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Hypothetical anti-state politics

For my fellow travelers who eschew political participation: would you take a post in the House/Senate/Presidency if you were offered it?  Let's say the seat is empty and there's no one else running for it for some bizarre political reason.  All you have to do is file the legal papers and you're guaranteed to win.  Or let's say the sitting president offers to make you VP and then resign immediately (which, for our foreign friends, automatically makes you the president assuming you meet the constitutional requirements).

Though I also eschew political participation, I believe I would do it.  In the legislative branch my vote would be canceled out by the rest of the legislators, but to have a representative or senator that the media could quote about reading Lysander Spooner into the Congressional Record seems like it couldn't be a bad thing.  Though one mole couldn't bring down the machine, it would be an opportunity for a public forum too valuable to be ignored.  As a senator you could filibuster, well, everything.  Plus it would be great to be able to denounce the office you're in and vote no on everything.

We have already had weak versions of this in Congress, and frankly it hasn't done a huge amount of good.  What about the presidency?

Just imagine the president issues a statement to announce that, like a doctor, his goal is ultimately to make his office obsolesce.  Then he pardons all non-violent drug offenders and millions more convicted of other bogus "crimes".  Then he cancels out all standing executive orders and vetoes everything that crosses his desk.  Obviously the median voter won't be into this revolution for long, but in the scenario you're secure until the end of the term, so that's not important.  You could spend all your time weakening the power of the state without compromising our goals.  You could order government records that it shouldn't have destroyed, or order secrets exposed to show the public the true face of government.  To the extent that it's possible you could recall troops from all over the world (i.e. to the extent that they're there on the president's orders or agreement).  You could fill all the appointed offices that don't require congressional approval with people who share our goals, at least the ones who would participate.

One of us who became president in this way could have a huge long-term effect on making the political system more just, though of course most of the work would still need to be done at the end of the term.

The answer to this hypothetical, in which I expect that most people would answer yes, is the reason why I don't want to expel political participants from the movement entirely.  Not that I have the power to do that anyway.  But what's missing in this scenario is what a waste of time most political efforts are, since realistically we have slim-to-no chance of getting into the office in the first place without compromising 99% first.  If you could get into office without having to acknowledge its legitimacy, at least implicitly, that would be great.  It's just that in the real world that doesn't happen.

Clearly I'm searching for consistency at the margins of my political ideology.  What do you readers think?


Amish education laboratory

The Amish as a community to belong to...yeah, I'll pass.  But the Amish as a laboratory in education outside the reach of the normal masters, that's more interesting.  Amish America, a blog that covers exactly what you'd think, has a neat post up about a sample Amish schoolhouse.

The idea is that the kids are interested and motivated and, according to the writer, have a lot of fun.  Now if only they could keep getting that education after 8th grade.


Cuba Libre empieza

For a long while now I've wanted to go to Cuba to see it before the end of the Fidel Castro era.  Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for the Cuban people, I won't get that chance.  Goodbye Fidel, and good riddance.


The non-consent of the victim

Yesterday Sheldon Richman posted a great short blog post that deserves getting quoted in its entirety:

I'm traveling again this week, so I have only have time for a quick thought, a teaser. Any libertarian strategy that has any hope of succeeding must seek fundamentally to delegitimize the state, that is, to persuade people that government does not deserve the unique and privileged moral status it has been accorded throughout history. This leads to the curious insight that even those who favor limited government should advocate statelessness (free-market anarchism) because people will move to severely restrict the power of the state only when they believe it is illegitimate. Conceding its legitimacy one iota inevitably works against liberty.

Getting Ron Paul as president would be better than John "100 Years in Iraq" McCain, no doubt, and I hope that those long, long, long odds get better.  For instance, it's a small victory convincing someone that the government doesn't have any legitimate role in controlling the money supply even if they still believe it should control something else.  But active support of Ron Paul seems counterproductive of the broader message I try to send that it's the powers of the office, period, not the person in the office that's the problem.


Still hot, but with shorter hair

How's this for another economic indicator:

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Economic forecasters beware: Japanese women are cutting their hair again.

Women tend to wear their hair long when Japan's economy is doing well and short when there is a slump, the Nikkei business daily reported, citing a survey conducted by Japanese cosmetics company Kao Corp.

Via News On Japan


I bet this guy's vote canceled out yours

It's not yet midnight where I am, but this will serve as the humorous Friday link:

It's not a joke!

Via Radley Balko


One Laptop Per Child vs. Africa

Diary of an African Entrepreneur posted an interesting idea a couple of weeks ago (that I just now got around to sharing) about the One Laptop Per Child project:

I have a lot of admiration for Nicholas Negroponte and the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) team. By in large, they got the technology right. They brought the right partners together and created an unbelievable product. The technological advances that are found in the $100 (OK, $300) laptop will certainly impact the way computers are built tomorrow.

OLPC has not had the expected success. There is nothing technically wrong with it. The pricing is reasonable. So why hasn't the laptop caught on in the developing world it was designed for?

The name says it all: ONE laptop PER child. The idea might be appealing to the western world but it is not a cultural fit for the developing world, or at least Africa where I am blogging from. Africans are very communal in nature. Outside of the wealthy elite that is not the target of the OLPC anyway, Africans don't individually own things, especially not children. Whoever has a radio or a television shares it with not just the immediate family, but the entire community. One never watches TV alone and one does not sit in a corner and read alone or get on a computer alone. People still do things together. Not because they are forced to but because that is the way they prefer it.

This shines some light on general Western approaches to Africa: we have certain ideas embedded unconsciously in our culture that don't always transfer. Now, I happen to really like the idea of not sharing all my possessions with family, friends, roommates, neighbors, or whomever, and presumably the people behind OLPC are the same way. It didn't even occur to them that this idea just doesn't make sense to Africans. (I'm taking AE's word for it here, since between us he has about 100% of the knowledge of African culture.)

It seems like this is probably an effect of a less-developed economy. Back in the early days of radio in the US, I'm given to understand that listening to the radio was a communal event also. As more families got radios, and as more households got multiple radios, this changed into the system we have today, in which it'd be a miracle if two people could even agree on what to listen to. Nowadays it's inconceivable to think of sharing your radio or television with a neighbor, because it's almost a statistical guarantee that they have their own.

Or of course that might not be the reason and my Western mind just doesn't have enough experience with African cultures to think of the real reason. I admit that possibility.

One way or the other, the kinds of changes that the OLPC project hopes to effect have to happen in context or they won't come off at all. Hopefully they're reading Diary of an African Entrepreneur for ideas.


What is a man?

Fellow travelers autoDogmatic return after a three-month break with a criticism of "traditional" theories of manhood. Contemporary culture is supposed to lack a good answer for this, i.e. doesn't include submission to authority as a virtue, but Neal's conclusion sums it up pretty neatly: "What is a man? A man is free. A man questions and reasons. From there comes all else."


Do as I say, not as I said

The Moonie-owned Washington Times printed up a great column by Steve Chapman. It's a critique of the chameleon-like Barack Obama's position on currently illegal substances. Chapman believes that his original position, decriminalization, was too bold for the Washington establishment (which is probably true). He also adds some meta-commentary:

Had we enforced our statutes more vigorously, of course, Messrs. Bush, Clinton and the others would never have been elected anything, because they would be ex-convicts. Yet Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton and the others were happy to put people behind bars for crimes they themselves committed.

One alternative is decriminalization, which is not exactly radical or untried. It's already the norm in 12 different states — not just California and New York, but Mississippi, Ohio and Nebraska. About 1 in 3 Americans lives in a state or city where pot users typically don't go to jail.

His figure, of course, is for places where pot users who are busted by the police don't go to jail. One way to find out how much of a failure Prohibition is is to go to, hell, any city in the country and try to find some green. Even I am constantly amazed at how common marijuana use is. I know not everyone uses it, but it's used everywhere. Everywhere I've been, anyway. And guess what? Everywhere I've been life continued without legions of hopeless losers draining the culture and economy out of their areas.


Catallarchy poll finds confusion in polls

Polls keep saying that Americans are fed up with the war, but somehow the most bellicose Republican on the political map is far ahead of the other three guys put together.


In spite of it all, progress continues

If you need some good news today to distract you from the overwhelming news focus on the contest to choose our next overlord, try this:

LONDON (Reuters) - British scientists have created human embryos with three parents in a development they hope could lead to effective treatments for a range of serious hereditary diseases within five years.

...

The IVF, or test-tube, embryos were created using DNA from one man and two women.

The idea is to prevent women with faults in their mitochondrial DNA passing diseases on to their children. Around one in 5,000 children suffer from mitochondrial diseases, which can include fatal liver, heart and brain disorders, deafness, muscular problems and forms of epilepsy.

If all goes well, researchers believe they may be able to start offering the technique as a treatment in three to five years.

...

"The idea is simply to swap the bad diseased mitochondria -- give a transplant, if you like -- for good healthy ones from a donor," Patrick Chinnery, a member of the Newcastle team, said in a telephone interview.

"We're trying to prevent kids being born with fatal diseases." Mitochondrial DNA is passed down only through the female line.

Predictably, the Luddite opposition weighed in against treatment of genetic disorders, but I remain optimistic that eventually their influence will be as effective here as it was against the Industrial Revolution.  Their arguments are more sophisticated now but still uneconomic, and the human desire for better conditions is a hard, hard force to defeat.


The right conclusion for all the wrong reasons

As a follow-up to my previous post, I want to point to this comment, which says that my article made it to this list of articles critical of John "Juan" McCain from a modern conservative perspective.  This puzzled me, since it was just a quotation from another article, so I investigated.  Right off the bat the racist title made me ill at ease, and so I was relieved to realize that my name didn't show up on the page.  Presumably someone whose criticisms of McCain include that he's not racist or warmongering or anti-abortion enough would realize fairly quickly that having an ally who's a radical libertarian wouldn't send the message he wanted to send.


For John McCain, doublethink is a part of the family

Here's a blast from 2000:

Much has been made of allegations of possible youthful use of
illegal drugs by Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush.
Meanwhile, his chief GOP opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain, has admitted
that his wife not only illegally used drugs but walked away from criminal
charges. The McCains have worked to make Cindy McCain's addiction into a
political asset--despite the fact that she stole the drugs from a charity
she directed and used them while mothering four young children.

...

Is Mrs. McCain to be judged as a pitiable victim or as a criminal
felon? This debate is at the heart of the discussion of American drug
policy. Should we deal with illicit drug users as victims or as
criminals?

Let's examine Mrs. McCain's position in these terms. She was the
privileged wife of a prominent family and spouse of an important
politician, a person who had her own position of prestige and power.
Should she not be held at least as accountable for her actions as an
uneducated inner-city drug user? After all, she could enter drug
treatment at any time she chose, unlike many drug users who find
themselves in prison.

Moreover, Mrs. McCain was violating a position of trust by stealing
from a charitable organization, using its money and medical expertise to
fuel her drug use. Is this not morally more reprehensible than simply
purchasing drugs illegally?

Finally, Mrs. McCain was the mother of four children at the time she
admits to using drugs--between 1989 and 1992. Her children were born in
1984, 1986, 1988 and 1991. In other words, Cindy McCain was using drugs
while raising small children, one of whom she adopted while she was an
addict. In most states, family services will remove children from a woman
who is known to be an active drug addict, and she would certainly not be
allowed to adopt a child while addicted.

John McCain is a hawk in the drug war. He advocates stricter drug
laws, penalties and enforcement against drug sellers. He has had nothing
to say about redressing our punitive approach toward drug users. Of
course, McCain also supports family values. Yet if John and Cindy McCain
were not well-off and influential, they might not have a family at all.
McCain's lack of concern for street drug users contrasts sharply with the
support and understanding his wife received. It's the old American double
standard. For "straight-shooter" McCain, charity begins at home--and ends
there.

In 2008 as in 2000, John McCain manages to hold some of the most reprehensible political positions in all of DC--no small feat--and still manage to woo independents like nobody's business.

Some explanation here, courtesy of Bryan Caplan. Link via Radley Balko.


Creating suicide warriors

The Washington Post reports that in 2007 there were a record number of suicides among active-duty soldiers since records were first kept in 1980. At 127, this is a small fraction of the overall number of active-duty soldiers, but in context:

At the same time, the number of attempted suicides or self-inflicted
injuries in the Army has jumped sixfold since the Iraq war began. Last
year, about 2,100 soldiers injured themselves or attempted suicide,
compared with about 350 in 2002, according to the U.S. Army Medical
Command Suicide Prevention Action Plan.

What makes them do it?

Ritchie's team conducted more than 200 interviews in the United States
and overseas, and found that the common factors in suicides and
attempted suicides include failed personal relationships; legal,
financial or occupational problems; and the frequency and length of
overseas deployments. [italics mine]

Occupational problems? I don't have the study, so I can only wonder what it says, but being surrounded by the chaos of the Iraq effort seems like an occupational problem. Following standard operating procedure by firing at sources of enemy fire, even when civilians are present, would be an occupational problem that would seriously disrupt someone's mental health.

I've seen guys come back from Iraq without problems, and I've seen guys come back who had definitely been messed up by the experience. They weren't all dangers to themselves and others, to be sure. Most of them will turn out fine after some readjustment.

But something over there is making more soldiers kill or attempt to kill themselves more than any time in the last 27 years. Previous attempts to address the problem seem hollow:

Staff Sgt. Gladys Santos, an Army medic who attempted suicide after
three tours in Iraq, said the Army urgently needs to hire more
psychiatrists and psychologists who have an understanding of war. "They
gave me an 800 number to call if I needed help," she said. "When I come
to feeling overwhelmed, I don't care about the 800 number. I want a
one-on-one talk with a trained psychiatrist who's either been to war or
understands war."

Santos, who is being treated at Walter Reed, said the only effective therapy she has received there in the past year have been the one-on-one sessions with her psychiatrist, not the group sessions in which soldiers are told "Don't hit your wife, don't hit your kids," or the other groups where they play bingo or learn how to
properly set a table.

The Army is about de-personalization. That's the point of a uniform. They would be doing themselves and their recruits a service to emphasize this.

They might also question the value of a mission that destroys the people who perform it.


If they can't read how can they read Kos?

In a post called "Where are the Libertarians on FISA?", Kos writes:

For all the talk of "freedom" that the Paulbots claim to believe in, they sure as heck have been silent on the horrible FISA bill we're fighting to fix in the Senate right now. Same for Ron Paul. Why the silence? And the CATO people and the libertarian publications like Reason, where are they?

Here we are engaged in a huge civil liberties issue, and progressives are being forced to fight this thing alone. It's easy to talk about "liberty". It's much more impressive to actually do something about it.

I don't know if he means Libertarians as in the Libertarian Party or libertarians generally (a distinction often lost on outsiders), or Ron Paul fans, who have slight overlap with the first two. Nor if he realizes that Ron Paul is running for the Republican nomination, as a commenter pointed out. Plus, to me, the answer is obvious what a Libertarian opinion of FISA would be. Plus, anyone who cared to check would find what Ron Paul's take on it is.

What's really silly is the comments. There are quite a few comments like this one:

Why do Libertarians care so much about liberty from taxes, but not from oppression or government interference in one's private affairs?

If they genuinely gave a crap about civil liberties... well, they wouldn't all be Republicans, anyway.

And this one:

The truth is that many so-called liberatarians just don't really give a damn about civil liberties. Do you think your average 25-year-old white male frat boy Paultard cares about anything other than taxes and some obscure idea that the "government has to get off my back" so he his natural superiority will allow him to express his inner codpiece.

And this one, which would be hilarious if a presumably real human being didn't actually think it:

~60% of libertarians merely use the term as a more benign version of Republican/conservative. They have no problem getting behind social conservatism, and unlike Paul, the war/Patriot Act/wiretapping/irresponsible taxation and ruining people's lives with things like the death penalty and the War on Drugs.

And, bizarrely, in light of the previous comments:

I'll say it again -- "libertarians" are simply wingnut Republicans trying to describe themselves in more fashionable terms. That's all they are.

Having been a libertarian since I became politically aware, I wonder what the hell these commenters are talking about. I've met people who self-describe as libertarians from all over the country, and while there are a few bad apples (a problem not unique to us) I am genuinely puzzled by what caused these Kos readers to form these impressions.

In all the places I've been, calling yourself a libertarian was not fashionable among conservatives, and you could easily show your differences by talking about the complete legalization of all drugs, or by talking about how the government should get its filthy hands off of the institution of marriage entirely, or any of a number of other things.

Moreover, the Democratic Party has offered only token resistance to Bush's many requests for tyrannical powers before approving them for more than six years now, with no signs of slowing in 2008. They continue to throw a media-directed temper tantrum each time war funding comes up for vote before--you guessed it!--aligning with Bush every time.

If any of them read this, let me go on record here: As a libertarian, I oppose any and all warrantless wiretapping. I further oppose the concentration of police power in monopolistic hands, a move guaranteed to fuck over the least powerful in society, the people abandoned by Republicans and Democrats alike. I want to legalize any drug you can name, as fast as you can name it. While we're at it, let's open the borders.

Does that illuminate a libertarian position on civil liberties for you?

Next episode: libertarians point out that the government legally stacks the deck in favor of the corporate mode of organization!