Currently viewing the tag: "libertarian"

potThe drug war rhetoric is improving in 2014. Let’s see if actual policy ever catches up.

In a New Yorker profile published this month, President Obama admitted that marijuana was not that bad and the enforcement of anti-weed laws was skewed against minorities. Similarly, on Thursday Texas Governor Rick Perry voiced his support for decriminalizing marijuana and letting states craft drug laws free of federal intervention. On January 16, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he had changed his mind and that medical marijuana was a fine thing after all. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was trying to drown his state’s medical marijuana program in the bathtub not three months ago, spent part of his inaugural address delivered on January 21promising to end the war on drugs. New York Senator Chuck Schumer just said on MSNBC that states should be allowed to “experiment” with legalization. What the hell is happening? How did the war on drugs go from a fringe issue five or six years ago to this current race to out-chill your political competitors when it comes to weed policy? It’s hard to know for sure, but it seems like Americans as a whole have decided that marijuana should be legal (or at least partially legal), while our leaders’ views have lagged behind. Now we’ve reached a tipping point where it’s safe for elected officials to embrace an end to prohibition—politicians’ minds aren’t changing, but poll numbers are.

The rest of the crankiness, along with bad cops of the week, over here

Last Monday, a jury found two former Fullerton, California, police officers not guilty on one charge of excessive force, two of manslaughter, and one of second-degree murder in the beating death of Kelly Thomas. The 2011 altercation, which lead to Thomas’s death five days later, was captured in detail by surveillance cameras and audio from police recorders—on tape, the cops can be seen beating the homeless man mercilessly and Tasing him twice in the face. At one point, Thomas is moaning “Help me dad” as the officers swing their nightsticks at him.

That fairly clear video evidence, along with the activism of Kelly’s father Ron (a former sheriff’s deputy) and the mobilization outraged community, ensured Thomas’s death got a lot more media coverage than the killing of homeless people by police normally do. But the officers are still walking free after beating an unarmed man to death. (In fact, one of them, Jay Cicinelli, already wants his job back.) How does that happen? A great many people in the community are asking that same question—multiple protests against the outcome of the trial this week resulted in 14 arrests

One answer to that question is that the jurors, like most Americans, probably thought that cops are generally almost always right. A Gallup Poll from last month found that 54 percent of respondents had “high” or “very high” amounts of trust in police officers. People think more favorably of cops than they do journalists, politicians, lawyers, or even members of the clergy. The only authority figures more trusted than the police are doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and grade school teachers.

The rest here

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And today’s video:

Hurray for the Alan Lomax archives.

Rollerblade_444692_1510740According to a January 9 Wall Street Journal article, the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado may mean that cops have less money to play with. When weed was illegal, police departments could cash in via civil asset forfeiture—they’d raid grow operations and dealers and seize cash and other kinds of property. Those seizures provided both a financial incentive to prioritize drug crimes and a financial perk for departments. Now, presumably, there will be fewer marijuana raids, thus less money for the cops. Washington state hasn’t earmarked any of the tax revenue soon to be coming in from the legal weed market to go to law enforcement, and Colorado may send some of their new dollars towards the cops, but not necessarily—in both states, millions of dollars normally spent on law enforcement may disappear as a consequence of the end of prohibition.

The specifics of forfeiture laws vary from state to state, but generally speaking police can take large amounts of cash (often anything over $10,000) from defendants based only on the suspicion that a big chunk of currency found during, say, a traffic stop, might be drug profits. It can also bechillingly easy for cops to take your property through asset forfeiture if a family member you live with is dealing drugs. The Department of Justice is generally very generous about sharing funds—as long as there’s tangential federal involvement in a case, the Feds take 20 percent of the assets forfeited and the rest goes to the local cops—so police departments are strongly encouraged to go after drug dealers; not only do they get photo ops with “dope on the table,” they can keep the majority of the profits from the sale of seized homes, vehicles, and property. (Not to mention that cash.) Often the onus is on the owner of the property to prove that it wasn’t involved in a crime, which can be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor.

The rest here

Since their founding in 2010, San Francisco-based car service Uber has made advances into more than 30 cities around the world. Staying there, however, is often an uphill slog as they battle regulators and buddies of the taxi or limo industries.

Objections to a service that allows consumers to order a car through a Smartphone app that come from trade groups, regulators, or other anti-capitalist capitalists are’t surprising, though their transparency on occasion is darkly amusing. It’s the objection from the common man, blogger, or journalist that is baffling. Uber, unlike taxis and their fixed rates, changes their prices based on weather, demand, and other logical economic factors. They do this to make the trips worth it for their drivers — thereby preventing a shortage of Uber cars when the demand is high. And that doesn’t mean they’re going to subsidize for those of us who can’t accord to pay $47 for a 2 mile cab ride. They have neither reason, not obligation to do so.

Pricing this honest makes some people unhappy. Indeed, hundreds of dollars for short rides during the recent winter stores, or during New Year’s Eve in New York City sound shocking, but these fares are based on high demand.  There some allegations that consumers weren’t warned ahead of time what the increase might be (though a commenter who professes to be an Uber driver disputes that). If so, that’s not going to win them good press. But most accounts of fare-shock don’t include specific allegations that say they weren’t warned about the jump in prices.

In fact, perhaps to sooth some of the recent backlash against them, just yesterday Uber announced they were experimenting with temporarily lower prices in 16 cities. This means that the price of an UberX car — a less fancy type of vehicle than Uber often sends — in some cities will fall below that of taxis. And taxis, for all their ills, do tend to be pretty cheap rides. The problem tends with them tends to be an almost complete lack of them in certain cities (like Pittsburgh), or a shortage of them made artificial by caps the drivers or on starting a new company all together.

We see it in New York City, where the cab medallions that let customers hail you from the street were capped at 11,000 for 70 years, and there are only a few thousand more today. No wonder they cost as much as condo in New York City. We see it in Pittsburgh, where I have waited for three hours for cabs that didn’t come (waited at a liberal arts college in a nice neighborhood, so let’s go out on a limb and assume minorities in worse neighborhoods don’t bother to call Yellow Cab at all). A few years ago, I drove around for a few hours with a jitney driver(/cartoonist/generally fascinating character). He swore there must be 1000 illegal cabs in the city, mostly serving poor, black neighborhoods, as he does.

The law in Pittsburgh puts the onus on a new, upstart cab company to prove that they won’t take business way from Yellow Cab or which ever company got into the turf first. This makes a mockery of competition, and there’s no way I can think of to sell it as a pro-consumer action, though be my guest if you want to give it a try. Now, I’ve heard people complain about DC cabs, and there are plenty of clunky laws and advocates for worse ones, but coming from Pittsburgh, DC was a joy. I could hail a cab and be in one in five minutes.

Though Uber is currently out of the price range of some poorer folks, railing against their existence is still the privilege of someone with lots of transportation options. Bitching about the convenience-dystopia that Uber is ushering in with the touch of a Smartphone is your prerogative. But like all myopic declarations of how the world should be, the Valleywag piece that said as much neglected to consider the implications of their shitty, no-show cabs paradise. (Valleywag seem to have a bizarrely intense vendetta against Uber, judging by past blogs.) How many of those illegal jitney cabdrivers in Pittsburgh might like to advertise their services and perhaps earn more money by starting a legal company?

It’s hard to argue that multiple cab companies is somehow less safe than hundreds of unmarked cars. Complaints about the standards or the behavior of driver from Purple Cow Cabs can be acted upon by authorities. Whereas, that guy in the unmarked car stole my wallet, tried to assault me, or dropped me on a highway overpass instead of home is a bit harder to follow up on. Similarly, drivers would be safer knowing they can go to police and report robberies or other problems. (Police mostly look the other way about Pittsburgh jitneys, as far as I know, but that’s not the same thing as giving them freedom to advertise their services and grow their business.) Like every other banned substance or service, from sex-for-pay, to narcotics, to abortion, to immigration, transportation happens regardless of restrictions. And like those other “vices”, the safety of those involved in these economic transactions could be heightened by giving people the freedom to work without fear of government crackdown.

So why are so people objecting to Uber? Last month, Slate’s main econ guy Matt Yglesias wrote a surprisingly solid piece on the company, his premise being that yes, they should be regulated, but no more so than regular transports. Emissions, safety, licensing, insurance, and other standards that already apply will apply. Basically:

“You need rules about what’s an acceptable vehicle, who’s an acceptable driver, and what’s an acceptable way to pilot the vehicle.

But you don’t need rules that specifically discriminate against rides for hire.”

Relative to much of humanity and their slack-jawed hunger for more revenue and restrictions, that was a Rothbardian cry of freed markets, ho! Any leftist who has a terror of a world without regulations should at least be able to grant that the ones on taxi cabs are too much. The restrictions favor one business over others at the expense of the consumer, and untold potential entrepreneurs, many of whom are poor minorities or immigrants.

That knowledge is spreading a bit, or at least has become more news-worthy thanks to Uber and its ilk. Even folks with a sad story of Uber surge pricing to tell, like The New York Times’ Annie Lowrey, don’t seem entirely opposed to the company. Lowrey also makes the savvy point that Uber’s painfully honest prices feel particularly bizarre because taxi services have had their prices fixed long before the invention of the car.

On the other hand, pieces like George Mason assistant professor Siona Listokin’s are disheartening. So close, but so wrong; Listokin describes (also in Slate) some of the horrible, stifling, unfair taxi laws currently n existence. And then she writes that Yglesias is wrong about Uber:

[T]here are very good reasons to regulate hired vehicles. Giving my friend a ride somewhere in my car has different economic and social implications for a city than picking up a stranger and driving her someplace for a fee, Uber style. That said, Uber should be regulated differently than other taxi services, for a reason that may seem odd at first: The company collects a plethora of data that has never before existed in the cab industry. For the first time, Uber’s data can allow policymakers to directly measure taxi fares, the availability of cars, and the safety records of drivers without having to control every element of the market. If cities are smart, that could mean better oversight with less regulation.

The entire rest of the piece mixes examples of rubbish laws with a creepy hope that Uber’s data can be used for smart regulations of this industry. Listokin could be a lot worse here, but she could be a hell of a lot better. Her faux-pragmatic call for not less, maybe but definitely better laws, with lots and lots of useful data, will sound good to the people who believe it’s the job of private citizens to ask for permission for every endeavor. (Not ask, why shouldn’t I be free to peacefully pursue this? Prove to me why I shouldn’t be able to do this, etc.)

To Listokin, couldn’t it be argued that since cities all over the country have demonstrated that their regulations are not hands-off, not smart, and not fairly applied among different companies, that it’s time for a change? Let’s do it. Let’s go wild west and let people drive one another two and from destinations for a fee. No Michael Badnarik-esque call to rip up our driver’s licenses, no call to abolish auto insurance, for now can’t we all agree to let people drive each other from point A to point B without rubbing our hands together with glee over what else we can get out of it?

  • 6-8-07-segway-policeI love(d) my grandparents. I might love them slightly more if they turned out to have broken into an FBI office and stolen documents about COINTELPRO. Damn.
  • Thaddeus Russell on “The Paternalists’ Bible”
  • Two more victims of the Satanic sexual abuse hysteria are free from prison. Only took 20 years!
  • Radley Balko has made his move to The Washington Post, thereby raising the credibility of their editorial pages/blog, uh, pages by an astronomical degree. He writes in his introduction this libertarian poetry: “People move to Washington because they see themselves becoming president someday. People move to Nashville because they see themselves opening for Willie Nelson someday. I find the latter to be a much nobler ambition.” Amen, Balko. Amen.
  • Pennsylvania considering the use of civil asset forfeiture in human trafficking cases. Look at this heartening phrase: “Under the proposal, if a suspect is accused of trafficking in people, any property used in that crime could  be seized by law enforcement.” Accused! I am sure no voluntary prostitution will get lazily lumped in with trafficking. And why wait until someone has been convicted of a crime before you take their property, civil asset forfeiture needs only that you be “accused.”
  • Cathy Reisenwitz and Jeffrey Tucker on the surprising feminism of Ludwig von Mises! (I was surprised, hence the punctuation.)
  • Aeon magazine on “creepypasta” and its status as the urban legends/folktales for an internet age. 
  • Dom Flemons from the Carolina Chocolate Drops wrote a fascinating essay in The Oxford American. It covers Gus Cannon (of the excellent old timey Cannon’s Jug Stompers), Booker T. Washington, and the general complexity behind some of the more now-cringeworthy minstrel-ish songs from back in the day.
  • I adore io9 most of the time, but they still put out this lazy, lazy post on Bitcoins. 
  • Buzzfeed — an outlet I defend on occasion, if only for its reporting and longreads — is shockingly inane on The Simpsons here. The writer watched some of the most classic episodes of one of the best shows of all time and wrote a post that suggested she had never seen a cartoon before. I realize being annoyed by a Buzzfeed entertainment post is also inane, but damn. What is this?
  • Bettie Page, once known by men who needed a little staggish excitement is now mostly loved and copied by ladies. Rockabilly cliche or not, I also love Page’s attitude. Nobody else could look quite so happy to be naked as she. (Though all of us ladies who sometimes suffer a misguided urge to cut their hair into bangs should blame her for that a little. )

Today’s video is Willie Watson, formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show.

He’s working on a solo album produced by Dave Rawlings. I am very excited about this.

Though it sadly didn’t end in Nashville, 2013 at least began there. And other non-chronological highlights of that somewhat rocky year were as follows:

by Jayel Aheram

by Jayel Aheram

  • Visited LA, my glorious city of birth. There I met, then ran amok with, Jayel Aheram. This culminated in the most bad-ass photo of me ever taken, seen at right.
  • Took an Amtrak journey (one way with my Ma, one way by myself) and loved it because A) Trains are a lot of fun, dang it. If only they were economically sensible. And B) Because every kind of cross-country travel feels luxurious when you have taken a Greyhound from Pennsylvania to Montana to California, then back again.
  • Visited a (lefty) Anarchist Book-Fair with anarcho-capitalist Anthony Gregory in San Francisco. Should have written about the contrasts and clashes that resulted.
  • Went to New York City, met Pamela Stubbart who recently wrote this piece for the Daily Caller. She’s pretty neat, that Pam.
  • I also met Andrew Kirell, who is good people and writes good, snarky things for Mediaite. He’s good people, that Andrew, even though I still can’t remember how many ls and rs his name contains without checking.
  • Wrote for VICE, eventually became columnist for VICE
  • Became contributing editor for Antiwar.com, blogged there frustratingly infrequently became I am the worst.
  • Spent summer as D.J. Stagger Lee (it works on so many levels — for once!) with my Old Time (More Or Less) radio show. Loved it. Loved it. Hire me for your radio show.
  • Had Antiwar.com blog post quoted by John Stossel twice, which in context suggested he might just agree with me on the NSA. At least a little.

Stossel argued with me a little.

  • Saw Ralph Stanley and reacted like a 12-year-old meeting Harry Styles, or whomever is now most important in the lives of 12-year-olds.
  • Saw Old Crow Medicine Show be on the radio in Nashville. Ate Prince’s Hot Chicken and shrimp po-boys and again mused on living in that city. Was told, “you look familar” by Critter Fuqua, and responded with far too many exclamation points.

Steve and Critter Fuqua from Old Crow Medicine Show talking history nerd stuff

  • Saw other excellent bands and artists including La Plebe, Pokey LaFarge, Jason Isbell, and the best thing to ever come out of Johnstown, PA, as well as the makers of one of my favorite albums of all time, Endless Mike the and the Beagle Club.
  • Brother began blogging for the Stag Blog, culminating in his under-appreciated classic pretend parable, which can be read here.
  • Did not go to a baseball game for the second year in a row in which I intended to do so. (Yes, 2012 had “go on TV” and “go to a baseball game” on the to-do list, and the former happened, but the latter did not!) However, I did watch at least two entire baseball games on television. New record! Plus I watched Catching Hell, so I have a lot of feelings and opinions about Steve Bartman and that one catcher dude for I think the Red Sox? I forget.
  • Had to reject several invitations to go on an RT show, which was not a good thing, but it still made me feel slightly important.
  • Visited questionable North Carolina military surplus store and fired questionable guns with former Reason intern not named here. (Damn gov’mint.)
  • Read some killer books by Jesse Walker and Radley Balko, then wrote some things about that. I briefly browsed a record store in Pittsburgh with Jesse Walker as well, so that makes me feel pretty cool.
  • Decided to elect J. D. Tuccille king of anarchy.
  • Thought a lot about nuclear war.
  • Saw a very big duck.
  • 10351880233_2e9b255dd0_oI mean, that’s a great duck.

 

roadzThe headline: “Why I fled libertarianism — and became a liberal”.

The subhead: “I was a Ron Paul delegate back in 2008 — now I’m a Democrat. Here’s my personal tale of disgust and self-discovery”.

Edwin Lyngar was a Ron Paul delegate in 2008. Once he got to the GOP convention,  he was baffled by the number of Birthers, Truthers, MoonTruthers and Chemtrailers who apparently made up his fellow Paulbots. (Lyngar also casually equates interest in gold, the Fed, and the JFK assassination with such conspiracy theories. He is not alone in this attitude — the highly-touted conspiracy theory  poll from last spring was similarly sloppy. An enthusiasm for monetary policy is dry, so why not spice it up by implying that to believe in the gold standard is to be sure that the president is from Kenya?)

Lyngar had no libertarian moment of aha!, thanks to a Hayek book, or a Ron Paul speech. He doesn’t really explain why he cared enough to be a delegate for Paul in 2008. He was just vaguely born libertarian, in that he comes from a small town in Nevada where, he writes, “we burned our own garbage and fired guns in the back yard.” He even admits that libertarians are pro-pot, mostly pro-gay, and mostly anti-war, so they have their bright spots still. But also, when he left his small town, his eyes were opened:

I learned that libertarians are made for lots of reasons, like reading the bad fiction of Ayn Rand or perhaps the passable writing of Robert Heinlein. In my experience, most seemed to be poor, white and undereducated. They were contortionists, justifying the excesses of the capitalist elite, despite being victims if libertarian politics succeed.

If you think that selfishness and cruelty are fantastic personal traits, you might be a libertarian. In the movement no one will ever call you an asshole, but rather, say you believe in radical individualism.

Heinlein is only “passable”? Buddy, you read the wrong Heinlein. And if you’re in the libertarian movement, someone will call you an asshole at some point. Or they will call you a statist. Though there are generally agreed upon tenets in libertarianism, there is also tedious in-fighting and minute-to-vital points of disagreement on issues, interpretations, and conclusions. We are not your cheap Dagney Taggart or Randy Weaver jokes, as much as you try to cram us into that convenient mold. We are diverse, and by God, we will shoot ourselves in the foot whenever possible. (Lyngar does acknowledge this incompetence later in the piece, so at least he’s not one of those “dear God, the libertarians have taken over!” folks.)

Lyngar is mostly done with specifics after his live from the GOP Convention ’08 beginning. He changed slowly after his realization that libertarianism indeed attracts weirdos. Soon he was crying for unspecified, but positive reasons when Obama was elected president. And then the financial crisis:

Libertarians were (rightly) furious when our government bailed out the banks, but they fought hardest against help for ordinary Americans. They hated unemployment insurance and reduced school lunches. I used to say similar things, but in such a catastrophic recession isn’t the government supposed to help? Isn’t that the lesson of the Great Depression?

I’m going to give our friend the benefit of the doubt and say, sure, okay, you met three libertarians who were most passionately opposed to school lunches. That was their number one issue, closely followed by the horrors of unemployment insurance. But there are a lot of libertarians who would prefer to tackle the bigger issues first: war, prisons, police, the drug war, financial ruin for the country, occupational licensing, zoning laws, lack of school choice, the death penalty, transportation, whatever you like. And you would know that if you spoke to more than three libertarians — that no, most of them wouldn’t start with cutting the lunches for shoeless Appalachian children program. They’d probably start with trimming the military, the Department of Homeland Security, or that sentimental favorite, the Drug Enforcement Administration.

(And no, that is not the lesson of the Great Depression. That is not even close to being the lesson of the Great Depression. Suggesting that means you paid no attention to economics even while you were a libertarian, dude.)

Lyngar goes on to marry a Canadian liberal, then be disgusted by the racist Birthers in the Tea Party movement. He lurches towards nuance by implying that libertarians who work with the Tea Party are not necessarily the same thing as those religious freaks, etc. But then he notes that at last he has learned to “care about children — even poor ones.” Thereby separating himself from monstrous libertarians, he writes:

I love the National Park system. The best parts of the America I love are our communities. My libertarian friends might call me a fucking commie (they have) or a pussy, but extreme selfishness is just so isolating and cruel. Libertarianism is unnatural, and the size of the federal government is almost irrelevant. The real question is: what does society need and how do we pay for it?

To paraphrase the best French guy ever, Frederic Bastiat, man, liberals really seem to think that if you’re not for government funded, or government-run institutions, you must be against them entirely. Parks are awesome. Some parks also have a long history of hilariously-arrogant mismanagement by government. And it’s cool that you love communities. That means literally nothing in general, and nothing specific to libertarianism. Most of us do not wish to live alone, Unibomber-style. But we’re very keen on anyone’s right to do the best they can at achieving that sort of lifestyle.

The best part of the piece — the part that elevates it to an artful act of trolling — might be the very end. Old Ed says of libertarians: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” That quote, and its accompanying viewpoint, is common in libertarianism. It sounds arrogant, but it’s the evangelizing of a fringe belief that is forever trying to gain converts. How else do you change minds except by convincing someone they are mistaken? And it is no different than liberals who shake their heads at all those folks who “vote against their own interests” — meaning, not for Democrats. To them, libertarians, if they’re not cold, rich, Randian cutouts, they are stupidly opposed to the communitarian pleasures of the left that could benefit them so much.

We’re all snobs when we’re in our own Google Groups, bars, or political rallies. There’s nothing wrong with reveling in “yes, totally! That!” for an evening. But the folks at Salon have the ideological privilege of not ever needing to convert libertarians to their viewpoints. Liberals often treat every conservative victory (one which with libertarians may or may not agree) as an assurance that the barbarians are at the gates. Mentions cuts, and there is nothing between that and Somalia. Liberals refuse to believe that their view of the proper role of government has been a dominant one for decades. They suffer from being The Man denial.

So then, what is the the point of this piece? Optimistically, we could say it could help prove to Salon readers that all libertarians aren’t monsters. Why, there’s always the hope that they will change their evil ways! But it’s more banal than that. This intensely shallow piece is solely an exercise in back-patting. It’s one man’s courageous story of being saved from the darkness of everything Not Liberal, without even the drama of a road to Damascus moment. It’s just that the election of Obama, and the worst of the Tea Party eventually took him on a self-satisfied journey away from conspiratorial meanies to the safe ” bosom of conventional liberalism.” He finally “developed [his] own values.” But a vague sense that libertarianism by nature is cold, cruel, and crazy is not an analysis of an ideology.

Some libertarians choose to interpret the recent cascade of anti-libertarian pieces on Alternet, Salon, and NSFWCorp the last few months as proof that the philosophy is getting somewhere — it can no longer be ignored by the mainstream. But Lyndar’s piece confirms lazy liberal dominance, because why try? Why fight libertarian beliefs, when you can simply revel in having beaten their imaged end-game, as Alternet did recently, — Libertopia apparently outlaws feeding or clothing the homeless! — or simply rejoice in having banished its evil from your own mind, as Lyndar does here.