Saturday, August 29, 2015

2K Body Bags Headed East

A Russian publication, apparently inadvertently, published figures which show how many of their soldiers have died fighting in eastern Ukraine. The Daily Caller reports as follows:
Buried in a mundane report on army salaries, Delovaya Zhizn (Business Life) noted that family compensation went to the families of 2,000 soldiers killed “taking part in military action in Ukraine.” The information was briefly online before Russian censors detected the fact and took it offline.

That some 2,000 Russian service members have died, all fighting a war that the Kremlin does not acknowledge exists, is a staggering admission of President Vladimir Putin’s commitment to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian war has lasted for exactly 18 months — by comparison, the U.S.’ nearly 14-year involvement in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of 2,154 American soldiers.
Civil wars are always exceptionally bloody meat grinders; ours certainly was. Hat tip to Instapundit for the link.

Venezuela, Vaya con Dios

Bloomberg View's Megan McArdle writes about the inflationary death spiral Venezuela appears to have entered. The Maduro government is printing money in ever-larger denominations just to keep up with the cratering of the bolivar.
This is the end game of Chavismo. For about a decade, some sectors of the left hoped that Hugo Chavez represented an alternative to the neoliberal consensus on economic policy. (snip) Chavez was in fact direly mismanaging the economy, diverting investment funds that were needed to maintain oil output into social spending.

The problem was that the money he was using was, essentially, the nation's seed corn. Venezuelan crude oil is relatively expensive to extract and refine and required a high level of investment just to keep production level.

In the beginning, printing money may have looked like the best of a lot of bad options. By the time it became clear that the country was not fudging its way out of a temporary hole, but making a bad situation worse, it was committed to a course that is extremely painful to reverse.
As Margaret Thatcher famously said, "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other peoples' money." In the case of Chavez, the "other people" whose money he misappropriated was the government oil company.

Today's low price for crude doesn't help, either. Weimar on the Orinoco, anybody?

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Democrat Future

Writing at Huffington Post, Howard Fineman defines what he sees as the future Democratic Party. We post it here because it appears to be the direction the Party is headed, not because it has any appeal at COTTonLINE.
It is a yet-to-be-defined mashup of Black Lives Matter; pro-immigration activism; non-European cultural consciousness; tolerance of all religions, lifestyles and genders; genuine urgency about the fate of the planet; confidence in technology, social media and the sharing economy; and skepticism about America’s right, power and duty to lead the world.
In short, mostly things to which we are opposed (technology's okay). Liberals are embracing anti-Semitism, disguised as anti-Zionism. As a Semite, Fineman doesn't want to see this unattractive reality.

A Path to Nomination

Donald Devine was a campaign strategist for Ronald Reagan. Writing in The American Conservative, he poses a scenario by which Donald Trump could win the GOP nomination. Let me share it with you:
If Trump wins Iowa and New Hampshire, it is difficult to see any opponent who could rally South Carolina two weeks later, or Nevada. Then on March 1 a half-dozen Southern states with many fatalists (remember Huey Long) will split the opponent’s ranks further. On March 15 Bush could be ousted by Marco Rubio in Florida, with John Kasich winning by a smaller than expected margin in Ohio. Trump could win by losing, saying they were only favorite sons. No one would be left anyway. If he wins either state, it is all over.
Okay, political mavens, what has Devine written with which you fundamentally disagree? If Trump wins the nomination, blame McConnell, Boehner and their allies in Congress.

Caveat: A lot can change, either way, between now and the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire vote. Guest posting at Instapundit, Mark Tapscott calls this article "absolutely essential reading." A hat tip to him for the link.

The China Bubble

Writing for Politico, Jacob Soll looks at China's chances of succeeding in competition with free economies.
There is no historical example of a closed imperial economy facing large capital-driven, open states and sustainably competing over a long term. That is not to say that China isn’t an economic powerhouse and a remarkable site of energy and potential. It is certainly both. But we also know Chinese debt — as secret as the state likes to keep it — is enormous, and that its financial system is like any other bubble. It is predicated on inflated earnings reports and expectations.

The great “Beijing Consensus,” China’s absolute commitment to showing 8% growth every year, is unsustainable, at least through legitimate means. And without it, China is beginning to look like an enormous totalitarian ponzi scheme — a phenomenon common enough in world history, but extremely dangerous (to) be near in the long run. 
Analogies of exploding bubbles and emperor's new clothes come to mind.


Writing in Tablet, Paul Berman muses about ISIS' barbarities and concludes:
Mankind is not a lesson-learning entity. Civilizations can learn lessons. But civilizations come and go. Impassive mankind remains uninstructable and stupid, such that, if once upon a time the barbarities of the 7th century thrilled and inspired a substantial portion of mankind, we can be confident that 7th-century barbarities will remain forevermore a viable possibility.
A demonstrable truth. Hat tip to RealClearWorld for the link.

Guns and Violence

Do guns cause violence? Numbers guy Robert VerBruggen writes for RealClearPolicy real wisdom about this issue.
The two fundamental laws of gun studies are: One, if a given author reaches a pro- or anti-gun result in one study, all his future results will point in the same direction; two, if it appears in a public-health journal, the results will suggest guns are bad.
A more clear-cut evidence of bias would be hard to find. So what do studies show, in his opinion?
What we have learned is this: A bunch of states started letting almost any random person walk around a gun, and if anything good or bad resulted, it doesn't reliably show up in the data.
VerBruggen concludes:
Yes, it's possible that confining gun ownership to the people willing to jump through various government hoops might have some marginal effect on violence. But that effect will probably be so small as to be difficult to detect, and there may be no effect at all.
On the other hand, confining insane people in mental hospitals (or prisons) will have a positive effect, directing most of their violence at fellow inmates.

A New Dark Ages

No self-respecting conservative agrees with The New York Times' David Brooks all the time. Refusing to read what he writes, good stuff maybe half the time, is likewise folly. Today's column is one of the good ones.

Brooks argues we aren't taking ISIS nearly seriously enough, It exists, he believes, to destroy Arab nation-states representing weakness and decadence, and to resurrect the values of a thousand years ago, complete with official slavery and organized, sponsored rapine, and mass killings as both an instruments of policy and religious sacraments.

The only appropriate response to such ideas is to treat them, and their adherents, as a virulent plague and do our level best to eradicate both as we have smallpox, or polio. This will require a force of will, a clarity of purpose, indeed a bloody-mindedness the West is likely unwilling (or unable) to muster.

ISIS can therefore win.

Imagine, for a moment, what that will mean. The collapse of Rome under the onslaught of barbarian hordes will, by comparison, look like a warm-up act. A new Dark Ages looms.

America in Play

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan summarizes the political landscape in our country today:
America is so in play.
Meaning, fellow old-timers, the historic verities are up for grabs, stuff is in flux, coalitions are shifting, the conventional wisdom may be anything but (anything but wisdom, that is).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Your Major Matters

The number crunchers at FiveThirtyEight have a good article on the relationship between college major and starting salary. As you might guess, STEM jobs pay well, so do a number of the business school majors, plus computer science/management information systems.

If you know a young person either about to graduate from high school or in the first year or two of college, you might want to send them the link. Hat tip to Instapundit for the link.


Instapundit Glenn Reynolds evaluates the presidency of Barack Obama:
Worst president ever.
Wow, that's strong. I don't know the 19th century presidents well enough to write "ever." I am certain of "Worst in the last century."

Vox Foxed

The guys at Power Line post a screen shot of something foolish posted at the liberal website Vox. It was subsequently taken down after someone who knows a bit of "ancient" history told them how badly they'd screwed up.

Who knew there were multiple NRAs? Clearly, nobody at Vox knew. For our younger readers, the NRA whose poster is pictured was Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration, founded in 1933.

That NRA was one of FDR's "alphabet soup" agencies established to kick start our depression economy. It has nothing to do with the National Rifle Association, today's most well-known NRA.

A Marcos Redux

The Telegraph (U.K.) reports Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is exploring a run for the Philippine presidency next year. The family power base is in Ilocos Norte, where he formerly served as governor, a post now held by his sister, Imee Marcos. His famous mother, Imelda, also serves that region.

I claim no particular expertise directly in Philippine politics. However, people who know say Philippine politics is mirrored in the politics of Guam, about which I do know something.

Let me share what a year's residence on Guam taught me about its politics, lore which may help us understand how a deposed dictator's son might reasonably aspire to win election in the Philippines.

The first thing to understand about both related cultures is that they are quasi-feudal. In addition to extended family ties of blood, unrelated families are knit together by godparent links.

Wealthy people become godparents to many unrelated infants, a relationship which makes them financially responsible in some ways for the child's future as a young adult. Once a wealthy person becomes godparent to your child, you and your family are bound to their family by ties which approach an oath of fealty.

If they run for office, you are obligated to work for their election and, of course, vote for them. If they win, you may receive a patronage job or at least positive attention to your needs from government offices. Corruption? It is absolute, pervasive, and totally consonant with the culture which emphasizes the exchange of favors.

In Ilocos Norte, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is a godfather, in the Mario Puzo sense as well as in the literal sense. Will its people vote for him? Count on it. They owe him.

Are there Marcos supporters scattered across the archipelago? Count on that, too. Marcos Sr. knew his culture and played it like a fiddle. Many people benefitted during his presidency, and they remember.

Fortress Russia Reborn

Brian Whitmore, writing in The Atlantic, summarizes at length a recent article by economist Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of the Moscow-based Center for Post-Industrial Studies.
“The real consequence will be Russia’s retreat from the global market and its economy’s transformation into one which is much more closed,” Inozemtsev wrote. “This way leads us towards a quasi-Soviet economy detached from the world and, at the same time, proud of its autarky; towards a deteriorating economy which compensates for the drop in living standards with pervasive propaganda.”

“Can Russia ‘opt out’ of contemporary globalization? I do not see any reasons which would prevent this,” Inozemtsev wrote. “How long will it remain stable under the new conditions? I believe much longer than the majority of today’s analysts are prepared to admit.”
Finally, Whitmore draws his own conclusion:
We should soon learn whether we are witnessing the death throes of the Putin regime or the birth of a new fortress Russia.

Quote of the Day

W. James Antle III, writing in The Washington Examiner, about the well-springs of conservatism.
A lot of conservatism is based on an inchoate sense that something important about the America of old is being lost. Maybe it's because the government is getting too big, or social values are changing, or the demographics are different, or even a feeling that the country's foreign enemies are ascendant.
Damn straight, it is. We conservatives want to hold onto what is right and good about America. We see this nation, which has treated us well, under daily attack.

Dauntless Teens

COTTonLINE considers it okay to link to something lighthearted on occasion. Today's example is a New Yorker article on the faulty operation of the teenage brain. Hat tip to RealClearPolitics for the link, although why it appears at that particular site is unclear.

Two theories are presented, one that the brain continues to develop into the late 20s and, because incomplete, makes bad choices when adolescent. The other is that the so-called "pleasure center" or nucleus accumbens is overdeveloped in teens. Taking risks is just too much fun for teens, in this view.

We don't lump this article into our Weird Science series because author Elizabeth Kolbert, mother of three adolescent sons, takes a less-than-doomsday approach to the story. See her conclusion:
Adolescence evolved over a vast expanse of time when survival at any age was a crapshoot. If the hazards are new, so, too, is the safety. Which is why I will keep telling my kids scary stories and why they will continue to ignore them.

Barnes: Trump's Believers

The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes watched Frank Luntz's focus group with Donald Trump supporters. Barnes describes what he saw in some detail. See his conclusion:
One thing stood out: Trump has a solid base of support that won’t soon fade away. Those who think otherwise are kidding themselves.
Barnes finds Trump supporters to be true believers, a dangerous breed. How long before the Donald stages torchlit "Nuremberg-style" rallies? Does he need an Albert Speer, a Mike Deaver, to organize them?

Maybe not. I question whether Luntz's methodology selected "normal" Trump supporters or whether he inadvertently selected from among the most committed, the true believers.

An analogy: I and most of my peers enjoyed Beatles music, bought their albums, but were not among the screaming, hysterical fans dogging their every step. Nor did we read tedious fan mag stories about them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Trump's Followers

Robert Tracinski writes for The Federalist on this subject: who are the Trump partisans? He identifies six possible subgroups, who range from "low information" voters to angry racists. Tracinski estimates the importance of each subgroup, and concludes:
Trump is likely to be relevant only if the non-Trump Republican nominee ends up being particularly weak and uninspiring.

You don’t suppose there are any chances of that happening, do you?

Which is to say that perhaps the wise thing to do is to spend less time focusing on Trump and more time figuring which is the strongest, most principled, and most inspiring of the other nominees.
That lets out Jeb, John, Lindsey, Rand, Ben, two Ricks, George, Jim, Mike, Bobby, Chris, Scott and Carly. Who's left? Ted and Marco. Of those two, Marco probably cannot win the anti-immigrant bloc who now favor the Donald whereas Ted can. Maybe a Cruz/Fiorina ticket?

Going Ga-Ga

John Kass, writing in the Chicago Tribune, finds a parallel that will make newsroom colleagues uncomfortable. He sees in Trump admirers something he's seen before.
What is it about them that drives liberal pundits mad? Perhaps it's that they're so darn wiggly with excitement at Trump's approach. Their eyes become glassy with adoration. Their mouths open in wonder. They've given up their hearts and minds to him, and they will be betrayed. So they're mocked for fools.

I've witnessed the same exact Trumpian phenomenon in another distinct group. There was that same adoration, the identical enraptured crowds, the same wiggly eagerness you find in excited puppies, and it's a safe bet that a few carpets were soiled. By whom? Journalists, when Barack Obama drew near.
Yes, and those journalists were betrayed, as well. Betrayal is the preordained fate of true believers.

The Management Analog

Yesterday we wrote about voters taking a chance on a change agent when things have gone wrong. As a now-retired management professor, we many times lectured on the analogous behavior in large corporations.

Successful firms facing a CEO succession tend to promote from within, insuring continuity. Their motto is "It isn't broken, let's not fix it."

A firm whose directors conclude its performance is sub-optimal are very likely to hire an outsider as the new CEO, to shake things up. Does it always work? No. However, promoting from within under adverse circumstances would be considered akin to malpractice. Their motto: "We're in a hole, let's stop digging."