Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Lesser Foreign Footprint

Fouad Ajami writes on foreign affairs for The Wall Street Journal. Here he takes a long view of the Obama approach to world affairs and concludes it constitutes a new isolationism. Interestingly, a weaker U.S. is popular with the weak Europeans as it doesn't remind them of their weakness.

The Lesser Evil

Sometimes we have to settle for the lesser of two evils. In the case of airline security, profiling is nasty because it stigmatizes all members of certain groups for the misbehavior of a small minority of those groups. So be it. Folks blowing up airliners is worse.

Hassling 80 year old white-haired grandmothers in the name of treating everyone equally is not sensible, and not a good use of our limited resources. See this article from Commentary in which Michael Totten makes this point very well. Having TSA personnel pay more attention to young men and women of groups likely to be Islamic, even though most such have no violent intent, makes sense.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Travel Blogging Alert

COTTonLINE will be on TDY for the next month or so. Postings will be sporadic, depending on Internet availability. We will be wandering about the Orient, our first visit for 20 years. It should be very interesting.

I wish you a Happy New Year. As you make your resolutions for 2010, resolve to do your part to bring about a change in the composition and leadership of the Congress in November.

I'll admit the Republicans did a lousy job the last time they had control, if you'll admit the Democrats have done a lousy job this time. We need to keep punishing those in charge until they start doing a good job. "Good job" being defined as not spending so much of our money.


It turns out individuals we've held at Guantanamo and released are causing trouble for us after being released. See this Washington Post article. Recidivism? Yes, it says we were holding the right guys after all.

The major question is why they were released. I cannot fathom why we don't call them prisoners of The Long War who will be released when the war is over, if it ever is. If we planned to keep them until hostilities are over, probably most would die of old age before hostilities cease. We know turning them loose doesn't work, so keeping Guantanamo open and them in custody makes sense.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Awful Aughts

I'm running across a label for the years 2000-2009 that I like: the Awful Aughts. A decade that begins with 9/11 and ends with recession and the government screwing up health care can fairly be called "awful."

A Google search reveals the earliest usage is this April, 2003, article by Paul R. La Monica on It says:
The stock [Netflix] has been a rarity of the financial markets so far during these awful Aughts, a successful Internet IPO.
Barring discovery of an earlier source, I will give credit for the phrase to La Monica.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Gentle readers, I wish you all a very merry Christmas and, as I may not get the chance to blog a week from today, a happy New Year.

As you make your New Year's resolutions, remember to resolve to do your part to bring about a change in the composition and leadership of the Congress in November.

Thoughts on War

British Captain John Tonkin, quoted in a World War II memoir by Paul Fussell called The Boys' Crusade:
I have always felt that the Geneva Convention is a dangerous piece of stupidity, because it leads people to believe that war can be civilized. It can't.
My source for this quotation is an article by Warren Kozak in The Wall Street Journal entitled "The Real Rules of War." This article isn't uplifting but it is very much worth your time.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

World Economy Underwater

My favorite military commentator, Ralph Peters of the New York Post, takes a look at the global economy in the year ahead and reaches dreary conclusions. I'm not sure he is as sound in economics as he is in strategy and tactics, but he is always worth reading.

I suspect Peters' evaluation of the Chinese economy as hollow, as a Ponzi scheme, is more accurate than the evaluations of those who expect China to take over the world. We believed Japan Inc. would take over the world and instead it imploded. Don't be surprised if China does the same. China doesn't have the institutional robustness to manage their way out of the bubble they are in.

The Nelson Effect

Senators will pass Obamacare later today, and grab the next plane home. They aren't due back in Washington for three weeks. In addition to spending the holidays with their families, I expect them to spend time visiting with their constituents.

While they are at home they will be asked "How come Ben Nelson got that sweet deal for his state and you didn't get it for us?" By holding out Nelson got us to pick up increased Medicare costs for his Nebraska voters.

I fully expect the other 98 senators to come back to Washington telling Harry Reid that their voters insist they must have the Nelson subsidy for their state too. Of course, when everybody has a subsidy, nobody has a subsidy.

Couldn't Nelson see this coming? All a general Medicare subsidy will do is further rupture the federal budget, and make Obamacare even more expensive than it already is.

I keep hoping our U.S. ship of state has enough inertia to keep moving in spite of the losers at the helm. I wish all COTTonLINE readers a Merry Christmas and a New Year with a happy ending in early November.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New Low in Approval Index

Today we have that new low in the Presidential Approval Index rating, it is down to -21. The details: Strongly Approve (25%) and Strongly Disapprove (46%). As the Rasmussen Report says today:
That’s the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President.
Perhaps even more interesting is this fact: more respondents Strongly Disapprove (46%) than Approve plus Strongly Approve (19% + 25% = 44%).

Fighter pilots call the sort of crash the President is doing "auguring in." In other words, trying to bore a hole in the ground with the nose of your plane. Someone needs to tell POTUS that the plane suffers more than the ground.

WH Attitude Signal

Pushing Obamacare when most voters don't want it reflects what attitude, Mr. President?

Hat tip to for the picture.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Strong Disapproval Up

Today's Rasmussen Report Presidential Approval Index is at -17, not a record low for this President. However, Obama continues to irritate folks:
Today’s update show the highest level of Strong Disapproval yet recorded for this President.
To what does Rasmussen attribute this increase in vehement disapproval?
The Senate is preparing to pass health care reform legislation initiated by the President and opposed by most voters. That latest Rasmussen Reports tracking, released earlier today, shows that 41% support the health care legislation and 55% are opposed.

Bad Dog!

Both the French and Brits love their dogs. Go see this Agence France-Presse article which maintains that a pet dog has twice the carbon footprint of a 4x4 SUV. The original research comes from New Zealand, and was replicated in Britain.

Try comparing the utility of a dog and an SUV, apples and oranges. Dogs provide company to lonely people, SUVs provide safe transportation. Both are important, but in completely different ways and perhaps to different groups of people. I love it!

Ben Nelson For Sale

You know the old joke about the fellow who asks a female acquaintance if she'll have sex with him for a million dollars. She replies "Yes." Then he asks how about for a quarter? To which she replies in shock "What do you think I am? His answer is "We've already established you're a whore, we're just negotiating over price."

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) just showed us he was for sale, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) met his price. Turns out Nelson's pious concern about abortion was just a bargaining ploy. This Associated Press story reflects some of the fallout.

As a result of Nelson selling himself, taxpayers in Nebraska will get a break that other states' taxpayers won't. No wonder Americans don't trust Congress.

Solstice Greetings

Today is the Winter Solstice, the day when the nights quit getting longer and begin getting shorter. It is also, of course, the first day of winter.

I have to wonder why it took the calendar so long to catch up with the weather. Our nation's capital is snowed in along with most of the Midwest and East. It must be that darned global warming at work.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Silver Lining

Megan McArdle, who blogs for The Atlantic, has an interesting take on the impending passage of the health care bill, which she admits will probably work out well for her and her family:
Democrats are on a political suicide mission; I'm not a particularly accurate prognosticator, but I think this makes it very likely that in 2010 they will lost several seats in the Senate--enough to make it damn hard to pass any more of their signature legislation--and will lose the house outright.
If she is right, this is the silver lining of the dark cloud.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Neologism Alert

James Delingpole, writing in the U.K.'s about the recent climate fiasco in Copenhagen, making particular reference to all the neocoms cheering Hugo Chavez:
Copenhagen was worth it, after all – if only for the sphincter-bursting rage its supposed failure has caused among our libtard watermelon chums. (That’s watermelon, as in: green on the outside, red on the inside).
I particularly like that imagery: green on the outside, red on the inside. Give Delingpole credit for this definition of "watermelon."

Communism died in fact, if not in name, in most of the places formally committed to it: China, Vietnam, Laos, Russia, Eastern Europe, etc. Everywhere except North Korea and Cuba has largely given up on the socialism part of Communism.

Communism in fact, if not in name, is springing up again, this time in Latin America. That makes its exponents - Hugo Chavez, Danny Ortega, Evo Morales, and Raphael Correa - "neocoms."

A Google search doesn't show anybody using the term so I provisionally claim authorship of the neologism "neocom."

Quote of the Day

Nat Hentoff, being interviewed by John W. Whitehead, for an online journal called oldSpeak:
I try to avoid hyperbole, but I think Obama is possibly the most dangerous and destructive president we have ever had.
That Hentoff fella doesn't pull his punches, although he appears to have committed hyperbole. So far I see Obama as another Jimmy Carter; one with a better tailor, trainer, and accent but the same tin ear.

California = Argentina

William Voegeli, being quoted in Power Line, about the sad thing that California has become:
Rome wasn't sacked in a day, and California didn't become Argentina overnight. Its acquired incapacity to manage its own affairs has been a long, complicated story, with many contributing factors rather than a single villain or tragic flaw.
Just about every resident bears some of the blame.

Most Voters Dislike Health Care Bill

Our favorite pollster, Scott Rasmussen of Rasmussen Reports, has been asking voters about their views of the health care reform bill pending in the U.S. Senate. In poll data reported December 18 he finds:
Fifty-seven percent (57%) of voters nationwide say that it would be better to pass no health care reform bill this year instead of passing the plan currently being considered by Congress. (snip) Just 34% think that passing that bill would be better.
This finding isn't too surprising; folks are relatively happy with their health insurance from work and, even in this recession, most folks are working. Rasmussen finds:
Most Americans now believe they will be worse off if reform passes. Fifty-four percent (54%) hold that view while just 25% believe they would be better off.
His conclusion about this Congressional bill:

Most voters believe passage will increase the cost of health care and decrease the quality.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Good News

The battle against cancer just passed an important milestone, see this article from Agence France-Presse. It reports the genetic mapping of two common forms of cancer: lung and skin.

This breakthrough is expected to have important implications for diagnosis and treatment of these cancers. I suspect it also means we are not so terribly far from mapping the genetic makeup of other killer cancers.

Some day we will look back on the use of chemotherapy and be horrified that we poisoned people in the hope of killing their cancers before we killed the patients. Ditto with radiation.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Barone Sees a Trend

Top Washington political prognosticator Michael Barone, writing for the Washington Examiner, sees four normally re-electable Democrat Congressmen retiring and suspects a trend. Too much a gentleman to call it "rats leaving a sinking ship," Barone characterizes it instead as smart political operators seeing 2010 as a tough year for Democrats and deciding to take their careers elsewhere.

The entire article is worthwhile, here is the red meat section:
When Massachusetts Democrat Michael Capuano, fresh from a second-place finish in the primary for Edward Kennedy's Senate seat, was asked to tell the Democratic caucus what he had learned on the campaign trail, he replied in two words: "You're screwed."

Small Cars a Hard Sell

George Peterson, president of consulting firm AutoPacific, based in Los Angeles, talking about trying to sell small cars to Americans on
Our research shows that, despite what the U.S. government is telling us, few Americans want to downsize to smaller cars.
His research makes sense to me. How about finding ways to let my full-size pick up truck get better mileage? Now that is a program I can support.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rasmussen: Health Care Reform Unpopular

Rasmussen Reports finds the health care reform efforts being pursued in Congress are unpopular with voters:
Fifty-six percent (56%) of U.S. voters now oppose the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. (snip) Just 40% of voters favor the health care plan.
When voter intensity is polled, the results are striking:
Perhaps more significantly, 46% now Strongly Oppose the plan, compared to 19% who Strongly Favor it.
And yet Congressional Democrats push ahead with this unpopular bill, do they have an electoral death wish?

Quote of the Day

California political maven Dan Walters, writing in The Sacramento Bee about a stratified California:
California, with about 12 percent of the nation's population, has a third of its welfare recipients.
I have no reason to believe Dan has his facts wrong. CA has one eighth of the U.S. population and one third of its people on welfare.

Do you think this imbalance has occurred by chance? I don't. I conclude it reflects ongoing CA state and local governmental policies.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New Low in Approval Index

We thought yesterday's -16 was interesting and new. Today we have a Rasmussen Presidential Approval Index of -19. Go here to see the take on this development the guys at Power Line have. They print out Rasmussen's graph of the two lines for Strongly Approve and Strongly Disapprove and it is a stunner.

If you can imagine it, only 41% of Democrats strongly approve of their President. Among independents, only 21% strongly approve. It looks like Obama has alienated much of his base, as well as most of the rest of us.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Whither Belgium

Belgium is a country not unlike the former Czechoslovakia, made up of two quite different cultures. See this article in the Weekly Standard concerning the issues there and the future of Flemish/Walloon Belgium.

The future of Belgium gives us some indication of what to expect from other multicultural nations like Canada, and perhaps someday the United States. Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh, an Indian state, will soon be splitting in two as a result of this same kind of cultural tension.

Quote of the Day II

Paul Rahe holds an endowed chair at Hillsdale College. Here Rahe is quoted by Scott Johnson of Power Line with regard to President Obama:
The America that he inherited and its traditional allies he hates. When the country turns on him as it is doing step by step, and he recognizes that his fellow citizens are intent on reversing what he has done, he may openly turn on us. We are, I suspect, in for quite a ride.
"Hates" may be a little strong.

Obama Poll Hits New Low

Rasmussen Reports' Daily Presidential Tracking Poll calculates a Presidential Approval Index. For President Obama this index has hit a new low of -16. The index is calculated by subtracting the percentage of likely voters who Strongly Disapprove of the President (41%) from the percentage who Strongly Approve (25%). As Scott Rasmussen notes:
That's the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President.
It is the Strongly Approves who are dropping, only 43% of Democrats hold that view. Obama's strong defense of the "just war" and his 30,000 soldier surge cannot be popular with the pacifist wing of his party.

Quote of the Day I

Jean-Francois Revel, quoted in a book review in The Wall Street Journal. He is speaking of the shortcomings of Communism:
Utopia is not under the slightest obligation to produce results; its sole function is to allow its devotees to condemn what exists in the name of what does not.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Imagine This

Public Policy Polling reports that Obama is very little more popular than the widely disliked George W. Bush, see what they say:
Perhaps the greatest measure of Obama's declining support is that just 50% of voters now say they prefer having him as president to George W. Bush, with 44% saying they'd rather have his predecessor.
In spite of the Nobel Peace Prize? In eleven months Obama has thrown away an amazing amount of public good will.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pearl Harbor Day

Today we take a moment from our busy schedules and remember the brave men and women in Hawaii who were murdered by the Japanese on this date in 1941. While we're at it, let's also remember the thousands more who died in the Bataan Death March and elsewhere throughout the Pacific, courtesy of the Empire of Japan.

If you've traveled and lived in the Pacific as we have, you know the Japanese did not make many friends in the places they conquered. Brutality has that effect....

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Why Recoveries are "Jobless"

You will see references like this one to our economy making a "jobless recovery." If you've wondered why this is so, or if it is unusual, let me explain what is going on.

Non-salary expenses make up a large percentage of each full-time worker's employment cost. These include, but are not limited to, health care expenses, retirement contributions, vacation and sick leave. Some estimates suggest these expenses are as large as 40-50% of salary cost, or a third of the total cost of employing a full-time employee.

When a firm first starts to experience a need for additional employee hours worked, normally as a result of increased orders when a recovery happens, it is cheaper to put existing workers on overtime than to hire additional workers. While overtime normally means paying out 150% of hourly wage, it typically does not carry with it additional benefit costs. And, existing workers already know how to do the job, and incur no costs for recruitment, selection, and training. Another route taken by such firms is to hire temporary or part-time workers.

Therefore, firms keep piling on overtime until their full-time workers begin to rebel in one way or another. This rebellion may consist of declining morale and productivity, increased sick leave, or increased turnover. Eventually, firms experiencing increased orders will have to hire new full-time workers, but it is typically a last resort.

If you've wondered why the talking heads tend to favor infrastructure and construction projects as job creators, it is because these are industries where many workers are hired on an "as needed" basis and laid off between projects. Beginning new projects takes workers off the unemployment rolls quickly. As such it rapidly improves the unemployment statistics reported in the media and this helps the politicians. Such projects aren't very helpful to individuals whose job skills are not in the construction trades. a "jobless recovery" normal? Absolutely. Employment is a lagging indicator of the economic cycle. If anything other than a jobless recovery should happen, be surprised.

Good News for GOP

See this article in the Las Vegas Review Journal, reporting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) dim chances of reelection next year. Reid, of course, got the Democratic leadership job when their prior senate leader, Tom Daschle (D-SD), failed to be reelected in 2004.

Much, of course, could happen to change the outcome between now and November, 2010. On the other hand, if it turns out that Reid is not reelected, much will be made of the Democrats' inability to get their senate leadership reelected.

Sadly, there seems to be little chance of the same electoral outcome for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-SC). However, I'll happily settle for half a loaf.

Bad News for Bolivia

See this Reuters article concerning the election happening in Bolivia. It appears that President Evo Morales, an ally of Hugo Chavez, will win reelection and continue his policy of the nationalization of various industries. This is not good news for Bolivia, for the balance of Latin America, or for the U.S.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cheers for Chile

COTTonLINE keeps an eye on happenings in Central and South America, which regions share the hemisphere with us Norte Americanos. Here is a brief story in Investor's Business Daily posting some very good news for Chile. The opening paragraph sums up that good news:
Chile will join the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development later this month, the rich-nation club's president said Wednesday. It is one hell of a proud moment for Chile.
The Chileans are serious free-traders and capitalists, and their government spending is under control as well. Credit for initiating these policies in the 1970s and 1980s goes to a group of young Chilean economists trained under Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago.

Good News and Bad News

The President has given his general in Afghanistan the troops asked for. That much is good news. Now we will see if the general can deliver.

The bad news is that the President has also announced a timetable for departure. If you were a Taliban chieftan, what would you do? You would announce to all and sundry that after that deadline "we Taliban will still be here and those Americans won't be, their cowardly President says so."

Now suppose you are an Afghani trying to figure out with whom to ally, who would you choose? If you have any sense you'll lie low until the Americans leave while assuring the Taliban of your support.

The President had to straddle two very different viewpoints in his speech, and the result was as awkward as straddles normally are. I fear those extra troops are being sent in harm's way to no good purpose, their mission compromised by the timetable for departure.

Blankley's Blues

Tony Blankley does some good opinion pieces and this one for Rasmussen Reports is particularly thoughtful, based in history, and not very optimistic. Musing about the American public's willingness to make the needed tough fiscal choices, he says:
Are we Americans still brave enough to remain free? My guess is that neither the two major political parties nor the majority of the public loves America enough to campaign and vote on the hard, bitter truth about our condition.
The article is worth your time, but not cheerful.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Understanding Rasmussen

Regular readers of COTTonLINE know that we follow the polling work of Scott Rasmussen as reflected in the Rasmussen Report. You may also have noticed that the Rasmussen numbers tend to be somewhat less positive for the President than some other polls.

This article in The Atlantic explains why Rasmussen's poll results may be so, and does so without either supporting or criticizing them. The factors are: automated polling, giving respondents four choices rather than two, and selecting individuals to be polled based on likely voting.

Automated polling may provide a way around the "Bradley effect," a reluctance or fear some white voters have to admit to an interviewer that they do not plan to vote for a black candidate.

I'm not sure what gives with four choices. Clearly, depending on how Rasmussen selects his likely voters, he might tend to underpoll likely Obama voters. I guess the question is this: how did his numbers predict the 2008 election?

Peters: Obama "Just Plain Nuts"

President Obama has announced his strategy for Afghanistan, in a speech to the cadet corps at West Point. My first thought was to see what Ralph Peters, who writes about military matters for the New York Post, has to say about it. He is seriously not amused:
Just plain nuts: That's the only possible characterization for last night's presidential declaration of surrender in advance of a renewed campaign in Afghanistan.
Of Obama's strategy with respect to Afghanistan, Peters says:
This isn't just stupid: It's immoral. No American president has ever espoused such a worthless, self-absorbed non-strategy for his own political gratification.
And with regard to Pakistan, Obama said "We are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect and mutual trust." Whereas Peters believes our attitudes toward Pakistan are that:
Our interests diverge, we don't respect each other and we certainly don't trust each other.
Go read the entire article, Peters should be your go-to guy for military commentary.