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More on Charlottesville

I thought I had said everything that needed to be said about Nazis in America and the need for anyone who lives liberty to denounce them. But, judging from my social media feeds, too many people still don’t get it. And, then there was President Trump’s truly appalling press conference. So a few thoughts to further clarify:

1. There will be many occasions to denounce the violent rhetoric and tactics of Antifa and their allies on the Left. THIS IS NOT IT! This is about the evil represented by nazis, white supremacists, and the rest of their ilk. They should be denounced without appending a “but” to that condemnation. In fact, failure to condemn racists and racism in unambiguous terms strips you of the moral authority to call out the violent Left the next tine they deserve it.

2. Too much of the moral equivalency argument focuses on the violence. Yes, some Antifa supporters came looking for trouble, and happily joined in the fighting. Bit the nazis should be denounced not just because they were violent, but because their ideas are evil. Even if there had been no violence at all in Charlottesville, that rally and those who participated in it would be a disgrace. Yes, they had – and should have – a legal right to rally and speak about their insane ideology. But the rest of us can and should be clear about just how revolting those ideas are.

3. And no, there were not many decent people taking part in the rally. Decent people do not march with nazis or racists. They do not participate in rallies where people chant “The Jews will not replace us” or Blood and Soil.” Everyone who attended, marched, or participated in that rally is morally deficient.

4. Keep context in mind. This country has oppressed African-Americans since its founding. From slavery through Jim Crow to the ongoing abuse and discrimination suffered by People of Color today, we have failed to live up to our ideals. Yes, we’ve made tremendous strides – advances unimaginable in much of the rest of the world — but those of us who grew up and live with privilege, can never know the pain of that legacy. Keep that in mind when you reflect on debates about confederate symbols and such.

5. The presidency offers a unique bully pulpit. The president has a chance to unite the nation behind great ideals. Donald Trump has used it to legitimize and mainstream evil. He has failed us in ways that will stain this nation far into the future.

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After Charlottesville

Let’s not waste time: The neo-nazi and white supremacist degenerates who gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend are despicable examples of human excrement. See, that’s not so hard to say.

This is not just a question of violence. Observers on the ground in Charlottesville point out that both the nazis and the anti-fa counter protestors contributed to the fighting (although notably none of the nazis ended up dead). Denouncing the violence is easy and lends itself to the type of “plague on both your houses” type of rhetoric that lets us off the hook. The problem isn’t just the violence that accompanied the nazis and racists, it’s their ideas.

Now, I’m pretty damn close to an absolutist when it comes to the first amendment. I think that if a bunch of escapees from their mothers basement want to parade around with tiki torches and preach hate, they have a legal right to do so. I’d be opposed to any law that tried to deny them that right.

But the fact that they have a right to be scum, doesn’t bind me to silence. A right to say something doesn’t mean a right to say something without consequences. Too many – including far too many libertarians – stop at the first part of the equation, the right to speak. But if we truly believe in a philosophy that is premised on the equal worth of every human being, then we have an obligation to speak out against racism (and sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and every other form of bigotry).

And please, no “whatsboutism.” Yes, some of the rhetoric issuing from the left is beyond the pale. It is wrong to use force and violence to prevent speech you disagree with. And, the idiots traipsing around in Che Guevara tshirts might as well be wearing swastikas. But A) that’s irrelevant, and B) doesn’t take into account how bigoted speech impacts people who have suffered from bigotry since this country was founded. We owe a special type of debt to the people that this country has oppressed. The least we can do is say that speech that continues to denigrate them is wrong.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” goes the quote attributed, perhaps incorrectly, to Edmund Burke. Libertarianism cannot be so thin that it doesn’t recognize racism (and other forms of bigotry) as evil. And recognizing them as evil, we should take action to denounce them, to ostracize them, and to drive them out of civilized society.

We should demand this from our political leaders, including our president (who has so far failed the test), but most of all from ourselves. Indeed, because we believe in liberty for all, that obligation lies even heavier on us. And if we can’t see that, then how different are we really from those losers in Charlotte?

The Latest Trump Crisis

As the Trump presidential circus lurches uncontrollably through the latest crisis, I have a few thoughts on where things stand now:

1. If the Trump presidency eventually crashes and burns, it won’t be because of some shadowy conspiracy of deep state communist jihadis or whatever, but because of his own hubris, incompetence, and unwillingness to learn from his mistakes. I have no doubt that there are elements of the permanent bureaucracy that are all too happy to leak damaging information about Trump. Moreover, clearly the media is not about to cut Trump the same breaks that they would (and did) give to Obama or Clinton. But none of that would matter if Trump didn’t spend every other morning shooting himself in the foot. Yes, Trump has enemies. And, he is all too willing to hand them additional ammunition.

2. On the larger charges, I very much doubt that Trump was directly and personally involved in colluding with the Russians. Yes, the Russians clearly preferred Trump to Hillary, and also wanted to sow distrust with American democracy in general. But they didn’t really need to coordinate with the Trump campaign. After all, Hillary was doing a fine job with her own version of Trumpian self-immolation. And, as he has shown as president, Donald Trump doesn’t have the attention to detail or strategic aptitude to coordinate a conspiracy with the Russians. He’s just not that “hands on.”

3. That doesn’t mean there is no “there” there. Almost certainly some lower level aides like Roger Stone, Carter Page, and Paul Manafort had some type of contacts with the Russians. Whatever they did was probably pretty minor in terms of “collusion” – with the exception of Manafort, they really didn’t have enough influence or authority to collude – but we will have to see where this all leads. And, former national security advisor Michael Flynn is an especially sleazy special case. If there is any criminal culpability in all this, it looks like Flynn is most in jeopardy. And it looks like a fair amount of what he is accused of was about his personal enrichment, not election meddling.

4. As usual in Washington, the cover-up is worse than the crime. Trump’s bumbling attempts to stop the various investigations may or may not reach the level of obstruction of justice – which legally is both vague and hard to prove – is at the very least unseemly and does serious damage both to his presidency and to American institutions. I have no particular affection for James Comey, who was indeed something of a showboat, and whose Hamlet act on both the Clinton and Trump investigations was wearing thin, but you simply don’t fire the man leading an investigation that may implicate you. And when you do, you don’t lie about your reasons.

5. Trump’s behavior seems to be driven by two things. First, ego and resentment. Trump’s opponents continue to insist that he is not a legitimate president, that somehow Russia-Trump collusion “stole” the election from Hillary Clinton. This is just silly. Clinton lost because she was an abysmal candidate who had no vision for the future of America beyond vague left-wing sloganeering. She ran for president because “it was her turn.” It turns out it wasn’t. But every time Trump’s critics attack his legitimacy, he becomes more determined to prove that there was no Russian involvement, that he won fair and square. After all, this is a guy who keeps a map of the county by county vote results on the Oval office wall.

6. More troubling in the bigger picture, Trump still doesn’t understand the presidency isn’t like being king – or being on a reality television show. He thought he would win the election, give a few orders, things – “great things” – would happen, and he would bask in the applause of an adoring public. Now he continues to find out that governing is “hard.” He refuses to do his homework, or to try to learn how government works. Aides report that they have to slip Trump’s name into every third or fourth paragraph of his national security briefings, because it’s the only way he will keep reading. He still doesn’t understand that you can’t just fire anyone who displeases you, demand that Congress act a certain way, or deliver an applause line even if what you say is untrue.

7. By the way, for Trump supporters, enough of the “whataboutism” arguments. I agree that Hillary and Obama did all sorts of terrible things. But so what? Trump is president now, not either of them. It is his conduct that counts now. How does Hillary’s server, for instance, justify anything that Trump has done? If what Trump did is wrong or stupid or both, it is wrong or stupid or both, no matter how many wrong and stupid things Hillary, or Obama, or Andrew Jackson, for that matter, did.

8. For Trump opponents, please take a deep breath and calm down. We are a long, long way from impeachment. We are not experiencing a constitutional crisis. This is not Watergate. We may yet find out that crimes were committed – or not. So far, the checks and balances in our system are working just fine. And, the more you hyperventilate, the more Trump’s supporters – around 40 percent of the country according to recent polls – circle the wagons. Also, please note that “I really hate him” is not an impeachable offense.

9. Finally, the appointment of a special counsel could actually be good thing for Trump’s agenda. This could end the daily drip, drip, drip of new revelations, and allow the White House to change the subject back to their agenda. We still need an Obamacare replacement, tax reform, deregulation, and so on. Trump could start talking or tweeting about these things, and simply deflect other questions by pointing to the ongoing investigation. Of course that would require a certain amount of self-discipline – oh hell, what am I talking about.

Trump’s Travel Ban

In 1939, Irmgard Köppel, her husband Josef, and their 14 month-old daughter Judith attempted to flee Nazi Germany for the United States, but were turned away at the border and forced to return to Germany. Irmgard and Josef later died at Auschwitz. Judith, however, survived, because she was harbored, at great personal risk, along with five other Jewish children, by French gentiles, Joseph and Eliette Enard.

The question that Trump’s travel and refugee bans asks us as a country is whether we will be more like the U.S. authorities who sent the Köppels and thousands of other Jewish refugees to their deaths, or more like the Enards, who risked their lives to save those of a different faith and nationality.

Trump’s executive order actually does two things, which are being conflated by many critics. First, the administration banned for 90 days entry into the United States by citizens of seven countries (Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen). It is not really a Muslim ban, since it applies to non-Muslim citizens of those countries, and does not include Muslims from other countries. However, there is little doubt that it is motivated by a degree of anti-Muslim animus. (The order may also run afoul of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which bars immigration discrimination on the basis of national origin).

The seven affected countries were already on a list, drafted by the Obama administration, and codified by Congress as part of the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, whose travelers require stricter scrutiny. As a matter of policy, it makes little sense, since it does not cover countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, where there is a real radical Islamicist presence, while including countries like Iraq, where troops are fighting alongside Americans to battle ISIS. The number of Americans killed in this country by citizens of those seven countries has been precisely zero. (And are we really issuing many visas in Yemen these days?) If the policy had been better designed, implemented, and communicated, it would still have been bad policy, but it would probably have ignited less outrage.

But, Trump overruled the Department of Homeland Security, to include green card holders, other permanent lawful residents, and possibly even those with dual citizenship (interpretations differ), provisions which certainly appear to violate U.S. law, and are now being walked back by DHS Secretary Kelly. And, by providing no lead time for implementation, the administration insured chaos at airports nationwide. Those blocked from entry or detained included doctors, scientists, and artists, as well as interpreters and others who had assisted US troops. Already, ISIS has gleefully publicized the order as an example of the US “war on Islam.”

The second part of the executive order is even less defensible. That part indefinitely suspended refugee programs for Syrians and others. Compounding matters, the order says that if the programs resumed, preference will be given to Christians and other non-Muslim refugees. This callous indifference toward the suffering of thousands of men, women, and children caught up in a war that we did much to precipitate, can only be explained by anti-Muslim bias.
We are told, of course, that terrorists may try to use the refugee program to infiltrate our country. One notes that, in 1939, similar arguments were made, including a front page story in the New York Times, to suggest that Nazi spies might infiltrate Jewish refugee groups. But more importantly, there is little evidence that Islamic terrorists are actually using the refugee programs to enter the US. Indeed, if a terrorist wanted to come to the United States, going through the ponderous, bureaucratic, and heavily vetted refugee program is among the least efficient and effective ways to do so. In fact, since 1975, just three Americans have been killed by refugees. (The three refugees in question were Cuban, not Muslim.) Overall, your chances of being killed by a refugee are 1 in 3.64 billion annually.

No one can guarantee that that record will continue. Indeed, I expect that sooner or later, a Muslim refugee may commit a terrorist atrocity. But, perfect security is never a guarantee, and should not be our overriding goal. We should not allow fear to make America other than what it is. There are values more important than safety.

The United States current accepts less than one half of one percent of the world’s refugees. For a country built on immigration, compassion, and justice — that holds itself out as the beacon of liberty in this world — we can and should do better. This should not – and cannot – be a partisan issue. Rather, this is a time for moral choosing. Every American should speak out.

Joseph and Eliette Enard are memorialized at Yad Vashem as two of the “Righteous among the Nations.” When our reckoning comes, will we be counted on the side of the Enards, or will we let fear and bigotry rule our hearts, our lives, and our country.

Thoughts on President Trump

I doubt that any of us would have predicted it – and many of us would have wished it otherwise — but as of noon tomorrow, Donald J. Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. Wow. Sometime, words fail.

But, since it is my job to come up with words anyway, a few thoughts about this new era:

1. Could we please stop with the “illegitimate president” nonsense. Yes, the Russians “intervened” in the election. Outside actors intervene all the time (and we intervene in their elections as well). Russian intervention was just a bit more explicit than usual. But a good candidate has to react to difficult events as they unfold, and Hillary Clinton, quite simply, was not a good candidate. In fact, she may have been the only possible candidate bad enough to lose to Donald Trump. It is also worth noting that what the Russians are actually accused of is hacking and releasing accurate information. Those emails – about DNC conspiring against Bernie Sanders, and so on — were real. Trump is wrong to let the Russians off the hook for the hacking, but maybe the Democrats shouldn’t have been doing some of those things in the first place. Similarly, FBI director James Comey exhibited spectacular incompetence in investigating Hilary Clinton’s private email server. But, once again, that sort of thing happens and good candidates deal with it. Remember, George W. Bush’s drunk driving arrest record that was leaked the weekend before the 2000 election? Finally, yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. That should serve as a warning for Trump not to assume too much of a mandate (although Hillary’s “victory” owes itself solely to a huge margin in California). But we don’t elect presidents according to the popular vote (for good reasons in my opinion). Clinton and Trump played by the rules of the game as they existed at the time – and Trump won. Love him or hate him, he is the legitimate president of the United States.

2. As everyone knows I was irredeemably #NeverTrump. But the election is over. I can understand both why some people are enthused and excited by a Trump presidency and other people are frightened and angry. Still, rhetoric aside, he has done nothing so far – good or bad. Let’s all wait and see what he actually proposes. There will be plenty of time then to cheer or protest. Right now, the proper status would seem to be the same as for any president – watchful waiting. We should always be on our guard against governmental threats to our rights, from any president, but let’s see what happens. He is our president. We should hope that he does the right things and succeeds in them. To Trump critics I say: Dissent is indeed patriotic, but hysteria is unhelpful. To his supports I say: Fight for what you believe in, but sycophancy is not principle.

3. As for me, I plan to treat President Trump exactly the same as I have treated his predecessors. I will support his policies when I agree with them (I’m hopeful about tax reform, regulatory reduction, school choice, and Obamacare repeal), and will oppose him when I disagree (I’m concerned about civil liberties, criminal justice reform, war and peace, trade, deficits and spending, entitlement reform – or the lack thereof, immigration, and…well, you get the idea). If in your eyes that makes me insufficiently pro- or anti-Trump, well, then, you miss the point.

4. One policy note to my friends on the Left, who are now afraid of the power that a President Trump, will wield…welcome to the club. We libertarians have long warned about the dangers of government power generally, and unfettered executive power in particular. If you thought it was great when Bill Clinton aide Paul Begala waxed rhapsodic about executive orders. “Stroke of the pen. Law of the Land. Kind of cool,” or when President Obama boasted that he had “a phone and a pen,” do you still feel the same way now that that phone and pen is being wielded by the other side? And if you can’t wait to see President Trump exercise his power, remember that someday there will again be a Democratic president. Pendulums swing in politics. Therefore, whatever new powers you give your hero today, they will someday be wielded by your worst enemy. That’s why principles matter.

5. Finally, a plea for civility. My readers know that I had disagreements with President Obama (to understate it), and with President Bush before him, and before that…But I always tried to express them constructively, and with respect. Between this blog, my Facebook account, and Twitter, I have friends and followers on here of every possible political flavor. There are liberals, conservatives, libertarians, anarchists, and socialists. I have friends who are deeply religious and others who are atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I have friends who are gay, straight, and in-between, married, single, and poly. They are from all 50 states and more than two dozen countries. Debate and disagreement are healthy. But, while it may make you feel good to call your opponent a “traitor,” it is not going to do much to win him or her over. If you are talking to yourself, you are not convincing anyone of anything. We are going to have a contentious few years ahead, let’s try to get along as best we can.

10 Thoughts about the Election

Well, last night was a bit of a shock. I certainly got it wrong. Still, here are some thoughts on what happened.

1. This election was something of a primal scream of rage against the machine. Clearly, there are millions of Americans who feel disconnected from – and disrespected by – the political establishment. On the issues, they are right about some things, like crony capitalism and the bail out of Wall Street, and wrong about others, like trade and immigration. But, in the end this isn’t about issues; it is about feeling ignored. The world that these people knew is changing, and the political establishment won’t even talk to them about it. No doubt part of Trump’s support was driven by racial and class resentments, but it was more than that.

2. We remain a deeply divided country. While Trump’s Electoral College victory was impressive, the margins in each state were razor thin. Hillary may still win the popular vote. There clearly are two different Americas. One represents the coasts, the cities, and the suburbs. The other represents vast swaths of exurban and rural middle-America. These regions differ ethnically, in terms of education, and in whether they have benefited from a changing economy and a more interconnected world.

3. Those divisions are not going away any time soon. In fact, they are likely to grow worse. The economy is going to keep changing. Automation will continue to eliminate low-skill jobs and physical labor jobs. Education will have an ever higher premium. At the same time, demographic changes are here to stay. The America of the future will be less white. That will feel increasingly threatening to some people. This election was, to some extent, a backlash.

4. We will have to see if President Trump can soothe these fears and unite the country. His victory speech last night set the right tone. On the other hand, his campaign had played footsie with white nationalism, anti-feminism, and anti-Semitism. There’s more than enough reason to be concerned. I know this morning that many people are terribly frightened. But let’s all take a deep breath. This won’t be the apocalypse. We have survived bad presidents before. My God, we survived Nixon. For the most part our lives have little to do with politics or presidents. We need to be vigilant, defend our rights, fight back where necessary, but not panic.

5. This election was also a rejection of Hillary Clinton. Hillary was, of course, a deeply flawed candidate. Remember that she lost to Barack Obama in 2008, in a race she should have won. She nearly lost the primary to a 75-year-old socialist. Moreover, at a time when people were demanding change, there was nothing less-change than the Clintons. They have been part of the establishment forever. It seems like there has always been a Clinton on our TV screens, usually trailed by some sort of scandal or something else unseemly. Hillary was always going to be a tough sell this year. This year started out with people talking about another Bush running against another Clinton. With her defeat, maybe we can pass on to a new era.

6. The woman card didn’t play, and that’s probably a good thing. Hillary lost 2 to 1 among non-college educated white women. She barely carried college educated white women. Why didn’t the prospect of the first woman president count for more? Perhaps, it is because women have made so much progress that the idea of a woman president didn’t seem like a big deal. We see women Senators and women business leaders on TV everyday. Maybe we are getting sufficiently used to the idea of women in positions of power, that one more break through doesn’t seem unique.

7. This is one reason why libertarians have always opposed the accretion of government power. Liberals may love big government and a powerful executive when President Obama is in charge, but sooner or later a President Trump gets control of that “telephone and a pen.” It is always worth remembering that the new power or program you so love may someday be controlled by your worst enemy. Indeed, now might be a good time for liberals to join those of us fighting to curtail presidential power. Senator Mike Lee’s “Article One Project” would be a good place to start.

8. Gary Johnson’s poor showing showed the limitations of third parties. It is true that Johnson ran a very poor campaign. It wasn’t just the Aleppo moment. He seemed genuinely unprepared for the opportunity that this campaign presented. That said, any third party effort would have been doomed by the institutional barriers that our system presents, such as lack of campaign funds and exclusion from the debate. More importantly, Americans still think in terms of a binary choice. Many of us thought that given two choices that people hated, voters would look for a third choice. Instead, they fell back into voting against the candidate they hated most. Libertarians are going to have to reconsider what role the Libertarian Party can play on the national level.

9. No matter who won this election, I expected to be a minority and in opposition. I agreed with Hillary on virtually nothing. And, I agree with Trump on virtually nothing. This is a bad time worldwide for the sort of classical liberalism I espouse. But being on the winning side doesn’t determine correctness. Trumps election, and the rise of populist authoritarianism worldwide, means that those of us who believe in individual liberty, the rule of law, equal rights, and free markets have more work to do. Today, the job begins again.

10. I was #NeverTrump from the beginning. But, he is now my president. As with any president, I will give him the benefit of the doubt, and time to see what he will do. He may yet surprise me again, and turn out to be a better president than I fear he will be. If so, he will have my support when I think he is right — and my opposition when I think he is wrong. That’s the best any of us can do.

My Election Predictions

Ok, folks, time for me to put my metaphorical money where my mouth is. Here are my predictions for the election. Feel free to tune in on Wednesday and make fun of me for getting this completely wrong.

The Crook Beats the Bigot. This election is going to be much closer than anyone would have thought just a couple of weeks ago. Hillary has been buffeted with bad news on an almost daily basis. And Trump hasn’t said anything truly stupid in a couple of weeks.

Still, it’s hard to see Trump’s path to victory. He is relying almost exclusively on white male votes, and there simply are not enough of them to win elections any more. White voters have declined from 78 percent of the electorate as recently as 2000 to just 69 percent today. Ronald Reagan won the white vote by 10 percentage points and carried 49 states. Mitt Romney won whites by 20 points, and lost. Enthusiasm among minority voters is down this year, but the changing electorate still helps Hillary. The Clinton ground game is also superior, and is probably worth another percentage point or so.

So I’m calling this as Clinton 48, Trump 44, Johnson 5, and Other 1. In terms of electoral votes, I have it Clinton 308, Trump 230. I think Trump wins Romney states plus Iowa, Ohio and Maine’s Second District. McMullen could take Utah, but I’m betting Trump barely holds on. Otherwise, traditional voting patterns take hold.

Note that I also have Gary Johnson capturing the magic 5 percent (it actually means somewhat less than the Johnson camp would have us believe, but its still important). Johnson’s support has fallen precipitously in the last few weeks as voters return home to their traditional binary preferences (driven in large part by antipathy to the other side). Johnson has also run a surprisingly poor campaign. He just didn’t seem prepared for the opportunity that this race offered. Still, I think disgust with the major party candidates allows him to make a credible showing, and reach the 5 percent threshold.

Republicans Hold Senate. The tightening race is good news for down ballot Republicans. A few weeks ago, the Republicans seemed sure to lose the Senate. Now, I think they could hold on. Kirk in Illinois is toast. After that it gets tricky. In an upset, I think Richard Burr loses in North Carolina. But I think that two of Ayotte, Toomey, and Johnson I have no idea which ones< But I’m going to suggest Toomey and Johnson, probably because I think they are two of the best senators out there.

The House Stays Red: There will be no Democratic wave sweeping them into control of the House. Democrats would have to gain 30 seats to take over, and I expect them to gain just half that. Let’s call the new House as 232-203. The reduced margin will make life even more miserable for Paul Ryan, but its still enough to block any of Hillary’s more radical proposals. Gridlock will likely remain.

A Good Night for Pot: Five states (Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada) will consider the legalization of recreational use of marijuana. Another 4 (Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota) will decide about medical marijuana. The pro-legalization forces should win all of them, with the possible exception of Florida. It is amazing how fast public opinion has shifted on this issue. Then again, this election is enough to make anyone want to get high.

In other initiatives and referendums, Colorado should reject a proposal to create a single-payer health plan in that state. There are also a number of minimum wage hikes on the ballot. Despite the economic damage these proposals do, they are always popular with voters. Expect most of them to win. In a really unfortunate outcome, big spending by the teachers unions prevails in Massachusetts, and a proposal to expand charter schools goes down. Finally, expect voters in several states to reject various gun control measures. California is likely to be the exception.

OK, my opinion is worth roughly what you are paying for it. What do you think?