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Birds Flying High, You Know How I Feel…

Lately, I find it more and more difficult to come and talk to you here.  It is hard for me to do so without saying at all times that I feel strongly that we have lost our path, are wandering further and further from it, and that our new route leads only to disaster.  And what is hardest for me is the feeling that many of us are the leaders of our departure.

The crisis before us has been well-recounted, and I do not wish to revisit all of it.  But certain things are absolute: Our constitutional rights have been repeatedly abrogated, violated, and removed by our government.  This same government, of and by the American people, has blatantly and openly committed numerous war crimes, and indeed many candidates for the highest political office in the land openly proclaim that they will continue to commit war crimes should they be elected.  This same government, having collected more taxes than any other in history and spent even more than that, also openly states that it can not and will not account for where billions of those tax dollars have gone.  This same government has led our nation into a war which has cost the lives of thousands of Americans, hundreds of thousands of civilians, and has neither success nor victory in sight, yet as every other nation allied with us is withdrawing, our government has escalated our involvement.

As bloggers, all of us have played an important role in bringing these facts to the American people, who have rightly risen in indignation which crosses all racial, social, political and economic boundaries.  We have played an essential role in highlighting how important these actions by our government, a government which we permit to act in our name based on the premise that we ourselves have formed it by contractual agreement in the Constitution, damage the most fundamental nature of what we ourselves are – a nation of free citizens forming a democratic Republic by choice.

Put simply, a United States of America where the government violates its own laws and treaties to commit war crimes, where tax revenues disappear without the people being told of its use, where the government refuses to allow citizens the right to hear evidence against them and tortures them into giving evidence against themselves is a nation with neither meaning nor significance.  In such a United States, we cease to be citizens and become serfs.

Should Edwards and Obama Be In Prison?

In the ending minutes of the Democratic Presidential Debate on MSNBC two weeks ago, Tim Russert asked the candidates if any of them disagreed with Sen. Chris Dodd’s recent statement that he supports the decriminalization of marijuana.  Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards both raised their hands.  Edwards gave his reasons for his opposition:

“I think it sends the wrong signal to young people. And I think the president of the United States has a responsibility to ensure that we’re sending the right signals to young people.”

This is a very interesting statement on the part of John Edwards, and on the part of Barack Obama.  Because John Edwards admitted to having used marijuana during the 2003 Democratic Presidential debate sponsored by “Rock the Vote”.  Obama has gone even further; in his book “Dreams From My Father”, Obama wrote:

“I blew a few smoke rings, remembering those years.  Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it.  Not smack, though.”

What is particularly fascinating about these statements by these candidates for the Presidency is that they are supporting criminal penalties which they themselves admit having avoided, which in many cases would not only prevent them from being viable candidates for their current and previous elected offices, but would prevent them from even having the opportunity to vote for themselves.  Nationwide, an estimated 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote for current or former felony convictions.  Over two million of those Americans are denied the right to vote after having completed their sentence and parole or probation, for the rest of their lives.  

On Dying Free: An Open Letter to Sen. Charles Schumer

Recently, in a remarkable essay for the New York Review of Books, famed Russian biophysicist and political activist Sergei Kovalev wrote:

I imagine-with both sorrow and certainty-that the Byzantine system of power has triumphed for the foreseeable future in Russia. It’s too late to remove it from power by a normal democratic process, for democratic mechanisms have been liquidated, transformed into pure imitation. I am afraid that few of us will live to see the reinstatement of freedom and democracy in Russia.

Kovalev’s words echoed something recently said to me by Meteor Blades: “I expect to die as part of the permanent internal opposition in the Democratic Party. I don’t see any more Sanderses on the horizon, of any stripe. Maybe in your lifetime, but not likely in mine.”

I cannot begin to say how disheartening it is to hear such things from such lions of political activism, both of whom went to prison rather than relinquish their right to fight for their freedom and the freedom of their fellows.  The following is a letter sent to one of my Senators, Chuck Schumer, which is my response to the conclusions of Kovalev and MB.

Ron Paul and the Democrats We Deserve

So, yesterday, Republican Ron Paul raised $4.07 million, in a Guy Fawkes Day fundraising stunt.  That is more money than any other Republican has raised in a single day, although it falls short of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s biggest single day take.

Dr. Paul is a candidate whose campaign has caused no shortage of consternation, both among us here on the political left, as well as in Republican circles.  Dr. Paul is, after all, a nut.  He’s an unapologetic isolationist, a goldbug, a religious fundamentalist, and a possible to probable racist.  He polls at under 5% in nearly every poll.

So why is this person who most Americans had never heard of a year ago outraising nearly all Republican contenders and most Democrats, without any support from major lobbys or corporations, and drawing adoring crowds nearly everywhere he goes?

On Leadership

One of the breed of bonkers, I wouldn’t dare to lecture
I don’t know how to lead, there’s got to be somebody better
Weak in the kneesy species, dreaming of future faded
Seen where the suture stiches nitted, slipped? I’m with you baby,
Let’s get obnoxious with it, I wanna know what brave is
I’m tired of sitting here pretending I’m not fucking dangerous!

~El-P, Run the Numbers

What luck for rulers that men do not think.

~Adolf Hitler

Most of us can agree that all signs point to coming electoral success at every level of the Federal government for the Democratic Party in 2008.  The polls are there, the Republican incumbents are stepping down, and the money edge is nearly insurmountable.

At the same time, the current Democratic Congress, holding narrow majorities, is expected to confirm Michael Mukasey as Attorney General.  This is after the nominee suggested he did not know what waterboarding entailed, that the President has the power to disobey the direct language of Federal statues, and that the Office of the Legal Counsel can advise that Executive Branch employees to disobey a Congressional subpoena and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia should refuse to obey a citation for contempt.

This compels us all to contemplate that no matter what the electoral fortunes of the Democratic Party, many dire threats to our liberty will persist.

Quote for Discussion: I’m Older Now edition

So, during the last week, at an undisclosed time and place, I turned 31.

Things I’ve learned since turning 31: Who fucking cares?  Thirty-one is a dull signpost.  None of the sentimentality of turning 30.  None of the whatever I expected being in my thirties would mean when I was younger.  I met a girl who had been on The Real World this week, and she told me that I looked like I was her age.  I have no idea how old she is, but that was quickly forgotten when she got pissed that I had no idea who she was, having not watched MTV in something like a decade.  I can remember discovering The Afghan Whigs when I saw the video for “Conjure Me” on 120 Minutes in high school.  See, I can date myself.

Here are some quotes which speak to me now that I’m 31.

Fuck this “debate”

So everyone with a blog or a newspaper is writing about the “debate” held tonight by the Democratic candidates for their party’s nomination for President.  But I’m not.  I didn’t watch it.  Sure, I was at work while it was going on, and could not have done so.  But I have been home for several of them, and proudly ignored them.  Because the “debates” are a sham, about little of substance, and won’t make much of a difference anyway.

We can all remember the vast attention paid to the Presidential debates in 2004, as well as many of them previous.  But the “victories” of Kerry over Bush in the debates then did not matter, and no matter how much we venerate the “You, sir, are no Jack Kennedy” moments of debates, debate results don’t matter much, except for in a single area.  The Swift Boat ads trumped whatever success from the debates Kerry had.

The only way that debates matter, particularly in the primaries, is that it can help determine not who any of us will vote for, but who gets major financial supporters.  Because you can blow it by having a terrible debate performance, and the money will not go to a candidate who has blown it.  And you can maybe pick up some money from a surprisingly strong debate showing; Mike Huckabee has finally seen an uptick in donations after repeated “strong” performances in the eyes of the press.

Anarchism and the Fire Department

In my last post in my “Quotes for Discussion” series, I posted quotes from both 19th Century and current anarchists.  In response, both andgarden and Meteor Blades brought up the issues of private firefighters and private police forces.

While I didn’t mention it at the time, of course there are many private police forces.  And not simply mercenaries like Blackwater; anyone visiting a bank, a shopping mall, or a gated community is familiar with private security guards.  But I didn’t think there were private firefighters out there.  Naturally, I was wrong

“What we’re trying to do here is provide our policyholders an additional level of protection,” said Stan Rivera, director of wildfire protection for AIG Private Client Group. The average home insured by the unit is valued at $1.7 million.

AIG this year expanded its Wildfire Protection Unit to 150 ZIP codes in California and Colorado, up from 14 when it was formed in 2005. The unit has had the busiest week since its inception as fires burned at least 719 square miles (1,861 square kilometers) from Santa Barbara to San Diego, destroying 1,342 homes and 34 businesses and causing at least seven deaths.

Quotes for Discussion: Anarchist Edition

In existing States a fresh law is looked upon as a remedy for evil. Instead of themselves altering what is bad, people begin by demanding a law to alter it. If the road between two villages is impassable, the peasant says, “There should be a law about parish roads.” If a park-keeper takes advantage of the want of spirit in those who follow him with servile obedience and insults one of them, the insulted man says, “There should be a law to enjoin more politeness upon the park-keepers.” If there is stagnation in agriculture or commerce, the husbandman, cattle-breeder, or corn- speculator argues, “It is protective legislation which we require.” Down to the old clothesman there is not one who does not demand a law to protect his own little trade. If the employer lowers wages or increases the hours of labor, the politician in embryo explains, “We must have a law to put all that to rights.” In short, a law everywhere and for everything! A law about fashions, a law about mad dogs, a law about virtue, a law to put a stop to all the vices and all the evils which result from human indolence and cowardice.

~Peter Kropotkin, “Law and Authority”

Random Economics Question

Easily my favorite thing about blogger Megan McArdle (the former Jane Galt) is her willingness to deal with economics questions in conversational terms, without often resorting to mathematics or theory.  Often, it makes her look bad to the casual reader, but I generally find it to be extraordinarily daring.  Politics is a realm where the ultimate sin is to say anything, true or false, in a manner which can be taken as offensive (paging Rep. Stark!). 

Today, Ms. McArdle made a post about charity in response to a comment which Ezra Klein highlighted on his blog.

Interestingly, this is exactly the argument that was offered for why socialism would be better than capitalism. I don’t find it ridiculous; indeed, in 1935, I’m sure I’d have found it incredibly compelling. It took a genius like Friedrich Hayek (and ultimately, the collapse of the Soviet Union) to show why giant national solutions rarely outperform a competitive market.

The problem, it turns out, is that the central planners with the big picture have to design one-size-fits all programs that by their nature have more error built in because they don’t have good local information. Also, when the planners make mistakes, as they inevitably will, those mistakes are bigger. They are also harder to detect because again, the planners have a much poorer grade of information about what is happening on the ground than local players do. And because there’s no competition, there is no one to grade your performance against, and also, much less incentive to fix mistakes–particularly since those mistakes tend to generate constituencies devoted to protecting them. (See subsidies, farm.)

(You should follow the link to see the comment from Klein’s blog and the full response from McArdle)

Think Differently: An Idea, and a Calculus Link

If anything defines the thrust of my postings here, it is a repeated exhortation both to myself and to others to think about things differently.  To me, this is of upmost importance.  Far too often, we are limited in our thinking by predefined boundaries or conceptions.  This has the result of limiting our answer set to the various questions we ask ourselves, often without our even knowing it.

This is not an original thought on my part: what is more a cliché of our times than to “think outside the box”?  Yet, we do not think outside the box very often at all, and no place less than in the political arena.  Take, for example, the issue of public education in American politics.  What are the major political issues relating to this subject?  Vouchers, class size, teachers’ unions, merit pay, increased spending per student, standardized testing, and charter schools.  These issues have been the major political issues regarding public education for at least the last decade, the period of time that I have been a voting citizen in the US.  And the sides in the debate are fairly static; Democrats are good for reducing class size, higher spending per student, and supporting teachers’ unions, Republicans are good for vouchers, charter schools, and supporters of merit pay and standardized testing.  We are left with both a supposed “crisis” in public education which is persistent (and in many ways mythical) as well as with a static debate, with political impasse allowing for these issues to remain dominant and no theoretical reforms ever fully implemented.  Ideas outside of this spectrum, such as the expansion of either the school day or school year, tend to lack partisan support from either side and languish, undebated and unimplemented.

Talking About the Wrong Genocide

“We’ve gathered here to mark the opening of this Holocaust Museum. We do so to help ensure that the Holocaust will remain ever a sharp thorn in every national memory, but especially in the memory of the United States, which has such unique responsibilities at this moment in history. We do so to redeem in some small measure the deaths of millions whom our nations did not, or would not, or could not save.”

~ President Bill Clinton, Remarks at the Dedication of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, April 21, 1993

“All of the people in this room and people in this country have a vital role to play. Everyone ought to raise their voice. We ought to continue to demand that the genocide in Sudan be stopped.”

~President George W. Bush, Remarks at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, April 18, 2007

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