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January 30th, 2015 - 6:01 am

COMCAST

Long story short: Woman under financial strain cancels cable part of her Comcast service, gets charged $60 for the privilege and has the name on her bills changed to “Asshole.”

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

Stories from Mosul

January 30th, 2015 - 5:14 am

012915obamatax

As ever, it’s about redistributing income to the Permanent Democrat Underclass.

(H/T, Jim Pethokoukis.)

At Dartmouth they Party Like It’s 1925

January 29th, 2015 - 2:10 pm

Prohibition

Dartmouth wants to ban booze:

To truly create a safe environment—and one that is advantageous to learning—we will also have to tackle the challenge of excessive drinking. Dartmouth will take the lead among colleges and universities in eliminating hard alcohol on campus. Dartmouth’s new alcohol policy for students will prohibit the possession or consumption of “hard alcohol” (i.e., alcohol that is 30 proof or higher) on campus by individuals, including those over the legal drinking age, and by Dartmouth College-recognized organizations. In addition, we will ask that the entire campus community follow suit and not serve hard alcohol at college-sponsored events and be role models for the healthy consumption of alcohol.

The key to the successful implementation of any policy change is a clear path for enforcement. [Emphasis added]

Sounds fun.

Hillary in Freefall?

January 29th, 2015 - 1:23 pm

Not quite, but Andrew Malcolm has some numbers which might have Camp Clinton starting to worry:

In just the past month, when no one with a real life was thinking about the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton’s massive poll lead over every single potential Republican opponent has collapsed.

In a hypothetical match-up, her margin over Jeb Bush, the closest GOP president, was cut in half to eight points this month, 45%-37%, according to Zogby. That’s down from a whopping 15-point lead in December. Similarly, the former first lady’s 15-point margin over Mitt Romney slid to nine points, 46%-37%.

Still sizable margins, to be sure. But trending uncomfortably in the wrong direction even before an announcement, as Clinton goes to ground to plot her campaign, assemble staff and devise a credible rationale other than gender for why Americans should let her move back into the White House, this time in the West Wing.

The key phrase in Malcolm’s column might be “gone to ground.” I know we’ll have plenty of chances to get truly sick and tired of her once she announces and begins campaigning, but she’s been noticeably absent through thick and through thin in recent months. That might have people wondering about her health, about her judgement, about the real-world consequences of her tenure as SecState. Or — and this might be most deadly of all — people just aren’t thinking about her at all.

A smart Democrat primary contender might want to think about quietly market-testing one or two “Where Was Hillary?” ads to run in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Required Reading

January 29th, 2015 - 12:00 pm

The brutal truth about Ukraine from Marc Champion:

Putin had demonstrated that Ukraine’s military simply isn’t capable of standing up to Russian regulars, and that his tanks could indeed roll on to Odessa if he chose to give the order. In return for stopping, though, he expected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to sue for a political settlement of the conflict, beyond the localized Minsk cease-fire.

Instead, Poroshenko had Ukraine’s parliament rescind a law that had committed the country to military neutrality and announced its formal intention to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This was a serious misstep that made a return to war all but inevitable. If one thing is clear in this contest, it is that Putin will not — and politically cannot — make peace without some form of public assurance that Ukraine won’t join NATO.

The problem with coming up with a settlement is that we’ve put too much credibility on the line, and too few resources. Our fecklessness combined with Poroshenko’s political recklessness serves only to encourage and enable Putin.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

January 29th, 2015 - 10:46 am

Remember those lousy CBO numbers from earlier in the week, the one showing ♡bamaCare!!! costing taxpayers $50,000 per newly-insured? And that it would added $1,400,000,000,000 to the deficit over the next ten years? Well, you might say that the report was somewhat… flawed. Read:

Buried in Appendix B of the report is CBO’s attempt to provide an updated score of Obamacare. But that’s not what they did. They only scored the “coverage provisions” of the law, ignoring some fifteen tax increases which are also a part of Obamacare and its cost to taxpayers.

Here’s what the report says about its half score:

“Those estimates address only the insurance coverage provisions of the ACA and do not reflect all of the act’s budgetary effects. Because the provisions of the ACA that relate to health insurance coverage established entirely new programs or components of programs and because those provisions have mostly just begun to be implemented,CBO and JCT have produced separate estimates of the effects of the provisions as part of the baseline process. By contrast, because the provisions of the ACA that do not relate directly to health insurance coverage generally modified existing federal programs (such as Medicare) or made various changes to the tax code, determining what would have happened since the enactment of the ACA had the law not been in effect is becoming increasingly difficult. The incremental budgetary effects of those noncoverage provisions are embedded in CBO’s baseline projections for those programs and tax revenues, respectively, but they cannot all be separately identified using the agency’s normal procedures. As a result, CBO does not produce estimates of the budgetary effects of the ACA as a whole as part of the baseline process.”

This is just another version of "we can't score it anymore" that CBO Director Doug Elmendorf (and his Gruber-gate methodology on Obamacare) has become known for.

Worse, if CBO isn’t scoring for the tax hikes, then we still have no official clue about how much drag ♡bamaCare!!! is imposing on economic growth.

Although I think we have a solid unofficial clue — and it’s not good.

Quarter Pounder Blues

January 29th, 2015 - 9:33 am

McDonald’s CEO Dan Thompson is being shown the door:

McDonalds Corp. MCD, said late Wednesday that Don Thompson, president and CEO, will retire March 1. The board elected Steve Easterbrook to replace Thompson. Shares of McDonalds rose 3.1% to $91.59 following the announcement. Easterbrook currently serves as chief brand officer. McDonalds also shifted Chief Financial Officer Pete Bensen to the newly created position of Chief Administrative Officer. Corporate Controller Kevin Ozan will serve as the new CFO, McDonalds said.

McDonald’s Corp., struggling amid declining sales and menu changes, said Don Thompson will step down as president and chief executive, effective March 1.

I wouldn’t get too excited about McD’s prospects, however.

The chain is being attacked on three fronts, any one of which would be a long, hard slog.

Perhaps the most obvious battle is the one against “fast casual” chains which make much better burgers for not much more money. Five Guys, In-n-Out — an adult can spend seven or eight bucks for lunch, just a dollar or two more than they’d pay for a full meal at McDonald’s, and get food and service which are better in every way. My childhood favorite, Steak ‘n Shake, is aggressively expanding outside of its midwestern/southern heartland, offering diner-level service and cooked-to-order meals made with beef which is readily identifiable as such.

Improving their food might go a long way towards fighting off the fast casual competition, but so far most of McD’s attempts have been misfires. Their new & improved Quarter Pounder burgers are indeed a step up from the banal Quarter Pounder with Cheese, using fresher and a wider variety of toppings and buns. The problem is the better toppings and buns don’t do much more than highlight just how bad the mystery meat really is.

Which leads us to the second front where McDonald’s is fighting and losing: The rising cost of beef.

At $4.20 per pound, ground beef hit another record last November — and that’s up from less than $3.50 the year before.

BEEF

The McDonald’s brand has long been “mediocre food, served up quickly, at a reasonable price.” But it’s difficult to compete on price when the cost of one of your core ingredients is increasing far faster than inflation. And it shows at the cash register. My young sons love going to the giant “PlayPlace” indoor playground at the McD nearest to us, and so I take them on occasion. The last time we went, the boys ordered their usual Chicken McNugget Happy Meals, and I tried one of the new Quarter Pounder variations, this one with bacon and cheddar. The cheddar was a definite improvement over the American variety, but the “thick cut bacon” barely lived up to “bacon,” much less “thick cut.” The burger patty was exactly what you’d expect after a lifetime of dreary visits to McDonald’s. The fries, long stripped of the flavorful beef tallow McD used to put in the fryers, tasted like cardboard. By the time the boys had asked for a second round of juice boxes and a chocolate chip cookie each for dessert, I was out more than $20 for a bad lunch.

$22 to feed one grown man and two small children — and this is before the minimum wage inevitably gets jacked up. Food costs must be killing McDonald’s, just like they’re killing middle class shoppers during the weekly trip to Safeway — but other chains seem to be doing better. A recent visit with two friends to Steak ‘n Shake fed three hungry men tasty burgers and top-notch fries for about $25. We even got a sassy waitress who called us all “hun” provided fast and friendly service. A couple of extra bucks for vastly improved food and atmosphere? That’s a no-brainer in most circumstances. Even my kids notice the difference.

Outgoing CEO Thompson expanded McD’s menu into healthier fare, but without a commensurate increase in the quality of the ingredients — if you’re going to try and sell chicken wraps, they had better be damn good chicken wraps. This seems to be beyond most anyone’s ability, much less a fast food chain with a focus on speed over quality. The company’s “I’m lovin’ it” marketing campaign similarly did little but alienate existing customers without gaining any new ones — he should have been handed his hat and coat long before now.

The third front for McDonald’s is the most difficult battle it must wage, and the one which could prove fatal — because it’s a cultural fight, not a business fight.

The Left has been waging a cultural war against McDonald’s for decades now, and the results are telling. It won its fight against the chain in the early 1990, forcing McD to remove the beef tallow from the french fries, in order to avoid offending the tender sensibilities of vegetarians. The company’s troubles began in earnest with the emasculation of its world-class fries, but the trend has accelerated with the ascension of Michelle Obama to First Lady. She rails tirelessly against affordable and wholesome-but-bland food which parents can actually get their kids to eat, because buttinskies can’t be happy without buttinsking. McDonald’s has tried to comply by offering healthy apple wedges in place of french fries in children’ Happy Meals, but it’s obvious that the Left won’t be happy with anything short of the chain converting to McTofu & Gruel.

McDonald’s is feeling the squeeze on its core customers: undiscriminating children and hurried adults on a budget. Most everyone else abandoned McD for the likes of Five Guys or Panera, and the chain has so far shown no talent for winning them back.

It’s going to take much more than just a new CEO if McDonald’s is going to have a chance of victory on any of these three fronts — it’s going to take a reimagining of the company — or a return to serving its core customers, and serving up a super-size middle finger to the Left.

Sony Music Unlimited

January 29th, 2015 - 8:11 am

Sony is adding Spotify to the PlayStation line, and killing off its Music Unlimited streaming service:

Sony’s on-demand music-streaming service, initially known as Qriocity, was launched in 2010 in the UK and Ireland, eventually expanding to a total of 19 countries. It went through a couple of different forms and integrations into Sony’s wider online media networks until, it seems, Sony finally threw its hands up and decided to make music streaming someone else’s problem.

Third-party streaming services, such as Spotify and Rdio, have proved more popular than services offered by hardware manufacturers, with Nokia’s Ovi one of the casualties back in 2011. Sony is unusual among the big tech and media brands in that it produces both hardware — TVs, consoles and so on — and content, thanks to its movie studio and record label. But that hasn’t guaranteed success.

When Music Unlimited launched over four years ago, I took one look at it and sarcastically remarked, “This has ‘win’ written all over it.”

On the other hand, Sony has scored a bit of a coup, being the first to get Spotify on a gaming console.

Hoisted By His Own Prius

January 29th, 2015 - 7:47 am

California is thinking of a new tax, which will fill your evil little heart with enough schadenfreude to require a triple bypass.

Thought for the Day

January 29th, 2015 - 6:09 am

Obama’s Putin Problem

January 29th, 2015 - 5:12 am

UKRAINE

And Putin’s Obama problem, described for The National Interest by Nikolas K. Gvosdev:

It is an unfortunate pattern for this president that his statements and comments on Russian president Vladimir Putin always seem to generate a visceral negative reaction from the Kremlin, particularly when Obama suggests that Putin is weak, isolated or facing defeat. Without fail, Putin tends to initiate a response—whether signing major new trade deals with the Chinese after his isolation has been proclaimed or seizing an Estonian officer on the border in the immediate aftermath of a presidential visit that was meant to demonstrate confidence in Western security guarantees. Given what Obama said about Putin before both houses of Congress—and given that the president, who viewed the address primarily as a domestic political event, wanted to take a shot at his political opposition who in the past year unfavorably compared Obama’s decision-making style with Putin’s—the national-security establishment should have been prepared for an intensification of the Ukraine crisis. One can only imagine Putin watching the speech or reading a transcript, then bellowing to his aides, “I have not been defeated!”

Obama turns up the heat with words (meant for domestic consumption) and sanctions (which Kremlin elites don’t seem to much care about). The Kremlin even seems convinced that the typical Russian will endure whatever is necessary to prevail against the West. Here’s Russia deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov:

“Read our history: the Russians will never give up their leader. We will tighten our belt, eat less food, suffer any privations, but if outsiders want to force changes on us, we will be united as never before. It erupted there (Ukraine) but it could have been anywhere. This is about the West trying to show us our place and refusing to treat us an equal. They are telling us to sit in a corner quietly. If this doesn’t change, it will be a bleeding wound for decades. People don’t blame Putin because they know this is an attack against Russia.”

Is it true? It doesn’t really matter, so long as Putin believes that it’s true, which certainly seems to be the case. Back now to Gvosdev:

The struggle for control of the strategic port of Mariupol will be critical. This is the last major city of the Donetsk Oblast’ which remains outside the control of the separatists—and as such has been designated by the Ukrainian government as the temporary administrative center for the province. Moreover, it is part of the “missing link” that would connect Russia proper, the separatist-controlled territory in southeastern Ukraine, and Russia-annexed Crimea. Should the Ukrainian government lose control of Mariupol, it becomes much harder to ignore the “facts on the ground” that is the Donetsk People’s Republic and momentum towards a de facto “Novorossiya” as a distinct political entity in Ukraine would gather strength.

As discussed here last week, Putin’s next move might be something bigger and crazier, designed to heat up tensions in the Middle East — and cause a spike in oil prices. The risks would be high, but so would the payoff. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Putin, he isn’t afraid to bet big on a weak hand, counting on Obama’s ineffectual “Don’t call my bluff” stratagem to let him take what he wants.

This spring promises to be an exciting time. Again.

A Note to My Readers

January 28th, 2015 - 3:21 pm

In the unlikely event that I ever quit blogging, I won’t do so before January 21, 2017.

Because I will outlast Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom.

Cloud-y Skies Ahead

January 28th, 2015 - 2:36 pm

MICROSOFT

Tuesday was a bad day for stocks, but a terrible day for Microsoft. Barb Darrow explains why:

After the earnings call, Microsoft watchers seemed to remember that the company cash cows remain good old-fashioned Office and Windows, sales of which aren’t setting the world on fire. Sales in the company’s Commercial Division, which includes those products, missed expectations, logging “just” $10.68 billion for the quarter compared to the $10.94 billion that FactSet analysts had expected, according to Marketwatch.

Another data point: Revenue for Windows OEM versions of the operating system — which get pre-loaded on new PCs — fell 13 percent year over year. And Windows Volume licensing revenue grew just 3 percent, as CRN pointed out.

Making matters worse for Redmond’s bottom line, Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for many users, perhaps most. That’s $129 or so a copy Microsoft won’t be enjoying this cycle. But it’s far too soon to think CEO Satya Nadella is some kind of failure.

He’s moving Microsoft away from its old cash cows, and into platform-agnostic software and cloud services. (Nadella’s move matches the free advice I gave right on this page to former CEO Steve Ballmer years ago, and he didn’t listen. Did I mention he’s the former CEO? Anyway.)

Nadella has seen the future, and he’s executing about as well as anyone could hope. “Windows Everywhere” was always a bad idea, and the new “Microsoft Behind Every Scene” is much more in tune with the company’s strengths. But there are going to be bumps during the transition, and yesterday was a pretty big one.

“The Iowa Trap”

January 28th, 2015 - 1:31 pm

I bookmarked Scott Conroy’s latest on Monday, then promptly did nothing with it until just now. And that’s my bad, as Conroy has a must-read piece on what he calls the “circus” of Iowa’s quadrennial conservative presidential candidate cattle call:

The would-be candidates varied in level of earnestness for their possible presidential runs, but they all shared the same goal: wooing the 1,200 or so conservative activists on hand at the kickoff Iowa cattle call of 2016, co-hosted by Congressman Steve King and the conservative group Citizens United.

Terry Branstad­—Iowa’s avuncular and scrupulously mustachioed sixth-term governor—was on hand to play his well-worn role as ring master-in-chief for the quadrennial ritual that has been one of the state’s most lucrative and aggrandizing traditions over four decades.

During a press conference, Branstad urged all of the would-be candidates to come here early and often.

Anyone who dared not heed this counsel, the governor warned, risked suffering the fate that befell Rudy Giuliani—who bypassed Iowa on the way to running one of the most underachieving presidential campaigns in recent history. “My advice is you skip Iowa at your own peril,” Branstad said, adding the standard line that there are only “three tickets out” of the state for candidates who hope to make it to New Hampshire and beyond.

If I could wave a magic wand over the RNC, I’d make it official party policy that ethanol subsides are bad, and their abolishment is part of the party platform. I’d then go further and make it a GOP plank to eliminate all agriculture subsidies, and candidates who deviate from this small government, free market principle will somehow fail to receive invitations to participate in primary debates.

And then I’d announce a new primary schedule, where the first-in-the-nation caucus would rotate each schedule between Iowa, and perhaps five or six other small states.

It’s nothing personal, Iowa. It’s just that your grandstanding attitude doesn’t jibe with your ability to pick actual winners.

Iran Ditching Dollars

January 28th, 2015 - 12:17 pm

King Dollar has lost his crown in Tehran:

Iran is no longer using the US dollar in foreign-trade transactions and is replacing it with other currencies, the deputy governor at the Iranian Central Bank Gholami Kamyab said, according to Sputnik News.

“In trade exchanges with the foreign countries, Iran uses other currencies including Chinese yuan, euro, Turkish lira, Russian ruble, and South Korean won,” Kamyab reportedly said.

He also reportedly added that Iran was considering bilateral currency-swap agreements, which would allow partners to exchange one foreign currency for the equivalent in the other currency. He did not explicitly name partners, however.

We can all make safe guesses as to the names of those other partners, I think.

Today’s story ties in nicely (H/T, Glenn) with Walter Russell Mead’s Tuesday post concerning the SWIFT program:

It isn’t easy to build an alternative [to the Western banking system], and countries like China which depend on large flows of both investment and trade with the rest of the world, and whose financial systems are pointed toward greater rather than less integration with the global system are somewhat less eager about building an alternative than countries like Russia. Furthermore, lots of ne’er-do-wells like Venezuela, Argentina, or perhaps a Syriza-led Greece would love to join an alternative system thinking that it offers them new chances to stiff a new set of creditors.

Still, the more powerful the sanctions weapon becomes, and the more we try to use it, the greater the incentive we create for other people to challenge it.

Iran barely registers as small potatoes in global trade, but if they do find success in subverting sanctions by abandoning the dollar, they may pave new roads for Russia, China, and a host of rogue states like North Korea and ISIS.

Obama Cutting Funds for Syrian Rebels

January 28th, 2015 - 11:06 am

The headline covers most everything you need to know, but here’s more:

From afar, the U.S.-approved and partially American-armed Syrian “opposition” seems to be a single large, if rather amorphous, organization. But in fact it’s a collection of “brigades” of varying sizes and potentially shifting loyalties that have grown up around local leaders, or, if you will, local warlords. And while Washington talks about the Syrian “opposition” in general terms, the critical question for the fighters in the field and those supporting them is, “opposition to whom?” To Syrian President Assad? To the so-called Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL? To the al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra?

That lack of clarity is crippling the whole effort, not least because of profound suspicions among rebel groups that Washington is ready to cut some sort of deal with Assad in the short or medium term if, indeed, it has not done so already. For Washington, the concern is that the forces it supports are ineffectual, or corrupt, or will defect to ISIS or Nusra—or all of the above.

Giving money to Syrian rebel moderates is like buying jewelry at Target — there’s a pretty low ceiling on how much you can spend.

Of course, that’s only part of the reason. The other is, now that we’re Assad’s effective guarantors, Obama has little interest in his overthrow. assuming Obama ever had any interest in doing so.

Meanwhile, Tehran’s mullahs smile once more.

The New Unemployment Insurance

January 28th, 2015 - 10:32 am

DISABLED

My knee-jerk reaction to that 42.9% figure was, “Tell me something I don’t know.”

But here’s the beef:

In 2013, the latest data from SSA show there were 10,228,364 disabled beneficiaries, up 139,625 from 2012 when there were 10,088,739 disabled beneficiaries.

Disabled beneficiaries have increased 49.7 percent from a decade ago in 2003 when there were 6,830,714 beneficiaries; and the number is up 14.3 percent from the 8,945,376 beneficiaries in 2009, the year President Obama took office.

Obviously the nation hasn’t suffered a rash of debilitating injuries, and clearly there aren’t really that many people too crazy to work. What they are is too sane to keep looking for work in this economy.

Jonah Goldberg reported on this nearly two years ago:

In 1960, when vastly more Americans were involved in physical labor of some kind, 0.65 percent of workforce participants between the ages of 18 and 64 were receiving Social Security disability-insurance payments. Fifty years later, in a much healthier America, that number has grown nearly nine-fold to 5.6 percent.

In 1960, 134 Americans were working for every officially recognized disabled worker. Five decades later that ratio fell to roughly 16 to 1.

Some defenders of the status quo say these numbers can be explained by the entry of women into the U.S. workforce, the aging of baby boomers, and the short-term spike in need that came with the recession.

No doubt those are significant factors. But not nearly so significant as to explain why the number of people on disability has been doubling every 15 years (while the average age of recipients has gone down) or why such a huge proportion of claim injuries can’t be corroborated by a doctor.

Once you learn to fake injury, the rest is easy.

bill-murray

Funny How?

January 28th, 2015 - 9:29 am

Capitol Hill Democrats still fully support President Obama’s roughshod use of executive authority — unless the authority isn’t so roughshod and the issue is free trade:

Liberals are waging a vigorous fight against Obama’s push for expanded trade power, fearing it would lead to trade deals that favor corporate interests over American workers.

Democrats and some Republicans are adamant that trade promotion authority (TPA) would give Obama’s trade team too much control over negotiations, and are making their opposition known in a barrage of press conferences on Capitol Hill.
“I have long supported President Obama. I believe he generally wants to improve the lives of working Americans,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) after Obama asked for help from both parties on trade in his State of the Union address.

“But on the issue of trade, I will oppose the administration because unfortunately they are following the same exact policy that has failed in the past.”

Funny how the Democrats love executive authority, except in the one instance where it comes down on the side of expanding opportunity.

It’s been a long time since I can remember seeing a Democrat in Washington who wasn’t a statist at heart.

Strange Bedfellows

January 28th, 2015 - 8:51 am

LE PEN

Huh:

A week before the attack on Charlie Hebdo, France’s leading gay magazine, Têtu, announced the winner of its annual beauty contest. His name was Matthieu Chartraire, and he was 22, doe-eyed and six-packed, with perfectly groomed hair, stubble and eyebrows. A pin-up in every way — until he started talking.

To the anger of many of the magazine’s readers, the Adonis of 2015 turns out to be an outspoken supporter of the Front National. Têtu’s editor-in-chief, Yannick Barbe, refused to play censor. ‘It’s within his rights to vote for the FN even if we don’t share his beliefs,’ he said. ‘This is a beauty pageant, and our readers’ vote was only based on a single criterion! He only stands for himself and not for the gay community.’

Barbe has a point (although from next year, it’s worth noting, entrants for Têtu’s beauty contest will have to sign a code of ethics that rejects discrimination). But his assertion that Chartraire does not stand for the gay community overlooks a trend that has been accelerating over the last decade: French gay votersare falling for the Front National’s leader, Marine Le Pen. A survey by the polling firm Ifop indicates a dramatic increase in support for the FN among homosexual and bisexual voters since the French presidential elections of April 2012.

The National Front is the party in France with the strongest anti-Muslim stance. Given the desire of a sizable fraction of France’s sizable Muslim minority for Sharia law…

…does the poll really seem all that strange?

BAWK! BAWK! BAWK!

January 28th, 2015 - 7:17 am

HuffPo called Scott Walker chicken; your Trifecta gang responds.

Personally, I’m warming up to Walker.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

January 28th, 2015 - 6:12 am

FAIL

The numbers come from the nonpartisan CBO, and trumpeted (if that’s the right word) by the Daily Mail. They indicate that ♡bamaCare!!! will add roughly $1,400,000,000,000 to the national debt over the decade, assuming the cost controls (don’t call them death panels!) work as well as CBO figures they will.

That’s a lot of I-told-you-sos.

Thought for the Day

January 28th, 2015 - 5:13 am

Snowmageddon 2015 Edition.

Defending the Nation: You’re Doing it Wrong

January 27th, 2015 - 2:51 pm

Oh for eff’s sake:

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey has established an essay competition to honor the late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, the Pentagon announced Monday.

The competition, to be hosted at the National Defense University over the next academic year, will focus on issues related to the Arab and Muslim worlds, according to the official DOD News.

“This is an important opportunity to honor the memory of the king, while also fostering scholarly research on the Arab-Muslim world, and I can think of no better home for such an initiative than NDU,” Dempsey said in a statement.

It’s going to be a generation before the military is able to purge itself of all the rot it collected during the Obama Administration.

Sign “O” the Times

January 27th, 2015 - 1:43 pm

CHILLY

You think relations are chilly between the White House and Capitol Hill? You might not know the half of it, as Politico’s David Rogers reports:

But the sequence of events does capture how much the normal courtesies between this White House and Congress have deteriorated — even in front of guests from another country.

“There appear to be no rules anymore. If you can do it, do it,” said Patrick Griffin, who recalls nothing quite like this even in the tempestuous times Griffin served as White House liaison between President Bill Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), herself a former speaker who oversaw similar joint meetings for foreign guests, said the management of the invitation was “inappropriate” and Boehner risks squandering his power in a fit of “hubris.”

But privately, Democrats admit too that this White House — as seen in the South Korea episode — is no innocent. And Jackson, who has served at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, said he is baffled that the administration should talk now about “protocol” after being so quick to exert its executive power to run over Congress.

“This is not the first time where they got cross-wise thinking the House was not an equal branch,” Jackson said. “When I heard about this, I shook my head.”

From there, the report really gets ugly — you’ll want to read the whole thing.

Fact is, President Obama doesn’t even play well with his own cabinet, much less mere Congresscritters. As we’ve discussed here repeatedly, his inner circle seems to consist now of Valerie Jarrett and whichever of his old first term cronies he can get on the phone. This state of affairs might explain part of last week’s Bizarro Earth State of the Union Address, the rest of which can be explained by partisan politics and Obama’s notorious mean streak.

He’ll leave the White House still adored by millions, and liked by nobody.

You Keep Not Using That Word…

January 27th, 2015 - 12:41 pm

The New York Times has a heartbreaking piece on Venezuela’s politics and dim future:

Since he was voted into office in April 2013 by a minuscule margin after Mr. Chávez’s death, Mr. Maduro has leaned heavily on the legacy of his predecessor, a populist who governed poorly but had magnetic charisma and shrewd political instincts. Woefully lacking on both fronts, Mr. Maduro has become increasingly erratic and despotic in a quest for political survival that seems more daunting by the day. Healthy oil export revenue allowed Mr. Chávez to build a robust network of patronage and create generous welfare programs during his 14 years in power. Those are becoming increasingly paltry on Mr. Maduro’s watch.

The tumbling price of oil, which accounts for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings, has nearly destroyed an economy that has been managed dismally for years. Inflation rose to 64 percent last year. On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund predicted that Venezuela’s economy would contract 7 percent in 2015, which could force Mr. Maduro’s government to default on its loans or significantly curtail the subsidized oil his country provides to allies in the Caribbean, including Cuba.

Mr. Maduro has been vague about the type of painful economic measures his government has been willing to embrace, yet he bafflingly has promised to expand social programs and raise salaries. Far from acknowledging responsibility for the crisis, he and his loyalists have blamed the revenue shortfalls on political opponents they accuse of enabling an international conspiracy.

What word is missing from this tale of Venezuelan politics?

“Socialism,” which was Chavez’s and is Maduro’s battle cry — which makes it seem, you know, maybe a little germane?

Ataturk Wept

January 27th, 2015 - 11:59 am

Don’t insult the prophet of Islam on Facebook, at least not in Turkey, if reports are correct:

Following an order by a Turkish court, the popular social network has blocked pages considered insulting to the Prophet Muhammad, The New York Times reported Monday, citing a company employee with direct knowledge of the matter.

The court on Sunday threatened to ban access to the entire site if Facebook did not comply with the order. The court order followed a request by a prosecutor.

Facebook had faced a tricky situation that has confronted other companies such as Twitter and Google.

It’s hard to seriously fault Facebook on this one — when you play in a foreign country, you have to play by their rules. Although just once I’d love to see a social networking site tell the local Imam/Mullah/Commissar to stick their orders where the sun don’t shine, then close up shop and say au revoir with a middle-finger salute. That said, any company’s first duty is to its shareholders.

So really what we have here is yet another small sign that Kemal Ataturk’s dream of a modern and secular Turkey is turning into yet another premodern Islamist nightmare.

In the meantime, the best we can hope for our relations with Ankara is, “It’s complicated.”

A Waze to Go

January 27th, 2015 - 10:45 am

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Are you familiar with Waze? It’s a smartphone app, which my wife turned me on to a year or two ago, which crowdsources traffic information. There’s not much use for it here in Monument, Colorado (“Teeming city of tens!”), but I keep it installed for shopping & drinking excursions to Denver, or for road trips to anywhere. It’s well designed, it works in realtime, and I’ve avoided some serious snarls with small kids in car — which by itself elevates Waze to “priceless.” Google, which is pretty smart about these kinds of products, bought the company in 2013 — but it’s handy enough that I don’t mind occasionally letting Google data-mine me about my driving habits.

Of course, users can and do crowdsource information about speed traps, and that has some cops up in arms:

Sheriffs are campaigning to pressure Google Inc. to turn off a feature on its Waze traffic software that warns drivers when police are nearby. They say one of the technology industry’s most popular mobile apps could put officers’ lives in danger from would-be police killers who can find where their targets are parked.

Waze, which Google purchased for $966 million in 2013, is a combination of GPS navigation and social networking. Fifty million users in 200 countries turn to the free service for real-time traffic guidance and warnings about nearby congestion, car accidents, speed traps or traffic cameras, construction zones, potholes, stalled vehicles or unsafe weather conditions.

To Sergio Kopelev, a reserve deputy sheriff in Southern California, Waze is also a stalking app for law enforcement.

There are no known connections between any attack on police and Waze, but law enforcers such as Kopelev are concerned it’s only a matter of time.

Let’s face it — the real culprit here is sheriffs and police departments losing any of their speeding-ticket revenue stream.

Apple Profit Preview

January 27th, 2015 - 9:34 am

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Apple reports last quarter’s profits at market close today, but Fortune says the company will surpass even the most optimistic forecasts:

Apple told Wall Street to expect total sales somewhere in the range of $63.5 to $66.5 billion — representing, at the midpoint, 15% growth from fiscal Q1 2014.

Analysts aren’t buying it. They saw the lines for the new iPhones. They’ve seen IDC’s Mac numbers. They know iPad sales haven’t totally died. They watched Apple shift production to meet demand for the larger — and higher margin — iPhone 6 Plus.

They’re expecting a big quarter.

The consensus among the analysts Fortune polled — 20 professionals and 15 amateurs — is that Apple’s total sales for fiscal Q1 2015 will come in at about $68.3 billion, up 21% year over year.

Apple is certain, once again, to garner the biggest quarterly profits in corporate history.

At some point, the Law of Large Numbers will put the bite on Apple’s growth, but clearly that point has yet to be reached.

‘Nuff Said

January 27th, 2015 - 9:00 am