations, it is outright treason.
Obama would be well-served to make as big a contrast with this churlish immaturity, as possible. He should speak of how he will support McCain, if he becomes president, and invite McC to say the same. Obama should even state that after taking office, he will seek McCain’s input! (See below.) Nothing will make the contrast more stark or better put the lie to charges of “radical.”
2) OBL's Ghost still haunts. Catch a guest editorial by Rany Jazayerli, concerning how Osama Bin Laden -- remember him? -- who influenced our US elections on October 29, 2004, by railing against Bush (thus helping him), will almost certainly release a tape during the next few weeks, attempting to do the same thing.
Barack Obama should pre-message, or pre-massage, this possibility -- along with all other October Surprises -- with a few choice words. Just a few generalities, dropped in passing, might ring out as prescient and wise, in the event that OBL speaks out, or a terror strike hits, or... anything a thriller writer can come up with.
3) Vote stealing. Duh. We are already seeing mass disenfranchisement in battleground states. The New York Times finally has a piece on purging voter rolls. The officials behind it should be told that they will be sued - personally - for civil damages, by voters they de-registered unfairly. In times like these, a direct prospect of being cleaned out may mean more than prosecution. Ditto Diebold.
So far, we are talking about “surprises that will not surprise me at all. Now to the less likely.
4) The Clemency Crush. I have spoke elsewhere of how it’s time to talk about (and prepare for) George Bush’s post election "pardon tsunami" -- relied-upon by several thousand kleptocrats. This cannot be prevented -- indeed, the promise of pardons may be what’s saving us from an even more desperate October Surprise.
(Hint to one disgruntled White House employee/staffer. If preparations for this post-election amnesty-festival -- or some other stunt -- are already underway, do you have any idea what a celebrity you’ll become, if you blow the secret before the election? Why, you might even keep your job.)
Still, there are ways for the Democratic Congress to possibly “corner” those pardons. For example, by passing a law that defines a presidential pardon as only applying to actual crimes that the recipient openly confesses in sworn testimony. The best way to start a genuine Truth And Reconciliation process that can begin the healing. (Note some interesting aspects, since this would be the inverse of an executive “signing statement” - and it would be inherently popular. And, of course, it would allow direct civil redress for economic damages. Pardonees would have to choose between escaping jail and losing the yacht, or fleeing to Dubai.)
Sure, this Supreme Court will probably quash any such law. But even that will raise an outcry, since the principle seems so reasonable. Note that just the right response to the "pardon tsunami" might seal the fate of the GOP and perhaps even disgust middle America enough to end Culture War.
5)Resigned to being unforgetable - unfortunately. Only now let’s gild the “pardon lily” by adding an even more paranoid scenario. Though one that’s not at all inconsistent with what we’ve seen. Let’s try to picture the ultimate "up yours" from Bush to the nation. What could that be?
Imagine if W were to resign a week ahead of the inauguration and force us to admit, into the registry of chief executives, "President Richard Cheney."
Yep. Portraits. Coins. History books. All the paraphernalia... and we’d be stuck with this “asterisk” forever! Sure, it's unlikely -- ten-to-one against -- if only because Bush will want to squeeze out every last "hail to the chief." And his GOP friends will beg him not to. Still, this move does have some advantages from his point of view. It would:
a- let him pay off all debts to Cheney (and do you doubt that RC has "leverage"?)
b- let him stick it to the historians and to the 75% of the public who consider him "worst president ever."
c- let him get HIS OWN PARDON from Prex Cheney, after he has pardoned Cheney and several thousand others.
Yeah, if one of you wants to go on InTrade with this, hold out for long odds. Heck, twenty to one. At that level, it’d be worth a few bucks.
6) Maximize the loot - maximize the damage. Will my darkest “manchurian” fantasies about this administration prove to have been right? I've long held that the Standard Model -- simple venality combined with moronic imbecility -- breaks down trying to their perfect record at harming America and - more significantly - destroying Pax Americana. Mere moron-crooks would have done ONE thing beneficial to the Republic, if only by accident! If the darker explanation is true, then you can bet they won’t miss any opportunities to wreak maximum harm, from November to January. These would be the truly awful surprise scenarios. If the Manchurian Nightmare is true (and right now I give it 30%) then be ready to head for the hills.
Finishing up, let me reiterate.
Spread the word that our eyes are open. That may have some deterrence effects.
Buy canned goods (that you’ll reasonably use, later, when things blow over!)
Sign up to take CERT training.
Join the National Guard.
Above all, be ready to be like the passengers of Flight 93. We’re all of us potential American heroes.
=== BONUS SECTION (And possibly even better!) ===
--- Two Important Jiu Jitsu Riffs that Barack Obama Might Use --
I'll post later about this idea, but in raw form -- if BHO seems headed for a surefire win, he needs to turn his attention to the Congressional and Statehouse races! While listening to the 2nd debate on our way to see Neil Diamond (yeow!), I came up with these two suggested riffs. One of them you've heard before. (I’ve given up channeling these through my cousin. Might as well let em percolate.)
Imagine Barack saying this:
1 - "Now there are a couple of areas where I think John has been a little farther ahead of the curve than I was. His attacks on earmark spending have been a bit theatrical, and the amount saved would be small. Still, I believe that if John were president, he would attack that one problem with vigor.
“And you know what? When I am president, John McCain will attack Earmarks with vigor! Because - if he'd accept - I will appoint him to head a team to do just that!
“This isn't grandstanding. After all, John made a promise like this first! When he was asked who his top candidate for Treasury Secretary would be, the first name he thought of was MY economic advisor, Warren Buffett! The “World’s Greatest Investor,” who warned us all about this looming economic crisis, since 2002. Of course, it would be even better if John fired his own economic advisor - Phil Gramm -- who rammed through the total deregulation of the derivatives market and sent us down this road, proclaiming that it would all be just fine.
"But if John would praise and hire Warren Buffett, then I'll return the favor and praise and hire John McCain for the jobs that he's best qualified-for. Along with dozens of other smart, capable Republicans, I'll find tasks for him, don't you worry. Ways for John McCain to keep serving America."
Now THAT would be jiu jitsu! And here's another one
#2 - "Look, I honor John McCain, not only for his military service and inspiring spirit of utter determination, but also for the fact that, yes, he has been a maverick at times... maybe ten percent as often as he says he's been!
"True, he supported George Bush 90% of the time and surrounded himself with the same crowd of Usual Suspects. But let's give him credit for having at least verbally distanced himself from his own Party. He now joins me and millions of Americans in blaming the 12 year Republican Congress for removing most regulation and supervision of Wall Street, for plunging our children into debt, for refusing to act on climate change, for neglecting our science and infrastructure and for sabotaging energy research for an entire wasted decade. Since his nominating convention, he's reversed official GOP policy on most of these of issues, and dozens of others. (Though of course, these switches were following public awareness, not leading it.)
“Look, whether you believe McCain and Palin are true "rebel-maverick-reformers"... or you see their long list of Bush-era advisors as proof that they aren't... either way... I am glad John McCain has joined me in urging that Americans out there fire the Republican members of Congress who did all that!
“Let the GOP clean its own house, before we let them back near positions of power. Let fresh blood and fresh ideas rise up within the Republican Party, so it can come back to us in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower and Barry Goldwater. I'm glad John and I agree on the need for that era of change and renewal, in a Party that promised so much and delivered us only pain. Especially Republican Congressfolk who really should be sent home to think about how they could have served us better.”
----> Note that if it looks to be a landslide, this isn't simply a gambit, it is a moral necessity for Barack! He is behooved.
--- Finally -- SOME OF THAT GOOD OLD COMPARISON AMMO ---
A comparison of economic performance under the two parties leaves the standard republican rationalizations shattered. The comparison on dems vs gops in economic stats reveals dems as decisively better managers of the economy.
Notes: bear in mind that the one major democratic outlier the - 1944-48 “Roosevelt-Truman” term - had to manage the end of WWII and the biggest conversion of the economy in history, finding employment for five million soldiers re-entering the civilian economy. In fact, that term ended very well and was arguably the best -managed in all of US history. Likewise Roosevelt III - both waging WWII and yanking us out of a depression might offer an excuse for that outlier in government deficit. Otherwise, democrats (and Eisenhower) always do better at balancing budgets. Always.
Likewise, without question, stocks do better - on average - under democrats, especially if you (properly) pull Eisenhower out of the Republican column, since his version of republicanism bears no genetic relationship with today’s. Note also that Truman again took a difficult transition and turned it into a boom.
Of course, the most recent year of Bush 43 is missing from these stats, where stock losses and skyrocketing deficits would extrapolate the “red” republican blood-draining to truly vampiric levels.
There is, of course, one exception to the dems’ almost perfect record of better economic performance... the inflation figures for (especially) Jimmy Carter’s term. Though one could easily blame that on backlash effects from trying to do both guns and butter earlier, during Vietnam.
Missing from this tally... and I suspect potentially just as devastating... would be Small Business Startups. I’d also be interested in rates of GDP growth and rates of monopoly aggrandizement. These last three would put the final nails in the coffin.
---- Miscellany ---
There are roughly 4000 political appointees in the federal government of which about 1100 require Senate confirmation. When you elect a president, you are electing a political party, including those 4000 political appointees and the people they hire.
Those of you interested in pinning the blame for the present economic mess, have a look at Russ Daggatt’s latest blog where he lays out the case against former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan... and ends with a truly macabre quote from John McCain.
See a funny -- and prescient -- explanation of the subprime crisis, from John Bird and John Fortune, two British comedians, who anticipated what we're watching today, way back in 2007.
“whenever the topic turns to earmarks, I always suggest that folks go play around with the Sunlight Foundation's Interactive earmarks map.http://sunlightlabs.com/earmarks/ Earmarks are rarely obviously wasteful. Rather, they're small appropriations that exist beneath the urgency level that would merit federal consideration.”
“In the early ‘90’s, before Republicans took control of Congress, the number of earmarks was under 1000 and totaled less than $3 billion. The use of earmarks peaked with the last budget Republicans passed before losing control of Congress in 2006 – at over 14,000 earmarks worth more than $27 billion. Since then, Democrats have cut them by a third – this year they total $18 billion. But let’s put that in context. $18 billion is a whole lot less than a trillion.
As it turns out, the Queen of Earmarks is Sarah Palin. According to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, Palin hired a Washington lobbyist to secure earmarks for tiny Wasilla , Alaska when she was mayor. The town of 6,700 received nearly $27 million in federal dollars from 2000 to 2003. Alaska has the highest earmark use of any state in the country. As governor of Alaska , Palin requested $198 million worth in next year's federal budget.
She learned from the master himself, the former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee when Republicans controlled the Senate, Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). She ran his 527 group “The Ted Stevens Fund” (this is the “independent” political entity that Stevens used to raise unlimited funds from corporate donors). Stevens is currently standing trial in federal court for bribery.
Eloquent Ostrich Ammo. Share and spread around -- and read aloud to your ostrich -- this “Letter to My Republican Father.”