Thursday, November 30, 2006


For What Should Bush Be Investigated?

As I sorted through my old podcasts for when I was in Asia, I got to one with Bill Maher wherein he discussed the book The War Profiteers with its author Robert Greenwald. I began to think about the crimes of the administration, the incoming Democratic Congress, and what the latter should do about the former.

As the restless hordes will, a number of liberals are calling for Bush's head. I think impeachment is a self-destructive act politically, and may actually defang the Congress's real ability: to investigate the actual crimes of the administration. In politics, impeachment is just the denoument. The coup de grace is the investigation. Nixon didn't have to get impeached. DeLay had only to be indicted. A little light is death to both politicians and the acts they conduct.

(Okay, not uniformly so, as Iran-Contra demonstrates. But in any case, the investigation should be the first step, not impeachment.)

However, I think it's important to distinguish between crimes and sliminess. My suspicion--documented here and in Notes on the Atrocities--is that the White House committed a number of felonies. In some cases, we have evidence and even admissions (wiretaps, for example). There is a whole seperate class of political crimes--Rove and Bush were famous for abusing their office without overtly committing crimes. Sticking to the actual crimes, rather than getting bogged down on the he-said, she-said battle over these political crimes (arranging to have journalists paid to promote stories, say), is far more critical. We need to nail the White House for its biggest crimes, not only so that the world can finally know George W. Bush's true legacy, but to prevent future abuses.

Here's a few juicy places to start:

1. Lies in federal documents meant to deceive Congress--principally around budgets and tax cuts.

2. Iraq
  • Lies to Congress to justify the war
  • War profiteering and the links between the bush white house, donors, and private contracts
  • Torture
3. Prosecution of War on Terror
  • Torture
  • Secret Renditions
  • Wiretapping
  • Other legal issues
4. Voting irregularities (this may be more an indictment of the GOP, but the White House is part of a web--conspiracy?--who were involved in the effort)

5. Doctoring science, both in promotional material and federal reports (birth control, global warming, abortion, other environmental issues)

These are extremely grave charges. The country and future generations are owed the result of an investigation into whether or to what extent they were illegal.

An Octopus Card for Portland?

Only occasionally does a BlueOregon post of mine seem relevant here, but I think this is one of those times.

I have a suggestion for the City that Works: develop a Hong-Kong-style Octopus Card.

It is not a particularly new idea--a rechargeable, plastic card that can be used for payment on public transportation. Portland, in fact, has a version of this for street parking called the "Smart Card." But the genius of the Octopus Card is not in its technology, but its application. This is hinted at by the card's name "Octopus," which apparently arose out of the number of ways it can be used. Whereas the Smart Card is only useful for paying for parking, the Octopus card is good for all public transportation in Hong Kong: buses (city and regional), the subway, light rail, ferries, parking lots, taxicabs, the Peak tram and Lantau Island aerial tram, and--well, you get the picture, it's ubiquitous. But the uses don't stop there. Since its release almost ten years ago, retailers have started to use it as a payment alternative. It's even used as keyless entry for apartments and offices.

What makes it especially handy for users is that you don't have to insert it or swipe it, just hold it near one of the payment readers. I watched men wave their wallets and women swipe their entire handbag. When you're in a herd of commuters on the morning subway, umbrella under one arm and Starbucks in one hand, this makes things speed along. Once the computer reads your card, it displays the deducted fare and the amount remaining on the card. For consumers (and confused travelers), it's like magic.

There are advantages for the city as well. Because it's an electronic device, the cards can track where people board the subway or a bus and charge them for the actual distance they traveled. When you board a bus, for example, you wave your Octopus card on the way in and it records where you are; when you exit, it assesses a fare based on the distance you traveled.

For Tri-met, it would eliminate the cumbersome zone and transfer system. It would be possible to keep Fareless Square, but still track numbers of users and how far they travel when riding around Fareless Square. And it would also help track usage on the Streetcar and could be used to earn more revenue for those trips beyond Fareless Square (wherein people mostly stiff the city).

I have no idea how successful the Smart Card program is, but it must pale in comparison to Hong Kong's Octopus system. There are 14 million cards in circulation and 9.9 million daily transactions; 95% of the population uses one; 420 service providers accept them as payment; and they generate $3.6 billion a year in transactions. The real value, obviously, is in integration, which gets people using the cards.

Portland is positioned well to use this kind of technology. The City has already spent the money to convert parking meters, it has a broad web of public transportation, and it has a user-friendly downtown--just like Hong Kong. It would require buying more machines for buses, light rail, and the streetcar, but the benefits would outweigh the costs. I suspect retailers in Portland would, like those in Hong Kong, begin to integrate these if they became as common as they are in Hong Kong. So consider this a personal appeal to the City of Portland: bring the Octopus Card to Portland.

The only thing left is to come up with a name. RoseCard, anyone?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Frist: Done.

I'll give him half credit: earlier than anyone expected, Bill Frist announced he would not run for President in 2008. He spent his two years as Majority Leader vying for the Bush voters. Which now number seven. He did his best to look like a good ol' Christian boy and was one of the more inept Senate leaders in recent memory--proudly underperforming even Tom Daschle, whose ineptitude is now legend. His was not a shining resume:

Frist's decision came after a series of politically damaging events, including an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into allegations of insider trading for his sale of a large bloc of shares in HCA Inc., a hospital chain founded by his father and his brother. The sale was completed just weeks before the company issued an earnings estimate that failed to meet analysts' expectations, causing a drop in HCA's stock price.

Frist also has faced questions about his role on the board of a charitable foundation that paid consulting fees to some of his close political allies.

Earlier, Frist played a controversial role in the legislative drama over Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who died after her feeding tube was removed. Frist, a surgeon, publicly questioned her diagnosis after viewing a videotape of the woman, an act widely seen as a sop to religious conservatives. An autopsy later proved Frist wrong.

He would have gotten full credit had he pulled out over a year ago, when wise men recognized his level of toxicity had surpassed even the tolerance of Bush voters:
"Frist's career is over. We can quit referring to him as "contemplating a bid for the White House." He's done." (Oct 24, '05)
See, even someone as bad as I am at predicting the future saw this one coming. A pity; he would have enriched the campaign (for Dems).

Rove and "The Math"

Before elections, there's generally a lot of talk about the inaccuracy of polls (usually from those on the short end). After an election, we find out that, never mind the cell phones, polling is actually really pretty accurate. And so it was in '06:
Contrary to my own expectation, all of the poll averages of the Democratic share of the two-party vote come remarkably close to the overall average result regardless of the averaging method used [variances of .1% to .5%].... Why did the district level polls perform, on average, so much better than the "generic" vote on the national surveys? It is all about what pollsters call "measurement error," something that occurs when the question does not measure the thing we hope to measure.
Welcome to "the actual math," Karl.

Monday, November 27, 2006


What Now?

The Iraq war is still George W. Bush's balliwick. He's the President, and he controls the military, Pentagon, and affiliated agencies. Dems can pretty much play the blame game for domestic political gain, because despite winning Congress, they still have no real power. But what if they did? Both The New Republic and George Packer at the the New Yorker consider this and come to the same conclusion--they may have been wrong about the war, but that doesn't mean we should return to Kissinger's old realpolitik. The editors at the New Republic:
Many Democrats have embraced a proposal called "phased redeployment," a politically expedient way of saying immediate withdrawal. Their proposal, which calls for departures beginning in four to six months, doesn't allow the time and space for the arduous work that a political settlement requires--the kind of agreement that will ultimately allow us to leave with the least damage to the Iraqi people and our own interests. Proponents of "redeployment" might argue that the president will enact any new course as ineptly as he did before--a very reasonable fear. But, having achieved new majorities, the Democrats must use their oversight capability to ensure that this does not happen.
Packer, who also writes for TNR, is even more pointed:
The argument that Iraq would be better off on its own is a self-serving illusion that seems to offer Americans a win-win solution to a lose-lose problem. Like so much about this war, it has more to do with politics here than reality there. Such wishful thinking (reminiscent of the sweets-and-flowers variety that preceded the war) would have pernicious consequences, as the United States fails to anticipate one disaster after another in the wake of its departure: ethnic cleansing on a large scale, refugees pouring across Iraq’s borders, incursions by neighboring armies, and the slaughter of Iraqis who had joined the American project.
Believe it or not, I agree with both. The problem is that, failing a pull-out, we are left with the lose-lose situation Packer describes. He suggests bringing together factional leaders and threaten them with our not pulling out if they don't shape up. That's one element of the solution, but it's impossible to imagine a fuller answer not including the international community. NATO, the UN, a coalition of the US's selection--parties not compromised in Iraq like factional leaders or the US.

Where Packer and TNR fall down, again, is their belief that the US can solve these problems. They decry "realism" in the Kissinger mode, but until they relinquish this absurd notion that somehow it is in the US's power to "fix" Iraq, the realistic realism they seek will remain elusive.

Let's say you were the President, what would you do?

Question: which word, in common usage, now has the more negative connotation, "liberal" or "neoconservative?"

It's obviously a rhetorical question--while "liberal" isn't exactly rehabilitated, "neocon" is hazmat toxic. I doubt a single charter member will now cop to the term.

The times they are a'changin.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Returning to Reality-Based America.

I left the US on the Friday before the election, during the last gasp of Bizarro World reality. Sometime that week, in a final death rattle, Karl Rove lied to Peter Segal on NPR that, while NPR could look at their own math, he had access to "the math"--which said that the GOP would retain both houses. But maybe it wasn't a lie, or a traditional lie. The Republican Party had sold America a bill of goods, but no one was as big a buyer as ... the GOP.

I am reminded of a short story by Salman Rushdie called "The Free Radio," in which a bicycle rickshaw driver (among the poorest of India's poor), had voluntarily submitted to sterilization so that he could get the story title's thank-you gift. In poor India in the 70s, a transistor radio was inducement enough to get some men to voluntarily submit to this procedure (though not enough--eventually Indira Gandhi moved to more drastic methods). Except in this story, the lead character doesn't even get a free radio--he is left to vainly hope:
"Ram always had the rare quality of total belief in his dreams, and there were times when his faith in the imaginary radio almost took us in, so that we half-believed it was really on its way, or even that it was already there, cupped invisibly against his ear as he rode his rickshaw around the streets of the town."
But Ramani the rickshaw wallah finds it more and more difficult to keep up the fiction and nurture his own belief in the radio's imminent arrival:
"But when I saw him now, there was a new thing in his face, a strained thing, as if he were having to make a phenominal effort, which was much more tiring than driving a rickshaw ... as if all the energy of his young body was being poured into that fictional space between his ear and his hand, and he was trying to bring the radio into existence by a mighty, and possibly fatal, act of will."
That week before the election, Rove had become the rickshaw wallah, desperately trying to believe in one more fiction and make it stick. All of his boss's Congressionally-aided tenure has been this kind of conjuring: the booming economy, the successful war, the defeat of terrorists, the triump of Democracy, the belief that the people also really believed these things.

Funny thing about power. When you have it, you have the power of spin. When you also have your own media opposed my only a slightly living, slack-jawed "independent" media, you can also control the radio playlist. Payolla from top to bottom, perfect reconciliation between your policies and the triumph of your policies. For six years, the answer to this Zen koan has uniformly been "no": if a political failure happens to a Republican and people only watch Fox, has the politician really failed?

But now, three weeks after the fact, the fictions have evaporated. Maybe Karl Rove still believes his polls and thinks the GOP won, but his delusions no longer have the potency to guide public policy. Proof? The final results weren't even in before Rummy's head was rolling on the floor. Whereas two years ago, gleeful Republicans had worked their razor win into a "permanent majority" (and a number of gun-shy liberals, myself included, sick to think that it may be true), now they're looking at their isolated, hard-core membership and wondering if they'll constitute a permanent minority. They know that with Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid drafting legislation, the jig is up on bullshit lies about the glory of their policies.

I regret to have missed the fun of the aftermath of the election, but I am enjoying watching the aftermath. It is a comfort to return to a country and think that sanity may finally have returned.

[Update: Apparently my use of Rove was apt--he was delusional. Last week's Newsweek:

"He believed his "metrics" were far superior to plain old polls. Two weeks before the elections, Rove showed NEWSWEEK his magic numbers: a series of graphs and bar charts that tallied early voting and voter outreach. Both were running far higher than in 2004. In fact, Rove thought the polls were obsolete because they relied on home telephones in an age of do-not-call lists and cell phones. Based on his models, he forecast a loss of 12 to 14 seats in the House—enough to hang on to the majority. Rove placed so much faith in his figures that, after the elections, he planned to convene a panel of Republican political scientists—to study just how wrong the polls were."]

Friday, November 03, 2006



This is going to be a quicker and dirtier post than I had planned, but as an FYI, I'll be away from all media, electronic and otherwise, until Thanksgiving day. I wish I could offer you the meditation on the word "wisdom" I intended (wisdom (n) - ability to discern inner qualities and relationships; insight; good sense) . I'm off to a monastery in the Indian Himalayas, abandoning America before the elections to commemorate the 2-year anniversary of the death of a very wise man. This is different from the "wise men" who led us into war (remember when the media regularly referred to Messrs Cheney and Rumsfeld et. al. thus?). Different because ... well, that was going to be the post. Perhaps I'll write it when I get back.

In any case, hold down the country for me, will ya? Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Sully:"Sorry, Liberals Were Right, After All."

I'll admit to finding great pleasure in this admission from Andrew Sullivan:
But many, many others on the left were right about these people in power; and I was wrong. I threw some smug invective their way and, in retrospect, I am ashamed of it. Sure, I recognized my error before the last election, but that doesn't excuse it. Sure, some of it was just misunderstanding each other, in a climate of great fear, and some of it was just my arrogance that I was right. But that doesn't excuse it all either.
Apology accepted. Now, what can you do about getting the rest of the vast, right-wing conspiracy to sign on?