Monthly Archives: September 2010

Nolan Exposes McCain’s Antipathy for Civil Liberties in Arizona Senate Debate

David Nolan, co-founder of the Libertarian Party and author of “The World’s Smallest Political Quiz” (to which the result is plotted on the “Nolan Chart”) is running against none other than the most recent Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain for his senate seat. KTVK-3TV hosted a debate last Sunday which included Sen. McCain along with challengers Rodney Glassman (D), Jerry Joslyn (G), and David Nolan (L). Believe it or not, all candidates were given equal time to debate the issues; something that is usually missing from the debates I’m accustomed to watching.

Despite the skills of those challenging Sen. McCain – particularly the two 3rd party candidates, the latest Real Clear Politics Average Poll shows McCain with a comfortable 17.4 point lead over his closest challenger, Rodney Glassman. Critics of 3rd parties look at poll results like this and wonder “what’s the point” of allowing 3rd party candidates to participate when their chances of winning are so miniscule.

IMHO, I believe that both Nolan and Joslyn did a fine job demonstrating why 3rd party candidates should be included by raising issues, proposing solutions, and exposing the shortcomings of the two party system and the candidates themselves to voters and concerned citizens.

In the 3rd part of this debate (below), Nolan brought up a McCain sponsored bill that is most likely not on the radar of very many people: S. 3081, the “Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010.”

(Beginning at -6:14 in part 3 of the debate)

Nolan: “One of the reasons I got into this race is that right now, at this very moment Sen. McCain is a sponsor – I think the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 3081 […] a bill which would authorize the arrest and indefinite detention of American citizens without trial and without recourse. This is one of the most dangerous, evil, un-American bills that’s ever been proposed in congress and nobody who would sponsor such a bill should be sitting in a seat in the United States Senate.”

And what was Sen. McCain’s response to the charge by Nolan of sponsoring such a “dangerous, evil, un-American” bill?

McCain: “Well again, I hope that our viewers won’t judge me by the remarks just made [by Nolan], they may be a little bit biased.”

Nolan raised the issue again in his closing remarks. Sen. McCain did not respond.

Okay, fair enough. Perhaps Mr. Nolan is biased. He is trying to take his job after all. Fortunately for now at least, the average person with an internet connection can freely search and find the bill and learn of its contents. Let’s take a look and see how “biased” Mr. Nolan was and determine whether or not Arizona’s senior senator should be “judged” by the bill he is currently sponsoring.

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the ‘Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010’.

SEC. 2. PLACEMENT OF SUSPECTED UNPRIVILEGED ENEMY BELLIGERENTS IN MILITARY CUSTODY.

(a) Military Custody Requirement- Whenever within the United States, its territories, and possessions, or outside the territorial limits of the United States, an individual is captured or otherwise comes into the custody or under the effective control of the United States who is suspected of engaging in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners through an act of terrorism, or by other means in violation of the laws of war, or of purposely and materially supporting such hostilities, and who may be an unprivileged enemy belligerent, the individual shall be placed in military custody for purposes of initial interrogation and determination of status in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

(b) Reasonable Delay for Intelligence Activities- An individual who may be an unprivileged enemy belligerent and who is initially captured or otherwise comes into the custody or under the effective control of the United States by an intelligence agency of the United States may be held, interrogated, or transported by the intelligence agency and placed into military custody for purposes of this Act if retained by the United States within a reasonable time after the capture or coming into the custody or effective control by the intelligence agency, giving due consideration to operational needs and requirements to avoid compromise or disclosure of an intelligence mission or intelligence sources or methods.

“Suspected unprivileged enemy belligerent” ? No, that doesn’t sound Orwellian at all. Now let me highlight Sec. 3b3 and let you, the reader decide if any of this strikes you as “dangerous,” “evil,” or even “un-American.”

(3) INAPPLICABILITY OF CERTAIN STATEMENT AND RIGHTS- A individual who is suspected of being an unprivileged enemy belligerent shall not, during interrogation under this subsection, be provided the statement required by Miranda v. Arizona (384 U.S. 436 (1966)) or otherwise be informed of any rights that the individual may or may not have to counsel or to remain silent consistent with Miranda v. Arizona.

Talk about double speak! Such individuals are not “criminal suspects” who in our criminal justice system normally considers “innocent until proven guilty” who have Constitutionally protected rights but “suspected enemy belligerents” who are apparently assumed guilty until a high ranking official in the executive branch, or the president himself determines otherwise.

Sorry, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I haven’t even got to the most disturbing part of the bill yet – Section 5:

SEC. 5. DETENTION WITHOUT TRIAL OF UNPRIVILEGED ENEMY BELLIGERENTS.

An individual, including a citizen of the United States, determined to be an unprivileged enemy belligerent under section 3(c)(2) in a manner which satisfies Article 5 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War may be detained without criminal charges and without trial for the duration of hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners in which the individual has engaged, or which the individual has purposely and materially supported, consistent with the law of war and any authorization for the use of military force provided by Congress pertaining to such hostilities.

So here we are in 2010, Sen. McCain et al advocating giving American citizens POW status under Article 5 of the Geneva Convention as they may be “enemy belligerents” in an ill-defined and open-ended “war on terror.” The provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act which were originally supposed to be temporary but now as a practical matter, a permanent fixture of federal law, apparently don’t go far enough to dismantle what is left of the Bill of Rights.

One thing I found interesting in this debate was not only Sen. McCain’s response (or lack thereof) but also the deafening silence of his Democrat challenger who could have easily picked this issue up and ran with it if he shares Nolan’s civil liberties concerns. Could it be that Mr. Glassman would also support this bill if he were elected to replace Sen. McCain? If so, I wouldn’t be at all surprised considering that President Obama who is a member of the same political party as Glassman actually believes he can assassinate Americans without due process of any kind. Both the Obama and Bush administrations have even gone as far to say that if or when the president makes a “state’s secrets” claim, no court can even consider the legality of such cases. There’s little doubt in my mind that President Obama would sign S. 3081 into law as this would only enhance his power.

Maybe for now on we should stop referring to the first ten amendments as “The Bill of Rights” and call them “The Bill of Privileges.” This would at least be honest because rights cannot be taken away and therefore can never be “inapplicable.”

Pot Freedom: It Works!

A great story that’s a testament to the endurance of freedom, from Portugal:

In 2001, Portugal legalized all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs—including cocaine, heroin, and meth—and replaced drug sentences with offers of therapy. If that sounds a bit bleeding heart, well, it worked: In the five years following decriminalization, drug use among teenagers has dropped, as have HIV infections caused by dirty needles. More Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana. Portugal has the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over age 15, at 10 percent; 39.8 percent of Americans over the age of 12 have used marijuana.

As George Orwell put so aptly in The Road to Wigan Pier, “In the end I worked out an anarchist theory that all government is evil, that the punishment always does more harm than the crime and that people can be trusted to behave decently if only you will let them alone.” It’s no business of the state or even in the capacity of the state to brood over what people put in their body.

People have sought mind altering substances for thousands of years. Prohibiting what people will attain anyway only makes it more likely that they will encounter the harms caused by their drug of choice being a crime.

Perhaps it’s time for a little compassionate libertarianism

“It is to put conservative values and conservative ideas into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity.

“This is what I mean by compassionate conservatism. And on this ground we will govern our nation.

“We will give low-income Americans tax credits to buy the private health insurance they need and deserve.

“We will transform today’s housing rental program to help hundreds of thousands of low-income families find stability and dignity in a home of their own.

“And, in the next bold step of welfare reform, we will support the heroic work of homeless shelters and hospices, food pantries and crisis pregnancy centers people reclaiming their communities block-by-block and heart-by-heart.” - from George W. Bush’s 2000 Republican National Convention acceptance speech

True fiscal conservatives, especially libertarians, are among the most compassionate people I’ve ever met.  Time and time again I’ve witnessed the poorest of libertarians being the most generous with their money, especially when the giving process is personal and not directed through some government agency or large non-government organization. When a house burns down across the street, these are often the first people to show with food and clothing. When someone needs money for a medical calamity, these are the people who host the bake sale and pass the hat. They’ll assist in a traffic accident or help a stranger fix a flat in the pouring rain. Or give a homeless guy a few bucks. When you see that glass jar with a tattered photocopy of some local kid in need taped to it over by the checkout counter at your local mom-and-pop store, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Compassionate conservatism, at least of the variety schemed by Karl Rove and practiced by George W. Bush, has been a topic of constant ridicule from the left, libertarians, and the few fiscal conservatives with enough testicular fortitude to criticize Republican leaders for their hypocrisy regarding economic issues. True to his word,  Bush intervened in the health care, housing and welfare reform arenas, providing us with costly programs like Medicare Part D, the collapse of Freddie Mae and Freddie Mac, and problematic Faith-Based Initiatives, respectively.  And let’s not forget the federal expansion of the No Child Left Behind program or the federal intervention of the Terri Schiavo case. While these big-ticket items provide enough fodder to dismiss compassionate conservatism, there are countless additional examples of how Bush and his cronies managed equate the word “conservative” with a redistributionistic domestic policy or expansion of government.

A bit of fast forwarding provides the same general liberal and libertarian criticisms of compassionate conservatism today, but the populist mood has shifted and provided us with a Tea Party movement willing to, at least in part, take aim at the policies of the previous administration.  The Tea Party movement has also provided new fiscally conservative candidates, emboldened the few small-government conservatives holding public office, and forced others to wear a temporary, election year I-also-hate-deficit-spending-except-when-they-forced-me-to-vote-for-it cloak. For better or worse, the political landscape has certainly changed over the last couple of years.

President Obama’s election combined with a Democratic takeover of Congress led to an interesting phenomenon: An increase in the sales of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged.   All of a sudden, non-libertarians were no longer wincing when being criticized for greediness and the Tea Parties of early 2009 sported a lot of Rand-influenced signage.  During those days, I ran into a plethora of activists who could easily illustrate how individual “greed” is actually a virtue.

By the time the April 15, 2009 Tea Parties had concluded, the initially blurry composition of the movement had focused into a coalition of libertarians and fiscal conservatives with a better defined message regarding greed and compassion. Still today, there is a clear-cut and not-necessarily-defined-by-party-lines “us” and “them” — “them” being the liberals, the big-spenders, the establishment, the liberal media, elected officials, and so on.  In other words, the big-government political elite and their enablers.

In the process of defining “them,” fiscal conservatives also began to brand who the “us” are: the victims of the big-government political elite and their enablers. Populist identity politics in the Tea Party era focuses on the rights, and the votes, of people afflicted by government policies — especially redistributionistic ones. While a few people still concentrate on the Randian self-victim angle, a great deal are now concerned about how fiscal deficits will impact their children and grandchildren, how cap-and-trade legislation places arbitrary regulations on industries, and on how socialized medicine removes personal choice from large sectors of our society.

It seems that Bush’s brand of compassionate conservatism was designed primarily to win enough liberals without repulsing too many conservatives in order to win on Election Day.  This played out to three large sectors of the voting population:  It guilted the “haves” into paying for the “needs” of others, it bribed the “needy” in exchange for votes and the word “conservative” was tacked alongside socialistic policies in order to pacify other elements within the GOP.

That formula couldn’t work today because the “haves” are becoming fewer in number and those remaining are less inclined to pay taxes for either social or corporate welfare. Despite the protestations of the Mike Huckabees and Lindsey Grahams of the world, the word “conservative” is being redefined and the current incarnation deals more with fiscal than social issues.  Providing government services to classes of people in exchange for votes will always exist, but as the system continues to collapse, people have less faith in the ability of their own sector of society to continue to be the beneficiary of government largesse.

“Compassionate libertarianism” is not some policy of economic redistribution, as others have suggested in the past. It isn’t pandering for votes, although that could be a positive consequence. It doesn’t require compromising any values, therefore it isn’t oxymoronic.

“Compassionate libertarianism” is concentrating the imagery of the libertarian message towards the victims of government benevolence. It focuses on the small company forced to shut down because of ObamaCare or other tax and regulatory burdens. It illuminates a new class of unemployed as a result of Cap-and-Trade. It highlights a working family which just cut their food budget while paying for the more expensive food of people who don’t work at all. It centers our attention on the small businesses which are laying off employees while the government continues to hire.

Other examples include those suffering from collapsing roads or utility systems because government can no longer pay the bill. People being forced to purchase insurance they don’t desire. The family farm which can’t compete with the government-subsidized mega farms. The non-bailout automobile companies competing with those obtaining government cash. Someone who dies as a result of a government-influenced denial of his or her medical care. The people being looted, as opposed to the looters and beneficiaries of the looting process.

For the first time in my life, it seems that more people sympathize with the people being looted than with the looters. Maybe this is because more people are being personally impacted by our current fiscal crisis than has happened for quite some time.  And this seems to have led to additional education about our Constitution and the history of the dawning of our republic.

Perhaps this is the time to turn our country’s sympathies toward those individuals who are working hard and doing the right thing but having their property confiscated in the variety of social and corporate welfare scams being administered in D.C.

If we are going to be compassionate, let’s at least aim it at the true victims in society — the ones actually being tyrannized by our government, as opposed to the looters who receive the spoils of this economic and political war.

Back to State’s Rights: Marijuana

At the time that Brad Warbiany and I had a debate about state’s rights, I’d just come back from CPAC in Washington D.C. where there had been a mix of the really good and the really bad. I volunteered at the Campaign for Liberty booth and found three copies of anti-Abraham Lincoln books for sale. Bob McDonnell was declaring “Confederate History Month.” Reports were emanating that tea partiers had hurled racial epithets at congressmen, an accusation that from first hand contact seemed pretty believable. I was beginning to link “state’s rights” with the crusty, racist definition that George Wallace gave us.

Now that I’m back on the Left Coast, state’s rights are able to be looked at in a much different context. With a crippled economy, a fiscally broken state government and 12.2% unemployment, Californians should pass Proposition 19 this November and pay federal drug law no attention. California can be an experimental laboratory for the testing of a new marijuana industry.

For all of the failures of Obama’s spendapaloozas, his administration’s policy of lessening penalties on medical marijuana has helped dispensaries grow in size. Oakland’s city council has voted to allow industrial production of marijuana. Passage of Proposition 19 would precipitate what my friend Dan Carlin called a “Berlin Wall” moment in which the federal government would have to decide if it wanted to enforce drug laws or give way to the will of California. If the federal government, during a crippling recession and a 42% approval rating for the president, acted to stomp out one of the few industries with growth potential in favor of decaying paternal laws, it would be perfectly just to associate Obama with “failure.”

The federal government has had it all wrong on drug policy for a really long time now. The winds of change are moving and the chance for a new industry to develop around a substance that has an unrelenting demand is too good to pass up. California had better not mess this one up, and the federal government had best back off.

Spending, stimulus and bailouts have not pulled us out of an economic rut. I’m not an economist but it seems to me that in a capitalist system, all elements, from Wall Street to the welfare office, need to be driven by capital created from the production of a good that people demand. That’s why marijuana legalization is so important. No amount of government spending is going to be able to create production, but it can stop it.

From Saxby Chambliss’s Office: “All faggots must die”

Here’s where you can find the offending quote on the Internet.

Here’s the challenge that was made to find the culprit:

The above comment was left today by “Jimmy” on my post about the DADT cloture vote. The IP address *appears* to resolve to the neighborhood of GOP U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ Atlanta office. The ISP is “United States Senate.” I’m confident that the JMG internet sleuths can get to the source.

Here’s the IP: 156.33.20.72. Get busy, geeks!

Here’s what the Atlanta Journal Constitution has written about it (so far):

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss confirmed Tuesday that he investigating whether one of his staffers left a threatening slur on an Internet discussion of the right of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military.

“We have seen the allegations and are moving quickly to understand the facts. This office has not and will not tolerate any activity of the sort alleged,” Chambliss spokeswoman Bronwyn Lance Chester said. “Once we have ascertained whether these claims are true, we will take the appropriate steps.”

And here’s an additional update:

I’ve just gotten off the phone with Atlanta Journal-Constitution political writer Jim Galloway who says that Sen. Saxby Chambliss has confirmed that the “All faggots must die” comment left here on JMG earlier today did indeed come from his Atlanta office. Galloway reports that Chambliss told him his office is conducting an internal investigation.

And people wonder why I think social conservatives in the Republican Party should just shut the hell up.

UPDATE: An AJC commenter provides the following:

This “investigation” smacks of religious persecution. Whoever made the comment was just paraphrasing the Holy scripture: “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13) Our laws should reflect God’s law, right? This is a Christian nation after all.

Lest anyone think this sort of thought process is an isolated event, let’s take a look at what former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore wrote in a concurring opinion in D.H. v. H.H. (a case where a lesbian was attempting to obtain custody of her children):

“The State carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle.”

UPDATE II: The AJC provides the following:

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ office has determined it was indeed the source of a highly publicized homosexual-bashing slur on an Internet site.

But in a statement, Chambliss’ office said it has not discovered exactly who was behind the slur, and has turned the matter over to the Senate Sergeant At Arms.

“The (Sergeant at Arms) has worked side by side with our personnel to determine whether the comment in question emanated from our office. That appears to be the case,” an unsigned statement from Chambliss’ press office read.

“There has not been a determination as to who posted the comment,” the statement read. “That part of the review is ongoing, and is now in the hands of the Senate Sergeant at Arms.”

Spokeswomen for Chambliss did not return a reporters phone calls or emails seeking more details.

Ken Buck’s “Radical” Proposal to “Rewrite” the Constitution

I do not support Ken Buck in the Colorado senate race and I will not vote for him. Actually, between his extreme position on abortion, on banning common forms of birth control, and his sexist comments he made about his primary opponent, I think he is quite a jackass.

But even as much as I have some major concerns about Ken Buck and dislike him personally, the Democrats are running some ads that I believe are lacking in historical context and misrepresent the founding principles of our constitution and our republic.

Here’s the first ad entitled “Different”:

This “radical” idea that the state governments would choose their senators instead of the voters is hardly a new idea conjured up by Ken Buck. If we accept the notion that Buck would “rewrite” the Constitution, he would merely be changing the way senators are selected back to the way the founders intended 223 years ago. It wasn’t until the 17th Amendment was passed in 1913 that senators were chosen by popular vote in each state. In fairness, the ad does mention that for “nearly 100 years” Colorado voters picked their senators. It seems to me that the Democrats are counting on the average historical ignorance of civics 101 of the average person to be outraged at such an “un-democratic” idea.

Now to the second ad entitled “Represent”:

The second ad repeats the “rewrite the Constitution” claim but goes even further “change the whole Constitution?” Repealing the 17th Amendment is hardly changing the whole Constitution.

And what about this scandalous idea that Ken Buck wouldn’t necessarily “represent” what Coloradans wanted and would “vote the way he wanted”? Is this really what we want – senators and representatives with no will of their own?

To the lady in the ad who says “If Ken Buck doesn’t want to listen to what we have to voice our opinion then why is he even running?” my response would be that if its up to each senator to poll his or her constituents on each and every issue, why do we even need senators at all? This is why we have elections. If your congress person or senator consistently acts contrary to your principles, vote for someone else on Election Day. If you have a problem with Ken Buck’s policy positions as I do, don’t vote for him.

Despite popular belief, our system of government is not a democracy but a republic based on the rule of law. The senate was designed to be a counter balance to the fickle whims of the majority of citizens. Prior to the 17th Amendment, senators were selected by state legislatures so that the states themselves would be represented at the federal level while the people were represented directly in the House of Representatives.

There are certainly some good arguments for repealing the 17th Amendment that I don’t believe are “radical” at all. For one, if the state legislatures picked the senators, perhaps there would be more reason to pay attention to government at the state level. How many people in 100 can name their senator and representative in their state legislature let alone have any idea about their voting records?

Also, because senators are chosen by popular vote, some argue that their loyalties are not so much with the states they are supposed to represent but the senate itself. As a result, its much easier for the federal government to blackmail the states via unfunded mandates and holding funds hostage if states pass laws the federal government disagrees with (ex: forcing all states to keep the drinking age at 21 in order to receive highway funding).

Certainly, the repealing the 17th Amendment wouldn’t be a panacea and there are probably some very persuasive arguments in supporting the 17th Amendment. No system of government is perfect even in its most ideal form.

The founders were keenly aware that majorities could be as tyrannical as any monarch or dictator. A more democratic government does not necessarily mean people have more liberty; the opposite is more likely the case.

Be Thankful I Don’t Take It All…

Here’s the outrage of the day, coming straight out of the UK:

The UK’s tax collection agency is putting forth a proposal that all employers send employee paychecks to the government, after which the government would deduct what it deems as the appropriate tax and pay the employees by bank transfer.

The proposal by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) stresses the need for employers to provide real-time information to the government so that it can monitor all payments and make a better assessment of whether the correct tax is being paid.

Currently employers withhold tax and pay the government, providing information at the end of the year, a system know as Pay as You Earn (PAYE). There is no option for those employees to refuse withholding and individually file a tax return at the end of the year.

If the real-time information plan works, it further proposes that employers hand over employee salaries to the government first.

Now, I’ve read the full proposal (1st link inside the blockquote), and I should, in the interest of fairness, clarify one discrepancy between what is stated above and the intended proposal: The HMRC would not be gathering salaries first and then disbursing what is “left over” after tax to the employee’s bank account. Rather, the HMRC would be involved as a third party — i.e. when the employer directs a salary payment, the HMRC advises the employer’s bank what the tax percentage for withholding is before the bank itself makes the payment. Some would say that it’s a distinction without a difference, but I would mention that the government is not, be default, a true middleman that intercepts the payment itself on its way to the employee.

That said, we’ve all seen what happens between legislation’s introduction and its passage, and I definitely am concerned that a) this little distinction could be removed quickly, or b) that this simply notches the gov’t one step further to being the actual middleman.

The article above goes on to express concern at the likelihood of mistakes in the system, but the real issue is greater government ability to step in and damage your ability to live if they see fit. Assuming that they don’t get direct control over the bank account itself, the government is likely to get compliance from a bank if, for example, they decide that someone’s “deduction” should be 100%. Right now the system is decentralized, so the employer has to calculate deductions based upon published rules and pay their employee accordingly. It doesn’t allow for the government to directly, invisibly, and immediately intrude on the arrangement. That would change, and certainly not for the better.

Even without the nightmare scenario, it allows for much less visible and more immediate changes to the tax code. Enabling centralized deductions ensures that if the legislature approves a tax rate or policy change, they don’t need to inform employers and set up a long lag time — citizens just start seeing a slight change to their take-home pay. This will make it easier to raise taxes.

Finally, I’ve often said that the nanny-state and regulatory-state policies of Britain are a leading indicator for the US (although oddly, reading deeper I think we may have beat them to withholding by a year — lucky us!). If this is being pushed there, it is no stretch to think that it’ll be very long before our own politicians want to follow their example.

Of course, it’s only appropriate to close with the song “Taxman”. While I’m partial to the Stevie Ray Vaughan version myself, with this being a story from the UK it’s gotta be the original: The Beatles.

Hat Tip: Billy Beck

The Tea Party Movement: A Geopolitical Perspective

Stratfor is an incredible policy source that looks deeply into matters of geopolitics. Policy wonks are often able to look at what is going on dispassionately and with eye for understanding what is actually happening and that indispensable ability is in evidence in Robert W. Merry’s analysis of the Tea Party movement:

Nearly every American with a political memory recalls that Texas billionaire Ross Perot captured 19 percent of the vote when he ran for president as an independent candidate in 1992. Less well known is what happened to that vote afterward. Therein lies an intriguing political lesson that bears on today’s Tea Party movement, which emerged on the political scene nearly 17 months ago and has maintained a sustained assault on the Republican establishment ever since.

Just this week, the Tea Party scored another upset triumph, this time in Delaware, where protest candidate Christine O’Donnell outpolled establishment scion Michael N. Castle in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. It was merely the latest in a string of political rebellions that have shaped this campaign year much as the Perot phenomenon influenced American politics in the 1990s.

Two years after the Texan’s remarkable 19 percent showing, the Perot vote — a protest movement spawned primarily by political anxiety over what was considered fiscal recklessness at the federal level (sound familiar?) — washed away the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. In a stern rebuke to President Bill Clinton, the Perot constituency gave full congressional control to the Republican Party for the first time in four decades. And then, just two years later, it turned around and helped elect Clinton to a second term.

The political lesson, worth pondering in these times of Tea Party rumbling, is that serious protest movements such as the Perot phenomenon or today’s Tea Party revolt never just fade away. They linger in American politics, sometimes largely unseen but sometimes quite overt, and exert a continuing tug on the course of electoral decision-making. Eventually they get absorbed into one major party or the other. In the process, they often tilt the balance of political power in the country, occasionally for substantial periods of time.

The Perot comparison is strong, as is the possibility that this movement could crater due to its orientation toward ideological purity.

While not a fan, the Tea Party movement is genuinely one of the most grassroots political efforts I’ve seen in my lifetime. The like of Christine O’Donnell or Rand Paul are not conventional Republicans, and any corporate “astro turf” movement, since it is not in the interest of corporations to try to push political instability, would have handpicked Mike Castle or Mitch McConnell instead.

Even Sarah Palin was not a choice that John McCain wanted, instead hoping to bring in Joe Lieberman.

The Tea Party and Insurgency Politics is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Political Progress Through Laughter in Afghanistan

This piece from Al Jazeera illustrates how comedy can positively affect politics. Like in the United States with comedians like Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, satirists, comedians and cartoonists in Afghanistan are able to go where conventional journalists are afraid to go. With the dreary headlines coming out of the region, it’s good to see civil society breathing.

Will the Tea Party movement be willing to support libertarian-leaning candidates?

Reason‘s Jesse Walker and the Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan have some back and forth and back again going on relating to the Tea Party movement and libertarianism.

Sullivan notes:

If only a left/right alliance would cooperate to end the drug war, get a grand compromise on the debt, and rein in defense spending and police state creep. But seriously, does Jesse really believe that the Tea Party would do any of these things?

Yes, they are, for the most part, emphasizing economic and fiscal issues, which is wonderful, even though they have no actual realistic plans to cut spending by the amount they would have to if taxes are not to rise. But that does not mean they have in any way forsaken the social issues substantively. Name a tea-party candidate who is pro-choice. Name one who backs marriage equality. Name one who wants to withdraw from Afghanistan beginning next year. Name one who has opposed torture. Name one who has the slightest qualms about police powers. Name one who would end the military ban on gays serving openly, and take even the slightest political risk on any of these subjects.

I welcome the belated right-wing opposition to out-of-control government spending. But the one thing you have to note about tea-party fervor is that none of it existed when they had real leverage over a Republican president, who spent us into bankruptcy. That tells you something. And if you think a party led by Palin will not embrace every neocon crusade or Christianist social policy, you’re dreaming.

From the perspective of a libertarian Tea Party activist, I’d like to add my two cents to the conversation.

To begin, Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen scribed the following in Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System:

…it is premature to consider the prospects of a Tea Party message on the biggest national political stage. However, Gary Johnson, the libertarian-leaning Republican former governor of New Mexico, is rumored to be a contender in the 2012 presidential election, and possible the preferred presidential candidate of the Tea Party movement.

While Johnson, who has attended several Tea Party rallies, diverges from the Tea Party movement on certain issues such as immigration and support for the Iraq war, he has been praised by Tea Party groups for his support for personal liberty and smaller government. As governor, Johnson vetoes 750 bills, more than all the vetoes of the country’s forty-nine other governors combined, and he gained national notoriety for his support of legalizing drugs.

John Dennis, the Republican running for Nancy Pelosi’s congressional seat, offers the following on his platform:

  • The Constitution was written to restrict the actions of the government, not individuals.
  • If we support some types of liberty but not others, ultimately we will be left without liberty at all.
  • I oppose, warrant less wiretaps, water-boarding and other forms of torture.
  • Governments have historically institutionalized racism through legal preference and advantages to certain groups.
  • Racism a form of collectivism is the antithesis of liberty.
  • It is the pursuit of liberty and the equal application of the law that draws people together.
  • I support ending both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and withdrawing our troops as safely and quickly as possible.
  • I believe the men and women who bravely serve and defend our country should be well trained, well equipped, well clothed, well fed and deployed only when necessary.
  • I do not believe that our troops should be forced to be policemen of the world. Our troops, first and foremost, should protect Americans where they live – in America.

While these platform snippets don’t directly address all of Sullivan’s concerns, they seem to indicate that the candidate is certainly leaning in the direction Sully suggests. To be clear, I have no clue as to whether Dennis considers himself a Tea Party candidate. However, the only Tea Party activists I know in the district support him and it is difficult to imagine any person affiliated with the Tea Party movement supporting Pelosi.

I spoke with Daniel Adams, the chairman of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, on the telephone this morning.  His gubernatorial candidate, John Monds, had recently spoken at a Tea party event. Adams informed me that by the end of the evening half the of the people in attendance wearing stickers for a gubernatorial candidate preferred Monds while the other half preferred GOP nominee Nathan Deal. At this moment, all of Georgia’s statewide libertarian candidates are polling relatively high for third-party candidates while Deal continues to be plagued with financial (and other) problems.  I’m not stating that the Tea Party movement will go third party, but the Hoffman/Scozzafava debacle in New York indicates at least some willingness to pursue this option, if absolutely necessary.

To be sure, there hasn’t been a plethora of strong libertarian-leaning Tea Party candidates out there so far, but there are certainly plenty of libertarians within the Tea Party movement. Even in Alabama, I’m more likely to run into a Campaign for Liberty member than a Roy Moore supporter at a Tea party event — although both coexist within the movement to pursue common goals regarding fiscal policy and fighting “the establishment.”

There is a certain degree of pragmatism within the Tea Party movement, Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts serving as the perfect example.  It is also interesting to note that I know quite a few libertarians who snicker about Christine O’Donnell’s stance on a certain individual liberty issue, but still enjoy watching an establishment big-government Republican go down in flames in Delaware. I’ve also seen plenty of Ron Paul supporters speaking at Tea Party rallies.  There is clearly some give and take on both sides.

In their book, Rasmussen and Schoen clearly identify libertarians as one of the three major ideological components of the movement.  Combining the aforementioned factors, Tea Party support for reasonable libertarian-leaning candidates seems possible – at least in some districts and in some cases.

Quote Of The Day

From The Big Picture, on whether he [Barry Ritholtz] is a Republican or Democrat:

Here’s why:

I am not a Democrat, because I have no idea what their economic policies are; And I am not a Republican, because I know precisely what their economic policies are.

Indeed, the entire left/right debate is false, an artificial framework for analyzing policy. In my mind, the real debate is the corporatocracy versus the individual.

Constitution Day Open Thread: Top 3 Amendments You Would Make

Today marks the 223rd anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, allegedly the supreme law of the land. The framers of the Constitution recognized that over time changes would need to be made through an amendment process. In the intervening 223 years, this document has been amended only 27 times.

This brings me to the question I want to pose to readers: what top 3 amendments would you make if you could and why?

Here are my top 3 in no particular order:

1. Rebalancing the Scales of Justice Amendment: The 4th 6th Amendment’s guarantee for the accused to have a court appointed [see comments below] lawyer is a wonderful idea but incomplete. Sure, the accused can be represented by a public defender but does not have nearly the resources available as the prosecution. My proposed amendment would go further than the 4th 6th Amendment and state that the accused would be guaranteed the same resources in his or her defense as the prosecution. For every tax dollar spent to prosecute a dollar would be made available for the defense (whether or not the accused uses a court appointed attorney). This amendment would also guarantee compensation for the wrongfully accused, hold prosecutors criminally and civilly responsible for withholding exculpatory evidence from the jury, and clearly state that a compelling claim of “actual innocence” (due to newly discovered evidence or technological breakthroughs) would be reason enough for a new trial for the previously convicted.

2. Term Limits Amendment: A single 6 year term for president, 2 terms for senators (keep the current 6 year term), 6 terms for representatives (keep the current 2 year term). These terms would be limited for consecutive terms only; if a president wants to make another run, s/he could do so after sitting out a term while senators and representatives would have to sit out a full 12 years (and make them deal with the consequences of their laws as private citizens for awhile) or run for a different office.

3. Accident of Birth Amendment: This would revise Article II, Section 1 removing the requirement that the president must be a natural born citizen and changing the requirement to match that of a U.S. senator. While this requirement might have made sense 223 years ago when the nation was getting started, we are now to a point to where we can do away with it. I don’t like the idea of disqualifying an individual for something s/he had absolutely no control over. Also, this would force the birthers to think about something else other than Obama’s birth certificate : )

Now it’s your turn.

Jack Conway’s Unfair Attack on Rand Paul

I’m not a Rand Paul fan, not a Kentuckian and am not going to endorse him or give money to his campaign. Given that, all of the above is true of his Democratic opponent Jack Conway as well. His disingenuous advertisement attacking Paul for an alleged laissez faire approach to law enforcement is absurd and actually makes Paul look like a much more attractive candidate:

As has been made fairly clear by my posts and also by my colleague Stephen Littau, law enforcement in this country has gone out of control into zones of paramilitary tactics that are frightening.

Littau posted a Cato Institute video that showed a police arrest of a motorcyclist by an armed police officer showing no badge who looked on all accounts as if he were conducting a robbery.

Over at the Agitator, Radley Balko reports on the murder of Michael Sipes, seventeen, by police after responding to a noise complaint. As the drug war continues to escalate in Mexico, a smaller escalation appears to have occurred at home, with arrests up and disturbing lethal attacks on homes, including many where dogs have been killed. In 2007, drug arrests for marijuana possession alone totaled 775,138! If a Senator Paul will introduce legislation that would eliminate non-violent arrests for “crimes” like marijuana possession, more power to him.

I can not express enough how much I disagree with Paul on the Civil Rights Act and, given being told by a Kentuckian that racism was benefitting Paul in his senate race, it makes me distrust him highly. Given that, if Paul does think non-violent crimes should be at least a lower priority, that makes me give him a second look. The last thing we need is the “cops know best” approach that Jack Conway seems to be endorsing.

Islamic Fundamentalism: Still A Danger

The hyper-reactionary hatred of Terry Jones and his merry band of bigots down in Florida may have muddled the waters surrounding Islamic fundamentalism and its dangers, showing that we certainly have our own share of anti-intellectual sorcerers. Now that that and the Ground Zero hate festival is over, however, Islamic radicalism’s ugly head is springing back up with a story out of my native Seattle:

In a disturbing and matter-of-fact article, Seattle Weekly’s editor in chief Mark D. Fefer explained to readers that there would not be a cartoon by Molly Norris in that week’s paper, nor would there be one in any future issues. No, she wasn’t fired. Norris has followed advice from the FBI, left town, and changed her name after a fatwa was placed on her by Islamic extremists following her cartoon promoting the made up “Draw Mohammed Day.”

Norris has been effectively silenced into submission (that word used intentionally) by the forces of fear. If we play by the rules of religious fundamentalists, Muslim, Christian or whatever other theocratic label the forces of reaction choose to label themselves with, we are not going to live in freedom any more. We will live in the same feudal regression that now dominates the Middle East and that once dominated the West during the times in which Galileo Galilei was put under house arrest by the Catholic Church for his theory of heliocentrism. While Thomas Freidman may have jokingly called his book on globalization The World Is Flat, forces around the world who fear their “traditional” cultures are under threat by globalization seek to have us regress to an era in which knowledge was illegal and, in the minds of men, the world was flat.

Jon Stewart Is Becoming A Libertarian

As the economy continues to stagnate, Jon Stewart appears to have developed a very healthy helping of skepticism about progressive economic policies. This on top of his tearing President Obama apart for his continued embrace of executive power (completely counter to the criticism of Bush-era civil liberties violations that got him a standing ovation at the Democratic National Convention in 2004) and embrace of Charlton Heston makes one wonder if Stewart is making himself up to be some sort of left-libertarian. If that’s the case, I would be more than happy to have him on board.

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Cato Presents: Cops on Camera

As cameras have become more available to individuals and government alike, viral videos of cops behaving badly have become quite pervasive on the internet. This short video by The Cato Institute provides a few recent examples of this relatively new phenomenon and explains why recording the actions of police and government officials for all the world to see is good for liberty. Its government that should be watched and its government that should fear the people, not the other way around.

Coming Soon: The War on Tacos

Now, this is just lame:

“The City of Emeryville, California, is looking for individuals to serve on its new ‘Food Truck Taskforce’ — a bureaucratic reaction to the increased competition local ‘brick and mortar’ restaurants face from mobile kitchens. Local worker Catherine Hicks tweeted, ‘restaurants are whining that trucks are more popular at lunch!’ But the city sees this shift in lunching habits as a political problem requiring a political solution …” (09/14/10)

This has been mumbled about quite a bit before, but mostly in southern California. Apparently multiculturalism isn’t a strong enough ethos among Bay Area lawmakers to welcome the rise of taco trucks selling legitimate, authentic Mexican food.

Religious Fundamentalists Join In On Anti-Pot Crusade

Just as religious groups played a significant role in revoking the freedom to marry in California, it looks like religious groups are subsequently involved in squashing the freedom to put whatever you want in your own body:

The same day Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca became co-chair, with Dianne Feinstein, of the No on 19 campaign, he held a press conference to announce the arrest of a suspect in a triple murder case in West Hollywood.

Baca used the platform — and his role as sheriff — to further the goals of the political campaign by railing against medical marijuana dispensaries. He said that they had been “hijacked by underground drug-dealing criminals” and that “it is no surprise that people are going to get killed … drugs and violence go together.”

Baca is an enthusiastic advocate of Scientology’s drug treatment programs, which he actively promotes. Baca has close ties to Scientology, and claims to have to trained deputies in his department using Scientology materials. The Scientology website says that it “sponsors” the independent non-profits drug treatment programs Narconon and Criminon, which and are based on “The Fundamentals of Thought” by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

According to a Time Magazine cover story:

Hubbard’s purification treatments are the mainstay of Narconon, a Scientology-run chain of 33 alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers — some in prisons under the name “Criminon” — in 12 countries. Narconon [is a] classic vehicle for drawing addicts into the cult.

Revenues for Narconon and other drug treatment programs are generated in large part by court-ordered rehabilitation for drug users, which would be dramatically reduced if marijuana prohibition ended. Much like other elements of the prison industrial complex, Narconon has campaigned aggressively against medical marijuana over the years.

Every era and generation has a common force of darkness that threatens liberal society. In the first half of the twentieth century, it was aggressive collectivization which resulted in a near dictatorship in the United States and tyrannies in the form of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Imperial Japan and Communist China.

The common thread destroying individual liberty in our own age, from women who are forbidden to go to school, cartoonists who are threatened with death for daring to be creative, religious minorities who are terrorized and loving couples who are forbidden to wed due to their matching chromosomes, is religious fundamentalism. It’s our job to fight it.

Tides of Change in Latin America

After Cuban leader Fidel Castro excoriated Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his anti-Semitism, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez appeared to get the message:

During a visit to the International Tourism Fair in Caracas yesterday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced he would meet with leaders of Venezuela’s Jewish community. “We respect and love the Jewish people,” said Chavez, who added that opponents have falsely painted him as “anti-Jewish.”

Chavez has been a close ally of Iran and a strong critic of Israel. He severed ties with Israel in January 2009 to protest its actions in the Gaza Strip. A series of recent incidents have ignited concerns about anti-Semitic violence in Venezuela.

The Chavez remarks came one day after Jeff wrote on this blog about his recent reporting trip to Havana and his conversations with Fidel Castro. Castro excoriated anti-Semitism and criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust. The former Cuban president called upon Ahmadinejad to “stop slandering the Jews.” (Castro also expressed misgivings about his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that’s another story.)

Meanwhile, with 28,000 dead as a result of the country’s drug wars, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that he is willing to reconsider Mexican drug laws:

The government of Mexico, tired of drug war violence, is considering the legalization of marijuana and possibly other drugs.

With Mexicans everywhere, exhausted by the deadly drug wars, asking for answers, the debate has grown more urgent.

Discussion about legalization has already been put on the public agenda by President Felipe Calderon, who has held a series of open forums with politicians and civic leaders.

The president is also known to be watching the neighbouring US state of California, to see if the state approves an initiative on November 2nd to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Calderon has said that Mexico will not be able to act alone in legalizing drugs, saying if the cost of drugs is not levelled, at least in the United States, the black-market price will still be determined by US consumers.

Change is not one-sided. Hopefully the American populace and lawmakers are as willing to reconsider their drug laws as well, so that we can enter a new period in which marijuana is legal, controlled and commoditized. Californians have the chance to make change happen this November by passing Proposition 19.

Fidel Castro’s Incredible Revelations

Fidel holding a book

In an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, some incredible quotes came from the aging Cuban dictator:

(Reuters) – Fidel Castro said Cuba’s economic model no longer works, a U.S.-based journalist reported on Wednesday following interviews with the former president last week.

Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for the Atlantic Monthly magazine, wrote in a blog that he asked Castro, 84, if Cuba’s model — Soviet-style communism — was still worth exporting to other countries and he replied, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”

The comment appeared to reflect Castro’s agreement, which he also expressed in a column for Cuban media in April, with his younger brother President Raul Castro, who has initiated modest reforms to stimulate Cuba’s troubled economy.

Goldberg said Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Washington who accompanied him to Havana, believed Castro’s words reflected an acknowledgment that “the state has too big a role in the economic life of the country.”

I sent my esteemed colleague Larry Bernard, who contributes to Global Crisis Garden, a link to the story and he promptly said “Holy shit.” Indeed. If even Fidel Castro is putting a gravestone on the Marxist-Leninist style of government, that really is progress.

The interview also produced a line from Fidel Castro critical of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his endless anti-Semitism:

Does this release him from the “Axis of Evil”? Cuban Leader Fidel Castro attacks Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his anti-Semitism in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. Quotes include, “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews,” and “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”

Fidel Castro is going to have to act along with his words. He came into the international political world as a Vladimir Lenin. If he really wants to, he can leave a Mikhail Gorbachev. This would require stepping from power and leading a transition not toward continued Castro hereditary rule but towards a Jeffersonian Chile-style system of political freedom, market economies and a welfare state all checking and balancing one another. Chilean leaders only serve one term, despite their personal popularity.

It would also require either a break with or a push toward Hugo Chavez, Castro’s buddy, to change his destructive policies and populist rhetoric. Chavez has allied himself with nightmare regimes in the Middle East and exercised his own anti-Semitism. Nationalization of industries has led to rationing and shortages (while Chavez continues to appear delightfully plump in public appearances, counter to his trim days in the military). Meanwhile, Chavez has forced initiatives to give him unlimited power and has refused to groom a successor. To make matters worse, violence in Venezuela is worse than in Iraq, and without Iraq’s room for economic and political optimism.

If Castro really has had an awakening moment in which he has realized dictatorships simply don’t work, it’s going to be meaningless if the same failed formula continues to be tried elsewhere.

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