2017-01-07T07:00:00-05:00Objectively speaking, 2016 was the Libertarian Party's best year ever. It was also a savage disappointment. On the positive side, the presidential ticket of two former Republican governors, Gary Johnson of New Mexico and William Weld of Massachusetts, received more than 4.46 million votes, amounting (as of press time) to 3.28 percent of the national haul, smashing the party's previous highs of 1.28 million and 1.06 percent, respectively. The L.P. nominee was on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for the first time since 2000, and he outperformed the Green Party's Jill Stein in each one. "We are the only political party in the country that's growing," Libertarian Party National Chair Nicholas Sarwark crowed the morning after the election. "We've tripled our vote totals [over] 2012.…We control a bloc of the electorate that covers the spread in almost all if not all of the battleground states. We've beaten the other third party...in every single state." For the first time, the L.P. now has more than a half-million registered voters. The Johnson/Weld campaign raised around $12 million, according to internal accounts (the final Federal Election Commission reports have not yet been filed). That destroys the previous record of $3.5 million, set in 1980 (and $2.1 million of the 1980 total came from billionaire vice-presidential candidate David Koch). The national party pulled in nearly $3 million in additional donations this year, too. U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller of Alaska received 30 percent of the vote in his race, the highest such total in party history—especially impressive as he had both a Republican and a Democratic opponent. (Generally, if an L.P. candidate for any legislative seat gets double-digit percentages, it's because one of the major parties sat the race out.) GOP defections in 2016 also gave the L.P. sitting state legislators in Nevada, Nebraska, and Utah. All told, the party has come a long way since its founding in 1971, when a small gang of dreamers hoped it would become a vehicle to get press attention for libertarian ideas. Still, measured against expectations—let alone the basic standard that successful political parties must win elections—the Libertarian Party had its most disappointing year ever. "We wanted to win, and we didn't achieve that goal," Johnson's campaign manager, Ron Nielson, acknowledged shortly after the election. "We were hoping to get into the presidential debate, and no matter how hard we tried we could not achieve that goal. After that our goal was to get 5 percent, and for the last 45 days we pushed toward that effort, which was entirely achievable but for the fact that the election came down to such a tight margin between Clinton and Trump. That put pressure on third-party support, and a lot of Johnson support moved in the end toward Trump, or possibly chose not to participate." While 3.28 percent marked an all-time high for the party, it was also just a third of the campaign's highest polling average, which came in late July. All summer long Johnson had avoided the typical third-party fade, with such forecasters as FiveThirtyEight projecting a finish higher than 7 percent for months on end. But the plates came crashing down over the final eight weeks, prompting much anguish and fingerpointing among activists and supporters. "The Libertarian Party," wrote 2016 L.P. presidential runner-up Austin Petersen on Election Day, "has blown a chance that it may never have again in my lifetime." There was plenty of bad news to go along with Johnson's late collapse. One of the party's sitting state legislators, Utah Sen. Mark Madsen, did not run for re-election and will be gone in January. A second, Nevada Assemblyman John Moore, suffered what might be a historic mangling for an incumbent, finishing a distant third place with just 7 percent of the vote. (The third legislator, Nebraska Sen. Laura Ebke, faces re-election in 2018.) The party still has precious few elected officials, and many of those are in officially nonpartisan jobs. The races that Liber[...]
(image) Mike Love, the nasal singer and frequent lyricist for the Beach Boys, is one of the most hated men in rock. The early reaction to his memoir Good Vibrations (Blue Rider) suggests that the book isn't going to change that. Love and his cousin Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys' main composer and vocal arranger, are painted in fan history as, respectively, the Antichrist and the man who walks on water.
Wilson represents sensitivity and artistic exploration in this saga; Love, brash showmanship and a bourgeois approach to entertainment as a business. It took both men to create and maintain The Beach Boys as America's longest-lasting and still quite successful band; Love is proud that 2015, 53 years into their career, saw the largest number of Beach Boys performances ever.
Love admits some of the more far-out music his cousin made didn't necessarily thrill him, a sin to the Wilson fanatics who see him as a Tinker Bell who must be believed in to thrive. But reading the story of Love being cheated over writing credits and suffering bandmates (and cousins) who indulged in debilitating drug abuse and descended into mental illness, an honest reader will see that solid dependability has its own merits, in art and life.
With the help of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, four people are suing the state's attorney general and Los Angeles County's sheriff over a set of restrictive policies that combine, they argue, to rob them of their Second Amendment rights.
Flanagan v. Harris challenges the fact that California heavily limits the open carry of firearms, and L.A. County makes concealed carry very difficult as well. Together, the suit states, those state and local policies mean "the vast majority of the population…cannot obtain a license to publicly carry a firearm."
A recent federal case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Peruta, upheld restrictions similar to Los Angeles' and concluded that concealed carry was definitely not protected by the Second Amendment, in that court's opinion. The precedent, which covers California, will likely make winning Flanagan a lot harder, though the Peruta decision acknowledges that the open-carry question remains undecided.
Flanagan's plaintiffs hope to establish that the Constitution does protect a right to carry a gun for self-defense in public in some manner, whether concealed or open. Lower courts have offered contradictory answers to that question, making this ripe for eventually appearing before the Supreme Court.
2016-11-20T06:00:00-05:00We Are As Gods: Back to the Land in the 1970s on the Quest for a New America, by Kate Daloz, PublicAffairs, 355 pages, $26.99 In 1971, a young man named Bernie Sanders visited Myrtle Hill Farm, a rural Vermont commune for disaffected white middle-class kids. Its residents' back-to-the-land lifestyle was meant to free them from a culture that had come, in the midst of war and racial unrest, to seem "an unstoppable torrent of death and destruction, all for no reason." Myrtle Hill had an all-are-welcome policy—for three days. Then the core owners would decide by consensus whether you were cool to hang around. Sanders' tendency to just sit around talking politics and avoid actual physical labor got him the boot. That's just one of the stories in Kate Daloz's We Are As Gods, a loving but honest history of hippie communes in Vermont in the 1970s. Daloz has the journalist's gift for getting people to explain themselves, the historian's ability to explain the context in which they made their choices, and the novelist's power for revealing character through action, plot, and the perfectly chosen detail. While she focuses on a small group of communal and quasi-communal rural homesteads within a few miles of each other in Vermont—one of which housed her parents, Judy and Larry—Daloz explains that her characters represented a large and unprecedented cultural and demographic shift. The decision to build a saner, purer way of life away from urban civilization and private property was "being made almost simultaneously by thousands of other young people all across the country at the same moment for almost the same reason," she writes. No other point in American history, Daloz says, saw so much deurbanization, with as many as a million young Americans going back to the land. Almost all of them, she notes, were from middle-class white backgrounds; most were well-educated, with no fear that they couldn't make their way quite well in normal society. This gave them a safety net "that made such radical choices possible." Their motive was liberty—the freedom to control their own environment, education, technology, diet, productivity. (To the significant number of draft dodgers and teen runaways involved, their very liberty to live free of violence was at stake.) But though this is not Daloz's central point, her fine-grained narrative shows that being free of the technologies and wealth thrown off by the national and international division of labor carried with it its own tyranny. Many of these young communalists believed their world was doomed, whether through nuclear war, fascistic repression, or ecological megadeath. Learning how to live off the land, then, was about survival itself, not just ideological self-satisfaction. One of this book's main characters was driven to rural Vermont by the realization that if the industrial civilization that was all he knew broke down, he'd "just fucking die. You'd just stand there and die." He felt it his duty to thrive off only the soil, water, and animals on his property with techniques that didn't require energy or fuel from the outside world. But as everyone in We Are As Gods soon learned, a small group of human beings pitted against nature were at a far greater disadvantage than they dreamed. Despite the valorization of Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog and its ethos of learning to master the tools and technologies of self-sufficient living, far too many people attracted to the movement knew—as Robert Houriet, one of the original chroniclers of the scene, put it—all about the Tarot but nothing about how to fix a pump. Myrtle Hill outlasted the vast majority of similar communes that arose at the same time. Its rise and fall, from 1970 to the mid-'80s, is the spine of the book's narrative. (Daloz notes that groups with a unified and specific religious or sociological goal tended to last longer than ones with the pure, groovy "let's hang out and be free together" attitude of Myrtle Hill.) One of [...]
In 2014, the Internal Revenue Service declared that bitcoins are property but not money. Florida Circuit Court Judge Teresa Pooler decided in July that if that's so, then Michell Espinoza can't be guilty of acting as an unlicensed money transmitter or money launderer for selling bitcoins to a cop.
A police officer exchanged cash for the cryptocurrency with Espinoza on multiple occasions, at one point saying he would buy credit card numbers online with it. Espinoza was eventually arrested for money laundering and for unlawfully engaging in business as a money transmitter. But since he did not receive the cash "for the purpose of transmitting same to a third party," Judge Pooler wrote, he is not a "money transmitter"—just a guy selling a legal commodity.
"The Florida Legislature may choose," Pooler wrote, "to adopt statutes regulating virtual currency in the future." But for now, "attempting to fit the sale of Bitcoin into a statutory scheme regulating money services businesses" won't fly. Nor did hearing the cop say he would use bitcoin to do something illegal make Espinoza a "money launderer."
Brian Bieber, a Miami lawyer who wrote an amicus brief in the case, says the decision is "definitely a big deal" in the bitcoin world. If the cryptocurrency were "considered money, it opens it up to other potential restrictive regulations and can increase the probability of hampering the free trade that bitcoin users now enjoy."
(image) The counterculture of the 1960s and '70s summoned by the word groovy is saddled with a reputation as overly mystical and viewing science with suspicion. A wonderfully varied new anthology—Groovy Science (University of Chicago Press), edited by David Kaiser and W. Patrick McCray—demonstrates that hippies in fact brought science and technology to bear in their own ways, for their own goals.
Some of those ways are still mere curiosities, like physician John Lilly's attempts to talk to high dolphins and psychiatrist Immanuel Velikovsky's hugely popular attempts to rewrite standard history and astronomy to justify the Bible.
But some efforts inspired by the quest for individual or communal grooviness, from surfboard production to artisanal cheese to ecologically minded industrial design to home birthing, used personalized knowledge and technology to make the world better, or at least more interesting, for us all.
It has been legal to run a medical marijuana business in Illinois since the start of 2014. But it has also been illegal for businesses in the industry to donate to a political campaign in the state, or for candidates to accept such a donation, either directly or via a Political Action Committee.
Two Libertarian Party politicians, Claire Ball and Scott Schluter, are now suing to challenge this law. As of press time they were waiting for a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to decide on their motion for summary judgment.
In that motion, they point out that the law bans "one class of political speakers…from engaging in the same sort of political association that is typically recognized and free from abridgement." This is supposed to combat corruption, but Ball and Schluter argue that it instead "silences emerging voices and hinders competitive campaigns by unorthodox candidates. Under the First Amendment, this cannot stand."
Individuals involved in such businesses can still donate under the Illinois law, but the plaintiffs argue that per the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a corporation or business "enjoys its own ability to engage in political free speech."
Democratic State Rep. Lou Lang, a lead sponsor of the bill, admitted to WSIU-FM last year that "conservative" and "hesitant" colleagues were supposed to be appeased into supporting medical pot by this First Amendment–violating rule.
2016-10-01T12:00:00-04:00Nicholas Sarwark was elected to his second term as chair of the Libertarian Party's National Committee at the party's Orlando convention in May. At the same event, former GOP governors Gary Johnson and William Weld were chosen as the Libertarian presidential ticket; the pair were soon getting as much as 11 percent of the vote in some national polls. Senior Editor Brian Doherty interviewed Sarwark by phone in June about his party's potential banner year. Q: What are some objective signs of the L.P.'s success? A: Revenue is nearly double this year compared to the same time in 2012. [Dues-paying] membership numbers have risen around 46 percent. Our presidential candidate is consistently polling above 10 percent. They are receiving a level of media attention we just have not seen. The media are treating them like serious candidates, like on the CNN town hall where they got hit with a victim of the [Orlando nightclub] Pulse shooting and a mom whose kid was brain-damaged by heroin. That's what you have to expect if you're being treated seriously. Johnson and Weld are the most serious, credible, sane ticket available, with more executive experience than the major party candidates combined. Q: At that town hall, Johnson gave an answer about legalizing drugs that didn't jibe with the party platform, saying he's only for legalizing marijuana. Was that a problem? A: That town hall was for us to introduce ourselves to the American people. Johnson and Weld were not talking to Libertarians, but to everyone else, and in talking to non-Libertarian friends, that town hall was a great success. The impression people got was that these are the real deal, that this is not a bullshit ticket. Q: How connected are the party and the presidential campaign? A: We cooperate closely on ballot access. We have a shared interest in having them be on the ballot in all 50 states, and we are still on track to do it. But [the national party] does our own messaging, which is often in synergy with the presidential candidate but maybe not always. One of the party's biggest expenses is ballot access. About 20–25 percent of our take goes to jumping through hoops the major parties create to make things hard on challengers. Q: Why does this seem like such a good year for the L.P.? A: Our candidates are sensible and sane and have as a fundamental principle the idea "Don't hurt anyone and don't take their stuff," which resonates. But people won't change until the pain of the status quo is sufficient to allow [people] to consider change, and that's what the unpopularity of [Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump] is doing. After that first time voting Libertarian and the world hasn't ended and people aren't dying in the streets, it will be easier to vote L.P. again. I keep hearing people say they're thrilled to cast a vote for something they believe in rather than just against someone. Coattails can go both ways. Having a menu of down-ticket candidates makes voters see an "L" in many races. It shows we are serious and makes it easier to pull the lever. We're not a one-shot or a cult of personality. We can even become the second party in lopsided states [where one of the majors doesn't compete in many races]. We have two sitting state legislators [in Nevada and Nebraska] who switched parties. This could be the first signs of an exodus to us [A third did so in Utah in July] when people realize a party that encompasses Rand Paul and Trump is not a real coalition—it's nothing. [Libertarian-leaning] Republicans are constantly looking to see if a knife is being put in their back by their own party. [...]
Maine's Republican Gov. Paul LePage seems to really want opioid users to die. After his state suffered 272 overdose deaths in 2015, the legislature sensibly and humanely passed a law allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone, a drug that can actually reverse opioid overdoses in process, without a prescription.
In April, LePage vetoed the bill. In his view, he explained, "Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose." This, he said, "serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction." But later the same month, the legislature overrode the veto by vast margins: 29–5 in the Senate and 132–14 in the House.
Naloxone is available from pharmacists without a prescription in 35 states. In recognition of its lifesaving properties—and of America's 200 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths this century—various interest groups, from patients to urban health officials, are urging the Food and Drug Administration to make it available over-the-counter nationally, with no need to deal with a pharmacist at all.
(image) The Fox Network sitcom The Last Man on Earth, wrapping its second season, started as a common childish fantasy: What if the world were ours to play with, no worries about how it affected anyone else? Will Forte as everylastman Phil Miller has fun with this premise, but very quickly the title becomes a misnomer as Forte's willful, envious, selfish character tries (and often fails) to build a healthy community with a wife and a bickering circle of companions.
Storytelling about a small band reforging civilization is always ripe for socio-economic theorizing. The most interesting lesson here is an unforced hallelujah to modern industrial capitalism. The survivors of the show's mystery plague manage to (improbably) continue thriving off the leftover wonders of our civilization, from packaged food to fuel and jet skis. The hidden message: The only way to survive outside the extended division of labor in markets is to still have free access to all it produced.
Last year the FBI gave computer-security academics an interesting lesson.
When researchers at Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute were poking around at the popular anonymity software Tor, they found vulnerabilities that allowed them to identify some Tor users who didn't want to be identified. At least one of them, Brian Farrell, was involved with a website known as "Silk Road 2.0" that arose after the feds took down the old Silk Road in 2013. Like its predecessor, this site served as an online black market.
That became more than academic, as revealed in a ruling from Judge Richard Jones during Farrell's subsequent prosecution. The FBI obtained Farrell's I.P. address via subpoena to Carnegie Mellon, Judge Jones revealed. That should put some fear into computer security researchers who would rather not help the government nab people striving for online anonymity.
Some have wondered if money the university received from the Department of Defense might have reduced its willingness to fight the subpoena. Carnegie Mellon wants the world to know that while it lawfully obeys subpoenas, despite the rumors, it does not get paid off by the government for doing so.
The Tor Project announced that the vulnerability discovered by the Carnegie Mellon team "was patched as soon as we learned about it."
In 2010, members of the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists sent the state attorney general after a failed Republican state Senate candidate. As a result, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has now overturned parts of the state's occupational licensing laws.
When Mary Louise Serafine was running for office, her campaign website identified her as a "psychologist." But she is not a licensed psychologist in Texas, nor does she have a degree in psychology. When the attorney general sent her a threatening letter about using that term, Serafine sued, insisting the law she allegedly violated "infringed her political speech, commercial speech, equal protection rights, and right to earn a living."
In the Fifth Circuit's judgment, a state can't enforce laws "limiting the ability of individuals to dispense personal advice about mental or emotional problems based on knowledge gleaned in a graduate class." Since Serafine was communicating not to a client as a psychologist but to voters at large, the court found no supposed "professional speech doctrine" applies, and her statement was entitled to First Amendment protection.
Under the law as written, the court noted, prosecutors could conceivably target "leaders for [Alcoholics Anonymous], Weight-Watchers, or other self-help groups," or "someone who has taken graduate classes in psychology, fitness, or counseling and has written a marriage-advice column or parenting blog." That too, it ruled, violates the First Amendment.
(image) Veteran graphic novelist Chester Brown's new book, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus: Prostitution and Religious Obedience in the Bible (Drawn & Quarterly), presents comic-book versions of Bible stories involving prostitutes. The libertarian-leaning Brown is a partisan for the quasi-heretical belief among some outré Bible scholars that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a prostitute.
But Brown's larger message goes beyond just whether God can forgive, or even glorify, women who sell sex for money—though Brown is sure He can. In a detailed prose afterword, Brown offers up evidence for his own esoteric take on scripture: From Cain and Abel to Job to Jesus' parables of the Talents and the Prodigal Son, Brown insists the Bible tells us that God admires and rewards those who don't follow the rules.
2016-05-23T11:00:00-04:00Three men stand behind presidential-looking podiums on a Fox News soundstage in midtown Manhattan. One is the former governor of New Mexico, who was the first major American politician to support legalizing marijuana. Another is a pioneer of antivirus software, whom Belize authorities still would like to question in connection with an unsolved murder. The third used to work in the building as a producer on the Andrew Napolitano–hosted show Freedom Watch, and is on record telling a hostile interviewer in 2015 that he swims in a "pyramid pile of pussy." It's March 29 in an already-weird election year, and a live studio audience of 50 libertarians is buzzing with anticipation. One of these three candidates will almost certainly be on the ballot across the country this November for the most powerful political job in the world, as the Libertarian Party (L.P.) nominee. In a voting cycle that finds more voters than ever alienated from the major parties, how will the Libertarians handle this unprecedented opportunity to break through? Not by playing it straight. When moderator John Stossel asks about gay marriage, the international fugitive, John McAfee, replies by relating his version of how he'd first encountered the former TV producer, Austin Petersen. "Austin and I met in a gay bar," McAfee says. "Marry who you please." Irreverent and direct, respectful not of politesse, but of liberty. Later in the conversation, the former governor, Gary Johnson, plants a wet one on McAfee's cheek. No matter which of these very different candidates (or any of their estimated 13 challengers) ends up winning the nomination, the core attributes and attitudes of the Libertarian Party appear likely to remain intact, in a year when more eyeballs than usual will be searching for a third-party alternative. McAfee, for one, hadn't even heard of the L.P. one year ago (or so he says: the software magnate has an avowed penchant for spinning tall tales to the media). And despite his self-tended reputation as a gun-toting former drug dealer who has burned through a hundred million bucks, he might just get the nomination. Petersen has his own coterie of online supporters, and 2012 nominee Johnson has the apparent advantage of being treated by The New York Times and other political outlets as the presumptive frontrunner. But Libertarian Party members don't tend to let the Times call their tune. Longtime L.P. activists see the 2016 election as a unique opportunity. Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News and America's foremost expert in third parties, said in late March that Republicans especially face the "sudden shocking realization" that their party is "having a terrible problem and therefore people are interested in looking for alternatives." At press time, America's major party presidential candidates seem likely to be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Both are historically unpopular: Clinton's aggregated disapproval rating as of mid-April was 55.6 percent, and Trump's was 64.4 percent. With Trump running on a blustery platform of protectionist "greatness," Republicans who are dedicated to the old GOP verities of limiting government, or just appalled by Trump's personal style, seem more ready than in the past to look beyond their party's candidate for something that reminds them of the things they used to like about being Republican. It's also a year of novelty and upheaval in national politics all around, symbolized not just by the rise of outsider Trump, but by the surprising challenge to Clinton's glide path to the nomination from independent democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. Surely, many hope, this must be the year for that epitome of politics-not-as-usual, a third party, to shi[...]
(image) With Sinatra: The Chairman (Doubleday), Fred Kaplan has completed one of the most wildly entertaining American biographies around. This second volume of what adds up to 1,600 pages on Frank Sinatra is the tale of a singer hovering near several centers of American power, from music to movies to organized crime to the presidency.
Contained within these lurid and fascinating tales of a life both sublime and depraved is an education in the expansive nature of postmodern American culture. Sinatra worried in the late 1960s and early '70s he'd made himself an anachronism by his association with seemingly obsolete song styles. But Ol' Blue Eyes' evergreen reputation even past his 2015 centennial year shows he was wrong. Seemingly antique styles retain luster precisely because they crystalize techniques with enduring independent value—not as nostalgia, but as a vital and lively part of the growing cornucopia of cultural choices.