Tuesday, March 31, 2009

An explanation ...


... of my loyalty to Linux.


Just sittin' here on the Group W Bench ...


... awaiting the next round of corrections and requests on a writing project.

First of its kind -- in order to be suitably non-specific but somewhat informative, I'll just refer to it as "academic" -- that I've ever done, and I'm trying to learn both the writing style and the technical requirements on the fly. Scary, but the more I grasp the more I actually enjoy it (especially, but not only, because there's significant money involved).

Anyway, I thought I'd pop in and blog while I cower in anticipation of the lash. That way, instead of bitching that I'm not blogging enough, y'all can instead complain that I'm just not very interesting.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A brief recap ...


... from just outside the doors of the Campaign For Liberty's St. Louis Regional Conference.

By "just outside the doors," I mean the vendor/exhibitor area. The St. Louis County Libertarian Party committee (myself and vice-chair Julie Stone to be specific) manned a literature table there yesterday. I also had some AntiWar.Com stickers out for the taking, both because I like AWC and promote them at every opportunity and because I figured it would bring additional people over to talk (and it did).

The range of vendors/exhibitors was interesting -- everyone from the Cato Institute to the Constitution Party to the "Fair" Taxers to sellers of real money, health insurance and dietary supplements had something going. I decided to not be my usual self, and thus avoided arguments for the most part (okay, I gave in to temptation one teensy tiny time -- the "Fair" tax table was right next to ours and I just couldn't resist).

I was happy with the level of traffic our table produced, and with how positive the interaction was. After the whole Bob Barr / Ron Paul blowup last fall, I figure the LP should consider itself on "double secret probation" with the CFL for awhile. In a situation where we needed them far more than they needed us, we blew it with that one, and then our "leadership" displayed unseemly petulance over it. I was surprised that that only came up once or twice with visitors to our table (and I think they were surprised that I agreed with them). For the most part, the visitors knew about the LP (some of them were members from around the country), considered themselves "small-l libertarians," and weren't hostile to our party. We met some involved citizens who might soon become involved with us, and that's all good.

I met ChuckTheFed, a St. Louis guy who comments frequently over at Independent Political Report. I was surprised and pleased to see Thomas Hill, North Carolina LP activist and one of the main guys from Mary Ruwart's 2008 presidential campaign, there. Wish there'd been time for a beer and some more extensive catching up with him.

I'd have to say the top high points of the day for me, though, were:

- Meeting Jim Davidson. I was a little nervous about that. Friendly, engaging guy in person, no matter how much we tear each other up online sometimes. I have a theory about that, but it's somewhat inchoate.

Brief version: In online interaction, it's easy to distill whatever conflicts exist down to their essences and bash away. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you're focused on results. In person -- in "meatspace" -- though, things are more balanced. The things you have in common get more play. It isn't all about the arguments any more. It's at least partially about the fact that there are people who care about the arguments as much as you do. For me, that often cuts across even the brightest political lines, and it almost always overshadows "detail disagreements" that fall within the same broader view.

- Meeting Paul Jacob's mother. I always call ladies "Ma'am," so I didn't repeat her first name three times and get it locked it into my memory. She dropped by the table and talked with us for a few minutes. Wonderful lady. I'm not surprised her son turned out the way he did.

[Update -- I somehow accidentally deleted this paragraph before publishing!]

- Catching up with John Payne and Chris [last name unsure ... Perkins, maybe?]. They're both Wash U alumni who were active student libertarians way back when we still thought maybe the war on Iraq could be stopped before it started. Last time I saw them was at a protest about the time it did start. At that time, Wash U Student Libertarians were probably the biggest libertarian organization in the St. Louis area, and incredibly active. They brought a lot of great speakers (including Justin Raimondo) to campus, and turned out to power any number of great pro-freedom events around town. Glad they're still involved!

[/update]

Cool event. Good times, and likely productive for all involved.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

In support of Sundwall


Scenario:

Big Government Candidate A and Big Government Candidate B find themselves opposed, in a special congressional election, by Smaller Government Candidate C.

Big Government Candidate A openly and honestly debates Smaller Government Candidate C.

Big Government Candidate B avoids debate, recruits some shills to file frivolous challenges, and succeeds in getting Smaller Government Candidate C thrown off the ballot.

Smaller Government Candidate C then endorses Big Government Candidate A, saying true and nice things about him (while not denying their ideological differences).

I'm with Smaller Government Candidate C on this one.

There's no "party loyalty" question here.

The voters in Eric Sundwall's district don't have a Libertarian option on their ballots in this election.

The reason they don't have a Libertarian option on their ballots in this election is that the Republican candidate used legal maneuvering to abusively deny them a Libertarian option on their ballots in this election.

Ideological questions being otherwise at least roughly equal, and no Libertarian option being available, the remaining reasonably worthwhile objective in this election is to punish the son of a bitch who screwed the voters.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

MIAC update -- Root brings back the crazy


The Missouri LP did fine job on the MIAC report (in particular, Mike Ferguson, who ran point on the matter). After rescuing the issue from the Alex Jones fever swamp, we got quite a bit of media -- and reasonably good media at that -- on it. With the help of Bob Barr, Ron Paul and Chuck Baldwin we also got an apology and retraction out of the Department of Public Safety. And a number of Missouri legislators are apparently outraged and preparing for a showdown over, or at least a damn hard look at, MIAC's budget and purview as well.

Naturally, Wayne Allyn Root was nowhere to be seen when the work was being done and the risks were being taken. Now that the sweaty and dangerous part is over, however, he's running like hell for the front of the parade to "lead" it. Even worse, he's waving around exactly the kind of bullshit claims that we worked so hard to get out of the equation in the first place for the perfectly good reason that lying about the MIAC report hurts us, not MIAC.

From the latest Root hyper-ventilation:

As the 2008 Libertarian Vice Presidential nominee, as well as 2012 Libertarian Presidential hopeful Wayne Allyn Root, has been on the record in more than a thousand media interviews as concerned that our government has grown too big, too powerful, too corrupt, too controlling over the people. Now comes the strongest proof yet that Root's concerns are valid: a report prepared by a Department of Homeland Security-related organization that has warned law enforcement that anyone supporting third party candidates such as Wayne Root's Libertarian Party, the Bob Barr/Wayne Root Presidential ticket, or Ron Paul's Republican candidacy could be a terrorist, militia member or involved in criminal activities.


As discussed elsewhere here at KN@PPSTER, the MIAC report gives no such "warning." Nor, despite Root's multiple attempts to insert his name into the discussion at this late date, does that name appear anywhere in the report.

The MIAC report -- the actual report, not the false and hyperbolic characterizations of it -- was a real issue. And it was an issue we made real political hay with. Now Root's trying to hijack it, and doing so in such ham-handed a way that he could conceivably cost us every hard-earned crumb of credibility we won on it.

File under "the LP can -- must -- do better than Root in 2012."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nixon on MIAC


Getting information, especially public information, out of our fusion center, out to law local law enforcement agencies is something we do every day and we're going to continue to do. Any way they take that information and can analyze what the threat levels are is important to make sure that the public stays safe.


That's the governor of Missouri, defending the work of MIAC's intrepid honorary junior detectives in a local St. Louis television news story last night (and yes, that's my better half providing the libertarian response).

While Jay Nixon's statement was quite obviously intended as a brush-off, well, he's the governor and we therefore have to take his statements seriously ... especially when those statements make it painfully clear that he hasn't the slightest idea what he's talking about (or else just doesn't care).

By way of framing, I defer to Clifford Stoll:

Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.


The MIAC report is transparently based on piss-poor data. It offers no numbers and identifies no actual "extremist militia" or terrorist organizations. From a data standpoint it's pretty much just an incompetently edited scrape of the Internet's underbelly.

In attempting to convert this poorly sourced, randomly gathered, incoherent data into information, MIAC introduces egregious errors. The error of greatest interest (to me, anyway) is the reversal of identification criteria: It conflates the nearly 100,000 Missourians who supported a third party political candidate last year with a number unspecified (but per other sources, probably two full orders of magnitude smaller) of militia activists and an even smaller number of dangerous criminals.

Once MIAC has mangled incoherent data into bad/false information and released it as a "strategic report," police officers in Missouri who are exposed to the product may take it seriously -- and believe that they now have an understanding of the report's topic.

They don't, and that's dangerous. Even if every one of the police officers exposed to MIAC's idiocy is possessed of an uncommon wisdom (and I doubt that's the case), wisdom is useless if coupled with a false understanding.

Let's be clear here:

The MIAC report is useless as "analysis."

The MIAC report contributes nothing useful to determining what the "threat level" is.

The MIAC report doesn't "keep the public safe." It does precisely the opposite. It increases the likelihood that innocent Missourians will be harassed, injured, even killed by law enforcement.

This is what happens when bureaucracies churn out stacks of make-work paper to justify their budgets. Apparently our governor considers those budgets more important than his constituents' lives. Or maybe he's just dumb as a post. Take your pick.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Meanwhile, back at the LP ranch ...


A few bylaws amendments are in the submissions works for the Missouri Libertarian Party's upcoming state convention. Among the proposals to be considered:

Section 10.4a Conflict Of Interest

Any person who is running for office in a partisan race on behalf of another party shall be ineligible to serve as a member of the Missouri Libertarian Party Executive Committee, the State Committee and hold Missouri Libertarian State Offices for the duration of the election cycle. Ineligibility shall begin on filing date for said election and conclude on the general election date.


and

Section 10.4b Conflict of Interest

Any person who is holding a National, State or Executive Committee seat for another Political Party shall be ineligible to serve as a member of the Missouri Libertarian Party Executive Committee, the State Committee and hold Missouri Libertarian State Offices until said person resigns said seat.


Also likely: Two competing amendments regarding the acceptance or rejection of candidate filing fees -- one which would mandate acceptance of all such fees, one which would list specific circumstances under which the executive committee could refuse the fees.

There are several obvious targets for the explicit amendments above. Last year several Missouri Libertarians supported Ron Paul's Republican presidential candidacy, and at least one LPMO executive committee member ran for Congress as a "Ron Paul Republican." I ran in one other state as the vice-presidential candidate of another party myself. I'm not going to attack or defend the Ron Paul folks (or myself) here; just pointing out the origin/cause of the amendments.

The "filing fee" amendments are about situations where the executive committee decides, for whatever reason, that the filing candidate isn't a "good representative" for the LP. Previously, the executive committee has done what it thought it had to do -- with the result that the definition of "bad representative" started at "mouth-breathing neo-nazi fruitcake," but quickly expanded itself to "our best-performing candidate in a three-way race, the one who got us mentioned by Jay Leno, the one who our superior committee explicitly told us to keep our grubby mitts off of."

I'm pretty much past the point of getting exercised over this stuff (the executive committee's revolt against its state committee, the party bylaws and Missouri's election laws about a year ago frankly wore me out), but I might as well go ahead and lay the facts out:

- The Missouri LP doesn't get to decide who's eligible to serve on its state committee -- state election law sets forth the requirements, and anyone who meets them is eligible, the party's bylaws notwithstanding.

- The Missouri LP doesn't get to decide who may run on its ballot line as a candidate -- state election law sets forth the requirements, and anyone who meets them is eligible, the party's bylaws notwithstanding.

- The party's executive committee could theoretically refuse filing fees (although that's something the state committee does need to establish a policy on, a policy that the executive committee then needs to adhere to rather than ignore at its whim). However, there's no provision in Missouri's election law which would impair the eligibility of a candidate whose fee is refused to appear on the Libertarian Party's primary ballot line or to serve as its nominee if elected in the primary.

The Missouri LP could sue to have those laws overturned, of course, and we might even win, but it's best to acknowledge that the law is what it is instead of just pretending the law isn't there.

The only question of real interest is whether these bylaws amendments are just meaningless and ineffectual bits of political masturbation, or whether they're dangerous ways to get the Missouri LP sued and possibly sucked dry in the process. The latter is certainly possible, but even the former is good reason to reject them at the state convention next month.

Even more on MIAC (but mostly not from me)


I was probably a little hard on Steve Newton, Delaware Libertarian, over this MIAC thing. The inaccuracies in his previous articles on the subject, at their worst, weren't nearly as bad as the bulk of the Alex Jones drivel.

Furthermore, one of Steve's virtues is that if he gets criticized, he goes into overdrive to make damn sure he's getting things right ... resulting this time in by far the most extensive and accurate piece I've seen on MIAC and the infamous report.

For my part, just some extensions of my previous thoughts:

Occam's Razor says that the explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is usually the best explanation. Having been around the tree for the last 20 years with these "multi-jurisdictional" law enforcement entities, I've generally found that they're better explained as combinations of incompetence combined with featherbedding than as deep, dark conspiracies.

To put it a different way, yes, we may all eventually find ourselves in boxcars on the way to FEMA camps if we don't fight it -- but the best way to fight it is to understand it as a not-very-directed set of unintended effects rather than as a hydra with heads that think really deep thoughts.

The whole thing starts with the political imperative to "do something" -- anything -- to make a government policy that isn't working, work. War on drugs, war on terror, doesn't matter. If it's not working, politicians can only think of one way to deal with the fact that it's not working, and that way is to bury it under a pile of new money in the hope that it will start working.

The second stage comes when that pile of money lands in the laps of various bureaucracies. They've got to do something with it, or it will stop coming. And as much as bureaucrats love centralization, there are still some limits to how much they're allowed to centralize. So, instead of just expanding, they reproduce, and they try to reproduce in ways that duplicate centralization through the fiction of "multi-jurisdictionalism."

These new "multi-jurisdictional" sub-bureaucracies don't get much direct power (being at least theoretically at the service of the various jurisdictions they "serve" -- think one Indian, 50 chiefs), but they're a great place to waste money, create new government "jobs," etc. if they can churn out enough paper or other apparent desiderata to satisfy the aforementioned politicians that "something" is being "done."

My own "multi-jurisdictional" background was with Joint Task Force Six, a military outfit that the US government plugged into the "war on drugs" at the national, state and local level.

Essentially, the military would send some troops (I was one of those troops, several times) to some local area to "train" and in the process allegedly help "law enforcement" crack down on drug trafficking. It cost bazillions of dollars, and pretty much amounted to the troops doing the same old thing (being a grunt, that meant patrolling "training" in my case -- with the proviso that if I stumbled over a pot patch or a meth lab, I should call it in), but it made various sheriff's departments, Forest Service Police units, etc. feel all warm and fuzzy, and maybe got them some extra gummint money to pay liaison personnel and such.

Of course, JTF-6 operations had "unintended side effects."

One unit shot a shepherd -- innocent of any wrongdoing -- down on the Mexican border.

Another unit participated (hopefully unwittingly -- it was a helo recon unit taking aerial photos of possible pot patches) in a plot to murder a guy so that the Forest Service could steal his land.

I've also heard that JTF-6 provided a Special Forces unit to train the BATF on how to blow down a door for the raid that set up the Waco massacre in which nearly 100 innocents were murdered by the FBI.

I personally got caught up in a situation where I was given an illegal order to conduct surveillance of a guy's property (this apparently involved some of the Forest Service thugs who participated in the Donald Scott killing), requested mast all the way up to the commanding general of JTF-6 to void the order, got told to do it anyway, and ended up intentionally making a hash of the operation (and, shortly after, leaving the Marine Corps).

Pretty bad side effects. Glad mine was near the bottom of the atrocity scale.

The paper-pushing "multi-jurisdictional" bureaucracies can have unintended side effects, too.

When MIAC or one of its sibling organizations produces unmitigated crap like the elementary school quality "strategic report" on militia organizations, they may think they're just playing cheesy lounge music for their paychecks ... but there's always the possibility that some cop on the beat will take the nonsense seriously. And in the case of the MIAC report, that could result in one or more of the nearly 100,000 Missourians who voted for a Libertarian or Constitution Party candidate last year (most of whom are not associated with the militia movement, let alone its tiny terrorist sub-set, and most of whom are not by any stretch of the imagination criminals) getting shot -- murdered by MIAC, at least indirectly.

I seriously doubt that any of the schmoes staffing MIAC are knowing pawns of any weird-ass "New World Order" or "North American Union" plot. They're just bureaucrats who want to maintain their lips' deathgrip on the taxpayers' teat. That can be just as dangerous.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

More on MIAC


According to that MIAC report:

It is not uncommon for militia members to display Constitutional Party, Campaign For Liberty, or Libertarian material. These members are usually supporters of former Presidential Candidate: Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin, and Bob Barr.


Which, as I've already said elsewhere, is probably quite true as far as it goes. If you're willing to join an organization that trains under arms without the legalistic protection of an ornate charter duly signed by some shiny-badge bureaucrat to "legitimize" its activities in the eyes of the state, it's probably fair to say that you're somewhat um, disenchanted, with the status quo, right? So why the hell would you stick with one of the status quo political parties or its candidates instead of seeking an alternative?

True as far as it goes ... but it doesn't go very far. How many militia organizations are there in Missouri? How many members do they boast? For all that MIAC styles itself as an "intelligence" operation that tracks "trends," the MIAC report offers no estimates.

In Missouri's last general election, more than 11,000 voters supported Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr and more than 8,000 pulled the lever for Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin. In the 2008 GOP presidential primary, more than 26,000 Missourians voted for Ron Paul. At the party level, more than 90,000 Missourians voted for a Libertarian or Constitution Party congressional candidate in November.

Does MIAC -- or anyone else -- believe there are 90,000 active militia members in Missouri? I doubt it. My own best guess is about two orders of magnitude down from that number: A few hundred, possibly as many as a thousand, even if we include the racist idiots who don't fit a libertarian/constitutionalist political profile in the count. Speaking of which, the last legitimate "law enforcement problem" with anything resembling militia activity in Missouri was with those racist knotheads back in the late 80s and early 90s (The Covenant, Sword & Arm of the Lord, The Order, et. al.).

90,000 is a nice, large number, though. Not just for MIAC's purposes of puffing up its own importance, but for our purposes as well. It's close enough to 100,000 that it suggests a strategy:

- 100,000 bumper stickers of the Constitution Party, Libertarian Party or Campaign For Liberty variety on cars in Missouri.

- $100,000 in a legal fund to defend anyone who is arrested or ticketed for anything while sporting one of those stickers and is willing to go to court and challenge the profiling. No expenditures for negotiating plea bargains -- full jury trials, complete with depositions from, and testimony of, every involved officer (so sad that they won't be out writing revenue invoices tickets while their occupied, isn't it?).

If MIAC wants to encourage profiling on the basis of political affiliation, and if Missouri law enforcement wants to respond to that encouragement, let's make them pay the price.

Other responses are also in order. The Campaign For Liberty and the Boston Tea Party (which is a libertarian organization and which endorsed the CFL's 2008 campaign platform) both have events scheduled in Missouri this spring -- and the Libertarian Party's 2010 national convention is slated for St. Louis. It may be too late to cancel the first two events, and premature to cancel the third, but it can't hurt to talk to the host hotels and other organizations which profit from the events. Local chambers of commerce, tourism bureaus and such too. They'll probably be interested in the fact that future profit opportunities are at risk due to the attitudes and actions of Missouri's law enforcement establishment.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Speak directly into the MIAC, please


Observation #1: Saying "most NBA starting point guards are tall people" is not the same as saying "all tall people are NBA starting point guards."

Observation #2: Throwing around hysterical untruths about a bad thing doesn't make the bad thing look worse, it makes the people throwing around the hysterical untruths look worse.

With those two observations in mind, let's discuss the "Missouri Information Analysis Center", what it is, what it does, and why it sucks.

MIAC describes itself as:

a public safety partnership consisting of local, state and federal agencies, as well as the public sector and private entities that will collect, evaluate, analyze, and disseminate information and intelligence to the agencies tasked with Homeland Security responsibilities in a timely, effective, and secure manner.


(Note: That's from their "about" page. I'm not linking directly because their site throws up a bunch of weirdness in the URL that might be related to session tracking. If you're paranoid -- and I don't blame you if you are -- you might want to visit the site through a proxy.)

Translation of MIAC's mandate into English:

There was a bunch of "Homeland Security" money blowing around a few years ago, and Missouri's politicians wanted a cut of it. So, they created a makework bureaucracy with a "Homeland Security" angle and employed a bunch of bureaucrats (and perhaps some cops that even the MSHP didn't really care to risk putting on the streets with cars, firearms and !authoritah!) to churn out "intelligence reports" using the same methodology your third-grader employs to generate class papers on dinosaurs, aliens and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers [TM], i.e. trolling the Intarweb looking for cool stuff that sounds really important.


That's the mandate. The manifestation of the mandate takes two main forms:

- Providing photo opportunities for politicians; and

- Churning out the aforementioned third-grade class papers frequently and furiously enough to justify periodic renewal of their funding.

The problem with the second manifestation, of course, is that occasionally -- probably very occasionally -- someone actually reads one of those papers. Probably not the people who are supposed to (most cops, good or bad, have better things to do than sit around reading bureaucrat porn), but people.

This time, one of those papers mentioned two demographics. Both of those demographics have high overlap with the audience of a C-List radio shock jock who just happens to be releasing a new movie this weekend and really, really, really wants to get his name in front of those demographics as much as possible right now. And the tinfoil hat talker in question, one Alex Jones, happened to get a copy of the current third grade class paper.

Not content to go with the damning truth about the paper, our intrepid conspiracy theorist decided to spice it up a bit. Scratch that: He decided to lie like a rug about what the paper said.

Unsurprisingly, many in his gullible audience slurped up the lies like so much coffee, then sprayed them around like the coffee drinker who suddenly realizes he's accidentally picked up his tobacco-chewing co-worker's spit cup instead of his own mocha latte. Equally unsurprisingly, this happened in spite of the fact that Jones included scanned images of the MIAC "what I did on my summer vacation" piece, making it a matter of a few minutes' reading to discern that it said one thing while Jones said it said something completely different. Hint: There's a reason you never hear Alex Jones listeners cited as exemplars of keen analytical skills.

Here's what Jones says about the report:

The MIAC report specifically describes supporters of presidential candidates Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin, and Bob Barr as “militia” influenced terrorists and instructs the Missouri police to be on the lookout for supporters displaying bumper stickers and other paraphernalia associated with the Constitutional, Campaign for Liberty, and Libertarian parties.


Here's what the report actually says:

It is not uncommon for militia members to display Constitutional Party, Campaign For Liberty, or Libertarian material. These members are usually supporters of former Presidential Candidate: Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin, and Bob Barr.


Which, in point of fact, is likely true -- militia bubbas wouldn't be militia bubbas if they were happy with the status quo (see Observation #1 above if you don't immediately understand the reversal Jones is trying to pull here, though -- while the reverse could be true, the yank-jobs at MIAC didn't say that).

Oh, and the report includes no "instructions" for Missouri police at all. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis.

Apparently when Alex Jones lies, cogitation dies, at least in certain people.

Unfortunately, several libertarian writers who should know better have also picked up the Alex Jones Football of Untruth and tried to run it down the field. Jim Davidson and Steve Newton, to name two.

Even more disturbing, some Missouri Libertarian Party officials are biting at the same wormy hook and wringing their hands about "profiling" concerns and such -- not because of what the paper says, but because of what they seem to have convinced themselves it says.

(See Observation #2 above for relevance)

Yes, the MIAC "report" is a poorly written, factually challenged piece of bureaucratic legerdemain -- your tax dollars at work, folks.

Yes, the Davidson and Newton pieces demonstrate that it is possible -- even for people who aren't stump-stupid, under the immediate influence of a bad batch of blotter, or caught in the Alex Jones Sheeple-Manipulation Beam[TM]'s line of fire -- to fall into some sort of weird paranoid dyslexia when reading MIAC-style material.

I suppose it's even possible that the MIAC paper is potentially dangerous. Some cop might be bored enough to pull it up, print it out and read it during a donut break, might be gullible enough to read things into it that aren't there (as non-cops already have), and might be stupid enough to not react rationally to that misreading (the rational reaction is "well, guess who won't be pulling over the speeders with Ron Paul stickers -- this job ain't worth a heightened risk of taking an AK-47 round for 60 in a 55").

But why lie (even to ourselves) about what the thing says, and why extrapolate the least likely plausible outcomes from those lies? There's plenty of real stuff to go after here, starting with "why the hell are the taxpayers paying these MIAC jokers a salary to surf the web and try to pass off their Tom Clancy fantasies as 'intelligence?'"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The new biz


I've done a lot of things for a living over the years. I started my working life mowing lawns and shoveling snow off sidewalks. I've also been (in no particular order) a US Marine, a boat builder, a forklift driver, a construction worker, a bookstore clerk, a mustard miller, a fry cook, an office furniture builder ... and that's just the start of the list. For the last nine years or so, I've worked mostly as a writer and editor in the freedom movement on both a freelance basis and as a "small businessman" in partnership with four others to produce Rational Review News Digest.

One thing I've found over time is that I enjoy working "for myself" more than I enjoy working "for a boss." It's riskier (one month a few years ago, I generated a net income of right at six dollars), but it's also more rewarding in many ways, even at times when I might have made more money punching someone else's clock.

Lately I've been looking at new opportunities to supplement my income, and one popped right out at me for (at first) nostalgic reasons.

When I was a kid, one of my relatives (it's kind of fuzzy, but I'm pretty sure it was a particular great-uncle) was a Fuller Brush man. I say it's kind of fuzzy because a lot of my male relatives on my dad's side were part-time entrepreneurs. They were part-time entrepreneurs because they were full-time preachers at small churches (mostly Pentecostal -- my uncle Bill, the black sheep of the family, went Freewill Baptist).

Arguments about religion aside, you'd be amazed at how hard rural small church pastors work. They don't just preach three sermons a week and the occasional revival. They do weddings. They do funerals. They visit sick church members in the hospital and troubled church families at home. They're probably the custodian and handyman at the church, too. And their pay? Whatever's left in the plate after the utilities are paid, after the Sunday school programs are printed, after the denomination's missionaries get some support, after the building fund is flush ... in other words, sometimes not very much. So, they take outside work, but it has to be work that accommodates their ministerial responsibilities, and commission sales fits that profile.

Anyway, when I came across some Fuller Brush promotions on the web thirty years later, that great-uncle came to mind and I decided to check the opportunity out. Having satisfied myself that Fuller's products are of still of stellar quality and great value for price, I've signed on as an independent distributor -- a "Fuller Brush man."

If you're interested in purchasing great household products, please visit my Fuller Direct site. If have any questions about the products, or if you're interested in becoming a distributor yourself, drop me a line.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Facebook v. Twitter?


OK, so Facebook tried to buy Twitter, got rejected, and is now implementing "Twitter-like" functionality to compete.

Not selling may have been a bad move on Twitter's part. Prospective buyers keep piling huge offers in front of them and they keep rejecting those offers even though they apparently don't yet have a plan for making money with the thing themselves.

On the other hand, on a personal level, screw Facebook's new "Twitter-like" functionality. It's just one more kitchen sink piled on top of a goddamn landfill full of kitchen sinks.

I've tried hard to like Facebook, and sometimes I succeed for awhile. Usually about the time I succeed in making the place enjoyably manageable for my purposes, they back another truckload of kitchen sinks up to their unloading docks, hit the "dump" button, and make the place more trouble than it's worth to navigate for another month.

I like the whole "friends network" thing. I like the walls. I like the groups and the causes. If Facebook would just quit burying me under nudges and bumps and gadgets and games and karma and houseplants and gangsters and vampires and zombies and whatnot, I'd use it more. I use it daily for the groups; once a week or so I do other things like vetting friend requests, inspecting cause and event invitations, etc.; once a month or so I go in with a bulldozer, clean the garbage out of my piece of the place, and start using it daily again ... until the next deluge.

I'm not willing to put up with Facebook's entropy-increasing presence being constantly open in my browser or through some mediating app in order to get "Twitter-like" functionality. I'll use Twitter for that functionality, and Insha'Allah it will remain a fairly simple service that does the three or four things it does well instead of constantly piling on new and increasingly bizarre stuff.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Why the line-item veto isn't such a good idea


At first blush, it does sound really good: After Congress has stuffed a bill full of "earmarks" -- pork projects that most of the 535 pols on Capitol Hill use to send money "back to their districts" -- the president can go through and veto the bad stuff while keeping the main body of the bill, the things that were clearly intended by it.

The up side of the idea is so obvious that it's hard not to just jump on board. But not so fast. There are real problems with it.

First, the efforts so far to implement a line-item veto, including the current one, are unconstitutional. The Constitution says the president can sign the bill or veto the bill; it doesn't provide for an ability on his part keep parts of it he likes and discard the parts he doesn't. If it did, there'd have been no wailing and gnashing of teeth over Bush 43's ridiculous "signing statements," which amounted to nothing more or less than a rough-hewn version of the line item veto ("lesseee, I like this part, check, don't like that part so I won't do it, check").

The Supreme Court ruled on the formal line-item veto back in the Clinton Era. No constitutional amendment, no line-item veto. So the current push is pretty much just a dog and pony show, unless Obama can pull together an FDR-style SCOTUS packing scheme to let him keep it, in which case we've got bigger problems anyway.

Secondly, like "earmarks" or not -- and I generally don't -- they're really just a (more) corrupt spin on the usual legislative process. Congress says it wants to do X. It appropriates money to do X, and directs that the money shall be spent in this way or that way to do X. All that distinguishes an "earmark" from the other "this ways and that ways" is that any given earmark has generally been requested by one congresscritter, presumably because it points some of that "money for X" in his district's or campaign contributors' direction.

If you think that a line-item veto will only affect "real pork," or that it won't quickly become a tool for fuckery, you're naive. It will affect every specific spending directive from Congress.

The political effects aren't hard to forecast: The president's party will get its earmarks, and those earmarks will help its congressional incumbents get re-elected. The opposition party's earmarks, on the other hand, will fall under the line-item cleaver, advantaging the president's party in subsequent elections.

The line-item veto would greatly enhance the power of the presidency. Under the current system, the president has to either accept what Congress hands him, or stare them down in a full-blown veto override fight ... a fight in which he already has an advantage, since it takes 2/3 to force his hand, granted, but a real fight. Breaking issues down to the line-item veto level of granularity would almost certainly give him carte blanche to keep whatever he wants and discard whatever he doesn't want, because at that level of granularity the discipline of (president's) party-line vote is likely to easily outgun any particular issue's constituency.

The presidency is too powerful already. A president who has a House and Senate majority of his own party is even worse. Throw in the line-item veto and what you have is a nightmare -- effectively, a dictatorship.

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