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.

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.)

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 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

November 14, 2006

Showdown for House Majority Leader

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:27 PM

Soon-to-be Speaker Pelosi is apparently strongly backing John Murtha for majority leader over current Democratic whip Steny Hoyer. Murtha gained national prominence due to his vocal opposition to the Iraq war, but now people are discovering that he's a pretty conservative Democrat. But wait, didn't everyone know this? After all, plenty of people were loudly anti-war before Murtha spoke up, but the reason he got serious attention was precisely because he's not very liberal—the media had treated the anti-war position as a sign of left-wing fanaticism until Murtha forced a change in the narrative. (By that time opposition to the war was already quite widespread.) Apparently that change didn't last, if people are now assuming he's liberal just because he's anti-war.

Personally, I prefer Murtha for majority leader just for the sake of party unity and discipline. He is a close ally of Pelosi (despite their different positions on the political spectrum), while apparently Hoyer is a rival of the new Speaker. Since now would be an incredibly bad time for an intra-party power struggle, Murtha seems like the right choice.

(The second link above uses Keith Poole's congressional rankings to establish Murtha's position on the spectrum; Mason may be able to comment on whether he saw a similar result in his analysis.)

Permalink | Tags: Democrats, House of Representatives

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

November 7, 2006

So this is what victory feels like

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:05 PM

Yes! Despite my dire predictions the Democrats have finally proven that they can win elections, and have broken the GOP's lock on the House of Representatives. The last couple of years of GOP governance have been worse than I had imagined, with the loss of the Geneva Conventions, habeas corpus, and the city of New Orleans, but the end of one-party rule should keep things from getting much worse.

Fire away with the subpeonas, Speaker Pelosi! (The Bush Administration is going to ignore the subpeonas, but it's a start...)

Permalink | Tags: Democrats, Election 2006, House of Representatives

November 6, 2006

Election 2006 Endorsements

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:54 PM

My neglect of the blog continues but I really should post something about the election.

(Image via Pharyngula.)

My endorsements: Recently the Republican Congress passed a bill which legalized torture and suspended habeas corpus. I am endorsing every Democrat running for any office anywhere.

In California, we have the usual assortment of dumbass ballot initiatives. I am voting no on everything except 87 (taxing oil companies) and 89 (public election financing). I could perhaps be convinced otherwise (but you'll need to do it before about 10am tomorrow).

I predict that Republicans will keep both houses of Congress. I think there's no way the Senate will switch; the House seems more likely, but I think dirty tricks and rigged voting machines will put the GOP over the top.

Permalink | Tags: California, Democrats, Election 2006, House of Representatives, 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

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

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

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