Sunday, October 21, 2012

How Democrats and Republicans Wage War

Offered one day preceding the final Presidential debate, on foreign policy, in order to give you all some badly-needed perspective on the most important foreign policy matter of all... when and how to fight. 

Last year finally saw the end of America's second-longest war. Dragging on a decade, that was the multi-trillion dollar quagmire of attrition and so-called "nation-building" in Iraq. 

Our longest war, the continuing multi-trillion dollar, "nation-building" quagmire in Afghanistan, continues on and on.  

Why is this not a major campaign issue? Together, these vast military adventures account for about a third of the deficit that folks are so vexed about. The rest of the debt crisis can be attributed to the depression/recession, the Bush tax cuts and the never-funded, GOP-created entitlement called Medicare Part D. (Actually, there are eight factors that plunged us from Clintonian surpluses into debt, which I have appraised (Eight Causes of the Deficit "Fiscal Cliff") in better detail than you'll likely find elsewhere. Remove all of those and what's left over would be small and affordable. 

But today's topic is war. Not whether it can still be necessary, from time to time. I will make die-hard leftists furious and concede that we are at least another generation away from abolishing the foul practice, at long last. Until then, wars will happen as today's primitive nations and angry peoples jostle for advantage. Especially as shortages of resources, even water, propel rising tensions. And don't forget those fierce cultural drivers that ignite the worst violence.  

No, let's focus: do the two U.S. political parties differ in how they wage war? What are their distinctions in doctrine, policy, professionalism, style and effectiveness?

Democrats and Republicans each divert attention from this matter. Despite their bellicose rhetoric and flag-waving gusto, Republicans won't speak of Iraq and Afghanistan (the "land where empires go to die")  nor of their promises  a decade ago -- that it would all cost much less, end sooner, accomplish far more and - above all - leave twin oases of perpetual friendship and enlightened democracy in the Middle East. Instead of what we now see those two nations fast-becoming -- satrapies of Iran, of Pakistan and the Pashtun Taliban.  Not the outcome we were promised, for several trillion dollars... but exactly what any realist would have foreseen.  

In contrast, Democrats tend to feel squeamish talking about war -- even though it's now clear that - ever since Vietnam - Democrats are much better at it than Republicans are. 

Well I'm not squeamish. Nor am I a democrat. Moreover, this may be the most important election-related topic of all. In a dangerous world, the differences in doctrine and method we're about to discuss may become crucial and destiny-deciding. 

So, let's take time to scrutinize how our major parties project American military power. 

== War is changing - though it may be with us for a while == 

(Skip to the next section if you just want the meat about republican and democratic differences.)

Again, my premise will offend those at the far left, plus classic libertarians and old-fashioned isolationists on the right. I sympathize with folks who want the stupidly wasteful practice of justified state killing to go away, like phlogiston and witch burnings. In both novels and nonfiction, I write about futures when that transition has finally happened. 

Alas, those idealists fail to note that humanity has been making incremental progress! Since our dark nadir of 1945, every decade has witnessed a decline in average per capita rates of violence on Planet Earth.  Sure, there are horrid episodes -- wars, persecutions, depredations and mini-holocausts. Unlike other generations across 6000 years, we're made aware via television and the Internet, so that ironically this feels like a hyper violent age. But as Professor Steven Pinker shows, the per capita trends are indisputable. Nearly all past generations trembled at the tread of invading armies or the smell burning cities, cowering amid mass rape and pillage. That fraction today is the lowest ever, though such statistics are small comfort in Rwanda, the Congo, Cambodia and other modern horror-spots that merit our revulsion, our resolve! But they grow more rare.  

This trend is manifest in how war is carried out. Thousands died each day of World War II, an apocalyptic, bloody vastness of crushed civilians. Vietnam and Korea featured more hand-wringing over collateral casualties, but the ratios merely improved a bit. Not enough by the evolving standards of the next decade, and the next. Today? As fought by western allies, war is starting to resemble very rough SWAT team police actions, far more than the ruthlessness shown by Caesar and Tamerlane, Cortez, Guderian and Zhukov. There are outrages, but doctrines are more meticulous, training and supervision are closer, munitions are "smarter" and rules of engagement stricter than before.  

I hold out no hope that more than a third of you who are reading this will take the preceding paragraphs in their clear and blatant meaning.  Not as an excuse or rationalization for crime, but instead as encouragement. As evidence that incremental progress is happening. And therefore that more progress can happen! That, gradually, war is transforming. The collateral travesties that we found appalling in Iraq merit  vigorous critique. But they would have been rounding errors in Vietnam. And before that? Normal "peacetime." 

Criticism is how we have improved, so don't let up! 

But also admit changes are afoot -- an incremental evolution. Squint another few decades down this road, the thing that we called "war" may have evolved almost totally away. If we make good choices. 

== Adapting to the lessons of Vietnam == 

In an earlier article, I described in detail how the United States military officer corps wrought major reforms after the mistakes made in Southeast Asia: ending the draft, pursuing professionalism, reinforcing the tradition of civilian control and using high-tech to enable force multiplication, plus targeted -- even "surgical" -- application of force.  

It's not been error-free.  For example, I've been critical of how this drive for professionalism excludes the U.S. civilian population -- even theoretically -- from involvement in defending their country. Until Vietnam, it was always assumed the general population would have a major role to play. Quiet abandonment of that principle has disturbing implications, duplicating the failure mode that doomed Republican Rome.  

One of my ongoing themes has been a 21st Century struggle to empower citizens, after the 20th Century's relentless trend toward the "professionalization of everything."  But this may be about to change.  For example, an overlooked aspect of the 9/11 tragedy was that citizens themselves were most effective in our civilization's defense, reacting with resiliency and initiative while armed with new technologies.) 

But let's zero in on that "surgical' application of power.  It ranges from use of drones to target enemies on and off the direct battlefield to training regimes at the National Training Base, Fort Irwin in the California desert, where they no longer hold big set-piece battle exercises between whole brigades. Now smaller units train for complex missions like counter-insurgency. The Army that pounded through Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard divisions, both in 1992 and in 2003, does not exist anymore. Oh, today's forces, once they fully recover from the devastating effects of Iraq and Afghanistan, could probably still achieve the same ends.  But in different ways. 

If you talk to modern generals and admirals (and I do) they will tell you what they never want to see.  Quagmire. Draining wars of occupation in which a sneaking enemy conceals himself amid a civilian population and nearly always has the initiative. They are willing to fight! But they want to be efficient, quick, and overwhelming, to build a reputation of American near-omnipotence. Because there is no better way to keep peace. That reputation is the best way not to have to fight. 

Does any of that sound like the Republican-instigated wars of recent years?  Iraq One or Iraq Two or Afghanistan?  Or does it sound more like the conflicts ordered by Democratic Presidents -- in Bosnia, Libya, and the hunt for Osama bin Laden? You can see where I am going with this. But oh, how I wish I could tell you the names of men and women of high rank and renown, who nearly universally consider one of our recent presidents to be the worst -- and most damaging to the US military's might and reputation and very lives -- in living memory. 

== So how do democrats and republicans differ in waging war? == 

I visited this topic before, way back in 2004, when U.S. voters faced a choice whether to re-elect the man who plunged us into two multi-trillion dollar quagmires.  Eight years have passed and our data set is now stronger. (But do look at that other essay; it covers some points not addressed here.) 

So how do Democrats and Republicans differ in the way that they wage war?  

In Bosnia, Bill Clinton tried diplomacy, then consulted his generals and let them draw up the plan. It combined sanctions and trade strangulation with the precision  air power and very discreet use of special forces to reduce the military capabilities of the Serb militias, with minimal collateral damage and zero loss of American lives. Effects came rapidly, were satisfactory -- giving Europe its first complete peace in several thousand years -- and were negligible upon the U.S. national budget. 

The next major conflict showed the same doctrines at work, though the president giving the go-order was George W. Bush.  In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, something had to be done, and quickly.  But what? Clearly, one of Osama bin Laden's main goals, in sending suicide pilots to destroy the tallest buildings in New York, was to draw us into land conflict in Afghanistan. Remember who this was. A moujehadeen commander whose glory days were spent humbling another Great Power, the USSR, amid the peaks of the Hindu Kush. What worked with one Great Satan ought to work on another, right?  Anyone who thinks that was not bin Laden's main goal is naive.

Indeed, we had to go!  The Taliban-led government of Afghanistan had assisted Osama in an act of war.  We had to go and kick their asses, hard.  But how?

Dig this well.  George Bush had only time to say "go!" to a war plan that was already on the Pentagon's shelf. Thick and detailed contingency scenarios had been prepared during the previous administration.  Special Forces teams already spoke Uzbek and Turkmeni and other Afghan languages and knew tribal leaders in Masoud's Northern Alliance.  They were helicoptering into prepared drop zones within days, while US Navy and Air Force jets sped to pre-arranged staging areas around the periphery.  When the hammer came down, it was under control by the generals and specialists, using their best doctrines, identical to Bosnia... and it worked magnificently.  Within weeks -- at zero U.S. casualties and rather low rates of overall death or destruction, Mullah Omar's Taliban were fleeing for their lives.

 Now the core question: who deserves credit? The man who had no other option than to shout "go!" to an already existing plan, run by professionals without political interference? Because the politicians had no time to interfere?  Or the administration that had earlier studiously worked with generals and allies to draw up the plan, in great and effective detail?

That was AFGHANISTAN PHASE ONE. Full credit belongs to Bill Clinton and his team, who set us up to win, and to win cheap.

Ah, but then came AFGHANISTAN PART TWO.  Alas.  We'll get to that debacle... diametrically opposite to part one in every possible way... in a moment.

But first, let me avow that the Democratic approach to war does not always work!  Some of you recall our humiliation in Somalia, early in Bill Clinton's term of office.  He might have laid blame on his predecessors, the way I credit him for Afgh-1. (Indeed, Bush Sr. started the intervention without telling or consulting with President-Elect Clinton, presenting his replacement with a "dung sandwich" fait accompli quagmire to wrestle with, in his first days in office.) But Clinton did not blame Bush and get out. In the months that followed, the intervention in Somalia followed Democratic Party styles, attempting to use surgical force and elite professional action... and it was a dismal failure because those doctrines were taken to an absurd extreme.  Failing to heed professional advice, Clinton's first Defense Secretary, Les Aspin, denied our troops there the ability to call upon overwhelming backup power. Hence, when they got into trouble, disaster happened.  A very small scale disaster, as such things go, and they did not repeat the mistake.  But a black eye, nonetheless, proving that an extreme version of the democrats' approach can be foolish.

 == More Examples of Democratic War-Fighting ==

Still, we have seen three examples of how democrats wage war.  And now you can easily fit into this pattern the conflicts of Barack Obama, whose quiet use of decisive air power during the Libyan Civil War  -- eliminating the oldest terror-instigator in the world, Muammar Khaddafi -- was so downplayed that it almost seemed we weren't there at all.  Allowing our European allies to take front position, we nevertheless flew half the sorties and handled nearly all of the logistics for an extremely careful, surgical intervention, relying on air power plus discreet use of elite special forces. See: For Obama, Some Vindication of Approach to War, in The New York Times. 

“Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives, and our NATO mission will soon come to an end,” Mr. Obama said in a Rose Garden address that served as muted victory lap. “We’ve demonstrated what collective action can achieve in the 21st century.”

Then there is the taking out of Osama bin Laden... along with Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, as well as  Fahd al-Quso (who helped attack the USS Cole) and many dozens of other, mid-level members of al Qaeda and other terror networks, plus at least fifty other top or medium-level members of the network that thought it could intimidate the United States with terror.

Do not for a minute think that I consider these successes to be un-problematic! In pushing "surgical warfare" they do bring about efficiency and reduce civilian collateral damage. They do rebuild America's reputation for relentlessly effective ferocity - the best deterrent.  But they also take us into the territory of targeted assassination...  a deeply worrisome trend. Especially if we want all this to lead toward the behavior of accountable cops, and not ninja killers.  There are, indeed, valid points raised by critics of this approach. 

America-shadow-wars.jpgThe budget for Special Ops has quadrupled. Under President Obama, the forces of the Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), which includes the Green Berets, Navy SEALS and Army Rangers, have been granted more latitude and greater autonomy, engaged in counter-terrorism, surveillance and reconnaissance in as many as 120 countries around the world. In America's Rising Shadow Wars, an appraisal published in Mother Jones: “They are displacing conventional forces, becoming the “force of choice” in operations with far less civilian oversight, accountability or control -- i.e. no Congressional approval or consultation necessary, no press coverage, their operating budget a black book...”

While some aspects invite our future and continuing scrutiny, what we can blatanly conclude is that the last two democratic presidents have been utterly consistent.  Explains NPR's  Corey Flintoff  -- "The latest operation, a hostage rescue in Somalia carried out by Navy SEALs, is part of a pattern established by a commander in chief who has shown a clear preference for limited, small-scale military action.The operation freed two aid workers, 32-year-old American Jessica Buchanan and 60-year-old Dane Poul Thisted. It appears to have been a textbook operation in which two teams of commandos swooped in by helicopter, killed at least eight pirates, and recovered the hostages unharmed." 

Meanwhile, there is a very low key operation in and around Uganda, in which U.S. special forces coordinate local forces in the hunt for crazed warlord Joseph Kony. The top goal has already been achieved, eliminating the Lord's Resistance Army as a threat to regional peace and development. But U.S, citizens will only take notice if they come up with Kony's head. "It's part of a broader shift in how we engage in war," says Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. "The bottom line is 'no more Iraqs, no more Afghanistans,' no more large-scale commitments in terms of troops on the ground or time on the ground."

Again, what I am saying will not appeal leftists, who will be infuriated by the choice between two unacceptable things -- two styles of war. But I am not talking to leftists, right now.  I am addressing those who believe --wrongly -- that Democratic presidents are somehow "mushy" or weak-willed, when it comes to conflict over U.S. national interests. 

That is malarkey. Across the last 100 years, democrats were far more ready to confront militarism in 1917 Germany, then Hitler and Imperial Japan, then the USSR, than the isolationist republicans of that era were. And the democrats committed us to full scale combat in Vietnam.  A horrific blunder, from which they were willing to learn. 

Democrats fight.  But they wage war in ways that are crucially, even diametrically, different from their Republican counterparts. 

== The War Doctrines of the Republican Party ==

The contrast between Democratic and Republican styles of war could not be more stark. Beginning with the degree that they show deference to the United States Senior Officer Corps.  

Do you know any generals or admirals? Ask them about this. Odds are, you'll get no answer at all, due to their punctilious respect for civilian authority and resolve not to meddle in politics. But you may get hints. Anyway, continue searching and ask retired generals or admirals! And bear in mind these folks constitute the third best-educated clade in American life, after scientists and medical doctors. 

One of these retired flag officers told me: "Democrats admit they don't know anything about military matters. They consult. They ask questions. They listen."

 He added: "Republican presidents all assume they're some mix of John Wayne and Patton. Plans are for nerds. Caution is for wimps."

Let's put aside the spat wars of Ronald Reagan, in Grenada, Panama and Lebanon... a mixed bag a of mixed doctrines, with none of them a fair test of anything.  The point where all things distill is with the arrival of both Bushes, Cheney and Rumsfeld. Look back on George H.W. Bush's response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.  And his son's second invasion of that same country, followed by a decade-long grind of bleeding and attrition and a trillion dollars down the drain. 

Now add to the ledger AFGHANISTAN PART TWO...  the wholly voluntary commitment of vast ground forces to a devastatingly debilitating and draining counter-insurgency campaign in a place where the culture and terrain guarantee that no one, no matter how competent or well funded or reinforced, can achieve "victory," only a respectable stalemate.  Calling up and nearly destroying the U.S. Army reserves for a war of policy and not urgency. This was a very different thing from Afghanistan Phase One. Phase Two was entirely George W. Bush's choice.  There were alternatives and he chose the loudest, the most costly and the one most clearly destined for frustrating pain.

In all three of these wars under the two Bushes, amateurs like Cheney and Rumsfeld meddled relentlessly, ignored advice, over-ruled staff, fired generals and issued airy assurances while commanding vast corps of American ground troops into major ground war, followed by quagmire. Look back on those three interventions and the lesson is clear: Republicans go for heavy firepower, tens of thousands of boots and treads on the ground. Toe-to toe battle! Battalions and brigades and divisions churning up dust, represented by pins and flags on big maps under the White House. 

 == Excuses, excuses ==

Oh, I can hear the justifications for IRAQ PHASE ONE.  No, the invasion of Kuwait could not be allowed to stand. But dig this carefully, Saddam was a dangerous moron -- who chose the very worst year possible, to invade Kuwait, when we had an entire mobile army in place, just a few hundred miles away, facing a Warsaw Pact foe that no longer existed!  Two years earlier or later, and we might have been forced to find other means to eliminate the idiot.

Which is the point.  I remember speaking at the CIA in 2003, just before IRAQ PHASE TWO. As a physicist-scifi author with some scenario-building chops, I was brought in to discuss alternatives. And while I can say no more about that, let me just add that there were plenty of them! Alternatives, I mean.  More than you might imagine.

(Elsewhere I talk about an entirely separate matter... the worst stain upon American honor since Vietnam, when Bush Senior ordered Gen. Schwarzkopf to stop short of freeing the people of Southern Iraq, who were at that moment (suicidally, it turns out) rebelling against Saddam at our urging. And would have welcomed us then with kisses and flowers.)

The point is that three such garish campaigns of major battle, followed in two cases by trillion dollar, decade-long quagmires, constitutes a consistent pattern.  One that even now is seriously studied at West Point: "Now at another critical moment in American military history, the faculty here on the commanding bend in the Hudson River is deep in its own existential debate," said Col. Gian P. Gentile, the director of West Point’s military history program and the commander of a combat battalion in Baghdad in 2006, in a recent interview. 

"Narrowly, the argument is whether the counterinsurgency strategy used in Iraq and Afghanistan — the troop-heavy, time-intensive, expensive doctrine of trying to win over the locals by building roads, schools and government — is dead.  Broadly, the question is what the United States gained after a decade in two wars." Col.Gentile continued: “Not much. Certainly not worth the effort. In my view.” 

Senior military officers are often scholars.  They know, painfully well, that risky and brutally expensive military adventures crushed the hopes of the last great experiment in our type of society, when Periclean Athens wasted the cream of its naval and land forces in the absurd Syracuse Expedition, squandering the men and resources and treasure they would need, in facing a brutal Spartan foe.  And seriously, could you possibly imagine a worse, more expensive or more futile place to do such squandering, than Afghanistan?

Wrong-Turn-Americas-Deadly-Embrace-of-Counterinsurgency-14434045-4Colonel Gentile, who is working on a book titled Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace With Counterinsurgency, is critical of what he called “a maximalist operational” approach“Strategy should employ resources of a state to achieve policy aims with the least amount of blood and treasure spent.” 

 That is about as close as you are going to get to a public statement of what most of the senior officer corps would tell you, if they could, without breaking their oaths not to meddle.  That they prefer the way that democrats wage war.

 == The condition of our forces ==

 We could thrash over subsidiary matters.  The lies used by Bush the Younger to justify Iraq 2.  Whether we could keep the Taliban from returning to power in Afghanistan by simpler means, with air and local forces. Whether even that was necessary. And so on.  Many of these matters are discussed in more detail, in that 2004 article of mine. But the core lesson here is clear. Republican administrations like war to look and feel like war! Tank armies and massed divisions... with politicians giving direct orders and over-ruling the professionals. And in the process, they pretty much destroyed the old-fashioned tools that they used.

When he entered office as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen was asked what he considered to be his most desperate concern.  "The Army," he said. Saving it from what had been done to it.

Now chew on this fact: When Bill Clinton left office, every U.S. Army and Marine Corps brigade was rated fully combat ready to defend the lives and interests of Americans.  When George W. Bush left office, not one U.S. brigade was so rated. We went from all to none. And the GOP has a reputation for defense?

The Army that rolled over Saddam's Republican Guard divisions in 92 and 03 does not exist anymore.  What has replaced it is in some ways better, more agile, more professional, if also tired and badly in need of rest. It had to adapt and become agile, having been worn down to the bone. Things are better now, but it will take time.  And meanwhile, we must confront deadly foes across a murky battlefield of terror and sabotage that spans the globe.  So, whose doctrines are appropriate?

 == Final comparisons ==

I've talked too long.  The few of you who are still reading surely see the patterns by now.  But I'll leave you with a few items for summing-up. First, David Ignatius, writing in the Washington Post (September 2011) called President Obama the covert commander in chief.  "The flag-waving “mission accomplished” speeches of his predecessor aren’t Obama’s thing; even his public reaction to the death of bin Laden was relatively subdued."  "Another sign of Obama’s penchant for the secret world was his decision to hire David Petraeus as CIA director. The president appears to be ratcheting up intelligence and paramilitary operations under the leadership of the nation’s most celebrated military commander, even as he withdraws uniformed troops from Iraq and Afghanistan."

A year ago, commentator Mark Landler wrote"Mr. Obama’s carefully calibrated response infuriated critics on the right and left, who blamed him either for ceding American leadership in a foreign conflict or for blundering into another Arab land without an exit strategy. "But with Colonel Qaddafi joining the lengthening list of tyrants and terrorists dispatched during the Obama presidency, even critics conceded a success for Mr. Obama’s approach to war — one that relies on collective, rather than unilateral, action; on surgical strikes rather than massive troop deployments."

 Or take this from one of the world’s top technology pundits, Mark Anderson, CEO of the Strategic News Service

"For me... the comparison is like two slides, I picture, first: an army of soldiers surrounding bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora, and then being ordered by Team Bush to wait until the locals can get there and participate, at which point the enemy has escaped. I compare that slide to the story of this year: after a year in secret investigation and preparation, Team Obama finds a likely target compound in Pakistan, orders in Seal Team Six via stealth choppers, uses overwhelming force, and shoots to kill. DNA samples are taken to confirm ID, and the body is dumped ignominiously in the ocean, with no propaganda pics for the enemy, and no burial process or site to rally round. What a difference.  And yet, which man is called a wimp?”

 == You decide between competence and bluster ==

 What are the merits of both sides in the current election?  Last time I showed that the top six of eight causes of the budget deficit were brought to you by Republicans.  

 Now we also see -- in light of the debate over foreign policy -- that same party is horrendously delusional and incompetent at the realpolitik arts of diplomacy, military readiness and war.  

Again, I am unhappy -- as we all should be -- that the rapid shift toward an end to human violence is not progressing even faster. But if we must still live for a while longer in a barbaric era of state-sanctioned killing, called war, then it is important that the Western Enlightenment be preserved, so that girls can grow up to be empowered women and so that individual freedom remains a touchstone of human civilization.  This progress will at times have to be defended! 

If so, then an evolutionary process toward calm, skilled, minimalist and surgical professionalism -- and above all success -- is better for our budget, our health and lives, for our future prospects of peace, than a pack of corrupt, blundering fools who treat our economy as their personal piggy bank.. and who treat our military men and women as personal toys.  

Far better for the world and better for America, to go with adults who are willing to use force... but who (as adults) know to consult professionals and act with care.

David Brin

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Political TroubleMaker said...

Regarding Republican politicization of serious security matters, Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy Magazine has an article about Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) who recently leaked the names of Libyan State Department operatives. He has been conducting a congressional investigation into the Libyan Benghazi consulate attacks - really a fishing expedition to support Mitt Romney's claim that the Obama Administration has been 'apologizing and sympathizing with terrorists' by not forcefully repudiating the killing of Ambassador Stevens enough. You know, perhaps if Obama said more bad things about Muslims, they might stop killing us. That kind of thinking.

Anyway, Issa posted a 166 page document dump obtained from the State Department without bothering to properly redact any names included therein, thus risking the lives of those who had been helping the State Department engage U.S. foreign policy in the region.

Shades of Valerie Plame, though being retribution for Joe Wilson's OP-ED rather than just plain stupidity and carelessness makes that security lapse much worse.

Alex Tolley said...

While you have made an interesting case for differences between the 2 political parties in how they fight war, the US does seem to have very limited thinking about using alternatives. Yes, the UN seems somewhat dysfunctional in stopping conflict, but the US tends to pick fights in preference to other means, simply because of the size of its military. How you fight seems less important than choosing whether to fight rather than try alternatives.

reformed tourist said...

That the points are well taken is not the singular thing. Nor is the fact that the points are not ones that require any particularly deep research or arcane knowledge to appreciate. It is not even the fact that the story arc of Wimpy Democrats persists given the proclivities and ownership of the MSM (again nothing new here, think back to Luce and the China Lobby both before and after WW2, then move along...). No the truly extraordinary aspect of this is that Democrats, themselves, have never stood up on their hind legs and shouted the obvious.

The only possible explanation for this is the enduring, if incompletely acknowledged, sense of shame and confusion the party felt over the LBJ years in Viet Nam and the soul-staining occurences at the National Convention in Chicago. Until either enough time passes or some sort of catharsis occurs, I'm not confident that we will see the arc change trajectory...

There is one other component to this that has to do with the so-called 2 Americas (North vs South, or Urban vs ex-Urban, or Blue vs Red - choose your label). The phenomenon of triumphalism has been cynically, if predictably, focused on those of our fellow citizens who are least likely and least equipped to perform any objective self-examination. And adding a bit of frosting to the shit cake that has been the militarization of the US, is the Christianization of the professional office corps in all services - though arguably it reached its height at Colorado Springs a few years ago. The religiosity that pervaded the junior and field grade ranks suggests that there is at least the potential that as those, yes, zealots, reach flag rank, we are in for more trouble at the policy level.

Anonymous said...

I have a pet theory (and how I wish it would become one of the pet theories of seven billion other people!) It is this:

You're probably aware of the fairly famous comment by Hermann Göring: "Naturally, the common people don't want war... But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along."

My pet theory is that leaders are the problem... sociopathic leaders, to be exact. Authoritarian leaders, power-lusting leaders... any mental health professional can tell you that 1 to 4 percent of the population are sociopaths. If we make a worker, a nurse or a pilot for example, pee in a cup to prove they won't steal drugs or crash the plane... why, then, don't we demand that anyone in a leadership position pass screening to prove they are not sociopaths without conscience? Sure, a few might slip through, but many would not... aggressive wars are often precipitated by the sociopaths leading the aggressor nation... and if the people of EVERY nation made the same demand of their leaders, what nation would then be led by aggressors? Each nation knowing that others were unlikely to attack it, each could then stop wasting resources on war.

Some would argue that this idea is discriminatory, but someone's always going to be discriminated against. In our society, it's the poor (and incidentally, the poor in any nation are frequently the progeny of conquered peoples!) May as well discriminate against the ones really causing trouble: warlike sociopaths in positions of power.

reformed tourist said...

It occurs that there is yet another element that rounds out this picture: the recent move toward privatization of national security fuctions championed by recent Republican initiatives. This is not an isolated aspect in that even while GOP foreign affairs platforms evolved from early 20th century isolationism to to unrestrained attempts to impose Pax American at bayonet point, the underlying focus of Republican policy has always been on profit, both short-term and long, for the financial power-brokers pulling the strings on the party. Exploitation of the Nation-state internally has merely given way to the greater "market opportunities" available externally coupled to the convenient political mechanism of having an ever-present enemy constantly at large (an enemy that their actions help create and support).

Eisenhower's famous caution re the Military/Industrial complex could well be considered a cry of conscience from a professional faced by ideological paradox as much as anything else.

Paul451 said...

From the last post...

"Now, if the goal is to increase voting, the answer is simple: give a tax break to those who vote. Who could be against cutting taxes?"

Mandatory voting for registered voters, with a small fine for non-attendance (about $50. Which is generally waived.) Americans overthink their systems. Simple is better.

Re: A Modest Proposal.

That, however, was lovely.


Re: Polling bias.

Pollsters can match polling-station-level official results to polling-station-level exit polls, correcting for bias. The result is always going to be closer to the real result than any other form of poll... except when the real result comes from electronic voter machines. And that discrepancy is worth investigating. Certainly worth turning the machines off until the reason is determined.

Surely the issue is important enough that it should garner more than "well, shrug, maybe there's some other reason, you can't prove 100% that there's not some other reason..."

By comparison, "in person voter fraud" is a allegation without any evidence, yet has resulted in obsessive campaigning by Republican politicians, culminating in deep changes to who is allowed to vote.

The disparity is striking. Issue that has no evidence gets overwhelming attention, issue that has evidence gets no attentions and is shrug-shrug-shrugged away.

Political TroubleMaker said...


Continuing on with your discussion of the thoroughly broken electoral process in the US, I'd like to point you to this gem:

The gentleman in question was caught destroying voter registrations collected just recently. The State Board of Elections is saying that they don't believe there was a 'pattern of partisan bias' in destroying these forms, so - even though it's a felony to destroy voter registration forms for any reason at all - the Board of Elections requests that the Office of the Attorney General not conduct an investigation into the matter.

Sure, he was hired by a firm contracted by the state Republican Party.

Sure, it turns out that those form destroyed just happened to come from districts that favor Democratic voters.

Sure, even if the act had no partisan intent whatsoever, it is still a felony to dump boxes full of voter registrations into a dumpster.

But - shrug - why damage this fine upstanding man's reputation further. There's been this media storm about him getting caught and, well, that's enough to teach him a lesson. All those thousands of people who lost their registrations, but don't know it yet, will make do. They can always cast a provisional ballot and it's all good.

Just compare that to the ACORN story where a few workers discovered obviously fraudulent voter registrations - registering in the name Mickey Mouse, for example - and, as a result, a national voter registration organization was destroyed based on unfounded smears.

Unknown said...

Wow. Going back to the issue of digital distribution of books and other content, check this story out:

Amazon closed a woman's account and deleted all of her books off her kindle, and is refusing to answer why or offer any due process. It's one thing to refuse to sell something to a customer, quite another to retroactively wipe someone's books from existence after they've been paid for.

This is why I still buy physical books. They're a PITA to move. I just shipped tens of boxes of books to Australia, I can attest to this. But no one can retroactively delete them from my bookshelf.

jollyreaper said...

Also note how Acorn favored the poor and minorities (dems) and when the GOP attacked, there was no defense. They were left to the wolves.

Why are dems so awful at PR? Why does the GOP frame every debate? They must have purple files on the dems revealing some very kinky stuff.

Justin said...

I will make die-hard leftists furious and concede that we are at least another generation away from abolishing the foul practice, at long last. Until then, wars will happen as today's primitive nations and angry peoples jostle for advantage.

This is such a deeply weird comment that it's hard to know whether to take anything that comes after seriously. How out of touch with reality does a person have to be in order to believe that true pacifism - the principled belief that _any_ war is unethical - has a constituency among more than a very few of the American people, let alone "the left"?

How out of touch with history does a person have to be to believe that the left has, over the last hundred years or so, ever shied away from bloodshed? There is an awful lot of blood in the dirt that argues to the contrary.

Yes, you've made die-hard leftists "furious." Or something. Okay.

Anonymous said...

First a detail:

"Indeed, we had to go! The Taliban-led government of Afghanistan had assisted Osama in an act of war. We had to go and kick their asses, hard. But how?"

That is false. Taliban was working with the War on Drugs, effectively ending heroin production. Also they arrested bin Laden twice for the African embassy bombings and held him in Kandahar at a house. Surely easy to take out if anybody had wanted. Look up de Borchgrave's interview with Mullah Omar from July 2001 for status prior to 9/11.


With Democrats, you get politicians. With Republicans, you get criminals.

The Romney campaign is colored by his brief in the crazy lying that goes with the White Horse Prophecy cult. That's kind of a male subculture within the Mormon community. They believe that lies to "Gentiles" are protected.

But generally with GOP "leaders" criminal conduct is the norm for the likes of Rick Scott, Tom DeLay, Darrell Issa, Karl Rove, and the whole community of thugs built up around the Leadership Institute in Virginia. They recruit sociopaths beginning in high school.

Issa's dump of the Department of State classified document is exactly the same substantive crime as what Bradley Manning did. Issa put fewer people at risk. Big whoop. Same felonies, line by line excepting putting unauthorized software into a government computer to do the download and the military dereliction charges and swapping the national intelligence information count over to US Code from UCMJ.

Could they share a cell at Leavenworth ??? Please!

Tim H. said...

You might add one more difference in war style, "nation" building leaves our armed forces in contact with populations who we might prefer not to have extensive opportunities to learn American tactics, and watch for limitations in our equipment. Better a god-like shock and awe than the school for how to shoot soldiers we've been running.

Tacitus said...

I am just back from a journey through parts of flyover land that seldom make the national news. I have been to places bright red, deep blue and various intermediate tints. Here is my take on the spirit of the times. Am I influenced by my own experiences and bias? Sure, but I am simply offering a perspective not universally available. Yours are as valid and would be of considerable interest to me.

Although he still has many advocates, perhaps enough to give him a second term, President Obama has failed at the only two things he was felt to be good at. He has not been able to communicate his vision to the electorate. And he has not run a good campaign. Perhaps the fault is not a superficial one but a deeper flaw. His record may simply not be defensible to the average voter. Remember that surveys consistently show that roughly 40% of Americans self define as conservative and 20% as liberal. Perhaps 2008 was a fluke election, the Obama presidency the ungainly progeny of a bumbling incumbent and an economic free fall.

I well remember what I said here about Barack Obama four years ago when it became clear he would be elected. I compared him to:

‘..a vacuous glittering Dyson sphere, wondrous to behold from the outside, but what lies within?”

I went on to wish him well because America could not afford a series of failed presidencies, and to wonder if he had hidden qualities that would let him stand up to his opponents…..and more importantly to his friends. A significant number of your fellow citizens have made their decision on this point.

And Mitt Romney? He looks presidential and seems to be a decent man. His economic plans rely on the modern day equivalent of a sampo that marvelous mythical Norse device that spins gold out of straw. The Republican version spins gold from hoped for growth and investment.

How far has our public discourse fallen when our president can’t lay out a better plan than that? There are fine arguments in favor of, for instance, further government spending as a stimulus. I know, I have read them here. Agree with them I do not, but you are making coherent logical constructions. The Leader of the Free World can only vaguely allude to “investments”. (btw, this election would already be decided if Romney had been possessed of the presence of mind to say “Investments? I know a bit on that topic…some are wise, some are losers, and I have demonstrated an ability to tell the difference!”).

So on it goes. Because the real question today is whether the polls are sophisticated enough to call a close contest I can’t tell you how it will turn out. I have not even made my own final decision. But the question is this for those out in the multi-hued world: Do our times call for a businessman or a community organizer?

Detritus of Empire

Tacitus said...

And ReWinn,
On a topic on which you feel strongly, and in which I consider your opinions worth their weight...

Minnesota 2008

and non hyperlink 'cause my keyboard is being twitchy..

This is from the very contentious 2008 Minnesota election, where full control of the US Senate came down to a small number of votes.

I have read the news articles on this study but is this something of substance or just October spin?



jollyreaper said...

Obama is not a great choice but to paint Romney as anything short of terrible is deception.

Saying he knows something about building a country based on his business experience is like saying the knackeryard butcher knows something about raising horses.

Anonymous said...

Jacob said...


I randomly selected 3 names from that list and looked up their record in the Minnesota Public Criminal History Database. The 3rd was not convicted, but let that pass by. I selected a 4th.

Each was convicted of >Ineligible Voter Knowingly Votes<. Each was given relatively small Sentences and Fines. Based on other convictions most of them were idiots. I would rate as an absurdly low risk to Attacking the Integrity of Election outcomes.

The article itself is about how people who shouldn't vote do so anyway. Would I be correct in assuming that you don't believe some people deserve to have a say in their own governance?

next door Laura said...


You ask a loaded question. I of course believe that all people should have a say in their own governance, and I would imagine there are avenues to do so other than voting. Volunteer for a campaign for instance. As a matter of law however there are some people who are not allowed to vote. Non citizens. In most cases, felons. The former can pursue citizenship and the latter may appeal their status.

To return a loaded question, do you assume the individuals so excluded would have voted Democrat? Expand and explain.

Tacitus, not Tactics..

Jacob said...

You are right about it being a loaded question. One I think it fair to ask because we should be looking at Trends while acknowledging the potential for frequent exceptions.

Example: I think it would be likely convicted felons would vote D, but you can't really be sure as there are many influences in a person's life.

Back to the topic though...
The Trend we see is working very hard to prevent Voting Fraud. Some of that effort will remove people who should be able to vote. I've worked elections and understand how Provisional Ballots will allow both accepted and undesirable voters to attempt to have their voice heard. The real shame is how >the discussion< will net fewer valid voters turnout (and therefore) casting ballots than the exclusion of those that shouldn't have.

Rather than focusing on a simplistic argument, I asked if we wanted people to have a say. Frankly I think those most interested in Liberty would be against classifying others as unfit to vote. If our society has come to a compromise in which Felons are unable to, so be it. If we start practicing new behavior such that there is collateral damage, I say we should take a hard look at things.

I was of the opinion that you were playing contrarian by posting that example. I examined the evidence and found that it was not indicative of invalidating Election Outcomes. I challenged you because the source was based on would could (Hyperbolically) be called classifying others as sub-human.

sociotard said...

I note that you don't discus the covert war in Iran using computer viruses and scientist assasinations, which many people suspect our forces our involved in.

And I personally know Europeans who didn't want US involvment in Bosnia and maintain that it was a mistake. Take this from a German teacher I share a forum with:
Yes, they should have [stayed out of the Balkans]. Especially the plan for "genocide" presumeably committed by Serbian tropps in the Kososvo against Albians never existed. But that is no problem any more: The Kosovo is now ethnically clean - of Serbs! Thanks to the NATO troops there who fought Serbia so vailantly that Kosovarian "freedom fighters" (basically the armed gun runners, drug dealers and white slavers that run this country (more like a protectorate)) were able to drive the Serbs out. Who lived there for over 1000 years or more.
But that is no of concern to the West.

Me? I just wish my nation would respectfully and humbly stay within its own borders and defend them as necessary.

David Brin said...

Alex I agree that part of our evolution should be toward international law and consensus methods... which Obama displayed when he downplayed American involvement in Libya. A pity because it was in large measure a victory of NATA led and coordinated by American arms and logistics. But he wanted to present that internationalist image.

Reformed tourist, you are ill informed. The "christianization of the officer corps" has indeed become a factor, mostly in the Air Force, but it tends to fade in the higher ranks, where intellectual accomplishment and flat-out skill tend to cull the maniacs. Moreover, that trend you worry about is weaker in the Army, and virtually nonexistent in the US Navy, who (God bless em) refused to let Rumsfeld trash them. It was the admirals who preserved our readiness and professionalism while the Army was being pounded half to death by the Bushites.

The privatization of force appears to have receded a bit. But it may resume if the GOP returns to power. It is a horrifically worrisome trend.

Justin, you are unfair. I have made clear that I hope that war will go away and intend to work toward that end. Now you tell me when the purist preachers against war have ever succeeded. Ever. Ever. Ever at all? Perhaps the pragmatic incrementalis-evolutionary approach, which HAS made a difference, should be given a try.

I wasn't speaking of the leftists of the USSR or the Spanish Civil War. I was speaking of (du?) the current American campus left. Who are pathetically dogmatic as the American right. Though powerless since most Democrats are "liberals"... a VERY different beast. The only sane force left in US political life. Duh.

Anonymous, if you can cherrypick teeny "facts" to perceive that Mullah Omar was NOT allied with his son-in-law Osama, then you've proved what you are. Geez, they're all over the place. Just because we're allies against the Murdochians, that doe not make us pals.

Tacitus. Romney will give us Bush III. Of his 16 foreign policy advisors, 12 were Bush cabinet officials. The same is true of economics and every other matter, except MORE radical.

Ian said...

"...the National Training Base, Fort Irwin in the California desert, where they no longer hold big set-piece battle exercises between whole brigades."

Isn't that a pretty good sign that the next major conflict the US gets involved in will involve exactly those type of battles?

anghara said...

Without going into theminutiae - and there are LOTS of minutiae - war is war and it's abominable. But just as someone with a personal stake in, and a moreeducated experience of, the American involvement in the Balkans, let me just say this - there are things for which I will NEVER forgive the ignorant and arrogant policy makers of the Clinton admiistration. The propaganda runs deep - even you, in your article, mention "Serb militia". ONLY Serb militia. May I go on record as saying that Serbia has always been an ally of America, that Serbs died rather than betray American airmen to marauding Germans during WWII, that our casualties (on the side of the allies) in both world wars were beyond belief and almost beyond endurance, and that we were paid back in the last years of the 20th century by the most powerful nation on the earth betraying its longest-standing and staunchest ally in the region because of political expediency. It is because of American influence that the worst excesses of the modern Balkan wars occurred.

As for Afghanistan... if I have EVER seen a war for war's sake, that is it. if America fears having an "unemployed" army lollygagging around at home, that's one thing. But inflicting that army on another nation just to give them something to do is APPALLING.

Ian said...

"Thanks to the NATO troops there who fought Serbia so vailantly that Kosovarian "freedom fighters" (basically the armed gun runners, drug dealers and white slavers that run this country (more like a protectorate)) were able to drive the Serbs out. Who lived there for over 1000 years or more.
But that is no of concern to the West."

Prior to world War I, Kosovo had an overwhelmingly Albanian population.

The Serbs hadn't "lived there for over 1,000 years". Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians were forced out of the country by the new Yugoslav monarchy and Serbs were settled in their place.

But if you hate Aemrica enough, facts only get in the way.

Ian said...

A couple of points about the "internationalization" of american conflicts.

1. The bloodless nature of Democrat wars becomes much less apaprent when you add in the death of non-Americans.

2. There is a loss of democratic accountabiltiy implict in this: the US government is barred from supplying wapons to the Syrian rebels - but not to Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. There's a security building in southern Turkey where American, Turkish and Qatari military officers work side by side. The US is in effect controlling and directing the delivery of weapons to favored rebels factions. But so long as American hands don't touch the weapons and there's a valid piece of paperwork saying th weapons were delivered ot the Qatari or Turkish military, there is no technical breach of the law.

3. Conversely, with the avoidance of accountability comes a loss of control. In Uganda, the US is training and equipping the Ugandan military for counterinsurgency warfare. So long as that training and equipment is used to go after the LRA that's all well and good but the current Ugandan government has a history of intervening militarily in its neighbours, including supporting some of the most vicious militias in the Congolese civil war.

David Brin said...

anghara and Ian these quibbles (BIG quibbles to some populations) are interesting topics. I had many arguments with my father, a big Serb supporter because of what the Croat Ustashi did in WWII.

Nevertheless, they aren't significant cavils upon my main point, proved (I believe) in my essay. That we'd have to be morons to put our military back into the hands of Bushites.

Any soldier, sailor, airman or marine who votes republican is within his-her rights to do so... but should not be surprised if that same level of intelligence manifests in his or her poor performance and likelihood of recognition for intelligence or promotion.

A modern warrior should be smart. Should notice which pack of morons are likely to get him killed.

Ian said...

The Ustashi were, if such a thign is possible, worse than the Nazis.

Where the Nazis used bullets and poison gas to kill the Jews, the Ustashi used sledgehamemrs, knives and circular saws on their victims.

But the end-results were similar: the Nazi killed around one third of the Jewish population of the world, the Ustashi kille about one third of the Serb population of the world.

It does the Serbs enormous credit that after the war they reconciled, for the most part with the Croats an even accepted a Croat as President of Yugolsavia (not that Tito offered them much of a choice in either instance.)

But it was a deeply traumatic collective experience, many Serbs, like many Jews vowed "Never Again!".

Bu Milosevic cynically exploited those Serbian fears and used them to incite the Serbs into crimes of their own.

The actions of the Ustashi go far to explain the actions of the Serbs. but they no more excuse them than the sufferin of the Russians in world War II justify their postwar crimes in Eastern Europe.

Alden said...

David, you are extrapolating a trend uncritically. This "end of history" approach is tempting, and better minds than either of ours have been nabbed by it... but caution is warranted.

There are a number of trends in play that may play countervailing roles. The discontinuities are almost always a surprise, and it isn't even necessarily clear in retrospect what happened.

If you don't believe that that things can (and likely will) go way off the rails (into large-scale conflict) in spite of our best decisions, it doesn't matter how many folks you have talked with – you have forgotten the most fundamental lesson of the last couple of major conflicts.

Alden said...

And at least in the comments – it seems that you're being cornered by your own postulates. It's no stretch to say that your interpretation of these data can be challenged by intelligent people. To assume otherwise suggests that good ol' epistemic closure that the Left likes to bandy about so much.

David Brin said...

Alden, your notes are cogent and -- in their own isolated meaning -- certainly true statements.

However, in the context of the current American Civil War and the demolition of American sanity, your statement amounts to no more than a truism. An attempted deflection from the blatant facts before us, that The Republican establishment and its murdochian backers and its Red America ground troops, are imbecillically bad leaders of a modern, scientific-technological, sophisticated nation.

Arm wave all you like. The lists that I provided and the correlations are what we have to go on. And those lists and correlations UNIVERSALLY show the democrats trying to learn and listen to the professionals and to achieve maximum effectiveness at minimum cost. While in EVERY recent/modern case, the republicans in office snubbed the professionals and chose the path of devastating, braying macho-absurd excess.

You are not allowed your blithe arm-wavings. We see them and call them what they are, attempts to avoid facing blatant, nearly-pure and astonishingly decisive facts.

And if you still go ahead and support the monstrous fools who threw our brave men and women into quagmires of "nation building" that NEVER had a chance to succeed, then you fit the genotype and phenotype that Fox relies upon.

And the reason why all of the nation's scientists have voted with their feet. And I tell you now... the generals and admirals, as well.

Tacitus said...

Here is an interesting take on the attitude of the military in the current political environment:

political preferences

Just to be a little Contrary...


Jumper said...

Seems to me a minimax solution to welfare and disability cheating ought to be discussed. Do we need more investigators? Less? Have we hit the sweet spot even now?
To catch every single cheat would transform society ineluctably to 1984. To let it all go would be stupid. There would be cases that are not clear.

David Brin said...

By the article's own admission, senior officers (the only ones of whom I have spoken) make up a minuscule proportion of the survey.

We know that the lower ranks have always been macho and conservative. Duh? Look at how disproportionately they come from Red America... which partly makes up for the fact that Red America pays so much less than it gets in taxes.

WHat I'd love to see is the curve with education level and rank.

David Brin said...

Col. Gentile's quotation speaks for the senior officer corps

Tony Fisk said...

We now cross for a beluga whale's opinion of the presidential debates... (actually quite perceptive)

jollyreaper said...

And the translation is: "I am looking for the one-legged man who killed my father. I will swim up to the one-legged man and say, 'Hello. My name is Inigo Whaloya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.'"

David Brin said...

I tried to be fair by pointing out one time when the Democratic approach failed... Somalia...

Only then David L. Wyatt Jr. writes in to screw up my effort at bend over backwards fairness!

"If you blame Clinton for Somalia do remember that it was H.W.Bush who sent the troops into Somalia after the election but before Clinton took office. My comment that day was "He just fed Clinton a S*** sandwich."

"Bush knew he had no responsibility for getting them out, and Clinton could not just leave and watch the whole thing collapse. The 'peeling the onion' strategy chosen was a valid one, but support for any intervention based solely on humanitarian grounds was bound to be thin, and unable to survive a major military setback, such as dramatized in "Black Hawk Down". And that raid should be seen as nothing but a predictable attempt of the other side to regain the initiative. In war when you think you're doing well, that's when the other guy tries a sucker punch."

Yipe! Well... I still think Les Aspin screwed up by not giving the troops enough support... and he paid for it with his job. Unlike Cheney and Rumsfelf who hung on 6 years after they proved their incompetence.

reformed tourist said...

David you said:

"Reformed tourist, you are ill informed. The "christianization of the officer corps" has indeed become a factor, mostly in the Air Force, but it tends to fade in the higher ranks, where intellectual accomplishment and flat-out skill tend to cull the maniacs. Moreover, that trend you worry about is weaker in the Army, and virtually nonexistent in the US Navy, who (God bless em) refused to let Rumsfeld trash them. It was the admirals who preserved our readiness and professionalism while the Army was being pounded half to death by the Bushites."

While I would dearly like to agree with you, this is one of the few times I must not - though a closer reading of my comment will show that it is, indeed, the Air Force that I am most concerned about. In my day job, I spend a great deal of time with folks who are in the Reserve of both Field and Flag rank who are regularly called to Active service in both flight and staff capacities. I'm afraid that there is a large and proactive contingent that mixes their theology and aerospace involvement. It is true that the worst of the abuses that were occurring at the Colorado Zoomie School for Wayward Boys and Girls have been discontinued, but I am reliably informed that the Wing Commander Prayer Breakfast is still a fact of life at some bases...

And re the privatization issue, one of the shortcomings of the Obama Administration is that while some of the contracts have been curtailed, nonetheless, too many have not and in particularly sensitive areas. The lack of direct accountability under the National command and control structure for many of these activities and contractors is highly troublesome on many levels. Arguably, no National Security function should be entrusted to a for-profit entity.

Political TroubleMaker said...

Our discovery:

Back in February 2012 during the South Carolina primaries, a keen observer noted that Republican
candidate Mitt Romney had an unusual gain of votes in larger precincts. Analysts noted this effect
violated expected statistics. Specifically, the percentage of votes in each precinct strangely increased as a function of precinct size (vote tally). The vote gain is correlated to precinct size, not the precinct location, be it in cities or rural areas. This anomaly is not apparent in other elections that don’t include Republican candidates. In 2008, Mitt Romney had the benefit of this anomaly and then the gain switched to John McCain once Romney exited the campaign. The Democrat Party elections we looked at don’t show this problem.

We have attempted to explain this unusual effect through various socio-graphic distributions of voters, but to no avail. This substantial effect exceeds reasonable statistical bounds and we calculate that the probability of such election results happening by chance is beyond typical or even extreme.

In 2012, the trends are highly consistent with Romney making these strange vote gains in all 50 states, except Utah, and Puerto Rico. There is no selection bias on our part; it’s pretty much like that everywhere.

Historically in other contests not involving GOP candidates, we found no significant correlation between precinct vote tally and the percentage success for each candidate. In other words, for most counties and states, the vote result is unrelated to the number of voters in a precinct. There are random variations between precincts, but no definite linear trend from small to large precincts.

Ian said...

So now the Republicans are not only rigging the general elections, they're rigging the priamries too?

Are they rigging the Oscar voting too?

It makes you wonder how Romney lost the 2008 nomination and how Obama won the 2008 general election.

Seriously if they're engaging in vote rigging in all 50 states, how and why are they doing it?

Does Romney own EVERY voting machine company and have stooges stuffign ballots in all 50 states?

Why would he not simply rig the ballot in enough states to win the nomination/

Political TroubleMaker said...


I don't have answers to your criticisms, but I found it and thought the result is interesting. Perhaps there's a flaw in their methodology. Still, we've seen some pretty strange exit polling results over the last decade that suggest fraud. The typical answer is that republicans have been refusing to answer pollsters, and that this trend has grown over the last several election cycles. Yet in other countries, polling companies have corrected for these sorts of problems - why not here?

I can't claim that these election results are fraudulent - there's not enough information to assert that yet - but I do think something stinks. I'd feel a lot more comfortable about U.S. elections if voters made selections on paper ballots and they were hand counted precinct by precinct in full view of the citizenry.

IMO: This transition to electronic voting machines has only increased doubt about the validity of election results.

Ian said...

Political troublemaker - if you take any pseudo-random sereis numbers and manipulate it long enouh you'll fidn patterns.

In this case that pattern could just as easily have been "Romney did better in states starting with the letters A-J than in states startign with the letters K-W" or "Romney won in precincts where they did (or did not) keep the polls open past 5 PM."

Political TroubleMaker said...


OK. So you're saying that statistical analysis of precinct data samples would not convince you of election fraud. Or, perhaps you're saying that the methodology used here is faulty.

Given that there's no records kept by many electronic voting systems (except for the optical scan systems), just what method would you suggest to tease out fraud in an election?

Even if these last few elections have been perfectly honest, don't you think a public check to verify election results is reasonable to expect?

Political TroubleMaker said...

And I want to suggest checking the detailed analysis here:

This is listed on the final page of the summary report I linked to previously.

Jumper said...

It seems to be more than that, beginning with "winning" the Iowa caucus when he didn't.

Ian said...

I'm not saying that electronic systems are perfect or that the security coulnd;t be improved.

I'm saying it's unreasonable to jump from a concern that the system might be vulnerable ot abuse to concluding on the basis of very littel evidence that the system is defntely being manipulated on a massive scale by the Republicans.

This is how otherwise sane people ended up thinking Obama mighthave been born in Kenya.

Political TroubleMaker said...

OK. So we agree there.

Can you tell me what's wrong with the stats published here?

I'm not a stats professional, so I won't argue the case one way or the other. If you have a good debunking to offer, I'd love to read it.

Ian said...

I'm preapred to accept that the data shows what the authors claims they show - that romney got more votes in large precincts than in small precincts.

What I'm not prepared to do is accept that this is more than just a random fluke.

As I was trying to make clear, you could probably look at any set of election results and find *something* odd about them if you tried hard enough and kept at it long enough.

Now if the discrepancies were logically consistent with a hypothesis of cheating (say polling machines randomly going out of commission in African-Amercan wards and only in African-American wards durign a general election)I'd be more inclined to take the claims seriously.

But, for example, no-one's ever accused Jack Kennedy of rigging the vote in Massachusetts or New York (as opposed to Illinois) because it'd make no sende to risk getting caught while rigging the vote in a state you were sure of winning. Similarly, why bother rigging the priamry vote in states like alaska and Hawaii where there are only a handful over delegates at stake?

Political TroubleMaker said...

The claim is that the larger the precinct the proportionally greater the shift to a selected Republican candidate (but not Democratic). According to the authors, wasn't just Romney but also McCain in '08, and the anomaly continued in both primary and general elections.

Regardless. I want to clearly state that I posted this because I think it's interesting, not because I assert that the conclusions are correct. I don't have the stats background and am unqualified.

Eric Jackson said...

Yep. Three observations, however:

First, as a man of the left who can trace the lineage back a few generations to the Wobblies you simplify a bit too much about the left. A lot of us had no problem with interventions in Bosnia or Kosovo or with the principle that we had to go to war with the Taliban. Earlier generations sent volunteers to fight in Spain, abandoned the Communist Party over the Hitler-Stalin Pact and were hardcore militants about making war on fascism. One great problem in the left, especially but not only in the USA, is that we have these quasi-religious fundamentalists who have lost the spirit of the belief system, who quote the heroes of the pantheon but forget about Hegelian dialectics. They don't allow that there has been an awful lot of thesis and antithesis since the days of Marx, Lenin and even Mao. It's about time -- actually it's ALWAYS time -- for some fresh synthesis.

Second, one futile "war" that's not mentioned, and notwithstanding the blows against Colombia's FARC rebels is a disaster, is the militarized "War on Drugs." But of course, those who can smuggle in coke by the ton could probably also smuggle in weapons of mass destruction, although it may be harder to buy crooks within US law enforcement and armed forces than the drug lords find it. Ending the "War on Drugs" is the right thing to do, but it does not mean that the defenses that are part of it can be entirely let down.

Third, drones are all the rage, but they will be viewed much differently the first time there is a major political assassination in the USA in which one is employed. And although I am sure that defenses are in place and being improved, that day is coming.

Robert said...

How the Republicans really wage war.

Bob Pfeiffer

rewinn said...

Would it be snarky of me to point out that what Dr. Brin's OP misses is that the Iraq war's purpose was to enrich contractors and to make the President politically powerful? In that sense, Iraq was a success and Libya was a failure.

Ok, it's snarky.

Last night's debate touched on Naval power, leading to a memorable line about a shortage of horses in today's Army. But what was little discussed was that our Navy doesn't have much to sink anymore, unless it's going to go after those container ships soon to be carrying Sensata's machines to China.

Ok, that was snarky too.

Basically, the GOP goofed up by not nominating the candidate who has proven experience protecting our nation and defeating our adversaries. I'm sure that, if asked, Obama would have accepted.

rewinn said...

Hi @Tacitus. I wasn't ignoring your insightful comments on MN/felon voting, just busy doing other stuff. But it seems to me that issue has two parts:
A) is there a problem and if so what is its magnitude?
B) what is the solution?

As for #A, the problem of 100-200 ineligible people voting out of more than a million is almost the definition of trivial. Sure, the election was insanely close and if the ineligibles mostly voted for the ultimate winner, the loser would have cause to gripe. But there is no showing that felons slant this way or that. When the matter was litigated in Washington State's Gregoire/Rossi battle, the only evidence was that the 6 ineligbles said they voted GOP or Libertarian ... to be fair, Gregoire was a former AG so she had more than her share of enemies among felons.

Of course, in the world of "Should" only eligibles would vote, so let's think of a path thataways. But also no eligibles should be DENIED the vote, and that's no less important, yes?

The article appears to state that 95% of those that the authors had identified as questionable were actually eligible; denying them a vote would be a greater injustice and assault on democracy than letting the 5% vote.

B) Assume there is a problem - that we are so worried about elections that not one ineligible should vote. Why not a solution that solves several other problems, including the ongoing suppression of votes by eligibles?

It seems to me that we are rapidly converging on a need for a National ID.

Anti-immigration forces seem to favor citizenship-proving ID meeting national standards but issued by states. Lots of people want a national concealed-carry permit. IDs for travel on aircraft already have national standards. Etc.

So let me propose a bargain: create a nonpartisan national ID body that issues a photo ID with thumbprint to every citizen, to be used for voter registration, passport, medicare/medicaid ID and any other purpose a state thinks useful, e.g. concealed carry permits or fishing licenses.

Voter registration would be automatic at the stated address. You move from state A to state B, get a new ID and your registrations change automagically. (If you go to prison, your voting rights are suspended while in custody, but when you're out, you've paid your debt and become a functioning, voting part of society.) You become a citizen (by birth or naturalization) you get a card. I'd bet cash money that the long-run expense would be much less than the current Rube Goldberg system.

The catch is that to require it for voting, we would have to allow enough time for everyone to get one. Let's say 4 years. And we'd have to all people with no proof of citizenship, but who are obviously citizens, a way. There are MANY elderly who have no birth certificates, either due to home birth or to the burning down of county records. Denying them the vote would be wrong.

There used to be many civil liberties concerns about such a thing, but we're rather past that stage; big gummint already has all the information it wants on us (...and if it doesn't, Google Earth does ...) so why not provide each citizen with something that lets us use our information too?

jollyreaper said...

The naval gazing really doesn't make any sense. We have 11 godsamn super-carriers. Nobody else even has one. We have how many boomers, attack subs, frigates and destroyers? It's like the endgame of a 4x game where you have a bigger military than any surviving player, where you are comically stomping them into the ground.

Only problem here is this isn't a 4x game because you only have to win the war, never have to win the peace. We kicked iraq's ass inside a month and spent ten years bleeding the treasury dry. Still bleeding in Afghanistan. We are bringing the wrong weapons to the fight. Kinda like a dude bulking up in the gym thinking a steroidal physique will impress women but if he'd only ask they prefer a lean frame but most of all a guy who isn't a conceited jerk.

We are heavily invested in expensive weapons that no longer enhance our security. They are the tools of empire.

Anonymous said...

Forgive me if someone else posted these analyses of election oddities.

Tacitus said...

Thanks R.Winn, you never disappoint. Your proposal is one worth consideration.

The Minnesota Senate election is to conservatives what Florida is to progressives. Although I think it is fair to say that we accepted the outcome with greater grace. It must have been the grumbling about exit polls and such that brought it to mind.

It may well have been close enough that the determinations of the Secretary of State (MN) as to what gets in and what gets left out carried the day.

As to the rarity of voter fraud, well, a case could be made that what is not sought is not found.

The Minnesota Sec. State was a highly touted victory for the infamous "Secretaries of State" project funded by our friend Soros.
(and if you are looking for an unambiguous example of foreign born billionaires trying to influence the American political process, well, there ya go).

The Project was launched to either make sure another Florida never happens, or alternatively to make sure that in the next delicately balanced contest that it is a Democratic thumb on the scales.

(btw I am not trying to be inflammatory here, I am sympathetic to the "all eligible voters" concept.)

The S. of S. website has now vanished into the memory hole of the internet, but it used to crow a great deal about how their efforts had swung the vote the right, er, the left way.

Here is about all you will find about them, but I assume the project is ongoing.


David Brin said...

Tacitus: "funded by our friend Soros. (and if you are looking for an unambiguous example of foreign born billionaires trying to influence the American political process, well, there ya go)."

Except he operates openly. And Soros. supports the campaign reform laws that would make his own activities (now legit) illegal! And the "12 foreign governments he toppled" were all commie dictatorships.

Tacitus, the Dems have to play rough now. But the difference is this. If they gain power they will pass laws that change the game! That reverse Citizens United and get the money out of politics. The goppers LOVE this game! They are better at it.

Tacitus said...

A few mouse clicks worth of research suggests that the Secretaries of State Project went under after the 2010 election. 5 of their 7 endorsed candidates were defeated and it had an adverse effect on their funding.

Change is a constant state.


rewinn said...

Not quite on topic, but perhaps disturbing: I just attended a short course on immigration visa issues in which the question came up of "O-1 Visas" = those granted to people "with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics."

The speaker said that these were fine for those who qualified, but quite rare; perhaps unique among workings visas, they are never oversubscribed.

In plain English, it appears that top scientists as a group may no longer be trying all that hard to work and live in America. This may be a canary in a coal mine, an indicator species, A Bad Sign; what do they know that we do not?

Pondering "America Is Losing Its Edge In Innovation" in Forbes, I offer another modest proposal: too many smart kids are going into law school because they see lawyers making big bucks on TV and scientists get wedgies. The reality of law practice today is different; a minority get rich but most grads today will live as baristas or jumped-up paralegals. A relatively modest program of publicizing law's dismal future to undergraduates might nudge a few back into the sciences, where pay may also suck but a soulectomy is not required.

I approve of the legal profession, but who disputes that its current size far exceeds requirements? I'm not a scientist or engineer, but does it really seem plausible that we'll regain the lead from China by suing them over IP violations?


In an era of dominated by plunder through economics rather than plunder through force, Mitt Romney's plan for thirteen more warships a year is as brilliant as his discovery of a border between Iran and Syria. Should his faction prevail, we may profit from asking the Brits how it felt when their Empire crumbled and they no longer Bore The White Man's Burden (or, in our American jargon, Exceptionalism). The difference is that our domination is not threatened by independence movements or other outside forces, but by our internal decisions to waste our wealth building weaponized pyramids.

Another modest proposal: Let's create another Service branch: the Potempkin Service. Its core missions are (A) to spray appropriations into the air over enough Representatives' districts that its funding is secure, and (B) to build huge, shiny, loud "Marching Morons"-style weapons systems that don't actually DO anything but look as impressive as heck (I suggest replicating the Shield Helicarrier first). It would be best if they were optimized for use against enemies that don't exist, so that never run out of targets!!

The remaining Services would then be free to concentrate on doing something useful, e.g. finishing off Al Qaeda.

Tacitus said...

Spraying money in the air over key congressional districts would probably be a cost saver compared to the traditional pork fest.

And although I like the phrase "Marching Morons" here, and only here you could probably just say "Kornbluthian" and be understood!

ReWinn for congress. Someday we can argue with each other in Foghorn Leghorn accents.

"Mah esteemed colleague, Ah said, Mah esteemed colleague frumma Grate StateoWashinton"


DVGill said...

Another way that Republicans and Democrats seem to be alike in waging war is their tendency to use the occasion to attack the constitutional liberties of certain civilians. Historical evidence spans from FDR's imprisonment of Japanese Americans to the so-called Patriot Act.

SecDef Panetta seems sure that the next war will be fought in cyberspace:

It's troubling to me that the likely reaction to such an attack by those in power would be to severely curtail net freedoms for at least some of the citizenry.

Ian said...

An sf question: I'm currently rereading Ben Bova's The Dueling Machine.

I'm sure there were occasional short stories before this using what we'd now refer to as virtual reality as a plot point(but off-hand I can't recall specific examples) but was this the first full-length work by a prominent sf author where the plot revolved around virtual reality?

Ian said...

Re, the Kornbluthian weapons proposal: I believe it was The Zap Gun in which Philip K Dick proposed weapons systems that could be easily disassembled into actual useful consumer items.

So, IIRC, the gear shift handle from a tank also just happened to be a ceramic owl ash tray.

Unknown said...


speaking of SF. For the first time since childhood I've been reading and rereading SF to try to pick apart what makes it different from other storytelling. And also to determine what I liked then in order to compare it with what I like now. So, I've read Niven's Ringworld, Niven and Pournelle's The Mote in God's Eye, Kress's Probability Moon, Heinlein's The Number of the Beast, Anderson's A Forest of Stars, and two Stephen King books, The Tommyknockers and The Stand.

I haven't read this much SF in such a short burst of time since I was fourteen.

Here's my sense. I disliked both Ringworld and the Mote in God's Eye, even though as a child I had loved them. And the reason for this is that I couldn't identify with any of the characters, and as a result I found myself unable feel any suspense or emotional concern for their outcomes. The Mote in God's Eye was particularly difficult as I felt Blaine's character too flat and didn't at all change across the story arc. The depiction of the Moties' reproduction and history is interesting, in a detached way. But none of this achieved concern on my part for the lives or deaths of the characters involved.

Heinlein's book was such a mess, particularly by the end, that I had trouble finishing it. I understand the references to Burroughs. When I was a kid I found the overt sexuality titillating. As an adult, I simply didn't care.

A Forrest of Stars ... well, this isn't actually considered good serious SF anyway, it's just badly done space opera. I'm surprised I made it through the whole thing. Characters are flat flat flat flat flat. Booooring! Apparently there are eight more of these books in the series. I'd like the hours I spent reading that one back, thank you. I sincerely hope Anderson isn't on this list and offended.

Now we get to Kress' Probability Moon, which I loved! The characters transform over the story arc, there's real psycho-sexual conflict between the characters that's believable, we see alien viewpoints from a cultural perspective that do differ from human norms, and Kress kills her characters off in unpredictable ways that really ups the suspense. Damn, that chick can write!

And now the two Stephen King books. As a kid I read The Stand but not Tommyknockers. I felt a strong disdain for King's work back then, as the situations are ridiculous, his depiction of science is either too general to be the 'science' in SF - or he just relies on 'magic' and lets the readers make their own assumptions. So I wasn't really expecting much as an adult.

Boy was I surprised. Yeah, all those criticisms of King's work as SF remain. They're correct. But damn if he doesn't write whole characters who transform over the story arc in believable and disturbing ways. He achieves horror not by graphic and violent plot points, but by slowly sucking the reader into caring about characters who he then mostly kills off one-by-one in tragi-comic ways. It's not disturbing imagery that makes it work, but attachment to these doomed characters as seemingly real - and perfectly normal, everyday, average - people that makes his stuff work.

In contrast to Blaine, who is superior and above average in every way imaginable, who cannot possibly lose - and thus faces no serious threat to his survival across the story, nor any need to transform as a character into something new for better or worse... King's characters become something else. Often something much worse than where they started from.

Sure, King doesn't depict sciencey stuff. But he depicts people so well. Only Kress achieved that kind of believable humanity in her characters, even with the aliens.

Given these criticisms, what are suggestions for further reading?

Jumper said...

New Yorker on a man behind "voter fraud" chicanery:

Tim H. said...

You seem to dislike what I like, perhaps Samuel R. Delaney's Dhalgren might suit you, I couldn't stand it long enough to figure out what sort of point the author was trying to make. You might've been ubfair to Kevin J.Anderson, picking a book out of the middle of a long series.
Back to the subject of "War-styles:
is worth your time, with bonus shuttle external tank factoid.

Jumper said...

Maynard, I wonder what you would think of Spider Robinson's work, or Octavia Butler, especially Wild Seed, which I think stands out.

Unknown said...

Tim H.

Got the book for a buck at a Salvos in Perth. Books here are outrageously expensive, so I take what I can get. lol.

I think the book is number 2 in the series. My problem with it is that there are a vast array of characters who do lots of things that don't drive the story forward within the novel. Perhaps there's a larger arc involved. But each novel ought have some measure of a self-contained story as well.

It read like a listing of events and characters rather than a novel. Perhaps Anderson was trying for Romance of the Three Kingdoms in that vein. But Romance holds its own on historical value as a depiction of the fall of Han. This... not so much.

But, maybe I am being unfair. I did read just one of them.

Unknown said...

Jumper: I'll write those names down and check with the library to see if there's anything by them I can borrow in the network.

I should also mention that I read MacLeod's The Execution Channel as well, which I wrote about several posts back.

Tim H. said...

J Maynard, "The saga of seven suns" was not all that serious to me, but it was entertaining. And for the working-class reader, the public library is your friend, without that institution, mt reading would these days be limited to what I could find in second hand stores.

Ian said...

Maynard, check out Walter Jon williams, Days of Atonement and Kngiht Moves in particular combine hard sf and strong characterization in a way few other writers can manage (present company excepted, of course).

Unknown said...

Jumper, and Ian too, thanks for your suggestions. I'll check the library for all of these authors.

jollyreaper said...

There is no excuse for Kevin J. Anderson. Not even one.

David Brin said...

Moving on to a new blog posting about science...

But guys! Please lapel-grab folks and make them read this one about War and others about science and the deficit! Or better, read to them aloud!



rewinn said...

When I got my ballot, it had THREE names on it:
(_) Conservative Romney
(_) Moderate Romney
(_) Barack Obama.
I couldn't figure out which Romney would actually take the oath of office, so I voted for Obama instead.

jollyreaper said...

How is spam breaking the captchas? Have the spambots beckme self aware?

C. Curtis said...

Randy Winn said:
"create a nonpartisan national ID body that issues a photo ID with thumbprint to every citizen, to be used for voter registration, passport, medicare/medicaid ID and any other purpose a state thinks useful, e.g. concealed carry permits or fishing licenses. "

We almost have this. We have a US Passport card, which is proof of citizenship, and which has an RFID chip that could be modified for the other purposes you state.

I got mine when I was advocating AGAINST the "real ID" driver's license initiative in my state, which puts the onus on the state to assess citizenship and residency documents something that costs the state millions of extra dollars and which I believe is a function of the federal government, not the state. A driver's license, I believe, should be just that - an indication that you are trained and capable of operating a motor vehicle. People would argue that we need a national ID, and I answered that we have them; we're just not calling them that.

I also did the math; at the time of the referendum, it would have been cheaper (in my state) for the state to subsidize every citizen's acquisition of a passport card than it has been to pay for the additional infrastructure required for the state to evaluate citizenship documents.

C. Curtis said...

Maynard, thank you for the reviews! And especially for introducing me to a new author (for me), Nancy Kress. I just downloaded "Probablility Moon" from epubbud.
I agree with a lot of your comments -- as a kid, I really liked the more cerebral science fiction; didn't care that much about character development. I think, as a kid, you're more willing to go along for the ride, and not look for a story arc as much as for an experience.

C. Curtis said...

Ian said:
"you could probably look at any set of election results and find *something* odd about them if you tried hard enough and kept at it long enough."

True, but the point of statistical analysis is to assign probabilities to the findings.

For instance, you can flip a coin 100 times and get 80 heads. That's well within statistical variation. But that percentage becomes increasingly unlikely with a larger sample size. if you keep flipping coins, and get 8000 heads out of 10,000 flips, you should be suspicious, and if you get 800,000 heads out of 1,000,000 flips, you'd better find weights on the coin, or a magnetic device, or SOMETHING that explains why your initial assumptions are wrong.

Michael Dobson said...

Some conservatives and some liberals understand war. Those who do not usually misunderstand in ideological ways. When liberals misunderstand war, they tend to see its horrific nature and shy away from it even when it's the least bad options. When conservatives misunderstand war, it's because they confuse it with football and think it's about putting points on the scoreboard.

Jerry Bale said...

Anonymous said: "...why, then, don't we demand that anyone in a leadership position pass screening to prove they are not sociopaths without conscience?"

I don't think we'd have many leaders if we got rid of the sociopaths. Political systems, the US especially is setup to destroy those who are not strong enough and not sociopaths.

Your life is dissected, you and your family are subject to constant scrutiny, lies, mudslinging and these days, fear of physical violence including deadly violence.

What normal person would want such a job? What normal person can pass the qualifying period? The qualifying period is basically lying to the electorate, glad handing, telling a whole lot of supporters whom you really dislike, perhaps despise, that your great friends, you love them, and you want think just how they think. You need to do that to almost everyone, do it with a smile that doesn't seem forced or phony.

As I said, the entire system is designed to get high functioning sociopaths into high office. And since the creation of the Tea Party by the Koch brothers, the Republican side has become even worse. These persons are not just sociopaths, but sociopaths that are deeply in the grip of cognitive dissonance, trying to balance the lunatic religious fundamentalism with the corporate fundamentalists, while at the same time trying not to scare the hell out of a majority of the voting citizens of the country. So far they haven't been doing a good job.

The US political system only works if both sides are either sane or at least able to bargain with the other. The problem is, the system of getting and keeping politicians favours the sociopath.

The sociopath only cares about him or her self. This is why Corporate America has mostly moved offshore, why the workers get paid so little while the CEO gets paid close to a thousand times more then the average employee. It's why board members get paid $100,000 per board meeting, where they simply do what the CEO's want. Board members are ex CEO's and current CEO's of other companies. They too are selected for sociopathy.

CEO's and politicians who are mostly high functioning sociopaths, and they control the USA.

Unfortunately I have no solutions.