Friday, May 31, 2013

Syria and World War III?

A Daily Beast article by Jamie Dettmer asks if what's happening in Syria could lead to World War III? It makes a good argument for the possibility of drawing Europe, Russia, Iran, the U.S., Israel, etc. into a larger war, maybe regional, maybe larger.

Many Americans would argue that this war started in 2001 on 9/11. Or perhaps the Long War began at least as long ago as the 1983 truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. Others would mark the beginning in 1979 in Afghanistan, against the Soviets.

Yet others would say the Long War began in 1948 with the establishment of Israel on land considered by Arabs as "theirs," and the attacks on Israel by neighboring Arab nations and by independence movements (e.g., Hezbollah, PLO, Hamas) off and on ever since.

My point is that the anti-Crusader Islamic militant movement has been underway for over half a century. The Long War didn't begin with the aircraft attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Although that does mark when most Americans were forced to take it seriously.

Quote of the Day

Dr. Charles Krauthammer, writing in National Review about the President's desire to unilaterally declare an end to the Long War (aka the war on terror), and the related issue of what to do about the Guantanamo prison:
There is no solution to indefinite detention when the detainees are committed to indefinite war. Obama’s fantasies are twinned. He can no more wish the detention away than he can the war. 
If Obama believes the war on terror is over, then the Guantanamo prisoners of war should be repatriated. If they continue fighting, then he is wrong - the Long War isn't over.

Obama hesitates because he knows the released prisoners will keep fighting.

Independent Counsel Needed for IRS

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan writes about just what a total disaster the IRS targeting of conservative groups is for the country. She pulls no punches, calls this the truly ugly scandal on today's public stage.

Her solution: an independent counsel to convene grand juries, and act as our prosecutor in this mess. She makes a good argument. Check it out.

SCOTUS and Affirmative Action

National Journal has a good article about how much the issues in higher education have changed since the Bakke decision in 1978. The discussion is particularly timely inasmuch as the U.S. Supreme Court is now taking a new look at the constitutionality of affirmative action via the Fisher vs. University of Texas case.

The key difference between 1978 and now is that then hardly any minority young people went to college, today they do. The article says today's problem is that minority kids go to higher ed schools that have low prestige, and therefore produce low results for their graduates. Same poor result, different causes.

My sense is that 1978's problem was easier to solve than today's. The public schools in many locations have essentially no white kids in them, not just the inner city schools either. People keep segregating themselves whenever they can, even when it is darned difficult and expensive to do.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Travel Blogging III

It turned out our diagnosis of blown turbo-charger was correct; I think we'll have the truck back by maybe noon tomorrow. Rough cost: $2100, actually that is kinda rough, not chump change.

I've no notion why the check engine light didn't come on, it seems to me it should. Not that anybody towing trailer wouldn't instantly be aware of the power loss the first hill they came upon - it is that dramatic.

Tomorrow afternoon we drive to Jackpot, a NV town on the Idaho border 40 miles south of Twin Falls, ID. Virtually all of NV is on Pacific Time except Jackpot, which is on Mountain Time along with all of adjacent ID and nearby WY, from whence their customers come.

Travel Blogging II

Elko, Nevada: Today saw some excitement of a mechanical nature. It is in the nature of our Ford diesel pickup's motor to blow the turbo-charger. This is the second time it has happened in 50,000 miles.This doesn't mean the truck won't start and go, it does mean the truck only has maybe half it's power.

Naturally this event occurred on Emigrant Pass, one of the two tall passes on I-80 in Nevada. We crawled up that grade at 10 mph with hazard flashers going, pouring out a plume of black smoke. NB: The diesel doesn't smoke when the turbo is working and our normal speed on that pass would be 55.

So we're sitting in the waiting room of Elko's Ford dealer, waiting for them to validate our diagnosis of the problem. At this point they seem skeptical, maybe because the "check engine" light didn't come on. I suppose it could be failure of some sensor that tells the turbo when to boost, that would cause the same lack of power. We'll see, hopefully soon.

The RV is in a nice nearby RV park. I'm not sure how long we will be here. On another note, my nephew, the truck driver, says we should replace the Ford turbo with an aftermarket unit which handles the heat of towing. I'm leery of getting involved with the people who install essentially hotrod parts; that's not how I drive the truck.

I find Nevada pretty at this time of year, others might not. It's still somewhat green and not too warm, as yet. Late September will be another story ... dry and toasty hot.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Travel Blogging I

The DrsC are readying to undertake one of our thrice-annual migrations, this time from our spring home to our summer place in the high country, the Rockies. The summer home is our version of what the British in colonial India called "Hill Stations," places to which they'd send "Mum and the kiddies" to escape the summer heat. As retirees we can both go.

Our spring and fall place gets very hot in summer. It gets perhaps 30 days of 100 degree heat in a typical year, that's Fahrenheit, of course. The hottest temperature I've seen here was 118 degrees although that is uncommon, perhaps a once in 20 years occurrence. Spending the summer here means spending several hundred dollars on electricity every month for air conditioning.

Our summer place in the mountains is at an elevation of about 6000 feet, or 2000 meters; we need no air conditioning. Summers are warm and dry there - essentially perfect. Winters are both long and hard, we are told by year-round residents.

We have no personal experience of those winters, we're snowbirds, aka "summer people." We normally see their last snowfall of spring and the first snowfall of autumn at our mountain place, typically neither is serious.

The other DrC believes traffic density is lower as a result of the poor economy and high fuel prices. I haven't noticed the drop she sees. Maybe I will see less traffic crossing Nevada
on I-80, fewer trucks and RVs, both are fuel hogs. She's likely correct, I haven't been paying attention.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Rape in Rio

The New York Times reports rape on transit vans in Rio de Janeiro. This echoes similar crimes happening in India. Ugly stuff, anywhere it occurs.

An insight about the affluent areas of Rio, there are a lot of stunning women walking around wearing a bikini top, tight hip-hugger jeans, and high heel shoes. The climate is hot and humid, the outfit makes sense climate-wise and looks great, but it does leave an extreme amount of attractive young woman on bare display. No excuse of course, but I'm just sayin,' there it is, maybe a factor.

Friday, May 24, 2013

More on Last Night's Quake

There is further information on last night's Northern California earthquake. The article is from the Los Angeles Times.

We don't expect earthquakes much in this part of the state. We're more than 100 miles from the San Andreas, California's true killer fault.

The last time I felt an earthquake in this part of CA I was sitting in my university office on the third floor of Glenn Hall and it was very late afternoon. I can't say exactly what year it was but it was before 1987, probably in 1975 - a long time ago.

I certainly should have felt the Loma Prieta quake in 1989 that tore up SF and destroyed the freeway in Oakland, except that I was working hard with shovel and wheelbarrow re-graveling the driveway and didn't learn of it until the other DrC got home and told me.

Yeah, I know it was a Tuesday and university was in session in mid-October, except I rarely had classes on Tuesday and Thursday. I don't feel guilty about using flex time, I worked almost every evening for several hours so if I wanted to do yard work on a Tuesday afternoon, it was legal.

Weird Mental Science

Three European researchers find there is good reason to believe average population IQ has dropped more than 14 points since the Victorian era! The period measured runs from 1889 to 2004. See this United Press International article for details. Hat tip to Yahoo News for the heads up.

The actual thing measured is visual reaction time, which has been shown to correlate with intelligence, as an "elementary measure of cognition." Apparently this has been measured with a high degree of accuracy since 1889. Who knew?

The article concludes with this statement which could explain some of the difference:
Previous research found in many Western countries women of higher intelligence had fewer children than women with lower intelligence.
On the other hand, intelligent people tend to be healthier and live longer. Most of medicine as we know it has been developed in the last hundred years, enabling the less intelligent to live longer too.

A Most Curious Whopper

Ed Rogers writes for The Washington Post about when the President found out about the IRS targeting of conservative organizations seeking non-profit status. This is prime stuff, you'll want to read it. Here are some samples from Rogers' article:
My personal favorite of all the new revelations from the Obama IRS scandal is that White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler told White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough about the impending IRS inspector general report, but of course the White House chief of staff did not tell the president.

I sat in a White House chief of staff’s office every day for more than two years. The only reason the legal counsel would tell the chief of staff about an impending report or disclosure would be so the chief of staff could tell the president.

In my experience, a legal counsel never would believe that there was information that was appropriate for the chief of staff to know but that was inappropriate for the president to know. Out of all the news that has emerged regarding the Obama IRS scandal, this is the most curious whopper I’ve heard so far. I can’t wait to hear the real story.
Do you suppose President Obama had previously ordered, "Never tell me about any unlawful acts in the executive branch; I must preserve deniability?" Or that Chief of Staff McDonough deemed the information of little importance? Surely not.

Whole Lotta Shakin'

Northern California experienced a magnitude 5.7 earthquake at roughly 8:47 p.m., Thursday. News sources report the quake was centered near Lake Almanor in the Sierra Mountains.

The DrsC were watching Ask This Old House on PBS TV when it struck. As is typical, we heard it a couple of seconds before we felt it.

We sustained no damage; the epicenter was dozens of miles northeast of our winter place. As native Californians we're somewhat accustomed to earthquakes.

I'm reminded of long-haul trucker CB slang for the east and west coasts. They were called "the dirty side" and "the shaky side" respectively -- we're on the left coast, where the earth does sometimes shake.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Maybe Friedman Gets It

The New York Times' Tom Friedman writes about what it will take to get stability in Syria, and more or less concludes it isn't possible:
So let’s do something new: think two steps ahead. Before we start sending guns to more people, let’s ask ourselves for what exact ends we want those guns used and what else would be required of them and us to realize those ends?
I hope that means Friedman knows the people living in Syria don't want to be one nation and the people living in the U.S. have given up on nation building.

Quote of the Day

Dan Balz, writing in The Washington Post, about the IRS political influence scandal:
If White House officials hoped the IRS controversy would quickly go away, they have acted in a way designed to produce just the opposite.
When it comes to politics, Danny B. knows whereof he writes. The White House should pay attention.

Slender Less Healthy

An article in Nature describes the conflict over a meta-analysis of some 97 studies, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). It turns out many scientists don't want you to know the finding of that analysis.

The controversial meta-analysis finds that being somewhat overweight (but not obese) is actually healthier for people of middle age or older. Healthier than being at the so-called "ideal" weight. Let me speculate about why this finding might occur.

Today's lifestyle is relatively sedentary, much locomotion is by auto or airplane rather than on foot or bicycle, and many of our meals are eaten in restaurants, in fast food places, or takeout eaten at home - all of which are likely to be high calorie, high sodium, and somewhat unhealthy.

Given that, perhaps many people who are at or below the ideal weight are only there because they are in some way, perhaps as yet undiagnosed, unhealthy. Many others are at that lower weight because they are those nervous, hyperkinetic people whose nature is that of the candle burning at both ends, and who die young as a consequence.

Close to three million people are included in the 97 studies rolled together in the meta-analysis, so I don't think we can just ignore the finding. Something is going on. Maybe slightly overweight is the new normal just as 60 is the new 40.

Taking the Fifth

When faced with Congressional quizzing, Lois Lerner took the fifth amendment and refused to be questioned about her managerial role at the IRS, according to this story in The Washington Post. What should we conclude from her lawful, constitutional choice?

Some will conclude that it means she is guilty of wrongdoing. I believe this conclusion is not warranted. On the other hand, I think it fair to conclude that she, and her legal counsel, probably believe that, guilty or not, her testimony would be open to multiple interpretations.

At least some of these interpretations could make her look wrong-footed, foolish, inept, or even guilty. And, as we know from the Nuremberg trials, following orders is no excuse if the orders tell you to do something unlawful.

A Mixed Message

Last night Vice President Biden was speaking to a group of Jewish leaders. He went on at considerable length about the "outsize influence per capita" of Jewish people in America (Jews make up less than 2% of the U.S. populace).

Obviously, the Veep's intentions were to be very positive, very appreciative of the contributions of American Jews. No surprise that Joe didn't mention that Jews were also most of the conservative neo-con movement? 

See Biden's remarks and a nervous "appreciation" of those remarks by Jonathan Chait for New York Magazine. It is interesting that Biden calling attention to Jews' large influence is not entirely welcome by those being honored.

They know it becomes fodder for those whose intentions are anything but positive, a point that Chait makes. The Council on American-Islamic Relations will likely find ways to use the Vice Presidents's words in their fund-raising and membership drives. If there is video of his speech, I'd expect to see it run repeatedly on Al Jazerra.

Suicide By Cop

Stabbing an armed FBI agent with a knife sounds like a strategy for accomplishing the well-known "suicide by cop," in this instance the variant "suicide by FBI agent." I hope the FBI agent who was stabbed is okay.

If that is the case, all that is lost is the possibility of extracting addition intelligence about further members of the Boston marathon bomber terrorist cell. On the upside, the state saves hundreds of thousands of dollars in trial and incarceration costs. See the ABC News article for details.

More on the IRS Scandal

Curious about who might be in the chain of command for the IRS unit in Cincinnati that was holding up tax-exempt status for Tea Party groups? Someone at Fox News (no surprise) has sussed out that info, the link is here.

It turns out the IRS agents whose names were on the documents all report to different managers. That doesn't sound like something happening accidentally in one over-stressed group -- the explanation we've been given by the Obama administration. It sounds like a policy coordinated from above, in Washington.

This article is for COTTonLINE readers who are really into the details of the IRS story, not the casual browser. It does, however, give the story new weight.

How To Read His Numbers

A Washington Post article by Jon Cohen and Dan Balz reports that President Obama's approval rating remains steady at around 51%. This seems unusual in the context of the three scandals belaboring the Obama administration.

How to understand this apparent anomaly? Two days ago we remarked in a trailing comment on another story as follows:
That would be true if the people who voted to reelect Obama paid attention to the news - with their votes they demonstrated they do not. Many are voting on criteria other than performance in office.
Perhaps it is now time to amplify these remarks. I believe many Obama voters support him, less for what he does, more for what he is, what he represents to them merely by being President.

As a black man, Barack Obama represents an end of the hegemony of white men in the control of this nation. That has to be an immensely powerful symbol to the tens of millions of black, Hispanic, and Asian voters.

Perhaps the symbolism works for white women as well; about that, as a man, I am much less certain.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Pain of Spain

George Friedman writes for RealClearWorld about the dilemma of Southern Europe, with youth unemployment rates running close to 50%. He writes of driving in Spain and finding the roads nearly deserted. Of seeing middle class young men begging.

Friedman believes this level of youth unemployment will lead to anomie, even to rage, as it did during the Great Depression. See what he concludes:
Driving in Spain, things look quiet, neat and empty. But in that emptiness there is something ominous, perhaps not so much post-apocalyptic as pre-apocalyptic. Spain is still under control, and the European elite still believe an answer will be found. But I don't see the path that leads to the redemption of a generation's hopes. 
As a person who is interested in the direction the world is taking, perhaps you might read Friedman's article.

Quote of the Day

Today's quote is Stein's Law, attributed to economist Herb Stein as cited by Glenn Harlan Reynolds in a USA Today article:
Something that can't go on forever, won't.
Reynolds here reviews a book America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity In The 21st Century by James Bennett and Michael Lotus. Believe it or not, the book's view of our future is positive. How nice is that for a change?

It Figures

The three scandals whirling around the Obama administration have energized conservative viewers. Fox News viewership is up.

Logically enough, the scandals have discouraged liberal viewers. MSNBC viewership is down. See this Deadline Hollywood article for details.

The Company You Keep ....

Did you know that Chelsea Clinton's father-in-law is Ed Mezvinsky, a former Democratic congressman. He is also a convicted federal felon who served 5 years in prison for bank fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud?

According to Snopes, Wikipedia and a couple of other sources, this is on the level. As Casey Stengel was fond of saying, "you could look it up." Hat tip to friend Earl for putting me onto this bit of scurrilous gossip.

Ralph Peters on the Arab Winter

New York Post military analyst Ralph Peters has an intriguing column on the Middle East. His bottom line - the U.S. needs to stay out. See three of his insights:
We’re witnessing a titanic event, the crack-up of a long-tottering civilization. Arab societies grew so corrupt and stagnant that violent upheaval became inevitable.

We don’t even know how many new states will emerge from the old order’s wreckage. But the Scramble for the Sand is on, with Iran, Turkey, treacherous Arab oil sheikdoms and terrorists Sunni and Shia alike all determined to dictate the future, no matter the cost in other people’s blood.

We need to back off from Syria, if for no other reason than a strategist’s golden rule: If you don’t understand what a fight’s about, stay out.
I'd add the aphorism that we don't have a dog in this fight. The rest of the column suggests that Col. Peters takes a dim view of past U.S. actions in the region.

Monday, May 20, 2013

More Straight Talk from Bob Woodward

Here is more from Woodward's NBC News Meet The Press appearance yesterday as reported by RealClearPolitics. 
Well, I think on the whole Benghazi thing, you look at those talking points. And I mean the initial draft by the CIA very explicitly said, "We know that activists who have ties to al-Qaeda were involved in the attack." And then you see what comes out a couple of days later, and there is no reference to this. This is a business where you have to tell the truth. And that did not happen here.
Woodward knows CYA behavior when he sees it. He saw plenty of CYA as a young reporter digging out Watergate.

"This is a business where you have to tell the truth. And that did not happen here." With an election seven weeks away, the truth contradicted Obama's claim that al Qaeda was on the ropes.

Weird Foxy Science

Not all the news we comment on here at COTTonLINE is bad, only most of it. Here is a piece of strange good news from the Associated Press via Yahoo News. First, a quick geography lesson.

There is a chain of eight mountainous islands a few miles off the California coast. The northern five, opposite Ventura and Santa Barbara, have become the Channel Islands National Park. On clear days these are visible from the coastal highway - US 101.

Perhaps the most famous of the eight is one of the southern three: Santa Catalina. According to the Four Preps song lyric, it is 26 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. Now back to the weird science story.

The AP reports that the California island fox population is on the rebound, after nearly disappearing just thirteen years ago. It is a story of a chain of unintended consequences.

Island famers let some pigs go wild, or more likely, some of their wily hogs escaped and became a feral population numbering eventually in the thousands. The pigs then became a food source which lured in a population of golden eagles, flying killers which also preyed on the foxes, eating up most of them.

To restore the balance, the pigs were killed and the eagles were live-trapped and relocated. Meanwhile bald eagles, which don't prey on foxes, have been reintroduced. Foxes without flying predators have made a healthy come-back.

The AP article has a very nice picture of an island fox, a cute cat-sized predator. I suspect some population of ground-nesting bird will now be threatened by the foxes.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Five Benghazi Myths?

Michael Hirsh is chief correspondent for National Journal; here he writes for The Washington Post. His article is entitled "Five Myths About Benghazi." Hirsh finds both Democrats and Republicans subscribing to one or more of these myths.

I don't necessarily agree with all five of his myths. However, if you're following the Benghazi mess you'll find Hirsh's column interesting.

Power Corrupts

Tom Keane writes a column for the Boston Globe. Here he comments on the current Washington scandals.
Rules can be bent or ignored, people are venal, and in the pursuit of what government officials think are good ends, any means become acceptable. Power, as the saying goes, corrupts, and absolute power — and surely, we’re getting close to that point, aren’t we? — corrupts absolutely.
Keane believes the Obama administration has handed Republicans a major opportunity for a come-back.

That would be true if the people who voted to reelect Obama paid attention to the news - with their votes they demonstrated they do not. Many are voting on criteria other than performance in office.

Quote of the Day

Famous Watergate reporter Bob Woodward, speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, as quoted in a  The Wall Street Journal blog about the scandals confronting the Obama administration:
This is not Watergate, but there are some people in the administration who have acted as if they want to be Nixonian, and that’s a very big problem.
What has been called by some the Obama "trifecta" may end up to be a bigger mess than Watergate; and Nixon was bad enough.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Balz Sums It Up

Dan Balz is perhaps the Washington Post's best political writer, among several good ones. In this column he summarizes the current state of the four scandals now confronting the Obama administration.

Balz minimizes one issue but otherwise does a fine job. Like many liberals, he makes little of the Benghazi screw-up, calling it mostly political.

To be sure, Republicans have been those harping on the failure to provide security to Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and his staff. And, yes, the CIA was certainly involved in Benghazi.

Nevertheless, bad State Department judgment certainly is evidenced in allowing an ambassador to be in a dangerous place where he cannot be protected lest another war result. Some imply that was what took place in Benghazi.

I believe protecting the reelection chances of President Obama and the 2016 prospects of Hillary Clinton are much more probable motivations for what, in fact, occurred - for the failure to defend Ambassador Stevens and the consulate.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Worst Scandal Since Watergate

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan is seriously angry about the current set of scandals in Washington. Let me share with you some of her recent column, she begins:
We are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate. (snip) No one likes what they're seeing. The Justice Department assault on the Associated Press and the ugly politicization of the Internal Revenue Service have left the administration's credibility deeply, probably irretrievably damaged. They don't look jerky now, they look dirty. 
She concludes:
This is not about the usual partisan slugfest. This is about the integrity of our system of government and our ability to trust, which is to say our ability to function.
The whole long column in between is excellent. Noonan calls for a special prosecutor.

Another Battlefield

We've described the Syrian civil war as a war between the Sunni majority rebels and the Assad government to some degree representing everyone else - Alawites, Shias, Christians, Druze, etc.

The government is backed by Shia Iran and Hezbollah (of Lebanon), as well as Russia, for its own reasons. The rebels are backed by the Sunni Arab nations with oil wealth. In other words, it is a battle between Shia and Sunni nations, fought by proxy forces.

The Sunni-Shia conflict is also underway in Iraq as this Reuters article for Yahoo News indicates. It is rare when several days go by without a suicide bombing in Iraq aimed at gatherings of one group or the other, this particular bombing aimed at Sunnis. Sectarian conflict is also prevalent in Pakistan.

The New York Times weighs in with an article saying Syria is splitting into three zones: Sunni jihadi, Shia Government, and Kurd. That works.

Kurds are tired of Arabs of either sect. They are trying to create Kurdistan, cobbled together out of northeastern Syria, northern Iraq, and maybe more if they can pry it loose from Turkey.

Obamacare Already a Problem

Did you believe Obamacare had a chance? One very personal indicator that it doesn't: my long-time neurology physician just announced he is closing down his private practice, effective July 31, 2013.

He plans to look for other work, perhaps as a salaried doctor somewhere. His reason for abandoning an established practice - Obamacare and the uncertainties and costs associated therewith.

So I must find a new neurologist ... bummer.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Quote of the Day

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank, normally a reliable liberal and Obama supporter, writing about the President's current problems. The first sentence of Milbank's column says:
Four months into a fresh four years, President Obama is already assuming the familiar crouch of a scandal-struck second-termer. 
Ouch, that hurts.

They Buy Ink By the Barrel

Do you remember that old Mark Twain adage about not picking a fight with people (the press) who buy ink by the barrel? The Obama administration has done the modern day equivalent - they have pi**ed off the Associated Press by getting a listing of their calls for two months earlier this year.

If there is any journalistic canon that is still honored by virtually all in the business, it is the concealment of the identity of confidential sources. Most first world journalists will go to jail before they violate it.

With the feds getting copies of the AP's phone records, they have infuriated a group of reporters and opinion shapers who were quite pro-Obama and had been so for the last 6 years. Check out the opening two sentences in this New Yorker article:
If the three-strikes rule were in effect, President Obama would be heading for the dugout, bat in hand. First the alleged Benghazi cover-up, then the kerfuffle about the I.R.S. targeting conservative groups, and now the revelation that earlier this year the Justice Department secretly seized two months of phone records involving editors and reporters at the Associated Press.
And the New Yorker likes President Obama, supports him. Imagine what columnists in the (admittedly marginalized) conservative press will say.

Attorney General Eric Holder has been a continuing embarrassment for President Obama. This is likely to be Holder's final screw-up. Don't be surprised if the President is 'saddened' to accept his resignation for personal reasons some day soon.

This event suggests that reporters will start using so-called "burner phones" for anything investigative, if they don't do so already. AP may buy them by the case.

In DC, The Cover Up Is Worse

In Washington, DC, it is said, the cover up is always worse than the offense. I'm sure that is true about the Benghazi screw-up, too. What do I mean? Let me tell you.

Presidents become loyal to their loyal subordinates, perhaps they must. Hence they get involved in helping to cover up those subordinates' errors, committed on the boss's behalf. They shouldn't, but they do. Nixon did.

It is likely that the decision to let Ambassador Chris Stevens and three associates hang out there in the wind unprotected, and as a result be murdered, wasn't made by the President. "Likely," but not certain.

On the other hand, when the final chips fall, I'll bet we learn that at some point the President was involved in discussions about how to cover up that screw-up. In other words, he didn't decide to do the wrong thing, but was involved in deciding to attempt a cover-up of the screwed-up cover up.

In the Benghazi situation, perhaps President Obama wasn't involved in the initial cover up, which was writing the talking points. It is likely he became involved in subsequent efforts to cover up the failed first cover up - the talking points.

That all gets fairly convoluted, I hope you followed it. Oh, what tangled webs we weave ....

Monday, May 13, 2013

SOF in The 21st Century

Wrap your mind around some very different military moves, new ways to project force in far-away places. Think about our army having a couple of guys (or gals, maybe couples) spending most of their careers in a distant land. Think Mongolia or Burundi, maybe Laos, or among the Lapps in far northern Finland.

The model: Lawrence of Arabia. The plan: they are moles who live there but are ours to activate in case of need. How much would it cost to have a couple of SOF guys imbedded in every region around the world? Regions x guys can't equal much cost in terms of the total defense budget. We're talking about maybe what? Maybe one to three thousand moles?

Their role: if something we don't like happens in the region, they do a Lawrence and become an agitator, a trouble-maker, an organizer of local opposition, a conduit through which we pass weaponry into the region. What the Brits in the Great Game called "a political." Maybe once a year they "go away" for a few weeks training back in the States, with cover story.

The plan: if we activate a mole, we immediately begin training replacements for that culture since activated moles may not have much life expectancy. On the other hand, most would spend a lifetime in their region without hearing a shot fired in anger, and retire either in situ as paid information sources or back home, their choice.

These wouldn't be SEAL super-fitness freaks, that would be too conspicuous to maintain on site. They'd try to stay fit but their training would be more in influencing than in shoot-'em-up, more sly "assassin" than "storm the battlements." Their main assignment: to fit in and be friends with influential, charismatic locals. Their cover something that would give them a logical, career-tied reason for being there.

See an article in Breaking Defense for more or, actually, less. I've taken the liberty of extending the ideas mentioned there.

Strategists Compete

Have some fun. Go read a short article entitled "Welcome to the League of Mad Strategists." You'll find it in The Diplomat.

It is an argument for limber, flexible organizations with decision-making pushed down to lower levels. I wonder what Sun Tsu would say?


Or take a different view of defense policy from a Frenchman, writing in Time, who sees the U.S. doing the same sad things France has done. It makes one wonder if "defense" has become merely a political boondoggle, pork, a way to spend money in legislators' districts?

The IRS and Conservative Organizations Issue, More

Clarification on the legal issues in whether or not an organization can claim tax-free status comes in this article by Joe Klein of Time. In brief, political organizations cannot make this claim, policy advocacy organizations can.

Many of the so-called "tea party" organizations engaged in quite a bit of both policy and politics, I suspect. If this article's explanation is accurate and legally binding, the situation is much more complicated and less clear-cut than at first blush.

Islam Both Problem and Solution?

Daniel Pipes has spent a lifetime studying and writing about the Middle East and Islam. Arguably he knows something about both; his Washington Times article is worth reading.

I believe Pipes' diagnosis of the cause of radical Islam is probably on target. He then argues that moderate Islam is the solution for the problem of violent, radical Islam. I'm not sure I agree with Pipes' solution.

Do You See UC?

As a California native and lifelong academic I have an interest in the future of the University of California, arguably the predominant public university in the United States. If you share that interest, you might read this City Journal article by Heather Mac Donald.

Mac Donald writes at length about the vast resources UC wastes on multiculturalism, to little effect. As she notes, UC is hardly a place overrun with discrimination.

Mac Donald also makes the point that under-qualified minority students admitted to UC in the interests of "diversity" do poorly. They might do well in another setting where they were in competition with students of more nearly similar ability, for example the CSU system in which I spent 30 years teaching.

It's a paradox, the UC system takes students who would do well in the CSU, so the CSU gets students who are under-qualified to compete there. The diversity mania has a cascade of negative effects that probably includes the community colleges.

WaPo Joins the Chorus

The Washington Post's political blog written by Chris Cillizza weighs in with agreement that the "IRS attacks on conservative groups" story will be big, and tough for Democrats.

Terminator, Coming Soon To a War Near You ....

The U.S. Navy is going to launch an entirely autonomous drone warplane from the USS George H.W. Bush, and have it attempt to land on that carrier. The plane will have no pilot either on board or elsewhere operating it remotely.

Am I the only one who sees in this the early stages of the killer robot warfare portrayed in the Terminator movies? We thought that was pure science fiction ... at least when the films came out. See a New York Times article for details.

Find Bus, Throw Under

There is news about the alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups during the 2012 campaign. According to a Yahoo News article, President Obama has promised to punish any IRS personnel found guilty of politically motivated, asymmetric targeting of non-profit audits.

In Washington, this is called "throwing them under the bus." Anywhere else, they'd be sacrificial lambs. No matter, it's pretty much the same concept.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

The entire staff of COTTonLINE (that's me and the other DrC) send Happy Mother's Day greetings to all COTTonLINE readers. Not just the mothers among you, but to all readers.

Mother's Day greetings are pertinent to every reader, as all of you have (or had) a mother. And nearly all of us harbor warm feelings for the first special lady in our life.

C02 Rising

Here at COTTonLINE we have taken a skeptical view of human-caused global warming, and we still do. On the other hand, we remain open to scientific evidence that points in the warming direction.

That said, you might want to take a look at an article in Scientific American about rising rates of C02 in the atmosphere. It seems to lack "the sky is falling" tone of many such articles.

The article reports that C02 levels are rising, period. It suggests there may be a link between such increase and warmer climate. Whatever your view of the climate change issue, this article may interest you.

Who knows, the DrsC may find it attractive to winter over in Wyoming if they live long enough to see serious warming ... an unlikely possibility. Of course, then we'd need to install air conditioning as the summers would be warmer too.

Pope Canonizes 813 Italians Who Refused Islam

The Pope today canonized 813 Italians who refused a demand that they convert to Islam and were beheaded by the Turks. I doubt this act will be well received by the Imams and mullahs. See the Associated Press article on My Way. Hat tip to Drudge Report for the link.

Tick, tick, tick ....

The press is turning on the Obama administration's handling of the Benghazi assassination affair and on the IRS using audits to pursue a political agenda. In this post I will put links to the Sunday articles saying, essentially, "oh my, look what we overlooked!"

Here is an article by the usually pro-Obama New Yorker saying that the Benghazi coverup is underway. They are a little late, but better late than never.

Joe Klein in Time is absolutely poisonous about the IRS attacks on conservative groups. Hat tip to Matt Drudge of Drudge Report for these two links.

The Washington Post weighs in on the IRS story.

News Busters has Kirsten Powers, the Deputy Assistant Trade Representative for Public Affairs in the Clinton administration saying on Fox News of the Benghazi attempted cover up:
Bill Clinton would not have gotten away with this.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Obama's Banana Republic Ethics

Using government agencies to harass political opponents is what we expect in a third world country like Bangladesh or Venezuela. Now our U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) apologizes for doing this reprehensible practice just last year, see the Associated Press story for details.

It placed particular emphasis on conservative groups, checking to see if their non-profit status was legitimate, during the lead-up to the 2012 election. No similar emphasis was given to liberal groups during the same heated, politically charged period.

In some ways, this is the ugliest thing the Obama administration has owned up to. Believe it or not, the normally pro-Obama Washington Post agrees. In an editorial they say:
If it was not partisanship, was it incompetence? Stupidity, on a breathtaking scale?
The Associated Press has a story indicating that senior people at the IRS knew of the targeting by the agency of conservative groups back in 2011.

Friday, May 10, 2013

An Echo of the Past

I have the mixed blessing of having lived long enough to remember how Watergate transpired. First there was the report of a minor break-in at the Democratic National headquarters in the Watergate complex.

This event was followed by almost no follow-up by the mainstream media, with the sole exception of two junior reporters at the Washington Post: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.  For months they plugged away at trying to make something bigger out of it.

Eventually they tied that break-in to people in the White House. A president (Richard Nixon) resigned and several people were imprisoned for conspiracy. At this point the mainstream media were all over the story.

There are parallels between Watergate and the terrorist-caused Benghazi deaths. In both, for months very little reporting happened in the mainstream media.

It appears that this week we may have turned a Watergate-like corner. Mainstream sources like ABC News, The Week and National Journal are beginning to pay attention to the politically motivated Benghazi cover-up, see their stories herehere and here.

There is one major difference between Watergate and "Benghazigate." This time a host of electronic alternative media have played the Woodward/Bernstein role, have kept the issue alive. 

Noonan on Benghazi

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan watched the House hearings on the Benghazi murders and saw politics. Not Republican politics, rather she saw Democratic politics. Her column about this event is worth your time.

Noonan believes our governmental malfeasance was aimed at getting the President reelected, no more, no less. Obama was selling the line that Al Qaeda was pretty much dead in the wake of the assassination of Osama ben Laden.

If what happened in Benghazi was terrorism, was Al Qaeda-linked terrorism, then militant Islam was still very much an issue for the U.S. Which meant that Obama couldn't claim that the job of rooting out terrorism was finished. And his reelection was only eight weeks away.

What everybody believes, but nobody says, is that those four Americans died so that Barack Obama could be reelected. Military rescue was withheld so the President could not be accused of getting the U.S. involved in another Middle Eastern war.

I hope Ambassador Chris Stevens - an Obama supporter - felt the President was worth dying for. I wonder if Stevens' family agrees.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What Congress Probably Won't Do This Year

Caitlin Huey-Burns and Alexis Simendinger have a comprehensive survey of the possibilities of Congressional action this year, written for RealClearPolitics. A quick read suggests their short answer might be "Not much."

"Not much" isn't always bad; much of what Congress actually does is unfortunate. Another way of saying this is that a tie is better than a loss.

"Ideal Endgame"

On Monday we wrote that the U.S. has a Machiavellian interest in continued conflict in Syria. Apparently we weren't the only ones with this thought. See what Rachel Marsden wrote for
One could argue that America's ideal endgame in Syria is a continuation of the status quo.
The post for this article identifies it with the LA Times but the link doesn't work. A search of the LAT website finds no links to Marsden or this article. A search for the article finds it at Town Hall.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Cluster of Pithy Quotes

Jay Nordlinger's "Impromptu" columns for National Review are always worth reading. Here he does a review of Roger Kimball's book The Fortunes of Permanence.

From the book he extracts an entire cluster of wonderful quotes attributed to various authors. Let me share some of my favorites with you:
It has long been obvious that ‘multiculturalism’ is an ornate synonym for ‘anti-Americanism.’ It is anti-Americanism on a peculiar moralistic jag. - Kimball
You are either American or you aren’t. Living here is the only entitlement you need. - Roger Ailes
There are simple answers. There are just no easy ones. - Ronald Reagan
The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin . . . would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities. - Theodore Roosevelt
“No taxation without representation” is a splendid demand. But so is “no immigration without assimilation.” - Kimball
I believe most of those quotes are different ways of gnawing on the same bone.

Missing Blog Post

You may have noticed that Travel Blogging XIII is missing. It was written and, I believed, posted. I was wrong about the posting part of that, it never happened. Now I no longer remember the content so it is truly gone. Sorry.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Another View

Americans try to identify the "good guys" and "bad guys" in a conflict. Making that determination in modern Syria hasn't been easy. The formal government of Assad looks bad but the jihadist involvement of many anti-government rebel groups also makes them uncomfortable partners for the U.S.

I've found an RealClearWorld article about this confusion in which author Shoshana Bryen labels what's going on "The Fourth War." Her formulation identifies World Wars I and II in the normal way, labels the Cold War as War III, and interestingly, identifies "The Fourth War" as the conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims with the U.S. having little direct role.

COTTonLINE has labeled the U.S. conflict with militant Islam as "the Long War," not a term invented here but one that describes a number of conflicts arising from the clash of western culture with strict Islam. Byren sidelines these and sees instead the Shia-Sunni conflict as being the main battle. I don't know that I agree, but her description of what's going on is certainly an interesting one, worth your time.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Americans for Whom No Jobs Exist

Writing for National Journal, Nancy Cook tackles the uncomfortably large number of Americans who have left the labor force in one way or another. Labor force participation has dropped to the lowest level it has held since 1979, when it was growing as large numbers of women joined the labor force.

The article's conclusion states a concern I've had for decades. Only when we reach full employment will we know:
If people have left the workforce because of the downturn in the economy, or if they’ve left forever because the economy fundamentally changed. If that’s the case, the U.S. officially will become a place where the labor market has little use for millions of Americans.
The low-level jobs we've exported to China and India previously employed low-ability Americans. The jobs are gone but the low-ability Americans are still here.

Partial Credit

Writing for National Journal, political analyst Ron Brownstein reaches the conclusion that both Democrats and Republicans are failing to meet major goals of their parties. To wit, Republicans seemingly cannot make the party more attractive to those now "outside the tent," and Democrats seemingly cannot improve the economy.

It is difficult to imagine conditions more conducive to a focus on the economy than those existing at the last election: high unemployment, low job growth, and lack of consumer confidence. Obama's "coalition of the ascendant" are not ascending, yet they vote for him. Brownstein doesn't say why.

He does a better job of saying why Republicans cannot do a better job of enlarging the group "under their tent." In particular, Republican primary voters are not in favor of the policy changes which attracting those new voters would require.

Brownstein needs to explain why the voters most injured by current economic failures are nevertheless voting for a party which has largely given up working to get them full-time jobs. Some other factor is at work, something he doesn't identify. That is the failure of Brownstein's article.

Travel Blogging XVI

Roma, Italia:  Why is it that any little bakery in Europe makes better bread than the best we can do in the States? Every time we're here we ask that same question.

We breakfasted on board the ship; since then we have holed up in our hotel room at the airport Marriott. About mid-afternoon the other DrC got peckish and set out to do something about it.

She sweet talked someone in the hotel bar and/or restaurant into giving her a bag of rolls and bread to bring back to the room. It was either leftovers from breakfast or what they'll serve at dinner, no matter which.

Good? Good doesn't begin to describe the flavor. Amazingly good ... but pretty much normal for European breads. Poppy seed rolls that defined why they put those funny little black things on rolls. Sesame seed rolls so soft and delicious ... wow! And the hard crusty sour-dough bread with a softer but still chewy center ... perfection.

I have the feeling they take such breads for granted here, expect them. Does nobody but the DrsC notice the difference? I can't believe that is true.

Okay, that is my rant for the day....

When Nothing Is Best

In Syria Arabs are killing Arabs. This is better than Arabs killing Americans or Arabs killing Israelis. What's wrong with the present outcome? Nothing.

A truly Machiavellian approach would be to covertly provide support to whatever side appears to be losing. A less evil and more morally supportable approach is what we are doing now. Nothing.

The longer the conflict goes on the more the Arab world gets wrapped up in civil war, one sect versus another. Our role: sympathetic spectators doing ... nothing.

Perhaps the Turks and the Persians and the Kurds will get involved too, even the Berbers. How sad.... When one's opponents in the Long War begin to fight each other, all we need do is watch approvingly and remember to do exactly ... nothing.

Quote of the Day

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan, writing about President Obama's term two tribulations:
The president's position would be stronger now if more people believed he had one.

Travel Blogging XV

Roma, Italia: Known in English as Rome. The 30 day cruise is completed, it was perhaps a few days too long. I was beginning to burn out on cabin showers where the curtain sticks to your back, and the other downsides of living in roughly 200 sq. ft. As the other DrC tells people, we spent many summers doing that in a class C motorhome, so we"re used to it. We can still get tired of it, and do.

We fly out for home tomorrow morning, after a night in an airport Marriott. Flying back to SF is a very long day, as we chase the sun around the globe and gain many hours. I was surprised when I asked if we had a time change between Alexandria and Rome and found the answer was, of all things, no.

Through this entire cruise we had calm water, barely a wave anywhere..No complaints, but you tend to expect some tipsy days - not this trip. Honestly, we had more roughness flying SF to Tokyo than we had sailing from Singapore to Rome.

As we drove from port at Civitivecchia to Rome airport we remarked once again how much this terrain resembles coastal California. No wonder many Italians immigrated to CA. It required little climatic or scenic adjustment; it looked like home.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Travel Blogging XIV

Alexandria, Egypt: Most passengers are ashore, frantically trying to see northern Egypt. It is from here passengers venture south to see the pyramids and sphinx at Giza, just outside Cairo. On this shore excursion travelers also see the Egyptian Museum, which contains many wonders including the King Tut exhibit.

My favorite piece of antiquity is there, the perhaps 2' tall statue of Selket, one of four protectors of the sarcophagus of King Tut. She is a simply beautiful young woman, done all in gold.

Why do people rave about the Tut exhibit? Because it is literally the only royal tomb ever found intact, which is to say not visited earlier by tomb robbers. Tut was not a particularly important pharaoh, but the completeness of his burial goods makes him bigger in death than he was in life.

Another side trip from "Alex" is the run out west to the World War II battlefield at El Alamein. It was here that an early turning point in the war happened, when British general Montgomery defeated German general Rommel. What strikes one now are the three enormous cemeteries, one each for British, German, and Italians.

The DrsC are staying aboard enjoying the pleasures of a giant yacht with a wonderful crew underemployed in taking care the few of us remaining on shipboard. Now that is decadence at an affordable price.

Speaking of underemployment, Alexandria looks very underemployed too, the port is mostly idle. Egypt has two major sources of foreign exchange: the Suez Canal and tourism. The post-Arab Spring political troubles Egypt has suffered haven't encouraged tourism, quite the reverse.