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Beijing on the Brink

July 7th, 2015 - 11:39 am

On the brink of what is an excellent question — and one nobody has the answer to. But we do know it’s bad:

In an extraordinary move, the People’s Bank of China has begun lending money to investors to buy shares in the flailing market. The Wall Street Journal reports this “liquidity assistance” will be provided to the regulator-owned China Securities Finance Corp, which will lend the money to brokerages, which will in turn lend to investors.

The dramatic intervention marks the first time funds from the central bank have been directed anywhere other than the banks, signalling serious concern from authorities about the crisis.

At the same time, Chinese authorities are putting a halt to any new stock listings. The market regulator announced on Friday it would limit initial public offerings — which disrupt the rest of the market — in an attempt to curb plunging share prices.

While the exact amount of assistance hasn’t been revealed, the WSJ reports no upper limit has been set.

All short-selling — the practice of betting that stocks will fall — has been banned, and Chinese media has rushed to reassure citizens.

I’ve written here before that with 3.2 trillion US dollars stashed away in the People’s Bank of China, Beijing can afford to paper over a lot of trouble. Coincidentally, $3.2 trillion is how much money has been lost in Chinese shares over the last few weeks.

It took China decades to squirrel away $3.2 trillion. It took only three weeks for Chinese companies to lose that much value.

Of course there’s a big difference between shares and cash in the bank. The former is a relatively risky investment, meant to rise and fall in value with corporate performance and investor confidence. The latter is as sound as the US dollar — and so far, so good. But if Beijing is desperate enough to use its dollars to prop up the equities markets, they might be shocked at just how quickly they can burn through hundreds of billions of dollars, or even more.

The hope of course is that eventually the People’s Bank will get its money back. Investors will borrow the cash to buy shares, the shares will keep or increase in value, order will be restored to the equities markets, and the money will flow back into the central bank.

We tried something like that with TARP a few years back, and it worked. But our Congress had the luxury of conjuring up $700 billion mostly out of thin air. China has to put its own hard-earned cash on the line.

That has got to be causing some sleepless nights in Beijing.

Damn:

Judicial Watch today released new Department of Justice (DOJ) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) documents that include an official “DOJ Recap” report detailing an October 2010 meeting between Lois Lerner, DOJ officials and the FBI to plan for the possible criminal prosecution of targeted nonprofit organizations for alleged illegal political activity.

The newly obtained records also reveal that the Obama DOJ wanted IRS employees who were going to testify to Congress to turn over documents to the DOJ before giving them to Congress. Records also detail how the Obama IRS gave the FBI 21 computer disks, containing 1.25 million pages of confidential IRS returns from 113,000 nonprofit social 501(c)(4) welfare groups – or nearly every 501(c)(4) in the United States – as part of its prosecution effort. According to a letter from then-House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, “This revelation likely means that the IRS – including possibly Lois Lerner – violated federal tax law by transmitting this information to the Justice Department.”

Read the whole thing.

Pray They Don’t Alter It Any Further

July 7th, 2015 - 10:13 am
In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, second left, reviews Revolutionary Guard cadets in a graduation ceremony in Tehran, Iran, as he is accompanied by army commander Ataollah Salehi, left. Iran's supreme leader vowed Wednesday he will not allow international inspection of Iran's military sites or access to Iranian scientists under any nuclear agreement with world powers. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, second left, reviews Revolutionary Guard cadets in a graduation ceremony in Tehran, Iran, as he is accompanied by army commander Ataollah Salehi, left. Iran’s supreme leader vowed Wednesday he will not allow international inspection of Iran’s military sites or access to Iranian scientists under any nuclear agreement with world powers. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Guess who else might be against cutting a deal on Iran’s nuclear program? Iran’s own Revolutionary Guard:

There have been warnings signs all along that the IRGC was less than pleased with the nuclear negotiations. Take, for example, the imprisonment of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. To simply dismiss his incarceration as part of a hardline backlash is disingenuous, especially when those responsible for his situation also happen to have control over the potential military dimensions of any Iranian nuclear program. If Zarif and crew can’t sway the Iranian bureaucracy on relatively low-hanging fruit like Rezaian, how can they hope to do so on nuclear weapons research? Some wire services last April quoted IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari as backing the deal, but a comparison between their quotes and the broader Persian context suggests cherry-picking.

The IRGC role in the military aspect or military ambitions of Iran’s nuclear program must be taken seriously. After IRGC General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam perished in a 2011 mishap at an IRGC missile base, the Iranian press reported that his last will and testament requested that his epitaph read “The man who enabled Israel’s destruction.”

Read the whole thing.

The Way a Sandwich Shouldn’t Be

July 7th, 2015 - 9:02 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

Feds raid home of longtime Subway Sandwich pitchman Jared Fogle in child porn investigation:

The raid started around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. An evidence truck could be seen parked in the driveway. Officers from the FBI and Indiana State Police were at the scene.

Earlier this year, Russell Taylor, the former director of the Jared Foundation started by Fogle, was arrested in a child pornography case. He was accused of possessing and producing child pornography. Investigators said a search of Taylor’s home turned up more than 500 videos with images of child pornography. Taylor unsuccessfully tried to kill himself while in jail.

Fogle said the foundation severed all ties with Taylor following the arrest. Investigators wouldn’t say if Tuesday’s raid was connected to that case.

The one time I wasn’t able to get out of jury duty, it was a child pornography case a year or two ago — and we convicted the hell out of the guy, followed by enough Scotch that I don’t even remember his name.

And that’s all I have to say about that for now.

Required Reading

July 7th, 2015 - 7:39 am

Megan McArdle sums up Greece:

Greece’s problem is easy to state: austerity is horrible, a fixed exchange rate makes their economy uncompetitive, and the interaction of those two things promises a lot of misery for a long time. They want someone else to share some of their real and very deep pain.

The Troika’s problem is also fairly easy to state, in three words: Spain, Portugal, Italy.

These countries also have a bit of a debt problem, and the euro is not doing any favors for their economic competitiveness. They are much bigger than Greece. While a Greek default and exit from the euro probably won’t do much damage to the euro zone’s financial stability, a similar move from other PIIGS would present a considerably larger problem. And if Greece gets a fantastic deal from its creditors, then the Troika is quite reasonably afraid that those countries are going to start asking why they’re the suckers.

And you don’t have to guess what happens from there.

Look, it doesn’t take a cynic to see what really lay behind the establishment of the euro. The pro-euro side talked about things like reducing the trade costs incurred by currency exchanges, even though those costs never amounted to very much. They liked to tell us how much easier things would be for tourists traveling from one end of the Continent to the other, without the bother of a passport or having to trade francs for drachma along the way. There would be peace and harmony along the road to establishing a sort of United State of Europe to rival, gently, the United States of America.

That was the public face of the European Project.

Behind the scenes, the Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, and others were hoping to get easy access to cheap German credit — kind of like a ne’er-do-well neighbor being allowed to use your credit rating to secure his home loan. The Germans thought they’d get captive export markets in southern Europe, where the locals would no longer be able to inflate their way every few years back into competitiveness with German firms. The Scandinavian countries had the same goals as Germany, only smaller. The French thought… well, nobody ever knows quite what the French are really thinking, other than how to get somebody else to pay them for being so delightfully French. Other countries went along for the ride because they didn’t think they could afford to be left out, that the eurozone might become resistant to non-euro trade.

The heights of cynicism along the road to the European Project were breathtaking.

(Britain stepped aside from the eurozone only because of the wisdom and grit of Margaret Thatcher, who is widely hated in the UK for both. I suspect many even in Labour are thanking her today for both, albeit silently.)

But now Germany’s captive customers can’t afford many German goods any more — and in Greece they don’t even have enough cash for next week’s groceries. Behind the Greece of course lies an entire tier of second-rank economies poised to follow.

What’s left then? There’s no telling, but maybe the European Union could step back from the utopian folly behind the eurozone, and get back to the serious and practical business of establishing a continental free trade zone.

Reset the Reset

July 7th, 2015 - 6:22 am
Russian Tu-95 on a much friendlier visit to a UK air base. (AP photo)

Russian Tu-95 on a much friendlier visit to a UK air base.
(AP photo)

F-22 Raptors scrambled twice over the weekend to intercept Russian heavy bombers near our coast:

The first incident occurred at 10:30 a.m. ET on July 4 off the coast of Alaska, Fox News is told. Two U.S. Air Force F-22 jets were scrambled from their base in Alaska to intercept two Tupolev Tu-95 long-range strategic bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

The second incident occurred at 11:00 a.m. ET also on July 4, off the central coast of California. Two F-15s from an undisclosed location were scrambled to intercept another pair of Tu-95 Bear bombers.

A spokesman for NORAD would not confirm if either pair of bombers was armed.

Not much fun sending up unarmed bombers, is it?

Apple Music: Quick & Dirty Review

July 7th, 2015 - 5:12 am

BUBBLES

Made the upgrade to iOS 8.4 and iTunes 12.2 so I could explore the latest Music app and the new Apple Music streaming service during its three-month free preview period.

The Apple Music streaming service is dense, feature rich, and doesn’t offer many guideposts as to what it does, or what it expects you to do. Explore it, however, and you’ll quickly reap some lovely musical rewards — with one caveat. Apple Music is not something you want to try for the first time on a tiny iPhone screen. Exploring it on an iPad is much nicer, and is better still for the first hour or two via the iTunes frontend on your giant desktop screen.

On any screen the service is divided into four tabs: For You, New, Radio, and Connect. The first thing Music will ask you to do is Like, Love, or Hate from a selection of genres, then from a selection of artists in amusing little bubbles. Click once for Like, click twice for Love, or click the X for Hate. There’s no actual “Hate” on the screen, but watching the bubble pop gets the message across. Click “More Artists” and get more bubbles to choose from. When Music thinks it knows enough about you, it’s time to dig in.

Also new to iTunes in general is the heart-shaped Love button. Click that on your desert island songs, in your own library or in Music, and the service learns your tastes even better. I made a Smart Playlist of my five-star rated songs, clicked Command-A to highlight all 500 or so of them, then right-clicked and selected “Love.” BOOM!, Apple Music knows exactly what I love best.

For You is where I spent most of my time, clicking on anything that even just looked promising. Within ten minutes Apple Music had introduced me a lovely Bossa Nova artist I was unfamiliar with (Eliane Elias, woo!) and became an instant fan of. Strangely though, the service provides no direct links to buy music through the iTunes Store. I suppose that’s to keep streaming music buyers paying the monthly streaming fee, but maybe you’re like me and you prefer to own your music outright.

The curated playlists provide mostly standard fair, each with a few surprises only a knowledgable DJ can provide. If you’re familiar with the “Deep Cuts” areas of the iTunes Music Store, then you know what I mean. Anyway, those smart DJs led me to a few tracks I wanted to purchase, but again without any direct links to do so in the iTunes Store. It’s a very curious state of affairs when the world’s largest music retailer makes it more difficult to buy music.

Still though, the music selection is broad and the software is deep — and the combination of algos and human curation virtually ensures that you’ll soon find new stuff you’ll love.

Speaking of New…

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Everybody Gets a Chauffeur

July 6th, 2015 - 3:19 pm
(Image courtesy Hanna-Barbera)

(Image courtesy Hanna-Barbera)

Still no flying cars, but our earthbound cars are about to get a whole lot smarter:

Cars in the next few years will be able to find the fastest route for the morning commute as well as order coffee, pay for it and guide the driver to pick it up.

This transformation of the auto into a full-service mobile device adds up to a potential goldmine. Revenue from the data streams and connectivity components could become a 180 billion-euro ($200 billion) market by 2020, McKinsey & Co. estimates. That’s a rich target for Apple Inc. and Google Inc., and automakers are fighting for a claim as well.

Instead of just producing transport hardware, “we have to get into the service industry in a larger way,” Tony Douglas, BMW AG’s mobility services unit, said to a roomful of executives at a recent conference in Munich.

In a few years I’ll be telling my car to have my sons back by 11, instead of the other way around.

“Are they insane?”

July 6th, 2015 - 2:52 pm

That pithy question is echoed, perhaps more politely, by a senior US diplomat in this Reuters story:

One senior U.S. official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the U.S. defense of Iranian compliance was “weird” and did not come naturally.

And why is this official in such a “weird” position? Because of this one weird belief:

“Iran has done a lot of bad things in Syria and across the Middle East, and still does. It’s holding Americans hostages. But the fact is, it’s complying with the JPOA.”

What exactly, given Iran’s behavior “in Syria and across the Middle East,” or holding hostages, or pursuing nukes, or anything else, gives our esteemed diplomat the belief that Iran is complying with anything, especially the JPOA?

“Insane” is right.

You Have the Right to Remain Sober

July 6th, 2015 - 1:23 pm

No link, because Vox, so make do with this screencap instead:

VOX

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last century or so, it’s that banning stuff and constant police monitoring totally works.

News You Can Use

July 6th, 2015 - 12:48 pm
(Image courtesy Warner Bros.)

(Image courtesy Warner Bros.)

Good lord:

One young Maine man is dead after he put a fireworks mortar on his head and set it off, according to officials.

Devon Staples, 22, died instantly, said Maine Public Safety Spokesperson Steve McCausland.

McCausland says Staples had been drinking with friends at a home in Calais, Maine, Saturday night.

Please tell me you know you’re not supposed to do that.

Firing Up the New Queen of the Seas

July 6th, 2015 - 11:13 am
Just one of the HMS Queen Elizabeth's four massive diesel power plants.

Just one of the HMS Queen Elizabeth’s four massive diesel power plants.

Cool:

HMS Queen Elizabeth‘s huge diesel generators have been powered up for the first time at the home of the UK’s aircraft carrier programme in Rosyth.

The move brings the 65,000-tonne future flagship of the Royal Navy closer to becoming an operational warship.

The first of the ship’s four generators was officially started by defence procurement minister Philip Dunne.

The warship is due to be handed over to the Ministry of Defence in 2016 ahead of being put into service in 2020.

Although as S.R. Hadden says in Contact, “First rule in government spending: why build one when you can have two at twice the price?” So of course the Brits are also hard at work on QE‘s sister ship, Prince Of Wales.

This new class of ship is really more akin to our Wasp- or America-class amphibious assault ships, operated by the Navy and embarked with some very tough Marines. The Royal Navy’s beasts displace about 20,000 more tons, but they all rely on V/STOL fighters rather than use costly and complicated launch systems and arrestor wires to launch and recover traditional jets. The QE can also carry a compliment of Royal Marines and put them ashore by helicopter. So make no mistake, these two ships represent more firepower and naval presence than the Royal Navy has enjoyed in a long time — probably in the entire postwar era.

The question is though, can Britain afford to actually operate them once completed?

On that, I’m not optimistic.

(Image courtesy UK Ministry of Defence)

(Image courtesy UK Ministry of Defence)

Still, she’s an awfully pretty ship.

Top Men, Top Men

July 6th, 2015 - 10:01 am
Press sanitized for your protection. (AP photo)

Press sanitized for your protection.
(AP photo)

The Clinton Camp has lost count of the number of experts it has on hire:

In the months before she began her second run for the White House, Clinton spent hours quizzing economists, lawyers, educators and activists about everything from executive compensation to the latest research on lead paint.

By last fall, the number of experts she had interviewed hit two hundred and her team stopped keeping track.

“It was like I hadn’t left Harvard,” Roland Fryer, an economist at the university, said of his meeting with Clinton to discuss successful charter school practices. “It was like talking to a colleague and debating over a cup of coffee.”

Can’t keep track of the experts who, after the election, will supposedly keep track of everything in an $18,000,000,000,000 economy made up of 320,000,000 people.

That in a nutshell is everything wrong with “progressive” ambitions.

What Could Go Wrong?

July 6th, 2015 - 8:30 am
(Image courtesy of Festo.)

(Image courtesy of Festo.)

A German company is building an army of robot ants:

Festo has created a fleet of bionic ants capable of working together, as well as function on their own, in order to complete tasks, just as their real-life counterparts do, according to Business Insider. The objectives for these ants will focus on automating factories.

These tiny machines, developed under the company’s Bionic Learning Network, were born through the process of biomimicry, which combines nature and robotics to create machines.

Festo said back in March that the insects are built with 3D-printed plastic powder melted by a laser, as well as 3D printed circuitry. Their legs are ceramic and their pincers are flexible actuators that can move quickly without using much energy.

Other features include a stereo camera and floor sensor that work together to help the ant figure out its location and identify objects that it needs to grab. The robot also comes with an antennae that charges its lithium batteries.

The ants are tasked with objectives such as transporting large, heavy loads that they wouldn’t be able to lift on their own.

SkyNet fears aside, what becomes of the human race when our every whim is catered to by robots? Arthur C. Clarke (see Childhood’s End) predicted that effortless wealth would lead to a global blossoming of peace and artistic pursuits — but in that story the mysterious Overlord aliens were around to keep a lid on our baser drives.

I should note that poverty isn’t what usually drives people to violence on a mass scale;  ideologically driven desire for power does. Would effortless wealth cure that desire? I don’t know, but decades of experiments with “spreadin’ the wealth around a little” aren’t encouraging. It may well be that for most people (including yours truly), the biggest benefit of working for a living is keeping them out of trouble.

Or suppose Clarke did have it right. Japan and Europe have had it pretty easy since the end of WWII, with the U.S. military playing the role of the Overlords, but those results aren’t encouraging, either. In Clarke’s book, the Overlords brought peace, prosperity, and artistic freedom — but they also portended the end of humanity. Humanity quickly evolved into a non-corporeal collective which eventually consumed the Earth to provide energy to join the intergalactic Overmind. It’s the Progressive idea of Heaven, I suppose, and it’s rather sad. In Europe and Japan the outcome is proving much the same, if less dramatic. Those societies are breeding themselves out of existence, or rather choosing not to breed themselves into continued existence. In the Great Northern Swathe from Spain in the West, through Europe, the Steppes and Siberia, all the way to Japan, entire peoples are evolving into nothingness. And it isn’t just about reproduction; in Japan, young people can’t even bother themselves to get laid anymore.

Do we lose the will to live when we lose the thrills of living?

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Thought for the Day

July 6th, 2015 - 7:03 am

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

July 6th, 2015 - 5:36 am

Ohio small businesses are about to get hit with some serious ♡bamaCare!!! sticker shock — to the tune of nearly $2,500 per employee.

The survey gathered data from 625 small businesses that are OAHU members, and the findings are staggering. A whopping 563—more than 90 percent—will see an average increase in premiums of 37.9 percent. In many cases, not only will the rates be shocking, but employees will find reduced benefits. Obamacare’s mandated metal tiers for benefits eliminate many options for small businesses, including some of the most popular options that were sold in Ohio.

More importantly, the small-group market already had all of the key protections of Obamacare. It had guaranteed issue. It had no pre-existing conditions, with the caveat that someone had prior insurance coverage. Plans provided coverage for many of the essential benefits required under Obamacare. While it didn’t limit the maximum out-of-pocket, according to Kaiser’s employee benefits surveys many of these plans carried an average of around $3,000 per person.

Compare that to Obamacare’s maximum of $6,850 per person for 2016, and it’s easy to argue that under the law employees of small businesses have lost significantly more than they have gained.

♡bamaCare!!! plans are worse for employers and worse for employees, but they’re great for everyone else.

Oh, except for doctors.

And private practices.

And state budgets — can’t forget those.

Jeez, let’s not forget the hole ♡bamaCare!!! is blowing in the federal budget, too.

And then there’s that story I just saw where ♡bamaCare!!! is crowding out local programs which used to help the poor, but now makes them buy policies they can’t afford to use.

But I think we all can agree that ♡bamaCare!!! has been a real boon for nosy IRS agents, pushy bureaucrats, and shady web developers.

So, good job, Mr. President!

Friday Night Videos

July 3rd, 2015 - 9:38 pm

Taking a break from Summer of Covers to celebrate Independence Day — and for this important reminder from Charlie Daniels.

Chick-fil-A Is Number One? Really?

July 3rd, 2015 - 11:31 am
(Shutterstock photo)

(Shutterstock photo)

Huh. I would never have guess Americans would pick a chicken sandwich shop as their favorite fast food:

The chicken chain ranked highest in the U.S. for customer satisfaction, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index Restaurant Report 2015.

In its first appearance on the list, Chick-fil-A outpaced its peers with the highest level of customer satisfaction ever recorded by a fast food restaurant.

“We strive to provide a remarkable experience for each and every customer, so we are grateful and humbled that we were selected for this honor,” Chick-Fil-A said in response to the survey.

Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread, also newcomers to the list, ranked highly as well.

I can’t say I’ve ever been to a Chick-Fil-A. It’s not because of the company’s social conservatism — there’s nothing wrong with a stand in favor of traditional marriage and low-paid, hard-working fast food employees could all use regular Sundays off.

It’s just that I don’t like chicken enough to order it out. I mean literally almost never. The last time I can remember ordering chicken was five or six years ago at a tiny gourmet place called Rosemary’s (since closed), off-off-off-off the Las Vegas Strip. They offered a brick-oven roasted half chicken with a mustard glaze, and I couldn’t say no to that.

But the dreaded boneless, skinless chicken breast you find most everywhere else is barely food, much less worth paying someone else to cook for you. So I just don’t understand the appeal of a chicken sandwich shop, even if the dreaded boneless, skinless chicken breast happens to be deep-fried.

And I’m not sure what Chipotle and Panera are doing on this list. I’m a big fan of both (“Give me a barbacoa burrito or give me an asiago steak sandwich!” as Patrick Henry once said.), but those chains are fast casual, not fast food.

But the bigger mystery is: What’s the big appeal of mass-produced fried white meat on a bun?

More at PJ Media: 

But I Love That Place: The 7 Most Overrated Fast Food Restaurants

 

Beat It

July 3rd, 2015 - 8:45 am
(Image courtesy ABC News)

(Image courtesy ABC News)

So this was probably inevitable and certainly entertaining:

An artist in Reynosa, Mexico, created a piñata that resembles Donald Trump, complete with his signature hairstyle.

Dalton Avalos Ramirez told the Associated Press he designed the piñata “because of the hatred Trump expressed for the Mexican people.”

Trump made comments that Mexicans were bringing “drugs, crime and rapists” to the United States in a June 16 speech kicking off his 2016 presidential campaign.

“People want to burn the piñatas, they want to break them,” Ramirez told the AP.

How do you fill a piñata with hot air and ego?

Oh, THOSE Classified Emails

July 3rd, 2015 - 6:32 am
(Shutterstock photo)

(Shutterstock photo)

You don’t exactly need to sit down for this one:

The State Department on Wednesday conceded that two dozen of Hillary Clinton’s emails did contain classified information, a fact that could trigger a U.S. policy that authorizes the government to take control of her private server and sanitize the contents.

A former senior intelligence official told The Washington Times the policy also requires the government to check other Internet paths her secret information could have taken.

To be fair, “sanitizing the contents” was pretty much Clinton’s goal from the get-go. But that aside, not one damn thing Hillary as said about her private email server has turned out to be true.

Not one damn thing.

Hillary Clinton belongs in jail.

The Math Is a Harsh Mistress

July 3rd, 2015 - 5:46 am

Whittle Nails It

July 2nd, 2015 - 3:01 pm

Er… pins it.

Either way, it’s required viewing.

Honorably discharged after three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, retired Marine Kristoffer Lewandowski’s PTSD was so bad he was 100% medically disabled. But his heavy SSRI prescription seemed to be doing more harm than good:

After realizing that the meds were killing his liver, Lewandowski decided that it would be a good idea try marijuana as a treatment. He began growing 6 plants for his personal use.

In June of 2014, Lewandowski had a PTSD episode. His wife grabbed the kids and took them to the neighbors house where she called the police to get her husband some help.

However, as is the case in so many countless other incidents, police did anything but help.

After police showed up, they searched the Lewandowski’s home and found 6 tiny marijuana plants. Police then weighed all of the plant matter together and it did not total to a single ounce. However, because of Oklahoma’s draconian laws against growing a plant, Lewandowski was charged with felony marijuana cultivation.

Felony marijuana cultivation in Oklahoma carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

According to Whitney Lewandowski, Kristoffer’s wife, the police also pulled up their tomato plants and included them in the photo for the media.

Of course they did — the Drug War thrives on misleading propaganda.

The science on medical marijuana is mixed — and that’s when it isn’t verging on fraudulent from both sides of the debate. (There’s compelling evidence that MDMA, aka Ecstasy, has tremendous potentially in the treatment of PTSD, but that isn’t germane to today’s story.) But people like Lewandowski could be used as case studies to help determine if marijuana might have some benefit for PTSD suffers, apart from and more serious than an increase in their Cheetohs consumption.

Instead, thanks to Oklahoma’s draconian take on the Drug War, Lewandowski faces up to life in prison. His wife was also arrested, charged with a felony, and worst of all their children were taken away and placed with Child Protective Services.

From there the Lewandowskis’ story gets even more convoluted, and I suggest you read the whole thing.

The Smoking (Tank) Gun

July 2nd, 2015 - 1:45 pm
In this photo taken Tuesday, June 23, 2015, Ukrainian servicemen from the Kiev-2 volunteer battalion guard a position at a frontline in the village of Krymske, east Ukraine. Few places along the front line in east Ukraine see regular fighting as bitter as the village of Krymske. For now, Krymske is in the hands of Ukrainian government forces and the volunteer battalions that fight alongside them. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

In this photo taken Tuesday, June 23, 2015, Ukrainian servicemen from the Kiev-2 volunteer battalion guard a position at a frontline in the village of Krymske, east Ukraine. Few places along the front line in east Ukraine see regular fighting as bitter as the village of Krymske. For now, Krymske is in the hands of Ukrainian government forces and the volunteer battalions that fight alongside them. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Ukrainian loyalist forces used a drone to video Russian troops in Ukraine — and although you might not be exactly shocked, this is a big deal:

What makes this already impressive discovery even more startling is the location—less than 12 kilometers from the Ukrainian front-line settlements of Granitnoye and Novolaspa. This area, to the east of Volnovakha and the Donetsk-Mariupol highway, has seen a slow but steady intensification of violence over recent months, as well as a buildup of Russian troops and armor in separatist-held territory behind the front lines.

What’s significant about where this Russian FOB is located is that it’s sandwiched between (Ukrainian-held Volnovakha) and (separatist-held) Telmanovo, and would therefore play a lead role in any forthcoming Russian offensive on Mariupol, the port city on the Sea of Azov which also happens to the economic powerhouse in the Donetsk region. The separatists have nothing comparable to Mariupol in their possession and they want it, as Alexander Zakharchenko, the head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, has stated repeatedly to journalists.

The fighting this spring has been quieter than many (including me) expected. Is this FOB a sign that Putin is ready to attempt to force a decision? Or will he only heat things up to a simmer over the warmer months like he did last year?

It had seemed like the latter was more likely, but now there’s just no telling.

(Cue the Putin apologists in the comments section in five… four… three…)

It looks even worse than I feared.

Michael Fassbender — one of my favorite actors working today — is horribly miscast. Seth Rogan is as convincing as Woz as I would be wearing a fake beard and Monica Geller’s fat suit from Friends. The trailer even opens with a big factual error, “the graphical interface was stolen!” Apple paid Xerox a hefty fee for its WIMP innovations, and then figured out how to squeeze those innovations into 64k of all-original code running on a $2,500 minicomputer.

Based on what you see here, it looks like this movie will have all of the flaws of Walter Isaacson’s bio, and none of the cheesy charm of Pirates of Silicon Valley. That’s a bad combo, and a shocking one considering you’ve got Fassbender working under Danny Boyle’s direction from an Aaron Sorkin script. What a waste of talent.

There’s got to be a good movie to be made about Steve Jobs — for good and for ill, his life was sized for the big screen.

But this movie doesn’t look like it’s the one.

Good lord:

A wrongly-convicted Louisiana man died Monday, just 15 months after he was freed following nearly 30 years on death row and diagnosed with lung cancer.

Glenn Ford died peacefully, surrounded by loved ones while listening to one of his favorite songs in New Orleans at 2:11 a.m., according to a statement from his supporters. He was 65 years old.

Ford was released from prison in March 2014 after a Louisiana judge ruled there was credible evidence that he was innocent of murder.

He had spent just short of 30 years behind bars after an all-white jury convicted him of the 1983 murder of Isadore Rozman, a 58-year-old watchmaker who Ford did yard work for in Shreveport. No murder weapon was ever found and there were no witnesses.

Ford requested compensation for his years trapped behind bars, but the state denied his petition, claiming he did not prove he was completely innocent of any crime.

“Completely innocent?” The man had been found “not guilty” enough to be released after 30 years — and “not guilty” is supposed to be the measure justice must make in this country.

Fit to fight. (Shutterstock image)

Fit to fight.
(Shutterstock image)

The Pentagon and Lockheed-Martin responded quickly to this week’s report that the F-35 can’t outfight an F-16:

In an e-mail to reporters Wednesday morning, they said the report “did not tell the entire story” of the test dogfight between an F-35 and an F-16 this year because the F-35 was not equipped with many of the features that gives it an advantage. But they did not dispute the authenticity of the pilot’s remarks, and said they were investigating how the report, marked “For Official Use Only,” was leaked.

Pentagon officials said that the particular plane the test pilot flew did not have its special stealth coating, a Harry Potter-like “invisible cloak” that renders it invisible to radar. It was also lacking the sensors that allow “the F-35 to see its enemy long before it knows the F-35 is in the area,” the officials said.

Finally, it didn’t have “the weapons or software that allow the F-35 pilot to turn, aim a weapon with the helmet, and fire at an enemy without having to point the airplane at its target.”

Why would anyone bother testing the F-35 under such conditions?

Question for the Day

July 2nd, 2015 - 8:31 am

Robots Dive at Dawn

July 2nd, 2015 - 7:25 am

The best diesel submarine killer might just be a drone:

Originally conceived as a DARPA project, the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) is designed to hunt the next generation of nearly silent enemy diesel submarines.

Diesel submarines are quickly proliferating around the world due to their low cost. Russia recently announced that it has launched the world’s “quietest submarine.”

To accomplish its submarine-hunting mission, the ACTUV project is structured around three primary goals: the ability to outmatch diesel submarines in speed at significantly less cost than existing systems, the system’s ability to safely navigate the oceans in accordance with maritime law, and the ability to accurately track diesel submarines regardless of their location.

If we want to keep the peace in the Pacific, forget about TPP — this DARPA program ought to get the fast track.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

July 2nd, 2015 - 6:20 am

Before we get started, there are a couple things you must know about the video above. First, it stars Richard Simmons and was made to promote ♡bamaCare!!!’s increasingly troubled California exchange. Second, despite being one of the most tragically hysterical things that has ever been my squirming fortune to witness, in over a year there isn’t a version of it on YouTube with even 25,000 views. Thirdly, Sacramento spent $137,000,000 — that’s right: nine figures — to produce and market this… thing. By way of comparison, last year’s Johnny Depp flop, Transcendence, had a production and marketing budget of “only” $100,000,000.

And of course, what has been seen cannot be unseen — so click Play at your own risk.

Now that you know all that, know all this:

Covered California signed the contracts last week with Ogilvy Public Relations — maker of the $137-million Simmons video — and Campbell Ewald. Both are tasked with creating a media campaign to entice new enrollees, specifically minorities.

Facing the worst drought in recent memory— spurring rising food costs and job losses — Californians have better uses for tax dollars than another PR campaign, says Sen. Ted Gaines, who plans to ask for an audit of Covered California’s marketing department.

“Ogilvy made some major mistakes in their advanced outreach, specifically with the use of Richard Simmons. Why are they being rewarded with a renewed contract when they wasted taxpayer money?” asked Gaines. “The video bombed; I wasn’t able to get satisfactory answers as to what they accomplished with this.”

Kudos to Senator Gaines for bringing this up, but I fear he’s asking the wrong questions. This isn’t about the wisdom of hiring Richard Simmons or why the video failed to connect with California viewers.

It’s about where the hell $137,000,000 really went.

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