Fool’s Gold

July 1st, 2015 - 2:02 pm

Iran gets 13 tons of impounded gold back from South Africa, and we get… a crumbling sanctions regime:

“The removal of Iran’s sanctions and gaining access to the country’s financial and gold resources abroad is one of the main objectives of Iran’s negotiating team in the ongoing nuclear talks,” Fars reported.

Meanwhile, Iran’s ambassador to Paris this weekend stressed that his country’s main objective in the talks is to end international sanctions, which had nearly crippled Iran’s economy at their peak.

“Fortunately, the West has come to realize that the weapon of sanctions has not been effective and has been forced to change its approach and recognize Iran’s legitimate rights,” the official was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

Iran’s GDP has grown 3 percent in the last year, prompting experts to warn that ongoing sanctions still imposed on Tehran are not working.

Sanctions were only going to work — as well as sanctions ever work, that is — so long as there was American leadership to keep the rest of the world in line. It’s obvious now that this White House has every intention of removing those sanctions, in the vain hope of a nuclear Pax Iran over the Middle East. Rather than going along with the sanctions regime, it now behooves every other player to try and sneak into Iran before some other player gets there first.

The race is on to see who can break the sanctions the mostest.

An ISIS-Gaza Axis?

July 1st, 2015 - 12:35 pm
Smoke rises following an explosion by an airstrike in Egypt's northern Sinai Peninsula, as seen from the Israel-Egypt Border, in Kerem Shalom town, southern Israel, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. Islamic militants on Wednesday unleashed a wave of simultaneous attacks, including suicide car bombings, on Egyptian army checkpoints in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula, killing tens of soldiers, security and military officials said. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Smoke rises following an explosion by an airstrike in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula, as seen from the Israel-Egypt Border, in Kerem Shalom town, southern Israel, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. Islamic militants on Wednesday unleashed a wave of simultaneous attacks, including suicide car bombings, on Egyptian army checkpoints in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula, killing tens of soldiers, security and military officials said. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

ISIS unleashed a “wave of simultaneous attacks” on Egyptian Army positions near the Gaza border:

The coordinated assaults, which included up to 70 militants, came a day after Egypt’s president pledged to step up the battle against Islamic militants and two days after the country’s state prosecutor was assassinated in the capital, Cairo. The BBC reported that the clashes are ongoing, with militants reportedly overtaking a main police station.

“This incident is a game-changer.”

- Israeli official

The officials said scores of militants were besieging Sheikh Zuweid’s main police station, shelling it with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades and exchanging fire with dozens of policemen inside. Reuters reported that militants planted bombs along a road between the police station and an army camp to deter reenforcements.

What the Israeli official said, because it looks like ISIS is trying to open a communications route to Gaza — and a new fighting front directly against Israel.

The Jewish State has so far enjoyed being buffered on all sides. Their northern Golan border with Syria is largely controlled by the Free Syrian Army and other moderate-ish groups. Jordan to the west has yet to “enjoy” the fruits of the Arab Spring. And the Egyptian Army has kept the lid on things down south in the Sinai.

I’m imagining what would happen if the radicalized Palestinian population in Gaza were to receive fighters, training, and supplies from ISIS — and what I’m imagining isn’t good.

You would be safe in imagining that Jerusalem and Cairo will be cooperating quite closely to squelch this ASAP.

How Do You Say Drachma in Russian?

July 1st, 2015 - 11:22 am

Russia has “opened the door” for Greece to join its new multinational development bank:

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday held a telephone conversation with Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak. During the conversation, Storchak invited Greece to become the sixth member of the New Development Bank of BRICS countries, Greece’s Syriza party reported on its website. Storchak is a representative of the BRICS Bank which is now being established.

The bank is expected to be one of the largest financial institutions to fund various infrastructure projects in the BRICS countries and emerging economies.

The BRICS group of prominent emerging economies was established in 2010, when South Africa joined Brazil, Russia, India and China in what was previously known as the BRIC nations. The BRICS countries make up about 40 percent of the world’s population and a combined economy of about $16 trillion.

China has the cash and Russia has the raw materials to peel Greece right off of the EU — and maybe NATO.

We’re Next

July 1st, 2015 - 10:26 am
(Chart courtesy Washington Examiner)

(Chart courtesy Washington Examiner)

Go ahead and laugh at the Greeks — while you still can:

With all the chaos unravelling in Greece, Congress would be wise to do what it takes to avoid reaching Greek debt levels. But it’s not a matter of sticking to the status quo and avoiding bad decisions that would put the budget on a Greek-like path, because the budget is on that path already.

A quarter-century ago, Greek debt levels were roughly 75 percent of Greece’s economy — about equal to what the U.S. has now. As of 2014, Greek debt levels are about 177 percent of national GDP. Now, the country is considering defaulting on its loans and uncertainty is gripping the economy.

In 25 years, U.S. debt levels are projected to reach 156 percent of the economy, which Greece had in 2012. That projection comes from the Congressional Budget Office’s alternative scenario, which is more realistic than its standard fiscal projection about which spending programs Congress will extend into the future.

There, with or without the grace of God, go I.

Slightly less glib, the difference between the US and Greece is that we control our own currency — which also happens to act as the world’s reserve currency. We also act as a worried planet’s mattress of last resort. That is to say, when other countries’ economies go to hell, the stash their money in US banks, securities, real estate, etc. So the good news is, we can probably exceed even Japan’s levels of indebtedness (more than 200% of GDP), before the stuff hits the fan.

The bad news is that the CBO’s “alternative scenario” may prove entirely too optimistic regarding how long it takes us to get there.

One Country, Two Currencies?

July 1st, 2015 - 9:11 am
People use the ATMs of a closed bank next to an anti-EU and German swastika sign in Athens, Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Greece is set to become the first developed nation to not pay its debts to the International Monetary Fund on time, as the country sinks deeper into a financial emergency that has forced it put a nationwide lockdown on money withdrawals. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

People use the ATMs of a closed bank next to an anti-EU and German swastika sign in Athens, Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Greece is set to become the first developed nation to not pay its debts to the International Monetary Fund on time, as the country sinks deeper into a financial emergency that has forced it put a nationwide lockdown on money withdrawals. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greece went into partial default on Tuesday, but Frances Coppola writes that last Sunday was the day the euro died:

There can now be no winners. While Greece remained depressed but compliant, the EU masters could pretend that Euro membership would eventually deliver the promised prosperity. But now, even if Greece by some miracle remains in the Euro, its relationship with the rest of the Eurozone is fundamentally changed.

Freezing ELA means that Greece can now only regard itself as a “user” of the Euro rather than a full member of the currency union. There is no legal means for countries to leave the Euro, but it seems that they can be frozen out. This should not be seen as similar to the Cyprus situation: liquidity in Cyprus was restricted because its banks were insolvent. Greece’s banks are not insolvent (yet). The ECB’s statement makes no mention of bank solvency: the liquidity freeze responds to the failure of the talks and the decision by the Greek government to call a referendum. The freeze is therefore an overtly political move. The independence of the ECB has been shattered.

The “irrevocability” of the Euro is no longer credible. Using liquidity restriction to force a country to introduce capital controls is tantamount to suspending its Euro membership.

The euro isn’t really dead, of course — it’s still the official currency of the 19-member eurozone, including the Big Four of Germany, France, Spain, and Italy. For all the euro’s troubles, that’s still a lot of economic firepower.

But what about Greece? It’s almost out of euros and it’s almost out of other people’s euros, too. Is some kind of duel-currency economy possible? Athens could beg or save (hah!) for the euros it needs for imports, but run its domestic economy on a revived drachma. That’s a lousy, and for all I know illegal solution — but it would beat the hell out of running the domestic economy on barter. And from this side of the Atlantic, barter does indeed seem to be likelier than any other solution.

We’ve seen similar situations before, right there in the Balkans and the former Eastern Bloc. Back during the Cold War, you could get most anything you wanted — if you could get your hands on US dollars. And believe it or not, Marlboro cigarets were the unofficial second currency of communist Romania.

Anyone else see a better out for Greece?

Building a Bridge to 1982

July 1st, 2015 - 8:16 am
Your modern world confuses and frightens her. (AP photo)

Your modern world confuses and frightens her.
(AP photo)

The next Leader of the Free World, stumped by a fax machine as revealed in the latest email dump:

She claimed in April that she scrubbed the server of more than 31,000 emails which she deemed ‘personal’ in nature.

Twitter let out a collective guffaw Tuesday night in the direction of a December 2009 email exchange between Clinton and Abedin – who invested 15 minutes trying to teach her boss how the handset on a fax machine worked.

‘Can you hang up the fax line?’ Abedin wrote. ‘They will call again and try fax.’

‘I thought it was supposed to be off [the] hook to work?’ Clinton responded.

‘Yes,’ Abedin wrote, ‘but hang up one more time. So they can establish the line.’

‘I did,’ Clinton replied.

‘Just pick up [the] phone and hang it up. And leave it hung up,’ Abedin shot back.

‘I’ve done it twice now,’ replied a befuddled Hillary.

There’s an SNL sketch to be had out of this, with Huma trying to talk Hillary through working the nuclear football.

Wait — that’s not funny, is it?


July 1st, 2015 - 7:16 am

These are Heinlein’s Crazy Years — we just live in them:

Chuck Netzhammer said he ordered the image of the Confederate flag on a cake with the words, “Heritage Not Hate,” on Thursday at a Walmart in Slidell, Louisiana. But the bakery denied his request, he said. At some point later, he ordered the image of the ISIS flag that represents the terrorist group.

“I went back yesterday and managed to get an ISIS battleflag printed. ISIS happens to be somebody who we’re fighting against right now who are killing our men and boys overseas and are beheading Christians,” Netzhammer said.

A superpower can wallow in unseriousness for only so long, before the rot of decadence sets in.

It has set in.

And it isn’t mere decadence. American culture has descended into something like insanity.

I’ll have more on this in the next few days.

Vincent & Jules approved. (Image courtesy Miramax)

Vincent & Jules approved.
(Image courtesy Miramax)

Well, not really a quarter pound — but closer to a quarter pound than it used to be:

According to an internal document obtained by CNBC, the chain will be rolling out a new patty next month that weighs 4.25 ounces before cooking and also has a different shape.

The current McDonald’s Quarter Pounder patty starts out at four ounces pre-cooking and shrinks to about 2.8 ounces before it’s assembled on a bun. In the memo, McDonald’s also details “new assembly” procedures for the burgers to make the searing on the meat more visible and toast the buns for longer.

It might seem like an odd move for the chain to tweak one of its most recognizable menu items, but the document said the change to the patties “improves the taste, texture and appearance of the burgers” and the meat will “retain more moisture resulting in a juicier and more flavorful burger.”

I can’t find the link, but I read a while back that internally, McD refers to its standard patties as “tens.” That’s because there are ten of them to a pound, or 1.6 ounces each — and one “ten” per standard hamburger.

By way of comparison, when I grill sliders here at Casa Verde, I start by forming miniature patties out of two ounces of beef. That’s right: My sliders contain 25% more beef — and of higher quality — than a full-size McDonalds burger. So if they’re serious about upping the beef content in their Quarter Pounder, then maybe the company is starting to get itself on the right track.

But they’re still going nowhere fast until they fix what they broke with those tasteless, soggy, sad little fries.

F-35 Fighter Can’t Dogfight

June 30th, 2015 - 3:32 pm
Unfit? (Shutterstock image)

(Shutterstock image)

That’s the conclusion of a test pilot who concluded that the new Air Force/Navy/Marine Corps fighter “was at a distinct energy disadvantage” during all phases of a mock battle with an F-16:

The fateful test took place on Jan. 14, 2015, apparently within the Sea Test Range over the Pacific Ocean near Edwards Air Force Base in California. The single-seat F-35A with the designation “AF-02” — one of the older JSFs in the Air Force — took off alongside a two-seat F-16D Block 40, one of the types of planes the F-35 is supposed to replace.

The two jets would be playing the roles of opposing fighters in a pretend air battle, which the Air Force organized specifically to test out the F-35’s prowess as a close-range dogfighter in an air-to-air tangle involving high “angles of attack,” or AoA, and “aggressive stick/pedal inputs.”

In other words, the F-35 pilot would fly his jet hard, turning and maneuvering in order to “shoot down” the F-16, whose pilot would be doing his own best to evade and kill the F-35.

“The evaluation focused on the overall effectiveness of the aircraft in performing various specified maneuvers in a dynamic environment,” the F-35 tester wrote. “This consisted of traditional Basic Fighter Maneuvers in offensive, defensive and neutral setups at altitudes ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 feet.”

The F-35 was flying “clean,” with no weapons in its bomb bay or under its wings and fuselage. The F-16, by contrast, was hauling two bulky underwing drop tanks, putting the older jet at an aerodynamic disadvantage.

But the JSF’s advantage didn’t actually help in the end. The stealth fighter proved too sluggish to reliably defeat the F-16, even with the F-16 lugging extra fuel tanks.

More details:

“Insufficient pitch rate.” “Energy deficit to the bandit would increase over time.” “The flying qualities in the blended region (20–26 degrees AoA) were not intuitive or favorable.”

The F-35 jockey tried to target the F-16 with the stealth jet’s 25-millimeter cannon, but the smaller F-16 easily dodged. “Instead of catching the bandit off-guard by rapidly pull aft to achieve lead, the nose rate was slow, allowing him to easily time his jink prior to a gun solution,” the JSF pilot complained.

And when the pilot of the F-16 turned the tables on the F-35, maneuvering to put the stealth plane in his own gunsight, the JSF jockey found he couldn’t maneuver out of the way, owing to a “lack of nose rate.”

The F-35 pilot came right out and said it — if you’re flying a JSF, there’s no point in trying to get into a sustained, close turning battle with another fighter.

The F-16 has performance comparable to a Russian Su-27 or its more modern variants.

Of course the idea of stealth is that the other guy never gets close enough for a dogfight — you launch missiles at him at long range, before he has any idea you’re even out there.

But what happens when, as sometimes happens, the missiles fail? What happens if the bad guys develop stealth-defeating detection systems?

Let’s hope our pilots never have to find out.

Required Reading

June 30th, 2015 - 1:17 pm

James Poulos says that Twitter is terrible:

On Twitter, we’re not screaming at each other because we want to put different identities on cyber-display. We’re doing it because we’re all succumbing to what philosophers call “comprehensive doctrines.” Translated into plain language, comprehensive doctrines are grandiose, all-inclusive accounts of how the world is and should be.

The debasement of Twitter indicates that many of us are ready to slip into verbal brutality to show that just one worldview — ours, of course — can annihilate the competition. Twitter used to be a place to escape from the uniformity and hyperventilation of the “mainstream media,” where the ideological id has long run rampant. Now, Twitter is a megaphone for the worldview wars. It fosters constant competition among our claims that everyone should care and act as we do.

I spend a lot less time on Twitter than I once did, for precisely this reason.

The Democrats’ Bernie Issue

June 30th, 2015 - 12:36 pm
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

WaPo reports on the Vermont Senator’s surprising strength:

Sanders — a self-described democratic socialist — has seen his crowds swell and is gaining ground in the polls on the formidable Democratic front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton. In New Hampshire, where Sanders was on yet another weekend swing, one survey last week showed him within 8 percentage points of Clinton.

Sanders’s emerging strength has exposed continued misgivings among the party’s progressive base about Clinton, whose team is treading carefully in its public statements. Supporters have acknowledged privately the potential for Sanders to damage her — perhaps winning an early state or two — even if he can’t win the nomination.

“He’s connecting in a way that Hillary Clinton is not,” said Burt Cohen, a former New Hampshire state senator and Sanders supporter who attended Sunday morning’s event, where a nasty rain didn’t seem to deter many people from coming. “He’s talking about things people want to hear. People are used to candidates who are calculated, produced and measured, and they see through that. Bernie’s different.”

Different how? Sanders would further impoverish the middle class by increasing welfare dependency, all dressed up in the shopworn platitudes of democratic socialism. Clinton would further impoverish the middle class with her corporatist policies, all dressed up in the shopworn platitudes of market-tested Democratic talking points.

But at least it’s nice to see that Democrats are aware that Sanders wins on style points.

SHOCKER: The Inevitable, It Happened!

June 30th, 2015 - 11:28 am

Confirmed — Athens is broke:

Greece’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said his country would not make the deadline on Tuesday for a key payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Asked by journalists outside the ministry whether Greece would make the debt repayment of about 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion), he replied, “No”.

A defiant Athens urged Greeks to reject creditors’ demands for tough reforms in a weekend referendum, despite warnings that this would lead to a chaotic Greek exit from the Eurozone.

As I’ve noted on this page before, the problem with the inevitable is that given enough time, it always seems to happen.

Uber Bans Guns, Hilarity Ensues

June 30th, 2015 - 10:02 am
Incentivized. (Shutterstock photo)

(Shutterstock photo)

Well, that is if you find armed robbery to be hilarious:

The Anti Media recently reported that Uber announced that they will be firing any drivers who are caught violating the new policy—which apparently went into effect nearly two weeks ago—because they contend that an unarmed driver makes their customers feel more safe.

Now the New York Daily News reports that a 22-year old Uber driver was robbed with a gun by a potential passenger. The driver stopped “on 67th Ave. and Burns St. in Rego Park just after midnight” to meet his client. When the man got in the car he pointed a rifle at the driver, demanding all his money. The driver gave the man $60 and ran. Uber says they are investigating.

The story is vastly different from a recent scene in Chicago where an Uber driver defended a crowd of people from a shooter.

What a shame nobody saw anything like this coming.

But then there’s this:

A Florida Uber driver has been reportedly suspended pending a police investigation after he broke the company’s anti-gun policy and shot a passenger who was allegedly choking him during an argument.

Clearwater police are investigating after the passenger in an Uber vehicle was allegedly shot Sunday night during an altercation with the driver, 74-year-old Steven Rayow. Passenger Marc Memel, 60, was shot in the foot and treated and released from a local hospital, a local NBC affiliate reported.

I love Uber service, but there’s something sick and wrong about the management of a company that would leave drivers helpless like the one in NYC, while punishing drivers for defending themselves like the one in Florida.

Uber’s drivers — and potentially its passengers — are paying the price for the company’s “progressive” policies.

I don’t ride Uber anymore, and neither should you.

(Shutterstock photo)

(Shutterstock photo)

After 70 years:

The worldwide Jewish population is approaching the size it was before the Holocaust, a new report by an independent Jerusalem-based think tank says.

The report, compiled by the Jewish People Policy Institute, indicates that there are 14.2 million Jews worldwide as of early 2015. Add in various “subgroups” (such as immigrants to Israel and American “partial Jews”) and the number approaches 16 million — which nears the pre-World War II global Jewish population of 16.6 million, Ynet reported on Friday.

After Israel, which is home to 6,103,200 Jews, the United States has the second-highest Jewish population at 5,700,000.

The JPPI report says that the last decade (2005-2015) has seen an eight percent increase in the Jewish population, or the biggest increase since the end of World War II.

Poland makes a decent comparison, since it lost a greater proportion of its population during WWII than any other country — and Poland had recovered its losses after “only” about 35 years.

Paging Norman Bates

June 30th, 2015 - 7:41 am

Florida Man found with his deceased mother on the sofa:

On May 13, a deputy was dispatched to a residence in the 3900 block of Thornton Street to check on the welfare of 81-year-old Joyce Willis. Willis’ son, Michael Eugene Sticken, 60, had reportedly been rebuffing family members’ attempts to call or visit his mother since January.

When the deputy arrived at the residence he immediately noticed a foul odor. Upon entering the house, he found two couches pushed together with blankets piled on top. Under the blankets, the deputy found a female who was so badly decomposed as to be unrecognizable.

The Medical Examiner’s Office estimated that Willis’ had been dead for between one and four months at the time of her discovery. The Medical Examiner’s Office is working to determine her cause of death.

In an interview with deputies, Sticken said he had not been responsible for his mother’s death, calling her “his best friend,” the report said.


Stricken had been cashing his mother’s Social Security checks during this time.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

June 30th, 2015 - 6:27 am

Scott Atlas reports that thanks to ♡bamaCare!!! over the next three years, Medicaid/Medicare “coverage” will grow three times faster than private insurance:

This will not improve American health care. Private insurance is superior for both access and quality of care. Reforms should therefore be focused on how to maximize the availability and affordability of private insurance for everyone, regardless of income or employment, rather than put more people into government insurance while causing private insurance to become unaffordable to all but the affluent.

Why is private health insurance so important? Insurance without access to medical care is a sham. And that is where the country is heading. According to a 2014 Merritt Hawkins survey, 55% of doctors in major metropolitan areas refuse new Medicaid patients. The harsh reality awaiting low-income Americans is dwindling access to quality doctors, hospitals and health care.

That Means It’s Working™

I’d add a couple of things.

By 2018, the Administration projects that 135 million Americans will receive Medicare or Medicaid’s questionable benefits. With a population of around 324 million, more than 40% of all Americans will be receiving their health benefits courtesy of the American taxpayer. With an expected 220 million taxpayers, that’s only 1.6 taxpayers per recipient. Of course, that’s assuming that every taxpayer has their own private health insurance — which simply isn’t true; lots of working poor are on Medicaid. They remain however a net drain on the system, meaning those of us taxpayers who aren’t net drain must make up an even greater difference.

And remember, that each one of those working taxpayers is also on the hook for their own health insurance, plus any dependents on their private plans.

Work, in other words, is for suckers.

Start Department Ejects Free Beacon

June 30th, 2015 - 5:48 am

The Most Transparent Administration in History™ is at it again:

Two State Department officials booted the Free Beacon from a room where Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, was talking to reporters, despite the Free Beacon’s being credentialed by the Austrian government for the ongoing Iranian nuclear talks.

Western observers present in Vienna for the talks linked the State Department’s behavior to jitters over media coverage revealing a still growing list of concessions being made to Iran by the Obama administration.

Melissa Turley, a State Department official, approached a Free Beacon reporter and demanded that he leave the room.

“You’re not registered with the U.S. press,” Turley said after being informed that the Free Beacon was attending the event.

“You have a press pass from the [European Union], not from me,” Turley said, after being informed that the Free Beacon was officially credentialed to cover the event.

The Free Beacon lately has been schooling (and scooping) the New York Times and Washington Post on matters embarrassing to the Administration, the Mainstream Media, and other Democratic organizations.

(Shutterstock photo)

(Shutterstock photo)

Now up at PJ Parenting: 4 (Nearly) Guaranteed Ways for Parents to Stay Sane.

The new Parenting site just went officially live today, and my lead column might involve strong drink — but only a little.

Back to the Future: 2015 via 2013 via 1993

June 29th, 2015 - 3:52 pm
(Image courtesy Business Insider)

(Image courtesy Business Insider)

With a big tip of the hat to Will Collier, take a gander at this two-year-old Business Insider piece by Joe Weisenthal:

Margaret Thatcher was an incredibly polarizing figure, but everyone should be able to agree that she was absolutely spot on about why the Euro would be such a disaster.

As Peter Oborne reported in the Telegraph In 2010, Thatcher’s two autobiographies, “The Downing Street Years” (1993) and “The Path To Power” (1995) discussed the tactics she would use to argue against the EMU (Economic and Monetary Union), which she wanted no part of.

Basically, she outlined the problems with the euro perfectly, that Germany would chafe at the inevitable need for greater inflation, and that the poorer countries would inevitably be uncompetitive and need bailouts that would not easily be forthcoming.

This story reminds me of an old Milton Friedman quote: “Everything we know in economics we teach in Econ 1, and everything else is made up.”

Thatcher knew her Econ 1, and applied it perfectly to her understanding of Continental politics.

Brady Center Takes a Hit

June 29th, 2015 - 2:22 pm

The Brady Center has been given a court order to pay the legal fees of the ammo dealer it took to court after the Aurora theater shooting:

The order, which was issued last week, comes after Judge Richard P. Matsch dismissed the gun control group’s suit that sought to hold Lucky Gunner legally responsible for the 2012 shooting. The Brady Center had argued in their suit that the way Lucky Gunner sells ammunition is “unreasonably dangerous and create a public nuisance.”

“A crazed, homicidal killer should not be able to amass a military arsenal, without showing his face or answering a single question, with the simple click of a mouse,” Brady Center’s Legal Action Project Director Jonathan Lowy said at the time. “If businesses choose to sell military-grade equipment online, they must screen purchasers to prevent arming people like James Holmes.”

Judge Matsch disagreed with the Brady Center’s argument. He said the suit was filed for propaganda purposes. “It is apparent that this case was filed to pursue the political purposes of the Brady Center and, given the failure to present any cognizable legal claim, bringing these defendants into the Colorado court where the prosecution of James Holmes was proceeding appears to be more of an opportunity to propagandize the public and stigmatize the defendants than to obtain a court order,” he said in his order.

It’s nice after this last week to see a judge acting rationally and in the public interest.

Pray They Don’t Alter it any Further

June 29th, 2015 - 2:00 pm

There She Goes Again

June 29th, 2015 - 1:00 pm
Always on the lookout for a scam. (AP photo)

Always on the lookout for a scam.
(AP photo)

I have so not missed the Clintons:

Hillary Clinton withheld Benghazi-related emails from the State Department that detailed her knowledge of the scramble for oil contracts in Libya and the shortcomings of the NATO-led military intervention for which she advocated.

Clinton removed specific portions of other emails she sent to State, suggesting the messages were screened closely enough to determine which paragraphs were unfit to be seen by the public.

For example, one email Clinton kept from the State Department indicates Libyan leaders were “well aware” of which “major oil companies and international banks” supported them during the rebellion, information they would “factor into decisions” about about who would be given access to the country’s rich oil reserves.

The email, which Clinton subsequently scrubbed from her server, indicated Clinton was aware that involvement in the controversial conflict could have a significant financial benefit to firms that were friendly to the Libyan rebels.

She ruined a country in an attempt to enrich her friends.

Hillary Clinton belongs in jail.

Elderly people, who usually get their pensions at the end of the month, wait outside a closed bank in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, Monday, June 29, 2015. Greece's five-year financial crisis took its most dramatic turn yet, with the cabinet deciding that Greek banks would remain shut for six business days and restrictions would be imposed on cash withdrawals. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

Elderly people, who usually get their pensions at the end of the month, wait outside a closed bank in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, Monday, June 29, 2015. Greece’s five-year financial crisis took its most dramatic turn yet, with the cabinet deciding that Greek banks would remain shut for six business days and restrictions would be imposed on cash withdrawals. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

From the WSJ’s report on the current state of the Greco-Euro Crisis:

Three-and-a-half billion euros. That is roughly how much cash Greece’s banks need to get through the week if each adult takes out the €60 ($67) they are allowed each day. It isn’t much for Greeks to live on, but it may be more than the banks have.

This is how close the Greek financial system is to collapse. If the European Central Bank demanded repayment of banks’ emergency funding, that would be the end. Fortunately, there is leeway to avoid this as long as the political will remains.

Beyond Greece, the rest of the eurozone must look to an acceleration of full banking union to protect weaker banks in Portugal, Austria and other countries.

The Journal buried the lede however, way down in the ninth graf:

Although Greece won’t make a payment to the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday, ratings companies have said this doesn’t mean a wider default on government bonds, which the ECB accepts. July 20 is the next date for a bond repayment.

Boom. Greece is in partial default. The ratings companies can make all the soothing noises they want, but that doesn’t change the fact that Greek banks don’t have enough deposits to cover the grocery money for next month, much less the Visa payment.

Our domestic markets are “rattled” right now, but don’t be surprised if they’re buoyed by yet another influx of worried capital from abroad.

Assad’s Last Gasp

June 29th, 2015 - 10:23 am
A mother and father weep over their child's body who was killed in a suspected chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta Aftermath of Chemical Weapon Attacks in Damascus, Syria - 21 Aug 2013 (Rex Features via AP Images)

A mother and father weep over their child’s body who was killed in a suspected chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta Aftermath of Chemical Weapon Attacks in Damascus, Syria – 21 Aug 2013 (Rex Features via AP Images)

Here we go again:

U.S. intelligence agencies believe there is a strong possibility the Assad regime will use chemical weapons on a large scale as part of a last-ditch effort to protect key Syrian government strongholds if Islamist fighters and other rebels try to overrun them, U.S. officials said.

Analysts and policy makers have been poring over all available intelligence hoping to determine what types of chemical weapons the regime might be able to deploy and what event or events might trigger their use, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Last year, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad let international inspectors oversee the removal of what President Barack Obama called the regime’s most deadly chemical weapons. The deal averted U.S. airstrikes that would have come in retaliation for an Aug. 21, 2013, sarin-gas attack that killed more than 1,400 people.

Since then, the U.S. officials said, the Assad regime has developed and deployed a new type of chemical bomb filled with chlorine, which Mr. Assad could now decide to use on a larger scale in key areas.

Once again, Putin and Assad have played Obama and Kerry for chumps.

Puerto Rico to Tip Over

June 29th, 2015 - 9:08 am
A bridge to nowhere great. (Shutterstock image)

A bridge to nowhere great.
(Shutterstock image)

The Governor of Puerto Rico had a wee tiny thing to admit about his island’s municipal bond debts:

“The debt is not payable,” Mr. García Padilla said. “There is no other option. I would love to have an easier option. This is not politics, this is math.”

It is a startling admission from the governor of an island of 3.6 million people, which has piled on more municipal bond debt per capita than any American state.

A broad restructuring by Puerto Rico sets the stage for an unprecedented test of the United States municipal bond market, which cities and states rely on to pay for their most basic needs, like road construction and public hospitals.

That market has already been shaken by municipal bankruptcies in Detroit; Stockton, Calif.; and elsewhere, which undercut assumptions that local governments in the United States would always pay back their debt.

Muni bonds have (almost) always promised low returns for investors — but safe and free from federal taxes. And state taxes are owed only on income from munis bought out of state. No taxes help keep rates low, allowing your city or state to borrow and make improvements relatively cheaply. Almost every time you see local road improvements or a new school being built, they were finances with muni bonds.

But if that feeling of safety goes away, if buyers feel like their returns are quite so guaranteed, then rates must go up to keep buyers buying. That means fewer road improvement or new schools, or waiting longer for them.

Considering the state of our roads and a lot of our schools, that’s a bad deal for everybody — and it only takes a few bad actors in local governments as diverse as Stockton, CA, Detroit, MI, and Puerto Rico.

Medical Science Goes to Pot

June 29th, 2015 - 7:50 am
Whoa, is this a sham? (Shutterstock photo)

Whoa, is this a sham?
(Shutterstock photo)

Medical marijuana might not be all that beneficial, medically speaking:

That’s the takeaway from a new JAMA assessment of 79 studies involving nearly 6,500 people that found little evidence the drug helps patients, including those suffering from depression and glaucoma, the AP and LiveScience report. The strongest evidence of marijuana’s positive effects came in those with chronic nerve or cancer pain. Patients who took cannabinoids like THC or CBD were 40% more likely to see at least a 30% reduction in pain compared to those using a placebo. Positive effects were also seen in those with muscle stiffness related to multiple sclerosis and in chemotherapy patients dealing with nausea and vomiting, but that’s not to say that marijuana treats those conditions only or at all, adds Reuters.

Some researchers argue too little is known about marijuana’s potential benefits because research is often hindered by governments against its use. The studies that do exist tend to be small and based on “low-quality scientific evidence, anecdotal reports, individual testimonials, legislative initiatives, and public opinion,” the study authors say. “Imagine if other drugs were approved through a similar approach.”

I always took “medical marijuana” for what I figured it was — stealth legalization. However, I also figured that any reduction in the Drug War’s lousy strictures was a good thing, even if the premise was a bit silly.

But it looks like these studies are just too small or too flawed to let us know either way.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

June 29th, 2015 - 6:15 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

Gosh, some people just don’t know what’s best for them:

For millions, arranging treatment through cash, barter and charity is still better than paying for insurance. They include Lisa Khechoom of Glendale, Calif., who refuses to buy coverage. She says she pays a flat $35 for a doctor visit and often substitutes prescriptions with cheaper natural remedies for herself, her husband and their children.

“I’m spending money either way, but it’s going to be less,” says the 41-year-old, who runs a telecom-service business with her husband that brings them an annual income of around $77,000. “For the amount of office visits I do make, why pay $3,500 for insurance when I’m not even taking advantage of it? We go to the doctor and we pay for it. Usually I can get a better deal than if I had insurance.”

The law’s penalty for not carrying insurance grows to its maximum next year and will start at $695 for an individual, up from $325 this year. That isn’t enough to sway Ms. Khechoom, who says paying the penalty is still preferable to buying coverage.

Khechoom and her family are exactly the kind of people California’s coverage “exchange” needs more of if it’s ever going to become solvent, as this story from April reminds us:

Unlike some other state exchanges, Covered California hasn’t quite spent all its federal aid; $200 million is being set aside to cover its near-term deficit. But that money isn’t going to last long: The exchange is expecting to end up nearly $80 million in the red this year. According to the Orange County Register, “Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee acknowledged in December that there are questions about the ‘long-term sustainability of the organization.’”

Such questions are not new, the paper observed, pointing out that “a 2013 report by the state auditor … stated that, until the state’s health insurance exchange actually started enrolling Californians in health plans, its ‘future solvency’ was ‘uncertain.’ Thus, Covered California was listed as a ‘high-risk’ issue for the state.”

The Khechooms are healthy, so they won’t take much out of the system, and enjoy an upper-middle class income, so they won’t burden the system with large subsidy payments. Without customers like them, Covered California caters mostly to the older, sicker, and/or poorer — which is no way to get into the black. California has huge structural budget problems which aren’t going away, and ♡bamaCare!!! looks like more of the same for the beleaguered Golden State.

Now take a moment to remember that Covered California is considered by supporters to be one of ♡bamaCare!!!’s success stories.

I would just add that in his arrogance, ♡bamaCare!!! architect Jon Gruber thought he knew just the right carrots and just the right sticks to force square pegs like Khechoom into his one-size-fits-all round holes.

But the fact of the matter is that insurance is simply a bad deal for many families, and they won’t take it. And it just so happens that those are the very same people ♡bamaCare!!! requires to pay up, if it is to work at all.

The math, as I wrote in the comments to an earlier ♡bamaCare!!! post, is a harsh mistress — and nothing the Supreme Court does can change it.

News You Can Use

June 29th, 2015 - 5:16 am
(Image courtesy Deadline News/The Daily Mail)

(Image courtesy Deadline News/The Daily Mail)

So: A strawberry shaped like a chicken.

I think we can all agree that we’ve seen that now.

Friday Night Videos

June 26th, 2015 - 10:32 pm

Summer of Covers continues!

Last week we had Brian Setzer covering Steely Dan, and that got me to wondering who might have covered Setzer’s original band, The Stray Cats.

Stray Cats recorded bunches of their own covers, from Buddy Holly’s “Lonesome Tears,” to my all-time favorite Setzer guitar performance on their cover of Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk.”

But who covered the band who did so many covers? Getting an answer to that one took some digging — some really entertaining digging.

One of the less likely bands I came across was Roadkill Rockers out of Sunne, Sweden, who promise to play their “own kind of rockabilly.” And sure enough, their sound is stripped down even for rockabilly, verging on punk. And if you’re going to go punk with The Stray Cats, then you’ve got to go with tonight’s cut, “Rumble In Brighton.”

Their first full album, Play It Loud, came out in Europe earlier this month, and it’s also available for download on the iTunes Store.

Nothing fancy but it is a fun take on a fun genre, so I downloaded a copy. And I am going to play it loud — but with my headphones on so I don’t wake the wife and kids.