Raising the Mob

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I don’t know whether Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax committed rape, as he has been accused of doing, and I’m certainly in no position to decide. Yet the idea of involving the country at large in such decisions is the premise behind virtually all the publicity given to the matter, and to many other matters of recent note.

Before this era of what is laughingly known as our national discourse, it would have been inconceivable for official statements to be issued about something like this by such ephemeral citizens as bit players in Hollywood and (alleged) nightclub comedians. I don’t recall that even Cary Grant or Rosalind Russell considered it their business to render judicial determinations on the sex affairs of Virginia politicians. But in the case of Mr. Fairfax, and innumerable others, judgments, pro or con, now fly into the public air space within moments of an accusation.

How did this happen? It isn’t just because ignorant people think they’re important (they’ve always done so), or have Twitter accounts.

State officials are the leaders of this mob, as they have been the leaders of so many mobs during the past few years.

Until now, I’ve generally pictured mobs as composed of private individuals who have at least momentarily lost their minds. Individuals’ penchant for forming mobs is a matter of human psychology that libertarians need to think about much more than we ordinarily do (which is not at all). But now the libertarian view of the state as the ultimate foe is getting some renewed support — because who has been leading most of the recent mobs? Who was it that immediately, right off the bat, without taking a second to weigh the evidence, with no investigation or possibility of investigation, started yelling for the conviction of Mr. Fairfax (and countless others) in the court of public opinion?

It was state officials, legislators of this republic. They are the leaders of this mob, as they have been the leaders of so many mobs during the past few years.

The state has other powers besides legislation and the enforcement of legislation. It has the power to destroy the sense of fairness and self-restraint on which any decent society is based. It’s not enough for the modern state — bloated, ignorant, and indiscriminately cruel — to pass ridiculous and indecent laws. Now it is raising mobs to destroy the very idea of decency.




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Fools and Their Folly

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Ralph Northam, governor of Virginia —perhaps soon-to-be ex-governor of Virginia — is a fool. On that we can all agree.

But until a few days ago, he was not a fool.

He was not a fool when he was running for governor and some of his followers ran an ad suggesting that his opponent was a violent racist, an ad that he first defended, while implicitly disavowing, and then disavowed, while implicitly defending. A few associates of his opponent’s party remember that, but nobody really cares.

Someone finally publicized what must have been known to many, a page from Northam’s med-school yearbook showing a man in blackface and a Klansman drinking happily together

And he was not a fool when, on January 30 of this year, he commented on a bill advanced by his party in the legislature that seemed to allow abortions during normal-term birth, with the option of infanticide, by saying:

So in this particular example if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.

Conservatives pounced on this saying, asserting that Northam was a baby killer, although it was easier to show that his comments about “exactly what would happen” were more like the maunderings of a fool than any declaration of specific intent. But few people called him a fool.

Then, in early February, someone finally publicized what must have been known to many, a page from Northam’s med-school yearbook glorifying alcoholic beverages and illustrating their glory by showing a man in blackface and a Klansman drinking happily from their cans of (presumably) brew. That’s exactly what you want in your med-school yearbook, right? If you do, you’re a fool.

Northam then proceeded to prove, and overprove, that you cannot part a fool from his folly. He confessed that he was one of the men in the picture, though he didn’t say which one, and apologized for the harmful effects of what he had done. A day later he decided that he was not one of the men in the picture and had, in fact, nothing to do with the picture — although, he added, he had once done a blackface imitation of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk routine. It is said that Northam’s wife had to prevent him from showing the press that he could still do the moonwalk.

The root cause of racism and all its ridiculous symbols and tokens is folly, mindlessness, sheer stupidity.,

Instantaneously, cries arose from every quarter, including Northam’s own party, that he must resign forthwith. There were even cries, from outside his party, against the allegedly culpable inaction of his lieutenant governor, an African-American who, perhaps, did not wish to be seen staging a coup d’etat. Northam was now everything vile and vicious, and the whole nation appeared to agree.

But the root of this vileness was not identified. The root cause of racism and all its ridiculous symbols and tokens — symbols and tokens that may sometimes exist without any particularly racist thought, or any thought at all — is folly, mindlessness, sheer stupidity, the conviction that you are thinking when you’re not, the conviction that you can get through the world without any mental activity, and that nobody else will notice.

Apparently, the odds on doing so are pretty good, because Northam did get through 59 years in this world without anyone noticing what a dope he is. It’s only the “racism” that was finally observed. And I suppose that this is the way the republic needs to continue, because where could political leaders be found if every fool were identified as such, and driven from public office?




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Sugar and Spice

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When I was a child, our neighbors had a little girl who would stand outside and scream her lungs out. One day I went over to see if she needed help. She stopped screaming long enough to grin at me, then went right back to it. She was doing it just for the fun of it.

That was a frightening peek into feminine psychology. “Some little girls just like to scream,” my mother told me. “It makes them feel important when people come running.”

They’re screaming because they love to. Apparently, it makes them feel alive.

Many little girls do love a good scream. Whenever there’s a birthday party, or any other gathering of female children, you can hear them for blocks. Their philosophy must be “I scream, therefore I am.”

That seems to be what the professional “progressive” feminists are doing. They’re screaming because they love to. Apparently, it makes them feel alive. They like to make people come running.

I grew up thinking I was a feminist. I don’t think I ever left feminism, but feminism has certainly left me. I don’t even pretend to understand it anymore.

When did making people feel sorry for us replace earning respect? And how can other people’s pity help us to respect ourselves?

I don’t think I ever left feminism, but feminism has certainly left me.

Those on the feminist Left thinks that men have been mean to them. They want to make them sorry. But when your sense of well-being depends on eliciting any particular response from someone else, that does nothing to make you more respectable. All it makes you is codependent — which is something feminists commonly claim that they don’t want to be.

As the cancellation of a recent Women’s March shows, progressive feminists are now competing with one another to hear who can scream the loudest. The screaming never stops.

The Women’s March rally was canceled, it appears, simply because too many of its prospective participants were white. No one is arguing that some are more female than others (though that issue is indeed raised in the transgender-inclusion debate). The “whiteness” issue centers on race: the skin color of those who would be marching.

Much has been made of sisterly loyalty, especially in connection with the #MeToo Movement. But what’s most notable in this kerfuffle over “whiteness” in feminism is not loyalty — the fruit of which is cooperation — but competition. In their attempt to determine who should or should not speak for women, left-feminists are at one another’s throats.

Scream too often, and most people will simply tune you out.

It was famously said, by no less a light than Jesus himself, that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” By blundering into the tall weeds of whiteness, left-feminists are doing their cause no favors. As happens continually in the progressive aggrievement Olympics, the social justice troops are too busy shooting at each other to take aim against any common enemy. Or, to return to my original analogy, the scream’s the thing. And the objective appears to be simply attracting attention.

They’re not even doing a very good job of that, especially not concerning particular problems. Scream too often, and most people will simply tune you out. Our neighbors didn’t waste too much time rushing to the aid of our own little screamer. She could have been torn apart by wild dogs and no one would have noticed.

I hold out no hope for “believe every woman, no matter who the accuser may be.” In the #MeToo Movement, sooner or later the troops are going to turn their guns against other women. The Fair Sex suffers from a deficit in mutual loyalty. Women are just as prone to aiming at one another as they are to pointing the guns of their indignation at men.

Many women need to figure out what real self-respect means, and how it may be won.

It may well be asked if men don’t have the same tendencies. I think in general, they display more of a solid front. Much of their success in keeping the upper hand over women for so many centuries can be attributed, it seems to me, to their confidence that women will compete with one another.

Men are a long way from being the source of all our problems. Many women need to figure out what real self-respect means, and how it may be won. And when we hear some women screaming their lungs out, we need to demand an intelligent answer to the question of what the hell they’re screaming about.




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Maurice Chevalier’s America

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The government shutdown — to what shall I compare it? How about the song that Maurice Chevalier sings in Gigi? Too old to suffer the pangs of love, Chevalier rejoices that from now on there will be

No morning-after surprise,
No self-delusion
That when you're telling those lies
She isn't wise.

America appears to have penetrated those lies about life being unlivable without the federal government. So the affair is over; the government is “shut” — and behold! We eat; we drink; we are even merry.

They are not glad they’re not young anymore; they are angry that they’re not young anymore.

All of us, that is, except politicians still suffering from the delusion that when they’re telling their lies, particularly their lies about their own indispensability, America isn’t wise. Well, she is. But I don’t hear Nancy Pelosi singing, “How lovely to sit here in the shade,” or feeling relieved by the failure of her romance with the voters. Not for her is

The longing to end the stale affair
Until you find out — she doesn't care!

The idea that “she,” America, fundamentally does not care must be grievous, intolerable, even unthinkable to people like Pelosi. Far from feeling grateful that they can go about their business, or even enjoy, like Chevalier, a breakfast “in the shade” — with singing, and a little dance — they clamor to be readmitted to a fraught and failed relationship. They are not glad they’re not young anymore; they are angry that they’re not young anymore. To cite the singer once again: “Poor boys! Poor girls!”




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Presidents Will Be Presidents

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With the passing of former President George H.W. Bush, we’ve heard a multitude of eulogies. Though the media often savaged him when he was president, calling him a wimp and claiming he was out of touch with ordinary Americans, he is now being held up, by his associates and many in the media, as a man of sterling character. And they consider it rude if we disagree.

Particularly after they’ve left office, presidents are reassessed in a kinder light than they merit. It’s great if they were nice to their family, fraternity brothers, or fellow politicians, but what about the people whose lives their administrations affected? Our view of them is often different. How come they do us like they do?

Not only us, but people in other countries. Sometimes especially people in other countries. Do those on the receiving end of bombing raids or drone strikes regard the president who ordered them as a stand-up guy?

It’s great if they were nice to their family, fraternity brothers, or fellow politicians, but what about the people whose lives their administrations affected?

One of the things I most appreciate about libertarian principle is its bedrock-level moral soundness. We don’t believe in hitting people or taking their things. We do believe in behaving ourselves, instead of telling others how to behave, and, whenever possible, in simply minding our own business. This makes those rare libertarians in public life stand-up guys and gals. It also gives the rest of us a reliable yardstick by which to measure them.

By our yardstick, George H.W. Bush was a pretty typical president. He stuck his nose in everybody else’s business. Not content to regulate the lives of those in his own country, or to raise our taxes (after promising he wouldn’t), Bush 41 also wanted to run the show in other countries. From his “New World Order,” no one was exempt. On a person-to-person level, there were plenty of people to whom he wasn’t very nice.

We libertarians are loath to accept the opinions of those for whom political power is the only consideration. What can we do to help change the way elected officials are evaluated? We can tell the truth about who does what to whom. We can call what our elected officials do exactly what it is.

George H.W. Bush was a pretty typical president. He stuck his nose in everybody else’s business.

All presidents in recent memory have ordered military hits on people in other countries. They have dealt death to innocent civilians. If we did that to other human beings, we’d be locked up and possibly even executed. No matter how wonderful someone may be, when that person runs for president, we can reliably predict that if victorious in the election, he or she will become a murderer. By the law binding on the rest of us, the one who orders the hit is guilty of the crime.

I mean to draw a distinction, here, between the sort of killing that defends lives and the sort that results from a war in which we are the aggressors. I’m also letting off the hook people who take the lives of those attempting to take theirs. Nor would I begrudge the right to self-defense to anyone — in or out of uniform.

Libertarians want our presidents (and Congress) to stop killing people who aren’t trying to kill us. We tell the truth about the crimes they commit. For the sake of winning elections, should we do otherwise? If we don’t tell the truth, who will?

No matter how wonderful someone may be, when that person runs for president, we can reliably predict that if victorious in the election, he or she will become a murderer.

Crimes against humanity continue to be committed in our name, and on our dime. We can do little about this except to vote against it. I joined the Libertarian Party because active participation in the party is, I believe, one of the most important ways my voice can be heard. And I’m totally willing to be rude about it. Fake decency and fake civility are vastly worse than fake news.




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Is My Vote Wasted?

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The purpose of this Reflection is not to argue for or against any specific position but merely to articulate and clarify various arguments. The issue is simple: if I vote for the Libertarian Party candidate, is my vote wasted?

Here are 25 responses to that question.

(1) If I vote Libertarian and the Republican candidate loses to the Democrat then my vote was indeed wasted and could have made a difference if cast for the Republican.

(2) But virtually no elections are decided by exactly one vote, so my vote was wasted either way.

(3) But if everyone who voted Libertarian had voted Republican, or Democratic, that could have made a difference.

(4) But I am only responsible for myself individually, not for the entire "libertarian voting bloc," so I shouldn't think like a collectivist.

(5) But that is a realistic way to think.

(6) One vote almost never decides an election, so shouldn’t I vote for the best candidate with the purest principles, as a personal statement?

(7) But voter turnout rates are low, so every vote counts, if only as a measure of opinion. In fact a lot of effort and money goes into getting every last voter available.

(8) Wouldn’t it be most idealistic to cast a vote that could make a real difference for real people? Which means . . .

(A) voting for a candidate who can win; or

(B) voting for a Libertarian, because this will force the GOP closer to libertarianism, because it will need to try to get our votes.

(9) If everyone like me voted for the LP, then couldn’t the LP win?

(10) The LP fundamentally does not care about winning elections, but the GOP does, so how can the LP win anything?

(11) Aren’t Republican candidates better that Libertarians, because they really enact laws? And aren’t most Republicans sympathetic to libertarianism, anyway?

(12) But aren’t Republicans really no better than Democrats? They support big government when it suits them; they are conservatives, not libertarians, so a vote for the GOP is a wasted vote.

(13) If I cast a vote for anyone, am I not giving my consent to and endorsing the big government state and its taxes, wars, regulations, plans for gun control, etc.?

(14) Won’t the big government machine steamroll on, regardless of whether I cast a vote? So I might as well try to vote for a politician who will fight to slow it down.

(15) It costs practically nothing to vote, and the marginal impact I might have is wasted if I don't.

(16) But actually going to the polls and taking an hour off from work to cast a vote is too much trouble, relative to how little my own vote matters.

(17) Politics is a dirty business, so I don't want to get involved by voting.

(18) Politics is a dirty business, and the only way to clean it up is for people like me to get involved. So I have to vote. Even if my vote is wasted today, it starts the process of moving toward a tomorrow when my vote will not be wasted.

(19) If a Republican runs against a Democrat, and the Libertarian gets 4% of the vote and the Republican loses by 2% and I voted Libertarian and the Democrats achieve world domination, then I am to blame.

(20) But if the other 96% had voted with me, then the Libertarian would have won, so they are to blame. And if the Republican candidate had been very libertarian-leaning he would have taken half the LP vote anyway, so he is to blame.

(21) My vote is my own; it belongs to me. So I owe no duty to do anything other than vote my conscience and my values, which are Libertarian.

(22) Libertarian Party candidates often disagree with voters on important issues, such as abortion or immigration or privatization. If I vote along Libertarian Party lines, I may be voting for individuals who differ substantially from me or the party, or both.

(23) As a member of the American experiment in democracy, initiated by Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, and other brave men, I owe a duty to my nation to act as a member of the body politic, which includes a duty to research the candidates and cast a vote that is intelligently designed to do the most good for the country by maximizing support for the most electable candidate who would also be competent, sane, and reasonable in his policies, which most often means the Republican candidate.

(24) The real war in American politics is between Democrats and Republicans, so any vote outside that system is a wasted vote.

(25) The establishment sells the idea that it is a two-party system, but if the public became aware of the nation's third largest political party the system would become a three-party competition and the LP could realistically go from 4% to 30% of the vote. The reason we don't get votes is because nobody knows who we are and what we stand for, not because voters don't like us.

* * *

I leave my readers with a question: which of these positions do you agree or disagree with, and why?




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The Tumblr Farce

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On December 4, Tumblr ruined its business by banning “adult content.” This vast revision of the popular picture-sharing site was headlined as “a better, more positive Tumblr.”

More positively ridiculous, they should have said.

Tumblr is a free site (with lots of advertising). It allows — it did allow — people from all over the world to post their cat pictures, if they wanted, or their genitalia, if they wanted. Or their obnoxious political propaganda. Or their how-to’s about septum piercing. Or their illustrated stories about female domination.

And people from all over the world have used it to create hundreds of thousands of niche communities, many of them involving sex acts or fetishes that they happen to enjoy.

Tumblr allows — it did allow — people from all over the world to post their cat pictures, if they wanted, or their genitalia, if they wanted.

Now, one great rule of life is that everything outside the relatively narrow band of sex acts, customs, words, and pictures that excites any given person will positively disgust that person. And so what? Don’t look at things you don’t like to look at.

But Tumblr has the nerve to associate its banning of “adult content” with the notion of creating “a place where more people feel comfortable expressing themselves” and with the ideal of “more constructive dialogue among our community members.” Members’ former means of “self-expression” felt very “comfortable” to more and more people, thank you; the “dialogue” was going fine. People who wanted to communicate about their cats or their sexual conundrums were doing exactly that, and many of them were developing remarkable skills of “dialogue” and individual expression. You might not like it, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t constructive. And if it comes to that, I can think of few things more constructive than sexual pleasure.

Oh, heaven forbid that anyone should see "real-life human genitals," much less "female-presenting nipples"!

By the way, what is “adult content”? The company thinks it’s “photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content — including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations — that depicts sex acts.” Oh, heaven forbid that anyone should see real-life human genitals, much less female-presenting nipples!

But heaven didn’t forbid it. Heaven gave us genitalia, and all of us have them still, except corporate executives who don’t want to be criticized for being adult. And aren’t.




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Fishing for Mackerel on the High Tide

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I am at the municipal wharf fishing next to a Filipino. (I always try to place myself next to a Filipino. Filipinos know more than anyone else about fishing from a wharf; it’s a fact!) He says the mackerel are going to come over with the high tide. I already believe that, from experience.

There are always tourists on the wharf, from a little bit of everywhere. Invariably, some are fishermen and fisherwomen, or would like to be. Two tourists have overheard us. They are from southern Indiana. It’s the first time they have actually seen the ocean, they say.

One of them asks if he heard right: you catch mackerel on the high tide? He is a fisherman himself; he fishes a lake-reservoir near Bloomington. I explain to him that the tide is high every 11 to 14 hours or so and that the sea recedes between those high marks. The mackerel, for their own very private reasons, mass on the high tides, and that’s when they look for something to eat, an anchovy, or even a shiny bare hook.

I belong myself to the tribe that values knowledge for its own sake. Fortunately, I am a fisherman.

I make a disgusting noise with my mouth to signal that the moon causes the oceans to slosh by kind of sucking on them and then releasing them. The first tourist seems interested but also puzzled by my lack of precision about the times when high tides occur. He also wants to know how important it is to respect the tides. I tell him what I know, what I think I know: you catch much more fish on the high tide than at any other time. The Filipino guy moves his head approvingly. I have instant validation. How do I figure out the tides, the first tourist asks? You can get tide tables for the current year at the tackle shop right over there. They are not exactly accurate but they are good enough for fishing; ask any expert fishermen (plural).

Hoosier number two wants to know what causes tides. He has already heard that it’s the moon. If that is so, he states, why can’t the high tide occur at exactly regular intervals? I point out to him that the moon changes its position relative to the earth pretty much all the time. And then I let him know that the sun also has an effect, a sucking effect like the moon’s but a weaker one because it’s farther away, and the earth rotation, and the local relief, and the winds, and . . .

By the time I am less than a third into my lecture on tides, tourist number two is looking at me with vacant eyes; I am afraid that his face will fall forward and hit the rough wood banister. But tourist number one now has tide tables in his hand and he is examining them with animated curiosity. The man would soon catch mackerel if he lived around here, I am thinking. The other tourist, the head-nodding one, understands tides at least 500% better than he did a short while ago. It does not matter to him at this point that he knows no more than one one-thousandth of what’s known about tides. He has no idea of this reality anyway.

The Filipino guy moves his head approvingly. I have instant validation.

I belong myself to the tribe that values knowledge for its own sake. Fortunately, I am a fisherman (an average fisherman). It helps me keep track of the fact that catching fish is also valuable, in several ways. Plus, I really like the fatty taste of mackerel. What I told the two tourists about tides serves both purposes. I believe that the first guy does not need to understand in detail the complex mechanisms of tidal motions to catch more fish. Of course, he must be convinced that I am not lying to him, that the mackerel really run on the high tide, and not on the low tide, for example

In the end, it all depends on what you want, mackerel or knowledge.

* * *

PS: When you cook mackerel, gut it but don’t remove the head, ever! Put it in a fairly hot skillet (not to a maximum heat, more like three-quarters High). Do not use oil or butter. The fish cooks best in its own fat. After it’s well seized on both sides, reduce the heat and cover to finish by steaming. It’s ready when the flesh comes off the main bone easily. Mackerel is not a wimpy fish; it’s hard to ruin. Salt only just before you serve. You can add black pepper anytime. Eat with lemon, of course. One more thing: if your spouse or partner is not a fishy-fish person you may have to trade him or her in after the second or third time you cook mackerel at home. Life is made of choices.




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The Abyss Gazes Back

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“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.
And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Though I’m a Libertarian, and in the Left-Right fight I am both-yet-neither, I’m hardly on the 50-yard line. At this stage of my political evolution, I’m considerably more likely to vote Republican than Democrat when no other option is available. In the Arizona senate race this year, I cast my ballot for Martha McSally. I did so without much enthusiasm. I am close enough to the 50-yard line — yet far enough from the field — so that when I vote either Republican or Democrat, I usually end up regretting it.

President Trump, to put it frankly, is a drama queen. He plays every scene bigly. Those who cling to his coattails seem, to me, inclined to do the same thing. Martha McSally is no exception. There were several times in her campaign when I had reason to think, per the old Marx Brothers routine, “Oh, Martha! Slowly I turned, step by step!”

Her opponent, now Senator-Elect Kyrsten Sinema, thinks it’s dandy for Americans to join the Taliban? That was the charge leveled against her by the McSally campaign. (“Step by step . . inch by inch . . ”) Actually, my very first thought, once McSally began making this claim, was that she thinks we’re all idiots. But in the 2003 interview in which Sinema made the “Taliban” comment, talk-radio host Ernie Hancock — himself a libertarian — was trying to show how liberal Sinema really was. His point was that she liked spending the taxpayers’ money on causes she considered noble. Flabbergasted when he said that as an individual, he had every right to join the Taliban (because the taxpayers wouldn’t be paying for it), and certainly thinking he was just trying to get her goat, she told him to go ahead and join: “Fine. I don't care if you want to do that, go ahead." The notion that she genuinely exhorted a middle-aged political pundit to become a terrorist is so absurd that it’s insulting anyone would expect me to believe it.

President Trump is a drama queen. He plays every scene bigly. Those who cling to his coattails seem inclined to do the same thing.

Congresswoman McSally’s views are closer to libertarian than Sinema’s, that’s for sure. It’s why I pulled the lever for the former instead of the latter. McSally generally believes in smaller government, at any rate. Though Sinema’s antiwar stance is significantly closer to mine, she is indeed a big-government booster on nearly every other issue. And I find political histrionics tiresome, regardless of which side indulges in them.

McSally used to be an Air Force fighter pilot — one of the nation’s female firsts. “I was shot at by the Taliban,” she tells us. The obvious and understandable emotion behind that assertion doesn’t change the fact that Sinema made an offhand, unscripted remark. It was a “gotcha” moment, plain and simple.

The fact that what she said would have been terribly insensitive (at the very least) had she meant it seriously does not change the fact that it was never meant to be taken seriously. She undoubtedly didn’t realize that, a decade and a half later, it would be scrounged up and used against her. But the fact of the matter was that Sinema didn’t think McSally should have been in the Middle East, flying a fighter plane, to get shot at in the first place. The whole point she’d been trying to make was that she was against the war.

The notion that Sinema genuinely exhorted a middle-aged political pundit to become a terrorist is so absurd that it’s insulting anyone would expect me to believe it.

Shenanigans like this are why libertarians — capital “L” or small — get frustrated with Republicans. The red-meat GOP base loves to call its political opponents “snowflakes.” But too often, they give the impression of being pretty snowflaky themselves. We want substance — logic — but what we so often get is emotional razzle-dazzle.

Politics these days reminds me increasingly of a black-and-white comedy. Lacking the wit of the Marx Brothers, it’s more on the level of the Three Stooges. Whenever a charge is lobbed by one side against the other, the opposition’s response is, basically, “But you started it . . . nyuk-nyuk-nyuk!” They’re forever poking their fingers in one another’s eyes and smacking one another on the head.

Yet as buffoonish as many politicians are, their antics don’t stay funny for very long. They’re taking our money and meddling in our lives. Republicans may do it less than Democrats, but they do it, all the same. When we gaze into the big-government abyss, the abyss gazes back. And there’s nothing funny about that.

The red-meat GOP base loves to call its political opponents “snowflakes.” But too often, they give the impression of being pretty snowflaky themselves.

We need a third option on the ballot: one with an “L” beside it. The only other choice in the Arizona senate race was a Green Party candidate, appropriately named Angela Green, who withdrew from the contest once it became obvious that Sinema needed her votes. Thousands of people still voted for Green, but in any case those wouldn’t have gone either to McSally or to a Libertarian.

We libertarians are prone to second-guessing our votes. The Republican Party in Arizona has done everything it can to keep us off the ballot, by rigging the system to deny us third-party status. To be frank, that didn’t endear McSally to me, either. What I probably should have done, in the choice for the senate, was vote for nobody at all.

With no third option (I would have voted for Groucho Marx before I’d have chosen Angela Green), I cast a lackluster vote, for a candidate I knew was trying to manipulate me. Though it made no difference to the outcome, I feel sullied and used. Now we have Kyrsten Sinema, a big-government, tax-and-spend “progressive,” in the US Senate seat formerly held by an at least somewhat libertarian Jeff Flake.

I believe the Republicans are fighting with monsters. The Democrats have little left in their arsenal besides cheap emotional appeals. But in stooping to their opponents’ level in the tactics they use, and in cynically shutting other candidates out, the Republicans are turning into monsters themselves. Voters are gazing into the abyss, and the abyss is gazing back.




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The Choices of Jeff Bezos

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Amazon’s choice to expand in New York City and the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC reminded me of a story I did on the company in January 1999, when I was a business reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Amazon was three and a half years old and was approaching $1 billion a year in revenue — an amount it does now in two days. Back then Amazon was operating out of an old building near the Pike Place Market above a cheap Indian restaurant and across the street from the Green Turtle youth hostel.

Its employees there worked from desks that were made from interior doors the company bought for $135 each and equipped with legs. “We have a carpenter who makes a hundred of these at a time,” Jeff Bezos told me. Bezos made a point of showing me his CEO’s desk was made from a door, too. It was a matter of priorities, he said. Amazon could not afford to piddle away its cash on fancy office furniture.

Bezos was 35 then. On paper he was worth $9 billion, though the company had not yet earned a nickel’s worth of profit.

Back then Amazon was operating out of an old building above a cheap Indian restaurant and across the street from the Green Turtle youth hostel.

In those days I wrote a lot of company features, which included an interview with the CEO and a walk around the plant. I always included the story of the founding, which in Amazon’s case was about how Bezos chose Seattle. Bezos wasn’t from here; he was from New York, where he’d been working on Wall Street. His idea for Amazon was an internet business to sell books, which were standard products, easy to handle, cheap to ship, and didn’t require after-market service. You might think such a business could be set up anywhere, but the location was important. It had to have good airline connections, for example.

The biggest thing, he told me, was the labor market. In order to grow, it had to have a deep pool of computer-savvy talent. The deepest pool on the West Coast was in Silicon Valley, but he avoided that place because the competition for talent was too fierce. He didn’t want to have to bid against Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Apple. Microsoft had created its own talent pool in Seattle, and he was happy to dip into that.

When the movers came to his apartment in New York, he said, he still hadn’t decided where to start his company. He had narrowed it down to four Western cities: Boulder, Colorado; Reno, Nevada; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle. Portland and Reno, he decided, were too small; Boulder was near Denver, which was big enough. Well, he chose Seattle, which is now packed with 40,000 Amazon employees.

In order to grow, Amazon had to have a deep pool of computer-savvy talent.

Some commentators noticed that Bezos chose one of the seven states with no income tax, and suggested that when he went looking for “HQ2,” he would choose one of the others — Texas, maybe, perhaps Austin. If he had chosen Austin, the anti-income-tax people would have made hay over that.

A columnist in the Seattle Times, Danny Westneat, writes that by choosing New York City and suburban Washington DC, Amazon has thrown in with “two of the most expensive, high-tax environments in the nation,” places that have personal and corporate income taxes, including a city income tax in New York. Such a choice puts paid to the notion that a company like Amazon will go to the place with the best “tax climate.”

I have no objection to Amazon accepting subsidies—government’s offering them is another matter.

Was Amazon chasing subsidies? It was offered big ones by New York and by Virginia — but then, it was offered even bigger ones by other jurisdictions, and it turned them down. I have no objection to Amazon accepting subsidies (government’s offering them is another matter); Bezos owes it to his shareholders, including himself, to get the best deal he can. But he also owes them, and himself, the discipline not to be bribed into making a bad decision.

I note in the news reports that Amazon says it chose New York and metro Washington in search of the best pools of tech talent — which is the same thing Bezos told me about Seattle 20 years ago.

None of this is to say that a state’s tax and regulatory climates are not important. Texas has been growing faster than New York, and one of the obvious reasons is that Texas has fewer regulations and taxes. But to Bezos, that difference is not the most important one, and not enough to tip the balance in favor of Texas.

All of which assumes he is making a good decision.




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