Monday, February 24, 2014

Social Mobility

Contrary to popular opinion, social mobility in the U.S. is as great today as it was 20-30 years ago. See an article in The New Yorker for more. A careful look at the author's reasoning suggests he tries to minimize upward mobility, focusing mostly on how few of the poor who manage to become rich.

He speaks of quintiles, or fifths of the population. COTTonLINE believes that someone who moves from quintile 5 to quintile 4 has made a non-trivial improvement in his/her life. I'm guessing that kind of improvement isn't uncommon today.

Middle Class Leaving CA

Troy Senik, writing for National Review Online, about why California politics ignores the needs of its disappearing middle class.
In political terms, the explanation is rather simple: California is a state that owes its regnant liberalism to a political alliance between the super-rich and the super-poor.
I would add "as well as the large and growing number of government employees, many of whose jobs focus on the poor." California, with 12% of the U.S. population, has 33% of U.S. welfare recipients. Meanwhile middle class jobs migrate to Texas, and elsewhere.

CBO: Minimum Wage Effects

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reports that the President's proposed hike in the federal minimum wage would cost the economy 500,000 lost jobs. See an article on their findings by Robert Samuelson for RealClearPolitics.

To be fair to the President, it would also improve the lot of some poor families, to the tune of perhaps $300 per year. The impact is modest because, as Samuelson notes:
Many low-income workers, presumably young, come from middle-class families, including 33 percent from families with incomes exceeding three times the poverty line.

Quote of the Day

Anti-Soviet Russian chess champion Garry Kasparov, as quoted on the Breitbart website:
If Barack Obama had been president instead of Ronald Reagan, I'd still be a citizen of the Soviet Union.

Repeating History

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
- George Santayana

The New York Times reports the following disquieting news:
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plans to shrink the United States Army to its smallest force since before the World War II. 
A weak U.S invites others to attempt military adventures. A strong U.S. dissuades such risky business.

If we'd like to experience another World War, Hagel's actions are exactly the right course of action. If we'd prefer not to fight a new big war, being strong is the ticket.

Why is this difficult to understand? Because our President wants to use the money to buy votes by providing benefits to millions who could work for a living, but will choose a government check as the path of least resistance and greatest leisure. It is "Let's be like Europe" time in Washington.

Weird Pharma Science

A new study reported for Yahoo News by AFP finds a suspicious linkage between pregnant women taking acetaminophen and their babies showing up with ADHD. These children's chances of eventually being prescribed Ritalin and similar ADHD drugs was roughly 30% greater than the chances for children whose mothers took no acetamenophen.

Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol and similar over-the-counter pain relievers. It is often favored by physicians over aspirin and naproxen sodium. Its action in screwing up newborns is considerably more subtle than thalidomide, although perhaps as serious in its own way.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ukraine's Yanukovych Ousted

The parliament in Ukraine voted to oust President Viktor Yanukovych and release former president Yulia Tymoshenko from prison. Speaker of the Parliament Oleksandr Turchynov has been named acting president pending elections which have been called for May.

This isn't the good news Russia's Vladimir Putin wanted as an ending flourish for his Sochi Olympics. He'll have to settle for Russia winning lots of medals.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Travel Blogging I

On the Pacific Ocean, 64 hours west of San Francisco: The DrsC are afloat once more. This time we’re lecturing on the Grand Princess on a round-trip SF-Hawaii-Ensenada-SF.

We did our first lecture yesterday, in a theater that seats hundreds, it was maybe 1/3 full. We’ll do another 7 talks this trip, on the sea days, meaning days we aren’t in port in Hawaii.

The stop in Ensenada, Mexico, is necessitated by the Jones Act which says only ships of U.S. registry can carry passengers between two U.S. ports, including returning to the same U.S. port. Princess ships are registered in Bermuda and therefore cannot carry U.S. passengers unless they make a stop at a foreign (non-U.S.) port – in our case that foreign port is Ensenada, on the Baja California coast. Many passengers will not bother going ashore in Ensenada, us among them.

The seas are relatively calm, now we are beyond the chop along the CA coast. The weather to date is overcast gray and cool, but not actively stormy. We expect warm, humid weather in Hawaii. Sun is optional there, warm humidity is not.

We’ve talked to a surprising number of passengers who have never been to Hawaii. That seems odd to us here on the left coast where we pop over to Hawaii like East Coast folks go to the Caribbean. The DrsC don’t remember how often we’ve been to Hawaii, at least 10 times I’m sure. We’ve cruised there repeatedly and also flown there either as a destination or a stopover on our way to the Orient.

This trip we are housed in a junior officers’ cabin, near the bow on deck 10. We’ve lectured on many cruises but this is the first time we’ve been located in crew quarters. Because the two bunks are stacked one atop the other, there is more floor space in this cabin than in the equivalent passenger cabin.

We saw the first production show last night, the ship has six singers and they are all good entertainers, the dancers are great too. They do their show three times per night, in order to cut down crowding in the big theater I suppose. The ship’s Cruise Director is the “man in charge of fun” and Dan Styne who has the job on the Grand Princess is good at it.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Dismal Science Dissed

Robert Samuelson, writing for RealClearPolitics, recalls a joke at the expense of economists, practitioners of "the dismal science."
Q: How many economists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. When the one they used in graduate school goes out, they sit in the dark.
Then Samuelson gets to the serious point of the column:
If you add the last six years of U.S. budget deficits and the Fed's injection of cash into the economy, the total is approaching $10 trillion. It's hard to believe that all this stimulus didn't aid the recovery, but the fact that it resulted in only modest growth has created an identity crisis for economists.
The "science" of economics is dismal because carefully controlled experiments are impossible - exogenous factors being both random and rife. This leaves economists spinning untestable theories about what has happened, much like theologians trying to explain existence. Almost no one (except Mary Baker Eddy) calls theology a science.

Quote of the Day

Ann Coulter, speaking on Fox News about President Obama's decisions not to enforce laws which he believes wrong or impractical.
The constitution demands that the president of the United States take care that the laws be faithfully executed. (snip) I think he would be impeached if he weren't America's first black president. 
Probably true, but ever so politically incorrect to actually say. See the video on the RealClearPolitics website here. Hat tip to for the link.

Colder U.S. Winters

The Daily Caller reports that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released data which demonstrates that U.S. winters have been getting colder for the past 20 years.
U.S. winters have cooled over the past 20 years at a rate of minus 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit per century. Data from Rutgers University shows that the Northern Hemisphere has been seeing more snowfall in recent decades.
Remind me, how are these related phenomena the results of global warming?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

It's Cold in Montana


HE stands for High Emission, by the way. Source Power Line Blog here.

Downward Mobility During Obama's Term

Demographer Joel Kotkin, whose work we've cited repeatedly, takes a look for Forbes at the incomes of what he defines as the "middle class" and finds they are hurting. See what he writes:
Not only did the income of the middle 60% of households drop between 2010 and 2012 while that of the top 20% rose, the income of the middle 60% declined by a greater percentage than the poorest quintile. The middle 60% of earners’ share of the national pie has fallen from 53% in 1970 to 45% in 2012.

This group, what I call the yeoman class — the small business owners, the suburban homeowners , the family farmers or skilled construction tradespeople — is increasingly endangered. Once the dominant class in America, it is clearly shrinking: In the four decades since 1971 the percentage of Americans earning between two-thirds and twice the national median income has dropped from 61% to 51% of the population, according to Pew.

Roughly one in three people born into middle class-households, those between the 30th and 70th percentiles of income, now fall out of that status as adults.
I'm reasonably certain "fall out" means ending up in the bottom group, aka "poor." Downward mobility? On Obama's watch? I'm shocked, shocked....

Hindsight Is 20-20

A Fox News poll finds that Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all agree that Obamacare would not have passed had we known in 2009 what we know now. The percentage saying "No" for each group follows:
     Democrats          54%
     Republicans       74%
     Independents     68%
After reviewing the 32 other questions asked, I conclude that the Obama administration has lost the support of Independents, and never had the support of Republicans. He largely retains the support of the 40% of the poll respondents who self-identify as Democrats.

As a signpost along the way to November's midterm elections, the findings look hopeful for Republicans.

Unintended Consequences

Last Monday COTTonLINE reacted to a column by Robert Van Bruggen on problems associated with the "marriage as poverty solution" meme, particularly for black women. In response to his column, some have suggested a need to convince "lower class" women to marry unemployed men.

Today Van Bruggen writes for RealClearPolicy about the difficulties associated with women earning more than their spouses. What he writes seems true enough.

However, it takes two to conclude a marriage contract. Supposing she is willing, is he? Why would an unemployed blue-collar man marry if the quid pro quo was he must do the housework and childcare?

I doubt there will be many takers for that deal. More to the point, I believe the decline in marriages among the poor of all races reflects this reality: not many willing househusbands.

High unemployment and underemployment for blue-collar men discourages marriage. This encourages the women they might have married to have out-of-wedlock children who often do not thrive.

Suburban Common Sense

Finally, someone writes sensible words about how people really choose to live, in contrast to how the so-called "planning community" would like us to live. See a New Geography article by Wendell Cox.

His column is about suburbanization in Mexico. However, I particularly like his more general introduction:
There is an increasing recognition – at least outside the academy, planning organization and urban core developer groups – that the spatial expansion of cities or suburbanization represents the evolving urban form of not only the United States and virtually all of the high income world but also across the developing world, whether middle income or third world.
A one-sentence paragraph, shameful. Nevertheless, Cox has the right idea.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Weird Neurological Science

Chicago neurologist Dr. Richard Saul writes in New Republic an article that claims the widely diagnosed ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) does not, in fact, exist. He says doctors do not diagnose a runny nose, we diagnose a cold or allergy which causes the nose to run.

In other words, Saul alleges that ADHD is a symptom of some underlying cause such as depression or bipolar disorder. It should be understood that these are conditions medicine cannot "cure" but manages with various pharmaceuticals.

Instead of treating the ADHD symptom with uppers, Saul believes doctors should determine and treat the underlying problem. This he believes will make the ADHD "symptom" retreat or even disappear, insofar as the physician is able to "control" the underlying condition with drug therapy.

He is wrong about one thing, it is neither wrong nor irrational to treat symptoms like runny nose, headache or upset stomach that likely have undiagnosed underlying causes. Particularly when it's the symptom bothering us, not the condition causing it. Often enough the underlying condition, perhaps a virus, is something medicine cannot treat.

Political Humor Alert

Matther Vadum, writing in Front Page Magazine, about the possibility of Attorney Gerneral Holder resigning this year, as he apparently told The New Yorker. Here Vadum comments on Obama administration cluelessness:
It’s just another confusing day in the increasingly chaotic Obama administration, where, as the president’s approval ratings continue to fall, the left hand never quite seems to know what the extreme-left hand is doing.
A stand-out for weirdness and lawlessness, Holder is fortunate the Prez won't admit his manifold staffing mistakes.

A Non-Starter

The U.N. negotiator for the talks on a Syrian ceasefire has declared the talks at impasse, and put them into recess. See a story in The New York Times for more. Can anyone be surprised at this outcome?

The Sunni jihadi rebels insist Assad must go - a non-negotiable demand - which he refuses to do. The Assad government insists the shooting stop completely before anything else is discussed - another non-negotiable demand - while the rebels refuse to stop fighting.

The only reason either side shows up at the bargaining table is that neither wants to appear "unreasonable" when in fact both sides are exactly that. The U.N. has shown itself to be feckless, its normal state.

Like most wars, this one will end when one side wants out, or agrees it has lost. Until then ... fighting continues.

Good News at VW

The workers at Volkswagen of America's assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, rejected an effort by the United Auto Workers union to represent them. The Wall Street Journal reports the vote was 712 to 626 against the union. This is excellent news for the viability of auto assembly plants across the South.

The UAW has a track record of poisoning workers' relations with management. It very nearly caused the death of two of the Big Three U.S. automakers - GM and Chrysler.

Unique in Chattanooga was that VW appeared to welcome UAW participation. Whether this was done to appease its strong European unions or was in fact genuine will probably never be known for certain.

VW's agreement with the UAW requires the union to refrain from organizing efforts at VW during the next year. This because it lost the election in spite of VW's cooperation with the organizing effort.

COTTonLINE guesses that a majority of VW's workers are well-treated, make the same salaries as workers at UAW-organized plants, and see no reason to spend their hard-earned salaries on union dues. Apparently participating in a "works council" of the sort common in Europe didn't particularly appeal either.

U.S. and European cultures differ. Europe may be where most American's ancestors emigrated from, but we roll differently than do our "stay behind" cousins across the pond.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Weird Thermonuclear Science 2.0

We wrote two days ago about the folks at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory getting more energy out of a thermonuclear experiment than they put into it. Today comes an article in RealClearScience that points out this finding didn't amount to much of anything, sort of technically true but false in any practical terms.

This new, more completely explained report certainly underscores what I said on Wednesday: "Don't hold your breath."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why China Makes Trouble

Robert Kaplan of Stratfor has a column for RealClearWorld on Chinese motivations vis-a-vis the troubles they have stirred up over the Spratley Is. and the Senkaku Is. in the South and East China Seas respectively. Kaplan believes China does this out of domestic weakness:
China's leaders evidently feel that they are under pressure at home. China's economic miracle is not what it was several years ago. Fundamental reform and rebalancing can no longer be avoided.

China's new president and party leader, Xi Jinping, needs levers he can pull to ease public pressure on his new leadership team. Nationalism can easily be dialed up in such a circumstance.

In sum, China, by provoking crisis after crisis in the East and South China seas, is apparently acting against its middle-term strategic interests abroad in exchange for short-term benefits at home. 
That being the case, Kaplan concludes the following:
For decades Americans have believed that Chinese power would be more benign if only China liberalized, with public opinion playing a larger role in shaping policy. But the opposite appears to be true. The more Chinese leadership feels it has to listen to public opinion, the more truculent and nationalistic the regime's behavior is likely to become.
It would serve China's international interests not to belligerently foment remilitarization in Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan. Assuming the leadership of China is rational, Kaplan believes their behavior must therefore serve domestic interests. I wish I was as sure as Kaplan that China's leaders are acting rationally.

Wise Words

The Economist has a long column (or editorial) on the dangers of nations being seduced by the same demons that have overtaken Argentina. I particularly liked the following insight:
When people consider the worst that could happen to their country, they think of totalitarianism. Given communism’s failure, that fate no longer seems likely. (snip) The real danger is inadvertently becoming the Argentina of the 21st century. Slipping casually into steady decline would not be hard. Extremism is not a necessary ingredient, at least not much of it: weak institutions, nativist politicians, lazy dependence on a few assets and a persistent refusal to confront reality will do the trick.
How about our persistent national refusal to confront the reality of Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare entitlements plus debt service using up the entire Federal budget?

The ghosts of Juan and Evita Peron, those "unusually seductive populists," still stalk the midnight streets of Buenos Aires, neither gone nor forgotten. Wisely, The Economist notes that California has shown itself susceptible to what I think of as the "Argentine Wasting Sickness."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Spengler: Israel Worships

David P. Goldman, who channels Oswald Spengler, writes a PJ Media column in which he reports Israelis becoming more religious as the rest of the developed world becomes less so. He is just back from two weeks there.

The religious have more children in Israel, as they do in the U.S. and elsewhere. However, I have to wonder if this "revival" isn't in some unfathomable way a reaction to Muslims becoming more religious? Alternatively, perhaps it reflects an increased sense of threat, of risk.

Whatever ... Israel marches to its own drummer, always has.

Weird Thermonuclear Science

Scientists at what was once called "Livermore RadLab," now the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, announce their work with lasers to initiate a thermonuclear reaction is showing progress. See an article in The Independent (U.K.) for details.

Physicists report they have, for the first time, gotten more energy out of the reaction than they put into it. The eventual goal is to fuse hydrogen and generate essentially limitless power, don't hold your breath.

Political Humor Alert

In her most recent Townhall column, Ann Coulter has some fun with the non-logic of saying we can't "punish" kids because their parents brought them here illegally. Then she says a true thing:
Why shouldn't Republicans oppose mass immigration on the grounds that immigrants will vote Democratic? The only reason the Democrats want mass immigration is because they know immigrants will vote Democratic. (Also for the cheap nannies and gardeners.)
BTW, requiring someone to live where s/he is a citizen is not punishment.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pipes: Middle East Is Sick

Middle East expert Daniel Pipes has written for National Review an analysis of how sick the region and its cultures are. I particularly like his conclusion:
I nominate the whole Middle East as the Sick Man of the World. The region’s hatreds, extremism, violence, and despotism require many decades to remedy.

While this process perhaps takes place, the outside world is best advised not to expend blood and treasure on redeeming the Middle East — a hopeless task — but on protecting itself from the region’s manifold threats.
A more damning indictment would be difficult to construct. SecState Kerry needs to get the memo.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Brit Quotes TR

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, an editor of The Telegraph (U.K.),  writes some very sensible things about immigration. Although he's focused on immigration policy in the EU, what he says applies to the U.S. as well. See what Evans-Pritchard wrote:
There is of course a point of cultural saturation. Even immigrant societies such as the US have had to turn off the tap from time to time over the centuries. (snip) Every nation has to protect its core cohesion. As Teddy Roosevelt said, the US must never become a "polyglot boarding house".
Is the Rough Rider walking softly or is he here carrying his big stick? The latter, I believe.

Rehearsal for Terror

In April of last year, unknown individuals destroyed an electric substation near San Jose, California. Telephone lines were cut and snipers shot holes in the coolant system, causing the transformers to overheat.

The destruction required professional knowledge of telephone and electrical systems. No one has claimed credit, and no one has been apprehended for the crime.

The San Jose attack appears to have been a live fire rehearsal for an act of war whose date is unknown. Owning a small auxiliary electric generator might not be a bad response.

See what The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan writes about our dependence on electricity.

Samuelson: The End of Government

The Washington Post's Robert Samuelson writes about the interface between economics and public policy. In an article for RealClearPolitics, he describes the impact welfare state spending will have on the rest of government:
An aging population and higher health spending automatically increase budget outlays, which induce the president and Congress to curb spending on almost everything else, from defense to food stamps.

The welfare state is taking over government. It's strangling government's ability to respond to other national problems and priorities, because the constituencies for welfare benefits, led by Social Security's 57 million, are more numerous and powerful than their competitors for federal support.

Both liberals and conservatives are complicit in this charade, but liberals are more so because their unwillingness to discuss Social Security and Medicare benefits candidly is the crux of the budget stalemate. This refusal is rich in irony: The pro-government party in rhetoric has become an anti-government party in practice.
I'm afraid Samuelson is correct; so-called "entitlements" are untouchable in the present political climate. And our population continues to grow older, making the problem worse.

Marriage as a Poverty Solution

There has been discussion recently about marriage as a means by which women can avoid poverty. Robert VerBruggen, editor of RealClearPolicy, writes that while this may work for white women, it won't work for black women.

The reasons are threefold: black women rarely marry white men, a large fraction of  black men are unemployed or incarcerated, and the skewed gender ratio leads to a male failure to commit.

The statistical plot that accompanies his brief article makes it clear that if only married black women were to have children, many black women would remain childless. In some MSAs the number might be as high as three out of four. Those are long odds.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Tiger Mom Redux

Amy Chua, the ethnically Chinese author of the best-selling Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is back with a new book that is sure to drive the PC crazy. Her new book is called The Triple Package and you'll find a review of it here on The Globe and Mail website.

Her thesis is that achievers share three traits: a group superiority complex, individual insecurity, and impulse control. She identifies several groups she believes often exhibit these traits including Chinese (of course), Jews, Mormons, Iranians, Cubans, and East Indians.

Her point is that with those traits you make it, without them you don't. I don't know about the groups she identifies, but the traits themselves make intuitive sense. For sure they are not what the culture thinks of as outstanding characteristics, worse luck.

ACA Supports Voluntary Unemployment

The Washington Post has a heartwarming story about two individuals who voluntarily left their jobs because they could get subsidized health insurance via Obamacare. It's enough to make you sick.

Why should you and I pay taxes to subsidize employable people so they can have insurance without working? That is nonsense.

Not working is a choice people should be able to make if they can afford to do so. The choice should not be subsidized by taxpayers.

Quote of the Day

Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, speaking on the Fox News Sunday panel about GOP grassroots opposition to immigration "reform."  As quoted in an article on the Mediaite website.
As far as I can tell, the Wall Street Journal is on the side of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Barack Obama, Pat Leahy and La Raza. I think they should put down their dogeared copy of Fountainhead and live in the real world…Do we care about American workers at all?
You may remember that yesterday COTTonLINE wrote about our disagreement with the WSJ's support of open borders.

Demographics-driven Recession

Kyle Smith, writes for the New York Post about the gloomy economic predictions of Harry S. Dent, Jr., Wall Street market analyst and author of "The Demographic Cliff: How to Survive and Prosper During the Great Deflation of 2014-2019." Smith summarizes Dent's views thus:
Dent is saying: Don’t blame politicians, the decline of manufacturing, education or cheap foreign imports for the economic stagnation that has already begun and will continue for many years. Blame your parents and grandparents for losing interest in having children back in the Sixties.
Dent sees the U.S. following Japan's path of two decades ago, when their demographics-shackled economy went south and stayed there.

Poor, Sad Puerto Rico

The New York Times reports the economy in Puerto Rico is in bad shape. Last week two bond rating agencies - Standard & Poor's and Moody's - downgraded the Commonwealth's debt to junk bond status.

Violent crime, high prices and taxes, even higher unemployment, and low labor force participation rates are causal factors the Times identifies in a diaspora of the educated Puerto Rican middle class to the States. It's not a pretty picture.

In the DrsC's one visit to Puerto Rico we liked the island very much. If the Commonwealth government can get crime under control, the soft real estate market caused by middle class Puerto Ricans selling homes might lure mainland retirees to purchase reasonably priced property in PR.

At Long Last ... Rain

After a dry December and January, this weekend Northern California finally is getting some serious rain. See the Associated Press story at the Yahoo News website.

Rain was overdue; our reservoirs have been drawn down to near-puddles. One good rain is all it takes to have the hillsides and grasslands be green for the next couple of months.

As a grad student for 3 years at the University of Oregon, I experienced constant gray skies and got very tired of rain. It has taken a prolonged drought to renew my appreciation for the falling wet stuff.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

English Indifferent to Scots' Departure

Yesterday we wrote of the possibility of Scottish independence, following a referendum happening in mid-September of this year. A column for The Guardian reports widespread English indifference to Scotland's departure.

It cites a slogan used by the pro-independence side in Scotland: "No more Tory governments. Ever."  What if the reported English indifference reflects a reciprocal "No more Labour governments. Ever." sentiment?

A related factor may be a desire to stop subsidizing the perpetually depressed Scots economy. The Scots' desire to continue a social democratic regime - that is, government aid to one and all - is currently paid for by the more prosperous English via income transfers headed north.

One presumes this transfer would end upon devolution or, more colloquially, divorce. Methinks there is no court in which an independent Scotland can sue for "alimony."

IMF View of Venezuela

COTTonLINE has had several opportunities to feature the work of Andres Oppenheimer, who writes knowledgeably about Latin America for the Miami Herald. Here he reports on an interview with the International Monetary Fund's Western Hemisphere division head, Alejandro Werner.

Oppenheimer summarizes the Werner interview thus:
While Werner did not pronounce the word “hyper-inflation,” I came out with the impression that he sees a possibility that Venezuela’s inflation rates may run out of control, and a somewhat lesser chance of that happening in Argentina.

Venezuela’s president Maduro is making a big mistake by focusing his fiery speeches on trying to smear his political opponents — his biggest rival is not the opposition, but the U.S. dollar. Unless he can stop the inflationary spiral, it’s hard to see how he can prevent an economic collapse, and his own political demise.
Oppenheimer describes economic conditions in Venezuela as dreadful, and he sees no improvement on the horizon.

Disincentives to Work

University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan, speaking about the perverse impact of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) on unemployment:
When you pay people for being low income you are going to have more low-income people.
Washington economists have a Keynesian emphasis on weak demand,
Mr. Mulligan, by contrast, studies the supply of labor and attributes the state of the economy in large part to the expansion of the entitlement and welfare state, such as the surge in food stamps, unemployment benefits, Medicaid and other safety-net programs. As these benefits were enriched and extended to more people by the stimulus, he argues in his 2012 book "The Redistribution Recession," they were responsible for about half the drop in work hours since 2007, and possibly more. 
When you put it like that maybe even Democrats will understand. I seem to hear the ghost of Milton Friedman chuckling quietly. There is more at an excellent Wall Street Journal article about Mulligan which requires no subscription for access.

Pretty Ladies

The 2014 Winter Olympics features some truly stunning women figure skaters. A quick list would include Finland's "Ice Princess" Kiira Korpi, and two U.S. skaters: Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner.

I have no idea who will win but watching these three (and others, too) compete will be great fun.

We Disagree

In the decades when I, as a university business prof, got a free Wall Street Journal subscription, I found I agreed with their editorial positions most of the time. "Most" ... but not "all."

One topic upon which we always disagreed was immigration. WSJ consistently favored open borders, essentially no controls on immigration. I do not.

WSJ tried to put "lipstick" on that "pig," usually of a humanitarian sort. Their actual motivation was always clear ... cheap labor.

The business folks who are WSJ's base subscribers like cheap, plentiful labor, many are happy having illegal immigrant customers too. WSJ's editorial position normally conforms to the wishes of its business base, not for them the Tea Party viewpoint.

I don't fault WSJ for reflecting the attitudes of its subscriber base, but that does make the Journal somewhat problematic as the only non-progressive element of national mainstream print media. On this topic the Journal atypically does not speak for a majority of conservative voters.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ukrainian Unrest

Street disturbances and anti-government demonstrations have been on-going in Ukraine for some months now. We've come to understand these as being an east vs. west sort of conflict, essentially Russia vs. the EU.

Professor Nicholai Petro has written an extensive analysis of the issue for The National Interest. He says the Russian-speaking peoples of the east and south and the Ukrainian-speaking peoples of the north and west are, effectively, two cultures, united in mutual distrust. Petro's analysis is good, his proposed solution appears impossible to implement.

The CIA World Factbook indicates the Ukrainian group is larger, somewhere between 67% and 78% of the population. Their numerical advantage is offset by Ukraine's proximity to Russia.

Unfortunately, Russia is not noted for restraint in its interference in the internal affairs of its neighbors. Ask the Georgians about Russian bullying.

Social Media and Anarchy

Robert Kaplan of Stratfor, writes for RealClearWorld about rising levels of anarchy, particularly in the developing world. I particularly like what Kaplan has to say about the way communications technology and social media foster anarchy:
Various forms of electronic communication, often transmitted by smartphones, can empower the crowd against a hated regime, as protesters who do not know each other personally can find each other through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. But while such technology can help topple governments, it cannot provide a coherent and organized replacement pole of bureaucratic power to maintain political stability afterwards. This is how technology encourages anarchy.
We've seen this at work in Turkey and Egypt. I am reminded of some lines from poet William Butler Yeats, who in the aftermath of World War One wrote:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
If he thought it was that bad then, what would he think of us now?

Scotland, the Independent?

Writing for The Spectator (U.K.), Alex Massie argues Brits should be taking the current Scottish independence movement seriously. He believes there is every chance Scotland will vote for independence from Britain. If this is an issue you find compelling, Massie's article is worth your time.

The Costco Model

Alec Torres writes for National Review Online about the fallacy of asking all retailers to emulate Costco's high wage, low turnover model. It turns out Costco can pretty much sell their wares at cost since most of their profits come from pricy annual membership fees.

As Torres points out, not every store can operate the Costco model. Many consumers cannot (or will not) pay membership fees for the privilege of shopping at a store.

On the other hand, are you tired of looking at fellow shoppers in other big box stores and noting they come from the shallow end of the gene pool? Costco's fees may be a worthwhile price to pay to avoid this angst.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

More H. Potter in Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando theme park has announced a new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction, opening summer of 2014. The already open portion focuses on Hogsmead and the Hogwarts Castle.

The new section will feature Diagon Alley, Knockturn Alley and London. Guests will ride between the two sections on the Hogwarts Express train. The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports:
When Diagon Alley opens to the public sometime this summer, visitors will be able to buy magical novelty items at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, Hogwarts school uniforms and gear at Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions and telescopes and hourglasses at Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment.

They'll also be able to take a ride whose name Universal officials released Thursday: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.

In Diagon Alley, visitors will be able to venture to the dark side of magic in Knockturn Alley at Borgin and Burkes, specializing in sinister items such as Death Eater masks, worn by followers of evil Lord Voldemort. Then they can snack on strawberry-and-peanut-butter ice cream at Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour.
That sounds great to Harry Potter fans, including the DrsC.

Weird Oncological Science

Fox News reports that researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center have found that large doses of intravenous Vitamin C have useful chemotherapy properties. The article adds:
An intravenous infusion of vitamin C was able to kill cancer cells without noticeable toxicity or pathological changes in the liver, kidney or spleen.
The preliminary research was published in Science Translational Medicine and, of course, indicates that further studies are needed.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Immigration Reform Unneeded

It has become difficult to read the political news without encountering someone's opinion that the House of Representatives (typically) will take up immigration "reform" later this spring. This makes so little sense it may even be true.

When you ask the typical voter how important he/she believes immigration reform is, it normally ranks about number 16. I've read the arguments in favor of reform and I just don't buy them.

The U.S. needs a policy of admitting legal immigrants who have education and skills needed to keep our economy humming. Unskilled labor is not what is required, with the possible exception of a "guest worker" program for crop harvest purposes.

The key factor is mandatory checking of a Federal data base of lawful residents for all non-casual hiring. It needs to be easy to do, and quick - two things at which the government isn't especially good.

Rowling: Ron Wrong for Hermione

Ilya Somin, writing for The Volokh Conspiracy as it appears on The Washington Post website, reports results of an Emma Watson interview with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. A more detailed treatment appears here on

Rowling says she made a plot error in the Potter series. She tells Watson that the Hermione Granger character should have ended up married to Harry Potter instead of to his funny but determinedly prosaic pal Ron Weasley. I beg to differ.

The underlying rationales of both Harry and Hermione marrying into the Weasley clan are similar. Both are outsiders to the wizarding world who form alliances with the pure blood Weasleys as a way of "joining the club," of becoming accepted, of finding a home and surrogate family within the wizard community.

Had Hermione married Harry they'd have had each other, period. As a mudblood with muggle parents and an orphan raised by muggles, neither would have had witch and wizard relatives with whom to share life's joys and woes.

Rowling tells Watson the plot choices she made came out of her own life experiences. I expect that much is correct.

The Obamacare Recession

What impact will Obamacare have on the U.S. economy? The Hill summarizes a report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office or CBO. See what the CBO finds:
The nonpartisan agency found the reform law’s negative effects on employment would be “substantially larger” than what it had previously anticipated.

It said the equivalent of 2.3 million workers would be lost by 2021, compared to its previous estimate of 800,000, and that 2.5 million workers would be lost by 2024. It also projected that labor force compensation would be reduced by 1 percent from 2017 to 2024 — twice its previous estimate.
As a result of Obamacare millions of people will be out of work and those who are working will earn less than they otherwise would have earned. Talk about unintended consequences ... this has become the Obamacare recession.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Belaboring the Obvious

Sometimes a Supreme Court Justice reminds us of the truth of something very common sensical. Here the Washington Examiner reports Justice Antonin Scalia has said that, in the event of a war, internment camps might once again be utilized as they were during World War II for the Japanese.

Scalia used a Latin phrase that means "in times of war, the laws fall silent." I hope he is correct, but I'm not entirely convinced. We live in an era where actual effort goes into "making war in a humane fashion," an oxymoron.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Salon a Communism Apologist

Talk about thoroughly discredited "isms," Communism is right up there alongside Nazism in the pantheon of losers. Most countries like China and Vietnam that claim to be Communist are no longer anything of the sort. Capitalism is rampant in both countries, I've seen it for myself.

It is hard to believe a media outlet with a national presence would publish an article defending Communism. Nevertheless, that is what webzine Salon has done here.

The seven arguments made in Salon are either trivial or wrong, and deserve no further comment. However, this egregious lapse in editorial judgment should give any potential Salon reader pause.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Friedman on the New Warfare

The New York Times' Tom Friedman writes with some insight about the Middle East. Referring to the Israel/Palestinian conflict as the "Off Broadway" where you can see what will eventually play out in the larger world, he observes the following:
This is not your grandfather’s battlefield. When the enemy is nested in homes and apartments and no one wears a uniform but everyone has a cellphone camera, you have a real strategic and moral challenge — as the U.S. has discovered with its own drone wars. It’s hard to defeat this enemy without killing a lot of civilians.
Civilians who are complicit in the actions of the enemy get killed, that seems both clear and morally unambiguous.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Argentina Devalues the Peso

Forbes reports Argentina devalued its peso last week, by 15%. They note that the Cristina Kirchner government shows no signs of trying to get inflation under control.

COTTonLINE wishes we could experience surprise at this news, alas we cannot. Argentina has suffered recurring bouts of Peronist populism ever since dear old Juan and hot young Evita were in power.

Argentines are committed to continuing government handouts; handouts the government cannot afford to give and cannot refuse without losing power. Kirchner is unable to cut government spending and employment; these constitute her governmental raison d'etre, her reason for existence in office.

Don't cry for the Argentines, politically they are their own worst enemy.

Another Presidential Lie

During his SOTU address, President Obama dredged up the old chestnut about women earning 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. As The Washington Post and The Daily Beast have made clear here and here respectively, the number is bogus.

Women and men make different career choices and exhibit different levels of commitment to their careers. As The Daily Beast notes:
The 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure, or hours worked per week. When all these relevant factors are taken into consideration, the wage gap narrows to about five cents.
As COTTonLINE continues to insist, student occupational choices have economic consequences. The Daily Beast lists the ten most and ten least remunerative college majors. They report men earn most of the degrees in the former, women earn most of the latter degrees.

No kidding.

Where Do Conservatives, Liberals Live?

The Gallup polling organization reports survey results that indicate our home state of Wyoming is the most conservative of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. DC is the most liberal political unit.

Over half of our fellow Wyoming citizens (51.4%) report themselves as "conservative," while only 10.9% self-identify as "liberal," the balance being "moderate." The next four conservative states, numbers two through five, are Mississippi, Idaho, Utah, and Montana. The next five are Arkansas, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Alabama.

The ten most liberal jurisdictions are the District of Columbia, Vermont, Massachusetts, Delaware, New York, Hawaii (tie), Oregon (tie), Maine, California, and New Jersey, in that order.

Comes the Bolo

A long-time science fiction reader, I enjoy it when current technology catches up with the stuff of syfy. reports the U.S. Army is experimenting with driverless trucks, designed to get the supplies through without exposing human drivers to IEDs.

Can driverless tanks be far behind? I think not. I am reminded of the famous Bolo autonomous tanks of Keith Laumer's military syfy stories, a concept that has been elaborated by authors David Weber, Joe Ringo, and William H. Keith.

It is worth remembering that syfy godfather Arthur C. Clarke invented the concept of communications based on geosynchronous satellites. We now take for granted the millions of northern hemisphere receiver dishes aimed at the southern sky ... I have three including an automatic one on my RV.