December 2006

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I just spent a few hours reviewing the last year of postings to see what Windypundit was all about. For me, 2006 was the year in which

Sorry if that was too much about me. Here, go read Dave Barry’s review of 2006. It’s much funnier.

The drug liberalization blogosphere is all abuzz over Barry Cooper. He’s apparently a former Texas narcotics officer who has produced a video called “Never Get Busted” in which he apparently explains how to avoid getting arrested for drug possession.

As it happens, I too have a foolproof system for avoiding a drug possession arrest: I don’t possess drugs.

I think we can assume that’s not what Cooper has in mind. Presumably, what he’s really going to teach people is how to possess drugs without getting arrested for possessing them.

He claims to be motivated by a desire to help people who will otherwise suffer under our unreasonable narcotics laws. Of course, if that’s all he wanted to do, he could do what the folks at the Flex Your Rights Foundation did with their Busted video: Release the entire video at YouTube.

Instead, Barry Cooper sells the video at his web site for $24.95, plus $5.95 for shipping and handling. There’s nothing wrong with making some money, but a few things about his operation bother me.

First of all, Barry Cooper sounds a lot like infomercial guru Don LaPre, and that’s never a good sign. You may not know the name, but you’d recognize his delivery. I couldn’t find any online video of LaPre, but here’s a parody of Don LaPre that’s pretty close, and here’s one that’s even closer but kind of long.

Second, the Never Get Busted website is just a little too slick looking, especially when compared with the LEAP web site.

Third, according to Libby at Last One Speaks, he approached Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) a few weeks ago and asked to join their speaker’s beureau. He then began promoting his video and claiming to be a LEAP speaker, even though they had told him he couldn’t use LEAP to promote the video. Since then, LEAP has dumped him.

Fourth, in one of his interviews he says this video holds nothing back. So why is it called “Volume 1″?

Fifth, Barry Cooper is totally unknown in the drug law reform community. The folks at the D’Alliance never heard of him, nor did Libby Spencer, Loretta Nall, Pete Guither, or LEAP. If Cooper really believed in his video, aren’t those exactly the people who’d be getting review copies?

There’s a lot of speculation that this could be some sort of undercover operation, perhaps by the DEA, to get drug users to identify themselves. That seems unlikely to me. I think he’s just a hustler looking for a quick buck.

Time will tell, and I’ll publish my apology if I’m wrong.

Way back in February of 2003, I published my modest proposal for a victory in Iraq. Basically, I noticed that Saddam Hussein didn’t care what we did in Iraq as long as he thought he was still in power. So we take that to an extreme:

My proposal is that we follow a strategy of encroachment. We just slowly keep creeping into Iraq, building air bases and fuel dumps, military hospitals, roads, bridges, rail links, civilian aid stations, and whatever else we can think of until we control 90% of Iraq without firing a shot.

I’m hardly an expert on military matters, so I was just making stuff up for the fun of it, and a couple months later it didn’t matter because our forces captured Baghdad in only three weeks of fighting.

The way things have gone in Iraq since then, however, I’m beginning to think my plan wasn’t so silly after all.

As our forces crept into Iraq, they would presumably have run into all the problems we’re seeing now, except on a much smaller scale because initially they would have occupied only a small fraction of the country. They’d have had a much better American-soldier-to-insurgent ratio, so they would have a pretty good chance of defeating the insurgency, especially since it’s a lot easier to adapt operations to a small theater than a large one.

Once the insurgency was crushed, our forces could have gone about the process of setting up a working civilization of sorts, with schools and hospitals and trained police and a new Iraqi army to prevent future insurgencies. Only when all this was accomplished would our forces have invaded a little further and repeated the process.

I think the military calls this concentrated piece-at-a-time approach defeat in detail. In my little software engineering world, we call it iterative development. There are three principle advantages of an iterative approach that seem to apply here.

First, with an iterative approach you discover problems early and you can quickly adapt your solution to overcome them.

Second, an iterative approach gives you the option of changing the scope of the problem you’re trying to solve. One of our goals in Iraq was to establish a western-style democracy as a demonstration of a better way for other countries in the region to follow. If we had used in iterative approach, we would quickly have discovered that this was a lot harder in some parts of Iraq than in others. We could have withdrawn from the difficult regions and focused our efforts where they’d do the most good. In other words, we’d have built a democracy from the green zones and left the red zones to Saddam.

(This is similar to modern armor doctrine in which enemy strongpoints are bypassed in favor of achieving other battlefield goals. The strongpoints are then isolated and reduced by follow-on forces.)

Third, an iterative approach keeps your initial commitment small so that if you decide the problem is unsolvable, the cost of giving up is not too high. If you’re going to give up anyway, it’s best to do it as soon as possible to limit your casualties. (The ideal, of course, is to quit before you start.)

Since I know so little about warfare, this is all just mental games. It’s a bit of tongue-in-cheek hindsight on a terrible situation. Someone with real military skills could probably trash my ideas easily, unless they found them too incoherent to analyze (i.e. so bad they’re not even wrong).

I knew that when I started this post. Now that I’ve written it, however, I’m starting to believe that maybe there’s some core bit of a good idea here.

In any case, I’m planning to write a few more modest proposals for winning in Iraq, so stay tuned.

After enduring a full month of insane shopping frenzy at the malls, I usually find that Christmas Day itself feels like the end-of-the-world.

I’m not a big fan of black and white photos from a digital camera because it seems like faking—the digital sensor always captures a color image—but I think it works for this spread. That last photo was the hardest to get because two or three cars a minute were rolling past the front of the grocery to see if it was open.

Pesche's Flowers at Christmas
Larger ImagePesche's Flowers at Christmas

This is Pesche’s Flowers, one of the many businesses in Des Plaines, Illinois, that the city claims is “blighted” so they can abuse their eminent domain power to replace it with something they like better.

The city’s materials justifying the TIF show some of the worst views of some of the uglier properties, so I thought I’d break with my usual documentary style to show you one of the prettier views in the TIF.

(Unfortunately, even on Christmas Eve, the parking lot lights were set to come on at sunset. It would have been a nicer image without them.)

I think Miss Claus here would like you to have a Merry Christmas.

sexy Miss Claus

The site I got this from describes it as “a sexy Mrs. Claus.” Unless Santa likes ’em really young, however, I think this must be one of his daughters, thus the “Miss” above. Careful guys, he knows when you’ve been bad.

(Why yes, this is sleazy attempt to keep my stats up over Christmas without having to post very much.)

Amy Barrilleaux of WQAD reports:

“(I was) made to feel like a criminal — Made to feel low, dirty. Just totally degraded,” recalled Tim Naveau, who says he’ll never forget the hours he spent in Rock Island County Jail — he says all because of his allergies.

Naturally, this degradation is part of the War on Drugs.

Tim takes one 24-hour Claritin-D tablet just about every day. That puts him just under the legal limit of 75-hundred milligrams of pseudo ephedrine a month. The limit is part of a new law that Quad Cities authorities are beginning to strictly enforce.

The law limits the amount of pseudo ephedrine you can buy. Pseudo ephedrine is an ingredient in medicines like Sudafed and Claritin-D, and it’s also a key ingredient in methamphetamines.

“I bought some for my boy because he was going away to church camp and he needed it,” he said.

That decision put Tim over the legal limit. Two months later, there was a warrant for his arrest.

In other words, the Illinois legislature set the limit so low that each family member has to buy their own medication. Pick up some allergy medicine for your wife, get charged with a crime.

This level of stupidity is breathtaking, literally, and it only gets worse.

According to a state consumer information fact sheet, the legislature also prohibits sale of pseudoephedrine to minors, so parents have to buy the drug for their children. If you and your child have allergies, you have to decide which of you gets treatment. Even if both parents forego treatment for the sake of their children, they better not have more than two children with allergies, otherwise they really will have to decide which ones they love most.

(Hat tip: Jamie Spencer)

Cal Skinner just sent me an email pointing out a PAC called Des Plaines Residents for Responsible Taxation. Its officers are Scott Olson and Barbara VanSlambrouck, co-owners respectively of Geiser-Berner and Chromatech, both of which are threatened by the Five-Corners TIF in Des Plaines.

I spoke to another Geiser-Berner co-owner, Robert Janczak, a while back and he told me that the non-profit they formed earlier to fight the TIF was not allowed to oppose the referendum for the TIF because of campaign finance regulations so they had to form another organization. I guess this PAC was it.

That people have to hire lawyers to jump through hoops like this is one more bit of evidence that a lot of so-called “campaign finance reform” is just another way for incumbent politicians to say “don’t bother us.”

View Toward Arlin-Golf Plaza
Larger ImageView Toward Arlin-Golf Plaza

In my previous post, I was exploring some of International Plaza’s neighbors that are also part of the TIF district and in danger of condemnation. In the photo above, the building in the background is the Arlin-Golf Plaza strip mall.

Sign for Arlin-Golf Plaza
Larger ImageSign for Arlin-Golf Plaza

As I walked around to take more pictures, the sign promised a small but thriving mall. I’ve driven by here a lot in the past, and that’s certainly what I was expecting. The reality was somewhat different:

Arlin-Golf Plaza
Larger ImageArlin-Golf Plaza

Seen from the other side, there was one storefront showing signs of life:

Salon Colláge
Larger ImageSalon Colláge

That’s Salon Colláge, owned by Judith Cervantes. (I think. I’m terrible at getting and remembering names, but I spent a few minutes searching databases and that’s the name I came up with.)

Judith Cervantes
Larger ImageJudith Cervantes

Like most salon owners, Cervantes has done a lot of work to customize the storefront to her needs:

Most of the rest of the storefronts in the Arlin-Golf Plaza appeared vacant…

…or nearly vacant…

Closing Business
Larger ImageClosing Business

The only other storefront that looked like it might be open was something called Starmakers.

Starmakers Sign
Larger ImageStarmakers Sign

I peeked in the window and saw this:

Starmakers
Larger ImageStarmakers

That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? In a mall that’s threatened by eminent domain, where someone with even a long-term lease could get kicked out at any moment, you’re only going to get businesses that don’t need a huge investment in remodeling. Thus, tables and chairs.

So, what’s the reason why this property is blighted? According to Hsu, it’s this:

You see, you can only turn right when leaving the parking lot, which is a poor traffic pattern. So this whole property’s got to go.

That leaves only the residences tucked into the west side of International Plaza, just northeast of Arlin-Golf Plaza:

Residence
Larger ImageResidence

They’ve got to go because, well, they’re residences, and it’s bad to have residences right next to commercial property…even if the people who live there don’t mind.

Entrance To International Plaza
Larger ImageEntrance To International Plaza

There was a rally for International Plaza a few weeks ago, but I had errands to run that morning, and by the time I got to the Plaza, all the excitement was over. There were just a few stragglers, including a newspaper reporter and Leo Plotkin who owns Unigma Camera.

Leo Plotkin
Larger ImageLeo Plotkin

Plotkin told me that he put about $100,000 into remodeling the property he leases for his camera store. I don’t understand the rules for compensating leaseholders for condemnation, so I’m not sure how much of that he could expect to get back. Judging by his work to protest the seizure of the mall, I don’t think he’s expecting much.

Ironically, Plotkin emigrated here from Russia, I guess because he heard we were the land of the free.

The rally was held in a vacant store that used to be Oak Creations:

Oak Creations/Rally Location
Larger ImageOak Creations/Rally Location

The owner of International Plaza, Su-Chuan Hsu, was at the rally, and she told me that Oak Creations had decided not to renew their lease, giving the potential condemnation of the property as the reason.

On the other hand, despite the threat of eminent domain, the Nari Sushi House has opened. (Apparently it hadn’t actually opened last time I photographed it.)

Nari Sushi House
Larger ImageNari Sushi House

Also new is the Shandong Garden Chinese Restaurant, which filled a vacancy.

Shandong Garden Chinese Restaurant
Larger ImageShandong Garden Chinese Restaurant

Hsu was nice enough to answer a bunch of my questions. For one thing, she explained which properties besides International Plaza were slated to be condemned, so I can now present a more accurate map:

Hsu explained that the village was claiming International Plaza was blighted because it had a lot of vacancies, but she claims it was about 97% occupied at the time. She says occupancy has been declining since the TIF because tenants are reluctant to remodel storefronts that they may not get to keep for the full term of their lease.

Even if the occupancy figures were as low as the village claims, isn’t that her problem? Given that she loses a fortune in rental income for every vacancy, I think she’s in a much better position than anyone on the board to know how many vacancies are acceptable. (It’s not that she wants the vacancies, but she’s willing to suffer a few vacancies in order to achieve some other business goal, such as finding tenants willing to pay higher rates or avoiding troublesome tenants.)

Hsu also explained the reasons why each of the other properties was blighted.

Kitakata Japanese Restaurant
Larger ImageKitakata Japanese Restaurant

The Kitakata Japanese Restaurant is located just to the east of International Plaza, and the village of Arlington Heights claims it is blighted because it doesn’t have enough parking spaces, according to Hsu.

Again, that would seem to be the owner’s problem. If the restaurant has enough parking spaces to make its owner a profit, then why should anyone care what the Arlington Heights village board thinks?

It might be different in an area where there’s parking on the street because restaurant patrons who can’t find space in the parking lot might use up too much of the public street parking. But this is a busy suburban intersection, with no street parking as far as the eye can see.

Besides, remember I said that Kitakata was right next to International Plaza? Surely they can work out some sort of shared parking arrangement, right? In fact, from the looks of this plowed path, I think they already have:

Path From Kitakata to the Plaza
Larger ImagePath From Kitakata to the Plaza

The next property is as close an example as we will ever see of genuine blight in the Arlington-Golf TIF district: An abandoned gas station.

Abandoned Gas Station
Larger ImageAbandoned Gas Station

Of course, once a property is declared “blighted” it becomes a self-fulfilling designation. Who, after all, would want to develop a blighted property which could be snapped up by the government at any time?

Abandoned Gas Station
Larger ImageAbandoned Gas Station

According to Hsu, someone wanted to develop the site, but the village rejected their plan because it didn’t have enough parking.

View Toward Arlin-Golf Plaza
Larger ImageView Toward Arlin-Golf Plaza

The building in the background in that shot is the Arlin-Golf Plaza strip mall. I’ll show you what’s back there in another post.

Last night, tipped off by Cal Skinner’s post, I went to cover a protest staged by the Coalition to Save International Plaza outside an Arlington Heights village board meeting at the Senior Center at 1801 W. Central Road.

Protesting Eminent Domain
Larger ImageProtesting Eminent Domain
Addressing the Village Board
Larger ImageAddressing the Village Board

I was surprised how many people showed up, many of them protesting on the abstract issue of eminent domain abuse, and not just because they owned a threatened business. There’s something reassuring about so many people who weren’t just in it for themselves. (Not that being in it for yourself is necessarily a bad thing.)

Vigil for International Plaza
Larger ImageVigil for International Plaza
Protester
Larger ImageProtester

I was also surprised by the level of organization, including a sign-in sheet for protesters and the inevitable giant puppets (well, actually a fan-inflated balloon). The folks who stage things like the anti-globalization protests have got nothing to worry about, but this was a remarkable effort for some people trying to save something as mundane as shopping mall.

Signing In
Larger ImageSigning In
The Inevitable Giant Puppet
Larger ImageThe Inevitable Giant Puppet

Also present was Su-Chuan Hsu, who owns International Plaza.

Su-Chuan Hsu (in green), Owner of International Plaza
Larger ImageSu-Chuan Hsu (in green), Owner of International Plaza

The protest started around 6:30 pm, and the village board met at 8 pm (preceded by a closed committee-of-the-whole meeting).

I’m a cynic when it comes to government, but when the board meeting opened with a Pledge of Allegiance led by a scout troop, I was a little impressed. Here we all were, involving the next generation in our democracy, warts and all. I think it also served as a reminder of the need to be civil.

Opened With the Pledge
Larger ImageOpened With the Pledge

One of the first items on the agenda was a chance for Arlington Heights residents to speak to the board. This is what brought everyone here. The first few speakers addressed issues unrelated to International Plaza. Each speaker had 3 minutes to say their piece. Amusingly, those who ran over were put on notice when the clerk held up a Stop sign.

Time Has Run Out
Larger ImageTime Has Run Out

Then it was time for three people to speak to the board about the TIF, eminent domain, and International Plaza. I don’t have notes on what they said, but I got a few pictures. Phil Walters spoke on behalf of mall owner Su-Chuan Hsu (which makes me suspect she is not a resident). Walters is also running for the board in the spring election, with property rights as one of his main issues.

Phil Walters
Larger ImagePhil Walters

Next up was Stephen Bachtell, the manager of Studio Salons, which had spent a lot of money remodeling their location and a lot of time finding customers.

Stephen Bachtell, Manager of Studio Salons
Larger ImageStephen Bachtell, Manager of Studio Salons

Last up was Leo Plotkin, owner of Unigma Camera, who spoke about all the hard work involved in setting up his camera store.

Leo Plotkin, Owner of Unigma Camera
Larger ImageLeo Plotkin, Owner of Unigma Camera

I doubt that the board was much swayed by this opposition—if they could be swayed that easily, the TIF never would have gotten this far—but I imagine that every little bit helps. Change a few minds in the audience, make a few board members worry about their electability, and pretty soon the pressure to do the right thing starts to add up.

Resources:

[Update: I am sadly lacking in the journalist’s skill for remembering and recording names, so I had incorrectly identified Phil Walters as John Philbin. This post has been corrected.]

The Drug Czar’s blog, in a post about YouTube videos showing people using inhalents, links with some approval to the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, which features a poster with these words:

Sniffing Correction Fluid Can Stop Your Heart

If you sniff to get high, you’re inhaling poisons that do definite damage. So stop. Before your heart does.

You may be surprised to discover that this is an anti-drug message I agree with.

Even a harsh street drug like meth or heroin is pretty closely related to chemicals that have genuine medical uses. To be sure, heroin is not morphine, and meth is seriously not Sudafed, but these are, nevertheless, drugs.

A lot of the chemicals in inhalents, on the other hand, are industrial solvents or alkanes that are hazardous chemicals. There’s nothing medical about them.

So kids, listen up. Don’t do inhalants. They’re very bad for you. If you want to get high, use a safe drug like marijuana or ecstasy.

My paying job has kept me too busy to blog much, but I’ve been thinking about a particular application of something Fernando Tesón wrote on Tuesday about how to distinguish between moral posturing and genuine moral principles:

We propose The Display Test: a position is genuinely moral when the speaker can accept, without embarrassment, its bad consequences. For example, I am prepared to publicly accept, without embarrassment, that criminal defendants should have a number of rights, even if someone shows me that implementing those rights increases crime. If the speaker cannot concede without embarrassment the bad consequences of her proposal, then she is perpetrating discourse failure.

This made me thing of something that bothers me about the case of Richard Paey, who was sentenced to 25-years in prison for improper use of medically necessary painkillers.

First, consider this statement in another context by Virginia prosecutor Tom McKenna:

…we do have important cases to try, like the murder sentencing I finished today, an emotionally exhausting ordeal of shepherding the victim’s family through the process of seeing punishment meted out (42 years for 1st degree murder).

Now here’s a quote from a Reason article about Paey’s long sentence:

“It’s unfortunate that anyone has to go to prison, but he’s got no one to blame but Richard Paey,” Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis told the St. Petersburg Times. “All we wanted to do was get him help.”

Locking a man in a cage for many years is a terrible thing. That he’s a criminal who has done something terrible doesn’t change the terrible nature of his punishment. It just means his punishment is justified. He deserves terrible treatment for what he’s done.

Tom McKenna knows this and acts on it as a moral principle. He rightly takes pride in putting a murderer in a cage for a very long time.

Halkitis, on the other hand, is trying to dodge responsibility for the consequences of his actions. He doesn’t take pride in Paey’s sentence. He doesn’t believe Paey received justice. He isn’t standing on a moral principle. He’s just posturing.