Friday, January 25, 2008

Reasons Matter

Capital Punishment is not a major interest of mine. I only wrote on the topic to try to make the case that using the wrong arguments in wrong forum undermines discourse.

On my last post Jason D'Avignon left a quandry:

"I find it somewhat disturbing the company the US keeps in regards to capital punishment. No other western government kills its own citizens."

Before answering the quandry, I should point out that holding similar positions does not mean that one is in cahoots with or shares the same ideology as others who hold that position. Different ideologies might share the same position for wildly different reasons. Different thought systems might even have different ideas about what is the moral high ground. From one point of view an absolute prohibition against the death penalty appears to be a moral high ground. People who've spent time studying the nature of thought might find absolutes naive.

Anyway, D'Avingnon's quandry can be answered by looking at history and the ideologies behind the history. The nations that were quick to abolish capital punishment last century had recent histories where their government killed large number of people to achieve dubious social ends.

Many of the killings were backed by seemingly progressive ideologies. We must kill group J to achieve social progress. Mexico had an extremely violent period in the 1920s with estimates of over a million being killed. There also were persecutions in abuses that occured in the sixties.

**Yes, many of the rogue killing groups in the US were done by government agents. A prime example occurred when the progressive General Armstrong Custer rode forth to kill some indians to establish his military credentials for a much anticipated bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Andrew Jackson had done unto the Seminoles for similar reasons.

Our government has engaged in rogue activities like invading countries without the declaration of war. In most cases, the rogue actions of our leaders led to a public backlash.

The American pioneer myth is not simply government overcoming private weakness. The myth sees rogue behavior in both the private and government sectors. The myth is of civility overcoming incivility.
The United States is not without fault. The American frontier experience seems to have had the form of rogue groups killing people**. In the American frontier experience, the judicious use of capital punishment was seen as a civilizing force.

In the perspective of American History Capital Punishment is not seen as a sign of incivilty. The experience is that capital punishment after a fair trial is a civilizing force.

The American ideal is to create a court system with sufficient safeguards and moral authority that we feel comfortable that the people we execute are guilty as charged.

You might laugh at this ideal and note that courts are never absolutely objective. This is what we are taught in public school. Public Schools adhere to Dewey's interpretation of Hegelian/Marxist dialectic. In Marxism, everything is relative to existing power struggles. Courts simply reflect existing power structures. The idea that there is a higher morality is absurd just as trying to create a judicial system that is capable of trying death penalty cases is absurd. States execute people for social ends.

The idealist would rebuke saying that no-one ever achieves their ideal. The inequities shown in the history of the courts show that there is a great deal of work to be done to achieve our goal of a just court system.

There is a subtle point here. If you give up on capital punishment because you reject the ideals of fair laws and objective courts; then your capitulation on the death penalty is in effect a capitulation on the rule of law.

Despite the faults of the death penalty, capital punishment cases shine a bright light on the inner workings of the judicial system. The statistics from capital punishment cases stand out and show ongoing injustices in our society. Awareness of such inequities is a good thing.

In Utah, we executed William Andrews. William Andrews was a man "bearing the Mark of Cain" who was an accomplice in a heinous crime. Andrews left the room just before the murders. We did not consider the death penalty in the case of Mark Hoffman who was a cold calculating killer. A big capital punishment case in Hoffman's case would have been an embarassment to an extremely powerful group in the State. The duplicity shines out like a beacon and writes volumes.

I know some people will be very upset about the above paragraph. In every state with capital punishment, one can find troubling patterns in the application of the penalty.

If we give up on the death penalty simply because we don't like the troubling questions that arise in the wake of high profile cases; then our abolishing the death penalty is not a statement of a higher morality, but a cop out.

If we give up on the death penalty because it is the path of least resistence, or that we find it easier to accept our courts are shabby, or from a belief that it is easier to hide our mistakes by incarcerating people for life; then we are giving up on rule of law.

The statement that the countries that abolished the death penalty are morally stronger than the US may not be true. Yes, one can argue that a country that rejected capital punishment out of an authentic commitment to nonviolence has a moral high ground. A society that abolished the death penalty because they've capitulated on the rule of law is taking a cowardly path based on moral weakness.

The substance behind a position often matters more than the position. A society that rejects the death penalty from a prolife stance is apt to improve. A society that holds that justice is simply relative to existing power struggles and abolishes the death penalty by capitulating on the ideal of rule by law is apt to regress.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Courts as an Emotional Outlet

In a previous post I made the statement that the Supreme Court should not abolish the death penalty based on the argument that the person being executed might feel pain while being executed.

I thought I should drop a second post to note that I would oppose a court re-instating the death penalty on similar emotional appeals.

One common appeal for the death penalty is that executing criminals give the victims (and the families of the victims) closure.

I believe in supporting victims. However, if we falls into the belief that executing criminals is some sort of benefit to victims; then we will find ourselves with all sorts of problems.

The biggest problem is that only a few cases end in execution. If we held that execution is a necessary thing for the victim, we will end up with a large number of unfulfilled victims.

Other problems happen in a culture where people have different emotions. What happens with people who do not find closure in execution, or for people who actually find emotional duress in the execution process? A person dedicated to nonviolence might become distraught over the execution of the criminal who did them wrong.

It is possible for the execution of the criminal to cause emotional duress to victims and survivors.

Strangely, when I examine my personal emotions, I find that I would prefer being executed to being stuck in a cage for the remainder of my life. If I were the victim of a heinous crime, I would prefer the perpetrator to languish behind bars than to have the immediate release that comes with a quick death. My emotions say that a life in prison would be worse than a quick execution.

I've tried the argument that I being against the death penalty would make me morally superior to "those people" who are for it. The argument on my part falls short because moral conviction actually ends up subjecting people to the worst of the possible punishments for a crime.

Should the decision to execute or not execute be based on the disposition of relatives of the victim? If the disposition of the victims is the determining factor in the decision to execute; then how does one judge the disposition of the victims? Do you put it up to vote? If it is up to vote; then who should vote, and how much weight should one give to individual votes?

Making the emotions of people affected by the crime the primary factor in the outcome of death penalty cases leads immediately to the situation where the victims are put on trial and where death penalty cases degenerate into ugly emotion-packed political campaigns.

The application of the death penalty becomes even more capricious than it already is. Social divisions around the application of justice become wider.

Making emotions the primary factor in death penalty cases leads to all sorts of social unrest and magnifies the damage done to society by the crime.

In my opinion, the court system should hold the goal of being objective and unfeeling. The court should strive to apply the law as written and should avoid the temptation of becoming the outlet for emotion.

While the court should try to avoid becoming an emotional outlet, emotional arguments have a place in setting laws. Emotions are important. However, one must find the right outlet for emotions.

The elected legislature and not the appointed judiciary should be venue for weighing the emotional arguments.

That said, I think a legislature will find purely emotional arguments for and against the death penalty to fall short. Everyone has different emotions.

This sounds harsh but I think the decision shouldn't be about what is most emotionally satisfying, but should be about what is best for society.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Quality Discourse

Quality discourse, by its nature, is long winded and boring.

When people are authentically engaged in exploring an issue they will end up saying all sorts of contradictory things.

The existance of contractions in discourse is not bad. One of the best ways to understand the implications of an idea is to explore its negation. A quality thinker might end up writing page after page and conclude that the path he explored was not productive.

A good discourse contains multiple perspectives.

Most published writing is of the form of a statement. A statement generally has a direct purpose that the writer wishes to accomplish. In Marxist writing, all writing is suppose to have an underlying purpose of promoting the revolution. Some religions say all writing must be faith promoting.

People like reading statements. They are shorter and to the point.

For that matter, a purpose of most discourse is to put together a statement.

The dealio is that we have to understand that multiple styles of writing need to exist.

Why this post?

NewspaperGrl had pointed to an article where a pretentious, elitist snit named Paul Boutin gave the middle finger to bloggers because blogs don't fit the narrowminded view taught Comparative Lit 101. His statement was that blogging is not quality discourse, because blogs are long winded, boring, full of contradictory statements and often have no purpose beyond the author's individual exploration of truth.


Discourse, by its nature, is a long winded task where people, in a search for truth, root out contradictions.

Quite frankly, I think a big problem we face today is that our schools and publishing world have built a false expectation of what writing is and should be.

It is my hope that people engaged in blogs and forums will gradually ween themselves from the false expectations created by our schools and realize that writing is part of the process of becoming.

You will notice in this blog that I will often have posts acknowledging a good argument given in favor of an idea I like, or I will reject a bad argument given by groups that I support.

This is called engaging in discourse.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Remembering 2000

Can anyone remember the 2000 election when George W. Bush was chastised by the Democratic candidates for not being positive about the economy?

The economic outlook of the dotcom bust was far worse than the economic outlook today. Bush was chastised simply for not rah-rahing the economy.

In the 2008 election, the Democrats are actually telling people to panic. We've had a solid 5 months of the MSM telling us to prepare for and fear economic recession. the short interest and FTDs have shot through the ceiling. We are now being instructed to panic.

Does anyone out there understand why the Democrats make me sick to the stomache?

If the Democratic Party had even a half millimeter thick layer of integrity. They would be lauding the US (and possibily global) slowdown for the fact that this re-alignment in the economy is reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gasses that lead to global warming.

We have to have multiple parties for our system of government to work. The central core of the Democratic Party is so thoroughly disgusting that I am at a loss for words.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ecological Mail

Looking for some make work to do in the much advertised and anticipated recession of 2008?

Well, companies can save big bucks cleaning up their junk mail lists. (Err, I mean their important marketing lists).

I just found the site Ecological Mail. This site lets companies cancel mailings that arrive for employees that left the firm.

Cleaning up mail lists could save tons and tons and tons of paper along with all the fossil fuels consumed to make the paper and deliver the junk mail.

Most importantly, the employees who take the initiative to save resources might look busy and avoid the company's mass layoff axe.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Leviathan on the Right

buy at Overstock.comBush's caving into to the stimulus demand crowd confirms something that I've suspected ever since Bush started a war without a Declaration of War, since he issued a tax cut with out corresponding cuts in spending, and since he centralized curriculum design with NCLB.

Deep down in side ... Bush is a Democrat.

There is a philosophy of life where you do the opposite of what you say. The philosophy makes people look extremely profound. The Leviathan on the Right shows how the Republican Party has morphed into the Democratic Party of the 1960s.

Anyway, I will re-iterate: The problem with the current economy is not a lack of spending. Our biggest problem is that we over consume and under invest. You can't solve the problem of borrowing and spending by borrowing and spending more.

If we simply have to have a spending program, then we should gear that spending program directly to decreasing our oil addiction. Spending on conservation might make a dent in fuel consumption and get people toward thinking sustainably. Other than that, we are better off suffering our recession as a recession would have the same effect of realigning our spending in a saner manner.

A bad idea is a bad idea, regardless of which party thunk it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Economic Realignment

According to the press, we are in the middle a global environmental catastrophe that will wreak greater havoc than WWI, The Depression and WWII combined. This catastrophe is happening because of wanton, idle American spending.

This little economic slowdown we are experiencing at the moment is precisely the type of thing that has to happen if we are to avert global catastrophe.

I just don't know what to say about the mouths that scream that we have to have a 50% drop in our consumption, and scream even louder if any economic slowdown occurs.

The US economy has been way out of sync for decades. We have a bloated service and housing sector and declining manufacturing sector. The little economic realignment that we are facing is addressing some of that imbalance. If the re-balancing happens without Congressional action, we would see a leaner economy with more exports and fewer imports.

Interestingly, the market took a nose dive on hearing the stimulus plans offered by Obama, Clinton and cacklers in Congress. The borrow and spend stimulus simply magnifies the imbalance.

Congress wants to do something to show that they aren't the big waste of taxpayers dollars that they appear to be. If they want to do something, then it should be on the line of reducing fuel consumption (ie conservation). My little plan is simply to allow a six month period where we cut the taxes people pay on installing insulation in houses and on tuning up cars. If we tuned up a million cars, we would have a temporary drop in oil consumption that would employ thousands of car tuner uppers, and insulation installers.

My clever scheme aside, all of the plans I've heard emanating from politicians would actually do worse for our economy and the environment than doing nothing and letting the market realign itself on its own.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Faith in America Part Two

This is a second post I wrote after Mitt Romney's speech on Religion. The first was about secularism.

Although Romney did not jump into how his faith affects his candidacy, I think it is a positive thing that people are talking about the way that faith affects politics.

Examining the role that religion should play in the life of a politician has the potential to improve both political discourse and the quality of religion in our society. Note, the article first looks at the role of personal beliefs, then religious groups as political machines.

Personal Beliefs

I do not hold that all religious beliefs are benign. I would be wary of candidates that made decisions based on superstitions such as astrology, that rejected science, or that had built some fantasy that separates the nation into the saved vs. unsaved or that saw capturing the presidency as a fulfillment of prophecy. This includes people with "scientific ideologies" where they are the catharsis of some bizarre thesis/antithesis conflict.

In other words, I want leaders that are actively engaged in the thought process and who don't have adhere to a foundational theories that might make them reject a large portion of the people.

I would reject candidates if they have religious beliefs that might affect their ability to do the job. I mentioned earlier that I would vote against any Hutterite running for the president because their moral objections to serving in the military disqualify them from serving as the Commander in Chief. I would not auto-reject Hutterites running for Congress.

On the plus side, I admire candidates who recognized that there is a higher authority in the universe beyond their own ego, and that seek spiritual strength in their religion.

This process of examining beliefs in the context of leadership can help improve religion. If a large number of people are uncomfortable with a set of beliefs of a candidate, this widespread rejection of the belief might indicate that there is something off about the belief. For example, many early Utahans believed fervently in polygamy. The widespread rejection of polygamy in the US caused a local re-examination of this quaint practice, and the quaint practice was largely abandoned.

Ideals v. Limits

One of the biggest pitfalls in discussing religion and politics is the desire to legislate one's morality.

I think this issue is best resolved by recognizing the difference between ideals and limits. The goal of religion is to help us define and hone our personal ideals. Government, however, deals in setting the limits necessary to run a civil society.

Personally, I am opposed to the death penalty and abortion. I realize, however, that I would not win arguments to abolish the death penalty. Passing laws against abortion would lead to a great deal of social unrest and may not make a big dent in reducing the problem. Although the ideas fall outside my personal belief system, I've reconciled to the fact that the government should concentrate primarily on those issues needed to run a civil society, and that society will never reflect my beliefs.

I think stating a moral objection to abortion is good. Providing alternatives to abortion is better. I would be horrified if the US were to start chasing down and imprisoning abortionists. It would rip our nation apart.

Now for the meaty part of the discussion:

Organized Religion

I love living in a nation with a diversity of churches and religious beliefs. So long as the candidate realizes that they are not on earth to legislate morality; I can reconcile myself to most candidates.

The really tough questions about politics and religion arise when religions start behaving like political machines. In the past quarter century, we've seen the rise of politically active mega churches. Some of the churches actually vet and run candidates.

The churches appear to be working as a politic machine. Some people have contended that the active evangelical political machine pushed Huckabee ahead of Romney in the Iowa caucus.

A sizeable portion of the politically active churches were Democratic in the 1950s, and became Republicans in reaction to the cultural revolution of the 60s and 70s. This is a big issue for the Republicans as the political machine churches are changing the overall character of the Republican Party. The Republicans I know in Colorado are horrified by the rise of the political influence of the mega churches as they are radically changing the message of the Republican Party.

To the extent that a church acts as a political machine, a candidate's relation to that church should be questioned as aggressively as the candidate's relation to any political organization.

Reacting against a church that appears to operate as a political machine is not religious prejudice.

If a candidate receives a great deal of money and support from a particular church, then the candidate's affiliation with the church should be called into question. Conversely, if a church has a history of voting in a block, and of disenfranchising people who are not affiliated with the church, then people are correct in reacting to the church as a political entity.

Manipulation of Religion

In some cases, there are people or groups of people who actually wish to inflame religious differences to gain power.

When we look through history, we find that many of the bad things done in the name of religion were not the direct result of the religion itself, but a result of people who were using religious sentiments and fears as a path to power.


I believe that debating the role faith in politics is a good thing. The process of self examination both benefits the political process and helps improve the quality of faith.

I believe that there some religious beliefs and affiliations that detract from the viability of a candidate. As the debate progresses, most of these issues fall to the side.

As the debate occurs, people should be attentive to whether or not the talk about religion unites people or causes people to split off into factions. If the debate causes people to flake off into factions or if it alienates large groups of people; I would say that the fracturing is a sign that either our religious or political thought is not as advanced as it should be.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tune Up

In my last sarcastic post, I was trying to make the point that a broad based economic stimulus package would not work. The 2001 dip in the economy was a response to a broad based economic downturn. The 2008 economic dip is being caused by imbalances in the economy. Our current problem is as follows:

The global economy is surging; so gas prices are high.

The surge in the global economy has created new environmental risks.

The global economic boom has our agricultural and energy sectors working at full tilt.

The housing, automobile and financial sectors are waning.

The manufacturing sector is also weak.

If we had a stimulus, it should be aimed specifically at the imbalance.

What I would do for an incentive is launch a two part program: The program would give, for a very limited time, cash coupons for people to tune-up and retrofit their cars for energy savings. The stimulus would also help pay for installing insulation or energy efficient furnaces and windows in older houses. (assuming newer houses are energy efficient).

Both programs would need to be for a specific short duration.

If we tuned up a large percentage of older cars, we probably would achieve a temporary reduction of a percentage point or more in fuel. A major push to insulate would result in long term savings on energy.

If we tuned-up a million older cars, we probably would save about 5 to 10 million gallons of gas for the remainder of the year. We might even convince people that regular tune ups are a good idea.

The two point program would immediately provide jobs in the domestic automotive and housing industries. (Energy efficient tune ups involve both parts and labor).

NOTE: A temporary tax cut incentive at this point in time would not really help the manufacturin sector. The manufacturing sector thinks long term. So a tax cut would just spur domestic consumption. The goods would come from the international market ... which is healthy.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Good News on the Economy

The greatest Hillary of all times succumbed to old age. Hillary's accomplishments included climbing Everest, the first land crossing of the South Pole, and a trip to the headwaters of the Ganges.

We are one step further from the age of great explorers.

Unfortunately, the lot of Generation X isn't to talk about great achievers. We have to babble about nattering nabobs of negatism that define American petty politics. So, this post is not about Hillary the Great, but Hillary the lesser. Hillary the lesser is better known as Clinton the Second, the annointed successor of Bush the Second.

This piece from the AP says that our fears of economic doom will subside if we vote for Hillary.

The press is partially correct on this. Our fears are driven by what we read in the paper. If they press stopped screeching doom and gloom, many of our fears would subside.

The press hates George Bush and want his presidency to end in an recession. Hoping to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, they've been screaming recession at a fevered pitch for a solid four months. Hedgefunds and international investors have gradually taken the hint and are shorting the American economy in astounding volumes. Check the short interest on stocks. It is reaching astronomical levels.

If Hillary is elected, the press will ease up on the propaganda attack. That will ease fears and perhaps the short attacks will subside. I admit, I might vote Democratic in November, simply so the press will tone down the pitch of its fevered scream. I have voted for more Democrats the Republicans in my life.

Of course, the press alone may not be able to save our economy come November. The US economy has some real serious problems. Our biggest problem is that both our government and consumers are locked in an addiction of borrowing and spending.

Oddly, Hillary's proposal to save the economy is to borrow $110 billion and to spend it in economic stimulus. The only place to get the $110 is from the international community which is shorting the American economy.

GW Bush was not any better on securing our future than Clinton. The Debt to the Penny page shows that George W. Bush was the worst president since LBJ for borrowing and spending.

Encouraging more domestic spending through incentive plans will not solve the current economic maladies of the United States.

What we really need at this point in time is a nationwide realignment of the economy, with more American resources invested in productivity and less on consumption.

In a world that considers global warming a primary threat to existence, artificially increasing consumer consumption is not wise.

Interestingly, in the current economic correction, the market is doing what needs to be done. US housing prices are falling. This makes housing more affordable for future Americans. There has been a small drop in our use of fossil fuels, which is good. There is a great deal of new investment in alternative fuels.

Businesswise, there has been a shift in the market from companies geared toward domestic consumption to those that produce energy and items for export.

I am a heartless bastard, but I would not be sad to see Americans consuming a lower portion of the world's resources.

For the most part. Good things are happening in this market correction. The only really bad things I see is that the economic realignment might increase the gap between rich and poor. The screaming from the press is causing people to panic sell at the bottom or the market (which increases the gap between rich and poor). The shorting is done by hedge funds that are the exclusive domain of the wealthy.

The gap between rich and poor will also grow because government policies force American workers to invest the bulk of their retirement income in their houses and in government securities via Social Security. The fact that our government has forced Americans into a poorly diversified portfolio that could cause widespread hardship in the future as these two mechanisms fail.

If the government were to take actions to allow Americans to diversify their portfolio with private accounts, we would see the gap between rich and poor wane.

Unfortunately, Hillary's spending stimulus does not address our systemic problems. It simply applies the failed policy of borrow and spend to an economy that is already leveraged to the hilt.

The really interesting thing about all of the reports that I am reading on Hillary's plan is the timing of the release of this plan.

I was expecting the press to launch into its praise of the Democratic borrow and spend stimulus in the general election.

Today's news reports praising Hillary Clinton's muddled thinking on the economy seems to be aimed at beating Obama in the primaries.

Perhaps Obama is a better candidate than I originally thought. As an independent, perhaps I should sneak into the Democratic booth and vote for Obama instead of sneaking into the Republican polling booth to vote for McCain.

Shallow Roots

Fallen TreeEven the healthiest of trees will fall when the roots are shallow.

There were several other trees down in the neighborhood. This particular tree was very health but the roots were shallow as the result of watering the lawn.

Absolutist Positions Often Backfire

I thought I should elaborate on the death penalty post.

I am not in favor of the death penalty. I believe that the abolition of the death penalty must done through the legislative branch.

Efforts to sneak an abolition of the death penalty through the courts with the argument that the executed might suffer pain will probably back fire.

The form of this argument seems simple: Opponents to the death penalty set the bar to a seemingly impossible level by saying that any execution method where we can detect pain should be prohibited. Since we can detect pain in all currently used execution methods, a single court case can effectively abolish the death penalty.

Technology is such that we could probably make machines that thwart the pain detection mechanisms.

A world where opponents to the death penalty abolished the practice through a court case that demanded a more humane execution machine will lead directly to a world with a more humane execution machine.

In this world, a biotech firm creates a euthenasia machine with a 99.99% success rate. This machine is certified by the scientific community to be humane and pain free. The logic of this new world is quite ugly.

The converse of the premise that execution is bad when the execution method is painful is that, when the method of execution is scientifically accepted as pain free, then execution is good.

This thrashing between extremes has played out several times in western history. Each time someone comes up with an execution method that is deemed humane, there is a spike in executions.

During the French Revolution the progressive elements were aghast and the torturous methods of execution used by the royalty. The society decided that guillotine was humane and egalitarian. The revolutionaries then put tens of thousands of people to the guillotine.

In the US, people decided that hanging was humane. If done right, hanging snaps the neck without severing the head. The hangings (and then lynchings) were done by people who thought they were being humane and were progressing society. BTW, in the first wave of lynchings, the victims were primarily white trash. It was not until blacks were being lynched en masse that our society turned against it.

The idea that the rightness or wrongness of executions lies with the execution method seems to lead to patterns of attrocity.

Abolishing the death penalty in the wrong venue with the wrong arguments invariably lead to world that thrashes between extremes.

BTW, we live in a world where it is generally accepted that "The Earth is in the Balance." The "Inconvient Truth" is that "global warming is caused by people."

The logic gets real ugly: People are the cause of catastrophic climate change. The methods to reduce CO2 are all a joke. The disciples of Thomas Malthus know the real problem is human population. You don't save the polar bear from drowning by CO2 caps. The only way to put the earth back in balance is by addressing the core problem: human population.

The last thing we need in a world that universally accepts that humans are the cause of global warming is a business community working feverishly to create a humane execution machine, and a population that wrongly believes that developing a humane death machine would make executions a good thing.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Glass Booth

I took the Glass Booth survey. It says I am most like McCain.

Actually, during the survey, my primary thought was that the president shouldn't be the primary factor in a very large number of the questions.

For example, education should be our primary concern as a society. It is so important, that the Federal Government should not be involved in it.

The federal government is distant. It sould deal with distant concerns.

Education is near. Healthcare is even closer. The people should be the ones in charge of handling the issues that are near and dear to the heart.

Our minds are strange. We seem to want to solve the problems that are out of our reach with our local resources, then try to grab resources from afar to handle the issues close at hand.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Dying a Miserable Death

Quandry: If you execute a death row inmate, there is always a chance the execution goes wrong, and the executed dies a miserable death.

Of course, if you let the inmate live they might die a miserable death.

Although I am not a big fan of the death penalty, I find the argument that we should abolish the penalty because of the possibility the executed might feel pain unsatisfying.

Trying to make humanity in execution an absolute is absurd. I say that, if on average the pain suffered by the executed is less than what would be expected in a natural death, then we are being humane.

This case, where the Supreme Court might abolish the death penalty on an esoteric argument about absolutes, is a prime example of Judicial activism at its worse.

You can find absolutist positions and paradoxes in every conceivable topic. The pattern used in this case really is one where the court legislates from the bench.

Even though I am not big on the death penalty, the abolition of the death penalty needs to go through the legislative branch to be authentic. Death penalty opponents are wrong for trying to pursue their goals in the court. It is the wrong venue.

Our country is in a mess because our Courts spend their days trying to legislate and adminstrate policies. The legislature spends its days putting people on public trial and trying to micromanage the administration of policy. The administration spends its day writing legislation and trying to find ways to skirt court rulings.

Our government is failing because the branches of government spend their days trying to take on authorities that are best left with the other branches. Meanwhile they fail in accomplishing their own duties.

What's Behind the Hedge?

IMHO, the trend toward private equity firms and hedge funds is extremely dangerous to our economy. A hedge fund further increases the distance between the population at large and and ownership.

Most hedge funds are complex mixes of stocks, short positions and derivatives. The goal of a hedge fund is to have a complex mix of derivatives to eliminate risk. Note the goal of the hedge fund is risk reduction and not production.

Hedge funds have very little concern for production. The quality of what gets produced doesn't even enter the thinking. They are about what the charts say. Unfortunately, it is very easy for hedge funds to fall into the dark side of finance. As the funds gain ownership, they are likely to engage in manipulating the charts.

Patrick Byrne put together an interesting site called Deep Capture, the Movie that explores what happens as these hedge funds capture ownership. There is reason to believe that manipulation is going on. For example, you will find hedge funds taking massive short positions in a stock followed a week later by a class action investor lawsuit.

There also seems to be patterns where a hedgefund will take a short position followed by a reporter with connections to the hedgefund doing attack pieces on the company shorted.

The complex short positions of hedgefunds means that they will actually have voting rights in a company that is not proportional to the risks shared by the rest of the investors.

There appears to be more manipulation going in the stock market than at any time since the fabled manipulations by Joseph P. Kennedy (1888 – 1969) that gave him the capital to buy his son the presidency and his chidren the Democratic Party.

The idea that there should be a different type of investment tool for the rich that allows them to externalize risks onto the middle class is absurd.

I wish Mr. Byrne well in his fight against the corruption of Wall Street. Unfortunately, he has been marginalized by supporting diversity in the education market. So, he will continue to get that big ugly snear that distinguishes the highly biased liberal press.

Tinting on the Glass

My car failed inspection. It has tinting on the rear windshield. Apparently, the car had been in a wreck and rebuilt (hmmm, I should have bought the Carfax report). Anyway, I had to remove the tinting. This broke the rear defrost.

So, I had to make my car less safe to pass a safety inspection.

Of course, the purpose of regulation isn't to promote safety but to exercise power. The argument that compliance creates a hazard simply elicits blank stare.

If you were wondering how the tinting got there. Well, apparently, the car had been in a wreck and was rebuilt by a car enthusiast. The purpose of hyper regulation is to keep individuals from starting small businesses that recycle materials like wrecked cars.

Our government is sick.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Distance from Ownership

I the last post I used two extremely strange terms. These were "distance-from-ownership" and "meaningful-ownership." I specifically avoided using the term "employee ownership." The response to the post talked about Enron and the perils of employee ownership. This new post really is the response to a response. I made it a new post because I wanted to highlight the care I put in selecting those terms.

By distance of ownership, I am referring both the physical and social distance there is between the workers in a company and the owners. For example, a worker in a small business who has physical access to the owner of the company has a short distance from the owner than a person in a large firm. I understand that Costco is a great place to work. They have 132,000 employees. These people are extremely distant from ownership.

Another negative trend is that firms are being gobbled up by hedge funds. A firm may be small, but if the firm is owned by a hedge fund in the Cayman Islands, then the people are distant from ownership.

There are 10 million public school teachers. The schools are owned by the state. These people are essentially an infinite distance from ownership.

The term "meaningful ownership" refers to the extent to which your ownership of an equity has influence. An employee might own stock, but unless the employee is able to affect corporate decisions through the ownership of stock, then it really isn't meaningful.

Enron was a company with 22,000 employees. It had a capitalization of $64B. Owning stock did not give the workers any additional meaning in the company.

According to the Senate Hearing on Enron the employee ownership really was a scam. Enron would match 401K contributions if it was sunk in Enron stock. The employees would not be allowed to sell the stock until they were 57. Essentially, Enron was using the employees as a tool for buying company stock to artificially inflate the company's valuation.

I am not the sharpest tool in the shed. However, I would say that being prevented from selling something is a pretty good sign that you don't own it.

In the stock market, an individual investor does not have meaningful influence on the decisions of the company. Their only really power is in the ability to sell it.

The ideal of employee ownership is paradoxical as the ability to sell something is one of the most fundamental principles behind ownership.

The Leftist goal of workers ownership of production is also paradoxical (everything on the far left is a paradox). To the extent that a person works, they are a worker to the extent that they own, they are an owner.

NOTE, in my post on Change for the American Worker, I used the term "portion of production," instead of "company." I was not saying that workers should own stock in their company, but that workers should own a greater percentage of all stock.

I would love to see a more equitable distribution of ownership in our society. An equitable distribution of ownership can never happen in the convoluted thinking of the Marxist Dialectic which is driven by paradoxes like the demand that the worker owns the means of production. Leftist thinking always leads to a state where the government owns everything, and the people at large are infinitely distant from ownership, and really have no meaningful impact on ownership.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Fixing the Car Company Problem

My last post on GM and Ford said that making employees even more distant from the ownership of production is not the answer to the angst of the American worker. The solution is move them closer to meaningful ownership.

The UAW is not the sole problem in the industry. The primary problem in automobile manufacturing, and other industries, is the monopolistic thinking that led to this situation where there are only two automobile companies in the US.

In many cases unions are part of the problem as they are concentrating on gaining political power. The path to political power is to destroy competition.

If the aim of the employee organizations was to enhance the financial status of its members, then the employee organizations would be working to find paths to meaningful ownership by the employees.

I don't think employee organizations are inherently evil. I think they are very good things. The problem is with structures whose primary focus is garnering political power. These organizations inevitably concentrate power in the few, and start impoverishing the people they disenfranchise.

It looks like Ford and GM might completely implode in the upcoming years. The way our Democratic process works, there will be a big bailout for the car companies. A superior way to solving the problem would be to break Ford and GM into a structure where there's multiple small companies producing cars. The problem with trying to break things up is that all of the mechanisms that demand massive consolidation are still in place.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Change for American Workers

If we really wanted change for American workers, we would structure things so that they owned a greater portion of production.

The best shot we had at this in ages was the private accounts provision of Bush's Social Security Reform bill. Regulating business into non-existence doesn't solve the ownership problem. It simply creates a world where neither owners nor workers own companies. John Edwards methodology produces world class poverty.

The Edwards campaign does a great job of rising fear, wealth envy and even out right hatred. His primary campaign promise is to tax, sue and regulate any US company that makes a profit until the company collapses in submission.

For a preview of the world Edward envisions, one might take a gander at Ford and GM. Ford seems to have fallen from a high flying $40 per share a few years back to just $6/share today. Ford Motor Company is now but a $12.7B company. The analysts seem to be predicting that the stock will fall to $4 in the near future. However, when you look at the balance sheet and future liabilities, both Form and GM really are bankrupt. I wouldn't buy at $4.

Their problem, of course, is that instead of taking the organic route where employees share ownership. The UAW demanded that Ford take the fool's route of promising fixed pensions and health care. Fixed pensions are a bad idea, because you really can't predict the economy out far enough to make intelligent decisions. Guessing too high or too low has consequences for the pensioner.

The real killer is health care. In a third party health care scheme, prices aren't fixed. The cost of health care will simply rise until something breaks ... like our economy.

BTW, further socializing medicine wouldn't make health care more affordable.

Looking at the world oil supply, you would notice that a greater percentage of the supply is coming from nationalized oil fields that an any time since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The profits of politically connected companies skyrocket as governments get bigger, and ownership becomes more distant from the people.

Contrary to what the Democratic candidates contend. The solution isn't to make ownership infinitely distance from the people. It is to find ways to transfer ownership back to people.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


It went as I expected.

Two underdogs took Iowa.

People are so upset with the shrill non-dialog that dominates Washington; I figured that both parties would lap up whichever candidate best positioned himself as an idealistic dark horse candidate.

For Romney fans: I think he would have done better if he spent his millions on a different state. Romney would do better if he kept to the image of the person who rushed in at the eleventh hour to save the olympics.

Obama and Hucklebee took two very interesting approaches. Hucklebee is using religion as the thing that makes him stand out as the strong moral character who will fix Washington. Obama is using idealism to make himself stand out.

I admit, I am an idealist to the core. Unfortunately, my ideals run in the direction that says freedom, not big government, is the way for people to achieve their ideals.

I am jealous that Obama got away with being idealistic. I am always heaped with scorn when I try to explain to people why freedom would solve most of the problems that are being caused by big government, big business, big unions, big education and big media.

If Ron Paul wasn't quite so dogmatic, he might have been able to ignite a revival of the ideals of classical liberalism in the Republican Party.

BTW, Obama made a slip in his caucus victory speech. He said that he wished to make health care affordable. The way you make health care affordable is to get big government, big business, big lawyers and big education out of the picture. As mentioned earlier, health care is primarily a human to human service. It is the regulation and idiocy created by lawsuits that create this situation where a simple doctor's appointment is financially out of reach for most of America.

My dog gets far better treatment for a tenth the cost of what I've received from the bureaucare that masquerades as medicine in America.

Anyway, having government pay for health care doesn't make health care affordable. What it does is create an illusion. Having government pay for medical simply makes the big government the grand arbiter of health care. People who are disenfranchised will continue to receive substandard care.

Imagine who cool it would be if Obama saw value in freedom? If he was a champion for liberty and not a champion for subjugation, he would be a killer candidate.

Obama is correct about one thing. If a Democrat were elected the unceasing shrill attacks on the United States from the media would abate for a bit.

Unfortunately, the Republicans have to plan for a different reality. If they win, the shrill attacks from the media will continue unabated. Electing a Baptist preacher is the absolute worst decision the Republicans could make. Guiliani, Romney or McCain have more experience at living in a world where the press is controlled by a leftist media.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


I just stumbled on this site called ICE (Igniting Creative Energy). ICE is a challenge for students that encourages experimenting on ways to conserve resources. The deadline for entry is January 31, 2008.

Happy $100 a Barrel Day

Happy Hundred Dollar a Barrel Oil Day!!

The worldwide economy is rocking ... but it isn't rocking wisely.

I really hope people use this day to turn down the heat, and figure out how to save energy.

I've kind of scratched the bottom on my energy usage. I turn off the lights and use a crank flashlight. I stuffed my thermorest and sleeping pad against the windows. I toss in a few tennis balls with the laundry to reduce drying time.

The only thing I think of is to turn off the computer.

How could I live without the soft glow of the terminal to light the night.

BTW, crosscountry skiing is a much more interesting way to enjoy the winter than a snowmobile. The only thing I really don't like about crosscountry skiing is the occasional run in with really rude snowmobilers, and being forced to breathe the noxious fumes the noisy machines emit.

I've cut my personal enegy usage as far as I can go. So, I am left to pontificating to others. If you are planning a winter recreation event; try crosscountry skis.