You Have the Right to Remain Sober

July 6th, 2015 - 1:23 pm

No link, because Vox, so make do with this screencap instead:


If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last century or so, it’s that banning stuff and constant police monitoring totally works.

News You Can Use

July 6th, 2015 - 12:48 pm
(Image courtesy Warner Bros.)

(Image courtesy Warner Bros.)

Good lord:

One young Maine man is dead after he put a fireworks mortar on his head and set it off, according to officials.

Devon Staples, 22, died instantly, said Maine Public Safety Spokesperson Steve McCausland.

McCausland says Staples had been drinking with friends at a home in Calais, Maine, Saturday night.

Please tell me you know you’re not supposed to do that.

Firing Up the New Queen of the Seas

July 6th, 2015 - 11:13 am
Just one of the HMS Queen Elizabeth's four massive diesel power plants.

Just one of the HMS Queen Elizabeth’s four massive diesel power plants.


HMS Queen Elizabeth‘s huge diesel generators have been powered up for the first time at the home of the UK’s aircraft carrier programme in Rosyth.

The move brings the 65,000-tonne future flagship of the Royal Navy closer to becoming an operational warship.

The first of the ship’s four generators was officially started by defence procurement minister Philip Dunne.

The warship is due to be handed over to the Ministry of Defence in 2016 ahead of being put into service in 2020.

Although as S.R. Hadden says in Contact, “First rule in government spending: why build one when you can have two at twice the price?” So of course the Brits are also hard at work on QE’s sister ship, Prince Of Wales.

This new class of ship is really more akin to our Wasp- or America-class amphibious assault ships, operated by the Navy and embarked with some very tough Marines. The Royal Navy’s beasts displace about 20,000 more tons, but they all rely on V/STOL fighters rather than use costly and complicated launch systems and arrestor wires to launch and recover traditional jets. The QE can also carry a compliment of Royal Marines and put them ashore by helicopter. So make no mistake, these two ships represent more firepower and naval presence than the Royal Navy has enjoyed in a long time — probably in the entire postwar era.

The question is though, can Britain afford to actually operate them once completed?

On that, I’m not optimistic.

(Image courtesy UK Ministry of Defence)

(Image courtesy UK Ministry of Defence)

Still, she’s an awfully pretty ship.

Top Men, Top Men

July 6th, 2015 - 10:01 am
Press sanitized for your protection. (AP photo)

Press sanitized for your protection.
(AP photo)

The Clinton Camp has lost count of the number of experts it has on hire:

In the months before she began her second run for the White House, Clinton spent hours quizzing economists, lawyers, educators and activists about everything from executive compensation to the latest research on lead paint.

By last fall, the number of experts she had interviewed hit two hundred and her team stopped keeping track.

“It was like I hadn’t left Harvard,” Roland Fryer, an economist at the university, said of his meeting with Clinton to discuss successful charter school practices. “It was like talking to a colleague and debating over a cup of coffee.”

Can’t keep track of the experts who, after the election, will supposedly keep track of everything in an $18,000,000,000,000 economy made up of 320,000,000 people.

That in a nutshell is everything wrong with “progressive” ambitions.

What Could Go Wrong?

July 6th, 2015 - 8:30 am
(Image courtesy of Festo.)

(Image courtesy of Festo.)

A German company is building an army of robot ants:

Festo has created a fleet of bionic ants capable of working together, as well as function on their own, in order to complete tasks, just as their real-life counterparts do, according to Business Insider. The objectives for these ants will focus on automating factories.

These tiny machines, developed under the company’s Bionic Learning Network, were born through the process of biomimicry, which combines nature and robotics to create machines.

Festo said back in March that the insects are built with 3D-printed plastic powder melted by a laser, as well as 3D printed circuitry. Their legs are ceramic and their pincers are flexible actuators that can move quickly without using much energy.

Other features include a stereo camera and floor sensor that work together to help the ant figure out its location and identify objects that it needs to grab. The robot also comes with an antennae that charges its lithium batteries.

The ants are tasked with objectives such as transporting large, heavy loads that they wouldn’t be able to lift on their own.

SkyNet fears aside, what becomes of the human race when our every whim is catered to by robots? Arthur C. Clarke (see Childhood’s End) predicted that effortless wealth would lead to a global blossoming of peace and artistic pursuits — but in that story the mysterious Overlord aliens were around to keep a lid on our baser drives.

I should note that poverty isn’t what usually drives people to violence on a mass scale;  ideologically driven desire for power does. Would effortless wealth cure that desire? I don’t know, but decades of experiments with “spreadin’ the wealth around a little” aren’t encouraging. It may well be that for most people (including yours truly), the biggest benefit of working for a living is keeping them out of trouble.

Or suppose Clarke did have it right. Japan and Europe have had it pretty easy since the end of WWII, with the U.S. military playing the role of the Overlords, but those results aren’t encouraging, either. In Clarke’s book, the Overlords brought peace, prosperity, and artistic freedom — but they also portended the end of humanity. Humanity quickly evolved into a non-corporeal collective which eventually consumed the Earth to provide energy to join the intergalactic Overmind. It’s the Progressive idea of Heaven, I suppose, and it’s rather sad. In Europe and Japan the outcome is proving much the same, if less dramatic. Those societies are breeding themselves out of existence, or rather choosing not to breed themselves into continued existence. In the Great Northern Swathe from Spain in the West, through Europe, the Steppes and Siberia, all the way to Japan, entire peoples are evolving into nothingness. And it isn’t just about reproduction; in Japan, young people can’t even bother themselves to get laid anymore.

Do we lose the will to live when we lose the thrills of living?

Pages: 1 2 | 8 Comments»

Thought for the Day

July 6th, 2015 - 7:03 am

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

July 6th, 2015 - 5:36 am

Ohio small businesses are about to get hit with some serious ♡bamaCare!!! sticker shock — to the tune of nearly $2,500 per employee.

The survey gathered data from 625 small businesses that are OAHU members, and the findings are staggering. A whopping 563—more than 90 percent—will see an average increase in premiums of 37.9 percent. In many cases, not only will the rates be shocking, but employees will find reduced benefits. Obamacare’s mandated metal tiers for benefits eliminate many options for small businesses, including some of the most popular options that were sold in Ohio.

More importantly, the small-group market already had all of the key protections of Obamacare. It had guaranteed issue. It had no pre-existing conditions, with the caveat that someone had prior insurance coverage. Plans provided coverage for many of the essential benefits required under Obamacare. While it didn’t limit the maximum out-of-pocket, according to Kaiser’s employee benefits surveys many of these plans carried an average of around $3,000 per person.

Compare that to Obamacare’s maximum of $6,850 per person for 2016, and it’s easy to argue that under the law employees of small businesses have lost significantly more than they have gained.

♡bamaCare!!! plans are worse for employers and worse for employees, but they’re great for everyone else.

Oh, except for doctors.

And private practices.

And state budgets — can’t forget those.

Jeez, let’s not forget the hole ♡bamaCare!!! is blowing in the federal budget, too.

And then there’s that story I just saw where ♡bamaCare!!! is crowding out local programs which used to help the poor, but now makes them buy policies they can’t afford to use.

But I think we all can agree that ♡bamaCare!!! has been a real boon for nosy IRS agents, pushy bureaucrats, and shady web developers.

So, good job, Mr. President!

Friday Night Videos

July 3rd, 2015 - 9:38 pm

Taking a break from Summer of Covers to celebrate Independence Day — and for this important reminder from Charlie Daniels.

Chick-fil-A Is Number One? Really?

July 3rd, 2015 - 11:31 am
(Shutterstock photo)

(Shutterstock photo)

Huh. I would never have guess Americans would pick a chicken sandwich shop as their favorite fast food:

The chicken chain ranked highest in the U.S. for customer satisfaction, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index Restaurant Report 2015.

In its first appearance on the list, Chick-fil-A outpaced its peers with the highest level of customer satisfaction ever recorded by a fast food restaurant.

“We strive to provide a remarkable experience for each and every customer, so we are grateful and humbled that we were selected for this honor,” Chick-Fil-A said in response to the survey.

Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread, also newcomers to the list, ranked highly as well.

I can’t say I’ve ever been to a Chick-Fil-A. It’s not because of the company’s social conservatism — there’s nothing wrong with a stand in favor of traditional marriage and low-paid, hard-working fast food employees could all use regular Sundays off.

It’s just that I don’t like chicken enough to order it out. I mean literally almost never. The last time I can remember ordering chicken was five or six years ago at a tiny gourmet place called Rosemary’s (since closed), off-off-off-off the Las Vegas Strip. They offered a brick-oven roasted half chicken with a mustard glaze, and I couldn’t say no to that.

But the dreaded boneless, skinless chicken breast you find most everywhere else is barely food, much less worth paying someone else to cook for you. So I just don’t understand the appeal of a chicken sandwich shop, even if the dreaded boneless, skinless chicken breast happens to be deep-fried.

And I’m not sure what Chipotle and Panera are doing on this list. I’m a big fan of both (“Give me a barbacoa burrito or give me an asiago steak sandwich!” as Patrick Henry once said.), but those chains are fast casual, not fast food.

But the bigger mystery is: What’s the big appeal of mass-produced fried white meat on a bun?

More at PJ Media: 

But I Love That Place: The 7 Most Overrated Fast Food Restaurants


Beat It

July 3rd, 2015 - 8:45 am
(Image courtesy ABC News)

(Image courtesy ABC News)

So this was probably inevitable and certainly entertaining:

An artist in Reynosa, Mexico, created a piñata that resembles Donald Trump, complete with his signature hairstyle.

Dalton Avalos Ramirez told the Associated Press he designed the piñata “because of the hatred Trump expressed for the Mexican people.”

Trump made comments that Mexicans were bringing “drugs, crime and rapists” to the United States in a June 16 speech kicking off his 2016 presidential campaign.

“People want to burn the piñatas, they want to break them,” Ramirez told the AP.

How do you fill a piñata with hot air and ego?

Oh, THOSE Classified Emails

July 3rd, 2015 - 6:32 am
(Shutterstock photo)

(Shutterstock photo)

You don’t exactly need to sit down for this one:

The State Department on Wednesday conceded that two dozen of Hillary Clinton’s emails did contain classified information, a fact that could trigger a U.S. policy that authorizes the government to take control of her private server and sanitize the contents.

A former senior intelligence official told The Washington Times the policy also requires the government to check other Internet paths her secret information could have taken.

To be fair, “sanitizing the contents” was pretty much Clinton’s goal from the get-go. But that aside, not one damn thing Hillary as said about her private email server has turned out to be true.

Not one damn thing.

Hillary Clinton belongs in jail.

The Math Is a Harsh Mistress

July 3rd, 2015 - 5:46 am

Whittle Nails It

July 2nd, 2015 - 3:01 pm

Er… pins it.

Either way, it’s required viewing.

Honorably discharged after three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, retired Marine Kristoffer Lewandowski’s PTSD was so bad he was 100% medically disabled. But his heavy SSRI prescription seemed to be doing more harm than good:

After realizing that the meds were killing his liver, Lewandowski decided that it would be a good idea try marijuana as a treatment. He began growing 6 plants for his personal use.

In June of 2014, Lewandowski had a PTSD episode. His wife grabbed the kids and took them to the neighbors house where she called the police to get her husband some help.

However, as is the case in so many countless other incidents, police did anything but help.

After police showed up, they searched the Lewandowski’s home and found 6 tiny marijuana plants. Police then weighed all of the plant matter together and it did not total to a single ounce. However, because of Oklahoma’s draconian laws against growing a plant, Lewandowski was charged with felony marijuana cultivation.

Felony marijuana cultivation in Oklahoma carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

According to Whitney Lewandowski, Kristoffer’s wife, the police also pulled up their tomato plants and included them in the photo for the media.

Of course they did — the Drug War thrives on misleading propaganda.

The science on medical marijuana is mixed — and that’s when it isn’t verging on fraudulent from both sides of the debate. (There’s compelling evidence that MDMA, aka Ecstasy, has tremendous potentially in the treatment of PTSD, but that isn’t germane to today’s story.) But people like Lewandowski could be used as case studies to help determine if marijuana might have some benefit for PTSD suffers, apart from and more serious than an increase in their Cheetohs consumption.

Instead, thanks to Oklahoma’s draconian take on the Drug War, Lewandowski faces up to life in prison. His wife was also arrested, charged with a felony, and worst of all their children were taken away and placed with Child Protective Services.

From there the Lewandowskis’ story gets even more convoluted, and I suggest you read the whole thing.

The Smoking (Tank) Gun

July 2nd, 2015 - 1:45 pm
In this photo taken Tuesday, June 23, 2015, Ukrainian servicemen from the Kiev-2 volunteer battalion guard a position at a frontline in the village of Krymske, east Ukraine. Few places along the front line in east Ukraine see regular fighting as bitter as the village of Krymske. For now, Krymske is in the hands of Ukrainian government forces and the volunteer battalions that fight alongside them. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

In this photo taken Tuesday, June 23, 2015, Ukrainian servicemen from the Kiev-2 volunteer battalion guard a position at a frontline in the village of Krymske, east Ukraine. Few places along the front line in east Ukraine see regular fighting as bitter as the village of Krymske. For now, Krymske is in the hands of Ukrainian government forces and the volunteer battalions that fight alongside them. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Ukrainian loyalist forces used a drone to video Russian troops in Ukraine — and although you might not be exactly shocked, this is a big deal:

What makes this already impressive discovery even more startling is the location—less than 12 kilometers from the Ukrainian front-line settlements of Granitnoye and Novolaspa. This area, to the east of Volnovakha and the Donetsk-Mariupol highway, has seen a slow but steady intensification of violence over recent months, as well as a buildup of Russian troops and armor in separatist-held territory behind the front lines.

What’s significant about where this Russian FOB is located is that it’s sandwiched between (Ukrainian-held Volnovakha) and (separatist-held) Telmanovo, and would therefore play a lead role in any forthcoming Russian offensive on Mariupol, the port city on the Sea of Azov which also happens to the economic powerhouse in the Donetsk region. The separatists have nothing comparable to Mariupol in their possession and they want it, as Alexander Zakharchenko, the head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, has stated repeatedly to journalists.

The fighting this spring has been quieter than many (including me) expected. Is this FOB a sign that Putin is ready to attempt to force a decision? Or will he only heat things up to a simmer over the warmer months like he did last year?

It had seemed like the latter was more likely, but now there’s just no telling.

(Cue the Putin apologists in the comments section in five… four… three…)

It looks even worse than I feared.

Michael Fassbender — one of my favorite actors working today — is horribly miscast. Seth Rogan is as convincing as Woz as I would be wearing a fake beard and Monica Geller’s fat suit from Friends. The trailer even opens with a big factual error, “the graphical interface was stolen!” Apple paid Xerox a hefty fee for its WIMP innovations, and then figured out how to squeeze those innovations into 64k of all-original code running on a $2,500 minicomputer.

Based on what you see here, it looks like this movie will have all of the flaws of Walter Isaacson’s bio, and none of the cheesy charm of Pirates of Silicon Valley. That’s a bad combo, and a shocking one considering you’ve got Fassbender working under Danny Boyle’s direction from an Aaron Sorkin script. What a waste of talent.

There’s got to be a good movie to be made about Steve Jobs — for good and for ill, his life was sized for the big screen.

But this movie doesn’t look like it’s the one.

Good lord:

A wrongly-convicted Louisiana man died Monday, just 15 months after he was freed following nearly 30 years on death row and diagnosed with lung cancer.

Glenn Ford died peacefully, surrounded by loved ones while listening to one of his favorite songs in New Orleans at 2:11 a.m., according to a statement from his supporters. He was 65 years old.

Ford was released from prison in March 2014 after a Louisiana judge ruled there was credible evidence that he was innocent of murder.

He had spent just short of 30 years behind bars after an all-white jury convicted him of the 1983 murder of Isadore Rozman, a 58-year-old watchmaker who Ford did yard work for in Shreveport. No murder weapon was ever found and there were no witnesses.

Ford requested compensation for his years trapped behind bars, but the state denied his petition, claiming he did not prove he was completely innocent of any crime.

“Completely innocent?” The man had been found “not guilty” enough to be released after 30 years — and “not guilty” is supposed to be the measure justice must make in this country.

Fit to fight. (Shutterstock image)

Fit to fight.
(Shutterstock image)

The Pentagon and Lockheed-Martin responded quickly to this week’s report that the F-35 can’t outfight an F-16:

In an e-mail to reporters Wednesday morning, they said the report “did not tell the entire story” of the test dogfight between an F-35 and an F-16 this year because the F-35 was not equipped with many of the features that gives it an advantage. But they did not dispute the authenticity of the pilot’s remarks, and said they were investigating how the report, marked “For Official Use Only,” was leaked.

Pentagon officials said that the particular plane the test pilot flew did not have its special stealth coating, a Harry Potter-like “invisible cloak” that renders it invisible to radar. It was also lacking the sensors that allow “the F-35 to see its enemy long before it knows the F-35 is in the area,” the officials said.

Finally, it didn’t have “the weapons or software that allow the F-35 pilot to turn, aim a weapon with the helmet, and fire at an enemy without having to point the airplane at its target.”

Why would anyone bother testing the F-35 under such conditions?

Question for the Day

July 2nd, 2015 - 8:31 am

Robots Dive at Dawn

July 2nd, 2015 - 7:25 am

The best diesel submarine killer might just be a drone:

Originally conceived as a DARPA project, the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) is designed to hunt the next generation of nearly silent enemy diesel submarines.

Diesel submarines are quickly proliferating around the world due to their low cost. Russia recently announced that it has launched the world’s “quietest submarine.”

To accomplish its submarine-hunting mission, the ACTUV project is structured around three primary goals: the ability to outmatch diesel submarines in speed at significantly less cost than existing systems, the system’s ability to safely navigate the oceans in accordance with maritime law, and the ability to accurately track diesel submarines regardless of their location.

If we want to keep the peace in the Pacific, forget about TPP — this DARPA program ought to get the fast track.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

July 2nd, 2015 - 6:20 am

Before we get started, there are a couple things you must know about the video above. First, it stars Richard Simmons and was made to promote ♡bamaCare!!!’s increasingly troubled California exchange. Second, despite being one of the most tragically hysterical things that has ever been my squirming fortune to witness, in over a year there isn’t a version of it on YouTube with even 25,000 views. Thirdly, Sacramento spent $137,000,000 — that’s right: nine figures — to produce and market this… thing. By way of comparison, last year’s Johnny Depp flop, Transcendence, had a production and marketing budget of “only” $100,000,000.

And of course, what has been seen cannot be unseen — so click Play at your own risk.

Now that you know all that, know all this:

Covered California signed the contracts last week with Ogilvy Public Relations — maker of the $137-million Simmons video — and Campbell Ewald. Both are tasked with creating a media campaign to entice new enrollees, specifically minorities.

Facing the worst drought in recent memory— spurring rising food costs and job losses — Californians have better uses for tax dollars than another PR campaign, says Sen. Ted Gaines, who plans to ask for an audit of Covered California’s marketing department.

“Ogilvy made some major mistakes in their advanced outreach, specifically with the use of Richard Simmons. Why are they being rewarded with a renewed contract when they wasted taxpayer money?” asked Gaines. “The video bombed; I wasn’t able to get satisfactory answers as to what they accomplished with this.”

Kudos to Senator Gaines for bringing this up, but I fear he’s asking the wrong questions. This isn’t about the wisdom of hiring Richard Simmons or why the video failed to connect with California viewers.

It’s about where the hell $137,000,000 really went.

Pages: 1 2 | 42 Comments»

Love, European Style

July 2nd, 2015 - 5:25 am

Fool’s Gold

July 1st, 2015 - 2:02 pm

Iran gets 13 tons of impounded gold back from South Africa, and we get… a crumbling sanctions regime:

“The removal of Iran’s sanctions and gaining access to the country’s financial and gold resources abroad is one of the main objectives of Iran’s negotiating team in the ongoing nuclear talks,” Fars reported.

Meanwhile, Iran’s ambassador to Paris this weekend stressed that his country’s main objective in the talks is to end international sanctions, which had nearly crippled Iran’s economy at their peak.

“Fortunately, the West has come to realize that the weapon of sanctions has not been effective and has been forced to change its approach and recognize Iran’s legitimate rights,” the official was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

Iran’s GDP has grown 3 percent in the last year, prompting experts to warn that ongoing sanctions still imposed on Tehran are not working.

Sanctions were only going to work — as well as sanctions ever work, that is — so long as there was American leadership to keep the rest of the world in line. It’s obvious now that this White House has every intention of removing those sanctions, in the vain hope of a nuclear Pax Iran over the Middle East. Rather than going along with the sanctions regime, it now behooves every other player to try and sneak into Iran before some other player gets there first.

The race is on to see who can break the sanctions the mostest.

An ISIS-Gaza Axis?

July 1st, 2015 - 12:35 pm
Smoke rises following an explosion by an airstrike in Egypt's northern Sinai Peninsula, as seen from the Israel-Egypt Border, in Kerem Shalom town, southern Israel, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. Islamic militants on Wednesday unleashed a wave of simultaneous attacks, including suicide car bombings, on Egyptian army checkpoints in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula, killing tens of soldiers, security and military officials said. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Smoke rises following an explosion by an airstrike in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula, as seen from the Israel-Egypt Border, in Kerem Shalom town, southern Israel, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. Islamic militants on Wednesday unleashed a wave of simultaneous attacks, including suicide car bombings, on Egyptian army checkpoints in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula, killing tens of soldiers, security and military officials said. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

ISIS unleashed a “wave of simultaneous attacks” on Egyptian Army positions near the Gaza border:

The coordinated assaults, which included up to 70 militants, came a day after Egypt’s president pledged to step up the battle against Islamic militants and two days after the country’s state prosecutor was assassinated in the capital, Cairo. The BBC reported that the clashes are ongoing, with militants reportedly overtaking a main police station.

“This incident is a game-changer.”

- Israeli official

The officials said scores of militants were besieging Sheikh Zuweid’s main police station, shelling it with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades and exchanging fire with dozens of policemen inside. Reuters reported that militants planted bombs along a road between the police station and an army camp to deter reenforcements.

What the Israeli official said, because it looks like ISIS is trying to open a communications route to Gaza — and a new fighting front directly against Israel.

The Jewish State has so far enjoyed being buffered on all sides. Their northern Golan border with Syria is largely controlled by the Free Syrian Army and other moderate-ish groups. Jordan to the west has yet to “enjoy” the fruits of the Arab Spring. And the Egyptian Army has kept the lid on things down south in the Sinai.

I’m imagining what would happen if the radicalized Palestinian population in Gaza were to receive fighters, training, and supplies from ISIS — and what I’m imagining isn’t good.

You would be safe in imagining that Jerusalem and Cairo will be cooperating quite closely to squelch this ASAP.

How Do You Say Drachma in Russian?

July 1st, 2015 - 11:22 am

Russia has “opened the door” for Greece to join its new multinational development bank:

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday held a telephone conversation with Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak. During the conversation, Storchak invited Greece to become the sixth member of the New Development Bank of BRICS countries, Greece’s Syriza party reported on its website. Storchak is a representative of the BRICS Bank which is now being established.

The bank is expected to be one of the largest financial institutions to fund various infrastructure projects in the BRICS countries and emerging economies.

The BRICS group of prominent emerging economies was established in 2010, when South Africa joined Brazil, Russia, India and China in what was previously known as the BRIC nations. The BRICS countries make up about 40 percent of the world’s population and a combined economy of about $16 trillion.

China has the cash and Russia has the raw materials to peel Greece right off of the EU — and maybe NATO.

We’re Next

July 1st, 2015 - 10:26 am
(Chart courtesy Washington Examiner)

(Chart courtesy Washington Examiner)

Go ahead and laugh at the Greeks — while you still can:

With all the chaos unravelling in Greece, Congress would be wise to do what it takes to avoid reaching Greek debt levels. But it’s not a matter of sticking to the status quo and avoiding bad decisions that would put the budget on a Greek-like path, because the budget is on that path already.

A quarter-century ago, Greek debt levels were roughly 75 percent of Greece’s economy — about equal to what the U.S. has now. As of 2014, Greek debt levels are about 177 percent of national GDP. Now, the country is considering defaulting on its loans and uncertainty is gripping the economy.

In 25 years, U.S. debt levels are projected to reach 156 percent of the economy, which Greece had in 2012. That projection comes from the Congressional Budget Office’s alternative scenario, which is more realistic than its standard fiscal projection about which spending programs Congress will extend into the future.

There, with or without the grace of God, go I.

Slightly less glib, the difference between the US and Greece is that we control our own currency — which also happens to act as the world’s reserve currency. We also act as a worried planet’s mattress of last resort. That is to say, when other countries’ economies go to hell, the stash their money in US banks, securities, real estate, etc. So the good news is, we can probably exceed even Japan’s levels of indebtedness (more than 200% of GDP), before the stuff hits the fan.

The bad news is that the CBO’s “alternative scenario” may prove entirely too optimistic regarding how long it takes us to get there.

One Country, Two Currencies?

July 1st, 2015 - 9:11 am
People use the ATMs of a closed bank next to an anti-EU and German swastika sign in Athens, Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Greece is set to become the first developed nation to not pay its debts to the International Monetary Fund on time, as the country sinks deeper into a financial emergency that has forced it put a nationwide lockdown on money withdrawals. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

People use the ATMs of a closed bank next to an anti-EU and German swastika sign in Athens, Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Greece is set to become the first developed nation to not pay its debts to the International Monetary Fund on time, as the country sinks deeper into a financial emergency that has forced it put a nationwide lockdown on money withdrawals. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greece went into partial default on Tuesday, but Frances Coppola writes that last Sunday was the day the euro died:

There can now be no winners. While Greece remained depressed but compliant, the EU masters could pretend that Euro membership would eventually deliver the promised prosperity. But now, even if Greece by some miracle remains in the Euro, its relationship with the rest of the Eurozone is fundamentally changed.

Freezing ELA means that Greece can now only regard itself as a “user” of the Euro rather than a full member of the currency union. There is no legal means for countries to leave the Euro, but it seems that they can be frozen out. This should not be seen as similar to the Cyprus situation: liquidity in Cyprus was restricted because its banks were insolvent. Greece’s banks are not insolvent (yet). The ECB’s statement makes no mention of bank solvency: the liquidity freeze responds to the failure of the talks and the decision by the Greek government to call a referendum. The freeze is therefore an overtly political move. The independence of the ECB has been shattered.

The “irrevocability” of the Euro is no longer credible. Using liquidity restriction to force a country to introduce capital controls is tantamount to suspending its Euro membership.

The euro isn’t really dead, of course — it’s still the official currency of the 19-member eurozone, including the Big Four of Germany, France, Spain, and Italy. For all the euro’s troubles, that’s still a lot of economic firepower.

But what about Greece? It’s almost out of euros and it’s almost out of other people’s euros, too. Is some kind of duel-currency economy possible? Athens could beg or save (hah!) for the euros it needs for imports, but run its domestic economy on a revived drachma. That’s a lousy, and for all I know illegal solution — but it would beat the hell out of running the domestic economy on barter. And from this side of the Atlantic, barter does indeed seem to be likelier than any other solution.

We’ve seen similar situations before, right there in the Balkans and the former Eastern Bloc. Back during the Cold War, you could get most anything you wanted — if you could get your hands on US dollars. And believe it or not, Marlboro cigarets were the unofficial second currency of communist Romania.

Anyone else see a better out for Greece?

Building a Bridge to 1982

July 1st, 2015 - 8:16 am
Your modern world confuses and frightens her. (AP photo)

Your modern world confuses and frightens her.
(AP photo)

The next Leader of the Free World, stumped by a fax machine as revealed in the latest email dump:

She claimed in April that she scrubbed the server of more than 31,000 emails which she deemed ‘personal’ in nature.

Twitter let out a collective guffaw Tuesday night in the direction of a December 2009 email exchange between Clinton and Abedin – who invested 15 minutes trying to teach her boss how the handset on a fax machine worked.

‘Can you hang up the fax line?’ Abedin wrote. ‘They will call again and try fax.’

‘I thought it was supposed to be off [the] hook to work?’ Clinton responded.

‘Yes,’ Abedin wrote, ‘but hang up one more time. So they can establish the line.’

‘I did,’ Clinton replied.

‘Just pick up [the] phone and hang it up. And leave it hung up,’ Abedin shot back.

‘I’ve done it twice now,’ replied a befuddled Hillary.

There’s an SNL sketch to be had out of this, with Huma trying to talk Hillary through working the nuclear football.

Wait — that’s not funny, is it?


July 1st, 2015 - 7:16 am

These are Heinlein’s Crazy Years — we just live in them:

Chuck Netzhammer said he ordered the image of the Confederate flag on a cake with the words, “Heritage Not Hate,” on Thursday at a Walmart in Slidell, Louisiana. But the bakery denied his request, he said. At some point later, he ordered the image of the ISIS flag that represents the terrorist group.

“I went back yesterday and managed to get an ISIS battleflag printed. ISIS happens to be somebody who we’re fighting against right now who are killing our men and boys overseas and are beheading Christians,” Netzhammer said.

A superpower can wallow in unseriousness for only so long, before the rot of decadence sets in.

It has set in.

And it isn’t mere decadence. American culture has descended into something like insanity.

I’ll have more on this in the next few days.