Friday, January 29, 2010
That said, the more I've looked into this -- I wrote a critical piece on the speech for the Register's Sunday Commentary section -- will link once it's up -- the clearer it seems that while Alito's probably spontaneous pantomiming was probably ill-advised, it was Obama who was the clear breaker of precedent and the aggressor -- and something of a cowardly one at that, with the pointed criticism directed at people who by protocol are expected to sit motionless and expressionless during a rather pointed and highly inaccurate tongue-lashing, of the kind that any con law professor with a speck of integrity would give a failing grade to. Presidents hardly ever have referred to the Supremes in SOTU speeches, and never before in such a pointed way right to their faces. Attendance at SOTU is optional for Supremes, and it might not be surprising if none showed up next year. Maybe not so bad. Catfights between the branches just might be a good sign for freedom.
ll give them that they kept battling and never conceded the game, but for stretches in the second half it seemed as it there was a lid on the basket. Don McLean said the Bruins were playing good offense in the first half, but I'm not sure I agreed. They hardly ever penetrated and were content to take three-pointers. Roll hit a key one to send it into overtime, but as so often happens in overtime, when one team got more than a one-possession lead it was able to pull away; trying to come back makes for desperate plays.
Still, Nelson and Honeycutt are going to be good players and the Pac-10 is tangled, with no one quite pulling away yet. Let's hope for better on Saturday.
The McCain-Feingold law included a novel restriction on advocacy organizations, a rule that they couldn't air any ads or other kinds of modes of persuasion in a way that the FEC could interpret as electioneering just before -- 60 days before -- an election, when election-related speech should be at its most robust and political speech most carefully protected. The campaign restrictionist crowd didn't like it, and the Supremes could have issued a narrower decision, but the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law," remember?) was clearly violated. It was correct to strike the clearly unconstitutional law down. That's the Supreme Court's job, arguably its only important job. But the restrictionists reverse the logic of democracy. Elections are supposed to be how the people control the government, but if the government controls the electoral process, declaring who can participate and how, the permanent government cannot be really held accountable. That's what campaign finance "reform" is really all about, giving government more control over the process that is supposed to control it.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Here's the editorial the Register will run tomorrow:
President Obama’s first State of the Union address last night answered the big question pundits were asking resoundingly. In the face of setbacks and growing opposition, in the face of the cap-and-trade energy bill being considered effectively dead, in the face of the loss of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, in the face of increasing opposition to the health-insurance reform proposal that has yet to take final shape, would he modulate his agenda to take account of a political climate that has changed radically since he took office a year ago, or would he double-down on the program of increasing the size, scope and responsibility of government?
He chose to double-down, to insist that the growing opposition to his programs is due not to serious concerns about the policies embodied in them, but in his failure to communicate effectively their constructiveness and loveliness. One might view this as admirable determination to stick by a program, or one might view it as stubbornness, defiance, even, dare we say it, a touch of arrogance.
Listening to this overlong speech that was remarkably flat in tone and pedestrian in delivery, one sensed a certain overarching sense of unreality. Almost all observers have considered cap-and-trade effectively dead, especially in the light of revelations about the likelihood that some of the data supporting the theory of climate change has been deliberately skewed, yet he proclaimed utter fealty to it.
The health-insurance reforms his party has proposed were in trouble even before a Republican was elected to the Senate from Massachusetts, yet he spent a good deal of time trying to make the case that if we really understood how beneficial it would be our doubts would melt away like yesterday’s clouds.
An emphasis on trying to rejuvenate a flat economy and create more jobs was understandable given polling data that shows these are uppermost in the minds of most Americans. Yet the president, aside from one rhetorical flourish, showed little or no understanding of the notion that the only jobs that are sustainable over the long haul are those created in the private sector as a result of businesses that flourish and make profits.
All of the jobs he claimed last year’s stimulus bill saved were public-sector jobs – police, firefighters, teachers, construction workers on government-financed infrastructure projects. But all those jobs depend on the government extracting money and resources from the private sector. If the private sector languishes or is flat, none of them can be sustained over the long haul. Is there any evidence that President Obama understands this?
His proposal on students repaying loans for college was especially telling. He proposed that loans be forgiven after 20 years for people in the private sector but only 10 years for those who go to work for some government agency. An Obama economy looks like one in which government and those who work for it receive special treatment and favors, whereas those who create the wealth that government must seize to increase the public sector are to be looked upon with suspicion and punished with more taxes and increased regulation.
Such a vision may be inspiring to some, but it is profoundly unsustainable.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The fact that the Supremes stretched to reach this result -- generally uncharacteristic, they usually try to avoid constitutional issues unless absolutely necessary -- raises the question of whether they're moving into a more aggressive mode. As a barely conservative court with a clearly liberal administration, it's possible. As this Register editorial notes, the McDonald v. Chicago case, which tests whether the Second Amendment applies to state and local governments, will give us a pretty good hint.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Thursday, January 21, 2010
In addition, of course, rules like the McCain-Feingold prohibition of anything that could be remotely be called electioneering by issue-oriented organizations within 30 or 60 days of an election is a limitation on free speech -- outright censorship, as Justice Kennedy recognized -- at precisely the time when freedom of speech should be most robust, as this Register editorial explains and argues.
Ilyas Shapiro (with whom I talked today) and John Samples of Cato make some similar points more elaborately in this op-ed.
Compared to an earthquake in Haiti it's pretty much nothing, I know, and rain is welcome after a couple of years of near-drought. But it creates situations and there has been damage. Jen called and I left early today because the power was out and wasn't expected back on until 9:00. We had dinner out and by the time we were done we got home at 7 :30 and the juice was on. So I watched the Lakers lose to Cleveland, then UCLA beat Washington in a thriller. A luxurious way to weather the storm, which is still bringing rain and some thunder as I type.
Marques Johnson on tonight's broadcast jokingly suggested the Pac-10 might end with all the teams at 9-9. A super longshot, of course, but the league does seem to be balanced and unpredictable -- no dominant team has emerged yet -- and a lot of the games are cvlose, which makes for good watching, especially if you don't have a favorite in your mind.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
In a way it's comforting for all of these purveyors of news and opinion to be so transparent about where they're coming from.
Google made the decision to lie down with the dog of the Chinese government, agreeing when it entered the Chinese market to censor certain things (like the 1989 unpleasantness at Tiananmen Square) from its search engine for Chinese customers. Its decision to defy that censorship order may or may not be the final outcome. Google might leave China, or China just might have to become more open and less censorious. I figure the latter has to happen sooner or later, but it could be quite a bit later.
It was more than just a bit of rain today. The Weather Service has classified a cell that came ashore from the Pacific at around Huntington Beach as a probable tornado. The tornado seems to have died out after only overturning a few cars and messing with some mobile homes, but as it came inland it turned into severe thunderstorms with high winds. Topography sheltered Elsinore from the most turbulent weather, but we still got heavy rain, sporadic serious wind and some lightning. Heavier expected Thursday. Quite fascinating.
I"m glad in many ways that it's an El Nino year and we're slated to have more rain than in most years. We've had drought-like conditions for a couple of years and this should end it. But I didn't expect it to hit us quite so violently.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
I read the book and was mostly convinced. Of course Reagan didn't accomplish that goal, but he did sign START-I, under which both the US and the USSR seriously reduced their nuclear stockpiles. Here's the review I did for the Register's Sunday Commentary section today. And there's little question who was in charge of policy during the Reagan administration.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
The case is being brought, however, on 14th-amendment grounds -- equal protection of the laws and due process. It's not a bad case, as Cato's Robert Levy, who is a constitutional lawyer, points out in this op-ed.
I would prefer that the State had nothing to do with marriage, but it does, and since it does it should treat same-sex couples equally. Politically, however, having gay marriage imposed by the courts is arguably less desirable than having it done legislatively or by referendum, which would reflect a pretty strong consensus. Court decisions to date have led to backlashes -- that's how Prop. 8 was filed -- and one worries that it could set the cause back.
On the other-other hand, if it's a right, and especially one that doesn't harm others when exercised (my definition of a real right), which gay marriage certainly wouldn't, despite ahistorical and ignorant claims to the contrary, a majority, no matter how large (and this one is shrinking) doesn't have the right (though it may have the power) to violate it. Justice delayed is justice denied, so maybe going to court is the best way to vindicate this right.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
It's probably too early to think of such matters, but one can't help wondering whether this might turn out to be an opportunity for Haiti to start over with something of a clean slate. Unfortunately, the conditions that feed poverty -- mostly terrible government -- are likely to still be in place. Tyler Cowen had an interesting piece discussing some of the reasons Haiti is still so poor. If they are as deep-rooted as some seem to be (Napoleonic Code rather than English civil law tradition, less friendly to enterprise) it could be difficult if not impossible. Maybe if we shipped copies of P.T. Bauer's books to every school and library in Haiti as they are rebuiilt? But would anybody read them?
The proposed taxes are also calculated to take advantage of what administration geniuses think will be populist anger at upcoming executive bonuses at banks that have gotten back on their feet. And of course our glorious leader will do all he can to stir up and exacerbate whatever genuine popular anger exists. That Obama! Good thing he's a uniter, not a divider.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
The kicker is that the recipient is chosen in secret and surprised by the award. Membersof the evaluation committee attend concerts and recitals as anonymously as possible and listen to recordings, then make their choice. Nobody knows he or she is under consideration. This year's winner is Kirill Gerstein, an American of Russian origin who won the Artur Rubenstein contest in 2001, concertizes widely and teaches at the conservatory in Stuttgart.
What enchants me is the secrecy of the prize. What a cool thing to do!
Meanwhile, in California, I talked to Steve Gutwillig , head of the Calif. Drug Policy Alliance, about the Assembly public safety committee passing SF Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's legalize/regulate/tax bill. Genuinely historic. Unfortunately, it would have to be passed by the health committee by Friday to get considered by the full Assembly this year, and for various reasons that's not going to happen. Tom will probably introduce a new bill for consideration next year -- or perhaps a bill that parallels Richard Lee's initiative measure, which will be on the ballot in November. I don't know how aggressive the opposition will be, but I do know it will be dishonest. The basic MO of the drug warriors is to lie about marijuana, and they're still getting away with it.
And meanwhile yet, Washington state's Assembly will consider a legalization bill, and activists have announced they have filed an initiative they hope to get on the November ballot. Going back and forth with Steve Kubby on Facebook this afternoon, he predicted California's initiative will pass in November. I hope so but I'm feeling a bit more cautious. Win or lose, however, having it on the ballot is definite progress.
Monday, January 11, 2010
The swiftness of promulgation of new technologies might slow down if the recession lasts longer than most experts expect it will. Even if that happens, I suspect government will be congenitally behind. Government has wasted billions trying to get current on computer technology in its own operations and agencies, but its procurement processes almost assure that it is buying yesterday's technology, and not all that intelligently. It's probably beneficial that government doesn't understand IT very well. If it did, it would 0probably be surveilling all of us much more comprehensively and efficiently than it is now.
It really is quite restrictive. It can only be recommended by a physician for a designated list of ailments, patients will not be allowed to grow their own, it would be tracked like a truly dangerous drug like morphine, and patients would be restricted to two ounces a month. Clearly, this is legislation still influenced by lingering "reffer madness" misconceptions. It also amounts to politicians playing doctor. Few other prescription drugs, many of them seriously dangerous, are so restricted.
Nonetheless, it's a step forward.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
Years ago, annoyed that so many intellectual types had taken to describing baseball (wehich I also like, for different reasons) as the thinking man's game as opposed to the brute force nature of football, I did a piece for the Register making the case that football, with its emphasis on deception and the need for all 11 players to do what is specified in a play while gigantic guys on the other side are doing their utmost to disrupt you and prevent you from carrying out your assignment, and sometimes having to improvise when a play doesn't get started properly, is intellectually as well as physically challenging. It is certainly more challenging to the mind of a spectator who wants to understand more than the bare rudiments -- hell of a run, hell of a tackle, brutal hit -- than baseball or many other sports because of all the moving parts.
And of course, he's not close to taking the single most effec tive step toward safeguarding Americans, which would be to withdrawal military personnel from all Muslim countries as quickly as possible. But the commitment to "fixing" the world, which not only puts military people in harm's way but increases the danger to ordinary Americans, comes way ahead of what all presidents claim is their main duty, protecting the Amertican people from harm.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
But the second half was another matter entirely. The Bruins kept chipping away and finally pulled ahead. Cal drained one to force overtime. UCLA led through most of it, but Cal scored with 21 seconds left to go up by one. Then after a botched pass Michael Roll got a lucky bounce on the rebound and put it in for the game winner. Nikola Dragovic was hitting threes in the second half (as was Roll), and finally they all played together just well enough to win.
I have expected that Ben Howland would push and prod them into a team eventually, but this one tonight was sweet!
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
Of course the new pat-down security, the designated countries and the talk of full-body scan machines are simply window-dressing that do little or nothing to make us safer and a good deal to make flying less convenient and Americans more sheeplike. Obama acknowledged government failure but hardly noticed the absurdity of solving a government failure with more government.
I don't expect him to do the most useful thing if we really want to defang the jihadists, which would be to withdraw the U.S. military from all Muslim countries and stop trying to make them Just Like Us. I don't even expect him to understand that part of the problem is that there are too many overgrown security bureaucracies that can't coordinate because they are too lethargic and topheavy and cautious. He is POTUS, after all, and the inheritor of the Military Industrial Complex.
I found all the news stories fairly unsatisfactory, so I found a copy of Bernanke's speech (which included more than a dozen pages of charts and graphs) and read and pondered it. I finally decided he has made a case that the Fed's role was less important than is widely believed. It really was more Fannie and Freddie. Bernanke's most telling datum is a reminder that the bubble began expanding in 1999, well before the Fed's post-9/11 expansion, although the expansion accelerated in 2005 -- and Bernanke acknowledged that the Fed probably played a role in that.
I think this Register editorial, in combination with this blog post, summarizes my thoughts fairly accurately.Bernanke made a case, but still unduly downplayed the Fed's role. And his argument that better regulation would better prevent future crises is ludicrous.
Monday, January 04, 2010
Jack Herer, recall, had a stroke or heart attack at a hemp festival in Portland, OR and was rushed to the hospital in grave condition. He was released, later admitted again, with bronchitis. With renal failure his survival was touch-and-go, but he made it and was moved to a rehabilitative clinic, where he is now. His medical condition has varied -- sometimes he seems to be making real progress, though he isn't able to speak yet, and sometimes he seems to be regressing. Some would like to see him moved to the UCSF Hospital in San Francisco, where they have more cutting-edge treatments available, and which is closer to his Clear Lake home, but it hasn't happened yet.
More bizarre and perhaps tragic is the tussle over who assumes responsibility for his care. He apparently gave Power of Attorney to his assistant Chuck Jacobs and Joy Graves, who have apparently tussled with his wife, Jeannie (I met Jeannie once when visiting Jack in Van Nuys, but I haven't been in touch since he moved to Northern California and I don't know these other people). The word is that Jack was getting ready to divorce her. She apparently put in a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) under certain conditions order with the hospital. It was then revoked but a new one reinstated. Some doubt whether that reflects Jack's true wishes, but he can't communicate those just now.
There's apparenly also discord over a forthcoming book Jack has been working on tentatively titled "The Most High: Plant Secrets of the Gods and Explorations Revealing the End of the World as You Know It." Apparently Jeannie didn't want the book published but Jack did, as did Chuck and Joy, and it was over the book, not his medical condition, that Jack gave them Power of Attorney. With all the issues, there's something of a war going on over how Jack is to be treated. Here's another version.
Sad. Pray for Jack. I was rather close to him for a while -- he talked me into writing the first article in a major "mainstream" newspaper about hemp back in 1988 -- and he's a good man.
And then there's the likely government takeover of health care. This is a strictly ideological cause -- there are problems but no crisis -- but "progressives" have been luisting after socialized medicine since the time of Teddy Roosevelt. In TR's day there was an excuse -- no outright socialist regimes had been established and it sounded good in theory. How anybody can still see anything lovely in socialism and statism after the experience of the 20th century is beyond me. But obviously, lots of people can.
Sunday, January 03, 2010
Here, thanks to a commenter, is a point-by-point rebuttal of Milani's article, c0ontending the U.S. role was key in 1953. I'll need to read them both more carefully side-by-side to have a more considered opinion, but present both for your consideration.
I'm not sure how much that history impacts the current situation. At this point, as persistent as the protesters have been -- more so than most observers expected, I warrant -- the regime still seems to have the upper hand with fairly well calibrated violence. Is the regime nonethtless vulnerable? I think so, but don't have any special insight on timing.
Did get a chance yesterday to spend sopm time with my sidter Nancy, whom I haven't seen face-to-face since she move to Ridgefield, WA. She and Ricjhard have moved on from there to Eureka, of all places, where Richard has an engineering job. But she was in the OC Saturday visiting various friends, including one who is gravely ill, and we got to spend a few hours together catching up.. So glad we did.
Perhaps the worst part of a trip is unpacking the car, which always seems to have much more than it could possibly hold and take forever to get into the house. We still haven't put everything away yet, but are ready for work tomorrow.