How to Tell the Birds from the Flowers

I found this op-ed by U. S. Representative Francis Rooney at RealClearWorld on the differences between Catalonia and Iraqi Kurdistan interesting:

Catalonia and Iraqi Kurdistan are engulfed in identity crises. While the two independence movements are the subject of frequent comparison, their situations differ because of historical, cultural, and economic ties with their respective mother countries. Catalonia and Spain share a deep and longstanding unity, while Kurds have a loose union with the rest of Iraq and lack a shared history beyond the past one hundred years. Not surprisingly, a silent majority of Catalans seems to support a unified Spain, while a clear majority of Iraqi Kurds desire self-rule.

These discrepancies call for different solutions to the two predicaments. Instead of pursuing an independent state, Catalonia should look to Italian regions that are seeking greater autonomy within Italy. Conversely, the Kurdish independence movement compares with Kosovo in the 1990s, where an ethnically, culturally, and religiously different state seceded from Serbia.

There is one sense in which the two cases are very much alike: we shouldn’t support independence either for Catalonia or Iraqi Kurdistan. Both cases would be disasters, destabilizing their respective regions. In the case of Iraqi Kurdistan independence would be likely to foment a war that would embroil not just the Kurds and Iraqis but the Iranians, Turks, Syrians, in all likelihood the Saudis and possibly the Israelis.

If the Kurds manage to wrest their independence from Iraq we might be forced to accept it as a fait accompli but it’s not something we should be supporting. Catalonian independence on the other hands sounds for all the world to me like a power grab by a handful of Catalan politicians.


Oh, What a Wicked Web

At RealClearDefense Crispin Rovere ties himself into a pretzel to define “imminent” as “potential” and “anticipatory self-defense” as anything but preventive in discussing a preventive strike against North Korea:

On one level, war is always immoral. It involves industrialized murder perpetrated by an organized force against fellow human beings. Another Korean war would be horrendously violent, with American forces having to destroy a numerous and motivated enemy. However, the specific ethical arguments made against a military strike fail in critical respects. In sum, a U.S. military strike aimed at neutralizing the threat of a nuclear-tipped ICBM is ethically justified in addition to being strategically correct.

Nowhere does he mention U. S. treaty obligations which prohibit the United States from attacking another country without United Nations Security Council authorization. Don’t those factor into considerations of the ethics of the matter?

An attack by the United States on North Korea would be morally justified if the United States had compelling evidence that an attack by North Korea on the United States, its allies, or its interests was imminent, imminent defined as “about to take place”. What is the limit on Dr. Rovere’s definition of “imminent” i.e. potential? Would an attack on China be morally justified? China definitely has the potential to attack us and has for decades. An attack on Canada?


The Coming Conflagration

As I read this post at the Atlantic about the ratcheting up of tensions in the Middle East, I could only wonder if, should Saudi Arabia go to war with Iran, would we enter the conflict on the side of Saudi Arabia?

The situation strikes me as something like a movie about a battle between the Mafia and vampires. The only one to root for is the popcorn vendor.



When a neighbor comes across the street asking to borrow a cup of sugar, it’s reasonable and polite to lend them one. When the neighbor takes to the streets demanding a cup of sugar it’s equally reasonable to be concerned.

Generosity towards guests is an ancient and honorable human impulse. Reciprocity is more ancient yet. Even babies and animals understand it.



Finally someone echoes the point I’ve been making for more than a decade here at The Glittering Eye. In an interview at Bloomberg View historian Sir Max Hastings gives us the following nugget:

And there’s a second point which I think is significant: We too often use the word “peace” to denote the highest good. Yet my hero among British historians, Sir Michael Howard, often makes the point — which Richard Haass echoes — that “stability” should be the key word, that what are really most precious and most likely to save us from getting into another war are stability and predictability. We need statesmen who say what they mean and mean what they say. Our troubles start when they don’t do that.

Stability works in our favor; instability is not in our interest. Why have we been creating instability for the last three decades at least? It’s not working for us. Too many Americans and particularly Americans in positions of power view the U. S. role in the world as Batman roaming the streets of Gotham City looking for supervillains. As if! What we’re actually doing is leaving the Joker and Penguin alone while beating up the penny ante hoods.

There are lots of other gems in the interview including words of wisdom about Russia, commonsense about Israel, and a balanced view of immigration. Read the whole thing.

1 comment


We have a new pack member. Mamie is a ten week old Australian Shepherd puppy bitch. As you can see her coloring is what’s called “red merle”. Last Monday my wife jumped on a plane early in the morning, got a connecting flight, and met Mamie’s breeder in Texas. They spent the whole day together and got along famously.

Late in the afternoon my wife and Mamie boarded another plane for their trip to Chicago.

Mamie is settling in nicely. She’s very fond of our Sammie girls each of whom has reacted to her in their own way. I suspect that after a brief period of adjustment she’ll become a pack member much beloved by the older dogs.

Mamie is confident, affectionate, and absolutely delighted with the other dogs. So far she’s the easiest puppy we’ve ever had.


November 11, 2017

Before there was Veteran’s Day it was Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I. My grandfathers were both too old to be called up for the Great War; my father was far too young. None of my grandmothers’ brothers were called up for it, either, so no one in my family participated.

I wish I could say that World War I was the U. S.’s first war of choice but it wasn’t. Obviously, it wasn’t the last, either.


Then Why Do We Keep Intervening?

As Lincoln said, you can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. A poll has found that most Americans don’t think that all of our military interventions over the last several decades has made us any safer:

Arlington, Va.— A new poll shows Americans are unaware of the United States’ current overseas commitments, disconnected with the burden placed on military families, and believe our men and women in uniform are overstretched. By and large, our nation’s veterans share this perspective.

This comes on the heels of the revelation that the U.S. military is deployed in Niger, a fact which was unknown to 71% of the general public and 55% of veterans. The poll, released today by the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) and RealClearPolitics, surveyed 1,000 members of the American public, including 500 active military and veterans. The survey, taken at the end of October 2017, showed Americans are not confident that U.S. military involvement abroad makes their families safer at home.

“Americans are unclear of all the places where the U.S. military is engaged, concerned about whether our foreign policy has been making us safer, and wary of war with North Korea. These views are also shared by veterans,” said Will Ruger, vice president for research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute. “This survey shows that veterans are actually a diverse group when it comes to issues of using force abroad. They aren’t all enthusiastic about relying on military power to solve problems, as is sometimes stereotypically assumed. The majority don’t believe that challenging the wisdom of the United States’ current approach to the world is unpatriotic and are divided on things like whether additional military engagement abroad would make America safer.”

Now if we could just convince the Congress to trust the evidence of their own lyin’ eyes. IMO our repeated military interventions over the years have less to do with American public opinion and a lot more to do with the Congress’s estimation of risks and rewards.

What’s the greatest risk? From a Congressman’s point of view it’s not being re-elected. I don’t believe any Congressman anywhere has ever lost his or her seat because she or he supported a feckless intervention. They’re worried that if they don’t support an intervention against Country or Group X and an attack on the U. S. emanates from Country or Group X, their constituents will be mad enough about it that they’ll vote them out of office. The problem with that line of reasoning is that there’s no limit to it.

That’s one of the reasons that I believe in Congressmen who have more at stake than just holding on to their offices until they’re too old and decrepit to teeter up the Capitol steps.


California’s Pension Problem

At the RAND Blog Dan Grunfeld outlines California’s public pension problem:

California leads the nation in pension underfunding. The numbers are staggering. Currently, the state government has approximately $464.4 billion in unfunded liabilities — the difference between resources that will be available in the state’s pension fund and what will be owed to retiring employees. To provide some context, on an inflation-adjusted basis, that figure represents nearly two-thirds the cost to the U.S. of the entire Vietnam War. Nationally, state and local governments are carrying $4 trillion to $6 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities. That exceeds the combined military expenditures for every war, save World War II, fought by the U.S. since 1775. The California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teacher’s Retirement System (CalSTRS) have reported a combined $136 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. Los Angeles County alone has $7 billion in unfunded liabilities, and San Francisco’s burden is $2.3 billion. This particular bomb will not be easy to defuse. “The severe underfunding of public pension plans will not be fixed easily or fast,” says my RAND Corporation colleague James Hosek. “There is no silver bullet.”

Illinois has a similar problem. Plus its population is declining in absolute terms meaning that there are fewer people to bear the tax burden that will be required to meet those obligations.


In Chicago the Wealthy Are Doing Fine

At Bloomberg View Noah Smith has a post with multiple graphs and charts that substantiates points I’ve been making here over the years about Chicago. So, for example, this passages substantiates the point I’ve made from time to time—that conscious or not Rahm Emanuel’s strategy for Chicago is to drive poor people from the city:

The city’s defenders like to point out that both the homicide wave and income declines are confined to certain areas of the city. But maybe that’s exactly the problem. By some measures, Chicago is the most segregated city in the nation (although it has become slightly less so in recent years). A 2016 study by the Chicago Urban League found that Chicago’s black residents have seen their poverty rates rise, even as the city provides fewer social services for black neighborhoods. No wonder, then, that black Chicagoans are heavily over-represented among those moving away from the city.

Chicago, in other words, is failing its poor residents, and especially its poor black residents. This is probably not a recent thing, either — Chicago has a long and sordid history of racial segregation. But if the city is going to fix its problems, it’s going to have to reverse that legacy.

More police officers are unlikely to remedy the situation. Chicago already has the highest police to population ratio of any major U. S. city. Besides, Chicago can’t afford more police officers: the average Chicago police officer earns over $100,000 per year plus benefits. It’s more what the police do and don’t do than how many of them there are.

One thing that Mr. Smith doesn’t delve into is that while metro area GDP and the number of jobs in the metro area are rising sharply that doesn’t mean that’s the case for the city of Chicago. The metro area includes Oak Brook, Naperville, and Waukegan. What’s happening here is that the rich are remaining in the city, the poor are staying in the city, those in the middle who are mobile are leaving.