Monday, January 31, 2011
Michael Barone, master political number cruncher, takes a look for RealClearPolitics and comes up with optimistic results for the GOP for 2012. He's into things like who won the statewide popular vote in 2010 (total votes for each party's congressional representatives) and what that means for 2012. This is semi-technical stuff, not written for the reader with a casual interest in politics.
This article from Forbes reports in detail on the ruling by Federal Judge Roger Vinson that Obamacare is unconstitutional. The posting includes the entire ruling, if you care to read it.
Now it is on to the Supreme Court for a decision. My prediction: five to four against Obamacare.
This article in the Washington Examiner alleges that a Federal judge has ruled the entire Obamacare law invalid and unconstitutional. The article is extremely preliminary and may turn out to be less dramatic than claimed. A hat tip to the Drudge Report for the link.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan was a presidential speech-writer for Reagan and the first Bush. This background makes her commentary on presidential speeches particularly relevant.
Go here to see her evaluation of Obama's speech earlier this month, it is thorough and, mostly, negative. After his winning speech in Tucson, the State of the Union was surely a letdown. She concludes of the president:
He was not serious and he didn’t seize the center, he went straight for the mush. Maybe at the end of the day he thinks that’s what centrism is.
Been thinking of buying one of the new electric cars, maybe a Chevrolet Volt or a Nissan Leaf? You owe it to yourself to read this article from The Washington Post.
It turns out as an electric car owner you'd better live somewhere in the sunny South; somewhere there is little or no snow or cold weather. Batteries don't like being cold, don't function well when cold. Meanwhile, cold conditions puts extra loads on car batteries, running heaters and headlights.
Prolonged power outages often accompany winter storms. With no power at home electric car owners cannot recharge their cars' batteries. At which point they'd better hope their cars have auxiliary gasoline engines to provide alternate power - some do, some don't.
Owners of pure electrics, cars with no gas engine, could be stuck until the power comes back on. They may feel the need to own a backup generator, fueled by gasoline or natural gas, to charge up their car batteries.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
"Dirty Harry" Clint Eastwood, being interviewed in The Wall Street Journal, talking about right and wrong in the long war with Islamists:
How many rights do you want to give to people who are trying to kill you just because you're you? (snip) [Y]ou're not one of them, so you're an inferior being. . . . Do you fight on 21st-century ideas or 17th-century, like the people who are against you?Excellent questions, I'm not certain of the answers either.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Michael Barone, writing in The Washington Examiner, about our national political process:
The weakest part of our political system, by a considerable margin, is the presidential nominating process.This systemic weakness is one of the main reasons we keep getting presidents (e.g., the last three) who need "training wheels." It is an excellent article.
The Washington Post tends to be sympathetic to President Obama. Their editorial reaction to his recent State of the Union speech was anything but:
President Obama entered office promising to be a different kind of politician - one who would speak honestly with the American people about the hard choices they face and would help make those hard calls. Tuesday night's State of the Union Address would have been the moment to make good on that promise. He disappointed.
Ouch! When friends go public with concerns about you, you've got a problem.
I just finished reading the SOTU (link above in WaPo quote) and my reaction was that it was too long, tediously so. Like any committee-crafted speech it wasn't bad but it tried to cover too much and, in the process, tired the listener or, in my case, the reader.
The public cares about the economy and jobs and he ended up talking about many, many other things. I'm sure he believes those "other things" are related to the nation's economic health. However it sounded like he was talking about them because they were, in themselves, important. In other words, it sounds like he doesn't "get" what people care about and is off on his own tangent, as he was with health care.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Here at COTTonLINE we rarely cite articles from Salon, a left wing online magazine. Today we have an exception, an article concerning our continuing trade imbalance with China and the reasons therefor. A hat-tip to Lucianne.com for the link.
As the Salon article notes, those reasons exist both in China and in the U.S. To be sure China is the main villain, but American firms are willing accomplices.
Author Michael Lind argues that the U.S. is in a trade war instigated by China but being "fought" almost entirely by them, while the U.S. refuses to defend itself. This sounds like it could be true; it is at least worth considering.
China does all sorts of internal shifts of resources to pursue this trade war. These shifts would be either difficult or impossible in the U.S.
Those who oppose countering the Chinese moves argue that their economic juggling will result in an economic melt-down for China, probably sooner rather than later. One choice is to wait and watch it happen, as it did in Japan; this appears to be the choice the U.S. has taken.
As we noted on Friday, creating a U.S. workplace in which workers of middling skills can find acceptable employment seems to be in our national interest. We have citizens whose so-so capabilities fit such jobs and, when the jobs go away, their former occupants do not magically disappear.
Rather they end up on the dole, which is neither good for them nor for us who continue to work and support them with our taxes. That is the argument for not following the "watch and wait" strategy.
Monday, January 24, 2011
President Obama is more popular today than at any time in the last year, see today's Rasmussen Reports poll for details. For an excellent, brief analysis of this popularity, see John Hinderaker's posting on Power Line blog.
Hinderaker believes that Obama's powerlessness since the November, 2010, election is the essential cause of this popularity. That lack of power means the president is unable to do the ideological things he did before, things the electorate didn't like.
Hinderaker's view is that the people like the President but don't like his programs. Even that reported liking of the president may be largely the Bradley effect in action. Time will tell.
Must feminism equal liberalism? Can a feminist be a fiscal conservative? Can a feminist oppose abortion? These are interesting questions that Kay S. Hymowitz treats in this City Journal article. I recommend the article.
Hymowitz begins with the phenomenon of Palinism and extends it to encompass the Tea Party women and a number of other conservative women in politics. She has come up with a list of questions without trying to answer those questions, probably a wise choice.
If she reaches any conclusion, and this only implicit, it is that there are conservative women who are succeeding in politics and that it is at least possible that conservative issues like the deficit can also be considered women's issues.
If I were forced to answer her questions I would formulate my answer thusly: conservative issues like defense, deficit, small government, etc. are issues for people, not merely for men. Women are people, so these issues are also women's issues. Ergo, there will be conservative women. Get over it.
Friday, January 21, 2011
This National Journal article is a sobering look at a problem most in this country are ignoring: what happened to the "jobs in the middle?" That is, we've got jobs flipping burgers and sweeping floors on the one hand, and jobs writing software and designing jetliners on the other. We are missing the jobs in the middle, the jobs the high school graduates once filled.
When you read about the "hollowing out" of the economy and the disappearance of the middle class, reference is made to this bipolarization of the workforce. The result is to force many people downward economically.
Just because we've outsourced most manufacturing jobs to China and most call center jobs to India, doesn't mean we've "disappeared" the people who once filled those "middle" jobs. Those people are still here, living down the street or across town. Now they compete for fewer and fewer jobs driving trucks or working as firefighters - jobs that cannot be off-shored or, as yet, replaced with technology. Because more people compete for fewer jobs, the wages of such jobs are pushed down.
Education is proposed as a solution for this problem, and it will help some fraction of the middle group. Many of the individuals in this group are people for whom the education system doesn't "work." Which raises the question, what becomes of them? Do we keep them on a permanent dole, as is done in Europe? That is their sad solution to the problem, not a good one.
Alternatively, we may need governmental policies to repatriate the jobs they once held. What these policies might be is unclear.
Roger Cohen, writing for The New York Times, about the government melt-down in Tunisia:
There are going to have to be painful trade-offs if Tunisia is to demonstrate — finally — that nothing in the Arab genome means one dictator must follow another.The character of that "genome" is in question. You have to wonder why there are no real multi-party democracies in the roughly 15 nations that make up the Arab world.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Daniel Goldman, who writes as Spengler for the Asia Times of Hong Kong, has an excellent column on what the government overthrow in Tunisia means. He cites statistics that I've not seen elsewhere concerning a precipitous drop in fertility that accompanies literacy and education of women in Muslim countries. Here is one of my favorite lines:
The one thing we may say with certainty about the Tunisians is that there won't be very many of them a generation or two from now. Tunisia's young population may fall by half.He explains why:
The demographic profile of Tunisia - along with Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Iran and most Muslim countries - resembles a train wreck in slow motion. (snip) The average young Tunisian woman - like her Iranian or Turkish counterpart - grew up in a family of seven children, but will bear only one or two herself.Spengler notes that, like Europe, these countries will end up trying to support many elderly and, unlike Europe, not be able to afford it. That is his train wreck: few employed young people trying to support many elderly and not succeeding. See his conclusion:
The numbers don't add up. There aren't any good choices in Tunisia, and that fact is of greater significance than the next round of political improvisation after the fall of the Ben Ali government.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Troy Senik has written a very good summary of the California dilemma for City Journal. He calls it The Radical Reform That California Needs.
I suspect his proposed reforms are close to the mark. My only concern is whether the political will exists to accomplish them. My evaluation is "not yet."
Given a Governor and Legislature all from one party, and that party being the Democrats, I suspect what will happen is mostly raising taxes along with some minor cuts in spending. The political analogy used to describe this approach is "kicking the can down the road."
The result of even higher taxes will be more tax payers leaving the state while more "tax eaters" enter the state. In other words, COTTonLINE expects things will have to get worse before they can get better.
Given California's electoral balance, I can't see a solution short of bankruptcy, and as yet no structure exists for states to declare bankruptcy.
In the last few years, Mark Steyn has been one of the most eloquent and talented exponents of the "decline of the West" thesis, reformulated here as the "decline of the Anglosphere." Steyn is sometimes bitingly funny; this article in The New Criterion is not one of those times.
Most of his discussion focuses on the deterioration of British society, and his concern that the same forces are at work in the U.S. You may or may not agree with his formulation, but either way Steyn is always a good read.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Two University of Virginia sociologists have done a study which finds that undergraduate students don't learn a lot in college. From this finding, a reporter questions why we say that "to make it in life you need a college degree?" You can find the Associated Press article here on Yahoo News.
The reporter's formulation misses four crucial points. First, colleges admit those freshmen who have done the best in high school. In other words, college students are pre-screened for the willingness and ability to conform to the requirements of a bureaucratic system. Schools and employers are both bureaucratic systems, though neither much wants to admit this.
Second, college freshmen are pre-screened for higher intelligence, via the SAT test scores. Colleges brag about the average SAT scores of their freshmen for good reason.
Third, much learning in college is social learning. Typically, college graduates learn social skills which enable them to "fit in" to middle and upper middle class society. These skills will likely not be reflected in the Collegiate Learning Assessment test which measures critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.
Fourth, employers use a college degree as a minimum requirement for many entry-level jobs. By doing so, they put those jobs, and the jobs above them in the promotion ladder, off-limits to young people without the degree. Employers do this because it is an efficient way to limit the applicant pool to intelligent, bureaucratically savvy, socially adept candidates.
None of these four points asks whether students have learned much in college that an achievement test can measure. Yet all are factors in the individual's subsequent success in life, if success is measured by being employed and earning a good salary.
A widely quoted statistic is that, even in these tough times, unemployment among college graduates is running about 5%. Meanwhile it is almost twice that high for the society at large. A college degree definitely helps us "have a good life" even if we learn relatively little while getting it.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Robert Samuelson, who writes for The Washington Post and RealClearPolitics, has a nice article comparing our current malaise with the unhappiness of the 1960s. He reminds us of the assassinations, the riots, and the anti-war sentiment during the period 1963 to 1974. He reminds us that two-thirds of those alive today do not have memories of the 1960s.
Sadly, I remember the period he describes and remember feeling everything was falling apart. Samuelson suggests that, much as we eventually climbed out of that mess, we will climb out of today's nastiness. I suspect he is right.
It is easy to underestimate the sheer inertia of our ship of state, which can survive several ho-hum presidents in a row, not to mention years of control by the political party with which you do not agree. That inertia is, in all likelihood, the secret of our system's success.
I love demography and anthropology. Joel Kotkin, writing in newgeography, talks about a new tribalism in the world, beginning with the Han people who make up 90% of China's population. Some of his analysis is very insightful, particularly concerning Europe and Asia.
On the other hand, when he gets to what he calls the Anglosphere his analysis falls apart. Up to that point his focus is upon tribalism, then all of a sudden he lauds at the Anglosphere's unique ability to absorb and acculturate immigrants.
It feels like Kotkin is saying tribalism rules everywhere except in the English-speaking nations; that is nonsense. I suspect he just knows the Anglosphere better than he knows other realms, so he sees examples of immigrants functioning successfully here.
It isn't clear that the Anglosphere is still doing such a great job of absorbing immigrants. See what you think of his analysis.
There are several articles in the mainstream media talking about how Martin Luther King, Jr.'s message of nonviolence can help us heal from the trauma of the Arizona shootings. If we need further proof that people don't "get" what happened in AZ, this is surely it.
Can anyone seriously believe that King's message of nonviolence, aimed at sometimes violent people with legitimate grievances, has any relevance to an insane shooter? That Dr. King's soothing words would calm the storms in the mind of a paranoid schizophrenic? It is nonsense.
It reflects the authors' persistent mistaken belief that the shooter was acting out our sometimes vigorous political discourse, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. They have called into question their own sanity.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
CBS News releases poll data which shows Americans prefer cutting government services to raising taxes, as a means to reduce the deficit. Higher taxes are opposed two to one: 65% opposed to 33% in favor. COTTonLINE has advocated cutting the size of government for some time. Rather than incremental cuts, we advocate eliminating entire federal cabinet-level departments.
We have suggested that Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, and Education could all "go south." We argue that farmers would farm in the absence of a Department of Agriculture, trains, trucks, and planes would travel without a Department of Transportation, local districts would run schools, etc. You get the idea.
On the other hand we absolutely believe in the regulatory function of government. Government is our referee in the game of life, think of black and white striped shirts blowing whistles and throwing flags. That means we support the necessity of anti-trust legislation and control, drug approval via the FDA, requiring airlines to be safe via the FAA, keeping our air and water clean via the EPA, etc. We need the Bernie Madoffs caught and imprisoned.
The regulatory aspects of the former departments could be collected into a smaller number of streamlined units. Furthermore, I see no reason why the Department of Defense shouldn't handle what is now the function of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. In short, we believe the federal government could be substantially smaller and less costly.
Make the loser in a lawsuit pay the legal costs of the winner - that should shut down most frivolous lawsuits. It's the idea described in this article in The Daily Caller. Trial lawyers will hate it.
The article suggests Texas Governor Rick Perry wants Texas to adopt the system. If it happens, watch the flow of jobs to Texas double or triple. Hard working people will move to Texas to work while Texas trial lawyers will move elsewhere to sue, talk about your good trade-offs. Texas wins on both ends of that deal.
The late William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency, in a recently released interview given in 2003, long after he left office:
The CIA currently doesn't work for anyone. It thinks it works for the president, but it doesn't and it's out of control.
AOL News is the source of this quote. It isn't clear whether he was referring to 1988 when he last was NSA Director or 2003 when he was interviewed, I presume the latter. Admiral Odom was generous with his criticism.
The people of Tunisia just chased their long-time, unelected President out of the country. I'm guessing this hasn't happened recently in the Arab world; a place where most leaders are some type of autocrat. Go here to see a Washington Post article about Tunisia's president fleeing.
Now my question is this: Will what happened in Tunisia catch on elsewhere across North Africa and through the Middle East? Many of that region's autocrats are sleeping poorly tonight, and tomorrow will be checking their Swiss bank accounts.
The problem with such popular uprisings is that the new government may be much less friendly to the U.S., if for example that new government is a Taliban-like Islamist regime.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Is there something strange in the water? According to this article from The Telegraph (U.K.), over a third of young Japanese men are not interested in sex. That's fellows aged 16 to 19, an age when healthy young men should be interested in little else. The article also says forty percent of married Japanese are avoiding sex.
This survey data comes from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. I wonder if there is something in the Japanese culture that says you don't admit an interest in sex to the government?
Stand by for one of the saddest quotes you will read this year. It comes from an AFP article via Breitbart:
Global freedom declined for a fifth straight year in 2010. (snip) The Washington-based Freedom House said it had documented the longest continuous period of decline since it began compiling the annual index nearly 40 years ago.
If that isn't a warning to stay vigilant, I've never seen one. A substantial part of this freedom decline is in Latin America, a place where this tendency has a sad history.
Irish poet and playwright Brendan Behan famously said, "There is no such thing as bad publicity except my own obituary." Sarah Palin operates on this wavelength. Whatever she comments on, the story ends up being about her.
For example, Palin commented on the Arizona shootings as did virtually every other politician and person in public life in North America. Unlike most other commentators, she immediately became a focus of the story. Here's an article by Pat Buchanan defending her comments and another in which Assistant Democratic House leader Rep. Clyburn criticizes her statements - these are only two of many on both sides, about her.
The important question is "Will nonstop free media be a blessing or a curse for Sarah Palin?" Time will tell; to date her negatives remain high. On the other hand, almost every American knows her name, her face, her family, and where she stands. Imagine how much a Pawlenty or a Daniels would have to spend to create the same awareness.
Andrei Lankov, a resident scholar in South Korea, believes the tea leaves are predicting more trouble in the Korean peninsula in 2011. See his article in the Asia Times. I happen to think his reasoning isn't bad.
He expects the North, whose blackmailing strategy isn't working very well at the moment, to escalate pressure on the South. The South is showing unusual backbone, and may well retaliate with some vigor. It is not impossible this tit-for-tat could evolve into a war.
President Obama is capable of giving a good speech, and he gave one in Tucson at the memorial for the individuals shot there. To me the speech had a Reaganesque feeling, describing the personal lives of people who were shot.
The President resisted the impulse to assign blame, doing exactly what he needed to do. There has been far too much assigning of blame done already by the irresponsible media, mainstream and otherwise.
I didn't watch the speech being given, but I have read the prepared remarks and you can do the same at this CBS News site.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Hezbollah and its allies have pulled out of the ruling coalition in Lebanon, causing the government to fall. Now there will be a protracted period of political scrambling to reassemble a coalition with enough votes to govern. It may also lead to armed bloodshed in the streets, as Hezbollah has the most armed men in Lebanon.
The issue triggering this crisis is the impending release, by a U.N. backed tribunal, of indictments concerning the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, father of the current Prime Minister, Saad al-Hariri. The expectation is that Hezbollah will be named in those indictments, either as assassin or as accessory to Syria. Hezbollah is unwilling to peacefully allow this to happen, hence the Lebanese government falls and fighting may ensue.
Lebanon's multi-group coalition government is the closest thing to a multi-party democracy extant in the Arab world, if you exclude Iraq's U.S.-imposed parliamentary system. Go here to read a Reuters article about the situation.
This article in Foreign Policy predicts food prices will rise and so will shortages of food. The reasons are the ones you already know: too many mouths to feed, too little water to irrigate, crops being diverted for vehicle fuel.
If you believe this article reports a real problem, it could suggest several winning investments. For example, crop futures might pay off handsomely.
Turkey was a U.S. ally throughout the Cold War era. Now we watch it slide away into one-party rule and active collaboration with the likes of Iran.
This article from The Daily Star of Lebanon does a relatively comprehensive job of showing how this unfortunate process has come about. It is interesting to see how a well-meaning effort to avoid the fragmented governments with which Israel and Italy suffer has unintentionally put Turkey on a slippery slope to one-party rule.
Turkey will fit into its Middle Eastern neighborhood better as a one-party state. It isn't a region known for multi-party electoral politics as we understand the concept.
Here is some interesting demographic/geographic science from New Geography concerning the continuing process of suburbanization in many places around the world. Conversely, it can be seen as the pooling of the poor in older urban centers.
One place where this doesn't seem to much happen is in France. In France the affluent prefer to live in the city and their bidding up the prices of urban dwellings drives the poor out to suburbs called banlieues. As always, the French march to their own eccentric drummer.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been trying to re-engineer the defense capacities of the U.S. to make our military more relevant to the types of challenges he believes are faced today. He is likely to step down soon, but his successor is likely to pursue the same policies.
Meanwhile, the armament build-up of China may lend weight to the views of those who oppose Gates' plans. Gates has been reorganizing to oppose low-level asymmetric warfare from Islamic sources.
If we must oppose China, that is a quite different matter. China brings to the table an enormous military which is best opposed with exactly the sort of high-tech, high impact weapon systems which Gates has sought to terminate. See this BBC News article for more information.
David Brooks, writing for The New York Times, hits just the right note with regard to the Arizona shootings. For example, he says:
I have no love for Sarah Palin, and I like to think I’m committed to civil discourse. But the political opportunism occasioned by this tragedy has ranged from the completely irrelevant to the shamelessly irresponsible.Having dealt with the media's fecklessness, Brooks asks three very relevant questions raised by this tragedy:
How can we more aggressively treat mentally ill people who are becoming increasingly disruptive? How can we prevent them from getting guns? Do we need to make involuntary treatment easier for authorities to invoke?This good article is worth your time.
Go see this fascinating report of the Fermi space telescope picking up anti-matter bursts generated in thunderstorms here on Earth. Not much matter is involved, merely positrons, the anti- version of electrons. The article is from BBC News and the science report is from the American Astronomical Society meeting.
There is an old saying about judging the character of a person by how they treat their help. Have some fun at the expense of the Germans. Go see this Daily Mail book review of a tell-all by a Polish gal who went to Germany to work as a cleaning lady.
She says Germans weren't all that nice to work for. On the other hand, Poles have lots of historical reason not to love the Germans.
Her experiences sound like a watered-down version of how oil-rich Arabs treat the Bangladeshis and Malaysians who work for them. At least she wasn't tortured, raped or killed.
Monday, January 10, 2011
On December 20, 2010, we wrote of the prevalence of pedophilia among Afghans, particularly the dominant Pashtuns. Here we see Daniel Goldman, who writes for the Asia Times as Spengler, doing a column on the topic of Afghan men having sex with young boys. To some degree he views the practice being widespread in Islamic countries.
Imagine fighting and dying for a country which enshrines a practice for which we imprison people. Instead of combat brigades, why don't we exile our pedophiles to Afghanistan?
Here is a Los Angeles Times article which talks about some of the cost-shifting and funding issues lurking in Jerry Brown's plans for getting state government out of the red, very likely at the expense of putting counties and cities further into the red. This is a documentation addendum to what we wrote yesterday.
There is a lot of horse pucky being written about right wing radio/blogs/etc. influencing the Arizona shooter. Go see this article from Politico to see what was really on Loughner's mind. He is a nutcase, pure and simple, according to his friends quoted at length in this column. Go here to see a photo of a "shrine" alleged to be in his backyard.
It is being reported in the Washington Post that Loughner is registered as an Independent and did not vote in November, 2010. That isn't the behavior of any right wing firebrand I'd recognize.
These, of course, are merely the facts. Don't expect them to get in the way of the moonbat left making hateful accusations.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
The sad shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona is another fallout of one of the least attractive aspects of the 1960s. I speak of the dismantling of the nation's system of mental hospitals.
Let's remember who was at fault: it was an ugly collaboration of the left and right. The left said people had a right to be insane, that it was a natural condition and shouldn't be a cause for incarceration. The right said look at all the money we could save by shutting down these large, costly facilities that warehouse the incurably insane.
Together they closed down the places where the Jared Loughners of this world could be treated and more importantly, we could be kept safe from them. It appears Loughner is another sad case like the shooting at Virginia Tech by Seung-Hui Cho.
As a result of closing mental hospitals we have the insane living on the streets, under bridges and sometimes on college campuses. From time to time one acquires a weapon and does awful things. The fault is ours for letting it happen.
Townhall columnist Austin Hill writes of his memories of California when Jerry Brown was Governor the first time: the passage of the famous Proposition 13 limiting property taxes, and Governor Brown's reaction to that proposition then and now. His recollections match mine, I too grew up in the state.
We at COTTonLINE hoped Brown would see the need for change, and move in a helpful direction ala Nixon in China. I guess that was like hoping your average house cat would take up swimming. As Hill reports, it appears Jerry Brown is headed in the direction of creating an unstoppable pressure for increasing property taxes.
My understanding is that his plan may work as follows: when Prop 13 was passed, the state took over funding - out of income and sales tax revenues - a number of functions previously funded by its counties out of property tax revenues. Now a broke state government will stop paying for these functions and dump them back on the shoulders of county governments.
Burdened county governments will do some combination of cutting services and demanding to be allowed to raise property taxes. Faced with diminished services and local pressure, Brown suspects California voters will agree to abrogating some aspects of Proposition 13 so that counties can raise property taxes.
The ugly political undertow in all of this is that most California voters who do not own property vote Democrat. I understand that renters pay property tax indirectly, and that rents are likely to rise. But rising rents are blamed on landlords, rarely on the rising taxes that those landlords pay. County supervisors in California do not run with a party label. When they press the voters for rolling back popular Prop. 13, it will not create bad vibes for the Democrats.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
Andrew Malcolm, writing for the Los Angeles Times, does a real job on our President. This is the place to go for a laugh at Obama's expense.
Malcolm begins with the data floating around about the drop in the number of self-identifying Democrats. Then he makes fun of Obama's explanation for the election results:
The real reason for his political "shellacking" in the Nov. 2 midterm elections, the president explains, is that he did not have a chance to adequately explain administration policies during the 172 trips he took on Air Force One and the 196 trips he took aboard the Marine One helicopter during the 365 days of 2010. The president plans to get out more this year, aides say.
Friday, January 7, 2011
Ronald Brownstein, writing in National Journal, reports that the 2010 election saw record numbers of whites voting Republican. Meanwhile Gallup reports finding essentially the same results in their recent polling.
You can spin this finding in several very different ways. Way one: The Democrats have done little to attract white voters, and instead showed a strong bias in favor of minorities. Way two: The Republicans have done little to attract minority voters, and instead showed a strong bias in favor of whites. Way three: Party platforms and ideologies appeal to different groups, it's daddy party vs. mommy party. Way four: Ethnic cleansing in the Democrat Party is driving out the whites (I hope I'm joking). Way five: Minorities don't want to be in a party with lots of whites. Etcetera.
A couple of nights ago the other DrC and I watched a film we'd checked out of the local branch of the library. The film, The Other Boleyn Girl, involves the loves of the young Henry VIII.
It stars Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson as Anne and Mary Boleyn, the nieces of a very ambitious and conniving Duke. Henry is played by Eric Bana and it is a young, fit Henry that we see, not the image of Henry normally portrayed.
I frankly had never heard of Mary Boleyn, who if the film is at all accurate, may have borne Henry's only living, albeit illegitimate, son. The film is told mostly from Mary's point of view.
Sister Anne's claims to fame are three: Henry so wanted to marry her that he broke England's bonds with the Roman Catholic church and created the Church of England, she was mother to Queen Elizabeth I, and she was the first queen to be executed - for supposed adultery. Those are substantial accomplishments, although perhaps she would have rather skipped the third.
While an Anglophile, I didn't expect to enjoy the film. I was pleasantly surprised.
It is important to understand why people do, or do not do, what society would have them do. In the last 20 years great things have been accomplished in the large cities of this country. What has happened is a large reduction in both crime and life-long reliance on welfare.
These accomplishments are based on overthrowing liberal notions of what causes these social pathologies and adopting instead conservative notions of causation. An article by Heather MacDonald in City Journal lays all of this out in fine fashion, she calls it "restoring the social contract."
Thursday, January 6, 2011
William Pentland, writing for Forbes, about pollution problems with electric cars:
For countries with dirty power supplies – like India and China – widespread adoption of electric vehicles could lead to more – not less – CO2 emissions compared to widespread adoption of gasoline based vehicles.That could also happen here in the U.S., where most of the power in large parts of the country is generated by coal-fired plants.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
This CBS News Money Watch article says people who have reverse mortgages must pay property taxes and homeowner's insurance. Failure to do so results in loss of home, income stream, etc.
If this is true, and I have no reason to believe it is not, one very basic question arises. Why aren't reverse mortgages set up to pay the taxes and insurance first and send the homeowners the balance as their remittance? An arrangement like this is so logical that anything else seems almost criminal.
Janet Daley, writing for The Telegraph (U.K.), about former Speaker Nancy Pelosi handing over the Speaker's gavel to John Boehner:
She really is a piece of work: unrepentant and self-congratulatory to the end, even in the face of overwhelming repudiation by the voters.Well said. That's our Nancy.
Max Boot (mental image of a hip boot) writes for RealClearWorld that covert action is once again on the rise. He provides a mostly reasonable one-page history of the ups and downs of the last half-century's black operations.
Recently, he alleges, our covert operators have had a quiet hand in several governmental overthrows, the Stuxnet corruption of the Iranian nuclear program's computers, and the bombings of Iranian nuclear scientists.
In his black ops history, Boot somehow completely leaves out the role of covert warfare in Southeast Asia. Covert action was the basis for the film Apocalypse Now and the reason we have Hmong immigrants in the U.S.
Monday, January 3, 2011
The first rule to follow upon finding yourself in a hole is to stop digging.
This quote is variously attributed to Will Rogers and/or Denis Healey.
We build infrastructure projects in Afghanistan - roads, canals, schools - and the locals don't maintain them. That is the essence of this Washington Post story. My question is why someone thought this was news?
If these projects were things the Afghans wanted or valued, they would have built them without our help. The deterioration is proof that we've been giving them things they don't especially want or care about.
If Afghans don't take care of projects, we should stop providing them. That much seems obvious.
For those of you who are acronymically challenged, that stands for Frequent Flyer of the United States. It is just possible our President and his staff flew more miles last year than any American who doesn't work as aircrew.
This Los Angeles Times article says he took Air Force One up 172 times, although it is possible some round trips are counted as "2" times, one in each direction. The article reports that the Air Force estimates the costs at $181,757 per flight hour. The article has stats for overseas and domestic business trips, and vacation trips too.
I wish I had a 747 at my disposal, the costs of which were paid by the public. As Mel Brooks said, "It's nice to be king."
The other DrC and I viewed Casablanca last night, for the nth time. The other DrC doesn't see why people rave over Ingrid Bergman's beauty, a view I don't share. It is a heck of a film in an exotic setting, about which more later, with intrigue, romance, name actors, and a fast pace. Those are the positives.
The negatives? Their back-lot version of French colonial Casablanca doesn't look much like today's Casablanca. Of course 1942 Hollywood didn't look much like today's Hollywood, either.
Another negative, and a more substantial one, is the left-wing bias in the dialog and script. Bogie's character, Rick, is described as having run guns to the Ethiopians and fought on the side of the left-wing loyalists in Spain. The Paul Henried character, Victor Lazlo, is pretty clearly a lefty too. You could conclude that Rick had become a neo-con, a lefty who had been mugged by reality. That is, until Lazlo pulls him back into "the cause."
The cause is never explained and you are encouraged to view it as simply anti-Nazi, except that by the time the film was made in 1942 the German invasion of Russia had already occurred. It is relatively clear that "the cause" was in fact Communism which, after a flirtation with the Nazis during the two years of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, became anti-Nazi as well.
Films like this probably triggered Sen. McCarthy's Communist-hunt through Hollywood. Casablanca and films like it show there was "smoke" and his search for "fire" was not irrational.
It is still a lot of fun, with a lot of great lines, some humor, and a sad love story in a time of war.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
I just read a New Yorker article by Jonah Lehrer about the scientific method and problems that keep occurring with drugs, treatments, and social science findings, all such based on things happening at frequencies greater than what would be predicted by chance. To say that I'm gobsmacked is no exaggeration.
This article isn't about politics or foreign affairs or even about interesting and unusual scientific findings - the usual grist of this blog. As such it may not be of interest to most of our readers. I can only say it was of serious interest to me, dealing with questions of the relevance and trustworthiness of the very methodology upon which most of the social science I spent a career doing was based.
At the very least this article and the collection of findings it reflects suggest the need for systematic large-scale replications of all the important findings in pharma and social science. It also suggests the need for a willingness to seek, publish, and invite criticism of tests that find negative results.
Economist Gregory Mankiw writes a column of economic advice for President Obama in The New York Times in the form of a letter. The President could do much worse than follow this advice. For example:
Republicans are not terrorists. They are not the enemy. Like you, they love their country, and they want what is best for the American people. They just have a different judgment about what that is.This article is worth your time.
Michael Barone has an article for The Washington Examiner on why income inequality doesn't bother most of us, and who it may bother. He begins:
Income inequality has been increasing, according to standard statistics. Yet most Americans do not seem very perturbed by it.
Talking about our federal tax rates, Barone observes:
Current tax rates mean that the top 1 percent of earners account for 40 percent of federal income tax revenue.
In other words, in a nation of 308 million people, less than three million people pay four out of every ten income tax dollars. How do most of us feel?
I suspect that most Americans would be thrilled to get a 13th month of pay. But they're not seething with envy at those who are better off.
Barone concludes about who does most of the resenting:
One example is the cartoonist and author Garry Trudeau, a college classmate of George W. Bush, who has been spewing contempt for the Bushes for 40-some years. The strongest class envy in America, it turns out, may be the resentment of those who were one club above you at Yale.
I know of people who own Learjets and the like, but I'm not worried that I don't own one. I think Barone has it right, see what you think.
A Brit lists what he sees as President Obama's top 10 foreign policy challenges, you'll find them here in The Telegraph. Most of us could have written this article and come up with more or less the same list.
It saddens me he didn't include in his list something from Latin America, either the drug wars in Mexico/Guatemala or the descent of Venezuela into dictatorship. Unfortunately, it is typical that American presidents give low priority to our hemisphere.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Nate Silver has done a thoughtful, relatively even-handed treatment of Sarah Palin's chances at the Republican nomination for 2012. You'll find it here in The New York Times.
I think his analysis of her strengths and weaknesses is close to the mark. If he misses anything, it is not being explicit in discussing the social class issues in the divided reaction of Republicans to her.
Upper class Republicans like David Brooks and Peggy Noonan can't stand Palin, she appeals to what we once called "Reagan Democrats." Some of those who oppose her might find Obama more "class compatible" than they find Palin "ideology compatible" and either stay home or vote Dem.
I can imagine Sarah Palin becoming a U.S. version of Evita Peron, they share a number of characteristics.