Sunday, December 31, 2006

If I was a novelist ...

I'd be working up something like this:

First, they hang Saddam ...

... and then he comes back.

Those who followed the old fairy tales (babies murdered in Kuwait so their incubators could be sent to Baghdad, for example) before the Busheviks introduced the new, improved versions (yellowcake from Niger, dissidents thrown in shredding machines and such) will remember the "body double" bit. Saddam allegedly had a bunch of look-alikes. I've seen six mentioned, and I've seen 20 mentioned.

The number doesn't really matter too much, I guess. The key thing here is that before it became convenient to be able to "positively identify" Saddam, the fairy tale narrative included an element that made such identification highly unlikely.

To wit, most of his alleged "body doubles," who had of course been surgically treated for exact similarity of appearance and coached in Saddam-like body language, demeanor, etc., were relatives from his home town of Tikrit. They weren't just similar in appearance (supposedly several different "Saddams" spent each night in different presidential palaces to frustrate assassins). They weren't just similar in demeanor (supposedly "Saddam" would often be giving speeches in, say, Baghdad and Basra at the same time -- convenient, eh?). They were similar in DNA.

So, to put it bluntly -- if the old fairy tale narrative has any truth to it at all -- the Green Zone government and the US occupiers don't -- can't -- have the slightest idea whether or not the guy they just hanged was or was not Saddam Hussein. Granted, we've been spoon-fed a replacement set of fairy tales for the last four years or so, but I'm just saying. Maybe the real Saddam's been kicking back in Amman since 2003. Or maybe he died in 1991 and his doubles just split the duty, the money and the women up and gravy-trained for 12 more years before separately running for the hills. Who knows?

Anyway, back to the novel. What happens next week or next month when "Saddam" shows up in Tikrit, or Fallujah, or both, in uniform, beating his chest and firing a shotgun in the air?

Of course, if I was a really wicked novelist, I'd make the reappearance occur on the third day, mirroring a famous past resurrection, and bring the Busheviks in on the magic show. There's a certain segment of their constituency which interprets the Bible literally, believes that the antichrist's capital will be located in Babylon (which, as it happens, is in Iraq), and is fond of prophecy:

And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.

And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.

So Iraq's Ba'athists get a sort of off-kilter Mahdi figure to rally the Sunnis to their flag, and the GOP's Jesus Screamer faction gets one king-hell soapbox for a holy war against The Beast.

Sounds like a best-selling potboiler to me ... and hey, it's no farther out than most of the bullshit Dubyah shoveled our way as purported non-fiction to get buy-in on this fiasco in the first place.

I hope someone writes it. I'm not a novelist, of course, so I'll stick to more hopeful and realistic scenarios, such as this one:

In the White House, Crawford, wherever they are, perhaps George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are absently fingering their own necks and wondering if maybe refurbishing the Nuremberg precedent wasn't such a good idea after all.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Grapevine: In support of Politics1

The blog "grapevine" works: I hadn't made it by Politics1 in a few days, but I picked up from Gene Chapman, who got it from Conservative President 2008, that Ron Gunzberger, publisher of Politics1, is being sued.

For $5 million. By some asshat who, get this, blames Ron (among others) for the fact that he wasn't able to get himself elected governor of New York ... as a write-in candidate!

I doubt that Ron is worried. The suit, of course, is meritless, Ron's a lawyer, and it will go away. But he is pissed, and I don't blame him. He's never claimed to be "objective" -- he's a Democrat and up front about that -- but he does go out of his way to be inclusive of third party and independent candidates, even though he's under absolutely no obligation to do so. Over the years, I've had occasion to throw a bit of news at him now and again, or to offer a correction, and he's always been responsive and, to the best of his ability, accurate, even when we disagree.

The really bad part here is that he's considering shutting down Politics1. It's not that he's afraid of frivolous suits like this one; I suspect that it's that they could, if they continue, turn into an annoyance that just isn't worth it. Running a marginally profitable -- or just enjoyable -- site can become a big loser if its author has to waste half his time responding to meritless and vexatious litigation.

Politics1 is my resource of first resort for candidate information -- not just Libertarian, but general. If you agree (and if you don't, you haven't visited the site yet), let him know you support him with a blog post of your own, or with a comment at his site.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Libertarians warm up to environmental issues

I'm going to take a brief break from responding to George Phillies's delegate flier, and instead make time to applaud both George and Steve Kubby for being ahead of the gradient as Libertarian responders to environmental issues.

As recently as two years ago, it seemed that Libertarians didn't want to hear the words "global warming." It was easier just to plug our ears and scream "junk science" because that was seemingly the only alternative to accepting the statist Left's program for draconian government measures versus climate change.

Sure, most of the "libertarian" responses smacked of corporate welfare and crony "capitalism" rather than real free market solutions, but that was the flow it was easy to go with. I recall the particularly bellicose reaction at the Libertarian Party's 2004 national convention when nomination contender Aaron Russo had the gall and temerity to suggest that the answer to America's energy problems might not be another corporate welfare program in the form of handing half of Alaska over to Exxon.

The dam broke in August, 2005 when Ronald Bailey, Reason's science correspondent, proclaimed "We're all global warmers now." The science is becoming pretty damn clear ... and libertarians need to come up with real answers instead of continuing to pretend the old ones work.

Read George Phillies's position paper on energy and the environment here.

Steve Kubby's latest blog entry -- which I can confirm is also a position paper, or at least the backbone of one -- is on the same subject.

Congratulations to George and Steve for leading from the front on this one.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Getting serious, part one

I received a snail mail from George Phillies yesterday: A flier apparently targeted to likely delegates to the Libertarian Party's 2008 presidential nominating convention. I'm going to write a bit about this flier, because in my opinion it asks a lot of the right questions about what Libertarians should be seeking in a presidential candidate, and because it seems subtly aimed at skewing those questions to the disadvantage of my own preferred candidate, Steve Kubby. Some of those questions it asks explicitly, some implicitly.

The outward side of the flier, as folded for mailing (opposite the address side), reads:

Phillies 2008
The Credible Candidate
A Serious Man for Serious Times

... and thus presents us with our first implicit questions. What constitutes a -- let alone the -- "credible" candidate? And what constitutes a "serious" man?

As I've stated before, credibility as a presidential candidate and with the electorate is not something that any of the currently declared nomination-seekers possess. None of them -- not George Phillies, not Steve Kubby, not Christine Smith -- are sitting or former US Presidents, Vice-Presidents, US Senators, US Representatives, governors or victorious generals. Since 20% or so of American voters pulled the lever for Ross Perot in 1992, I'll add another category, one which also does not describe any of the current contenders: "Self-made" billionaire.

Since victorious general George Washington first ascended to the office, I am unaware of any president who did not possess one or more of the aforementioned credentials, i.e. "that which gives a title to credit or confidence," i.e. indicators of credibility.

This is not intended as an assault on George Phillies, of course. He's not alone in being a non-credible candidate. But let's not kid ourselves: No current contender for the LP's presidential nomination fits within the credibility parameters established by more than two centuries' worth of quadrennial presidential elections. On the basis of that objective fact, he cannot be considered "a" credible candidate, let alone "the" credible candidate. His credibility can only be measured subjectively and, unless someone who meets the usual tests pops up seeking the LP's nomination, the only real standard we have is one of comparison to his opponents for the nomination.

Since George Phillies has himself set up credibility as a criterion, let's do some comparisons:

- George Phillies has, according to his flier, "an international reputation in my field of science." I have no doubt that that claim is true. George Phillies would make a fine science advisor to any president.

- Steve Kubby has, according to his peers, supporters and opponents, an international reputation in his field of ... politics. He's appeared alongside Mikhail Gorbachev at the Presidio. He's negotiated, as a representative of the American Medical Marijuana Association, with Janet Reno. He's been a key figure in international litigation on the rights of refugees.

I rather suspect that George Phillies is better known in the academic physics community than Steve Kubby is in the political community ... but which type of international reputation do you think will prove more valuable in a presidential election?

- George Phillies has, according to his flier, "no scandals in my past. Open my closets: No skeletons fall out."

- Steve Kubby, according to the US government, has no scandals in his past, either. Oh, they tried to find some. While prosecuting (and persecuting) him for his use and advocacy of medical marijuana, the feds combed through his personal and political financial records, attempting to find any indiscretion or fraud -- and, finding themselves unsuccessful, dragged ridiculous accusations through open court as hopefully prejudicial innuendo ... before finding themselves soundly thrashed by the facts. Kubby was clean as a whistle, and the fleas couldn't bite him.

I have no doubt that George Phillies is clean, too -- as a matter of fact, he's someone I'd trust with my life, or with my young child's life. But he can't even begin to match credentials of public examination to prove that fact with Steve Kubby. Kubby's closet has already been opened, its contents swept out and examined under a microscope.

As I previously noted, "credibility" is a relative thing in LP presidential campaigns. But, given George Phillies' stature relative to at least one of his opponents, citing him as "the" credible candidate isn't ... well ... serious.

I intend to make my analysis of George's flier into a multi-part series. After all, I've so far only covered the exterior, and the first paragraph of the interior! Next time: Six questions, six answers.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Raising the Barr

As you may have heard elsewhere by now, former US Representative Bob Barr (R-GA) no longer has the "R" in front of his name. He's become a life member of the Libertarian Party and, as of last Friday, now sits as a regional representative on the Libertarian National Committee.

This development has already generated some controversy within the party. I'd be hard put to name anything that doesn't generate controversy within the party. I've participated in some "comment duels" on other blogs about the whole thing, but it's time for a bit of a summary/wrap-up:

First off, I'm glad to have Bob Barr in the LP. This may seem counter-intuitive given my self-identification as a "left libertarian," but I'm also "big tent."

In Congress, Barr was sometimes among the best, and sometimes among the worst, from a pro-liberty perspective. Since leaving Congress, his work has mainly been on the issues where he pulled strongly pro-liberty. He hasn't spent the last four years being a drug warrior or a gay-basher. He's spent the last four years working with groups like the ACLU to roll back the USA PATRIOT Act and other anti-freedom abominations.

I don't have any kind of Deep Throat source on whether Barr's views on marriage, drugs, etc., have evolved in a libertarian direction. I hope they have, and I hope he says so. To the extent they may not have, I'd rather have him in the LP working on the issues we agree on, than outside the LP working on the issues we disagree on.

Questions have already been raised as to whether Barr's affiliation with, and acceptance of a leadership position in, the LP presages a 2008 presidential campaign. This is obviously of particular interest to me, given my role as communications director for Steve Kubby's ongoing campaign.

My initial reaction is that Barr's acceptance of an LNC seat militates against a prospective candidacy. Since the LNC administers the nominating convention, party members would tend to take a dim view of an LNC member simultaneously being a candidate for the nomination. David Weigel's weekend interview with Barr seems to confirm his intent not to run:

reason: Are you going to make a Libertarian run for president?

Barr: No. I'm contemplating no runs for any office. I'm delighted to be asked to work in this capacity for the Libertarian Party, and I'm going to work on range of issues. But I'm not a candidate.

A secondary -- but important -- controversy has emerged on the matter of how Barr's appointment to the LNC was handled: In a word, badly. For more on that, see Melinda Pillsbury-Foster in Liberty For All, or Susan Hogarth at colliething.

I doubt that that sub-controversy will torpedo the accomplishment. And I very much doubt that Barr himself was involved in, or even aware of, the way things were being handled. But it's still a problem. Those who played the secrecy/ukase game on this may have felt like they were being Machiavellian and realpolitickal. In actuality, they were merely eroding their own credibility as party leaders in an attempt to avoid controversies that were bound to come up no matter how they handled things.

The LP is in an interesting and dangerous position. We stand to benefit from a GOP crackup and exodus that's beginning to happen anyway, and Bob Barr is certainly qualified to lead the charge there. The real question is just how much we should be willing to risk on that opportunity. It's certainly not unworthy of our attention and effort.

On the other hand, we have great potential to pick up support on the putative "left" as well, and we need to be careful not to let our constituencies on that side of the spectrum down. It should be a matter of the "right" swinging toward the LP, not the LP swinging toward the "right." If the price of having Bob Barr in the LP means sacrificing our support for religious, medical and marital freedom, or our opposition to foreign military adventurism, it's just not worth it. Fortunately, I don't think that any such sacrifice is even on the table.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated


About noon yesterday, I discovered that Yahoo no longer recognized my long-time userID (thomaslknapp), and that therefore my usual email address (thomaslknapp at was no longer accessible. Following that, all Yahoo "groups" that I owned -- and which had no co-owners whose Yahoo userIDs remained viable -- "disappeared" as well. This includes the newsgroup through which my "day job," Rational Review News Digest, is published.

At this point, I don't know whether Yahoo is having a bellyache and everything will come back, or whether I'm under some kind of "cyber-attack." If the latter, I have good reason to suspect that said attack is aimed at Steve Kubby's presidential campaign, as at least one other staffer is having a similar experience.

In any case: If you need to reach me, use the address publisher at rationalreview dot com.

If you're a Rational Review News Digest subscriber, don't panic -- the web edition is still up, and we have yesterday's membership roster available to upload to a replacement group (although if this is permanent, we've lost an archive of our first 1,000+ email editions). If you aren't receiving your email edition in the next few days, check this spot for instructions on how to get re-subscribed.

Finally, if you're experiencing similar Yahoo problems, drop a comment or a line -- I'd like to know what's going on here.

Thanks for your patience.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Because they can, regional edition

For the second time in five months, hundreds of thousands of households (including mine) in eastern Missouri and western Illinois have experienced multi-day blackouts -- and while I'm always ready to "rough it" for a few days when necessary, this is not a minor matter. People died for lack of electricity in July, and people died for lack of electricity this weekend.

The natural first tendency is to demand that someone "do something" about Ameren UE, the utility company that can't seem to keep the damn lights on. Maybe something does need to be "done," but I doubt that most people have a good idea of what.

Let's start from the beginning:

Yes, Ameren UE is a monopoly -- or more specifically it has a monopoly on one service: The provision of alternating current over a large, ubiquitous network of power lines in a particular region.

Ameren UE doesn't have a monopoly on electricity per se -- barring interference from one's local political hacks, one is free to install solar panels or a wind turbine or whatever and tell Ameren to keep their juice. I'm thinking about doing one or both of those things myself.

The ability to do those things (even setting aside the fact that, at the moment, they're more expensive than just paying Ameren, especially with respect to up-front investment) isn't really relevant, though. This is still not a free market. By law, no other company may purchase easements, stick some poles and lines on those easements, and go into the business of pushing alternating current over those lines to paying customers in what government has declared to be Ameren UE's domain.

I discussed the problems of faux-"privatization" with a state-oriented leftist friend of mine this weekend, while we sat around the table in my dark, unheated kitchen. Not surprisingly, we both concluded that faux-"privatization" hits customers with the worst effects of both the private and public sectors (although, as you might imagine, we differed on what to do about it).

For its part, Ameren UE wants to make a profit. Fair enough -- that's what businesses go into business to do. However, the business environment in which it seeks its profits is an artificial one.

In a real free market environment, competition is an omnipresent factor. Even if nobody is actually competing with you at the moment, someone will start competing with you the instant it looks like it can be done so profitably. You either have to beat your competitors, or perform so satisfactorily to your customers that prospective competitors don't bother to challenge you.

For government's part, in a government-conferred monopoly environment, "public utility commissions" are created to protect the customers ... but they can't do so nearly as well as real competition would. These commissions set rates and rules, but being political entities they are subject to political influence. Who carries more influence with such commissions:

- A centralized business with a single agenda and an overriding interest in those commissions' operations? Or

- A diffuse base of customers with varying agendas, most of whom usually have "utilities and utility bills" way down their lists of priorities?

Ameren UE and companies like it put a lot of money into buying political influence, and that influence is relentlessly used for the purpose of securing the company's profits. Most of Ameren UE's customers don't think much about the politics of utilities until the lights go out ... and even if they did, it would take quite an effort to put together an effective lobbying operation on behalf of those customers as a group with a common interest (especially since those customers can't bill Ameren UE for the costs of lobbying, as they bill us).

Ameren UE is free to let its infrastructure decay while it takes profits, to minimize its investment in upgrading that infrastructure, and to cut back its work force so that it has bare minimum staff in normal times and not nearly enough when a storm comes through. It's free to do so for two reasons:

- Because you and I aren't allowed to call up Ameren UE and say "screw you -- I'm switching to Acme Power and Light. Come get your meter out of the way so they can put theirs in;" and

- Because big business naturally has more influence than small customers over the governmental bodies which are supposed to pinch hit for that kind of competition.

Many "progressives" believe that the remedy to such situations is to somehow untangle government power from corporate influence, but history shows us that that's a naive expectation.

It was not customers who called for government control over utilities in the early 20th century -- it was the utilities themselves! See Jan Bellamy's "Two Utilities are Better Than One," in Reason magazine for more historical information.

From anti-trust to the Food and Drug Administration to your local utilities, government regulation has nearly always been pushed and promoted by the entities allegedly to be reined in or controlled ... because those entities knew that it would ultimately be they who held the reins and sat at the controls, or stood over the shoulders of those who did. Regulation would not be permitted to hurt their bottom line -- rather it would enhance it by allowing them to exclude would-be competitors and thus free them from the market's tendency to force better service and lower prices.

Regulation is not a tool of self-defense for consumers -- it is a tool of monopolization for corporations. Faux-"privatization" is particularly pernicious: When the inevitable failures occur, it allows the regulators to falsely blame, and the regulated to falsely cite, the "free market."

The solution is not, as some will no doubt advocate, more government control over Ameren UE. It is less government control -- less government, period -- for Ameren UE and other anti-competitive firms to exploit and influence to their own benefit and their captive customers' detriment.