Questions on Amy Ruiz

So it seems the questions about the improper hiring of Amy Ruiz constitute the most serious allegations Sam Adams is facing.

I don’t think this is something that Amy Ruiz needs to feel guilty about. It may have been her understanding that she was hired for her competence and it is even possible she is a very capable public servant. The question here is whether she was improperly hired, in spite of other better qualified candidates, because she was investigating Adams’ affair with Breedlove.

These interviews with Portland Mercury do much to set the record straight, but I don’t think answer that key question. Of course, the Mercury is engaged in a battle for their credibilty (which I think is unnecessary). The onus is on the mayor’s administration to demonstrate that Amy Ruiz wasn’t hired to stymie her ongoing investigation. At best, the mayor should apologize for what is an uncomfortably tone deaf understanding of how the hire would look in public.

Honestly, I think Amy Ruiz is as much a victim in this as Bob Ball. If the mayor asked you to take a gig as a policy planning analyst, and you thought you could be an asset to the city, wouldn’t you take the gig? The appearence of impropriety is the fault of the employer, not the employee.

Why No Republicans in the House Voted for the Stimulus

The Democrats’ fiscal stimulus package failed to garner even a single vote from the Republicans, even after President Obama met with the entire Republican caucus and invited Congressional leadership over for a post-vote cocktail party. I appreciate the genteel, almost quaint notion that negotiation between parties could be facilitated by an honest, face to face encounter, but I hope no one at the White House anticipated a different result.

Media coverage of politics, like media of coverage of sports, tends to try to place every event in the context of a personality driven narrative. Of course, this make for more interesting journalism, but if we really wanted to get a better understanding of sports or politics, we would spend less time focusing on personalities and more time focusing on the basics of how the game is played. In sports, this means that journalists tend to over-estimate the importance of easily measured, readily observed skills (PPG in basketball, W-L in baseball) that may belie their actual value. In politics, this means journalists tend to focus on the soap opera of alliances and confrontations, instead of the structural incentives facing political actors. (Incidently, it is also why baseball stat geeks and political officiandos both love Nate Silver.)

In this case, the Republicans had no incentive to vote for the fiscal stimulus package and no amount of bipartisan happy talk – or even genuine policy negotiation – was going to change their minds. For politicians, its not about meetings and cocktail parties – it’s always about their next election. This doesn’t make the Republicans evil; in fact the opposite, they are acting exactly as we would expect them to act given their situation. Their personality doesn’t even really come into it. In this case, Republicans had every incentive to vote against the bill and very few incentives to vote for the bill, regardless of it’s content or how deeply Obama gazed into their eyes. Their eyes are on 2010, when they all must face re-election.

In all likelihood, the stimulus package will have had some positive effect on the economy by next fall, but no matter how well it works it is unlikely the economy will be doing well. The question voters will be asking is, “do we give the democrats credit for improving the economy, or do we fault the democrats for not improving the economy enough?” The Republicans, I think wisely, believed that voters will choose the latter, and penalize the Democrats for having spent all this money without getting the economy back on track.

Obama wasn’t after Republican votes in the house just to stoke his bipartisan credentials. The move for Republican support was mostly about getting political cover. The stimulus is like the bailout – no matter how well designed it is, it is a necessary evil and there will be details within it that are simply bad publicity (ie, taxpayer money will go to a ridiculous sounding project). The party line vote means that no matter what happens in the next two years, if the economy is still doing poorly in fall of 2008 (as almost everyone thinks that it will, no matter what the government does) the Republicans can run against the failed Democrat [sic] Tax and Spend approach to fixing our economy. They will not own the outcome of the economy in any way, shape, or form.

The most salient political fact is that the adminstration didn’t need the Republicans and the Republicans didn’t need the administration. The fact of the matter is that the success or failure of the policy will ultimately determine it’s political impact. As a government without the need to negotiate with the minority, it simply doesn’t matter what the opposition might say – it only matters if you can produce results.

Surely, the administration are hoping to make the Republicans in the House look extreme and stubborn, and contrast Obama’s gregariousness and popularity with Mitch McConnell’s…. neither of those things. This is undoubtedly a savvy move, at least in the short term. However, political commentators and strategists – particularly those in the media – should be more clear in recognizing that power drives politics, not personalities.

Of Limited Political Utility

Of Limited Political Utility

Whether or not the package as currently constructed is well designed is a subject for another post (say, later today). As for the politics of the bailout – it’s messaging content and the efficiency of the use of political capital – I think it depends on what Obama’s strategy is going forward. If he pivots off the vote to push an aggressive agenda, while framing the Republicans as the party of thoughtless opposition, he is headed in the right direction. If he doubles down on the attempt to gain bipartisan consensus, he is headed for serious trouble.

Partisanship is an inevitable outcome of the American political system – it is a feature, not a bug. Certainly we can disagree without be disagreeable, but no one should kid themselves about the prospect for a new era of good feelings between parties. Bipartisanship is the Batting Average of politics – the only people who think it’s important are the people who don’t understand the way the game works.

UPDATE: Atrios said it best:

If I were advising the Republicans I would’ve told them to vote against the stimulus package. I would tell them to make the point clearly that if they were in charge, the bill would be a different bill. They’re a competing political party and they need to, you know, highlight the fact that their vision for America is actually different. I appreciate that members of both parties don’t always toe the line completely, but on a bill as big as this it makes perfect sense for it to play out as it did.

Of course the flip side is that Dems should’ve pushed the best plan that could pass the Senate instead of pushing some pointless fantasy about bipartisanship.

Carter Praises Obama on Mitchell Pick

This is sure to get the AIPAC crowd’s panties in a twist.

“I have total confidence in him,” Carter said of Mitchell.

“What about Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state?” Blitzer asked.

“I think she’ll comply with the policies established by the president. As will George Mitchell,” Carter replied.

Carter also said he “spent a long time with President Obama” the evening before the five living presidents met at the White House January 7.

As Rosalynn Carter and David Axelrod took notes, they talked policy, he said.

“I would say he was most interested in the Middle East because I had been to that region twice in the previous year and had met with some people that others usually don’t meet with as you probably know, Carter said.

Friend’s of Israel should realize that there is more to promoting Israel’s interests than toeing the Israeli line. We have the ability to push the Israeli government to make political choices that they have agreed need to be taken, but their political system doesn’t have the ability to allow them to make. Putting pressure on Israel and the Palestinians simultaneously changes the incentives on both sides, and is an absolutely necessary precondition to peace in the region.

I should say that my belief that Obama would take a different line on Israel than the Clinton’s would have was an important part of my support for him in the primaries and I think everything he has done thus far has vindicated that belief. It’s good to see Jimmy Carter agrees with me.

People interested in the future of the conflict should check out Prospects for Peace, a fantastic blog on the situation that always has thoughtful, pragmatic takes.

Change in Effect: Obama Gives First Presidential Interview to Al Arabiya

Lest this blogger be accused of publishing only negative stories, I want to put out a link to Obama’s interview with Arabic language news organization Al Arabiya. This was the first interview that Obama gave since become president – there is very little he could have done to signify greater respect towards the Arab world. It’s almost too much to suddenly have a President who does things the right way, but he nonetheless deserves kudos for following through on the use of public diplomacy.

The transcript itself is also a thing of beauty: Obama seems to understand its opposition to the US is based on our policies and our message. If we were to just change how we communicate our message, but that not our policies, as Bush attempted to do with high profile public diplomacy such as the debacles of Karen Hughes and Al Hurra, we won’t get anywhere with the Arab public. Obama said all the right things to demonstrate the seriousness of his commitment to engagement with the Arab world, and the reality that inevitable disagreements shouldn’t give way to conflict. He also stressed the importance of listening to the Arab world, and not just dictating terms, especially on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

Transcript is here.

Also, see a smart take from Mark Lynch. I hope he one day goes on Al Jezerra, but this is a great start.

FWIW: I also think George Mitchell is a great choice.

Adams Responds: Can’t Resign in a Recession

As if the recession has anything to do with this. Not even a good bit of political communications. I think this is incredibly weak sauce.

Apparently, so do Just Out and The Oregonian, as well as Ron Wyden. I’d be interested to see specific responses to the Ruiz and Leonard allegations and whether the attorney general’s probe on the matter will cover those issues. Recent reporting doesn’t say.

Why Sam Adams Should Resign

As you may have heard, Portland Mayor Sam Adams has gotten himself into a little bit of trouble. Adams, the openly gay mayor of this openly gay city, has admitted to lying about having a sexual relationship with Beau Breedlove. For those of you living in a cave (or not Portland, which might be worse) the two met when Breedlove was only 17, although they both claim they didn’t start having sex until after he turned 18. The scandal initially made news in 2007, when rumors surfaced that Adams’ relationship with Breedlove had more to it than the claimed “mentorship.” Adams denied these rumors until he was confronted with a story that was recently published by the alternative weekly the Willamette Weekly.

There are a lot of interesting things this scandal suggests about Portland, sexual politics in the US and gender relations. However, those things are not my area of expertise (who knew I had one?!), so instead of offering thoughts along those lines, I’d like to try to answer the question: “Should Sam Adams stay on as Portland’s mayor?”I wanted to take a few days to get to answering this question in depth, because I don’t really know much about Adams and didn’t want to jump to conclusions before hearing the whole story.

After taking some time to think it through, I’ve decided Adams should step down. The sexual relationship that Adams had with Breedlove is ethically and legally dubious, but not ultimately a political crime worth losing office for. In the course of covering up the affair, Adams allegedly committed three political crimes, all of which rise to the level of being penalized by a removal from office. Each of these allegations is worthy of investigation by the Attorney General. Although I don’t believe politicians sexual lives should be subject to public scrutiny, I believe Adams has lost the credibiilty necessary to effectively stay on as major. As tends to be the case in politics, the cover-up was much worse than the original crime.

Didnt Anyone Learn from This Guy?

Didn't Anyone Learn from This Guy?

The Willamette Week article outlining the history of the reporting on the affair, that eventually caused Adams to confess, makes three substantially sourced allegations. First, the article outlines how Adams used the rumors of the relationship to undermine a political opponent who presented a legitimate challenge to his mayor race. Bob Ball, who is also gay, and was considering his own mayor run made news in 2007 for bringing up the allegations to other Portland political players. Adams and his supporters used Ball’s mention of the allegations as a cudgel to accuse Ball of peddling smears and playing into anti-gay stereotypes. Ball was forced out of the race – although the current reporting has vindicated his initial reaction.

At the time, Adams said he was mentoring Breedlove, and both men said their relationship was just platonic. And Adams claimed Ball was engaged in a dirty tricks campaign.

“I have been the target of a nasty smear by a would-be political opponent,” wrote Adams in a Sept. 18, 2007, email released to the public. “I didn’t get into public life to allow my instinct to help others to be snuffed out by fear of sleazy misrepresentations or political manipulation.”

Would Adams have won a race against Ball if he had been honest about his indiscretions? Portland voters never had a chance to decide.

Second, the article alleges that a reporter covering the story for the Portland Mercury was hired by Adams to hush up a continuing investigation after he was elected.

Adams hired Portland Mercury City Hall reporter Amy Ruiz to be his adviser on sustainability and strategic planning. Ruiz, 28, acknowledged in a Jan. 15 interview that she has no experience in sustainability, planning or government. “This town has a million and a half urban planners, and I’m not one of them,” she says.

Ruiz’s new salary—$55,000—is substantially more than she made at The Mercury.

Mayors and city commissioners frequently hire people whose enthusiasm exceeds their experience. But it was what Ruiz had done as a reporter—or more specifically, what she had not done—that brought into question Adams’ decision to hire her.

Ruiz continued to work on the story after the rumors died down, and was rewarded with an important city job that was beyond her experience. This is perhaps the most serious allegation contained in the story: it involves bribery and cronyism. If Adams misused public funds, and gave discresion over public planning, in exchange for Ruiz’s silence he deserves to be prosecuted. An investigation should be launched into whether Amy Ruiz was improperly hired, that should look at whether other, more experienced candidates were interviewed and, if they were, why they weren’t hired.

Last, the article alleges that Adams was trying to place his associate and colleague on the City Council Randy Leonard as the Police Chief. Leonard is now calling for an investigation into the Breedlove scandal, and must see his own political future in serious jeopardy. The article alleges that Leonard spoke out in favor of Adams during the campaign and in the course of doing so, became aware of the truth of the allegations. Apparently, Leonard was willing to trade his silence for future political considerations. Perhaps, for this reason, the police union is calling for Adams resignation.

Again, neither Adams’ sexual preferences or history with Breedlove are reasons for him to step down. But if L’affaire Breedlove was unimportant enough that Portlander’s should be cool with it, Adams should have leveled with us before we elected him. And he certainly should have done so before using city funds to quiet investigations, or defamed a potential political opponent. I know little of Adams’ politics, which I think actually makes me more inclined to judge the matter fairly. That said, I find it hard to believe that Portland can’t find a similarly progressive and capable individual to fulfill our mayoral functions.

UPDATE: The story has moved a lot over the past few days. Check out The Oregonian and Willamette for ongoing updates.

UPDATE: Some more reporting on the Ruiz aspect here, here and here. Ruiz seems much better about dealing with the issue transparently than Adams has been. That said, I think there is still cause for an investigation.

Government Protections for Me, but Not For Thee

Hypocrisy is the lifeblood of the blogger. Check out this outragous clip from the HuffPo:

Three days after receiving $25 billion in federal bailout funds, Bank of America Corp. hosted a conference call with conservative activists and business officials to organize opposition to the U.S. labor community’s top legislative priority.

Participants on the October 17 call — including at least one representative from another bailout recipient, AIG — were urged to persuade their clients to send “large contributions” to groups working against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), as well as to vulnerable Senate Republicans, who could help block passage of the bill.

Bernie Marcus, the charismatic co-founder of Home Depot, led the call along with Rick Berman, an aggressive EFCA opponent and founder of the Center for Union Facts. Over the course of an hour, the two framed the legislation as an existential threat to American capitalism, or worse.

“This is the demise of a civilization,” said Marcus. “This is how a civilization disappears. I am sitting here as an elder statesman and I’m watching this happen and I don’t believe it.”

There is a recording. And it gets worse. I bank with Bank Of America and imagine there are many more progressives like me. I would join a group if an enterprising union started an organizing drive around the issue.

A Slight Constitutional Amendment

Senator Feingold has introduced a constitutional amendment to change the process of replacing Senators from an appointment by the Governor of the State to a special election process. This is a good idea, as evidenced by the current debacles in New York, and Illinois. Constitutional amendments require supermajorities, and I have no idea whether or not this idea is politically feasible, but it is a worthwhile idea.

UPDATE: Nate Silver has much, much more.

Sam Adams: All He Wanted to Do Was Breedlove

A sex scandal has erupted in Portland with hilarious cartoon names. Some of the names involved: Sam Adams, Bob Ball, Mark Merkle, Mark Weiner, and, at it’s center, a (potentially underage at the time) gay paramour Beau Breedlove. You couldn’t have come up with a better name if you tried.

Not This Guy

Not This Guy

I’m not much of a city politics bluff, so I can’t really comment on the specifics of the scandal without doing some more research, but I found this blog post to be a really useful rundown of the arguments for and against the mayor stepping down.

Here is the rundown.

This Guy

This Guy

Israel Defense Force Invades the the Blogosphere

From Haaretz (h/t Internet and Democracy Project):

The Immigrant Absorption Ministry announced on Sunday it was setting up an “army of bloggers,” to be made up of Israelis who speak a second language, to represent Israel in “anti-Zionist blogs” in English, French, Spanish and German.

The program’s first volunteer was Sandrine Pitousi, 31, from Kfar Maimon, situated five kilometers from Gaza. “I heard about the project over the radio and decided to join because I’m living in the middle of the conflict,” she said.

Before hanging up the phone prematurely following a Color Red rocket alert, Pitousi, who immigrated to Israel from France in 1993, said she had some experience with public relations from managing a production company.

“During the war, we looked for a way to contribute to the effort,” the ministry’s director general, Erez Halfon, told Haaretz. “We turned to this enormous reservoir of more than a million people with a second mother tongue.” Other languages in which bloggers are sought include Russian and Portuguese.

There is nothing ethically wrong with these kinds of efforts, but I think it shows the inevitable maturation of the blogosphere into a medium of mass communication as subject to the efforts of government and political spin masters as newspapers or television. Blogs put these grassroots efforts at a more equal footing to compete with these governmental and political efforts, and offer real possibilities to oppositional organizations that didn’t exist offline. However, any claims to the radical political potential of the internet need to be reformed to include the evolving ability of governments to adapt to the new informational environment.