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Corn Is Bad for the Planet and Other Living Things

April 21st, 2014 - 1:29 pm

Well, sort of:

A $500,000 study paid for by the federal government and released Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change concludes that biofuels made with corn residue release 7 percent more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline.

While biofuels are better in the long run, the study says they won’t meet a standard set in a 2007 energy law to qualify as renewable fuel.

The conclusions deal a blow to what are known as cellulosic biofuels, which have received more than a billion dollars in federal support but have struggled to meet volume targets mandated by law.

Forget for a moment the corn vs crude debate. Instead notice that Washington threw money and mandates at the problem without getting the desired production or the desired outcome.

Maybe there’s a larger lesson in there somewhere.

Consumer Confidence Drops

April 21st, 2014 - 12:19 pm


That’s down a point from last month, which is obviously due to a White House messaging problem and not due to what’s going on in real people’s real finances.

Show Me the Money

April 21st, 2014 - 11:15 am


So it’s safe to assume that now that the signup period is “over,” the Happy Fun Messaging with keg stands and stuff is over, and it’s time to remind people to pay up.

The “or else” is implied.

Firing Blanks

April 21st, 2014 - 10:57 am


David Gregory on the declining (and declining and declining) ratings of Meet the Press:

“I get it,” says Gregory, the face of the longest-running TV program in American history (founded: 1947). “Do I want to be number one in the ratings? Every week I want to be number one, and we fight like hell to get there. And it’s tough right now. It’s a fight.”

He adds, “I’m not just trying to sell you — well, I am trying to sell you — but I’m not going to B.S. you, either. Yeah, it’s hard. I see what our challenges are. But we’re going to fix our problems.”

I have nothing to add to what I wrote in January:

Ann [Althouse] missed what I’ve found to be Gregory’s most glaring weakness as a “tough” interviewer. He will sometimes ask what is supposed to sound like a tough question, only really it’s just a Gotcha! question. And then there would be no follow-up. None. Zilch.

It’s as though his tougher questions weren’t designed to elicit difficult truths from his guests, but rather to demonstrate how very clever David Gregory could be.

That’s not good TV. That’s just tiresome.

OK, I will add one thing. NBC is in a real bind here, because who is there better to replace Gregory? NBC’s bench is so shallow that he really is the best they’ve got to host TV’s longest-running program.

So the bad choices are to suffer the shame of canceling TV’s longest-running program, bringing in one of the D-listers from the MSNBC farm team, or keep Gregory as captain of the sinking ship.

Honestly, it couldn’t happen to a nicer group of shills.

Is That a Console in Your Pocket?

April 21st, 2014 - 9:45 am

The war for gamers is moving (has moved?) out of the living room:

A long-running battle between Apple Inc. and Google Inc. for mobile dominance is spreading to the most lucrative genre of apps: videogames.

The two Silicon Valley giants have been wooing game developers to ensure that top-tier game titles arrive first on devices powered by their respective operating systems, people familiar with the situation said.

In exchange, Apple and Google are offering to provide a promotional boost for these games by giving them premium placement on their app stores’ home pages and features lists, these people said.

Apple and Google’s battle is the headline story at a time when Microsoft and Sony’s latest releases still have that new console smell.

I’m not sure I’ve touched our Xbox 360 — released not long before the original iPhone — since the App Store opened the following year. And I’ve had no desire to buy and Xbox One or a Playstation 4, even with small boys in the house, in need of distractions.

Are the console wars over?

Cue the World’s Tiniest Violin

April 21st, 2014 - 8:38 am

Al Hunt, either on or off his meds, complains that the President just can’t get out the good news on the economy and ♡bamaCare!!!:

On the economy, which is likely to be the determining issue in the congressional contests, the White House and Democrats are winning on the parts or pieces — a minimum wage increase, pay equity for women, more generous overtime regulations — and losing the fight for the larger picture of people’s lives and futures.

The White House says the president has repeatedly evoked the good news. The problem, aides contend, has been breaking through with a clear message. One time he did so was when he pushed health-care reform on “Between Two Ferns,” the webcast hosted by the comedian Zach Galifianakis, which had two and a half times more viewers than the network nightly news.

Although Obama’s personal story is one of can-do optimism, that isn’t what he often conveys. He had a similar problem of tone during his 2012 re-election campaign, as he struggled to frame the message of an improving economy.

If only there were some kind of helpful media outlet where the President could turn!

Hunt’s column however might serve as a preview of the sackcloth and ashes we’ll have to endure from the left leading up to and following the November election.

News You Can Use

April 21st, 2014 - 7:28 am


Ah, tenure.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

April 21st, 2014 - 6:17 am

Let us go now to Georgia, where Michelle Nunn is running in one of only two states where Democrats have a hope of picking off a GOP-held seat. TPM’s Dylan Scott has the story:

For now, a nasty Republican Senate primary has largely captured the media’s attention thus far and Nunn has stayed somewhat low-key on the subject — the Affordable Care Act is almost entirely absent from her campaign page. It’s never going to be a top priority for her, but, eventually, Republicans will attack her over the law and she’ll have to respond. That’s when her balancing act will be tested.

“I am running as someone who wants to fix the things that are broken in the health care system and build upon the things that are good,” Nunn said during an interview last month. That’s not going to change after the law hit 8 million sign-ups, her campaign indicated to TPM.

If the law is working, then why is even a strong Democrat running on fixing it (and then, even not really by name) rather than “forcefully defending” it?

CNN’s Halimah Abdullah doesn’t dance around the issue even a little, asking “Why are some Democrats running from ObamaCare?” Here’s that story:

A Democratic strategist and pollster thinks some Democrats will follow that advice.

“I think it’s easier to talk about issues like equal pay or an increase in the minimum wage,” said Margie Omero, president of Momentum Analysis LLC, a public opinion research firm in Washington, and a Huffington Post contributor. “Obamacare has always been less popular. … I think we’re going to see some of these impressions change. But for some members, they look at one poll number and they think maybe I should speak about something else.”

I won’t even bother dissecting the consonant dissonance in Abdullah’s piece, which leads with the Party line that ♡bamaCare!!! is working working working. Politicians have an instinctive feel for what people like — or at least solid pollsters — or they wouldn’t be politicians.

On Friday I put up a short piece wondering about the electoral politics of ♡bamaCare!!!, and that we might not know until November. But stories like the two above are starting to bring things into relief.

To Six Seats — And Beyond!

April 21st, 2014 - 5:09 am

It’s this week’s column on the PJM home page.

Starbucks is going more restaurant-y:

The coffee chain plans to roll out alcoholic beverages to thousands of stores over the next few years as part of a program it calls Starbucks Evenings, which starts after 4 p.m. A few things for consumers to note: The options will be bottled beer or wine, not cocktails, and the selection will vary to meet “local taste preferences,” according to a spokesperson. Customers should expect to be carded, and shouldn’t expect to find evening-time Starbucks turning into a bar.

Starbucks considers its locations to be cafes, and the wine and beer won’t override the family-friendly atmosphere. Anyone working at a Starbucks that serves booze will have to be 21 or older. The chain will also offer new small plates to go with your drinks, such as bacon-wrapped dates and truffle macaroni and cheese.

Smart use of commercial space which starts going stale around 2PM as coffee and munchies consumption drops off.

It’s a Good Thing

April 19th, 2014 - 9:10 am

Your Trifecta team takes on the tax-hikers.

Sign “O” the Times

April 19th, 2014 - 6:56 am



Election-year memo to Democratic candidates: Don’t talk about the economic recovery. It’s a political loser.

So say Democratic strategists in a blunt declaration that such talk skips over “how much trouble people are in, and doesn’t convince them that policymakers really understand or are even focusing on the problems they continue to face.”

In addition, Stan Greenberg, James Carville and others wrote that in head-to-head polling tests the mere mention of the word “recovery” is trumped by a Republican assertion that the Obama administration has had six years to get the economy moving and its policies haven’t worked.

Coincidentally or not, Democrats have largely shelved the “R” word.

The worst part might be that the Donks have taken away my ability to go all Inigo Montoya on their use of the word recovery.

Friday Night Videos

April 18th, 2014 - 10:38 pm

No time to write up an FNV mini column, but I did wake up this morning missing The Ramones for whatever random reason. So here they are, probably in ’78, performing “Teenage Lobotomy” live.

Most of The Ramones are dead. Long live The Ramones!

Energy Hog Disapproves of Your Energy Use

April 18th, 2014 - 1:37 pm


Meh. I’ve been called worse — and by people with better judgement.

Sign “O” the Times

April 18th, 2014 - 12:33 pm

The Operative: “It’s worse than you know.”

Captain Mal Reynolds: “It usually is.”

Firefly/Serenity is infinitely quotable, and fans of the series/movies will recognize that bit of dialog from the scene where they’re discussing Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom’s spending problem:

President Obama’s budget adds $6.6 trillion in deficits over the next 10 years, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said Thursday.

That estimate is significantly worse than the $4.9 trillion in deficits predicted by the White House. The CBO used its own less rosy estimates of the economy to complete the analysis.

The CBO said by 2024, the deficit would be $746 billion, or 2.8 percent of the economy.

The Office of Management and Budget had said by 2024, the deficit would fall to $434 billion or 1.6 percent of the economy under the budget. In 2013, the deficit was 4.1 percent of the economy.

Good luck getting even to the CBO’s less-rosy numbers. When the debt is growing faster than the economy during the recovery, then what’s going to happen during the inevitable downturn? We’re buying what little growth we have, with trillions in the Fed’s Bernanke Yellen Bucks, and trillions more in deficit spending. That’s the very definition of unsustainable.

Oceania Has Always Tucked Tail in Eastasia

April 18th, 2014 - 11:30 am


If the question is “Why is China building a carrier navy?” then Bryan McGrath and Seth Cropsey might have the answer:

The most consequential misconception about the PLAN carrier program is that it is designed as part of a strategy to deter the United States from using its naval power to mediate East Asian conflict, the “mirror imaging” mentioned above. This is not the case.

China is building the capability to project power from the sea in order to build its strength relative to its neighbors, primarily those with whom it has ongoing territorial seas claims (including Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan). China does not need to build a navy as large or as powerful as the U.S. Navy in order to create fear and uncertainty among its neighbors. It only needs to build a navy with the credible means to project power over those neighbors’ shores.

Put another way, the strategic target of the PLAN in building a carrier force is not the U.S. Navy, but the network of alliances that longstanding U.S. economic and security interests in the region aim to preserve. Creating uncertainty and doubt in the minds of regional governments that the United States can continue to assure their security is at the heart of China’s desire to see the U.S. diminished in the region.

There are two steps needed to replace the major partner in an alliance. The first is to show that the major partner is too weak or feckless or uncommitted to be a strong and reliable partner. I’d say we’ve demonstrated fecklessness all too often in recent years, bordering on “uncommitted.” We’re demonstrating at least some weakness with our broken naval procurement system and our refusal to maintain our fleet even at its present size.

The second step is to demonstrate yourself as a viable replacement — not loved, but at least strong enough to be respected. And China is certainly going down that path, even if they are a decade or two away from getting there.

For a preview of East Asia, look at what’s happened to the Middle East as we’ve retreated from there and Russia has risen in stature.

The Politics of ObamaCare

April 18th, 2014 - 10:28 am

Byron York tries to figure out the winners (you may already receive a subsidy!) and the losers:

“When carriers converted their old policies to Obamacare-compliant, it was typical for the insurance company to increase costs about 35 percent to comply,” Laszewski says. “That increase could come in the form of higher premiums, more co-pays and deductibles, and narrower networks. A carrier might have only increased rates 15 percent but then created a narrow network worth another 25 percent, for example. Even when they did the above, some individuals might have seen a 15 percent decrease and others a 50 percent increase — many demographic issues skewed the rate result. So, getting any simple ‘it went up 34.7 percent’ just isn’t possible.”

The bottom line, according to Laszewski: “We have literally millions of people each impacted a bit differently.” That’s hard to quantify and turn into a neat political argument.

We have lots of known unknowns here. But it’s the unknown unknowns that usually sneak up behind you and bite you on the rear. We might not get a real feel for those teeth, and whose behind they land in, until election day.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

April 18th, 2014 - 9:25 am



Around 40% has been the most common answer given to the question of what percentage of Young Invincibles is needed to make the exchanges solvent. That 28% is “up” from 27% the month before — and the young invincibles were the ones who were expected most likely to sign up at the last minute. So it’s a pretty safe assumption that the youth surge never happened.

And those who did sign up are probably also the most likely to drop out after making only a payment or two.

I’d like to stress however that this is a national average. Some states will be in better shape, while others must already be actuarial disaster areas.

Bailouts today, bailouts tomorrow, bailouts forever!

It’s Funny Because it’s True

April 18th, 2014 - 8:22 am

Required Reading

April 18th, 2014 - 7:18 am

Egypt has been demoted to Somebody Else’s Problem:

Egypt and China earlier this month signed an $800 million memorandum of understanding for the construction of high-speed rail from the country’s northern borders down to Aswan. China will invest $1.5 trillion in Africa during the next 15 years by some estimates, and Egypt is the land bridge to Africa. Egypt will be a spur on the New Silk Road that China is building from Beijing to the Bosphorus.

After three years of hallucinations about the future of the Middle East, we have woken up to a different world with a new set of players and a new set of problems. We have dealt ourselves out of the game and appear condemned to watch helplessly as others play — or, more likely, not to watch at all, for the foreign policy establishment seems oblivious to the great changes around them.

That’s David Goldman. I’m still wincing at the “oblivious” because it’s scarily true. The Administration still talks and sort-of tries to kind-of act like we’re still a player in the region, but our words there no longer carry any weight and its been years since our actions were anything other than self-defeating.

So the Arabs and Persians are rid of their American overlords. They’re going to love their new Chinese overlords gobs better.

What Do You Do with a Broken Country?

April 18th, 2014 - 6:15 am


Maybe it’s just the typical early morning dread that hangs around until the second cup of coffee is poured, but it seems increasingly clear to me that Ukraine cannot be saved. Kyiv doesn’t have the means to resist, and Ukraine doesn’t have enough strategic importance to the West for us to commit to the actions that would be necessary to save it from its large and aggressive neighbor.

But if the country can’t be saved, might there be something of Ukraine to be salvaged?

Before we get to that though, a little something that occurred to me yesterday after reading that some Ukrainian Jews had been ordered to “register” with the pro-Russian paramilitaries in the east. If I were president I’d have immediately and very publicly ordered a Marine amphibious group to the Black Sea. Not to wage war, or even to threaten war — but to assist, if need be, with the evacuation of Jews to Israel or to our shores. Odessa is awfully far from the Donbas to be convenient for refugees, but it’s a safe bet not even Vlad the Bad would want to mess with U.S. Marines on a mercy mission. That kind of thing would go a long way to restoring some of our standing with “New Europe,” too. In fact, positioning the Marines for potential rescue missions is a good idea, even if the registration story turns out not to be true as my friend Greg Hill informed me last night.

So. Back to the question of what might possibly be salvaged of Ukraine — and my eyes wander to the left side of the map.

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The Tiresome Wisdom of the Anointed

April 18th, 2014 - 5:12 am

Eric Holder is a crybaby and a sign of what’s wrong with Washington — in both parties.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

April 17th, 2014 - 2:35 pm

The good news is more Americans are covered, according to Gallup:

President Obama’s health law has led to an even greater increase in health coverage than previously estimated, according to new Gallup survey data, which suggests that about 12 million previously uninsured Americans have gained coverage since last fall.

That is millions more than Gallup found in March and suggests that as many as 4 million people have signed up for some kind of insurance in the last several weeks as the first enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act drew to a close.

Just 12.9% of adults nationally lacked coverage in the first half of April, initial data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index indicate. That’s the lowest rate since the survey began in 2008.

Eighteen percent were uninsured in the third quarter of 2013, just before Americans could start shopping for coverage on the new online marketplaces created by the law.

The bad news is that “covered” includes millions of new Medicaid recipients, who are better described as “welfare recipients” than “insured.” Gallup also doesn’t reveal the dropout rate or the percentage of Young Invincibles needed to make the exchanges viable. That giant sucking sound you hear is money swirling around Washington on its way down the drain.

The Naked Truth

April 17th, 2014 - 1:32 pm

First the Bavarians gave the world great beer. Now this:

Munich has legalized public nudity and has also declared 6 “urban naked zones”.

The urban naked areas allow naturists to strip off and show their bums and other bits without risking arrest, the Mirror reported.

However, these nudist spots are not fenced off or hidden away.

Say what you want, but Oktoberfest just got a lot more interesting.

Germany calls its outdoor pedestrian shopping areas Fußgängerzone — literally, foot-goer-zone. Makes you wonder what they’ll call their nudity areas.

Pro-Russian Protestors Killed in Ukraine

April 17th, 2014 - 12:29 pm

Cracking down:

Ukraine’s Interior Minister said Thursday that three pro-Russian protesters were killed, 13 more were wounded, and 63 were arrested in a confrontation at a military base in the east of the country.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the remarks by Arsen Avakov. The incident occurred at a base in the southeastern city of Mariupol, in the Donbass region of the country, approximately 70 miles south of Donetsk.

Earlier, the Journal reported that a group of insurgents had stormed the base late Wednesday as Ukraine’s military drive to regain control of the country’s east from separatists was stymied by civilians who halted army columns in their tracks and militants who hijacked Ukrainian military vehicles and drove them around with Russian flags.

Kyiv needs to crack down enough to keep its pro-Russian regions from effectively ceding themselves to Moscow, without cracking down so hard that they give Putin justification to be more aggressive. That might well prove to be an impossible tightrope to cross.

The historical analogy I’m thinking of here is what happened after Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland. This isn’t a perfect analogy, as people tend to forget there were other countries feasting at Munich; Hungary got a tasty strip of Slovakia and Poland annexed the small Zaolzie region. But there are more parallels between Ukraine and post-Munich Czechoslovakia.

Hitler succeeded in disrupting the rump state in the months after Munich thoroughly enough to take over the rest of the country. Slovakia was granted very nominal independence (except for another chunk awarded to Hungary), and the Czech regions were demoted to the “Bohemia-Moravia Protectorate” fully under Berlin’s boot.

Watching events in Ukraine, you can’t help but wonder if this isn’t March of 1939 all over again.

Your Airspace Is Your Castle

April 17th, 2014 - 11:26 am

Speaking of the end of privacy, I nearly missed this story out of Silicon Valley:

Google’s purchase of Titan Aerospace, a New Mexico-based startup that builds unmanned vehicles capable of flying long distances and durations, came after Facebook reportedly eyed Titan and ultimately took over another drone startup last month.

The two Silicon Valley rivals are increasingly vying to build or buy promising technology and stake their claims to new business models and emerging markets — whether it’s using artificial intelligence to deliver personalized services or offering low-cost mobile messaging to millions of people in developing nations.

“They’re definitely looking for the next big innovation,” said Jeff Vining, a tech industry analyst at the Gartner research firm. He added: “Civilian uses for drones are going to explode far beyond the public safety and military uses we know of today.”

Some smart member of Congress ought to introduce legislation defining the airspace above private land, up to maybe 1,000 feet or so, shall be defined as part of that private property. Kinks will have to be worked out such as the exact height-above-ground, but it’s absolutely mandatory that the bill include a provision for civilian-grade surface-to-air missiles.

Entire Ukraine at Risk

April 17th, 2014 - 10:23 am

The real kicker to this VOA report comes at the end of the excerpt:

A senior U.N. human rights official warned Wednesday that if the situation in eastern Ukraine is not quickly addressed, it “risks seriously destabilizing” the entire country.

Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović told the U.N. Security Council that those with influence should immediately act to stop the violence.

“The arming of the protesters and their transformation into quasi-paramilitary forces must be stopped. Anyone inciting violence and providing arms to protesters can be held accountable for the resulting tragic consequences,” said Šimonović.

Anyone? What if those protestors are pro-Kyiv? Am I reading too much into what Šimonović has said, or is the UN Human Rights chief already engaging in a little Cold War-style moral equivalence between Moscow and the West?

Required Reading

April 17th, 2014 - 9:21 am

George Will on the nature of Progressive politics:

The fundamental division in U.S. politics is between those who take their bearings from the individual’s right to a capacious, indeed indefinite, realm of freedom, and those whose fundamental value is the right of the majority to have its way in making rules about which specified liberties shall be respected.

He’s far too generous. No liberties will be respected. Their goal is now that happy end state where everything not mandatory is forbidden. We’ll be thrown trinkets along the way like legal marijuana (which I once used to enjoy when it was illegal) and Supreme Court-protect strippers (but now I have kids, and who has time for strip clubs anymore?). But in everything important, we already spend more and more of our time either paying taxes or following the rules or talking to a lawyer trying to figure out what the [BLEEP] the rules mean or paying off a lobbyist trying to get a breather from the rules.

Which is exactly how they want it.

Anyway — go read Will’s piece, which is a review of former Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s dreadful-yet-revealing new book.

USA Today:

Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk where pro-Russian militants have taken over government buildings were told they have to “register” with the Ukrainians who are trying to make the city become part of Russia, according to Israeli media.

Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated,” reported Ynet News, Israel’s largest news website.

Never again.

UPDATE: I added the “never again” offhandedly, the way too much of the world seems to mean it: “Genocide’s bad, mmkay?”

But that’s not what it means.

“Never again” is a Jewish promise to the world. It means never again will they submit to registration. Never again will they don the yellow Star of David on their sleeves. Never again will they walk meekly to the concentration camps. Never again will they go quietly into the ovens.

“Never again” means if you want the Jews, you’re going to have to come and get them.

That is why there’s an Israel, and don’t ever forget it.

Somebody’s Watching Me

April 17th, 2014 - 8:18 am

That fancy new smart meter your utility company might have just installed in your home isn’t just smart — it’s sneaky:

The information gathered from smart meters includes unencrypted data that can, among other details, reveal when a homeowner is away from their residence for long periods of time. The electric wattage readings can even decipher what type of activities a customer is engaged in, such as watching TV, using a computer or even how long someone spends cooking.

“It’s in the nature of technology to be neutral in the benefits and the risks; it’s how the info is used,” Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, tells “Look at smartphones. No one can argue the benefits of having one. But on the other hand, it’s the best tracking device.”

I can’t find the link from my pre-PJM archives, but I wrote in the wee early days of VodkaPundit that privacy was over, that everything would be surveilled, and that you had best check your zipper twice before leaving your house.

What I couldn’t have imagined ten or 12 years ago is that your house would check your fly first.