Friday, August 26, 2011

Liberty Sucks

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Evelyn Beatrice Hall

I've been a libertarian since 2004.  I have argued passionately about its various causes with people on both sides (and sometimes completely off) the political spectrum.  The truth about liberty, though, is that it completely sucks.

Liberty sucks because it requires us to defend those with whom we disagree most passionately.  Though I disagree with drug users, drunk drivers, the Nation of Islam and the KKK, I am compelled by my belief in liberty to support their right to practice their beliefs, so long as those beliefs don't intrude upon the rights of others.  My doctrine of faith dictates that homosexuality is a sin, yet I find myself agreeing that gays should have the right to marry (legally, anyway...not the right to compel a church to perform a gay wedding). 

It just doesn't seem worth it unless I keep the big picture in mind.  The big picture is that others find what I do offensive, too.  I want protection for my right to behave as I best see fit.  In that desire, I have to surrender to being offended myself.  I have to accept that this world is filled with what I disagree.  It sucks.  But it's the only way we can all share the space. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

If I Were President Obama's Campaign Manager...

The latest Gallup poll indicates that President Obama's overall approval rating stands at 41%, and his handling of the economy receives kudos from only 26% of respondents.  Ouch.  Clearly something is very, very wrong in the minds of a majority of Americans with this presidency.

I'm sure that I'd probably be the last person suspected of wanting to help this president recover.  It would seem absurd that such a dyed-in-the-wool libertarian would come to the aid of a president who, quite frankly, shares few common beliefs with me.  However, the truth of the matter is that the 2012 election, in my opinion, remains Barack Obama's to lose, rather than the Republicans' to win.  No candidate on the red side of the ticket has enough legs either in the primary or the general election to unseat a sitting President.  Believe pains me to say this about someone like Ron Paul...but it's the truth.  Though the "top tier" of Republican candidates (Romney, Perry and Bachmann) are excelling amongst the Republican base, there is no way that the entire country will vote for the possibility of a George W. Bush redux.

Hence, it seems likely that we will have four more years of Barack Obama.  So...rather than giving in to bitterness, I want to help this president because the country simply cannot afford (literally and figuratively) to repeat the morass of the last four years.  If I was the president's campaign manager, here would be my suggestions to him:

1) Do something. Anything. Seriously.  Even though I enjoy Warren Harding's presidency for its inaction, it simply does not do for a president to appear this indecisive.  If you're going to do nothing, at least look like you're doing it on purpose.  When asked about a jobs plan, you do not say "ask me in a month" right before you go on an expensive, exclusive and, presumably, taxpayer-funded vacation to Martha's Vineyard.  Even if your suggestions and actions are going to be wrong, and lampooned by people like me, it's better than this Hamlet act you have going.

2) Stop talking.  This suggestion partners with #1.  You are a gifted public speaker, Mr. President.  There is no doubt that you have the power to galvanize entire rooms of people with your rhetorical skills (and indeed, the entire country three years ago).  However, lately you've started to remind me of Leslie Nielsen in the Naked Gun.  Please stop giving speeches reassuring people. 

3) If you must talk, be brutally honest.  I understand that you are a politician.  Part of your job is spin.  I get that.  You have to usually frame and phrase events in the best possible light.  However, people are hurting.  People are suffering.  People know that things are not going well right now.  You need to stop with the sweeping statements of grandeur.  You need to stop calling upon Congress and the American people to do things.  Just talk to us like we're adults.  We can handle it.

4) Finally, STOP WORRYING ABOUT GETTING RE-ELECTED!  This last suggestion wraps around the other three.  In normal times, you would need to get out there and start stumping about the issues.  However, you've reached a point in American history where there's only one issue: jobs.  It's not a secret.  You are the sitting President, but have the good fortune of an opposition party who cannot find a firebrand like Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan to threaten the incumbent (yet).  The irony is that the less you campaign and the more that you become an action President, the better you will do against your inevitable challenger, even if they do find someone who isn't a stuffed shirt.  In the meantime, you will have improved the country...which is something I agree with, no matter what your party is.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Short Post About Legalization

Drug legalization is gaining ground in American discourse.  What was once a rock-solid political issue, worthy of a so-called war, has now begun to tremble against the backdrop of an increasingly-incarcerated population and a border neighbor descending frighteningly toward civil war.  Just today, the Houston Chronicle reported that the Mexican drug cartels are now successfully corrupting officers on this side of the border to do their bidding.

I abhor drugs.  I have never used narcotics and would not do so, regardless of the law.  Most people to whom I've ever spoken about the issue have affirmed in a similar fashion.  However, both my libertarian and practical point-of-view is that we must legalize all narcotics. 

For one thing, the war on drugs puts people in jail who've done nothing but hurt themselves.  While I agree that families and friends bear a psychological toll from these addictions, there does not seem to be any mitigation of those effects by the incarceration of their loved ones.  Worse, drug addicts often resort to desperate, lifechanging measures in order to perpetuate their addictions while in prison.

The drug laws also create criminals due to the artificial inflation of drug prices.  Because demand is inelastic (meaning that it does not vary according to price changes), addicts are still going to need their fixes no matter how tight the supply of drugs into the country is squeezed.  The problem is that addicts are willing to steal and commit other crimes in order to earn enough money to feed their habits.

Legalizing drugs would cause more drugs to enter the country, but in a controlled environment.  Drugs would be cleaner, higher-quality and cheaper because they would be distributed by reputable companies (as reputable as beer and alcohol producers, anyway).  The policy emphasis could shift toward treatment of addicts, rather than punishment, and would likely cause overall usage and death rates to drop.  Moreover, the drug war in Mexico would lessen or even cease outright because of the massively lower barrier to entry and new sources of competition.

The decriminalization of drugs in Portugal suggests that my assumptions would likely bear fruit.  This report documents both a decrease in drug overdoses and a decrease in usage.  In fact, predictions that Portugal would become a new haven for drug use have not come to pass.  While many fear legalization would create a society awash in drugs, common sense tells us that, if I may paraphrase Newton's law of motion, people who are not using drugs would tend to continue not using drugs.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Sad Ballad of the Tea Party

Tea Party Is Less Popular than Atheists and Muslims

The New York Times op-ed piece cited above delivers the results of several polls which suggest that the Tea Party is less popular in American public opinion than both atheists and Muslims...two groups which inspire less-than-cozy feelings in the average resident of the fifty states.  How could a grassroots movement of people who were largely credited for the 2010 sweepout of the Democratic majority in Congress become so reviled?  And in such little time?

Part of the problem is what I mentioned in my Ron Paul article, which is that sound bites elude most of what the Tea Party proposes.  Compounding their troubles are the complete lack of professionalism and control the movement exercises over who is allowed to speak on its behalf.  I realize that part of the movement's initial appeal was how unformed and amoebic it seemed.  Protests developed organically.  There was excitement in the streets and revolution in the air.  YEAH!

Then the worst thing possible happened: success.  The new majority, led by Weeping John Boehner, empowered by their bases, promptly started behaving "responsibly," which is code for doing exactly what had always been done before.  Previously unthinkable compromises now became the only rational choice.

Meanwhile, the Tea Party continued to decidedly not pick its spots, and a few of its worst apples spoiled the lot by first allowing the specter of racism pollute its messaging (a deathblow in American politics).  Then, somehow social conservatives like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry were allowed to tout their Tea Party pedigrees. 

The truth of the matter is that ideological purity is difficult to maintain in the face of success, because people such as the typical Tea Party member (and indeed, myself as a libertarian) thrives on the struggle against the current situation to the point that success befuddles him a bit.  Like a lottery winner, many times, the worst thing that could've happened was for him to get what he wants.

I say all of this to make one thing clear about libertarians: though you may find us in selected Tea Party sects, you will never find us agreeing with the social conservatism of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or George W. Bush.  No clearer indicator of a non-libertarian is any discussion about a need to return to moral values, or any such statement of nostalgia for a mythological condition this country once enjoyed.  Consider it the litmus test, and proceed accordingly.

Abortion and the Importance of Consent

Abortion is one of the most contentious issues that exists in the political sphere.  Very few other topics invite the sort of emotion that this one does.  So vital is the issue that former Texas governor Ann Richards famously opened her speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention by saying, "I'm Ann Richards, and I'm pro-choice." Though the economy dominates the discussion at this point, it is unlikely that we have heard the last great debates from pro-life and pro-choice camps.

The arguments that always surface in this debate are a neverending back-and-forth about the contrast of the woman's right to choose versus the taking of a life.  The Libertarian Party, and indeed, many other groups focused on civil liberties, see the issue as simply the choice for every woman regarding her body.  In this, I actually disagree with the largest and most mainstream body in American libertarianism.  The problem, as I can see it, is that we have not reached a point of scientific advancement that tells us definitively where life begins.

At some point in every pregnancy, the life of the fetus begins.  No side of the debate will argue otherwise.  However, the inconsistency about when that point is leaves a quandary regarding when the body in question is, in fact, not that of the woman herself, but of her unborn child.  My point-of-view is that rights and the need for consent attach at the moment life begins, whenever that is.

I err on the side of caution.  To me, it is far more egregious to run the risk of violating the fetus's rights (since he or she cannot consent at that point) than to simply grant that a woman may do as she pleases.  While parents are afforded the ability to consent for their children (quite rightly), I know no jurisdiction that would allow a claim that a child consents to its own destruction.  Therefore,  until the matter of when life begins is settled, I think that we should not allow abortions except in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Those three exceptions do present a bit of a problem, though, because the same need for consent and the rights of the child attach here, too.  However, since the child was not a product of a consensual act, then the rights of the mother are, indeed, violated by the baby's existence.  I applaud any woman in this position who chooses to carry to term, but I think that she should be able to decide, since she couldn't decide about getting pregnant in the first place.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bernanke and the Rosenbergs

Rick Perry Compares Quantitative Easing to Treason

“If this guy (Ben Bernanke) prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treasonous in my opinion.” - Rick Perry

Such a strange comment, really.  It's not like Perry led a lynch mob to burn down the Mint in Dallas during QE1 or QE2.  I'm also not sure how an appointed official of an independent agency plays politics, either. 

Look...I applaud Rick Perry's newfound repulsion to government spending.  God knows that if any private citizen so grossly exceeded their means, they would not retain any semblance of a decent credit rating.  But...he needs to tone it down with that treason stuff.  It's not like Ben Bernanke, though wrongheaded and hapless, is knowingly plotting to undermine the country.

The Libertarian Problem and Why Ron Paul Will Never Win

Ron Paul is probably the best representation of what a libertarian candidate looks like.  He's passionate, well-spoken, and extremely consistent in his message.  It is true that he does take advantage of earmarks, under the notion that the money's going to get spent, anyway.  I suppose that this practice, while not completely ideologically rigid, is understandable in the context of Washington politics.

In the recent Iowa straw poll, Dr. Paul placed second behind Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann.  For a seemingly unclear reason, media on both sides of the aisle has chosen to ignore this outcome and has designated Bachmann, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney as the "tier 1" Republican candidates.  Perhaps they do so because Ron Paul has run for President unsuccessfully twice before.  Perhaps they believe that Ron Paul ultimately has limited appeal to their base constituencies.  However, the true reason for the passing-over of Ron Paul, and why he will never win, is because of an inherent fault of libertarianism: our positions do not make good sound bites.

The truth of the matter is that many libertarian positions, including the ones I've already written about and ones that are forthcoming, sound absolutely insane to the average person when broken down into five second clips.  There is no way to hear that we want to get rid of schools or that we have a problem with drunk driving laws without having an immediate (and often visceral) reaction.  The explanations, though lucid, take too long in our culture of instant-gratification and even more instant decision-making.

I started this blog in an attempt to educate and to show that we are not crazy, that we truly want the best for all people, and that our policy suggestions would not create a lawless free-for-all of constant danger.  To us, our positions, though sometimes personally uncomfortable, are the only way of ensuring the most freedom for the most people.  I imagine Dr. Paul feels the same way.  Unfortunately, none of us can say it in ten words or less.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Get Hammered and Find a Car...Just Don't Hit Anything

Libertarians do not believe that drunk driving should be illegal.

Read that one again.

I hate this one because there's no possible way to hear it for the first time and think the speaker has all his marbles.  I suspect that some will retain that thought regardless of my explanation to follow.  However, more than any other issue that libertarians espouse, I believe this one causes most people anguish, and deserves explanation.

Imagine this scenario: A man is in a bar, and has had a few too many.  Maybe just one too many, but still, it's too much.  He stumbles out to his car, miraculously finds the right key, argues with the door handle for a few seconds, then flops into the driver's position.  After seven or eight attempts and a couple of hiccuping giggles, he manages to get the car started, puts it into drive via muscle memory, and drives home.  During the trip, he violates no traffic laws, and arrives home safely without incident.  He staggers inside his house, and falls asleep.

In this scenario, a crime has been committed.  Depending on how many times the man has engaged in this behavior, it is possible he just committed a felony.  In most jurisdictions, regardless of his history, he would be guaranteed of jail time, community service, a fine, and a host of other legal troubles.

The libertarian problem with this punishment is that no person was actually injured in any way.  Much like Pre-Crime in the movie Minority Report, punishments for this crime are derived from the notion of what might have happened, rather than what did.  The fact that he was impaired had no effect on the outside world, and yet, a curious or bored police officer stop would've guaranteed the man go to jail, leads many libertarians, including myself, to call drunk driving laws unjust.

Now...the question in your mind is what I want to do with drunks who crash into people.  Three words: HANG. THEM. HIGH.  I have no problem with drunkenness being a mitigating factor in these sorts of incidents, and in fact, would argue that a crash incurred due to drunkenness indicates a wanton disregard for human life.  Throw the book at them.  Lock them up forever.  I would even be inclined to call a vehicular homicide where alcohol played a factor murder. 

So...from the Friendly Libertarian...I say drink up, but know your limits.  This is one dice game in which you don't want to crap out.

School Ain't So Cool

Education is a right!  Seems obvious, doesn't it?  Very little in our experience is more basic than schooling.  Naturally, libertarians completely oppose compulsory education.

Wait, what?!  That sounds like madness!  Truth be told, when I first heard about this particular tenet of libertarianism, I thought the same.  However, our students lagging behind those of other countries regardless of the amount of money thrown at the problem convinced me otherwise.  It simply does not work.

I used to be a public high school teacher.  I saw many kids that had neither the time nor the inclination to learn the subject matter I was teaching.  No amount of creativity on my part could change that.  Our childrens' test scores suggest that I'm not alone in that regard, either.  The truth of the matter is that these kids were behind before they set foot in the classroom, either due to their own aptitudes, disabilities or cultural pressures.

The hard truth about education is that not every kid either can succeed or wants to succeed in school.  The harder truth is that not every parent or culture demands children excel in school.  Quite simply, there is simply more to life for these sorts of individuals.  As a result, their presence in traditional schools is neutral at best, and is often destructive.

The other major problem in the schools of today is the incessant drive to be inclusive.  Schools must make every effort to allow the most children to pass through its doors unabated.  Schools cannot expel students except in extreme cases, and even then, the punishment is often temporary.  The importance of the threat of force is hard to almost any situation, performance improves where there is, at least, the chance of ruin.  Teachers and administrators are detoothed and cut off at the knees due to the excessive regulation and bureaucracy surrounding their position.  I remember that my statements to students were often a dance of carefully-chosen and approved verbiage, rather than the honesty that situations often need.

From a purist libertarian point-of-view, the ideal would be completely private education.  However, I think that we're way too far from that reality as a society to consider it.  Therefore, I do have some suggestions that would improve our school system dramatically:

1) Create alternative educational venues.  Trade schools and other similar institutions would serve as an intermediary between a kid going to traditional school and a kid having to be out on the streets.  Several of my former students had interests in different trades, like mechanic or construction.  Establish a credible method for these individuals to learn a craft that would provide them a legitimate lifestyle.  (Needless to say, the accreditation required for these crafts would need to be inclusive).

2) Begin the process of converting all education to optional.  Raise entrance requirements and lower expulsion requirements.  I can tell you that, as a teacher, one of the things that irritated me the most was when the non-learning kids dragged down the ones who wanted to be there.  I'm not suggesting that the principal should be booting kids out at all times (a la Joe Clark in Lean on Me), but he or she should be able to press the red button on any kid...similar to at-will employment.

3) Accept the fact that some kids are going to fall through the cracks.  There was never a more noble program than No Child Left Behind (a Republican creation, by the way).  Ask any teacher how they feel about it, is universally despised by a group that is, on the whole, left-leaning.  However, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  The truth of the matter is that no matter how much we try, some kids will always get left behind.  We can only open doors for them...they have to walk through on their own. 

4) Establish second chances, but be sparing with them.  Kids do dumb things all the time.  They can make tremendous mistakes and not realize until too late.  For some, it may take an expulsion to wake them up to reality.  However, I am cautiously for a system that would allow one re-entrance to expelled kids.  One.  No more.  Figure out a way for the kid to make up for time missed.  Set a sunset date that ends the re-entrance period.  Be strict in the fairness of the system.  When in doubt, see suggestion 3.

These four suggestions would create the kind of school system Americans demand.  I'm just not sure that most people have the stomach for it.

We're Not All Crazy

Good morning!

Welcome to The Friendly Libertarian!  I, your intrepid host, will guide you to a better understanding of the libertarian point-of-view.  Over the years, many people have levied numerous critiques of libertarianism at me.  Some of them were untrue.  Some of them were the product of others masquerading as libertarians.  This blog is intended to address some of those misconceptions and generate a stronger understanding about the whys behind our beliefs.

Part of the problem is simple ignorance of what libertarianism is.  Rather than a cold definition, I will provide a list of things that libertarians are not:

1) Communists
2) Socialists
3) Fascists
4) Racists
5) Republicans
6) Democrats
7) The Green Party
8) Anarchists
9) Irresponsible
10) Unreasonable

I have been a libertarian for seven years, and have heard all of these personally.  None of them are true.  The truth is that a libertarian simply believes that laws should allow people to act as they wish so long as they do not harm others.  That's it.  That's all we want.  Our entire platform flows from that belief.

The content of this blog is intended to be both a critique and commentary on the decidedly-unlibertarian leanings of most United States politics.  However, too often my libertarian brethren come off like we need medication and years of cognitive therapy.  So, I am going to make an honest effort to color between the lines and stay on the reservation, if I may horrifically combine two metaphors.  Feel free to keep me honest in the comments section.