Friday, August 31, 2007

Ron Paul getting some media attention

Here's a blog item from the Orange County Register's opinion blog, Orange Punch, which I think I'll just reproduce in toto:

"Ron Paul finally getting some media attention
August 31st, 2007 ·
From Steven Greenhut:
Republicans wish GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, a U.S. representative from Texas who epitomizes the small-l libertarian philosophy similar to the one you read on the Register’s editorial pages, would go away. His principled limited-government stances (compared to Republicans’ solely rhetorical belief in limited government as they ratchet up the size of the welfare and security state) and opposition to this horrific and deceitful war embarrass them. The media has ignored Paul because he is not viewed as a “credible” candidate.
He is a longshot, but his campaign brings ideas into the mix, and he has attracted a boisterous following, especially online. National media outlets finally are noticing. Here is a CNN article, which includes this summary:
“Passengers on a plane leaving New York could see three words in 4-foot block letters painted on an East Village rooftop terrace as they ascended: GOOGLE RON PAUL.
“The entreaty to search the Internet for news of the Republican congressman from rural Texas is one of the more visible signs of enthusiasm from a do-it-yourself base of Web fans. Their support doesn’t show up in public opinion polls, but it’s unmatched among presidential candidates in its passion.”
And this is from the Wall Street Journal today:
“The iconoclastic ‘Dr. Paul’ is a libertarian advocate of minimalist government, a foe of the Federal Reserve and anything else not explicitly allowed by the Constitution, and perhaps the most antiwar candidate in the race. Thanks to the unprecedented number of early debates, he has been able to share the stage with his better-funded Republican establishment rivals.”
In an election that is dominated by statist politicians from both sides — including the noxious Giuliani and the hideous Hillary — it’s great to see a grassroots revolution take place."

And here is the link to the CNN article, which didn't make it through the copying process.

Slow withdrawal

In this HNN article, history prof emeritus William Marina complains that almost all the Democratic candidates (with the possible exception of Kucinich and Mike Gravel) envision a "withdrawal" from Iraq will take years. He'd like them to answer three questions about sticking around in Iraq for a few more years:

"1. How much will this add to our already bloated militaryspending which is already severely distorting the whole U.S. economy?
2. How many lives will this cost in the years ahead?
3. And, most importantly, how will this really improve the incredible mess in the Middle East, which this nastion has played a major role in creating since WWII?"

The premise, of course, is that U.S. intervention and armed presence in the Middle East is destabilizing rather than stabilizing. Marina believes that "The real issue is Empire, a project in which the U.S. has been engaged for over a century." When will we be ready to give up this vain and counterproductive quest? I suspect most Americans would do so tomorrow (though an appalling number can be herded into supporting military action against the next pipsqueak "new Hitler") but I don't see much evidence that the formal leaders of either party are interested in cutting back much on running the world.

Was CNN's "God's Warriors" Fair

I didn't watch all of Christiane Amanpour's CNN "God's Warrior's" series, largely because I find Christiane so thoroughly annoying (even or especially when she's actually saying something worthwhile, which happens). I don't know where she got that accent. But I watched enough to get a pretty good flavor.

This critique, by Timothy Furnish, who teaches Islamic History in Georgia (on the History News Network) seems to me a little overdone but mostly valid. He argues that Amanpour equates Islamic suicide bombing and terrorism with much less violent (though still in some cases extreme) attitudes and actions by Christians and Jews, creating that old debbil, "moral equivalence."The Jewish settlers on the West Bank, for example, are pretty out-there, but they haven't done nearly as much violence as various jihadists.

On Christians, Furnish notes that Amanpour focuses almost exclusively on how Roe v. Wade catalyzed Jerry Falwell, the Morla Majority and evengelicals, wiothout mentioning the effect on Catholics. She came close to equating filing lawsuits with flying airplanes into buildings as examples of what "god's warriors" do.

I wouldn't be quite so critical of Amanpour's series, but there's food for thought here. P.S.: Timothy Furnish wrote a book, "Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads and Osama bin Laden," which I haven't read.

Bush to Australia

Probably the most interesting thing about George Bush's trip to Australia next week for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting is that Laura Bush won't be going along because she has a pinched nerve. The next most interesting thing will be what "native costume" the assembled leaders wear, a tradition at APEC meetings that usually makes for a fairly silly photo. Otherwise the trip and the meeting are likely to be fairly inconsequential. Sure, the gathered leaders will talk about how they're committed to stopping global warming and reducing trade barriers, but APEC is in fact rather moribund as a policy driver. So it's not likely to say much about the recent international market meltdown or the Chinese exporting lead-painted toys or poisonous pet food. There will be complaints that Dubya is leaving early to attend 9/11 commemorations and get ready for Petraeus time

This is somewhat interesting, because in fact the Asia-Pacific region is one of the more economically dynamic regions in the world, but APEC as an organization has little or nothing to do with it. The Asians all learned something about sound policies after the late-1990s Asian economic meltdown and have generally been doing rather well.

There's a feeling/superstition that the only way to get countries to lower trade barriers and adopt sound fiscal and monetary policies is through an international organization whose implicit dynamic is "I'll stop screwing my consumers but only after you stop screwing yours." But the experience of (most of) the APEC countries suggests that adopting intelligent trade and economic policies can be done unilaterally, because they work for the country in question, not because it's been pressured into them.

One amusing side note: APEC is called a "cooperation" rather than an Organization or whatever, because both Taiwan and mainland China are in it, and the complex political dances between them mandate that they not both be members of a formal international "organization" or "alliance" or whatever.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

End vocational licensing

So here's a link to the Register's editorial deploring the fact that California requires licenses (permission from the nanny state) to do more jobs than any other state in the nation. Vocational licensing is sold as a consumer protection device, but it's blatantly nothing of the sort. It's a scheme to limit competition and increase the income of practitioners while discouraging innovation.

I was convinced years ago by Milton Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom" that we'd be just fine without state licenses for doctors or lawyers (which wouldn't rule out certification, perhaps from competing organizations, which would undoubtedly be more rigorous than the state system). In fact if you study the history of medical licensing, which was completed around 1910 with the Flexner Report, it becomes pretty obvious that it was a pretty sleazy operation that had a lot more to do with increasing incomes than protecting patients.

Changing rules midstream

Here's a link to the Register's editorial disapproving of a proposed initiative put forward by a Republican lawyer to change the way California allocates it electoral votes, so that the winner in each congressional district gets one electoral vote. The practical effect would be that instead of the winner (likely a Democrat) getting all 55 of California's electoral votes, the Republicans would get 20 electoral votes or so. That would have meant (if things fell the way they did in 2004) thatBush wouldn't have needed Ohio. But it's changing the rules midstream, in a way clearly designed to skew the outcome, and potentially unfair if other states didn't change as well.

Some would argue that it would be fairer if all the states did this (as Maine and Nebraska do now). But it would create interesting temptations. Congressional districts are re-gerrymandered every 10 years, whereas state boundaries aren't likely to be changed.

We also opposed a Democratic proposal to give California's electoral votes to the winner of ther nationwide popular vote -- but only if enough states to total 270 electoral votes did the same. Seems like majority-rule ideology to me. (I prefer self-rule.) But while the Electoral College system seems a bit silly, it isn't broke enough to mess with it drastically.

Voting on Iraq

Here's a link to the Register's editorial endorsing the idea of having a referendum on California's February ballot on the Iraq war. The two houses of the legislature (which can place initiatives on the ballot without collecting signatures, which I'm not sure I support, but . . .) have passed different versions, so once they're reconciled it will be up to Schwarzenegger to sign it or not. We think he should.

The closest thing to a substantial argument we've heard against even placing it on the ballot is that it would hurt the troops' morale (I heard it at length on the phone today from an old WW II vet who is actually one of my favorite people). I think that's balderdash still, and in a way something of an insult to the troops. For starters, plenty of them have doubts about the war -- else why would Ron Paul have raised more money from active-duty military people than any other GOP candidate? And the notion that they would turn into quivering blobs of self-pitying protoplasm just because California had a non-binding referendum on the war on the ballot strikes me as ludicrous. They've got much more important (and potentially deadly) things to worry about.

Some say a referendum would be just like another meaningless opinion poll. I think an actual vote by all who decide to turn out, rather than a selected sample of 1,000 or so likely voters would have more impact. And who knows, it might help to stir up the wide-ranging discussion on the war -- and foreign policy going forward? --the American people didn't really engage in before it started.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Prepping for war?

For months -- perhaps even a couple of years -- I have been downplaying the likelihood that Bush would be so foolish as to start a war with Iran, especially in light of how much more difficult such a war would be than the war on Iraq and how thinly the military is stretched. It's not that I don't think the neocons don't want such a war or that Bush isn't just irresponsible enough to do it. I have figured that the military would point out the logistical problems and simply let him know in no uncertain terms that it can't be done.

Over the last few weeks, however, I have to admit I've become a bit less certain. The leaking of a tentative decision to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the country's 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a "specially designated global terrorist" group is an important indicator. It turns out that like China's army, the RG has business interests, some of them overseas, so such a designation could have an impact on them. The step, if taken, would be purposely provocative.

Arnaud de Borchgrave (I've met him, talked extensively with him on several occasions and like and respect him, so my judgment may be skewed) has reported that French president "Nicholas Sarkozy came away [from the visit at Kennebunkport] convinced his U.S. counterpart is serious about bombing Iran's secret nuclear facilities. That's the reading as it filtered back to Europe's foreign ministries," in which Arnaud has some pretty solid sources.

If you want a really frightening scenario laid out and have the patience to read a fairly long and involved post, check this out at Arthur Silber's Once Upon a Time. He points out that "The Senate approved -- by a vote of 97 to nothing -- an amendment that accuses Iran of committing acts of war against the United States. Thus, if we were to attack Iran, we would puurportedly only be acting defensively, and in response to what Iran has already done." Both the 2001 post-9/11 congressional authorization to go after terrorists and the 2002 authorization to attack Iraq could thus be stretched to cover an attack on Iran.

Then there's Sarkozy saying he's not quite for a military attack but France won't stand for Iran getting a bomb. De Borchgrave writes that "a ranking Swiss official, speaking privately, said 'Anyone with a modicum of experience in the Middle East knows that any bombing of Iran would touch off at the very least regional instability and what could be an unmitigated disaster for Western interests." But given the way they've cherry-picked the evidence on Iraq post-invasion, Bush and the neocons would undoubtedly interpret the worst imaginable disaster as a solid step toward freedom and democracy.

It would be almost clinically insane to start a war with Iran, but I'm more worried than I have been that it could happen.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More drug war lunacy

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on President Bush's promise to provide more money and advice/training, etc. to Mexico to help the government there crack down on narcotraffickers. If lavishing money on enforcement could stop drug use and trafficking, it would have happened long ago. If the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same old thing but expect different results, this is a classic case.

Two reasons. Prohibition creates a huge price premium for illicit drugs -- most experts think about 10 times what the price would be absent prohibition -- which is not enough to keep some users from paying the prices, and a heckuva profit margin. As long as there are some people willing to pay the price, there will be unscrupulous people willing to go after those inflated drug-war-premium profits. Bouts of conspicious enforcement tend to weed out the less skilled operators, reducing competition for those who are really good at it. Some progress!

Then there's the Iron Law of Prohibition, which I've mentioned before. Conspicuous enforcement leads traffickers to focus on more easily concealed, higher-margin products -- so we get less "soft" drugs like marijuana and more "hard" drugs like heroin and cocaine. Again, it's worked that way every time, and to expect different results from doing more of the same is ... well, you get the picture.

The real problem is that the enforcers and traffickers have a symbiotic relationship. Without prohibition the traffickers would have such low profits it might not be worth it, and the enforcers would have to find honest work.

Against ethanol subsidies

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on AB 118, a California bill that would tax cars (higher fees, so they get around the 2/3 majority needed for higher taxes) to subsidize ethanol. Whether it's good or not, ethanol doesn't deserve subsidies; it gets too many already, and we're already starting to see some of the unintended consequences of subsidizing corn likker in higher food prices. Goofy.

Medical marijuana news

Here's a link to Americans for Safe Access's news roundup on medical marijuana. There's blowback against the DEA raids in Los Angeles, New Mexico is working on implementation of its new law, there's a voter initiative scheduled for Michigan, and Ohio may have an initiative on the ballot next year. Progress is slow, official resistance remains, but the movement isn't going away.

Register on Gonzales

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the resignation of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general. I'm hardly the first to say that he's about the last of the old Texas cronies, leaving the Bush administration largely in the hands of old Washington hands. This will be different for Bush, who places a great deal of emphasis and reliance on relationships -- particularly reltionships of long standing and unquestioned loyalty -- rather than being intellectually grounded.

There's just an outside chance he'll approach things differently without the comfort of cronies around every day. However, I still think he will insist on "staying the course" in Iraq, unfortunately, handing off a mess to his successor. I have no inside information, but I suspect the poor schlump still believes his own propaganda, and maybe even believes he'll experience a Truman-like resurgence in respect after he's out of office. Nothing's impossible, I suppose, but I doubt it.

Angels go up four!

While I was blogging, the Angels came back from a 5-0 deficit in the first to beat the Seattle Mariners 10-6. Caught the last half-inning. Nice to see Vlad Guerrero get 3 RBI and reliever Scott Shields, who has had some shaky outings recently, back in the groove. And the Angels are up four in the AL West. Time to go for the jugular tomorrow night. Not that it's close to over, but what a nice comeback.

Missed post on Larry Craig

All right, I was afraid of that. I lost last night's post on Larry Craig when my cable went out. Can't remember precisely what I wrote, but here's the gist:

I worked with Larry Craig's office and talked to him a few times when I was working on my book, "Ambush at Ruby Ridge," about the Randy Weaver affair, which happened in Idaho. He was on the side of the angels then, outraged that the feds had abused their power. He struck me as a sincere constitutionalist. I don't know if he's gay or not, and really don't care. There's nothing inconsistent with being a gay constitutionalist; I know several.

What's tragic, and something I attribute in large part to the unfortunate power of the "rligious right" (I question whethwer it's really religious or really right) in the Republican Party is that it's almost impossible for a gay conservative who wants a political career to be honest about who and what he is. That's sad. I suspect that in a generation the issue won't have anywhere near the fundraising power it has for those who use religion to forward their political ambitions (almost every "religious right" leader I've talked to or interviewed over the years, including Gary Bauer and Ralph Reed, has been much more interested in politics than religion; indeed it's been almost impossible to engage them seriously on religion). But for now it does, and I think it's been used cynically.

The fact that even a few conservatives have found it almost impossible to repress their homosexual tendencies completely (think Ted Haggard) suggests that it is much less a choice than something inborn. What you do with your sexuality is a choice. Homosexuals and heterosexuals can choose (it's harder for some than others) to be promiscuous, faithful or even celibate.

To be sure, the evidence on Larry Craig is far from conclusive. But I would love it if some conservative who is "outed" would say something like: "Yes, I like having sex with men. I've struggled with it and I probably haven't handled it very well, and I apologize for the deception to my wife and children (if relevant) but it's who I am. Now that I'm out of the closet I'm asking for understanding and tolerance and begging conservatives to end the unspeakable cruelty of making a moral and political issue of what, in my sad experience is something inborn rather than chosen; Lord knows I didn't ask for it nor would I have chosen it. But it's time for our society to come to terms with the fact that some people are gay."

Guess I'm dreaming.

Maybe . . .

Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craing has denied he did anything wrong in the airport men's room encounter that got him arrested and says it was a mistake to plead guilty, Maybe. I don't want to prejudge him. Not that I think there's anything wrtong with being gay, but inasmuch as he has voted for the federal amendment to ban gay marriage and announced his support for an Idaho law to ban both gay marriage and civil unions, if he even has tendencies there's a big hypocrisy issue.

The most logical explanation for what the Idaho Statesman has reported -- one fellow who remains anonymous who says he had a sexual encounter in D.C., an activist who assembled several people of whom he's lost track who claimed encounters -- seems to be that if he has tendencies he has mostly repressed them, but possibly engaged in a few fleeting encounters. But there's not enough on the record yet to be sure. I stand by what I said last night about it being tragic if he has felt he had to repress them. Now the GOP is piling on. Conservatives like Sean Hannity are responding with their usual compassion.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gonzo so gone

I'll have a few more posts on this when I can get to my notes, but it's pleasing that Alberto Gonzales finally quit as attorney general. Not that I have a high opinion of most people in government, but he really was out of his depth -- and was instinctively authoritarian, from domestic issues (affirmative action, environmental regulation) to executive power (he firmly endorsed the supremacy of the president in almost everything) to the almost unspeakable -- endorsing torture and calling the Geneva Convention "quaint." Plus he was a faithfuil toady to another out-of-his-depth mediocrity. The next appointee may be almost as bad and smarter (or less inept) to boot, but it's still a relief to have him outta there. I had some interesting chats today, about which more later.

Aaron Russo, RIP

Aaron Russo, filmmaker and relatively radical libertarian, has died, last Friday night of cancer, at the age of 64. Here's a small tribute to him in the form of writer Anthony Gregory's endorsement of him as Libertarian Party presidential candidate in 2004. He promoted rock acts including Janis Joplin, managed Bette Midler for a while, and produced films like "The Rose" and "Trading Places." Last year he made a film on the IRS, "America: Freedom to Fascism," which was quite effective but never seemed to make quite the splash it deserved to make, and seemed to to be devoting most of his resources to the struggle for liberty. I think I met him once years ago but didn't really know him. I think that's my loss. He'll be missed.

Another lost weekend (not really)

For reasons too boring and irrelevant to go into in detail (not that I'd understand much anyway -- I'm not the computer tech at my house) my computer was offline almost all weekend, so I didn't get much blogging done. Let's see if we can catch up.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Returning confiscated medical marijuana

Here's a link to the Register editorial on an interesting case argued Thursday before the 4th District state appellate court in Santa Ana. Two medical marijuana users, who were determined to be legitimate patients after being arrested for possession and having their medicine confiscated are asking that their property be returned. Since neither was charged with a crime, it should be a no-brainer, but the drug war seems to have deleterious effects on peoples' reasoning abilities. In one case a judge ordered the return but the city of Garden Grove refused and appealed the order. In the other case the judge refused to issue an order to return. With lower-level judges in disagreement, the issue is ripe for decision at the appellate level.

Garden Grove has argued that federal law trumps state law, and since marijuana possession is still illegal under federal law it shouldn't have to return the medicine. This is bogus. Cities are subdivisions of the state government under law, and are bound to enforce state law unless and until a federal court rules that federal law invalidates a given state law, which hasn't happened in the 11 years California's Compassionate Use Act has been in effect. The real problem is that some officials and police officers hate the fact that the voters approved the law are still trying to act as if it was never passed. Ignoring a valid law in that manner could get an ordinary citizen thrown in jail. Hmmm. Maybe that's what it will take.

I talked to Americans for Safe Access attorney Joe Elford after the hearing, and he said the judges were pretty active questioning both sides, and he couldn't predict how they would rule. If they have much respect for the law they should rule in favor of the patients, but Joe is right; it's a fool's game to try to predict what an appellate court will do.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Levin in Iraq

Here's a link to the Register editorial on Democratic Sen. Carl Levin's remarks suggesting it was time for the Iraqis to get rid of prime minister Maliki. We highlighted the difficulty of being an imperial power while trying to pretend to respect democracy.

Vietnam and the killing fields

Earlier this week President Bush brought back the hoary argument that pulling out of Vietnam led to the killing fields of Cambodia and all the other terrible things -- boat people, reeducation camps, hundreds of thousands of deaths -- that came after the U.S. left the war and then stopped funding the failing South Vietnamese government. I'm working on a piece regarding some aspects of this argument, and here's a piece by author Gareth Porter that addresses the Cambodia killing fields aspect. He argues that when Nixon took office the Cambodian communist movement was weak and unlikely to overthrow Sihanouk. But a number of things Nixon did, including bombing Cambodia and secretly invading in Cambodia, strengthened opposition to Sihanouk and made the takeover by Pol Pot, which led to the killing fields and massive population relocation, more likely. It's a powerful argument and, I think, a correct one.

John Warner's significance

The fact that Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner -- former Navy Sec., Armed Services Chairman and all that -- has called on President Bush to reduce the number of troops in Iraq by Christmas is significant in most of the ways the conventional media are saying. He is a significant Republican with military-friendly credentials breaking at least a bit with the White House -- the news tonight is that the White House asked him to "clarify" his statement yesterday to make it clear he hasn't broken with the administration and he said the statement stands on its own and doesn't require clarification -- an implicit rebuke.

I'm not sure I'm as hopeful as some others that this will be the signal for a lot of other Republicans to start siding with their constituents rather than with the president on the war or not. Incredibly, there's still a stubborn base that believes in this war and thinks the Kool-Aid is champagne and anyone who disagrees is a traitor. We've had predictions of the Republican dam breaking before and it hasn't happened, but we'll see.

What's most interesting about Warner's stance is the validation it gives to a number of war critics who have argued that a better hope for the Iraqis starting to get their act together -- far from a guarantee, but a hope -- lies in beginning to withdraw father than continuing to provide increasing amounts of military assistance and "security."

Warner is suggesting that the signal of, in effect, "we're not staying forever, so it's time to get serious" is more likely to provide an impetus for politicxal seriousness and maybe even a chance at something approaching recoinciliation than the promise implicit in the "surge:" We'll handle the military-security side of things to give you time to get it together. With most human beings this leads to procrastination or shoirt-term thinking. War critics have been arguing this forever, and now there's a veteran hawk agreeing -- and all kinds of serving (not retired) military people coming pretty close to the same position.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

James Dobbins on "Who Lost Iraq?"

The title is interesting enough, as is the venue. James Dobbins is at Rand Corp. now, but before leaving the State Dept. he was special envoy to Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Somalia and Afghanistan, so he knows a little something about post-conflict planning and execution. I remember talking to him right after the invasion, and he was pretty streightforward for an old State Dept. guy. Priorities one, two and three are security with a capital S, he said, and we don't have nearly enough troops in to handle it.

This piece is very balanced if a little establishment for my taste, in that it doesn't question the idea of interventionism, just argues for less stupid interventions in the future. He won't pin the blame in any one place -- lots of people share it. But he's especially pointed on the lack of "structured debate and diciplined dissent" in the executive branch prior to the decision to invade. He stresses the priority in the White House onloyalty, but mentions that none of those who had valid doubts resigned or went public. He would take the word "preemption" out of the official vocabulary -- too alienating -- without taking the possibility off the table. He would deemphasize the military aspect of the "war on terror" and dump the name, and do nation-building only if there's an understanding of how difficult and long a process it is and the whole country is really committed and informed.

New war lobbies

Here's an interesting story about two lobbies who plan to duke it out over the Iraq war.

Freedom's Watch (unintentionally ironic name) plans to mount a $15 million advertising and grass roots campaign on behalf of Bush's policy (whatever it is next month apparently) in Iraq. The public face is expected to be former press secretary Ari Fleischer. The campaign is supposed to be aimed at "faltering" Republicans who are tempted to favor something than staying the course and following the Dear Leader. Donors include Mel Sembler (bankrolled the inaugural committe, disreputable drug war enthusiast), John TempletonJr., Sheldon Adelson (Las Vegas Sands, 3rd on Forbes list) and other GOP stalwarts.

Americans United for Change has Democrat ties, formed originally to oppose the Bush Social Security "privatization" campaign in 2005. Has a fundraising goal of $120 million this year, has spent up to $2 million on ad campaiogn, doesn't seem to have much cash in hand right now, funded and directed mostly by union leaders.

Every war since the beginning of the 20th century has featured an active propaganda campaign to keep Americans "united" behind the war whoopers of the day and question the patriotism (in blatant and subtle ways) of those who asked uncomfortable questions. I'm not sure what the precedents are, however, for such a richly funded ostensibly private campaign to rally support for such an unpopular war. I don't remember anything quite like it during Vietnam (though there was an L.A,-based Victory in Vietnam Assn. (VIVA) in the mid-1960s with which I had some dealings, funded by defense contractors). Mostly, however, it seems to me the proganda was mainly done directly by the government.

Cautious enthusiasm

Interesting times at the Register. We had several packed "town hall" meetings today with Terry Horne, our new publisher as of September 15. I'm no wiser as to what wheels within wheels went into the decision for Chris Anderson to resign. However, although I try not to be ruled too much by by first impressions, I have to admit my first impression of Terry Horne is favorable. He started as a reporter, and he says he still thinks newspapers need to be independent institutions able to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted -- but they have to be profitable to do so. He assured us that he wasn't coming in with a prefab model, that the only way he knows how to work with a new paper (and he's had executive positions at several) is to make himself available to all employees, ask them key questions, and synthesize what those doing the actual work think and recommend into a plan.

He thinks "Web-first" is the way to go in a general way, but was frank that he didn't know precisely how it will apply at the Register. His main point was that to attract advertisers (back in some cases) we need to give them value for their dollars, and the old model doesn't work anymore, what with Craigslist, various car sites, and every dealership and department store having their own Web sites and all. But he says he thinks that if we're open to changing the model and really serving advertisers and customers, we can stay in business and even grow for a good time to come.

I do know that Chris Anderson sent e-mails to the writers of this L.A. Times story, claiming several inaccuracies, though I don't know which inaccuracies he noted specifically. I suspect they had to do with the anonymous Register sources' comments. Only one of the writers responded, and snottily.

I don't know if OC Post, the "condensed" tabloid version (which I'm not fond of, but then I'm an old-fashioned reader who wants depth and complexity, apparently a rarity these days) has been a failure or not, but Terry Horne said he was favorably impressed with it, so it might not be doomed.

We are in for interesting times.

Quote of the Day

"Of all faces of the present age in America, the military face would almost certainly prove the most astounding to any Framers of the Constitution, any Founders of the Republic who came back to inspect their creation on the occasion of the bicentennial." -- Robert Nisbet

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Shake-up at the Register

I really don't know much more than what has been printed in various papers and trade publications, but I might after we have promised company meetings tomorrow.

N. Christian Anderson, publisher of the Register, has resigned his position effective Sept. 15. He will be replaced by Terry Horne, who's now publisher of the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, AZ, also owned by Freedom Inc. Chris has been at the Register almost exactly as long as I have (since 1980, with a few years away as publisher of the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph), so it will seem strange for him not to be here.

Here's the Register's story, and here's the L.A. Times story (all right, I couldn't pull it up, but I'll get it in tomorrow). Here's the piece the trade publication Editor and Publisher did, and Chris's memo to staff.

My former colleague John Seiler, who left in the voluntary buyout last November (and whose blog I'll be adding to the blogroll tonight) thinks he was pushed. And this sentence in his memo -- "Over the past few weeks, however Scott [Flanders, Freedom Inc. CEO] and I talked more about a transition that would lead to my departure." -- is suggestive.

I haven't wanted to whine much, but the Internet is having a profound and at this time fairly deleterious effect on print newspapers. Advertising on the Net is much cheaper (Web sites, even the best ones, don't require investment in monster printing plants and fleets of trucks, for example), and most newspapers haven't yet figured out how to make money with their Web sites. We've been told our revenues are down 14 percent from last year and profits are down 36 percent. That's a huge hit. And the Register is doing better than some other papers. I think newspapers will survive in some fashion, but I doubt they'll ever be as influential and profitable as once they were. It's a dicey time in our business.

More cost overruns in Iraq

As if the "normal" costs of the war in Iraq weren't bad enough, comes news that the Pentagon has paid at least $200 million in cost overruns -- and a total of $548 million -- to two British security firms contracted to provide protection to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers working on reconstruction projects in Iraq. The two companies signed their original contracts in 2004. Together they now have about 2,000 employees in Iraq, about the size of three military battalions. The Pentagon has said there are some 20,000 private security contractors in Iraq, but some say the number is considerably higher.

A number of war critics complain about contracting out so much of what the military might do in an "ordinary" war (whatever that is) to private companies, but that doesn't bother me philosophically. The alternative just now (besides moving troops from cushy slots in South Korea, Okinawa and Germany, which I would advocate but don't see happening) would probably be draftees. However, the private contracting can get pretty pricey. Some of those guarding the Corps of Engineers are pulling down $15,000 a month!

But did you really expect a government that can't do much of anything efficiently to run a war cost-effectively?

Obama and all Dems would end medical marijuana raids

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, in response to a Marijuana Policy Project affiliate member's question in New Hampshire, has affirmed that if he were elected president he would end Drug Enforcement agency raids on medical marijuana patients and dispensaries in the 12 states that have medical marijuana laws. "It's not a good use of our resources," he said. So right (although disbanding the DEA altogether would be an even better way to conserve and focus resources on actual public safety matters, but that's an argument for another day).

With Obama on board, that means all eight of the Democratic presidential candidates have promised to end those silly (but sometimes terrorizing) raids. In addition, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a longshot presidential candidate who just signed (after working the legislature) New Mexico's medical marijuana law, has sent a letter to President Bush asking him to end the raids now. If he's really a "compassionate conservative" he will do so immediately, but if he were really all that compassionate (or wise) he wouldn't have started the war on Iraq.

Among the Republican candidates, Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo and Tommy Thompson (who pulled out after the Iowa straw poll) promised to end the DEA raids. Giuliani has been especially stupid on this issue, as I noted previously, but all the rest are pretty terrible. Why a politician would steadfastly oppose a policy supported by 70-80 percent of Americans in every national poll where the question has been asked is something of a mystery. But as I've also written before, prohibitionism is a religion more than it is a considered policy. If it weren't, nobody even slightly familiar with the costs and benefits would support it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rumsfeld pushed out?

Last week when the WaPo had a story about Don Rumsfeld's resignation letter being dated November 6, the day before the election, whereas Bush announced his resignation the day after the election, I didn't think much of it, even wondered if it was a real story. But Robert Parry over at has a theory worth considering. He reminds us that in December it also came out that on November 6 Rumsfeld issued a memo opining that the current strategy in Iraq wasn't working, that it was time to "go minimal" when speaking about the establish-democracy mission and all -- and maybe pull U.S. troops back to Kurdistan and Yemen -- pretty much the opposite of surge, and not all that different from Rep. John Murtha's proposals.

Could it be that when Bush saw the memo he realized Rumsfeld was not on board with the "stay-the-course" strategy, or maybe he had already decided at least tentatively on escalation and told Rummy that if he wasn't ready to swallow more of the Kool-Aid it was time for him to go? Worth considering.

Congratulations, Garret Anderson

I'm so pleased that Garret Anderson of the Angels had such a night tonight -- and against the Yankees! He got 10 RBIs, a team record for a single game and just one short of the AL record, in an 18-9 victory (A-Rod had two homers, what a player he is). I think most people appreciate Garret pretty thoroughly now -- he has been an All-Star MVP -- but he is so quiet and outwardly unemotional that earlier in his career a number of fans got the impression he just didn't care. Wrong.

People would comment that he hardly ever dived for a ball in the field, but my observation was that he almost always got such a good jump on a fly ball that he never had to dive for it; he just got there and he made it look easy. And such a steady hitter, for average and power. Never quite as spectacular as a power hitter as a Rodriguez or Guerrerro or Bonds or Griffey, but he always got more than his share of doubles and homers and was always right around .300. He had injury problems for much of last year, for the first time, and some health issues earlier this year, and I was concerned that he wouldn't come back to his full potential. But he seems to have done so.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Who said that?

Here's kind of a fun feature that ran in Sunday's Register Commentary section yesterday. It's a collection of quotes the Register has featured in its daily quote over the years, and 12 notables, from Thomas Jefferson to Frank Zappa, who uttered or wrote them. The challenge is to match the quotes with the quoters. Matt Leone put it together.

Chavez goes for lifetime power

Here's the Register's editorial on Venezuela's Hugo Chavez going for constitutional changes that will give him even more power and the opportunity to be dictator for life, like his hero Castro. The editorial notes that Sean Penn was in Venezuela recently cozying up to Chavez, announcing he had discovered wonderful things. Odd. I can certainly understand being opposed to the Iraq war and the Bush administration and deeply disillusioned about America (though why it is so common among those the capitalist system has rewarded so richly is a bit of a mystery -- guilt?). But why this leads to endorsing any overseas thug who spouts anti-American slogans is utterly baffling to me. Are people so blinded by ideology that they can't see that Castro and Chavez -- and Lenin and Stalin before them (as well as Hitler) are thugs and tyrants, not saviors of their people?

Combat veterans speak

This is a long piece and sometimes a depressing one, but one with which Americans really should come to terms. Chris Hedges ("War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning"), a combat reporter for two decades (mostly for the NY Times), along with some other Nation writers, interviewed 50 combat veterans -- people who were willing to give their names, ranks, and units in which they served, not anonymous types -- about their experiences in Iraq.

They confirmed that life is cheap over there, at least to the American soldiers. Sometimes when Iraqi civilians are killed soldiers go th the trouble of placing bombmaking materials or guns near the bodies to make it look as if they were insurgents, but often they don't bother such incidents are seldom investigated. Although sometimes such killings come after roadside bombings when the Americans are worked up or on edge, oaftentimes there's no real malice. They're put in a place where they really can't tell for sure who is a foe, where they've had the experience of innocent-looking people or even children opening fire on them. So it's hardly surprising that they would get a little trigger-happy. Not all of them. Only a minority commit true outrages, but there are plenty.

Whenever we write of such things in the Register, such as the ongoing Haditha trial, we get two kinds of reactions. One is complete denial that our military people could ever do such a thing as kill an innocent civilian. They are trained and they are our boys, and even to suggest that they could be anything less than perfect is to give aid and comfort to the enemy. The other is to say that whatever they do they had to do, and it is wrong and perhaps treasonous to want to hold them accountable in the way we might hold a domestic criminal accountable. They are not criminals by definition, becauwse they're just doing the job we sent them over there to do.

Sometimes the same letter will embody both ideas, though they seem logically imcompatible. Unfortunately, that support-right-or-wrong phenomenon is one of the inevitable outgrowths of a war of any duration. As the great conservative sociologist (yes, there have been such paradoxical creatures) Robert Nisbet wrote in his invaluable little book "The Present Age" in 1988:

"Wars, to be successfully fought, demand a reduction in the taboos regarding life, dignity, property, family, and religion; there must be nothing of merely moral nature left standing between the fighting forces and victory, not even or especially, taboos on sexual encounters. Wars have an individualizing effect upon their involved societies, a loosening of accustomed social bond in favor of a tightening of the military ethic. Military, or at least war-born, relationships among individuals tend to supersede relationships of family, parish and ordinary walks of life."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Quote of the Day

"The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you." -- B.B. King

More on Padilla case

It's unlikely to be my last word on the Jose Padilla case, but because I think it's so important, here's a link to the piece I did this week for (which is holding a fundraiser; you really should click over there and donate). It has lots of links, including to all the Christian Science Monitor pieces on how Padilla was treated in islolation and the very real probablity that the U.S. government induced serious mental illness.

Ron Paul's support growing

All right, all right. A commenter took me to task for saying I don't expect Ron Paul to win the nomination, and I think I agree not to prognosticate in that fashion any more, just report on what happens. That also means I'll refrain from giddy predictions that he's going to win. You're just as well off. My political crystal ball has never been all that reliable.

At any rate, there's interesting news to report. Last Thursday the Illinois Republican Party held a straw poll at the Illinois State Fair. Romney, who bused people in, paid their admission and bought them meals and refreshments, got 40.35 percent. Fred Thompson got 19.96 percent. And Ron Paul came in third, with 18.87 percent, well ahead of Giuliani (11.61), McCain (4.12), Huckabee (3.04) Brownback(1.08), Hunter and Tancredo. Naturally, the CNN report missed the most interesting aspect of the story.

On Saturday the West Alabama Republican Assemblyhad a straw poll that Ron Paul won big, with 216 votes (Romney, second, got 14). Also, Strafford County, New Hampshire had a straw poll, and Dr. Paul got 208, to second-place Romney's 26 and Huckabee's 20.

Now these are not exactly gigantic venues that are necessarily representative of American voterdom as a wholoe. Nonetheless, these victories mean Ron Paul is more popular in certain quarters than any of the conventional media had any idea about (beyond Internet junkies), or his people are doing some effective organizing. Probably both.

Iranian problems

Here's a link to the piece I did last week for, on the apparently contradictory moves the making toward Iran. Some people are absolutely convinced that President Bush is planning an attack in Iran, despite all that has gone wrong in the war on Iraq, but at the same time the U.S. is making open diplomatic oveertures (I'm sure a great deal has gone on in backchannels) for the first time since the hostage-taking in 1978. thinks that's because both the U.S. and Iran realize they're not going to get out of Iraq -- a puppet state in Iran's case, a stable democracy in the U.S.'s -- and that they'll have to negotiate a status quo they can both live with for the time being. With the trial balloon about the administration wanting to name the Iranian Revolutionary Guard an official international terrorist organization, it does appear as if the U.S. is seeking confrontation. But there may still be wheels within wheels -- I hope.

False choice on handling terrorists

The Dahlia Lithwick piece I linked to in the last blog is worth reading, on the government's mania for secrecy. But here's the one I meant to reference in relation to the Jose Padilla case, on the false choice between treating terrorists as soldiers or as criminals. The government doesn't make its choices on any obviously principled basis, unless any way that will keep secrets from citizens and avoid accountability amounts ot a principle.

The shameful Padilla episode

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the jury verdict in the Jose Padilla case. I'm not prepared to second-guess the jury, but everhtying about the was the government handled this case up to now has been little short of outrtageous. The notion that the president on his single say-so can declare a U.S. citizen an "enemy combatant," which strips him of all rights, is a lot more like desp0otism than a free society.

It seems likely that the government put Padilla in a Navy brig and isolated him conmpletely to try to question him more effectively. But we mere citizens have no idea whether it worked or not, because a government absurdlyobsessed with secrecy won't tell us. Put me d0wn as a skeptic. When it had no choice but to bring some charges, it brought charges completely unrelated to the "dirty bomber" stuff Ashcroft went on about, aor apparently anything it questioned him about while holding him incommunicado. Inference? Torture didn't make him tell the truth or anything useful.

Dahlis Lithwick had a pretty good post at Slate last week on topics related to the Padilla case and government surveillance.

Chinese toy recall

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the recall of all those faulty toys from China. The upshot is that the toy makers and the Chinese have the biggest incentive to fix the situation, so it behooves them to act quickly -- and it looks as if they have. They are likely to have the problems fixed reasonably well before Congress gets around to holding the first hearing, underlining the fact that a relatively free market has quicker and more effective corrective mechanisms than regulations, all of which will raise prices and some of which will have unfortunate inintended side effects. Here's a link to a post by Don Boudreaux in Cafe Hayek that explains things in a little more detail and links to another piece.

Whether the perception, which is sometimes more important than the reality, will be fixed effectively is another question. The fact that consumers will decide about the future of Chinese toys suggests that in a relatively free market consumers really do have more influence than almost any other player.

Also, here's a link to an Explainer in Slate about why people use lead paint. Of course it's dangerous, but for a number of functions it's relatively cheaper, longer-lasting and faster-drying than paint made with other compounds. It also resists mildew. The Romans used lead paint on ship bottoms and people still do so today.

Another beach weekend

We always take a laptop when we head out for the weekend, but somehow don't seem to get around to using it much if at all. This weekend it was Mission Bay in San Diego with Joe and Alane and Justin, Jaedon and Griffin. We thought it was important because the grandchildren rreally wanted to go, and we thought it was a good idea for them to have one more outing with the (great) aunt and uncle. And we had a terrific time. Somehow, the world seems to have moved along without me commenting on it, but I've missed mentioning a few things, so . . .

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Robert Heinlein at 100

I thought about it a few times, but I managed to let the 100th anniversary of Robert Heinlein's birth (on July 7) slip by without notice on this blog. Fortunately, Brian Doherty over at Reason was more conscientious, producing a balanced appreciation in the Aug/Sept issue.

Heinlein was the acknowledged dean of American science fiction writers, but he transcended the genre and actually had a significant impact on popular culture. Two novels, "Stranger in A Strange Land," and "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," were especially influential, and both had an impact on me back in the 1960s. "Time Enough for Love" was also fun. I've often chided myself that I never sought out Heinlein to meet him, though my friend Sharon Presley did.

Heinlein blended hippie-like peace-and-love sentiments in "Stranger" with a firecely icoclastic individualism and love of liberty. If you haven't read him, I recommend it highly.

Mueller's notes confirm Ashcroft hospital story

The notes the House Judiciary Committee asked FBI Director Robert Mueller to provide after testimony a couple of weeks ago that seemed to contradict testimony from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have been released, and they confirm the underhanded trick the White House tried to pull on former Attorney General Ascroft back in 2004, when the Justice Department raised concerns about the NSA's surveillance program. Ashcroft was in the hospital with pancreatitis (and "frail" and "stressed" according to Mueller's notes) when the Justice Dept. refused to sign off on renewing the program and Gonzales (then White House counsel) and then chief-of-staff Andrew Card went to the hospital room to try to badger him into changing his mind.

This White House made John Ashcroft look like a civil libertarian. Amazing.

I still don't know whether this warrants perjury charges against Gonzales. He seems to have used lawyerly language to come up just short of outright perjury. But he clearly has been less than frank, even deceptive and unforthcoming in responding to congressional committees. I know he maybe Dubya's last comfortable Texas loyalist left, but he really ought to resign.

Surveillance state reinforced

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the surveillance law passed by Congress and signed by Bush in the frantic hours before the August recess. It has a few details I wasn't able to get into last night's blog. Needless to say, it reflects a mindset on the part of the administration that whatever surveillance it feels like undertaking shold not only be permitted but applauded, and that the constitution and existing laws are merely unfortunate inconveniences to be circumvented -- preferably in secret, but if necessary by hyping threats and buffaloing timid Democrats.

Padilla convicted, U.S. shamed

Jose Padilla, originally advertised as the "dirty bomber," has been convicted along with two others on several terrorism-related charges. Although I paid attention I didn't attend the trial or follow transcipts, so I won't second-guess the jury. But besides demonstrating that Padilla could have been afforded due process and put on trial years ago, the outcome should be a deep source of shame for decent Americans.

I have little question that the former Chicago gang member who converted to Islam and probably to "Islamism" is a profoundly misguided and probably troublesome person. But that doesn't justify the way the government treated him. Remember that Ashcroft crowed about nabbing a "dirty bomber," (bomb plus radioactive material, more distraction than destruction), but the government never presented evidence of such plans. Instead it put him in a military brig where he was held incommunicado for more than three years -- no charges, no lawyer, no visits, pretty much no human contact. That's the kind of thing tyrannies do, not the United States we used to know.

Scott Horton in Harper's blog has some details on how he was imprisoned and probably why. It's pretty chilling. The Christian Science Monitor has more details. In essence, he was kept in isolation (which the U.S.defined as torture when the Soviets did it) to get him to talk. He must not have admitted anything incriminating -- because when he was finally charged the charges had nothing to do with dirty bombing. An alternative theory, of course, is that he wasn't charged with anything he admitted because that might have opened the can of worms in public court about how he was treated.

Remember, this wasn't somebody captured on a battlefield with a weapon shooting at Americans, but in an airport in Chicago on suspicion. The charges finally brought had to do with pre-9/11 jihadist sympathizing and probably with raising money for jihadists overseas -- and an application form for a training camp in Afghanistan with Padilla's fingerprints. He and his two co-conspirators seem to have been losers and stumblebums more than big dangers. Until the government needed something to charge Padilla with because it was becoming apparent the Supreme Court was going to insist eventually that he be charged or released, the conspiring prior to 9/11 hadn't been anything the government felt was worth charging.

Andrew Cohen at the WaPo, who watched the case more closely than I did, thinks the jury was stampeded. I'm not ready to endorse that yet, but there's little question Padilla was treated shamefully, making a tragic joke of the idea that this is a country governed by the rule of law. One more legacy of the Bush administration.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Neocons still enchant some Republicans

You might have thought, considering how badly the war in Iraq has gone and how mistaken the predictions and knowledge of the most aggressive war whoopers has turned out to be, that neoconservatives would be thoroughyly discredited. As I've observed before, however, those who were wrong before the war seem not the least bit rueful and they still get more TV appearances than those who were right about the wisdom of the war before it was begun.

According to a recent WashTimes article (can't get the link active but I will) they also seem to have plenty of credit among GOP presidential candidates besides Ron Paul. "There is an overwhelming presence of neoconservatives and absence of traditional conservatives that I don't know what to make of," Richard Allen, who was Reagan's national security adviser (and is a pretty good guy; I knew him slightly in the '70s), says.

Specifically, Robert Kagan, co-founder of Project for the New American Century (PNAC) is an adviser to John McCain, neocon godfather Norman Podhoretz, who recently wrote an extensive piece praying (literally) for Dubya to bomb Iran, is on Giuliani's policy team, and Dan Senor, former mouthpiece for Jerry Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority, advises Mitt Romney.

Market working on China

The recall of toys manufactured in China is impressive in scope, and it may not be the end of it, especially given that Mattel is generally viewed as being more vigorous about quality control than most toysellers. Before we get too eager to place new restrictions on Chinese imports or make the regulations so overbearing as to restrict trade notably, it's worth remembering, as this post on Cafe Hayek reminds us, that the marketplace is handling the roblem rather expeditiously. It has been the companies, not the government, that has unearthed the problems, and it may well be that they'll have most of them fixed, and better procedures in place, before Congress gets around to holding hearings.

Surveillance state on steroids

So now, after all the expansion of electronic surveillance authorized in the new law passed just before Congress emulated the Iraqi parliament and took off for an August vacation, the Bush administration has announced that it wants to make information from military spy satellites available to local law enforcement. The mindset here verges on the totalitarian: that there is simply nothing that Americans do that should not be known to the government, perhaps in real time. That's close to the very definition of a total state. That it should come under a Republican president who still claims to believe in limited government is beyond ironic.

Immigration jujitsu?

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the Bush administration's promise to step up immigration enforcement, especially against employers. It note that Homeland Security honcho, the cadaverous Michael Chertoff, has predicted it would hurt the economy. This reninforces the idea that perhaps the administratioon's real intent is to show that enforcement-only creates more problemns than it solves, forcing others to take a second look at a path to legality. Steve's work.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Quote of Day

"The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naive and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he see it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair." -- H.L. Mencken

Roves time to go

Here's a link to the Register's editorial today on Karl Rove's decision to resign from theWHite House. I think it was opinionated but fair. I've seen a number of blog comments predicting and/or hoping Rove would be involved with one of the GOP candidates or with the eventual nominee. From the people in Washington I talked to, I just don't expect it. He's too closely identified with Bush and there's considerable Bush fatigue, even (or especially?) among Republicans. Rove himself has to be canny enough to know that as well.

Surveilling more than terrorists

As details emerge about the new surveillance law passed by Congress and signed by Bush last week, it's becoming more apparent that it's much more extensive surveillance than advertised, and the whatever we might say about the competence of the Bush administration, it snookered the Democrats almost completely.

Probably the best MSM post-mortem was in the WashPost Sunday. It makes it clear that Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, despite a Novak column suggesting he emerged bruised from the process, is a canny political infighter.

The basic issue that prompted the administration full-court press was a ruling by the secret FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978) court that a warrant was required even for foreign-to-foreign communications that went through fiberoptic hubs in the United States. That's how the court interpreted the law -- correctly in my view -- and it created a backup. "We needed thousands of warrants but the most we could do was hundreds," one official said.

The impression most of the MSM created while the bill was under debate that the administration wanted essentially a fix for that problem -- authorization to do unwarranted surveillance on foreign-to-foreign terrorist-related communications that happened to pass through a U.S. communications hub. But it wanted and got a lot more. McConnell apparently never gave in on the demand for surveillance "not only of terrorist suspects outside the country, but of all foreign intelligence targets" on any topic of interest to foreign policy. And the new law allows surveillance "directed" at people believed to be outside the country -- which could include U.S. businessmen and tourists on trips -- and in some circumstances "concerning" such people, which is hardly a limitation at all. We' could be talking about billions of intercepts, with little or no judicial oversight -- Alberto Gonzales as the watchdog(!) for legality and constitutionality.

Ron Paul impresses many in Iowa

Here's an interesting Wired blog with good links and lots of comments about Ron Paul's fifth-place showing in the Iowa straw poll. It notes that the Paul campaign didn't pay for buses, that supporters organized their own buses and other transportation through MeetUps and other online methods. Several peopole are impressed that Ron's impressive Internet presence, while at this point translating into only 2 percent or so in the conventional polls, managed to translate into 9+ percent on the ground in Iowa. And in the video clips I saw there were plenty of Ron Paul signs on camera. And here's an analysis saying Huckabee and Paul were the clear winners and Ropmney the loser, in that Romney did less well than pre-event polls would have predicted and Huckaee and Paul did considerably better.

I understand a lot of the Paul supporters who were committed enough to come to Ames were not Iowa residents and couldn't vote, but wanted to demonstrate their support anyway. And there are claims that while most campaigns spent a lot of money on the Iowa straw poll (Romney dropped millions), the Paul campaign actually raised money during the campaign. That's not bad for momentum.

I still don't expect Ron to come close to the nomination, but his campaign could turn out to be the most significant libertarian-oriented mass movement of our times. I don't agree with him on everything -- he's less open on immigration than I am, for example -- but I've known him for about 30 years and I don't know of a more sincere successful elected Congressman. He's the real deal, and despite the fact thathe's not exactly dripping charisma, I think that's coming through.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Quote of the Day

"You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try." -- Bevery Sills, great soprano and arts administrator whose death a few weeks ago leaves all who love music a little poorer, a little sadder.

Steps forward and back on medical marijuana

Here's a link to the piece I did for Sunday's Register Commentary section on medical marijuana. I mentioned progress -- Orange County approving a patient ID card program, Los Angeles County working for effective regulation of dispensaries -- and serious regress -- the DEA's hardball game against dispensaries in Southern California and the decision of some cities to prohibit dispensaries altogether.

I'm glad I made the point that under federal law as written -- the Controlled Substances Act -- marijuana should not even be on Schedule I, since it doesn't meet any of the criteria, and the debate over medical marijuana should be moot. I doubt if the DEA or Congress will take the point seriously -- the rule of law is a joke to them and prohibitionism is more religion than policy -- but it's important that at least some people understand that the DEA is a bunch of scofflaws rather than upholders of the law.

Of course if we took the constitution seriously any more some court would rule that the whole drug war is unconstitutional, since nowhere in the document is Congress or the national government given the power to do anything so radical and foolish -- remember it took an amendment to prohibit alcohol, back when more people thought the constitution meant something more serious.

Rove: just time for him to go

After talking with several sources in Washingto9n, here's my preliminary take on Karl Rove's impending resignation as chief White political adviser and personal guru to Dubya:

It may be that the simplest explanation is closest to the truth. This was simply the most efficacious time for him to leave, to get going writing that book he's been talking about, and make some serious money on the lecture circuit while demand for his words is still high, which it might not be after a new administration moves in. One person fairly close to him said he would likely have resigned after the congressional election if the GOP hadn't been beaten -- and then there was the Valerie Plame affair.

Some say he's still vulnerable to congressional investigations, and the Democrats might yet beat back the executive privilege claim and compel him to testify before some committee or another. But the likelihood of an indictment or serious legal trouble seems pretty low to me. There's little doubt he was instrumental in politicizing the Justice Department in the U.S. attorneys affair, but while that may be reprehensible I doubt if it's indictable.

Rove's departure also means the Bush presidency is pretty much over. The strategy for the remainder of the term is set, and Bush doesn't need Rove standing by to tell him to veto a couple of spending bills to try to repair the GOP's tattered (mostly by him) reputation as the party of fiscal discipline.

I met Rove only once, in a small group, when Dubya was running the first time. He struck me as very bright and self-confident and enjoyable to talk with, but perhaps not the universal genius some preferred to see him as. And the loss of Congress and Bush's low approval ratings certainly suggest he hasn't been an unqualified success.

Like most administration defenders and many who are separating themselves from the administration, he hasn't come to terms with the importance of the unpopularity of the Iraq war in bringing about the GOP loss last November; even understanding his desire to keep spinning for the administration, that suggests a certain lack of the qualities that make for objective analysis. His insistence in the Paul Gigot interview that it was almost solely Congress's corruption that led to the loss is just lame. And while his strategy of appealing to the "base" first may have won the 2004 election, it led fairly directly to Bush's current unpopularity. There's also the oddity of appealing to the base during elections and alienating it on governance issues (immigration, Medicare entitlement, etc.).

It's too early to judge whether he helped create a permanent GOP governing coalition -- and probably unwise to credit him rather than deeper trends too much if it turns out that way. Democrats are certainly aware that the 2006 results could have been an anomaly and that the right circumstances could send a sufficient number of independents and moderates back to the GOP side, especially if the Iraq war finally becomes part of the past, not the present.

More on Scott Beauchamp

Here's the New Republic's latest word on l'Affaire Scott Beauchamp, the soldier in Iraq who has been writing dispatches for TNR. TNR stands by its confirming of most of the events described with five other soldiers, but it notes that "[a]lthough the Army says it has investigated Beauchamp's article and has found it be be false, it has refused our -- and others -- requests to share any information or evidence from its investigation. What's more, the Army has rejected our requests to speak to Beauchamp himself."

Despite a Weekly Standard report saying Beauchamp has "recanted," TNR is not convinced, saying Beauchamp told them in July that he had signed several statements under pressure but they didn't contradict his articles. So far TNR is standing by them

I'm not sure what to believe. I certainly agree with TNR's call for the Army "to make public Beauchamp's statements and the details of its investigation" and to allow media outlets to speak to him.

A bit more on immigration

A commenter wondered, and I think I know a bit more now about why the Bush administration has announced a serious crackdown on employers who hire illegal aliens, which seems a bit contradictory to its desire for a "comprehensive" immigration reformthat included a path to legality and even citizen ship for the 12 million or so illegal immigrants now in the country. This is far from the last workd, but here's what I think for now based on what I learned today . . .

It is in some sense a move to reconnect with the conservative "base" that torpedoed the immigration bill earlier this year. But it wouldn't be entirely surprising if there are other motives at work also. Especially since it's being announced when harvesting is due in several farm crops, it might in part be designed to demonstrate that a crackdown on employers will create enough economic turmoil that some members of Congress might be willing to reconsider a policy that goes beyond enforcement to include some kind of "regularization" of those currently here illegally.

If so, that's a remarkably cynical and potentially dangerous approach, to purposely disrupt economic relationships that are working despite not being blessed by the authorities and creat fear and uncertainty among employers. There's also the fact that the Social Security database is hardly error-free, so a lot of time and trouble is likely to be spent on people who aren't illegal at all, or whose troubles arise from imperfect government record-keeping.

To me the "crisis" is simply another example of government stepping in and disrupting the working of supply and demand, this time with unrealistically low quotas for legal immigrants. Given that unemployment is currently at historically low levels, around 4.5 percent -- although the current disruption in the housing market and repercussions in the stock market could change things for the worse -- suggests that the U.S. economy can absorb 12 million illegal immigrants without creating an economic downturn or "taking" many jobs from Americans who really want them. The solution is to raise the quotas. But nobody is ready to consider something so simple and the invocation of the magic word "amnesty" paralyzes the political class.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Anti-jihadist Arab media

Here's an interesting piece by Lee Smith, who has been parlaying the fact that he is writing a book about the Arab media into mostly informative magazine pieces for a couple of years now. He notes that some of the most severe condemnation of the recent attempted bombings in the UK and the somewhat tepid British government response has come from the London-based Arab media.

Hazem Sagieh, a columnist for Al Hayat, for example, wrote: "Neither in London, nor in the Arab and Islamic world has there been enough condemnation. Learning to accommodate these horrible acts is a symptom of mental disease." Another London-based broadsheet, Asharq al-Awsat "ran several articles in the last month unequivocally condemning the violence and those who justify it."

There are questions, however, as to just how representative these journals are of Arab opinion, even the the UK. Smith notes that many of the Arab journalists in London are "refugees from the violence of Arab-nationalist politics in the 1960s and 1970s." They seem more western-oriented than many we would viewas "moderate Muslims." Still it's encouraging to see condemnation of terrorism in Arab media in any country. It's more commonplace than one might think. The MSM don't pay enough attention to this strain in Arab/Muslim thought and expression.

Winnowing the GOP field

So former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson has been true to his word and is dropping out after finishing sixth in the Iowa straw poll. I don't know if Duncan Hunter, who never seems to have met a war he didn't want to start and who did abysmally, will drop out as well. He strikes me as a stubborn sort, but I doubt if he can raise enough money to stay in.

Having gone to the first forum, at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, and met and talked briefly with most of the candidates, it's interesting to me that those who might be viewed as qualified in a conventional sense are doing so poorly. Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore was the one I liked best besides Ron Paul. After him Tommy Thompson may have been the best-qualified in a conventional sense, having been Wisconsin Gov. and HHS Sec., but there is something rough-hewn and clumsy about him, physically and verbally, that probably disqualifies him in the television age.

Of course I'm disappointed that Ron Paul only finished fifth, but he had enough votes to put him in the not-completely-hopeless category. The comments on Kent Snyder's staement at Digg are rather interesting.

Perhaps most significant was the small showing of straw voters. They expected up to 40,000 and got maybe 14,000. I suspect it shows a lack of enthusiasm among Republicans for the candidates put forward. It's hard to imagine any Republican winning in 2008.

Family weekend

Back from the beach with the grandchildren and with Jen's brother Joe. It's one of the reasons I so love Southern California -- decide to hit the beach, spend a little time gathering supplies together and comforting the one child who didn't want to go (he had a good time once he got there) and you're there (from where we live) in about 45 minutes. Doheny this time. Waves mild and a lot of surfers with boards were getting nice rides but it wasn't all that good for bodysurfing.

Joe was here because we got what looks to be the final sample -- a few tweaks but probably not enough to go for the expense of a full prototype -- of the product we hope will take the biker world by storm. TIme to start showing it around and figuring out how many we can get made.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Real problems closing Guantanamo

I'm not often all that sympathetic to government justifications for not moving in a contructive direction, but I have to admit there are some valid concerns about releasing certain prisoners from Guantanamo, concerns highlighted by the British government's recent request to release five prisoners with British ties. I think the U.S. government's insistence that the British government place restrictions on the prisoners once they get to Britain -- "secured, meaning they wouldn't be allowed to walk free," in State Dept. spokesman Sean McCormack's words -- is mostly unreasonable.

While the priosoners have been unilaterally declared to be "illegal combatants," the fact remains that they haven't been charged with anything. The whole notion that the default position is imprisoning people with or without charges if the president or somebody else feels like it is gradually turning this country into an authoritarian state governed by arbitrary rules rather than the rule of law.

There are some valid concerns however. Some countries have expressed unwillingness to accept detainess who originated in those countries. One detainee, Ahmed Belbacha, is fighting a move to transfer him to his native country, Algeria, arguing that since he was in the Algerian army jihadists will consider him an enemy and since he was in Guantanamo the government will too. Transfer of some Afghanis is being delayed while a new prison is built there.

Much of the reluctance by other countries is the U.S.'s fault. It wants to dictate what happens to the detainees once they're in other countries. And it has painted some of them as more dangerous than they are. The initial mistake, of course, was to use Guantanamo in the first place. It no doubt seemed OK at the time -- U.S. property but not on U.S. soil so fripperies like due process could be ignored -- but it's become much more complicated. As with so much involving the "war on terror," there wasn't much thinking through to consider possible consequences. It would almost certainly have been better to treat them as POWs or criminals, for both of which accepted procedures are available, rather than this cockamamie "illegal combatant" term.

U.S. war crimes

Yet one more Register editorial for your consideration, this one on the war-crimes trials the military is now holding for soldiers and marines accused of purposely killing innocent Iraqi women and children. It strikes me the military courts have been fairly discriminating, dismissing charges in some cases and pressing them in others. What should be shocking, however, is the number of Americans who would rather let them skate, figuring a U.S. military person in a battle situation simply cannot do anything wrong enough to deserve discipline or punishment.

Political quagmire in Iraq

Here's a link to the Register's editorial Thursday on the political situation in Iraq. It's a mess. The "central government" doesn't govern (which might not be all that bad except violence is almost completely uncontrolled) and neither the Sunnis nor the Kurds are likely to trust it anytime soon.

More cruelty to patients

Here's a link to the Register's editorial today on the D.C. Circuit Court's decision to allow the FDA to continue to deny terminal patients access to drugs that have gone through Phase One of FDA testing -- the phase that focuses on safety. It might not be quite as simple as expressed here. I talked to Henry Miller at Hoover Institution and Stanford today, and he says that after Phase One data are still pretty scarce. But for patients facing the end of life with a chance to live a little longer if the drug works, what have they got to lose? They'll very seldom die sooner if the drug turns out not to be as effective as hoped, and more data will be generated.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Return of the draft?

So Bush's "war czar," Lt. Gen Richard Lute, thinks it's worthwhile to think about bringing back conscription? It's a sign of desperation. The military is stretched thin because the administration has taken on too many overseas missions, including missions the military wasn't trained to handle. We should be talking about reducing overseas commitments (they could maybe have handled the"surge" better by transferring people from Germany, Sought Korea, Okinawa, etc) rather than subjecting young people to slavery and the decision to kill or be killed on behalf of the delusions of old men.

I still don't think it will happen. Somebody will remember that one of the reasons the protests against the Vietnam war were so large and effective was that just about every young man faced the prospect of the draft. When Richard Nixon ended the draft the protests petered out asnd it was considered a brilliant stroke.

Tillman saga not over yet

Here's a link to the piece I did for last week on the Pat Tillman situation. Don Rumsfeld and Richard Myers were disgraceful before the congressional inquiry last week, but it's not done yet. A couple of White House aides are due to testify (in private without a transcript as the White House tries to insist all the time these days, but it's a start). I can't help but believe there's more that's still covered up, mainly just how high up in the government the deception and cover-up went.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

More drug war folly

The Bush administration is ready to seal a major deal with Mexico to provide scads of money for Mexico to fight its drug cartels. It's supposed to be the biggest drug-fighting foreign operation since "Plan Colombia," which has wasted $5 billion over seven years without affecting the street price of cocaine. Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, a major cheerleader for the program, giddily anticipated is will be "hundreds of millions of dollars" in the first year.

There's little question Mexico is experiencing problems with its drug traffickers. There's something of a war among major cartels underway that has cost maybe 3,000 lives in the last year. But pouring more money into enforcement will almost certainly make matters worse. Some will be funneled into official pockets, of course, and some will go to favored cartels. And it will run up against what the invaluable Arnold Trebach deemed the "iron law of prohibition."

The more money and effort is put into anti-certain-drugs enforcement, the more violence is ratcheted up. The upshot of bursts of conspicuous enforcement is to eliminate the weaker competitors among the cartels and strengthen the strongest -- those most adept at concealment, violence and bribery. Another result is to push the drug trade into goods that are more easily concealed and more compact. So they'll deal less in marijuana and more in heroin, cocaine and meth. It's absurdly predictable. Some progress!

Political use of drug warriors

I know I'm a little late with this story -- I've known about it for weeks but there are so many outrages -- but it's worth a few moments of indignation if you hadn't known about it. Last year during election season the White House arranged for John Walters, the "drug czar," and his deputies to travel at taxpayer expense to about 20 events with vulnerable Republican candidates. Often they used the events to announce "drug fighting" grants, otherwise known as pork to help incumbents.

Key piece of evidence of purely political intention: an e-mail by a drug policy official describing Karl Rove as pleased with how the office -- along with the Commerce, Transportation and Agriculture departments, went "above and beyond" in their helpful efforts. "This recognition is not something we hear every day and we should feel confident that our hard work is noticed. The director and deputies deserve the most recognition because they actually had to give up time with their families for the god awful places we sent them." How brown is your nose, Douglas Simon? (He's the liaison of the "drug czar's office" with the White House.)

What's wrong with Washington

Here's an interesting post over at A TinyRevolution on how Washington loves war -- with fascinating comments.

Quote of the day

"It is useless to attack men who could not be controlled even if conquered, while failure would leave us in an even worse position... "

New Republic vs. Weekly Standard

Here's the best commentary I've seen on the ongoing feud between The New Republic and the Weekly Standard (and much of the conservative pro-war blogosphere) over the dispatches in TNR from the person we now know as Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, from the front lines in Iraq. TNR published them under the pseudonym of Scott Thomas but finally gave up his entire name when commentators and critics questioned their veracity.

The first story, about an Iraqi boy who wanted to come to America so badly he taught himself pidgen English, then had his tongue cut out by Shia militia, and the second, about scavenger dogs devouring bodies left around Baghdad were grisly enough, but didn't arouse too much controversy. But the third piece, about war maybe turning him into something he didn't want to be, got the juices flowing. He describes himself and other soldiers taunting a deformed woman injured by an IED in a base dining hall, and two other incidents, one involving a soldier wearing parts of a child's skull around his neck and the other about killing dogs for fun with an armored vehicle.

Phillip Carter, an attorney who served in Iraq, says that "As soldiers, we learn to hide our worst stories from people outside the brotherhood of the close fight. And so the piucture of war that gets transmitted back to America is always incomplete, always lacking in the awful, gory, human details that flesh out the narrative of combat." Beauchamp broke that code with his stories. Carter says few of his military friends questioned the truth of the stories, but he says he finds the third story not quite believable, though he can't rule out that it's what Beauchamp experienced. He also thinks it was a mistake by TNR to grant Beauchamp anonymity. But the big story is not whether they were true or not but how quickly the war supporters pounced and the critics defended, each wedded to his own narrative and unwilling to consider something that didn't fit.

It turns out the base camp incident happened in Kuwait, not Iraq, and other details have been questioned, but TNR did its own investigation and found other members of Beauchamp's units to back him up. So both sides are claiming victory.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

More context for Barry Bonds

Here's a little more context for Barry Bonds' feat (he hit #757 tonight; perhaps more will come more easily with the pressure off). We're reminded that for all its protestations of purity baseball has had scandals aplenty throughout its history. I'm especially pleased that we're reminded of the McGwire-Sosa race to beat the single-season home run record, cheered on by MLB depite the near-certainty that both were juiced and everybody winked and nodded. (Some say it was disgust over the attention that contest got in the same year he became the first to exceed the 400-homers-400 steals mark and was ignored that helped Bonds decide to juice himself. Not that anything has been proven.) But the McGwire-Sosa contest was cheered by the league because it restored fan interest after the disastrous strike of 1994.

Spare me the prissiness over Barry.

More Pakistani background

Here's a little more background, with some historical context, on the tense situation in Pakistan from historian Gary Leupp of Tufts University. He reminds us that now US UN ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad negotiated cordially with the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s, that most American diplomats saw the Taliban as a stabilizing influence, and that the Taliban has regained popularity in the Afghan-Pakistani border regions (which are ethnically Pashtun on both sides; like many borders this one is pretty arbitrary).

He thinks a U.S. military operation in the region would be disastrous for the Musharraf government and for what little remains of US prestige in the region. Yet that is just what our US neoconservatives (and to some extent, although confusedly, Barack Obama) are plumping for. They apparently never imagined a war they didn't want to start.

More on surveillance bill

Here's yet more bad news about the surveillance bill Congress hustled through the process this weekend (who says they can't act quickly when they're motivated by the need to schmooze constituents, raise money or go on junkets?) from Tim Lee at Cato. The more you inspect this bill the more subject to abuse it looks. The only saving grace is that it sunsets in six months, which will be an incentive not to abuse the powers before they become permanent.