Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Tragic Region

The other Friedman - Tom - writes for The New York Times. He weighs in with a comparison of the post-World War II evolutions of Asia and the Middle East. You'd be correct to guess he thinks the Middle East has taken the much less productive path.
Egypt may send troops to defeat the rebels in Yemen. If so, it would be the first case of a country where 25 percent of the population can’t read sending troops to rescue a country where the water comes through the tap 36 hours a month to quell a war where the main issue is the 7th century struggle over who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad — Shiites or Sunnis.
The Sunni-Shia battle isn't the first war fought over which religious interpretation is better, and sadly won't be the last. Perhaps the final battle will be fought in the valley of Megiddo.


I am reminded of an old story. A frog meets a scorpion on the bank of the Suez Canal. The scorpion, who cannot swim, asks the frog for a ride to the other side. The frog demurs, alleging the scorpion will sting him.

The scorpion replies he won't sting as that would kill them both. Finally, the frog relents, the scorpion mounts up, and they start across. In mid-canal the frog is stung and as the two of them sink into the water, asks why did you kill us both? The scorpion shrugs, "It's the Middle East, it's what we do."

Seeking Balance

George Friedman, CEO of Stratfor, has a longish article for RealClearWorld focusing on his vision of current U.S. policy in the Middle East. Surprise: he actually thinks it is a coherent, albeit complex, policy.

Friedman believes U.S. policy today in the region resembles a former British policy aimed at creating a "balance of power." In other words, first we help one side, until they begin to look strong, then we help the other side catch up. The goal is to maintain a balance in which no nation is enough stronger than its neighbors to dominate the region.

Friedman may be correct, or it may be that the pattern he believes he sees is merely an incoherent set of U.S. case-by-case reactions to situations occurring spontaneously in a volatile arena. It might also be a bit of both.

Editorial Note

Nothing posted today on COTTonLINE will be an April Fool's Day spoof. Hoaxes can be fun but we will leave their creation and promulgation to individuals with comedic talent.

Weird Circulatory Science

The New York Times reports the consensus of most studies is that fish oil as a supplement does not prevent heart attacks or stroke. Oddly, the article does not deal with whether or not taking the oil will help boost one's HDL cholesterol level, something internists tend to favor.

My sawbones likes me to take fish oil, particularly since I refuse to eat swimming fish but do eat shellfish on occasion. I did learn something from this article - fish oil has blood thinning properties, similar to those of aspirin. Who knew?

Nigeria Votes

The Washington Post reports the nation of Nigeria has accomplished something rare in the third world, an apparently honest election in which the reins of government changed hands, changed parties. And it happened peacefully.

The incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, was defeated by former general Muhammadu Buhari and the margin of victory wasn't terribly close, 54% vs. 45% for Jonathan. Jonathan had looked weak and ineffectual in his attempts to suppress the Boko Haram rebellion underway in northern Nigeria.

Weird Physiological Science

The website of the New York Fox station has a Health Day story based on research reported in the journal Cell Research for March 31. The finding is that, basically, you are as young as your face looks.

If you look younger than your calendar years, you are probably aging more slowly than others who look their age, or older than their age. The study's author believes that the face is a more accurate reflection of general health and rate of aging than elaborate blood panels, or other measures.

Perhaps Billy Crystal wasn't far wrong when he sang, burlesquing Fernando Lamas:
My father used to say to me
Nando, don't be a schnook
It's not how you feel
It's how you look
You look marvelous
Absolutely marvelous
Hat tip to Drudge Report for the link.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Unintended Consequences, Again

Richard A. Epstein, writing for The Hoover Institution, on the topic of the unintended consequences of race-conscious Congressional districts used to increase minority representation in the House.
What is clear, regrettably clear, is that maximizing black representation upsets the overall political configuration. The creation of more majority-minority districts will move the representatives of those districts to the left, given the strong level of black support for the Democratic Party. By the same token, the remaining majority-majority districts will become more conservative as their candidates for office need not worry about the political preferences of non-members. Looked at in the round, race-conscious rules in drawing district lines lead to increased polarization of politics.
That process could, in part, explain current high levels of polarization.

Putin's Early Years

The BBC has a nice article on the young Vlad Putin's early KGB years in East Germany. He and his then-wife were stationed there when the wall came down.

The Beeb believes understanding Putin's early years is useful in picturing how he conceptualizes patriotism, governance, etc. It is good to be reminded that during the Soviet heyday, the standard of living was higher in East Germany than in Russia.

Although Communism never worked terribly well anywhere, it did function somewhat better in East Germany than in Russia or Ukraine. German culture is more pro-work and less alcohol-sodden than the Russian version.

Major War in Middle East Possible

Steven P. Bucci is foreign policy director for The Heritage Foundation. He has penned for RealClearDefense an article about the dangers of a region-wide war in the Middle East, making an interesting analogy to an earlier conflict.
In June 1914, an assassin shot the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the powder keg was lit. The results were disastrous.

The Middle East today looks frighteningly similar to the Europe of the early 20th Century.
 Bucci believes what has changed is a reduced U.S. role in the region.
For decades, the U.S. served as security guarantor and diplomatic trouble-shooter for our friends in the region.(snip)The credible threat of American hard power was enough to keep our friends calm and our enemies quiet.

Our jittery friends in the Middle East now feel that they must counter—strongly and immediately—the local infections promoted and exploited by Iran. And they are sometimes doing so without consulting the U.S.
And he concludes:
The result is a Middle East more explosive and unpredictable than ever. The conditions are now ripe for a major Middle Eastern war—one that could spill across the globe, wherever Sunni and Shia Muslims interact. All that remains missing is a spark.

A Pity Party

See a Bloomberg View article about an impending Summit of the Americas in Panama City. Its title tells the story:
Latin America Gathers to Gripe About U.S.
Sadly, this region could be the poster child for fecklessness and victimology. No wonder we in North America (including Canadians) tend to ignore Latin America. Like other places sharing a Spanish colonial heritage (e.g., Philippines, California), the region is charming but corrupt and badly governed.

Latin America finds it so much easier to blame the U.S. than to face up to what they are doing wrong. If their troubles are our fault, they don't have to take the hard steps to solve those problems; in fact it would be both inappropriate and pointless to try.

Even the region's few bright spots (Costa Rica, Chile, Peru) only look good in comparison with their sad neighbors. The stunning comparison is to see what Lee Kuan Yew accomplished in post-colonial Singapore, in less time with fewer resources in the steamy tropics.

Culture matters.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Mercenaries, Again

Four days ago I wrote about mercenary troops, citing a book review on the topic. Today, The Federalist pops up with an article exploring the use of letters of marque, authorized in the U.S. Constitution, to direct mercenary forces against ISIS on our behalf. It could work.

Trouble in Paradise?

With the recent death of its founder, Lee Kuan Yew, the city-state of Singapore has been much in the news. COTTonLINE's favorite demographer, Joel Kotkin, runs their numbers for The Daily Beast and finds pitfalls ahead for Mr. Lee's island paradise.
Real wages for ordinary Singaporeans have stagnated. From 1998 to 2008, the income of the bottom 20 percent of households dropped an average of 2.7 percent, while the salaries of the richest 20 percent rose by more than half.

For many Singaporeans, discontent has led them to consider a move elsewhere. Already some 300,000 citizens now live abroad, almost one of ten. As many as half of Singaporeans, according to a recent survey, would leave if they could.

Today Singapore has one of the world’s lowest fertility rates; and more young people are postponing or completely avoiding marriage (children out of wedlock remain very rare). The fertility rates in Singapore have fallen almost 50 percent below the replacement rate of 2.1.
COTTonLINE sees no particular reason to single out Singapore for these trends. Virtually every developed nation in the world is experiencing the same fertility collapse and increase in income inequality. Japan's problems are nearly identical, and Europe isn't far behind.

A Mega-Drought Predicted for CA

Long-time reporter Lou Cannon writes for RealClearPolitics about the continuing, worsening drought parching the American West. Cannon cites research appearing in a new journal Science Advances.
If the scientists who have examined tree rings that reveal weather data back to the year 1000 are right, the Southwest probably is not in the late stages of a normal drought but the beginning phase of a 35-year mega-drought -- the sort that contributed to the extinction of the ancient Pueblo peoples, or Anasazi, of the Colorado Plateau.
What he reports I also have seen in my own recent travels up and down much of California. I've written about our dry region repeatedly, including twice so far this year, here and here.

A mega-drought could herald the extinction of California agriculture, some of the world's most productive. Little more than weeds and scrub oak grow here without irrigation.

Indiana's Controversial New Law

There's is considerable uproar over a law in Indiana that allows firms whose owners have religious scruples against same sex marriage to refuse to provide services therefor. See a USA Today story flor details.

Without getting into the issues of LGBT life, it seems to COTTonLINE that this is an issue the market can solve. In the absence of a monopoly provider, if one vendor won't bake a wedding cake for a same sex wedding it is more business for bakeries which will do so.

People voting with their dollars should, over time, solve the problem without government intervention. Most businesses do not willingly turn away customers with money in hand.

Free Speech Not Unlimited

Reuters reports via Yahoo News the Supreme Court has held student First Amendment rights were not violated. School officials would not permit them to wear US flag t-shirts to school during a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

The school had experienced white vs. Hispanic violence and gang activity. Administrators feared the flag shirts would incite fighting.

The Supremes let stand an Appeals Court ruling holding school administrators were within their rights to ban the shirts. Presumably the "can't yell fire in a crowded theater" exception to freedom of speech applied here.

I reluctantly agree with the finding, given the explosive situation at the school.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Loving Robots

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds is the master of the one sentence aphorism that nails truth. Here's his latest:
The higher the minimum wage, the faster the Age Of Machines is born.
A robot never shows up late or drunk or gets the flu or sexually harasses a coworker or slugs the boss or steals from the company or joins a union or demands overtime or a raise or ... you get the idea.

In order for jobs to continue to exist, workers have to be sufficiently cheaper (or more creative) than machines to force bosses to put up with the grief they cause.

Speaking Ill

Carl M. Cannon writes for the Orange County Register a column entitled "Who Says You Can't Speak Ill of Hillary?" It's fun and worth your time.

The official COTTonLINE response: We have every intention of speaking ill of Hillary, clearly and often, between now and late 2016. Count on it. The Dems need to spend 8 years wandering the wilderness in exile.

COTTonLINE may or may not endorse the GOP candidate for President, depending on which postulant gets the nod. With reluctance, I can imagine a contest in which COTTonLINE catalogs the shortcomings of both major party candidates.

As you might surmise, calling malediction on both houses is not my preferred outcome.

U.S. Foreign Policy in Free Fall

At his The American Interest blog, Walter Russell Mead writes about the disarray in the Obama foreign policy. Mead quotes James Jeffrey, Obama's former Ambassador to Iraq about U.S. Middle East policy.
We’re in a goddamn (sic) free fall here.
Mead highlights a few big administration screw-ups:
Having fundamentally misjudged major developments (calling ISIS the “jayvee team,” Yemen a success, Erdogan a reliable partner, etc. etc.).
He could have added: announcing our Afghanistan departure date, failure to arm the Kurds, abandoning Iraq, turning on Israel. Mead concludes:
Even the President’s ideological fellow travelers can no longer mount a cogent defense of his Middle East policy.

The shocked silence of the foreign policy establishment, the absence of any statements of support from European or Asian allies about our Middle East course, the evidence that the President and the “senior officials” whom he trusts continue to be blindsided by major developments they didn’t expect and haven’t provided for: all of this tells us that our Middle East policy is indeed in free fall.
Question: How differently would this President behave if it were his publicly stated intention to destroy the U.S. super power status? Answer: not much differently.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Have Some Fun

Each week Steve Hayward assembles a collection of photos with snarky captions, political cartoons, and pithy sayings for the blog Power Line, he calls it The Week in Pictures. Here are three favorites from this week's group, which he's labeled the Centrifugal Farce Edition.
Obama: I still believe in a Palestinian statehood, even if Netanyahu doesn't.
Netanyahu: I still believe in the U.S. Constitution, even if Obama doesn't.

My girlfriend left a note on the fridge, "It's not working, I can't take it anymore. I am going to my Mom's place.
I opened the fridge. The light came on. The beer was cold... What the hell is she talking about?

Say what you will about the South, but no one retires and moves up north.
That last one echoes the Westward, Ho post we did earlier today. They're better seen with the pictures or cartoons.

Harried Reid

Hey, conspiracy theory fans, have I got a doozy for you ... courtesy of John Hinderaker at Power Line. See what Hinderaker writes:
When a guy shows up at a Las Vegas emergency room on New Year’s Day with severe facial injuries and broken ribs, and gives as an explanation the functional equivalent of “I walked into a doorknob,” it isn’t hard to guess that he ran afoul of mobsters.

A friend of mine was in Las Vegas a week or two ago. He talked to a number of people there about Reid’s accident, and didn’t find anyone who believed the elastic exercise band story. The common assumption was that the incident resulted, in some fashion, from Reid’s relationship with organized crime.

Everyone knows that the Reid family has gotten rich, even though Reid has spent his entire career as a public employee. It is known that a considerable part of his fortune came from being cut in on sweetheart Las Vegas land deals that included at least one person associated with organized crime as a principal.
As 1930s actress Jean Harlow famously said, "When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas." Reid not running for reelection could be a quid pro quo for staying alive.