Category Archives: General

Lessons From POTUS 2016: Around the Bonfire of the GOP

Trump mocking reporter

I hate POTUS 2016.

I hate all the candidates who aren’t libertarians.

I hate the voters continuing to lend their support to the authoritarian politics of the two major parties.

Most of all, I hate the endless raving about a possible Trump candidacy.

Trump Isn’t the Problem. His Supporters Are. An ocean of words has been written about Donald Trump’s detestable politics and undiagnosed personality disorders. Every one of those words is true. He is a sleazy multi-level marketer with a cheap spray tan and a bad comb-over; a low functioning bully with the attention span of a second-grader, whose first policy instinct will always be authoritarianism and who lacks even the most basic conceptions of constitutional governance, separation of powers and individual freedom.

If nominated, he will, without one shred of doubt, lose the general election to Hillary Clinton.

Nonetheless, anyone who thinks the GOP establishment can do much to stop this slow motion train wreck misunderstands the nature of government.

Government is not the party elite, big money donors, or the politicians in Washington. Government is us. We the people. The voters (and non-voters) who put and keep those politicians in office. Ourselves, our neighbors, our friends, family and co-workers.

The establishment cannot fight Trump because he is not the target. His supporters are.

How has endlessly pointing out how racist, xenophobic and stupid they are worked thus far?

Squeezing out other candidates won’t force any voters to shift their support to an establishment pick. As Trump himself discerns, with his trademark narcissistic clarity (but his detractors somehow miss), those supporters might just as well shift to Trump. And squeezing him out won’t force any of them to turn out for some other, better, more respectable, nominee in the general.

Therein lies the rub.

Trump’s candidacy reveals something ugly and festering on the American right, something with the potential to do nuclear-level damage to the GOP’s credibility with everyone from moderates, independents and swing voters to Christians and mainstream Republicans.

On the other hand, if the party squeezes him out—whether through an onslaught of establishment attacks or a brokered convention—it risks alienating his pissed off contingency of Republican voters.

At a time when voters are fleeing the major parties in droves, the GOP is between a rock and a hard place. A Trump candidacy might be fatal, but so might the loss of his fans. To move forward without them, the party would need to replace its Trump-wing with a new supply of liberty voters.

There’s a lesson in the numbers, for a party willing to make hard choices, and it’s not the only one of the 2016 cycle.

Identity Politics Has Failed, and Pandering Is an Antiquated Campaign Strategy. Women are not breaking for Clinton. Evangelicals are not breaking for Cruz. Hispanics are not breaking for Cruz/Rubio.

It turns out those demographics, like all the others, are not stereotypic representatives of monolithic groups, but individuals with political concerns that transcend gender, heritage and religion. Candidates who ignore this modern reality will continue to be confused about why Evangelicals and Hispanics are voting for Trump—and continue suffering backlashes for their insulting rhetorical devices (like the importance of beginning each day on one’s knees or special places in hell for free-thinking women).

Money Does Not Buy Elections. There’s some evidence money buys politicians and pundits. But Trump’s candidacy annihilates the myth that an entrenched two-party system, dripping in advertising wealth, subliminally messages clueless voters into supporting the status quo.

Neither establishment donors nor the politicians themselves are in control this election cycle. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and their respective Super PACs paid through the nose to perform poorly in the early voting states. Trump, on the other hand, without the support of any Super PAC, is paying minimally to outperform expectations.

That Trump is a phenomenon unto himself might explain why it costs him so little to win. It does not explain why Bush and Christie have paid so dearly to lose.

What does explain it is that rebellious primary voters are not beholden to any amount of campaign advertising, political spending, establishment credibility or ideological purity.

The GOP Might Not Survive the Trump Campaign, But the Country Undoubtedly Will. Trump is a monarchist who wants to use the office of President to crown himself king and savior, while cutting through the red tape for his next casino parking lot. Unfortunately, all too many people—including plenty of Republicans—are ready to go along with the cult of an imperial presidency.

Notwithstanding that problematic trend, we still have Congress, the Constitution, and the limits on presidential power set forth in Article II.

That might not be true if Ted Cruz got his way and turned SCOTUS into just another political branch of government. Party loyalists desperate to stop Trump may not understand how dangerous that is.

Scalia did.

As a libertarian, I have never enjoyed an election cycle in which the viable candidates were anything but clowns. For me, 2016 is just par for the course. The rest of the electorate is now feeling the way I always do.

Maybe now is a good time to ponder what they’re so desperately trying to save.

Unless It Can Reinvent Itself, the GOP May Not Be Worth Saving. I suspect my political aims are vastly different from those of most Trump supporters. I nevertheless also suspect we have similar reactions to the prediction that he is going to destroy the GOP and/or conservative movement:

Are we supposed to conclude that’s a bug…or a feature?

Amid all the handwringing about the wreckage that will be left in the wake of Trump’s candidacy, precious little is devoted to convincing voters there’s anything worth saving.

Remind me again, what is the point of the GOP?

muh roadsIt’s clearly not to restrain spending. Once they obtained control of both houses of Congress, Republicans drove a stake through the Budget Control Act, broke budget caps, suspended the debt ceiling and doc-fixed Medicare to the tune of $500 billion. Along the way, they extended No Child Left Behind, passed a $305 billion highway bill (muh roads!), and reauthorized Ex-Im.

They ended last year with a $1.8 trillion omnibus spending bill.

Senator Marco Rubio did not even show up to vote.

If they aren’t going to rein in the scope of government, cut spending, and balance the budget, what do we have Republicans for again, exactly?

I’ll grant them abortion. That’s one. What else? Carpet-bombing and traditional marriage?

This is me yawning.

If the GOP wants voters like me to come to its rescue, it’s going to have to start selling something we want to buy. It will need to cut lose the growing horde of populist authoritarians, the seedy underbelly of racists and xenophobes venturing from their closets, and the dying remnants of traditional marriage zealots. It will need to replenish its base instead with the growing numbers of liberty-minded voters currently spread out across the two major parties, a few third parties, and the sizable ranks of swing-voting independents.

It will need to unite its disparate factions around common principles of limited government and apply those principles consistently across social, economic and national security issues.

And it will need to convince us that this time it means it.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

How Anarchists Should Confront the Enemy Within

The Challenge

In the aftermath of the most recent terrorist attacks in Paris, a commenter calling herself Mrs. Lemuel Struthers on Reason’s Hit and Run threw down the gauntlet:

What I’d really like to hear is a libertarian/classical liberal approach to approaching this problem of a minority of anti-liberals within a society engaging in war-like behavior (murder) while using the values of the society they live in to promote their ideology. The enemy within – if you will. While at the same time demographic and immigration trends tend to support the likely enlargement of populations who will tolerate and even encourage that ideology.

And, just to be clear, I was really asking how France should address its issues from a an-cap perspective, not the USA.

I take up her challenge with this post.  The post actually contains two mini essays. One about France like she asked. But first, I will start with an essay about Ancapistan… the one she said she wasn’t interested in (because the essay about France would be incomprehensible without it)! ;) » Read more

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Bullshit Laws, Fiscal Irresponsibility, and the Inevitability of Police Abuse

missing plate

Every day fleets of law enforcement officers, from the DEA on down to the local police department, head out onto the streets armed with guns and hair-trigger fears for their own safety.

If they were going to fight the good fight against violence and theft, we could be unreservedly grateful. All too often these armed ingenues, represented by unions, covered by workers comp, and unwilling to tolerate any degree of risk to their person, instead spend their time enforcing petty, bullshit laws that accomplish nothing more than mindless bureaucratic authoritarianism—and revenue for overspent budgets.

Samuel Dubose was missing a front license plate. Walter Scott had a broken brake light. Caroline Small was sitting in her parked car. Eric Garner was selling untaxed cigarettes. James Boyd was camping in the wrong place. David Garcia was feeling suicidal. Zachary Hammond was on a first date with a woman carrying ten grams of marijuana. Freddie Gray was …

Does anyone even know?

These are the “crimes” for which they died.

In July, protestors at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix interrupted Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley to heckle their talking-point platitudes and demand concrete proposals for addressing police abuse. O’Malley, whose tough-on-crime polices as mayor of Baltimore sent its police department into a downward spiral of violence and corruption, had little to offer. Earlier this week Scott Walker, the only candidate in the first GOP debate asked a question on the topic, came up with nothing more tangible than better training, more support, and “consequences.”

Not independent investigators to handle accusations of misconduct. Not better record keeping to identify problematic officers and departments. Not body cams or enhanced protection of the public’s right to record. Not abolishing mandatory minimum sentencing laws that make suspects desperate. Not decriminalizing nonviolent offenses. Not ending the disastrous “war” on drugs.

Some of the protestors, who have continued to interrupt Sanders’ appearances, focus on racism. An independently worthy cause, ending racism is nevertheless not enough to solve police abuse. Racism is a sufficient cause of such problem, but not a necessary one.

No. The problem is you.

You have to stop supporting all the petty laws that can ultimately be enforced only with violence. Sex-for-money between consenting adults. Sale by and to and ingestion of substances by peaceful adults. Jaywalking, loitering, broken tail lights and the myriad thousand other nonviolent offenses that exist for no greater purpose than that the upper castes may express their disapproval of those who achieve less than Stepford levels of respectability.

Every law, every rule, every regulation—from cigarette taxes to fines for broken brake lights to driving without a license to civil penalties for refusing to make a wedding cake—carries with it the implicit edict that you are willing to have officers in uniforms kill people to enforce it.

Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh was sleeping when militarized police threw a flash grenade into his crib during a raid looking for someone who sold $50 worth of illegal drugs. No drugs were found, no arrests made; the suspect no longer lived there.

Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh was sleeping when police threw a flash grenade into his crib during a raid looking for a suspect alleged to have sold $50 worth of illegal drugs. No drugs were found, no arrests made; the suspect no longer lived there.

That you are willing to throw flash grenades at babies to keep grownups from ingesting methamphetamine (even though you know once thusly tasked, cops will lie to get those warrants). That you are willing to put that cigarette-tax dodger in a chokehold. That you are willing to kill those Oregon bakers if they won’t pay the fine for not baking the cake, and try to lock their door when the sheriff comes to execute on that judgment. You will risk violence by sending thuggish swat teams into legal medical marijuana dispensaries to terrorize customers inside. You would rather that poor mother with the broken brake light or the expired plates pay her fine to your government than feed her children. You are willing to shoot a man in the head for only having a rear license plate on his vehicle.

You are willing to spend billions packing our prisons, eroding our civil liberties and constitutional rights, and imposing roadside anal probings as the acceptable costs of keeping peaceful people from ingesting the substances of which you disapprove.

To your countenance of such tactics for such ends, add the near irresistible temptation of unearned riches—in an era of profligate spending and mismanaged budgets—and violence is an all but inevitable outcome. Civil asset forfeiture creates perverse incentives that lead police departments to prioritize nonviolent drug crimes, while victims of violence wait weeks for assistance; where crime labs let murder evidence backlog for decades, while drug cases get processed within hours.

Yet the insidious evil of treating citizens like municipal ATM machines takes place on an even smaller level than civil asset forfeiture. An official shake-down system also exists in the form of excessive tickets for petty offenses, doled out to those who cannot afford to fight back (disproportionately poor and minority), and then ballooning and escalating into ever more unmanageable sums until arrest and jail time result.

There are no debtors prisons in the U.S.A. Unless the creditor is the government. Then you’re fucked.

The Justice Department’s scathing report on the Ferguson, Missouri police department documented the disturbing end-game of such practices: a situation where 25% of the city’s revenue came from fines imposed by an unsupervised police force prone to excessive use of force. Jack Hitt at Mother Jones has reported on another Missouri suburb where, in response to a legislative cap on revenue that could be generated via traffic stops, the city enacted a whole host of other petty, bullshit laws (against such menaces as basketball hoops in the front yard, overgrown hedges, disorderly window blinds, and pants worn to low) and increased its non-traffic related arrests by 495%.

For the affluent this may be nothing more than an annoying shadow tax system to prop up an overreaching government that spends so far outside its means it pays tax dollars to research how robot-provided Swedish massage affects rabbits’ recovery from exercise. For the poor, knowing their lives will be ruined by fines they cannot afford to pay, jail time, job loss, and mandatory minimums that destroy families, it is why they run.

It is also why they kill.

Because at its worst, this system of official shakedown invites the very threats that put officers on edge. Dionne Wilson, widow of a slain California officer, understands this only too well. Her husband Dan Niemi showed up to investigate a noise complaint and found himself facing Irving Ramirez, who had a history of drug incarcerations. Carrying both guns and drugs when confronted, and desperate not to go back to jail, Ramirez shot and killed Officer Niemi. Wilson used to wonder why Ramirez was ever let out of prison.

Now she wonders why he ever had to go in.

It is easy to blame the problem of police violence on racist cops with (the gender neutral equivalent of) small dicks and big Napoleon complexes. It is harder to take responsibility for the crap laws and fiscal irresponsibility that make bad cops inevitable.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Gawker, the Freedom of Expression, and the Power of Consequences

free-speech-churchill

Is Gawker violating its writers’ rights if its chief executive editor de-publishes a controversial post?

What about if a company’s CEO is forced to step down in the face of a threatened boycott over the CEO’s political positions? Is an artist being “censored” if a comic book publisher cancels his covers and suspends him? Is it an unconstitutional “ban” on speech if Amazon and Walmart remove Confederate flag memorabilia from their offerings?

Across the web confusion abounds about what freedom of expression really means.

Most recently, in the messy wake of its sex-shaming post about a private citizen’s violation of Gawker’s neo-Victorian strictures on monogamy, founder and CEO Nick Denton (who pulled the post) had this to say to his editors:

What I can’t accept is an unlimited and subjective version of editorial freedom. It is not whatever an editor thinks it is; it is not a license to write anything; it is a privilege, protected by the constitution, and carrying with it responsibilities.

Literally, every part of that last bit is wrong.

The editorial autonomy of Gawker writers is not constitutional in nature. It is a license granted by their employer—i.e. Denton. Absent a binding contract, it can be revoked at any time without running afoul of anyone’s rights, and certainly not running afoul of anyone’s constitutional rights.

The constitutionally protected freedom that Gawker writers do have (as do we all) is not to publish at Gawker. The Constitution restricts the power of Congress, not the discretion of Nick Denton.

Nor is that constitutionally protected freedom a “privilege.” It is a right.

And it does not have to be exercised responsibly.

It vexes me when people who should know better get sloppy in their framing. Messy language leads to messy thinking and, in the process, dilutes effective defense of this crucial freedom.

Perhaps a libertarian(ish) review is in order.

“FREE SPEECH” V. FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Although routinely used in Supreme Court decisions, the words “free speech” do not appear in the Constitution. In my opinion, overuse of this terminology induces people to mistakenly believe their speech should always be costless and consequence-free.

That is not how it works.

Speech requires a forum, which must be paid for by someone.

In public forums paid for by taxpayers, “time, place and manner” restrictions may be imposed to keep things orderly. But content-based discrimination is not permitted. Even the Nazis get to express themselves.

In private forums, on the other hand, the property owner gets to decide what speech he is willing to host.

There is no “free speech” right to interrupt a Muslim prayer service at the National Cathedral. The Cathedral’s owner, which is the Episcopal Church, gets to decide what sort of speech occurs there. It doesn’t have to (but may if it wants) host Muslim-haters, atheists, rude people, or morons.

Similarly, bookstores are not required to carry every book printed just because the author claims a “free speech” right. The corner market does not have to sell every conceivable magazine. Art galleries do not have to make room for every painting. Radio stations do not have to play every song.

And Gawker does not have to publish every post. (I would totally make it publish this one.)

If a speaker wants his speech to be “free” in the sense of not having to pay for the forum, he must either utilize a public forum or find a private owner willing to host the content gratis. Luckily, in this day and age, there are lots of options for that.

Gawker is not one of them.

Like other private publishers and forum owners, it exercises its right to decline hosting or publishing content it dislikes. There’s a term for that right.

…Oh yeah. Freedom of speech.

FORCE VERSUS CONSEQUENCE

It is tempting to say that Brendan Eich was “forced” to resign from Mozilla over his position on same-sex marriage. That Richard Albuquerque was “forced” to pull his Batgirl cover variant. That TLC was “forced” to cancel the Duggars.

That Nick Denton was “forced” to pull the now infamous Gawker post.

It sounds more melodramatic and provocative to phrase it that way. But to the extent it’s semantically correct, this is not the kind of “force” that runs afoul of the freedom of expression.

Wrongful force is actual physical force used to prevent or punish speech or other forms of expression.

This includes all governmental interference, because government action by definition involves force. Even civil regulations (like fines) eventually end with puppy-killing SWAT teams. Of course force exercised by private actors, in the form of violent reprisals, also suppresses freedom and therefore should be resisted with the same passion.

Preventing forceful suppression of expression is a higher order principle. When triggered, that principle transcends issues about the content of the speech being defended.

Why?

Because speech is the most powerful weapon that ever has or ever will exist.

It has the power to topple kings, eviscerate falsehoods, destroy paradigms, provoke thought, change minds and hearts, alter the course of history, and transform the world.

And it can do all that without shedding a drop of blood.

A weapon like that cannot be entrusted to the exclusive control of the few. Enlightened rulers using force to curtail speech have too often gotten it wrong. Power once ceded can rarely be retrieved, and battles not fought with words and ideas will be fought instead with violence and bloodshed.

We cannot retain the best of speech without protecting its worst. We cannot extract its power to do harm without diluting its power to do good.

EVERYTHING BUT FORCE IS FAIR GAME

That being said, everything short of physical force is fair game.

A Congressional communications director can be pressured into resigning (or fired) for making snarky comments about the President’s daughters. TLC and A&E can cancel their reality television lineup for any reason consistent with the contracts negotiated. Customers can boycott wedding photographers or bakers in retaliation for expression of disfavored opinions. Landlords can refuse to rent to people with Confederate flags in their rear windows. Employers can bypass applicants over their social media postings.

Firing. Boycotting. Refusing to hire. Pulling advertising. Cancelling subscriptions. Social media flame wars. De-publishing. Disassociating. Shaming.

All of these are fair game. All of these are themselves protected acts of expression.

They may make life unpleasant for the target. They may feel coercive or even deeply wounding.

They’re supposed to.

If speech didn’t have that power, we wouldn’t bother protecting it.

Deciding to refrain from speaking because such consequences are too unpleasant is not a response to force. It is a response to speech.

GAWKER IS GETTING SPOKEN TO, NOT SUPPRESSED

If Gawker were being threatened with forceful suppression of its speech, defending against that violation would be a higher order principle that transcended all others. Personal feelings about the content of the speech would be secondary.

But where no force is imposed or threatened, those secondary principles are the only ones at play. The whole point of the higher principle is to create a circle of freedom in which ideas, without limitation, can be explored and judged on the merits. If we never got around to the judging part, we would destroy the very reason for preserving the freedom.

Nothing happening at or to Gawker (in this specific case) poses any threat to anyone’s fundamental right to free expression. The writers are free to write. The owners of Gawker are free to choose what to publish. The editors are free to “fall on their poisoned pens” in protest. Advertisers are free to abstain. Readers are free to boycott.

None of this constitutes a violation of anyone’s freedom. It’s what freedom looks like.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.
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