Archive for October, 2008

The race tightens (in more ways than one)

Monday, October 20th, 2008

As anticipated, the presidential race has clearly tightened across the last few days, though Obama still enjoys a marked advantage of about seven points or so in national polling averages. But the constant GOP attacks of socialist/terrorist are clearly taking their toll (I hear Obama might even be black, but keep that one to yourself), and the Senator from Illinois is undoubtedly wishing the election were five rather than fifteen days away.

Still, seven points is a lot, and the electoral math would make it extremely difficult for Obama to lose, were this a normal election.  But of course, it isn’t.  Vote fraud and vote suppression will knock X% points off Obama’s lead on Election Day, and the damage is likely to be concentrated in key battleground states. Rolling Stone just published a great article about the ongoing GOP campaign to suppress the vote through (among other tactics) obstructing voter registration drives, “computer errors” and requiring ID in as many states as possible.  As I’ve written previously, it’s inevitable at this point that a lot of folks are going to be turned away from the polls on Election Day, thanks to their having being struck from their states’ rosters.

And anyone who manages to make it inside the voting booth may find themselves screwed anyway. Early voters in West Virginia have already encountered voting machines that refused to let them vote for the Democratic candidate—but the real issue is what happens behind the scenes to a vote once it’s already “cast.”  Electronic voting machines are now in their sixth year of stealing our democracy out from under us (it began with the “upset” defeat of Georgia Senator Max Cleland in 2002), and the Democrats so far have done little but politely acquiese in their own demise.  November 4th might be the day that turns the tide—but if it doesn’t, there’s more than a passing chance that future historians will record 1996 as the last presidential election the Democratic Party ever won.

Capclave roundup/D.C. writer news

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

Two announcements in the wake of Capclave…first, huge congrats to Tom Doyle, whose short story “Wizard of Macatawa” won the Washington Science Fiction Association’s Small Press Award last night, beating out heavyweights such as Elizabeth Bear, among others. “Wizard” appeared last year in Paradox; Tom’s website has an audio of the story as well.

Second, Craig Gidney’s short story collection, Sea, Swallow Me, has been (very favorably) reviewed by Electric Velocipede’s John Klima on’s sparkling new website; Klima writes of the stories’ “lyrical mysticism” and provides some links to some of the tales as well.  He’s right:  they’re well worth checking out.

Capclave 2008 schedule

Friday, October 17th, 2008

I’ll be in Rockville this weekend at Capclave 2008; my schedule’s as follows:

Saturday, October 18th: Space Warfare (panel), 10 a.m.

Sunday, October 19th: Why Did We Give Up On Space? (panel), 10 a.m.; reading from THE MIRRORED HEAVENS at 11:30 a.m.

I’m not exactly a morning person, so expect to see me no further than a foot from a cup of coffee during all of this.  At any rate, it should be a nice break from revising the second novel while I obsessively check my election RSS feeds. : )

The finish-line in sight

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

In the end, the debate wasn’t even close. David Gergen said on CNN that McCain looked like he “had an anger management problem”; that was part of a broader policing-the-emotions issue. Hours of world-class debate prep failed to make inroads on McCain’s fundamental body language issue, nor was it able to wipe the frustration from his voice. And meanwhile Obama remained almost preternaturally calm: in its desperation, the right is now starting to use that as a weapon as well, the same way it tried to turn the “celebrity” issue on its head. Isn’t this guy human? Does he ever break a sweat?

Not in debates, apparently. Nor if there’s a camera within line-of-sight. But this race isn’t over yet.  Yesterday’s polls showed that McCain seemed to have arrested the slide in his numbers, if only temporarily; this debate may send them to new lows, but I suspect that what the next few days will actually show is that Obama has peaked too early—and his supporters may have peaked psychologically as well, given the overconfidence that their candidate is now chastening them on.  They would be advised to listen to him, as this race could easily tighten across the last two and a half weeks; keep in mind that the media wants a horserace, and would vastly prefer a “McCain as comeback kid who’s clawing his way back” narrative to one of Obama cruising to a massive, easy victory.

It’s also worth noting that there’s still a lot of time on the clock for an October Surprise, especially one that involves foreign policy. Bin Laden may yet make an appearance, if only on video.  But also, Bush/Cheney have more than a few cards to play as well, and both men are acutely conscious that their unprecedented attempt to expand presidential power beyond the limits of the Constitution will come under intense (and possible legal) scrutiny should Obama win. (I doubt that Obama himself wants to take this step, but an awful lot of shit is going to come out even if the top players burn/destroy all their files.)  So it’s no surprise that the administration has been anxious to catch Bin Laden in the waning days of the election.  And anyone who thinks this is just a matter of Bush’s legacy is #$# kidding themselves.

McCain’s last chance?

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Viewed as an exercise in game theory, John McCain’s situation going into tonight’s debate is a fascinating one. He’s trailing badly in the polls, and it looks like his deficit is growing. Even North Dakota looks ready to abandon him (and if THAT’S not interpreted by Jesusland’s fanatics as a sure sign of the end-times, I don’t know what would be). And the economy aka “the issues” have apparently totally stacked the deck against negative attacks, as all of McCain’s have fallen short, both in and out of the debates.

Nonetheless, McCain is almost certain to attack:  he’s said as much, promising to “kick [Obama’s] you know what” and assuring his supporters he’ll raise the Ayers issue.  Obama has been egging him on, of course, giving an interview earlier in the week where he essentially dared McCain to confront him with Ayers face-to-face.  And we all know that McCain is helpless to resist any mano-a-mano challenge (something that I’m sure many foreign leaders will use to play him like a fiddle should he actually become president).

So Obama will get what he wants:  McCain will come out swinging tonight, and Obama will be ready for him.  Or will he?  In truth McCain has no choice but to gamble:  he’s like a boxer that has to have a knockout.  Winning on points isn’t enough, and he has to hope that either Obama will stumble in defense or prove too emotive in a counterattack. He faces heavy odds; his only chance, really, is some kind of surprise.  We’ll find out what that is soon enough.

What’s going on with ACORN, etc.

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

We sure are headed for some shit on Election Day. “Chaos at the polls” is how CNN puts it after studying the latest reports on insufficient poll workers, malfunctioning electronic machines, lack of enough paper ballots, etc. And it doesn’t look like we’re going to do anything about it either: we could airlift whole teams of monitors and logistics assistance into a third world election next weekend if we wanted, but closer at home a strange paralysis seems to grip us.

All the stranger since an awful lot of battleground state voters are going to be showing up to the polls only to find that they’ve been stricken from the rosters.  It’s within this context that we need to examine the ACORN controversy, in which thousands of false voter registrations have been submitted to local election boards (many with names like “Bugs Bunny” or “Mickey Mouse”).  Fox News et. al. are working 24.7 to convince their viewers that this is all part of the Democrats’ plan to steal the election:  “is it a coincidence that Obama is ahead in the same battleground states rife with voter fraud allegations?”  This is one of the big GOP talking points right now; keep in mind that the same fuckwits whom you see on TV at Palin’s rallies frothing at the mouth about traitors and death are also being assured that Osama, sorry I meant Obama is hell bent on stealing what isn’t his (not that there’s a racial subtext here or anything).

But when you compare it to an issue like the basic integrity of a Diebold machine, ACORN is actually a pretty minor matter in the scheme of things.  The media said that what they were doing could have been the “first step” toward voter fraud.  So what the hell was the next one?  Bugs fucking Bunny shows up and tries to vote? I’d pay to see that one. No, ACORN’s missteps are either the result of lots of local stoners/slackers trying to make a couple bucks, or they involved at least some GOP sabotage—I can’t rule out the latter, given how quickly/deftly the right-wing media has exploited the issue and constructed a false narrative of evil Democratic voter fraud.

And that brings us to the major issue here.  Because the overall pattern is unmistakable.  A key technique used by Karl Rove and his acolytes is to do something, and then—when the opposition calls you on it—accuse the opposition of doing the same damn thing (look how this has worked across the last few days with the crossing-the-line-rhetoric issue).  And it’s impossible to study the evidence of the last two elections with an open mind (particularly the 2004 one) and not conclude that the inner core of the Rovian strategy centered on contaminating the voting process.  This was, I suspect, the secret heart of the attempt to create a permanent Republican majority (an attempt that may yet succeed), and it’s almost certainly the reason why Bush rather than Kerry is president right now (personally, I think Kerry would have made a crap prez, but that’s not the point—and the fact that I have to even point that out is a problem).

Yet now we’re headed for a real train-wreck, because election-rigging is something that only works when the vote is close, and right now it’s anything but.  Even the most supine of medias would wake up if it were confronted with a double-digit discrepancy between polls and votes.  But fucking with the vote is like campaigning:  once you start it, you can’t turn it off. An Obama landslide may yet overwhelm all the schemes.  But on November 4th, we’ll have a chance to see how deep the rot goes.

Bear in the backyard

Monday, October 13th, 2008

More news on the Resurgent Bear: lost amidst the financial/campaigning chaos of last week was the item that Russia is laying the groundwork to help Cuba build its own space center. This is a deft move by Putin; in a stroke he simultaneously continues to put more pressure on the Americans while giving Russia a potential alternative to Central Asia’s Baikonur, which is too far north to be ideal for space launch purposes. We can start to see in all this glimpses of the world of the MIRRORED HEAVENS, in which considerations of launch real-estate drive geopolitics.

But only glimpses.  From a space hardware perspective, Russia would be advised not to place too many eggs into the Cuban basket; Baikonur may be less-than-perfect, but it’s still a damn sight easier to defend credibly than something within ten minutes of Miami.  Though proximity offers opportunities too, as witnessed by Moscow’s mulling over the explosive possibility of putting nuclear bombers into Cuba too.  And the larger pattern is clear, as Russia continues to make inroads on the U.S.’s privileged position in the western hemisphere.  I talked about Iceland yesterday; the Cuban move is linked to the already-in-progress Venezuelan one.

And all of it links right back to Europe, of course.  At the end of the day, Russia isn’t interested in playing puppetmaster in the U.S. backyard because it’s trying to invade New York or any of the other RED DAWN bullshit that the mainstream media seems to buy into.  These are just more cards to play as the U.S. continues to build missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe while supporting no-hopers like Saakashvili in the Caucasus and urging NATO membership for every nation in #$# Eurasia.  Ultimately this is a game of realpolitik, and it’s about time we stopped with the endless moralizing/attempt to define the entire planet as our sphere of influence (something only nations with unlimited treasuries can indulge in) and started conducting our international relations like professionals do.  Because right now the pros are running rings around us.

Iceland, Russia, and the coming Arctic Ocean smackdown

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

Iceland has gone bust. But all is not lost. Swimming toward them is. . .a bear! It’s Russia! Vladimir Putin no less, looking as sexy as ever in those bathing trunks of his. Russia is loaning Iceland about the equivalent of a third of Iceland’s GDP, and God only knows what the terms are going to be. I’m sure it’s not going to come cheap, though; although it seems unlikely Russia will get a base out of it (not yet anyway), they’re clearly going to have a lot more maneuvering room in the North Atlantic now.  In fact, it seems that this could become the greatest Russian foreign policy coup since . . .since . . .shit, since Cuba?  Anyone want to help me put this in perspective?

I should also point out that this has occurred despite the fact that the Russian stock market has shut down several times in the last month.  What people often miss, though, is that that stuff doesn’t matter as much over there:  their stock market handles a fraction of their economy, whereas it turned out OUR stock market handled many times our economy’s weight in bullshit assets.  Score one for more primitive markets.  Russia is now able to use its immense foreign currency reserves to stir up additional trouble for a weakening West, and Iceland is the first such move.

It won’t be the last, though.  And Iceland is particularly interesting:  in the Cold War, it was the key to the sea-lanes between the U.S. and Europe; had the shooting started, it would have been essential for the Red Navy to neutralize Iceland in order to cut the supply-lines to NATO forces in Western Europe seeking to resist a Warsaw Pact invasion.  Now Iceland’s geopolitical angle may be a little different.  As global warming keeps on opening up the Arctic Ocean, Russia is getting ever more interested in claiming ever vaster areas of energy-rich seabed.  She planted a flag on the North Pole last year, much to Canada’s chagrin.  (Harper’s comprehensive 07 article on this issue is well worth reading.)  And now there’s even been talk that Canada should invite Iceland to join it, just like it did to Newfoundland back in the 1940s:  after all, Reykjavik is no further from Ottowa than Vancouver.  Someone may yet save Bjork from the bear.

McCain stands up (for a moment)

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

John McCain turned on his most vitriolic supporters yesterday, correcting a woman who thought Obama was an Arab terrorist, and telling the crowds they don’t have to be scared in the event of a Democratic victory. He deserves full credit for this, though of course it was his campaign who gave these ignorant fuckwits the idea in the first place, and they’re going to keep giving those ignorant fuckwits the same ideas for the next three weeks (and the four years beyond that too).

Still, one can’t help but wonder how McCain would be doing in the polls if he had never called up the forces of darkness to begin with.  Probably even worse than he is now, but still it’s fun to think about:  what if McCain had run the kind of campaign I suspect he wanted to run?  You think he likes any of this shit?  You think he enjoys pandering to the racist morons who were totally convinced eight years ago that he’d fathered a black child?   You think he relishes saying that Joel Osteen’s book is the best thing he’s ever read?  McCain’s essential tragedy is that the math of the Republican Party as it’s now configured forces its candidates to pander to a voter base that (let’s face it) probably would be a lot happier in a theocracy than a republic.

And that’s why his “stand of honor” yesterday ultimately means little.  Even as the Senator cringes in the face of the venom he’s presiding over, his paid operatives keep on pumping out the Jesusland bullshit, portraying Obama as a man whose first move as president will either be to blow up the White House or paint the whole thing black.  These are the same people who McCain once promised would burn in a “special place in hell” for smearing him so badly back in 2000.  He may end up in one of his own for joining forces with them.  Looking at his anguished face in yesterday’s rally, he may be there already.

Playing with fire

Friday, October 10th, 2008

There’s a line out there, and McCain/Palin have crossed it. Calling the Democratic candidate unprepared for office is one thing, but whipping up the faithful into a frenzy where cries of “terrorist” and “kill him!” aren’t even being challenged by those at the podium is quite another. And as McCain continues to flounder in the polls, the mood among his supporters is turning so nasty that the press aren’t even being allowed to interview folks at rallies.

The really disquieting thing about all the rhetoric is that it doesn’t actually seem to be working from a tactical perspective.  It galvanizes the die-hards, but it may even be accelerating the shift of swing voters to the Democrats.  The question, then, is why it’s continuing.  There may be no rationale; it’s entirely possible that the campaign is locked into its own rage at this point.  The Rovian schoolyard bully/frat-boy mindset is not one that’s disposed to lose gracefully, and it should come as no surprise to see them choking on their own bile as they confront the growing possibility of an Obama landslide.

And yet there remains one very concrete reason to keep the inflammatory speeches going.  I don’t seriously think that John McCain has it in mind, but as the rallies get uglier, I’m starting to think that someone might.  Simply put, the more that undereducated/confused/racist rednecks hear about how Obama’s a menace to the nation, the more likely it becomes that one of them will take matters into his own hands.  Everyone’s saying the GOP need a game-changer to shake up the race; someone taking a shot at Barack Obama would certainly fit that bill.  We are entering some very dangerous terrain now.