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.
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.
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"
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)