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Cloud-y Skies Ahead

January 28th, 2015 - 2:36 pm

MICROSOFT

Tuesday was a bad day for stocks, but a terrible day for Microsoft. Barb Darrow explains why:

After the earnings call, Microsoft watchers seemed to remember that the company cash cows remain good old-fashioned Office and Windows, sales of which aren’t setting the world on fire. Sales in the company’s Commercial Division, which includes those products, missed expectations, logging “just” $10.68 billion for the quarter compared to the $10.94 billion that FactSet analysts had expected, according to Marketwatch.

Another data point: Revenue for Windows OEM versions of the operating system — which get pre-loaded on new PCs — fell 13 percent year over year. And Windows Volume licensing revenue grew just 3 percent, as CRN pointed out.

Making matters worse for Redmond’s bottom line, Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for many users, perhaps most. That’s $129 or so a copy Microsoft won’t be enjoying this cycle. But it’s far too soon to think CEO Satya Nadella is some kind of failure.

He’s moving Microsoft away from its old cash cows, and into platform-agnostic software and cloud services. (Nadella’s move matches the free advice I gave right on this page to former CEO Steve Ballmer years ago, and he didn’t listen. Did I mention he’s the former CEO? Anyway.)

Nadella has seen the future, and he’s executing about as well as anyone could hope. “Windows Everywhere” was always a bad idea, and the new “Microsoft Behind Every Scene” is much more in tune with the company’s strengths. But there are going to be bumps during the transition, and yesterday was a pretty big one.

“The Iowa Trap”

January 28th, 2015 - 1:31 pm

I bookmarked Scott Conroy’s latest on Monday, then promptly did nothing with it until just now. And that’s my bad, as Conroy has a must-read piece on what he calls the “circus” of Iowa’s quadrennial conservative presidential candidate cattle call:

The would-be candidates varied in level of earnestness for their possible presidential runs, but they all shared the same goal: wooing the 1,200 or so conservative activists on hand at the kickoff Iowa cattle call of 2016, co-hosted by Congressman Steve King and the conservative group Citizens United.

Terry Branstad­—Iowa’s avuncular and scrupulously mustachioed sixth-term governor—was on hand to play his well-worn role as ring master-in-chief for the quadrennial ritual that has been one of the state’s most lucrative and aggrandizing traditions over four decades.

During a press conference, Branstad urged all of the would-be candidates to come here early and often.

Anyone who dared not heed this counsel, the governor warned, risked suffering the fate that befell Rudy Giuliani—who bypassed Iowa on the way to running one of the most underachieving presidential campaigns in recent history. “My advice is you skip Iowa at your own peril,” Branstad said, adding the standard line that there are only “three tickets out” of the state for candidates who hope to make it to New Hampshire and beyond.

If I could wave a magic wand over the RNC, I’d make it official party policy that ethanol subsides are bad, and their abolishment is part of the party platform. I’d then go further and make it a GOP plank to eliminate all agriculture subsidies, and candidates who deviate from this small government, free market principle will somehow fail to receive invitations to participate in primary debates.

And then I’d announce a new primary schedule, where the first-in-the-nation caucus would rotate each schedule between Iowa, and perhaps five or six other small states.

It’s nothing personal, Iowa. It’s just that your grandstanding attitude doesn’t jibe with your ability to pick actual winners.

Iran Ditching Dollars

January 28th, 2015 - 12:17 pm

King Dollar has lost his crown in Tehran:

Iran is no longer using the US dollar in foreign-trade transactions and is replacing it with other currencies, the deputy governor at the Iranian Central Bank Gholami Kamyab said, according to Sputnik News.

“In trade exchanges with the foreign countries, Iran uses other currencies including Chinese yuan, euro, Turkish lira, Russian ruble, and South Korean won,” Kamyab reportedly said.

He also reportedly added that Iran was considering bilateral currency-swap agreements, which would allow partners to exchange one foreign currency for the equivalent in the other currency. He did not explicitly name partners, however.

We can all make safe guesses as to the names of those other partners, I think.

Today’s story ties in nicely (H/T, Glenn) with Walter Russell Mead’s Tuesday post concerning the SWIFT program:

It isn’t easy to build an alternative [to the Western banking system], and countries like China which depend on large flows of both investment and trade with the rest of the world, and whose financial systems are pointed toward greater rather than less integration with the global system are somewhat less eager about building an alternative than countries like Russia. Furthermore, lots of ne’er-do-wells like Venezuela, Argentina, or perhaps a Syriza-led Greece would love to join an alternative system thinking that it offers them new chances to stiff a new set of creditors.

Still, the more powerful the sanctions weapon becomes, and the more we try to use it, the greater the incentive we create for other people to challenge it.

Iran barely registers as small potatoes in global trade, but if they do find success in subverting sanctions by abandoning the dollar, they may pave new roads for Russia, China, and a host of rogue states like North Korea and ISIS.

Obama Cutting Funds for Syrian Rebels

January 28th, 2015 - 11:06 am

The headline covers most everything you need to know, but here’s more:

From afar, the U.S.-approved and partially American-armed Syrian “opposition” seems to be a single large, if rather amorphous, organization. But in fact it’s a collection of “brigades” of varying sizes and potentially shifting loyalties that have grown up around local leaders, or, if you will, local warlords. And while Washington talks about the Syrian “opposition” in general terms, the critical question for the fighters in the field and those supporting them is, “opposition to whom?” To Syrian President Assad? To the so-called Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL? To the al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra?

That lack of clarity is crippling the whole effort, not least because of profound suspicions among rebel groups that Washington is ready to cut some sort of deal with Assad in the short or medium term if, indeed, it has not done so already. For Washington, the concern is that the forces it supports are ineffectual, or corrupt, or will defect to ISIS or Nusra—or all of the above.

Giving money to Syrian rebel moderates is like buying jewelry at Target — there’s a pretty low ceiling on how much you can spend.

Of course, that’s only part of the reason. The other is, now that we’re Assad’s effective guarantors, Obama has little interest in his overthrow. assuming Obama ever had any interest in doing so.

Meanwhile, Tehran’s mullahs smile once more.

The New Unemployment Insurance

January 28th, 2015 - 10:32 am

DISABLED

My knee-jerk reaction to that 42.9% figure was, “Tell me something I don’t know.”

But here’s the beef:

In 2013, the latest data from SSA show there were 10,228,364 disabled beneficiaries, up 139,625 from 2012 when there were 10,088,739 disabled beneficiaries.

Disabled beneficiaries have increased 49.7 percent from a decade ago in 2003 when there were 6,830,714 beneficiaries; and the number is up 14.3 percent from the 8,945,376 beneficiaries in 2009, the year President Obama took office.

Obviously the nation hasn’t suffered a rash of debilitating injuries, and clearly there aren’t really that many people too crazy to work. What they are is too sane to keep looking for work in this economy.

Jonah Goldberg reported on this nearly two years ago:

In 1960, when vastly more Americans were involved in physical labor of some kind, 0.65 percent of workforce participants between the ages of 18 and 64 were receiving Social Security disability-insurance payments. Fifty years later, in a much healthier America, that number has grown nearly nine-fold to 5.6 percent.

In 1960, 134 Americans were working for every officially recognized disabled worker. Five decades later that ratio fell to roughly 16 to 1.

Some defenders of the status quo say these numbers can be explained by the entry of women into the U.S. workforce, the aging of baby boomers, and the short-term spike in need that came with the recession.

No doubt those are significant factors. But not nearly so significant as to explain why the number of people on disability has been doubling every 15 years (while the average age of recipients has gone down) or why such a huge proportion of claim injuries can’t be corroborated by a doctor.

Once you learn to fake injury, the rest is easy.

bill-murray

Funny How?

January 28th, 2015 - 9:29 am

Capitol Hill Democrats still fully support President Obama’s roughshod use of executive authority — unless the authority isn’t so roughshod and the issue is free trade:

Liberals are waging a vigorous fight against Obama’s push for expanded trade power, fearing it would lead to trade deals that favor corporate interests over American workers.

Democrats and some Republicans are adamant that trade promotion authority (TPA) would give Obama’s trade team too much control over negotiations, and are making their opposition known in a barrage of press conferences on Capitol Hill.
“I have long supported President Obama. I believe he generally wants to improve the lives of working Americans,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) after Obama asked for help from both parties on trade in his State of the Union address.

“But on the issue of trade, I will oppose the administration because unfortunately they are following the same exact policy that has failed in the past.”

Funny how the Democrats love executive authority, except in the one instance where it comes down on the side of expanding opportunity.

It’s been a long time since I can remember seeing a Democrat in Washington who wasn’t a statist at heart.

Strange Bedfellows

January 28th, 2015 - 8:51 am

LE PEN

Huh:

A week before the attack on Charlie Hebdo, France’s leading gay magazine, Têtu, announced the winner of its annual beauty contest. His name was Matthieu Chartraire, and he was 22, doe-eyed and six-packed, with perfectly groomed hair, stubble and eyebrows. A pin-up in every way — until he started talking.

To the anger of many of the magazine’s readers, the Adonis of 2015 turns out to be an outspoken supporter of the Front National. Têtu’s editor-in-chief, Yannick Barbe, refused to play censor. ‘It’s within his rights to vote for the FN even if we don’t share his beliefs,’ he said. ‘This is a beauty pageant, and our readers’ vote was only based on a single criterion! He only stands for himself and not for the gay community.’

Barbe has a point (although from next year, it’s worth noting, entrants for Têtu’s beauty contest will have to sign a code of ethics that rejects discrimination). But his assertion that Chartraire does not stand for the gay community overlooks a trend that has been accelerating over the last decade: French gay votersare falling for the Front National’s leader, Marine Le Pen. A survey by the polling firm Ifop indicates a dramatic increase in support for the FN among homosexual and bisexual voters since the French presidential elections of April 2012.

The National Front is the party in France with the strongest anti-Muslim stance. Given the desire of a sizable fraction of France’s sizable Muslim minority for Sharia law…

…does the poll really seem all that strange?

BAWK! BAWK! BAWK!

January 28th, 2015 - 7:17 am

HuffPo called Scott Walker chicken; your Trifecta gang responds.

Personally, I’m warming up to Walker.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

January 28th, 2015 - 6:12 am

FAIL

The numbers come from the nonpartisan CBO, and trumpeted (if that’s the right word) by the Daily Mail. They indicate that ♡bamaCare!!! will add roughly $1,400,000,000,000 to the national debt over the decade, assuming the cost controls (don’t call them death panels!) work as well as CBO figures they will.

That’s a lot of I-told-you-sos.

Thought for the Day

January 28th, 2015 - 5:13 am

Snowmageddon 2015 Edition.

Defending the Nation: You’re Doing it Wrong

January 27th, 2015 - 2:51 pm

Oh for eff’s sake:

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey has established an essay competition to honor the late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, the Pentagon announced Monday.

The competition, to be hosted at the National Defense University over the next academic year, will focus on issues related to the Arab and Muslim worlds, according to the official DOD News.

“This is an important opportunity to honor the memory of the king, while also fostering scholarly research on the Arab-Muslim world, and I can think of no better home for such an initiative than NDU,” Dempsey said in a statement.

It’s going to be a generation before the military is able to purge itself of all the rot it collected during the Obama Administration.

Sign “O” the Times

January 27th, 2015 - 1:43 pm

CHILLY

You think relations are chilly between the White House and Capitol Hill? You might not know the half of it, as Politico’s David Rogers reports:

But the sequence of events does capture how much the normal courtesies between this White House and Congress have deteriorated — even in front of guests from another country.

“There appear to be no rules anymore. If you can do it, do it,” said Patrick Griffin, who recalls nothing quite like this even in the tempestuous times Griffin served as White House liaison between President Bill Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), herself a former speaker who oversaw similar joint meetings for foreign guests, said the management of the invitation was “inappropriate” and Boehner risks squandering his power in a fit of “hubris.”

But privately, Democrats admit too that this White House — as seen in the South Korea episode — is no innocent. And Jackson, who has served at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, said he is baffled that the administration should talk now about “protocol” after being so quick to exert its executive power to run over Congress.

“This is not the first time where they got cross-wise thinking the House was not an equal branch,” Jackson said. “When I heard about this, I shook my head.”

From there, the report really gets ugly — you’ll want to read the whole thing.

Fact is, President Obama doesn’t even play well with his own cabinet, much less mere Congresscritters. As we’ve discussed here repeatedly, his inner circle seems to consist now of Valerie Jarrett and whichever of his old first term cronies he can get on the phone. This state of affairs might explain part of last week’s Bizarro Earth State of the Union Address, the rest of which can be explained by partisan politics and Obama’s notorious mean streak.

He’ll leave the White House still adored by millions, and liked by nobody.

You Keep Not Using That Word…

January 27th, 2015 - 12:41 pm

The New York Times has a heartbreaking piece on Venezuela’s politics and dim future:

Since he was voted into office in April 2013 by a minuscule margin after Mr. Chávez’s death, Mr. Maduro has leaned heavily on the legacy of his predecessor, a populist who governed poorly but had magnetic charisma and shrewd political instincts. Woefully lacking on both fronts, Mr. Maduro has become increasingly erratic and despotic in a quest for political survival that seems more daunting by the day. Healthy oil export revenue allowed Mr. Chávez to build a robust network of patronage and create generous welfare programs during his 14 years in power. Those are becoming increasingly paltry on Mr. Maduro’s watch.

The tumbling price of oil, which accounts for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings, has nearly destroyed an economy that has been managed dismally for years. Inflation rose to 64 percent last year. On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund predicted that Venezuela’s economy would contract 7 percent in 2015, which could force Mr. Maduro’s government to default on its loans or significantly curtail the subsidized oil his country provides to allies in the Caribbean, including Cuba.

Mr. Maduro has been vague about the type of painful economic measures his government has been willing to embrace, yet he bafflingly has promised to expand social programs and raise salaries. Far from acknowledging responsibility for the crisis, he and his loyalists have blamed the revenue shortfalls on political opponents they accuse of enabling an international conspiracy.

What word is missing from this tale of Venezuelan politics?

“Socialism,” which was Chavez’s and is Maduro’s battle cry — which makes it seem, you know, maybe a little germane?

Ataturk Wept

January 27th, 2015 - 11:59 am

Don’t insult the prophet of Islam on Facebook, at least not in Turkey, if reports are correct:

Following an order by a Turkish court, the popular social network has blocked pages considered insulting to the Prophet Muhammad, The New York Times reported Monday, citing a company employee with direct knowledge of the matter.

The court on Sunday threatened to ban access to the entire site if Facebook did not comply with the order. The court order followed a request by a prosecutor.

Facebook had faced a tricky situation that has confronted other companies such as Twitter and Google.

It’s hard to seriously fault Facebook on this one — when you play in a foreign country, you have to play by their rules. Although just once I’d love to see a social networking site tell the local Imam/Mullah/Commissar to stick their orders where the sun don’t shine, then close up shop and say au revoir with a middle-finger salute. That said, any company’s first duty is to its shareholders.

So really what we have here is yet another small sign that Kemal Ataturk’s dream of a modern and secular Turkey is turning into yet another premodern Islamist nightmare.

In the meantime, the best we can hope for our relations with Ankara is, “It’s complicated.”

A Waze to Go

January 27th, 2015 - 10:45 am

waze-logo

Are you familiar with Waze? It’s a smartphone app, which my wife turned me on to a year or two ago, which crowdsources traffic information. There’s not much use for it here in Monument, Colorado (“Teeming city of tens!”), but I keep it installed for shopping & drinking excursions to Denver, or for road trips to anywhere. It’s well designed, it works in realtime, and I’ve avoided some serious snarls with small kids in car — which by itself elevates Waze to “priceless.” Google, which is pretty smart about these kinds of products, bought the company in 2013 — but it’s handy enough that I don’t mind occasionally letting Google data-mine me about my driving habits.

Of course, users can and do crowdsource information about speed traps, and that has some cops up in arms:

Sheriffs are campaigning to pressure Google Inc. to turn off a feature on its Waze traffic software that warns drivers when police are nearby. They say one of the technology industry’s most popular mobile apps could put officers’ lives in danger from would-be police killers who can find where their targets are parked.

Waze, which Google purchased for $966 million in 2013, is a combination of GPS navigation and social networking. Fifty million users in 200 countries turn to the free service for real-time traffic guidance and warnings about nearby congestion, car accidents, speed traps or traffic cameras, construction zones, potholes, stalled vehicles or unsafe weather conditions.

To Sergio Kopelev, a reserve deputy sheriff in Southern California, Waze is also a stalking app for law enforcement.

There are no known connections between any attack on police and Waze, but law enforcers such as Kopelev are concerned it’s only a matter of time.

Let’s face it — the real culprit here is sheriffs and police departments losing any of their speeding-ticket revenue stream.

Apple Profit Preview

January 27th, 2015 - 9:34 am

rev-eps-q1-15-copy

Apple reports last quarter’s profits at market close today, but Fortune says the company will surpass even the most optimistic forecasts:

Apple told Wall Street to expect total sales somewhere in the range of $63.5 to $66.5 billion — representing, at the midpoint, 15% growth from fiscal Q1 2014.

Analysts aren’t buying it. They saw the lines for the new iPhones. They’ve seen IDC’s Mac numbers. They know iPad sales haven’t totally died. They watched Apple shift production to meet demand for the larger — and higher margin — iPhone 6 Plus.

They’re expecting a big quarter.

The consensus among the analysts Fortune polled — 20 professionals and 15 amateurs — is that Apple’s total sales for fiscal Q1 2015 will come in at about $68.3 billion, up 21% year over year.

Apple is certain, once again, to garner the biggest quarterly profits in corporate history.

At some point, the Law of Large Numbers will put the bite on Apple’s growth, but clearly that point has yet to be reached.

‘Nuff Said

January 27th, 2015 - 9:00 am

Ten Bucks for Unlimited Calls?

January 27th, 2015 - 8:27 am

That’s right — but there’s a catch:

Cablevision is getting ready to pick a fight with your mobile phone company. Next month, the cable operator is going to introduce a low-cost mobile phone service dubbed Freewheel that’s based entirely on Wi-Fi connectivity. Freewheel will offer existing Cablevision internet service subscribers unlimited talk, text and data for a mere $9.95 per month. Consumers who don’t use Cablevision’s internet service can sign on for $29.95 per month.

Ten bucks is cheap, but WiFi isn’t as universally available as cellular is. That said, Cablevision appears to be going for serious disruption, and there’s nothing but time and money stopping them from rolling out massively-expanded wifi coverage. For urban users, where wifi is nearly ubiquitous, Cablevision’s offer might be a no-brainer.

Well, except for one other little catch:

At launch, Freewheel is only working with one handset: Cablevision will sell Motorola’s Moto G for $99.95, and the phone will come preloaded with apps that automatically authenticate with any of the company’s hotspots.

Moto G is a low-spec phone, aimed at the lower end of the smartphone market. And who knows just how intrusive or snoopy Cablevision’s un-uninstallable crapware will prove to be?

As Good As it Gets

January 27th, 2015 - 7:12 am

INFERNO

Ah… the New Normal… someday, someday soon, we’ll pine for it.

Jim Pethokoukis explains:

The Congressional Budget Office just released its 10-year budget and economic forecast. Let me boil it down for you: These are the good times. Enjoy them because things are unlikely to get much better. In fact, they are likely to get worse. For instance: CBO expects the US economy to grow at 3% this year and next, and at 2.5% in 2017. That’s a definite upturn in post-recession performance, though still below the postwar average of 3.4%.

But then deceleration: “For 2020 through 2025, CBO projects that real GDP will grow by an average of 2.2 percent per year—a rate that matches the agency’s estimate of the potential growth of the economy in those years.”

The reports continues to predict that by 2025 — just ten years from now — trillion-dollar deficits become the new normal and even meager growth is leached out of the economy in the name of “compassionate” social spending.

Obviously, we are failing to tax or spend enough.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

January 27th, 2015 - 6:30 am

I never get tired of reminding people when the President promised that his health coverage reform would save us jillions and jillions of dollars by eliminating waste, fraud, and unnecessary amputations — and then linking to stories like this one:

An internal investigation into how the federal government awarded contracts for developing and building the Affordable Care Act’s most important public element — the online exchanges that were to be used by millions of Americans to purchase health insurance — has found the process was flawed.

The investigation showed that The Department of Health and Human Services failed to conduct background checks on prior work by companies awarded many of the Obamacare contracts and failed to require those same companies to be accountable for cost overruns, leaving taxpayers on the hook instead.

The report published Thursday by the Office of the Inspector General for HHS concludes those mistakes cost taxpayers more than $400 million in unexpected costs — essentially doubling the expected cost of building the exchanges in the first place.

Honestly, anyone who bought into Obama’s promises, or who continues to parrot the “good news” that ♡bamaCare!!! “is working” is probably too stupid to breathe unassisted.

Thought for the Day

January 27th, 2015 - 5:09 am

There’s so much to explore in the Star Wars universe, that something like this could easily become a standout entry in the Saga.

What would you want to see?

Money Under Mattress

One if by tax, two if by spend.

Megan McArdle reports on the White House non-starter plan to tax 529 education savings accounts — and everything else:

As I observed when I first wrote about the plan, the very fact that we are discussing taxation of educational savings — redistributing educational subsidies downward — indicates that the administration has started scraping the bottom of the barrel when seeking out money to fund new programs. Why target a tax benefit that goes to a lot of your supporters (and donors), that tickles one of the sweetest spots in American politics (subsidizing higher education), and that will hit a lot of people who make less than the $250,000 a year that has become the administration’s de facto definition of “rich”?

Presumably, because you’re running out of other places to get the money. The top tax rate on people who make more than $413,000 ($464,000 for married couples) is already almost 40 percent. That’s on top of Medicare taxes (2.9 percent, not capped), Social Security taxes, state and local taxes (in a deep blue area like New York City, these can amount to 10 percent, though you get some of that back by deducting state taxes from your federal tax) — a marginal tax rate of around 45 to 50 percent in blue states, and possibly even more if you run a business.

Capital gains are taxed at a lower rate, of course. But if you combine the Obamacare capital income surcharge for higher earners, and the administration’s new proposal to raise the base rate to 28 percent, you’re looking at a capital gains tax of almost 32 percent for people who make more than $200,000 a year ($250,000 for married couples). We are simply running out of room to pay for generous new programs with higher taxes on the small handful of people who make many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Two thoughts on this, the first perfectly expressed in today’s ♡bamaCare!!! Fail comments by Longtime Sharp VodkaPundit Reader™ RBJ:

“My experience perfectly highlights the insanity of the Affordable Care Act. It forced me — a paying, insured, well-educated, healthy American — out of the coverage I’d had, then tried to push me into Medicaid.”

It’s not insane, it’s perfectly sane. The intent is to get you dependent upon the government for health care. It’s why Dear Liar’s plan to tax education 529 savings is sane: you do not work hard and save to pay for your education, it’s going to be a government freebie — making you dependent upon the government for higher education.

The second thought is slightly more involved.

Washington is reaching saturation point — it’s running out of income streams to finance its ever-increasing vote-buying schemes. It’s one thing to have a permanent underclass; it’s quite another to inflate the underclass with the ranks of the formerly middle class. And yet, that’s the road we’ve been on for a decade or longer now.

Those who survive this Big Squeeze are the Very Rich and the Devious Middle. The Very Rich will pay up enough in taxes to keep the Permanent Underclass from becoming revolutionaries, but will use their political clout to avoid any truly painful confiscations. The Devious Middle will be those remaining members of the middle and upper middle classes, forced into the ranks of the underground service economy, using Bitcoin and other electronic mattresses to hide their income and their savings.

It’s a nasty future, but don’t say that nobody warned you.

Beijing’s Big Missile Buy

January 26th, 2015 - 1:16 pm

S400

China is taking delivery of Russia’s top-of-the-line S-400 antiaircraft missiles:

Russia recently revealed that it had sold China six battalions of its new S-400 anti-aircraft missile system. Each battalion will cost $500 million and includes training as well as spare parts and additional missiles. Each S-400 battalion has eight launchers, each with two missiles, plus a control center and radar and 16 missiles available as reloads. All equipment is mobile. S-400 is also known as the S-300PMU-3, SA-21 or Triumf and was renamed S-400 because it turned out to be far more than just another upgrade of the S-300 and was considered sufficiently different to warrant a name upgrade. Russia deployed its first S-400 battalion in 2010, around Moscow.

The S-400 is similar to the U.S. Patriot and pays particular attention to electronic countermeasures that the Americans might have, or be developing.

Two questions should concern us (and especially the Israelis), apart from the actual efficacy of the S-400 system. The first is if Russia will soon fulfill its threat to equip the Iranians with the S-400. The second is if the Iranians would be able to effectively man the systems themselves.

Spending Your Way to Ignorance

January 26th, 2015 - 12:11 pm

Reason’s Jim Epstein reports on the extremely pricey efforts to fix public education in the nation’s poorest small town:

By far, the largest initiative to combat poverty with government largess has been directed at Camden’s public schools. New Jersey spends about 60% more on education per pupil than the national average according to 2012 census figures, or about $19,000 in 2013. In Camden, per pupil spending was more than $25,000 in 2013, making it one of the highest spending districts in the nation.

But all that extra money hasn’t changed the fact that Camden’s public schools are among in the worst in the nation, notorious for their abysmal test scores, the frequent occurrence of in-school violence, dilapidated buildings, and an on-time graduation rate of just 61 percent.

Watch the video (above), which is the first of three parts. The rest are available at the link, which I would have headlined “Required Reading” if I hadn’t already posted one of those today.

Required Reading

January 26th, 2015 - 11:41 am
Campaigners of the Corn

Campaigners of the Corn

Fascinating stuff from Jim Geraghty, who gives you his sense of the GOP’s “first tier” of presidential contenders. His first tier consists of Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal.

I still get the feeling Perry is going to surprise us with his next campaign, but I have no idea if he’ll surprise us with his sudden strength or with continued ineptitude on the campaign trail. Rubio has been working hard to mend fences with conservative primary voters, if not exactly working hard to build a southern fence. Jindal and/or Walker could prove formidable, although Jindal strikes me as wonkier than the mood of the electorate. Walker beat back the Wisconsin Deep State Democrat/Public Union Machine twice, and reportedly was on fire at this weekend’s big confab in Iowa.

Geraghty’s second tier? Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina. And I think Jim is really being too kind — Santorum, Carson, and Fiorina probably belong in an even lower tier named “Everybody Else.” However, Bill Whittle tells me he saw Fiorina speak recently, and that it was obvious she’d been taking lessons and learning them well. Geraghty notes that she’s actually running for Vice President, and that sounds right to me.

Here’s what Jim says about Paul:

He’ll have his dad’s network, and he’s way more compelling than his father was. But there’s a ceiling to Libertarian-minded candidates in the modern Republican Party, and it’s going to be tougher to sell quasi-isolationist non-interventionism as the world blows up and grows even more dangerous in Obama’s final two years in office.

I think Geraghty is correct on the second point, but on the first point I’m less certain about Geraghty’s estimation. Paul has been clever in wrapping up his libertarian leanings in populist language, and he’s likely to improve his messaging as he gets his feet wet in the early states. I doubt he’ll be the nominee, but his “ceiling” might prove to be a bit higher than most prognosticators have been prognosticating.

Christie reminds me of none other than former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld — he’s great when he’s giving better than he gets from the press, but not the right man for the job.

Cruz can be inspiring to true believers, but he needs to work on increasing his likability. He might prove to be the Complicit Media’s easy target in its attempt to discredit the entire GOP field.

I think Geraghty is correct in putting Mitt and Jeb in the second tier. I pray he’s correct.

Anyway, that’s my very early take — now go read Geraghty’s.

Religion of Peace Update

January 26th, 2015 - 10:19 am

MOSUL

The LA Times reports on life in Mosul after its takeover by the Islamic State:

Those who disobey Islamic State’s fundamentalist edicts — including banning smoking or doing business during daily prayer times, and requiring women to cover their heads and faces — are whipped. Or worse. Late last month, two doctors were executed, according to ousted officials who continue to communicate by phone with Mosul residents, for having failed to save the life of an Islamic State leader wounded in an airstrike.

“The people of Mosul, a lot of them were educated overseas and they’re facing this primitive mentality,” said Atheel Najafi, governor of surrounding Nineveh province and scion of an old Mosul family, who was forced to flee when the city fell to the Sunni militants in the summer.

“In many ways, this is a clash of civilizations,” he said, “Day by day it gets worse. People are becoming more and more backward.”

But we wouldn’t want to insult the doctor-killing, women-whipping barbarians, because that would be wrong.

Thought for the Day

January 26th, 2015 - 9:40 am

Reality trumps wit yet again.

Sharia Justice, Delayed

January 26th, 2015 - 8:48 am

Badawi

Ouch:

A Princeton University professor and a prominent Muslim American figure, as well as five other religious freedom advocates, are offering to take 100 lashes each for imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced by Saudi Arabia to 1,000 lashes for insulting his country’s clerics.

In a letter to the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Robert P. George, a Princeton professor and vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, urged the immediate release of Badawi.

The Saudi blogger was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes after criticizing the country’s powerful clerics on his blog. Badawi received the first of 20 weekly floggings almost two weeks ago. The second flogging, which was scheduled for last Friday, was postponed on medical grounds.

In other words, the Saudis had flayed his flesh so badly with the first 50 lashes that Badawi was medically unable to receive the second set of 50 — still leaving 950 lashes to go.

If you’ve ever gone to LiveLeak or similar sites which host atrocity videos from the Middle East, you know these lashings are the real deal. When Badawi was sentenced, I wondered if it was possible for a human being to survive 20 sets of 50 lashes, delivered weekly. The Saudi authorities are apparently having the same doubts, which makes the bravery displayed by George and Jasser and those five others even more remarkable.

Greece Is the Word

January 26th, 2015 - 7:39 am

There was something charmingly fatalistic about watching Greece’s various statist factions vie for control over the country — but before we get to that, a brief summary from Spyros Economides:

As had been widely predicted, the left-wing party Syriza has secured a victory in the Greek election. Having finished with just short of enough seats in parliament for a majority, leader Alexis Tsipras has agreed to form an anti-austerity coalition with the right-wing party Greek Independents.

Throughout the short campaign, it appeared the relative newcomer to Greek politics, led by the charismatic Tsipras, would win. Now it appears he has done so by a significant margin.

Speaking in the wake of the victory, Tsipras said the vote would end years of “destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism” and that his country could now leave behind the “humiliation” it has suffered.

Greece’s humiliations have just begun. It doesn’t matter who is in power, because the end game for Greece has always been the same: Exit from the euro, followed by default on the euro-denominated debt for which there will never be enough drachma to repay, followed by further chaos.

Or is there another end game I’m not seeing?

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

January 26th, 2015 - 6:32 am
Morning in Amerika

Morning in Amerika

It’s Hobson’s Choice for that insurance you’ve been legally mandated to purchase:

“I’m sorry sir,” the polite Healthcare.gov customer-service agent said. “There’s nothing I can do. You’re either going to have to enroll in Medicaid or you’re going to have to pay the full health-insurance rate.”

“The rate you quoted earlier?” I asked. “That’s nearly 30 percent higher than my current insurance bill, I just can’t afford it.”

“You’ll have to pay the full rate, yes,” the agent replied.

“I don’t understand,” I explained. “I have plenty of money to pay you a reasonable rate, but I can’t afford to pay the same rate a millionaire would be asked to pay. Why can’t I just receive a partial subsidy? I’m willing to pay more than what Medicaid offers.”

“Sir, that’s just not how the system works.”

I found this old Russian joke:

An American spy is dropped by parachute on to Soviet territory. He immediately decides to give himself up. He makes it to a town, finds the appropriate organization and goes up to the doorman:

‘Listen, friend, I’m an American spy and I want to give myself up. Who should I see?’

‘Second Floor, Room 218,’ replies the doorman.

The spy gets to Room 218.

‘I’m an American spy. I want to give myself up.’

‘What’s your area, sabotage, terrorism or ideology?’

‘Sabotage,’ replies the spy.

‘Then you’ve come to the wrong place. Go to Room 613 on the sixth floor.’

The spy gets to Room 613.

I’m an American spy specializing in sabotage. I want to give myself up.’

‘Did you specialize in transport or industrial targets?’

Transport,’ replies the spy.

‘Well that’s the seventh floor, Room 742.’

The spy gets to Room 742.

‘I’m an American spy specializing in the sabotage of transport. I wish to give myself up.’

‘What kind of transport, road or railway?’

‘Railway,’ replies the spy.

‘Then you’ve come to the wrong place. Room 936, ninth floor.’

The spy gets to Room 936.

‘I’m an American spy specializing in the sabotage of rail transport. I wish to give myself up.’

‘Look here, Comrade, don’t you see that it’s six o’clock? We’ve finished interviewing for today. Come back tomorrow.”

Is it too late for us to surrender to ♡bamaCare!!!?