Yesterday evening I blogged about Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno's comments relating the US fatality metrics in Iraq. Odierno claimed that The decrease this month in US fatalities is a sign that the surge is working. He left himself an out saying that more time is needed to see if it is a true trend. I believe that this dip in fatalities is attributable to more than just the Presidents surge. It is a combination of the new way forward and yearly cycles of activity. For example, Odierno said that the US fatalities topped out in May of this year and have fallen as they "kind of predicted." OK, but similar drops in monthly fatalities per day (FPD) have occurred a handful of times since May 2003 (the end of major combat operations), including a similar slide in the same period of 2005. Below is a graphical presentation of whats going on with respect to US fatalities in the Iraqi theater (note: presented below are US deaths only and were gathered from the Internet on 27 July 2007 from the Iraq Coalition Casualties website).
To begin, above is a graph of average FPD from January 2004 to yesterday in red and the month to month change in average FPD in blue. In this view I've cut off everything prior to Jan. 2004 for clarity but it is in there. The red dashed line is a trendline for the average FPD from May 2003 to the present. The trend remains very troubling. I created this graph to highlight how normal a two month change in either direction has been in this conflict.
This graph is the average monthly FPD of a years span superimposed on top of one another. 2003 is omitted. The dashed line is the trendline and they are color specific. This graph shows how closely clustered each (yearly) dataset coordinates with other years. You can see the trend cited by Odierno here and how it--although at a level of FPD higher than previous years--appears to be dropping. I highlight this to note that his trend is following previous trends in this time frame. Or it could be a decline that is relative to yearly regional conditions rather than the presidents surge. Perhaps there is there a reason that the FPD metric recedes during the hot summer months year after year? That aside, if Odierno is correct this line will continue to fall and that will provide some evidence that the presidents surge is working to limit the deaths of our troops, although it says nothing about the state of Iraq and the threats posed to the Iraqi population, that's an entirely different graph. This trend could stabilize in coming months placing us back where we were in prior years. Or finally, this trend could follow the trends of prior years and move back up. One hopes that the third scenario doesn't bear fruit.
Below is a blown up version of the month-to-month period we're currently in in Iraq.
Above is a month-to-month change in FPD of the period of interest. I point this final graph out to show how typical month-to-month trends in the negative are during this time period. I hope that Odierno's vision bears fruit, but to be hyping this belief amounts to a "gut feeling" rather than a legitimate trend.
I mentioned yesterday that I had reservation with the much anticipated Petraeus/Crocker report on the situation in Iraq. I feel that the information present will be spun in such a way to wash away the bad points while enhancing or fabricating the positive points. We should all consider what is presented in the GAO as an apolitical report when compared to the July and September reports. I'm going to briefly expand on this argument below with two LA Times articles published this morning.
We learned today that the Administration has quit reporting to Congress the availability of electricity in Baghdad. The likely reason being that it is not going well. But an ThinkProgress points out, Ryan "Crocker told CBS News that electricity "is more important to the average Iraqi than all 18 benchmarks rolled up into one." It's the hearts and minds argument I've been arguing all along. We'll see if this figure makes into the assessment and if it isn't spun or discounted.
Next, dropping US fatalities in Iraq. Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno attempted to flatter the President's surge strategy by citing an otherwise normal occurrence as proof positive of success. To be fair, he points out that the cited trend really isn't a trend, yet. We'll have to look back and see if he was prophetic or just spinning appealing statistics, and whether or not he notes this error if things don't pan out as he insinuated. I'll have a visual blog tomorrow about what I'm talking about here...
It is clear that despite the points highlighted above, the presence of copious amounts of hydrocarbons make looking away easy. My question is when will belt-way right-wingers and neocons see the light and apply some of their rhetoric towards the Saudis? Who knows, maybe they'll listen.
The real September report on Iraq will not be presented by Crocker and Petraeus; they have too much to lose and too much political pressure surrounding them. No the real report that will paint an honest and consistent picture will come from the GAO on 1 September. The GAO has nothing to lose, they are independent and the have experience. In fact they have more experience with Iraq than the Iraq Study Group had; in fact the GAO's international affairs team was consulted by the Group prior to its release and quick dismissal.
This report is currently being worked on and GAO personnel are in Iraq researching as we speak. I don't mean to completely legitimized the Petraeus/Crocker but if it is anything like the July report then prepare for smoke and mirrors. This one will be different. Here's the best part though:
The GAO report is due Sept. 1 -- two weeks before the administration's document. So it may set a standard that makes it harder for the administration to attach caveats to its answers, as outside analysts say it did in the July report.
The administration's assessments are more nuanced, with grading based on whether Iraq is making "satisfactory progress" or "unsatisfactory progress" on the 18 political, military and economic benchmarks. The GAO is mandated to give a more straightforward "yes" or "no" on whether the benchmarks have been achieved, said Joseph A. Christoff, director of the GAO's International Affairs and Trade Team, which will write the report.
Christoff anticipates blunt critiques in the GAO report, based on benchmarks his team has long been monitoring as part of its oversight of Iraq.
On Iraq's military, for example, the administration's July report said Iraq is making "satisfactory progress" on providing three brigades for the new U.S.-led Baghdad security plan.
But Christoff said the GAO is probing deeper. "For us, it's not just an issue of showing up, but showing up with equipment and logistical support so they can move on their own, and then being effective," he said.
The Iraqi military has serious shortcomings, including, according to a Pentagon report, a no-show rate of one-third to one-half on any given day, Christoff said. "Celebrating 360,000 trained and equipped forces says nothing about their loyalty or effectiveness," he said.
So we'll get consistent and straight responses on all 18 benchmarks not selective responses that are political rather than serious.
[10:50 PM] I'm about to sign off. There will be more pics tomorrow...
My personal favorite is this one with Joe Trippi. Trippi had a lot of influence over me with respect to politics. He's a lot slimmer than I thought or pictured when reading his excellent book "The Revolution Will not be Televised."
Here's my question that didn't get asked:
I'm not that upset, it's more of a question for Republicans anyway. They have no idea how to fight the WoT on this front. There answer will involve 9/11 and al Qaeda and how they killed us and how we have to kill them. I don't object to that. But you got to kill the weed at the root and military force doesn't do that.
[10:32 PM] Here are my picks.
I liked the campaign submission to YouTube from Edwards the best. Anyone who used a comercial for their YouTube submission... weak.
The best question was from (I believe) Gary Berry:
QUESTION: Dear Presidential Candidates, see those three flags over my shoulder? They covered the coffins of my grandfather, my father, and my oldest son.
QUESTION: Someday, mine will join them.
I do not want to see my youngest sons join them.
I have two questions. By what date after January 21st, 2009, will all U.S. troops be out of Iraq? And how many family members do you have serving in uniform?
A close second...
COOPER: Our next question is on a topic that got a lot of response from YouTube viewers. Let's watch.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Mary.
QUESTION: And my name is Jen.
QUESTION: And we're from Brooklyn, New York.
If you were elected president of the United States, would you allow us to be married to each other?
[8:40 PM] OK, as you know, the Google presence is here in the form of YouTube. But there brand is everywhere as well. Bright colors everywhere. Beanbag's for chairs. And the atmosphere is Google-esque as well. Have a look at the google-fied snack room:
[8:10 PM] So earlier today this guy showed up:
For those of you not from the lowcountry, this is libertarian/conservative shock jock radio host from our local Westwood One Citadel Broadcasting Corp. channel, Radio Free Rocky D. He's a die hard fair taxer. His cut off t-shirt said so. [Thanks to Chip in the comments for the correction. Rocky D was originally sitting at the Westwood One table, which means he probably had no business being there at all]
So he came into radio row in the loudest possible fashion. He found out who I was with and started hassling me. Not a big deal but the guy is loud, he was there to be annoying. His Nixon-esque paranoia makes him blame everything on the government.
Well, long story short, he doesn't have credentials anymore and has been out walking back and fourth on Summerall Field. Yup, he was kicked out... (by the same gigantic guy that threw me out of McAlister hours earlier) He was here for a total of 30 minutes prior to getting the boot.
Westwood One and WTMA should send serious corespondents to events such as this. There is a chance that one the women and men on stage right now might become the president of our country. The other people sent by Westwood One seem pleasant and are acting professional. I know because they're sitting mere feet to my right. They're not there trying to build support for some dimwitted tax scheme. They are quietly covering an important event for SC and the USA. Bravo to the security crew for getting rid of this man.
[7:45 PM] Adam Nagourney?
Pretty sure. He was entering McAlister with the photo pool.
We ran into the man, Howard Dean, earlier. He, as you might imagine, was in a rush. But I got a few pics before he drove off...
[7:10 PM] In case your interested, this is what we were fed. And it was surprisingly good. Actually it was excellent!
Having huge audio problems here. From what I can see from the spin room, you can see it at home as well. Hope they fix it.
[6:51 PM] The candidates are being announced. Enjoy the "debate".
Just interviewed the Majority Whip in the US House of Representatives James Clyburn (D-SC). I won't get into the details because they are for the show, but he did suggest that George Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest were "smoking something." He was discussing the reports that the White House was still yearning to enter Iran.
The Congressman was nice enough to take this pic with me: Nice guy...
I'm headed back out. Hope to get some more pics of the candidates. I got some... interesting... stuff to post later, probably during the debate. Stay tuned!
Here's a story. We just went walking around doing some interviews and scoping out the grounds. We briefly talked with Candi Candy Cowley about the Internet and politics. That bit is for Joan's show though so I can't upload it.
We tried to get into McAlister Field House (where the debate is). CNN has exclusive rights to the hall during the debate but we were under the impression that that was during the debate only. so we asked, and got in. We were there for about 30 sec. when security approached us, questioned us, and kicked us out.
I got one photo of the stage though. And if you look closely, I think John Edwards is in the center there! take a look: Here's a closer better (it it?) look:
Anyway, we were kicked out but they didn't take my camera or my DAT Recorder. So much for security!
BTW - I'm currently outside Mark Clark Hall while they do a bomb sweep. I guess that means some important figures will soon be visiting the spin room (see below). Stay tuned!
People have sent in more than 2,000 online videos to YouTube.com, where they are posted. CNN, which is broadcasting the debate in English and in Spanish on CNN En Español, will determine which two or three dozen videos it shows during the two-hour forum, which starts at 7 p.m. Eastern time. The candidates, who will assemble in Charleston, S.C., will be able to watch the videos on a giant screen or on monitors at their lecterns.
A scan of the videos submitted to YouTube shows most video-makers taking a straightforward approach, sitting at home and talking directly into the camera. The questions cover expected topics like health care, student loans and the crisis in Darfur, though some are asked in a provocative way. And many veer into unexpected territory.
This format is a welcome change from the status quo. I can't wait to submit my questions to the Republicans.
[10:25 AM] Well, I'm in. You know there is something going on here as you drive into the Citadel campus. All the major campaigns have their ground troops out in force. This of course means that there are signs everywhere. First impression? John Edwards has the ground troops out, there are signs up and down the block around Hampton Park (I think it was Hampton Park). Hilary is present as well. She doesn't have as many signs but she does have a cherry picker just in front of the Citadel's main gate with ~10 of her signs hung down it from the basket. The basket was about power line hight so the arrangement is very visible. However, the wind was giving the troops headaches. I should have snapped a pic but finding parking was my top priority.
There are quite a few signs that have been ripped down or otherwise vandalized. One wonders if the "truth squad" are out causing trouble? The Charleston Republicans are a bit upset that the Democrats are debating at the Citadel while the Republicans are in St. Petersburg Flordia's Mahaffey Theater that is ironically known as the Progress Energy Center for the Arts.
Well, I'm in and we're now looking for things to do...
I managed to get inside and take a walk through of McAlister Field House this morning with a representative from CNN. I snapped a few pictures of the debate stage and the exterior of McAlister. Inside and outside are both looking very nice, though I was surprised at how few seats they were using inside McAlister. The campus is quiet and there was a surprising lack of chaos for it being less than 30 hours till show time. I guess these guys are pro's...
Here is a brief mosaic of some of the pics I took (scroll over the pic to get a better view, click on it to view full size):
As for me, I'll be blogging about anything interesting I notice all day Monday. But my priority is doing audio for a radio show that in produced from my department at the College. I was lucky enough to have the normal audio engineer take a vacation this week. The show, Conversations with Joan Mack (Archive and iTunes) will air in a few weeks rather than on Monday during the event. It will be mostly local leader interviews and maybe a candidate or two, or their wives(/husbands?). While this will be a priority, I expect to have a lot of free time throughout the day.
So during the day tomorrow I'll start an amended post and update it in reverse chronological order with observations, pics, and maybe audio. I'm not a reporter so I'll probably just comment on the behind the scenes of one of these things rather than risk life and limb to hear talking points. If I have an opportunity though I will ask questions. I have a list made and have requested that anyone with thoughtful questions send them (written or on YouTube) to me so that I can add them to my list. We'll see where the moment takes me... I wish I could do some video but my laptop runs Final Cut Pro slowly and I want to experience this rather than waiting for renderings, compression and uploading to complete (if someone wants to buy me a new Mac I'll gladly accept it!). During the debate and afterwards, I'll post some YouTube questions I shot at local bars last week (provided they aren't picked). If you shot one and would like to have it posted just let me know via comment or email.
That's all for now, hope you check in periodically tomorrow.