George H.W. Bush and the Thousand Points of Light

What can we remember George H.W. Bush for? Is it fair to say that Operation Desert Storm was our last truly successful war?

How about GHWB’s “Thousand Points of Light” speech in 1988? He celebrated volunteerism, but between 1988 and 2018 the government has grown to consume a larger percentage of GDP and provide a larger array of services to anyone who might previously have been the target of a volunteer effort. Is it fair to say that the U.S. has turned its back on this idea? We chose a bigger government rather than relying on citizen effort? Or has the time people put into voluntary “civil society” organizations just moved online? (see “N.J. woman in alleged GoFundMe scam was duped by boyfriend, homeless man, lawyer says ‘I’m confident that in the end the evidence will reveal that Kate had only the best intentions,’ said the woman’s attorney.” (NBC))

GHWB was the last pre-consumer-Internet president. Could that be one reason why there aren’t a lot of folks who hate him? Newspapers didn’t have to fight for readers with outrage-generating headlines. There was no Facebook where one could display one’s virtue by expressing outrage at a politician’s actions or statements.

Readers: What do you remember as salient about GHWB and his Presidency?

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South Sudanese traditional culture meets Facebook

A bunch of my neighbors here in virtueland (Lincoln, Massachusetts) pull away from the virtue pack by devoting themselves to South Sudanese immigrants to the U.S. These folks don’t make the news too often, presumably due to our money-uber-alles culture (South Sudan’s per capita income, adjusted for purchasing power, is 220th out of 228 countries; each woman has an average of 5.3 children, 27 percent of the adult population is literate, and “Educational attainment is extremely poor” says the CIA).

from the Town Hall parking lot

The news blackout is over, though, thanks to Silicon Valley tech… “Child bride auctioned on Facebook in ‘barbaric use of technology'” (CNN):

An auction was held on the social media platform for a 16-year-old girl in South Sudan which sought payment for her hand in marriage.
Facebook said the post was taken down as soon as the company learned of it, but that wasn’t until after the girl was married.

According to children’s rights organization Plan International, the girl was bid on by five men, some of whom were reportedly high-ranking South Sudanese government officials

Activists are concerned that this auction — for which the father reportedly received 500 cows, three cars and $10,000 in exchange for his daughter — could inspire other families to use social media sites to receive larger payments.

Otim from Plan International told CNN that offering payments is part of the country’s culture, but that in this case it “was taken to another level because of technology.”

Natana said that this is the highest bride price that has been reported in the region. She added that NAWL is against the process of bidding because “it makes you more of a commodity instead of a human being.

Readers: What do you think? If we are not supposed to judge another culture as inferior to ours, why is it okay to criticize folks in South Sudan for using Facebook to implement an electronic version of their traditional culture?

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McMartin Preschool Abuse and O.J. Simpson trials

The Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us, by Douglas Linder, wraps up with two California trials that dragged on forever and cost taxpayers more than $60 million in today’s mini-dollars ($15 million on the McMartin Preschool prosecution, which is about $35 million today).

Linder concurs with previous scholars that the original driver for the McMartin case was a single mother named Judy Johnson (see “Window into American criminal justice system from the daycare sexual abuse trials of the 1980s”) and then things spun out of control when the local police sent a letter to hundreds of parents asking them to (a) keep the letter confidential, and (b) tell the police if their own children had also been abused. Four hundred children were interviewed by the Children’s Institute International (still thriving on tax dollars?) and, via leading questions, the psychologists got the answers that they wanted. From the preliminary hearing:

Children testified that sexual assaults took place on farms, in circus houses, in the homes of strangers, in car washes, in storerooms, and in a secret room at McMartin accessible only by tunnel. One boy told of watching animal sacrifices performed by McMartin teachers wearing robes and masks. In response to a defense question, the boy added that the kids at the ceremony were forced to drink the blood of the sacrificed animals.

Kee MacFarlane, a therapist from CII, was on the witness stand for five weeks!

The prosecution resorted to using a “nine-time felon and confessed perjurer,” George Freeman, to testify that Ray Buckey had made a jailhouse confession.

Defendant Ray Buckey “denied, for example, ever killing a horse with a baseball bat, as one child had testified. He noted that he was not even teaching at the school during many of the times in which he was accused of abusing children. What happened?

On November 2, 1989, after nearly 30 months of testimony, the case went to the jury. The jury spent more than two months deliberating. In the end, the jury acquitted on most of the 65 charges, including all of the charges against Peggy Buckey. On 13 of the charges against Ray Buckey, the jury announced that it was hopelessly deadlocked.

A 2.5-year trial! California taxpayers paid for a second three-month trial, which also resulted in a hung jury. Charges were dropped and Ray Buckey was in the clear nearly 10 years after the investigation began.

How did this go so far off the rails? The professor:

The McMartin case was hounded by journalists publishing stories slanted heavily toward the prosecution. The journalists churned out sensational headlines day after day and almost never seriously questioned allegations. Their actions helped turn the McMartin trial into the expensive fiasco that it became.

I watched the O.J. verdict with a bunch of white colleagues (stunned and amazed) and one black guy (laughed), but hadn’t followed the trial carefully. The professor attributes the prosecution’s loss largely to choice of courthouse:

The first big decision the prosecution made might have been the one that doomed their case. Prosecutors chose to file the Simpson case in downtown Los Angeles, rather than—as was normal procedure—the district where the crime occurred, in this case Santa Monica. This meant that the Simpson jury would be drawn from a largely nonwhite jury pool. A jury in Santa Monica would have been mostly white.

The result is a jury “of nine African Americans, two Hispanics, and one white.” (Tellingly regarding modern academia, this mostly-black jury is described as “more diverse” than downtown LA overall.)

A brilliant move by the defense was to redecorate O.J.’s house before the jury came over for a site visit. The guy was an avid golfer, lived in a white neighborhood, and had lots of photos of himself with white friends. These all came down and were replaced by pictures of extended family members (who happened to be black). A Bible was strategically placed in the living room.

The trial lasted from January through October 1995 and yet the jury deliberated for less than 3 hours. All of the DNA analysis was for naught since the jury didn’t trust the police not to plant evidence.

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Illustration of the value of a good criminal defense lawyer

“Cops worked to put serial sex abuser in prison. Prosecutors worked to cut him a break” (Miami Herald) seems intended to provoke outrage among readers (the three-article series is titled “Perversion of Justice”). I wouldn’t expect criminal defense lawyers to complain, however, as the article shows the value of hiring the right attorney.

It was Epstein’s contacts with powerful and famous people that first propelled him into the public spotlight. In 2002, he flew former President Bill Clinton, actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Chris Tucker and others to South Africa on his private jet as part of a fact-finding AIDS mission in support of the Clinton Foundation.

But Epstein, a Clinton donor who contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates and causes, realized that his Democratic connections weren’t going to help him in 2006, when the federal prosecutor was Acosta, a conservative Republican appointed during the George W. Bush administration.

The story is too involved to summarize, but the alleged perpetrator hires the right lawyers for the job and the Feds begin to see the allegations (paying teenagers to have sex) in a softer light:

Assistant U.S. Attorney A. Marie Villafaña was the lead prosecutor on the Jeffrey Epstein case and seemed at times to want to minimize the severity of the potential charges. In one email to a lawyer for Epstein, she wrote: ‘I’ve been spending some quality time with Title 18 [the U.S. criminal code] looking for misdemeanors.’

“How a future Trump Cabinet member gave a serial sex abuser the deal of a lifetime” (same series) features a photo of the defendant’s Gulfstream, N212JE, a 2007 G550 registered to a Virgin Islands LLC. (Score a victory for Gulfstream’s PR agency; the word “Gulfstream” does not appear in the article. The G550 is instead characterized only as a “private plane” despite its centrality to the case, in which flight logs were pulled and on which sex that violates U.S. law may have been purchased.

Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal — called a non-prosecution agreement — essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes, according to a Miami Herald examination of thousands of emails, court documents and FBI records.

The pact required Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court. Epstein and four of his accomplices named in the agreement received immunity from all federal criminal charges. But even more unusual, the deal included wording that granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators’’ who were also involved in Epstein’s crimes. These accomplices or participants were not identified in the agreement, leaving it open to interpretation whether it possibly referred to other influential people who were having sex with underage girls at Epstein’s various homes or on his plane.

Instead of being sent to state prison, Epstein was housed in a private wing of the Palm Beach County jail. And rather than having him sit in a cell most of the day, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office allowed Epstein work release privileges, which enabled him to leave the jail six days a week, for 12 hours a day, to go to a comfortable office that Epstein had set up in West Palm Beach. This was granted despite explicit sheriff’s department rules stating that sex offenders don’t qualify for work release.

So the guy with the dream legal team serves roughly the same amount of prison time as would someone in Massachusetts convicted of questioning a person with XY chromosomes who was entering the locker room reserved for “women” and “girls” (punishable by up to a year in jail).

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Alger Hiss should remind us to say as little as possible

Alger Hiss is covered in The Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us, by Douglas Linder.

I dimly remembered the Alger Hiss case as a prelude to McCarthyism, but the case turns out to be a compelling example of what not to do.

Hiss was almost certainly guilty of working for the Soviets, but he couldn’t have been prosecuted for that due to a five-year statute of limitations on treason/espionage (at the rate that Robert Mueller’s investigation is going, let’s hope that this is extended for Donald Trump!). From the course notes:

In the 46 years that Alger Hiss lived after his perjury conviction, he
never departed from his claim of innocence. But he and his supporters
found their case weakened in the mid-1990s with the release of the
Venona cables, intercepted communications sent to Moscow by Soviet
agents in the United States. The intercepted cables suggested that Hiss
was a Soviet agent who had supported the Communist cause at the
1945 Yalta Conference.

Hiss would have gotten away with everything if he hadn’t denied via letter and then via testimony in Congress that he was a working Communist. He claimed never to have met Whittaker Chambers, a guy who told Richard Nixon that Hiss and his wife were birdwatchers and “had once been excited to spot a prothonotary warbler.”

A turning point in the investigation came when Richard Nixon asked,
“What hobby, if any, do you have, Mr. Hiss?” Hiss answered that his
hobbies were “tennis and amateur ornithology.” Congressman John
McDowell jumped in: “Did you ever see a prothonotary warbler?” Hiss
fell into the trap. He answered enthusiastically, “I have—right here
on the Potomac. Do you know that place?” This response convinced
previously skeptical committee members that Chambers had been
telling the truth.

Hiss then went so far as to sue Chambers for slander and discovery in that case revealed “65 typewritten copies of State Department documents, and five strips of microfilm featuring photographs of State and Navy Department documents.” Chambers had actually been trying to spare his former friend and Communist comrade Hiss from a lot of embarrassment.

From the course notes:

The confrontation between Chambers and Hiss initiated a polarization
of the political left and the political right. Chambers saw the world as
a battle between godless Communists and Christian anticommunists,
between darkness and light. Liberals largely rejected this division as
arrogant and overly simplistic.

I’m not sure that we can attribute today’s political divisions to the struggles against Communism in the 1940s and 1950s. For one thing, a larger percentage of the U.S. economy is centrally planned than the Russian or Chinese economies.

But the Hiss case certainly shows the virtues of keeping quiet about past misdeeds! (The course also covers the prosecution of Oscar Wilde, which never would have happened if Wilde hadn’t first sued a friend’s father for libel in the form of a note calling him “a posing sodomite.”)

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Scottsboro Boys: scientific evidence was not persuasive

One idea that we have these days is that DNA evidence and scientific evidence in general is the gold standard for a jury.

One thing I learned The Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us, by Douglas Linder, a professor at the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law, is that the trial of the Scottsboro Boys included excellent scientific evidence.

From Wikipedia:

The Scottsboro Boys were nine African American teenagers, ages 13 to 20, falsely accused in Alabama of raping two White American women on a train in 1931. The landmark set of legal cases from this incident dealt with racism and the right to a fair trial. The cases included a lynch mob before the suspects had been indicted, all-white juries, rushed trials, and disruptive mobs. It is commonly cited as an example of a miscarriage of justice in the United States legal system.

The U.S. Communist Party took over the defense of these guys. From the course notes:

The star prosecution witness was Victoria Price. Direct examination was brief, lasting only 16 minutes. Price recounted her trip to Chattanooga, a fight that had broken out on the train between white and black youths (the reason the train was stopped in the first place), and the alleged gang rape. Prosecutor Knight’s strategy was to cover the essential facts in a condensed, unadorned way. He wanted to minimize opportunities for defense attorneys to expose contradictions with the more detailed story Price had told in the first trials.

Leibowitz’s cross-examination of Price was merciless. His questions suggested his answers. She never, as she claimed, stayed at Callie Brochie’s boardinghouse in Chattanooga. There was no boardinghouse, no Callie Brochie. Semen that had been found in Price’s vagina came not from rape on a train, but from an adulterous encounter with a man named Jack Tiller two days earlier.

Dr. R. R. Bridges, the Scottsboro doctor who examined the girls less than two hours after the alleged rapes, was the next prosecution witness to take the stand. He turned out to be a better witness for the defense. He confirmed that semen was found in the vaginas of the two women, but observed that the semen contained no live sperm—even though sperm generally survive for 12 to 48 hours after intercourse. On cross-examination, Bridges admitted that the women were both calm, composed, and free of bleeding and vaginal damage when he had examined them two hours after the alleged rape.

Even without modern DNA evidence, therefore, the jury could have acquitted these guys on scientific grounds. There was conflicting evidence from the two women at the second trial:

The defense’s final witness was Ruby Bates, who said that she suffered from a troubled conscience after her testimony in the first trial and had returned to tell the truth about what happened. Bates testified that there was no rape, that none of the defendants touched her or even spoke to her. She said that her allegation had been made up after Price told her “to frame up a story” to avoid morals charges.

(Not as confusing as the first trial, in which one defendant said that the rapes had occurred, but were perpetrated by the other defendants. From Wikipedia: “Defendant Clarence Norris stunned the courtroom by implicating the other defendants. He denied participating in the fight or being in the gondola car where the fight took place. But he said that he saw the alleged rapes by the other blacks from his spot atop the next boxcar”)

So we do have a lot more scientific tools at our disposal these days, but it seems that there was plenty of science back in the 1930s and it wasn’t enough to keep these guys out of jail.

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States radically diverging in terms of immigrant percentage

This chart shows that, as of 5-10 years ago, the experience of living in California would involve finding an immigrant family in every fourth house (3 native-born families and then 1 immigrant).

The experience of living in Ohio, on the other hand, would involve finding 1 immigrant family per every 25 houses. In West Virginia it would be 1 per every 70 families.

(These per-house numbers need to be tweaked since fertility and family size are different for immigrant and native-born Americans, but I was too lazy to do the arithmetic. There is some state-by-state data available on this.)

(All of these percentages are likely higher in 2018 due to historically high levels of immigration continuing; see Pew Research for the trend since 1990. My home state of Massachusetts went from 9.5 percent immigrant to 15.1 percent over a 22-year period. My birth state of Maryland went from 6.6 percent to 14.1.)

I wonder if this partly explains why Americans feel that they don’t have as much in common as they used to. When it comes to encountering immigrants as co-workers, neighbors, friends, competitors for jobs and real estate, etc., they really don’t have that much in common, especially if we were to zoom down to the county level. Americans are essentially living in different countries, one of which is substantially made up of immigrants and one of which is substantially made up of native-born people.

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Hillary Clinton says 333,000 immigrants per year is bad for Europe…

…. but 1+ million migrants per year is good for the U.S.?

“Hillary Clinton: Europe must curb immigration to stop rightwing populists” (Guardian):

“I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame,” Clinton said, speaking as part of a series of interviews with senior centrist political figures about the rise of populists, particularly on the right, in Europe and the Americas.

“I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message – ‘we are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support’ – because if we don’t deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic.”

Clinton’s remarks are likely to prove controversial across Europe, which has struggled to form a unified position ever since more than 1 million migrants and refugees arrived in the EU in 2015.

The EU population is 508 million. So 1 million migrants since 2015 is a much lower percentage of the total population than the roughly 1 million immigrants per year into the U.S. (population 330 million).

The apparent contradiction between Hillary’s opposition to Donald Trump in the U.S. and her opposition to migrants in Europe was addressed a day later. “Hillary Clinton calls for reform, ‘not open borders,’ in explaining European migration remarks” (NBC):

“Maybe Hillary has understood the lesson,” Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, told The New York Times. “If you don’t control migration it will affect mostly poor people, people living on the outskirts, working classes.”

The “EU needs a more comprehensive policy that builds societies that are both secure and welcoming,” she continued.

“On both sides of the Atlantic, we need reform. Not open borders, but immigration laws enforced with fairness and respect for human rights. We can’t let fear or bias force us to give up the values that have made our democracies both great and good,” she wrote.

“Can’t just keep doing the same things.”

“There are solutions to migration that do not require clamping down on the press, on your political opponents and trying to suborn the judiciary, or seeking financial and political help from Russia to support your political parties and movements.”

But what are the solutions? Hillary is keeping them secret until she is elected President?

I thought about this during a recent trip to Montgomery County, Maryland (DC suburb). All of my Uber drivers were immigrants. None spoke English fluently. One driver had immigrated from El Salvador 13 years ago and  didn’t speak English well enough to qualify for legal immigration to Canada, for example. It looks as though a family of four is entitled to welfare (e.g., housing subsidies) if earning less than $89,850 per year (table). If you consider subsidized health insurance to be welfare, the income number for a family of 4 in Maryland is $100,400 per year (March 1, 2018). How are people who don’t speak English going to earn enough to get off welfare? And, if they can’t get off welfare, why will existing taxpayers in Maryland welcome more immigrants at the same skill level?

What is the grand theory supporting the current policy? That the children of someone who couldn’t learn English in 13 years are going to be above-median learners and earners?

Or maybe this is just adverse selection? Immigrants who are really bad at learning languages differentially choose to drive Ubers? The rest of the El Salvadorans who came 13 years ago are executives now?

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New York governor admits that a rational business would locate in Texas

“A $2 Billion Question: Did New York and Virginia Overpay for Amazon?” (nytimes):

Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended the deal, arguing that New York has to offer incentives because of its comparatively high taxes. At 6.5 percent, New York’s corporate income-tax rate is only modestly higher than Virginia’s 6 percent, according to the Tax Foundation. But other business and individual taxes are higher in New York.

“It’s not a level playing field to begin with,” Mr. Cuomo said in an interview Tuesday. “All things being equal, if we do nothing, they’re going to Texas.”

In the history of the U.S., how many times has a governor admitted that, absent special treatment, a company would be better off locating in a different state?

[Separately, any family court plaintiff suing an Amazon worker will be very grateful that the company didn’t move everyone into Texas, where the profitability of a child is capped at about $20,000 per year and “lifetime alimony” typically turns into “no alimony”.]


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