26 November 2003

Pre-Turkey Miscellany 

On this holiday eve, we should pause for a moment to give thanks to our elected officials for all the things they do. For example, the Medicare fiasco, championed by that heroic defender of the welfare state George W. Bush. More and more each day, Bush proves that he truly is “a uniter, not a divider”, as people from all wavelengths of the political spectrum merge harmoniously in massive opposition to his failed presidency.

Let us also be thankful for John Kerry. After pandering incessantly to his base on the Medicare issue during the Iowa candidates’ debate, the good Senator (who attended via satellite from Washington, ostensibly because he might be called to the floor at any time) didn’t even bother to vote for or against the bill. Just the kind of principled leadership we need in the White House, John.

All sarcasm aside, I am truly thankful that there is one man who can beat both Bush and Kerry in 2004, and give us all a reason to believe in the American dream again. With your help, and your participation, we can create a world that we can all be thankful for.

25 November 2003

Standing Without a Platform 

Continuing its tradition of pop quizzing its supporters, the Libertarian Party has recently unveiled an interactive platform comparison tool over at LP.org. Not surprisingly, my scores were consistently libertarian after several retakes of both the long and short versions. It should also come as no surprise that neither the Republican, Democratic, Green, or Libertarian platforms precisely articulated my position on most issues. Why oh why does my party insist on using this meaningless rubbish as an outreach tool?

Should you think me overly critical, just take a look at the first question: everyone supports a balanced budget… on paper. Does anyone in their right mind with an IQ above 70 – which, admittedly, may exclude much of the present administration – honestly believe that the Republican Party still stands for fiscal conservatism? Or that Democrats and quasi-Socialists (with one noteworthy exception) can be trusted to pay down the debt? Then why should we try to differentiate ourselves from the parties in power based on – I’ll say it again – this meaningless rubbish?

Most Americans know full well that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats enact their platforms upon gaining majority control; were that so, abortion would be legalized or outlawed every four years. Yet it seems to me that the majority of my party’s leadership (and its advocates in think tanks and the press) are more concerned with the words in the platform than they are with winning elections and making a positive difference in our country. How many Browne voters do you think actually read it? Would we have gotten more votes if they hadn’t? For God and Ed Clark’s sake, our platform actually encourages child labor and insider trading!

To my Libertarian brethren, I once again offer this sermon: stop arguing about platforms and start articulating a positive vision for America. If we truly are, as R. W. Bradford puts it, “advocates of greatly increasing individual liberty and greatly reducing government power”, why do we not have more appeal at the ballot box? Why am I, a loyal activist, forced to campaign for a Democrat just to get a balanced budget and repeal of the Patriot Act?

I hereby move that we destroy all copies of the National Platform except one, and that we burn this remaining copy in a large public ceremony at the National Mall. At least then it would serve some useful purpose, like lighting a joint, or burning a flag, or providing warmth to a homeless downsized worker. This specific policy is not my goal, however. My goal is nothing more nor less than the creation of a viable political party in my lifetime, and it is to this end that I take this stand.

24 November 2003

WLNP (Or, Are Unregulated Markets Free?) 

(The following are my opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.)

On November 24th, American consumers living in large metropolitan areas will receive an early holiday gift: ownership of their phone numbers. Because of a new initiative called Wireless Local Number Portability, wireless customers will now be able to change carriers – or switch from a land line to a cell phone – without changing numbers. What, you may ask, does this have to do with politics and the future of our nation?

First, consider the potential economic impact. Small businesses that adopted older technology can now take advantage of productivity enhancements not offered by their current carrier, like two-way “walkie-talkie” communications, digital picture mail, and wireless Internet. Entrepreneurs who live and die by their cell phones will be able to switch providers without having to reprint their business cards and letterhead. Further, dissatisfied consumers will now be able to change companies without hassle, ultimately rewarding those companies with the most innovative technology and the best business practices. Adam Goldberg, an analyst for Consumer Reports, surmises that “the competition generated by portability will lead carriers to offer better prices, better service plans and better service quality". At the very least, retailers will see increased consumer spending, and even hinting at revitalizing the tech sector could substantially boost the markets.

What is the source of this triumph of capitalism? Not good corporate citizenship from the telecom industry, or the invisible hand of the marketplace. No, this free market has been created by the federal government, by the fiat of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission.

Regulation. Force. The horror!

It is a longstanding tenet of “orthodox” libertarianism that any agency whose name contains the word “Federal” should be abolished, and I myself have more than a few qualms with the FCC… but here they have, in my opinion, done things right. This issue brings to mind all the main topics of modern political debate: what is the proper scope and reach of government? How do we reconcile free enterprise and democracy? Most importantly, how do Libertarians win elections when the average citizen clearly believes that corporations are evil and that the state is a force for good?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do offer this advice: if we Libertarians truly wish to reform our government and build a better America, then our quest should not be to create a “pure” ideology, nor to devise a “rational” system, but to encourage liberty and free enterprise whenever and wherever possible. Federal regulation might seem antithetical to our ideals, but so is the economic serfdom promised by unrestrained monopolism. Brand me a heretic, if you will, for my belief that only a regulated market can truly be considered “free”, but is it not a consistent libertarian position to oppose slavery in all its forms?

I encourage readers to participate in this discussion on Slashdot, or just send me an email.

20 November 2003

Three Meditations, with Brief Exegesis 

“Commerce, which ought naturally to be, among nations, as among individuals, a bond of union and friendship, has become the most fertile source of discord and animosity. The capricious ambition of kings and ministers has not, during the present and the preceding century, been more fatal to the repose of Europe than the impertinent jealousy of merchants and manufacturers. The violence and injustice of the rulers of mankind is an ancient evil, for which, I am afraid, the nature of human affairs can scarce admit of a remedy. But the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be, the rulers of mankind, though it cannot perhaps be corrected may very easily be prevented from disturbing the tranquility of anybody but themselves.”Adam Smith

“Taxes should be voluntary contributions for the proper governmental services which people do need and therefore would be and should be willing to pay for – as they pay for insurance. But, of course, this is a problem for a distant future, for the time when men will establish a fully free social system. It would be the last, not the first, reform to advocate.”Ayn Rand

“My father always told me never to trust a person whose system of thought has a name.”George Carlin

In a recent email, a reader asked me if my “manifesto was finished yet”. Let me reply that I have no desire to author one; I leave that task to the ivory tower anarchists who treat civil liberties and social justice as fodder for their incestuous essay writing contests. For those in need of a manifesto, here’s one that I believe in on alternate Tuesdays… anyone looking for simple definitions should probably consult a dictionary.

In short, I have no philosophy per se, only an agenda: it begins with President Howard Dean and instant run-off voting. I’m well aware that what I say and do won’t make much difference, but still it’s fun to try.

19 November 2003

Excerpts from my Live Journal* 

12:27 AM
Current mood: listless / Current music: BBC World Service

Why does everything have to be about politics all the time? Aren’t there more important things in the world, like truth, beauty, or the hidden reality promised by religion? Can’t I stop thinking about how important Howard is to Iowa, and Iowa to Howard, or how much I really like Gary Nolan but trimming the shrub is just too important and maybe a little socialism isn’t such a bad thing? A very nice Christian woman gave me a book of (her) extremely bad poetry today or technically yesterday at work… Matthew 7:1 I guess… she even autographed it for me. Why does everyone who writes these things insist on using run-on sentences?

I retook the quiz today. Much to the displeasure of my critics, I’m still a 90/70 Libertarian. SO THERE!

12:50 AM
Current mood: methadone / Current music: Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy – Music and Politics

Tim’s Five Lessons for a Happier, More Meaningful Life

1. Always vote your conscience. If you honestly believe that Jackson Grimes should be the next President of the United States, then vote for him. If you’re worried that doing so might accidentally help the greater of two evils, then participate in democracy: give one of your apathetic friends a voter registration card and an absentee ballot and neutralize the “bad karma” that comes from actually having an independent opinion.

2. Harmonize your ideals and your behavior. I lied earlier… everything is political, especially if money is involved. As much as possible, let your actions (and your purchasing power) reflect your beliefs. If you’re a fiscal conservative, only shop when there’s a sale. If you’re a pro-labor Democrat, buy union. If you’re an anarchist, shoplift. I realize that this is difficult… in some Southern towns, not only are you forced to shop at Wal-Mart, you have to work there too. Try anyway.

3. Challenge your own opinions everyday. It’s a big world… if you look hard enough, you’re likely to find someone you don’t completely agree with. Maybe they’re on to something. Find out.

4. Never even consider falling in love with someone on the opposite side of the country. Especially if they are far more educated, attractive, cultured, and self-sufficient than you will ever be, barring a winning lottery ticket and a visit from the Queer Eye team.

5. Have no regrets. Or at least try not to dwell on them.

1:41 AM
Current mood: wistful / Current music: The Smiths (on repeat)

Backspace or Delete?
Both directions mean the same;
Words killed from the Screen

Life, an empty Book,
Yet here I sit, pen in hand,
Words without a Page

* I don’t actually have a Live Journal. This is merely a pathetic literary device.

17 November 2003

Florida Leads the Nation... To Where? 

According to today’s Orlando Sentinel, the Florida Democratic Party, bowing to pressure from Terry McAuliffe and the Democratic National Committee, has decided not to hold its traditional straw poll of presidential candidates. In the words of political editor Mark Silva, “Florida will forfeit a chance to provide an early test of the Democratic contenders' strength, which could have given one a crucial head start going into Iowa's first party caucuses in January. Florida's presidential primary will be March 9, probably too late to have an impact”. Conspiracy theorists among you should reflect on the fact that the Florida straw polls have a long history of assisting obscure Democratic governors win the White House – namely Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

In other news, Rep. Jim Davis (D-Tampa) announced today that he will introduce legislation cutting federal funding to states that do not require high school students to take history or government classes, a measure supported by W’s little brother Jeb! The Associated Press quotes the congressman as saying, "Congress should not have to step in and remind states of the importance of American history and American government”. My sentiments exactly, Mr. Davis.

Finally, the left-leaning Orlando Weekly semi-officially endorses Howard Dean for President, once again proving my theory that Florida was originally part of New England and only wound up in the South due to some strange mishap of plate tectonics.

15 November 2003

Guest Post by David L. Van Brunt 

As I was reading the Dean Campaign web log, I came across this post. Dr. Van Brunt’s words nearly moved me to tears, and he has graciously given me permission to reprint them here. Everyone cynical about politics, everyone with a doubt in their mind about what is at stake in the next election, should consider them carefully.

“I am a Veteran, too. Sorry in advance for the rant, but the "Vets for Heros" post got my ire up.

I was initially a Kerry supporter, and gave money. I didn't think Dean had a chance to beat Bush, and like Lieberman, I had the view that a Dean Nom would lead the party into dark, unelectable corners.

But I did my due diligence. I read the campaign position statements of each of the candidates. I read speeches, looked at the records. Even watched what video I could find. Hell, I even went to watch Wes Clark speak at DePauw.

All had that same, familiar sounding way of saying a whole lot of words – buzzwords – while communicating little substance and committing to even less. In other words, they are professionals trained in the use of vague language, ready for later retraction and spin. This was true of all of them but one.

I admire Kerry's service record. No doubt about it, he's a true patriot. Ditto Clark. But Howard Dean set himself apart in many important ways, and convinced me – before he was tops in the polls – that he is not only electable, but more electable than the alternatives.

What did it? Candor. While it is true that Kerry risked his life in service to his country in war, he would not risk his career to stand up to a popular (at the time) president. Dean did. He took a very real risk of being wrong. More importantly, he didn't speak gobbledygook. He tied together trade issues with national security. He didn't give sound bites; he made me understand. Instead of just pointing out Bush's failings, he gave detailed and reasonable alternatives (specifically, buying up nuke stockpiles under cooperative threat agreement) and explained them with brevity. Those in D.C. that could have done something, didn't take the risk. Now they want to lead.

For the last election, I gave to McCain. When Bush was nominated I hit the streets, door to door, campaigning for Gore in Memphis. The message I heard in all these poor black neighborhoods was "why bother? They're all the same." I can't tell you how often I heard that, but it was often. Dean has understood that, and has recognized that getting even a part of the disenfranchised public energized enough to vote will make the difference.

And Dean can draw a crowd. He can speak. He is clear. He comes across as different, and as genuine. He has already brought new people into the political process.

Those who hate Bush will vote for whoever runs against him. No need to pander to them. Those who love Bush will never vote for anyone but him, so they're a lost cause. But there are millions out there who didn't vote at all because they didn't see a real choice. There was no point.

Howard Dean, love him or leave him, offers a clear distinction. Bush isn't a war hero, so it won't take a war hero to defeat him. But it will take a person who is willing to point out Bush's hypocrisy (i.e., trying to cut combat pay, disenrolling Vets from VA benefits, altering public health warnings, etc.), and in every case, Dean has taken the lead in doing exactly that. Others have followed.

I took an officer's oath to protect and defend the *Constitution* of the United States. Dean is the only one who is aggressively doing exactly that every day. By pointing out the assaults on our civil liberties (not voting for the Patriot Act). By making sure the public knows about the dangers in electronic voting machines operated by right-wing partisans. By standing up for civil rights that aren't popular, because it's right.

And that is why Dean is the most electable, and why I now make regular contributions to his campaign. Because patriots participate. And because not all heroes are war heroes.”

Click here to participate, and here to contribute.

14 November 2003

God Save the Queen 

No longer content with trampling upon civil liberties at home, our fearless leader is preparing to stifle freedom of assembly and expression abroad with his state visit to Britain next week. For the Fox viewers out there, our allies across the pond aren’t exactly happy with this administration’s foreign policy, and the English people are planning, in the words of David Frum, “three consecutive days worth of Chicago 1968 style mass protests”.

I have not been to Britain for well over a decade. My souvenirs and museum brochures are long since misplaced, and the rain ruined nearly all my film, so all that remains of my time there are memories. The strongest of these are the words “Trafalgar is in flames”, which I overheard as I stood in the customs queue at Heathrow airport. Leave it to my travel agent to send me to London during the poll tax riots.

If my memories of the British people are clear, then I can assure you that Bush's holiday will not be another Australia... the press (if not the government) are already beginning to question the wisdom of his visit, and the police are bracing for riots in the street. The fire of liberty still burns in the hearts of my ancestral countrymen; they know why they must protest, and I can only pray that no innocent people get hurt.

And as our “divided partisan” Congress lays the foundation for the continuation of this President's reckless global crusade, I can do little but pray that the American people will finally listen to the voice of reason, the voice of dissent.

11 November 2003

Today's Political Meditation 

"In public life, by the side of the actual state of the world, there exists the ideal state toward which it should tend. This antagonism lies at the root of all political combinations that ever have been or ever can be formed. The elements on which they rest, whether in monarchies, aristocracies, or in republics, are but three, not one of which can be wanting, or society falls to ruin. The course of human destiny is ever a rope of three strands.

One party may found itself on things as they are, and strive for their unaltered perpetuity; this is conservatism, always appearing wherever established interests exist, and never capable of unmingled success, because finite things are ceaselessly in motion.

Another may be based on theoretic principles, and struggle unrelentingly to conform society to the absolute law of Truth and Justice; and this, though it kindle the purest enthusiasm, can likewise never perfectly succeed, because the materials of which society is composed partake of imperfection, and to extirpate all that is imperfect would lead to the destruction of society itself.

And there may be a third, which seeks to reconcile the two, but which yet can never thrive by itself, since it depends for its activity on the clashing between the fact and the higher law.

Without all the three, the fates could not spin their thread. As the motions of the solar world require the centripetal force, which, by itself alone, would consolidate all things in one massive confusion; the centrifugal force, which, if uncontrolled, would hurl the planets on a tangent into infinite space; and lastly, that reconciling adjustment, which preserves the two powers in harmony; so society always has within itself the elements of conservatism, of absolute right, and of reform...".
George Bancroft, 1854

10 November 2003

Nails in Bush's Coffin 

If Libertarian support of a Democratic candidate isn’t enough to convince you that W can be defeated in 2004, here are two more groups rallying around the anti-Bush flag: ex-Nader voters and moderate Republicans. For my friends on the right still drunk on the President’s alleged tax cuts, here’s a sobering look at the American economy. Finally, this just in from the pictures speak louder than words department.

09 November 2003

Happy 67th Birthday, Bob 

Since the beginning of the Dean insurgency, there has been speculation about who he might choose as a running mate in the general election. My own idle speculation has always led to the conclusion that Dean will pick an “inside the beltway” Southern moderate for VP (although prior to his disintegration in the polls, I assumed it would be General Wes Clark). It looks like the Governor does have a similar strategy, according to the Associated Press:

“Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean said Tuesday that retiring Florida Sen. Bob Graham would be on his short list for vice president. ‘The truth is that I told Bob Graham the day he made his decision to drop out that he was on the short list and he is on the short list,’ Dean said. Graham, who bowed out of the Democratic presidential race a month ago and said Monday he would not seek re-election to a fourth Senate term, has not ruled out accepting a vice presidential role.”

As a Floridian, I can tell you from first hand experience that Bob Graham is a typical moderate Democrat (whether that is a compliment or criticism is a judgment I leave for you to make). His popularity has been fairly high since 1978… hell, even I may have voted for him once. What Bob Graham would bring to the Dean campaign table would be experience – twenty years in state government and almost that long on the Hill – and a bridge between the radical grassroots (us) and the Democratic Party leadership. As President of the Senate, Graham’s participation in the New Democrat and Centrist coalitions could be helpful in negotiating bipartisan support for Dean’s agenda. All in all, this makes him an attractive, if conservative, choice… and the Democrats need to win Florida.

Now to a more important question: what would a Yale-Harvard ticket mean for the Ivy Conference?

07 November 2003

Libertarian Literacy 

I recently received an email from a Dean supporter who, like countless other Americans, is becoming less and less satisfied with the direction the Democratic Party is taking under the “leadership” of Terry McAuliffe. When chatting with her further, she asked me what books she should read to learn more about Libertarianism. On the very same day, I got another email from an independent bookstore owner who was wondering if I’d mind linking to his site. If that isn’t a sign from the heavens to post an L&P reading list, I don’t know what is.

First and foremost, I believe that every American has a patriotic duty to be familiar with our founding documents, especially the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Some left-wing ideologues are quick to dismiss these works as the irrelevant ramblings of rich white slaveholders; thankfully, it is my Constitutional right to call those people idiots. Now for the list:

Perhaps the best introduction to the LP perspective is Libertarianism: A Primer by David Boaz of the Cato Institute, considered by many to be our Little Red Book. Also good is Libertarianism in One Lesson by David Bergland, who came in third behind Reagan and Mondale in the 1984 presidential race. For a better understanding of libertarian fiscal policy, I highly recommend Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt (which was written first). Most Libertarians would also insist that I include the works of Ayn Rand in this list, particularly her novel Atlas Shrugged, but I’ve always preferred Heinlein so I’m not going to.

That should do for a start, as those books should provide enough information to dispel the myth that Libertarians are just “Republicans who smoke pot”. If you are interested in learning more about my own peculiar worldview, which obviously deviates somewhat from the party line, then I suggest reading the grossly underappreciated Right Where You Are Sitting Now by Robert Anton Wilson. Or just stay tuned.

06 November 2003

A Confederate Yankee in King W’s Court 

Unless you live in a cave or the White House, you’ve probably heard that Howard Dean said something to somebody about a confederate flag. Talking heads from the left, right, and center have babbled nearly non-stop about “the controversy”, but the signal to noise ratio has been so low that many Americans just don’t understand what all the fuss is about.

We’ll go through this quickly, I promise. In his address to the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean said, “White folks in the South who drive pick-up trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back ought to be voting with us because their kids don't have health insurance either, and their kids need better schools too.” Even someone educated in a Southern public school understands what the good doctor meant by that statement… except, perhaps, for his race baiting opponents trying to salvage their campaigns from the dustbin of history. There. That’s the controversy.

Now on to a more important question: why the heck is a Democrat wasting his time in the South? A quick glance at the electoral map proves this to be a superfluous strategy. If the Democratic nominee is victorious in the twenty states (plus the District of Columbia) that Gore won in 2000 – which all went to Clinton twice, by the way – then he is just ten electoral votes shy of the majority needed to win the presidency. The margin of victory could come from Missouri, or Ohio, or Nevada and West Virginia, or from Florida (which, as we say, is south of the South). And there you have it, 21 out of 50 equals a new Democratic President, popular vote be damned.

So why, then, is Dean courting white voters with rebel flags on their pick-ups (if you can call trying to strike up a conversation with someone who doesn’t like you “courting”)? In part, because it is an excellent political tactic… he may not need the South to win the general election, but the South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia primaries all come early. If the “northeastern liberal” has an unexpectedly strong showing in the Bible Belt after delivering a one-two punch in Iowa and New Hampshire, then it could be a free ride for Dean through Super Tuesday. But I think there’s more to it than that, something called idealism. Here’s Howard’s real motivation, from later in the same speech:

“This party needs to be about changing America, because only by changing America will we win back the White House.

I want a party that stands unashamedly for equal rights for all Americans.

I want a party that stands unashamedly for health care for every single American.

I want a party that stands unashamedly for balanced budgets and taking care of poor kids and voting together and healing the divides instead of expressing the divides and exploiting them the way the Republican Party has so shamelessly done since 1968.”

Will this attract the good ol’ boy vote? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is for certain – Doctor Dean ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie.

04 November 2003

The Illness Spreads... 

As most of my readers are surely aware, I have succumbed to a dangerous mental illness: I actually believe the words coming out of a politician’s mouth. During an election year. And he's a Democrat.

In short, I suffer from Dean addiction.

Symptoms of this dreaded disease include masochistic tendencies (such as feelings of intense joy at the thought of tax increases), narcissism (the notion that your vote actually matters), and hallucinations (including visions of a conscientious objector defeating a popular sitting President during a time of war). In extreme cases, “Deaniacs” – as the afflicted are called – are known to experience physical deformities, such as this poor victim.

I tried to get help. I sought the opinions of level-headed conservatives who could give me a fair and balanced perspective on my condition. I asked them, “Who is Howard Dean?” Their response was like a cold shower: “An Ultra-Liberal On Social Issues Who Is Out Of The Mainstream And Wrong For America.”

Although Republicans seldom show sympathy towards addicts, I knew that tough love was necessary to break my Dean dependence, so I allowed them to continue:

“Dean believes… that there should be a national law conferring the legal benefits of marriage on homosexual couples.” “A plurality of Americans oppose civil unions and a majority do not approve of legal marriage for homosexuals.”

“Howard Dean champions universal health care patched together with a government-supported program to guarantee health insurance for the young, prescription benefits for the elderly and insurance support for small-business employees.” “He admits that universal health coverage ‘can’t be done without eliminating the president’s tax cuts.’”

Shaken and shaking, I tried to make sense of it all. Dean is willing to stand up for equal rights, even if doing so is politically unpopular? Like Johnson did in 1964? Like that Republican guy on the five dollar bill? Dean wants to provide every American with health care, but he doesn’t want to create a giant Communist bureaucracy? And he wants rich people to help pay for it? Rather than answer my questions, my counselors continued:

“Dean disagrees with Kerry, Lieberman, Edwards, and Gephardt on the bipartisan education reform law. Dean repeatedly criticizes the No Child Left Behind Act, which he calls a ‘terrible mistake.’”

“Dean is campaigning on the claim that he will bring a balanced budget to Washington, and he supported the 1995 attempt to create a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. But Lieberman, Kerry, and Gephardt each voted against balanced budget legislation.”

Now I was really confused, in a state of shock and awe. I thought Dean was a crazy northeastern liberal… he challenged Congressional Democrats on their tax and spend policies? He’s against invasive federal control and unfunded mandates? He thinks teachers know more about educating our children than career politicians do?

I could hear no more. I fled that Grand Old Party and found a quiet place to sit and think for a while. Then I realized something:

I think I need a doctor. I think this country does too.

Standard disclaimer: these are my opinions, and no one's paying me to share them.
If you'd like to share yours, feel free to drop me a line or find me at Chat For America.

The Law Is For All