Independent Country

James Leroy Wilson's blog

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?


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.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Property and Culture War blowback

I don't have a sophisticated theory of property rights. I know what doesn't belong to me. I know I shouldn't take or control what isn't mine, and that the State has no more right to take or control my neighbor's property than I do.

I also agree with Ryan McMaken, who argues that when you have property rights, you don't need religious freedom. The specific issue he discusses is the legal quagmire of the Catholic Little Sisters of the Poor being forced to provide abortion-related medical coverage. Abortion is against Catholic teaching.

McMakesn argues that if we protected property rights, we wouldn't have to make far more subjective judgments as to when to provide a religious exemption to a mandate. There wouldn't be mandates.

Commenter "Laughing Target" notes, "Debates over marriage, bathrooms, etc, all of them exist only  because we allowed the State to violate property rights."

I agree. The entire Culture War seems to be about socially "conservative" and socially "liberal" factions trying to control the property of others.

That's not the right war. All sides should be defending property rights against The State.

But I can't but help think that religious institutions and leaders have helped make the bed they now have to sleep in.    

If you ask most religious leaders if brothels should be free to set up shop next to their church buildings, they'll likely say no. They'll also probably say that racial discrimination should be illegal. And they'll support, or have supported, drug prohibition and bans on "obscenity." Most probably don't have any principled objection to the minimum wage.

In short, they'll often applaud when The State treads on the property of their neighbors. Instead of reaching out to "sinners" in charity and friendship, religious leaders have helped throw them into the nightmares of the penal system  and/or civil lawsuits.
But then they'll demand religious exemptions for their own hospitals, clinics, and social services. They'll defend their hiring practices from LGBT lawsuits on religious grounds.

They had little regard for the property rights of others, and now are shocked when the tables have turned. It's the blowback of using The State to impose one's preferences on others.

That's why religious communities should repent of their Statism. To defend their ways of life, they must defend the freedom of their neighbors as well. Which means protecting their property.

By all means defend the caterer who refuses to serve a gay wedding celebration. But also defend the strip club owner from arbitrary zoning laws. Defend the right of the brothel or marijuana dispensary to exist. Defend the right of any establishment to allow smoking on their premises.

Not because you agree with them, but because their property doesn't belong to you, or to The State.

If you defend the property rights of others, they'll see the principled consistency of your efforts and will be more willing to defend you.

Money, health, love

Money is like health and love: an energy source that can help create an easier and more pleasant life.

You may have lots of money because you worked hard for it. You may also be in excellent shape because you work out. You might be well-loved because you worked sacrificially on behalf of others.

Then again, you may have lots of money because it was given to you. You may be in excellent shape because of good genes. You may be well-loved because of your charismatic personality without having done anything virtuous or admirable.

And, it's very possible that hard work won't lead to more money, or a better body, or the love of others.

You might deserve what you want, but not get it. Others may have what you want, without ever "earning" it.

You can resent them, or be happy for their good fortune.

What's the benefit of resentment? 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

There are going to be outliers.

I knew Cleveland has a 50+ year championship drought for its three major league sports teams. What 30 For 30's Believeland made me realize is how rarely they even came close.

I won't detail these heartbreaks, but here's the rundown... 

1980 (NFL season): Red Right 88. The Browns lost a divisional play-off game. If they had won it, they would have had to beat the Chargers in the AFC championship game and then the Eagles in the Super Bowl. There isn't a compelling reason to believe they could have done both.

1986: The Drive. Had the Browns won this AFC title match, they would have had to face the Giants in the Super Bowl, and would have been underdogs.

1987: The Fumble: Had the Browns won this AFC title game, they would have played the Redskins in the Super Bowl and would have had an even chance of winning. This is the most significant football heartbreak.

1989: The Shot. Michael Jordan's Bulls eliminated the third-seeded Cavs in the first round of the NBA play-offs. As opposed to inevitably loosing in a later round to eventual champion Pistons.

1995 & 1997 World Series.  The Indians lost both, could have won both. One would have been great. This is how close Cleveland came.

1995: The Move: If anything, this was a "win" for Cleveland, because unlike other cities that lost a franchise, they got a team in a few years, and it was the Browns.

2010: The Decision: The Cavs couldn't attract free agents to make them better. That's why LeBron left. There aren't any "what ifs."

Of course, there were other disappointing seasons and playoff losses, but these were the gut-wrenching ones.

And the thing is, the Packers have just as many in the past 20 years alone. Five overtime playoff losses. Two others ending on the last play. And the 1997 Super Bowl loss. Without two Super Bowl wins in that span, Packer fans would feel cursed.

And that's because the Packers have had a solid organization (not to mention two long-tenured great quarterbacks) since 1992. No Cleveland franchise has had anything close to that level of stability for more than a few years at a time.

If they had, there would have been a heck of a lot more gut-wrenching disappointments. Plus a championship or three.

But I don't think this general organizational malaise is a reflection on Cleveland itself. I wouldn't find it an any more  or less attractive place to live than any number of cities. It just so happens that its three teams are running a little behind the averages.

Take the Chicago Cubs. It hasn't won a world series since 1907. Mathematically there almost has to be an outlier like that. One team (the Yankees) wins a bunch. Several others win more than the mean, some win an average number, some less than average, and some much less than average.

With the major leagues having 30-32 teams, an average franchise would win their conference about once every 15 years and the championship once every 30 years. It so happens that each Cleveland team is behind on championships in the last few decades. But in terms of its overall history, the Browns have won their "share" of NFL titles. Just not recently.

And any of it can change quickly. The Seattle Seahawks, which began play in 1976, didn't win their conference until 2005. Now, it has three titles conference titles and a Super Bowl win in its 40 seasons. It went from outlier to average in ten seasons.

Just as it's not surprising for a team to go over 100 years without a winning a World Series, so it's not surprising for a city to have three teams not win a title since 1964. It's random . It's like saying the Islanders, Mets, and Nets haven't won a title since 1986. That doesn't mean New York is cursed.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Thune's bullying of Facebook far worse than anything Facebook did

Imagine that Democrats ran Congress and investigated the Fox News "fair and balanced" claim. They'd say they're protecting you from false advertising.  

But nobody would believe it. We'd grasp the truth instantly: the Democrats are bullying and harassing a news outlet just because it has a right-wing slant. 

Supporters of the First Amendment, whether left, right, or libertarian, would condemn such an attack on free speech. Even if they hate Fox. 

Fortunately, that's all hypothetical. 

This, however, isn't: Senate Republicans are questioning Facebook for how it provides news. Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune said, "It's a matter of transparency and honesty and there shouldn’t be any attempt to mislead the American public." 

How did Facebook "mislead" the public?  

According to Gizmodo, Facebook uses algorithms to determine content for its "trending news" section. Humans oversaw the process to avoid duplication, promote breaking news, and ensure the news sources are mainstream 

So there was bias in preferring non-ideological news sites to ideological ones.  And the human overseers  had their own conscious and unconscious biases.

That's the scandal: Facebook might be biased because it's run by humans. As if that's unusual. 

But Conservatives who like to feel persecuted for their beliefs are predictably feeling persecuted. Thune's investigation is his way of throwing them red meat in an election year. 

But worse than that, Thune wants to bully, harass, and possibly punish a private business for the way it provides news to its users. Apparently, if there isn't "equal time" for right-wing coverage, they're not doing it right. 

Perhaps Facebook isn't as unbiased as advertised, just as  Fox may not be fair and balanced. 

But are their boasts really deceptive? Who's being deceived? 

And who's the victim? 

That's the question we must ask before we demand the government to investigate anything, especially the practices of a free press.  

Reading something you don't like doesn't make you a victim. Neither are you a victim if a particular site fails to provide you news that you can find elsewhere. 

I'm glad for Gizmodo's story on Facebook's alleged biases. More information is always helpful to the consumer. You are free to view it as so important that you want to quit using Facebook. Or you might think it's no big deal. 

What's important is that YOU decide. And we should all stand against Thune and all who believe Congress should investigate journalistic outlets who don't present the "right" kind of news the "right" way.  

If we tolerate this inquisition, no news outlet is safe from Congressional bullying. No journalist is safe. 
And you're not safe.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The All-NBA of What?

Here is an all-time NBA starting line-up from the past 30 years:

Point Guard: Isiah Thomas.
Shooting Guard: Dwayne Wade
Small Forward: Scottie Pippen
Power Forward: Chris Webber
Center: Patrick Ewing

You may think, yes these are great players, but what are you talking about?

After all, Magic Johnson won three MVPs during this period. Thomas never won one.

Shooting guard? Michael. Enough said. Kobe. More than enough said.

Small forward? Bird's peak years were before this, but there is, you know, LeBron.

Power forward? What about Duncan, Malone, Barkley, and Garnett?

And center? Hakeem. Shaq. Robinson. HELLO???

But if I told you all those players are disqualified. As well as Curry and Durant.

What disqualifies them?

They've all won NBA MVP at least once. No one in my lineup ever did.

And I think they're the best at their position in the last 30 years that never won MVP.

Thomas was the best player on a 3-time East and 2-time NBA champion.

Wade was the best player of the '06 Heat championship team, and 2nd-best player on two other title teams, and still going.

Pippen was  the 2nd best player on six championship teams, and 7-time 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-team all-NBA.

Webber was also a 7-time 1st, 2nd, or 3rd team all-NBA.

Ewing was 1st-team all-NBA once and 2nd team six times and on two teams that made the Finals.

Is there someone else  more deserving of being on this team than any I've listed?

The Separation of Party and State

I sent this comment to Paul Jacobs's post "Listen to Whom" at This is Common Sense:
I'm for the complete Separation of Party and State. Parties should be 100% private organizations that get their candidates on the ballot through coordinated petition drives, and that campaign for those candidates. It's more than reasonable to restrict the party nomination process to members with a record of donating dollars or time to the party. It makes no sense to allow anyone, including those who seek to harm the party's general election chances,, to walk in and vote in primaries.

Also, there should be no party affiliation on ballots. Voters shouldn't be able to just vote "party line" with no effort; they should know beforehand which candidate for each office is from the party they favor. Elected officeholders would be formally nonpartisan.

And of course, no party should get any subsidies whatsoever. No one should be forced to financially support candidates or ideas they find abhorrent.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Is the Philly mayor drunk? Don't make me Laff.

But that's not why Mayor Kenney wants the tax. He doesn't want to reduce soda consumption, he wants the revenue to pay for public pre-school.

Bizarrely, however, Kenney doesn't think the tax will be passed on to consumers. He says the tax will be taken from the "incredible profit margins" of soda corporations. Which means it's really not a sales tax, but a corporate income tax.

That's laughable, or should I say Laffable. After the Laffer Curve, which tells us that an income tax of 100% will lead to zero in revenue because there is no incentive to earn the income.

The proposed soda tax rate, if interpreted as an income tax, is over 100%. A 12-pack of 12oz soda cans typically sells for about $4.00. Or 33 cents per can which includes cost of production and the profit margin. The proposed tax adds 36 cents to the cost of a 33 cent can.  

If soda companies reduced their price of a 12-pack to a penny, they would have to raise the price of the 12-pack from the current $4.00 to $4.37 just to pay the tax.  

Does the mayor just expect them to just give soda away?

Or could he be drunk?

If he's drunk, he could soon have plenty of company.

Because if soda companies pass the entire tax on to consumers, a 12-pack of soda will fall in the $8-9 range.

Which is the same as cheap beer.

How many will think to themselves, "Well, if it's now the same price as beer, why not have beer?"

The dreams of health advocates could prove true. Sugary pop consumption could fall because of the steep tax.

Do they want the trade-off?

Monday, May 09, 2016

Sam Bradford is as Heisman wnner does

In the past 30 years, no one was  a) a Heisman Trophy winner, b) #1 or #2 overall in the NFL draft,  and c) a Hall of Fame-caliber player.

Cam Newton might be one. It's too soon to tell of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

Carson Palmer has been the most successful, but he'd have to close out his career with a couple of Super Bowl wins to warrant Hall of Fame consideration.

Robert Griffin III was plagued by injury in college, and again in the pros.

The remaining three Heisman Winners/high draft picks had their NFL careers foreshadowed in the national championship game.

In January, 1987, Heisman Trophy quarterback Vinny Testaverde through five interceptions in the Fiesta Bowl. It was his last game and his Miami (Fla) team lost the national championship to Penn State.

That performance could have been a red flag. Perhaps he wasn't as good as advertised. Instead, it was viewed as an aberration. He was taken by Tampa Bay as the first overall pick in that year's NFL draft. There, he threw lots and lots of interceptions for several years before emerging as a pretty good quarterback for the Browns and Jets later in his career. His career wasn't a bust, but it wasn't great either.

In 2006, Heisman Trophy running back Reggie Bush and USC played for the national championship against Texas. Facing a 4th-and-1 with a lead, USC opted to go for the first down to run out the clock. But, they chose Lendale White, a larger back, to carry the ball despite Bush's 8.7 yards per carry average that season.

USC failed to convert and lost the game. Bush was nevertheless selected 2nd overall in that year's draft. But despite some success and a Super Bowl win, he never emerged as an "every down" franchise back befitting his high draft position.

I wasn't surprised. The 4th-and-1, in which his number was not called, set the tone for his NFL career. Had he been picked later in the draft, he'd be considered an NFL success. But he's not a workhorse, tough-yardage ack.

Sam Bradford's last college games also set the tone for his NFL career. As the 2008 Heisman winner, he led the Oklahoma offense that scored the most points in major college history. But the Florida Gators held the Sooners to 14 points in the national championship game. Two separate injuries derailed Bradford's 2009 season. Even so, he as chosen first overall in the 2010 NFL draft.

His pro career is like the end of his college career: when he isn't hurt, he's unspectacular. And while it's too soon to call him a bust, he hasn't played to the standard one would hope in a first-overall pick.

And like Bush and Testaverde before him, Bradford's disappointing pro career shouldn't be surprising. It was foreshadowed when he met top opposition in college.

Alex Smith, a fellow #1 overall pick (though not a Heisman winner), turned his career around after his first six seasons were disappointing. The question is whether Bradford has the professionalism required to be a good NFL quarterback.

Why wealth seems bad

I've encountered this meme on social media.

“Prior to capitalism, the way people amassed great wealth was by looting, plundering and enslaving their fellow man. Capitalism made it possible to become wealthy by serving your fellow man.” - Walter E. Williams

I agree with Dr. Williams, but I see why the statement doesn't satisfy some people. They don't object to "serving your fellow man," but to the desire to become wealthy.

Part of that comes from the historical circumstances Williams mentioned; the "looting, plundering, and enslaving." In many hierarchical cultures transitioning to democracy, the assumption remains that that's how the wealthy get that way. Justice seems to require the redistribution of wealth, with little thought about wealth creation.

Even in cultures with a long history of markets, the perception persists, with good reason, that the system is rigged. Whether it's intellectual property law, the choice of where to build a road, or government regulations and subsidies, it seems that the well-connected, who are often the already-wealthy, have special advantages.  

Or, the government creates incentives that may misdirect resources. Home-building may be encouraged. Or bailouts of bankrupt companies. Or the building of unnecessary  infrastructure or production of unnecessary war weapons. In these ways, some will get rich not just off the backs of their fellow taxpayers, but off of future generations living in a harmed environment.

Finally, there's the moral or spiritual aspect of wealth that turns some people off. The pursuit of material goods as a sign of status is alleged to generate feelings of emptiness and unhappiness. And such pursuit may lead some to make ethical compromises or commit outright crime. And for what? When you die, you can't take your possessions with you.

On the other hand, if you're reading this you've achieved some degree of wealth -- access to the Internet -- that was inaccessible to even the wealthiest of us a few decades ago. So the condemnation of wealth always seems to be relative, and the conception of "basic necessities" evolves to accommodate greater societal wealth.

So even if you prefer to live modestly, if you also want others to live longer, healthier lives, wealth must be generated. And such wealth is brought about most swifty, and most justly, in free-market capitalism, where individuals are free to serve each other.