Friday, August 31, 2012

Travel Blogging II

Oslo, Norway: The Emerald Princess sailed up the fjord to Oslo this morning. To date the water in the Baltic has been so smooth that one had no sense of being at sea. Norway is a relatively new country, having been part of either Sweden or Denmark for much of the prior period. It still acts like a new country, in some ways.

Oslo isn't as Germanic as Copenhagen, there is more whimsy in the architecture. There still isn't much color, everything in shades of gray. You can see where the depressive streak in Scandinavian film and literature comes from.

Interestingly, they are having a Norwegian Air Force show in town in the next few days. It is their centennial or some such. Much zoomy hardware on display and interceptors zipping around the skies over Oslo.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vote of No Confidence

It appears that the daughter of Cuba's Vice President has defected from Cuba, and now lives in Tampa, Florida. See the New York Post story here, courtesy of Agence France Press. If Cuba was really a paradise, they wouldn't have to "fence in" their citizens.

When was the last time the daughter of a U.S. Vice President defected to live in Cuba, or North Korea? We let people come and go pretty much as they please. Do Americans choose to go live abroad? Sure, a few. Do they have to sneak out? No. Can they come home to visit or to live? Sure. A big difference.

Travel Blogging I

Salt Lake City, Utah: The DrsC are traveling once again, off to Yurp (as it's called locally). We'll be flying for the next too many hours via Paris to Copenhagen. I suppose we get there tomorrow, jet-lagged out of our minds. Day after that we board a cruise ship for two weeks in the Baltic, followed by another two weeks  making a leisurely trip back to New York City. Expect progress reports.

Imagine a politics junkie like me missing the political conventions!!! Very weird. Except the conventions don't amount to much these days, haven't for some years. They are mostly exercises in "preaching to the choir." Speakers say partisan things and the hyper-partisan crowd goes predictably wild - what's to watch?

I will get some coverage on shipboard. I hope the Israelis wait until I'm home to strike Iran, that I'd like to follow.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Falling Incomes

The economy contracted (technical term: recession) during the 18 months beginning in 2008 and ending in mid 2009, it supposedly has been expanding ever since (technical term: recovery). During which do you suppose American incomes declined more?

The correct, albeit counterintuitive, answer is during the recovery. Bloomberg News reports that income declined 2.6% during the 18 month contraction, on the other hand it has declined 4.8% during the three year "expansion."

We've lost a total of 7.4% of our incomes, inflation adjusted, since the recession began. That isn't an enormous amount, but it isn't what we expect of a recovery. The only group which didn't experience a drop in income are those over 65.

For further analysis, see this story in The Hill. Their view is that our declining income is a result of a labor surplus, which makes sense. Over 65s generally are not in the labor market.

Quote of the Day

Paul Mirengoff, writing for Power Line, about the strong poll showing Romney has among married women. Mirengoff cites The Hill's analysis of a Washington Post/ABC News poll which finds the only group of women among whom Obama does well are unmarried women. Then Mirengoff says:
The so-called “gender gap” is about something other than gender.
Perhaps the apparent "gender gap" among single women reflects an aggregation of sexual orientation, class or race factors, taken one or more at a time.

Fighting Fire With Fire

I'm getting tired of seeing stories like the one portrayed in this New York Times/Reuters article - namely, some Afghan sepoy shooting NATO troops, most often Americans. I have imagined a response that would either make things better, or much worse.

Most often the shooter gets shot himself, as this one was. It might deter future shooters if this turncoat was buried sewed inside a fresh pig hide. Particularly if the desecration was made public and announced as policy going forward.

Gender Gaps for Both Parties

CNSNews.com reports Gallup polling data which shows both parties have exactly the same gender gap. Republicans are preferred by men - 50% to 42%; Democrats are preferred by women - 50% to 42%.

The mommy party and daddy party paradigm lives on in 2012. Each party has difficulty selling its message to half of our citizens. Or, you could argue with equal ease, each party has crafted a platform more attractive to one gender.

My sense is that the gender gap occurred without premeditation but once it appeared, parties began treating it as an advantage to be exploited.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Been There, Done That

Neil Armstrong, astronaut and famous first moon-walker, died recently at age 82. Back in 1982 he had what author Tom Wolfe called "the right stuff."

What amazes me is that it has been 30 years since our moon missions ended, and nobody has gone back since. Talk about dropping the ball. You have to wonder if it will be another 30 years before anyone walks on the moon again.

Argentine Woes

The popularity of Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez has fallen to 30% from 64% a year earlier. The issues appear to be unhappiness over street crime, high inflation and unemployment. See the Reuters article for details.

When this happens in Argentina, there is often a military coup after which the former president goes to live in Spain. Paradoxically, if unpopular Fernandez can finish out her term, it will be a good sign for representative government in Argentina.

More On Balancing the Budget

In our earlier post about balancing the budget we wondered how entitlements would be handled. We have a partial "answer" from Rep. Ryan who, mirabile dictu, chose not to lie.

Byron York who writes for The Washington Examiner reports a question on this topic from a reporter and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's answer:
The reporter then wondered whether the Ryan plan would, in essence, balance the budget only after a large number of the baby boomers were dead. Ryan would never say such a thing, but he didn't disagree.

Weird Ursine Science

North American black bears are actually fairly smart, maybe as smart as the great apes. See this Science News article for details.

I'm not certain we needed the scientific proof; I believe we already knew this. Bears have been figuring out how to get food out of locked cars and teaching their cubs how to do it too, for decades.

In Yosemite National Park there have been bears with a fondness for ripping open Hondas, Dodge Caravans, and older Toyotas, according to The New York Times. Some are reported to have favorite car colors as well as brands.

Budget Math Made Simple

Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute's Cato@Liberty crunches budget numbers and shows how the budget can be balanced (in 10 years) if spending increases are held down to a net spending growth of 2.5%. Personally, I'd like to see it balanced a whole lot sooner and maybe Vice President Ryan can show us how.

The dishonest Washington budget math Mitchell refers to in the article works as follows: any attempt to have Federal spending grow at a rate (adjusted for inflation) that is lower than the population grows is called a "cut" in Washington. Notice, it is still growing, just slower than the population grows. Example: the population grows at 2%, the budget grows at 1%, Washington says they are cutting spending. They lie, they are only cutting "per capita spending."

The other dishonesty is that the federal budget doesn't include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other so-called "entitlements." As the Baby Boomer bulge retires, those costs will shoot up while the cohort's payroll contributions will drop like a stone. When Mitchell talks of balancing the budget, I wonder if he covers those off-budget costs too?

The Times (Almost) Admits Bias

Arthur S. Brisbane has spent the last two years as the public editor of The New York Times, a position not unlike that of ombudsman. He has written his valedictory column, before moving on, and it says some troubling things about "The Gray Lady." For example:
Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.
As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.
In other words, the Times is biased because nearly everyone who works there is liberal. He could have also mentioned that the Tea Party was treated more like a curse than as a news subject, that's the flip side of progressivism.

Sadly, the Times' executive editor Jill Abramson simply denied Brisbane's assertion. She blamed any residual bias as being a "New York cosmopolitan" viewpoint. That is pure spin.

It is true that greater New York City is a very blue, very Democratic urban area. However, the Times once aspired to be the nation's news source. Perhaps Abramson is telling us we should view it instead as NYC's leading paper, with all the parochial biases that implies.

Quote of the Day

Andrew Ferguson, writing for The Weekly Standard, about Mitt Romney and his family:
(It's) a happy American family, led by a baby boomer with no sense of irony! Romney is the sophisticate’s nightmare.
No wonder Mitt drives liberals crazy.

Nothing New Here

Newsbusters makes a big deal out of the major TV networks failing to cover the serious murder epidemic in Chicago, see their article for details. To be sure, the right would like it if the MSM embarrassed Mayor Rahm Emanuel with this information. But not reporting it is nothing new.

Before he married my father worked alongside police and sheriff deputies in the greater L.A. area, in a variety of investigative capacities. I suppose I was maybe 11 or 12 when he told me there were murders almost every night in the poor sections of L.A., murders that never made their way into the pages of the Chandlers' L.A. Times or Hearst's Examiner.

I remember asking him why this was so. He said it was because no one beyond the victims' immediate families cared. Implicit in his comment was the editorial belief that few people in those communities read the papers and other folks simply didn't want to know. So not reporting inner city shootings "above the fold" is business as usual, going back 100 years.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Us to Feds: Leave Us Alone

See what Ed Rogers has reported in The Washington Post. Fox News polled people asking whether the federal government should "lend me a hand" or "leave me alone." Fifty-four percent asked to be left alone, only 35% wanted to be lent a hand. That is good news, friends.

Gotcha

The Obama campaign has a video in which several women claim to be Republicans who have switched and will vote for Obama. It turns out at least two of the women are long-time Democrat activists lying through their teeth; they brag about starring in the ad on their Facebook pages.

See this Power Line posting for details. Don't hold your breath waiting for the MSM to cover this con job. Perhaps they are correct: if politicians' lips are moving, don't we assume they are lying?

North American Mutual Admiration

It never occurs to us, or to the nice people across our northern border, that we should go to war. This has been the case for the last 150 years or so.

We mostly like Canadians and they mostly like us, and that is an amazing and wonderful thing. See this article in The Globe and Mail for a Canadian perspective on the issue. Hat tip to RealClearHistory for the link.

Party Segmentation Study

The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation have collaborated in a study of the segments of the two political parties and the values held by each, and reported the results. If you've time for a longish weekend read, the results are worthwhile for us domestic politics wonks.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How To Read Polls

The Weekly Standard's Jay Cost is a very savvy political analyst. Here he writes a primer on how to read political polls, it's not as straight-forward as you might think.

It turns out the apparent bias in polls is often in the assumptions made by the pollsters about how many from each party to include in the sample. If that sounds odd, read the column.

Political Humor Alert

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan writes that an anonymous Hollywood screenwriter sent her the following introduction, to be used by Vice President Joe Biden when he speaks across the street from the Republican Convention:
All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Tampa, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, "Ich bin ein Tampon."
A sly paraphrase of JFK's speech at the Berlin wall. Is Joe Biden dumb enough to say it? I sorta have the feeling he might be.

The rest of this column is good too, albeit more serious - Noonan gives Romney advice for his acceptance speech. Noonan is one of the best political speech writers of our era; she should author a text on the subject.

Weird Wind Science

Japanese scientists are arguing for a return of sailing ships for cargo. See this Global Post article for details.

I think I see today's tall stacks of containers getting in the way of the sails. Maybe sails could work for bulk carriers like tankers and ore ships?

I seem to remember that sailing ships lean over when the wind is from one side. How would stacks of containers deal with that?

Whose Fault?

Here's a The Week article from Yahoo News that argues the middle class is partly to blame for its economic woes. A factor the article does not mention is the increasing number of one-adult households.

As more people live as singles, or singles with children, they have substantially less disposable income than the households with two earners. They even have less income than many one-earner, two adult households which don't have to spend for childcare.

The increasing number of one-adult households is, I believe, a major factor in the hollowing out of the class structure, the reduction of the middle class.

Understanding Myanmar

A Reuters article on Yahoo News is about China deporting Kachin refugees back to Myanmar (aka Burma). The article mentions a Kachin Independence Army, which gives you an idea of what Burma faces.

The CIA's World Factbook lists 68% of Burma's people as ethnically Burman. In other words, roughly one third of the nation's people are "something else" - of another ethnicity. The Karen are roughly 7%, the Shan 9%, the Rakhine 4%, the Chinese 3%, the Indian 2%, the Mon 2%, and other 5%. I suppose the Kachin are part of the "other" 5%.

People wonder how the people of Burma have put up with a military government for so long. The answer lies in the country's ethnic diversity.

The Burman are trying to hold the country together, the Kachin and Karin, among others are trying to pull it apart. The government and army represent the Burman two-thirds and Burmese unity and nationalism, many (if not most) of the rest would like to carve their own independent countries out of Burmese territory.

Substantial numbers of Burma's minority peoples live in refugee camps in adjacent nations, having been driven there by Burmese army ethnic cleansing.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Weird Ice Science

Some Brits and Froggies did an ice core on an island on the Antarctic peninsula and found that the changes being experienced now are unusual but not unprecedented. The ice accumulates and the ice melts, including in the preindustrial period.

It's been going on for ages, without our help. It will likely continue to go on, influenced by who-knows-what constellation of forces. We may be one of the forces, hubris to think it so, really.

Find The Register (U.K.) article for more details. See the actual article preview in Nature. Hat tip to Lucianne.com for the link. The bottom line is from The Register's caption for the data graph:
Move along, nothing to see here.

Weird Political Science

Two University of Colorado political scientists have generated a model which correctly predicts the outcome of every presidential election since 1980. Based on economic information taken five months before the November election, the model says Romney will win the 2012 election.

The University is quite proud of this scholarship, see their news release summarizing the findings. The results will be published this month in PS: Political Science & Politics, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Political Science Association.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Quote of the Day

Doyle McManus, who writes politics for the Los Angeles Times, musing about the outcome of the November election:
The morning after election day, the winner, whoever he is, will declare that voters have given him a ringing mandate to do whatever he promised — but it won't be true.

Weird Tattoo Science

Contaminated tattoo inks are giving people serious infections, according to this Science News article. Hat tip to Lucianne.com for the link.

Tattoos amount to minor surgical procedures done by non-medically trained personnel in non-medical settings. Labeled that way, they sound scary. I'm surprised infections don't happen more often.

Stealthy Action

While all attention is focused on the presidential election currently in progress, and Congress is not in session, important things are happening "under the radar," so to speak.

For example, the Treasury Department has apparently taken important but little heralded action vis-a-vis home finance. See this article in the publication AEI of the American Enterprise Institute for details. Hat tip to Lucianne.com for the link.

The article reports changes have been made which, if Obama is reelected, intend to take Freddy and Fanny back into the warm fold of the government. I conclude this although the article suggests they could also end up as private institutions as Rep. Ryan has suggested.

Somehow I don't see a future Obama administration taking something this big private. Rather it seems one more stealthy step toward giving the feds control of everything important, a la Europa.

Quote of the Day

Demographer Joel Kotkin, writing for Forbes magazine about demographic trends in the U.S. as compared with our past and with other countries in the present:
Without (economic) growth, the long-term decline of most high-income countries, including the United States, is all but assured.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Second Quote of the Day

Victor Davis Hanson, one of the right's more prolific writers, here commenting for National Review Online about something most people don't have any understanding of until the need arises:
Entire industries exist to figure out how to sign parents’ assets away to their heirs so that the instantly impoverished mom and pop can receive free government nursing-home care.
An unintended consequence of most women going to work. When they did not, they cared for aged parents who had become bed-ridden or senile. Now we discover that nursing home care - the alternative - can be more expensive per month than many women earn in that same month.

This amazing article, by historian Hanson, ends with this quote about the nation's fate:
In other words, we know that we are doomed on the present course; we oppose those who agree and take action to avert it; and yet we might some day praise them for saving us after we did all we could to destroy them.
One wonders whether we have any leaders who wish to save the country even if it means endangering themselves.
Hanson is amazing. This is another COTTonLINE must read - two in one day.

A Must Read

Niall Ferguson has written a cover piece for Newsweek magazine that you very much need to read. This article expresses what many of us must feel about Barack Obama: that we had hopes for his presidency, hopes to which he failed to live up.

The article title in the magazine is "Hit The Road Barack: Why We Need a New President." The title in The Daily Beast, Newsweek's online version is "Niall Ferguson: Obama's Gotta Go."

The article is long, but very much what needs to be said.
COTTonLINE approves, Lucianne.com agrees.

Quote of the Day

Jonathan Chait, writing for New York magazine, about the pervasive extent to which TV and film are permeated with liberal bias:
This capacity to mold the moral premises of large segments of the public, and especially the youngest and most impressionable elements, may or may not be unfair. What it is undoubtedly is a source of cultural (and hence political) power. (snip) We liberals owe not a small measure of our success to the propaganda campaign of a tiny, disproportionately influential cultural elite. 
It's amazing to find a liberal admitting the extent of liberal bias in media. Chait cites examples from Brazil and India which show the power of media in shaping human behavior, specifically in reducing family size.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hoagland: A Pan-Middle East View

Foreign policy columnist Jim Hoagland writes for The Washington Post. Like Tom Friedman, he has spent a lot of time thinking about the Middle East. Here, he has a different view of the conflict in Syria.

Hoagland sees Syria as an arena in which various proxies are carrying on the underlying Shia-Sunni conflict. To clarify, Assad is allied with Iran which is Shia, and is also allied with the Hezbollah Shia in Lebanon. Assad's opponents are Sunni and have as allies the Saudis, Egyptians, and many other Sunni Arab countries.

Scary Headline in IBD

An article in Investor's Business Daily has a scary headline: "Recovery Summer 3: July Unemployment Up in 44 States." The article points out that the five states with the highest unemployment all voted for Obama.

On the other hand, four of the five states with lowest unemployment voted for McCain. Coincidence? Maybe. Wonder if your state is in either group? Go see the article. Hat tip to RealClearPolitics for the link.

Ifill "Disappointed" Not a Debate Moderator

PBS's Gwen Ifill is said to be livid over not being chosen as one of the four debate moderators for the debates this fall. She is admitting to be "disappointed."

Nonsense. If one moderator was to be selected from PBS, and Jim Lehrer was available, surely he is the person who would be chosen - as indeed he was.

ABC's Martha Raddatz is an interesting choice for the vice presidential debate, suggesting whoever made the choice wanted an emphasis on foreign affairs. That has been her specialty, her passport visa pages must be thick as a phone book. See this Mediaite article for details.

Trouble in Assam Spills Over

Unrest in India's northeastern province of Assam, between indigenous Bodo people and Muslim migrants from what is now Bangladesh, has spilled over into the the Bangalore region of India.

Now Assamese migrants in other parts of India are trying to return home in fear of retaliatory attacks by Muslims. See this News Track India article for details. India is a tough country to govern.

Economists for Romney

Breitbart's Big Government reports that 400 independent economists have endorsed Romney's economic plan. Signers include FIVE Nobel laureates. Here is the economists' statement and list of names.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A CA Cottage Industry

Writing articles summarizing the manifold problems of the formerly Golden State is turning into a cottage industry - seemingly everybody takes a crack at it. Here is yet another written by Robert J. Cristiano, for New Geography.

Cristiano's particular twist on the story is to compare what is happening today in California with what happened in the last half of the twentieth century to the city of Detroit. I've got to admit, the parallels are uncomfortably close: one-party government, deteriorating industry, collapsing schools, and population outmigration are major components.

Yes, the article is somewhat repetitive of former efforts, but the Detroit parallel is worth your reading effort.

Unrest in South Africa

If you follow the slow descent of the Union of South Africa - from its status as the only remaining developed nation on the African continent into chaos - here is a Reuters story on Yahoo News you will want to read.

Police trying to control a battle between two competing unions at a platinum mine had to fire into a crowd of armed workers. The picture associated with this story does much to explain why shooting happened.

Two Californias

Victor Davis Hanson is one of the two or three best interpreters of modern-day California. Here for RealClearPolitics he describes the state as two very different regions: the coastal nirvana and the interior of despair. It is somewhat oversimplified but I don't see much with which to argue.

True, there are agricultural areas along the coast - large citrus groves around Santa Paula, fields of flowers being raised for seed in the Lompoc area, and the broccoli fields of Salinas. Likewise, the interior has some non-desolate regions like the retirement communities in the Sierra foothills of the old Mother Lode.

However, on the whole, California is pretty much as Hanson describes it - bifurcated. The coast is affluent and the interior is not; the coast is La La Land and every bit as nice as he describes, the interior lags behind.

What is fascinating is that the coast pays no attention to the interior. The "big valley" is California's red-haired stepchild.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Raising Improved Children

As societies become more developed they have lower birth rates. If we are going to have fewer children, don't we have a responsibility to have better children? Healthier, smarter, more talented children?

An article in The Telegraph (U.K.) reports the views of the editor of The Journal of Medical Ethics,  Professor Julian Savulescu. He believes we have a moral responsibility to have saner, less violent children.

If parents intend to try very hard to raise one or more children with all the post-delivery advantages possible, why not increase the pre-delivery or even pre-conception advantages as well? In other words, genetically improved children.

Pessimism on Rise

Bloomberg reports Americans are more pessimistic than last month. See the article for details.

The pessimism level is the highest it has been since last November. The political implications of this don't require belaboring, they cannot be good for an incumbent.

A New Mindszenty?

The image of an accused rapist being allowed to walk free isn't pretty. Britain has announced that it will not allow WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to safely leave the Ecuadorean embassy in London, although that country has granted him asylum. See the Fox News article.

I am reminded of the fate of Cardinal Josef Mindszenty who found refuge in the U.S. embassy in Communist Hungary, located in Budapest. He lived there for 15 years before finally being allowed to leave. Of course Mindszenty's "crime" was opposing Communism.

Assange is probably welcome in the Ecuadorean embassy as long as the governments of Britain and Ecuador are philosophically at odds with each other. That period could be forever, or a few months - the instability of governments in Latin America is notorious. Somewhere between a few months and a few years is the high-odds bet.

On the other hand, a Labor government in Britain might let him leave for Ecuador as they would be less friendly with the U.S. and more philosophically compatible with the current government in Ecuador.

Youth for Ryan

Kirsten Powers, who writes for The Daily Beast, has an interesting column suggesting GOP vice presidential pick Paul Ryan may be attracting young voters. The youth vote went in overwhelming numbers for Obama in 2008.

It isn't a bad piece, reflecting a lot of despair among unemployed and underemployed Gen Xers.

Chicago Politics

Chicago is very nearly the home of patronage politics. See an ABC News article about Mayor Rahm Emanuel's personal police protection detail being made up of officers who worked in or contributed to his campaign or are African-American.

As you might guess, white and Hispanic officers who were transferred out of the detail are suing on the basis of discrimination. They seek reinstatement and back pay.

Chicago politics was bad enough when it was confined to Chicago; for the last ca. 4 years we have also had it in Washington. The Holder Justice Department appears to operate in this same fashion, as does the White House.

Quote of the Day

Dana Milbank, writing for The Washington Post, about the ugliness of the presidential campaign. He's defending the Democrats' right to be just as nasty as the Republicans are, only more so:
Umbrage doesn’t win elections. Ruthlessness does.
His basic advice: call your opponent a child molester or the immoral equivalent. I think he's wrong. Whatever negative thing a campaign alleges about their opponent must either be a judgment call or requires some proof.

Weird Follicle Science

A college medical center director has gone public (or perhaps that should be "pubic") urging women to stop doing "bikini waxing." Doctor Emily Gibson says it leads to herpes infections, and perhaps other illnesses. See the CBS News article for more information.

Irony

If you go to Lucianne.com you'll find a link to an item about a majority of people in all 50 states being overweight or obese. The very next item is an ad for goodies from Domino's Pizza. (Note, as items are added to Lucianne.com, placement vis-a-vis ads changes so don't be sore if you go there and it has moved.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Corrupt Culture

This Reuters story in Yahoo News reminds me of a situation shared with me by an MBA student nearly thirty years ago. The student worked for a well-known U.S. manufacturing firm that sold major systems to be installed in buildings; he managed the Southeast Asian region of the firm.

He indicated that Indonesia was one large nation in which his firm did no direct business, because doing business there required bribing government officials. Such bribing would violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Instead what his company did was sell their systems to an Indonesian firm which in turn marketed them to end users. They also trained the Indonesian firm's technicians.

The U.S. firm did no bribing, engaged in no corruption. Their tacit assumption was that the Indonesian firm must be corrupt, although they were careful not to know for certain. This is known as "plausible deniability."

Here Comes Concierge Medicine

Don't want to wait weeks to see a doctor? Or wait hours in the doctor's office for an appointment that's always late? Welcome to two-tiered medicine. The poor will wait in queues and the more affluent won't, they'll pay extra for concierge medicine.

How and why this will come about is explained in a Wall Street Journal article by John C. Goodman, subscription not required. Unless you are that rare individual who never gets ill, I suggest you read this article and start planning for the cost of concierge medicine in your budget.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Japan's Problems with Neighbors 2.0

Just over a week ago COTTonLINE wrote about Japan's nervous neighbors, on August 6th to be specific. Here is another article dealing with Japan's uncomfortable relations with its nearby countries, this one from Reuters via Yahoo News. It looks at problems Japan has with Korea and China.

Monday, August 13, 2012

GOP More "Engaged" with Election

Politico reports USA Today/Gallup finds Republicans are more "engaged" with November's election than are Democrats. Here is the money quote:
Seventy-four percent of Republicans said they’re thinking about the election “quite a lot,” compared to 61 percent of Democrats.
Republicans typically are more engaged with elections, but a 13 point gap is exceptional.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saturday's Smart Mouth

Chris Cillizza, writing about the Paul Ryan selection as VP running mate in his The Fix blog for The Washington Post:
Democrats were openly rooting for Romney to pick Ryan as his VP over the past week.

In naming Ryan to the national ticket, Romney is sending a simple message to those Democrats: Bring it.

More on Proxy Warfare

This past Monday I wrote about proxy wars, what they are, etc. Today pops up a new article in Le Monde Diplomatique (English edition) which details the many, many proxy operations the U.S. is involved in around the world. Hat tip to RealClearWorld for the link.

If the article is to be believed, proxy war is the preferred military model of the 21st century. You'll note that the article's author is less-than-convinced of their usefulness.

Quote of the Day

Ryan Lizza, writing for The New Yorker magazine, about the Paul Ryan VP pick:
The Presidential campaign will instantly turn into a very clear choice between two distinct ideologies that genuinely reflect the core beliefs of the two parties. And in that sense, Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan is good news for voters. 
N.B. the author wants President Obama to be reelected; he therefore is happy the election won't be a referendum on the president's lackluster performance in office.

Ryan: Pro and Con

I just read what will probably be the most comprehensive analysis of the Ryan for VP pick I'll see. Written by Sean Trende (great name) for RealClearPolitics, it gives a list of positives and another of negatives.

I won't try to summarize it, there's too much. If you're scratching your head wondering what the Ryan pick is all about, why he was chosen, here is the best set of answers you're likely to see.

Obama Approval Drops to 43%

The Gallup polling organization, one of the oldest in the land, reports three-day rolling average approval (43%) and disapproval (50%) figures for President Obama. These numbers come after Team Obama has run a series of very negative TV ads which have received a lot of critical publicity and reaction.

That 43% will vote for Obama regardless of what he does; they constitute his base. With no credible third-party candidate in the race, 43% does not equal a plurality. Fifty percent disapproval suggests he has lost the independents.

Other pollsters are getting different numbers more favorable to Obama, time will tell which polling house is more accurate.

Friday, August 10, 2012

VP Announcement Impends

Roughly nine hours from now, at 8:45 a.m. Saturday morning, Mitt Romney is expected to name a vice presidential running mate at a press conference aboard the U.S.S. Wisconsin, moored in Norfolk, Virginia. A Yahoo News article suggests the running mate will probably be Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Ryan is a risky choice, as his famous GOP budget plan proposes major changes in entitlement programs. Democrats will use the Ryan plan to frighten seniors about changes to their benefits.

On the other hand, there is no question that Ryan knows the workings of the federal government. He may know more than most legislators about where our money is spent.

Another Stevenson?

Back in the day, Adlai Stevenson ran for president twice on the Democrat ticket. And twice he was defeated.

While campaigning, a woman shouted out to him "Senator, you have the vote of every thinking person." He replied, "That's not enough, madam, I need a majority."

Stevenson was an attractive candidate, smart, funny, well-spoken, everything a Democrat voter could (or maybe should) want. He never did defeat his Republican opponent, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I begin to wonder if Mitt Romney could be another Adlai Stevenson? An attractive candidate who just doesn't connect with the American people. I hope I'm wrong.

Odd Thought

U.S. Gymnast McKayla Maroney resembles a "face dancer," if you remember that neologism from Frank Herbert's Dune. See a McKayla slideshow at www.nationalreview.com.

Racial Politics

Writing for National Journal, political analyst Ronald Brownstein looks at the degree to which the two major parties are divided by race. Hint - it's a lot.

Ron begins by pointing out that the GOP cannot keep winning presidential elections without minority votes, probably from Asians and Hispanics. Once he has you convinced that the Dems are going to win, then he turns around and points out that they won't be able to control Congress without white votes.

Brownstein's bottom line is that both parties need to figure out how to appeal across racial lines. To date, neither party has broken that code.

In this early part of the 21st century, the two parties reflect a racial division. Read Brownstein's article, it's a good one.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pronouncing Sikh

After the sad shooting at a Sikh temple I heard TV anchors pronounce "Sikh" in at least two different ways: "seek" and "sick." A check of the online dictionaries comes up with both.

I had always pronounced it "seek" but the preponderance of the online sites suggest "sick" or "sik." Who knew?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Compare to 1964

Jay Cost who does political analysis for The Weekly Standard says he believes the best model for this presidential reelection contest is 1964 when Johnson ran against Goldwater. Scroll down in his column to see the comparison as Johnson convinced the American public that Goldwater was a dangerous warmonger.

Sadly, I remember being among those so convinced. After the election Johnson did all the ugly things he warned us Goldwater would do. Johnson was the last politician who conned me, I've been cynical ever since.

Cost believes that Obama is trying very hard to convince the electorate that Romney is a heartless corporate raider who cares for nothing but making money. Somehow Romney will have to counteract that image to be elected.

Quote of the Day

Walter Russell Mead, blogging for The American Interest, about the dysfunctionality of California government at all levels:
California is in a hole but can’t seem to stop its compulsive digging. Schools, universities, prisons, pensions, cities and towns: the state has lost the ability to manage even the most basic elements of communal living.

The state continues to boost the self esteem of affluent and cause-oriented gentry liberals by scattering scarce resources to the four winds, hunting unicorns when the cupboard is bare.

Weird Veterinary Science

Pet ownership is down according to a USA Today article, with 2 million fewer dogs and 7.6 million fewer cats than there were six years ago. The data is attributed to the American Veterinary Medicine Association.

Two reasons are given for the reductions: economics and demographics. That is, fewer people can afford pets in straitened times (economics) and families with fewer than two parents plus children are less likely to have pets (demographics). As the population ages and more adults are living alone, people are moving beyond pet ownership.

This trend isn't good for pet food manufacturers and marketers.

A Net Loss

The Center for Immigration Studies reports via the Washington Times that 43% of immigrants who have been in the country for 20 years are using welfare benefits. Hat tip to the Drudge Report for the link.

Simple arithmetic says the other 57% are employed or being supported by someone who is employed. Try a thought experiment. Do you believe the employed 57% are paying enough taxes to support the 43% on welfare? You don't think so? Neither do I.

Are long-term immigrants a net loss for the society? It feels like that's what the data is telling us. On the other hand, recent immigrants are much more likely to be employed, the study shows.

All of this points to a legal guest worker program so laborers would come here, work for several years, and then take their earnings home. We once had such a program, called the bracero program, we could have one again.

Who Pays, and How Much

David Wessel is The Wall Street Journal's economics editor. His column Monday was excellent and does not require a subscription to read. He really gets down into the actual numbers about who pays how much Federal taxes. His conclusions:
  • The top 5%, top 1% and top 0.1% of Americans have been getting a bigger slice of all the income and paying a growing share of federal taxes.
  • Average tax rates have come down for everyone. On average, the tax bite on the rich is bigger—except for those whose income mainly comes from capital gains and dividends.
  • The share of taxes paid by the bottom 40% of the population has been shrinking along with their share of income.

  • The tax system narrows the gap between economic winners and losers, but not enough to stop the gap from widening.
Please read his reasoning for each of the above. I am particularly struck by the following Wessel quote:
Even in the better years of the mid-2000s, roughly 40% of households didn't pay any federal income tax.  Many did get hit by the payroll tax, which helps finance Social Security and Medicare. But about one-fifth of households didn't pay either federal income or payroll taxes; many did pay state and local taxes.
So if I understand Wessel, 40% of our citizens pay no income tax and 20% pay no federal tax whatsoever, income or payroll. That doesn't seem appropriate.

It is clear that all U.S. citizens garner benefits from the Federal government. Shouldn't they pay something in return, even a few dollars? Just so they understand that government costs money, that there is no free lunch.

Rosy Scenario Revealed

Monday's Wall Street Journal had a couple of interesting columns. The first deals with optimistic White House economic growth projections, Damian Paletta begins:
The Obama administration projected last month that the economy would grow at a healthy 2.6% clip in 2012, a much more optimistic forecast than just about anyone else is willing to offer. That is probably because by many estimates it is highly unlikely.

The Federal Reserve, for example, has pegged economic growth somewhere between an annual rate of 1.9% and 2.4% for the same period.

Does the White House know something others don't? Not exactly. 
To read the rest of the column, you must be a subscriber.

Weather Happens

Remember learning there was a Dust Bowl in the early 1930s? The drought lasted for several years, made a mess, ruined many farmers and many agribusinesses, caused serious internal population migration, and then disappeared.

Heck, that's not so terribly long ago, elderly people still alive remember it. It was worse than what we are suffering now, but nobody said much about climate change. Weather happens, and it is often extreme.

Weird Diabetes Science

The Chicago Tribune reports the results of a meta analytic study of several earlier studies which turns up a counterintuitive result. Obese people who develop diabetes have a better prognosis - live longer - than slender people who develop the same disease!

The article puzzles about this outcome, I'll give you another possible reason. Suppose being obese causes otherwise healthy people to get diabetes. Because they are otherwise healthy, they live longer.

Slender people who get diabetes may have a different set of causal factors for their diabetes, factors which degrade their health and cause earlier deaths. Let's be clear, this is just me guessing.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Talking About the Weather

Matt Ridley writes in The Wall Street Journal about the dangers of confirmation bias in climate science. He defines confirmation bias as "the tendency to behave like a defense attorney rather than a judge when assessing a theory in science." I particularly enjoyed this comment:
The reporting of climate in the media is full of confirmation bias. Hot summers (in the U.S.) or wet ones (in the U.K.) are invoked as support for climate alarmism, whereas cold winters are dismissed as weather. 
Weather varies because that's how it behaves; we have warm and cold winters, hot and mild summers, droughts and monsoons - always have. BTW, no subscription is required to read this WSJ column.

Am I Blue? You'd Be Too

Mostly COTTonLINE wouldn't give you a link to a David Frum piece, these tend to lean left. This Daily Beast article does not do so. Here he shoots straight down the middle.

His topic is why we are depressed about the state of the United States. I've got to say he does a not bad job of rounding up a lot of downers. He even dumps pretty much evenly on both Obama and Romney.

What he leaves out are the cultural downers, the coarsening of the culture. I guess that is where his leftie bias shows. I recommend this article to you, with the proviso that it is depressing. Hat tip to RealClearPolicy for the link.

Hot Chile

Andres Oppenheimer writes about Latin America for the Miami Herald. In a recent column he lauds the economic performance of Chile.

The column is based on a telephone interview with Chile's President Sebastian Pinera. It also includes healthy doses of Oppenheimer's wide-ranging knowledge of the region.

Chile can be very happy with the Oppenheimer conclusion:
Chile’s export-oriented policies, insertion into the global economy and, above all, steady economic course over the past twenty years have done much more to reduce poverty than Latin America’s populist leaders who proclaim themselves champions of the poor.
Take that, Hugo Chavez.

Proxy Wars

Who will fight Europe's proxy wars? That is the subject of an article I just read in World Politics Review.

What is a proxy war? It is a nation's use of third party actors - mercenaries, violent non-state actors, or third-world governments - to fight their wars. An example would be the U.S. use of the Contras to fight the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

The article deals with Europe's need to counteract Islamism in the Sahel and elsewhere to the south. The author makes no assumption that the U.S. will be involved.

Oddly, the author doesn't mention the traditional approach: send in the Foreign Legion. The Legion is probably too expensive for EU nations grappling with economic difficulties.

What is a cheaper way to handle the issue? Answer: African troops with European logistical support. It doesn't always work, but sometimes it does and it is cheaper. In other words: proxy forces.

Nervous Neighbors

You might see an article like this one from CNN and wonder why China and Korea are twitchy about Japan's new, more muscular view of defense. I expect this nervousness also could be found all over east and south Asia: Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Oceania, etc.

In the 1930s and 1940s Japan invaded these countries and more in the attempt to build what they called The Greater East Asia Co Prosperity Sphere. We called it the Empire of Japan, and after late 1941, "enemy territory."

In virtually none of these countries did the Japanese leave behind many friends. True, they were fellow Asians, but they were also arrogant, brutal colonial overlords. The idea that Japan again might be developing a serious military can give Asia the creeps.

Defying History

Chris Cillizza, who writes The Fix political blog for The Washington Post, has this to say about the race for president:
To win a second term on November 6, President Obama is going to have to defy history. Why? Because the July jobs report affirmed the now-certain reality that the unemployment rate won’t drop below eight percent between today and November. And no sitting president since World War II has been re-elected with the unemployment rate above 7.2 percent. The numbers are daunting for Obama. The unemployment rate has been above 8 percent for 42 straight months— its longest period ever.
Cillizza also has narrowed down the "final five" candidates from which list he believes Mitt Romney will pick his vice presidential running-mate. In ascending order, they are Christie, Jindal, Ryan, Pawlenty, and Portman. Go here to see why he's picked these five.

Samuelson: The Young Are Hurting

Robert Samuelson writes for RealClearPolitics about economic matters. He calls young adults "generation squeezed." Here are two excerpts:
We judge our success by how well our children do. We love them and want them to succeed. (snip) Peering into the unfathomable future, we don't like what we think we see. We're dispatching them into a less secure and less prosperous world.

These parental anxieties, I think, are the presidential campaign's great, unacknowledged issue. Many voters will decide based on a calculus of which candidate would minimize the economic perils for their grown children.

Quote of the Day

Jonathan Chait, writing for New York magazine, about how the economic elite have not much experienced the current recession, and therefore have done little about it:
I live in a Washington neighborhood almost entirely filled with college-educated professionals, and it occurred to me not long ago that, when my children grow up, they’ll have no personal memory of having lived through the greatest economic crisis in eighty years. It is more akin to a famine in Africa.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Red State Idaho

Global Post's Jean MacKenzie is doing a series on the U.S. states. This column bewails the sad fate of Idaho which consistently votes Republican when she believes it would be in their self-interest to vote Democrat.

MacKenzie wanders around Idaho, finds a handful of lonely liberals in a university town (Moscow), commiserates with them about their unrepresented fate, and then shares their angst with us. She's sure we'll sympathize because Global Post leans left as do most of its readers (except me).

Over time I'm guessing at least some of the Idaho liberals MacKenzie talked to will move to another state where Democrats are often elected. Just as California conservatives have moved to more conservative states when the opportunity came their way.

This is how the red and blue states sort themselves out. It's people moving to where the regional zeitgeist agrees with their own politics.

Gallup: Latin Americans Feel Least Safe

In 2011, Gallup did a world-wide poll asking the following question: "Do you feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where you live?" Analyzing the results by region, Gallup found the people of Latin America and the Caribbean were most likely to answer "No."

Russia and the Middle East/North Africa were also places where people felt unsafe. By contrast, North America, Southeast Asia, and East Asia were the three most safe regions, all in the 75% or greater "yes" answer area.

I wonder to what extent the reported feelings are accurate reflections of actual freedom from attack and to what extent the feelings are culturally derived? Both factors must be at work in these self-reports.

Gloomy Spain

A Spaniard who writes for Spiegel and has lived in Germany most of his life goes home for the first time in some years. Juan Moreno reports on the depressed conditions he finds there. He does a nice job of capturing the sad flavor of today's Spain.

A Canadian View of Middle East

George Jonas, writing for the National Post of Canada, says some very pointed and insightful things about the Middle East. Let me share a couple with you:
In the Middle East a country’s national purpose often amounts to little more than a list of its enemies. (snip) The centrality of hatred to the culture is remarkable. The Cartesian idea is “I hate, therefore I am.” Self-righteousness is overwhelming: each desire thwarted becomes an example of justice denied. It’s not a pretty place, but millions call it home.

The Arab Spring is an attempt to return the region to its roots. It’s not to Westernize the Middle East and make it more democratic; it’s to Easternize it and make it more Islamic. 

Yes, You Built That

The President tells us that we are shaped by social forces, government, etc. That they, not we, should get credit for what is accomplished in society. Nonsense.

Yes, all those things are there in the background, like the drummer or bass player laying down a rhythm. No, they aren't responsible for the good things you do. Yes, they help; no, they don't play the melody - the innovators do.

The things the Prez was talking about are there for everybody, but "everybody" doesn't start a new business, invent a new product, build up a new company. Actually, darned few do these things successfully, they are the inventors, the entrepreneurs.

So that few do have a right to be proud, to strut a little, to say "I'm special" for in fact they are special. They are more than a little rare and very important to our society. For a less focused view of this subject, see David Brooks' column in The New York Times.

Cossacks as Olympics Security

The Krasnodar region of Russia will host the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi. Its governor has "deputized" a force of 1000 Cossacks to help maintain order. See the New York Times article for details.

The governor's idea of maintaining order mostly consists of keeping Islamic Russians out of his region. If accurately reported, this sounds like officially sanctioned ethnic cleansing.

Western notions of political correctness apparently hold little sway in Putin's Russia. I am reminded of the Rolling Stones hiring the Hell's Angels motorcycle club to provide security at their 1969 Altamont concert in Northern California.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What If?

People in the swing states are being bombarded with negative ads. Team Obama says Romney is an out-of-touch rich guy; Team Romney says you've got all the evidence you need to know Obama is an ineffective president.

What if both sides are equally persuasive? What if both side's ads are perceived to be speaking truth? You'd predict the net effect would be to encourage independent/undecided voters to stay home, or perhaps to vote for a third-party candidate.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rasmussen: Romney More Mainstream

Pollster Scott Rasmussen asks good questions and gets interesting answers. Recently he asked likely voters how they understood the views of candidates Obama and Romney. Here is his opening sentence:
Voters are more likely to believe Mitt Romney’s views are in the mainstream than extreme, but are evenly divided on President Obama’s views. 
Thirty-seven percent consider Romney's views extreme, 47% see Obama's views that way. Fifty-one percent believe Romney's views are mainstream, 44% deem Obama's views mainstream. After 3.5 years in office, more people are acquainted with Obama's views.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Our "for Show" Military

William S. Lind has written a provocative article for The American Conservative about the American military, and for that matter, the formal militaries of China, India, Russia, etc. He says they've become irrelevant, like knights of old.

I won't recapitulate all his arguments here, you should read them for yourself. I believe he may be onto something. He says:
Real wars with important outcomes are now fought and won by ragtag militias, gangs, and tribes. They fight not for raison d’├ętat; but for God, honor, loot, tribal pride, women—war’s age-old, pre-state causes.

Gallup: Obama Hurting in Swing States

The respected Gallup polling organization finds President Obama's approval percentage is well below 50% in each of ten swing or "battleground" states. Go here for John Nolte's summary for Breitbart's Big Government and here for Gallup's numbers, summarized below.

Iowa, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia all came in at 46% approval, Nevada, New Mexico, and North Carolina all reported 45% approval, Ohio reported 44%, and Colorado and New Hampshire reported 43%. Gallup says:
The 50% approval mark is significant because post-World War II incumbent presidents who have been above 50% job approval on Election Day were easily re-elected. Presidents with approval ratings below 50% have more uncertain re-election prospects.

From January to June of this year, Gallup asked more than 90,000 U.S. adults whether they approved or disapproved of the job Obama is doing as president. Nationwide, 46% of Americans approved and 46% disapproved during this time.

What's in a Name?

Reuters via Yahoo News has a story about the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP). The DrsC have visited Peru twice and liked the country, so COTTonLINE pays attention to Peruvian happenings. 

The Vatican has ordered the university to drop the words "Pontifical Catholic" from its name. This is undoubtedly because the university has not always followed church doctrine closely, as its name suggests it would.

PUCP is resisting this order. Having spent most of my life in universities, I understand why PUCP wants to pursue its studies without worrying about transgressing church teachings.

I also understand why the Church doesn't want its name, and the pope's, on an institution whose teachings and research don't align with church doctrine. "Liberation theology" has been popular among leftist priests and professors in Latin America, but isn't an official church position.

This is one of those situations where there is right on both sides of an issue in dispute.