Prop 1 – Not the Hospital One

I first learned the name of the big Seattle area roads and transit package at a Microsoft Hosted Forum regarding the package. Microsoft had gathered together a republican King County Council Member, the President of the Cascade Land Conservancy, the Executive Director of Transportation Choices and our Sr VP of LCA, Brad Smith. The made sure to be clear that they were talking about the Roads and Transit prop 1, and not the hospital prop 1 (apparently there are name collisions on the ballet). While this wasn’t an “all sides” group, they represented a wide span of interests who believed in the compromise as exactly that, compromise.

It seems like on the surface that no one likes this package. My more conservative friends who have been arguing for roads for a long time balk at actually have to pay for more roads. Generic liberals (I haven’t talked about prop 1 with my liberal friends) think that any roads are bad for the environment and unnecessary. Plus they will have a chance to try to get the transit package voted in without being tied to roads. The problem I have with the conservative position is that the longer they wait to approve a roads package, the more expensive it will be. They seem stuck in the “I want a pony, but I shouldn’t have to pay for it” mentality. The problem I have with the liberal position is that all they are going to do is devalue the Seattle area, by letting the problems get worse. If they truly cared about the environment, they would understand that growth happens and they are just shifting the problem to somewhere place in the region/country.

I’ve looked at the big projects involved in the package, and I have to say that the priorities seem right. Fix 520 bridge, fix the mess between 169 and 520 along 405. Get 9 better. Get light rail north and get light rail to the east side (and to Microsoft). I also don’t believe that the transit package will pass alone. After giving the finger to eastsiders, a big Seattle focused transit package isn’t going to do well.

We will have to see how this one plays out.

It's about the Issues?

As someone who enjoys watching politics (maybe in the same way that people enjoy watching car wrecks or the show Cops). I have to admit I’m annoyed with the finding discussed in a recent Science Friday piece that quick (in the ms) views of politician’s faces can enable people to predict the winner with 70% accuracy. The accuracy goes down dramatically once people know anything about the candidate.

Thought 1: Does simple face based judgement lead actually do a good job in selecting people for office?
Thought 2: If not, what sort of simple or bizarre rules could one introduce to minimize or eliminate this effect? 🙂

How will history remember Bush?

The Washington Post has a series about how Bush will be remembered:

  • He’s The Worst Ever 
    …somehow, in his first six years in office he has managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuse of power of his failed predecessors. I think there is no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history.
  • Move Over, Hoover
    Bush has two more years to leave his mark, he argued. What if there is a news flash that U.S. Special Forces have killed Osama bin Laden or that North Korea has renounced its nuclear program? What if a decade from now Iraq is a democracy and a statue of Bush is erected on Firdaus Square where that famously toppled one of Saddam Hussein once stood?
    …truth is, after six years in power and barring a couple of miracles, it’s safe to bet that Bush will be forever handcuffed to the bottom rungs of the presidential ladder. The reason: Iraq.

    His presidential library will someday be built around two accomplishments: that after 9/11, the U.S. homeland wasn’t again attacked by terrorists (knock on wood) and that he won two presidential elections, allowing him to appoint conservatives to key judicial posts. I also believe that he is an honest man and that his administration has been largely void of widespread corruption. This will help him from being portrayed as a true villain.
  • Time’s on His Side
    … Perhaps Bush can take solace in the case of Harry S. Truman, who was reviled at the end of his presidency, with approval numbers hovering around 30 percent. Too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals, Truman was saddled with an unpopular stalemate in the Korean War and accusations of corruption at home. Many saw him as a belligerent rube, too unsophisticated for the White House.

    Today, however, many historians have revised their estimate of his presidency upward. There certainly are echoes of Truman in the current carping about Bush.

    No one expects historians to be perfectly objective. But history should at least teach us humility. Time will cool today’s political passions. As years pass, more documents will be released, more insights gleaned and the broader picture of this era will be painted. Only then will we begin to see how George W. Bush fares in the pantheon of U.S. presidents.

  • At Least he’s not Nixon
    Bush has two years left in his presidency and we don’t know what they’ll hold. They may be as dismal as the first six. Future investigations may bear out many people’s worst fears about this administration’s violations of civil liberties. And it’s conceivable that the consequences of the invasion of Iraq may prove more destructive than those of Nixon’s stubborn continuation of the Vietnam War. Should those things happen, Bush will be able to lay a claim to the mantle of U.S. history’s worst president. For now, though, I’m sticking with Dick.

NIST on Electronic Voting

The NIST has released a draft white paper on electronic voting machines. Washington Post summarizes:

Paperless electronic voting machines used throughout the Washington region and much of the country “cannot be made secure,” according to draft recommendations issued this week by a federal agency that advises the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

NIST says in its report that the lack of a paper trail for each vote “is one of the main reasons behind continued questions about voting system security and diminished public confidence in elections.” The report repeats the contention of the computer security community that “a single programmer could ‘rig’ a major election.”

Fears about rigging have animated critics for years, but there has been no conclusive evidence that such fraud has occurred. Electronic voting systems have had technical problems — including unpredictable screen freezes — leaving voters wondering whether their ballots were properly recorded.

Computer scientists and others have said that the security of electronic voting systems cannot be guaranteed and that election officials should adopt systems that produce a paper record of each vote in case of a recount. The NIST report embraces that critique, introducing the concept of “software independence” in voting systems.

NIST says that voting systems should not rely on a machine’s software to provide a record of the votes cast. Some electronic voting system manufacturers have introduced models that include printers to produce a separate record of each vote — and that can be verified by a voter before leaving the machine — but such paper trails have had their own problems.

What's going on in the world

  • Seymour Hersh documents the battle in between Bush’d administration and the military branches over Iran policy.
  • Political slogans were once again turned in poor law, this time proving your citizenship for Medicaid.
  • Hadman proves the point that “conservative judges” are more idoligical then constitutional. It’s feels good to know that we haven’t lost the american system of government yet. Yes it’s easier to bypass the law when we don’t like its consequences and possibities, but that is not the America most of us cherish so much. 

Happy July 4th!

State Secrets

Henry Lanman over at slate is discussing the ramp up of the federal governments use of the state secret privledge. While it’s a fundamentally reasonable privilege, the ways it’s getting used to block investigation of possible illegal behavior is worrying. It doesn’t add confidence to learn that the original case in which the doctrine was confirmed by the Supreme Court turned out to be the Air Force using the tool not to safe guard secrets but to avoid damning proof of negligence.

Despite the burgeoning use of this privilege and the way it’s been used to gut entire cases, the most disturbing aspect of the Bush administration’s expansion of the state secrets privilege may well be this: More and more, it is invoked not in response to run-of-the-mill government negligence cases but in response to allegations of criminal conduct on the part of the government. These are not slip-and-fall cases. They are challenges to the administration’s broad new theories of unchecked executive power. By using the state secrets privilege to shut down whole lawsuits that would examine government actions before the cases even get under way, the administration avoids having to give a legal account of its behavior.

Washington Post:
The state secrets privilege was invoked about 55 times from 1954 to 2001, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and in the first four years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it was invoked 23 times.

It feels like the system is broken. The judicial branch and the legislative branches are already unable to keep up their end of the check and balances system, and yet there are some that continue to support a more powerful executive branch under the excuse of the war on terrorism?

On the other side of the coin, let’s say that legislative and judicial branches did counterbalance with the result of a weaker State Secret privilege. This may be just as bad because there really are some things that need it. The administration still hasn’t learned the lesson of the boy who cried wolf. When you abuse a powerful tool, you lose that tool.

Whenever the next scandal comes around remember there are three sins bore from it. First is the scandal itself. Second is loss of trust of our leaders and institutions. Third is the damage done to our government in the abuses of power afterwards to stop the story or limit its damage.

By claiming state secret, we have more or less confirmed the Khalid el-Masri extraordinary rendition story. These extraordinary renditions make up sin one. The loss of soft power and public trust in us doing these things is sin two. Finally weakling the State Secret power in trying to use it (ineffectively) to cover up what was done is Sin three.

Which brings back a final note: One of the more sickening aspect of republican’s current spin strategy is that it tries to assign blame of the second sin to the media and then focus on that as if the primary sin didn’t exist and that the owner of the first sin has no responsibility for the second. This is my new concept is my new term for the day; when I hear another “Why is this media printing this!” comment, I will simply remember: The Second Sin

The strategic scorecard for the US in Iraq

Here is a relativly concise and damning evaluation of the Iraq War by Anthony Cordesman of CSIS as posted on The Washington Note and linked to by Obsidian Wing:

“The Iraq War Three Years On: A Scorecard Anthony H. Cordesman

Let me preface the following points with the statement that I do not oppose the war, and that I believe we have an obligation to the Iraqi people to pursue our current strategy, to try to end the insurrection and prevent civil war, and help them create an inclusive and stable government.

I believe that we have made major advances in creating effective Iraqi forces, that the US Embassy is pursuing the best political approach it can in trying to create the government Iraq needs, and that we are making slow progress towards taking the aid process out of disastrously incompetent US hands in Washington and making Iraqis responsible for their own economic progress.

But, this should not blind us to the strategic consequences of the war to date. We may well fail in all our efforts because they came far too slowly, involved years of inept execution, and face a scale of problems that we still tend to deny. There is a real risk that Iraq will degenerate into full-scale civil war or a level of divisiveness that will paralyze or limit Iraq’s progress for years to come.

It is also clear that creating a unity government with a small Sunni minority isn’t going to stop the insurrection or risk of a major civil war during 2006, and perhaps for years to come. At best, it will take years to create a fully stable and functioning new political structure and defeat the insurgency.

As a result, I believe it is time to look quite frankly at the war in terms of how it has achieved it is original its objectives after three years, and consider what this means the need to avoid rushing into wars we do not really understand or prepare for in the future:

Objective One: Get Rid of Iraqi WMD Threat: Happened before the war. The main stated objective of the war was pointless.

Objective Two: Liberate Iraq: Security for the average Iraq is now worse, and the new political freedom is essentially freedom to vote for sectarian and ethnic divisions. Some progress to be sure, but much more limited than the Administration claims. It will be 2007-2008 at the earliest before stability can be established — if it can. We essentially used a bull to liberate a china shop, without any meaningful plan to deal with the consequences. We have tried to fix the resulting problems, but we still don’t know whether we can salvage our early mistakes.

Objective Three: End the Terrorist Threat in Iraq: There was no meaningful threat in the first place. Neo-Salafi terrorism now dominates the insurgency and is a far worse threat. Al Qaida now has serious involvement in Iraq. The impact on the region has alienated many Arabs and Muslims and has aided extremists. It has given Iran leverage that has added a new risk of Shi’ite extremism.

Objective Four: Stabilize the Gulf Region and Middle East: The war has been extremely divisive. It has created a major new source of anger against the US and new tensions over the US presence. Iran, Turkey, and neighboring Arab states have all become involved in destabilizing ways.

Objective Five: Ensure Secure Energy Exports: There have been consistently lower Iraqi exports than under Saddam. The predicted increases in Iraqi production have never occurred, and will not for years to come. There has been no meaningful renovation of oil fields and export facilities and serious further wartime disruption. The previous problems have spilled over into the other Gulf exporting states.

Objective Six: Make Iraq a Democratic Example that Transforms the Middle East: Iraq is not a model of anything. Public opinion polls in region show that our efforts at reform to date have created new Arab fears of US, and distrust of US efforts at reform in other countries.

Objective Seven: Help Iraq Become a Modern Economy: The flood of wartime, oil for food, and aid money has put tens of billions of dollars into the Iraqi economy and raised the GDP and per capita income on paper. So have record oil revenues. Even the latest US quarterly report, however, has oil not only dominating the GDP, but rising as a percentage in the future. Most new businesses are shells, starts ups or war related. Youth unemployment easily averages more than 30% nationwide and is 40-60% in the trouble Sunni areas. As yet, no meaningful sectoral reform in agriculture, state industries, or the energy sector. A shift to focused short term aid and letting the Iraqis manage more of the money may help, but largely a wasteful, highly ideological and bureaucratic failure.

In short, being a superpower is not enough. Fighting wars requires both a realistic grand strategy and the ability to implement it.

We may salvage the Iraq War on a national level, but there is little or no chance of salvaging the war in terms of our broader strategic objectives.”