Mike Pence, they were waiting in the wings for you.

Mike Pence had to know he was going into the belly of the beast.

Mike Pence hates gay people.  He has never been afraid to say so. Mike Pence believes that it’s both efficacious and morally appropriate to electrocute gay men and women into being straight. He opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and supported legislation that would have made it legal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation. Some have suggested that this is because he is secretly super gay, but on that point I remain reticent.

The theatre loves gay people. From my own experience, I can tell you the theatre is the only place I’ve ever been where my heterosexuality is sometimes a professional liability in much the same way as being gay is in other industries. I think the theatre’s “gayness” largely has to do with with how both homosexual people and actors have been treated in the past. They were both marginalized groups and considered unfit to participate in polite society. The marginalized tend to coalesce together. Plus there’s like feather boas and shit.

The dichotomy between Mike Pence’s beliefs and the culture of the American theatre, as at-odds as it appears, is why I am so perplexed by what happened at the (now infamous) Hamilton performance last week. Vice President Elect Mike Pence attended a performance of the wildly popular and revolutionary “Hamilton: An American Musical” on Broadway. Shortly after entering the theatre he was met with widespread boos from the crowd and after the curtain call, a member of the cast broke with certain protocols and read a prepared statement to the VEEP explaining the LGBT (and other minority group’s) concerns with the Trump/Pence administration. You can watch the video here. 

Many have derided the Hamilton cast for doing so, but Pence had to know that he was going into the belly of the beast. The theatre has long been the territory of the liberal/gay left, or, as Neil Patrick Harris put it some years ago, the theatre is the home of “liberal intellectuals, jews, and visiting relatives from out of town”. Despite this, the theatre welcomes anyone willing to buy a ticket. National tours do just as well in Red States as they do in Blue, and well-to-do suburbanites (who mostly vote Republican) form the backbone of many of the private endowments that fund regional theatre. It’s no sin, therefore, that Pence attended a night of theatre, but for a man so outspoken against the community represented on the stage, a certain amount of pushback wouldn’t have been out of the question that night, especially at a show like Hamilton which champions not only representative democracy, but also diversity, inclusion, and tolerance.

For his part, Pence seems to be taking this all pretty well- much better than some of his supporters who have started a twitter campaign laughably titled #boycottHamilton. For those out there who want to boycott the show, I will gladly take your tickets. I would have loved to have been there that night. Or any night for that matter.

Dammit, Janet

I think as many of us have experienced, sex is a great liberating and transformative force upon the person, but it mustn’t, as it has for Frank, consume the person.

For the last month or so, I’ve been preparing my newest show at the Stray Dog Theatre. The Rocky Horror Show opens this Thursday and plays until the 28th of October. As is customary at the Stray Dog, I’m playing a dual role- this time as Eddie/Dr. Scott. Anyone who is familiar with the show will also understand what I mean when I say that I’m doing another Stray Dog requirement when I end up center stage covered in blood. The show also features some of the best songs in the musical theatre. “Science Fiction Double Feature” and “Over at the Frankenstein Place” are some of my favorite songs in the world.

This isn’t my first time doing Rocky, but reading the script for the second time in a decade, I was really struck by how out of this world the show is. I mean, what the fuck is this show about? It’s sort of an homage to 50’s Hollywood Sci-Fi films and sort of a sexual revolution diatribe. Also there’s Meatloaf. Oh, and everyone cross dresses. But I must admit, the show Toucha-Toucha-Touches me.

I’m no expert in script analysis (I was once told by a director to “start acting whenever [I] feel like it”). But in taking a hard look at the script, it seems to me that one word continues to stick out. “Trans”. It’s everywhere. Frank is a “sweet transvestite”, he and his crew are from transsexual Transylvania, and Dr. Scott (great scott!) is obsessed with the “audiovibratory physiomolecular transport device” known as the sonic transducer. Even the basic premise of the show, that Brad and Janet leave their waspy shells at the door of Castle Frankenstein and metamorphose into sex crazed perverts, is about the transition of sexual attitudes that had been happening in western countries throughout the 60’s and 70’s when the show was written.

The show is also a cautionary tale. While the audience can delight in the bedroom scene, in which Frank seduces both Brad and Janet into their first sexual experiences, Frank ultimately ends up a corpse, and it’s unclear whether Brad or Janet are better off for their time with him. Frank is undone by a subordinate because of his egregious authoritarianism and actions which, considered in a modern light, are sexual assault. Even my own characters, Eddie and Dr. Scott, seem more scarred (Eddie very literally) by the experience of being at Castle Frankenstein than they are liberated by it.

So here it is. The show is best seen within the context of when it was originally written- at the height of the sexual revolution. I think as many of us have experienced, sex is a great liberating and transformative force upon the person, but it mustn’t, as it has for Frank, consume the person. However, there is merit in giving yourself “over to absolute pleasure”, but be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater when getting your rocks off.

Gonzo Libertarianism

Despite our differences, we Libertarians managed to get along quite well with everyone- even the “March for $15” people who were taking up the whole gosh-darned street. I wanted to share some of my observations and thoughts with you.

Last night I went to my very first protest. It was exciting. There were so many people! Trump supporters, Clinton supporters, Greens, and, of course, the Gary Johnson crew. Libertarians from as far away as Florida came together to help draw attention to a debate system that is rigged in favor of the two major parties. Despite our differences, we Libertarians managed to get along quite well with everyone- even the “March for $15” people who were taking up the whole gosh-darned street. I wanted to share some of my observations and thoughts with you.

Admittedly there weren’t very many Gary Johnson people there, but there were fewer Greens, and our side seemed the most energized. As the night wore on, the ratio of Libertarians to everyone else increased dramatically, and eventually ended with a friend of mine in prime position to hold up “Johnson/Weld” signs behind Chris Matthews on MSNBC. Despite our lack of manpower, our demonstrations was organized, clean, respectful, we didn’t litter (I’m looking at you Green party), and our slogans were choice. My favorite of the night was, “Vote Johnson. The most consistent anti-sexual assault candidate”.

I got to hear Cisse Spragins, libertarian candidate for Missouri governor, give a speech on the state of her campaign and on libertarian identity and  values. She was tremendous. The applause line of the night was when she observed that our Republic must be in a bad state if the party that advocates non-violence and voluntary interaction is labeled “fringe” or “crazy”. She had a good point. But Dr. Spragins’s speech was confined to the “free speech area”, a section of the softball fields fenced off and far away from Brookings Hall where the debate took place. Metal detectors, dogs, and 20 or so police made sure the Libertarians didn’t do anything crazy like reduce taxes or suspend unconstitutional regulations. “The whole damn country is a free speech zone” I reminded them, but the police were as helpless as I to change the situation.

What struck me most was the police presence. The entire campus was closed to anyone without a student or faculty ID and VIPs. Hundreds of police officers from various jurisdictions blocked off residential streets (for miles in some cases) while the candidates were present. Most were cordial and helpful with directions, but some were obviously there getting their rocks off on authority. They were more interested in making sure we didn’t try to get on campus than they were with the heaps of trash left by Hillary and Stein supporters, and those same supporter’s blatant disregard for private property.

I have to admit, I wish I had become more politically active much younger. I felt a real rush and sense of patriotic duty last night at Wash U, and I think, had I felt that earlier in my life, I would have made very different choices. A deep sense of camaraderie kept me warm in that chilly air, and I’m very much looking forward to the next time.


Bad Boy, Bad Boy, Who You Gonna Sue?

The Washington-Post points out in its excellent review of officer involved shootings, that since 2005 thousands of people have died at the hands of police officers, but only 54 officers have been brought up on criminal charges. Of those, only a handful have been convicted or have lost an associated civil suit.

Tulsa 911 received a call from a distraught woman who said there was a car sitting in the middle of the road. Officer Betty Shelby was the first on the scene. She ordered the man, Terrence Crutcher, to take his hands out of his pockets. Not only did he take his hands out of his pockets, but he put them in the air; an act officer Shelby considered out of the ordinary. But when you consider that Crutcher is a black man, immediately throwing his hands into the air at the sight of a police officer hardly seems strange. What happens next is all on camera. Crutcher walks towards his car and Shelby fires.

Even Trump seemed to side with Crutcher, saying that Crutcher had done “everything he was supposed to do” and that officer Shelby had “choked,” a sentiment he also expressed after the murder of Philando Castile.

Trump said,

“Was she choking? What happened? […] But maybe people like that, people that choke, people that do that maybe they can’t be doing what they’re doing, okay? They can’t be doing what they’re doing.”

The odds that Shelby will be brought up on criminal charges are slim. On November 12, 1984, Dethorne Graham had a diabetic attack while helping his friend work on his car. His friend drove Graham to the convenience store to buy some orange juice in order to counteract his drop in blood sugar. Seeing that there was a large line, Graham ran quickly out of the store and got back into the vehicle. An officer saw the unusual behavior and arrested Graham, breaking his foot in the process. Graham sued the police department for unlawful use of force.

The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was unanimously decided that as long as an officer had “objective reasonableness” in his use of force, any use of force could be justified. In other words, if an officer can prove that any other officer would have acted the same way, an officer is not liable for use of force.

This is an extremely slippery slope. The Washington-Post points out in its excellent review of officer involved shootings, that since 2005 thousands of people have died at the hands of police officers, but only 54 officers have been brought up on criminal charges. Of those, only a handful have been convicted or have lost an associated civil suit. The “objective reasonableness” standard has been invoked every-time. It even is used in the reverse. Former Weirton, West Virginia officer Stephen Madar was fired for refusing to shoot an armed suspect- preferring instead to keep his cool in a situation he considered suicide-by-cop.

As CATO fellow Jonathan Blanks points out,

As long as the question is whether the cops can piece together vague excuses to justify their fear as being objectively reasonable, particularly in light of the great deference paid [to] the police by the courts and public, there will be no incentive to not kill when the opportunity presents itself.

A Line in the Sand

On December 12, 2012, a 54 year old woman (identified only as Jane Doe) received additional screening when crossing the U.S./Mexico border at El Paso after a drug dog alerted on her person. After the strip search yielded nothing, she was forcibly taken to University Medical Center where she was shackled to a examination table and subjected to hours of vaginal and anal probing, as well as CT scans and other intrusive examinations. She was then asked to sign a consent form, and, when she refused, she was charged $5,000 for the expense of the examinations. This was all done without her consent and without a warrant. What’s worse? She is an American citizen.

Ms. Doe’s experience is not unique, nor is it limited to American citizens. In 2014, settlement was reached in Lopez-Venegas v. Johnson, a case involving the intentional coercion and intimidation of Mexican immigrants. The court found that Customs and Border Patrol Agents were brutalizing immigrants in order to get them to waive their constitutionally guaranteed rights to due process and to plead their case before an immigration judge.

Border Patrol is plagued by corruption and excessive use of force, according to a report from the Homeland Security Advisory Council. 170 agency employees have faced corruption charges since 2005- more than any other law enforcement agency. Just last month, former CBP Agent Juan Pimentel pled guilty to smuggling 110 pounds of what he thought was cocaine from Mexico to Chicago. Pimentel also pled guilty to bribery for being paid $50,000 to commit the act.

As well as identifying many of the systemic problems facing the CBP, the report recommends ways in which to curb corruption and excessive force within the agency. Drone patrols replacing car patrols, new thresholds for acceptable use of force, and mandatory body cameras (which have been shown to reduce excessive force in other law enforcement agencies) are among things mentioned by the report as being potential fixes. Despite these relatively benign suggestions, Border Patrol Union Vice President Shawn Moran would rather not see them implemented. Commenting on a recent LA Times story he said,

 Are agents supposed to hesitate and not defend themselves because someone set up an arbitrary threshold above which someone will be scrutinized? All this is going to do is further demoralize agents and create a disincentive to agents to go out there and do their job.

Ms. Jane Doe was awarded over $1.5 million in her lawsuit against the CBP and Texas Tech (who operates University Medical Center where her examination took place), but no amount of money can compensate for the denial of her constitutional rights or the humiliation she must have felt. I’m glad that she won her case. Too often the government refuses to acknowledge its own unlawfulness, so it makes me optimistic to see the she was awarded compensation. In the words of Ms. Doe’s attorney (ACLU senior staff attorney Edgar Saldivar), “We have to fight for everything we can get to make sure people [at] the border are protected constitutionally.”

This is the Vision of the Night

How bad is Trump’s economic plan? Very.

In yesterday’s post I talked about the necessity of freeing the market place in order to spur innovation in the energy sector. I wrote that the great expansion in human prosperity came as a result of the implementation of a set of ideas- ideas that were first enunciated by Adam Smith in his book The Wealth of Nations. Broadly speaking, these principles are free markets, free trade, and free immigration. Trump’s economic “Vision”,  released August 8th, and subsequently revised, rejects those principles in favor of a bureaucratic, corporate management of the economy. Hillary’s plan isn’t much better, but more on that some other time.

I should first admit that his tax plan doesn’t look half bad. Reducing taxes, simplifying the tax code, and offering a cocktail of credits is in the right direction. I have my doubts on how serious Trump is on this, though. His tax plan has already undergone several revisions, and he criticized Gov. Scott Walker for not caving to the Unions and raising taxes in Wisconsin. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt here. If his current plan is the one he pursues, America will be better off for it (providing his other positions don’t do more harm than his tax plan does good).

Trump’s position on trade, however, is frustratingly wrong. Flatly wrong. Lunacy. Trump favors economic protectionism, which is the idea that domestic firms should get preferential treatment in trade negotiations by establishing tariffs and other trade restrictions.  Economists argue among themselves a lot, but there are a few things that they almost always agree upon. One of those things is the benefits of free trade. At this stage in the game, with hundreds of years of economic study behind us, making a case for protectionism is madness. It’s a lot like when some quack tries to prove that vaccines cause autism. Utter nonsense. There’s no evidence to suggest that protectionism is economically beneficial. Therefore, I don’t have to demonstrate to you (even though I can) that free trade is the more beneficial policy, because, as Hitchen’s razor points out, what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

It’s easy for me to get fired up about trade policy, but it’s hard to put name and faces with those who are hurt but the injustice of protectionism. Immigration is a different story. Not only is Trump’s plan to deport millions of people economically and politically unfeasible, it’s also morally abhorrent. These people are coming here because there is work for them to do. They are coming here because they are desperate. We need them, and they need us. What’s often forgotten in thinking about economic issues is the way in which policy affects real people in their everyday lives. I hope that by examining the moral tragedy of deportation, you will come to a deeper conclusion about the great harm of many of Trump’s other economic policies. Our economy is fragile. It may not survive President Trump.

Wanna Save the World? Free the Market.

What’s needed in the energy sector is an innovation boom.We need to develop technologies that will simply out compete fossil fuels. What we need is to hold true to Smith’s observation: free trade, free immigration, and free markets.

I never intended to write a three part series on energy for this blog, but I felt I was starting to make an argument for something, and that I should probably do my best to finish it. However, my strict 500 word policy left me cutting corners a lot, and today’s post will be no different.

In the first part of this series, I talked about developing a new framework for thinking about energy policy (Safety, Efficiency, Economy, Sustainability), the problem with fossils fuels, possible solutions to those problems, and then problems with those solutions. In the second part, I tried to argue that a new form of nuclear energy, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, is our best solution for the world’s energy future. The LFTR is safe, efficient, economical, and sustainable. But as a friend of mine pointed out, solar and wind technologies will become more viable options in the future as technology grows. He’s absolutely right.

We have been cursed by our prosperity. There has been so much abundance since the end of the Second World War, that we take economic and technological progress as a given. I live a life filled with many more advantages than even someone like J. P. Morgan did 100 years ago.  But the truth is, for much of human history, there was very little change in personal wealth from one generation to the next. A poor peasant was born, lived, and died with almost no chance of living a life above subsistence. We don’t live in a world like that anymore. The idea that one generation wouldn’t be substantially better off than their parents is almost anathema to us.

But, if you were to ask yourself how it is that “the West” became so prosperous, you might find yourself spiraling down into a very deep rabbit-hole. Economists and philosophers have been debating this issue for awhile now, but a few things seem to be agreed upon. Adam Smith, in his 1776 book The Wealth of Nations, laid out a set of principles he thought distinguished rich countries from poor ones. The book is extremely dense, and, try as I might, I’ve never gotten through it all. Smith makes the observation that rich countries have better institutions than poor countries. They are generally economically freer, they value free trade over tariffs, and they are countries that attract and accept immigrants.

Smith was writing in a time when Great Britain (under the infamous King George III) wasn’t exactly a paragon of those virtues. But the United States took these principles and ran with them. It’s why the U.S. overtook the UK as the world’s leading industrial power by 1880, when it had been (only 100 years before) a rural backwater clinging to life on the Atlantic coast.

What’s needed in the energy sector is an innovation boom.We need to develop technologies that will simply out compete fossil fuels. What we need is to hold true to Smith’s observation: free trade, free immigration, and free markets.