Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Two Year Risk Window

If Friedman (the prior post) isn't persuasive, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor of The Telegraph (U.K.), makes the case for Russia's economic melt-down with evidence. Him I might believe. Particularly troubling is his view of a cornered Putin's likely response:
He is going to escalate. The huge prize for him is to test the credibility of Nato while Obama is still in office. (emphasis added)

That worry is shared by many, especially in the Baltic states with Russian minorities. Four-fifths of Estonia’s fortress town of Narva are ethnic Russians, and they live within sight of the border. An incident could flare up at any time. (see map here)

The nightmare scenario is if ‘little green men’ appear in one of the Baltics, and it then invokes Nato’s Article V [mutual defence clause],” says Ian Bond, the former British ambassador to Latvia and now at the Centre for European Reform. Any dispute may be murky. Yet if Nato ever fails to uphold an Article V plea, the alliance withers.
Withers? NATO dies, period. Note the British usage of not capitalizing all letters in the acronym for North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Evans-Pritchard agrees that Putin believes he can back down Obama. Ironically, Europeans who formerly praised Obama's cautious foreign policy now see him as an unreliable protector of their interests and sovereignty.

Friedman Overreaches

The New York Times' Tom Friedman writes that Russia's Vladimir Putin has led his nation into a dependency cul-de-sac that became untenable when oil and gas prices crashed. Nice if true.

I'm not convinced Friedman is right. If Putin were playing against a canny White House operator, or a tough one, maybe I'd buy it.

The current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is largely a pushover. Putin can bully Obama and get away with it. What's worse, Putin knows it to be true and disrespects weakness. I hope I'm wrong.

Assassination of Two Police Officers in NYC

Reuters reports via Yahoo News that a suicide shooter has assassinated two New York policemen. The gunman had earlier in the day shot his girlfriend in the stomach after which he drove from Maryland to New York City with the avowed purpose of killing two policemen there.

Following the shooting of the officers, the gunman ran to a subway station where he shot himself fatally. He was an African American named Brinsley who affected Islamic first and middle names.

On social media Brinsley alleged he was acting to avenge the recent deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown at the hands of the police. His record shows him essentially to be a career criminal.

There is little conceptually differentiating what Brinsley did and what a suicide bomber does. People intent on murder who expect to die (and are okay with that) are very hard to defend against.

Unfortunately, such tragedies give the police justification for shooting on suspicion, rather than on actual unambiguous mortal threat. If New York's mayor de Blasio doesn't support his police we could see a mass NYPD resignation, leaving the city unpoliced and the governor no choice but to call out the National Guard and declare martial law.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Our Anniversary Approaches

Our first COTTonLINE blog post occurred on December 22, 2006. Monday, December 22, will be the 8th anniversary of this blog.

In those eight years we have posted roughly 6000 entries. We've certainly enjoyed the process, we hope you find things here you enjoy too.

After 35+ years as a professor, I have a new "career" as a publisher/editor/pundit/almost-journalist. My dear lady, the other DrC, jokes I'm addicted to the Internet and this blogging process. That's maybe a bit strong, but it is great fun.

Retaliation

The Atlantic is a longtime member of the MSM, and as such leans more left than otherwise. They have an article arguing the U.S. cannot retaliate against North Korea for its Sony hack because the Norks don't use banks and do little international trade, at least with nations with which we have any leverage.

Nonsense, we could bomb the bejesus out of North Korea pour encourager les autres. If it is good enough for DAESH/ISIS, it is good enough for the DPRK.

The Limits of Liberalism

Professor Walter Russell Mead writes in The American Interest about the limits of liberalism in the U.S. He observes the left is beginning to grasp the following awful-to-them truths:
No gun massacre is horrible enough to change Americans’ ideas about gun control. No UN Climate Report will get a climate treaty through the U.S. Senate. No combination of anecdotal and statistical evidence will persuade Americans to end their longtime practice of giving police officers extremely wide discretion in the use of force. No “name and shame” report, however graphic, from the Senate Intelligence Committee staff will change the minds of the consistent majority of Americans who tell pollsters that they believe that torture is justifiable under at least some circumstances. No feminist campaign will convince enough voters that the presumption of innocence should not apply to those accused of rape.
I think he may overstate Americans' tolerance for true torture. We're okay with coercive interrogation that is psychologically abusive, extremely fatiguing and uncomfortable without being life-threatening. OTOH, the do-what-it-takes Jack Bauer character of "24" did not evoke revulsion.

A GOP Strategy

It isn't sexy and it doesn't involve the two or three big things Obama has rammed through. Kimberley Strassel of The Wall Street Journal has a realistic look at what a Republican Congress is able to do in the next two years in spite of the Democrat President, or to thwart him. Her article is not hidden behind the WSJ paywall.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Incompatible Imperatives

Just back from Moscow, George Friedman of Stratfor has written for RealClearWorld an appraisal of how Russians view their situation today. It is a strange and interesting document, some key paragraphs:
I thought the economic problems of Russia would be foremost on people's minds. (snip) Yet this was not the conversation I was having.

The Russians pointed out that economic shambles was the norm for Russia, and prosperity the exception. There is always the expectation that prosperity will end and the normal constrictions of Russian poverty return.

I came away with two senses. One was that Putin was more secure than I thought. (snip) Things that would bring down a Western leader may leave a Russian leader untouched. Second, the Russians do not plan a campaign of aggression. Here I am more troubled - not because they want to invade anyone, but because nations frequently are not aware of what is about to happen, and they might react in ways that will surprise them.

The United States and Europe have trouble understanding Russia's fears. Russia has trouble understanding particularly American fears. The fears of both are real and legitimate. This is not a matter of misunderstanding between countries but of incompatible imperatives.

Weird Ornithological Science

Current Biology reports a study showing that at least one species of bird, golden-winged warblers, can hear sounds in very low frequencies. They hear approaching storms at a great distance and leave the area.

That is a handy evolutionary adaptation. Perhaps we could use technology to detect what they hear and get a warning of when storm trouble is headed our way? Hat tip to The Week for the link.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

An Alternate View

Just about everybody says the middle class is hurting, incomes frozen or shrinking and in a funk. The Washington Post has found an economist who disagrees, Stephen J. Rose of George Washington University.
Rose (snip) argues that researchers would reach a far different conclusion if only they used different--he argues, more comprehensive--data. He noted that the Congressional Budget Office found that the inflation-adjusted incomes of middle-income households went up 50 percent percent (from 1979 to 2007).

CBO saw a dramatic difference in middle class income gains because it captures information that tax records miss, such as income from transfer programs such as Social Security and Medicare, Rose said. CBO also takes into consideration changes in household composition, which makes a difference as the nation grows older and more Americans are apt to live alone, or at least in smaller households, than than they did decades ago.
I imagine the non-partisan CBO has the right view of this.

All College Majors Not Created Equal

Bloomberg Business Week reports the college grads most likely to get signing bonuses are those with degrees in engineering, computer science, and business. My thirty-five years teaching at university business schools suggests those majors are also the ones most likely to be recruited.

There are certainly reasons to attend university that have nothing to do with subsequent employment - personal growth, or just to have a good time suggest themselves. Still, I believe most college students expect their degree will improve their employment prospects and career earnings. Sadly, the days when a degree in underwater basket-weaving would get you a job are no more.

CA Population Trends

California's population is largely stagnant, growing ever so slowly. Who is leaving? Young middle-class professionals are most likely to leave. Who is arriving? Poor immigrants coming from other countries. Which residents are most likely to stay? The elderly. See the story at RealClearMarkets.

The resulting problem? The population is increasingly made up of people who pay less taxes as they are either poor or retired drawing reduced income and paying less property tax via Prop. 13.

Both of these "tax eater" groups utilize more than their share of public resources, while the tax-paying group has moved to Texas and places like it. The state's long term economic prospects therefore are not positive.

Laughing at the Left

Perhaps you've seen the In These Times column written by liberal professor Susan J. Douglas variously entitled either "It's Okay to Hate Republicans" or "Why We Can't All Just Get Along." Our old friend Spengler (aka David P. Goldman) blogs as follows in response thereto.
In fact, they have their reasons to hate us. They are being silly. We know they are being silly, and they know we know, and they can’t stand it. It isn’t quite how we repudiate the idea that the opposing party has any legitimacy at all. But we can’t stop giggling.
Especially following the November, 2014, election.

Equal Outcome Madness

The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy reports the University of Wisconsin, a longtime hotbed of liberalism, has discovered minority students get more than their share of the bad grades in a handful of introductory courses: Chemistry 103, Communication Arts 100, English 100, Mathematics 112, and Psychology 202.
(In) "Grade Gap/Future Gap: Addressing Racial Disparities in L&S [Letters & Science] Introductory Courses." Departments were instructed to implement strategic action plans to “eliminate racial grade gaps by 2014.”

UW-Madison is going through all these contortions because the administration can’t or won’t acknowledge a simple fact: some groups of admitted students are significantly less well prepared for college work.
As the article notes, most teachers of these intro courses are on short-term contracts. They are therefore very susceptible to administrative pressure to equalize grades across groups.

I predict the end result of this policy and its likely sequelae in higher level courses will be recruiters avoiding minority graduates from UWMadison as their grades will not reflect their accomplishments.

Irony Alert

Perhaps you read that Republican Martha McSally won the recount for the last in-question House seat, that formerly occupied by Gabby Gifford. Gifford, you'll remember, is the Congresswoman shot in the head by a disturbed constituent.

It is massively ironic that a pro-gun Republican replaces an anti-gun Democrat in this AZ seat. Hat tip to Instapundit for the insight.

Quote of the Day

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds, writing about an ideal U.S. immigration policy:
I think that immigration should be based on what they can do for us, rather than what we can do for them.
We should admit more engineers and scientists, fewer taxi drivers and lawn-mowers.

Weird Environmental Science

The Associated Press reports on a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science which finds so-called "green cars," those running on batteries charged from the power grid, are actually more harmful to the environment than gasoline powered cars. 

This is true if electric cars operate in an area where most electricity is generated by coal-fired plants. If most power in your area is generated by natural gas, hydroelectric, wind, or solar sources, the electric car is cleaner than its gasoline powered peers. And ethanol is more polluting than gasoline.

French Conservatism

French columnist for Figaro Eric Zemmour has written a best-seller entitled Le Suicide Francais. The first printing sold out in a week.

The author bewails the decline of French culture in the period since the death of Charles de Gaulle.
Eric Zemmour's best-seller attributes France's decay to "feminine" values, "triumphant homosexuality," and the demise of the father as the arbiter of national identity. 
It's a wonder Zemmour didn't include the avalanche of unassimilable Muslim immigrants in his list of causes of decay. The book's popularity is related to the rise in the fortunes of Marine Le Pen's National Front Party, a rightist, nationalist anti-EU group.

The World Is Anarchic, Ruled by Needs

If you only read one foreign policy article this year, Robert Kaplan's The Virtue of Amoral Foreign Policy should be that article. It comes via RealClearWorld.
When we think seriously about foreign policy we think amorally. For foreign policy involves the battle of geographical space and power, played out over the millennia by states and empires in a world where there is no referee or night watchman in charge. The state is governed by law, but the world is anarchic.

In such a world, needs rather than wishes rule, and even a liberal power such as the United States is not exempt from the struggle for survival. Such a struggle means looking unsentimentally at the human condition, which, in turn, requires a good deal of unpleasantness.
Liberals be warned, you won't like Kaplan's article.

The Laffer Curve at Forty

See a short Investor's Business Daily column for a succinct description of the history and workings of the famous "Laffer Curve," written by the man himself, Arthur Laffer. My favorite line:
There are two tax rates that will collect the same amount of revenue: A high tax rate on a small tax base and a low rate on a large tax base. 
Government collects the same in either case but its citizens will like Plan B much better as they'll be sharing a bigger economic "pie."