Thursday, April 30, 2009

Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania

It's not as exciting or advanced as in New Hampshire, Rhode Island or Vermont, but at least a medical marijuana bill has been introduced in Pennslyvania. Near as I can tell, it will be a while before legislative opinion settles or coalesces. If MM does get substantial support in PA, especially in rural PA, that could be an indicator of increasing acceptance in what might roughly be called "heartland" areas. If in rural Pennsylvania, why not in most of the Midwest? Illinois is on the way, though success is not guaranteed this time around.,

A bad month for the Empire

The American Empire has had better months. In the war that was supposed to have been won to the point of virtually wrapping up a stable democracy, thanks to Bush's courageous "surge," violence has been rising. April was the most violent month in Iraq since March of 2008. Unfortunately, one response to this increase in violence will be pleas to keep U.S. military forces in Iraq a while longer, "just until things calm down again. The possibility that the very presence of U.S. troops is a contributory factor to the violence will get short shrift.

In Afghanistan, even before President Obama's "surge" is properly underway, things are deteriorating, with increased attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Pakistani government doing its Wicked Witch of the West routine -- "I'm melting, I'm melting" -- in the face of multiple challenges including its own sclerosis.

The likely result of these two situations is the commitment of even more resources the U.S. doesn't really have -- check out the deficits and projected deficits -- to military, quasi-military or "nation-building" to enterprises likely to involve years of strenuous effort with depleted resources with outcomes that are hardly likely to be favorable. Is this the way empires end -- not with a bang but a whimper of pain from taxpayers?

Cuban attitudes changing

As is usual with politicians, President Obama is following, not leading, on the issue of changing the U.S. relationship with Cuba. He lifted restrictions on travel to Cuba by Cuban-Americans and on remittances to relatives in Cuba, and gave U.S. telecoms to try to market in Cuba. As this Register editorial suggests, however, the group that has been most insistent on maintaining the economic embargo over the years, the Cuban American National Foundation, has shifted its stance. It is now officialy open to wide-ranging discussions on changing U.S. policy, up to and possibly including lifting the embargo. A recent poll of Cuban-Americans, by a firm that has been conducting them for decades, found 67% in favor of lifting all travel restrictions, and 43% declaring the embargo a "failure."

In other words, the voting bloc in Florida that has kept politicians of both parties from saying much about liberalizing relations with Cuba is within a few percentage points of being ready to dump the embargo. Younger Cuban-Americans favor liberalization solidly and that seems to be where the trend is. It is this fact rather than hope of "enlightened leadership" from Washington that makes me think the policies will be changed soon. Like most politicians, Obama has put his finger to the wind, and when he senses the dominant direction will run to the front of the pack saying "follow me; I'm leading now."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

100 Days of Hype

I really dislike this artificial delineation of the first 100 days of any president's term -- that phony demarcation that everybody in the news media claims to recognize as artificial and unhelpful, just before hyping the heck out of it. Sure enough, Obama claimed the country is coming out of the recession thanks to his sterling efforts, but refuses to acknowledge he had any part in creating this huge deficit facing the government. The acolytes bow and the critics carp. SOS. Yawn. We'll have a nuch better idea in months. I know he knows nothing about economics, so I doubt his proclamations. If he really wanted a "new era" in Washington he could have simply failed to pay the least bit of attention to this "milestone." But old habits die hard, and foolish customs ossify into "sacred traditions."

Progress on medical marijuana book

I made some decent progress on my proposed marijuana legalization book today. I have named most of the chapters I want to include in the outline and done a brief description on several. Have to fill it out and write a sample chapter to have a package I can start peddling to publishers. I called Ethan Nadelmann at the Drug Policy Alliance today, but he was traveling, so I'll call tomorrow morning. Would like his advice, whether he knows about other similar projects in the works, etc. I'm toying with making the title or subtitle a prediction that marijuana will be legal soon.

New Hampshire voting on medical marijuana

The New Hampshire legislature was scheduled to vote today on medical marijuana as well as several other bills considered controversial or unusual.. Finally found word (should have gone to MPP first!) that it passed the New Hampshire Senate today, and a similar bill passed the Minnesota Senate. In addition, Rhode Island the Senate passed a bill to establis "compassion cnters." A big day for the movement.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Arlen Specter shifts the balance

Many people will say that it's about time Sen. Arlen Specter of PA changed parties and became a Democrat. Certainly conservatives (or self-styled conservatives) who want the Republican Party to be their domain are likely pleased. I'm not so sure. Specter's defection gives the Democrats something close to a filibuster-proof majority depending on the issue, and I would just as soon Obama not have that. And although Specter has always been a liberal by "big-tent" Republican standards, he has also done yeoman work for the Republicans from time to time, as during nthe Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.

Arlen Specter visited the Register editorial board some years ago (probably 1999) when he undertook a brief run at the presidency. I found him pleasant and thoughtful and more than willing to discuss his several differences with our philosophy in a sustained and civil manner. I have no particular interest in the future of the Republican Party, not being such a party animal myself. But I think the party is weaker (and probably more clueless) for Specter being gone.

Medical marijuana battle continues in New Hampshire

New Hampshire is currently considering a bill to permit the medicinal use of marijuana for certain conditions, with a physician's recommendation. This piece by a current police officer, explaining why he doesn't want to arrest sick people, ran in the famously conservative Manchester Union-Leader, no less. Attitudes do seem to be changing. It is especially noteworthy to me that a currently serving police officer wrote this. It is not uncommon for retired law enforcement personnel to declare themselves against the unwinnable war on drugs, but currently serving officers seldom do. Don't know whether this is because they face possible reprisals or blockades in their career paths, but they simply hardly ever do. Either Bradley Jarris is especially committed or rather brave, or attitudes are changing on police forces.

The joy of music

If you ever had doubts that music hath charms, or that it has the capacity to keep older people youthful, check out this YouTube.

Pushing back on the drug war exception to the Fourth Amendment

I certainly don't agree with the Supreme Court's decisions all the time, by a long shot, but I have to commend the decision in Arizona v. Gant. It modified a previous decision which had been interpreted to allow the police to search cars whenever they make a traffic stop. Gant reinstated the older rule that a search was warranted (an unwarranted search, that is) only when there was some danger that a suspect might reach for something in the car, like a gun, or when additional evidence for the crime for which he/she was stopped was needed and there was reason to believe it was in the car. In Gant's case, he was already handcuffed in the patrol car and the police already had all the evidence they need on a suspended-license bust.

This Register editorial explains the issues a little more thoroughly. Interesting that our first commenter disagrees and virtually endorses the idea of a police state in which police can search anyone anywhere for whatever reason, or no particular reason. Sad that Americans think that wy, but some of them certainly do.

Back on the blogtrail

Miss me? Having installed our house sitter as well as the security door, we're visiting our son Stephen, who has taken advantage of ths in-the-tank housing market to buy his first house -- at the age of 23 an age when, for me, buying a house was abut 20years away. He just got his Internet service installed, and it was a little spotty yesterday -- and when it was up and working it seemed more important for Jen to use it. Also, our niece Mandie spent a good bit of the day with us, and amused herself in part by playing computer games, after which she and I went out shopping.

I don't think I wasted the day. Having changed my direction for my next book -- I think it will be more timely to do a marijuna-legalization trending toward all-illicit-drugs legalization book than a foreign policy book -- I read Ed Rosenthal and Steve Kubby's "Why Marijuana Should Be Legal," and began the Tim Lynch-edited "After Prohibition." It's not that I'm unfamiliar with the arguments, heaven knows but when I'm starting a new project I find it useful to saturate myself with knowledge and arguments to try to make sure I don't miss any important aspects, then setting out to prioritize them.

My inclination now is to expand on the reporting I did for this Register article, noting the swiftness with which leglization arguments seem to have entered the mainstream. I plan to work on an outline and sample chapter during this, my furlough week, and then start peddling it to publishers while I finish it. Wish me luck -- and feel free to ask me how it's going. A little prod now and then from friends is not a bad idea.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A swinish outbreak

The media tend to hype these things a bit more than they deserve, but apparently there really is something to the Swine Flu outbreak that seems to have originated in Mexico. It's sad. I have loved going to Mexico over the years, and we just had a delegation come in to tell, us apparently accurately, that the drug war killings haven't affected tourists yet (thought they have certainly affected tourism negatively. Now there's another reason to think twice about going to Mexico. At least for a while.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Death in Vienna

One can never know for sure what goes into a decision to commit suicide, and there is still much too little known about the circumstances surrounding Freddie Mac chief financial officer David Kellerman’s suicide in the Washington suburb of Vienna, VA for me even to speculate. It does seem that he was under heavy pressure at work as CFO of a quasi-company-quasi-government-agency that lost $50 billion last year. I’ll just link to this WaPo story and this NYT story that offer a few more details than I’ve seen on various TV reports.

I'm not sure why seeing Kellerman's house on cable news struck me so hard, except that when I lived in the capital area, in Falls, Church, next door to Vienna, I spent a fair amount of time in Vienna, shopping, going to a particular bar, concerts at Wolf Trap, etc. I'm sure I drove through that neighborhood numerous times -- way above my price range then or now, but nice to look at.

It also reminded me that I can always say that I played in the pit orchestra for performances of a Franz Lehar operetta done by the Civic Light Opera Company of Vienna -- Vienna, Virginia, that is. Since I left there in 1980 to come home to California and the Register, it had to be 1978 or 1979. They recruited wind players from a community band I was playing in, and since I was the only bassoonist who showed an interst, I was in. The operetta was "Land of Smiles," and actually the music was pretty easy.

Quote of the Day

"It is the popular theory, at least in America, that monarchism is a curse fastened upon the common people from above -- that the monarch saddles it upon them without their consent and against their will. The theory is without support in the facts. Kings are created, not by kings, but by the people. The visualize one of the ineradicable needs of all third-rate men . . . and that is the need of something to venerate, to bow down to, to follow and obey." -- H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Now it's Jane Harman bit by a law she supported

Last week we had various conservatives going bonkers over the fact that Homeland Security put out a report suggesting extreme right wingers and returning veterans might be worth watching for signs of violence. So who was it who cheered from the sidelines as Bush put in all the appurtenances of the surveillance state and kept stressing that creepy term Homeland Security (an admission of empire, of course)? Welcome to the Security State you liked when a guy with an R behind his name was in the White House.

Now Democratic hack congresscritter Jane Harman, who knew about and defended the NSA unwarranted wiretapping program and even called for the prosecution of the NYT when it did a story about the manifestly illegal program. She's not so pleased now. In fact she's hopping mad. One of those warrantless wiretaps apparently caught her doing a little horsetrading with people from AIPAC, whose former lobbyists are slated to go on trial in June for passing secrets to Israel. You get me the chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee, she apparently said in 2006, and I'll see what I can do about getting those charges dropped. She didn't get the chairmanship; apparently she and Nancy Pelosi hate each other. Oh, well.

If I thought it would lead to recission of all the surveillance laws and programs the Bushies put in place I might even indulge in a little Schadenfreude. But I think Obama likes all those conveniently expanded executive powers just fine, thank you.

Cramdown: clinging to a bad idea

Sometimes when politicians get their teeth into a bad idea they just hang onto it no matter how plausible the arguments against it, no matter if it starts to taste bad. An example is the idea of giving bankruptcy judges the power to reduce the principal and/or interest on mortgage contracts. For starters, this would be yet one more contract/agreement that someone from the government can simply abrogate at will -- making it more difficult to make agreements, to make plans, to be able to trust people to do what they say they will do, thus breaking down a little further what is perhaps the most essential element of a society that has any hope of being reasonably free, the ability to trust somebody who is not a direct relative or a member of your clan or tribe.

As this Register editorial explains, it would also quite predictably raise the cost of mortgages by introducing one more element of risk for the lender. Lenders deal with risk by raising the price -- either requiring a larger down payment or charging a higher interest rate or both. This is a terrible idea, but the Obama administration is committed to it, it has passed the House, and though it's running into resistance it is likely to pass the Senate.

To make it worse, it just wouldn't help that many people. But the people who would be hurt the most would be low- to moderate-income people or first-time homebuyers who don't have any equity to draw on when looking at a required down payment in the $40-50,000 range. How it ever came to be a part of our culture that people thinking that giving more power to people in government can be equated with com[passion is one of the great mysteries of our time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Looking under the TARP

Several banks have already returned the TARP bailout money, more are in the process of preparing to do so, and several larger banks have been denied permission to do so. Denied permission! The sheer dictatorial aspect of this program is breathtaking. Several large banks were bullied into taking the money last fall, ostensibly so it wouldn't be embarrassing when banks that were really in trouble took bailout bucks. That aspect of the program is a complete reversal of the transparency everybody in government says they want from the private sector. The TARP program deliberately set out to hide various banks' true condition from the public and investors. And now the government doesn't want to let banks pay back the money for the sake of saving the reputation of the program itself -- forget that it's supposed to be representing taxpayers' interests. But government always serves its own interest anyway, not the interests of the people it pretends to represent. Understanding that is the first step in acquiring political wisdom.

Here's an angry Register editorial on the subject. Lesson? No private company should ever again ask for or accept a handout from the government. Fat chance!

Torture: a chance to learn

Here is the Register's editorial today on the torture memos. The emphasis here is on calling for a release of all the information surrounding torture, including whatever evidence, if any, exists for torture having been efficacious as a way to acquire information. Dick Cheney's call for the release of such information, I suspect, is a bit of bravado, and his claim that he had asked for such release earlier is already suspect. How sad that he now feels he must spend the rest of his life defending an indefensible decision to put together a torture program -- yes, it was a program orchestrated from the top, not an occasional excess by those in the field. I suspect a full examination would reveal almost nothing that could not have been acquired without torture. But bring it out and bring it on!

Destroying evidence clinches the case for torture

I must admit that if you read the "torture memos" released last Thursday without much prior knowledge they have a certain plausibility -- except for the fact that Bybee and Bradbury, in their memos of advice to the CIA take all the assurances of the CIA that in using face-slaps, head-grabbing, wall-pushing, sleep deprivation and so on they are taking tender care to make sure there is no lasting damage and that the detainees are always under medical supervision. There's no evidence of anything resembling independent investigation into whether the assurances were accurate, or whether the detainees actually did suffer lasting damage, especially mental damage. Links to the four memos are here, here, here, and here.

The only thing that seems to bother the DOJ lawyers is waterboarding, and they even come to the conclusion that that isn't torture either. But then there's the astounding offhanded acknowledgment that waterboarding was used 266 times on just two detainees -- 183 on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed alone. That certainly put the lie to the story the Bushies were trying to peddle for years that KSM wilted after what was inferred to be a single waterboarding and started spilling his guts eagerly. It also makes it questionable that it was all that effective. If they had to use it 183 times, it must not have been all that productive of actionable intelligence. Or was that sheer sadism?

The key thing to know, however, as Andrew Sullivan has pointed out, is that the CIA, after lying to the 9/11 Commission about their existence, destroyed the tapes of KSM's interrogation. If it really were effective, those tapes would have been invaluable for training purposes, and something the CIA was proud of. They had to be deeply ashamed and/or aware that they would be clear evidence of the use of torture.

Then there's the evidence of what the techniques did to detainees. The evidence is that KSM was reduced to a quivering mass of protoplasm. Jose Padilla, the US citizen kept in solitary in a Navy brig and not even waterboarded, was deemed unfit to contribute to his defense. The statutory definition of torture includes lasting mental or psychological harm. The interrogation certainly did that to more than one detainee -- and several died during interrogation as well.

A shameful episode in our history. Phil Zelikow of the 9/11 Commission has some thoughts on how we got there -- mainly by focusing on possible lawfulness rather than morality, and suggestions for going forward, not all of which I would endorse.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Male depression and medical marijuana

Actually, it would probably be effective, but there's a more subtle connection. In the current New Republic Sherwin Nuland reviews a new book, Hysterical Men: The Hidden History of Male Nervous Illness, by Mark Micale, which chronicles just how long it took for doctors and psychiatrists to recognize that men as well as women can have depression and other severe mental or emotional disorders. Serious depression was long called hysteria, after the Greek word for womb, hystera. Properly buttoned-up (buttoned-down?) men couldn't have it. When men seemed mentally unstable other explanations were found. In most cultures of the past, proper men could not have that flighty women's disease.

The story that emerges is that cultural conditioning, except for a few exceptional thinkers, determines what most people are willing to consider as possible explanations for observed phenemona. As Nuland puts it, Micale documents "from approximately the end of the Georgian period until relatively recently, a story in which male physicians have returned to their earlier habit of bringing forth theories of female emotionality and mental frailty based on the close -- and obviously biased -- observation of women, while failing to acknowledge, or perhaps even to observe, that men of all social classes could be shown to suffer from the same ailments. Not from lack of evidence or cases to study did this situation exist, but for a complex of reasons personal and general, ranging from the anxieties of the individual male observers all the way to the growth and perpetuation of a reliable economic and civil order in nineteenth century society -- the political and cultural imperative of a patriarchal structure in which the image of stability and dependability of the rational, clear-thinking male was assured."

In other words, because of cultural/social assumptions, professional physicians couldn't see what was right in front of them, or maybe inside them.

What does this have to do with medical marijuana? Consider the only sentence then-drug-czar Barry McCaffrey ever quoted from the 1999 Institute of Medicine report on medicine and marijuana he commissioned after California passed prop. 215 in 1996: "For those reasons [cannabinoids in marijuana smoke, uncertain delivery of predictable quantities of numerous compounds] there is little future in smoked marijuana as a medically approved medication." Gen. McCaffrey ignored the fact that the report went on to say that until alternative delivery systems were developed patients should be allowed to smoke.

I contend that while there's a modicum of science in such statements, it's mostly cultural conditioning. As I discuss at some length in my book, "Waiting to Inhale," the paradigm of modern medicine includes pills (or shots) that deliver precise doses of single molecules. Within that paradigm smoking an herb seems -- well, so primitive, so shaman or medicine-man-like, so everything we scientists in white coats have moved beyond. There's value in the quest of such precision. But the test of a medicine shouldn't be whether it can be prescribed in precise doses but whether it works. The objection to smoking is far more cultural than scientific or rational.

That's my 420 contribution.

Obama's boring Latin connection

In-the-tank Obamaites are just thrilled that Obama can apparently charm Latin American leaders while conservatives are beside themselves that he was gracious to Hugo Chavez, cordial to Evo Morales, and didn't say anything about Cuba's political prisoners. I think they're focused on the superficial. In my column this week I suggest that he is turning out to be just another liberal internationalist imperialist. Intriguing in some ways but when you get to policy virtually indistinguishable, beyond stylistic mannerisms, from most Democratic presidents sincve Truman. Nowhere near as dangerous as conservatives hope and nowhere near so hopey-changey as the left wishes.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Somali pirates: maybe nothing works?

I am almost convinced that Naval convoys are the best approach to the Somali pirates, though some have commented over at Orange Punch that they would be expensive and questioned whether that's the best use of naval resources. And now here's a dialogue on Bloggingheads TV between Dan Drezner of Tufts and Bob Farley of KY, which suggests maybe there is no good cost-effective solution. Here's a subsequent comment by Dan, and a piece from Foreign Policy magazine that goes through seven possible scenarios and concludes all would be less than optimal. So there's no solution? I still think a combination of arming commercial vessel crews and convoying them (you might not need warships) would at least reduce the incidence. But the point that it's hardly the most important ctisis around -- despite the compelling TV it made for a few days -- is worth considering also.

Not my favorite day

Some days just work out like that. We needed a screen door on our front door so we thought we would upgrade to a security door. Bought it yesterday and figured we'd install it today. Simple, right? A couple of hours tops? Not, it took us almost 45 minutes of tinkering and an online video from Home Depot to figure out where to put the first screws. After that it seemed as if it would be easy -- until we discovered our door opening was just about exactly a half-inch too wide to make the latch work. So off to Lowe's to find just the right size piece of wood -- and then we had to mortise out some of it and couldn't change bits on the router. Etc., etc. A real Murphy's Law project. Didn't even get to watch the Lakers and still don't know how the Angels did.

So it took forever, but we now have perhaps the most solid security door in captivity. The only problem is there is a big gap at the bottom where bugs and lizards could get through, so we can't use it a a screen door (solid door open to let the breeze through) until we beef up the threshhold. A project for another day.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Good luck, Mr. Gates

One hates to dismiss what looks to be a good-faith effort on the part of SecDef Robert Gates to push the defense budget toward slightly more sensible priorities and introduce some modest reforms in the procurement processes. As this Register editorial explains, however, SecDefs including Cheney and Rumsfeld have tried it before, and it just hasn't worked. The F-22 super-fighter he wants to phase out has subcontractors in 44 states -- concentrated even more in disricts of congresscritters with direct influence, like those on defense or appropriations committees. The Iron Traingles appear unbreakable.

When I was just a pup and my father worked for a defense contractor he got me a summer job two different years, including between high school and college. They did manage to build things eventually, but there were so many convoluted processes and procedures that it took forever. Everyopne who worked there knew about the inefficiencies and the more decent people complained and tried to do something about them. But the Defense Dept. and Navy had their ways and they stuck to them even whe everyone knew they were making things more expensive and less efficient. Things are much worse now.

The torture memos -- glad we know, but now what?

I still haven't read the four "torture" memos President Obama released on Thursday. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe even later tonight, though it's getting later and they don't strike me as cheeful bvedtime reading. Meantime, here's part of the post I did for the Register's Orange Punch blog, which includes links to the memos themselves if you're interested in downloading theem, and to quite a few comments from people who have read them:

The ACLU’s news release. A 8/8/02 memo from Jay Bybee (18 pp, pdf.). A 5/10/05 memo from Steven Bradbury (46 pp. pdf.). Another 5/10/05 memo from Steven Bradbury (20 pp, pdf.). A 5/30/05 memo from Steven Bradbury (40 pp., pdf.).

I’m not sure what to think about Obama/Holder’s announcement that there would be no further investigation/prosecution of CIA people who acted in good faith in reliance on the legal advice contained in these memos. You could argue that it’s like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commissions — better to get the truth out than to worry about prosecution. Or you could argue that failure to prosecute is justice denied. I can see a case either way.

I understand that some of this stuff is pretty graphic. Comments from people I generally respect here, here, here, and here. And from some I don’t respect so much here and here and here.

Iran convicts Roxana Saberi

I suppose there's at least some remote chance that Roxana Saberi, the young Iranian-American journalist working in Iran and arrested in January, actually was spying for the United States. She was just convicted of espionage and sentenced to 7 years. But I doubt it. I suspect that, as this now-apparently-pointless Register editorial suggested, that it had to do with looking hard-line and stirring up anti-American sentiment in advance of the June 12 election. Too bad. Sooner or later the U.S. and Iran are likely to have to come to some kind of terms -- assuming we aren't about to move into an era of strategic non-engagement, which might not be a bad thing but which I don't expect. But Iran keeps making it difficult.

Susan Boyle sings "Cry Me A River"

I'm assuming that if you're mildly sentient you have seen or come into contact with the YouTube of Susan Boyle singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Miserables" on "Britain's Got Talent." Of course I had intended to post it here days ago, before it went completely viral, but had other things to do. I did post it on the Register's Orange Punch blog.) I came home one evening last week and my wife said "I've found a song I want you to listen to." I said to myself, "When she's done I have one I want her to listen to." Turned out to be the same song.

Now a 10-year-old recording of her singing the old Julie London standard for some kind of charitable talent show in her little village. Turns out she had talent 10 years ago. Take a listen.

Pardon a personal touch. The Temecula Vintage Singers did a medley from "Les Miserables" a few years ago. Of course I didn't solo on that song, since it was a female solo. Did the 'bout-to-die' song. And more years ago that you want to know about, when I was in high school, playing in the dance band, our arrangement of "Cry Me a River" had a tenor sax solo on which, if I may say so, I wailed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Celebrating Yogi Berra

Before I shut down and get some shut-eye, I wanted to recommend this NYT article about the ineffable Yogi Berra, who at 83 threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium yesterday and is apparently as lively as ever. What a charming character he must be. And just my size. He's one of those people you think you know even though you've never met him, he's become such an American icon. I would love to visit the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center at Montclair State U. in New Jersey. Even better, I think, would be to talk to the man. He seems like somebody preserved largely to restore one's faith in humanity.

Family comes first

I had intentions of blogging fairly extensively last night, but after I called my son Steve to talk briefly, he called later and we stayed on the phone for almost three hours. He's 23 and has just bought his first house in Las Vegas -- something I hadn't even dreamed of doing at that age. He's excited about fixing it up to be as "green" as possible and maybe buying some more as investments so he can turn to doing things he really wants to do in the next few years. Am I inordinately proud of him? You bet! We'll be seeing him in a couple of weeks when I take my furlough -- another indicator of the sad financial shape the newspaper business is in these days -- but it was great to be able to talk to him so long this evening. Guess Obama's Latin American trip, correcting the record on how much U.S. guns (as compared to US drug policies) are contributing to the violence in Mexico, some of the music I've been listening to in the past several days and other topics might just have to wait for tonight.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Maybe convoys off Somalia

We suggested in the Register editorial that arming the crews of commercial ships might be useful -- though truth to tell it could have drawbacks, like higher insurance premiums and complications at ports in countries that apply strict gun laws to ships' crews. I'm beginning to think, in part due to this WSJ piece, that the most practical answer would be convoys. Some 100 ships a day pass through those waters (both ways) and if they convoyed with a few warships, they would probably discourage piracy pretty effectively. There would be complications there, too. They would have to travel at the speed of the slowest ships, which is not optimal for some. But it would be a chance for the French, British and Dutch as well as the US navies to show their mettle, something they would probably welcome.

Hijacking the Tea Parties

Here's a post I put up at the Register's Orange Punch blog today about the likelihood that what began as a libertarian idea was hijacked by establishment Republicans. A commenter asked why the antipathy to conservative Republicans. Well, not all, but most of them followed Bush blindly down the path to a needless war, violations of civil liberties and the biggest increase in domestic discretionary spending since LBJ. And they want us to take them seriously as advocates of limited government?

There has been a fair amount of grumping that today’s Tea Parties were originally the idea of various libertarian-oriented grassroots groups, many circling around Ron Paul’s candidacy, but that the idea was hijacked by more establishment-oriented Republican hacks as a way to try to demonstrate some kind of populist resistance to the Obama onslaught. To be sure, it is more than a little grotesque to see people like Newt Gingrich (the New Newt?), who lobbied his old buddies to get the Medicare Part D monstrosity passed, and Fox News lowlifes like Sean Hannity, who cheered Bush’s warmongering and overspending for eight years and denounced those who questioned the Holy Writ of Bushism as traitors as headliners at what are deemed to be anti-tax rallies. And it’s also the case that the rallies are being used a vehicles for anti-immigrant and anti-gay louts, people who question Obama’s citizenship and various other distasteful loonies who never questioned big spending during the Bush Ascendancy and still want to wage more wars overseas.

As a libertarian who has never been any kind of organizer, however, I have to say that insofar as this is the case, libertarians simply got out-organized. The Paulistas pioneered (well, the Deaniacs pioneered and the Paulistas took it to another level) Internet organizing, but the standard conservatives learned — and had the advantage of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Reynolds, Pajamas Media and other institutions to push it to a level the MSM had to notice.

I still don’t think this event will be enough to revive the conservative movement or the Republican Party. It’s still too unfocused. Look for more years wandering in the wilderness. Shucks, they may not even be ready when people finally figure out how counterproductive the Obama program is.

A tipping point on marijuana legalization?

Here's the piece I did for last Sunday's Register Commentary section, a piece of which I'm kinda proud in that it reflects quite a bit of thought, reading and telephone work. I'm planning to use some of what I couldn't get into the piece for a piece on the same subject for Liberty magazine.

It reflects my growing belief (though with some skepticism based on sad experience) that this country just might be on the verge of legalizing marijuana. Not next week or even next year. But the combination of a new administration which has taken a modestly less oppressive tack toward medical marijuana dispensaries, the violence in Mexico, and a few politicians touching the "third rail" and not getting electrocuted makes me believe, for the first time in years, that it is possible.

I talked to Dale Gieringer of Cal NORML, Allen St. Pierre of national NORML, Bruce Mirken and Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, and my old friend Judge Jim Gray. All agreed that the portents are more favorable now than at any time they can remember. I wasn't able to contact Loretta Sanchez, Linda Sanchez or Sen. Jim Webb, but I will, especially if I expand this research into a quick book, which is very much on my mind just now. Your thoughts?

How government caused the financial crisis

A few weeks ago I reviewed Thomas Woods' new book, "Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at How the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Bailouts Will Make Things Worse" which takes a fairly orthodox Austrian-school economics approach, arguing that the financial crisis was not only the creation of government, but it fits rather neatly into the Austrian business-cycle model, which holds (roughly and colloquially) that government central banks tend to inflate the money supply, which causes misallocation of investment which leads to a bubble that inevitably bursts. The essence is that boom-bust cycles are not an inherent feature of unregulated free-market capitalism, as most people believe, but are caused by the government intervention inherent in having central banks.

Now John Taylor, who is now at Stanford and the Hoover Institution, having also spent time in government, in Treasury under Bush 43, on the Council of Economic Advisers under Ford, Carter and Bush 41, and with the Congressional Budget Office, has published a short little book. He is widely respected -- almost revered -- as a technical whiz. He is generally a monetarist, having refined Milton Friedman's advice that if we're to have a Fed it should expand the money supply at a steady, predictable, formulaic rate into a more nuanced formula universally called the "Taylor rule."

The title of the book says it all: "Getting Off Track: How Government Actions and Interventions Caused, Prolonged, and Worsened the Financial Crisis." He argues that the Fed deviated from the Taylor rule from 2002 through 2006, expanding the money supply (cutting the interest rate) much more drastically than his rule would dictate, spoiling the Great Moderation that had prevailed from abut 1980 and creating the housing bubble and financial bubble.

So from two different theoretical perspectives, Woods and Taylor get almost the same conclusion: the Fed was the main (though not the only) culprit. Woods would abolish the Fed while Taylor would have it act more sensibly (which it certainly hasn't been doing). Both agree that what they're doing now is more of the same poison.

Just for a different take, here's a link to leftist Nation editor and trust-fund baby Katrina Vanden Heuvel's book, "Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover," which argues that it was capitalist greed and more government regulation is the answer.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thanks, Lew

Lew Rockwell at (of course, and always recommended) republished my piece on Easter, Passover, and triumph over earthly powers.

Good for the SEALs. Now what?

As this Register editorial argues, the Navy SEALs deserve the most significant credit for the successful end of the Somali pirate hostage situation, though President Obama seems to have handled his end of it rather well also. (I'm fascinated at the extreme partisanship we've slipped into an example being comments after this blog post in which people criticized me for criticizing Obama when I didn't criticize him at all. On both sides, either you've drunk the Kool-Aid or you're a traitor. I'm not sure where to place more responsibility; the right-radio people have been relentless and mostly focused on the trivial, but as I noted in this piece the Obamaniacs are something else as well.)

Don't know just what to do. The editorial suggests that commercial ships arm their crews for starters and see how that works out. Others suggest using convoys, which strikes me as pretty expensive but . . . And some think there will have to be raids on the onshore lairs of the pirates, but that would be more difficult than most advocates acknowledge or even imagine. The one problem with the way this incident turned out (besides encouraging the idea that the way out of problems is to kill our way out) is that it could encourage more magical thinking about the military.

Judge Gray doing the lord's legalization work

I'm listening to my old friend Judge James P. Gray offering, as he always does, a calm and reasoned argument for ending the drug war -- specifically endorsing Tom Ammiano's bill to legalize marijuana in California and treat it approximately the same as the govt. now treats alcohol -- on KFI 640. The host is Tim Conway Jr. Until a few weeks ago I didn't know there was a Junior, but he's been filling in on KFI and I find that I enjoy him, which I supposed is not surprising since I absolutely loved his father, one of the nonpariel comedians of our time.

It's interesting. Tim just identified himself as a vote-that-way-always Republican, but he is utterly enthusiastic about legalizing marijuana and predicts that it will be legal in a few years. Judge Gray makes the case that the harms of prohibition far exceed those of marijuana -- about as safe an assertion as can be imagined.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter and Passover: triumph over powers and principalities

There's something about Easter -- well actually the very essence of it -- that brings out the anarchist in me, as this editorial for the Register might suggest. After all, it's the ultimate triumph not only over death, but over the Roman state -- standing, in my mind, for the institution of the State itself -- which though it could get rid of Jesus and his radical ideas by killing him, which is the State's preferred modus operandi. Taken together with Passover, which celebrates the Henrews' liberation from yet another oppressive state, it suggests rather strongly to me that Yahweh/God is not well-disposed to human principalities and powers and would prefer that His children liberate themselves from them so they can give full allegiance to Him.

If you're interested in exploring such ideas further, I recommend Vernard Eller's landmark book, "Christian Anarchy," available for download. Jacques Ellul also had some remarkable insights. Worth pondering.

Obama loves that executive power

Here's a link to this week's column for, which goes into a little more detail on a subject I have raised before, the fact that Obama is exercising and apparently enjoying most of the expansions in executive power the Bushies championed during their time in power, from unwarranted wiretapping to the invocation of the "state secrets" doctrine in trials to prevent evidence of (Bush-era) excesses from coming out in public to the apparent determination to make Bagram prison in Afghanistan the new Guantanamo, where anybody the president or the military likes can be imprisoned indefinitely without charges or habeas corpus rights. Fortunately the judicial branch is pushing back a bit on some of these excesses.

During the Bush years I used to tell conservatives that they wouldn't feel so complacent about the expansion of executive power once it was in the hands of a Democrat -- though for most of those years I tended to invoke Hillary Clinton. I think perhaps that Obama is even more philosophically well-disposed toward virtually unaccountable executive power even than Bush was. After all, he wants to remake the health-care and energy sectors and the entire economy along"green" lines, and it will take a heap of power to even begin to think about doing that.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Obama wallowing in executive power

I'm pleased that at least a few commentators are noticing that Barack Obama, as predicted here long ago, is more than pleased to use all the excess executive powers Bush grabbed and more, from warrantless wiretapping to extraordinary rendition (begun by Clinton) to wanting to deny habeas corpus to detainees to invoking the dubious state secrets privilege in trials. At least Bruce Fein, Glenn Greenwald and Scott Horton are on the case. Hope all those conservatives who defended Bush's power-grabs are happy.

Passover and international relations

Dan Drezner of Tufts and Foreign Policy magazine has a fascinating post suggesting lessons in international relations that can be gleaned from the Passover story. In brief: minority rights are always fragile in an autocratic regime, sanctions hardly ever work, God isn't much of a bargainer, and the U.S. sugar program is bad news for Jews.

I take a somewhat different lesson, some of which will be included in the Register's Easter editorial. It seems to me that God (Yahweh) holds autocratic, oppressive regimes -- and maybe all instances of men ruling over other men (and women) in deep repugnance, and wants His people out from under human repression. Given that most people who count themselves religious can't wait to nuzzle up the the State and other Powers and Principalities of this world, it strikes me that God hasn't gotten through to them very effectively yet. Guess it's a long process.

AfPaks just want more

At a forum in Washington, the ambassadors to the US from Afghanistan appeared together and agreed on one thing: they want the U.S. government to send more of everything. More troops, more money, more school construction, more training, more weapons, more aid, ad infinitum. Nice try, Obama, but no cigar. Our needs will be endless as long as you decide the U.S. has to be the one that confronts the various bad guys on the ground. We;'ll never be satisfied.

I wonder just when the world will begin to understand that Uncle Sugar is not only out of money but deeply, deeply in debt and going further into debt by the millisecond. China, which is holding so much of that debt, is starting to get worried, but other countries seem to think the basket of bounty is bottomless. Well, as long as U.S. leaders keep acting as if they can just keep on spending endlessly, perhaps you can't blame them.

Angels win one for Nick

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart's death resonated so deeply around the country. When a 22-year-old is cut down by a drunk driver after pitching six scoreless innings that showed he belonged in the Show and likely to have a long and successful career (he was shaky and sent down to Triple A last year), it's just too poignant not to touch peoples' hearts. It's almost too much to imagine what his father must have gone through, although it was chronicled from the outside. We took a vacation from politics and wrote an editorial about his death and other recent deaths in Orange County, and it got 1,000 more hits online than editorials usually get.

So it was nice to see the Angels win tonight, behind a splendid 6-2/3 innings from Jered Weaver, one of the Angels' other fine young pitchers, and against the Nemesis Boston Red Sox. But win or lose, you could tell it was an emotional evening.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Interview on Antiwar Radio

It has come to my attention that I never did put in a link to my interview last month with Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio on the prime responsibility of the insane War on Drugs for the violence that is plaguing Mexico just now and leaking into the United States. I've been doing research for a piece that will be in the Register's Sunday Commentary section this coming Sunday, and I'm convinced that real progress on ending this self-defeating policy is possible in the foreseeable future. But it will take a while and we have a lot of work to do.

Opposing the Afghan war

Typically, this list of 10 things to do to oppose the Afghan war -- originally from the Nation and cross-posted at Alternet -- doesn't acknowledge the work done and the articles written by people at (which, by the way is an excellent foreign affairs news site independently of the opinions expressed), including me (repeatedly) and Justin Raimondo, although we try to acknowledge what our friends on the left are doing. My experience has been that people on the left, for the most part, prefer not to even try to enter into coalition with libertarians on issues of common interest, or even to acknowledge that libertarians exist. That makes me wonder if they really want to prevent or end wars, or if they're content to have them continue, giving them issues to complain about. I'm not a movement person or an organizer but a writer, but I would dearly love to see somebody with organizing skills try to get all the elements of the antiwar persuasion together on occasion and try to do something effective without too much sniping at one another.

The other side of piracy

Obviously, there's no justification for the extent of the piracy that is going on off the coast of Somalia, but there are aspects of the situation that haven't received as much attention as perhaps they might deserve. It didn't begin in a vacuum. According to several stories in fairly reputable journals, once the Somali state fell apart (which wasn't perhaps such a tragedy as it is generally considered in some ways), foreign fishing vessels started appearing off their shores and soon had come close to exhausting the fishing grounds ($300 million worth a year) on which Somali fishermen had depended. There are allegations that vessels also dumped waste, including nuclear waste, such that people living along the shore got sick and a bunch of barrels were washed up after the 2005 tsunami.

Word is that the Somalis (at least some of them) consider the foreigners wrecking their coastal waters the real pirates and those we call pirates simply locals trying to get some compensation. There's a good deal of self-justification in that of course, and I wouldn't go so far as to endorse the piracy, much of which is surely motivated mostly by greed and opportunism. And I surely hope the captain is released and those responsible for boarding the ship punished. And it seems likely that old customs will soon have to change and weapons issued on commercial vessels that go through those waters.

Prosecutorial misconduct all too common

It was almost serendipity that various interests came together in a way that led to former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens having his corruption convictions set aside. Besides the FBI agents (there are some decent ones) deciding to snitch on the prosecutors, whose conduct does look (pending further investigation) intentional and beyond the pale, Eric Holder had motive as well. He obviously wants to let the Justice Dept. know there's a new sheriff in town, and by doing it in a way that sets aside the conviction of a senator from the other party, he creates the impression of integrity.

Of course Ted Stevens, who would likely have narrowly won reelection without the conviction a few days earlier, is out his senate seat, but the corrupt SOB (the worst corruption in politics is that which is open and legal and this guy was an unabashed porker who bragged about it) deserved it. When I was in Washington in the 1970s a friend of mine went to work for him and he used to tell me stories about just how shamelessly Stevens went after federal money back then for any project that could enhance his standing and career in Alaska.

As this Register editorial notes, however, prosecutorial misconduct is much more common than we ever know about. Prosecutors are judged by their wins, and they cut corners all the time. Not sure I have a solution, except perhaps to go after them personally (which almost never happens even when it's uncovered and disbar them or charge them criminally. But the "justice" system is such an inbred fraternity that seems unlikely too unless somebody has more to gain by looking honest, as Holder did in this instance.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Undermining contracts, undermining trust

An interesting recent NYT piece noting that "Contracts are everywhere under assault." The AIG contracts looked so outrageous that Congress thought nothing of deciding to mess with them. Union contracts with the auto industry are in danger. One can understand the impulse, perhaps, but the Constitution forbids the government to impair the obligation of contracts for good reason (although bankruptcy laws, enacted in the early 1800s and more controversial at the time than the history books tell us, for precisely that reason, do undermine contracts already). Contracts and agreements are the sinews of trust among people who may not have the bonds of kinship or clan to fall back on, and therefore an important underpinning of a civil society. If contracts are subject to revision by force by a third party that wasn't even part of the original agreement, it's hard to have a functioning market economy. Undermining contracts is hardly a way to facilitate an economic recovery.

Democrats spoiling some of the Obama agenda

We're beginning to see at least some emergence of the "blue dog" moderate and conservative Democrats offering some resistance to the Obama agenda. (The Republicans, as some talking head I listened to bleary-eyed some weeks ago said, are like eunuchs at a Playboy Mansion party; they can observe the goings-on and offer the occasional critique, but can't really do much about it.) It's unlikely "card check" is going to get done, it's unlikely any more serious gun control legislation is in the cards, cap-and-trade is probably dead for now, and serious movement toward more government-controlled health care may be in jeopardy.

Jonathan Chait, in a recent lengthy article in the New Republic, deplores all this foot-dragging by certain Democrats and offers an elaborate explanation involving the fact that the Democrats' long domination of Congress came at a time when Democrats were divided between northern liberals and southern conservatives, they absorbed the compromise culture of Congress so they've never developed the kind of iron discipline the Republicans supposedly have displayed in recent years. Yadda yadda.

The hypothesis he doesn't even consider is that a lot of the districts the Democrats took to garner their majority are conservative and/or rural districts that would only elect relatively conservative Democrats, especially on gun issues. The relatively recent arrivals have to look to reelection and don't want to alienate their constituents or give the Republicans a chance to win those districts back, so they're most unlikely to march in lockstep to the kind of liberal-statist agenda Chait would prefer. But without them, the Democrats probably wouldn't have majorities, or such big majorities, and chances of enacting anything of the liberal agenda would be close to nil, regardless of who held the White House. Chait's frustration is that there just aren't enough districts willing to elect people who think like him, but he doesn't seem to want to acknowledge that.

That earthquake in Italy

Anybody who lives in Southern California, where the so-called experts who really don't know much if you try to pin them down have been predicting the Big One any year now, has to have a certain degree of empathy when we hear about an earthquake in another part of the world. That it should happen in Italy, in the Abruzzo region, so close to the 1915 earthquake that scarred (or at least imprinted) the life of the great novelist Ignazio Silone seems, as this Register editorial notes, especially piquant. My wife and I had hoped to visit Italy this year (though we were thinking more Tuscany than Abruzzo), but with the uncertainty in the newspaper business it's probably not going to happen.

This is an example of the kind of "obligatory" editorial that you simply have to do for a general-circulation newspaper, even though there's no particular issue or principle involved. I think it's something of a test to be able to make them have a little style and not just sound like a rote expression of sadness. See what you think, and let me know.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Give North Korea the South Park treatment

The fuss-and-feathers over North Korea launching a failed missile test is fascinating but a little disconcerting. Our Big Thinkers keep trying to conjure existential threats from failed and failing pipsqueak regimes. I still think the provocative bits of bravado from the Hermit Kingdom are calls gfor attention whose ultimate purpose is to end the regime's isolation. So give them diplomatic recognition and a guarantee that the U.S. will never invade, which would be as loony a step as one can imagine, accompanied by a horselaugh at the regime's inability to feed itself, let alone build a workable missile. Maybe we could ask for a translation of the songs praising little KimJong Il from the phantom satellite. If it has to be accompanied by a stern lecture about not testing our patience with laughable attempts at modern weapons, so be it.

Iraq situation getting more dicey

Despite President Obama's expression of optimism on his trip to Baghdad -- guess he has taken full ownership of the war now -- things are starting to crumble there. In my column this week for, I note discontent and more among the Sunni Awakening forces and the lack still of a real political resolution. It may be that Iraq is not meant to have a central government that isn't ruthless and repressive. Ivan Eland's new book, "Partitioning for Peace," is looking more and more constructive. Possibly the last best hope.

Lift the Cuban embargo already

President Obama has announced that he will lift some of the restrictions on travel to Cuba and remittances from Americans to Cubans. This is a nice step, supported by a call from GOP Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana. But it's too timid by half. Why not, as this Register editorial argues, lift the trade embargo on Cuba and be done with it? The embargo obviously hasn't worked, as Castro has outlasted 10 American presidents, and lifting it would be a free-trade-friendly step. It would also be much more effective as a way to encourage liberalization of Cuba -- not guaranteed (freer trade hasn't liberated China yet), but much more like to be useful than an almost 50-year embargo that has reinforced rather than weakened the dictatorship in Cuba. Here's Castro's reply, or the reply of somebody writing for Castro.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Drug reform chances better than at any time in memory

I've been talking at some length to various figures in the drug law reform movement for the last couple of days for an article I'm preparing for next Sunday's Commentary section of the Register, and almost everybody agrees that the chances for significant reform are better than at almost any time anybody can remember. It seems only peripherally related to Obama, and it's worth noting that what Obama has done so far -- promised to stop DEA raids on dispensaries in states with medical marijuana laws and appointing the Seattle police chief, who has not actively resisted reform as drug czar -- has been exceedingly modest. Yet there's apparently a pent-up demand for serious reform that was essentially kept muted as simply impossible to consider during the Clinton and Bush years, when only fanatic drug warriors held positions of influence. And the discussion has moved quickly beyond medicalization and decriminalization to legalization. As Dale Gieringer, head of Cal NORML, told me, it surprised even him -- although he still thinks it will take years just to get marijuana legal. But I'm starting to see light at the end of the drug war tunnel.

So the Knights Templar dunnit

Here's an interesting story suggesting that the Knights Templar, a militant order eventually banned for heresy by the Vatican (and the subject of all kinds of conspiratorial speculations to this day) his the Shroud of Turin, the linen cloth that supposedly wrapped Jesus' body after the crucifixion and does seem to bear the image of a much-wounded body, for more than a century after the crusades, from about 1204 (sack of Constantinople) to the middle of the 14th century.

Not out of the woods in Iraq

As noted in this Register editorial from last week, Obama didn't even get a question in his recent news conference about Iraq, so far out of the public mind has it become since the violence seemed to subside over the past year (though it was never at what you would call a really low level). The last couple of weeks, however, have featured tensions that have been bubbling beneath the surface coming up in sad fashion. First the Shia-dominated government, which never really trusted the Sunni Awakening fighters the U.S. paid (a more important development than the U.S. "surge" by a long shot) has hired only 5% of them for the central government security forces (or should that be thug forces?). Then they arrested a Sunni leader (who may well be a crook), which started a riot/mutiny/whatever in Bghdad.

I've just started Ivan Eland's new book, "Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq," but so far it makes a strong case that the least-worst approach would be a weak confederation government and strong local autonomy for the Shia, Sunni and Kurds -- in effect a partition of the country to minimize violence. It's an attarctive idea. At various times over the course of the war I have been almost convinced that various neighborhoods and cities were just too mixed to make partitioning practical, but at this point partition may be the only practical approach.

No surprise in Detroit

I was rooting for Michigan State, not only because it fits my atavistic approach to sports -- if it's not UCLA or a UCLA connection (or the Lakers or the Angels or the Dodgers) root for the most westerly or southerly team -- but because one of our readers who calls fairly often went to Michigan State and I wanted it for him. But when I saw North Carolina dismantle Villanova on Saturday (I was hoping for a different outcome since Villanova beat UCLA) I figured it had to be a long shot. But I didn't expect the kind of out-of-the-box dominance North Carolina displayed.

Give Michigan State some credit. They didn't give u8p and on a points basis they actually won the second half. But there was no way they were going to beat North Carolina tonight. They're just too good. Congratulations.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Buy the new Pelosi-Mobile

A Register reader sent us the link to this hilarious car commercial satire. A sign of things to come? Very well-done and very funny. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Taxing the poor -- of course

I posted this on the Register's Orange Punch blog, and thought you might like to read it here:

Apparently Calvin Woodward of the AP hasn’t drunk the kool-aid. Here’s a fairly hard-hitting story on how the new federal tax on cigarettes, another 62 cents a pack, bringing the total to $1.01 (a whole lot more than Big Tobacco makes), which goes into effect today, will hit lower-income people disproportionately. He even runs down the specific campaign pledge Obama is breaking with this tax, to wit:

“I can make a firm pledge,” he said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12. “Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.”

Of course a higher proportion of lower-income Americans than higher-income Americans smoke cigarettes, and a tax like this hits lower-income people harder than it hits those higher-income people who do still smoke.

The story doesn’t address the contradiction at the heart of higher tobacco taxes. They’re touted as an inducement to get people to quit, but the government counts on people not to quit so they can grab the additional money pledged — disproportionately from the poor — to fund new programs the politicoes will never want to cut back.

Don't censor "Hillary: The Movie"

The Supreme Court heard a case last week that just might give it the vehicle to gut the misnamed campaign "reform" law known as McCain-Feingold. That law, you might remember, prohibits independent expenditures by corporations (including non-profits) and unions from advocating for or against a candidate within 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election. As this Register editorial explains, that's precisely the time when speech should be the most free.

The case involved a flick produced by the conservative group Citizens United called "Hillary: The Movie," which from all reports (I haven't seen it) was about as objective as one of Michael Moore's mockumentaries. The group wanted to show it on cable and on-demand during the primaries, but the FEC enjoined it and CU appealed. During oral arguments, in response to questiuoning, the govt. lawyers suggested that perhaps books could be banned if they were produced with corporate funds. That seemed to shock the justices. I hope they invalidate the entire law. Require full disclosure of who is giving money and how much, in real time on the Internet, and let voters decide whether such donations should affect the way they vote. The electyion process is supposed to be the way the people control the state, but instead it's become another way for the state to control the people.

Arab summit fails -- spare the crocodile tears

Well, at least the G-20 summiteers made nice and pretended to appreciate one another, even if (thankfully) they weren't able to get together very effectively on new ways to oppress us with less and less accountable international institutions. At the Arab Summit in Doha, they weren't able to achieve even that. Hosni Mubarak didn't even show up, for the second summit in a row. Nothing was accomplished and it ended a day early.

Again, shed no tears. The idea of Arab summits and some kind of common Arab agenda is a bit of nostalgia that should have gone out with Nasser. These countries share a language (though dozens of dialects) a nominal religion (with several sects) and little else. There's little reason for them to have a common agenda, except perhaps to be concerned if Iran gets out of hand, which it isn't, no matter how hard the neocons try to convince us it's an existential threat. It's neighbors, who would be actually threatened if anybody were, think they know how to contain it, and they get together enough to make sure that's still the case, Otherwise, summitry is mostly gesture.

Overhyping the Summit

I'm not sure whether it was superstition about April Fool's Day or the reputed worm that led me not to blog yesterday, but there it is. I did, however, clean up my home office to the point that I can actually see the surface of my work table, and I organized some reading material for my book. So it was hardly a lost evening.

I understand that this is Barack Obama's first overseas trip, so to some extent all the hype and overcoverage, whether about giving the queen an iPod or Michelle's many dresses, is understandable. But truth to tell, aside from the business of other presidents getting a chance to interact with the new POTUS personally, and maybe a bit here and there behind the scenes, little was likely to emerge from the vaunted G-20 meeting, as this Register editorial on the previous day suggested. To be sure, there was a wan agreement from all the high-tax bullies on trying to discourage countries from being tax havens, a terrible idea. As for more substantive agreement, thank goodness it wasn't really there, -- no new international regulatory body -- aside from some inflationary spending. Yes, we came a little closer to a new one-world order, but not as close as they might have liked. The continentals resisted the pressure to spend more than a token on a "stimulus" package. All in all, nowhere near as disastrous a group photo-op as it might have been, despite the brave words. The upshot will be less (note the date on the link) than they're bragging about, which is good for the world.