Sunday, August 26, 2007

Organic Unity

Leaders love to have people following them in unison. It is the nature of politics for politicians to garner support, then to leverage that support for power.

The result of this is that there is a great deal of rhetoric about unity.

I think it is common for people to catch onto this rhetoric and to start thinking that unity itself is a primary goal.

Some people might even start fearing disunity. I know both progressives and conservatives who are driven to distraction at the mere thought that someone might disagree with their beliefs.

The reason I wanted to bring up the issue is to emphasize that unity itself is not foundational. Unity and disunity are complementary. In most cases, political groups unite against a named enemy. The local unity is part of a greater disunity.

When a threat that unified a group disappears, the unified group is likely to break up. So, imagine that there is a major issue dividing the nation. We might achieve a compromise on the issue and the nation reunifies. The next political season finds new lines of division.

In a really healthy system, I think you would see groups getting together an dissolving on a regular basis.

It is in the free market that you see the most organic form of this creative destruction. It is not uncommon to find a companies working together on a project one year, and find them competing on a project the next year. Sometimes you will find companies cooperating in one market and bitterly competing in another.

This shifting about of markets is fun, exciting and dymanic. I a really healthy market, there is ample room for people to participate at different levels in the market.

It is in partisan and international politics that one finds the most brittle and dangerous forms of this natural process of forming and breaking unions. To extend their grasp, politicians work on unifying people over minor issues until they have a major rift. We often find politicians sincerely working to unify people on an issue that will progress society. When all is said and done, we find the leader marching at the head of a destructive creation.

Hmm, that would be a good one liner: In the sense that economics is the act of creative destruction, politics is the manufacture of destructive creations.

As the market is more dynamic and has more openings for participation, I prefer it to politics.

The one problem I see, though, is that we really don't have a free market anymore.

We have a highly politicized and regulated economy. The regulations seem to have the affect of raising the bar of entry for new partnerships, while subsidizing and stiltifying existing businesses. The result of an excessively regulated economy is that the big companies keep getting bigger and the gaps between the haves and have-nots grows.

This is where I think we are at the moment. Our regulated, litigous economy has created artificially large corporations. These large corporations create division in our society. The body politics uses this division to continue and even tighten the processes that created the division in the first place.

Since the division is being driven by fear of large corporations, I figure that the best antedote is to support small local firms whenever possible.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Divided We Are Falling

Reach Upwards has an interesting post on standing united. The article linked to an excellent article on propaganda by Ion Mihai Pacepa. I've been dismayed for the last several years, as the left has been undergoing a shrill propaganda campaign similar to those waged in the cold war. I had so hoped that our society could cast off the extreme damage caused by all that idiocy. It is now back and as shrill as ever.

I was thinking back to the last time I felt good about anything in politics.

I had actually become quite optimistic about the future in that brief period between the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. During that brief period of time, both the international peacekeeping community and the United States government were actively engaged in rebuilding war torn Afghanistan.

I avoided using the the word "unity." The people working to rebuild Afghanistan were not unified in their vision. They were divided as ever by ideology. People with different visions of the future just happened to be in the same place at the same time working in complementary ways.

I contend that political unity is overrated. The reconstruction of Afghanistan was off to a great start because the people of different political views and partisanship affiliation all had a constructive roles to play.

I believe that the key to prosperity isn't the act of unifying people under the same ideology. The key to prosperity is structuring society so that everyone has an active and constructive role to play.

When people don't have an constructive role to play, they will play a destructive role.

The invasion of Iraq, of course, had the predictable effect of marginalizing the peace effort. Peacekeepers are a politically sensitive lot who will turn against any government that they feel is using their peacekeeping efforts as a tool of war.

The decision to invade Iraq when diplomacy was working alienated the peacekeepers and those who were supportive of the peacekeepers.

The radical left, using the techniques perfected in the cold war, has been able to use this marginalization and turn it into extremely deep division that America will be suffering from for decades to come.

Calls from the right for unity have the political effect of furthering the division between the left and right. The calls for unity have the effect of unifying people on the left in leftist camps, and unifying people on the right in rightist camps. They calls for unity lead to an even greater and more dangerous disunity.

Lets face it. There will never be a day when everyone is unified in the spirit of war. Quite frankly, there will never be a day when people are united in the spirit of any political issue.

To be blunt: "Unity of Spirit" is nothing more than a political slogan that effectively allows the dictatorial forces of the world to divide and conquer.

The path for real success is not to be found in calls for unity. The best path for achieving success is to create political and economic structures that give people of different political views a constructive role to play.

The early reconstruction effort in Afghanistan provided a rare opportunity when the elements for true progress were in place.

I actually wonder if Bush was simply naive and sincerely believed that it would be possible to escalate the war without alienating the peacekeepers, or if his political strategists saw further alienation of the left as one of the benefits of invading Iraq.

Regardless of what cause the mess. The way out of the mess is to give people outside the right a greater constructive role in foreign policy.

Bush's troop surge was successful in that it turned the Iraqi government one final slim chance for survival. The best bet for capitalizing on the surge and making it a success is to change strategy in a way that give groups other than the Bush Administration a constructive role in building Iraq.

My fear is that the partisan calls for unity have magnified foundational differences to the point where the players that could make a difference in saving Iraq will simply ignore any offer of a constructive role.

Unity and Division

The last line of Marx's Communist Manifesto is "Workers of the world unite."

Since the manifesto calls for people to unify in a struggle, I suspect that many falsely concluded that Communism is an ideology of unity.

The truth, of course, is that Marx was seeking to raise a group of people in rebellion against a defined enemy: the bourgeoisie. The term "bourgeoisie" refers to the middle class. The goal of Marx was to unite the ends against the middle.

I suspect that there is a large number of people who sincerely want to be part of a unified force. The problem, of course, is that all of these unified forces have something that they are against. Political efforts to unify people on an issue almost always creates a reactionary force.

In the rare instances that we do achieve unity on an issue. There is almost always someone wanting to push the unified collective onto a different more divisive issue. For example, we may be unified in thinking that dog fights are barbaric. There will be voices that want to use the unifying issue against hunting, or eating meat.

I find the free market and democracy more compelling than Communism. These systems create a structured mechanism for division.

When coming across calls for unity. One should recognize that almost all calls for unity are seeking to unite people against something. Although such calls use "unity" as part of the rhetoric. It is difficult to say that such efforts really are leading to unity. In most cases they lead to a division at a deeper level.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Class Action Arbitration

Like many others, I tend to concentrate on the negative things in life.

One of the positive things in our culture is that more and more people use arbitration and mediation to resolve disputes than litigation. Mediation Now from Boulder lists mediators throughout the United States.

With litigation, two people face each other in court. When the judge slams down the gavel, there is a winner, a loser and one very rich lawyer. In arbitration, a mediator (who is eking out an upper middle class lifestyle) sits down with the parties of the dispute and tries to find the most equitable solution ... all things considered.

Since product liability is one of the primary components cost of goods in the US. Corporations have been looking to use arbitration in lieu of litigation for product disputes. For that matter, we are finding more and more companies writing arbitration clauses into their contracts.

Back of the envelop calculation tells us that if we took the billions that go to lawyers each year in class action suits and gave that money back to business or to the consumer, we would see a major drop in the cost of goods and an over all improvement in the quality of life. (For everyone but the lawyer).

In an overt effort to protect the billion dollar trial lawyer industry, the 9th Circuit Court Of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the use of arbitration in consumer contracts is "unconscionable." The court makes the claim that no consumer would consciouslt enter a contract where they paid a lower price for a product contingent on resolving disputes via arbitration instead of litigation. After all, consumers want a big portion of every product they buy to go to lawyers. We all love having an elite ruling class of trial lawyers that we must bow before.

To defend the courts actions, a large number of progressives have been running around to blogs and forums claiming that arbitration helps big corporations. The logic of this argument is that, since the damages done by winner-take-all litigation are generally greater than arbitration, litigation must be more harmful to "The Corporation."

I find this logic faulty. Hurting one member of a class does not necessarily hurt an entire class.

I think George W. Bush makes a similar logical fallacy when he assumes that killing terrorists will reduce terrorism. It is possible that killing a terrorist just increases hatred and division, and inspires others to become terrorists. Hurting a member of a class does not necessarily hurt the entire class.

Lets say that there was a class action suit large enough to destroy company A.

Yes, the investors in company A would lose their entire investment. The legal system might even reduce these people to abject poverty. The assets of company A, however, won't vanish. They will simply be bought up by company B. Company B would then jack up the prices to cover the cost of the liability exposure and proceed.

Although the litigation has reduced one group of people into poverty. The end result of the litigation is simply that the costs are passed on to the consumer. In most cases the vulture company that buys up the assets is larger than the first company.

Litigation might destroy A Corporation. It does not destroy the progressive bugaboo* of "The Corporation." Litigation actually makes The Corporation bigger.

Litigation not only directly increases the size of corporation. The mere threat of litigation increases the size of corporations indirectly.

Lets say you have a legal system that is punctuated by random six million dollar law suits. These suits are an annoyance to billion dollar firms. Such suits are guaranteed to wipe out a small ten million dollar firms.

When investors assess risk, they often decide that taking a few hits by investing in big corporations is a better choice the risk of total loss of an investment in a small firm. In our litigious society, companies are often forced into consolidation by investors fear of exposure. Companies that have done nothing wrong consolidate simply because the mathematics says the liability exposure is too high.

The excessive litigation in our society leads directly and indirectly to bigger corporations.

Putting it another way: Litigation is a form of predation. If you go into the wild, you might see a pack of wolves go after a herd of elk. The wolves might separate out an kill a few young elk, but they never kill the herd.

Like other predators, litigators attack the weak. In the case of business, they take out the weak competitors, leaving the big firms standing.

Litigators are most successful when they attack the young. Most small entrepreneurial firms lack the political contacts and experience to stave off nuisance law suits. The litigation society does its greatest damages simply by locking a large number of small companies out of the market.

For that matter, you will notice many entrepreneurs have the strategy of growing rapidly to a given size, then immediately seeking protection by merging with a larger firm with legal resources to fend off the packs of trail lawyers.

A good example of the legal system attacking weak firm is the recent case where Judge Roy L. Pearson went after a dry cleaning firm with a $54 million suit for losing his pants. The dry cleaners had worked hard and earned enough assets where they were a good mark, but they spoke Engrish poorly, and did not have good legal representation.

This case was thrown out as it provided a rallying cry for the extremely large number of people who've been attacked in similar fashion.

Had the judge won his case, he would have destroyed the investors in the dry cleaning chain. In the process of collecting the prize rewarded to the judge, the court system would have sold the assets of the chain to a competing chain, reducing competition in the industry. The new owners would pass the cost of increased liability risk onto consumers.

Litigation might destroy some of the people associated with a specific corporation. It does not destroy the abstract bugaboo called "The Corporation" any more than culling the herd makes the herd go extinct.

Litigation has other adverse affects. When business leaders are in an adversarial environment and find themselves staring down the barrels of litigation, they start behaving like the Bob Murray character of the Huntington Cave disaster. These people find themselves in a trap where they cannot openly discuss the cause of the disaster. They cannot openly discuss the safety of the rescue effort. They cannot even openly address the possibility that the miners died in the accident. Every word has to be measured in anticipation of the law suits to come.

Notice how the press attacks Bob Murray for his "contradictory statements." Contradictory statements are common in open discourse. In open discourse, you are supposed to examine different possibilities.

Attacking a person because they make contradictory statements is absurd, yet the litigators drool with anticipation at each contradictory statement, since they can be used against Bob Murray in the litigation to come.

In order to figure out what went wrong, Bob Murray needs to explore both the argument that it was his mine that caused the problem and the possibility that it was a natural fault. Exploring both ideas will lead to contradictory statements.

The mere fact that anything said during the rescue effort will be used in the litigation negatively affects the rescue effort. It makes the effort more dangerous and less likely to succeed.

In some cases, you will find companies failing to take common sense actions after a problem simply because taking such actions is viewed by litigators as an admission of guilt.

If we moved from litigation to arbitration as our primary means of dispute resolution, we might move the dialog from simply trying to protect ourselves to one where we try to find the right course of action.

The massive Mattel Toy Recall is a good example of a company taking proactive steps in dealing with lead contamination. Mattel is a five billion dollar company. Their legal department is probably larger than Bob Murray's mining operation. However, they were pulling things off the shelves and actively engaged in internal investigations when the story broke.

Even the Mattel toy story is marred. An executive in China committed suicide rather than face the impending attacks that because a contractor he selected sold the company lead based paint.

China is the third most progressive country on the planet (behind Cuba and North Korea). When you read the historical accounts of the People's revolution, Zhang Shuhong is correct in deducing that suicide is preferable to being struggled against.

It turns out that China also is suffering a mine disaster at the moment. Much of the thought in China is still based on Marx's material dialectics. Reports claim that the mine leaders aren't even engaged in an awkward Bob Murray style conversation with the workers. They are holed up while the families riot.

I wish people understood this. The confrontational style that underlies leftist thinking leads directly to people separated in warring camps.

Sadly, the left seems to have found the perfect tact for preventing the use of arbitration in class action style lawsuits. What they do is find cases where a monopoly (or even a former monopoly) wants to use an arbitration clause in a contract. By using monopolies as the case study for arbitration, they can trigger wealth envy and set the legions of progressive thugs on the net and in the media against arbitration. Most progressive bloggers are simply too dense to realize that the same ruling in the ATT Wireless case applies to all companies.

Small companies that were hoping to gain a competitive advantage by leaning on arbitration are now in a situation where their liability exposure suddenly skyrocketed with this ninth district court ruling.

Although ATT Wirelss lost this case, they actually won it because it mainstains the litigation barrier that helps keep small, nimbler firms out of the lucrative cellular market. ATT Wireless need simply raise their price to cover the cost of the ruling and The Corporation is as large and as entrenched as ever.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Buckhorn Wash

The bravery of rescue workers is astounding. I am thinking both of the people in Huntington and those in Peru. Rescue so often entails going into unstable conditions.

While watching the news stories on the mine collapse, I realized that I wasn't seeing much about the geology of the area. Huntington, Utah is one of the most geologically interesting areas in the United States. To the West is the Wasatch Mountains. The Wasatch defines the Eastern edge of the Great Basin. The Great Basin stretches from the Wasatch in Utah to the Sierra Nevada in California.

Wedge OverlookTo the East of Huntington is the Colorado Plateau. If you take a nondescript dirt road heading West out of Huntington, you end up in a desolate part of the world called Buckhorn Wash. This wash cuts through the heart of a thing called the San Rafael Swell.

The San Rafael is one of the most bizarre places on the face of the Earth. The area is a anticline dome of standstone (with a very thick layer of Navajo Sandstone). Imagine a bubble in the earth that is 75 miles long, 45 miles wide and a thousand feet high. This sandstone has been eroded away through the ages into massive sandstone towers and deep chasms. A few areas, like Little Wild Horse Canyon, are slit canyons that are just a few feet wide but hundreds of feet deep. The canyons include arches, ancient petroglyphs and other cool stuff.

Currently, the Swell is administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Politically, the there is big battle between those who wish to make the Swell a National Monument and the locals who want to keep the secret to themselves.

Anyway, if you start at this page, you can take a quick tour through Buckhorn Wash. I really need to redo this gallery with my new camera.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Authenticity of Multiculturism

To a large extent, it really is just a matter of authenticity. When I come across any organization promoting itself as a cultural organization, I find myself asking if the organization is authentically promoting the organization, or if they are driven by other motives.

The Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City comes off as slightly more authentic than the Salt Lake Muslim Festival. Neither organization is perfect. Neither is the personification of evil. Authenticity is really a matter of degree.

There are ideas that do seem to pollute the waters. It is politically correct to point out the ill effects of commerce. Entrepreneurs run around the world trying to find goods from each culture that they can sell. The plus side is that these goods help provide funds and interest in preserving culture. The downside is that the efforts have a tendency to devolve in a plasticized characterization of the culture, and seems to lack the full depth that one would hope to achieve. I really love the Overstock WorldStock program. However, the business model that mixes handcrafted and overstocked goods provides a really bizarre experience.

It is politically incorrect to point out that the left also has a history of making a mush of culture.

The ideology of Marxism gave several generations of activists an illusion that the peoples of the world would united in a global revolution against the bourgeoisie. I've come across a large number of Ward Churchill style characters that multiculturalism was part of the great social revolution.

Whenever you make your study of different cultures subservient to an ideology, you end up losing the things that you stand to gain from the other cultures.

I love the fact that the Mormons send their kids abroad, but I get irritated when I find returned missionaries who really don't seem to have learned anything about the country that they visited. In my view, going on a Mission to help others is great. I am irked when returned missionaries seem to have failed to see or appreciate the culture they visited. I hate wasted opportunities.

The Globe Trekker series is a little bit closer to my heart. This site advocates getting down and dirty in the process or trekking, although after watching a few dozen episodes, I can't help but feel that the hosts of the show are so full of themselves that they tend to miss the point.

It is, after all, impossible to divorce ourselves from our point of view. Although we pretend otherwise, there is no way to see the world but through one's own eyes. We will always put filters on what we see.

I think the best approach to life is to always challenge oneself. We can't eliminate the filters on our vision, but we can recognize that we will always have a distorted vision.

That means that when you approach a topic, you should go through a process of self examination to discover any preconceived notions that affect your perception. This self examination ("know thyself") is the critical component of the classical liberal thought process.

Whenever I approach a "multicultural" exhibit, my mind immediately flashes into a mode where I question what filters exist at the exhibition. Understanding the filters gives me a better understanding of what I am seeing. This classical liberal style often comes off as hypercritical; I think the process leads to greater understanding.

Democracy Lover said of my post: "I hope you learn that the right-wing bugaboo of multiculturalism is not the cause of all the world's ills."

I found this statement extremely disheartening because, to understand a different culture, one must challenge any ideologies such as "multiculturalism" that might distort the understanding of the different culture.

The modern ideology of multiculturism came from a left wing notion that activists should work to unite cultures of the world against the bourgeoisie. It is a distorting filter in the same vein that commercialism is a filter.

The progressive and classical liberal world is like fire and water. The progressive world generally has a cause they wish to progress above all else, while the classical thought process has learned that to understand the world, one has to challenge any filters placed between the observer and the world.

Baby Bibs

Who would have thought? Some of the vinyl baby bibs from China contain lead and are poisonous to baby.

This is devastating news. The super bright vinyl baby bibs covered with trademarked images of cartoon characters in bright primary colors is one of the first experiences children have as marketing devices. The fact that these marketing materials are being thrown away by the bundle is devasting not just to baby but to the marketing industry at large.

It is good for the baby-self-esteem for baby to learn that the bubbly little baby face is good for more than just selling baby. Bubbly baby faces can sell whatever products are advertised on baby bibs.

Of course, marketing never dies. The failure of one marketing campaign simply gives rise to another marketing opportunity. As I happen to be fond of the natural fiber industry (Knitting Patterns). I am hoping that people will use the baby bib scare to rethink the plastic disposable baby product thing and go with natural fiber products. For example is a shop from Midvale selling cloth diaper products on the net and in the Salt Lake area. DiaperNet lists diaper services by state.

Of course the natural fiber product market has its own problems. I mean, have you ever seen the stuff that comes out of babies? It requires some pretty harsh chemicals to get that toxic stuff out of cloth fibers.

I guess that is the point of a free market. I like small local firms hocking natural remedies, the big international firms have the resources to design and test sanitized products. People then get to decide.

I say, go local and take your chance with natural fibers, of course I also realize that I am an idealistic jerk.

BTW, if you use hemp baby bibs, all of the other babies will think your baby is cool. Best of all, using hemp baby bibs increases the chances that your baby will grow up to be a jazz musician.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Salt Lake Muslim Festival

This sounds interesting: There will be a Salt Lake American Muslim Festival SLAM at Washington Square (This is the plaza a the downtown Salt Lake Library.

The festival will include: Vietnamese Dragon Dance, Kenshin Taiko Drummers, Phillipine, Peruvian, and Tongan Dancers, Easter Arts Central Asian Dances, Rinceori Irish Dancers, Chinese Dances by Fay Fay Ye, and Bien Flamenco, Sol de Jalisco Mariachi Band, Ahiska Turks Cultural Dances, Sister Maryam and Jose Bonilla Songs, Native American Indian Performance, Baptist Gospel Singer, and the Salt Lake Saints Jazz Band. The festival also includes speeches by Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and Dr. Alice Rothchild of the Jewish Voice for Peace.

I am happy that such celebrations take place. I love to learn about different cultures. I could not help but note that only one of the acts in the line up is from the Middle East.

I highlighted the Turkish Dancers as they seem to be the closest to the Middle East of any of the acts. I could not find a web site for the group. Several web sites attribute this dance to the dancers. If you watch the video, you might want to translate the message from user mazinia which explains the dance. Errr, I don't think it is really a good example of the heart and soul of Islam.

In some ways I suspect that this very SLAM festival highlights the greatest fear of the Muslim world: marginalization. The fear is that multiculturalism will reduce all cultures to a circus act for a University professor's amusement.

Multiculturalism is culture that assumes all other cultures are a subordinate part of itself.

[***]I suspect that most of the people attending this event will be left leaning. It will include the small portion of the left that hold the viewpoint that they are united with the Islamic world against the people's enemy: George W. Bush.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

In actuality, I think things are more complex. This war on terrorism is largely about the Islamic World's rejecting the multiculturalism being forced on them by the west. Both the blowing up of the Buddhas of Bamyan and the World Trade Center were about rejecting multiculturalism. Conversely, our reactionary wars are about breaking the stranglehold of monolithic belief system in the middle east. From one perspective, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are about bringing multiculturism to the region.

Anyway, it sounds like the festival will be a fun event worth attending. The machine which cranks out this stream of festivals is getting more professional with each passing year. Yet I can't help but I sympathize with those who find the process of reducing a culture to an act on a multiring circus to be somewhat marginalizing.

[***] I changed this sentence. A commentor thought I said that 90% of the left believed that they were allied with Islam against Bush. What I wanted to say was that I suspect that 90% of the people who attend the festival will be left leaning. And that there are some people who see themselves as allied with Islam against Bush.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Cultural Celebration Center

Cultural Celebration CenterI took a drive out to West Valley City to get some pictures of the new Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City. WVC is Utah's second largest city with a population of about 119,000. Salt Lake City has a population of about 182,000. If current demographic trends continue, both WVC and South Jordan will be larger than Salt Lake City in a decade or so. SLC is shrinking. It was about 220k when we moved here.

Now, I have to admit, I am a big city snob. My ideal world would see crowded urban centers that stop at the edge of a wilderness (with no suburban sprawl between). So, I am not all that happy with the current political situation where Salt Lake City languishes under the political ineptitude of Democratic leaders like Rocky Anderson and Dee Dee Corradini while the majority of growth happens in the vibrant suburbs.

For a while, Salt Lake City was able to pull the stunt where they used their historical political clout to divert tax revenues from the burbs back into the city. However, as should happen in a Democracy, the political clout is finally starting to follow the people, and the burbs are starting to get the cultural attractions.

Unfortunately, each time I drive out to WVC, South Jordan, Davis County or other business friendly suburbs, I am struck with the horrific reality that this is where the action is.

Olmec HeadThis new Cultural Celebration Center really stands out as a world class facility. At the heart of the facility is an Olmec Head that came from near WVC's sister city Veracruz, Mexico. This head was carved by the Olmec Civilization which is believed to be the ancestor of both the Aztec and Inca Civilizations. The Olmec Culture thrived from 1200 BCE to about 400 BCE. There is some speculation that the Olmecs were the first culture to invent the concept of zero. That could be what happened to them. They divided by zero then vanished.

HMMM, the Olmecs were one of those civilizations that lived in the BCs; so you would think that they knew their date system was counting toward something big!!!!!

World StageThe main attraction of the Utah Cultural Celebration Center is the World Stage Amphitheater. This state of the art amphitheatre hosts a variety music and cultural shows. The next item on their list is a production from Two Shields Productions, which does Native American Dancing and music. This event is on August 13, 2007 (more events).

The center is on a sixty acre park adjacent to the Jordan River.

The E CenterAfter taking photos of the UCCC, I booked it on over and took some exterior shots of the E-Center and the new Hale Theatre.

The E Center was built in 1997 and was a venue for the 2002 Winter Games. From my understanding, the center was named for the important role that the natural logarithm plays in mathematics. Of course, a great deal of thing in my understand are the product of my imagination. Others say the E came from an ecommerce advertising campaign. I understand the Hale Center Theatre was built when the owners finally got tired of hearing complaints about their old theater.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

When Warrantless Wiretaps are Warranted

Sorry, but I think Timothy B. Lee Cato has this one wrong. I think the new security bill is inching in the right direction. Unfortunately, since everyone is asking the wrong questions, we keep getting the wrong answers. In 2001, Bush failed to address the issue as he was stuck on some 19th century thoughts on executive authority. Civil libertarians have been unable to address the issue as they are stuck the fantasy that warrants protect rights.

It is not the warrant system that protects civil rights. It is the open court system that protects liberty.

The warrants given in criminal investigation is not the thing that is protecting our liberty. It is the open court system that is protecting our liberty. The warrants are just a tool devised by the court system. The warrants work because they evolved as part of a process of investigating crime. The warrants help legitimize information used in an open court.

Espionage is something completely different. First of all the people we need to spy on are not criminals. In most cases, they are patriots who just happen to be loyal to a different country.

More importantly, the spying really doesn't lead to a direct confrontation in open court.

Spying is driven by diplomatic needs and leads to either diplomatic or military action.

The prattling about "warrantless wiretaps" in foreign surveillance is off base because it forces the wrong assumption (that there will a confrontation in court) on the surveillance process.

For that matter, this preoccupation with "warrantless wiretaps" is really nothing more than a bad pun. The word "warrantless" sounds like "unwarranted." The first term means that an action takes place without a court order.

This blog post is warrantless because I wrote it without a warrant from a court.

The term "unwarranted" means unnecessary.

People get these words mixed up all the time. When we hear "warrantless wiretap" we think the wiretap must be unwarranted.

A court can give a warrant without justification, in which case you have an unwarranted warrant. Conversely the court could deny a warrant when the situation warrants a warrant. Here is a fun pun. In some cases, the police simply don't have time to get a warrant. Let's say a policeman see a man grab a girl off the street and run into a building. The man is holding a knife and the girl is screaming. In this case we feel that a warrantless search of the premise is warranted.

Anyway, the search warrant is not the thing that protects the rights of the defendant, it is the open trial.

Trying to extend the warrant system to a system that does not have open trial does not protect anyone. It simply makes things convoluted. In many ways, it actually makes the foreign surveillance system more dangerous since the warrants will give a legal authority to foreign surveillance that the surveillance does not warrant.

The FISA Court is not an open court. It is a secret court. The judges on this court are aware that they will be held accountible for any perceived failure of the foreign surveillance community. As such, they are likely to be excessively loose in issuing warrants.

Unfortunately, these warrants will carry the same authority and respect as the warrants given in an open court system. The warrants issues by the secret court are likely to have an legal authority that foreign surveillance really does not warrant.

The existence of secret court is also problematic.

There has never been a court that has not wanted to expand the scope of its influence. Secret courts have been known to expand their influence in secret.

The FISA Court starts its existence in a vacuum. It issues warrants to a secret police. These warrants are not part of a large open trial. The judges will only be held accountable by the public if they fail to issue a warrant that could have stopped a terrorist activity.

Even worse, the court itself was conceived a partisan political battle between the Democratic party and Richard Nixon.

This system, conceived in a political vacuum, finds itself embroiled in an ongoing terrorist war where the geopolitical reality warrants increased surveillance of international communications. Because intense scrutiny of communications is warranted, the secret FISA court is likely to establish a precedence of giving warrants to examine communications that do not, in and of themselves, warrant a warrant.

The reason that this happens is the nature of communication technology. In the criminal justice system, you are generally directly observing a suspect. Since you are directly observing a suspect, you will be able to pinpoint the communications that you want to tap.

In foreign surveillance, the communications take place outside your scrutiny. You rarely can pinpoint the conversation that you want to tap. There is not an AT&T guy sitting on a telephone poll outside bin Laden's yurt who can identify the calls from bin Laden.

Now, imagine that there is a compelling reason to believe that a terrorist group just sent a communique to a terrorist cell in the United States. You know that the communication occurred. You know that the communique tells the terrorist cell which train station to blow up and when. You know that you will be held accountable if the communication get though. The problem is that the FISA Court judge and army of snoopers don't know where the communication is.

To find the communique that warrants a warrant, the FISA court will have to give a warrant to search through all of the communications that took place in a given period of time. These other communications do not warrant a warrant. You have to look at them to find the communication that warranted the warrant.

Don't you see. The very nature of foreign surveillance will drive the secret court systems to give warrants to communications that do not warrant a warrant. There is not a open court system to address excesses. There is only a poltical process that will bear down on the judges if they cause an intelligence failure.

The judges on the secret court will find themselves in an impossible situation. The judges know that they will be held accountable for intelligence failures, and will gradually fall into a pattern of issuing warrants that give legal authority to surveillance excess.

The fact that the secret court has a one sided mission will cause a corruption of the warrant system.

The bureaucratic process of issuing warrants is not the source of our liberties.

When you take the same bureaucratic process from the open court system and place it in a secret court system, you will see a corruption of the bureaucratic process. The long term result of the secret FISA Court will give greater authority to the secret police.

I agree that there should be third party oversight of foreign surveillance. However, it is pure folly to take a warrant system that is dependent on an open court system and think that it will work in a secret court system.

An effective system of third party oversight in foreign surveillance must be derived from the diplomatic world. The diplomatic world is, by its nature, much more loosy goosy. Diplomatic needs change with time. In times of war the need for foreign surveillance grows in times of peace it diminishes.

Imposing a rigid bureaucratic system on a system that demands flexibility will result in failure.

While a rigid bureaucratic system seems to work well in criminal courts. We know that it is likely to fail in the diplomatic world.

The criminal justice surveylance system is built on the fact that you can directly observe the criminal suspect. That means you can define the surveillance and the oversight of the surveillance system in a positive space.

Foreign surveillance does not allow for such direct observation. As such, it is probably best to design the oversight to work in a negative space. The oversight should be defined by activities that we want to prevent. We want to prevent politicians from using foreign intelligence from domestic political rivals. We want to prevent excessive intrusion on people's privacy.

Above all, we want to prevent the warrantless wiretaps used to spy on foreign agents from being used in our criminal court system.

The goal of oversight should be to prevent the abuse of the information gathered through foreign surveillance and not to prevent the surveillance itself. For example, in times of war, the intelligence community should be able to open any communications to see if it contains a message from the terrorist, but it should be prevented from using any of the information gleened from innocent communications.

The best way to do this is to embrace the warrantless nature of foreign intelligence. As foreign intelligence was not gleened from a court order, it cannot be used in courts. It might be used to start an investigation, but could not be used as evidence.

Rather than authorizing foreign intelligence, the oversight should be concentrating on controlling the flow of foreign surveillance in the government. The best system would have a layer of snoops who have the authority to look at all communications from the Mideast looking for possible messages from terrorist. The oversight committee should aim its effort at preventing any non-terrorist related information from leaving this group.

We do need oversight. We need oversight that changes with political reality. The process should be driven by diplomatic needs. We need to prevent foreign intelligence from leaking into the criminal or political system.

This said, it is foolish to assume that a bureaucratic process used by an open court system will make a secret court system okay. The oversight should exist, but it should not be in the form of a court because such courts will become corrupt with time. The goal of the oversight should not be aimed at authorization of surveillance by at the prevention of abuse of foreign intelligence.

Civil Liberties are not protected by bureaucratic processes. They are protected by an open society.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Little Greenies

This is exciting news. Apparently Tom Green is up for release. Tom Green was convicted in 2002 for being an embarrassment for the LDS Church. Mr. Green had been in several documentaries promoting the LDS Polygamist lifestyle and was rapidly gaining international notoriety. The guy has some five wives and 30 odd kids. One of the wives was 13 when she stopped being a little girl and was turned into a Mormon baby production unit.

Since polygamy is officially illegal in Utah, the wives are officially single welfare-collecting moms, and not polygamist wives.

I understand that Mr. Green has learned his lesson and will avoid the limelight and any further embarrassment to the LDS Church. With a little luck, Green will simply take whatever hush money the state offers and will sink back into anonymity.

Mormons throughout the US will simultaneously undergo a denial that polygamy is an important part of the LDS Church, while filing Mr. Green's imprisonment in the collective fantasy that the Mormons are the most persecuted people of all times. Gentiles in Utah will point to the Green affair and mutter the lament "This is what you have to live with in Utah."

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Declaring War

I have to admit, Ron Paul is the most interesting Republican candidate at the moment. I don't like his in your talk about the Iraq War. The 2009 Iraq will be something different from the 2007 Iraq. The next president needs to deal with the existing reality and not simply relive Bush's folly of 2003.

I have never fathomed Bush's reasons for invading Iraq. I can't help but think that George Bush the Second was trying to relive the fact that the war of his father's failed to solve the Sadam Hussein problem.

Ron Paul is correct in noting that the US tends to lose the wars that it fails to declare. For many decades, the Republican party was the party that demanded that we play by the Constitution and declare war before engaging in combat.

Declaring war has two positive effects: The declaration forces a period of deliberation before a war. The politcal process of declaring war also gets people on the same page.

The tactics of our enemy in the war on terror is to kill their own people until their self destructive devastation rips the US assunder and causes us to become neurotic. Had we engaged in true debate before the invasion, we would be better equipped to sit through the current terror. Of course, if we had engaged in the dialogue that the Constitution demands, we probably would have realized that our diplomatic effort was succeeding and we were not justified in expanding the War on Terror to include an invasion of Iraq.

Bush would have had zero problems getting the US to Declare War against the Taliban.

The interesting thing about Afghanistan is that, after the invasion, the US Military, the business community and the humanitarian world were united in trying to rebuild Afghanistan. Al Qaeda and other terrorist elements were pretty much stymied in their actions. Since there was a general feeling that the war was justified and that we were united in rebuilding the country, any atrocity committed by the terrorists would be correctly recognized as an atrocity committed by the terrorists.

The shortcuts Bush and Rumsfeld took to invade Iraq destroyed that unity and has created the political climate where Bush's enemies can claim the atrocities committed by the terrorists are the result of Bush. The failure to deliberate and build consensus that would have been needed to declare war has created this absurdity where terrorists can tear our society apart by killing the innocent people of Iraq. The American Founders apparently realized this when they wrote the constitution. Colin Powell realized this when he argued for the Powell Doctrine.

Anyway, Ron Paul is the closest thing to a classical liberal candidate that we've seen since Goldwater. I wish he would acknowledge that he can't relive Bush's blunder ... just as George Bush the second was unable to relive the end of the wars of George Bush the first.

If we can hold out through 2008, the next presidency will start with a newly elected Iraqi government. The next presidency will start at that point. The Iraqi policy should be driven by the needs of that government, and not by the hubris of the Bush administration.

So, while Ron Paul is the most interesting of the current candidates, I worry that he will burn himself out on the wrong issue. The need to follow the rules and declare war before engaging in war is part of the classical liberal way of thinking. This great failure of the Bush adminstration is something that happened in 2001 and 2003. This issue is only a small portion of classical liberal thinking. I would hate to see these richer thoughts become marginalized in the election as people concentrate on Ron Pauls sensational war stance.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Rich are Justified to Steal

A post on Cato At Liberty does a good job showing the arrogance of the political ruling class. A representative Tim Walz (D-MN) starts by talking about how he lives in one of the richest agricultural areas in the world. Note the word "rich." He knows where the money is.

This congressional thug then denounces everyone who does not live in a rich areas for complaining about the subsidies taken from poorer areas, then given to the rich area.

I happen to live in one of the worst agricultural areas on the planet. Utah is big but has a very small portion of arable land, with even scarcer water resources. The democrat thug says that, since I live in a poor area, I should not have any input on money taken from me and given to people who live in a richer area.

I suspect that Walz is a direct beneficiary of the machine that redistributes billions of dollars from taxpayers to the wealthiest in our society. He is free to lambaste Cato, I will file this remark as a prime example of the elitist arrogance that is a natural byproduct of the tax and spend policies of Washington.

Trolls and Tolls

My heart goes out to the trolls living under the I35W bridge ... The people involved deserve sympathy and support as well. It sounds like the Twin Cities Red Cross and other first responders did a great job in reducing the hardship.

If you are thinking of giving to the Red Cross, you should give to your local chapter. All of the parts of the system work together. So when there is a tragedy, resources get pulled out of neighboring Red Cross Chapters. Other relief centers efforts are similar. For example, simply giving blood to your local blood bank makes more resources available in the system. In Utah, ARUP is leader in blood donations.

The primary political issue (after all the finger pointing) about the I35W infrastructure failure is that maintenance is critical. Bridges and levees aren't just things that get built then forgotten. A bridge is a process. When you build something, you have to plan for the costs of the whole lifecycle of the project.

Unfortunately, in our little politically charged world, politicians simply want the fame, glory and power that come from the construction. The maintenance is an expense pushed onto an unwitting future generation. Even when the planners are good and calculate the full lifecycle costs of a project, the politicians that follow are wont to divert the tax dollars set aside for maintenance into their pet projects.

A few of the talking heads on TV were arguing that Minnesota should be raising taxes to pay for better road maintenance. I was a bit upset with this argument. You should never have to raise taxes to pay for maintenance. If you do, it generally means one of two things. Either the people who planned the infrastructure in the first place did a really bad job. The more likely scenerio is that politicians diverted the budget set aside for maintenance to other less worthy projects.

I suspect there is going to be a great deal of finger pointing at Minnesota's maintenance workers in the upcoming weeks. Personally, I really appreciate of people in the unglamorous world of maintenance. So, my heart goes out to the victims on the bridge, the maintenance workers and my fellow trolls who now have to find a new bridge to live under.