Step right up!
Place your bets!
All wagering on the 2006 October Surprise will officially end midnight Saturday, so lay your money down now!
Karl Rove is already bragging to the Republican faithful that he's got a doozy of an October Surprise teed up for 2006. Karl hasn't seen fit to let us in on the secret of what this year's surprise will be, though. So the betting atmosphere is in a frenzy.
Let's examine the current favorite picks, including some options that even Karl Rove doesn't have control over, and (of course) the long shots.
[First, a little housecleaning, to update the odds I set in my previous article from a month and a half ago:]
(+) Gas price relief at the pump for average Americans.
Now paying out at the posted odds: 5-to-1. If you bet on this one, you've already won! Technically, this happened before October, but prices will stay low into next month, which guarantees you a win. Please collect your winnings from the Department Of "That Money Is Rightfully Mine" (where everyone collects their imaginary Jeopardy! winnings nightly). Bets are no longer being accepted (at any odds) for this item.
[Bets are also no longer being accepted for any of the following:]
(-) Bombing Syria in support of Israel.
Since the conflict appears over for now, no longer accepting these bets. All bets placed at 8-to-1 odds are forfeit.
(-) Bombing Ned Lamont's house in Connecticut.
It wouldn't do them any good at all now, since either Lieberman or Lamont will vote for Democratic leadership in the Senate. All bets placed at 1000-to-1 are forfeit.
(-) Exploit the Fidel Castro situation in Cuba.
Castro lived, and things in Cuba seem to be under control for the moment. Previous bets will be honored at 20-to-1 (if it comes to pass), but no new bets are being accepted.
(-) The GOP brings the troops home from Iraq.
Although this was the Number One 2006 Republican Game Plan from early this year onwards, reality on the ground in Iraq has trumped this ace. They've actually built up troops in the past month or so, to 147,000 (from about 130,000), so this just isn't going to happen. All bets placed at 15-to-1 are forfeit.
(-) Announce that Barbara and/or Jenna Bush has joined the Marines and will soon be deploying to Iraq.
The house is sorry to report that we can no longer accept bets on this, ever since the odds increased to "The Number of Atoms in the Universe"-to-1. Previous bets placed at 17.5 billion-to-1 will indeed be honored -- if it happens -- but we're not too worried about it breaking the bank (if you know what I mean).
[OK, enough erasing previous bets from the chalkboard. Let's proceed to the current offerings, and their current odds:]
(1) Announce the capture and/or death of Osama Bin Laden. Odds: 4-to-1
The odds for this one have dropped (from 10-to-1 last month), due to the conspiracy theorists coming up with an interestingly plausible pattern of recent events. Consider the following:
* CIA disbands Osama Bin Laden (OBL) unit. Why would they still need the unit if they've already caught him?
* White House pressure for legalizing torture right now -- what better poster child for torture could there be than OBL in CIA custody?
* Turning over Afghanistan to NATO control -- we've achieved our main objective, so it's less of a concern.
* President Bush mysteriously repeatedly mentions OBL (seventeen times!) in a single speech -- after years of barely acknowledging his existence. If Bush knew in advance of an imminent public announcement of OBL's capture, it would make perfect sense to jump-start the anticipation.
* Pakistan's President Musharraf announces a pact with leaders in the tribal areas in his country which everyone assumes has been sheltering OBL. If OBL has been removed from the equation, it makes sense that tribal leaders would now be free to cut a deal with the central government.
* Emptying of "secret CIA prisons" and shipping all those contained within to Guantanamo Bay. Why would we need to continue torturing these people if our main objective -- capturing OBL -- had already been accomplished?
* Even Fox news is talking about OBL (to former President Clinton, of all people), and spinning the "it's all Clinton's fault" mantra again. Foreshadowing? You decide.
This one admittedly comes from the Tinfoil Hat Brigade, but when you look at all these disparate events as an aggregate, a pattern does begin to emerge. Hence the reasonable odds for this one.
[Memo from Karl Rove to the folks in French Intelligence: Ssssshhh! Don't let the secret out too early! It's not October yet!]
(1a) An Osama Bin Laden video surfaces, days before the election. Odds: 10-to-9
Variation on a theme. This did wonders for the Republicans in 2004. Remember that OBL video released three days before the election? Does OBL want the Republicans in control? Is he that savvy to American politics?
This is admittedly an externally-driven event (i.e., Karl Rove can't "manufacture" it out of thin air), but it has happened before. The chances of this actually happening again are quite good, hence the really bad return on your money (bet $9, and only get $10 total in return).
(2) Announce Cheney will step down as Vice President after the election. Odds: 25-to-1
Same odds as before, nothing changed. A relative long shot.
(3) Venezuela and Iran cut oil production to jack up US gas prices. Odds: 15-to-1
An October Surprise from external forces (and one designed to aid Democrats, perhaps a "Double-Whammy-Reverse October Surprise?"). If Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran really have become buddies after their recent anti-Bush speeches at the UN, they may consider trying to influence the outcome of the US election.
All they would have to do is announce that they're cutting oil production 50% until mid-November. The resulting chaos on the world oil market would jack US gasoline prices back up and sour the economic mood in America. This may benefit the Democrats with moderate voters.
The real question is: are Chavez and Ahmadinejad that concerned about the American political scene? That's really what you're betting on with this one.
(4) Announce the thwarting of huge terrorist plot to ... (fill in the blank). Odds: 50-to-49
From my previous post:
"Worst odds (for a return on your money) in the whole list, also meaning it's the most likely to happen. It would be relatively easy to manufacture out of almost nothing, and would be seen by Republicans as helping their cause enormously. ... Fear always works to Republican advantage, so the probability of this being announced at a fortuitous moment during the last days of the election is (unfortunately) extremely high."
Nothing has changed except the odds, which are now the second-worst of any choice on this list. The worst odds on the list are for the following new variation:
(4a) Terrorists caught sneaking across Mexican border. Odds: 100-to-99
This would solve two problems at once for the GOP -- it would vindicate all the "build a wall to seal the border" House Republicans, and it would increase the general fear of terrorism at the same time. Two birds, in other words, with one easy-to-manufacture stone. This is actually even more plausible than (4), but Republicans would have to be extremely devious to pull this one off successfully.
(5) Nancy Pelosi caught with child porn. Or drugs. Or WMD. Or something. Odds: 250-to-1
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is stopped at a TSA checkpoint in an airport and a cursory check of her laptop computer reveals graphic and disgusting child pornography -- apparently filmed (and participated in) by Pelosi herself. Later reports that the TSA screener has a doctorate in Computer Science from M.I.T. are quickly hushed up.
Or perhaps, Pelosi is stopped by the California Highway Patrol and 20 kilos of (fill in your favorite scary drug) are found in her trunk.
Or perhaps, Pelosi is found with anthrax in her makeup case which just happens to perfectly match the anthrax used in the 2001 mail attacks.
Or perhaps, Pelosi is found arriving on a flight from Detroit with the bones of Jimmy Hoffa in her suitcase. Or maybe the bones of the Lindbergh baby?
OK, the odds are high, but this has been the basis of the Republican party's attempt to "nationalize" the election in their favor: "Nancy Pelosi is dangerous; and America would go to Hell in a handbasket within two weeks of her becoming Speaker of the House." So framing her for some heinous crime isn't completely outside the realm of possibility. It is pretty far-out, though, which is reflected in the odds.
(5a) Widespread GOP smear campaign based on wiretapping Democratic candidates. Odds: 50-to-1
A remarkably well-orchestrated and simultaneous Republican smear campaign across dozens of congressional races, all with information gathered through wiretapping political opponents. Since Congress has basically abdicated all responsibility for wiretapping to the White House, what's to stop them from using such information politically? How the information was gathered would naturally not be made public until after the elections, so the outcome would be a fait accompli.
Although the odds are long, anyone who lumps this in with the Tinfoil Hat Brigade obviously does not remember the term "COINTELPRO" -- the reason we passed all those laws restricting intelligence-gathering in the first place. Before Bush gutted them all, of course.
(6) Bombing Iran's nuclear facilities. Odds: 5-to-4
This one has gotten so popular, it made the cover of Time magazine last week.
Odds have gotten a bit worse, meaning it's more likely. Odds for variations have not changed (read my previous article for full details on this one). To wit:
(6a) Israel carries out the bombing. Odds: 3-to-1
(6b) Force Congress to vote on the issue, without actually bombing (yet). Odds: 2-to-1
(6c) U.S. drops a nuclear bomb on Iran. Odds: 100-to-1
(7) Middle East Peace Process Restarted. Odds: 15-to-1
The Bush administration could reverse itself and agree to recent overtures by the Arab League in the U.N. to restart the peace process for Israel and Palestine. This would be a brilliant move by the Republicans to change the Middle East subject from "Iraq" to "peace." Which would go a long way towards convincing moderate "soccer mom" voters that the Republicans really are interested in peace in the long run, and are willing to work towards it.
My guess is that many independent voters really do hope for some sort of positive outcome in the region, but they're so soured on the Iraq war that they're thinking of staying home (or even voting Democratic) on election day. Moving the peace process forward would encourage them to vote GOP.
However, this still has long odds, since Condoleezza Rice and John Bolton have already objected to the Arab League proposal. And we all know how loathe the Bush administration is to reverse itself.
(8) Massive Hurricane Strikes America. Odds: It's Not Nice To Bet On Mother Nature (cue lightning flash and thunder)
The other Double-Whammy-Reverse October Surprise in the list, as it would almost certainly help Democrats. Unless Bush's FEMA did a bang-up job and everyone was taken care of in a timely fashion with no screwups (Sorry, I fell out of my chair laughing there).
Reminding voters of the FEMA incompetence after Katrina is going to dampen Republican voter turnout. But this is also an externally-driven event. There's nothing either party could do to make it happen or not. And this year's hurricane season has been relatively mild. Hence the inscrutable odds.
(9) Terrorist attack on American soil. Odds: 200-to-1 (or, hopefully, even worse)
Too many possible scenarios here to list more than a few obvious examples: San Francisco gets hit by dirty bomb. American water supplies are attacked. Power grid is sabotaged in multiple places simultaneously. Attack on a chemical plant by explosives hidden in a train.
Everyone has their own nightmare about what form such an attack would take.
Some argue that this would hurt Republicans in the elections ("You haven't kept us safe!"). Others argue that it would help Republicans ("You were right about the War on Terror, please protect us!"). My guess is that it would depend on the timing. If it happened less than a week before election day, I bet it would help Republicans. If it happened any further out than that, voters might have time to reflect, and pin the blame for the attack on the Republicans.
Either way, it is horrifying to consider. And the variations are even more horrifying, but they must be acknowledged:
(9a) Terrorist attack elsewhere in the world. Odds: 150-to-1
Attack happens outside the United States. Another Madrid or London terrorist attack. Against the Vatican, for example. It's even less clear which party this would help or hurt in the elections.
(9b) Tet-style push by Iraqi insurgents. Odds: 20-to-1
Massive push by Iraqi insurgents to create so much mayhem and death in the weeks leading up to the election that it would lead the American television news every day. Picture the Tet Offensive, in Baghdad. But are the Iraqi insurgents really that media aware?
(9c) Faked Iranian attack in Iraq. Odds: 100-to-1
Massive bombing or other insurgent attack in Baghdad. Bush claims to have proof that Iran is directly involved (such proof could either be faked or authentic, and it wouldn't even matter -- because it wouldn't be discovered until after the election). Becomes casus belli for airstrikes on Iran's nuclear facilities -- see option (6).
(9d) Faked terrorist attack on American soil (Operation Northwoods lives again). Odds: 1,000,000-to-1
Serious Tinfoil Hat Brigade territory. The American government launches an attack on American soil, and then blames it on terrorists. Many already believe the 9/11 conspiracies which currently abound -- and there is that history of "Operation Northwoods" -- so I had to set odds on this one even if I don't think it's going to happen.
(10) National emergency declared (for some reason or another), midterm elections cancelled. Attorney General Gonzales, backed by the Supreme Court, announces that all congressional elections are null and void, as the President as Unitary Executive (all praise His Name) will be dictating who will be allowed to serve in Congress, due to a Presidential signing statement that, unfortunately, you can't read (for reasons of national security, and the fact that we're at war, dammit); and due to the Omniscient Power of Our Fearless Leader George W. Bush -- long may His Holy Name be revered by the loving populace. Odds: too scary to compute
If you believe this is outside the bounds of possibilities, then you didn't read enough Robert A. Heinlein as a kid (Google the name "Nehemiah Scudder" to be enlightened). Or you've never heard Sinclair Lewis' famous quote: "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
But I wouldn't advise betting on this one. After all, if it happens, betting will be highly illegal.
And so we come to the end of the final October Surprise odds list. Sorry it was so long, but I wanted it to be as comprehensive as possible.
Get your bets in before the windows slam shut!
Put your money down!
Better odds than the lottery!
[As before, feel free to propose other items, just be sure to post odds for them when you do.]