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October 09, 2013

Yellowstone Park Goon Squads, Media Ignorance, and Media Ideology

Ideology and partisan leaning permit people who are ignorant of the facts and the law to have an overly-firm opinion on matters they know nothing about.

Note this doesn't mean that ideological people are ignorant of the facts, law, economics, history, or all the rest. In fact, some of the most ideological people are the most informed. Surveys consistently show that independent voters -- those without a firm ideology (or at least one they admit to having) tend to be the least informed of all the population, the so-called Low Information Voters.

(As an Independent myself, I'm not saying all Independents are ignorant, of course. But, as a group, they do have the lowest level of information about current events and politics.)

While ideology is no bar to having actual expertise, ideology does permit those without any particular expertise to have an opinion on matters they know little about. A conservative will at least have a First Approximation on a matter by trying to figure out if a policy or law reduces freedom or expands it. A leftist similarly will form a First Approximation of an opinion by deciding if a law or policy advances a group in the leftist coalition.

This is not abnormal or wrong; when people are on an unknown road, without any familiar landmarks, they resort to very general rules of road-travel. A leftist is predisposed to take the left fork, for example, and a conservative the right. (A libertarian gets out a coin and flips it.)

The problem is that the media makes these sorts of decisions out of nearly perfect ignorance, but, having a Corporate Mission of presenting itself as Expert and Informed on every issue, cannot admit that it is simply groping based upon its ideology, and dresses up its partisan/ideological guesses as "expertise."

Even when they have no expertise. Indeed, in the case of Shutdown Theater, they are missing such a basic element of property law as to be laughably, ridiculously ignorant.

The media has several reasons for not giving any play to shutdown theater. The first is obviously simple partisanship -- they know Obama is a weak president, they all support Obama, and they want him to "win" in the current fight, as the summer and fall have been dominated by nothing but high-profile failures, embarrassments, climbdowns, and reversals.

They know further that Obama's odds of "winning" the current fight depend heavily on public opinion, so they execute Obama's tactical plan of making the shutdown appear to be solely the work of Republicans. Any contrary storyline confuses the Narrative -- by the way, media, most Narratives should be somewhat confused by contrary facts and indications, don't you think?

Is the Truth ever as simple as the White Hat/Black Hat Narrative the media favors? It continues to astonish me that the media credits itself as being nuanced, enlightened thinkers comfortable with doubt and contrary factual signals and yet continues to present a Babyfood Leftist Narrative to its declining audience.

While simple partisanship explains much of media behavior, one must not discount the operation of simple, complete, out-of-their depths ignorance.

And that's what I'll be talking about for the rest of this article. They're missing something rather Huge in property law, and this ignorance permits them to continue to believe there's nothing at all wrong with the National Park Service capturing public lands for partisan political ends.

And I do mean Huge. This is first-year stuff. This is not just first-year stuff, this is first-half of the first-year stuff.

But the media doesn't know a whole lot of Huge things, but they paper over their manifold ignorances with the confident swagger of the Righteously, Ignorantly, Indignantly Partisan.



For a factual predicate, let's turn to the Park Service's behavior at Yellowstone Park, where Park Service outlaws (and they are outside the law) blocked the views of Old Faithful with SUVs, to prevent tourists (with a right to be on the property) from having the enjoyment of simply looking at Old Faithful.

Do they have the legal right to do this? No. The media doesn't understand this, however, as they're ignorant. Because they are ignorant of the law, their ignorance serves to permit their ideology and partisan rooting interest to make the call on this behavior, and deem it normal and acceptable.

I'll get to that in a bit.

Jonathan V. Last calls this possibly the worst scandal of the Obama administration, and I think he's right. And yet the media treats this all as Business as Usual; what's all the fuss?

Again, later on, I'll explain it, for the ignoramuses of the partisan reflex Bennington College Media.

The conduct of the National Park Service over the last week might be the biggest scandal of the Obama administration. This is an expansive claim, of course. Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the IRS, the NSA, the HHS mandate--this is an administration that has not lacked for appalling abuses of power. And we still have three years to go.

Even so, consider the actions of the National Park Service since the government shutdown began. People first noticed what the NPS was up to when the World War II Memorial on the National Mall was “closed.” Just to be clear, the memorial is an open plaza. There is nothing to operate. Sometimes there might be a ranger standing around. But he’s not collecting tickets or opening gates. Putting up barricades and posting guards to “close” the World War II Memorial takes more resources and manpower than “keeping it open.”

The closure of the World War II Memorial was just the start of the Park Service’s partisan assault on the citizenry. There’s a cute little historic site just outside of the capital in McLean, Virginia, called the Claude Moore Colonial Farm. They do historical reenactments, and once upon a time the National Park Service helped run the place. But in 1980, the NPS cut the farm out of its budget. A group of private citizens set up an endowment to take care of the farm’s expenses. Ever since, the site has operated independently through a combination of private donations and volunteer workers.

The farm’s administrators appealed this directive--they explained that the Park Service doesn’t actually do anything for the historic site. The folks at the NPS were unmoved. And so, last week, the National Park Service found the scratch to send officers to the park to forcibly remove both volunteer workers and visitors.

Think about that for a minute. The Park Service, which is supposed to serve the public by administering parks, is now in the business of forcing parks they don’t administer to close.

....

But the pièce de résistance occurred in South Dakota. The Park Service wasn’t content just to close Mount Rushmore. No, they went the extra mile and put out orange cones to block the little scenic overlook areas on the roads near Mount Rushmore. You know, just to make sure no taxpayers could catch a glimpse of it.

It’s one thing for politicians to play shutdown theater. It’s another thing entirely for a civil bureaucracy entrusted with the privilege of caring for our national heritage to wage war against the citizenry on behalf of a political party.

Please read the whole thing, or at the very least click on the whole thing, as I've swiped a bit more from Jonathan Last than is really kosher.

Now, I know why the media doesn't think this is Any Big Deal. And I know this, because while the Uninformed cannot accurately guess the mind of the Informed, the Informed may in fact make very accurate guesses about the workings of the mind of the Uninformed. All one has to do is strip all knowledge from one's mind, and ponder, "What would the Ignorant Man think of all this, if he didn't know anything at all about it?"

Well, the Ignorant Man would proceed from Analogy. The Ignorant Man would think, "Well, if Starbucks wished to close its shops as a political protest against the GOP, or against citizens generally, in order to damage the GOP politically, they'd be perfectly within their rights to do so. If Starbucks had, say, a traveling collection of artworks they displayed on their walls, and wished to cover those artworks up whenever some (or all) of the public entered, that would be Starbucks' right. That might be politically unpopular, and disastrous for business, but they'd have every legal right to do that."

And the Ignorant Man would be right. And yet his analogy fails because the situations are not analogous -- and the Ignorant Man not only doesn't know that they're not analogous, but he's so ignorant he lacks the imagination to even speculate as to how they might not be analogous.

99% of all property in America is owned according to what I'll call "unified ownership interest," even though that's a term I just made up. Starbucks owns its shops (and let's put aside the fact that they lease much of their space; a lease is not a full ownership interest, but during the period of the lease, the lessee has virtually all rights associated with ownership, so long as he satisfies his obligations per the contract of lease).

This "unified ownership interest" is so common that many people think it's the only form of ownership.

But in fact 1% of property (caveat: I'm just guessing at numbers here; I doubt there's an actual study that pins this down) is not held in such a "unified ownership interest."

It's held in trust. And the owner of record is not the beneficial owner. The legal owner is not the same as the owner who is to enjoy the benefits flowing from ownership.

Starbucks is not just the owner of record of Starbucks, it's not just the nominal, on-paper owner of Starbucks. Starbucks is all that, plus it is also the beneficial owner of Starbucks.

These are two separate concepts of ownership and these terms I'm not making up. These are the real legal terms for a division of the normal parcel of rights of ownership. Google it.

The division is simple, and would occur to anyone, if they gave it a moment's thought. The simplest illustration of a split in nominal ownership and beneficial ownership is a trust fund set up for a three year old child. The child is obviously too young to make any kind of decisions about the trust; instead, a trustee is appointed to make trades, sell parts of the trust (for profit), pay taxes, and so on.

The trustee is the nominal owner of the property contained in the trust. On paper, he owns it. That's why we call him the owner-of-record. And he must have the legal ownership over the trust, because when he sells or buys for the trust, his counter-party must know that the trustee has the legal right to undertake the sales and purchases of the trust. No one would want to strike a deal for a purchase of a $350 million property if a three-year-old baby could pop up at any time and say "Goo-goo gah-gah, I don' wanna buy this lakefront property. Goo-goo gah-gah, I hereby abrogate this contract."

But while the trustee is the nominal owner of the property, he is not the beneficial owner of it. The beneficial owner -- the true owner -- is the baby. The trustee is legally permitted to make decisions affecting the property held in trust, but only for the purposes of ultimately benefiting the beneficial owner. The beneficial owner is the owner who is to accrue all benefits from the trust.

The trustee cannot, for example, agree to purchase stock at a higher-than-market price on the condition that the man he's buying for purchase his own property at a higher-than-market rate. That is, he cannot leverage trust property as a sweetener to benefit his own bank account.

If he's discovered doing that, he will be removed as trustee, probably disbarred, and possibly jailed (for embezzlement, or a similar crime).

Note that where these two interests -- owner-of-record interest, and beneficial interest -- united in the same person, there would be no problem at all with this sort of deal, where one party agrees to pay a bit too much for one thing, on the condition the counter-party pays a bit too much for something else. Such deals are so common there's not even a good word for them. They just are.

But when an owner-of-record attempts to leverage property he only "owns" as a nominal owner in order to benefit himself --and not the trust, and not the beneficiary of the trust -- using the assets of the trust, it's criminal conduct.

The media does not know this. The media is not expert in anything beyond Writing Things Down and Having a Good Phone Voice, but they present themselves as General Universal Experts Without Portfolio.

But they're not. In fact, they're not even well-informed enough to even know what the hell I'm talking about here, and then ask questions of an actual expert. They don't even know that much -- they don't know enough to know they're on unfirm ground with their Starbucks analogy, and therefore should ask an actual expert before making large conclusions based on a flawed analogy.

The Park Service -- the Interior Department -- is in fact the owner-of-record of these public spaces. They are legally entitled and obligated to manage these spaces... but as a trustee, as an owner of record, acting for the actual benefit of the true owner of the property, which is itself, of course, the American public.

If the Park Service actually was both owner-of-record and beneficial owner, they would have unified rights in this regard, and could act on whim and out of obvious self-dealing personal interest (in as much as all Government Workers would like to maximize pressure on Taxpayers to extract money from them), and that would all be legal.

Annoying and horrible, but legal.

But these ownership interests are not in fact united in the Park Service, or the Interior Department. All public lands -- and I won't even bother to look this up, but go ahead and check -- are held "for the enjoyment and benefit of the American people."

They're held in trust. And when you hold something in trust for the benefit of someone else, you are not permitted to make self-interested decisions about the the use of the property.

A "unified interest" owner could make all sorts of capricious and publicly-harming decisions about his property -- and while he might be a dick, he wouldn't be a lawbreaker.

I can be arbitrary and capricious with my banning policy. That will get me grief, but I do not hold this blog in trust for any commenter. I own it outright, and hence can act capriciously with my property.

But someone who holds property in trust for the benefit of someone else is legally required to:

1) Make all reasonable efforts to afford the beneficial owner of the enjoyment of the property of the trust, and,

2) Scrupulously avoid damaging the interests of the beneficial owner, for example, to personally benefit a third party or the trustee himself.

Here are some other things a trustee cannot do:

He cannot attempt to exert pressure on the beneficiary of the trustee by denying him the enjoyment of the property held in trust (except to the extent that is spelled out in the instrument establishing the trust).

He cannot harm the beneficiary of the trust to "Teach the beneficiary a lesson" about the Important Work the trustee does.

He cannot blockade the property of the trust to put political pressure on a political party he doesn't favor.

He cannot use the property of the trust for his own benefit and enjoyment.

He cannot capriciously decide that the beneficiary of the trust shall not have the natural rights of enjoyment of the trust, just because he's Mad at the Beneficiary.

And he definitely, definitely may not block the beneficiary from enjoying the property held in his name to coerce the beneficiary to pay him more for his services as trustee, or to give more freely to charities the trustee favors.

Obama does not own the military, the government, or the national parks, media. Obama instead is the trustee of these things -- but is required to oversee them for the benefit of their true owners, the American People.

Lands held in trust are not "owned" by the government in the same way that the Starbucks Corporation is owned by the Starbucks shareholders. Starbucks shareholders not only own a piece of the company on paper, but also own the beneficial interest of that piece of the company. Dividends accrue to their benefit, not some third-party beneficiary of the Starbucks Trust.

This why we on the right make such a big deal over whether these moves "save money" or not - if they saved money, these moves could, arguably, be credited as actually benefiting the trustees, and hence would, arguably, be legal.

But when the government is actually Spending More Money to harass and harm citizens, sorry media, there is no possible way to construe this as "acting for the benefit of the trustees."

Blockading someone's view of Mount Rushmore or Old Faithful obviously does not "preserve" the trust, as viewing does not damage the property held in trust.

So no, Media, actually it's not just like Starbucks, and it's not business as usual for a trustee to deliberately harm and harass the actual beneficial owner of the property of the trust.

In fact, it's illegal.

And if you knew a damn thing about anything, this would have occurred to you.

But you don't, so it didn't, and your nasty, ignorant obnoxiously-overconfident leftist ideology papers over all the gaps in your knowledge base.


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posted by Ace at 02:30 PM

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