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Required Reading

April 1st, 2015 - 3:05 pm

Conditions are “ripe” for a region-wide war in the Middle East, writes Steven Bucci:

For years, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have competed—Iran, as the champion of the Shia Islamic world, the House of Saud as the de facto leader of the Sunni world.

Iran has a massive military, as well as major capabilities in unconventional warfare and espionage. It influences or outright controls Hezbollah in Lebanon, Assad in Syria, and the powerful Shia militias in Iraq. Now, Tehran is encouraging—and most likely aiding—the Al Houthis rebelling in Yemen.

The Saudis, powerful in their own right, have allied with Al Sisi in Egypt, King Abdullah in Jordan, and most of the other Gulf Arab States. They are also allied with the Pakistanis, who have one of the largest militaries in the world, and nuclear weapons to boot. Additionally, there is a growing possibility that the Turks may throw in with the Sunni side.

It’s a huge amount of fire power, rivalry and armed conflict concentrated in a comparatively small region. And this tinderbox could blow up into a major conflagration, with destructive consequences unparalleled since World War Two.

Read the whole thing — and sleep tight.

An Iraqi soldier guards at a checkpoint in Tikrit, 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Iraqi security forces battled the last remaining pockets of Islamic State militants in Tikrit on Wednesday and were expected to gain full control of the city "within the coming hours," said Iraqi Interior Minister Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

An Iraqi soldier guards at a checkpoint in Tikrit, 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Iraqi security forces battled the last remaining pockets of Islamic State militants in Tikrit on Wednesday and were expected to gain full control of the city “within the coming hours,” said Iraqi Interior Minister Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Latest from Fox/AP:

Iraq’s defense minister said security forces have achieved a “magnificent victory” over Islamic State fighters in Tikrit Wednesday, but a senior defense official told Fox News that the fighting is “block to block, especially in the northern part of Tikrit where ISIS still has fighters.”

Khalid al-Obeidi said Wednesday that security forces have “accomplished their mission” in the monthlong offensive to rid Saddam Hussein’s hometown of the militant group.

“We have the pleasure, with all our pride, to announce the good news of a magnificent victory,” Obeidi said in a video statement. “Here we come to you, Anbar! Here we come to you, Nineveh, and we say it with full resolution, confidence, and persistence,” naming other provinces under the sway of the extremists.

Despite the claim, “Iraqi security forces are still fighting block to block in some cases, particularly in the northern part of Tikrit,” a Pentagon official told Fox News. “This operation is still in the clearing stage.”

I have yet to see any indication ISIS has the ability to hold Tikrit, so this ought to be chalked up as a loss for them — eventually. The question is, for whom is it a win?

Taming the Pander Bear

April 1st, 2015 - 1:09 pm
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

I can’t believe it’s 2015 and I’m writing about Bushes and Clintons like it’s got-dam 1992 — but what are you going to do? Apparently, I’m going to miss stories like this one about Rand Paul completely reversing course on gay marriage:

At a prayer breakfast in Washington, D.C. on Thursday morning, Rand Paul practiced pandering. The senator from Kentucky will announce that he is running for president in less than two weeks, and it seems the pressure to be all things to all people is resulting in the breakdown of his political brand, with the latest example being his newly articulated position on marriage.

He conceded to the evangelical crowd, which included Dr. Jerry Johnson, CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters, that there is a “moral crisis in our country” and more specifically, “a moral crisis that allows people to think that there would be some sort of other marriage” in addition to heterosexual, or “traditional,” marriage.

To solve the crisis, Paul called for a religious revival and lost himself.

Now that’s from Olivia Nuzzi at the Daily Beast, and you shouldn’t expect her to give much of a fair & balanced report on Paul. But while you might not care for her tone, Paul just backed right off of getting Washington (and maybe even the states) out of the marriage business — and flung himself into the arms of the social conservative wing of the GOP.

I came across Nuzzi’s piece at Outside the Beltway, where Doug Mataconis has a thorough roundup of Paul’s flight from his previous, more libertarian stances on several issues.

Paul’s recent comments, as well as the interview from 2013, have the potential to undermine another part of the coalition his strategists seem to be relying upon in the upcoming campaign. One part of that coalition, of course, are libertarian oriented voters including, but not necessarily limited to, the people who supported his father’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012. Seemingly anti-gay rhetoric such as this from Paul doesn’t seem as though it is going to go over very well with this crowd. As one of those potential supporters, I can say that my opinion of Senator Paul has diminished the more he has pandered to the social conservative wing of the GOP, and rhetoric like this just makes that pandering seem all the worse. This group of voters may not be very large in many primary states, but it has been enthusiastic in the past but in terms of willingness to volunteer for campaigns and turn out to vote. If Paul starts to turn those voters off, then that makes the task of staying near the top of the GOP pack all the more difficult.

I think Paul has misread his GOP primary constituency and done considerable damage to his brand. He may still have time to get back to his political roots, but the longer he waits, the more difficult the job becomes — and the more he’ll look like he’s reverse-pandering out of desperation.

Reading Steve Jobs

April 1st, 2015 - 12:05 pm
The NeXT Steve Jobs (AP photo)

The NeXT Steve Jobs
(AP photo)

A couple of weeks ago I noted that Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs bio was “a swing and a miss,” without going into any more detail than that, and now of course there’s a popular new Jobs bio from Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, called Becoming Steve Jobs. I just finished that one last night, so how do the two stack up?

The consensus — from Tim Cook down to the lowliest blogger — seems to be that Isaacson’s book was just no good and totally unfair to Jobs, and that the new book is filled with win. I don’t entirely buy into the consensus, although Becoming is a much better effort than Isaacson’s Jobs. I’ll explain why.

Whether or not Isaacson was “fair” to Jobs, he missed the most important story of Steve’s life, despite his book being authorized by Jobs and despite conducting dozens or hundreds of hours of interviews with his subject. I’ll leave the subject of “fairness” to people who knew the man in real life, but there’s no doubt he could be a monster, especially in his younger days. So what did Isaacson miss?

Jobs was tossed out of Apple in 1985 in a boardroom fight with the CEO whom Jobs himself had handpicked. Steve’s product record was spotty, his attention level was erratic, his personal life was a mess, and his ability to work with people was, shall we say, uneven. 12 years later, Jobs came back to Apple and led a product renaissance unlike anything in business history. It started with the iMac and ended with the iPad. In between he slimmed down and revamped the Macintosh line, introduced the iPod, and with the iPhone created the bestselling and most profitable electronics device in history. Somehow he also found the time reinvent the laptop, change the way we buy and listen to music, and to create from scratch the world’s most profitable retail chain. The company he left to Tim Cook is now the most valuable in the world — and #2 ain’t even close.

Along the way, I can think of only two product misfires, and both of those were minor products. One was the Motorola ROKR, a flip phone with a crippled version of iTunes able to hold and play just 100 songs. Jobs himself looked embarrassed to introduce the phone. The other misfire with the Power Mac G4 Cube. It was beautiful, and an engineering and design marvel. But it was also underpowered and overpriced. Collectors still prize it and it holds a spot at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, but it never made a dent in the market. Nothing could have saved the ROKR, but the Cube was just a price cut and faster CPU away from being the hit it otherwise should have been.

Not a bad record — so what happened? How did the brat with the hit-and-miss product record, who got himself canned by his own board, come back after 12 years to become a solid family man and the Henry Ford and the Thomas Edison of our modern age?

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Dangerous Deniers Deny Dangers

April 1st, 2015 - 11:06 am
He's not listening. (AP photo)

He’s not listening.
(AP photo)

Those dastardly Germans have done it this time — driving another nail into the coffin of manmade global warming:

A study by scientists at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Meteorology found that man-made aerosols had a much smaller cooling effect on the atmosphere during the 20th Century than was previously thought. Why is this big news? It means increases in carbon dioxide emissions likely cause less warming than most climate models suggest.

What do aerosols have to do with anything? Well, aerosols are created from human activities like burning coal, driving cars or from fires. There are also natural aerosols like clouds and fog. Aerosols tend to reflect solar energy back into space, giving them a cooling effect that somewhat offsets warming from increased CO2 emissions.

The Max Planck study suggests “that aerosol radiative forcing is less negative and more certain than is commonly believed.” In layman’s terms, aerosols are offsetting less global warming than was previously thought. And if aerosols aren’t causing as much cooling, it must mean carbon dioxide must be causing less warming than climate models predict.

Meanwhile:

The Obama administration reasserted its commitment to combating climate change on an international scale Tuesday, submitting its plan to the U.N. to cut U.S. carbon emissions by up to 28 percent by 2025.

The plan, which essentially formalizes an identical pledge President Barack Obama made during a November summit in China, met an informal first-quarter benchmark for nations to unveil how they plan to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.

Because science.

So Long, and Thanks for All the…

April 1st, 2015 - 9:54 am

Iran Gives Syria Ground Attack Aircraft

April 1st, 2015 - 8:42 am
Polish Air Force variant (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Polish Air Force variant
(Wikipedia Commons photo)

StrategyPage reports:

The Syrian Air Force (SAF) has, since the current civil war began in 2011 relied heavily on Russia and Iran to keep its aircraft flying and to replace combat losses. For example Iran upgraded several SAF Mi-17 helicopters with armor plates and FLIR cameras as well as basing Mojaher 4, Yasir and Shahed 129 UAVs in Syria and even providing an Il-76TD transport aircraft for the SAF to bring equipment in from Russia and Iran.

Lately Iran has also provided the SAF with ten Su-22 ground attack aircraft. These aircraft are from the 40 Iraqi Air Force Su-22s flown to Iran during the 1991 war. They were sent to Iran “for safekeeping” but Iran considered them war reparations and kept them. Due to embargoes and money shortages Iran was unable to refurbish these Su-22s until recently. Initially (in 19913) Iran consulted a Ukrainian firm about how long and how much it would cost to overhaul the Su-22s. It was too expensive and eventually (in 2013) Iran decided to restore ten Su-22 to operational condition without any foreign help by using other Su-22s and Su-20s as a source for spare parts.

These are our peace partners.

(AP photo)

(AP photo)

Did you know that the State Department was required by law to inform Hillary Clinton of “federal laws and regulations requiring her to use an official email account,” when she became Secretary of State? That might seem a little arcane or dry or whatever, but it gets a little more interesting when you get into the details, which Mark Tapscott provides for you today:

Patrick F. Kennedy was under secretary for management during Clinton’s State Department tenure but it is not known whether he conducted the briefing of Clinton or was present during the discussion. He did not respond to a Washington Examiner request for comment.

Other senior officials responsible for the department’s information technology and record-keeping programs may also have been obligated to contact the archivist if they had reason to believe Clinton was not complying with the record-keeping requirements. It is not clear what if any penalties would apply if those officials failed to contact the archivist.

Trey Gowdy needs to lean on Kennedy, hard. He needs to lean on some “other senior officials responsible,” too, just as hard.

Gowdy still might not get Hillary Clinton, who belongs in jail, but he just might re-instill such much-needed fear of Congress in the Executive branch.

A Hard Line in the Sand

April 1st, 2015 - 6:24 am

HARDLINE

I sat on this Greg Jaffe and Missy Ryan piece for the Washington Post all weekend, waiting to see what would happen with that March 31 negotiating deadline.

And sure enough, the new official Administration policy is “Deadline, Schmedline.” Here’s that harder line for you:

Claiming enough progress had been made to warrant an extension after six days of intense bartering and eager to avoid a collapse in the discussions, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his British and German counterparts huddled with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif in the Swiss town of Lausanne to continue a marathon effort to bridge still significant gaps and hammer out details of a framework accord.

Now Obama and Kerry are giving the Iraqis until June — and this time, they mean it.

Presumably.

Bob Geldof: Venture Capitalist

April 1st, 2015 - 5:19 am

Beneath the Surface

March 31st, 2015 - 2:41 pm

SURFACE

Microsoft has just announced a slower, cheaper, less flexible Surface 3, for those who want a laptop they can’t use on their lap and a tablet they can’t use without a keyboard, but who don’t want to spend more money than they would on a iPad.

The all-but-mandatory keyboard is still an extra $129 though.

Fascinating deepthink piece from Bo Zhiyue:

By world communist standards, the CCP has indeed entered its endgame. After 70 years, for instance, communist rule in the Soviet Union ended on December 26, 1991. In six months, the Chinese Communist Party will have ruled the People’s Republic of China for 66 years. With rampant corruption at all levels of the party and the government — where a typist has taken bribes in the amount of four million yuan and a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission took cash bribes weighing more than one ton — the CCP seems unlikely to outlive its Soviet counterpart by a large margin.

Nevertheless, by Chinese dynastic standards, the CCP’s rule is not in its endgame. Instead, it might very well be in its beginning. The last dynasty, the Qing, lasted for 267 years; by that standard, CCP rule is still in its infancy. In 1710, 66 years into the Qing Dynasty’s rule in China, the country was at its peak as a prosperous and powerful nation under the wise leadership of Emperor Kangxi. The dynasty would last another 200 years.

Read the whole thing, even though Zhiyue doesn’t even try to provide any definitive answer to his own question. He’s smart — prognosticating about the fate of the CCP is a fool’s errand. But exploring the issue anyway is smarter still.

STIMPY

Good advice:

If you’re trying to stabilize nuclear waste, don’t use organic kitty litter.

That’s the take-away of a 277-page report, just released by the Department of Energy (DOE), on a radioactive leak that occurred at the underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, on Feb. 14, 2014.

Investigators confirmed that a 55-gallon metal drum of nuclear waste burst open after it was packed with the wrong kind of cat litter, as had been suspected since last year.

I don’t want to badmouth my cat or anything, but we could sure use some of that nuclear-proof litter here at Casa Verde.

It’s All Down Hill from Here

March 31st, 2015 - 11:05 am

Hillary Clinton, who belongs in jail, seems to be developing some trust issues with voters in three crucial states:

The former secretary of state’s leads in matchups with possible 2016 Republican presidential candidates are down in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to a new Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll released Tuesday. Clinton is heavily favored to win the 2016 Democratic nomination.

In Florida, former Gob. Jeb Bush garners 45 percent to Clinton’s 42 percent support — last month she edged him, 44 percent to 43 percent. Once leading Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in his home state by 10 percentage points February, Clinton now holds a 46 percent to 44 percent lead.

In Pennsylvania, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul gets 45 percent to Clinton’s 44 percent.

Though she still has a lead in Ohio (46 percent to 41 percent over Paul), no voters in any of the three states find Clinton honest and trustworthy.

I’m not interested in the head-to-head numbers per se, since we don’t have any actual candidates yet on either side. But the trend lines for Clinton are clearly not good, especially the ones regarding her honesty and trustworthiness — of which she has neither.

Once lost, trust is difficult, nearly impossible, to get back — and that’s when a President already has the full weight of the Oval Office behind them. For candidates, it’s probably a deadly loss.

Are you starting to think the biggest question left in her political career is how to bow out gracefully?

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush, NSA apologist:

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush stated that he is “nervous” about criticism of the NSA and that he wished the president would do a better job defending government surveillance systems on Monday’s “Hugh Hewitt Show.”

Bush said that lone wolf terrorism “is a serious threat in a world where we’re so connected with the rest of the world. We have people moving in and people moving out. People get their information now, not everybody gets to listen to your show to get all their information. People get their information in different ways. They get disaffected, disillusioned, preyed upon, and so yeah, I think that this is an ongoing threat, and I hope that our counterintelligence capabilities are always vigilant. I’ve always been nervous about the attacks on the NSA, and somehow that we’re losing our freedoms by keeping the homeland safe. I think we need to be really vigilant about that.”

“I think we need to be really vigilant about” what, exactly?

If I’m reading Bush’s statement correctly, he thinks Americans knowing the truth about an essentially unlimited domestic surveillance program is more dangerous than the essentially unlimited domestic surveillance program itself. Bush also seems to have essentially unlimited trust in the NSA, and that its unprecedented doings really are “keeping the homeland safe.”

His position then is for Americans to shut up so the NSA can go about its business without having to worry about little things like what the hell the voters think. On top of that, he seems to have a deeply uncurious mind, at least about this matter — which is an important one to me.

I held my nose and voted for Romney in 2012, but I’m increasingly doubtful that I could do the same for another Bush.

Oh, That Second Device?

March 31st, 2015 - 8:46 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

The Clinton lies, they never stop:

Hillary Rodham Clinton emailed her staff on an iPad as well as a BlackBerry while secretary of state, despite her explanation she exclusively used a personal email address on a homebrew server so that she could carry a single device, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The State Department released a total of four emails between Clinton and her top advisers as part of a Freedom of Information Act request filed in 2013 by the AP, which sought Clinton’s correspondence with senior advisers over a four-year period relating to drone strikes overseas and U.S. surveillance programs.

While limited, the emails offer one of the first looks into Clinton’s correspondence while secretary of state.

Limited? You bet you’re ass they’re limited — she deleted 32,000 of them, despite a subpoena from Congress.

Hillary Clinton belongs in jail.

PolitiFact: Providing Cover Since 2009

March 31st, 2015 - 7:44 am

PunditPress ran the numbers behind PolitiFact’s so-called fact-checking, and they ain’t pretty:

PolitiFact’s Obameter has been ongoing for six years now. I remember looking at it in 2009 and thinking about how it would stand near the end of Obama’s term in office.

Today, looking at the chart, there are many more “promises kept” than there are “promises broken.” Yet anyone who has been paying attention over the last few years would surely see that Mr. Obama had broken a tremendous amount of promises.

So why does PolitiFact still have Mr. Obama’s promises kept at nearly twice those broken? I decided to take a look.

The first thing I did was see what promises were considered broken. It’s a fairly hefty list, but some of the very largest are completely missing. The biggest, and most famous, broken promise is that “if you like your doctor, you can keep you doctor.” That was proven irrefutably to be a lie.

According to PolitiFact, that wasn’t a broken promise. In fact, that promise doesn’t exist; it’s no where to be seen on their “promise broken” page.

Read the whole, devastating thing.

Region on Fire

March 31st, 2015 - 6:15 am

David Schenker and Gilad Wenig report that The Arab League is getting serious about putting together a standing “intervention force” to fight terror — and Iran:

Washington has served reliably as the guarantor of Gulf security for much of the past 25 years. But lately, as the Obama administration has moved closer to a nuclear deal with Iran—and as Tehran has expanded its influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen—Washington’s traditional Sunni allies are increasingly concerned about a diminished U.S. commitment.

The willingness of Arab states to finally sacrifice blood and treasure to defend the region from terrorism and Iranian encroachment is a positive development. But it also represents a growing desperation in the shadow of Washington’s shrinking security role in the Middle East.

The old joke about NATO was that it was supposed to “keep the Americans in, the Soviets out, and the Germans down.” And it did exactly that until recently, due to feckless leadership on both sides of the Atlantic.

Something similar is happening in the Middle East, where our “President who ends wars” doesn’t seem to comprehend what prevents them, or what kind of leadership is required to prevent a small war from becoming a regional one.

What I’m not saying is that there’s any solution, any fix, for what ails the Middle East. That dysfunctional region isn’t a problem to be solved, but rather a problem to be managed. Obama giving free rein to Tehran and promising he won’t “do stupid shit” isn’t exactly sound management — and the result, a region descending into chaos, is there for the whole world to see.

Meanwhile, every time I pull up Bing News or Drudge or Instapundit, I dread the almost inevitable headline: “Washington, Iran Reach Nuclear Deal.” Because when I see what the Administration has given up already, I know what they’re willing to give up to get a deal, any deal.

If you think Iran is bold now, just wait until they’re on the Washington-approved path towards nukes.

It doesn’t seem likely that Tehran has the financial, military, or cultural wherewithal to be the regional hegemon they’re trying to be, but this Administration has given them every incentive to keep on trying. The Arab states are putting together a valiant, if perhaps belated effort to do what Washington won’t. But as we’ve seen in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, once an Arab state is pulled apart, like Humpty Dumpty it doesn’t go back together again.

We — “we” being the sane world — are counting on this new Riyadh/Cairo Axis, this Pan-Arab Army, to hold the line. But if either Riyadh or Cairo falls, then it’s going to be one giant Syria from the Nile to the Euphrates, and from Mosul to Sana’a.

How’s That Workin’ Out for Ya?

March 31st, 2015 - 5:20 am

Obama has allowed Iran to run wild through the Middle East in hopes of making a deal with them regarding their “peaceful” nuclear program.

Rube Goldberg’s Passover Seder

March 30th, 2015 - 3:28 pm

*slow clap*

SPENDING

The IRS is collecting record revenues again, although I’d wager a big part of the post-crisis increase is not due to healthy growth. Median and average wages are stagnant, the labor participation rate is shrinking, and welfare dependency is growing. Add all that together, and the reason tax collections continue to grow is mostly due in to the Fed re-inflating the equities bubble. If — when — this new bubble pops, revenue will take another big hit.

Meanwhile, dependency will continue to grow, eating up larger and larger chunks of the federal budget — in both relative and absolute terms.

And here are the latest details from Jason Russell:

Compared to historical averages from 1965 to 2014, spending is rising much faster than revenues. Spending is projected to rise almost 6 percentage points higher than its historical average, whereas revenue is projected to rise only 2 percentage points above average revenue.

Furthermore, revenue is not projected to rise enough to meet the historical average from 1965 to 2039, let alone the much higher spending projected in 2039.

From 1965 to 2014, federal spending averaged 20.1 percent of GDP. Revenues never once reached that level, averaging 17.4 percent of GDP over the same time period.

Tax rates weren’t constant over that time period. Whether taxes were relatively high, as in the 1960s, or low, as in the early 2000s, revenue levels were fairly constant with some swings for economic booms and busts.

In other words, we can have high tax rates and lots of loopholes resulting in collections of about 17-18% of GDP. Or we can have lower tax rates and fewer loopholes resulting in collections of about 17-18% of GDP. What we can’t have is high tax rates and no loopholes, because “selling” loopholes to the donor class is the primary reason Congress raises tax rates. Also, if you think growth sucks now, wait until we try that high rate/low loophole recipe. Money would flee the country like Grateful Dead fans during a drug raid.

The longterm solution then is to get spending in line with revenues, which would go a long way towards goosing the economy enough to grow our way out of our problems of debt and dependency.

Or we can go bust, which seems like the smart bet.

When it comes to government regulation of wearable health devices, there might be grounds for cautious optimism:

Bakul Patel, who oversees the new wave of consumer-focused health products at the Food and Drug Administration, said most wearable gadgets such as the soon-to-be-released Apple Watch and health-focused applications for smartphones have a way to go before warranting close scrutiny from the agency.

“We are taking a very light touch, an almost hands-off approach,” Patel, the FDA’s associate director for digital health, said in an interview. “If you have technology that’s going to motivate a person to stay healthy, that’s not something we want to be engaged in.”

Two worries. The first is that as wearables become more functional, the FDA might decide, just one of those fashionable regulatory whims, that wearables no longer have “a way to go.” In that case, bend over for your “close scrutiny.”

The other worry is that the FDA might just decide that a truly functional wearable counts as a “medical device” and becomes subject to the onerous medical device tax.

We have got to start repealing laws and eliminating agencies while there’s still a chance for real innovations.

Report: IRS “Careless” with Your Data

March 30th, 2015 - 12:06 pm

The IRS collected about $2,500,000,000,000 in taxes last year, with half of that coming from income taxes. So you’d think they’d take computer security seriously.

OK, stop laughing — of course they don’t give a damn:

The IRS is failing to secure its massive computer systems leaving our private information wide open to hackers and fraudsters looking to exploit their system, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

I’m not sure which lapse is most egregious: that the IRS does not always delete employee access when workers have quit or been fired (including for snooping into private records), that its passwords can easily be compromised, or that it is using software without proper security functions. Not only do former employees have access to our sensitive information, but current employees who aren’t authorized to see this data can log in and snoop around.

These vulnerabilities mean that hackers – and those who aren’t too sophisticated – can get into the IRS systems and meddle with the kind of information which they can then use to file false tax returns, apply for credit cards, secure loans, and more.

GAO says that while the IRS developed and documented a comprehensive agency-wide security program, it hasn’t effectively implemented elements of it.

Abolish the income tax and nuke the IRS.

The Problem with Hillary: Bill

March 30th, 2015 - 10:45 am
Party of youth. (AP photo)

Party of youth.
(AP photo)

My headline is unfair to Bill Clinton, who is usually a tremendous asset to his wife’s campaigns. Bill is that once-in-generation combination of instincts and wonkery, in exactly the way Hillary isn’t. Still, his appetites do cause trouble:

Mr. Clinton is hungering once again to play a central role in his wife’s presidential campaign. And Hillary Rodham Clinton’s advisers are once again grappling with how to deploy Mr. Clinton, a strategic imperative that was executed so poorly in 2008 that it resulted in some of the worst moments of her campaign.

In that race, the former president was at times a frustrated and unpredictable presence, operating on his own, calling up some of his wife’s aides to second-guess strategy and shifting the news media’s focus from her to him with stray remarks, such as when he set off African-American anger by diminishing Barack Obama’s success in South Carolina.

This time, advisers and political associates say both Clintons understand how critical it is to harness both the rare gifts and rash impulses of a former president on behalf of a potential one.

That’s the gist of a sharp NYT writeup by Patrick Healy and Amy Chozick, but Hillary’s real Bill Problem might be right in the lede:

Bill Clinton’s hearing has faded. With his head of white hair and frail frame, he looks older than his 68 years — “truly grandfatherly,” as one friend said. He often jokes about what would happen if he were to “drop dead.”

In 2008, Barack Obama’s appeal spread far and wide past his “natural” base of African Americans and overly-credentialed progressives. He was young, he was hip, he was the furthest thing from “truly grandfatherly” anyone could imagine. He looked younger than his 47 years.

Hillary struggles to appeal outside of her natural base, which near as I can tell consists of not much more than women of a certain age and Arab oil interests. The progressives don’t trust her, the anti-war left thinks even less of her, and Bill might hurt her with younger women.

I know the press doesn’t like to talk about it, but that “truly grandfatherly” former president is the same guy who was getting blow jobs from an intern half his age, and can still be spotted — let us put this gently — hanging around with scantily-dressed women who are now a third of his age. Other than the kind of women who don’t mind “giving their body for the cause,” the reaction to Bill Clinton of most younger female bodies might best be described as “ew ew ew ew ew ew ew.”

That’s not to say Hillary won’t win a majority of single female voters; in fact, I’m sure she will. But they won’t be turning out in the same droves they did for Obama in 2008 and 2012, either — and a part of that is certainly due to the aging former White House Blow Job King.

Introducing the New Old Lincoln Continental

March 30th, 2015 - 9:52 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

At long last, Ford is trying for real to reinvigorate the Lincoln nameplate:

For Ford Motor’s new chief executive, Mark Fields, reviving the Lincoln division is one of the last pieces of unfinished business handed to him by his predecessor, Alan Mulally. Under Mulally’s eight-year reign, the company sold most of its luxury brands — Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and Aston Martin — and killed Mercury, pouring virtually all of its resources into strengthening the namesake Ford brand around the world.

Starved of resources, Lincoln somehow hobbled along, selling tarted-up versions of Ford models. But without worthy offerings to match those offered by Lexus , Mercedes and BMW, Lincoln largely missed out on the explosion of worldwide demand for luxury vehicles. In 2013, Lincoln sold fewer than 82,000 units, compared to well over 300,000 for the big foreign luxury brands.

It’s been a long time since there’s been a genuine American luxury sedan. Cadillac moved to econobox-like front-wheel drive back in the ’90s and tried to claim in their print ads that it was Stuttgart who had the problem. Lincoln spent the last ten years trying to sell bloated crossovers with chromed-up whale’s mouth grills up front, and pizza-sized chrome nameplates around back.

Cadillac has been making a good-faith effort with the CTS lineup, which competes with nearly the best the Germans have to offer. But for every CTS there’s a pseudo-luxurious ATS and XTS — bad attempts at aping BMW’s 3- and 7-series, again with econobox/family sedan front-wheel drivetrains. The ATX and XTS might look like luxury cars, but I’ll never believe that “luxury” and “FWD torque steer” can coexist. Driving with all the appointments, effortlessly directing big power to the rear tires — that’s luxury.

There’s a lot riding on Cadillac and Lincoln’s genuine luxury efforts, because if it hadn’t been for SUVs, both brands would likely have died in the ’90s.

The concept Continental at least looks the part of a luxury sedan. It makes me think of Bentley on the front end, Mercedes S-class around the greenhouse, and Maybach on the rear end. (You can see the hindquarter in the Forbes link above.) Hopefully Lincoln will tighten up the rear before it goes into production, because the Maybach was so ugly, not even Mercedes could sell the thing.

Then again, we here in America are only a part, maybe only a small part, of the new Continental’s target market — or Cadi’s either:

Mr. Fields said China will probably be Lincoln’s biggest market by 2020, a date by which he hopes to sell 300,000 Lincolns annually throughout the world, tripling today’s volumes. Lincoln officials declined to provide sales numbers because they are just getting started in the Chinese market.

Cadillac sold 73,000 cars in China last year. To gain a foothold in China, Cadillac has used its large XTS sedan, which represented 45% of Cadillac’s 2014 sales in the country. Mr. de Nysschen said more luxurious and capable offerings are needed if the brand is to be taken seriously.

It’s a shame, really, when American luxury sedans are no longer designed and built for American buyers.

Required Reading

March 30th, 2015 - 8:31 am

Salena Zito has the story of Martina White, a 26-year-old Republican who overcame a 2-to-1 Democrat registration advantage to become Philadelphia’s first GOP Assemblyman in 25 years. Here’s how:

“[Politics] was not something we sat around the dinner table talking about,” the newly elected representative said of family conversations. “The only position I’ve ever won, I didn’t run for, and that was captain of my field hockey team in college.”

The granddaughter and daughter of business owners, she was inspired by working as a financial planner and seeing middle-class families struggle to pay for kids’ college educations or wrestle with how to build a safe retirement: “They weren’t able to make the numbers work, time after time.”

White said she listened more than talked when she went door to door, asking for votes. “I went to over 3,000 homes,” she said, and “safe communities, education and infrastructure” were the top concerns.

Despite not deciding to run until December, she overcame Democrats’ 2-1 voter-registration advantage, her own inexperience and the powerful Philly Democrat machine to not only win but to win by 14 points.

Her victory was no stroke of luck: Republicans have turned the tables on the one thing at which Democrats were really great — dominating local politics.

Retail politics and concentrating her message on what voters care about, “safe communities, education and infrastructure.” That’s a far cry from the messaging of the national GOP, which can’t seem to score many (any?) wins against President Obama, despite comfortable majorities on Capitol Hill.

Anyway, do read the whole thing — and keep an eye on Martina White. She has a bright future in politics, if she wants it.

A Tale of Two Bailouts

March 30th, 2015 - 7:18 am

Greece Clashes

Professor Hans-Werner Sinn has the shocking truth about Europe’s woes:

Revealingly, of all the crisis countries, only Ireland managed to turn the corner. The reason is obvious: its bubble already burst at the end of 2006, before any rescue funds were available. Ireland was on its own, so it had no option but to implement massive austerity measures, reducing its product prices relative to other eurozone countries by 13% from peak to trough. Today, Ireland’s unemployment rate is falling dramatically, and its manufacturing sector is booming.

In relative terms, Greece received most of Europe’s bailout money and showed the largest increase in unemployment. The official loans granted to the country by the European Central Bank and the international community have increased more than sixfold during the past five years, from €53 billion ($58 billion) in February 2010 to €324 billion, or 181% of GDP, now. Nevertheless, the unemployment rate has more than doubled, from 11% to 26%.

Read that again: Greece, recipient of very generous bailout packages equal to almost double its GDP, is still in crisis mode. Ireland, which didn’t get one thin dime, is enjoying an increasingly lovely recovery.

You can’t spend your way to prosperity, not even with other people’s money.

What Do You Do with a Broken Channel?

March 30th, 2015 - 6:10 am

Fixing MCNBC’s disastrous ratings slide — down in primetime 50% in the key 25-to-54 demo — isn’t going to be easy:

Phil Griffin, MSNBC president, has lately sought to broaden MSNBC’s outlook by taking on a greater variety of stories, even hiring a food correspondent, and there’s been some uptick in the ratings the past few weeks. He changed the daytime lineup, ditching opinionated programs hosted by Ronan Farrow and Joy-Ann Reid and establishing a news-focused bloc with Jose Diaz-Balart, Andrea Mitchell and Thomas Roberts.

Griffin has run MSNBC since 2006. Normally, executives at networks with his ratings are looking for another job, especially with a new boss coming in. But he and Lack have a long relationship, and Griffin has credited Lack with kick-starting his career by assigning him to supervise NBC News coverage of the O.J. Simpson case.

The shift in focus during the day has led some fans to fear MSNBC may abandon its liberal focus altogether.

The first point of interest isn’t the dancing schadenfreude this story makes you feel. Instead, it’s that this barely-seen network will still generate $509 million in revenue this year — thanks to cable bundling. If it weren’t for that monopolistic practice, it’s difficult to see how MSNBC could stay on the air. Is that a great argument for unbundling or cutting the cord, or what?

The second item is the more important one: Where does MSNBC go from here? With its tiny and shrinking audience, the network can’t continue to sell itself as the “counterbalance to Fox News.” MSNBC doesn’t have the resources to even pretend to match CNN’s news gathering reach. And as the record shows, even when Big Bad Bush was invading the Middle East all willy-nilly, there just isn’t that big an audience for screeching & preaching progressives.

And eventually, that sweet bundling deal will come up for renegotiation. Absent a turnaround, any new deal will likely be… less sweet for MSNBC.

Looks like the bloodletting there may have only begun.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

March 30th, 2015 - 5:16 am

Affordable Care Act my ass.

Friday Night Videos

March 27th, 2015 - 10:07 pm

Is it possible to take an overproduced, over-orchestrated, and over-sung Barry Manilow disco number and turn it into pure awesome?

Yes. Yes it is.

All you have to do is strip the music down to its Caribbean essence, then subtract Manilow and add Liza Minelli at her timeless prime.

Oh, and you have to add Muppets, too.

Lots of lots of Muppets.

I hope this puts a smile on your face like it always does mine.

EXIT QUESTION: Do you think Ridley Scott consciously stole Liza’s look for Sean Young in Blade Runner, or was it just a happy accident?