Sunday, October 30, 2005

The dreaded comparison ...


I've been waiting for some other blogger to make the point better than I can, but nobody seems to be biting. Brad DeLong comes closest and his take is worth reading, but when you want something done, I guess you have to do it yourself. So, here goes:

The Republicans are throwing a Hissy fit. Literally.

Let me backpedal a bit. Some Republican and conservative bloggers are taking the Libby indictment seriously. Their opinions range from "Jesus, Libby was really stupid -- why didn't he just get all up in Fitzgerald's grill and say 'yeah, I outed her -- no law broken, though, so back off, man?'" to "this is a serious matter. The whole Saddam's nukes/WMD/Iraq war issue has been under a cloud for more than two years now because this geek lipped off to the press and then tried to cover it up. Throw the book at him."

Others, however, run more in the direction of "that's all ya got, huh?"

Bill Quick at Daily Pundit -- "Even the bigstream media is suddenly noticing that there is no 'there' there. ... the moonbats at moveon.org and the Kossacks at the Kosa Nostra were going crazy in slavering anticipation. Now they get one aide charged with lying about sex what he said to some reporters. Pretty thin gruel to feed such a pack of howing beasts, eh?"

Mark R. Levin at National Review's "The Corner" -- "Frankly, this has the smell of Lawrence Walsh, who claimed that top Reagan officials violated various laws without charging them, and his defenders waived around Walsh's public statements as evidence of crimes. ... we have strained efforts now to accuse Libby of passing classified information without the benefit of an actual charge."

Let's take this from the top:

Alger Hiss was accused of (but not charged with) delivering classified information to the Soviet Union. Scooter Libby is accused of (but not charged with) delivering classified information to ... well, pretty much everyone who reads The New York Times or Time magazine, presumably including operatives of every intelligence agency, friendly or unfriendly, in the world.

A brief note on classified information: There are different levels of classification, and we don't know which one covered Valerie Plame's status at CIA. The key thing to remember is that all levels of classification assert damage to the security of the United States as a potential consequence of mishandling the information. The disclosure of "confidential" information could "damage" the national security. The disclosure of information designated "secret" could cause "serious damage" to the national security. And "top secret" information is information which, if disclosed, could cause "grave damage" to the national security. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asserts in the Libby indictment, and asserted at his press conference, that Plame's employment by the CIA was, in fact, classified information -- and in so asserting, he implicitly also asserted that its disclosure was damaging to the national security to one degree or another. Now, back to our regular programming:

In the case of Hiss, the statute of limitations had run out by the time his alleged activities came to light, and espionage charges could therefore not be pressed. In the case of Scooter Libby, US law was "reformed" in the 1970s, over the objections of Republicans. It ceased to be automatically illegal to divulge classified information. Specific criteria of both offense and intent were written into law, and the lines dividing whistleblowing, indiscretion and crime got a lot more blurry.

In the case of Alger Hiss, the prosecutor went instead for perjury charges; in the case of Scooter Libby, the prosecutor charged perjury, then threw in false statements and obstruction for good measure.

Hiss, of course, was convicted (and it appears, according to records released after the collapse of the USSR, that he was, in fact, a Soviet spy). Libby may or may not be convicted.

The Republican line on Hiss is -- and has been for 50 years -- that he was guilty as hell and deserved what he got (44 months in prison). The Republican line on Libby, at least in some quarters, is that if Fitzgerald can't nail him for outing Plame, charging him with perjury is just sour grapes.

Republicans are agitating, in other words, for the rehabilitation of Alger Hiss (not to mention Bill Clinton). Isn't it a little late for that?

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Friday, October 28, 2005

"Ladies and gentlemen ... we got him"


This blog post won't go up until after Fitzgerald's announcement, but it's being partially written early on Friday morning. As I write this, the New York Times is predicting the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff -- for making false statements to the grand jury in the PlameGate inquiry. The Times also predicts an extension of the jury's term so that Fitzgerald can hunt bigger heads.

In a day when even the most minor scandal gets hyped all out of proportion, it's difficult to assess the impact that the handing down of indictments will have. Many of the same people who've counted President Bush down and out before are doing so again, forgetting what a surprising tendency he has to pop right back up, fists flailing.

Will this week -- with the 2000th US military death in Iraq, the withdrawal of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, and now possibly indictments of major administration figures -- mortally wound the Bush administration? I just don't know. The elder George would be curled up in a fetal position under the desk in the Oval Office, wailing "read my lips! Read my lips!" under these circumstances. But Dubyah isn't his father's son -- he is, for lack of a better word, far more ... Clintonesque.

I've already hypothesized that Harriet Miers was a maguffin -- that her nomination was intended to channel the conservative rebellion and get the GOP lined back up behind Bush. I won't be terribly surprised if the administration pulls a prefab "victory" of some sort out of the hat in Iraq next week. And "the Fitzgerald indictments," if they come, may serve to unify the right rather than to cower it. Don't touch that dial.

UPDATE, noonish: Well, it's Libby -- five counts altogether -- perjury, making a false statement and obstructing justice. The indictment came out of the court clerk's office a few minutes ago; Fitzgerald's press conference is still scheduled for 2 p.m. eastern.

UPDATE, 12:10 pm: Fox News (the TV version -- nothing on the web yet) is now reporting that Libby has resigned his position as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.

UPDATE, 1 pm-ish: I'm just going to keep the window open and liveblog Fitzgerald's camera-mugging excursion (hitting "publish" every few minutes and then editing ... so don't touch that dial!). Fox is reporting that President Bush will be speaking publicly on the Libby indictments (why am I watching Fox, you might ask? Because, being the most sympathetic of the channels to the Bush administration, they'll filter out the worst of the speculative bullshit, which in this case will mostly be coming from the left). In the meantime, I'm scanning the blogosphere for tidbits:

Kathryn Jean Lopez, over at National Review's blog The Corner, learned from a reader why Fitzgerald put off his press conference until mid-afternoon ... he's from Chicago, and today is the White Sox victory parade. A man's gotta have his priorities, and even if it wasn't the Cubs, a World Series Victory is obviously more important than shooting the bull with reporters about Scooter Libby.

Over at Below the Beltway, Doug Mataconis brings up the Martha Stewart analogy. That's fair, and a comparison I made elsewhere (specifically the Slick-D list on Topica) in predicting the outcome here.

Now it looks like the president is actually going to comment before the Fitzgerald circus. Developing ...

Okay, no, Fitzgerald goes first. He's describing the indictment at the moment. Anyone ever notice that he looks a lot like Howard Dean?

He's almost immediately into the meat of it ... whether Plame's work for the CIA was covered by the Covert Agent Identity Protection Act or not, it was classified, it was leaked, and that does represent a risk to national security, even if only by establishing a bad precedent in letting it slide. Good point. He also points out that her work was not, as some pundits have dismissively claimed, "general knowledge" among her neighbors, friends, etc.

Okay, now he's describing the grand jury process, explaining why the public doesn't get to know what all is going on in there, and obviously coming to the point of how bad it is to lie to the grand jury, which is what Libby is accused of doing. Bam -- he just hit that one. He's going through the timeline of Libby's interactions with investigators and the jury. I'm not going to transcribe -- that timeline will surely be made available on the web. Note, however, that Fitzgerald alleges that Libby did not, as he first attested, learn of Valerie Plame's work for the CIA from Tim Russert, but rather from "other government officials," that he in fact discussed it with reporters before he talked with Russert, and that he didn't even discuss it with Russert.

About 1:30 -- Fitzgerald is taking questions. He seems to have been said that the grand jury is going to be "held open" to consider "other matters." In responding to the question of the "Martha Stewart" analogy -- this was a leak investigation, why no prosecution for leaking? -- he has been using baseball analogies (a pitcher hits a batter -- why did he do it and did he mean to?) to explain why the digging isn't going to stop. He is (as is proper) declining to comment on anyone who hasn't been indicted, and noting that only Libby has been accused by his office and by the grand jury of committing criminal acts.

This investigation is clearly not over. "I will not end this investigation until I can look everyone in the eye and tell them ..." ah, screw trying to transcribe quotes. It just ain't over. Period. You'd think the press would be familiar enough with the law on keeping grand jury secrecy to stop hectoring this guy. "What about Rove?" "Who are you looking at?" Jackals.

Bored yet? I've never liked liveblogging, but this seems to need it. Personally, I'm waiting with bated breath for Justin Raimondo's take on this thing (link is to his "current column" page -- maybe I'll remember to put in a permalink, maybe I won't).

Fitzgerald: Tired, want to go home, wish this was over a long time ago, yada, yada, yada. Doesn't hate reporters but sometimes their testimony is necessary, yada, yada. Dammit, am I talking to the walls here? I can't tell you what else I'm looking into, harumph. Not alleging violation of covert agent act, but again, Plame's affiliation with CIA was classified, get it?

Response to charges that he's partisan: "One day I read that I was a Republican hack, the next day I read that I was a Democratic hack, and the only thing I did in between those two days was sleep."

Okay, now he seems to be is saying that it may will be a new grand jury, not an extension of the old one.

Interlude: Byron York at NRO's The Corner: Who is "Official A?"

This whole thing reminds me of why I sometimes hate the press. Were these reporters locked in a sealed room for the last two years or something? And where did they go to J-School? Ah ... someone just brought up "Official A." May get interesting, and maybe not all of these reporters are stuffed mannequins with tabloid scripts on tape players inside their heads.

Now he's explaining the difference between England's Official Secrets Act and the less restrictive US laws on divulging classified information. The undertone here is that the actual disclosure of Plame's CIA employment, even though it was classified, isn't necessarily prosecutable.

Finally, some reporter who looks like Scott Bacula is asking about old grand jury/new grand jury ... and Fitzgerald manages to be unclear yet again. As best I can tell, a new grand jury will be empaneled, but he won't say why, or what he's after with them.

Interesting ... Fitzgerald was just asked (about 3:05 pm eastern) if he had sought indictments that the grand jury didn't give him. He looked around for rescue and got a shake of the head from a colleague to tell him he's not allowed to say. His demeanor indicates that yes, he did ask for more than he got.

Back to stupid and/or unanswerable questions. I'm bailing, folks. I don't get paid enough to watch the farce that press pools make out of these kinds of things, and I don't see how the principals manage to put up with it without wringing a journalistic neck or three. Back later with my real schtick -- opinion.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Don't tell the assessor ...


The guys over at Business Opportunities Weblog have created a neat little online tool -- based on the money changing hands in the AOL-Weblogs Inc. deal, it values your blog. Well now:


My blog is worth $180,652.80.
How much is your blog worth?



If anyone wants to buy Kn@ppster for $180K, consider it sold. Drop me a line. I'll even continue doing the writing for a year. Make it $200K and I'll walk your dog and cook you dinner.

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The waiting game


OK, I admit it. I've been pinging Google News every 20 minutes or so, all day long. If you're a politics junkie, you've been doing the same thing. Mr. Fitzgerald has us all on tenterhooks.

Will there be indictments? How many? Who? Republicans seem to be alternating between pulling their hair out and trying to pretend that it ain't no thang. Democrats aren't disguising their glee -- but they are keeping busy trying to extend the case from the Plame outing all the way to the whole Iraq war rationale.

My predictions (I've made them before, elsewhere):

- Yes, there will be indictments. Almost certainly Libby, possibly Rove, probably not Cheney. Other assorted figures such as National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley may find themselves in court as well.

- The indictments will probably not be for the act of outing Plame. The case on that isn't airtight, and the law is sufficiently vague that it might be difficult to get a conviction. More likely, the indictments will be for obstruction and/or perjury. This investigation has been going on for 20 months. The grand jury is going to want to indict someone for something -- and my bet is that the people who were ... less than forthcoming ... about their roles early on will feel the jury's wrath.

- The wild card is just how political the jury wants to be. If they're really pissed, we might see Cheney, or even Bush, listed as "un-indicted co-conspirators" -- legalese for "we know they did it, but we don't think the prosecutor can get a conviction."

The news story linked above seems to indicate that there won't be an announcement today; the Daily Kos entry linked above seems to indicate that there may be. Another possibility raising its ugly head is that of "sealed" indictments, where we're not told that anyone's getting the hammer (or who that anyone might be) because the prosecutor wants to dig some more or hit one or more of the accused up for plea bargains (or because the prosecutor is an evil bastard and wants to make us cross and irritable). I guess we'll see. As a matter of fact, I'm seeing, right now, before I post this thing. Nope. Nothing. Damn.

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BlogProps: Hammer of Truth


... and not just because author Stephen VanDyke produced a kick-ass new logo for the Libertarian Ad Network (check it out, over in the sidebar). Hammer of Truth is one of those blogs I don't mention a lot here because I usually don't have anything to add; I'm just shaking my head in agreement. Check it out.

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

BlogProps: UnFairWitness


Think things are really looking up for the US occupation in Iraq? Tex MacRae says you might want to think again.

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Introducing the Libertarian Ad Network


After a slow start some months ago (I'm not even going to link to the blog article -- it's ancient history), I've had an incredibly good experience with BlogAds. I've tried a few other advertising brokers in the past (AdBrite, Google AdSense) and have found them wanting in various respects. BlogAds is easy to set up, easy to use, charges a reasonable commission and pays on time and in full.

Recently, BlogAds has introduced two new measures to address two important concerns: Recruiting new affiliates and creating niche "mini-networks" that make it easier for advertisers to target their money at the audience they want to reach. I'm proud to be involved in implementing both of these measures, and after a slight delay to think my approach through and get some other projects under control, it's time to get started:

- BlogAds used to take a long time to approve new affiliates (that was my complaint, as a matter of fact). Now, they're trusting certain existing affiliates to act as "sponsors." If you want to run BlogAds on your site, you get into the system via a sponsor ... and I'm one of'em. Sponsors receive a limited number of "invitations" which allow them to bring new blogs on board, so I won't be handing mine out like candy. If you're interested in receiving an invitation, contact me by email with "BlogAds" in the subject line. I'll be giving priority to libertarian blogs (see below for one reason why), and to blogs with reasonably high trafffic (3,000+ page views per week). That doesn't mean that a non-libertarian blog or a low-traffic blog can't get an invitation, but they don't grow on trees. They're a scarce commodity, and I intend to dispose of them wisely (i.e. in a way that makes money for BlogAds and for myself -- yes, I get a commission).

- BlogAds wants advertisers to be able to reach their preferred "niche" audiences, and has created a system under which sponsors may create "mini-networks" of similar sites. I've created the Libertarian Ad Network (see poor ad graphic in sidebar, and let me know if you want to contribute a better one -- 120x120 pixels). The audience niche is pretty obvious, I'd say. As of now, advertisers can reach an audience of more than 600,000 libertarian readers per week with one click through the network instead of having to manually seek out appropriate blogs (they can also easily remove particular blogs from their "network" ad, reducing the audience size and the price).

I expect the network to grow fairly quickly. If you're already a BlogAds affiliate with a libertarian blog, but your site doesn't appear on the network, contact me by email with "Libertarian Ad Network" in the subject line and I'll add you if you fit the bill (at the moment, I am not including sites which call themselves "conservative" rather than "libertarian" -- if you want to belong to the Libertarian Ad Network, use "the L-word" somewhere in your description, even if you use "conservative" too). If you're not a BlogAds affiliate yet, see above to become one.

Naturally, if you want to advertise on the Libertarian Ad Network, we're happy to accomodate you. Just click here.

And, finally, a note to Kn@ppster's readers: Do I blog for my health? Well, yeah. But I also like to make a little money doing it. When someone spends money on an ad here, they do so in the hope that some of you will click through, whether it's to buy a product or read something they think you should see. Please don't ignore those ads. If you're not interested, don't click through ... but take time to have a look and if you are interested, please patronize my sponsors.

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... and here comes the swing


I admit it. Harriet Miers had me bumfuzzled. I wasn't the only one -- her nomination to the Supreme Court surprised and confused pretty much everyone, and enraged quite a few to boot. In the two-and-a-half weeks intervening between then and now, however, things have fallen into a pattern that may begin to help us make sense of it all:

- An important Republican Senator whose support she desperately needs says she acknowledged a "right to privacy" in the Constitution per Griswold v. Connecticut in a private interview; she says he must have been high or something.

- An important Democratic Senator whose support she desperately needs says the answers on her returned Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire range from "incomplete to insulting."

- The leaks and fortuitous discoveries begin ... and each one damages her with constituencies which had been inclined to support her. Democrats who thought they might have a supportable "moderate" are told that conservatives were told she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Conservatives who thought that Bush was just being stealthy and trying to sneak Clarence Thomas with a vagina onto the court learn that she contributed to Al Gore's 1988 presidential campaign.

That the Miers nomination is failing is no secret. What's surprising is that nobody seems to be able to add two and two together and come up with the obvious conclusion: The Miers nomination is failing by design. She's a sacrifice fly. She's the first handoff in a flea-flicker play. She is the nominee before the real nominee.

The conservative rebellion against George W. Bush -- which has been brewing for a couple of years now -- is gaining momentum. It's going to go somewhere, and wherever it goes it will leave Katrina-like destruction in its wake. President Bush has decided to let a Supreme Court nomination (something he can bend, or even give way completely, on) play the role of New Orleans. By doing so, he hopes to keep that rebellion from manifesting itself on issues he'd have a harder time retrenching on (Iraq, for instance, or his already-savaged budget proposals).

At the same time, Bush is looking for a fight with the Democrats on favorable ground. He out-maneuvered them with the John Roberts nomination (they'd voted unanimously to confirm the guy to the federal bench in 2003 -- it's not like they could reverse themselves without severe self-damage), but between now and the 2006 mid-term elections, he wants a knock-down, drag-out to buoy GOP prospects.

Enter Miers: Conservatives don't like her. Liberals don't like her. Moderates don't like her. As a matter of fact, to all appearances, the only person in these here United States who does like her is George W. Bush. Simplistic? Yes. But I have no doubt that Miers knows her role and is playing it to the hilt to produce precisely this impression. Her long-time friend, her boss, her President asked her to. She's a trooper (and at the end of the day, there will be book deals and speech honoraria, outcome notwithstanding).

When Miers withdraws her name from consideration, or when Bush does it for her, he'll be in a position to get two things he's looking for: Republicans lined up behind him and Democrats lined up opposite him. Just the way things are supposed to be.

To Republicans, the message will be "Okay -- you took me to the woodshed. I learned my lesson. Now let's go kick some Democrat ass together."

To Democrats, the message will be "let's take the gloves off."

In next nominating Priscilla Owen, Janet Rogers Brown or some other reliably conservative jurist, Bush will have two defensible claims: That his conservative base demanded a real conservative, and that since Democrats rejected the non-ideologue he tried to appoint, they were looking for a fight ... so he might as well fight them for what he wants instead of for another compromise candidate.

That will put Bush right back where he wants to be. The conservative rebellion will have spent its energy, the partisan poles will start polarizing again, and he'll have the Armageddon he's seeking on the Senate floor, complete with Democratic "obstructionism," possible filibuster and even a shot at breaking up the compromise faction of Senators who kept the "nuclear option" from being exercised last time around.

Democrats, and even Republicans, have consistently misunderestimated Bush's intelligence and political acumen. I could be wrong, but in my view, the scheme above is an accurate representation of what's transpiring before us -- and in my view, Machiavelli himself couldn't have pulled it off with more panache.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Time's novel ideas


So is October "National Top 100 List Month" or something? Two days, two lists. This time it's Time Magazine's All-Time 100 Novels (by "All-Time," they mean "since Time Magazine has been published," not "all-time").

These lists are seemingly designed to make the average, or even above-average, reader feel unlettered. I generally plough through 3-5 books a week (more when I'm carrying a lighter workload), at least two of them novels ... and I've read 11 of the "top 100."

And, of course, the lists are also designed to elicit indignant retorts. Here are mine:

- The Sun Also Rises? Gimme a break. If Hemingway only gets one work on the list, it should be For Whom the Bell Tolls.

- If Margaret Atwood makes the list at all -- and I think she should -- The Handmaid's Tale is a much better selection than The Blind Assassin. No, not because it's more political. Because it's withstood the test of time -- it's still relevant after 20 years. The Blind Assassin has only been in print for five.

- Naturally, science fiction got short shrift. Nothing against William Gibson, and Neuromancer certainly rates, but I expected at least a nod to Ursula K. LeGuin (The Dispossessed), Robert Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land or perhaps The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) or Frank Herbert (Dune). The only other sci-fi picks that aren't considered more in the vein of "high literature" are Ubik by Philip K. Dick (that's right -- not Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, not The Man in the Hight Castle, but Ubik) and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash.

- Speaking of Stephenson, confession: I haven't read Snow Crash yet (I'm waiting to come across a used copy, or to remember it when my Amazon gift certificate balance is flush). I'm told -- by people whose judgment I trust -- that it's good but not as good as the obvious pick, Cryptonomicon. True, the latter has only been around a year longer than the Atwood selection, but by Time's standards that's sufficient ... and it's secured its place as a masterpiece, albeit not a straight science fiction novel. I have no doubt that all three volumes of his "Baroque Cycle" (Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World) will stand the test of time as well.

- Nothing by Leon Uris. Nothing! What's up with that? Trinity, Exodus and especially Mila 18 would have all been worthwhile selections, and more importantly more worthwhile selections than many which were actually made.

- I didn't expect Ayn Rand to show up, but I might as well whine about it. Atlas Shrugged was incredibly influential. The Fountainhead was important. We the Living was, well, good.

- Yes, I know, Stephen King. He was robbed. Like it or not, he's the most influential novelist of the late 20th century. It's not like they had to pick Cujo or Firestarter. He's written some stuff that's just as heavyweight as anything that made the list (The Stand, Hearts in Atlantis -- although it might be considered a collection of novellas, I guess -- the several novels in the Dark Tower cycle, etc.).

Overall, I had to feel that Time's selection committee was splitting its ticket between the obvious nods to conventional wisdom (Lolita, Herzog) and the purposely, snootily obscure (the definition of infallible proof that someone's lying is when they try to convince you that they've actually made it through Gravity's Rainbow, let alone a second Pynchon novel -- The Crying of Lot 49 made the list as well). So, I clicked over to the description of the selection process and found out that the committee was comprised of ... two guys.

Two guys? To put together a major news magazine's list of the top 100 novels of the last 82 years? Whaaaa??? Two guys???

Now I understand. The guys (Richard Lacayo and Lev Grossman), of course, are critics. I don't hold that against them (much). But even among critics, doesn't this seem like a rather shallow sampling for such a major undertaking?

In my estimation, Time's "100 All-Time Novels" just became "100 books recommended by two guys." A lot of the recommendations look worthwhile -- I'll be bookmarking the list and checking out some of the works I'd not gotten to (and the one or two I hadn't heard of) eventually, but how about truth in advertising? Let's do the real thing. You two -- pick the five books by living authors which you believe most worthy of inclusion. Then get those five authors (and maybe me) to select the other 95 books.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Brained reign


The Prospect/Foreign Policy poll to choose the "Top 100 Intellectuals" is over, and the results are in.

I'm disappointed, but not surprised, to see Noam Chomsky in the top spot, and well ahead of the pack. It continues to amaze me that an alleged anarchist who favors conscription (yes, really -- see here and here) and victim disarmament can be taken so seriously by so many as an "intellectual."

On the bright side, several thinkers of various pro-freedom stripes make the list, including Hernando De Soto, Camille Paglia, Mario Vargas Llosa ... hey, go through the list yourself. Mileage varies, but in my opinion there are some high points.

In the "bonus ball" category -- independent nominations of individuals not included on the "ballot" -- Milton Friedman topped the charts, and did sufficiently well that he would have made the top 100 had he been one of the selections. Thomas Sowell shows up too, as does Gore Vidal.

Sadly, a committee oversight resulted in my name being left off the ballot, and you people were too lazy to write it in. Maybe next time.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

... and boy, are my arms tired


Well, the hog is out of the tunnel. The auspicious moment has arrived. Elvis has left the bui ...

Okay, I've been a little scarce here lately, and I told you there were reasons. Here are three of them, officially launched this morning (with me as project coordinator on all three and editor of one):

The Choice Channel

The Medical Freedom Channel

Question Earthority!

... so now you know where I've been. And here you thought I was either out to get milk and cigarettes, or else seeing another woman. For shame, people.

Other interesting stuff

Wally Conger is reissuing the original Movement of the Libertarian Left pamphlets in PDF format, beginning with SEK3's "War or Liberty." Get yours today.

Brad Spangler explains why working within the system is such a drag.

J. Neil Schulman continues to present the most cogent arguments in favor of war. They still fail, but they're worth reading.

Christopher Hitchens sorts out Iraq's ethnic/tribal and religious groupings for the benefit of us ignoramuses. If anyone could make a sound argument in favor of the war on Iraq, it would be Hitchens. Since he can't do it, it's reasonable to conclude that it's impossible.

For my next trick, I'll try to return soon with something original of my own.

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

And now the counting


The polls have closed in Iraq. Thankfully, insurgent attacks designed to disrupt the election were apparently few and ineffectual. Now we get to see which way things went, and wait to see how they go.

I've already predicted that the constitution will be ratified whether the votes justify it or not -- that the US has too much riding on the outcome to leave it up to the caprice of the electorate -- but I could be wrong.

If it fails, the outcome is a foregone conclusion: The legs of legitimacy are cut out from under the current government and the US occupation; the de facto state of civil war escalates and the US is left without a plausible claim of any kind of "victory" to soothe the embarrassment of the very real defeat it has suffered in Iraq. If it succeeds, then who knows? The insurgency won't stop, of course, but it may begin to lose the popular support it requires to operate effectively and the US may be able to salvage a little bit of dignity.

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Semper Fiddlesticks


[Note: Once again a piece submitted to Free Market News Network ... Mark Fadiman, if you are sending email and I'm not getting it, please get word to me through Steve T. - TLK]

I've made no secret of the fact that I oppose the war on Iraq -- or, for that matter, of the fact that I support the right of any individual, having taken an oath to "defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic," to take permanent leave of the US armed forces -- with or without "permission" -- when he or she realizes that service in those forces is no longer consistent with that oath (a criterion which the current abuse of the armed forces by the Bush administration meets in spades).

Where I draw the line, however, is at the whining of those who have signed binding contracts when they realize that they probably should have read the fine print. Here's such a story from yesterday's Boston Globe.

I was 18 once. Hell, I was 17 when I signed my first contract with the Marine Corps -- presumably the same, or nearly the same, contract which young Brian Shepard signed. At that time, the president was Ronald Reagan, the presumptive enemy was the Soviet Union, and the presumptive result of signing that contract was the same as it is today: Keep your bags packed -- your ass belongs to the Corps.

Perhaps I'm not seeing this issue clearly, but it grinds my gears a bit. I mean, c'mon ... what the f--k were these people thinking?

Surely it could not have escaped their notice that, as of last fall when young Brian contacted the Marine Corps about joining up, 150,000+ Americans were fighting overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, with no end in sight.

Surely they had seen the stories about missed recruiting quotas and the dire need of the armed forces for grunts to keep the grinder grinding.

And hey ... we are talking about the Marine Corps here. Hello ... The Marine Corps is not an after-school activity. You don't get to go home if you skin your knee and the other kids are mean to you. The campouts may be weekends only -- or they may last a couple of years or more. You don't get to decide. You don't get a do-over. And if you don't read the contract, you're just, as we used to acronymize, SOL.

Even if young Brian had to go to boot camp to hear about Dan Daly's admonition at Belleau Wood ("C'mon, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?"), surely the family might have taken the time to sit down for an evening of education-by-DVD -- say, John Wayne as Sgt. Stryker in The Sands of Iwo Jima (PFC Thomas: "That's war." PFC Bass: "What's war?" PFC Thomas: "Trading real estate for men."), or R. Lee Ermey in The Boys in Company C (SSgt. Loyce: "Right now the casualty rate for young Marines is over 50%. If you don't pay attention, you are going to be that private in the body bag.") or Ermey again in Siege of Firebase Gloria (Gunny Hafner: "Now you listen to me Flanagan and you listen good! The communications bunker is history! We are on our own. There will be no re-supply. So you tighten up and make do with what you've got. You're a captain? Be a goddamn captain!") or hell, let's just have an Ermey festival and settle in for Full Metal Jacket as well (Gunny Hartmann: "The deadliest weapon in the world is a marine and his rifle. It is your killer instinct which must be harnessed if you expect to survive in combat. Your rifle is only a tool. It is a hard heart that kills. If your killer instincts are not clean and strong you will hesitate at the moment of truth. You will not kill. You will become dead marines and then you will be in a world of shit because marines are not allowed to die without permission. Do you maggots understand?").

The legends of the military in general and the Corps in particular suffuse American culture and history. They're impossible to avoid. How could the Shephards really believe that the band of brothers who crippled Mao's masses at the Chosin Reservoir, where the wounded walked so the dead could ride, would be set up to let their son out early for class? What in the name of God would make them think that the force which wrested Guadalcanal from the Japanese now exists for the purpose of providing college scholarships and pocket money to America's high school graduates?

Apparently they thought those things, though, and non caveat emptor to boot. "Well, this is a pretty thick sheaf of paper, and it probably has lots of stuff in it that we might ought to have a look at ... but hey, the nice man in the uniform has a pen and he's in a hurry. I'm sure he'd not even consider being less than perfectly candid about any of the implications. Let's just sign on the dotted line -- and then, cake and ice cream!"

For those in the Corps -- or the lesser services -- who have seen their oath betrayed and their brothers killed in service to a government run amok, my sympathies and I hope you figure a way through this thing that lets you sleep at night. But this isn't a case of realizing that the war in Iraq is wrong, an abuse of power and an action which voids the enlistee's contractual obligation. It's just a case of signing a contract and then not wanting it to be binding.

For you 18-year-olds -- and the parents of same: Think. Think hard. The Marine Corps is not a college grant foundation. It is not a part-time job with cool uniforms, even for reservists (no, I'm not putting down reservists -- I was one). The Marine Corps is a military force. It exists for the purpose of killing people and blowing things up, and if you are not prepared to do those things -- on their timetable and at their discretion, not yours -- the time to face up to that fact is before putting your John Hancock (or your Brian Shepherd) on a contract committing yourself to an enlistment.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

If you have to ask why ...


... people are what they are, here are some answers. Barbara, Toby, Morg and myself explain why we are, respectively, an independent, a liberal, a conservative and a libertarian. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

And you guys thought I was joking ...


Hat tip to Morg for this, from next week's issue of US News and World Report. Teaser:

Is Al Gore coming back? If allies we talked to have their way, the former veep will be the next president. "It's Gore Time," says a political strategist and fundraiser who is opening a bid to get Gore into the race.


Remember, you read it here and here first.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Listen up ...


Tim Condon rears back and passes a fantastic manifesto for the Free State Project at Sierra Times. Pull quote:

"LISTEN, libertarian: Virtually every political and philosophical position you hold is well thought out, logical, and beneficial. Yet most of those political and philosophical positions are utterly rejected by the mass of Americans. They don't agree with you! Your ideas scare them! And your numbers are so pitifully small that after 30 years not one LP candidate for any statewide or federal office has ever been elected. Why do you sit there so smug in the clarity and justice of your positions that will never be implemented? Nor ever be seriously considered or debated? You cannot win because in any democratic political calculus you are swamped by those who disagree with you and fear the ideas you espouse. The only way for you to have any kind of hope for success is to take it upon yourselves to concentrate your numbers."

Good stuff.

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Redbox rocks!


I'd been puzzled as to why there wasn't more chatter in the blogosphere about Redbox; now I've found the answer. Apparently it is still in "test marketing" phase, or at least early in its rollout. It's available in eight metro areas across the US: St. Louis, Houston, Baltimore/DC, Hartford, Denver/Minneapolis-St. Paul, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

This is going to be huge, folks. If you're not living in an area where it's available already, it sucks to be you, and it's going to be even better when it covers the whole United States.

What is Redbox? Briefly, McDonald's is in the process of becoming the world's largest DVD rental chain.

Located in each (and every) McDonald's restaurant in the areas served, there's a big red vending machine from which the customer may rent DVDs. Not a huge selection, but the newest releases and a reasonable catalog of current stuff (it looks like they recycle some kids' titles of enduring popularity). Click here for their catalog.

- Price: $1 per day, billed to your credit or debit card each day.

- Late fees: None -- if you keep the movie for 25 days, they stop billing and it's yours. $25 is a little steep for a DVD, but it's not gouging territory by any means ... and other video chains just keep piling on the late fees.

A buck a day may seem a little high, but not really. Sure, most chains rent DVDs for three or four bucks for five days, but that's not much cheaper than Redbox. And if you only keep the movie for a day or two, you've saved money.

Here's the kicker: Remember the each/every mention above?

- Redbox lists 128 locations in the St. Louis area. For purposes of comparison, Hollywood Video lists nine and Blockbuster lists 15.

- You can return a Redbox movie to any Redbox machine, which means you can return it to any McDonald's. If you're in one part of town when you rent, you don't have to go back there to return. Already, I've rented a movie at a shopping center we visit once or twice a week, and returned it at a McDonald's near my younger son's school.

Perversely, the "limited selection" aspect is something I like. Anyone who's been in a traditional video store with two pre-teen kids will likely understand. Instead of tearing around the store for 45 minutes trying to decide on a movie, the kids have 5-10 titles from which to select, and they have to stand in front of the machine to do it. It reduces that 45 minutes to 2 or 3 minutes.

From an adult standpoint, the limited selection is fine, too. If I want something out of the ordinary, I can go to a "regular" store (if they survive Redbox), or just buy it online for not much more than it would cost to rent it. Most of the time, I either want a new release or don't know what I want and am happy to pick from the available selection.

The "return anywhere" bit is going to be big now that many vehicles are equipped with DVD players. Ours isn't, but I can see the value -- on a family road trip, you can pull into McDonald's in Topeka, Kansas for dinner, rent a movie ... and then drop it off and rent another when you pull into another McDonald's in Denver for breakfast the next morning (once the system has proliferated to all markets, of course).

A little more on selection, just to give a view of what's available and pitch some affiliate links: So far, we've rented "Robots," "Lilo & Stitch 2," "Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin -- The Untold Story," "Because of Winn Dixie," "Sin City," "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," "Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl" and "The Wiggles: Sailing Around the World." Obviously a kid-heavy rental record -- the adults in this house don't have as much time to watch movies.

I'm lovin' it.

[Note: This blog entry also appears on The Longer Tail]

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Admin Note: Commenting is off


Haloscan, the service which processes Kn@ppster's comments, appears to have been down for a day or so now, at least from my end of the Internet connection. Because the integration of their script into the blog was slowing down its load time in a big way, I've removed the script loader, which means that comments are "off" at the moment. Sorry for the interruption, and I'll have them back on ASAP.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Iraq: A prediction


Yeah, yeah, I know -- and I'm sorry. It's not that I'm burned out on keeping up Kn@ppster, it's that I have a lot of irons in a lot of fires right now. I'm working on the launch of a (paying!) project that you'll be hearing more about soon, trying to get Au Contraire off to a good start, busting skull on a new piece for Free Market News Network (and still waiting to hear from Mark Fadiman -- knock, knock!), tweaking that there superfrap Linux install, etc. This semi-hiatus will pay off, y'all. I promise.

'Twixt and 'tween all of this other stuff, yes, I've been following the news and thinking my cynical little thoughts. Latest topic of interest. The upcoming constitutional referendum in Iraq. A Sunni boycott is on-again, off-again; Parliament changed the rules to rig the outcome in favor of ratification, but just changed them back again today.

So how's it gonna go? My prediction is: The constitution gets ratified ... whether the voters want it to or not.

Many years ago, an associate who will remain nameless (and this time it's really not me) worked in a union shop. The contract was up, things were at a deadlock, and a strike seemed not only inevitable, but desirable. Sometimes ya just gotta show'em who's boss. My associate voted, and was in some way, shape manner or form involved in the ballot counting (which is why he or she remains nameless -- I don't know if there's a statute of limitations on what happened). The new contract was approved ... by two votes. And then the union business manager walked over to the table, picked up three of the counted "yes" ballots, wadded them up and threw them in the trash. "This strike is necessary," he said to my associate, "and I'll be damned if I'll let two votes stand in the way of what's necessary."

From the perspective of the sitting pre-constitutional government, and of the Bush administration, this constitution is necessary ... and I doubt that they'll let a few votes stand in the way. If Iraq's voters ratify the constitution, fine. If they don't, the ballot boxes will be stuffed until the desired outcome is achieved.

The Kurd/Shiite pre-constitution government has a vested interest in seeing its work ratified and the framework it has set up given durability (and, let's be honest here, they haven't given the Sunnis the kind of short shrift they could have chosen to give them). If the constitution is not ratified, that government loses its claim to any perceived legitimacy of a higher level than that of, say, the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party or al Qaeda in Iraq. They become just one more gaggle of gunslingers trying to have things their way.

The Bush administration, on the other hand, wants two things: It wants the hell out of Iraq, and it wants a plausible claim of "victory" to soften the political impact of the exit. If Iraq falls through the thin paper floor of the constitutional process and into de jure instead of just de facto civil war, then the available options both stink: Stay and continue pouring American blood into the sand (and probably in larger volumes), or leave in obvious defeat. The effect of either course will be measured in terms of lost GOP House and Senate seats next November.

To paraphrase Boss Tweed (or, depending on who tells it, Stalin), the Iraqis can do all the voting they want as long as the Americans -- or the right Iraqis -- do the counting. I'll be surprised if the constitution fails. I'll be even more surprised if its ratification isn't accompanied by more, and more credible, reports of fraud than last January's poll.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Curveball, low and outside?


I wasn't really sure what to expect from George W. Bush in the matter of filling Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court ... but I can tell you one thing. I didn't expect this. And, frankly, I don't know what the hell to think about it.

One route Bush could have taken was to appoint someone known as a staunch conservative, pleasing his base and setting up the Mother of All Judicial Appointment Battles with Senate Democrats. I considered this his most likely course of action. The Republicans are in deep trouble -- their only chance to come out of next year's elections in reasonably good shape would seem to be to locate, close with and destroy the Democrats in a good, hard fight. I don't know that I was expecting Albert Gonzales, but he was on my mental "short list" of likely picks.

Another way would have been to follow the Roberts route: Pick a judge with an established, but fairly non-controversial, record and then let the Democrats indulge their addiction to partisan pettifoggery to their own detriment again. That wouldn't have been the strongest approach to take, but it would have made sense -- it worked last time, right?

But Harriet Miers ... well, the opinions are coming in fast and furious. Conservative and neoconservative Republicans are outraged:

"If this is President Bush's bright idea to buck up his sagging popularity--among conservatives as well as the nation at large -- one wonders whom he would have picked in rosier times. Shudder." -- Michelle Malkin

"This is a chance that may never occur again: a decisive vacancy on the court, a conservative president, a 55-seat Republican majority, a large bench of brilliant and superbly credentialed conservative jurists ... and what has been done with the opportunity?" -- David Frum

"I'm disappointed because I expected President Bush to nominate someone with a visible and distinguished constitutionalist track record -- someone like Maura Corrigan, Alice Batchelder, Edith Jones, Priscilla Owen, or Janice Rogers Brown -- to say nothing of Michael Luttig, Michael McConnell, or Samuel Alito. Harriet Miers has an impressive record as a corporate attorney and Bush administration official. She has no constitutionalist credentials that I know of." -- William Kristol

On the left, I usually take Kos as a starting point, then look for holes in the argument:

"[M]y early sense is that this is already a victory -- both politically and judicially -- for Democrats. In fact, it should be great fun watching conservatives go after Bush."

... and here's where I start to think that I'm seeing the outlines of the Bush strategy. I think this is a sacrifice appointment. The administration is counting on conervative opposition and Democratic obstructionism to combine and send Miers packing ... after which the former will be forgotten and the latter touted as evidence that the Dems aren't going to be reasonable about his appointments. Bush wants his battle with the Democrats without the battle part.

Yes, the Democrats look like they're on board for the moment ... but we know better. The usual suspects are going to oppose any Republican nominee; combined with conservative opposition, that's enough to sink Miers's nomination.

Her record, non-judicial as it is, is controversial enough that it's going to make waves. We're going to hear -- correctly or incorrectly -- that while serving as chair of the Texas Lottery Commission, Miers helped direct a sweetheart contract renewal to former lieutenant governer Ben Barnes to keep him quiet about his role in getting George W. Bush a safe billet in the Texas Air National Guard during Vietnam. We're going to hear from both sides of the aisle (as a matter of fact, we are already hearing it) that her nomination is pure, unadulterated cronyism and that her only qualification is enduring and absolute loyalty to George W. Bush.

So, Miers goes down in scandal ... and months later, nobody remembers that it was 40 Republicans and 20 Democrats who brought her down. Her defeat will be laid at the feet of the Democrats ... if Bush can pull it off. Instead of seeking a congressional Ragnarok, with Democrats filibustering and the GOP pulling the trigger on the "nuclear option," he wants to play a hit-and-run game. He's not willing to risk all-out battle; he wants to create space in which the GOP can maneuver without bringing on a general engagement.

Or maybe he's just paying off a supporter with patronage. Who knows?

Something is just not right here.

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Back in the saddle again


Since getting serious about blogging, I've done my best never to miss more than a day or two here at Kn@ppster -- and I owe my readers an apology for my absence this week. Sorry about that. A number of other projects simultaneously reached their "this needs to be done now" stages, a new project came along which demanded immediate attention and actually involved (ahem) money, and influenza ran rampant in the Kn@ppster household. It happens. But we'll get through it.

One of the projects which hit the "shit or get off the pot" point is Au Contraire. It's on track now. Check it out.

Coming in for the save was Zube Girl, on whose blog I at least got in a guest post, even though I fumbled the ball and forgot to let y'all know about it on the day it appeared.

I plan to be back on Monday, if not before, with my trenchant, pointed political commentary (or, if you prefer, my treasonous, delusional ravings). Have a great weekend!

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