Friday, October 31, 2008

Political Angst

The U.S. is the sole remaining superpower, and the U.S. president is supposed to be the most powerful person in the world. If you didn't know better, you'd think such a job would attract a swarm of highly qualified, very able candidates. It doesn't.

How is it that our political system is so screwed up that the best our two major parties can give us is an abandoned by his parents freshman Senator with no accomplishments beyond oratory and a decent jump shot, and a ready-for-retirement curmudgeonly senior Senator whose decision-making is highly suspect and who is almost as unpopular among Republicans as Democrats.

Oddly, either of these paragons could be the proverbial Manchurian Candidate. Obama because he was raised a Muslim in Indonesia, and has hung out with Communists, domestic terrorists, and black nationalists ever since. McCain because he was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese Communists for several years and may have been brainwashed like the fictional Manchurian Candidate. These are not, by the way, serious allegations, they are instead merely ironic coincidences.

Back to my original question: what do we need to do to spur attractive, talented, experienced people to run for president? Shorten the race? Compel public funding?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Quote of the Day

Mark Steyn, writing politics with tongue in cheek for the National Review:

This is an amazing race. The incumbent president has approval ratings somewhere between Robert Mugabe and the ebola virus. The economy is supposedly on the brink of global Armageddon. McCain has only $80 million to spend, while Obama's burning through $600 mil as fast as he can, and he doesn't really need to spend a dime given the wall-to-wall media adoration.

And yet an old cranky broke loser is within two or three points of the King of the World. Strange.

Maybe not so strange. Some of us believe "commander in chief" is the most important part of a president's duties.

Egypt Is Complex

I just read this Wall Street Journal interview with Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany, who is a best-selling novelist in the Arab world. The interview covers what you'd expect, comments about Egyptian poverty and lack of democracy. I daresay all of that is to some degree true.

However, on a recent visit to Alexandria we took a drive 50+ miles west to the World War II battlefield at El Alamein. During that entire drive we passed huge seashore condo developments. We estimated we saw many tens of thousands of units, in literally dozens of developments. These are obviously new and only occupied during the summer. We were there in late September and almost nobody was around.

The sheer size of this "second home" phenomenon in Egypt argues that there is a very substantial upper middle class with sufficient disposable income to afford a summer place at the beach. We take such developments for granted in the U.S.; we were stunned to see them in a supposedly impoverished country like Egypt which lacks oil wealth.

My conclusion - there is more to Egypt than the standard litany of poverty and dictatorship. Perhaps, like Singapore and China, the Egyptian government has discovered that if you can create economic opportunity for many of your people, they will not complain about a lack of governmental representativeness.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Global Cooling

This article from The Register [U.K.] tells us that very early snow has fallen in London. The last time snow fell in October was 86 years ago in 1922. Ironically, while the unseasonably early snow fell, the House of Commons was debating a bill to control human contributions to global warming.

It a shame that the climate doesn't seem to have gotten the word about being hotter. Fortunately for its advocates, belief in global warming doesn't require proof, only a sense of guilt.

Quote of the Day

Howie Carr, writing for the Boston Herald:
Try not to let this destroy your faith in the integrity of the Massachusetts Legislature. Look on the bright side: Only 5 percent of the state Senate has been indicted this year.
That sounds like Chicago politics...pervasive sleaze.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

McCain as Gadfly

Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, argues that John McCain's natural political posture is as a gadfly, someone who often as not finds fault with his own party as well as the opposition. Lowry's view is that this gadfly tendency has made him a singularly ineffective presidential candidate.

I think I might agree with Lowry. His point that in taking the Jeremiah Wright association off the table, he lost one of his most effective arguments makes sense to me. You might find the article interesting.

Another View

It is received wisdom among conservatives that we don't get a fair shake in the mainstream media, or MSM. In this article the guys at Politico respond to the bias charge.

The article is an apparent response to complaints made by the authors' mothers; whether true or not, it is a cute way to frame the piece. Right up front they admit that maybe 80% of journalists vote Democrat. This, they say, is unimportant.

Their basic argument is that the McCain campaign has been poorly run. Their secondary argument is that the McCain of 2008 is less fun to cover than in 2000 because he is less press-available and maverick and more scripted and traditionally conservative. Their tertiary argument is that reporters fear being thought racist, and treat Obama with kid gloves.

I suspect all three allegations are true. I am less sure that they explain the observed difference in press coverage of the two candidates.

My guess is that you won't be converted to their viewpoint. Even if you are not, it is interesting to see how they explain it to themselves, or justify it, or whatever. And, the article is well written as is most stuff John Harris has a hand in.

Tony Hillerman

The press is reporting the death of author Tony Hillerman, age 83 in Albuquerque, NM. Tony was the author of the Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels featuring sleuths Sergeant Jim Chee and the "legendary" Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn.

Hillerman wrote of the peoples of the Four Corners region with sympathy, insight and, I believe, genuine affection. I am no expert on the area but after reading his books I end up thinking I might know something of it.

I've read all of Hillerman's novels, some repeatedly. If you enjoy mysteries and you haven't read Hillerman, you have a treat in store for you that I wish was still in store for me.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Quote of the Day III

Michael Barone, writing in his U.S. News & World Report blog, has some very interesting ideas about the changing demographics of the Democratic Party. He concludes:
The irony here is that voters motivated by anger at the decline in their wealth seem about to elect a president who has promised to embark on wealth-destroying policies.
An alternate title for this piece: "Being your own worst enemy in the polling booth."

Media Musings

As Jon Meacham says in a recent Newsweek article, politically the U.S. is a center-right nation. Current political fancies notwithstanding, the U.S. remains essentially a center-right nation.

In spite of this fact, most of our mainstream media are overwhelmingly liberal; Fox News and The Wall Street Journal being notable exceptions. Not coincidentally, most of our mainstream media outlets are hurting. Newspaper circulation is down, viewship of the major TV networks is down. Ad revenues which pay for our news operations are down too. As a marketing guy would say, what they're selling, we aren't buying.

Here is a radical concept. Do you suppose there might be a market for newspapers and television news that share values with their viewers and readers? This is not rocket science.

Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report reports viewership at the various news and opinion programs on the cable news channels (Fox, CNN, MSNBC) and week after week Fox has the highest rated programs. Partially, one supposes, this is because they are the only news outlet that leans right, while the other two cable news channels have to share left leaning viewers with ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS.

I think that Murdoch fellow may be onto something; he owns the Wall Street Journal and Fox. That gives him a near-monopoly on providing news for the half or more of the U.S. electorate whose values place them on the right.

Quote of the Day II

Barack Obama, from the transcript of a radio call in program, cited in a National Review article, and linked to the original audio from the Drudge Report here:
The Supreme Court never entered into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.
Obama continues:
One of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil-rights movement was because the civil-rights movement became so court-focused, uh, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change.
"Redistribution" is lawyer-speak for the government stealing from those who earn the money to give it to those who don't, won't, or can't. Go read the entire interview, which took place on WBEZ, Chicago public radio in 2001, or listen to it on YouTube.

Quote of the Day I

Barack Obama, spoken to the Associated Press and repeated in a New York Times article:
I’m not interested in the suburbs. The suburbs bore me.

Remind me, doesn't most of the "middle class" Obama wants to protect and nurture live in the suburbs?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Babbling Brooks

For some years David Brooks was the only "house conservative" at The New York Times. For most of that time Brooks has been worth reading. Recently he has been joined in that role by William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard.

In the last couple of months Brooks has been dumping on Palin and, to a lesser extent on McCain. This column is an example of his disaffection with the current directions of the Republican Party, the McCain campaign, and the dearth of what we used to call derisively "the Rockefeller Republicans." I agree with him that the McCain campaign has been less-than-skillful much of the time.

Brooks identifies three strains in American politics and implies that they are of equal size: liberals, conservatives, and [his term] "progressive conservatives." He whines that in this election McCain gave up claims to this third group.

My sense of modern American politics is that we have become more and more polarized, and that there isn't much "middle" in the electorate. The folks who would be the middle often don't bother to vote.

If Brooks can't stomach the current Republican Party, and yet doesn't much like the Democrats either, he could end up sounding like one of those non-voters. A political columnist who might as well be a non-voter?

I suppose the real issue for Brooks is that he no longer has a clear role at the Times. I don't see how he can lay claim to "house conservative" any more, and the Times is downsizing as they make less and less money. Peggy Noonan may have the same problem at The Wall Street Journal. In both cases this is unfortunate as they have been talented writers.

Scenario Shift

On October 10 and 12 of this year, we speculated that an Obama victory on Nov. 4 would raise the likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran in the immediate post-election period. Ceterus paribus, that would still be the case. [Ceteris paribus is Latin meaning "all other things being equal," a usage much beloved by academics.]

However, it turns out that in recent Israeli domestic politics, ceteris is definitely not paribus. As this New York Times article notes, the present Prime Minister, Olmert, has resigned over ethics issues and Livni, the woman who replaced him as leader of the Kadima party, has been unable to assemble a new governing coalition.

Early elections have been called to happen in February or March, 2009. The article speculates that Olmert will probably continue as acting Prime Minister until the elections. What all this means is that Israel will have a weak government between now and the inauguration of a new U.S. president in late January.

Lame duck governments tend not to launch military strikes as such governments are perceived to have little public support. Obama victory in November may not increase the immediate likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran. In this case Israeli domestic politics probably trump their foreign policy concerns.

Wishful Thinking

There is a well-known human phenomenon whereby we tend to believe true those things we want to be true. The everyday phrase for this is "wishful thinking." If you don't believe wishful thinking is widespread, stop reading here.

Everybody except the netroots left now agrees that the MSM wants Obama to win the presidency. A quick survey of MSM sources suggests they also report that Obama will win the presidency.

The real question now is the extent to which that assessment of probable outcomes is a result of wishful thinking versus actual data. I've read the polls and if you read this blog, you probably have too. The polls say Obama will win.

I say we will know who won on Wednesday, November 5. Let's let the voters have their say and then we'll live with their collective judgment, whatever it is.

The U.S. has, in my lifetime, survived some bad presidents chosen by our electorate. Whichever candidate wins this time, we will probably have another bad one.

Hang in there, friends. I expect we have sufficient institutional inertia to survive the next one. Of course, that too may be wishful thinking.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Steyn: Obama as President

The always-interesting Mark Steyn writes in the National Review concerning his view of the probably nature of an Obama presidency. My favorite line in the article is a quote he has taken from President Calvin Coolidge:
I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people.

The truth of these words cannot be exaggerated. If you would destroy people, give them things they didn't earn. It is the quickest possible way to destroy initiative and the work ethic, to turn self-reliant folks into welfare drones.

Steyn believes an Obama presidency would take the U.S. in the feckless direction of old Europe. The column is worth your time.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Happy, Happy

David Montgomery, writing in The Washington Post, reports survey results from the Pew Research Center and they are fun. In short, their finding is that conservatives are happier than liberals, Republicans are happier than Democrats, and this is even true today in tough times for Republicans.

Montgomery puzzles at length about why this might be so. As is often the case in correlational studies, he has the causal arrow pointing in the wrong direction. Being Republican doesn't make you happy, being happy makes you Republican.

If life is working out just fine for you, you are likely to believe it doesn't need changing. Not changing the status quo is a decent working definition for "conservative." On the other hand, if you aren't happy with your lot, then change might make your situation better.

If you have life under control and working for you, you don't feel a need for government help and won't want to pay for same. You'll become a Republican. If, on the other hand, life isn't working out very well for you, government help would be welcome and you probably won't have to pay for it anyway, the Republicans will. You'll become a Democrat.

So, fellow conservatives, go read the article and have even more fun in your life.

Palin Was Right

Joe Biden and the MSM have been giving Sarah Palin a hard time about her assertion that some parts of the country are more patriotic than others. Those of us who've lived in both city and country don't find her claim outlandish at all.

This National Review article reports University of Michigan research data that totally supports her claim. Small town residents are 50% more likely to say they have extremely strong love for the U.S. than their big city counterparts. Roughly half of big city residents have extremely strong love of the U.S. while three quarters of small town and rural residents hold that view. As we social scientists like to say, that difference is both statistically significant and meaningful.

Border Tensions

This New York Times article reports unrest and tensions along the Brazil-Paraguay border. Paraguay has a new populist president, Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop. His primary constituency is among the poor, who are agitating to take back land from Brazilian farmers who have farms in Paraguay. Meanwhile, the article reports recent Brazilian military maneuvers along the border, making Paraguay nervous.

Paraguayans have every right to be nervous. Brazil has 28 times the population of Paraguay and 21 times the land area. Compared to giant Brazil, Paraguay is militarily (and economically) insignificant. I presume the Brazilian army could occupy landlocked Paraguay in a weekend, and I presume Paraguay knows this.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

An Inexact Something

Polling has got to be the most inexact thing (art? science? seance?) going. There are polls that show Obama ahead by 10 points, and others that show him and McCain essentially even. AP-GfKRoper poll shows them even, as does the George Washington University Battleground poll. Today's RealClearPolitics average of several polls shows Obama ahead by 7.1 percentage points. I guess you believe whichever poll has the results you like.

One thing I do know, none of the polls shows McCain ahead by 10 points, or even 2 points. Certainly outcome-changing events can happen between now and Nov. 4. However, absent something big happening, McCain's last clear chance would seem to rest on the Bradley effect. That is not a good place for him to be, but it could win him the presidency.

Later...since I wrote the comment above, I ran across this Associated Press article that explains how the variance among polls occurs. I found it helpful, maybe you will too.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Man Bites Dog

This article in reports that a senior official in an Iranian strategy think tank, Dr. Seyed G. Safavi, told diplomats in London that he is recommending Iran make a preemptive strike on Israel. The intended purpose would be to head off an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. The real question is this: Is this story disinformation, or is it for real?

If Iran should actually attack Israel, the only thing you can imagine President Bush saying to Israel is"You certainly have the right to defend yourself, with our help." Ditto a President McCain.

I'd guess a President Obama would echo Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?" And I think Israel knows this.

AP: Obama, McCain Essentially Even

The Associated Press, which has favored Obama throughout much of this race, reports that their AP-GfK poll shows Obama with 44%, McCain with 43%. Their evaluation of these numbers:
McCain and Barack Obama (are) essentially running even among likely voters in the election homestretch.
This represents a real shift after the third debate.
Three weeks ago, an AP-GfK survey found that Obama had surged to a seven-point lead over McCain.
Here is where early voting via absentee ballot makes a difference. Early voters can change their minds but not their votes.

Whoever wins, a close race is more fun than a landslide. On the other hand, one could reasonably argue that a landslide gives whoever wins a real mandate, where a close race does not.

Crisis, Cause of

This Christian Science Monitor article explains the root causes of the current economic crisis. You owe it to yourself to read it. As Ronald Reagan was fond of telling us, government is not the solution, government is the problem. Or as the article says,
Government regulations and other interventions – not greed – are the major cause of our current problems.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Seeing Racism Where None Exists

This article in the Kansas City Star argues that "socialist" is an old code word for "black." Perhaps that was once true, half a century ago. Nowadays socialism is most often associated in people's minds with either Scandinavia or China; residents of neither are black.

If a politician embraces redistributionist policies, those can fairly be called "socialist." Perhaps we should stop calling people racists unless their behavior is so extreme as to leave no doubt. For as Sigmund Freud said in making fun of some of his followers who saw so-called Freudian symbols everywhere, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

U.S. Culture Is Viral

U.S. culture has a high contagion factor; in modern Internet terms, it would be called "viral." Here is a great example from Bloomberg, saying McDonalds is kicking butt in the lunch market in France. Beau coup bistros are closing their doors, while Mickey D is doing well. I love it.

Cultural artifacts that survive in a market environment featuring highly varied customers (i.e., the U.S.) tend to do well in other countries. It is the most insidious form of cultural imperialism, the most difficult to resist. Le Big Mac is but another example to add to a long list that includes Coca Cola, blue jeans, American slang, rock music, and Hollywood films.

Battleground Stunner

The Battleground Poll has Obama's lead down to 1%, they have Obama at 48% and McCain at 47%. No explanation, just see the numbers here.

Check out the trend lines on their graph. If those slow trends continue, the only question is whether there is enough time left for McCain to pull into the lead. You can understand why Obama is encouraging people to go vote early, before they change their minds.

Now, one more time, tell me about the Obama landslide that is expected by some.

Quote of the Day

Ralph Peters, writing in the New York Post,

The truth is that an Obama administration would be a second Carter presidency - only far worse. Think Bush weakened America? Just wait.

I think Peters exaggerates slightly. Read the whole article and decide for yourself.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Spin Matters

Mike Allen's Playbook column at quotes ABC News' George Stephanopoulos as saying of the Powell endorsement of Obama:
His endorsement is a real signal to moderate Republicans and independents that Barack Obama is OK.
I prefer the interpretation that it is a real signal to all Republicans and conservatives that RINO Colin Powell is not OK. I'm not sure what independents make of the endorsement, probably not much.

Spin matters.

Ahead of the Curve

Yesterday, commenting on the Powell endorsement of Obama, COTTonLINE said the following:
Retirement can be boring if you've been somebody important. It appears General Powell is angling for a job in an Obama administration.
Today, we see this proved out in an Associated Press article which says:
Colin Powell will have a role as a top presidential adviser in an Obama administration.

We at COTTonLINE love it when we can identify an issue ahead of the MSM.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Nicaragua Status Report

Jackson Diehl writes an interesting Washington Post article about the situation in Nicaragua, and the thuggish behavior of the Ortega government there. Diehl makes the interesting point that nobody in the U.S. State Department seems at all worried about Ortega's anti-democratic activities, activities that we have noted before on this blog.

It turns out the main vocal opponents of the regime are a group of leftist Latin American intellectuals. Diehl managed to elicit this off-the-record response from State Department 'sources:'
Nicaragua doesn't pose any particular threat to the United States. And the lambasting the caudillo (Ortega) is getting from his former comrades is probably more effective than anything the United States could say.
I'll bet the Ticos are very unhappy about this situation, for it will trigger even more "Nickies" to become illegal immigrants to Costa Rica.

Powell Looks for Work

Former RINO Secretary of State and General Colin Powell today endorsed Barack Obama for president. That is the political equivalent of selecting a young, newly promoted brigadier to command all U.S. forces in Iraq.

Powell claims Obama's race had nothing to do with his choice. If you believe that, you are almost certainly too naive to be allowed outdoors without adult supervision.

Do you suppose Powell is getting even with Bush for first not listening to him and then replacing him with Condi Rice? If so, he may have waited almost too late.

Retirement can be boring if you've been somebody important. It appears General Powell is angling for a job in an Obama administration.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Quote of the Day

Doug Giles, writing for
I guarantee the hard-working “Joes” out there who have worked their plumber butts off 10-12 hours a day for the last decade aren’t too jazzed at the prospects of Obama Robin Hooding their hard-earned cash on behalf of a crack whore.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Noonan's Moonin'

Peggy Noonan, who has written some good columns for The Wall Street Journal, as well as a lot of gushy tripe for the same source, has really stepped in the doggy poo this time. She writes a column entitled "Palin Failin'" and reveals, quite unintentionally I'm sure, that she is an awful elitist, the worst kind of country club Republican.

Peggy lives in New York City and pretty clearly doesn't understand [or feel comfortable with] those of us who live "out in the hinterlands." Sarah Palin is the kind of spunky small town gal we see a lot of in Wyoming, or for that matter in rural California. Wyoming was the first state to give women the vote, and Jackson was the first town in the nation to have an all-female town council.

Noonan complains that we don't know what Palin stands for. Get real, Noonan. Vice presidential candidates stand for what the presidential candidate stands for. To the extent there is variance, and there has been some between McCain and Palin, the veep candidate ends up having to explain how they will stifle their differences and toe the party line.

Noonan's real problem with Palin is stylistic. Palin wouldn't fit in to New York salon society. Most Americans wouldn't fit either, and have no interest in so doing.

In truth, most Americans have met few New Yorkers they've liked at all. 'Noo Yawkers' are normally abrasive and obnoxious. In a long life I have known exactly two New York natives who overcame their upbringing, lost the chip on the shoulder, and evolved into real, likable human beings. Sad....

Whole Lot of Hatin' Goin' On

Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald F. Seib, reporting the findings of pollster Peter Hart, co-director of the Wall Street Journal-NBC News Poll:
In surveying voters over the weekend, Mr. Hart found that more than a third of each candidate's supporters say they have grown to "detest" either John McCain or Sen. Obama so deeply that they would have a hard time accepting the one they don't support as president.*
There is nothing particularly new about this phenomenon. I suspect at least 1/3 of Republicans hated and didn't accept Clinton and at least 1/3 of Democrats feel the same way about Bush.

For reasons I don't understand, it is now okay to hate the other party's candidate, and the horse he rode in on. I mean really hate, as in be happy if the miserable SOB develops incurable cancer. COTTonLINE deplores this trend.

*Source: Wall Street Journal print edition for Tuesday, October 14, 2008, page A10. No web link to an open source at the WSJ could be found.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gallup Shocker

Gallup finds Obama leads McCain by 49% to 47% among likely voters. This is within the poll's margin of error. In other words, they are essentially tied. Even more important is the following caveat:
Almost all of the interviews in this three-day rolling average were conducted before Wednesday night's third and final presidential debate at Hofstra University.
Since McCain is widely thought to have won the third debate, can we expect their numbers to be tied by Saturday?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Quote of the Day II

John McCain, speaking at the last presidential debate:
Senator Obama, I'm not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.

Quote of the Day I

Melanie Phillips, writing in The Spectator (U.K.):
The contrast between, on the one hand, the huge amount of material about Obama’s radical associations that has been published in on-line journals and in a few brave newspapers, and on the other the refusal by big media to address it and to vilify those who do, becomes more astounding by the day.
Sometimes the truth is more apparent when seen from a distance, like across the Atlantic.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Conservative Harper Wins in Canada

The Washington Post reports here that Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party, has won reelection as Prime Minister of Canada. Harper had hoped for an outright majority of the 308 seats in Parliament, but fell short while improving his party's position by something like 17 seats.

If, as is expected, Obama wins in the United States, he will soon be the only liberal among the leaders of the G-7. How ironic. Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada all have conservative leaders now and the U.K. is expected to go conservative at the next general election which will likely be in 2009.

Resurgent Islam in Turkey

This New York Times article about the conflict over women adopting Islamic wear in previously secular Turkey is worth reading. The DrsC were in Turkey a month ago and saw lots of women covered from head to ankle, in hot weather. The other DrC has pix on her website,

It would appear that at least some of the apparent orthodoxy is merely youth rebellion against the status quo. My on-scene observations suggest the Times has given this aspect of the movement too much emphasis. We saw plenty of older women covered up too, no youthful rebels they.

If Turkey loses its secular emphasis and slips into Islamic orthodoxy, a large and relatively developed country will have joined "the other side" in what many of us are calling "the Long War."

Quote of the Day

The New York Times' David Brooks, writing about the probable outcome of an Obama victory:
What we’re going to see, in short, is the Gingrich revolution in reverse and on steroids. There will be a big increase in spending and deficits. In normal times, moderates could have restrained the zeal on the left. In an economic crisis, not a chance. The over-reach is coming. The backlash is next.
So...Reid and Pelosi get to buy the votes of the poor using your hard-earned money. Brooks doesn't mention how inflationary this deficit spending will be, how it will devalue your savings.

Golly, I can hardly wait for all this fun to begin.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Two Peoples Separated by a Common Language

Every time I think about how all the talk about bailing out Fannie and Freddie must be playing in the U.K. and Australia I snicker. Given the general state of current economic news (i.e., mostly bad), laughs are not that common and are consequently highly valued.

The reason for this is that "fanny" in the U.K. is slang for vagina. Don't take my word for it, Google it for yourself. I was reminded of this linguistic quirk by some Brits I met on a recent cruise. I wonder if news readers on the BBC can do stories about Fannie and Freddie with a straight face?

Come to think of it, I wonder what the Brits and the Oz think of that famous old U.S. cookbook, generally known by the name of its author: Fannie Farmer? No plowing jokes, please.

Travelers' Alert

As this Associated Press article indicates, there is increased potential for sudden armed conflict between the armies of Cambodia and Thailand along a disputed border region. While neither country's military is equipped for a highly mobile war of maneuver, it is still the sort of situation in which tourists should be wary. Note that Thailand is alleging that Cambodia is planting land mines, which could easily destroy the leg of an unsuspecting tourist.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Recreational Hate

I'm noticing that the more extreme members of both major political parties insist on exhibiting their hatred of the other group. It appears they actively enjoy the hating.

As we watch them we should remember the emotional orgies indulged in by Mao's Red Guards, Hitler's Storm Troopers, the Klu Klux Klan, the jihadis, both sides in Northern Ireland, and urban rioters everywhere. In short, what we're seeing is no new phenomenon, but a very old and unattractive human trait - the mindless high of the mob.

Cooler heads in both parties should discourage orgies of hate among their supporters.

Don Quixote or Ol' Blue Eyes?

If you were to guess the outcome of the presidential contest today, based on the polls you'd guess Obama will win. If Obama wins, I predict we will come to view Senator McCain as a Don Quixote-like figure, too wrapped up in his own internal world of fantasy to win. When he had the chance to go for the political jugular, and his supporters urged him to do it, he wouldn't.

On the other hand, if it turns out McCain once again pulls the rabbit out of the hat and wins, his theme song for the next four years should be Frank Sinatra's "I did it my way." The lovely folks in the MSM will attribute his win to racism, and who knows, they might even be right for a change. Compared to the professionalism of the Obama effort, McCain's campaign has been less-than-polished.

Crying Wolf

We all remember Aesop's fable of the lonely shepherd boy who cried "Wolf" when there was no wolf, in order to get attention. And we all remember that after he'd done this several times, when there eventually was a wolf nobody came to his aid, and he was killed.

There are a lot of cries of "racism" being thrown around this election cycle. Most of them, it seems to me, are like the boy's cries when no wolf was present. Our political system causes members of party A to criticize the candidate of party B, and vice versa, regardless of the racial background of the candidates. It is certainly possible to criticize either the character or the policies of a presidential candidate without being a racist.

When one candidate has a minority background, that candidate's supporters are tempted to call any criticism of their candidate racism. Then the supporters of the opponent begin to think of ways to cry (reverse) racism. When everybody is accusing everybody else of racism, it creates an environment in which actual racism can go essentially unnoticed, lost in the political equivalent of "the fog of war."

Perhaps dialing back the "you're a racist" rhetoric on both sides might be to everyone's advantage.

Philippines: Back on the Radar Scope

The simmering Islamic rebellion in the southern Philippines, mostly on the large island of Mindanao, has flared up again. This article in The Wall Street Journal provides a status report. Whether it is France or Thailand or India or the Philippines, Islamic minorities cannot seem to be reconciled to living in peace with their neighbors.

Bolivia Watch

This article from the Associated Press indicates Peace Corps volunteers have been pulled from Bolivia. A key comment is this one by the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Thomas Shannon:
The Bolivians on at least two occasions that I'm aware of said that they thought the Peace Corps was part of a larger intelligence network that they thought we had constructed in Bolivia.
Friends, I spent a lifetime dealing with young Americans of Peace Corps age. A less likely group of 'spies' would be hard to imagine. This level of paranoia on the part of the Morales government is another sign of deterioration.

Quote of the Day

University of Arkansas political scientist Bob Maranto, quoted in a column by Salena Zito in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Obama knows that if you try to impose things like racial quotas and gay marriage, that would not be a vote-winner. But if you appoint federal judges who impose those policies, you can evade responsibility.

Reading the Tea Leaves in London

Two days ago in this column we noted the increased likelihood of Israel attacking Iran's nuclear facilities during the two month period between election and inauguration. Here is an article by David Owen, former British Foreign Secretary, in the Sunday Times of London which raises this same issue and ties it only very indirectly to the results of our November election.

The Effect of Race on the Race

English is a funny language; I'll bet people trying to learn it are driven wild by the use of exactly the same four letters in the same sequence meaning two entirely different, if not opposed, things. This post isn't about language, but after writing that headline, I had to do a brief sidebar about it.

The post is to draw your attention to a thoughtful article by Bill Whitaker of CBS News. He does a factual article about the possible impact of race on the presidential election. That is, about the impact of the literally African-American ancestry of Barack Obama in a contest that heretofore has always been between between two white males, at least at the major party level. The issue of whether the "Bradley effect" is still operational twenty years later is discussed. The article is sort of "inside baseball," of greatest interest to those of us who follow politics as a spectator sport.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Early Snow in the Rockies

This article in the Idaho Statesman is headlined:
Boise gets earliest snow on record

and it goes on to report that in records going back 110 years to 1898, this is the earliest measurable snowfall in Boise. I'd add that snow is also predicted over the next several days at our place in western Wyoming.

Please remind me why I should believe the world is getting warmer and it is a crisis about which I should be terrified. I'd find claims of global warming more credible if there were more supporting evidence and less evidence to the contrary.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Scenario Spinning

Senator Obama is viewed by Israelis as having less commitment to their security than do either President Bush or Senator McCain. The accuracy of this perception is not particularly relevant, note merely that the Palestinians believe it too. In emotional issues like national security, perception often trumps reality.

If Obama is elected our next President in early November, the two month period between the election and Inauguration Day in January, 2009, features a greatly increased likelihood of Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The logical time for Israel to attack Iran's nukes is before Obama occupies the White House; while Israel can still count on at least tacit support for such raids.

On the other hand, if McCain is elected Israel will feel less pressure to act immediately against Iran. I believe the consensus will be that they have more time to assess the situation and weigh their options. In this sense, a win by Obama increases the temporal predictability of future events, if not the likelihood of their occurrence.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The October Surprise

John Hinderaker of Powerline has posted copies of 2 documents and quoted a third that show the socialist New Party considered Barack Hussein Obama one of their members in the 1990s. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised for someone who has been judged to have the most left-leaning voting record in the U.S. Senate.

You can view socialist ties as good or bad, that is up to your political orientation. COTTonLINE takes a dim view of socialism because (a) we believe it simply doesn't work and (b) it violates our concept of fairness.

Socialism doesn't work because it is based on a misunderstanding of human behavior. When working harder doesn't result in earning more, when folks don't get to keep a lot of what they earn, they don't work hard. Socialist societies are relatively unproductive. As a novelist once said, "socialism is not a way to share the wealth, it is a way to share the poverty."

Socialism violates our sense of fairness because it seeks to equalize outcomes. Clearly some people generate more wealth than others; our sense of fairness says they should end up with more wealth, in other words with unequal outcomes. That is capitalism, not socialism.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Non-partisan Political Humor Alert

NBC Tonight Show host Jay Leno, describing the format of last night's presidential debate:
Tonight's debate is called 'Townhall style.' Which means instead of ignoring the moderator's questions, the candidates can ignore the voters directly.
Source: as quoted in the ABC News political blog The Note.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Quote of the Day III

An anonymous poster on's open thread running during the McCain-Obama debate:
Obama - the morality of Clinton and the naivete of Carter.

Man, oh, man, that is some kind of cold put-down.

Bolivia Revisited

COTTonLINE has been tracking unfolding events in Bolivia since at least early May of this year. A Christian Science Monitor article by Seth Kaplan brings us up to date on the current state of unrest in Bolivia. So far we've seen violent deaths, martial law, arrest of an elected governor, expulsion of a U.S. ambassador, and other signs of disturbance. Poor, sad Bolivia.

Quick Thought

Reason Number 723 for voting Republican:

Of the two major party tickets for president/vice president, only one, the Republican, contains NO LAWYERS.

Source: Bench Memos blog for National Review Online.

Quote of the Day II

Thomas Sowell, writes in RealClearPolitics of candidate Obama:
The country does not deserve to be put in the hands of a glib and cocky know-it-all, who has accomplished absolutely nothing beyond the advancement of his own career with rhetoric, and who has for years allied himself with a succession of people who have openly expressed their hatred of America.
It would be hard to call that racism; Dr. Sowell is himself an African-American. Hat tip to Mark Steyn for publicizing Sowell's views.

Quote of the Day I

Dan Spencer, reporting coverage by CNN for which video he has a link, says CNN characterizes the Obama-Ayers association:
CNN finally took a serious look at the long association between Obama and left-wing radical Weather Underground founder Bill Ayers. CNN concluded "the relationship between Obama and Ayers went much deeper, ran much longer, and was much more political than Obama said." (emphasis added)
CNN tends to lean left much of the time, which makes this finding even more credible. For a more detailed look at the Obama-Ayers relationship, see this article in The Cleveland Leader.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Primer on Financial Meltdown

Here it is, boys and girls, the lowdown on what caused the financial meltdown we are experiencing on Wall Street and to a lesser degree on Main Street. This Wall Street Journal article by Professor Russell Roberts lays it all out.

While not denying the existence of greed among financiers, he spells out the extent to which the crisis is the direct result of Federal policy, aimed at increasing home ownership among those whose ability to pay is questionable or worse. That governmental culpability is sizable. The most damning quote is the following:

For 1996, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gave Fannie and Freddie an explicit target -- 42% of their mortgage financing had to go to borrowers with income below the median in their area. The target increased to 50% in 2000 and 52% in 2005.

For 1996, HUD required that 12% of all mortgage purchases by Fannie and Freddie be "special affordable" loans, typically to borrowers with income less than 60% of their area's median income. That number was increased to 20% in 2000 and 22% in 2005. The 2008 goal was to be 28%.

Between 2000 and 2005, Fannie and Freddie met those goals every year, funding hundreds of billions of dollars worth of loans, many of them subprime and adjustable-rate loans, and made to borrowers who bought houses with less than 10% down.

The median is the point above and below which equal numbers of people's incomes fall, think of it as the midpoint. So government required over a quarter of the loans to go to people whose income put them in approximately the bottom 30% of earners. These are borrowers whose financial applecart can be upset by a medical bill, a blown transmission, or a layoff. In short, people who absolutely should be renters, not owners. Then there is the Community Reinvestment Act:
The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) did the same thing with traditional banks. It encouraged banks to serve two masters -- their bottom line and the so-called common good. First passed in 1977, the CRA was "strengthened" in 1995, causing an increase of 80% in the number of bank loans going to low- and moderate-income families.
Do yourself a favor and read the whole article. I share Professor Roberts' scorn for this "something for nothing" social engineering policy of the government.

Global What?

Go here to see a National Weather Service page noting that Fairbanks, Alaska, has experienced the coldest start to October in 16 years. Their headline:

Now, one more time, remind me about this global warming thing that is supposed to be setting us all asweat. It doesn't seem to perform "on demand." No wonder Sarah Palin is less-than-certain we humans are the primary cause of climate change.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Thoughts on the Bailout

I see articles and blog entries bemoaning the "death of capitalism" as a result of the bailout passed by Congress and signed by the President. I have one word for these: overreaction.

History Lesson: Capitalism needs regulation, and has gotten it here in the U.S. ever since Teddy Roosevelt became a trust buster. When there is regulatory failure, which is what we've just experienced, the government steps in and cleans up the mess. It did so in the savings and loan bailout, and is doing it again. Then it puts regulations in place to keep the problem from arising again. Everything rolls along smoothly for a decade or so and then the creative minds in the financial arena dream up new ways to legally circumvent regulations and get crazy. This is followed by another crisis and another government intervention. If anything else happened, that would be unusual and, possibly, worrying.

My Analysis: What we are experiencing is the absolutely normal functioning of the interplay of the free markets for capital and the regulatory functions of the government. Yes, it would be ugly if nothing were done, but you will note that isn't happening. What is happening is the classical pas a deux that the financial complex and the government perform - ponderously and with much groaning - every decade or two.

My Conclusion: The sky is not falling, the world is not coming to an end, capitalism is not dead, and the era of American hegemony is not over. We've experienced a normal, if unpleasant, event. Get over it. Life goes on.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Travel Blogging: Epilogue

The early Fall trip is over; we are in our winter quarters in CA. I thought I'd post some thoughts about the trip just ended.

First, airline travel is no longer fun. This isn't an original thought, but I am freshly reminded of its truth. The airlines blame us, others blame deregulation, I'm not sure where lies the fault. However it just seems to get worse and worse; mobs of tense, frustrated, uncomfortable passengers being herded from place to place in long lines, or waiting where there is inadequate seating. At least on international flights you still get fed, albeit poorly. Domestic flights are worse. Planes are flying full, seats are crammed together, both seat room and knee room are at a premium, and much of the equipment has been flying so long it is looking as tired as the flight attendants.

On a happier note, the DrsC find cruising a relaxing, low-stress way to travel. Ambiguity is low, amenities are high, and there are a variety of activities offered for one's amusement. The food is ample in quantity and variety, quality is somewhat less stellar although seldom terrible. We tend not to suffer from mal de mer so that isn't much of an issue. There is something magical about this huge luxury hotel cruising across the seas, all the while generating its own electricity, distilling its own drinking water, processing its own sewage, feeding a couple of thousand hungry tourists and another thousand plus crew, staging entertainment in multiple venues every day and night, running a casino, an art gallery, a variety of shops, a library, many bars, a gym, a spa, an Internet cafe, and a medical clinic. Like on an aircraft carrier, most of the jobs are being done by young people; relatively few make it a lifetime career.

An interesting contrast I experienced in Greece. Over the last decades Greece has experienced occasional episodes of anti-Americanism, sometimes violent episodes. No doubt some of it dates back to resentment of Harry Truman's aid to the anti-communist forces in Greece at the end of World War II. However, all of the Greek people I met or dealt with were very pleasant and helpful. One suspects the anger has been directed more at "official" American policies and personnel rather than at American tourists.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bad News, Good News

You've heard all the bad news going around recently. How about some good news for a change? This Associated Press article reports that the number of illegal immigrants attempting to cross the Mexican border is down dramatically.

The article says it appears there are half a million fewer illegal immigrants in the U.S. than there were a year ago. In other words, more are going home than are coming here.

The weak economy and stepped up enforcement are suggested as causes. Whatever the causes, this is good news for the U.S., if not for Latin America.

Travel Blogging III

The ancient monuments of Athens are dramatic and spectacular, huge and wonderful. You have to wonder how Greeks three thousand years ago did all this with no power tools, no computers, and not a lot of what we think of as science. They were some impressive dudes.

The city of Athens, while old, doesn't have the same "other" feeling that you get in Istanbul and Alexandria. There is considerably more commitment to maintenance here, for example. This city feels European, those do not. Greek food is nice, too. I've heard that before and now I've experienced it.

Your humble scribe has come down with a cold and will be taking it easy until we fly out tomorrow. For a change, I will have a chance to infect everybody on the plane instead of being on the receiving end. Hack, cough, sniffle.

Athens is a 10 hours time difference from the West Coast of the U.S. Actually it is 10 hours later so I'm writing this at 4 p.m. and in CA it is 6 a.m. of the same day, namely Thursday. The other DrC has a theory that for every hour of time difference, it takes another day to get over jet lag. If she's right, it will take us 10 days to recuperate - that's dreary.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Travel Blogging II

Hello from Athens. We've just done the loop south from Istanbul to Alexandria, and back via Corfu to Athens. I guess many people are impressed with the Cyclades - Mykonos, Santorini - but we weren't especially. Talk about barren, the ground there is so barren you couldn't raise an umbrella on it. (rim shot) Crete, on the other hand, was nicer and had possibilities, we didn't see as much of it as we would have liked but the ruins of the palace at Knossos were impressive.

Alexandria is old, and apparently nobody there believes in maintenance, as everything is rundown. We were told the reason was government rent control. I'd almost buy that reason if it weren't for the fact that the government buildings were also rundown. Rent control isn't an issue for them, I believe.

On the other hand, driving along the coast west of town, there are literally scores of miles of 2 and 3 story condos which exist as shoreline summer places for the Egyptian middle classes (and above, of course). It is impressive that this supposedly poor country has that many middle class members - we must have seen many tens of thousands of units of beach condos. They stretched in an almost unbroken line along the shore from Alexandria west to El Alamein, some 66 miles west. That is a lot of beach condos. Being relatively new, these were in pretty good shape.

If we weren't impressed with Mykonos and Santorini, we were definitely impressed with Corfu - what a beautiful place that is. If I were a European, Corfu is where I'd want my vacation place. We also liked the country where the original Olympics were held, the port is Katakolon or some such. I'd heard Greece is poor and hardscrabble, the part near Katakolon certainly wasn't.

We go to see the Acropolis this afternoon, more later....