Monday, August 31, 2009

At least it's not windy

The biggest Southern California fire is far from where I live, but it's grown so big that the smoke can be seen just about everywhere. It was well over 100 over the weekend, but at least it wasn't windy. It's been argued that it's irrational to live in Southern California, with fires, mudslides and earthquakes regular occurrences. But the weather and environment and even most of the people are so wonderful . . . And I'll still take a100-degree day over snow anytime. We worked outside most of the weekend -- and lounged in the pool -- and didn't feel all that uncomfortable. Of course low humidity ,makes for perfect fire weather. Here snow knows its place -- on the mountains, where it looks pretty from afar and you can visit it within an hour if you really want to.

Afghanistan not going well

Obama seems determined to try to prove he's a real player in the so-called "war on terror" by focusing on Afghanistan, but things are not going well there. As Anne Applebaum pointed out before the Aug. 20 presidential election, the important thing was that the result should appear legitimate. But that's not happening. Turnout was low, hardly any women voted, counting is going slowly, and there are credible allegations of election fraud by both the major candidates -- about 700 complaints an independent international monitoring body considers worthy of serious investigation. So far Karzai hasn't gotten the 50% he'll need to avoid a runoff. The government is still corrupt, no matter who wins.

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.

Decriminalization reduces drug problems

Mexico has decriminalized possession of small amounts of formerly illicit drugs. In this column I wrote for the Register's Sunday Commentary section, I explain that it's a logical and constructive step. It is little known -- though becoming better-known since Glenn Greenwald did a paper for Cato -- that Portugal decriminalized possession, use and acquisition of all the "illicit" drugs amounting to about a 10 days supply. The results have been dramatic, but in the opposite direction of what most people predicted. Portugal, which had among the highest levels of drug use and ancillary problems -- transmission of AIDS and other diseases, deaths -- in Europe in 1999, now has some of the lowest levels. The levels of all the European countries are dramatically lower than the United States, which has among the strictest laws and the most punitive approach in the relatively developed world (Iran still has the death penalty and still has a growing problem). Decriminalization is likely to make an unmanageable drug problem somewhat manageable. Of course I'd still prefer full legalization, giving marijuana the same legal status as parsley, but any liberalization would be welcome.

Medical marijuana in Colorado

Sometime in the next few weeks (don't know exactly when; private businesses can be bureaucratic too) I'll be starting a blog on the Register's Web site tentatively to be called "Marijuana Papers," which will be concerned with all things marijuana. Our experience is that narrowly-targeted blogs with a fair amount of information of reasonably wide interest do best -- our general-purpose Orange Punch blog done by three of us is holding its own but not doing terribly well, so we're trying for something a little different. The idea is to have it be the one-stop needed for current news about the movement and developments across the country. So I'm beefing up my sources of information.

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

Quote of the Day

"When a new source of taxation is found it never means, in practice, that the old source is abandoned. It merely means that the politicians have two ways of milking the taxpayer where they had one before." -- H.L. Mencken

Mexico decriminalizes drugs

I haven't missed the fact that Mexico last week decriminalized the use and possession of small amounts of drugs -- the equivalent of four marijuana joints, four lines of cocaine, etc. In fact, I've done a fairly major piece for next Sunday's Register Commentary section, citing the experience of Portugal, which decriminalized the possession, use and acquistition (an important aspect) of the equivalent of a 10-day supply of all the previously illicit drugs. It's turned out very well. I'll link to the piece when the Register puts it on the Web site.

Tom Sowell nails the housing/financial crisis

Believe me, I've read a lot about the origins of the housing/financial crisis that started hitting about a year ago. Tom Woods's book, "Meltdown" was excellent, and some of the analyses from Cato have been excellent. But the best concise explanation of how it happened -- all the strains of public policy mistakes that finally came together at once in something of a Perfect Storm -- I've found so far is Tom Sowell's little book, "The Housing Boom and Bust." Here's my review for the Register's Sunday Commentary section. Johan Norberg, usually excellent, also has a book out, "Financial Fiasco," that I'm looking forward to reading.

Kennedy a mixed bag in conventional terms

The Register didn't see a need to define Ted Kennedy entirely negatively in this editorial that ran today (well, I guess yesterday by now. He had his qualities, he worked hard, he probably sincerely (though mistakenly) thought he was genuinely doing useful and compassionate things. And he did oppose the Iraq war. But he saw doing good as creating government programs, using other peoples' money, thus reducing the amount of freedom in society. Not my definition of doing good. And yet, close to the end, you couldn't help but like the guy a bit.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Public service or public meddling

In the hoopla over the death of Ted Kennedy a good deal of nonsense is being spewed about the nobility of "public service." Ted spent his entire life in public service -- he never had a private-sector job nor did he need one, given the money he inherited. So we are supposed to be grateful that he spent his whole life serving others.

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

Obama centralizing interrogation

Obama just might piss off the CIA, which is not necessarily advisable for a president, with his move to create a new interagency task force for interrogation and headquartering it at the FBI, between whom and the CIA there is no love lost, even in the post-9/11 days of supposed communication and amicability in a share crisis. The Register didn't think it was a terrible idea but saw some potential downsides. Another is that the group's supposedly scientific study of interrogation techniques might lead again to enhanced interrogation, of different types than the Bushies condoned/encouraged/begged for, but potentially troubling nonetheless.

Ted Kennedy, RIP

Just heard that Ted Kennedy died tonight. I disagreed with him on practically everything, and he was certainly a far cry from being an exemplary human being. Still, he had become something of an institution and I'm kinda sad he's gone. I wonder if his passing will improve prospects for passage of a health-care bill as some kind of "tribute" to the old scoundrel.

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.

NEA being used for pro-Obama propaganda?

It's really not surprising. Anything funded through the political process will eventually be used for narrowly political purposes, though it's tough to predict exactly when this will happen. I guess it's not surprising that it would be the Obama administration that would begin to use the National Endowment for the Arts so blatantly to "encourage" artists to produce socially relevant art that would just happen to benefit the administration's current agenda.

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

Rose Friedman, RIP

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.

Register remembers Bob Novak

Well, we ran his column for a long time and by the end found very few issues about which to disagree with him. So it was of course appropriate for the Register to do a nice editorial on RobvertD. Novak. As mentioned before, I met him a few times but I doubt if he remembered me. Still, he seemed much more cheerful than his Prince of Darkness persona. When you understand that politicians are mostly people who think mostly of themselves and those who supported and/or financed them, and that blather about the "public interest" is almost always a cover for a private rip-off, you can relax. You'll seldom have expectations that can be disappointed.

Obama blowing the health care chance?

They told me that RealClearPolitics picked up this Register editorial, so we got about 1,000 more hits than we might have expected on it. It told the obvious story: for whatever combination of reasons Obama's attempt to nationalize health care is going badly awry. Time to scrap the messes they've made so far and start over.

Eric Holder: the more things change . . .

As is often the case, it looks as if Glenn Greenwald has it nailed. Obama AG Eric Holder is appointing a special prosecutor to look into interrogation excesses by the CIA, but the initial impression is that this will be another Abu Ghraib. They'll nail a few lower-level interrogators and leave upper-level officials who argued for torture, pleaded for torture, justified torture in legal briefs that read like what a Mafia lawyer would prepare for a Don who wanted to stay out of jail while committing endless crimes.

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

Saving money with Obamacare? I don't think so

Mark Landsbuam, Steve Greenhut and I managed to plow through the entire House Education and Labor Committee version of the health care bill, all 1018 pages of it. Our preliminary thoughts were recorded here in the Register's Sunday Commentary section. Very complex filled with mandates -- and the middle section, my assignment, was almost entirely new coverage or reduced co-payments and the like for Medicare, all of which are likely to make it cost more than it does -- even as everybody knows it will go broke before too long, and the mantra is that they can squeeze $500 billion in sav8ings out of Medicare over 10 years. The insistence by politicians of adding to government -- i.e., taxpayer -- obligations when the econoomy is in the tank, the government is beyond broke, and things are falling apart, is incredible to me. Fiddling while Washington burns?

Jakob Dylan: chip off the old block

It is almost eery listening to Jakob Dylan, as I have been on the PBS "Live from the Artists's Den" program. I heard him once before, perhaps a year or two ago, and had a similar feeling. The timbre of the voice, the semi-hoarse quality, even the feel of several of the songs, brings back memories of Bob from a partially misspent youth.

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

Barrier to free health care

If you were anywhere near Southern California this past week (I don't know if it made national news or not) you could hardly have missed the news that a free health clinic, staffed by volunteers, was held in the Forum in Inglewood for a week, handling medical and dental problems of about 1500 uninsured and mostly poor people a day. It was sad that there was such a need to fill, but inspiring that somebody could put it together.

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.

Remembering Robert Novak

As is often the case, Jack Shafer (I'll have to make it a point to call him and meet him the next time I'm in D.C.) came close to capturing the essence of Robert Novak, who died today at 78, although Ken Tomlinson, from a rather different perspective, offered some good insights as well. Novak was what a lot of us who go into journalism think we would want to be, a real source-working, original reporting kind of guy with a bad attitude and some opinions gained at the school of hard knocks, but few have the persistence or panache to carry it off.

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

The White House lied, nobody died

I thought and for the most part still think that the issue of unsolicited e-mails from the White House was somewhat contrived at the outset. Yes, the White House having e-mail addresses for people who never left them at the WH Website is a little creepy, and there's a barely justifiable suspicion that the White House might be collecting an "enemies list," as all White Houses eventually do, perhaps in part from people identified as having"fishy" second thoughts about nationalized health care. But to send those on the enemies' list an effusive letter obviously designed for true believers isn't so much sinister as incompetent. And I can hardly believe, with the amount of spam everybody gets, that many people were all that outraged -- unless talking as if outraged would get them on TV.

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.

Busy weekend

Didn't even turn on the computer over the weekend. We were busy remodeling the kitchen, which involved painstaking assembly of a couple of tables from Ikea, as well as normal garden-variety gardening, maintenance, etc. I've noticed when I clean the pool filter an amazing amount of what I've decided to call TVM -- tiny vegetative matter -- that just keeps coming and coming when I spray out the filter. Amazing what gets trapped in there. But then I suppose that's what a filter is for. I'd hate to have all that crap stay in the pool, or depend on getting it out with a skimmer basket.

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.

Fires and drug laws

News reports say that firefighters and law enforcement are pretty sure the current Santa Barbara fire was started by guards at a marijuana grow cooking dinner or at least having a campfire. As this post on Orange Punch delineates in a bit more detail, it's important to know that it is asset forfeiture laws that have driven growers into the national forests, where the land is already owned by the government. The solution, of course, is legalization.

Midsummer dreamin'

It's the dog days of August when, although the protests at town meetings are somewhat interesting, there's not a lot of real news. So for this Sunday's Orange County Register Commentary section, each of us three writers wrote briefly on three things we'd like to see happen if political feasibility were mot an issue. Here's mine, calling for drug legalization, a non-interventionist foreign policy and the end of occupational licensing. Here is Steve Greenhut's. And here is Mark Landsbaum's. Can you believe we get to say this stuff in a daily newspaper? There will be a test.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Better, but no shower

I saw about a dozen meteors in an hour of watching last night, including one that appeared to streak across about a quarter of the night sky. And maybe 5 or 6 I thought I saw on the periphery of my vision but couldn't be sure of. A bit better than last night, but not as many as we've seen in prior years. The moon was pretty bright, and that might have affected being able to see smaller and less bright ones.

Eunice Shriver's lasting contribution

I don't know whether or not I'm surprised or not that the Register got an indignant letter in response to this editorial praising Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The burden of the editorial was that the member of one of America's most intensely political family who may prove to have made the most significant contribution to society did so through an institution, the Special Olympics, that transcends and is outside of and above politics. Money quote:

"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

Another Obama promise broken

During the campaign and after being inaugurated, Obama said and AG Eric Holder affirmed that policy going forward would be for the Drug Enforcement Administration not to raid medical marijuana distribution or patient cooperatives (I've talked to a lawyer who objects to using the word "dispensaries" since it's the term the drug warriors prefer and it isn't a legally-defined entity) in states that had medical marijuana laws. There were a couple of raids in Calif. shortly after the statement, but you could perhaps attirbute that to Bush holdovers.

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.

National Symphony goes on Twitter

I'm something of a congenital late adopter -- I don't have a Twitter page and have no immediate plans to get one, and just went up on Facebook a month or so ago. And when it comes to symphonic music I'm something of a traditionalist. Most efforts to popularize symphony music or make it more youth-friendly are either mildly ridiculous and don't work or cheapen the product. Nonetheless, the art is perpetually one generation from extinction, so I'm glad to see orchestras trying things to make the music more relevant or accessible, even if most of them don't work.

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.

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.

Not much of a shower

We'll try again tonight. Last night Jen and I laid on our oversized hammock until almost 1:00 a.m. and saw maybe 8-10 meteors. Maybe more came later, but compared to what we've seen in years past it was a little disappointing -- though a couple were actually rather spectacular. It was a little overcast last night but appears to be almost cloudless tonight. Also, the news says the shower should peak around midnight, a more reasonable hour.

How long before the parasite consumes the host?

Obama claims his stimulus is "creating or saving" X number of jobs, but when you look at the new "jobs" being created, almost all of them are in the public sector. That's not sustainable. The public sector is in a parasitic relationship to the private sector, which is the only sector capable of creating wealth rather than consuming it. Creating more public-sector jobs while private sector job growth is flat or negative is a bit like eating your seed corn.

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 needs $$$

Justin Raimondo says that's fundraising drive, now in its third day, is not going well. If there's any way you can click on the Website and help, even a little bit, it's an important, I would even say crucial, operation.

Waiting for the meteor shower

Somehow it seems appropriate to be listening to Gustav Holst's "The Planets" while anticipating watching the promised meteor shower tonight. There's a great deal to blog about -- rethinking Afghanistan, trouble in Iraq, the condition of health-care deform, how Obama's doing, even Hillary's moment -- but I think I'll go away for a bit, maybe post something on Facebook, and work on my marijuana book. It's close. I think I have the proper themes for the chapter on marijuana economics, to unify what's already written, and it's just a matter of applying the principles to the marijuana trade.

Adventures in public transportation

I take the train to and from work -- Metrolink, which runs throughout the greater LA area with less frequency and convenience than most commuter train systems, which is not surprising considering how spread out the business and residential concentrations are. As it happens, it works for me and I get quite a bit of reading done. Sometimes, however, there are problems.

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

UCLA football -- new season, better results?

You can tell we're starting to gear up for football season, my favorite time of the year. I like to watch games in which I don't have a rooting interest, but when it comes to sports I'm mostly atavistic: I went to UCLA and played freshman football (back when they had freshman football and you could make the team without being a star by not quitting) so I root for UCLA no matter what the realistic prospects are. Otherwise, I tend to favor the team that is farthest west or farthest south (which means I usually root for USC also -- my father got his Master's there -- unless they're playing UCLA). In pro football the Chargers are closest to home and my wife grew up in Buffalo, so those are my faves.

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

Health care: some constructive thoughts

There are plenty of critics of Obamacare (whatever of the five versions through committee or amalgam of same becomes the path to salvation), and that's fine. But few have analyzed the system and offered constructive, competitive alternative suggestions. With all due respect, I think I did this as well as almost anybody (given newspaper space limitations) in this Register Sunday Commentary piece. Give consumers/patients more control over the money and make the system more competitive. Seems obvious, but . . .

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Is government trying to kill us?

It is possible that the Department of Homeland Security (whose very name acknowledges the imperial nature of the modern United States), cobbled together with little rhyme, reason or coordination in an effort to appear to be "doing something" in the wake of 9/11, is the absolute worst agency in the federal government -- not that there aren't plenty of candidates.

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

Good news in Iran, Somalia

Can you stand a little good news? We certainly aren't getting a lot of it here in the good old US of A. But the State Dept. intelligence analysts (who were closer to right about Iraq in 2003 than any other gummint agencies) think that Iran will not be able to produce weapons-grade material before 2013 -- and that's a technical timetable. It also doesn't think a political decision has been made to start producing high-grade uranium.

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.

Lunch with Bill Evers

Had a very pleasant lunch yesterday with Bill Evers, an old friend who has been at Hoover forever except for a recent stint with the government as an Education undersecretary, including five months in Iraq. Good to rekindle an old friendship and catch up. And that's really what it was -- no agenda, just two old friends, though I think one upshot will be another stint as a Hoover Media Fellow. Since his wife is in Orange County we should be able to see a bit more of one another. For better or worse we reinforced one another's basic presumption that the smaller government is the better.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Get out of Afghanistan while the gettin's good

There are differences of course -- no two wars are alike -- but the potential parallels between Vietnam and our possibly-escalating war in Afghanistan are troubling enough to be a little eery. Whether you saw the VC as an indigenous resistance or the tool of the nation-state to the north, it was a force that was not about to go away and its leaders figured the U.S. would be eventually. Same with the Taliban, though it doesn't seem to have so obvious an outside support beyond havens in Pakistan (though elements of the Pakistani ISI may still be involved). The South Vietnamese government may not have been as hopeless as it was sometimes pictured, but it was shaky and corrupt, as is the Karzai regime. The drug trade didn't play a big role in financing the VC, as it is for the Taliban.

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.

Let 'em eat technology

I know I blogged it quite a while ago -- don't know if I have the patience to find a link; maybe I should look for a search engine for this blog? -- but I wasn't sure if I was being serious then. Just as doping has become a big thing in various sports, I suggested that suits would become or were becominbg a big deal in swimming. And sure enough, they've become a focus of attention at the world championships in Rome, as records have been falling like crazy. Do the "speed-engineered, air-trapping, water-impermeable suits" give swimmers an unfair advantage? Germany's Paul Biedermann, who broke Ian Thorpe's 400-meter record wearing one thinks they're worth about two seconds. He thinks they should be banned. Later Michael Phelps, not wearing a supersuit, came back and beat him.

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

Overhyping Sonia

News stories couldn't wait to label Senate debate of Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court "historic." A better description would be numbingly dull, perhaps to an historic extent. She's going to be approved, though Republicans will go through the dreary motions of opposition without anything resembling real conviction. I doubt if her strongest supporters think she is genuinely intellectually distinguished (maybe I'll be proven wrong), while her strongest opponents don't really thinkj she'll be consistently biased and much, much worse than Souter. Yawn.

Quote of the Day

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." -- H.L. Mencken

Well, good for Bill

The news stories say Bill didn't do the negotiations himself, the State Dept. did, and the big thing Kim Jong-Il got was a chance to save face by releasing the two American women and having a former U.S. president come by on what was treated as a state visit. Victor Cha says NK's MO is to go out on a ledge and sometimes they have to be helped off it, Whatever, it's hard to be anything but pleased that the two are out of NK. As mentioned before, the hard labor camps are horrific. Word is that Kim didn't want the issue of the two captives to be a distraction in future negotiations over nukes. That assume negotiations are in the future.

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.

Clinton might just do it

My guess is that Bill Clinton would not have gotten involved if he didn't have some assurances that there was at least a chance of being successful at bringing American quasi-journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee home. I certainly hope he facilitates their freedom. It strikes me that this isn't a bad kind of thing for former presidents to do. They have a certain cachet, and being out of office they have a certain freedom of movement and action that serving presidents simply don't. That doesn't imply automatic applause for everything an ex might do -- Jimmy Carter has sometimes been an embarrassment, and it's hard to imagine Dubya being much of an international negotiator.

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

Police overdoing not confined to Cambridge or to blacks

To be fair, Andrew Sullivan ran down most of the examples in this post I did for the Register's Orange Punch blog. They could be multiplied. Radley Balko at Reason, whom I sat next to at Reason's 40th anniversary banquet last fall, is also doing yeoman work keeping track of police outrages.

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?

Obama coming back to earth

If I do say so, I think this Register editorial sums up where the Obama administration is at this point fairly well. From Obama's perspective there have certainly been success -- if you consider getting a stimulus package that isn't really stimulating a success, which I presume he does. Guantanamo, as we predicted early on, is turning out to be more complicated than expected. Pelosi and Co. really had to knock heads to get cap-n-trade through the House and prospects are less than sure in the Senate. Whether he'll get some kind of health-care deform -- my prediction is a bit of tinkering around the edges -- no "public option," maybe not even co-ops, probably no universal mandate -- before the end of the year so he can call it a victory, depends to a great extent on what congresscritters, especially the Blue Dogs, hear from home during the recess. They may come back stoked to do the Obama-led transformation or more inclined to resist. I'm guessing more inclined to resist but things will take a while to shake out.

Will the U.S. have a Lost Decade?

I swear that after I did the research for this article in the Register's Sunday Commentary section ( a piece whose general outlines we've been talking about doing for months) I felt even more pessimistic than when I started. Interesting that the piece got a fair number of comments, some of them even thoughtful. The circumstances and conditions are hardly identical, but the Japanese downturn started with the bursting of a real estate bubble, followed by efforts to get out of recession with heavy government spending.

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.

Temecula winery named best in state

For the second year, South Coast Winery has been named the best in the state at the Califgornia State Fair's wine competition in Sacramento. That's rather remarkable considering that it was opened only in2004. More than 600 wineries submitted more than 2,600 wines for the competition. Considering that it was in competition with all those long-established wineries in Norther and Central California, this is quite a tribute.

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

Health care deform stalled, thank goodness

I'm hardly crying in my (more interesting than Obama's) beer that the Obama-Democratic-congress effort to further nationalize health care in this country is stalled. As this Register editorial explains, the more people learned about what various bills had in mind, the less eager many Americans are to see the politicians and bureaucrats do a makeover -- at least a quick and comprehensive one.

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.

Progress on book

I believe the outline of my marijuana legalization book is substantially done now, and I am working on a sample chapter, on the economics of marijuana prohibition, to submit to publishers along with the outline. I still have a little reading to do before I'm fully confident about what to write, but I hope to be finished in less than a week, perhaps by the end of the weekend. Feel free to prod and nag.