August 21, 2011

The future for America's broken government

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:47 PM

Longtime readers will recall that this used to be primarily a political blog. Eventually, though, I fell victim to outrage fatigue and turned to other subjects. These days we have a different administration, but one reason I've been escaping into pop culture (for the first few posts since I started updating again) has been that my reaction to the current political situation can only be properly expressed by this Uncyclopedia page.

I'm very, very pessimistic about the political outlook for the next few years. The traditional norms that allowed Congress to function in the past have totally broken down: the Senate now requires a 60-vote supermajority for anything due to routine use of the filibuster, and as we've recently seen the Republican congress is willing to put a gun to the head of the national economy by demanding concessions before raising the debt ceiling.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is willing to use its executive authority to launch a new war in Libya, but not to unilaterally take action on the economy. Since the only stimulus the Republicans will accept is more tax cuts for the rich, we can expect that unemployment will continue to remain sky-high through 2012.

Then, Obama will lose re-election to whomever the Republicans nominate. It might be Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann. If we're lucky (!) we'll get Mitt Romney, who might be unprincipled but at least appears to be sane. The economy is by far the strongest predictor of presidential election results, and with unemployment as high as it is, the independent voters will go for the Republicans in droves. A very harmful political dynamic has taken hold whereby a minority can wholly obstruct the legislative agenda in the Senate, use this to prevent any measures that might help the economy, and take advantage of anti-incumbent sentiment to regain the majority.

So, basically, we're doomed. At the very least the next Congress needs to change the rules of the Senate to eliminate the filibuster. It could be one upside of a Republican Senate: it would not be out of character for them to remove the obstructionist tools they relied on when they were in the minority. Maybe they'd get rid of the debt ceiling as well once they were the ones spending (or more likely, cutting taxes). It would result in a lot of policies I don't like, but in the long run getting rid of both of those things would be good for the country.

If I had the power to rewrite the Constitution I'd get rid of the Senate entirely, and maybe just institute a parliamentary system, but obviously neither of those things are going to happen. Instead I'll just watch old episodes of The West Wing and imagine what it would be like to have a functional government.

July 16, 2009

Politicizing history in Texas and elsewhere

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:08 PM

Via Robert Farley, the Wall Street Journal reports on a fight over the history curriculum in Texas schools, which seems to be just a bit politically charged. For example, this proposal:

  • Replace references to America's "democratic" values with "republican" values

While this is the only one that's blatantly partisan, the conservatives on the board are also pushing to de-emphasize the contributions of women and minorities, and to get more religious content into the curriculum.

This is pretty unsurprising, and not just because it's Texas. Probably history curricula have been politicized everywhere, since the dawn of time. Recently I read a book in which the author visited a number of post-Civil-War monuments, and was disgusted at the respect accorded to various Confederate figures in the South. Which in turn reminded me of my experience learning Civil War history in a Virginia public school, where guys like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were described with a kind of heroic aura about them. There was a real effort to obscure the fact that they were fighting for a truly evil cause: I still remember that when we started the Civil War segment, the teacher explained that we might have heard that the war was over slavery, but this was a naive picture. Instead, we were told that the Civil War arose from a set of complex causes related to states' rights, such as disputes over congressionally-imposed tariffs. Later on in my education, there was a moment of realization that, wait a minute, it totally was about slavery!

And this was a good school in not-at-all-Southern Fairfax County! I can only assume that this was part of the state curriculum. And in a way it's understandable that Virginia would want to whitewash the most shameful chapter in its history, but it's not just about that. It's about white supremacists being able to put up statues of Stonewall Jackson and fly the Confederate flag in the name of their "heritage".

Another example: after living in Virginia I briefly attended a private school in Houston whose mascot was the Rebel (as in Confederate). And while I was there, there was talk of changing the mascot of this nearly all-white school. It's amazing to me the outcry that went up among students and alums, who thought this was political correctness gone wild, and couldn't see what was so offensive about naming the football team after people who fought on behalf of slavery. And of course the vast majority of them weren't racists, they just didn't think about the Civil War in moral terms, partly because of the way the Civil War is taught in the South.

But as much as I love to bash the South, this kind of thing goes on everywhere: look at how the American Revolution is taught in the U.S. versus in Britain. Or the ongoing dispute between China and Japan over Japan's whitewashing of their own war atrocities. So what Texas is doing now is just par for the course (not that it shouldn't be opposed).

November 3, 2008

2008 Election Thread

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:47 PM

I'm at an election night party tomorrow, so I'm posting the election thread tonight. I might check in on the comments via iPhone, however.

Endorsements: My support of Barack Obama is well-known to any reader of this blog so a formal endorsement at this point is unnecessary. And in the downballot races I'm generally endorsing the Democratic candidates as well. After years of failed governance, it's time to send the Republican Party into the wilderness.

I'm no longer registered in California, but I will still endorse Yes on 1, No on 4 and 8. (I haven't looked at the others.)

Predictions: Obama wins the Kerry states plus CO, FL, IA, NM, NV, OH, VA for a total of 338 electoral votes.

The Democrats pick up 7 Senate seats: AK, CO, MN, NC, NH, NM, and VA. Convicted felon Ted "Series of Tubes" Stevens loses in AK by a small margin; Norm Coleman barely holds off Al Franken in MN. In the House, the Dems pick up 30ish seats.

Races of interest:

Obviously, the presidential race, but I think the outcome is pretty certain at this point.

Of the Senate races, the aforementioned AK and MN races will be the most exciting. I'd love to see Minority Leader McConnell lose in Kentucky but it doesn't seem likely.

In the House, my own representative is Jerrold Nadler (D). I don't think he'll have much trouble getting re-elected in solidly blue Manhattan. I don't know much about him yet, though. Anyway, it was pretty funny to hear McCain say that New York City isn't "real America"; my district alone (NY-8) contains such un-American landmarks as the Statue of Liberty, the New York Stock Exchange, and the World Trade Center site.

Likewise, my previous representative, Barbara Lee of CA-9, is in a pretty safe seat. I've moved from one of the bluest counties in America to another. But one of my past residences is the location of an interesting race:

CT-4: My old district in Connecticut, home of the last House Republican in New England. As Republicans go, Chris Shays is not that bad, but we're still talking about a member of a party that enthusiastically supports torture. I'll be rooting for his opponent, the awesomely-named Jim Himes.

Meanwhile, if I can stay up late enough, there are some ballot initiatives to watch in California. Prop 8 is the big one, which would actually revoke marriage from thousands of couples. It's been close in the polls so this will give you Californians a reason to go out and vote even though the state's electoral votes aren't in question.

Tomorrow morning I'll go find out just how long the lines are to vote in Hell's Kitchen. I never had to wait very long in North Berkeley, but the population density is just slightly higher here...

Go out and vote! Then come back here and comment.

Permalink | Tags: Election 2008, Politics

October 27, 2008

Fusion research

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:31 PM

I have a confession to make: I haven't decided which party to vote for in the presidential election next week.

Of course, I phrased that statement carefully. As any regular reader of this blog knows, I long ago decided which candidate to vote for. But this month I changed my voter registration to New York from California, and here in New York there are two ways to vote for Barack Obama.

What's going on is that New York is one of the few states with an active fusion voting system. Here a political party is permitted to cross-endorse another party's candidate, so that voters can express different preferences from one of the major parties without feeling that they're throwing their votes away. So there are two lines on the ballot with Obama's name: one for the Democratic Party, and one for the Working Families Party. Similarly, John McCain's name appears three times, under the Republican, Conservative, and Independence party lines.

The result of this is that, while California's minor parties are pretty much all total crackpots, the electoral system in New York has the potential to reward serious and pragmatic third parties that align with a major party most of the time, but can withhold an endorsement in a close race and thus have an influence on the outcome.

For a while it seems that this created an effective four-party system with the Conservative Party to the right of the Republicans and the Liberal Party to the left of the Democrats. Recently (in 2002) the Liberal Party failed to qualify for the ballot (you need 50,000 votes in the gubernatorial election) and the Working Families Party became the sole progressive alternative. Meanwhile the Conservative Party is still around, and there's also the Independence Party which appears to have no ideology and seems to endorse whoever is the most mavericky, so they're backing John McCain.

So, back to my dilemma. Back in 1998 when I was first qualified to vote (having turned 18 just after the '96 election), I was only leaning Democratic. After eight years of Republican governance, I have become a staunch Democrat, and if I were still in California I'd vote a straight Dem ticket. But since I'd like to see more leadership from Dems on progressive issues, a vote on the Working Families line would help send that message.

I've thought of a compromise. I'll vote Democratic on the federal offices, since this is a year when I'm not just voting for the least bad alternative: I'm proud to be a Democrat and I have no reservations about supporting our presidential ticket. But in the elections for the state legislature, I'll vote Working Families to keep them honest. (Either way I'm voting for the same candidates--in all of the races on my ballot Working Families has endorsed the Democratic candidate.)

Permalink | Tags: Democrats, Election 2008, Politics

October 12, 2008

Arcane Gazebo's financial crisis FAQ

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:45 PM

I won't attempt to explain the financial crisis here, but I will answer a few questions that have frequently been asked of me.

Q: Why haven't you been blogging about the recent events in the financial sector (or anything else, for that matter)?

A: One reason is that I don't have a lot of insight to add over what others are already saying. On top of that, since I work in proprietary trading I'm not at liberty to talk publicly about the aspects that affect me the most. As for blogging on other topics, I'm spending a lot of time at the office, and posting to the blog from firm systems is (I believe) frowned upon in the same way that using personal e-mail accounts is.

Q: Do you still have a job?

A: Yes.

Q: What's it like starting out in the finance industry right now?

A: Sort of like you got the last ticket on a luxury cruise, and the cruise ship was the RMS Titanic. Or you moved to Tokyo just in time for a Godzilla attack.

And now, some questions that have not been asked of me but to which I have answers:

Q: What's happened to the Lehman Brothers building since they went bankrupt?

A: Since it's on the edge of Times Square, it has a big TV screen on the front that used to show attractive video of various landscapes. When Barclay's took over the building, it didn't change for a few days, and then turned into a still Barclay's logo on a hideous blue background--BSOD blue. They later figured out how to animate the logo, but it's still that awful blue and the entire block glows with the color at night.

Q: Is there a blog collecting those dumb trading floor pictures you complained about a while back?

A: Yes: Sad Guys on Trading Floors.

Q: Can you give me financial advice?

A: I think my employer would frown upon this.

Q: I work in the financial services industry. What is a good song to play at the office this week?

A: "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"

Q: Is there a bright side to all this?

A: Barack Obama is now the overwhelming favorite in the presidential election.

Q: So why haven't you been blogging about politics?

A: The political news cycle moves so fast that by the time I get home from work my commentary is redundant.

Q: What about the music blogging?

A: I've just been lame. I did catch a couple shows at Austin City Limits a couple weeks ago (Spiritualized, and Iron & Wine). And I've been listening to the new TV on the Radio album, which is excellent.

Q: Should you put a disclaimer on a post like this?

A: It should go without saying, but the opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer. I should just put that on the sidebar.

Permalink | Tags: Finance, Music, Politics

August 29, 2008

Palin in comparison

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:38 PM

Some days, not being able to post to the blog from work can be frustrating. Now that I'm home, let's talk politics.

I was not one of the 38 million people watching Obama's speech last night: I watched the speech on PBS, whose viewers weren't counted in that number. As almost everyone has said today, it was a great speech. Indeed, it so unnerved John McCain that he pulled up the wrong name on his cell phone and accidentally offered the VP slot to Sarah Palin instead of Tim Pawlenty. (To be fair, newfangled gadgets like cell phones give McCain trouble in the best of times.)

As Michael Bluth would say, "Her?" I was hoping for a more obviously and hilariously bad choice like Mitt Romney or even the ridiculously unpopular Joe Lieberman, but figured the McCain campaign was too smart to think either one was really a good idea. Palin was an option I wasn't even aware of, and I kept going back and forth on whether it was a politically shrewd move or a bizarre, impulsive mistake.

I've decided on the latter. One of the biggest themes of McCain's campaign is experience, and by picking Palin they've given up any ability to claim that experience matters. Her political resume consists of being mayor of a small town, followed by two years as governor of a small state; compared to this, Barack Obama is a senior political veteran.

The whole thing is obviously a cynical ploy to win over disaffected Hillary voters, in the apparent belief that they will vote for any candidate with ovaries regardless of whether or not they happen to oppose everything Hillary stands for (as the pro-life, ultraconservative Palin does). And yet, if the campaign really wanted to reach out to Clinton supporters with a pioneering female nominee, McCain advisor Carly Fiorina was the obvious choice. Kay Bailey Hutchison was another possibility that has been mentioned today, although she's pro-choice, and the social conservative wing of the GOP has made it clear that a pro-choice VP was not an option.

The vice-presidential debate should be interesting; all Joe Biden has to do is demonstrate that Palin is out of her league, something that should be an easy task for him given his extensive policy knowledge and skill as a debater. I would have much preferred to see him debate Lieberman or Romney, either of whom he would have utterly demolished, but this matchup will probably be worth sitting down with some popcorn.

However, Biden does have a bad habit of making offhand comments that come back to bite him (remember when he referred to Obama as "articulate"?) and it's quite likely that, at some point in the campaign, he'll get in trouble for some unfortunately-worded attack on Palin. Hopefully he'll be careful about this.

(This could be part of McCain's plan to attract Hillary voters: rather than nominating one of the experienced and qualified women in the GOP, pick a total lightweight and then accuse the Obama campaign of sexism when they point out that she's a lightweight. This plan does have its downsides, though.)

Permalink | Tags: Democrats, Election 2008, Politics, Republicans

June 20, 2008

Political advantages of name recognition

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:40 PM

When I was in high school I was a resident of Connecticut's 4th congressional district, represented then and now by Chris Shays. As Republicans go he's not that bad. Nevertheless I feel strongly compelled to support his opponent this year. Could be the name.

Permalink | Tags: Connecticut, Democrats, Politics

February 12, 2008

Today's injustices: telecom immunity and show trials

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:05 PM

As the results come in from today's Potomac Primaries, I'm very happy to see Barack Obama continue to defeat Clinton by huge margins. Meanwhile, political news today brought reminders of why this stuff matters.

We had the Senate vote to grant retroactive immunity to telecoms who participated in the warrantless wiretapping program. The Dodd/Feingold amendment, which would have held the telecoms accountable for breaking the law, was soundly rejected by a 31-67 vote. It's probably too much at this point to expect Republicans to stand up for the rule of law, but it's shameful that so many Democrats voted nay here. Once again I wonder why the increasingly useless Dianne Feinstein is one of the senators from California. Meanwhile, Obama voted for the amendment, but Clinton didn't bother to show up. I'll give her some slack since the vote wasn't close, but some leadership on this issue from her might have helped.

Meanwhile, the military is finally preparing to file charges against some of the Guantanamo detainees; they are seeking the death penalty. Parts of the article inadvertently highlight just how badly this system has gone wrong.

Col. Steven David, the chief military defense lawyer for the Guantánamo cases, who must provide detainees with military lawyers, said he did not have six lawyers available to take the cases, which the Pentagon described as a milestone in the war on terror.

In addition, he noted, a tangle of questions are unanswered in the military commission system, which has yet to begin a single trial. They include whether waterboarding constitutes torture, how statements obtained by coercion are to be handled, whether detainees may be so psychologically damaged that they may not be able to assist in their defense and exactly what the rules of the trials are to be.

The fact that any of these things are questions at all is appalling. Yes, waterboarding is torture. If this isn't obvious from a simple description of the procedure (and it should be), it's obvious from the fact that it has historically been used to torture people. No, statements obtained through torture should not be admissible as evidence. Historically, the primary use of torture has been to obtain false confessions, and there's no reason whatsoever to think this information is reliable. It's horrifying that any of this is even up for debate in this country.

Whether or not these men are guilty of the charges against them, executing them based on statements elicited through torture will not be just. That would make these military commissions no better than the show trials Stalin used against his political opponents. I can only hope that the military comes to its senses on this and gives these men a fair trial.

Meanwhile, as long as we're charging people with war crimes, let's do Donald Rumsfeld next: he personally approved the torture of these detainees.

Permalink | Tags: Politics, Senate

February 7, 2008

Mitt's parting shot

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:33 AM

I had a moment of sadness when I heard Mitt Romney was dropping out, until I was helpfully reminded that I actually dislike him, just less so than the other candidates:

Romney is speaking before CPAC right now, explaining why he's suspending his campaign, and according to advance excerpts given to the Associated Press, Romney will say:
"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror."

Classy! It's easy to get outrage fatigue with this crowd, but this kind of thing never fails to make me angry. Somehow Republicans keep getting away with labeling as "surrender" any counterterrorism approach that doesn't involve (a) knocking over random Middle Eastern countries, (b) torturing innocent people in secret prisons, and (c) massive illegal domestic surveillance programs.

On the other hand, Romney's attempt to spin his departure as a maneuver in the war on terror is actually pretty hilarious.

Permalink | Tags: Politics, Republicans

February 6, 2008

Wall Street rethinks coal

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:53 PM

Via Stoat, the Wall Street Journal reports that some major investment banks are anticipating new regulations on carbon emissions:

Citigroup Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley say they have concluded that the U.S. government will cap greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants sometime in the next few years. The banks will require utilities seeking financing for plants before then to prove the plants will be economically viable even under potentially stringent federal caps on carbon dioxide, the main man-made greenhouse gas.

I'd like to interpret this as an expectation of a Democratic victory in November, but if I remember right global warming is one of the policy areas where John McCain deviates from Republican orthodoxy. Thus it's more likely driven by his success in the primaries, making this kind of regulation more likely no matter which party wins the presidency.

This decision is driven by the political situation but I've often wondered how much the scientific consensus on global warming impacts the investment world. After all, major climate change will cause a lot of economic damage and so it seems like there's incentive for Wall Street to try to limit it. Probably, though, it's a tragedy of the commons where the marginal coal power plant brings more short term profit than long-term costs to the individual investor. (And a lot of the fossil-fuel industry's disinformation campaign on the issue is designed precisely to keep their stock prices up.)

Since I'm looking at some finance jobs, it would be nice to think that I could have a positive effect on this side of things, but in fact my skill-set seems more suited to high-frequency trading problems that don't have this kind of look-ahead.

Permalink | Tags: Energy, Politics, Science

February 4, 2008

Super Tuesday: a competitive election for once

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:24 PM

Tomorrow's Super Tuesday, so don't forget to vote (if applicable)! I think it's well-known at this point that this blog is endorsing Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. He's more progressive on policy issues, and he has an ability to inspire people that I've rarely seen in politics. He's also better positioned to make the case against John McCain, having opposed the Iraq war from the beginning—with the war as unpopular as it is now, it doesn't make sense for the Democrats to nominate someone with Clinton's record when an Iraq war opponent could make a major line of attack against the Republican nominee. Hillary isn't too bad otherwise, and I'll certainly support her in the general against McCain if she wins the nomination, but I find Obama to be better along almost all dimensions. (Plus having the presidency held by only two different families over 20+ years isn't really a good thing.)

Candidates aside, it's exciting to be involved in an election where the outcome isn't known beforehand: when I've voted in primaries before, the nominee has already been established by Iowa/New Hampshire/South Carolina, and in general elections the direction of California's electoral votes has never been in question. (Even going downballot, I live in one of the safest Democratic districts in the country.) But this time the Democratic race is far from over, and since delegates are assigned proportionally rather than winner-take-all it'll likely go on after Tuesday. So be sure to vote!

Permalink | Tags: Democrats, Election 2008, Politics

January 3, 2008

Iowa caucuses

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:51 PM

I haven't been blogging politics lately but let me just say that I'm pleased with the outcome of the Democratic caucuses in Iowa. Obama and Edwards are both candidates I really like and I'm happy to see them do well at the expense of Hillary Clinton, whom I don't like very much. (However, she'd still be vastly better than any of the Republican alternatives.) I think Edwards is unlikely to win the nomination at this point but I hope Obama can maintain his lead in the coming primaries.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the idea of a President Mike Huckabee is terrifying but since I don't think he can win the general election I'm not too worried. Better that he win the primaries rather than someone more electable but also scary like McCain. Personally I'm hoping for a Mitt Romney nomination, since he's not only the least-bad Republican in the field (still pretty bad) but would get trounced in the general election when the evangelicals stay home rather than vote for a Mormon.

Permalink | Tags: Election 2008, Politics

November 17, 2006

Party crasher

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:47 PM

This is awesome: a Fairfield University professor registered as the only member of the Connecticut for Lieberman party and promptly elected himself chairman.

According to bylaws established by Orman, anyone whose last name is Lieberman may seek the party's nomination - or any critic of the senator.

Orman seized control of the Connecticut for Lieberman Party this week after registering as its sole member and electing himself as chairman.

...

Orman said the "party" is upset that Lieberman has abandoned it and says he is an "Independent Democrat."

"I want to organize it as a group that will keep (Lieberman) accountable," Orman said. "It will be dedicated to critics, opponents, bloggers. . . . I'm just trying to carry it to the next step."

(Via Shellock.)

Permalink | Tags: Connecticut, Election 2006, Politics

November 15, 2006

Minority Whip

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:23 PM

The best line of the day is this Fark headline: "Trent Lott selected as Senate Minority Whip, because if there's one thing that Trent Lott likes, it's whipping minorities"

Permalink | Tags: Politics, Republicans, Senate

November 12, 2006

Rolling back the Military Commissions Act

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:53 PM

Now that Congress has changed hands, some of us are wondering: when can we get habeas corpus back? I'm pleased to see that Patrick Leahy is on the case:

An effort to restore habeas corpus rights for enemy combatants could be the first test of the Democrats' resolve to change course in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who is expected to become chairman, confirmed Thursday that he is drafting a bill to undo portions of a recently passed law that prevent terrorism detainees from going to federal court to challenge the government's right to hold them indefinitely.


(Via Unfogged.) Realistically, the earliest something like this could get passed is 2009. Bush can be expected to veto anything that reinstates habeas, and before reaching his desk any bill would have to pass a Senate whose median vote is the pro-torture, anti-habeas Joe Lieberman. Still, it's good that Leahy is working on this.

Permalink | Tags: Democrats, Politics, Senate

October 3, 2006

Think of the children!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:51 PM

It's one of those times when the boundary between real life and political satire collapses. NRCC chairman Tom Reynolds holds a press conference and, to avoid explicit questions about the Mark Foley scandal, brings along a group of small children.

Reporter: Congressman, do you mind asking the children to leave the room so we can have a frank discussion of this, because it's an adult topic. It just doesn't seem appropriate to me.

Reynolds: I'll take your questions, but I'm not going to ask any of my supporters to leave.


I find this equal parts pathetic and hilarious. I particularly love the way he refers to them as his "supporters". Will the Daily Show cover it, or would that be redundant?

Permalink | Tags: Politics, Republicans

September 28, 2006

They'll have to change the Harvey Birdman song

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:46 PM

In 2004 I was critical of liberals who declared their intention to leave the country if Bush was re-elected. However, recent developments have made me see it in a different light—there is something to be said for living in a country where habeas corpus rights are still respected. Note that Canada is not quite far enough away.

Senator Russ Feingold:

One of the most disturbing provisions of this bill eliminates the right of habeas corpus for those detained as enemy combatants. I support an amendment by Senator Specter to strike that provision from the bill. I ask unanimous consent that my separate statement on that amendment be put in the record at the appropriate point.

Habeas corpus is a fundamental recognition that in America, the government does not have the power to detain people indefinitely and arbitrarily. And that in America, the courts must have the power to review the legality of executive detention decisions.

Habeas corpus is a longstanding vital part of our American tradition, and is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

As a group of retired judges wrote to Congress, habeas corpus “safeguards the most hallowed judicial role in our constitutional democracy – ensuring that no man is imprisoned unlawfully.”

Mr. President, this bill would fundamentally alter that historical equation. Faced with an executive branch that has detained hundreds of people without trial for years now, it would eliminate the right of habeas corpus.


However, Specter's amendment failed 48-51. If "enemy combatants" don't have habeas corpus then nobody does, because there's no way for you to contest your classification as an "enemy combatant". Welcome to 21st century America, where we do not have the legal protections enjoyed by 14th century English peasants.

Meanwhile, the torture bill passed the House 253-168. The lists of the 168 Representatives and the 253 America-hating supporters of tyranny can be found here.

UPDATE: Senate bill passes 65-34, which is a wider margin than I expected and underscores the lack of Democratic spine on this issue. The roll call is here.

Permalink | Tags: House of Representatives, Politics, Republicans, Senate

September 26, 2006

I have had it with these motherfucking snakes in this motherfucking Congress

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:06 PM

I haven't blogged much about the torture legalization bill that Bush is trying to get passed, but it's really pretty frightening. On top of making torture the official policy of the United States, it also tosses out habeas corpus for detainees, so the President can abduct someone and torture them in a secret prison, without having to provide any justification. Bush is already doing this illegally, but instead of exercising their ability to hold the President accountable, Congressional Republicans are rushing to give up their power to a lawless executive. Look, if representative democracy is too hard for these guys, and they'd rather live in a dictatorship, maybe they're in the wrong line of work.

As I understand it, the original rationale for denying habeas rights to enemy combatants was the impracticality of providing due process to prisoners of war captured on a battlefield. The Bush administration has already undermined this by applying "enemy combatant" status to detainees who had no actual involvement in combat, such as Jose Padilla. Kevin Drum has the latest amendment to the torture legalization bill, which makes this official by redefining "enemy combatant" to include people who have "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States". So under this bill the president can accuse someone of supporting terrorists, have him arrested, detained in a secret prison, and tortured, without ever having to provide evidence against him. Of course this is grossly unconstitutional, but there's also a provision that bars courts from reviewing the constitutionality of these procedures.

I can't get over the fact that we as a country are about to legalize torture and arbitrary imprisonment. I thought America was better than this.

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, House of Representatives, Politics, Republicans, Senate

August 8, 2006

Nedrenaline!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:27 PM

Ned Lamont is the Democratic nominee for senator from Connecticut. I'm sure it was this blog's endorsement that pushed him over the edge.

My guess is that Lamont wins the general, since both the Republicans and Lieberman have been so inept.

Nutmeggers, any thoughts?

Permalink | Tags: Connecticut, Democrats, Election 2006, Politics, Senate

July 25, 2006

Mars, bitches!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:32 AM

Politics is everything with the Bush Administration, and in the latest effort to bring the government in line with the new political correctness, we have:

Earth dropped from NASA mission statement

NASA has reportedly eliminated the promise "to understand and protect our home planet" from its mission statement.

That statement was repeatedly cited last winter by NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who said he was being threatened by political appointees for speaking about the dangers posed by greenhouse gas emissions.

But NASA officials told The New York Times the elimination of the phrase that was used by Hansen was "pure coincidence." The statement now proclaims the agency's mission is "to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research."


I suspect the change is not directly related to Hansen, but rather, as the article mentions,
One observer noted results from NASA's increasing involvement in monitoring the Earth's environment have sparked political disputes concerning the Bush administration's environmental policies.

In other words, it's part of the "ignore it and maybe it'll go away" approach to global warming. (Via Warren Ellis.)

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, Politics, Science, Space

July 24, 2006

Santorum on scientists

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:51 PM

Relatively few scientists are Republicans, but there are days when I wonder why there are any at all. Here's a quote from the reliably asinine Rick Santorum:

“[M]ost scientists unfortunately, those that certainly are advocating for this [embryonic stem cell research], and many others feel very little moral compulsion. It’s a utilitarian, materialistic view of doing whatever they can do to pursue their desired goals.”

I'm used to hearing that atheists are amoral, but hearing this said about scientists is new to me. Well, maybe Santorum doesn't think there's much of a difference. However, it's a pretty sure bet that scientists have a higher approval rating than he does at the moment.

(Via Rob Knop via Mixed States.)

Permalink | Tags: Politics, Republicans, Science, Senate

July 20, 2006

Another episode of life/Onion convergence

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:50 AM

I picked up the latest Onion this morning and noted the front-page story:

Scratch 'N Win Ballots To Debut In November
WASHINGTON, DC—In an effort to increase voter participation while generating additional revenue, several state election boards announced plans Monday to introduce new Scratch 'N Win ballots in November, giving citizens the chance to win the right to vote in the 2006 elections.

The ballots, which will retail for $1 and go on sale the morning of Nov. 7, are small three- by two-inch cards with a "prize area" obscured by a thin silver coating. Voters will scratch off this area and can win by matching three vote amounts, which will range from one to 1 million.


Ha ha! What a surreal and implausible notion! Then I stopped by Marginal Revolution and thereby found this USA Today article:
Voting for dollars?
North of the border one of Mexico's U.S. neighbors is weighing a novel way to get more citizens to participate in the democratic process: Offer them a chance at winning $1 million.

In an effort to improve voter turnout in Arizona, Tucson political activist Mark Osterloh gathered more than 185,000 signatures to put his Arizona Voter Reward Act on the state ballot this November as Proposition 200.

If Arizona's voters approved, one lucky voter would win a million bucks, financed by unclaimed prize money from the state's existing lottery. Citizens would qualify by voting in the primary or general election; vote in both and they'd be entered twice. Osterloh's slogan: "Who wants to be a millionaire? Vote."


It's really sort of the converse of the satire piece, but still, the Onion writers need to work harder to keep ahead of the silliness of actual news.

Permalink | Tags: Culture, Politics

July 19, 2006

Bush vetoes stem-cell bill

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:37 PM

What an asshole. He finally locates his veto stamp halfway through his second term—I'm guessing he was carrying it around in his ass like the watch in Pulp Fiction—and he uses it to crush the hopes of people suffering from illness, all in the name of a completely incoherent claim about morality. (Not to mention the damage to scientific research in the U.S., but in that area it's just the latest in a long line of offenses.) The description of the event makes me physically ill. From the CNN article:

Attending the White House event were a group of families with children who were born from "adopted" frozen embryos that had been left unused at fertility clinics.

"These boys and girls are not spare parts," he said of the children in the audience. "They remind us of what is lost when embryos are destroyed in the name of research. They remind us that we all begin our lives as a small collection of cells."


All this does is emphasize the total incoherence of Bush's position. Unused embryos are destroyed all the time at fertility clinics. If Bush really believed what he claims to believe here, he'd close all these clinics down. It's certainly good that he's not doing that, but it means that this veto isn't a principled moral stand but a crass sell-out. Fuck you, Bush.

Democrats should make sure no one forgets about this veto. Stem-cell research is very popular and any Republican who opposed this bill should never hear the end of it. I can't say I'll be surprised if the Dems don't take advantage of this opportunity, but I can always hope.

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, George W. Bush, Politics, Science

July 18, 2006

Has Bush completely lost it?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:25 PM

Seriously, there's no way I can keep up with the President's ridiculousness over the last few days. Besides telling Putin that Russia should emulate the flourishing democracy in Iraq, there was the bizarre press conference about the pig, and then talking to Blair with the mike on, and now he's groping the German chancellor.

WTF? Is he drunk? Is this some extension of the madman theory of international relations? Or is it some deep strategy in the War on Terror: if representatives of the U.S. act like total clowns at international summits, the terrorists will decide we aren't worth attacking?

Even his dad had more dignity when he was vomiting on the Japanese prime minister.

Permalink | Tags: George W. Bush, Politics, World

July 13, 2006

The new Bush Doctrine: Infallibility

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:58 AM

Where does George W. Bush find these people? Here we have Stephen Bradbury, Acting Deputy Attorney General, explaining his views on constitutional law:

BRADBURY: The President is always right.

People who believe that should be barred from holding public office, no matter which president they're talking about—but especially if the president in question is GWB. (Via Atrios)

UPDATE: Fafblog returns just in time to provide the definitive word on this doctrine. Giblets:

That's why George W. Bush has to take this case to the highester court in the land: the court of George W. Bush. It's a tough bench alright, but Bush can win this one as long as he exercises his constitutional right to ignore the Constitution. The legal technicalities are pretty complicated but Giblets believes it involves filing a writ of neener neener according to the precedent of I Can't Hear You v. I'm Not Listening.

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, Politics, Senate

July 12, 2006

Connecticut Senate Race: WTF?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:51 PM

I don't think I've blogged about the Connecticut Senate race, which is odd since I usually claim to be from that state. But it will probably not come as a surprise that I'm delighted to see Ned Lamont put up a serious primary challenge to Joe Lieberman. I've disliked Lieberman since back in the '90s when he was condemning video games as agents of moral decay. He's always struck me as someone who just wants the damn kids off his lawn. But what really made me think it's time for him to go was last year when he chastised his fellow Democrats for criticizing Bush, appealing to the extremely un-American notion that the commander-in-chief should have unconditional support during wartime. This statement made it clear that Lieberman has forgotten what his job is as a senator, and indeed as a citizen in a democracy.

There are also lots of secondary reasons, like Lieberman's vote for cloture on Alito, that reinforce my conviction that Lamont would be a much better senator. So I know how I'd be voting if I still lived in the Nutmeg State. However, I am somewhat sympathetic to the one reasonable counterargument, the idea that it might be a bad idea strategically to have this primary fight, because it means that what was a safe Democratic seat is now a possible loss in the general election, especially with Lieberman's decision to run as an independent in case he loses the primary. There are a couple ways the Dems could lose the seat: either Lieberman could win the general as an independent (with a grudge against the Democratic base), or (less probably) Lieberman and Lamont could split the vote in a way that allows the Republican candidate to win the seat. So far Lieberman has been campaigning in such a completely inept fashion that it's tempting to imagine he would make an extremely poor showing without backing of the party, but the incumbent advantage is doubtless considerable.

But now the race is getting weird, because there's a fourth candidate entering: Diana Urban, an anti-war Republican from the state Assembly, is preparing to make a Senate run as an independent. How this changes the strategic considerations I don't know, but it definitely makes things more interesting.

Permalink | Tags: Connecticut, Politics, Senate

July 4, 2006

Independence Day

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:51 PM

I've seen this on a couple blogs already, but it's so good I want to repost it. Frederick Douglass in 1852:

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy--a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the every-day practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival....

Fellow-citizens, I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing and a byword to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement; the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice....

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country.... While drawing encouragement from the "Declaration of Independence," the great principles it contains and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference.... A change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe.... Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are distinctly heard on the other.... No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light.

Permalink | Tags: Culture, History, Politics

June 29, 2006

Why I love Berkeley

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:10 PM

Sure, this is completely futile, but that's part of the charm:

With overwhelming support from Berkeley residents, the Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night to be the first jurisdiction in the United States to let the public vote for the President's impeachment. The measure will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot, at a cost of about $10,000.

The measure alleges that the administration violated the Constitution with illegal domestic spying, justified the Iraq war with fraudulent claims and illegally tortured citizens. San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz and dozens of other cities have already passed council resolutions urging impeachment but none has gone as far as Berkeley.


Critics may be right that this is not terribly productive, but it sure will be fun to punch "yes" on this in November. On the other hand, who knows how my vote will actually get recorded—we use Diebold touch-screen voting machines.

Permalink | Tags: Berkeley, Bush Administration, California, Politics

June 20, 2006

Vaporware watch: The Duke Nukem Forever list

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:09 PM

If you read Kotaku this is last week's news, but someone has compiled an amusing list of things that have happened since Duke Nukem Forever was announced. (For the non-gamers in the audience, this is a PC game that was announced nine years ago and is still in development.) They start with video games (75 Mega Man games, I assume that counts remakes) and proceed to more general categories, e.g.:

Movies that were filmed, released in theatres, and have made it to DVD:

Also note the occasional liberal bias. ("The national minimum wage has remained $5.15.")
Permalink | Tags: Games, Lists, Politics

June 13, 2006

Politics roundup: flightsuit optional

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:45 PM

I think my brain is still in vacation mode, since I haven't been able to come up with any deep thoughts for the blog. I have a bunch of stuff to review which I'll try to post tonight. Meanwhile, I haven't done a political post for a while, so here are a few items.


Anything else I should have mentioned?

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, California, Iraq, Politics

May 24, 2006

I hear he's retaining Sebben & Sebben

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:30 PM

This is hilarious: Tom DeLay is citing a Stephen Colbert interview in his own defense in letters from his legal fund. DeLay may want to consider hiring people who are as observant and attuned to subtle irony as, say, President Bush, who at least got the joke when Colbert was making fun of him. (Via Crooked Timber.)

Permalink | Tags: House of Representatives, Politics, Republicans

April 26, 2006

I don't even have a sock drawer!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:07 PM

There were a ton of LaRouche disciples on campus yesterday, with their card tables set up in Sproul Plaza and huge stacks of LaRouche literature to hand out. At one point I think there was some kind of LaRouchie a capella performance. What's up with this? Is it a big recruitment drive? (There are always a few hanging around but this was far more than usual.) It's not well timed on their part since this week is also ASUC elections, and the campus is already crammed with placard-bearing students who want to annoy you about politics. The LaRouchies are nearly lost in the crowd. Fortunately, there are a number of secluded pathways through campus for those of us who merely want to walk to lunch unmolested.

I've always wondered where LaRouche manages to find all these intense, aggressive young people that are always shouting from their card tables. They're very passionate about a guy who is obviously batshit insane. (Dave Barry once remarked: "Where you have a brain, Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., has a Whack-a-Mole game.") I'm guessing they snap up gullible college freshmen and indoctrinate them early, hence this big campus appearance. They've also been capitalizing on anti-Bush sentiment, although they seem especially obsessed with Dick Cheney (maybe he figures in the grand LaRouche conspiracy theory).

Ideally the LaRouchies and the ASUC campaign people will end up shouting at each other, and the rest of us can slip by unnoticed.

Permalink | Tags: Berkeley, Politics, Psychoceramics

April 12, 2006

The many faces of John McCain

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:14 PM

I'm not convinced by Jacob Weisberg's argument that John McCain's not really a conservative. The idea seems to be that, sure, if you look at his voting record he's an ultraconservative, but if you look at his offhand comments you see that in his heart he's really a progressive. He just has to throw a little red meat to the base every once in a while, consisting of almost every vote he's ever made in his Senate career.

Even if he does have more liberal personal views than his voting record indicates, it's the votes that actually matter. The fact that he'll make moderate statements about abortion or gay rights doesn't do a lot of good when he's voting the other way. The only way this argument could work is if there's reason to expect him to be more moderate as president. But the political pressure from the Republican base doesn't go away the day after the election—just look at the trouble Bush got into with Harriet Myers. In fact, there's no reason whatsoever to think McCain would make policy differently as President than he does as Senator.

Let's consider the reverse hypothesis: McCain is actually an ultraconservative, but is trying to play to the moderate center in order to boost his presidential prospects. This actually explains the data better—the meaningless public statements placate moderates, while the ultimate policy decisions are still very right-wing. Now, I'm sure there is still some calculation going on in his recent appeals to the religious conservatives; no one as intelligent as McCain is going to view Jerry Falwell as anything other than loathsome. But in fact Falwell is so loathsome that cozying up to him goes beyond just political calculation: it's just plain unprincipled. I'll pass, thanks.

Permalink | Tags: Politics, Republicans, Senate

April 3, 2006

And there was much rejoicing

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:45 PM

Tom DeLay is leaving Congress. I feel like I should have a bottle of champagne reserved for this occasion, but I honestly thought he would attempt to keep his seat even from a prison cell. Maybe I should throw a party when he officially resigns.

Ah, memories. DeLay was an important factor in turning me into the staunch Democrat I am today. I think the first time I heard of him was in 1999, when he was majority whip and blamed the Columbine shooting on the teaching of evolution. (I was just starting to follow politics around that time.) I figured something had gone seriously wrong with the Republican party if they were willing to put a guy like that in a leadership position. And that was before I knew about all the corruption.

Permalink | Tags: House of Representatives, Politics, Republicans

February 13, 2006

Misleading notation [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:58 PM

I guess there are Olympics going on now? One of my fellow physicists was asking me where to watch them online; via Lifehacker, the answer is nbcolympics.com.

While on the subject of sports, I see via Boing Boing a helpful guide for quail hunters. And as usual, the Daily Show has the final word on this topic. (Unless Fafblog decides to weigh in.)

In music news, I woke up in the middle of today's 290K seminar to see what appeared to be guitar tab notation on the blackboard under the heading "Stripes White". But it turned out the speaker was talking about stripes in the 2D Hubbard model, rather than discussing the guitar part of a White Stripes song. Anyway, I have an album to review:

Cat Power: The Greatest: The title of this album must have annoyed Matador's marketing department, who have gone to some lengths in the packaging to assure the prospective buyer that this is indeed a new LP rather than a greatest hits collection. I liked her previous record, You Are Free, but it was fairly minimalist, so the richer and brighter textures of this one are a nice change. There's nothing quite as entrancing as "Werewolf" (which has become one of my mix CD standbys) but overall I like it better than her earlier works. Apparently she enlisted the help of some legendary soul musicians for this one, but since I'm not terribly knowledgable about soul the significance of this was lost on me. The song "Hate" sounds like her style from You Are Free, while referencing a Nirvana song and classic Engrish specimen; "Could We" is more representative of this album.

Permalink | Tags: Music, Open Thread, Politics, Sports

February 8, 2006

Developments in FSM Cosmology

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:59 PM

I meant to blog this story over the weekend, but was distracted by, um, football. Anyway: here's a pretty good illustration of why I said last week that the Bush administration should just stay away from science.

So George Deutsch, an asshat Bush appointee (is that redundant?) to the public affairs office at NASA, took it upon himself to make sure that everything coming out of the agency was, well... "politically correct" would be a good term for it if it didn't have other connotations. This included trying to stop NASA's top climate scientist from speaking about global warming, and insisting that the Big Bang be referred to as "the Big Bang theory", because, like evolution, it's "just a theory". (I am pretty much the last science blogger to comment on this.)

What happened next was sort of hilarious: a blogger discovered that Deutsch lied on his resume, claiming to have graduated from Texas A&M when in fact he never received a degree. This has resulted in Deutsch's subsequent resignation, which would be heartening if this administration weren't so good at finding even worse people to replace the ones who leave.

And this would be why I'm suspicious of Bush's increased funding for physical science. How much of it is going to guys like Deutsch, or projects of which they would approve? (Is there a cosmological equivalent of Intelligent Design? Maybe The Onion's Intelligent Falling.) As has been pointed out by others, this administration just doesn't do policy. Everything is politics to them.

UPDATE: I see we have nothing to worry about, now that Duke Cunningham's seat on the House subcommittee responsible for NASA's budget has been filled by... Tom DeLay.

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, Politics, Science, Space

January 31, 2006

SOTU Liveblogging, 2006

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:21 PM

Ok, the Dem response was better than last year's, but still boring. I'm going back to physics. You can just wire that money directly over here, George.

He's revised the Democratic slogan to "There's a better way". A little punchier, I guess.

The Pentagon is "sacred ground"?

Kaine's going for a "nice reasonable bipartisan" thing.

Tim Kaine has the raised eyebrow thing going big-time.

On to the Democratic response, because I am a glutton for punishment.

C-SPAN commentator: "Well, the president's certainly taking his time leaving the chamber..."

It's over, cue music: "America.... America.... America! Fuck yeah!"

Ok, I just missed a few minutes so I could talk to my advisor. What's he talking about now? I caught something about embryos or something, was that stem cells? Grr. Ok, he's on to corruption--wait, now it's something else. Is he randomly jumping between topics or am I just confused?

More money for physics? Hey, thanks! Maybe this means our grant will get funded.

"Nukular" again. Well, at least he's making reference to alternative energy. But ethanol costs more energy to produce than it ultimately provides. I'll wait until I see how much money actually gets allocated to realistic projects.

"Congress did not act on my proposal to save Social Security" MASSIVE applause. Awesome.

Line item veto? He's never even used the regular veto.

Yeah, better make the tax cuts permanent, otherwise those American families in the top 1% of income might get an unwelcome increase. Oh wait, he left out part of that too.

Hmm, I don't think he's going to mention that the job increases can be accounted for by public sector jobs. Especially just before he criticizes "the government taking a larger role".

Seriously, has he even read the Constitution? I do not think it says what he thinks it says.

"RESPECT MAH AUTHORITAH." If there are people inside our country talking to Al Qaeda, get a fucking warrant.

Mixed reaction from Congress in response to "PATRIOT Act". Seem to recall that happened previously.

"Nukular"! Twice! (I was at a seminar last week where a physicist was saying this... it's spreading.)

"Rule of law, protection of minorities, and strong accountable institutions" Hey, can we get some of that here?

"A duty to speak with candor" I think he takes that about as seriously as his Texas Air National Guard duty.

Here's the part where criticism of the war is undermining the troops, or something.

Bush just gave a rousing argument against isolationism, delivering a stunning rebuttal to... the crazy guy on Telegraph Avenue. Seriously, who's arguing for isolationism that it needed to be addressed? Keep kicking that straw man...

"Enemies of freedom"... there's one! Oh, wait...

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, Democrats, George W. Bush, Politics

Alternate Plan

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:32 PM

Of course there's always the SOTU drinking game, which looks particularly dangerous this year. I would add "unitary executive" and "culture of life" to the phrase list, now that Alito's confirmed.

Permalink | Tags: Games, George W. Bush, Politics

State of the Union: Unlimited Power edition

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:25 PM

I usually watch the State of the Union address, and have liveblogged it in the past. I'm not sure I'll be able to do it this year, without throwing things at the screen in a fit of rage. If the members of Congress had any respect for their offices, George W. Bush would be in prison, not standing at that podium.

Ok, I realize that I sound like the crazed anti-Clinton ranters of the '90s. But the difference is that Clinton got a blowjob, while Bush has violated the law, the Fourth Amendment, and his oath of office, and has freely admitted to doing so while claiming that the president is above the law. In effect, he is claiming dictatorial powers for himself, which should by itself be reason for impeachment. Didn't we fight a revolution over this?

Instead the Senate has confirmed to the Supreme Court a judge who agrees with Bush's view of unconstrained executive power. I think Bush actually needs a couple more Alitos on the court before he can put on the crown, but in terms of dramatic timing he should totally go for the Emperor Palapatine acceptance speech tonight.

I'm guessing, however, that we'll get really boring rhetoric about Health Savings Accounts, and probably some saber-rattling at Iran. Hence, I am thinking that I should keep my blood pressure down and just spend the hour reading Cute Overload or something. I can catch the highlights on the Daily Show later.

And while writing this I have learned that apparently Bush will try to position himself as pro-science, maybe even while keeping a straight face. Given Daniel Davies' insight about the success of Bush administration policy initiatives, I think we'd prefer that he stay the hell away from science, thanks.

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, George W. Bush, Politics, Senate

January 27, 2006

Mixed feelings on the Bible in schools

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:45 PM

I totally don't know how to react to this NYT article: Democrats in 2 Southern States Push Bills on Bible Study

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 — Democrats in Georgia and Alabama, borrowing an idea usually advanced by conservative Republicans, are promoting Bible classes in the public schools. Their Republican opponents are in turn denouncing them as "pharisees," a favorite term of liberals for politicians who exploit religion.

On the one hand, I don't have a problem with teaching the Bible from a secular standpoint in the context of its influence on Western literature, and if the article is accurate that's what these bills are proposing. I had a similar textbook my senior year at a public high school, although it wasn't the focus of the course, and it seemed like a worthwhile academic endeavour despite the fact that I had already developed my negative views of religion by that point. The fact is that a huge amount of literature contains Biblical references and it's important to understand them from a cultural literacy standpoint.

On the other hand, the Democrats pushing these bills are obviously pandering to theocratic Christians who want to see more state promotion of religion, and are just being clever by doing this in a constitutional way. Pandering to these sorts of people, or giving them any political influence at all, is bad on general principles. These bills themselves may be good policy, but if they're a big hit with the bible-thumpers I worry about what these legislators will do next.

On the third hand, Republican hypocrisy on this issue is completely hilarious:

"Their proposal makes them modern-day pharisees," State Senator Eric Johnson of Georgia, the Republican leader from Savannah, said in a statement. "This is election-year pandering using voters' deepest beliefs as a tool."

I know! Don't you hate it when politicians do that?
Saying he found "a little irony" in the fact that the Democratic sponsors had voted against a Republican proposal for a Bible course six years ago, Mr. Johnson added, "It should also be noted that the so-called Bible bill doesn't use the Bible as the textbook, and would allow teachers with no belief at all in the Bible to teach the course."

Johnson seems to believe that these are arguments against the bill, rather than reasons why it's within shouting distance of actually being constitutional.

Then it turns out that the origins of the textbook are slightly sketchy:

The textbook they endorse was the brainchild of Chuck Stetson, a New York investment manager and theologically conservative Episcopalian who says he was concerned about public ignorance of the Bible.

...

The textbook came to the attention of Democratic legislators in Alabama and Georgia through the advocacy of R. Randolph Brinson, a Republican and founder of the evangelical voter-registration group Redeem the Vote.

Mr. Brinson, who said he was working with legislators in other states as well, described his pitch to Democrats as, "Introducing this bill will show the evangelical world that they are not hostile to faith."

Some liberals are unhappy, however. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argued that "The Bible and Its Influence" was "problematic" because it omitted "the bad and the ugly uses of the Bible," like the invocation of Scripture to justify racial segregation.

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentis.

Permalink | Tags: Democrats, Politics, The Bible

January 5, 2006

More Bush Cronyism, Absolutism

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:47 PM

Apparently one of the lessons George W. Bush took away from the Harriet Miers fiasco was that if he wants to appoint unqualified cronies, he should bypass that pesky Senate. Yesterday evening he made seventeen recess appointments, including at least one egregiously unsuited candidate.

It's hard not to see this in the present context of the administration asserting its right to ignore the law in order to torture detainees and spy on US citizens. Bush really does believe that Congress is irrelevant as far as the executive is concerned.

A lot of people are suggesting that Bush is acting like a king. Well, yeah. He's been acting like a king ever since he decided he was qualified to be president solely because his father had held the office. When we elect presidents on a hereditary basis, it should be no surprise that they start thinking they're monarchs...

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, George W. Bush, Politics, Republicans

December 24, 2005

The UC and national labs

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:03 PM

The University of California, in partnership with Bechtel, has held on to the contract for management of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

My thoughts:

1. I'm surprised the UC won the contract, given the recent political attacks on their management of LANL. However, I didn't know about the Bechtel partnership, which was undoubtedly a deciding factor. I don't know much about Bechtel, except that they're one of those huge corporations that always seems vaguely sinister.

2. Would the UC have been better off without managing LANL? Certainly there's some prestige that goes with it, but lately it seems more trouble than it's worth, with the UC having to fend off mostly trumped-up charges of financial irregularities and security breaches. Meanwhile, paranoia over these things is making life more annoying for those of us connected with other UC managed labs. (And I only have to deal with LBL, which is an unclassified lab—I'm sure it's even worse at Livermore or LANL itself.)

Permalink | Tags: Politics, Science, UC Berkeley

December 1, 2005

Science flees the country

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:36 PM

The right-wing anti-science movement is succeeding in driving researchers to more rational nations:

Fallout from the corruption of secular science by the Bush administration and its religious allies continues to pile up. The latest is a particularly harmful blow: Two of the world's best geneticists will leave the National Cancer Institute and move not to Stanford University, which had heavily recruited them, but to Singapore's Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology. The reason is simple: They will face far fewer restrictions on their research, which involves stem cells.

(Via Pharyngula.)

At a certain level it doesn't matter whether stem cell research is being done in the US or Singapore—science is a human endeavor, not a nationalistic one. But if there are scientists who feel they need to leave the country in order to work in this field, there are others who are choosing to work on other problems because there are so many barriers to stem cell biology. Not to mention that of the research institutions with the world-class infrastructure needed to do cutting-edge research, many are in the US and this infrastructure will be underutilized as a result. Bush's policies are slowing down the progress of the entire field, not just US science.

On the other hand, this will have a deleterious effect on the US economy as biotech and medical companies relocate. One might think Bush's big-business allies would be uneasy about this, but one only need look at the US current account deficit to see that Bush's big-business allies aren't exactly taking the long view.

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, Politics, Science

November 8, 2005

The California Love and Puppies Act [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:37 PM

Reaction of the poll worker when I turned in my card: "That was fast!" I didn't really know how to respond to that. I did at least take time to read the names of the propositions to make sure I wasn't accidentally voting against some previously-unknown initiative that was slipped in between 74 and 75 and guaranteed love and puppies for all, or something.

Ask Darth how I voted!

And now, a music review:

The Rosebuds: Birds Make Good Neighbors: Here's another album I've really enjoyed lately; I'm always up for some good indie-pop. These songs manage to be fun while covering some dark and angsty topics. The first track is called "Hold Hands & Fight" which is a pretty good hint of the themes of the album. My favorite song here is "Leaves Do Fall": the lyrics are very evocative and the music is perfectly matched to the mood of the song. They have some more tracks for download at their website, apparently full songs and not just samples.

In other news, according to Amazon A Feast for Crows is shipping. I had meant to have finished Woken Furies by now so I wouldn't have to decide which to read first... Dammit.

Permalink | Tags: California, Election 2005, Music, Open Thread, Politics

November 7, 2005

2005 Election Endorsements

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:43 PM

We have an election tomorrow in California, with eight ballot initiatives. Needless to say, I am doing appropriate research beforehand:

This blog endorses a "no" vote on propositions 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, and 78. I'm also leaning towards "no" on the remaining two, 79 and 80, although they seem like good ideas in principle: I'm skeptical of deciding complex policy by ballot initiative.

Mark Kleiman has a good summary of the ballot at his blog. As he points out (in the "details here" link), Proposition 77 leads to urban voters being underrepresented; this should be seen as part of the GOP's nationwide program to redistrict states in their favor (as in Texas and Colorado) rather than as some sort of attempt at fairness and anti-gerrymandering.

Here's Brad DeLong's take along with excerpts from other commenters. And here's Kevin Drum's explanation of why he always votes "no", a stance that becomes more and more appealing to me every year.

As usual, attempts to change my mind are welcome. Those of you not in California may be content to point and laugh at our ridiculous governor instead.

Permalink | Tags: California, Election 2005, Politics

November 3, 2005

Reuters on US Anti-Science Attitudes

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:30 PM

Via Shellock, there's a Reuters piece today outlining concerns about increasing anti-science sentiment in the US. I was glad to see this in a mainstream source; it's what scientists have been saying for a few years now. The piece is a bit disjointed but manages to hit several related topics: Bush administration abuses of science, the intelligent design battle, general scientific illiteracy and weaknesses in science education. They could have been tougher on the ID crowd but it's nice to see them correctly place ID in the larger anti-science trend.

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, Creationism, Politics, Science

October 31, 2005

Supreme Court, Oct. 31 edition

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:35 PM

I was in Los Angeles the last three days and thus missed the opportunity to blog on Fitzmas. Instead I can blog on Halloween, with Bush's appropriately scary choice of Samuel Alito as the new Supreme Court nominee. Apparently he has decided to appease the base rather than nominate another crony. Oh well, the Miers thing was funny while it lasted.

I'm still reading up on Alito but as usual Lawyers, Guns, and Money is a good source.

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, Politics, Supreme Court

October 27, 2005

Miers back to proofreading memos

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:17 PM

Just yesterday I told someone that Bush wouldn't withdraw the Harriet Miers nomination, due to his inability to admit mistakes. Well, so much for that (although it was done in a way so that Bush didn't have to admit a mistake). If that's the way it's going to work, I would also like to predict that Patrick Fitzgerald won't bring indictments against high-ranking Bush administration officials, and that our lab will fail to produce a working qubit next week. Go ahead, universe: prove me wrong.

It's a little sad to see Miers go, because I was really enjoying watching Republicans rend each other's flesh. Now Bush worship is back in style. According to a couple of sources, it's traditional at this point for the president to present a "fuck you" nomination. If he's blaming the social conservative wing for stopping Miers, this presumably means nominating Alberto Gonzales. That could certainly be an amusing fight, but a little more distressing in light of Gonzales' unusual legal theory that the president should have absolute power.

Or Bush might try to appease the James Dobsons and Ann Coulters, and nominate someone who would vote to overturn Roe and Griswold. (Side question: How long would the Republicans stay in power if they managed to overturn Griswold and started outlawing contraception? It seems to me that this position would be just slightly unpopular. Presumably the party strategists know this, and won't let it happen.)

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, Politics, Republicans, Supreme Court

October 20, 2005

I'm smiling too

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:27 PM

Looking for something to brighten your afternoon? Here's Tom DeLay's mugshot and arrest warrant. I was hoping for some grim expression on his face but the fake smile is funny in its own way.

Permalink | Tags: House of Representatives, Politics, Republicans

October 4, 2005

I need to watch the Daily Show this week.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:34 PM

I've been giving careful consideration to Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, and it is my considered legal opinion that this is hilarious. Mere weeks after he gets in trouble for putting a laughably unqualified crony in charge of FEMA, and his nominee is someone distinguished for being the Texas Lottery Commissioner and for saying that Bush is the most brilliant man she had ever met? (That last part should be enough to disqualify her from any public office, ever.) And if this weren't boneheaded enough, he's got the social conservatives frothing with rage because they were expecting the Spanish Inquisition. I think the best advice for Democrats is to grab some popcorn and watch the fireworks.

Wait, there's more! Here's an AP photo of Miers briefing President Bush... on August 6, 2001! Anyone remember the title of that briefing? You may recall something like "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." Clearly her job performance merits a promotion to the Supreme Court of the United States.

We all knew that Bush was going to fuck up the Court, but he is to be commended for attempting to fuck it up in the funniest way possible. Ladies and gentlemen, the Bush Administration has descended into self-parody.

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, George W. Bush, Politics, Supreme Court

September 28, 2005

DeLay! Indicted!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:13 AM
DeLay indicted, will step aside as majority leader

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Texas grand jury on Wednesday charged Rep. Tom DeLay and two political associates with conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, forcing the House majority leader to temporarily relinquish his post.

DeLay's attorney Steve Brittain said DeLay was accused of a criminal conspiracy along with two associates, John Colyandro, former executive director of a Texas political action committee formed by DeLay, and Jim Ellis, who heads DeLay's national political committee.

"I have notified the speaker that I will temporarily step aside from my position as majority leader pursuant to rules of the House Republican Conference and the actions of the Travis County district attorney today," DeLay said.


I honestly didn't think it would happen—I figured DeLay was untouchably powerful.

Permalink | Tags: House of Representatives, Politics, Republicans

September 15, 2005

Ok, you can stop now.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:53 PM

Michael Newdow is still at it:

Judge Rules Pledge of Allegiance in Calif. Schools Unconstitutional

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 14 -- A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the law requiring the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional and said he was ready to issue an injunction to three California school districts to halt the daily reciting of the pledge.


I heard Newdow speak at Berkeley a couple years ago. He seemed like a good, well-intentioned guy, and I agree with him on a lot of things. But I wish he'd put his quest on hold for a while. This is terrible timing: it'll just create a backlash that'll provide lots of support for whatever theocrats Bush nominates to judgeships. Obviously "under God" in the Pledge is unconstitutional, but equally obviously the Supreme Court won't rule that way after two appointments from Bush. So there's no way to win here.

Not to mention that there are ongoing battles over church/state separation on issues that actually have a major impact, like the teaching of evolution. Insofar as activists have limited resources it's probably better not to focus on purely symbolic issues.

Permalink | Tags: Atheism, Politics, Religion

September 2, 2005

Blogging by proxy

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:42 PM

I had this collection of things I was going to post today, and then I realized that Making Light already had them all. So just go there and read down the page. In particular, the map of disaster-prone areas in the US, and George W. Bush's impossibly tasteless jokes about Trent Lott's house. (Will people finally realize that he's neither a "good Christian" or a "guy you'd like to have a beer with", but a fucking aristocrat in the grand Louis XVI style?)

Permalink | Tags: George W. Bush, Internet, Politics

August 30, 2005

Divine wrath, illustrated with cloud pictures

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:47 PM

Via Pandagon: I pretty much expected something like this, although I had no idea it would be so over-the-top crazy:


The image of the hurricane above with its eye already ashore at 12:32 PM Monday, August 29 looks like a fetus (unborn human baby) facing to the left (west) in the womb, in the early weeks of gestation (approx. 6 weeks). Even the orange color of the image is reminiscent of a commonly used pro-life picture of early prenatal development (see sign with picture of 8-week pre-born human child below). In this picture, and in another picture in today's on-line edition of USA Today*, this hurricane looks like an unborn human child.

Louisiana has 10 child-murder-by-abortion centers - FIVE are in New Orleans
www.ldi.org ('Find an Abortion Clinic [sic]')

Baby-murder state # 1 - California (125 abortion centers) - land of earthquakes, forest fires, and mudslides
Baby-murder state # 2 - New York (78 abortion centers) - 9-11 Ground Zero
Baby-murder state # 3 - Florida (73 abortion centers) - Hurricanes Bonnie, Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne in 2004; and now, Hurricane Katrina in 2005

God's message: REPENT AMERICA !


If we still don't get it, presumably God will make the next hurricane actually spell out the letters "REPENT AMERICA". Kind of like really destructive skywriting. I can't wait to see what these dudes say when the Big One wrecks San Francisco and/or Berkeley. Um, assuming I survive.

Permalink | Tags: Politics, Religion

August 24, 2005

That popping sound was my lingering respect for McCain finally evaporating.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:49 PM

Hey, remember in 2000 when John McCain said this:

We are the party of Ronald Reagan not Pat Robertson. We are the party of Theodore Roosevelt not the party of special interests. We are the party of Abraham Lincoln not Bob Jones.

He's changed his mind.
On Tuesday, though, he sided with the president on two issues that have made headlines recently: teaching intelligent design in schools and Cindy Sheehan, the grieving mother who has come to personify the anti-war movement.

McCain told the Star that, like Bush, he believes "all points of view" should be available to students studying the origins of mankind.

I had thought that McCain was one of the better Republicans on science issues, but I guess he, too, has decided he wants to live in the 1800's. To welcome you to Team Ignorance, your complimentary Leeches 'N Bloodletting Home Medical Kit will be arriving shortly! (Via Pharyngula.)

Permalink | Tags: Creationism, Politics, Republicans

August 16, 2005

The senator I don't like to talk about

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:57 AM

I meant to post this yesterday, but somehow it slipped my mind. Anyway, I've often posted kind words for California's excellent junior senator. However, I rarely mention our other senator, Dianne Feinstein. Generally she just doesn't get my attention as often as Boxer, but when she does I get the impression that... she kind of sucks. It was a post on Eschaton that brought this to mind:

Andrew Raisiej, who's running for New York City Public Advocate, writes about a response he recieved when he gave a technology presentation to the Senate Democratic Caucus:
First Senator Dianne Feinstein raised her hand and said, "Senator Daschle, the Internet is full of pornography and pedophilia, and until that's clean up, I don't think the Senate should be on the Internet." (And she represents Silicon Valley!)

After banging my head on the desk, I wondered what the chances are we could get a primary challenger. Probably not so good. Sigh...

Permalink | Tags: California, Democrats, Internet, Politics, Senate

Shrillblog returns, shambling and oozing.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:37 AM

Brad DeLong, using dark and forbidden magicks, has singlehandedly resurrected the Shrillblog, which hosts the best Lovecraftian political commentary on the internets. I promptly failed a sanity roll, took a point in Cthulhu Mythos, and bookmarked its RSS feed.

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, Cthulhu, Internet, Politics

August 12, 2005

Friday Random Political Rankings

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:35 PM

Via Kevin Drum, the Bay Area Center for Voting Research has ranked US cities from most liberal to most conservative. No one here will be surprised that this fine city of Berkeley comes in at #3 most liberal, although I'm a bit impressed we beat out Cambridge, MA. (Go team! Or something.) Pasadena is #52 on the liberal list, which was a surprise—I'd have thought they were a bit more conservative. (They're ahead of Eugene, OR!) Also surprising: Dallas more liberal than Austin, and Atlanta to the left of both cities. (Mason, you want to dispute that?)

Permalink | Tags: Lists, Politics

August 10, 2005

Classy.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:56 PM

Via everywhere (e.g. James Wolcott): can this possibly be right?

PENTAGON TO HOST
9/11 MARCH, SHOW

BY MICHAEL McAULIFF
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon will hold a massive march and country music concert to mark the fourth anniversary of 9/11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in an unusual announcement tucked into an Iraq war briefing yesterday.

'This year the Department of Defense will initiate an America Supports You Freedom Walk,' Rumsfeld said, adding that the march would remind people of 'the sacrifices of this generation and of each previous generation.'

The march will start at the Pentagon, where nearly 200 people died on 9/11, and end at the National Mall with a show by country star Clint Black.


Maybe it's just my elitist coastal attitudes, but a fucking country music concert does not strike me as a solemn observation of the anniversary of a horrific terrorist attack. It's so inappropriate as to be incredibly offensive.

Obviously, this has nothing to do with respecting the victims of terrorism, but is a transparent attempt to boost militaristic sentiments when the public is becoming disillusioned with the war, as well as further propagate the bogus link between Iraq and 9/11. But expecting guys like Rumsfeld to exhibit any shame or sense of decency is too much at this point.

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, Politics

August 3, 2005

More Bush vs. Darwin

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:06 AM

Kevin Drum makes some of the same points I did on Bush and evolution, but actually looks up the old Bush quotes that I was too lazy to find. That's why they pay him the big bucks, I guess.

Permalink | Tags: Creationism, Evolution, George W. Bush, Politics

August 2, 2005

Bush, ID, and Republican scientists

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:58 PM

There's a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Bush's statement that Intelligent Design should be taught in schools. Now, naturally I agree with the many commenters who have remarked that ID is not a scientific theory, and teaching it will only degrade the state of US science education.

On the other hand, my reaction is less outrage than a sigh of resignation. What, Bush rejected science in favor of an ideological and religious position? The same Bush who opposes stem-cell research, promotes abstinence-only sex education, ignores climate change, and suppresses inconvenient scientific findings by government agencies? We knew we were getting this back in November when Bush won the election. Certainly anyone who voted for Bush should have been prepared to accept this kind of dumbassery as a consequence. And didn't Bush say that "the jury is still out" on evolution back in, like, 2000?

Of course, we should vigorously oppose attempts to insert ID into actual curricula, but the mere fact that Bush supports it doesn't exactly seem new.

Matt Yglesias points out that Bush's view is very widespread among the American public. Some of you may recall a poll result that I blogged last November showing 45% support for young Earth creationism.

Meanwhile, Brad DeLong remarks,

I believe I can now safely say without fear of contradiction that any scientist or academic (outside of fundamentalist seminaries, of course) who is a Republican is in serious need of help: professional help.

I think this is overstating things. I know a number of Republican scientists (in Berkeley, even!) and they are sane and intelligent people—they just vote based on factors other than science and education policy. Specifically, many of them are quite vocally anti-tax, anti-union, etc. and seem to vote predominantly on economic issues. I certainly don't agree with their economic views, but I can't blame them for prioritizing those issues over scientific ones.

I'm appalled by Republican science policy, but if the Republicans were a lot better on other issues and the Democrats a lot worse, I could concievably be convinced to vote Republican anyway. But science policy isn't the only problem—in fact it's a nice synecdoche for the way the GOP sticks to ideology in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence on nearly every issue. This frightening disconnection from reality is a deal-breaker for me. The Republican scientists that I know, whatever they may think about science policy, disagree about whether there's a larger pattern of ignoring evidence. I think they're wrong, but I don't think they need professional help.

Permalink | Tags: Academia, Creationism, Evolution, George W. Bush, Politics, Science