Sunday, November 27, 2005

Latter-Day Libertarians

I spent a little bit of time over this Thanksgiving weekend, amongst my other dubious activities, participating in a comment thread in a blog written by the chairman of the Libertarian Party for the county in which I live. Now, I always knew that "libertarian" wasn't a good description of me. But I'm finding out that the reasons why not are changing. I don't, of course, know how typical of LP folk nationally the Indiana LP crew might be. It's probably safe to say, though, that "this is not your father's Libertarian Party."

Your Father's Libertarian Party was easily caricatured. Think back to high school. The chess club guys, taking a break to exegete Ayn Rand. How far could it be pushed? Maybe you didn't need any laws at all -- just a requirement (enforced how? one wondered) that he or she who injures another must make restitution. Money solves everything. What were the details of how the private-enterprise, freely-competing police departments, fire departments, and armies would work? Private networks of roads? People could debate -- without end -- whether any of these ideas would hold water, rationally, or not. One thing was certain, though: they would never be tried out. Your typical LP candidate for public office would attract a share of the vote that tended to trade somewhere in the sub-one-percent range. The thing had its own special charm, regardless. You could be quite sure that every LP candidate had a "day job" -- none of them were public-trough leeches. You could be rather sure that no sleazy corporate or union buyers of access and influence were lining their pockets, or their miniature campaign warchests. Why in the world would you want to even try to buy a libertarian? It wasn't as if they were ever going to be elected to anything. And so the LP enjoyed the presumptive cleanliness of powerlessness.

For some months now, I have been reading a fair amount of the online writings of the LP folks who participate in this thread. (Mr. Enders is the treasurer of the Allen County LP; Mr. Kole is a candidate for the Indiana LP's nomination for secretary of state.) And I've noticed how much like old-school conservative Republicans they sound. I took the occasion of this thread to inquire about this trend. Mr. Kole, in particular, provided some interesting replies:


Glad you brought up the fact that I am among the moderate-sounding Libertarians here in Indiana. Consider two things to see why I take a moderate, incremental approach.

1. Since we are on the subject of schools, consider the reaction of the average parent. Say he has four kids, aged 7-14. The Libertarian extreme or endpoint position is that public schools should be abolished tomorrow and replaced with private schools only.

He hears this and he rushes to help a Republican or Democrat. It is important to consider why this is the logical, rational thing for him to do.

Most parents do not have significant savings, sadly. Most parents have an entitlement mentality that includes the expectation of public schools. Having to pay for private education might cost $10k per child. The Libertarian endpoint position means an immediate cost of $40k you him for several years to come. He HAS TO work against the Libertarian candidate.

2. Think of the spectrum of economic thought, from left to right. On the left (but extreme furthest left), you have the Democrats. Somwhere in the middle, you have the Republicans. The Libertarian extreme is on the far right.

It is understood that speaking fiscal conservatism will not appeal to the left. So, the opportunity for Libertarian candidates to appeal to their potential voters can result in a divide of voters at a range determined by the dialogue.

If the Libertarian and Republican are as far away as possible, the best the Libertarian can do is split those voters in half.

If the Libertarian position is very close to the Republicans, but slightly more fiscally conservative, the Libertarian stands to take all of the voters more extreme than the position taken, and split the rest of the fiscal conservatives in half.

In reality, many fiscal conservatives conclude that the extreme Libertarian position is either unwinnable or untennable, so they vote Republican.

The bargaining position of the Libertarian candidate, such as myself, improves dramatically if trying to discredit Republicans as fiscal conservatives when I take a position such as 'cut the budget 1%'. It puts gneuine pressure on the Republicans to actually meet that objective, for if they can't even cut 1%, their base finally knows it can't count on the GOP to do anything with their majorities. If I was taking a cut 50% approach, they don't have to respond to me at all. They can dismiss me as a dreamer, tinfoil hat wearer, etc.

I like the Libertarian philosophers to take extreme positions. That is the role of the editorial writer.

Libertarian candidates have taken extreme positions for over 30 years, and have less than 1% nationally to show for it. Here in Indiana, we have been increasingly choosing not to fulfill Einstein's definition of insanity, but rather, are taking a different approach, because as we have seen, if policy is to be an all-or-nothing proosition, we will get nothing. 30 years of proof back me up.

This business of "endpoint positions" is interesting. Mr. Kole is running for secretary of state (within the LP, so far). Let us suppose he's out campaigning for this position, some October, in a general election season. He makes a proposal: cut the state budget by 15%. You, as a truly informed voter, have read the blog thread I've been writing about. Now, as "Dirty Harry" Callahan of movie fame might put it, you have to ask yourself a question. I've heard his words ... but I don't know what he's thinking. Does he really want to cut the budget by 15%? Or does he really want to cut it by 95%, but just doesn't want me to know that?

There's a technical term for a man who talks ... but talks so that his listener can't know what he thinks based on what he says. That term is "professional politician." You know ... careerist, "position-taking" (not "belief-holding"), technocratic, spin-doctoring politico. Just like a real, big-league, Democrat or Republican politician.

Why does Mr. Kole advocate this approach? Because, he says, it works.

Hmmmmm. I think there are a couple of problems with the LP Of Today model. First, I don't think it will work. Integrity might have been an LP distinctive. Once it's tossed, LP candidates are simply Demo or GOP wannabes. Given a choice between an ersatz Republican and the genuine article, why not vote for the real one, whose commercials are bound to be slicker anyway, and who might leave you with the warm fuzzy feeling of having Voted For A Winner? Secondly, quaint though it might seem, obtaining success by being less than forthcoming is, well, wrong. What does it profit a man, one might ask, to gain even a seat in the Mighty U.S. Congress, and lose his own soul?

Well, in any case, I hope my fellow blogger Mr. Sylvester is successful in his bid for a school board seat. I'm sure his constituents would be better served by him than by his freespending incumbent opposition. But I do think that all the local LP troops might want to consider the possibility that they'll wake up one of these days and discover that they have become, or have returned to being, Republicans -- by a different name.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Bipartisan Project

In case anyone thinks that anyone in either of the Major Brand Parties, having any realistic shot at the presidency, has been made queasy about Our Glorious World-Molding Imperial Project, check this out. Here we have a cuddly darling of the Donkey Caucus, "Uncle" Joe Lieberman, airing his views on the proper course of action. Chiming in is the Doubled-Letter Queen of Progressive Elephants, Condoleezza Rice. Big surprise: they disagree about essentially nothing.

Lieberman, a senior Democrat from Connecticut, said Iraqis are striving to "put the nightmare of Saddam Hussein behind them," but still need U.S. help.

"They are making progress, but they are not where they need to be yet and that's what we have to help them to do before we can leave," he said.

"The cost of successfully completing our mission here will be large in terms of American lives lost and money spent, but the cost of failure here would be catastrophic for us in the U.S. and for the Iraqis, of course -- and I believe for the entire Middle East.

"And that's why we are going to continue to be here until we get to the point where the Iraqis can take it forward on their own, and I think we are making progress in that direction."

Which mission is that, Senator? Which of the interminable reasons that Dear Leader gave for the destruction of Iraq must be successfully fulfilled, and how is that fulfillment to be defined? Well, Kosher Joe isn't specific ... but he does give us a hint: the business about "the entire Middle East." In his world, it seems that those damn dirty Ay-rabs are just going to have to face the fact that what's good for the Likud Party will be defined, at the point of the U.S. sword, as being good for them, too.

And then there's the ever-astute "Condi," who's clearly been to Dilbert's Pointy-Haired Boss Management School:

"I suspect that the American forces are not going to be needed in the numbers that they are there for that much longer," Rice said in an interview with CNN's John King.

U.S. forces in Iraq number about 155,000. The base level for American troops is 138,000, but the force was boosted to provide additional security for next month's Iraqi elections.

Gee, how much time is "not that much longer," Mizzz Rice? I mean, one could describe the entirety of recorded human history as "not that long" by geological time scales. How many decades are we talking about? Could you be a little more numerically specific?

Rice told CNN that Casey and the Iraqi government "are working from goals that they would like to train 'X' number of Iraqi forces by 'Y' time frame."

"They do have those metrics, and they review them every day, and from time to time, the president gets a chance to review them," Rice said. "But again, the numbers will not tell the whole story. The issue is, what are the Iraqis capable of doing, and they are capable of doing more and more."

Well, what the hell ... we didn't get numbers, but at least we got some Idiot Algebra, plus some high-grade management gibberish (metrics ... metrics ... I love it!). One thing's for sure: we got a whole barrelful of Stay the Course.

I don't want to sound overly pessimistic, though, on the day before Thanksgiving. I'm pretty sure U.S. forces won't be in Mesopotamia another decade. I mean, consider: in 1967, you didn't hear Lyndon Johnson or his minions talking about cutting losses and leaving; but the last helicopter left Saigon only eight years later. I don't know if the Iraqis are as tough as the Vietnamese were, or not; but even if they aren't, quite, I can at least hope that Mr. and Mrs. America aren't going to sign up for a draft and 58,000 killed. I can at least hope.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Another America-Hater Exposed

The list of objectively-pro-terror America-haters continues to grow. Now we're told that it includes a retired colonel and high-ranking State Department bureaucrat:

Retired U.S. Army Col. Larry Wilkerson, who served as former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, told CNN that the practice of torture may be continuing in U.S.-run facilities.

"There's no question in my mind that we did. There's no question in my mind that we may be still doing it," Wilkerson said on CNN's "Late Edition."

"There's no question in my mind where the philosophical guidance and the flexibility in order to do so originated -- in the vice president of the United States' office," he said. "His implementer in this case was [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld and the Defense Department."

At another point in the interview, Wilkerson said "the vice president had to cover this in order for it to happen and in order for Secretary Rumsfeld to feel as though he had freedom of action."

You know, since we've been assured by Our Forceful, Straight-Shooting Wartime President that "we do not torture," I have wondered once or twice why the McCain amendment, which says that it's illegal for us to torture, is resisted so fiercely. In the same story, my question is answered:

Proposed by Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who was tortured as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, the amendment was approved in the Senate last month by a 90-9 vote. It was not included in the House version of the bill.

The White House has said that Bush would likely veto the bill if McCain's language is included, calling the amendment "unnecessary and duplicative."

Ahhhhh, I see now. Our Stern and Resolute Squinter and Rassler With Pretzels has presided over five years of federal spending that has grown like yeast on steroids, but has never once vetoed anything. What is it that inspires him to shuck out the veto pen? "Unnecessary and duplicative." And no, of course we're not operating any international black franchise chain of torture prisons. I've got my mind right; I just love Big Brother. But retired Colonel Wilkerson, being the America-hater that he so obviously is, still indulges in crimethink:

While he acknowledged having no proof that the United States is torturing detainees, Wilkerson said, "I can only assume that, when the vice president of the United States lobbies the Congress on behalf of cruel and unusual punishment and the need to be able to do that in order to get information out of potential terrorists... that it's still going on."

Finally: Wilkerson and the other thought-criminals can just stop worrying their little heads about torture. We have it straight from the horse's ... well, from one end or the other of the horse, anyway:

Bush administration officials, including Rumsfeld and military officials, have denied that instances of torture were ever officially condoned. Some personnel accused of torture have been convicted and sentenced for prisoner abuse.

"All the instructions I issued required humane treatment," Rumsfeld told ABC. "Anything that was done that was not humane has been prosecuted."

There must have been a lot of trials, and I somehow missed out on the news. I thought the list of the prosecuted was pretty much limited to the Campus Couple of Abu Ghraib, Charles Graner and Lynndie England -- with, of course, a career-limiting demotion for Janis Karpinski. But clearly, many of those PUC-f--kers must already have answered to the law, and to the Bush regime's well-known revulsion to the very idea of prisoner abuse. Rii-i-i-i-i-ight.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Rep. Murtha! You Got Some 'Splainin' to Do!

I see in the Chicago Tribune that both Dear Leader and his minions are quite vexed with Congressman John Murtha over his suggestion that the American military be withdrawn from Iraq in six months. In describing Murtha's proposal, various minions seem to be alternating between the "retreat" and "surrender" formulations. Really, the junta should get its act together and impose some minion standardization and discipline; by failing to do so, it seems to me that they send the altogether wrong message to the tur'r'sts.

The mighty warrior Scott McClellan, chief White House Publicity Hack, truly put the smackdown on Murtha, all the way from the mysterious Orient:

In Pusan, South Korea, White House Spokesman Scott McClellan said Murtha's announcement is "baffling" and compared his position to that of liberal filmmaker Michael Moore and the "extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party."

"The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists," McClellan said. "After seeing his statement, we remain baffled--nowhere does he explain how retreating from Iraq makes America safer."

Safer than what, one might ask; some national condition, produced by the efforts of the War Party, in which we might again be able to travel by air without being anally probed by aggressive, empowered cretins? But never mind ... Vice-Emperor Dick "You'll Have to Go F--k Yourself, I Have Other Priorities" Cheney also has things to say to Rep. Murtha:

"The suggestion that's been made by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city," Cheney said.

Murtha, who won a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, responded by witheringly comparing his own military service with Cheney's lack of wartime experience.

"I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there," Murtha said. "I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

One must, I think, suspect that the congressman is being sarcastic here. My guess would be that he really doesn't "like that" at all.

Of course, I would agree that Rep. Murtha has "got some 'splainin' to do." The news story does tell us that he's been in Congress since 1974 and describes him as a "hawk" on defense issues, so he's complicit in the existence and so-frequent use of the U.S.'s huge standing army (and navy, and so forth), against which the Founders warned us repeatedly. And he admits that he voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq. He doesn't exactly say this, but I infer that his claim would be that he supported the invasion on the basis of Saddam's apparently-mythical W's of MD -- deceived by all that doctored intelligence. Well, to him and all the other newly-antiwar folk, I ask: how is it that even I -- a mere mushroom in flyover country, who never sees any intelligence data at all, honest or otherwise -- how is it that even I knew, from the start, that the U.S. had no business invading Iraq? Then, answering my own question: it was easy. Iraq didn't invade any U.S. territory, nor did it threaten to do so. That was true in 1991; it was true in 2003; and it is true of many, many countries today. (All of them, in fact.) This isn't difficult to see; if it were, I wouldn't be able to see it.

Mr. Murtha, if you've actually changed your mind in any really fundamental way, you should say so. I'm pretty sure you haven't; I'm pretty sure you're simply assessing which side of that moistened finger you're holding up in the breeze is cooler. You don't deserve another term in Congress, and I hope you don't get one.

Mssrs. McClellan, Bush, Cheney, Hastert, and others too numerous to mention here: words are inadequate. You'd look just great standing blindfolded against a bloody and pockmarked wall sometime after the revolution. I don't think it will happen ... but it'd sure be sweet.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Evil Saddam Used Chemical Weapons Against Iraqis

Certainly, the U.S., God's own chosen nation, never used any chemical weapons against Iraqis.

Oh, wait, maybe we did.

But obviously, we didn't use WP on any civilians. Just insurgents.

What do you want to bet that it turns out that any and every burnt-up Fallujan is defined, for purposes of the Holy War on Terror, as an "insurgent?" Even if they look like old grandpaws and grannies and little kids. That accursed insurgency and its devilish recruiting practices!

By the way, we do not torture, either, in those black facilities we've been hearing about. This forceful statement from Dear Leader is no doubt true -- assuming you're using the correct definition of "torture." Torture is what Saddam and his operatives did. What we do is coercive interrogation. Not the same thing at all.

Well, that's all cleared up, then. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. If you know what's good for you, that is.

Monday, November 14, 2005

War Party Intramurals

El Presidente's National Security Adviser is a young-looking fellow named Stephen Hadley. He's been defending his boss lately:

Hadley said the intelligence Bush used for those arguments "was roughly the same intelligence that the Clinton administration saw."

"They drew the conclusion that Saddam Hussein was a threat to peace, that he had weapons of mass destruction. They acted against him militarily in 1998," Hadley said, referring to the administration of Bill Clinton, a Democrat.

Leaving aside the amusement value of a Republican operative defending Republican actions on the grounds that they are the same thing the Democrats had also been doing, Mr. Hadley's words are also useful for underlining the fraudulent nature of the simulated conflict between the Elephant and Donkey wings of the War Party. He's right: Imperial war policy really is perfectly bipartisan. The ferociously warlike words of Mr. Kerry, during the 2004 campaign, and of Howard Dean, since taking over the Donkey Caucus, are two good examples of the Unholy Alliance. I've heard Elephant partisans demand assent that it surely was a good thing that when 9-11 came around, Al Gore had not been elected; and I've heard Donkey Caucus folk say the opposite: that Mr. Gore would not have presided over Bush's gory and futile war. I'm reasonably sure, though, that if Mr. Gore had become the Emperor in 2000, pretty much exactly the same thing would have happened. Just blank out the names in the news stories, and it becomes nearly impossible to tell which beast, the pachyderm of the jackass, was triumphant the last time Americans held their civic charade of futility.

Mr. Hadley again:

"We need to put this debate behind us," he said. "It's unfair to the country. It's unfair to the men and women in uniform risking their lives to make this country safe."

I notice that, in his photo on the CNN site, Mr. Hadley looks relatively youthful and fit. In fact, he'd look very good in desert camo. He could show some fairness to those "young men and women" by taking the place of some lucky soldier.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Armistice Day

On November 11, 1918, while the English church bells were ringing out in celebration of what would be known as Armistice Day, Wilfred Owen's parents received the news that their son had been killed in the war, in France, one week earlier. Owen wrote this poem in 1917; it was published in 1920, two years after his death.

Armistice Day was designated to honor the dead of "The Great War." Later, we decided that we liked war so much we'd have to start numbering the mega-wars of the 20th century. Today, of course, is "Veterans Day" (yes, officially spelled with no apostrophe in this post-literate age). The reason is clear. The dead of WWI don't vote, but lots of veterans do. And those to whom we give the power to designate "Days" are nothing if not vote-whores.

But let's hear from a veteran; let's hear from someone who knew war from firsthand experience:

= = = = = = = = = =

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

= = = = = = = = = =

God help us.

Lying Whom Into War?

I see where Dear Leader plans to mouth yet another oh-so-forceful campaign speech today. Campaign for what, you ask? It doesn't seem long since the Wee Emperor grunted at us all that his brief "accountability moment" had come and gone about this time last year. Why should he now feel the need to favor us, his lowly subjects, with yet another idiot's simulation of a justification? And yet, he will speak, we're told, to a (no doubt carefully-screened) collection of subjects in Pennsylvania, about the dastardly slurs being cast upon him by "some Democratic leaders." By the time you read this, Dear Leader's masterful oration will no doubt be over, and we'll be spared his squinting visage and truculent-moron delivery for another day or two.

But those "Democratic leaders" ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves too, as should a large, large majority of the American people. No doubt, Bush and his handlers were quite willing to "lie us into war" with Iraq. No doubt, they told all the lies they could toward that end. But one has to ask: what lying was needed to get the dear American pee-pul to buy into invading Iraq, back in those heady days in early 2003? Let's face it: America was high on bloodlust and commercial jingoism (Toby Keith, anyone? "Shock and Y'all?"), and didn't care in the least whether Saddam Hussein had a few crates of chemical artillery shells sitting around or not. No, we were the World's Only Superpower, and we were too busy sending each other cheesy e-mail humor about how those poor stupid towelheads were going to be dining on bombs-bombs-bombs to be judiciously weighing the provenance and credibility of the WMD "intelligence." I'm faintly tempted (very faintly) to sympathize with George Dubya Slowpuppy about how he's now being scapegoated by war cheerleaders who were very, very much on the bandwagon a few years back. On second thought, screw him. But the scapegoaters ought to bear their own guilt. As should everybody who ever Supported The War and Supported The Troops in any form or fashion. How about we support the victims, instead?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Doctrinaire Solutions

I teach a general physics course for engineering-technology students at the joint regional campus of Indiana University and Purdue University two evenings per week. Every now and then you get a student who is such a high-caliber person that you just can't say "no" to him or her. Nathan was such a student of mine, last year, and so when he came around recruiting a couple of months ago, I of course said "yes." He's the president of the local chapter of Phi Kappa Theta, which is a sort of honor society and service organization, and he wanted people to be on a local discussion panel that is satellite-linked to a national version of the same. I agreed to be a panelist in the fifth discussion of the series, and so last night I attended the fourth discussion, just to get warmed up.

The big national speaker was Dr. Juliet Schor, a sociologist from Boston College and the author of Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture. She's a good speaker, and presented some fairly horrifying data concerning the amount of media exposure kids are getting these days and the social, economic, and cultural impact of that exposure; and she had a number of ideas about possible mitigations of those impacts. Some of those ideas were great (pre-empt media time with family/outdoor/creative time, sharply limit TV, have nutritionally-sound family meals in your home); and one or two I was skeptical of (mostly government limitation or prohibition of advertising of particular categories of things to particular categories of people). A good speaker and a solid thinker.

The local panel was six people, five of whom were women and four of whom were nurses (the faculty adviser for the local Phi Theta Kappa chapter is on the nursing-school faculty, and she tends to recruit panelists from close to home, I think). They kicked the topic around for a while, mostly in personal and practical ways. I would not want to stereotype, but it was pretty much a "women's" conversation, rich in anecdotes about their children and grandchildren and how they had encountered and resisted commercialization of these kids, and the increasing difficulty of doing so effectively. As the allotted time ran out, a man in the audience claimed the floor. He was maybe a few years older than me, and he was tense. I've been sitting here listening this whole time, he said with an angry voice, and not one person on this panel has said one word about curtailing the power of corporations. You've been talking and talking about parents' responsibilities, and what you can do at home, but that's not going to change anything. What has to be done is for everyone to organize politically! He went on for a couple of minutes in the good, old-fashioned Popped-Forehead-Veins Marxist style that you seldom hear any more (this side of Havana or Pyongyang, at least). It made me ... well, not angry, exactly, but irritated; I think mostly because he was barking unpleasantly at a handful of women who did not seem to be enjoying it, and I would have thought that elementary politeness would call for a little more measured tone. But it got me to thinking.

Assuming that we would agree that the commercialization of childhood is a problem -- and I suppose most all of us would agree -- I had just been listening to the classic Left remedy: empower our supervisors, our Dear Leaders, to curtail the modes and content of the communication available to the evildoers. A decade or so ago, I would have given the classic Right answer: the magic of the marketplace will right all wrongs and adjust all malfunctions, if only it is left completely free to operate as it will. And those two represent your two basic doctrinaire approaches to pretty much every question. It occurs to me that they have one important idea in common: that there are positions occupied only by Good People. My Red Guard fellow audience member has faith that only good men get to occupy high public office, and the ne'er-do-wells are all on the Wal-mart board of directors. Had we heard from a Young Republican, he'd have said that the good guys are all in Wal-mart top management, and the scoundrels are all infesting public office. But both believe in good guys.

I don't have a solution that I feel very good about; I suppose I'd favor some form of the shield-your-children-and-muddle-through approach. Advertisers don't exactly have (completely) free speech now, and probably don't deserve it ... but I also don't want our glorious supervisors to get any greater powers of limiting their speech, because they'll end up limiting mine. But not having to pretend to have a totally-effective, ideologically-pure solution is ... sort of liberating, in itself.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

"Star Trek" Android Guard Torture

Maybe it's just because it's the end of the day. No doubt, I'm thickheaded. But I just don't get this.


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican congressional leaders said Tuesday they are asking committees to investigate the possible leak of classified information about secret U.S. prisons for suspected terrorists overseas.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert said the disclosure, first reported last week in The Washington Post, could damage national security. Hastert, R-Illinois, and Frist, R-Tennessee, have asked the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees to look into the origin of the disclosure.

"If accurate, such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences, and will imperil our efforts to protect the American people and our homeland from terrorist attacks," the lawmakers wrote in a letter requesting the investigation.

The Post reported November 2 that top al Qaeda suspects were being held for questioning "at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe" and other locations around the world.

Hmmmm. So, whoever leaked the obviously false word that we're holding people in secret, recycled-East-bloc CIA torture prisons somehow endangered national security, even though there's no truth to it. Right. I guess I'd better keep quiet, then, about the squadrons of secret space alien UFOs that the gummint is operating out of Area 51. I don't want to endanger any national security. I don't want Senator Frist and Congressperson Hastert investigating me (to say nothing of Emperor Palpatine!).

President Bush, while in Panama on Monday, said flatly, "We do not torture."

Okay, that's clear enough. Never mind those Abu Ghraib photos. You didn't really see those, and neither did I. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain -- I AM THE GREAT AND POWERFUL OZ!!! Alrighty, then. That settles that. Ten-four, good buddy.

The GOP leaders' move comes as the White House tries to oppose a Senate-approved measure that explicitly bars "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of prisoners in U.S. custody.

The White House has threatened to veto a $440 billion Pentagon spending bill if it includes that measure, which is backed by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, a onetime prisoner of war who was tortured by his North Vietnamese captors.

So, let's see. There aren't any secret CIA torture prisons in former East bloc territory, so just shut up about them, lest you imperil National Security. And we do not torture, so it would be just awful if the Senate forbade us to torture.

I think I saw something like this several times in the old, original "Star Trek" TV series. Isn't this where the bad guy's android guards are supposed to blow up under the unbearable pressure of logical contradiction? Lay off, Mr. Spock! My circuits are overheating already!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The advantage of infrequent posting ...

... is that you can be gone for a few days, and probably nobody notices. But in case anyone wonders, I'll be camped out with the boys from the day job this weekend. And assuming that no one brings along a notebook machine with some sort of wireless connectivity, I shall certainly be silent until Sunday late, at least.

Have fun -- I plan to!

Alito: Happy Now?

My reader (oh yes! how I love my tiny group of readers!) Grace asked, by way of a comment she was kind enough to leave on the previous post, whether I was made happy by Dear Leader's recent substitution of one S. Alito for one H. Miers, as a candidate backup vocalist on The Supremes. And while I'm sure Grace -- may she live forever, and may you immediately go and read her excellent blogs, Scriptoids and The Next Blog Blog -- did not mean it as such, her question actually represents two temptations. One is the temptation to inflict yet another blog post on the world, and that's a temptation to which I instantly surrendered in my inimitable, round-heeled fashion. The other I will resist: that's the temptation to a results-oriented utilitarianism. And, although no one has asked me to, I will explain myself.

The "conservative" part of the Republican Party is officially upset about legal abortion, along with a variety of other court decisions. But, for purposes of discussion, we can usefully sum up the conservative Republican dissatisfaction with high-level federal jurisprudence in one word: Roe. I stress the "official" nature of conservative Republican opposition to Roe, because -- as I have suggested here before -- a perpetual source of red-meat political pornography by which its base can be powerfully motivated is quite useful to the Republican Party, especially when the babies-who-aren't-around are disproportionately black. But, taking them at their not-especially-reliable word, the Republican right doesn't like Roe.

But their strategy for getting rid of Roe has been an unprincipled one; rather than address the structural problem of the judicial branch of government making a half-hearted pretense of finding "emanations from penumbras" that allegedly say things that the plain text of the constitution obviously does not say -- such as a prohibition on the several states from legislating against abortion -- they propose to leave a structural tyranny in place, but to man that structure with the "right" people. Various Republican presidents have been elected to do that since 1980, with the result that we've seen: practically all the Supremes put there by presidents who made the "strict constructionist" noises, and Roe still in effect, with zero apparent probability of overturn. I can think of a couple of explanations for this -- and both are attractive. We could assume that the Republicans are well-meaning dunces, unable to accomplish a task that they have sincerely tried to do: the Stupid Party theory. Or, we could conclude that the Republicans, who have proven adept enough at doing what they actually want to do, such as Mexicanizing the American economy to the great advantage of corporate management, are simply content that Roe should remain "the law of the land." I tend to favor the latter theory, in spite of its overtones of tinfoil headgear. Neither explanation, however, should inspire pro-life Americans to vote for the elephants. Been there, done that, didn't work worth a damn.

If Roe were overturned tomorrow, with the result that the question of legal abortion simply returned to the states, where it belongs, I wouldn't be especially thrilled. That would, I think, have made a real difference in 1974 or so, when people could actually remember from their own experience that the pre-1973 alleys did not, in fact, run red with blood, and that one could easily walk down the street without tripping over discarded straightened-out coat hangers. I was there; I know. But, in 2005, that memory is largely gone. I'd be extremely surprised if a single state, post-Roe, actually restored the pre-1973 status quo. So, it's difficult for me to get excited about whatever happens with the Supremes, other than to hope for an outrage so great that it starts a revolution: something like Kelo, but on steroids. The responsible part of me (and yes, I do have one) says, sure, if the Supremes were nine copies of Scalia, there'd probably be somewhat less mischief, and that would probably be good. No thrills, though ... far from it.

Besides, I don't have a solution for the truly basic problem -- more basic than the problem of a lawless judiciary, for which the Congress actually has existing constitutional remedies. The more fundamental problem is that of a central government whose powers are supposedly limited by a document, a constitution, when that same central government gets to say what that document means. That's an open-loop system: the central government is assigned the control of itself. And, even though we like to indulge ourselves with mythology about there having been a post-Revolution golden age of liberty, which gradually devolved into bureaucratic tyranny, an honest reading of U.S. history suggests that the devolution was actually quite abrupt. We had an anti-sedition law before 1800. The tyranny was certainly complete by the middle of the 19th century, when Lincoln explained in rivers of blood that the United State was essentially a prison, or the Hotel California: a place that a state could never leave. Short of an even larger river of blood, I don't see a solution.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Affront! Hooray!

So: the Democrats hijacked the U.S. Senate today. Good! In fact, it could only have been better had they managed to crash it into the Pentagon, or the White House, or run it out of fuel out over the vast ocean somewhere. But it was still good, just as it was.

Mind you, this supposedly was caused by Democrat "anger" over the lack of an investigation into falsified intelligence about Iraq and its supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction, which is just silly. I don't believe for a moment that anyone in the Donkey Caucus of the War Party is actually angry about any such thing; and to the extent that they affect to be so, they are nothing better than hypocrites and unprincipled opportunists. The fact is that the Donkey Caucus was fully on board with George the Slow in the matter of spilling a little uninvolved wog blood as post-9/11 national testosterone therapy. They underlined their co-conspirator status in 2004 by running Mr. Kerry for President on the platform that he's more warlike than the Wee Emperor, and more efficient at it, too. Therefore, I offer rude romance both to them and the horse they rode in on.

But, back to the "hijacking:" the Elephant Caucus of the War Party is also doing its best to simulate rage:

Frist said Democrats had "hijacked" the Senate, and Democrats threatened to close the chamber each day until Republicans agreed to move forward with the investigation.

"This is an affront to me personally," said Frist, a Tennessee Republican. "This is an affront to our leadership. It is an affront to the United States of America, and it is wrong."

Frist said Senate Rule 21 -- which requires everyone but senators and a few aides to clear the chamber until a majority votes to reopen -- had been invoked only rarely and with "mutual conversation" between the leaders of both parties.

Well! Apparently, Senator Frist is so intimately identified with the United State that an affront to him personally is the same thing as an affront to This Great Nation. "L'etat, c'est moi." Furthermore, invoking Rule 21 is something that's just never done without a meeting of the minds between the good buddies who run both caucuses of the War Party. It just isn't. Why, if these collegial considerations are neglected, what's to become of the good fellowship they've always enjoyed during holiday-season fact-finding junkets to the European capitals, or those comradely golf games at Congressional or Burning Tree? And how will the Senate carry on its everyday business?

The Senate's "everyday business" is almost entirely inimical to the proper interests of taxpaying Americans. The more Rule 21 hijackings and general hurt feelings interfere with it, the better off most of us are. Go, you Donkey Caucus guys, go! And you Elephant Guys: the wheel goes 'round and 'round, the cycle continues, and one of these days -- probably sooner than you imagine -- you'll be back in opposition and minority status. So watch those Donkeys and learn! You may have a use for that knowledge in days to come.