On the Model of Duopoly

From the English Literature blog:
Duopoly is a type of imperfect market in which there are only two sellers producing an identical product in the market. Augustin Cournot, a French economist, was the first economist to develop the model of duopoly. In a duopoly situation, each seller may sell an identical product or a differentiated product. Duopoly may be broadly classified into:

1. Duopoly with product differentiation: Here the producers may be producing the same product, but there may be minor differences in packaging, size, colour, shape etc. When there is product differentiation each seller may have his own customers for the product and is not afraid of this rival.

2. Duopoly without product differentiation: When similar products are produced by the competing duopolists it is known as duopoly without product differentiation. In such a situation each seller cannot ignore the price and output of the rival in the market . . .
What can economic models tell us about the form and structure of our politics?  If anything?

Facebook Takes on the State of Homeland Security: "Booooooo!!!!!!"

This past week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered the first annual State of America's Homeland Security Address at George Washington University.  To a great extent, the address was overshadowed by the president's State of the Union speech as well as the ongoing protest movement  unfolding in Egypt.  Media reports on Napolitano's speech focused, for the most part, on her announcement that the department will soon abandon the color-coded security threat alert system adopted under the Bush administration in favor of a "two-tiered system" based on states of imminent and/or elevated threat.  But the speech was noteworthy for other reasons as well, including Secretary Napolitano's unwitting confession that the DHS is an abject failure, and her successful attempt to troll for new Facebook friends (scroll down for caps and pics).

One of the enduring criticisms of the DHS is that its sprawling bureaucracy effectively thwarts its stated objectives, namely, protecting US territory from terrorist attacks and responding to natural disasters.  Napolitano unwittingly admitted as much in her address.  For instance, she named two specific individuals arrested for terrorist activity over the last two years: Najibullah Zazi, arrested in 2009 for plotting to attack the New York City subway system and Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to explode a car bomb in Times Square last year.  In neither of these cases was the DHS responsible for thwarting the attack.  Zazi was thwarted by the FBI and the NYPD.  Shahzad, on the other hand, was able to actually park his faulty car bomb in Times Square, which was noticed by a local vendor when it malfunctioned.  Napolitano described the DHS as follows:
At the Department of Homeland Security over the last two years, we've seen some extraordinary progress and hard work pay off. But that could not have happened without the dedicated, professional men and women of this great Department, like the nearly 50,000 Transportation Security Officers who work tirelessly, and often thanklessly, to deter and prevent terrorist attacks on passenger planes; the more than 20,000 Border Patrol agents who put their lives on the line to protect our borders; the more than 10,000 officers and investigators who enforce our immigration laws, and bring to justice those who seek to traffic drugs, arms and people; the more than 40,000 men and women who serve in the United States Coast Guard protecting our maritime borders; or the thousands of scientists and engineers working on the next generation of security technology; the security guards at government buildings; the trainers of our law enforcement professionals; or the intelligence analysts working around the clock to stay ahead of emerging threats.
Apparently unaware of the irony, she then goes on to state that DHS has failed to detect nearly 80% of terrorist plots in the United States over the last decade.  She continues:
But the homeland security enterprise extends far beyond DHS and the federal government. As I said, it requires not just a "whole of government," but a "whole of nation" approach. In some respects, local law enforcement, community groups, citizens, and the private sector play as much of a role in homeland security as the federal government. That is why I like to say that "homeland security starts with hometown security." . . . A study just last year study found that, between 1999 and 2009, more than 80 percent of foiled terrorist plots in the United States were thwarted because of observations from law enforcement or the general public.
So, according to Napolitano, local law enforcement, community groups, citizens, and the private sector play as much of a role in homeland security as the federal government, but more than 80% of foiled terrorist plots in the United States were thwarted because of observations from law enforcement or the general public rather than the DHS.  The secretary then states that this is the reason why DHS has nationalized the "If you see something, say something" campaign, and begun to recruit a nationwide network of citizen spies.  The success of that program was made abundantly clear just the other day outside a Wal-Mart in Kirksville, Missouri.  From the Kirksville Daily Express:
A report of an armed man acting erratically in the Wal-Mart parking lot Wednesday led to the store being temporarily locked down before Kirksville Police responded to and defused the situation with no injuries.  KPD responded to control the scene and ordered a lockdown of the store both to keep shoppers in and prevent the individual from entering the store.

After identifying the vehicle and person in question, Hughes said a decision was made on the scene for police to attempt contact . . . No weapon was found and the individual was taken into custody without incident less than 20 minutes after police arrived on scene.  The individual was talking on a cell phone at the time of the incident. It's likely that is the object the passerby identified as a gun.  [Emphasis added.]
Given the predictability of such incidents, it may be the case that Napolitano's suspicious activity reporting initiative is actually little more than a ploy to attract Facebook friends.  She continued in the speech:
Both the "If You See Something, Say Something" and SAR initiatives have been designed, and tested, with civil liberties and privacy in mind. Both are aimed at identifying suspicious behaviors and increasing our shared ability to protect the country.

Today, we’re also premiering several additional resources to better connect citizens and communities with the kinds of information and tools that DHS offers. I urge you to visit our new "Hometown Security" resource page on DHS.gov, and to stay connected via the Department’s new Facebook page as well.

How many taxpayer dollars have thus far been wasted in the DHS Facebook-friend campaign?  We might never know, but at least it provides a forum for the public to confront the abuses of the DHS.  Here is a short selection of the top comments responding to Napolitano's address on Facebook:

As one later commenter noted, gotta love the freedom of speech.  The hubris of the Department of Homeland Security ensures both that it will fail in its mission and that its policies will result in a dangerous erosion of civil liberties and individual privacy.  The reason for this is quite simple: the DHS has set for itself an impossible goal inconsistent with its original mission, and far exceeding any organization's actual capacity.  Napolitano: "Our goal, quite simply, is to ensure the safety of all travelers and cargo as they travel across the globe."

Independents Overtaking Partisan Dead-Enders Left and Right

New voter registration numbers are beginning to come in across the country and early signs show significant gains among Independents and decline-to-state voters.  In Arizona, Independents now outnumber Democrats and are gaining on Republicans.  From AZ Central:
The number of Arizona voters who do not designate an affiliation with any political party has exceeded 1 million for the first time, according to numbers released Monday by the Secretary of State's office. . . . 
It also marks the first time the number of independent voters is greater than those registered in one of the state's two major political parties - in this case, the Democrats.As of Jan. 1, there were 1,010,725 voters registered as "other" in the state . . . . The number of registered Democrats, by comparison, stands at 1,008,689. . . .  There are now 1,142,602 registered Republican voters in the state.
In Broward County, Florida, on the other hand, Independents now outnumber Republicans and are gaining on Democrats.  From The Shark Tank:
In what amounts to an embarrassing piece of news for the Republican Party in Florida, the number of people in Broward County registered as Republicans now trails both Registered Democrats AND Registered Independents.  Broward Republicans now trail that highly organized political party, affectionately known as “Other” by close to 1000 votes.

Made in the USA

From Democracy Now:
AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined in our New York studio by Mostafa Omar, an Egyptian American activist and writer who lives in New York City. Mostafa, I wanted to ask you about the U.S. response. Clearly, the U.S. weighs in big-time here, makes an enormous difference. The second-largest recipient of U.S. aid, well over $2 billion the Egyptian government receives. What about what Hillary Clinton has said? Has President Obama weighed in?

MOSTAFA OMAR: It’s really interesting that Hillary Clinton said that she supports the universal rights of the Egyptian people, after the fact that the Egyptian people have begun to exercise those rights. The Secretary of State had no such words for the Egyptian regime over the last number of years.
In fact, what she also forgot to mention is that the tear gas and the tanks that are driving into protesters, the concussion grenades, are all made in the United States. That is the meaning of $2 billion in military aid, military and economic aid.
Pictures of the teargas canisters and concussion grenades being launched by Egyptian security forces against protesters have already begun circulating online:

Coming soon to a street near you?

Update:  Live stream of Al Jazeera's English-language coverage of ongoing protests.  Reportedly, police stations and the headquarters of the National Democratic Party have been set on fire.  Wikileaks has released a large number of Egypt-related State Department cables today.  Among them: a cable on Egypt's Emergency Law and Its Broad Uses, as well as another on "routine and pervasive" police brutality in the country.

Re-educating the Welfare Queens of the Warfare State

Ironically, our country's massive military budget, which bankrolls the welfare queens of the warfare state, must  be ranked among the greatest threats to our national security.  The budgetary black hole that is the Pentagon absorbs nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars every year.  To his credit, at least one newly-elected Tea Party backed Republican lawmaker has come out in support of cuts to the warfare state.  From the New York Times:
Representative Chris Gibson, a Tea Party-endorsed freshman Republican and a retired Army colonel from New York’s Hudson River Valley, made it clear that no part of the Pentagon’s $550 billion budget — some $700 billion including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — was immune. “This deficit that we have threatens our very way of life, and everything needs to be on the table,” Mr. Gibson told William J. Lynn III, the deputy defense secretary, who testified at the hearing along with Gen. Peter J. Chiarelli, the vice chief of staff of the Army, and other service vice chiefs. 
The response of those who advocate for the welfare queens of the warfare state reveals their patronizing and condescending attitude toward anyone who openly advocates removing their snouts from the public trough.  It sounds like they may even sponsor a number of re-education camps.  The article continues:
[Republican head of the House Armed Services Committee] Mr. McKeon, for one, is concerned, and has quietly been meeting with the new members — a number have no experience in government — to educate them on national security. One Congressional staff member who closely monitors the military said, “While McKeon would say that all members are entitled to advocate for positions they want to advocate, what he has been doing is working to educate new members on what the threats are, and why we need the defense budget close to where it is.” [Emphasis added] . . .

Mr. McKeon, who represents a California district that is home to major defense contractors, was the single biggest recipient in the House of campaign contributions from military aerospace companies and their employees.
Clearly, it is militarists such as McKeon who need to be taught a lesson.  A recent New York Times poll found that 55% of Americans support cuts to military spending.  Given a choice between cutting military spending, Social Security or Medicare, 55% of respondents favored cutting military spending, compared with only 21% who named Medicare and 13% who named Social Security.  In fact, support for cutting military spending led the way across partisan lines, including 66% of Democrats, 55% of Independents and 42% of Republicans.  Of course, it is highly unusual to find leadership on this issue from the representatives of the global warfare and corporate welfare state in the Democratic and Republican parties.  Fortunately, for that we need only look to the Libertarians and the Greens.  From the Libertarian Party's response to the State of the Union address:
Tonight we heard from President Barack Obama and a response from Republican Congressman Paul Ryan. President Obama says he wants a freeze in non-security, discretionary spending. In the unlikely event that happens, it won't really matter, because to make a real dent in the deficit, it's necessary to cut spending on the military and entitlements. The president promised big government in the past, and he delivered. I expect more of the same.

However, Obama has truly been a hypocrite on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a candidate, he promised to end them. Tonight we heard more hollow promises. The fact is, as president, he has kept those wars going, and has greatly escalated the war in Afghanistan. As a percentage of GDP, military spending is higher now than it was during any year of the George W. Bush administration.
Unlike President Obama, Libertarians would bring our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and reduce the military budget. On the Republican side, I found Congressman Paul Ryan's hypocrisy appalling . . . 
From the Green Party's response to the State of the Union address:
The White House and Congress can reduce the deficit drastically by ending the wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, cutting military spending and the number of US bases on foreign soil, and taxing the wealthy so that they pay their fair share. Future meltdowns can be averted by breaking up the "too big to fail" financial firms into smaller locally-based companies. The Green Party's goal of a decentralized economy, based on Main Street rather the Wall Street, will restore economic stability and security to the US.

Ventura vs. the TSA

From this week's column at CAIVN:

On Monday, Jesse Ventura filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for violating the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  Under the new TSA security protocols, prospective airline passengers who are designated for “enhanced” screening, for instance, after setting off walk-through metal detectors, must submit to a whole body imaging scan or a full-body pat-down search.  Because Ventura has a titanium hip implant which sets off metal detectors, he is forced to undergo the enhanced security procedure every time he boards an airplane, which is frequently required for his work as a “television performer,” as stated in the lawsuit.

Ventura’s lawsuit amounts to a full frontal assault on the DHS/TSA’s “enhanced security protocols.”  Essentially, the suit argues, since passengers are not free to leave the airport security area or decline to take their scheduled flights to avoid any additional screening, the enhanced protocols amount to an unconstitutional search and seizure.  “Absent reasonable grounds for suspicion,” the suit states, “[whole body imaging] scans and pat-down body searches are unwarranted and unreasonable intrusions on Governor Ventura’s personal privacy and dignity and his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.”

It goes on to argue that whole body imaging scans are tantamount to a “warrantless, non-suspicion-based” strip search, which is “demeaning and degrading” and meets the definition of “unlawful video voyeurism.”  The lawsuit objects to full-body pat-downs on similar grounds, stating that they “include warrantless, non-suspicion-based offensive touching, gripping and rubbing of the genital and other sensitive areas of the body,” which meets the definition of “unlawful sexual assault.”

Were it not for the fact that so many Democratic and Republican lawmakers have shown so little interest in addressing these ritual humiliations of American citizens by agents of the state, such a lawsuit would not be necessary.  As the suit states, “Governor Ventura has no other adequate and speedy remedy at law.”  See this article for the full text of the lawsuit.

Though Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota under the banner of the Reform Party, in recent years he has become an outspoken advocate of independent politics and an opponent of party politics as such.  In October of last year, Ventura told USA Today, “I do not support the third party movement anymore,” adding, “I now advocate the abolishment of all political parties. We've allowed the parties to take over the government.”  Ironically, however, third party advocates are among Ventura’s staunchest allies in opposing the TSA’s invasive security procedures . . .

It is Time to Evict the Corporatist Squatters from the People's House

In an op-ed for the New York Times on Sunday, Dalton Conley and Jacqueline Stevens argued that Americans today are the "worst-represented group of citizens in the country's history."  Tell us something we don't know!  Refreshingly, however, the two professors do not make this claim on qualitative or ideological grounds, but rather purely quantitatively.  Excerpt via Ballot Access News:
It’s been far too long since the House expanded to keep up with population growth and, as a result, it has lost touch with the public and been overtaken by special interests. Indeed, the lower chamber of Congress has had the same number of members for so long that many Americans assume that its 435 seats are constitutionally mandated.  But that’s wrong: while the founders wanted to limit the size of the Senate, they intended the House to expand based on population growth. . . .

For well over a century, after each census Congress would pass a law increasing the size of the House. But after the 1910 census, when the House grew from 391 members to 433 (two more were added later when Arizona and New Mexico became states), the growth stopped. By the time the next decade rolled around, members found themselves reluctant to dilute their votes, and the issue was never seriously considered again.

The result is that Americans today are numerically the worst-represented group of citizens in the country’s history. The average House member speaks for about 700,000 Americans. In contrast, in 1913 he represented roughly 200,000, a ratio that today would mean a House with 1,500 members — or 5,000 if we match the ratio the founders awarded themselves. 
The article goes on to outline the cons of the current regime and the advantages of expanding the size of the People's House, effectively arguing that increasing the quantity of representatives and decreasing the size of districts would increase the quality of political representation:
This disparity increases the influence of lobbyists and special interests: the more constituents one has, the easier it is for money to outshine individual voices. And it means that representatives have a harder time connecting with the people back in their districts.

What’s needed, then, is a significant increase in the size of the House by expanding the number, and shrinking the size, of districts. Doing so would make campaigns cheaper, the political value of donations lower and the importance of local mobilizing much greater.

Smaller districts would also end the two-party deadlock. Orange County, Calif., might elect a Libertarian, while Cambridge, Mass., might pick a candidate from the Green Party. Moreover, with additional House members we’d likely see more citizen-legislators and fewer lifers.  [Emphasis added.]
Too bad Septimus of the Whig blog has been offline, this was one of his signature issues.

Political Self-Interest vs. the Public Interest

From California Moderates via Rise of the Center:
One can argue that given our current situation the two party system has some real failings, despite our advantages. There is real discontent with both parties. This suggests some sort of problem. Reasonable questions include asking how and why we got here. Although there are multiple reasons, three major factors keep coming up: Special interest money, rigid political and religious ideology and self-interest before public interest.  The last one is hard to pin down. Politicians in office rarely admit they put self-interest above the public interest. However, politicians out of office occasionally do . . .

A recent example is comments made by former California legislative leader Willie Brown, who recently said that the the civil service system was "set up so politicians like me couldn't come in and fire the people (relatives) hired by the guy they beat and replace them with their own friends and relatives. . . . . . Talking about this is politically unpopular and potentially even career suicide for most officeholders." . . .

Another example is from former senator Max Cleland (D-Georgia). . . . After losing his senate seat to Saxby Chambliss in the 2002 elections, Mr. Cleland admitted that he voted in favor of invading Iraq, even though he was not convinced by the Bush administration's evidence for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He admitted he did that partly because of deference to the Bush administration and partly because of political self-interest. . . . .

So, what can be done? If this really is a human trait, it won't go away. As argued here before, one way to affect political behavior is to increase transparency. Obviously, that won't be completely effective, but it would help. . . .

Ralph Nader and Ron Paul Call for Libertarian-Progressive Alliance

From Raw Story:
on Wednesday's broadcast of Freedom Watch on the Fox Business channel, Judge Napolitano sat down for an amiable interview with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Ralph Nader to discuss a progressive-libertarian alliance in the 112th session of respective chambers in Congress.

Nader, who has recently called this coalition "the most exciting new political dynamic" in the US today, explained that it works well because both groups stand against corporatists who believe government should be run in the interests of corporations.

"I believe in coalitions," Rep. Paul echoed. "They talk about we need more bipartisanship, and I say we have too much bipartisanship because the bipartisanship we have here in Washington endorses corporatism."

Paul added that he agreed with Nader on a host of issues, such as cutting the US military's budget, ending undeclared US wars overseas, restoring civil liberties and civil rights by dumping from the Patriot Act, and withdrawing from the NAFTA and World Trade Organization agreements. . . . 

Authorization to Execute a Search Warrant is Not an Authorization to Execute People

As the deranged and deluded partisans of the Republican and Democratic parties continue their absurd debate on the magical powers and effects of martial imagery and metaphor in our nation's political discourse, it is highly revealing that few if any have taken even a moment to reflect on the deleterious effects of actual martial policy.  Democrats and Republicans are only metaphorically at war with one another, but they have literally declared war on the people of the United States.  And the bodies keep piling up.  The Salt Lake Tribune recently made public a SWAT team video of a police home invasion from late last year in which officers executed a man in his home before executing the search warrant for that home:

Notice how police command the golf club wielding man to "get on the ground" only after he has collapsed onto the floor, having been shot three times in the chest and head by the lead officer in the assault squad.  Upon searching the home after the killing, police supposedly recovered a small amount of marijuana and an empty vial of methamphetamine.  The man who was killed, Todd Blair, was apparently not even the primary suspect in the investigation, as there was no evidence that he was a drug dealer.  That was his roommate, who had moved out of the house some time before the raid, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.  Police did not even bother to bring the warrant with them on the night of the home invasion.   Officials later deemed the cold-blooded killing "legally justified."  Ryan Grimm summarizes further details of the incident.  The dangers inherent in the militarization of police and are not difficult to discern.  From Spring Valley, NY, late last week:
A village resident said that police conducting drug raids early this morning targeted the wrong house where they roused his family out bed, pointed a machine gun at his 13-year-old daughter and threatened to shoot their poodle. . . .

David McKay said he, his wife, 13-year-old daughter and his brother-in-law were sleeping at 5:30 a.m. when they heard banging on the door of their townhouse at 36 Sharon Drive. When they went to open the door, at least 10 police officers forced their way into the home, he said.

"Their guns were drawn, they were screaming 'Where's Michael, Where's Michael,' " McKay recounted hours later in a telephone interview from Nyack Hospital, where he took his terrified daughter for treatment after she had an asthma attack and fainted following the ordeal.

McKay said he was still groggy from sleep but tried to explain that there was no one named Michael in the house. "They pulled me outside in the freezing cold in my underwear, manhandle my wife, point a gun at my daughter and they won't even tell me what they are doing in my house," said McKay. "It was terrifying and humiliating beyond belief."
Not everyone is so lucky.  From earlier this month in Framington Massachusetts:
The fatal shooting of an innocent 68-year-old man by Framingham police reignited debate among law enforcement experts yesterday over the role of heavily armed, specialized units for routine drug busts. . . . Eurie Stamps was shot to death [by police] inside a home in Framingham on Tuesday after police arrested two 20-year-old unarmed men on drug charges. A Framingham SWAT team member yesterday was placed on administrative leave in connection with the shooting, the department said.
Police conduct over 50,000 such raids every year in the United States.  Radley Balko has compiled an extensive, though not comprehensive, archive of botched paramilitary police raids in conjunction with a policy paper for the Cato Institute entitled "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America."  Let there be no doubt: the war on drugs, which has the full support of the Republican and Democratic parties, is a war on the people and the Constitution of the United States.  It should go without saying, but apparently it needs to be said: authorization to execute a search warrant is not an authorization to execute any person who may be present during that search.

The American Political Zoo

Not too long after Randy Miller, founder of the Utah League of Independent Voters, began publishing a series of original independent political cartoons at the ULIV blog, I contacted him to ask if he takes requests and he was happy to oblige:

Thanks Randy!  If anyone else out there is independently-minded and artistically inclined, I'd gladly relay any of your political cartoons at Poli-Tea and TPID.

Third Party Petition Circulator Harrassed, Pepper Sprayed and Arrested Outside Maryland Public Library

From this week's column at CAIVN:
A little-noticed incident in Ellicott City, Maryland highlights the institutional hurdles and biases against minor political parties, the harassment of citizens engaged in constitutionally protected activities by public employees, the hostility on the part of the police toward those who record their interactions with the public, and the inaccuracies common in mainstream media reporting.

On December 18th, a professional petition circulator by the name of Andy Jacobs was collecting signatures for the ballot access drives of the state’s Libertarian and Green parties outside a public library in Ellicott City, Maryland . . .

Freedom is Slavery: Thomas Hobbes and the Fear of Government

In response to a recent post here, "To Alter or to Abolish: When the People Fear the Government, There is Tyranny," Sam Wilson of the Think 3 Institute argued in the comments that any discussion of the arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power and the despotic abuse of authority on the part of the state must distinguish between irrational and rational fear of government.  He writes:
What about irrational fear of the government, or government in the abstract? Is it possible that for every genuine violation of civil liberties there's a crank crying "tyranny!" because of legally enacted taxes, regulations, etc? Before we apply Jefferson's test to the current environment we have to distinguish between justified and unjustified fear. 
Reading this, I was reminded of a remarkable passage from Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan.  The work is, of course, famous for its argument in favor of a form of monarchical absolutism that many today might consider virtually indistinguishable from a tyrannical dictatorship.  Yet Hobbes specifically allows that the liberty of subjects entails the fundamental right to disobey certain commands of the sovereign.    From chapter 21 of Leviathan, entitled Of the Liberty of Subjects:
To come now to the particulars of the true liberty of a subject; that is to say, what are the things which, though commanded by the sovereign, he may nevertheless without injustice refuse to do; we are to consider what rights we pass away when we make a Commonwealth; or, which is all one, what liberty we deny ourselves by owning all the actions, without exception, of the man or assembly we make our sovereign. For in the act of our submission consisteth both our obligation and our liberty; which must therefore be inferred by arguments taken from thence; there being no obligation on any man which ariseth not from some act of his own; for all men equally are by nature free. And because such arguments must either be drawn from the express words, "I authorise all his actions," or from the intention of him that submitteth himself to his power (which intention is to be understood by the end for which he so submitteth), the obligation and liberty of the subject is to be derived either from those words, or others equivalent, or else from the end of the institution of sovereignty; namely, the peace of the subjects within themselves, and their defence against a common enemy.

First therefore, seeing sovereignty by institution is by covenant of every one to every one; and sovereignty by acquisition, by covenants of the vanquished to the victor, or child to the parent; it is manifest that every subject has liberty in all those things the right whereof cannot by covenant be transferred. I have shown before, in the fourteenth Chapter, that covenants not to defend a man's own body are void. Therefore,

If the sovereign command a man, though justly condemned, to kill, wound, or maim himself; or not to resist those that assault him; or to abstain from the use of food, air, medicine, or any other thing without which he cannot live; yet hath that man the liberty to disobey.  [Emphasis added.]

If a man be interrogated by the sovereign, or his authority, concerning a crime done by himself, he is not bound (without assurance of pardon) to confess it; because no man, as I have shown in the same chapter, can be obliged by covenant to accuse himself.

Again, the consent of a subject to sovereign power is contained in these words, "I authorise, or take upon me, all his actions"; in which there is no restriction at all of his own former natural liberty: for by allowing him to kill me, I am not bound to kill myself when he commands me. It is one thing to say, "Kill me, or my fellow, if you please"; another thing to say, "I will kill myself, or my fellow." It followeth, therefore, that

No man is bound by the words themselves, either to kill himself or any other man; and consequently, that the obligation a man may sometimes have, upon the command of the sovereign, to execute any dangerous or dishonourable office, dependeth not on the words of our submission, but on the intention; which is to be understood by the end thereof. When therefore our refusal to obey frustrates the end for which the sovereignty was ordained, then there is no liberty to refuse; otherwise, there is.
The influence of this passage on the subsequent history of political thought and the practice of government is attested to by the fact that one of the fundamental rights of refusal considered by Hobbes, namely, that against self-incrimination, was adopted by the framers of the Constitution and enshrined in the Fifth Amendment.  However, it is the emphasized lines above that relate, I think, to the discussion broached by Sam.  Hobbes states that subjects have the liberty to disobey the sovereign if they are commanded "to abstain from the use of food, air, medicine, or any other thing without which he cannot live."  The question here is: what are those things without which we cannot live that cannot be justly prohibited by government?

We may be deprived of our liberty and incarcerated by the state, but the government may not deprive prisoners of food, water or medicine, without which they would simply die.  Indeed, in the case of prisoners who engage in hunger strikes, the state may even resort to force-feeding, as in the case of British and American suffragettes in the early 20th century.  But there also seems to be a subjective aspect to the determination of those things without which an individual cannot live.  What if the result of some legally enacted tax or regulation was that some group of persons were effectively robbed of their ability to earn their daily bread, and no longer able to go about their otherwise lawful business or daily affairs?  Does that not amount to tyranny?  Maybe, maybe not.  The answer would seem to depend on the specifics of the case, but even then one can imagine that two reasonable individuals could disagree whether that very result is an expression of freedom or tyranny, and whether the fear of it is rational or irrational.

Obviously, there are clear-cut cases of irrational fear of government.  Often, this might be said to involve a short-circuit between the universal and particular.  For example, a justified, rational concern that the government is hostile toward Second Amendment liberties is quite different from an irrational fear that the government is coming after me to take my guns.  A justified, rational fear at the fact that the government routinely violates the Fourth Amendment has a different quality than an irrational fear that the government is routinely tapping my phones or reading my email.  One could also imagine irrational responses to rational fears and rational responses to irrational fears.  With respect to the latter, a person who irrationally feared the government was coming to take his guns might seek to strengthen protections against illegal search and seizure rather than go on a gun-buying spree.  With regard to the former, someone who justifiably fears widespread violations of the Fourth Amendment might cancel their phone plan and encrypt all their correspondence rather than petition the government for a redress of grievances. 

In this discussion, one would also have to consider the role played by political partisanship in stoking irrational fear of government on the one hand, and irrational faith in it on the other.  But perhaps for now it is best to leave that for a future post.

War is Peace

The apologists and propagandists of the global warfare state truly have no shame.  As you may have heard, last week Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department's general counsel, delivered the keynote address at the Pentagon's annual observance of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Johnson concluded his otherwise honorable speech by essentially arguing that our endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world are fully in line with the vision of peace promoted by King.  Or at least, this is how the speech was received by those in attendance.  As the American Forces Press Service reported:
In the final year of his life, King became an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, Johnson told a packed auditorium. However, he added, today’s wars are not out of line with the iconic Nobel Peace Prize winner’s teachings.  [Emphasis added.]

“I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation's military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack,” he said.
Perhaps a soul such as Johnson must believe such things if he is to retain his sense of honor and decency, or simply even to be able to look himself in the mirror.  This, however, does not make them true.  From King's speech "Beyond Vietnam," April 4, 1967:
When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered . . . A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death . . . Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain." [Emphasis added.]
Today, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether our nation is indeed spiritually dead.  Liam Fox provides a few simple figures in an article at the News Junkie Post:
When a society allows for more than $45,000 a year to be paid to incarcerate each of its many, many inmates, $1,000,000 dollars a year on each of its soldiers invading a foreign country, and only $11,287.50 per year (based on current $903 Billion budget for estimated 80 mil students) on each of its students the resulting social dilemma is inevitable.
Given the apparently intractable character of this dilemma under the conditions of the two-party state, we may have to draw the conclusion that we are not spiritually dead, but rather spiritually undead.

Ignorance is Strength

Maybe the simplest explanation for why so many Americans are willing to tolerate a government that has no respect for its constitutional limitations and little interest in the maintenance of fundamental liberties, is because they are woefully ignorant of the Constitution.  And our elected leaders are apparently even more ignorant than their constituents.  From AOL News:
For five years now, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute has been conducting a national survey to gauge the quality of civic education in the country. We've surveyed more than 30,000 Americans, most of them college students, but also a random sample of adults from all educational and demographic backgrounds.

Included in the adult sample was a small subset of Americans (165 in all) who, when asked, identified themselves as having been "successfully elected to government office at least once in their life" -- which can include federal, state or local offices. . . . Elected officials at many levels of government, not just the federal government, swear an oath to "uphold and protect" the U.S. Constitution. . . .

But those elected officials who took the test scored an average 5 percentage points lower than the national average (49 percent vs. 54 percent), with ordinary citizens outscoring these elected officials on each constitutional question. Examples:

  • Only 49 percent of elected officials could name all three branches of government, compared with 50 percent of the general public.
  • Only 46 percent knew that Congress, not the president, has the power to declare war -- 54 percent of the general public knows that.
  • Just 15 percent answered correctly that the phrase "wall of separation" appears in Thomas Jefferson's letters -- not in the U.S. Constitution -- compared with 19 percent of the general public.
  • And only 57 percent of those who've held elective office know what the Electoral College does, while 66 percent of the public got that answer right. (Of elected officials, 20 percent thought the Electoral College was a school for "training those aspiring for higher political office.")
Maybe its time we begin standardized testing of elected office-holders.  

To Alter or to Abolish: "When the People Fear the Government, There is Tyranny"

If, as it is stated in the Declaration of Independence, governments are instituted among men to secure inalienable rights, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, then must we not conclude that the reigning two-party state and duopoly system of government has become destructive of these ends?  Over the last year, numerous polls have shown that a wide majority of Americans do not believe the US government has the consent of the governed.  Similarly, an absolute majority of Americans consider the federal government to be "an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens."

An overlooked aspect of the public response to the Tucson massacre reveals the extent to which the American people recognize the reactionary and hysterical character of Democratic-Republican party politics as a grave threat to rights, liberties and the rule of law.  Consider these lines from an NPR commentary by Daisy Hernandez:
I wasn't the only person on Saturday who rushed to her Android when news came of the Tucson shooting. I wasn't looking however to read about what had happened. My auntie had already filled me in . . . What I wanted to know was the killer's surname.

My eyes scanned the mobile papers. I held my breath. Finally, I saw it: Jared Loughner. Not a Ramirez, Gonzalez or Garcia. It's safe to say there was a collective sigh of brown relief when the Tucson killer turned out to be a gringo. Had the shooter been Latino, media pundits wouldn't be discussing the impact of nasty politics on a young man this week — they'd be demanding an even more stringent anti-immigrant policy.
Latinos were not the only folks who were concerned that their community would be demonized because of the actions of the lone gunman.  Muslim advocacy groups also likely breathed a collective sigh of relief when it was reported that "the Tucson killer turned out to be a gringo."  The relief among conservative Republicans was palpable as more details of the shooter's person and biography became public knowledge.  Indeed, in many quarters it turned to rage at their demonization by liberal Democrats, who were likely also relieved that Loughner was not obviously one of them either.  And reasonably so.  After it was reported that Loughner in fact had no party affiliation, none other than Rush Limbaugh launched a tirade against Independents and centrists.

Given the predilection of Democrats and Republicans to hysterical reactionism, many communities and advocacy groups remain justifiably concerned about a potential government-led backlash in the wake of the shootings.  Among them: free speech advocates, gun rights advocates, advocates of open government, advocates for the mentally ill, video game lovers, marijuana legalization advocates, just to name a few.  

It is no secret that the ruling political class, under the hegemony of the Democratic and Republican parties, legislates to the particular rather than the universal.  The immediate response on the part of public officials to any such incident – whether it results in a horrible tragedy or whether a potential tragedy is averted – is almost invariably to call for further restrictions on fundamental rights and liberties.  Americans know this all-too-well.  As Thomas Jefferson famously stated, "When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny."  It is time to declare our independence from the tyrannical and totalitarian politics of the two-party state.

Style vs. Substance

While Democrats and Republicans continue to babble on about the pros and cons of violent rhetoric and incivility in political discourse, the Green and Libertarian parties have decided to focus on substance instead, and reaffirmed their commitment to actual non-violence in the wake of the Arizona shootings.  From the Arizona Green Party, via On the Wilder Side:
The Arizona Green Party is both saddened and outraged in response to the acts of domestic terrorism that plagued not only the City of Tucson this weekend, but our whole nation. Our hearts go out to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as well as all the victims and their families, friends, and communities affected by this senseless tragedy. Our sincerest condolences to those lives that were lost devastatingly on Saturday and we hope for a speedy recovery to those beginning their healing process.

Nonviolence is one of The Ten Key Values of the Green Party. We promote non-violent methods to oppose practices and policies with which we disagree, and will guide our actions toward lasting personal, community and global peace. Peace is not just the absence of violence; it is a willingness to resolve conflict in a constructive manner with a spirit of good will and respect.

Violence is never an answer. We, the Arizona Green Party, will continue to advocate for peace and non-violence in the wake of this tragedy in Tucson and everyday; that bloodshed and brutality are not replacements for compassionate dialogue and diplomatic action.
From the Libertarian Party national headquarters, via IPR:
Mark Hinkle, Chair of the Libertarian Party, issued a statement condemning the shooting of Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and others in Tucson, Arizona. According to reports, federal Judge John Roll and five others were killed in the shooting, and several others were seriously wounded. 
“The Libertarian Party condemns the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and others today. We are saddened by the loss of life, the suffering of those who survived the shooting, and the grief and sorrow of their family and friends.
“This shooting was wrong, and is the kind of abhorrent political violence that threatens our freedoms.
“The Libertarian Party opposes the initiation of force and violence whether it is politically motivated or for other reasons. To become a member of the Libertarian Party, people are required to sign a statement certifying that they oppose the initiation of force to achieve political or social goals.
“Regardless of the motives and other circumstances surrounding the killing, the Libertarian Party maintains its steadfast defense of the Second Amendment and the uncompromising right to gun ownership. In a free society, citizens should be free to arm and protect themselves, their families, and their property. Sadly, because of restrictions placed on responsible gun owners by all levels of government, many people avoid carrying weapons that could be used to stop mass shootings.
“Our condolences go out to the victims and their families. We wish them a speedy and full recovery.”

Reefer Madness: Anti-Drug Fanatics Seek to Capitalize on the Tucson Massacre

Despite the fact of its abject failure over the course of the last seven decades, the war on drugs continues to receive vocal support from fanatical prohibitionists on both sides of the duopoly divide.  The Democratic-Republican bipartisan policy consensus in favor of the war on drugs has led, among other things, to the militarization of the police, the incarceration of millions of individuals in conjunction with a mind-boggling expansion of the prison industry, the erosion of core rights such as the freedom from illegal search and seizure, and the squandering of trillions of dollars in resources.  Simply put, the war on drugs is part and parcel of the Democratic-Republican party's war on the people of the United States.  In recent days, the moral degeneracy of anti-drug zealots was on full display as they attempted to capitalize upon the Tucson massacre and score political points to further their decades-long crusade against individual liberty and rational drug policy.  The day after the shooting, none other than David Frum asked, "Did Pot Trigger the Giffords Shooting?" Excerpt:
After horrific shootings, we hear calls for stricter regulation of guns. The Tucson shooting should remind us why we regulate marijuana. Jared Lee Loughner, the man held as the Tucson shooter, has been described by those who know as a “pot smoking loner.” . . . After the Tucson shooting, there may be renewed pressure to control the weapons that committed the crime. But what about the drugs that may have aggravated the killer’s mental disease? The trend these days seems toward a more casual attitude and easier access to those drugs. Among the things we should be discussing in the aftermath of this horror is the accumulating evidence of those drugs’ potential contribution to making some dangerous people even more dangerous than they might otherwise have been.
The facts of the matter do not support Frum's premature speculations however.  Reports indicate that the assassin had "given up drugs and booze" as early as 2008.  From a Mother Jones interview with a long-time friend of the assailant, Bryce Tierney:
In October 2008, Tierney was living in Phoenix, and Loughner came to visit. They went to see a Mars Volta concert with friends, and Tierney was surprised when Loughner said he had quit partying "completely." Loughner, according to Tierney, said, "I'm going to lead a more healthy lifestyle, not smoke cigarettes or pot anymore, and I'm going to start working out." Tierney was happy for his friend: "I said, 'Dude, that's awesome.' And the next time I saw him he was 10 pounds lighter." Tierney never saw Loughner smoke marijuana again, and he was surprised at media reports that Loughner had been rejected from the military in 2009 for failing a drug test: "He was clean, clean. I saw him after that continuously. He would not do it."

After Loughner apparently gave up drugs and booze, "his theories got worse," Tierney says. "After he quit, he was just off the wall."  [Emphasis added.]
As Democrats and Republicans continue to seek reliable scapegoats for this heinous crime, it is likely only a matter of time before they will return to their old favorites: hip hop, heavy metal, video games and movies.

The Politics of Psychosis: "I know you are but what am I?"

As Democrats and Republicans happily continue to play their game of partisan political ping-pong with the Tucson massacre, perhaps the most unwittingly ironic assertion is that which claims the assassin's act has little or nothing to do with mainstream politics because the assassin himself is clearly a deranged and mentally disturbed individual.  It is by means of this precise argument that the deranged and disturbed proponents of the Democratic and Republican parties seek to wash their hands of the bloody affair after first attempting to wipe them clean with the other side's dirty laundry.  Yet, the psychotic senselessness, the violence and brutality of the assassin's act stands as an appropriate metaphor for Democratic-Republican party politics and government itself, in which character assassination functions as both a primary means and end.

If psychosis is defined as loss of contact with reality, then Democratic-Republican party politics under the conditions of the global warfare and corporate welfare state has been psychotic for quite some time, complete with delusions of grandeur and paranoid hallucinations.  The self-satisfied authors of empire imagine enemies everywhere in the alternate realities they create for themselves.  Reflecting on Post-Tucson Partisanship and Pathology, Sam Wilson writes:
given how little reasoned discourse has emerged from the partisan camps since Saturday, shouldn't we question any distinction that privileges partisan ideology as rational in order to exempt it from association with the accused's mania?
The sick and twisted irrationality of Democratic-Republican party politics is never more clear than it is in moments of tragedy such as this.  It is as if the trauma provokes a psychotic break that lays bare the wholly mechanical nature of the procedures and formulas that animate what passes for mainstream political discourse.  Such scenes resemble nothing so much as Harpo and Groucho Marx's famous mirror shtick in Duck Soup:  Democrats denounce the violent rhetoric of Republicans, Republicans denounce the violent rhetoric of Democrats, Democrats denounce the conservative climate of hate, Republicans denounce the progressive climate of hate, and so on ad infinitum.  Democratic-Republican party politics is nothing more than an extended game of "I'm rubber and you're glue," or "I know you are but what am I."  

Free Speech may be the First Casualty in the War on Violence

When I wrote yesterday that Democrats and Republicans would declare a "war on violence" this week, I was only half-joking, but it looks like this one is already coming half-true.  Today, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin have begun to style themselves as born-again peace activists.  From Business Insider:
Beck was notably silent about the Giffords shooting over the weekend but jumped in to the deep end today on his radio show reading aloud some emails he exchanged over the weekend with Palin.  According to Beck he wrote to her saying: “Sarah, as you know, peace is always the answer. I know you are felling the same heat, if not much more on this. I want you to know you have my full support." . . . Palin responded via email, which Beck read out loud: "I hate violence. I hate war. Our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence."
Meanwhile, Democrat Robert Brady has stated that he is preparing a bill to criminalize speech offensive to the ruling political class.  From CNN:
Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pennsylvania, said he will introduce legislation making it a federal crime for a person to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a Member of Congress or federal official.  [Emphasis added.]
Of course, given that warfare is the preferred policy solution of the Democratic and Republican parties on everything from poverty to drugs to terrorism, any statement from those quarters professing a hatred of violence and love of peace is highly suspect.  On the other hand, given that the Democratic and Republican parties have long been at war with constitutional rights, fundamental liberties and the  rule of law, any threat against the first amendment should be taken very seriously.  

The Coming War on Violence: Vitriol, Violence and the Politics of the Two-Party State

In the wake of yesterday's massacre in Tucson, Arizona, Americans are struggling to make sense of an act of violence which is all-too-common in American society.  Indeed, overnight a police officer and another man were killed, and five others were wounded, in a shooting outside a Baltimore nightclub.  Today, it appears that the words of Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik have provided some direction to the national dialogue, with his denunciation of "all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American public."

After the first round of finger-pointing yesterday, in which partisans on both sides of the duopoly divide sought to capitalize upon the tragic shooting to score cheap partisan political points, we can conclude that the next round of discourse will likely result in the de-politicization of this act of violence, also in the interest of scoring cheap partisan political points.  Democrats and Republicans began by each blaming the other for supplying the assassin with his political motivation.  They will end, as always, by agreeing that neither is culpable though both share the blame.  This is their mode of operation.  Like Pontious Pilate, they wash their hands of the affair, but like Lady Macbeth they can't seem to remove the "damn'd spot." 

It is perhaps only to be expected that Dupnik's denunciation of partisan "vitriol" has resonated with the public, the media and elected officials alike.  The focus on rhetoric ensures that we need not confront any of the deeper political issues that might be brought into focus by the tragedy.  Howard Kurtz writes:
Let's be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn't act shocked when politicians do the same thing.
He effectively concludes, however, that this tragedy is not about the political context of political violence, but rather that "it's about a lone nutjob who doesn't value human life."  One might say the same of Pilate and Macbeth, yet that would not do justice to the tragedy of the New Testament or Shakespeare.

It is no new discovery that the language of Democratic-Republican party politics and government is the language of armed warfare.  The converse of Clausewitz's classic military maxim is their operating principle: politics is the continuation of war by other means.  The desire for political enemies among Democrats and Republicans is so great, they are rarely content when their only adversaries are on the other side of the duopoly divide.  The Democratic and Republican parties are always effectively in a state of civil war, as the mindless drones of the corporate media never tire of telling us.  Republicans are not only at war with Democrats, they are also at war with Republicans-in-name-only.  Democrats are not only at war with Republicans, they are at war with Democrats-in-name-only as well.  

In most cases, however, the real violence that results from the politics of the reigning two-party state does not reign down upon the agents of that politics.  Rather, it is displaced from the two-party antagonism onto others, whether legitimately or not.  In either case, it is undeniable that Democratic-Republican party politics often amounts to nothing more than the base glorification of violence.  People complain that Democrats and Republicans cannot come together to solve problems for the good of the country.  But Democrats and Republicans do not solve problems, they just declare wars on them: the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the culture wars, the war on terror, the war on obesity, the war on common sense and decency, the war on religion, the war on science, the war on healthcare, the war on business, the war on rights, liberties and the rule of law and so on.

We should not be surprised if our nation's political leaders were to declare a war on violence this week, blinded to the irony of the act by their display of bipartisan showmanship itself.  Arguably, political violence is just the logical and tragic conclusion of Democratic-Republican party politics and government.  In this way, it spirals back toward its point of origin.  It is no coincidence that the Democratic-Republican two-party state was born of the nation's First Civil War.  Hopefully that will remain its last.  It is long past time to declare our independence from the failed politics of the two-party state.

Update:  It appears the war on violence has already begun, and the first target is the first amendment.  From CNN:
Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pennsylvania, said he will introduce legislation making it a federal crime for a person to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a Member of Congress or federal official.  [Emphasis added.]
Apparently, the legislation is also aimed at pacifying the hysterical spouses lobby, a highly influential special interest group.  The article continues:
Brady said he is hearing that the spouses of some of his congressional colleagues, specifically the newly elected members, are terrified and questioning whether they should remain in Congress. . . . "The spouses are in an uproar," he said. "They are panicking."

Political Circlejerk: Democrats and Republicans Argue Over Partisan Leanings of Assassin

Following the shooting of an Arizona congresswoman, a federal judge and up to ten others outside a supermarket in Tucson, it didn't take long for the deluded partisans of the Democratic and Republican parties to begin their now formally ritualized circlejerk on the political motivations and partisan leanings of the shooter.  For Democrats, naturally, the shooting is the result of Republican policy and rhetoric.  One angry graphic activist has even gone so far as to save Sarah Palin the trouble of updating her controversial "hit list."  Via Reddit:


Republicans, on the other hand, have already convinced themselves that the shooter was "a loony leftist," and some are speculating about the possibility that he was a Daily Kos diarist.  Weasel Zippers asks, "Is this [the shooter's] Daily Kos page?" and supplies the following screenshot of a recent post at the popular Democratic website:

Both Democrats and Republicans seem to agree, however, that the suspect in question is an extremely disturbed individual.  This may go some way toward explaining their difficulty in determining whether he is a Republican or Democrat: it's a toss-up.

Orwell in Florida: Not a Surveilling Eye, but Rather a Surveilling Eye

In the latest expansion of the Democratic-Republican party's militarized surveillance state, police have begun importing weapons from the war on terror abroad for use in their ongoing war against freedom and liberty at home.  From WSVN News, out of Miami Dade Florida:
A new piece of technology may soon be coming to South Florida, but is already raising concerns from residents. The Miami-Dade Police Department recently finalized a deal to buy a drone, which is an unmanned plane equipped with cameras. Drones have been used for years in Iraq and Afghanistan in the war against terror. Many residents are concerned that the new technology will violate their privacy.
Consider this classic example of double-think from Miami-Dade Police Director James Loftus, in defense of the drone.  The article continues:
"It gives us a good opportunity to have an eye up there. Not a surveilling eye, not a spying eye. Let's make the distinction. A surveilling eye to help us to do the things we need to do, honestly, to keep people safe," said Miami-Dade Police Director James Loftus.  [Emphasis added.]
In the Orwellian language appropriate to the Democratic-Republican party's massive National Security Police and Surveillance State, surveillance and spying are not surveillance and spying.  Rather they are surveillance and spying. They may say the surveilling eye is there "to keep people safe," but who or what will keep people safe from the surveilling eye?

Third Party Ballot Access and California's Top Two Primary System

At CAIVN, Bob Morris of Polizeros takes a look at the latest third party registration numbers in California.  He writes:
Let's look at the numbers and see what they tell us. All data is the most recent from the California Secretary of State. Percentage of registered voters in California as of Oct 18, 2010. (Third parties also have number of registered voters.)
  • Democrat 44.08%
  • Republican 31.02%
  • Decline to State 20.25%
  • American Independent 2.39% (413,032)
  • Green 0.66% (113,835)
  • Libertarian 0.53% (91,111)
  • Peace and Freedom 0.33% (57,776)
  • Other 0.74%
To qualify as a third party, either an affidavit of registration must be completed by 1% of the votes cast in the most recent governor's race or a petition signed by 10%. Currently, 1% is equal to 103, 024. 
To maintain ballot status, a party must keep registration at all times equal to one-fifteenth of one percent of total registration, and either: 1) Maintain a registration level equal to at least one percent of the entire vote of the state at the most recent gubernatorial election or 2) poll at least 2% in any of the most recent elections for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer, Attorney General, Insurance Commissioner, or United States Senator. 
Based on these criteria, all four third parties retained ballot status in the 2010 election. . . . all four third parties retained ballot status in the 2010 election . . .
With the introduction of the "top two" primary system in California, it will likely be much more difficult for third parties to retain ballot access in the state.  If no third party candidates are among the top-two vote-getters in the primary races for the eight offices listed above, they will be excluded from the general election, and if you are excluded from the general election, you cannot maintain ballot access by polling 2% in those races.  Only the American Independent Party and the Green Party have high enough registration numbers to maintain their ballot access by the first criterion, though the Libertarian Party is quite close to the cut-off – if I'm reading the numbers correctly, that is.  Bob continues:
with the exception of Peace and Freedom in L.A. County, and contrary to what might be expected, the highest registrations for third parties are in northern, rural, agricultural counties. These counties tend to be conservative, and have very low registration for Peace and Freedom, the only socialist party with ballot status.  The three counties where the Green Party is highest could perhaps also be safely described as marijuana-friendly.
It would be interesting to see where decline-to-state voters are clustered in California, since that is where the most movement among the electorate is.  Over the last ten years, decline-to-state voters have gone from being 13% of the electorate to 20% of the state's electorate, while all explicit affiliations have either noticeably sunk or remained flat.

CA: First Elections to Be Held Under "Top Two," Non-Partisan Candidate Joins Race in Protest

From this week's column at CAIVN:
Two special elections for State Senate scheduled on February 15th will be the first to be held under California’s “top two” open primary, and at least one candidate is running in protest of the new system.

The Top Two Primaries Act, which was passed by voter referendum in June of last year as Proposition 14, is just one of the hundreds of new laws that came into effect in California on New Year’s Day.  Under the “top two” system, all candidates for a given office, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof, participate in a single primary election open to all registered voters, also regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof.  The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary then move on to the general election, from which all other candidates are excluded.

Opponents of Proposition 14 sought an injunction to block implementation of the law on the basis of the claim that it discriminates against minor party candidates and voters who cast ballots for write-in candidates.  However, in December, the California Supreme Court refused to issue an injunction on the matter.  The suit will continue to make its way through the courts and others are likely to be filed in the coming months.  (See this article for background on the lawsuit.)

In the meantime, two special primary elections for State Senate districts 17 and 28 have been scheduled for February 15th, and will be the first to be held under the new system in California. . . . The special election in the 28th district was called when the previous office holder, Sen. Jenny Oropeza, was posthumously re-elected by voters, after having passed away less than two weeks before the November election.  Among the ten candidates who filed nomination papers for the office, there are four Republicans, three Democrats, two Non-Partisan candidates and one Libertarian.  The two non-partisan candidates are Mark Lipman, a publisher and community organizer, and Michael Chamness, a community activist from Venice, CA.

It turns out, however, that Chamness is not non-partisan by choice.  Rather, he is a member of the Coffee Party, a liberal group formed in response to the Tea Party movement, which is not officially recognized by the state.  Under Proposition 14, his affiliation cannot therefore be listed alongside his name on the primary ballot.  Chamness joined the plaintiffs of the above-mentioned lawsuit against implementation of Proposition 14 in an appeal filed last November, according to a press release at Business and Election Law, the website of Gautam Dutta, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case.  The release states:
Unless the state’s High Court intervenes, Mr. Chamness will be banned from identifying himself as a “Coffee Party” candidate on the ballot.  Instead, he will be forced to falsely state that he has “No Party Preference.” 
As quoted by The Daily Breeze, Chamness appears to have decided to run for the seat at least partially in protest of Proposition 14, which he said “disenfranchises third-party candidates.” . . .

The Logical Conclusion of the Argument for Divided Government

The extent to which the ideology of the two-party state has eroded constitutional government in the United States is sometimes most clear in the off-hand comments of the apologists for the dictatorship of the ruling Democratic-Republican party.  1580AM radio, which syndicates Lou Dobbs' talk show, relays a Youtube video entitled, "Lou Dobbs Post-Show Debrief 1.3.11."  Here's the teaser:
Lou Dobbs talks about the ‘NEW’ Congress taking office this week and the country returning to an ACTUAL ‘two-party’ system of checks and balances with Democrats AND Republicans holding power in Congress.
In the video "debrief," Dobbs states:
We're coming up on a big week as we launch 2011.  Congress is coming back on Wednesday.  Can't wait.  Can you?  It's felt pretty good not to have them in session, I don't know how it's going to feel to have them back.  I'm sure of one thing: it's going to feel better than last year because this year we don't have one-party rule.  We're back to the two-party political system in our government, checks and balances, all that sort of thing.  It's a very very important development.  I think it's part of the reason I feel so good about this year . . . [Emphasis added.]
In this short statement, Dobbs manages to conflate divided government with the two-party system while confusing the two-party system with the system of checks and balances.  In effect, his working assumption is that only divided government provides the conditions necessary to ensure checks and balances.  Given that divided government has become the rule rather than the exception at the federal level over the last fifty years or so, it is likely that many American would essentially agree with this proposition.  If it is true, however, then we must draw the obvious conclusion that government by the Democratic and Republican parties has undermined the separation of powers in the United States.

The argument for divided government under the conditions of the two-party state is actually quite simple.  When the presidency and the legislature are controlled by the same party, the president will not check the Congress and the Congress will not check the president, but rather they work in concert for the benefit of their party and its primary constituencies, and the separation of powers will be undermined.  When the powers of government are divided between the parties, the argument goes, we are ensured an antagonistic relationship between the executive and legislative branches. 

Yet, though they pander to different segments of the public, the major parties ultimately serve the same interests, namely, those of the ruling criminal-political class, and thus a very similar argument can be made with respect to so-called divided government itself.  When the presidency and the legislature are controlled by different factions of the two-party state, the president does not check the Congress and the Congress does not check the president, but rather they work in concert for the benefit of the parties themselves and their primary constituencies, and the separation of powers is undermined.   Consider but one obvious example of such political malfeasance.  Arguably, the imperial presidency and the cult of the executive rival the two-party system itself as the single greatest threat to the separation of powers in the United States.  Support for the imperial presidency is rampant among the legions of executive cultists in both the Democratic and Republican parties.  The imperial presidency and the cult of the executive have thrived and metastasized under the conditions of divided government over the last fifty years, no matter which party has controlled the Congress or the Presidency. 

Perhaps, in this context, all that need be done is to take the argument in favor of divided government to its logical conclusion: no party should control the presidency, or the Senate or the House of Representatives.  An independent opposition is necessary to counter the enemies of constitutional, democratic, republican government in the ruling political class.

Pirate Parties Condemn Violence and Threats Against Wikileaks Staff

Despite their supposed antagonism and opposition, it did not take long for the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties to form a bipartisan consensus regarding Wikileaks after the organization began publishing its database of leaked diplomatic cables in conjunction with newspapers from around the world.  They even seem to be reading from the very same script.  Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on December 5th, from Mediaite:
This morning on Meet the Press, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called Julian Assange a “high tech terrorist” for his role in publicly releasing over 250,000 US diplomatic cables. "I think the man is a high tech terrorist…he’s done enormous damage to our country and to our relationships with our allies around the world, and he should be prosecuted,” McConnell said.
Two weeks later, Vice President Joe Biden echoed McConnell on the very same program, from the Guardian:
US vice-president, Joe Biden, today likened the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, to a "hi-tech terrorist", the strongest criticism yet from the Obama administration. . . .  His description of Assange shows a level of irritation that contrasts with more sanguine comments from other senior figures in the White House, who said the leak had not done serious damage. Interviewed on NBC's Meet the Press, Biden was asked . . .
Numerous propagandists for the dictatorship of the two-party state have even begun to call for the assassination and killing of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.  See, for instance, John Hawkins and Donald Douglas.  Needless to say, such contempt for the freedom of speech and of the press on the part of our political "leaders" and their deluded supporters is a far greater threat to the United States than an Australian with a website.  A coalition of European Pirate Parties has now begun to push back against such rhetoric and released a joint statement condemning violence and threats against Wikileaks and its staff.  From the press release, via Third Party and Independent Daily:
In a joint declaration with other Pirate Parties, today the Pirate Party of the United Kingdom strongly condemns any attacks on Wikileaks infrastructure and more so any attacks on Wikileaks staff, as reported by Wikileaks in March and again by Julian Assange this week.
"Any democracy worth its name should distance itself immediately from any such actions" says Mark Wood, Vice-Secretary for Whistleblowing at Pirate Parties International and Member of the Board of Governors at Pirate Party UK. "Personal attacks and threats against anyone publishing information, are not what democracy is about. Should Wikileaks do anything illegal, they should be prosecuted through due process of law, which until now has - not surprisingly - not happened" . . . 
"Again, we see many states, including some so-called democracies trying to inhibit the free flow of information that is inherent to the democratic principle" states Loz Kaye, Leader of Pirate Party UK. "It comes to show the sorry state our democracies have plunged to."
Those who argue that Wikileaks is waging terrorism by engaging in acts of free speech and press may already have the law on their side in their crusade against cherished freedoms.  Ironically, it turns out that a group of high-profile Republicans – including Michael Mukasey, Rudolph Giuliani, Tom Ridge, and Frances Townsend – openly provided material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization just last month.  If the enemies of liberty and independence in the Democratic and Republican parties have their way, there's going to be a long line at the gallows.

Ron Paul Calls for Organized Opposition to Democratic-Republican Party's Police State

In a New Year's message from Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican legislator calls for an end to the global warfare state abroad, opposition to the construction of a police state at home, and the repeal of "the anti-American Patriot Act."  Excerpt:
it is key for us to understand that our foreign policy and current economic crisis go hand in hand. Some have promised to lead us back to fiscal responsibility while asserting that any reduction in our foreign and military spending is off the table. They would like us to believe that we should not only continue spending as much on the military as the rest of the world combined, but they actually call for an even more aggressive U.S. policy abroad. They believe we should continue to bomb Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere, that we must impose even more crippling sanctions on countries like Iran while moving steadily on to yet another Middle East war that is not in our interest. They represent the failed policies of the past and they would like to lead us down a dead-end street. We must resist the temptation of their neocon-inspired scaremongering.

There will be much work for us to do in the next year and in the next Congress. We need look no further than the grossly unconstitutional and immoral policies of the Transportation Security Administration, demanding that we either be irradiated or fondled to travel in our own country, to see that those who would deprive us of our civil liberties on the empty promise of full security will not be given up easily. We must continue standing up to them and we must not compromise.  We must not allow the out-of-control Department of Homeland Security to impose an East-German like police state in the U.S. where neighbors are encouraged by Big Brother or Big Sister to inform on their neighbors. We must not accept that government authorities should hector us via television screens as we go about our private lives like we are living in Orwell’s 1984.

I’m optimistic that the incoming members of Congress understand the importance of what they have been entrusted with by the American people. But I do hope that those who elected them will watch their actions and their votes in Congress carefully. An early indication will be the upcoming vote on re-authorization of the anti-American PATRIOT Act. Defeating once-and-for-all this police state legislation will be a great way to start 2011 and the 112th Congress.