Monday, October 17, 2016

Never Means Never

Disclaimer: I write this on my long-dormant personal blog for the express purpose of distancing my employer from what follows. I composed this strictly on my own time, at my apartment (or on the Metro) on my personal computer and thus should not in any way be read to be part of my professional affiliations, my employer’s tax status, or anything but one more libertarian shouting into the void of the Internet. -JPB

I’ve never voted for a Democrat in an election.* I left the GOP years ago, but when it came down to voting in recent years, I either preferred Republican candidates, picked no candidate, voted for third-party candidates, or—on at least two occasions where I couldn’t care less who won, voted for a feline—once, posthumously. That said, for spearheading criminal justice reform on Capitol Hill, I had planned to vote for Jim Webb—it helped that he was the last of the Blue Dog Dems—but he didn’t run for re-election. For similar reasons, I would vote for term-limited Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe if given the opportunity, but I won’t get it. (2013 me can’t believe I just typed that.)

Additionally, it has become painfully obvious over time that the GOP had no interest in moving toward a real small-government platform, and the idea that there was even a plurality that cared enough about civil liberties related to anything other than abortion protests was a cruel joke. Small-L libertarians were intellectual window-dressing to a Republican party that cared much more about instituting trans-vaginal ultrasounds, maintaining barriers to social and legal benefits for homosexual couples, public bathroom rules, and fetus funerals than getting the hell out of people’s lives.

I haven’t become more of a Democrat in my almost 10 years in Virginia, but whatever the GOP says it is, it is not a party I can support at all.

To be fair, with some very meager gains among minority voters during the years under George W. Bush, the party’s rhetoric on race had improved. Granted, it was building from the primordial ooze of Lee Atwater race double-talk, so it’s not like these guys were getting Image Awards any time in the near future, but the party leaders at least appeared to realize a strategy that built ONLY on white resentment was not a viable long-term strategy.

But now the guise of double-talk has been wholly and unmistakably discarded.

At the head of the GOP is a hate monger. He long refused to discourage his followers who acted violently. His scorched earth strategy going into the final stretch is a nightmare of demagoguery. He is a fraud, and a reckless and dangerous man who has supporters who chant “USA! USA!” at the prospect of mob rule. Quite literally.

In past years, I’ve argued for voting for a third party candidate as an act of principle. But this argument supposes emotionally and mentally stable, if equally awful, candidates who wouldn’t plunge the world into economic and political chaos.

I’m not overstating it. The stock market hit would probably eclipse the one in 2007, and that would be well before he ever took office. Because stability and reliability are the backbone of a functioning market economy—the only thing reliable in Trump’s campaign is beating the drum of ethno-religious demagoguery—we would likely see world markets tumble.

That means retirement funds crashing. That means more people out of work.  That means more people falling (back?) into poverty, here and worldwide. That means less international stability, which could lead to more wars—yes, Virginia, our foreign policy can get worse and thinking Trump gives a damn about fixing our current debacle is infuriatingly na├»ve.

But principle!

There is no principle here. This is wrapping oneself in the warm blanket of immense privilege. A privilege that insulates you from crowds of people who want to deport you and your family to some place you’ve never seen. A privilege that insulates you from fearing for your life when you get stopped for the 50th time an incompetent police officer who sees violence when he sees your skin. A privilege that is made possible in large part in my social network by the unbearable whiteness of libertarianism.

To hell with that. This isn’t a ‘heroin in vending machines’free market thought experiment. This is 11 million undocumented people and millions more who look and talk like they do that face the prospect of curtailed rights and justifiable fears for their safety. This is a country that is still racially segregated, policed separately and unequally, and whose police unions are lining up behind a racist demagogue. This is a country of immigrants who have faced attacks on mosques, Sikh temples, and just walking down the street for their families’ free choice to live here and be free—or freer, anyway. If actual freedom is your principle, then doing what you can to stop a demagogue should be high on your to-do list.

I love my country. But I don't trust it.

My vote does not convey approval for every one of a candidate’s decisions, any more than my tax dollars do. And no, my vote by itself doesn’t matter at all mathematically. I’ve written about this before too.

I understand the ramifications of losing the Supreme Court. I understand the policy implications of a neo-conservative foreign policy apparatus and, God forbid, a Democratic Senate under Chuck Schumer. It will be bad.

But the alternative is not close to equivalently bad. It is so much worse. It’s not close.

Now, because we see names on a ballot that do not belong to the two major parties or that there is a write-in line, we can pretend that we don’t face the two choices that we do. But during none of my previous votes for Bob Barr, Gary Johnson, or Hank the Cat did I think they had a legitimate shot at winning. It was my small way of saying “No.” In almost any other circumstance I can imagine, I would be full-throatedly behind a libertarian protest or preference vote.

But not this year.

Our choices are binary, whether we like the system or not. (I do not.) But this GOP has made quite clear it is unwilling and incapable of reining in a President Trump, and there’s no reason to think a Republican Congress would act on unconstitutional or impeachable offenses. He is an unmitigated disaster for the country already, and it can, in fact, be much worse.

It’s clear my policy preferences aren’t going to win this year. That’s unfortunate, but not terribly unusual. What is different this year are the real world costs of putting a racist demagogue in power.

I’m with Her because Black Lives Matter is more than a phrase to me, despite my reservations about her efficacy to improve the status quo. I’m with Her because I understand that a Trump win isn’t the same to millions of people across this country and this planet not as fortunate as I am. I’m with Her because, in actuality, policies that result in bad outcomes for people of color are far better than no policies, a paranoid delegitimization campaign, and overt racism from the highest office in the land. I'm with Her because my partner gets antisemitic messages because racists have been emboldened by this wretch of a man. I'm with Her because, for all her faults--faults that have and will likely result in more people dying--she's still a more reliable and less dangerous person in re: foreign policy than he is.

I'm with Her because the tangible effects of the imperfect liberty this country provides mean something far more to me than an impotent stand on principle.

*I did vote for Bill Euille in the recent mayoral race in Alexandria, Virginia, but technically he was a write-in candidate because he could not run for his party’s nomination as mayor because his failed in his attempt at winning the Congressional seat now held by Don Beyer.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Anchor Babies, Welfare Queens, and Other Gutless Euphemisms

I don't usually write about immigration because it's not my specialty, but I do know a thing or two about language. Earnest People™ are asking what term they should use instead of "anchor babies" because critics (rightly) believe it is a derogatory term, but right-of-center folks want a term to describe children who are used as excuses to stay in the country. 

Here's my suggestion:

"Greatly exaggerated phenomenon I use to express both my disdain for immigrants and signal my resentment of the continued growth of the welfare state despite the two not being closely related"

Doesn't really roll off the tongue, does it? Okay, maybe this:

"Undesirable brown child."

"Whoa, Jon. That's going too far!" you may be thinking. But it really isn't.

This continued conversation has context and that context is nativism.  Nativism is and always has been closely tied to racism--even leading to hate crimes--and there's just no getting around that. You can have non-racist reasons to oppose immigration, but "anchor babies" is a loaded term and you're kidding yourself if you think otherwise.

There is little evidence that a large number of unauthorized immigrants are coming to America with the intended purpose of having children to stay in the country legally. Yes, people have children while they're here. And sure, people have children for bad reasons all the time so I'm sure that some people do, in fact, come here with that intention. But there's nothing really to support that this is some sort of widespread scheme to do so and therefore that it warrants massive policy change. How do I know this? The law doesn't make it easy to have a kid get parents legal access to the Land of the Free: (Via WaPo)
In order to apply for such an option, the parent of a so-called anchor baby would need to do all of the following.
  • Wait for his or her child to reach the age of 21.
  • Leave the United States.
  • Return to their home country.
  • Have their child begin the lengthy process of applying for a family reunification immigration request.
  • Clear consular interviews and a U.S. State Department background check. (One or both would very likely provide evidence that said parent, at some point, lived in the United States illegally -- long enough for that "anchor baby" to be conceived or born. And despite widespread belief to the contrary, there is indeed a penalty for that.)
If a person has lived in the United States unlawfully for a period of more than 180 days but less than one year, there is an automatic three-year bar on that person ever reentering the United States -- and that's before any wait time for a visa. So that's a minimum of 21 years for the child to mature, plus the three-year wait. 
And, for the vast majority of these parents, a longer wait also applies. If a person has lived in the United States illegally for a year or more, there is a 10-year ban on that person reentering the United States. So, in that case, there would be the 21-year wait for the child to mature to adulthood, plus the 10-year wait.

Our immigration naturalization system is explicitly set up to not be unskilled brown people from Latin America, anyway. And if you think they're banking on American sympathy to let them stay, the tidal wave of deportations during the bulk of the Obama administration and the unabashed nativism from the GOP frontrunners undermines that naive (and likely nonexistent) assumption on their part.

But back to my point--we've seen this before. The "Welfare Queens" of the 1970s and 1980s was a racially tinged, sexist anti-welfare moniker  that was, to put it mildly, wildly overstated. Yes, some people cheat Welfare. People also cheat Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, but you don't see too many politicians demagoguing about those gray haired goodfornothing bandits wreaking havoc on our national debt.


Nah. They were blaming women, particularly black women, as a political foil. "Anchor babies" is of the exact same stripe: women and children of color living off (white) America who earned their wealth the old-fashioned way. (The GI Bill, farm subsidies, and mortgage interest deductions, of course.) But I digress.

If you really want to make "anchor babies" a campaign or policy issue, then do so. But be honest about what you're saying. The problem is a broken system created and driven by the same old nativism responsible for the bulk of our counter-productive immigration laws for over a century. Racial resentment continues to drive politics in this country and the adults in the room should acknowledge that.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

From the Archive: Happy Fall of Vicksburg Day!

Over at National Review Online, David French had the audacity made the poorly conceived decision to print a defense the Confederate Battle Flag in the wake of the tragedy in Charleston. I won't link it here, you can find it if you want. 

I thought I'd take this opportunity to re-post a piece I wrote for my college newspaper about my feelings about the Confederacy and what I think people should do with that flag. I'm happy to say I've developed more as a writer since then, but this nevertheless captures my feelings on the subject. At least the ones that aren't best expressed with expletives. --JPB

While many of you will be drunkenly commemorating the 228th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, I will be at my job, proudly wearing my American flag necktie and thinking about another glorious day in the history of this country: July 4, 1863.

On that day, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee began his retreat from the battle of Gettysburg, and Gen. John C. Pemberton surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the town of Vicksburg, Miss., ending a 48-day siege. These two events marked the turning point of the Civil War.

By capturing Vicksburg, a port on the Mississippi River, Grant effectively had cut the Confederacy in two and reclaimed the mighty river -- a vital supply and transportation route -- for the Union.

Admittedly, the Union did not fight to free the slaves. Nonetheless, my ancestors enslaved in Meridian, Miss., were much closer to freedom that day because the South was losing its war to keep them.

My motives for writing this are not merely to inform you, dear readers, about a day in our collective history. I write this to boastfully sport my American patriotism and, if you will, my "Northern Pride."

This weekend, perhaps more than many other days here in southern Indiana, or if you are traveling southward, you are likely to see people ignorantly, arrogantly and brazenly flying the battle flag of the Confederacy on their cars, pickups and boats or wearing it on their person -- all in the name of "Southern Pride."

Even though Indiana was a "free" state and never seceded from the Union, there were many Confederate sympathizers in this part of the state during the Civil War, and Hoosiers undoubtedly fought on both sides.

Regardless, anyone -- be they Hoosier, southerner or other -- who dons that symbol today insults the entire nation and the holiday we celebrate.

The supporters of the Confederate battle flag cite their pride of their ancestors' sacrifices for what they believed. But that relic represents the belief in barbarism, racism, treason and such an incredible greed that they would send men (most without the finances to own slaves) to die to keep fellow human beings in bondage. The actions of the illegal government for which that flag stands cost the lives of roughly 600,000 Americans. The Confederate battle flag is nothing to be proud of.

Furthermore, the true and sinister meaning behind the battle flag of "Johnny Reb'" can be easily determined by looking at its uses in more recent history. Forget that the Ku Klux Klan (founded in part by venerated Confederate "soldier" Nathan Bedford Forrest, ahem) and other white supremacist groups use it today for decor at their rallies and militia barracks. People need to only look at the many filmed images of Southern demonstrations against desegregation during the 1950s and '60s to verify its truly evil connotations.

Next to the picket signs with slogans such as "Segregation forever," "White is Right" and "Niggers go home," you very often will see the "rebel" flag proudly waving in the Southern breeze. The people carrying their beloved banner weren't Klan members; they were everyday men, women and children of the South, standing up for what they believed. (Hardly a coincidence, it was in 1956 that Georgia prominently incorporated the Confederate battle flag into its state flag. Its presence was dramatically scaled down in 2001.) "Southern Pride," indeed.

So, this weekend, if you happen to come across the aforementioned standard of sedition while camping or being otherwise outdoors, remember where you saw it in case you need toilet paper later. 

As you run away from the drunken rebels with flag-in-hand, be sure to show your Northern Pride by wishing them a happy "Fall of Vicksburg" Day.

Have a safe and happy Fourth.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Some Thoughts on Baltimore

NB: Given the sensitive nature of the subject, I reiterate that this is my opinion and should not reflect the views of my employer. -JPB

The unrest that is afflicting Baltimore in the wake of the arrest and death of Freddie Gray is an unfortunate but predictable outcome of years of abuse and neglect. Last year’s Sun investigation of Baltimore’s police brutality cases shined a light on engrained practice of tolerating and covering up police brutality. Such tactics temporarily shielded the police from outside scrutiny by media and kept Baltimore police out of the national spotlight. But those neighborhoods of Baltimoreans who knew and experienced that abuse have endured it for years with no reckoning of criminal justice.

The city has taken the positive step of making civil suit records public and searchable on a government website, but civil suits may take years to litigate and require resources the most vulnerable of Baltimoreans do not have. Without swift change in the day-to-day functions of city policing, piecemeal efforts on the back-end of reform will fail to quell the anger felt by the people of Baltimore.

Part of this problem is Maryland state law. Police personnel records—namely, their disciplinary files—are generally exempt from public information searches. Thus, officers who have a history of violence have no independent check on their behavior. If the Baltimore PD tolerates violent and repeated officer misconduct, as the Sun’s investigation showed it has, then officers are operating without any meaningful oversight vis a vis their interactions with the public.

Maryland is not alone in this secrecy. All but a handful of states provide considerable protections to police disciplinary records. Most Americans live under legal regimes that force them to trust police to oversee themselves. This imposed faith may work in some jurisdictions, but it is clearly failing in many others.

This widespread lack of accountability degrades the police’s relationship with the people they serve, undermining their legitimacy. As author Maurice Punch wrote, “[T]he crucial test for policing in a democratic system is accountability….For without genuine accountability, there can be no legitimacy; and without legitimacy the police cannot function effectively in democratic society.”

What we’re seeing in the streets of Baltimore is a criminal justice system without accountability and a police force that is suffering a foreseeable crisis of legitimacy.

Those who riot and loot should not be excused for their actions. Violence, mayhem, and theft are wrong, full stop. That does not mean, however, that the policing situation that led us to this point is excusable or without blame. When police abuse citizens with impunity and a community suffers years of abuse, the social fabric that holds communities together will unravel.

The solution is simple to say, but a challenge to implement: transparent and accountable policing. If Freddie Gray were the first man abused by Baltimore Police, we wouldn’t be watching kids throwing bricks at officers on our televisions or in our Internet feeds. The unleashed anger in Baltimore is a result of unchecked police power continuously roaming through neighborhoods and terrorizing their inhabitants.

The institutions that have protected violent officers will continue to do so and resist meaningful police reform, at their peril. The tolerance and protection of violent officers is a threat to both public and officer safety alike. Police cannot arrest their way into a restored community faith and ignoring the demands of peaceful protests will further erode police legitimacy. 

The onus is on state and local governments to make police transparency a priority. Police departments must make themselves more accountable to the people they serve and take proactive steps to reassure their citizens that they will discipline or fire their officers for misconduct.

There is simply no other way to prevent the fire next time. 

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Just What You Always Wanted!

ME! In your inbox!

Okay, so maybe this isn't the gift of your dreams, but at least I got your attention.

Last week I started publishing a newsletter, Taken Liberties. It'll be weekly(-ish) so it's not going to be a daily thing because, first of all, I'm not that productive. Second, it would be like putting my entire twitter feed in your inbox, thus sort of defeating the whole purpose of starting something new.

I wanted to compile something that's a little more personal than a blog. Whatever this blog's identity is (or was?), it wasn't particularly expressive of most of my personality. Opinions? Yes. Anger? Most definitely. But posts tended to either be rants or off-the-cuff observations, rather than a more reflective comments on what's been on my mind. My sometimes-churlish bouts of self-seriousness that peppered this blog will be absent from this new venture.

I enjoyed writing here and it certainly helped me grow as a writer, but blogs aren't what they used to be. I'm not killing TBS, so no need to delete this from your GoogleReader substitute RSS feed, but I will be spending more effort on maintaining the newsletter than I have been keeping up with this.

Anyway, if you like my writing, please sign up for the newsletter here.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Friday, February 27, 2015

Recent and Other Relevant Writing

In the past week or so, I've written a few pieces. Also, recent events have made past writing relevant again. So, instead of starting a newsletter like a lot of writers I know and admire, I thought I'd just bring them all together in one place and you can read as you like.

A recurring theme is American ignorance of history writ large. Over at Rare, I wrote about why Black History is important. (Hint: because it's American history.)

Generally speaking, the way America teaches history is deplorable. The watered-down fairy-tale version of our history can be found in our folklore, grade school textbooks, and throughout our media. Race aside for a moment, how we think about war, government, technology, religion, and nearly everything else tends to be framed in false dichotomies and trivial facts without contextualizing how and why events happened, let alone how events were perceived by those who lived through them.
 But in America, despite the best efforts of many, we cannot put race aside. Racism has been omnipresent in American history, but it has been far from static. Slavery and its justifications spawned a particularly awful strain of anti-black racism in America. Racism evolved to seek selfish economic ends and justify punitive unconstitutional laws. It has justified social and economic benefits to some while depriving them to others. It has allowed a tolerance of abuse by both government and private citizens. Racism has broken apart families and even the nation itself.

Relatedly, I wrote here at TBS about FBI director Comey's attempt to view the relationship between law enforcement and black communities historically. (He failed.)

Director Comey, trying to appear magnanimous, said
 “A tragedy of American life…is that young people in “those neighborhoods” too often inherit a legacy of crime and prison. And with that inheritance, they become part of a police officer’s life, and shape the way that officer—whether white or black—sees the world.”
This is circular logic at its most odious. Law enforcement, in its zeal to fight its war on drugs and crime, extracted scores of men from communities and put them into the criminal justice system. This deprived children of fathers and robbed the communities of economic resources. This,in turn, created the young black men that engender cynicism from today’s officers who “often can’t help” it.
While there is much to be said for back-end reforms that help former inmates return to society, the law enforcement executives who go around preaching about how to fix the men and communities they helped break in the first place tests the patience of anyone who recognizes the grotesque unfairness of our so-called justice system. It’s not all law enforcement’s fault, but they are reticent to acknowledge the role they have and continue to play in “those neighborhoods.”

Friday, February 20, 2015

Reclaiming Malcolm X

This weekend marks the 50th Anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination. Malcolm has always had a deep influence on my writing, beliefs, and intellectual life. His unflinching commitment to justice and dignity are the hallmarks of his legacy.

Oh, and scaring the hell out of white people.

But seriously, there’s nothing I’ve ever read or seen attributed to Malcolm that would put him anywhere near the Progressive Left, who tend to embrace him. The late author of his most recent major biography, professor Manning Marable, attempted to rationalize his placement in the Progressive pantheon. But there was no real link in his well-researched and well-written biography. At best, he mentioned some “anti-capitalist” rhetoric  in speeches to colleges (text by Damon Root):

In a 1992 speech at Colorado's Metro State College, Columbia University historian Manning Marable praised the black minister and activist Malcolm X for pushing an "uncompromising program which was both antiracist and anticapitalist." As Marable favorably quoted from the former Nation of Islam leader: "You can't have racism without capitalism. If you find antiracists, usually they're socialists or their political philosophy is that of socialism."

In historical context, Malcolm was living in the Cold War political dichotomy. The Soviet Union and other communist nations were pitted squarely against the United States and the capitalist countries. If United States capitalism permitted Jim Crow, backed assassinations in Africa, and supported South African Apartheid, I’d be against it too. But where politics and economics converged to the detriment of American minorities, the culprits were the American government and its tolerance and furtherance of American racism, not a system of free exchange and entrepreneurship.

Indeed, many of Malcolm’s most famous and impassioned speeches dealt with American hypocrisy and the national inability to respect the laws of the Constitution that supposedly guaranteed equal rights. He wasn’t judging America for its ideals or its promise of freedom, rather than its utter and undeniable failure to secure rights for black people.  

I write this not to claim Malcolm for libertarians or, least of all, the American Right. His legacy belongs to black people and America writ large, if they bother to embrace it.

People should remember Malcolm for what he was and what he stood for, not just as a symbol of scaring white people. He believed in the absolute right to self-defense and personal responsibility. He believed in small business and black empowerment.  He wanted jobs and dignity for black people, and he didn’t believe the government as instituted in the United States could provide it.

Similar to what I wrote in my lengthy response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ remarkable article on reparations, the fundamental divide in civil rights today shouldn’t be about desert or what America should do. Rather, the argument should be about what America could reasonably be expected to do. Just because we elected a black president does not mean the government has gotten remarkably better at delivering on the failed promises of the past two and a half centuries.

We’re still trying to get past the very same phenomenon Malcolm was talking about in this short speech excerpt:

More than 50 years later, so much has not changed.

I don’t know what Malcolm’s macroeconomic prescriptions would be if he were alive today, and I don’t care. But Malcolm was right to be skeptical of government action. Active government aimed at bettering black lives gave us the ’94 Crime Bill,  the 100:1 crack to powder sentencing disparity, Broken Windows, and Stop-and-Frisk. It will take years to repair the damage they caused in black communities, on top of the preexisting problems of poverty, ghettoization, and crumbling infrastructure.

And we simply cannot undo the catastrophe they’ve inflicted on countless black lives. 

Before we ask the government to do anything else, it must recognize the fundamental civil rights of black Americans. Just as Malcolm recognized, whatever the laws say doesn't mean anything if the police can abuse black people and get away with it. And it is undeniable that the police violence against blacks and others continues today through hostile day-to-day interactions, militarization, and wanton brutality.

As Ossie Davis eulogized him, Malcolm was our champion, and we should continue to honor him. We do this by fighting police brutality. We do this by demanding equal rights and human dignity now. And we should do this by any means necessary.

Malcolm X, RIP

bellum medicamenti delenda est

**I don’t know the source for this video, and it has clearly been edited.  But the segments seem to all come from the same speech and thus retain their relevance as individual parts or taken together.