Category Archives: Senate

The future for America’s broken government

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.

Today’s injustices: telecom immunity and show trials

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.

Rolling back the Military Commissions Act

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.

Election 2006 Endorsements

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.

They’ll have to change the Harvey Birdman song

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.

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

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.

Santorum on scientists

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.)

The new Bush Doctrine: Infallibility

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.