Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Unintended Consequences, Again

Richard A. Epstein, writing for The Hoover Institution, on the topic of the unintended consequences of race-conscious Congressional districts used to increase minority representation in the House.
What is clear, regrettably clear, is that maximizing black representation upsets the overall political configuration. The creation of more majority-minority districts will move the representatives of those districts to the left, given the strong level of black support for the Democratic Party. By the same token, the remaining majority-majority districts will become more conservative as their candidates for office need not worry about the political preferences of non-members. Looked at in the round, race-conscious rules in drawing district lines lead to increased polarization of politics.
That process could, in part, explain current high levels of polarization.

Putin's Early Years

The BBC has a nice article on the young Vlad Putin's early KGB years in East Germany. He and his then-wife were stationed there when the wall came down.

The Beeb believes understanding Putin's early years is useful in picturing how he conceptualizes patriotism, governance, etc. It is good to be reminded that during the Soviet heyday, the standard of living was higher in East Germany than in Russia.

Although Communism never worked terribly well anywhere, it did function somewhat better in East Germany than in Russia or Ukraine. German culture is more pro-work and less alcohol-sodden than the Russian version.

Major War in Middle East Possible

Steven P. Bucci is foreign policy director for The Heritage Foundation. He has penned for RealClearDefense an article about the dangers of a region-wide war in the Middle East, making an interesting analogy to an earlier conflict.
In June 1914, an assassin shot the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the powder keg was lit. The results were disastrous.

The Middle East today looks frighteningly similar to the Europe of the early 20th Century.
 Bucci believes what has changed is a reduced U.S. role in the region.
For decades, the U.S. served as security guarantor and diplomatic trouble-shooter for our friends in the region.(snip)The credible threat of American hard power was enough to keep our friends calm and our enemies quiet.

Our jittery friends in the Middle East now feel that they must counter—strongly and immediately—the local infections promoted and exploited by Iran. And they are sometimes doing so without consulting the U.S.
And he concludes:
The result is a Middle East more explosive and unpredictable than ever. The conditions are now ripe for a major Middle Eastern war—one that could spill across the globe, wherever Sunni and Shia Muslims interact. All that remains missing is a spark.

A Pity Party

See a Bloomberg View article about an impending Summit of the Americas in Panama City. Its title tells the story:
Latin America Gathers to Gripe About U.S.
Sadly, this region could be the poster child for fecklessness and victimology. No wonder we in North America (including Canadians) tend to ignore Latin America. Like other places sharing a Spanish colonial heritage (e.g., Philippines, California), the region is charming but corrupt and badly governed.

Latin America finds it so much easier to blame the U.S. than to face up to what they are doing wrong. If their troubles are our fault, they don't have to take the hard steps to solve those problems; in fact it would be both inappropriate and pointless to try.

Even the region's few bright spots (Costa Rica, Chile, Peru) only look good in comparison with their sad neighbors. The stunning comparison is to see what Lee Kuan Yew accomplished in post-colonial Singapore, in less time with fewer resources in the steamy tropics.

Culture matters.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Mercenaries, Again

Four days ago I wrote about mercenary troops, citing a book review on the topic. Today, The Federalist pops up with an article exploring the use of letters of marque, authorized in the U.S. Constitution, to direct mercenary forces against ISIS on our behalf. It could work.

Trouble in Paradise?

With the recent death of its founder, Lee Kuan Yew, the city-state of Singapore has been much in the news. COTTonLINE's favorite demographer, Joel Kotkin, runs their numbers for The Daily Beast and finds pitfalls ahead for Mr. Lee's island paradise.
Real wages for ordinary Singaporeans have stagnated. From 1998 to 2008, the income of the bottom 20 percent of households dropped an average of 2.7 percent, while the salaries of the richest 20 percent rose by more than half.

For many Singaporeans, discontent has led them to consider a move elsewhere. Already some 300,000 citizens now live abroad, almost one of ten. As many as half of Singaporeans, according to a recent survey, would leave if they could.

Today Singapore has one of the world’s lowest fertility rates; and more young people are postponing or completely avoiding marriage (children out of wedlock remain very rare). The fertility rates in Singapore have fallen almost 50 percent below the replacement rate of 2.1.
COTTonLINE sees no particular reason to single out Singapore for these trends. Virtually every developed nation in the world is experiencing the same fertility collapse and increase in income inequality. Japan's problems are nearly identical, and Europe isn't far behind.

A Mega-Drought Predicted for CA

Long-time reporter Lou Cannon writes for RealClearPolitics about the continuing, worsening drought parching the American West. Cannon cites research appearing in a new journal Science Advances.
If the scientists who have examined tree rings that reveal weather data back to the year 1000 are right, the Southwest probably is not in the late stages of a normal drought but the beginning phase of a 35-year mega-drought -- the sort that contributed to the extinction of the ancient Pueblo peoples, or Anasazi, of the Colorado Plateau.
What he reports I also have seen in my own recent travels up and down much of California. I've written about our dry region repeatedly, including twice so far this year, here and here.

A mega-drought could herald the extinction of California agriculture, some of the world's most productive. Little more than weeds and scrub oak grow here without irrigation.

Indiana's Controversial New Law

There's is considerable uproar over a law in Indiana that allows firms whose owners have religious scruples against same sex marriage to refuse to provide services therefor. See a USA Today story flor details.

Without getting into the issues of LGBT life, it seems to COTTonLINE that this is an issue the market can solve. In the absence of a monopoly provider, if one vendor won't bake a wedding cake for a same sex wedding it is more business for bakeries which will do so.

People voting with their dollars should, over time, solve the problem without government intervention. Most businesses do not willingly turn away customers with money in hand.

Free Speech Not Unlimited

Reuters reports via Yahoo News the Supreme Court has held student First Amendment rights were not violated. School officials would not permit them to wear US flag t-shirts to school during a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

The school had experienced white vs. Hispanic violence and gang activity. Administrators feared the flag shirts would incite fighting.

The Supremes let stand an Appeals Court ruling holding school administrators were within their rights to ban the shirts. Presumably the "can't yell fire in a crowded theater" exception to freedom of speech applied here.

I reluctantly agree with the finding, given the explosive situation at the school.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Loving Robots

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds is the master of the one sentence aphorism that nails truth. Here's his latest:
The higher the minimum wage, the faster the Age Of Machines is born.
A robot never shows up late or drunk or gets the flu or sexually harasses a coworker or slugs the boss or steals from the company or joins a union or demands overtime or a raise or ... you get the idea.

In order for jobs to continue to exist, workers have to be sufficiently cheaper (or more creative) than machines to force bosses to put up with the grief they cause.

Speaking Ill

Carl M. Cannon writes for the Orange County Register a column entitled "Who Says You Can't Speak Ill of Hillary?" It's fun and worth your time.

The official COTTonLINE response: We have every intention of speaking ill of Hillary, clearly and often, between now and late 2016. Count on it. The Dems need to spend 8 years wandering the wilderness in exile.

COTTonLINE may or may not endorse the GOP candidate for President, depending on which postulant gets the nod. With reluctance, I can imagine a contest in which COTTonLINE catalogs the shortcomings of both major party candidates.

As you might surmise, calling malediction on both houses is not my preferred outcome.

U.S. Foreign Policy in Free Fall

At his The American Interest blog, Walter Russell Mead writes about the disarray in the Obama foreign policy. Mead quotes James Jeffrey, Obama's former Ambassador to Iraq about U.S. Middle East policy.
We’re in a goddamn (sic) free fall here.
Mead highlights a few big administration screw-ups:
Having fundamentally misjudged major developments (calling ISIS the “jayvee team,” Yemen a success, Erdogan a reliable partner, etc. etc.).
He could have added: announcing our Afghanistan departure date, failure to arm the Kurds, abandoning Iraq, turning on Israel. Mead concludes:
Even the President’s ideological fellow travelers can no longer mount a cogent defense of his Middle East policy.

The shocked silence of the foreign policy establishment, the absence of any statements of support from European or Asian allies about our Middle East course, the evidence that the President and the “senior officials” whom he trusts continue to be blindsided by major developments they didn’t expect and haven’t provided for: all of this tells us that our Middle East policy is indeed in free fall.
Question: How differently would this President behave if it were his publicly stated intention to destroy the U.S. super power status? Answer: not much differently.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Have Some Fun

Each week Steve Hayward assembles a collection of photos with snarky captions, political cartoons, and pithy sayings for the blog Power Line, he calls it The Week in Pictures. Here are three favorites from this week's group, which he's labeled the Centrifugal Farce Edition.
Obama: I still believe in a Palestinian statehood, even if Netanyahu doesn't.
Netanyahu: I still believe in the U.S. Constitution, even if Obama doesn't.

My girlfriend left a note on the fridge, "It's not working, I can't take it anymore. I am going to my Mom's place.
I opened the fridge. The light came on. The beer was cold... What the hell is she talking about?

Say what you will about the South, but no one retires and moves up north.
That last one echoes the Westward, Ho post we did earlier today. They're better seen with the pictures or cartoons.

Harried Reid

Hey, conspiracy theory fans, have I got a doozy for you ... courtesy of John Hinderaker at Power Line. See what Hinderaker writes:
When a guy shows up at a Las Vegas emergency room on New Year’s Day with severe facial injuries and broken ribs, and gives as an explanation the functional equivalent of “I walked into a doorknob,” it isn’t hard to guess that he ran afoul of mobsters.

A friend of mine was in Las Vegas a week or two ago. He talked to a number of people there about Reid’s accident, and didn’t find anyone who believed the elastic exercise band story. The common assumption was that the incident resulted, in some fashion, from Reid’s relationship with organized crime.

Everyone knows that the Reid family has gotten rich, even though Reid has spent his entire career as a public employee. It is known that a considerable part of his fortune came from being cut in on sweetheart Las Vegas land deals that included at least one person associated with organized crime as a principal.
As 1930s actress Jean Harlow famously said, "When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas." Reid not running for reelection could be a quid pro quo for staying alive.

Iraq Another Yugoslavia?

Michael Totten writes with insight about the Middle East, for World Affairs Journal. Today's topic is the illogic of the Iraqi nation:
If Iraq somehow manages to survive its current conflict in one piece, another will almost certainly follow. Its instability is both devastating and chronic. Far better at this point if Iraq simply terminates itself as a state and lets its various constituent groups peaceably go their own way, as Yugoslavia did after its own catastrophic series of wars in the 1990s.
Totten concludes:
Maybe the Sunnis and Shias will figure out a way to live together in peace. It seems unlikely at this point, but who knows? The Middle East is full of surprises. But if they want a divorce—for all of our sakes—let them have it.

The only real allies Americans have in Iraq are the Kurds. If we’re going to live by that famous foreign policy maxim, that you reward your friends and punish your enemies, then we are required to let the Kurds go and to let Iraq die.
A past argument against partition held that altering colonial-era boundaries could trigger war-without-end. African nations have found that argument persuasive.

The Middle East already has near-perpetual war making the threat empty. Furthermore, ISIS has erased the boundary between Iraq and Syria. However, protecting the Kurds from the Turks could be very difficult.

Westward, Ho

Regular COTTonLINE readers know we love population trends and demography. The Atlantic weighs in with a short article which could have been written by the Texas Chamber of Commerce ... seriously.
New Census population estimates are out today, and only two metros added more than 100,000 people between July 2013 and July 2014. Houston and Dallas—both in Texas.

Only one metro with a population greater than 1 million people grew by 3 percent last year. It's Austin—also in Texas.

The cities with the highest levels of net domestic migration since 2010 are Houston, Dallas, Austin, Phoenix, Denver, and San Antonio.
Four out of six in just one state - Texas. Most growth is happening in the Sun Belt.

The New York Times has a chart which pictures the following four facts graphically. It shows the average 2014 growth rate for metropolitan areas categorized by mean January high temperatures.
Under 35 degrees    0.2%
35 to 45 degrees      0.5%
45 to 60 degrees      0.9%
Over 60 degrees      1.3%
The Atlantic article concludes:
None of the 20 fastest-growing metros are in the northeast. Rather, they're in the sunny crescent that swoops from the Carolinas down through Texas and up into the west toward the Dakotas. Americans are back to sun-worshipping.

CBS: Clinton Polls Poorly

CBS News reports the results of a recent poll they had done on Hillary Clinton's popularity with voters.
Generally, 26 percent of Americans now have a favorable view of Hillary Clinton, while 37 percent view her unfavorably; another third are undecided or don't have an opinion of her. As Clinton weighs a presidential bid, her favorable views are 12 points lower than they were in the fall of 2013.
One could almost feel sorry for Dems. Their "inevitable" presidential candidate is seen favorably by roughly one person in four.
Most Democrats (55 percent) continue to hold favorable views of Clinton but that percentage has dropped eight points since November 2013.
I hope we don't have another election where voters are forced to guess which of the two major candidates will be less bad in office. Obama vs. McCain was one of those. Clinton vs. Bush would be another.
The public gives Clinton her most negative marks on honesty. Fewer than half - 42 percent- say she is honest and trustworthy, while more - 47 percent - don't think she is.
That could simply be because she is a lawyer - someone trained to lie convincingly on behalf of the client paying her retainer.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Bloated and Ineffective and Rigged

David Brooks is what passes for a conservative at The New York Times and on PBS, which is to say, he isn't completely liberal. He does occasionally have a decent insight, try the following from his latest NYT column.
In a Gallup survey, voters listed dysfunctional government as the nation’s No. 1 problem. In fact, American voters’ traditional distrust has morphed and hardened. They used to think it was bloated and ineffective. Now they think it is bloated and ineffective and rigged to help those who need it least.
Sadly, they are not wrong.

Funny, and True

Ammo Grrrl blogs once a week, with tongue firmly in cheek, at Power Line. Her nom de plume comes from being an enthusiastic target shooter, she's also a semi-pro comedienne. About her humor, she opines:
I try very hard to hit “center mass” every time. But, in life, as in target shooting, sometimes you spray and pray. 
Yep, college students once commented on my spray and pray lecturing style, albeit not in those exact words. BTW, non-shooters, "center mass" equals the lungs, heart, and guts area on a target's human silhouette or on a person.

Co-pilot Ill, Not Muslim

Reports have circulated on the web, attributed to a German reporter, that the suicidal co-pilot was Muslim. Reuters reports via Yahoo News the findings of German authorities:
They found no suicide note or confession, "nor was there any evidence of a political or religious background to what happened."
Instead, they claim to have found evidence that the co-pilot was suffering from, and being treated for, an unspecified illness which he was concealing from his employer. No official at this point is admitting what his illness might have been.

The illness likely was clinical depression from which he had suffered some years earlier. It is also likely that certain aviation people knew of his illness but said nothing out of a misguided "let's don't victimize the poor lad" political correctness. Result: 150 people died so his feelings weren't hurt.

Pilots are required to be physically healthy, and grounded if they are not. Mental health should be treated no differently. Covering up his depression is as bizarre, and deadly, as letting a known pedophile teach children or run an orphanage.

A Weak Reid

Politico reports Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has decided not to stand for reelection in 2016. Loosely quoting Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado,
We've had him on the list,
I'm sure he won't be missed.

An Unintended Consequence

Just over a month ago I examined the impact of the one child policy on the willingness of China's leaders to send troops to die in battle. I wrote that for China's military leaders:
Your enormous army is staffed almost exclusively with men who are what we call "only children," because the official one child policy was in effect in China for decades until recently.

Do you dare undertake elective military activities which put tens of thousands at risk of death or dismemberment? Each who is killed leaves his family with no progeny, no future.

China's leaders militarily feel their hands are tied by the unintended consequences of the one child policy.
I've been wondering when this would occur to one of the more visible pundits, and it has. Writing for The Week, Kyle Mizokami sees an impending conflict between Vietnam and neighbor China and notes the unlikelihood of ground conflict.
Any future war would likely be confined to air and sea. China, which in 1979 lost 9,000 ground troops in a month invading Vietnam, has little interest in a repeat scenario. China’s One Child Policy means that in the modern era, 9,000 Chinese killed in war produce 9,000 angry, childless families.
Kyle, I'm glad you agree.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Coded Sexism?

The Daily Caller has a story claiming some Hillary volunteers will be checking to be sure nobody uses 12 words or phrases with regard to their candidate. These supposedly represent "coded sexism," whatever that is. The 12 words/phrases are
over confident
will do anything to win
represents the past
out of touch
That list seems to be a pretty fair description of HRC. I'd add words like boring, lacking in accomplishments, and serially cheated upon - perhaps that's beating a dead horse.

Whoever runs for president has volunteered to be criticized. If anything and everything negative said about HRC is sexism, there will be no shortage of that commodity.

Soldiers for Hire

The Atlantic has an interview with Sean McFate, who was a mercenary with DynCorp Intl., is faculty at the National Defense University, and author of a recent book, The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order. 

A topic McFate manages to avoid, at least in the interview, is quasi-mercenary outfits like the French Foreign Legion, which are employed by a nationstate but are in fact soldiers for hire. A major role of our Green Berets is to recruit and train onsite proxy forces of indigenous troops or indigs to support U.S. aims.

For those interested in a fictional treatment of the subject of mercenaries, see the SF series concerning a future merc armor outfit called Hammer's Slammers, written by David Drake, mostly published by Baen Books. Or try Andre Norton's Star Guard, rereleased by Baen.

Police Shootings

A New York Times columnist whose work I rarely cite, Charles Blow, cites some interesting research findings which suggest black and white police officers are equally likely to shoot black folks, including those who appeared to be armed but later turn out to have been unarmed.

Blow's interpretation suggests why I seldom cite his work - he typically gets it spectacularly wrong, including this time. He asks us to believe that policing is prima facie unfair to minority communities, regardless of race of officer. How likely is that?

Regular readers will remember we wrote:
Cop killers are 44% white, 37% black, 11% Hispanic, the balance "other." Comparing population percentage to cop killer percentage, whites and Hispanics are underrepresented, blacks are very overrepresented in the cop killer group.

Can you imagine there are police in our fair land, regardless of race, who don't know these statistics by heart? No? Neither can I.
The correct interpretation of the data Blow cites is that police, regardless of race, have a realistic knowledge that blacks are more likely to shoot them. In the split second when it appears a weapon is being drawn, and shooting may save the officer's life, that knowledge influences perceptions and behavior, as it must.

The first step in reducing police shootings of unarmed individuals is to convince civilians not to shoot at the police.

A Game of Thrones

Turkish President Erdogan has taken note of Iran's expansionist activities across the region, according to a Reuters story on Yahoo News. He is quoted as saying:
Iran is trying to dominate the region. Could this be allowed? This has begun annoying us, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. This is really not tolerable and Iran has to see this.

Iran has to change its view. It has to withdraw any forces, whatever it has in Yemen, as well as Syria and Iraq and respect their territorial integrity
Erdogan fears Obama intends Iran to be the region's policeman, as Friedman noted yesterday in an NYT column we cited. It didn't take Erdogan long to react.

If Iran reconstitutes its former Persian empire, Turkey cannot reconstitute its former Ottoman empire. And a new-and-improved Ottoman empire is Erdogan's presumed long-term goal.

Scenario 2 Wins

USA Today reports French crash investigators have analyzed the Black Box recorders aboard Germanwings' crashed plane. Their findings support our Scenario 2 posted yesterday.

As we hypothesized, it appears the copilot intentionally crashed the aircraft after locking the pilot out of the cockpit. The copilot's motives are at present unknown.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Instapundit Glenn Reynolds cracks wise about Hillary's relationship with the press.
When Hillary said she wanted an “open relationship” what she really meant was that they would both screw other people. . . .
You only think that has something to do with sex, it doesn't. It refers to the way both Hillary and the press routinely treat other people.

A Locked-Out Pilot

The New York Times reports an investigator believes one of the Germanwings pilots was locked out of the cockpit prior to the crash. He is heard on the voice recorder slamming into the door and calling out to the other pilot, who does not respond. No Mayday radio call goes out.

I can think of at least two primary scenarios involving those facts which would explain the crash. Scenario 1 has several alternatives, depending on the cause of incapacitation. Here they are:

Scenario 1: Pilot A needs to use the restroom; pilot B locks the door behind him to prevent unauthorized access. Pilot A fully expects B to unlock the door when A knocks and identifies himself. At this point something incapacitates B so he is unconscious or dead - an aortic rupture, a heart attack, a seizure, cockpit depressurization - and B cannot unlock the door. B slumps forward against the wheel putting the plane's nose down leading to a crash.

Scenario 2: Pilot A needs to use the restroom; pilot B locks the door behind him to prevent unauthorized access. Pilot B has decided to commit suicide and executes a long, shallow power dive. Pilot A feels the nose inappropriately tilt down and tries to reenter the cockpit. Ignoring A's shouts and banging, pilot B holds his course and crashes.

I'm sure there are other possibilities.

Self-Defeating Behavior

An Associated Press story, carried by Yahoo News, reveals the following:
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive for five years by the Taliban, was charged Wednesday by the U.S. military with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy and could get life in prison if convicted.
His unit mates have been unwaveringly clear that he deserted. I can't be the only one who thinks it was idiotic to release five demonstrably bad terrorists in order to bring this loser home, only to try him and lock him up for life.

Justice would have been better served had we declared him, in absentia, a deserter and cancelled his passport. That would have left him to the tender mercies of the Taliban while continuing to corral the 5 terrorists in Gitmo.

WSJ: Greece As Object Lesson

See the snarky editorial comment of The Wall Street Journal about the Greek economic crisis, now coming rapidly to a head.
A euro exit would be a disaster for Greeks, who would be left holding devalued drachmas in a stagnant economy. Then again, Syriza and other anti-euro parties won more than 50% of January’s vote, and no party in Greece seems particularly invested in serious reform. So perhaps the Greeks deserve to get what they seem to want.

As for the rest of the eurozone, there’s a growing sense that the best purpose Greece could now serve is as a demonstration of the dangers of failing to make other economies competitive. You can never save someone from himself, but you can try to learn from a bad example.
"Perhaps the Greeks deserve to get what they seem to want." That's a paraphrase of COTTonLINE's current motto: "You should normally oblige someone who seeks martyrdom."

"Higher" Ed

Peter Augustine Lawler, writing for National Affairs, about the many problems in higher education.
Ordinary graduates of most of our secondary schools lack the basic competence required to enter the world of work, and schools now claim victory if they manage to successfully warehouse most of their students until they graduate.

We now expect college to provide the basic levels of competence that used to be the fairly reliable result of a high-school education. That's the main reason why jobs that used to be open to high-school graduates now require a college degree, and it's why more of what our non-selective colleges do now is oriented toward teaching fairly low-level techno-vocational skills.
Not only "bonehead" courses which don't count toward graduation, but also "pre-bonehead" courses for those not yet ready to handle bonehead. Much of this is driven by the institutional survival imperative of keeping seats filled in an era where "diversity" is an understated description of current high school graduates.

Trouble in the Oil Fields

National Journal reports there's been a big uptick in crime in the oil patch of North Dakota, where fracking has produced both oil and employment. It's no surprise.

We had the same thing happen in eastern Wyoming when considerable gas drilling was taking place there. It turns out roustabouts are a rough-and-tumble bunch, often away from their families, often working 12 hour shifts, inclined to settle disputes with their fists or a wrench, and prone to abuse alcohol and street methamphetamines.

Kissinger on Lee Kuan Yew

COTTonLINE believes Henry Kissinger has been the most far-sighted post-World War II thinker on international order. See what he writes for The Washington Post about the life of the founder of Singapore as a nation: Lee Kuan Yew.

What strikes me in Kissinger's remembrance is Lee's insistence on the key role of the U.S. in maintaining world peace. I wish I had confidence our President understood that role, I fear he finds it repugnant, even neocolonial.

Friedman Echoes COTTonLINE

Recollect I wrote two weeks ago that perhaps the Arabs need a "nanny" because they seem incapable of meaningful self-government. And I suggested Iran or Turkey as possible regional providers of adult supervision.

Today's column by The New York Times' Tom Friedman echoes that thought and his suggestion is ... wait for it ... Iran. See what he writes:
If this nuclear deal with Iran is finalized, and sanctions lifted, much more Iranian oil will hit the global market, suppressing prices and benefiting global consumers. Then again, Iran would have billions of dollars more to spend on cyberwarfare, long-range ballistic missiles and projecting power across the Arab world. (emphasis added)

Do we really care if Iran tries to play policeman there and is embroiled in endless struggles with Sunni militias?  For 10 years, it was America that was overstretched across Iraq and Afghanistan. Now it will be Iran’s turn.

Managing the decline of the Arab state system is not a problem we should own. We’ve amply proved that we don’t know how.
As long as we are okay with Iran squashing Israel like a bug, the rest of Tom's program sounds great. There'd need to be ironclad safeguards in place to keep Israel safe.

Analyzing the President

Mike Konrad writes a description of the Obama phenomenon for American Thinker. Hat tip to Lucianne.com for the link. Let me share some choice morsels with you:
President Obama is a benighted leftist who actually thinks that, if given a free chance, everyone everywhere would choose a gay friendly, animal loving, socialist world view that by means of democracy would lead the whole planet to a palm fronded halcyon multicultural eco-friendly paradise.

Obama believes the fallacy that all ultra-reformers believe in. The perfectibility of man. If given the right education, the right worldview, the right morality, we would all get along. It is the signature error of all revolutions gone awry.

Our American founding fathers succeeded precisely because they did not seek to recreate man, but through a series of checks and balances, merely contain his darker nature. A more limited view of government.
Like alchemists attempting to transmute lead to gold, revolutionaries keep trying to turn humans into saints with uniformly poor results. We humans are the planet's top predator ... the killer ape ... our "darker nature" needs containing.

Yemen Update

The Associated Press reports Yemeni President Hadi and his staff have fled the country, in two boats from the southern port of Aden. You'd suppose that meant the civil war with the Houthis was over.

Such conclusions may be premature. Expect the region's Sunni powers to organize a relief expedition, perhaps even send troops.

The AP story includes a detail missing from earlier stories. Namely, that elements of the Yemeni military, loyal to former ruling strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, have joined the Houthis.

With every passing day Yemen becomes more a chaotic battle of warlords.

A Similar Situation

I've been wondering when this would happen. Hispanic American citizens are beginning to demand immigration laws be enforced. See the story at MyFoxHouston, hat tip to Drudge Report for the link.

I grew up living in a SoCal orange orchard across the street from a Mexican-American family named Lopez. They were solid citizens, had a nice place, worked hard, and were good neighbors.

The Lopez family had as little in common with the braceros who picked our oranges as long-time Californians had with the Okies who fled the 1930s dustbowl. I can believe them resenting waves of dirt-poor illegals overrunning the region, exactly as the Okies were resented decades earlier.

Wage Stagnation

Megan McArdle writes for Bloomberg View about wage stagnation - its causes and lack of cures. Most articles on this topic are either (a) simplistic to the point of idiocy, or (b) complex enough to glaze the eyes of readers. Economists are normally guilty of (b).

Refreshingly, McArdle strikes a readable middle ground. She points out why the sad fate of most private sector unions is not the cause of wage flatlining. She also gives plenty of credit to competition from overseas and automation. And finally, she reminds us just how mind-rotting and awful those high-paying assembly line jobs were.

A factor she doesn't mention is the millions of illegal immigrants seeking, for the most part, unskilled work. Simple microeconomics tells us that as labor supply increases, wages decrease if demand is relatively constant, as it has been.

McArdle gives essentially no solutions to the wage stagnation problem, because there are no society-wide answers. However, some talented individuals may be able to improve their own personal outcomes via education, hard work, and luck.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Another Regional Proxy War

Michael Totten writes for World Affairs Journal, most often about the Middle East. Today his focus is Yemen, about which we blogged very early this morning. His view is as dim as our own.
Far more likely than a comprehensive Houthi takeover is a new and more dangerous phase of Yemen's endless self-cannibalization—more dangerous because this otherwise parochial and irrelevant conflict has been internationalized, with ISIS, the Saudis, and Iran squaring off against each other in yet another regional proxy war.

Yemen's conflict is tribal, sectarian, and political at the same time, and it's becoming increasingly internationalized even as the US is leaving.

Yemen may well turn into the Iraq or Syria—take your pick—of the Arabian Peninsula. All the US can really do at this point is watch in horror as the Middle East continues to chew its own leg off and malefactors with global ambitions thrive in the chaos.
Hat tip to RealClearPolitics for the link.

Political Humor Alert

Marc A. Thiessen, writing opinion for The Washington Post, about the Energizer bunnies of American politics, Bill and Hillary.
The Clintons are like the “Peanuts” character Pigpen — wherever they go, it seems, their own private dust storm follows. Now Hillary Clinton is enveloped in the cloud of scandal again — and based on her performance so far, it appears she has the same penchant for scandal as her husband, but without the political talent to overcome it.
That's fair and balanced: a fair appraisal balancing his Teflon™with her lack thereof.

Channeling a Hapless Peanut Farmer

The attractively named Myron Magnet (pun intended), leads off a City Journal article with this apt comparison.
For all their differences, President Barack Obama uncannily resembles his Democratic predecessor, President Jimmy Carter, in his stiff-necked, self-righteous inability to listen to others or to learn from experience or history. Against ferocious opposition at home and abroad, he is about to repeat the grievous mistake of appeasing Iran that Carter made over three decades ago and do even more geopolitical damage than the hapless peanut farmer wreaked in 1979.
I hope we have a superhero waiting in the wings to bail us out, as Ronald Reagan did following the Carter debacle. Putting the nuclear genie back in the bottle may not be possible this side of Armageddon.

Winning the GOP Primary

C. Edmund Wright writes in The American Thinker about what it takes to become the GOP presidential nominee.
The most critical Republican primary, at least for non-establishment candidates, is the Rush Limbaugh-Drudge Report-Breitbart-Mark Levin-Sean Hannity-Glenn Beck internet message board primary.  For a conservative base candidate to win the nomination, he or she must carry most of the above precincts.

The some 30-40 million people who make up those combined audiences and readerships will be impacted and educated by these venues.

It is critical to win this primary, because those are the voters who turn out for non-establishment candidates in primaries. They just are.

This “primary” matters. A lot. Jeb might be able to win without it (though I doubt it), but no one else can.
Two thoughts: Jeb won't get much positive coverage in that enthusiast venue. And we do our small part at COTTonLINE, too.

X-Files Redux

You know the adage, attributed to Thomas Wolfe, "You can't go home again?" A possible exception to the rule has just been announced.

The Hollywood Reporter carries a story about a revival of The X-Files with the original two leads, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson playing Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Neither has had a particularly strong career after leaving that show. The X-Files's creator Chris Carter will also be associated with the revival.

Only six new episodes have been approved, anybody wanna bet there could be more if ratings are strong? A premiere date has not yet been announced. The truth is still out there....

Nuclear Treaty Back Story

President Obama was royally P.O.'ed at Prime Minister Netanyahu for talking to Congress about the nuclear deal being negotiated with Iran. Now The Wall Street Journal has the back story, the reason for the angst, unfortunately their article is behind a paywall.

Fortunately Legal Insurrection has the text of much of the WSJ story on its freely available site. I invite you to go there and read it.

It turns out Israel was spying on the talks, to which they are not a party. Israel determined Obama was willing to give away what was, in their opinion, too much to the Iranians, to make a deal with insufficient safeguards lasting too little time.

What really ticked off Obama was the Israelis shared this covert information with the U.S. Congress! Shock ... horror ... security breach ... Congress is where the real enemies live. Not in Tehran, Moscow or Beijing, nor even Pyongyang or Caracas; the real enemies are in Congress just a mile away from the White House.

The response of Congress has been a letter signed by a veto-proof group of 367 bipartisan House members. CNN reports they wrote:
Should an agreement with Iran be reached, permanent sanctions relief from congressionally-mandated sanctions would require new legislation. In reviewing such an agreement, Congress must be convinced that its terms foreclose any pathway to a bomb, and only then will Congress be able to consider permanent sanctions relief.
Translation: No effective treaty without our approval, which probably means no treaty Iran could agree to, result: no treaty.


The Washington Post reports White House head florist Laura Dowling was let go and escorted from the building last month. Nobody seems to know why. Let me start two rumors.

Rumor 1: Wouldn't a florist be perfectly placed to plant tiny microphones attached to tiny burst transmitters or recorders to vacuum up White House gossip? I don't imagine the Secret Service pawing through floral displays looking for wires.

We aren't talking classified information so much as minion A dishing on minion B or on Michelle. National Inquirer would love it. So would the Post's Chris Cillizza for his Washington gossip blog, The Fix.

Rumor 2: It appears Michelle gave Dowling the axe. Perhaps POTUS was finding Dowling's company (or whatever) congenial and vice versa, a la Missy LeHand or Monica Lewinsky. Power is an amazing lure to some women.

The Natives Are Restless

I always loved the campy lines from cheesy old Hollywood jungle movies. "The natives are restless" and "I don't like it, it's too quiet" being prime examples, always delivered with great gravity. Hence the headline.

The above photo was taken by friend Earl's stepdaughter and her husband. They were driving north on I-75 in Florida, somewhere south of Georgia. Earl assures me the photo is not copyrighted.

The First Amendment is a wonderful thing. There are too many countries in the world where doing this could get you shot or "disappeared" into a gulag. We are fortunate the U.S. isn't one of them.

Descent into Chaos

A Reuters story on Yahoo News describes Sunni forces loyal to displaced-if-not-deposed President Hadi fighting back against Shia Houthi forces in the 100 miles between Sanaa and Aden. As noted earlier, Yemen has become a new front in the holy war between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Yemen may descend into the Hobbesian state of nature which characterized nearby Somalia for years. Regional sponsors provide support to local warlords  - Shia Iran backs the Houthis while the Sunni Gulf States and Saudis back Hadi.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Quote of the Day

P. J. O'Rourke, writing for The Daily Beast about how he misses the late John Hughes.
John and I never bothered to talk much about our politics. What we did talk about was the 20th century’s dominant scrambled egghead bien pensant buttinski parlor pinko righty-tighty lefty-loosey nutfudge notion that middle-class American culture was junk, that middle-class Americans were passive dimbulbs, that America itself was a flop and that America’s suburbs were a living hell almost beyond the power of John Cheever’s words to describe.
Heck, yes, you guys talked politics. Hating the middle class, the suburbs, and the existing culture are very much identified with one party, and it ain't the GOP.

Realism Needed

Newsweek reports the results of a study of the characteristics of cop killers, from the journal Violence and Gender. Non-Hispanic whites are 63% of our populace, Hispanics are 17%, blacks are 12.3%, the balance are Asian, native American, Pacific islander, or mixed race, according to NBC News.

Cop killers are 44% white, 37% black, 11% Hispanic, the balance "other." Comparing population percentage to cop killer percentage, whites and Hispanics are underrepresented, blacks are very overrepresented in the cop killer group.

Can you imagine there are police in our fair land, regardless of race, who don't know these statistics by heart? No? Neither can I. 

Understanding this reality, can you blame police for being extra-wary in the presence of African-Americans? I can't. It is, however, no excuse for violating anyone's civil rights or being abusive.

The Boys from Argentina?

The Telegraph (U.K.) reports Argentine archeologists have found the remains of a secret Nazi lair constructed in the jungle very near the Paraguayan border. The article includes a photo.

Apparently the facility was never used, as lower-level Nazis were able to live openly in Argentina courtesy of Juan Peron. Higher-ups who didn't suicide were caught in Europe, tried at Nuremberg and either hung or imprisoned.

Review: Demolition Man

The other DrC and I just finished rewatching a classic 1993 Sylvester Stallone film, Demolition Man. DVR'ed off Starz, it is a cross between a Rambo shoot-'em-up and Fifth Element.

In addition to Stallone, it also stars Wesley Snipes and Sandra Bulloch. Sly looks young, fit, and doesn't sneer much. Ms. Bulloch never looked prettier and she's funny, too. Snipe has 'way too much fun playing Simon Phoenix, the arch-villain.

Demo Man is played for laughs, and mindless violence too, but as a fine-grained imagining of where our society might evolve given a series of calamities, there aren't many better. This is the film where all restaurants are Taco Bells, the hit music is late 20th century singing commercials, and prisoners are put into cryostorage. Oh, yeah, and people no longer exchange bodily fluids sexually or otherwise.

I'd forgotten how much fun Demolition Man is to watch; as light-hearted SF it resembles Fifth Element. DM is a good way to spend 2 hours.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Jews and the GOP

Blogging for The Washington Post, Ed Rogers asks this question:
Why don't Republicans get more Jewish votes?
It is certainly a good question, but I notice that he has no very good answer for that question. I am no expert, having discussed this issue with exactly one good Jewish friend. Nevertheless, one data point is one better than none.

My friend says the thing about the Republican Party that scares the crap out of him is the party's embrace of evangelical Christians. I say to him, yeah, but those are very strong supporters of Israel. He replies, support for Israel doesn't matter, evangelicals' level of true belief can bleed over into a pogrom quicker than a wink. His reaction is visceral, not logical, and I think he knows and is comfortable with that.

As I muse about the issue, as an admitted outsider, I wonder if the Democrats' current incarnation as the defender of victim groups appeals to a people who've spent the last two thousand years being, as often as not, victims. In all candor, the GOP is not victim-friendly. It tends to be the party of the successful, the comfortable, the insiders, those happy with the status quo.

Lee Kuan Yew, Dead at 91

COTTonLINE pauses to memorialize the passing of Lee Kuan Yew, the father of Singapore. See a Reuters story at Yahoo News for details. Mr. Lee was 91, and had been out of the limelight in recent years.

I think most Singaporeans would privately describe him in terms Americans are taught cannot be real, as a truly benevolent autocrat. His Singapore is an amazing success story, a city state without peer. Most of the credit goes to Mr. Lee.

Singapore has ignored squishy sentiment in favor of what works for the people who matter, the hard-working, fun-loving majority who behave themselves. His Singapore wasn't a place for screw-ups and losers, his patience didn't extend to them. Deal drugs, get dead. Do graffiti, get caned. Mess up your government apartment, get evicted. Seek victim status, emigrate.

Not that they would admit it, but I believe the leaders of China have seen Singapore as the model they hope to emulate, if possible.

Cute Critters Discovered

National Geographic has photos of two newly discovered critters with faces that resemble teddy bears. The first is the 8" Chinese pica called an "Ili," you can view its mug shot here. Pikas are short-eared relations of rabbits and hares.

The second little guy lives in the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador and is the first new carnivore find in the western hemisphere in 30 years. It is called an "olinguito," weighs 2 pounds, and is the smallest known relative of the raccoon. See its photo here.

Both of these cute little fellows live at altitude, the olinguito above 5000 feet and the Ili lives above 9000 feet. If the Ili is like most picas, it holes up under the snow for the winter, feeding on carefully gathered little "haystacks" of grasses and other plant matter.

Weird Pheromone Science

The Washington Post's Morning Mix blog reported a study of human odors and political leanings done by a Brown University political scientist. It turns out in a double blind study, conservatives prefer the smell of other conservatives, and liberals prefer the smell of other liberals.

Conclusion: our sense of smell leads us to marry a person whose politics resemble our own. Nobody claims it is the only factor involved in attraction, but it is clearly one factor among several.

N.B., Please stifle wisecracks about infrequent bathing among liberals. That doesn't appear to have been a factor in this experiment, and it is so 1970.

Greece's Clientalist Model

David Patrikarakos of The Daily Beast reports that Stathis Kalyvas, professor of political science at Yale.
Identified a recurrent pattern in modern Greek history: namely, the country’s ability to engage in vastly ambitious projects that are beyond its capacity, that receive international attention out of proportion to its actual size, and that invariably fail.
Kalyvas' pattern looked fine until we reached the third part about failure. If you would understand the underlying Greek problem, know first that Communism/Socialism was popular in Greece at the end of World War II. Their anti-German resistance had been supported by Soviet agents.

President Truman stepped in with Marshall Plan money and military assistance to ensure the Reds didn't win control of Greece. This left a lot of leftists unhappy. Patrikarakos explains how the government dealt with this unhappiness.
(It) began in 1974 when Greeks rose up to overthrow the governing military junta that had been in power since 1967. The transition to democracy was peaceful but the price was the establishment of a clientalist political model, specifically the establishment of a welfare state designed to compensate those on the left who had lost under the 1946-49 civil war between the Greek army and communist forces, and then suffered under the junta.

“The civil service expanded and unions became hugely powerful,” says Dimitar Bechev, visiting fellow at the European Institute and the London School of Economics. “The other side of the bargain was that those who voted for the center right in Greece, the bourgeoisie and professionals, benefitted from a lax governmental approach to collecting taxes.”
Wow! Clients on both the left and the right, how can they lose? Answer: a chronic lack of tax receipts means they cannot afford to keep paying civil servants and other recipients of government largess, the Greek dilemma in a nutshell.

Your basic Greek is happy with the government giving stuff to people as long as he or she doesn't have to pay the taxes to support it. As Margaret Thatcher said of socialists,
They always run out of other people's money. It's quite a characteristic of them.

Down Memory Lane

A BBC article about chewing betel nut takes me back three decades to when the DrsC were visiting faculty at the University of Guam. Our students from Guam didn't tend to chew, but the kids from the out islands of Micronesia - CNMI, FSM, Palau, or the Marshalls - often did.

You'd see them carrying to class an empty soda can into which to spit. Our old buildings were two story with an open deck being the access to the upstairs classrooms. Between classes chewers tended to spit over the side and, quite unintentionally, "decorate" the head and shoulders of students or faculty walking out of classrooms below.

To forestall this practice, there were signs forbidding spitting attached to palm trunks at 2nd floor eye level next to the deck. Out-island kids resented these signs, seeing them as a sign of discrimination directed against them. These were the same youngsters whose toes were so splayed from going barefoot that rubber flip-flops were the only footwear they could possibly wear.

From whatever island, our UOG students were a nice group, polite and respectful. Their attitudes toward professors were more Asian than American, very easy to like.

The campus is today labeled a tobacco and betel free zone. The old, tropical-style buildings have been replaced with modern, enclosed air conditioned ones - more comfortable but less picturesque.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Are Sentences Too Long?

The above title doesn't relate to compositional style. Writing for The Marshall Project, Dana Goldstein asks two provocative questions. Is there any real purpose to be served in keeping elderly men in prison, because decades ago they received a life sentence? Do older prisoners commit additional crimes, if released? She believes the answer to both questions is "rarely." Hat tip to RealClearPolicy for the link.
Research by American social scientists shows that all but the most exceptional criminals, even violent ones, mature out of lawbreaking before middle age, meaning that long sentences do little to prevent crime.

And criminal careers do not last very long. Research by the criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon and colleagues has found that for the eight serious crimes closely tracked by the F.B.I. — murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, arson and car theft — five to 10 years is the typical duration that adults commit these crimes, as measured by arrests.

Property criminals, like burglars and car thieves, tend to stop in their 20s, while violent criminals are more likely to continue into their early 30s. Drug-crime careers can be lengthier, stretching into the mid-30s.
Given the enormous cost to incarcerate, and chronically overcrowded prisons, these are thoughts worth pondering. However, since we closed our mental asylums, prisons have become places to warehouse the mad as well as the bad.

South Africa Leadership Vacuum

The Council on Foreign Relations' John Campbell writes about the shortcomings of South Africa's President, Jacob Zuma. It appears possible that he will eventually be repudiated by his party, the ruling African National Congress, as his predecessor Mbeki was.

Sadly, giants of the stature of Nelson Mandela are not to be found in today's South Africa. It more and more comes to resemble the region's other post-colonial fever swamps.

Wise Words on Water

The Los Angeles Times reports the comments of a California official involved with water policy. Ted Thomas, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources, seems measured and sensible.
We have been in multiyear droughts and extended dry periods a number of times in the past, and we will be in the future. In periods like this there will be shortages, of course, but the state as a whole is not going to run dry in a year or two years.
The illustrative photo of a greatly depleted reservoir - with houseboats moored in what remains of the lake - appears to be of the Lime Saddle arm of Lake Oroville, a reservoir on the Feather River. Being this low is by no means unusual for Lake Oroville, unfortunately.

Drought is no stranger to the Golden State, it is more the rule than the exception. It is quite rare when any significant rain falls between the end of May and the end of October. November through May doesn't see much rain either. Many places claim an annual average of 18 inches, but often get 10-12.

Here is environmental heresy: CA should dam every Sierra canyon with significant runoff, as well as many in the Coast Range, and let much less water run into the ocean. While we're at it, we should generate hydroelectric power at those mountain reservoirs when we tap them for drinking and agriculture water.

Oswald's Mexican "Vacation"

All those decades ago, the Warren Commission's report on the Kennedy assassination - which concluded Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone - didn't pass the smell test. It never stilled the conspiracy theorists' tinfoil hat musings.

Now, Politico has a story about Oswald's visit to the Soviet and Cuban embassies in Mexico City, prior to taking up a job at the Texas Book Depository. It is hard to believe someone at one of those two missions didn't encourage Oswald's David vs. Goliath fantasies of bringing down an American President, even if they didn't believe he'd succeed. What did they have to lose?

With a Russian wife and pro-Castro sympathies, it is easy to imagine Oswald getting deeply covert assistance and being left to face the music once the deed was done. The real question is what U.S. covert arrangements were at risk of exposure if Oswald's Mexican sojourn had been probed at the time? Did we have an asset at one or both of those embassies?

In some ways it would be more satisfying to view JFK's murder as yet another casualty of the not-always-Cold War. Others fallen in that war include the many dead from Korea and Vietnam.

Once More, Assortative Mating

Writing for The Washington Post, George Will weighs in on the topic of assortative mating, the tendency for people to marry those with similar educations and upbringing. Complicating this trend is the recent tendency for fewer males than females to graduate from college.

Graduate gender disparity is greater for some groups than others, particularly for African-Americans and Hispanics as noted by the Pew Center. There is little disparity among Asians. Will does not comment upon group differences..

A future topic about which liberals and conservatives will dramatically disagree is the extent to which government should attempt to remedy group shortfalls arising out of differential assortative mating. That is, to what extent are differential group outcomes tolerable as the results of group cultural differences, of choices made and lived with? I predict conservatives will be much more comfortable therewith.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Own a Flamethrower

Have you ever dreamed of owning your very own personal flame thrower? It apparently is lawful in all states except California. What a hoot!

See the story at Engadget. The XM42 could be yours for $700, and it throws flame for 25 feet. Hat tip to RealClearDefense for the link.

Spring Has Sprung

COTTonLINE joins our readers in welcoming official spring to the northern hemisphere. Today marks the spring or vernal equinox, the day when day and night are of equal length.

In CA we've had spring weather for a month and a half. Our region of inland northern California does long springs and summers, short falls and winters.

Most years our fall lasts two months - October and November - while winter also lasts about two months - December and January. Each of the other seasons runs about 120 days.

Spring is basically February through May and summer is June through September. You wouldn't like this area's air conditioning bills, the heating bills are easy.

Jackie Mason Snark

The long-time Jewish comedian Jackie Mason riffs on President Obama's biases, as reported in The Daily Mail (U.K.).
I'm not saying he is on the side of the people who literally want to wipe us out. But if he's not on their side, it's certainly hard to tell which side he's on.

Holy War Opens Southern Front

The very uncivil war between Sunni and Shia Muslims, raging in Iraq and Syria, has a new front in Yemen. Reuters reports via Yahoo News that suicide bombers have killed 126 people at two mosques in Sanaa, Yemen's capital. Twice that number were wounded.

These are mosques frequented by Shia Houthi rebels who booted the government out of Sanaa recently. The militant Islamic State based in Syria/Iraq claimed responsibility. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula could also have carried out the attacks.

Yemem has Shia in the north, near Sanaa and Sunni in the south around Aden. Iran backs the Houthi, the Gulf Emirates and Saudis back the Sunnis. To give you a flavor of the feelings there, here is what the Islamic State warned:
"Let the polytheist Houthis know that the soldiers of the Islamic State will not rest and will not stay still until they extirpate them," the group said in a statement posted by supporters on Twitter. "God willing, this operation is only a part of the coming flood."
"Polytheist" is a very ugly insult to Muslims, who daily pray "there is no god but god." Allowing for the florid, over-the-top style in which Arabic is routinely constructed - Saddam's "mother of all battles" being a rout - those are still fighting words.

Agence France-Presse, aka AFP, reports via Yahoo News a few more killed, at 142, and includes details Reuters omits.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Belated St. Patrick's Day Quote

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, speaking in reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy, as quoted in Wikipedia.
I don't think there's any point in being Irish if you don't know that the world is going to break your heart eventually.

Denial More Than a River

The Washington Post's David Ignatius writes about the renewal of the Cold War in Europe. As he notes, Russia is up to all the old tricks and some new ones like the "hybrid warfare" practiced in Ukraine. He concludes:
It’s back to the future in Putin’s Europe. But the muscle memory of deterrence seems to have atrophied. It has been so long since NATO was really tested that alliance members may have forgotten what collective self-defense really means.
Meanwhile, our President reacts to Putin's adventurism the way Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge reacted to Harry Potter's reports of Lord Voldemort's return. Like Voldemort, Putin will take advantage of Obama's preference for ignoring provocation. Denial is more than a river in Egypt.

Class Differences in Unplanned Pregnancy

Demographer Kay S. Hymowitz writes for RealClearPolicy about the class gap in unplanned babies. She identifies the basic question in her opening sentence:
Are the poor victims of an unjust economy or of self-destructive cultural norms?
Then she summarizes the research findings:
Despite their hardship, disadvantaged women still have far more abortions than better-off women; poor and low-income women get close to 70 percent of all abortions.

Affluent women are more likely to terminate a particular unplanned pregnancy, but because poor women become pregnant at far higher rates, they have more abortions overall. Moreover, about half of all women getting abortions have had at least one previously; many if not most of them are low income.

Fertility rates declined across the board between 2008 and 2011, but they dropped markedly more among high-school dropouts, who are generally the poorest of the poor. The least educated women experienced a dramatic 17 percent drop in fertility. That's compared to 1 percent among women with a BA or more. Note also that between the recessionary years of 2008 and 2011, the abortion rate declined 13 percent. In this case, poor women were able to avoid pregnancies because of hardship, not in spite of it. This is precisely the opposite of what the structural theory would predict.
Hymowitz cites a study:
"Since unintended childbearing is associated with higher rates of poverty," the Brookings authors write, "less family stability, and worse outcomes for children, these gaps further entrench inequality ... to close the gaps, we must first understand them."
About the need to understand unplanned pregnancy, she concludes:
They're right. But we’ll need to move beyond economic theories to do that.
Hymowitz sees class-based cultural differences at work, more so than poverty.

Friedman's Ruined Day

As often noted here, The New York Times' Tom Friedman is worth reading when his topic is the Middle East. Today he writes about that benighted region and, as is typical, says things worth your attention.

Friedman's basic thesis is that the West tends to talk about the Middle East in terms of what we hope or wish were true there, instead of what is actually happening. He trots out three examples of this beginning with Israel where Obama, Kerry & Co. keep pushing for a two-state solution.
The fact is a good half of Israel identifies with the paranoid, everyone-is-against-us, and religious-nationalist tropes Netanyahu deployed in this campaign. That, along with the fact that some 350,000 settlers are now living in the West Bank, makes it hard to see how a viable two-state solution is possible anymore no matter who would have won.
Next he points out how we misread Iran.
In the brutal Middle East, the only thing that gets anyone’s attention is the threat of regime-toppling force. Obama has no such leverage on Iran.

Geopolitics is all about leverage, and we are negotiating with Iran without the leverage of a credible threat of force. The ayatollahs know it. Under those circumstances, I am sure the Obama team will try to get the best deal it can. But a really good deal isn’t on the menu.
A bad deal is worse than no deal, because it obscures the ugly reality. Finally, Friedman turns to ISIS and voices some heretical thoughts.
Why are we, for the third time since 9/11, fighting a war on behalf of Iran? In 2002, we destroyed Iran’s main Sunni foe in Afghanistan (the Taliban regime). In 2003, we destroyed Iran’s main Sunni foe in the Arab world (Saddam Hussein).

ISIS, with all its awfulness, emerged as the homegrown Sunni Arab response to this crushing defeat of Sunni Arabism — mixing old pro-Saddam Baathists with medieval Sunni religious fanatics with a collection of ideologues, misfits and adventure-seekers from around the Sunni Muslim world.

Why is it in our interest to destroy the last Sunni bulwark to a total Iranian takeover of Iraq?
This last suggests we should ease up on ISIS because it is a more immediate threat to the ambitions of Iran than to the West. If, during World War II we could make common cause with Stalin - arguably a worse butcher than Hitler - degrading ISIS doesn't seem quite so pressing.

At COTTonLINE we've argued that it is in our interest to allow the peoples of the region to remain at each other's throats, fighting to a bloody standoff and destroying each other in the process. That is realpolitik.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Blue and Green Day

COTTonLINE pauses to wish all readers a happy and (relatively) sober St. Patrick's Day. In our corner of northern California, it has been a warm, beautiful green and blue day - green hillsides and blue skies - absolute shirtsleeves weather of the sort St. Paddy would have seldom experienced in Ireland, even in summer.

Here is a piece of St. Patrick's Day trivia. The university at which the other DrC and I professed for all those years got tired of its students drinking themselves to death, or nearly so, and switched their spring break (formerly Easter vacation) so it always is the March week that includes the 17th.

Now if one of our students drinks him or herself to death while honoring St. Paddy, they've done it on their own or their parents' time, not on the university's watch. As you can imagine, the local bars are not amused.

Good News, Sort of...

Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has claimed victory in the election just held in that nation. If true, it is good news. It is also a repudiation of President Obama, one of whose minions was in Israel working for the main opposition party.

The money quote comes from a Reuters article on the CNBC website, it concerns elections among the argumentative citizens of that tiny state.
No party has ever won an outright majority in Israel's 67-year history, and it may be weeks before the country has a new government.
Of what does Bibi's "victory" consist? Winning an estimated 30 seats in a 120 seat parliament called the Knesset. Imagine how divided Israel is when the winning party can only garner 25% of the votes cast - every other party got an even smaller slice of the pie.


Israel and the U.S. do party politics in opposite fashions. We do "big tent" politics with only two meaningful parties whereas in Israel there is a separate party for almost every possible combination of voter preferences, so the "tents" tend to be quite narrow. The Jerusalem Post reports ten parties will earn enough votes to place four or more members in the Knesset.

In the U.S. many voters find there are policy planks in their own party's platform with which they disagree. Example: union member blue collar Democrats hate their President's immigration policies. Not all Republicans are pro-life. A big tent party cannot completely please most of its voters. We vote for the party that is, on balance, less offensive to us.

In Israel, people probably can find a party with which they agree. However, that means the party often represents less than 10% of the citizenry.

All Israeli governments are coalitions of competing interests, the seats of several parties cobbled together to form a slender majority. Such governments can be fragile, if a needed action offends a coalition member party and it withdraws.


India produces many more STEM graduates than their economy requires. The Hill writes about a practice at Southern California Edison, the electric provider for SoCal, of requiring IT employees to train their foreign replacements. 

Those replacements come here from India, are taught by the people whose jobs they will fill, and sent back to India to perform the jobs. Thereafter the Americans whose jobs have been outsourced to India are laid off. SCE's motive is simple, salary costs for Indian IT workers are roughly half those for Americans. 

Lest you think this an isolated occurrence, it happened to my nephew who worked in IT for the credit card firm Visa. Visa, at least, paid him a large bonus to train his replacement. Far from isolated, it appears to be a commonplace in IT.

If our jobs go overseas, from whence will come the paychecks to enable Americans to buy life's necessities and pleasures? Congress should not allow the H1-B visa to be used to train foreign replacements for American workers. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

An Exit Line

Concerning the dilemma posed by impending election of a large Scottish National Party bloc to the U.K.'s parliament, Bloomberg View's Clive Crook concludes federalism won't work for the U.K.:
In the end, Scots must get comfortable with being a small piece of a medium-sized nation -- or else go it alone.
I'm not certain I agree. Why couldn't the U.K. have the equivalents of our states, of which Scotland would be one, Wales another, Northern Ireland a third. The question would be, into how many subunits should what remains (England?) be divided? Cornwall? The Midlands?

The national parliament would legislate on defense, foreign affairs, fiscal and monetary matters. The "state" parliaments would decide state-level things like education, welfare, health care. I can imagine a design in which the same MPs serve at both levels, meeting locally to decide "state" matters and jointly to decide national matters.

On Eric Holder

Linda Chavez writes for the NewYork Post a reaction to the shooting of two police in Ferguson, MO. I like her characterization of Attorney General Eric Holder:
The most divisive attorney general since Richard Nixon's John Mitchell, Holder has fanned the flames of racial grievance for most of his tenure.
Always, the boss is responsible for a lackey's misdeeds. Holder was the mouthpiece for the President's racial animus, so Barry O. could appear above the fray.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Blame the Culture, Not the Economy

The New York Times' Ross Douthat writes about the blame our culture must take for the dysfunction of our less educated and less affluent. He opines:
In a substantially poorer American past with a much thinner safety net, lower-income Americans found a way to cultivate monogamy, fidelity, sobriety and thrift to an extent that they have not in our richer, higher-spending present.

Our upper class should be judged first — for being too solipsistic to recognize that its present ideal of “safe” permissiveness works (sort of) only for the privileged, and for failing to take any moral responsibility (in the schools it runs, the mass entertainments it produces, the social agenda it favors) for the effects of permissiveness on the less-savvy, the less protected, the kids who don’t have helicopter parents turning off the television or firewalling the porn.
It's clear our society needs to be more judgmental - less laissez faire - than it has become in recent years.

Politics in the UK

The Brits have an election scheduled for May. Polls indicate neither Labor nor the Conservatives will get a majority in Parliament.

If you've been following politics in Britain, you know there's a newish party - UKIP - that wants Britain out of the EU. The United Kingdom Independence Party has shown recent strength and is expected to win several seats.

The Telegraph reports UKIP's leader - Nigel Farage - is ready to form common cause with the Conservatives if they will agree to an honest December, 2015, referendum on the UK leaving the EU. He won't join a coalition government but will cast UKIP votes to support the Tory budget and perhaps a few other key bills.

Over the next couple of months, this will be an interesting race to watch. A December referendum, if it happens, will be even more mesmerizing.

Greek Update

Have you been wondering what's happening with the Greek financial crisis? Spiegel (Ger.) has an English-language update on the machinations between Germany and the EU concerning how hard to lean on Greece.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants the Greeks to get serious about cutting expenditures and collecting taxes, neither popular in that country. On the other hand, EU President Juncker refuses to consider the Greeks leaving the EU or the euro zone.

The story is one of conflict between Berlin and Brussels. The Greeks seem almost bystanders in the debacle.

Hillary Snark

National Review's Kevin D. Williamson takes his own shot at Hillary Clinton in this, the week of her discontent. It's cold, brutal snark.
She is not a very good politician or calculator, as Barack Obama could tell you with a self-satisfied smirk.
And aren't we tired of his smirk? Williamson ropes Hillary into a category - monster - in which he includes Richard Nixon and the Marquis de Sade. It's a rough neighborhood.

Weird Dietary Science

Canadian Margaret Wente writes for The Globe and Mail about new findings in dietary science.
It turns out that for most people, the cholesterol in the food you eat has little or no connection to the cholesterol in your blood, or to heart disease either.

Last month, in an epic climbdown, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advice Committee, whose guidelines influence millions of people, finally dropped its recommendation to restrict cholesterol. “Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption,” it said. So go ahead – eat all the eggs you want.

Over the past 30 years, we’ve replaced “bad” foods like red meat, milk, eggs and butter with grains, pasta, starchy vegetables and refined carbohydrates laced with sugar. These foods turn out to be even worse. They’re the reason that rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease are soaring. In other words, the diet advice we’ve been force-fed all our lives has actually made us fatter and sicker.
That's red meat for the irony aficionados among you.

Behavior Not ­Indictable Is Acceptable.

The New York Post's Michael Goodwin unloads on the Clintons - Bill and Hill.
Proper behavior and the Clintons are oil and water. These are the people who tried to steal furniture from the White House.

They have spent a lifetime parsing words, splitting hairs and cutting corners in pursuit of power. In their world, any behavior not ­indictable is acceptable.

Like a political Bonnie and Clyde, their notoriety spawned a generation of pols who aspire to be just like them.

The Clintons personify the cultural rot.
Don't hold back, Michael. Tell us what you really feel. Hat tip to Lucianne.com for the link.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Confusing Cause and Effect

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds, blogging in 2010 on the topic of how the government invariably does the wrong thing in trying to help the poor.
The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people.

But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.
It leads to home ownership bubbles like that which burst in 2007, when people who lacked those traits were destroyed economically by a recession. And the poor kids who are subsidized to go to college normally drop out after 1-2 terms.

The Argument for War with Iran

The Obama administration has made clear they will accept the best deal they can get from Iran, however bad that deal may be. Joshua Murvachik, a neocon Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins University, has written for The Washington Post a column that bluntly advocates war with Iran. Two quotes follow:
What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. Ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters.

Sanctions have never stopped a nuclear drive anywhere. Does this mean that our only option is war? Yes, although an air campaign targeting Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would entail less need for boots on the ground than the war Obama is waging against the Islamic State, which poses far smaller a threat than Iran does.
Murvachik concludes:
Yes, there are risks to military action. But Iran’s nuclear program and vaunting ambitions have made the world a more dangerous place. Its achievement of a bomb would magnify that danger manyfold. Alas, sanctions and deals will not prevent this.