Thursday, April 30, 2009
In Afghanistan, even before President Obama's "surge" is properly underway, things are deteriorating, with increased attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Pakistani government doing its Wicked Witch of the West routine -- "I'm melting, I'm melting" -- in the face of multiple challenges including its own sclerosis.
The likely result of these two situations is the commitment of even more resources the U.S. doesn't really have -- check out the deficits and projected deficits -- to military, quasi-military or "nation-building" to enterprises likely to involve years of strenuous effort with depleted resources with outcomes that are hardly likely to be favorable. Is this the way empires end -- not with a bang but a whimper of pain from taxpayers?
In other words, the voting bloc in Florida that has kept politicians of both parties from saying much about liberalizing relations with Cuba is within a few percentage points of being ready to dump the embargo. Younger Cuban-Americans favor liberalization solidly and that seems to be where the trend is. It is this fact rather than hope of "enlightened leadership" from Washington that makes me think the policies will be changed soon. Like most politicians, Obama has put his finger to the wind, and when he senses the dominant direction will run to the front of the pack saying "follow me; I'm leading now."
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Arlen Specter visited the Register editorial board some years ago (probably 1999) when he undertook a brief run at the presidency. I found him pleasant and thoughtful and more than willing to discuss his several differences with our philosophy in a sustained and civil manner. I have no particular interest in the future of the Republican Party, not being such a party animal myself. But I think the party is weaker (and probably more clueless) for Specter being gone.
This Register editorial explains the issues a little more thoroughly. Interesting that our first commenter disagrees and virtually endorses the idea of a police state in which police can search anyone anywhere for whatever reason, or no particular reason. Sad that Americans think that wy, but some of them certainly do.
I don't think I wasted the day. Having changed my direction for my next book -- I think it will be more timely to do a marijuna-legalization trending toward all-illicit-drugs legalization book than a foreign policy book -- I read Ed Rosenthal and Steve Kubby's "Why Marijuana Should Be Legal," and began the Tim Lynch-edited "After Prohibition." It's not that I'm unfamiliar with the arguments, heaven knows but when I'm starting a new project I find it useful to saturate myself with knowledge and arguments to try to make sure I don't miss any important aspects, then setting out to prioritize them.
My inclination now is to expand on the reporting I did for this Register article, noting the swiftness with which leglization arguments seem to have entered the mainstream. I plan to work on an outline and sample chapter during this, my furlough week, and then start peddling it to publishers while I finish it. Wish me luck -- and feel free to ask me how it's going. A little prod now and then from friends is not a bad idea.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
I'm not sure why seeing Kellerman's house on cable news struck me so hard, except that when I lived in the capital area, in Falls, Church, next door to Vienna, I spent a fair amount of time in Vienna, shopping, going to a particular bar, concerts at Wolf Trap, etc. I'm sure I drove through that neighborhood numerous times -- way above my price range then or now, but nice to look at.
It also reminded me that I can always say that I played in the pit orchestra for performances of a Franz Lehar operetta done by the Civic Light Opera Company of Vienna -- Vienna, Virginia, that is. Since I left there in 1980 to come home to California and the Register, it had to be 1978 or 1979. They recruited wind players from a community band I was playing in, and since I was the only bassoonist who showed an interst, I was in. The operetta was "Land of Smiles," and actually the music was pretty easy.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Now Democratic hack congresscritter Jane Harman, who knew about and defended the NSA unwarranted wiretapping program and even called for the prosecution of the NYT when it did a story about the manifestly illegal program. She's not so pleased now. In fact she's hopping mad. One of those warrantless wiretaps apparently caught her doing a little horsetrading with people from AIPAC, whose former lobbyists are slated to go on trial in June for passing secrets to Israel. You get me the chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee, she apparently said in 2006, and I'll see what I can do about getting those charges dropped. She didn't get the chairmanship; apparently she and Nancy Pelosi hate each other. Oh, well.
If I thought it would lead to recission of all the surveillance laws and programs the Bushies put in place I might even indulge in a little Schadenfreude. But I think Obama likes all those conveniently expanded executive powers just fine, thank you.
As this Register editorial explains, it would also quite predictably raise the cost of mortgages by introducing one more element of risk for the lender. Lenders deal with risk by raising the price -- either requiring a larger down payment or charging a higher interest rate or both. This is a terrible idea, but the Obama administration is committed to it, it has passed the House, and though it's running into resistance it is likely to pass the Senate.
To make it worse, it just wouldn't help that many people. But the people who would be hurt the most would be low- to moderate-income people or first-time homebuyers who don't have any equity to draw on when looking at a required down payment in the $40-50,000 range. How it ever came to be a part of our culture that people thinking that giving more power to people in government can be equated with com[passion is one of the great mysteries of our time.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Here's an angry Register editorial on the subject. Lesson? No private company should ever again ask for or accept a handout from the government. Fat chance!
The only thing that seems to bother the DOJ lawyers is waterboarding, and they even come to the conclusion that that isn't torture either. But then there's the astounding offhanded acknowledgment that waterboarding was used 266 times on just two detainees -- 183 on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed alone. That certainly put the lie to the story the Bushies were trying to peddle for years that KSM wilted after what was inferred to be a single waterboarding and started spilling his guts eagerly. It also makes it questionable that it was all that effective. If they had to use it 183 times, it must not have been all that productive of actionable intelligence. Or was that sheer sadism?
The key thing to know, however, as Andrew Sullivan has pointed out, is that the CIA, after lying to the 9/11 Commission about their existence, destroyed the tapes of KSM's interrogation. If it really were effective, those tapes would have been invaluable for training purposes, and something the CIA was proud of. They had to be deeply ashamed and/or aware that they would be clear evidence of the use of torture.
Then there's the evidence of what the techniques did to detainees. The evidence is that KSM was reduced to a quivering mass of protoplasm. Jose Padilla, the US citizen kept in solitary in a Navy brig and not even waterboarded, was deemed unfit to contribute to his defense. The statutory definition of torture includes lasting mental or psychological harm. The interrogation certainly did that to more than one detainee -- and several died during interrogation as well.
A shameful episode in our history. Phil Zelikow of the 9/11 Commission has some thoughts on how we got there -- mainly by focusing on possible lawfulness rather than morality, and suggestions for going forward, not all of which I would endorse.
Monday, April 20, 2009
The story that emerges is that cultural conditioning, except for a few exceptional thinkers, determines what most people are willing to consider as possible explanations for observed phenemona. As Nuland puts it, Micale documents "from approximately the end of the Georgian period until relatively recently, a story in which male physicians have returned to their earlier habit of bringing forth theories of female emotionality and mental frailty based on the close -- and obviously biased -- observation of women, while failing to acknowledge, or perhaps even to observe, that men of all social classes could be shown to suffer from the same ailments. Not from lack of evidence or cases to study did this situation exist, but for a complex of reasons personal and general, ranging from the anxieties of the individual male observers all the way to the growth and perpetuation of a reliable economic and civil order in nineteenth century society -- the political and cultural imperative of a patriarchal structure in which the image of stability and dependability of the rational, clear-thinking male was assured."
In other words, because of cultural/social assumptions, professional physicians couldn't see what was right in front of them, or maybe inside them.
What does this have to do with medical marijuana? Consider the only sentence then-drug-czar Barry McCaffrey ever quoted from the 1999 Institute of Medicine report on medicine and marijuana he commissioned after California passed prop. 215 in 1996: "For those reasons [cannabinoids in marijuana smoke, uncertain delivery of predictable quantities of numerous compounds] there is little future in smoked marijuana as a medically approved medication." Gen. McCaffrey ignored the fact that the report went on to say that until alternative delivery systems were developed patients should be allowed to smoke.
I contend that while there's a modicum of science in such statements, it's mostly cultural conditioning. As I discuss at some length in my book, "Waiting to Inhale," the paradigm of modern medicine includes pills (or shots) that deliver precise doses of single molecules. Within that paradigm smoking an herb seems -- well, so primitive, so shaman or medicine-man-like, so everything we scientists in white coats have moved beyond. There's value in the quest of such precision. But the test of a medicine shouldn't be whether it can be prescribed in precise doses but whether it works. The objection to smoking is far more cultural than scientific or rational.
That's my 420 contribution.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
So it took forever, but we now have perhaps the most solid security door in captivity. The only problem is there is a big gap at the bottom where bugs and lizards could get through, so we can't use it a a screen door (solid door open to let the breeze through) until we beef up the threshhold. A project for another day.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
When I was just a pup and my father worked for a defense contractor he got me a summer job two different years, including between high school and college. They did manage to build things eventually, but there were so many convoluted processes and procedures that it took forever. Everyopne who worked there knew about the inefficiencies and the more decent people complained and tried to do something about them. But the Defense Dept. and Navy had their ways and they stuck to them even whe everyone knew they were making things more expensive and less efficient. Things are much worse now.
The ACLU’s news release. A 8/8/02 memo from Jay Bybee (18 pp, pdf.). A 5/10/05 memo from Steven Bradbury (46 pp. pdf.). Another 5/10/05 memo from Steven Bradbury (20 pp, pdf.). A 5/30/05 memo from Steven Bradbury (40 pp., pdf.).
I’m not sure what to think about Obama/Holder’s announcement that there would be no further investigation/prosecution of CIA people who acted in good faith in reliance on the legal advice contained in these memos. You could argue that it’s like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commissions — better to get the truth out than to worry about prosecution. Or you could argue that failure to prosecute is justice denied. I can see a case either way.
Now a 10-year-old recording of her singing the old Julie London standard for some kind of charitable talent show in her little village. Turns out she had talent 10 years ago. Take a listen.
Pardon a personal touch. The Temecula Vintage Singers did a medley from "Les Miserables" a few years ago. Of course I didn't solo on that song, since it was a female solo. Did the 'bout-to-die' song. And more years ago that you want to know about, when I was in high school, playing in the dance band, our arrangement of "Cry Me a River" had a tenor sax solo on which, if I may say so, I wailed.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
There has been a fair amount of grumping that today’s Tea Parties were originally the idea of various libertarian-oriented grassroots groups, many circling around Ron Paul’s candidacy, but that the idea was hijacked by more establishment-oriented Republican hacks as a way to try to demonstrate some kind of populist resistance to the Obama onslaught. To be sure, it is more than a little grotesque to see people like Newt Gingrich (the New Newt?), who lobbied his old buddies to get the Medicare Part D monstrosity passed, and Fox News lowlifes like Sean Hannity, who cheered Bush’s warmongering and overspending for eight years and denounced those who questioned the Holy Writ of Bushism as traitors as headliners at what are deemed to be anti-tax rallies. And it’s also the case that the rallies are being used a vehicles for anti-immigrant and anti-gay louts, people who question Obama’s citizenship and various other distasteful loonies who never questioned big spending during the Bush Ascendancy and still want to wage more wars overseas.
As a libertarian who has never been any kind of organizer, however, I have to say that insofar as this is the case, libertarians simply got out-organized. The Paulistas pioneered (well, the Deaniacs pioneered and the Paulistas took it to another level) Internet organizing, but the standard conservatives learned — and had the advantage of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Reynolds, Pajamas Media and other institutions to push it to a level the MSM had to notice.
I still don’t think this event will be enough to revive the conservative movement or the Republican Party. It’s still too unfocused. Look for more years wandering in the wilderness. Shucks, they may not even be ready when people finally figure out how counterproductive the Obama program is.
It reflects my growing belief (though with some skepticism based on sad experience) that this country just might be on the verge of legalizing marijuana. Not next week or even next year. But the combination of a new administration which has taken a modestly less oppressive tack toward medical marijuana dispensaries, the violence in Mexico, and a few politicians touching the "third rail" and not getting electrocuted makes me believe, for the first time in years, that it is possible.
I talked to Dale Gieringer of Cal NORML, Allen St. Pierre of national NORML, Bruce Mirken and Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, and my old friend Judge Jim Gray. All agreed that the portents are more favorable now than at any time they can remember. I wasn't able to contact Loretta Sanchez, Linda Sanchez or Sen. Jim Webb, but I will, especially if I expand this research into a quick book, which is very much on my mind just now. Your thoughts?
Now John Taylor, who is now at Stanford and the Hoover Institution, having also spent time in government, in Treasury under Bush 43, on the Council of Economic Advisers under Ford, Carter and Bush 41, and with the Congressional Budget Office, has published a short little book. He is widely respected -- almost revered -- as a technical whiz. He is generally a monetarist, having refined Milton Friedman's advice that if we're to have a Fed it should expand the money supply at a steady, predictable, formulaic rate into a more nuanced formula universally called the "Taylor rule."
The title of the book says it all: "Getting Off Track: How Government Actions and Interventions Caused, Prolonged, and Worsened the Financial Crisis." He argues that the Fed deviated from the Taylor rule from 2002 through 2006, expanding the money supply (cutting the interest rate) much more drastically than his rule would dictate, spoiling the Great Moderation that had prevailed from abut 1980 and creating the housing bubble and financial bubble.
So from two different theoretical perspectives, Woods and Taylor get almost the same conclusion: the Fed was the main (though not the only) culprit. Woods would abolish the Fed while Taylor would have it act more sensibly (which it certainly hasn't been doing). Both agree that what they're doing now is more of the same poison.
Just for a different take, here's a link to leftist Nation editor and trust-fund baby Katrina Vanden Heuvel's book, "Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover," which argues that it was capitalist greed and more government regulation is the answer.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Don't know just what to do. The editorial suggests that commercial ships arm their crews for starters and see how that works out. Others suggest using convoys, which strikes me as pretty expensive but . . . And some think there will have to be raids on the onshore lairs of the pirates, but that would be more difficult than most advocates acknowledge or even imagine. The one problem with the way this incident turned out (besides encouraging the idea that the way out of problems is to kill our way out) is that it could encourage more magical thinking about the military.
It's interesting. Tim just identified himself as a vote-that-way-always Republican, but he is utterly enthusiastic about legalizing marijuana and predicts that it will be legal in a few years. Judge Gray makes the case that the harms of prohibition far exceed those of marijuana -- about as safe an assertion as can be imagined.
Monday, April 13, 2009
If you're interested in exploring such ideas further, I recommend Vernard Eller's landmark book, "Christian Anarchy," available for download. Jacques Ellul also had some remarkable insights. Worth pondering.
During the Bush years I used to tell conservatives that they wouldn't feel so complacent about the expansion of executive power once it was in the hands of a Democrat -- though for most of those years I tended to invoke Hillary Clinton. I think perhaps that Obama is even more philosophically well-disposed toward virtually unaccountable executive power even than Bush was. After all, he wants to remake the health-care and energy sectors and the entire economy along"green" lines, and it will take a heap of power to even begin to think about doing that.
Friday, April 10, 2009
I take a somewhat different lesson, some of which will be included in the Register's Easter editorial. It seems to me that God (Yahweh) holds autocratic, oppressive regimes -- and maybe all instances of men ruling over other men (and women) in deep repugnance, and wants His people out from under human repression. Given that most people who count themselves religious can't wait to nuzzle up the the State and other Powers and Principalities of this world, it strikes me that God hasn't gotten through to them very effectively yet. Guess it's a long process.
I wonder just when the world will begin to understand that Uncle Sugar is not only out of money but deeply, deeply in debt and going further into debt by the millisecond. China, which is holding so much of that debt, is starting to get worried, but other countries seem to think the basket of bounty is bottomless. Well, as long as U.S. leaders keep acting as if they can just keep on spending endlessly, perhaps you can't blame them.
So it was nice to see the Angels win tonight, behind a splendid 6-2/3 innings from Jered Weaver, one of the Angels' other fine young pitchers, and against the Nemesis Boston Red Sox. But win or lose, you could tell it was an emotional evening.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Word is that the Somalis (at least some of them) consider the foreigners wrecking their coastal waters the real pirates and those we call pirates simply locals trying to get some compensation. There's a good deal of self-justification in that of course, and I wouldn't go so far as to endorse the piracy, much of which is surely motivated mostly by greed and opportunism. And I surely hope the captain is released and those responsible for boarding the ship punished. And it seems likely that old customs will soon have to change and weapons issued on commercial vessels that go through those waters.
Of course Ted Stevens, who would likely have narrowly won reelection without the conviction a few days earlier, is out his senate seat, but the corrupt SOB (the worst corruption in politics is that which is open and legal and this guy was an unabashed porker who bragged about it) deserved it. When I was in Washington in the 1970s a friend of mine went to work for him and he used to tell me stories about just how shamelessly Stevens went after federal money back then for any project that could enhance his standing and career in Alaska.
As this Register editorial notes, however, prosecutorial misconduct is much more common than we ever know about. Prosecutors are judged by their wins, and they cut corners all the time. Not sure I have a solution, except perhaps to go after them personally (which almost never happens even when it's uncovered and disbar them or charge them criminally. But the "justice" system is such an inbred fraternity that seems unlikely too unless somebody has more to gain by looking honest, as Holder did in this instance.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Jonathan Chait, in a recent lengthy article in the New Republic, deplores all this foot-dragging by certain Democrats and offers an elaborate explanation involving the fact that the Democrats' long domination of Congress came at a time when Democrats were divided between northern liberals and southern conservatives, they absorbed the compromise culture of Congress so they've never developed the kind of iron discipline the Republicans supposedly have displayed in recent years. Yadda yadda.
The hypothesis he doesn't even consider is that a lot of the districts the Democrats took to garner their majority are conservative and/or rural districts that would only elect relatively conservative Democrats, especially on gun issues. The relatively recent arrivals have to look to reelection and don't want to alienate their constituents or give the Republicans a chance to win those districts back, so they're most unlikely to march in lockstep to the kind of liberal-statist agenda Chait would prefer. But without them, the Democrats probably wouldn't have majorities, or such big majorities, and chances of enacting anything of the liberal agenda would be close to nil, regardless of who held the White House. Chait's frustration is that there just aren't enough districts willing to elect people who think like him, but he doesn't seem to want to acknowledge that.
This is an example of the kind of "obligatory" editorial that you simply have to do for a general-circulation newspaper, even though there's no particular issue or principle involved. I think it's something of a test to be able to make them have a little style and not just sound like a rote expression of sadness. See what you think, and let me know.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Monday, April 06, 2009
I've just started Ivan Eland's new book, "Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq," but so far it makes a strong case that the least-worst approach would be a weak confederation government and strong local autonomy for the Shia, Sunni and Kurds -- in effect a partition of the country to minimize violence. It's an attarctive idea. At various times over the course of the war I have been almost convinced that various neighborhoods and cities were just too mixed to make partitioning practical, but at this point partition may be the only practical approach.
Give Michigan State some credit. They didn't give u8p and on a points basis they actually won the second half. But there was no way they were going to beat North Carolina tonight. They're just too good. Congratulations.
Friday, April 03, 2009
Thursday, April 02, 2009
Apparently Calvin Woodward of the AP hasn’t drunk the kool-aid. Here’s a fairly hard-hitting story on how the new federal tax on cigarettes, another 62 cents a pack, bringing the total to $1.01 (a whole lot more than Big Tobacco makes), which goes into effect today, will hit lower-income people disproportionately. He even runs down the specific campaign pledge Obama is breaking with this tax, to wit:
“I can make a firm pledge,” he said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12. “Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.”
Of course a higher proportion of lower-income Americans than higher-income Americans smoke cigarettes, and a tax like this hits lower-income people harder than it hits those higher-income people who do still smoke.
The story doesn’t address the contradiction at the heart of higher tobacco taxes. They’re touted as an inducement to get people to quit, but the government counts on people not to quit so they can grab the additional money pledged — disproportionately from the poor — to fund new programs the politicoes will never want to cut back.
The case involved a flick produced by the conservative group Citizens United called "Hillary: The Movie," which from all reports (I haven't seen it) was about as objective as one of Michael Moore's mockumentaries. The group wanted to show it on cable and on-demand during the primaries, but the FEC enjoined it and CU appealed. During oral arguments, in response to questiuoning, the govt. lawyers suggested that perhaps books could be banned if they were produced with corporate funds. That seemed to shock the justices. I hope they invalidate the entire law. Require full disclosure of who is giving money and how much, in real time on the Internet, and let voters decide whether such donations should affect the way they vote. The electyion process is supposed to be the way the people control the state, but instead it's become another way for the state to control the people.
Again, shed no tears. The idea of Arab summits and some kind of common Arab agenda is a bit of nostalgia that should have gone out with Nasser. These countries share a language (though dozens of dialects) a nominal religion (with several sects) and little else. There's little reason for them to have a common agenda, except perhaps to be concerned if Iran gets out of hand, which it isn't, no matter how hard the neocons try to convince us it's an existential threat. It's neighbors, who would be actually threatened if anybody were, think they know how to contain it, and they get together enough to make sure that's still the case, Otherwise, summitry is mostly gesture.
I understand that this is Barack Obama's first overseas trip, so to some extent all the hype and overcoverage, whether about giving the queen an iPod or Michelle's many dresses, is understandable. But truth to tell, aside from the business of other presidents getting a chance to interact with the new POTUS personally, and maybe a bit here and there behind the scenes, little was likely to emerge from the vaunted G-20 meeting, as this Register editorial on the previous day suggested. To be sure, there was a wan agreement from all the high-tax bullies on trying to discourage countries from being tax havens, a terrible idea. As for more substantive agreement, thank goodness it wasn't really there, -- no new international regulatory body -- aside from some inflationary spending. Yes, we came a little closer to a new one-world order, but not as close as they might have liked. The continentals resisted the pressure to spend more than a token on a "stimulus" package. All in all, nowhere near as disastrous a group photo-op as it might have been, despite the brave words. The upshot will be less (note the date on the link) than they're bragging about, which is good for the world.