Independent Country

James Leroy Wilson's blog

Friday, July 15, 2016

Players should celebrate Nick Wright and Joy Taylor

I listen to sports talk radio whenever I can. Stories about sports are my escape.and favorite conversation topic.

And I was very, very impressed with the original thoughts from Nick Wright and Joy Thomas, who guest-hosted The Herd for at least the past two days.

Among the gems I heard in a limited amount of time, all paraphrased:

Nick: "I'm not a fan of slippery slope arguments. 'It could lead to something,' is a bad argument."

Nick: "I don't want my kids celebrating after making a play. But I don't want them getting cortisone shots either. Pro athletes and children are different."

Joy: "Just because pro sports can be watched by kids, doesn't mean they should be catered to them. Lots of things can be seen by kids without being for kids."

(I'm open to correction if I misinterpreted their points.)

I was impressed with their on-air compatibility and insights. I hope to see and or hear a lot more of them.


  

   


Degree of Certainty: Why Hillary Wins

Donald Trump has picked Mike Pence as his running mate. While I most likely disagree with Pence on most things, he might be a relatively capable Oval Office sitter if Trump wins but resigns in a year to become a judge on America's Got Talent

But that won't happen. Whatever Pence's qualifications may be, the ticket as a whole has a glaring omission: nobody with a Harvard or Yale degree.

That means it will lose. It might have lost anyway; Hillary Clinton Yale law degree, uh, trumps Trump's Penn bachelor's degree. But perhaps getting a Harvard or Yale running mate could have evened things up.

Here are the universities that the Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees since 1980 attended. If two schools are listed, the first is the undergraduate school. The Democrat is on the left, the Republican on the right. The winning ticket is in italicData from before 2004 and earlier is copied from this 2008 blog post.

2016 (likely): Wellesley, Yale (law) v. Pennsylvania
vp:     ???  v. Hanover, Indiana U. (law)
2012: Columbia, Harvard (Law) v. Brigham Young, Harvard (Law, MBA)
vp: Delaware, Syracuse (Law) v. Miami (OH)
2008: Columbia, Harvard (Law) v. Naval Academy
vp: Delaware, Syracuse (Law) v. Idaho
2004: Yale, Boston College(law) v. Yale, Harvard(MBA)
vp: NC St., North Carolina v. Wyoming
2000: Harvard v. YaleHarvard(MBA)
vp: Yale v. Wyoming
1996: Georgetown, Yale (law) v. Kansas
vp: Harvard vs. Occidental
1992: Georgetown, Yale (law) v. Yale
vp: Harvard vs. DePauw, Indiana (law)
1988: Swarthmore, Harvard (law) v. Yale
vp: Texas v DePauw, Indiana U (law)
1984: Minnesota v. Eureka
vp: Marymount Manhattan, Fordham (law) vs. Yale
1980: Naval Academy v. Eureka
VP: Minnesota v. Yale

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Why did they pursue D.B. Cooper?

The FBI will no longer look for D.B. Cooper.

In Cooper's 1971 hijacking of a Boeing 727,  no one was hurt, passengers weren't traumatized because they weren't even made aware the plane was hijacked, and the sum stolen was only $200,000.

That raises the question: Why did the FBI spend so much time and money pursuing him in the first place? 

The subject can quickly turn, in online comments sections, to general FBI incompetence. And its ethics, considering Director James Comey's recommendation against pressing charges against Hillary Clinton.

I think that misses the point.

Normally, I oppose the FBI. It shouldn't exist.

But of its few Constitutionally-legitimate functions, investigating a hijacking-for-ransom on an interstate flight is one.

And if this investigation shouldn't have been aggressively pursued, why should any?

If we let the criminal get away with it, wouldn't he be encouraged to commit the same crime again? Or use his criminal profits to fund other criminal schemes?

The purpose of capturing criminals and removing them from society is so they won't commit crimes again.

And as commenter Steven Sizemore notes:
Even so, there's a lot of value in the FBI's deep investigation; to deter others if nothing else. Deterrent came from the public knowing the FBI was going to look under every stone, and keep looking. Maybe they came up empty on this one, but I warrant the high profile investigation deterred other attempts all the same!
Most of the laws we live under are unjust and unnecessary. But there is some comfort for me in knowing that if you commit a real crime, like issue bomb threat in order to steal, they will come after you.

Even if they don't get you, you pay a price. As I've noted on social media:
Q: If he survived, what's the only thing worse than being D.B. Cooper and not being able to tell anyone?
A: Prison.
Was it worth it?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Just laws, cop abuse, and the arrogance of Eric Garcetti

The 2006 Duke Lacrosse case featured:
  • An investigation of a  real crime. Unlike, say, the phony "crimes" like gun or drug possession, rape has an actual victim 
  • White men, athletes at an elite university, as suspects. Maybe they weren't all rich, but they were privileged with access to  competent legal counsel.
Even after evidence indicated the accused were innocent, the police and prosecutor pursued the case.

If innocent Duke athletes aren't safe from The State, nobody is. Botched prosecutions and wrongful convictions are commonplace even when the laws, such as  laws against rape, murder, and robbery, are just and necessary.

So what happens when they're not? Increasing the minimum wage is a case in point. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, in a Freakonomics interview, said it will lead to increased "net economic activity" in his city.

That's a dubious proposition at best, but the more important question is...

Who does Eric Garcetti think he is think he is to make it illegal for people to take jobs at wages they are willing to accept?

Garcetti admits there will be some displacement with a minimum wage hike, but somehow thinks it's worth it. What will happen to the jobless?

They'll likely get public assistance of various kinds. But also, the circumstances will encourage them to earn money in the unlicensed, untaxed shadow economy.

Even if the goods and services they provide aren't illegal in themselves, they're made illegal by the lack of paperwork and taxes.

And that can lead to nosy neighbors calling the police, or police spotting and inquiring into "suspicious" activity themselves. Arrests will be made, convictions plea-bargained, and honest peaceful people will have misdemeanors or even felonies on their record.

In addition, some of that police contact will get out of hand. Sometimes police will panic or become abusive. It's statistically likely the victims will disproportionately be racial minorities.

And when an incident becomes a national headline, we'll again wonder how we can "reform" police departments so they'll be less racist in practice. No doubt Eric Garcetti will have something reasonable and "compassionate" to say.

But it's the Garcettis of the world who are the fundamental problem. Don't pile on victimless laws on top of just laws and then be shocked when minorities bear the brunt.



Just laws, cop abuse, and the arroagance of Eric Garcetti

The 2006 Duke Lacrosse case featured:
  • An investigation of a  real crime. Unlike, say, the phony "crimes" like gun or drug possession, rape has an actual victim 
  • White men, athletes at an elite university, as suspects. Maybe they weren't all rich, but they were privileged with access to  competent legal counsel.
Even after evidence indicated the accused were innocent, the police and prosecutor pursued the case.

If innocent Duke athletes aren't safe from The State, nobody is. Botched prosecutions and wrongful convictions are commonplace even when the laws, such as  laws against rape, murder, and robbery, are just and necessary.

So what happens when they're not? Increasing the minimum wage is a case in point. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, in a Freakonomics interview, said it will lead to increased "net economic activity" in his city.

That's a dubious proposition at best, but the more important question is...

Who does Eric Garcetti think he is think he is to make it illegal for people to take jobs at wages they are willing to accept?

Garcetti admits there will be some displacement with a minimum wage hike, but somehow thinks it's worth it. What will happen to the jobless?

They'll likely get public assistance of various kinds. But also, the circumstances will encourage people to earn money in the unlicensed, untaxed shadow economy.

Even if the goods and services they provide aren't illegal in themselves, they're made illegal by the lack of paperwork and taxes.

And that can lead to nosy neighbors calling the police, or police spotting and inquiring into "suspicious" activity themselves.

Some of that police contact will get out of hand, and police may panic or become abusive. It's statistically likely the victims will disproportionately be racial minorities.

And when an incident becomes a national headline, we'll again wonder how we can "reform" police departments so they'll be less racist in practice. No doubt Eric Garcetti will have something reasonable and "compassionate" to say.

But it's the Garcettis of the world who are the fundamental problem. Don't pile on victimless laws on top of just laws and then be shocked when minorities bear the brunt.



Friday, July 08, 2016

Law abuse precedes cop abuse

You want to reduce police shootings of black men, and prevent any possible retaliation? 

Get rid of your bs victimless crime laws. Those laws are  abusive and so their enforcers will be abusive.

So...

Stop harassing people for selling stuff on the street without a license.

Stop endangering lives on the road to enforce traffic and vehicle laws that do nothing but raise revenue for The State.

Get rid of the drug laws. and gun laws. They were enacted in the first place with racist intent. Using a drug or possessing a firearm does not victimize anybody else.

And get rid of the Drug War-induced  asset forfeiture laws in which innocent people see their cash, cars, or even homes taken from them without so much as being charged with a crime.

As it stands now, the police are REWARDED for harassing people, and they'll racially profile NOT because blacks are more likely to be criminals, but because they're more likely to be poor and have fewer resources to fight back with competent legal counsel. 

If we repeal victimless, abusive laws, the police will have fewer incentives to be abusive.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Do we want county government?

"A former Gage County, Nebraska, prosecutor decided against running DNA tests in 1989 to help resolve unanswered questions in the cold-case killing of a Beatrice grandmother" in part because "the $350 lab fees were deemed too expensive."

This was years after the real killer was ruled out because of "a mistake on a blood test."

Now the county has to pay $28 million in compensation to the "Beatrice Six" who were wrongfully convicted of the crime. That's bigger than the county budget, and "amount to nearly $1,300 for each of the county’s roughly 21,900 residents."

That sounds like a small county, but it's the 14th most populous of Nebraska's 93 counties. More than two-thirds of them are under 10,000; several are under 1,000.

Which means particularly serious crimes like murder almost never happen in most of them. Police and prosecutors, with no previous experience to draw on, may botch a murder case even when they are doing their earnest best.

This is probably true in most rural counties across America. Some states have their own statewide bureaus of investigation that can dispatch pros to investigate major crimes, and I think I'd recommend that all states have one.

I favor small, decentralized government. But many counties in many states are too small to have the resources or professional competence to conduct their most important duty - investigate violent crime and prosecute offenders.

In any case, I feel for the people of Gage County, facing a bill today to pay for mistakes public officials made three decades ago.

As a citizen of Nebraska, I believe the Beatrice Six deserve the compensation they were awarded. I do not believe I should be on the hook as a taxpayer for it. But neither should the innocent taxpayers of Gage County.

Of the unfair options, I'd rather all the taxpayers of Nebraska share the burden of this compensation.

And then we should re-think county government. 

I have opinions...

I sent this comment to Justin Raimondo's Who's the Libertarian Now?
According to ISidewith.com, I’m 92% in agreement with Johnson. I want people who vote to vote for him.

Johnson’s not, however, the person to articulate the libertarian philosophy. His position on religious liberty, from the burqa flap to the Nazi cake demonstrates that he doesn’t get it. If the Libertarian Party continues to support candidates like him, it should change its name.
I sent this comment to Thomas L Knapp's Hillary Clinton: More Equal Under the Law Than Others:
Cut her some slack. I think her mishandling of the emails was due to PTSD from the sniper fire in Bosnia two decades ago. I'm confident she'll be cured by the Inauguration.
And this to Stephen Cox's Extremely Careless:
We can't trust an agency that has no Constitutional reason to exist to do the right thing. We live in the world where the FBI exists. In a country that tolerated J. Edgar Hoover's Directorship of intimidation and blackmail. In a post-9/11 world where the Dept. of Justice's Inspector General found habitual law-breaking and abuse by the FBI.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Springtime for the Comments Section

I submitted this comment to Rod Dreher's Christians Can No Longer Be Pharmacists:
No one should be denied by The State from buying anything, and no one should be coerced by the State into selling anything to anyone. 

This libertarian voluntaryism is the only principle to fight for. It encompasses religious liberty but isn't about religious liberty.

What we can't do, without looking ridiculous, is affirm the legitimacy of regulation in principle, and then be shocked when they're not the regulations we want. 
And this comment to Sean Gabb's Europe: The Age of Globalism, 1989-2016(?)
The Brexit vote reminds me more of the June, 1989 democratic election in Poland than the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s the start of something big.
I also submitted this to Brian T. Smith's Shame on NBA Players who chose to skip Olympics:
Chicago radio, 2004, Jay Mariotti attacked Shaq's patriotism because of the Olympics. Don't be like Jay Mariotti.
And on YouTube:


Happy 90th birthday Mel Brooks! Two of the times I laughed hardest were thanks to him. One was the beans scene in Blazing Saddles. The other is this. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ten random (ranting?) thoughts about guns and gun control

1. Many years ago, someone in an email group tried to corner me. Aha! You've never touched a gun, but you expect us to respect your opinion about gun rights? I think I expressed bewilderment about why I'd be criticized for tolerating something I know nothing about. Because really, how is it better to be in favor of regulating or prohibiting something I don't know or understand? Should ignorance be the foundation of the law? 


I've never been an interior decorator either, but far be it from me to say the law should require a license to be one.

Never been into flower arranging. But I say there shouldn't be a license.

Some state laws disagree. Am I being "extreme" to say let people do the job they want?

Or own what they want?


2. Funny who and who isn't a gun nut. Michael Bloomberg when Mayor of New York wanted police with guns to enforce a law about the size of soda fountain drinks. President Obama wants federal agents with guns to force restaurants to post calorie counts on menus. They want guns to be used on offense to coerce people. I want people to be free to possess and use guns in self-defense.

And I'm the gun nut?

And there are politicians who want the police to use guns to prevent the presence of guns where alcohol is served.

Richard Maybury believes in two laws. The closer a society or government adheres to them, the more order there is. The more they are ignored and supplanted by other laws, the more chaos there is.

Those two laws are:

1. Do all that you have agreed to do.
2. Do not encroach on other people or their property.

When The State encroaches on private property, chaos ensues. No one knows what would have happened if the Pulse nightclub in Orlando allowed its customers to pack heat. But we do know what happened when "government" made it illegal for them to do so.

3. Gun rights advocates, don't go down the "mass shootings is a mental health problem" road. The mentally ill are the most helpless and harmless people in society. They don't shoot up places; if and when they do lash out at others it is in the most ineffectual ways.

4. The problem with guns to protect us from tyranny is the subjectivity and self-interest of the gun owner. If someone refuses to sign up for the draft, that right there is a hill I'd be willing to fight on in defense of that young man (or now, probably, woman). But America's 100 million gun owners have tolerated Selective Service for decades.

5. If it is possible to manufacture guns in residential homes, and it is, then they will certainly be made under gun "control" or gun prohibition laws. Gun Control is about creating a black market.

6. I'm losing patience with saying people have "good intentions" or that the results of their folly are "unintended." A crackdown on guns will NOT prevent mass shootings; it WILL lead to piling up of charges against African-Americans, Hispanics, and immigrants of brown skin. They'll be targeted and profiled, just as they are now in the War on Drugs.

7. The Second Amendment is largely irrelevant. Whether this clause qualifies that clause doesn't take away the fact that no person, or group of people called "government" has the right to deny your right to defend yourself. Human rights don't depend on Constitutions, and the right to life and the right to self-defense are one and the same.

8. Laws aren't about potential. One person's stash of meth can hurt a lot of kids, and another person's one gun can hurt a lot of people. Same can be true of one person's beer supply and another person's car.

9. Those who say the intent of guns is killing humans is like saying the intent of nuclear weapons is to incinerate populations. But defense is more about deterrence than killing.

10. If you think I'm writing in defense of guns because I'm being paid, expose me and follow the money. Please. If there's money I'm entitled to get, I'd like to know about it. But this is a matter of conscience for me and almost everyone who writes in defense of self-defense.

My Orlando reaction


In past few days, I've people on social media blame the following for the Orlando shooting:

  • The NRA, even though the shooter was a security guard who worked at government buildings.
  • President Obama's Muslim immigration policies, even though the shooter's parent migrated from Afghanistan during the Reagan Administration, and the father seemed to have close ties with senior government officials.
  • Christians who oppose gay marriage, for inspiring anti-LGBT hatred, even though Obama himself held that position as recently as eight years ago and the shooter isn't Christian.
  • The FBI, for investigating the shooter then gave up because the guy wasn't doing anything criminal.
These ignorant blame games suggest even more sinister ideas.
  • Gun control advocates say "no one wants to take away your guns." But if they think the laws should stop a licensed security guard from buying one, who would they allow to have one?   y
  • Left unsaid, but implied from the "blame Muslims" crowd is that not only immigrants, but native-born Muslims should be more closely monitored or have restrictions placed on them. Reminiscent of the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.
  • Implicit in blaming "hatred" is that people expressing disagreeable and/or "extreme" views should be censored. Political Correctness should be the Law of the Land.
  • To blame the FBI is to say the feds don't have enough surveillance powers.
The week before the shooting, a rapist at Stanford University argued that his cultural surroundings influenced his behavior. He got a light sentence, and the nation reacted in outrage. He was to blame, not anybody else. Not his friends. Not the promiscuous, binge-drinking "culture."  

A few days later, many forgot that very point when it came to the Orlando shooter. It wasn't the guns, it wasn't religion, it wasn't what The State did or didn't do. It was him.

Friday, June 03, 2016

How to Honor Ali: Abolish the Draft

An Open Letter

To: President Obama and All Members of Congress

I write this in the early morning hours following the news of Muhammad Ali's death.

I have yet to hear or read statements from public figures, but I know most of you will say nice things about his life and legacy. In addition to his greatness in the boxing ring, you will honor his courage in standing up for his convictions.

But I'll know you are sincere if and only if you do one thing: support a bill to abolish Selective Service.

That's right: get rid of the draft once and for all.

Ali risked imprisonment because he refused to serve during the Vietnam War. His case reached the Supreme Court and he won only on a technicality. The draft continued, and many lost their lives because of it.

No one should be forced to die in a war he wouldn't have voluntarily fought. And no one, whether Ali or someone not as rich and famous, should be punished for refusal.

Although America hasn't had a draft since 1973, the Selective Service System still holds American young men hostage. They must sign up for the possibility of getting drafted, or face legal consequences and lose opportunities.

But remember that wrong isn't right just because politicians want it. The Selective Service requirement is involuntary servitude. It is coercion at its worst.

It is unfit for a nation that calls itself the "Land of the Free."

If you really admire Ali, you wouldn't want to force today's young people to go through what he did.

So do the honorable thing, and honor Ali while you do it. Abolish the draft once and for all!

Sincerely,

James Leroy Wilson

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Ban tuxedo rentals

Renting an $800 tux for a weekend can cost you $200.

That's a lot. Now imagine  you are late returning it. The late fees will probably be sky-high!

That's a problem.  There should be a law protecting consumers from the gouging practices of the tuxedo rental industry. Maybe they should be shut down altogether!

It shouldn't matter that most renters return their tuxes on time. Or that the service gives many people an opportunity to fulfill a family or social obligation they otherwise couldn't afford.

After all, if you have to rent a tux and can't afford to buy one, you're probably already prone to poor financial decisions.

So the government should limit your choices. You can't wear a tux for the prom or as a groomsman? That's unfortunate, but it's for your own good.

You may think I'm being ridiculous. But why? A tux rental ban is no more absurd than regulating the payday lending industry.

Who cares if low-income people will be denied access to emergency funds? It's a minor inconvenience. A small price to pay for the government protecting you from your own decisions.

It's for your own good

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Is it hard to be curious?

Ben Hoffman was on the May 30 Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend podcast, to talk about his country music performer alter-ego, Wheeler Walker Jr.

What struck me was the part (approximately 46 minutes in) where Hoffman talks about being slammed by a journalist who was offended by his use of the word "bitch" but didn't bother to get to page 2 of a Google search to realize that Wheeler wasn't an actual person.

I thought of "Administration sources said under condition of anonymity." I thought of Monte Teo's non-existent girlfriend.

I thought of journalists that don't have a curious mind. Who take whatever is brought to them at face value, and report it. Wheeler has a record out, so Wheeler is a person. Just as Saddam had WMDs.

And I'm not even asking journalists to be skeptics. Just to be curious. Just to say, "Oh, what an interesting person! What an interesting story! What is the background to this?"

Deadspin didn't try to debunk Monte Teo's girlfriend story. That was just the result of natural curiosity.

And I find it strange. Why be a journalist if you're just going to repeat what's already been told? Isn't the joy in finding the story behind the story?

It doesn't have to be debunking. It doesn't have to be critical. But can't it just find out, to the best of personal ability, who what where and why?


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ken Starr has Bush the Elder to blame

Ken Starr was demoted from President to Chancellor at Baylor University for its handling of sexual assault accusations against members of the football team.

I haven't read the independent investigative report that led to this. My guess is Starr took a hands-off approach to athletics as something beyond his expertise. As President, he was responsible, but may not have been morally culpable. That's why he was allowed to keep his tenured professorship.

Still, he must wonder how it came to this. He should be on the Supreme Court. Instead, he'll be remembered as the out-of-control independent counsel who investigated Bill Clinton's sex life, and overseer of a university that put winning ahead of justice for women.

And the only reason he had either job was because he wasn't on the Supreme Court.

He was well on his way, but President George H.W. Bush failed him.

Here's what happened. In 1990, Justice William Brennan retired. Several people were high on Clarence Thomas. There was already a black Justice sitting, Thurgood Marshall. Bush's appointment of Thomas would have confounded liberal opponents by giving the court two black seats, and thereby claiming that the quality of the legal mind, not race, was the main factor. 

But Bush passed on Thomas that year. And he passed on Starr, who clerked for Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, had been a federal appeals judge, and was the sitting Solicitor General. Bush chose the potentially less controversial David Souter instead. Souter became part of the Court's "liberal" wing.

Marshall retired the next year. Bush finally appointed Thomas, giving opponents ammunition that he was appointed only because he was black. The Anita Hill hearings were a result. I don't think they would have happened the previous year.

Ken Starr could then have filled the Marshall vacancy.

But Bush wanted no fuss either time. Souter was safer than Starr and Thomas in 1990 because he wasn't as well known. And in 1991, Thomas was "safer" than Starr because Bush felt he had to nominate a black person.

If Bush had appointed Thomas in 1990 and Starr in 1991, the Court would have become more solidly conservative, somebody else would have investigated Clinton, and somebody else would have become President of Baylor University.

Maybe things would been worse. Maybe Starr would have been ill-suited for the Court. But I suspect that's probably where he most belonged and where he probably would have done the least harm.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Strange echoes and distorted proportions, endless strife and confusion

Peter Thiel apparently funded Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker, probably because one of its publications outed Thiel as gay back in 2007. 

If all of that's true, it plays out as exactly as described in William Graham Sumner's essay "The Solidarity of the Human Race." I still can't find a text of it online, but in 2003 I typed this excerpt for an essay at The  Partial Observer:
"Good never produces evil nor evil good. ...  It comes back to you again and again in strange echoes, in distorted proportions, in ghastly colors, with a whole train of weird offspring, bad passions, bitter memories, and endless strife and confusion."
How did this come about?

1. Gawker outs Thiel without his consent. He is hurt and bitter about the invasion of privacy.
2. Gawker shows a sex tape clip of Hulk Hogan without his consent, probably a reminder or "strange echo" to Thiel of what was done to him. 
3. Thiel, to settle scores, helps fund Hogan's suit against Gawker.
4. Hogan wins the jury trial and is awarded $140 million. The damages will likely bankrupt Gawker and seems to be a "distorted proportion" to the actual harm done to Hogan.

And now there's a debate as to whether this suit will have a chilling effect on journalism and freedom of the press. What can and can't be published? What's newsworthy? What's private? Who's to decide?

Hello "endless strife and confusion!"

I don't know if Thiel was right to hold a grudge, or if Hogan's suit was justified. Maybe there were other, non-judicial ways to hold Gawker accountable or settle grievances. Maybe Thiel and Hogan are adding on to the evil, which will have evil consequences down the road for other people.

But it does seem clear that Gawker outed Thiel and exposed Hogan to hurt them for its own profit.

Gawker may still have the legal high ground. But it had no moral high ground. If it wants to avoid expensive legal messes like this, it shouldn't do evil in the first place.    

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Can Trump unwittingly end the Imperial Presidency?

The headline cracked me up: "End the Imperial Presidency Before it's Too Late."

What year is this? 2012? 2004? 1936?

1792?

That said, Conor Friedersdorf's essay is on point about the Establishment's silence when W. and Obama illegally increased executive power at the expense of peace and civil liberties, and got away with it.

Now they're worried what a President Trump would do with that power?

You don't have to be a student of history or political philosophy to think it's a bad idea to hand over power to one person that you wouldn't want his successor to have. It's common sense.

That's why I have little sympathy for those who, without remorse, re-elected Bush in 2004 or Obama in 2012 but now wring their hands about how Trump may abuse power. Trump isn't the problem. The problem is those who want a dictatorial Presidency only if the "right person" is in charge. And I agree with Friedersdorf that the imperial Presidency must be stopped.

Here's the ironic part: Trump may just be the one to do it.

At first glance, that may seem absurd. Friedersdorf quotes Robert Kagan: "[I]s a man like Trump, with infinitely greater power in his hands, likely to become more humble, more judicious, more generous, less vengeful than he is today, than he has been his whole life? Does vast power un-corrupt?”

Probably not. Definitely not. Hillary may be, as Friedersdorf describes her, "less risky" though still likely to abuse power.

But Hillary will get away with it. Trump might not

Congress couldn't impeach George W. Bush because they were co-conspirators with him. And they wouldn't impeach Obama even after he violated the War Powers Act in Libya,. Even after he was caught spying on us without search warrants. Congress would not dare impeach the first black President.

Do you think they'd impeach the first female President? Unlikely. At most, they'd sue her like they sue Obama, over executive orders relating to domestic policy.

But they have no incentive to give Trump a pass. They neither like nor respect him. Congress might put Trump on notice that impeachment is always on the table. Or they will be more likely to pass, with veto-proof majorities, curbs on executive power. Under Trump, the Presidency might shrivel like many of his enterprises.

I'm not saying this will happen. A weakened Presidency is merely the best-case scenario. But it won't happen under Hillary. It might happen under Trump.

That's not reason enough to support him. But it is one ray of hope.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Trade with foreigners at your own risk

Some countries are relatively free and some governments are relatively accountable to the people. But it's hard to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable when exploitation is the game of The State.

That's what I was thinking while listening to the May 16 EconTalk podcast, Leif Wenar  argues that Congress should pass a law banning oil imports from oppressive countries. That's also the argument of his book Blood Oil. I haven't read it, and my reaction is to this podcast episode only.

Wenar argues that dictators of resource-rich countries keep the profits from the sale of resources to foreign nations, and give very little back to their people.  Because a country's resources rightly belong to the people, buying minerals from Congo, or oil from Equatorial Guinea, means buying stolen goods.

This is different in kind from the (relatively) free trade purchase of manufactured goods from developing countries. Even  if they're still undemocratic, they're at least developing and are demonstrably better off than they were in 1980. Wenar argues that the people in resource-rich dictatorships are no better off.

Wenar says that just as we no longer tolerate the criminal enterprise of the slave trade, so we shouldn't tolerate this criminal enterprise of buying stolen goods.  Like host Russ Roberts, I appreciate Wenar's point.

And also like Roberts, I remain skeptical. Roberts observes that some people will learn how to get around and profit from any kind of import ban, just as they do with other kinds of prohibition.

But where Wenar really missed the mark is assuming an import ban would save the federal government tens of billions in defense spending because it wouldn't have to protect trade with dictators.

I wanted to yell, "But it doesn't have to even now!"

The nation-state system that we live under assumes you're subject to the laws of the government of the place you are in at the present moment. If it's not your native country, or a country you're a legal citizen of, you're there pretty much at your own risk. Your "home" government can't do much for you, especially if you break their laws of the country you're in, or participate in its corruption. If you're an American CEO visiting a dictatorship and the people revolt and execute you, why should that be my problem? You're the one who went there and did business there.

If you leave the shores or borders of the United States, I don't see why your fellow American citizens should be compelled, with their tax dollars, to provide defense for your foreign ventures. Which means, if American oil companies deal with dictators, they would provide their own defense of their own ships as they see fit. No federal spending is needed.

That can provide its own incentive to deal with stable (meaning, relatively accountable and relatively free) countries with safe shipping lanes. And does not depend on "our government" deciding which other governments are morally acceptable and which are not.

Because they're all guilty of exploitation and theft, one way or another. To survive in this world means to make the best judgments based on the obstacles they unjustly throw your way. You may think one of these resource rich dictatorships isn't so bad. Somebody else may think it's worse than another.

If surviving meant dealing with criminals, you'd make do as your conscience will allow. And we all have to deal with governments. I may view some as worse than others. You might, too. But we might not agree on which are worse or why.

So I say let the goods flow into the country. We can't control how they came here.

Just don't protect the people who bring them in. Let them do it at their own risk, not taxpayer expense.