Friday, November 30, 2007

More on marijuana property return

Here's a link to DrugLawBlog's discussion of the Garden Grove medical marijuana property return case. Alex is a smart attorney and very attuned to the issues involved (which not all attorneys are.

While we're at it, here's Alex's discussion of the dispostiion of a similar return-of-property case in Colorado just decided.

Previewing Annapolis

It's maybe a bit dated now, but here's the Register's editorial printed the day before the Annapolis meeting. It shows what we expected (not much) and a few criteria to try to judge whether the idea of a peace process is serious. Can't say that the criteria were exactly met.

Peace prospects not strong

Here's a link to the Register's editorial today on the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the wake of the Condi-Bush meeting in Annapolis. We conclude that it's not a bad thing for the two sides to meet and talk, but that the "core" issues separate the two sides too deeply to expect much from the process.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Legal issues in medical marijuana return-of-property case

Here are some of the legal issues dealt with in Garden Grove v. Superior Court of Orange County, the medical marijuana return-of-property case that was decided in such a resoundingly favorable way yesterday in California.

The basic conflict, of course, is between federal law, which dictates essentially total prohibition of marijuana, without -- as the Oakland Cannabis Cooperative Supreme Court decision affirmed (wrongly in my view) -- any provision for medical necessity. The Raich case decided (again incorrectly) that the Commerce Clause allowing federal regulation of interstate commerce, allows for such total prohibition even for cannabis grown in California that has not crossed state lines or been exchanged for money because it might (though the decision offered no real evidence that it did) affect the illicit interstate commerce in cannabis.

Garden Grove argued that this total federal prohibition prevented police officers (sworn to uphold the law) from returning marijuana to a patient even though there was no drug charge pending against him. They didn't quite argue (though they came up to the edge of it) that federal law invalidated state law. But they even maintained that officers might be subject to federal prosecution if they gave the patient's property back to him. They also tried to argue that California law, even with the Compassionate Use Act in place, didn't require them to return the marijuana.

The appeals court first reluctantly gave the city standing to pursue the case, but only because it was a matter of public interest about which various courts had ruled differently. Then it poiinted out that under the law, in keeping and disposing of seized property, the police were strictly an agent of the courts, without independent decision-making authority. They clarified that California law enforcement officers, while they may cooperate with the feds when state and federal law coincided, were sworn to enforce California law as their first priority. The argument that returning the marijuana could be a federal crime was defeated by noting a federal law gives officers (and doctors in some cases) immunity from prosecution when handling controlled substances in the course of their duties, that it became trafficking only when there was an intention to aid and abet the illegal drug trade, which was obviously not the case.

They then went through the Oakland and Raich decisions, pointing out that they dealt only with federal law, and that neither case invalidated California law, but respected the federalist principle that some states might have laws that differ from federal law and that this was good for local control and the possibility of experimentation and innovation. (I attended the Oakland oral arguments, during which Justice Ginsburg asked the government attorney why she wasn't asserting the federal supremacy clause, to which she replied that this was a case where state and federal law differed, and the case was about interpretation of federal law.)

Key quote: "Kha ... is a qualified patient whose marijuana possession was legally sanctioned under state law. That is why he was not subjected to a criminal trial, and that is why the state cannot destroy his marijuana. It is also why the police cannot continue continue to retain his marijuana. Because Kha is legally entitled to possess it, due process and fundamental fairness dictate that it be returned to him." Fnal graph: "Mindful as we are of the general supremacy of federal law, we are unable to discern any justification for the City or its police department to disregard the trial court's order to return Kha's marijuana. The order is fully consistent with state law respecting possession of medical marijuana, and for all the reasons discussed, we do not believe the federal drug laws supersede or preempt Kha's right to the return of his property."

Court protects California's medical marijuana law

The most encouraging news of the day to me was the decision by the California 4th District appeals court upholding a local court order for the Garden Grove police to return about a third of an ounce of marijuana to young Felix Kha, a qualified medical marijuana patient. Kha was stopped two years ago for running a red light. He consented to a search of his car, and the cops found a bag labeled "medical marijuana" on his front passenger seat. He then showed them a doctor's recommendation, but the police went ahead and confiscated his cannabis, then charged him with transportation and the traffic infraction.

After confirming that the recommendation was from a duly licensed physician the prosecutor declined to prosecute on the drug charge. Kha pleaded guilty to the traffic beef and asked the court to order the police to return his property. The court held a hearing and then did so, on the fairly obvious grounds that as a patient he was legally entitled to have it, and since no charges were pending there was no need to keep it as evidence.

The city appealed, on various grounds, largely having to do with the fact that marijuana possession and distribution is still illegal under federal law and the cops didn't want to break federal law. The appeals court told them -- quite correctly -- that their primary job was to uphold California law, not to enforce federal law.

I talked to Joe Elford, Kha's attorney (by way of Americans for Safe Access). He told me what he found gratifying was that two of the members of the unanimous three-judge panel were former district attorneys and Judge Bedsworth, who wrote the decision, had been president of the Orange County DA's Assn. Since the Calif. District Attorneys Assn, along with the state sheriffs' association and the peace officers association had all filed Amicus briefs on behalf of Garden Grove, it was nice to see the former DAs on the bench set them straight. (California's Attorney General, Bill Lockyer then, Jerry Brown now, filed an Amicus on behalf of Kha.)

And the 41-page decision is a strong one. It made clear the court was granting standing to the city only because it was an issue of such public interest and one that different courts had decided differently. Then it proceeded to blow every city contention out of the water in strong and sometimes outright dismissive language. At the end it took on the arguments in the enforcers' brief and blew them away too.

Garden Grove's city attorney didn't return my phone call today, but I'd be surprised if the city didn't appeal to the California Supreme Court. They've already wasted a certain amount of the taxpayers' money trying to nullify (and that's the right word) the medical marijuana law California's voters approved way back in 1996, so they'll probably continue. But it's difficult for me to see the high court abandoning California law the way the cops (!) will be asking it to.

Garden Grove is hardly alone in its hard-nosed (and I would argue outright illegal) attitude toward patients. Americans for Safe Access says it has had reports from 800 patients over the last two years, and in 90 percent of the encounters with law enforcement, the cops confiscate the cannabis, despite seeing valid doctor recommendations. If this decision is appealed, of course, it could be a couple of months before the decision takes effect, even if the high court declines to hear the case, which would be the best outcome. But it could make life easier for patients right away if even some local police forces start doing the right thing even before the order from the courts is fully decisive. The California Highway Patrol used to be the worst offendor, confiscating patient cannabis every time it found it, but after ASA presented solid legal arguments and threatened to sue, it changed its policy and now never confiscates. Both the attorney general and the governor need to affirm state law now and issue guidelines or a bulletin congruent with the court's decision.

This post is already a bit long, so I'll discuss the legal issues in another post. For now, a reminder that all the scientific, legal, political and historical background you need to know more than most police officers and officials, lawyers, judges and doctors do is in my book, "Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

R.C. Hoiles as activist

Here's a link to the editorial the Register ran on what we call Founders Day, celebrating R.C. Hoiles's (founder of Freedom Communications) birthday. I heard the old man (he would have been almost 90) speak at a conference in 1969 or so but never met him. He must have been a cantankerous sort, but people who knew him well loved him. Anyway, the help he gave to a virtually moribund freedom movement in the 1940s, publishing Albert Jay Nock, Isabel Paterson, Ayn Rand, Rose Wilder Lane, Frank Chodorov and others, as well as kicking in seed money top start the Foundation for Economic Education and the Institute for Humane Studies, had, I thought, been too little appreciated.

Flat tax in the real world

Here's a link to the Register's editorial today on the "flat tax" (Thompson has proposed an unflat version) focusing on how well it has worked in the mostly post-Soviet countries where it has been tried. The idea had a good deal of currency among conservatives and free marketeers in the 1990s, but hasn't been considered seriously recently. Meanwhile countries like Russia and Estonia have run with it, with excellent results. Of course the ideal tax rate is zero, but a fairer and less complex tax systm in this country would be a blessing.

Justin on Pakistan and being thankful

Here are a couple of pieces by Justin Raimondo I didn't get around to linking to last week that are still worth reading. He dissects the notion that the U.S. might feel obligated to invade Pakistan (!) if the Musharraf government collapses, and offers a few things the antiwar movement can be thankful for, including the fact that we haven't invaded or bombed Iran (yet), and that "neocon" has become a mainstream term, and mostly one of opprobrium

Israeli-Palestinian roadblocks/challenges

I'll be very surprised if the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators who begin meeting Dec. 12 can come close to a deal that can be inked before the end of next year, but it's not a bad thing that they're talking. This analysis, from AP, no less, explains fairly well some of the obstacles they will face. It puts a fair amount of emphasis on the complications that would surround making East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital. The Palestinians want it to be an "open" city, but the Israelis are unlikely to agree, fearing it would make access for terrorists all too easy. Then there's the Temple Mount above the Western Wall, with two mosques considered sacred to Muslims -- I thought them both rather beautiful when I visited -- on the same site, not to mention the sites sacred to Christians.

Perhaps as important is the weak position both Ehud Olmert of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority are in relative to the people they purportedly lead. There was a near-riot against the Annapolis meeting in Hebron (one person killed), which the PA supposedly controls -- to to mention the inconvenient fact that Hamas, still militant and opposed to any deal with Israel, controls Gaza. Meanwhile, Likud represntatives railed against any concessions or negotiations, and Olmert is under criminal investigation for alleged financial improprities in his previous job.

As I suggested today on the Register's blog, wouldn't it be nice if the oil-rolling-in-dough oil-producing states invested some of the billions they have available in job-creating businesses and infrastructure on the West Bank? If that happens, we'll have an inkling that Arab states are serious about finally moving toward a resolution of the situation. Unfortunately, don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How power corrupts

We all know Lord Acton's famous maxim: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and most people know almost instinctively that it is true. Now, thanks to Shankar Vedantam, whose WaPo aricles on human behavior are almost always interesting, we have more insights from psychology experiments about the mechanisms through which this happens.

New research suggests that leaders emerge or are chosen not because they are ruthless but because they have skills at managing social relationships. "Something happens to people once they acquire power, however, and the transformation appears to be psychological." One experiment had volunteers remember a situation in which they felt powerful and others to remember situations in which they felt powerless. Those who remembered power were then given more power by being given control over the distibution of goodies while the powerless were left to guess what they might receive. Then the volunteers were asked to draw the letter "E" on their foreheads. Those without power drew the letter so others could read it, but the powerful drew it as it would appear if they were looking at it from inside their own heads.

The point? "[v]olunteers made to feel powerful, even in a trivial laboratory experiment, almost instantly lose the ability to see things from other people's points of view."

Dacher Keltner, a social psychologist at UC Berkeley, expresses the paradox thus: "power simplifies our thinking. We tend to see things in terms of our own self-interest, and it makes us more impulsive. We forget our audience in service of gratifying our own impulses."

In additon, as Vedantam puts it, "people who lack power tend to be more accurate in guessing the opinions of those around them, whereas those in power tend to be inaccurate. Because subordinates are also hesitant to tell superiors things they do not want to hear, the problem gets worse, with powerful people having even less input and perspective about how others think and feel." Having power allows you to ignore the viewpoints of others -- eliminating the social skill that led to your having power in the first place.

These are simple experiments that may not get to the full complexity of power, but they offer insights that comport with what most of us can observe every day. Every POTUS has to some extent lived in a "bubble," simply unable to see much of the world outside it and not really caring much. We've seen similar behavior by top business executives.

If you ever read Solzhenitsyn's great novel "First Circle," there's a probably fictional (S didn't have access to his inner thoughts of course, but was conjecturing) portrait of Stalin at the height of his power and yet to some extent inwardly miserable -- paranoid, unable to trust anyone including his closest associates, forever expecting plots against him (after all that was how he clawed his way to power) and unable to have a real friendship or confide in anyone. Power makes one anti-social and miserable, yet people crave it and it is almost addictive.

All the more reason to work toward a social system in which the minimum possible number of people -- maybe nobody -- has coercive power over others. It's for their own good.

Pay college football players!

I love it when somebody proposes something I was writing columns about 20 years ago. Here's Michael Lewis, of "Moneyball" fame, in the NYT, no less -- a former political writer who figured out writing about sports was a better gig, a lesson I've learned only in an amateurish way, doing it for free for a blog -- arguing that since college football generates so much money, the players who are the absolutely essential key to the whole scam ought to get paid too. It would eliminate a great deal of hypocrisy that stems, as Michael neglected to mention, from an old European aristocratic dated ideal -- gentlemen do not take money to play games -- that has somehow become enshrined in modern collegiate sports. Back when the ideal was promulgated, however, most of those who went to college came from wealthy families and could afford to look down their noses at people who actually expected to do -- ugh! -- actual work or something productive in exchange for filthy lucre.

Not nothing at Annapolis, but . . .

Well, the Annapolis meeting to broker Israeli Palestinian peace talks has ended with a general statement and a promise to keep meeting every two weeks. That's not nothing, but it doesn't offer much that's concrete about the problems facing both parties. Olmert of Israel and Abbas of the Palestinian Authority are both weak leaders who don't command much respect in the countries they purportedly represent. And you could say the same about Bush.

When Israelis and Palestinians get together they may speak the same words, but they don't often mean the same things. Both sides tend to demand firm commitments from the other while interpreting their own commitments much more . . . flexibly. I don't see any news about working groups being formed to grapple with the tough endgame questions, like the borders of Israel, the right of return, the status of Jerusalem, the ability of Fatah to control terrorism . . . the list goes on and on. I don't see a commitment to taking small steps first. I don't see a commitment from Arab states rolling in petrodollars to start investing in Palestine when the first few baby steps are taken, to create jobs and the kind of economic development that might look like a payoff for peace progress. Instead I see extraneous demands about the Golan Heights and Syria. And I see the Bushlet seeming to believe he's become a great statesman. Ah, well. Maybe just talking isn't a bad thing. But as the Greeks noted, hubris before nemesis.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Leadership defined?

This music review, of a Carnegie Hall performance by the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, directed by the young Venezuelan whiz-kid, Gustavo Dudamel, who at the tender age of 26 is scheduled to take over the L.A. Philharmonic, is worth reading anyway. But one sentence especially caught my eye. Simon Rattle, the British conductor (City of Bitmingham for many years) who now conducts the Berlin Philharmonic, led the orchestra in Shostakovich's 10th, and here's how Anthony Tommasini described it:

"Mr. Rattle empowered the players to take risks and play all out, leaving matters of control to him."

Empowering people to play all out and take risks. If there's a better definition of leadership -- of course voluntary leadership, consented to by people who have choices -- I'd like to hear it. Anybody out there have a better one? Humor me.

Political class reunion

If you ever had much doubt that Republicans and Democrats are just different branches of the Government Party, this story about AlGore visiting the White House might change your perception. Yes, it's traditional for U.S. Nobel winners to be invited to the White House. But Bush changed the date to accommodate Gore's schedule and then, according to Gore, the two earnestly discussed global warming for 40 minutes in private. The two look mildly uncomfortable -- it's the first time they've gotten together personally since 2000 -- and I have little doubt that at least some of their mutual animosity is genuine. But at the end of the day they're both members in good standing of the political class, the "appalling people who rule us," as my old friend Dick Cowan used to put it.

Fox doctors Ron Paul story

It looks as if Fox News has a special animus against GOP candidate Ron Paul, though that way it doctored the AP story about Ron Paul getting an endorsement from a brothel owner in Nevada is almost more inept than malicious. Since Chadwick Matlin over at Slate did a fairly comprehensive critique, I'll just give you his whole post:

Doctored Paul
At 11 a.m. today, one of's top stories was an article about a Nevada brothel owner endorsing Ron Paul. But the story wasn't written by Fox News; it was a tweaked version of an Associated Press story that hit the wires early Monday. And, to make matters even more muddled, that story was taken from a Reno Gazette-Journal piece. Something was lost in translation.
The original article was a solid piece about a strange scene at a Ron Paul event in Reno. Tucker Carlson, who was trailing Paul for a magazine piece, invited his friend Dennis Hof out to the event. Hof, who owns the Moonlite BunnyRanch brothel, emerged from a limousine with Carlson and two prostitutes. He then took a liking to Paul and decided to endorse the Republican, saying that he would "get all the Bunnies together, and we can raise him some money."
The Associated Press then adapted the story and sent it out on the wires. But the AP story that Fox News published is different than the one the AP originally ran.
Changes include:
The headline: "Paul Endorsed by Nevada Brothel Owner" became " ‘BunnyRanch' Brothel Owner Endorses Underdog GOP Candidate Ron Paul." Note that Fox News thinks you need more detail to know who Ron Paul is. Also, they add the brothel's name in the headline--the Playboy bunny allusion makes it a bit sexier. It's common practice for news organizations to spice up AP headlines.
The donation box: One of the best details in the AP story is Hof's plan to put a "collection box" outside the brothel's door for patrons to donate money to Paul. It's not in Fox's story.
The kicker: In the most curious change, Fox took a sentence from the middle of the AP's article and stuck it at the end. By concluding the piece with the true statement, "Paul also is a devout Christian who opposes abortion," it makes Paul sound like a hypocrite for accepting the brothel owner's endorsement. You don't get that impression reading the AP's article, which is more about the oddity that a political candidate isn't trying to distance himself from Nevada's brothel industry.
In principle, Fox hasn't done anything wrong. News outlets edit AP content all the time, and the AP's senior managing editor told me that Fox was within its rights to make changes to the copy. He added that he doesn't think Fox's tweaks change the fundamental tone of the story.I disagree. The emphasis on its home page and the altered kicker suggest Fox is getting in a dig at Paul, however minor it may be. But if Fox wanted to make Paul look like he was taking money from prostitutes and their patrons, why remove the detail about the donation box? I'm not asking for fairness or balance--just consistency.One more detail that Fox inexplicably eliminated: The damning revelation that MSNBC anchor Tucker Carlson emerged from a limousine with prostitutes at a political event. Have Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes gone soft?
Posted Monday, November 26, 2007 5:58 PM by
Chadwick Matlin

Keeping track of the candidates

For any of you who are hard-core campaign junkies, has an interesting feature called Map the Candidates. It shows where the candidates are on a given day on a big U.S. map. The page also features latest videos and recent news stories., from Slate and other sources.

Republican defections over Iraq?

It's almost impopssible to tell for sure whether this is the beginning of a trend or just two more senators who have had enough. But Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia have let it be known, having just gotten back from Iraq, that they've just about had it with the Nouri al-Maliki government in Iraq. They say they'd be ready to consider pulling back aid to the Iraqi government if it can't get it's act together enough to start showing some political progress in a reconciliation direction. The test they're suggesting, however, isn't all that daunting -- a law by January that would allow low-and mid-level Baath Party members to return to government jobs. That's the one thing the Iraqi government just might be ready to do -- if the stories I read for the blog post I did today for the Eye on the Empire blog at the Register on how the administration is (again) defining success downward are accurate. The more difficult "benchmarks," however -- an oil revenue-sharing law, local elections, some indication they're ready to give Sunnis real responsibility and a share of real power -- are more important and much less likely.

In addition, the Graham-Chambliss threat is to send aid to various provinces that are doing well by their standards rather than to the central government. That might be a formula for staying in Iraq even longer. The Iraqis really need to start relying on U.S. aid less rather than becoming more dependent.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pakistan outcome wide open

The last time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif -- the one Musharraf kicked out with his military coup in 1999 -- came to Pakistan from exile, he stayed only about as long as was necessary for his plane to turn around and return to Saudi Arabia. In September Musharraf had enough power to make sure Sharif, still facing some kind of charges pending from just after his time in power, could be convinced he would just be jailed. Now, with effects from Musharraf's declaration of martial law still playing out, things are less certain and Musharraf's power is more uncertain. Is that inevitable? You reach for more power and eventually you reach too far and ruin yourself? That's still to be determined in the case of Musharraf, but Sharif now believes that almost anything can happen, and he wants to be on the ground to pick up whatever pieces he can, perhaps even full power.

The sad thing for Pakistan the country is that none of the three contendors -- Sharif and Bhutto despise one another and they both despise Musharraf -- is much of a prize. Bhutto and her husband really did skim off multi-multi-millions, and Sharif was probably more guilty than he was charged with being. And we've seen Musharraf's powerlust in action.

Media giants downsizing

It's a pattern we've seen before in many industries, going back to the building of "conglomerates" back in the 1960s. The tender-hearted worry that a few companies will control just everything, and we hear calls to break them up. Then, generally well before the wheels of politics can get cranking, economies of scale yield to the emerging reality that a company that tries to do everything turns out not ot be able to do much of it too well. Market forces, rather than alert regulators, break them up.

Now it's happening with media companies. As Jack Shafer's post here explains, E.W. Scripps and Belo Corp. (both of which were mentioned a few years ago when there was a possibility that Freedom Communications might go on the auction block) have both spun themsleves into two separate companies, to handle their disparate products. Gannett was trading at around $90 a share back in 2004 but is now down to $40 and might be pressured by investment bankers with a heftystake to break itself apart. The New York Times Co. sold off its nine TV stations a year ago, but is under pressure to divest itself still further.

As Shafer puts it, "Conglomeration works until it doesn't." I wouldn't be surprised to see more divestiture in the media businesses. But kneejerk interventionists are unlikely to learn that the interplay of market forces usually corrects economic "imbalances" faster and more sensitively than regulation or legislation.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Feds push marijuana growers indoors

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on that recent report from the Department of Justice that says 1) that despite record seizures in the eradication campaigns against outdoor growers, marijuana is widely available and the price hasn't risen noticeably and 2) what success there has been against outdoor growers has driven many of them to grow indoors, specifically in suburban homes. I mentioned that earlier on this blog. The upshot, of course? If you're a little concerned that somebody might be growing marijuana in a home near you, place the responsibility on the feds.

Justices to decide DC gun ban

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the Supreme Court's decision to take up the case in which residents of the District of Columbia challenged that city's virtual ban on owning handguns (and requirement that any weapon kept in the home be rendered effectively non-operational). The high court could still sidestep the central issue -- whether the Second Amendment protects an individual right or a collective right (i.e., just for members of a militia) -- by deciding that since DC is a federal enclave rather than a state, it's decision applies there alone, and not to the states. But that still wouldn't resolve the disagreement among circuits as to the meaning of the right to keep and bear arms. Case will probably have oral arguments in March, decision handed down toward the end of June.

Congratulations to Bob Levy, who has masterminded and financed this case. He's the farthest from a gun nut you can imagine -- doesn't own a gun and doesn't expect to, though Florida and North Carolina, where he has homes, would both be friendly toward gun rights. He thinks the issue is about freedom, even freedom for others to exercise a right he doesn't expect to exercise. I'm proud to know Bob.

Happy Thanksgiving 2001

Here's a link to the Register's editorial yesterday for Thanksgiving. Cathy chose to reprint the Thanksgiving editorial we ran in 2001, when the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were still fresh in everybody's minds, and the ill-advised Patriot Act had already been passed. If I do say so myself, I think it holds up reasonably well.

Arabs to Annapolis

The U.S. government is officially pleased that Saudi Arabia and Syria, and most of the members of the Arab League will be attending the meeting convened by Condi Rice in Annapolis next Tuesday to discuss a possible Israeli-Palestinian settlement involving two states. I still think they may be coming not because they see much solid hope of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issues, but because it's an opportunity to get together to discuss what, if anything, the Arab states should do to deal with the threat to the region posed by an insouciant Iran. But it might not be a bad thing if that discussion ensues. In fact, it might be rather a good thing.

Memorable Thanksgiving

Well, it was certainly an unusual Thanksgiving around our house. The plan was dinner for 12. We had just put the turkey in the oven -- all right, it had been in an hour and a half -- when the power went out. After it didn't come on for a while, we finally decided we'd have to take it to our sister-in-law's house, about three miles away. As the girls were heading out, they saw the ambulances and police cars right near the end of our block, and stopped to ask some questions. It turns out a hang glider -- they jump off the mountain above our house; the thermals in Elsinore are suppposed to be terrific -- landed on the power lines. I didn't go out and get a newspaper this morning, so I still don't know if he survived.

Anyway, we heard the power was expected to be back on at 3:00, then around 6:00, then 8:00 or 9:00. It finally came on at 12:30, after midnight. Fortunately we always have lots of candles, so we had dinner more or less as scheduled and it even tasted pretty good. We had made all the desserts in the morning. It will be a story to tell every Thanksgiving from now on.

Medical marijuana on Michigan ballot

It will probably require official certification before it's a completely done deal, but it looks as if advocates have gotten a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in Michigan, for the November 2008 ballot. That would make Michigan the 13th state. It could be especially interesting given that that's the presidential general election date. Might that mean, given Michigan's size and potential importance, that the presidential candidates might have to address the issue seriously? I know advocates in New Hampshire have been attending campaign events and putting the question to candidates as to whether they would support a change in federal law or stop the feds from raiding dispensaries or arresting patients. But having the issue on the ballot in Michigan could be quite important.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Scott McClellan's Plame bombshell

So now former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, in a curious bit of prepublicity for a book that isn't due out until April, says he didn't tell the truth way back when he told reporters that nobody at the White House was involved with leaking the information that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent/employee. And he says five people in the White House -- Rove, Card, Cheney, Libby and the Bushlet himself -- were involved in putting out this misinformation. He doesn't quite come out and say the president was involved in or ordered a cover-up, but it's darned close.

On Chris Matthews' "Hardball" tonight the panelists -- Dan Balz of the WaPo and Yepse of the Des Moines Register -- thought the Republicans would have to start distancing themselves from the president on this one, since they all claim to be devotees of truth and integrity. Also said it would probably benefit non-Washington candidates, especially Obama on the Democratic side.

It was curious to me, however, when they said the Republican likely to benefit here would be Mike Huckabee. I can see his having a reputation as a Washington outsider, but on policy he seems almost like a carbon copy of Bush, and maybe even more of a big-government "conservative." He's an evangelical -- an ordained Baptist minister -- and he stresses he's more "compassionate" than a standard conservative, urging government attention to health care, AIDS, poverty, etc. And he was quite the tax-raiser as governor of Arkansas. I don't think I'll ever understand how it's supposed to be a Christian characteristic to be "compassionate" with other peoples' money, and I don't think Jesus does either.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cannabis roots therapeutic?

I talked the other day to the husband of a medical marijuana patient who has fibromyalgia and finds cannabis gives her some relief, but he told me something I didn't know about that surprised me. He said there's a woman out there who asks people to send her cannabis roots -- any kind -- which she then grinds up and mixes into a salve. Given that THC is the major therapeutic agent in cannabis and the roots don't have any -- the only thing you'd get from smoking them would be a sore throat most likely -- you wouldn't expect it to work. But he said his wife tried it -- rubbed it onto especially painful places -- and found it worked very well, relieved the pain wonderfully. I haven't heard of this before, or heard of any tests done on such a salve. Does anybody else out there know anything about this? I'd be interested to find out. I thought I knew most everything a non-specialist could know about medical marijuana after writing the book, but this is a new one.

I'll be attending the Drug Policy Alliance conference in New Orleans in a couple of weeks, so I'll ask around.

UCLA squeaks by

Now that was a tough game, the first one in which missing point guard Darren Collison took an obvious toll. Have to hand it to Michigan State, they came more prepared to play than UCLA did (at least in the first half), and they gave Kevin Love a Freshman's inititation into body-banging in college ball. UCLA was miserable (and to be fair Michigan State was good) during the first half. The Bruins trailed by as many as 13 and were down by 11 at halftime. Late in the game they tied it several times but didn't go ahead until only 30 seconds were left. It was a gutty game, and probably a good one to have played (especially since the resuilt was a win). Good to get challenged so thoroughly this early in the season and prove to themselves they had the grit to come back and steal it. Kevin Love righted himself nicely in the second half, and Westbrook and Shipp contributed, as did Aboya and M'bah a'Moute, the Cameroonian connection. Don't know what Howland told them at halftime, but it worked.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Aubrey de Grey on longevity

I was fascinated to see this fairly lengthy feature article about Aubrey de Grey, the Cambridge biologist (whose first academic obsession was computer science) who is convinced not only that people can live longer than threescore and ten, but significantly longer, maybe 1,000 years. I attended a lecture by de Grey about 18 months ago and was fascinated and mostly convinced by his combination of visionary ideas and eagerness to have them subjected to rigorous scientific testing. Unfortunately, he didn't hold out much hope that codgers like me could benefit form the kind of cellular engineering he thinks will be feasible for humans in 20 or 30 years that could, for example, engineer enzymes that digest lipofuscins, which accumulate in our cells as a kind goo as we age, into our bodies. Well, I'll just keep on taking my vitamins.

Aubrey actually attracts feature stories because he has just published "Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime." I suspect much of it will be familiar from his lecture, but I can't wait to read it.

Free Trade in Trouble

Here's a link to the Register's editorial today on House approval of the Peru free(er) trade agreement, which we applauded. I haven't seen evidence that the Senate will reject it, so it could well come into effect. However, similar pacts with Panama, Colombia and South Korea are in trouble, and if the Washington pundits are right, unlikely to pass. That's a shame. The most consistent (and over even the medium haul, I believe) most effective way to reduce trade barriers around the world would be for the United States to set a proper example by simply eliminating all tariffs or other trade restrictions unilaterally, and inviting other countries to observe the benefits and do likewise. These negotiated trade treaties with single countries or regions (the Peru agreement is virtually a carbon copy of the Caribbean-area agreement, which in turn is almost the same as NAFTA), don't bring about unbridled free trade, but trade managed with a lighter touch.

Almost everyone with a scintilla of economic knowledge recognizes that free trade is beneficial (though it can cause temporary dislocations, as can other developments in a dynamic economy, like the invention of the transistor or the development of a mass-market automobile), but they're pinioned by the conviction that eliminating a trade barrier is a concession to the other party rather than lifting a restriction that harms American interests, and it has to be met by a concession of equal value. The whole process of bartering and negotiation employs a lot of people, some of whom are convinced free traders, who would have to find other, probably less interesting employment if we moved to free trade in one fell swoop. Whether maintaining full employment for trade negotiators is the reason trade negotiations operate on the assumption that only gradualism is politically feasible or not, that's the modus operandi.

The regulations governing genuinely free trade wouldn't require more than a single stamp on a #10 envelope to mail, but these bilateral agreements are hundreds of pages long, filled with tedious minutiae, the interpretation of which requires armies of bureaucrats and lawyers. It's almost counterproductive that such agreements are routinely described as free trade -- really free trade is much simpler -- but not quite. I view these agreements, however imperfect, as having the potential to increase trade, which is the best way to increase and spread prosperity, and so, short of the ideal as they are, they're worth supporting.

But Bill Clinton may have been the last prominent Democrat who went for what used to be a liberal (even the modern American version) mainstay, belief in freer trade, generally viewed as part-and-parcel of enlightened internationalism. Today's Democrats seem convinced (or are propagandized into; it's hard to believe it was a process that convinced anyone intellectually) that the only impact of freer trade is exporting American jobs and setting off a "race to the bottom" that will sooner rather than later impoverish us all except for a few corporate malefactors. Many of the new Democrats in Congress ran on an explicitly anti-free-trade platform.

I confess (even after that valuable IHS seminar in September) that I don't understand the hostility to trade, not only among "progressives" and "liberals," but "conservatives" who claim to believe in free markets and limited government. By definition a trade doesn't occur unless both parties think they will be better off as a result, so each transaction is a classic "win-win" situation. You would think most people would prefer a world in which the number of win-win situations was maximized, or at least increased

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Two steps back in Georgia

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the declaration of a state-of-emergency/martial law in Georgia, a country President Bush rather prematurely lauded a couple of years ago as a model of democracy and freedom of the press, etc. The focus on holding an election that comes out the way you'd like it to as proof that "democracy" is winning around the world and your crusade is working highlights how wrongheaded it is to emphasize "democracy" as the goal rather than the conditions that make a democracy (almost) workable: an independent civil society, personal liberties responsibly and consistently exercised and protection for civil rights and freedoms.

Georgia might go through a number of iterations before it becomes something approaching a genuine free society, or it might never get there.

Glenn Greenwald defends Ron Paul

You can tel a lot about some people in the political world by how they respond to Ron Paul's remarkable fundraising and grassroots/netroots organizing efforts. Some want to smear him or distrort his views to make him look marginal or kooky. Among the most impressive reponses has been that of Glenn Greenwald, over at He's not exactly a conservative or Republican, as his excellent book on the Bush presidency, "A Tragic Legacy," should make clear to anybody who reads it. But he tries to be fair-minded, even when he's criticizing somebody, and he isn't fond of intellectually sloppy smears. His post of about a week ago is a pretty good model of fair-minded discussion. He obviously doesn't agree with Ron Paul on every issues, or even on most issues beyond the stupidity of the Iraq war. But he can recognize somebody who's the real deal, and he dissects some of the smears directed at Ron.

French unions testing Sarkozy

French president Sarkozy has said he admires America, especially its admiration for and encouragement of productive work, and has said he'd like to make France more competitive and less protectionist. He's experiencing just how difficult it is likely to be to make even modest reforms in a country in which special privileges have come to be viewed as entitlements, and so much of the economy is more public sector than privte sector. He wanted to reform the special, unusually generous pension provisions transit workers get, so transit workers have gone on strike, and other unions are joining them.

He is not without allies, however. Depending on which news story you read, either 6,000 or 10,000 people marched in Paris yesterday to urge Sarkozy not to back down.

It will be interesting to see whether Sarkozy turns out to be the Reagan of Frence or yet one more leader who ends up having to bow to the power of public-sector unions, assuring that France is not likely to break out of its economic torpor.

Immigrant Opera in Houston

The Houston Grand Opera has put on what sounds like -- well, I haven't heard it, so I guess it's more accurate to say it reads like -- an interesting new opera called "The Refuge," by composer Christopher Theofandis. It has seven tableaus that recount the immigrant experiences of Africans, Vietnamese, Mexican, Pakistani, Indian, Russian and other immigrants, as told to Houston writer Leah Lax, the librettist. It's billed as an attempt to reach beyond the usual opera audience and to establish a connection to recent immigrants in a city where one in four residents is "not from here." How cities change in a dynamic society!

A lot of these good-hearted efforts turn out not have really great music, and I don't know if this one does or not. And plenty of "classical" music outreach efforts fail. But it's encouraging to see music presenters try. It will be interesting to see if this one endures beyond a first few performances.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pakistan: the bed Bush made for us

Here's a link to the piece I wrote last week for It argues that Pakistan is like Iraq in one sense: once the Bushies decided to get so deeply involved -- $11 billion of our tax money -- it became difficult to get out, even though doing so makes a lot of sense. But one thing is sure. If anyone ever hears Bush yap about his yen to intervene here and there having anything to do with promoting democracy, the only proper response is a horselaugh.

Barry Bonds indicted

So Barry Bonds has been indicted for perjury -- lying to investigators and apparently a federal grand jury -- and obstruction of justice. Hmmmph. Federal investigators can lie to you -- they can, they admit it, they boast about it --but you can't lie to them when you know their goal is to put you behind bars? Judging by the news stories, they lied to Barry Bonds, not telling him they had alleged test results that showed him testing positive for steroids. But turnabout isn't fair play. They'll put you in prison for playing games with them.

The feds are a bunch of thugs and bullies. Their only legitimacy grows from a barrel of a gun. People should get a medal rather than a prison term for lying to the feds. Do I really mean that? Almost.

The U.S. Constitution doesn't give the federal government the authority to ban drugs. When Barry Bonds is alleged to have used steroids Major League Baseball didn't have rules against them, though one can argue that perhaps it should have. And the whole red line about performance-enhacing drugs is an artificial bit of prudery anyway. Athletes take all the nutrients they can get their hands on if they're smart, they work out, they have personal trainers and special diets. But certain substances that can also help them perform better are cheating while all the other stuff isn't? It's an artificial line rooted in attitudes encouraged by the unconstitutional, illegitimate and counterproductive Holy War on (certain) Drugs.

I probably wouldn't like Barry Bonds much and he probably wouldn't like me. But if he hadn't been a hard-ass who didn't cooperate with the media and therfore alienated them, I doubt this would be happening.

FCC wants to micromanage your cable

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the Federal Communications Commission's attempt to get more control over cable TV systems through an obscure provision of a 1984 law that deregulated cable to encourage it to grow. But the law said when market penetration reached a certain point (70/70 is the term), the FCC could regulate it.

We point out that the classic argument for the difference between regulating cable and broadcast was that the airwaves "belonged to the public" while copper and fiberoptic cable was private property; that's why you can show a breast on HBO. But that difference wouldn't change because of an arbitrary level of market penetration, so there's no justification to regulate cable.

I'm glad we went on to point out that the original argument, that the airwaves belong to "the public" and therefore the government has to regulate use of them is thoroughly bogus. The airwaves are part of nature and "belong" to whoever can figure out how to make use of them. Saying "the public" owns them is just a way for a certain group of power-hungry people to justify lording it over the rest of us, deciding what we can and can't see and hear. Further, when the writers of the First Amendment mentioned "the press," they surely didn't mean to confine it to the technology of the day, ink and paper, but to include whatever technological means were discovered or developed to convey news, information and oipinion to others. I think the FCC is unconstitutional on its face -- but it's hard to imagine a court in the country agreeing. Still, it would be fun if some adventurous lawyer brought a case that forced a court to face that argument.

What Congress really values: pork

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the fact that the first override of a Bush veto (of which there have still been far too few) came on a bill so stuffed with pork as to cause even the hardiest taxpayer indigestion. The president originally requested $4.9 billion for water projects and stuff in an Army Corps of Engineers appropriation bill. Congress ruminated and came in with two versions: $14 billion (House) and $15 billion (Senate). Then it went to a conference committee where instead of splitting the difference (with the president it would have been around $10 billion), it added all kinds of earmarks that had not been through even the rudimentary oversight of being considered by a commiittee, and came up with a $23 billion price tag. And that panoply of pork was what stirred two-thirds of the congresscritters to stand up and override Bush's veto. Tells you what's important to them.

Read it and weep.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hemp farmers challenge DEA in court

This story is a couple of days old, but it's really encouraging.

Today two North Dakota farmers were in federal court trying to get the court to "force the Drug Enforcement Administration to yield to a state law that would license them to become hemp growers." The WaPo article outlining the case isn't quite as accurate as one might like, even though some of the dubious phrases might have been coined to defuse the association with "devil weed" and make the reader more sympathetic. For example, it calls hemp "a strait-laced cousin of marijuana." Not a bad metaphor, and somewhat helpful, but not exactly right.

Hemp, to be sure is routinely grown -- and it is routinely grown overseas, in Canada, Ireland, France, Kazakhstan, Hungary, China and elsewhere -- from seeds that have been bred to have a lower THC content (around 0.3 percent) than the seeds that a planter of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use would want to use. But the most important difference betweeen cannabis planted for hemp and cannabis planted for buds is the way they are planted. When it's grown for hemp, the valuable stuff is the fiber and cellulose in the stalk, which is virtually devoid of THC content not matter what kind of seeds are used. So it is planted close together, so the stalks will grow tall, and it is typically harvested before it even begins to bud. The smaller the stalk the finer the fibers, and the finer the fibers the finer the fabric that can be made of it.

Much of the hempen fabric one can buy at various places -- I had several hats I gave away and I still have a couple, along with a pair of pants -- is moderately rough, more like canvas than a cotton bedsheet, reflecting the fact that farmers typically let the plants grow until the stalks get fairly thick, because they get more that way. But people have made fine lace from hemp, and if there were a more robust hemp market, there would be demand for a wide variety of fabric. The finer thread made from finer fibers would probably command a premium price, so the fabric would be more expensive.

Anyway, I haven't been able to find out what happened in court today -- and it's likely the case was heard and the judge will not issue a ruling until later -- but I'll stay on it and provide updates as they are available.

Smearing Ron Paul

I spent a fair amount of time today on a post on the Register's "Eye on the Empire" blog dissecting the attempt to use guilt-by-association to smear Ron Paul as an anti-Semite or worse because some neo-nazi moron donated $500 to his campaign, so I think I'll just link to it from here. Feel free to copy it, send it, or link to it if you're so inclined.

Hillary's obsessive micro-management

I was not initially all that upset at the charge that Hillary Clinton's staff had fed a suggested question to a young voter at an Iowa campaign event. But thinking about it led to thinking about her tendency to micromanage and control everything down to the last detail. She's famous/notorious for it, and certainly sets an example by being remarkably self-disciplined. But I have little question that's the way she would view the entire country if elected -- as a place that might get out of control and needs heavy doses of micromanagement -- and that would be disastrous (though for me on a professional level, as somebody who gets paid to take potshots at presidents of both parties, it would be a field day for at least four years).

John Dickerson's column in Slate makes some of the relevant goo-goo arguments for why we should view this as something a bit more significant than an isolated gaffe. And then there's this piece by Michael Crowley in TNR. I'm not surprised that she wants to micromanage press coverage and she's more than a little paranoid about the media. But complaining to the NYT about a story about Obama liking to play pick-up basketball that had the effect of humanizing him? Killing a somewhat negative GQ article by threatening to pull cooperation on a separate story another GQ writer was doing on Bill? These people play hardball, but make themselves absurd in the process.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bush's policies set up the Pakistan crisis

Almost all the news out of Pakistan these days is discouraging, with former prime minister and great American Hope Benazir Bhutto (who in some ways is no great prize; the corruption charges that led to her being exiled were not without substance) under house arrest again and the demonstrations she has tried to lead quashed. One of the sharper analyses of how Pakistan came to such a sad pass comes from Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute. He says the Bush administration exacerbated Pakistan's problems by occupying not one, but two Muslim countries. That created the best recruiting tool al-Qaida ever had, and the recruiting has easily outpaced the various campaigns against al-Qaida.

Stability won't be reached (and maybe not for quite a while even then) until we let Afghanistan be run by Afghans and reduce or end subsidies to Pakistan. In the early stages, around 2002, Musharraf gave us a tacit green light to go after al-Qaida and Taliban forces in the northwest provinces, but the administration was already focused on Iraq and dropped the ball. Since then our lavish subsidies have made most Pakistanis think Musharraf is a U.S. puppet, making him unpopular, ineffective and desperate. Nice work.

Gotta Love that Kevin

College basketball season is upon us, and I'm going all atavistic as usual, focused on my UCLA Bruins. They're ranked number 2 in the country now, and it could be their year (I know that's perhaps a bit boring to non-Bruins, but you can skip this one if you like.)

They hit the Final Four last year and the Final Two the year before, but didn't take it all. But this year they have Kevin Love from Oregon. The 6'10", 270-lb. Freshman was either the first or second-rated high school prospect in the country last year, and everybody figures he'll give the Bruins a dominant inside presence this year that they didn't really have previously (although Lorenzo Mata-Real came through big in a few games). Most of the sportswriters think he'll spend only a single year at UCLA and move right into the NBA.

Anyway, I watched them on TV tonight, and if anything this Kevin Love is better than advertised. He had averaged 21 points in his first two games, and tonight against Cal State San Bernardino (Division II but deep into the playoffs last year) he got 19, and I think 9 rebounds. What's impressive is that he seems like a complete, mature player, and in his first few games as a Freshman he looks as if he's emerged as the clear team leader. He does just about everything well. And he's strong, which not all players that big are.

The Bruins got at least six points off pinpoint outlet passes to a streaking player downcourt after Love got the defensive rebound. He plays hard and hustles, plays good defense and blocks shots. He's a team player, looking to feed other players and taking his own shot only if it's really the best one on the floor. I think he'll turn out to be one of those players, like Magic Johnson, who makes everybody on the team better just by being there, setting an example, and being aware of the entire court.

Whether you care a whit about UCLA or not, if you like basketball even a llittle bit, you would do well to watch this kid -- kid? he seemed like the oldest, most experienced player on the floor -- play the game.

Marijuana eradication backfires

Thanks to the invaluable Bruce Mirken at the Marijuana Policy Project for this one. (Drug reformers feud among themselves but I try to talk to all of them.)

The U.S. Department of Justice has released an assessment of the marijuana "eradication" campaigns such as California's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP, ain't that cute?). Despite a huge -- 1,200 percent -- increase in seizures over the past decade, the report assesses that production operations in Northern California "are extensive, widespread, becoming more sophisticated, and increasing in size," and "marijuana availability is widespread." So the campaign has not accomplished the goal of reducing the supply to users substantially. Full report available here.

But the side-effects of this unsuccessful campaign are even more perverse. Enforcement has been more vigorous, even though it hasn't done the primary job, so it has "caused major marijuana producers, particularly Caucasion groups, to relocate indoors, even in leading outdoor grow states such as California and Tennessee." Especially striking has been the increase in the use of suburban houses, and the trend is likely to continue. The growers and distributors "will adapt to the increasing law enforcement pressure and improved detection capabilities associated with outdoor grow sites and will most likely shift operations indoors . . . [T]he groups will increase higher-potency marijuana year-round, allowing for an exponential increase in profits derived."

So in other words, if the goal was to have more high-potency pot available and those who grow it wealthier, the eradication program has been working just fine.

Actually, this is the inevitable result of almost every step-up in drug-law enforcement. My friend Dick Cowan -- he's doing again -- coined the term the "iron law of prohibition" to descibe the phenomenon (all these years I thought it had been Arnold Trebach, but I talked to Dick recently). Increase enforcement, and the producers/dealers move to drugs that are more potent and more easily concealable and more profitable -- more potent marijuana or "hard" drugs like heroin and cocaine. As long as some people desire the stuff enough to pay the "drug war premium" for substances, heavy-duty enforcement will have this seemingly perverse effect. Or is it perverse? If the drug war actually worked -- i.e., eradicated drugs to the point that users couldn't acquire them -- the drug warriors might have to find honest work. Like most government programs, the result is to prolong and increase the social evil it targets, because as long as the problem persists the government agency will have to stay in existence and ask for a higher budget. Nothing succeeds like failure.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Nightline" remarkable on Afghan war

I have complained before and I will no doubt complain again that "Nightline" since Ted Koppel is mostly tirvialities and banalities (each anchor annoying in his or her own special way). But tonight's program which follows a platoon ofAmericans in Afghanistan, is remarkable. Gets you about as close to real war as I'd ever like to be, and shows just how brutal and often inconclusive war can be. Why some people see war as noble or ennobling, or fantasize that it can actually settle important issues for very long, is beyond me.

Politovskaya's killer known, but . . .

This story is more than a month old, and I haven't seen any follow-up. Early in October, the editor of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, announced that the identity of Anna Poitovskaya's killer was known, but the Russian police weren't revealing the identity until they wrapped up a few loose investigational ends.

Politovskaya, you may remember, was the Russian investigative reporter who drove the regime crazy with reports of outrages and brutality in Chechnya and incomptenec and corruption all over. Last October she was found murdered execuion-style outside her apartment door. The government -- or somebody to whom Putin may have issued a hint of what would be a nice outcome -- is hardly above suspicion.

So when will we be told more about this killer who is presumably known to the authorities.

Soviet spy unveiled

The NYT has a fascinating story today about one George Koval, who was apparently the most significant Soviet spy working on stealing atomic technology secrets during the Manhattan Project back in WW II and for a short time thereafter. Koval died last year at 92-94, and on Nov. 2 Vladimir Putin, old KGB man that he is, posthumously gave him the highest Russian state award, praising him as "the only Soviet intelligence officer" to inflitrate the Manhattan Project's secret plants, saying his work "helped speed up considerably the time it took for the Soviet Union to develop an atomic bomb of its own."

The U.S., you may remember, demonstrated the awesome power of a nuclear bomb over two Japanese cities in August 1945. The Soviets tested its first atomic bomb in 1949, surprising everybody with the speed at which they had made one.

This award tells us a little something about Putin. He may be a post-communist-system leader, but he was a KGB agent back before the Soviet Union collapsed, he has never renounced that past, and he obviously still admires certain aspects of communism, especially its authoritarian approach to society. Russia, whose only experience with a rudimentary brand of democracy (without benefit of an existing civil society and marred by the kleptocratic way certain elites approached what passed for capitalism), seems to respond to an assured leader, and Putin is nothing if not assured.

Anyway, back in the day, having been impressed by "Witness" and being convinced a real struggle for the soul of the world was underway, I used to devour books about communists operating as spies, agents of influence and the like, from Freda Utley's memoirs to Ralph de Toledano's books to Jan Valtin's "Out of the Night, to personal memoirs of spies from all ideological persuasions. I never heard of George Koval. Apparently that was because while the U.S. got onto him after WW II, forcing him to leave for Russia, the gummint swore to secrecy everybody it interviewed about his activities, and never made public what it knew about his role.

He was apparently the perfect spy -- born in Iowa in 1913, he had an impeccable American accent and loved baseball and other sports. But his family moved back to Russia during the Depression, he was a brilliant student of technical sciences and was recruited by the GRU (military intelligence) and carefully trained. He was sent back to the U.S. where he worked at technical jobs under an assumed name. Then the GRU took a chance and let him use his real name. He was drafted, the Army recognized his technical abilities, and he was assigned to the Manhattan Project. Assigned to health safety (checking for radiation leaks) he had access to everything. Since actually making an atomic bomb that works is much harder than understanding the theory (still is) he must have been invaluable to the Soviets, having been around and knowing almost everybody while they were figuring out the manufacturing. difficulties.

Fascinating historical sidelight.

R.C. Hoiles's principles

Since R.C. Hoiles, founder of Freedom Newspapers, which grew into Freedom Communications, which still owns the Register, was born in November, we like to do a little bit of celebrating and explaining his legacy each November. Here's a piece he wrote sometime in the 1960s, apparently in response to requests from other publishers in the chain for an explanmation of what the company stood for.

Bottom line? No individual or group has the right to use force or coerceion on any other individual or group. Everything else flows from that basic axiom.

Don't want to talk about it

Is it basketball season yet? It's tough for an atavistically loyal old Bruin (though I know full well the loyalty is neither especially rational or reciprocated). Did OK for having a third-stringer? Maybe, but it's still a "L." Frustrating. I've always liked Karl Dorell and have scoffed at those who want him fired. But could it be that he lacks some intangible for being a head football coach?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Musharraf promises elections but . . .

So Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has said there will be election in Pakistan in January. Maybe, maybe not, but is there anything to cheer about? A great number of opposition activists have been arrested, and who knows how long the "state of emergency" will last? Meanwhile the army and army courts have been given broad new powers , cince Musharraf has essentially decimated a civilian court system that was threatening to be a little too independent. Perhaps the most significant development is Musharraf saying he doesn't expect any serious repercussions from the West, including the U.S. He has so mismanaged the country that it's become something of a political tinderbox, and nobody wants to strike a spark. But somebody will, I expect, and probably somebody few had thought about.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

To the level of the competition

We'll see if I'm any kind of athletic prophet. It seems to me that the UCLA football team this year has generally played to the level of the competition -- or perhaps to the level of the competition's reputation. Thus they lose games they should win -- Utah State, Notre Dame, Arizona last week -- and win games they might have been expected to lose, notably at Cal. This week they're playing Arizona State, which I think is still ranked 9th despite a loss last week, so even though their top two quartarbacks are injured and they're going with a guy who was a bench-sitting wide receiver at the beginning of the year (though he played quarterback in high school) I expect the Bruins to at least be respectable this week, and perhaps even to win.

Lebanese pot boiling

As I posted today on the Register blog, "Eye on the Empire," there are so many potential conflicts brewing in Lebanon that you need a scorecard. There's the upcoming presidential replacement vote in parliament -- they'll try again on Monday but a resolution is unlikely and without a resolution civil war is likely. Then there's Hezbollah holding maneuvers and saying it fully expects war with Israel soon -- and Israel holding maneuvers close to the Lebanese border and reportedly sending jets on reconaissance missions over southern Lebanese cities. And Syria meddling in the election process and the U.S. warning Syria not to. And the possibility that the UN "peacekeeping" force may be reduced in size, which could unleash various militias. Serious trouble is probably brewing, and there's almost nothing the U.S. can do about it.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Hope for an Arab-Israeli settlement

The "summit" called for by U.S. SecState Condi Rice in Annapolis in late November doesn't look as if it is likely to bring anything like a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. However, there is just a chance it could contribute to a larger Arab-Israeli settlement -- something short of a real peace deal, but potentially important nonetheless, perhaps more important..

I've posted about Dennis Ross's suggestions for a more modest agenda. Here are a couple of articles by Arab journalists (courtesy of MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, which started as an Israeli-oriented outfit, translating especially provocative Arab writings and sermons but has become broader and more useful in scope). They suggest that it is in the Arabs' interest to attend the summit and work diligently toward a settlement. Such a settlement, they argue, could contribute to regional stability, something in the interest of all Arab governments (which fear the Iraqi Shia-Sunni civil war in Iraq spreading) and help get the Arab states together to contain Iran and prevent it from becoming a nuclear state.

Mamoun Fandy, author of a recently published book on the Arab media ("(Un)Civil War of Words"), warns that such a settlement would not mean an end to Hamas rockets into Israel, but it could help to isolate Hamas and Hezbollah and pull Syria out of Iran' s orbit and into the other Arab states'. Lebanese columnist Khairallah Khairallah argues that just because the AMericans called the summit doesn't mean it's a bad idea for Arabs. He also writes, "Is there anything worse than what is happening in Gaza, which has been transformed into a kind of Islamic emirate, ruled by Hamas in the Taliban style? The Gaza Strip has been turned into one big prison for a million and a half Palestinians who are, for all intents and purposes, under siege."

I don't know how widespread such bitterness about Hamas is among Arabs, But the fact that a couple of prominent columnists express such feelings strikes one as at least somewhat significant.

Deal not a Turkey

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the deal that just might prevent a Turkish military incursion (at least on a large scale) into northern Iraq. We reluctantly suggest that the Bush administration, which we have criticized harshly in the past -- and which has richly deserved it -- might have done someethingpretty close to right this time.

Bleak prospects for Pakistan

The Economist has, unfortunately, a rather bleak assessment of the possible future in Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf has proven himself to be a tinpot dictator who has as much as admitted, to 80 foreign diplomats, that he declared martial law as a matter of self-preservation. All the talk about saving Pakistan from Islamists was bogus. Yet because many Western governments do fear an Islamist takeover, pressure has been limited from abroad. The Bushlet has tut-tutted and treated Musharraf like a schoolboy (one bully knows another?) but hasn't cut off U.S. aid, which has fueled something of an economic boomlet. So Musharraf is mainly opposed by lawyers -- lawyers! -- who march in the street, get arrested and are then able to offer eloquent arguments as to why their detention is unjust, which they almost certainly will never get a chance to offer in a court. The poor in Pakistan (still far and away the vast majority) have so far been unwilling to protest. So the Perv is likely to maintain himself in power a bit longer and anything remotely resembling democracy is more than a little unlikely.

Robertson and Giuliani

So televangelist Pat Robertson has endorsed Rudy Giuliani. Guess it's more important to kill foreigners than to save babies from abortion. A strange transmogrification.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Mike Carona mess

It's never a bad week when a public official gets indicted. The federal indictment of Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona last week caused a good deal of excitement at the newspaper and around the county. Innocent until proven guilty, of course, and some of the charges seem kind of ticky-tack. But as personable and likeable as Mike Carona is -- he's always been more than pleasant to me -- a whiff of corruption has hung around his office for a long time. His two top aides -- friends forever -- have been convicted of various malfeasances already, and he was known to enjoy the perks of the office and some perks that looked more like abuse of power then responsible use of it.

However, a proposal that the Board of Supervisors, if four of five agreed, should be able to remove any other countywide elected official from office, was ill-advised (even if John Moorlach, who's normally one of the good guys as politicians go, proposed it), as the Register argued in this editorial. Miike stepped aside for 60 days and the resolution was defeated. Expect a lot more fireworks.

Karen Hughes' impossible mission

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the resignation of longtime Bush consigliere Karen Hughes from her State Department post in charge of improving the U.S. (is that GWB's?) image abroad. Oh, yes. Public diplomacy they call it. Whatever it is, she didn't do it very well, but in fairness to her the U.S. image abroad is inextricably tied to policies most people in the world resent, and until U.S. policies become more "humble" and less interventionist we'll be alienating a good deal of the world. I don't doubt that many interventionists sincerely believe they are bringing enlightenment and democracy, but military force is not only not a shortcut to the hard slogging of education, setting an example, and understanding other cultures, but it flat-out doesn't work, except in circumstances in which a semblance of civil society is already present, even if battered by war, economic hard times or whatever.

Cutting off Musharraf

It's a little dated now, what with calls from Dubya and the house arrest of Benazir Bhutto and continuing protests, but here's a link to the Register's editorial on Pakistani President Musharraf's decision to impose a wholly unnecessary state of emergency in Pakistan. It suggests that U.S. aid should not continue to a tyrant, no matter how "vital" to a "war on terro" the U.S. doesn't seem to take seriously anyway, what with so many resources being tied down in Iraq.

Musharraf arrests Bhutto

The reports aren't necessarily completely reliable, but apparently Pakistani president "Perv" Musharraf has had former prime minister Benazir Bhutto placed under house arrest, a day in advance of a planned rally against Musharraf's state-of-emergency/martial law decree. Her party memebers also report that as many as 5,000 party activists have been arrested. This reinforces the suspicion/certainty that the decree was much more about Musharraf shoring up his power by eliminating many of those opposed to his rule/policies, despite his assurance that elections will happen in February at the latest, no more than a month after the original schedule. People are guessing the emergency won't last more than a month or so, but you won't catch me speculating. Almost nothing would surprise me now,

Ron Paul's accomplishment

It will be fascinating to see just what becomes of the Ron Paul candidacy in the next few months. As Howard Kurtz at the WaPo put it, he's gotten the attention of the media in a currency the media can understand: money. (I know bloggers aren't supposed to direct readers away from their site for more than a click or two, but Howard's piece has links to responses from others, across what passes for a political spectrum these days. Worth checking out.) Some are already talking about him having the wherewithal to mount a reasonably viable third-party candidacy, and speculating on whether he would take more votes from the Republicans or Democrats. Way too early to speculate intelligently. Good stuff from Glenn Greenwald.

Unless it's done with one of the established parties, however, gaining ballot access will not be easy, even with money. I haven't paid close attention to ballot-access rules in a few years, but last time I looked they were pretty convoluted, and there were states in which it was virtually impossible to get on the ballot without starting a year or so in advance. I'd welcome more up-to-date information, and will probably make some efforts to get at it myself, or talk to people who know. At the least, gaining ballot access for a new entity will require a good deal of concerted effort that could detract from spreading the policy/phslosophy word.

Anyway, here's a link to the Register's editorial today on the Ron Paul phenomenon, noting particularly how much of an all-volunteer, bottom-up, spontaneous-order manifestation the fundraising day was. We sense a hunger for freedom and straight talking out there. I promised earlier I wouldn't say in advance that he has no chance and I won't now. He -- and the movement he's inspired -- has already accomplished more than I could have imagined, and I think we're still in the beginning stages.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bush lectures Musharraf

So now Dubya, after several days of shilly-shallying, has told Pakistani President Musharraf he has to take his uniform off and hold elecetions close to when they are scheduled, in January. Maybe that will happen. Having sent more than $10 billion to Pakistan and created a certain dependency, Bush has at least a little hammer. But bending to the U.S. won't help Musharraf's popularity in Pakistan; he might look better to at least some Pakistanis if he defies Bush. That's why Bush's leverage is not all that great unless he's ready to stop the dole. It could well be that other factors (including resistance that has made the country less stable, not more) will militate an end to quasi-martial law before too long, however, no matter what Bush says.

By the way, Bush's defense of his treating Pakistan and Burma differently -- Pakistan is already on the road to democracy -- is incredibly lame. Why not just be more or less honest and say America's interests in the two countries differ, especially because Pakistan has nukes? Or is honesty an option only when everything else has been tried and come a cropper?

Decent Turkish outcome?

Lord knows I've been critical of the Bush administration on foreign policy, but this time it might have done something fairly well. If this Newsweek story is accurate, they've worked intensively behind the scenes to defuse the potentially dangerous situation along the Turkish-northern-Iraqi border, where the PKK guerrillas have been staging raids into Turkey from Kurdish northern Iraq, killing about 40 Turks over the last month. Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan has been under pressure to invade and take out the PKK, but he understands it could be destabilizing and could stir up Turkey's 14 million Kurds.

Apparently here's the deal. Bush has declared the PKK an official enemy and promised actionable intelligence to Turkey. The Kurdish regional government managed to broker a deal to get 8 kidnapped Turkish soldiers returned, but says it can't take out the PKK in the rugged mountains. So all will look the other way if Turkey does small-scale "hot pursuit" cross-border incursions, and Turkey agrees not to launch a large-scale invasion unless the small-scale doesn't do any good.

Not perfect, but maybe not so bad. It could fall apart, but it's worth giving it a chance. Hat-tip to Dan for pointing this out; most news stories were nowhere near so helpful.

Daylight Losing Time

After a few days I'm more than ready for Daylight Losing Time to be over. I don't much like it being dark when I'm walking to the train station after work -- I know, it would have been anyway before long, but with the time change it seems so sudden. I don't see a reason for so-called Standard Time. It might have been OK when half the country worked on a farm and wanted daylight a little earlier, but as for me give me light at the end of the day as long as possible.

Winners and losers from Hollywood strike

Dan Drezner has a clever post gauging the effect of the Hollywood writers' strike on the 2008 campaign. Since late-night shows like Jay Leno and Jon Stewart, which tend to make fun of politicians, will go dark, almost all candidates will be winners -- with the exception, Drezner argues of McCain and Obama, who do well on such shows and use them for free publicity. I would add Ron Paul to the list of losers, since he does well on them and would have been likely to be invited back, especially given his fundraising prowess.

The Iranian threat

This piece by my friend Doug Bandow might help to put the Iranian threat into some perspective. He reminds us that even if Iran does acquire nuclear weapons -- a possibility most people believe is at least five years down the road (though alarmists have been using the five-years-from-now estimate since about 1995), Iran will still not pose much of a threat to a country with as powerful a military (yes, still powerful despite the damage caused by the Iraq war) as the United States. We keep wanting to make pipsqueak countries into the next Hitler. That very tendency -- to see dangerous giants where a sober analyst sees minor threats that can be handled with intelligent diplomacy -- is one of the many reasons this country is ill-suited to running an empire. It's time to move beyond such dangerous dreams.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ron Paul kicks butt!

Another month, another surprise from the Ron Paul campaign. Yesterday, on Guy Fawkes Day (modern pop-culture reference to the movie "V for Vendetta," though apparently the graphic novel on which it was based was more radical) his campaign raised more money in a single day than any Republican candidate has -- $4.3 million, something any of the other campaigns would die to dream of doing. The previous record was the $3.1 million Mitt Romney raised in a single day last January. The Paul campaign obliterated it. (Hillary and Obama have raised more on a single day; this is a Republican record.)

I talked to Lew Rockwell at the Mises Institute today, and he stressed what struck me as well. This fundraising phenomenon wasn't something the campaign dreamed up, it was initiated, planned and carried through entirely by volunteers. As Lew put it, all the campaign had to do was be warned that it better have its servers fired up and accept the money. There were 37,000 people who donated, 21,00 of them new donors.

What the Paul campaign has become is the most impressive, decentralized, spontaneous-order movement for freedom of which I am aware. The "movement" during the Vietnam war had a lot of spontaneity, but also a lot of planning. (Of course, it didn't have the Internet.) What the Paul campaign has done is to motivate a community, invite people to act on their own, and stood back and watched as one unlikely piece of progress follows another.

Will the Republican establishment and the rest of the political world learn much from this? As Rick Klein put it for ABC, "Sixty-seven percent of self-identified Republicans still approve of the job the president is doing, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. Read another way, a full third of the people who consider themselves Republicans are not at the president's side (to say nothing of independents who have traditionally voted Republican.

"Other than Paul, no Republican candidate is making a concerted effort to reach those disaffected GOPers. Other than Paul, each remains a full-throated supporter of the war in Iraq, even as an AP bulletin out this morning pegs 2007 as the deadliest year yet for US troops in this war."

Klein doesn't make note of -- perhaps he doesn't understand it yet -- the number of independents, Democrats, young people who hadn't thought much about politics, and people who thought they were apolitical who have been attracted to Paul -- even people who don't agree with him on much of what he says. He feeds a hunger for authenticity. Agree with him or not (and I disagree on immigration) you know he'll tell you what he believes rather than what the polls tell him people want to hear. The result is the most enthusiastic grassroots campaign in ages.

I've said before that the Ron Paul campaign is the most impressive pro-freedom mass movement I can remember, and perhaps the most significant one in U.S. history. The abolition movement is the only one that strikes me as comparable.

Nightmare in Pakistan

Take your eyes off Pakistan for a day or so and something terrible happens. Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency -- tantamount to martial law -- looks much more like an effort to maintain his pitiful hold on power than anything to do with fighting the threat of jihadist terrorists -- the Pakistani supreme court was on the verge of saying it was unconstitutional for him to be president and head of the army simultaneously -- and it was transparent as could be.

As Fred Kaplan points out in Slate, the situation demonstrates "yet another low point in President George W. Bush's foreign policy -- a stark demonstration of his paltry influence and his bankrupt principles." Musharraf not only declared the emergency after Condi pleaded with him not to, he pretty much threw back in the administration's face the fact that its brave talk about using interventionism to promote democracy was a hollow facade. The U.S. has put our money where Bush's mouth is to the tune of $10-11 buillion since 9/11, almost all of it for the military. As Kaplan puts it, "It should be clear now, if it wasn't already, that Musharraf has been diddling Bush & Co. the past three years or longer."

Bottom line: If the U.S. doesn't do more than tut-tut about Musharraf, nobody will ever be able listen to Bush talk about promoting democracy without snickering or scoffing.

Kaplan thinks the U.S. might have had a chance to straighten Musharraf out a couple of years ago or maybe even six months ago, when he started moving against the supreme court. I'm not sure. As I've noted on several occasions, Musharraf is mostly a bad actor, but the situation in Pakistan, which some call the least governable country in the world, has been something of a no-win for some time. Musharraf moving against terrorists in the northwest provinces was unpopular among Pakistanis, who thought he was acting as Bush's puppet. And no central government has ever had effective control over those tribal provinces -- something I find somewhat charning though most people find it deplorable.

For a different take on Pakistan, here's Lee Smith, now with the Hudson Institute, who has been writing a book on Arab media forever. He argues that for all his shortcomings Musharraf hs done a great deal that the U.S. wanted, and that cutting him off would send the message that the U.S. doesn't stand by its allies.

The mistake was personalizing foreign policy -- Bush has a bad habit of doing that, since he has the delusion that he can size people up and that's all that's needed -- centering it on Musharraf the person rather than Pakistan the country.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Was it the oil after all?

Here's a provocative piece from the London Review of Books by Jim Holt, who has written for the New Yorker and the NYT. He argues that what seems like fumbling and missteps in Iraq have actually set things up nicely for western oil companies to gain effective control of much of the Iraq oil that hasn't yet been pumped , which is a lot. "How will the U.S. maintain hegemony over Iraqi oil? By establishing permanent military bases in Iraq." Five are in various stages of completion, well away from urban areas. As long as civil conflict simmers, there will be a rationale for keeping maybe 35,000 U.S. soldiers there. That could reduce the importance (and perhaps the revenue) of Russia, Venezuela and OPEC.

This is the most persuasive case I've seen for oil being a primary motivator behind the invasion. I'm skeptical to some degree because although almost nobody ackinowledges it, at some level almost everybody knows that there's no need to keep U.S. troops in the area to get Persian (or Arabian, depending which side of the gulf you live on) Gulf oil. Those countries have to sell it more than the U.S. has to buy it; otherwise their economic base is sand, and they'll have increasingly restive populations. And also, as Holt himself acknowledges:

"Still, there is reason to be sceptical of the picture I have drawn; it implies that a secret and highly ambitious plan turned out just the way its devisers foresaw, and that almost never happens."

Letting bin Laden back in the game

Here's an interesting piece by Peter Bergen, who was following terrorism and Osama bin Laden before 9/11. He contends that as of 2002, al-Qaida was in serious disarray. A letter from a cadre addressed to Khalid Sheik Muhammad (KSM of waterboarding fame), complained that "Today we are experiencing one setback after another and have gone from misfortune to disaster," noting the crumbling of groups in Europe, East Asia, Europe, Yemen, the Horn of Afrrica and elsewhere. Yet in just five years "Al Qaeda has not only survived but also managed to rebuild at an astonishing clip."

Why? Because "At nearly every turn, he [President Bush] has made the wrong strategic choices in battling Al Qaeda." We let them get away at Tora Bora, in part because resources were already being shifted to Iraq. The U.S. then fumbled the job of rebuilding Afghanistan, again mainly because of being distracted by Iraq. Then removing Saddam from Iraq created an opportunity to build terrorist cells there and get active jihadists "blooded" while exacerbating sectarian differences. The U.S. joined Musharraf in Pakistan at the hip, gave him $10 billion, and hectored him enough to make him even more unpopular but not enough to keep al-Qaida and the Taliban from regrouping. We still have no intelligence capacity at the medium to upper levels of al-Qaida, and Abu Ghraib and other evidences of abusive attitudes helped al-Qaida recruit more members.

In short, at this point bin Laden is beating Dubya. And probably doing it from some cave.