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Tony Blair's Crusade Against Atheism

Sunday, October 18, 2009
Last week, several bloggers expressed their chagrin at Tony Blair for having allegedly made some rather unfortunate remarks about non-theists in a speech the former British Prime Minister delivered to a crowd of religious scholars at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Jonathan Hurley, for instance, likens Blair to the puritanical elders of old Salem, claiming that "[n]ot since leaders tackled the dangers of witches in our midst has a politician sounded such an alarm." Elsewhere, Austin Cline calls Blair "a political menace and an intellectual vacuum." Clearly, Mr. Blair has touched a nerve.

In his speech, ostensibly a gesture of interfaith solidarity aimed at strengthening bonds between Christians and Muslims, Blair claims that "people of faith . . . face an aggressive secular attack from without" as well as "the threat of extremism from within." Blair continues, arguing that "[t]hose who scorn God and those who do violence in God's name . . . offer no hope for faith in the twenty first century."

Even if one gives Blair the benefit of the doubt and presumes that the "aggressive secular attack" to which he refers amounts to the efforts of a small minority of atheists, his wording is uncomfortably imprecise. Although there are, of course, other ways to read his comments, many commentators agree with Blag Hag's Jen, who, in asking "[w]hen's the last time an atheist has flown a plane into a building, or performed a suicide bombing?" interprets Blair's statement as a declaration that non-theists are as potent a threat to "people of faith" as violent religiously-motivated terrorists. Indeed, as Dave Keating puts it, "[a]pparently to Blair, Atheists and terrorists are two sides to the same coin."

Furthermore, semantically-speaking, atheists do not -- indeed cannot -- "scorn God" for the simple reason that one cannot be contemptuous towards that which one does not believe exists. Indeed, even in his most vitriolic of moments, Richard Dawkins does not scorn God; he hates the irrationality with which many "people of faith" approach the world, the same sort of irrationality Blair would likely attribute to the elements of "extremism" he denounces in the same breath as atheists. Thus, at the very least, Blair's comments suggest a particularly retrograde brand of essentialism lies beneath his understanding of non-theists. Likewise, he rather offensively reserves the concept of "faith" for adherents of recognized major world religions while neglecting to acknowledge that quite a few atheists are self-identified Humanists with a very real brand of faith as a central component of their moral philosophy.

Ultimately, though, Blair probably does not deserve the degree of condemnation directed at him. In all likelihood, his attempt to preach a rather pedestrian idea to his own choir (a largely academic crowd of Christians and Muslims hoping to overcome interfaith conflicts) drifted out of the nave and into the street, into the ears of a population to whom the same message would have been phrased more precisely had he intended to address them (i.e., "some of the people Paul Kurtz calls 'atheist fundamentalists,' like the more violent among religious extremists, may say or do things that will cause some 'people of faith' [those whose convictions are susceptible to doubt] to question the veracity of their beliefs" and, consequently, increase the likelihood of intrafaith squabbling). Such a view seems consistent with that of "Brad," who posts the following to the comment section below Keating's essay:
This is plain slander, and poorly-executed slander at that. I attended the Common Word Conference in Georgetown. Blair did not urge all faiths to "unite against a secular agenda," and most certainly did not equate atheism with terrorism. He simply meant that peace between the Muslim and Christian worlds is hindered from within by extremism, which promotes conflict between the religions, and from the outside by atheism, which undermines the need for considering religion in politics whatsoever.
To be sure, Blair's inability to anticipate the impact of his words on non-sympathetic ears may well be the big problem here. Whether it be "fair" or not, speaking in a public forum (even a "closed" forum) places the orator in the difficult position of having to consider the effect his or her words may have on a dauntingly broad range of auditors, including those not in attendance (recall Barack Obama's use of the word "bitter" last year). Thus, while Blair's defenders may see the response of a few secularists as the deliberate decontextualizing and twisting of the speaker's words, they remain his words and, thanks to the Internet, those words (as well as their intended and unintended meanings) have spread far beyond the intended audience. And this possibility, of course, is something Blair could have -- and, some would argue, should have -- anticipated.

Still, even in the most generous of interpretations, in which Blair simply means to imply that some secularists, through verbal argumentation and rhetorical persuasion, threaten to shake the convictions of the faithful, the former Prime Minister does a profound disservice to the "people of faith" he champions so mightily. After all, faith is only faith when its bearer considers the possibility of its fallibility and, after reflection, maintains and reaffirms his or her belief. Theoretically, he should welcome the challenges posed by those people he demonizes because, without them, people of faith such as himself would have nothing against which to test their convictions.

In the end, Blair's broad-sweeping comments on "secularists" do imply an overly simplistic understanding of atheism (there are different kinds of atheists, of course) which will, until clarified, understandably continue to rankle many non-theists, quite a few of whom supported Blair in his political sallies throughout the years.

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Barack Obama: The Latest in a Line of Cowboy Presidents?

Saturday, November 8, 2008
In an interesting choice of headwear, President-elect Barack Obama, who, in speaking a great deal about bringing change to our country, has tapped into the hope many Americans have for a Democratic wresting of power away from a president who has been caricaturized as a gunslinging Yosemite Sam-style cowboy, is seen in the photograph to the left wearing the style of chapeau most often associated with his cartoonish predecessor:

Of course, the cowboy hat is an American institution and Mr. Obama can be seen as merely the latest in a long line of American presidents who have chosen to don the iconic staple of Western wear:

George W. Bush:

Bill Clinton:

George H. W. Bush:

Ronald Reagan:

Lyndon Johnson:

Theodore Roosevelt:

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Howard Zinn Will Vote For Nader After All

Sunday, November 2, 2008
After having added his name to the list of leftists intending to vote for Barack Obama out of anti-Republican sentiment, Howard Zinn has written a letter to Ralph Nader in which the historian admits that he "was wrong in saying that he would vote for Obama" and promises the consumer advocate that he "will vote for [Nader]." Admittedly, Zinn seems to imply that, were Massachusetts not a "slam-dunk state" for the Democrats, he would have cast his vote for Barack Obama on Tuesday.

At the heart of this story is something I have been discouraged by, namely the tendency of self-described liberals to vote for Barack Obama less out of a genuine enthusiasm for the man (though, undeniably, the Illinois senator does seem to elicit the sort of fervor one might expect of tweens attending an N'Sync concert from decidedly un-tweeny people) than out of a hatred for George W. Bush and the GOP.

The argument, of course, is that Barack Obama is better than the Republican alternative.

Thus, when I tell people that I intend to cast my vote for a third party candidate, I am greeted with the same sanctimonious refrain I hear every four years: "you're throwing your vote away."

And I hate that sort of bullshit. It's presumptuous to assume that I would want to give my vote to either of the major party candidates if I did not have a third party candidate for whom I felt any preference.

When the pro-Obama pragmatists fail to convince me with their case -- you wouldn't want another Republican in office would you? -- for my supporting their candidate, I am often accused of cynicism, which is ironic. It is ironic because it is precisely my lack of cynicism that enables me to vote for the person I feel I should support. If I were cynical, I would agree that my vote is worthless and that, if anything, I should accept the lesser of two evils as the best choice. But I do not believe this to be the case. The minute a vote for someone becomes a vote against someone, it ceases to be a vote for anything. It signifies a giving up, an acceptance of the belief that what one wants, one will never get.

And it is this sort of acquiescence that is exactly what leads to the sort of political stagnation we have in the United States. I mean, the Democratic Party would be considered a center-right party in most of the Western world while the Republicans would be a bit further right. The differences between the two parties, despite the passionate pleas to the contrary, are really quite minor.

And this is my point: I am not voting against Barack Obama nor am I (as some of my more vocal "liberal" friends claim) voting for a conservative America. I am voting for what I want, even if the polls say I won't have my way. If I want a de-corporatized democratic socialism, voting for Barack Obama or John McCain would be throwing my vote away and, if people like me (progressive, liberal, and often educated folks) stop saying "no thanks" to the two big parties, it won't matter that they're wrong because they will have effectively silenced the dissent necessary to bring about real change.

I want change, not the illusion of progress.

And if that hope is too audacious, America's Straight Thought Express derailed at the station.

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Don't Forget to Spay and Neuter Your. . . Um . . . Poorer Neighbors?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008
After reflecting upon the devastating effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav on the Big Easy, Louisiana State Representative John LaBruzzo (R) tells New Orleans City Business that he supports government subsidization of a controversial plan to offer sterilization to "impoverished women . . . so that they will stop having babies they can't afford." Not surprisingly, many New Orleans residents recoil in horror when their resident eugenicist speaks of what amounts to a creepily Orwellian plan to eliminate the poor. Of course, LaBruzzo emphasizes that such measures would be voluntary (and paid!) and that no woman would be forced to have her fallopian tubes tied.

LaBruzzo's critics -- and there are, understandably, many -- tend to echo New Orleans Women's Health Clinic's Shana Griffin's assessment of the plan as fundamentally racist, arguing that "it is obvious" that LaBruzzo's plan targets "welfare recipients and those dependent on city-assisted evacuation -- poor, black women."

In response to such accusations, reports, LaBruzzo claims that his "plan isn't racially motivated" by "point[ing] out that more whites are on welfare than blacks."

Still, even without any racial implications, as the ACLU's Majorie Esman asserts, LaBruzzo's proposition may be interpreted as "a mean-spirited, misguided effort to eliminate poverty by eliminating the poor."

Esman's observation seems to be supported by the fact that "[a]nother part of LaBruzzo's plan would give tax breaks to wealthier families who want more children."

Despite the waves of criticism, WDSU claims that "67 percent of viewers said it's appropriate for the state to implement the program."


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Russian Christian Group Calls for Ban on "Extremist" South Park

Monday, September 8, 2008
From Reuters:

"Prosecutors in Russia want to ban the award-winning satirical U.S. cartoon South Park, calling the series 'extremist' after receiving viewer complaints, a spokeswoman said Monday."


"The Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith had asked prosecutors to ban South Park after it said 20 experts had studied the show for its effect on young viewers.

The group's leader, Konstantin Bendas, said 'South Park is just one of many cartoons that need to be banned from open it insults the feelings of religious believers and incites religious and national hatred.'"

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We Want a Google-YouTube Debate!

Sunday, September 7, 2008
Thanks to Barack Obama's commitment to avoiding debates that might involve the Democratic candidate answering non-scripted questions, it looks like the proposed Google-YouTube debate in New Orleans will not be happening. Just as Obama has refused to meet with John McCain (and, you know, average Americans) in a series of Town Hall meetings, the Democrat seems poised to ditch what could have been a truly wonderful opportunity for Americans to meet and discuss issues with the presidential candidates. Oh, and a great way to bring money to a hurricane-ravaged region.

But here's an idea: have it anyway. John McCain would attend. So would Ralph Nader and Bob Barr. And I bet Barack Obama would show up, miraculously finding the time he claims does not exist, if that happened.

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Jello Biafra on Barack Obama, Ralph Nader

Friday, September 5, 2008
Jello Biafra has a habit of speaking his mind, even when it's not what people want to hear. In the following clip, the former Dead Kennedys frontman and a popular fixture on the college lecture circuit, expresses a fear many American liberals have been uncomfortable voicing:
One of the dangers I find in the Barack Obama phenomenon is if he does turn out to be another insider, another Bill Clinton, it's gonna break the hearts of everybody who got off their ass to register to vote for the first time . . .

It's nice to see a bona-fide liberal unabashedly speak his mind and share his doubts about the Democratic candidate. It sometimes seems that any critique of Barack Obama is met with disdain by self-identified liberals and any mention of the junior senator's decidedly unimpressive legislative record is quickly reduced to conservative propaganda. But Jello Biafra is not conservative, not by a long shot and it will be pretty hard to explain away his concerns as anything even approaching conservative propaganda.

Biafra also mentions his proud allegiance to the Green Party as well as his intention to speak at the next day's rally for independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

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Democrats and Republicans Miss Deadline for Texas Ballot Access

Friday, August 29, 2008
This is hilarious. Somehow, both the Republican and Democratic parties have missed the August 26 deadline to file in Texas. What this means is Bob Barr, the mustachioed Libertarian candidate, is the sole candidate legally eligible to appear on the presidential ballot in November. What's so great about this is that when the two major parties make the inevitable big stink about not being on the ballot, Bob Barr gets to point out how disgustingly difficult it has always been for third parties to get ballot access. Seriously, Texas is going to have to break its own election laws if it is going to allow John McCain and Barack Obama on the ballot. If that happens, and you know it will, legions of screwed third party candidates will have a few words to say. I'm sure there will be some nice, little way of explaining the whole thing away, some verbal legerdemain to make the illegal sound perfectly legal, but the story will, hopefully, be big enough to bring the unfair nature of ballot access laws to light for many Americans. For a presidential election boasting so many historical firsts, I'd really like to see some big changes: the end of two-party domination and the first third-party candidate to make a serious run at the presidency. Not that it will happen this time, but let the Barrs and Ralph Naders and Cynthia McKinneys and Chuck Baldwins get fair ballot access and, maybe, one day we'll see some real progress made in this country.

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Don't Believe the Hype: Nader Did Not Cost Gore the Election

Thursday, June 19, 2008
SNL alum Tim Meadows, from an interview with Kam Williams:
KW: You've done tons of impressions. Are you working on Barack Obama?

TM: Yeah, I've been working on Barack Obama a little bit. I'm waiting for him to win. I'm not going to waste my time if he's going to lose.

KW: Are you supporting him?

TM: I'll support him if he wins. I won't support him if he loses. [Laughs] No, I don't support anybody. It's not my thing. And if I did, I wouldn't say who it was publicly. I'll give you a hint who I'm voting for in November. It rhymes with Seder.

KW: Oh, Ralph Nader. You don't worry about possibly wasting your vote?

TM: No, I sort of disagree with people who blame him for taking votes away from Gore in 2000. Gore still won the popular vote. Nader wasn't the reason why he lost the election. The Supreme Court cost him the election. Plus, you don't know that all those people who voted for Nader would've gone for Gore. I've met Ralph Nader and I like him. And I've met John McCain, and he's a great guy, too. I haven't met Barack, but I have met Oprah Winfrey. I would love to see some change, and whatever the country decides, I'm behind it.
Tim is correct: Nader did not cost Gore the election in 2000. Yes, Nader did get 97, 488 votes in Florida in the election and yes, George W. Bush beat Al Gore by an anemic 537 vote margin, but seven other presidential candidates received more than 537 votes in Florida, too:
Pat Buchanan (Reform) -- 17, 484 votes.
Harry Browne (Libertarian) -- 16, 415 votes.
John S. Hagelin (Natural Law) -- 2281 votes.
Monica Moorehead (Workers World) -- 1804 votes.
Howard Phillips (Constitution) -- 1371 votes.
David McReynolds (Socialist) -- 622 votes.
James E. Harris (Socialist Workers) -- 562 votes.
I doubt any of the 1000+ socialist votes would have gone for Bush. Had even half of those gone to Gore, he would have won. But no one makes that argument. Of course, Nader's detractors have always been eager to point out (without any real evidence), that many of the Green Party's votes would have gone to the Democrats had Nader not run in the millennial election. And, of course, some of Nader's many votes would have probably gone to Al Gore. What the anti-Nader crusaders (Michael Moore, Eric Alterman, Fat Mike, etc.) don't mention, however, is that many of Nader's votes would have gone to George Bush or another (or no) candidate. Interestingly, a recent AP poll provides the following food for thought:

In a three-way race, Barack Obama would pick up 47 percent of the vote, John McCain would get 43 percent and Ralph Nader would get 6 percent. But the real kicker is that "[i]f Nader, the independent, is not included, Obama's lead is 49 percent to 46 percent." So, if Nader were not in the race, the six percent of the vote the consumer advocate might expect to pick up would disperse as follows:
1% would not vote for either the Democrats or Republicans
3% would vote for the Republicans
2% would vote for the Democrats
In other words, the GOP would benefit from Nader's exclusion while the Democrats would suffer.

Interesting, huh? I suspect some of Nader's critics would suggest that many of the people who voted for Nader in 2000 did not vote for him in 2004 because they were voting anti-Bush, and that the same demographic would be hesitant to "give" the White House to a Republican again by voting for Nader in 2008. Still, is it possible that maybe the Democrats have been spreading propaganda because Al Gore lost the election and they needed a scapegoat? In a word, yes.

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John McCain: America's Songbird?

Sunday, June 8, 2008
From Prison Planet:

"A former Vietnam veteran with top secret clearance says he has personally spoken to numerous POW's who dispute John McCain's claim that he refused to provide information after he was captured and tortured in Hanoi, saying that in fact McCain's code-name was 'Songbird' because of his willingness to tell all to avoid torture."

"'He never was tortured - they were there in the camp with him and then when he came in. . .he immediately started spilling his guts about everything because he didn't want to get tortured,' said [Jack] McLamb, contradicting the official story that McCain only offered his name, rank, serial number, and date of birth."

"The POW's said that McCain made 32 propaganda videos for the communist North Vietnamese in which he denounced America for what they were doing in Vietnam.

'They have these sealed now, our government has these sealed, we can't get to it, they have it classified,' said McLamb, adding that in truth 'the POW's hate John McCain.'"

This sounds eerily reminiscent of the anti-John Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. If it's true, it could easily destroy any and all of McCain's credibility. On the other hand, it could be as far-fetched as Larry Sinclair's claim to have had homosexual intercourse with Barack Obama.

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One Huge Problem With Jesse Ventura

Saturday, May 31, 2008
I should preface this by saying that I voted for Jesse Ventura when he and Mae Schunk "shook the world" in 1998. And I would have voted for him again had he sought re-election, but Jesse has his flaws. He's smug. He's egotistical. When he spoke at my college, many of my fellow students thought that he had feigned weeping while discussing his deceased parents in an effort to manipulate the crowd in some fashion. I also distinctly remember him asking "don't it?" over and over, precisely the sort of grammatical boner one would not want to make in front of several hundred college students. Still, I voted for him. I desperately wanted to see a third party candidate break through the two party duopoly and Jesse Ventura, it seemed, was just the person to do it.

Of course, his quasi-libertarian brand of common sense populism was a refreshing change, too.

Now that Jesse has returned to the national spotlight with Don't Start the Revolution Without Me, I have been listening to him again. I find myself nodding along, agreeing with Ventura on many points, especially his critiques of the farcical two party system we've got going in this country. I also find myself shaking my head, grinning and grimacing whenever the Governor brings up spurious information to bolster a particularly dubious point. Still, I'd love to see him run for office again. Like he says, every time he throws his hat into the ring, people pay attention to the elections, real issues enter into the debates, and voter turnout increases exponentially.

But there's one thing he's said recently that really, really sticks in my craw. In an interview with Meria Heller, Ventura makes this statement:
I don't watch much TV, but I do something else: I read books. And last year I read sixteen books. Now, certainly not all of them on 9-11. But, I love to read history books. I don't read fiction because I have my own imagination and I don't need some writer to try to take my own imagination from me, so I like to read history and what I consider somewhat factual books...
You can hear it for yourself by clicking on the link below (the passage I quote can be found between the 36-minute, 47-second mark and the 37-minute, 10-second mark).

Okay, maybe it's because I work with literature on a daily basis, but Good Lord, what a thing to say! Especially coming from an actor (that's fiction) and a professional wrestler (um...that's not really "somewhat factual," is it?). I mean, really, fiction doesn't take one's imagination away; it engages it. Sheesh, This is what I'd like to say to Jesse: good fiction gets people thinking. It energizes our minds and encourages us to talk about issues we mightn't talk about otherwise. Albert Camus once said that a novel is a philosophical work in narrative form, a text designed not just to entertain but to teach, inspire, and motivate. (Of course, one could argue that history is not so much fact as interpretation, too. But that's another, more post-structural topic). And, really, didn't George Orwell's fiction get people talking about the things you yourself discuss today? C'mon, Jesse! Do you mean to tell us that you battles with Jimmy Superfly Snuka and Hulk Hogan mean nothing?

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What Public Funds Could Do When Spent on Non-Military Stuff

Monday, May 26, 2008
In what may be another byproduct of the money pit that is the war in Iraq, the nation's wildlife refuges have fallen into disrepair. Responding to the proliferation of illegal drug farms and prostitution rings within America's understaffed and underfunded refuges, Evan Hirshe, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association and chairman of the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE), recently told Congress that "[w]ithout adequate funding, we are jeopardizing some of the world's most spectacular wildlife and wild lands" and recommended an eighty million dollar funding increase for the 2009 fiscal year.

Such an increase would bring public funding of our nation's wildlife refuges to $514 million, a figure that is still well below the $765 million CARE estimates is the minimal adequate amount to maintain the one hundred million acres of land under the protection of the National Wildlife Refuge System. As a result of budget-related staff cuts, the system only cannot afford to pay staff more than 180 of the 845 law enforcement officials needed to ensure the safety of the refuges' many visitors.

With more than forty million visitors a year, the nation's wildlife refuges bring in an estimated $1.7 billion to the American economy and provide well over 25,000 jobs.

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One Last Note on the Libertarian Debate

Did anyone notice that no one actually answered the first question posed by the moderator during Saturday evening's Libertarian Party presidential debate? When Jim Pinkerton asked which philosopher's ideas most resembled his own, Bob Barr replied that he was most fond of and influenced by Ayn Rand, not that his ideas are similar to hers. Each subsequent candidate made similar statements about a philosopher they discovered or found to be influential when the question reached them. In other words, while such answers could be interpreted as roundabout ways of saying such-and-such a person's ideas are like mine, they are not, in fact, answering the question.

Wouldn't it have been nice, too, had the candidates not stuck to the predictable Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman references and mentioned less blatantly objectivist or libertarian folks?Seriously, how great would it have been to hear "Arthur Shopenhauer is most like me" or "I feel like Albert Camus's conception of the absurd is pretty consistent with my own life philosophy"?

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Bob Barr + Wayne Allyn Root = Yuck.

Sunday, May 25, 2008
I am not a Libertarian Party member and never have been one, so some people will dismiss my comments as uninformed and irrelevant. That's fine; I make no claim to be an expert on libertarian philosophy. Still, I find I sympathize with the Libertarian Party and share many of the values central to libertarian thought.

I am also a fan of Mike Gravel, though I never really thought he would win the Libertarian nomination. Having met the man, having listened to him speak, having discussed issues I care about with him, I was pleased when he joined the Libertarian Party, which I do think espouses a set of beliefs that are closer to his philosophy than, say, the Democratic Party. To be honest, I think Gravel was more interested in running for president than in running for president as a libertarian. At the same time, as much as I like libertarianism, the fact that so many of the party's ideological purists reject Gravel is exactly why I couldn't join the party. I am about as much a libertarian as Senator Gravel and, it would seem, the Libertarian Party says it is not libertarian enough. Though he's dropped out of the race, I may still write him in.

That said, although I didn't expect Mike Gravel to win the nomination today, I was very interested in the Libertarian convention and I really hoped that they would field a strong ticket. Bob Barr, it seems to me, was a solid choice for the presidential nomination. He has the political experience and the name recognition the party's past nominees have largely lacked. Accordingly, CNN and other major news outlets have provided the party with a level of mainstream media exposure unheard of in the almost forty-year history of the Libertarian Party. This is good.

Like many Americans my age, I cannot stand the two party system we've got in this country. As someone who has lived abroad for several years, I have seen parliamentary governments with six or seven parties working together and long for a day when Americans can say that we have Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, Socialists, et cetera, in Congress, in proportion to the numbers of people voting for them. I also realize that we must work with what we have and, right now, we need a viable third party to make a push for the White House to show people that a vote for a third party is not a vote thrown away.

As the third-largest political party in the United States, the Libertarian Party has had the best chance to make that sort of impact and this afternoon's nomination of Bob Barr will ensure that people pay attention to the party. With the Greens lacking a big name candidate, the Libertarians sat poised to be the third party in this election.

Wayne Allyn Root will ruin that chance. As Barr will readily admit, he does not come across as particularly charismatic or energetic, but he does come across as a seasoned politician with the ability to communicate his ideas (and those of his party) to a much broader audience than anyone other than Ron Paul, who was the Libertarian Presidential nominee in 1988. Root, while energetic, will not appeal to most Americans. Seriously: even if his ideas are consistent with the libertarian ideological core, his grating public personality is better suited to infomercials for real estate schemes at three in the morning than to serious political discussions. He comes across as glib, self-obsessed, obnoxious, and an amalgam of every horrible stereotype you can come up with for lawyers, used car salesmen, miracle cure-hawking mountebanks, and...well, I imagine you get the picture. I would not buy a salad shooter or a home gym from this guy, let alone a plan for fixing America and I suspect I am far from being the only one. And that's a problem. Even if he is nice, even if he is sincere, he does not project that sort of authenticity.

Had Barr urged voters to pick someone else instead of making a deal with Root, he stood a real chance to achieve major party status for the Libertarians.

Having seen Jesse Ventura win the gubernatorial race in Minnesota a decade ago, I know it is possible for a third party to field a candidate able to win an election, but until we see that sort of success on the national stage, such a victory will be the exception and not the rule.

Unless the Green Party somehow snags Al Gore, we won't see a third party candidate in this year's election do much more than act as a spoiler. Barr gives the Libertarians the chance to step up. Root takes it away.

We need someone with the money of a Ross Perot and the popular appeal of an Al Gore to do it.

So, no, I'll not be voting Libertarian this election. I agree with quite a bit of the libertarian platform, but not enough to justify voting for two men I do not like. And I sure as hell won't vote for Obama, Clinton, McCain, or Nader, either.

I just hope Barr wins the five percent to make the LP a major party. Then, at least, our country will have made a step towards dismantling the two party system. After all, the Libertarians have the long history and core believers the Reform Party lacked when it made its splash in the nineties. But, man, I just can't bring myself to help the Libertarians this time around, not with Barr and Root bearing the banner.

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"I Choose You!"

Monday, May 5, 2008
From the Associated Press:

"Doctors know some patients needing lifesaving care won't get it in a flu pandemic or other disaster. The gut-wrenching dilemma will be deciding who to let die.

Now, an influential group of physicians has drafted a grimly specific list of recommendations for which patients wouldn't be treated. They include the very elderly, seriously hurt trauma victims, severely burned patients and those with severe dementia."

"To prepare, hospitals should designate a triage team with the Godlike task of deciding who will and who won't get lifesaving care, the task force wrote. Those out of luck are the people at high risk of death and a slim chance of long-term survival. But the recommendations get much more specific, and include:

-People older than 85.
-Those with severe trauma, which could include critical injuries from car crashes and shootings.
-Severely burned patients older than 60.
-Those with severe mental impairment, which could include advanced Alzheimer's disease.
-Those with a severe chronic disease, such as advanced heart failure, lung disease or poorly controlled diabetes."

"If followed to a tee, such rules could exclude care for the poorest, most disadvantaged citizens who suffer disproportionately from chronic disease and disability, he said. While health care rationing will be necessary in a mass disaster, 'there are some real ethical concerns here.'"
[Full story]

Scary. Real damn scary.

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You're Elitist! No, You're Elitist! Nuh-uh! Uh-huh!

Sunday, April 13, 2008
Don't you just love the fuss everyone seems to be making over the comments Barack Obama made in San Francisco? In case you've forgotten, in reference to the working class Reagan Democrats the Democratic presidential hopeful has been struggling to win over, Senator Obama said:
You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And it's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
Ever since the Huffington Post first reported on Obama's characterization of working-class Pennsylvanians as "bitter," the blogosphere, radio, newspapers, and television have been buzzing with excitement. Hillary Clinton and her supporters, of course, have jumped at the opportunity to portray Obama as hopelessly disconnected from blue collar America and, consequently, a horrible choice for the Democratic nomination. Mr. Obama, facing a potentially campaign-destroying firestorm, chose to respond to the criticism by acknowledging that while his wording mightn't have been wisely-chosen, his statements were actually, as the New York Times's Katharine Q. Seelye and Jeff Zeleny put it, "an expression of populist sympathy for a displaced working class," as indeed they could be interpreted. Not surprisingly, the Huffington Post continues to overflow with commentary on Mr. Obama's sentiments, both critical and supportive. While the website's bloggers tend to agree with Erin Kotecki Vest's assertion that "Senator Barack Obama is DEAD ON when he talks about the bitterness of residents," the people commenting on postings continue to stir the argument about whether or not such comments could be construed as evidence of either Obama's inability to speak enough like a politician to inspire confidence in his candidacy or of the elitist views that will inevitably alienate the working backbone of America if he becomes president (italics in the original). And it goes on and on, ad nauseum.

What's so funny about the whole ordeal, of course, is that both Hillary Clinton and John McCain--two of the people least in touch with America's working class--have been licking their chops at the prospects of twisting Obama's words around to make him appear elitist. Because, you know, they get Larry the Cable Guy or something.

And it certainly doesn't help that Obama made his comments in a "closed" environment, a detail lending an air of secrecy to the proceedings and fueling the "well, we weren't supposed to hear it, so it must be bad!" crowd. Still, I'm not saying that Barak Obama is, in fact, in touch with the working class; in fact, I doubt any Washington politician really, truly understands what it is like to live under the poverty line in a nation with a failing economy -- at least not at any time in recent memory -- but it really seems like a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Granted, we get to hear a load of platitudes in the wake of Obama's statement. For instance, Hillary reminds us, she "grew up in a church-going family, a family that believed in the importance of living out and expressing our faith," so she understands the people Barak Obama so clearly misunderstands. "The people of faith I know don't 'cling to' religion because they're bitter," Senator Clinton told supporters in Indianapolis yesterday, they "embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich."

Then people cheer.

And more people get killed in Iraq. But who's paying attention?

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John C. Woo on the Legality of Torture

Wednesday, April 9, 2008
In one of many recent articles appearing in the wake of last week's declassification of former Justice Department lawyer John C. Woo's 2003 memorandum discussing the legality of various torture techniques, the Washington Post's Dan Eggen reveals several of the "unsavory topics" appearing in Woo's report. Although "[n]o maiming is known to have occurred in U. S. interrogations" of terror suspects detained by government authorities, Eggen writes, "federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes by military interrogators are trumped by the president's ultimate authority as commander in chief" during wartime.

In other words, the president could authorize "slitting an ear, nose or lip or disabling a tongue or limb" if he or she felt it was in the best interest of the country. Furthermore, according to Woo's memorandum, unless such tactics result in "death, organ failure or serious impairment of bodily functions," they will not be regarded as torture. Thus, although several "courts have declared [such] tactics to be inhumane" and "the relative illegality of a wide variety of interrogation tactics" cannot be denied, they do not qualify as torture. Consequently, while "they [are] illegal under a provision of the Geneva Conventions," the Bush administration regards such provisions as without "relevance to unlawful combatants in custody."

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Third Parties Expose Obama's Politics as Usual

Tuesday, April 8, 2008
From the American Chronicle's Kevin Zeese:

"In 2004 there was only one significant challenger to the corporate political duopoly both of whom put forward candidates that campaigned in favor of continuing the Iraq occupation. This year there will be three legitimate campaigns challenging the duopoly. And, since none of the Democratic or Republican Party candidates is calling for a real end to the occupation, Iraq may provide the energy for these efforts."

"Unfortunately, Senator Obama has reversed course and can no longer be described as a peace candidate. He recently said he will leave the private mercenaries in Iraq which at a minimum are 140,000 troops and may be twice that number. His campaign has said that Obama will leave up to 80,000 troops in Iraq. And, Obama has said he will withdraw combat troops to a surrounding country like Kuwait so they could serve as a strike force in Iraq. Obama continues to promise to end the "war" but the details do not describe an end to the war. Further, he has kept a military attack against Iran on the table and plans to expand the already too large and too expensive military by 92,000 troops. He describes his foreign policy as a return to the policy of George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and JFK -- all of whom aggressively used U.S. military force.

Obama may think he has the Democratic nomination wrapped up and is positioning himself for the General Election, but now with three serious independent political challenges who all oppose the war his Republican-lite positions risk losing many peace voters and the election."

"The desire for more choices in elections has been growing in recent years. The president has very low approval ratings as does the Congress -- the latter for their failure to fulfill their 2006 mandate to end the war. One-third the electorate now considers themselves independent, not Democratic or Republican."

If what Zeese implies is true--that Barack Obama has changed his stance on the Iraq war to cater to potential non-Democrat voters--the popular senator's campaign may be irreparably damaged. If a full third of U. S. voters are not affiliated with either major party and a significant chunk of these independent voters look to third party candidates like Cynthia McKinney, Mike Gravel, Bob Barr, or Ralph Nader for a fresh approach to key issues, Obama's increasingly moderate, Republican-friendly anti-war stance will likely strike such voters as evidence of precisely the sort of politics-as-usual behavior for which the Senator has so vehemently asserted his disdain. It would seem that the staunch anti-war sentiments of the McKinneys, Gravels, Barrs, and Naders of the world, especially in their unwavering consistency, will undoubtedly force voters to reconsider the trustworthiness of Obama's views on Iraq--the validity of which has been a problem for the junior senator ever since his Democratic challengers questioned his experience in the earliest debates.

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Dinesh D'Sousa Sadly Misinformed About Libertarians, Atheists

Monday, April 7, 2008
For anyone who has read Dinesh D'Sousa's astonishingly bigoted "How Atheists Celebrate Christmas," it should come as no surprise that Andrew Davis's response addresses the conservative pundit's claim that "[m]any libertarians are basically conservatives who are either gay or druggies or people who generally find the conservative moral agenda too restrictive." Although the essay's latent homophobia (notice how quick D'Sousa is to assert that many libertarians are gay) and explicit religious intolerance (D'Sousa's treatment of non-theists is extremely prejudiced) immediately weaken the author's claims, it is nice to see a thoughtful rebuttal that does not stoop to the same petty behavior. As Davis argues, D'Sousa "sees most libertarians as hedonistic atheists, and uses a tipsy [Christopher] Hitchens as the chief example of [the libertarians'] disdain for morality," which is sadly misinformed. In his conflation of libertarianism with conservatism and atheism with surfeited pleasure-seeking, D'Sousa does a tremendous disservice to freethinkers as well as liberty-minded Americans. Plus, he omits the rather significant number of left-libertarians...

Since we've been covering the Libertarian race a bit lately, I thought it'd be nice to post a link to the videos of the Heartland Libertarian Conference Debates that took place over this weekend in Missouri.

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More Gravel-Barr Discussion

From John Nichols's Online Beat Blog on

"Gravel, a quirky but often contender contender, spiced up the early Democratic debates by suggesting that most of the other candidates scared him with their casual talk of flexing the nation's nuclear capacity. Those comments earned Gravel a disinvitation to later debates. But he continued to campaign, raising a little bit of money and a lot of important issues, especially with regard to needed reforms in the political process. None of this got him many votes and he won no delegates to Democratic National Convention."

And, regarding Bob Barr's potential candidacy:

"But a ticket made up of a former Democratic senator and a former Republican congressman who find agreement on a number of Constitutional issues would gain attention - and perhaps a decent number of votes - in a fall election season that may see former adherents of both major parties casting about for alternatives."

And you can check out the comments under Nichols's post if you're in the mood to read the predictable "if you vote for a third party, you're voting for McCain" garbage and the handful of "I vote on conscience" or "I wouldn't vote for Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton anyway" responses...

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Politics as Unusual

Sunday, April 6, 2008
From The Atlantic's Reihan Salam:

"Former Rep. Bob Barr, once an ardent Republican and one of the architects of the effort to impeach President Clinton, is on the verge of entering the presidential race as a Libertarian"

"Once known for his zealous opposition to medical marijuana, he has reversed his old stand on the Drug War, and he is almost as passionate in damning the invasion of Iraq as Paul himself. Can Barr become the Ralph Nader of 2008 -- spoiling the election for Republican conservatives, or perhaps for anti-war Democrats? Almost certainly not. All the same, this year's most interesting presidential debate will likely happen within Bob Barr's Libertarian Party."

"Meanwhile, Mike Gravel, the erstwhile Democratic presidential candidate, has also thrown his hat into the ring for the Libertarian nomination. For all his strident anti-imperialism, Gravel never developed a real constituency on the left. But his politics offer an intriguing way forward for Libertarians. His plan for overhauling the welfare state, devised by the far-from-insane Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff, promises to put entitlements on a sound footing and deliver healthcare to all Americans, all while sparking an investment-led economic boom. This isn't the kind of platform that normally appeals to flinty individualists, but the case can be made that the plan is in some important sense freedom-friendly. Provided you found the right messenger -- namely, someone slightly less loopy than Gravel -- it might even resonate with the public."

I don't think the term "loopy" really describes Senator Gravel. Having met the man and having listened to him speak at length, I can say that he struck me as an intensely passionate man, a thoughtful and intelligent person, and a strikingly candid politician, but not loopy. Dennis Kucinich is loopy. Ross Perot is loopy. Mike Gravel is, well, driven--and I imagine his passion is what some folks misinterpret as loopy behavior. Seriously, he's done a tremendous amount of good for this country, reading the Pentagon Papers, helping stop the draft for the Vietnam War, and injecting a healthy dose of reality into the Democratic debates--precisely the sort of behavior that one would not describe as loopy.

I look forward to the Libertarian debates. If Bob Barr does decide to throw his hat into the ring, that would make a tremendous race. As it stands now, Vegas oddsmaker Wayne Allyn Root remains the leading Libertarian candidate, but George Phillies, Christine Smith, Michael Jingozian, Mary J. Ruwart, and Senator Gravel promise to make for a hotly contested nomination battle. What will be really nice about the LP debates is that Sen. Gravel will be allowed time to speak--something he was systematically denied during the Democratic debates. You will recall that second- and third-tier candidates like Gravel, Dodd, Biden, and Kucinich were allotted considerably less talk time than top-tier candidates like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and, to a significantly lesser extent, Bill Richardson. It's too bad America's third-largest party does not have the clout of the big two and, consequently, lacks the ad revenue potential required to land prime time television coverage, because I am certain these debates will be much more probing than the predictable GOP and Democratic debates we've been subjected to over the past ten months...

And speaking of Libertarians: George Phillies says "Libertarians are not Conservatives."

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The FCC Might Let You Be

Tuesday, March 18, 2008
From The Washington Post:
"The Supreme Court announced yesterday that it will rule on the government's standards for policing the public airwaves for the first time since the court agreed 30 years ago that a midday radio broadcast of comedian George Carlin's 'seven dirty words' monologue was indecent."
[Full story]

In an era when parental vetting of television programming has become more and more common, when the V-chip and the ratings guides have become the norm, it seems to me that the Supreme Court should loosen the restrictions it places on the language broadcasters may use on air. There has always been the concern that children may be exposed to various words and images their parents deem "inappropriate" and, I suspect, any softening of the FCC's regulations will likely draw criticism from some of the more socially conservative demographics traditionally concerned with such content but, really, it is high time to lighten up. If parents don't want their children exposed to a particular type of content, it is their responsibility to weed it out. After all, no one has to buy a television.

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On Obamarama

The New York Times's William Kristol argues "there's something creepy" about "Generation Obama":

"The more you learn about him, the more Obama seems to be a conventionally opportunistic politician, impressively smart and disciplined, who has put together a good political career and a terrific presidential campaign. But there's not much audacity of hope there. There's the calculation of ambition, and the construction of artifice, mixed in with a dash of deceit -- all covered over with the great conceit that this campaign, and this candidate, are different."
[Full article]

Last week, in an entry on Sobriquet Magazine's main blog, we posted the following editorial comments:

I am astonished by the overwhelming outpouring of support among my 18-35 year-old peers for Barack Obama's presidential candidacy. I should emphasize that I am not particularly concerned with the possibility that Mr. Obama will become the next president of the United States, as I am sure he will be about as effective a leader as any of the current candidates. What concerns me, however, is the blind acceptance with which so many young people seem to embrace Obama's message. Bearing a message of hope as consistently vague as it is enthusiastic, Obama seems to have channeled the spirit of Beatlemania as effectively as any politician. Now, messages of hope and progress have always drawn the enthusiasm of socially-concerned, altruistic idealists--as should be the case--but the unquestioning enthusiasm with which Obama's brand of political optimism has been accepted suggests that the widespread dissatisfaction many Americans feel towards the Bush-Cheney era has weakened the healthy skepticism with which we normally scrutinize political rhetoric to a point when unremarkable statements dressed in decidedly eloquent, powerful oratory are welcomed as both novel and genuinely profound. Again, I am not saying that Mr. Obama's upbeat message is anything but a positive thing, but I hesitate to dismiss his lack of political experience, his inconsistent legislative record, or his astonishing self-importance (three traits many candidates share) as irrelevant to an evaluation of his candidacy as so many people seem to do. Therein lies the problem: Mr. Obama is as glib, as charming, as eloquent as any politician ought to be but we've lost our skepticism as a nation. In our haste to usher out what many perceive as a shamefully bleak era in American history, we have suppressed our skeptical nature, the hallmark of critical thinking and that is the problem with Barak Obama's candidacy. He has channeled the zeitgeist of a dissatisfied nation into an infectiously electric frenzy and very few commentators seem comfortable questioning whether such a splenetic mass mentality is healthy. If Mr. Obama wins the Democratic nomination, I suspect we will see some of these issues raised in the media and I suspect they will be spun as part of a conservative agenda, but they are not meant to favor the John McCain ticket or even a Hillary Clinton-headed Democratic slate. What I fear is reactionary fervor, blind acceptance as the result of sheer disdain, and a moment in our history when we lose an opportunity to reflect upon the consequences of jumping on a jingoistic bandwagon in the wake of a horrible tragedy by simply jumping on another bandwagon after the first one crashes.

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