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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: September 2006

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Just Defending Marriage? Don’t Believe it!

We’ve all heard it before, the desire by some to pass laws in all fifty states and ultimately amend the U.S. Constitution to restrict the legal definition marriage to mean a union of one man and one woman. The goal is not to discriminate against gay people but to protect the institution of marriage. Gay marriage, they argue, undermines such a vital institution by making a mockery of what we have always known as marriage. I have always had my doubts that this was the true goal of the so-called defenders of marriage. With new ballot referendums concerning rights of gay couples the upcoming elections in November, the forces behind the so-called marriage protection movement are showing their true colors.

Here in Colorado, there are two items on the ballot which deal with these issues. The first, Referendum I, provides legal protections for gay couples in the state of Colorado such as inheritance rights, the right to visit each other in the hospital, make medical decisions, and make funeral arrangements. The organization behind the referendum, Coloradans for Fairness and Equality, insists that the referendum is not marriage but basic legal rights.

The other item Colorado voters will decide is Amendment 43 of the state constitution. The purpose of the amendment is to prohibit gay marriage by defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Christian Right organizations such as James Dobson’s Focus on the Family are behind Amendment 43, which should come to no one’s surprise. Dobson’s efforts do not stop at supporting Amendment 43, however. Initially Dobson’s organization did not take a position on Referendum I but it did not take long before simply defending marriage was no longer enough.

It seems to me that supporting both measures would be a reasonable compromise position for both sides of the issue. Gay couples get the legal rights they want and the definition of the traditional marriage is preserved. A September 19th Rocky Mountain News/CBS 4 poll shows the majority of Coloradans support such a compromise with 58% supporting Referendum I and 52% supporting Amendment 43.

James Dobson and co. are in no mood for such a compromise. Allowing gay couples register as domestic partners to have the same inheritance rights, make funeral arrangements, or visit each other in the hospital still apparently somehow undermines traditional marriage in their view. This is a point-of-view I simply do not understand. A marriage is only as strong as the individuals involved. My marriage to my wife will not suffer one iota if my neighbor decides to marry or register as domestic partners with someone of the same sex.

To better understand Focus on the Family’s position on this issue, one really has to take a look at the broader picture of their political activity. This Christian Right organization was behind the recent increase in FCC broadcast ‘indecency’ fines. Trusting parents to use the V-chip, which practically every television made within the last decade now has, is no longer good enough. No, Dobson wants to take that responsibility away from parents and tell you and me what we can or cannot watch on television. Dobson’s group also opposed the Supreme Court ruling in Gonzales vs. Oregon which upheld the ‘Death with Dignity Law’ which was passed by voters. I thought Dobson only wanted the courts to support the will of the people! Focus on the Family also supported the flag desecration amendment, increased laws against adult pornography (.pdf), and opposed legalizing gambling, and other such activities which are commonly apart of a free society that they view as a threat to ‘Christian’ America.

On the organization’s ‘About Us’ page, Dobson summarizes his ministry’s goals:

For nearly 40 years I have been watching a nonstop, withering attack from social and political liberals that is tearing families apart, undermining marriage, belittling Christian values and endangering our children. Most of what we as Christians believe is now either viewed as passé — or openly ridiculed. It’s time to say, “Enough is enough!”

If we don’t act now, most of what we hold dear will be trampled in the name of political correctness. But incredibly, Americans, and Christians in particular, have not responded to protect our most precious rights, liberties and beliefs. I want to address this apathy. And the only way to do it is through an agile, aggressive cultural and family advocacy organization like Focus on the Family Action.

How far is Dobson willing to go using the force of government to protect Christians from being ‘openly ridiculed’ or protect them from having their values ‘belittled’? Apparently gay marriage or even civil unions ridicule and belittle Christians as do the other previously mentioned activities. It is impossible for me to sit idly by while Dobson and his ilk attempt to use their political power to undermine the Bill of Rights and attempt to take individual choices away from American citizens. What is he so afraid of? Is he afraid his fellow Christians might partake of these ‘sinful’ activities? Has he no regard for the Lockean philosophy of life, liberty, and property?

Clearly, this disconnect makes it difficult for Dobson to understand why he and his followers are so often subject of ridicule. If Dobson were content with broadcasting his message on his radio show or in his articles, perhaps this ridicule would be less deserved. But the fact is Dobson and others insist that it is their job to make their moral code the law of the land; therefore, he deserves every ounce of ridicule he is receiving. No, the Christian Right are not ‘just defending marriage,’ they are trying very hard to bring about a Christian theocracy in America (whether they will admit it or not) and the gay marriage issue is but one of the many avenues they are taking to reach that goal.
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Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Treatise on Treaties

What does the war in Iraq, the so-called torture debate amongst the Bush administration and senate Republicans, and the arrest of Duane “Dog” Chapman all have in common? The answer is violations or apparent violations of international treaties.

Unfortunately, far too many people (including our leaders) do not fully understand what exactly a treaty is or how it is supposed to work. A treaty is really nothing more than a legal contract between two or more nations. To deconstruct the meaning even further, we should ask the question: “What is a contract?” A contract is a legal agreement with two or more persons or entities. A legal contract requires that all parties involved agree to the contract’s terms. If one party does not agree to the terms of the contract by not signing the contract, he or she cannot be held in breach of contract nor can receive any of the contract’s benefits. In the event that one of the parties fail to meet the contract’s obligations to the other party or parties, the wronged party or parties no longer are required to meet obligations of the offending party and can pursue legal action. When a renter fails to pay his or her landlord according to the rental contract, for example, the landlord can have the renters evicted and possibly take the renters to court to force them to pay.

When it comes to nations honoring and enforcing treaties, it seems to be more complicated. What are the consequences when one or more nations decide not to honor the treaty?

In the case of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, it meant economic sanctions and eventually war for violating multiple U.N. resolutions. Though the specific WMD found in Iraq might not have applied to the U.N. resolutions, Saddam failed to meet his end of the treaties he agreed to at the end of the first Gulf War. One of the most blatant breaches was his antiaircraft attacks on coalition war planes patrolling the “no fly zones.” Other violations included expelling U.N. weapon inspectors in the 1990’s. Continuing violations of the many treaties could not be allowed indefinitely, otherwise the treaties would become meaningless (as many U.N. treaties and resolutions are).

When it comes to the so-called torture debate, al Qaeda, insurgents, and Taliban fighters are not contracting parties to the Geneva Conventions. Arguably, the Taliban was a government of sorts but did not sign the Conventions (at least to my knowledge, someone please correct me if I am wrong). Insurgents, al Qaeda, and other individuals could not sign the treaty even if they wanted to because treaties can only be signed by nation states, not individuals. These terror groups can no more be contracting parties to the Geneva Conventions than the Bloods, the Crips, or the Mafia. Because none of these groups have not or otherwise do not have the ability of signing the Conventions, governments are not required to treat them as they would soldiers of countries which have signed and abide by the Conventions.

This is Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the specific part which the president and the senate are debating (Bold words are my emphasis):

In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in
the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed ' hors de combat ' by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) taking of hostages;

(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; [What the hell does that mean? Isn’t being dressed in an orange jumpsuit, full body cavity checks, and being forced to follow a daily routine by one’s captors ‘degrading’ and ‘humiliating’? No wander the president wants this part clarified!]

(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

(2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour [sic] to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention. The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.

Article 3 clearly states that these legal protections only apply to prisoners of war as defined elsewhere by the Conventions. Whenever these thugs organize as an army as part of a nation state which signs the Conventions, stop targeting civilians, and stop strapping bombs to children, then we can talk about providing Geneva Convention protections to our enemies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

In the case of “Dog” Chapman, the famous bounty hunter who may serve time in a Mexican jail, we have a case where two countries, the U.S. and Mexico, have signed treaties with regard to extradition. Mexico has failed to hold up its end of the treaties while the U.S. continues to uphold its part of the treaties.

On May 4, 1978 the U.S. and Mexico signed a treaty to deal with extradition of wanted persons. Among the provisions of the treaty is that fugitives who will likely receive the death penalty shall not be extradited unless assurances are made that the death penalty will not be carried out. Since that time, the Mexican Supreme Court went beyond the terms of the treaty and decided that life imprisonment is also “cruel and unusual,” and therefore, will not extradite individuals who would likely receive a life sentence. In their view, the purpose of punishment should be for the purpose of rehabilitation (as if it is their place to make a ruling based on the domestic policies of another country).

With that decision, Mexico violated the terms of the treaty. Why should the U.S. hold up its end of the treaty by giving Mexico Chapman? An even more important question: What crime did Chapman commit?

Both answers have to do with Mexico’s failure to honor the treaty. Chapman’s “crime” was taking Andrew Luster, who was wanted in the U.S. on rape charges, and bringing him back to America to face the charges. Luster was convicted and is now serving a 124 year term. Once again, Mexico believes such a long sentence as cruel and unusual which is likely the reason Mexican authorities never arrested or extradited Luster. Because of Chapman’s daring to capture a dangerous fugitive in a foreign country, Mexico wants to try him for kidnapping!

Technically, Chapman did commit a crime. Though he has the license to arrest fugitives in America, he has no such legal authority in Mexico as bounty hunting is a crime in Mexico. Technically, extraditing Chapman to Mexico is the right thing to do. I would argue, however, that because Mexico has failed on so many occasions to extradite U.S. criminals for violating U.S. laws, the U.S. has no obligation to continue to honor the treaty by returning Mexican fugitives who violate Mexican laws.

In all three of these examples, undoubtedly some will say that America should be “better” than those who violate the terms of the treaty. America could have imposed more diplomatic punishments on Saddam and kept him contained, could give individuals who wish to destroy America Geneva Convention legal protections even though the protections are not legally required, and return Mexican fugitives back to Mexico regardless of Mexico’s refusal to do the same.

Would doing any of these really make America a better and more respectable country? I would have to say no. Putting aside any of the legal reasons, continuing to honor a contract or treaty when the other party ignores the terms is pointless and destructive. Writing nasty letters to despots via the United Nations rather than taking decisive action to remedy the problem makes nations such as the U.S. appear weak. The same is true about Islamofascists who watch as our policy-makers wrangle on such non-issues as sleep deprivation, playing of loud music, and “mishandling” their Koran. Murderers, rapists, and other such undesirable individuals know that if they can flee to Mexico to escape justice, someone such as Dog Chapman can be arrested in America and sent back to Mexico for doing America a great public service.

When it becomes clear that countries are no longer in favor of honoring a treaty, it is time to consider amending it or scrapping it altogether. Sometimes treaties outlive their usefulness. Clearly, the Geneva Conventions need to be amended and clarified to deal with individuals who make war on countries using unconventional tactics. If Mexico no longer likes the treaty of 1978, perhaps it is time to negotiate a new one. Allowing murders and rapists to wonder the Mexican countryside cannot be good for Mexico’s citizens either. Contracts and treaties can only be effective if all parties involved believe they have something to gain from the agreement. Simply put, self preservation (or selfishness if you prefer) is the key to ensure that all parties hold up their end of the agreement. It should come to no one’s surprise that most people will not honor an agreement which is destructive to his or her own self interests. The same holds true for countries.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Never Forgive, Never Forget

Today, September 11, 2006 marks the five year anniversary of the attacks on America carried out by Islamofascists. That was a day that would forever change the way we viewed ourselves as Americans. Though there would always be disagreements on many issues of policy, when it came to protecting ourselves against a common enemy, most Americans would be united…so I thought.

Never would I have believed five years later, America would be so divided. I never would have believed that we would be asking permission from the international community to strike against countries which support Islamic terrorism. I never would have believed that past and present dictators of these same Islamofacist regimes would be allowed to set foot on American soil to meet with a former U.S. president, speak at a respected American university such as Harvard, or address the U.N. with the same kind of respect as a leader from an open and free society.

I never would have thought that members from the president’s opposition party would accuse the president of politicizing such a dreadful day merely by reminding the American public of the nature of the enemy. I would have never thought that something as simple as a prime time address to the nation marking the fifth anniversary of the attacks would be something to criticize (of course if the president chose not to make any statements about this day, the same people would criticize him for that).

Well believe it. Welcome to the America of 2006. It’s an election year. It is a time when honest discussion on the threat of Islamofascism is nearly impossible. But you know something? Bin Laden’s henchmen did not care if they killed Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, or even other Muslims. These Islomofascists only wanted to kill Americans. I am certain that the passengers of United Flight 93 had a diversity of political opinions but they had one goal: to stop the hijackers from hitting their intended target. We should keep that in mind as we move forward.

September 11, 2001: NEVER FORGIVE, NEVER FORGET!
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Friday, September 08, 2006

Dems Threaten ABC

The following is a letter from Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Debbie Stabenow, Charles Schumer,and Byron Dorgan to Robert A. Iger, CEO of Walt Disney Co. I found the letter at Newsbusters, took out Noel Sheppard’s comments and emphasis to present the letter as originally written to hopefully avoid being accused of taking any part of the letter “out of context” (My emphasis shown bold).

September 7, 2006

Mr. Robert A. IgerPresident and CEO
The Walt Disney Company
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank CA 91521

Dear Mr. Iger,

We write with serious concerns about the planned upcoming broadcast of The Path to 9/11 mini-series on September 10 and 11. Countless reports from experts on 9/11 who have viewed the program indicate numerous and serious inaccuracies that will undoubtedly serve to misinform the American people about the tragic events surrounding the terrible attacks of that day. Furthermore, the manner in which this program has been developed, funded, and advertised suggests a partisan bent unbecoming of a major company like Disney and a major and well respected news organization like ABC. We therefore urge you to cancel this broadcast to cease Disney's plans to use it as a teaching tool in schools across America through Scholastic. Presenting such deeply flawed and factually inaccurate misinformation to the American public and to children would be a gross miscarriage of your corporate and civic responsibility to the law, to your shareholders, and to the nation.

The Communications Act of 1934 provides your network with a free broadcast license predicated on the fundamental understanding of your principle obligation to act as a trustee of the public airwaves in serving the public interest. Nowhere is this public interest obligation more apparent than in the duty of broadcasters to serve the civic needs of a democracy by promoting an open and accurate discussion of political ideas and events.

Disney and ABC claim this program to be based on the 9/11 Commission Report and are using that assertion as part of the promotional campaign for it. The 9/11 Commission is the most respected American authority on the 9/11 attacks, and association with it carries a special responsibility. Indeed, the very events themselves on 9/11, so tragic as they were, demand extreme care by any who attempt to use those events as part of an entertainment or educational program. To quote Steve McPhereson, president of ABC Entertainment, "When you take on the responsibility of telling the story behind such an important event, it is absolutely critical that you get it right."

Unfortunately, it appears Disney and ABC got it totally wrong.

Despite claims by your network¹s representatives that The Path to 9/11 is based on the report of the 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Commissioners themselves, as well as other experts on the issues, disagree.

* Richard Ben-Veniste, speaking for himself and fellow 9/11 Commissioners who recently viewed the program, said, "As we were watching, we were trying to think how they could have misinterpreted the 9/11 Commission's findings the way that they had." ["9/11 Miniseries Is Criticized as Inaccurate and Biased," New York Times, September 6, 2006]

* Richard Clarke, the former counter-terrorism czar, and a national security advisor to ABC has described the program as "deeply flawed" and said of the program's depiction of a Clinton official hanging up on an intelligence agent, "It's 180 degrees from what happened." ["9/11 Miniseries Is Criticized as Inaccurate and Biased," New York Times, September 6, 2006]

* Reports suggest that an FBI agent who worked on 9/11 and served as a consultant to ABC on this program quit halfway through because, "he thought they were making things up." [MSNBC, September 7, 2006]

* Even Thomas Kean, who serves as a paid consultant to the miniseries, has admitted that scenes in the film are fictionalized. ["9/11 Miniseries Is Criticized as Inaccurate and Biased," New York Times, September 6, 2006]

That Disney would seek to broadcast an admittedly and proven false recounting of the events of 9/11 raises serious questions about the motivations of its creators and those who approved the deeply flawed program. Finally, that Disney plans to air commercial-free a program that reportedly cost it $40 million to produce serves to add fuel to these concerns.

These concerns are made all the more pressing by the political leaning of and the public statements made by the writer/producer of this miniseries, Mr. Cyrus Nowrasteh, in promoting this miniseries across conservative blogs and talk shows.

Frankly, that ABC and Disney would consider airing a program that could be construed as right-wing political propaganda on such a grave and important event involving the security of our nation is a discredit both to the Disney brand and to the legacy of honesty built at ABC by honorable individuals from David Brinkley to Peter Jennings.

Furthermore, that Disney would seek to use Scholastic to promote this misguided programming to American children as a substitute for factual information is a disgrace.

As 9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick said, "It is critically important to the safety of our nation that our citizens, and particularly our school children, understand what actually happened and why ­ so that we can proceed from a common understanding of what went wrong and act with unity to make our country safer."

Should Disney allow this programming to proceed as planned, the factual record, millions of viewers, countless schoolchildren, and the reputation of Disney as a corporation worthy of the trust of the American people and the United States Congress will be deeply damaged. We urge you, after full consideration of the facts, to uphold your responsibilities as a respected member of American society and as a beneficiary of the free use of the public airwaves to cancel this factually inaccurate and deeply misguided program. We look forward to hearing back from you soon.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid
Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin
Senator Debbie Stabenow
Senator Charles Schumer
Senator Byron Dorgan

Because I have not seen the miniseries or done my own fact checking, I will not comment on the program’s accuracy. Harry Reid et al may very well have valid arguments regarding the truthfulness of the program. Heck, they may even be correct that the program was produced by partisan Republicans who wish to do nothing more than smear former President Clinton (though I do not think this is the case). These are not the points I wish to address at this time.

What disturbs me the most about this letter is the way in which Reid et al threaten ABC to perhaps take its “free” FCC license away if ABC decides to run the series (though this time the only ‘boobs’ we see are government officials of the Clinton and Bush administrations). I thought it was George W. Bush who was the dictator! I thought it was the Republicans who were the fascists who wanted to trample on the constitution.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not approve of the way the Republicans have curbed free speech with “free speech zones,” increasing FCC fines, and the campaign finance reform bill. This notion that the government “owns the airwaves” is a crock.

Democrats have once again proven that they are hypocrites. Is it really patriotic to protest against the president or is it only patriotic when the president happens to be a Republican? Apparently Democrats do not trust the American people to reach their own conclusions. I am so glad that we have elected officials who are so much more intelligent than the rest of us to decipher the truth for us.
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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Choose and Lose

For the first time in my life, with roughly two months until an election, I am unsure as to how or even if I will vote. No matter how I vote I will be forced to compromise some of my values. This is nothing new of course given the choice between the socialist party (the Democrat Party) and the socialist-light party (the Republican Party). In the past I have been willing to choose the lesser of the two evils (the socialist-light Republican candidate) because, like many Americans, I had bought into these notions that “if you don’t vote, you shouldn’t complain” or “half a loaf is better than none.”

As of the last year or so, I’ve began to question both of these statements. If I cannot stand any of the candidates, how can I not complain if I cannot bring myself to vote for either? On the “half a loaf” statement, I’m beginning to believe that the Republicans are offering fiscal conservatives and libertarians mere crumbs at best; I could live with a half a loaf if that was what they were offering.

I do not believe I am alone in this thinking. Neal Boortz has put together a list of reasons why to not vote Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian for his upcoming book Sombody’s Gotta Say it. Boortz explains: “Everyone seems to be telling you why you should [vote]... so here's your why you shouldn't list.”

Here are a few of my favorites for each along with some of my own comments following each statement. You can read the complete lists here at near the bottom of the page.

Why You Shouldn’t Vote Republican:

“They have absolutely no fiscal discipline whatsoever. No congress has ever blown money on vote-buying programs quite like the current Republican congress has.”

But I thought Tom DeLay said that the Republicans had spending “pared it down pretty good.”

“There are far too many Republicans who want to take their personal religious blueprints for behavior and make them law.”

This is one of my biggest complaints about the Republican Party; most of the “loaf” is going to the Christian Right. These are the kind of people who want to take a wrecking ball to the First Amendment and other constitutional rights in the name of their religion. One person in-particular who embodies my worst fears of the Christian Right, Roy Moore, fortunately lost his bid for Governor of Alabama in the Republican Primary.

“They can't even protect America's borders.”

I don’t think that they can’t protect the borders, the problem is they won’t.

“Do you want your kids to come home from a government school and tell you that the Earth is only 6000 years old?”

Um, no I do not.

Why You Shouldn’t Vote Democrat:

“They clearly will not defend America from Islamic Fascism ... not now ... not until the price of that defense is catastrophic.”

This is the most obvious reason I cannot vote Democrat.

“Their war against individualism.”

If only the war against individualism were constrained to the Democrat Party. The Republican Party, perhaps to a lesser extent, no longer believes in the sovereignty of the individual. The writings of John Locke would be foreign to most of our elected officials.

“They think America is great because of its government.”

They don’t even try to hide this belief. No wonder their mascot is a JACKASS!

“They seem to think that income is distributed, not earned.”

This is apparent in the phrases they use such as “economic equality,” “income gap,” and “living wage.”

Why You Shouldn’t Vote Libertarian:

“With over 50% of the American people harboring strong libertarian feelings, they can't manage to mount a viable third-party campaign. How would they manage to govern?”

I sometimes wander if Libertarians even want to win. It’s much easier to shout from the sidelines about what a lousy job the Republicans and Democrats are doing than to get into the game and try to make a difference. I think the fear stems from the idea that the party will lose its purity because of the need to make small short-term compromises with the R’s and D’s even if it means accomplishing long-term goals.

“Not only will they not defend America's borders, they don't really think the borders need defending.”

While I agree with most of the Libertarian Party’s domestic philosophy, its foreign policy philosophy is fatally flawed. I wish America could safely be on its own without foreign entanglements. In the age of world trade, world travel, the internet, Islamofascism, and nuclear weapons this approach is suicidal. The day we pull our troops out of all foreign countries and beat our swords into plow shears will be the day we cease to be free.

“They never jumped on eminent domain abuse as the party agenda. People will react when they think their property rights are being threatened....and the Libertarians couldn't take advantage of this.”

Even if they had made this the party agenda, what good is taking a position when no one even knows you exist? Libertarians spend too much energy arguing philosophy with each other and not enough energy putting their views they do agree on in front of the American public. When was the last time you saw a Libertarian Party advertisement on TV, radio, or in print? I know the Libertarian Party does not have anywhere near as much funding as the Republicans or Democrats but surely they have as much as some of the 527 groups do to mount some sort of campaign. If the party would run ads about such issues as eminent domain abuse, the losing war on drugs, and the notion of limited government they would find that their message would resonate with more people who currently know little about the party now. The Libertarian message is a winning message but remains a loser if the message isn’t communicated.

So these are the choices I have: hold my nose and vote Republican allowing the party to continue its leftward slide, vote for a Libertarian who has no chance (if this choice is even available), or stay home and hope the Republicans lose control of the House in order to “send a message.” No matter how I choose, I still lose.
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