Monday, January 31, 2005

Methinks he doth protest too much ...

Robert Novak -- Republican punditry's "Prince of Darkness" -- warns in a column today that electing Howard Dean to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee would drive the big donors away.

Is he right? Maybe, maybe not. But, in all honesty, this looks like another iteration of the psychological warfare "boogie-man" campaign that Republicans used last year to stampede Democratic primary voters away from Dean and toward the less competitive John Kerry.

Yeah, you read that right. Dean didn't lose the nomination because of any inherent weakness in his approach or style. He lost it because Democrats let themselves be convinced by Republican rhetoric that he was "too liberal" -- even though he's to the right of George W. Bush on gun issues, foreign policy issues, fiscal responsibility and even, arguably, health care (Bush created the biggest entitlement expansion since LBJ and just tacked its cost onto the deficit, while Dean put together a publicly financed healthcare system for Vermont's children that didn't unbalance the state's budget) -- to be "electable."

When are Democrats going to stop taking the solicitous advice offerings of Republicans and start thinking for themselves again? If the party intends to be competitive in the 2006 congressional elections, the time to stop jumping when Bob Novak goes bump in the night is right friggin' now.

Even in defeat, Howard Dean proved to be a powerful force for Democratic victory last year. Wherever Democrats did well -- including in four states where new Democratic state legislative majorities emerged -- his organization played a vital role. His candidacy for DNC chair is an opportunity for the party to re-invent itself, decentralize, invigorate its grass roots, cast off some of the cautious establishmentarianism that's held it back in recent years, and move forward to regain its rightful status as America's majority party. We'd be insane not to jump at that chance -- in case you haven't noticed, the GOP has held a congressional majority for ten years now and is into its second four-year stint at the White House. There's nowhere to go but up, and there's no candidate for DNC chair but Dean to take us there.

Want Republican advice? Start listening to the advice they give themselves instead of the advice they give their enemies. Here's a place to start. Some people are desperately, and rightly, afraid of what Howard Dean might do at the head of the Democratic Party. Those people are called "Republicans."

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Sunday, January 30, 2005

A critical moment for Iraq

It's afternoon in Iraq, and reports seem to indicate that the election is proceeding fairly smoothly despite the attacks everyone knew would accompany today's voting.

So far, no coordinated wave of terror has managed to emerge and close the process down. That, in itself, constitutes a victory for several parties -- not least among them the Bush administration, which made a pretty ballsy bet on its ability to maintain security and convince the Iraqi people to risk their lives for the opportunity to begin choosing their own form of government.

Not to minimize or disrespect the 27 dead so far today. Far from it. If this thing succeeds, those 27 (and any others killed today) die as functional, willing martyrs for their country's future rather than as just the latest victims in a merry-go-round of terror and reprisal.

It's not a lock. The election isn't over, and when it is over, assuming that it continues to go well, there will still be several questions. Was turnout sufficient to confer anything resembling legitimacy upon the results? Were the elections honestly conducted? Can the constitutional convention which they are choosing succeed in its mission to frame a constitution that will bring Sunni, Shiite and Kurd willingly under the same rubric of polity?

But those are questions yet to be answered, and right now it's gut check time for the anti-war movement. There are some among us -- and you know who you are -- who are praying for a fiasco today. You've allowed your opposition to the war and to the occupation (an opposition I have shared and still share) to bring you down to the level of the Busheviks. You're willing to ignore -- even exult in -- the loss of life so long as that loss of life validates your opinion on the war and makes your opponents look bad. To the extent that that phenomenon exists, it tilts the anti-war movement away from being part of the solution and toward becoming part of the problem.

I am skeptical of the Iraqis' ability to forge a lasting peace and a just polity out of the events of the last 22 months while their country remains under foreign occupation and torn by ethnic, religious and political rivalries which have, for so long, been pursued via the cartridge box rather than the ballot box. But I hope they can do so, and I hope that others who opposed the war and oppose the occupation will join me in that hope. To prefer otherwise would be an insult to those who are attempting it, knowing that the price of that attempt may be their very lives.

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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Beer saves lives

Let us all now sing the praises of the miraculous beverage! Not only does it chase away the blues and make your significant other (or whoever happens to be present) look even more beautiful, it just the ticket if you're trapped beneath an avalanche and need to produce enough urine to melt your way out.

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Friday, January 28, 2005

Filibuster Gonzales? Hell, yes!

I chanced to be listening to National Public Radio this morning (yes, I listened to it before I became a Democrat again), and was astounded to hear a commentator opine that Senate Democrats would likely "save their filibuster ammunition" for future Supreme Court appointees and let Alberto Gonzales slide in as Attorney General.

Bad idea.

Gonzales is a former judge and widely considered a possible Supreme Court appointee himself. If the Democrats lie down on the tracks and let the White House run over them on this Justice Department appointment, they'll regret it later. When and if Bush appoints him to the Supreme Court, any attempt to block the nomination will immediately be subject to the rejoinder: "If you thought he was so bad, why did you let me make him Attorney General?" And that rejoinder will resonate with the public.

Let's get two things straight:

- No, George W. Bush isn't entitled to a post-election "honeymoon." He's not a first-term president introducing new ideas. He's a second-term president, barely re-elected, pushing the same failed approaches to the same problems he failed to successfully address in his first four years. No free passes, George. You didn't get a mandate. You barely managed to weasel back in for a second term -- 60,000 changed votes in Ohio would have made the difference -- and even assuming that your re-election wasn't due to massive vote fraud, it wasn't due to your leadership either. It was at best due to a few too many Americans being reluctant to change horses in the middle of the deep, muddy stream that the horse they were on waded into.

- No, Alberto Gonzales is not qualified to serve as Attorney General of the United States. The AG's job is to enforce the law. As White House counsel, Gonzales described that law, in particular treaty restrictions on the use of torture to which the US is signatory, as "quaint" and "obsolete." How does describing the law as "quaint" and "obsolete" qualify one for the top law enforcement job in the US government? The last two Attorneys General have been incredibly poor choices to head up the Civil Rights Division of DoJ, rein in the excesses of federal law enforcement, etc. Gonzales would be an extension of a very bad trend.

It's time for Democrats to start acting like what they are -- the opposition -- and oppose the outrages, excesses and bad ideas coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. So get your 41 votes together, wind up Robert Byrd for a few weeks of chatty oration about his little dog, and crush Gonzales now, not later.

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Brief notes on the Iraq election

In a recent newsgroup post (the link is to one iteration of it -- there are others on various groups), "libertarian Republican" gadfly Eric Dondero asks: "Not a peep out of the Anti-War Libertarians about Sunday's Elections in Iraq. Why is that you think?" He then proceeds to construct a bizarre conspiracy theory in which fascists have infiltrated the libertarian movement (presumably over the course of decades) in order to stymie the spread of freedom at just this particular, pivotal point in history.

Leaving aside the fact that anti-war libertarians haven't been unanimously silent on the subject -- Harry Browne and tex of UnFairWitness have both commented at length, for example -- and leaving aside Dondero's pretty stilted view on what such silence might portend, it's a reasonable question. So I'll try to answer it.

The Republican Surrealists and their fellow travelers in the War Party have no problem talking about the Iraq elections. After all, their modus operandi is to make big claims and ebullient predictions. If those predictions fail to come true ("WMD!" "Welcomed as liberators!" "When we catch Saddam, the resistance will collapse!"), then they simply deny that they ever predicted any such things, or claim that the predictions were true and that it's just that damn leftie media lying to us, or that the predictions didn't come true because the rest of us slackers didn't click our heels together hard enough while wishing.

Anti-war libertarians, on the other hand, are pretty much stuck with the facts. Reality-based community and all, you know.

So, here are some facts:

- Nearly 200 slates are competing in Sunday's election in Iraq. Of those, only two of them -- the neo-Ba'athist slate of US-supported "interim prime minister" Iyad Allawi and the primary Shiite slate blessed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani -- have received significant attention. To the extent that any polls have been done, they show the neo-Ba'athists at about 10% and the Shiite slate at about 20%. In other words, if the polls are right, the real action is going to take place as Allawi and the Ayatollah try to put together coalitions composed of a bunch of groups none of us have ever heard of. And how can anyone intelligently comment on how that will turn out?

- Most of the actual candidates on these 200 slates are ... anonymous. Their names haven't been publicly released, they won't be named on the ballot and they're not publicly campaigning. It's kind of hard to analyze the platforms or prospects of unnamed candidates.

- Nobody knows what the Sunnis are going to do. Their religious leaders have pronounced a boycott. The Islamist terrorists have threatened to murder those who vote. Will they stay home, out of support for the boycott or from fear of death? Or will they defy expectations and turn out? I don't know. Neither do you. Neither to the Republican Surrealists.

- The locations of the polling places are being kept secret until the last minute. Cars will be banned from the streets on election day. Despite the alleged presence of observers from a number of countries, we haven't been told anything about how -- or by whom -- the votes will be counted.. The potential for skulduggery is nearly limitless. We don't even know yet exactly how the Republicans stole Ohio, for the love of Pete. How the hell are we supposed to know what they're up to in Badghad?

Here's the bottom line: I hope that there's a good turnout for the elections. I hope that Sunday doesn't turn into a festival of terror. I hope that the vote produces an outcome that Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds alike can live with, and that the immediate result of the election is a request, honored by the White House, for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq over a reasonably quick timeline.

But I'm not going to predict those things.

I'm also not going to predict an abysmal turnout, blood in the streets, an election fixed on behalf of the neo-Ba'athists by the US or an escalation of the war.

I don't know what's going to happen. And unlike the Republican Surrealists, I'm not going to pretend in advance that I do know what's coming, or pretend afterward that it didn't happen, or that if it happened, it's everyone's fault but that of those who created the situation in the first place. It's not my job to ratify the fantasies of the War Party, and frankly I'm not up to the task of predicting how badly their hubris might backfire on them this time. If history is any indication, even the most dire prediction would be an underestimation.

So, Mr. Dondero, if you're looking for a bedtime story, please get thee back to the lap of Hans Christian Wolfowitz or Mother Goosestep Cheney. Over here, we do non-fiction.

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Frost v. Dean

FROST: "Does the party want the type of leadership that will focus on organization and can go into any state and win elections? Or do they want someone who will be a high-profile media personality?"


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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Review: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

"Like I said, don't get too hung up on plot. This movie is all about stunning cinematography, mostly using CGI to recreate fake-looking 30s-style movie backdrops so that incredibly realistic sci-fi vehicles can cavort around in front of them. If you like that kind of thing, and I do, this is your flick. If not, you'll just be bored and confused."

Read the whole review at Epinions.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

1,400 and counting ...

The press reports that 36 US military personnel have died in Iraq today, the deadliest day of the war so far. Five were killed by the resistance, 31 apparently by the weather. 35 of the 36 were Marines.

Now you know me, and you know that I oppose the war. So you may find it surprising that I don't regard this as a severe military blow. Assuming that the helicopter crashed and was not shot down, it's something that can happen -- that has happened, many times, in peace as well as war.

The CH-53 is an older helicopter. When I left the Marine Corps in 1995, they'd been desperate to get rid of it for awhile. Unfortunately, its prospective replacement, the V-22 Osprey, has been a real white elephant, and Congress hasn't been inclined to plough a bunch of money into any other prospective replacement. I've been in one CH-53 crash. Fortunately, the aircraft was less than 100 feet in the air when it decided not to work anymore and nobody was hurt. Another time, one crapped out way up high, but the pilot was able to recover. Others weren't so lucky. A lot of Marines have died in peacetime helicopter crashes.

For that matter, the most dangerous job in the military, wartime or peacetime, is working on an aircraft carrier's flight deck.

Military duty is dangerous. That's its nature. And someone who dies in a helicopter crash at 29 Palms or a flight deck accident off Norfolk, or rolling over a Humvee at Camp Pendleton, is just as dead, and will be just as missed, as someone killed in action.

You may remember this from "Saving Private Ryan" (the letter read by Chief of Staff George Marshall was real, written by Abraham Lincoln). Remember also that it applies fully as much to those who have lost a son or daughter in an accident of war as in a battle:

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Support the war or not, remember that the Marines and soldiers who died today served a country they believed to be worthy of their devotion, and fell in a cause they believed to be just. Remember that if they had their doubts, they nonetheless chose to trust in that nation and in that cause, even unto death. Remember that those of us who constitute that nation owe it to those men and women to live up to their devotion and trust -- remember it whether or not you believe that we as a nation are doing so now. Remember that they are people who are loved, and who will be missed.

The War Party's Achilles' Heel?

Those who pressed Congress to take responsibility for its actions in 2002 -- in other words, to either unambiguously declare war upon Iraq or unambiguously decline to do so -- were, of course, handled badly. Congress didn't declare war, roundly defeated a resolution declaring war and in fact specifically declared in its "resolution authorizing the use of force" that it wasn't declaring war by includng a "war powers reservation" clause ... but nonetheless surreptitiously handed to President Bush the power, extra-constitutional and entirely without basis in law, to do so himself.

Can the 109th Congress, which in its composition tilts even more heavily toward Bush's party than the 108th, be expected to strap on some testicles and stand up for America? Offhand, it doesn't seem likely. But it's just barely possible. The butcher's bill in Iraq adds up to about $4.6 billion, and around 60 American lives, each month. The latter statistic provides an incentive to action. The former statistic provides a means:

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills ... -- US Constitution, Article I, Section 7

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law ... -- US Constitution, Article I, Section 8

Undoing Bush's usurpation of the congressional prerogative to declare war would be a difficult thing indeed. Having connived in that usurpation, Congress is understandably hesitant to make too much noise about it. And there are those in Congress who might even stand on principle (as odd a sight as one might ever expect to see in Washington, but I'm given to understand that it occasionally occurs) and hold that the usurped powers must remain usurped for the purpose of enabling instant reaction to military exigency, i.e. that the Constitution's strictures are outdated in that respect (which begs the question of why no amendment to the Constitution has been proposed by way of remedy, but let's not digress too much, folks).

How, then, to skin the cat?

Even those congresscritters who hold that the executive must possess a power of "quick reaction" sans declaration of war by Congress would presumably not hold that the situation in Iraq meets the specifications. The war is nearly two years old. If ever an imminent threat to the Republic existed, that threat is long since vanquished. And though Congress's 2002 default on its responsibilities remains odious, that default can remain untouched in deference to the "quick reaction" folks. The war can be concluded by Congress via its power of the purse.

Bush is set to come before Congress in the next few days with a request for $80 billion for continued operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congress can give him that money.

Or Congress can withhold it.

If Congress simply writes the check, then it is, by implication, sanctioning the war, the president's conduct of the war and the continuation of the war.

If Congress takes a cue from Nancy Reagan and just says no, then either the war comes to a screeching halt or America is plunged into Constitutional crisis as Bush reallocates money appropriated for other purposes to support military operations. If he's impeached, the damage is done anyway. If he's not, the Congress becomes irrelevant, a vestigial organ of an extinguished Republic. The hard-line antiwar activists advocate just such a course, albeit with the expectation that their demands will not be met and merely the hope that the making of them will provide a rallying point for anti-war sentiment in Congress.

It seems to me, however, that this is one instance where moderation might best serve the hard-line cause.

Bush wants $80 billion. America wants the war brought to an end. If each side is willing to meet the other's price, then we've got a win-win situation.

Democrats in Congress -- who, for the most part, will fight to end the war if they believe their constituencies will stand behind them in that fight -- have only to maintain party solidarity and convince a few Republicans -- specifically, 16 in the House (assuming that Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont caucuses with them on the issue, as seems likely) and six in the Senate (likewise assuming that Independent James Jeffords, also of Vermont, goes with the Democrats) -- in order to hold the disposition of Bush's $80 billion supplemental appropriation request in their hands.

If such a coalition can be brought together, then it's as simple as offering the White House a quid pro quo: Congress authorizes the $80 billion, if the request is accompanied by a timeline for US withdrawal from Iraq, to be completed no later than December 31st, 2005. No commitment to that timeline, no money -- and if the commitment is made and not met, then the appropriation language contains a poison pill: An impeachment finding against the president for misappropriation of $80 billion in government funds, automatically activated by the presence of so much as one US soldier on Iraqi soil on January 1, 2006.

Naturally, such a compromise is dependent upon several factors.

Are there 218 US Representatives and 51 US Senators who are willing to stand up for America and for the men and women serving in the nation's armed forces under the current abusive regime? I'd like to think so. But I don't know.

Is the president willing to sacrifice the apocalyptic visions of the Republican Surrealists to realpolitick in order to save his presidency? Is he -- dare I say it? -- perhaps even wishing that Congress would force him to make that sacrifice, so that he might end the war with face and hope to salvage a presidential legacy which extends beyond the title "war criminal?"

Once upon a time, FDR entertained a group of lobbyists, pushing some proposal or another. After the requisite amount of speechifying by the delegation, he held up his hand and said "stop. You've convinced me. Now go out and bring pressure on me." This week, as in so many weeks past, we've had our share of speechifying on the floor of Congress about the path of lies on which the nation rolled to war. The time for the speechifying is over. Now it's time for the pressure.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The air gets pretty thin ...

... when you climb high enough to find yourself sharing a masthead with the likes of these people. I see a couple of former presidential candidates, at least one sitting US representative, political leaders, noted authors and scholars, effective opinion-makers and ...


I've signed on with Free Market News Network as a political commentator, and I'm right flattered and proud to have been invited to do so. I'll be contributing a mix of "exclusives" and stuff that you may see here at Knappster or over at Rational Review as well.

If the lack of oxygen doesn't knock me unconscious and send me rolling back down the hill, of course.

Thanks to FMNN for this opportunity.

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A little competition does the ol' blogosphere good

Not to get overly bitchy, but after several months and three webform inquiries (starting before the 2004 election, when campaigns were dropping ad money faster than bloggers could get their buckets under it), I have yet to receive a response from BlogAds.

Yeah, I know, I'm not one of the big guys ... yet. But Knappster's audience is growing and in a fairly well-defined demographic. I'd like to run nicely targeted advertising (which is why I haven't gone with, say, AdBrite as I have with some other projects -- their network ads just aren't very topical). And I'm willing to be extremely reasonable where price is concerned.

So what's up, BlogAds? Why can't I even get a nice form letter to the tune of "your blog doesn't fit our clients' needs" or something?

It looks like a competitor may be preparing to enter the market. Maybe even a responsive competitor who will give smaller blogs the time of day.

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False spring in DC?

Commentators on all sides held on to the hope (or, in some cases, trudged forward through a haze of dread) late last year that George W. Bush's second term would begin with the announcement of a timely withdrawal from Iraq and the swing back toward an at least nominally sane foreign policy.

No such luck, it seems -- if the events of the last few weeks are indicative of Bush's second-term agenda, expectations of a Thermidor for the Republican Surrealists were premature indeed. Their Robespierre isn't finished. As a matter of fact, he's just getting started.

The administration's chief advocate of torture is to be placed in charge of of guarding Americans' rights as Attorney General.

The administration's chief national security liar is to be sent forth as Secretary of State, charged with engendering trust and cooperation between the US and the world's other nations.

The man who sits an irregular heartbeat away from the presidency has publicly painted a new target on the map, directly over Tehran.

And the president himself delivered an inaugural speech which seems to promise four more years of blood, iron and conquest, further sullying the banners of "freedom" and "liberty" beneath which he purports to march.

Were the expectations of a pendulum swing simply wishful thinking? Was there a power struggle between the Realists and Surrealists which held out real hope, but which eventually went the Surrealists' way? Or was it all a clever agitprop operation designed to minimize discontent leading up to the inauguration, so that things could get back to business as usual?

Or, just possibly, is there still hope for a return to sanity while Bush remains in office?

Not likely. The original Jacobins' Reign of Terror lasted for only 13 months. Their ideological children in Washington have been in the driver's seat for 3 1/2 years, and seem to be promising -- and confident in their ability to deliver -- at least four more years of the same. The Surrealists remain firmly in control of the administration's agenda, and Scowcroft et al seem to have failed in their attempt to gather a Girondist resistance to the agenda of our day's Committee of Public Safety.

They've outdone Grandpa Maximilien already. Can they best Uncle Felix as well? And will Americans eventually -- and willingly -- consent to a Directory as the price of an end to terror?

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Monday, January 24, 2005

Oh, the humanity ...

Republicans are upset that Senate Democrats actually want a debate on the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State. Quoth White House chief of staff Andrew Card: "Petty politics."

Beg to differ. The Constitution is not unclear on this. The president appoints cabinet officials with the advise and consent of the Senate. That was never intended to be a rubber stamp, and the balkanization of the GOP (with social conservatives, religious rightists, right-libertarians et al in uneasy coalition with the Republican Surrealists) makes it doubly important that cabinet appointments receive full debate.

While we don't have a full-blown parliamentary system where withdrawal of one or more factions from the majority coalition would force new elections, there is a legitimate public interest in giving the opposition its chance to attempt to pry some Republican Senators loose on any single vote. As a matter of fact, that lack of an ability to reframe the entire government on the fly is probably the most important reason for allowing full debate on any given appointment.

A Republican congressional majority is not a mandate for Republican Surrealist cabinet appointments. Neither is a Republican presidential victory. Full and open debate in the Senate is a poor substitute for a real parliamentary/democratic system, but it's the only substitute we have. And if the opposition is not there to oppose, then we might as well discard the fiction of multi-party politics and admit that the US is a one-party dictatorship.

No news is good news

This page is where you'll find the official reports of US casualties in Iraq (among other things). For obvious reasons, it's on my "watch list" for producing RRND and FND.

DoD hasn't identified an American killed in action since the 20th of January, and I haven't seen any reports of as-yet-unidentified US KIAs in Iraq. That's nice for a change.

What does it mean? Are the US forces laying low and pumping up for election day operations? Is the resistance focusing on disrupting the elections instead of killing Americans? Or is it possible that the US is beginning to have some success at suppressing resistance operations?

I dunno ... but it's nice to go for a few days sans flag-draped coffins.

Mistuh Carson, he dead

Once when I was a kid, I braved the clock and stayed up until 10:30 p.m. (central time) to see if there was any good TV beyond the void of the late news. We had a temperamental color television, so Johnny Carson had an excessively pink, flushed look about him. I wasn't impressed. I didn't really cotton to late night television for a long time after that, until my local CBS affiliate started running and re-running the "Planet of the Apes" movies on a four- or five-week cycle. Charlton Heston. Apes. Cool.

At some point, though, probably in junior high, I started pausing when I flipped past "The Tonight Show." It seemed like that Carson guy was always saying something funny. Eventually, I got to be a regular -- late night snack and soda, tuning in for my monologue fix five nights a week.

I never figured out Carson's politics. I don't know if anyone did. He was an equal opportunity jokester -- never too hard on his targets and he seemed to really like people, but no one was ever quite safe, either. He was just funny. And that was enough. When he left the Tonight Show, the Tonight Show came off my viewing schedule. Leno never cut it with me. He's funny, I guess, but he's no Johnny Carson. His real function in life is to spare us the realization that David Letterman isn't Johnny Carson, either.

Johnny Carson died this weekend. He was 79.

Recent reviews ...

One of my New Year resolutions is to remember to blog my Epinions reviews and gripe at everyone to join Epinions (it's free) and read them so that I can make money. Money is good.

Here are the latest:

Game Review

Honey, I Shrunk the Counterterrorism Task Force ... -- review of Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear for the Sony PlayStation.

Movie Review

Chick Flick Meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- review of The Forgotten, starring Julianne Moore et al.

Book Review

Systemic Shock -- review of Neal Stephenson's System of the World.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

X knows how to party ...

Smoking jackets, everyone -- the gang's all here! Check out Mr. X's Rat Pack Cocktail Party. Why blog this? I dunno. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. Kookoo witchcraft. Yeah, man. Hep.

The Flash Eaters

Had dinner last night with two of the best people on earth -- Steve "Flash" Gordon and Deborah Gordon, MD, his better (and better-looking) half. Actually, I guess it would be six of the best people on earth -- Tamara, the kids and one of the Gordons' Alabama LP friends, whose name I can't recall at this particular instant, were there too.

The Gordons were in St. Louis for a Libertarian Party state chair conference at the Renaissance Hotel. This place answers to the descriptive "swank," and I'm glad my old boss (I worked for Steve on the Russo and Badnarik campaigns) was buying -- prime rib at the hotel restaurant ("T-Bones") ain't cheap. I'm pretty sure the LP gets good room rates, though -- the LP holds all of its events at Marriott hotels and presumably gets a discount for doing so. And the Renaissance is very convenient to the airport, which makes it a good place for meetings that bring together people from across the country.

While there, I ran into a number of friends and acquaintances -- Rex Bell of Indiana, Justin Kempf (of Indiana, too, but late of Missouri), Robert Butler of Ohio, national LP chair Mike Dixon, et al. Unfortunately, I missed Jason Hallmark and numerous others, most of all Jim Lark. These political events keep people occupied all day and then they scatter for some fun.

It was a good time. Can't say I miss the esophageal effects of LP activism, but the people are great. So is the prime rib (it's smoked -- something I hadn't had before; not sure I'll abandon regular prime rib, but it's worth a try). Thanks, Steve!

Technorati's da bomb

Technorati is a great service for finding out who links to your blog and such. Now they've introduced "Technorati tags." The idea is that when you blog on a particular subject, you can include a "tag link" that will cause the post to be indexed under that subject on their site.

Naturally, the first tag I looked for was "politics" -- and, amazingly, the site says there aren't any posts under it. So I guess I get to be the first.

Hmmm, I guess I'd better say something political and get things off to a right good start:

"When the revolution comes, Glenn Reynolds will be the first one up against the wall."

(unless someone beat me to it -- very likely).

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Blog, blog, bloggity-blog, yada yada yada

Enough, already.

No, really. Enough.

Here's a blog about blogs from one of the more influential political bloggers. Here's a book about blogs from the most fantastically boring and banal of bloggers. Here's an article about the blogosphere from (arguably) its biggest rockstar (and the guy who wants me dragged off to Camp Six).

What the hell is up with this narcissistic/solipsistic orgy of self-appraisal? Some of it is self-congratulatory. Some of it is agonized and wracked with doubt. But really, folks ... come on! The November election is still visible in the rear-view mirror and all that bloggers seem to want to talk about is whether blogging had an effect on it.

Well, yeah, it did. So?

When I was in sixth grade, I produced an underground student newspaper. Six sheets of white bond, five sheets of carbon paper and my mom's typewriter. A blog is nothing but that old typewriter, only plugged into the whole world instead of six kids at Maplecrest Elementary.

Sure, blogs and blogging are cool. But they're just method, not content. And this inward focus is no different than (and no more interesting than) some 18th-century typesetter's nail-biting over whether his new 12-point set would catch on. He wasn't Gutenberg, and bloggers aren't either. They're just writers. Some of them are very good writers, but the fact that they publish via blog isn't especially noteworthy. The "gee whiz" era that blogging would fall under is over. Blogging is just simplified web publishing, and we stopped oohing and ahhing over that six or seven years ago.

Has blogging changed things? To a degree, yes. But not so much that an orgy of introspection is called for. Let's get back to blogging about ... stuff!

Has anybody else noticed ...

Last summer, the employees in the White House Situation Room couldn't break wind without Tom Ridge jacking the terror alert level up to orange. But now that the election's over and sixteen yahoos are suspected of planning to detonate a "dirty bomb" in Boston ... ah, no biggie. Keep it at yellow.

Surely the Homeland Security folks wouldn't stoop to playing political games with the terror alert system ... right?

Might as well ride this wave ...

It seems that Yahoo! Singapore (and probably other variants of Yet Another Hierarchic Officious Oracle) has Knappster on page one for the search "blog track visitors."

In this particular case, instead of just gravy-training, I'll put in a few plugs.

Tracking visitors to your blog: If you host your site independently, there's a good chance that you'll have access to some pretty gnarly stat packages (AWStats and such). If you're using the Blogger/Blogspot option or one of the other "freebies," however, you're probably going to have to look for a third party provider. I like SiteMeter. Basic stats are free and include an abundance of information on who's visiting your site, from where, etc. They also offer premium packages with even more. Really, though, the free package is sufficient for most purposes.

Getting visitors to your blog: There are a number of blog-oriented "traffic exchange" programs out there -- basically, you view two blogs, and in return one visitor is sent to yours. I have accounts with three such services: BlogExplosion, BlogClicker and BlogCrowd.

Personally, I prefer BlogExplosion. Their system is nice, and they deliver the goods. BlogClicker I just started with, and it seems okay as well. I'm going to hold off on recommending BlogCrowd for the moment. At first blush, they've got a lot of cool features, but they've been slow on turning my credits into actual visitors, and their interface isn't very intuitive.

Of course, getting a visitor to your blog for the first time is just half the struggle. After that, you need to have content which makes the visitor want to bookmark your site and return to it. So I guess I'd better quit messing around and find something to write about besides "blog track visitors," eh?

Free Porn Magic for You!

John C. Dvorak on search engines and site popularity and stuff.

I could have it wrong, but I think that "free porn" is probably a really, really bad bet for upping site traffic. Unless you have "free porn" reiterated every few word -- free porn this, free porn that, free porn the other -- you're probably not going to get good search engine position out of the word combination "free porn." There are just too many "free porn" sites out there to compete with.

But we can try.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Only trying to be helpful ...

I keep track of where visitors to this blog come from, and somebody's got it bad -- he or she arrived here on a web search for "Angelina Jolie naked." Just for shits and gigles, I ran the same search, and Knappster appeared nowhere in the first 15 pages.

So, on the premise that someone who types "Angelina Jolie naked" into a search engine is really looking for a libertarian Democrat political blog, I'm just going to mention Angelina Jolie naked a few more times.

That way people won't have to scroll through 15 or more pages of "Angelina Jolie naked" results to find Knappster. I mean, if they were really looking for Angelina Jolie, naked, they'd have found her before they got that far, right? I mean, if Angelina Jolie really is naked, she's either in those first 15 pages of results, or else with Brad, or with Billy Bob, or with me.

Angelina Jolie, naked. Bob Dole, Bob Dole, Bob Dole.

And you don't have to be a rocket scientist ...

... to figure out that I have decided to return to the Democratic Party.

This isn't an "announcement." I'm not an important enough person for "announcements" about my party affiliation to raise many eyebrows. However, it does seem like this article and this one probably need a follow-up, so I might as well talk about why I'm a Democrat again.

As much as I'd like to believe that the Libertarian Party has the potential to change the face of America, I just haven't seen the evidence of that in the last few years. I'm not here to put the LP down. I'm a libertarian. Most of my friends are libertarians. Many of my libertarian friends are LP members and will probably remain so. And hell, I may be back ... if I see evidence that the LP is ready to become a political party.

Right now, it isn't. It's an ideological membership organization. Winning elections is way down its list of priorities. It functions primarily as an educational entity, and occasionally as a "spoiler" -- which hopefully is educational to the "major party" candidates in a way that makes them want to do what they need to get libertarian support -- but in 30 years it's failed to build the grassroots, ground-up, precinct-level foundation necessary to anything more than scattered local political success. That's not all its fault. Circumstances such as draconian ballot access requirements, the two-party media monopoly, etc., make it an uphill fight. But it remains, nonetheless, a fact.

And I, sorry to say, am a political junkie. Philosophically, I'm an anarchist, and I think I'd take Manny's bet ("give me one chance in ten ...") on just saying to hell with it and smashing the state. But I don't see one chance in ten, and I like politics. So, I'll do what I can, when I can, for anarchy. But I'm going to get my fix in the meantime.

Who's gonna be my dealer?

The Republicans are already in power. The Democrats are hungry. Who's going to work harder?

The Republicans have always been the party of big government. Since day one. Yeah, they talk a good line, but read your history. And a ten-year hold on congress plus two consecutive presidential election victories aren't incentives for change. They're incentives for more of the same.

The Democratic Party certainly has been a party of big government, but not always.

The first Democratic president was Thomas Jefferson.

Grover Cleveland, arguably the best president since Jefferson, was a Democrat.

For that matter, FDR ran for president in 1932 on a platform of cutting the size of the federal government by 25% and balancing the budget. It didn't work out that way, but it says something for Democrats of the time that he had to stand on such a platform to be elected.

The Democrats' hunger to win, their historic roots and their perceived need for a new approach make them the likelier party to consider, adopt and work for the implementation of libertarian policy proposals.

And that's a start.

So, I've joined the Democratic Freedom Caucus and started the process of getting involved with my local party clubs and committees.

That's a start, too.

You don't have to love Howard Dean ...

... to conclude that he's the best possible choice for chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Let's get one thing straight: Howard Dean didn't go down last year because he wasn't the best candidate. He went down last year because Democrats choked. They needed a fighter, and they had one, but at the last minute they deserted him for the chimera of faux-"electability" -- seniority on the Hill, a record that could reasonably be portrayed as congenially bi-partisan, a known quantity with whom they felt comfortable.

No insult intended, Senator Kerry, but Democrats needed a 1948 Harry Truman campaign and settled instead for Bob Dole 1996 redux.

The Democrats' presidential election loss can be their 2006 and 2008 gain, though. Dean didn't miss a step in going from prospective presidential nominee to highly effective organizer of winning campaigns. His "Democracy for America" PAC and "Dean's Dozen" list were instrumental in the few gains the Democrats did make in 2004. Two new Democratic governors in the nation, both backed by Dean. Two new Democratic senators in Washington, both backed by Dean. 14 freshmen in the House -- five of them backed by Dean. State legislative victories in 28 states, including new majorities in one or both legislative houses in Colorado, North Carolina, Vermont, Oregon and Washington, due in no small part to the efforts of Dean and his Deaniacs.

This isn't about policy issues. It's not about "liberal" versus "moderate." It's not even about the Clintonistas versus the world. It's about attitude. It's about getting out there, kicking ass, inciting activism and winning elections.

If the Democratic Party is serious about reclaiming its status as America's majority party, it will choose Howard Dean to lead it toward the sound of the guns.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

My modest contribution to the political lexicon

Where politics is concerned, I believe in accomodation whenever and wherever possible. Not compromise or capitulation, but treating others as they prefer to be treated -- according them the dignity and respect due one's opponents. After all, if those opponents weren't worthwhile or important, I wouldn't be debating or attacking them, would I?

With this in mind, I've been wracking my brain for alternatives to the words "neoconservative" and "neoconservatism." The neocons have been bitching for lo on two years now that "neoconservative" and "neoconservatism" are just code words for "Jewish conservative" and "Jewish conservatism" -- with the strong implication that it's the Jewishness, rather than the conservatism, that the person using the terms objects to.

Never mind that all not all neoconservatives are Jews.

Never mind that any number of other political movements prominently feature Jews as intellectual models and leaders (including the broader libertarian movement to which I belong -- ever heard of Ayn Rand, nee Alissa Rosenbaum? Murray Rothbard? Barry Goldwater?).

Hell, never mind that neoconservatives invented the title themselves and wrote books expounding their ideas under that name.

The idea that use of the term "neoconservative" or "neoconservatism" is some kind of anti-Semitic code is so much hogwash. But if neoconservatives -- Jewish or non-Jewish -- don't want to be called neoconservatives any more, that's good enough for me. Say no more, and no need to get nasty about it.

What, then, to call them? After a good deal of cogitation on the matter, I believe I've hit upon an appropriate moniker.

The former neoconservatives have a rich and varied history, hailing from exotic political environments like the pre-WWII Trotskyite movement, the Max Schactman faction of the Socialist Party of America (now known as Social Democrats USA), and the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party. However, of late they've tended to make their home in the Party of Lincoln. There are exceptions, but that's the rule. I therefore think it fitting to dub them "Republicans."

That's not specific enough, of course. There are all kinds of Republicans. Conservatives. Social conservatives. Moderates. "Republicans in Name Only." A modifier is called for to differentiate them from the partisan background noise, and I can conceive of no better place to look for that modifier than in a contrast of the former neoconservatives with their most powerful opponents within the Republican Party.

Those opponents currently style themselves the "Republican Realists." I don't know if that handle is a reaction to the Bush administration's public notice that it doesn't belong to the "reality-based community," or if its origin lies in some other, earlier feud. Suffice it to say that the "Republican Realists" -- Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell et al -- are men with one foot still in the Cold War era. They're cautious. They think in terms of diplomacy and "signaling," with military force as a last option and usually then only to achieve or maintain something resembling the status quo ante with respect to whatever situation they address. A contrast, indeed, from the neoco ... uh, from their opponents' ... emphasis on "creative destruction," "worldwide democratic revolution" and so forth. Not to mention a contrast in terms of respect for fact and, well, reality.

real, adj. 10. coinciding with reality [WordNet (r) 2.0]

surreal, adj. 1. characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtapositions ... [op. cit.]

Very well, then. "Republican Surrealists" it is! Happy now, Mr. Starr?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Questions for Condi

It's Confirmation for Condi time, and I almost feel sorry for the lady.


But not quite.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) was the designated attack dog in today's confirmation hearings. Not hard to figure out why: A white, male Democrat launching on the first black, female nominee for Secretary of State would go over about like fried rat for dinner.

Quoth Condi: "I really hope that you will refrain from impugning my integrity ..."

Yes, I'm sure she did hope that. And she substantially got her wish. Boxer mentioned the inconsistencies in Rice's (and others') stories leading up to the invasion of Iraq and the failure of any of those stories to pan out in the real world. But she didn't move in for the kill. There's probably a reason for that -- if Senate Democrats wear the velvet glove now, they can bring out the pincers and tongs after State's first big screwup under Rice's leadership, and claim to have given her a fair shake.

This nomination should be the second filibuster of the year (after Gonzales). It won't be, of course, but it should be. There's a thin line between Democrats giving Republicans the rope to hang themselves with and Democrats helping Republicans hang all of us.

Jihad in Jersey?

No, geek, it's not the new Mack Bolan novel.

This isn't getting a lot of coverage in the "mainstream media" (although it's getting more than the Muslim-bashers care to admit -- the Internet backbones are collapsing beneath indignant "why is this being ignored?" newsgroup posts, even though Google indexes somewhere in the neighborhood of 275 stories).

Robbery, good old-fashioned religious grudge, or, dare I say it, terrorism?

Some reports indicate that it may related to the trial of Lynne Stewart, an attorney accused of smuggling messages to terrorist accomplices for one of her clients, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman. Apparently, a cousin of the slain family worked for the prosecution.

I'm leaning toward the second explanation, though. Here's why:

- If the Sheik's group, or any other Islamist terror group, has operating cells in the US, they aren't going to waste their time and risk their cover trying to intimidate people engaged in prosecuting a low-level flunkie like Stewart.

- Terrorism only works if the acts breed terror. A quadruple homicide, while horrible, just isn't very effective as terrorism ... especially if no credit is taken for it and no message is attached to it. A terror cell wouldn't allow the impression that this was a robbery or a grudge killing to take root. They'd make it clear that this fate awaited others who opposed themselves to the group's agenda. That's what terrorism is all about.

But let's just assume, for a moment, that the act was intended as a terrorist act. That leaves the "war on terror" cheerleaders a bit over a barrel. After all, they've been claiming that the US strategy abroad is justified by the fact that there haven't been any terror attacks on US soil since 9/11 (they conveniently forget the anthrax mail attacks, the LAX shooting spree, etc., or write those attacks off as minor, even "nothing").

If this was a terror attack, that pretty much wraps it up for the "George Bush has kept America free from attacks by moving the war overseas" crowd. And if it's "nothing" like the anthrax scare and the LAX spree ... well, why are they making such a big deal about it? Can't have it both ways, folks.

My suspicion is that this was a Muslim-Copt blood feud, and pretty much a private one, for all that some of the pre-killing talking occurred on the Internet. Tragic for the slain family, and definitely a horrendous crime for which the perpetrators ought to pay, but that doesn't make it terrorism.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Morgan Spurlock

"Kate Stelnick may weigh only 100 pounds, but her appetite is remarkable. The college student from Princeton, N.J., is the first to meet a restaurant's challenge by downing its six-pound hamburger -- and five pounds of fixins' -- within three hours."

Read all about it.

Monday, January 17, 2005

A sigh of relief

Angelina Jolie says that she's not the reason Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston are splitting up.

Whew! Close call there. We all know that she doesn't belong with Brad. It's gotta be Billy Bob, or me.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Brand it like Beckham

He's a soccer star. He's married to a pop star. And he plans to name his son after a beer. Is this guy cool or what?

A fistful of Michael Moore's gonads

As a fan of Clint Eastwood and also something of an admirer of Michael Moore*, I found this piece from Thomas Luongo interesting. Check it out.

* Admirer of Michael Moore? Yep. Of course, the only Moore film I've seen is Fahrenheit 911. On the whole, I found it more truthful than its detractors held it to be, albeit less than 100% truthful -- and really, really good propaganda. Here's my review.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Confirmation of the unexpected, part two

The first installment of this series involved the creation of a "rating system" to determine how "libertarian" Missouri's US representatives were. The surprising result was that Democratic congresscritters rated more highly on "Tom's Libertarianism Scale" than Republican congresscritters. That's an interesting datum, but useless without context. And the article, of course, is not useful to the extent that it incorporates error or confusion. So, I'm going to open this article with a couple of corrections:

- "The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004" was erroneously identified as HR 3317. Its actual bill number was HR 3717.

- There's some question as to the import of the procedural vote on HR 5025 -- whether a "yes" vote on it was to force a roll call vote on a congressional pay raise, or to duck such a vote. I confess that after reading the text and more than one article on it, I still can't tell which was which. If I got it wrong, this would impact the scores. It would lower the scores of three Democrats (Clay, Skelton and McCarthy) by 10 points. That would still leave the "Democratic bottom" at 50 of a possible 100, but would lower the score of the "most libertarian" congresscritter, Lacy Clay, from 80 to 70. Additionally, it would raise the scores of three Republican congresscritters (Graves, Emerson and Hulshof) by 10 points, and lower the scores of two (Akin and Blunt) by 10. As it happens, Akin and Blunt were the two highest scoring Republicans, so this would not change the relative standings of Democrats versus Republicans: No Democrat score would descend below 50, nor would any Republican score rise above 40. So while an error would be of interest, it would not materially affect the outcome if the goal is to evaluate "how libertarian" particular legislators were on the basis of issues votes.

Since writing the first part of this series, I've received a number of perceptive questions and comments from readers. As a matter of fact, they included most of the various questions (and answers) that I intended to offer in this followup, and they provided me with a corroborating data source I'd missed: In November, Liberty magazine's R.W. Bradford ran the numbers and found that Democrats, over the last fifty years, have simply performed better than Republicans in the "fiscal responsibility" area.

So, let's take this from the top.

How did Ron Paul (R-TX) score? That's the natural first question. Among serving congresscritters, he's considered the "gold standard" where libertarian policy stands are concerned. This is especially true with respect to the rating system I created: Among those few who consider Paul a less than perfect libertarian, the two issues cited for that evaluation are abortion and foreign policy, which I omitted from the rating system precisely because there seems to be no libertarian consensus on them.

Ron Paul scored either 90 of 100 or 100 of 100. He voted "libertarian" on every bill, with the possible exception of the "pay raise procedural vote" question. If I had it right the first time, he scored a 90. If I had it wrong, he scored 100. Suffice it to say that his reputation carries enough weight with me to operate from here on out on the assumption that I got it wrong.

Let's alter our scale by removing the procedural vote question altogether. The scale now runs from 0 to 90, and our totals look like this:




Now, let's consider these politicians as groups. The Republicans get a slight advantage, insofar as they outnumber the Democrats five to four, but hey, it's close enough for a bar fight.

The aggregate score of the four Democrats serving in Missouri's US House delegation is 230 points of a possible 360 points

The aggregate score of the five Republicans serving in Missouri's US House delegation is 140 points of a possible 450 points.

In other words, not only do individual Democrats tend to vote "more libertarian" than individual Republicans, but even when given a numerical advantage, the Republicans aren't capable of producing more "more libertarian" votes as a group.

Even if we throw in Ron Paul -- Dr. No, Mr. Libertarian, the poster boy of the "libertarians are a natural GOP constituency" crowd -- and make him an honorary member of the Missouri delegation, it's a wash, 230 to 230 (of a possible 360 and 540 for Democrats and Republicans respectively). It takes half again as many Missouri Republicans, including a disguised Texan who's known as the libertarian anomaly in Congress, just to be "as libertarian" as Missouri's Democrats.

Imagine that we we set up an NBA exhibition game -- a grudge match between the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers. Let's further suppose that we told the Spurs to pick a player at random and make him sit the game out, leaving them with only four players on the court instead of five. Finally, let's suppose that we not only allowed the Lakers to play with their full, five-man complement, but flew in Michael Jordan and put him on the court in a Lakers uniform as well.

If the game ended in a tie, would anyone pretend that this meant the Lakers were a better team?

How much should we read into these results? I counsel caution. Here's why:

- It is by no means apparent that Missouri's Democratic or Republican congressional delegations are representative of similar delegations nationwide. Comparisons in other states might yield widely varying results.

- The Democrats are an opposition party right now, while the Republicans are a majority. This almost certainly affects their scores. The Democrats in Congress voted against George W. Bush's deficit budget and against raising the debt limit. Do you think they would have told John Kerry "no" on those things? The Republicans voted for Bush's budget and for increasing the debt limit. Do you think they would have done that for Al Gore? If anything, the results may simply point up the attractions of keeping Congress in the hands of one party and the White House in the hands of another.

- Even among those who do not consider themselves "single issue voters," some issues are more important than others. As the comments on the first part of this series showed, some people would give more weight to an anti-gun vote than to a pro-medical-marijuana vote, or place more importance on civil liberties than on fiscal responsibility. This kind of individual weighting might make a Todd Akin appear more, and a Lacy Clay less, "libertarian" to some. Nothing short of crafting one's own mechanism for rating legislators can accomodate that phenomenon.

Leaving aside weighting questions and such, there remain questions pertaining to just what libertarians are after.

Which is more valuable: More votes on the House floor for "more libertarian" policy outcomes, or the existence of a single legislator who's willing to stand up and go beyond casting votes to advocate and promote an overall libertarian agenda?

Which is more important, or more timely: Working against the odds to seed the American culture with the libertarian idea in the hope of long-term total success, or fighting the daily battles for better short-term outcomes?

Ideology or outcome? Rhetoric or results? Principle or politics. Or is there really an "or" there? Can there be realistic, productive fusions or synergies of the different agendas?

You tell me.

If there's a third article in this series -- I haven't decided on that yet -- it will explain my own conclusions and what actions I've decided to take with respect to those conclusions.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Confirmation of the unexpected

There's an unstated assumption among most libertarians -- even those who don't particularly care for the Republican Party -- that Republican politicians tend to "lean a little more libertarian" than Democratic politicians. That assumption has colored discussions about whether or not the Democratic Party, currently in the doldrums of defeat, might not be open to libertarian ideas: the default presumption is that these ideas are alien to Democrats and to Democratic politicians.

Eric Dondero, an unofficial representative of the Republican Liberty Caucus, recently posed a simple challenge on several Internet discussion lists: Name one prominent, elected "libertarian Democrat." Some of the answers he had received in the past -- Russ Feingold, Lloyd Doggett, et al -- had struck him (and me) as fairly lame.

I'll be honest with you -- I don't see anyone in competition right now for the title of "The Democratic Party's Ron Paul." The Democratic Freedom Caucus, nominally the counterpart to the RLC, seems to be even less organized and effective at this time than the RLC or the Libertarian Party (which, when you think about it, is saying quite a bit). From the moment I began to consider affiliating with the DFC, I've considered it a project still on the launch pad.

However, Mr. Dondero's challenge did inspire me to inquire more closely into the behaviors of both Republican and Democratic politicians. As my sample, I decided to work with Missouri's US House delegation. In order to rate those congresscritters, I decided to pick ten bills, or amendments to bills, from the second session (the 2004 session) of the 104th Congress -- five votes per congresscritter which could be said to reasonably represent libertarian positions on "civil liberties" issues and five which could be said to reasonably represent libertarian positions on "fiscal responsibility." I'd assign each congresscritter 10 "points" for a "libertarian" vote on a bill, and 0 points for a "non-libertarian" vote on a bill, with "not voting" -- i.e. being absent for the vote -- also racking up a zero point score. At the end of it all, each congresscritter would have a rating somewhere between 0 and 100 inclusive, with the higher scores being the "more libertarian" end of the spectrum.

Since there seems to be a lack of consensus among libertarians on abortion and foreign policy issues, I decided to omit those issues from the rating system.

Having created the logic of the system, I then went off in search of bills that fit the, um, bill. I went through a list of roll call votes at the US House of Representatives web site, looking for likely titles. Then I did some Googling on search strings like: ["roll call vote" "medical marijuana"] and ["key votes" 2004 "gun control"]. When it was all said and done, I had what I considered to be a reasonable cross-section of civil liberties and fiscal responsibility votes, along with whether "yea" or "nay" represented the "libertarian vote" and which Representative had voted in what way on each bill.

Imagine my surprise when I found that of the four Democrats representing Missouri in Congress, none had scored below 50 on my "liberty index"-- not even liberal icon Dick Gephardt, who had four "not voting" strikes against him -- and that of the five Republicans, not one had scored above 40!

I didn't purposely design the rating system to benefit Democrats. As a matter of fact, I expected, when I ran the numbers, to find the Republicans averaging higher than the Democrats, with maybe one Democrat within, but near the bottom, of the "Republican range." Instead, it came out the opposite way: The four Democrats came out as the four "most libertarian" of Missouri's US Representatives. The "most libertarian" Republican (Todd Akin, whose name appears on the RLC's 2004 election victory brag list) emerged as "less libertarian" than Dick friggin' Gephardt.

Even more surprising was that my own congresscritter, the first district's Lacy Clay, was rated the "most libertarian" Representative in Missouri's congressional delegation. I've described Clay in many ways -- some laudatory, some not -- in the past, but never as a libertarian. Yet he scored 80 of a possible 100.

Whoa. Dude. What the hell is Knapp smoking? Well, let's take a look at the rating system.

Civil liberties

1. HJ RES 106 -- the anti-marriage Constitutional amendment. Had it passed both houses of Congress with a 2/3 vote and been ratified by 3/4 of America's state legislatures, it would have forbidden same-sex couples to engage in the form of contract known as "marriage." I think it is beyond dispute that a vote for this amendment would be anti-liberty, and that a vote against it would be at least nominally pro-liberty. YES = 0 points, NO = 10 points.

2. HR 3317 -- Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act. This bill essentially ordered the Federal Communications Commission to get tougher with people who say "fuck" on the radio or flash a little nipple at the Super Bowl. Censorship is not libertarian. YES = 0 points, NO = 10 points.

3. HR3193 -- Repeal of victim disarmament laws in the District of Columbia. DC doesn't have home rule. Congress runs the place (which is why it's such a dump). This bill would have repealed the DC ban on gun ownership. Which part of "shall not be infringed" does anyone not understand? YES = 10 points, NO = 0 points.

4. Hinchey-Rohrabacher Amendment to HR 4754 -- This amendment (and yes, that's old-time libertarian, now at least nominally "libertarian Republican" Dana Rohrabacher in its name) would have ended federal thuggery against medical marijuana patients in states which have legalized its use. The war on drugs is not libertarian. YES = 10 points, NO = 0 points.

5. Sanders Amendment to HR 4754 -- This amendment would have withdrawn funding for operations which entailed warrantless searches, acquisition of library and Internet records, etc., under FISA and the Patriot Act. Big Brother ain't no libertarian. YES = 10 points, NO = 0 points.

Here's how Missouri's right honorable US Representatives did:

DISTRICT 1 - CLAY(D) 10, 10, 0, 10, 10 -- TOTAL 40
DISTRICT 2 - AKIN (R) 0, 0, 10, 0, 0 -- TOTAL 10
DISTRICT 3 - GEPHARDT (D) 10, 0, NV, 10, NV -- TOTAL 20 (of 30)
DISTRICT 4 - SKELTON (D) 0, 0, 10, 0, 10 -- TOTAL 20
DISTRICT 5 - MCCARTHY (D) 10, 0, 0, 10, 10 -- TOTAL 30
DISTRICT 6 - GRAVES (R) 0, 0, 10, 10, 0 -- TOTAL 10
DISTRICT 7 - BLUNT (R) 0, 0, 10, 0, 0 -- TOTAL 10
DISTRICT 8 - EMERSON (R) 0, 0, 10, 0, 0 -- TOTAL 10
DISTRICT 9 - HULSHOF (R) 0, 0, 10, 0, 0 -- TOTAL 10

Interesting, huh? On key civil liberties issues, not a single Republican congresscritter from Missouri voted "libertarian" more than one time in five. The "least libertarian" Democrat voted "libertarian" at least two in five times, and the "most libertarian" Democrat four of five.

But let's get on to the "fiscal responsibility" section and see how our prudent, conservative Republican friends stacked up against those evil, big-spending Democrats.

Fiscal responsibility

1. H CON RES 393 -- The federal budget for Fiscal Year 2005. The biggest budget in the history of the United States, with one of, if not the, largest deficits implied. A bill full of pork. A spending binge the likes of which Bill Clinton never dared dream and to which LBJ only aspired. Huge federal budgets aren't libertarian. Neither are the future tax increases -- whether overt or through inflation -- that they imply. YES = 0 points, NO = 10 points.

2. HR 4181 -- This bill extended the 1986 tax reform which increased the standard exemption from income tax and included more people in the bottom rate. Excluding more income from taxation and taxing what's left at a lower rate tends toward libertarianism (more radical libertarians would exempt 100% and tax the non-existent remainder at 0%, but we're at least moving in the right direction here -- enough said). YES = 10 points, NO = 0 points

3. S 2986 -- Increase of the public debt limit. This is what politicians do when they've indulged in deficit spending until they've reached the point where they said they'd stop -- They just reconsider and vote themselves more credit. See my comments on H CON RES 393 above. YES = 0 points, NO = 10 points.

4. HR 1308 -- Remember the big Republican push last year to "make President Bush's [miniscule] tax cuts permanent?" This is that bill. They even threw in a few more cuts. Nothing big, but cutting taxes is cutting taxes. YES = 10 points NO = 0 points

5. Procedural vote on HR 5025 -- Congress has done pretty well at lining its own pockets. They've made their own pay raises "automatic" so that they can go back to their districts and swear that they didn't vote themselves a raise. This procedural vote would have forced them to vote up or down on the "automatic" raise and go on record as to whether they thought they could get by on $160k per year or whether they thought the taxpayer should give them a raise. Big bucks for politicians isn't libertarian. Neither is trying to fool the taxpayer into thinking that you really didn't want the money. YES = 10 points, NO = 0 points.

Here's the toteup:

DISTRICT 1 - CLAY (D) 10, 10, 10, 0, 10 -- TOTAL 40
DISTRICT 2 - AKIN (R) 0, 10, 0, 10, 10 -- TOTAL 30
DISTRICT 3 - GEPHARDT (D) 10, 10, NV, 10, NV -- TOTAL 30 (of 30)
DISTRICT 4 - SKELTON (D) 10, 10, 10, 10, 10 -- TOTAL 50
DISTRICT 5 - MCCARTHY (D) 10, 0, 10, NV, 10 -- TOTAL 30 (of 40)
DISTRICT 6 - GRAVES (R) 0, 10, 0, NV, 0 -- TOTAL 10 (of 40)
DISTRICT 7 - BLUNT (R) 0, 10, 0, 10, 10 -- TOTAL 30
DISTRICT 8 - EMERSON (R) 0, 10, 0, 10, 0 -- TOTAL 20
DISTRICT 9 - HULSHOF (R) 0, 10, 0, 10, 0 -- TOTAL 20

The Republicans did a little better this time. Two of them managed 30 points of a possible 50, tying the two "least libertarian" Democrats (of course, one of those Democrats scored 30 of 30, not voting on two of the five, but what the hey). But the two "most libertarian" Missouri congresscritters on fiscal responsibility issues were both Democrats. Ike Skelton went five for five! And Clay, once again, racked up a credible 40 of 50.

When added together, these ratings produce a total "score" of between 0 and 100, with 100 being the "most libertarian" end of the spectrum. Here are the totals, in descending order:

Clay (D) -- 80
Skelton (D) -- 70
McCarthy (D) -- 60 (of 90)
Gephardt (D) -- 50 (of 60)
Akin (R) -- 40
Blunt (R) -- 40
Emerson (R) -- 30
Hulshof (R) -- 30
Graves (R) -- 20 (of 90)

There you have it, folks. No, I'm not saying that any of Missouri's congresscritters are ideological libertarians. None of them are. But if you're interested in pursuing libertarian policy goals through a "major" party, then you should to look at actual bills, actual votes and actual records, not just rhetoric. By my scoring -- and yes, I realize that your mileage may vary with respect to what priorities should have made "the list" -- Lacy Clay is twice as "libertarian" as Todd "Republican Liberty Caucus" Akin. Given those facts, which "major" party should I conclude is more receptive to libertarian policy proposals and more likely to field candidates who will move public policy in a libertarian direction?

Calling George Wendt

If you sometimes find yourself ordering a glass of wine or a mixed drink when you used to order a beer, you're not alone. Wines and distilled spirits continue to gain a bigger share of the alcoholic beverage market, at the expense of the beer industry. It's a trend that has been going on since the late 1990s and continued in 2004. Analysts who follow the alcoholic beverage industry don't see it stopping anytime soon.

Read more on the unintended consequences of canceling "Cheers".

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Advertising opportunity

For the past few years, I've auctioned off the front-page, top ad space at Rational Review each December, for the following year, with a reserve price of $100. This year, I'm doing a few things differently:

- The auction is for 23 months of advertising -- February 1, 2005 thru December 31st, 2006. The space in question receives betwee 5,000 and 10,000 unique visitors each month, more when we're running a lot of original on-site material (we will be getting back to that soon, and I have a goal of averaging 20,000 unique visitors per month by the end of the year).

- The winner's ad (which can be changed up to once a month) will also appear at the bottom of this page (the Knappster blog).

- I'm guaranteeing the buyer an additional 2,300 visits to their site, above and beyond what they get via ad click-thrus -- I'll buy visits from a broker or use "traffic exchange" credits to their site. Maybe 100 visits a month, maybe 2,300 all at once ... we can work it out!

- The reserve price is $200 -- no lower bids accepted.

- The auction ends at midnight, Saturday, January 15th.

Anyway, click here for more details, or submit your bid by email to me at thomaslknapp at

Friday, January 07, 2005

Patrolling 101

Although I am an opponent of the war in Iraq, I grieve every time I read of another American death. Today's story is, for me, final confirmation of something I've suspected for a long time: Bad tactics are contributing to the casualty count.

The soldiers with Task Force Baghdad were on patrol Thursday evening when their Bradley fighting vehicle hit the explosive, the military said in a statement. Everyone inside the Bradley was killed.

What's wrong with this picture? The same thing that's wrong with just about every other "killed while patrolling" picture. "A soldier was killed while on patrol when his unarmored Humvee was hit by machine gun fire." "A soldier was killed while on patrol when an improvised explosive device detonated underneath the vehicle he was riding in."

Now, don't get me wrong: There is a role for vehicles in combat, and even occasionally in patrolling over large areas (I conducted partially vehicle-mounted security patrols in Saudi Arabia over a perimeter many miles long). But the sheer bulk of the accounts of American military personnel killed in this way tells me that US forces are giving in to the most natural -- and the most dangerous -- tendency: Hunker down and button up. It makes you feel safer, but it's actually a disaster waiting to happen.

Most patrols should be conducted on foot. And patrols conducted by vehicle should be conducted at least partially, and probably mostly, on foot. There are a number of reasons for this.

One is that fighting men on foot can see better, hear better and maneuver better than fighting men holed up inside a tin can with wheels and a diesel engine. I don't know Army doctrine, but "the mission of the Marine rifle squad is to locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver." A 13-man squad -- or a four-man fire team -- is simply better able to detect and react to an enemy presence on foot than from a vehicle. How do you envelop an enemy position with one vehicle? How do you detect that position from inside the vehicle? And how effectively can you dismount and organize to envelop that position when the enemy heard you coming from a mile away and was free to plan his own maneuvers, including taking out the vehicle with you in it or assaulting you during dismount?

And, contrary to instinct, movement by foot is simply safer. Thirteen, or any other number, of vehicle mounted troops are one target, contained within a small area and surrounded by ... shrapnel. Thirteen, or any other number, of troops on foot are individual targets, dispersed over a wide area and able to maneuver individually. An improvised explosive device, as the story above notes, is capable of taking out a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and everyone inside it. Had those seven soldiers been afoot, maintaining a reasonable dispersion for the terrain, it's likely that at least six of them would be alive today. Maybe all seven -- did they miss the IED because of the limited visibility from inside their vehicle?

"The best defense is a good offense" is a tactical, as well as strategic, maxim. Units which skulk behind rolls of concertina wire waiting for the enemy to come to them will find that he does -- at the time and in the manner of his choosing. Units which stick to vehicles in order to achieve a false sense of safety will learn that that sense is, indeed, false. Vehicles are primarily of use in bringing up reinforcements once the enemy has been located, fixed and engaged. Men on foot are more effective -- and less likely to become casualties -- in creating the engagements on advantageous terms, especially against an enemy for whom mortars and IEDs, rather than massed artillery, are the tools of the trade.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Tsunami Realpolitik

Interesting bloggage by Mr. X on the tsunami as a "war on terror" opportunity.

My comments:

As Winston Churchill (I think) said, "nations don't have allies -- they have interests."

Yes, Mr. X, expecting a government to do the right thing because it's the right thing (and leaving aside the question of whether extorting money from Americans to feed, clothe and shelter Indonesians is, indeed, the right thing) is naive.

Then again, expecting US aid, governmental or non-governmental, to placate the Islamists is naive too. Jemiah Islamiya won't be coming to Jesus just because Uncle Sam represented with some clean water and a bowl of Uncle Ben's Long-Grained Rice. It may cut into their support base some, temporarily (and the tsunami itself certainly cut into their funding). But the people being helped almost certainly do want a hand up, not a hand out -- and once they're on their feet, they'll likely not want the Americans to move in with their DVD players and start watching NYPD Blue reruns and tracking mud on the neon green Marshall Plan shag carpet. There's something to be said for doing the good deed and getting the hell out.

You're not "hopelessly" naive, Mr. X. Just remember that while you have a heart, the US government doesn't -- nor can it.