Authority, liberty, left, and right

Posted on: Tue, 11/16/2010 - 12:00 By: Tom Swiss

In a recent Slashdot thread, someone asserted that the idea "The State knows best" is a "Far Left" idea. This is my refutation.

Authority ("the Church/State/Boss/Father/Mother knows best") vs. liberty ("I'll decide for myself") is orthogonal to left (the interests of people who do productive work) vs. right (the interests of people who own capital). It is certainly true that there are two main clusters in contemporary American politics; whether our two parties reflect or create this dynamic is an open question. But to understand the issues, we have to see politics as multi-dimensional. (And no, the two dimensional "Nolan Chart" used as a recruiting tool by the so-called "Libertarian Party" is just as much of a distortion.)

The contemporary mainstream American right, which we can more-or-less identify with the Republican Party, is capitalist and authoritarian. It thinks the State knows best what sort of sexual and romantic relationships you ought to be permitted to engage in, believes that the state ought to have the power of life and death over citizens (not just in the death penalty, but in opposing euthanasia laws), and fetishizes the military chain of command, where the individual submits to the moral judgment of the State as to who ought to be shot or bombed.

On economic issues, both the GOP and the "libertarian" right of the "Libertarian Party" want a state that's powerful enough to preserve the privilege of the investment class (i.e., the capitalists). You'll never hear them talk about reducing government's power to enforce and create property "rights". The mouth-noise from the GOP about "smaller government" is marketing; their idea of "smaller government" is about decreasing democratic governance and increasing state-backed private power. (It's government cops who come to evict you from "private" property.)

Rally to Restore Sanity causes record Metro ridership

Posted on: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 15:33 By: Tom Swiss

As I mentioned recently, the Metro was way frickin' crowded on Saturday. And it turns out that's not just me whining: Metro set a new record for Saturday Metrorail ridership. They estimate 825,437 Metrorail trips were taken -- average Saturday ridership is about 350,000. The ridership for the rally on Saturday broke the previous record of 786,358 set by the June 8, 1991 "celebration" of Gulf War I (a.k.a. Desert Storm).

vote, dammit, vote

Posted on: Sun, 10/31/2010 - 19:14 By: Tom Swiss

Some words of wisdom from Hunter S. Thompson:

"Politics Is The Art Of Controlling Your Environment"


That is one of the key things I learned in these years, and I learned it the hard way. Anybody who thinks that "it doesn't matter who's President" has never been Drafted and sent off to fight and die in a vicious, stupid War on the other side of the World -- or been beaten and gassed by Police for trespassing on public property -- or been hounded by the IRS for purely political reasons -- or locked up in the Cook County Jail with a broken nose and no phone access and twelve perverts wanting to stomp your ass in the shower. That is when it matters who is President or Governor or Police Chief. That is when you will wish you have voted.

Rally to Restore Sanity

Posted on: Sat, 10/30/2010 - 14:35 By: Tom Swiss

On the Metro, headed down to the Rally to Restore Sanity. We got to the Greenbelt metro station at 11am, and only an hour and a half later have we managed to get on a train -- transit is that backed up. Reports are that the Mall is packed.

We met a lady here all the way from San Francisco as we walked to the station from Beltway Plaza, where we parked. Another lady in the traincar calls out asking if there's anyone else from the Hudson Valley, two people answer.

At this rate, we may not get down to the Mall before the end of the Rally at 3pm. But it's worth it to be a part of today.

The big question, of course, is whether it will matter, whether these people will turn out and vote on Tuesday -- and get their friends to vote -- or whether it will just be a lark for them with no impact.

Radicals for Moderate Discourse

Posted on: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 23:48 By: Tom Swiss

Tomorrow, I'll be heading for the Rally to Restore Sanity in D.C.

Now, this is being billed as a "million moderate march"...and while I fit neatly into no one's system of political boxes, a moderate I am not. I'm the small-government liberal, the gun-owning pacifist, the free-market socialist. If a Green Party member and a big-L Libertarian had a baby who was raised by gorillas, you might come out with something like my views on Practical Zenarchy and what to do until Universal Enlightenment makes the state redundant.

And while this event is intended to draw lots of people who've never been to a protest or demonstration before, I won't be one of them.

Hell, this is supposed to be a "pro-reasonableness" event, and you can see the name of this blog.

But while I think vigorous debate, and even a certain about of unreasonableness, is important, I strongly agree with Jon Stewart's call to "turn it down a notch for America." And it's not just the birthers, tea baggers, and people who think mild health insurance reform is an insidious sleeper Soviet plot (the USSR faked its death, don't you know). It's also the deep-conspiracy 9/11 truthers who think that the civil engineers at NIST are part of a convoluted "false flag" operation set up by Bush and his cronies; it's the anti-war protestors carrying Che Guevara posters; it's the self-proclaimed "anarchists" -- with no idea of what anarchy actually is -- who think that breaking windows is going to bring about political change.

So, count me as a Radical for Moderate Discourse. I say yes to vigorous debate, and no to hostile and asinine behavior. Let's argue, sure, but let's do it over a beer, not over waving guns or overturned dumpsters.

And when you hear somebody talking about refreshing the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants, tell 'em to take it down a notch. For America.

And if you see somebody about to step on somebody's head, for chrissake, step up and stop 'em. Thanks.

new teabagger motto: "Don't Tread On Me, I'll Stomp On You"

Posted on: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 14:47 By: Tom Swiss

"But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." -- 1984, George Orwell (one of the great socialist writers of the 20th century, but that's a rant for another time)

A few years ago, before the teabaggers got ahold of it, I wrote in praise of the Gadsden flag -- the "Don't Tread On Me" rattlesnake -- and of Benjamin Franklin's essay on the rattlesnake as an American symbol.

Now, of course, it's become a symbol for our modern Know Nothings, the Tea Party.

I have to wonder, then, whether the Rand Paul supporters who tackled and then stomped on the head of a MoveOn.org protester have Gadsden flag stickers on their cars. Ah, irony.

Paul is not responsible for his nutcase of a father, Ron Paul, and deserves to be considered on his own merits -- or rather, his own total lack of merit. Because what he is responsible for is his excreable comments about civil rights law, and his fraudlent self-certification in ophthalmology.

And he's responsible for his asinine defense of BP during the oil spill disaster, when he said "What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, 'I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,'...I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business."

Apparently, though, having one of your high level campaign workers put his sneaker heel on the head of your political opponents isn't cause for apology in Paul's mind.

if you're reading this, you might want to check your car for tracking devices

Posted on: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 18:09 By: Tom Swiss

Security expert Bruce Schneier discusses a recent case where Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old marketing college student in Silicon Valley of partially Egyptian ancestry, found a big ugly tracking device attached to his car. Turns out it was placed there by the FBI -- sans a warrant, in keeping with the recent Ninth Circuit Court ruling.

The scary part is that all Afifi had done was be friends with a guy who made a blog post noting that it's logistically easy to carry out a suicide bombing. The friend didn't say such attacks were good, recommend them, or anything like that: he noted that "if terrorism were actually a legitimate threat, think about how many fucking malls would have blown up already," since such attacks are not difficult. That's it: a legitimate analysis of a common terrorist tactic.

Schneier says the case raises three questions: 1) Is the FBI's car surveillance technology that lame? 2) If they're doing this to someone so tangentially connected to a vaguely bothersome post on an obscure blog, just how many of us have tracking devices on our cars right now? (I've been net active since the late 80s. I've posted much more interesting stuff than the post by Afifi's friend in question. And you're reading my stuff...we might as well all paint "suspect" on our foreheads.) 3) How many people are being paid to read obscure blogs, looking for more college students to surveil?

One amusing bit, though: the FBI demanded that Afifi return the gizmo. A note to my fans in domestic surveillance: it's finder's keepers as far as I'm concerned, and without a court order to the contrary any spook gear I find will end up on eBay. Or maybe just shipped directly to WikiLeaks for an informative dissection.

recreational pot polling better than Democrats in CA

Posted on: Fri, 10/08/2010 - 10:25 By: Tom Swiss

The latest SurveyUSA poll of California voters has Democratic incumbent Barbra Boxer narrowly ahead 46% to 43% over Republican Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who got a golden parachute for running a once-proud tech company into the ground (the source of much of the fortune she's spending to buy this Senate seat) and is campaign as a demagogic know-nothing science denailist. I'm not a fan of Boxer, but a win for the Palin-endorsed Fiorina would be a sure sign that the U.S. is no longer interested in being a civilized nation; for the love of whatever gods you believe in, if you live in California, please help see that Fiorina is defeated.

Democrat Jerry Brown is up 47% to 43% over Republican Meg Whitman in the Governor's race. Brown has more than doubled his lead among Hispanics since it came to light that despite her strong rhetoric on immigration, Whitman employed an undocumented immigrant as a maid for several years, throwing her under the bus once she became a political liability. (Has anyone else noticed how "throwing someone under the bus" has become a favorite political metaphor the past few years?)

I have fond memories of Brown being the last actual liberal-leaning candidate in the 1992 presidential race, holding on to his primary challenge against moderate conservative Bill Clinton; and I like that Brown took a strong stance against Proposition 8 and for constitutional democracy when he was Attorney General. I'd like to see him back in the governor's mansion.

Polling better than either Boxer or Brown is the chronic: Proposition 19, which would legalize recreational cannabis in the state, would pass 48% to 41% according to this poll. The demographics on this are quite interesting: men favor it 54% to 38%, while women are just about evenly split, 43% in favor, 44% against. Voters 18 to 34 and 50 to 64 both strongly favor it (60% to 30% and 50% to 38% respectively), voters 35 to 49 are split 47% to 45%, and voters 65 and older are strongly against it, 48% to 36%. Whites and blacks favor it by substantial margins; Hispanics and Asians are evenly split. I can see older voters being against it, and the families of more recent immigrants being more comfortable with keeping the law as it is also makes sense; I've no idea about the gender gap, or why there's a "donut hole" in support by age group here -- did "Just Say No" really bend the minds of my generation that much?

Republicans and conservatives oppose it; Democrats, independents, liberals and moderates favor it by large margins. This has not gone unnoticed; some Democratic strategists are exploring putting cannabis initiatives on the ballot in Colorado, Nevada, and Washington in 2012 to help energize young liberal voters -- rather like the GOP's homophobic ballot initiatives (along with a stunning amount of voter fraud) helped Bush II win in 2004.

Maryland court upholds citizens' right to record cops on the job Tom Swiss Tue, 09/28/2010 - 22:49

The Sun reports that a Circuit Court judge in Harford County (Maryland) has dismissed wiretapping charges against Anthony Graber.

I've previously mentioned Graber's story: he was (apparently) being a dangerous jerk on his motorcycle, and got pulled over by a Maryland state cop who made a illegitimate traffic stop, cutting Graber off in an unmarked car (no lights or siren either) and jumping out his his car with his gun in his hand. Graber was wearing a helmet camera which recorded the incident. When Graber posted the video to Youtube, Joseph Cassilly -- State’s Attorney for Harford Count -- threatened to prosecute Graber for violating Maryland's wiretap law, a felony carrying a penalty of up to five years. It was in an act of pure intimidation for daring to embarrass a cop gone wild.

In yesterday's ruling, Circuit Court Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. quite sensibly noted that "Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public...When we exercise that power in a public forum, we should not expect our activity to be shielded from public scrutiny." He added that the incident "took place on a public highway in full view of the public. Under such circumstances, I cannot, by any stretch, conclude that the troopers had any reasonable expectation of privacy in their conversation with the defendant which society would be prepared to recognize as reasonable."

Jackass Cassilly claims the ruling "will make it more difficult for the police to do their jobs"; I can only interpret this to mean that he thinks that cops' jobs include intimidation and abuse.

According to the Sun's coverage, cops throughout the state have been using the wiretap excuse to seize people's cameras; a Baltimore cop threatened to arrest an amateur cameraman recording the arrest of a woman at Preakness, telling him, "It's illegal to record anybody's voice or anything else in the state of Maryland."

Recognizing our right to watch the watchers is a small, but important, step to get our out-of-control police forces to respect citizen's rights.

Green Party candidate for Senate killed in bike/car accident

Posted on: Wed, 09/22/2010 - 00:51 By: Tom Swiss

I recently mentioned Natasha Pettigrew, the Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate here in Maryland. In fact, I was planning on voting for her. (No worries about "throwing away your vote" on a third party candidate here; for good or for ill, Democrat Barbra Mikulski has the race all but sewn up.)

According to the Washington Post, Natasha Pettigrew was struck by a car early Sunday morning while she was biking, training for a triathlon. She died Monday night.

Shockingly, the driver of the SUV that killed Pettigrew didn't realize it for perhaps as long as an hour:

State police said the driver apparently thought she had hit a deer or another animal and realized what had happened only when she arrived home and found Pettigrew's bicycle trapped under her car. Pettigrew was not dragged by the vehicle but suffered severe injuries, police said.

The driver, who police identified as Christy R. Littleford, 41, called Prince George's County police sometime before 6:30 a.m. on Sunday to report the crash. County police then relayed the information to state police, who were on the scene.

"She had driven to her home and called from her home," said Greg Shipley, a Maryland State Police spokesman. "The initial indication was that she thought she may have hit a deer or an animal in the roadway. . . . When she arrived home and saw the bicycle, she assumed it was something else."

That, folks, is how careless drivers can be.

Brian Bittner, Maryland Green Party co-chairman, expressed the loss felt by those who worked with her in the party, saying that Pettigrew had "incredible potential as a future leader for this party and this state...We all looked forward to working with Natasha for years to come."

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