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Required Reading

April 17th, 2014 - 9:21 am

George Will on the nature of Progressive politics:

The fundamental division in U.S. politics is between those who take their bearings from the individual’s right to a capacious, indeed indefinite, realm of freedom, and those whose fundamental value is the right of the majority to have its way in making rules about which specified liberties shall be respected.

He’s far too generous. No liberties will be respected. Their goal is now that happy end state where everything not mandatory is forbidden. We’ll be thrown trinkets along the way like legal marijuana (which I once used to enjoy when it was illegal) and Supreme Court-protect strippers (but now I have kids, and who has time for strip clubs anymore?). But in everything important, we already spend more and more of our time either paying taxes or following the rules or talking to a lawyer trying to figure out what the [BLEEP] the rules mean or paying off a lobbyist trying to get a breather from the rules.

Which is exactly how they want it.

Anyway — go read Will’s piece, which is a review of former Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s dreadful-yet-revealing new book.

USA Today:

Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk where pro-Russian militants have taken over government buildings were told they have to “register” with the Ukrainians who are trying to make the city become part of Russia, according to Israeli media.

Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated,” reported Ynet News, Israel’s largest news website.

Never again.

UPDATE: I added the “never again” offhandedly, the way too much of the world seems to mean it: “Genocide’s bad, mmkay?”

But that’s not what it means.

“Never again” is a Jewish promise to the world. It means never again will they submit to registration. Never again will they don the yellow Star of David on their sleeves. Never again will they walk meekly to the concentration camps. Never again will they go quietly into the ovens.

“Never again” means if you want the Jews, you’re going to have to come and get them.

That is why there’s an Israel, and don’t ever forget it.

Somebody’s Watching Me

April 17th, 2014 - 8:18 am

That fancy new smart meter your utility company might have just installed in your home isn’t just smart — it’s sneaky:

The information gathered from smart meters includes unencrypted data that can, among other details, reveal when a homeowner is away from their residence for long periods of time. The electric wattage readings can even decipher what type of activities a customer is engaged in, such as watching TV, using a computer or even how long someone spends cooking.

“It’s in the nature of technology to be neutral in the benefits and the risks; it’s how the info is used,” Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, tells FoxNews.com. “Look at smartphones. No one can argue the benefits of having one. But on the other hand, it’s the best tracking device.”

I can’t find the link from my pre-PJM archives, but I wrote in the wee early days of VodkaPundit that privacy was over, that everything would be surveilled, and that you had best check your zipper twice before leaving your house.

What I couldn’t have imagined ten or 12 years ago is that your house would check your fly first.

Trifecta and the Standoff in Nevada

April 17th, 2014 - 7:15 am

News You Can Use

April 17th, 2014 - 6:13 am

SUICIDE

Dear lord, but I hope you know you’re not supposed to do that.

Sign “O” the Times

April 17th, 2014 - 5:07 am

Sit before reading:

All told, including both the welfare recipients and the non-welfare beneficiaries, there were 151,014,000 who “received benefits from one or more programs” in the fourth quarter of 2011. Subtract the 3,212,000 veterans, who served their country in the most profound way possible, and that leaves 147,802,000 non-veteran benefit takers.

The 147,802,000 non-veteran benefit takers outnumbered the 86,429,000 full-time private sector workers 1.7 to 1.

How much more can the 86,429,000 endure?

Now stand up and go Galt.

News You Can Use

April 16th, 2014 - 2:39 pm

MR POO

Mr. Hanky could not be reached for comment.

Hawks Gotta Hawk

April 16th, 2014 - 1:36 pm

Mike Pence sounds a bit more Reaganesque today than Marco Rubio does:

From the prepared remarks provided to Fox News First: “With Russian aggression on the rise, clearly conciliatory diplomacy has failed. While sanctions are of some value, in the interest of our alliance, I believe the United States and the EU must respond with deeds more than words to strengthen our economic and strategic defenses.”

Missile shield – “And, with continued instability in the Middle East, Iran’s ongoing effort to develop long-range missiles and nuclear technology, and Putin’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine, I believe we must take immediate steps to deploy a robust missile defense in Europe – especially Poland and the Czech Republic – to protect the interests of our NATO allies and the United States in the region.”

Pence and Scott Walker are cut from similar cloth — wonky, successful, non-threatening conservative governors from midwestern states. Either one would make a delightful dark horse in 2016, although each has weakness.

But I’m saving that discussion for the inevitable (?) White House runs.

Rubio’s Swing and a Miss on Russia

April 16th, 2014 - 12:35 pm

Marco Rubio’s statement on Ukraine:

The Obama administration must immediately increase sanctions on Russia. Sector-based sanctions should begin to be imposed and President Putin’s own financial assets, and those of his associates, targeted.

By delaying the most significant penalties, the United States and our allies have unfortunately sent the message to Russia that there will be little cost to pay for this type of behavior.

We should also stand with Ukraine as the interim government attempts to deal with these provocations. This includes immediately providing the lethal assistance they requested weeks ago.

We also need to take measures to reassure our allies in Central and Eastern Europe by deploying more alliance assets to their territories to reinforce our NATO commitments to their security.

“Armed takeovers of foreign territory by masked men are the crude tactics of bygone regional powers, not the actions of 21st century nations. Until Russia is convinced of a real cost of its current course of action, I fear that Ukraine’s stability will continue to be undermined. I urge the President to act without delay.

This doesn’t exactly lend me any assurance of Rubio’s foreign policy acumen. He’s combined Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom’s naif-like assessment of Russia’s standing with tough talk of “lethal assistance” that the Administration, NATO, or Europe is unlikely to offer.

This strikes more as the statement of somebody feeling around for a Reaganesque response to the Kremlin but without quite finding one.

So what would Reagan do? Reagan brought down the Soviet empire in the public stage by treating our adversary with the respect they deserved as a world power, but with the moral understanding that the empire was indeed evil. In the Western hemisphere Reagan provided arms to freedom fighters in Communist countries, and in the case of Grenada, an armed invasion. The only lethal assistance Reagan provided in the eastern hemisphere was to the mujahadin in Afghanistan, a backwater where the Red Army was already fully engaged — but with no restive Russian minority and not a part of Russia’s historic “near abroad.”

Reagan used a conventional arms buildup and investments in missile defense to bankrupt the Soviets financially and technologically. Behind the scenes Reagan worked with our energy allies (mostly the Saudis) to keep oil prices low enough, long enough to put the final squeeze on the Soviet economy. Here at home Reagan made the moral and political case against statism at every opportunity.

What Reagan never did was threaten to wage hot war in Eastern Europe or within the USSR because — and please pardon the f-bomb — Russia was a f***** nuclear power.

So the question remains: What would Reagan do? I don’t know — these are different times. But I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t release a statement like Rubio’s.

Predicting the collapse of North Korea is a fool’s game — and one I never tire of playing. So with that, let’s play along today with Christopher Lee:

Kim Jong Un is defined by many as an egotistical fanatic whose recklessness led to dreadful mistakes during his two year tenure. First, instead of implementing a sound plan to alleviate the mass hunger and poverty in his nation where the average annual income is $1,800, he continues to conduct costly missile research, development, and test launches. To support his weapons programs, Kim spends approximately $10 billion – about 25 percent of total GDP – on his military. The $3.2 billion spent on nuclear weapons and missile development over the years is equivalent to three years’ supply of food for North Korea’s citizens.

Second, on April 8, 2013, Kim broke his partnership with South Korea regarding their joint venture in the Kaesong Industrial Park. This action further severed ties between North and South Korea and cost North Korea 53,000 jobs and wage losses amounting to $245.7 million. South Korea paid workers’ salaries directly to the North Korean government, so this loss of revenue further bankrupted North Korea.

Third, and above all, Kim’s most flawed and dangerous decision was the recent purge and public pillory of Jang Song Thaek. This action not only destroyed the image of unity in his regime, but also inadvertently acknowledged the dissension and instability within the state-run government. It strained his nation’s alliance with its closest ally, China, who was working closely with Jang in an effort to convince a determinedly opposed Kim to adopt to a China-style economic reform.

Combined, these instances demonstrate a realistic probability that this authoritarian regime may potentially crumble in the near future.

That third item is the key. As we’ve discussed here before, the ruling clique needs the carrot and the stick, or the whole thing falls apart. Oftentimes rather suddenly.

That’s why I say it’s a fool’s game. Outsiders have no way of knowing who is making overtures to China or who is getting ready to flee or which security services colonel (it’s almost always a colonel) thinks it’s time to “save” his country via firing squad.

But then it happens, or all at once.

Required Reading

April 16th, 2014 - 10:28 am

The Mother of All Administration Malfeasance stories, courtesy of Megan McArdle:

For several months now, whenever the topic of enrollment in the Affordable Care Act came up, I’ve been saying that it was too soon to tell its ultimate effects. We don’t know how many people have paid for their new insurance policies, or how many of those who bought policies were previously uninsured. For that, I said, we will have to wait for Census Bureau data, which offer the best assessment of the insurance status of the whole population. Other surveys are available, but the samples are smaller, so they’re not as good; the census is the gold standard. Unfortunately, as I invariably noted, these data won’t be available until 2015.

I stand corrected: These data won’t be available at all. Ever.

Read the whole thing.

I’ve become cynical enough about politics in the last quarter century that I thought nothing could shock me anymore. But the same White House that weaponized the IRS has done the same thing to the Census Bureau, and turned it into the data-collection, collation, and distribution arm of the Democratic Party.

Folks, I don’t know how to clean up this mess anymore.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

April 16th, 2014 - 9:24 am

First, some good news for a change:

According to the CBO, the net cost of the Affordable Care Act is projected to cost $5 billion less in 2014 than originally projected. The projected cost from 2015 to 2024 is estimated to cost $104 billion less than originally expected.

“CBO’s new forecasts reflect the fact that premiums on the exchange have come in slightly lower than initially expected,” Vox’s Sarah Kliff wrote Monday after the report was published online. “The ones being sold this year tend to pay doctors less and have ‘narrower networks of providers.’ When health plans contract with fewer doctors, they typically can negotiate cheaper prices with the few physicians they do include in their networks.”

Well, kind of good news. The government will be spending less money, but passing the crappy health networks on to you. There’s also the wee little issue that even if a spending increase is smaller than forecast, it’s still a spending increase.

You also have to wonder something about those lower-than-expected premiums. Right now, insurers on the private exchanges might be engaging in a little moral hazard when pricing their plans. Thanks to ♡bamaCare!!!’s “risk corridors,” they know there is bailout money available to them if they price their plans too low. And let’s face it: There’s an unspoken assumption that it would be politically impossible for this Administration to allow any health insurer to go bankrupt as the law rolls out.

Enjoy those lower premiums, kids — you (or your grandkids) will still pay the difference.

Speaking of lower premiums… wait, what lower premiums? Read:

“For the last, about, five years they’ve been doing this survey, so this was the largest percentage increase in any quarter since they’ve been doing (it),” said Scott Gottlieb of the American Enterprise Institute.

“But at 12 percent, 11 percent increase on average across all the states — that puts it at the upper end of any increase we’ve seen for decades.”

That is the national average in a survey done by Morgan Stanley. But in some states, it found rates are soaring.

“There are specific states with exorbitant increases,” Gottlieb said. “Delaware had 100 percent increase, Florida had a 37 percent increase, Pennsylvania 28 percent increase, California had a 53 percent increase in their premiums.”

The story doesn’t make it clear, so I’m assuming that this survey focused on all insurers, or maybe just on employer-based coverage plans, and not just on the exchanges. So it looks to me like ♡bamaCare!!!’s vast army of losers includes those who don’t have to purchase on the exchanges.

You think those CBO numbers will still look so nice when, as planned, employers start dumping more people onto ♡bamaCare!!!?

It’s Not Over ‘Til BLM Says It’s Over

April 16th, 2014 - 8:19 am

Are you ready for another standoff in Nevada? The Feds might be:

So are the feds willing to forgive and forget?

Already, Bundy supporters are citing the resolution to the weekend’s dispute as an important moment. Arizona state Rep. David Livingston, speaking with Reuters, called it a “major tipping point” for western lawmakers pushing state sovereignty issues.

But Heller’s Senate colleague, Senate Majority Leader Reid, D-Nev., told Reno-based KRNV: “It’s not over. We can’t have, in America, people that violate the law and just walk away from it. So it’s not over.”

At the least, BLM officials say they’ll continue their fight through the courts.

“The courts” is exactly where BLM should have begun, not with an armed invasion to seize private property.

But…

Scott Ott took the standoff for his Trifecta topic this week, and Bill Whittle — on or off camera, I don’t remember — made an interesting point. He wondered if the Feds would use this to re-write their rules of engagement, and next time move in faster, with no warning, and even more heavily armed.

The Founders would have called it tyranny.

Crappy Tax Day!

April 16th, 2014 - 7:14 am

Virginia Postrel got hit with a big tax bill after receiving a late payment from her publisher last year, which wouldn’t have happened under the old income averaging rule:

The tax system has gotten more complex and progressive in recent years, making the arbitrary distinction between this year’s income and last year’s all the more unfair. (Year-to-year fluctuations don’t make a significant tax difference for the relatively few people who are always taxed at the top rate.)

One special class of people still gets to escape the tyranny of the tax calendar. In 1997, Congress restored income averaging for farmers and ranchers. It’s even more galling to be taxed extra for Simon & Schuster’s slow payment knowing that if I were growing corn instead of writing books I’d be able to offset the good years against the bad ones.

The problem is that writers aren’t one of Washington’s favored classes — although given that so many of them display such a slavish devotion to the White House, you’d think they were.

4833629691

Bunches of them from PBS, with a hat tip to Jim D.

Blood Moon Rising

April 16th, 2014 - 5:09 am

Getting personal with the Trifecta guys and a cosmic event or four.

Tax THIS!

April 15th, 2014 - 2:45 pm

Speaking of new taxes, Jonathan Cohn can’t get enough:

Naturally, there are arguments to be had over how high taxes should go, exactly who should pay more, and what form those levies should take. Personally, I’d opt for some combination of taxes on wealth and taxes on carbon, figuring it’d be good to fight inequality and stop global warming. And while taxes should go up for most people, they should be a little lower for some of the working poor.

Gosh, it’s nice of Cohn to admit there are two sides to the argument — whether taxes should go higher or whether they should go much higher. (Think I’m kidding? Re-read the first sentence in the graf above.) What I find most interesting however comes earlier in the piece, among the reasons Cohn loves his higher taxes:

Sometimes, of course, your tax dollars pay for supports and services you won’t use. And you might resent that. But even taxes that pay for someone else’s benefits can benefit you. Why does the U.S. not have the massive underclass that characterizes many third-world countries—or the incipient danger of violent upheaval that accompanies it? The safety net your taxes purchased, tattered as it is, buys a degree of social harmony, too.

Taxes are how we pay poor ethnic people not to riot in nice neighborhoods like Cohn’s.

Charming.

First up we have Brookings’ Douglas J. Elliott for the Nays:

It is difficult to go a day without reading scary headlines about China’s economy. The reality is that it is going through major adjustments, and has some serious structural flaws, but that its even greater strengths will almost certainly prevent economic calamity…

One does not have to dig far in China to find examples of serious over-investment. Much of it represents the building of infrastructure now that is not really needed until well in the future, such as many of the high-speed train lines. These projects are often justified by the fact that they will eventually be put to good use, but in the meantime represent “dead money” that could be channeled into much more profitable uses. Other investments are just vainglorious or foolish and will never be worth much. Lower levels of total investment would tend to be considerably more efficient, because it is easier to get funding for smart projects than silly ones.

There are also real limits to the sustainability of large trade surpluses in a world where all nations are looking to increase exports, and the sheer size of China’s economy has grown to the level where other nations will not long accept such an approach.

I can’t say that I’m moved all that much by an argument that relies on the wisdom of leaders who got China building ghost cities and an unsustainable export model. And while they might have guided China to soft landings after the last two bubbles, that’s no guarantee of future success. Besides, the nature of bubble economies is that each bubble must grow bigger than the last one (paging Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen), so that the “wise” leaders can mask the failures of the previous bubble.

On the other hand, China does have five trillion dollars in the bank, and that’s enough money to paper over a lot of economic trouble.

But is it enough to hide a real estate collapse? That’s Gordon Chang’s fear:

Nothing is going right for Hangzhou at this moment. Walmart will be closing its Zhaohui store in that city on April 23 as a part of its overall plan to dump marginal locations—about 9% of the total—in China.

Thanks to the world’s largest retailer, another large block of space in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, will go on the market at a time when there is generally too much supply. The problem is especially pronounced in the city’s premium office market. Hangzhou’s Grade A office buildings at the end of 2013 had, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, an average occupancy rate of 30%.

The real weakness, however, is Hangzhou’s residential sector. The cause is simple: massive overbuilding. Sara Hsu of the State University of New York at New Paltz writes that Hangzhou faces “burgeoning swaths of empty apartment units.”

It’s true that Chang has successfully predicted (if memory serves) three of the last zero economic collapses in China. He made his name around the turn of the century predicting a banking collapse — and I still have that book on my shelf although I can’t remember the last time I was tempted to pick it up.

That’s a mighty big bubble for Beijing to re-inflate, and the fact remains that every inflation simply masks the fact that the underlying value is not there.

So Chang has been wrong before. And he might be wrong this time. But the day of reckoning — the reconciliation of China’s asset prices to their actual value — must come eventually.

And that bell tolls for Washington every bit as loudly as it tolls for Beijing.

Back to the Future!

April 15th, 2014 - 12:37 pm

HIKER

I’m sure he’ll break 500 before it’s all over.

One of my all-time favorite Top Ten lists from the old Letterman “Late Night” show on NBC was from November of 1988. And yes, I can still recite probably half of “Top Ten Michael Dukakis Excuses.”

Dang, but that makes it seem like a long time since Letterman was irreverent and biting and funny.

Anyway.

One item on the list was, “Ill-advised pledge to ‘tax you bastards back to the Stone Age.’”

Today, instead of sending such an idiot back to his well-earned obscurity, we elect him.

Twice.

Two Out at GM Over Recall Issue

April 15th, 2014 - 11:32 am

The bloodletting begins:

In the first major shake-up of General Motors’ senior management since the company announced a wide-ranging recall in February, its chief spokesman and head Washington adviser, and its top human resources executive have left the company.

Selim Bingol, G.M.’s senior vice president for global communications and public policy, was part of the inner circle of Mary T. Barra, the automaker’s chief executive, handling strategy and the public response to the recall of nearly 2.6 million cars. The company announced his departure on Monday, along with that of Melissa Howell, senior vice president for global human resources. It did not say whether Mr. Bingol or Ms. Howell had resigned or if they were dismissed.

The departures are the first major executive changes under Ms. Barra, who took over in January.

Ford Motor Company could not be reached for gleeful comment.

Excuse me. There’s something in my eye and my allergies are acting up and I still haven’t gotten over that sinus infection.

That’s my story and I’m sniffing to it.

Czech-Raise in the Ukraine War

April 15th, 2014 - 9:22 am

Before Russia annexed Crimea, I wondered out loud how long it would take Moscow to digest its new-old territory. So far, the answer looks to be “not very long at all.” But Robert Beckhusen wonders if eastern Ukraine might prove rougher stuff:

There’s no doubt the Russian military has the means to invade mainland Ukraine. But whether it can hold conquered territory is another question—especially if Kiev puts up a fight.

That’s the conclusion of the Swedish Defense Research Agency, Stockholm’s government-funded military think tank.

The agency—known as FOI—doesn’t doubt that Russia can invade. But it does question whether Moscow has the ability to secure territory in mainland Ukraine, given the potential size of the area Russia would need to secure—and absent the natural defensive barriers of Crimea, which Moscow annexed in March.

Unlike Crimea, eastern Ukraine would be hard for an occupying force to defend. Russian troops could find it difficult to prevent insurgents from infiltrating their lines.

Crimea is nearly three-quarters ethnic Russian, but the bits of Ukraine Moscow now seems to be angling for are only about a third- to half-Russian. And that’s the easy part.

It’s easy to separate Crimea from the rest of Ukraine, but it already mostly is separated — connected to the mainland only by a narrow isthmus. Ukraine proper? Not so easy. The reason that part of the world is such an ethnic mishmash of ever-changing borders is there just aren’t many good places to draw any borders, and even if you did, it’s all-too-easy for people to move across them. What little ethnic homogeneity enjoyed by Central and Eastern Europe was “thanks” to Stalin’s brutality. He drew the borders he wanted, then moved the populations around to match. But Stalin never bothered to do that internally in the Soviet Union. Quite the opposite — Stalin re-settled ethnic Russians into Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic Republics in an effort to Russify them. That’s one reason there’s so much border friction between the old member states of the USSR.

So now Putin looks to re-take Ukraine’s Russian areas Russified by Stalin. But that struggle cuts both ways, for the reasons (and methods) given by Beckhusen.

Then again, Putin made his name putting down the Chechens, in a campaign even more brutal than it was effective.

We might be looking at a generation(s)-long struggle to find borders Eastern Europe can live with.

Required Viewing

April 15th, 2014 - 8:17 am

Bill Whittle’s Afterburner is especially good this week.

Sign “O” the Times

April 15th, 2014 - 7:12 am

Forget concrete actions — we still haven’t exhausted all of our diplomatic photo ops:

Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan visited Kiev at the weekend, the White House said Monday, amid US ire over the storming of official buildings in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian gunmen.

“We can confirm that the director was in Kiev this weekend,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. Brennan’s visit was part of a routine trip to Europe, and any claims that it was anything other than that by Russia were “absurd,” he added.

The kind of thing the CIA might prove useful at doing in Ukraine doesn’t exactly require the Director’s presence. It could be argued I suppose that the White House is attempting to “send a message” to the Kremlin, but it’s going to take something more serious than a furtive visit by Brennan to un-send the message sent by last year’s Red Line Debacle.

News You Can Use

April 15th, 2014 - 6:07 am

ICP BOOTY

For the man who has everything:

Fans of the rap duo Insane Clown Posse – aka juggalos – can add another cult-like initiative to their list, with reports of the release of a new, bitcoin-like cryptocurrency. According to juggalocoin.org, the currency is designed for the group’s substantial Juggalo community, and is available to purchase now.

Accepted wherever finer 40 ounces are sold.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

April 15th, 2014 - 5:02 am

Barack Obama, Kathleen Sebelius

Today’s ♡FOD comes courtesy of Faceless Commenter. Betsy McCaughey lays out the details of something I’ve only mentioned once or twice — the concern over how many ♡bamaCare!!! enrollees with bother paying their second or third month’s premiums:

Why the concern? First-time insurance purchasers, especially those living paycheck to paycheck, will be shocked by ObamaCare’s high deductibles, about $3,000 for the silver plan (the most commonly selected) and $5,000 for the bronze plan (the most affordable).

Basically, you’ll have to pay thousands out of pocket for appointments, tests and prescriptions until you reach your deductible.

Millennials who heard Obama say on “Between Two Ferns” that they can buy a health plan for the price of a cellphone contract won’t be laughing when they realize what the $5,000 deductible means. (It’s like a cellphone contract that makes you pay $5 a text for your first thousand texts.) Rather than pay thousands out of pocket for care while also paying premiums, some will quit paying premiums.

That’s why the AMA is worried.

If Democrats are going to avoid total disaster in November, they need people benefitting from ♡bamaCare!!! in big enough and excited enough numbers to make a difference at the polls.

The Democrats can tout blah-blah imaginary millions all they like, but it’s little more than a desperate hope that someone will believe somebody is doing well enough under the law, that Democrats deserve to win reelection.

In other words, they’re selling a lie to the gullible about the nonexistent to benefit the corrupt.

Good luck with that, Donks.

Oh, right — that would be Tom Friedman:

SO the latest news is that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has threatened to turn off gas supplies to Ukraine if Kiev doesn’t pay its overdue bill, and, by the way, Ukraine’s pipelines are the transit route for 15 percent of gas consumption for Europe. If I’m actually rooting for Putin to go ahead and shut off the gas, does that make me a bad guy?

Because that is what I’m rooting for, and I’d be happy to subsidize Ukraine through the pain. Because such an oil shock, though disruptive in the short run, could have the same long-term impact as the 1973 Arab oil embargo — only more so. That 1973 embargo led to the first auto mileage standards in America and propelled the solar, wind and energy efficiency industries. A Putin embargo today would be even more valuable because it would happen at a time when the solar, wind, natural gas and energy efficiency industries are all poised to take off and scale. So Vladimir, do us all a favor, get crazy, shut off the oil and gas to Ukraine and, even better, to all of Europe. Embargo! You’ll have a great day, and the rest of the planet will have a great century.

Has any continent gone more “green” than Europe? Is any continent more reliant on expansionist neighbors than Europe? So the last question is, now that Europe has gone so green that it’s at Russia’s mercy, the solution is to do even more of the same?

For the first time ever I’m tempted by Colorado’s legal pot.

Sit on It

April 14th, 2014 - 1:52 pm

That’s what Congressional and Senate Democrats are doing this spring and summer in the face of unrelenting anti-♡bamaCare!!! ads from AFP:

They’re gambling that it makes far more sense to build a sizable war chest and hold off until closer to the election to engage their opponents in an expensive TV war. The idea: Absorb the ads from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity now and hope some help from their Democratic allies, like the Senate Majority PAC, helps to keep their races competitive. Then, when the time comes, unleash a flurry of attacks that will give them a late bounce and potentially victory come November.

This is probably exactly what I would advice, but it isn’t without its risks. Wait too long, and the other side’s message becomes set in stone. The Koch Brothers risk is that they fired their big guns too soon, and people begin to tune out ads they’ve already hear all too often — and discount the message, too.

That said, I don’t expect Americans to suddenly fall in love with ♡bamaCare!!!, no matter what ads anyone airs or when they air them.

There’s an App for That

April 14th, 2014 - 12:46 pm

50 million Android users can certainly be wronged:

Even judging by the low standards of creepy data-mining apps, “Brightest Flashlight” did something pretty egregious. The free app, which was installed by at least 50 million Android users, transmitted users’ real-time locations to ad networks and other third parties. It was, in other words, a stalking device disguised as a flashlight.

But here’s the kicker:

In a Wednesday announcement, the FTC confirmed that GoldenShores and owner Erik Geidl are not to collect app users’ geolocation without clearly explaining how and why they’re doing so and, in broad terms, say who is receiving that information. The flashlight app maker will also have to keep records for the FTC to inspect, and Geidl will have to tell the agency about any new businesses he decides to start in the next 10 years. He also has 10 days as of the order to delete all the data he collected.

On paper, the order looks like stern stuff but, in practice, it’s hard to see how this amounts to real punishment.

Open is better. And the government will protect you.

What I want to know is, how does a flashlight app get access to a user’s personal goodies? And if a flashlight app can do it, what app can’t?

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

April 14th, 2014 - 11:40 am

Jeff Bezos always puts out an entertaining shareholders letter and this year is no exception:

The Mayday button lets users call a human to get help using the product. Some fun facts about Mayday usage from Bezos: “Mayday Tech Advisors have received 35 marriage proposals from customers. 475 customers have asked to talk to Amy, our Mayday television personality. 109 Maydays have been customers asking for assistance with ordering a pizza. By a slim margin, Pizza Hut wins customer preference over Domino’s. There are 44 instances where the Mayday Tech Advisor has sung Happy Birthday to the customer. Mayday Tech Advisors have been serenaded by customers 648 times. And 3 customers have asked for a bedtime story. Pretty cool.”

The trick is coming up with a device so simple to use that it would never even occur to the maker to come up with such a clever feature — but it is a clever feature.