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.
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.)
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.
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"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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.
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...
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.