President’s Trump America

I think it’s fair to say most of my friends are hurting right now. Friends of color, LGBTQ friends, friends of middle eastern descent, female friends, friends who are allies, and friends with big hearts. I hurt with them. I pretty much assumed Hillary Clinton’s coronation was a fait accompli; an inevitability put in motion the day after Obama was elected to his second term. I wasn’t crazy about the prospect of a President Clinton, but I figured she was more or less an extension of the Obama presidency.

And here we are. President Donald J. Trump. And this is exactly why I’m a libertarian.

No president should inspire this much fear. No government should be so powerful that whole segments of the population are genuinely concerned over losing their civil rights. Our founders never intended for a “tyranny of the majority” to run roughshod over any minority — this is why the vestigial Electoral College is a thing — and our evolution as a country has been in the direction of actually ensuring that protection for all citizens, all minorities. Hundreds of thousands have died in pursuit of equality. It’s that important to us.

I believe it will continue to be that important to us, Trump’s election notwithstanding. Keep in mind, his was not a landslide victory. As of right now, Clinton is just squeaking out a popular vote win. This election is not a decisive win against equality or decency.

But it should be a wake up call: That Government Is Best Which Governs Least. If you fear what kind of executive power an unmitigated moron like Trump may wield, work to limit that power. And work to keep that power limited, even when someone you like is in the Oval Office. That’s the path forward.

Defang the beast, and never fear it again.

Why Gary Johnson Should Be In The Debates, In One Screengrab

I’ve seen this on Facebook recently. It’s a screengrab of Kevin Drum’s opinion piece on Mother Jones, “Why Are There Any Liberals Supporting Gary Johnson?” Drum makes the case for Johnson’s inclusion in the presidential debates:

drum-list

Half of these points are either completely false or misrepresented through omission. In order for liberals — and conservatives, and centrists, and what-have-you — to know if Johnson is worth their vote, he really should be included in the presidential debates. The debates are the forum for talking about the foreign and domestic issues only hinted about in Drum’s scary little laundry list of unforgivables.

It’s kind of funny. Back when John Kerry was the Democratic standard-bearer, his flip-flops were spun as “nuance.” You would think they would appreciate a nuanced approach to policy positions. Let’s take a look at the nine points Drum gets wrong.

He supports TPP.” Gary Johnson supports free trade. He has signaled cautious support for TPP, and the more he has learned about what’s actually in it, the more skeptical he’s become. In an August interview on POLITICO’s Off Message with Glenn Thrush, Johnson said, “Would I have signed or implemented the Trans-Pacific Partnership? I’ve got to tell you, I think it’s laden with crony capitalism. Free market really is the answer. It’s the answer to unifying the whole planet, in my opinion.”

He supports fracking.” Johnson’s position on fracking is not so far removed from Clinton’s. Recently, he stressed a pragmatic approach, noting that fracking is currently only about 10% effective and comes at a cost to the environment. ProCon.com puts Johnson and Clinton both in the “Pro” column on this issue, but neither candidate seems than solid in their support.

He opposes any federal policies that would make college more affordable or reduce student debt. In fact, he wants to abolish student loans entirely.” He wants to abolish student loans in order to make college more affordable and to reduce student debt. By definition, he is in favor of federal policies to bring down the cost of higher education. In the same interview with Glenn Thrush referenced above, Johnson laments that students have been “sold a bill of goods”:

[T]here’s no excuse for you not to go to college because of guaranteed government student loans, and because of that, in my opinion, college tuition costs twice as much as it would have cost if there would have been no government guaranteed student loans.
This isn’t some fringe theory. The New York Federal Reserve published a study just last year that found a strong correlation between increases in student loans and increases tuition.The Wall Street Journal characterized the situation as such:

Imagine a scenario in which the federal government helps households pursue the American dream with ultra-loose credit, only to see prices skyrocket and families take on loads of debt they can’t repay.

Yes, it sounds like the housing market of a decade ago, but some say it is also the challenge of today’s higher-education system.

He thinks Citizens United is great.” Johnson takes the controversial position that free speech shouldn’t be censored by the government. The confusion around Citizens United is nothing short of epic. Former Washington State Committeeman (and yes, bass player for Nirvana) Krist Novoselic runs it down in a thoroughly researched and footnoted history of campaign finance laws:

The most notorious Supreme Court ruling of recent times is 2010’s Citizens United v. F.E.C. This ruling has captured many an imagination with the idea that the Court turned somehow turned “corporations into people” or that money was created into speech. This article is not about propagating these useless catchphrases, rather, it is about how independent campaign expenditure prohibitions bump into 1st Amendment protections. I look at the history of attempts to regulate independent campaign expenditures and how, in the process, a state censorship board was created.

(Emphasis his.) Most folks don’t think Citizens United = free speech, but rather Citizens United = corporations are people. Johnson has gone on record* elsewhere to say he doesn’t believe corporations are people, so let that be a bromide.

He favors a balanced-budget amendment and has previously suggested that he would slash federal spending 43 percent in order to balance the budget. This would require massive cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and social welfare programs of all kinds.” The wrong in this point makes my head hurt. The 43% thing is from Johnson’s 2012 run. What Johnson and Weld propose is a zero based budgeting approach — something Jimmy Carter brought to government back in the 1970s, for Pete’s sake. Let’s hear from Bill Weld on this one:

So, on the budget issues, you know, the tendency is almost inescapable to say, what are you going to cut? What are you going to cut? I think we proved that we know how to cut. It’s through what I call zero-based budgeting, which is you begin every year assuming each entry in the budget is zero. You don’t assume it’s the same as last year plus 5 percent, which used to be the approach in Washington. And that’s how you get your real savings. So you don’t slash 20 percent or 10 percent across the board. And you measure outcomes, not inputs. Inputs would be last year’s appropriation. So if the outcomes were very good in a health-care program, you might multiply that appropriation by five. And if there was another tired bureaucracy that just seemed to have been shuffling papers, and there were no outputs, you might abolish that altogether. But I think we’ve both showed that we can do that, because in the ‘90s, we were each rated the most fiscally conservative governor in the United States. In my case, by the Wall Street Journal and the Cato Institute, and I think Gary a couple years after that, by Cato as well. So that’s not an accident.

Johnson has been outspoken in his support of the social safety net — especially for a libertarian. (We make lousy lifeguards, don’t you know.) This point is fear mongering, plain and simple.

He opposes net neutrality.” To pretend net neutrality is anything other than a contentious issue with valid points on all sides is nonsense. The fact is, for better or worse, as of last year, we have it. What worries me is the inevitable vestigial nature of Title II classification. A group of Stanford University researches may have just rendered the issue moot with their invention of “Network Cookies,” but Title II classification will lumber along, an octogenarian law regulating a technology that changes by the minute.

Johnson’s stance is simple and consistent: “There is nothing wrong with the Internet that I want the government to fix.” That’s an opinion consistent with Clinton’s view on the matter. I’m talking about Bill, of course. The one who deregulated the internet in the first place.

He opposes any kind of paid maternity or medical leave.” I have yet to find anywhere where Johnson has spoken in favor of legislation that prevents paid maternity or medical leave.**

He supported the Keystone XL pipeline.True , so long as “it’s not an issue of the government implementing eminent domain to procure right of ways.” And of course, it would require eminent domain. I’ll let you do the math on that one.

Missing from this is his view on the EPA:

On the other hand in northern New Mexico, there was a Molycorp mine. There was metals contamination in the Red River. It had gone on for decades. And for decades politically it was being protected because of the jobs that were involved. I took office and I said, you’ve got to clean this up. You have to come to the table and you have to clean this up. They refused to come to the table. So my biggest club in the bag was, I am going to declare you a Superfund site. I’m going to hand you over to federal EPA unless you come to the table in 30 days and come up with a plan for fixing your metals contamination.

And they claimed that it was natural! It was ludicrous. It was a slap in the face. And they refused to come to the table. My phone is ringing off the hook, politically. It’s ringing off the hook. There were all these jobs. And my response was: “These people are bad actors and they have to be brought to the table.” Thirty days went by and they became a Superfund site. So there’s an example of the EPA and why the EPA should exist. And why government should exist to protect us against those who would do us harm.

He goes on to say that his support of the EPA is not exactly doctrinaire libertarianism. I would disagree. We’re minarchists, not anarchists. Government exists to protect us from force and fraud, and the EPA can be a worthwhile tool to that end.

He opposes any government action to address climate change.” There was quite a kerfluffle some weeks back when Johnson speculated on using a carbon fee to address climate change. It’s absolutely not true that Johnson opposes any government action to address climate change. The role of government in this particular issue is something he struggles with.

There’s a little more nuance on half of Drum’s points. More could certainly be said about the other nine points, but really, Johnson should be saying it himself. On the debate stage. With the other presidential candidates. The amount of misunderstanding (purposeful and otherwise) as demonstrated in this and other similar articles makes the case for inclusion. Obviously, people are interested in hearing what Johnson has to say. Let’s hear him say it.


 

*The author characterizes this as being against Citizens United. I can only assume the author has fallen prey to the “useless catchphrases,” as Novoselic puts it, and is conflating things.

**I am reminded of a quote by Frederic Bastiat, from his book The Law:

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

America the Potluck

… “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This is engraved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, and it is absolute truth. Donald Trump should hop a ferry and go read it.

You cannot be a proponent of American exceptionalism and disallow for people who would do anything to enjoy this country, and all that citizenship has to offer. I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit. You cannot claim that this is the greatest nation on God’s green earth and in the next breath say people shouldn’t be allowed to come here. That does not follow. It is a logical non-sequitur, and you should be ashamed, deeply ashamed if you feel that way.

There is nothing more American than breaking an unjust law that stands between you and your unalienable rights. There is nothing more American than that level of civil disobedience. The people who break our immigration laws so that they can enjoy the benefits of being an American — the privileges and rights that are natural to ALL humankind, regardless of where we are born, but only truly, expressively acknowledged and recognized in America* — there is nothing more American than pursuing the dream of being an American, damn all the stops.

Cole Porter might as well have written, “Don’t Fence Me OUT.”

As for the argument that, “Well, immigrants who come here don’t fully assimilate into our culture,” I’m sorry, but you don’t understand how a melting pot works. You don’t drop someone into the melting pot and they become homogenized to the melting pot as it already exists. The melting pot is an ongoing homogenization of all the ingredients thrown inside, not just the familiar, not just what you and your prejudices may find comforting.

There are things about Latino culture that we all universally enjoy as Americans. You can call it cultural appropriation, the fact that I enjoy drinking margaritas and eating tamales while listening to a mariachi band at El Cholo. You can call that cultural appropriation, and you know what? You’re absolutely right. It’s cultural appropriation of the best possible kind.

It is as culturally appropriating as Tejano music adopting the European accordion and absolutely shredding it. That’s what makes the New World (not just our country, although we excel at it) so amazing. It’s what people sometimes seem to forget: We are greater than the sum of our parts, and our parts are some of the best the whole wide world has to offer.

It’s not “multiculturalism” to point out that we all come from different places and have different traditions. We have, here, an expansive commingling. The next time you’re out somewhere eating Italian food followed by a French desert, take a moment to lift your German beer and toast the Latin-infused pop music playing overhead. That’s America, That’s what makes us so awesome. The people who join this party enrich our lives and our cultural heritage. Let. them. in.

America is a potluck. It’s not some well planned, strip-mall buffet. It’s a potluck. And if you don’t see that, if you don’t get that, then you just don’t get what makes this country so brilliant, and such a wonderful place to live in. You’re short-changing yourself while standing in the way of people who just want to enjoy the same sort of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that we enjoy by virtue of the accident of our birth.

*Some may be quick to point out that America isn’t the only land of the free. I would stipulate that it is debatable, but point out that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is unique to us, and sets the bar for freedom pretty damn high.

Pascal’s Roulette Wheel: Another Take on the Wager

Photo by Ralf Roletschek - Fahrradtechnik und Fotografie. CC BY-SA 3.0

Photo by Ralf Roletschek – Fahrradtechnik und Fotografie. CC BY-SA 3.0

A couple of weeks ago, someone very dear to me posted this, after scuffling with me a bit over my non-belief:

I too have accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and believe it is better to believe than not to believe. If I am wrong in my belief, I have lost nothing, If I am right, I have gained a whole lot more. I would rather think I am right in my belief than take my chances. Something to really think about. Eternity is real and the older I get, I know that I am faced with this eternal fact.

Good ol’ Pascal’s wager.’Tis better to believe and be wrong, than to disbelieve and be wrong.

Let’s stipulate for the moment that my atheism is a completely uninformed choice, and I am leaving my eternity completely up to chance. Under that stipulation, Pascal’s Wager is absolutely correct about me. I’m making a choice, like choosing black over red at the roulette table. The odds of me being right are 2:1.

But that is not the wager a Christian is making. He’s putting everything on a specific number. His odds are closer to 37:1 against him being right, and probably a great deal worse, if you consider the diversity of belief since the dawn of recorded history.

My choice isn’t completely uninformed, of course. And like most non-believers, I’m willing to be proven wrong. I’m willing to change my bet, if a compelling argument can be made. If the wheel stops before such an argument can be made, so be it. I rather think making a definite choice, yes or no, is better than hedging and paying lip-service to a deity I don’t believe in.

And I rather think the Christian deity, if he exists, would appreciate my thoughts on the matter:

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” – God, Revelation 3:15-16 (NIV)

There are three things you never discuss in polite company …

Sex. Religion. Politics.

Welcome to Impolite Topics, a place for me to air out my opinions on the three things you should never discuss in polite company.

Who the hell am I? Well, some dick on the internet with opinions. That’s who. I’m a writer and a performer living in Los Angeles, married to the same amazing woman for 21 years. I’m a dog person. I’m a Los Angeles Kings fan.

I’m a preacher’s kid whose path from evangelical Christianity to atheism was waylaid by a ten year stint in Scientology.

I’m libertarian, but not an Ayn Randian, objectivist asshole. I’m more of a Heinleinian, to-each-his-own, pay-it-forward kind of guy. I think you should teach a man to fish, but since you can’t learn anything on an empty stomach, give the guy a bite to eat first.

I believe in learning as much as you can, maintaining a willingness to be wrong, and changing your mind when shown sufficient evidence to do so.  I prefer solutions to quibbles.

I’ve aired out my opinions on various platforms in the past. Impolite Topics gives me the opportunity to gather together those posts and continuing airing my unsolicited opinions in one place.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you find something stimulating here.

10 Answers from an Atheist

Jerry DeWitt is a former Pentecostal minister from Louisiana who began questioning his faith when he was in the pulpit. Yikes! As a PK (that’s “preacher’s kid,” for the uninformed) of an evangelical pastor who had a church about an hour south from Jerry, I can to some degree appreciate that situation. Listening to Jerry speak, the cadence of his speech, he reminds me of my Dad. His book, Hope After Faith is on my “to read” list.

Over on Facebook today, Jerry DeWitt posted a link to a Today Christian article, “10 Questions for Every Atheist.” I’ve never done one of these things, and thought it would be fun. So here goes, starting with the author’s intro:

Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions… [sic]

That’s the lovely thing about atheists and skeptics in general: we love questions. LOVE them. For some of us, myself included, it was asking questions in the first place that opened the door to realizing and embracing our non-belief. You got questions? Bring ’em on!

1.       How Did You Become an Atheist?

I answered this in some detail here, but the short version is, in my youth I studied the Bible and had a difficult time reconciling the inconsistencies I found. In college humanities and religion classes I found verification of what I had begun to suspect: the Bible is not the inerrant word of God, but the very fallible word of man. Men whose cultural and social realities were vastly different from my own. That was the start.

2.       What happens when we die?

The impact we’ve made on others, the daubs of paint we’ve left on the canvas of their lives continues on. I’m a writer, and I enjoy meeting my audience after a play. Every now and then someone will grasp my hand, look me in the eye, and thank me. Someone will give me sincere thanks, because I touched something deep inside them with my words. That lives on.

Family and friends who know me, who may have taken on one of my mannerisms without realizing it, they carry me forward. Long after my name and my face is forgotten, the ripples that extend outward from my tiny little drop in the ocean of life will continue, intermingling with the waves, becoming an everlasting part of the seamless volume.

That’s pretty damn majestic, if you ask me.

3.       What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

If I’m wrong, and the capacity for reason and free will that I was given by a god has led me to doubt his/her/its very existence, I would hope he/she/it’d be okay with that. Otherwise, God is a giant bully forcing you to punch yourself in the head over and over while laughing and saying, “Why are you hitting yourself?” If that’s the case, an eternity worshiping that sort of god would be Hell.

Besides, everything you thought you knew about Hell is wrong.

4.       Without God, where do you get your morality from?

I think it’s a combination of nature and nurture. Certain aspects of morality — the Golden Rule, for instance — stem from basic human empathy. That’s cooked into our DNA. Empathy is a boon to survival, and our capacity for it is a result of natural selection. We’re not alone, by the way. There are studies out there about how other animals exhibit what we would call “moral behavior.” That’s half of my answer, nature.

The nurture part is rooted in language and cultural memory. We know to do or not to do certain things because there is a long oral and written tradition of following certain mores. Religion is a big propagator of this sort of morality, but it is rooted in the experiential knowledge of our forebears, not some divine inspiration. For instance, some caveman family lost a child to a saber-toothed tiger, and told their other children, “ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR PARENTS,” or somesuch. The advice gets passed down through the ages and becomes something like, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” The knowledge is passed down through language, but it’s still a form of nurture.

I think a better question would be, “Without God, from where would you get your morality?” But I’ll get to that with the next question.

5.       If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

To paraphrase Penn Jillette, I murder and rape as many people as I want to, which is none. That’s what my morality dictates. How about your belief in God? Are you free to murder and rape? Give Judges 21:10-24 a read. Or Numbers 31:7-18. As long as you have His blessing, it would appear so.

6.       If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

I’ve heard atheists answer this one before by talking about their family, friends, interests in life, etc. That’s all true, and it’s a great answer, but I can’t help but think this is like a Star Trek enthusiast in full Klingon make-up and costume, asking a non-Trek fan, “How does your life have any meaning?” — in perfect Klingon. Or a kid asking another kid, “How do you ride a bicycle without any training wheels?” 

In a way, I could say I define the meaning I have in life, but that’s not wholly accurate. I have goals and aspirations and dreams. I also have friends and family. I also have demands on my time and my wallet. It all kind of churns together into this thing we call “Life.” It’s a tautology, but you’re used to those, so here goes: Life has meaning because it’s life.

7.       Where did the universe come from?

That’s a great question, one that has inspired and motivated people since the dawn of time to create, explore, extrapolate, puzzle, fret, invent the arts, invent philosophy, invent mathematics, invent the sciences, and continue to press ever forward to find an answer. Following scientific developments (I recommend I Fucking Love Science) I think we’re getting closer and closer to an answer every day. At the very least, we’re chipping away at the unknown with wild abandon. It’s an exciting time to be alive!



In all honesty I’d rather not know, and know that I don’t know, than tie it all up in a neat little “God did it,” and leave it at that. I’m fascinated by the unknown.

8.       What about miracles? What all the people who claim
to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have
seen saints or angels?

I don’t know what other people have experienced. My father-in-law claims to have seen a UFO land about 20 feet away. Maybe he did, probably he didn’t. I like to hear him tell the story, even if I don’t believe it actually happened. I’ve known people who claimed to have super spiritual powers, but I never witnessed anything other than self-fulfilling prophecies and the occasional coincidence.



In order to believe something, I require some level of evidence. That’s all.

9.       What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

I haven’t read any of them. Hitchens I’ve seen in interviews, and I really like his style.



Actually, I take it back: I have read a little Hitchens. He was a big supporter of the War on Terror and apologist for “enhanced interrogation.” It’s not torture, he maintained. He was willing to back up his claim, by being waterboarded:




Needless to say, he sang a different tune after this experience.

 

Why do I bring this up? Hitchens was willing to test his assertions, to be wrong, and to change his mind. The intellectual honesty that requires is staggering.

10.   If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

One of the wonderful things about how our minds work is our capacity for finding patterns. The problem is, we sometimes “find” patterns where they don’t exist. Remember the “face” on Mars? A low-res photo from an early probe returned this image:

 

It’s a face!

Many years later, a probe with a better camera returned this image:

Whoops, maybe not.

When we don’t have all the answers, we invent them. Read Ovid’s Metamorphoses as an example of what I’m talking about. Or remember your own childhood, and the monsters you feared in the dark, because you heard a noise or saw a shadow on the wall. Perhaps you’d call out, and a parent would explain the source of the noise or turn on the lights, exposing the source of the shadow. Until you knew the truth, you made up your own truth.

In Conclusion

I can’t express how liberating it is to admit you just don’t know, and to demand some level of evidence to support supernatural claims. No more mental gymnastics to justify the horrible stuff in the “good” book. A shift of focus away from “my” experience and “my” relationship with an imaginary god and towards actually helping other people.

But hey, to each his own. I know how scary it is to ask questions. It takes a force of will to really, truthfully evaluate what others have told you your entire life. I don’t begrudge people their comfort, but I do get concerned when ignorance threatens my liberty.

Pay it Forward

Robert A Heinlein_Between PlanetsThe banker reached into the folds of his gown, pulled out a single credit note. “But eat first — a full belly steadies the judgment. Do me the honor of accepting this as our welcome to the newcomer.”

His pride said no; his stomach said YES! Don took it and said, “Uh, thanks! That’s awfully kind of you. I’ll pay it back, first chance.”

“Instead, pay it forward to some other brother who needs it.”

 – Robert A. Heinlein, Between Planets
 
You cannot advocate personal responsibility and completely abdicate social responsibility.
 
Ayn Rand had it all backwards. Man is motivated by altruism. We’re social animals. It just so happens that following our altruistic impulses improves conditions for all of us, thus giving the illusion of selfish motivation.
 
The error is in thinking that an expression of charity to a fellow human being is somehow anti-market. I’m coming around to the idea that altruism is the backbone of spontaneous order, voluntaryism, and perhaps the market itself.