VodkaPundit

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Uber Is Now a Gun-Free Zone

June 23rd, 2015 - 8:30 am

If you carry a pistol, Uber won’t carry you:

“We seek to ensure that everyone using the Uber digital platform…feels safe and comfortable,” the new policy reads. “Uber and its affiliates therefore prohibit possessing firearms of any kind in a vehicle.” Those found violating the rule may lose access to Uber’s services.

The update was first reported by the New Republic, amid news of Wednesday’s shootings in Charleston, SC, where a 21-year-old white man opened fire at the historically black Emanuel A.M.E. Church, killing nine people.

Uber has noted, however, that its policy change was made June 10 — a week before the shootings occurred. The company said it made the change “after assessing existing policies and carefully reviewing recent feedback from both riders and driver-partners.”

I’d feel less safe in a traveling gun-free zone, a sitting duck at every red light.

Uber just lost my business.

The Evitable Mrs. Clinton

June 23rd, 2015 - 7:11 am
Oops, she did it again. (AP photo)

Oops, she did it again.
(AP photo)

You almost certainly know how the expectations game is played in electoral politics, because there are only three rules:

1) If you think you’re going to win, set expectations low. Your victory then appears even bigger than “expected.”

2) If you think you’re going to lose, set expectations even lower. Your loss won’t look so bad as “expected.”

3) If you know you’re going to lose, lower expectations for your opponent by dismissing the entire event as meaningless. Their win will mean less than “expected.”

At this early stage in the game — six months before the Iowa Caucus or the New Hampshire Primary, Team Clinton is already working Rule #2 in those early states. Democratic strategist (and self-described “Clinton supporter”) Maria Cardona went on ABC’s This Week to talk to Jonathan Karl about the threat posed to Hillary by Vermont Democratic-Socialist-Independent-Democrat Bernie Sanders:

“I don’t think we’ve seen more enthusiasm for any candidate, Democrat or Republican, than we’ve seen for Bernie Sanders,” Karl said. “Maria, what is going on … Hillary Clinton, supposed to be a coronation here. She now finds all the energy in the Democratic primary right now is with a 73-year-old self-described socialist from Vermont.”

Cardona laughed, saying the media thought this would be a coronation, not Clinton.

“Bernie is from a neighboring state,” she said. “We shouldn’t be surprised that there is so much enthusiasm for him, and in fact, we shouldn’t be surprised if he does very well in New Hampshire or in Iowa and perhaps even wins. I think this is good for the Democratic Party … As a Hillary supporter, I think she will be the nominee, but she will be that much better of a nominee and that much better of a general election candidate because of Bernie.”

“Let’s also remember no Democrat has broken 40 percent in Iowa unless you are from there or are unless you are an incumbent or a VP, so again, I think expectations need to be tamped down here,” Cardona added later.

Clinton lost to Barack Obama in Iowa to 2008, but “saved” her campaign by eking out a surprise win in New Hampshire five days later.

What’s interesting to note about the 2008 Democratic primary race is that Clinton actually won the popular vote by three quarters of a point, but lost in the delegate count.

How’d Obama manage that delegate coup? Team Clinton focused on winning the big headline-making primary states (ooh, shiny!). She won 21 of those (and a couple territories), including the Big Five: California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.

Team Obama focused on the black vote concentrated in the Deep South, and on the smaller caucus states where the voting process can be… slipperier. Also in the caucus states, enthusiasm can make a big difference, as voters talk to one another during the caucus process. Enthusiasm for “Black Jesus” and a perfect reading of the ground game allowed Obama to win 29 of those plus DC (and a couple territories).

Clinton went after primary voters, but Obama went after delegates. And it’s the delegates who choose the nominee.

In the end, Obama garnered 2,285.5 delegates to Clinton’s 1,974.

Game over, man.

The likelihood of Sanders being able to pull off the same kind of wins Obama got in 2008 is very low, given that Clinton leads in the national polls by an average of 50 points. Those 50 points are her lead over distant number two Bernie Sanders, not her total. But if you were advising him, given the enthusiasm he’s getting from the grassroots, you’d certainly urge him to try. The details are different from ’08, of course. Sanders isn’t going to garner the huge African-American support Obama got, making the South much more competitive for Clinton. But Sanders could very well negate that disadvantage by pressing his True Blue Progressivism with lefty voters in those Big Five states Clinton won in 2008. If Sanders takes three or four of those five, plus sweeps Massachusetts and the rest of New England — he’s a contender.

The odds are long, but they might not be impossible to overcome.

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Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

June 23rd, 2015 - 6:06 am

John Graham shows how ♡bamaCare!!! is causing massive premium hikes for younger buyers:

Last October, HealthPocket, an online insurance broker, measured the increase in premiums for every age group in 2014 versus the pre-Obamacare individual market and concluded they increased by double digits for every age group. The increase in rates for 63-year-olds was 37.5 percent for women and 22.7 percent for men. For 23-year-olds, the increase was 44.9 percent for women and 78.2 percent for men. There are other mandates driving up the cost of health insurance. Nevertheless, scholars at the Heritage Foundation conclude that Obamacare’s age rating restrictions increase premiums for younger adults by about one-third.

Obamacare disguises these true premiums by offering health insurers tax credits to reduce the net premium people pay, thus fooling many into thinking premiums have gone down.

You see how this works, don’t you?

Problem: Old people pay too much for insurance!

Solution: Make young people pay more!

New Problem: Young people pay too much for insurance!

Solution: Tax old people to pay for subsidies for young people!

Only to Progressives does this make any sense.

News You Can Use

June 22nd, 2015 - 3:13 pm
(Shutterstock photo)

(Shutterstock photo)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, comes a CDC report that it’s urine which causes your eyes to turn red in the swimming pool:

“Chlorine binds with all the things it’s trying to kill from your bodies, and it forms these chemical irritants. That’s what’s stinging your eyes. It’s the chlorine binding to the urine and sweat,” says the appropriately named Dr. Michael J. Beach, associate director of the CDC’s Healthy Water program.

Furthermore, reports Complex.com, the fabled dye that causes the water in the pool to change colors if somebody relieves their bladder in the water? It doesn’t really exist.

“It’s a myth. It’s about scaring people into not urinating in the pool,” Beach says.

If you need me, I’ll be on the chaise longue — the whole time.

Thought for the Day

June 22nd, 2015 - 2:28 pm

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

June 22nd, 2015 - 1:03 pm

Covered California — that’s the Once-Golden State’s ♡bamaCare!!! exchange — is going to collect customer data.

Lots of customer data.

And no, customers can’t opt out:

Covered California says this massive data-mining project is essential to measure the quality of care that patients receive and to hold health insurers and medical providers accountable under the Affordable Care Act.

The state in April signed a five-year, $9.3-million contract with Truven Health Analytics Inc. of Michigan to run the database.

The effort has raised questions about patient privacy and whether the state is doing enough to inform consumers about how their data will be used. There are also worries about security amid massive breaches at Anthem Inc. and other health insurers affecting millions of Americans.

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, said protecting sensitive information was a top priority and that consumers stand to benefit from the collection of medical data. He acknowledged the state had no plans to let consumers opt out and keep their records out of the database.

On the heels of the OPM personnel files breach and the California government’s reputation as a hive of scum and villainy, collecting and collating all those private health files in a single location seems like a perfectly swell idea.

Half-Assed Iraq Policy Going Fully-Assed

June 22nd, 2015 - 11:41 am
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, right, listens as Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies before the House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 17, 2015, during a hearing on the U.S. policy and strategy in the Middle East. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, right, listens as Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies before the House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 17, 2015, during a hearing on the U.S. policy and strategy in the Middle East. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

BI’s Pamela Engel says that the Obama Administration’s anti-ISIS effort suffers from a “crippling contradiction” which is only getting worse as time goes on:

The US training program for Syria to counter ISIS has not yet produced a single fighter.

The training failures highlight a massive contradiction that is crippling Obama’s strategy to combat Sunni extremist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

While the president insists that Sunnis are a crucial part of the plan to defeat ISIS, the administration is achieving little as the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad slaughters Sunnis in droves and the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad avoids arming and training Sunnis out of fear that they might one day rise up against Baghdad.

In Iraq, training efforts are stymied because SecDef Ashton Carter says, “We simply haven’t received enough recruits.” Given the Administration’s lackadaisical efforts in Iraq, compounded by Obama abandoning that country after 2011, and by years of White House overtures to arch-enemy Iran, it’s easy to understand why Iraqis might not be exactly enthused.

UPDATE: Of course another item popped up in my feed right after I’d hit the Publish button on this piece. Josh Rogin & Eli Lake have a scoop out of Iraq:

The U.S. military and Iranian-backed Shiite militias are getting closer and closer in Iraq, even sharing a base, while Iran uses those militias to expand its influence in Iraq and fight alongside the Bashar al-Assad regime in neighboring Syria.

Two senior administration officials confirmed to us that U.S. soldiers and Shiite militia groups are both using the Taqqadum military base in Anbar, the same Iraqi base where President Obama is sending an additional 450 U.S. military personnel to help train the local forces fighting against the Islamic State. Some of the Iran-backed Shiite militias at the base have killed American soldiers in the past.

In the end, Obama will let Iran have most of Iraq and obtain nukes.

Hallå, NATO?

June 22nd, 2015 - 10:25 am

Russia’s increasingly aggressive military posture has Swedes thinking of abandoning their two-century old tradition of neutrality and joining NATO:

Swedish officials have repeatedly accused Russian planes of threatening the country’s airspace, and several eastern European nations, including Sweden and Latvia, have suspected Russian submarines have entered their sovereign waters. Sweden’s military dispatched fighter jets in May to ward off Russian bombers that approached Swedish territory, Reuters reports.

Traditionally, Swedish citizens have expressed little interest in joining NATO, but recent tensions with Russia have stoked support. An October 2014 poll found that 37 percent of the nation’s population supported entrance into the alliance, while 36 percent of those surveyed opposed the move, Reuters reported.

Russia of course is none too happy with any of this:

Sweden will face military “consequences” if it decides to abandon its trademark neutrality and join the NATO alliance, Russian Ambassador Viktor Tatarintsev reportedly told a Swedish newspaper Thursday.

If countries were individual human beings, the conversation between Russia and Sweden would go like this:

Russia: Your neutrality is no protection!

Sweden: Maybe we should give up being neutral…

Russia: You’ll regret that!

I’m not going all Godwin on you with “PUTIN IS HITLER!” stuff, but Putin reminds me of Hitler in one small, limited way. Hitler in the beginning was great at the small picture stuff, knowing he could throw the dice on reoccupying the Rhineland, Anschluss with Austria, demanding the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia.

What Hitler sucked at was the really big picture stuff — how to end a war with Great Britain, what to do if the Soviet Union couldn’t be defeated in three months, figuring out what an alliance with Italy and Japan was actually good for.

Sure, he could unleash his Panzer divisions on Poland and France and score two big knockout wins in very short order, but he never seems to have contemplated the potential consequences of stirring up the entire world against Germany.

Putin has used eastern Ukraine to redefine the parameters of warfare as major nation-states have waged it since 1939. This has kept the West off balance and Ukraine at a convenient simmer, without forcing it the boil over into an all-out war Moscow can’t afford.

What Putin hasn’t figured out is how to bring the war in Ukraine to a successful conclusion, which might explain his big military buildup in the Kaliningrad Oblast wedged in between Poland and Lithuania:

“They’re making quite big military exercises in the Kaliningrad district [which is] very, very close to our neighborhood,” says Andrius Kubilius, a former Lithuanian prime minister. “So of course we are worried about such military developments very close to our borders.”

In part due to such concerns, NATO this month is carrying out military maneuvers in Poland and the Baltic States, a U.S. military convoy recently travelled across Eastern and Central Europe in a show of the defense alliance’s commitment to protect the region, and Washington is reportedly debating whether to store heavy military equipment in several Baltic and Eastern European countries bordering Russia.

The Kaliningrad region, which lies along the Baltic Sea in what was once East Prussia, has long held strategic value.

The plan seems to be to keep NATO off balance. Or maybe Putin is preparing for a real shooting war with the West. It’s impossible to say.

And then there’s the never-ending bluster:

Politicians and officials are in on the act, setting the tone with tough talk about Russia’s military and suggesting that, if it wanted to, Russia could turn up the heat in what many are calling a new Cold War with the United States and Europe.

“Tanks don’t need visas,” Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin proclaimed on national television in May as Western politicians expressed concern at Russia’s military buildup in the Arctic.

“Tanks don’t need visas” is an awesome tough-guy movie line — you can hear Arnold saying it, easy.

But eventually Punt has either got to start shooting, or the bluster and saber-rattling will go on so long that NATO (and neutrals like Sweden) will have to take his threats seriously — and take some kind of action greater than economic sanctions.

At that point, who knows what a short-sighted dice-tosser like Putin might decide to do.

Those Indian Air Force Blues

June 22nd, 2015 - 9:09 am
Indian Air Force MiG-21s in action. The MiG-21 has been in service since 1959, and the last one was produced in 1985. (AP photo)

Indian Air Force MiG-21s in action. The MiG-21 has been in service since 1959, and the last one was produced in 1985.
(AP photo)

Whenever you think of how broken our military procurement system is, comfort yourself with the knowledge that somebody else has it worse:

With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to visit Russia on July 7, speculation is swirling about the potential for a final agreement between the two countries regarding a jointly developed and produced Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). Since March, reports have circulated that India – faced with combat aircraft capacity pressures – is willing to exhibit greater negotiating flexibility with the Russians in order to move the program forward.

In addition to the non-stealth Dassault Rafale as its preference for a medium swing-role fighter, India has long viewed the FGFA as critical to meeting its air force’s advanced jet fighter requirements.

As centerpieces of India’s future strategic airpower component, both platforms are considered crucial in terms of providing more modern fighter options while also helping fill the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) goal of fielding 42-44 fighter squadrons by around 2027.

Officially the IAF currently fields 34 squadrons, but parliamentary reports indicate just 25 are operationally available. Even worse for the IAF, 14 of the supposed 34 squadrons are composed of aging MiG-21 and MiG-27s, due to be phased out of service by 2025 and 2020, respectively.

The new FGFA fighters are meant to help fill this emerging gap.

It’s not going very far out on a limb to say that it seems unlikely India will come close to its goal of fielding 42 fighter squadrons. And they certainly won’t get there by partnering with the Russians on a fifth-gen jet which the Russians have been forced to tacitly admit sucks. The Rafale won’t be produced in enough numbers to serve all of India’s needs, and the Indian Air Force is crazy (or at least desperate) if they think they’ll keep a significant number of MiG-21s flying for ten more years. The locally designed and built HAL Tejas is supposed to fill the gap left by the aging (and crashing) MiG-21 fleet, but it hardly seems a match for China’s growing fleet of Russian-built Su-30s and Chinese-built Su-30 knockoffs.

The MiG-27 is, charitably put, a pig.

India ought to be a prime candidate for F-35A exports, but their military’s close contacts with the Russians make that sale… problematical.

So it looks like the Russians and the Indians are stuck with one another, for all the good that will do either one of them.

Required Reading

June 22nd, 2015 - 7:54 am

Today’s RR is something of a twofer. First up is Zachary Keck’s review of Colin Dueck’s new book, The Obama Doctrine. As Keck notes, the first half is a vivisection of Barack Obama’s foreign policy and the second half is a broad plan for a GOP president starting in 2017. This being the primary season though, I was most interested in Dueck’s description of the major foreign policy strains within the GOP:

The first camp is the “conservative anti-interventionists” led by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who “are a significant political force and faction in relation to foreign policy issues within the Republican Party.” While Dueck believes that Paul is a serious presidential contender, and anti-interventionism is growing especially among the grassroots, he usefully points out that anti-interventionism is not even widely held among members of the Tea Party, much less the Republican Party as a whole.

At the same time, conservative nationalists have little patience for the “liberal internationalist tradition,” which they view as “naive, wasteful, unlikely to earn foreign gratitude, and threatening to U.S. national sovereignty.” Put differently, “conservative nationalists are comfortable with the military aspects of U.S. foreign policy activism…. [but] they are profoundly uncomfortable with the nonmilitary aspects of U.S. internationalism.”

The third and final foreign policy camp within the GOP is the conservative internationalists, which since Taft’s defeat in the 1952 primary have been the dominant force within Republican foreign policy. In outlining conservative internationalists, Dueck is careful to note the group is not monolithic. In particular, he pushes back against efforts to equate all conservative internationalists with neoconservativism, noting that “neoconservatives can be defined as one subset of conservative internationalists” (something he discussed in greater detail in his previous book). Traditional Republican realists like Henry Kissinger also fall within the conservative internationalist camp.

While they have lost some of their previous dominance, Dueck assesses that conservative internationalists “typically make up at least a third and sometimes a solid majority of voters inside the GOP,” depending on the issue. As such, which foreign policy vision the GOP ultimately adopts will come down to which two camps can align themselves together.

Dueck is correct, an alignment between the conservative internationalists and the conservative nationalists seems much more likely than the non-interventionists successfully aligning with anybody. That said, it would be useful in terms of good domestic policy and in pure election politics, if the non-interventionist wing were to get its way in domestic policy — its easier to imagine them aligning with the Tea party/conservative nationalists on eliminating domestic spying and similar abuses. In any case, such reforms might be the price demanded of the libertarian-right to come back to the fold after so many were chased away by the Bush 43 administration.

The second part of today’s Required Reading is Dueck’s book, or at least it is for me. I just added the Kindle edition to the top of my virtual reading stack.

Don’t Be Evil or Whatevs

June 22nd, 2015 - 6:19 am

Google is listening to pretty much everything through its Chrome web browser:

It looked like just another bug report. “When I start Chromium, it downloads something.” Followed by strange status information that notably included the lines “Microphone: Yes” and “Audio Capture Allowed: Yes”.

Without consent, Google’s code had downloaded a black box of code that – according to itself – had turned on the microphone and was actively listening to your room.

This was supposedly to enable the “Ok, Google” behavior – that when you say certain words, a search function is activated. Certainly a useful feature. Certainly something that enables eavesdropping of every conversation in the entire room, too.

Obviously, your own computer isn’t the one to analyze the actual search command. Google’s servers do. Which means that your computer had been stealth configured to send what was being said in your room to somebody else, to a private company in another country, without your consent or knowledge, an audio transmission triggered by… an unknown and unverifiable set of conditions.

Google’s response to getting busted? Completely blasé, as you’ll see at the link. I’d sum up their response as, “It’s for your own good.” I’m really starting to hate that company.

I use Firefox and Safari as my main desktop browsers, depending on the job at hand. I keep Chrome installed for web applications which still depend on Flash. Normally I refuse to have Flash installed, as it’s a security nightmare and buggy enough to slow down your entire system. Flash has crashed more browser windows than I crashed sorority parties back in the day.

So while I won’t have Flash installed on my main browsers, it comes as an integrated part of Chrome. So on those few occasions when Flash is absolutely necessary, I’ll launch Chrome and use its built-in Flash. Then I get the hell out of Chrome, because I just don’t trust Google and I haven’t for a long time.

It seems my mistrust hasn’t been misplaced.

And as Flash continues its slow death, I’m thinking about removing Chrome altogether.

(H/T, Glenn.)

Αντίο, NATO

June 22nd, 2015 - 5:30 am

Turkey has been drifting away from the West for years. Hungary is practically begging to become a satellite of Moscow once more. Now it may be Greece’s turn:

With Greece now on the verge of bankruptcy, the US is also beginning to worry about the political fallout from a deeper crisis and the potential for Russia to gain increased influence over a Nato member.

As Washington tries to maintain a united western front in support of sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, a Greek default could provide Moscow an opportunity to sow new divisions among America’s European allies.

“You can easily see how geopolitically this would be a gift to Russia,” says Sebastian Mallaby at the Council on Foreign Relations. “You do not want Europe to have to deal with a Greece that is a member of Nato but which all of a sudden hates the west and is cosying up to Russia.”

Stalin couldn’t peel Greece away from the West, even with a guerrilla army of dedicated Greek communists. Putin may very well achieve Stalin’s goal, if you’ll excuse the expression, by default.

Friday Night Videos

June 19th, 2015 - 10:22 pm

The Summer of Covers continues!

Steely Dan never rocked the guitars harder than they did in “Bodhisattva,” the opening track to their second album, 1973′s Countdown to Ecstasy. The song went nowhere and the album was a commercial disappointment on its initial release — which is a real shame considering just what a solid performance all of it was.

The guitars were courtesy of longtime Dansters Denny Dias and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, who provided a flat-out rock’n'roll sound to a snarky song about hippies and hipsters merely playing at giving up Western materialism for Eastern asceticism.

Bodhisattva
Bodhisattva
I’m gonna sell my house in town
Bodhisattva
I’m gonna sell my house in town
And I’ll be there
To shine in your Japan
To sparkle in your China
Yes I’ll be there
Bodhisattva
Bodhisattva

Clever stuff, awesome musicianship — love it.

Fifteen years ago the Farrelly Brothers — writer/director/producers of movies like Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, and Stuck on You — decided that the soundtrack to Me, Myself & Irene should feature almost nothing but Steely Dan covers.

(ASIDE: That soundtrack is only entertaining thing with the Farrelly Brothers’ name associated with it. While I love a good, crude comedy, the Farrelly Brothers’ stuff just isn’t funny. There’s nothing funnier than human beings behaving like human beings, but the Farrellys are incapable of writing a human being who acts like a recognizable human being. Their movies are lazy, stunt-based crap with no connection to reality, and therefore not funny. Their most famous bit is the infamous hair gel scene from Mary. It consists of four gags — the first is nothing a guy would ever do, the next two are impossible, and the fourth is nothing a woman would do ever. The Farrellys thought up a Stunt Gag, and rather than work at making it real and funny, they shoehorned their non-human characters into making the impossible happen. Not. Funny.)

So if for some reason you need to take a classic rock song and give it a retro-modern twist, who better than Brian Setzer at the height of his own private Swing Era? That rockabilly guitar, that swingin’ brass, that Steely Dan snark — this is good stuff whipped up together into an unlikely-but-delicious concoction.

Take me by the hand and turn it up.

News You Can Use

June 19th, 2015 - 1:15 pm
FILE - In this March 2, 2015, file photo, Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, poses for a photo in her Spokane, Wash., home. Dolezal resigned Monday, June 15, 2015, amid a furor over racial identity that erupted when her parents came forward to say she has been posing as black for years when she is actually white. (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review via AP, File)

FILE – In this March 2, 2015, file photo, Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, poses for a photo in her Spokane, Wash., home. Dolezal resigned Monday, June 15, 2015, amid a furor over racial identity that erupted when her parents came forward to say she has been posing as black for years when she is actually white. (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review via AP, File)

The irony, it is thicker than Thanksgiving gravy and twice as delicious:

Remember the furor back in 2014 over the casting of white actors to play ancient Egyptians in the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings? Well one activist who called for a boycott of the film was none other than Rachel Dolezal, the former Spokane NAACP official who was revealed last week to have been a white woman lying about being black.

Dolezal made the comments during an interview with local Spokane radio station KYRS. “You have white, European actors playing North African historical figures, like they were in the ’30s and the ’40s,” complained host Taylor Weech.

You know you’re not supposed to that, right?

The More Things Change…

June 19th, 2015 - 12:02 pm

…the more they stay the same at the Office of Personnel Management.

After last week’s startling revelation of the unparalleled hack of 14 million Washington personnel files, the OPM’s response was to put federal workers in greater danger of becoming victims of phishing schemes.

No, seriously:

Computer experts said the personnel agency — already under fire from lawmakers from both parties for failing to protect sensitive databases from hackers — could be putting federal systems in jeopardy again by asking employees to click on links in the e-mails.

“There’s a risk that you desensitize people by telling them that occasionally, there’s going to be a very important email you have to click on,” said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology.

He called OPM’s first round of e-mail transmissions the equivalent of “sending a postcard to people saying gee, you just got hacked, go to this website. The hackers could wise up and send their own set of fake identity protection e-mails and get into your computers all over again.”

It’s idiots all the way down.

This is Satya Nadella’s Microsoft Now

June 19th, 2015 - 10:19 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

Stephen Elop, the Nokia CEO who was brought on board along with Steve Ballmer’s Nokia acquisition, is waving buh-bye to Redmond. Originally he was supposed to rescue the company’s floundering efforts in phones and tablets, but Microsoft remains in a distant third or fourth place. But there’s more, as newish Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella continues to put his stamp on the company:

Elop is not the only casualty of this new direction for Microsoft. Nadella also announced the departures of Kiril Tatarinov, head of Microsoft’s business solutions group; Eric Rudder, a 25-year Microsoft veteran who led its advanced technology and education initiatives; and Mark Penn, the advertising executive behind some of Microsoft’s most memorable—and questionable—ad campaigns.

In addition to these exits, Nadella is also shuffling existing staff, reorganizing the engineering team into three core groups: one that will focus on cloud and enterprise products, another that will concentrate on applications and services, and a third that will work on the Windows platform and devices, including Lumia phones, Surface tablets, Xbox, and Microsoft’s augmented reality device, HoloLens.

Those first two groups represent the future of Microsoft and, not coincidentally, its greatest strengths: The cloud and business users.

But it’s the third group which interests me.

At first I was going to label the third group “Other,” which is as good a label as any. But what’s in there? Lumia, tablets, Xbox, HoloLens. At this early date, HoloLens looks like the next version of the original Surface (now called PixelSense) — a giant and expensive product for corporate users who don’t have any pressing need for it. Although I’d be happy to be wrong, because HoloLens does look pretty dang cool.

Except for HoloLens, all of those are money-losing items begun or brought to fruition under former CEO Steve Ballmer. Sadly, Ballmer’s idea of innovation was to piss away a decade of growth into new markets on ill-conceived products like the Surface, or on me-too money-losers like Xbox.

(ASIDE: I’m not running down Xbox, which is a fine gaming platform. But the Xbox division has probably been overall a money loser, or maybe only slightly in the black, once R&D and marketing are factored in. And it isn’t like Ballmer or Gates invented console gaming — they were initially just looking to stymie Sony. And Xbox has yet to conquer the living room like Redmond keeps hoping.)

So we might, if we were feeling particularly malicious, call that third group “The Ballmer Group.” Or maybe “Balmer and the Group of Misfit Products.” But whatever you call it, that group at worst represents Microsoft’s ne’er-do-well products, and at best represents the company’s past.

Because notice please that mighty Windows itself is on that same misfit island, the place where Nadella has exiled Microsoft’s weakest products.

I’m not saying Windows is going to whither any time soon, or that Microsoft should pull a totally boneheaded move (aka “the Mims”) and just kill it, but it’s clear that Nadella sees Windows through the rear-view mirror.

EMALS in Action

June 19th, 2015 - 10:16 am

Watch as the USS Gerald R. Ford — the first in our all-new class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers — tests its electromagnetic aircraft launch system on a four-ton dummy load.

I’d like to see what EMALS could do with the ’79 Pinto I drove for a couple of years, way back when.

What would you send flying into the ocean off of an electromagnetic launch system?

Northern Syria on the Brink

June 19th, 2015 - 9:18 am
Members of Israel's Druze minority look at the the fighting between between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels in the Druze village of Khader in Syria, from the Israeli controlled Golan Heights, Tuesday, June 16, 2015. As many as 20 members of the Druze minority sect were killed last week, the deadliest violence against the Druze since Syria's conflict started in March 2011, sparking fears of a massacre against the sect. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Members of Israel’s Druze minority look at the the fighting between between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels in the Druze village of Khader in Syria, from the Israeli controlled Golan Heights, Tuesday, June 16, 2015. As many as 20 members of the Druze minority sect were killed last week, the deadliest violence against the Druze since Syria’s conflict started in March 2011, sparking fears of a massacre against the sect. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Fuel shortages are adding to what has become the Permanent Humanitarian Crisis in Syria:

“If this goes on for a few more days, there will be a humanitarian catastrophe on all fronts,” Hossam Ali, a doctor at a hospital in Aleppo, frantically told The WorldPost by phone. The hospital has spent two weeks without access to new shipments of diesel and has depleted its stores, he said. “We need electricity.”

Civilians living in rebel-held territory across much of Aleppo, Idlib and suburbs of Latakia and Hama in northern Syria already face the constant threat of crude barrel bombs and other attacks from the Assad regime. Now, they have to worry about surviving without fuel as well.

“Barrel bombs happen every single day in Aleppo,” Ali said, his voice desperate. “Just four days ago, two barrel bombs dropped right next to the hospital. And now, we don’t have any fuel left in storage.”

ISIS, like al Qaeda before it, desires a return to the 7th Century.

And now they’re getting it.

Throwback Thursday Comes to Friday!

June 19th, 2015 - 8:38 am

The Threat from Under

June 19th, 2015 - 7:38 am
The weather is beautiful, wish you weren't here. (Shutterstock image)

The weather is beautiful, wish you weren’t here.
(Shutterstock image)

PJM’s own Richard Fernandez has a must-read piece on the undersea contest for control of the Asia-Pacific shipping lanes. You might have caught it yesterday, but please re-read these two paragraphs because they serve as a perfect lead-in to a broader discussion:

We are probably witnessing the first post-Cold War naval competition in those waters for interests which are really far greater than conventional diplomacy would suppose. Most analysts regard the naval competition off the Asia coast as an expression of belligerent nationalism. It all seems rather silly from that point of view. But clearly what is at issue is far more serious.

For Japan it is protection of the sea lanes upon which its survival depends. For China it is the ability to control its nearby waters. For America it is its future as a maritime power, upon which is special world status depends. Each in its own way is seeking to preserve what it values most. This makes the competition far more dangerous than it would at first seem.

Read the whole thing, of course. I’d also direct your attention to this from Richard’s comments section:

Classic Mahan. Changing from an infrastructure based on coaling stations we are thinking about infrastructure based on data. From oars to sail to coal to oil to nukes, the tools change but the sea remains the same; and still covers 70 percent of the planet.

Mahan remains vital reading because although he wrote at a time when steel ships powered by coal fired bullets at one another from within visual range, the principles he deduced about seapower remain eternal.

The last time a rising naval power came to dominance peacefully, it was when the US Navy took over the global dominance job from the Royal Navy. But really, that was merely a passing of the baton between runners on the same team.

Before that, Imperial Japan tried its luck to dominate the Pacific. What began in earnest with the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 ended with the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki almost exactly 40 years later.

Before Japan, Imperial Germany tried to challenge the Royal Navy with a massive construction program, beginning in the late 19th Century, of dreadnoughts it didn’t really need. The Kaiser’s naval program threatened Britain directly, and that more than any other single thing was the progenitor of the First World War.

The irony is that the Great War which destroyed Wilhemine Germany was caused in no small part by the Kaiser Wilhelm II reading Mahan — and taking Mahan’s thesis to heart just enough to lead his empire to ruin.

Rising powers, especially global trade powers, will eventually need or at least think they need a navy to match. Existing powers, especially global trade powers, will respond to the rising threat accordingly.

The takeaway from Richard’s piece is in the last two lines quoted above:

Each in its own way is seeking to preserve what it values most. This makes the competition far more dangerous than it would at first seem.

The South China Sea is being primed for war between China’s rising power, America’s status quo power, and Japan’s essential need to keep the sealanes open 24/7.

America’s most serious foreign policy needs for the previous two decades, and for the two or three decades to come, rest on three pillars:

• Peacefully accommodating China’s rise.

• Peacefully managing Europe’s demographic decline (Europe in this case includes Russia).

• Containing modern Islam’s religious-cultural malignities.

At present, all three pillars appear to be crumbling.

In this June 17, 2015, photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush listens to local residents during a backyard meet and greet in Washington, Iowa. Bush’s years in corporate America could trigger complications for him if he wins the White House. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

In this June 17, 2015, photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush listens to local residents during a backyard meet and greet in Washington, Iowa. Bush’s years in corporate America could trigger complications for him if he wins the White House. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

GOP Establishment moneyman Josh Jordan explains his doubts about Jeb Bush:

Governor Jeb Bush, who just launched his campaign this week, brings liabilities to the general election that have not received the press attention they deserve. I bring them up not because they make him ‘bad’ or, in my view, unfit for office. I bring them up because these are liabilities that other Republican candidates do not have and represent baggage that any candidate, let alone one named Bush, can ill afford in a presidential election.

Prior to beginning his campaign, Bush resigned from three corporate boards: Tenet Healthcare, a health insurance company, Rayonier, a lumber/paper company, and Barclays, a large bank. Few things in this country are more politically toxic than health insurance companies, banks, and companies that promote cutting down trees. The Democrats playbook here may be simple, but it is very effective. Remember the damage President Obama’s campaign did to Mitt Romney in 2012? Bain Capital, anyone?

Bush supporters may argue that board memberships shouldn’t be a liability, as long as that service was honorable. But in 21st century politics, that just isn’t so.

None of the older, Establishment candidates has any clue how to fight on this altered battlefield.

Walker has — and won. Rubio has that sunny, Reaganesque disposition and appeals to the zeitgeist. Cruz is my bullet-point favorite and he’s a proven fighter, but I worry about his likability deficit. Fiorina gets it, but her record at HP is probably as big a political liability as Bush’s board memberships. Perry is great on the stump, but we still need to see if he’s learned his lessons from 2012 — and his politicking may be too old school for the general election. Paul keeps stepping into many of the same potholes his father did, but he adds an element of genuine debate to where the party should stand on domestic security issues, so even if he can’t win he’s still a vital part of the primary season. Jindal — so solid, so wonky… both parties produce a lot of candidates like him, but few of them win the nomination and none of them win the White House. If you’re like me, you just want to love Carson, but if you’re like me you also have to admit he’s not quite ready for prime time.

And that’s it, really. You have Bush, who brings too many liabilities the least of which is his last name. Then there are the Stunt Candidates — Graham, Huckabee, Pataki, Santorum, Trump — who seem to be in the race for reasons of ego, and/or to maintain their TV and speaking fee viability.

How do you stack them up?

UPDATE: I inadvertently left out Kasich, but I shouldn’t have — he might have made himself the worst of the bunch in this year-old story told today by Politico.

Read:

Kasich’s temper has made it harder to endear himself to the GOP’s wealthy benefactors. Last year, he traveled to Southern California to appear on a panel at a conference sponsored by the Republican mega-donors Charles and David Koch. At one point, according to accounts provided by two sources present, Randy Kendrick, a major contributor and the wife of Ken Kendrick, the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, rose to say she disagreed with Kasich’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage, and questioned why he’d expressed the view it was what God wanted.

The governor’s response was fiery. “I don’t know about you, lady,” he said as he pointed at Kendrick, his voice rising. “But when I get to the Pearly Gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.”

Nothing suits a GOP contender worse than haranguing donors about expanding the welfare state to include the upper middle class.

Jason Needs a Hand

June 19th, 2015 - 5:18 am

My first thought was to introduce this story with “There’s a shocking new trend — mutilating yourself to get ‘a way cool feeling.’” But on reflection I realized there’s nothing shocking about that kind of thing anymore. Here’s the latest from WaPo:

Several cases have been documented where “transabled” people purposely hurt themselves in the hopes of requiring an amputation. One man, who has been referred to as “One Hand Jason,” purposely cut off his right hand with a “very sharp power tool,” allowing his close friends and family to believe it was an accident.

In an interview with the body modification website ModBlog, “One Hand Jason” describes how he spent months preparing to get rid of his right hand, attempting different means of cutting and crushing it in a way that wouldn’t cause him to bleed to death. He even practiced on animal legs he obtained from the local butcher.

“My goal was to get the job done with no hope of reconstruction or re-attachment, and I wanted some method that I could actually bring myself to do,” he said.

After successfully cutting off his hand, “Jason” says his body finally feels normal

“I feel like my body is correct at last, and that’s a way cool feeling,” he said. When asked if he would do anything differently if presented with a do-over, he answered, “No, it came off better than I ever imagined.”

If Jason “identifies” as an amputee, in this day and age who are we to tell him no?

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

German man in midst of bitter divorce cuts all their possessions in half, sells remains on eBay.

Crazy Woman Is Crazy

June 18th, 2015 - 1:26 pm
(Screencap courtesy HuffPo UK)

(Screencap courtesy HuffPo UK)

She’s not black, she’s not white, she’s… RACHEL!

Read:

In an interview that aired on NBC’s Today, Dolezal clarified some of her comments that she made while talking to Matt Lauer and even added that there’s “no biological proof” that her white parents are, in fact, her mother and father.

“I know who raised me,” she said. “I haven’t had a DNA test. There’s been no biological proof that Larry and Ruthanne are my biological parents. I’m not necessarily saying that I can prove they’re not,” she added, “but I don’t know that I can actually prove they are. I mean the birth certificate was issued a month and a half after I’m born. Certainly there were no medical witnesses to my birth. It was in the woods.”

Uh-huh.

312417

New iOS/OS X Security Risk Revealed

June 18th, 2015 - 12:22 pm
(Image courtesy Shutterstock)

(Image courtesy Shutterstock)

This doesn’t look good:

Discovered by a team of six researchers at Indiana University, Georgia Tech, and China’s Peking University, the exploits rely on fundamental flaws in the implementation of Keychain’s access control lists, OS X’s app containers, and URL schemes that allow apps to call out to each other. Apple was notified of these vulnerabilities last October, the researchers told The Register, and then requested a six-month extension before the paper was made public, which was granted.

The vulnerability in Keychain stems from its inability to verify whether apps should be entitled to modify entries. Using the newly-discovered exploit, a malicious app can delete existing entries — or create them before the legitimate app has a chance to — and give both itself and the legitimate app access, reading the contents of the entry after the legitimate app has written to it.

A proof-of-concept video shows the team removing the Keychain entry for a local user’s iCloud account, then creating a new one using a malicious app. After signing in to iCloud through System Preferences, the malicious app successfully retrieves the secret iCloud token stored in that entry. The same attack was used to retrieve passwords stored in Keychain by Google’s Chrome browser, which will reportedly remove Keychain access until a fix is issued.

So long as your iPhone or iPad aren’t jailbroken, they aren’t at risk of an attack like this — and which for now remains proof-of-concept and not anything which exists in the real world.

Your desktop and laptop are bigger concerns — and since Keychain crosses from OS X to iOS, an infected MacBook could grab passwords off your iPhone. As always the best thing you can do to maintain security is to maintain physical possession of your computers, and use caution when installing unsigned software.

There Is Pwnage and Then There Is Pwnage

June 18th, 2015 - 11:33 am

Required Reading

June 18th, 2015 - 10:10 am

We’re “the unserious super-power” argues Tom Nichols in this devastating article for The Federalist:

The Chinese hack of the Office of Personnel Management is the most recent, and most obvious, example of how our status is going down the drain. This is a disaster of unimaginable proportions. The intelligence damage, including security-clearance information, will last for decades. (I, of course, am one of the millions of federal workers waiting to find out if my files are now in Beijing.) Almost as shocking as the size of this breach, however, is the fact that no one seems to care very much, including the Chinese, who have shown no concern at all.

In any normal world, a super-power would not tolerate this kind of an attack. Perhaps more accurately, a true super-power would never have to endure such an attack in the first place, because other nations would be loath to engage in such a direct act of open hostility. States do lousy things to each other all day long, but the wholesale and brazen theft of personnel records is a different kind of espionage. The scale is so vast that it is a direct challenge to the United States of America.

In response, the most powerful country in the world has drawn itself up to its full height, clenched its mighty fist in anger, and….contracted out for some identity-theft protection for its employees. The majesty of the enraged eagle is truly remarkable to behold.

Read the whole thing.

I’ve been saying similar things here for years, but Tom has really put all the pieces together.

End It, Don’t Mend It

June 18th, 2015 - 8:48 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

Senator Jeff Sessions on the TPP:

“It is essential that there be no misunderstanding: fast-track preapproves the formation of not only the unprecedentedly large Trans-Pacific Partnership, but an unlimited number of such agreements over the next six years,” Sessions said. “Those pacts include three of the most ambitious ever contemplated. After TPP comes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and the European Union, followed by the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), seeking as one its goals labor mobility among more than 50 nations. Together, these three international compacts encompass three-fourths of the world’s GDP. Including the nations whose membership is being courted for after enactment, the countries involved would encompass nearly 90 percent of global GDP. Yet, through fast-track, Congress will have authorized the President to ink these deals before a page of them has been made public. Then, the Executive sends Congress ‘implementing’ legislation to change U.S. law—legislation which cannot be amended, cannot be filibustered, and will not be subjected to the Constitutional requirement for a two-thirds treaty vote.”

I have wholeheartedly supported every other fast-track trade deal to come before Congress, but I am adamantly opposed to this one.

This isn’t a free trade deal. This is something much bigger, requiring thorough public debate, and full advice and consent from 2/3rds of the Senate.

But I do not trust this President with his ambitions, and I cannot trust any Congress with its willingness to cede power and authority to the Executive. Let’s just kill this thing and, if necessary, start over in two years. Trade is pretty damn free already, and there’s no rush to push through…

…to push through whatever this TPP arrangement actually is.

Take This State and Shove It

June 18th, 2015 - 7:17 am
A small section of Rancho Santa Fe, California. (Image courtesy OS X Maps)

A small section of Rancho Santa Fe, California.
(Image courtesy OS X Maps)

The Washington Post reports from the frontline of California’s Water War:

Drought or no drought, Steve Yuhas resents the idea that it is somehow shameful to be a water hog. If you can pay for it, he argues, you should get your water.

People “should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful,” Yuhas fumed recently on social media. “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live,” he added in an interview. “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”

Yuhas lives in the ultra-wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, a bucolic Southern California hamlet of ranches, gated communities and country clubs that guzzles five times more water per capita than the statewide average. In April, after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called for a 25 percent reduction in water use, consumption in Rancho Santa Fe went up by 9 percent.

Let them drink Evian.

Yuhas has a point of course — why can’t he get the water he’s willing to pay for? And yet on July 1, less than two weeks from now, Yuhas and his wealthy neighbors will be subject to strict water rationing.

Here’s how it will work:

Under the new rules, each household will be assigned an essential allotment for basic indoor needs. Any additional usage — sprinklers, fountains, swimming pools — must be slashed by nearly half for the district to meet state-mandated targets.

Residents who exceed their allotment could see their already sky-high water bills triple. And for ultra-wealthy customers undeterred by financial penalties, the district reserves the right to install flow restrictors — quarter-size disks that make it difficult to, say, shower and do a load of laundry at the same time.

In extreme cases, the district could shut off the tap altogether.

Rancho Santa Fe is overwhelmingly Republican, but Wikipedia reports that it gives most of its political donations to Democrats. Maybe that isn’t too surprising given that California is effectively a one-party state, so if you want any voice at all, you’d better learn to pay-to-play with the Democrats. The residents of Rancho Santa Fe, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in America, can certainly afford to pay.

So why not let them pay for the water they want to use?

Because Lifeboat Rules, that’s why. People can’t live without water, and California — for political reasons, not natural ones — doesn’t have enough water for everyone to drink. This is classic statist politics, by the way — create a massive shortage of some vital commodity by either incompetence or design, and then play favorites doling it out.

And of course the Republican residents of Rancho Santa Fe are hardly favorites in Sacramento. They might give generously to Democrats and their causes, but the class politics are simply too …rich… for any good Democrat to pass up.

My advice to Steve Yuhas and his neighbors is simple: Get out — and bring your money, your jobs, and your property tax dollars with you. Sure, you might take a loss trying to sell your home in this market, but you can buy a lot more home for the same money down in Texas, or here in Colorado.

Let California’s Democrats continue to despise you — from afar. Don’t give to their candidates, don’t provide jobs for their voters, don’t pay for their hair-brained train schemes, don’t support their useless schools.

Just leave.

Let Sacramento drink the Evian — if they can still afford it.

Nine Dead in Charleston

June 18th, 2015 - 6:28 am

What can one possibly say at this early stage about someone who shot up a church, killing nine at a prayer service?

Maybe that’s lousy blogging, not Instantly Knowing all the facts and political angles and exactly where to point the fingers. But so what?

For now, let’s just hope the police waste no time catching or killing the SOB who did this.