Friday, October 31, 2008

Drug czar endorses decriminalization -- in Mexico

US "drug czar John Walters has endorsed a proposal by Mexican president Felipe Calderon to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Those caught with such awful contraband would not get a jail sentence or even have to pay a fine, and would not have a criminal record if they complete a drug education or drug treatment program.

"I don't think that's decriminalization," Walters said. Yet he actively (and unethically and probably illegally) inserts himself on the wrong side in the campaign to medicalize marijuana (a much more modest proposal) in Michigan. And while I haven't heard of activism on his part, I would be amazed if he doesn't oppose an initiative in Massachusetts to eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana possession,l making it simply a civil offense. And he opposes Prop. 5, which would offer drug treatment instead of jail to certain nonviolent drug offenders in California.

Mexico, of course, is experiencing significant violence as a result of the government's efforts to break up drug cartels. It's ruined the tourist industry in Baja. Obviously the government thinks limited decriminalization might help to reduce violence. It would work in this country too. Too bad John Walters can't see that.

Which Obama

I cross-posted the following at the Register's Orange Punch blog today. It bounces off an interesting piece by Stuart Taylor of the National Journal:

It’s not utterly impossible that John McCain could pull off an historic upset, and I’ll suggest some ways in future posts. But for those who see most polls as imperfect but reasonably genuine attempts to discern the mood of the public rather than as pieces of a gigantic liberal conspiracy to dupe the public into thinking there’s a landslide and going along with it, the smart money has to be on Obama.

So what kind of president might he be. Stuart Taylor of the National Journal, a self-described centrist, has a remarkably thoughtful article in the current issue. He doesn’t see Obama as a sinister terrorist-loving extremist, but looking judiciously at the evidence, he sees a fairly dogmatic, even radical leftist, largely on the evidence of his associations and his 1995 autobiography, “Dreams From My Father,” who since becoming a candidate for public office (especially the presidency) has carefully cultivated an image as a pragmatic, cool, calm moderate capable of listening to all sides and bringing people together.

Doubt the radical aspect? He spent his teenage years searching for his black identity, in part mentored in Hawaii by Frank Marshall Davis, “a black-power activist who had once been a member of the Communist Party” who had moved from Chicago. During his first years in college, here at Occidental, he tells us, he chose his friends carefully so he wouldn’t appear to be a sellout, preferring politically active blacks, foreign students, “The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets.” After college he became a community organizer and met and was inspired by Rev. Jeremiah Wright. After law school he returned to Chicago to do socially-conscious law and had a much closer association with Bill Ayers than he has since acknowledged.

During the campaign he has appeared much more pragmatic, and he has won support from moderates and even some conservatives. He has acknowledged that “America’s free market has been the engine of America’s great progress” and said he doesn’t want to return to tax rates of 60 or 70 percent. He has glancingly talked about charter schools and merit pay for teachers and even questioned whether affluent blacks like his children need preferences.

If he governs as a left-liberal ideologue, Taylor asserts, he will be a failure. If he governs as a pragmatic centrist he could be successful. There will be forces pulling him both ways. I suspect we’ll find out.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How fiscally responsible will California voters be?

Here's a link to the column I wrote for last Sunday's Register Commentary section, on the relationship between California government's fiscal crisis -- it's become a little worse since I wrote, with Ahnold acknowledging at least a $10 billion deficit a few weeks after the budget was "fixed" -- and the propositions on the ballot. There are $16 billion worth of general-obligation bonds on the ballot next Tuesday, the worst being Prop. 1A, a down payment on a high-speed train boondoggle. The only Prop. that promises to save taxpayers money is Prop. 5, the drug law reform measure. Will voters take the fiscal crisis into account and vote down all the bonds and the big-spending proposals and support Prop. 5? I think I made a decent case for it, but we'll see.

As conservatism implodes

Even as the Republican Party seems poised to suffer a defeat of post-Watergate-like proportions on Tuesday, I was amazed to find a recent poll to the effect that 59 percent of Republicans still think highly of George W. Bush. That suggests to me that 59 percent of Republicans have virtually no discernment or a death wish. George W. Bush has taken the Republican Party and strangled it with his bare hands, abandoning every limited-government principle along the way. My old friend and former colleague Harold Johnson used to say the Republicans love to "touch the purple," meaning they have what seems a natural urge to dote on and be impressed by those in power.Can it be that, or is it enough that Dubya once said he had a conversion experience and really loves Jesus?

Thank goodness there are still a few conservative commentators with a sense of proportion and a certain respect for principle, like George Will and to some extent Peggy Noonan. I don't know if I want the modern conservative movement to reconstitute itself on somewhat more sophisticated principles or just disappear into the mist, which just might leave an opening for libertarians, constitutionalists, Paulistas and genuine devotees of limited government. Obama will surely do many stupid things that have dire consequences, but who will be there to point them out in a coherent way?

I take some comfort from Adam Smith's admonition that there's a great deal of ruin in a country. But I fear we may have to endure a good deal of it.

Quote of the Day

"Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world's estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences."

-- Susan B. Anthony

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Silver lining to the financial crisis?

Here's a link to my most recent piece for It argues that if there is a bright side to the world financial crisis, it is the falling price of oil, which means that several countries that have amassed petrodollars and used them to make mischief in the world at large -- notably Iran, Russia and Venezuela -- will have less money available and thus less capacity to create problems for others.

The Register ran an editorial today that made a similar argument. Coincidence? I think not. I'm afraid my former colleague John Seiler misunderstood the import of the editorial and attacked it in his own blog. We ran the editorial in part to undercut the idea that the United States needs to be actively interventionist overseas to counter these countries, because the threats are petering out of their own accord -- not only because of the falling price of oil but because that falling price exposes some inherent weaknesses in the economies of those countries. I agree with almost everything John wrote, in fact, except for the part where he said the Register had become economic nationalists, for heaven's sake. John and I will remain friends, of course.

Impressive medical marijuana video from Michigan

Here's a link to a video produced for the Proposal 1 campaign, to permit medical use of marijuana in Michigan, from a medical doctor whose wife contracted cancer. This conveys information in a way that is simply not possible in a 30-second spot. Please take a few minutes to look at it.

Lakers ridiculously good

To be sure, they haven't really been tested yet in two regular-season games. But the Lakers looked remarkably good tonight against the Clippers. I am subject to the ongoing hope that the Clippers will be respectable, and there's a chance they will be this year, with Baron Davis at the point and some other acquisitions. But the Lakers just pounded them tonight, 117-79, and Kobe didn't even play in the fourth quarter. The story is team defense and defensive intensity, and the second unit, with Jordan Farmar, Trevor Ariza (two UCLA boys), and Lamar Odom bringing extra speed and skill. Even Chris Mihm, who's had injury issues, got some time and 10 points. Seven players in double figures.

As for the Clips, in addition to Baron, I expect Al Thornton and Thomas to have good years. But after the first quarter tonight, the Lakers were just too good.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Marijuana may help stave off Alzheimer's

Researchers at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla have discovered that use of marijuana may help stave off Alzheimer's more effectively than many prescription drugs. Yet another possible medical use for medical marijuana, and yet the "drug zcar" uses our tax money to campaign in vartious states claiming marijuana has no documented medical uses. What it apparently does is to prevent an enzyme called acetlycholinesterase from accelerating the formation of "Alzheimer's plaques" in the brain. Of course it's only research with mice at this stage.

I'm sad that drug law reform has not been an issue at all in the presidential campaign. Early on various advocates got most of the Democratic candidates, including Obama, to vow not to use the feds to go after patients and dispensaries in states with medical marijuana laws. McCain, of course, took exactly the wrong position on the issue. But it really hasn't come up since. I remember 1992, when Clinton won, going to a Drug Policy Alliance convention and finding most reformers ecstatic, convinced real reform was on the way. But Clinton soon set new records for marijuana arrests. Never underestimate the capacity for hypocrisy of a politician.

San Diego County keeps wasting taxpayer money

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on San Diego County's decision to continue its court case against California's medical marijuana law all the way to the U.S. Syupreme Court, after being denied in district court, in the California appellate court, and having review denied by the California Supreme Court. It's hard to imagine the county, which doesn't want to implement the legislation requiring counties to do the screening for a voluntary ID card for patrients, will meet with better success there. There's no conflict among federal circuits for the high court to resolve and so little compelling reason to take the case.

I was in the Supreme Court chambers when the court heard the original medical marijuana case, the request by the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club to have a "necessity" defense recognized for certain medical marijuana users under federal law. The court denied that, but during the course of oral argument Justice Ginsberg asked the government attorney why the government wasn't invoking the "supremacy clause" to invalidate California's medical marijuana law. The government attorney replied that this was simply one of those instances where, given the federalist nature of our constitutional structure, some states would simply have different laws regarding the medical use of cannabis than federal law, and it would be up to federal agents to enforce federal law and state agents to enforce state law. That was a welcome recognition of federalism by the Bush Justice Dept., which hardly did so consistently. The likelihood that the government would try to invoke the supremeacy clause now, after all these years, seems low.

End of public financing can't come soon enough

John McCain is said to be sad that the fundraising prowess of Barack Obama may put an end to the practice of having presidential candidates' campaigns funded by taxpayers -- that's what "public financing" is. It can't happen too soon for me. I have never understoof why it was supposed to be more moral or upright or noble to take money by force from people, half of whom typically don't bother to vote, to finance the ambitions of those who aspire to be themost powerful scoundrel in the world. I'm sure Barack Obama, who appears to be poised to win the presidency fairly handily, will do many more things to displease me than to please me once in office; every president in my lifetime has. But if he is the proximate cause of ending taxpayer funding of presidential campaigns, he will have done one good thing.

Here's the Register's editorial on the subject.

Quote of the Day

"The marks of that glorious bloody day are yet recent, the field being strewed with the skulls and carcasses of unburied men, horses and camels. I could not look without horror on such numbers of mangled human bodies, and reflect on the injustice of war that makes murder not only necessary but meritorious. Nothing seems to me a plainer proof of the irrationality of mankind, whatever fine claims we pretend to reason, than the rage with which they contested for a small spot of ground, when such large parts of the fruitful earth lie quite uninhabited. 'Tis truer, custom has now made it unavoidable, but can there be a greater demonstration of want of reason than a custom being firmly established so plainly contrary to the interest of man in general?"

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: letter to Alexander Pope, from the field of Karlowitz, Prince Eugene's victory over the Turks.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Except for Bruins, a great sports day

Did I say this was going to be a terrific World Series? I love a game that comes down to the 9th inning and could go either way. I also love it that 45-year-old junk-ball pitcher Jamie Moyer had a good game for the Phillies, and, I guess, even if he didn't get the win, his team did, 5-4, with a run in the bottom of the 9th.

The Penn State-Ohio State game was similarly interesting until very late, but even though an Ohio State win would have benefited USC (I'm West Coast-centric even when it's USC, though I'll have a different attitude in early December) I was kinda glad to see old Joe Pa's team doing so well this year. And the USC-Arizona game, finally won by USC, was hard-fought and could have gone the other way with some different breaks, even though I think USC is better talent-wise.

As of the UCLA-Cal game, what can I say? at the start of the 4th quarter I thought the Bruins had a chance, but they came up a yard short on the 3rd-and-forever and things just fell apart. I don't know if Kevin Craft will start the next game or not.

10-17 at halftime -- within reach?

It's almost a miracle that the score is so close. The offense hasn't done anything but throw interceptions -- and one field goal from a short field. But the defense has been solid, except for that one exceptional run by best. Here's hoping . . .

TV ads for medical marijuana in Michigan

As Bruce Mirken of MPP mentioned when he sent me this link, there's little attention being paid by the national media, but if the medical marijuana initiative in Michigan passes (despite the unethical and probably illegal participation of taxpayer-salaried "drug czar" John Walters in the No campaign), then 1 in 4 Americans will live in a state where medical marijuana is legal.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bruins: looking for a miracle -- or at least a solid game

On strict talent Cal probably has the better team this year, and they're like 17-point favorites in tomorrow's game against the Bruins. And they'll be motivated after losing to Arizona last week. But I'm hoping this is the week Kevin Craft is solid for an entire game and we get something of a running game going. Of course the offensive line, the major problem all season, is even more beat up than usual. But it's time to win one in Berkeley.

Lakers looking good

I had not had a chance to see any of the Lakers' preseason games until the second half tonight, after they had taken Kobe out, but what I saw looked very encouraging. It looks as if Andrew Bynum is going to be the player everybody thought he could be, and Jordan Farmar looks to be ready to have a breakout season; he's figured out that he can drive on just about anybody.

Russell Westbrook, who was at UCLA last year and with Oklahoma City this year, also looks good, especially for a rookie. Will he and Kevin Love be competing for Rookie of the Year.

It looks like another deep-into-the-playoffs and quite likely more season fro the Lakers this year -- if they can stay healthy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Jewel of Medina" delayed again

I've mentioned the new novel about Aisha, Muhammad's third and perhaps favorite wife, "The Jewel of Medina," by American author Sherry Jones, a couple of times before. Random House had given her a nice advance, then canceled publication after a couple of academics objected, perhaps fearing a reaction similar to what greeted Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses," or those Danish cartoons. A British publisher picked it up and was supposed to put it out October 15, but has now delayed publication indefinitely. I suppose one can understand some reluctance, as this Stratfor piece suggests, it could spark a very negative reaction. Interestingly, it has been published in Serbia, and despite some threats no violence has ensued. I hope it's published soon and doesn't occasion protests, but while it is certainly a decision for a publisher to make, I'd hope it can be published even if some goons are making threats.

Quote of the Day

"I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more -- the feeling that I could last for ever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort -- to death; the triumphant conviction of strength, the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows cold, grows small, and expires -- and expires too soon, too soon -- before life itself." -- Joseph Conrad

That's eloquent, but I'm not sure it's true. Though I know at some level I am almost ready to admit that I am closer to death than to birth that deceitful feeling, the heat of life, is almost as strong as when I was 18. I'm convinced that Eric Hoffer had it right when he commented that what the Greeks meant by the saying that the good die young, was that the good (viewed expansively, perhaps meaning those who are good at life) is that the good are young at heart and in seizing the joy of life to the end of their lives.

Candidates curiously reticent on medical records

It is really a strange development in this election. After years of candidates being progressively more open about their medical histories -- in part in response to the fact that the public knew nothing about JFK's Addison's Disease or Tom Eagleton's, McGovern's first veep choice, history of treatment for depression -- the major-party candidates have been curiously reluctant on this subject this year.

As this Register editorial outlines, based on various news reports, John McCain, who has survived both torture and melanoma, allowed some pool reporters to look over 1,200 pages of medical records for three hours, but not to make copies or take notes. Joe Biden had emergency surgery for a brain aneurysm in 1988, and he released some info, but nothing on whether he had recently had neurologicalo tests. Obama at first released a single-page lettter from a doctor saying he was in excellent health but no details, and finally, under pressure, results of some routine lab tests. Sarah Palin has released nothing, and although she said she would in her interview with Briabn Williams, it apparently took the campaign completely by surprise.

Is wanting such information an invasion of privacy? These people are seeking positions of awesome (even excessive) power over the rest of us. Knowing whether they're likely to keel over under stress is the least we should expect.

Prison guards, beer distributors and casinos opposing California's Prop. 5

I posted the following today at the Register's Orange Punch blog:

Talked to Ethan Nadelman, head of the Drug Policy Alliance, today, about Prop. 5, which would replace incarceration with treatment for most nonviolent drug offenders. He noted that almost none of the news stories mention that the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that it would save taxpayers around $2.5 billion over time in the cost of prisons that don’t need to be built, or even that the LAO estimates that the costs of setting up better treatment programs would be offset by the reduction of costs associated with prisons (which is presumably why the prison guards union has donated a million bucks to the No campaign). In fact, the best I can figure it, Prop. 5 is the only proposition on the ballot that the LAO estimates would actually save taxpayers money at a time when the state is in a deep fiscal crisis.

He also noted that beer distributors have donated around $100,000 to the No campaign and various Indian casinos have kicked in around a quarter million. The keepers of the legalized vices apparently have a profound special interest in making sure nonviolent drug offenders go to jail.

Some more interesting comments from Alex Coolman's Drug Law Blog, and another couple here and here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Talking with Robert Fisk

Here's a link to my column this week for It's a more complete report on something I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, the chance to spend an hour or so with Robert Fisk, the celebrated war correspondent for the Independent in the UK. He recommends, not surprisingly, that the West remove all military forces from the Middle East, even though it might be messy for a while, but of course maintain economic, diplomatic and cultural ties. An interesting fact I didn't mention. He says he doesn't use the Internet, but continues to do shoe-leather journalism -- even though somebody has put up a Web site for him.

I had met him before, when he came by the Register for and editorial board meeting just as the Iraq war was getting underway. Then as this time, he had come to Chapman University in Orange to give a talk. My appreciation to Chapman for sharing him with us, and to him for being so gracious. Incidentally, he has a new book out, "The Age of the Warrior," which I've just begun to dip into. I'll offer a more complete report when I've read more.

3-2 Phillies

Fox might not be exactly enchanted by a World Series between two relatively small-market teams who probably don't have much a national following (yet), but I think this is going to be an excellent World Series for those who like fundamentally sound baseball closely contested. I think I'm rooting for the Rays, if only because they moved up from having the worst record last year to earning their way here by winning when they had to -- and because their manager, Joe Maddon, used to be bench coach for the Angels. And maybe because they gave up the Devil?

Tonight was a case of good pitching beating good hitting, on both sides, with Cole Hamels being just a bit better and the Rays pitchers stranding 11 Phillies and Brad Lidge, the Phillies closer being lights-out in the ninth. Both teams earned their way here by winning over teams that mnight have been expected to beat them, both are fairly young, with guys likely to be stars for some time to come, and both have fairly interesting stories. I could be wrong; maybe one team will close it out quickly, but I still expect an interesting series with most of the games competitive. For a fan with no strong allegiance either way, that's close to perfect.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A cornucopia of music

Expect some recommendations in the near future. Tim Mangan, our classical music critic at the Register, had to move his workplace from one side of the building to the other last week, so he decided to cull through some of the hundreds of CD review copies he has gotten in the last couple of years, and gave them away to anybody who promised at least to listen to them. I took about a hundred of them, and am enjoying listening so far. I got plenty of old classics (Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, etc) but made a special effort to pick up 20th century composers, especially Americans, with whom I had some passing familiarity from reading and occasionally hearing them on the radio, but didn't have many CDs of my own. Also picked up a lot of choral music. I'm in musical heaven.

Straining(?) to see a bright side

Here's the column I did for this Sunday's Register Commentary section, in which I tried to take a somewhat optimistic view of how things will be after the election. I argued that at least the U.S. empire is functionally over, since we don't have the money or military resources for any new wars, and that the next president will be constrained in part by the $2 trillion already spent this year to try to dig out of the financial crisis, so it will be difficult to start new programs or nationalize health care.

My friend Milton thought my colleague Mark Landsbaum, who saw things somewhat more pessimistically, had the better of the argument. Steve Greenhut expressed ambivalence. Never say we aren't fair and balanced.

Register ballot recommendations

In case anyone is interested, here are the Register's recommendations on California's 12 ballot propositions. On all of them we took what I view as a consistent libertarian position, and one with which most conservatives would agree, opposing all the bond measures (at a time of severe fiscal crisis in state government) and all measures that would entail extra spending. But the only one readers seem to want to comment on is Proposition 8, which would eliminate the right of gay couples to have the state recognize their marriages.

Drug czar intruding into elections again

Federal "drug czar" John Walters is not only a serial liar, repeating over and over what he must know is not true, that marijuana has no medicinal value, he is something of a serial law violator, or at least someone who creeps right up to the edge of the law and surely being aware (assuming his IQ is over 50) that he is blatantly violating the spirit of the law.

There's a current flap in Washington about top appointed officials having traveled to key congressional districts at the behest of White House political operatives during 2006 to support Republican congresscritters, whether by handing out federal grants or other goodies or even by appearing at campaign events (it didn't work very well since the GOP lost control of the House, but that's another matter). John Walters did this 19 times. It almost certainly violated federal law, which forbids government employees to use taxpayer money for trips on official business to try to influence the outcome of an election.

He's at it again. Last week he traveled to Michigan to oppose Proposal 1, which would allow patients with a recommendation from a doctor to use medical marijuana. Of course he lied, claiming there is no valid medical use for marijuana. Then just today he came to California to join the prison guards union, one of the most notoriously self-serving (and unfortunately politically effective) lobbying groups in the state to oppose Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act, which would take important steps toward replacing incarceration with treatment for nonviolent drug offenders. I think this is illegal, but whether or not he's done sufficient twisting to cover himself there, it surely is unethical. Some drug reformers tried to get him prosecuted after he blatantly asserted himself in a Nevada drug reform initiative campaign. I think somebody should do it now. Put the SOB in jail, where he thinks nonviolent and utterly harmless marijuana smokers should go.

Of course it's hardly a news flash that the only way the drug war can be sustained is through systematic dishonesty. But Walters has taken it to a new level.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

23-20 -- Not pretty, but I'll take it

Now that's more like it! I was almost resigned to losing when Stanford kicked a field goal to go up 4 points with 2:31 left. But Kevin Craft and the whole team seemed to understand the importance and turn it up a notch. After being sacked six times prior, he escaped and even threw one a bit down the field.

Actually they played with some intensity much of the game. And once Stanford got those two early touchdowns, the Bruin defense (mostly) shut them down pretty well. But I have to say Stanford's Gerhart is a helluva runner. Have to hope Bell or Coleman eventually breaks out similarly sooner or later, but the offensive line is so young.

Seems strange to see Stanford playing three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust smash-mouth football after so often being a finesse team. Even better to see that although the bent a bit the Bruins could hold up against such a team. Hope it's something to build on.

Calif's medical marijuana law survives another challenge

Got an e-mail at work with some of the best news of the season. The California Supreme Court has declined to review a landmark case that requires counties to implement the medical marijuana patient identification, and makes it clear that the absurd federal prohibition law does not preempt the medical marijuana law California voters approved in 1996.

As an effort to implement the initiative that carves out exceptions to California’s anti-marijuana laws for patients with a valid recommendation from a licensed physician, the legislature passed SB 420 which among other things requires counties to set up a voluntary ID card system for patients to help police and patients identify bona fide patients. San Diego County sued the state in 2006, arguing among other things that federal law preempted state law and that California’s medical marijuana law should be declared invalid. The San Diego Superior Court rejected that argument in December 2006, and the Fourth District Court of Appeals also rejected it in July of this year. The decision by the state Supreme Court not to review it means counties must set up an ID card program and perhaps most importantly, as Joe Elford, chief council of Americans for Safe Access noted, “that federal law does not preempt state law relating to medical marijuana.”

There are still plenty of police agencies dragging their feet when it comes to recognizing the legal rights of patients, sometimes including harassing patients. This decision makes it clear that they have no legal standing to do so. Now it’s time for reluctant law enforcement agencies to do what they should always have done — enforce the law on the books, not the law as they might have preferred it to be.

(Cross-posted at Orange Punch)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Conservatives (some) getting honest about Palin

One expected it from Andrew Sullivan, who has been in the tank for Obama since at least last December and has been on a special mission against Sarah since she first emerged. But of late we have seen any number of conservatives, often after giving her a pretty good chance, come around to the position that Sarah Palin is about as far from being qualified to hold high office as one can imagine. It was certainly a factor in Christopher Buckley, WFB's son, endorsing Obama and getting fatwahed out of his father's old magazine. But as usual, the most eloquent judgment has come from Peggy Noonan, all the more devastating for being fair-minded and almost gentle. Money quote:

But we have seen Mrs. Palin on the national stage for seven weeks now, and there is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office. She is a person of great ambition, but the question remains: What is the purpose of the ambition? She wants to rise, but what for?

Peggy sees the Palin choice as an example of the infantilization of American politics. We want people who drop their g's and say "mom and dad,"people who are "like us" rather than adults we might consider looking up to. I might suggest it could be more like a sign of the decline of the empire.

Bruins: not feeling optimistic

Even though the Bruins clobbered Stanford 45-17 last year, I don't have an entirely good feeling about the game tomorrow. I think I mentioned after watching the game last year that Stanford was hitting hard and in some ways playing well (even though the game got away from them, as games sometimes do), and with more time under Jim Harbaugh it was likely to be a pretty good team. Based on the records so far, Stanford probably ought to be the favorite. Maybe the location in the Rose Bowl is the reason UCLA is favored by 2.

Even so, the game last week against Oregon was frustrating because with a few breaks (or a lot fewer dumb mistakes) it was quite winnable. The offense finally showed some life (though we still don't seem to have a running game). Perhaps this is the week they'll jell into a real team. I certainly hope so. We're going out to Jen's brother's house in Desert Hot Springs for his birthday, so I'll be watching it there. But don't expect a halftime report. Would love to deliver a triumphant whoop come Sunday.

When I played freshman football at UCLA (back when they had such a team and still played the single wing) our guards coach told us before the Stanford game that through our college careers we would come to hate Stanford, because those guys thought they were superior to everyone on the west coast and their shit didn't stink (we did beat them). I never quite bought into that hate the other school stuff, and over the years, after visiting the place quite a few times and spending a week as a media fellow at the Hoover Institution I became rather fond of Stanford, to the point of sometimes wondering if I shouldn't have tried harder for more scholarship money and gone there. Water under and all that. Still, I want to clobber them badly tomorrow.

Vietnam: less progress than desirable

I was all for normalizing relations with Vietnam, and I still think that the most constructive approach is to engage the country economically in the hope -- I think it will happen eventually but no one can predict the time frame -- that encouraging a more commercial society and a freer economy will create pressure for political reform. However, the evidence is that it Vietnam has a long way to go. It just convicted a journalist of harming the state for publishing a story of corruption in the Ministry of Transport. Two years in prison. Too bad.

North Korea: best available option

The U.S. decided to take North Korea off its official list of "terrorism-sponsoring" countries as a way of defusing the situation and perhaps punting the problem to the next president. As this Register editorial explains, that delisting was the North's condition for disassembling (or perhaps pretending to disassemble) its nuclear weapons program. It would hardly do to trust Pyongyang, but at least the next president will be faced with a problem there, not a burgeoning crisis.

I still think that the Hermit Kingdom is trying to come out of its isolation and sees threats and nuclear programs as the only way to get U.S. attention. Anne Applebaum over at Slate sees things in a much less sanguinary light.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tracking Bob Barr

Almost forgot. Did a piece for this past Sunday's Register Commentary section on Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr's prospects for at least doing better than most previous LP presidential candidates this November. His candidacy has not been the triumphant building on Ron Paul's early (relative) successes in the GOP primaries that many had hoped; in fact it precipitated something of a split in the LP and a break with Ron Paul himself. However, despite disappointing fundraising and a less-than-stellar ballot access campaign, I think he has a chance to beat the high-water mark of 1.1% that Ed Clark got in 1980, and perhaps even to help build the freedom movement a bit.

I talked to Dave Nolan today, which I hadn't done in a couple of years, and he was more mellow toward Barr than I expected. He agrees with me that Barr has sincerely become a soft-core libertarian; his turnaround on the drug war is notable and remarkable. He thinks Barr's real goal may be a constant slot as a talking head on the cable news channels, which wouldn't be an entirely unpleasant outcome.

Bank investment plan not disastrous

My first reaction was utter dismay, but as I learned more about the details, I began to think -- given that the government is going to spend at least $700 billion on unnecessary bailouts anyway -- that the plan announced yesterday to "invest" in various banks was not quite as bad as it appeared at first blush. This Register editorial expresses that view and I think explains the plan fairly succinctly.

The government will be getting preferred or non-voting stock that will require a 5 percent payment for the first five years and 9 percent thereafter, which is an incentive for the banks to buy back the stock if they're in any kind of decent shape at all, so it could turn out to be temporary.

However, as today's results demonstrate, the stock market didn't exactly render a favorable verdict. I think Bernanke and Paulson are going on the tube too much. When they're out there every day with a new warning or wrinkle, they create uncertainty rather than confidence. When people don't know what's coming next, the impulse is to get out of the market while the gettings good -- or at least without further losses

McCain downgrading eloquence?

My colleague Steve Greenhut and I did live-blog tonight's debate over at the Orange County Register's Orange Punch blog, so if you want to see real-time reactions, including to the cable news media coverage, you might want to click over there. I have just a couple more observations here.

On several occasions, when Obama came back with a fairly smooth response to one of McCain's charges or criticisms, McCain would come back with a relatively dismissive reference to Obama's "eloquence." I think I know what he was trying to do: dismiss what Obama had just said as merely a smooth but fact-free statement, and perhaps trying to garner some underdog sympathy for the plain-spoken straight talker. But in using the word "eloquence," I think he gave Obama more credit than he should have; I suspect people value eloquence in a president. Maybe a word like "smooth talker" would have been more effective.

Botoom line: I think this was McCain's best performance, and he certainly did some attacking on specifics. He may even have won on points if you were scoring as a debate judge would. But I think he didn't come close to doing enough to turn the race around, and I'm not sure what he could do that would. As I've mentioned before, I think he lost his best chance by not opposing the $700 billion bank bailout. I haven't talked to anybody who isn't in the political or chattering classes who favored that ill-conceived move, and the stock markets seem to agree.

Blogging the debate tonight

My Register colleague Steve Greenhut (Mark Landsbaum will be teaching a class) and I will be live-blogging the final (thank goodness!) desultory debate tonight over at the Register's Orange Punch blog. Tune in if you want to revel in our ineffable insights and instant analysis.

Finally, only 20 days. I will be so happy when this endless election is finally over and the next president has to confront the mess Dubya (and his predecessors, to be fair) have left him. Maybe the partisan hormones will recede for at least a little while.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Moving beyond empire

I guess it's becoming something of a theme, but the financial crisis almost dictates, My column for this week argues that one implication of the financial crisis is that the American empire is almost crumbling before our eyes. Not only has the misadventure in Iraq cost an inordinate amount of money (not to mention 4,000-plus lives) and put the U.S. in a position where it doesn't have military force to project elsewhere, the energy situation has enriched the petro-states, notably including Russia, so there's no longer much chance of it being a unpolar world much longer. The question is whether the U.S. will stand down voluntarily from imperial ambition or have to suffer embarrassing defeats on several levels.

My old friend Doug Bandow seems to have similar ideas.

Singing getting exciting

Pardon my not blogging last night, but chorus practice Monday night was once again quite exciting. The Don Morris Singers is turning out to be one of the best choruses I have sung in recently -- challenging but fun. We had sectional rehearsals last night, then came together to sing several songs, and the sound was magnificent. And we're doing a public concert now, December 7, in addition to the private concert December 5, the evening at Promise Lutheran Church in Murrieta, behind the Wal-Mart on Murrieta Hot Springs Rd. More details -- ticket availability, prices, etc. -- as I learn them.

India nuclear deal not bad

The U.S. and India signed a pact last week to allow India to import civilian nuclear technology and stuff. Here's the Register's editorial suggesting it wasn't a bad deal. Pardon me if I have a hard time getting upset that it might undermine the international Nuclear Anti-Proliferation treaty. That's always been something of an effort by the nuclear countries to keep it a closed club more than an expression of the supposed horrors that proliferation would entail. It's not surprising that India developed a nuke once both China and Pakistan had them, or were well on the way. India is well on its way, now that it has substantially (though hardly completely) liberalized its economy, to being a prosperous and consequential world power. Nothing wrong with having good relations.

Gov. Palin's line-crossing

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the Alaska legislative report on "Troopergate," the concerted campaign by the Palin family and, later, after Sarah was elected governor, many members of her administration, to get state trooper Mike Wooten, who was involved in a nasty and contentious divorce with Sarah's sister, fired. And here's an Orange Punch blog post on the topic.

I guess what's most dismaying to me, though perhaps not all that surprising in the middle of a political campaign, is the extent to which most people view the thing through strictly partisan lenses (see the first two comments to the Register article. The governor had the right to fire Walt Monegan, the state public safety commissioner, for any reason or no reason, so there was nothing illegal there. And while what the family and administration did in continually filing complaints and pressing Monegan was probably not illegal, it was certainly unseemly and, I would argue, unethical. But people want to see her either as a deep dark villain or as completely pure and innocent. We know few people are either, but who wants nuance in the middle of a political campaign?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Down 14-0 at halftime

At least the defense came to play -- until the last minute when poor clock management by the offense set up an Oregon touchdown in what was looking like a manageable game. But the offense has been pitiful. Was it because I wore a green shirt this morning? Hope Norm Chow can turn things around in the locker room.

Financial crisis goes global

Here's the Register's editorial on the now-global financial crisis. We argue that governments especially the U.S. government, have done too much already, and the G-7 leaders meeting this weekend would be well-advised to rub their chins thoughtfully and do nothing substantive. So far it looks as if that's just what they're doing.

I'm more convinced than ever that Paulsen and Bernanke aggravated the crisis by yelling that the sky was falling.

Bigger Bruin challenge

The UCLA football team at least salvaged a modicum of respectability last week by beating Washington State soundly (instead of just barely). But face it (unfortunately) WSU just now is the Pac 10 bottom feeder. This week at Oregon is likely to be a much tougher game. Not only is it at Autzen stadium in Oregon, but Oregon is a pretty good team coming off a pasting by USC and looking for revenge on somebody. Oregon teams traditionally get a good early start in games. So I definitely have some concerns.

However, I have the guacamole ready and the beer chilled for the game, which starts at 7:15 tonight. Go Bruins!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Teasing on voting

It occurs to me that I haven't explained for a while the fact that I choose not to vote. In my more flip moments, I say "It only encourages them," but for a somewhat more detailed explanation, I'll guide you to the Register's Orange Punch blog, where I posted today.

Yes, this is something of an experiment to see if it drives noticeable traffic to that site.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Sweet genetic research

Not a new story here, but one I hadn't gotten around to discussing. Mars, the candy maker, along with IBM and the US Dept. of Agriculture, is embarking on a five-year project to sequence and analyze the entire genome of -- cocoa! That's a government project I can almost believe in! (Although I'm sure the USDA's participation unnecessarily raises the cost and reduces the efficiency.

The purpose here is to figure out what genetic traits are associated with pest, disease and drought tolerance. Apparently most cocoa is grown by some 6.5 million families working small farms about 70 percent in Africa, so having a user of cocoa with money is the best way to get this done. Using computers is expected to shorten the time it takes to come up with a new strain of tree with superior properties from five to seven years down to 18 months.

I have nothing in general against genetic engineering. But working for better chocolate? That's change I can believe in!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Chatting with Rohrabacher

Dana Rohrabacher, the Republican Congressman from Huntington Beach, came by for an editorial board meeting the other day and we ended up talking with him for almost two hours. Although he's Republican enough to be publicly supporting John McCain, and he seems genuiinely spooked about Obama, you can tell he's more than a little upset with the way things have been going for the past several years, including the Bush administration. He's shown a certain amount of sense about Georgea, which makes him not so popular in sime Republican circles

Supremes lying low

The U.S. Supreme Court began its term on Monday, and based on the cases accepted so far, it's looking like a less controversial term than last year -- nibbling around the edges of ambiguities in prior decisions rather than taking on core constitutional issues. This Register editorial suggests the election and a desire not to call too much attention to the court during the remaining campaign season as a possible reason, and I suspect it is at least a contributing factor.

Nonetheless, a few cases are likely to attract some attention: a quasi-religious outfit called Summum that wants to erect a stone monument with it's Seven Aphorisms in a city park in Utah that has a Ten Commandments monument, a case that will decide whether a union that charges "agency" fees to non-members can use the money to help other unions recruit, and a challenge to the absurd fine the FCC issued for incidental f-bombs during awards ceremonies. My thanks to John Eastman, dean of Chapman University's Law School for advice and counsel on this one.

Empire in decline

The great Albert Jay Nock once wrote an essay that tried to puzzle out the question of how one might know one is living in a period of decline or the onset of a dark age. It's not that easy a question, since there's a strong tendency among most humans to view the situation and the era into which one is born and lives as simply normal, just the way things are. However, certain evidence from the recent presidential debates suggests to me that we are living in or entering into a period of imperial decline in the United States. The evidence, as I put it in my most recent column for, is the sheer mediocrity of the candidates for president and vice president. It's not surprising that Sarah Palin doesn't know much about issues beyond Wasilla, but she seems (like W) to see her ignorance not as a reason to learn more but almost as a badge of honor, a condition that makes her all the more sure of things about which she has little or no inkling.

But look at the others. Barack Obama is hailed as a great orator for speeches with virtually no intellectual content. Joe Biden is viewd as a seasoned "expert" on foreign policy yet he makes almost inexplicable gaffes and buys into the standard mythology on NATO and Russia. As for John McCain, he's an unstable angry man who has been that way since childhood who equates honor with bellicosity. If this crowd of third-raters vying for the "highest" offices in the criminal enterprise our imperial government has become isn't a sign of decline, I don't know what would be.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Back to singing!

Now for something much more cheerful than all these political developments. Since the Temecula Vintage Singers disassembled a little more than a year ago I haven't been singing in a group, and I was starting to miss it. So I was glad to discover that a recently-formed group in the Temecula-Murrieta area, the Don Morris Singers (listen to the concert recordings if you click on the link), was holding auditions. I was accepted and attended my first rehearsal last night. I always like first rehearsals best because they involve sight-reading, which I enjoy. Don, who has worked with Roger Wagner and Paul Salamunovich, is an excellent if demanding director. It's going to be a ball!

Anyway, we are doing a Christmas concert December 5 with a brass ensemble (Palestrina, Benjamin Britten, Wm. Hall, Daniel Pinkham, various traditional carols and anthems, 3 or 4 Glorias) at the performing arts center in Fallbrook. It's a private-party event, so I can't dun you to buy tickets, but since we'll have a program prepared, we're looking for other venues in which to perform them. I'll pass along more information as I get it.

I'm inordinately pleased that I've been able to perform music in various instrumental and vocal ensembles for most of my life. Jen thinks it's good for my lungs. I know it's good for my soul.

Medical marijuana deterred by irrational ignorance

Here is the Register's editorial on the decision by the Garden Grove city council to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in the city -- a decision whose very constitutionality I doubt. But the editorial (which I didn't write this time) stresses the high degree of irrationality by those who oppose dispensaries. Of course there's the usual "report" by the police about increased crime near dispensaries, backed by not statistical information of course. The continued resistance by public officials to a law passed by the people 12 years ago -- which would no doubt get a bigger majority if put on the ballot today puts to the lie the claim of these petty local dictators to any semblance of representing the sacred people.

Palin at least coherent, but not game-changing

As far as I know, this Register editorial reviewing the vice presidential debate was the first place it was suggested in print that McCain's best shot at changing the presidential game would have been to oppose the $700 billion bailout bill -- but he put government first (and the malefactors in the financial industry) rather than the people. It's not the only reason he deserves to lose, but it will do.

The editorial found Sarah at least coherent, if ill-informed, and rather dangerously so on foreign policy, while Joe Biden did what he had to do -- avoid condescension. A pretty low bar for both. Incidentally my colleague Steve Greenhut found Sarah even less enchanting than I did, arousing foul-mouthed wrath and threats to cancel subscriptions from several dozen of Orange County's true believers. I'll be so happy when this election is over and the partisan hormones settle down a bit.

Bailout for Detroit too

While all the attention was on the really big bailout for the financial industry, Congress quietly passed a budget bill that includes another outrage: a $25 billion subsidized loan for the auto industry. As this Register editorial notes, the ostensible purpose is to encourage the companies laughably called the Big Three to develop fuel-efficient cars -- as if $4.00 or even $3.50 gas and fleets of unsold SUVs weren't incentive enough. A better approach would be to repeal the CAFE standards, but that wouldn't increase government power or waste taxpayers' money.

Live-blogging the debate

My Register collegues Mark Landsbaum, Steve Greenhut and I live-blogged the presidential debate/town meeting tonight, over at the Register's Orange Punch blog. Quick verdict: McCain needed to create a game-changing situation, to win dramatically, to start to turn the campaign around. The debate was close to a tie, so the tie goes to Obama. McCain already missed his best chance by not opposing the stupid and harmful $700 billion bailout, thereby getting on the side of the people.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Whew! 5-4 Angels

That was a long and suspenseful Angels-Red Sox game. Perhaps it had to be to get the Red Sox jinx monkey off the Angels' backs-- although we'll see tonight if it means they're ready to relax and beat those guys. The Sox are playing very well just now, and if the Angeles had been playing as well as thety can the game wouldn't have gone into exra innings.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

28-3 -- That's more like it!!

I wasn't sure what to expect and I had some trepidation through the first quarter, when there was still a slight drizzle. But then the offense started to click, we got a few breaks and . . .

I had hoped the defense would get better -- figured it had to happen sooner or later -- and in this game it did; I was especially pleased that they got some sacks toward the end of the game. Kevin Craft keeps improving, Kahlil Bell is inspirational and good, and it's starting to look like a real team. I know WSU is hardly the strongest team ever -- third-string quarterback in his first start after some injuries and all -- and Oregon, coming off a clobbering by USC, is going to look to exact revenge on us next week. And I suspect this is still a rebuilding year. But this win really felt good.

Actually, a great night for Southern California sports, with USC bouncing back and the Dodgers sweeping Chicago -- sorry, Cubbies fans. Now if only the Angels can find a way to suck it up and win tomorrow.

Hoping for Bruin success

The Bruin football team plays Washington State tomorrow evening, and despite disappointment I will watch loyally. Given that the offense clicked at least a bit last week, this should be a possible win, but for some reason UCLA has traditionally had trouble with Washington State, even in years when the Bruins were clearly superior. Fingers crossed and guacamole ready.

Bailout: stampede

I'm fascinated at how most of the media, from Fox to MSNBC to the networks, were stampeded into believing that the idiotic $700 billion -- plus another $120 billion in what congresscritters might have considered "sweeteners" but should taste sour to ordinary taxpayers -- "bailout" bill passed yesterday by the House was either necessary or particularly useful. Perhaps the only thing more idiotic is the mantra you hear everywhere, that the crisis was caused by deregulation. As I noted in some detail last week, the only deregulation that occurred was the repeal of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law, (in 1999, signed by Clinton) which prohibited banks from doing both commercial and investment bank activities. The institutions that got in trouble were pure investment banks -- Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch -- while those that took advantage of the deregulation -- JPMorganChase, BankAmerica -- came out in a fairly strong position, and were able to buy troubled institutions, relieving taxpayers of the obligation -- or what our invincibly ignorant betters inside the Beltway would have viewed as an obligation.

The only action that might help was the decision by the SEC to lift the rigid "mark to market" accounting rules that were triggering a downward spiral. Many think this will be enough to arrest a credit crisis -- that, by the way, had not yet developed into a crisis, given that lending, including mortgage lending, was actually up in the middle of September over last year. If the crisis is arrested, however, most people will give the bailout credit.

To add to the silliness (one has to scoff to keep from crying), people talk as if the taxpayers might even make a "profit" on the deal. That's unlikely, but if it does happen, do you think actual taxpayers will see a penny? Of course not, because it isn't the taxpayers but the government that will be buying these toxic assets, and if they end up reselling them for more the money will go to the government, not to us. Delusion and self-delusion all around.

And the stock market tanked after it was done. Of course one-day declines are not necessarily indicative, but it sure didn't suggest widespread confidence that it is going to "rescue" us. Nice that libertarians were almost the only ones expressing the voice of the people on this issue, but sad for the country that it seems nobody listened.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Angels snakebit? 7-5

For. A. Moment. I. Had. Hope. Then the Red Sox Jinx kicked in. You can't say the Angels didn't get enough hits, but when you leave 11 on base, six in scoring position, it's tough to win. So Frankie Rodriguez, who set the major-league all-time record for saves this year with 62, gives up a homer in the ninth, after the Angels had scratched out a tie. It's got to be playing with their heads.

I did my part, wearing my Vladimir Guerrero jersey through the whole game (and he did get three hits), but it obviously wasn't enough. We Southern Californians have been dreaming of a Freeway Series for 45 years or so, and based on regular-season records it seemed as if the Angels would do their part but we weren't so sure about the Dodgers. So much for prognostication. Now the Dodgers are 2-0 and the Angels are 0-2.

Ah, well, there's always Sunday. By the way, in the middle of the season we were wondering if Joe Torre might be having second thoughts about leaving the Yankees. I doubt if he is now. I first became aware of him in the '80s, when he was an Angels "color" announcer and I thought this guy knows so much about about baseball and he can explain it so well that he ought to be managing somewhere. At least that was a good call.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Live-blogging the vice-presidential debate

My Register colleague Steve Greenhut and I will be blogging during the vice presidential debate -- the ignorant vs. the arrogant, as we fondly call it -- this evening for the Register's Orange Punch blog. Feel free to tune in for contemporaneous commentary.

Here are a couple of preview posts, and a couple more here and here. I wouldn't be surprised if Sarah does better than most people expect, especially based on the fact that she performed pretty well during the 2006 Alaskan gubernatorial debates, especially when she knew what she was talking about, and sometimes when she didn't.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Endorsing gay marriage

Here is the Register's editorial on Prop. 8 on the California ballot, which would add to the state constitution the provisions that California recognizes only marriage between a man and a woman. Such a provision passed as a statute in 2000, but this May the Calif. Supremes overturned it, arguing (correctly in my view) that it violated the equal-protection clause in the California Constitution. (The same clause was used in 1048 to overturn a ban on interracial marriage.) Naturally, then, we urged a No vote, which would leave the legalization of same-sex marriage intact.

The polls actually show No ahead on this measure, 55-38 in the most recent poll, probably because gays have been getting married steadily since May, and nobody has felt the institution of marriage crumbling. It's hard to understand the hysteria that remains on the topic, but as you can see if you peruse the comments, it's alive and well.

Thank you, Lew

Lew Rockwell at the Mises Institute put my piece on the financial crisis and the bailout from the Sunday Register on his Website today. I don't know how many hits it got -- they converted it to Rockwell style rather than linking to the Register site -- but Lew's site, of course, gets a lot more hits than either this blog or the Register, and I got a lot of nice e-mails from readers. Matt told me today that my article got an unusual number of hits, and at first I thought it was through Lew's site until I checked it out. It turns out most were through Google, but we don't know what people were looking for. Maybe it was the topic.

Here's Lew's piece on the House vote Monday, as well as pieces by Frank Shostak and Robert Murphy, as well as the Mises Bailout Reader, which includes a number of pieces on the Austrian business cycle theory, which sadly seems to have been validated once again.

Not again! 4-1 Boston

What is it with the Angels and the Red Sox in the postseason? The angels beat Boston 8 games of 9 in the regular season, and they had the most wins, 100 in the MLB, but after tonight they've lost 10 in a row -- in a row! -- in the postseason to Boston. Jon Lester pitched a terrific game of course, but the Angels got hits -- just not when they would have scored runs. The only run came after an error, so I think it was unearned to boot. Aaaaarrrrrgghhh!