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Socialism’s Timeless Endgame

August 29th, 2014 - 9:53 am

Venezuela may have to import crude oil, I kid you not:

Venezuela is pondering the possibility of importing crude oil for the first time ever and could use light oil from its partner in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Algeria, to dilute its own heavy crude, according to a document of state-run oil giant Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa) obtained by Reuters on Wednesday.

Despite holding the largest oil reserves in the world, in recent years Pdvsa has been buying increasing amounts of heavy naphtha for blending with heavy crude from the Orinoco Oil Belt, the largest oil producing region in the country.

These blends are made to convert extra-heavy oil into an exportable product. Local production of medium and light crude oils previously used as diluents has declined and the construction of new oil upgraders is lagging behind.

Begin the excuse-mongering in five… four… three…

Time for Obama to Embrace Tax Reform?

August 29th, 2014 - 8:24 am

Krauthammer on taxes, Burger King, and inversions:

America’s 35 percent corporate tax rate is absurdly uncompetitive. Companies are doing what they always do: legally lowering their tax liabilities.

What is maddening is that the problem is so easily solved: tax reform that lowers the accursed corporate rate. Democrats and Republicans agree on this. After the announcement of the latest inversion, Burger King buying Tim Hortons and then moving to Canada, the president himself issued a statement conceding that corporate tax reform — lower the rates, eliminate loopholes — is the best solution to the inversion problem.

It’s also politically doable.

I doubt however that it’s politically desirable for this White House. Except for the occasional embarrassment like the Burger King inversion, our convoluted tax code affords too many opportunities for graft and punishing enemies for this Chicago crew to ever give it up.

Required Reading

August 29th, 2014 - 7:38 am

OBAMA

David Harsanyi on executive imperialism:

Enforce laws at your political leisure. Name recess appointments when there’s no recess. Legislate through regulation. Rewrite environmental laws. Rewrite immigration policy. Rewrite tax legislation. Bomb Libya. Bomb Syria. All by fiat. All good. The only question now is: what can’t Barack Obama do without Congress?

How about joining binding international agreements without the Senate’s consent? Also, good. The New York Times reports that Obama, who failed to pass sweeping domestic climate-change legislation in his first term, is “working to forge a sweeping international climate-change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress.”

Compel? That’s ok. Just ask Jonathan Chait, who argues that there are a number of reasons why the Senate’s consent isn’t really necessary.

Read the whole thing.

One of the many, many problems with the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany is that they raised the bar on what we expect from tyrants — death camps, ethnic cleansing, global wars, etc. But the defining element of tyranny isn’t that it leads to death camps, although those are probably inevitable on a long enough time scale. The defining element of tyranny is that the law is arbitrary. It means what he says it means; he may act how he feels he may act.

It’s clear that Obama believes he is well within his rights and powers to act arbitrarily on any number of issues, with few checks or balances beyond what he thinks the public will let him get away with.

It’s also clear what that makes him.

Ukraine to Seek NATO Membership

August 29th, 2014 - 6:34 am

Here’s what Vlad Putin’s invasion-not-invasion has bought him:

Arseny Yatsenyuk said the government was sending a bill to MPs urging that Ukraine’s non-bloc status be cancelled.

The remarks come as Nato holds an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

The West has stepped up its accusations of direct Russian involvement in the conflict, following advances by pro-Russian rebels.

On Thursday Nato released satellite images it said showed Russian forces inside Ukraine. and said more than 1,000 troops were operating there.

Our answer must be a polite but firm No.

Thought(s) for the Day

August 29th, 2014 - 5:23 am

I might have gone a little Twitter-crazy during the President’s press conference yesterday.

My Love Letter to Canada

August 28th, 2014 - 3:12 pm

No, really — it’s up on the PJM home page.

Caliphate Executes 250 Prisoners

August 28th, 2014 - 2:08 pm

isisexecution3

The picture is a few weeks old, but the story is new and from the Not F****** Around Department:

Islamic State fighters have executed 250 Syrian soldiers captured when the group seized an air base in the province of Raqqa at the weekend, according to a video posted on YouTube on Thursday and confirmed as genuine by an Islamic State fighter.

The video showed the bodies of dozens of men lying face down wearing nothing but their underwear. Their bodies were stretched out in a long line that appeared to be dozens of meters long.

The video also showed a separate pile of bodies nearby.

“The 250 shabeeha taken captive by the Islamic State from Tabqa in Raqqa have been executed,” read the caption posted with the video, referring to the soldiers by the name to forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad by Islamist militants fighting him.

Talking to Reuters via the Internet, an Islamic State fighter in Raqqa said: “Yes we have executed them all.”

Meanwhile, Russia has invaded Ukraine and the President of this country is expected shortly to make a statement.

Of course, armored columns and mass executions — now those make a statement.

I’d Like to Exchange This Exchange

August 28th, 2014 - 12:35 pm

There’s something rotten in Maryland’s ♡bamaCare!!! exchange:

The exchange is now being revamped but [Republican Congressman Andy] Harris says there’s a growing federal investigation into the millions of taxpayer dollars already spent on the website.

He says the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General is issuing subpoenas for fraud.

“There were invoices literally for hundreds of dollars an hour in charges with no reason for the invoices, no specific work done and these were approved by the executive director,” Harris said.

It’s almost as if the whole thing was just a sham to divert taxpayer dollars into the accounts of favored contractors.

Despite all the overcharges, Maryland’s website — I really must stop calling them “exchanges” — still isn’t fully functional.

Worthwhile Canadian Election

August 28th, 2014 - 11:44 am

rob-ford

Will Rob Ford again and still be the mayor of Toronto? Dan Rath says maybe, yes:

I would dearly love to be wrong. But when I share my disturbing outlook with friends and colleagues, most of them ardent social progressives and realistic fiscal conservatives, they think it through, hang their heads and mutter through clenched teeth that I’m probably right.

Factor one is the entrenchment in western culture of politics as a spectator sport. It’s been an American thing for decades — since actor Ronald Reagan became governor of California in 1967, followed generations later by pro wrestler Jesse Ventura in Minnesota in 1999 and action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger in California in 2003, cartoon-character candidates with off-the-scale name recognition have been tough to beat in single-candidate elections like a mayoralty race. A name sufficiently burned into the public mind can turn a stuffy election into a really fun game, a phenomenon best captured by an Arnie voter who famously told CBC: “Why am I voting for him? I just want to see what happens.”

Are Toronto voters that callow and naive, that disrespectful of their franchise? I’ll go out on a limb and say Yes . . . more than a few of them.

Oh, Canada.

BOMBING

That underreported multinational airstrike in Libya might just have been a “game changer” in the fight against IS/Caliphate and other groups:

Whatever the reason the White House wants us to think it was shocked—shocked!—that the Emiratis and Egyptians did this, the Obama administration should now move swiftly to capitalize on what could be a game-changer in the war against Islamist terror, and specifically against the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL).

Why is it a game-changer? Because it marks the first time two Arab nations have teamed up to launch military operations against Islamists in a third. (The 2011 involvement of Saudi troops in putting down an Arab Spring uprising in Bahrain doesn’t count, because it wasn’t about Islamist terror, and because the Saudis were invited.) Even more important, it was the first time two Sunni Muslim nations struck radical Sunni groups in a third Sunni country.

It’s come to this: Moderate Arab governments are finally proving themselves to be true moderates, if only on occasion, by taking real action against the radicals.

The first step the White House could and should take to “capitalize” on this development would be to restore the military aid it sabotaged to Egypt’s military government. Remember, Obama sided with the Muslim Brotherhood — the granddaddy to groups like IS/Caliphate — against the Egyptian military. Doing so sent the exact wrong message to Cairo and to everyone else in the region, and also to Vladimir Putin, who quickly moved in to displace Washington as Cairo’s patron.

Obama has the chance to correct a very serious error — but will he?

Required Reading

August 28th, 2014 - 9:51 am

Steven Hayward wants to know if the left is “approaching a Kool-Aid moment.”

If he means holding up an empty cup and pleading “More?” while cruel reality laughs — then maybe. Just maybe.

Go read the whole thing.

Thought for the Day

August 28th, 2014 - 8:34 am

Just a helpful reminder from our Canadian friends at NATO.

It’s Raining Brokers!

August 28th, 2014 - 7:20 am

LEDGE

Not yet, but maybe soon according to two experts on CNBC yesterday:

A jolt to international confidence in central banks will lead to a 30 to 60 percent market decline, David Tice, president of Tice Capital and founder of the Prudent Bear Fund, told CNBC’s “Power Lunch.” When this happens, he said, markets will face a “period of extreme turmoil.”

This crash will be precipitated, he said, by a disillusionment with the Federal Reserve’s “confidence game,” which will then see inflation rise, and the Fed scramble to raise rates. At that point, Tice added, “the Fed starts to lose control.”

Another market watcher also called for an impending fall.

The Fed’s low interest rates could bring a “scary” 50-60 percent market correction, said technical analyst Abigail Doolittle.

We’ve had a nice run for five years, building “prosperity” on the smoke and mirrors of reinflated equities and housing, while keeping consumer spending jacked up with record welfare spending. But the correction always comes — even in a healthy economy built on a solid foundation. The difference is that when a healthy economy endures a contraction, it still has that solid foundation.

All we have are Janet Yellen’s printing press and Washington’s largess.

UPDATE: This might be obvious, but it needs to be said anyway. If you’ve been trading on margins, you’ve got to cut that out.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

August 28th, 2014 - 6:07 am

THE DOCTOR IS IN

Get ready for another big one — another big ♡bamaCare!!! rate hike — detailed by PRI’s Sally Pipes:

A new analysis from PricewaterhouseCoopers projects that average premiums for policies sold through Obamacare’s exchanges will increase 7.5 percent in 2015.

In nearly one-third of the 29 states that PwC investigated, premiums will rise by double digits. In Indiana, the average increase will be 15.4 percent. In Kansas, it’s 13.6 percent. Florida’s insurance commissioner says premiums are set to climb 13.2 percent.

For this latest round of premium shocks, consumers can thank Obamacare’s unwieldy mix of taxes, regulations, and mandates.

Does this mean me and my typical American family of four will have to wait another year to save that promised $2,000?

[CRICKETS]

Yeah, we never were waiting for that to happen. Any sensible person knew it was all a lie. But do click and read all of what Pipes has to say. There are many big, scary numbers for you to enjoy with your coffee this morning.

What I’m still waiting to see from the various pundits of the apologist stripe, is how politically-connected insurers selling a bloated product to a captive market was ever supposed to reduce costs to the consumer.

The Best of Frenemies

August 28th, 2014 - 5:11 am

Islamists Sieze Golan Checkpoint

August 27th, 2014 - 2:43 pm

This must be an …uncomfortable… position for Jerusalem and Damascus to find themselves in together:

Islamist militants battling the Syrian government seized control of the Quneitra border crossing between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Wednesday, according to an Israeli military spokesman and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Among the fighters were members of al-Nusra Front, a Syrian rebel group with ties to al Qaeda, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

And while the Islamist forces are no match for Israeli troops in the heavily militarized zone, the takeover represents a new dynamic in a war long feared not only for its deadly effects inside Syria but for threatening to widen into a destabilizing regional conflict, CNN’s Ben Wedeman reported Wednesday.

“Essentially, now you have the Nusra Front facing off just a couple of hundred meters from the Israeli army,” he said, adding that United Nations peacekeepers are stationed between the two.

The Israelis are often criticized for having a siege mentality, but given the neighborhood they live in, I sometimes wonder if it’s enough of a siege mentality.

Surprise: We Have a Spending Problem

August 27th, 2014 - 1:42 pm

We’re in trouble:

The Congressional Budget Office’s “Update to the Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024” reports a federal deficit of $506 billion for fiscal year 2014 (which ends on September 30), slightly above its April projection of $492 billion. Spending in 2014 will be about $3.5 trillion, growing by about 2 percent compared to the previous year. The debt will rise slightly as a percentage of GDP to 74 percent, staying at a level not seen since World War II.

Over the next decade, government spending is projected to grow annually on average by 5.2 percent. Eighty-five percent of this projected growth in spending will be due to three main budget components: Social Security (the largest federal program), health care (spending on which will overtake Social Security spending by 2015), and interest on the debt.

The government is growing over 5 percent a year while the economy grows just 2 or 3 percent. Should the economy enter a recession and shrink, government growth will increase. This situation is brought to you by the same people who like to lecture about “sustainability.”

But I’m sure saving a few billion dollars delaying the refueling (or scrapping) of an aircraft carrier will fix the problem — no?

We’re eating our seed corn while we sit and wonder why the future no longer looks so bright.

Sign “O” the Times

August 27th, 2014 - 12:22 pm

Oh, SNAP:

According to the Department of Agriculture’s most recently released data, the number of individuals enrolled in the food stamp program (known officially as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) has remained above 45 million every single month for three years straight.

In May 2011, 45,410,683 individuals received food stamps. As of May 2014 (the most recent date for which data are available), 46,225,054 people were on food stamps. At no point between the two dates did the number of food stamp enrollments ever fall below the 45 million mark.

Part of the problem is that food stamps — embarrassing, awkward, and obvious food stamps — have been replaced by little plastic cards with little magnetic strips that look just like the little plastic cards issued by banks which hold our own money rather than other people’s money.

There ought to be a strong social stigma against spending other people’s money, as just one incentive to getting off the dole and becoming full adults and autonomous human beings.

And that is why we have SNAP cards, because people who aren’t on the dole and who are full adults and autonomous human beings tend not to vote for Democrats.

News You Can Use

August 27th, 2014 - 11:17 am

PULLED

You know you’re not supposed to do that, right?

Good lord:

Charles Vacca, 39, of Lake Havasu City, died Monday shortly after being airlifted to University Medical Center in Las Vegas, Mohave County sheriff’s officials said Tuesday.

Vacca was standing next to the girl at the Last Stop outdoor shooting range in White Hills when she pulled the trigger and the recoil sent the gun over her head, investigators said.

Video released Tuesday by sheriff’s officials shows the 9-year-old, wearing a gray T-shirt and pink shorts with her hair pulled back in a long braid, holding the firearm in both hands. Vacca, standing to her left, tells her to turn her left leg forward.

“All right, go ahead and give me one shot,” he tells the girl, whose back is to the camera during the entire 27-second video. He then cheers when she fires one round at the target.

“All right full auto,” Vacca says. The video, which does not show the actual incident, ends with a series of shots being heard.

I’m not exactly going out on a limb here when I say that this guy did not have the judgement necessary for a shooting instructor.

Caliphs Gotta Caliphate

August 27th, 2014 - 9:22 am

UN demands action to avert Shia massacre in Iraq

Iraq is massing forces to relieve the besieged town of Amerli:

Thousands of Shiite militiamen from groups including Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Badr Organization are gathering in the Tuz Khurmatu area of Salaheddin in preparation for a battle to break the siege, a civilian volunteer commander said.

And an army lieutenant general said that security forces were mobilising in the Jabal Hamreen area, to the south of Amerli, to attack from for the southern flank.

Iraqi aircraft have being targeting Islamic State jihadist positions around Amerli, and carried out nine strikes on Tuesday, an officer said.

Time is running out for the 12,000 mainly Shiite Turkmen residents of Amerli, who face danger both because of their Shiite faith, which jihadists consider heresy, and their resistance against the militants, which has drawn deadly retribution elsewhere.

There is “no possibility of evacuating them so far,” and only limited humanitarian assistance is reaching the town, said Eliana Nabaa, the spokesperson for the UN mission in Iraq.

Here’s a case of knowing exactly where the bad guys are, yet our air forces don’t seem to be doing much about it.

Introducing Hyperlapse

August 27th, 2014 - 8:10 am

Whoa.

My boys are going to love this.

Me too.

President Bezos

August 27th, 2014 - 7:08 am

AMAZON

On the heels of this morning’s news that our federal and state governments have spent $1.7 billion dollars (and counting) to build a few questionable websites, we have this bold claim from Michael Case at the Verge:

If the government is ever going to completely retool itself to provide sensible services to a growing, aging, diversifying American population, it will have to do more than bring in a couple innovators and throw data at the public. At the federal level, these kinds of adjustments will require new laws to change the way money is allocated to executive branch agencies so they can coordinate the purchase and development of a standard set of tools. State and local governments will have to agree on standard tools and data formats as well so that the mayor of Anchorage can collaborate with the governor of Delaware.

Technology is the answer to a lot of American government’s current operational shortcomings. Not only are the tools and systems most public servants use outdated and suboptimal, but the organizations and processes themselves have also calcified around similarly out-of-date thinking. So the real challenge won’t be designing cutting edge software or high tech government facilities — it’s going to be conjuring the will to overcome decades of old thinking. It’s going to be convincing over 90,000 employees to learn new skills, coaxing a bitterly divided Congress to collaborate on something scary, and finding a way to convince a timid and distracted White House to put its name on risky investments that won’t show benefits for many years.

There’s a great line about basic economics, but I can’t remember who said it or find it online. It goes, “Show me a man’s incentives, and I’ll tell you how he behaves.” In other words, incentives are so powerful that a basic understanding of them allows you to extrapolate fine detail about how they work in the real world — assuming you’re able to understand them.

Here we have a smart writer with a failure to understand government’s incentives, and at a very basic level. His complaints are accurate, but they’re fundamental to the functioning of a government bureaucracy, rather than a problem with a fix.

That’s one reason why the Founders wanted to keep the federal government small and in most ways powerless. Nevertheless, we’ll probably spend billions trying to enact reforms like the ones Case proposes, and then wonder where all the money went.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

August 27th, 2014 - 6:21 am

How much did it cost to build the exchanges, including the notorious Healthcare.gov? More than you might believe:

hanks to the Office of the Inspector General (IG) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), we have some more detail on the costs and contracts associated with building the key technological infrastructure for the law.

According to the report, which was released today,the total value of the 60 contracts associated with the build out of HealthCare.gov is about $1.7 billion, with contract values ranging from as little as $69,000 all the way up to about $200 million.

Those values could end up higher. In a footnote, the report explains that these are expected values, and that they could be more if “modifications” are made to the scope of work in the contracts.

Given the state of the federal government’s exchange, and the delays and cost overruns it has seen so far, it seems likely that the actual costs will end up being higher. Of the 60 contracts, 20 had already gone over budget by February of this year, according to the IG report. Seven of those 20 were over budget by at least 100 percent.

If you’re wondering why they’re called “exchanges” instead of “websites,” which is all they really are, it’s because “exchanges” sounds more expensive.

The Dark State Rises

August 27th, 2014 - 5:17 am

Scott Ott has the Trifecta Triple this week, and there’s some powerful stuff in his coverage of the rise of the IS/Caliphate.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

August 26th, 2014 - 2:23 pm

Remember how ♡bamaCare!!! had lost “some of its campaign punch for Republicans?” Well:

The voters didn’t get that memo. They revile the health care law more than ever. Even the left-leaning Huffington Post admits, “A majority of Americans disapprove of Obamacare, the highest share since President Barack Obama’s health care reforms became law more than four years ago.” And this isn’t due to ignorance about the law, as its supporters frequently claim. The voters have been inundated with information about “reform,” and they have correctly concluded that it will do more harm than good. A recent Rasmussen survey reveals that likely voters in general expect Obamacare to have an adverse effect on American health care.

More to the point, Obamacare is an important factor in the “enthusiasm gap.” According to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, “The Republican Party holds a clear advantage in voter engagement in this fall’s midterm elections.” Why? The answer has long been obvious. Politico spelled it out months ago: “Obamacare will be a huge voting issue for Republicans.… They’ll turn out in droves because they hate the law.” Yet the promoters of the new meme would have us believe that revulsion among voters for the law has somehow been neutralized as a motivating force during the past two or three months.

Reduced ad spending on this particular issue looks like it has more to do with diminishing returns than voters suddenly falling in love with the President’s signature domestic achievement. At this point, why spend millions on new ads when a cancellation notice or a drastically higher copay will get the message out for free?

Thought for the Day

August 26th, 2014 - 1:20 pm

Putting Out the Fire Phone

August 26th, 2014 - 12:49 pm

Amazon-Fire-Phone

Nice try, Amazon, but hardly anybody is buying your smartphone:

You could argue that if the Amazon Fire Phone under-indexes, it probably isn’t by much; you could multiply the number by 25%, based on the average of the Samsung and HTC figures. That takes you up to about 33,000 devices.

Therefore even allowing for margins of error, it seems unlikely – based on Chitika’s data and the ComScore data – that there were more than about 35,000 Fire Phones in use after those 20 days.

Amazon had not responded to a request for comment on the calculation by the time of publication.

Ouch.

Although I can’t say I’m surprised. The phone is phugly, and by nearly every account, the user interface is an unusable and clumsy mess. And it’s priced the same as an iPhone or a top-tier Android device, when clearly it’s neither.

Still, it’s comforting to know that not even Amazon’s marketing muscle — and I say this as a happy and devoted customer of theirs — isn’t enough to push people into buying overpriced craptaculence.

Wither Whiskey?

August 26th, 2014 - 11:10 am
To dependence!

To dependence!

Scottish independence is a worrisome matter for the proto-would-be nation’s famed distilleries:

The currency debate is especially important to Scotland’s financial services industry, which accounts for 25 percent of the region’s economy, excluding oil and gas. Scotland-based groups such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Life, which rely on the stability provided by the pound, have warned about the potential risks of independence.

Part of that would come from the fact that an independent Scotland may be forced to drop out of the European Union and have to reapply for membership. The union of 28 countries guarantees free movement of money and people – a precious asset for companies, particularly multinational corporations, as well as exporters.

Nine out of 10 bottles of Scotch are sold overseas for a value of 4.3 billion pounds ($7.1 billion) a year. Being outside the EU would raise the prospect of new export duties to the EU, the world’s largest trading bloc with over 500 million people. Many distilleries import grain from EU countries to make whisky, something that could become more expensive. Scotland would also have to take on the job of shielding the drink from unfair trading practices, protect its trademarks and safeguard an estimated 35,000 jobs.

Left unsaid is that Scotland would be run entirely by assorted lefties, without a sane voice to be heard. What that would do for Scotland’s business climate is a subject no one should try to consider while sober.

Required Reading

August 26th, 2014 - 10:28 am

BEYONCE66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Show

Guess which of these two images modern feminists approve of, and which one has them all up in arms.

Mollie Hemingway explains in luscious detail.