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Friday Night Videos

August 1st, 2014 - 10:04 pm

For high school graduating classes of ’87, here are the top three slow dance songs from every prom, dance, and mixer we went to during our formative years:

First Place: “Careless Whisper” by Wham / “True” by Spandau Ballet (tie score)

Third Place: There was no third place.

The quality edge obviously goes to “True,” if only because that song never said “Guilty feet have got no rhythm.” I have a pet theory that all of George Michael’s many personal problems can be traced back to penning that line in 1984.

So tonight we have “True.”

30 years later and whenever I hear the opening keyboard and those simple guitar chords, I still picture peeling myself off of a gym wall to go ask [NAME REDACTED] to dance. I had not waited nearly two hours for this one song to play before making my move. Honest. It had been more like 90 minutes, tops. Felt like a week though.

Was it worth the wait? It was worth it in that long ago moment, because “True” is just a flawless little high school slow dance number. Saccharine lyric? You bet! Overwrought delivery? Yes! Smooth sax solo? Of course! Formulaic? Yes, but no matter — the song is magical in the way something can be when you’re still young enough not to know what the formula is, or even that a formula exists. That time doesn’t last long, but if you’re lucky then a song can still hit you with the exhilaration of right before you peeled yourself off of that gym wall.

I’m pretty sure every single prom cover band in the world has played this song so many times that there isn’t a one of them that can’t sleepwalk their way through a perfectly adequate performance of it.

And check out lead singer Tony Hadley at about 0:56. Tailored suit, dark. White dress shirt, crisp. Silver tie, perfectly knotted. Pocket square, dapper. Oh, and he can hit all the notes without the aid of a computer. Lord, but I do miss the ’80s.

And every once in a great while, I might miss [NAME REDACTED] a little bit, too.

Your ObamaCare Fail of the Day

August 1st, 2014 - 11:04 am

large_poor_monopoly_man

Today’s edition comes courtesy of NRO’s Deroy Murdock, who just opened an letter from his insurer with “IMPORTANT NOTICE REGARDING YOUR POLICY” printed in large, friendly letters on the envelope. Here’s what he found inside:

“We are writing to let you know that your health insurance coverage through Easy Choice Health Plan of New York (‘Easy Choice’) will be terminated no later than December 31, 2014,” it stated. Moreover, “Easy Choice will no longer be offering your policy or participating in New York’s commercial health insurance market.”

So, no more health insurance for me, and no more Empire State for my health insurer. To underscore that point, the July 1 letter added: “Easy Choice will no longer be issuing any commercial health insurance policies in the association group, employer, or individual markets in New York State.” Among the reasons that its clients are losing coverage, Easy Choice cited “changes in federal law set forth in the federal Affordable Care Act” — a.k.a Obamacare.

While my insurance agent secured me a grandfathered-in pre-Obamacare plan after my coverage was canceled last year, “grandpa” will expire by year’s end. What happens now is anyone’s guess.

If there’s a happy note to be found in Deroy’s sad song, it’s that he certainly makes too much money to quality for subsidies, so he can buy straight from his broker instead of having to rely on one of the notoriously unreliable exchanges.

I mean, there is still somebody offering insurance in New York, right?

Right?

China’s Big New Nukes

August 1st, 2014 - 10:40 am

It’s officially official — China has a nulcear-tipped, MIRV’d ICBM capable of reaching anywhere in the United States:

A government environmental monitoring centre in Shaanxi said on its website that a military facility in the province was developing Dongfeng-41 (DF-41) missiles, the Global Times reported.

The DF-41 is designed to have a range of 12,000 kilometres, according to a report by Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, putting it among the world’s longest-range missiles.

It is “possibly capable of carrying multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles”, the US Defense Department said in a report in June, referring to a payload of several nuclear warheads.

China’s military is highly secretive, and the Global Times said it had not previously acknowledged the existence of the DF-41.

We’ve unofficially known about the DF-41 for a while, so the question is why China decided now to reveal it.

By Grabthar’s Hammer… What a Story

August 1st, 2014 - 9:13 am

QUEST

I’d love to call this one Required Reading, but it might be a little too fringe. Anyway, MTV sat down with the stars, producer, and director for an oral history of the making of Galaxy Quest — which David Mamet once called “a perfect movie.”

The interview is almost as charming as the movie itself.

Required Reading

August 1st, 2014 - 8:29 am

Ben Domenech says Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom will be “disgraced, not impeached,” which sounds exactly right to me. More:

Whatever your preferred immigration policy solution, yes, [executive-action amnesty] is outrageous. It’s the sort of action taken by a monarch, not an elected representative of the people. Total abandonment of the rule of law for blatantly partisan reasons after failing to achieve anything legislatively, betting on the courts to ignore it or do the no standing dance until it’s established policy – it’s all pretty obscene. But impeachment is a unrealistic and unworkable approach and Republicans know it (though it is amusing to watch the media and Capitol Hill Democrats which such short memories). There is no court or parliamentary procedure or legal technicality which can defend against Obama’s actions at this point or short-circuit the process (or lack thereof) he’s going to employ for the rest of his presidency. Under his leadership, his party has thoroughly abandoned the rule of law in pursuit of their policy aims. It might as well be part of the party platform now, and the Joe Biden presidency (lulz) would not be markedly more respectful of it.

So Republicans and Independents keep dropping jaws and cracking monocles, but it’s not going to do any good, and there’s no referee to throw the flag or umpire to call out the president for slapping the glove (well, there is that god-awful record at the Supreme Court, but that works on a delay). Paul Ryan has said that the GOP’s current political differences with the president don’t add up to high crimes and misdemeanors. But even if Obama does this, and even if the base concludes this is a step too far, there’s really nothing Republicans can do other than to laugh at how much of a failed presidency this has become, at the sheer absurdity and elitism of engaging in mass amnesty at a time when the working class is struggling so much, and get back to winning the argument with the people.

Read the whole thing.

Obama once remarked he’d rather be remembered as a “really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.”

He’ll be remembered as neither.

Cantor to Step Down

August 1st, 2014 - 7:22 am

Buh-bye:

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has been asked to call a special election to replace Eric Cantor in Congress, following the Republican’s decision to step down from Congress early and completely end his tenure on Capitol Hill.

The former House majority leader, shockingly defeated in a GOP primary less than two months ago, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch he would resign effective Aug. 18. Cantor said he had asked McAuliffe to call a special election concurrently with the Nov. 4 general election, which is allowed under state law, so that his successor could serve in a lame-duck session.

Cantor has given no hints what he’ll be doing next.

(Still) The Camera of the Future

August 1st, 2014 - 6:08 am

ILLUM

Light-field photography is potentially a very powerful way to shoot. Instead of recording a single still image on a flat sheet of film or silicon, it records the way the light enters the camera. This trick allows the shooter or the viewer to change a picture’s focus, perspective, or otherwise manipulate in 3D. Really, the resulting image isn’t a picture as we currently understand it.

A company called Lytro has been leading the, uh, field of study, and has just introduced its first real camera. The results can be impressive, but unfortunately the Illum isn’t ready for primetime:

It never really feels like everything’s working properly. If I captured too many shots too quickly, the camera would freeze or crash spectacularly. Once, I framed and fired a shot, and all the Illum recorded was black. The touchscreen picks odd moments to be slow or just unresponsive. Each image takes a few seconds to process, after which it either will or won’t refocus when you tap on the screen for no reason. The Illum’s autofocus is basically nonexistent, meaning you’re stuck manually focusing for every shot. There’s no image stabilization, so if you’re zoomed in you either need a tripod or the world’s steadiest hands. It feels like every time you push the Illum, try to explore its capabilities, it just breaks down. And if there’s one way to immediately alienate the customer who’s most likely to part with $1,500 for this camera, it’s to build a product that can’t hack it under pressure.

This is Lytro’s biggest problem, the most frustrating thing about the Illum. It’s made for and sold to professional photographers, those pushing at the creative edges of their profession. It can’t replace a DSLR (though I wish it could), and Lytro knows that. But buyers with $1,500 to spend on a second or third camera want certain things: fine manual control, quick access to settings, sharp images, adaptive performance to any conditions, easy processing, and much more. In way too many places, the Illum doesn’t deliver to the expectations of its target audience.

The price isn’t a big deal for pros used to spending that much or more on one high-speed telephoto lens. But the camera has got to function, flawlessly, shot after shot under field conditions.

I hope Lytro gets serious about producing a quality project, and quickly. For the next generation of photographers, children already used to playing with their images on touchscreens, light-field photography will be as natural to them as switching out lenses is to generations of SLR shooters.

So there’s that — and I really really want one.

The Talking Heads of August

August 1st, 2014 - 5:10 am

WILLIE

Three reasonably intelligent history buffs having an impromptu discussion on the continuing relevance of the First World War? That’s this week’s Trifecta Wildcard.

The Deadly Dongle

July 31st, 2014 - 2:09 pm

This USB hole has got to be the scariest computer security threat to come along since maybe ever:

Nohl and Lell, researchers for the security consultancy SR Labs, are hardly the first to point out that USB devices can store and spread malware. But the two hackers didn’t merely copy their own custom-coded infections into USB devices’ memory. They spent months reverse engineering the firmware that runs the basic communication functions of USB devices—the controller chips that allow the devices to communicate with a PC and let users move files on and off of them. Their central finding is that USB firmware, which exists in varying forms in all USB devices, can be reprogrammed to hide attack code. “You can give it to your IT security people, they scan it, delete some files, and give it back to you telling you it’s ‘clean,’” says Nohl. But unless the IT guy has the reverse engineering skills to find and analyze that firmware, “the cleaning process doesn’t even touch the files we’re talking about.”

The problem isn’t limited to thumb drives. All manner of USB devices from keyboards and mice to smartphones have firmware that can be reprogrammed—in addition to USB memory sticks, Nohl and Lell say they’ve also tested their attack on an Android handset plugged into a PC. And once a BadUSB-infected device is connected to a computer, Nohl and Lell describe a grab bag of evil tricks it can play. It can, for example, replace software being installed with with a corrupted or backdoored version. It can even impersonate a USB keyboard to suddenly start typing commands. “It can do whatever you can do with a keyboard, which is basically everything a computer does,” says Nohl.

The malware can silently hijack internet traffic too, changing a computer’s DNS settings to siphon traffic to any servers it pleases. Or if the code is planted on a phone or another device with an internet connection, it can act as a man-in-the-middle, secretly spying on communications as it relays them from the victim’s machine.

I’ve always behaved as though if anyone can get physical hold of my computer or device, they can crack it. I behave that way because it’s true. But this new threat can be piggybacked into any USB device, opening up avenues that were only open before if someone got physical hold of your stuff.

My advice? Don’t borrow any wired keyboard or mice. And if you use an Android phone or tablet, charge it on a wall charger, period — don’t plug it into your Windows or Mac computer.

Required Reading

July 31st, 2014 - 1:29 pm

Speaking of the devolution of the Arab world, Christopher Hill calls it “the end of the Arab state.” Read:

In a region where crises seem to be the norm, the Middle East’s latest cycle of violence suggests that something bigger is afoot: the beginning of the dissolution of the Arab nation-state, reflected in the growing fragmentation of Sunni Arabia.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphStates in the Middle East are becoming weaker than ever, as traditional authorities, whether aging monarchs or secular authoritarians, seem increasingly incapable of taking care of their restive publics. As state authority weakens, tribal and sectarian allegiances strengthen.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphWhat does it mean today to be Iraqi, Syrian, Yemeni, or Lebanese? Any meaningful identification seems to require a compound name – Sunni Iraqi, Alawite Syrian, and so forth. As such examples suggest, political identity has shifted to something less civil and more primordial.

In all fairness to the Arabs, false Franco-British constructs acting the part of nations didn’t do anything to help Arabs build a sense of nationality.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

July 31st, 2014 - 10:26 am

JARRETT

Valerie Jarrett is pimping for those new wards of the state, our health insurance companies:

Newly released emails show a key White House adviser intervened on behalf of the health insurance industry after an executive repeatedly warned that massive premium hikes were coming unless the administration expanded an ObamaCare program that Republicans call an industry “bailout.”

The insurance industry ultimately got a more “generous” offer from the administration — one that Republicans warn could transfer potentially billions of taxpayer dollars into the Affordable Care Act to bail out insurance companies.

These shenanigans come as no surprise. As I warned a few months ago, ♡bamaCare!!! makes it politically impossible to allow a health insurance company to go bankrupt.

Call it “too connected to fail.”

Sign “O” the Times

July 31st, 2014 - 9:41 am

Veteran bond trader Dan Fuss is getting worried:

“I’m looking at the risks around the world and I’m looking at the direction they are going and I’m saying ‘this is really truly not good,’” Fuss said. “And then I’m looking at the markets and I’m saying ‘this is really truly full valuation.’ And so what’s the prudent thing to do? Well the prudent thing to do in the case of the Loomis Sayles Bond Fund is to say, ‘okay let’s get that liquid reserve up.’”

The rising prices on credit have pushed yields sharply lower on all sorts of debt, making it more difficult for investors to find securities that provide substantial income. Bond yields across the world have been hitting record lows, from U.S. junk bonds to German government debt. The silver lining for investors is that when the market is this expensive, you don’t lose as much by sitting out a round, says Fuss.

“I think it is a very good time to be cautious,” he said. “You have growing geopolitical risks and you have shrinking incentives to invest.”

I’d have added emphasis to those last four words, but would you really need it?

The Shape of the Moon

July 31st, 2014 - 8:34 am

MOON

It’s not what you think:

A paper published in the July 30 issue of Nature by Ian Garrick-Bethell – an assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences at University of California Santa Cruz – examines the shape of the Moon as it would be had not millions of meteorite collisions knocked chunks off it, and ponders how it got that way.

“If you imagine spinning a water balloon, it will start to flatten at the poles and bulge at the equator,” Garrick-Bethell said. “On top of that you have tides due to the gravitational pull of the Earth, and that creates sort of a lemon shape with the long axis of the lemon pointing at the Earth.”

The Moon formed about four billion years ago and was initially much closer to Earth, and spinning rather more than it does today. As the Moon cooled and hardened, the effects of tidal forces exerted by Earth froze the surface into a slightly elongated shape with a bulge pointing towards Earth and a corresponding bump on the other side.

I think she’s just as rotational and spherical as she was at two billion.

Kindle and Price Elasticity

July 31st, 2014 - 7:27 am

BEZOS

Amazon posted an explanation of the economics behind their row with book publisher Hachette:

It’s also important to understand that e-books are highly price-elastic. This means that when the price goes up, customers buy much less. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000.

The important thing to note here is that at the lower price, total revenue increases 16%. This is good for all the parties involved.

Of course. This is Econ 101 stuff, and it’s deeply weird that Amazon should have to explain it to a profitable publisher. And a wider audience for a writer gives him better luck of having another hit with his next book, too.

More interesting was this last bit:

One more note on our proposal for how the total revenue should be shared. While we believe 35% should go to the author and 35% to Hachette, the way this would actually work is that we would send 70% of the total revenue to Hachette, and they would decide how much to share with the author. We believe Hachette is sharing too small a portion with the author today, but ultimately that is not our call.

Message to authors: Go indie and cut out the greedy and ignorant middleman.

Palestinian on Palestinian Violence

July 31st, 2014 - 6:13 am

It seems some of our comrades in Gaza weren’t showing enough revolutionary zeal:

Over the past few days, Hamas has executed more than 30 civilians from various parts of the Gaza Strip which it suspected of collaborating with Israel, unidentified Palestinian security sources told the Palestine Press News Agency.

Hamas claimed it had detected alleged “spies” in the area of Shejaia and said that they were executed after an investigation into some of them. Such investigations reportedly revealed weapons and communication devices in the possession of the “spies.”

In the past Palestinian sources have quoted Hamas’ armed wing, Ezaddin al-Qassam as saying that it has used agents in civilian clothes to monitor the movement of suspected informants.

Of course, that’s really just a small part of how Hamas misgoverns the Gaza Strip, not to mention what they’d do to the Israelis if they could.

Groupthink vs the Scientific Method

July 31st, 2014 - 5:12 am

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

July 30th, 2014 - 1:24 pm

Ben Domenech reports that the CBO has been cooking the books on ♡bamaCare!!! cost projections:

Here’s a link to all of CBO’s long term outlook reports. The 2014 long-term outlook included a little-noticed section labeled “Changes in Assumptions Incorporated in the Extended Alternative Fiscal Scenario” on page 117-8 of Appendix B of its report. It reads (emphasis added):

“Under its extended alternative fiscal scenario last year, CBO assumed that lawmakers would not allow various restraints on the growth of Medicare costs and health insurance subsidies to exert their full effect after the first 10 years of the projection period. However, this year, after reassessing the uncertainties involved, CBO no longer projects whether or when those restraints might wane. Instead, for those elements of the alternative fiscal scenario, there are now no differences from the extended baseline. For both, CBO projects that growth rates for Medicare costs will move linearly over 15 years (from 2024 to 2039) to the underlying rate that the agency has projected and that the exchange subsidies will do the same. (One exception to that new approach, though, concerns Medicare’s payment rates for physicians’ services. This year, as in previous years, projected spending under the alternative fiscal scenario reflects the assumption that those payment rates would be held constant at current levels rather than being cut by about a quarter at the beginning of 2015, as scheduled under current law.)”

Beyond that brief mention of the change in its assumptions, there is no other discussion of the rationale behind the exchange subsidy provision. How significant was this unnoticed change in CBO’s assumptions? According to a health care aide on Capitol Hill who has closely followed the scorekeeping of the law, analysis of the CBO data suggests that over the 75-year period, this change in assumptions lowers projected spending by about $6.2 trillion.

This is a pretty big change, to say the least, particularly one for which the CBO hasn’t given any justification at all.

Since when do government agencies have to justify their work?

Salon Goes Crazy

July 30th, 2014 - 12:17 pm

CRAZY

You’d be forgiven if you thought the headline came from the pitch-perfect parodists at @Salondotcom on Twitter — but no, it’s “real.”

Rather than argue against such silliness, I’ll simply remind you that in order to squash dissent, the Soviets used to declare non-lefties insane, then throw them into abusive mental institutions.

The methods change, become more humane even, but the intention remains the same: Remove those who disagree from the public debate.

The Power of Social Proof

July 30th, 2014 - 11:45 am

Why did Bill Whittle cross the road?

To prove something about the other side.

Here We Go Again

July 30th, 2014 - 10:31 am

Chart of Doom

It might be time soon for the bears to come out and play:

John Hussman is going where few market watchers are willing to venture: He’s calling the current trading environment a full-fledged bubble, one that is inflating to extreme proportions.

“Make no mistake – this is an equity bubble, and a highly advanced one,” the bearish portfolio manager wrote in his weekly commentary. “On the most historically reliable measures, it is easily beyond 1972 and 1987, beyond 1929 and 2007, and is now within about 15% of the 2000 extreme.”

The main difference between now and 2000, he says, is that bubble was “strikingly obvious in technology.” This one, he contends, is spread across many sectors. “That makes valuations for most stocks actually worse than in 2000,” he says.

How much money can we print and borrow, anyway?

You can’t make this stuff up:

A New York man who was sentenced to at least 15 years in prison for murder had his conviction overturned because his mother was forced to wait outside a courtroom during jury selection.

Daniel Floyd, 23, was tried and convicted for fatally shooting a rival during a dice game. The conviction was tossed on April 25, 2013, because Floyd’s lawyer complained that his client’s mother couldn’t find a seat in a courtroom that was packed with potential jurors, the New York Post reported.

“Defense counsel observed, ‘Certainly, as a public spectator, she has an absolute right to be present,’ ” the decision said. “This violation … requires a new trial.”

Insanity.

Roving My Life Away

July 30th, 2014 - 8:12 am

opportunity-rover02

The Opportunity Mars Rover has just broken the record for most miles driven by any other-planet vehicle. But there’s kind of a catch — after ten years of off-roading on the Red Planet, Opportunity has gone a total of just 25.01 miles.

But that’s not bad for a rover that was only meant to last for 90 days while traveling maybe two-thirds of a mile.

News You Can Use

July 30th, 2014 - 7:25 am

Satellite of Love

You know you’re not supposed to… wait — WHAT?

Sign “O” the Times

July 30th, 2014 - 6:32 am

Welcome to Deadbeat Nation:

More than 35 percent of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reported to collection agencies, according to a study released Tuesday by the Urban Institute.

These consumers fall behind on credit cards or hospital bills. Their mortgages, auto loans or student debt pile up, unpaid. Even past-due gym membership fees or cellphone contracts can end up with a collection agency, potentially hurting credit scores and job prospects, said Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank.

“Roughly, every third person you pass on the street is going to have debt in collections,” Ratcliffe said. “It can tip employers’ hiring decisions, or whether or not you get that apartment.”

Remember, this is the level of indebtedness of a third of the nation as we enter our sixth year of recovery.

Required Listening

July 30th, 2014 - 5:57 am

Ed Driscoll interviews Andrew McCarthy, author of Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.

It’s an interesting concept, and not just because impeachment is so rare. More than that, it’s important to establish the political narrative of this Administration’s historical lawlessness. But as a political move of course it simply can’t happen, not without a supermajority in the Senate and a substantial drop from the apparent bottom of Obama’s domestic political support.

Otherwise, impeachment appears to be little more than hyperpartisan lunacy, no matter how substantial the case against the President.

Putin’s Next Move

July 30th, 2014 - 5:11 am

Putin-chess

What to do after apparent Ukrainian Army successes against the pro-Russian rebels and the threat of serious EU sanction? Alec Luhn reports:

“He was the first to distance himself from the rebels, and the fact he said he is ready to put pressure on them is really a gesture,” Pavlovsky says. “We don’t know whether it will be fulfilled, but he’s showing he wants a diplomatic solution to the conflict.” Now Ukraine and the West must make concessions of their own to show they want to negotiate and allow Putin to compromise without losing face, Pavlovsky argues.

But those close to the Kremlin, such as Sergei Markov, the deputy head of Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, don’t see Putin as compromising right now or in the future. Putin will continue his current strategy of helping the rebels, and not only out of fear for his approval rating, Markov says.

“Putin is not afraid to make harsh decisions,” Markov said. “More important for him than his rating is that he really thinks that the U.S. goal [in the Ukraine crisis] is to make Ukraine anti-Russian and start a war between Ukraine and Russia, engineer a coup, and bring to power its puppets, who will destroy Russia.”

The problem with predicting Putin’s reactions is that he seems to view an EU-oritented Ukraine as an existential threat. What might seem trivial to us might loom large in his mind, or vice versa. A Newsweek story from last week showed that Putin lives and works in a bubble, which only adds to the potential for blunders. So while I would expect him to back down after MH17, then crank things up again after passions have cooled… really, who knows? He might decide to throw the dice and get right back up in our faces.

New sanctions — this time targeting entire industrial sectors instead of just individual businesses — are reportedly on the way, which is the step that was impossible before MH17. Putin’s trick for now is to cooperate enough to avoid the worst sanctions, without letting the rebels get completely snuffed out. Unless, that is, the new sanctions turn out to be as laughable as the old sanctions. Europe has something of a history of announcing bold new moves in public while continuing to conduct business as usual in private. France for example has threatened to halt the sale of perhaps one of the two Mistral-class helicopter carriers it’s selling to Moscow, but hasn’t actually done anything about it. Here’s how far the EU is willing to go after MH17:

In Brussels, diplomats said ambassadors from the 28-member European bloc agreed to restrictions on trade of equipment for the oil and defense sectors, and “dual use” technology with both defense and civilian purposes. Russia’s state run banks would be barred from raising funds in European capital markets. The measures would be reviewed in three months.

Just three months? That sure doesn’t look like Europe has suddenly developed an overabundance of spine. What that looks like to me is if Putin and his rebels cooperate enough for appearances sake, the sanctions could be lifted before the real cold sets in and Europe and Ukraine start shivering for Russia’s energy exports.

Even without sanctions, we have the power to bring down his regime or at least deal it a series of body blows, simply by getting serious about fracking and fully legalizing oil exports. As Will Collier noted a few years ago on this site, George W. Bush collapsed oil prices simply by announcing an increase in offshore drilling during a price spike. President Obama has it in his power to do something similar, but undercutting Putin in that way (not to mention cheap gas for you and me) would alienate his party’s green base.

So if Putin is held hostage by domestic politics, so is Obama — and we know which one of them is the wilier player.

Thought for the Day

July 29th, 2014 - 5:44 pm

Geeeeeeeeeeeeeeeenius.

“The Debt Bomb Ticks On”

July 29th, 2014 - 2:01 pm

YOUR TAX DOLLARS AST WORK

From USA Today’s editorial page:

hese debt levels will be driven by the benefit programs that account for more than three-fifths of federal spending. The annual trustees’ reports on Social Security and Medicare, released Monday, shows spending on those two programs continuing to soar as Baby Boomers retire.

Public trustee Charles Blahous warned that the ongoing refusal to fix Social Security means the program’s troubles are already worse than when the program was last bailed out, in 1983. Blahous said fixing Social Security’s shortfall would require either a 21% increase in payroll taxes or a 16.5% benefits cut for all beneficiaries, including current retirees.

Sorry, young people — but old people vote, and the vote for people who will be more than happy to raise your taxes to buy those votes.

OIL FOR BLOOD

Keith Johnson reports for Foreign Policy:

The militants who have conquered broad swaths of Iraq and Syria are turning to good old-fashioned crime — oil smuggling, in this case — to underwrite its main line of work. The money it can earn from illicit oil sales further bolsters the group’s status as one of the richest self-funded terrorist outfits in the world, dependent not on foreign governments for financial support but on the money its reaped from kidnappings and bank robberies. The group has also managed to steal expensive weaponry that the United States had left for the Iraqi military, freeing it from the need to spend its own money to buy such armaments.

But even the millions of dollars a day that the Islamic State seems to be raking in by trucking stolen oil across porous borders is not enough to meet the hefty obligations created by the group’s own headlong expansion. Taking over big chunks of territory, as in eastern Syria and in northern Iraq, could also leave it forced to take on the sorts of expensive obligations — such as paying salaries, collecting the trash, and keeping the lights on — usually reserved for governments.

The IS/Caliphate certainly faces growing pains in the months and years ahead, assuming it doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own rapid expansion. That said, Iraqis might put up with reduced services, provided the trade-off is for a cleaner government with less corruption. Such as usually been the promise of radical Islamist leaders, and they’ve usually delivered — if only long enough to entrench themselves.

In the meantime, the IS/Caliphate seems to have enough cash coming in to support their current objectives, which are to take Baghdad and to conquer even more oil-rich lands.

The Big Lie

July 29th, 2014 - 12:23 pm

Washington is going to save you $150,000,000,000 a year! That’s right, $150 billion dollars! Here’s how:

Failing to adequately reduce the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change could cost the United States economy $150 billion a year, according to an analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers released on Tuesday.

The report is part of the White House’s effort to increase public support for President Obama’s climate-change agenda, chiefly an Environmental Protection Agency proposal targeting coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of planet-warming pollution. The E.P.A. will hold public hearings, which are expected to be heated, on the proposal this week in Washington, Atlanta, Denver and Pittsburgh.

The rule could lead to the shutdown of hundreds of power plants, a decline in domestic coal production, an increase in electricity rates and a fundamental transformation of the nation’s power supply.

I don’t mean to be a spoilsport, but I have a question: What will the shutdown of hundreds of power plants, reducing coal production, increasing our electricity rates, and fundamentally transforming our power supply going to cost us?

Answer: If you have to ask