Wednesday, May 31, 2006

[Week of the Dead]

Death and War.

Three hundred thousand Americans died in WWII, and yet conventional wisdom holds that those lives were expended saving a far greater number. In Vietnam, the figure was 58,000, but, due to the lack of proven risk, history levels a different judgment. There is always a calculation during wartime: will the lives saved by going to war offset the loss of life, disruption, and cost of waging the war? Call the cost/benefit ratio of war. Every time countries go into armed conflicts, presumably the answer at the time was "yes." Of course, that doesn't mean it was the right answer.

Since I hit moral sentience sometime in my mid-teens (mid-Reagan administration, late cold war), I have been a pacifist. Politically, I always will be, particularly as long as I remain an American. We are so quick to go to war, with so little provocation, that pacifists at least keep open the moral alternative. However, my beliefs were shaken when the US deposed the Taliban. I saw for the first time a just war and the ouster of a deeply malevolent regime. Everything that has happened since that war has diminished the sacrifice and commitment of the soldiers and Afghanis who were participants, but it doesn't change the reality that the Taliban was objectively worse than an invasion. Judged on a cost/benefit ratio (even a moral, rather than strategic, one) the decision to invade was just.

The current debacle in Iraq illustrates the morally unjustifiable war. When judging the benefits an invasion could conceivably have brought against the costs and dangers, it was a war that should never have been conducted. Even ignorant bloggers could see that. War is death, and so the burden of proof must be high. Wars of choice, conducted by vast empires against weaker foes, should be measured against even higher standards. Exercising death just because you can is one of the most morally dubious of all actions--and in Iraq we have seen the costs.

The so-called "war on terror" ("global struggle against violent extremists," whatever) is a more difficult question. Terror networks like al Qaida are dangerous and malevolent. Taking up arms against bin Laden would trouble few. But here's where our insularity as a great empire (with a volunteer army) blinds us. The warmongers on the right have successfully brainwashed Americans into thinking of the struggle as either the proposition of war versus a kind of de facto surrender. In this prescription, most Americans opt for war.

I'm convinced we have forgotten the reality of war--it is the exercise of death to accomplish an end. If that reality were strongly in our minds, we would see the fiction of the war/surrender dichotomy. Consider a different war in which the stakes were far higher--the cold war. The reality of death was very clear to Americans confronting nuclear annihilation, and we didn't risk a hot war. The casualties were miniscule.

It's not so obvious how to handle threats as different as terrorism, Darfur, North Korea, or China. When I look at each one, though, I only see a moral argument for war in one--and it's the one place I'm certain our leaders are not considering it. We use our military like it were a diplomatic tool, forgetting that its mechanism is death. Our calibration of the cost/benefit ratio has therefore gotten out of balance.

As a pacificist, I have learned there are times when war is the least harmful course. I hope that Iraq will have the effect of reminding people that those times are very rare.
[GOP, Politics]

How GOP Demogogues Came to Eat Their Own.
dem·a·gogue (n) - a political leader who gains power by appealing to people's emotions, instincts, and prejudices in a way that is considered manipulative and dangerous.

(v) -
to elicit people's emotional and prejudicial biases on an issue
The past two weeks Tim Russert has invited Republican leaders of the House and Senate to discuss their very different versions of immigration reform. What emerged was a fascinating example of demagoguery in action. We have seen it ad nauseum over the past six years, but until immigration, we haven't seen the GOP demagogue an issue against ... the GOP. And once the partisan dynamic is removed, it becomes all the more obvious.

Here's how the two houses approached the issue. The Senate made a good faith effort to come up with workable law, and in the process produced a bill that depends on compromise from both sides. Which in fact it received in the Senate, passing 62-36, with Dems almost unanimous in support, and the GOP split down the middle. Liberals might be frustrated that it ghettoizes immigrants in a perpetual "guest worker" limbo, and conservatives, particularly bigotted ones, feel that it is too generous to "those people." But it's a real and serious problem, and that means compromise.

The House, meanwhile, demagogued the issue, creating not policy but an appeal to the worst instincts of their constituents. The House bill has zero chance of becoming law, but serves as a useful political tool for House members who all face re-election this year. They won't be punished for hard talk, but they just might if they brought home a bill the rabble, whom they've spent 12 years whipping into a froth, dislike.

Demagoguery, by its nature, is a tapestry of spin and manipulation, and can't stand up to simple logical explorations. For six years, demogogues have actually been able to push through legislation that can't stand up to simple logical exploration--tax cuts, Medicare "reform," and so on--but eventually that political ploy runs aground on the shoals of reality. The split we're seeing in the Republican Party right now is happening because the more far-sighted senators are realizing that they'd better do some governing pretty damn quick or they'll be out of power while House members are content to keep on demagoguing. It's the perfect storm created by the hyper-gerrymandered House districts that will protect most of the Republican demagogues.

(Closer to home, just as it appears a Republican may finally become governor of Oregon, his moderate candidacy is jeopardized by the entry of a far-right demogogue who can't tolerate his soft-on-abortion stance. Such candidacies have torpedoed at least two Republicans in the last 20 years.)

If you wish to listen to the broadcasts, I've discovered that iTunes has a free podcast you can download. (You don't have to have an iPod--you can listen online--and iTunes subscriptions are free.) The transcripts are here (May 21) and here (May 28). Since this post is already running a bit long, I'll include one passage from an interview in the comments as a way of illustrating demagoguery in action.

BridgePort Renovation Review

I posted a lengthy review of the new BridgePort brewery renovation over at Beervana. Oregon readers may be interested.

That is all.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

[Week of the Dead]

On Human Life.

Here's a paradox: we celebrate birth but mourn death, yet the very cause of death is, in an absolute sense, birth. In one way, no concept is clearer or more absolute than death, and yet it is almost an entirely subjective construct, a concept we relate to through deep filters of culture and religion. Put another way, how we relate to death is a religious and cultural mirror of our views of life.

I heard a story once about an observation the Dalai Lama made when he visited Thomas Merton at his monastery (I can't vouch for the story's accuracy). He noticed that the monks were very quiet and serious. It was a contrast to the Tibetan monasteries he knew, where monks were playful and laughed often. After awhile, he realized what the difference was--the view of death. Catholic monks had just one life, and so no extraneous time for levity. Buddhists, with a view of reincarnation and no sense of permanent damnation, had a more spacious sense of their days.

I understand Islam far more dimly, yet it's hard to avoid the observation that the Muslim conception of the afterlife colors this one. It could be that suicide bombing arises purely from need, and yet it seems a particular feature of Islamic terror. The IRA and Basque ETA did plenty of bombing, but all from a safe distance. (Islam also highlights peace, of course, but metaphysically, the notion of "surrender"--the translation of "Islam"--place war and peace at God's, not humankind's feet. This creates a particularl cultural relationship to death.)

So if the way a country deals with death indicates its relationship toward the value of human life, what does American culture tell us about these things? We are undeniably a Christian country, at least morally. This is odd, given our birth as an enlightenment-era country. But how else to explain our judgment-based morality? Americans value human life to the extent that they are judged to be morally (read: religiously) wholesome.

One example: of all the first-world democracies, only three allow the death penalty (the US, Japan, South Korea), and the US executes far more of its citizens. For cultures where all human life is valued equally, the idea of capital punishment is anathema. It is our culture and our view of human worthiness that permits it.

Of course, this isn't new. For centuries, Americans have stood in judgment of each other, from the witch-burners to the slavers to Pat Robertson, who judged sinners in New Orleans and explained Katrina as God's retribution. We have long been a country of judgment, and we value lives accordingly.

It is therefore no surprise that Americans were willing to sacrifice Iraqi lives to punish Saddam Hussein. Going in, we acknowledged implicitly that we were willing to sacrifice innocent life to exact this punishment. That Iraqis would suffer under such a man was evidence of their poor bearing--after all, we passed a similar test when we stood up to the Brits. If some needed to be sacrificed for the greater cause, judgment allowed it.

More evidence: our relationship to social programs is pecularly American. Everything we offer, we offer conditionally. In other Western democracies, the idea of a safety net makes good policy sense. In America, it is filtered through a lens of judgment: are the people receiving the state's dollars worthy of them? The solution to the poor policy of welfare was to limit it to two years. This wasn't a policy solution so much as a judgment: if you can't get out of poverty in two years, we judge you unworthy of further help.

More: Our drug laws. They reflect moral judgment, not policies designed to protect or heal. We punish recreational marijuana users as severly as rapists, and for the truly addicted and addled, we offer punishment rather than rehab. Speaking of rehab, our criminal code is based on punishment, and quite explicitly so. We spend a huge amount of money exacting our cultural revenge, rather than trying to address the problem. The states where judgment is more stridently a part of culture (the South, parts of the West), the more punitive the laws. We could offer rehabilitation, but criminals have morally forfeited their right. Again, judgment.

(It works the other way, too. The only way Social Security legislation passed in the first place and the only way it remains popular is that it pays out to the wealthy. While from a policy position this makes no sense, culturally, it's a no-brainer. The rich, who have paid in all their lives, deserve it. That's not policy, that's culture.)

I'll conclude this wandering exploration with the full disclosure implicit throughout: I believe in the moral (and immoral) equality of humans. The act of judgment plays to our biases, our confusion, our bigotry and belittles us as a culture. When we approach human life through generosity, we don't necessarily produce perfect law (as welfare and other failures of the Great Society demonstrated), but we at least approach law with the spirit of justice. Forgetting that, we become lax with the meaning of death, which allows us to commit the blind violence of, for example, invading another country and killing innocents. America seems sick to me; we've forgotten the value of life and therefore the meaning of justice.
[Cheney, Iraq]

"Last Throes"

One year ago today:
"The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."
--Dick Cheney, May 30, 2005
A parked car bomb hit a popular market in a Shiite area north of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 25 people and wounding 65, the Interior Ministry said. Another car bomb went off at a dealership in southern Iraq on Tuesday, killing at least 12 people and wounding 32.
--Associated Press

[Semana de los Muertos]

Week of the Dead.

Yesterday, Bush committed his annual blasphemy, mourning the dead for which he was responsible:
In this place where valor sleeps, we are reminded why America has always gone to war reluctantly, because we know the costs of war.
On the short list of things Bush knows, the cost of war is plainly absent. The meaning of death, too, seems elusive to the "party of life." While pleased to take self-righteous stands on abortion (see Ponnuru, Ramesh, "The Party of Death"), on issues like stem cells, where a "life" (the stem cell) is traded for cures to real diseases by real humans, thinking is less clear. Add war, costs of destroying the environment, and defunding life-giving medical and social programs, and it seems the GOP understands very little about death.

So rather than run a flag up the pole and exploit the dead to hide killing, as seems to be the ritual of Memorial Day, I'll spend this week visiting death, its meaning, and its causes. I sort of aspire to take it past politics and into religion, anthopology, and philosophy, but we'll see.

Along with, as always, the usual blogging.

(Incidentally, I appropriated the Mexican day of the dead--Dia de los Muertos--replacing Babelfished dia with semana. To actual Spanish speakers I request clarification--grammar, vocabulary, and syntax look good? Gracias.)

Friday, May 26, 2006


Gone Fishin'

So I had planned on doing a few more thought experiments this week, but it looks like it ain't gonna happen. (Feel free to conduct your own.) I was especially interested in playing through the effects of global warming, which is something I do fearfully on my own, anyway, but that will have to wait for another time. I'm headed out of town and won't be back until Monday late-ish.

I'll leave you with a little wisdom from Dave Lowry.
So just be glad you live in America
Just relax and be yourself
Cuz if you didn't live here in America
You'd probably live somewhere else
Ta ta!
[Tracking Numbers]

What The Media's Covering.

A month ago, I started checking Google News for various words and word combinations to see what was getting coverage in the press. This has very little to do with objective reality, but is a fascinating (to me, anyway) index of what's hot and what's not. I'll continue to update this over the coming months as we come in on the election. (For example, I'm tracking potential presidential candidates and their press to see who may be heating up, but it's far too early for it to mean anything.) Here's a first run.
________________________ 4/21_________5/25
Bush + lying
____________4,330 _______4,340
Bush + illegal
"Gas Prices"
Republican + corruption
Democrat + corruption
"health care"
And just because it caught my eye, a bonus. When I combined "Bush" and "impeach" I got exactly 911 results (down from 1,200 a month ago). Eerie, yes?

Hayden Approved 78-15.

Well, that wasn't much of a fight. Dems apparently were not as alarmed as I on Michael Hayden, with only a paltry 14 voting against. Give Arlen Specter his props--he was the sole Republican to dissent.

Dems in opposition:
Evan Bayh, Maria Cantwell, Hillary Clinton, Mark Dayton, Christopher Dodd, Byron Dorgan, Dick Durbin, Russell Feingold, Tom Harkin, Edward Kennedy, John Kerry, Robert Menéndez, Barack Obama, Ron Wyden.

I should go on a rant here, but I just don't have the energy. It is interesting to note, however, that four of five Senators with presidential hopes (italicized) voted against. Only Joe Biden voted for.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


William Jefferson Is Black.

Unless you've seen pictures of disgraced Democrat William Jefferson, you may not realize he's black. I didn't mention it in my post about him on Tuesday, and I'll bet a lot of bloggers went through the same thought process as I when thinking about whether it was a relevant detail. It went something like this: "Hmm, he's black. This is a story about corruption. Is mentioning the guy's race relevent? Is it dishonest not to mention it?" And finally, I came to the conclusion I expect many others did: "Well, if he were white, I wouldn't mention that, so why would I mention that he's black?"

Race emerges as an issue because the Congressional Black Caucus has made it one. Following the news that he had a fridge fulla dough, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi demanded that he step down from the Ways and Means Committee. This precipitated a "revolt" from the CBC:
Outraged that one of its members was being picked on even though he has not been charged with a crime, the Congressional Black Caucus had intended to issue a defiant statement against their leader but agreed after the meeting to pause, at least briefly, for reflection....

Jefferson promptly refused, calling her request “discriminatory” and “unprecedented,” and suggested that she was employing a double standard by failing to ask other lawmakers facing ethics questions to relinquish their committee assignments. Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) has come under fire for earmarks he secured through his seat on the Appropriations Committee.
This is a bad turn of events. I'm ignorant enough of inner workings of the Democratic caucus that I'm not about to defend Pelosi--she may be double-dealing here. But leveling the charge of racism is dangerous, stupid, and shortsighted. Pelosi, if she is double-dealing, is doing so because Jefferson's a horses ass who was caught on video taking a bribe. That's political radioactivity, and any leader who didn't try to run him off committees would be (appropriately) charged with political idiocy. When a guy is caught on video taking a bribe and stores the bribe, Tony Soprano-style, in foil-wrapped bricks in his freezer, you gotta cut him loose. Thems the rules of politics.

I have no idea why the CBC would try to defend Jefferson, but on the surface it appears idiotic to charge the Dems as racists. (An aide warned grimly, "
The African-American community, which overwhelmingly backs the Democratic Party, will not take this lightly. I hope she enjoys being minority leader.”) Democratic lawmakers may be charged with taking black voters for granted, for exploiting them as a political bloc, and for failing to do enough for them through sound policy. (Of course, every bloc in the Democratic Party can complain of the same thing.) But racist? That's a charge Democratic leadership shouldn't have to put up with. I decided not to make race an issue in Jefferson's corruption--the CBC should do the same thing.

[Note: post has been edited slightly.]

Potter Vs. the FBI.

There's a major story a'brewin' in my hometown (Porltand, Oregon) with major national implications. According to Tom Potter, Portland's mayor, two weeks ago an FBI agent tried to encourage a city employee to spy on the city--including on city council members--even though no one in the city was under suspicions of wrongdoing:
On Thursday, May 11, 2006, a Special Agent of the Portland Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation stopped a City employee and showed her a badge and ID. He asked if she knew any City Council members. He asked if she would be willing to pass information to him relating to people who work for the City of Portland. He said that while he had duties in other areas, the agency was always interested in information relating to white collar crime and other things.
(On a sort of unrelated note, check out the bizarre comments on the BlueOregon thread about the story.)

Hard to say what this means, but there is a long and bad history of relations between the feds and the city. Portland is one of the most liberal cities in the country (according to Google, only Madison, WI searched more often for "impeach Bush" than Stumptowners), was dubbed "Little Beirut" by Bush's dad, who found the reception less than adoring, and most tellingly, last year Mayor Potter pulled out of the FBI's joint terrorism task force. It's possible that the FBI is conducting a similar nationwide practice in major US cities, and it's possible that the FBI attention is unrelated to the politics of the city's citizens, and it's possible that this has nothing to do with the joint terrorism task force.

And it's possible I'll win the Nobel Prize for literature.

Far more plausibly, the FBI, has regressed to the bad old days when a secretive, paranoid autocrat directed his intelligence agencies to spy on political enemies. After all, the secretive, paranoid autocrat in office now has already broken the law and spied on citizens. No doubt this isn't the last story on this point.

More FBI Tales.

In the "ain't what it appears" department, ABC explains why House Speaker Denny Hastert yesterday boldly condemned the FBI's raid on the office of Democrat William Jefferson:
Federal officials say the Congressional bribery investigation now includes Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, based on information from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.

Part of the investigation involves a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the Secretary of the Interior to block a casino on an Indian reservation that would have competed with other tribes.

The letter was written shortly after a fund-raiser for Hastert at a restaurant owned by Abramoff. Abramoff and his clients contributed more than $26,000 at the time.
The implication: Hastert is more concerned about raids on his own office than on the constitutional concerns raised by the FBI raiding Jefferson's.

The story has developed substantially since this broke yesterday (and there's a Portland connection, which I'll capture in a subsequent post). Last night, the DOJ issued a one-sentence refutation of the story: "Speaker Hastert is not under investigation by the Justice Department."

Ah, but ABC isn't backing off the story. Even later last night, they stuck to their guns:
Despite a flat denial from the Department of Justice, federal law enforcement sources tonight said ABC News accurately reported that Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is "in the mix" in the FBI investigation of corruption in Congress....

ABC’s law enforcement sources said the Justice Department denial was meant only to deny that Hastert was a formal "target" or "subject" of the investigation.
Which clears everything up, right? No! The DOJ issued a second statement after midnight (EDT):
"With regard to reports suggesting that the Speaker of the House is under investigation or 'in the mix,' as stated by ABC News, I reconfirm, as stated by the Department earlier this evening, that these reports are untrue."
Denny Hastert issued this statement (.pdf), also denying the story:
“The ABC News report is absolutely untrue. As confirmed by the Justice Department, ‘Speaker Hastert is not under investigation by the Justice Department.’ We are demanding a full retraction of the ABC News story. The Speaker’s earlier statement issued today accurately reflects the facts regarding this matter.”
And that is where we stand. ABC has no further news, but I'll update the story as it evolves.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

[Global Warming]

Is Gore's Movie the Tipping Point?

I think we've turned some kind of corner here. Katie Couric has launched a new series on Today called "Today's Climate Challenge, Tomorrow's Global Opportunity." It doesn't matter that every scientist on the planet* has been warning about the massive threat of climate change; no action was going to happen until this filtered down, like the threat of meth, gay marriage, and English professors, to the mass media and into consumer culture. And there ain't no better pitch woman than Katie Couric. (Except Oprah.)

She interviewed Al Gore on the first segment today, a clip of which is available here. Al has been flogging this for over a decade, and there's something poetic about the thought that, despite his failures there and in 2000, he may be the one man with the credibility to bring the threat to the national consciousness. His movie, An Inconvenient Truth, is apparently due to appear in a theater near you soon, so we'll see. Call me tentatively hopeful.

*Not on the ExxonMobil payroll.

More Hog on Global Warming:
Challenge of the 21st Century | What About Nukes | The Fake Global Warming "Debate" | Global Warming - The Real Security Risk | The Silver Lining | Biodiesel and Alternative Fuels | The May Defense
[Bush v. Congress]

The Jefferson Raid.

In case you're not following it, the FBI raid on William Jefferson's office has produced some amazing reaction. Yesterday I mused about how the government, despite GOP "streamlining" through K Street, does actually have a pretty sturdy structure for ensuring balance in power. As an example, look at how Republican leaders in Congress have responded:
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) complained directly to President Bush yesterday about the FBI raid, while House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) predicted a constitutional showdown before the Supreme Court.
The Times picks up the narrative:

A court challenge would place all three branches of government in the fray over whether the obscure "speech and debate" clause of the Constitution, which offers some legal immunity for lawmakers in the conduct of their official duties, could be interpreted to prohibit a search by the executive branch on Congressional property.

Lawmakers and outside analysts said that while the execution of a warrant on a Congressional office might be surprising — this appears to be the first time it has happened — it fit the Bush administration's pattern of asserting broad executive authority, sometimes at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches.

Holy crap. As you would predict, the blogosphere is finding this rather provocative. I'll update this post in a moment with some of the chatter I'm seeing.

I don't know how many people read these compilations I do, but these are worth a look--insightful stuff here.

Laura Rozen: "If [Congressional leaders] concerned about alleged FBI overreach, they can haul in to testify not just FBI director Mueller, but his boss Alberto Gonzales. So what is really going on here? Perhaps a shot across the bow? Or is it panic?"

John Cole: "BWAHAHAHA. Considering the only common theme among Bush’s three nominations to the Supreme Court has been a complete and total deference to executive authority, and in Harriet’s case, a total deference to Bush, the individual, I am willing to bet this is a fight the Bush administration does not mind taking to the Supremes."

Captain Ed: "Hastert and Boehner had better reconsider this fight. Not only is it a loser legally, but it's also political suicide. They shouldn't need the Supreme Court to laugh them into oblivion to comprehend the magnitude of this mistake." [The righties for the most part are jumping on the Bush bandwagon--ignoring the implications the raid has for the Bob Neys of the world.]

TAPPED: "When push comes to shove in separation of powers cases, the executive always has the preponderance of power on its side. The only way to maintain the privileges of the Congress is for public opinion to support Congress. That's simply not going to happen in this instance because Hastert and the rest of the leadership have made it eminently clear that they're not going to keep corruption in check if left to their own devices." (Matt Yglesias)

Attaturk: "But to see the GOP step up to the plate to whine about the Constitution applying to the whole lot of Congress (again, this was after the execution of a search warrant) and the rest of us not even deserving notice that our privacy is being violated by the Government is the true outrage."
[Fire Season]

Soaking the Forests.

Over the past three days, most of the Northwest has gotten dumped on. Very good news for the upcoming fire season: two weeks ago, we had 90 degree temperatures across the state that baked the forests a month early and, sans rain, would have left them crispy and ready for the burnin'. But now, even Eastern Oregon forests have gotten a half inch or more, with forecasts for yet more rain.

(Watching the weather: further evidence that I've become an old man.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


This Streak of Bad Luck Has Got to End Soon.

Or, put another way, what's worse than worst? Fourth:
New general manager Bryan Colangelo got a huge boost in his effort to rebuild the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night, winning the NBA lottery and the No. 1 pick in next month's draft.

Portland, which had the league's worst record at 21-61, was big loser in the lottery. Despite a 25 percent chance of winning the pingpong ball drawing, the Trail Blazers slipped all the way to fourth.
I think the Red Sox curse did some kind of trans-sport, continental hopping.
[Thought Experiment]

An American Dystopia.

It is easy to think of democracy as the terminal point of civilization's development. After radical changes of the 20th Century, even persuasive. But there's nothing that says it must be so. Buddhists believe that the existence of everything is necessarily temporary (including Buddhism itself), and wouldn't find it difficult to believe that America could devolve into something other than the healthy exercise of republican democracy. As a Buddhist, I'm particularly susceptible to the notion.

So what would American backsliding look like? If we want to keep the government healthy, what should we be on the look out for? It's an interesting proposition.

When I first started to ponder this, I fell into the Nazi model, which is a pretty common cautionary tale we tell ourselves: an autocrat scares the nation with stories about internal rot and external danger and appeals to their nationalism so that they willing relinquish freedom for safety and a strong nation. It's a particularly appealing example because it has parallels with the ham-handed efforts by our current petit autocrat to employ fear and nationalism while removing civil liberties.

But this doesn't take into account homegrown realities. The structure of the US government, however badly it's been compromised by single-party rule in the current era, doesn't allow for easy shifts to tyranny. Even more serious are the challenges posed by libertarians on the right and left--from whose dead fingers any autocrat would first have to pry constitutionally-protected guns (both metaphorically and, in Montana and Kansas, literally). There's a certain percentage of the population you just can't scare into compliance.

Dubya's regime is less a tin-pot version of fascism than it is a warning sign about where democracy might really fail: among the people. Bush didn't assert his power so much as citizens (very broadly defined--voters, politicians, members of the media) ceded it. There were no great protests when we invaded Iraq. Bush was popular among two-thirds of the population, and 90% said they agreed it was the thing to do. There don't seem to be any protests now that he is spying on citizens.

An American failure will happen in the streets, first: that's where democracy resides. It appears that so long as we have paychecks, Wal-Marts, television, and the appearance of self-determination, we feel that the democracy is sound. An American dystopia would be a psuedo-democracy, where there was the appearance of democracy--voting, politicians--but where Americans had no influence over the government nor the policies lawmakers make. This is the revelation of Dubya: how close we already are to such a state. Life looks more or less like it has in the past, so who cares if Dubya scrutinizes your phone bill? The logical conclusion of these trends could be a new beast of civilization, a post-democracy. You have the freedom to work and buy, but your voice is only symbolic. But don't worry, the feds will make sure your radios are cheap.

Da Vinci Code.

I can affirm that the collective yawn by critics regarding the Da Vinci Code is well-placed. What a snoozer. Probably I was one of the last people on the planet to learn the plot: sinister Opus Dei, a shadowy cult of old men, try desperately to smash any reference to the secret of the Church: Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and bore a child. Mary, not the chalice, was the historical holy grail. Protecting this story are a separate paganistic, feminist cult known as the Knights Templar. Secret battles ensue, Tom Hanks and his bad hair are drawn in, the evil are vanquished.

But here's the thing. In order for a thriller to thrill, something has to be at stake--a damsel, the free world, something. What are we expected to believe is at stake here? The Catholic Church itself, hanging by the tenuous thread of the misbelief that Jesus was chaste, divine, and childless. Oh good lord. That thread may have been tenuous 700 years ago, but I hardly think the Church of Ratzinger can be so easily dispatched by inconvenient truths. I'm supposed to get exercised by the danger of an elaborate (if ancient) conspiracy theory? Hoy.

If the pomo 20th Century has proven anything, it's that beliefs trump reality. Ask George to tell you more.

Oh yeah, and there's also the overly sentimental direction that characterize Richie Cunningham, the overly ornamented, yet strangely flat production that characterize a Brian Grazer movie, and the awkward, inhuman dialogue that characterize an Akiva Goldsman script. I don't think the Holy See is going to feel too threatened by this.
[Dem Corruption]

What to do with William Jefferson.

Oy. Just when you're starting to get a little traction on the whole "culture of corruption" thing, a guy from your own team is filmed stuffing bags of cash (marked with dollar signs?) into the trunk of his car. It matters little that this has nothing to do with institutional practices the GOP have instituted that have turned Congress into a cash enterprise, a place where for a few quid you get a lot of pro. Everyone will recall mainly that he stored $90k of the booty in his fridge, like Tony Soprano.

If Dems are smart (which would be a first), they'd excoriate this guy and use him as a part of their effort to clean up Congress. While the GOP are going to make massive hay about how everyone's doing it, that strategy may not win votes. After all, when Americans are pissed at entrenched power and wanna throw out the bums, the party who is entrenched has a lot more to lose. But Dems have to get ahead of the story and use it as a further example of how the ruling elites in Washington sell lawmaking to the highest bidder. Using one of your own as an example of what's wrong with the system actually gains credibility.

Because the GOP are in fact corrupt, and do in fact take bags of cash to pass legislation (at the back end, of course, legally, in the form of tax cuts and other legislative kick-backs), they have a lot more to lose and will naturally try to block any reform--thus exposing the very culture of corruption they hope to conceal with a coordinated campaign aimed squarely at Jefferson-defending Dems.

So don't defend him.

[Update. Quite a lot of chatter about this. John Cole, a righty who is appalled by the corruption of his erstwhile party, has particularly insightful comments here. The FBI raided Jefferson's office in Washington, an act so baldly partisan it has freaked out even the GOP. See Avedon for some comment on this (she's satisfyingly outraged). As to my suggestion that Dems shouldn't defend Jefferson, Mark Kleiman and Kevin Drum appear to agree.]

Monday, May 22, 2006

[Thought Experiment]

Clinton Loses in 1992.

Here's a fairly uncontroversial history of politics in America over the past 25 years. Conservatives, swept into the White House with Ronald Reagan in 1980, begin to swing the pendulum of politics rightward after a half-century of liberal rule. Religious and fiscal conservatives exercise power and begin to reverse the gains of the New Deal and Great Society. The shift continues, despite a bump in the road with the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, as Congress shifts Republican in '94 and finally, all branches shift in 2002. Even the Democrats are forced to shift right, fueled by Gephardt, Clinton, Gore, and the rest of the New Democrats of the Democratic Leadership Council.

But what if Ross Perot never jumped into the election in '92? Imagine a very different campaign in which the forays of a scandal-ridden Clinton candidacy fall flat in the rebounding economy of late '92. Bush, with a more intact coalition unweakened by dual assualts, manages to parley the power of incumbency into a second term. Now, how does the story shift?

Americans were mighty pissed in '92. Twelve years of Reagan-Bush had worn them out, which was why Perot attracted so much attention in the first place. The GOP was looking worn out and tired--a conspiracy of the rich to stay rich, a bunch of old men who were out of touch with America. Bush waged war to protect his own oil profits, and Washington had the stink of corruption about it. Had he managed to stay in power, it's difficult to imagine the emergence of Newt Gingrich and the revolution of '94. Democrats may well have lost the house, but Newt's (and Limbaugh's) rhetoric wouldn't have been aimed at the "Draft-dodger in Chief."

The Democratic Party, by contrast, would have had to completely retool. The DLC, which started gaining power in the late '80s and opposed the "Dukakis Wing" of the party, managed to turn the Clinton victory into 12 years of primacy in Democratic circles, despite losing pretty much every other major election since Reagan. By sticking with Clinton moderation in 1992, the Dems inherited a platform that inadvertently corroborated Newt's hypothesis about American politics. They tried to outrace Republicans to the corporate, warrior right.

But the Reagan Revolution was near exhaustion in '92, and the election of Bush may well have sealed it. A Democratic Party on the outs for 12 years would have had to take the serious look at itself it has only just begun--another 12 years after the fact. In 1996, a Bob Dole candidacy would have looked even more catastrophic than it did--yet another old white man standing up for entrenched power and politics as usual. An energized and electrified Democratic Party, running now against Newt and Dole, might easily have won the White House, set itself up for winning back Congress two or four years later, and have a rejuvenated platform based on fiscal responsibility, the environment, and labor.

The history of American politics I began with is an unnuanced and only half-right picture--but it has become the accepted version. In 1992, it was anything but certain that the conservative generation was only gathering momentum. It is a thought experiment I've run before, and each time I come to the same conclusion. It looks to me like the great downfall of liberals was the victory of Bill Clinton. (It doesn't take great imaginative skill to see the downfall of conservatism as beginning with the "election" of George W. Bush. Ironic, no?)
[Thought Experiment Week]

A Venture Into the Hypothetical.

Maybe thanks to this horse's ass from Louisiana, maybe the news that Bush plans to cravenly start pulling troops out of Iraq in advance of the midterms--whatever, but the harsh world of reality is starting to bum me out. Seems like a fine time to try something out of the ordinary and do some thought experiments here at Hog. I've had the interns up all night on absinthe and cofffee and they have some interesting ideas. What if Al Gore had been elected? Maybe OJ didn't kill Nicole. Would Barry Bonds have broken the Babe's record unjuiced? Okay, I'll tell 'em to knock off the absinthe and we'll try it again.

Anyway, here goes nothin'...

Losing the House is a Winner for Bush.

I don't usually ponder things from the GOP side, but an article by Walter Pincus today got me thinking. It contains the usual narrative:
If Republicans retain Congress in November, Bush advisers note, he could assert that for the third straight election, the party defied historical patterns and popular predictions. Bush, they said, could advance a fresh agenda in early 2007. But they acknowledge that a House takeover by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would foreshadow a contentious final two years fending off congressional subpoenas and hostile legislation.
In fact, rather counter-intuitively, losing the House would be a huge political advantage for Bush. Let's play forward what happens if he retains it. Republicans will continue to fragment as they carve out niches to the right and left of Bush for the '08 elections. What we've seen with immigration is only a taste of coming attractions: on the economy, Bush loyalists will try to push through more tax cuts, but a newly-invigorated conservative wing will demand fiscal responsibility; Bush will try to stabilize Iraq and preserve some fragment of his legacy, but there will be big pressure from within the party to pull out; the fundie fringe will push regressive social issues on gay marriage, abortion, and stem cells, while moderates try to sound a conciliatory note. On down the line, Republicans, freed of having to combat Dems, will combat themselves.

On the other hand, if the Dems take the House, they will begin investigations into Bush's misdeeds, instantly galvanizing the GOP. The House and Senate will embark on radically different agendas, and this will temporarily mend growing GOP divisions.

In neither case will Bush be able to push through much of an agenda. But with both houses of Congress, this inaction will only highlight his futility, whereas with Dems controlling the House, each victory would be amplified. The GOP is a purely predatory party; they're great at swift-boating but piss-poor when it comes to governing. Two more years of control mean two more years of incompetence; but two years of divided rule means two years with a foe to slander. Bush, a champion divider, would do a lot better without a united Congress.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


GOP Strength Diminishing (?).

I'm going to believe it only when I see it, but hope may be seeing its first glimmer for Dems in November's midterms. To this point, the number of competitive races has been too few for Democrats to reasonably hope to take back the House--never mind what the media says about voter anger. For any kind of shift in power, we have to see reliably safe seats shift, and they haven't been--until now:
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which tracks Congressional races, increased the number of Republican seats viewed as competitive on Friday to 36 from 24, said Amy Walter, an analyst there. Democrats seem to be in increasingly good shape to pick up seats in bands of districts across Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York, as well as districts throughout Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona, New Mexico, California and Florida. Democrats need to pick up 15 Republican seats to take control.
The canary in the coalmine I'm watching is Oregon's 2nd, where Greg Walden has a seat as safe as any in the nation. Not only did he win by 46 points in 2004, but he won 11% more of the vote, at 72%, than Dubya did (61%). This year, Dems ran serious candidates and are actually taking a shot at the 2nd. If they gain any traction, it will be a persuasive indication that the GOP power is sliding.

Still way to early to tell (have a look at individual races here), but interesting. We can definitely call it a glimmer.

Friday, May 19, 2006


This is Not My Beautiful House.

Last night, at about ten after eleven, I reclined on a futon sofa upstairs in my home. (I should mention, I suppose, that this post has nothing to do with politics.) There are two skylights in that room, on either side of the roof, which cuts an angle off each side of the attic, giving it a tenty feel. I could see the oak leaves swaying in the breeze overhead.

The house is a 1925 bungalow, and it's pretty sound. I imagine that, barring earthquakes, fires, and meteors, it should be around another hundred years, easy. As I lounged, I had the distinct feeling of being a disembodied visitor to the house. It was there long before me, and presumably will be there long after me. My presence wasn't ownership so much as the strange coincidence of a number of random causes. Later, someone else will "own" it, much as many already have.

Isn't this the way of life? We imagine a more solid relationship with objects and people, feeling a psychic order to these connections. But really, it's just as easy to imagine living different, alternative lives, with different relationships and possessions. It seems my ownership of this house--which feels fortunate indeed--is purely circumstantial.

Perhaps it's just age. I remember the part of my experience devoted to possibilities was vast 20 years ago. Into each action I invested a sense that it might result in something wondrous and large. The road narrows as we go down it, and pretty soon our experience becomes more cramped. No longer do I imagine that an action may open unplanned doors; routine now saturates my action. Surely I will begin to look over my shoulder more and more as I get deeper into the second half of life, trying to make sense of the distance I've traveled.

How strange it is to be alive.

Two Symbolic Votes.

Yesterday both houses of Congress held votes on symbolic legislation--non-binding referendums that are more political statement than lawmaking. In the first vote, which passed 63-34, the Senate "Cheneyed" immigrants:
After an emotional debate fraught with symbolism, the Senate yesterday voted to make English the "national language" of the United States, declaring that no one has a right to federal communications or services in a language other than English except for those already guaranteed by law.
In the second vote, Washington Democrat Norm Dicks attached a resolution to an interior appropriations bill that said merely "global warming is an actual environmental problem." (I should note parenthetically that there's not a soul left in the country who doesn't believe this. Last week in Portland the temperature spiked to 92 degrees, shattering the old record of 86. Stories like this are legion.) Of course, it didn't pass. (Sorry, no link.)

As with so many things in Congress, the vote wasn't without its deeply surreal moment. At one point Alaska Congressman Don Young argued against global warming:
"Yes, the earth is warming--in some areas. I just read a report in the fact that Greenland is cooling."
So there you have it. Our Congress is scared of Latinos and ignorant of global warming. Makes you damn proud to be an American, doesn't it?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

[Civil Rights]

Gay Marriage Season!

Let's see, GOP increasingly despised as incompetent hate mongers, election coming ... so it must be Gay Marriage Season. And so it is.
A U.S. Senate panel advanced a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on Thursday as the committee chairman shouted "good riddance" to a Democrat who walked out of the tense session.

"If you want to leave, good riddance," The Senate Judiciary Chairman, Republican Arlen Specter, told Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold, who refused to participate because, he said, the meeting was not sufficiently open to the public.

"I've enjoyed your lecture too. See you later, Mr. Chairman," Feingold told the Pennsylvania senator before storming out of the private room where the meeting took place....

The measure passed 10-8 on a party-line vote. Specter said he voted for the amendment because he thought it should be taken up by the full Senate, even though he does not back it.
It doesn't take a mathematician to see the calculations Karl is making here.

Jon Stewart v. Ramesh Ponnuru.

The National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru has a new book out call, subtly, The Party of Death. The very serious Ponnuru is not being ironic, and the broadside is so bizarrely over-the-top that lefties have mostly ignored it. Jon Stewart decided to invite Ponnuru onto his show and Ponnuru, shockingly, accepted. What resulted should immediately be sent out to every Democratic candidate running for office this year. I'll include some excerpts below. They're a bit long, but perhaps worth it. You can watch the clip here.
STEWART: The thing that always struck me is that this is a conversation that clearly America should have openly, but doesn't. And in many respects--and I know you care very deeply about your issue--but it seems like rhetoric such as ... The Party of Death ... puts people on, I guess what I would call, the defensive.

PONNURU: I have noticed that from time to time. But look, I do think that, um, you know the (stammering), I can't really present the argument against things like abortion if I'm pretending it doesn't have something to do with death, you know. I mean, that's just part of the argument.

STEWART: Could you agree that there's maybe sanctimony on both sides?

PONNURU: Oh, absolutely. No question.

Stewart: Now ... what is the sanctimony on ... your side.
Ponnuru actually gave a reasonable answer to this--that pro-lifers play the God card--but the remarkable thing is that here he was, the author of The Party of Death, and he was arguing against his own point. Now, in that vein, watch how Stewart lulls Ponnuru into another booby trap:
STEWART: The book feels like it doesn't give credence to the idea that this is a really difficult decision that people make and that there is no real clear-cut--your thing is just flat-out clear-cut: you are a human being from the moment of conception and anything that happens from there, and from there on is immoral if it is not to the protection of that life.

PONNURU: Well, I mean there are a lot of not-quite-so-clear-cut issues that I take up in this book. Like end-of-life care issues and some of the stem cell issues as well.

STEWART: But even on those issues, it seems like it's, you're very clear-cut about, "these are all lives and the Democrats and the media disregard that."

PONNURU: And the courts, don't forget the courts.

STEWART: And the courts. And I think a lot of people would be sympathetic to these arguments if you (shrugging) ... you know what I mean?

PONNURU: Well ...

STEWART: Well, let me put it to you this way, and I apologize. The President said--let's talk about stem cells, since you don't want to talk about abortion--the President said, "I do not condone the taking of innocent life to save life. And I assume that's your position on stem-cell research.

PONNURU: Yeah, that's right.

STEWART: But couldn't you say that that was the exact justification of the Iraqi war?
What happened next was sort of interesting. There was a brief pause, and then Ramesh clarified what Stewart meant, then stammered a little, and only then did the crowd sort of tumble to what Stewart had said--responding with hoots, cheers, and laughs. As Ponnuru stammered more, it reached a crescendo that drowned him out. Ponnuru tried to dig himself out of the hole, and then Stewart hit him with the coup de grace:
PONNURU: Leaving aside this particular war, anybody who's not a pacifist is going to be confronted with the question of--

STEWART: That's not the case.

PONNURU: --is going to be confronted with the question of supporting wars that take innocent lives, right?

STEWART: No, because it's armies that fight each other. But there are civilians that have nothing to do with it who are dying by the thousands.

PONNURU: Yes, but any war involves civilian casualties.

STEWART: But this is--what they consider "collateral damage" in that war somehow is not acceptable when it might lead to a cure for Parkinsons.

PONNURU: Okay, all right, I see your point.
If that weren't enough, Ramesh compounds his difficulty by saying he was against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which brought ridicule from Stewart. It was a devestating exchange.
[Oregon Primary, Predictions]

Burnishing My Predictive Cred.

In anticipation of Tuesday's primary, I indulged in the painful game of predicting the results. Like a moth drawn to the fire, I can't help myself. So again I predicted and ... wasn't too far off. (!) In Kari Chisholm's punditology challenge, I scored an impressive 25th (of 232 insider types). Then, just before the election, I offered the following predictions (paired with actual results). In only one case was I off on the winner--the others were errors of margin.
Prediction: Kulongoski 56%, Hill 34%, Sorenson 8%
Saxton 44%, Mannix 35%, Atkinson 30%

Actual: Kulongoski 54%, Hill 29%, Sorenson 16%
Saxton 42%, Mannix 30%, Atkinson 23%

Congress, Dist 2
Prediction: Voison 37%, Davis 32%, Butcher 24%, Silver 7%
Actual: Voison 46%, Davis 27%, Butcher 10%, Silver 16%

Prediction: Wheeler 57%, Linn 43%
Sten 48%, Burdick 32%, Lister 20%
Saltzman 54%, Fritz 44%

Actual: Wheeler 70%, Linn 23%
Sten 51%, Burdick 27%, Lister 13%
Saltzman 56%, Fritz 25%

State Legislature
Prediction: Jesse Cornett 60%, Rod Monroe 40%
Actual: Jesse Cornett 49%, Rod Monroe 51%

Prediction: Ben Cannon 33%, Mary Lou Hennrich 24%, Mary Botkin, 22%
Actual: Ben Cannon 43%, Mary Lou Hennrich 27%, Mary Botkin, 12%
I may have to retire after this showing.

Slow Morning.

I'm in super-slo-mo this morning, but I can't resist quoting from this AP story about the Oregon Governor's race:

But even within their traditional constituencies, both candidates have some fences to mend. By noon on Wednesday, Kulongoski said he had already been on the phone to some of the groups that supported his closest primary challenger, former State Treasurer Jim Hill, including the major union representing state employees, the SEIU.

The union's president, Joe DiNicola, was noncommittal Wednesday, saying members had made "no decision yet as to which, if any, candidate we would endorse."

But Jeff Alworth, co-founder of the progressive blog said he suspects that traditionally Democratic groups will fall into line behind the governor, despite their well-documented frustration with some of the actions Kulongoski has championed, like reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System.

And this may be good, too, because on a wrap-up of the election I did on BlueOregon yesterday, union guys were taking me to the woodshed for calling labor a "loser" in the election.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

[Technology, Polling]

The Shift to Cell Phones.

Among pollsters, the effect of cell phones on surveys has been the subject of some speculation, if little agreement. The folks at Pew decided to look into it a little bit, and the results are quite interesting. Do a substantial number of the population use only cell phones? Do they look different from landline users? Is this affecting poll numbers? Yes, yes, and no:
A new study of the issue finds that cell-only Americans – an estimated 7%-9% of the general public – are significantly different in many ways from those reachable on a landline. They are younger, less affluent, less likely to be married or to own their home, and more liberal on many political questions.

Yet despite these differences, the absence of this group from traditional telephone surveys has only a minimal impact on the results.
The differences between three populations--landline-only users, cell phone-only users, and dual users--is rather striking. In some cases, landline- and cell phone-only users are mirror opposites (only 10% of landline users are under thirty and 41% qualify for social security, while 48% of cell-only users are under 30 and only 4% are 65+) but in other cases, they're quite similar and contrast the dual users (about a quarter of single users have college degrees, compared to 40% of dual users). Fascinating stuff. You can see the results yourself--they're a little too detailed to discuss here.

In terms of polling, there are other interesting findings. Pew researchers found that it's possible to conduct cell-phone surveys, but it presents different challenges and is more expensive. They found:
  • The response rate was 30% in the landline frame but only 20% in the cell phone frame.
  • Half of the people reached in the landline sample (50%) cooperated with the interview, compared with roughly a quarter (28%) of those reached in the cell phone sample.
  • One consequence of this is that more people reached in the cell frame turned out to be ineligible because of their age than is typically the case in a household-based landline sample.
  • Data collection costs (apart from overall study design, programming, and analysis costs) were slightly more than twice as high for the cell phone sample as for the landline sample.
Because cell-phone users have to pay for incoming calls, Pew offered them $10 for their time--and this is the reason the expense was higher. It would be interesting to see whether cell phone users' participation differed without the inducement (once offered, 86% took the ten-spot).

My guess is that for the next several years, cell phone use will have a more pronounced effect on polling as it becomes a larger proportion of the sample. There will be a time when this begins to normalize, however, as cell phone use becomes commonplace. (And, given the age of landline-only users, it ain't far off.) Over the next few years, and particularly in the lead-up to 2008, we should start checking polling methodologies to see how they're weighting cell phone use. Two years from now, based on current trends, 15% of Americans will only use a cell phone, and that will be enough to skew findings.
[Oregon Primary]

Voter Malaise.

One more post on the Oregon primary, and then it's back to our regularly-scheduled Bush bashing. One of the more revealing outcomes of yesterday's election was how few people actually participated--32% of registered voters. Oregon regularly has one of the most engaged electorates (Minnesota seems to always beat us on turnout, but we're always top five). Further, since enacting vote-by-mail, we've seen participation increase noticeably. While our midterm turnout is lower than during presidential elections, we generally approach 50%, so this is seriously off pace.

I have no real data to offer, but based on discussions and my own mood, I'd say that it is representative of the current mood of the nation. We have entered a period of sustained lassitude arising from the catastrophe of our federal government. Perhaps also from the recent bitterly polarizing presidential election. I don't know what effect this will have on November, but if the Dems have any hope of forcing the GOP out, we're going to have to do some work on getting out the vote.

Does anyone recall a time when the mood of the nation has been so ugly? During the Iran hostage crisis, maybe. I was young, but it penetrated my consciousness nevertheless. It's bad.
[Oregon Primary]

Primary Wrap-up.

With 99% of the vote in, incumbent governor Ted Kulongoski sailed to a better-than-(most)-expected win of 55% over Jim Hill (29%) and Pete Sorenson (16%). Based on what I was hearing, I predicted a 56% win. The progressives registered their protest with Pete, who doubled his polling numbers, but moderates who saw Jim Hill's campaign sliding jumped on the Kulongoski express.

Kulongoski will face Ron Saxton, who took the wood to Loren Parks Kevin Mannix 41%-30%. Jason Atkinson, running a netroots campaign with little cash, was the dollar-for-dollar winner, pulling in a hefty 23%. Kevin Mannix has never won a statewide race, and after all the scandals and dirty tricks, Oregonians let him know last night that he never will.

Losers? Loren Parks, who pretty much solely financed Mannix's campaign, just watched a half mil go down the drain. On the Dem side, unions took another drubbing--they backed Jim Hill.

In the City Council races, I was shocked by incumbent Dan Saltzman's thumping of Amanda Fritz, who got a huge amount of exposure and whom I believed would force a run-off. Nope: 58%-25%. But she's got some name recognition now, and could make some noise in the future. At the moment, Erik Sten appears to have held his seat outright. Last tally has him at 50.5%, and Ginny Burdick a woeful 27.3%. If he hangs on, he will turn Burdick into the anti-Atkinson; the candidate who got the least votes per dollar (she was the city's corporate candidate).

The race that was most heartbreaking to me was in the State Senate District 24 seat, where Jesse Cornett, whom I know and like a great deal, got beat by a tired old warhorse. By--and this is the painful part, 200 votes. He had very little time to put the campaign together and ran well against a guy who's been kicking around Oregon politics for decades. Still, 200 votes? I feel Jesse's pain.

Finally, another hotly-contested race was in the House 46th, where five pretty impressive candidates were running. Ben Cannon, a young Rhodes scholar and Portland teacher, scored a pretty hefty win, with 43% of the vote. Willamette Week-endorsed Mary Lou Hennrich got 27%. And in yet another black eye for unions, Mary Botkin, longtime union activist, got killed, drawing just 12% of the vote.

I have a few more thoughts, but this is a good start.

State results are here, Portland and Multnomah County results here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

[Oregon Primary]

Election Coverage.

The results are coming in, and are mostly unsurprising. All races are following the predictions, though some of the margins are greater than expected. Kulongoski and Saxton have it sewn up in governor, and Diane Linn was killed in the Multnomah County Chair race by Ted Wheeler.

I've been blogging the results as they come in on BlueOregon.

Bush Wedges the Right.

Every now and again, I get one right. Looks like I really got it right on immigration. Here's what I wrote during immigration week on the Hog:
This is perhaps one of the main reasons the right are so exercised by the immigration issue. As long as no legislation is on the table, it's a great issue--it unites everyone behind an opaque, fuzzy issue. But it emerges instantly as a wedge for the right when any legislation comes out because either the security hawks, the business lobby, or the isolationist/racist wing loses.
Yesterday, Bush decided to use the bully pulpit to press the immigration issue.
I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, to pay their taxes, to learn English, and to work in a job for a number of years. People who meet these conditions should be able to apply for citizenship, but approval would not be automatic, and they will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law. What I've just described is not amnesty, it is a way for those who have broken the law to pay their debt to society, and demonstrate the character that makes a good citizen.
As he often does, he used coded langauge to speak to his base--see the word "amnesty" toward the end--but last night, that was a purely defensive gesture to appease the isolationist/racist base. This morning, the reviews are in. The base? not happy. (Glenn Greenwald collected these together, and I give him many thanks for rooting through righty spleen to cull them.)

  • John "The Rocket" Hinderaker: "Apparently, he doesn't think he needs any allies. He certainly didn't win any with tonight's speech . . . . President Bush doesn't have many chances left to salvage his second term. After tonight, he might not have any."
  • Ankle Biting Pundits: "Whether he likes it or not, the president did not carve out a 'centrist' position at all. He articulated one of the two conflicting positions in this debate. And by pretending to be a 'middle grounder' I believe he cheapened his argument."
  • Mark Levin, National Review: "I didn't spend 35 years in the conservative movement for this. . . . This is pure idiocy, and it has the potential of being far more damaging to this nation than any big-government power-grab perpetrated by any previous president and Congress."
  • John Hawkins, Right Wing News: "After the speech last night, I took a look around the right side of the blogosphere to get a sense of what people thought. The reaction was probably -- oh, let's say somewhere between 75-90% negative."
I'll add one more from my own perusal. This one comes from the National Review's Corner, which for those of you not familiar, is peopled by some of the most stalwart of Bushie soldiers. Read the following comment and see if it doesn't sound exactly like what lefty bloggers have been writing for four years.
That Speech [Andrew Stuttaford]
It's hard to say what was most discouraging about the President's miserable performance last night. Was it the dishonesty (the non-amnesty amnesty, and the way that his opponents in this debate were characterized)? Was it the implicit admission of incompetence (he's only now 'discovered' that the National Guard is, apparently, needed at the border)? Was it the economic illiteracy (the idea that there is a shortage of labor)? Or was it the refusal to learn anything from Europe's disastrous 'guestworker' experience? Incredible.
Posted at 7:59 AM
Perhaps the bizarro world of George Bush has finally crashed. It seemed inevitable, though I wouldn't have guessed, even six months ago, that immigration would have been the issue to put it over the edge. A month ago? I did manage to predict it then.
[Oregon Primary]

The Pundits Predict.

Each year, Kari Chisholm, co-founder of BlueOregon (with me and Senate District 24 candidate Jesse Cornett) convenes a "Punditocracyology Challenge" among 232 various Oregon pols, wonks, hacks, and insiders (and, since I participated, outsider hanger-on wannabes). He has the results of our selections out today, which could be a barometer for tonight's results.

A couple of interesting findings cropped up. Despite relatively close polling, no one thinks Jim Hill has a shot in the gubernatorial primary against incumbent Governor Ted Kulongoski (96%-4%). In the even closer GOP primary, 71% like Ron Saxton over Kevin Mannix (26%).

In the Second Congressional, three of the four Dems look to have a shot, according to (the heavily Portlandocentric) pundits: two are tied at 31%, Chuck Butcher comes in a respectable 21%.

For locals, this will be both shocking and unsurprising. Ted Wheeler is expected to win outright over incumbent Multnomah County Chair Diane Linn by a whopping 70%. Another 22% think she can force a run-off, but only 9% (I'm rounding here) think she can win outright.

And finally, one more for locals. That Dan Saltzman/Amanda Fritz race I called close in the earlier post? Overwhelmingly (80%), pundits say Saltzman will win outright. That'd suprise me, anyway. I thought Fritz was running stronger.

Oh yeah, and Cheney's a rat bastard. (A little something for non-Oregonians.)
[Election Day]

Some Interesting Things About Today's Oregon Primary.

This is the final day in Oregon's primary--I say "final" day because we have vote-by-mail here, and every registered voter with a permanent residence (sorry indigent--your vote depends on an address!) has had a ballot for three weeks. Lollygaggers like me--and about 50% of voters--will hand-deliver our ballots tonight. But I digress. For those of you who live somewhere east of the Pacific Coast, Oregon's wee exercise may hold little interest, though there are three reasons you may like to keep your eye on CNN tonight.

2nd Congressional District
Despite what you may have heard on the West Wing, the district encompassing all of Eastern and part of Southern Oregon is not the Fourth CD, and as far as I know, Will Bailey's not on the ballot. There are four Democrats, however, who have promised to make this an interesting election. They vie today for the shot at Greg Walden, the last elephant in the state's House delegation, and a guy who has waltzed more or less unchallenged to re-election for several cycles. This is a "safe" Republican seat in all the prognostications, but if the winner of tonight's election gets some momentum, it may be a race that spells trouble for national Republicans. (My plug is for Chuck Butcher, and not just because he reads this blog. He's a good guy and I think his values would well-represent Eastern Oregon and its rural, hard-working population. Sorry, Chuck, they don't let Kremlinians vote in the 2nd CD.)

There's a real barn-burner in the Governor's race, which sadly few are following. As I write this, there are literally five candidates with credible hopes of becoming governor in 2007--though some are more credible. The moderate incumbent Dem, Ted Kulongoski, was challenged by a progressive and another moderate. The progressive's dead, but the moderate, Jim Hill, has a long shot. On the Republican side, a very ugly race will result in either the selection of Kevin Mannix, whose entire campaign has been funded by a very strange Nevadan, or Ron Saxton, a moderate whose running to the right of Mussolini in the primary. That one's neck and neck, but Saxton looks to be the man. Finally, a moderate independent who is a former Republican but who is running a liberal campaign, promises to be a major player in November. Whether he can win is still a question, but he will definitely decide the election one way or another.

Voter Owned Elections
The last bit of interest is the debut of a public-financing system for city-wide elections in Portland. The way it works is if you can get a certain number of people to write you a five dollar check (varying by race), the city gives you a pot of public cash. The system was marred slightly by a first-timer who apparently received checks from an immigrant community who didn't understand what they were donating to. On the other hand, a very credible neighborhood activist, Amanda Fritz, has used the system to challenge incumbent Dan Saltzman, and the race is too close to call.

The system is getting fine-tuned, but it has already dramatically reduced the amount of money in city elections.

Happy voting--

[Update: A few sites are covering the election in more detail: Loaded Orygun and BlueOregon already have some chatter going, and will have fairly regularly-updated news and related info.]

Monday, May 15, 2006


Bush is Listening, Media Edition

I guess it's turning into Spy Week here at Hog. Or maybe not just at Hog. Anyhoo, Bushie got his ear to the reporters' phones:

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation....

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.

It'd be stretching the truth to describe my reaction as "surprised."