Monthly Archives: April 2014

Donald Sterling Is Proof The System Works

The fallout from last week’s exposure of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s bigoted comments beautifully illustrates the combined power of the First Amendment and the free market. The episode began last week when TMZ released a recorded conversation between Sterling and his purported mistress, “V. Stiviano.” Following public outcry, including by Sterling’s peers among the NBA owners, both the NBA and Sterling’s corporate sponsors repudiated him and terminated their relationships. The public spoke and the market reacted.

Sterling apparently doesn’t want Ms. Stiviano around black people, or doesn’t want his friends to know she is around black people. A Sterling associate seems to have remarked to him about social media pictures of Stiviano with minorities, possibly Magic Johnson or Matt Kemp, both prominent sports figures in Los Angeles. Sterling was upset because, it can be inferred from the recording, he had previously asked Stiviano to remove all pictures of her with black people from her Instagram account. Stiviano rebuts that Kemp is “mixed” and lighter-skinned then she is and Sterling does not demure. Later Stiviano says she will not bring black people to Clippers games and Sterling seems to approve. Sterling says he is comporting with society’s demands so “there’s no racism here,” and that he feeds, clothes and houses the Clippers’s black players.

Condemnation within and without the NBA was immediate. Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander sought a way to “disrupt” Sterling’s ownership and said “This kind of behavior can’t be allowed in the NBA by owners, players or anybody. This guy has no place in the family of the NBA.” Portland Trailblazers owner Paul Allen called the comments “abhorrent, and not acceptable for the owner of an NBA franchise or anyone in professional sports.” Legendary player and current Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan said he was “obviously disgusted.” Other owners called the statements “appalling,” “reprehensible,” “abhorrent” (again), “offensive and feeble-minded,” “hurtful and outrageous,” “hatemongering,” etc.

Clippers players, barred by league rules from altering their in-game uniforms, removed the team name from their warm-up outfits. Charles Barkley, a star player and commentator, called for NBA commissioner Adam Silver to “suspend [Sterling] and fine him immediately.” Magic Johnson said Sterling “should not own a team anymore.”

Soon, Clippers sponsors began severing ties. CarMax, State Farm Insurance, Kia Motors America, Virgin America, AQUAHydraate, Red Bull, Yokohama and Mercedes-Benz all either terminated their relationships with the team or indicated they would do so. Amtrak, Corona and Anheuser-Busch issued statements assuring they also would not sponsor the Clippers.

Then on Tuesday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver suspended Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million. Sterling is still the team owner and has reportedly said the Clippers are not for sale, and he may sue the NBA to undo the fine, suspension or both, but keeping the team is not viable. The NBA asked former Clippers sponsors to renew the relationships in light of Sterling’s suspension, but it remains to be seen whether they will do so. The fan-base could speak with their wallets and refuse to buy tickets. Players can refuse to sign with the team, or demand premiums. Ultimately, Sterling will either sell now at value already damaged by his personal radioactivity, or sell later for less.

No free government could have exposed and punished Sterling as thoroughly, quickly and measuredly. Sterling’s comments are reprehensible, but he never proposes violence or discrimination. He merely expresses his own bigoted preferences and perspectives. Criminalizing preferences and perspectives is anathema in a free society, no matter how repugnant.

No, this story is about how the First Amendment and the free market made government action superfluous. Everything in this sordid tale happened because people spoke and spent as they see fit. Media outlets as varied as TMZ, Fox News and ESPN publicized Sterling’s comments. Social media, talk radio and yet more media buzzed with public reaction. NBA owners, players, broadcasters and commentators opined on the appropriate response.

Responding to feedback from the public, massive business entities punished Sterling. The Clippers’s sponsors noted the public’s reaction and understood their own corporate well-being was at risk, so terminated contracts that financially benefitted Sterling personally. The NBA hit Sterling financially and banished him. A group of private individuals and companies responded to public discourse by fining Sterling $2.5 million, vastly diminishing the value of his asset (the Clippers), and stripping him of his good standing in the NBA and society.

While some might worry that the power to destroy a man’s reputation and legacy should be retrained, a number of factors obviate such worry. First and foremost, public opinion rarely coalesces so completely that it elicits private economic sanctions. Sterling’s comments were hideous and indefensible, expressing a view for which Americans have no sympathy. In instance where comments are ambiguous or on matters about which people generally disagree, financial responses will vary appropriately.

Second, the scale of the reaction to Sterling’s comments reflects his public statute. A baker or lawyer in Nebraska or Florida could make identical statements and nobody would ever know. A minor-league baseball team owner could make those statements and possibly suffer the same result, but certainly not a multi-million dollar fine. The public reaction reflects the wrong-doer’s public profile, and the economic impact reflects the public reaction.

What an achievement this is – a system free of governmental intrusion that identifies individuals espousing or perpetuating social evils and organically quarantines them from society and the market.

Islam, Terror and Self-Deception

The United States’ failure to accept that Islamist terrorists believe Islam requires them to wage war on the United States and Western liberalism is undermining counter-terrorism efforts. Understanding Islamists’ motivations is critical to defeating them, yet the United States government actively prevents clear thinking on the objective linkage between Islam and terror. The United States will be better able to comprehend and defeat Islamism once its leadership stops assuming Western social norms are universal, and focuses on Islamists’ view of what Islam requires of them.

The effort to uncouple Islam from Islamist violence and repression has been ongoing since at least the Clinton administration. In 1999, President Clinton called the Taliban’s treatment of women “a terrible perversion.” In 2001, the State Department deemed the Taliban’s destruction of the 1500 year-old Bamiyan Buddhas as a violation of “one of Islam’s basic tenets – tolerance for other religions.” Shortly after 9/11, President Bush said the attacks violated “fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.” In his June 4, 2009, Cairo speech, President Obama declared a new beginning for the United States and Muslims, “based upon the truth that America and Islam . . . overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” As recently as August, 2013, a State Department release called the Islamist perpetrators of a terrorist attack “enemies of Islam.”

Yet the targets of these Presidential rebukes responded with incredulity, often emphasizing their own belief that terrorism and anti-liberalism are not only sanctioned, but required by Islam. When President Clinton arrogated himself the judge of whether the Taliban’s treatment of women was proper under Islam, the Taliban responded that “[t]his Clinton is not a Muslim and does not know anything about Islam and Muslims.” The Taliban likewise rejected President Bush’s assertion that Islam is non-violent by asking “Is he some kind of Islamic scholar? Has he ever actually read the Koran?”

Projecting liberal Western values onto all of Islam distracts from the pertinent question of what the Islamists believe Islam allows and requires. As Stephen Coughlin, a Major in the Army Reserves and former civilian contractor with the Joint Chiefs of Staff put it, “If the enemy says he’s fighting in the name of green cheese, then we’ve got to know green cheese!” Since at least 1979, when Islamists took over Iran, organizations fighting in the name of Islam to destroy the United States and the West have proliferated. To defeat these men who believe Islam compels them to violence, national defense personnel must understand their ideology and develop strategies for defeating them in light of that ideology.

Yet in the war on terror, discussion of Islam’s role in terrorism is not merely ignored, it is repressed. As Jonathan Tobin wrote for Commentary last week, demands to remove references to jihad and Islamism from a film that will be part of the 9/11 memorial are emblematic of a broader effort to separate Islam from 9/11 in the American psyche. Accordingly, the Obama Administration turned the War on Terror into “overseas contingency operations.” Obama labeled the Fort Hood attack as workplace violence, despite perpetrator Nidal Hassan’s self-identification as a “soldier of Allah.” The Department of Defense non-renewed Coughlin’s contract following complaints from the Pentagon’s Muslim-outreach program about his criticism of an organization the Department of Justice deems a Muslim Brotherhood front. And in 2011, the FBI edited its counter-terrorism training manual and removed the words Islam, Muslim, jihad, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, caliphate and Shariah.[1]

This campaign to purge Islam from terrorism in Western minds is a work of pure self-deception. There are people who believe Islam requires them to wage war on the West generally and the United States in particular. Ignoring this fact will not make it less true. Yet U.S. national security organs not only ignore the linkage between Islam and terrorism, they train and develop policy under the false impression there is no connection.


[1] It is unclear whether agents receive specialty training as appropriate. That is to say, an agent assigned to investigating or tracking Hamas may receive training on Hamas’s belief that Islam requires its violence.

United Against Peace

The April 23, 2014, Agreement to form a unity government between the PA and Hamas must finally dispel any illusion that the Palestinians are interested in peace with Israel. Before the agreement, Israel and the PA might theoretically have reached a deal despite Hamas’s control of Gaza, though the parameters and durability of such a deal would be questionable at best. Now even such a myopic view is impossible.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since ousting the PA in the “Battle of Gaza” in 2007. In the years since, Israel, the United States and most of the West have had no relations with Hamas. Israel rightly refuses talks with Hamas under any circumstances. Both Israel and past U.S. administrations have threatened that a unity government between the PA (really Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas) and Hamas would be treated as a Hamas government and shunned. Under U.S. law, Hamas is a designated terrorist organization and negotiations with Hamas would be legally questionable even if desirable.

I argued yesterday that the U.S. should give up the fantasy of peace in the near term and take the long view by focusing efforts on reducing incitement in Palestinian society. The premise remains, but more so. Palestinian society must reconcile itself to Israel’s legitimacy and permanence before there can be any peace. With Hamas’s virulent anti-Semitism and Islamism dominating Gaza and presumably now having greater influence in the West Bank, the U.S. should use all of its power to reduce incitement.