A Government that Cannot Secure Its Own Data Cannot be Trusted with Ours

Among the hundreds of thousands of State Department diplomatic cables that have been, or are soon to be released into the public domain via the Wikileaks "Cablegate" database, I happened to stumble across a noteworthy document that might go some way toward explaining how such a massive leak is possible in the first place.  As reported yesterday at Third Party and Independent Daily, in the run-up to Germany's 2009 general elections, American diplomats in Berlin worried that a strong showing by the Free Democratic Party might complicate US national security strategy and specific trans-national counter-terrorism efforts because the libertarian-leaning party is a strong defender of civil liberties and the individual right to data privacy.  From TPID:
The cable frames the FDP's support for citizens' privacy rights and individual liberties as a hindrance to US security strategy, and states that, if it were to join a ruling coalition in Germany, the party would scrutinize any proposals that would require sharing or accessing of information concerning private individuals.  The cable faults the party's "limited government viewpoint" for its opposition to data-sharing measures that would infringe on the privacy rights of individuals. 

In a most ironic turn, the leaked cable scoffs at FDP Parliamentarian Gisela Piltz, who cautioned against data-sharing operations with the US government on the grounds that the US government as a whole lacks effective data protection measures even as it accumulates massive amounts of data on innocent citizens. 
The author of the cable dismisses the parliamentarian's concerns that the United States lacks sufficient  data protection measures, and implies that German officials simply do not understand how effective US data protection policy really is.  Needless to say, the fact that this confidential cable is now in the public domain along with hundreds of thousands of documents just like it demonstrates how ineffective US data protection policy really is.  And Democrats and Republicans want us to believe that they can be trusted to collect and safeguard reams of data on us?   

The greater irony, however, is that this massive breach of information security was likely facilitated by efforts to increase information sharing between federal, state, and local government agencies and competing bureaucracies in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks.  In other words, Democratic-Republican party policy consensus is ultimately responsible for this leak and data dump.  An article at the Guardian provides a fascinating look at SIPRNET, the supposedly secure network from which the hundreds of thousands of leaked diplomatic cables were likely accessed and relayed to the public domain:
Siprnet is itself an acronym, for Secret Internet Protocol Router Network. Siprnet was designed to solve the chronic problem of big bureaucracies – how to share information easily and confidentially among large numbers of people spread around the world. Siprnet is a worldwide US military internet system, kept separate from the ordinary civilian internet and run by the defence department in Washington.  Since the terrorist attacks of September 2001, there has been a move in the US to link up separate archives of government information, in the hope that key intelligence no longer gets trapped in information silos . . . 
Siprnet does not appear especially secure, given that millions of individuals worldwide may well have access to it.  In 1993 over 3 million people had clearances that would theoretically have allowed them to view its contents:
An increasing number of US embassies were plugged into Siprnet in the last decade, so that military and diplomatic information can be shared. In 2002, 125 embassies were on Siprnet; by 2005, there were 180. . . . From there it can be accessed not only by anyone in the state department, but also by anyone in the US military who has a computer connected to Siprnet. Millions of US soldiers and officials have "secret" security clearance. The US general accounting office identified 3,067,000 people cleared to "secret" and above in a 1993 study.
According to a CBS News report on Siprnet and information sharing from this past summer, "hundreds of thousands of people" have access to Siprnet.  (A columnist at Town Hall relates his own experience with the network, which he terms "the secret internet.")  Despite concerns about potential leaks, demands for access to Siprnet have only grown.  Last May, Next Gov reported that language buried in the 2011 Defense Authorization bill would require that every single committee in the US Congress have access to Siprnet.

Given the fact that one of the core functions of the Department of Homeland Security is to "foster information sharing," we should not be surprised if this non-transparent, sprawling and unaccountable bureaucracy is at least partially to blame for the massive holes in US data security measures.  We will wait in vain for any form of intellectually honest self-criticism from Democrats and Republicans on this issue. However, on the other side of the coin, the hysterical reaction to the most recent Wikileaks data dump on the part of Rep. Peter King, incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, demonstrates the extent to which the DHS bureaucracy represents a threat to fundamental liberties.  King wants Wikileaks to be labeled a "terrorist organization."  From CBS News:
Long Island Rep. Peter King told 1010 WINS the release of the information put “American lives at risk all over the world.”

“This is worse even than a physical attack on Americans, it’s worse than a military attack,” King said. King has written letters to both U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking for swift action to be taken against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

King wants Holder to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act and has also called on Clinton to determine whether WikiLeaks could be designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
Since Wikileaks does nothing more than publish information that is supplied to it by others, as I understand it, what King wants is the criminalization of liberties guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution, namely, the freedom of speech and of the press.  Perhaps this is only to be expected from a "warmongering fascist," as David Kramer describes King at Lew Rockwell.  But King is not alone among Republicans and Democrats in his contempt for rights, liberties and the rule of law.  We can save ourselves over $50 billion dollars a year by dissolving the Department of Homeland Security, depriving petty totalitarians in the Congress of yet another pedestal from which they can terrorize the people of the United States, and safeguard liberty in the process.  It would be a bargain.

Wikileaks to Release Full-Body Scan of State Department, Media Begin Enhanced Pat-Down

Apparently, there is a limit to the federal government's support for invasive breaches of privacy.  Following two weeks of propaganda in support of the DHS/TSA's virtual strip searches and state-sponsored sexual assaults against American citizens, Wikileaks will provide the world with a full-body scan of American diplomatic practice, and media organizations have begun an enhanced pat-down of the materials.  This week, Wikileaks will reportedly publish upwards of 250,000 diplomatic cables from the US government, providing an unprecedented look into the back-channel chatter of the State Department.  As with the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs, Wikileaks has partnered with a number of media organizations to comb through and ensure wide distribution of the information contained in the leak.  The New York Times writes:
A cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years, provides an unprecedented look at backroom bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats. 
From the UK Guardian:
The United States was catapulted into a worldwide diplomatic crisis today, with the leaking to the Guardian and other international media of more than 250,000 classified cables from its embassies, many sent as recently as February this year.
From Der Spiegel:
251,000 State Department documents, many of them secret embassy reports from around the world, show how the US seeks to safeguard its influence around the world. It is nothing short of a political meltdown for US foreign policy.
Needless to say, the White House is extremely distressed by this massive leak.  Shortly after the publication of the cables began, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs released a statement denouncing Wikileaks for providing this unprecedented and "unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information."  From Gibbs's statement, as published at Talking Points Memo:
We anticipate the release of what are claimed to be several hundred thousand classified State department cables on Sunday night that detail private diplomatic discussions with foreign governments . . . these cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world. To be clear -- such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government. These documents also may include named individuals who in many cases live and work under oppressive regimes and who are trying to create more open and free societies. President Obama supports responsible, accountable, and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal. By releasing stolen and classified documents, Wikileaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals. We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.  [Emphasis added.]
Mr. Gibbs, among others, might consider reflecting on one of the totalitarian cliches beloved by the supporters of the national security police state: if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to be afraid of.  

The Two-Party System and the National Security Police State: Dissolve the Department of Homeland Security

From S. Paul Forrest at Activist Post, on "America's Misconception of Freedom":
America was founded in an attempt to escape the oppression of not only religious expression, but also the misrepresentation from a monarchist system that cared only for the proliferation and interests of the elite class.  After 250 years, we have found ourselves in the same position as those who left Europe for these shores so long ago: oppressed by a system that only wants to serve itself before the citizens that support it.  They say history repeats itself, and nowhere is this more evident than in the case of modern America’s politicians, putting their corporate puppet masters and damaging agenda of faux patriotism before the needs of the people. . . .

To understand our freedom, or lack thereof, it is important to recognize what type of political system exists within our social structure into which we put our faith each election period.  This country is currently run and controlled by a two-party system that determines for us, the “free” voters, who we can vote for.  The choice of candidates is determined by the parties themselves as the proper representatives of their interests, rather than the interests of the American people . . .

The limited choice of representation has fostered a governmental system of insular thinking and the gradual erosion of our own national freedoms.  The two-party system, with its inbred philosophy of elitism, has been taking our freedom from us bit by bit with innumerable laws and initiatives to foster control.  The decay of our Constitutional freedom has been exacerbated by such legislative initiatives as the Patriot Act and its associated nullification of habeas corpus, while labeling some citizens concerned with the direction of our government as dissidents. . . . . any dissonance or suspicion of anti-patriotism is answered by restraint pending conviction.  Guilt before proof of innocence has become the mantra of modern justice in the evolving decay of the American political system.  [Emphases added.]
Read the rest.  With regard to Forrest's latter point, one might consider the Department of Homeland Security's actions in unilaterally expropriating and shutting down upwards of 70 websites without even paying lip service to the notion of due process.  From OS News:
The US has started seizing the domain names of various websites through ICANN - not because owners of these sites were convicted of anything, but merely because complaints have been filed against them. Anyone want to take a guess how long it will be before the US government blocks WikiLeaks? Update: The blocks function outside of the US too. In other words, the US is forcing its views upon the rest of the world once again.

The current seizures of domains did not even use the recently passed censorship law. The seizures come from the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and cover about 70 websites relating to potential copyright infringement and counterfeit goods, among which is Torrent-Finder.com, a mere torrent search engine which does not host or even link to torrents; it displays content hosted elsewhere through embedded iframes.
"My domain has been seized without any previous complaint or notice from any court!” the owner of Torrent-Finder explained TorrentFreak, “I firstly had DNS downtime. While I was contacting GoDaddy I noticed the DNS had changed. Godaddy had no idea what was going on and until now they do not understand the situation and they say it was totally from ICANN."
This is equivalent to having your house seized for pointing out to someone you can buy weed in the college district.  
Actually these actions are even more egregious than this account suggests.  The "censorship law" referred to above was not in fact "passed" into law, rather the bill was approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has not yet been put to a vote in the upper chamber.  The internet censorship bill is S.3804, better known as COICA, and represents a clear and distinct threat to the freedom of speech online.  Follow the link to a post from October for background information on COICA.  Obviously, however, the DHS and ICE believe they already have the authority to shut down websites they find suspicious without even COICA to back them up.  This is just one more example of the outrages perpetrated by DHS on a daily basis.  It is time to dissolve the Department of Homeland Security and take real steps to reign in the Democrat-Republican national security police state.  

Debunking the Myth of the Independent Voter

From this week's column at CAIVN
As the Independent movement grows in strength, a backlash from the partisans of the major parties and political status quo is only to be expected, for they have the most to lose in the face of a truly Independent electorate. However, the supposed “myth of the Independent voter” is perhaps the strongest piece of evidence that they are simply in denial.

In May 2009, the Pew Research Center declared: “Independents take center stage in the age of Obama.” In the months following the 2008 general election, Independent identification surged to its highest level in seventy years, surpassing that of both the Democratic and Republican party brands.  Since then, there has been a relatively steady supply of commentary and analysis arguing that, for all intents and purposes, the supposed “Independent voter” does not in fact exist, but is rather a long-standing myth of American political culture.   

Yet, our nation’s politicians continue to seek their favor, and the White House appears especially concerned about winning back the Independent vote following the Democratic party’s poor performance in the midterm elections.  Last week, The Washington Post reported that White House advisers are “deeply concerned about winning back political independents, who supported Obama two years ago by an eight-point margin but backed Republicans for the House this year by 19 points.”  In response, some liberal Democratic party strategists have resuscitated the myth of the “myth of the Independent voter” to aid in their opposition to this strategy.

In a widely circulated article published at The New Republic, John B. Judis seeks to correct the White House’s “misguided view of the Independent voter,” and in the process provides the reader with a series of arguments that have been common currency among strategists for the major parties since at least 1992, when a group of political scientists led by Bruce Keith published a work entitled The Myth of the Independent Voter.  Let’s consider a sample of Judis’s arguments.
Read the rest.  

On the Illegitimacy of the Two-Party State

In recent months, Rasmussen polling has devoted a number of surveys to gauging public opinion on the size and scope of government.  This is not surprising given the outfit's known bias in favor of the Republican Party, which many falsely believe stands for small or limited government.  However, the results of these polls do not indicate a disdain for "big government" and a desire for "small government," at least in the way those terms are rhetorically defined by the partisan dead-enders of the GOP.  Rather, they force us to question the very legitimacy of the reigning Democrat-Republican two-party state.  Some recent findings:
Only 39% of American voters believe the federal government operates within the bounds of the Constitution.  44% state that the federal government is unconstitutionally operating outside of those limits.
Only 23% of American voters believe the federal government operates with the consent of the governed. 
48% see the federal government as a threat to individual rights, a finding corroborated by an earlier poll commissioned by CNN, which found that 56% believe the federal government poses a threat to individual rights. 
The latter finding is perhaps the most ironic, since a majority of Americans consistently tell pollsters that they are willing to trade away their rights and liberties for the promise of security.  However, perhaps they might reconsider as it becomes clearer that the state is willing to take them at their word, but only provide security theater in return.

Cornel West Blasts Obama, Two-Party State: The American People "Deserve Better"

From FireDogLake, lengthy quotations from an interview with Cornel West on Democracy Now:
Friday Civil Rights activist Cornel West told Democracy Now!‘s Juan Gonzalez that, like President Bush before him, President Obama’s policies discriminate against African-Americans. West said the President’s neglect of the poor and of poverty programs has enormous racist effect, in that they disproportionately hurt Blacks, who are more likely to be more impoverished than Whites. . . .

“… Citizens are so disgusted with the system in which we find ourselves … In the last election, 53% of the voters had no confidence in the Democratic Party and 52% of the voters had no confidence in the Republican Party. … We’re seeing the slow demise of a two-party system. The Tea Party movement on the Right is going to end up just as disappointed with the Republican establishment as progressives like myself are disappointed with the Obama Administration. You’re beginning to see possibilities of new kinds of motion, momentum, maybe even movements against the Two-Party system, because the two Parties themselves are so corrupt: Mean-spirited cold-hearted Republicans and spineless milquetoast Democrats. What about poor people?! What about working people?! They deserve better. We deserve better.”

Dr. West is Professor of African-American studies and Religion at Princeton University.

The "First Line of Defense" Against Terrorism is the First Line of Offense Against the Constitution

With the controversy over the DHS/TSA's new security protocols, it is finally beginning to dawn on more Americans that our government's so-called "first line of defense" against the terrorist threat has become its first line of offense against the Constitution, indeed, against rights, liberties and the very rule of law.  The right of the people to be secure in their persons, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizure, as stipulated in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, has effectively been declared null and void in the interests of maintaining and expanding the Democratic-Republican party's national security police state.  To their credit, even some Democrats and Republicans have proven capable of responding with outrage to the ritual humiliation of Americans who desire nothing more than to travel freely in their own country.  Democratic party dead-ender, Digby, writes:
this [is] the latest in a series of steps leading to a police state --- the building of a police bureaucracy and the intimidation and the incoherence of security theatre designed to confuse citizens and indoctrinate them to the idea that they should unquestioningly submit to absurd directives from authorities. It's how you control a populace.
Even the Republican party and national security fetishists at Red State have denounced the "police state outrages" perpetrated by the TSA:
You may have heard about Janet Napolitano’s blue shirts forcing a cancer-surviving flight attendant to remove her prosthetic breast, or the woman whose pants the TSA’s hand went down . . . You may have also heard about the woman who was singled out because she was wearing a skirt . . . You may have also heard about the cancer survivor who, due to an “enhanced” TSA pat-down breaking the seal on his urastomy bag, was left humiliated, in tears, and covered in his own urine . . . Now, meet a little boy who was randomly selected for an “enhanced” screening by  The Sexual Assaulters the TSA. . . . Once again…
  • Number of TSA Agents: 67,000
  • TSA’s FY 2010 budget: $7.8 billion
  • Number of terrorists caught by TSA: ZERO.
Yet the "police state outrages" perpetrated by the DHS/TSA pale in comparison with those perpetrated against the people of the United States by police and law enforcement officers every single day.  Here are just a few recent headlines from Injustice Everywhere, the national police misconduct statistics and reporting project:
A Taos County NM deputy is the subject of a lawsuit alleging he caused a man to suffer a brain injury by tasering him after an auto accident then allegedly beating with either his hands or a flashlight.

A Frederick County MD deputy is the subject of a lawsuit alleging that he unnecessarily shot a family’s pet Labrador impulsively and that a second deputy laughed about it in front of their daughter while the deputies visited the family’s home trying to find their son for unspecified reasons.

Polk County FL deputy has resigned while under investigation over two sexual misconduct claims filed by women including one who claims that he began touching himself while driving her to jail after telling her she was sexy and asking to see her tattoos and the other who claimed he asked for a hug during a traffic stop then followed her home, asking to come inside.

An Abbeville LA police officer is the subject of a lawsuit alleging he tasered an elderly man who had called police to report a DV incident by his son-in-law that he was holding down when police arrived.

A Fredricktown MO police captain has pled guilty to 22 charges including statutory sodomy and sexual exploitation of minor for molesting children after scout meetings.

Five Jackson MS police officers are under investigation for after a store owner’s surveillance video appeared to support his claims that the officers harassed them then falsely arrested them for assaulting an officer after they had asked the officers why they were harassing and searching their customers.

A Moss Point MS police officer has been fired for offering to rip up a woman’s traffic ticket in exchange for sex behind stadium.

Laguna Beach CA and Orange County CA settled a lawsuit for $380,000 to an innocent man who was tasered in his own bedroom shortly after he was awakened by deputies who entered his home in a case of mistaken ID, confusing him as a suspect then falsely arresting him when they figured out he wasn’t their man.

A Seattle WA police officer already under investigation over a video released by the press yesterday showing him kick a teen in the crotch, face, and chest is the subject of more scrutiny after reporters uncovered another video filmed right after that incident which shows the undercover cop punch a man who was trying to record what was happening on his cell phone.

At least three Eugene OR police officers are the subject of a lawsuit alleging that dashcam video proves a man was falsely arrested for threatening to file a civil suit against police who had made him sit in the wet mud for nearly an hour while detained. Allegedly, a police supervisor showed up and told the officers that, since he was going to file a complaint, they would be screwed if they didn’t arrest him.

At least one Miami Florida police officer is under investigation after a YouTube video came to everyone’s attention that shows an officer repeatedly punch a man who was being held down by several other officers. No word on what sparked the incident.

A Huron County Ohio deputy has resigned after an investigation into allegations that he “field-goal kicked” a detainee in the face while he was on the ground, causing the man to be hospitalized when he began suffering seizures in the back of the officer’s cruiser.

A Montgomery County Maryland police officer was fined $185 for speeding when he hit a 12-year-old kid with his cruiser and left him with severe brain damage and paralyzed from his neck down. That case was also in our recap yesterday as it cost the county $400,000 in a civil suit settlement.

A Portland Oregon police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man in the back while he was attempting to surrender has been fired and three other officers each received 80 hour suspensions for their roles in the incident, one of which had repeatedly shot the man with beanbag rounds before he was fatally shot.
Americans are eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist, according to a study from 2009.

David Nolan, Founder of Libertarian Party, Passes Away: The Case for a Libertarian Political Party and the Myth of the Two-Party System

From Wes Benedict, at the Libertarian Party blog:
We have received news that David F. Nolan, a founder of the Libertarian Party, passed away this weekend. The Libertarian Party was founded in 1971 in Mr. Nolan's living room. He had remained active with the Libertarian Party including currently serving on the Libertarian National Committee and running for U.S. Senator from Arizona in the recent elections. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth. He will be dearly missed by the Libertarian Party and the liberty community. We'll have more information about David Nolan soon.
From Tom Knapp at Independent Political Report:
I just received a phone call from R. Lee Wrights, who is en route home from the Libertarian National Committee meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana. Shortly after adjournment of the LNC meeting today, he was informed that Libertarian Party founder David F. Nolan has died. Steve Kubby has also reported this, and confirms it via conversation with Nolan’s wife, Elizabeth. Best wishes from everyone here at IPR to David’s family and loved ones.
From Richard Winger at Ballot Access News:
David F. Nolan, who founded the Libertarian Party along with a group of others in Nolan’s living room, died on November 21 at the age of 66.  He had just completed a vigorous and relatively successful election campaign for the U.S. Senate this month, receiving 4.7% of the vote in a 4-person race against incumbent Senator John McCain.  Nolan was two days away from his next birthday.  He lived in Tucson. Apparently he suffered a stroke while driving his automobile, on November 20.  On a personal note, this is very sad news.
From Austin Cassidy at Uncovered Politics:
Nolan was a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked in the publishing and advertising industries for several decades.  He was a founding member of the Students for Goldwater group at MIT in 1964 and heavily involved in the “liberty movement” prior to 1971, when he served as the driving force behind the creation of the Libertarian Party.
Aside from his role as founder of the LP, Nolan is best known as the person who popularized the “Nolan Chart,” a diagram of political philosophies that goes beyond just liberal and conservative labels.
“He was sort of a guiding light,” Jack Dean, a longtime friend and political ally told the Arizona Daily Star.  “He was kind of our conscience. Dave was a presence at every national convention; everyone respected him. He kept reminding everybody what the goal was.”
Uncovered Politics has also re-published a seminal article by Nolan, entitled The Case for a Libertarian Political Party, from 1971.  In a central passage of the article, Nolan elaborates upon the idea that the "two-party system" is a myth:
The Myth of the Two-Party System
This statement may seem a little strong, at first reading – especially as most of us have been raised from first childhood to believe that the two-party system is The Best Of All Possible Arrangements.
We are told, for instance, that it is the hallmark of a free society – with the Soviet one-party system held up as its antithesis. Conversely, we are told that a multi-party system produces “chaos”, which in turn means loss of freedom for those persons so unfortunate as to live under such a system.
The fact of the matter, however, is that, logically speaking, if a one-party system is tyrannical, a two-party system is only one step removed from tyranny. And empirical evidence shows that citizens of a country which has a multi-party system can be just as free as we are here in the United States; such countries as Germany, France, and Australia, while hardly libertarian nirvanas, are not significantly more repressive than our own country – and Switzerland, which has a four-party system, is probably the least despotic of any of the world’s major nations.
The second popular argument against a multi-party system – that is produces “chaos” – is, from a libertarian viewpoint, actually an argument in its favor. The prospect of a coalition government, where any of a number of small parties can veto legislation, is far from horrifying to anyone who is inclined toward a limited-government (or no-government) philosophy.
A third argument, often brought to bear against anyone who advocates the establishment of a third party here in the United States, is that (historically speaking), third-party candidates “can’t win”. This argument has two basic flaws in it, however.
First, third-party candidates CAN win – especially in local or nonpartisan elections. Even at the national-government level, it happens occasionally. Third-party candidates have been elected to Congress more than one hundred times in this century, and there are two “third-party” Senators (Buckley and Byrd) in office at this very moment.
And second, “winning” (in the sense of electing someone to office) is not the only reason for having a political party – especially in the short term sense.
In fact, this very mania for “winning now” is one of the factors that makes both of our present major political parties unlikely vehicles for libertarianism. Both the Democrats and Republicans are so concerned with “winning” that they are almost rabidly hostile to the idea of candidates who would “rather be right than President”. A third party, in contrast, can take a long-range approach – running candidates with no intention of immediate victory, for the purpose of building up support and organization for future elections.

The System is Not Broken, It Just Doesn't Work for the People of the United States

Earlier this month, in a commentary for the Huffington Post, Charles Ferguson, the director of Inside Job a new documentary on Wall Street and the ongoing financial Crisis, argues that the two-party state and duopoly system of government is at the root of the myriad problems facing the people of the United States.  Some excerpts:
far from being in an era of brutal partisan warfare, as conventional wisdom holds and as watching the nightly television news might suggest, the United States is now in the grip of a political duopoly in which both parties are thoroughly complicit. They play a game: they agree to fight viciously over certain things to retain the allegiance of their respective bases, while agreeing not to fight about anything that seriously endangers the privileges of America's new financial elites. Whether this duopoly will endure, and what to do about it, are perhaps the most important questions facing Americans. The current arrangement all but guarantees the continuing decline of the United States as a nation, and of the welfare of the bottom 90% of its citizens. . . .

the political duopoly has overseen a massive disinvestment in the future of the United States and the American people, and a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom 90% of the population to the top 1%. Taxes on dividends, high incomes, capital gains, and estates have sharply declined, while tuition at public universities, hours worked per family, household debt, and government deficits have all increased . . .

the American people have begun to sense that the system is rigged, and the recent election results are partially a consequence of this. Fewer people are voting, more people are registering as independents, and voters are more willing to switch parties. Of course, as long as the duopoly holds, there is very little that they can do. The big question is: can it hold?  
The answer to this question is actually quite simple.  So long as the American people allow themselves to be held hostage by the Democratic and Republican parties, by the politics of the two-party state, and the ideology that sustains it, the duopoly will hold.  Ironically, however, the indisputable sense that "the system is broken" it itself exploited by the ruling corporatist parties to maintain their hold on power.  Democrats and Republicans agree that the system is broken, indeed, this claim is often the basis of their electoral campaigns.  At Blue Carp, the State Chairman for the Libertarian Party of Colorado, David Williams, writes:
The system, however, is not broken. It is a mistake to think otherwise. The system is doing exactly what the statists want it to do: grow. It grows no matter which wing of the two party duopoly is in charge of Congress. It grows no matter which wing of the two party duopoly sits in the White House. It grows no matter which wing of the two party duopoly controls the federal courts. It always grows. . . .

The first step to recovery is to admit the problem.  Once we recognize our problem, I suggest we trash our voting method where candidates with less than 50% of the vote can win. Seriously, what kind of system declares someone victorious when most of those that voted wanted him to lose?  This is not question posed by the Mad Hatter at tea. It is our reality.  Plurality voting is nonsense. Approval voting is one, far better, alternative. There are others, as well.

The Difference between Them and Us: Traveling Bureacrats Represent Serious Breach of Airport Security

The DHS/TSA's newest security protocols provide yet another demonstration of the difference between the ruling, criminal-political class and the rest of us.  When they board commercial airliners, members of the ruling political class are not subjected to the ritual humiliations forced upon the rest of us in the name of security theater.  Via Memeorandum, the New York Times reports on the dangerous security breach represented by the traveling bureaucrat:
As he left Washington on Friday, Mr. Boehner headed across the Potomac River to Ronald Reagan National Airport, which was bustling with afternoon travelers. There was no waiting for Mr. Boehner, who was escorted around the identification-checking agents, the metal detectors and the body scanners, and whisked directly to the gate. . . . Only Congressional leaders or members of Congress with armed security details are allowed to go around security. The same privilege is afforded to governors and cabinet members if they are escorted by agents or law enforcement officers.
Boehner was neither arrested nor fined for skipping security.  Of course, members of Congress, governors and cabinet members do not need to hijack an airliner to drive the country into the ground, that's already within their power.  Nonetheless, Ron Paul alluded to this significant exception to the TSA's security protocols when he introduced HR. 6416, the American Traveler Dignity Act this past week.   From his speech on the floor of the House:
But another suggestion I have that might help us: let’s make sure that every member of Congress goes through this. Get the x-ray and make them look at the pictures, and then go through one of those groping pat downs. And then I think there will be a difference. Have everybody in the executive branch, anybody who is a cabinet member, make them go through it and look at it. Maybe they would pay more attention.
Paul's bill would make it impossible for TSA agents to claim immunity if they are accused of violating the law.  In related news, a NYC councilman aims to produce legislation that would ban the use of porno-scanners in NYC airports.  From WCBS:
Council member David Greenfield is working on legislation to ban those full body scanners from all buildings in New York City, including the airports. “I’ve seen the digital scans from the machines and it’s quite shocking and quite graphic as to how much detail you can actually see of an individual going through these machines,” Greenfield told WCBS 880 reporter Rich Lamb. “Quite frankly, it was disturbing.”
As I argued earlier this week, the choice between unconstitutional strip search and state-sponsored sexual assault resembles nothing so much as the choice between the Democratic and Republican parties.  Opt out of the two-party charade.

Dissolve the Two-Party State

At the Puget Sound Trail, Mackenzie Hepker calls for the dissolution of the Democratic and Republican parties and the election of Independent candidates to public office:
Americans do not understand that nothing is going to change or progress if we consistently apply failed solutions or if we continue to think in the directions that inevitably lead to the same policies. Neither the Democratic or Republican system is right in its overall approach to the social problems of today.
A step in the right direction would be the dissolution of these two sovereign parties, and the dilution of the bias within our citizens that clouds over reality and hinders the application of reason.
The Democratic and Republican parties are unnecessarily polarized. This nation is incredibly diverse; however, by lumping ourselves into one of two broad political divisions as we do and identifying as a member, its people are shaped by the inner desire to belong to a group – especially a powerful group. In this way, your choice of party may influence your personal beliefs as much, if not more, than the other way around. Your party is not representing you — you are representing them.
Independent (non-party) candidates for higher office deserve more attention and support in our political system – they not only show courage and faith in not affiliating themselves with the two-party system that has ruled supreme since 1852 (the one area in which Democrats and Republicans never fail is winning elections), but wisdom.
 Read the rest.

Few New Yorkers Want Democratic or Republican Parties to Control the State Senate

As you may or may not know, though New York's State Assembly is dominated by Democrats, its State Senate is almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, who have traded majority control of the body at least three times in the last five years, according to this graph at Wikipedia.  At the present moment, the outcome of three State Senate elections has still yet to be determined, and so it remains unclear whether one of the corporate parties will win a majority or if the upper house will end up with a 50/50 split, or rather, a 31-31, split between the two.  A new poll from Sienna College asked New Yorkers what outcome they would prefer and it turns out few New Yorkers want the Democratic or Republican parties to have majority control of the body.  Transcribed from the poll [pdf]:
Which of the following options do you think would be best for New York?
• Democrats retain a narrow 2-seat majority and control the Senate: 22%
• Republicans take a narrow 2 or 4-seat majority and control the Senate: 22%
• Regardless of the outcome, Republicans and Democrats should share power, jointly running the Senate: 53%
Of course, the simplest way to ensure that neither the Democrats nor Republicans have majority control of any legislative body is to elect enough third party and independent candidates so that neither corporate party has a majority in the body.  

Opt Out of the Two-Party Charade, Declare Your Independence

The forced choice between strip search and sexual assault that is being foisted upon American air travelers by the DHS/TSA resembles nothing so much as the false choice between the Republican and Democratic parties forced upon the American people by the structure of the reigning two-party state.  The supposed competition and opposition between the Republican and Democratic parties is as much a political charade as the DHS/TSA's new protocols are little more than security theater.  It is time to opt out of the imaginary double binds with which our political system confronts us on a daily basis.

Is there a better metaphor for the choice between the Democratic and Republican parties than that between invasive strip search and public sexual assault conducted by the agents of Democrat-Republican party government?  It might even go some way toward explaining the pervasiveness of ideological and political Stockholm Syndrome among American voters, not to mention the rapidly-cycling bipolar disorder of the American electorate.  Opt out of the two-party charade.  Declare your political independence from the two-party state and duopoly system of government.

NJ: Rogue Councilman Resigns, Calls for Independent Campaign Against Party Control of Town Government (Update)

There's an intriguing story coming out of New Jersey regarding a councilman in Englewood Cliffs, Martin Asatrian.  The Republican was elected to the office in 2009 and served as the commissioner of the police until last week when he abruptly resigned.  Apparently highly conflicted about the decision, he rescinded his resignation the next day, and then later on tendered his resignation once more.  Now he is reportedly determined to serve out his term, which would have ended in 2012, and has begun maneuvering to retain the seat, but not before launching an aggressive broadside against the town's two-party system and calling for the creation of a third party and/or independent alternative to the false choice between the town Republicans and Democrats.  Some of his language sounds strikingly familiar here at Poli-Tea. A detailed report at North Jersey.com quotes from an email recently composed by Asatrian:
"Partisan politics is a poison that runs deep in the veins of partisan dead-enders and needs to be drained and reinjected with independent blood," Asatrian said in an e-mail. He added that neither party in Englewood Cliffs has the ability to improve the borough's quality of life.
But he doesn't stop there.
"The two party system is the problem, they are too busy scoring political points against one another and forgetting they were elected to govern the borough in a mature contemplative and intelligent fashion," said Asatrian. "Although it makes for great theater, the residents will not be so entertained when their property values plummet, when their taxes increase and the prestige of the borough ends and starts to become a punch line," he said.
Interestingly, despite their political differences with Asatrian, none of the other Democratic and Republican councilman quoted in the article disagree with the rogue councilman's fundamental critique of the two-party state:
Democrat Councilman Ilan Plawker . . . agrees that the two party system does not make sense at the local level because it is not about party affiliation . . . Council President Robert Agresta, a Republican . . . also noted the two party system is not perfect.
Asatrian concluded his letter with a call for a third party and independent alternative to the false choice between Republicans and Democrats:
"The good people of Englewood Cliffs need a third choice, an independent voice, a voice for the voiceless," said Asatrian. He asks the residents to "consider the independent choice and reject the other parties — they are blinded by hate for each other, if not, the consequences are devastating to the community."
Apparently he is now planning a campaign to completely transform the body over the next two years by ensuring the election of Independents and the defeat of the Democratic-Republican machine:
"My agenda is to overhaul the governing body over two years and have all independent candidates gain seats." He wants to focus on "the party apparatus," not the individuals. "There is an urgency here, otherwise, the parties will engage in the blood sport of governance and fail to focus on the fact that the borough is in trouble," said Asatrian. "Instead of pointing fingers, we need to roll up our sleeves and solve problems — this will never be achieved through the politics of personal distraction and deep-rooted hate among the parties."
That's not bad, the "politics of personal distraction."  Is it possible Asatrian is a Poli-Tea reader?  Weren't we talking about the necessity of this precise sort of bottom-up strategy just the other day?  Or does it just seem so, since, in a way, that's what we're always talking about?

Update: Asatrian's action has led to calls for non-partisan elections in Englewood Cliffs.  From North Jersey news:

An Englewood Cliffs councilman resigned from his seat recently saying he was fed up with the borough's two-party system's focus on political victories rather than serving the community efficiently. While the borough's Democrats and Republicans have argued about who is causing the problems, this brings up a point.
Political parties may play a role in setting the government's agenda on the national level, but town councils do not need Democrats and Republicans. They need open-minded leaders to responsibly deliver their communities a good quality of life.
There are certainly examples of mayors and council members working across the political aisle, but there are just as many instances of block voting by party members.
Voting on ordinances shouldn't be done by party line. It should be done on what the person thinks is best for the residents.
You'd think that we would want elected representatives voting in favor of what is best for constituents, rather than some party, at all levels of government.  Our state legislatures, governor's houses, the US Congress and White House don't need Democrats and Republicans either. 

On the Radar in the Third Party and Independent Blogosphere

Some recent finds in the third party and independent blogosphere:
JermSix is maintained by Jeremy Corbally-Hammond, and aims to cover "partisan jingoism and other political stuff."  Based in Maine, Corbally-Hammond is a representative of the state's Green Independent Party, and an advocate of election reform.  The blog prominently features one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Jefferson: "If I could not go to heaven but with a political party, I would decline to go."

Wading Across is an independent conservative blog "where a Cajun in Missouri talks about religion, politics and stuff that interests him."  The commentary leans toward the Constitution Party and the GOP, and often delivers strategic and tactical political advice aimed at third party and independent readers.  In a recent post looking ahead to 2012, we read, "If the Constitution Party, Libertarians, Green Party, etc., are really seeking to win public offices, then they need to start acting like it."  See also a post-election analysis and critique of those arguments blaming third party and independent candidates for "spoiling" the election.
 • The Future American is a centrist/moderate-oriented political blog maintained by Jess Chapman.  Chapman posts daily commentaries with a focus on fiscal policy and civil liberties.  On the site's "About" page, we read, "Jess is a political centrist, a cultural liberal, an economic and social moderate, a legal conservative, an individualist feminist, a religious agnostic and a self-described policy wonk. Her main areas of interest are fiscal policy and civil liberties."
Anti-Force is an independent, libertarian-leaning blog by Casey Given, a student at UC Berkeley and the campus coordinator for Students for Liberty.  Just before the election, Given published an article debunking the "myth of the two-party system," and revealing the faulty logic that maintains the system of lesser evilism.

• Finally, Ahmnodt Heare for President is a singular anti-duopoly independent blog, to say the least.  And I'm not exactly sure what to make of it.  On the "About" page, we read:
Ahmnodt Heare is a fictional character running a real campaign.  He is an Independent candidate for President of the United States.  His views on solving America’s problems is different than the ideas being offered by any Republican or Democratic candidate. . . . The purpose of this blog is to showing the absurdity of Ahmnodt Heare’s platform and show that the two major parties are equally absurd (especially at the federal level.) If you are fed up with the two-party duopoly, then feel free to write in “Ahmnodt Heare” for the office of your choosing.
In a recently published "Open Letter to America's Independents," Ahmnodt Heare makes a strong case in support of voting a straight ticket "independent party line."    
As usual, if you've recently discovered or come across a new third party or indy blog, or maintain one yourself, drop a link in the comments.

The TSA vs. the Fourth Amendment

In the video clip below, former director of TSA Security Operations, Mo McGowan, admits in a television interview that TSA security procedures violate the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.   Via Reddit:

McGowan states: "Nobody likes having their Fourth Amendment violated going through a security line, but the truth of the matter is, we're gonna have to do it."  The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution reads:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The Transportation Security Administration is part of the Department of Homeland Security.  The motto of the DHS is "Preserving Our Freedoms, Protecting America."  Once we abolish the TSA, perhaps the DHS should be next up on the chopping block.  Indeed, it might even be necessary if we desire to preserve our freedoms and protect America. 

"Enhanced Pat-Downs" are to Pat-Downs as "Enhanced Interrogation" is to Interrogation: We Are All Terrorists

Would you prefer to be exposed to radiation and subjected to a strip search, or would you rather submit to sexual assault and molestation?  This is the question more and more travelers find themselves confronted with by the agents of the Transportation Security Administration in our nation's airports.  Late last month, the Department of Homeland Security unveiled newly-installed full body scanners at a number of airports across the country, including those in New York, and announced the implementation of so-called "enhanced pat-downs" for air travelers nationwide.  The Washington Post reported over the weekend:
the TSA has instituted a new type of pat-down of passengers, a move that's part of a general tightening of air security. If a full-body scanning machine shows something strange or a passenger declines to go through the machine - which is now in use in the Washington region's three major airports - an officer will perform a more personal search.
Except among those perennial hysterics who can always be found cheerleading the expansion of the national security police state, opposition to the body scanners and "enhanced pat-downs" is growing nationwide.  There are two primary objections to the full body scans themselves, on the basis of privacy and health concerns.  As the machines create an image of the body underneath the clothing, the process of advanced imaging has been called a "virtual strip search."  The government claims no such images will ever be stored on any machines, and therefore privacy concerns are overblown.  However, it was reported just this past August that the US Marshals at a Florida courthouse had used similar machines to collect a database of 35,000 images.  From the Register:
US Marshals have built a collection of more than 35,000 "virtual strip search" body scans at one Florida courthouse in just six months, despite wider assurances the technology cannot store images, it's been revealed.
There are also potential health risks.  If you submit to the full body scan, you will be exposed to the radiation emitted by back-scatter X-rays.  Though the level of radiation exposure for an individual scan is supposedly relatively small, long-term and cumulative effects represent a credible health risk.   Pilots and flight attendants are understandably wary of allowing themselves to be radiated by agents of the state every time they show up for work.  From USA Today:
Pilot unions at two of the nation's largest airlines are advising their members not to submit to body scanners at airport security checkpoints as tension grows over what they see as intrusive or risky checks.
Unions representing pilots at American Airlines and US Airways have advised their more than 14,000 members to avoid the scanners, which peer beneath clothing, and instead get a pat down from Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers.
However, as noted above, when you opt out of the scan, you are subjected to an "enhanced pat down," which has riled flight attendants' unions.  From ABC News:
a flight attendants union with 2,000 members is upset over what it calls "invasive pat-downs" recently implemented by the TSA. "We're getting calls daily about peoples' experiences, our members are concerned," said Deborah Volpe, Vice President of the Association of Flight Attendants Local 66. Volpe confirmed that the union is offering advice to its flight attendants, who mostly work for Tempe-based USAirways, involving the security moves.

According to a union email obtained by ABC15, it tells flight attendants if they opt out of using the body scanner through security and are required to undergo a pat-down to ask the pat-down be conducted in a private area with a witness.

"We don't want them in uniform going through this enhanced screening where their private areas are being touched in public," said Volpe. "They actually make contact with the genital area."
These so-called "enhanced pat-downs" are to pat-downs what "enhanced interrogation" is to interrogation.  While "enhanced interrogation" is our government's Orwellian term for torture, "enhanced pat-downs" is its term for sexual assault and molestation.  Watch this video of a TSA agent serving a three-year old girl with an "enhanced pat-down" while the girl screams "stop touching me!":

Over the last month, numerous citizens' groups have been founded in opposition to the newest outrage from the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Agency.  Among them are Fed Up Flyers, We Won't Fly, and Opt Out Day, which are organizing a national day of resistance against invasive strip searches and state-sponsored sexual molestation on one of the most hectic travel days of the year: November 24th.

As the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration were created with overwhelming bipartisan support from the Republican and Democratic parties, it is safe to assume that Republican and Democratic leaders are unlikely to exhibit any leadership on this issue, except to browbeat the American people into accepting the government's most recent assault on rights, liberties and the rule of law.  And with good reason.  Their friends stand to profit mightily from the roll-out of the new procedures.  The case of former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is well known.  From an article published in January of this year, shortly after the so-called underwear bombing episode, via On the Wilder Side:
Since the attempted bombing of a US airliner on Christmas Day, former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff has given dozens of media interviews touting the need for the federal government to buy more full-body scanners for airports.

What he has made little mention of is that the Chertoff Group, his security consulting agency, includes a client that manufactures the machines. Chertoff disclosed the relationship on a CNN program Wednesday, in response to a question.

An airport passengers’ rights group on Thursday criticized Chertoff’s use of his former government credentials to advocate for a product that benefits his clients.  “Mr. Chertoff should not be allowed to abuse the trust the public has placed in him as a former public servant to privately gain from the sale of full-body scanners under the pretense that the scanners would have detected this particular type of explosive,’’ said Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, which opposes the use of the scanners.
And Chertoff is not the only former government official cashing in on the Democratic-Republican party's bipartisan war against the fourth amendment.  From the Washington Examiner:
If you've seen one of these scanners at an airport, there's a good chance it was made by L-3 Communications, a major contractor with the Department of Homeland Security. L-3 employs three different lobbying firms including Park Strategies, where former Sen. Al D'Amato, R-N.Y., plumps on the company's behalf. Back in 1989, President George H.W. Bush appointed D'Amato to the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism following the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Also on Park's L-3 account is former Appropriations staffer Kraig Siracuse.  The scanner contract, issued four days after the Christmas Day bomb attempt last year, is worth $165 million to L-3.
Rapiscan got the other naked-scanner contract from the TSA, worth $173 million. Rapiscan's lobbyists include Susan Carr, a former senior legislative aide to Rep. David Price, D-N.C., chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee. When Defense Daily reported on Price's appropriations bill last winter, the publication noted "Price likes the budget for its emphasis on filling gaps in aviation security, in particular the whole body imaging systems."
Though advocates of virtual strip searches frequently cite the foiled Christmas plot by the underwear bomber, it is unlikely that the technology would have even detected that device.  From the UK Independent, last January:
The explosive device smuggled in the clothing of the Detroit bomb suspect would not have been detected by body-scanners set to be introduced in British airports, an expert on the technology warned last night.
The claim severely undermines Gordon Brown's focus on hi-tech scanners for airline passengers as part of his review into airport security after the attempted attack on Flight 253 on Christmas Day.
The Independent on Sunday has also heard authoritative claims that officials at the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Home Office have already tested the scanners and were not persuaded that they would work comprehensively against terrorist threats to aviation.
Of course, Democrats and Republicans and their legions of hysterical national security statists seize on every possible opportunity to make the case for expanding the police state and surveillance society and paring back rights and liberties, especially when it is also in their financial interests to do so.  Buto pposition to this most recent attack on fundamental rights and liberties is broad and deep and unites people across the political spectrum, from Ralph Nader to Matt Drudge, from Prison Planet to Reddit, from the Constitution Party to the Libertarian Party and the Pirate Party.  Poli-Tea joins in to opt out.  You should too. 

The Cold Civil War and the Fight Against the Divine Right of Party

In a guest column at The Hankster, Bryan Puertas argues that Democratic-Republican party politics has degraded into a "cold civil war".  He writes:
Congratulations America, we have our own War of the Roses, a cold civil war that has been going on for over a century. It may sound like hyperbole, but it’s helpful as a way to wrap your head around current events and decide how to move forward. This country was founded as a haven for those looking to escape the dynastic warfare of the old world, yet we have regressed to the point where we are saddled with two rival houses, alike in indignity, who tell us if only the other was out of the picture then they could finally get around to solving our problems. In the meantime, we are falling further and further behind on our economy, infrastructure, and quality of health and education. In short, the refusal of the parties to address problems unless they hold all the cards has made us broke, broken, sick, and stupid.

And mad. Definitely mad. Mad enough to renounce fealty to the parties and look to solve our problems ourselves. In less than a generation, the number of voters declaring their independence has grown to over 40%. And among the young, that number is over half. We have checked the Constitution, and there is no Divine Right of Party. Yet these two private clubs have infiltrated every branch of government, and their only interest is in keeping their position at any cost, regardless of who suffers. It is that spirit of party uber alles that holds back any progress or innovation, and if we are to move forward as a country, that is the biggest battle to be fought.

What does that battle look like? . . . 
Read the rest.  Puertas is an organizer for the Independence Party of New York and Independent Voting.

Number of States with a Ballot-Qualified Third Party at 100 Year High

In addition to the many other historic records set by the third party and independent political movements this year, the number of states with a ballot-qualified third party is at a nearly 100-year high.  From Ballot Access News:

In the aftermath of the November 2010 election, 35 states plus the District of Columbia have at least one ballot-qualified party other than the Democratic and Republican Parties.  This is the highest such number, immediately after a midterm election, for any election since 1918.
The 15 states without a ballot-qualified party (statewide), other than the Democratic and Republican Parties, are:  Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.  New Mexico is ambiguous; it has two parties that are ballot-qualified for President in 2012 but they cannot run nominees for office other than President without submitting petitions for them.  Connecticut is also somewhat ambiguous, because qualified status is determined office-by-office, but there are four minor parties that are now qualified for at least some statewide offices.

The Democratic-Republican Party's Political Class War Against the People of the United States

From a letter to the editor of the Napa Valley Register:

This recent election has set my mind running wild in thought. Once again I personally feel we had no choice in voting for a leader, but instead voted for the person who would do the least damage. To me this is not a choice, and has not been a choice to pick a leader for the last 20 years. The debate brought this fact to the forefront of my mind. With six candidates running for the governor’s office, we got to hear the views of only two of them. It is obvious the only views worth hearing, or of any importance, are determined by both the Republicans and Democratic parties.
To me, there is no difference between the actions of the two parties, and only minor differences in philosophy between the two. They are both self-serving groups and not community-serving groups.
I do not see the purpose anymore for the two parties, because they are thinking as party members and not Americans. I think of the Constitution stating “We the People,” as a group of individuals banning together for a common good. Now I look and see the Democrats and Republicans banding together for the “party good,” not what is good for America. This is both sad and dangerous. . . .
Read the rest

Poll: Independent Identification Increases, Democrats Drop, Republicans Hold Steady

A new poll from the Pew Research Center gauging the public's reaction to the 2010 general elections finds a drop in the number of self-identified Democrats and a slight rise in the number of Independents.  Asked if they consider themselves Republicans, Democrats or Independents, 37% of respondents stated that they are Independents, compared with 30% who identified themselves as Democrats, and 26% who said they are Republicans.  According to Pew's polls, Republican identification has hovered in the mid-20% range for virtually the entire year, while Democratic identification has remained in the low-30% range.  Independent identification, on the other hand, has consistently remained in the high-30% range, and scored the highest percentage of any political label at the beginning of the year, when 42% of respondents stated that they were Independents. 

Among the poll's most ironic findings, it turns out that compromise is a fairly divisive issue in the United States.  Americans do not agree on the question of whether politicians should stick to their positions or seek compromise.  From the poll:

The public is divided about the value of political compromise. While 42% say that they most admire political leaders who make compromises, 45% say they most admire political leaders who stick to their positions without compromising.
There are partisan differences in views about whether political leaders should compromise. A majority of Republicans say they most admire politicians who stick to their positions, rather than make compromises (55% vs. 33%). These opinions are little changed from September.
Democrats are now evenly divided – 46% prefer political leaders who make compromises while 45% prefer leaders who stick to their positions. In September, more favored politicians who compromise over those who stick to their positions (by 54% to 39%). 
About half (49%) of independents admire political leaders who make compromises with people they disagree with, while 40% admire politicians who stick to their positions without compromising. Two months ago, a majority of independents (53%) said they preferred politicians who stick to their positions over those who compromise (40%).

Alaska's Independent Majority and the Case Against Closed Primaries

Early reports out of Alaska indicate that Lisa Murkowski has a very good chance of winning the state's US Senate election as a write-in candidate.  Via Memeorandum, the Anchorage Daily News reports:
Almost 98 percent of write-in ballots opened Wednesday went to Lisa Murkowski on the first day of a count meant to decide Alaska's U.S. Senate race. . . . Elections workers opened the write-in ballots for almost 20 percent of the precincts in Alaska on Wednesday. The count of more than 90,000 write-ins will continue today and is expected to last five days.
The New York Times reports that 231,756 votes were cast in the race:  40.1% were for a write-in candidate, 35.5% went to Republican Joe Miller, 23.4% supported Democrat Scott McAdams, and .5% were cast for Libertarian David Haase.  If Murkowski's write-in campaign proves victorious, she may well end up becoming the third Independent in the US Senate.  Why would she continue to affiliate herself with a party from which she was effectively ousted after Republican voters rejected her in the primary?

Furthermore, if she were to declare her political independence, Murkowski would not be an eccentric or an outlier.  Indeed, her affiliation or lack thereof would be a more precise reflection of Alaska's electorate, as the majority of registered voters in Alaska are themselves Independents.  This latter fact is something the ideologues in the Republican and Democratic parties would rather we all ignore. 

Democrats and Republicans together only account for 41.5% of Alaska's voters, 52% of whom are not affiliated with any party, according to a registration table at Pollster.com.  This simple fact has far-reaching political consequences.  Because Alaska has closed primaries, i.e. only party members can cast ballots in primary elections, the majority of voters are disenfranchised from the process by which candidates for public office are selected to appear on the general election ballot.  Joe Miller won the GOP primary against Murkowski with just under 50,000 votes, which comes to to roughly 37.7% of registered Republicans, and only 9.7% of registered voters!  See this post on turnout in the Alaska GOP primary.  Even the New York Times has begun to question the wisdom of maintaining the current primary system in the face of an Independent majority.  Today Matt Bai writes that "Alaska may offer a view of future elections":
Something like 230,000 Alaskans appear to have cast ballots in this month’s midterm election, compared with fewer than 146,000 who voted in the Republican and Democratic primaries combined . . . What all of this probably means is that some critical number of independent voters decided they didn’t like the options the two parties had given them, and they were willing to go to the trouble of writing in a candidate who seemed to have a real chance of winning rather than pull levers A or B. 
This was bound to happen somewhere. There was a time in America when our primary process made perfect sense, because most voters identified closely with one party or the other, and it was safe to assume that someone who wanted to participate would choose a team. In the 1950s, independents lagged behind both parties, making up less than a quarter of the electorate.
That number has risen steadily, however, especially among younger voters, to the point where independents have recently overtaken both parties, hovering around 40 percent. A recent Pew Center poll found that the number of voters who identified themselves as independents had risen five percentage points since 2002.
You have to wonder, given this trend, whether the primary process as we’ve known it can remain tenable. With each passing year, it seems, an ever smaller group of voters in either party — rallying, in a year like this one, around ever more extreme points of view — get to effectively determine the options for the rest of the electorate.
Bai concludes by wondering whether we will see more states move toward an open primary system, like that which is soon to be implemented in California.  With the rising number of Independents in the country, it will become ever more difficult to justify the continued existence of closed primary elections.  Why should taxpayers have to foot the bill for the primary elections of minority and fringe parties like the Republicans and Democrats, when the majority of taxpayers are prohibited from voting in those elections and effectively disenfranchised from the political process?

Update and Correction: In the comments, Dale corrects an error in the above regarding Alaska's primaries.  He writes:  "Primaries in Alaska are only partially closed. Parties have the option to limit who can vote in their primaries. Only the Republican party does so, and they choose only to exclude registered members of other parties; non-partisan and undeclared voters are welcome though."  It turns out I mistakenly referenced an outdated listing of states with open vs. closed primaries at Fair Vote rather than their current one, which appears correct.  Thanks Dale!

Even despite the fact that Alaska's primaries are only partially closed, there is still significant support for fully open primaries in the state.  For instance, see this article at the Juneau Empire, in which the author speculates that turnout in the state's semi-closed primaries is so low because Independents likely favor candidates from more than one party and thus "their preferred candidates in all the races were split up on the two ballots."  He argues that, "A completely open primary in a state dominated by independent voters would serve the people better" than the existing semi-closed system.

For more information about factual errors on the internet, see this article from The Onion.

Third Party Strategy and the Cult of the Executive, Part II

Democrats are among the least independently-minded voters in the United States.  Compared with self-described Republicans and Independents, Democrats are generally the most likely to believe all or most of what they hear or read from any given news source, and they are least likely to consider voting for any candidates other than those endorsed by their party.  The denunciation and denigration of third party and independent politics and activism is, of course, a favorite pastime of liberal Democratic bloggers, but few things in the mainstream media arouse their ire and incomprehension as much as incessant speculation about the possibility of a viable Independent candidate for the presidency.  Content in their ideological and political chains, they find it difficult to believe that others might desire ideological and political freedom and independence.  As you might know, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently stated that an Independent president would be superior to a Democrat or Republican.  From the Washington Post:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent who has considered running for president, declared Monday that an independent has a better chance at succeeding in the White House than a Republican or a Democrat . . . at Harvard University on Monday he endorsed the idea of an independent in the White House. "I think actually a third-party candidate could run the government easier than a partisan political president because the partisan political president - yeah he's got half the votes, but he can't get the others - whereas the guy in the middle may very well be able to get enough across the aisle," Bloomberg said. 
Matthew Yglesias thinks such talk is literally "madness."  (See also this article at the WaPo.)  Responding to the "endless discussion of a Michael Bloomberg third party presidential bid," the reliable Democratic party ideologue and proponent of the two-party state tries to "get at the core madness of this talk."  He asks: "Just what do people think a third party president would do?"  In answer he writes:
The question that needs to be asked about all these notions is what kind of legislative coalition is President Bloomberg supposed to be governing with? . . . I bet a third party president would initially impress people with his bold truth-telling and lack of need to cater to old bulls on the Hill. But it would swiftly become apparent that the constitution hasn’t been repealed, that the only bills that pass are the ones members of congress will vote for . . . 
Yglesias is right.  But the answer to his question is rather simple.  People think a third party president would have the exact same magical powers they believe every president has, because they have been indoctrinated into the Democratic-Republican party's cult of the executive.  Many Independents likely believe that, if an Independent were in the White House, he or she would be able to wave the president's imperial wand and solve the nation's problems at will.  In other words, their thoughts on this issue would be virtually indistinguishable from those of most Democrats on the eve of Obama's inauguration or those of Republicans on the eve of George W. Bush's.

As I've argued before, though, one of the greatest benefits of an Independent President might be its demonstration of the weakness of the presidency.  Imagine, if a combative Independent president were opposed by Congressional Democrats and Republicans at every turn, it might be very difficult for him to simply start a new war or expand an ongoing one at will, for instance.  Congressional Democrats and Republicans might suddenly recall that there's a document called the Constitution, which specifically gives the power to declare and fund war to the Congress rather than the president. 

Nonetheless, having argued that an Independent president would be hamstrung by a partisan legislature, Yglesias inadvertently makes the case for the election of third party and Independent candidates to the US House and Senate in his conclusion.  He writes:
members of congress all belong to parties. The only way you’d be able to get anything done would be to find a way to work within the party system somehow. The point is that most of the stuff people like to decry about American politics—the venality, the small-minded partisanship, the bickering, the corrupt deals—happens in Congress. Wishing for a different president doesn’t address any of it.

In the comments to my recent post on the necessity of an immoderate moderatism, Cranky Critter coincidentally concurs with Yglesias's diagnosis and makes the case for an Independent coalition in the House and Senate.  He writes:  
I REALLY hope that we don't see a big showy viable moderate or independent candidate for President in 2012. Such an effort is likely to use up all the available air in a way that gives one big flash, and not a sustained burn.

I'd be much happier if the idea of an independent coalition centered on congress, on forming a viable caucus that was disruptive to 2-party dominance. After all, it's in congress where most partisan behavior really manifests.
Indeed.  But the question of whether to focus attention and resources on high-profile executive and statewide offices or on local executive and legislative seats, is an important and perennial strategic issue for advocates of third party and Independent politics.  At Green Party Watch, Ron Hardy recently addressed the issue at length in an election wrap-up post on Green Party gubernatorial candidates.  He writes:
In the post election chatter, some have questioned why Greens bother to waste the resources to run for Governor when the odds are so stacked against them . . . I would argue that running a green party candidate for a high profile state-wide race has several benefits . . . First, it has the potential to influence the dialogue by putting Green Solutions out front . . . Second, it has the potential to raise awareness of the Green Party statewide . . . Third, it gives all the Greens out there someone to vote for . . . Finally, political parties run candidates. That is how they are defined. If the Green Party doesn’t run candidates, they aren’t a political party . . . 
As Independents are not a party, however, this changes the calculus here to some extent.  Ideas?  See also Third Party Strategy and the Cult of the Executive, Part I.