Bummer Of A Side Effect, Pal

Two new studies on marijuana may provide a stumbling block for legalization activists. ABC News reports that British and American researchers have found evidence that THC, one of the two active ingredients in cannabis, provoke psychotic reactions even in healthy people. How will this impact the legalization argument? I discuss that at Heading Right this morning, and with any luck, my co-bloggers and I will give new meaning to the term “talking heads” as we debate this topic.

Newsflash: Gonzales Delegated Authority

As CQ readers know, I think Alberto Gonzales has proven himself an incompetent Attorney General, and would do this administration a huge favor by resigning — especially after his disastrous testimony before Congress in April. His continued presence enables every new significant detail in the firings of eight US Attorneys to become a major media sensation. That said, I’m hard pressed to find the scandal in the latest revelation by the National Journal’s Murray Waas, who breathlessly informs us that Gonzales delegated hiring and firing decisions for non-civil service positions to his aides (via Memeorandum):

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales signed a highly confidential order in March 2006 delegating to two of his top aides — who have since resigned because of their central roles in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys — extraordinary authority over the hiring and firing of most non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department. A copy of the order and other Justice Department records related to the conception and implementation of the order were provided to National Journal.
In the order, Gonzales delegated to his then-chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, and his White House liaison “the authority, with the approval of the Attorney General, to take final action in matters pertaining to the appointment, employment, pay, separation, and general administration” of virtually all non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department, including all of the department’s political appointees who do not require Senate confirmation. Monica Goodling became White House liaison in April 2006, the month after Gonzales signed the order.
The existence of the order suggests that a broad effort was under way by the White House to place politically and ideologically loyal appointees throughout the Justice Department, not just at the U.S.-attorney level. Department records show that the personnel authority was delegated to the two aides at about the same time they were working with the White House in planning the firings of a dozen U.S. attorneys, eight of whom were, in fact, later dismissed.

It’s important to note that the authority to hire and fire did not apply to careerists at Justice. The order specified that Sampson and Goodling only had that authority over non-civil service positions — essentially, the political appointees, which would include the USAs. Somehow, Waas wants to make a scandal that politically-connected senior staff members directly serving the AG could have hired and fired people in political positions, but that hardly rates as a scandal.
That authority already rests with the Attorney General. No one really believes that the AG makes all these decisions personally. Even without such an order, Cabinet officials delegate the nuts and bolts of those decisions to senior staff members. Even the President does this with his own appointees. Does anyone really believe that George Bush or Bill Clinton personally vetted each appointee or conducted his own personnel evaluations for all of his staff members?
The order as executed required Sampson and Goodling to get the approval of Gonzales for any terminations or hiring. That makes the order a non-issue, regardless of how many ways Waas can describe its “confidential” nature. Should Gonzales have mentioned this order during the Congressional hearings? Yes, and that’s perhaps the only valid criticism of the piece, but I’d challenge each of the Senators to swear under oath that they conduct all of the hiring and firing of non-civil service employees in their own offices before enabling their outrage.
Robert Litt confirms to Waas that the Clinton White House made most of the hiring decisions of non-civil service jobs at Justice during their term. He criticizes Gonzales for allowing two unqualified people to make those decisions in this case, but not the process itself, which is what Waas wants to make the issue. If Sampson and Goodling didn’t have the experience or the expertise for this responsibility, that speaks to competence, not to scandal, however.
I have no problem with criticism about Gonzales’ competence. Waas wants to make this into another accusation of near law-breaking, which is laughable.

Fred Doesn’t Chase The Gray Ladies, Though

The New York Times finally weighs in on Fred Thompson, the conservative hope for the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, and they hit below the belt. Actually, that’s true literally but not figuratively, as their profile actually remains balanced and positive, with the one exception about discussing his personal life between marriages:

Making speeches at carefully chosen appearances, doing an occasional interview and fielding questions from Republican congressmen, Mr. Thompson, 64, is running something of a guerrilla exploratory effort. He even weighed in recently on a conservative blog to offer a detailed defense of his ideas on federalism.
Behind the scenes, Mr. Thompson has been consulting with his inner circle — including former Senators Bill Frist and Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee and experienced Washington aides like Mark Corallo, a former Justice Department official — about how he could pull together the money and staff he would need to run. …
Mr. Thompson’s disclosure that he was treated for lymphoma was seen as more evidence of presidential preparation. And at a private meeting a few weeks ago with House Republicans, he answered questions about his reputation as a man about town during his eight years in the Senate, a period when he was single after his divorce from his first wife. Mr. Thompson was asked bluntly if any activities from his first marriage or his time in the Senate would come back to haunt him or his backers.
According to those attending, Mr. Thompson assured them there were no problems, but conceded that when he was single, “I chased girls and girls chased me.” Mr. Thompson is since remarried, and he and his wife, Jeri, have two young children.

That seems like a perfunctory question, especially in this primary race, where the only man in the top tier with one wife is the Mormon. The frontrunner spent part of his time as Mayor of New York as the unabashed star of a domestic soap opera, changing wives in a relentlessly covered story. The other Great Conservative Hope, Newt Gingrich, also has a notable problem with his marital status and fidelity issues.
Still, Fred managed to make it an opportunity to continue his charm offensive. A straightforward answer like, “I chased the girls and the girls chased me,” will appeal to everyone except ardent feminists who recoil at his use of the word “girls”. It’s honest and blunt without being ungentlemanly — a courtly way of saying that he enjoyed his years of middle-aged bachelorhood.
Some of this report gets sillier, though. The New York Times asks in all earnestness whether Thompson’s appearances on “Law & Order” re-runs will create “equal time issues” in the coming campaign. That’s quite a reach. No one demanded that television stations embargo Bedtime for Bonzo or Cattle Queen of Montana during his run for the presidency, just as no stations refrained from airing The Last Action Hero when Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for Governator. (We may have hoped they’d embargo them, but no such luck.) “Equal time” refers to actual campaign coverage, not entertainment shows, and one would think that the New York Times would understand that.
Other than that, the report takes a good lool at Thompson’s assets and liabilities. For the latter, they mention but do not dwell on his reputation for preferring investigations to legislation, not surprising given his background as an reforming investigative attorney. The Times also mentions Thompson’s support for McCain-Feingold, which has some conservatives concerned about Fred. He has indicated that he’s rethinking that support; potential backers will want to hear more. Some also question Thompson’s draw outside the South, but as the boomlet has shown, that seems to be much less of a worry now.
Fred won’t be included in Thursday’s debate, but his shadow will loom large over it. Even the Gray Lady looks willing to chase Thompson for a while, even if Fred doesn’t have an inclination to return the favor.

AQI Leader Killed?

That’s right, put a big fat question mark at the end of that sentence, because so far the only source on record for that assertion comes from the Iraqi Interior Ministry, which has a track record of overenthusiasm with kill reports. Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the successor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, reportedly died in a battle today with other insurgents:

The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, was killed on Tuesday in an internal fight between insurgents, the Interior Ministry spokesman said, but the U.S. military said it could not confirm the report.
Spokesman Brigadier-General Abdul Kareem Khalaf told Reuters: “We have definite intelligence reports that al Masri was killed today.” He said the battle happened near a bridge in the small town of al-Nibayi, north of Baghdad.
Another source in the ministry said Masri had been killed in what he described as “probably score-settling within al Qaeda itself.”
Both Khalaf and the ministry source said the authorities did not have Masri’s body, but the source added “our people had seen the body.”

They’ve seen the body, but they haven’t performed the DNA check yet. That recalls the situation in February, when the Iraqi Interior Ministry claimed to have captured al-Masri, and later turned out to be wrong. Presumably, someone saw a live “body” that time, too.
When will we know for sure? When the American military announces it, we can rely on the information, and not before. However, if it turns out to be true, it will show just how badly the tables have turned on AQI. We captured the man who would have replaced al-Masri last year, captured 17 of their people just three days ago, and now possibly have found the body of al-Masri himself. The means of his death will send a message to AQI from the Iraqi people, and I guarantee the last word will be Off.
That’s if this is al-Masri. I’m willing to wait for the official scorer to count the goal.

Chavez Bails Out Of The World Banking System

Hugo Chavez announced last night that Venezuela would withdraw from both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Claiming that Western financial assistance prolongs poverty rather than relieve it, he demanded that the two organizations return Venezuelan assets. At the same time, Chavez has proceeded to seize oil-production facilities from Western corporations, primarily those based in the US:

President Hugo Chavez announced Monday he would formally pull Venezuela out of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, a largely symbolic move because the nation has already paid off its debts to the lending institutions.
“We will no longer have to go to Washington nor to the IMF nor to the World Bank, not to anyone,” said the leftist leader, who has long railed against the Washington-based lending institutions.
Chavez said he wanted to formalize Venezuela’s exit from the two bodies “tonight and ask them to return what they owe us.”

Chavez aims to pressure the US out of Latin America — and he has a partner in mind for that project. His seizure of oil-production assets is part of his plan to isolate the US economically, and Chavez wants China to take our place. The Wall Street Journal reports that the self-proclaimed Venezuelan “Maoist” plans to use the seized projects to create a partnership with China to exploit the Orinoco River region (subscription required):

Since becoming president in 1999, Mr. Chávez has tried to use oil as a political weapon against the U.S. In recent years, he has doled out cut-rate supplies to dozens of Latin American countries to buy support. Increasingly, he is using oil to support the U.S.’s economic rivals like China and political rivals like Iran.
In late March, Mr. Chávez unveiled a raft of proposed oil-related deals with China valued at about $13 billion. Under terms of the prospective deals, China National Petroleum Corp. would develop, together with state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the biggest chunk yet of Venezuela’s Orinoco River region — the same area where Mr. Chávez is nationalizing the Western companies’ projects. Oil produced there would then be ferried to China in a new, joint “super fleet” of tankers, and processed there at three new refineries built to handle Orinoco heavy crude.
The Venezuelan leader’s goal is to supply China with one million barrels a day by 2012, up from 150,000 barrels a day. While many analysts doubt Mr. Chávez’s ability to deliver on his promises, Venezuela’s exports to China have grown quickly, from 12,000 barrels a day in 2003. Meanwhile, with oil production falling and China’s share rising, exports to the U.S. fell 8.2% in 2006 from 2005, and Nigeria has replaced Venezuela as the U.S.’s fourth biggest source of crude oil after Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

Some analysts believe that Chavez may have reserves in Orinoco that rival Saudi Arabia’s fields. If so, the Chinese have made a valuable partner, and not just strategically. They need a heavy and immediate infusion of oil in order to keep their economic growth, and the capital that the Chinese create with it will benefit Chavez. It could make him the most powerful man in the southern hemisphere and realize his dream of providing an opposite pole from the US in Latin America.
If so, Chavez will have to become more adept at actual production, and these recent moves will not help. With his seizures, he has effectively removed Exxon, Conoco-Phillips, Mobil, Britain’s BP, France’s Total, and Norway’s Statoil — a bit of a surprise, as Norway seems socialist enough to satify Chavez. In their place will come partnerships between Venezuela’s PVDSA and Vietnam, Iran, Brazil, and China as mentioned earlier. He will need the help. Since 1999, production has dropped almost 25% in Venezuela, and unless Chavez can restore production, the Orinoco fields won’t do him or China much good.
PVDSA, in the words of the WSJ, functions more as a poverty-alleviating bureaucracy than an oil-production company. Chavez keeps promising new refineries at home and abroad, but they have yet to materialize. Now that he has chased the proven production capabilities of Western companies out of Venezuela, he may be hard pressed to even meet his current level of production. Chavez also faces another kind of problem in production costs; his oil is more expensive to pump and to refine than Saudi and African oil. If oil prices remain high, Chavez will have money to burn — but if they fall, he will lose his shirt to the Saudis.
Perhaps the US should consider more domestic development simply as a financial cushion against the mercurial Chavez. The more oil we leave on the market, the lower the prices will go — and the quicker Chavez will have to account for his new socialist policies and inadequate talents.
UPDATE: Has even Hollywood given up on Chavez?

McCain Ditching The UN?

File this one under Conservative Red Meat — John McCain wants to form a League of Democracies to take action when the UN fails to do so. Warning that the US has to find a global structure for its security policies, McCain told a Stanford University audience that lasting peace comes from spreading freedom:

Republican presidential candidate John McCain envisions a “League of Democracies” as part of a more cooperative foreign policy with U.S. allies.
The Arizona senator will call for such an organization to be “the core of an international order of peace based on freedom” in a speech Tuesday at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
“We Americans must be willing to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies,” McCain says, according to excerpts his campaign provided. “Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom, knowledge and resources necessary to succeed.”
“To be a good leader, America must be a good ally,” he adds in the speech, another in a series of policy addresses as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination.

McCain apparently did not say that his League would replace the UN; in fact, he said that the League would act when the UN would not. That would mean an end to the UN in all practical terms, however, since a parallel League of Democracies that actually acted in defense of freedom and liberty would get most of the political attention from its members.
If McCain didn’t explicitly argue that the League would replace the UN, it sounded as though it would have the same missions as Turtle Bay. He envisioned the League as handling the Darfur crisis, helping with AIDS abatement in Africa, and free trade for democratic nations, especially struggling new democracies. He also pointed out that it would not require the approval of Moscow or China to impose economic sanctions on nations like Iran, a point that conservatives would no doubt appreciate.
It sounds like a good idea, but in reality would go almost nowhere. Our democratic allies unfortunately still prefer the UN, although nations like Australia might prefer an Anglosphere alliance instead. France, Germany, and even Britain would not leave Turtle Bay. They might consider joining a League of Democracies, but they would not put the League above the UN, which they consider the highest global authority.
Let’s face it — even if we could convince France and Germany to join such an organization, would it do any good? Both nations violated the sanctions regime against Saddam Hussein, and France participated in the Oil for Food corruption scandal almost as much as Russia. The biggest problems in the UN relate to the kleptocracies and dictatorships that comprise the majority of its membership, but some of the democracies don’t behave, either. And a sanctions regime that didn’t include Moscow and China, and relied on the constancy and honor of the French, would have no hope of succeeding against Iran, North Korea, or anyone else.
The problem that McCain rightly perceives isn’t just the UN itself, but the composition of the global community. The UN is a corrupt, unresponsive, and impotent bureaucracy because it reflects the character of its membership. The notion that we should consider this a super-sovereign parliament is absurd, as is the notion of replacing it with another of the same kind. If McCain wants to truly do something radical, he should jettison the entire notion of global organizations and simply pledge to form coalitions based on mutual goals and approaches based on shared interests on particular issues — which is how nations conducted diplomacy for millenia prior to 1945.
UPDATE: Jules Crittenden calls it A League That Could Meet In A Broom Closet. Well, okay, if you want to use technical terms …