Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Introducing freedomSLUT

freedomSLUT, of course, is the new project I mentioned that sounds like porn, but isn't.

What is freedomSLUT? Sites, Links, URLs and Tags -- "social bookmarking," a la, reddit, etc., only specifically for libertarian stuff.

Feel free to post links to your own pro-freedom bloggage, or stuff that you find while surfing. To make it easy, there's a bookmarklet you can drag to your browser toolbar. If you'd like to set up your Blogger blog so that each post has a "post to freedomSLUT" link at the bottom of it, just pop the following code into the post footer section of your template:

to freedomSLUT</a>

What, you wanted porn? No dice. But here's the graphic I'm using in ads for the site. No, I don't know her -- it was made from a stock photo.

And here's the (yawn) press release:

POC Thomas L. Knapp


The libertarian web community's newest networking tool -- a politically specific social bookmarking site -- debuts today at

"Get your mind off of smut -- it's not slut, it's capital ess ell ewe tee" says Thomas L. Knapp, one of two bloggers behind the effort. "For Sites, Links, URLs and Tags." But, he admits, he intends to capitalize on the acronym in advertising and promotion.

Knapp, publisher of libertarian sites Rational Review and Kn@ppster, and Brad Spangler, who blogs at BradSpangler.Com and consults for several movement sites and organizations, developed freedomSLUT on the open source Scuttle platform and plan to promote it to the libertarian community as a resource for "finding or flogging" anti-state, pro-freedom bloggage, news and commentary.

"The net is in continuous transition," says Spangler. "A tool pops up in a discrete community, spreads to the broader web, then gets specialized again. Social bookmarking started out as a tech/geek thing, then went pop, and now we're bringing it back to a specific group whose members will find it extremely useful."

freedomSLUT allows for private and public bookmarking, and offers browser and blog template tools to make sharing links easy and convenient.


Web sites mentioned in this release:

freedomSLUT --
Rational Review --
Kn@ppster --
BradSpangler.Com --

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So long, Semper Fi; Hello, Sieg Heil

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? -- Attributed to Yeshua ben Joseph, circa 30 A.D.

Not being a practitioner of any orthodox Christian doctrine, I'm free to ignore Christ's admonition and plainly state this: I hate the "God Hates Fags" morons, and their type. They prove by their actions that they aren't Christians, or anything resembling Christians, either. As a matter of fact, it's a stretch to consider them human beings.

I've run across them a few times:

- Perhaps not them, but certainly their type, in the late 80s when Southwest Missouri University in Springfield put on a production of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart. A friend -- I forget whether it was John Stone or Clell Harmon -- decided to discuss theology with one of the "No Homo Play" protestors, and began by asking what Yeshua ben Joseph would think of all this. Who, inquired the protestor, was Yeshua ben Joseph? Why, replied my friend, Jesus Christ. Um, no, quoth the protestor -- Jesus Christ's name was Jesus Christ, and his parents were Joseph and Mary Christ.

- At the 2000 "major party" presidential debates (sic) in St. Louis, the Westboro Baptist Church Crew (the gen-ewww-whine "God Hates Fags" mob) held court in a fenced-off section of the official "free speech zone" with their "Mel's in Hell" signs (Missouri governor and Democratic US Senate candidate Mel Carnahan had been killed in a plane crash the day before). A bunch of us talked -- which amounted to playing the dozens -- with them for a bit, until one of them tried to start a fight and then cowered behind an intervening police officer when I let him know that yeah, sure, I was up to it (perhaps because I told him that once I was done whipping him, I might just sodomize him in front of his friends).

Nope, don't like the "God Hates Fags" bunch very much at all. But, but, but: I tolerate their guff, because this is America and in America even contemptible idiots are, and ought to be, free to flaunt their idiocy.

Even near military funerals.

In signing the "Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act," George W. Bush has once again officially repudiated the First Amendment -- and, by associating that repudiation with the armed forces of the United States, he has disgraced the men and women in uniform once again.

Bush's disrespect for freedom -- and for military personnel who haven't deserted their posts as he did -- seems to be limitless.

As an American and as a libertarian, I find his disobedience to the bare minimum constitutional restraints on government power intolerable; as a former Marine, I find his disdain for the men and women he postures as the Commander in Chief of just downright disgusting -- "God Hates Fags" cubed disgusting.

Let me explain something to you, Mr. Bush:

America's fallen don't need government compulsion to garner the respect due them. Those who die in a worthy cause will be respected by those of good will and sound mind whether you order it or not.

Even those who die in unworthy causes such as those with which you've saddled the armed forces of the United States during your tenure in the White House will, by most Americans, be respected for their commitment, however much that commitment may have been abused by poltroons like yourself.

And, finally, America's dead would not, and their living comrades do not, give a tinker's damn for the kind faux "respect" your signature on a void -- by dint of being repugnant to the Constitution -- bill attempts to compel. Their oath, and the raison d'etre of the organizations to which they belong, is to defend America from precisely the kind of fascist horseshit that you continually pull and that you just signed into putative "law."

So, Mr. Bush: Take your "Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act" and cram it right up your chickenhawk cloaca. To paraphrase the man who should be doing the job you've so miserably failed at, anywhere I'm standing -- even, and especially, if that place happens to be within 300 feet of a national cemetery or 150 feet of a road leading into a national cemetery, during the period between an hour before and an hour after a military funeral -- is a free speech zone.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Center Fire?

My initial intention was to write this article as an "exclusive" for Free Market News Network, but it's one of those "time is of the essence/strike while the iron is hot" things -- definitely blogstuff, although FMNN is, as always, welcome to it on their own timelime.

In brief: I just hung up after participating in the Unity08 "blogger conference call." Unity08 is a group possessed, at this time, of three real assets: an agenda, the support of some reasonably well-known political figures for that agenda, and the knowledge that they need to make huge inroads in two places (on the Internet and on campus) in order to implement their agenda.

You can get the long version of that agenda at their web site, but here's the short version:

They're centrists. They're concerned about the increasing polarization of partisan American politics, and they want to nominate -- through an online process open to every American voter rather than through the front-loaded caucus and primary system -- a presidential ticket which will appeal the the American "moderate/independent" voter.

My big question for Unity08 (unasked on the conference call -- I only asked one question, and wouldn't have had to ask that one if I'd done better homework) is this:

How do you set the "center" on fire, politically speaking?

A plurality of Americans describe themselves as "centrists," "moderates" or just "independents" -- but so far as I can tell, they've never historically hung together as a bloc at the polls. I'm not sure that they can.

The thing about the center is that it doesn't really exist as such. As you zoom in on it, it turns out to be composed of its own mini-polarizations. Some centrists "lean right," Some "lean left," on an issue-by-issue basis, with different issues being important to different people. The "center" isn't a bloc -- it's a bloc of blocs.

The "major party" path to victory subsists in getting as many of those mini-blocs of leaners to lean far enough that they fall right into Democratic or Republican arms. Winning is a matter of keeping a party's base solid, and then adding little "centrist" mini-blocs to it like charms on a bracelet. And there is no identifiable "centrist base." There's no list of three or five issues that a supermajority of "centrists" are going to coalesce on and that can't be pulled out from under a "centrist" candidate by a blazing ideologue who hits the right note on them. At least that's how I see it.

Naturally, the Big Names associated with Unity08 see it differently -- and who can blame them?

- Hamilton Jordan served as President Jimmy Carter's chief of staff

- Doug Bailey worked as a media consultant for President Gerald Ford

- Former Governor of Maine Angus King was elected twice as an independent, the second time by a crushing majority

So -- we've got people who have worked in what were arguably moderate/centrist White Houses, and who managed to beat Republicans and Democrats in statewide races on a moderate/centrist platform. The question is whether their results are reproducible. And you know, they just may be, if the right names sign on.

That brings up the second big question:

What figures of political stature are going to be willing to walk away from a major party to seek, receive and run on the Unity08 nomination? At the presidential level of major party politics, that's definitely a bridge-burning, Rubicon-crossing act, from which more than one prospective candidate has quailed at the moment of truth.

A McCain-Feingold Unity08 ticket (for example) might win the 2008 presidential election ... but if not, we wouldn't see McCain and Feingold's parties welcoming them back. Their careers as serving public officials would probably be over. Sure, there would be book deals, speaking gigs, maybe a commentator slot on the talking head circuit, but there would be no going back to The Way Things Were.

I'm not going to say that Unity08 is doomed to failure -- but they've picked a tough row to hoe, and I don't think I'm speaking from ideological viewpoint in saying so (or saying anything that they won't admit themselves).

Ideologically, I consider myself a moderate, but I don't think I'm the kind of moderate Unity08 (or its prospective voter base) has in mind. Still, I wish Unity08 the best, because if they can mobilize their vaunted "center" and prevail, ideologues like myself are going to have some huge shattered polar-partisan bases to recruit from.

Side note: For some reason, most of the call participants who weren't directly affiliated with Unity08 seemed to be libertarian bloggers. I don't know if this was an intentional "ambush" of some type or not; I also don't know if perhaps the libertarians were just more willing to jump in with questions. I got my "invitation" indirectly, but have no reason to believe that it was part of a plot to "libertarianize" the event (it was forwarded to me FYI, with no implication that it was an "exclusive" event). I certainly made a point of behaving respectably/respectfully, as did the other libertarians who popped up with questions and comments.

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Blast from the Past: Everything in moderation

Here in an hour-and-a-half or so, I'm planning to interface with some "moderates" about their Big Idea. I'll report back on what I learn, of course (probably on Free Market News Network), but here's a relevant re-post (originally published at Rational Review) for your consideration.

Everything in moderation

The usual libertarian retort to accusations of "extremism" is Barry Goldwater's dictum: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice ... moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." The sentiments ring true, but I'd like to take a different approach. My operating hypothesis may strike the reader as bizarre, but I believe it is defensible:

I contend that libertarians are moderates. As a matter of fact, I contend that a survey of the cratered no-man's land that we call "American politics" reveals libertarians as the only moderates, and that the more "extreme" the libertarian, the more "moderate" he or she is relative to the assortment of cranks, thieves, murderers and degenerates currently lobbing shells at one another from the respective trenches of the "conservative" and "progressive" forces fighting for rare and transient moments of dominance over that no-man's land.

If I were to tell you that I believed I had a right to come into your home, rummage through your medicine cabinet, confiscate the medications which did not meet with my approval and imprison you for having possessed them, you'd label me as an extremist, most probably of the terrorist sort. And you'd be spot-on right.

Slap a fify-cent label on that activity, however -- for the sake of argument, I'll call myself the "Office of National Drug Control Policy" or the "Drug Enforcement Agency" or even the "Food and Drug Administration" -- and suddenly my activities take on a patina of legitimacy, even normalcy (at least as long as it is your neighbor's medicine cabinet and not yours, of course).

What I have just described is the extremist policy of the government of the United States as it has evolved over the last century, and as it is advocated by Democrat and Republican alike. The libertarian policy, of course, is moderate. Libertarians believe that what you keep in your medicine cabinet (or what you take out of it and drink, smoke, swallow, inject or otherwise ingest) is, well, your business.

If I were to tell you that I believed I had a right to kidnap your children each and every weekday morning, nine months out of the year, for twelve years running, and transport them to a place of my choosing to be indoctrinated for six to eight hours in the ideas and philosophies which I believed best represented right thinking, you'd probably call the police and tell them that you had another extremist nut on your hands, and that he might be dangerous. If I further informed you that I expected you to pay, annually, a portion of the value of whatever property you owned to cover the costs of this kidnapping (whether you were the parent of any of the children I was doing this to or not), you'd probably save the police some time and gun me down like a rabid dog on the spot. Once again, you'd be right.

And, once again, this is done every day under the rubric of "public education," by strange extremist groups with cryptic, quasi-military names such as "Lebanon R-3," and not many people pay a great deal of attention or regard it as particularly abnormal that this should be so. Libertarians, of course, believe that educational decisions are best made by parents, not by the extremists in the Department of Education compound. Moderation, you know.

Apply this to your pet issue. Gay marriage? Who but an extremist would claim the "right" to determine the consensual living arrangements of a couple? Guns? Who but an extremist would claim the "right" to disarm law-abiding victims and leave them defenseless against violent criminals (and government extremists)? Taxes? I don't know about you, brother, but we have a name for people who steal -- thieves. And another name for people who claim to have a "right" to do so and tell us that we're better off for having allowed them to: "nuts." Or, if you will, "extremists."

The extent to which we accept armed bands of thugs circulating among us and dictating our modes of living, while simultaneously extorting funds from their victims to finance enforcement of their tin-horn edicts, is the extent to which we have incorporated extremism into our worldview.

The fact that we even give serious consideration to the claims of people like Robert Byrd, Dick Armey, Gray Davis, John McCain et al to rule over us is the sign of a serious neurosis in the American polity, perhaps something similar to "Battered Woman Syndrome" (a point well made in a commercial for 1996 and 2000 Libertarian presidential candidate Harry Browne, by the way).

If you're seeking "extremism" then step outside your front door and take a look around. You're living in it. The libertarian idea is the only moderate ("Not violent or subject to extremes") set of prescriptions for living in civil society that you'll find.

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Monday, May 29, 2006


Yes, I am still mired down in "blogger burnout." I can feel it ebbing away, though, and hope to have some good stuff for you here at Kn@ppster Real Soon Now. In the meantime, there are lots of other libertarian and general/political blogs to keep you occupied.

Some updates:

- Congratulations to Hammer of Truth's Stephen Gordon on his appointment to the post of communications director for the Libertarian Party. I've worked with Steve on a number of projects over the last couple of years, and can't think of a single person better suited to the job in terms of energy, commitment and skill -- or, on the other side of the balance sheet, contra his detractors, ideological "purity."

- For those of you who like talk radio, I did an interview with Free Market News Network's John St. George last week, expanding on the theme of "the rapture for nerds." (Note to self -- remember to let FMNN know to remove the "Democrat" designator from my byline). I really, really dig doing radio, but I generally don't think I'm very good at it. I'm considering trying to set up a "talk radio tour" for one of my just-about-to-debut projects, for the specific purpose of getting better through practice.

- Project idea: Bloggers Boycotting Black Jack. I need to take a drive around the town and figure out just what's there to boycott. For more on why, here's Chris Bennett. I'm thinking that all the project would require is a graphic logo, a list of businesses to inform of the boycott (so they can pressure the city to get its collective head out of its political ass), and some blogger participation, especially from here in the St. Louis area.

- As I've previously stated, I am not, nor will I be, a presidential candidate in 2008. As a matter of fact, I consider the notion that I will ever be presidential material preposterous on its face. However, sometimes the preposterous can also be useful, and I am now seriously considering a 2012 run based primarily on the campaign slogan "What The Fuck Is WRONG With You People?"

- In consequence whereof, I have dyed my hair and beard burgundy, and am now affecting the use of a cigarette holder (the burgundy hair will probably go away quickly -- I never let my hair get very long without deciding to shave my head -- or, if I let it grow out, I may try to pioneer the tie-dyeing of attached human hair) and use of the third person when referring to myself (except here, at least for now).

- Among the just-about-to-debut projects is one that sounds like, but isn't, porn.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Fence post

Jon Henke -- or, rather, his wife -- asks a very relevant question (and no, I'm not flogging his piece just because I get quoted in it):

"Why is this suddenly such a big issue right now?"

The issue, of course, being immigration.

Henke admits to not having a good answer, but where a good answer isn't available, a bad answer will just have to do:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

I'm not sure I'd go as far as Mencken -- there are some real hobgoblins out there -- but it's pretty obvious that the sudden American fascination with keepin' out them there furriners is an item of demagogic manufacture.

Quite simply, xenophobia sells and it sells well. When you're losing market share (hello, GOP) or not really able to gain any (hello, Hillary) on big-ticket items like foreign policy, Social Security and such, you trot out Old Reliable.

Know-Nothingism is a perennial American pastime for several good reasons:

- It gives us someone else to blame for our problems.

- That someone else is usually easily identifiable by skin color, accent or other distinguishing characteristics.

- That someone else, because of those distinguishing characteristics, arouses instinctive fear which can be bent to political purposes.

Over the last few decades, it's become unfashionable to blame African-Americans -- most of whom have lived in the US for as long as or longer than their fellow citizens -- for the failures of the various welfare schemes that white, middle class Americans consider a birthright. But since most Americans don't want to give up "public" education, government unemployment benefits, Social Security, etc., they can't admit to the structural unfitness and basic immorality of those programs -- they need scapegoats, dammit, and trivial little things like facts aren't going to get in the way of accepting whatever scapegoats are offered.

The undercurrent is always there -- yahoos like Frosty Wooldridge and Michelle Malkin make hay of it year in and year out -- but every so often the little fecal cumulus clouds converge and "perfect shitstorm" conditions are created.

The Tancredos and Sensenbrenners see xenophobia as the ultimate trump card for distracting attention from their party's failed foreign and military policies. The Hillary types on the other side of the aisle see a developing "center" to jump toward. The Wooldridges and Malkins beat the drums a little louder and rush to get "new" books and articles full of the same old silliness on the shelves and in the papers while the gettin's good. Before you know it, it's raining wetbacks and every politician on the block is running around waving an umbrella.

Said umbrellas, of course, generally consist of things like "the fence."

Sure, the fence won't, um work (if the goal is to make a noticeable dent in illegal immitration), but it's cheap and the demagogues will get some mileage out of it before it becomes apparent just how abjectly stupid the idea was in the first place. Hell, that may never become apparent. It's not like government statistics bear any discernible relation to reality in the first place, so adjusting them downward and proclaiming "victory" is just a matter of who's cooking the books. When next the need for a distraction -- or an appropriation -- pops up, the figures can be popped in the microwave, heated up again and served as leftovers. The fence can be "improved" or "augmented."

It's a lot easier to "solve" a problem when that problem was a figment of your imagination in the first place, isn't it?

Of course, there are a few real problems hidden behind the fictional ones the pols are harping on right now.

The "fence" will have a negligible effect on illegal immigration, which means it will have a negligible (but negative) effect on the welfare teat that's supposed to suddenly start giving down again if we get rid of them. Yes -- negative. Illegal immigrants pay more in taxes than they consume in "social benefits." Especially Social Security, into which millions of them make involuntary "contributions" from every paycheck but from which few ever collect a dime. They subsidize us.

In the meantime, while we're patting ourselves on the back for getting rid of them there evil furriners, they'll still be coming -- and the really evil furriners will still be taking advantage of the "coyote" guide enterprises and fake ID shops that so horrify Malkin, even though her favored policies are the guarantors of their profitability (and, therefore, of their existence) to get in themselves.

If al Qaeda ever nukes Denver, they should send Tom Tancredo a thank you card for all his help. Hopefully America will send him something else -- an indictment, perhaps, as an accessory before the fact.

But probably not. Blaming them there furriners is always easier than taking responsibility for ourselves. So we'll probably continue doing it and, occasionally and disastrously, acting on it.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

"The rapture for nerds"

As of 1997 (as usual, the first year I came across in some quick Googling), Social Security outlays totaled $350 billion per year. The number of recipients and the amount paid out are increasing, of course, and over the next few decades, both will balloon massively as the "Baby Boomers" retire. I'm not even going to bother trying to find the scariest scenario. All of the likely outcomes involve massive tax increases on the non-retired and/or massive benefit cuts to recipients and/or the complete collapse of "the system." Any way we cut it, things are going to be bad for someone.

Or maybe not. Suppose that it was possible to increase benefits by an order of magnitude while simultaneously cutting outlays on a like scale?

Yes, you read me right: Pay more recipients more money, while spending less. And while I'm at it, let me throw in some additional bennies: Perfect health, near-absolute choice of lifestyle and, um, immortality.

This idea -- which I'm sure is by no means original to me -- popped up awhile back as plotted one of my as-yet-and-unlikely-to-be-written science fiction novels.

A little background:

Lots of people believe that humanity is approaching what they refer to as "the Singularity." Strictly defined, that means we're about to reach a point in technological development where it becomes impossible to reliably predict what the future will look like -- an era of "post-humans" whose abilities (and predispositions) we have no more capacity to forecast than, say Cro-Magnon Man sitting around his fire would have been able to describe what one of Intel's microprocessor plants looks like or how the New York Stock Exchange works.

There are lots of views of what the Singularity (or Singularities) might entail, some of them optimistic, some pessimistic, all of them great fun (especially Ken Macleod's -- the title of this post is a description of the Singularity from his novel The Cassini Division; I just finished his wonderful Newton's Wake, which also plumbs hypothetical post-Singularity futures).

Most views of the Singularity involve one or more of the following elements:

- We reach a point in the development of artificial intelligence beyond which the AIs we create are a) more intelligent than we are, and b) capable of improving themselves even further.

- We achieve the ability to upload human consciousness into a computer environment -- a virtual reality fully as convincing as our own.

The "post-humans" might be those artificial intelligences themselves -- and pray let's not piss them off -- or they might be us, living in virtual bodies in a virtual environment, with the processing power of those AIs at the disposal of, or integrated with, our own minds.

Anyway, back to my unwritten novel: It's a murder mystery ... set in a virtual "retirement home." We need not concern ourselves with the mystery part. The important part is the idea of using the second "Singularity characteristic" to "fix" the Social Security problem.

In my novel plot, the fix works like this:

Upon retirement, Social Security recipients are given a choice: They can receive their paltry benefit checks, sit on the porch, age and die ...

... or they can lie down on gurneys, have their brains uploaded into a virtual environment while their bodies feast on non-virtual, lethal barbituate cocktails ...

... and then party forever.

Inside the virtual environment, things are much different.

Their bodies are whatever they want those bodies to be. If Joe Sixpack wants to spend eternity -- or the next few minutes -- as a twelve-year-old girl or a talking panda, or just as Joe Sixpack at 30 instead of 70, that's his call.

They live wherever they want to live -- with easy transfers between the "upper-crust Havana circa 1950" server and the "Vegas circa 1980" server available, of course. Presumably it's even possible for them to fashion their own, individual personal realities outside of a selection of "commons" areas in which they interact with others.

They receive "virtual money" -- basically as an allocation of processor time to generate what they want to "buy" within the system -- with value far in excess of the "real" money they would have received outside.

And, of course, they can interface with the "real" world in a number of ways: Presumably Skype will allow "virtual" grandma to place a phone call from within the server to "real" granddaughter "outside." There may be work which they can do for "real" money from outside, allowing them to save and plan for temporary or permanent returns as downloads into robotic, or cloned human, bodies. This is especially true if they have mental integration with those "really smart AIs" mentioned above (and even more especially true if "uploading" is a necessity to achieve such integration, i.e. if people "outside" just aren't capable of it).

Those are the benefits this particular class of "post-humans" receives. But what about us on the "outside?" We benefit too:

- We'll probably be able to buy, operate and maintain the equipment to serve a thousand or more "virtual retirees" for the amount that just one used to hobble to the mailbox to retrieve each month.

- It's not just for old people. Got an incurable disease? Your health will be perfect after you "upload." Alzheimer's? Let's preserve your personality before you forget who you are. And, of course, the health care costs, hospital room availability, etc. for those of us out here will improve dramatically.

- Reduced traffic. Our retirees in the virtual world may still want to weave their Winnebagos down the roads at 40 mph and belching smog like factories. But they won't be doing so on the "real" roads any more.

- Overpopulation? What's that? We'll have more people than ever ... taking up a lot less room and many of them eating not a damn thing (actually, they'll be eating foie de gras every night if that's what they want -- presumably synthesizing that experience will be no more expensive than synthesizing the experience of a corporate deathburger or of the cat food we're always hearing about -- but what they're eating will be cheap processor time, not expensive goose livers or bushels of wheat).

I like this Singularity/post-human stuff.

Of course, I won't count on it until it gets here ... but I figure that it's more likely to eventuate than any of the politicians are to deliver on their promises to "fix" Social Security.

And, of course, there's always the chance that these virtual post-humans will decide that they don't need the rest of us, don't like us much anyway, and might as well dispense with us entirely. But hey, that's just science fiction ... right?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Polprops: DanforthRight

It's not very often that you'll catch me giving former US Senator John Danforth (R-MO) props. Well, I guess he does deserve some credit (or, if you prefer, blame) for getting me actively involved in politics. But I'll leave that story for after the good stuff. Here's Danforth last week, in a speech to the Log Cabin Republicans:
Wedge issues: that is issues that serve the purpose of driving a wedge between the American people and splitting us farther and farther apart. And you know the wedge issues. ... one that you are very much involved with and an issue that is scheduled to come up for a vote in June in the United States Senate and that is the Federal Marriage Amendment. Now I'm not an historian. Some historian should really look at all of the proposals that have been put forth throughout the history of our country for possible Constitutional amendments. Maybe at some point in time there was one that was sillier than this one, but I don't know of one.
F--k'in-A, Skippy! Hearing a Republican -- any Republican ('cept Ron Paul, of course) -- talk sense is a rare, and therefore noteworthy, pleasure these days. Hat tip to Ron Gunzberger at Politics1, and here's a transcript of the whole speech, which includes some nice verbiage on Prohibition and such, too.

So, what's my axegrind with Danforth? When I was a youngster, then-Senator Danforth held a "town hall" at the high school from which I had just graduated in Lebanon, Missouri. This was during the time when Tipper Gore and her "Parents' Music Resource Center" had their knickers in a twist about the content of popular music, and Danforth had been chair of the US Senate Committee which had held hearings so that Tipper could get some whine time on the tube and swap makeup application tips with Dee Snider.

Being 18-ish and all hep and stuff, I wanted to know what the result of those hearings was, or would be (remember, we didn't have the Intarwebs back in those days; hell, we had to walk six miles uphill in the snow to catch the schoolosaurus every morning -- that's the way it was and we liked it, you drooling todders ... but anyway). And, having no shame, I stood up, stylish shaved head and single earring (left) and Iron Maiden t-shirt aflaunt, and popped that question on him.

And. He. Lied. To. Me.

He told me that there was no result from the hearings, that they had just been for "public information and discussion."

I found out a few days later that in actuality, there'd been a sweetheart deal offer for the record industry involving warning labels on albums in return for a tax on blank tapes to "compensate the record industry for piracy.

I don't know if the deal ever went through or not, but Danforth had taught me the most important of all civics lessons: Never trust a politician, especially when he looks you in the eye. I took it to heart and I've been on my tear ever since. I wasn't surprised a few years later when Danforth got tapped to whitewash the Waco massacre. But last week, he done good.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Alabama: Nall Campaign Takes (It) Off

Short Version: Click the pic.

Extended Version:

For Immediate Release
Contact: Loretta Nall for Governor Campaign
Phone: 251-650-2271
Cell: 256-625-9599


Thanks to political columnist Bob Ingram, Loretta Nall is best known lately for two things -- both of them on her chest. "In 55 years of political writing," Ingram noted in a recent column about a photo of Nall, "that was a first for me -- a picture in my column of a woman displaying cleavage ... [my mother] wouldn't have approved of that picture."

Nall, a well-known medical marijuana activist and the Libertarian Party's 2006 candidate for governor of Alabama, isn't one to pass on an opportunity. "When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade," she says. "When God gives you melons ... well, let's not go there." But going there she is, with a new fundraising campaign designed to capitalize on Ingram's touting of her attributes. To raise money for ballot access, Nall is using Flash animations on her campaign web site. Contributors get a glimpse of the buxom beauty's cleavage or waistline -- and big donors are promised an uncensored view of "the biggest boobs in Alabama politics."

All's fair in love, war and politics, says Nall. "I had to go one of two ways -- don a burqa so that maybe people like Bob Ingram will be willing to talk about my actual platform instead of my anatomy, or go with the flow and use dismissive attacks to my advantage. I don't back down easily. This is, if you'll pardon the expression, tit for tat."

Nall faces Alabama's draconian ballot access restrictions -- "the Republicans and Democrats are scared to death of a fair fight," she says -- and must submit 42,000 valid signatures to the Secretary of State by June 6th in order to appear on the ballot with the Democrat and GOP candidates (who face no such hurdle). Her "Flash for Cash" campaign is intended to raise the money required to gather those signatures.

The animations mentioned in this story may be viewed at:

Members of the media: For this fundraiser to be effective, I obviously can't allow our final animations to be hyperlinked around the Internet, so we've taken several security measures to prevent this from happening. However, we'll be happy to send non-Internet media sources raw files with the security measures stripped away. Simply contact to make the proper arrangements. While we proudly consider bloggers an important part of the media, we're sure you will appreciate why we aren't exposing the links. We do hope you'll link to this page, though. Feel free to lift any of the graphics, too.


Notes: I support Loretta Nall and have participated in her campaign as a volunteer. This post is not a paid advertisement, nor was it pre-approved to run by Loretta Nall or her campaign, nor do I intend to seek the approval of Loretta Nall or her campaign for running it, nor will any gummint busybodies get anything from me except the finger and some nasty verbiage if they want to make an issue of it.

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Both ends, toward the middle

In his thoughtful proposal for a "Libertarian-Green Strategic Alliance," Kevin Carson mentions "cut[ting] taxes from the bottom up and welfare from the top down." He also gives me more credit than I deserve for putting it that way.

Meanwhile, over on a Yahoo! Group discussion, both my name and Kevin's are associated with a proposal for a "flat" corporate income tax. I can't speak for Kevin, but I can (and hereby do) say that the idea isn't mine. I haven't looked into it closely enough to say whether I could live with it or not, but I certainly haven't ever promoted it. I assume the association was made in good faith ... but I'm beginning to see that when I say things like "cut taxes from the bottom up and welfare from the top down," I should probably explain myself more fully so as not to be misunderstood.

First, a proposition for libertarians -- Resolved, that barring revolution or cataclysm (neither of which we have the power to create), society as we know it will not move from confiscatory taxation to no taxation, or from welfare state to laissez-faire instantaneously. Getting from here to there is going to be a journey, not a leap. We are going to cut taxes before we end taxes. We are going to cut welfare before we end welfare.

Second, a protestation of "purism" -- I do not advocate, and never intend to advocate, any increase in any tax on, or welfare benefit for, any person for any reason. I accept incrementalism (steps in the right direction, large or small), but not compromise (trading a move in the wrong direction in one area to get a move in the right direction in another). You'll never hear me agree that it's okay to raise taxes on one group as a "tradeoff" for lowering taxes on another group, or to offer new subsidies to one beneficiary in trade for reducing subsidies to others. Or, to shift policy areas and clarify it a bit, I'll accept "medical marijuana" as a step in the right direction, but I won't support "trading," say, support for the death penalty for cocaine possession to get "medical marijuana."

If we're going to cut taxes, it makes sense to do so from the bottom up -- because the primary rhetorical tool of anti-tax-cut advocates is that tax cuts "benefit the rich at the expense of the poor." I'd rather get a bottom-up tax cut than wish for a top-down tax cut. And, properly done, cutting taxes from the bottom up results in a tax cut for everyone.

Cutting federal income taxes from the bottom up is simple -- just raise the personal exemption. Doing so meets two important tests. First, it cuts everyone's taxes. Secondly, those cuts are most economically significant at the lower end of the income scale, where the "class warfare" argument against "tax cuts for the rich" ring the most true. The bizarre variable rate system does produce slightly larger tax cuts for people who make more money, but not especially significant ones. The first step in my proposal would lower Bill Gates's income taxes by about $400 a year. I doubt that that $400 is as important to Gates as the extra $105 a minimum wage fast food fry cook would get to keep.

I'm going to use 2004 figures for exemptions because they were the first ones I found. I don't know if they changed in 2005. As of 2004, the first $7,950 (at least) of federal taxpayers' income was tax-exempt -- $3,100 as a "personal exemption" applicable to everyone, and $4,850 as the "standard deduction" for those who chose not to itemize. Those who itemized might be able to increase the exempt amount, but the first $7,950 of everyone's income was tax-free.

Let's take a look at the effect of a hypothetical personal exemption increase of $1,150, to $4,250. This would make the first $9,000 of income tax-exempt. For rates, I'm using 2005 figures, because they were the first ones I found. Hey, it's hypothetical anyway. Don't sweat it.

The minimum wage is $5.15 per hour. An individual who worked 40 hours a week, for 52 weeks per year, would have a gross income of $10,712 per year. Under the old numbers, $2,762 of that income would be taxable, and the bill would be 10%, or $276.20 (here are the brackets/rates for those who are following closely). With the exemption increase, $1,712 would be taxable, so the bill would be $171.20. Bammo -- instant $105 tax cut.

Now, let's look at someone who makes more money: Say, $100,000 a year. With the current rates and the current exemptions, the taxable portion of that income would be $92,050; with my proposed increased exemption, $91,000.

Figuring this gal's taxes out is more complicated, of course; she pays 10% on the first $7,300 of taxable income, 15% on the next $22,400, 25% on the next $42,250;and 28% on everything above that (her income doesn't get into the 33% or 35% brackets). So, at current exemptions, her tax is $20,280.50; with my propose exemption increase, it's 19,986.50, or a $294 tax cut.

Fair? Probably not. Proportionally distributed? Nope. But everyone gets a tax cut, without jogging marginal rates around, crafting special deductions for favored groups, and igniting class warfare rhetoric. For every $1,000 of increased bottom-up exemption, every taxpayer -- convenience store clerk to factory worker to CPA to Bill Gates -- gets a tax cut of between $100 and $350.

Cutting welfare from the top down is more complicated, as it involves a number of programs -- but the proposition itself is simple. At one point in the recent past, Missouri politicians were simultaneously claiming that the belt needed to be tightened on the state's $4.x billion Medicaid budget ... and that the taxpayer should be happy to fork over $600 million to build stadiums for the benefit of multi-billionaire sports franchise owners. This kind of thing creates a big credibility gap. When the federal government can come up with $78 million to subsidize advertising for Florida orange juice (and it has), the argument that it can't afford to (or shouldn't) subsidize cups of that same juice for school cafeterias rings pretty hollow.

The big "entitlement" programs are going to be a bear to tackle in any case. Until and unless poor and middle class Americans can be truthfully and convincingly told that they aren't subsidizing "the rich," they are going to remain deaf to demands that "the rich" be allowed to stop subsidizing them.

Cut taxes, from the bottom up. Cut welfare, from the top down. And when those two efforts meet in the middle, they can slap hands, do a little victory dance ... and then get back to work cutting right past each other.