Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Second Opinion

Former Law Adviser Speaks Out On Bush - Jack Goldsmith is a conservative lawyer who served as head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department. He resigned after just nine months and his book paints an ugly picture. The entire review is well worth reading. The W administration did whatever it wanted, then looked around for a lawyer to confirm that this was legal. Often they found John Yoo, a lawyer who did not let a small thing like the Constitution (or the Geneva convention or any other source of law) interfere with his legal opinion that W and Darth Cheney could torture and wiretap at will. Administration officials were constantly pushing the lawyers to expand executive authority. Michael Hayden (then NSA, now CIA Director) wanted to be sure that he "had chalk on his spikes", i.e., that he was acting at the outer boundary of executive authority. Thanks to Mr. Yoo's advice, Darth and W went so far beyond the chalk line that their cleats were picking up popcorn from the cheap seats near the top of the stadium. Yoo was a lap dog, selected for his conservative views, desperately eager to please in the post 9/11 world and directly loyal to Darth and W with an eye on the main chance and not much concern for his Justice Department superiors. A process in which an executive constantly pushes an independent, principled and capable lawyer for approval can work, the lawyer can say no when the law so dictates, witness Goldsmith's service. Although sometimes functional, executive pressure is not the best way to go - it's more fun to have a client who actually wants an advisor during the decision making process, not a rubber stamping scape goat. Even when the executive pressure system works, it makes life miserable for the lawyer (Goldsmith lasted only nine months) and requires nearly superhuman dedication unless the lawyer has organizational support. The Justice Department was at least somewhat functional until Mr. Gonzales, another lap dog, took over. An executive giving orders to a lap dog doesn't generate advice, it generates an excuse. Mr. Yoo's sole function was to justify W's "we didn't do anything illegal" soundbite when the extent of his domestic surveillance was uncovered. Sit Yoo sit, roll over Albert, atta boys, now tell us we don't need warrants for domestic surveillance - great job, here's a steak we'll ask you to define torture tomorrow. W and Darth should get no co credit for relying on advice of counsel in a process they rigged. Goldsmith's book is undoubtedly self serving, but as a conservative insider who shared W's objectives, his story has credibility.

An Opportunity for Wall Street In China's Surveillance Boom - China continues to install a grid of cameras and face recognition software and function as Internet super nanny. This technology can be used to fight traditional crime (muggers, Internet kiddie porn or fraud). It can also be used to repress dissent, free speech and political opposition. So what's new? Chinese security official Li Runsen made it obvious that he's getting rich from the surveillance by putting himself on the board of a private surveillance technology supplier incorporated in the US. California Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos is sputtering publicly about the fact that US hedge funds and investment banks are funding China's police state through investment in the the suppliers. The financiers point to surveillance cameras in NYC and say what's the problem. The problem is that NYC is not a repressive one party state (well at least we have a meaningful primary once in a while) that crushes democracy with tanks when the occasion arises. Supplying the high-tech police state is certainly a lucrative business. Returns must be great when the party officials involved in the suppliers are also guiding the purchases. Beware nonetheless, US financiers, it's only a matter of time before this technology is used to make sure that everyone who shows up for the next Tiananmen Square (wherever it may be, even if it is a virtual rally) and everyone who knows anyone who shows up for the next Tiananmen Square will be hunted down and reeducated. Then you, Barry Kitt of Pinnacle and you, Kenneth Griffin of Citadel, and you Jeff Feinberg of JLF can take pride in your role, and if you would prefer to forget about it, then I suspect Congressman Lantos and many others will be kind enough to remind you.

Low Technologies High Aims - MIT hosts the International Development Design Summit, the engineering and design equivalent (or perhaps much needed partner would be a better view) to the red hot field of microcapitalism. The goal -find affordable, available solutions for real needs of less developed areas, the backpack that makes it easier to carry water, the bicycle powered grain mill, the expandable drip irrigation system. The Summit is a four week workshop (including the welding seminar pictured above) that makes real progress on specific projects, not just a meet, greet, inspire and scatter. Let's add a fifth week next time, invite hedge funds in to view the projects as potential investments, maybe come up with a home for some money that doesn't help to make a powerful police state impregnable.

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