Corruption Wins – Supreme Court Vacates Bob McDonnell Case

BOB-MCDONNELLAn interesting corruption case has been slowly moving through the court system here in the United States and the Supreme Court rendered their decision in June of this year.

The former Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell and his wife received gifts, trips, loans, and other items from a lobbyist of a pharmaceutical company. During oral arguments before the Supreme Court the justices seemed to be of the opinion that the way McDonnell went about doing his business was perfectly normal. Their line of questioning seemed to indicate that accepting trips, gifts, loans, and other largesse from lobbyists was so pervasive that to put McDonnell in prison would essentially open every politician to such prosecution and bring government to a stop. That a political motivated prosecutor could attack anyone from the opposite party at will.

The final decision indicates the court thinks corruption is completely institutionalized and there is nothing to be done about it. They vacated the sentence against McDonnell in a unanimous decision.

The point seems to be that for a government official to be charged with corruption related crimes they must state a willingness to work on behalf of the person giving the bribe. If they simply take the bribe and give that person access to public officials and work to pass legislation helping the briber, that is not a crime. Only if the politician explicitly declares he or she plans to help the person in exchange for the gifts is it a crime. Good to know … if you’re a politician or a lobbyist. Don’t ask, don’t tell indeed. Here’s a trip to Europe for you and your family, a house for your child, a Rolex for you, say no more, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

So, you are probably wondering, where do you stand on this issue, Tom? I’m glad you asked because I’m happy to tell you.

The Supreme Court Justices were perfectly correct. If what McDonnell does passes for criminal corruption then there are precious few members of Congress that should not be in jail. It is the norm. Lobbyist providing fine dinners, alcohol, sports tickets, trips, business favors to family and friends, loans, and gifts is rampant and pervasive. A zealous president with no morals, a mean streak, and a vindictive personality could well order the Justice Department to attack and imprison all foes using this case as a precedent.

It’s reality. I certainly don’t like it but I’m also a pragmatist and I don’t think there is a judicial fix to the corruption that pervades our system of government. Crony capitalism is entrenched.

What to do? There is no simple answer. The main issue seems to me to be that legislators control how well a business does by passing legislation that favors one company or another. By allowing politicians to control business we invite corruption. If we limit laws regulating businesses we limit the interest a business owner has in influencing a politician and the ability of said politician to favor a particular business.

The less power government has the less interested is anyone in influencing the politicians.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

Nintendo Shares Plummet – Misleading Headline

stock-market-downThe New York Post wins the Misleading Headline of the Week contest with this doozy.

Nintendo shares plummet on fears Pokémon GO is worthless

It’s true the stock did drop 18% but only after an initial run-up of 122% after the wildly successful Pokemon Go game was introduced.

It’s a very natural bubble. People saw the company release a popular game and hoped to buy shares while the price was low and then sell them later at a profit. It’s the way the market works. Perception is often as important as reality, at least in the short term.

Nintendo as a company has been suffering in recent years and purchasing the stock is a risk. This article is, in my opinion, more bashing of Pokemon Go by authority figures who fear the game is destroying the social boundaries they rely so heavily upon.

Well done, New York Post. Winner!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

 

Brian Everidge, Seinfeld, Recycling, and how we Create Criminals

michigan-recyclingThere’s an instructive story in the news today about a young entrepreneur/criminal named Brian Everidge who stole a plot from Seinfeld and tried to recycle some 10,000 beverage  containers gathered outside of Michigan. Michigan pays ten cents for each such container which is the highest price in the United States.

This refund fee is paid for when the original container is purchased by the consumer with a ten cent surcharge built into the price.

The idea behind the plan is to encourage people to recycle. This is government trying to get us to behave in a way they desire. It certainly has an effect as Michigan has the highest recycling rate in the nation. This number must be taken with some skepticism because clearly people like Everidge are bringing in containers from surrounding states and collecting the deposit, thus boosting the rate.

There is another side of this. Consumers are paying ten cents for every such container but about 10% of them are not being returned for deposit. So, what is done with this “extra” money? That’s where we start to see ulterior motives. 80% of the money is given to the state earmarked for the cleanup of polluted sites. The merchant selling the bottle gets the other 20%. That’s a lot of money.

In addition we make criminals out of people like Everidge. Certainly everyone who lives near the Michigan border takes advantage of the system to purchase outside the state and redeem within.

Proponents of the plan will point out that it saves the state money in cleanup and also helps the environment. That is completely correct.

I’m certainly not opposed to recycling nor blind to its cost benefits. My problem here is the ten cent fee has created thousands of criminals. This is a pattern we see everywhere in the United States. Laws which are designed to be helpful essentially create criminals and encourage criminal behavior. The result of the fee should have been painfully apparent.

I’m not going to offer alternative solutions here, of which I’m sure there are some. My point is we should not write laws that encourage people to be criminals, no matter the other supposed benefits.

This is how we end up with a police officers spending their time pursuing things that should not be criminal in the first place, how we alienate police from the communities they serve, how we create a prison population second to none in the world at an expense of $74 billion a year.

We should not be looking for more way to put people in jail. For laws that give people a financial incentive to commit crimes.

I recognize this is an isolated incident and a relatively minor law but I find it educational. This is a law that tries to encourage people to recycle but in fact encourages them to break the law.

Legislators, think hard before passing laws. We have far too many and the result is plain to see.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

They Never Learn – Slaphouses, Police, Gambling

slaphouse-boxI just read a story about something called Slaphouses in an area of California just outside what is called Little Saigon. It is an area where a number of Vietnamese live having come there during and just after the Vietnam War. Gambling is common in the Vietnamese culture, as it is in almost all cultures.

Gambling is largely illegal in California but, as we all know, making something illegal doesn’t prevent it from happening. In order to serve customers who liked to gamble, a number of Vietnamese coffee shops in the region had video gambling games on the premises. These were setup so that at the flick of a switch the bartender could make them appear to be regular games which didn’t involve gambling.

For some reason the authorities decided to swoop in and shut them all down. Yay! Gambling stopped! Society saved! Right?

Of course not. It doesn’t take much to figure out what happened. People still wanted to gamble. The public places where they could do so were shut down. So people started hosting gambling parties at residential sites. What people? Well, criminals of course. So now we’ve got large gatherings of noisy people in the middle of residential neighborhoods. Of course the neighbors complain. So would I. Of course the criminals running the houses introduce drugs and are happy to charge up stolen credit cards. They have no problem intimidating neighbors or even paying them off. That’s the nature of crime.

So now the police are raiding these gambling houses with guns and dogs. The last line of the article says it all. Westminster police Sgt. Darin Upstill – You shut them down enough times, they’ll be out.

No, sergeant Uphill. No they won’t. They’ll just find another way to do business which will likely, if it doesn’t already, involve corrupting the local police force.

The end result is that instead of allowing people to gamble in a public place in a way that profits legal businesses, we drive the entire thing underground funneling money to criminals. Such laws don’t crack down on crime, they encourage it, they fund it! They alienate the police force from the community they are trying to serve. We see the horrific results of that alienation daily. That alienation results in tragedy for both the community and the fine men and women doing the policing.

Will we never learn? Ever?

It’s just discouraging. The solution is so obvious. Let people gamble!

Yes, people will gamble away their lives. It’s the price of freedom. Freedom is free, it’s just not safe.

The United States just doesn’t stand for freedom anymore, it doesn’t. It stands for passing as many laws to restrict its citizens as possible with the illusion of safety as the excuse. That’s the opposite of freedom.

I’ve quoted Mr. Benjamin Franklin before and I’ll do it again. Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

Pokemon Go Shaming and Fear

pokemon-go-memeAs if you didn’t already know, a game called Pokemon Go has become hugely popular in the last week.

Along with its popularity I’ve seen a huge spike of news stories and comments in social media attacking the game and its players. The question I want to try and examine today is why is there all this hate and fear?

The object of Pokemon Go is to physically wander around in public places and collect virtual Pokemon. These are little creatures that do battle with one another. A player who has stronger Pokemon can defeat players with weaker Pokemon. Thus it becomes necessary to collect ever stronger Pokemon to win battles. Players can join teams where groups battle one another. What makes Pokemon Go different is that you have to venture out into the physical world to find and collect your combatants. And people are doing it by the millions.

People are getting out of their houses and wandering the world at strange hours and visiting places they might not have visited before. They are getting exercise they would not normally get. They are meeting strangers whom they would not normally meet. Social boundaries are crumbling as people who would never so much as give each other the time of day because of their jobs, race, religion, sexual orientation, or physical locations are now meeting and finding common ground.

That, my devoted readers, is causing abject fear in the establishment. I know it sounds like I’m making way too much out of this but the plethora of news stories about the dangers of playing Pokemon and the social shaming I’m seeing everywhere must have an explanation. People of all religions, colors, nationalities, ages, sexes, and sexual orientations are finding out they have something in common besides our traditional way of separating ourselves. They enjoy playing the same game.

And, by golly, that’s with whom we should be associating! We should hang out with the people who love the same things we love regardless of all those other factors. Factors which are often merely the circumstances of our birth.

Look at that forty year old, white computer programmer sitting on the bench with those two young black men in baggy trousers teaching the police officer how to play. (That’s one of the few positive stories on Pokemon Go I’ve seen). You’re fooling yourself if you think images like that don’t frighten the authorities. What would the world be like if people with the same interests hung out with each other and didn’t worry about what everyone else was doing?

What would happen to nations? To boundaries? To government?

I know, I know, I’m making way too much out of this. Still, my friends, go play Pokemon Go and make some friends you otherwise would never have met.

Be afraid, authority. Change is coming and it comes from unexpected sources.

Is Pokemon Go just a game or something more?

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

USGA and Anna Nordqvist Grounding Club Rule

Optimized-nordqvist-grounded-clubThe United States Women’s Open golf tournament was held this weekend and it was shaping up as a very exciting finish before something terrible happened.

Two players were involved in a three-hole playoff to determine the champion and one of the players, Anna Nordqvist, hit her ball into a sand bunker. This is in golf parlance a hazard. When in a hazard it is against the rules to ground your club. This rule exists for a very good reason. It is entirely possible to altar the condition of the hazard by pushing down with your club and easing the eventual path to the ball.

Nordqvist took her shot and grounded her club every so slightly dislodging the smallest of clumps of sand. No one noticed it at the time. The two women parred the hole leaving them tied going to the third and last hole of the playoff. Both women hit their first and second shots to the par 5. That is when a video review noted the infraction. Both women were ready to hit their third shots but Nordqvist was further away so she hit hers without the knowledge that she was actually two shots behind. Her competitor, Brittany Lang, was informed of the infraction before hitting her third shot.

I’ve written about golf infractions in which the penalty was assessed after the fact in regards to Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson if you wish to see my earlier thoughts.

This latest incident brings into even greater clarity the problem of reviews after the fact. Everything that happens after the incident in question is subject to change. Both Nordqvist and Lang would not have played the remainder the 17th hole and the start of the 18th hole in the same fashion if they knew about the infraction. The fact the USGA informed Lang of the penalty before her third shot but not Nordqvist until after her third shot makes it even more egregious.

In all other sports replays must be adjudicated before play continues. It is clear this is necessary. Everything after the incident is subject to change.

It’s my opinion that once the next shot is taken, even if a penalty has occurred, it must not be enforced. If the player does not call themselves on the infraction, their fellow competitor does not call it, and the official charged with watching the group does not call it, then it cannot be enforced; no matter how obvious the violation.

I know people won’t like that. You will say, “But Tom, what if the player knew they broke the rule but rushes to make the next shot before anyone notices?”

I say that is exactly what happens to replays in the NFL and NCAA all the time.

I also completely understand wanting to get the call correct in the end. I’m a big believer in replay and getting the call right. But it’s vital to stop the match immediately if there is a question. It’s just unfair to everyone else if you allow people to continue playing with the actual result subject to change.

Nordqvist is showing great sporting spirit by not blaming anyone or complaining but the reality is this win is unfortunately tainted. Lang did nothing wrong and is a deserving winner but if both players knew of the infraction before continuing the result might well have been different. What happened is unfair to both.

For my knowledgeable golf fans I know you are going to mention the Craig Stadler towel incident. In light of recent events I now think he should not have been penalized.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

Made in America is Meaningless

make-america-great-again-hat-minI just read an interesting article that is a mix of clickbait and excellent writing. At the heart of the article is the idea that products available to consumers around the world are almost impossible to define as Made in Wherever.

The headline attracts readers who are eager to learn that Donald Trump hats proclaiming Make America Great again and sporting a Made in America label are, in fact, at least partially produced abroad. Once you get past the political nonsense there’s an important and interesting message in the well-written article.

The problem is tracing the origin of all the materials needed to make a single product is not easy and in most cases simply impossible. Oil is used to make many things besides gasoline and certainly gasoline is used to transport the products from the factory to the store. The origin of this gasoline is impossible to trace. The oil came from the ground but it was shipped, refined using chemicals, shipped again, and eventually arrived at the pump. The same is true for virtually everything you purchase.

The article goes into detail about how even with microscopic examination of the threads used in the Trump hats its pretty much impossible to tell where they came from. It’s possible to rule out certain threads and one of the Trump hats was made from thread not in the lots it reportedly came from. But that’s totally beside the point.

The point is that we have a global economy. There’s no way around it. Raw material is mined or produced all over the world. It is then shipped to another location to be processed. Then parts are shipped somewhere else to be assembled. The assembled parts then go to a warehouse somewhere and are eventually shipped to a store where you purchase it at a low price. That low price is absolutely a product of the global economy. Without it prices go up and you cannot afford the things you currently enjoy. That’s reality.

Made in America is meaningless. There’s no way to ensure it is accurate nor should we care if it is. Is the product in the store the one I want at a price I can afford?

Made in America doesn’t keep jobs in America, it doesn’t improve the American economy, and it most certainly does not get you a better price on the goods you desire. Products largely produced in China create and maintain many, many jobs here in the United States.

If you want to pay $20 for a Trump hat supposedly, but likely not, made in America or $5 for a Trump hat supposedly, but not completely, made in China, that’s your business.

I’m saying I want the best product at the best price and the global economy provides that far better than any local economy.

You may not like it, but it’s true.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

How Yasir Salem will Make America Great Again

yasir-salemI made my weekly (sometimes more) trek down to the corner bar and it was a slow sports day. The Cardinals won an afternoon game and France defeated Germany in the Euros early in the day. So what was showing on the television? Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

The contestants were brought to the stage with all the fanfare of a NFL game and one of them caught my eye. Yasir Salem.

Mr. Salem is clearly of Arabic descent and was decked out in the stars and stripes as he ran to the stage and preened before the adoring crowd.

Yasir didn’t finish in the top four but that’s ok by me.

What made the United States of America great in the first place is everything Mr. Salem represents.

What is your religion? Who cares.

What is your skin color? Who cares.

What is your sex? Who cares.

Can you eat more hot dogs than the other guy, hell ya. That’s what matters. That spirit represents exactly why this country achieved greatness in the first place.

Let’s try not to forget it.

I’m telling you now and I’ll tell you tomorrow. Everything Mr. Salem represents is what will make America Great Again far more than any politician you will vote for in November.

Well done, sir. Well done.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

 

Zack Hample and the Baseball Game at Fort Bragg

Fort-Bragg-BaseballThere are a lot of people angry at a man named Zack Hample this morning because he attended a baseball game held at Fort Bragg.

The game was held on July 3rd as a tribute to military personnel and they and their families were given tickets. Hample is an avid, to understate it, collector of baseballs. He’s traveled all over the United States and collected over 9,000 of them from various different stadiums. He was eager to get a ball from this unique event and presumably paid someone to get their ticket. He was offering $1,000 for such a ticket.

People are angry that Hample got a ticket, attended the game, and collected a ball. They argue that he “stole” the seat from a military person and thus the ball as well.

I disagree. Whoever sold their ticket to Hample got something more valuable than a souvenir, $1,000 presumably. We don’t know what Hample ended up paying but we do know that whomever sold him the ticket wasn’t much interested in baseball or the souvenir. I understand that there was a child somewhere who is interested in baseball and would have loved to get a ball. But there was also someone interested in a thousand bucks.

No one forced the soldier to sell his ticket. From reading the comments on Twitter the soldiers were told not to give or sell the tickets to anyone except active duty military personnel and family. Yeah, good luck with that. There are going to be plenty of soldiers who got tickets who have no interest in baseball. There are going to be plenty of them, like me, who have no interest in souvenirs. They should be able to sell their ticket to the highest bidder. I’m willing to bet that many soldiers will sell tickets and other items they got at the game. That’s their business.

That’s life.

I certainly understand people don’t like it. I’m just suggesting that such people are living in a fantasy world.

Hample wanted a ball and was willing to pay for the opportunity to get one. A soldier wasn’t much interested in a ball or the game and sold him the seat. Two adults completing a transaction.

Was there anything wrong with Hample attending the game and getting a ball?

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

Topless Photos of Little Girls a Problem or not?

kids-play

*Small Correction, the girls were his daughters, not nieces*

I just read a Dear Abby question in which a young woman was upset by a man who had a picture taken with his six and two year old daughters who were topless. He posted the photo on his Facebook page. The letter writer claimed to be concerned that pedophiles might now have access to the pictures although it seemed clear to me that she thought a man posting a photo with topless young girls was somehow wrong.

Abby replied that the writer should talk to other relatives about approaching the man and telling him what he did was inadvisable. What? What? What?

The problem here isn’t with the father. It’s with a society that thinks there is something wrong with six and two year old girls being topless. There isn’t anything wrong with it. Yes, there are pedophiles but the problem is with them, not the father and not the girls.

I am unaware of evidence that pedophiles browse the internet looking for victims. Every case I’ve ever heard about involved a pedophile exploiting a young boy or girl who they were in contact with in their daily affairs. A neighbor, a family member, a member of the church, or something of that nature.

That’s not really my point here. My point is that if we make taking a non-sexual, family, friendly, fun, picture with a couple of topless young girls a sexual thing, we are feeding the idea that girls of that age should be viewed as sexual. They shouldn’t. Girls and boys of that age running around topless is not sexual. It is simply girls and boys running around topless. Little kids used to be allowed to run around naked all the time and nobody much thought anything of it.

I’d like to find a link to prove that point but I’m afraid to do an internet search about naked little kids. That’s a problem! I’m afraid to take pictures of kids at birthday parties. That’s a problem. The problem isn’t the kids. It’s not the uncle, aunt, family friend, mother, father, brother, or sister. It’s a society that allows criminals to guide our behavior.

A criminal might buy a gun. Ban guns.

A person might abuse drugs. Ban drugs.

A person might gamble away all their money. Ban gambling.

A person might get drunk at work. No drinking at work ever.

A person might drink too much soda and get fat. Ban large drinks.

A person might be sexually attracted to a child. Ban pictures of young children.

Responsible people should do what they want and face the consequences if they are irresponsible. They shouldn’t have to modify their behavior because someone else is a criminal or an idiot.

Is an Uncle Posting Pictures on Facebook of his Nieces Topless a Problem?

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray