Category Archives: General

Keep Your Friends Close, But Don’t Unfriend Your Enemies Either

This was a bitter election. The candidates were bitter. The media fanned the flames. And it stretched many friendships as people realized that those they knew and loved supported a bad candidate. Because both of them were pretty bad.

But political polarization has been rising even beyond the terrible candidates that were put up for President, and it’s exposing an ugly side of this new internet world. And the reaction I’ve seen from many in places on Facebook–unfriending anyone who supported the other candidate–is only going to make this worse.

In the old days, you had 3 major networks, and the newspapers. While one can certainly claim that some of those outlets were biased, we each had the same news. We each saw the same stories. At the end of the day, we each worked under the same–albeit flawed–reality.

But in this new world of fragmented media, blogs, alternative news sites, it has now become possible to construct our own reality around ourselves. It’s not hard to get sucked into reading only the news sites with which you agree, watching only the cable news station that supports your side, and surrounding yourself only with information which conforms to your views. And that’s extremely dangerous, because it turns anyone who disagrees into “the other”. Once we lose that shared connection of humanity and start seeing our political foes as fundamentally different from ourselves, it will destroy us.
Trump & Clinton
And this is where unfriending people comes in. We used to make friends through all sorts of ways. Maybe it was through college. Through work. Through shared social activities. And there are of course the bonds of family. You formed friendships and bonds based on things completely orthogonal to politics. And you learned that even though you and your friends didn’t share the same political views, you shared the common bonds of humanity. You could learn to disagree without discord.

But as we’ve become increasingly marginalized and living in “virtual” communities, we’ve increasingly made it possible to turn our private lives into an echo chamber of people who only agree as well. If you only surround yourself with mirrors of agreement, your beliefs are never challenged, never reconsidered, and never truly examined. If your response is to unfriend or mute someone on Facebook simply because they disagree with you, you’re decreasing your own ability to understand what you believe and why.

And that’s confirmation bias, one of the most dangerous ideological filters in the world. Surrounding yourself with only friendly sources of information makes it impossible to figure out when you’re wrong. And we’re all wrong about something. If you can’t figure out when you’re wrong, you can have NO real confidence that you’re ever right.

I’m somewhat lucky in that I’m a libertarian. I didn’t vote for Trump or for Hillary. I don’t agree with Republicans or Democrats. Heck, if you pay any attention to libertarians, you’ll realize that half the time, I don’t agree with libertarians either! If I unfriended everyone on Facebook with whom I disagreed, my feed would be really goddamn quiet.

So I don’t do that. I refuse to insulate myself from those with whom I disagree. I actively read not only the Trump and Clinton supporters in my feed and worked to understand and humanize them, but I try to read ideologically diverse blogs and news sources to insulate myself from confirmation bias. Am I 100% successful? Undoubtedly, no. But I make the effort.

And I highly recommend you all do the same thing. Seek out those friends of yours with whom you disagree. Accept them. Humanize them. Engage them (in productive and non-vitriolic ways) in discussion. You might learn something.

We all need to do this, for two reasons:

  • Despite my provocative post title, we’re not enemies. If you voted for Clinton, a Trump voter is not your enemy. If you voted for Trump, a Clinton voter is not your enemy. We’re all part of the shared society aboard a rock hurtling through space. We’re all trying to do our best, to raise families, to have happy, productive lives. I know great people who voted for Trump, and great people who voted for Clinton. I’m pretty f’ing great, and I voted for Johnson. If we’re friends, I don’t care who any of you voted for. I’ll still happily sit across the table from you, hoist a beer, and toast what makes us friends. (Then I’ll tell you why you’re wrong. Respectfully, of course.)
  • Because the fight against confirmation bias is the hardest fight for any person attempting to remain a free and independent thinker. It’s one of the most insidious forms of bias, and one of the the worst because it lets us believe that we’re right, we’re enlightened, and our ideological opponents are dumb, craven, and wrong. It allows us to turn the opponent into “the other”. And if you’ve studied the most heinous and terrible aspects of human history, bad things happen when we allow our tribal instincts to be manipulated into turning someone who doesn’t look like us, doesn’t talk like us, or even looks and talks just like us but believes differently, into “the other”. That’s an instinct that must be guarded against at all times, for the good of human history.

If you voted for Trump, or if you voted for Clinton, I may not agree with you. But you’re always welcome at my table, at my door, or in my Facebook feed. Because the bonds that connect us as humans and friends are FAR stronger than political ideals.

If Trump Is a Pig, Does It Matter If Bill Clinton Is Also a Pig?

"And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. ... Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Bill Clinton admitted having extra-marital sexual relationships. One of them was with a much younger intern who was, for all intents and purposes, his employee. The relationship with Monica Lewinsky was icky and troubling due to the assumed power differential between the two parties – but there was nothing illegal about it.

Bill Clinton was accused of raping and sexually assaulting other women. No jury has found him guilty and he is therefore presumed innocent. Some people who feel strongly about due process for other men accused of crimes they deny committing, do not seem to grant the same benefit of the doubt to Bill Clinton.

Donald Trump has also been accused of raping and sexually assaulting women, including a 13-year-old girl. He has never been convicted by a jury and is therefore presumed innocent. Yet, again, some people who feel strongly about due process for other men accused of crimes they deny committing, do not grant the same benefit of the doubt to Donald Trump.

Trump admits the following:

“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Cue the moral relativism. Nothing is good or bad except in relation to something else. No time should be wasted discussing one thing if there is something more egregious available to be discussed.

But Bill Clinton!!! Why aren’t we talking about Bill Cliiiintonnn?!

Go ahead and talk about it! No one is stopping you. We’ve been talking about the allegations against Bill Clinton for decades. Talk about them some more if it floats your boat. I know it’s a novel concept, but we can actually talk about more than one thing at a time. And, now bear with me here because I know this one is hard, but they can both be bad.

If we never talked about anything except the absolute worst, most seriously bad thing in the universe, we would only ever talk about war, cancer and entropy.

Oh, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump might be sexual predators who should not be allowed anywhere near public office…but what about serial killers, hmmm? They actually kill people, why aren’t you denouncing them?

What about the fact that the Earth might get hit by an asteroid any moment and we would all cease to exist and you’re just distracting from the real issues by talking about who should be President? Of a country that’s only existed for, like, a couple hundred years? Weighed against the fate of the planet that has existed for more than four billion?

You’re so small….

But while all the partisans enlightened people who know what really matters are discussing the truly important things – like rehashing decades old unproven allegations against a man who is not running for office – let me clarify a couple of things.

First, Bill Clinton was never convicted. He denies the allegations. Donald Trump was accused by his own words. People can decide for themselves if that’s a distinction that matters, but it does exist.

Second, the problem is not that Trump said a bad word or spoke vulgarly or objectified women, as some like Sean Hannity have suggested – attempting to contrast that with Bill Clinton’s (alleged) conduct. Trump’s “words” described “actions” he claims he engaged in. As Robby Soave writes at Reason: “Grabbing an unsuspecting and unwilling person’s genitals is a criminal act of sexual assault under any definition of sexual assault.” I do not find Trump’s phrasing to be as definitive as Soave. But at a minimum, it suggests encounters that are deeply ambiguous on the issue of consent.

People can decide for themselves how important that is to his fitness for office. Don’t expect everyone else to ignore it.

 

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

Why [Most Of] You Should Vote Third-Party

So… People talk about a vote for Gary Johnson being a vote for Hillary (even though some say he poaches more Dems than Reps), and how a vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Trump.

I mean, almost nobody is actually excited about voting FOR Trump or FOR Hillary, but they’re scared that a vote for a third party increases the odds that the anti-Christ from the other party will get elected and destroy America. So the stakes are, of course, VERY high.

But really… What is the penalty for voting third party? What is the penalty for most of the people in the US? Does a third-party vote really make a difference to the outcome?

The answer is no. And we have the Electoral College to thank(?) for that.

According to Wikipedia (I know, it’s not the MOST reliable source, but it’s close enough for government work), somewhere around 73% of Electoral Votes are basically already sewn up. Those are from states that are historically not competitive in the slightest.

From the results of presidential elections from 2004 through to 2012, a general conclusion can be reached that the Democratic and Republican parties start with a default electoral vote count of about 191 each.[8] In this scenario, the twelve competitive states are Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Colorado, and North Carolina.[9]

For example, I live in California. I know flat out that Hillary is winning California. And thus Hillary has effectively already locked up California’s electoral votes simply by winning the nomination.

So a vote for Trump in California accomplishes nothing. It is a wasted vote. In fact, it’s worse than that, because it’s a vote that–should he be elected–signifies that he has broader national popular support than he does. And a vote for Hillary? Although I’d be voting for the winner of my state, again, it’s a wasted vote. And it signifies again a broader amount of national popular support than is warranted.

And in a state like Alabama, for example, the reverse is true. Trump will win Alabama handily. It’s not in play, so your vote for a major party candidate does NOT meaningfully affect the outcome.

What about a vote for Gary Johnson (or Jill Stein)? Well, even though it’s unlikely either one will win, every vote cast for either them is effectively a vote of no confidence in the major party candidates. My vote doesn’t do anything to change the likely outcome of the election, but it sends an actual message to whichever R or D wins. It sends the message that I don’t support either of them.

Of course, some will ask “what if”? What if something really strange occurs and my vote is the deciding factor in whether or not Trump wins California, or someone in Alabama is the deciding factor if Hillary wins there? My answer to that is simple: if California or Alabama are actually “in play” in 2016, it means that one candidate is winning in a landslide, and at that point not only do individual votes not matter, individual states don’t matter.

I understand the idea of voting pragmatically, of voting for the major party candidate that could possibly stop your dreaded, horrible, evil opponent from taking the Oath of Office.

But for roughly 392 Electoral Votes, your vote does NOT affect the outcome. There is NO penalty to voting third party. It’s not a vote for the opposing candidate.

So why not try it, just once? If you’re not happy with either candidate, and you don’t live in one of the dozen or so “swing states” where the individual state outcome might decide the election, vote your conscience. Unlike Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I’m pretty sure a vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein will make you feel a whole lot better about yourself on November 9th.

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.

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

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.
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