Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thinking out loud

The more I study the problem of the managerial state and attempt to envision a workable libertarian populist strategy to combat it, the more apparent it becomes to me that the "paleo" approach's failure is one of relevance.

Much of the "paleo" critique of the managerial state (or the national security state, or the warfare-welfare state, or whatever you want to call it) is spot-on. Yes, New Dealism had much in common with the Soviet communism and European fascism which were emerging at the same time (they were all, as Burnham pointed out, managerial ideologies). Yes, Burnham and Buckley took the bulk of the "conservative" movement into the managerial fold under cover of "Cold War necessity."

History, however, does not run backward. "Paleo" invocation of the 1930s "Old Right" is about as useful versus the ideology that displaced it as "Free Silver" or "54-40 or Fight." The Old Right was soundly whipped in the thirties, and every post-war attempt at its revival, from Taft to Paul, has proven a spectacular failure.

"Conservatism" -- of the "paleo" variety or any other -- is not the antidote to managerialism.

"Mainstream" conservatism's central goal is preservation of the existing social order ... and that social order is now nearly fully under the managerial thumb, thanks in no small part to the ministrations of the Buckleyites themselves.

"Paleo" conservatism's central goal is return to a social order which the New Deal and subsequent societal convulsions (the civil rights movement, the counterculture demeanor of the Vietnam-era anti-war movement, etc.) demolished as thoroughly as the Enola Gay's little egg demolished Hiroshima. We're no more likely to return to that social order than the Romanovs or Hohenzollerns are to reclaim their thrones.

No movement can hope to win a race into the future with one foot staked firmly to the ground of seven decades past.

That's not to say there are no timeless principles. There are. But a successful freedom movement, its populist strategy included, will be forward, not backward, looking. Or, to put it a different way, it will be "Left," rather than "Right," in orientation.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

LNC to honor Keaton?

It's amazing what a difference a few months can make!

Back in September, the Libertarian National Committee devoted much of its meeting in DC to the object of punishing Angela Keaton for the crime of having reported to the party's membership on the committee's activities.

Now, I see that a 30-minute agenda item on "Discipline of Angela Keaton" is in place for their December meeting in San Diego.

The only reasonable assumption on this item is that it marks a complete turnaround, and that the 30 minutes will encompass a short reception, and perhaps presentation of some kind of plaque or trophy to Angela, in recognition of her exemplary self-discipline in the face of extreme provocation. And this, of course, I heartily applaud.

Then again, it's never safe to make reasonable assumptions where the LNC is concerned -- so I suggest that those LP members who plan to attend the meeting also plan for an alternate activity of that sort, with hors d'ouvres, award certificate presentation, etc., to take place in the hallway or other convenient venue during the agenda item should reasonable assumptions about that agenda item prove unsound.

Unless, that is, you're really keen to see yet another off-Broadway Sullentrup & Starr production of Joan of Lorraine (as re-scripted by Jean Paul Sartre).

E-nd of an e-ra

Well, folks, put a fork in e-gold -- it's done, at least as a real alternative to government funny money.

My impression -- it could be wrong, but it's my real impression -- is that e-gold's principals did the best they could to protect their customers' privacy against the "Homeland Security" juggernaut. I doubt that pleading "not guilty" would have done much for that cause. I'm glad they avoided prison. I hope their persecutors don't.

I can't claim to have been one of e-gold's "big customers." I established my account some time in the late 1990s, and I don't recall that it ever had more than a few hundred Federal Reserve Notes worth of metals in it, or that more than at most a couple of thousand flowed through it altogether. Most of the inflow was contributions to Rational Review News Digest, or pay for the occasional odd job from the occasional odd duck. The outflow was mostly out-exchange to FRNs, with small amounts played at an online casino (before the evil bastards in DC put a stop to that), or the occasional Amazon order via BananaGold, etc.

To put it a different way, I didn't use the thing for "narco-terrorism" or any such boogeyman activities. Apart from a few scammer parasites, I doubt that it was used to any great degree for criminal activity -- "laundering drug money" or "facilitating trade in child pornography" or whatever. The state of tech and inter-governmental collusion being what it was, e-gold was never as "anonymous" as a stack of the US government's own fiat currency placed in one hand by another. Those charges weren't a cause of action, they were an excuse to extend the view of the surveillance state.

You can't "close" an e-gold account, apparently, but now my account is my former account -- I've changed all the information I could to "decline to state," blocked the varieties of deposits the control panel would let me block (spends from "blocked accounts" and "US persons"), and changed the password to some random weirdness that I've already forgotten. Accountholder [number elided] has left the burning building.

If the fedgoons want to steal the $2.37 worth of metal in my former account from e-gold, to which I hereby formally convey that metal, I hope they choke on the mediocre cup of coffee they can buy with it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A recipe for civil disobedience

Ingredient #1: Motive (law which is both inherently immoral and in violation of the US Constitution's freedom of religion, full faith and credit and equal protection clauses).

1. It is the public policy of this state to recognize marriage only between a man and a woman.

2. Any purported marriage not between a man and a woman is invalid.

3. No recorder shall issue a marriage license, except to a man and a woman.

4. A marriage between persons of the same sex will not be recognized for any purpose in this state even when valid where contracted.

Revised Statutes of Missouri, 451.022

Ingredient #2: Opportunity.

Marriages may be solemnized by any clergyman, either active or retired, who is in good standing with any church or synagogue in this state.

Revised Statutes of Missouri, 451.100

Ingredient #3: Penalty.

Every person who shall solemnize any marriage, having knowledge of any fact which renders such marriage unlawful or criminal in either of the parties under any law of this state ... shall, on conviction, be adjudged guilty of a class C misdemeanor.

Revised Statutes of Missouri, 451.115

Any person who shall solemnize any marriage wherein the parties have not obtained a license, as provided by this chapter, or shall fail to keep a record of the solemnization of any marriage, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined not exceeding five hundred dollars, and in addition shall be subject to a civil action by the parent, conservator or other person having care or custody of the person so married ...

Revised Statutes of Missouri, 451.120

The authorized terms of imprisonment, including both prison and conditional release terms, are .... For a class C misdemeanor, a term not to exceed fifteen days.

Revised Statutes of Missouri, 558.011.1

The "opportunity" portion is incomplete, of course -- I'd have to find a same-sex couple who are interested in being married and who are willing to apply for (and be denied) a license and then go ahead with the wedding anyway (which would subject them to the penalties of an unspecified class of misdemeanor per RSMo 451.040). I'm not ready to do that yet, so sorry, Law Enforcement Charlie, no "overt act" has yet occurred. I'm just musing here.

Hmmm ... RSMo 451.040 also provides that "no marriage shall be deemed or adjudged invalid, nor shall the validity be in any way affected for want of authority in any person so solemnizing the marriage pursuant to section 451.100, if consummated with the full belief on the part of the persons, so married, or either of them, that they were lawfully joined in marriage." Since Missouri's ban on same-sex marriage is repugnant to the Constitution on multiple counts, it is, per Madison v. Marbury, void. Is that a get out of jail free card? Or maybe even a loophole that a same-sex marriage truck could be driven through?

I could probably clear 15 days on my calendar for stir in, say, late 2009. I may just have to do that ... but I hope that I'm not the only one thinking along these lines.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ghost story

If any man has a ghost
Bourne has a ghost,
a tiny twisted unscared ghost in a black cloak
hopping along the grimy old brick and brownstone streets still left in downtown New York,
crying out in a shrill soundless giggle;
War is the health of the state.

John Dos Passos

Dos Passos didn't live to see that ghost truly fill its lungs with air and issue the cry in a voice loud enough to reach the world. That didn't happen until 1995 with the founding of AntiWar.Com.

Sadly, two weeks into its quarterly fundraiser, AntiWar.Com is still far short of reaching the $70,000 goal. The danger that the shade of Randolph Bourne will shrink to its former size and power -- formidable still, but for all practical intents and purposes voiceless -- is very real.

In the past, I've explained at length why I support AntiWar.Com and why I think you should, too: AntiWar.Com is hands down the most bully pulpit, the loudest bullhorn, the strongest and most consistent voice of the libertarian movement on issues of US foreign and military policy.

Hundreds of thousands of web readers rely on AntiWar.Com for the news and analysis the pro-war American media ignores.

AntiWar.Com's radio programs bring voices of reason to airwaves typically dominated by the War Party's shills.

AntiWar.Com's speakers bureau gives non-interventionists a voice and a presence on campuses and at conferences in the US and around the world.

AntiWar.Com's intern program trains and prepares the next generation of non-interventionist communicators and activists to carry on the struggle.

AntiWar.Com doesn't even try to compete with the War Party's front organizations on a budgetary basis. Their annual fundraising goal is less than what the US government spends on the Iraq war every seventy seconds, and it's not even a blip on the radar compared to the tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money shoveled at the neoconservatives' Fannie Mae (the "National Endowment for Democracy") every year.

AntiWar.Com does an awful lot of good stuff with very little money -- and if it's going to keep doing those things, YOU are going to have to help. Let's keep this voice of freedom alive and strong.

Dammit, folks, I just talked myself into sending another $10. Hopefully I've talked you into doing the same.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Same as the old boss, part 2: Civil liberties

When speaking with libertarians who supported Barack Obama for president, I've generally heard two arguments:

First, that the Republican Party needed to be soundly spanked for its misrule. Check -- that certainly got done.

Secondly, that while the GOP and the Democrats have become virtually indistinguishable when it comes to economic policy (the only difference being that the Republicans "borrow and spend" while the Democrats "tax and spend"), Obama is likely to roll back the Republican war on civil liberties. So far, not so good.

Two key leaked/announced/prospective appointments -- Eric Holder for Attorney General and Janet Napolitano to head the Department of Homeland Security -- paint an ugly picture of our likely future. Obama seems far more likely to hitch the anti-freedom agenda of the Clinton administration to the rogue wagon of Bush "unitary executive" doctrine than to substantially change the US government's approach to habeas corpus, detention without trial, torture and illegal wiretaps. And on the "it may get even worse" side of the ledger, scratch in the War on Drugs, immigration and the Second Amendment.

The matter of the War on Drugs is particularly saddening, because the indicators were there for anyone who cared to look. Obama supported bogus "anti-meth" legislation in the US Senate. Among his promises as a presidential candidate was the establishment of a new DEA office in New Orleans. And he picked Joe Biden, author of the noxious RAVE Act, as his running mate. Sure, he made some weak gestures in the direction of easing up on medical marijuana (arresting doctors and patients would "not be one of [his] highest priorities") ... but he didn't go out on any limbs.

There's no reason to be surprised, therefore, that he'd pick an advocate of tougher marijuana sentencing and returning to "mandatory minimums" for the AG slot.

As for immigration, well, Napolitano is the Arizona governor who signed legislation requiring all Arizona business owners to work as uncompensated Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. If she takes the DHS post, it's probably because she wants to get the hell out of the American southwest before her handiwork finishes the job of collapsing its economy.

Holder and Napolitano are both gun-grabbers -- Napolitano less so from necessity, given her state, but the tendency is pronounced enough to notice. For example, she vetoed a bill which would have ended prosecution of citizens who displayed (not fired, just displayed) a firearm in self-defense. Holder is more brazen -- he even signed an amicus brief in support of the draconian DC gun ban overturned earlier this year in DC v. Heller.

I suspect we'll see some cosmetic changes in the "war on terror" component of the overall anti-freedom package. Gitmo may be closed ... but its abductees will find themselves trapped in some new kangaroo court maze rather than being released or charged in the regular US criminal system with the full panoply of constitutional protections. Torture will be roundly condemned (and the CIA will continue it while moving it deeper into black bag territory). Instead of just asserting the authority to declare anyone an "enemy combatant," Obama may well seek unconstitutional "preventive detention" authority from Congress.

Real change? Unlikely. As a matter of fact, America versus its government is in a position not unlike that of an animal trapped in the embrace of a boa constrictor. The desire to breathe a sigh of relief after this election is entirely natural ... but remember, the snake is going to clamp down tighter when that happens, and the process will repeat until the victim suffocates.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Same as the old boss, part 1: Foreign policy

My initial intention following the election was to give president-elect Barack Obama the traditional "honeymoon" period -- waiting at least until his inauguration, and possibly even until the usual "first 100 days" agenda had floated or foundered, before starting to slice and dice his approach to the presidency. As it turns out, the transition period is chock full of clues as to what Obama's presidency will look like, especially with respect to foreign policy, so there's no reason not to get started.

Summary: Obama's foreign policy approach will likely come to nothing more or less than a matter of sticking blue helmets and the word "humanitarian" on his immediate predecessor's way of doing things. Or, to put it a different way, his foreign policy will likely feature the Clinton administration's trappings and the Bush administration's ... vigor.

This was fairly predictable from the start. Remember, Obama campaigned for US Senate in 2004 on an anti-war platform, then turned on a dime and voted in the Senate to continue the war every time he was given an opportunity to do so. His presidential campaign once again launched on an anti-war note, but he didn't even make it through the Democratic primaries before discarding that position again.

Even when nominally condemning the war on Iraq, he's never taken a non-interventionist line in any case. He's just promised to to be a better manager of America's bayonet-point outreach programs, while suggesting that he'll try to save the failed occupation of Afghanistan, extend that occupation into Pakistan, and maintain or increase the US belligerence quotient versus Iran and Russia.

If you're surprised to see Obama tap Israel-Firster Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, float Madeline Al ... er, Henry Kissi ... er, Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State, or leak the possibility of keeping Robert Gates on at the Pentagon, you haven't been paying attention for the last year or so.

As for Iraq, the Busheviks are already in the process of tying Obama's hands and striking the first major blow of Election 2012 by pushing to conclude their "Status of Forces Agreement" with Baghdad before his inauguration. If they succeed in getting that agreement through Iraq's parliament, he's in a no-win situation: The Republicans take credit for anything good that comes of it, Obama takes the blame for anything bad that happens. Personally I think he'll screw it up SOFA or no SOFA, but I have to give the Republicans credit for a good game of "pin the blame on the Democrat."

The only possible clean path out of the Iraq quagmire for Obama is bold action -- announce an immediate US withdrawal on January 20th, carry out that withdrawal, and hope the civil war in Iraq (inevitable no matter when the US withdraws, but likely worse the longer it stays) plays itself out before his first term ends. It doesn't look like that's going to happen. His cabinet picks indicate that he's already preparing to fold his "change" hand on foreign policy, and his campaign statements on Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Russia indicate that that hand was a garbage bluff in the first place.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Parting thoughts on the Barr campaign

Brian Doherty asks "Where Did the Libertarian Party Go Wrong?" over at Reason. It's not the first post-election critique of Bob Barr's presidential campaign, nor will it be the last, but it's an interesting one, and since it quotes me, I think I'll go ahead and set my own thoughts down at greater length.

First, the quote: "In terms of vote totals, his failures put him firmly in the LP 'usual' pack. In terms of effect on the Libertarian Party, he probably set us back 20 years."

I have to say that I'm already mellowing a bit from that initial take. How far the Barr campaign sets back the LP doesn't have to be a function of the Barr campaign -- the rest of us have something to say about it too. We can allow 2008 to cast a long shadow, or we can break in a different direction and leave 2008 behind.

For that matter, in terms of performance at the polls, Barr was not really a failure by LP standards. In terms of percentage of the vote, he performed in the middle of the LP presidential pack (4th place of 10 campaigns).

There was also a strategic decision on the campaign's part to target "battleground" states in an attempt to "change" the election outcome, rather than to go after the "low-hanging fruit" of more votes in "safe" Democrat or Republican states where the voters wouldn't be as worried about "costing" one major party or the other the election. That's something I can't fault the Barr campaign for. It was a judgment call they had to make. Michael Badnarik's 2004 campaign made the same call in the same way, targeting New Mexico, Nevada and Wisconsin as potential "spoiler" opportunities. If 2008 hadn't turned into a blowout, there was every chance that the Barr campaign's strategy would have worked.

Some observers -- among them, I believe, Ballot Access News publisher Richard Winger -- believe that the LP and third parties in general will benefit in the long run from the Barr campaign's ballot access litigation. If so, that's a good thing and Barr should receive credit for it.

The failure from a Libertarian Party standpoint, in my view, is that Barr didn't run a libertarian campaign. If the GOP nominated Barbara Boxer for president, or the Democrats picked Tom DeLay, the "base" of either party would consider that presidential campaign a failure regardless of how many votes the candidate picked up. Barr was a mismatch for the LP. He ran as a Dixiecrat "states rights" conservative, and in doing so he at least partially and temporarily re-branded the LP away from libertarianism and toward his own ideology to some as yet unknown extent.

Coke does not give its "salesman of the year" award to the guy who moves the most cases of Pepsi. The Pope does not canonize the woman who converts the most people to Buddhism. The LP's designated sales manager for this year went out and sold something other than the LP's product. That's a failure in itself, and a failure to the extent that it creates an ongoing public misperception as to what the LP's product is.

Now, back to those vote totals: Was 510,000 votes a "failure?" Above, I say that it wasn't ... by LP standards. But those aren't the only applicable standards.

The standard set by Barr campaign manager Russ Verney from the stage at the LP's 2008 national convention was raising $40 million and winning the election. I doubt that very many people believed it was really going to happen (or that Verney believed it himself), but when you hype numbers, you can expect those numbers to come back to haunt you.

At least as late as October (and possibly later), Barr running mate Wayne Allyn Root confidently predicted "1-3 million votes." He did so on October 5th in the New York Times. That's a hard number, and Root is a Las Vegas oddsmaker.

"Libertarian" Republican and sometimes Barr/Root booster Eric Dondero's predictions swung wildly around numbers he cherry-picked from polls (while ignoring the history of actual LP vote totals on election day versus earlier poll numbers), but in August he hedged his bet to the low side and set a standard for "success" --

[T]he media is completely ignoring the Libertarian yard stick for success: Beating Ed Clark. Libertarian Ed Clark's campaign received 922,000 votes in 1980, 1.1%. It is the all-time benchmark for success for Libertarian Presidential campaigns. ... The magic number for success for Bob Barr for President remains -- 922,001.

Of course today, Dondero is in full-out backtrack mode, decrying the Doherty article and bitterly bitching that people should acknowledge the "success" of a campaign which fell far short of his own stated standard.

One of the curious elements of Dondero's argument is that percentages are irrelevant -- only raw vote totals matter. I disagree. Two votes is more than one vote, but whether or not two votes are better than one vote depends on how many people are voting. One vote out of two is damn good. Two votes out of two million isn't.

In 1996, Harry Browne received 485,798 votes out of 96.2 million total votes cast.

In 2008, Bob Barr received about 510,000 votes out of 126.7 million votes cast.

Thirty million more voters, but only 24 thousand more votes. It's impossible to believably spin that into any kind of great "success."

A stray note on competence:

It's impossible to tell how things might have come out had the Barr campaign been competently managed ... but it's reasonable to think, on the basis of casual observation, that it wasn't. Needless ballot access problems, message ranging from "true conservative" to downright incoherence, five figures on an air conditioner for an office that was leased for five months, $18,000 in limo bills ... the organization appeared dysfunctional.

Mike Ferguson is one of the most competent individuals I know. I say that because it's true -- nobody's going to mistake us for best buddies. Given an environment of general competence, I suspect Ferguson would have been a very effective campaign operative, boosting Barr's vote total everywhere he went. Instead, he seemed to get stuck spending most of the campaign hauling ass around the country and trying to unscrew other people's screwups (for example, the West Virginia ballot access debacle).

As early as the LP's Denver convention in June, I observed that Steve Gordon seemed to have already been moved to the campaign's sidelines once Russ Verney took over as manager. Gordon denied it, but the impression remained. Frankly, I suspect that Gordon would have been a better pick for campaign manager than Verney, whose main claim to fame is that he managed to bring Ross Perot -- a wildly popular public figure with effectively unlimited campaign funds and who at one point was polling toward victory -- in at 20% in 1992. Gordon has the requisite nuts and bolts skills, and he was better positioned than Verney to get the LP's supporters in the mood to work for the campaign's success from the very beginning. Even setting aside later events, Verney's presence at the nominating convention probably cost Barr votes, and cooled reception toward his nomination, by bolstering the campaign's outsider/"Darth Vader" image.

But I could be wrong on those things. It's happened before.

Hopefully, in 2012 Libertarians will think their presidential nomination selection through from the ground up -- starting with the message they want to convey and then looking at which candidate conveys that message most effectively. Nothing wrong with hitching one's wagon to a star, but only if the star is going to pull that wagon in the direction you want to go.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

File under "long memory"

I'm not an eBay addict. I buy through eBay or Half.Com a few times a year, usually relatively small items (books or the obsolete video game stuff that my 7-year-old is obsessed with). And the experience is almost always great. Earlier this month, I bought a Sega Dreamcast as an early Christmas present for said 7-year-old. The item didn't arrive exactly as advertised (a missing controller), but the seller took near-instant action to correct that.

I've had precisely one bad experience buying things this way, and coming up on the two-year anniversary of that experience, I figure it's a good time to put in a bad word for the seller just as the holiday season cranks up.

The item was was a mere $14.99 -- $20 and change with shipping, etc. It was an "E-Reader," a device that hooks up to the old original Nintendo GameBoy and allows games to be scanned in from cards. Kind of neat if you're a (then) 5-year-old GameBoy addict. I had purchased from the seller before. I had received the items promptly and in the advertised condition, and had left positive feedback. So I was confident in buying from them again.

It never arrived. After the "expect no later than" date, I contacted the seller. I received no response. After 10 days, I posted negative feedback on the transaction. The seller's response? They posted negative feedback on me -- although I had paid for the item promptly, waited through the entire likely receipt period, contacted them, and given them time to respond. They then proposed that they'd withdraw their negative feedback if I'd withdraw mine. No offer to actually deliver the item they'd sold me or anything like that -- just "we'll stop lying about you if you stop telling the truth about us."

I don't negotiate with terrorists. And while nearly 99% of these guys' feedback was positive, when I dug through their negative feedback I found several other such incidents.

These guys ripped me off for twenty bucks. Actually, they ripped a five-year-old kid off for twenty bucks of his Christmas money and the enjoyment of something he reasonably expected to get for it, but I reimbursed him.

So, by way of what comes around goes around: If you're doing your holiday shopping at eBay or Half.Com, I advise you to avoid bidding on or buying items from egameuniverse.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Spare some change (we can believe in)?

In the first three days of its quarterly fundraising drive, AntiWar.Com raised $11,913. The math on that daily average comes to an eventual $27,797 for the week -- less than 40% of their $70,000 quarterly goal.

Yes, I know we just had a presidential election. Yes, I know the Democrats will take over the White House in January. Yes, I know they increased their majority in Congress.

I also know that Barack Obama campaigned against the war on Iraq in 2004 when he was running for US Senate; that he then voted to continue funding that war at every opportunity once he was elected; that he threw the anti-war movement under the bus every time it became an issue in his presidential campaign; and that the Democratic majority America elected to end the war in 2006 hasn't made so much as one single, solitary serious attempt to do so.

I can't help but notice that Obama has been firm in refusing to take aggression against Iran "off the table;" that despite many opportunities to do so to his own political profit, he's declined to put a less generally interventionist US foreign policy on that "table;" and that so far his announced and leaked administration picks look like the casting call for a remake of "Dr. Strangelove."

Oh, and I also recall that Democratic presidents presided over, and Democratic congressional majorities supported, all or most of the US involvements in WWI, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, as well as many of the "brushfire wars" in between those larger conflagrations.

If you think last week's election made AntiWar.Com superfluous, you've got another think coming. US interventions in the Obama era may feature blue helmets and wear out the word "humanitarian" in their propaganda, but try as I might I can't find any reason to believe we'll see any real, significant changes.

The War Party did a bang-up job of stacking the deck in this election, and AntiWar.Com is one of the few aces the sanity movement still holds in its hand. If we let it fold, we might as well fold, too.

Let me put the kind of money AntiWar.Com asks for in perspective for you:

AntiWar.Com's fundraising goal is $280,000 per year.

The US Department of Defense spends $238,425 on the war on Iraq per minute.

Like most of my readers, I'm not made of money -- but I send AntiWar.Com $5 a month every month, and I try to pry loose a few more dollars to throw at them come fundraiser time. Pretty please with sugar on top, do the same.

Note: No, I don't work for AntiWar.Com. Or, rather, I've done a wee little bit of work for AntiWar.Com, and I've always declined to accept payment for that work -- both because I want to help them, and because I want to be able to honestly tell you I'm not feathering my own nest when I urge you to help them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Announcement of candidacy

Fellow libertarians,

I initially planned to announce my 2012 candidacy for the presidency of the United States on April 6th, 2009, from the steps of the Old St. Louis Courthouse (history buffs shouldn't have too much trouble figuring out why), and I still intend to conduct a campaign event of some kind at that time and in that place.

I see, however, that others are already lining up with formal announcements or at least clear indications of their own intent ... and when a fight's brewing, I prefer to get in early.

It is therefore my distinct pleasure to announce that I will seek the 2012 presidential nominations of the Libertarian Party and the Boston Tea Party.

Why run for president -- and why, especially, for the presidential nominations of two parties which together usually account for less than one percent of the popular vote in presidential elections?

I could give you lots of reasons, but I'm going to stick with three for the moment: There are some hard truths that need to be told, I'm interested in telling them, and they're most effectively told from a bully pulpit.

Among those those hard truths are that the political wing of the libertarian movement will never make substantial progress toward its goals so long as it clings to the apron strings of the failed movements and parties of the past, remains in orbit around the present political "center," or falls prey to cargo-cultish notions of what constitutes "serious" politics.

If we want a libertarian future, we must create that future, not hope that our political opponents drag us along to it. They won't. They're not going in the direction we want to go in, they have no desire to go in the direction we want to go in, and to the extent that they're interested in us at all, they regard us either as fuel to be consumed or ballast to be dumped overboard at the earliest opportunity. I don't blame them. We haven't yet given them reason to regard us as a true threat to their power. It's time to change that.

As my friend and mentor L. Neil Smith once observed, "great men don't move to the center, they move the center." It's a big center, folks. Moving it will require a long lever, with us at the far end. I don't claim to be a great man ... but I hope to be part of a great movement, and to help that movement get further out on the lever and put some weight on it.

Insofar as cargo-cultism and "seriousness" are concerned, rest assured that I have nothing against suits and ties, friendly media interviews and the other requirements of realpolitick. What I do oppose is the absurd notion that waving around "mainstreamism" like some kind of voodoo fetish will magically boost us to competitive stature versus our older, more established opponents. It won't.

The future of the libertarian movement, if it is has one, requires a principled populist approach rooted in class theory. Not the theory of the socialists (labor versus capital) or of the liberals and conservatives (ad hoc identity politics adjusted to appeal to society's phobias du jour), but rather the theory of the productive class (those who make their living through work and voluntary exchange and cooperation) versus the political class (those who siphon off as much of that productive activity as they can get away with, using the coercive apparatus of the state, for their own ends).

For these reasons, the first phase of my campaign will largely be internal to the parties and the movement; as we move on, it will become more outwardly focused, of course, but first things first.

My fundamental goal in seeking the nominations of the LP and the BTP is not to achieve those nominations or to be elected President of the United States. It is to help the libertarian movement outfit itself for a journey yet to begin -- a journey which that movement has stood stock still at the starting point of for nearly four decades now. If I achieve that goal, the nominations and the election results are of secondary importance, as I'm certain others are at least as qualified as I am to march at the front of the column. If I do not achieve those goals, then the nominations and the election results will resemble John Nance Garner's description of the importance of the Vice Presidency of the United States: "Not worth a bucket of warm spit."

I look forward to an exciting campaign, and I humbly request the support of all who value the future of freedom.

Yours in liberty,
Thomas L. Knapp

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Everybody's got one, and they all stink

Excuses, that is.

Brian Holtz's is the argument that "public goods" and "the free rider problem" trump the basic standard of civilized conduct -- non-coercion.

He unpacks it thusly:

Excludability is the ability of producers to detect and prevent uncompensating consumption of their products. Rivalry is the inability of multiple consumers to consume the same good. A public good is defined as a non-rival non-excludable good, such as national defense. Because public goods are not excludable, they get under-produced. The pricing system cannot force consumers to reveal their demand for purely non-excludable goods, and so cannot force producers to meet that demand.

This, per Holtz (and as originally argued by Samuelson), leads to a "free rider" problem (since non-excludability means that one can consume the good without paying for it), and thus to "market failure," justifying the classification of whatever it is we're talking about as a "public good" and, if Mr. Holtz deems it a necessary good, excusing the use of coercive taxation to make everyone -- those who want it and are willing to pay for it, those who want it and aren't willing to pay for it, and those who just don't want it -- cough up "their fair share."

Except, of course, that that's bullshit. Here's why:

- "Under-" (or "over-") production is a subjective evaluation. "Under-production" means "not as much of this stuff is being produced as Brian Holtz believes needs to be produced."

Note that I'm stipulating to Mr. Holtz's honesty here -- he's not just trying to get everyone else to pay for something he alone wants, but rather something he genuinely believes everyone needs and is willing to pay "his fair share" of himself. But that's a subjective evaluation, too. Brian Holtz thinks that everyone needs "national defense." Maybe I think that everyone needs "on-call Swedish massage." I have yet to see the stone tablets upon which the "everyone needsness" of either hath been divinely chiseled.

- There are all kinds of non-rivalrous, non-excludable goods. Take a billboard advertisement, for example. It's non-excludable and non-rivalrous -- the company (Store X) that puts out the ad can't stop anyone passing by from looking at it (nor would they want to!); and no matter how many people look at it, there's no less of it to look at. If the billboard shows a nice pair of tennis shoes, and some of the people who look at it go buy those shoes at Store Y instead of Store X, that makes Store Y a "free rider" -- they got the benefit of the billboard's existence, but they didn't pay for its production or deployment. Does Mr. Holtz propose that tennis shoe billboard advertisements be deemed a "public good" and that Stores A through Z (or maybe all tennis shoe manufacturers, or all potential customers) be taxed to provide for production of said advertisements?

Non-excludability and non-rivalrousness do indeed exist, but they aren't magic wands that make coercion to subsidize production of a good necessary or justifiable. The very minimum additional factors required would be objective criteria for establishing a) what is needed and b) how much of it is needed. Absent those two factors, non-excludability and non-rivalrousness are nothing more than overhead production costs that Mr. Holtz doesn't want to pay all by himself. Which is fine -- until he decides to make everyone else go in with him on them at gunpoint.

And then there's the hangover

No, I didn't get drunk (well, maybe a little drunk, but not lampshade-wearing drunk or even close) ... but by the time election day was nominally over, I was ready for an extended period of sleep. So I got some.

My congressional campaign didn't exactly burn the district down, but I'm not crying, either. My 2.3% is the highest "third party" vote (single or combined) since Missouri's Secretary of State started putting election results on the Internet in 1996, and I made out even better on raw vote totals -- 8,576 of'em, 22% more than the closest previous total (6,695 votes in 2000 for the Libertarian, Green and Reform Party candidates combined).

On the presidential side, it doesn't look like the Boston Tea Party's ticket will bust past the Libertarian Party's first-time results from 1972 as I had hoped. Not crying over that, either -- there's a lot of overlap between our niche and the LP's niche, and they have a 36-year head start on us in the competition for that niche. We didn't do poorly enough for me to be disappointed, and I'm enormously flattered to have received more than 1,000 votes for the vice-presidency of the United States from the people of my birth state, Tennessee. I'm also looking forward seeing a bigger, better BTP bring the message of freedom to more people, in more states, in the future.

As for the LP's presidential ticket, well, Bob Barr appears to have edged out Harry Browne's 1996 campaign for the second best raw vote total in party history, but to have somewhat underperformed Harry for percentage. As David Nolan put it, "[t]he Libertarian ticket would most likely have gotten a very similar vote total with Root, Ruwart or Kubby as the nominee." And, as Nolan was too polite to say, the urge to take a long shower after voting wouldn't have been so intense if we had nominated Kubby or Ruwart.

Personally, I wasn't able to bring myself to vote for Barr/Root. I did try to talk myself into it, but the whole idea just seemed immoral. The alternatives on the ballot in Missouri were McCain (not), Obama (not), Nader (not) and Baldwin (NOTNOTNOT). I finally settled on (drum roll, please) ... the Green Party's write-in ticket of Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente.

McKinney's record in Congress included voting with Ron Paul 80% of the time (more than any Republican) on key civil liberties issues as identified by Freedom Democrats in a vote study some years ago. Libertarian? No ... but more so than the other available options. Also, casting a write-in vote struck me as the most ostentatious way to reject the duopoly. I joined 957 other Missourians who also wrote in McKinney/Clemente.

So now the fun begins.

As everyone keeps pointing out, president-elect Barack Obama is a "transformational figure," by which I assume they do not mean that he can turn himself into a truck or an airplane or whatever and fly off to fight evil robots invading from space (although it wouldn't surprise me to learn that some people do, in fact, believe that as well).

The thing with "transformational figures" is that they produce transformations. And the thing with transformations is that they tend to be unpredictable, both in detail and with respect to their effects on "the big picture."

I expect we're in for a wild ride, folks. At the moment, I haven't slightest idea where that ride will end, but I seatbelts and crash helmets are definitely in order.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

My Senate predictions

Short version: The Democrats pick up eight seats.

Which seats? Well, five of them are pretty obvious, two are less obvious, one is a stretch.

I may tell you which ones are which before the polls close on Tuesday, or I may not ... if you really think you need to know right now, you can read all about it in the third issue of KN@PPSTER: The Newsletter. If you're a subscriber, that is.