Sunday, March 30, 2008

Change Congress... Local races and political flux!

The ever-vigorous and creative Dr. Lawrence Lessig has led in creation of a new movement-site and advocacy group: Change Congress attempts to coordinate and stimulate the many efforts out there, to reform our national legislature in profound and permanent ways. (Some of which are similar to my “Suggestions to Congress” published last year.) Do at minimum watch Larry’s very vivid and informative web-talk.

If you lack time, skip to about 2/3 of the way in, where he gets beyond the introductory background and really gets to a series of excellent points, from there on.

A Big Pill For That Ostrich of Yours -- “Reasons For Conservatives to Vote Obama.” And this article is in The American Conservative, no less! Unlike that sad journal’s usual reflex apologias for a burgeoning aristocracy, this article by Andrew J. Bacevich gets right to the point... that the GOP has not been led by true conservatives for many years, but by men who have reversed its fundamentals, at every turn. Between the lines, he yearns for the re evaluation and possible redemption that his movement might only achieve in the wilderness, after suffering a well-deserved electoral rout.

” quickly becomes apparent that the Republican Party does not represent conservative principles. The conservative ascendancy that began with the election of Ronald Reagan has been largely an illusion. During the period since 1980, certain faux conservatives—especially those in the service of Big Business and Big Empire—have prospered. But conservatism as such has not.” Amen. Don’t just point your ostrich to this article. Read it to him or her, aloud. And remind him where you found it.

Alas, we are already hearing the refrain about McCain. “He’s not THAT kind of conservative. He’s one of the good ones!” Hence, his recent speech, calling for America to pull back from unilateralist international adventurism, sounds like a dramatic improvement... until you realize that conservatism has always featured wild, manidc-depressive swings, between fervid interventionism and sullen retreats into grumbling isolationism. With the nation’s world popularity at an all-time low, having thrown away all of our alliances and goodwill, it is only natural to see the depressive phase come out, and for conservatives to change the color of their garment. Expect to hear this line - ”Yes, a pack of jerks have steered the ship of state into into the jaws of Scylla. But that crazed veer wasn’t really us at the tiller. Let our team steer again! In the opposite direction! Away from Scylla!”

As Charybdis licks its chops.

For a pithier approach, always tune in to This Modern World.
See also a very inspiring (if biased) account by a man who knows Obama very well. The picture painted is a voracious intellect, genuinely interested in looking at issues from all sides.

The LA Times issued an editorial, March 23, laying out the degree to which the US Army is being demolished, by the very same lunatics who most-loudly shriek “support our troops!” The article only brushes the surface of an issue that I have been raising since 2003 and that the Democrats ought to make their own... if they had any sense.

”In 2006, the percentage of Army recruits who were high school graduates (82%) was the lowest since 1981, and their scores on the military's aptitude test were the worst since 1985. The number of "moral waivers" issued to those with criminal records more than tripled since 1996, to 8,500 in 2006. Worse, the number of recruits with felony convictions was up 30% in 2006 compared with 2005. And the Army apparently stooped to social promotion: 94% of recruits graduated from basic training in 2006, compared with 82% in 2005.

Keeping the all-volunteer Army at full strength in wartime hasn't been cheap, either. The cost per troop soared to $120,000 in 2006 from $75,000 in 2001. And to keep reenlistments up, the Army had to pay retention bonuses of $735 million in 2006, up more than eightfold from the $85 million paid in 2003. Even so, officer shortages are a problem, and at the rank of captain, the backbone of the command structure, the Army is at 60% strength in Iraq. Moreover, for the last year it hasn't had the 3,200 troops needed to fill a brigade designated as militarily "required" for Afghanistan.”

This is not to say that our field forces aren’t still adaptable and adapting. The officers and noncoms are struggling heroically with a near impossible mission, where most of the money that should be used supporting them, or re-building Iraq, has flowed instead into the open maws of Bush-crony service contractors like Halliburton and KBR, operating on “emergency” clause contracts that evade all normal accounting and bidding rules (arguably the chief and foremost reason for the State of Emergency, in the first place.) And still, despite all that, our skilled professionals have been doing their best. Gradually, new doctrines have developed on the ground and islands of peace and goodwill really are being nurtured. One can oppose the madness that plunged us into this war, while still being proud of the men and women who are turning a national catastrophe into a mere bankrupting debacle.

Still, will anyone, any time, mention the credibility issue? Even if we are now committed to stay in Iraq and clean up our own mess, should the job be left in the hands of a cabal of corrupt fools, who kissed Saddam for decades, then left him in place to oppress Iraqis for 12 years, then ousted him in the stupidest of all possible ways? McCain and Limbaugh will try to corner Democrats by asking “what’s YOUR exit strategy?” The answer has got to be “Cleaning up may be complex and costly... but the first step is to peel off of our national tiller the hands of those morons who steered us onto rocks.”


The Pentagon abruptly canceled plans to post online a new report (and also canceled a related background briefing) that concludes the lack of a link between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda. DOD is also now refusing to e-mail out copies of the report, and is only making it available in physically mailed CD-ROM form upon request.

Almost 32 years to the day after President Ford created an independent Intelligence Oversight Board made up of private citizens with top-level clearances to ferret out illegal spying activities, President Bush issued an executive order that stripped the board of much of its authority.

DCCC has unveiled their second "Red to Blue" list for this cycle:
Kay Barnes (MO-06)
Anne Barth (WV-02)
Darcy Burner (WA-08)
Robert Daskas (NV-03)
Steve Driehaus (OH-01)
Jim Himes (CT-04)
Christine Jennings (FL-13)
Larry Kissell (NC-08)
Suzanne Kosmas (FL-24)
Eric Massa (NY-29)
Gary Peters (MI-09)
Mark Schauer (MI-07)
Dan Seals (IL-10)

These are moderate democrats running hard (and well) in current GOP-held congressional districts. It’s nice to see at least three Blue Majority candidates on this list-Darcy Burner, Dan Seals and Eric Massa. (I know Massa and recommend him!) Check and see if you are near any of these districts! If so, helping these people will probably be an even better use of your time and money than contributing to the national campaigns.

And if not? Then look around. Some nearby race for Congress or State Assembly may be just the ticket. A way for your own small efforts to really matter.

Got enthusiasm? Always consider my support for Obama to be BOTH enthusiastic and accompanied by an asterisk* that arises out of wariness toward any bright, hopeful thing that seems to have come upon us a bit suddenly. (The silver lining? He comes with fewer political IOUs than any candidate in US history. At least, to our knowledge. And, as Sean Connery said in a Kevin Costner film, “If you want an apple that’s not rotten, pluck it from the tree, before it spends much time in the barrel.”)

Anyway, having said that, here’s the enthusiasm part -- Get your Barack “stuff” here! It’s also the way to make a small contribution.


David Brin said...


See a year by year list of the talking point (i.e. deliberate lies) that featured each distinct year (out of five) of the Iraq War, which has lasted longer than America’s involvement in WWII.

Worried about that “October Surprise”? Which might happen a lot sooner, timed to help flatten Obama? The number of air marshalls currently aboard US flights has plummeted. (Actually, I do not expect it to involve airliners. That would reflect SO badly on the present administration that it could backfire.)

The Globalist has some interesting articles, such as one about “Europe’s Lucrative Gun Trade with the U.S.” (Apparently those with lots of gun control at home feel perfectly happy sending boatloads to America.)

Another interesting article: Stephan Richter explains, Obama's real secret is that, as a person, he comes darn close to being the very son that Bill and Hillary never had — combining his charm with her brains. A cute concept. Hope she winds up seeing it that way.

Lance Cottrell is the head of Anonymizer, the top company offering pseudonymous, quasi-anonymous and anonymous transit methods across the Internet. Much to his surprise, over the years, he has found much of his business coming from government. Still, he walks this minefield carefully, as reflected in his occasional Privacy Blog. Well worth tracking! (Report here when it seems especially cogent!)

Lance is especially good at covering events like the recent case of Wikileaks under fire.
But see URL:

Unknown said...

Off-topic, but still encouraging:

New research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison finds that we can acquire a greater capacity for compassion through meditation training, in much the same way as athletes or musicians train to improve their skill.


"Scientists are scanning human DNA with a precision and scope once unthinkable and rapidly finding genes linked to cancer, arthritis, diabetes and other diseases.
"It's a payoff from a landmark achievement completed five years ago — the identification of all the building blocks in the human DNA. Follow-up research and leaps in DNA-scanning technology have opened the door to a flood of new reports about genetic links to disease.
"On a single day in February, for example, three separate research groups reported finding several genetic variants tied to the risk of getting prostate cancer."


Scientists in Japan have designed artificial molecules that when used with rats successfully reversed liver cirrhosis, a serious chronic disease in humans that until now can only be cured by transplants.

Tony Fisk said...

Hmmm... Circe told Ulysses to sail by Scylla because Charybdis would devour the whole ship rather than a few sailors.

There is, of course, the middle path... and get the monsters squabbling while you sail on by.

Another off-topic, but it's fascinating reading/listening: Nicholas Negroponte speaking at the AAAS about the OLPC project (the first word of English learnt by Cambodian children: 'Google')

Anonymous said...

If we're going to provide donation links...

Any ammount donated to the Obama campaign before midnight EST today is a raffle ticket for a slim change to have dinner with Senator Obama. All expenses paid.




Anonymous said...

I'd love to read the Chicago Trib piece you linked, but the link is broken.

Unknown said...

Republicans have now started publicly endorsing Obama.


Small rodents taught to use tools.


One of the world’s deadliest diseases, caused by the Ebola virus, may finally be preventable thanks to US and Canadian researchers, who have successfully tested several Ebola vaccines in primates and are now looking to adapt them for human use.

Big C said...

For anyone who needs it, here's the correct link for the Chicago Tribune article Dr. Brin mentioned.

Also, I think it's important to note that the Iraq report the Pentagon tried to suppress got online anyway, as evidenced by Dr. Brin's link. How's that for citizen action? Unfortunately, the mainstream media seems to have ignored this anyway.

Matt DeBlass said...

A NY Times article on the idiocracy of the US.

Woozle said...

I don't know how broadly this is playing, but there's a right-wing attack on Obama underway based on a very tenuous premise, i.e. that he is somehow in agreement with some rather extreme views expressed by his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, despite his very unequivocal and substantial denial. this page has several back-and-forth comments between me and the blog author, a pro-McCain conservative; at least within the pool of web sites he refers to, people seem to be buying this as a genuine issue, which makes me feel rather ill.

sociotard said...

I know Dr. Brin is no longer posting in the comments, but maybe other people here can explain something for me.

What would the world have to look like for the Democrats to say "There was no October Surprise".

I'm asking from a falsifiability point of view. If any newsworthy attack taking place (even before october, as Dr. Brin just implied) constitutes an October Surprise, then it is guaranteed. The world is a violent and unpredictable place. Even if the Kleptocrats didn't want to have an October Surprise, they couldn't avoid having one.

We need this falsifiability situation written out ("I will admit there was no October Surprise IFF . . . ") because otherwise Democrats will sound like Republicans did claiming a "Wag the Dog" situation when Clinton bombed Iraq.

sociotard said...

And just to clarify my prior post:

If an October Suprise is guaranteed, it is also meaningless. Any big stories breaking would probably be nothing more than spin doctoring, and not (as has been implied) a malevolent plot to manufacture fear. There's a huge difference between spinning terible current events (both parties do it) and making terrible current events (only monsters would do it.)

Acacia H. said...

Interestingly enough, considering Senator Clinton's outspoken criticism of Senator Obama's relationship with Reverend Wright, her own husband was on rather friendly terms with the Reverend years back and actually wrote a letter to him thanking Wright for his support during the Monica Lewinski scandal.

Also, another writer claims Clinton is damaging herself and the Clinton Legacy with her campaign, especially as her attacks against Obama end up damaging her more than him.

Rob H.

Unknown said...

Zecharaiah makes an excellent point. Any claim about an alleged "October" surprise must be falsifiable.

I'll take up that challenge. Here's what I would consider a valid "October surprise":

[1] The attack must occur on American soil;
[2] and at least 10 people must die in the attack and more than 50 people must be injured
[3] or the U.S. must attack Iran with nuclear weapons or with a ground assault by conventional forces.

Any of these would constitute an "October surprise." However, a U.S.S. Cole-style Zodiac-raft bombing of a U.S. warship would not constitute an October surprise; also, some lone Islamic gunman, or one or two wahabi fanatics on a bus with a hand grenade, would also not constitute an "October surprise." A nebulous "threat" would not amount to an "October surprise." Some bogus "plot" that consisted of some Islamic guy muttering to himself or drawing plans on some napkin would also not rise to the level of an "October surprise."

An isolated Islamic fundamentalist fanatic would get national news coverage but would merely be a Virginia-Tech-type incident, and that IMHO doesn't rise to the level of a national panic. An "October surprise" would require something of the level of the 11 March 2004 Madrid train bombings (30 dead, 191 injured) or the 7 July 2005 London tube bombings (56 dead, 700 wounded).

As a result, I do not expect any "October surprise" in America. The Madrid 2004 and London 2005 bombings required major coordination between multiple attacks. None of these attacks would be possible in today's surveillance environment, and given recent false-alarm incidents like the cat that set off radiation scanners on I-5, it's extremely unlikely that in America's current surveilliance-security environment terrorists could pull off something like the Madrid or London bombings in America today.

For reasons specified earler, a U.S. ground or nuclear attack on Iran seems outof the question. As Dr. Brin has pointed out, there would be a mass revolt of the U.S. officer corps, and likely an impeachment. A major attack on the Green Zone in Iraq also wouldn't cut it, since the public has learnt to expect that, and because it's a war zone, U.S. army casualties don't have the same shock value as domestic American civilian casualties in terror attacks.

More to the point, however, even if there is an "October surprise," at this point I don't believe it would help the Repubs. Just the opposite -- at this point, I think a new terrorist attack would clinch the election for the Demos.

REPUB: "This new terrorist attack is all the Demos' fault!"

DEMO: "How? You Repubs have been in power for 7 years. We gave you everything you asked for -- warrantless wiretapping, torture, abolition of habeas corpus. This terrorist attack happened on your watch. You Repubs are responsible."

REPUBS: "No no no no no, it's all the Democrats, they're soft on terror, they hate America, this terrorist attack occurred because of evil liberals!"

DEMO: "9/11 happened on your watch. The Madrid train bombings happened on your watch. The London tube bombings happened on your watch. The Bali nightclub bombings happened on your watch. You Repubs have ignored all the intelligence, all the evidence, all the warnings."

REPUBS: "No no no no no, it's the Demos, it's the Demos, it's the Demos!"

DEMO: "That's a lie. America, if you want these terrorist attacks to continue, vote Republican. If you want change, vote for a Democrat. These Repubs will lie to you and steal your money and give no-bid contracts to their cronies, but they won't make you any safer, because they're corrupt and they're incompetent. We Democrats have a plan to defeat terrorism: it's called competent government. Vote for us, and the terrorist attacks will stop. As long as you keep voting for corrupt incompetent Repubs, the terrorist attacks will continue. As they have for the past 7 years on the Republicans' watch, while the Republicans ignored all the warnings about terrorism."

The sheer level of anger against Republicans coming from conservatives should not be underestimated. GOP fund-raising has fallen off a cliff: "[Republican] fund-raising pleas were being ignored...and, on at least one occasion, returned in an envelope stuffed with feces."

Meanwhile, Obama has stopped campaigning against Hillary (since she's toast) and is now industriously feeding McCain into a wood-chipper. How? By pointing out that his Iraq policy has no failure condition: "The problem that we've had, both with John McCain and George Bush, is there's no clear definition of success. There never was. And that's why this has been such a profound strategic error," Obama... told reporters while campaigning in Pennsylvania.

Look, I'm obviously in the lower quintile of the IQ bell curve, but even I can shred McCain without trying:

McCain: "So what's your exit strategy for Iraq?"

Obama: "Leave."

McCain: "Leave? You can't just leave! What do you--"

Obama: "You don't want our troops to leave Iraq? EVER?"

McCain: "Yes, uh, well, depending on, that is, under the proper--"

Obama: "Do you or don't you? Which is it? A month ago you said you'd have no problem if our troops stayed in Iraq for 100 years. Now you say you want to get them out of Iraq. Were you lying then? Or are you lying now?"

McCain: "Uh, I, uh, it, er, that is, um..."

Rinse, wash, repeat. Landslide for Obama in November.

Meanwhile, you really know you're in the 21st century when you see a headline like Weaponizing The Pentagon's Cyborg Insects.

Anonymous said...

You all seem to be assuming that the "October Surprise" will be something obviously evil. How un-subtle of you.

More likely Bush will declare a major break-through in Iraq, and bring home 10000 or so troops - nothing that can't be reversed (at great expense) a few months after the election, mind you.

And he'll arrange for a classic "ticker tape' parade for all those troops. They'll march down a NY city street, past a review stand with Bush on it, right in front of the WTC site.

In what appears to be broad-spirited gesture, even Barack will be invited to ride in the parade - in fact he'll be invited to ride in the limo just ahead of McCain's.

And just at the peak of a day of feel-good patriotic displays, just after Obama's car has pulled past to polite scattered applause and out of the TV cameras' view, McCain's open limo stops in front of the review stand so McCain can salute his Commander in Chief.

And then Bush calls down and gestures at him - "Come on up! Come on up!" Totally un-rehearsed and impromptu, you understand?

And Bush will raise McCain's fist in the air, and declare "Ladies and Gentlemen! I give you the next President of the United States, the man who will carry forward our great vision of peace through victory in Iraq - John McCain!"

And as the carefully gathered, invitation-only crowd in the high security zone near the reviewing stand goes wild, a camera angle shared by all the major networks will point past Bush and McCain, just happening to catch Obama - receding down a stretch of street with absolutely no one along it, forlornly looking back, and then disappearing around a corner.

Anonymous said...

Twinbeam what you suggest is implausible and at this time unworkable as an "October Surprise". It would be seen as a stunt unless there can be shown real improvement in conditions in Iraq leading up to the withdrawal. Given the stance that the Repubs have taken on Iraq, withdrawal under any other terms would be seen as recognition that their policy is wrong and the pain caused over the past 2-3 years at least was worthless.

Too many people would be asking what has changed, and many would see it as a very expensive "Mission Accomplished" exercise.

There is also a real danger of escalations in violence in Iraq and while this would enable conservatives to say "we were right", everyone else would be saying "then why the F!@# did you pull out the troops if you knew this would happen".

Anonymous said...

We will have a few contrived "surprises" to be sure, but maybe the whole October thing is passe these days.
Expect at least one round of "insider" info to the topic of John McCain's cancer being back. Two rounds if the VP candidate is someone unappealing to moderate voters.
And sadly we will probably be treated to rumormongering about Obama and some womenfolk.
The annonymous, non aligned with campaign interest groups are not free speech at its best. We have some genuinely ugly ones active in our (WI) Supreme Court race right now.

Acacia H. said...

The Clinton campaign has been failing to pay its bills. It appears that if Senator Clinton hadn't loaned herself $5 million (a loan which feels... off to me - why not just spend $5 million of her own money, rather than forcing donators to pay her money (with interest) to run for the Presidency?) and actually paid all her bills... she'd be almost $3 million in the hole.

A number of small businesses are starting to send out warnings: if you want to work with the Clinton campaign... get cash in advance. Various unpaid debts reach as far as pollster and chief strategist Mark Penn, who’s owed $2.5 million; direct mail company MSHC Partners, which is owed $807,000; phone-banking firm Spoken Hub, which is waiting for $771,000; and ad maker Mandy Grunwald, who’s owed $467,000.

The Clinton campaign even failed to respond to a certified letter concerning debt to one company, the event production company Forty Two of Youngstown, Ohio.

Forget lies about Bosnia and Ireland. I think this is the nail in Clinton's coffin. Yet Senator Obama is remaining very silent about this... making me wonder if it will be brought up in the planned Pennsylvania debate. If she fails to adequately explain why she's stiffing small businesses and various people for helping her out... then people might start coming to the conclusion that she won't keep the promises she's made on the campaign trail.

The writing is on the wall. And it's in the form of an IOU.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Tony Fisk said...

Forget politics for a moment, and that 'ook' smell coming from the ISO. (ECMA declares victory... on April 1!)

This is a bit of cool science.

Remember the opening scene in Jurassic Park III where the paleontologists are fabbing a raptor skull embedding in rock? Now check this out (also dated April 1, but no foolery involved)

Acacia H. said...

And another article concerning Senator Clinton's campaign debt. You know... I think she's going to sink not only her Presidential chances, but her Senatorial chances as well in four years... unless she pays off her own campaign debt using her and her husband's money.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

On a What The Frak?!? note... Nine third-graders plotted to assault their teacher with varied roles for each student from covering up windows so no one outside would see, knocking out the teacher, stabbing the teacher, and so forth. It seems the kids were upset with the teacher for scolding one of the students for standing on a chair.

I think I need a drink now.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

When I was in third grade, I plotted with a friend to murder our teacher...

Acacia H. said...

State Primaries have little relevance to "electability" according to historical records. This article is kind of interesting, and also doesn't bode well for Senator Clinton. It seems that the candidate best able to inspire people does best in general elections by swaying swing voters... and Clinton has a history of angering certain people against her.

Meanwhile, Senator Obama is owned by a 10-year-old girl in bowling... but I do have to wonder if this is a bad thing. I mean, can you imagine if Clinton had been there, bowling a perfect game against a 10-year-old? Losing to Gabriella may not only have been a classy thing to do... but also show he's human and not "perfect." Besides, it lets him joke about replacing the White House bowling ally with a basketball court.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Tintinaus - it wouldn't be difficult to engineer a temporary 'improvement' in Iraq.

E.g. take Sadr's deal of peace for prisoners - but with the prisoners released over a period of about 12 months, so long as they remain peaceful. I'd bet that's what Sadr has in mind...

E.g. deflate troop losses - the public's biggest metric of how things are going in Iraq - by simply pulling troops out of the most dangerous areas.

E.g. offer cash incentives to get the religious minorities in violent neighborhoods to move out, while letting them know the US won't be patrolling there much longer - carrot and stick.

Kiel Bryant said...

Thought you'd all enjoy Google's tantalizing April Fools joke,

Maybe you've already seen it.

Hope this post isn't quite bread-into-paperweights stale, yet.

Anonymous said...

@Zorgon & Zecharaih:

While religious fundamentalists are not known for exercising their imaginations, there is room for an "October Surprise" even if they just steal ideas from Bruce Schneier's "Movie Plot Threat" contest. Blowing up planes and train stations is hardly the limit of what could be accomplished with a little creative thinking.

That being said, I agree with Zorgon that an October Suprise can't be any piddling thing. A hundred civilians killed by a crazed lone gunman isn't going to put the nation into a panic. The successful terrorist will look to successful guerilla warfare doctrines: "Make the enemy think you are everywhere at once with a hundred times as many men as you have."

For myself, I'm cynical, but not cynical enough to believe in the "October Surprise" just yet. For our recent six-year slide into fascism, I figure "Never ascribe to malice what can adequately be ascribed to stupidity."