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Take A Break

in From Me To You, Liberator Online by Brett Bittner Comments are off

Take A Break

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Rest. Relaxation. Leisure.

All of that sounds delightful. Why? Because it’s the opposite of most of our lives. We work. We raise families. We volunteer.

Those restful vacations break up our daily lives. Even a change of scenery while we toil can be refreshing.

breakPolitics is no different, and you don’t necessarily need to plan a getaway.

Every once in a while, you need to take a break from the grind of politics. There’s no need to go to, watch, read, and consume EVERYTHING ALL. THE. TIME.

As libertarians, we attune ourselves to the actions of, commentary about, and reactions to what happens in Washington DC and state capitols. That’s a lot of information to keep track of.

Additionally, we interact with other libertarians, other politicos, and media organizations almost obsessively. In today’s age of information, it’s almost like trying to drink from a firehose.

We can easily become overwhelmed by it all.

Being overwhelmed can impact our effectiveness. It can also hurt our ability to effectively communicate with others, both within the libertarian movement and with those who haven’t joined us yet. We don’t even realize it’s happened.

That’s when it’s time to take a break.

If you need sun, surf, and drinks with umbrellas in them, take a few days to soak up the sun on the beach with an umbrella drink.

Often, it only takes stepping back to turn a wrench, paint a picture, or play your guitar. Letting your hobbies and interests clear your mind for a few hours, days, or even a week will change you.

Personally, I’m a fan of completely unplugging, and I come back refreshed, invigorated, and eager to jump back into the swing of things.

Politics Can Wait!

in From Me To You, Liberator Online by Brett Bittner Comments are off

Politics Can Wait!

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard about the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. At 79, he passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, February 13th.

Within hours, political pundits, amateur and professional alike, took to social media and the airwaves to share their thoughts on Scalia’s passing and offered their view on what should happen next with regard to the vacant seat on the bench. The typical partisan divide and political fight appeared almost immediately with Republicans pointing to a delay of the appointment, with Democrats favoring the president’s intent to fill the position during the current term.

We even saw a question at that night’s GOP Presidential debate posed to the candidates, who all agreed that the Republican-controlled Senate should delay any nomination until the 2016 election victor assumes office.

punchThrough the weekend, each “team” lined up with their talking points and punditry about the history of Supreme Court appointments that supported their view. The audience they reach became parrots for those same talking points and historical events to allow them to score political points for their “team.”

Here’s the problem: Everyone was talking past one another to “win” the imaginary debate taking place before the other “team” could.

In a few hours after a man’s death, very few took the opportunity to acknowledge it, praise the good works, lament the loss, and extend condolences to those personally affected by his passing. Instead, it became what politics brings out in people… the worst.

We also see it in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and tragedies like Sandy Hook. Rather than react to the situation to make the lives affected better, a stampede to microphones and platforms takes place to politicize what just happened.

While it may appeal to some to jump into the fray in the wake of a disaster or the loss of a prominent figure, that activity drives away those who aren’t a part of your “team.”

The divisiveness of these conversations is akin to the wedge issues used by politicians to divide the public and prevent discourse about the ACTUAL issues.

Normal people take a moment to reflect on what just happened, while the super political “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Which one are you?

When You Listen

in From Me To You, Liberator Online by Brett Bittner Comments are off

When You Listen

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Markets, supply and demand, and general economic principles are not common knowledge. Those topics were barely mentioned in my single semester of economics in high school.

So, why do we fight so hard to teach them when we converse (or debate, yell and scream) about the issues in politics today?

Previously, we discussed how important listening is in our conversations with “libertarians in waiting” — those we are talking about libertarian ideas in a persuasive manner.

Recently, I discussed Uber’s “Surge Pricing” with my Uber driver. He talked about how much he despises “price gouging,” how many complaints he gets about it, and how it isn’t fair.

Because we engaged in conversation early in the ride, I know that his family owns a hotel. The conversation evolved to his experiences as a driver and came to the Surge Pricing issue.

At this point, we could “defend” the concept we know as scarcity and tried to convey an economic message against his “price gouging” view. How effective would that be?

Instead of trying to teach a strictly economic lesson, let’s focus on the fairness of the situation and the best outcomes for all involved.

So, rather than talk about scarcity, we discussed how fair it is to put a cap on prices in an emergency situation (akin to the anti-price gouging laws in many states). We talked about the hotel business and discussed what would happen if a room rate were capped at $100 per room per night vs. letting the market find a price point of $200 (or more) per room per night.

Here’s my example: If the Ventura family is escaping a natural disaster and comes upon a hotel that hasn’t raised prices, for the sake of comfort, they might take two rooms (one for the adults and one for the children) at the hotel if two are available at that price. That means “No Vacancy” for the travelers behind them. The Thomas family, who left an hour after the Venturas, has to continue on to another hotel or maybe even another town, or they might choose to sleep in their car.

no vacancy - listenIf the hotel operator instead raised the prices as his stock depletes and charges $200 per room per night, the Venturas would be more likely to squeeze together into a single room, leaving a room available for the tired Thomas family, who no longer has to search for a hotel room.

After planting that seed, we discussed the recent controversy about the Surge Pricing by Uber on New Year’s Eve.

I asked him if he was done partying at 1 AM and ready to go home, would he prefer to know that he could get his ride with Uber quickly, but for a higher than normal price, or hail a ride via the service if it can’t pay anything additional to the drivers for the holiday and heavier than normal traffic on a Thursday night. There’s no longer an incentive (higher than normal fares) for new drivers to come out to drive, so the wait might be akin to that of a cab company with a similar problem of a fixed number of drivers. In Indianapolis, I heard about New Year’s Eve revelers waiting nearly 3 hours for a taxi.

When you need a ride NOW, is it fair to have to wait hours, when you could pay more to get one in 5 minutes? Is it fair to the drivers to get paid the same rate for a holiday and much heavier than normal traffic?

When you listen. you get an opportunity to tell a story that someone else can easily grasp with no economic education, by focusing your comments on their concerns.

What is a Libertarian Win? Part 2

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What is a Libertarian Win? Part 2

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**Note: This is the second part of an article focused on wins for libertarians. You can find the first part, focused on electoral politics, here.**

Outside of winning your election as a candidate or some of the other wins we shared in Part 1, libertarians can win in other ways as well.

  • winWinning a voter referendum. Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon re-legalized the possession and use of marijuana recreationally. About half of the states that legalized marijuana for medical use did so through ballot measures. These popular votes increased freedom for everyone in their respective states and pressured nearby states to “keep up with the Joneses.” These referendums gave libertarians an opportunity to share a message about the freedom to choose what goes into your body. Statewide ballot measures are not the only opportunities to share a freedom-oriented position on an issue. Local tax referendums take place across the country, and are a great opportunity for a win for libertarians. We can highlight wasteful spending, cronyism, and the proper role of government in opposition to the proposed tax. Who votes to tax themselves? 
  • Lobbying for legislative action. Referendums are not the only avenue for libertarian legislative wins. Strong working relationships with legislators and their staff can yield positive results for liberty if you work with them to pass freedom-oriented bills. This can be a difficult route, even if you have legislators friendly to the issue you’re working on. This will also require some coalescing with other groups with a similar interest and potentially compromising to get some of what you seek. This is easier with the more populist beliefs we hold.
  • Disruptive innovation. Almost entirely outside of politics, free market innovations that revolutionize industries and change the way we do things disrupt the status quo and offer another win for libertarians. Innovations like Uber, Airbnb, and Amazon transformed transportation, travel lodging, and retail sales. Until your innovation affects Big Government and their cronies, this won’t become a political issue. As Uber, Airbnb, and Amazon can tell you, the politicization of innovation will get you interested in politics, no matter the level of interest you held before.

Can you think of any other ways a libertarian can win?

The Religious Test Clause and Muslims

in Conservatism, Elections and Politics, Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Comments are off

The Religious Test Clause and Muslims

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Ben Carson raised more than a few eyebrows on Sunday when he said that a Muslim should never be considered for the presidency. The retired neurosurgeon and Republican presidential hopeful was responding to a question from Meet the Press host Chuck Todd when he made the Islamophobic comment.

“Should a president’s faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?” Todd asked Carson.

“Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter,” Carson replied. “But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem.”

Todd followed up by asking Carson if he believes Islam is consistent with the Constitution. Carson didn’t hesitate. “No, I do not,” he said. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.” He did say, however, that he would consider voting for a Muslim for Congress, which he said is a “different story,” if he agreed with their policies.

Carson is among the presidential candidates who have made railing against Islam a frequent theme of their campaigns. This rhetoric may appeal a part of the Republican Party’s ultra-conservative base, but it’s disappointing to hear coming from anyone with a large following.

Of course Carson is free to set his own criteria for voting for a candidate. Every voter has that right, and some did against the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon. But let’s be clear here, Article VI, Clause 3 of the Constitution states: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” (Emphasis added.)

The framers of the Constitution had their reasons for adding the language. “First, various Christian sects feared that, if any test were permitted, one might be designed to their disadvantage. No single sect could hope to dominate national councils. But any sect could imagine itself the victim of a combination of the others,” Gerard Bradley explains. “More importantly, the Framers sought a structure that would not exclude some of the best minds and the least parochial personalities to serve the national government.”

Any suggestion that a candidate for federal office should be subjected to a religious test should is itself inconsistent with the Constitution. And, no, “but Sharia law” isn’t a valid response. It’s a half-cocked conspiracy theory, but that’s what passes for political and policy discussion today in the United States, at least in some circles.

Do You Prefer Cats, Dogs — Or Liberty?

in Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the President’s Corner section in Volume 19, No. 2 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

As president of the organization that publishes the world’s first and most popular online political Quiz, I was naturally interested when TIME magazine posted an online political quiz this month in an article entitled “Your Personality Makes Your Politics.”

“Can TIME Predict Your Politics?” the article’s subhead asked.

Alas, for me — and, I suspect, many other readers — the answer was a resounding NO.

I took their quiz, and TIME’s description of my political views was wildly out of synch with what I believe. Not even remotely close. And I found some of the questions downright bewildering.

There are several reasons for this, which I’ll discuss in a moment.

But the main reason TIME got my position so very, very wrong is that my political view — libertarian — was not one of the possible answers.

Yes, that’s right. TIME’s quiz attempts to shoehorn every taker’s politics as some variant of liberal, conservative, or moderate.

TIME’s quiz uses the simplistic, inaccurate, discriminatory, discredited left-versus-right view of politics — which leaves out libertarians entirely.

And there’s simply no excuse for that.

Numerous recent surveys indicate that 15%-20% or more of Americans are more libertarian than either liberal or conservative. The 2012 Cato Institute book The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center explores these results at length, and concludes that 10 to 20 percent of Americans are fiscally conservative and socially liberal-libertarian.

In August 2000 the Rasmussen polling firm gave the Advocates’ World’s Smallest Political Quiz to nearly 1,000 representative American voters. Our Quiz is a far more rigorous test of one’s libertarian leanings than the looser definitions typically used by polling firms. Yet fully sixteen percent scored in the libertarian sector then — a figure roughly identical to Cato’s estimate.

And the numbers are growing fast. An August poll by FreedomWorks found that fully “78 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents self-identify as fiscally conservative and socially moderate.” Further: “Told that libertarians generally believe individuals should be free to do as they like as long as they don’t hurt others and that the government should keep out of people’s day-to-day lives, 58 percent of the full national sample said they agree.”

Any attempt to identify American’s political leanings that leaves out many of these millions of libertarians and libertarian-leaners is thus doomed to fail.

The inadequacies of the left-versus-right model of politics was the main reason David Nolan created his now-famous Nolan Chart back in 1971, the graphic foundation of the Advocates’ World’s Smallest Political Quiz.

By showing that there was more to politics than just left versus right, our Quiz has opened millions of minds to a more inclusive, more insightful political map.

This accuracy is one reason the Quiz rapidly became the world’s most popular political quiz. It’s been taken over 20 million times online. It’s been recommended by numerous major high school and college textbooks and is used in classrooms across America. It’s been translated into several languages and reprinted in newspapers and magazines with total circulations in the many millions.

All of this is because it works. Because it provides honest, essential, enlightening insights into politics. Because it realizes that no discussion of modern American politics makes sense without including the distinctive libertarian view (and its mirror-opposite, statism).

But back to the TIME quiz.

I have a lot of respect for the researcher behind TIME’s quiz. Jonathan Haidt is the author of the outstanding 2012 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, which is carefully researched and rich in political insights. I recommend it.

That book shows Haidt has a solid understanding of libertarianism and, more than that, an appreciation of what libertarians believe. And I’m a strong proponent of Haidt’s goal of fostering more productive political discussions through a greater understanding of different viewpoints.

TIME’s quiz isn’t a traditional political quiz. It tries to identify your politics based on a number of seemingly non-political questions that have been found to correlate with a person’s political leanings. The first question, for instance is, “Do you prefer cats or dogs?”

This is an interesting line of research, but since libertarians apparently aren’t included in this — and since the overriding value of libertarians is political liberty across the board, trumping cultural or lifestyle matters — I would think it would be hard to identify libertarians in such a way (though I could be wrong). Perhaps the quiz’s lack of a libertarian score indicates this.

A few of the questions also suffer from ambiguity in wording, something libertarians are especially sensitive to. Like “Respect for authority is something all children need to learn.” What KIND of authority? Political? Family? School? Religion? Tell us more! For libertarians, the key political question is always: Is force being initiated?

By the way, Haidt himself acknowledges the problems with the left-right line. In the introduction to his TIME quiz, he notes: “many people can’t place themselves along the liberal-conservative dimension — such as libertarians, or people who find wisdom on both sides on different issues.” The results, he says, is that the TIME quiz has “moderate predictive power.”

Given this, TIME’s Quiz — like all efforts at political measurement based on the hopelessly inadequate left-versus-right model — is doomed to not work for millions of us — or to produce less than satisfying results overall.

Back to the drawing board, TIME! Meanwhile, why not offer the World’s Smallest Political Quiz to your readers — as the Washington Post, London Sunday Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Miami Herald and many other outstanding publications have done?

Woody Harrelson: People Would Do Fine Without Government

in Communicating Liberty by Advocates HQ Comments are off

Woody HarrelsonWoody Harrelson is one of the world’s most famous and respected film stars. He’s also well known as an outspoken activist for causes including civil liberties, peace, environmental issues and relegalizing marijuana.

In an interview in the June / July 2013 Issue of Details magazine Harrelson expands on his political views — revealing a strong skepticism about politics and politicians and declaring, among other things, that he’s an anarchist who thinks people would get along just fine without the State.

Excerpts: 

WOODY HARRELSON: I tend to not like politicians, because it’s a subtle form of prostitution. Or maybe not so subtle.

DETAILS: So you dislike Democrats as much as you dislike the GOP?

WOODY HARRELSON: It’s all synchronized swimming to me. They all kneel and kiss the ring. Who’s going to take on the oil industry or the medical industry? People compare Obama to Lyndon Johnson, but I think a better comparison is between Obama and Nixon. Because Nixon came into office saying he was going to pull out of Vietnam, and then he escalated the war. A lot of us were led to believe that Obama was the peace president, but there are still, I think, 70,000 troops in Afghanistan.

DETAILS: You’re an advocate for legalizing marijuana. Do you think recent events make it more likely?

WOODY HARRELSON: I can’t imagine that it’s going to happen, no. The deeper issue is, what does it mean to live in a free country? In the U.S., something like 80 percent of people in prison are there for “consensual crimes.”

DETAILS: Do you want to get more involved in politics?

WOODY HARRELSON: No. I don’t believe in politics. I’m an anarchist, I guess you could say. I think people could be just fine looking after themselves.