In An Age Where Facts Matter, Keep Writing Fiction

Blank white book w/path

The biggest new phrases in our lexicon are things like ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’. It’s easy to say that old adage “you’re entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts”, but it’s a perspective currently lost in the world of news and politics.

Many say – and understandably – that we need to grasp facts now more than ever before. They matter more than they have ever done. Now is not a time of escapism, of hiding from reality by delving into a fictitious world.

I respectfully disagree.

We need fiction now more than ever. We need stories more than ever. Because they’re often the best way of seeing the real truth.

I still can’t quite figure out why the book I wrote last year – Succession of Power – is selling so well. I’m sorry, that sounds like a very arrogant thing to say. I hope you understand that I’m just genuinely curious as to why a book with easily the lowest-key launch of anything I’ve ever written has done such good “business”.

A friend who read it said that she enjoyed that it features a woman president. Someone who was strong enough to stand up for herself when the forces of darkness rise over her. She said she felt that this was a reference to Hillary Clinton – the president that “should have been” (in her eyes) – taking control when all around is out of control.

I certainly don’t think the character Mary Rosalind is the same as Hillary Clinton. It’s pretty clear that Clinton wanted the presidency for most of her life, and spent all of her time trying to achieve that goal. It’s a perfectly respectable aim, but it was never the goal of Rosalind. Mary was quite happy in the position she was given, just a little frustrated that her brilliant achievements weren’t acknowledged.

But I see what my friend means. A lot of people look at the big political decisions of the past year, and are depressed. I’m personally not depressed about the politics of 2016 (or at least, not any more than any other year), and I don’t think that’s just my natural optimistic comportment. There’s a lot of things to be objectively happy about if you’re lucky enough to live in the West today. Arguably we’ve never had it better. Who cares who resides in the White House? And when it’s someone awful, then let’s take the positives out of that: it means more people are concentrating on the nuances of the Constitution than they’ve done before. That’s actually quite refreshing, if you’re more libertarian-minded. Welcome back to the fold, anti-war, anti-government overreach protestors. Where have you been for the last eight years?

And here’s the funny thing about writing fiction. Though the stories can be larger than life, they only really resonate when they speak a truth. When they tell us something about human nature.

That’s all Succession of Power has tried to do. In the middle of a crisis, a president – and a small band of allies – do all they can to stand strong for the moral principles of a republic, when everyone around is losing their heads. It’s about how not doing something is often more noble and brave than doing something.

But heck, if you’re just looking for a story where there’s a woman president who knows what the hell she’s doing, despite being surrounded by stupid, solipsistic men, then I hope you enjoy the book. And it’s available for less than a few bucks on Amazon right now.

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Trump Didn’t Win. Clinton Lost

US FlagTrump “isn’t my president”, as so many people say these days. And that’s right. Trump isn’t my president. He’s no one’s president. But neither was Obama. Or Clinton. Or either of the two Bush’s. No one who has presided in the oval office since my birth has been “my president.” Not just because I’m not an American citizen. It’s because that’s not how it works.

The president is the head of the executive branch of the US federal government. He or she isn’t the king of the country. They don’t ‘lead’ the people. The people are free. The president is a clerk, a civil servant. That’s all.

If there’s anything good that might come out of Trump’s presidency, it’s that people will once again find a more constitutional attitude to how American government works. Those on the right who turned a blind eye to presidential overreach under Bush II, and those on the left who stuck their fingers in their ears and shouted “la la la, not listening” when Obama was in office can now unite. They helped create the situation we find ourselves in. But now, it might not just be the libertarians calling the president’s overreach to account. Libertarians have been lonely for some time. Maybe now that will change?

Like most, I utterly failed to call this presidential race. Early on, I dismissed Trump as a ‘cartoon character’, thinking he’d never get anywhere. How wrong I was. How much did I overlook the mood of one of the world’s greatest people, in one of the world’s greatest countries? A great deal.

In the way that the world didn’t suddenly get better because Obama became president, and that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have made the world magically better by being president, Trump won’t suddenly make the world horrifically worse. Will be violate the constitution? Yes. More than the others before him? More than HRC would have done? I’m not sure. But probably not.

I can’t help see the irony in the aftermath of the Trump victory. We were told – and I believed – that if Trump, say, won the popular vote but lost the electoral college, his supporters would take the the streets. They would riot. Police cars would be set on fire. There would be hatred. People calling the result ‘invalid’.

Look what happened when the opposite took place. I won’t say any more than that.

Delving into the stats, one thing is clear. Democratic supporters disliked Hillary Clinton more that Republicans disliked Trump. It was close either way, but she was the one that put most people off. Not because she was a woman. Around a million of them who would have voted for the Democrat went for Jill Stein this time around. About the same for Gary Johnson, who broke all Libertarian Party records with over three million votes, and breaking through the 5% barrier in several states. He wasn’t the spoiler though, a’la Ralph Nader in 2000. For every traditional Democrat vote he took, he got two Republican votes. And a large bulk of his were independents who wouldn’t have voted for either candidate any way.

Here’s the best illustration of how disliked Clinton was: of the 700+ counties that voted for Obama both times, over 200 of them voted for Trump. That’s what he needed, but it wasn’t a great result for him. Typically, to win he’d need to have gotten around 350 of those counties. But what helped him: Of the 2,000+ counties that didn’t vote for Obama either time, just three of them voted for Clinton. Three.

So if you’re not a fan of Trump, and you’re unhappy about what has happened this time around, maybe it’s worth thinking of it this way: Trump didn’t win. Clinton lost.

And be of good cheer. The world will carry on turning and getting better, whichever constitutionally-overstepping person sits in the oval office.

Gary Johnson Wants to Make America “Sane” Again

Gary JohnsonWhile the two main parties in the US go through their procedural requirements before officially giving their candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump the nod, in a quiet corner of Orlando, the Libertarian Party have secured their presidential and VP nominations. Gary Johnson and Bill Weld will represent the party in this presidential election cycle.

It’s an interesting pick. The libertarians, maybe somewhat focused on the relative unpopularity of the Republican and Democrat choices on offer, have chosen pragmatism over purity. Gary Johnson almost certainly fails most libertarians’ “purity test”, but so what? Politics is the art of the possible, and if you vote for Ayn Rand to represent you, you’re going to end up spending most of the election cycle justifying why roads must be privatised, or some other ‘kooky’ side-issue. But picking Johnson and Weld, the LP have a real shot – even though the odds are still against it – of picking up more serious numbers this time around. Johnson could even end up being part of the presidential debates if he gets 15% recognition in a series of polls. He’s around the 10% mark with his name in at the moment. Again, it’s unlikely, but it could happen.

Let’s make this clear. There will be three serious names on the ballot in all 50 states this time around: Clinton, Trump and Johnson. Clinton and Trump are statistically the least popular picks in recent history. I couldn’t find a time in the last 50 years where the Democrat and Republican candidates both polled with less than 50% approval ratings.

Which leaves one question: how much approval would Gary Johnson get? He has a problem: people have to have heard of him first. But if there’s enough attention (and with both disenfranchised Reps and soon-to-be pissed-off Bernie voters looking for alternatives, that attention could well be on its way), then here’s a guy who arguably represents the mainstream view of most Americans.

I’ve felt for quite a while now that while there’s some die-hard ideologues on both the left and the right, broadly speaking the majority centre-ground in the US are people who are fiscally conservative (read ‘competent’), and socially liberal (read ‘tolerant’). That’s a fairly nice big-tent definition of a libertarian, but Americans haven’t been specifically looking for one before. Today, that could well change.

In the 2012 elections, Gary Johnson polled over a million votes. It was the largest raw numbers the Libertarian Party had ever seen, but was still only 1.2% of the vote, not even quite their highest level. The odds of Gary Johnson becoming the next president are very slim, but if he can push the needle far enough, then there’s every chance that libertarianism in mainstream American politics could flourish as a result of his run.

Gary Johnson is a libertarian. Weld is, arguably, a libertarian-leaning Republican. They may offer an optimistic insight into the future of the GOP. Let’s take Gary Johnson as an example. He’s a two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, in a state that’s 2:1 Democrat. How did he do it?

There’s no doubt that America is moving further and further away from the old socially conservative model that Republicans have hung their hats on for years. The times, they are a-changin’. And for a while now, the GOP has refused to move with it.

Lots of things can happen in the next few years to change that. However, it’s not totally unrealistic at this stage, to say that I can see a time in the next 20 years or so, where Republican presidential nominations are like, well, Republican gubernatorial nominations in a heavily-Democratic state like New Mexico. Gary Johnson came along, with lots of money (a successful self-made millionaire), and gave the GOP some money. They were grateful, but tried to steer him away from wanting to become the Republican nominee for governor. Despite that, they eventually picked him. After all, he had lots of energy and enthusiasm, and the rest of the field were going through the motions comparatively . After all, what’s the point? Republicans seldom win in a state that’s 2:1 Democrat.

Once he had that platform, he went full-blown libertarian, challenging the inconsistent positions of the incumbent Democratic governor. And people flocked to the idea. It was new, it was fresh, it was exciting. But more than that, it felt, it felt… right.

So he won. Became governor. Did everything he promised he would. He upset the Republican old-guard as much as the Democrats in that state. And once it came to the next election, he happily conducted dozens of debates with his challenger, and won with a bigger majority.

Imagine a time, not too far from now, where the whole US is like New Mexico. Majority Democrat. Picking a Republican candidate is not important any more, because those guys just don’t win any more.

So, just like in New Mexico, a younger, fresh-faced person wins the national GOP nomination on an energetic libertarian platform. He or she doesn’t get too much opposition from the GOP establishment because that establishment has shrivelled up. Then that libertarian pick gets to be on the main stage with the Democratic clone.

Then the future of American politics starts to get interesting. And, for this libertarian, a lot healthier too.

Donald Trump says he wants to “Make America Great Again”.

Gary Johnson says he wants to “Make American Sane Again”.

I think the two-term governor of New Mexico is on to something.

Hillary Hiding Behind Trump

Hillary ClintonDonald Trump the Republican cartoon character Presidential Candidate is sucking all the air out of the current election race.

I can appreciate how frustrating that is for the other hopefuls. But one person who is probably quite grateful – for now – is Hillary Clinton.

Arguably the worst thing about Donald Trump’s presidential circus act is that he’s successfully stopped political commentators and journalists spending any serious time looking at what Hillary Clinton would be like as a president. This is especially odd, given that the polls make her the most likely to take the top job, compared to anyone else currently in the running.

Many people will vote for Clinton simply to be a part of history. I totally get that. A woman president has been far-too long coming. But isn’t it a little patronising, and even maybe sexist, to vote for someone just because she’s a woman? That doesn’t feel like it’s striking a blow for feminism, as much as striking a blow against it, to me.

I’d like a female president. But I’d like one who really deserves to be there, who’s been put through the ringer, and really tested.

So far Clinton appears to have side-stepped this process. She’s been allowed to get away with quite a bit as a result. We’re talking about a person who has still – to the best of my knowledge – refused to acknowledge that she used a ghostwriter to write those weekly newspaper columns and bestsellers of hers. She’s yet to explain her lying about being shot at in Bosnia, or discussing ways to beat Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries, using Bobby Kennedy’s assassination as a similar scenario to the fight she was having (serious, what was that about?)

There’s lots of other little lies too. Not just the ghostwriting, but how broke she was upon leaving the White House with her husband (nope), how her daughter was jogging near the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001 (she wasn’t), how she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the heroic conqueror of Mount Everest (she wasn’t. Sir Edmund made the climb in 1953. Hillary Clinton was born in 1947).

But that’s just small stuff right? The tittle-tattle that tabloid journalists care about. Okay, I get that. The odd forgetful moment or little white lie I understand. We’ve all done it. Okay, so maybe not to this level, but we’ve all done it. Let’s look instead at her policy record:

As a Senator of New York, she was a loud, and unashamedly vocal supporter of TARP, the disastrous and economically-illiterate Troubled Asset Relief Program. And let’s not dwell too much on the equally damaging ethanol subsidies, auto bailouts, etc. It’s also interesting how we’ve all forgotten about her proudly declaring herself as the “representative of Wall Street” during her time as Senator. A declaration now oddly ignored by the Occupy crowd.

What trade agreements does she support and which is she against this week? With the flip-flopping, it’s hard to a) keep track, and b) understand what economic principles – if any – she really believes in.

Many wise heads warn that we’re looking at the possibility of another economic dip at some point soon. Will her proposed federal “infrastructure bank” (at a cost of $250 billion) really help us out in a time when we’re trying to live within our means? Hasn’t the weapons-grade failure of bailouts and shovel-ready projects got back to her yet?

She basically sided with Bush Jr and Cheney when it came to Iraq. In fact, she was arguably more hawkish than either of them when it came to linking Saddam to Al Qaeda. Her position on the failure was simply to flip-flop (again) and say that Bush didn’t pursue diplomatic avenues enough. Okay, but she specifically voted against the amendment that would have forced Bush to explore more diplomatic avenues before the invasion began. But, she seems to have been given a free pass on having her cake and eating it too.

I won’t dwell on Benghazi or the potentially federal-grade offences she may have committed with sensitive government emails, those are areas that’ve been well covered at least. Except to say that she still seems to have had a free pass on them. But let’s talk Libya. Anyone who has been concerned with Bush and Obama’s hyper-interventionism can’t help be a little concerned by her actions there, least of all referencing Moammar Gaddafi being disposed as “We came, we saw, he died”, (while laughing).

ISIS are reportedly using the areas she intervened as Secretary of State. It still hasn’t stopped her describing that unstable mess as an effective use of American “smart power”.

Clinton is a full-blown supporter of George W. Bush’s Patriot Act, and continues to wrongly describe Edward Snowden as a man who could have “gotten all the protections of a whistleblower”. That’s flat-out wrong. The rules – that Clinton fully supports – makes it currently impossible for someone in Snowden’s position to be a whistleblower. The “proper channels” she says he should have used are explicitly denied to employees in national security positions like Snowden.

In the social sphere, she’s against legalising marijuana for recreational purposes (but the states appear to be moving ahead anyway), she’s flip-flopped (there’s that phrase again) on gay marriage, only finally supporting it when it was clear most Americans now do. Also in a similar vein, only when the polls showed that people were turned off en-mass at Trump’s harsh treatment of illegal immigrants, did she change her position. But she still doesn’t fully support free speech, supported by the 1st Amendment, advocating a change to the US Constitution to limit what she worryingly describes as “unaccountable” political speech, and pushing for more governmental “backdoors” to our private data.

This is just a short list of things we haven’t talked about when it comes to Hillary. It might turn out that by the time of this year’s election, she really is the best of a bad bunch. But if that is the case, I can’t help feel that’s a depressing choice.

I’d love there to be a female US president. But I’d especially love there to be a good one.

Send in the Clowns

GOP 2015 DebateCan the Hillary machine be defeated? It’s the question a rag-tag bunch of GOP wannabe leaders are hoping to bring an answer to.

My predictions on the result of the UK General Election was so far off the mark, that it’d be pretty shameless to predict the next US presidential election. But you know, me and my big mouth…

Hillary Clinton already seems to be walking the walk as the next nominee for the Democrats, and barring any magical moment, it’s probably pretty safe to assume that she’ll be given the official seal of approval without too much fuss.

I’d love to see a female President, though I want one on merit rather that because someone finally got there and people voted for one to “make history”, which is why I’m not exactly on Team Hillary. She sounds like a pretty authoritarian hyper-interventionist to this libertarian, but looking at the rogues gallery of Republicans (again, mostly great white males), there’s not much inspiring stuff going on their either.

Donald Trump – the cartoon candidate – is currently taking all the headlines on the Republican side, with occasional references to Jeb Bush, brother of George, son of George Snr. The GOP don’t stand a chance.

Or do they? Before the Trump machine starting it’s cacophony, Rand Paul was right up there, in the public spotlight.

Rand Paul – though maybe not as “pure” a libertarian as the supporters of his father Ron would like – is the nearest thing to a libertarian running at present. We don’t know if Gary Johnson will take the libertarian party candidacy this time around.

He’s leaning further to the traditional right than I believe his natural instincts and morals would usually take him. But he’s running for the Republican nomination just now, so I ease off any serious criticism, given his fairly commendable behaviour overall in the Senate, including his remarkable filibuster attempts.

As it stands, I think only Rand Paul could stop the Hillary Machine marching into the White House. While a sequel to the Clinton years wouldn’t be so bad (balanced books, etc.) I’m not sure if we’d see that from President Clinton II.

If the Republicans were to stand with Rand, then he wins their nomination, moves to the centre, and campaigns on a broadly socially tolerant but fiscally competent platform, it would make the whole election exciting.

Republicans would (mostly) fall in line behind him. But for Democrats, it would open up a bigger moral conundrum: do they “make history” and vote for the first woman president, or do they take this very real opportunity to vote for a properly socially liberal (in the classical sense) contender in Rand Paul?

Man, I’d love to see that. But given the recent history of Republicans voting for safer, boring, more, well, I guess, ‘conservative’ candidates, I doubt it’s a political match-up we’re going to see. And that’s a shame for all of us.

2014 Midterms – Americans Are Okay With Gridlock

US FlagAlmost right after the results were in at the start of this month for the US midterm elections, the commentators were delving right into the data, and trying to create a narrative about what kind of message the American public had sent to politicians in Washington.

Looking back over the last few weeks, the “settled” media consensus is that Americans have voted, expecting Republicans to lead. They want them to put their difference with Democrats in the House and Senate aside in order to achieve more. But is that right?

I can’t see how it is. Republicans are almost certainly as unpopular as Democrats (if not more so) right now. And their recent history has been to block, complain and create gridlock.

My take? Americans are happy for that to continue. They’re not big fans of Republicans all of a sudden, that’s not where this swing has come from. With a Democrat in the Oval Office and Republicans in the Hill, a combination of presidential vetoes and progress-stopping legislative debate could be what we see more of moving forward. And Americans are fine with that.

It’s not that Americans are fed up with Democrats doing things, and now want Republicans to do other stuff: they don’t want politicians doing anywhere near as much as they used to, full stop. Gridlock is probably the best way to ensure that continues.

No one specifically votes for the gridlock. But I suspect most Americans will be perfectly happy if that gridlock means the government is doing less when it comes to interfering with social and economic matters.

Ferguson And The Warrior Cop

Rise of the Warrior Cop CoverThe awful scenes this month in Ferguson are a chilling reminder of warnings in Radley Balko’s “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.” (also available on amazon.co.uk)

Yeah, I know I’m a stuck record, but once again, libertarians called this long before anyone else. The inherent dangers of the post-9/11 security-state measures under Bush and Obama (no real distinctions between them), have been laid out more clearly by libertarians than any other group. And classical liberal Balko places it at our feet in the most straightforward way you can imagine.

The Federal orders, made in the last 7-8 years that allowed surplus military arms to be handed out to police officers throughout the US was brought about by the shock of 9/11. But sadly there were no specific rules to how those arms could be used. And how many al-Qaeda sleeper cells do we think are hiding out in Missouri, anyway?

So these powers – that made the scenes in Ferguson look like a level on Call of Duty – led to the problems we’ve see this month. Let’s think about it in plain step-by-step points:

  • A teen – who was unarmed – gets shot by Ferguson police.
  • A peaceful protest rally – designed to ensure no coverup takes place – is held by the people of Ferguson.
  • The Mayor of Ferguson bans the rally, seemingly in violation with the first amendment.
  • The public continue to protest anyway, still mostly peacefully.
  • The (heavily militarised) police start to “crackdown” on the protesters, and even the journalists covering the protest.
  • After this show of force, factions of the protest turns into ugly riots, probably instigated in the most part by criminals with intent anyway on looting, etc., and see the protests degradation as an excuse.
  • News helicopters are banned from flying over the trouble-spots (again, possibly a violation of the first amendment).
  • Journalists get arrested for filming, other journalists are subjected to tear gas by the police. Again, this is the police, not the military (though the distinction isn’t that big by now).
  • A fairly sleepy town on just over 20,000 turns into a militarised zone. By the police.

Put it like that, and something seems very wrong doesn’t it?