Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More on left v. right

James Leroy Wilson on what he perceives as his rejection by the left-libertarian movement:

So "left-libertarianism" is whatever those who find affinity with the Right don't like about some libertarians with whom they disagree. Of course, the same goes the other way. Left-libertarians can sneer as "conservative" anyone whose radicalism manifests itself in different ways. If I'm not "really" a left-libertarianism [sic], it's because my own priorities may be different, even if my same basic commitment to equal rights is the same.

I'm not going to express an opinion on whether or not Wilson is personally a "left-libertarian," and I do recommend his article for some of the salient points it makes, but I'm going to take yet another stab at this whole "left versus right" in libertarianism thing.

"Left" (libertarian or otherwise) goals are generally framed in terms of transformation of society into something new and different in the future. The past is, for the most part, rejected. Apparently neither Diderot nor Meslier was responsible for the exact quote "man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest," but whoever said it, it's a fair (if harsh) summation of the "left" approach to the forms of the past.

"Right" (libertarian or otherwise) goals are generally framed in terms of anchoring the existing society to particular norms of the present or recollected (accurately or otherwise) past. The past is -- or at least particular fragments of the past are -- effectively worshiped. The "right" of the past only grudgingly gave up monarchy and most "rightists" -- even libertarian ones -- still look to religion (or at least the institution of the church) as a natural cornerstone of the society they're trying to build (or re-build).

Of course, both of these approaches have obvious defects. Forgetting the lessons of the past is convenient to the "left" methodology; rejecting out of hand any proposal which isn't tethered to some specific past condition is convenient to the "right" methodology.

For me, the dispositive argument in favor of the "left" approach is that there is no past libertarian societal model to return to. The next libertarian society will be the first libertarian society. That's not to say that no past or present conditions (for example, absence of state licensing for marriage) will be re-created in a future libertarian society. But any such re-creation of conditions will be incidental -- those re-created conditions will exist in a new context.

I'm as prone as anyone to cite past conditions ("prior to the 1830s, there were no government marriage licenses in the US;" "in 1893, a six-year-old could drop in at the local apothecary and pick up a bag of morphine for mom, no law against it") as evidence that current state impositions are not and never were necessary ... but that's a weak form of argument. According to US News & World Report, there were only ten miles of paved road in the US as of 1900; would eliminating paved roads today make us freer? I don't see how it would. The lessons of the past are limited.

Wilson again:

I think the left-libertarian agenda may be too closely perceived as a war against "traditional conservatism" and the "Christian Right" and whatever it may stand for. I myself loathe what has passed for the Christian Right and what it stands for. But the enemy is not any real or imagined mystic or bigot. The enemy is The State.

But the state has a particular history, and exists in the context of that history. If it's a tree, it's a big oak deeply rooted in particular soil. The "right" approach is a considered pruning of the tree or, at the libertarian extreme, cutting it low on the trunk and leaving the stump and roots. The "left" approach is removal -- "root and branch" as the saying goes -- and replacement with something entirely new. You can't remove the roots without disturbing the soil around them.

Friday, December 26, 2008

On "leadership"

Over the past few months I've observed the state of disintegration into which the Libertarian Party has fallen (for the latest on that, see Brian Miller's piece at Delaware Libertarian), and have also had discussions with activists who wonder why the Boston Tea Party's national committee isn't more proactive.

It is my considered opinion that libertarians of both parties (or either, or neither) would do well to take their cue on the subject of "leadership" from America's socialists of the early 20th century, in particular Eugene V. Debs:

I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the Promised Land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition.

When it comes to political activism, committees (especially national committees) are best structured as gateways, not gatekeepers -- central planning is much more likely to manifest itself as obstructionism than as facilitation.

Stop waiting for "leaders" to tell you what to do. This whole "leader/follower" thing is ass-backward. Political committees shouldn't be leaders that you follow, they should be tools that you use ... when, and only when, they're the right tools for the job.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Happy Bill of Rights Day

In 1794, President George Washington declared martial law and led federal troops into Pennsylvania to suppress and arrest farmers on charges of, among other things, "assisting and abetting in setting up a seditious pole" -- to be precise, a liberty pole.

In 1798, President John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, resulting in the arrest of 25 Americans (mostly newspaper editors) for publishing material in opposition to the Federalist party's rule.

In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson had his former vice-president, Aaron Burr, detained by the military, then claimed "executive privilege" versus subpoena in Burr's trial for treason.

Broken from the beginning, it would seem. Government power has always been defined in action as "what we want -- and think we can get away with." And it probably always will be.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"It is the farewell kiss, you dog"

Not quite as over the top as puking in the Japanese prime minister's lap, but it's nice to see Baby Bush going out on an appropriately buffoonish note. Filing him under "really bad jokes" instead of "really evil dudes" is how the healing begins.

Monday, December 08, 2008

D+2: Situation Report

That's about the size of it as far as I'm concerned ... but damned if I can say for sure whether Keaton is Marat in the bathtub or Corday beneath the guillotine, or which betwixt LNC and AntiWar.Com is the Mountain and which the Girondists, or whether it really matters who is whom in the big picture.

Angela Keaton has resigned from the Libertarian National Committee -- here's why.

Can't say I blame her -- if I had to choose between AntiWar.Com and the Libertarian National Committee, AntiWar.Com would have me six days a week and a double shift on Sunday.

On the other hand, if this had to be, I wish it had come after a clear-cut victory, a complete rout of Starr and Co., instead of after an indecisive battle in which the enemy was allowed to retreat from the field in good order and in shape to come back later.

I guess it pretty much comes down to a difference of opinion on the subject whether or not the Libertarian Party (as a national organization) is worth further salvage attempts. As tempting as it is to just offer the state LPs a new umbrella and let the LNC finally get a firm grip on the "flush" handle it's been pulling so persistently at from down in the bowl, I'm loath to abandon the other LNC members who've been trying to set things right.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

D+1: Situation report

I had tentatively planned on liveblogging yesterday's Libertarian National Committee proceedings, but didn't. Here's IPR's thread, including direct transcriptions of Twitter streams from both people at the meeting (including Michael Seebeck and Angela Keaton herself) and remote observers (including me).

Recap from bottom line perspective: We got a win by decision with an all but actually scheduled rematch ... when we deserved, and should have had, a win by knockout.

Given that five of the LNC's 17 members had voted to remove the witch trial of Angela Keaton from the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, and that only six votes would be needed to defeat the motion to suspend her later, the Starr clique was in trouble from the start.

Substitute Grand Inquisitor (None of the Starr clique's principals were going to personally expose themselves on a project as speculative as this one) Stewart Flood's presentation of "charges" and "evidence" against Ms. Keaton came off as the clown show it was. Accounts from on the spot describe open laughter from the audience and a public near-nervous-breakdown on the part of Flood himself.

Keaton acquitted herself quite well, speaking in her own defense, according to the descriptions I received. She denied the LNC's authority to dictate what opinions she would express or how she would express them, or to abuse "executive session" with impunity for the purpose of facilitating the Starr clique's attacks on her. Wish I could have been there to see and hear it.

Seeing that a vote to suspend on the "charges" and "evidence" as a whole clearly wouldn't pass, another clique lackey, Dan Karlan, attempted to divide the matter into 11 separate questions, hoping for enough votes on any one of those questions to achieve the goal of suspending Keaton. Apparently that was a little too openly Vyshinskyist even for Keaton's opponents.

We had them on the ropes. An up-or-down vote on suspension would have failed and the matter would have been closed with the Starr clique prostrate and bleeding on the mat ... and then Michael Jingozian jumped in and (incidentally? Intentionally? I don't know) saved the clique's bacon with a substitute notion (which passed) to refer the matter to a committee.

There are now two future possibilities: The thing will be allowed to die in the dark, reducing its negative impact on the clique's image, or it will be brought back at some point when the clique thinks it has the votes to win on a suspension resolution. Either way, the clique managed to get out of a broken-jaw-and-concussion situation with no more than a broken nose and black eye.


Keaton's still playing it smart. She's already issued a one-sentence statement: "I will under no circumstances submit to any committee investigation." If these bastards want to take her down, she's going to do everything she can to force them to throw their punches in public for all to see. But this thing is still not over.

Next steps:

- The executive committees of at least three state Libertarian Parties in the region represented on the LNC by Stewart Flood passed "yo, LNC, knock that shit off" resolutions before this weekend's meeting. Since their own regional rep ignored their clearly stated positions, they should now act to remove him and replace him with a representative who, um, represents them.

- States in the region represented by Dan "let's divide the question until we get the outcome we want" Karlan should also consider finding new representation on the LNC.

- Now's the time for good candidates for Chair, Secretary and Treasurer to make some hay. Kick your opponents when they're down. Really. As Heinlein pointed out, if you won't kick them when they're down, no point in kicking them when they're up (and they will get back up). Yes, it's a year-and-a-half until the next LNC election ... let the early birds help the LP rid itself of the worms.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

D-Day: Brief notes, part 1

Later this morning (8am Pacific), the Libertarian National Committee will begin its San Diego meeting. A few hours later, the agenda for that meeting, as currently publicly known, will lead into discussion of "Discipline of Angela Keaton."

Here's a link to one of a number of articles on the matter. Of specific interest is that article's linked list of other articles, and its links to the "complaint" and "evidence" documents.

Michael Seebeck will be covering the meeting by live video and Twitter -- here's the page for both.

So far I've been unable to get the "evidence" document to download correctly -- still working on that. Since I can't evaluate it myself, I have to rely on others, and Steve Newton of Delaware Libertarian is one of the most reliable guys I know when it comes to getting facts straight. Here's his take.

My own "big picture" take is largely independent of both the charges and the evidence anyway, because I don't consider either especially relevant. In my opinion, none of this is, from the point of view of Keaton's persecutors, about what Angela Keaton is accused of doing, about whether or not she did it, or about whether or not doing it is just cause for suspension. Nor is it especially ideological, unless "power for power's sake" and "big fish/small pond" are ideologies.

Rather, it is about the desire of an internal clique to have its way with the LNC and the LP; to distract attention from its piss-poor management of the party's resources and the failures of its marquee project, the 2008 LP presidential campaign; to remove an obstacle to its total control of those resources and its influence over future campaigns; and, last but not least, to make a convincing demonstration of its power in hopes of bringing other stubborn LNC members to heel and demoralizing its opposition among the membership.

Folks: Never negotiate with terrorists, and definitely don't let terrorists get away with pretending that they're anything but terrorists.

They're either going to remove Angela Keaton, or they aren't.

They've either got the stones to commit the political equivalent of murder in broad daylight or they don't.

Either way, don't make this easier for them by pretending with them that that's not what they're threatening to do. And if they do it, don't empower them versus additional victims by helping them whitewash what they did.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Multiple freedom parties?

Brian Holtz says the idea is dumb, and offers nine reasons why. Here are my responses to those reasons:

Having multiple liberty-oriented choices tells voters that libertarianism is too incoherent to be worth understanding.

Depending on how a single party presents its message or otherwise comports itself in the electoral arena, it could very well tell voters exactly the same thing. And in that case a second party of the same type could be the antidote by presenting a coherent message/comportment where the first one has failed to do so.

Of course, coherence in message, comportment, etc. are subjective evaluations. In the judgment of some, the Libertarian Party failed on coherence of message in 2006 when it deleted 3/4 of its platform (leading to the creation of the Boston Tea Party) and on comportment in 2008 when it nominated a recently-Republican presidential slate topped by a "true conservative" (leading to the Boston Tea Party's decision to run a presidential slate of its own).

Having multiple liberty-oriented choices tells voters that the freedom movement is too poorly organized to be worth supporting.

Only if by "organized" one means "operated under strict discipline from a central headquarters." If by "organized" one means "constructed for efficient operations," then the newer of the two US freedom parties excelled the older in this election cycle.

The Boston Tea Party decided to run a presidential slate in late May. Less than a month after that, it had nominated that slate and placed it on the ballot in Colorado. Within another sixty days, it had placed that slate on the ballot in Florida and Tennessee. By election day, it had procured non-trivial media coverage (including but not limited to a Fox News Sunday interview, an Associated Press feature and the cover story of a large city weekly) for that slate.

To put a finer point on it, in five months the BTP re-created in principle, although not to scale, the organizational prowess which the LP had spent nearly four decades building and which it allowed to disintegrate in 2008, flubbing ballot access through organizational incompetence in no fewer than four states.

To put an even finer point on it, had the LP been the lone freedom party in this election cycle, the freedom movement would have had no example of proper organization to show voters, but only an example of poor organization.

Having multiple liberty-oriented choices vastly increases the cognitive/investigative burden imposed on a voter asked to cast her single vote for liberty.

This claim relies on an unsupported assumption: That the voter in question recognizes an "investigative burden" at all. Many voters don't, either because they are fully vested in the "major party" contest through a long process of indoctrination and are simply not interested in alternatives, or because they consider it the parties' job to reach them, not their job to investigate the parties.

In the latter case, it is not obvious that multiple freedom parties are a detriment.

For one thing, a donor dollar or volunteer hour is not necessarily fungible between freedom parties -- it may be that that dollar or hour would never be made available to Freedom Party A, even if Freedom Party B did not exist.

For another, not all investments are equal, and if Freedom Party B makes different investments of the dollars and hours made available to it than Freedom Party A would have, it may be heard of, investigated and supported by voters who never hear of Freedom Party A, and wouldn't even if Freedom Party A had that same dollar or hour at its disposal.

Having multiple liberty-oriented choices tells politicians that pro-freedom voters are far from being a coherent caucus whose votes can be earned (e.g. by the party not running an opposing candidate).

Even if were that case that pro-freedom voters are a coherent caucus in that sense (and the evidence says we're not), that's not necessarily the message. Voters who are willing to move between parties at all have various reasons for doing so. If two pro-gun parties run candidates against an anti-gun candidate of another party, this still sends the message to the anti-gun candidate's party that there are votes possibly available to it if it runs a pro-gun candidate next time. If there's a difference, it's a difference in impression of just how many of those votes are actually available, and how many of them are committed to one of those other parties regardless.

Getting liberty-oriented candidates on the ballot requires a threshold amount of signatures/fees.

Once again, this assumes some kind of internal movement fungibility of funds and support -- that if Party B did not exist, its donors and petition signers would automatically make their money and signatures available to Party A. That's simply not the case, at least not universally.

It also assumes a scarcity that's not necessarily present in all jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, a voter may sign only one candidate/party ballot access petition. In other jurisdictions, no such limits exist.

Getting a liberty-oriented party ballot-qualified requires a threshold amount of voter registration and/or votes in statewide races.

I'll stipulate to this one with reservations.

Yes, it may be that the existence of two freedom parties will, in some jurisdictions, damage the ability of either of those freedom parties to achieve/maintain ballot access.

On the other hand, if there are significant differences of opinion between Freedom Party A and Freedom Party B, I don't see how it's the obligation of one to dissolve for the purpose of facilitating ballot access for the other, any more than it's the obligation of an anti-freedom party (for example, the GOP) to dissolve just so that there are more registrants/voters available to a freedom party.

American elections generally do not allow fusion voting.

That's true -- but it doesn't seem like a good argument against multiple freedom parties. Quite the opposite in fact.

Seeking fusion opportunities where they don't currently exist is a matter of building larger numbers of voters who demand it and activists who are willing to participate in initiative/referendum or legislative lobbying efforts to make it possible.

Generally, two organizations of the same type will boast a larger total membership than a single such organization would have. In the case of the two US freedom parties, there are some LP members who would not be members of the BTP even if the LP didn't exist, and vice versa. If one of those two parties went out of existence, the size of the organized political wing of the freedom movement would decrease, not increase, because some of the members of each organization are not interested in being involved in the other. That means fewer voters organized in support of fusion and fewer activists to make the effort to get fusion.

American elections do not allow approval voting, but instead uses plurality voting.

True (in most cases), but the situation is no different between freedom parties than it is between other types of parties.

Politics is a contest. If Freedom Party A is frustrated in its quest for electoral victory by the existence of a resolute Freedom Party B voter bloc, then its remedy is convince Freedom Party B's voters that Freedom Party A offers them a better package than Freedom Party B.

And let's face facts -- in the current circumstance, Freedom Party B (the Boston Tea Party) is not standing between Freedom Party A (the Libertarian Party) and victory. Even in the states where the BTP presidential slate made the ballot this year, its vote total did not prevent the LP's presidential slate from carrying those states.

Duverger’s Law suggests the natural tactical response of voters to plurality voting is to gather into two parties straddling the political center along its major axis, or into one party for each natural cluster of voters in the political space.

I'm glad Holtz brought up Duverger's Law so that I didn't have to. It's the single best argument for multiple freedom parties. Since the effect of plurality voting is to create two groups of voters straddling the center, and since the center is not pro-freedom, the center needs to be moved.

It's going to take a radical party to move the center in a pro-freedom direction, but that radical party is unlikely to become a home for the more moderate voters straddling that new center. Therefore at least two parties (one radical, one more moderate) and possibly three (if the center is moved far enough) will be required. Historically, for example, see the emergence of the (moderate) Republican Party after the heavy lifting was done by the radical (Free Soil, Liberty, etc.) parties; or the more social-democratic-leaning (moderate) Democratic Party under pressure from the (radical) socialist parties.

Ultimately, I think the best case for multiple freedom parties is that a party with an uncontested monopoly in a political niche is a recipe for inefficiency and inefficacy. The monopoly party settles into a comfort zone and starts to lean less toward effective external action and more toward distributing what small bounties it collects from the movement around it as internal patronage. That's been the history of the Libertarian Party since at least the early 1990s and possibly earlier. Competition tends to either destroy such a monopoly party or else focus that party on excelling its upstart competitors in the areas that matter.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Credit where credit is due

Earlier today, I sent a concise, polite note to several LNC members -- my regional's representative (Julie Fox), regional alternate (Jake Porter), and the at-large representatives (Dr. Mary Ruwart, R. Lee Wrights, Admiral Michael Colley, Pat Dixon and Angela Keaton), concerning the agenda item on "Discipline of Angela Keaton" scheduled for this weekend's LNC meeting.

As of only a few hours later, I've received email and/or phone responses -- all of them polite and positive -- from each of the aforementioned except for two. One of those two is Admiral Colley, whose email address I got wrong the first time and to whom I just re-sent the original message. The other is Ms. Keaton herself, with whom I often correspond, whom I have always found responsive, and whom I suspect correctly took the message as a "courtesy cc" since she's already well aware of my opinions on the issue in question.

Why mention it? Because I've seen a number of complaints over the years concerning non-responsiveness on the part of LNC members to party members' inquiries. If we're going to complain when they get it wrong (and we should!), we ought to also take similar notice when they get it right.