Worker’s Rights Advance, Under the Radar

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In the firestorm of news reports surrounding President Trump’s nominees and Russia’s hacking, some great news about workers’ rights has been overlooked. But in January, without any fanfare, Kentucky adopted a right-to-work (RTW) law.

An RTW law simply gives workers in any business where the workers are unionized the right not to support (i.e., join or pay dues to) the union. Without RTW laws, unions can and often do compel workers to join or support them in spite of their desires. While the right to join a union is protected by federal law, the right to refuse to join is not so protected. It is up to the states to pass RTW laws, and counting Kentucky, 27 states have now done so.

The Kentucky House of Representatives first passed the measure by a vote of 58–39. What allowed this to happen was a massive recent historical change: the Republicans took control (by a nearly 2-to-1 margin) of the chamber, which had been controlled by Democrats for nearly a century. Shortly thereafter the bill was passed by the Republican-controlled Senate, in a rare Saturday session, and the Governor — Matt Bevin, also a Republican — immediately signed it into law.

Short-term, this was a fabulous deal for the auto workers, giving them a seemingly crazy amount of job security. But in the long run, it drove the automakers off a fiscal cliff.

The reaction to this by Kentucky union leaders was predictably bitter. Bill Londrigan, head of the Kentucky AFL-CIO, angrily barked, “Right-to-work is simply a clever slogan designed to undermine union resources.” Caitlin Lally, of the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council, lamented, “The future of the fight is in . . . trying to stop the erosion of wages, benefits and safety.”

This is nonsense, of course. There are several compelling arguments about why it is morally repugnant to force workers to support a union, arguments that are winning out in state after state.

First, unions justify forcing workers to support them with the free rider argument: since the unions deliver great contracts to the workers, it is right to make every worker pay dues. However, it is by no means clear that unions negotiate contracts that benefit the workers overall and long-term. For example, the contracts the United Auto Workers were able to force upon US automakers included provisions that seemed great — such as the one requiring the companies to keep all employees on at full pay when any of the companies shuttered a plant (say, because the model made at the plant wasn’t selling). Short-term, this was a fabulous deal for the auto workers, giving them a seemingly crazy amount of job security. But in the long run, it drove the automakers off a fiscal cliff, resulting in the bankruptcy of two of them, and in turn requiring taxpayers to pay massive amounts of subsidies to keep the companies alive.

Second, the right to free association applies to all parties. You and your friends are free to form a club, free from any interference by me. But I have the same right to refuse to join, no matter how much you might think it would benefit me to be a member. Similarly with unions: the right of private-sector workers is sacrosanct, and nobody — least of all I — proposes to take it away. But the right to opt out of the union should therefore be recognized as equally sacrosanct.

Workers who are pro-Second Amendment find with alarm that their dues fund politicians intent on ending gun rights.

To this, union apologists offer the freedom-to-contract argument: workers and management have the right to contract freely, so if a company’s workers can get management to agree to a contract compelling all workers to support the union, the rest of us shouldn’t interfere. But the union apologists are intellectually dishonest here, since they support the federal law that prohibits “yellow dog” contracts — that is, contracts that forbid unionization. If there is freedom of contract, then yellow dog contracts should be allowed, too.

Finally, there is the point made by Thomas Jefferson: “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” Unions typically use worker dues for the lavish support of politicians and political organizations that are typically Left-liberal in orientation. So workers who are pro-life find with disgust that their dues go to support extreme pro-choice candidates, and workers who are pro-Second Amendment find with alarm that their dues fund politicians intent on ending gun rights.

More good news for worker freedom may be just around the corner: both Missouri and New Hampshire are considering RTW laws, and both have newly elected Republican governors who have indicated that they support free choice for workers.




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Crowded Out

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The first 48 hours of the Trump Administration were nothing if not illuminating. Following a dour, dire inaugural address in which the new president affirmed his commitment to faux-macho militarism and the destruction of free trade, Trump and VP Pence set off on the traditional post-inaugural parade. But much of the parade route was lined, not with adoring supporters, but with empty bleachers. Measured against Trump’s promise of an “unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout,” the entire day fell flat — especially when compared to Obama’s numbers in 2008 (or even in 2012, the much less “hopeful” time around). Aerial photos confirmed that Trump’s crowds did not stack up: there were huge gaps on the Mall, some of them even visible on the live TV feeds when Wolf Blitzer or someone equally dim tried to talk about a “teeming mass of humanity” that was not in evidence.

Measured against Trump’s promise of an “unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout,” the entire day fell flat.

The Trump team had many options available to explain this disappointment. First, the weather: dreary, overcast, continually promising rain that arrived right in time for Trump’s address. Second, the demographics: of course Obama would pull more people from DC and its suburbs, the center of the swamp that Trump has appointed himself (and half of Goldman Sachs) to drain. Third, the economics: heartland Republicans might wish to be there for the historic moment, but the depredations of Obama have left them unable to travel outside their own red states. Fourth: the priorities — and this would be a stretch for any politician, but bear with me: they could have said that the inauguration itself wasn’t what was important; rather, what mattered was individual taxpayers working to better their lives in their own communities, not traveling to pay homage to a new would-be god-king.

Faced with these and other possibilities, the Trump team chose the expediency of bald-faced lies.

When press secretary Sean Spicer took the podium on Saturday for a press briefing, he refused to accept any question, delivering instead a diatribe against the media for misrepresenting the crowds, which he estimated at “a million to a million and a half people” — a transparent falsehood. Asked about these remarks the next day, advisor Kellyanne Conway referred to Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts.” Alternative facts!

Of course, Trump never lies without also personally attacking the people he’s lying about. During a rambling, borderline unhinged speech to the CIA, of all people, he referred to the media as “the most dishonest human beings” — something which might be accurate, apart from the grotesquely dishonest context in which he was giving utterance. Other admin statements took a threatening tone: Reince Preibus spoke of “not allowing” the media’s obsessive quest to “delegitimize the president”; Spicer himself warned menacingly that the administration would hold the press “accountable” for, one assumes, telling the obvious truth.

They could have had a crowd of one geezer and a flatulent dog and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the fat stack of executive orders Trump is about to sign.

And here’s the thing: the DC press corps is packed full of liars, courtesans, and ass-kissers. Any other president would let these natural sycophants do their work for them: just promise them access and appear even vaguely “presidential,” and they’ll swallow anything — just look at the Bush buildup to the Iraq War, or any major Obama initiative. Trump & Co. have instead made clear that they will fight to the death anyone who doubts the anointed — a policy which would leave us soon with Breitbart and (maybe) Fox News as our new Pravdas. If he had wanted to float supreme above the press, that would be one thing — that would at least promise the pleasure of toppling an icon. Instead, he seems to desire endless flattery and coos of reassurance. For someone who claims to value masculine independence, he’s proving himself such a whiny, fragile little snowflake.

All of this, meanwhile, over just the most pointless thing, something not even worth lying about. The crowd size doesn’t matter, any more than the popular vote does, or anything else that isn’t direct, concrete governance. They could have had a crowd of one geezer and a flatulent dog and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the fat stack of executive orders Trump is about to sign. This, in fact, is the main danger facing the press corps, as well as the historically huge crowds that turned out to protest Trump the day after his inauguration: they’ll once again think they’ve vanquished him, when they won’t have delayed for even a second anything those working through him have planned.

In the meantime, though, the lesson remains: either Trump’s ego is such that he can’t bear coming off second best on any comparison to Obama, or he really is so beholden to audience numbers and ratings that he literally can’t see things anyway, or (more sinisterly) the administration wanted an early test case to see who would echo their lies, even when hard data and common sense both dictate clearly otherwise. Either way, it’s indication and confirmation of exactly how far we should trust anyone connected to the White House: the distance between a fact and its alternative.



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The Challenge of a Sectional Election

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In 1860 occurred the most momentous election in American history. Abraham Lincoln swept the North, receiving essentially no votes in the South. The southern Democrat, John C. Breckinridge, swept the South but received fewer than 100,000 of his total 670,000 votes from the North (if you include California, which gave him one-third of those Northern votes). The sectional South could not stand the idea of working with a sectional Northerner as president, and seceded. The election of 1860 was the fatal overture to the Civil War.

When one compares the electoral map of 1860 with the electoral map of 2016, one is hard pressed to say which election was more geographically polarized.

Fewer voters switched to the Democrats; indeed, many Democrats refused to be lured to the polls to vote for anyone.

The 1860 map is complicated by the fact that Stephen A. Douglas, candidate of the national Democrats, won some counties in the deep South and many counties among the Republicans of the Old Northwest. Breckinridge, the southerner, won counties in California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, while the border-state Constitutional Union candidate, John Bell, won many counties in the deep South as well as the border states. Compare 2016, when Hillary Clinton won most of the coastal West, most of New England, African American counties of the South, Hispanic or American Indian counties of the Southwest, parts of the upper Mississippi inheriting a kind of progressivism from German American or Scandinavian American roots, and geographically isolated large cities, university towns, and state capitals. Oh, and she won the government employees in northern Virginia. This sounds like a lot, until you notice that the rest of the country went for Trump — the vast length and breadth of the nation, over five-sixths of its counties. Not only did all of this go for Trump; it often went for him by majorities as large as or larger than those that Clinton piled up in coastal cities.

Things were very different in 1992, when Mrs. Clinton’s husband beat the Republican, George H.W. Bush. Back then, you could find a Democratic county without driving very far, even though Clinton won with only 43% of the vote.

The change toward a more sectionally divided America has been going on for a while, but maps of voter change show a geographical intensification in 2016, resulting largely from a rush of formerly Democratic voters to Trump. Fewer voters switched to the Democrats; indeed, many Democrats refused to be lured to the polls to vote for anyone. But there has been a very strong, though unquantifiable, intensification of antipathy toward Republicans in core Democratic areas.

The ten Democratic US senators who do not come from safe districts, who come in fact from states that Trump carried, and who are up for reelection in 2018, are not boycotting.

Meanwhile, Republicans have inexorably captured state house after state house. They now occupy the governors’ chairs and control the legislatures in 25 states, Democrats in only 6. On the other side, the government of California hired a former Democratic attorney general of the United States to defend it against any attack by President Trump — before President Trump even came into office — and Democratic cities have declared that they will defy the administration in regard to the prosecution of illegal immigrants and other issues of concern. Sixty or so Democratic members of Congress have advertised their inability to live with a Republican administration by boycotting the new president’s inauguration — many even questioning the legitimacy of his election.

It is notable that these are all, or almost all, members from safe districts. The ten Democratic US senators who do not come from safe districts, who come in fact from states that Trump carried, and who are up for reelection in 2018, are not boycotting. If, by 2018, nothing changes (which something very well may), these senators will be out of office, and the political sectionalization of the United States will be further intensified.

A little bit of context may be helpful, one way or another. Despite popular belief, no one got a majority of the popular vote in 2016: Trump got 46.1%; Clinton got 48.2%. But Lincoln got only 39.8% — an indication of considerably greater sectional feeling. In 1860 the two-party system crumbled into four parties, owing not just to Southern refusal to acknowledge the possibility of life with a Republican president but also to Southern and Northern hatred of a non-sectional candidate, Douglas. The question would be: was either Clinton or Trump a non-sectional candidate, in the contemporary sense?

There is nothing like the chance of losing one’s livelihood to spur people to desperate acts.

To continue: in today’s political mix there is no fundamental, essentially unsolvable problem such as slavery. What divides the two sections of the country is, I believe, the predominance of the “liberal” bureaucrats and wealthy “capitalists” who cluster in large cities and on the coasts. This predominance can be reduced or increased by action on a variety of fronts, all of which will witness vast outpourings of bile, but no actual secession. On the other hand, there is nothing like the chance of losing one’s livelihood to spur people to desperate acts, and that is what we are seeing in the contest between phased-out industrial communities, now backing Republicans, and state employees and benefit-recipients, backing Democrats.

This is not a spectacle that most libertarians will enjoy. Some reforms that libertarians desire will be enacted by either local Democrats or national or local Republicans, but they will be tainted by today’s violent party spirit, and broadly discredited. I do not sense the spirit of limited government in the fact that most state governments are now one-party states. And when I look at the map of congressional districts in the election of 2016, I see a vast expanse of safe districts, hardening into total irresponsibility. When you add the element of real hatred and hysteria, fostered during the election by political operatives and pressure groups and continued thereafter as a way to keep donations flowing, I see a period in which antipathy will blind people on both sides to any form of political rationality.

But yes, I hope I’m wrong.




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A Field Guide to Humanoids

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In one of Woody Allen’s best films, Manhattan, he portrays a television comedy writer who gets fed up with the triviality of his job. He doesn’t want to make audiences laugh at people anymore, because he no longer finds people very funny. Only as he’s quitting do we learn the name of the program for which he writes: Human Beings — Wow! There are surely times — perhaps daily — when our sentiments echo those of that title. Sometimes we find the fellow members of our species funny, but painfully often we can’t.

Equal parts children of the gods and descendants of the apes, we possess about the same number of traits from each. If aliens from outer space were to come to earth, intent on learning all they could about us, they’d probably be puzzled. Just as birdwatchers consult field guides to the species native to their area, our visiting aliens might make good use of a field guide to humanoids. Having studied the human drama all my life, I think I could write a pretty decent one. I know just what I’d want to tell them, especially if they ever obtained the vote.

One of the main strategies of statists is dehumanizing the opposition. It must be evil, and it must never change.

The political forces that would control us want to keep us alienated from one another. They employ the time-tested tactic of divide and conquer. They don’t want us to understand human nature, because then we would learn how to get along with one another. We’d never achieve perfect harmony, no matter how much we understood, but we’d certainly be able to function without constant, heavy-handed government supervision.

One of the main strategies of statists is dehumanizing the opposition. It must be evil, and it must never change. If it could be seen to improve, gradually becoming less evil and generally better, the state would no longer be needed to protect its minions from that wicked force.

What does it look like when people change their minds about an issue? Our statist lords and masters don’t want us to know. If we came to recognize it, we might be more patient with those who disagree with us. If we realized how effective nonaggressive persuasion can be, we’d be willing to use that instead of the coercion to which we feel we must resort if we’re sure nothing else will work.

Most of my friends and relatives are leftists. When I try to get them to understand what’s really going on in this country — as opposed to the twaddle they’re told — I get dogged resistance. They don’t want to understand the changes that are taking place. Their heads are stuck deep in the 20th century, and a mythical version, at that.

If aliens from outer space were to come to earth, intent on learning all they could about us, they’d probably be puzzled.

When people change their minds, the process is usually one of gradual evolution. They usually think (or want to think) that they arrived at their new opinion totally on their own, without having been persuaded by anyone else. Sometimes they even try to pretend that they never thought any other way.

They’re not going to publicly flagellate themselves for their errors, no matter how cathartic the spectacle might be for others. I know that I don’t like getting even a private flogging for mine. I sometimes do from conservatives, when I admit that I used to be a leftist. “So you know you were wrong, now . . . huh, huh, huh?” They actually think that treating me like a poorly housebroken dog and grinding my nose into a pile of poop will get me properly trained.

It shouldn’t be made personal, because it really isn’t, as the trite saying goes, “about us.” Truth existed for eons before we were born, and it will endure long after we are gone. It’s bigger than we are. We need it, but it does not need us.

I’ve seen tremendous change in many conservatives, particularly on issues like gay rights. Leftists are deathly afraid to admit this. Donald Trump is probably less hostile to gays than any president in history before Obama, but the LGBTQWERTY left has utterly convinced itself that his administration is going to herd them into boxcars and ship them off to some new Dachau.

After hearing this fear expressed for at least the five thousandth time, I finally blew my stack. I asked a sad and quaking, safety-pin-wearing friend exactly what he thought it would look like if conservatives finally changed their minds about gays — humoring him by assuming, for the sake of argument, that a great number of them already haven’t. He gave me a long, blank look, like a schoolboy who’d failed to study for an exam. Then he launched into a litany of government actions that conservatives “must” support to show how really, really, really, really sorry they are for having been such meanies.

They’re not going to publicly flagellate themselves for their errors, no matter how cathartic the spectacle might be for others.

The concept of change happening organically in society — instead of being engineered by government — is totally foreign to him. He can’t fathom the possibility that people might be persuaded by logic and experience. Everything must be forced to happen. People who think this way are abysmally and inexcusably ignorant of human nature. It’s almost as if they came to this planet along with those visiting aliens and — like them — were seeing it now for the very first time.

If we don’t learn to understand each other, eventually we will destroy each other. There have been legends about extraterrestrial visitors since the days of the Pharaohs. We keep scaring ourselves by speculating that they might someday try to conquer and colonize this planet. I don’t think we need to worry.

They’ve been watching us through their binoculars and muttering, “Human Beings — Wow!” Like Woody Allen, they may not mean that as a compliment.




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A Cheap Date

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Politically speaking, libertarians can seem like a cheap date. We’re good enough for a nice time, when a prettier, sexier option is unavailable. But let’s face it, whenever the supermodel or the football hero flashes a flirtatious smile, a lot of our potential partners will desert us.

These days, we’re doing plenty of strategizing. Should we take this course, or that? I’ll switch to the team sports metaphor that works so well in politics. For the most part, the choice appears to come down to the following: do we woo players from Team Red or Team Blue? Our franchise is perpetually struggling to stay competitive, and free agents are again beginning to shop their allegiances around.

Both Left and Right recognize how obnoxious — even downright dangerous — big government can be when people they don’t like have control of it.

The ever-shifting team standings have not altered the opinion I’ve held for the last several years. We need to take as many players as we can from both sides. Their willingness to sign with our franchise depends largely on where their team sits in the rankings. This is tiresome, the situation is silly, and most of them are idiots. But however degrading it is that we need to include them in our considerations at all, thisin no way alters the facts.

To put the matter as simply as possible, when their team is winning, they have little desire to abandon it. But when the other side gains the upper hand, they start getting itchy. They recognize how obnoxious — even downright dangerous — big government can be when people they don’t like have control of it. Even though it strikes them as a dandy idea when they think they might, however indirectly, wield power, as the Left believed it did through Obama, and the Right now anticipates doing through Trump.

Cheap dates can take comfort in one thing. Sometimes those who condescend to date us actually fall in love with us. They may only be looking for a good time at the moment, but once they’re close enough to actually get to know us, our philosophy may take hold. That is obviously the case every time the political pendulum swings from one side to the other, because our numbers are increasing. Perhaps not as rapidly as we’d like, but steadily nonetheless.

Our country is so deeply in the thrall of statist authoritarianism that growth may not happen for the liberty movement in any other way. When we peruse the mainstream media’s coverage of libertarian ideas — and that coverage is always scant, at best — we can plainly see that what there is of it is usually inaccurate, or even slanderous. They started out with Gary Johnson’s 2016 campaign byportraying him as a pothead, and after his unfortunate “Aleppo moment” — so unfortunate that it has apparently become code for “disastrous gaffe” — they used it to define him totally. But the good news, which no mainstream media site is ever going to bring us, is that a fast-growing majority ofthe country no longer trusts them to tell it what to think. The opportunity for libertarians to win new hearts and minds has never been greater.

The segment of the population it makes the most sense for us to woo is the independent middle. This is the category in which the “experts” try to stick libertarians when they don’t know what sense to make of us, or when they simply want to make us disappear. Though nonpartisan “moderates” are stereotyped as ignorant, or as just not caring about politics, there are far too many of them to be so mindlessly dismissed.

Our country is so deeply in the thrall of statist authoritarianism that growth may not happen for the liberty movement in any other way.

When our philosophy is explained to them by people not invested in distorting it, we often find that they are kindred spirits. Libertarianism is a treasure such individuals are happy to discover, because it explains things they’ve never been able to make sense of before. They very well may be better matched with us than those who’ve been weak-minded enough to waste years of their lives as authoritarians in the first place.

I suspect that Donald Trump will turn out to be very nearly as big a tyrant and bully as Hillary Clinton would have been. If we’re counting on keeping all the converts who defected from the political Right during the Obama years, the flash and dash of The Donald will prove irresistible to quite a number, and our hearts will be broken yet again. Over the course of the Trump regime, however long it lasts, many leftists with the sense to be at least temporarily scared by big government will bat their lashes at us and whisper sweet nothings in our ears. Some who originated on the Right will stay with us but others won’t, and we can be pretty sure that our success rate in keeping converts from the Left will be similar.

Our hearts are precious; we should guard them. We need to keep ourselves true to what we’ve come to recognize as truth, come what may — knowing that, after all, we’re worth more than a cheap date, and trusting that the people worthy of our devotion will be the marrying kind.




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Gas Expands!

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An amazing and welcome development has been achieved. As the Wall Street Journal just reported, for the first time in six decades, America exported more natural gas than it imported. It has once again become a net exporter of natural gas, and this new export sector will grow rapidly.

The net export volume is starting modestly: in November we exported 7.4 billion cubic feet (BCF) per day, while still importing 7.0 BCF per day. But no one doubts that from this modest start the volume of exports will grow. American gas exports have gone up by 50% over the past six years, and the Energy Department projects that we will be the third-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by 2020 — behind only Australia and Qatar. Citigroup estimates that by 2020 the US will be supplying to the rest of the world about 20% of the natural gas it produces.

No one doubts that from this modest start the volume of natural gas exports will grow.

To cite one example of success: Cheniere Energy opened a facility in the Sabine Pass (on the border of Texas and Louisiana). It was originally intended to import LNG, but the fracking revolution so decreased the price of natural gas that the plant was quickly “reverse-designed” to export it. Since February, when the plant started shipments of LNG, its output has grown to an average of 1.5 BCF exported per day. Not surprisingly, Cheniere is expanding the Sabine Pass plant rapidly, and will open more export facilities over the next two years.

Three years ago, the Freeport LNG facility at Quintana Island, Texas, got approval to export LNG, and it will begin exporting massive quantities of LNG in two years. Next year, Dominion Resources will start exporting LNG to India and Japan.

The only way this US export industry won’t grow is if the government — intentionally or by simple bungling — stops it.

So this trend toward America becoming the dominant reliable supplier of LNG for the whole damn planet will not just continue — it will accelerate. Thank you again, free market: remarkably shrewd private individuals, acting primarily out of self-interest, came up with a way — fracking — to make domestic oil and natural gas plentiful again, and plentiful indefinitely. Government subsidized losers — technologies such as wind and solar energy — but the free market found the efficient answer.

In fact, the only way this US export industry won’t grow is if the government — intentionally or by simple bungling — stops it. The progressive liberal Democrats hate fracking, of course. Obama did everything he could to impede it — such as taking an unprecedented amount of land out of public use — although most of the land upon which fracking operations are happening is private. Hillary Clinton repeatedly stated her total opposition to fracking (not to mention coal), which likely was a major factor in her ignominious loss to Donald Trump.

Speaking of Trump, he may ironically set back the natural gas export boom brought by fracking. For while he certainly claims to support it, the largest customers of our natural gas are, outside of ourselves, our NAFTA partners, Canada and Mexico. Together they are buying a record high of our total output. But Trump — a populist to the core — hates free trade, and has targeted NAFTA as a “bad deal” for America. His bungling trade policy could well get us into trade wars with the very countries that could become our biggest future energy export markets.




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President Blunderbuss

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I have a confession to make. Some of our readers won’t like it. In other quarters, it might lose me friends. But even though I didn’t vote for Donald Trump — in fact, I argued in these pages for a Libertarian vote — I’m glad he won.

On election day, I was downcast. All the self-proclaimed experts predicted a big win for Hillary Clinton. Under the current and blessedly soon-to-be-past Democratic administration, my financial prospects lurched from bad to worse. I wasn’t sure where I’d be after four to eight years of the Queen Presumptive’s rule.

Then came that rollercoaster evening of election returns. As more and more of the mainstream media’s pundits beat their breasts and wept, my mourning turned to gladness. Or, at the very least, to relief. The lesser of two evils may indeed, as the maxim says, still be an evil. But unlike the evil of a Hillary Clinton presidency, this one is unlikely to destroy our country.

On Facebook, I am happy to have many libertarian friends. Some, like me, are happy that Trump will be the next president. Others thunder that they warned us not to sully ourselves by voting, and that even rooting from the sidelines for either of the contending “Republicrats” gave aid and comfort to aggression. That being a thing to which any good libertarian must, by ironclad principle, stand opposed.

Well, I frankly disagree. In fact, I think these folks would do well to reexamine our cherished nonaggression principle in the cold light of present reality. Certainly it opposes the initiation of force against others. But it accords us every right to self-defense.

Do I want thugs to break into my house and brutalize and rob me? That’s what the Democrats have done for the past eight years. It’s what they would undoubtedly have continued to do, if the coronation of Hillary Clinton had gone on according to plan.

By every sane interpretation of the nonaggression principle, if I am sitting peacefully in my living room recliner, and thugs break through my door, I have every right to grab my gun. Now, my weapon of choice happens to be a Lady Smith .357 Magnum. But that particular Lady didn’t happen to run for president this year.

The weapon that ran, and won, is more of a blunderbuss. Donald Trump is noisy, crude, and uncouth. His buckshot singes the whiskers of everybody near him — friend as well as foe. When he takes aim, though he usually hits his target, it’s seldom with great precision. But in a pinch, when our backs are against the wall and our enemies are closing in, a blunderbuss is a mighty good thing to have handy.




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Manna from Heaven

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When we talk of economics, we often do it by means of labels and mantras. Discussing economic subjects in this way means that we do not fully discuss them; we just use words and phrases that suggest preconceived notions. I think this is because economics is predominantly political, and “political” is another way of saying “snake oil sales.”

One mantra that I often hear is people’s invocation of a Robin Hood morality, the morality of robbing Peter to pay Paul: Robin Hood cared for the poor downtrodden (Paul) with the wealth he stole from the fat cats (Peter). What is ignored about this fairy tale is that Peter is the lord of the land who uses his governmental authority to confiscate the property of Paul, the peasants. Robin is a hero because he fights the totalitarian government of Peter to return confiscated wealth to oppressed taxpayers.

What got me thinking about the labels that political commentators use in discussing economics was Hillary Clinton’s assertion that Donald Trump’s plan to cut taxes in order to revive the economy was just “Trumped up trickle-down.” “Trickle-down” is the label often used by the political enemies of leaving wealth in the hands of CEOs and others of corporate administrative rank. The “trickle-down” label comes from the idea that these people spend the wealth hiring workers to construct whatever their companies’ products may be. Thus, wealth “trickles down” from the wealthy administrators to the needy workers.

Robin Hood is a hero because he fights the totalitarian government to return confiscated wealth to oppressed taxpayers.

But what is the government’s economic system of high taxes and “wealth redistribution”? In its intention, the wealth redistribution system is also trickle-down. In this system, government takes the place of corporate administration. It accumulates wealth — by taxation. This wealth is then supposed to trickle down to the subjects of the government, by means of redistribution programs. So, why is trickle-down bad when wealth trickles down from company administration, but good when it trickles down from government?

The feudal system that I mentioned when talking about Robin Hood was actually a wealth redistribution system. But in such systems, does wealth really trickle down? “Trickle-down” is appropriate to the sales pitch used by politicians when they claim that they intend to do such things as pay for infrastructure, education, and retirement. However, the wealth redistribution system is, in fact, trickle-out. “Trickle-out” means that the government takes wealth from its subjects and distributes it to its preferred lobbyists. Think military contractors, Elon Musk, and Planned Parenthood. Those are a few examples. Does the wealth ever get back to the subjects? Well, some does, but the amount that the subjects get is inversely proportional to the number of lobbyists who get some of the wealth before it makes its way back.

Politicians claim the place of God: they sell themselves as all-powerful beings that you need to take care of you.

The lobbyists and their clients reward the government by giving back some of the loot they received, prompting politicians to increase their take by selling more and more “economic stimuli” to the public, as if they were actually providing some kind of free food.

In the book of Exodus, God gives the children of Israel a miraculous food called manna, which is meant to sustain them on their journey out of servitude to the king of Egypt. In the modern form of this story, politicians claim the place of God: they sell themselves as all-powerful beings that you need to take care of you. They prefer this story about themselves to the reality of “trickle-down,” which is how we truly get our bread from heaven. In every light rain, water trickles down from above; this water is the food for plants, and thus the origin of our daily bread. And I think this is why politicians hate trickle-down economics: our food comes from sources beyond their control. This kind of economics dethrones them from their delusion of almighty power; and it exempts us — if we reflect on it — from our dependency on them.




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The Hamilton Duel

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Experiencing the unexpected is one of the things I love about live theater, so I would love to have been in the audience when the cast of Hamilton decided to explain their position to vice-president-elect Mike Pence the weekend before Thanksgiving. (Although I would not have been happy if it had been my first experience with the play.) I support the right of the cast to exercise their free speech, and I agree with those who say they were respectful and sincere. They even silenced the booing. Sort of.

However, I wish the cast had trusted their art more. Everything they said in their speech was heartfelt and important. But it had already been said in the play. Storytelling is a powerful art form, perhaps the most powerful way of expressing a message, because it touches the heart as well as the mind. It’s the reason I’m so passionate about film. And when you add music, the power increases exponentially. The lecture simply wasn’t necessary.

I remember the night I saw Hamiltonshortly after it opened, before I had heard the music or the hype. It was a transformative experience, and I’m glad it wasn’t marred by a post-performance lecture. I stayed at my seat until the last chord of the postlude and applauded one more time. The music stayed with me as I left the theater. The play ends with an epilogue focusing on the women in Hamilton’s life and what they did to preserve his legacy and his writings after his death, and I thought about their contribution to the cause of liberty during the Revolution.

Everything they said in their speech was heartfelt and important. But it had already been said in the play.

As I walked to the train station, I contemplated the rich heritage portrayed in the play, particularly as demonstrated in the casting of ethnic minorities in all the major roles and most of the ensemble. It made me think more deeply about those revolutionaries we usually see depicted in brocade finery and speaking the king’s English, men who were actually more like the Occupy movement of our day. It made me wonder whether I would have been a royalist or a revolutionary, something I never questioned before. It also helped me understand the royalists’ position better, and how hard it must have been to give up a way of life that had been comfortable and familiar to them. Would I have been willing to sacrifice all that I have for the ideal of freedom?

In short, I got it, in my mind and in my heart, through the storytelling and the music. The audience who saw the play with Mike Pence also had an unforgettable experience, but I doubt that it was focused on the music or the story.

It made me wonder whether I would have been a royalist or a revolutionary, something I never questioned before.

Like the characters they play onstage, the actors took a risk Friday night. It wasn’t a risk to their lives but to their livelihoods. I admire their courage and their sincerity. But they weren’t the only ones at risk that night. I can only imagine the consternation of the Secret Service agents as they tried to move their charge from the crowded theater before the curtain calls were ended, as they are instructed to do. Transitions are always the most dangerous time for a Secret Service agent, so it must have been a nightmare for them when the cast invited the audience to take out their cellphones to record the speech, and everyone reached into their purses and pockets! They put everyone at risk at that moment. Fortunately Secret Service agents have better training than cops, and no one was trigger-happy. I’m sure they surrounded Mr. Pence with their bodies, ready to take a bullet rather than use one. But there could have been a tragic outcome as everyone reached for those phones.

So yes, the cast of Hamilton had every right to say what they said, just as those who argued both sides of the issue that weekend had every right to express their opinions. I just wish the cast had trusted their art to tell the story and convey the message by itself. Perhaps they could have invited Mr. Pence backstage to talk to them about his experience and their hopes in a meaningful way. They knew he was coming, so they could have arranged it ahead of time. Then the news story might have been about Mr. Pence’s response to the play, instead of everyone else’s response to the lecture.




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Weaponized Fear

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On the Sunday after the election, during the coffee hour following Mass at my Episcopal church, a parishioner went around the social hall doling out safety pins. Accompanying them were flyers telling us how comforted and loved we were supposed to feel, thanks to kind souls who — well, gave us safety pins and flyers. Just in case any of us somehow missed the point, he’d also tacked the flyers up in the hall, the narthex, and the parish house.

I declined to take one of his special safety pins. And, just because sometimes I’m ornery that way, I asked him exactly what it is we’re supposed to feel safe from. Perhaps appropriate for someone handing out safety pins, once used to fasten cloth diapers, he responded in baby-talk.

For all their supposed kindness, compassion, and moral superiority over the rest of us, the “progressives” of today are among the most hostile and aggressive people I have ever seen.

Though I tried to be polite, I’m fairly sure that my annoyance showed through. I am heartily sick of the crocodile tears of those who refuse to accept the election of Donald Trump. I didn’t vote for him, but he won — and I was brought up to believe that regardless of whether they like the outcomes, adults simply accept the results of lawful elections as matters of fact. What I have a hard time accepting is Hillary Clinton’s troopers bringing their petulant “not my president” nonsense into church.

The safety pin missionary smiled his kindly Christian smile. But his eyes glazed and his jaw clenched. He clearly wanted to sock me. I must admit that at that particular moment, I didn’t feel particularly safe. For all their supposed kindness, compassion, and moral superiority over the rest of us, the “progressives” of today are among the most hostile and aggressive people I have ever seen.

It wasn’t enough to foist his magical talismans off on us during coffee hour. In the middle of a meeting of the St. Anne’s Guild — an Episcopal women’s organization — he burst in to pass them around. When they came to me, I dropped them. I confess I can’t be sure it was entirely accidental.

Am I overreacting? Is there anything wrong, at heart, with this ministry of the diaper pin? There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to comfort fearful people. I suppose I’d find these admonitions not to be afraid more comforting — not to mention more convincing — if they weren’t coming from the very people turning a blind eye to mass tantrums that degenerate into riots. In an instant, this crowd can go from speaking pabulum words of peace to screaming through a bullhorn.

Fear is the weapon of tyrants. Statists are, at the very least, tyrants-in-training.

I’d be the last to deny that fear has reached pestilential levels in our society. We see it everywhere, and it motivates more of what we do than most of us would care to admit. When our “fear” button is pressed too often, and too hard, it gets stuck in the “on” position. And an overload of fear — especially during an extended period — goads us into rage. Rage is nothing more or less than weaponized fear.

Fear is the weapon of tyrants. Statists are, at the very least, tyrants-in-training. Donald Trump has poured his share of gasoline on the fire. Not so much in what he’s said, himself, but in the hordes of supporters who, throughout his campaign, he encouraged to be angry and little else. They were angry because they were afraid, and because they were so angry they’ve made many other people afraid.

This vicious cycle won’t be stopped by people who condemn fearmongering only in those with whom they disagree, while condoning it in their political allies. I believe that Trump supporters would have been equally quick to kick, scream, and turn blue if their candidate had lost the election. Those who behave that way are certainly very likely to be afraid. But they don’t hesitate to throw their rivals into the most ungodly terror they are capable of inspiring.

The safety-pin crusade was, in itself, an act of aggression. That it masqueraded as an attempt to be comforting fooled nobody who wasn’t willing to be fooled. It was infantile, as acts of aggression usually are. If protestors against our constitutionally stipulated political process continue to behave like irrational children, they will destroy this country. And any church that doesn’t stop this nonsense from happening in what its parishioners trust to be sacred space will eventually find its entire body of believers in diapers, and nothing in the collection plate but safety pins.




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