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Sign “O” the Times

March 3rd, 2015 - 2:53 pm

In a Gallup poll taken on the eve of his historic speech this morning to Congress, Bibi Netanyahu is more popular with Americans than ever:

Among the 837 adults surveyed nationwide, 45 percent view the Israeli prime minister favorably, while 24 percent view him unfavorably. During Netanyahu’s first stint as prime minister in 1998, 46 percent responded that they viewed him favorably, a statistical tie with the most recent figures.

In 2012, just 35 percent of Americans responded that they saw Netanyahu in a positive light.

This time around, Republicans, independents and even Democrats responded more favorably.

One caveat is that it’s always easier to like a foreign leader who doesn’t have to make any tough domestic decisions which might negatively impact you personally. Of course, a foreign leader also doesn’t really have any base supporters, meaning there’s no real lower limit (other than zero) to how far their popularity can drop.

Those two details aside, do you think today’s speech will hurt or help Netanyahu’s big numbers?

Build It and They Will Leave

March 3rd, 2015 - 1:10 pm

Russia Resurgent Military

Are you enjoying seven or eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night? Are you not drinking too much? Are you unable to break out into cold sweats at random moments throughout the day? Kaj Leers can fix all that:

Are you a world leader with dictatorial aspirations? Need cash quick? Want the world to listen? Would you like an embargo scrapped, or to invade a country without drawing immediate condemnations and threats of war from the other neighborhood toughs? Then build yourself some nuclear weapons, pronto.

That seems to be the message the West’s diplomats are sending the world. Whether you’re terrorist-supporting Iran, a tinpot dictator in North Korea or a would-be czar with aspirations to reunite Russian-speaking territories by force, the path to getting your heart’s desire involves possessing and developing a nuclear weapons program.

Obama and NATO have shown that against someone like Putin, words are preferable to action — although it’s difficult to say how much of that fecklessness is due to Russia’s nuclear stockpile, and how much of it is due to Western leaders living in a dream world informed by wishful thinking rather than by hard reality.

But whatever the reason, between the Russo-Ukrainian War (let’s call it what it is) and more than a decade of failure to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it’s safe to say that non-proliferation is dead or very close to it.

‘Preparing for China’s Collapse’

March 3rd, 2015 - 12:17 pm

In this photo taken May 30, 2013, a U.S. flag is displayed on the Boeing 737 assembly line in Renton, Wash., above a nearly completed 737. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

It’s never too early to prepare for a crisis, but Peter Mattis makes the seemingly impossible claim that “China could be on the brink of collapse.” Before we get to Mattis’s preparations, the original warning came from AEI’s Michael Auslin, whose WSJ column from January began with a warning from an unnamed source who is one of America’s premier China watchers. The warning? ““I can’t give you a date when it will fall, but China’s Communist Party has entered its endgame.”

Keep in mind that China has spent more of its history disunited than it has spent as a unitary state. Also keep in mind that Beijing has at least $3 trillion in the bank, which is enough to paper over a lot of differences — the end game for the Communist Party could likely be years and years away.

Here’s where Mattis starts:

The purpose of these tasks is to reduce the uncertainty faced by policy makers as a Chinese crisis emerges and cascades across the country, as well as to identify ways and decision points where Washington can influence the CCP’s choices. If an effort is not made to reduce the uncertainty, then fear of the unknown is likely to drive U.S. policy makers to a decision about whether to support the Chinese government out of ignorance, rather than informed calculation.

One of the first research-related steps is to identify the cohesive and centrifugal forces inside China. The CCP used its sixty-six years in power to dismember Chinese civil society and insert itself into any group with the potential to become a political force. Groups that could not be coopted, like Falungong, became pariah and hunted by the regime. Nascent civil-society and activist groups survive in the blind spots of China’s underlapping bureaucratic maze. Chinese political culture beyond the party needs to be understood if Washington wants to claim a “moral stake.”

That’s solid advice, reaching out to groups beyond Beijing with “Hey, we’re the good guys and we believe in your country.” It’s also exactly the kind of thing our State Department would almost certainly refuse to even consider, for fear of offending Beijing. Presidents Carter and Reagan took increasingly active roles in wooing Soviet dissidents — Carter because he’d been dealt such a weak hand, and Reagan because he was determined to put the USSR in “the ash heap of history.” But China is our frenemie, our sometimes “strategic partner,” our financier, and much of our manufacturing base. And so Washington craves stability there above all things. That attitude, that need for stability before anything else, won’t serve us well if and when the end comes for the Communist Party.

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No Going Back

March 3rd, 2015 - 11:28 am


The following is excerpted from a CNN interview with Norwegian defense minister Ine Eriksen Soreide:

“We are faced with a different Russia. I want to warn against the fact that some people see this as something that is going to pass. The situation has changed. And it has changed profoundly.”

There is “no going back to some sort of normality or some sort of back to normal business. Because that normality does not exist.”

Norway, a NATO member country, shares a northern border with Russia….
It is critical, she said, that Russia and Europe “avoid miscalculations” that could “easily happen in a situation like this.

“NATO countries are required to come to the defense of each other — an attack on one is an attack on all — but Eriksen Søreide said the organization is ill-prepared to respond quickly.

“The decision structure in NATO is working quite slowly if something was to happen.”

The mistake a year ago was thinking that Putin had any interest in whatsoever in the status quo ante bellum. The post-Cold War order is of no use to him, and he means to upend it.

Which brings us back to a modest proposal I made last April following Russia’s annexation of Crimea:

Maybe it’s not too late to cut a deal with Putin. He gets everything up to and including Kyiv and its environs, although he might not want to outright annex the more Ukrainian bits directly to Russia. Federation, Finlandization, or something similar might be the best bad fate for central Ukraine. The Donbas and the Russified east and south Moscow would gobble up whole, of course.

But the price of our acquiescence would be federating western Ukraine — old Galicia — with our Polish allies. The two have a long and pretty decent history together, and something slightly short of total reunification might be the best outcome for all involved, provided the locals were all happy with the new arrangement. A plebiscite — an honest plebiscite — would put the democratic seal of approval on the deal.

That was a lousy deal then, but the best we might have expected. Today, NATO and Ukraine would be lucky to get that much. At this late date, I’m not sure Putin will settle for anything less than all of Ukraine and the emasculation of NATO.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

March 3rd, 2015 - 10:36 am

You know how the Mainstream Media keep going on and on with the constant reminders that “coverage doesn’t equal care?”

I’m kidding, of course — you have to go to bloggers like yours truly for anything which might remind people of how much ♡bamaCare!!! sucks, and so here’s another one:

If you’re a newly enrolled Medicaid patient, finding a doctor is increasingly challenging. A new study examining government data which catalogues how many health care providers accept Medicaid patients, shows that access to providers is a real problem.

HealthPocket found that in 2015 only 34% of the healthcare providers examined were listed as accepting Medicaid insurance. This represents a 21% decrease from the listings of Medicaid acceptance found in the 2013 data for the same categories of healthcare providers.

This news comes as we also learn that Medicaid and CHIP now cover a whopping 1-5 Americans. Because of Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare, millions previously ineligible due to lack of disability or higher income levels have been added to the welfare rolls.

Keep in mind that the majority of the newly “insured” are actually on the expanded Medicaid dole, meaning that ♡bamaCare!!! screwed up the entire private insurance system mostly for the sake of an expensive and wasteful welfare program which two-thirds of doctors won’t even accept as payment.

It’s fair to say that the only accurate word in “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” is “Act.”

Hopped Up Bunnies Terrorize Utah

March 3rd, 2015 - 9:08 am
The new face of terror?

The new face of terror?

You’re going to think I’m making this one up — but I’m not. Maybe you thought the nanny staters couldn’t climb any higher along the Silly/Desperate Axis — but they can. Maybe, just maybe, stoned bunny rabbits will someday eat our children:

Utah is considering a bill that would allow patients with certain debilitating conditions to be treated with edible forms of marijuana. If the bill passes, the state’s wildlife may “cultivate a taste” for the plant, lose their fear of humans, and basically be high all the time. That’s according to testimony presented to a Utah Senate panel (time stamp 58:00) last week by an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

And with that, the Drug Warriors have lost the argument forever.

Bro, Do You Even Black Hole?

March 3rd, 2015 - 8:28 am



The headlines are reporting on a recent paper submitted to arXiv, which has not, as of this writing, emerged from peer-review, although it builds on the author’s earlier work which has. The paper’s primary author, Laura Mersini-Houghton, a theoretical physicist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, claims her work proves that black holes cannot form in the first place. “I’m still not over the shock,” she said in a written statement issued by the university. “We’ve been studying this problem for more than 50 years and this solution gives us a lot to think about.”

Mersini-Houghton is not the first one to claim that black holes don’t exist. Stephen J. Crothers has been claiming to have disproven their existence for quite some time, and even Stephen Hawking has issued a statement that “there are no black holes” (although he didn’t mean that literally).

Mersini-Houghton’s claims are even more extraordinary, however. (And we all know what extraordinary claims require.) In order to conclude that black holes don’t exist, she claims to have united general relativity with quantum mechanics, a feat which has been a sort of “holy grail” of modern physics.

If anyone is going to find this particular Holy Grail, I’ve always believed it’s likely going to be a young turk scientist, and not a member of the old guard. If took a youthful Einstein to overturn the Newtonian order, and even he was kind of blindsided shortly thereafter by quantum mechanics, and never seemed to get completely comfortable with it.

ASIDE: Nobody is comfortable with quantum physics. It’s too deeply weird and anyway our brains don’t function at that level.

But for now, color me deeply skeptical of Mersini-Houghton’s claims and conclusions.

Required Reading

March 3rd, 2015 - 7:20 am

20Committee’s John R. Schindler compares old Yugoslavia to the United States today, and the parallels are ominous:

Some of the parallels are eerie and troubling. The differences must be explained up-front. Yugoslavia at its collapse had less than one-tenth of America’s population now, and its system of government was a socialist dictatorship, albeit one of a relatively enlightened kind. Notwithstanding a very nasty secret police force, Yugoslavia as nurtured under the charismatic Tito was a good deal more pleasant place to live than anywhere in the Soviet Bloc. Yugoslavs were free to travel abroad and, after the early 1950s, the repressive state apparatus didn’t have to throw many dissidents in prison, as public shaming, including threats of unemployment and loss of housing, cowed most would-be complainers into towing the party line, at least in public.

The root of Yugoslavia’s collapse was economic, particularly its parlous state finances. During the Cold War, Tito, who broke with Stalin in 1948 and thereby shattered Communist unity in Eastern Europe, was able to get big Western loans, since NATO viewed Yugoslavia as a necessary anti-Soviet bulwark in Europe, and with these billions of dollars, at low interest rates, the country developed a wide array of industries under its unique market socialist model.

Unfortunately, the oil shocks of 1973 ultimately undid this Balkan ponzi scheme, and as the cost of borrowing foreign money became prohibitive, Yugoslavia’s economy began to creak. At root, the country’s current operations, including funding the bloated state sector, depended on borrowed foreign money that Yugoslavia could no longer afford.

Let’s try and look at this rationally.

With health insurance, education, retirement, and welfare more or less nationalized, it’s difficult to argue the US isn’t a social state, if not nearly a socialist dictatorship. (Although the trend in that direction is unsettling.) The next line really intrigues me, where the authors say, “the repressive state apparatus didn’t have to throw many dissidents in prison, as public shaming, including threats of unemployment and loss of housing, cowed most would-be complainers into towing the party line.” Again, the current trend line is not exactly comforting, as we saw the FBI crack down on a peaceful political group in Texas in reports yesterday.

If Schindler has it right, (and it jibes with my dim memories) what undid Yugoslavia was the oil shock of the early ’70s, and Belgrade’s sudden inability to keep the gravy train running. We’re in luck, as the US is now the number one or two producer of crude oil, a huge producer of natural gas, and despite the Administration’s best efforts we’re still a huge producer of coal.

Energy shocks seem unlikely to derail our gravy train.

Could anything derail it? Yes, absolutely — the sheer size of the train. Our funded welfare state liabilities for the next half century or so have been given estimates of anywhere between $50,000,000,000,000 and $150,000,000,000,000. That’s on top of our funded liabilities, which are already massive. There’s simply no way to squeeze that much more money out of our economy, even if growth rates and labor participation rates didn’t suck so badly. Worse, the worker-to-recipient ratio will go from “I got this, gramps!” to “Where did all the workers go?” in fairly short order.

We don’t need an oil shock to send of over the edge — the entitlement mentality in Congress and in ourselves sealed that deal long ago.

The Great Unanswerable is whether we can summon the political will to rein in those unfunded liabilities before they crush us, or whether we go the way of Japan — or the way of Yugoslavia.

Eleven years ago when George W Bush ran for reelection partly on a promise to partially privatize Social Security, I had some hope. Nowadays? Less.

Hot Models

March 3rd, 2015 - 6:02 am

Another big “Whoops!” for the Climate Panic crowd:

In the case of Antarctica, the climate models were dead wrong, according to a new study by Chinese scientists published in the journal Cryosphere. The study found that most climate models predicted Antarctic sea ice coverage would shrink as the world warmed and greenhouse gas levels increased.

The opposite happened. Most climate models analyzed in the study predicted Antarctica would shrink between 1979 and 2005, but instead south pole sea ice levels increased during that time. Going a step further, sea ice levels have only increased since 2006, hitting all-time highs for sea ice coverage in September of last year.

“For the Antarctic, the main problem of the [climate] models is their inability to reproduce the observed slight increase of sea ice extent,” researchers wrote in their study.

Perhaps the real problem is the Antarctic’s stubborn refusal to comply with perfectly reasonable models.

Josh Earnest

So yesterday’s underreported story is that President Obama is “very interested” raising taxes through — wait for it — executive action. Read:

“The president certainly has not indicated any reticence in using his executive authority to try and advance an agenda that benefits middle class Americans,” Earnest said in response to a question about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) calling on Obama to raise more than $100 billion in taxes through IRS executive action.

“Now I don’t want to leave you with the impression that there is some imminent announcement, there is not, at least that I know of,” Earnest continued. “But the president has asked his team to examine the array of executive authorities that are available to him to try to make progress on his goals. So I am not in a position to talk in any detail at this point, but the president is very interested in this avenue generally,” Earnest finished.


The reason the Constitution requires that all new taxes originate in the House is because its members face reelection every two years, and are thus very responsive to the desires of their constituents and/or are quickly replaced. At least that’s the theory. A big hole in that limitation is that there doesn’t seem to be any sort of enforcement mechanism available, otherwise ♡bamaCare!!! — which originated, taxes and all, in the Senate — could never have become law.

Bad as that is, at least the Senate also faces popular pressure, so much so that half of the Democrat Senators who voted to pass ♡bamaCare!!! have since been removed or exited gracelessly from their jobs.

But the executive? Raising taxes on his own accord? Because the House, most closely representing the will of the people, won’t succumb to his will and enact his “preferred option” on its own?


Plain and simple tyranny.

This country was founded to stop exactly such tyranny, and if Obama succeeds in restoring it then the America I knew and love is well and truly gone.

ONE MORE THING: What kind of “constitutional scholar” doesn’t know and understand all of this far in advance of having his PR flack send up a trial balloon, but then and goes and pursues it anyway?

Spain Wireless Show Flagship Phones

First there was PayPal, which wasn’t really mobile at all, but did allow small merchants the ability to take credit card swipe payments at a nice discount. Then there was Google Wallet, which never really took off. Last fall, Apple Pay was the first easy-to-use and secure mobile payments option — but only in the US, only with certain banks, only with merchants with NFC readers, and only for owners of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Apple Pay is accepted by more and more banks and merchants, but is still limited to the most recent iPhones (and next month, to Apple Watch wearers).

But if you think all that is disjointed, just wait until you see the news from the last two days.

Samsung announced yesterday its own Apple Pay rival called — no shocker here from our South Korean copycat friends — Samsung Pay. Samsung Pay (initially available on the new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge) will rely on the company’s purchase of mobile payment system maker LoopPay, which is a bit more convoluted and less secure than Apple’s method. Rather than a secure and anonymous code generated unique to each transaction, Loop Pay “broadcasts” your credit card number — in the clear, mind you — to the merchant’s card swiper. That’s fine and dandy for merchants who won’t quite yet have to upgrade their hardware, but it might prove a tough pill to swallow for consumers.

Samsung’s smartphones of course run Google’s Android operating system, so the South Korean giant might find competition right there on their own phones. That’s right: Google is set to announce yet another mobile payment system, perhaps to be called Android Pay. Phandroid reports:

Google’s Sundar Pichai spoke at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this morning about the company’s plans for mobile payments in the future. This comes at a time where Apple and now Samsung have thrown their hats into the arena with exciting platforms of their own.

Google Wallet in the now slightly pales in comparison to those guys, but Android Pay will hopefully look to change that. The first thing to know is that Android Pay won’t actually replace Google Wallet.

So Android Pay won’t replace Google Wallet, even though Google Wallet never really caught out outside a dedicated core of users. Instead, Android Pay will perhaps be another layer on top of Google Wallet, while also sitting alongside it on your phone. I’d suggest keeping it (or both of them) on a separate app page from Samsung’s offering, just to try and reduce the confusion level.

On the other hand, Android Pay might necessarily elevate the confusion level, if this Yahoo report is correct:

Google has been attempting to get consumers to ditch their cards and use a smartphone to pay for goods in physical stores since the start of the decade with its Google Wallet app. However, what makes Android Pay different is that it will be a feature that any app developer will be able to integrate into their titles for automatic wireless payment support.

In other words, developers may gain the ability to stuff your virtual wallet with more crap than already collects in your real-world wallet.

It’s unwise to simply dismiss any Google project before it has a chance to get off the ground, and certainly before it has even been demoed. But neither Android Wallet nor Samsung Pay look like the kinds of mobile payment solutions consumers are clamoring for, certainly not at this stage of their development.

That Would Be Illogical — But Awesome

March 2nd, 2015 - 1:15 pm

A worthwhile Canadian initiative, yes?

(Although the result looks more like Sarak to me.)

AIPAC Breaks with Administration

March 2nd, 2015 - 12:04 pm

Benjamin Netanyahu

This was a long time coming — too long — but here it is:

Those who are not students of the history of U.S./Israel relations may not understand the significance of yesterday’s action. As an organization AIPAC never publicly criticizes a sitting administration or administration policy. They go out of their way to appear non-partisan, not leaning to one party or another. This is as it should be as opposed to organizations such as the Jewish Federation, the ADL, the Reform Movement and the Conservative Movement which seem to regularly worship the golden calf of progressive politics.

But yesterday the leadership of the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. publicly broke from the White House over the issue of Iran policy

That’s Jeff Dunetz at Yid With Lid, and here’s the WSJ story he linked to:

AIPAC’s efforts to shape the Iran deal through the Congress is being driven by what the organization believes has been President Barack Obama’s wariness of using both financial pressure and the threat of military force to challenge Tehran
(…) AIPAC’s leadership on Sunday was already challenging the White House’s position. “We shouldn’t be afraid of Iran leaving the table,” Mr. Kohr said.

He also aggressively pushed back against the White House’s argument in recent months that no deal with Iran would lead to war. “That’s a false choice…that’s meant to silence the critics,” Mr. Kohr said. “And we won’t be silenced.”

This is a big deal, and it signals AIPAC’s permission, for lack of a better word, for American Jews to stop being so stupidly Democratic all of the time.

Texas Crackdown

March 2nd, 2015 - 11:44 am

Feds raid, fingerprint, seize cell phones at political event:

Members of the Republic of Texas, a secession movement dedicated to restoring Texas as an independent constitutional republic, had gathered Feb. 14 in a Bryan, Texas, meeting hall along with public onlookers. They were debating issues of currency, international relations and celebrating the birthday of one of their oldest members. The group, which describes itself as “congenial and unimposing,” maintains a small working government, including official currency, congress and courts.

According to “Minutes into the meeting a man among the onlookers stood and moved to open the hall door, letting in an armed and armored force of the Bryan Police Department, the Brazos County Sheriff’s Office, the Kerr County Sheriff’s Office, agents of the Texas district attorney, the Texas Rangers and the FBI.

“In the end, at least 20 officers corralled, searched and fingerprinted all 60 meeting attendees, before seizing all cellphones and recording equipment in a Valentine’s Day 2015 raid on the Texas separatist group.”

“We had no idea what was going on,” said John Jarnecke, president of the Republic of Texas. “We knew of nothing that would warrant such an action.”

Intimidation, much?

I’ve heard of groups like Republic of Texas, and really they’re just more pointed versions of the Tea Party. Present their members with a choice of “Would you rather secede or see Washington restored to its constitutional limits,” and I bet you 99% of them would choose the latter every time. Secession talk to them is a way of making the case plain of just how important constitutional rule is. They certainly aren’t spearheading any actual secession movement, and even if they were, they’re so small and so powerless that the proper response from the Feds ought to be bemused tolerance.

Besides, these people are Americans, and Americans have the right to say and believe in whatever political cause they support — without being fingerprinted and having their personal possessions confiscated by the jealous god of progressive government.

So why the crackdown? Washington knows in its corrupt, greedy heart that it is losing legitimacy with great big swathes of the American public — and with many people DC has already lost it. Which leaves Washington with little more than thuggish displays of intimidation, because that’s what thuggish governments do.

No Book for You!

March 2nd, 2015 - 10:30 am

Sometimes the little stories tell you everything you need to know about the political health of a nation, and this is one of those.



The Westboro Baptist Church had announced plans to picket the funeral of Leonard Nimoy, but now the hate-filled church has been thwarted by funeral planners.

Nimoy died this week, prompting an outpouring of support from across the country, including President Obama. But his death also drew an angry response from the Westboro Baptist Church, the church famous for its anti-gay protests. The group often targets funerals, both of celebrities and of soldiers killed overseas, showing up with signs filled with anti-gay slurs. It had promised to be on site when Nimoy was laid to rest.

But now the Westboro Baptist Church has announced it will not be protesting at Leonard Nimoy’s funeral after planners decided to make the memorial private. The church announced the decision early Sunday on one of its official Twitter handles.

I don’t know and don’t care what Westboro’s beef is with Leonard Nimoy. But I do know that the First Amendment recognizes our right to petition the government to redress out grievances — not to make a nuisance of ourselves at private affairs like funerals.

What is wrong with us that we let them get away with this crap?

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

March 2nd, 2015 - 8:39 am

Determining the legality of federal-exchange subsidies rests with SCOTUS, but there’s a catch:

But King v. Burwell could upend the president’s plans. That’s the case, now on the Supreme Court’s docket, contesting the legality of subsidy payments to people in states that chose not to build their own Obamacare insurance exchanges. A decision against the government’s provision of the subsidies would undermine the law in the 37 affected states and, in the process, disrupt insurance for millions of people who signed up for coverage on the assumption that the subsidies would be available to them.

The blame for the mess that would surely ensue should rightfully fall on the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress. Congressional Democrats wrote the statute on their own, and the administration has enforced it. If the Court rules that the statute was written carelessly and enforced lawlessly, Democrats will have no one to blame but themselves.

Authors James Carpetta Yuval Levin are being far too kind — the Democrats will do nothing of the kind. Already they’ve telegraphed their game plan which — surprise! — blame it all on Republics.

Never you mind that a law written by Democrats, signed by Democrats, and enacted by Democrats was designed at its very core with a stick (the states had to set up their own exchanges to get the subsidies) so flimsy that 37 states said “No thanks.” Instead, the Democrats will blame the Republican justices for gutting the law, and blame the GOP Congress for not fixing the law. “A simple fix,” they’ll say oh-so-reasonably.

The idea is twofold. First, to salvage their craptaculently written law. The second is more subtle and probably more effective politically. If the GOP doesn’t “fix” what the Democrats broke, it becomes an effective campaign issue because the evil GOP is taking away the coverage the Democrats so generously provided, and corpses of old people and babies will stack up on America’s streets. Alternately, Republican lawmakers will vote to restore the subsidies, retroactively becoming complicit in the creation of ♡bamaCare!!!. Not one Republican voted for the law in 2010, but how many of them will vote to save it in 2015?

And just how great of a wedge issue is that for the Democrats, splitting the GOP from their anti-♡bamaCare!!! base — especially with the Complicit Media helping the Democrats do their dirty work.

It’s a trap, of course, and the GOP should stick to their guns and offer complete repeal & replace bills. That would set up a monster, and potentially winnable fight with the White House. On the other hand, falling into the trap would be tantamount to party suicide.

I make no guesses which road the Grand Old Party will follow, but I did double up on this month’s Tito’s ration just in case.

The Future of War is Now

March 2nd, 2015 - 7:28 am


The infographic above does a gorgeous job of making plain Russia’s sometimes difficult-to-quantify hybrid warfare against Ukraine.

Over at Jane’s, Reuben F Johnson uses that chart and some cold analysis to determine that Russia’s newfangled operational art “is working” to keep Ukraine destabilized:

Overall, the Ukrainian military continues to be severely disadvantaged by not being equipped with a list of the items that are becoming well known to those watching the current situation in eastern Ukraine: secure communications systems; anti-tank guided weapons with tandem warheads; counter-battery radars; UAVs for both reconnaissance and strike missions; and the ability to stream multiple intelligence sources into centralised command centres to get inside the ‘decision loop’ of the Russian-backed forces.

As I’ve noted before, the beauty of Putin’s warmaking is that he can dial it up or down on the X or Y axis virtually at will, which serves to keep NATO divided and confused, while giving himself a working combination of political cover and military gain.

This is the Operational Art of War brought fully into the 21st Century, allowing a much weaker actor (Russia) to leverage its few strengths against a much stronger potential opponent (NATO) to get what he wants (Ukraine) without a full-scale war.

This is what President Look At Me Looking At Me derided with “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion.” But we know who is really living in the 21st Century and who is stuck in the past.

Taking Tikrit

March 2nd, 2015 - 6:06 am


And now for some (hopefully) good news:

KIRKUK: Some 30,000 Iraqi troops and militia backed by aircraft pounded militant positions in and around Tikrit on Monday in the biggest offensive yet to retake one of the Islamic State group’s main strongholds.

Government forces have been working their way north in recent months, notching up key victories against IS but Tikrit, which has resisted them several times, is their toughest target yet.

Building on recent successes, commanders voiced hope that the broadest operation since IS overran swathes of the country last June would be a step towards the liberation of Mosul, the militants’ main hub in Iraq.

“Security forces are advancing on three main fronts towards Tikrit, Ad-Dawr (to the south) and Al-Alam (to the north),” a senior army officer on the ground told AFP by telephone.

The operation began in early morning after being announced by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi the previous evening.

New Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is far less sectarian than Nouri al-Maliki was, and has brought back many Sunni officers Maliki had previously sacked for the crime of being Sunni. So the Iraqi Army will probably perform much better now than it did last year in Mosul, where an entire division more or less quit the field before the “might” of ISIS thugs.

The real prize remains Mosul however.

Trifecta Twofer

March 2nd, 2015 - 5:16 am


Did something a little different this week — Trifecta Book Club. I had two recommendations — one old, one new — and Bill and Scott of course had stuff I hadn’t heard of, and purchased immediately for all that free reading time I enjoyed in Washington.

All but the very last part is true.

And Trifecta Extra comes with extra bacon*, and who says no to extra bacon?

Friday Night Videos

February 27th, 2015 - 10:24 pm

It’s another “I Apologize for Nothing!” edition of FNV.

Ah, Gino Vannelli — Canadian master of cheesy light rock and body hair. He’s easy to make fun of, and even SCTV took a shot at him in a “Lee Iacocca’s Rock Concert” sketch with Eugene Levy playing Vannelli. Every time he turned around or the camera angle changed during his performance of “I Just Wanna Stop,” Levy was, werewolf transformation style, covered with more and more body and facial hair. It’s starts at about the 4:50 mark in this YouTube clip. Snark aside though, Vannelli sold a ton of records and cut a few single which haven’t aged too badly.

Tonight’s pick, “Wild Horses,” was Vannelli’s penultimate single to chart in the US, and for whatever reason it really caught my ear during senior year at Missouri Military Academy. I had this cheap boombox for playing tapes and picking up the local radio stations in Mexico, Missouri, and it was my policy when listening to the radio to have a scratch tape ready to go. “Record” and “Pause” were pressed at all times, so when I heard a new song I liked, I would just release the pause button and record it straight off the radio in crystal clear FM-radio-to-crap-cassette quality. This one was a minor hit, and I was lucky enough to have had a scratch tape ready to go the second — and final — I ever heard it on the air.

The tape got lost in the sands of time, but somehow this one popped up in my suggestions on the iTunes Store while I was searching for some other bit of high school-era pop-fluff — and you know what? It’s still all right. Oh, you can hear the producer throwing every single mid-’80s studio trick at it, trying to generate a big hit, but the lyric has some lovely imagery and the music somehow fits Vannelli’s Disco Shirt Chest Hair delivery.

This one’s a keeper.

News You Can Use

February 27th, 2015 - 5:30 am


An animal wonder from Down Under:

A schoolboy from rural Victoria returned home yesterday to find a furry carjacker behind the wheel of the family Land Rover.

Sam Box, 15, told he had just gotten off the bus after school when he found the koala “trying to drive”.

He quickly snapped photos showing the koala sitting in the driver’s seat with its paws on the steering wheel.

Toonces could not be reached for comment.

Make Your Heart Happy: Give it Bacon

February 26th, 2015 - 10:17 am

I really thought I was going to get real blogging done this morning, but CPAC is, as always, the black hole of timesucks. That, and wee bit of a hangover.

In that spirit, enjoy Scott Ott hosting the ultimate feel-good Trifecta segment ever.

Hillary’s Hypocrisy: Now 28% Off

February 25th, 2015 - 10:45 am

Wanted: Porn Inspectors

February 25th, 2015 - 9:15 am

So this is a thing which I found on the internet:

The occupation of a porn inspector, almost exclusive to China, exists only in official agencies and private internet companies. An inspector’s job is to view tens of thousands of online images, videos and messages that may contain lewd content and “filter” them by deleting them or rating them into categories.

The job is rather well-paid by China’s standards. The hourly pay of an average inspector is 50 yuan (US$8) and a part-time inspector can earn more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,600) per month.

If my 17-year-old self had it to do all over again, I feel certain he’d study Mandarin.

News You Can Use

February 25th, 2015 - 8:03 am

Florida Tribe Threatens Rick Scott: Let Us Build A Casino Or We Start Growing Pot

That might be my favorite headline of the year so far. Here’s the story:

The Poarch Creek Band of native Americans told Florida Governor Rick Scott that if the state’s Republican-controlled House and Senate refused to allow the tribe to operate a casino on land it owns in Escambia County, it would endeavor to grow and distribute marijuana on the land in accordance with the regulations that the federal government has imposed on states that have legalized the trade.

The chairwoman of the Poarch tribal council, Stephanie Bryan, told the Associated Press that the tribe is “entitled to negotiate a compact with the state.”

If the state rejects the deal, the tribe is within its rights to sue to use the land to grow marijuana, as this past December the Department of Justice stated that tribes can grow and distribute marijuana on their sovereign land — even if the state in which that land is situated has not legalized marijuana.

It’s a sucker deal for Scott, because if he agrees there wouldn’t seem to be anything stopping the Poarch Creek Band from growing marijuana after they build their new casino.

Held for Ransom

February 25th, 2015 - 6:41 am


The Law of Unintended Consequences even applies to prisoner swaps:

The Obama administration’s swap of five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo Bay for accused Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl may have doomed any hope Kayla Mueller’s family had for working out a deal with ISIS, the murdered aid worker’s family said in an interview.

Carl Mueller told NBC in an interview that aired Monday that he and his wife thought they could win his daughter’s freedom with a $6.2 million ransom payment, although he acknowledged the Arizona family faced a daunting task in raising that much money. But when the White House agreed last year to trade Bergdahl, who had been held for five years by the Taliban and Haqqani network, the family believes the price for their daughter went up.

We paid a heavy price to bring home one traitor, and it seems we’re still paying it.

Review: iPad Air 2

February 25th, 2015 - 5:29 am
iPad Air 2 vs MacBook Air

iPad Air 2 vs MacBook Air

The time had come after three years and three generations to ditch the old iPad with Retina Display (“iPad 3″) for an all-new iPad Air 2. So how does it stack up against Cupertino’s previous offering, and against the competition? Let’s take a look.

The first thing I noticed is what wasn’t there: Size and weight. It’s thinner than my iPhone 5S. It’s much thinner than an iPad 1 or 3. It’s almost 20% thinner than last year’s impossibly thin iPad Air. It’s as close to not being there as a computer can be and still be there. It’s little enough to make you think Apple has hit the wall on how thin and light a tablet can be — and that soon they’ll have to surprise us with an all-new form factor.

Even when covered on all sides by Apple’s leather Smart Cover (more on that shortly), the Air 2 is still significantly thinner and lighter than a first-generation iPad, and still much lighter than the iPad 3. Both older iPads (with the added weight of a cellular antenna) come in at about 1.5 pounds, but the Air 2 (also with cellular) is a mere 0.98 pounds. The difference is real in your hands, too — mine never get tired of holding the iPad Air 2, which is the first time I’ve ever said that about a full-size tablet. If you want to understand why iPad owners tend to develop such emotional attachments to their devices, try holding an Air 2 and feel how a full-size multicore HD touch computer disappears to little more than the screen.

The weight savings is thanks in large part to a much smaller battery. The iPad 3 has a 42.5-watt-hour battery inside, with commensurate size and weight. The Air 2 battery isn’t much more than half that, at 27.3-watt-hours. Another nifty benefit is that the new iPad charges much, much more quickly on the same standard 12-watt charger.

Both units promise (and deliver) about 10 hours of web surfing and video watching, or nine if you’re using a cellular connection instead of WiFi. You may wonder then if the iPad Air 2 sacrifices speed in order to get equal battery time on a much smaller battery.


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On the Eve of CPAC…

February 24th, 2015 - 4:23 pm

…is it time to boycott CPAC?

That’s what Rick Moran says, and I agree:

It’s been announced that the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will present the “Andrew Breitbart Defender of the First Amendment Award” to Duck Dynasty character Phil Robertson. Robertson’s comments about gays and blacks were almost universally condemned for their bigotry, their insensitivity, and their outright ignorance.

Certainly, Robertson has the right under the first amendment to prove to the world what an ignoramus he is. But CPAC honoring this country clown for being shockingly uninformed is the last straw for me.

I didn’t know Andrew Breitbart well, but I knew him well enough to be reasonably sure he wouldn’t want his name attached to an award for a bigot like Robertson. There’s a difference, one Breitbart understood, between fighting for an idiot’s right to speak his tiny mind, and giving him a prestigious award for it.

Further down though is where we get to the meat of Moran’s troubles with the ACU specifically, and with trends in modern conservatism more generally:

I find myself in a similar position to Josh Barro, a center-right columnist who believes that conservatism isn’t defined by a set of mostly immutable principles, but rather by those who call themselves “conservative.” The right — like the left — has a series of litmus tests by which your conservatism or liberalism is judged. In other words, your position on issues defines whether you are conservative or not, rather than the principles that undergird the assumptions upon which one’s position on the issues is based defining your fealty to conservative philosophy.

It’s a backasswards way of judging who or what is conservative and I’ve never adhered to it.

Conservatism — classical liberalism, really — is not a defined set of conclusions, with orthodoxy be determined by litmus test. (Burn her, she’s a witch!) Conservatism is supposed to represent a way of thinking, specifically about how best to preserve the liberties first won by white, male Americans in 1783, and expanding those liberties to all Americans.

In that sense then, only conservatives (and libertarians) can be truly pluralistic, because we’re the only ones in favor of the broad set of liberties which allow for the true pluralism represented by “the pursuit of happiness.”

And yet those of us who have reached different conclusions on certain issues, or whose mere existence offends, find ourselves unwelcome in any official capacity at “conservatism’s” biggest annual event. How bad is it? ACU has reportedly gotten parsimonious with blogger press credentials, and from what I’ve seen and heard, there seems to be a bias against more libertarian-minded bloggers. (AFP has been waging a smart new media campaign for May’s RightOnline event, publicly inviting writers whom the ACU has shunned.)

I write these words as I prepare to pack my bags, yes, for CPAC — my first visit there in six years. The 2009 event was a drab affair, a funeral procession following Barack Obama’s swearing in and the passage of the do-nothing stimulus act. Around that same time, one of the very first Tea Party rallies, a small affair of just 70 or 80 people, was held in Denver. I thought then that CPAC was the past, and that the Tea Party was the future. The Tea didn’t turn out as strong as I’d hoped, but I can’t help thinking I was at least half right.

So I’m attending in a non-attending capacity — there to share cocktails & conversation with friends and colleagues, to catch up on old stories and new ideas. We’re the kind of friends who might disagree on a few issues, but who can still find company and comradeship in our defense of this beautifully American thing called “liberty and justice for all.”

You can find me in the lobby bar.

That’s a Feature, Not a Bug

February 24th, 2015 - 1:37 pm


Another day, another IRS scandal:

Identity thieves may be defrauding the Internal Revenue Service by much more than the nearly $6 billion the federal tax agency claims to have lost through holes in its security policy in 2013.

That’s because the IRS presented an unreliable estimate of how much it had lost to identity fraud — a rationale based on calculations with no supporting documentation — as a precise measure of its losses, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

The tools the IRS uses to prevent identity fraud from happening in the first place are also full of holes, the watchdog found. For example, the agency requires filers to use a personal identification number to file their taxes online.

But the accountability office discovered “identity thieves can easily find the information needed” to gain someone else’s number by searching public records, “allowing them to bypass some, if not all, of IRS’s current automatic checks.”

But your medical records the IRS now holds? Totally secure, bro.

Auditing the Fed sounds nice, but might be practically impossible — do we really wants 535 members of Congress “helping” to determine monetary policy. But how about auditing the IRS?