Just a little something to do on a Friday morning. Ice on the puddles in the background.

St. Crispin’s Day

This is what happens when you don’t pay enough attention to your calendar. I almost missed St. Crispin’s Day.

And Crispine Crispian shall ne’re goe by,
From this day to the ending of the World,
But we in it shall be remembred;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers:
For he to day that sheds his blood with me,
Shall be my brother: be he ne’re so vile,
This day shall gentle his Condition.
And Gentlemen in England, now a bed,
Shall thinke themselues accurst they were not here;
And hold their Manhoods cheape, whiles any speakes,
That fought with vs vpon Saint Crispines day.

Henry V, William Shakespeare

Smoke ‘Em If You Gotta

A quarter of a century ago, the state of Oregon was in an economic hole. It was the midst of what I’ve always throught of as the First Reagan Recession, areas of the state had unemployment rates unseen since the Great Depression (and some have never really recovered).

Gambling’s always had its place in Oregon, but until the 1980s it was mostly conducted out of sight, as it was in much of the rest of the country. That all changed with the creation of the Oregon Lottery, which was pitched in those dark times as a way to capture money people would otherwise spend on gambling and funnel a portion of it to the state for economic development.

Since then the lottery has grown from scratch card games to sports betting to video poker and slots, making the state more than $600 million a year (with an equivalent amount being paid out in winnings). Far from being something that people did on the sly, the public benefits of gambling can now be celebrated on TV, billboards, at the counters of grocery stores, and on the front page of the paper. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko — another ’80s icon — Gambling is Good.

I figure once Measure 50, the tobacco tax that’s being promoted as a way to expand health care for uninsured children and something I think everyone in the state ought to be paying for, is approved by the electorate, the cigarette companies will just find a way around the restrictions on advertising tobacco products. The anticipated rise in cost is only expected to reduce overall smoking by a few percent.

A report from Tobacco Free Kids — a supporter of Measure 50 — has some of the rationale for what this tax is really about (my italics):

The New Revenues from Raising Oregon’s Cigarette Tax Rate will be Stable and Predictable for Years to Come

Year to year, state cigarette tax revenues are more predictable and less volatile than many other state revenue sources, such as state income tax or corporate tax revenues, which can vary considerably year to year because of nationwide recessions or state economic slowdowns. In sharp contrast, large drops in cigarette tax revenue from one year to the next are quite rare because of the addictive power of cigarettes – the heaviest smokers, who are the most addicted and most resistant to quitting, cause total state pack sales and revenues to decline by smaller amounts, proportionately. After a major cigarette tax increase, state tobacco tax revenues typically decline by only about two percent per year, on average, because of ongoing reductions in smoking levels.

Which is why I’m getting a jump on the next wave of sin tax promotion. Once the tobacco companies figure out they can team up with the state to promote tobacco use under the guise of advertising the economic benefit of Measure 50 to children’s health, well, I should be able to put my natural cynicism to work doing the ads. And I don’t even smoke!

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Amnesty, Abortion, Acid, and Eagleton

I hadn’t — and still don’t — intend to pick up columnist Robert Novak’s self-pitying autobiography The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years of Reporting in Washington, but I was slightly intrigued by Russell Baker’s description in The New York Review of Books, because Novak apparently names the names of some of his sources. Here was a tidbit of particular interest to me which Baker used to illustrate Novak’s opinion on source confidentiality:

Novak does not dwell very seriously on this debate. The decisive test, he says, should be whether, after many years, exposure may still be damaging. In his view, death settles the matter. And so the privilege finally ended for former Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri. Thirty-five years ago in conversation with Novak about George McGovern’s prospects for winning the Democratic presidential nomination, Eagleton said, “The people don’t know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot…. Once middle America—Catholic Middle America, in particular—find this out, he’s dead.”

In his column Novak attributed the remark only to a “liberal Senator,” and McGovern’s opponents used it to attack him as a “Triple-A” candidate, supporting “Amnesty, Abortion, and Acid.” McGovern won the nomination anyhow, and for his vice-presidential running mate chose, of course—Eagleton, who was then dropped after it turned out he’d concealed his treatment, by electric shock, for nervous problems. Eagleton still insisted on his privilege thirty years later when Novak asked permission to use the story in his memoir. Eagleton replied that “it was off the record, and I still consider it that way.” He died last March at the age of seventy-seven, Novak writes, “relieving me of the need to conceal his identity.”

I’m still dithering about whether to go to the annual McGovern Conference in a couple of weeks. It should be aparticularly poignant event, on the 35th anniversary of the ’72 election, with another senseless war going on, the death early this year of Eleanor McGovern, and a fine history of the campaign by Bruce Miroff just out this summer.

The conference is free. All you have to do is get to Mitchell, South Dakota for the day.

Flag Pin

image via

With all of the hullabaloo about Barack Obama and his opinions on flag lapel pins a couple of weeks back (really, shouldn’t running for president be enough to indicate that you might be patriotic?) I realized that I don’t have a flag pin per se, apart from the “Friendship Pin” I’ve had for 20 years or so. Out of date, I know. Still, I wear it fairly regularly, if you count the number of times I weat a tie as “regularly”, because it’s my usual tie pin.

That’s more than I can say for the watch (the gunmetal grey version on the right) it came with, which Barbara bought for me at a time when the price was actually rather significant for our budget. For various reasons, I stopped wearing it (and its replacements when the original’s case had sort of deteriorated) a number of years back and just never got back into the habit of putting it back on.

Gruen Soviet Watches /
image via

Michael Chertoff Sends Email to Osama bin Laden

Department of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff was in Portland yesterday to view the Topoff 4 terrorism simulation. But in the same way that your granny now has to take her orthopedic shoes off at the airport because she theoretically could be a mad plane bomber, the extreme sensitivity of our defenses threw a bone into the well-scripted machinery of the exercise.

Just before 1 p.m., as police ran a security sweep before Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s arrival at the DoubleTree Hotel near Lloyd Center, something about a car in the parking garage sent bomb-sniffing dogs into a frenzy.

“I can’t tell you we have some kind of terrorist bomb,” said Sgt. Brian Schmautz, a Portland police spokesman, as the city’s bomb squad arrived. But he added, “these highly trained dogs wouldn’t be going berserk without there being something.”

That something turned out to be the cops and soldiers gathered at the hotel for Topoff. It’s likely, police said afterward, that one — or several — of the participants who train with explosives had inadvertently left residue on or in their car.

By the time authorities had figured out the source, Topoff activities at the hotel — a news briefing and a paper exercise dealing with the aftermath of the mock “dirty bomb” — had been long since canceled. Chertoff had bailed out.

Bravely Sir Michael ran away. There’s no reason to believe that this kind of thing isn’t going to happen in a real situation.

To me the best part of the article was where Chertoff discussed when — or if — the report on Topoff 4 would be completed.

As for an after-action report showing holes that showed up in responding to the fake catastrophe, he said an executive summary would be available for officials within three months but that a full report is years away — and likely won’t include every detail when it’s publicly released.

If I wanted to send him a list of targets,” Chertoff said of Osama bin Laden, “I would send it to him directly. I wouldn’t put it up on the Internet.”

That sure sounds like he knows how to get hold of the guy. Hmmmm….

Michael Chertoff speaking after Hurricane KatrinaOsama bin Laden / AP Photo
Osama bin Chertoff / photocomposition by

Where’s Wyden? UPDATE I Eat Crow

The Senate version of the FISA bill — the one providing legal immunity for telephone carriers involved in the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance programs — looks like it will get approval from the Intelligence Committee, according to the New York Times.

It seems like only August that Senator Ron Wyden — a member of the Intelligence Committee — was promising at a town hall that come September he would be hot on the trail of rolling back the expansions of domestic surveillance approved by the Senate before they went on their summer break.

You’d think that someone who would say that the FISA bill passed two months ago was an example of “the continued erosion of civil liberties” of which the American people “are sickened and fearful” would have something to say about the fight going on to stifle any investigation into what actually is going on. I have no doubt he’ll vote against the Senate bill and tut-tut over how he was unable to do (or apparently say, nothing in his news releases about FISA as of 18 October) anything about civil liberty erosion, but then maybe his opinion is that what we suspect but can’t prove won’t make us as sick or fearful.


Well, kudos where kudos belong. The FISA bill passed out of the Intelligence committee on a 13-2 vote with only Feingold and Wyden voting against it.

“If this program is so legal why does there have to be this special legal protection?” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Wyden and Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis, opposed the eavesdropping bill because of the immunity provision and concerns that American’s privacy would not be adequately protected.

Wyden and Feingold nevertheless succeeded in amending the bill to expand court oversight of government surveillance of Americans overseas. Under current rules, the government can tap Americans’ phone and computer lines outside the country if the attorney general certifies that the American is believed to be an agent of a foreign power. The new bill would require the government to get a court order to eavesdrop on Americans wherever they are in the world.

But the measure may not stay in the bill: Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell objects to the requirement, according to Wyden.

Lauer, Lauer

First Draft’s Athenae excerpts a Chicago Sun-Times article by Doug Elfman, who interviewed Today host Matt Lauer on the road after he sat down with Idaho Senator Larry Craig and his wife.

In between “Today” segments, I half-joked, “Did you ask him why he’s a big liar?”

“That’s not my job,” Lauer said. “My job is to ask middle-of-the-road questions and let the audience judge for themselves.”

What happened to this Matt Lauer?

Matt Lauer: “The White House communications director said of your film [Fahrenheit 9/11], it is so outrageously false it’s not even worth commenting. The 41st President of the United States, the president’s father, called you, I think you probably heard this, a slime ball.”

Michael Moore: “Have they seen it? Have they seen the film? No. Of course they haven’t. I will tell you they haven’t seen it. These are un-credible reviews from people who haven’t even seen the movie.”