Wednesday, December 26, 2007

War opposition solid

Even though violence in Iraq seems to be subsiding (or taking a vacation), most Americans still oppose the war and want U.S. troops to begin withdrawing sooner rather than later, at least according to this CNN/Opinion Dynamics poll. That shouldn't be surprising, but perhaps it is to those who take evidence of the surge's success as reason to make an indefinite commitment to substantial numbers of troops in Iraq rather than as a reason to start winding down the commitment. Reading through this morning's Las Vegas Review-Journal, I was struck (perhaps I was prepared to be struck, this being Christmastime and all) by stories about religious leaders paying especially close attention to calls for peace in their Christmastide greetings. Christians in Baghdad were joined at Christmas-eve Mass by both Shia and Sunni clerics declaring a solidarity that hasn't been much in evidence lately.

Post-Christmas haze

Well, it's the day after Christmas, and we're in Las Vegas. Jen, Steve and Tom are back working the real estate stuff, and I'm at relatively loose ends. I'm testing the Register laptop I'm planning to take to New Hampshire, so the keyboard seems tiny, but I think I'll get used to it. Had pre-Christmas at our house Sunday with Alane and Joe, Ange and Sky and various offspring, then I worked until 2 Monday and we came up to spend Christmas with Steve and Tom. It was vaery pleasant. I now have machines to translate music from both vinyl and cassettes to MP3s or CDs in digital form, so, I guess I have an almost full-time retirement project, if such a day ever comes. Meantime I'll do a few at a time. Both Christmases very pleasant.

And maybe even an event-driven blog from time to time.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Budget goofiness

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the bloated budget Congress passed and the president signed this week. Play games with money for the Iraq war (which eventually came with no strings or even pretenses, but in a way that allowed some Democrats to vote against it and look tough), and include lots of earmarks, which everybody condemns but all legislators love. I especially liked Ill. Sen. Dick Durbin's response to the effect that he can't wait to put out a press release to brag about all the goodies he got for Illinois. So long as legislators think their job is to get a piece of the booty for themeselves and their constituents we'll have elections that are advance auctions of stolen goods.

Fire in old Executive Office Building

There was a fire in the wonderfully ornate Old Executive Office Building this week, with most of the damagedone in the Vice President's ceremonial office. Do you suppose Cheney had been doing a slow burn over the release of the National Intelligence Estimate that makes it unlikely we'll get a war with Iran next year, and he finally just burst into flames?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tucker Carlson on Ron Paul

MSNBC host/anchor (I think he still is) Tucker Carlson has an interesting piece on his travels with Ron Paul in Nevada, during which he introduced him to Dennis Hof, who runs a legal brothel and who, with most of his workers, decided to endorse Ron Paul, creating a little stir of publicity a few weeks ago. Interesting that it ran in The New Republic; if I learn more of the story behind it I'll pass it on. I suspect it might not have been the first place Carlson tried to peddle it, since it's been a while since the incidents described. Or maybe it's one more instance of the "mainstream" media (whatever that means) paying more attention to Dr. Paul given his (or his supporters', to be more precise) impressive fundraising ability.

I've mentioned before that I first met Ron Paul when he was first elected to Congress back in the 1970s, and while we're hardly intimate friends we have run into one another at various events over the years. Last time was at the first debate, in Simi Valley last Spring. I think Tucker exaggerates the flatness of his delivery, but Ron Paul is not the most scintillating public speaker ever. Must be the ideas.

If the election interests you

The Register has a new blog, dubbed "Horserace '08," on the presidential election. Its contributors include not only our three Register editorial writers, but philosopher Tibor Machan, Freedom Newspapers' official philosophical guru and writers from other papers in the Freedom Communications chain. I'm especially taken by the contributions from Scott Shackford, whom I don't believe I've met, a Gen X-er who's editor of our Desert Dispatch in Barstow. Our idea is to view this year's "advance auction of stolen goods," as Mencken put it, from a libertarian perspective. I suspect we'll have more news of Ron Paul than any other newspaper or media company, and perhaps more than all the others combined. I hope you'll like it, bookmark it and return to it often.

CIA going after former employee who talked about waterboarding

At this point I don't know whether this is a serious effort to punish him and his lawyer is just putting up a brave front or whether his lawyer is right when he says this is routine and he doesn't expect prosecution. But the CIA has asked the Justice Dept. to investigate whether former CIA officer John Kiriakou, a former CIA interrogator in Pakistan, made public classified information when he told various media that the CIA had waterboarded Abu Zubaida, one of the two al-Qaida operatives the tapes of whose interrogations were destroyed.

Here's an account of his original WaPo interview, about 10 days ago.

Kiriakou's lawyer, Mark Zaid, said this is "a routine act the CIA undertakes even when they know no violation has occurred." He went on to, in essence, inform the government through the media that if charges were filed it would become a First Amendment issue, and that a filing could result in publicity and other stuff coming out that the government might not want to come out.

Whatever happens in this case, it is pretty apparent that this story has legs. I don't think the government will be able to sweep it under the rug. In a way, that's a tribute to the founders' scheme in creating a government with three "equal" branches, with the idea that they would serve to check the excesses of the others. It doesn't always work as well as the founders would probably have liked -- otherwise we wouldn't have such an imperial executive branch -- but sometimes it does work.

Whether it's because it's an election year with an opposition party in control of Congress or because some individuals have remembered, as they sometimes do, that they're sworn to protect the constitution, not the current occupant of the oval orifice, there's at least the possibility of some unwelcome publicity if not necessarily personal accountability. Despite the ignorant mutterings of some sofa samurais about how torture is essential to "protecting" us, even those who authorize it know it's wrong and almost certainly illegal, and their actions show they didn't want its use to be public knowledge. Some people may not be capable of shame, but at least they understand that acknowledging that U.S. government operatives have used torture is bad PR.

Kiriakou is potentially interesting. He has sorta justified the use of waterboarding back then and said it led to getting useful information from Zubaida -- shortly after 9/11, when the government was scrambling and improvising and most people thought another attack was probably imminent. But he now says waterboarding is torture and "Americans are better than that ... Maybe that's inconsistent, but that's how I feel. It was an ugly little episode that was perhaps necessary at that time. But we've moved beyond that."

There's much more to discuss -- the FBI, for example, disputes whether Zubaida was all that important and whether waterboarding really elicited useful information. But with Congress determined to investigate, the CIA saying it will cooperate, and a judge who ordered other evidence not to be destroyed ready to hold a hearing even though the cases before him may or may not be related to the Zubaida tapes, we're likely to learn a great deal more -- infinitely more than the White House wanted us to know.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Rage over 'roids

I know, I know. Major League Baseball is a private organization that can set its own rules for participation, including a ban on the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. I wouldn't have done it -- and of course I wouldn't have made steroids illegal or even placed them on Schedule III (mid-range of supposed danger of addiction, which is not a factor with steroids though there are other unpleasant side effects -- I wouldn't want my testicles to shrink). But the publicity over the Mitchell report on steroid use is a bit much. The line between vitamins, personal trainers and the like and steroids is arbitrary, and if those named really did do steroids, it might even be evidence that they're not the miracle muscle-building performance enhancers they're cracked up to be.

Here's a Register editorial pointing out a few cautionary thoughts -- like these guys are now guilty until proven innocent based on interviews with some pretty shady characters. Our sports columnist Mark Whicker also did a contrarian column, and he told me response to it was about 50/50. He also responded to readers in a subsequent column.

When will we let adults make their own decisions about their own bodies?

Turks, Kurds and U.S. problems

So now there has been not just an airstrike but a "boots-on-the-ground" Turkish incursion into northern Iraq. As this Register editorial points out, it puts the U.S. in a ticklish position. Turkey is America's oldest ally in the Middle East, and northern Iraq, which has effectively become a small version of the Kurdistan Kurds have always wanted (why people want to have a state to enshrine their ethnic group is beyond me, and probably one of the more destructive desires in the world today, but there it is; we have a lot of educating to do) has until now been one of the most stable and pro-American areas in northern Iraq. But the pesky PKK marxist guerrilla group has been staging raids into Turkey and killing Turks, from camps in northern Iraq, and the Turks are striking back.

As Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute told me in a phone interview, there is much to understand on all sides, and much to deplore. The Turks have traditionally treated their Kurdish minority abysmally (there are Kurds in Iran as well), though things have calmed down a bit and some Kurds even serve in parliament. The recently calmed Kurdish separatist movement went on for more than 10 years, so one can understand a Turkish desire to nip the latest manifestation in the bud. The PKK is a violent group, designated terrorist by the U.S. and most European countries, and pretty ruthless. It's unclear just what relationship it has to the Kurdish regioonal government in northern Iraq -- the government officially condemns it but there's evidence it ignores it and perhaps even facilitates it. The Turks want the Kurdish government to get the PKK under control, but even if it wanted to it's unclear whether it could accomplish it.

One presumes most parties don't want the situation to spiral into wholesale violence, but it could happen easily, and the U.S., as the occupying force supposedly charged with keeping order, is caught in the middle. Things get so complicated when we invade other peoples' countries and try to run their lives without knowing much of anything about their ancient and modern feuds and resentments.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sensible sentencing reform

Here's the Register's editorial on the Supreme Court's decision restoring some discretion to judges when it comes to sentencing, especially on the absurd law passed in the wake of the crack panic in the 1980s that made the sentence for possession of crack 100 times harsher than the sentence for powder cocaine. Not that either of them should carry a criminal penalty or any kind of legal penalty whatsoever. Let people suffer the consequences of the use and take responsibility for their choices. Turning drug users into criminals doesn't do them or society anything but harm.

Destroyed CIA tapes

We'll probably never know for sure what was on those tapes of interrogations of two suspected al-Qaida members that were destroyed by the CIA. It seems likely they show torture or treatment tantamount to torture, but I'm not prepared to declare it so without something a lot more substantial than what we have seen so far. Nonetheless, it's a good idea to investigate the circumstances under which they were destroyed -- and not just to have the CIA itself and the Justice Department do it. The administration's attempt to block congressional and judicial inquiries into the matter are simply unconscionable. The excuse that to let Congress and the judiciary have at it before the executive departments have completed their investigations sounds just like that -- an excuse. This may be the most secretive administration ever, and especially dangerous in that it seems to see secretiveness as a primary principle of good governance. Good for the government, maybe, but not good for the people it is supposed to be -- ha ha -- serving.

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

Monday, December 17, 2007

Iowa debate coverage

For my sins I had to watch both the Republican and Democratic final debates in Iowa last week, two incredibly boring yawnathons, except perhaps for Barack's comeback to Hillary. Here's the Register's take on the Republican debate, and then its dissection of the Democratic affair. Both pretty dreary, but at least Ron Paul got a chance to talk about the foolishness of the war. He's the one I'll be watching with interest.

Tom Tancredo hired illegals

This one is just too much fun to pass up. Apparently Tom Tancredo, the Coloradro congressman who has made the scourge of illegal immigration the centerpiece of his tenure in Congress and his rather thinly-supported run the GOP presidential nomination, hired illegal aliens to do renovation work on his house in Littleton. In 2001 he converted his basement into a 1053 sq. ft. rec room and didn't ask questions about the laborers who did some of the work. When a couple of them found out about his immigrant-bashing reputation they went to the Denver Post with the story. For better or worse, the national media haven't picked this story up, probably because Tancredo is such a third-tier candidate nobody's peddling oppo research on him.

Blowback in Algeria

Here's a link to the Register's editorial arguing that the two bombings last week in Algiers, at the UN compound and Algeria's Supreme Court -- really nasty ones, with most news accounts counting the deaths in the 70s -- are to some extent "blowback" from the American invasion of Iraq. A number of news stories in the last few months, including some referenced in this blog, have told of jihadists in Algeria and Morocco traveling to Iraq to participate in the insurrection. Jihadists in Iraq get much more valuable experience in a real war than bin Laden's troops could ever get in those fabled training camps in Afghanistan. Terrorism experts have been worrying for some time that foreign fighters in Iraq will return to their home countries -- Britain, France, Germany and Spain are likely future targets -- to wreak havoc. The two suicide bombers in Algeria apparently didn't travel to Iraq themselves, but authorities are still looking into how they were trained. I'd be amazed if there isn't an Iraqi connection. It's one of the prices the world will be paying for years to come for the invasion of Iraq.

Friday, December 14, 2007

'Tis the Season

I'm not finding it easy to find time to blog these days, though for mostly pleasant reasons. I'm a stickler for having our tiny white lights on every branch of the tree, including the interior, and that took about four hours -- then the ornaments. We still need to find which bin the garland is in and the lights that go with it. Tomorrow is slated to be a heavy shopping day. And on and on. You know, you're probably doing much the same.

It's also busier than usual at a newspaper during holidays, because everybody wants at least some time off and the paper has to be filled with something. Plus, with the increasing emphasis on the Web, we're blogging constantly, always mindful of the fact that revenues are down and we need to attract sets of eyes. We've just started an election blog in addition to all the others. I don't always feel like writing when I get home. Plus, I'm going to New Hampshire for several days prior to the primary through election day, and there's planning to be done.

Well, enough whining. I actually love Christmas and look forward to a joyful season. And there's still plenty going on in the world to notice.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Choking off a correction

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the Bushlet's subprime mortgage rate freeze program. The problem with such a program, even if it isn't mandatory, is that it doesn't allow the market to correct itself -- and it punishes those who were prudent enough not to try to buy a house they really couldn't afford or get involved in a subprime mortgage. Corrections can cause pain for a while as people pay for their imprudent decisions, but the pain is shorter than if government tries to stave it off through intervention. That only delays the correction, draws it out, and doesn't teach lessons that might prevent people making similar mistakes next time a boom seems as if it will go on forever.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why bomb Iran?

Here's a link to the Register's editorial last week on the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. If I do say so myself, it includes a pretty good succinct description of just what an NIE is, which implies why all of them including this one, are conditional even when the summary sounds certain, to wit:

"A National Intelligence Estimate represents the official consensus view of the government's 16 intelligence agencies, prepared by the National Intelligence Council under the direction of the Director of National Intelligence. Because of the necessarily incomplete and ambiguous nature of intelligence, especially about a society effectively closed to outsiders, NIEs are couched in terms like "judge," "assess," estimate, "probably" and "likely," further modified by terms like "high," moderate" or "low" levels of confidence. NIEs are supposed to be objective – free of bias for or against current policy – but different analysts, all of whom have personal preconceptions, often look at the same set of facts and come to different conclusions."

However accurate this one is -- I think its significance is that it is an official rebuke to Cheney and to some extent Bush, and I'm reasonably sure Cheney at least tried to suppress it -- it would be incredibly stupid to bomb Iran, however emotionally satisfying it might be to some people.

Agricultural welfare queens

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the farm bill the Senate is about to pass -- essentially a minoir revisions of the wasteful and utterly unnecessary system we've had in place since the 1930s, when farm aid was supposed to be a temporary Depression-era program that would end once farmers got back on their feet. Well, they're on their feet and on the take -- at least the corporate farmers who get most of the goodies from taxpayers.

People used to argue that without federal subsidies there wouldn't be a supply of food we could rely on. Can you imaginer anything more absurd? Food is an absolute necessity, but nobody would produce it without a federal program?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Drug policy reform seems closer

I just returned from one of the more exhilarating weekends in my life. The Drug Policy Alliance held its semiannual international conference in New Orleans and on Saturday night, at the awards banquet, I received the Edward M. Brecher Award for Distinguished Achievement in Journalism (ahem!), as did AlterNet, the progressive Web site, represented by Don Hazen. Since previous recipients have included Hugh Downs, the Economist magazine, Catherine Crier and Jacob Sullum, I felt quite honored. Ethan Nadelman, DPA's executive director, whom I have known for years, made the presentation and was very generous.

Ed Brecher was a science and medicine writer who in the 1970s did a pioneering book, "Licit and Illicit Drugs," for Consumers Union. It was a systematic listing of the benefits and drawbacks of hundreds of over-the-counter, prescription and illicit drugs. Brecher couldn't help but notice that many licit drugs were more dangerous than many of the illicit drugs, and that most of the harm from some drugs came from the fact of their being illegal rather than their pharmacological properties. He became an eloquent advocate for reform.

More exciting than receiving an award and being treated like royalty, however, was the spirit and enthusiasm at the conference. There were about 1,200 attendees, about 50 percent more than had attended any previous DPA conference, and from those I had a chance to talk with, most are intelligent, high-quality, committed advocates for drug law reform. I feel more enthused about the real possibility of changes coming than I have in some time. Especially gratifying to me were the number of students and young people, most members of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, which held its convention concurrently, who attended. These are smart and articulate kids. The future of the drug policy reform movement -- which I hope will be a short one because we get sensible reform soon -- is in good hands.

I also made my occasional pilgrimage to Bourbon Street and Preservation Hall, and got a chance to tour the Ninth Ward and other areas devastated by Katrina and the flooding that followed, about which I'll write in separate posts.

The '60s as the Good Old Days

Here's an interesting piece about what seems to be a bit of a trend. Advertisers are using imagery and music from the '60s to sell what seem to be pretty mainstream products: retirement planning with Dennis Hopper, Total cereal, Geico car insurance, U.S. Trust bank. Apparently a lot of people have pleasant nostalgic feelings about an era that featured a lot of divisiveness and controversy.

As somebody who lived through the '60s and viewed things from several places on the ideological matrix -- I thought of myself as a conservative and a supporter of the Vietnam war until maybe 1965 or 1966, became disillusioned with the war and became more libertarian, participated in some and saw plenty of protests, in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago -- I have mixed feelings. Much of the political thinking was jejune in that era, but there was an openness and feeling of liberation -- great huge numbers of people smoking pot in public and the cops not doing anything, in part because arrests would have been bad for an image already severely tarnished -- that I don't think the country has had since, and that I really miss.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Modern revolution

Here's an interesting piece from the NYT's Roger Cohen, written from Caracas in the wake of Chavez's referendum loss. He notes that while Chavez excoriates Bush, trade between the U.S. and Venezuela keeps growing and demand for U.S. goods is high among consumers. He also contends that "globalization breeds nationalism," because in a globalizd world political leaders have less real power than they think they should so they compensate by stressing national identity and creating enemies to attack. Interesting.

Measles deaths decline

Can you stand a bit of good news? Worldwide, deaths from measles have fallen by two-thirds since 2000. The main reasons are an immunization program and the distribution of Vitamin A capsules. Both are relatively cheap. In Africa, which has long had the most measles deaths, the decline has been 91 percent.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

My, my, an honest intelligence estimate

The biggest deal this week (so far), of course, has been the issuance of a new National Intelligence Estimate by the vaunted Intelligence Community, which concluded with "high confidence" that Iran gave up its nuclear weapons program in 2003. (Here's a link to the nine-page summary of the conclusions of the 150-page classified document.) That assessment takes all the air out of the sails of people like Norman Podhoretz, who have "prayed" for the Bushlet to bomb Iran. It is especially telling that President Bush has known about this assessment since August or September, yet talked about Iran's weapons plans in October as a possible cause of World War III. The attempt to whip up war fever continued, by both Bush and Cheney, even when they knew there was no remotely justifiable casus belli, at least in terms of the best judgment of the country's 16 intelligence agencies.

I blogged about the topic several times today and yesterday, noting the probablility that Cheney worked hard to keep this estimate from ever seeing the light of day, argued over the implications, tried to cover it up, and, as exemplified by Bush's statement today, acted as if it hadn't been issued. Yet its public issuance makes it virtually impossible for the neocon cabal to take us to war with Iran. (My colleague Justin Raimondo disagrees, and his warnings are worth considering, but I don't see how it can happen now.)

What this looks like to me is the entire national security establishment -- the military, the State Dept., the "intelligence community" -- putting Bush and Cheney on notice that it's not going to stand for their irresponsible talk about military action against Iran. I don't doubt they might still try (especially Darth Cheney), but it's been made much more difficult.

Bush-Maliki agreement a treaty, must be ratified or it's void

Here's a link to the Register's somewhat angry editorial on the agreement between Bush and Maliki calling for a contingent of 50,000 U.S. troops to stay in Iraq for the foreseeable future. We argue that that kind of a commitment is a treaty under the constitution, and requires Senate consideration and retification to be valid. I don't know if the commitment will actually be put in place, especially if the next president has a lick of sense. But it certainly shows what the Bush administration's preferred course of action is -- to stay in Iraq, perhaps as long as we've stayed in Germany or Korea.

Along the same lines, here's a link to the piece I did for last week on the same subject.

Returning illegally seized medical marijuana

Here's a link to the Register's editorial last week on the California appellate court decision ordering the Garden Grove police department to return medical marijuana to a duly registered patient, given that the prosecution dropped charges. After this was written I got a return phone message from the Garden Grove city attorney saying it would be a city council decision whether or not to appeal. However, a Huntington Beach patient, in a case judicially linked to this one, was told that the police expected an appeal and would not return his medicine until an appeal had been decided.

In learning about that case from Bill Britt, I also learned of an unconscionable and almost certainly illegal campaign of harassment by the HB police (or maybe one rogue cop) against this man. He has been stopped numerous times by the police -- one cop in particular -- and accused of some bogus traffic violation, then accused of driving while intoxicated. He's spent at least one night in jail. The cop specifically says that if he's tested for marijuana it will show up even if he last smoked it a couple of weeks ago (true that metabolites will, but they're far from evidence of being intoxicated).

This looks like a case of one rogue cop trying to nullify a law he doesn't like by harassing a known patient rpoeatedly. I don't know if the chief is aware of this or approves of it. I also have anecdotal evidence of a rogue cop in another Orange County city (I think it's Fountain Valley but my notes are at the office) doing something similar. If they can't seize their medicine, they'll just keep harassing them by charging them with driving while intoxicated. Anybody encountering such harassment should, if charged with alcohol intoxication, demand to have a breatalyzer test on the machine at the station and see the printout. Those machines aren't all that reliable, but the devices they use for field sobriety checks are notoriously unreliable, and I'm not sure they can even be used in court.

Time for a new foreign policy

I am inordinately proud of this piece I did for the Register's Sunday Commentary section, "Time for a New Foreign Policy. I call for a policy of strategic disengagement with the rest of the world, defining our military-security perimter as North America, and informing the rest of the world that we would trade with them but had no desire to interfere in their governance, politics or squabbles. I got a more active response in the form of e-mails and phone calls than from most of my bylined Register articles, with the positive responses slightly outnumbering the negative ones. The general gist of the negative responses was that a U.S. foreign policy of such "weakness" would soon lead to us being overrun by evil people, which indicated to me that they hadn't even begun to understand the argument, especially about how eminently defensible the North American continent is..

It serves as an introduction and perhaps even an outline of sorts for the book I'm working on. Pester me about it; ask me if I've made any progress this day or this week. Progress is slower than I had hoped.

Lowering military standards

Here's a link to the Register's Monday editorial on the way the military is meeting recruiting goals in the wake of widespread disillusionment over the Iraq war: by lowering standards, accepting more people with criminal records, and more people who failed to pass or barely passed standardized tests. It made the point that the way toward a military made up of competent and skilled people is not to move toward a draft (which would be a nightmare to reinstitute, as the military well knows even if some civilians don't) but to change policies to reduce the number of senseless conflicts the United States decides to involve itself in. I think most of the country is ready for that, but I suspect our elites of both parties -- with the obvious exception of Ron Paul -- aren't yet

Chavez fails in Venezuela

I never thought I might get tired of blogging, and it's not really that. I haven't run out of things to say; indeed, I was somewhat overwhelmed over the weekend by the surfeit of interesting events. So much to process, find links for and think of something arresting yet accurate to say. I don't know if I'll ever catch up, but here's a start.

I said most of what I wanted to say about the charming failure of Hugo Chavez to gain approval for his referendum on 60-something constitutional changes designed to centralize political power further, bring the economy under closer political control and allow the president to run for reelection for life (with longer terms, of course), in this Register editorial. Except for a couple of things.

When I talked to Ian Vasquez at Cato, he stressed the breadth of the anti-Chavez movement, and was especially pleased that so many students were involved. He said Venezuelans, like most people, were suspicious of concentrated power in the executive. I don't know how true that is, but I hope it is. By overreaching in a way that so obviously benefited him personally in his desire to hang onto addictive power, he may have sparked an effective long-term opposition that may prove capable of slowing down or squelching his grand design for oil-supported socialism in Venezuela. But I don't expect that he will give up his plans, even if he is chastened for the moment. Ian thinks he's a true believer, and most of what I've learned about him over the years suggests that he is.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Karl Dorrell fired

I have mixed feelings about UCLA firing football coach Karl Dorrell. On the one hand, Dorell, who was a marvelous UCLA wide receiver in the 1980s, had a decent NFL career and was apparently a good NFL assistant coach, from all that I can tell, is a thoroughly decent human being, one of the few athletes who really did serve as a role model for others (I've written extensively of the foolishness of expecting most athletes to be role models at anything other than athletics), and a pretty good football coach.

His players apparently were very fond of him. He seems to have been an excellent recruiter. And he took over a football program that had been marred by scandal -- the kind of scandal that comes from silly NCAA rules that pretend major-college football is an amateur sport, but those are the rules just now. Karl made the program honorable.

However, it seems, and the record bears this out, that he just might not have been ready to be a head football coach at a major university that expects its teams to be not just pretty good, but to contend for the Rose Bowl almost every year. He was probably unfortunate to share tenure in Los Angeles with Pete Carroll at USC, who has accomplished all the things we wanted Karl Dorrell to accomplish and maybe more. But these inexplicable things -- getting blown out by Utah, losing this year to the worst Notre Dame team in history, losing most of his bowl games -- seemed to happen every year. He had talent available, but he just didn't seem to know how to get the best from them. Yes, UCLA had crippling injuries this year, but all teams have to cope with injuries. What was strange was that the injury-ridden Bruins were capable of beating Oregon (injury-riddled itself at the time, to be sure) but not of winning enough big ones. So I can understand letting him go.

But there's still a sadness about the affair. Karl Dorell is so decent, so upright, that you wanted him and his teams to be better, and they came tantalizingly close often. But not often enough.

I wish him the best.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

In Iraq forever

It might or might not actually be implemented -- it just might have destroyed whatever small shred of credibility the Maliki "government" has in Iraq -- but the "Declaration of Principles" Bush and Maliki signed Monday gives us a pretty clear picture of the administration vision for the future of Iraq -- 50,000 u.s. troops stationed there for years and years and years, providing security for the Maliki government and making Iraq something like a protectorate of the central imperial power, in the way the old-fashioned empires operated.Here's Justin Raimondo's outraged take on the agreement. At least a couple of smaller newspapers have eduitorialized against it, and the Register's indignant editorial will be in the Sunday paper.

Friday, November 30, 2007

More on marijuana property return

Here's a link to DrugLawBlog's discussion of the Garden Grove medical marijuana property return case. Alex is a smart attorney and very attuned to the issues involved (which not all attorneys are.

While we're at it, here's Alex's discussion of the dispostiion of a similar return-of-property case in Colorado just decided.

Previewing Annapolis

It's maybe a bit dated now, but here's the Register's editorial printed the day before the Annapolis meeting. It shows what we expected (not much) and a few criteria to try to judge whether the idea of a peace process is serious. Can't say that the criteria were exactly met.

Peace prospects not strong

Here's a link to the Register's editorial today on the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the wake of the Condi-Bush meeting in Annapolis. We conclude that it's not a bad thing for the two sides to meet and talk, but that the "core" issues separate the two sides too deeply to expect much from the process.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Legal issues in medical marijuana return-of-property case

Here are some of the legal issues dealt with in Garden Grove v. Superior Court of Orange County, the medical marijuana return-of-property case that was decided in such a resoundingly favorable way yesterday in California.

The basic conflict, of course, is between federal law, which dictates essentially total prohibition of marijuana, without -- as the Oakland Cannabis Cooperative Supreme Court decision affirmed (wrongly in my view) -- any provision for medical necessity. The Raich case decided (again incorrectly) that the Commerce Clause allowing federal regulation of interstate commerce, allows for such total prohibition even for cannabis grown in California that has not crossed state lines or been exchanged for money because it might (though the decision offered no real evidence that it did) affect the illicit interstate commerce in cannabis.

Garden Grove argued that this total federal prohibition prevented police officers (sworn to uphold the law) from returning marijuana to a patient even though there was no drug charge pending against him. They didn't quite argue (though they came up to the edge of it) that federal law invalidated state law. But they even maintained that officers might be subject to federal prosecution if they gave the patient's property back to him. They also tried to argue that California law, even with the Compassionate Use Act in place, didn't require them to return the marijuana.

The appeals court first reluctantly gave the city standing to pursue the case, but only because it was a matter of public interest about which various courts had ruled differently. Then it poiinted out that under the law, in keeping and disposing of seized property, the police were strictly an agent of the courts, without independent decision-making authority. They clarified that California law enforcement officers, while they may cooperate with the feds when state and federal law coincided, were sworn to enforce California law as their first priority. The argument that returning the marijuana could be a federal crime was defeated by noting a federal law gives officers (and doctors in some cases) immunity from prosecution when handling controlled substances in the course of their duties, that it became trafficking only when there was an intention to aid and abet the illegal drug trade, which was obviously not the case.

They then went through the Oakland and Raich decisions, pointing out that they dealt only with federal law, and that neither case invalidated California law, but respected the federalist principle that some states might have laws that differ from federal law and that this was good for local control and the possibility of experimentation and innovation. (I attended the Oakland oral arguments, during which Justice Ginsburg asked the government attorney why she wasn't asserting the federal supremacy clause, to which she replied that this was a case where state and federal law differed, and the case was about interpretation of federal law.)

Key quote: "Kha ... is a qualified patient whose marijuana possession was legally sanctioned under state law. That is why he was not subjected to a criminal trial, and that is why the state cannot destroy his marijuana. It is also why the police cannot continue continue to retain his marijuana. Because Kha is legally entitled to possess it, due process and fundamental fairness dictate that it be returned to him." Fnal graph: "Mindful as we are of the general supremacy of federal law, we are unable to discern any justification for the City or its police department to disregard the trial court's order to return Kha's marijuana. The order is fully consistent with state law respecting possession of medical marijuana, and for all the reasons discussed, we do not believe the federal drug laws supersede or preempt Kha's right to the return of his property."

Court protects California's medical marijuana law

The most encouraging news of the day to me was the decision by the California 4th District appeals court upholding a local court order for the Garden Grove police to return about a third of an ounce of marijuana to young Felix Kha, a qualified medical marijuana patient. Kha was stopped two years ago for running a red light. He consented to a search of his car, and the cops found a bag labeled "medical marijuana" on his front passenger seat. He then showed them a doctor's recommendation, but the police went ahead and confiscated his cannabis, then charged him with transportation and the traffic infraction.

After confirming that the recommendation was from a duly licensed physician the prosecutor declined to prosecute on the drug charge. Kha pleaded guilty to the traffic beef and asked the court to order the police to return his property. The court held a hearing and then did so, on the fairly obvious grounds that as a patient he was legally entitled to have it, and since no charges were pending there was no need to keep it as evidence.

The city appealed, on various grounds, largely having to do with the fact that marijuana possession and distribution is still illegal under federal law and the cops didn't want to break federal law. The appeals court told them -- quite correctly -- that their primary job was to uphold California law, not to enforce federal law.

I talked to Joe Elford, Kha's attorney (by way of Americans for Safe Access). He told me what he found gratifying was that two of the members of the unanimous three-judge panel were former district attorneys and Judge Bedsworth, who wrote the decision, had been president of the Orange County DA's Assn. Since the Calif. District Attorneys Assn, along with the state sheriffs' association and the peace officers association had all filed Amicus briefs on behalf of Garden Grove, it was nice to see the former DAs on the bench set them straight. (California's Attorney General, Bill Lockyer then, Jerry Brown now, filed an Amicus on behalf of Kha.)

And the 41-page decision is a strong one. It made clear the court was granting standing to the city only because it was an issue of such public interest and one that different courts had decided differently. Then it proceeded to blow every city contention out of the water in strong and sometimes outright dismissive language. At the end it took on the arguments in the enforcers' brief and blew them away too.

Garden Grove's city attorney didn't return my phone call today, but I'd be surprised if the city didn't appeal to the California Supreme Court. They've already wasted a certain amount of the taxpayers' money trying to nullify (and that's the right word) the medical marijuana law California's voters approved way back in 1996, so they'll probably continue. But it's difficult for me to see the high court abandoning California law the way the cops (!) will be asking it to.

Garden Grove is hardly alone in its hard-nosed (and I would argue outright illegal) attitude toward patients. Americans for Safe Access says it has had reports from 800 patients over the last two years, and in 90 percent of the encounters with law enforcement, the cops confiscate the cannabis, despite seeing valid doctor recommendations. If this decision is appealed, of course, it could be a couple of months before the decision takes effect, even if the high court declines to hear the case, which would be the best outcome. But it could make life easier for patients right away if even some local police forces start doing the right thing even before the order from the courts is fully decisive. The California Highway Patrol used to be the worst offendor, confiscating patient cannabis every time it found it, but after ASA presented solid legal arguments and threatened to sue, it changed its policy and now never confiscates. Both the attorney general and the governor need to affirm state law now and issue guidelines or a bulletin congruent with the court's decision.

This post is already a bit long, so I'll discuss the legal issues in another post. For now, a reminder that all the scientific, legal, political and historical background you need to know more than most police officers and officials, lawyers, judges and doctors do is in my book, "Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

R.C. Hoiles as activist

Here's a link to the editorial the Register ran on what we call Founders Day, celebrating R.C. Hoiles's (founder of Freedom Communications) birthday. I heard the old man (he would have been almost 90) speak at a conference in 1969 or so but never met him. He must have been a cantankerous sort, but people who knew him well loved him. Anyway, the help he gave to a virtually moribund freedom movement in the 1940s, publishing Albert Jay Nock, Isabel Paterson, Ayn Rand, Rose Wilder Lane, Frank Chodorov and others, as well as kicking in seed money top start the Foundation for Economic Education and the Institute for Humane Studies, had, I thought, been too little appreciated.

Flat tax in the real world

Here's a link to the Register's editorial today on the "flat tax" (Thompson has proposed an unflat version) focusing on how well it has worked in the mostly post-Soviet countries where it has been tried. The idea had a good deal of currency among conservatives and free marketeers in the 1990s, but hasn't been considered seriously recently. Meanwhile countries like Russia and Estonia have run with it, with excellent results. Of course the ideal tax rate is zero, but a fairer and less complex tax systm in this country would be a blessing.

Justin on Pakistan and being thankful

Here are a couple of pieces by Justin Raimondo I didn't get around to linking to last week that are still worth reading. He dissects the notion that the U.S. might feel obligated to invade Pakistan (!) if the Musharraf government collapses, and offers a few things the antiwar movement can be thankful for, including the fact that we haven't invaded or bombed Iran (yet), and that "neocon" has become a mainstream term, and mostly one of opprobrium

Israeli-Palestinian roadblocks/challenges

I'll be very surprised if the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators who begin meeting Dec. 12 can come close to a deal that can be inked before the end of next year, but it's not a bad thing that they're talking. This analysis, from AP, no less, explains fairly well some of the obstacles they will face. It puts a fair amount of emphasis on the complications that would surround making East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital. The Palestinians want it to be an "open" city, but the Israelis are unlikely to agree, fearing it would make access for terrorists all too easy. Then there's the Temple Mount above the Western Wall, with two mosques considered sacred to Muslims -- I thought them both rather beautiful when I visited -- on the same site, not to mention the sites sacred to Christians.

Perhaps as important is the weak position both Ehud Olmert of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority are in relative to the people they purportedly lead. There was a near-riot against the Annapolis meeting in Hebron (one person killed), which the PA supposedly controls -- to to mention the inconvenient fact that Hamas, still militant and opposed to any deal with Israel, controls Gaza. Meanwhile, Likud represntatives railed against any concessions or negotiations, and Olmert is under criminal investigation for alleged financial improprities in his previous job.

As I suggested today on the Register's blog, wouldn't it be nice if the oil-rolling-in-dough oil-producing states invested some of the billions they have available in job-creating businesses and infrastructure on the West Bank? If that happens, we'll have an inkling that Arab states are serious about finally moving toward a resolution of the situation. Unfortunately, don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How power corrupts

We all know Lord Acton's famous maxim: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and most people know almost instinctively that it is true. Now, thanks to Shankar Vedantam, whose WaPo aricles on human behavior are almost always interesting, we have more insights from psychology experiments about the mechanisms through which this happens.

New research suggests that leaders emerge or are chosen not because they are ruthless but because they have skills at managing social relationships. "Something happens to people once they acquire power, however, and the transformation appears to be psychological." One experiment had volunteers remember a situation in which they felt powerful and others to remember situations in which they felt powerless. Those who remembered power were then given more power by being given control over the distibution of goodies while the powerless were left to guess what they might receive. Then the volunteers were asked to draw the letter "E" on their foreheads. Those without power drew the letter so others could read it, but the powerful drew it as it would appear if they were looking at it from inside their own heads.

The point? "[v]olunteers made to feel powerful, even in a trivial laboratory experiment, almost instantly lose the ability to see things from other people's points of view."

Dacher Keltner, a social psychologist at UC Berkeley, expresses the paradox thus: "power simplifies our thinking. We tend to see things in terms of our own self-interest, and it makes us more impulsive. We forget our audience in service of gratifying our own impulses."

In additon, as Vedantam puts it, "people who lack power tend to be more accurate in guessing the opinions of those around them, whereas those in power tend to be inaccurate. Because subordinates are also hesitant to tell superiors things they do not want to hear, the problem gets worse, with powerful people having even less input and perspective about how others think and feel." Having power allows you to ignore the viewpoints of others -- eliminating the social skill that led to your having power in the first place.

These are simple experiments that may not get to the full complexity of power, but they offer insights that comport with what most of us can observe every day. Every POTUS has to some extent lived in a "bubble," simply unable to see much of the world outside it and not really caring much. We've seen similar behavior by top business executives.

If you ever read Solzhenitsyn's great novel "First Circle," there's a probably fictional (S didn't have access to his inner thoughts of course, but was conjecturing) portrait of Stalin at the height of his power and yet to some extent inwardly miserable -- paranoid, unable to trust anyone including his closest associates, forever expecting plots against him (after all that was how he clawed his way to power) and unable to have a real friendship or confide in anyone. Power makes one anti-social and miserable, yet people crave it and it is almost addictive.

All the more reason to work toward a social system in which the minimum possible number of people -- maybe nobody -- has coercive power over others. It's for their own good.

Pay college football players!

I love it when somebody proposes something I was writing columns about 20 years ago. Here's Michael Lewis, of "Moneyball" fame, in the NYT, no less -- a former political writer who figured out writing about sports was a better gig, a lesson I've learned only in an amateurish way, doing it for free for a blog -- arguing that since college football generates so much money, the players who are the absolutely essential key to the whole scam ought to get paid too. It would eliminate a great deal of hypocrisy that stems, as Michael neglected to mention, from an old European aristocratic dated ideal -- gentlemen do not take money to play games -- that has somehow become enshrined in modern collegiate sports. Back when the ideal was promulgated, however, most of those who went to college came from wealthy families and could afford to look down their noses at people who actually expected to do -- ugh! -- actual work or something productive in exchange for filthy lucre.

Not nothing at Annapolis, but . . .

Well, the Annapolis meeting to broker Israeli Palestinian peace talks has ended with a general statement and a promise to keep meeting every two weeks. That's not nothing, but it doesn't offer much that's concrete about the problems facing both parties. Olmert of Israel and Abbas of the Palestinian Authority are both weak leaders who don't command much respect in the countries they purportedly represent. And you could say the same about Bush.

When Israelis and Palestinians get together they may speak the same words, but they don't often mean the same things. Both sides tend to demand firm commitments from the other while interpreting their own commitments much more . . . flexibly. I don't see any news about working groups being formed to grapple with the tough endgame questions, like the borders of Israel, the right of return, the status of Jerusalem, the ability of Fatah to control terrorism . . . the list goes on and on. I don't see a commitment to taking small steps first. I don't see a commitment from Arab states rolling in petrodollars to start investing in Palestine when the first few baby steps are taken, to create jobs and the kind of economic development that might look like a payoff for peace progress. Instead I see extraneous demands about the Golan Heights and Syria. And I see the Bushlet seeming to believe he's become a great statesman. Ah, well. Maybe just talking isn't a bad thing. But as the Greeks noted, hubris before nemesis.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Leadership defined?

This music review, of a Carnegie Hall performance by the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, directed by the young Venezuelan whiz-kid, Gustavo Dudamel, who at the tender age of 26 is scheduled to take over the L.A. Philharmonic, is worth reading anyway. But one sentence especially caught my eye. Simon Rattle, the British conductor (City of Bitmingham for many years) who now conducts the Berlin Philharmonic, led the orchestra in Shostakovich's 10th, and here's how Anthony Tommasini described it:

"Mr. Rattle empowered the players to take risks and play all out, leaving matters of control to him."

Empowering people to play all out and take risks. If there's a better definition of leadership -- of course voluntary leadership, consented to by people who have choices -- I'd like to hear it. Anybody out there have a better one? Humor me.

Political class reunion

If you ever had much doubt that Republicans and Democrats are just different branches of the Government Party, this story about AlGore visiting the White House might change your perception. Yes, it's traditional for U.S. Nobel winners to be invited to the White House. But Bush changed the date to accommodate Gore's schedule and then, according to Gore, the two earnestly discussed global warming for 40 minutes in private. The two look mildly uncomfortable -- it's the first time they've gotten together personally since 2000 -- and I have little doubt that at least some of their mutual animosity is genuine. But at the end of the day they're both members in good standing of the political class, the "appalling people who rule us," as my old friend Dick Cowan used to put it.

Fox doctors Ron Paul story

It looks as if Fox News has a special animus against GOP candidate Ron Paul, though that way it doctored the AP story about Ron Paul getting an endorsement from a brothel owner in Nevada is almost more inept than malicious. Since Chadwick Matlin over at Slate did a fairly comprehensive critique, I'll just give you his whole post:

Doctored Paul
At 11 a.m. today, one of's top stories was an article about a Nevada brothel owner endorsing Ron Paul. But the story wasn't written by Fox News; it was a tweaked version of an Associated Press story that hit the wires early Monday. And, to make matters even more muddled, that story was taken from a Reno Gazette-Journal piece. Something was lost in translation.
The original article was a solid piece about a strange scene at a Ron Paul event in Reno. Tucker Carlson, who was trailing Paul for a magazine piece, invited his friend Dennis Hof out to the event. Hof, who owns the Moonlite BunnyRanch brothel, emerged from a limousine with Carlson and two prostitutes. He then took a liking to Paul and decided to endorse the Republican, saying that he would "get all the Bunnies together, and we can raise him some money."
The Associated Press then adapted the story and sent it out on the wires. But the AP story that Fox News published is different than the one the AP originally ran.
Changes include:
The headline: "Paul Endorsed by Nevada Brothel Owner" became " ‘BunnyRanch' Brothel Owner Endorses Underdog GOP Candidate Ron Paul." Note that Fox News thinks you need more detail to know who Ron Paul is. Also, they add the brothel's name in the headline--the Playboy bunny allusion makes it a bit sexier. It's common practice for news organizations to spice up AP headlines.
The donation box: One of the best details in the AP story is Hof's plan to put a "collection box" outside the brothel's door for patrons to donate money to Paul. It's not in Fox's story.
The kicker: In the most curious change, Fox took a sentence from the middle of the AP's article and stuck it at the end. By concluding the piece with the true statement, "Paul also is a devout Christian who opposes abortion," it makes Paul sound like a hypocrite for accepting the brothel owner's endorsement. You don't get that impression reading the AP's article, which is more about the oddity that a political candidate isn't trying to distance himself from Nevada's brothel industry.
In principle, Fox hasn't done anything wrong. News outlets edit AP content all the time, and the AP's senior managing editor told me that Fox was within its rights to make changes to the copy. He added that he doesn't think Fox's tweaks change the fundamental tone of the story.I disagree. The emphasis on its home page and the altered kicker suggest Fox is getting in a dig at Paul, however minor it may be. But if Fox wanted to make Paul look like he was taking money from prostitutes and their patrons, why remove the detail about the donation box? I'm not asking for fairness or balance--just consistency.One more detail that Fox inexplicably eliminated: The damning revelation that MSNBC anchor Tucker Carlson emerged from a limousine with prostitutes at a political event. Have Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes gone soft?
Posted Monday, November 26, 2007 5:58 PM by
Chadwick Matlin

Keeping track of the candidates

For any of you who are hard-core campaign junkies, has an interesting feature called Map the Candidates. It shows where the candidates are on a given day on a big U.S. map. The page also features latest videos and recent news stories., from Slate and other sources.

Republican defections over Iraq?

It's almost impopssible to tell for sure whether this is the beginning of a trend or just two more senators who have had enough. But Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia have let it be known, having just gotten back from Iraq, that they've just about had it with the Nouri al-Maliki government in Iraq. They say they'd be ready to consider pulling back aid to the Iraqi government if it can't get it's act together enough to start showing some political progress in a reconciliation direction. The test they're suggesting, however, isn't all that daunting -- a law by January that would allow low-and mid-level Baath Party members to return to government jobs. That's the one thing the Iraqi government just might be ready to do -- if the stories I read for the blog post I did today for the Eye on the Empire blog at the Register on how the administration is (again) defining success downward are accurate. The more difficult "benchmarks," however -- an oil revenue-sharing law, local elections, some indication they're ready to give Sunnis real responsibility and a share of real power -- are more important and much less likely.

In addition, the Graham-Chambliss threat is to send aid to various provinces that are doing well by their standards rather than to the central government. That might be a formula for staying in Iraq even longer. The Iraqis really need to start relying on U.S. aid less rather than becoming more dependent.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pakistan outcome wide open

The last time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif -- the one Musharraf kicked out with his military coup in 1999 -- came to Pakistan from exile, he stayed only about as long as was necessary for his plane to turn around and return to Saudi Arabia. In September Musharraf had enough power to make sure Sharif, still facing some kind of charges pending from just after his time in power, could be convinced he would just be jailed. Now, with effects from Musharraf's declaration of martial law still playing out, things are less certain and Musharraf's power is more uncertain. Is that inevitable? You reach for more power and eventually you reach too far and ruin yourself? That's still to be determined in the case of Musharraf, but Sharif now believes that almost anything can happen, and he wants to be on the ground to pick up whatever pieces he can, perhaps even full power.

The sad thing for Pakistan the country is that none of the three contendors -- Sharif and Bhutto despise one another and they both despise Musharraf -- is much of a prize. Bhutto and her husband really did skim off multi-multi-millions, and Sharif was probably more guilty than he was charged with being. And we've seen Musharraf's powerlust in action.

Media giants downsizing

It's a pattern we've seen before in many industries, going back to the building of "conglomerates" back in the 1960s. The tender-hearted worry that a few companies will control just everything, and we hear calls to break them up. Then, generally well before the wheels of politics can get cranking, economies of scale yield to the emerging reality that a company that tries to do everything turns out not ot be able to do much of it too well. Market forces, rather than alert regulators, break them up.

Now it's happening with media companies. As Jack Shafer's post here explains, E.W. Scripps and Belo Corp. (both of which were mentioned a few years ago when there was a possibility that Freedom Communications might go on the auction block) have both spun themsleves into two separate companies, to handle their disparate products. Gannett was trading at around $90 a share back in 2004 but is now down to $40 and might be pressured by investment bankers with a heftystake to break itself apart. The New York Times Co. sold off its nine TV stations a year ago, but is under pressure to divest itself still further.

As Shafer puts it, "Conglomeration works until it doesn't." I wouldn't be surprised to see more divestiture in the media businesses. But kneejerk interventionists are unlikely to learn that the interplay of market forces usually corrects economic "imbalances" faster and more sensitively than regulation or legislation.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Feds push marijuana growers indoors

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on that recent report from the Department of Justice that says 1) that despite record seizures in the eradication campaigns against outdoor growers, marijuana is widely available and the price hasn't risen noticeably and 2) what success there has been against outdoor growers has driven many of them to grow indoors, specifically in suburban homes. I mentioned that earlier on this blog. The upshot, of course? If you're a little concerned that somebody might be growing marijuana in a home near you, place the responsibility on the feds.

Justices to decide DC gun ban

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the Supreme Court's decision to take up the case in which residents of the District of Columbia challenged that city's virtual ban on owning handguns (and requirement that any weapon kept in the home be rendered effectively non-operational). The high court could still sidestep the central issue -- whether the Second Amendment protects an individual right or a collective right (i.e., just for members of a militia) -- by deciding that since DC is a federal enclave rather than a state, it's decision applies there alone, and not to the states. But that still wouldn't resolve the disagreement among circuits as to the meaning of the right to keep and bear arms. Case will probably have oral arguments in March, decision handed down toward the end of June.

Congratulations to Bob Levy, who has masterminded and financed this case. He's the farthest from a gun nut you can imagine -- doesn't own a gun and doesn't expect to, though Florida and North Carolina, where he has homes, would both be friendly toward gun rights. He thinks the issue is about freedom, even freedom for others to exercise a right he doesn't expect to exercise. I'm proud to know Bob.

Happy Thanksgiving 2001

Here's a link to the Register's editorial yesterday for Thanksgiving. Cathy chose to reprint the Thanksgiving editorial we ran in 2001, when the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were still fresh in everybody's minds, and the ill-advised Patriot Act had already been passed. If I do say so myself, I think it holds up reasonably well.

Arabs to Annapolis

The U.S. government is officially pleased that Saudi Arabia and Syria, and most of the members of the Arab League will be attending the meeting convened by Condi Rice in Annapolis next Tuesday to discuss a possible Israeli-Palestinian settlement involving two states. I still think they may be coming not because they see much solid hope of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issues, but because it's an opportunity to get together to discuss what, if anything, the Arab states should do to deal with the threat to the region posed by an insouciant Iran. But it might not be a bad thing if that discussion ensues. In fact, it might be rather a good thing.

Memorable Thanksgiving

Well, it was certainly an unusual Thanksgiving around our house. The plan was dinner for 12. We had just put the turkey in the oven -- all right, it had been in an hour and a half -- when the power went out. After it didn't come on for a while, we finally decided we'd have to take it to our sister-in-law's house, about three miles away. As the girls were heading out, they saw the ambulances and police cars right near the end of our block, and stopped to ask some questions. It turns out a hang glider -- they jump off the mountain above our house; the thermals in Elsinore are suppposed to be terrific -- landed on the power lines. I didn't go out and get a newspaper this morning, so I still don't know if he survived.

Anyway, we heard the power was expected to be back on at 3:00, then around 6:00, then 8:00 or 9:00. It finally came on at 12:30, after midnight. Fortunately we always have lots of candles, so we had dinner more or less as scheduled and it even tasted pretty good. We had made all the desserts in the morning. It will be a story to tell every Thanksgiving from now on.

Medical marijuana on Michigan ballot

It will probably require official certification before it's a completely done deal, but it looks as if advocates have gotten a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in Michigan, for the November 2008 ballot. That would make Michigan the 13th state. It could be especially interesting given that that's the presidential general election date. Might that mean, given Michigan's size and potential importance, that the presidential candidates might have to address the issue seriously? I know advocates in New Hampshire have been attending campaign events and putting the question to candidates as to whether they would support a change in federal law or stop the feds from raiding dispensaries or arresting patients. But having the issue on the ballot in Michigan could be quite important.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Scott McClellan's Plame bombshell

So now former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, in a curious bit of prepublicity for a book that isn't due out until April, says he didn't tell the truth way back when he told reporters that nobody at the White House was involved with leaking the information that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent/employee. And he says five people in the White House -- Rove, Card, Cheney, Libby and the Bushlet himself -- were involved in putting out this misinformation. He doesn't quite come out and say the president was involved in or ordered a cover-up, but it's darned close.

On Chris Matthews' "Hardball" tonight the panelists -- Dan Balz of the WaPo and Yepse of the Des Moines Register -- thought the Republicans would have to start distancing themselves from the president on this one, since they all claim to be devotees of truth and integrity. Also said it would probably benefit non-Washington candidates, especially Obama on the Democratic side.

It was curious to me, however, when they said the Republican likely to benefit here would be Mike Huckabee. I can see his having a reputation as a Washington outsider, but on policy he seems almost like a carbon copy of Bush, and maybe even more of a big-government "conservative." He's an evangelical -- an ordained Baptist minister -- and he stresses he's more "compassionate" than a standard conservative, urging government attention to health care, AIDS, poverty, etc. And he was quite the tax-raiser as governor of Arkansas. I don't think I'll ever understand how it's supposed to be a Christian characteristic to be "compassionate" with other peoples' money, and I don't think Jesus does either.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cannabis roots therapeutic?

I talked the other day to the husband of a medical marijuana patient who has fibromyalgia and finds cannabis gives her some relief, but he told me something I didn't know about that surprised me. He said there's a woman out there who asks people to send her cannabis roots -- any kind -- which she then grinds up and mixes into a salve. Given that THC is the major therapeutic agent in cannabis and the roots don't have any -- the only thing you'd get from smoking them would be a sore throat most likely -- you wouldn't expect it to work. But he said his wife tried it -- rubbed it onto especially painful places -- and found it worked very well, relieved the pain wonderfully. I haven't heard of this before, or heard of any tests done on such a salve. Does anybody else out there know anything about this? I'd be interested to find out. I thought I knew most everything a non-specialist could know about medical marijuana after writing the book, but this is a new one.

I'll be attending the Drug Policy Alliance conference in New Orleans in a couple of weeks, so I'll ask around.

UCLA squeaks by

Now that was a tough game, the first one in which missing point guard Darren Collison took an obvious toll. Have to hand it to Michigan State, they came more prepared to play than UCLA did (at least in the first half), and they gave Kevin Love a Freshman's inititation into body-banging in college ball. UCLA was miserable (and to be fair Michigan State was good) during the first half. The Bruins trailed by as many as 13 and were down by 11 at halftime. Late in the game they tied it several times but didn't go ahead until only 30 seconds were left. It was a gutty game, and probably a good one to have played (especially since the resuilt was a win). Good to get challenged so thoroughly this early in the season and prove to themselves they had the grit to come back and steal it. Kevin Love righted himself nicely in the second half, and Westbrook and Shipp contributed, as did Aboya and M'bah a'Moute, the Cameroonian connection. Don't know what Howland told them at halftime, but it worked.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Aubrey de Grey on longevity

I was fascinated to see this fairly lengthy feature article about Aubrey de Grey, the Cambridge biologist (whose first academic obsession was computer science) who is convinced not only that people can live longer than threescore and ten, but significantly longer, maybe 1,000 years. I attended a lecture by de Grey about 18 months ago and was fascinated and mostly convinced by his combination of visionary ideas and eagerness to have them subjected to rigorous scientific testing. Unfortunately, he didn't hold out much hope that codgers like me could benefit form the kind of cellular engineering he thinks will be feasible for humans in 20 or 30 years that could, for example, engineer enzymes that digest lipofuscins, which accumulate in our cells as a kind goo as we age, into our bodies. Well, I'll just keep on taking my vitamins.

Aubrey actually attracts feature stories because he has just published "Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime." I suspect much of it will be familiar from his lecture, but I can't wait to read it.

Free Trade in Trouble

Here's a link to the Register's editorial today on House approval of the Peru free(er) trade agreement, which we applauded. I haven't seen evidence that the Senate will reject it, so it could well come into effect. However, similar pacts with Panama, Colombia and South Korea are in trouble, and if the Washington pundits are right, unlikely to pass. That's a shame. The most consistent (and over even the medium haul, I believe) most effective way to reduce trade barriers around the world would be for the United States to set a proper example by simply eliminating all tariffs or other trade restrictions unilaterally, and inviting other countries to observe the benefits and do likewise. These negotiated trade treaties with single countries or regions (the Peru agreement is virtually a carbon copy of the Caribbean-area agreement, which in turn is almost the same as NAFTA), don't bring about unbridled free trade, but trade managed with a lighter touch.

Almost everyone with a scintilla of economic knowledge recognizes that free trade is beneficial (though it can cause temporary dislocations, as can other developments in a dynamic economy, like the invention of the transistor or the development of a mass-market automobile), but they're pinioned by the conviction that eliminating a trade barrier is a concession to the other party rather than lifting a restriction that harms American interests, and it has to be met by a concession of equal value. The whole process of bartering and negotiation employs a lot of people, some of whom are convinced free traders, who would have to find other, probably less interesting employment if we moved to free trade in one fell swoop. Whether maintaining full employment for trade negotiators is the reason trade negotiations operate on the assumption that only gradualism is politically feasible or not, that's the modus operandi.

The regulations governing genuinely free trade wouldn't require more than a single stamp on a #10 envelope to mail, but these bilateral agreements are hundreds of pages long, filled with tedious minutiae, the interpretation of which requires armies of bureaucrats and lawyers. It's almost counterproductive that such agreements are routinely described as free trade -- really free trade is much simpler -- but not quite. I view these agreements, however imperfect, as having the potential to increase trade, which is the best way to increase and spread prosperity, and so, short of the ideal as they are, they're worth supporting.

But Bill Clinton may have been the last prominent Democrat who went for what used to be a liberal (even the modern American version) mainstay, belief in freer trade, generally viewed as part-and-parcel of enlightened internationalism. Today's Democrats seem convinced (or are propagandized into; it's hard to believe it was a process that convinced anyone intellectually) that the only impact of freer trade is exporting American jobs and setting off a "race to the bottom" that will sooner rather than later impoverish us all except for a few corporate malefactors. Many of the new Democrats in Congress ran on an explicitly anti-free-trade platform.

I confess (even after that valuable IHS seminar in September) that I don't understand the hostility to trade, not only among "progressives" and "liberals," but "conservatives" who claim to believe in free markets and limited government. By definition a trade doesn't occur unless both parties think they will be better off as a result, so each transaction is a classic "win-win" situation. You would think most people would prefer a world in which the number of win-win situations was maximized, or at least increased

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Two steps back in Georgia

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the declaration of a state-of-emergency/martial law in Georgia, a country President Bush rather prematurely lauded a couple of years ago as a model of democracy and freedom of the press, etc. The focus on holding an election that comes out the way you'd like it to as proof that "democracy" is winning around the world and your crusade is working highlights how wrongheaded it is to emphasize "democracy" as the goal rather than the conditions that make a democracy (almost) workable: an independent civil society, personal liberties responsibly and consistently exercised and protection for civil rights and freedoms.

Georgia might go through a number of iterations before it becomes something approaching a genuine free society, or it might never get there.

Glenn Greenwald defends Ron Paul

You can tel a lot about some people in the political world by how they respond to Ron Paul's remarkable fundraising and grassroots/netroots organizing efforts. Some want to smear him or distrort his views to make him look marginal or kooky. Among the most impressive reponses has been that of Glenn Greenwald, over at He's not exactly a conservative or Republican, as his excellent book on the Bush presidency, "A Tragic Legacy," should make clear to anybody who reads it. But he tries to be fair-minded, even when he's criticizing somebody, and he isn't fond of intellectually sloppy smears. His post of about a week ago is a pretty good model of fair-minded discussion. He obviously doesn't agree with Ron Paul on every issues, or even on most issues beyond the stupidity of the Iraq war. But he can recognize somebody who's the real deal, and he dissects some of the smears directed at Ron.

French unions testing Sarkozy

French president Sarkozy has said he admires America, especially its admiration for and encouragement of productive work, and has said he'd like to make France more competitive and less protectionist. He's experiencing just how difficult it is likely to be to make even modest reforms in a country in which special privileges have come to be viewed as entitlements, and so much of the economy is more public sector than privte sector. He wanted to reform the special, unusually generous pension provisions transit workers get, so transit workers have gone on strike, and other unions are joining them.

He is not without allies, however. Depending on which news story you read, either 6,000 or 10,000 people marched in Paris yesterday to urge Sarkozy not to back down.

It will be interesting to see whether Sarkozy turns out to be the Reagan of Frence or yet one more leader who ends up having to bow to the power of public-sector unions, assuring that France is not likely to break out of its economic torpor.

Immigrant Opera in Houston

The Houston Grand Opera has put on what sounds like -- well, I haven't heard it, so I guess it's more accurate to say it reads like -- an interesting new opera called "The Refuge," by composer Christopher Theofandis. It has seven tableaus that recount the immigrant experiences of Africans, Vietnamese, Mexican, Pakistani, Indian, Russian and other immigrants, as told to Houston writer Leah Lax, the librettist. It's billed as an attempt to reach beyond the usual opera audience and to establish a connection to recent immigrants in a city where one in four residents is "not from here." How cities change in a dynamic society!

A lot of these good-hearted efforts turn out not have really great music, and I don't know if this one does or not. And plenty of "classical" music outreach efforts fail. But it's encouraging to see music presenters try. It will be interesting to see if this one endures beyond a first few performances.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pakistan: the bed Bush made for us

Here's a link to the piece I wrote last week for It argues that Pakistan is like Iraq in one sense: once the Bushies decided to get so deeply involved -- $11 billion of our tax money -- it became difficult to get out, even though doing so makes a lot of sense. But one thing is sure. If anyone ever hears Bush yap about his yen to intervene here and there having anything to do with promoting democracy, the only proper response is a horselaugh.

Barry Bonds indicted

So Barry Bonds has been indicted for perjury -- lying to investigators and apparently a federal grand jury -- and obstruction of justice. Hmmmph. Federal investigators can lie to you -- they can, they admit it, they boast about it --but you can't lie to them when you know their goal is to put you behind bars? Judging by the news stories, they lied to Barry Bonds, not telling him they had alleged test results that showed him testing positive for steroids. But turnabout isn't fair play. They'll put you in prison for playing games with them.

The feds are a bunch of thugs and bullies. Their only legitimacy grows from a barrel of a gun. People should get a medal rather than a prison term for lying to the feds. Do I really mean that? Almost.

The U.S. Constitution doesn't give the federal government the authority to ban drugs. When Barry Bonds is alleged to have used steroids Major League Baseball didn't have rules against them, though one can argue that perhaps it should have. And the whole red line about performance-enhacing drugs is an artificial bit of prudery anyway. Athletes take all the nutrients they can get their hands on if they're smart, they work out, they have personal trainers and special diets. But certain substances that can also help them perform better are cheating while all the other stuff isn't? It's an artificial line rooted in attitudes encouraged by the unconstitutional, illegitimate and counterproductive Holy War on (certain) Drugs.

I probably wouldn't like Barry Bonds much and he probably wouldn't like me. But if he hadn't been a hard-ass who didn't cooperate with the media and therfore alienated them, I doubt this would be happening.

FCC wants to micromanage your cable

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the Federal Communications Commission's attempt to get more control over cable TV systems through an obscure provision of a 1984 law that deregulated cable to encourage it to grow. But the law said when market penetration reached a certain point (70/70 is the term), the FCC could regulate it.

We point out that the classic argument for the difference between regulating cable and broadcast was that the airwaves "belonged to the public" while copper and fiberoptic cable was private property; that's why you can show a breast on HBO. But that difference wouldn't change because of an arbitrary level of market penetration, so there's no justification to regulate cable.

I'm glad we went on to point out that the original argument, that the airwaves belong to "the public" and therefore the government has to regulate use of them is thoroughly bogus. The airwaves are part of nature and "belong" to whoever can figure out how to make use of them. Saying "the public" owns them is just a way for a certain group of power-hungry people to justify lording it over the rest of us, deciding what we can and can't see and hear. Further, when the writers of the First Amendment mentioned "the press," they surely didn't mean to confine it to the technology of the day, ink and paper, but to include whatever technological means were discovered or developed to convey news, information and oipinion to others. I think the FCC is unconstitutional on its face -- but it's hard to imagine a court in the country agreeing. Still, it would be fun if some adventurous lawyer brought a case that forced a court to face that argument.

What Congress really values: pork

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the fact that the first override of a Bush veto (of which there have still been far too few) came on a bill so stuffed with pork as to cause even the hardiest taxpayer indigestion. The president originally requested $4.9 billion for water projects and stuff in an Army Corps of Engineers appropriation bill. Congress ruminated and came in with two versions: $14 billion (House) and $15 billion (Senate). Then it went to a conference committee where instead of splitting the difference (with the president it would have been around $10 billion), it added all kinds of earmarks that had not been through even the rudimentary oversight of being considered by a commiittee, and came up with a $23 billion price tag. And that panoply of pork was what stirred two-thirds of the congresscritters to stand up and override Bush's veto. Tells you what's important to them.

Read it and weep.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hemp farmers challenge DEA in court

This story is a couple of days old, but it's really encouraging.

Today two North Dakota farmers were in federal court trying to get the court to "force the Drug Enforcement Administration to yield to a state law that would license them to become hemp growers." The WaPo article outlining the case isn't quite as accurate as one might like, even though some of the dubious phrases might have been coined to defuse the association with "devil weed" and make the reader more sympathetic. For example, it calls hemp "a strait-laced cousin of marijuana." Not a bad metaphor, and somewhat helpful, but not exactly right.

Hemp, to be sure is routinely grown -- and it is routinely grown overseas, in Canada, Ireland, France, Kazakhstan, Hungary, China and elsewhere -- from seeds that have been bred to have a lower THC content (around 0.3 percent) than the seeds that a planter of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use would want to use. But the most important difference betweeen cannabis planted for hemp and cannabis planted for buds is the way they are planted. When it's grown for hemp, the valuable stuff is the fiber and cellulose in the stalk, which is virtually devoid of THC content not matter what kind of seeds are used. So it is planted close together, so the stalks will grow tall, and it is typically harvested before it even begins to bud. The smaller the stalk the finer the fibers, and the finer the fibers the finer the fabric that can be made of it.

Much of the hempen fabric one can buy at various places -- I had several hats I gave away and I still have a couple, along with a pair of pants -- is moderately rough, more like canvas than a cotton bedsheet, reflecting the fact that farmers typically let the plants grow until the stalks get fairly thick, because they get more that way. But people have made fine lace from hemp, and if there were a more robust hemp market, there would be demand for a wide variety of fabric. The finer thread made from finer fibers would probably command a premium price, so the fabric would be more expensive.

Anyway, I haven't been able to find out what happened in court today -- and it's likely the case was heard and the judge will not issue a ruling until later -- but I'll stay on it and provide updates as they are available.

Smearing Ron Paul

I spent a fair amount of time today on a post on the Register's "Eye on the Empire" blog dissecting the attempt to use guilt-by-association to smear Ron Paul as an anti-Semite or worse because some neo-nazi moron donated $500 to his campaign, so I think I'll just link to it from here. Feel free to copy it, send it, or link to it if you're so inclined.

Hillary's obsessive micro-management

I was not initially all that upset at the charge that Hillary Clinton's staff had fed a suggested question to a young voter at an Iowa campaign event. But thinking about it led to thinking about her tendency to micromanage and control everything down to the last detail. She's famous/notorious for it, and certainly sets an example by being remarkably self-disciplined. But I have little question that's the way she would view the entire country if elected -- as a place that might get out of control and needs heavy doses of micromanagement -- and that would be disastrous (though for me on a professional level, as somebody who gets paid to take potshots at presidents of both parties, it would be a field day for at least four years).

John Dickerson's column in Slate makes some of the relevant goo-goo arguments for why we should view this as something a bit more significant than an isolated gaffe. And then there's this piece by Michael Crowley in TNR. I'm not surprised that she wants to micromanage press coverage and she's more than a little paranoid about the media. But complaining to the NYT about a story about Obama liking to play pick-up basketball that had the effect of humanizing him? Killing a somewhat negative GQ article by threatening to pull cooperation on a separate story another GQ writer was doing on Bill? These people play hardball, but make themselves absurd in the process.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bush's policies set up the Pakistan crisis

Almost all the news out of Pakistan these days is discouraging, with former prime minister and great American Hope Benazir Bhutto (who in some ways is no great prize; the corruption charges that led to her being exiled were not without substance) under house arrest again and the demonstrations she has tried to lead quashed. One of the sharper analyses of how Pakistan came to such a sad pass comes from Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute. He says the Bush administration exacerbated Pakistan's problems by occupying not one, but two Muslim countries. That created the best recruiting tool al-Qaida ever had, and the recruiting has easily outpaced the various campaigns against al-Qaida.

Stability won't be reached (and maybe not for quite a while even then) until we let Afghanistan be run by Afghans and reduce or end subsidies to Pakistan. In the early stages, around 2002, Musharraf gave us a tacit green light to go after al-Qaida and Taliban forces in the northwest provinces, but the administration was already focused on Iraq and dropped the ball. Since then our lavish subsidies have made most Pakistanis think Musharraf is a U.S. puppet, making him unpopular, ineffective and desperate. Nice work.