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Rube Goldberg’s Passover Seder

March 30th, 2015 - 3:28 pm

*slow clap*

SPENDING

The IRS is collecting record revenues again, although I’d wager a big part of the post-crisis increase is not due to healthy growth. Median and average wages are stagnant, the labor participation rate is shrinking, and welfare dependency is growing. Add all that together, and the reason tax collections continue to grow is mostly due in to the Fed re-inflating the equities bubble. If — when — this new bubble pops, revenue will take another big hit.

Meanwhile, dependency will continue to grow, eating up larger and larger chunks of the federal budget — in both relative and absolute terms.

And here are the latest details from Jason Russell:

Compared to historical averages from 1965 to 2014, spending is rising much faster than revenues. Spending is projected to rise almost 6 percentage points higher than its historical average, whereas revenue is projected to rise only 2 percentage points above average revenue.

Furthermore, revenue is not projected to rise enough to meet the historical average from 1965 to 2039, let alone the much higher spending projected in 2039.

From 1965 to 2014, federal spending averaged 20.1 percent of GDP. Revenues never once reached that level, averaging 17.4 percent of GDP over the same time period.

Tax rates weren’t constant over that time period. Whether taxes were relatively high, as in the 1960s, or low, as in the early 2000s, revenue levels were fairly constant with some swings for economic booms and busts.

In other words, we can have high tax rates and lots of loopholes resulting in collections of about 17-18% of GDP. Or we can have lower tax rates and fewer loopholes resulting in collections of about 17-18% of GDP. What we can’t have is high tax rates and no loopholes, because “selling” loopholes to the donor class is the primary reason Congress raises tax rates. Also, if you think growth sucks now, wait until we try that high rate/low loophole recipe. Money would flee the country like Grateful Dead fans during a drug raid.

The longterm solution then is to get spending in line with revenues, which would go a long way towards goosing the economy enough to grow our way out of our problems of debt and dependency.

Or we can go bust, which seems like the smart bet.

When it comes to government regulation of wearable health devices, there might be grounds for cautious optimism:

Bakul Patel, who oversees the new wave of consumer-focused health products at the Food and Drug Administration, said most wearable gadgets such as the soon-to-be-released Apple Watch and health-focused applications for smartphones have a way to go before warranting close scrutiny from the agency.

“We are taking a very light touch, an almost hands-off approach,” Patel, the FDA’s associate director for digital health, said in an interview. “If you have technology that’s going to motivate a person to stay healthy, that’s not something we want to be engaged in.”

Two worries. The first is that as wearables become more functional, the FDA might decide, just one of those fashionable regulatory whims, that wearables no longer have “a way to go.” In that case, bend over for your “close scrutiny.”

The other worry is that the FDA might just decide that a truly functional wearable counts as a “medical device” and becomes subject to the onerous medical device tax.

We have got to start repealing laws and eliminating agencies while there’s still a chance for real innovations.

Report: IRS “Careless” with Your Data

March 30th, 2015 - 12:06 pm

The IRS collected about $2,500,000,000,000 in taxes last year, with half of that coming from income taxes. So you’d think they’d take computer security seriously.

OK, stop laughing — of course they don’t give a damn:

The IRS is failing to secure its massive computer systems leaving our private information wide open to hackers and fraudsters looking to exploit their system, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

I’m not sure which lapse is most egregious: that the IRS does not always delete employee access when workers have quit or been fired (including for snooping into private records), that its passwords can easily be compromised, or that it is using software without proper security functions. Not only do former employees have access to our sensitive information, but current employees who aren’t authorized to see this data can log in and snoop around.

These vulnerabilities mean that hackers – and those who aren’t too sophisticated – can get into the IRS systems and meddle with the kind of information which they can then use to file false tax returns, apply for credit cards, secure loans, and more.

GAO says that while the IRS developed and documented a comprehensive agency-wide security program, it hasn’t effectively implemented elements of it.

Abolish the income tax and nuke the IRS.

The Problem with Hillary: Bill

March 30th, 2015 - 10:45 am
Party of youth. (AP photo)

Party of youth.
(AP photo)

My headline is unfair to Bill Clinton, who is usually a tremendous asset to his wife’s campaigns. Bill is that once-in-generation combination of instincts and wonkery, in exactly the way Hillary isn’t. Still, his appetites do cause trouble:

Mr. Clinton is hungering once again to play a central role in his wife’s presidential campaign. And Hillary Rodham Clinton’s advisers are once again grappling with how to deploy Mr. Clinton, a strategic imperative that was executed so poorly in 2008 that it resulted in some of the worst moments of her campaign.

In that race, the former president was at times a frustrated and unpredictable presence, operating on his own, calling up some of his wife’s aides to second-guess strategy and shifting the news media’s focus from her to him with stray remarks, such as when he set off African-American anger by diminishing Barack Obama’s success in South Carolina.

This time, advisers and political associates say both Clintons understand how critical it is to harness both the rare gifts and rash impulses of a former president on behalf of a potential one.

That’s the gist of a sharp NYT writeup by Patrick Healy and Amy Chozick, but Hillary’s real Bill Problem might be right in the lede:

Bill Clinton’s hearing has faded. With his head of white hair and frail frame, he looks older than his 68 years — “truly grandfatherly,” as one friend said. He often jokes about what would happen if he were to “drop dead.”

In 2008, Barack Obama’s appeal spread far and wide past his “natural” base of African Americans and overly-credentialed progressives. He was young, he was hip, he was the furthest thing from “truly grandfatherly” anyone could imagine. He looked younger than his 47 years.

Hillary struggles to appeal outside of her natural base, which near as I can tell consists of not much more than women of a certain age and Arab oil interests. The progressives don’t trust her, the anti-war left thinks even less of her, and Bill might hurt her with younger women.

I know the press doesn’t like to talk about it, but that “truly grandfatherly” former president is the same guy who was getting blow jobs from an intern half his age, and can still be spotted — let us put this gently — hanging around with scantily-dressed women who are now a third of his age. Other than the kind of women who don’t mind “giving their body for the cause,” the reaction to Bill Clinton of most younger female bodies might best be described as “ew ew ew ew ew ew ew.”

That’s not to say Hillary won’t win a majority of single female voters; in fact, I’m sure she will. But they won’t be turning out in the same droves they did for Obama in 2008 and 2012, either — and a part of that is certainly due to the aging former White House Blow Job King.

Introducing the New Old Lincoln Continental

March 30th, 2015 - 9:52 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

At long last, Ford is trying for real to reinvigorate the Lincoln nameplate:

For Ford Motor’s new chief executive, Mark Fields, reviving the Lincoln division is one of the last pieces of unfinished business handed to him by his predecessor, Alan Mulally. Under Mulally’s eight-year reign, the company sold most of its luxury brands — Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and Aston Martin — and killed Mercury, pouring virtually all of its resources into strengthening the namesake Ford brand around the world.

Starved of resources, Lincoln somehow hobbled along, selling tarted-up versions of Ford models. But without worthy offerings to match those offered by Lexus , Mercedes and BMW, Lincoln largely missed out on the explosion of worldwide demand for luxury vehicles. In 2013, Lincoln sold fewer than 82,000 units, compared to well over 300,000 for the big foreign luxury brands.

It’s been a long time since there’s been a genuine American luxury sedan. Cadillac moved to econobox-like front-wheel drive back in the ’90s and tried to claim in their print ads that it was Stuttgart who had the problem. Lincoln spent the last ten years trying to sell bloated crossovers with chromed-up whale’s mouth grills up front, and pizza-sized chrome nameplates around back.

Cadillac has been making a good-faith effort with the CTS lineup, which competes with nearly the best the Germans have to offer. But for every CTS there’s a pseudo-luxurious ATS and XTS — bad attempts at aping BMW’s 3- and 7-series, again with econobox/family sedan front-wheel drivetrains. The ATX and XTS might look like luxury cars, but I’ll never believe that “luxury” and “FWD torque steer” can coexist. Driving with all the appointments, effortlessly directing big power to the rear tires — that’s luxury.

There’s a lot riding on Cadillac and Lincoln’s genuine luxury efforts, because if it hadn’t been for SUVs, both brands would likely have died in the ’90s.

The concept Continental at least looks the part of a luxury sedan. It makes me think of Bentley on the front end, Mercedes S-class around the greenhouse, and Maybach on the rear end. (You can see the hindquarter in the Forbes link above.) Hopefully Lincoln will tighten up the rear before it goes into production, because the Maybach was so ugly, not even Mercedes could sell the thing.

Then again, we here in America are only a part, maybe only a small part, of the new Continental’s target market — or Cadi’s either:

Mr. Fields said China will probably be Lincoln’s biggest market by 2020, a date by which he hopes to sell 300,000 Lincolns annually throughout the world, tripling today’s volumes. Lincoln officials declined to provide sales numbers because they are just getting started in the Chinese market.

Cadillac sold 73,000 cars in China last year. To gain a foothold in China, Cadillac has used its large XTS sedan, which represented 45% of Cadillac’s 2014 sales in the country. Mr. de Nysschen said more luxurious and capable offerings are needed if the brand is to be taken seriously.

It’s a shame, really, when American luxury sedans are no longer designed and built for American buyers.

Required Reading

March 30th, 2015 - 8:31 am

Salena Zito has the story of Martina White, a 26-year-old Republican who overcame a 2-to-1 Democrat registration advantage to become Philadelphia’s first GOP Assemblyman in 25 years. Here’s how:

“[Politics] was not something we sat around the dinner table talking about,” the newly elected representative said of family conversations. “The only position I’ve ever won, I didn’t run for, and that was captain of my field hockey team in college.”

The granddaughter and daughter of business owners, she was inspired by working as a financial planner and seeing middle-class families struggle to pay for kids’ college educations or wrestle with how to build a safe retirement: “They weren’t able to make the numbers work, time after time.”

White said she listened more than talked when she went door to door, asking for votes. “I went to over 3,000 homes,” she said, and “safe communities, education and infrastructure” were the top concerns.

Despite not deciding to run until December, she overcame Democrats’ 2-1 voter-registration advantage, her own inexperience and the powerful Philly Democrat machine to not only win but to win by 14 points.

Her victory was no stroke of luck: Republicans have turned the tables on the one thing at which Democrats were really great — dominating local politics.

Retail politics and concentrating her message on what voters care about, “safe communities, education and infrastructure.” That’s a far cry from the messaging of the national GOP, which can’t seem to score many (any?) wins against President Obama, despite comfortable majorities on Capitol Hill.

Anyway, do read the whole thing — and keep an eye on Martina White. She has a bright future in politics, if she wants it.

A Tale of Two Bailouts

March 30th, 2015 - 7:18 am

Greece Clashes

Professor Hans-Werner Sinn has the shocking truth about Europe’s woes:

Revealingly, of all the crisis countries, only Ireland managed to turn the corner. The reason is obvious: its bubble already burst at the end of 2006, before any rescue funds were available. Ireland was on its own, so it had no option but to implement massive austerity measures, reducing its product prices relative to other eurozone countries by 13% from peak to trough. Today, Ireland’s unemployment rate is falling dramatically, and its manufacturing sector is booming.

In relative terms, Greece received most of Europe’s bailout money and showed the largest increase in unemployment. The official loans granted to the country by the European Central Bank and the international community have increased more than sixfold during the past five years, from €53 billion ($58 billion) in February 2010 to €324 billion, or 181% of GDP, now. Nevertheless, the unemployment rate has more than doubled, from 11% to 26%.

Read that again: Greece, recipient of very generous bailout packages equal to almost double its GDP, is still in crisis mode. Ireland, which didn’t get one thin dime, is enjoying an increasingly lovely recovery.

You can’t spend your way to prosperity, not even with other people’s money.

What Do You Do with a Broken Channel?

March 30th, 2015 - 6:10 am

Fixing MCNBC’s disastrous ratings slide — down in primetime 50% in the key 25-to-54 demo — isn’t going to be easy:

Phil Griffin, MSNBC president, has lately sought to broaden MSNBC’s outlook by taking on a greater variety of stories, even hiring a food correspondent, and there’s been some uptick in the ratings the past few weeks. He changed the daytime lineup, ditching opinionated programs hosted by Ronan Farrow and Joy-Ann Reid and establishing a news-focused bloc with Jose Diaz-Balart, Andrea Mitchell and Thomas Roberts.

Griffin has run MSNBC since 2006. Normally, executives at networks with his ratings are looking for another job, especially with a new boss coming in. But he and Lack have a long relationship, and Griffin has credited Lack with kick-starting his career by assigning him to supervise NBC News coverage of the O.J. Simpson case.

The shift in focus during the day has led some fans to fear MSNBC may abandon its liberal focus altogether.

The first point of interest isn’t the dancing schadenfreude this story makes you feel. Instead, it’s that this barely-seen network will still generate $509 million in revenue this year — thanks to cable bundling. If it weren’t for that monopolistic practice, it’s difficult to see how MSNBC could stay on the air. Is that a great argument for unbundling or cutting the cord, or what?

The second item is the more important one: Where does MSNBC go from here? With its tiny and shrinking audience, the network can’t continue to sell itself as the “counterbalance to Fox News.” MSNBC doesn’t have the resources to even pretend to match CNN’s news gathering reach. And as the record shows, even when Big Bad Bush was invading the Middle East all willy-nilly, there just isn’t that big an audience for screeching & preaching progressives.

And eventually, that sweet bundling deal will come up for renegotiation. Absent a turnaround, any new deal will likely be… less sweet for MSNBC.

Looks like the bloodletting there may have only begun.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

March 30th, 2015 - 5:16 am

Affordable Care Act my ass.

Friday Night Videos

March 27th, 2015 - 10:07 pm

Is it possible to take an overproduced, over-orchestrated, and over-sung Barry Manilow disco number and turn it into pure awesome?

Yes. Yes it is.

All you have to do is strip the music down to its Caribbean essence, then subtract Manilow and add Liza Minelli at her timeless prime.

Oh, and you have to add Muppets, too.

Lots of lots of Muppets.

I hope this puts a smile on your face like it always does mine.

EXIT QUESTION: Do you think Ridley Scott consciously stole Liza’s look for Sean Young in Blade Runner, or was it just a happy accident?

Obama Snubs NATO Chief

March 27th, 2015 - 1:09 pm

Priorities:

President Barack Obama has yet to meet with the new head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and won’t see Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this week, even though he is in Washington for three days. Stoltenberg’s office requested a meeting with Obama well in advance of the visit, but never heard anything from the White House, two sources close to the NATO chief told me.

The leaders of almost all the other 28 NATO member countries have made time for Stoltenberg since he took over the world’s largest military alliance in October. Stoltenberg, twice the prime minister of Norway, met Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa to discuss the threat of the Islamic State and the crisis in Ukraine, two issues near the top of Obama’s agenda.

In all fairness to the President, those NCAA games on ESPN aren’t going to watch themselves.

I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got

March 27th, 2015 - 12:39 pm

Strategery:

One senior Obama administration official described the difficulty of trying to develop a coherent strategy during a period of extreme tumult.

“We’re trying to beat ISIL — and there are complications,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We have a partner who is collapsing in Yemen and we’re trying to support that. And we’re trying to get a nuclear deal with Iran. Is this all part of some grand strategy? Unfortunately, the world gets a vote.”

If I had said something that incoherent, I’d have kept my name off the record, too. But really, you can’t blame some “senior” official for incoherence — because in this case incoherence starts at the top.

In any case, this story perfectly illustrates an Administration whose thinking doesn’t even rise to the level of amateur. Strategy isn’t something you come up with on the fly to deal with a deteriorating situation; strategy is your grand design — not the little details — for creating the situation you desire. Operations are how to put your strategy into practice, and tactics are the small-scale methods used in your operations.

Barack Obama was quoted saying, “I think I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” And yet the Bestest Guy Ever at Everything somehow sits at the head of an Administration which doesn’t know the difference between strategy and tactics, then marvels when it can’t formulate a strategy for dealing with the chaos resulting from its failure to formulate a strategy.

Unless of course chaos is Obama’s grand design. In which case: Mission accomplished.

Zero G Cocktails

March 27th, 2015 - 12:07 pm

SPACE

I can’t remember who I need to tip my hat to, so let me just say thanks — and that if we ever meet in outer space, the first round is on me. Here’s why:

For the stylish space voyager, sucking liquids through a straw out of a foil bag is never going to cut it. But a new Kickstarter venture hopes to smarten things up by raising money to produce a zero-gravity-friendly martini glass.

Created under the Zero Gravity Cocktail Project, the glass is designed with a series of grooves that prevent the liquid inside from forming into a floating blob and instead guide it neatly towards the mouth.

“The glass is a stepping-stone to say that, Hey, this is possible, you can create these things for space,” Samuel Coniglio, COO of Cosmic Lifestyle Corp., the company designing the glass, says in a promotional video.

They’ve raised $2,707 of their $30,000 goal, and I’m giving some serious thought to kicking in a few bucks myself.

But the real genius, the real benefactor to mankind, will be the person who comes up with a martini glass you can hold at a crowded cocktail party without having to worry about the slightest elbow jostle sending its contents sloshing all over your hand.

C’mon, American entrepreneurs — get on that.

Required Reading

March 27th, 2015 - 11:33 am

David Harsanyi dissects the failure of climate change alarmism:

Since 1989, there’s been no significant change in the public’s concern level over global warming. To put this in perspective, note that the most expensive public-relations campaign in history—one that includes most governmental agencies, a long list of welfare-sucking corporations, the public school system, the universities, an infinite parade of celebrities, think tanks, well-funded environmental groups and an entire major political party—has, over the past 25 years or so, increased the number of Democrats who “worry greatly” about global warming by a mere four percentage points.

During this era, they’ve gone from gentle nudging to stern warnings, to fearmongering, to conflating the predictive abilities of scientists with science itself, to launching ugly campaigns to shame and shut down anyone who deviates from liberal orthodoxy—which includes not only the existence of anthropogenic global warming, but an entire ideological framework that supposedly “addresses” the problem.

And considering the absurd amount of media this crusade continues to garner, its ineffectiveness is doubly amazing.

Everybody bitches about the weather, but only vile progs want to mandate it.

Want an Apple Watch? Prepare to Wait

March 27th, 2015 - 10:20 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

When the Apple Watch drops on April 24, you’d better have an April 10 pre-order in already:

If you want to buy the Apple Watch model of your choice at an Apple Store at launch, you should consider pre-ordering online or through an Apple Store reservation, sources have told 9to5Mac. Due in part to the number of different models, Apple Watch inventory at many Apple Stores in the United States will be heavily constrained at launch, with priority given to reservations, meaning that Apple Watch availability for random walk-in purchases on day one will be noticeably tight.

As one source at a flagship Apple Store said, “we’re told to treat launch day as if there will be no walk-in stock.” That doesn’t necessarily mean there will be absolutely zero Apple Watch units to buy at launch if you don’t have a reservation, just that the specific Apple Watch variant a person wants will be far harder to come by at launch than some previous iPhone models.

I’ve window-shopped the stainless steel version with both the link and Milanese loop (drool) bracelets, but I’m definitely in wait-and-see mode on Cupertino’s new wearable device. Without having tried one on yet, I’m still pretty sure I’d like something thinner and perhaps with more health monitoring sensors. At this early date, Apple Watch 3 (or whatever they end up calling it two years from now) seems like the best bet.

Then again, those things are so pretty and smartly engineered that it’s a sure thing Melissa and I will end up at our local Apple Store sometime in May or June — you know, just to try on one or two models.

And I make no promises that the Amex will remain in my wallet the entire time.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

March 27th, 2015 - 9:12 am

r620-3e1448ed865adca14058cb333a990eb9

I forgot to blog anything about the Ted Cruz-applies-for-♡bamaCare!!! story, because it shouldn’t be news when a presidential candidate obeys the law — but such is the age in which we live that it is news.

Having said my piece on that, here’s this:

Obamacare isn’t enrolling enough middle-to-high income Americans to remain stable over the long term, according to a new analysis.

Over the past few weeks the Obama administration has taken a victory lap touting the 11.7 million enrollees in Obamacare’s health exchanges during the most recent open enrollment, beating administration estimates of 9 million.

However, 40 percent of the people who enrolled in healthcare.gov earn up to nearly $18,000 a year and another 25 percent earn nearly $30,000, according to an analysis from the research firm Avalere health.

On the other hand, only 8 percent of people who earn up to $44,000 a year signed up through healthcare.gov, which covers 37 states. Only 2 percent of enrollees earn $60,000 and above.

The poorer enrollees receive subsidies paid for by richer enrollees — who aren’t enrolling.

The evidence is becoming clear that ♡bamaCare!!! is less about providing insurance coverage than it is about creating an additional form of welfare dependency.

China Invades the South Atlantic

March 27th, 2015 - 8:20 am
(Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

(Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Robert O’Brien reports:

I recently returned from Walvis Bay, Namibia, the country’s sole deep water port and former South Atlantic home to the Royal and South African Navies. Also in port were two of the three ships of the Royal Navy’s Atlantic Patrol Tasking South. A Daring-class Type 45 air warfare destroyer and a Royal Fleet Auxiliary small fleet tanker were both pier side. (The task force’s third ship, HMS Clyde, was presumably on station patrolling the Falklands.) While Walvis Bay enjoys a 138-year history with the Royal Navy, it could soon be home to a powerful Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy surface squadron.

In Jan. 2015, The Namibian reported the existence of a “confidential letter from Namibia’s ambassador to China, Ringo Abed, to Namibia’s foreign minister stat[ing] that ‘a [Chinese] delegation will visit Namibia … for discussions … on the way forward regarding plans for the proposed naval base in Walvis Bay’.” According to the letter, a Chinese delegation, including technical staff and naval architects, will meet with Namibian officials sometime after March 21, 2015 to discuss a field feasibility study for the base.

At this point I wouldn’t be surprised to read that China had taken up a 99-year lease on New Orleans.

Sign “O” the Times

March 27th, 2015 - 7:49 am

Would you believe a sort of catch-and-release program for microaggressors? Of course you would! And here’s Nick Gillespie with the latest in high-tech social warrior justice:

For the uninitiated, microaggressions are “are statements by a person from a privileged group that belittles or isolates a member of an unprivileged group, as it relates to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability and more.” The really innovative thing about microaggressions is that they are often meant in a spirit of inclusion by the speaker. For instance, depending on who’s speaking and who’s listening, complimeting someone on their hair, clothing, or whatever might count as a covert way of putting him in his place. “That’s a really fancy jacket” may really be code for WTF are you doing in clothes that are above your station?

But I’ll risk microaggressing you to note that the student government at Ithaca College in upstate New York has just passed a mind-blowing bill that will allow students to anonymously report offensive statements such as “Where are you really from?” and “You don’t look disabled.” The system will include “demographics” about the aggressor and the aggressee and tag location info too, according to one of the sponsors of the bill.

We’ve raised an entire generation of weak, mean, and overindulged “progressive” children — armed with the ability to ruin lives in an instant for imaginary offenses.

And I don’t know what to do about it.

The Fastest Hunk of Paper in the Galaxy

March 27th, 2015 - 6:43 am

FALCON

That Millennium Falcon looks good enough to have come straight out of George Lucas’s famous prop vault, but no:

So how did you spend the last four years of your life? No matter how you answer that question, it was a complete waste of time compared to Bernard Szukiel who spent four years creating this absolute masterpiece of a Millennium Falcon model using nothing but paper, glue, and more patience than any single human being has ever had to muster before.

To be completely accurate, only about 99 percent of the 38-inch long model is actually made using paper. There are also some plastic bits used for windows, yards and yards of fiber optics, LEDs, and electronics used to light the ship’s control panels inside—but the results are still just staggering. The attention to detail here rivals the models made by Industrial Light & Magic for the original Star Wars movies, except this is all paper. Paper!

As a former wannabe model builder, I sit here in awe of Szukiel’s work.

There are many more photos at the link, and if you have any appreciation at all for this kind of effort, they’ll take your breath away.

Let’s Make a Nuke Deal!

March 27th, 2015 - 5:06 am
Buh-bye, Israel. (AP photo)

Buh-bye, Israel.
(AP photo)

This deal is getting worse all the time:

The United States is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites, officials have told The Associated Press.

The trade-off would allow Iran to run several hundred of the devices at its Fordo facility, although the Iranians would not be allowed to do work that could lead to an atomic bomb and the site would be subject to international inspections, according to Western officials familiar with details of negotiations now underway. In return, Iran would be required to scale back the number of centrifuges it runs at its Natanz facility and accept other restrictions on nuclear-related work.

Let me see if I have this straight. We’re asking Iran to limit uranium enrichment at vulnerable above-ground facilities, and in exchange we’ll let them increase production deep inside hardened underground bunkers.

There might still be a few deniers out there, but for everyone else it’s impossible to conclude anything other than Obama wants Iran to possess nuclear weapons.

He wants it.

She Likes to Move It, Move It

March 26th, 2015 - 2:44 pm

You would too, if moving got you better than a quarter million in taxpayer dollars. Read:

The Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed Wednesday that it paid a senior manager $288,000 in “relocation payments” when it reassigned her from Washington last year to become director of the agency’s problem-riddled Philadelphia office.

The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs committee called the payment to Philadelphia Director Diana Rubens “outrageous.”

A department spokesman told the Philadelphia Inquirer that federal regulations allow the payment of certain relocation expenses, including the costs of house-hunting, moving, terminating leases, and a per diem rate for meals and temporary housing.

It’s good to be the queen.

Was the Bergdahl Swap Really Worth It?

March 26th, 2015 - 1:18 pm
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

Well:

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki defended the White House’s prisoner exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on Wednesday, just hours after the Army announced that it would charge him with desertion.

“Was it worth it? Absolutely,” she said on Fox News’ “The Kelly File” in an interview that will air Wednesday night.

“We have a commitment to our men and women serving overseas, or in our military, defending our national security every day, that we will do everything we can to bring them home, and that’s what we did in this case.”

I’m sympathetic to President Obama’s insistence that we bring all our men and women home, even the shitheels like Bowe Bergdahl. But before action can be taken, the question must be asked and answered: Would it be worth it?

In the case of Bergdahl, we have a convert to Islam who abandoned his post, deserted his country and his comrades, and got six of his fellow soldiers killed in the attempt to find him. In exchange for the chance to put this deserter up on capital charges, Obama illegally let go five top-level al Qaeda killers — and it is certain that they will kill again.

Was that worth it? No, not even close. Worse yet was the propaganda victory needlessly given to the Islamists to whom Bergdahl deserted, when Obama posed smiling, arm-in-arm with Bergdahl’s parents, assuring them that her had “made an ironclad commitment to bring our prisoners of war home.”

Only Bergdahl wasn’t a POW. He was a deserter who wandered into an enemy camp after taking up their religion. Obama treated him like a victim in need of protection. We can only hope Bergdahl finds the Uniform Code of Military Justice to be less accommodating.

“Wanted to destroy this plane.”

March 26th, 2015 - 12:14 pm

Good lord:

The co-pilot of Germanwings 9525 had sole control of the doomed flight that crashed into the French Alps early Tuesday and “wanted to destroy this plane,” a French prosecutor said Thursday.

The cockpit voice recorder, recovered on Wednesday from the rugged terrain north of Nice, appeared to show the pilot locked out of the cockpit and knocking on the door, first politely, then frantically in the moments before the jet, carrying 150 passengers and crew, began a rapid descent that killed all aboard.

The haunting thing is we will probably never know why.

(AP photo)

(AP photo)

And the time, naturally, is always 4:20.

The inevitable, as it is wont to do, has happened. That’s right, Willie Nelson is bringing out his own brand of weed and even opening the stores from which to buy it:

So what exactly is Willie’s Reserve?

Well, you know, Willie has spent a lifetime in support of cannabis, both the industrial hemp side and the marijuana side. He wants it to be something that’s reflective of his passion. Ultimately, it’s his. But it was developed by his family, and their focus on environmental and social issues, and in particular this crazy war on drugs, and trying to be a bright light amongst this trail as we’re trying to extract ourselves from the goo of prohibition.

Really he wants it, at the end of the day, to envelop what his personal morals and convictions are. So from the store itself to how they’ll work with suppliers and how things are operated, it’s going to be very reflective of Willie’s life.

In other words, it’ll get you all kinds of stoned.

Obama Sells Out Israel to Iran

March 26th, 2015 - 10:40 am

Our peevish, petulant, and impetuous president has struck again:

In a development that has largely been missed by mainstream media, the Pentagon early last month quietly declassified a Department of Defense top-secret document detailing Israel’s nuclear program, a highly covert topic that Israel has never formally announced to avoid a regional nuclear arms race, and which the US until now has respected by remaining silent.

But by publishing the declassified document from 1987, the US reportedly breached the silent agreement to keep quiet on Israel’s nuclear powers for the first time ever, detailing the nuclear program in great depth.

The timing of the revelation is highly suspect, given that it came as tensions spiraled out of control between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama ahead of Netanyahu’s March 3 address in Congress.

The timing of the disclosure puts to rest any notion that President Obama acted out of spite for Bibi Netanyahu’s election win last week — but this is still a sellout of Israel, and the reason for it is plain.

Bad as that is, it gets worse.

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A Tale of Two Yemens

March 26th, 2015 - 9:28 am
yemen_3-26-15-1

Tanks seized recently by militiamen loyal to Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi take positions on Tuesday at the al-Anad air base in the southern province of Lahej, 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of Aden, Yemen. (AP Photo/Wael Qubady)

Here’s Politico’s Adam Baron, more or less parroting the Administration’s Pravda on the situation in Yemen:

The truth is far more complex, and the solution right now should be more along the lines of: Just stay out of it. While the chief combatants in the civil war are certainly playing the sectarian card to some degree, there is reason to think that Yemen will not necessarily become part of some regional sectarian conflict. Regardless of their foreign ties, both the Shiite Houthis and their Sunni opponents are deeply rooted in Yemen, and they are motivated primarily by local issues.

The main danger now is that the Western powers, Saudi Arabia or Egypt will overreact and seek to intervene, ostensibly to counter Iranian influence or to quash the efforts of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to gain territory. Yet foreign intervention could very well be the worst approach now—further regionalizing what is still a local fight, injecting a stronger sectarian tone into the conflict while threatening to push Yemen closer to implosion.

“It’s five PM; please don’t threaten to push me closer to cocktails.”

I trust you see where I’m going with this.

When Iranian-backed rebels have forced a country’s president to flee by boat, presumably because air travel is too dangerous or even impossible, it’s fair to say that the country has already imploded.

Now it is true that Yemen’s troubles are mostly local and deeply rooted — it was actually two countries as recently as 1990, and the marriage has never been a happy one. North Yemen was the southern tip of the old Ottoman Empire and its people are generally more religious, despite flirting with Arab nationalism in the ’60s and ’70s. South Yemen was a British protectorate before independence in the ’60s, and was secular enough to put the Communists in power. Even on its own, South Yemen wasn’t much of a country. In reality it wasn’t much more than the wealthy city of Aden lording it over poor hicks in the sticks.

So, yes, like pretty much all of the post-colonial Arab world, Yemen is several bags of hurt shoved together into a bigger bag of hurt.

But you know what? Libya’s troubles were mostly local, too, and now that country is also a playground for ISIS and al Qaeda — in no small part because we dealt Death from Above while strenuously avoiding Boots on the Ground. To varying degrees, that’s also been administration policy in Iraq and in Yemen, and both places imploded. Both countries are also now battlegrounds between Iran and ISIS — at a time when Obama requires Iran’s cooperation to put together a nuclear deal to seal his foreign policy legacy. If you think that’s nuts, it gets worse. The U.S. Air Force is now hitting targets in Tikrit to aid the Iranian-led Iraqi Shi’ite forces trying to retake that Sunni city, while our Sunni Saudi allies, using American intelligence aid, are launching air strikes against Iranian-led Shi’ite Houthi forces in Yemen.

What is the enemy of our enemy of our enemy, anyway? “You’re either with us or against us” seems so very long ago and far away.

Anyway, Baron’s point was supposed to be “foreign intervention in a local fight would be the worst course anyone could take.” But with U.S. forces fleeing, and Iranian and Saudi forces fighting over the corpse of what was once our ally, then “avoiding foreign intervention” is something of a moot point, yes? Trying to keep this fight local is akin to locking the barn door after the horse has been slaughtered and the barn set on fire.

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Blue Light/White Light

March 26th, 2015 - 8:13 am
Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz

Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz

Engadget’s Nicole Lee got to spend some quality time riding in the Mercedes F 015 concept car:

The conceit behind the F 015 is this: What would a car look and feel like in a future where driving is no longer the sole purpose of having one? When you don’t need to keep your eyes on the road, what would you do differently? And when pedestrians can no longer make eye contact with drivers, how will they know when to cross the road? These questions are all central to the design and philosophy of the F 015, which is less about self-driving technology than it is a thought experiment on how autonomous driving will fit in our collective future.

Indeed, the demonstration vehicle in front of me isn’t even fully autonomous; it’s programmed only to go along a predetermined path on the Alameda runway. Still, the car isn’t without technological marvels. “You know KITT? With David Hasselhoff?” asks Klaus Millerferli, a researcher for Mercedes-Benz, a few minutes before our demonstration. “I’ll call it over like that.” Rather than using a Comlink watch to summon our ride, however, Millerferli takes out his iPhone and launches an app. He taps in the number of passengers — there are four of us — to tell the car how many doors to open, and then taps a button to beckon it over. As the car makes its way to us, Millerferli points out that the LEDs are blue, which indicates the car is in autonomous mode. If someone were behind the wheel manually driving the car, the light would be white.

Replace the three-pointed star with a Cadillac coat-of-arms, and you’d have Jerry Farnsworth’s car from Robert Heinlein’s Job: A Comedy of Justice.

Still, I’ll take the white light please.

Sign “O” the Times

March 26th, 2015 - 7:43 am

The city of Oakland has 33 automated license plate readers at various locations throughout town, and Ars Technica got a hold of those records:

In response to a public records request, we obtained the entire LPR dataset of the Oakland Police Department (OPD), including more than 4.6 million reads of over 1.1 million unique plates between December 23, 2010 and May 31, 2014. The dataset is likely one of the largest ever publicly released in the United States—perhaps in the world.

After analyzing this data with a custom-built visualization tool, Ars can definitively demonstrate the data’s revelatory potential. Anyone in possession of enough data can often—but not always—make educated guesses about a target’s home or workplace, particularly when someone’s movements are consistent (as with a regular commute).

Chilling.

Would someone please explain to me what the hell all that data has to do with “to serve and to protect?”

Dear Dr. Carson: You’re Not Helping

March 26th, 2015 - 6:06 am
CAUTION: Not a licensed psychiatrist. (AP Photo)

CAUTION: Not a licensed psychiatrist.
(AP Photo)

Oy:

Ben Carson says President Barack Obama is a psychopath.

His comment came in an exchange between the neurosurgeon who’s likely to mount a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and his chief adviser, Armstrong Williams, captured by a GQ reporter on the night of this year’s State of the Union address.

Williams had said Obama looked “elegant” that night.

And Carson responded: “Like most psychopaths. That’s why they’re successful. That’s the way they look. They all look great.”

Between this and his odd gay comments from a while back, I’m starting to wonder if Carson is a plant.