Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Malkin versus "homeland security" (and reality)

Strange: Living her life as a paranoid, xenophobic nutjob doesn't bother Michelle Malkin a bit -- as a matter of fact, it suits her just fine. Not being considered "compassionate," on the other hand, seems to bother her a great deal.

I'd like to help. Really. But I'm all out of "there, there, of course you're compassionate" cards to send. So, I guess I'm stuck with addressing myself to the "paranoid" part, as in "paranoid schizophrenic," as in "total dissociation from the real world." Sorry, 'chelle. When you start quacking about "bring[ing] the homeland security debate" -- or anything else -- "back to reality," an intervention is clearly in order.

Here's some reality for you:

- The US has somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 miles of border and coastline.

- Estimates of illegal immigration rates vary -- duh -- but even the lowball figures are in the million plus range per year.

Reality speaks quite clearly on one point: There's no way to secure 100,000 miles of border and coastline (or even the 2,500 or so miles of border with Mexico) against a million people trying to get across. Some of them -- the bulk of them, in fact -- are going to get through. Period.

From a "homeland security" standpoint, of course, most of these millions are, or at least should be, irrelevant. Unless you consider getting your lettuce picked or your toilet cleaned a national security matter, they're no more of a threat than anyone else you pass on the street (which is to say, some of them might be menaces, most of them aren't). Granted, certain special interest groups would like the government to help them distort the labor market by coercively excluding competition, but really stupid economic beliefs do not, strictly speaking, constitute a "homeland security" matter either.

The reason the mass of illegal immigrants constitute a "homeland security" problem is that they are illegal immigrants. Instead of letting them walk in the front door, as they gladly would and as we most assuredly should, we bow to the special interests and slam that door in their faces.

If the US had a reasonable immigration policy -- i.e. "show up at a designated entry station and if you're not a known criminal or terrorist, we'll point you to the taxicabs lined up on the American side and send you on your way" -- they wouldn't be crawling through the windows and knocking holes in the walls.

And when a million-plus ordinary working stiffs are crawling through the windows and knocking holes in the walls for the privilege of landscaping your lawn or plucking your Thanksgiving turkey, those open windows and gaping holes constitute the entry points for criminals and terrorists -- people you'd never let in through the front door -- as well.

As it stands, US immigration policy constitutes a very real national security threat:

- US immigration policy creates a huge population among which criminals and terrorist can easily hide. Ten murderers -- or ten al Qaeda hijackers or bombmakers -- don't stand out in a crowd of a million "undocumented" individuals.

- US immigration policy creates the market demand that drives the "coyote" industry. A million customers a year seeking aid in crossing the border is big business. "Coyotes" don't care if the people they're escorting into the US are Mexican migrant workers or Yemeni assassins -- business is business. But they wouldn't be in business on any kind of large scale if Yemeni assassins were the bulk of their customer base.

- US immigration policy makes it difficult -- nay, impossible -- to properly monitor the borders for actual hostile activity. Is that group wading the Rio Grande at three in the morning an al Qaeda terror team lugging a small nuclear weapon, or just another one of the hundred groups of workers on their way -- at the same time, by the same routes and in the same manner -- to jobs at poultry plants, on construction crews and in farm fields?

Bottom line: No reasonable amount of money, manpower or concertina wire is going to stop economically motivated mass immigration. Any US immigration policy framed on a position of general exclusion is doomed to fail and to damage national security to boot. And nobody who continues to advocate such a policy in the face of the facts deserves to be taken seriously on immigration -- or on "homeland security."

[Note: Yeah, it's a straight policy piece. My bad anarchist self is on vacation today - TLK]

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

BlogProps: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

This is a must-read from Kevin Carson ... a proposal for a "Strategic Green-Libertarian Alliance" -- or, as he appropriately describes it a "Contract With America" on some topics that Libertarians and Greens (and libertarian Democrats) should be able to agree on.

I'm not sure what can be done with it at this point. Here in Missouri, I suspect it would require the approval of the LP's state committee (which meets once a year) to become official party policy; I don't think the executive committee has the authority to adopt it. I don't rate its prospects before a national LP convention too highly, either. But it would certainly be nice to see LP and Green candidates endorsing it and incorporating it into their campaign platforms and programs, even if modified to reflect short-term deliverables (i.e. a candidate can't promise with a straight face that he or she would "fund federal highways and airports entirely with tolls and other user-fees, with absolutely no subsidies from general revenues, and no use of eminent domain," because no single public official has the power to effect such a result; however, he or she could pledge to vote against general revenue subsidies/eminent domain actions for highways and introduce, sponsor and support toll/user fee legislation).

Saturday, April 22, 2006

First Look 2008: George Phillies

[Note: This article is one in a series on prospective candidates for the Libertarian Party's 2008 presidential nomination]

I'm a fan and friend of George Phillies -- I've been working with him in various capacities on various projects for six years now. Still, I was surprised when he declared his candidacy for the Libertarian Party's 2008 presidential nomination, and I'm frankly skeptical of his ability to garner that nomination.

Let's start out with his positives:

- He's declared early and actually begun the work of putting together a campaign. These two things have to go together to be significant. Lots of people declare early and never do anything between declaring and showing up at the convention to collect their five or ten delegate votes. Phillies has already rolled out a video commercial on his still-under-construction web site. And he's given himself two years to develop a public profile outside the party.

- He's a long-time LP activist with a small, but hardcore, national base of support in the party (in three runs for the chairmanship of the Libertarian National Committee, two of them decided by delegates who also chose a presidential nominee, he's polled between 15% and 23%).

- He's the author of two books which bear on LP politics. "Stand Up For Liberty!" is his manifesto on party organization for political victory. "Funding Liberty" is an in-depth analysis of the conduct of the LP's 1996 and 2000 presidential campaigns. He also publishes an internal, unofficial LP periodical, Let Freedom Ring!/Libertarian Strategy Gazette.

- He's played key roles in several major LP campaigns. This has gained him contact with, and admiration from, LP campaign veterans whose support -- and work -- would be valuable to him in seeking the nomination.

- His political activities already extend outside the LP. For example, he chairs his county's ACLU affiliate. He's not yet a major national political figure by any stretch of the imagination ... but in a party that tends toward an extreme inward focus, any outside affiliations are both refreshing and promising.

- While non-political academic credentials (he's a physics professor with a doctorate from MIT) are a thin rope to climb toward the presidency, he can claim to have administrative experience on numerous faculty committees and such as a professor at Worcester Polytechnic.

- It never hurts to be a veteran. Phillies is (Army Reserve).

Now, to the negatives:

While he has a hardcore base of national support within the LP, he also has a hardcore "anti-base" which, in my opinion, is roughly correspondent to his level of support. Taking his chairmanship vote numbers as a guide and giving him the benefit of all doubt, let's do a little hypothetical math:

Assuming 1,000 delegates, 230 in firm, unwavering support of Phillies (that's 23%, his best vote total for chair, so it's a high assumption), and 15% in unwavering opposition to Phillies (that's 15%, his worst vote total for chair), he's 271 votes short of the majority required to capture the nomination. There are 620 delegate votes still "out there." Phillies is going to have to capture more than 4 out of every 10 of those votes.

And, of course, there will be other candidates with their own committed bases of support. Even assuming only one other viable candidate, with a similar, equally committed base of support (23%) and 50% overlap of that base with the "Anyone but Phillies" vote, a net of 165 more votes are already out of play, which means that Phillies is now trying to get 271 votes from a pool of 455 -- or right at 6 of 10 "available" votes.

I just don't see it happening. While I admire George Phillies, have supported him for chair in the past (and will likely continue to do so), and substantially agree with him on the direction the party should take, I also recognize that he's a polarizing figure in the LP. Those who love him, love him. Those who hate him, hate him. Those who don't love him or hate him don't care about him at all and aren't likely to start caring about him enough to support him in a contested presidential nomination vote.

Now that I've said I don't see it happening, I'll describe how it could happen:

- Phillies could build genuine, non-LP, positive, national name recognition for himself. That name recognition would filter into the LP in the form of new members who enter the party pre-disposed to support him, many of whom might serve as delegates to the 2008 national convention; and in the form of current members who move from the "don't care about Phillies" or even the "don't like Phillies" column to the "Phillies for President" column.

- Alternatively, Phillies could run an extremely aggressive internal party campaign to mobilize his supporters and get them, as opposed to his opponents, onto convention delegations, skewing those delegations more in his favor.

This is a tossup. Phillies' view of how the party should operate tends toward the first strategy. His demonstrated abilities tend toward the second. Of course, there's no reason that both strategies can't be pursued ... but it's also true that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and that either strategy will require the expenditure of lots of time, money and effort which may or may not be available to him.

Phillies' candidacy is a fragile thing: The entrance into the race of a more nationally visible candidate would cut further into the pool of available delegate votes, and would probably even erode his "base." It seems to me that the success, or even continuation, of his campaign is predicated on the notion that the LP will continue to choose from among "party insiders" rather than finding a bona fide national figure to carry its banner.

It may even be that his campaign is intended to "raise the bar" -- to force "insider" campaigns to a higher standard of performance on the premise that we're not going to have the option of a nominating a nationally prominent candidate and that we therefore need to squeeze more utility out of the "insider" menu. If so, he's already made a substantial contribution by unveiling an Internet video "commercial" -- presumably intended for television production and airing when the money's there -- two years in advance. For the sake of comparison, in 2004 only two of the three "front-runners" had commercials "in the can" by the time of the nominating convention, and only one was actually airing them.

I'll continue to watch the Phillies campaign with interest. There may be surprises in store.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Qom on, people now

I've had a couple of emails asking why I'm not blogging the hell out of the ongoing Iran "situation."

Short answers: It's just too damn depressing, and Jim Henley (among others, but this one's both fresh and perfect) seems to have it covered in spades.

Long answer: You want an Irant? Fine -- you asked for it.

Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, I just have trouble getting my mind around the idea that even Bush could be that crazy, Cheney that evil, or Rice that stupid.

"Mr. President, we've got two failed and increasingly unpopular ground wars running in Asia. The military is stretched so thin it could hide behind Callista Flockhart. The Army's meeting its recruitment quotas by raiding special ed classes and its retention quotas by stop-lossing the poor bastards then offering them bonuses to smile and sign. Your approval ratings are so far down the toilet that Roto-Rooter can't retrieve them and here in a few months the voters are going to rout your party out of control of at least one house of Congress and maybe both, after which you are virtually guaranteed to become the second consecutive president to be served up a steaming hot Bill of Impeachment.

"Hey ... I'm just spitballing here, but maybe we ought to, you know, fuck with Iran."

Just makes no sense. It's so ... I'm at a loss for words here. There's nothing far enough beyond stupid to adequately describe the idea.

Nonetheless, it's starting to look like the big summer hit may be "Iran," by Flock of Numbskulls.

Some of the cuckoos ... er, hawks ... are taking the soothing "no problem, we'll just bomb them" line. No ground war, just nice, sanitary knights of the air stuff, albeit perhaps with NUCLEAR FUCKING WEAPONS, the godda ... whew, spiked the blood pressure there. Sorry. Anyway, yeah, Tom Cruise in his F-14, silk scarf and leather jacket. Goose gets killed in a tragic accident and we all cry but it's okay because, well, we'll just be kicking ass from up here and letting the ragheads on the ground do all the non-photogenic bleeding.

Has anyone told the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq that this is going to be a single-front aerial war? So far, most of Iraq's Shiite militia bubbas have maintained an on-off, uneasy detente with US forces and concentrated their efforts on murdering Sunnis in bulk (all the better to integrate America's territorial gift to them into Greater Iran once the Great Satan slinks home). That can change in an instant, and the change would be a quick anti-US force multiplier because it would also relieve pressure on the Sunni and Ba'athist insurgents, freeing them up to wreak more anti-US havoc too.

Oh, and let's not forget the significant Shiite minorities -- 15-20% -- in Afghanistan and Pakistan, either. Not to stretch the point of mere religious identification: Iran has been forward with aid to those minorities, of both the humanitarian and militia sponsorship varieties.

If there's going to be war, it's not going to be off in the wild blue yonder, folks. It's going to be right up in our grill on at least two already unstable fronts and in one tenuously allied country -- and we haven't even reached the issue of probable Iranian "sleeper" terror cells awaiting their go codes in the US and elsewhere.

And oh, by the way, let's not forget Iran itself: A country with three times the population of the last two (once again, still-unsubdued) opponents -- a population whose median age is less than 30 -- and a reasonably modern military that hasn't been degraded by twelve years of daily US bombing.

Shithouse rat crazy doesn't even begin to cover the state of mind required to entertain this kind of thing. Throw in the trial balloons about preemptive nuclear strikes -- on a country bordering Russia -- and it's pretty much a David Lynch production of Dr. Strangelove Meets Sybil. We're talking serious childhood trauma combined with a rigorous schedule of psychoactive drugs and BDSM sessions here.

So, back to the short answer: The reason I'm not blogging much on the Iran "situation" is that I'm not skilled enough in the rhetoric of nightmarish surrealism to communicate the apparent status of that "situation." You'll just have to settle for my sedate, dispassionate summary above.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

First Look 2008: Some asides

[Note: This is one in a series of articles about likely or prospective 2008 Libertarian Party presidential candidates]

In the mode of wrapping up a few loose ends before there are so many of them that they become unmanageable, and of throwing out a few teasers:

- Karen Kwiatkowski is still not a declared candidate for the LP's 2008 presidential nomination. A few days ago, George Phillies announced -- and included in his announcement a statement that Kwiatkowski had consented to be his running mate. On reconsideration, however, Kwiatkowski has decided not to hitch her wagon to any particular presidential star. She is expressing interest in the vice-presidential nomination, period. That decision doesn't appear to be by way of any kind of "breakup" with Phillies -- it looks like an amicable "keep the options open" move.

- Speaking of Phillies, I'll have a "First Look" piece out on him soon. If you're in no mood to wait, feel free to check out his campaign web site and/or the announcement (w/coverage and comment) at Austin Cassidy's Third Party Watch or The Next Prez.

- Michael Badnarik's focus continues to remain (as it should for the nonce) on his congressional race in Texas's 10th US House District. As the prior presidential nominee, of course, he has a slightly higher profile as a possible future nominee -- Brian Doherty at Reason's Hit & Run linked to my piece, as did Steve Gordon at Hammer of Truth, so here's their reciprocal link love. The coolest thing about the linkage is re-discovering Doherty's blast from the not-too-distant past about the 2004 nomination.

- Prediction: The 2008 nomination campaign is going to heat up more quickly than 2004's did. I have reliable -- but, in detail, confidential for the moment -- information that another prospective candidate is mulling the possibilities and may reach a decision soon: Not a former congresscritter, etc., but a candidate with a modicum of national political name recognition, some significant successes in the political arena, and a solid base of admiration and likely support in the LP itself. Not a lock by any means, but this candidate would be an instant contender if he or she announced.

- The LP's 2006 convention in Portland is shaping up as a possible bloodbath -- see Tim West's latest at Liberty For Sale, with attention to the comments, for the latest. However this turns out, it's likely to have a big impact on the 2008 presidential choice. There's going to be polarization any way you cut it, and that polarization will manifest itself in 2008: Some players/factions may just give up on the party, while others may go all-out to mobilize their forces. Even though those factional action possibilities are not about the 2008 presidential nomination yet, they're certain to affect it.

Friday, April 14, 2006

First Look 2008: Michael Badnarik

[Note: This is one in a series of articles about likely or prospective 2008 Libertarian Party presidential candidates]

I thought about waiting until November to weigh in on Michael Badnarik's prospects as a potential 2008 presidential nominee -- but if I'm going to do a "first look" series, it seems like it would be cheating to stretch it out until after an event as significant as the 2006 congressional elections. I'm going to have to go out on the limb here, make some (at least tentative) predictions, and live with being right or wrong in those predictions.

If Michael Badnarik is elected to the US House of Representatives from Texas's 10th district this November, his nomination as the LP's 2008 presidential candidate is virtually assured ... if he decides to seek it. Whether he'd so decide is an open question. As the nation's first Libertarian congresscritter, he might choose to concentrate on retaining his seat.

Here's the risky prediction part: Badnarik won't win his congressional race.

With respect to most LP congressional candidates, that wouldn't be a risky prediction at all. The party's record is perfect in that respect: Libertarians are zero for X, where X is the number of campaigns for election to Congress on our ballot line over the last 35 years.

Michael Badnarik, however, is not most LP congressional candidates.

Most LP congressional candidates haven't raised $200,000 for their campaigns before Memorial Day. Most LP congressional candidates haven't raised more than one of their two "major party" opponents. As a matter of fact, most LP congressional candidates haven't raised one tenth as much as Badnarik already has by Election Day. Most LP congressional candidates don't have billboards in high-traffic areas. Most LP congressional candidates don't have offices and full-time staff. And most LP congressional candidates haven't gone to a national convention broke, in third place, with a campaign staff consisting of two volunteers, and walked out of that convention with a presidential nomination.

If any Libertarian can win election to the US House of Representatives this year, it's Michael Badnarik (so far, the word is that Wisconsin's Ed Thompson won't be running, or I'd add him to the list right above Badnarik). But, barring a Thompson run, I don't think that any Libertarian can win a congressional race this year. I'll be ecstatic if Badnarik proves me wrong -- it won't be the first time.

Based on my prediction, Badnarik would be seeking the LP's nomination on the basis of a losing, but probably very credible -- in the 20%+ range -- performance in the congressional race. That could play either way: His performance could push him up, or the amount of money Libertarians contributed for a win they expected and didn't get could push him down.

Additionally, his prior presidential nomination could be a plus or a minus:

- The LP has only nominated the same candidate twice, once (Harry Browne in 1996 and 2000), and he received fewer votes the second time around.

- On the other hand, Badnarik proved in 2004 that he could assemble a professional campaign organization (disclosure: I was part of that organization from August thru November 2004), go from zero to a million bucks, and turn in a mid-range (relative to prior LP candidates) electoral performance in five months. For the sake of comparison, Ed Clark in 1980 had 14-15 months to campaign as the nominee and (in inflation-adjusted dollars) eight times as much money as Badnarik, but received only a little more than as twice as many votes. Ron Paul in 1988 had 14-15 months to campaign as the nominee and (once again, adjusted for inflation) four times as much money, and outpolled Badnarik by fewer than 50,000 votes. Add to that the fact that Clark and Paul ran in "blowout" elections where the "wasted vote" was not a factor, while Badnarik's election was perceived as very, very tight, and Badnarik comes out looking pretty damn good.

The only thing that Badnarik really has going against him is ... his ideas.

Despite his best efforts to tell them what he thought -- the man drove 20,000 miles, attended virtually every LP event in the US in 2003 and 2004, taught a class on the US Constitution to LP audiences, and even wrote a book -- many delegates to the LP's 2004 national convention weren't familiar with his ... well, unorthodox, even by libertarian standards ... views on the income tax, drivers' licenses and such until after they'd nominated him. That was their fault and not his, of course, but quite a few delegates were right wroth at having deceived themselves, and blamed Badnarik for not doing more to prevent them from doing so.

Many of those same people will be delegates in 2008. Many of them will still hold a grudge. And Badnarik's ideas will be discussed rather than ignored. As a matter of fact, another declared candidate for the nomination, George Phillies, has already put them into play.

Badnarik makes arguments in his book that the payment of federal income taxes may not be required by the Internal Revenue Code, that the 16th Amendment may not have been ratified, that drivers' licenses aren't required for people who become "actual owners" of their cars by acquiring a "Manufacturer's Certificate of Origin," etc. These are not libertarian views per se -- they are constitutionalist ideas of a particular stripe. They are not necessarily incompatible with libertarianism, but neither are they essential to it, and they should therefore be judged by LP members on the basis of their political utility. In 2004, Badnarik and his campaign were able to stay resolutely "on message," hitting core issues in ways which reflected well on the LP. We can't count on that luxury in 2008, and must take into consideration the possibility that Badnarik will be forced to defend himself on these questions if he is the nominee.

I'm not going to argue the validity of Badnarik's views. I'm not even going to speculate as to what percentage of the population might hold them. What I will state is that I believe that the percentage of the population which holds them and would support a candidate who stands for them is much smaller than the percentage of the population which would regard them as crazy enough to instantly discredit any candidate who stood for them; and that many of the latter group are Americans who might otherwise be inclined to consider voting Libertarian. If publicized -- and they would be publicized the instant Badnarik appeared to be a factor in the election's outcome -- the identification of those views with the LP would reverberate. It would affect the prospects of other Libertarian candidates, and the effect would persist beyond the single election cycle. This is a matter which we ignore at our peril.

I have little doubt that Badnarik could raise much more money, campaign as the likely LP candidate for much longer, have an effective campaign organization in place earlier, and so forth, than last time around. The down side to that is that if he threatens to be a bigger factor in the general election (and I firmly believe that he would -- he is tireless and dedicated and downright effective), his views will receive more, and more negative attention -- and the LP needs to decide whether or not it is willing to be seen as standing behind those views.

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Friday Fights #1

Various blogs have "open threads," "free-for-all Fridays" and such. I've been thinking in that vein myself, and have decided to give it a shot.

Each Friday, I'll offer a proposition for debate. It may be a proposition that I support, oppose or have no firm opinion on. It may be one that's been floating around in explicit or implicit form, or one that just came to me out of the blue. Your job, gentle reader, is to argue for or against it with other readers (and maybe me) in the comment thread, until you don't feel like arguing any more. There's no goal of "resolution" here -- if nobody's mind is changed, that's fine. It's just for fun, or some semblance thereof.

Ready? Here's the first Friday Fights proposition:

Resolved, that if the Bush administration continues to move the US toward military conflict with Iran, the armed forces of the United States should remove the current regime, suppress the regime's party, and exercise direct rule by the Joint Chiefs of Staff until free and fair elections can be held, with a view toward restoring constitutional government. After all, what's good enough for Iraq is good enough for us.

Have at it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The requested URL was not found on this server

I waited. I plotted. I schemed. Mostly, I waited some more. And then, the moment: Yes, I posted comment #404 on the Great Zen Blogging Thread of Early April 2006.

All is well.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Gimme a V

I watch a film on the big screen about once a year, and this year's obvious pick was "V for Vendetta." I was pretty hyped up for it based on the teasers and the reviews, and wasn't disappointed. However, given the number and variety of the reviews, I don't feel any great need to take it from the top. Instead, I'll let it go with a few notes:

- The film was less action-oriented than the previews would lead one to believe. I don't have a problem with that, but if you're looking for two hours of stacked-up car chases and gunfights, this isn't your flick.

- Yes, some of the politics was a little over the top for those who expected a subtle commentary on the current situation. Yo, guys -- it's a comic adaptation. What did you expect, an episode of "The Capital Gang" with the racy parts cut out?

- On the other hand, some of the politics was subtle enough (from an American audience's perspective) that "V" probably isn't going to assume the cult status of the Wachowski brothers' previous work, the "Matrix" trilogy. The younger brothers and sisters of the kids who went out and bought black trenchcoats and wraparound sunglasses and started quoting Baudrillard eight years ago probably won't suddenly show up at the mall wearing Guy Fawkes masks and capes and intoning "Remember, remember, the 5th of November" at passersby. It would be neat, though, wouldn't it? I may just have to buy one of those masks to wear to city council meetings.

A good movie, and an important one (the more films which offer an undiluted "the government is bad" message, the better). It's on my "buy as soon as the DVD comes out" list. But I suspect that most of the viewers most affected by it will be those who are already at least halfway down the road to anarchism.

Of course, I may be wrong, and that would be great too -- res publica delenda est.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

First look 2008: Concerning Libertarian presidential campaigns

[Note: This is the second in a series of "First Look 2008" articles on the Libertarian Party's 2008 presidential prospects]

First, an obviosity: The Libertarian Party will almost certainly nominate a candidate to stand for election to the presidency of the United States in the November 2008 election.

It may seem that this should go without saying, but in the LP's case it doesn't. Unlike the delegates of other political parties, Libertarian national convention delegates are not bound in their casting of votes by primaries or caucuses; all delegates are free to vote for "None of the Above," and a few usually do. A segment of LP members consider a presidential campaign to be a waste of time at this stage in the party's growth. It's conceivable that NOTA could win a majority of delegate votes, or that the party's bylaws could be amended to eliminate the nomination of a presidential slate from the agenda altogether.

Conceivable, yes. Likely, no. Even among those who prefer an LP focus on local, rather than national, politics for the moment, the presidential campaign has its attractions as a public relations, party membership recruitment, or "voter education" tool. The Libertarian Party has nominated a presidential ticket for each of the nine presidential elections since its founding. It is almost certain to do so in the tenth such election cycle.

If we're going to nominate a presidential candidate, it behooves us to discuss what we want to accomplish by doing so, and what kind of candidate will best serve our purposes. Within the context of an out-of-power, "third party" opposition, three purposes tend to compete for delegate "market share."

Electoral Victory -- The obvious and natural goal of nominating a candidate for office is to bring about the election of that candidate to that office. Most Libertarians understand that this is probably not an achievable goal in the near term -- that barring some cataclysmic political sea change which the party hasn't the wherewithal to bring about through its own efforts, a Libertarian presidency will come at the end of a "long march" up through the ranks of local, county, state and federal government. That does not mean, however, that the LP can or should nominate an "unelectable" candidate. If we're going to run a candidate, that candidate should be someone plausibly ready, willing and able to do the job. After all, if the cataclysmic political sea change comes, it could come between the LP's nominating convention and the election -- and if it doesn't, we still don't gain by representing ourselves to voters as a party which waits until victory is nigh to begin running serious candidates.

Building the Party -- In the past, "building the party" has often been used as a code phrase for "increasing the number of paid memberships in the party's national continuing donor program." Fortunately, the Libertarian National Committee recently severed the donor program from the concept of "party membership." As the LP moves toward a membership paradigm which defines a "member" as any American who identifies his or her interests as a citizen/voter with the party's candidates and policy goals, a natural "building of the party" will occur so long as those candidates and policy goals reflect the real aspirations of significant numbers of those American citizen/voters. It is incumbent upon the LP to nominate a presidential candidate who can appeal to those aspirations.

Voter Education -- This is where a true disconnect between the Libertarian Party and the American electorate occurs. Many Libertarians believe that the function of a "minor" party candidacy is simply to "get the word out" on what the party believes, so that "the voters know" they have another choice. Unfortunately, this "voter education" tends to take the form of attempting to turn the average voter into a political intellectual/ideologue -- and that's just not the way things work. Most voters do not learn a Great Principle from which they then deduce all of their public policy positions. The reverse is, in fact, the case. Most voters deduce their party affiliation from which of the parties they are looking at best mirrors their personal policy positions -- or they choose their party based on the predispositions inculcated by their upbringing and personal networks (family, business, etc.), after which that affiliation tends to reinforce itself as they slowly accomodate themselves to, or adopt, other policy positions touted by their party. The LP should nominate a presidential candidate who "educates the voters" -- to the extent that he or she does so -- on the fact that the Libertarian Party agrees with them on the issues they care about. "Great Principle" education is a reinforcement activity, not a recruitment activity.

In short, the LP should nominate a presidential candidate who, even if he or she will not be elected, represents a plausible potential president to the voters who are being asked to support him or her; who will position the LP and himself or herself to a growing number of voters as the party and candidate which best reflects their aspirations as citizens/voters; and who emphasizes that agreement of aspiration rather than one of the many philosophical premises from which such an agreement of aspiration might arise.

This does not mean that a "purist" candidate is ineligible. It also doesn't mean that a candidate shouldn't be prepared to discuss the underlying logic of the positions he or she takes. It does, however, mean that neither "purity" nor debate skills rooted in the non-aggression (or any other) principle are enough.

- A Libertarian presidential candidate should sport a resume which voters find credible. Note that I said voters, not Libertarian Party activists. LP activists are already going to vote for the LP's candidate. Hell, they're the ones who nominated that candidate. The point of running a candidate is to reach, and garner the support of, the 100-million-plus American voters who aren't LP activists. The ability to quote ten-page excerpts from Atlas Shrugged verbatim from memory is not a resume bullet to those millions of voters. Some things which are resume bullets: Prior election to office, effective issues activism, academic credentials, wealth acquired through personal effort, military service and personal celebrity. Once again, don't get me wrong: Being abe to quote ten-page excerpts from Atlas Shrugged verbatim from memory isn't a disqualification for a prospective nominee. It just isn't a qualification: "What are your qualifications for the presidency?" "I've been a janitor at the local widget factory for 12 years. And now, for my one-man rendition of Galt's Speech ..."

- A Libertarian presidential (or any other) candidate should, in some ways, be like the "leader" of a flock of geese: That leader takes note of where the flock is going, and positions itself at their head. This is not to say that a Libertarian presidential candidate should be willing to go in the wrong direction just because the flock is. What he or she should be willing to do, however, is think about what issues are important to the voters and take the lead on those issues, rather than on the issues that he or she personally finds important or which were bullet points in the last LP newsletter. He or she should identify segments of the electorate who agree with the Libertarian perspective on the particular issues that are currently central to the American political debate, and position himself or herself at the front of those segments of the electorate. This means that when the preeminent issues of the day are (for example) foreign policy and Social Security, the candidate will center his or her campaign around those issues, not on (for example) auditing the Federal Reserve and abrogating the Moon Treaty.

- A Libertarian presidential (or any other) candidate should focus on policy proposals that are actual "deliverables" if he or she is elected. The Utopian Vision is proper and necessary. It animates the hard activist and philosophical core of a political movement. It is not, however, usually an effective tool in electoral, or even practical, mass politics, especially at the fringes. Even in the most radicalized situations, the masses are looking for "what can you do for me next week?" The Utopian Vision isn't going away. It will not dissolve if the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate takes a viable, incremental policy approach in appealing to the voters. The LP, however, might as well dissolve -- and perhaps become a purely intellectual movement infiltrating existing parties, think tanks and media institutions to achieve its goals, as neoconservativism did -- if its presidential candidates don't take a viable, incremental policy approach in appealing to the voters.

A smart Libertarian presidential candidacy will garner larger numbers of votes than past such candidacies and incorporate a higher percentage of those votes into the "base" which can be counted upon in future elections. A smart Libertarian presidential candidacy will "build the party" by positioning the party as embodying the aspirations of large numbers of American citizens/voters. A smart Libertarian presidential candidacy will bring the Libertarian Party into the "mainstream" not by sacrificing the Utopian Vision but by serving it up in realistic, achievable incremental policy bites -- with the party's activist cadre standing by to welcome those who like it enough to look around for an all-you-can eat buffet.

It's time for the Libertarian Party to get smart about its presidential campaigns.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

First look 2008: Karen Kwiatkowski

[Note: This is intended as the first in a series of articles about likely or prospective 2008 Libertarian Party presidential candidates]

Since at least as far back as 2004, when she spoke at the Libertarian Party's national convention, Karen Kwiatkowski (Lt. Colonel, USAF, Ret.), has been frequently mentioned as a prospective 2008 LP presidential candidate. By virtue of the lack of binding primaries and caucuses that get other parties' candidates out on the stump and under the microscope early, it becomes especially necessary for Libertarians to do a little digging. I've been doing "the basic look-see" on Kwiatkowski. Time to share my findings and conclusions:

Assuming she enters the race, and barring the entry of a former US Representative, US Senator, governor or senior executive branch or military official in the race, the LP is unlikely to see a more qualified prospective nominee than Karen Kwiatkowsi. This is not an endorsement (yet) -- just a statement of things as I see them.

Kwiatkowski has three degrees, two of them in public policy areas: An MA in Government from Harvard and a Ph.D. in World Politics from Catholic University. Her third degree is an MS in Science Management from the University of Alaska. She authored two books on foreign policy before she became a public figure, both of them published by institutional military presses.

Kwiatkowski was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Air Force in 1978 and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel with 25 years of military service. During her career, she served in Alaska providing "logistical support for missions along the Russian and Chinese coasts;" did tours of duty in Spain and Italy; worked at the National Security Agency where she apparently did public affairs work (including speechwriting for the director of NSA); then served at the Pentagon, first in sub-Saharan African policy and at the end of her career at the Near East/Central Asia desk.

I won't go over Kwiatkowski's libertarian media credentials (most libertarians probably know her from LewRockwell.Com, but there are others). What's more important for a prospective presidential nominee is how much exposure she's had to the non-LP public. From various sources, including Wikipedia, I've tried to get a picture of her media profile and split it into two components:

Material Kwiatkowski has authored: Anonymous columns for David Hackworth's site prior to retirement; weekly columnist at Military Week since 2004; articles published in Ohio Beacon Journal, Salon, The American Conservative, Huffington Post; various radio appearances including PRI's "Democracy Now;" and appearances as commentator in at least two documentaries on terrorism. Her two aforementioned books are African Crisis Response Initiative: Past Present and Future, US Army Peacekeeping Institute, 2000 and Expeditionary Air Operations in Africa: Challenges and Solutions Air University Press, 2001.

Material about Kwiatkowski, including interviews: National Review, Fox News (John Gibson), Front Page Magazine, History News Network, Mother Jones, In These Times, Daily Kos, LA Weekly, Common Dreams, McSweeney's, Truthout, C-SPAN, Guerilla News Network, Asia Times, al-Jazeera and others.

The above list is certainly not exhaustive. It's not all positive, either -- the "conservative" (or, more specifically, neoconservative) media have not been friendly. However, even unfriendly coverage raises a person's profile and being attacked can be as good as being supported, depending on who's doing the attacking. Kwiatkowski's attackers have almost uniformly been supporters of the war on Iraq and of the Bush administration's foreign policy in general. If the LP wants to nominate an anti-war candidate (and I think we should), Kwiatkowski is one who has already walked the War Party's gauntlet several times without apparent injury, and who indisputably has better credentials than most American politicians to discuss US foreign policy.

Let's go over the two main lines of attack that Kwiatkowski's antagonists have pursued:

- She's been accused of being anti-Israel or even anti-semitic. I've been unable to find so much as one iota of evidence to sustain either of these charges. While she has been critical of what she considers to be undue Israeli influence over US foreign policy, she has also described Israel as a US friend and ally. I've yet to find any claim that Kwiatkowski has ever attacked, or made derogatory remarks about, Jews (or blacks, or Mexicans, or gay men, or lesbians, or any other racial, sexual, religious or social group). Naturally, if anyone knows differently, I hope they'll share ... but so far these attacks look like 100% hot air.

- She's also been accused of associations with the Lyndon LaRouche cult. She unequivocally denies any such associations. So far as I can tell, the accusations rest on a single piece of "evidence" -- that she gave an interview to Executive Intelligence Review, a LaRouche publication. I've been unable to find any other indication of any connection between Kwiatkowski and the LaRouchies -- and the interview doesn't seem to constitute a connection, either. For one thing, after a summary of it was distributed via email by an EIR editor, Kwiatkowski rebutted a number of that editor's assertions as to what she had said and meant. For another, EIR has interviewed any number of public figures who could not plausibly be described as LaRouchies. From the Washington Post:

In Reagan's first term, Executive Intelligence Review, a LaRouche-tied magazine, ran interviews with such officials as Agriculture Secretary John Block, Defense Undersecretary Richard DeLauer, Associate Attorney General Lowell Jensen, Commerce Undersecretary Lionel Olmer and then-Sen. John Tower (R-Texas), at the time chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, The New Republic reported.

One can never be entirely certain -- and we should always keep our eyes open -- but so far the attacks on Kwiatkowski look like a load of chaff thrown out in lieu of facts, for the purpose of smearing her and minimizing the impact of her statements.

Kwiatkowski is not a "perfect" candidate. It would be nice if she'd made full colonel or even picked up a general's star, or served on the National Security Council, or held elected or appointed office; and if she plans to seek the LP's 2008 presidential nomination, I hope she'll start hitting on domestic policy issues (without, of course, slacking off on foreign policy).

However, her credentials in the public policy -- especially the foreign policy -- realm far outstrip those of any prior LP presidential candidate with the possible exception of US Representative Ron Paul, and she's a bona fide public figure with three years of intensive experience in the public eye. She also states that she has been a member of the Libertarian Party since 1994, and an ideological libertarian since adolescence, which makes it seem unlikely that she's interested in using the party's nomination for purposes which would be detrimental to the party's interests.

Unless I'm missing something -- and it's certainly possible that I am, so let me know if you know what it is -- Kwiatkowski is so far the LP's best prospect. Unless a former governor or congresscritter actually takes the leap and seeks the nomination, I suspect she'll remain so.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Well, so far it looks like it was a fine little local election night here in Missouri.

Long-time Libertarian Party activist -- and chair of the Missouri Democratic Freedom Caucus -- Mike Bozarth unseated the incumbent to be elected to St. Joseph's city council. Congratulations, Mike, and MO-DFC!

Unless there are some uncounted ballots out there (and I don't think there are -- the results are unofficial but the St. Louis County elections site says 100% are counted), I won my second little mini-campaign to keep the office of Greendale City Marshal elected rather than appointed by a vote of 84-71.

I won't say it was a "hard-fought" battle. All I did was conduct a 325-house literature drop, make a reasonably good sign for the polling place, and spend some time at the polling place (not as much as I wanted to or should have). The mayor hit back on the evening before the election, circulating a flier of her own which essentially called me a liar. Fortunately, it was full-page, verbose and printed on pastel green paper that looked like the "official city government" communications stock, virtually guaranteeing that it wouldn't be read. Mine was half-page, used some big-font admonitions and was on bright yellow stock, which probably got it a little more reader eye time. That, and I think that most of the voters realize in their guts that they'd rather elect someone than let the city government appoint someone.

Uncomfortably close margin of victory, though. If seven votes had gone the other way, I'd have lost. I think that's close enough to believe that my little jihad made the difference.

Now, back to regular programming until the November campaigns heat up.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Election 2006: Getting local

Just finished the last bit of a 325-house literature drop, and boy are my arms tired. Local elections are this politics addict's bread and butter -- there's usually a real chance of winning, which is a nice change from the typical Libertarian Party campaign. I get my ideology fix in the "big" elections, and I get my victory fix here at home.

After tomorrow, I expect to be three for three in two local elections. As is usual at this point, I'm actually starting to feel my oats and considering the possibility of actually running for office again. Hopefully I'll get over it before the next opportunity to do so arises (it's conditional on the incumbent deciding to move on and the seat being "open" anyway) -- if I ran for the office I'm considering I'd win it, and that, my friends, is a scary thing to contemplate for everyone involved.

Here's what's in front of my little city's voters:

- One of my ward's two positions on the board of alderpersons (two-year terms, staggered elections). The incumbent did a surprise "I'm not running again," and it's an all-"write in" campaign. The opponents are Mary A. Gay, a friend and neighbor, versus Karen Pierre, who lives a few blocks away. Both nice people, both long-time residents, both with nice credentials.

I'll be voting for Mary; I expect Karen to win. This may be a damning disclosure. I don't want the new alderwoman mad at me, nor do I want my friend and neighbor to think I lack confidence in her. However, I believe that Karen will understand personal loyalty and that Mary will understand why I think she's going to lose.

They're both solid citizens, but Karen has pulled out the stops and drawn on her allies for support: She's the secretary of a prominent local Democratic club. She's done multiple lit drops/door knocks, a mailing, yard signs and a campaign event (hot dogs and soda with herself, a sitting state senator, a former state senator and the sitting county executive -- that is what being an active volunteer will bring you when you decide to run). I also expect that she'll be doing "Get Out the Vote" phone canvassing and polling place work tomorrow.

Mary is just as personable and has just as impressive a background, but is apparently not quite so hooked into the area's political clubs and Democratic Party. She's done the multiple lit drops and door knocks herself. I expect she'll work the polling place. In a typical city election, she'd be a shoo-in (to put this in perspective, in the same ward in 2004, the balloted incumbent won by only 40 votes to 31 ... against a write-in candidate who, as best I could tell, campaigned only at the polling place on election day), but Karen has a pre-existing, politically-inclined network behind her. Even so, it may be close, and I may be wrong in my prediction.

- The proposition. I beat it last time, and I intend to beat it this time. Here it is:

Shall the City of Greendale, Missouri, eliminate the elected office of City Marshal, whose duties with respect to enforcement of ordinances concerning fence regulations, sign regulations, zoning, building codes and building regulations, minimum housing standards, weeds, high grass or other vegetation, dead or decayed trees, and businesses, will be performed by a Compliance Officer appointed by the Mayor, subject to the approval of the Board of Alderpersons, to be effect May 1, 2006?

In 2004, I campaigned against the proposition on a simple point: An elected marshal is at least accountable to the voters. If he or she is out there writing tickets hand over fist for no good reason, then the voters can turn him or her out of office. A "Compliance Officer," on the other hand, can only be fired by the board.

Now, it may seem that the board would be susceptible to public pressure on the matter, but if you watch local politics, you know better. If Citizen A complains to Board Member B about the "Compliance Officer," Board Member B can always quietly explain that sure, she would like to do something about it, but that Board Members C, D and E would be in opposition and there's no point bringing it up and losing. Better to "pick our fights" and go at it another way, another day. Meanwhile, of course, Board Member C is telling Citizen F the same thing about Board Members B, D and E, etc. It's easy for alderpersons to justify not taking an action without losing votes over it.

In any case, the proposition went down in 2004, by a vote of 93-54. I honestly don't think it would have if I hadn't fliered every door in the city and worked the polling place. I did so again this year. I also have a reasonably well-crafted sign for use at the polling place, and expect to beat the proposition again. The only fly in the ointment is that the city ballot issue is labeled "Proposition A," and so is a higher-level fire district proposition which is likely to do well. So that may tighten it up a bit.

Bread and butter, or maybe sausage being made. But I'm still hooked.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

You say it like it hasn't already happened

Kn@ppster will be featured on MindComet's "Blog in Space" site on April 5th as "most likely to be contacted." Presumably this means that Klaatu is going to be turning up to raid my stock of Widmer Brothers. Again. Bastard.