Tinsel Wing

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pocketbook voting in the pews

Much of the thesis of the bestselling What's the Matter With Kansas?, and much of the conventional wisdom of the left (yes, there is a left-wing CW, just as there's a very right wing "centrist" CW), is that evangelical Americans are a pack of Wal-Mart shoppers who keep voting for Republicans even though the Republicans keep taking them to the cleaners economically at every turn.

Well, thirty years ago evangelicals came primarily from the lunchbox class. The middle and upper classes tended to be Protestants from "mainstream" denominations. But over the decades, and I don't know which is the chicken and which is the egg, evangelical churches have grown gradually more upscale. And it is no longer true that a Republican vote is something you get when you drag a glossy photo of a bloody fetus through a trailer park.

Take a gander at this fascinating chart of the voting habits of evangelicals, when broken down by income. The unwashed religious masses are not as stupid, not as prone to voting against their own interests, as the overwashed secular masses have been trained to think they are.

Evangelicals making less than 35 grand a year are more likely to vote blue than red. Who knew?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How the West will be stolen?

Concerned about masked elephants in black coveralls tip-toeing away in the dead of the November 7th night with all the votes innocently entered into touch screen "voting" machines? It's a valid and natural fear.

But a lot depends on where you're voting. If you're in Georgia or Maryland, of course, your vote is as good as vanished, because both of them have state-wide mandated paperless touch screen machines courtesy of Diebold. If you're in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, the methods vary, but you're pretty sure to have an honest vote (precinct-based optical scan, or hand counts).

Ohio has gone almost entirely to "electronic" machines - though only two counties are getting theirs from Diebold. So, did the GOP pull its funding from the DeWine Senate bid because Sherrod Brown had pulled too far ahead, or because they have it in the bag? We'll learn in due course. But they are continuing to fund Steele, even further behind in Maryland. And they're pouring money into Tennessee, which is mostly gone over to E-voting this year.

If you want to check out local stealability conditions, this page from Verified Voting is a godsend. It shows, county by county on clickable maps, just what machinery is in use everywhere in the USA. Bear in mind that "precinct based" optical scan machines are the good ones; "centrally tabulated" optical scans are the bad ones, where votes can be switched at the central machine. But even for the CT OS, vote switching is a big risk, and can't be done too blatantly, because the paper trail remains and the fraud could be found out.

My guess? They can jigger all the close House races in Indiana, the Senate in Tennessee and Maryland, and a number of others. But they can't steal enough votes in enough districts to keep the House. For that, they'll have to depend on their staples: vile last minute push polls, massive voter suppression, tons of money behind tons of lies. And fear.

If Steele loses in Maryland, and DeWine in Ohio, it will mean that they really can't jigger the machines. Yet. It will be instructive to watch.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Demise of the unexpected hangsman?

There's a well-known logical paradox known as "The Unexpected Hanging". A condemned prisoner is told Saturday night that he will be hung at dawn sometime during the next week, but to increase the mental anguish of his punishment, he will never know which morning.

The prisoner reasons, "They can't hang me next Saturday, because it's the last day, so I'll know it's coming. They can't hang me on Friday, because I know they can't do it on Saturday, so when Friday comes, I'll know it's their last chance." By the same process of elimination, he concludes that there is no day on which he can be hung without his expecting it.

So he is genuinely surprised when they trot him out the door and string him up on Saturday morning.

Republicans have successfully caused Democrats mental anguish for many elections now, by promising their hangsman Rove will deliver an October surprise, but we'll never know what or when. But I'm coming round to the view it won't be surfacing this time. Since the only October surprise big enough to help them out this time around would be launching the Iran war, I certainly hope I'm not whistling in the dark.

There are several sources for my growing confidence that Karl won't be showing up with that noose. The first, and weakest, is the absolute desperation being shown by all the embattled GOPers this cycle: wildly over the top negative ads, hurling easily exploded accusations of hebophilia, pedophilia, cavorting with naked Playboy Bunnies, the works. Ken Blackwell in Ohio preparing to break the 2-2 party line tie between election board members on whether to disqualify his opponent for Governor, ahead of him in the polls by over twenty points, on the grounds that he switched from one Ohio residence to another, and that whichever house he claims as his home, the Secretary of State will claim the other one is, making him ineligible to vote, and therefore ineligible to be a candidate.

Crazy stuff.

The second tipoff is that popping jacks out of boxes in late October is a game with diminishing returns. Both because early voting is growing more and more common, so that at least 10 percent of votes will already be cast by the time you spring your surprise. And because all such surprises consist of TOUS, Teeror-alerts Of Unusual Size. The hope is to send such a jolt of fear-adrenaline through the limbic system of the electorate that it will turn off its brain until just after it exits the voting booth. The model is Pulp Fiction: Travolta slamming that hypo into Uma Thurman's heaving chest.

But it turns out that our citizenly hearts have become habituated to the GOP's terror adrenaline drug. Each dose is less effective. The poll bounce is smaller and shorter. Not even the ritual chest-beating video from Osama, much as UBL would like it to give his favorite recruitment officers in DC a boost, will make any noticeable difference this time.

Third is the fact that their latest Horrorama campaign ad, aping Johnson's infamous Daisy Ad to the best of their ability, has as its punchline an entreaty to the party faithful to go vote early. They fear more uncontrollable October surprises that will break the Dems' way, more than they look forward to any rabbit Karl is going to pull out of his size eighteen hat.

Most potent argument of all? Last week, the panel of judges who heard the first set of charges against Saddam announced that they'd reached their conclusions. Verdict and sentence all ready. But they were going to sit on it, and not schedule an announcement until - let's see now, what's the first date one of us doesn't just happen to have a dentist's appointment or an urgently required beard trim? Ah, here it is! - November 5.

That Bushco is so abjectly eager to control the last news cycle before the election, that they would humiliate the supposedly sovereign government of Iraq and its supposedly independent judiciary with instructions from the Washington overlords to time their trial outcomes at the overlords' convenience, seems a strong indication that they have no other means at hand to control that cycle. Heck, the verdict of guilty and the sentence of death are neither of them even surprises.

The triumph of Or Else diplomacy

The NYT reports that Dubya is fixing to send an ultimatum to our enemies our allies in Iraq. Like an unproductive employee going on probation, they will be handed a list of benchmarks and a timeline.
...the officials said that for the first time Iraq was likely to be asked to agree to a schedule of specific milestones, like disarming sectarian militias, and to a broad set of other political, economic and military benchmarks intended to stabilize the country.

Although the plan would not threaten Mr. Maliki with a withdrawal of American troops, several officials said the Bush administration would consider changes in military strategy and other penalties if Iraq balked at adopting it or failed to meet critical benchmarks within it.
What's striking about this approach is its deep similiarity to the way the Badministration tackled the problem of North Korea.

Step One: Throw away the only bargaining chips you've got. (In the case of NK, forswear the existing signed agreement, and let them toss out the IAEA inspectors and hide away the previously monitored plutonium. In the case of Iraq, grind down your armed forces until the whole world knows they are powerless to mount any additional threat whatsoever.)

Step Two: Refuse to offer any carrots whatsoever, refuse to enter into talks with your adversaries, and wave around a papier maché big stick. Loudly insist, and this is key, that the other parties must do exactly as you say, Or Else.

Step Three: When the other parties do whatever the heck they please, do nothing. (In NK, doing nothing consists of saying, "China will negotiate for us, we're not here." In the case of Iraq, doing nothing consists of "staying the course:.
Step Four: Loudly insist that the other parties must now do exactly as you say, Or Else. Loop to Step Three.

The Badministration appears to be suffering under the delusion that reality can always be cowed into submission by the issuance of vague threats. Because it is a point of pride among them always to speak, and never to listen, they haven't been hearing the whole world replying, in ever more contemptuous tones, "Or Else what?"

Thursday, October 19, 2006

How Joe can he go?

Apprently it takes a weasel to know a weasel. atrios passes on the word from a reader who listens to Rush Limbaugh so we don't have to:
According to reader b, Limbaugh just said that Lieberman is "seething inside" and has "payback in mind" for the Democrats if he wins.
Lieberman obtained the primary endorsements of every big Dem name, by swearing to them that if he lost the primary, he wouldn't make an independent run.

Right after losing the primary, he promised that he will caucus with Democrats if the independent run he promised not to make wins back his Senate seat. Until earlier this week, when he said, essentially, "Unless they try to strip my seniority."

So they'll give him the seniority he threw away. And the sun, and the moon, and a star or two. And he won't even have to break his promise this time around. "Yes, I said I'd caucus with Democrats. But I didn't say for how many minutes."

There's a better deal for Democrats than this. And his name is Ned.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

How the Grownups Do It

Below: Shiny happy people clapping hands.

Yesterday, Chancellor Bush signed into law the "Yes, Virginia, America Stands for Kidnapping, Rendition, Life Imprisonment Without Charges, Torture, and Amnesty for War Crimes Act of 2006", more affectionately known to its friends as the Military Commissions Act. The full text of the bill as signed may be found on the GPO site. (That was pdf, the plaintext is here.) I've slogged through all the pages of depressing verbiage, and no one sums it up more clearly or succinctly than T Bogg:
Secret prisons.
Hearsay evidence.
No habeas petitions.
Kangaroo courts.
Star chambers.
None of these things, of course, are remotely necessary in order to "protect us from terrorists". Over in the state of Israel, which in the face of enormous security pressures and despite the general dominance of its hawkish party, has managed to remain a vibrant democracy and to harbor a press expressing a far wider range of views than the USA permits, they don't do any of this. Prisoners are charged with crimes, or they're released. Judges insist on respect for the constitution. The executive branch submits to and respects judicial decisions.

According to Israeli government figures, terrorists killed 1,123 of its citizens between September of 2000 and May of 2006 - the equivalent, in that country of just over six million, of around 54,0000 American deaths. That's 20 September 11s. And that doesn't even count the bloodshed of the preceding five decades. Israelis know terrorism. They know what it takes to deal with it, face it down, and survive it. What do our more experienced, and more freedom-loving, allies have to teach us?
Israel enacted its own Unlawful Combatants Law in 2002, with the purpose of providing a domestic legal framework for the prolonged detention of terrorists. Rejecting the terrorists' status as prisoners of war, the law instead provides for holding them ``until the end of hostilities." ...

Unlike the US bill , the Israeli law provides for a first hearing of the detainee before a high-ranking officer immediately upon his detention; a detainee has a right to legal representation; a first judicial review of the detention warrant has to take place in a district court no longer than 14 days after the first arrest, and every six months thereafter; and the detainee can appeal his detention before a Supreme Court j udge. The court must revoke the detention order if it finds that the release of the detainee would not threaten national security or if there are other special reasons that justify it.

Regulations promulgated under the law stipulate conditions for detention. These include provisions on medical treatment, clothing, food (including the right to purchase items in a canteen), outdoor exercises, religious practices, correspondence with the outside world, and even cigarettes. Unlike the US bill, in Israel, the detainee also has a right to meet with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ralston not so Purina

Susan Ralston, the long time Abramoff aide who became Karl Rove's personal assistant, resigned, or more accurately was gently helped over the gunwales of the ship, just in time for the Friday night no-news-here cycle. It seems she had remained a little too embroiled for comfort with Mr. Black Fedora.

One can understand the impulse. It wouldn't do for the visible ties between Abramoff and the Oval Office to be more than a few hundred times tighter than the "ties" between Saddam and Al Qaeda.
Ralston was Abramoff's personal assistant until she moved over to Rove's office in 2001. Abramoff reportedly bragged to others that Ralston was his "implant" at the White House.

The White House announced an internal ethics investigation of Ralston after a Congressional report released last week showed extensive contacts between Ralston and Abramoff's lobbying team. Among other things, the report showed that Ralston had accepted thousands of dollars in gifts from Abramoff without compensating him. White House ethics rules prevent employees from accepting gifts worth more than $20.
All the more important to lighten the Leakin' Lena now, while the issue is merely "thousands of dollars in gifts". Should the favors being traded - support for the forced sex and abortion operations Abramoff was seeking to protect in the Marianas - finally make it out of the blogosphere into the mainstream media, the chunk of Bush's base that could drop off would rival Larsen B's departure from Antarctica.

The time-honored principle here (as with Dennis Hastert's recent manful promise to fire some of his staff members if it turns out he did anything wrong) is that turning your underlings into jetsam is a better deal than finding yourself turned into flotsam. But fellas, trust me: if the ship is well-holed, the principle no longer applies.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Bush's new breed of rape shield law

While we're discussing signing statements, here's a great catch by Daisy Cutter at dailykos.

By overwhelming bipartisan majorities, Congress in 2003 passed a law empowering the aggressive investigation of instances of prison rape. Bush's signing statement reserved the President's right to stonewall any such investigation.

In more halcyon days, rape shield laws were intended to protect victims. Bush's idea of a rape shield law is apparently one which enables the government to protect those noble Americans who have raped prisoners on behalf of the state.

When the Torture Act of 9/28/06 was passed, it detailed a very short list of acts prohibited to the President: torture (however the President chooses to define it), murder, maiming, and rape. If, however, rape should be used as a torture technique in defiance of the Torture Act, the 2003 signing statement permits the President to guarantee that the act will never be investigated.

Say what you will about Chancellor Bush. This is a guy who thinks ahead. He had the foresight to carve out exemptions from the meager constraints of his own Torture Law, three years before he knew he would get the Reichstag to pass it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The limited modified Iran route?

I'm glad only a handful of people read this blog; and in particular, glad that Karl Rove isn't one of them. Because I'd hate to give him ideas.

Aircraft carriers have been told to be ready to head out for an unspecified location this week. We don't have to be told that the location is the Persian Gulf, at which they could then arrive on October 21. Bush may or may not have decided to launch the air war on Iran as his October Surprise. But clearly, he has sent out the word that he wants the option ready.

He is miscalculating. This country is desperately weary of war. It has not been rendered sufficiently terrified of Tehran. There are too many competing stories on the newslines, and now the Foley story is burning up critical air time just when the boogeyman buildup was supposed to go into fifth gear. This time, they should have begun marketing their new product in August, or even in June.

The rules have changed. The "bounce" from the next war will turn into a negative in less than two weeks. Unless.

If I were Rove, and I trust he's not that smart, I'd have Bush designate two or three nuclear related Iranian targets, not ones near urban centers. The October surprise would be a lightning attack on those targets alone. Not enough to seriously affect Tehran's nuclear program, but that wouldn't be the point. One set of sorties, then Bush says, "This is to show Iran that we're serious. This seems to be the only language they'll understand. I hope now they'll come to the negotiating table. The United States of America is open for direct talks."

With such a move, he could present himself to his base as the War President redivivus; and to Iraq-weary independents as the earnest man of peace, wholly focused on diplomacy. The press would love him to death again.

Then on November 8, having gulled us all one last time, he could send in the nonstop bomber armadas.

The one drawback to this plan? When the Pentagon wargamed Iran last year, they found that Tehran blinded our electronic surveillance by switching to motorcycle couriers, and our entire carrier fleet was taken out in the first wave. A limited strike might be a military impossibility. All of Persia's defenses would have to be decapitated first, a tall order in itself. We might find the mullahs putting us in as ignominious a position as Hezbollah put Israel when she attacked southern Lebanon.

Never underestimate Chancellor Bush's capacity to highlight American military impotence before the world.

The President is dead. Long live the Chancellor.

It's been a colorful bunch of weeks since this blog went into radio silence, hasn't it?

The most important story, of course, eclipsing all else by its mind-staggering, soul-sucking magnitude, was the official declaration by virtually all Republicans and too bloody many Democrats that from now until All Evil Is Utterly Vanquished And The President Tells Us So, America shall stand foursquare and proud on the world stage for Mom, apple pie, and um, let's see - oh, yes. For disappearings, life imprisonment, torture, and execution by kangaroo courts, all on the whim of the King.

Like every other American with a conscience or a sense of history, I spent the last couple weeks of September calling down almost every bolt of blue lightning on Harry Reid that I'd ever called down on George W. Bush. How could someone fail to raise a filibuster over the most egregiously anti-American legislation to pass through the Capitol dome since Reconstruction? I wasn't going to contribute another dime to these slugs, much less waste shoe leather on them. What's the difference between the party of "Hey, I've got a keen idea! Let's tell the world that torture is the great new American value!", and the party of, "Oh, okay, if you really want to, I won't deny you your fun"?

It was when I saw the final vote in the Senate that I began to calm down a bit, rage modulating into mere anguish. Twelve Dem senators cast "ayes" for this abomination. Yes, that's depressing, dispiriting, and disgusting. But what was Reid going to do? When he went around and did his whip count, and found he was eight votes in the hole for sustaining a filibuster, the writing was on the wall. No power on earth could have breathed life into that filibuster. The USA was about to become a tyranny; the Congress was about to transform itself voluntarily into the Reichstag, presiding over its own fundamental castration. The Republic had suffered an unavoidable, indefinite suspension.

Reid was effectively hooded and shackled. I don't find it hard to imagine that he was calling down the same blue bolts on himself that I was. So what remained to do? Anything that could possibly help toward the goal of restoring the Republic, beginning in November.

A thousand liberal blogs have pointed out the utter folly of caving to Bush for fear of being attacked as "weak on terrorism". And yes, it's true. No matter whether one caves or does not cave, one will be attacked, viciously, continuously, mendaciously, gleefully, as "weak on terrorism". It's a gimme, an axiom, as sure as the phases of the moon or a dog returning to its vomit. It's what Republicans have always done, will always do, and actual votes and facts will never have any bearing whatsoever on their dedication to the canard, or on the media's ritual echo thereof.

But voters do, sometimes, pay attention to actual votes (if not actual facts). Since Dems have made no effort over the preceding months to educate voters on the actual facts, and since the hour is so late, there was no way to turn the boat around. Democratic candidates will crash into the "weak on terror" reef, and last minute attempts to explain why Bush has done everything to encourage terrorism, short of lending Osama the Nimitz and the GOP's direct mail operation, will only fall flat. There was some hope, however, of focusing voters' attention on the economy, on Iraq - and now, it appears, on the blitheness with which Republicans will shield sexual predators.

That hope was magnified by not raising a fuss in advance of the inevitable defeat on the torture bill. Whether the small advantage so gained will be enough to offset the sense of betrayal among the Democratic - and the libertarian - base, remains to be seen. The sacrifice the party leadership is now asking from us, to campaign as if the Democrats actually stood for liberty and the rule of law, is painful. But the shades of Paine and Jefferson and Adams, and all those who have fought for democracy for two centuries, call us to the same sacrifice. If we can't do it for the current leadership, we can do it for them.

It should never have come to this. If Dems had shown the spine to talk truth about the "war on terror", and to defend the Constitution, in the preceding months, it would not have come to this. But a show of spine exactly at this juncture, gratifying as it would have been to every patriot, would have been counterproductive. (I am saying this excuses Reid, in some small measure, for not mounting a filibuster. In no way can it excuse the faithless twelve who championed torture and the denial of habeas corpus. They, especially the handful whose seats were already securely blue, must be dealt with in primaries to come; and Lieberman especially must be defeated this year.)

After 9/28, a day far blacker in our history than 9/11, we can no longer refer to Bush as "President". With the advent of the DC Reichstag, he has assumed the position of Chancellor. It will not be appropriate to call him "Fuehrer" until such time as Congress, instead of merely stripping itself of effective power, formally dissolves itself. And that is unlikely to happen before another major jihadist attack on the Homeland, or the consolidation in '08 of an additional four years of neocon rule. But Chancellor fits.

Like Saint Ronald told us, it's morning in America. Specifically, the year which has just dawned is 1931. As deeply as they have disgraced themselves, the Democrats are now the only force standing between us and the dawn of 1933 in two more years.

Shoe leather, don't fail us now.