Saturday, April 30, 2005

When evolutionary biologists attack


Paging John Stone: An interview with Richard Dawkins.

Money quote:

Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion. Both have implacable faith that they are right and the other is evil. Each believes that when he dies he is going to heaven. Each believes that if he could kill the other, his path to paradise in the next world would be even swifter. The delusional "next world" is welcome to both of them. This world would be a much better place without either of them.

C'mon, Don Dawkins. Tell us what you really think.

Hat tip: Jay Myers

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Friday, April 29, 2005

You break it, you bought it


The bill collectors are calling. Will Uncle Sugar cough up?

Money quote:

Belgian doctors sent an Iraqi girl home on Thursday after treating her for leg wounds caused by a bomb during the U.S. invasion -- and sent the 51,570 euro ($66,650) bill to the U.S. embassy.

Hat tip to I am the Hermit.

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BlogProps: Reclaiming our radicalism


Wally Conger on The Great Libertarian Divide.

And thanks, Wally. Throwing in my name with those of some true libertarian giants is the sincerest form of flattery.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Reciprocal linkage goodness


1. In the beginning was my little Strike the Root ditty You can write it down ...".

2. And the proprietor of Simmering Frogs did move upon the face of the ever warmer water, and he looked upon it and saw that it was, well, not too bad; and he did linketh unto it.

3. Now there was in that same country a herdsman, or maybe a non-herdsman, and he did lift his staff unto his sheep (or maybe non-sheep) and proclaimeth "Yea, the man is right and thou shouldst go down unto his site."

4. And so it came to pass that in Libertopia there was wailing and gnashing of teeth, for Leviathan had cast upon them a plague of federalism, and they were fearful and loath to look upon what I had wrought.

Selah.

P.S. Thanks for the links, y'all. Robert, I'll try to make time to respond at length to your points either here or in the comment section of your blog Real Soon Now.

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What was that about liberal media bias?


CIA can't rule out WMD move to Syria, says the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's daily rag, the Washington Times.

I'm certain that the CIA can't "rule out" a WMD move from Iraq to Syria, any more than they can "rule out" the possibility that UFOs from the planet Omicron Persei 8, attracted by all the hubbub, swooped down and helped themselves to Saddam's nuclear, biological and chemical arsenal.

But that fact that something can't be "ruled out" doesn't constitute a basis for assuming that there's any reason whatsoever to believe it.

The substance of every report from every US, UN and other investigative group sent to Iraq to look for "WMD" has been:

There aren't any, there weren't any and if you people in Washington hadn't had your crania inserted in your recta, you'd have known that.

The existence of any substantial stockpiles of nuclear, biological chemical weapons has been, for all practical purposes and in the minds of all (reasonable) people, "ruled out." That which does not exist cannot, by definition, be transported to Syria or anywhere else. QED, in "not ruling out" the transport of the non-existent WMD to Syria, the CIA is effectively reporting that it prefers to cover the posteriors of the unreasonable people -- the idiots (or liars) who thought (or pretended to think) that such weapons existed and used that fear (or pretense of fear) to justify war.

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BlogClip: CNN Guerrillas in the Midst


Interesting story on an apparent "guerilla marketing" op by CNN to create a buzz in the blogosphere (and to take some of their harsher critics down a few pegs in the search engine rankings). Hat tip to Fark.

Quoth Gandhi: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you ... then you win."

But is that the case here? Are they fighting the blogosphere, or just attempting to subvert it? Is there really even a competition in the sense that the blogosphere represents any kind of real threat to Old Media? And just how much room is there for the "mainstream" media to leverage the blogosphere (or other alternative media) to its own advantage -- to make the blogosphere, in effect, a "search engine door" to their own content, whether bloggers intend for it to be that way or not (in some cases we certainly do)?

"In the end it's up to each of us to decide how far we're willing to go to defend the blogosphere from marketing imposters," writes Nick Lewis in the above-referenced story.

I have a fairly healthy respect for Old Media. Bloggers have the tools to publish, but it's the newspapers and the networks which still have the infrastructure to report. The average blogger can't take off for Outer Mongolia with a camera crew on a moment's notice to get the story. The blogosphere tends to act more as a bullshit filter for stories than as an originator of them, except on the (important, necessary) fringes.

Shrug. I don't mind sharing the Internet with CNN. I do worry about the capacity of large, well-bankrolled Old Media outfits to manipulate the search engines and push the blogosphere back out onto the periphery of public awareness ... but I think that's a battle we can win.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

GonzoClip: Hunter Thompson's reactionary heart


The notion that Hunter S. Thompson wasn't -- ever -- a creature of the statist Left is not new, but James G. Poulos makes the case well for The American Spectator.

Money shot:

The Left joined him -- not the other way around. Whereas the caricature in 2005 is of a GOP that believes in God and a Democratic Party that worships humanism, Thompson knew as early as 1958 that he had "no god," and found it "impossible to believe in man." Fear and loathing was an equal-opportunity exercise. In Vegas, the dividing line between Nixon and Humphrey voters was a distinction without a difference. Given the choice between Rotarian Republicans and cop/thug Democrats, Thompson chose ether.

Hat tip to David Gonzalez.

Reminds me of something Thompson once wrote in a letter to his Marxist friend Paul Semonin (available, if you want to read it in its entirety, in The Proud Highway):

"My position is and always has been that I distrust power and authority, together with all those who come to it by conventional means -- whether it is guns, votes, or outright bribery. There are two main evils in the world today: one is Poverty, the other is Governments. And frankly I see no hope of getting rid of either. So it will have to be a matter of degrees, and that's where we quarrel ..."

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Monday, April 25, 2005

FMNNClip: Unnatural Selection


My latest.

Excerpt:

"It's a funny kind of 'freedom' that the neoconservatives advocate: The 'freedom' to be taxed and regulated into servitude -- with censorship, suppression and the lash applied as necessary -- so that that same 'freedom' can be taken, on the point of American bayonets, to every corner of the earth heretofore lacking it. Or, as William F. Buckley, Jr. put it:

'[W]e have to accept Big Government for the duration -- for neither an offensive nor defensive war can be waged given our present government skills, except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.'

"The fall of the Berlin wall was the cue for panic: 'The duration' had arrived at an unexpected time and in an unexpected fashion, shattering neoconservative expectations and aspirations. They'd counted on completing their half-century ascent to total power and, presumably, following up with a millennium of American hegemony under their leadership. Instead, peace and freedom broke out."

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STRClip: You can write it down ...


... but why bother?

Excerpt:

"I was once a Constitutionalist. To the extent that I perceive possible benefit in trying to hold the state to its own purported rules, I guess I still am. But I should know better, and so should you. The game is rigged, and it has been from the start. As Benjamin Franklin said at that time, 'our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.'

"Franklin was wrong, but only slightly so. The Constitution did in actuality confer a certain permanence -- or, rather, a restoration. It was a restoration of the monarchist substance, albeit in a republican form. It was a document created by, and for, aristocratically-minded framers who had no more intention of honoring its purported purposes than King John had of honoring Magna Carta."

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

BlogProps: MoxieGrrrl


w00t! I think I'm in love ...

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Saturday, April 23, 2005

BlogClip -- 20% of what's needed


Tim West's review of the Libertarian Party's remodeled web site. Pretty much on target. I'd like to focus in on one of Tim's recommendations and offer an alternative proposal.

Quoth Tim: "Start assembling a LP team of photographers, bloggers, videographers, and ISP’s that are libertarians to volunteer to cover the LP 06 races across the country, and have them supply you with their work."

Actually, such a team (or teams) have already been assembling themselves for years (see, for example, the Libertarian Writers' Bureau), and the tech to exploit their work is free for the taking. So what's the hangup? I can think of two possible problems:

1) The LP powers that be overestimate the difficulty and cost of implementation; or

2) The LP powers that be fear the downside of an "uncontrolled" Party press.

Either or both would be understandable.

Let's take them one at a time:

Cost/Implementation

Libertarian blogs are thick on the ground. Many state, and even county, LPs can or could be relied upon to produce timely, periodic updates and press releases -- even audio or video feeds of events. And nearly any kind of site can now quickly and easily be set up for syndication via RSS feeds.

All that's really needed are two things:

a) A "portal" mechanism -- a system that allows the LP administrator to add approved feeds to a list, and that then allows users to create their own "My Libertarian Party" pages incorporating whatever feeds interest them (the old LP site had a primitive version of "custom site" tech geared toward students, journalists, etc.). Some users might elect to see only the national headquarters feed, their state feed and their county feed. Others might decide to "subscribe" to a couple of well-known blogs, too. Still others might choose issues-based feeds from all over depending on their personal interests.

The cost? In terms of software, nada. There's all kinds of open-source software out there that can handle it well. There would obviously be the up-front cost of installing and customizing the system, and the ongoing costs of administration and bandwidth. But this tech is old hat. The kind of backend code that Yahoo! spent millions developing (or, on the movement side, that Free-Market.Net spent hundreds of thousands developing) is now available gratis and streamlined such that even relative novices can use it.

b) Also on the backend, an admin interface for "pushing" this incoming content to the mainstream media. That's a little less easy, but there are certainly commercial packages that can handle it and at root it's as simple as keeping updated media lists based on geographic area and subject and then getting out releases/advisories on stuff that the media should be covering, with links to the material that the LP makes available.

Don't get me wrong: There are costs involved. They are, however, minimal relative to prospective benefits. The LP was the first political party to have a web site, but right now it's getting its metaphorical ass whipped.

The Republicans forged ahead with the Internet equivalent of fax trees, etc., in the last few years, and now the Democrats have leapfrogged them. Howard Dean's new, refurbished Democratic National Committee is organizing "virtual precinct teams" and refining the fundraising model that made Dean a contender for the 2004 presidential nomination and his PAC a force in achieving the victories that the Democrats did pull off last year.

The LP had a huge head start on the Internet ... and blew it. But there's still time to catch up.

An open Party press

Scary? You're damn right it's scary. Pound for pound, the LP is no weirder than the GOP or the Democrats. But since they're a third party, it's the blue men and druids and naked, sword-wielding candidates who get noticed. They just stand out more in a third party than Lyndon LaRouche does among the Democrats or David Duke among the Republicans.

So, when you start suggesting that the LP's media operations be decentralized, there are legitimate concerns. It's bad enough when an isolated LP candidate starts babbling about fluoridation or Bohemian Grove or Area 51. Letting the babblers pipe their babble straight through the LP's national web site, and on to the mainstream media, would be a disaster.

On the other hand, there are mechanisms which can be put in place to prevent bizarre, embarrassing things from happening. Software can be set up to repackage -- and require approval of -- feeds so that nothing shows up on lp.org without being vetted first. Outgoing releases and advisories can be checked before they're sent.

And, sooner or later, there has to be some trust. If the LP is to grow and thrive, everything can't originate from the Watergate office. That office will never be big enough, or fast enough on its feet, to do everything that a national party needs done.

The Republicans and Democrats have organizations in every precinct in the US. That's a lot of organization (from some research yesterday, for example, I can tell you that there are more than 3,000 precincts in Missouri alone). Those organizations act independently to a large degree. Yes, sometimes they do something embarrassing. It can't be helped. But would you rather have (if Missouri is average) 150,000 organizations that occasionally do something embarrassing, or one organization that never does anything embarrassing ... because it isn't big enough, fast enough, rich enough or flexible enough (relative to the scheme of things) to do much of anything at all?

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BlogWanderings


I'm working three "blog traffic exchanges" this morning -- BlogExplosion, BlogXChange and BlogaZoo. I don't use them as much as I used to (barely at all, actually). Sure the credits and referrals (hint, hint) are nice, but not that important. I do like to run through them occasionally to find other worthwhile blogs that I might not happen across on my own. Might as well share:

General observations concerning the Blogosphere

The profusion of "I am the single mother of three atavistic monsters and am obsessed with lovingly recording every diaper change and temper tantrum" blogs continues, as do the various chroniclings of Survivor, American Idol and other television shows that I'd watch myself if I was interested. I'm also seeing more "gadget blogs" -- mini-reviews of the latest laser pointer, mini-sub, what have you. That's cool. And a lot more blogs which are transparent marketing vehicles for the latest multi-level marketing schemes. That's not cool, but it's to be expected. Surprisingly, some of them do seem to offer a reasonable amount of generic/general advice on marketing in general, so they're at least offering value for the time wasted on loading their pitches.

I also notice that a lot of the personal blogs written by angst-ridden late-teen-or-early-twenties females are featuring photo or graphic logos that show considerably more skin than, say, a year ago. Nice.

On the political side, the Busheviks seem to be losing steam. Fewer right-wing blogs with fewer posts, and they're taking on a whinier, less pompous tone. The lefties seem to smell blood in the water, though. More "progressive" blogs, more posts, more confident tone.

Points of interest

This looks like it might be an interesting writers' blog.

Come to think of it, I don't recall that I've seen very many blogs by Objectivists. Here's one.

For some reason, stuff about the "paranormal" always grabs my attention, even though I'm a compleat skeptic.

The Wide Awakes might be scary if they weren't so damn pathetic. The original Wide-Awakes were gangs of torchbearing thugs who conducted street demonstrations in support of Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election -- the political ancestors of the Ku Klux Klan and the Sturmabteilung. Their modern namesakes just tie themselves in blogknots, desperately trying to find correlations between GOP rhetoric and the real world.

I've seen this Cost of War Counter on a number of blogs. Seems linked to a conventional state leftist outfit, but wotthehell, it's still neat.

Also came across some interesting St. Louis-based blogs, athough I don't recall whether or not I reached them via the exchanges or not: Arch City Chronicle (this is also a print tabloid which I've seen around), STL Syndicate and stlbloggers.com.

More later.

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Friday, April 22, 2005

Wham, Bam, Thank You ... Scam?


Warning -- This is an affiliate link. If you click it and sign up I will, in theory, receive $5.00 when GreenZap launches in June (and you, in theory, will receive $25 at that time as well).

Is it legit?

Well, the $25 spiff for opening an account isn't as dodgy as it sounds. When PayPal started up lo on seven years ago, I seem to recall that they gave new customers $5 or $10, and I think they even still do something like that after a new customer has passed some minimum amount through their system. For that matter, I know that they still do things like give away $10 eBay vouchers and such, because I've received them. $25 seems a little high, but not so much that I'd immediately write it off. In order to compete with PayPal, StormPay et al, any new payment processor is going to have to really hit it hard.

On the other hand, it may, indeed, be a scam.

This guy thinks it is.

Here's an interesting discussion thread that doesn't make the thing look too good.

But they aren't asking for bank routing numbers, credit card numbers, etc. ... yet. So what the hell? I've signed up. And I'll take the $5 for your signup too, if you're interested and if it ever actually shows. But caveat emptor -- if they start trying to pry money or confidential information out of you before they're proven to be accepted by reputable online businesses, etc., don't bite.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

SolidarityClip: Wash U students on strike


Hey, hey, it's a sit-in and on-again off-again hunger strike.

I've spent a lot of time on the campus of Washington University (it and its surrounding areas tend to be focal points for anti-war activities, there's an active student libertarian club and one of the quadrennial dog and pony shows the two major parties try to pass off as "presidential debates" is held there), and I confess: I've often thought of leftist students at Wash U as, for lack of a better word, dilettantes. Wash U is a private school with tuition that would make Midas blanch. If it was Back East it would be considered Ivy League. And while it's beyond dispute a Republican institution, it plays host to a large contingent of rich kids who like to dress up as sixties refugees and bitch about the capitalism that makes their choice of college possible. One time, I saw a freshpersonish female pull up for a protest in a very new, very nice Mercedes and -- I shit you not -- pull an "Eat The Rich" sign out of the back seat to carry in the march.

But dilettantes no more: These kids have been sitting in for more than two weeks now, and some of them were on hunger strike for a week before relenting pursuant to (false and immediately reneged-upon) promises from the university administration. They're putting their figurative money where their mouths are, and presumably trying to put some of Mommy and Daddy's very real money there as well.

At issue are pay and benefits for contract workers at Washington University. The kids think they should make more money and get more benefits. The administration lamely offered a half-million dollar a year package; the students' proposal would cost in the neighborhood of $2.4 million per year. Just to put this in perspective, Wash U's fundraising for its capital fund alone seems to have raked in about $1.5 billion. With a student body (including undergrads, graduate students and part-timers) of 13,472 students, the expense of the student proposal could be covered with an annual tuition hike of less than $180. The tuition increase from this year to next is already set at nearly eight times that -- an increase of $1,400, to $31,100 per year.

It's pretty obvious that anyone who can afford to go to Wash U isn't going to blink at another $180 per year in tuition, so Chancellor Wright's quibbling is really nothing more than an exercise in pissing the customer off ... but at the same time, it's allowing some students to do a gut check and find out that yes, they really do have the fortitude to take on The Man. Cool. I hope they win -- and I may just have to try and get some Wobbly literature into the hands of the workers they're fighting for.

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Blast from the Past: The Other House on Garibaldi Street


For some time, I've been considering the need to move a bunch of my older articles off my pretty-much-moribund Freeservers site with a view toward eventually deleting that site. But where to put them? This blog seems like as good a place as any, and given the date, this piece seems like a good one to start with: It was published in 1999 on the (apparently now defunct) site of SpinTech (here's the Wayback Machine archive), a pretty cool libertarian webzine edited by Michael R. Allen. On the Freeservers site, it is apparently suffering from a recurrent file corruption problem that seems to have something to do with their popup script, making article text invisible now and again.

The essay is by no means perfect. I was obviously over-optimistic in 1999. I should have known better than to expect anything resembling a real investigation from perennial political whore John C. Danforth, the man who more or less got me into politics by being the first politician to ever just personally, brazenly lie to me to my face. And I should have known that the state protects its own, regardless of party. John Ashcroft wasn't going to set any precedent that might rob him of his own "sovereign immunity" if the piper ever demanded to be paid. Far from being held accountable, Reno was actually given Secret Service protection to prevent any of her victims from exacting retribution without benefit of judicial oversight.

Of course, I think the article does have merit. In 1999, I had yet to visit Mount Carmel, but I did so last fall and if anything I think I played the Nazi war crimes parallels down too much. I visited the murder site with a friend who had also been to Dachau. He found the "sense of place" eerily similar.

It's been 12 years, and still no justice for the victims of Reno's holocaust petit. But, sooner or later, it's coming.

Anyway, here's the article:

The Other House on Garibaldi Street

The Israeli government took sixteen years to track down Adolph Eichman at the little house in Buenos Aires where he had retired from a long and productive career of burning, gassing and machine-gunning Jews. How long will it take us to put U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno behind bars where she belongs?

Six years after the literal holocaust at Waco, Reno remains at large. When Hezbollah or Hammas claim responsibility for an act of terrorism, our officials piously vow to track them down and exact retribution, whatever the cost. When one of those same officials claims responsibility for the fiery deaths of 80 people, including twice as many children as Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold murdered at Columbine High School, she goes on to become the longest-serving Attorney General in the history of our nation.

But the times, they are-a-changin'.

In July, after documentary researcher Michael McNulty (a producer of the Oscar-nominated Waco: The Rules of Engagement) received permission to examine the evidence gathered by the Texas rangers in the wake of the conflagration, four incendiary devices -- commonly referred to as "flash-bangs" -- surfaced. They had originally been misidentified as homemade silencers, presumably in order to substantiate the ATF's oft-stated (and, as yet, wholly unproved) claims that the Branch Davidians were stockpiling "illegal" armaments. What's more, the evidence mapping reveals that these devices were recovered from the parts of the Mount Carmel building where the fatal fires started.

Naturally, Reno denied any knowledge of the incendiaries and continued attempting to shove the responsibility that she originally claimed off onto her victims, who, being dead, can't answer. But her case was horribly weak to begin with: it's hard to establish to the satisfaction of any neutral panel that cutting off the power to a building, waiting until the tenants resort to kerosene lamps for lighting, then assaulting the building with tanks and pumping flammable gas into the place doesn't constitute an attempt at murder. Especially when your own cameras show your own people herding the victims back into the fire with the aid of automatic weapons. Especially when many of the victims are women and children. And, most especially, when the whole mess is the result of an unprovoked attack by your own people.

"Flash-bangs" are designed to stun and immobilize their targets. Being trapped in a burning building does not combine well with having one detonated next to you. Furthermore, the primer charges in the devices are known to start fires in small, enclosed spaces. Spaces like the rooms at Mount Carmel, where kerosene lamps were tumbling over and spilling as the tanks rammed the walls. There, the atmosphere was full of CS, a "riot agent" that produces potassium cyanide when ignited, suspended in a flammable delivery solution.

As I write this, the FBI has finally admitted to using incendiaries on the morning of the fatal fire. Reno is back-pedaling for all she's worth, announcing a new investigation into the siege and how it ended. One wonders if the "lost" evidence from the first Congressional hearings into the matter -- things like the ATF's videotape of the initial raid, the door from Mount Carmel Center, and other conveniently missing items -- will resurface this time around. Do the calls for another round of hearings in Congress portend a satisfactory resolution of the case (i.e. are the murderers going to stand trial, be rightly convicted by a jury of their peers, and be led away in manacles)?

Somehow, I doubt it. The Clinton administration has invested far too much capital in protecting Reno from the consequences of its policies and her actions. Clinton will never admit that his troops fired the first unprovoked shots in a war that has so far claimed the lives of over 200 people, including the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, which supposedly took place as retribution for the events at Waco.

Reno would be an international fugitive if she was the Attorney General of Yugoslavia. She would be on death row if she had thrown a CS grenade into someone's kerosene-lit house and then rammed it with her pickup truck after beating them unconscious. But since she committed her crimes using the surrogate agents of the BATF and FBI, and since those crimes reflected the official policy of a government run amuck, she has her freedom. For now.

But what happens when and if those who value human life and human freedom assume the place in government that rightfully belongs only to them? What is Ms. Reno going to do when we elect an administration predicated on Bill of Rights Enforcement?

Will Janet Reno, former Attorney General of the United States and proud recipient of the (no joke) Torchbearer Award, flee the country and attempt to live out her natural life in the relative, if limited, freedom of an exile and a fugitive from justice? Will she descend into the underground, adopting a new name and pretending to be an old retired female impersonator, passing unrecognized on the streets except by fellow fugitives like Larry Potts and Lon Horiuchi?

Is there a Garibaldi Street in Miami?

And if there is, would she be welcome there?

Reno's claim to fame, before her elevation to national power under the aegis of the newly elected Bill Clinton, was her penchant subjecting children to everything short of the rack to get them to fabricate stories of molestation. A number of her victims are back on the streets, having served years in prison for crimes they didn't commit before their convictions were overturned. No, I don't think she'll find hospitality forthcoming on her old stomping grounds. After next year, she'll be out there somewhere, nervously waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And it will.

You can run, but you can't hide, Ms. Reno. The wheels of justice sometimes turn slowly, especially when happenstance puts someone like yourself temporarily in the driver's seat. But turn they must. Even a corrupt machine like the current one-party state can't afford to have its legitimacy undermined to the extent that the actions of ATF and FBI have undermined it on your watch.

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will -- sooner or later -- be used against you in a court of law.

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Saturday, April 16, 2005

You've got to admit it's getting better ...


... or maybe not. Not a trader myself, but I still don't like seeing the word "carnage" in an article on the stock market.

Since 9/11, pundits on the Right have tried desperately to create an economic boom by the simple expedient of just pretending one was already in progress. You can probably talk a boom up (even to the point of silliness and ultimate calamity, a la the 90s "tech stock bubble") but talking one into existence ex nihil is a taller order.

Not that I'm altogether in agreement with those on the statist Left who try to lay the blame for all economic woes at the feet of the Bush administration. If anything, Bush has been following the standard state Left prescription of "priming the pump" -- massive deficit spending, pork feeds to to the military-industrial complex, etc. And he's largely had to play the cards he's been dealt.

It's not so much that Republicans are responsible for America's economic troubles (at least any more so than Democrats) as that they're trying to blow smoke up our asses and convince us that those troubles don't exist. As Daily Kos points out, the picture's not as rosy as the RNC would have us believe.

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Bump: A Pox On All Their Houses


Adem D. Kupi on the "neos." I promised to give anyone who used the "Google Bomb" links from this post a blogroll link ... and since I thought I already had one to Adem's A Pox On All Their Houses, but didn't, I think some center column space is called for.

Go Go Gadget New Libertarian.

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Friday, April 15, 2005

Vote early and often


Sign the Bono for Pope Petition.

Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time. If they do it, I might convert myself.

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Blog promotion goodness


Here's a list of 100+ places to plug your blog or your blog's RSS feed into, with detailed information on submission criteria, etc. Very nice resource.

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¿Che pasa?


Interesting go-round:

Wally Conger in defense of Che.

Tom Novak's rebuttal.

What do you think?



or



or, hell, both?

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Bump


Wally Conger on the "neolibertarians"

Being more of a political multi-tasker myself, I don't have quite the doctrinal dispute with the neos that anti-political left-libertarians do, but the fight is interesting. My main angle on this whole thing is to preserve the historical integrity of the term New Libertarian. Thus the linkage.

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BlogClip: Amnesty, international


Another succinct but dead-on analysis from Unqualified Offerings.

The new president of Iraq is proposing a limited amnesty for insurgents (note the absence of a "sic" there -- now that Iraq seems to actually have a popularly elected, nominally representative government, there's actually something to, er, insurge against, so the word is now contextually appropriate). It's not clear that his job allows him to implement any such proposal, but what the heck. If you're gonna be a president, at least use the bully pulpit.

US Deputy Underwhatchamacallit Richard Boucher has his panties in a wad at the notion that such an amnesty might include those who have killed US soldiers.

Well, Deputy Underwhatchamacallit Boucher, suck it up. When you have a war, guess what -- your opponent tries to kill your soldiers. It's not a crime, unless the war itself is a crime. An amnesty shouldn't even be necessary. If the war is over, the war's over -- everyone goes home and waits for the next one. Criminal prosecution is rightly reserved for those who have killed noncombatants or committed other real crimes.

If the US prevails upon Iraq's government not to let those resistance fighters who fought within the bounds of civilized warfare go home, then the US is effectively demanding a continuation of the war. You can't expect your enemy to surrender if the consequences of doing so would be at least as bad, and possibly worse, than the consequences of continuing to fight.

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NewsClip: Busch v. genemod crops


"Anheuser-Busch Cos., the nation's No. 1 buyer of rice as well as its largest brewer, says it won't buy rice from Missouri if genetically-modified medicinal crops are allowed to be grown in the state."

The whole (organic) enchilada.

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Reform School for Girls


Never mind the post title. I was at a loss, and it seemed like good search engine bait.

The topic -- for the third post -- is the Libertarian Reform Caucus and the comments made on the most recent one.

We still seem to be talking past each other, and I'm fast reaching the point where the game doesn't really look like it's worth the candle. I agree to an extent with Brad Spangler's latest, but not so much that I don't want to get a few last licks in before giving it up. So:

"Technically, the platform IS the product," writes Dr. Milsted. "The candidates are the salespeople -- along with the other promoters in the party."

Bill Woolsey -- who has experience as a Libertarian actually elected to office -- says "I would think about how the party platform influences the recruitment of candidates."

And Tim West is more blunt: "Until the LP's most self damaging crap is gone, you CANT have the best candidates for LP races becuase they will look at the turd that is our current platform and correctly assess that the Party's own document will be used against them. This simplay canno[t] continue if the LP is going to be effective politically."

Each of them had more to say than that, of course. That's why I included a link. I'm just summarizing.

More to the point, though, I'd like to quote Tim again: "In other words, it's not a all-or nothing process." By which he means, there's more than just the platform. There's a set of interrelated issues at stake. I can agree with that.

Instead of taking it from the top and re-hashing the whole argument, I'm going to just throw out some assertions and see what rings true:

1) One problem with the platform is that it's the platform of an ideological party rather than a political party. In a European-style parliamentary democracy, that would not be an insuperable barrier to success, since the party would get some influence via proportional representation. Call it 1-2% in the legislatures. Not enough to simply pass the platform plank, but enough to wield some influence in coalition with other parties on various issues, and to extract policy compromises for throwing in with coalitions to fill the executive branch ministries. Of course, we don't have, and aren't likely to get, a European-style parliamentary system here in the US any time soon, so the LRC folks may have a point. Why not a platform more fitted to a party that has to compete in "first past the post" races?

2) On the other hand, the whole thing strikes me as similar to putting a whole lot of money into trying to rebuild a 1971 Dodge Dart and make it into a 2004 Lexus. Why not just go out and buy a Lexus, or build one from a kit or something instead of trying to retrofit an obviously unsuitable vehicle?

3) On the third hand, let's be honest with ourselves. Even if the LP's entire platform was trashed and built anew tomorrow, and even if that platform incorporated every change that you felt was desirable, it would be at least another 35 years before anyone noticed. For better or for worse, the LP has had more than three decades to become identified (and often mis-identified) in the public mind with certain things. The platform could be changed to mandate the death penalty for marijuana possession tomorrow and in 2016 most Americans would still hear the words "Libertarian Party" and think "drug legalization." Or, just as likely, "Lyndon LaRouche."

4) On the fourth hand (I'm starting to feel like Shiva here), the fact is that Libertarian candidates can and do win elections, the existing platform notwithstanding. Not enough elections, but it's worth considering that a more productive approach than quibbling over the platform might be to study and emulate what those candidates are doing to get elected (and, often, re-elected). Because, to be honest, if the GOP and Democratic platforms were trotted out as attack pieces in campaigns, they'd be devastating too. The LP platform is not especially inferior (they say "Moon Treaty," I say "Human Cloning," and that guy in the corner says "Single-Payer Healthcare") -- it's just an easy target because candidates allow themselves to be identified with it instead of creating their own public images.

But you know, all of the stuff above will sort itself out, or it won't. I don't think y'all at LRC are seeing the big picture, but I could be wrong. The important thing is that you're questioning the orthodoxy, and that's the first step to arriving at answers.

During my brief tenure as an alternate on the Libertarian National Committee, I undertook to be "champion" of one of the Strategic Plan items. I think it was #19, and it was the dictum "there are no silver bullets." There weren't any then, and there aren't any now. Whether or not the LP can be reformed and made into a viable political party is an open question, but if there are any correct answers to that question, rest assured that there are several correct answers, and all of them necessary to your proposed reform. Good luck. A major reason for my decision to leave the LP was my personal conclusion that it wasn't ready to get serious about finding those answers yet. If you're able to inspire it to get serious, you'll have my everlasting support, my personal gratitude and, just possibly, my participation. Good luck.

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PSA: Dead Guy Standing


I.M. Dedd is an insidious character. He drops by the comment links and says "nice work." What he's really saying, though, is "Knapp ... if you don't give the strip a plug on your blog, you may just see yourself in it some time soon."

Well, I don't need that. If I call his bluff, he'll probably do it -- if nothing else, to make an example of me for those other guys, the ones who keep him in imported beer, loose women and island villas. People will pretty much do anything to avoid being lampooned in the pages of Dead Guy. I just consider myself lucky he isn't demanding large bags of unmarked, low-denomination bills.

Seriously, though. Check out Dead Guy. Irreverent doesn't even begin to describe it.

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Reform school, redux


I don't know whether to ascribe it to a failure of animadversion on my part, or to tunnel vision on theirs, or perhaps to something completely different, but the guys at the Libertarian Reform Caucus seem to have badly misunderstood my point in this post.

"Tom Knapp," writes Carl Milsted, "... seems to think that the main thing we need to do is improve our sales pitch."

Well, no. As Dr. Milsted points out, there's no dearth of pitch assistance in the movement -- Advocates for Self-Government and other groups, both in and out of the Libertarian Party, have been honing presentation styles for years.

I agree with the LRC that the problem isn't the pitch, except in the narrow sense that libertarians need to learn to sell benefits instead of features. What I disagree with the LRC on is what the product line should be.

The LRC is, to my mind, still trapped in an unsupportable proposition: that the products to be sold are the party's ideology and the party itself -- that the key to success is selling "membership" in an organization based on personal identification with that organization's ideology.

I disagree. To me, a party is the store and the platform planks are its aisles. While I don't have a problem with putting a more welcoming sign out front, widening the aisles a bit and sprucing the place up so that it's a more congenial place to shop -- all of those things are good ideas -- I believe that the product line, rightly understood, is a party's candidates. The widest aisles and the nicest sign won't do the LP a bit of good until it learns to recruit, promote and support candidates who can consistently win election and re-election to, and promotion in, public office. Such candidates will bring people into the store, and some of those people will be glad to help widen the aisles and sweep the floors as "members." But dragging them into a store with nothing saleable on the shelves is pointless. They have one look around, and then they're off down the street to stores which offer them electable candidates.

That's the nut of my disagreement with LRC's approach. I think that a reform program focusing on platform and membership recruitment is doomed to fail. I do, however, wish LRC well.

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BlogClip: Neolibertarianism: an Inquiry


Unqualified Offerings offers (presumably without qualification) part one of an extended interview with with Jon Henke of Q and O on "neolibertarianism."

For the most part, I don't have a big problem with the "neos" on doctrinal grounds, for the simple reason that their ethic of compromise has already -- as the interview demonstrates -- effectively prevented them from staking out anything resembling a coherent position to advocate or fight for. Going after them on doctrinal issues is like nailing Jello™ to a wall -- they just ooze out around the edges of any debate and find someplace else to be. And let's be honest ... Jello™ just isn't that threatening. It may be colorful, but it's bland and it doesn't make a very good bludgeon.

Like most short-lived offshoots of libertarianism, the "neos" have taken a few issues du jour -- foreign policy being the most contentious -- and posited that the key to the freedom movement's success is capitulation to the prevailing wisdom (or, to be more accurate, unwisdom) on those issues. They're a bit more suave about it than most, holding their key planks out as sounder ideological stands rather than compromises of principle, but it really comes down to the same old failed prescription: In order to succeed, libertarians must abandon some of their key positions and "move to the center."

This doesn't especially worry me. It may even be a good thing for the movement. Pro-war sentiment among libertarians has simmered at just below the boiling point since 2001, and most of those who were inclined to re-evaluate libertarian foreign policy prescriptions after 9/11 figured out, over time, that those prescriptions had, in fact, been the correct ones. All that's left of the libertarian "hawk faction" is a small schismatic core. If they want to get their temperatures up to a boil and go galloping off to "the center" (where, like their predecessors, they are unlikely ever to be heard from again), far be it from me to stand in their way.

The problem I have with the "neolibertarians" is not that they might be successful as a political entity. It's that, in an age of informational volatility, they may partially (and not unintentionally -- this has been called to their attention) obscure some real roots of the real movement; particularly, the pre-WWII Old Right and Vietnam-era New Left opposition to foreign military adventurism. The "neolibertarian" journal of record expropriates the name of an older, esteemed publication and in doing so threatens (so far unsuccessfully) to drive the ideas of the genuine New Libertarian out of the limited place in the spotlight (for example, in Google search results) that those ideas currently occupy.

"Who controls the past controls the future," wrote Orwell. And "who controls the present controls the past." In the Internet Age, control of the present is largely disputed through search engine results, and that gives active current trends, however small, a distinct advantage over historical realities, however foundational. This, in turn, feeds the unfortunate trend (described in Caleb Carr's novel Killing Time and recently explored by Robert McHenry on TechCentralStation) of displacement of real knowledge by mere information.

The coming 15 minutes of notoriety for the "neolibertarians" -- their brief period of influence on the informational present and therefore on the informational past -- threatens both the informational future and the accessibility of the vastly more important store of knowledge which the history of the libertarian movement represents.

Fortunately, this potential nightmare can be forestalled. Since the crux of the conflict is the term "New Libertarian," those interested in defending the history of our movement against temporary and transient "rogue informational waves" can do so by the simple expedient of linking the term, from their own blogs and web sites, to sites more representative of its real, historical meaning than that of the "neolibertarian" journal.

Some examples:

"Samuel Edward Konkin III, 1947-2004," by Jeff Riggenbach, is a moving tribute to the life and work of the authentic New Libertarian.

"A Fannish Tribute to Samuel Edward Konkin III," by J. Neil Schulman, covers similar ground, with more emphasis put on the science fiction fandom interests and activities of the real New Libertarian.

LeftLibertarian is a Yahoo! Group created by the original New Libertarian.

And, of course, there's The New Libertarian Manifesto, the seminal explanatory work on SEK3's ideas.

Because search engines rank particular sites with respect to particular terms on the basis of incoming links using those terms, this "Google bombing" technique can be used to distort -- or correct -- the informational record. Such a correction is called for in this case, even if only for the proverbial 15 minutes of "neolibertarian" fame. And it's a good idea anyway -- the historical underpinnings of the libertarian movement require preservation. Thanks to the "neos" for calling our attention to that need.

For what it's worth, if you choose to add one of the links above to your own site, email me and I'll add you to Knappster's blogroll.

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Saturday, April 09, 2005

BlogClip: Miscellaneous Asides About Modernism


David Brin offers some fascinating insights on the revolt against modernism (as always, Brin is interesting whether one agrees with him or not).

Of particular interest to me is his theory on the shift in literature from the fantastic to the mundane. He associates it with a polarity reversal, beginning circa 1600 with the Enlightenment, in what one might think of as risk assessment as it relates to the individual and to society. As it happens, this tracks closely with the birth and growth of the modern state as well ... and with my own recent thinking on the genesis of the anarchist movement and the reaction to it, which occurred about the same time the literary shift became evident.

To put it a different way, as pure skylark hypothesis:

- The birth of liberalism was a feature of the Enlightenment, but the growth of the state was a reaction to the uncertainties produced by liberalism's radical changes.

- The trend away from speculation and toward fascination with the now in literature, and the trend toward increased state power as a tool of fending off uncertainty about the future, were manifestations of the same phenomenon.

- The birth of anarchism (and other utopian ideas) as political philosophy was in turn a reaction to the increasingly stifling environment produced by these "fear of the future" movements. In other words, it's no coincidence that Jane Austen and William Godwin were roughly contemporaries.

Like I said, purely spitballing here, but it's something I plan to explore pursuant to a paper I'm writing for a new anarchist project that you'll be hearing about soon.


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Friday, April 08, 2005

BlogClip: A friendly wager


This idea of Matt Barganier's is pretty damn cool. Unfortunately, the airlines aren't quite ready to fly into Baghdad yet.

What to do? I propose an extension of the bet's terms: If, on the date that the bet is resolved, it's still not possible to get a flight into Baghdad, let Reynolds land in Kuwait City, rent a car and drive the 344 miles to Baghdad. Similarly, Matt can fly into Geneva and drive the 339 miles to Paris.

Hat tip to Jim at Unqualified Offerings.

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Thursday, April 07, 2005

There is no spoon


"The Japanese entertainment giant Sony has patented an idea for transmitting data directly into the brain, with the goal of enabling a person to see movies and play video games in which they smell, taste and perhaps even feel things, it was reported today."

Read all about it.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Reform school


Having decided some time back to take my own political activities in a different direction, I'm somewhat hesitant to comment on reform efforts in the Libertarian Party. However, Brad Spangler asked for my opinion on his own thoughts. And my thoughts on the subject are too long to constrain to a mere comment response. So. Here we go.

The Libertarian Reform Caucus's prescriptions seem very internally focused on the party -- on its platforms, its bylaws, its membership oath ... on the organization.

Brad's critique seems, at first blush, to take the opposite tack. He thinks that what's needed is not a "softening" of approach, but rather a concentration on creating more people who like the party's ideology.

What's missing here?

To explain, I'm going to have to descend into marketing-speak. I hate to do that, because there's great potential for misunderstanding. A political party is not a sixpack of beer or a food processor or a knick-knack. It is not obvious that the techniques used to sell any of those things can be easily adapted to the use of a political party. Nonetheless, there are parallels -- and one of the problems is that the analogies are misunderstood.

Both the LRC and Brad seem to think that the party is the product. It isn't. It's the store.

The platform isn't the product, either. It's the store's mission statement. The bylaws aren't the product -- they're the operations manual. The oath ... well, let's just leave the oath alone for now. It's a subject of interest, but not especially relevant to where I'm going with this.

The party is the store. The products on the shelves are candidates, policy proposals and such.

You don't sell the store. You sell the products.

You don't sell the store's mission statement. You sell the store's products.

You don't sell the store's policy manual. You sell the store's products.

And, in the case of a political party, we're talking mail order, not retail floor space. The customer doesn't -- or at least shouldn't -- have to actually visit the store to get the products. They're available at finer polling places everywhere.

Are we on the same page so far? Okay. Point two:

One of the basics of sales doctrine is that you sell benefits, not features.

Kentucky Tavern is straight bourbon whiskey. By volume, it's 40% alcohol (80 proof). It's bottled by Glenmore Distilleries of Owensboro, Kentucky. Those are its features.

Kentucky Tavern tastes good, it's cheap and it gets me plonked (says the review: "Bright amber hue. Fiery wood-accented aromas. A soft attack leads to a medium-bodied palate. Slightly hot, woody finish. Straightforward.") Those are its benefits.

Read the two paragraphs above. Think real hard. Try to figure out which paragraph describes my reasons for purchasing a bottle of Kentucky Tavern.

Harry Browne gets this one right with The Great Libertarian Offer. Instead of flogging the features of libertarianism -- the ideological fine points, the philosophical highlights -- he tries to explain to his readers what's in it for them. If the book has a failing, it's that Harry is still trying to sell the store -- the Libertarian Party or libertarian ideology -- rather than the product. But at least he's selling benefits instead of features, and that's a start.

Any approach that focuses on:

a) selling ideology (feature) instead of policy outcomes (benefits); and

b) selling the party (store) instead of its candidates and policies (products)

... is doomed to fail. Especially in politics, because there's a third element involved.

The fact is that most people aren't ideologues or intellectuals. It's difficult for those of us who are ideologues or intellectuals to see that -- we assume that most people are like us. That assumption is incorrect.

Ideologues and intellectuals are the shopkeepers of politics. We keep the store open. We stock the shelves. We sweep the floors.

Most people don't want to "join" a party. They don't want to man the cash register, unload the truck, put the food in the freezers or mop. They want to walk in, buy what they came for and get the hell out. They are customers, not shopkeepers. They want to vote for candidates whom they believe are on their side ... and then they want to go home and tune in to the latest episode of American Idol.

There is such a thing as party identification, of course. Many people classify themselves as Democrats or Republicans. A few of them are the shopkeepers -- the ideologues and intellectuals -- of those parties. Most of them are just frequent customers who've developed a habit of going to the store where they think they're getting the best deal. Just as they do most of their shopping at Wal-Mart or buy most of their burgers from McDonald's, they "buy" most of their political representation from the GOP or the Democrats. That might be habit -- daddy shopped there, grandpa shopped there, why go anywhere else? Or, in all too many cases, it may be because only one party has a well-stocked "store" -- candidates, policy proposals and signage to call attention to them -- in the neighborhood.

The LP can't count on habit to drive party allegiance, because the Democrats and Republicans have a 150+ year head start. And all the neighborhood locations, signage and advertising in the world won't get the job done unless you've got the goods. "Branding" is only effective if there's something to "brand" that's saleable in its own right. Nike brand shoes sell like hotcakes. Nike brand air wouldn't sell at all.

If the LP is to succeed, it needs to start recruiting customers instead of shopkeepers. It needs to sell the products instead of the store. And it needs to sell the benefits instead of the features.

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Monday, April 04, 2005

FMNNClip: Organ agonistes


Excerpt:

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Let's put some perspective on the "ethics" of money in transplant situations:

The surgeon who performs the transplant is paid.

The nurses, anesthesiologists, medical technicians and aides who assist the surgeon are paid.

The company which transports the organ from its point of origin to its point of use is paid.

The lady behind the counter at the hospital coffee shop who serves up a cuppa joe to the patients' families while they await word is paid.

Only one party to this whole process is expected to forego payment for "ethical" reasons -- the donor (or, if the donor is dead, the donor's estate).

The result? Only 30% of Americans register to donate their organs. Hundreds of Americans die every month awaiting a transplant organ which never arrives. Thousands of transplantable organs are buried or baked every month.
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Click here for the whole thing.

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Saturday, April 02, 2005

Look for the union label


I really dig my new role as FMNN's House Pinko. One of the issues I'll be exploring in an upcoming column there -- as I did a few years ago at Liberty for All -- is unionism.

I grew up in a union household -- my father's a retired Teamster. I was a UFCW factory worker (and steward, and member of various bargaining unit committees) for six years myself. And while I've had a bit of a love-hate relationship with unions, I've generally found that the "hate" element comes in when the state gets involved.

Oddly enough, although the Libertarian Party's platform could hardly be called anti-union, and although some of the LP's most respected activists have been union activists as well, I noted a fairly pervasive anti-union sentiment in the LP.

More details in the aforementioned, upcoming column. For now, just a note: If you look in the right hand column, you'll find a "bug" which indicates that Knappster is now a "union shop." After much consideration, I've concluded that a left-libertarian anarchist Democrat (whoo, the string of appellations grows -- pretty soon, I'll be my own grandpa), especially one working as a House Pinko, really needs credentials. I eagerly await the arrival of my IWW card in the mail.

FMNN writers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your columns!

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Friday, April 01, 2005

BlogClip: Moral Hazards


Interesting thoughts from Jim Henley over at Unqualified Offerings [post-entry edit: see also The Poor Man on this article], especially with respect to the potential of the Democratic Party to remake itself as a libertarian political force.

Personally, I alternate between optimism (not irrational exuberance) and skepticism (not defeatism) on that general potential.

I see it this way:

- As Jim points out, the Democratic Party -- whatever else it may or may not do or become -- is "the only institutional tool to hand" where breaking what he calls "the torture state" is concerned. In the near term, it is unlikely that any other political organization can even think about bringing the resources and the sustained efforts to bear which are required to get the US out of Iraq ... and even then, we're probably talking about post-2008.

It's iffy. Sustained effort within the Democratic Party will be required to even get withdrawal from Iraq and a turn away from foreign military adventurism firmly onto the Democratic agenda, or to make it give high priority to those things or to any general restoration of civil liberties. And we can't expect action on those issues unless we can force them into the campaign platforms. Politicians are bad enough about breaking promises they make. Promises they don't make? Fuhgeddaboudit.

However, unless Yoda shows up to tell us that there's another, the Democrats are our only hope.

- Jim is also right in pointing out that, regardless of the neoconservative movement's role or rationale in taking the nation to war, the Republican base has wholeheartedly adopted jingoism, probably for the foreseeable future. If a black hole opened up and swallowed AEI while the entire staff of the Weekly Standard was touring its HQ, the GOP would not magically morph into a paleoconservative party. Mistuh Nock, he dead -- and the Old Right with him.

- As an anarchist, I'm used to thinking long-term. I don't think that the Democratic Party will be substantially a libertarian party in 2006, or 2008, or probably even in 2020. However, it is a more libertarian party than the GOP is right now in several significant respects, and there are enduring sentiments and trends within it that lend themselves to a transformation over time. And what the hell ... it's not any more of a longshot than the stateless society, or the Libertarian Party getting its act together and actually accomplishing something, is it?

- In the shorter term, there's plenty of work to do on "the little things" -- lobbying for and against legislation at the state level, building a libertarian presence on the Left and gaining the influence necessary to effect the transformation desired. That's what I'm trying to help accomplish with my involvement in the Democratic Freedom Caucus, nationally and in Missouri.

Movements need fertile soil in which to grow. The soil in which a libertarian movement can most realistically hope to take root is on the Left. They're looking for "new" ideas, while the Right is caught up in admiring the apparent success of, and attempting to advance on the strength of, its present agenda.

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SiteProps: A Fannish Tribute to Samuel Edward Konkin III


I was just looking around for material about SEK3 -- I have my reasons -- when I came across this tribute to the original New Libertarian.

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