The Bi-Partisan Assault On Liberty Since Orlando

Words cannot adequately describe the horrific shooting at an Orlando nightclub on Sunday the 12th that killed 49 and wounded 53. Such unthinkable acts deserve to draw strict scrutiny. When things like this happen, it’s important to bear in mind that we are America, and that we were founded on the bedrock principles of freedom. Further, as Ben Franklin was quoted as saying, those who sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.

It’s a lesson we did not learn after 9/11, passing the Patriot Act and creating the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. These three things, in addition to others, did nothing to adequately address the threat of terrorist actors while severely curtailing the liberty, and therefore the quality of life, of the average American, subjecting them to excessive lines at airports, the security theatre of removing their shoes and “joke-free” zones, and the 100 mile “Constitution free zone” that encompasses the entire land mass of at least six states. Arguably, these laws, regulations and standing orders made Americans less secure, due to the illusion of safety and the increased reliance on government.

The days since the Pulse shooting are shaping up to be along those lines, as we continually learn the exact wrong lessons from an act of terror by an individual who was clearly unhinged. In an effort to do something, government is overreaching – never let a good tragedy go to waste, after all – and a complicit public is allowing it on a bipartisan level. Even if their goals are different, the end result is the same. » Read more

“That Libertarian” Dr. Marc Feldman R.I.P.

Dr_Marc_Feldman

I just received the news that Libertarian Party activist Dr. Marc Feldman died earlier today. The LP posted the following press release:

2016 candidate for the Libertarian Party’s nomination for president and newly re-elected at-large member of the Libertarian National Committee passed away on Tuesday. The cause of death is not known at the time of this writing.

Nicholas Sarwark, LP Chair, released the following statement:

“Members of the Libertarian Party are deeply saddened to learn of Dr. Feldman’s passing. He grew up cynical about politics and politicians, but found in the Libertarian Party a politics of empowering individuals that he could believe in. We will miss his dedication as? a member of the national committee and candidate for public office,? but most of all, I will miss a good friend. He was a delightful,? spirited, and dedicated Libertarian who inspired and won the hearts of? many. Our deepest condolences to his family on their loss.”

Fellow presidential candidates, with whom he shared the debate stage at numerous Libertarian conventions, expressed their condolences.

Libertarian presidential nominee Gov. Gary Johnson said, “I am saddened to hear of the loss of Marc Feldman. He was a true champion of liberty and a friend to many of us. His humor and wit will be missed.”

“God speed, Dr. Feldman,” said software entrepreneur John McAfee. “You were a gentleman and a scholar. Rest easy now. We’ll take it from here.”

“I got to know Marc over the last seven months in the campaign trail,” said radio host Darryl Perry. “We became friends and I respected his opinions. I send my condolences to his family and other friends. Shalom.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that Dr. Marc Feldman passed away,” said Libertarian Republic founder Austin Petersen. “He was a good man. He was very entertaining. He could have been a fantastic host of a Libertarian television show.”

To be honest, I don’t know who many of the players are within the Libertarian Party. Marc Feldman is not really a name that rings a bell. But then I saw his picture and I wondered: “Wait, is he that libertarian?” (Dr. Feldman has ‘one of those faces’ you remember).

The libertarian that gave that speech at the 2016 National Libertarian Party Convention before the delegates began voting for their party’s nominee?

I’m sad to report that yes, that libertarian is no longer with us.

Here is that speech:

That speech puts a smile on my face whenever I hear it. There’s something about that speech that makes me want to do a fist pump because we’ve all been that libertarian at one time or another (it seems Austin Petersen felt the same way).

Thank you Dr. Feldman for your efforts to make the world a freer place. Rest in Peace.

Katie Couric and Her New Documentary “Under the Gun”

katie couric under the gun

Katie Couric is taking heat for a misleadingly edited scene in her new gun control documentary called Under the Gun, which is currently airing on the cable channel EPIX. In the scene, Couric asks a group of gun rights supporters how we can prevent “felons or terrorists” from purchasing guns if we fail to perform background checks.

In response, her interviewees are seemingly stumped by the question, relegated to awkward silence. For nine seconds, they twitch and shift and flutter their eyes. One looks off into the distance, searching for an answer.

It is laughable to anyone who has not reduced gun rights supporters to caricatures.

To be sure, the question is a confusingly worded one. What is the set of circumstances in which someone walking around free, buying guns, would be revealed by background check as a “felon” or “terrorist?” If Couric meant convicted felons and terrorists, then presumably they are in prison, not out buying guns. If she meant convicted felons and terrorists who have served their time and been permitted back into society, then there is a legitimate question as to whether their Constitutional rights should be restored. In any event, we already have laws precluding convicted felons from owning guns and requiring background checks to ensure they do not.

However the question is meant to be interpreted, it is not exactly groundbreaking. This is not new terrain. This is not something gun rights advocates have never considered. The vast majority of gun rights supporters have already extensively considered this issue and come to a reasoned opinion.

Thus, to anyone in the gun rights community, Couric’s footage is an easily identifiable fraud. Unsurprisingly, audio footage obtained by the Washington Free Beacon has confirmed it to be precisely that. What actually occurred, as would be expected, was that the interviewees gave immediate, polite responses to the question.

In fact, with varying degrees of clarity and eloquence, they tried to articulate the points I raised above. Their responses may not have been the best way to cover those points in the film. If the director had wanted to play Couric asking the question and then explore responsive concepts in some other manner, I doubt anyone would have faulted the creative decision. But manufacturing nine seconds of awkward, twitchy silence suggests the director had another goal in mind.

Called out on the manipulative editing, director Stephanie Soechtig explained that her intention was to “provide a pause for the viewer to have a moment to consider this important question” and that she “never intended to make anyone look bad.” Shortly thereafter, Couric said she supported Soechtig’s statement and was “very proud of the film.”

There are a couple different ways to interpret all of this.

One is that Soechtig and/or Couric are being dishonest about their motivation for altering the footage. The real reason was to perpetuate a narrative in which gun rights supporters are portrayed as reckless and ignorant, red state dullards without the most basic concerns for public safety. Showing the interviewees answering the question—or cutting away without playing the nine manufactured seconds of silence—would detract from that narrative and leave an unfortunate impression that gun rights supporters actually have reasons for their positions.

Alternatively, Soechtig/Couric are telling the truth. It is not gun supporters they perceive as simple, but rather their own audience. The viewers needed those nine extra seconds of silence to confront such a groundbreaking question, to wrap their neophyte minds around its unprecedented implications.

Or perhaps there is simply a strange sort of narcissism at play. In this interpretation, it is Soechtig/Couric who are the simpletons. In their minds, no one had ever confronted this mind-blowing question until Katie Couric so amazingly thought of it. Playing the actual footage would have interfered with viewers’ appreciation of Couric’s prowess in asking this life-altering question. So instead the filmmakers faked some footage to leave a more suitable impression.

It is certainly possible to be both a journalist and an activist. While I do not always agree with his positions, I acknowledge that Glenn Greenwald does both so well that each component is made more powerful by the other. It works because he is honest and transparent about the activism, while approaching the journalism part ethically and with humility.

In contrast, altering footage to show something that flat out did not happen is neither journalism nor a particularly competent form of activism. It is storytelling for naïve audiences. It is fundamentally dishonest and narcissistic. And it will not promote dialogue about gun safety.

Update: Couric has provided further response to the accusations.

Why I Can’t Take The Libertarian Party Seriously

mcafeeWith the almost inevitable nominations of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to lead their respective parties, there is a heavy push for an option for the Presidency that gives voters a more palatable option. This kind of push is hardly unprecedented – it seems to come up every election cycle, and started in earnest in 2012 when the “Anyone But (Mitt) Romney” movement failed – but with this year’s nominees being disliked on an unprecedented level, the push is stronger than ever. Partly due to their standing as the stronger of the alternative parties, and due to Trump’s toxicity and statist policies in general, the Libertarian Party (“big L”) stands to make the greatest gains, with many predicting the party could break the 5% threshold that legitimizes a party and gets it ballot and debate access, bringing the libertarian message – “small l” – to the general population.

That would be great, if the Libertarian Party itself could be taken seriously. Nothing I’ve seen, in my time following politics or in this election in general – indicates a real change. Part of that is due to the nature of third party pushes, but a lot of that has to do with the party itself.

First, the nature of Presidential elections, and most importantly their coverage, shows that everyone’s focus will narrow as November looms. This is ubiquitous; media coverage will focus on polls and potential “November Surprises”. Non-partisan voters will realize they have to make a choice ASAP, and historically that’s been a binary choice. Party insiders on both sides will swing their weight around – it’s already happening, particularly on the Republican side as they stamp out #NeverTrump, but the Democrats are doing their level best to stamp out Bernie Sanders’ “revolution” as well – and voters who were upset with their preferred primary candidate losing will inevitably fall in line. Much as in life, when it comes to elections, people stop playing around the closer reality gets; in life, we focus less on a flighty partner who inspires us creatively but is riskier to our future, and settle down with a safe, stable mate. Most people will not seriously consider a third party candidate of any stripe, especially in swing states that will be barraged by advertising and appearances.

It’s hard to remember even just four years later, but much of the vitriol people are throwing Clinton’s and Trump’s way is similar to that thrown Mitt Romney’s way then. “We’ll never vote for him!”, said so-called “true” conservatives. “We’ll go third party!” “Mitt is evil!” Today, he’d be called a “cuckservative” and Jesus Christ I can’t believe I had to type that out. Much the same happened after Barack Obama upset Hillary in 2008; Hillary’s partisans – mostly activist women – swore they would go third party. The two liberal alternatives for voters – independent Ralph Nader, and Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party – combined for less than a million votes, .74% of the total vote. They didn’t even get 1% *combined*.

Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party did do better in 2012, amidst all that Romney hate… getting all the way to just over 1.2m votes, around 1% of the total vote, which is the second highest percentage the Libertarian Party has ever had1. This, despite all the “could Johnson make an impact on the race!?” think pieces of the day. It’s sad, because he had some good libertarian credentials, and had a successful record as the Republican governor or New Mex– wait, did I say Republican? That’s right, he was Republican. As was both parts of the 2008 Libertarian ticket.

This leads to my main issue with the big-L party: They’re not really libertarian. They’re almost all just failed Republicans.

I’m 36 years old, and the 2000 election was my first that I could participate in. Here is a run-down of every candidate for President in my adult life:

2000: Harry Browne, ran his second straight campaign. Ran a principled campaign, but it would go downhill from here.
2004: Michael Badnarik, member of the Free State Project and 9/11 Truther.
2008: Bob Barr, a former Republican who came into Congress in the 1994 Gingrich revolution, and who had an authoritarian voting record while there. Voted for the Patriot Act. His running mate, Wayne Allyn Root, is an Obama “birther” who our colleague Doug Mataconis rightly called out for being a scam. Both Barr and Root have since left the LP and gone back to the Republicans.
2012: Gary Johnson, who in this same election ran for President as a Republican but had a moment of clarity when his candidacy crashed and burned. His running mate, Jim Gray, was also a Republican that decided to join the LP after losing a Republican candidacy.

In 2016, the Libertarian Party has no fewer than 18 people listed as Presidential candidates, though only three are considered legitimate:

* The favourite, Gary Johnson, who since losing in 2012, has taken over as the CEO of Cannabis Sativa, a medical marijuana company. This has led to many viewing him as a one-issue candidate regarding marijuana legalization.
* Austin Petersen, a 35 year old whose main claims to fame are his campaign of “I’m not those guys!” despite emulating much of Trump’s tactics, and his somewhat less than libertarian positions. Internally, his focus has been on Johnson being a “drug dealer”.
* John McAfee, the founder of McAfee Associates and antivirus pioneer who is batshit fucking crazy.

When the best shot you have is the guy that got around 1% the last time he ran, a mid-level internet troll, and whatever John McAfee is, you can’t be taken seriously in any election.

In the end, furthering your ideals only gets you so far; you have to win elections to make real progress. Even with a system fundamentally set up to discourage third party candidacies, one would think they’d have at least a few small victories under their belt, but nationally, they’ve completely failed: Libertarian Party candidates have never once won a national or statewide race. In fact, they’ve never been close; the only times they’ve gotten a decent share of the vote in a national or state election was when they were running in races without a contender from one of the two major parties, usually a Democrat. Congratulations, Joel Balam, for winning 32% of the vote against a Republican for the US House, but there is no participation medal here.

This is before I get into the legitimate kooks, dingbats and wingnuts that associate themselves with the Libertarian Party for want of attention, if nothing else. Truthers, birthers, and alt-right personalities who couldn’t even find a home in the Republican party have a home in a party that is desperate for numbers.

In the end, the Libertarian Party is little more than the AAA farm club of the Republicans. If someone can’t play in the big leagues, they can simply go down to the minors, work on their swing-state pitch, and eventually be promoted back up to the real show. Even Ron Paul, the patron saint of libertarian thought to many, had to become a Republican in order to actually accomplish something. Not only does this hurt the legitimacy of the party, it turns off people like me, former Democrats who care about social rights and liberties every bit as much as conservatives care about economic freedom and who can see common ground on the overlap. When Stephen points out the issues with the Party taking on refugees, this is the main concern brought up. He indicated his confidence that libertarians would expose the frauds, but again: a Patriot Act supporter and a Birther were the Libertarian Party nominees in 2008.

Until the big-L Libertarian Party fixes these issues – an admittedly tall goal, even in this election – they will forever remain a fringe party, the land of the 1%, little more than an impotent protest vote.

1 – Ed Clark and David Koch did slightly better in 1980, but that’s more or less a rounding error

Why Trump’s Message Resonates With Working-Class Voters

working class Trump supporters

This is the tl;dr version of my contribution to the TLP Round Table on Donald Trump’s rise to the status of presumptive Republican nominee.

Various motivations for Trump’s popularity have been posited over the course of the election cycle. Tribalism and xenophobia. Social order authoritarianism. Anger at the establishment. Anti-PC backlash. A yen for creative destruction.

I even have some sympathy for that last one. What is the point of preserving a GOP that has failed so resoundingly to deliver on the promise of limited government? Why not blow on the tiny orange flame of a Trump-match and see if it catches fire? Some wildfires make the ecosystem stronger.

But that is not my point here. There is another faction of Trump support, which has been overlooked amid all the self-righteous indictment of his surprising success. That faction consists of working class voters who spend their lives on the financial brink, who could not come up with $400 to face an emergency, but who, as a result of the statist, two-party-dominated system, cannot escape the inevitability of big government.

We advocates of free markets too often fail to explain, cogently, why free trade and voluntary exchanges deliver the best outcomes for the most people. We fail to explain why it is not just big corporations, businesses and entrepreneurs that get hurt by government interventions into the free market—but also the workers. And when those workers complain about the various ways in which they struggle to make ends meet, we too often dismiss it as a deficiency of effort, rather than a legitimate complaint against the system.

This makes no sense. We know better. We know that over-regulation, barriers to entry, excessive government spending, crony capitalism, and welfare for the rich are all bad for the economy and particularly bad for workers. We know these policies cause work to be less remunerative and hit poor people the hardest.

Why then, when they complain, do so many of us respond by dismissing them as lazy, unmotivated, unproductive and entitled? We should be capitalizing on their complaints. They are incontrovertibly legitimate.

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University recently published a study estimating that regulatory drag has stunted the size of the U.S. economy and made Americans significantly poorer than they would otherwise be. Their numbers, while shocking, seem woefully inadequate to reflect the true costs working people pay for intrusive government.

Through “subsidies,” regulations and entitlements, government intervention into the market drives up prices-relative-to-incomes on most of the things consumers need most. Housing, education, and healthcare all far outpace inflation. Meanwhile, government consumes 36% of GDP, and on everything from contact lenses to gasoline to occupational licensing, Americans must pay more while struggling to participate in a system that is rigged against their efforts.

It is simply not possible to sell people on the wealth potential of a free market while castigating them for failing to succeed in a system that requires hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to get the mandatory license for a job washing hair.

In that regard, the Democrats have a point (incomplete and poorly made, to be sure) when they say, “you didn’t build that” or, “you’ve also been lucky.” Would-be business owners pay their extorted dues to the government-backed bureaucracy. In return, they are protected from competition by various barriers to entry, government-enforced monopolies, tax-payer funded subsidies, and other massive transfers of wealth from taxpayers to the favored recipients of government largesse. It makes a certain twisted sense to demand more compensation in proportion to their success.

One of these men understands how money and economies function. He led a grassroots movement that motivated millions of young voters. In response, the GOP changed its rules to keep him from gaining traction. The other one is the new face of the Republican Party.

One of these men understands how money and economies function. He led a grassroots movement that motivated millions of young voters. In response, the GOP changed its rules to keep him from gaining traction. The other one is the new face of the Republican Party.

Don’t like it? Great. I don’t either. Let’s repeal the barriers to entry, the legal monopolies, the government grants and below-market loans. Let’s get rid of the regulations and the occupational licensing, the mandated dues and the bureaucratic red tape and all the other bullshit.

This is, in fact, what we put Republicans in the House and Senate to do.

Yet over and over and over again, with a few principled exceptions (e.g., Rand Paul, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, and, yes, Ted Cruz), Republicans have broken their word, expanded government, and asked us to be patient while they focus on getting reelected.

Revealing the true direction of their priorities, the GOP establishment acted to keep Ron Paul supporters from gaining traction in their ranks. The liberty movement has not died as a result, but it may have left the party. Inside the GOP, it has been replaced by an orange-faced baboon leading an army of alt-righters shouting “cuck” repetitively as they rock back and forth in fear of outside stimulation.

I will not deny a certain satisfying schadenfreude at that turn of events. And there is value in knowing such a cancer festers on the right. But there is equal value in understanding that Trump would not be succeeding on their support alone. He is also propelled by a significant faction of working-class voters desperate for better jobs, a stronger economy, and higher purchasing power.

Sanders is right about a lot of problems, wrong about the solutions. Sanders supporters who can understand the distinction may be an untapped area of future liberty votes.

Sanders supporters may be an untapped area of future liberty votes.

In that regard, Trump’s message resonates with voters on the right for some of the same reasons Bernie Sanders’ message resonates on the left. If big government, high taxes, and crony capitalism are inevitable – because neither of the viable parties intends to do much about them – why not use one’s vote to fight for a bigger piece of the stunted pie? Trump at least pays lip service to the struggle. He promises jobs and protectionism, a reprieve from debt and stagnation.

Of course I know he will not deliver. Trump’s “solutions” will further hurt working class people, by driving up prices and contracting the size of the economy.

Trump is Sanders in orange-face.

The point is, if a liberty-movement aims to rise from the ashes of the Trump-fire, it must speak to the struggles motivating voter support for these two surprise candidates. It must explain why no amount of further tinkering will alleviate the real pain that government intrusions into the economy cause to real people, why the only solution is to unwind those intrusions in the first instance.

Then it needs to actually deliver.

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