Libertarianism is Enough: Goodbye to the LP

There’s a saying that some libertarians are born and others are made (as a result, tragically, of experiencing misconduct at the hands of the state). Libertarianism of both origins, especially those of us from movement (old) libertarian families, has been around long before the Libertarian Party – the LP – was formed in late 1971.  Needless to say, there have been liberty-centric political views long before the term libertarian became popular.

Some of us have been both libertarians and members of the LP.  Now, however, after a contentious major-party election in which the LP did poorly, and more significantly after which libertarians now face an incoming administration that promises to increase vastly state intrusion into all parts of civil society, one may soundly contend that the Libertarian Party is of no use to libertarians.

I cannot imagine joining one of the two major parties, now or ever.  Still, there are votes to be cast, and we will have to choose from among the principal choices before us.  Those of us with views far older than the LP need no party membership to make our way in this country, or in traveling anywhere else in the world.

The recent obsessive pride with how long some people have been on this continent – so common among the radical populist right – is both wrong and futile: it’s wrong because the past confers not entitlement but obligation, and futile because most of this ilk are themselves relative newcomers by the measure of settlement on these shores.  They are fanatical, destructive, and obdurate.

When one recalls one’s past, it is in reply to those few nativists who believe that the past means only what they believe it means.   They are wrong, of course, but it is just as important to remember that they are not to be underestimated: they show delight and pleasure in the wrong.

Imagine, then, after an election in which the LP did poorly, and in which libertarians now face a long struggle against radical populist advocates of state power, the surprise in reading an invitation from Wes Benedict, executive director of the national LP, that

It is time to party…

You are invited to an end of the year

CELEBRATION!

2016 has been a record-breaking year for the Libertarian Party!

Wes Benedict may go to hell, and celebrate there in the outer darkness for so long as he wishes.

Others of us, libertarians by birth or circumstance, inheritors of the freedom philosophy, have work to do: an authoritarianism has ruined one great political party, crippled another, and seeks to direct the lives of hundreds of millions across a continent.  Some of our fellow citizens will yield from ignorance, others from misplaced hope, and a few from selfish opportunity.

We’ve work, not celebration, ahead.  Our views, and not a party that so carelessly and indolently represents them, is all we need.

Trump Surrogate Defends Precedent of Internment Camps

Carl Higbie, a Trump surrogate, while speaking to Megyn Kelly on Fox News suggested the internment of the Japanese during the Second World War as a precedent for a registry of Muslim immigrants to America. Kelly rightly rejected the precedent, as the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War and the Korematsu decision upholding that internment have been considered – at least until recently, it seems – among the worst civil liberties violations of that era.

What was unmentioned only weeks ago is now part of our political discussion; what is part of our political discussion now may yet become policy in the new administration.

Kevin Drum on Trump and the End of Reconstruction 

Blogging at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum – like many of us, of whatever politics – seems uncertain about the consequences of a Trump Administration.  (In fairness, much has happened in a short time, and it’s hard to make sense of it all.)

Still, Drum’s thinking has shifted significantly over the last few days, in ways he no doubt sees.  His 11.9 day-after post, Things We Can Count on In the Next Two Years belies his 11.10 post, The United States Is Not About to Spiral Into Fascism and Tryanny

Two days after the election, Drum writes to reassure, contending that Trump will be no different, no worse, than 

say, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would be. Beyond that, though, he’s less conservative on the policy front. The reason Trump is uniquely bad is mostly symbolic: he’s willfully ignorant; he’s vindictive; he’s a demagogue willing to appeal loudly and proudly to racial animus; and he has the attention span of a small child. He’d be an embarrassment to any country, let alone the most powerful country in the world.

Isn’t that bad enough? There’s no need to pretend we’re about to spiral into a fascist nightmare or a financial collapse. We have not embraced tyranny. The United States is a very big battleship, even for Donald Trump.

One day earlier (that is, one day after the election), Drum sees a different prospect for America under Trump:

Since I have the Reconstruction era on my mind right now, it’s hard to avoid the obvious comparison. Reconstruction lasted about eight years, and then was dismantled almost completely. Barack Obama’s presidency lasted eight years and will now be dismantled almost completely. I will withhold my opinion for now on the obvious reason for this similarity.

There lies Drum’s – and our – problem. If a Trump era is anything like the end of Reconstruction was for millions of black Americans at that time, then there is every reason to be extremely concerned. Generations – indeed, during roughly a century of history – went by before millions received the rights the Constitution granted them.

There’s no need to belabor a point that Drum knows, and about which he is sympathetic. The problem for this country is that a politics like the end of Reconstruction was for blacks would be devastating for millions our fellow citizens. When one reaches the need for an analogy between our time and the decades after 1877, one has already arrived at a moment of crisis for huge numbers.

So, is Drum’s initial concern (by way analogy) on 11.9 justified, or is a Trump Administration likely to be little different from how a Cruz or Rubio Administration might have been (as Drum wrote on 11.10)?

Few during these last months thought that Trump, Cruz, and Rubio were much alike; there’s no reason to think they were. A populist politics of Trump’s kind will push as far as it can, making Drum’s initial concerns more probable than his subsequent reassurances.

Americans Support a Diverse Society 

From a March survey of several countries, America stands out as expecially supportive of a diverse society:

I’m not a bit surprised: much of our unmatched greatness lies in our embrace of universal principles and cosmopolitan values, offering as they do a free & equal place for newcomers from the world over.  (We are now and have been a great country; we don’t need to be made again what we already are.)

My forefathers came to this continent well before the Revolution, believing & knowing from their arrival onward that those later arriving from other parts of the world would only enrich the American experience, and make this country stronger.  

SeeAmericans more likely to say growing diversity makes their country a better place to live @ Pew Research Center.

On Libertarianism

In an essay from 2013, Aaron Ross Powell describes libertarianism, succinctly and well:

In medical ethics, there’s the principle primum non nocere. “First, do no harm.” It’s one libertarians keep very much in mind when approaching politics. Most government “solutions” don’t simply not work. They actually make things worse than if they hadn’t been enacted at all. Thus standing in opposition to expanded government isn’t motivated by an uncaring attitude about America’s problems. Instead, it’s motivated by a well-founded understanding of how often government is the cause of those problems….

What we offer is not some powerful man in Washington directing the country, but freedom. Which means freedom for Americans to do unpredictable things. Our solutions are based in the knowledge that many of those unpredictable things (many of the outcomes of unleashed market forces, for example) will radically improve the lives of nearly everyone touched by them….

Libertarianism is an ideology of respect—for people, for their choices, for their values and desires. It is an ideology of hope, one that sees a path to a much better future. Even if that path isn’t as precisely drawn as some might like.

See, in full, First, Do No Harm @ Libertarianism.org.

4 Points About Public Records Requests

So a local paper complains that a local school superintendent won’t comply with a public records request, won’t put the paper on a media contact list, and simply ‘must’ improve communications.  

A few points —

1.  Compliance with a public records request isn’t a ‘communications’ issue; it’s a legal issue, of rights of residents under Wisconsin law.  

2.  Perhaps there would be a greater willingness of public officials to comply with the Public Records Law (Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31-19.39) if newspapers hadn’t made clear that they’re too weak or too miserly to challenge officials’ non-compliance at law.

3.  A newspaper can say all it wants that it’s the ‘leading media company’ of its area, but that doesn’t mean much in a diverse media environment in which newspapers are doomed (as almost everyone knows them to be).  

In any event, social media messaging in many communities – by itself – vastly outstrips the reach of any media company.  Sorry, gentlemen, there is no ‘leading’ force anymore.  

4.  When a resident or publisher thinks about pursuing an issue in which a public records request might be needed, he or she should consider what might be next if officials slow-walk, respond only in part, or simply deny the lawful request.  One would prefer that local officials felt a duty other than self-interest disguised as public interest.  What one would prefer describes – less and less – the environment in which we live.

Residents, bloggers, and community groups that seek information under a public records law should be prepared to defend that request at law.  One hopes that won’t be necessary, but rights are more than hopes, and so one should think ahead, even before a request is submitted: what’s next at law if officials obstruct this request?  See, along these lines, Steps for Blogging on a Policy or Proposal.

That’s a big commitment, but a commitment one should be prepared to see through.  

Business v. Free Markets

Over at Cato, David Boaz writes about The Divide between Pro-Market and Pro-Business. (I’ve also linked to Boaz’s post at my libertarian website, Daily Adams.)

Boaz observes that, too often, business (especially big business) is an opponent of free markets:

In 2014 big business opposed several of the most free-market members of Congress, and even a Ron Paul-aligned Georgia legislator who opposed taxpayer funding for the Atlanta Braves.

The U.S. chamber jumped into a Republican primary in Grand Rapids, Mich., to try to take down Rep. Justin Amash, probably the most pro-free-enterprise and most libertarian member of Congress. Free-market groups, including the Club for Growth, Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity, strongly backed Mr. Amash.

And now the chamber plans to spend up to $100 million on the 2016 campaign. Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, reports, “Some of business’ top targets in 2016 will be right-wing, tea party candidates, the types that have bucked the corporate agenda in Congress by supporting government shutdowns, opposing an immigration overhaul and attempting to close the Export-Import Bank.” Politico adds a highway bill to big business’ list of grievances against fiscal conservatives.

This clash between pro-market and pro-business is an old one. Adam Smith wrote “The Wealth of Nations” to denounce mercantilism, the crony capitalism of his day. Milton Friedman said at a 1998 conference: “There’s a common misconception that people who are in favor of a free market are also in favor of everything that big business does. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Locally, which side would one choose, in a contest between (a) Smith, Hayek, & Friedman on one side, and (b) on the other side the economic manipulations of the WEDC,  UW-Whitewater chancellor, Whitewater city manager, Community Development Authority, and (with some of the same ‘development’ gurus) the Greater Whitewater Committee business lobby?

Honest to goodness, that’s no choice at all.

When one contends in support of free markets, doing the best one can to understand, apply, and defend the arguments of Smith, Hayek, Friedman, et al., one embraces a tradition incomparably superior to the crude, deceptive, and ineffectual manipulation of the economy to the benefit of a few, favored businesses.

One can be confident about this not because there’s anything special about oneself (in my case there certainly isn’t), but because the tradition of which one is a proponent is vastly better than the views of those on the other side.

A strong tradition uplifts its advocates; a weak tradition diminishes its adherents.  Personality doesn’t matter more than sound principle; sound principle creates the world in which personality, of whatever type, may be freely expressed and enjoyed.

 

 

The (Welcome) End of ‘Big’ in a Small Town

I don’t think much of the term ‘movers and shakers’ (that a nearby newspaper used to describe supposedly influential people) or ‘big’ people, etc.  The terms almost always exaggerate actual influence. 

I am sure, though, that a combination of diverse social media, the decline of print, the shifting demographics within Whitewater, and the next generation’s unwillingness to be obsequiously deferential dooms the accurate application terms like ‘movers and shakers’ or ‘big’ people.

This is all to the good: Whitewater’s future will be incomparably better when it’s no longer possible (or even believed to be possible) for a few to insist on reserved seats at the political table, at the expense of others. 

The Puritan-like insistence on one city, one culture, one view depends on a willful ignorance of our actual condition: diverse groups, by age, vocation, ethnicity, and ideology. 

The careful, narrow presentations of print publications, or the imitation of the same online, haven’t – for years now – adequately described this city.  The expiration date on that way of thinking passed long ago. 

This thinking lingers because those who push that view benefit from it, by insisting they have a pre-eminent place, and by advancing their work without even simple review. 

Whitewater’s neither a principality nor a banana republic: she’s a small and beautiful city in a beautiful, continental republic.

The undeniable end of ‘big’ is approaching in Whitewater, and it’s a welcome, indeed a very welcome, prospect.  There will be lots of scrapping along the way, but the outcome is assured.

In its place: thousands, different in many ways, but none higher or lower than any other. 

The Public Records Law Still Stands

After a push to alter Wisconsin’s Public Records Law (Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31-19.39), we’re now secure with the original law intact.  

Below one will find a recording of Wisconsin A.G. Brad Schimel’s Open Government Summit, held earlier this week at the Concourse in Madison.  

J.B. Hollen, Schimel’s immediate predecessor, started strongly in favor of the Public Records Law but was less supportive in his second term.  A.G. Schimel’s approach is better for the public, although it’s disadvantageous for public officials seeking to conceal information from the very residents to whom they are legally obligated.

(It’s also helpful that support for the law is widespread, and not confined to the party in opposition.  Two of the key opponents of gutting the law have been the MacIver Institute, a conservative think tank, and Rick Esenberg’s Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative-leaning public interest firm.)

But one has this problem, that has grown worse over these last few years: too many officials, in cities, towns, and universities, have decided that they can reply to a public records request however they’d like.  Replies like this are dares: will you go to court over this?  Alternatively, will you accept what we’ve supplied, however inadequate in reply it so obviously is? 

Some denials may be over fair questions of interpretation; that’s not what I’m describing.  Many denials are a test of one’s citizenship, of one’s rights in a free, well-ordered society: can someone successfully compel others to accept less than their rights require, consigning them to an inferior position in disregard of the law?

There’s no way to know how a requester will respond to an insufficient reply until the need arises, of course.  It’s helpful, though, to state plainly a path one will follow.  Having stated as much, officials will not be able to say they’ve been blindsided.

This summit was long, I know, and time is precious.  Still, there’s much in here, useful for thinking about government, on one’s own, rather than relying on officials’ superficial, self-serving declarations.  

On the Whitewater Schools

Today is the first of a series of posts about the upcoming, contested WUSD board elections.  Three candidates are running for two seats: Kelly Davis, Dan McCrea, and Jim Stewart.  In today’s post, I’ll summarize some of my own views.

(I’ve been direct these last several years; it makes sense to state one’s convictions plainly, so that readers will know my perspective.) 

Each of the candidates responded to an election survey, and my remarks will mostly follow the ten questions the candidates received.  It’s easier to compare everyone’s views if there’s a similar order to their remarks.  (The candidates’ replies may be found online at lwvwhitewater.org/elections.html.)

One’s Motivation.  Writing is one of many diverse social obligations from which someone may choose.  It is its own thing, neither prelude nor postscript to other activities. 

To write occasionally about education is not to write about it enough; that one spends less time than one might hope on the subject shouldn’t preclude writing as often as one can. 

Philosophy of the School Board’s Role.  It is enough to oversee the daily work of a broader curriculum diligent and fairly.  This can be done without exaggeration, and where the main subjects of discussion are students over adults, teachers over principals, principals over administration, and administration over the board. 

A good rule by which to live: The higher the position, the greater the obligation, and the lower the entitlement.

There is no virtue in ceaselessly announcing oneself.  It’s a vulgar, disgusting habit.

School Board’s Relationship to the Community.  Treat all people as equals.  We are in a community with vast numbers of very sharp people, as is true in any community. 

It’s a proud delusion to believe that only a few are capable.  Delusion makes for poor policy; pride is a sin.

Some people are disadvantaged, and rightly deserve special consideration. Policymakers and commentators are not among them; they’ve no claim to special needs or entitlement.   

Experience with Budgets.  Libertarians (as I am) believe in less spending not as an end in itself, but as a path to smaller government.  We don’t want less for the sake of penny-pinching – we want less government so that there may be more liberty (believing as we do that a large government makes little room for liberty).

It’s individual liberty that matters to us, and to protect it we seek less of government; to seek less of government is to feed it less. 

Some programs, however, are more worthy than others.  To believe in less overall is not to doubt the need for priorities.

In this community, for example, I’d rather see money for schools than a single dime for some dishonest WEDC white-collar program.   (We’re wasting hundreds of thousands – millions in total – on those projects, as we did on the East Gate project, or any number of other unneeded schemes.)

That’s not our choice, now: these education cuts are statewide in scope.  It’s not if,  but how.  

A consistent philosophy shapes budgets, and assures fidelity to fundamental principles. The fragile deserve protection over the robust, and leaders should take less before workers take less.  I’ll advance particular suggestions when the district budget team issues its proposals.

Attracting Teachers.  It’s a market economy – one will have to stay at the market rate.  That sounds trite, but it’s anything but: no one in this community can counteract the broad competitive forces that draw teachers to one place over another.  Prospective employees are not children – they’ll take their best opportunities. 

(I would never have curtailed public-sector unionization, by the way – anyone should be able to organize peacefully against government.  To the extent that Act 10 has made employees less satisfied, we’ve reduced freedom of association, burdened public employers with a less motivated workforce, and made ourselves less attractive compared to public employers in other states.)

Conflict Resolution.  Whitewater’s key problem isn’t conflict, but rather an imposed, mediocre consensus.   Our forebears did not found this beautiful republic so that we might become a country of quivering mice. 

No one wants a brawl; everyone deserves more than a mediocre go-along-nice-and-quietly consensus.  We should be as talented as the country in which we happily live. 

Most Important Issue.  The budget looms largest, but we should be honest with ourselves that we are not an affluent community.  There are many struggling families with children in Whitewater.  We simply can’t budget the way that Cedarburg does, for example.  We have more children in need by percentage in Whitewater than an affluent community would.

Losing sight of this plain truth would be wrong. 

One’s Strengths.  It’s enough to work hard each day, assessing where improvement can and should be made.  One should be one’s hardest critic.  There’s no time for selling oneself. 

Common Core.  I’ve mentioned a need to discuss the curriculum, but that’s not a criticism of Common Core.  I’ve no objections to it; it seems plain to me that teaching is more than adopting Common Core or an alternative. 

Keep Common Core (by whatever name), but recognize that a set of standards is only useful if embraced with relish, with a taste and commitment and excitement.   Learning’s not a syllabus, nor even a book.  It’s the teaching of the book, so to speak, with understanding and excitement. 

The obsession with testing and measuring every last part of teaching does not impress.  It’s an ignorant person’s idea of being learned, by substituting crude measurement for deeper comprehension.

Be clear, though: there’s every reason to be critical of the flacking of scores, such as ACT scores, for political or economic gain.  A properly-educated person does not owe others their manipulations, exaggerations, or schemes for political advantage.  Funny, that it might happen concerning a school system, a place that should advance the honest use of data.

Education is more than a shabby PR scheme.  Those who take that course deserve not deference, but a rigorous critique.

An agenda, a set of testing standards, even a book is a poor substitute for being well-read, for being properly educated. 

Our Charter School. I’m a strong supporter of our charter school, and charter schools generally.  An inquiry school, for example, can offer a good education for children. 

There we are.

Tomorrow: On School Board Candidate Kelly Davis.    

Education: Substance & Spending

Following comments to yesterday’s post on proposed cuts to the UW System schools (Caution arrives late, doesn’t recognize its surroundings), here are nine quick comments about education.

1.  Act 10 as a budgetary tool.  This centrally-planned idea didn’t work.  Reductions in public-union bargaining powers in exchange for the ‘tools’ to balance school and other public budgets hasn’t brought balance.  If it had, districts across the state wouldn’t have felt the need to go to referendum so often (or so easily). 

2.  Act 10 as a matter of labor policy.  Here’s one libertarian, from an old, movement family, who will always believe that any worker, peacefully and conveniently, should have the right to assemble, associate with others, and bargain collectively against the government.  Collective bargaining rights should be – but sadly aren’t recognized properly – as rights of association.   

There are those who don’t believe that public workers should be able to bargain collectively against government.  They’re not libertarians; they have different names.  They’re called conservatives, Republicans, etc.  

3.  How WEDC spending matters within a given budget.  It’s true that within any given budget, if one municipality doesn’t take white-collar welfare, another may.  Practically, this means that funds appropriated within a given year will probably be scarfed by one glutton or another.  Stopping what’s been authorized and appropriated immediately is hard.

4.  How WEDC spending over time affects budgeting.  Use of these funds for insiders’ programs signals demand for insiders’ programs.  The problem of the WEDC is that bad spending after bad spending compounds a distorted, government-driven incentive to fund undeserving cronies and projects.

The Innovation Center predated the WEDC; Whitewater’s eagerly lapped two rounds of WEDC funding, and wants a third.  Most – but not all of it – has gone to white-collar projects undeserving of the cash.

5.  What officials’ commitment to WEDC spending (for example) says about education.  It says they’ve substituted a true learning in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences for a hyper-politicization of the academy. 

Government support for business insiders is a distortion of properly functioning markets, a perversion of a sound teaching in markets and economics.  (That’s why I’ve described corporatism as a gutter ideology – it’s like a junk science.)

It’s repulsive because it doesn’t work as advertised, and advocacy of it rests on dishonesty that’s inimical to a genuine commitment to the truth. 

One might look upon some of this this as finger-pointing, but I’ll always believe that the embrace especially of these software-startup-whatever projects is simply alchemy, not legitimate science, so to speak.  In these eyes, it’s a significant degradation of education and university life. 

I don’t think it’s high and sophisticated; I think it’s low and base.

6.  On state budget cuts generally, for the last two budgets and the next. I would have spent and would spend (or borrow) nothing on road construction (just the least possible repairs), nothing on the WEDC or its proposed successor agency, and would have frozen overall state spending in Gov. Waker’s first term (it’s been rising).  This would have meant state employee layoffs, but it would have preserved (as much as possible) spending on the poor and for education.  

A spending freeze produces a smaller government. 

7.  State university or K-12 education cuts, specifically, would never have been to my thinking. An overall freeze may act as a cut, of course, but even so one much smaller for education than anything we’ve seen or likely will see. 

Billions might have been and yet could be saved apart from education. 

8.  Autonomy for the UW System.  The System would benefit from strong autonomy; the farther it’s away from politics, the better. 

9.  Legislatively-imposed tuition freezes.  I’d let universities decide what to do about tuition; competitive (not regulatory) pressures should influence their choices. 

There is a love of education, a true one, that rejects both how state officials and local university administrators have managed these last few years. That’s the place in which I and others of like views find ourselves.  

Message Independence

Look at Whitewater, and one sees scores of groups with press releases, community announcements, or political viewpoints to publicize.  Even much smaller communities have similar conditions: a dozen people are likely to have more than a dozen views. 

Each day, and especially in an election year, it helps to have the independence to offer views one truly supports, rather than what others expect or want to published.  In this, there’s an advantage in being an independent commentator, aided even more by being a libertarian, a member of a third party. 

Honest to goodness, it’s a blessing to act independently, from a position of strength, without need to please, cater, or oblige. 

Even in more placid times, it’s not worth flacking whatever comes along.  A man or woman should be his or her own man or woman. 

In these times, with schemers near and far looking for someone to push any nutty contention that they’ve concocted for the occasion, it’s even better to stand away from that mud pit. 

Understanding America Backwards

There’s a longstanding maxim of liberty that Americans inherited from England: ‘those things not prohibited by law are permitted.’ The burden is on the state: if there’s no express ban under law, then a person is free to act. 

Since government has to enumerate restrictions if it wants to enforce them, a free society places a practical limitation against constraints on liberty.

(A companion maxim of liberty applies in reverse to the government, itself: the state may do ‘only those things expressly permitted under law.’)

It’s a tragedy of our times that so many officials, and especially small-town ones, believe and act in the opposite and worse way: they assume that action may be limited unless they expressly concede otherwise. 

Most of these same officials consider themselves proud Americans, yet they’re ignorant of even these fundamentals of liberty.  Although those of this ilk may consider themselves proper representatives of our tradition, they’re closer to the hectoring party cadres of third-world autocracies.  

Posted also @ DailyAdams.

Why Whitewater?

This post is the third of a trilogy about Whitewater.  Months ago, I posted the first two of this series. (See, How Many Rights for Whitewater? and What Standards for Whitewater?).  

Those earlier posts may be summarized simply:

Of rights —

All of America, and all of Wisconsin, for all of Whitewater.

Of standards —

The best of Wisconsin, of America, and of civilized places beyond, for all Whitewater.

If rights matter (and they do) and standards matter (and they do), one question yet remains:

Why Whitewater?  

Why write about this place, rather than another?  Why contend over this small city’s future, rather than that of another place?

This, truly, is the easiest answer of all:

The people of our small city are entitled to rights and standards by virtue of life, itself.

There’s no better place in which to write, contend, and live.  

Not partial rights, not sham standards, but a full and genuine measure of both.  No one should live that he or she is no more than an extra in someone else’s film, or an ornament for a vain man’s pride.  

Someone once told me, by way of a supposed rebuke, that it was wrong to expect as much of officials in Whitewater, and for the residents of our city. She believed that one should settle for less from government, and expect less for residents, as this was a small town incapable of better.

To contend as she did is to contend falsely, to advance a dark and cynical view.  

All around us, among many thousands, one finds talent and accomplishment.  It is right to see as much, but even if one saw none of this, still it would be wrong to suggest that those who live here are deserving of less.  

There are also residents here, as there are in every community, who are ill or disabled – but they also are entitled by nature to the rights and care owed to all others.  Often, they are deserving of additional care and comfort.  

People see as they’d like, and love as they’d like, but as for me, I see Whitewater, and love her, in this way: through an unshakable belief that people in our city merit rights and standards naturally and necessarily.  

Here, as beautiful and as deserving as anywhere.

Steps for Blogging on a Policy or Proposal

For bloggers who cover politics, policy-making, etc., just as would have been true of essayists and pamphleteers in an earlier time, it helps to have a method to one’s writing.  In the paragraphs below, I’ll list steps one should take when approaching a topic.  

The steps are in a rough order, but in any method, one sometimes returns to an earlier step, or jumps ahead if necessary.

1. Read.  Often long before writing, there’s reading (and listening).  One reads the documents in a proposal, including contracts, studies, and other supporting materials, and listens to presentations on the proposal.  

Reading and listening are more than a study of a particular proposal; they are a reliance on what one has read before, on the topic but also on other topics, perhaps seemingly unrelated at first blush.  In the end, what one reads – if it’s any good – is a review of others’ recounted experiences and analyses.  

Rely on the sound foundation of the works of respected authors and researchers.  

2.  Walk around.  If writing about a place, try to visit it if possible. Maps may produce a poor understanding of distance, line-of-sight, and the influence of weather. Similarly, if writing about devices, try to find one, to hold it in one’s hand, to learn how it looks and feels.

3.  Write initially.  After reading and listening and walking about or examining a device, start writing.  

Sometimes, all that one has read or experienced will offer a definite opinion.

Other times, one may begin merely with a series of questions.  It’s rare that a significant topic inspires just one question.  Questions are both a search for information and an expression of prior, informed understanding.  

Publish your questions.

It’s not an exercise of due diligence to ask one weak question, to ignore the need for a responsive answer, or to fail to act after the vague answers one receives (or does not even receive).  Asking a question and doing nothing after getting no answer or a poor answer isn’t an exercise in accountability, but instead an abdication of it.

Politics is littered with those who think that one tepid question is enough, and that the mere asking somehow fulfills one’s duty.  America did not become a great and advanced republic through timid political and scientific inquiry.

4.  Informal requests to officials.  If you’ve a few questions you’d like to ask directly, do so with an announcement of those same questions to your readers.

It’s a mistake to think that private conversations with officials will advance blogging on public issues.  (See, as an example, mention in FREE WHITEWATER from 11.6.13 letting readers know that I would be asking Whitewater’s city manager about particular documents.)

Private discussions always run the risk of being manipulated to officials’ advantage.  If one would like to be a tool or toad of government, then one can always join a fish-wrap community newspaper, where every day is an exercise in sycophancy.  

5.  Formal requests.  If an inquiry demands a public records request under state or federal law, go ahead and submit one.  As with an informal request to officials, publish the full request online after you’ve submitted it.  Let readers see what you’re seeking from government, verbatim.

In the same way, publish what you receive in reply to your request.  I’ve come to see that it’s a mistake to leave a government’s reply unpublished. Readers should see the full reply.

Be prepared to follow up.  A reply will likely raise other questions.  Let your readers know those questions, including any subsequent, formal records request.  

6.  Litigation.  Never threaten what one is not prepared to do; don’t publish threats (of litigation) in any event.  

(There was an odd situation like this a year ago between two Wisconsin bloggers, where one of them taunted the other with the risk of a lawsuit.  It was a sorry affair.  The law is not a threat; it’s a defense.)     

When writing about a major topic, think – as best as one can – about where it might lead. Most topics, needless to say and thankfully so, will never be the subject of lawsuits.  For a very few, that might be a possibility.  

Consult with a lawyer if you have significant questions, about whether to obtain documents, assure open meetings access, protect a right, or advance a vital public policy.  Conversations on any of these topics will be between the lawyer and the blogger-client, and afterward addressed methodically with sang-froid, that cold calm that’s useful for success. 

I’m sure I’ve missed much, but here’s the general method, some steps to be repeated, others never to be reached: (1) read & listen (2) visit places & study objects if possible, (3) write, asking questions where necessary, (4) submit informal requests to government if seemingly fruitful, (5) submit formal requests under the law, (6) consult an attorney for advice on rights under the law or limitations on government action.   

Having a method for blogging on policy makes writing better for both blogger and readers. It’s as simple as that.

An Anecdote about an Appeal to (but not of) Authority

Years ago, around when I first started writing, someone told me about a conversation that person heard about blogging.  I’ll share it with you, and explain why it was, initially, hard for me to understand.  The person telling me about the conversation was reputed to be especially clever, and that reputation actually made it harder for me to understand what was being said.

Clever Person: There was a conversation about your blog, between Official X and Official Y, when they first learned about it.  Official X thinks it’s terrible, one of the worst things that could happen to the town.  Official Y thinks it’s just wrong and unimaginable that anyone would read a blog with a pseudonymous author.     

Adams: No one has to read what he or she doesn’t want to read.  People are free to choose.  Still, our country has a proud tradition of anonymous commentary, even before the Revolution.  What people read is their choice, not mine.  

Clever Person (in a slightly stronger voice):  Official Y thinks it’s just wrong and unimaginable that anyone would read a blog with a pseudonymous author.  

Adams:  Yes, no one has to read what he or she doesn’t want to read. 

(It’s at this point that I became confused.  Clever Person had just repeated part of the prior observation, with emphasis.  I’d heard it the first time, replied briefly, and so I didn’t understand the need for repetition.  But Clever Person was said to be, well, a clever person, so I assumed there was some worthy justification for the repetition.)

Clever Person (stronger still, with particular emphasis):  Official Y thinks it’s just wrong and unimaginable that anyone would read a blog with a pseudonymous author.     

It was then, but not before, that I understood Clever Person’s concern: it wasn’t that someone disagreed with pseudonymous authorship, it was that Official Y disagreed with that authorship.  

The reputed cleverness of my interlocutor contributed to my confusion – my mistaken assumption was that a sharp person would only care about someone else’s substantive objection, not someone else’s status.  The truth of criticism, after all, should hold regardless of someone else’s role or authority.  

Instead, in that moment, I saw that Clever Person may have been clever, but not so much so that someone else’s title, role, status, whatever, didn’t exert a powerful sway.  In Clever Person’s mind, the criticism wouldn’t have mattered so much, I suppose, it it had come from a vagrant; it mattered because it came from supposed town notable.      

There are, however, no notables, no dignitaries, no very important people, no higher or lower, no above or below.  It’s a small American town, meant always to live in conditions of liberty and equality.  

To see our community otherwise is to see through cloudy eyes, imagining things that do not exist.

And that, I’d say, isn’t so clever at all.

Update: Victory for the Entrepreneurial Monks of Saint Joseph Abbey in Louisiana

Over three years ago, I posted about Louisiana’s attempt to prevent the monks of Saint Joseph Abbey from making and selling handmade caskets.  Their products were of fine craftsmanship and durability, and so sought-after. Despite the quality of their work, Louisiana insisted that only a state-licensed funeral director could sell caskets, and that it was a crime for the monks to do so.

This year, a federal appellate court (the Fifth Circuit) overturned Louisiana’s regulatory requirement, and now the United States Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from Louisiana.  This assures that the lower court decision will stand, and so the abbey has, at last, its long-sought vindication. 

See, from 2010, Institute for Justice: Free the Monks and Free Enterprise.

(Licensing requirements like this have the obvious consequence of protecting incumbent manufacturers or sellers from competitors who, despite the quality of their products, find themselves denied licenses or burdened with heavy regulatory fees.)

I’ve republished a video from the Institute for Justice, a non-profit law firm that represented the monks, and also the IJ’s latest press release about their win.

A case like this isn’t just important for Louisiana, or Saint Joseph Abbey, or the abbey’s customers.  It’s encouraging for small and independent artisans from one side of the country to another, who’d like a chance to offer good and valued products to willing, satisfied purchasers. 

Press release, 10.15.13:

Arlington, Va.—Today, the Benedictine monks of Saint Joseph Abbey won the final battle of their five-year confrontation with the State of Louisiana when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the petition of the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors seeking to overturn the brothers’ landmark constitutional victory.  In March, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Louisiana’s law requiring a funeral director’s license to sell a casket, affirming the constitutional right to earn an honest living without unreasonable government interference.

This case arose when the brothers of Saint Joseph Abbey, a century-old Benedictine monastery in Covington, La., began to sell their handmade caskets in late 2007 to support the monks’ educational and healthcare expenses.  The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors moved to shut down the fledgling business before it sold even one casket because it was a crime in Louisiana for anyone but a government-licensed funeral director to sell caskets to the public.  The monks brought suit in federal court on the ground that this arbitrary restriction served no legitimate public purpose and existed only to funnel money to the funeral-director cartel. 

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of review puts the final nail in the coffin for the state board’s protectionist and outrageous campaign against the monks,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Scott Bullock.  “The Abbey’s victory in this case will not only protect their right to sell caskets, but the rights of entrepreneurs throughout the country.” 

The monks’ victory is one of only a handful of cases since the 1930s in which federal courts have enforced the constitutional right to economic liberty. 

Abbot Justin Brown, who heads the monastic community said, “Today is a good day for us at the Abbey.  Knowing that not only has our economic liberty been protected forever, but that we also helped secure the same rights for others makes this years-long battle worth it.”  

“Back in March, the 5th Circuit rejected economic protectionism as a legitimate state interest,” explained Jeff Rowes, an IJ senior attorney.  “With the Supreme Court’s denial of the funeral board’s appeal, the 5th Circuit’s ruling becomes final.”

“The government cannot require individuals to go through onerous licensing requirements just to sell a box,” said IJ Attorney Darpana Sheth.  “This victory opens the door to strike down other irrational licensing restrictions that really serve to protect industry insiders.”

“Arbitrary licensing laws crush the dreams of countless aspiring entrepreneurs across the nation,” said Institute President and General Counsel William Mellor.  “This precedent gives them hope that the day will soon come when government no longer stands in the way of honest enterprise.”

Read the Fifth Circuit Decision:
http://iam.ij.org/LACasketsDecision.

The End of the Beginning

After a British victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein, Churchill famously observed of the war in November 1942 that 

….Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning….

So it is, even locally, with the War on Drugs. Like many others, I don’t smoke and I seldom drink (all the more to savor an occasional drink recipe).  Like millions of others, though, I see that the Drug War has been too expensive, too ineffective, failing to prevent drug abuse while simultaneously abusing civil liberties. 

The problems of addiction are no better; headlines proclaiming supposed victories no longer command belief, these forty years on. 

When proponents of numbers policing chose to describe their efforts as a war, they might have thought more carefully about which war we’d be waging.  For all their good intentions, they gave us not the Second World War, but Vietnam.  

That’s part of the sadness of this effort, too: so many good, frontline people tied to an ineffectual  strategy that’s been unworthy of their participation.    

Close at home, one sees signs of the end of the beginning, from the Janesville Gazette‘s Friday editorial, “As marijuana gains ground, law enforcement faces decisions.” 

The editorial is available only in print or to online subscribers, but it’s telling.  Ever so hesitantly, cautiously, almost begrudgingly the Gazette‘s editorialist inches readers toward the truth of marijuana enforcement: that it’s been an expensive mistake.   

In Rock, Jefferson, and Walworth Counties, there will be furious insistence from the unreconstructed that nothing’s changing, and that nothing ever will. In some towns nearby, and particularly from the bench and Sheriff’s Office in Elkhorn, the last holdouts will rail against change until, finally, the laws they’ve so punitively enforced and sentences they’ve so punitively imposed are no more.  

To those few, who have been inveterate Drug Warriors, seeking punishment but not treatment: you will, not so long from now, see our nation’s rejection of your approach.  The Draconian laws on which you’ve relied will be repealed, your enforcement programs cancelled, and your funding for endless, pricey purchases cut.  

In place of all this, you’ll still have a useful role: as examples of what not to do, of yesterday’s approach, as exemplars of the ill-conceived.

Across America, states are liberalizing their marijuana laws, police officers are declaring against the Drug War, and there’s a growing effort to Regulate Marijuana Like Wine.  A majority nationally now favors decriminalization, and that political trend is only growing.   

We’re not at the end of a failed strategy, but we’re at least at the end of the beginning of that failed strategy. 

When the laws change (and they will), I’ll still not smoke, and I’ll still drink only occasionally.  Yet, on that day, I’ll raise a glass to those who fought for change, for a focus on treatment over punishment, and in memory of those whose lives were ruined through an expensive, decades-long, ineffectual strategy.