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Finish What Ya (Never) Started

September 23rd, 2014 - 8:13 am

NAGATA

I don’t want to belabor the Vietnam analogies any more than they have been already, but you do need to read this Daily Beast report from Josh Rogin and Eli Lake on President Obama, his Syria point man General Michael Nagata, and our upcoming mini-Vietnam:

There are skeptics both inside and outside the government who doubt Obama’s new plan to arm the Syrian rebels can work. First of all, the administration has said for years that the moderate opposition can’t be a reliable partner for the United States in Syria. Only last month, Obama said that the rag-tag bunch of “former doctors, farmers, and pharmacists” could never win their civil war and the whole idea that arming them earlier would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy.”

Then Obama made a complete reversal, announced that portions of the Free Syrian Army were now vetted enough to help the U.S. fight against ISIS, and called on Congress to vote to give him authority train and arm them. Congress went along, but only after hearing from Nagata, who briefed both House and Senate members and staffers in classified settings and told them how he would get it done. Those briefed said they were impressed by the General but remained concerned Obama’s plan was fatally flawed.

Any takers on my bet that the next thing to come out of Syria will be just as bad as ISIL?

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

September 23rd, 2014 - 7:12 am

The latest numbers from Public Opinion Strategies don’t look good for the Democrats:

The poll found that likely voters in battleground districts who consider Obamacare to be the “most important” issue in the upcoming election oppose it by the overwhelming tally of 70 to 30 percent (see slide 9). Likely voters who consider Obamacare to be a “very important” issue (but not the “most important” one) oppose it by more than 2 to 1 — 67 to 32 percent. Those who consider it to be “somewhat important” somewhat like it — but still oppose it by 51 to 47 percent. And those who consider it to be “not at all important” love it — favoring it by 70 to 17 percent.

That Means It’s Working™.

On a slightly more serious note, ♡bamaCare!!! seems to be one of those laws where the more people know about it, the more they hate it. Except of course for the Apologist Wing in the mainstream media, who just can’t seem to get their rosy promises to square with people’s real-world experiences.

Sign “O” the Times

September 23rd, 2014 - 6:11 am

POOR HOUSE

Robert Samuelson warns that the next economic surprise is a longterm one:

[Economist Robert] Gordon, a respected Northwestern University scholar, contends that mainstream economic growth predictions are wildly optimistic. His own calculations are more restrained. By 2024, he reckons, the economy’s annual output (gross domestic product) will be nearly $2 trillion lower — almost 10 percent — than projected by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Government debt will be 87 percent of GDP in 2024 instead of the CBO’s estimate of 78 percent. Disappointing output will also pressure the Federal Reserve to move earlier against inflation by tightening credit, he says.

The gist of Gordon’s argument is that the nation’s productive capacity — what economists call “the supply side” — will expand only slowly. It won’t keep up with the stronger consumer demand embodied in other forecasts. As a result, inflationary pressures will be higher and GDP lower. The “economy is on a collision course between demand-side optimism and supply-side pessimism,” he writes in a study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Combine that projection of low growth with yesterday’s Scary-Ass Chart showing who has been benefitting from our economic growth, and together they detail the end of the American middle class.

At last, the Progressive dream made real.

Lois Lerner is Sorry Not Sorry

September 23rd, 2014 - 5:18 am

Lois Lerner

Politico has the story:

Lois Lerner is toxic — and she knows it. But she refuses to recede into anonymity or beg for forgiveness for her role in the IRS tea party-targeting scandal.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Lerner said in her first press interview since the scandal broke 16 months ago. “I’m proud of my career and the job I did for this country.”

Left undefined is “job.”

What job did she do, for whom did she really do it, and why won’t she tell Congress what it was?

And Now for Something Completely Unscripted

September 22nd, 2014 - 3:20 pm

EXTRA

Once again, go behind the scenes — between the segments, actually — of Trifecta on this week’s Extra.

Sign “O” the Times

September 22nd, 2014 - 2:17 pm

Things are not good at DHS:

Over the past four years, employees have left DHS at a rate nearly twice as fast as the federal government overall, and the trend is accelerating, according to a review of a federal database.

The departures are a result of what employees widely describe as a dysfunctional work environment, abysmal morale and the lure of private security companies paying top dollar that have proliferated in Washington since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The creepiness of “Homeland Security” aside (see VodkaPundit circa 2002), I see this story as yet another sign of executive incompetence by a White House far more skilled at agitating than administrating.

I would also like to emphasize that the story headline states that the problems at DHS make it more difficult for the agency to deal with “evolving threats,” and our threats lately are nothing if rapidly evolving.

Thought for the Day

September 22nd, 2014 - 1:13 pm

This got a fair amount of play by people who didn’t seem to know it was a joke — but I assure you, I was on the sofa watching the Broncos game, and not in New York eavesdropping on idiot anticapitalist murderous stinky hippies.

Required Reading

September 22nd, 2014 - 12:09 pm

Ralph-Peters-Remapped-Middle-East

Ross Douthat looks at Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom’s mess of an IS/Caliphate strategy and concludes:

The trouble with containment is that it would leave the Islamic State in control of a great deal of territory (with more beheading videos, no doubt) for months and years to come. Hence the administration’s pivot to Syria; hence the strategic dream palace that is our arm-the-rebels strategy.

The cold reality, though, is that defeating ISIS outright in Syria will take something more substantial than dropping a few bombs in support of a few U.S.-trained moderates. Either the American military will have to intervene in force (including with substantial ground troops) or we’ll have to ally, in a very un-American display of machtpolitik, with Bashar al-Assad. Both options may have supporters within the Republican Party. Many hawks seem ready to send in ground forces, and John McCain has explicitly argued that we should be willing to go to war with both Assad and the Islamists at once. From Rand Paul, meanwhile, you hear what sounds like a version of the ally-with-Assad approach, albeit couched in somewhat ambiguous terms.

Read the whole thing.

Pretty much everybody has lost their minds on this one. The President wants to put together a Coalition of the Willing, consisting of some very bad actors who will probably turn out to be just as bad as the current crop of bad actors. Parts of the GOP have gone from insisting that we should never arm Islamists in Syria to demanding that we arm Islamists in Syria. We’ve gone from wanting Iran to giving up its nukes to giving away all of our leverage in getting them to do so, and possibly giving them Iraq, to boot. And Assad is now our best frenemy, even though we’ll almost certainly be arming his actual enemies. The only good to come out of this mess is a growing axis between the Gulf States and Egypt, which might prove capable of thwarting IS/Caliphate and Iran — except that we seem determined to ignore the new alliance when we aren’t working actively against it.

This, at long last, is the Middle East tar baby Osama bin Laden hoped we’d get ourselves stuck to.

And since we seem to be stuck in a ’70s timewarp, only worse, who wants to join me for a four martini lunch?

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

September 22nd, 2014 - 11:22 am

FAIL

Details:

The breach involved an inadvertent transfer of personal data from computers controlled by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to servers at Optum/QSSI, the lead contractor building the infrastructure for the healthcare.gov infrastructure.

Andrew Slavitt was the leader of UnitedHealth Optum/QSSI, the legacy of his original firm Ingenix, which he sold to UnitedHealth, at the time of the breach, so it is interesting that Slavitt is now the principal deputy administrator at CMS—and the man tasked by President Barack Obama to fix the healthcare.gov debacle.

Officials at Health and Human Services, the parent agency of CMS, the office inside the department with overall supervision of the federal healthcare exchanges, state-based marketplaces and enrollment, as well as, the Federal Data Services data hub, changed procedures for handling personal information, but did not report the incident to Congress because in their thinking it was not a external attack or break-in.

Word of the security breach in the late spring is bubbling up just as Congress is reacting news of a successful hacker attack in July, disclose just after Labor Day.

The hacker installed malicious software inside the system and the breach went undetected for two months.

What President Obama fails to understand is that a president actually gains political capital by working with Congress, instead of stonewalls, lies, and omissions.

He’ll leave the White House more politically exhausted than Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush combined.

Brave New Targeting

September 22nd, 2014 - 10:10 am

Take a minute to watch this new ad from Americans for Shared Prosperity.

I went into it with high hopes, and it’s certainly a good effort. But it feels like a swing and a miss. Maybe it’s too long — 20-to-30 second spots usually work best. Maybe it doesn’t hit all the issues it should, or hits some of the wrong ones. Or maybe as a middle age male I’m just not the target audience.

Ladies (and gents), what’s your impression? A solid effort, or does it come up short — and what would you do to improve the messaging?

Don’t get me wrong; I think this is a good ad and I’d want to see many more like it.

News You Can Use

September 22nd, 2014 - 9:10 am

NINJAS

I’m going to go ahead and guess this story has the quickest news-item-to-porn-flick turnaround time since “Drill, baby, drill.”

Required Viewing

September 22nd, 2014 - 8:23 am

I can’t understand why somebody as annoying and vacuous as RFK Jr doesn’t already have his own show on MSNBC.

Scary-Ass Chart of the Day

September 22nd, 2014 - 7:37 am

SCARY

That’s a NY Times chart, annotated for you by Tyler Durden. You’ll notice that the lines diverge not long after the Fed began its permanent policy of cheap money.

I realize correlation is not causation, but at some point we really ought to try something else.

Brave New Party

September 22nd, 2014 - 6:19 am

HAL 9000

Speaking of introductions, Kimberly Strassel would like you to meet the man who might just trump the Democrats’ tech advantage in targeting voters:

Mr. [Azarias] Reda, Ethiopian by birth, American by choice, was recruited by the RNC in November as its chief data officer. He and the nearly 50 data scientists and engineers he has recruited to an in-house tech incubator—Para Bellum Labs—are a mind-blowing sight at RNC headquarters. Hipsters in T-shirts and jeans wade through besuited politicians toward a digital room that sports rows of computers and dry-erase walls.

This room is where I met Mr. Reda last week and pointed out that Democrats are already ridiculing the Republicans’ big-data effort, claiming that there’s no way the GOP can catch the Obama turnout machine. The comment causes the otherwise serious young engineer to break out in a mischievous grin. “I don’t want to catch up to a presidential campaign from 2012,” he says, making 2012 sound like so last century. “What we’re doing here is what a tech startup would do in 2014. Data science has traveled a lot in just the past few years.”

The RNC line is that it intends to leapfrog Democrats in the technology of turnout, and a lot is riding on the claim.

Strassel reminds us that the GOP had been ahead in the technological arms race as recently as 2004 — and I’d remind you that their advantage actually dates back to the mid-’60s. Perhaps the biggest hurdle the Republicans face in regaining the advantage is that the Donks have Silicon Valley in their back pocket. Well, they think they do; actually it’s the other way around.

I get the feeling however that Silicon Valley’s attachment is one of convenience rather than conviction, so good luck to Azarias Reda.

Meet the al Qaeda Turncoat

September 22nd, 2014 - 5:15 am

MORTEN STORM

You’ll be meeting him again and again and again if you haven’t already:

[Morten] Storm’s biggest claim to fame, besides de-radicalizing himself, is that he was so valued by senior al Qaeda officials that he set one up with a European wife. Count on this story getting more air time on CNN, decent book sales, and giving us even more reasons to wonder what the CIA is really up to when recruiting misfits like Storm in the first place. But then again, it does give top CNN terrorism analysts, contributors, and producers something to chew on other than defending president Obama’s controversial and increasingly unpopular foreign policy (or lack of one).

Read the whole thing — it looks like he’s the new It Boy for… something.

Friday Night Videos

September 19th, 2014 - 10:09 pm

It’s hard to believe it, but when I looked up the Climax Blues Band for this week’s FNV, it turns out these guys are still playing. A different lineup, of course — they’ve been through several since 1968 — but CBB is extant.

“Couldn’t Get It Right” is one of those mid-’70s AM radio hits I toted around day camp with me, blaring with as much volume as I could squeeze out of an avocado green handset radio. It didn’t help that I liked to take the 9V battery out a couple times a day and let the contacts tingle my tongue.

Also managed to find this Top of the Pops appearance, from so long ago that bands still played their music instead of just lip syncing their Autotuned “vocals.”

Fun band with some serious longevity to is credit, thanks in no small part to this nifty little single.

You Say You Want a Devolution?

September 19th, 2014 - 1:24 pm

th

Scottish independence might be a dead issue, but British Devolution Fever is spreading to the darnedest places.

Israel Puts Kibosh on Ukraine Drone Deal

September 19th, 2014 - 1:17 pm

Eitan

Israel’s foreign ministry nixed a planned sale of Eitan drones to Ukraine due to possible pressure from Russia:

The report added that Russia has blocked arms sales to Iran and Syria recently, and said Israel was concerned a drone sale to Ukraine would anger Moscow, and could provoke it to sell more arms to Syria and Iran, the Jewish state’s arch-enemy.

The broadcaster said a Ukrainian delegation had visited Israel with a view to acquiring military hardware including drones to use against pro-Russian separatists.

It was not reported when the visit took place or when the decision to turn down the request was taken.

A Defense Ministry spokesman refused to comment on the report.

The Eitan is an recon drone and carries no weapons.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

September 19th, 2014 - 12:28 pm

Or maybe it’s a win. In either case, the architect of ♡bamaCare!!! thinks you should die by age 75, which seems like the kind of thing you might want to know.

Sighing the Seven Seas

September 19th, 2014 - 11:21 am

sb1sip9i

Our Navy isn’t exactly shipshape, reports StrategyPage:

The U.S. Navy recently ran an opinion survey which confirmed that morale was low and getting worse, with a growing number of experienced sailors eager to get out of the navy. The most common gripe was the length of time spent at sea and the belief that those long voyages to distant waters were going to get longer. There was also growing disillusionment with navy leadership. Sailors saw senior officers more concerned with political correctness and “zero tolerance” than with legitimate complaints of sailors and junior officers. Some 42 percent of respondents said their last deployment (aboard a ship and away from home) was seven months or longer. Nearly half the sailors expect their next deployment to be even longer. Nor surprisingly only 21 percent of sailors were satisfied with the amount of time they spent at sea. When asked about morale only 42 percent felt it was good or better. A major reason for low morale is the growing talk in Congress for reducing pay and benefits. In particular many sailors feared the long-standing custom of retirement (at half pay) after twenty years’ service was in danger. Most (63 percent) were certain they could get a good job if they left the navy. Worse, nearly half the respondents did not want to get promoted because of the growing amount of paperwork and petty rules that had to be enforced.

What we’ve allowed to become of our Navy — thanks to progressive politics, a broken procurement system, and too few ships — is one of the most frightening longterm dangers this country faces.

Scottish Leader Quits

September 19th, 2014 - 10:18 am

Alex Salmond

Alex Salmond has decided to take the high road:

Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister and leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party, announced his resignation from both posts, effective in November.

Salmond said he was proud of the campaign for independence, and that now was the time to hold the UK leadership to its promises of shifting more autonomy to Scotland.

“We now have the opportunity to hold Westminster’s feet to the fire on the ‘vow’ that they have made to devolve further meaningful power to Scotland,” he said in a statement. “This places Scotland in a very strong position.”

Salmond may say whatever he wants, but the facts are that Scotland is in a weaker position vis-à-vis Westminster than it was on Wednesday, and that nobody keeps their job after losing a high-turnout election by ten points.

ALSO: I just turned in this week’s column, looking at yesterday’s vote and the future of Great Britain. I’ll post a link as soon as it goes live on the PJM home page.

Sign “O” the Times

September 19th, 2014 - 9:16 am

The IBD editors didn’t like what they heard from the Fed:

As the Fed hinted in its biannual policy forecast, the famously dynamic U.S. economy is looking rather undynamic these days. The Fed lowered its forecasts for economic growth next year considerably, from a range of 3% to 3.2% just two months ago to 2.6% to 3% now.

When officials have to scramble to lower their forecasts to catch up with reality, it’s rarely a good thing. That’s certainly the case here.

And yet, while most of the Fed board’s members continue to forecast an end to the Fed’s 0% interest rate policy sometime next year, this latest forecast raises some doubts about that.

The Fed’s Open Market Committee said in a statement that “it likely will be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate for a considerable time after the asset purchase ends.”

Sound like the Fed’s going to hold on to the zero-rate policy as long as it can out of fear increases will sink the economy? It sure did to us.

We can’t afford much more of this cheap money.

News You Can Use

September 19th, 2014 - 7:36 am

CRASH

So this is a thing that happened:

A car full of teenagers crashed in Idaho after one of its passengers lit the driver’s armpit hair on fire as a joke.

All five were injured after their Ford Bronco flipped early Sunday outside Boise.

Tristan Myers, 18, was driving when his front-seat passenger, a 16-year-old boy, set Mr. Myers’ armpit hair on fire with a lighter, a local NBC affiliate reported.

I like a good armpit-setting-on-fire gag as much as the next guy, but know you’re not supposed to do that in a car, right?

“With Jews We Lose”

September 19th, 2014 - 6:32 am

RANSDELL

Oy:

A man with a history in the white supremacist movement has reportedly posted a series of anti-Semitic campaign signs throughout northern Kentucky as part of his write-in bid to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R).

Television station WLWT reported on Tuesday that the signs, which read “With Jews We Lose,” are part of Robert Ransdell’s longshot candidacy.

Ransdell spoke with WLWT and seemed optimistic about his campaign.

“Online we have had a lot of positive feedback,” he said. “Like I said we’re going to find out what kind of feedback we get once we go out and take it to the people here in the state of Kentucky.”

Ransdell also shared his views on race with the television station.

“I believe that there is no such thing as racial equality,” Ransdell said. “You see that in our cities everyday.”

I predict McConnell will be just fine.

Don’t Crash for Me, Argentina

September 19th, 2014 - 5:12 am

Evita_12

Is the Argentine economy poised for a crash? Is it ever not? Here’s the latest:

Axel Kicillof, the country’s Economy Minister, responded to the rate on an Argentine radio program. He blamed a group of hedge fund holdout creditors suing the country for over $1.3 billion of sovereign debt.

He said the rate was all part of their plan to speculate the country into ruin, and dismissed the size of the underground market.

“This attack on our money was all a part of the vultures’ plan,” said Kicillof. “The United States representative spoke of default, and that wasn’t casual… The dolar blue is a small market that is illegal… It’s easy for it move quickly… There are no economic reasons for the dollar to equal 15 pesos [15 dolar blue]. This is simply an attempt to generate panic. Do not be alarmed…”

Argentina was ruled in default of its debt in July after it defied a U.S. court order and refused to pay a group of hedge fund creditors.

That, however, is only a small part of Argentina’s problems. The “economic reasons” for the underground peso’s historic jump that Kicillof dismissed are very, very real. And the dolar blue market rate is no tiny market in the country. Regular Argentines use it every day, underground blue dolar exchanges aren’t hard to find, and it’s estimated that $10 million U.S. dollars are exchanged on the black market daily.

Argentina’s politicians and crony capitalists will only get out of the way of economic growth until there’s enough to steal.

Crash, recover, loot, repeat.

At Ease

September 18th, 2014 - 1:18 pm

AT EASE

Welcome home, soldier:

It was the emotional moment these soldiers had dreamed of for nine months in Afghanistan: to finally be dismissed so they could see their families.

But as they dutifully waited in line to receive orders, three-year-old Cooper Waldvogel took charge.

Ignoring the strict military protocol, he ran up to the troops – into the arms of his mom Kathryn, a member of the National Guard.

The line of uniformed officers from Chisholm, Minnesota, tried desperately to keep straight faces as the touching display reduced many to tearful smiles and laughter.

You didn’t have to be there to get “reduced” like that.

News You Can Use

September 18th, 2014 - 12:51 pm

PARTY ON

Gentlemen, it’s party time, Italian style:

An official Vatican car with diplomatic licence plates has been found riddled with several kilos of cocaine and cannabis in the French Alps, according to local reports.

The car belongs to an Argentine cardinal, 91-year-old Jorge Maria Mejia, who is also emeritus librarian at the Holy See. Mejia retired in 2003 and is confined to bed following an heart attack. Pope Francis visited Mejia just two days after being elected.

According to French newspaper Le Monde, the cardinal’s personal secretary entrusted two Italian men, aged 31 and 41, with taking the car for its annual checkup.

“Officer, we didn’t know that stuff was back there — we borrowed this car from a 91-year-old cardinal,” has got to be the worst excuse ever.

Open the iPod Bay Door, HAL

September 18th, 2014 - 11:43 am

LOCKED DOWN

I’m sorry, Dave, Apple can’t do that:

Apple said Wednesday night that it is making it impossible for the company to turn over data from most iPhones or iPads to police — even when they have a search warrant — taking a hard new line as tech companies attempt to blunt allegations that they have too readily participated in government efforts to collect user information.

The move, announced with the publication of a new privacy policy tied to the release of Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 8, amounts to an engineering solution to a legal quandary: Rather than comply with binding court orders, Apple has reworked its latest encryption in a way that prevents the company — or anyone but the device’s owner — from gaining access to the vast troves of user data typically stored on smartphones or tablet computers.

It will be difficult for Google and Microsoft not to follow suit, which is good news for consumers everywhere.

NATO without Scotland?

September 18th, 2014 - 10:37 am

Sub Base Holy Loch, Scotland 12

Dan Mahaffee looks at the security complications of an independent Scotland:

The political leaders of the Scottish independence movement, the Scottish National Party (SNP), have a checkered history in terms of NATO participation. It wasn’t until 2012 that the SNP finally voted to ditch the anti-NATO element of its platform, and there is still significant opposition to NATO among the SNP grassroots. Should an independent Scotland seek NATO membership, it would have to reconcile its demands for nuclear disarmament with NATO agreements to deploy nuclear weapons.

One must ask whether an independent Scotland would be a security contributor or a free rider within the alliance structure. In facing a resurgent Russia, Scotland is geographically vital for intercepting Russian aircraft, ships, and submarines entering the North Atlantic. Even with conservative estimates of Scottish defense spending, it is likely that their defense capacity would be similar to smaller Nordic countries. Already, we have seen how Russian aircraft repeatedly challenge the airspace of the countries of the Baltics and Scandinavia countries — and the United Kingdom itself — would Scotland require an extension of already stretched NATO resources for its air policing as well?

I suspect Scotland wouldn’t have the money to contribute much to NATO, even if it did become an active member of the alliance.