Friday, December 31, 2010

Who Would Have Guessed?

Gasoline usage in the U.S. is declining, and the decline is predicted to continue. Amazing. Why didn't the carbon footprint freaks tell us that the problem was going away on its own?

See this article from the Chicago Sun-Times which lays out the details and suggests some reasons why it might be happening.

Kuhn: Why the Dems Lost

David Paul Kuhn does political analysis for RealClearPolitics. His year-end summary of 2010 reaches exactly the opposite conclusion to that of Joe Klein for Time described a couple of days ago.

All of Kuhn's summary is good; I particularly like his analysis of the Democrat's confusion about the unpopularity of the health care law:
The mystery is why it's still such a mystery. About 85 percent of Americans had healthcare. Polls showed Americans were largely pleased with the status of that care. (snip) Democrats' top priority was healthcare when the nation's top priority was the economic crisis.
The voters' message to the Dems in the 2010 election was "You just don't get it." Everything Dem leaders have said since November suggests they still don't get it.

Apparently Democrats can't accept that voters are selfish enough to vote their own interests. It turns out most voters who have health care don't much care about those who don't.

New Year Electronics Tips

The good folks at recommend the free or low cost suggestions in this article from, of all places, The New York Times. Some of them look sensible to me, others aren't relevant to me but might be to you.

One that I've already tried is great, the one about having multiple charging cables. Quite by accident I ended up with multiple phone charging cables and love it.

Near Future Flashpoints

Go here to see an excellent Foreign Policy survey of 16 nations where warfare may break out around the globe in the year to come. Warfare, as a way of life and death, is prospering around the world.

Actually, I suspect there are others at risk. Not included in the article are places like Nicaragua, Korea and Bolivia.

Climate Forecasting Difficult

Here at COTTonLINE we have commented repeatedly on the difficulty of predicting the weather, and on the unlikelihood that weather is much influenced by human activities. Here is an article from Fox News citing eight really off-the-mark predictions mostly about climate change and its effects on us.

These eight were made by serious people who believed they had good reasons upon which to base their predictions. Yet they could hardly have been more wrong. The moral of the story: making sweeping assertions about future climatological events is a fool's business. We humans simply don't know enough to do so.

Public Employee Unions Wrong

John Hinderaker, of the blog Powerline, weighs in with trenchant observations concerning public employee unions:
For the large majority of our history, public employee unions have been illegal. It is only since the 1960s and 1970s that they have been allowed. (snip) The United States has carried on a four-decade experiment in legalization, and the results are in: public employee unions are a cancer on our country.
Hinderaker's conclusion is one with which COTTonLINE concurs:
Legalization of public employee unions has been a disaster. It is time to end the experiment and make them illegal once again, at both the federal and state levels. I expect that this will become one of the great political issues of the next decade.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Opinion Evolution

Public attitude about a variety of options has changed from "isn't it awful" to "what's the problem?" See an article from Reason which recounts much of this history.

One of these days we'll decide having designer children is not only okay, but your responsibility if you choose to reproduce. Today we view this a morally questionable, an echo of the earlier eugenics movement.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tunisian Trouble

The Guardian (U.K.) reports on the beginnings of trouble in Tunisia. It sounds like the same kind of desperation that triggers suicide bombers is now triggering dissent against the one party rule in Tunisia.

Long viewed as one of the peaceful parts of North Africa, Tunisia may be moving into the column headed "troubled spots." That will not be good for the tourist trade of sun-seeking Europeans.

Afghan Insight

David Ignatius writes about foreign policy for The Washington Post. Here he has some sad wisdom concerning the situation in Afghanistan:
History shows that three variables are crucial in countering an insurgency: a real process of reconciliation, no safe havens for the enemy and a competent host government. None are present in Afghanistan.
I buy Ignatius' first two variables, I'm less sure about the third. If a country has a "competent host government," can it have an insurgency with which it needs foreign help?

India for example has both a competent government and an insurgency. India, however, doesn't need foreign troops to deal with its Naxalite rebels. Colombia is another nation with a competent government which hasn't needed foreign troops to deal with its insurgency.

Quote of the Day

Joe Klein, writing in Time about the year just past:
Nothing much happened in 2010.
Just an election that rolled back the Democrat waves of 2006 and 2008 and saw the rise of the Tea Party economic conservatism movement, insignificant-to-him political events he shrugs off as "inevitable." Some of us found these a bit more exciting.

It's Cold

No doubt about it, this is a cold, snowy winter, and in SoCal a cold, rainy winter. Go anywhere and see stories about storm mess, like this one about Berlin on China's Xinhua News. It turns out Berlin hasn't had this much December snow for 110 years.

More snow means more of the planet covered in sheets of blinding white. More white means more sun heat reflected back into space. More reflected heat means more cold. More cold means more snow.

That's Gaia doing her magic. Is this how ice ages begin? Global cooling? Sounds reasonable to me, although I'm the first to admit climate isn't my field of science.

This New York Times article by Judah Cohen has one explanation, somewhat convoluted and forced.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Interesting Ideas

Columnist David Brooks, who writes for the New York Times, annually gives the Sidney Awards to interesting articles he has read in the past year. This year's collection are particularly intriguing.

I won't try to summarize them here, except to note that the one about corruption rings true. They are all worth your time.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Bail Out California?

This article for The Daily Caller argues that conservatives might want to bail out California in order to use the leverage to force it to reform, a la International Monetary Fund bail out reforms. It could work, who knows?

I suspect newly elected Governor Jerry Brown will try to get radically higher taxes to pay for all the stuff CA wants to spend money on. The sensible thing would be for Congress to pass legislation to permit states to file for bankruptcy.

Samuelson: Entitlements Under Fire

Robert Samuelson, writing for RealClearPolitics, tells us we need to cut entitlements: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Tellingly, he self-identifies as part of the problem, as he is 65 and now has a Medicare card.

As he notes, politicians are notoriously unwilling to tackle these issues because retirees are serious voters who are particularly serious about protecting their "entitlements." Failing cuts in these programs results in some combination of much higher taxes and higher government debt as the boomer bulge retires.

Barone: Don't Count Obama Out

Michael Barone, one of the wiser political pontificators, takes a look ahead at 2012 and concludes that Obama has a quite good chance of reelection. I cannot find much in his analysis with which to disagree.

Of course the President has another two years in which to earn the public's disapproval. See Barone's column in RealClearPolitics.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

WaPo: Obama Weak on Nicaragua

Every now and then the Washington Post demonstrates that it is not totally owned by the Obama administration. This editorial is an example, criticizing the Obama administration's weak response to the anti-democratic activities of the Daniel Ortega administration in Managua, Nicaragua.

For COTTonLINE readers who track Latin America, this is a must-see. There are echoes here of Reagan's contras.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

A politically incorrect Merry Christmas to all our COTTonLINE readers, both regular and irregular.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Matt Drudge of continues to report stories of record cold and snow all across the northern hemisphere, with particular emphasis on Europe and North America. Meanwhile normally arid Southern California is getting record amounts of cold rain.

It was even (relatively) cold in Cancun when the climate warmists gathered there to plot further strategy in their lonely battle against a supposedly warming planet. The more these folks cry "warming" the more we all shiver - something is wrong with this picture.

More Demographics

Earlier we've shared with you the information that states without income taxes are more rapidly growing than other states. Here is a new piece of intriguing demography concerning laws regarding unions:
As a result of geographic shifts in population uncovered by the 2010 Census, nine congressional seats will move to right-to-work states from forced unionization states. Some winners are Texas, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and South Carolina, while losers include New York, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and New Jersey.
Forced unionization is a lot like forced health care, Americans are not fond of forced things. My source for the quote is an article by Diana Furchtgott-Roth from RealClearMarkets.

Spengler Rides Again

David P. Goldman, who writes as Spengler for The Asia Times of Hong Kong, looks at the year past and doesn't like what he sees. Mostly he sees President Obama being an unmitigated disaster in the foreign policy arena. He predicts a messier world as a consequence. See whether you concur.

Barone Relates Growth to Taxes

We've talked about the new census numbers just out and what they may mean for our nation's politics. Now Michael Barone, no mean demographer himself, has noted a relationship between states' tax rates and their population growth. See what he says in a column for Town Hall:
Growth tends to be stronger where taxes are lower. Seven of the nine states that do not levy an income tax grew faster than the national average. The other two, South Dakota and New Hampshire, had the fastest growth in their regions, the Midwest and New England. Altogether, 35 percent of the nation's total population growth occurred in these nine non-taxing states.
The two biggest gainers were Texas and Florida, both no-income-tax states. Correlation does not prove causation, but it certainly raises a strong suspicion these phenomena are related.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Card to Our Readers

We wish each and every COTTonLINE reader the most Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sowell: Year-end Wisdom

Thomas Sowell, writing for RealClearPolitics, has some amazing wisdom to share:
The king of Saudi Arabia has a more realistic understanding of the enormous dangers of an Iranian nuclear bomb than does the President of the United States.
Maybe because he lives within easy bomb delivery distance from Iran. Or try this one:
One of the telling signs carried in a tea party demonstration said: "Spread my work ethic, not my wealth." It may be better to teach people how to fish, rather than giving them fish, but too many politicians give them fish, in order to get their votes.
Vote buying, anyone? The article has lots more to enjoy.

CA, Another View

We've posted a lot of negative stuff here at COTTonLINE about the state of the economy in California. Here is a much more positive view, one frankly I wish were true.

The Los Angeles Times posts an article by Bill Lockyer and Stephen Levy. Lockyer is state treasurer so maybe he knows something we don't. Anyway, for the sake of balance here is the other side of the story.

What I don't see them satisfactorily rebutting is the anti-business environment California is said to have. Make your own judgment.

Here Come the Brussel Sprouts

First FLOTUS has a hissy fit about obese children, and by inference, ourselves as well. Then we are told the government will require us to buy health insurance. This latter has caused all sorts of responses, including this very tongue-in-cheek shot from the left-wing web zine Slate.

Put together disapproval of what we're eating with government ability to tell us what we must do and you get, somewhere down the line, a mandate for eating Brussels sprouts. At that point I will have to consider my options, for I truly don't like Brussels spouts. Ditto turnips, parsnips, eggplant, and squash.

Oddly enough, asparagus - which is the yucky vegetable in the Slate article - I like, spinach too. But don't tell me I've got to eat Brussels sprouts.

Seriously, government does not need to tell us how to lead our lives. By the same token, it also does not need to bail us out when our behavior ends us up in a pickle.

We need freedom to make our choices and freedom to live with the good or bad consequences thereof. Government should mostly engage in protecting others from our behavior, not in protecting us from our own behavior.

We have gotten to where we are via natural selection, why interfere with its continued functioning?

Lying with Statistics

This Associated Press article strongly infers, but doesn't quite say, that most young Americans are either morons or cripples. Let's see what they don't say in order to make the story more alarmist.

First, the article says that nearly a quarter of young Americans haven't learned enough to pass the entrance test. What they should say is that nearly a quarter of the young Americans who attempt enlistment can't pass their test - a very different thing altogether.

Who attempts enlistment? Mostly youngsters who cannot or choose not to go to college. Common sense suggests they are, on average, the least academically qualified youngsters in any particular year's cohort. So, nearly a quarter of the least academically qualified cannot pass the armed services entrance test - no big surprise.

Second, the article says that the Pentagon claims that roughly three-quarters of young people of military enlistment age are ineligible because they are either physically unfit, didn't graduate from high school, or have a criminal record. What I want to know is whether it is three quarters of those trying to enlist or three quarters of all young people? These are very different groups of young folks.

The article does not lie, but selects statistics in misleading ways to make a more alarming picture of American youth. You can understand why this happens, a writer is trying to get an editor to accept a story. I fear the journo motto is "Dramatic is better, even if misleading."

Afghan Pedophilia

On the winter solstice I bring you something revolting. Imagine young Americans dying in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban while their Pashtun allies brag of sex with young boys.

This article from The Washington Examiner describes the sexual practices of the major Afghani tribe, the Pashtuns. It is not a pretty sight. For example, the article lists the following as a favorite Afghan aphorism:
Women are for children, boys are for pleasure.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Strange Outcome

The nation's population continues to shift from the northeast to the southwest. Political analysts believe this will benefit Republicans and hurt Democrats, because the states gaining population are traditionally Republican and the states losing population are traditionally Democrat.

On the face of it, this appears to make no sense. You'd think what was happening was northeastern Democrats moving to red states and, in the process, making them more blue. In reality, it doesn't work out that way.

Every blue state has a fair number of Republicans in it, albeit something less than a majority. Every red state has a fair number of Democrats who again are less than a majority. What the demographers believe is happening is that the people leaving the northeast are predominantly Republicans. Their leaving will make these states even more blue, while it makes the southwest even more red.

Why, you might ask, is it Republicans leaving the northeast? In part it is people moving to places that are philosophically more compatible. In part it is because they are the people who can find jobs in the southwest and people with jobs are more likely to be Republicans.

Finally, in part it is a social class issue. Republicans are often of higher social class than the bulk of Democrats, and one characteristic of social class in America is people of higher class are more geographically mobile.

Therefore what would initially seem to be liberals moving to a conservative part of the country turns out to be something else, a continuation of the sorting-out process in which we as Americans are engaged. Go see this Associated Press article from Forbes for details.

P.S. An exception to this are the substantial number of New Yorkers and New Jerseyites who have moved to parts of Florida - many of these are liberal, and obnoxious.

The Vanishing Middle

On December 12 we wrote about education levels being associated with life outcomes. Here is someone else writing about this same research, looking at it from another, more gloomy angle.

Her take on it is that the lower middle class is disappearing as their behaviors become more like those of the folks at the bottom of the ladder. See Hymowitz' article from the New York Daily News, a paper whose target audience is exactly that group which she sees declining.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Korean War 2.0

The two Koreas, North and South, are growling at each other, acting like two boys on a playground trying to egg each other into a fight. Who knows? They may succeed in triggering a second Korean War, or more technically, a resumption of the first war which ended with a cease-fire but no peace treaty.

At this point the North has been more belligerent with the sinking of a South Korean naval ship and the shelling by the North of an island that is part of the South. Now the South plans to hold military maneuvers on that island and the North threatens even bigger retaliation for this. See this article in the Telegraph (U.K.) for details.

If warfare breaks out anew on the Korean peninsula, one wonders if China will send troops to bolster the North as they did 60+ years ago? The U.S. has thousands of troops in South Korea, so presumably we would be a combatant. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, war in Korea would be more-or-less symmetrical warfare between big units with major weapon systems.

There is always the question of whether the North would "go nuclear" and if the U.S. would respond in kind. This could be a very messy, deadly regional war, albeit one unlikely to go global.

Here is a fascinating question. If the U.S. found its troops fighting those of China in Korea, do you suppose we would announce summary default on the entire total of U.S. debt owned by China? This would, in a heartbeat, wipe out most of the liquid assets of the PRC, roughly three-quarters of a trillion dollars.

It would also make U.S. bonds substantially less attractive in the world markets, particularly among nations who believe they might eventually find themselves in a similar belligerent status with us. Think particularly of Islamic countries in this regard.

Bad News for the Hemisphere

We believed we had mostly gotten past this sad stage in the political development of the hemisphere. It turns out we were wrong. Latin America once again has a caudillo, a military dictator.

Col. Hugo Chavez, who has been the elected president of Venezuela for several years, was just granted dictatorial powers by the nation's parliament. Go here for a Reuters article about this unfortunate retrogression.

It would appear that Chavez is getting his wish, becoming the next Fidel Castro. One wonders if this is the beginning of a new wave of junta rule; Chavez is much admired and emulated by Ortega of Nicaragua, Morales of Bolivia, and to some extent by Correa of Ecuador.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Political Humor Alert

Thomas Lifson, writing in American Thinker, about Harry Reid's withdrawal of the gigantic, pork-laden omnibus spending bill. The title of his article is a great play on words:
McConnell throws Reid under the Omnibus

Bad News for Global Warmists

Europe is experiencing the coldest December in perhaps 100 years. Here is a link to a paper in Sweden with a story on their woes, and another link to a paper in the U.K. about how cold it is in the British Isles. Where is that global warming when we could use some heat?

Travel Blogging V

This entry is a postscript to the travel blogging I did while we sailed in the Caribbean a couple of weeks ago. If you would view some nice pictures of the places to which we traveled, go see the other DrC's blog at Looking at her photos is even more pleasant than being there, although being there was pleasant enough.

She's right about Puerto Rico, I believe it would warrant spending a week there with a luxury hotel room and a rental car. I could easily spend a whole morning wandering around the 16th century fortification that looms over San Juan, we had less than an hour. It is now a historic unit in the National Parks system, and being maintained.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hanson Sings the Central California Blues

Victor Davis Hanson, writing for the National Review, describes the current state of central California - a place which has become a giant barrio. Read it and weep for what was once the destination of Steinbeck's Okies and has historically been some of the richest farm land in the nation.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Free Fall Continues

Zogby International reports that President Obama's approval ratings continue to plummet, particularly among Democrats. Here is their lede:
President Barack Obama's job approval rating has fallen again to 39%, equaling a low since he took office. Also, 63% of likely voters say Obama is a weak leader, compared to 19% who label him strong.

Much of the slippage in Obama's approval rating from 42% on Dec. 1 was caused by a drop of nine percentage points among Democrats (82% to 73%). His approval also went down among independents, from 39% to 36%.
He really doesn't have anywhere to fall among Republicans, no surprise. Hat tip to for the link.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Poor Students Make Poor Schools

Never try and teach a pig to sing: it's a waste of time, and it annoys the pig.
Robert A. Heinlein - Time Enough For Love
I see no particular evidence that schools or teachers are worse than they once were, or better for that matter. What has changed is that we are less comfortable with students dropping out of school as most once did.

Our society has changed in ways that leave fewer lawful things for the uneducated to do to earn a living. The uneducated do unlawful things and we end up housing them in prisons for large portions of their lives.

Imprisonment is expensive, so as a matter of social policy we try to get more young people to finish school in order to qualify for lawful jobs. Very often, the attempt fails, and annoys the youngsters who are not pigs, but are more or less ineducable in a formal sense.

A couple of books have emerged which take this viewpoint. Mark Bauerlein has written "The Dumbest Generation" and even more to the point, Robert Weissberg has written "Bad Students, Not Bad Schools." Both are used as sources in this Washington Examiner article by Gregory Kane.

We have converted our public secondary schools into non-residential reform schools and are surprised when they don't succeed in teaching their pupils. Imagine what they could accomplish if, like colleges, they only contained students who wanted to be there.

Poor Old Europe

The financial system in Europe continues to melt down in agonizing slow motion, with Greece taking the lead and Ireland in second place. Portugal, Italy, and Spain cannot be far behind.

A discussion of all this in the London Telegraph has the gloomy title "The eurozone is in bad need of an undertaker." It's clear that Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, who authored the article, believes the euro was a mistake and the U.K. was smart to keep the pound.

The euro zone has been like a family trying to remain solvent while letting its irresponsible adult children have their own credit cards. The parents, Germany and France, are now looking at the bills run up by the kids, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain, and trying to decide whether to let them fall into bankruptcy or to bail them out.

Both options are bad, the question is which is the lesser evil.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Graduate from College

Regular readers of COTTonLINE know we are fans of analysis based on demographic data. One of the most stark pieces of today's demography is the difference in life outcomes between those with college degrees and those without.

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, has written a very interesting piece about this phenomenon. He begins by saying:
The unemployment rate for people with a college degree or higher is 5 percent. If that were the rate for everyone, it’d be the 1990s again. But college graduates are only 30 percent of the country. For the rest of the population, the jobs picture is grimmer. For people without a high-school degree, the unemployment rate is more than 15 percent. If that were the rate for everyone, it’d be the 1930s again.
Employment level isn't the only difference between the educated and the rest:
The highly educated (with a college diploma or higher) are less likely to divorce, less likely to have children out of wedlock, and less likely to commit adultery than the moderately educated (high-school degree or some college) and the least-educated (no high-school diploma).
Therefore the children of the educated are more likely to succeed, etc. I recommend the entire article to you; much of it is based on research by Bradford Wilcox of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, which can be viewed here.

Not Yet Winter

See this article from the Associated Press by way of Yahoo News for a report about one heck of a mean blizzard and snow storm crossing the Midwest and headed for the east coast. It caved in the roof of the Minnesota Vikings' stadium.

Why is this weather report interesting? Because winter technically doesn't start until December 21, over a week from now. Would anyone entertain a suggestion of global cooling?

Rx: Benign Neglect

The New York Times' Tom Friedman writes about the U.S. efforts to prod the Israelis and Palestinians into serious negotiations about a two-state solution. He says:
You can’t want peace more than the parties themselves, and that is exactly where America is today. The people running Israel and Palestine have other priorities. It is time we left them alone to pursue them — and to live with the consequences.
The whole column is good. Basically Friedman says both parties have such difficulties with their internal politics that they cannot negotiate a two-state solution.

I have felt for a long time that the U.S. should stop trying to solve Middle East problems; yet every president gets drawn into the same mess. I never expected to hear anybody in our foreign policy establishment voice this opinion.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Political Humor Alert

Check out this NewsBusters article reporting a Daily Show spoof of the usual analysis of how the President is doing in the polls. Here the cast is doing an analysis of how we are doing with the President. For example Wyatt Cenac says the following:
Let's look at the numbers. At present, Obama only approves of 26 percent of all Americans. That’s down from a high of 79 percent and that's across all demographics.
There is lots more to enjoy, go read it and have a laugh.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ya Gotta Love It

Global warmists are meeting in Cancun - tough duty - to work out how to control the supposed phenomenon. This article in The Week reports that, during their stay, Cancun is reporting record low temperatures.

People are calling this unusual cold the "Gore effect," although Algore isn't scheduled to speak in Cancun. I seem to remember it happened in Oslo, too.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Words of Wisdom

See this opinion article from Christian Science Monitor, repeated on Yahoo News, concerning corruption in Islamic countries. It isn't particularly well written but the idea it contains is solid - it is hard for Islamic countries to claim the moral high ground when so many of their officials are "on the take."

Corruption is a major cause of lack of development as potential investment funds get diverted into Swiss bank accounts. Go here to see the actual country rankings by Transparency International.

I find it sad that the United States only ranks number 22, out of 178 nations ranked. On the other hand, at least we keep trying, as evidence of which the recent news about subpoenas going out to hedge fund operators accused of insider trading.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Quote of the Day

Robert J. Samuelson, writing for Newsweek, about Japan's problems in the last two decades and what we should learn from them:
There is no substitute for vigorous private-sector job creation and investment, and that’s missing in Japan. This is a lesson we should heed.
Amen, brother.

Monday, December 6, 2010

More About California

The folks at RealClearPolitics have given us a link to two articles talking about whether or not California in 2010 was a leading indicator of where electoral politics are headed in 2012 and beyond. The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes thinks not, The New Republic's Peter Schrag thinks so.

I think both have overlooked a major factor in California being out of step with the 2010 Republican electoral wave. California is experiencing serious outmigration, a fact that has been reported here and elsewhere. The emigres are being replaced by Hispanics.

What is happening to CA is what has also happened to NY - conservative flight. The internal migration that brings strength to the GOP in other states is weakening it in California.

Over time, Americans are sorting themselves out. Conservatives are clustering together in so-called red states and liberals are doing likewise in blue states.

We'll know the trend is irreversible when the legislature in Sacramento passes a bill renaming the state "Alta California" and making Spanish one of its two official languages.

Samuelson: Squatters' Rights

Robert Samuelson, who writes for The Washington Post, has an excellent column about the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform report that was recently issued. He accuses the commission of not tackling the real issue: run-away spending on social security, medicare, and the like. I particularly like this Samuelson quote:
Government benefits, once conferred, cannot be revoked. People expect them and consider them property rights. Just as government cannot randomly confiscate property, it cannot withdraw benefits without violating a moral code. The old-fashioned idea that government policies should serve the "national interest" has given way to inertia and squatters' rights.

Remember Pearl Harbor

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the entry of the United States into World War II. Wouldn't it be great if not a single Japanese auto was sold in the United States tomorrow?

Remember Pearl Harbor.

Gallup: Bush More Popular

If you are an unpopular politician, and would like to become more popular, get the public to compare you with someone they like even less. It has worked for George Bush, according to Politico.

They report here Gallup poll findings that George W. Bush is now slightly more popular than Barack H. Obama. Bush's popularity has climbed from a low of 25% to 47% today. Meanwhile, Obama's popularity has dropped to 46% from 63% immediately after his inauguration.

As the article notes, Bush always said that history would treat him more kindly than popular opinion. Who knows, perhaps he was right.

I persist in the belief that Obama has lowered the bar, making Bush look better in comparison. This is good for Bush but bad for our country.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Political Humor Alert

This was sent along by a high school classmate from too many years ago:
Here's a solution to all the controversy over full-body scanners at the airports:

All we need to do is develop a booth you can step into that will not X-ray you, but will detonate any explosive device you may have hidden on or in your body. The explosion will be contained within the sealed booth.

This would be a win-win for everyone. There would be none of this crap about racial profiling and the device would eliminate long and expensive trials.

This is so simple it's brilliant. I can see it now: you're in the airport terminal and you hear a muffled explosion. Shortly thereafter an announcement comes over the PA system, "Attention, standby passengers! We now have a seat available on flight number...."
My first thought upon reading this was that you'd have to pay booth cleaners quite a bit. My second thought was that you could make the booth function like a self-cleaning oven, cycling after each explosion. My third thought was the existence of this booth would dissuade further "suicide underwear" bombers, so cleaning wouldn't be a big deal.

I'm not sure this is actual political humor; maybe it's quasi-political humor.

Friedman on Leverage

The New York Times' Tom Friedman writes with insight about foreign affairs, and without insight on domestic politics. His most recent column looks at the U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks and what they tell us about our lack of leverage (i.e., bargaining power) vis-a-vis the Islamic world and separately, vis-a-vis China.

Friedman makes an argument for the U.S. being less dependent on foreign oil and foreign credit. I don't know if he is right or not, but I do know he is interesting on this topic. Generally, it is better for a nation to have more, rather than less, leverage.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Public School Issues

Joel Klein has spent the last several years as Chancellor of the New York City Schools, and is now stepping down. He has written an interesting article about what he believes works, and does not work, for The Wall Street Journal. If you are interested in our public schools, it is worth your time.

I believe Klein gives too little weight to parental emphasis on education. I understand it is a variable over which he had no control, but it is still important. It probably explains much of the achievement gap between Asian and African-American students.

WaPo on Side of Truth

The Washington Post has weighed in with an editorial debunking the usual Hollywood mythmaking and left-wing rewriting of history in the film Fair Game. In this case the history being rewritten concerns the revealing of the CIA employment of Valery Plame, and the supposed influence of her husband, Joseph Wilson, in opposition to the "Iraq seeks WMDs" views of the Bush White House.

COTTonLINE doesn't often agree with editorial positions of
The Washington Post, in this case we do. It is the occasional column like this that makes WaPo the nations's "newspaper of record" where The New York Times was once that paper.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Book Review

I’ve been reading a book lent to me by my brother-in-law chronicling the career of a self-described “economic hit man.” John Perkins’ biography is Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, published in 2004 by Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco. I’m reading the Plume (Penguin) paperback edition first published in 2006.

Perkins tells a good story, the story of an idealistic kid who, through almost no fault of his own, got a good education and went off to spend 3 years in Ecuador with the Peace Corps. Then, people who should have known better, hired him for his ability to go semi-native. The engineering firm sent him off to gather economic data upon which to base loan and project proposals.

Sadly for him, they didn’t want his reports to reflect the poverty and misery he found in a series of third world countries. They wanted optimistic reports which would justify big loans to pay for big projects from which their engineering firms would make big bucks. No kidding, they really wanted to make money.

In country after country these big projects enriched the few wealthy families who typically run the economy and government of a third world country. In country after country the poor didn’t benefit while their countries became enmeshed in the global economy, forced to do the bidding of the first world countries since they couldn’t pay back their loans.

Perkins blames all this on some sinister plot to form a de facto global empire of de jure independent nations, without the empire ever being out in the open. He never thinks to blame the economic structure of third world countries, which so often defeats development projects by siphoning off their earnings into the Swiss bank accounts of the few local ricos while the many pobres continue to suffer.

For example, the vice president of Afghanistan was recently caught carrying hundreds of millions of dollars into another country. He and the money were released as there was no proof he had the money illegally. Of course it was legal, and pigs can fly, too.

This book is a classical example of a square peg whining about being in a round hole, about being the wrong person in a job. Perkins would have been happy working for some NGO like CARE, the Red Cross or Save the Children. Instead he ended up working for people who wanted to make and keep money, not those who merely beg for donated money and disburse it.

I think Perkins somehow believed that development projects could be focused on the poor, the descamisados. The world doesn’t work that way. If you build a road network for a developing country, it is logical that only those who can afford at least a motorbike will be able to use it. If you build an electric power grid and generators to power it, people too poor to afford a toaster won't find it useful.

Somewhere in the book Perkins makes fun of offering a dollar a day job to someone who has none. Relate that to what is happening in China, the beginnings of labor unrest as cheap labor starts to organize. Perkins has it wrong, but it makes a good story nevertheless.

Travel Blogging IV

Dateline: Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Yesterday was Puerto Rico, today is Dutch Saint Maarten, called by the French who own the remainder, St. Martin. The other DrC and I were trying to think of all the islands where sovereignty was divided, we came up with Hispanola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), this island (St. Maarten and St. Martin), New Guinea (New Guinea and Irian Jaya), Ireland (Ireland and Northern Ireland), and Cyprus (Greek vs. Turk). We thought that was quite a lot. Can you think of any more?

It is amazing how built-up this island is, there is a house just about everywhere you could easily build one without extensive engineering work. It is mountainous and green, albeit less green than formerly according to our guide who says they now get maybe 45 inches of rain per year whereas they once got twice that. As is true on several of these islands, desalination is the major source of fresh water.

The French side tries to be tres European: 220 volt electricity, European auto tags, use the Euro currency, etc. On the other hand, Dutch St. Maarten has U.S. style auto tags, uses 110 volt current, uses the guilder (which the Netherlands no longer uses) plus the U.S. dollar, and feels more tropical North American – like American Samoa or Guam.

I was amazed that there is a entire cluster of vacation islands here, including British Anguilla, St. Barts, French/Dutch St. Maarten, etc., all within view of each other. One would not need to be much of a small boat navigator to get from one to another, island-hopping on what amounts to VFR.

Travel Blogging III

Dateline: San Juan, Puerto Rico. San Juan is probably the largest city in the Caribbean, given that construction has continued here and has been, I think, stagnant in Havana during the Castro regime. San Juan is not particularly high-rise, but spreads over considerable real estate. It is not a bad looking city, nothing of which to be ashamed. Some of it feels like a U.S. city, some like the better parts of a city in Central or South America.

Supposedly Spanish and English are the official languages here, but Spanish is certainly dominant in signage and in conversations on the street. Puerto Ricans can look like any race, except Asians are rare. There are Africans, Native Americans, Europeans, and all the various mixtures thereof; in that respect they resemble Cubans.

We didn’t have nearly enough time to explore the hilltop citadel-turned-national-park that glowers over San Juan, and didn’t see anything that was outside San Juan. Because it is a large island, Puerto Rico would be a good place to which to return, rent a car, get a nice hotel room, and spend a week poking around. I suppose the same would have been true of Cuba in the days when Americans were welcome there.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Movie Reviews

Last night we viewed the film Avatar on DVD. Imagine restaging Custer at the Little Big Horn, only in the future with aliens as Indians. The aliens are very well done, the avatar technology is interesting, and Sigourney Weaver is in danger of being typecast in space movies, in this one she plays a relatively believable scientist. All in all, a fun action movie.

The bad guys are a greedy corporation once again; doesn't Hollywood ever get tired of this theme? Why not greedy politicians or greedy scientists or physicians? Nope, it is always a company out to make a buck. Maybe Hollywood uses that theme out of guilt, for "greedy businessmen out to skim off all the money they can" is exactly what the studio heads and movie producers are.

Today we saw the new Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. It is a good 'un. Turning book 7 into two films is enabling the screenwriters to include more of the book, which is good for continuity. I suspect this film holds together better for a viewer who hasn't read the book. The film is substantially faithful to the book, unlike some earlier films.

One oddity, the last film more or less ended with the Weasley's home The Burrow burning down as a result of a Death Eater attack. You'd never know it in this film as The Burrow is just fine once again. There appear to be a couple of casting changes, nothing serious.

The three main characters, Harry, Ron and Hermione, are well done in this film. Either the director was doing his job or the kids have learned their craft. The director has built into this film the hint of a more-than-platonic relationship between Harry and Hermione. It isn't in the books but I didn't find it offensive.

This film has Voldemort's nose looking good, unlike the last film where it looked like they didn't want to spend money on special effects. Of course they failed to have his fingers look long, white and spidery, and his eyes aren't red, but you can't have everything and the nose was more important.

Also with regard to special effects, the elves return in this film. Both Dobby and Kreatur(e) are very well realized, both facially and as complete little people.

A casting quibble: many of the Death Eaters whom we see gathered around a table at the palatial home of Lucius Malfoy seem too wholesome, although they try their best to act nasty.

The fellow whose body Harry takes over to infiltrate the Ministry walks like he had a dry corncob stuck in a very uncomfortable place. If this "funny walk" was supposed to suggest Harry inhabiting an unfamiliar body, it didn't work.

Travel Blogging II

Dateline: Netherlands Antilles. We've visited Aruba and Curacao, on two successive days. Aruba was too hot to enjoy, but looked much as it had a few years ago when we were there - relatively barren. Curacao was cooler and greener, and more attractive too.

Like Aruba Curacao has achieved a semi-independence from the Netherlands, local autonomy but existing under the defense/foreign affairs umbrella of the Netherlands. This status is not unlike that of the U.S. commonwealths like Puerto Rico, where we go later on this cruise.

These islands, often called the A-B-C islands (for Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao), sit very close to Venezuela, Hugo Chavez's home. Most of their produce comes from Venezuela.

I suspect the ABCs need the Netherlands to keep Chavez from sweeping them into his orbit, for I'm sure Venezuela has a long-standing claim to these three offshore islands, like Argentina's claim to the Falklands (aka, las Malvinas).

Travel Blogging I

Dateline: Caribbean South of Bahamas. Day before yesterday we were taken to Sarasota beach to see the sand. I know, intellectually, that not all sand is alike because some is okay for making concrete while other sand is not. I seldom can experience that difference by touch or feel.

Sarasota sand is different and even I can feel and see that difference. It is finer, smoother, closer to powder. The signs say it is quartz-based, and washed down from the Appalachian Mountains – darned far away from here.

Did you ever notice how all malls in America look very much alike? We were in a big mall in Sarasota looking for a small item, which by the way we didn’t find, and it looked just like a big mall anywhere in the States. If there is “regionality” in shops you don’t see it in mall shops.

I suppose you might see regionality in certain merchandise if you were a detailed shopper (I’m not). Heavy-duty parkas are sold where there’s lots of snow and cold, I guess. Swim suits sold in Florida in winter, not in Maine or Minnesota until spring. These minor differences don’t show up in a cursory walk through the mall.

The little item we were looking for we finally found in the crafts section at Wal-Mart, which by design looks like Wal-Marts everywhere. Oh well, all of this reflective of a lessening of regional differences across the U.S. I suppose.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Insight

Carol Marin, writing for the Chicago Sun Times, quotes NBC's David Gregory having an insight about President Obama - his campaign successes and presidential failures - that COTTonLINE finds helpful. Gregory says:
I think the president faces a challenge where he’s most inspirational when it’s about him, but not when it’s about you. And that I think is his fundamental challenge.
Campaigning is all about why you should select me to vote for; governing is not at all about me but about what you want and need done for you. When the topic switches from me to you, he seems to lose us.

Barack Hussein Obama has an interesting story, his "me" is interesting. However, his life story is so far out of the American mainstream story that I wonder whether he can empathize with us, and vice-versa?

Broder Disapproves

The grey eminence of the Washington press corps, David Broder, weighs in with a Washington Post column that purports to be about the retention of Jim Clyburn in the House Democrat leadership. The column is sourced from the RealClearPolitics website.

A superficial reading of Broder's column suggests it is a critique of the Democrat's increasing the number of leadership positions a minority party needs in the House. A more careful reading shows the column really is a veiled criticism of Pelosi's decision to stay on as minority leader. Broder cites with approval examples of former speakers who stepped down when their parties lost many members in an election.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Travel Blogging I

Dateline: Sarasota, Florida. There has been much talk about intrusive searches at airports, "nude" xrays and full body pat-downs. Here is an Associated Press article about the controversy from the Yahoo News website. I now have a personal interest in this issue.

At six a.m. this morning I was chosen "at random" for a full-body pat-down. A very professional TSA person explained in detail what would be done, where all would be, if not groped, at least have rubber gloved hands slid over or patted upon. He asked if I would rather have the procedure done in private, I said "no."

I ended up removing my belt and all pocket contents which had already passed the metal detector, putting them on a chair, after which I got everything covered in clothing patted down, except my stockinged feet. Trouser waistband was felt, I presume for wires or det cord.

Knowing in advance what would be done, I was mellow about it and, since I wasn't growling at him, the TSA person was very decent too. He finished up by rubbing one of their single use cotton cloth pads against his gloves, which pad was then machine tested for residues of unspecified materials. I passed the test, reassembled my personal accouterments, and boarded my plane.

Is the process intrusive? Hell, yes. Can I imagine many people being offended? Certainly. Can I envision people refusing to subject themselves to it? No question. Do I think it is "too much?" I honestly cannot say for sure. It sure wouldn't surprise me if the TSA gets a lot of pressure to back off.

This raises the whole question of how much security is too much? When do the costs exceed the benefits? Are we willing to accept some level of casualties in order not to have our lives too seriously interfered with? These are real questions and Congress is the correct forum in which to consider them.

I suspect that I will conclude, after consideration, that TSA has gone too far but I will not be cross with them. They've been told to keep us safe and they believe this is what it takes to keep underwear bombers, and the like, off our aircraft.

I wonder if it is not time to revisit the question of the costs and benefits of profiling?

Argentina and California

As readers of COTTonLINE will remember, the curious fate of Argentina is to us what Yul Brynner's King from The King and I would call "a puzzlement." They have a beautiful country, a wonderful climate, excellent soil, lots of coastline, educated people, everything a country could ask for.

At various times Argentina has been predicted to be the next superpower. Instead they have done poorly; they continue to shoot themselves in the foot. What is wrong? In a word, politics. In two words, Peronist politics. The CIA ranks Argentina 63rd among nations in Gross Domestic Product per capita.

What does all this have to do with California, the fate of which is much on our minds lately? Only that, like Argentina, California seemed to have everything going for it. And in recent years, like Argentina, California's messed up politics are taking a near-paradise and turning it into a mess. In both, the unions 'own' the government and in both the unions' interests have proved to be unhelpful.

Argentina finds the situation they are in is one from which they cannot extricate themselves. I hope California isn't similarly trapped in quicksand. Here is another article about California's situation, from Forbes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Equal Pay for Unequal Work

June O'Neill, a professor of economics for Baruch College, writes a critique of the Paycheck Fairness Act for The Wall Street Journal. This act, which has passed the House and is being considered in the Senate, attempts to legislate equal pay for men and women, regardless of whether their contributions to the firm are equal.

The bill's sponsors base its need on a claim that women earn only 77% of what men earn. O'Neill finds they aren't comparing equally job-committed individuals, since "full-time men work 8%-10% more hours per week than full-time women." Then she says some obvious things that are not at all politically correct, for example:
The gender gap shrinks to between 8% and 0% when the study incorporates measures such as work experience, career breaks and part-time work.
The most important source of the gender wage gap is that women assume greater responsibility for child-rearing than men.
Women often seek flexible work schedules, less stressful work environments, and other conditions compatible with meeting the demands of family responsibilities. Those come at a price—namely, lower wages.
In addition to child-rearing, I'd guess women take more responsibility for the care of elderly relatives, too. And for all of these reasons a number of women are less available for business travel, often a job requirement.

Just sayin'.

Eat Your Spinach

President Obama, during and immediately after his campaign in 2008, was hailed as the greatest presidential communicator since the fabled Ronald Reagan. Two years later he blames the 2010 Democrat debacle on a failure to communicate effectively. Something is wrong here.

What is wrong is his diagnosis of the 2010 problem. The sales pitch wasn't the problem, the problem was the product Democrats were pitching. It is much harder to sell folks something they don't want, even if you believe they should want it. "Eat your spinach" has always been a hard sell.

It will always be easier to get reelected if a party can show that it has been working hard on exactly what the voters want, rather than on what the party believes the voters should want. Democrats did the latter.

Democrats are the mommy party, Republicans are the daddy party. The problem with being the "mommy party" is that your mother will always treat you like a child, however old you are. In 2010 the voters told the Democrats, in effect: "Mom, give it a rest!"

BTW, I like spinach. On the other hand, an admonition to "eat your Brussels sprouts" I would reject.

More on Climate Change

A researcher in eastern Europe claims to see a relationship between shrinking sea ice in the arctic and colder winters in the northern hemisphere. He sees this as a part of global warming. Who knows, he may be correct. Go here to see the Reuters article.

Diplomatic Air Guitar

Bret Stephens, writes a column for The Wall Street Journal. Here he is talking about the Obama foreign policy and how it tries to be like that of Europe, which Stephens describes as singularly ineffective:
The foreign policy of the European Union, and that of most of its constituent states, amounts to a kind of diplomatic air guitar: furious motion, considerable imagination, but neither sound nor effect. When a European leader issues a stern demarche toward, say, Burma or Russia, nobody notices. And nobody cares.
Nobody notices, nobody cares...why would you want to imitate that?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Weird Science

Here is an article from the journal Nature News that claims scientists have turned knowledge into energy on a nano scale. Perhaps they have succeeded, I am not qualified to judge.

At the end of the article they ask if there are not already examples of this in existence that we've not recognized as such. What occurred to me was the example of a sailing ship tacking upwind.

What enables shipbuilders and sailors to move a large, heavy object (a ship) into the wind is knowledge. The wind does its level best to move the ship downwind, but the lore of the sea (aka knowledge) enables the shipbuilders to build a vessel that sailors using more knowledge can tack into the wind, albeit slowly and with effort.

To me this seems much like the example in the article, on a macro scale. What say you?

Object Lesson

Yesterday TLC showed the first episode of "Sarah Palin's Alaska," which I have not seen. Here is a review of that episode from The Boston Herald by an alleged former supporter who claims Palin has "jumped the shark" with this series, and turned her off.

I've read other reactions that claim the concept is brilliant politics, as well as decent TV. For example this piece in the CNN Politics website. Time will tell who is right.

I write to make another point, namely that more exposure isn't always positive. It is not true that the more people see of you, the more they like you.

I think Barack Obama demonstrates this can happen. He has been seriously over-exposed; many people who enjoyed watching him in 2008 won't watch him today.

Until now, Palin has seemed aware of this problem, "rationing" her appearances.