Sunday, August 31, 2008

Not much respect for liberty in St. Paul

Wanna see an example of libertarian funk? Steve Greenhut in our Register office is the natural-born pessimist of the group, whereas I am the cockeyed optimist always seeing things as evidence that the state is withering away. Anyway, Steve is going to the Republican convention in St. Paul, and here's his preview column, full of woe. Based on the nominee, the speakers and the general tone, he doesn't see much hope for anything resembling a politics of liberty from the Republicans. I gave up on the Republicans years ago, so I'm not feeling quite as specifically pessimistic this year.

Waiting for the Bruins

I can hardly believe I am actually impatient for the first UCLA football game tomorrow at 5 PDT. Good sense suggests lowered expectations: the two quarterbacks who started games last year are out with injuries and the starter is a JC transfer who wasn't with the team last year. Of five Register sportswriters, two picked UCLA to finish 6th, two 7th and one 8th. UCLA is in a rebuilding year and has the toughest overall schedule in the Pac 10 -- 6 of 10 games against top-25 teams. Only two of the offensive line starters played so much as a down last year.

And yet . . . the defense appears to be solid. Norm Chow is an excellent offensive coordinator (and would probably like to show up USC where he had success before but seems to have been dissed) and Rick Neuheisel has been successful as head coach wherever he has gone. Besides quarterback the "skill" players (though don't ever tell me offensive linemen don't need skill, especially when they're undersized runts as I was) seem to be pretty solid.

Anyway, chips, beer and guacamole are stocked up, so I'm ready.

First read on Sarah Palin

Here's the column I cobbled together Friday for the Sunday Register on Sarah Palin. I hate writing to fit but it does impose a certain discipline. Short story shorter: She firms up the base, which wasn't enthusiastic, could appeal to Hillaryites (I almost like my original typo, "Hillarytites" better) but we'll have to see (abortion may be a deal-breaker), and she has some downsides: Won't be able to use the "no experience" meme against Obama as much, she could easily slip on one of the many banana peels that will be tossed in front of her.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Jerry Browns medical marijuana guidelines not bad

When I saw the first headlines regarding the guidelines Calif. Attorney General Jerry Brown issued this week on medical marijuana I was dismayed. The AP story emphasized the idea that a lot of dispensaries would be open to law enforcement raids under them, and that he had declared any profit-making entity likely illegal. Then I talked to the good folks at Americans for Safe Access, who were fairly pleased and actually read the guidelines in toto, and decided they're not so bad. The bit about profit-making dispensaries will probably be challenged in court on the grounds that the original law, 1996's Prop.215, didn't stipulate no profit, and laws passed by initiative can only be changed by a new vote of the people. Appellate courts have already invalidated possession limits on the same grounds, but Jerry's appealed that to the Calif. Supremes. I think he'll lose, but predicting how courts will decide is a fool's game.

Anyway, here's the Register's editorial. The rest of the guidelines take recent court decisions into account and set up fairly reasonable standards that most dispensaries are likely to meet. That might not keep the feds away, as Jerry said he wanted to do, but it's not a bad start.

Trashing Arnold's tax idea

By "law" the California budget is supposed to be completed by June 30, although that seldom happens. The deadlock is still ongoing, with a $15.9 billion deficit forecast. Arnold had proposed a "temporary" cent-a-dollar sales tax increase, and the Register thought that was a really bad idea. Was that any way to treat him after his office called and asked if we would run an op-ed piece from him touting the idea, which we did? I thought so. You can be nice, or at least civil, to politicians, but a bad idea is a bad idea. And with California already having the 6th-highest tax burden in the country and the 4th-highest per capita government spending, this is a bad idea. The state government doesn't have a borrowing addiction, it has a spending addiction.

Legislative meetings and negotiations are likely this weekend.

I was wrong, the Bruins play on Monday

Against Tennessee. Still at 5 p.m. PDT on ESPN. I'll have the guacamole and beer ready.

The week that was

Well, it's certainly been an interesting political week. I and others, including Mark Landsbaum on site in Denver have been blogging much of it on the Register's Orange Punch blog. I thought Obama gave a very good acceptance speech that capped off a remarkably successful convention that in retrospect (staged as these things are anymore) seemed to have a positive dramatic arc for the Democrats, from letting the Clintons, who behaved rather well, have their say, then moved to make it clear that this is Obama's party.

Then that rascal McCain showed he had a pretty good trick up his sleeve and stole Obama's thunder by choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate. She has some downside risks, but what I saw on conservative blogs was a real energizing of the base. It's become a much more interesting race.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Football begins

I don't know whether to look forward to the UCLA football season, which begins Saturday at 5 PDT against Tennessee on ESPN, with anticipation and trepidation. Things should certainly be different eventually with Rick Neuheisel as coach, but Ben Olsen, penciled in as starting quarterback, has already gone down with an injury (8-10 more weeks) and Kevin Craft, a transfer, is an unknown quantity. The offensive line, the heart of any good football team, is mostly new and untested. And quite frankly, there are valid doubts about the overall talent level on this team.

But despite problems at other schools where he has coached -- though the fact that he put a big bet into an NCAA basketball tournament pool while coaching football was pretty bogus as an ethical problem and I think he got a settlement from U. of Washington after they fired him over it -- he has been successful as a coach wherever he has gone, and he's an old (1984 Rose Bowl MVP, which makes him a youngster by my lights) Bruin player. I suspect there will be a certain amount of "wait until next year" this season, but I'm hoping against hope that it will be better than that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bluffing on a bad hand

Here's the Register's editorial on the current Georgian crisis. Essentially, the U.S> and Western Europe got outsmarted by Russia, which is feeling its oats now that the high price of oil has pumped so much money into the state sector. It was utterly predictable -- anybody with even a sense of Russia history knew it and many predicted it -- that Russia would want to control the countries in what has been called the "near abroad" since czarist times. Simple geography: its frontier is flat plains and subject to invasion (Napoleon, Hitler) so it wants its neighbors friendly or vassals. Russia interpreted NATO expansion as a threat, so it took Georgia down a couple of pegs when Bush tried to push Georgia into NATO. Putin did it at a time when the U.S. could do nothing -- nothing -- effective to stop him. If the U.S. had wanted to do something (not that who rules South Ossetia is one of our core interests, by a long shot) it should have been through quiet behind-the-scenes diplomacy rather than blister, preaching and self-righteousness that the whole world knows we can't back up.

In the process I had a nice talk with my old friend Tom Henriksen at the Hoover Institution. He's got a new book out, "American Power After the Berlin Wall," the first comprehensive history of how the U.S. has used its power, that I think is intended as a college text and is definitely worth reading.

Blogging the convention

If you have any interest in a modestly libertarian take on the Democratic convention, the Register staff is blogging it fairly extensively on our Orange Punch blog. My colleague Mark Landsbaum is doing most of the heavy lifting/writing since he's on the scene in Denver, but I'm interjecting comments from time to time, as is Steve Greenhut, who will be in St. Paul next week for the Republican convention. We had some fun in the comments section with some of our readers who think I'm more than a bit off-the-wall on this post. Check it out.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Nice Olympics, but . . .

Here's the Register's editorial wrapping up the Olympics. There's no question the Games were a success, though the opening ceremony was pretty fascist, and it was an athletic success as well. But it came at a price, beyond the reported $40 billion. Dissidents jailed, street people hustled to the sticks, houses bulldozed, no demonstrations authorized. China looked good on the surface but exposed itself as still a totalitarian regime. Will the games lead to or facilitate liberalization eventually? Hope so, but it's hard to tell.

By the way, if Orange County were a separate nation (nice dream), it would have finished 13th in the medals brigade.

Edwards case getting creepy

The whole John Edwards situation is getting really kind of weird. It couldn't happen to a more deserving smarmy lawyer, but picking on his wife is a little over-the-top.

There was a strange aspect little commented on earlier. A Robert McGovern, described as a New Age spiritual healer, supposedly a long-time associate of Rielle Hunter, who arranged the meeting at the Beverly Hilton. Edwards was attracted to a woman duped by a New Age fraud? Did McGovern set up the meeting purposely so Edwards would get caught? Just bizarre.

And now there's this story today about Edwards trying to reach out to friends and former aides to apologize and try to make amends for all the lies he told and the deception he practiced. Apparently most of them want nothing to do with him. A few have told him so to his phone receiver, and others say they don't intend to answer his calls. Ever.

What strikes me as unacceptable, however, are those who are starting to criticize Elizabeth Edwards publicly for acquiescing in the deception. She may deserve such criticism, but do you have to do it in public. She's politically deluded, of course, but she seems like a decent enough person who doesn't deserve it. Unless her (former) friends and associates know stuff about her that I don't.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Shield law not a bad idea

I have not always been convinced that shield laws, which exempt journalists from having to reveal sources and other stuff (raw notes, etc.) to prosecutors and grand juries. It made me a little uncomfortable that it could be seen as a special privilege other Americans don't have. But I also know, if only occasionally from experience, that sometimes you can't get information unless you promise confidentiality to a source. And often whistleblowers won't blow the whistle unless they get confidentiality. Unnamed sources can be overused, of course, but a grand jury shouldn't have the power to make you break that promise. Here's the Register's editorial on the subject.

Russia reasserting itself

I guess I neglected to link to the previous week's column. It wasn't the article I thought it was going to be when I sat down to write. But I got fascinated by the difference between patriotism and nationalism, which I delineate as love for country as compared to hostility to other countries, sometimes to the point of seeing war as desirable. The context is the Russian-Georgian conflict, which has permitted many to revive all kinds of Cold War tropes and seem to settle in comfortably to hating a familiar enemy/adversary. Of course for those always looking around the world with a chip on their nationalistic shoulder, the Russians were sure to come to the fore eventually, given that Russia has always worried about and tried to dominate its "near abroad."

I think I got a patriotism/nationalism discussion going among commenters, some of whom thought I was all wet. Good.

Danger in Iraq

It was reported last week, but I don't think quite enough attention has been paid to a situation that could backfire rather handily in Iraq. Remember the Anbar Awakening, which in my view probably did more than the surge to contribute the the reduced violence in Iraq? Well, the Shia-dominated Iraqi government is not only dragging its feet on bringing those American-supported ($300 a month) fighters into the national security services, it has issued arrest warrants for 650 of the leaders. Hard to know where this will lead, but something like a resumption of civil war is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. Here's the Register's editorial on the potential dangers. I also devoted my column this week to the problem.

Register at the Democratic convention

I just finished commenting for the Register's opinion blog, Orange Punch, on Michelle Obama's speech -- I thought she was OK but could have closed the deal better -- and I would like to recommend it. My colleague Mark Landsbaum is in Denver with credentials and all that, and will be blogging as often as he can get to a computer. I'm watching things from the office, and Steve Greenhut kicks in comments too.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Craven publisher

It's difficult to overstate the cravenness of Random House, the publisher, in relation to the novel, "The Jewel of Medina." Sherry Jones, a former Montana newspaper reporter, decided to write the novel to highlight the prophet Muhammad's sensitive and almost feminine side. It's a fictionalized account of Aisha, one of Muhammad's younger and more beloved wives, and Jones says it illustrates that Muhammad and early Islam had a more liberal view of the place of women and women's rights than some latter-day understandings of Islam do.

So Random House gave her a $100,000 advance and the book was slated to be an August Book of the Month Club selection. But one Middle Eastern studies professor, Denise Spellberg, who has also written about Aisha, said the book was inflammatory and problematic, and demanded that her name be eliminated from the bibliography. She than contacted some Islamic Web sites to ask them to oppose it, and apparently they did.

The best I can figure out, not having read it but only read about it, is that while there are no explicit sex scenes, the novel treats Muhammad and Aisha as sexcual beings Horrors!

Anyway, Random House, having gotten a few complaints, has withdrawn the novel from its publishing schedule. The craven chickenhearts.

Great expectations in judging

Based on what one of the gymnastics commentators said, my theory on why the Chinese keep getting such high scores in events that involve judging has to do with what the judges expect. The rules don't allow judges from any of the countries with athletes in the finals, so you get in some cases less experienced judges, judges who may not have seen all that many truly superior performances, given that the athletes from their countries weren't truly superior enough to get into the finals. Thus they might not really know much about the fine gradations between very good, near-great and great performances. So they just might, probably not consciously, be inclined to give scores based on the reputations of the performers -- I'm thinking mainly of divers here -- figuring if therer weren't obvious mistakes or huge splashes, they can't go too wrong or look too ridiculous giving those with the highest reputations the higherest scores. At least that's my theory for now.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Iraq war still a mistake

I've got to give Francis Fukuyama a little credit for taking a sensible position and sticking to it, and for the Wall Street Journal, which has been consistently pro-war and absurdly belligerent about almost every international issue, for printing his column. A few weeks ago he paid the Journal's Bret Stephens $100 on a wager that Iraq would be a "mess" five years from 2003. He concedes that Iraq is in better shape than a year ago and in better shape than almost anybody really expected. However:

"What I absolutely did not concede, however, was the fact that this change meant the war itself was worth it. By invading Iraq in the manner it did, the U.S. exacerbated all of the threats it faced prior to 2003. Recruitment into terrorist cells shot up all over the world. North Korea and Iran accelerated their development of nuclear weapons." And Iran is now the dominant player in the Persian Gulf region.

Fukuyama also explains, beyond the psychological reluctance, why so many war opponents are so reluctant to concede that the "surge" has "worked" -- beyond the obvious fact that other factors, including the Anbar Awakening beginning before the surge and Muqtada al-Sadr getting word from Iran to enter a cease-fire were involved. As Fukuyama puts it, "The smallest concession induces supporters of the war to argue that they were right all along, as Mr. Stephens did." This war may end without the result being indefinite occupation and a complete mess in Iraq. But it was still unnecessary and unwise.

Freedom's Dick Wallace retiring

This may seem a bit like inside baseball, but Dick Wallace, part of the family that owns the Register and Freedom Communications, its parent company, us such a good guy that he's worthy of a bit of celebration. He'll turn 70 in January and he's announced his retirement. It may be, however, that he is taking one for the team, freeing up his salary for other expenses. He'll continue to be involved in Freedom School with Tibor Machan, and is likely to be around the corporate office quite a bit as well. What has endeared him to me, however, is his consistent, persistent and sincere support of freedom principles and his influence in making sure the family continues to make supporting liberty a big part of the corporate mission. That and the fact that along with being a hard-headed manager he has a great sense of humor and a great sense of fun.

As is hardly a secret, the newspaper business is still in serious trouble. Terry Horne, the new publisher at the Register, has pretty solid plans for dealing with the situation, but a whole lot -- death of department stores, Craigslist and taking away classified advertising, other Internet news sites, young people not buying newspapers -- is beyond our control. We're working on Web-first reporting and commentary. The strategy of zoned editions, to attract local businesses not interested in the full run of the paper, is starting to show results, but we're a long way from being out of the woods.

Musharraf faces more accountability than Bush

S0 Perv Musharraf, who has been president of Pakistan since he took over in a military coup in 1999, has resigned. He faces more accountability for his malfeasance in office than President Bush has. But then impeachment, with which Musharraf was threatened, is not really based on the magnitude of the crimes involved but on the magnitude of the loss of political support. Bush certainly deserves to be impeached based on the way he has trashed the constitution, but the sad fact, ignored by some of the more enthusiastic advocates of impeachment, is that he would almost certainly have had enough support in Congress to avert conviction, perhaps even to avert impeachment, and significant elements of the country would have rallied around him. Too bad. Impeachment got a bad name when they tried it on Clinton.

Anyway, here's the Register's editorial on Musharraf's resignation. The two parties now in control aren't even speaking to each other and what is called a government in Pakistan really isn't one -- which might not be all that bad. Fortunately the Pakistani military still seems to have effective control of the nuclear weapons. I wouldn't be surprised if they took over he government before long. It's been a Pakistani pattern.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nastia wuz robbed!

I don't always agree with the commentators on the Olympics broadcasts, and in fact find many of them annoying. But I think I do agree that Nastia Liukin of the U.S. was robbed of the gold medal on the uneven bars. It shouldn't have been a tie bringing on a tiebreaking method that really didn't make much sense. If it was a tie both should have gotten gold. But it shouldn't have been a tie at all. Nastia's performance was clearly superior.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Drill -- and everything else

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the possibility that the House just might take a vote on opening up more areas to offshore drilling, or at least letting state governments decide. It acknowledges that drilling is far from a panacea, and that it will take a while to see any oil even if drilling starts now. But since current willingness to put supply on the market and current prices reflect the anticipation of future prices, it would put downward pressure on prices immediately, as I noted in a previous post.

I say try everything else also, but not in the same way many do. Most politicians want to use various government incentives like tax credits to encourage wind energy, ethanol, other biofuels, solar and the like. That distorts the market and makes it more difficult to know what kinds of alternative energy is truly economical and competitive.

We got a call from a very angry old man today who said this editorial was "wrong on everything" and that it reflected the left-wing bias of the nasty media. He said he was canceling his subscription, but he didn't want to talk to the writer, because it was just plain wrong. You put your work out there and you just don't know what people are going to think. I love it.

Solzhenitsyn on evil

I'm a little surprised that with the death of Solzhenitsyn having occurred so recently, a death most politically aware people had to have noted, that neither Barack Obama nor John McCain thought to incorporate some of Solzhenitsyn's classic statement in the Gulag Archipelago when they answered Rick Warren on whether there is such a thing as evil:

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn't change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.

Instead of acknowledging this likelihood, which as nearly as I can understand it is close to the heart of Christianity properly understood, they defined evil as something somebody else does -- and in McCain's case especially, as something to make one angry. But isn't anger itself at least a shortcoming?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cheers for Jamaica, mon

I'm almost glad the Jamaicans did so well in the 100-meter, with Bolt wining decisively in the men's and Jamaican women sweeping the medals. I've never been there, but I have a special affection for Jamaica, not only because I simply love the lyrical accent, but because their morning news radio show, the "Breakfast Club" has the good taste to ask me to appear (by phone, alas) a few times a year, usually when something simply horrible is happening in the Middle East. They saw a piece I did on Iraqi history and ethnic divisions just before the war and somehow decided I was some sort of expert. Anyway, I'm happy for the country.

And we have a new benchmark in commentary. I don't know who the girl is who comments on women's diving is, and I don't especially want to know. But my wife, who is never wrong, has pronounced her "worse than Dick Button," and that is a status that in her mind is difficult to achieve.

Finally some singing

From your lips to God's ears. What should I see some where along the line during Olympics coverage but a U.S. gold-winning team singing the national anthem during the medal ceremony, but singing with what looked very much like enthusiasm. It was the eight-seat women's rowing team, and I suspect it wasn't a coincidence. Rowing is one of those sports that nobody but diehards pays attention to except for a few minutes during the Olympics. It certainly isn't televised. And it's hard, perhaps as physically demanding as any sport. So it's understandable that a team that gets the ultimate spotlight there would go for the whole experience, including singing the national anthem with gusto. Good for them.

Olympian quibbles

Why don't the Americans sing, or at least lip-synch, the national anthem when they're on the medal stand. The Chinese certainly do, and athletes from most of the other countries. I know it's a ridiculously difficult song to sing, but nobody can hear you in that context. But they can see whether your lips are moving or you're yukking it up with your buddies. I'm not even a big one for overt displays of patriotism, but at least pretending you know the words seems a minimal thing to ask.

And interviewers everywhere (but especially at NBC apparently). Can we retire the tired old question, "What was going through your mind when . . ." You never get anything resembling an insightful answer because chances are, if you're referring to an athletic endeavor, nothing was going through your mind because the adrenalin rushing through your body blocked any possible thoughts, and thinking might have interrupted the focus needed to get the physical job done. I know it's hard to think of good questions for athletes who have just achieved something significant, in large part because most athletes seldom have anything very interesting to say (remember the people in high school who were the jocks? how many were mental giants?). But that question is particularly lame.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Andrew Bacevich on Bill Moyers

Here's a link, via A Tiny Revolution, to a YouTube and other material regarding Andrew Bacevich's appearance on Bill Moyers. I have his new book, "The Limits of Power," but haven't started reading it yet. Andrew had an entire career in the military, retiring as a colonel, before beginning to teach at Boston University. He's a profoundly conservative person who understood from the outset that the Iraq war was a huge mistake. I've talked with him many times by phone and have great respect for him. I'll get to the book very soon.

End of military commissions?

My, I'm late getting things up here. Here's a link to the piece I did last week for elaborating quite a bit more than in the Register editorial on issues surrounding the military commission verdict in Hamdan's case. I'm inclined to give the judge and the jury props for trying to run a reasonably fair trial despite the rules that they could have followed more scrupulously that rig the proceeding completely against the defendant. I think their 5-1/2-year sentence is a slap ion the face to the administration -- well-deserved.

The Hamdan verdict

A little late, perhaps, but here's a link to the Register's editorial on the verdict in the military trial of Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver. I don't know whether the officers on the jury were trying to save the commission system by trying to deliver a fair verdict despite overzealous prosecution, or were expressing their disgust at the system. Either way, it's a thumb in the eye to the administration.

Live-blogging the "Civil Forum"

If you're interested in contemporaneous comments, Mark Landsbaum and I blogged pretty steadily on the Register's Orange Punch blog during this afternoon's "civil forum" with Obama and McCain at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Orange County. Mandie Russell, our editorial intern last summer, attended the event in person and had some comments afterward as well. If I may say so, I was pretty close to as radical as I get in some of my comments.

It lived up to its billing as a civil event -- a bit unusual but somewhat interesting in that Warren asked each candidate the same questions separately, with Obama going first while McCain was in a "cone of silence" so he couldn't hear Obama's answers. Somewhat revealing, and it will certainly boost Rick Warren's prestige. As I noted in an earlier Orange Punch blog, however, it was just on the edge of proper. I don't remember Jesus and Paul being all that eager to cozy up to the principalities and powers.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Nice internationalism

During the final floor exercise in the Olympic women's gymnastics competition, the Russian tumbler used a quintessentially American song (written by a Russian Jewish immigrant, Irving Berlin) as accompaniment, "Puttin' on the Ritz," while the eventual gold medalist from America used the almost iconically Russian song (written by a Ukrainian and a German), "Dark Eyes" (sometimes called "Russian Nights.") (I still have Ivan Rebroff -- a German probably of Russian ancestry, but maybe that was marketing) singing it on vinyl, which I plan to digitize for the iPod now that I have the equipment.) But then the American, Nastia Liukin, was born in Moscow, and her father and mother both won gold in gymnastics for the Russians -- guess it was still the Soviet Union -- 20 years ago. But Nastia, who has lived here most of her life, seems almost more American than most native-born girls that age. All of that strikes me as highly benign internationalism.

The Potemkin Olympics

Speaking of the Olympics, while the sheer dedication of the athletes from all over almost redeems them, there are aspects of China's effort to create the impression of a Perfect Olympics in the Perfect Country that simply grate on you. Here's the Register's editorial on the lip-synching, phony fireworks, Tiananmen memory hole and stuff. Sometimes totalitarians just try too hard and reveal the skull beneath the mask. Here's a lengthy piece TNR ran in early July that lays out in great detail some of the outrages the regime pulled in the run-up. And news about an attempt at protest that got five Americans arrested.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Anthrax: just too neat

Damned Olympics sucking me in! So much to catch up on.

The suicide of Army scientist Bruce Ivins just as the FBI seemed to be closing in on him as the prime suspect in the anthrax letters case strikes me as just too neat and clean to be completely credible. I know, Occam's Razor, simplest-explanation-best and all that. But even with all the stuff they released about Ivins being pretty mentally unstable, I'm not completely convinced. I'm not sure I go all the way with this writer who suggests the Bush-Cheney cabal staged it, but I do remember how helpful the anthrax letters were to creating the impression that it might have been Saddam Hussein, which the Bushies were pushing as hard as they could -- and which contributed to the psychological build-up to the Iraq war -- until the FBI seemed to settle unjustly on Stephen Hatfill, who ended up getting $5.8 million from the taxpayers for all the harassment to which he was subjected.

The best on this issue has been Glenn Greenwald, who has pursued various inconsistencies in the case against Ivins, here, here, here, and here. Very lawyerly, which in this case and context is a compliment. But even the WSJ has run pieces (by a former Ft. Detrick scientist who worked with him) saying that it just couldn't have been Ivins, and probably not any single individual.

Full-scale congressional investigation, anyone?

Headline curiosities

I'm probably not the first to notice something at least mildly interesting about the way different newspapers do headlines. The WaPo recently had the headline:

"Anthrax Case Raises Doubt on Security."

If the Register had run the same headline, it would have appeared this way:

"Anthrax case raises doubt on security."

It wouldn't have had every word except a few short but somewhat arbitrary ones -- a, an, on, to, of -- capitalized. Although in big print, it reads like a sentence, which most headlines (though not all by any means) are. I hope I'm not being to employer-centric when I say I prefer the Register style. I think it promotes easier reading and makes headlines a little less blocky.

The Post style is the more traditional. I think the Register shifted style sometime in the 1980s. USA Today uses the same style. Did we copy it from them? I'm not sure.

Perhaps it's a formal/informal dichotomy. Maybe not. The LA Times takes itself very seriously, but it doesn't capitalize all the words in a headline. Maybe it's an East Coast/West Coast thing; the New York Times uses capitalized words too, as does the Wall Street Journal. But then USA Today is headquartered in Arlington VA. And the UK's Telegraph doesn't capitalize all the words in a headline. Maybe it's stodgy/trying to be hip?

It's not all that important, but I though it was kinda interesting.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Courts uphold medical marijuana

I've blogged about this before, but here's the Register's editorial on the California appeals court decision that told San Diego and San Bernardino Counties that California's medical marijuana law is not superseded by federal law, and their duty as subdivsions of the state is to set up procedures to screen patients for state-issued patient ID cards. I doubt if this is the end of the foot-dragging among localities -- many have passed ordinances against medical marijuana dispensaries, which may or may not be legally challengeable -- but it is another small step toward actually implementing the law voters approved 12 years ago.

Lust for the Cold War

It appears, though reports as of this moment suggest the possibility of continuing fighting, that a cease-fire will end the Russian-Georgian conflict, at least for now. The Russians even say they agree to French president Sarkozy's proposal of returning to the troop positions before the conflict, with Medvedev saying it's enough to have punished Georgia and more or less decimated its military. But I doubt if we've seen the last of repercussions.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this conflict is the extent to which it has unleashed nostalgia for the Cold War, with Russia as the easily identified, easily demonized enemy again. From the Wall Street Journal to the Heritage Foundation to AEI to Bob Kagan writing in the WaPo. the calls to "do something" about the evil Russians' aggressions against a valued democratic ally issued plaintively.

Trouble is, as this Register editorial outlines briefly, it isn't all that clear who the bad guys or aggressors were here. Just as Georgia sees Russia as the neighborhood bully, the smaller separatist provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia see Georgia as the neighborhood bully, and for reasons rooted in history and ethnicity among other factors they prefer (at least significant majorities do) to be more closely associated with Russia, perhaps even to be part of Russia.

The timing was surprising, but the conflict wasn't. Russia felt (and was) dissed when it was weak and chaotic in the 1990s, but now that it's waxing fat on oil money and has a canny autocrat at the helm, it's worrying about the "near abroad," as Russian regimes have for hundreds of years. It's not necessarily necessary, but Russia has always wanted only neighbors who are friendly or vassals on its border, and the prospect of a state longing to be in NATO, with Saakashvili talking constantly about eventually "retaking" the two provinces that have been de facto independent and allied to Russia (which made all residents Russian citizens was predictably too much for Russians eager to flex their geopolitical muscles a bit to bear. However it started, the Russians were better prepared (probably have war-gamed it a hundred ways).

However, who rules South Ossetia is hardly a core U.S. interest, so there was no sensible reason for the U.S. to intervene -- and besides it had no way to do so. All the blustering without any concrete way to punish Russia only made Bush and McCain (and to some extent Obama) look silly and exposed how helpless a giant the overstretched imperial power is. And to have the invader of Iraq moralizing about invading sovereign countries? I suspect Bush is so self-righteous he didn't even notice a contradiction.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Mundane Olympic architecture

Last week Philip Kennicott, the WaPo's architecture critic, did a near-scathing review of most of the building done for the Olympics. The "Bird's Nest" stadium and the aquatic building, the Water Cube, are inspired masterpieces he thinks will be admired for years to come. But the rest of the venues are mediocre at best, pedestrian even. And take note. I haven't watched all of the TV coverage by a long shot, but I haven't seen any of the other buildings shown from the outside. Kennicott thinks the plaza in which these two cool buildings are has an overall effect that is "cold, elegant and unwelcoming. The overwhelming amount of open space, painfully more apparent in the months before the Olympics, when it was empty of all but workers, is oppressive, and it will be hard to make the plaza anything more than a totalitarian showplace after the Games." So far NBC hasn't shown us enough of these other buildings to make anything resembling an informed judgment, but that very fact suggests that the other buildings are no great shakes.

It's also interesting that China is so relentless in its pursuit of more medals than the U.S. wins. I guess the U.S. got four more last time. So what China did was to form Operation 119, after studying events that give out a lot of medals China hasn't really gone after -- 16 medals in canoe/kayak, for example -- and put together a program to find and train athletes to go after those medals. That's the kind of thing a totalitarian or authoritarian society can do. A freer society has to depend on the interest and enthusiasm athletes and potential athletes develop when young and (for the most part) count on parents to finance those Olympic dreams.

Dissonant Olympic notes

Just watched Michael Phelps win his third gold and set his second individual world record, and there's nothing dissonant about that. I love to see people achieve things, and this emphasis on individual achievement (not that there isn't team achievement too) in the American culture has to be part of the reason the U.S. does well -- besides the obvious advantages of size and prosperity.

Which doesn't really lead us to the opening ceremonies, but it';s where I want to go. The NYT said it contained a reassuring message: "Do not worry. We mean no harm." I don't think that was the most important message at all, though some aspects of it were there. Assembling 2008 drummers to do exactly the same routine, with the same gestures and facial expressions was impressive in its way, but it also sent the message that this regime doesn't consider the individual as important as the people in mass, especially doing utterly uniform and identical things, is what we cherish. Did anyone else find that other than reassuring. Matt Leone in our office today said it was impressive but just a little creepy.

The impression was reinforced by the gigantic wave-like show with various boxes going up and down to create waves, characters and ather graphic images. Impressive again, in its way, but both more and less so to know it was all done by people, not levers or computers. It almost said -- though the opening ceremonies contained plenty of CG -- that we don't need no stinking computers, we have 1.4 billion people and they're eminently trainable and obedient. There was almost a Triumph of the Will-like display of gigantic, impressive collective action. You know this is a collectivist regime rather than one that cherishes the individual as an individual. I don't think this regime has the kind of geopolitical ambitions that should make the U.S. worry much, but I would hate living under it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Political games

Here's a link to the piece I did for the Register's Sunday Commentary section on the politics of the Olympics. Quite frankly, even though I wrote that with the kind of security they've got in place any serious disruption seems unlikely, I've been a little surprised that there haven't been more political demonstrations or displays. There were a couple before the games opened -- nothing major -- but nothing I'm aware of since. Of course, insofar as I've stayed in touch -- it was another work-in-the-yard kind of day today -- it's been on the channels broadcasting the Games, not any of the news channels.

It's still worth thinking about the fact that the last two totalitarian regimes to host the Olympics -- Germany in 1936 and the Soviet Union in 1980 -- were gone in about a decade. I think the Chicoms are shrewder, but it's still an interesting thought.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Did you miss me?

On Thursday night our nephew Tom showed up on our doorstep just as Jen was leaving to pick me up at the bus stop, so naturally we had to celebrate. Last night he went to the Angels-Yankees game -- he's a diehard Yankees fan -- and for the third time he's done that his beloved Yankees got trounced. Of course we had to watch the game to see if we could spot him in the crowd (we could) and then there were those Olympic opening ceremonies and . . .

Just finished my piece and time for more homeowner errands.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

More on Solzhenitsyn

Here's the Register's editorial on the death of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. According to good Misesian theory the Soviet Union had to collapse eventually because without a price system it couldn't allocate resources intelligently, and by the early '80s I was convinced that its collapse was inevitable whatever the U.S. did or didn't do. Such a theory doesn't predict when such a collapse will happen, however, and doesn't rule out the possibility of events and individuals who might speed up or slow down the process.

I think Solzhenitsyn sped up the process, especially with the publication of "The Gulag Archipelago." (So did Vladimir Bukovsky, whom I met and instantly liked when he spent time at Stanford in the 1980s.) For whatever reason -- maybe it was the Nobel Prize and the literary quality of "Gulag" helped-- in the early 1970s Solzhenitsyn had enormous credibility with western intellectuals, including some who had been more inclined to be critical of anti-communists than communists. Maybe they were just ready to abandon the old dreams of a worker's paradise, or maybe the system was looking creaky. But they paid attention to Solzhenitsyn (it was later, after he took up residence in the U.S. and started criticizing its moral emptiness, etc., that many became disenchanted). And Solzhenitsyn was shrewd; he understood the system from the ground up, and knew just what he could demand, and the Nobel gave him protection from returning to the camps or an arranged death. So they eventually just got rid of him.

Here are a few more remembrances, from the WSJ, from WaPo's Peter Finn and Robert Kaiser, from Chistopher Hitchens, and Serge Schmemann, and Anne Applebaum.

Solzhenitsyn mattered

I did an editorial on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who died over the weekend, that will be in tomorrow's (well, today's) Register. The gist was that while writers may cherish the slogan that the pen is mightier than the sword, deep down we know that's very seldom true. But Solzhenitsyn's pen was mightier than the Soviet state, which was one reason they had to exile him. And then he outlived Sovietism, which a lot of Russian exiles didn't.

It developed, of course, that Solzhenitsyn was something of a traditional Orthodox Russian nationalist rather than a liberal democrat or libertarian, with perhaps a too-tolerant relationship to anti-Semitism, which turned a lot of people off. Still, he was a literary giant and he played a pivotal role in the end of communism.

I was in the same room with him only once, shortly after he came to the U.S. around 1974 -- maybe it was '75 when he was invited to a reception at the U.S. Senate -- and famously not invited to the White House on Kissinger's advice. I was working for Rep. Bob Bauman of Maryland at the time, and fellow staffer Ron Docksai (a former YAF national chairman) and I wanted to see Solzhenitsyn, so we walked over to the Senate. But the reception was only for members of Congress and a few other select invitees. Fortunately, along the way we got to talking with Rev. Robert Drinan, the famously left-wing Rep. from Massachusetts, and when we got to the event he said "they're with me" and we got in.

But the room was further divided, with only MCs allowed on the side where Solzhenitsyn was. I had brought along my copy of the novel,"The First Circle"with the idea of getting it autographed, but I couldn't get to where the author was. So I asked then-Sen. John Culver of Iowa, (another left-wing Democrat) if he would get it done, which he did. I think he was pleased because he was able to present a book that had obviously been read rather than having been bought new that morning, creating the impression that he read books (which most politicians don't do). And Solzhenitsyn looked pleased to see a copy of his book that had obviously been read.

Alas, when my first wife and I divorced, she kept the book, saying the autograph was just rare enough (it said U.S. Senate and the date, and there weren't more than a few other books autographed at that event) that it might put the kids through college if she decided to sell it. I don't know if she ever did or not.

The Afghanistan trap

Most everybody now seems to think that the U.S. needs to put more military resources into Afghanistan. There's little question that Afghanistan hasn't exactly turned into a model Western European-style nation-state, but one wonders whether that's an appropriate model for yet another of those artificial countries created under British colonialism. Maybe we should just let it remain a decentralized hodge-podge without an effective central government. As I argue in my most recent column for, Afghanistan is where empires go to get defeated, and in some cases to die. The country is a mosaic of ethnic groupings, reflecting its history as a crossroads (and sometimes as an empire center itself), who seldom have much desire to get together as "Afghans" unless there's a foreign invader to be routed. Maybe we should let the country be what it is rather than what western politicians think it ought to be. The Afghans won't miss us. Really.

On the other hand, maybe if doubling down is a step toward the end of the American empire and of NATO, the alliance with no more reason to exist, maybe . . .

Monday, August 04, 2008

California appeals court upholds medical marijuana law

I posted this last week at the Register's blog, Orange Punch. I think it explains the situation pretty well. San Diego and San Bernardino Counties didn't want to follow the California law requiring counties to set up a screening system for voluntary medical marijuana patient ID cards, so they challenged the law in court for conflicting with federal law. The court told them to stuff it.

"The 4th District Court of Appeal for California issued a published opinion today ruling that federal law does not preempt California’s medical marijuana law. San Diego County had filed a suit in Feb. 2006 challenging the validity of the state identification card program for medical marijuana patients, and also challenging the whole foundation of the state’s medical marijuana law, put in place by voters in 1996 through Prop. 215. The suit was rejected at the superior court level, but San Diego County decided to appeal it. Today the appeals court rejected that appeal, saying that federal law — the Controlled Substances Act — does not preempt California law, because the CSA itself “signifies Congress’s intent to maintain the power of states to elect to serve as a laboratory in the trial of novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country by preserving all state laws that do not positively conflict with the CSA.”

I’m not sure that really was Congress’s intent when passing the CSA, which updated previous drug laws, back in 1974. I do know that when some congressmen back then questioned the placement of marijuana on Schedule I, the most prohibitory of the four schedules, which disallows even medical use, they were told it was simply for convenience, that future placement would be determined scientifically rather than politically. Of course that never happened, even when the the Drug Enforcement Administration’s chief administrative law judge in 1988, after several years(!) of hearings, ruled that it was improper and frivolous to keep marijuana on Schedule I. He was simply overruled by the politically appointed DEA administrator. So much for federal government respect for science.

With this ruling — I certainly hope San Diego County won’t waste any more of its taxpayers’ money appealing it to the California Supreme Court — counties have no excuse for not implementing the medical marijuana patient ID card system mandated by state law. Orange County has taken some halting steps in this direction, but it’s unclear just where that process is.

Here’s a link to the 4th District’s decision, and to comments by Americans for Safe Access, a patient advocacy group. And just for good measure, the amicus brief from the city of San Diego, which disagreed with the county, and the apellate court’s decision in a Garden Grove case, in which the city was ordered to return confiscated cannabis to a legitimate patient. If you want a lot more detailed background, I can humbly (sure!) recommend my own book, “Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana,” although since it was published in 2001 it doesn’t have all the most up-to-date information. If you e-mail me I’ll arrange to sell you a copy at less than Amazon’s price.

Read more California, Civil Liberties, Medical Marijuana

End of free trade? Maybe not

The World Trade Organization's Doha Round of trade talks ended in failure last week, the first time since the establishment of the generally trade-promoting GATT regime after WWII that a round of talks -- these started in 2001 -- failed to produce some kind of liberalization agreement. This time they couldn't even come up with a token move. Editorials lamenting this failure rang out across the land. I think, however, that the Cato Institute's Dan Ikenson has convinced me that the death of moves toward freer trade has been exaggerated. As this Register editorial explains, while political leaders may denounce globalization and free trade in public, the record of recent years has shown that the countries that trade the most tend to enjoy the most economic growth -- so even as India undermined the WTO talks to popular acclaim in India, India has liberalized both its internal and external business and trade policies and begun to enjoy growth and some measure of affluence.

I still don't understand why free trade, which anyone who has ever taken Econ 101 or thought for more than a moment understands is long-term beneficial to the society that adopts it (though there may be short-term disruptions and losers, as always happens in a dynamic economy), is so easy to denounce in the political realm. Dan says, however, that some of same politicians who demagogue against free trade and globalization privately understand that the stance is stupid populism (maybe Barack Obama?) and in action take steps to increase trade. (Count on politicians to be hypocrites.) Dan sees a good deal of progress in the area of reducing bureaucratic impediments -- overlapping agencies demanding forms and doing inspections, sometimes soliciting bribes, consuming valuable time -- which can be more significant than outright tariffs at impeding trade flows.

Friday, August 01, 2008

A porker gets nailed

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the indictment of Alaska GOP Sen. Ted Stevens. It's fascinating how often major players get hung up by what seem like relatively picayune transactions. Stevens directed literally billions of dollars seized by force from unwilling taxpayers all over the country and lavished it on interests in Alaska. Yet he got caught concealing $250,000 worth of renovations and gifts over several years for his vacation home. Pocket change.

Sometimes the most nefarious things politicians do are perfectly legal and even hailed as public-spirited by some. By laundering the transaction through the federal government Stevens (like most congresscritters) fuzzed the true nature of the deals, which was to take money from ordinary taxpayers and give it to friends, supporters and important interests in his home state. Stealing on behalf of others. Stealing and sharing to proceeds.

A friend of mine worked for Sen. Steven back in the 1970s when I was in Washington. His pattern was already well-established. He voted with the GOP most of the time, so he was considered reliable, but his only true conviction seemed to be that his job was to raid the federal treasury on behalf of Alaskan interests as extensively as possible. Others do the same of course, but he performed on a truly grandiose scale. Sadly,that's what a great deal of politics amounts to.