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Thought for the Day

January 27th, 2015 - 5:09 am

There’s so much to explore in the Star Wars universe, that something like this could easily become a standout entry in the Saga.

What would you want to see?

Money Under Mattress

One if by tax, two if by spend.

Megan McArdle reports on the White House non-starter plan to tax 529 education savings accounts — and everything else:

As I observed when I first wrote about the plan, the very fact that we are discussing taxation of educational savings — redistributing educational subsidies downward — indicates that the administration has started scraping the bottom of the barrel when seeking out money to fund new programs. Why target a tax benefit that goes to a lot of your supporters (and donors), that tickles one of the sweetest spots in American politics (subsidizing higher education), and that will hit a lot of people who make less than the $250,000 a year that has become the administration’s de facto definition of “rich”?

Presumably, because you’re running out of other places to get the money. The top tax rate on people who make more than $413,000 ($464,000 for married couples) is already almost 40 percent. That’s on top of Medicare taxes (2.9 percent, not capped), Social Security taxes, state and local taxes (in a deep blue area like New York City, these can amount to 10 percent, though you get some of that back by deducting state taxes from your federal tax) — a marginal tax rate of around 45 to 50 percent in blue states, and possibly even more if you run a business.

Capital gains are taxed at a lower rate, of course. But if you combine the Obamacare capital income surcharge for higher earners, and the administration’s new proposal to raise the base rate to 28 percent, you’re looking at a capital gains tax of almost 32 percent for people who make more than $200,000 a year ($250,000 for married couples). We are simply running out of room to pay for generous new programs with higher taxes on the small handful of people who make many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Two thoughts on this, the first perfectly expressed in today’s ♡bamaCare!!! Fail comments by Longtime Sharp VodkaPundit Reader™ RBJ:

“My experience perfectly highlights the insanity of the Affordable Care Act. It forced me — a paying, insured, well-educated, healthy American — out of the coverage I’d had, then tried to push me into Medicaid.”

It’s not insane, it’s perfectly sane. The intent is to get you dependent upon the government for health care. It’s why Dear Liar’s plan to tax education 529 savings is sane: you do not work hard and save to pay for your education, it’s going to be a government freebie — making you dependent upon the government for higher education.

The second thought is slightly more involved.

Washington is reaching saturation point — it’s running out of income streams to finance its ever-increasing vote-buying schemes. It’s one thing to have a permanent underclass; it’s quite another to inflate the underclass with the ranks of the formerly middle class. And yet, that’s the road we’ve been on for a decade or longer now.

Those who survive this Big Squeeze are the Very Rich and the Devious Middle. The Very Rich will pay up enough in taxes to keep the Permanent Underclass from becoming revolutionaries, but will use their political clout to avoid any truly painful confiscations. The Devious Middle will be those remaining members of the middle and upper middle classes, forced into the ranks of the underground service economy, using Bitcoin and other electronic mattresses to hide their income and their savings.

It’s a nasty future, but don’t say that nobody warned you.

Beijing’s Big Missile Buy

January 26th, 2015 - 1:16 pm

S400

China is taking delivery of Russia’s top-of-the-line S-400 antiaircraft missiles:

Russia recently revealed that it had sold China six battalions of its new S-400 anti-aircraft missile system. Each battalion will cost $500 million and includes training as well as spare parts and additional missiles. Each S-400 battalion has eight launchers, each with two missiles, plus a control center and radar and 16 missiles available as reloads. All equipment is mobile. S-400 is also known as the S-300PMU-3, SA-21 or Triumf and was renamed S-400 because it turned out to be far more than just another upgrade of the S-300 and was considered sufficiently different to warrant a name upgrade. Russia deployed its first S-400 battalion in 2010, around Moscow.

The S-400 is similar to the U.S. Patriot and pays particular attention to electronic countermeasures that the Americans might have, or be developing.

Two questions should concern us (and especially the Israelis), apart from the actual efficacy of the S-400 system. The first is if Russia will soon fulfill its threat to equip the Iranians with the S-400. The second is if the Iranians would be able to effectively man the systems themselves.

Spending Your Way to Ignorance

January 26th, 2015 - 12:11 pm

Reason’s Jim Epstein reports on the extremely pricey efforts to fix public education in the nation’s poorest small town:

By far, the largest initiative to combat poverty with government largess has been directed at Camden’s public schools. New Jersey spends about 60% more on education per pupil than the national average according to 2012 census figures, or about $19,000 in 2013. In Camden, per pupil spending was more than $25,000 in 2013, making it one of the highest spending districts in the nation.

But all that extra money hasn’t changed the fact that Camden’s public schools are among in the worst in the nation, notorious for their abysmal test scores, the frequent occurrence of in-school violence, dilapidated buildings, and an on-time graduation rate of just 61 percent.

Watch the video (above), which is the first of three parts. The rest are available at the link, which I would have headlined “Required Reading” if I hadn’t already posted one of those today.

Required Reading

January 26th, 2015 - 11:41 am
Campaigners of the Corn

Campaigners of the Corn

Fascinating stuff from Jim Geraghty, who gives you his sense of the GOP’s “first tier” of presidential contenders. His first tier consists of Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal.

I still get the feeling Perry is going to surprise us with his next campaign, but I have no idea if he’ll surprise us with his sudden strength or with continued ineptitude on the campaign trail. Rubio has been working hard to mend fences with conservative primary voters, if not exactly working hard to build a southern fence. Jindal and/or Walker could prove formidable, although Jindal strikes me as wonkier than the mood of the electorate. Walker beat back the Wisconsin Deep State Democrat/Public Union Machine twice, and reportedly was on fire at this weekend’s big confab in Iowa.

Geraghty’s second tier? Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina. And I think Jim is really being too kind — Santorum, Carson, and Fiorina probably belong in an even lower tier named “Everybody Else.” However, Bill Whittle tells me he saw Fiorina speak recently, and that it was obvious she’d been taking lessons and learning them well. Geraghty notes that she’s actually running for Vice President, and that sounds right to me.

Here’s what Jim says about Paul:

He’ll have his dad’s network, and he’s way more compelling than his father was. But there’s a ceiling to Libertarian-minded candidates in the modern Republican Party, and it’s going to be tougher to sell quasi-isolationist non-interventionism as the world blows up and grows even more dangerous in Obama’s final two years in office.

I think Geraghty is correct on the second point, but on the first point I’m less certain about Geraghty’s estimation. Paul has been clever in wrapping up his libertarian leanings in populist language, and he’s likely to improve his messaging as he gets his feet wet in the early states. I doubt he’ll be the nominee, but his “ceiling” might prove to be a bit higher than most prognosticators have been prognosticating.

Christie reminds me of none other than former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld — he’s great when he’s giving better than he gets from the press, but not the right man for the job.

Cruz can be inspiring to true believers, but he needs to work on increasing his likability. He might prove to be the Complicit Media’s easy target in its attempt to discredit the entire GOP field.

I think Geraghty is correct in putting Mitt and Jeb in the second tier. I pray he’s correct.

Anyway, that’s my very early take — now go read Geraghty’s.

Religion of Peace Update

January 26th, 2015 - 10:19 am

MOSUL

The LA Times reports on life in Mosul after its takeover by the Islamic State:

Those who disobey Islamic State’s fundamentalist edicts — including banning smoking or doing business during daily prayer times, and requiring women to cover their heads and faces — are whipped. Or worse. Late last month, two doctors were executed, according to ousted officials who continue to communicate by phone with Mosul residents, for having failed to save the life of an Islamic State leader wounded in an airstrike.

“The people of Mosul, a lot of them were educated overseas and they’re facing this primitive mentality,” said Atheel Najafi, governor of surrounding Nineveh province and scion of an old Mosul family, who was forced to flee when the city fell to the Sunni militants in the summer.

“In many ways, this is a clash of civilizations,” he said, “Day by day it gets worse. People are becoming more and more backward.”

But we wouldn’t want to insult the doctor-killing, women-whipping barbarians, because that would be wrong.

Thought for the Day

January 26th, 2015 - 9:40 am

Reality trumps wit yet again.

Sharia Justice, Delayed

January 26th, 2015 - 8:48 am

Badawi

Ouch:

A Princeton University professor and a prominent Muslim American figure, as well as five other religious freedom advocates, are offering to take 100 lashes each for imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced by Saudi Arabia to 1,000 lashes for insulting his country’s clerics.

In a letter to the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Robert P. George, a Princeton professor and vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, urged the immediate release of Badawi.

The Saudi blogger was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes after criticizing the country’s powerful clerics on his blog. Badawi received the first of 20 weekly floggings almost two weeks ago. The second flogging, which was scheduled for last Friday, was postponed on medical grounds.

In other words, the Saudis had flayed his flesh so badly with the first 50 lashes that Badawi was medically unable to receive the second set of 50 — still leaving 950 lashes to go.

If you’ve ever gone to LiveLeak or similar sites which host atrocity videos from the Middle East, you know these lashings are the real deal. When Badawi was sentenced, I wondered if it was possible for a human being to survive 20 sets of 50 lashes, delivered weekly. The Saudi authorities are apparently having the same doubts, which makes the bravery displayed by George and Jasser and those five others even more remarkable.

Greece Is the Word

January 26th, 2015 - 7:39 am

There was something charmingly fatalistic about watching Greece’s various statist factions vie for control over the country — but before we get to that, a brief summary from Spyros Economides:

As had been widely predicted, the left-wing party Syriza has secured a victory in the Greek election. Having finished with just short of enough seats in parliament for a majority, leader Alexis Tsipras has agreed to form an anti-austerity coalition with the right-wing party Greek Independents.

Throughout the short campaign, it appeared the relative newcomer to Greek politics, led by the charismatic Tsipras, would win. Now it appears he has done so by a significant margin.

Speaking in the wake of the victory, Tsipras said the vote would end years of “destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism” and that his country could now leave behind the “humiliation” it has suffered.

Greece’s humiliations have just begun. It doesn’t matter who is in power, because the end game for Greece has always been the same: Exit from the euro, followed by default on the euro-denominated debt for which there will never be enough drachma to repay, followed by further chaos.

Or is there another end game I’m not seeing?

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

January 26th, 2015 - 6:32 am
Morning in Amerika

Morning in Amerika

It’s Hobson’s Choice for that insurance you’ve been legally mandated to purchase:

“I’m sorry sir,” the polite Healthcare.gov customer-service agent said. “There’s nothing I can do. You’re either going to have to enroll in Medicaid or you’re going to have to pay the full health-insurance rate.”

“The rate you quoted earlier?” I asked. “That’s nearly 30 percent higher than my current insurance bill, I just can’t afford it.”

“You’ll have to pay the full rate, yes,” the agent replied.

“I don’t understand,” I explained. “I have plenty of money to pay you a reasonable rate, but I can’t afford to pay the same rate a millionaire would be asked to pay. Why can’t I just receive a partial subsidy? I’m willing to pay more than what Medicaid offers.”

“Sir, that’s just not how the system works.”

I found this old Russian joke:

An American spy is dropped by parachute on to Soviet territory. He immediately decides to give himself up. He makes it to a town, finds the appropriate organization and goes up to the doorman:

‘Listen, friend, I’m an American spy and I want to give myself up. Who should I see?’

‘Second Floor, Room 218,’ replies the doorman.

The spy gets to Room 218.

‘I’m an American spy. I want to give myself up.’

‘What’s your area, sabotage, terrorism or ideology?’

‘Sabotage,’ replies the spy.

‘Then you’ve come to the wrong place. Go to Room 613 on the sixth floor.’

The spy gets to Room 613.

I’m an American spy specializing in sabotage. I want to give myself up.’

‘Did you specialize in transport or industrial targets?’

Transport,’ replies the spy.

‘Well that’s the seventh floor, Room 742.’

The spy gets to Room 742.

‘I’m an American spy specializing in the sabotage of transport. I wish to give myself up.’

‘What kind of transport, road or railway?’

‘Railway,’ replies the spy.

‘Then you’ve come to the wrong place. Room 936, ninth floor.’

The spy gets to Room 936.

‘I’m an American spy specializing in the sabotage of rail transport. I wish to give myself up.’

‘Look here, Comrade, don’t you see that it’s six o’clock? We’ve finished interviewing for today. Come back tomorrow.”

Is it too late for us to surrender to ♡bamaCare!!!?

The New Nero

January 26th, 2015 - 5:32 am

Here’s the California Senator yesterday on Face the Nation:

“The American people don’t want another war,” but it’s clear that the problems in the Middle East are going to require a new approach, the former Intelligence Committee chairman said.

Considering the problem of the Islamic State, Feinstein said, “I don’t know whether 6,000 ISIL people have been killed or not — that’s the figure that’s been floated around. But that’s not going to do it. So where [Senator John] McCain is right, I do think we need some Special Operations [forces] in these countries, on the ground, more than just advisers. We need to protect our allies.”

Feinstein has been a relatively hawkish Democrat for some time now, but calling for significantly more involvement in the Middle East is a big break from the White House.

You have to wonder if ISIL isn’t the leading indicator for the medium-term future of the Middle East. Its territory is wide, sparsely populated, and brutally (and ineptly) ruled. Our own Spengler has compared the current fighting in the Middle East to the Thirty Years War, in which the German states lost one-third of their population — and that a similar demographic tragedy might have to befall the Middle East before it ever settles down.

The problem with Feinstein’s proposal is twofold.

• It’s might be too hawkish for the American mood (and is almost certainly too hawkish for this White House.

• And while too hawkish, is probably still a case of “too little, too late.”

And to that second point I’d add that even if not, this White House and this Pentagon would probably screw it up, anyway.

We may then have reached the point where trying to contain the problem to the Levant is probably the best we can do, a precarious three-way balance between the chaos in the Levant, the Gulf States, and Iran. The problem with that though was described on Friday by Krauthammer:

Iran’s domination of Syria was further illustrated by a strange occurrence last Sunday in the Golan Heights. An Israeli helicopter attacked a convoy on the Syrian side of the armistice line. Those killed were not Syrian, however, but five Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon and several Iranian officials, including a brigadier general.

What were they doing in the Syrian Golan Heights? Giving “crucial advice,” announced the Iranian government. On what? Well, three days earlier, Hezbollah’s leader had threatened an attack on Israel’s Galilee. Tehran appears to be using its control of Syria and Hezbollah to create its very own front against Israel.

The Israelis can defeat any conventional attack. Not so the Gulf Arabs. To the north and west, they see Iran creating a satellite “Shiite Crescent” stretching to the Mediterranean and consisting of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. To their south and west, they see Iran gaining proxy control of Yemen. And they are caught in the pincer.

The White House’s Middle East policy is, to paraphrase Orwell, objectively pro-Iranian — and has been from the start.

The Roman–Parthian War of 58–63 began when the Parthians (today’s Iranians, more or less) established control over Armenia (standing in for today’s Iraq), which had long been a buffer state between Rome and Parthia. Emperor Nero’s claim to fame was fiddling while Rome burned, yet acted quickly and decisively against Parthia.

Our Nero in almost every case prefers to fiddle over decisive action, and the results speak for themselves.

Extra! Extra!

January 24th, 2015 - 11:45 am

EXTRA

It’s Episode 24 of Trifecta Extra.

Friday Night Videos

January 23rd, 2015 - 10:05 pm

George Michael had a rough time of it in the 90′s and much of the Naughts, seemingly trying to kill himself with booze and drugs and anonymous sex. Like Gerry Rafferty before him, it seems he really wasn’t cut out for fame.

He and Wham! partner Andrew Ridgely hit the Britpop music scene in the early ’80s, tailor made for the video age — two good-looking white singers ripping off Motown, and ripping it off well. It’s difficult to imagine now how genuinely excited people were in 1987 for Michael’s debut solo effort, Faith, given how little music Wham! had actually produced. But it was a huge success, generating 25,000,000 worldwide sales and six Top 40 hits.

Production of his followup album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 is where the trouble began.

Michael had had enough of being the pretty poster boy, and refused to allow his face ([snark]or even his rear end from the “Faith” video[/snark]) on the cover. Instead he opted for Weegee’s 1940 photograph, “Crowd at Coney.” He even refused to appear in most of the videos. The album’s biggest hit was “Freedom! ’90,” the lyric of which was Michael’s declaration of independence from MTV, from his record label executives, and a plea to his fans to be grownups. Listen Without Prejudice was considered something of a commercial failure, selling “only” two million copies in the US and eight million worldwide. It would be six years before he released another studio album of new material.

Artistically though Listen was Mission Accomplished as Michael worked on improving his songwriting and orchestration skills. Tonight’s pick, “Cowboys And Angels,” is proof that he achieved both of his goals, with what is easily my favorite single of his.

He could put out an album of this kind of material once a year, every year, and I’d be a happy buyer of each and every one.

Thought for the Day

January 23rd, 2015 - 2:34 pm

Sign “O” the Times

January 23rd, 2015 - 1:46 pm

YARMULKE

The headline says everything you need to know about the position Jews hold in today’s Europe.

It Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer White House

January 23rd, 2015 - 12:20 pm

MELTDOWN

Apparently the West Wing is in “meltdown” over Bibi Netanyahu. Noah Rothman explains:

Speaking to the center-left Israeli newspaper, one unnamed source said that congressional Republicans’ decision to invite Netanyahu to speak before an upcoming joint session was an affront to the dignity of the administration. When Netanyahu travels to the United States in March, he will not have the privilege of meeting with either President Barack Obama or Vice President Joe Biden. They will have their revenge against Netanyahu by completely yielding to him control of the national stage. That ought to show him.

According to Haaretz, one official says they have more ammunition to deploy against the leader of one of America’s strongest allies, and they intend to use it.

“We thought we’ve seen everything,” a senior American official said. “But Bibi managed to surprise even us. There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.” [emphasis added]

Someone in the White House has been watching far too many episodes of House of Cards and thought that the casual casting about of petty and impotent threats makes the issuer seem tough and appear in command. In fact, it just sounds juvenile.

We’ve seen lots of juvenile statements from this Administration, perhaps starting with “I won” almost exactly six years ago. The rest of the White House has followed Ditherton Wiggleroom’s less-than-sterling example.

Hickenlooper: Legalizing Pot a “Bad Idea”

January 23rd, 2015 - 11:00 am

GOVERNOR BREWPUB

Colorado voters spoke, but our governor wishes he didn’t have to listen:

“If I could’ve waved a wand the day after the election, I would’ve reversed the election and said, ‘This was a bad idea,’ ” Hickenlooper said Friday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
“You don’t want to be the first person to do something like this,” he said.

He said that he tells other governors to “wait a couple of years” before legalizing marijuana as Colorado continues to navigate an unknown, nonexisting federal regulatory landscape for the industry.

“There’s a whole regulatory environment … that really regulates alcohol,” he said. “We’re starting from scratch, and we don’t have a federal partner because [marijuana] is still illegal federally.”

We’re supposed to be a laboratory of democracy, Mr. Governor, and not a mere satrap of Washington. I’d apologize for the inconvenience, but why don’t you try earning your paycheck instead?

A Public Service from Andrew Klavan

January 23rd, 2015 - 10:10 am

The truth, it is revolting.

Piece in Our Time

January 23rd, 2015 - 8:54 am

UKRAINE

Another piece of Ukraine for Russia, perhaps:

The Ukrainian army retreated Thursday from key strongholds at the Donetsk airport, an epicenter of fighting in the country’s conflict-battered eastern region, handing a symbolic victory to pro-Russian rebels amid a surge of violence that threatens to further unravel peace efforts.

Tensions in Ukraine have ­escalated since the start of the new year to levels that NATO’s top commander said he has not seen since summer, before ­government troops and ­pro-Russian rebels signed a cease-fire agreement — an accord rendered ineffective by the recent surge in violence.

Is it just me, or does the news coming out of Ukraine (and Yemen, and Iraq, and Iran, and elsewhere) not quite jibe with the President’s State of the Union claims from just the other night?

The End of Stealth?

January 23rd, 2015 - 7:23 am

B-3?

From Andrew Metrick at warontherocks.com:

Revolutionary technologies, such as the machine gun, aircraft carrier, and stealth, are characterized by large increases in performance per unit cost – gains so great they shift established paradigms. Yet, their revolutionary characteristics are ultimately transitory. The hard truth is that stealth, the cornerstone of American airpower, has entered the evolutionary phase of its development. Evolutionary technologies, which revolutionary technologies eventually become, are characterized by small increases in performance per unit cost. (For more, see Michael Horowitz’s The Diffusion of Military Power and Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma). In fact, evolutionary technologies demonstrate diminishing returns along the investment curve. In the case of stealth, the initial generation of aircraft represented a massive performance increase over existing, non-stealth platforms. However, as the technology matured, continued investment began to see decreasing performance gains and therefore advantage per unit cost.

This declining return on investment is accelerated by the emergence of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) networks creating lethal, sensor-fused operating environments that dramatically raise the threat faced by aircraft.

There’s an age-old technological battle between thicker armor and more powerful weapons to defeat it — and eventually the more powerful weapons always get the upper hand. Think of European knights of the Middle Ages. Armor kept getting thicker and more cumbersome, until the knights could barely move or effectively wield their increasingly massive swords. They required teams to get them into their armor and mounted on their massive Clydesdale horses. Then the crossbow came along, which most anyone could use, and obviated nearly all of it.

At that point, mobility became the prime battlefield advantage, and steel armor was lightened and reduced to cover just the head, chest, and back.

Something similar has happened to the Main Battle Tank (MBT) which evolved after the Light and Heavy and Really Super Heavy tanks of WWII. The ultimate MBT is arguably the United States Army’s M1-A3 Abrams, an evolution of 1979′s M1. The thing is massive, weighing in at over 70 tons, and there’s really no practical way to make it any bigger or give it any thicker or more effective armor. The things are so expensive we’ve only built 9,000 of all M1 varieties in the last 30 years, compared to almost 50,000 M4 Shermans we built during the three-and-a-half years we fought in WWII.

The tank as we knew it — the ultimate armor-vs-armor weapon — is at an evolutionary dead end, and improving man-portable antitank weapons will bring its ultimate survivability into question. What keeps it relevant on today’s battlefield is computer network enhancements, making the tank into almost a mere cog in the information-aware battlespace of the 21st Century.

But please note that the Army hasn’t done any truly serious work on replacing the M1. It’s just that good — and at just that much of a dead end. It’s about as up-armored as anything can get and still move, and so most future enhancements will be further networking improvements. When/if the Abrams does meet its replacement, that new tank is likely to be smaller and lighter, instead of larger and heavier. The next tank, if we build it, will probably serve as the manned, networked hub of even smaller robotic weapon systems, which might use AI to control their own miniature drones, for a near-perfect picture of the battlespace, and the ability to direct lethal firepower on it almost instantly — all with little risk to our soldiers.

Something similar is happening in the skies to fighters and bombers. As I wrote here previously, stealth is like “safety” in the automobile business — it’s a feature that must be baked in by the manufacturer right from the concept stage, or there’s no market for the product. Within a human generation or two, every fighter and bomber built, even by technological laggards like China, will enjoy a serious degree of stealth. And every detection system built will, although perhaps with some struggle, be able to defeat it. Stealth is the armor, detection is the warhead — and it’s a battle stealth must ultimately lose.

So what’s the solution for future jets and bombers needing to reach their targets? I think the answer will be much the same as it was after the introduction of the crossbow: Mobility.

For air forces, that means an initial strike capability of hypersonic missiles, or more accurately kinetic kill vehicles, capable of overwhelming enemy detection systems with little or no warning. Only then would stealthy jets be sent in to do their work, although its likely that the “sixth generation” aircraft designs will be completely (or perhaps just optionally) unmanned. Initial studies of a potential “B-3″ bomber indicate the Air Force will compromise on smaller size, lighter payload, longer reach — and a cockpit where the human pilot might never have enter.

Stealth isn’t going away, and it isn’t even really in decline. But it will eventually take a backseat to newer ways of protecting our Air Force and keeping it lethal.

UPDATE: It took until after my third cup of coffee to realize that exothermic hypervelocity kinetic kill vehicles should be thought of, and eventually given the official name, “Wild Weasels from Outer Space!”

Which would also make an excellent name for a totally ironic New Wave revival band.

Tighten Your Fracking Belts

January 23rd, 2015 - 6:16 am

Begin collapsing” is what Conway Mackenzie Inc says will happen to American oil drillers next quarter:

Companies that drill wells and manage fields on behalf of oil producers will be the first to fall after the benchmark American crude, West Texas Intermediate, lost 55 percent of its value in seven months, said John T. Young, whose firm led the city of Detroit through its 2013 bankruptcy.

Oil companies have slashed thousands of jobs, delayed billions of dollars in projects and dropped or scaled back expansion plans in response to the prolonged rout in crude prices. For oilfield service providers that test wells and line the holes with steel and cement, the impact of price reductions forced upon them by explorers will start to pinch hard during the second quarter, Young said Thursday.

“The second quarter is going to be devastating for the service companies,” Young said in a telephone interview from Houston. “There are certainly companies that are going to die.”

You starting to wonder if Saudi’s real target is Obama, for his pro-Iran leanings?

How Many iPhones Did Apple Sell Last Quarter?

January 23rd, 2015 - 5:03 am

Best estimate is “lots.” Read:

Expectations for the iPhone on Wall Street are high, as hardly a day goes by without another sign that Tim Cook made the right call when he decided to go after the oversized phone market that Samsung once owned.

On Wednesday, for example, Counterpoint Research reported that Apple’s market share in November grew to 12% in China, 51% in Japan and 33% in Korea — Samsung’s home turf.

“No foreign brand has gone beyond the 20% market share mark in the history of Korea’s smartphone industry,” said Counterpoint’s Tom Kang in the company blog.

So it really is true that everybody loves the big phones other than me. But not once when I was slipping my phone into my pocket did I think, “You know what? This could be bigger, maybe even lots bigger.” And don’t get me started on phablets, which seem like either buying a Subaru Brat when you need a full-size pickup truck, or like strapping a grandfather clock on your wrist to tell the time.

What’s the appeal of these beasts?

Sign “O” the Times

January 22nd, 2015 - 3:15 pm

YOUNG

I feel sick after reading this:

A black man who was found guilty of murdering two white teenagers execution-style in a vacant Detroit field defiantly declared “black lives matter” Wednesday before being sentenced to life in prison.

Fredrick Young and Felando Hunter were sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without parole for robbing, torturing and murdering Jourdan Bobbish and Jacob Kudla, who had met up with them in July 2012 to buy drugs, a local Fox affiliate reported.

Young shocked the courtroom when he was given the chance to address the victims’ families, but instead apologized to the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

“I’d like to say sorry to the families of Aiyanna Jones, Michael Brown, Eric Garner,” he said. “And I want to apologize to them for not being able to get justice for their loved ones who was murdered in cold blood.

“And in respect for the peaceful protest, I want to say ‘hands up don’t shoot,’” he said, raising his hands in the air. “Black lives matter — that’s it your honor.”

Young’s life mattered — until he chose to become a killer.

Jobless Claims Up, Up, and… Away?

January 22nd, 2015 - 2:14 pm

JOBLESS CLAIMS

Tyler Durden reports that as oil prices are plunging, jobless claims are spiking — mostly in big energy-producing states like Texas, North Dakota, and Colorado:

Not “unambiguously good” as Shale states see initial jobless claims spiking. Overall initial jobless claims missed expectations for the 4th week in a row, holding above 300k for the 3d week in a row (for the first time since July). At 307k, this week’s print is below last week’s but well above the 300k expectation. However, across TX, CO, ND, PA, and WV, initial claims (1 week lagged) rose to over 75k (from 30k in October)… “crisis has passed”?

Losses like these are supposed to come out in the wash, as money that had been going to the shale oil fields gets redirected to consumer spending. But we’re in uncharted waters here, as energy jobs are some of the few high-paying blue collar jobs left in this country.

I get the feeling the money we save at the pump will be going to buy cheap Chinese crap directly, instead of first going through the hands of an oil worker in North Dakota, but we’ll see.

Religion of Peace Update

January 22nd, 2015 - 1:48 pm

ISIS

I’m sure there’s more than one Rolling Stone reviewer jealous of the latest prerogative claimed by ISIL:

According to Daily Mail the musicians’ instruments were confiscated in a raid in the town of Bujaq. The instruments were deemed offensive to ISIS’s fundamentalist intepretation of Islamic law, and they were beaten in a public square with a wooden rod.

However, the musicians got off better than some of their countrymen who have been found guilty of offenses no less innocuous. The incident is the latest in a rash of reported ISIS executions and brutal beatings in recent months over supposed crimes against Islam.

But let us not insult these frustrated music critics because that would be wrong.

Obama: Privacy for Me But Not for Thee

January 22nd, 2015 - 12:36 pm
"I'm listening."

“I’m listening.”

I don’t recall hearing anything about this in the State of the Union:

Not long after British Prime Minister David Cameron did the same, President Obama said Friday that he opposes encryption methods that are inaccessible to law enforcement. Rather naively, he advocated that the technology should still exist, but with methods of access for approved entities like police and preferred spy agencies. This is his first clear issue stance on the matter, though it is not necessarily out of step with his previous actions and statements.

Of course, cybersecurity experts collectively groaned at the President’s suggestion of strong encryption that is only accessible to authorities. Taking for granted that law enforcement can be trusted – and, of course, Edward Snowden and countless others have shown us it cannot – there are a host of problems. The basic one is this: if someone other than the person doing the encryption can decrypt the information, then lots of people can do it too.

I question the author’s use of the word “naively.” Obama knows exactly what he’s doing.

Jeb, Mitt, Mitt, Jeb

January 22nd, 2015 - 11:27 am

85

Some moderate former GOP governor of little note met with a two-time GOP presidential loser:

Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney plan to meet in Utah this week, as both men consider launching a Republican presidential run.

Fox News has confirmed the private meeting, first reported by The New York Times. The sit-down apparently had been planned before Romney took the surprise step two weeks ago of telling donors he was considering a 2016 bid.

Whether the meeting will be a symbolic gesture — or a chance for the heavyweight Republican figures to try and avoid a bitter clash on the campaign trail — remains to be seen.

I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit.

It’s the only way to be sure.

Star Wars: Episode VII — Where’s George?

January 22nd, 2015 - 10:07 am

GEORGE

The man who invented the Force has no say in how it awakens:

George Lucas told Cinema Blend in an interview posted yesterday that when he sold Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012, along with the company came some of his ideas for a new Star Wars trilogy. But it sounds like none of them will be part of the new Star Wars universe of movies that Disney will roll out beginning with the seventh installment, the JJ Abrams-directed Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is set to hit theaters December 18.

When Cinema Blend asked about some of those ideas, he responded: “Well, the ones that I sold to Disney and everything, they came up to the decision that they didn’t really want to do those. So they made up their own. It’s not the ones that I originally wrote.”

Good.

The Left’s Civil War?

January 22nd, 2015 - 8:55 am

That’s what Allum Bokhari sees coming:

The coalition of moderate liberals, sceptical intellectuals, and radical progressives that once stood together against the conservative “moral majority” is beginning to fracture. In the absence of a compelling external opponent, the internal tensions of this coalition are becoming more visible. While it is too soon to say if the revolution is about to consume itself, a number of serious divisions have emerged on the cultural left. And they are becoming increasingly bitter.

Read the whole thing, which includes some necessary and interesting political and cultural history.

But there is one thing Bokhari neglected to mention.

The Democrats of the ’70 to the mid-2000s were a fractured and squabbling bunch, fighting one another over a shrinking pie as the New Deal coalition died off or started splitting the ticket for GOP candidates. But Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy changed all that.

Dean’s Democratic strategy was predicated on three simple ideas:

• We’ll run anybody

• We’ll support everything

• We’ll spend all the money (until it runs out)

The money was the key. Money, especially other people’s money, can paper over a lot of differences.

This was never meant to be a strategy for the long term — Dean just needed enough Democrats on Capitol Hill to pass a bunch of previously unpassable legislation. He also needed a Democrat in the White House to sign it all, and in Barack Obama he got the perfect candidate — with enough contempt for the Constitution, for traditions, and even for political niceties to bring it all together.

But the GOP was given control of the House, effectively derailing the gravy train, which needed constant acceleration to please all the different demands of the Democrats’ various constituencies.

Another, perhaps unintended, result is that the Democrats got the GOP to act like the Democrats of old, squabbling with each other over every little thing. Even if the Democrats do end up in a civil war, as Bokhari thinks, there’s no guarantee that the Republicans will get their act back together.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

January 22nd, 2015 - 7:38 am

DOCTOR OBAMA

Joel Zinberg, M.D. reports:

A New York Times/CBS national poll indicates that the ACA has made care less affordable and less accessible. “Nearly half of respondents described the affordability of basic medical care as a hardship for them and their family, up 10 points from a year ago.” More than half said out of pocket expenses had gone up and a third said expenses had “gone up a lot.” A quarter reported care has become so expensive that they are less likely to see a doctor than in the past.

The cost and access issues may explode this spring when King v. Burwell, challenging the provision of ACA subsidies to buy insurance on both the federal and state exchanges, is decided. Only 14 states have established insurance exchanges; 5.4 million citizens of the remaining states obtain insurance through the federal exchange and most receive subsidies. If the Supreme Court finds that the law only allows subsidies on state exchanges, federal exchange enrollees will lose their subsidies and likely their insurance and healthcare access.

By prescribing a generous “essential health benefits” package that many patients neither want nor need, the ACA has increased families’ premiums and out of pocket costs and forced them into narrow provider networks.

But then we have this item from yesterday:

UnitedHealth (UNH) shares were higher in pre-market trading. The largest U.S. health insurer reported earnings and revenue that topped Wall Street views. Revenue rose more than 7% from a year earlier as it benefited from higher premiums and it saw strong sales across all its divisions.

Insurance companies put up a united front to fight HillaryCare 20 years ago, because it was going to put them out of business. ♡bamaCare!!! promised them a captive audience (via the individual mandate) of Cadillac plans (Gold, Silver, Bronze) with the above mentioned higher out-of-pocket costs. Even better, ♡bamaCare!!!’s insurance regulatory scheme permanently protects the established players from any future disruptive innovators.

Needless to say, they’re pretty happy with the new setup.

But do go back and read Zinberg’s whole piece, which also details the new problems faced by Medicaid enrollees.