VodkaPundit

VodkaPundit

Required Reading

May 29th, 2015 - 10:10 am

If you read much of anything about cybersecurity, then you know the name Robert Graham. He may be the world’s premier expert in “white hat” digital security procedures, so I take him seriously when he says a new arms control agreement may make the world safer for the bad guys.

Read:

Good and evil [digital security] products are often indistinguishable from each other. The best way to secure your stuff is for you to attack yourself.

That means things like bug bounties that encourage people to find 0-days in your software so that you can fix them before hackers (or the NSA) exploit them. That means scanning tools that hunt for any exploitable conditions in your computers, to find those bugs before hackers do. Likewise, companies use surveillance tools on their own networks (like intrusion prevention systems) to monitor activity and find hackers.

Thus, while Wassenaar [arms control agreement] targets evil products, they inadvertently catch the bulk of defensive products in their rules as well.

Read the whole thing.

Not all arms control agreements are bad of course, but there are dangers. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 limited the sizes of the Royal Navy, the US Navy, and the Japanese Imperial Navy absolutely and relative to one another. Japan’s navy was kept the smallest of the three bigs (France and Italy were minor signatories), and the rationale (IIRC) was that Japan’s needs were purely defensive — a smaller navy would suffice.

But really the upshot of it all was that as soon as Japan decided to break the treaty, she didn’t have that far to go to catch up with the US and Britain. Had the US and UK navies been built according to our needs, rather than limited by treaty, Japan with her tiny industrial base could never have been in a position to catch up.

The Reagan-Gorbachev Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty may prove to be another sad example. It seemed like a great idea at the time — I was certainly in favor of it — to eliminate the medium-range nuclear missiles which dotted the NATO and Warsaw Pact maps. Their mere presence was destabilizing, since they had short enough flight times to tempt a worried power into making a surprise nuclear attack. We agree to scrap ours, they agreed to scrap theirs, and we both agreed never to build any more of them.

But of course now there’s good evidence, and has been for a couple of years, that Russia is cheating by improperly classifying an IRBM as an ICBM. Congress has demanded a report (a report!), but that looks to be about as much as we’re going to do about it, unless by some miracle Congress and the White House agree to fast-track Pershing III procurement and deployment.

If Wassenaar ends up handcuffing the white hats just like the Washington Naval Treaty and the INF agreement did, then we’re in some serious real world trouble.

(AP photo)

(AP photo)

It’s dangerous to oppose Vlad Putin:

Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr., who has long been based in Washington, was in a hotel in Moscow when he suddenly lost consciousness May 26 and was hospitalized with what his wife called “symptoms of poisoning.” The 33-year-old is a coordinator for Open Russia, a nongovernmental organization which on the previous day released a documentary film accusing close Putin crony and Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov of human rights abuses including torture and murder.

“Doctors have just confirmed that he was poisoned,” Andrei Bystrov, an opposition activist and friend of the Kara-Murza family, told The Telegraph. “As to what with, they can’t say yet. It could be anything.”

Kara-Murza, a dual Russian-British citizen, was a close associate of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated in February.

Why the sudden need to kill Kara-Murza? It’s not as though Putin is facing an “election” any time soon, and Kara-Murza can’t be all that effective in Russia if he spends most of his time in Washington. Maybe Putin’s people just saw an opportunity during Kara-Mirza’s visit. Maybe something more sinister is going on.

For more on that possibility, and with a tip of the hat to Longtime Sharp VodkaPundit Reader “Formerly Neil,” here’s John Schindler:

I’m not sure why this caused a ruckus, since the reality, visible to anyone with eyes to see, is that Russian aggression over the last year and more has created a very unstable environment in Eastern Europe. Not to mention that the Russian military was simulating nuclear attacks on NATO countries as far back as 2009, back when ties between Moscow and the West remained far from chilly, indeed positively reset-y. The post-Cold War order has been destroyed by Russian acts in Ukraine, and we’re headed towards some sort of new system — whether through renewed Cold War or actual war remains to be seen.

I am increasingly pessimistic that a wider war can be averted, not least because Putin has been winning off his gambling, despite holding an intrinsically weak hand, and gamblers tend to keep playing when they’re winning.

“GOFO” is milspeak for “General Officer/Flag Officer.” IE, somebody with stars on their shoulders and in a position to know. And if Putin really is willing to risk a European war, knocking off high-ranking opposition leaders might be an effective opening volley.

It’s time to allow yourself to be nervous.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

May 29th, 2015 - 8:28 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

Actually, chalk this one up as a potential win as Ted Cruz threatens to subpoena Treasury officials over ♡bamaCare!!! subsidies:

According to The Hill, the 2016 GOP presidential hopeful made the threat after he had been told that a number of officials would not be available to testify, specifically Mark Mazur, an assistant secretary for tax policy; Emily McMahon, deputy assistant secretary for tax policy; and Cameron Arterton, deputy tax legislative counsel for tax policy.

“This refusal is unacceptable and interferes with Congress’ and this Committee’s obligation to ensure proper functioning of federal agencies and the federal rule making process,” Cruz wrote in a letter to Lew.

Cruz added that the officials should have to testify “regardless of any perceptions of poor timing by, or inconvenience to, the executive branch.”

Sign “O” the Times

May 29th, 2015 - 7:08 am

Chart of Doom

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”
-Karl Marx

Back when I was a young man, way back in the first quarter of 2015, all we got was 0.2% GDP growth — and we liked it!

But then came the downward revision… unexpectedly:

The U.S. economy went into reverse in the first three months of this year as a severe winter and a widening trade deficit took a harsher toll than initially estimated.

The Commerce Department says the overall economy as measured by the gross domestic product contracted at an annual rate of 0.7 percent in the January-March period.

The revised figure, even weaker than the government’s initial estimate of a 0.2 percent growth rate, reflects a bigger trade gap and slower consumer spending.

I don’t happen to worry too much about the widening trade gap. That’s an inevitable result of the strengthening dollar, and there are going to be dislocations as King Dollar returns to his throne. Central Banks around the world have been in a years-long “race to the bottom,” with each country trying to weaken its currency the most. And in chaotic times like this, that’s a race the US is going to lose — people (and central banks) hoard dollars when times get weird. The result is that the dollar appreciates against other currencies, which normally takes a bite out of our exports.

What’s worrisome is that the trade gap is growing while consumer spending is shrinking. Relatively cheaper foreign goods (thanks, King Dollar!) should encourage more consumer spending, or free up more consumer dollars to spend on domestic goods. Gas prices are above their recent lows (although still well below their “new normal” highs), so that can’t be the cause of the consumer slowdown.

Maybe something more fundamental is wrong:

The new data for the first quarter, and signs of only a tepid rebound in the current, second quarter of 2015, are now forcing some economists to rethink earlier assumptions.

“This isn’t the off-to-the-races kind of expansion we envisioned six months ago,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco. “More and more folks are coming around to the view that the long-term growth rate of the American economy is 2 percent, at best. We can’t sustain 3 or 4 percent growth for very long, so it’s two steps forward, one step back.”

Your typical economic recovery is V-shaped. That is, things come bounding back at about the opposite rate they declined. A short, sharp recession leads to a short, sharp recovery before evening back out at 3-4% growth. A longer but less dramatic recession gives you a longer but less dramatic recovery.

There are only two times in 20th or 21st Century American history that this hasn’t been true.

The first time was during the Great Depression, when the Roosevelt Administration’s response to the financial crisis was to endlessly muck around with the money supply, while foisting reams of new regulations and requirements and taxes on the economy. The second time was the aftermath to the Great Recession, when the Obama Administration’s response to the financial crisis was to endlessly muck around with the money supply, while foisting reams of new regulations and requirements and taxes on the economy.

I know history repeats itself, but I can’t tell if this time is the tragedy or the farce.

Re/Vox

May 29th, 2015 - 6:37 am

Re/code was Walt Mossberg’s digital project after negotiations to keep him (and Kara Swisher) at the Wall Street Journal’s All Things D. Mossberg spent decades building and nurturing a reputation for fair-minded, consumer-friendly reviews of computers and electronic devices.

Mossberg might just have put that hard-earned reputation at risk:

We are thrilled to announce that Re/code’s parent company, Revere Digital, is being wholly acquired by the highly respected digital-native media company Vox Media. This is the next big step in our mission to bring you quality tech journalism, because our work will now be amplified and enhanced by Vox Media’s deep and broad skill set.

We want to assure you that this combination is designed to bolster and enrich Re/code, and that we will continue to publish under the same name and leadership, with editorial independence.

You have to wonder about that last bit. Vox Media is a DC-based digital publishing company cofounded by Daily Kos himself, Markos Moulitsas, and superleftwing MyDD founder Jerome Armstrong. By itself that might not make anyone worry about Re/code’s editorial independence, but there’s some history you need to know.

The Verge started off as a fantastic and fair tech site. Originally called “This Is My Next…,” it was spun off in 2011 by Engadget writers, striking out on their own after disagreements with parent company AOL.

But even a big fan like me quit visiting The Verge after it became explicitly politicized, especially over climate change — and no dissent seems to be tolerated there. So I quit clicking and started writing more tech stuff myself.

Even Apple guru John Gruber — hardly a conservative — wrote about the deal that he’s “not sure what to make of this.”

It would be a shame to see Mossberg squander his reputation by teaming up with the likes of Moulitsas and Armstrong.

WATCH OUT

What’s sillier than spending nearly $15,000 on a solid gold Apple Watch Edition you’re not going to wear? Why, spending nearly $30,000 on two of them you’re not going to wear

And then putting them both on your dog:

Wang Sicong, the son of mainland China’s richest man, incited a virtual riot Tuesday after posting photos on Weibo of his Siberian Husky wearing not one, but two Apple Watch Editions on its front legs.

Wang’s dog looks somewhat perplexed as to the reason for his shiny ankle adornment, but bears the weight well nonetheless. The set of five shots was uploaded to the dog’s personal Weibo account via an iPhone 6, which is presumably also plated with gold.

“I have new watches! I’m supposed to have four watches since I have four long legs,” the caption reads, as translated by Shanghaiist. “But that seems too tuhao so I kept it down to two, which totally fits my status. Do you have one?”

Tuhao is a derogatory Chinese term that refers to people who are rich, but lack corresponding social graces.

With or without the watches though, that’s one really cute pup.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

May 28th, 2015 - 3:16 pm

I know, I know — it doesn’t usually take me until late in the afternoon to find one of these for you. But this one is a biggie and, if you’ll pardon the expression, worth the wait. On the other hand, is it really news when government promises to save you money on overhead costs, but then radically increases your overhead costs?

Well, that’s the latest report on ♡bamaCare!!!’s latest unintended consequence.

Read:

The administrative costs for healthcare plans are expected to explode by more than a quarter of a trillion dollars over the next decade, according to a new study published by the Health Affairs blog.

The $270 billion in new costs, for both private insurance companies and government programs, will be “over and above what would have been expected had the law not been enacted,” one of the authors, David Himmelstein, wrote Wednesday.

Those costs will be particularly high this year, when overhead is expected to make up 45 percent of all federal spending related to the Affordable Care Act. By 2022, that ratio will decrease to about 20 percent of federal spending related to the law.

The study is based on data from both the government’s National Health Expenditure Projections and the Congressional Budget Office. Both authors are members of Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates for a single-payer system.

“This number – 22.5 percent of all new spending going into overheard – is shocking even to me, to be honest. It’s almost one out of every four dollars is just going to bureaucracy,” the study’s other author, Steffie Woolhandler, said Wednesday.

That money — that quarter of a trillion dollars — comes right out of our pockets, and into Washington’s gaping maw. Just to administer a law most Americans wish had never been enacted.

That Means It’s Working™

Meanwhile, WhiteHouse.gov is still playing this golden oldie:

Bending the growth curve of health care spending: In keeping with President Obama’s pledge that reform must fix our health care system without adding to the deficit, the Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit, saving more than $200 billion over 10 years and more than $1 trillion in the second decade. The law reduces health care costs by rewarding doctors, hospitals and other providers that deliver high quality care, making investments to fund research into what works, and cracking down on waste, fraud, and abuse.

I think we know where the real waste, fraud, and abuse are.

(Don’t) Bring Out Your Dead

May 28th, 2015 - 2:14 pm
Pro-Russia rebels carry a coffin with the body of prominent separatist commander Alexei Mozgovoi during his funeral in Alchevsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Alexei Mozgovoi and at least six other people were killed on Saturday in eastern Ukraine when his vehicle was ripped apart by a bomb and then strafed by gunfire. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)

Pro-Russia rebels carry a coffin with the body of prominent separatist commander Alexei Mozgovoi during his funeral in Alchevsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Alexei Mozgovoi and at least six other people were killed on Saturday in eastern Ukraine when his vehicle was ripped apart by a bomb and then strafed by gunfire. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)

Today’s sick-making story comes from eastern Ukraine, where Russian Army troops are using portable crematoria to conceal their own dead:

The U.S. and NATO have long maintained that thousands of Russian troops are fighting alongside separatists inside eastern Ukraine, and that the Russian government is obscuring not only the presence but also the deaths of its soldiers there. In March, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow told a conference, “Russian leaders are less and less able to conceal the fact that Russian soldiers are fighting — and dying — in large numbers in eastern Ukraine.”

Hence the extreme measures to get rid of the evidence. “The Russians are trying to hide their casualties by taking mobile crematoriums with them,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry told me. “They are trying to hide not only from the world but from the Russian people their involvement.”

The last time portable crematoria wear dragged through eastern Europe was during WWII, when the Germans used them to quickly dispose of Jews, Commissars, and other “undesirables.” So I suppose today’s news is something of an improvement over that.

But a reveal like this makes you wonder how much longer Vlad Putin can maintain the effectiveness of his own Big Lie regarding Russia’s direct military involvement in Ukraine.

Slim by Chocolate — A Hoax

May 28th, 2015 - 1:06 pm

Sigh — turns out, you can’t lose weight by eating chocolate. John Bohannon reveals how he fooled the world:

I got a call in December last year from a German television reporter named Peter Onneken. He and his collaborator Diana Löbl were working on a documentary film about the junk-science diet industry. They wanted me to help demonstrate just how easy it is to turn bad science into the big headlines behind diet fads. And Onneken wanted to do it gonzo style: Reveal the corruption of the diet research-media complex by taking part.

The call wasn’t a complete surprise. The year before, I had run a sting operation for Science on fee-charging open access journals, a fast-growing and lucrative new sector of the academic publishing business. To find out how many of those publishers are keeping their promise of doing rigorous peer review, I submitted ridiculously flawed papers and counted how many rejected them. (Answer: fewer than half.)

Onneken and Löbl had everything lined up: a few thousand Euros to recruit research subjects, a German doctor to run the study, and a statistician friend to massage the data. Onneken heard about my journal sting and figured that I would know how to pull it all together and get it published. The only problem was time: The film was scheduled to be aired on German and French television in the late spring (it premieres next week), so we really only had a couple of months to pull this off.

Read the whole thing.

A couple of months is more than long enough to get people to believe something they really want to believe.

Now imagine what you could do if you had years and millions or billions in government grants to fool around with.

Cut THIS!

May 28th, 2015 - 12:00 pm

Steve Forbes would like to remind you that income tax cuts always work:

Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas was pilloried for enacting major tax reductions that supposedly blew gaping holes in the state’s budget because rapid economic growth didn’t instantly materialize. Put aside the fact that some of his other tax proposals weren’t enacted and that he didn’t get all the tightening on overall spending he wanted. Democrats thought they’d knock him out in 2014. Instead, Brownback won, and his tax cuts, which took effect little more than two years ago (he not only whacked income tax rates but also eliminated those levies altogether for small businesses), are starting to yield a bumper crop in prosperity. Private-sector job growth in Kansas is now outpacing that in most other states. The state’s unemployment rate is among the nation’s lowest. Just as impressive is Kansas’ employment-to-population ratio, which is well above the national average.

Ohio’s chief executive and possible presidential candidate, John Kasich, is also hacking away at his state’s personal income tax, with an eye to eliminating it altogether, relying instead on broad-based consumption taxes. (He’s already done away with Ohio’s death tax.)

Even blue states are getting the tax message. Look at Maine, which a GOP presidential candidate hasn’t carried since 1988. Governor Paul LePage is pushing to eliminate the state’s income tax by 2020. Maine has long been in the economic dumps, and LePage, who was a successful businessman before going into politics full-time, knows that this is chiefly due to the state’s hostile tax environment. Liberals and legacy media outlets can’t stand LePage’s unabashed free-market principles and his willingness to let reporters know what he thinks of them and their employers. Their consternation was palpable when he won a stunning reelection victory.

“Work” of course depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If the goal is increased GDP growth and revenues, with the benefits going largely to entrepreneurs and their employees — then, yes, income tax cuts are just the thing.

But if your goal is to set faction against faction in a neverending fight over a shrinking pie, with growing opportunities for graft and crony capitalism, then, no, income tax cuts just aren’t for you.

Castle Anthrax, Moat Breached

May 28th, 2015 - 10:55 am
Image courtesy Python (Monty) Pictures

Image courtesy Python (Monty) Pictures

Oopsies:

The U.S. military mistakenly sent live anthrax bacteria to laboratories in nine U.S. states and a U.S. air base in South Korea, after apparently failing to properly inactivate the bacteria last year, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

The Pentagon said there was no known suspected infection or risk to the public. But four U.S. civilians have been started on preventive measures called post-exposure prophylaxis, which usually includes the anthrax vaccine, antibiotics or both.

The four face “minimal” risk, said Jason McDonald, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Your health care is totally safe with these big government people.

Unstoppable

May 28th, 2015 - 9:37 am
(Image courtesy Warner Bros.)

(Image courtesy Warner Bros.)

There’s fast, there’s really fast, and then there’s hypersonic. Supermissiles should always fall into the last category, and Raytheon just scored a nice contract to develop just that:

Raytheon is getting $20 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the Pentagon branch best known for having sponsored the invention of the Internet. This time, the agency wants a technology that weapons designers have dreamed of since the 1930s — a hypersonic missile that travels so fast there’s virtually no defense against it.

Details of the project are closely guarded secrets; DARPA and Raytheon declined to provide specifics. But similar efforts have been underway for decades. The German scientist Eugen Sanger worked on hypersonic cruise missiles during the 1930s, but the effort was abandoned as impractical. Today, though, Russia, China and India are all making big investments in hypersonic hardware. The United States is working on several similar projects, including the Army’s land-based Advanced Hypersonic Weapon and the X-51 WaveRider being developed by the Air Force.

Would it be redundant if I said, “Faster, please?”

My dream of having a Friendly Skynet to automatically rain down destruction on bad guys anywhere in the world, in 30 minutes or less, keeps moving closer to reality.

Can You Dig It?

May 28th, 2015 - 8:08 am

I didn’t see this one coming — Russian soldiers are now having to defend against Russian weapons from being re-smuggled out of Ukraine and back into Russia:

Over 60 miles of trenches, four meters (13 feet) wide and two meters (six feet) deep, have been dug in Ukraine’s Rostov region, adjacent to the restive Donetsk and Luhansk regions, to prevent arms and munitions from being carried into Russia. Over 60 smuggling attempts have been stopped, leading to the detention of 130 people and the confiscation of land mines, firearms, artillery shells and grenades, the Moscow newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta said.

“The separatist regions of Ukraine have become a territory of uncontrolled weapons circulation and arms always flow into the black market in a period of de-escalation,” military analyst Anton Lavrov told Bloomberg News. The weapons could arrive in nearby North Caucasus, a largely Muslim region of Russia where militants have battled federal troops for over 20 years.

The longer this war goes on, the more tempted Kyiv may be to start providing weapons, money, and training to separatist forces to the restive Muslims in Russia’s south Caucasus region, which in the long run would end up doing nobody any good.

The First 100 Days

May 28th, 2015 - 7:35 am

Introducing Trifecta Platinum — and the first hit is free.

Nonmembers seem to prefer shorter segments, but PJTV members — being the awesomely involved people that you are — prefer the longer stuff. So we’re experimenting with longer, freer-form segments like these. And they’re more fun for Scott Ott, Bill Whittle and me to shoot, because we’re less worried about time constraints and the producers really want us to let loose and get our newsgeek on. But maybe the best part for us is the chance to get away from the blink-and-you-miss-it headline stories, and into deeper topics we really care about.

They whole series is available to members at no additional charge, and sets are available for purchase by non-members.

News You Can Use

May 28th, 2015 - 6:22 am
(Image courtesy LiveLeak/New York Daily News)

(Image courtesy LiveLeak/New York Daily News)

Meanwhile, in California:

An overjoyed driver in Los Angeles captured a wild encounter with a naked man who is seen leaping on passing cars and stopping traffic smack in the middle of a major highway.

The unidentified man strips to his birthday suit on the busy Interstate 5, sending the cameraman into a fit of laughter as he filmed the bizarre broad-daylight peep show.

“Unf—— believable! I’ve seen it f—— all! This is f—— amazing!” the driver says in the nearly 2-minute clip published to LiveLeak on Saturday.

The nude exhibitionist at one point dives face down onto the windshield of a passing car, then slides off and crouches on the road.

You know you’re not supposed to do that, right?

LiveLeak has the video, which is just as pointlessly entertaining as you might imagine. There’s some NSFW language, plus, you know, naked guy on the interstate.

Those Dumbwatch Blues

May 28th, 2015 - 5:31 am

WATCH

Apple Watch is hurting the competition — but the competition ain’t Android Wear or Pebble:

Analysts predicted last year that the tech-savvy watch, which launched in April at a starting price of $349, would crush watch sales for companies like Michael Kors that sell timepieces in the price range of $300 to $500.

Those predictions might already be coming true.

Michael Kors reported a 5.8% decline in same-store sales for its fourth quarter on Wednesday, including a 6.7% drop in North America. Analysts had been expecting a same-store sales increase in North America — the company’s biggest market — of 3%.

In a research note last fall, Barclays analysts said they were “increasingly concerned” about Fossil, which makes watches for more than a dozen brands including Michael Kors, Marc by Marc Jacobs, and Burberry.

Apple’s new retailing chief, Angela Ahrendts, came to Cupertino from Burberry, and presumably knows what that kind of customer is looking for. Think of your typical Fossil-cum-Apple-Watch customer as “upscale but not too upscale.” Her hiring and the debut of Apple Watch are no coincidence.

The story goes on:

“We cannot overlook what is increasingly becoming a major disruption to the entire watch industry,” the analysts wrote. “Future innovation at Fossil …will largely be challenged by hype and innovative offerings from deep pocket technology-credible competitors such as Apple, Samsung and Motorola.”

Right now, Android Wear’s mostly oversized and geek-oriented offerings aren’t any kind of disruptive competition to Fossil, although that isn’t to say they won’t be in the future — aside from clunkiness, that LG Urbane is one handsome piece of hardware, hampered mostly by Android Wear’s weaknesses. Wear will improve and the hardware will become sleeker — but for the next year or two, there’s not much to talk about outside the Android Wear enthusiast community.

Can we learn anything then at this early stage from the Apple Watch launch and Fossil’s woes? Maybe.

The key might be found in this WSJ review of the Urbane:

The Apple Watch is, despite its many talents, a watch first and foremost. Rival Android Wear watches, which made a debut last year, are still frustrating wrist-top computers that happen to tell the time.

This isn’t an Apple vs Google fight — given time, I’m sure Android Wear will catch up, even if the target market never quite reaches the “upscale but not too upscale” crowd. Just like with smartphones, there’s plenty of room in the marketplace for both operating systems.

But we’re still in the early stages of wearable computers. Even when powered by slow CPUs and with faces that turn on only when you flick your wrist, they still have to be charged every night and require a paired smartphone (for now) to act as the real brains of the watch.

Pages: 1 2 | 12 Comments»

Taliban 5 to Walk?

May 27th, 2015 - 3:07 pm
United States President Obama (center) walks with the parents of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl Jani Bergdahl (left) and Bob Bergdahl (right) back to the Oval Office after making a statement regarding the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban Obama Statement regarding the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Washington DC, America - 31 May 2014 (Rex Features via AP Images)

United States President Obama (center) walks with the parents of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl Jani Bergdahl (left) and Bob Bergdahl (right) back to the Oval Office after making a statement regarding the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban Obama Statement regarding the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Washington DC, America – 31 May 2014 (Rex Features via AP Images)

While US terror arrests show a frightening acceleration from recent years, the five Taliban leaders exchanged for deserter Bowe Bergdahl could be released as soon as Monday.

The five former Guantanamo detainees have been under close monitoring in Qatar and subject to a travel ban since their release last year. The agreement with Qatar is set to expire June 1.

While the Washington Post reported earlier this month that the administration was in talks with Qatari officials about potentially extending security measures for the group, it’s unclear if any restrictions will remain in place after the end of the month.

Asked this week if the talks produced any agreement, a State Department official told FoxNews.com, “We don’t have any updates.”

Remember when Obama described his own foreign policy doctrine as “don’t do stupid shit?”

Good times, good times.

So It Has Come to This

May 27th, 2015 - 2:13 pm

President Barack Obama, addressing the ISIS threat in January 2014:

The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.

Obama, September 2014:

Our objective is clear and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL so it’s no longer a threat—not just to Iraq but also to the region and to the United States.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest talking to reporters last week:

We are in the degrade portion of this operation.

Dov S. Zakheim writing for The National Interest just two days later:

Containment is a messy solution to an awful problem, however, there is none other in sight. The Obama administration, its strategy, if ever there was one, now in ruins, its credibility at an ebb, is left with no other choice.

And in today’s Wall Street Journal, Kevin Connolly feels the need to explain how to keep ISIS from taking Baghdad. He says it will require a mix of strategic air power, “ruthless” and large-scale special operations, capturing and interrogating ISIS leaders to develop solid human intelligence, and — of course — sending in US ground forces. But even Connolly concludes:

If the administration whistles past the graveyard and insists its policy is working even as ISIS nears Baghdad and our diplomats there, the White House may face a debacle that makes Benghazi seem minor in comparison.

In other words…

…minus the kind of air war the President won’t order, a scale of spec-ops he won’t risk, the kind of interrogations he won’t approve, and the sending in the ground troops which would destroy his legacy as the President who ends wars…

…minus all that, it seems more than possible that Baghdad will fall.

It is unlikely that the Iraqis will get their act together. But it seems impossible that POTUS will either.

Carly S. Grant

May 27th, 2015 - 1:31 pm

CARLY

Watch the video at Breitbart.

All I would add is, find out what Fiorina drinks and send a barrel of it to each of my other candidates.

PS Hillary Clinton belongs in jail.

Is That a Gigayacht in Your Pocket?

May 27th, 2015 - 12:37 pm

4YACHT

Wow:

Pictured for the first time, this is the superyacht that is set to eclipse all others.

Called Double Century, she has an incredible nine decks, will rise 88 feet above the water and at 656-feet long, she’s twice the length of a football field and 130 feet longer than the biggest superyacht around today, the Azzam, owned by the President of the United Arab Emirates.

Roman Abramovich’s Eclipse will also be put in the shade by Double Century, measuring a relatively meagre 535 feet.

By way of comparison, the USS Yorktown, lost at the Battle of Midway, measured 770 feet at the waterline — yet didn’t have even a single swimming pool.

Who Lost Ramadi?

May 27th, 2015 - 11:29 am
Displaced civilians from Ramadi wait to receive humanitarian aid from the United Nations in a camp in the town of Amiriyat al-Fallujah, west of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, May 22, 2015. The United Nations World Food Program said it is rushing food assistance into Anbar to help tens of thousands of residents who have fled Ramadi after it was taken by Islamic State militant group. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Displaced civilians from Ramadi wait to receive humanitarian aid from the United Nations in a camp in the town of Amiriyat al-Fallujah, west of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, May 22, 2015. The United Nations World Food Program said it is rushing food assistance into Anbar to help tens of thousands of residents who have fled Ramadi after it was taken by Islamic State militant group. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Everyone — and no one.

Read:

Iraqis lacked “the will to fight” against encroaching Islamic militants, with press secretary Josh Earnest calling it a “problem we’ve seen in the past.”

The Pentagon took the criticism a step further, saying the Iraqi troops “chose to withdraw” from Ramadi despite “a substantial” advantage in combat power.
“In this case of Ramadi, there was a problem of both low morale amongst the troops and there was a problem with the command structure,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said. “The command and control structure does not appear to have been fully up to the task.”

Iraqi officials have bristled at Carter’s criticism, with Hakim al-Zamili, the head of the parliamentary defense and security committee, calling it “unrealistic and baseless.”

President Obama’s hands-off approach to Iraq pretty much guaranteed that the country’s old sectarian problems would fester until they threatened to split the country — and they did split the government and the military. Obama’s scuttling of the Status of Forces talks completely guaranteed that should the worst come to pass, we would have very little ability to do much about it. Would the Iraqi government have held together better with a U.S. presence still in place? Perhaps. Would the Iraqi Army have performed better with the help of two or three full U.S. Army brigade combat teams? Almost certainly.

Pages: 1 2 | 18 Comments»

Herding Cats Like a PATRIOT

May 27th, 2015 - 10:22 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

President Obama is desperate to save the PATRIOT Act in advance of Sunday’s deadline, but Roll Call reports that would take the unanimous consent of the entire Senate — and good luck getting at least three of them on board with that:

The Senate is slated to return Sunday in a last-ditch bid to extend the Patriot Act after the May 22 meltdown led by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has made his bid to kill the Patriot Act a signature issue for his presidential campaign.

Under Senate rules, there doesn’t appear to be a way around Paul’s objections — or those of other senators, including Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico — without their consent.

That means either cutting a deal with Paul guaranteeing him simple majority votes on his surveillance-limiting amendments — something leaders refused to do in the early hours of Saturday morning — or letting the authorities expire.

Congress could revive the authorities, but it would take days, if not a week or more, to go through the procedural hoops required in the face of persistent objections from Paul and company.

In his latest fundraising message, Paul again made clear he had no intention of relenting.

I love it when good politics and good policy coincide.

Speaking of Venn diagrams with very little overlap…

There were those who opposed the PATRIOT Act under a Republican president because it was just a laundry list of executive power grabs which would do little or nothing to enhance our security. The were those who opposed the PATRIOT Act under a Democrat president because is was still just a laundry list of executive power grabs which have done little or nothing to enhance our security. And they can change the name to the “USA Freedom Act,” which if nothing else proves that irony is alive and well in Washington, but it is still just a laundry list of executive power grabs which will do little or nothing to enhance our security.

So sitting in the middle of that Venn is you, me, Rand Paul, Ron Wyden and…

Anyone?

The Phil Hartman Effect

May 27th, 2015 - 9:00 am
(Image courtesy NBC)

(Image courtesy NBC)

Josh Kraushaar says that Hillary Clinton’s “flight from the media is reinforcing her weaknesses” as a candidate:

The reality is that Clinton’s avoidance of the press is a product of weakness, not the result of a shrewd campaign bypassing the media because it can. She may be avoiding short-term pain by sticking to her script, but she’s creating an imperial image of herself that’s hard to reverse—and one the media has every incentive to reinforce. If she doesn’t have a credible response to explain her use of a private unsecured email server, Republicans will eagerly fill the void with attack ads casting her in the most unfavorable light possible. Even if voters aren’t following every detail about her conflicts of interest with the Clinton Foundation, the constant unfavorable news coverage is bound to trickle down to voters. For a candidate looking to find a “warm, purple space” to unify the country, these controversies hit where it hurts the most.

Effective attack ads contain at least a nugget of truth — not about the candidate’s positions, but preferably about their character. Positions come and go, but character is forever. It wasn’t all that difficult to portray Mitt Romney as out of touch because, hey, dude with an elevator for his car.

But the very best attack ads are impossible to counter, because they have the Phil Hartman Effect.

During his days on SNL, Hartman wasn’t exactly the best voice guy ever to grace the small screen. His Sinatra didn’t sound much like Frank, and didn’t look much like him either. Same goes for Hartman’s Chuck Heston, his Phil Donahue, his Ronald Reagan, or even — yes — his Barbara Bush. (His Bill Clinton was amazing however.) And yet anyone who watched Hartman portray celebrities always marveled at how funny they were, and how dead-on he was.

Hartman’s trick wasn’t that he wore enough makeup to look just like them, or was such a vocal chameleon that he could sound just like them. What Hartman did instead was find that one defining character trait and then give it just enough zing for perfect parody.

Sinatra: Done it all, and with zero patience for upstart punks like Billy Idol who never even nailed Ava Gardner. Reagan: Smarter than almost anyone gave him credit for. Barbara Bush: Only looks sweet. Etc.

A great attack ad does the same thing, and there’s very little defense against them. Think of Mike Dukakis riding the tank. We always suspected he was a doofus, and then we knew — and we just don’t elect a doofus to POTUS. Barry Goldwater has a reputation as a nuke-rattling warmonger? Hit him with the “Daisy” spot. These ads might not be fair, especially “Daisy,” but that’s like complaining that Hartman was too tall to play Reagan — it completely misses the point.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a political candidate so ripe for the Phil Hartman Treatment as Hillary Clinton is — if only if someone in the GOP would dare to put on the blonde fright wig, don the crown and scepter, and have the whole country laughing at President Entitlement.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

May 27th, 2015 - 7:52 am

Megan McArdle says next year is going to involve “sticker shock” for an awful lot of ♡bamaCare!!! mandate-customers, and here’s why:

Moreover, significant rate increases are what I would broadly expect, because these rates are the first ones set with a full year of claims data, and what we know about the pool is that it is poorer and older — which would also mean sicker — than was projected. Initially, HHS was saying that it needed about 40 percent of the exchange policies to be purchased by people age 18-35 to keep the exchanges financially stable. It was 28 percent in both 2014 and 2015, according to HHS data. The CBO had projected about 85 percent of exchange enrollees to be subsidized, falling toward 80 percent as enrollment grew; instead, that number is 87 percent and actually rose slightly from 2014. It would be pretty surprising if rates weren’t increasing faster than inflation, or even than general health care cost inflation.

Another thing which can’t be helping is the ♡bamaCare!!! diktat that insurers can only change their prices on the exchanges once per year, rather than once per quarter. Having looked at last year’s numbers, the insurance companies (for whom you should feel zero pity, FWIW) must now lock in the rate increases they think they’ll need — for the entirety of 2016. Previously, they could have gone to the various state insurance commissars and said, “We think we need rates this much higher to stay solvent next year,” but since they had three more chances to nail the prices down, they were more likely to get it “right” and less likely to scare customers off with a one-time-super-price-hike and the resulting sticker shock.

So do Megan’s numbers portend the dreaded death spiral of rising rates and a shrinking customer base? I don’t think so, if only because those annual rate hikes also keep existing customers “locked in” at current rates for 12 months, and most of them will probably keep paying up for the full year. If I had to guess — and given the virtual Star Chamber in which ♡bamaCare!!! was constructed, it’s impossible to know for sure — there’s a good political reason for changing from quarterly to annual price changes. The hope, I’m guessing, was to keep the initial mandate-customer base locked in long enough for the dreaded Cadillac tax to kick in. At that point, millions more would start losing their employer-based plans, and get forced into the exchanges — thus help keeping them solvent.

It’s a big gamble, especially considering how unpopular the Cadillac tax is with the current Congress, and how unpopular it’s going to become with the general public once its effects begin to be widely felt.

There will be a big push to repeal the tax from 2018 and on (there’s a small push already), and there won’t be an Obama sitting at the Resolute desk with his veto pen to protect his cherished 40% excise tax on private insurance.

The structure of the exchanges was that initially they’d cover the sick, the poor, and the otherwise uninsured — making them fiscally unsound over the medium term, but politically impossible to kill over the short term. The long term would be covered by using the Cadillac tax to force damn near everyone onto the exchanges, and (hopefully) making them fiscally sound.

But I’m not sure anyone — even really well informed people — is ready for the uproar when the Cadillac tax hits home.

Program Note

May 26th, 2015 - 5:09 am

Taking today off for a funeral, but back to the usual fun & games bright & early tomorrow morning.

Friday Night Videos

May 22nd, 2015 - 10:15 pm

For my dearest friend Melenie Lambert, gone too soon after a shockingly short battle with cancer.

(Image courtesy inquisitr.com)

(Image courtesy inquisitr.com)

Seems legit:

Late April, Jeff Waters casually walked into the Jacksonville Bank of America and attempted to cash a check for $368,000,000,000.00 — that’s 368 billion dollars.

Armed with his identification and fully expecting the check to be cashed, Waters was befuddled when he learned that the blank check that he bought from a homeless man called Tito was unusable.

When the tellers became suspicious, Waters explained that a homeless man by the name of Tito Watts had sold him the blank U.S. Bank of Idaho check (which was issued in the ’90s) for 100 bucks a few months ago.

Tito, the “upstanding” guy that he is, told Waters that he can go ahead and cash the check for whatever amount his heart desires.

But here’s the really fun part:

“It’s always been my dream to own the best Italian restaurant in the earth,” he later told the police.

“I’m 10% Italian. Cooking authentic Italian food is in my blood. I had planned to make the restaurant 80 million square feet and able to accommodated [sic] 30 million eaters at once, plus it was gonna be totally underwater so people could look at sharks while they ate. But the bank wouldn’t give me my money they owed me,” said the hopeful entrepreneur.

Think of the good $368,000,000,000 could do for the south Florida economy, not to mention the bragging rights of hosting — by far — the world’s largest Italian restaurant. With sharks.

Just think of Waters as a freelance central banker, and I think you’ll see the wisdom in cashing that check.

Deere Smashes Expectations

May 22nd, 2015 - 12:20 pm

John Deere reported earnings of $2.03 per share, over expectations of $1.56.

More:

Deere is the world’s leading seller of farming equipment. The company also produces heavy construction equipment like bulldozers and excavators.

In Friday’s earnings statement, the company also had an upbeat outlook for the US housing market:

“The sales improvement reflects economic growth and higher housing starts in the U.S. offset in part by weakening conditions in the energy sector and energy-producing regions as well as lower sales outside the U.S. and Canada.”

Deere forecast that sales of construction and forestry equipment will increase 2% this year, with sales improvements in the US and Europe offsetting declines elsewhere.

Housing starts data has been mixed this year, but in May, we saw starts surge to the highest level since November 2007.

Deere, however, has a bleak outlook for the agricultural sector, saying it sees weak demand for tractors and other heavy machinery.

Great news for Deere, and hopefully for the broader economy. The thing which concerns me however is that nearly all their growth came from housing starts. We’ve seen that bubble before, not coincidentally popping shortly after November 2007.

Sign “O” the Times

May 22nd, 2015 - 11:12 am

MARRIAGE

Love and marriage — who needs it? Not Millennials:

The 2015 U.S. Wedding Forecast from Demographic Intelligence says millennials in the next five years will have more of its members at a typical marrying age than any previous generation. But they are also less likely to tie the knot than their predecessors.

The report shows a marriage rate of 6.74 per 1,000 people this year, with the number expected to fall slightly lower over each of the next two years. In 2008, the marriage rate in America was 7.09.

Others have made similar findings. A Pew Research Center report recently said that one-fourth of millennials are likely to eschew marriage entirely.

“A lot of people would like to see marriage remain strong. It offers benefits to children,” said Sam Sturgeon, Demographic Intelligence president. He noted that research has been somewhat politicized, but is “pretty consistent” in showing that children raised with two parents who are married to each other fare better across multiple measures.

Getting married and starting a family, even more than starting a new business, is an indication of hope for the future.

With declining birth, marriage, and business startup rates, it’s clear there’s not a whole lot of that hope left these days.

Laser Beam Me

May 22nd, 2015 - 10:36 am
(Air Force image)

(Air Force image)

And now, planes with frickin laser beams:

The Air Force plans to be able to incinerate targets such as incoming missiles with laser weapons mounted on C-17s by 2023 as part of a directed energy developmental effort, service official said.

The High Energy Laser, or HEL, is being tested by the Air Force Directed Energy Directorate, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. Ground tests are slated for later this year as part of a plan to precede air-launched laser weapons firing evaluations, Mica Endsley, Air Force Chief Scientist, told Military.com in an interview.

The first ever ground test of the weapon is slated to take place at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., said Othana Zuch, an Air Force spokeswoman.

Service officials are working on a solid-state laser guidance mechanism and focus so the weapon can stay on track on a particular target.

“We’re working on maturing a lot of those kinds of technologies,” Endsley said. “We will be transitioning into airborne platforms to get them ready to go into a program of record by 2023.”

I know 2023 isn’t actually that far off, but still — faster please!