Monday, August 31, 2009
Meanwhile Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top US military commander in Afghanistan, is turning in his report on strategy today, and while it hasn't been made public, the leaks so far suggest he'll call for a radical new strategy and (eventually) more U.S. troops. It's said he'll shift the emphasis from forays into Taliban strongholds to guarding cities and building up the Afghan government -- but it will be at least three years before Afghan security forces can handle the situation themselves. Meanwhile 51% of Americans and 70% of Democrats think the war isn't worth fighting. It's a potentially huge problem for Obama.
As I've written before, if the goal is to eliminate al-Qaida capabilities in Afghanistan, that's already done; al-Qaida is in Pakistan. So we should end military activities in Afghanistan and focus on an al-Qaida that had been notably weakened but may be stronger now in reaction to hyperactive US activity in the region. But Obama seems determined to prove he's tough in a country that is probably more challenging for outside forces than Iraq.
So here's some news about Colorado's implementation of it's medical marijuana law. While a number of distribution storefronts (a MM lawyer has advised me that "dispensary" is the term of opponents, so I'll try to avoid using it at least for a while, though I'm not sure it has as negative connotations as the resisters might think) are opening up -- and some cities still ban them -- a TV station has reported that only15 doctors are behind 75% half of the medical marijuana referrals in the state -- indeed, two doctors alone are responsible for about a third and five doctors account for almost half. The state govt. is said to be concerned about this. The impulse is to investigate that small number of doctors to see if there's something fishy going on.
This is a fairly typical pattern, unfortunately. They don't teach about medicinal uses of marijuana in Med school and most doctors know much less than you or I (especially if you've read my book). Most doctors have grown up in the prohibition regime, are skeptical about medicinal marijuana claims, and conservative -- or fearful, as they perhaps have a right to be considering the Colo. AG is talking about going after their licenses. Onlya few doctors with a special interest have educated themselves about marijuana, and of course you would expect them to write most of the recommendations in the early stages of medicinal marijuana implementation. They went after several in California, amounting to outright harassment of the late Dr. Tod Mikuriya, but never found cause to lift a license.
The government would do better to focus on why so many doctors aren't writing recommendations, if they have any legitimate interest in the matter at all.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
No doubt he saw it that way, but the only way a politician can "serve others" is to take money and other resources from some people to give it to others. Government has no money of its own, only what it can take as plunder from people who create value in the world. When they do so, they may actually be of help to those who are benefited, but the price is reducing the amount of wealth in a society, meaning there is less to go around. That's what "public service" as a politician -- as compared, for example, to a philanthropist, who uses his own money and/or skills and time to benefit others -- amounts to.
What most of the media call public service is all too often simply meddling with peoples' lives, using persuasion or force to make them do things or pay money they would otherwise prefer not to pay. Whether those who define public service as making others do what they want -- quit smoking, exercise more, reduce their carbon footprint -- rather than what those others would really prefer to do are more of a menace than those who simply take our money to buy votes and service their preferred constituencies is a question worth debating, to which I don't have a definitive answer. Both varieties are enemies of human freedom and therefore enemies of human prospering, defined broadly.
Believe me, those who claim to be serving the public, even those who are not drunk with power, are serving themselves more than they are the public.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
When I worked on Capitol Hill in the late 1970s I had occasion to run into Ted Kennedy from time to time. I worked briefly for Bob Bauman and Bob got a key amendment passed in the House (doesn't much matter what now but it had to do with the National Science Foundation) and Kennedy was chairing the Senate committee that would be considering it. We knew he would oppose it so several of us went to the committee hearing where it was considered. It certainly appeared as if he knew next to nothing about most issues except what was whispered in his ear by aides. I think he was relentlessly ideological as a substitute for genuine thinking, for which he seemed to have little or no facility.
What a terrible, long, drawn-out way to go. Condolences to his family.
On the other hand, a few years later when I was the Libertarian Advocate and part of the coalition to deregulate the airlines, Kennedy's office sent a representative, an extremely knowledgeable and capable guy who quickly assumed a leadership role. So he was on the right side of that issue -- it had become something of a liberal and consumerist cause -- and was capable of attracting talent and sharing it for a cause he believed in.
Patrick Courrielche, a producer and arts marketer, was on a conference call from the NEA August 6, along with 75 other arts community types. Key paragraph from Patrick's post: "it felt to me that by providing issues as a cynosure for inspiration to a handpicked arts group - a group that played a key role in the President’s election as mentioned throughout the conference call - the National Endowment for the Arts was steering the art community toward creating art on the very issues that are currently under contentious national debate; those being health care reform and cap-and-trade legislation. Could the National Endowment for the Arts be looking to the art community to create an environment amenable to the administration’s positions?"
Final graph: "And if you think that my fear regarding the arts becoming a tool of the state is still unfounded, I leave you with a few statements made by the NEA to the art community participants on the conference call. “This is just the beginning. This is the first telephone call of a brand new conversation. We are just now learning how to really bring this community together to speak with the government. What that looks like legally?…bare with us as we learn the language so that we can speak to each other safely… “
Is the hair on your arms standing up yet?"
Now my objection to the NEA is more fundamental -- that it takes money from those with no interest in the arts to fund mostly the safe, the conventional and the mediocre, and through its influence encourages artistic cravenness. It would be no loss to the arts in America if the NEA disappeared, and would probably be a net gain for creativity and artistic independence. If it is also being used to promote political propaganda, that's pretty terrible too.
Monday, August 24, 2009
It was a great privilege for me to participate in what might have been Rose Friedman's last public appearance, the dedication of the Milton and Rose Friedman Reading Room at Chapman University. Chapman president Jim Doti asked me to make some remarks both at the dedication itself and at the lunch afterward. I spoke about Milton and Rose's dedication to school choice and the foundation they established to further the ideal. It was gratifying to see Rose, who was frail but alert and sharp, nod her head and smile at some of the things I said. Those are among the finest rewards one can get from public speaking -- that and knowing your son is listening and will tell you later that if you want a career in public speaking he'll manage you.
At the Register we recognized that Rose Friedman was Milton's full partner, deserving not only the co-bline on "Free to Choose." but a big share in everything Milton achieved. It's sad she's gone.
The most troubling thing about Holder's approach is that it seems to accept the "torture memos" done by the DOJ -- John Yoo, Jay Bybee, et. al. -- as the new standard for what is or isn't torture. CIA interrogators who stayed within the latitudinarian lines will apparently be protected from prosecution if they believed the DOJ memos defined what was legal and stayed within their guidelines. Only those who went beyond -- there are stories of threatening the death of a family, threatening with a gun and power drill, watching one's mother being raped -- would seem to face prosecution.
But the memos are outrageous, authorizing techniques that are clearly beyond the pale, some clearly torture -- and all ineffective. You know if there had been real attacks thwarted or bad guys captured through "enhanced interrogation," the stories would have been leaked aggressively. But none of the tales told by torture advocates have held up.
Theoretically, of course, a special prosecutor could go after the lawyers who wrote the memos justifying torture with tortured reasoning, or even Cheney or Bush. But one doubts it. Higher-ups are immune, a few lower-echelon folks get nailed to create the illusion of accuntability.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
I don't think Jakob's songs have the depth of his father's, but then, whose do? (Or was it listening to the Blonde on Blonde album at a YAF getaway, with a whole room full of self-styled young conservatives, including a couple who still have some prominence, stoned out of their minds that made Bob Dylan's seldom obvious and sometimes quite mysterious songs seem so profound? No, I listened many times under many circumstances and the poetry was there.
I wish the young Dylan a great career. And maybe if I listen to his songs repeatedly (there's a certain darkness suggesting an acquaintance with grief and ambiguity) I'll come to appreciate them the more.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The organizer was Remote Area Medical, initially formed to bring volunteer medical workers to Third World countries but doing so also in the U.S., mostly in rural areas, for the last several years. But there's a problem. Doctors licensed in one state generally (Tennessee with an open-borders-for-doctors law is the only exception) are not allowed to practice in another state unless they jump through hurdles, sometimes taking another exam (it varies), which can take months, even to practice pro bono for a charitable cause. I think it's goofy. Naturally the Register thought so too.
Another argument for eliminating those restrictions with a policy of simply recognizing licenses from other states. Licensing laws are designed not to protect consumers but to restrict competition and improve the incomes of licensed practitioners. Dump 'em all.
I met Bob Novak a few times, but I rather doubt if he remembered me. In the late 1970s, after I had alienated most every groups in Washington by trying and after three years failing to establish Libertarian Advocate, the lobbying group I formed (and which did do a few things, including being involved in the airline deregulation coalition), I had to take a job as an office-supply salesman, and Evans & Novak were one of my clients -- not a big one but I loved having them anyway. I saw both of them from time to time when I came in to take orders -- Novak usually on the phone with a bemused frown on his face -- but I dealt with their assistant and office supply salesmen are generally pretty invisible.
We attended one Hoover Institution conference together, and he once made a visit to the Register, but our contact was mainly limited to pleasantries. And behind the frown he struck me as surprisingly pleasant. There's something liberating about not expecting much but deception and insincerity from politicians that when accepted can make one -- not complacent exactly but perhaps at least sometimes more amused than constantly outraged at the ongoing hypocrisy.
Many have noted his ideological shift over the years, from being seen as a moderate liberal in the 1960s to adopting an increasingly conservative persona. I think by the end of his life he was close to a libertarian, and his writing was functionally libertarian -- skeptical of politicians and institutions, opposed to the Iraq war, skeptical about Afghanistan and the empire in general, for free trade and liberalized immigration. I haven't read his book, "The Prince of Darkness," though I've been tempted by reviews. I'll probably get it and read it now.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Apparently that's the current explanation. After denying (and lying, of course) that the White House sent any unsolicited e-mails, the WH is now blaming unspecified outside support groups, who maybe lent their membership lists to the Obamaites? It's still pretty vague, and I'm sure far from the real story. Eventually most of the details will come out. It was stupid and incompetent of the WH to lie about this in the first place, and the amateurs still haven't put out a credible story.
Years ago I told my brother-in-law Mike that we planned to have a low-0maintenance yard. He looked at all the plants and trees, especially the potted plants, as well as the various furniture, not all of which can be left out all year, to pool and all, and laughed at me. Laughed at me! Of course, he was right.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
"It may seem ironic but it is somehow fitting that the most lasting contribution of one of the most intensely political dynastic families in American history will be an institution that transcends politics, begun by a family member who never held or even ran for political office. The Special Olympics, officially begun by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, offers a unique opportunity to 2.5 million athletes in 180 countries every year, and has moved untold millions more to see ability, potential and achievement where once they might have seen only disability and hopelessness."
Farther down, however, I used the word "retards," in quotes to indicate that was not a word we would choose these days or that we thought was accurate, but to suggest or even emphasize that it was in common, almost universal use in 1962, when Mrs. Shriver opened her farm in Maryland as a summer camp for mentally disabled/challenged/whatever children, which was the likely precursor to the Special Olympics. One letter-writer found it offensive. I don't know how many othgers did. It will be interesting to see if we get more reader reaction after we print the letter in tomorrow's paper.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The raids today, however, are a clear reversal of that promise. Now Eric Holder did fudge the promise a bit by talking about maybe going after entities that were violating styate law -- but if that's the case there's no reason not to let the state handle it. The West LA raids conducted today were a multi-agency, feds-state-local operation. I presume we'll get some charges filed, but in a surprising number of these cases no charges are ever filed; it's pure harassment and an effort to nullify the law the voters passed and continue to approve.
So this story about the National Symphony in Washington planning to Twitter a performance of Beethoven's 6th (the Pastorale, used in Fantasia) is at least intriguing. The orchestra will send small messages throughout the performance with the conductor's commentary and various parts, e.g., noting that Beethoven annotated the score such that Nightingale=flute, Quail=oboe, Cuckoo=clarinet. One can sit in a special section of WolfTrap during the concert -- presumably so others won't be bothered -- and read the tweets as you listen.
Sounds promising to me. It's not all that different from the way I sometimes use liner notes or booklets when listening to a piece I haven't heard before, to get a little more depth of information, which to me translates into more depth of appreciation, about the piece.
Unfortunately, the problem is not confined to the Obama administration. This NYT piece shows that virtually no private-sector jobs have been created since 1999. The only job growth has come in the government sector. Only 121,000 private-sector jobs have been added in the last 10 years (for an annual growth rate of 0.01 percent in a universe of 109 million such jobs).
Can you see the problem here? The government has no money or resources of its own except for what it takes by force from people in the private sector. Government growth can be sustained if the private sector is also growing, preferably growing faster. One could argue that was happening during the Reagan and much of the Clinton years. But having government grow faster than the private sector on which it depends is inherently unsustainable.
Our empire may be in the process of suffering a slow implosion -- or maybe not so slow.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Last night, as we wheeled through Santa Ana Canyon, we came to a stop. At first it was just a "red light" -- they are so informative. A few people who have friends who ride other trains discovered there was some kind of auto-to-train accident near Green River in Corona. They announced we would back up to Anaheim Canyon where there would be buses. We got to within 100 feet of the station and one lady in our section of the car was frantic because her husband was waiting for her there, and none too happy in the first place about going so far out of his way to pick her up. Then they announced that the tracks were cleared and we would be proceeding forward. Even that was not trouble-free because some westbound trains had to move out of our way first, including a huge freight train. Bottom line: a three-hour delay and a tired little boy who didn't even feel like blogging last night.
It turns out that an auto driver apparently fell asleep while driving and crashed through a guard rail from the 91 and down an embankment onto the train tracks. He died.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Anyway, after a dismal 4-8 season last year the Bruins seem to have a quarterback in whom they have more confidence, a first-rate defense, and an offensive line (a bug weakness last year) that claims to be stronger. We'll see. But while I may be critical I won't waver in my loyalty.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Saturday, August 08, 2009
Here's the latest evidence. The GAO, which does all kinds of good, insightful reports, almost all of which are subsequently ignored, has determined that DHS relied on a flawed and rushed study to make the decision to locate a $700-million infectious disease facility in Kansas, right in the middle of "tornado alley." Because of the dangers involved in the possibility of accidental release of highly toxic infectious agents, such research has previously been conducted only on a remote island.
Of course the decision was politically driven. Republican Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, and Democratic then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (now safeguarder of the nation's health, lol) lobbied aggressively for it.
Friday, August 07, 2009
Who knows, maybe the mullahs will have been pushed out by 2013. Of course a subsequent regime might still be interested in nukes -- the Shah started the program and two neighbors, Israel and Pakistan, have them.
Meanwhile in Somalia, word is that the Islamist rebels, al-Shahab, are at their weakest point in years, divided and unpopular. Maybe the world isn't as full of dire threats as the manic interventionists would like to have us believe.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Most significantly, as this Register editorial points out, the core U.S. interest in Afghanistan is making sure al-Qaida, which is weaker but still likely has international ambitions, doesn't establish operating bases there. It doesn't have them now (most people believe), so we should make it known that whoever runs Afghanistan knows that if such bases come into existence we will blow them to smithereens, so please don't let them get established. Declare victory and get out.
I don't expect the U.S. to do that. Defense spoksemen say escalation isn't a sure thing -- McChrystal is due to issue recommendations in a few weeks -- so maybe there's hope. But I wouldn't bet on it.
I don't see a good reason to ban them, but then I wouldn't ban performance-enhancing drugs. If they're legal for everyone, I don't see the unfair advantage. You don't run the risk of having your cojones shrink so everybody who wants one (at that level) can use one. I would let adults make their own decisions about whether to take the risks involved with steroids, but i recognie the prerogative of sports leagues and authorities to ban them. But I think the ban is more trouble than it's worth.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
I don't know why we don't just offer a non-aggression promise and restore normal diplomatic relations. NK, perhaps more so after Kim's death, is trying clumsi;y to get reconnected with the larger world. Give them diplomat9ic relations and nothing else -- espoecially not anguished attention to their every attention-getting action. It's a pipsqueak country and having nukes doesn't change that. Save the anguish for a real threat -- except that the U.S. doesn't really face one worth mobilizing about and is unlikely to, and political leaders thrive on the appearance oif threats.
I hope the incident -- even though Bill will probably downplay it during active negotiations -- will bring more attention to North Korea's incredibly brutal hard-labor camps, described in this WaPo piece and to which Ling and Lee were sentenced. Not many people emerge alive from them.
Sunday, August 02, 2009
Anyway, a policemen using the taser on buttocks and genitals in Boise, a 72-year-old woman being tased for being mouthy, and a woman asked to leave a Social Security office lobby because she had in her possession those scariest of weapons, knitting needles, strike me as examples of authorities going overboard in their lust to control us and let us know who's boss. When, if ever, will people more often start telling them to shove it?
In part because of the Japanese keiretsu system, in which large companies affiliated together and helped one another out during periods of trouble or lack of capital, the Japanese didn't take the underfunded bank with non-performing loans problem seriously for a long time, or thought they could handle it with judicious injections of government money. They had to start letting banks fail before a modicum of realism set in. Then they got hit with the global financial crisis which has reduced their export potential, and it's recession time again.
The U.S. started out promising to identify toxic assets and take them off financial insitutions' books, but more than a trillion(!) bucks later those toxic assets are still there, poisoning the chances for recovery.
We watched it being built over the previous year, and one must admit that it is an impressive complex, with a very fine restaurant, villas for overnight stays, and an architecturally interesting walkway along the front. The owners obviously had a lot of capital and did a first-rate job. We have eaten there several times and been impressed each time. When the Temecula Vintage Singers was still in existence and I was singing with them, we sang for some kind of event in the lovely patio area. We didn't visit it last weekend -- went to Ponte Family Vineyards, which is next door and has a slightly more informal atmosphere.
Oh, and the wine is more than a little bit good.
Saturday, August 01, 2009
This earlier Register editorial had some suggestions for constructive reform, including allowing more Health Savings Accounts. Tort reform to reduce the cost of medical malpractice suits that contribute to the practice of defensive medicine would also be helpful. In case you're interested, here's a link to the entire 1018-page bill the House Energy and Commerce Committee, after much huffing and puffing, passed on Friday. Most congresscritters probably won't read it, I suspect.