Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

Things Won't Change

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

Things Won't Change - It Has To Do with Both Momentum and Inertia

Assume the polling regarding the midterm elections is right. That maybe be a foolish assumption but grant it for a moment - Americans across the country on 7 November trot off to their polling places (here in this part of Hollywood the Iranian-American synagogue just south of the Sunset Strip) and cast votes to throw the bums out, as the term goes. The Democrats win control of the House and perhaps the Senate - and then it becomes permissible for the legislative branch of the government to ask questions and suggest alternatives. No more "rubber stamp" from both houses of everything Dick Cheney and Karl Rove whispers in George Bush's ear. All the committees that approve and fund government operations are chaired by the other guys - the ones who can now, on the record, ask questions and say no to this and that. The president is left with the veto and the power to commandeer an hour of prime time television now and then. The last two years of this administration would not be like the first six, not at all.

But things may not change.

Evidence for that comes from Beaumont Texas, where early voting is well underway. There's this (with video), from KFDM there -

    KFDM continues to get complaints from Jefferson County voters who say the electronic voting machines are not registering their votes correctly.

    Friday night, KFDM reported about people who had cast straight Democratic ticket ballots, but the touch-screen machines indicated they had voted a straight Republican ticket.

    Some of those voters including Lamar University professor, Dr. Bruce Drury, believe the problem is a programming error.

    Saturday, KFDM spoke to another voter who says it's not just happening with straight ticket voting, he says it's happening on individual races as well, Jerry Stopher told us when he voted for a Democrat, the Republican's name was highlighted.

    Stopher said, "There's something in these machines, in this equipment, that's showing Republican votes when you vote for Democrats, and I know Ms. Guidry's a nice lady, and she's working hard, but her theory that my fingernail was somehow over the Republican button is just unrealistic, my fingernail was not. The equipment is not working properly as far as I can tell."

    Jefferson county clerk Carolyn Guidry says her office has checked the calibration of the machines and found no problems.

    She says the electronic system is very sensitive.

    She told KFDM that's a concern she has expressed since county commissioners chose the machines.

    Guidry advises voters to carefully review their choices, and make any changes before pressing the vote button.

Yep, it's tricky down there in Texas. And it's also tricky in Florida -

    Debra A. Reed voted with her boss on Wednesday at African-American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale. Her vote went smoothly, but boss Gary Rudolf called her over to look at what was happening on his machine. He touched the screen for gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis, a Democrat, but the review screen repeatedly registered the Republican, Charlie Crist.

    That's exactly the kind of problem that sends conspiracy theorists into high gear -- especially in South Florida, where a history of problems at the polls have made voters particularly skittish.

    A poll worker then helped Rudolf, but it took three tries to get it right, Reed said.

    ''I'm shocked because I really want to trust that the issues with irregularities with voting machines have been resolved,'' said Reed, a paralegal. "It worries me because the races are so close.''

    Broward Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman Mary Cooney said it's not uncommon for screens on heavily used machines to slip out of sync, making votes register incorrectly. Poll workers are trained to recalibrate them on the spot - essentially, to realign the video screen with the electronics inside. The 15-step process is outlined in the poll-workers manual.

    ''It is resolved right there at the early-voting site,'' Cooney said.

    Broward poll workers keep a log of all maintenance done on machines at each site. But the Supervisor of Elections office doesn't see that log until the early voting period ends. And a machine isn't taken out of service unless the poll clerk decides it's a chronic poor performer that can't be fixed.

    Cooney said no machines have been removed during early voting, and she is not aware of any serious problems.

    In Miami-Dade, two machines have been taken out of service during early voting. No votes were lost, Sola said.

    Joan Marek, 60, a Democrat from Hollywood, was also stunned to see Charlie Crist on her ballot review page after voting on Thursday. ''Am I on the voting screen again?'' she wondered. "Well, this is too weird.'' Marek corrected her ballot and alerted poll workers at the Hollywood satellite courthouse, who she said told her they'd had previous problems with the same machine.

    Poll workers did some work on her machine when she finished voting, Marek said. But no report was made to the Supervisor of Elections office and the machine was not removed, Cooney said. Workers at the Hollywood poll said there had been no voting problems on Friday.

    Mauricio Raponi wanted to vote for Democrats across the board at the Lemon City Library in Miami on Thursday. But each time he hit the button next to the candidate, the Republican choice showed up. Raponi, 53, persevered until the machine worked. Then he alerted a poll worker.

These incidents may be anomalies of course. Only a conspiracy nut would think that something shady is going on, since (1) the two providers of voting machines nationwide are companies run by major contributors to the Bush campaigns, and since (2) none of the machines in use anywhere offer a paper trail or any way to audit the vote - recounts are meaningless as they just recount what's been written to the master files - and (3) since systems experts from Johns Hopkins and Princeton to Stanford have noted the machines and their networks could be easily hacked and results changed on the fly in two minutes by anyone with even a little savvy, and no one would be able to detect that. You just have to trust that a few errors are just that - minor errors that can be fixed on the spot. And every voter is, of course, extremely careful and will try again and again and again and again if the machine shows the vote for the person they really don't want. And you have to assume what is finally locked on the screen, and is finally confirmed, is what is written to the master files - the tally. Why would you think otherwise?

Yep, the joke is on us. But you have to admire what they've pulled off here. It's a bit like Robert Redford and Paul Newman in that old movie "The Sting" - you finally admire the master scammers for their smarts. They know how to get what the want.

But suppose that the vote overwhelms the scam - there a just too many votes to change. What then?

Well, nothing much changes, as the Associated Press reports here on Wednesday, November 1 - "President Bush said Wednesday he wants Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney to remain in his administration until the end of his presidency, extending a job guarantee to two of the most-criticized members of his team."

He says each is doing a fantastic job. The announcement is a pre-election jab at "the other guys" - pretty much saying, yeah, maybe, just maybe, you'll win, but you can't make me dump these two guys. People may hate them, and some say they've screwed up badly, and they lie - and it may all be true, but no one can make me do anything I don't want to do. It's an in-your-face power thing, and something to fire up the base before the election.

Andrew Sullivan offers this -

    Let me put this kindly: anyone who believes that Donald Rumsfeld has done a "fantastic job" in Iraq is out of his mind. The fact that such a person is president of the United States is beyond disturbing. But then this is the man who told Michael Brown he was doing a "heckuva job." And, yes, our Iraq policy begins to look uncannily like the Katrina response.

    The president, in other words, has just proved that he is utterly unhinged from reality, in a state of denial truly dangerous for the world. He needs an intervention. Think of this election as an intervention against a government in complete denial and capable of driving the West off a cliff. You can't merely abstain now. Bush just raised the stakes. And he must be stopped.

And as for all the Rumsfeld-Cheney errors, see Sullivan's new book, The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It; How To Get It Back -

    Some of the errors can be attributed to the fog of war, to the inevitable mismatch between theory and practice, between war-plans and an actual conflict, taking place in a deeply divided country sealed off for years from most outside contact, and exhibiting what can only be called post-totalitarian syndrome. No one should expect perfection.

    But what we witnessed was something far more disturbing: a refusal to account for reality, to acknowledge error, to prepare for all contingencies. In searching for an explanation for that, we have to return, I think, to the kind of conservatism George W. Bush had internalized.

    In that world-view, what mattered was the ideological analysis: good versus evil. What mattered was the assertion of the United States' right to act alone if necessary to defend its own security. What mattered was the zero-sum analysis that we had to choose between war against Saddam and a potential mushroom cloud in an American city. It was this rigid and abstract analysis that essentially abolished the idea that the war was subject to rational debate.

    The fundamentalist makes his mind up instantly, makes the fundamental decision, and cannot, by necessity, stop short at a later date and ask himself if he's right. Such second-guessing undermines his entire worldview. It threatens his inner psychological core.

    And this narrative - amazingly - continued throughout the post-invasion anarchy ... In the wake of growing chaos, murder and political drift, the Bush presidency merely insisted that nothing was wrong.

    Part of this brittleness can be understood as public relations. War-leaders do not want to be seen second-guessing strategy in public. Much of the opposition in America would have jumped on any concession to reality by the president and used it against him. But again, this doesn't fully explain the rigidity of the Bush White House, its imperviousness to empirical criticism, its insistence on the inerrancy of its leader, and its ruthlessness toward critics. What does help explain it is the fundamentalist mindset. A strong inerrant leader is typical of such religious groupings; deference is regarded as the natural response to such a hierarchy; criticism is immediately conflated with sin or weakness or treachery. Loyalty, however, is always valued - even when it appears ludicrous.

And Sullivan adds this -

    We are surely in the ludicrous phase now.

    From Michael "Heckuva Job" Brown to Donald "Fantastic Job" Rumsfeld, we see the same psychological profile. Woodward is right about this president. This is not conservatism. This is simply denial of reality. In these perilous times, it is beyond disturbing.

Even the pop novelist Stephen King is worried - "If I know anything, I know scary, and giving this president and this out-of-control Congress two more years to screw up our future is downright terrifying."

Monday the four major newspaper for the military will post an editorial calling for Rumsfeld to resign - but that hardly matters.

You see, if the main issue is Iraq, and how things are going badly, maybe the president is right. It really isn't Rumsfeld.

Congressman John Boehner floated that idea on Wednesday, November 1, on CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. Bush is fine, and Rumsfeld has made no mistakes, then there is only one obvious conclusion - it's the generals -

    GOP HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER JOHN BOEHNER: Let's not blame what's happening in Iraq on Rumsfeld.

    WOLF BLITZER: But he's in charge of the military.

    BOEHNER: But the fact is, the generals on the ground are in charge, and he works closely with them and the president.

Okay, the number two Republican in the House says you have to work down to the truth. The problem cannot be the president, obviously, and the president says the problem is not Rumsfeld. "When you've eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth" - or something like that. Hey, it worked for Sherlock Holmes. So it's the generals who have screwed up.

If the generals use the same principle, they can push it down the chain of command. In the end some grunt private will look around and, seeing there's no one left, blame the Iraqis for screwing up our war.

But it seems the Iraqi generals are already on top of the issue, cutting to the chase -

    The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., predicted last week that Iraqi security forces would be able to take control of the country in 12 to 18 months. But several days spent with American units training the Iraqi police illustrated why those soldiers on the ground believe it may take decades longer than Casey's assessment.

    Seventy percent of the Iraqi police force has been infiltrated by militias, primarily the Mahdi Army, according to Shaw and other military police trainers. Police officers are too terrified to patrol enormous swaths of the capital. And while there are some good cops, many have been assassinated or are considering quitting the force.

    "None of the Iraqi police are working to make their country better," said Brig. Gen. Salah al-Ani, chief of police for the western half of Baghdad. "They're working for the militias or to put money in their pocket."

Interesting - this will take "a few decades" to fix. So things won't change, in a really big way. But it's not Rumsfeld's fault.

And our military agrees -

    Iraqi soldiers being trained by American military advisers go on rampages, flee from dangerous situations and waste ammunition in undisciplined bursts of fire at any provocation, according to an account in a U.S. Army journal.

    In contrast to the iron discipline imposed during Saddam Hussein's regime, "the new army serves the cause of freedom, and officers and soldiers alike are a bit confused about what this means," Lt. Col. Carl D. Grunow wrote in the July-August issue of Military Review.

    Iraqi soldiers frequently use excessive force, going on retaliatory rampages after colleagues are killed by insurgents, Grunow wrote in the journal, a publication of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

    "The 'burst reaction' may be attributed to Iraqis experiencing denial, anger and grief all at the same time," he wrote.

    Grunow, who spent a year with an Iraqi armored brigade north of Baghdad, also said that Iraqis often fail to report for training, and that sometimes up to 40 percent of some units flee from dangerous situations without fear of punishment.

    "As of this writing, the only power holding them is the promise of a paycheck (not always delivered) and a sense of duty. Good soldiers leave after receiving terrorist threats against their families," Grunow wrote.

    The old Iraqi army "executed deserters unhesitatingly," he said.

    Another problem, Grunow wrote, is the Iraqi "death blossom," in which an attack by even a single sniper "provokes the average Iraqi soldier to empty his 30-round magazine and fire whatever belt of ammunition happens to be in his machine gun." That is both dangerous and wasteful, he said.

But it's not Rumsfeld's fault. You can read the source material here, and it doesn't mention Rumsfeld or any policy makers.

You want this to change? Think boldly.

That's what Ralph Peters does at the New York Post. He suggests we simply have to engineer a military coup and let a carefully selected strongman take over -

    American advisers risk their lives in the struggle to build Iraqi police units committed to doing their duty. We've equipped them, trained them and led from the front.

    In gratitude, Iraq's police have ambushed our troops, fielded death squads less restrained than those under Saddam, stolen everything they could steal in preparation for a future civil war - and, apparently, funneled U.S.-provided arms to militias, insurgents and terrorists.

    Our efforts to develop good cops have failed (garbage in, garbage out). We need to stop wasting our efforts. Shielded by government ministers and parliamentarians, the police are so out of control that there's no longer any hope of weeding out the bad guys. Instead, the bad guys are weeding out the good guys: Honest cops get killed. By other cops.

    The situation's desperate. We need to revamp our strategy (to the extent that we have one). For all its shortcomings, the Iraqi army has been a far greater success than the police - whether we're speaking of cops on the beat or paramilitary commandos.

    It's time to abandon the cops. Let the anti-American elements in the Maliki government have them. Don't continue to strengthen our enemies. Concentrate on developing and expanding the army.

    Why? Here's where the truth gets still uglier. As dearly as we believe in democracy, Iraq's Arabs are proving that they're incapable of the political, social and moral maturity necessary to run an elected government. Casting ballots alone doesn't make a democracy. The government has to function. And to protect all of its citizens.

    In the coming months, we may find that the only hope of restoring order is a military government. It sounds repellent, but a U.S.-backed coup may be the only alternative to endless anarchy.

    Arabs still can't govern themselves democratically. That's the appalling lesson of our Iraqi experiment. A military regime might be capable of establishing order and protecting the common people.

    This really isn't our failure. The failure is on the part of the Iraqis. They had this one great chance - bought with American and allied blood - to build a rule-of-law democracy in the Arab world. They appear determined to throw that chance away, preferring to wallow in old hatreds, vengeance, corruption and the tyranny of fear.

    It's ironic that, having gone to Iraq to jump-start democracy in the region, we may end up backing a military coup to save the battered country. We're not there yet (and the thought is anathema in Washington - reality usually is). But we'd better hedge our bets. The only, faint chance we have to protect the average Iraqi is to expand the Iraqi army and promote a national ethos within its ranks.

Well, if you see them as sub-human morons, that's one way to change things. Unfortunately Saddam Hussein is not currently available.

But if you want things to change, backing a military coup in Iraq would do the trick. It sure beats voting for Democrats, or something.

What might have set Peters off - spurring such thoughts - was the secondary news story on Halloween Day, 2006. The primary news story was the John Kerry comments, where he botched a line and, meaning to say the president had done some really stupid things, seemed to say our troops were too stupid to avoid service. That sucked the air out of the news cycles and none of the media had time for this -

    Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki demanded the removal of American checkpoints from the streets of Baghdad on Tuesday, in what appeared to be his latest and boldest gambit in an increasingly tense struggle for more independence from his American protectors.

    ... The language of the declaration, which implied that Mr. Maliki had the power to command American forces, seemed to overstep his authority and to be aimed at placating his Shiite constituency.

    The withdrawal was greeted with jubilation in the streets of Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite enclave where the Americans have focused their manhunt and where anti-American sentiment runs high.

John Kerry could not have screwed up at any more propitious time. This was hardly covered at all.

Try this analysis from Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly -

    So: an American soldier is abducted and held in Sadr City, the Army sets up a cordon in an effort to force the soldier's release, but then meekly gives in when Maliki orders them to. This whole situation seems tailor-made for Democrats in an election year: Why have we abandoned an American soldier? Why are we letting Maliki give orders to U.S. generals? Who's in charge over there?

    So far, though, Democrats have restrained themselves. Is this because they know in their hearts that letting Maliki call the shots in this case was the right thing to do, and they've decided they don't want to politicize the situation? Maybe, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it. The Dubai port deal was almost certainly the right thing to do too, but that didn't stop Dems from mounting a two-week frenzy over the whole thing. There's probably some other calculation going on. Or maybe they just need a day or two to get their act together.

But then, this may be a good thing -

    I mention this mainly because bowing to pressure from Maliki probably was the right thing to do, for at least a couple of reasons. First, it's impossible for Maliki to control the political situation in Iraq, as we want him to do, unless the various Iraqi factions believe he has genuine influence over the U.S. military. If we had swatted him down in a high-profile case like this, it would have been tantamount to a death sentence.

    Second, Maliki might very well have saved us from ourselves. After all, our cordon had already been in place for eight days without result, and there was no indication that it ever would have worked. (Hezbollah endured a thousand deaths and two months of destruction in Lebanon and still wouldn't release the abducted Israeli soldiers that started that war.) My guess is that the militants who held the U.S. soldier would never have released him, and that they even viewed the growing chaos in Sadr City as a positive benefit. Keeps the locals riled up against the American occupation, you know.

    So Maliki probably did us a favor by giving us an excuse to back down yesterday. In a broader sense, though, the story of the Sadr City cordon is the story of Iraq in a microcosm: tactics unsuited to the fight, no exit strategy when those tactics turn out not to work, and eventually a clear demonstration of the limits of American power. The military set up the cordon because they didn't want to simply do nothing, but then had to stick with it forever because anything less would show a "lack of resolve." In a way, Maliki rescued us from our own folly on Tuesday.

And so maybe we don't have to elect Democrats anyway. The world may be self-correcting.

No, probably not. And things won't change.



Also on Wednesday, November 1, the president appeared on the Rush Limbaugh radio show, showing support for Limbaugh mocking Michael J. Fox and Fox's "so-called" disease. About the same time John Kerry apologized for his remarks - he meant something else entirely and he was sorry people got another impression. And just as Bush had demanded that Kerry apologize to the troops for implying they were all stupid when he only meant to say that George Bush himself was stupid, Rush and George demanded that Michael J. Fox apologize to the American people for pretending he had Parkinson's disease and his demanding that we fund killing babies to find a cure for the disease he was faking.

No, the last part of that wasn't true. That didn't happen. But this did -

    Give me a second here, Rush, because I want to share something with you. I am deeply concerned about a country, the United States, leaving the Middle East. I am worried that rival forms of extremists will battle for power, obviously creating incredible damage if they do so; that they will topple modern governments, that they will be in a position to use oil as a tool to blackmail the West. People say, "What do you mean by that?" I say, "If they control oil resources, then they pull oil off the market in order to run the price up, and they will do so unless we abandon Israel, for example, or unless we abandon allies."

Rush called this "extremely visionary." He didn't ask how we go into this particular jam - and who was responsible for making it so we just had to stay. And he didn't ask if that wasn't saying our real call to arms - the reason our guys will have to continue to die - is now that we have to keep oil prices low and the flow steady because they've got us by the short hairs.

Rush was just in awe. Rush wasn't thinking. Or he was.

And the end of that same long day, from the New York Times, new polling data -

    The poll found that just 29 percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is managing the war in Iraq, matching the lowest mark of his presidency. Nearly 70 percent of Americans said Mr. Bush did not have a plan to end the war, and an overwhelming 80 percent said Mr. Bush's latest effort to rally public support for the conflict amounted to a change in language but not policy.

Add that in the generic congressional poll, Democrats now have a nineteen percent lead, a record. And for those who do over-under math, George Bush's approval/disapproval rating for handling the war is a minus thirty-five percent, and for the broader war on terrorism it's minus four percent. More people think the economy is getting worse than think it's getting better by a margin of twenty-two percent. People think taxes will go up no matter who wins control of Congress, and fifty-seven percent are in favor of allowing either marriage or civil unions for gay couples.

Things could change, if people triple-check their votes and hope the hackers mess up.

This item posted November 5, 2006

[Things Won't Change]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik