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Apple Watch Preview

September 9th, 2014 - 2:53 pm

Apple Watch

At long last we know what a wearable computer is supposed to look like, what it’s supposed to do, and how it’s supposed to work. That’s my takeaway from today’s introduction of the Apple Watch. That’s not hyperbole, either. Before a consumer buys a piece of technology, they must ask themselves two questions: Does it fulfill a need, and does it do so at a price I can afford? But for a watch, for wearable technology, there is a third question: Would I want to wear it?

Plenty of smartphone makers have gotten millions of Yeses from millions of consumers on the first two questions. Only Apple and Samsung have figured out how to earn those Yeses at a profit, but people generally know what they’ll get from a moderately priced Android or iOS device, and which prices are moderate.

To date, however, the answer to the third question has been a resounding, “Wear that — are you kidding me?”

Not Coming to a Wrist Near You

Galaxy Gear S: Not Coming to a Wrist Near You

The first problem a smartwatch maker has to solve is to make a watch which looks like a watch, and not like a smartphone with a strap on it. The latest from Samsung, the Gear S, is a great example of why consumers have rejected smartwatches. They look like something Dick Tracy would wear if he were dressing up for Halloween as Billy Idol. In terms of functionality, smartwatches have either done not very much, like the Pebble, or simply slapped a smaller Android UI onto a smaller screen. But first and foremost, they’re big and they’re ugly. People don’t even get to the ill-considered interfaces before rejecting them completely.

So has Apple given consumers something to embrace?

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Say, “Tase Me, Bro!”

September 9th, 2014 - 1:19 pm

True Story. Twentysomeodd years ago I knew a woman at Humboldt State University who, for an art class, had made an aluminum foil phallus of impressive size and glued plastic toy ants to it. So at least this isn’t that.

Otherwise though I think we can safely conclude that Western Civilization has run out of stuff to do.

Your Honor Guard in Hell

September 9th, 2014 - 12:10 pm

It never stops, as Noah Rothman reports:

The Lebanese government is not optimistic that the hostage crisis can be resolved before more blood is shed.

The Lebanese are no more accustomed to having their sons beheaded by the ISIS terrorists than are Americans. Anger is erupting in Lebanon over the actions of the Islamic State and, according to the Associated Press, some residents are taking their frustrations out on the millions of displaced Syrians in that country.

The message ought to be clear — never surrender to IS/Caliphate forces. There’s no option for local fighters other than to take as many with you as you can.

Spider-Woman Does Whatever a Spider-Man Can

September 9th, 2014 - 11:27 am

I don’t know how much interest you have in comic books, or what your personal or workplace tolerance level is for bad language, but I’m reasonably sure that most Longtime Sharp VodkaPundit Readers™ love an epic takedown of lefty buttinskis.

So without further ado, you just go on ahead and press that play button.

Is That a Plus in Your Pocket?

September 9th, 2014 - 10:34 am

PLUS

I know we’re just an hour away from Apple’s big iPhone 6 reveal, but this story caught my jittery eye:

With Apple widely expected to introduce the “iPhone 6″ in two different screen sizes on Tuesday, a new rumor claims the 4.7-inch model will be given the basic moniker, while the larger 5.5-inch variant will allegedly be known as the “iPhone 6 Plus.”

No.

Please no.

“Plus,” with the early exception of the Apple II+, hearkens back to a very ugly time at Cupertino.

That aside, I do have one bold-but-baseless prediction for today’s event, because it’s hardly an Apple event without at least a trillion of those. But at least mine you haven’t seen anywhere before.

Apple’s free-with-contract model will keep the colorfully unapologetic plastic of last year’s iPhone 5C, because it’s less expensive to manufacture yet still sells like hotcakes. The new model might be sleeker or lighter, and should probably come in a new rainbow of colors to differentiate it at an easy glance from the 5C. Internally it should be identical to the iPhone 5S, Touch ID scanner and all. Unless, of course, Apple’s engineers have figured out how to shoehorn a slightly more powerful battery in there, like when the 4S got wrapped in shiny plastic and blessed with a bigger battery became the 5C.

The kicker? Apple should call the new model the iPhone 6C and go with a “6-6-6″ ad campaign for the three new models.

Haters would go nuts with that one.

ONE MORE THING: “iPhone 6C” sounds just enough like “iPhone Sexy” to cause even more trouble. I hope Cupertino pulls that trigger, but honestly doubt they will.

Anyway, if you’re interested in these thing, Engadget will almost certainly have one of the best liveblogs, and Apple is streaming this year’s event live in toto, too.

The Rich Get Richer and Richer and Richer

September 9th, 2014 - 9:37 am

Monopoly Man

Robert Frank has the numbers on where the money has gone since the Fed started making so much of it:

The Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finance found that only 48.8 percent of Americans held stock either directly or indirectly in 2012, the latest period measured. That’s the lowest level since 1995, when 40.5 percent of Americans held some form of stock. (Indirect ownership of stock includes stocks held in mutual funds, 401-K plans and other investment vehicles.)

The survey said only 14 percent of Americans own stocks directly—down from 21 percent in 2001.

Overall stock ownership (direct and indirect combined) is down only four points since the 2007 crash, to 49% from 53%. But I get two takeaways from those numbers. The first is that overall ownership is the 50% threshold, which is a level it didn’t cross until 2011. That’s after nearly two years of “recovery,” as you already know. I’d also argue that direct ownership is a better measure of a person’s faith in the overall economy, and in their ability to do something themselves about their own future. Naturally, you would expect that figure to be much lower than indirect ownership, because people generally are risk averse and few have the time, knowledge, or skills to manage their own portfolios.

So it might be telling that a year into the Dot Com Crash of 2000, a record percentage of Americans owned stocks directly. It takes no small amount of courage and faith in the future to hold when everyone around you is shrieking “SELL!” Yet more than one in five Americans were doing just that.

But getting back to September 9, 2014 — we have a Federal Reserve pumping more money at fewer people (who are reportedly heading for the lifeboats anyway), and scratching our heads wondering why so few people feel very good about this economy.

Details here from AFP:

The seven were arrested on Saturday after appearing in a video showing two men celebrating a marriage ceremony and exchanging rings surrounded by friends.

“Nine of the 16 participants were identified in an investigation and seven were arrested,” MENA reported, without specifying whether the two men at the centre of the ceremony were among those detained.

The seven were remanded in custody for up to four days, accused of “incitement to debauchery” and “publishing indecent images,” MENA said.

It’s important to remember that the military junta currently in charge of Egypt isn’t exactly our friend, or an exemplar of good governance. But it’s just as important to imagine what would have been been likely to happen to those men if President Obama’s preferred government, the Muslim Brotherhood, were still in charge of that country.

Bye Bye, Dick?

September 9th, 2014 - 7:05 am

Bruce Walker thinks Dick Durbin might be in deep doo-doo in Deep Blue Illinois:

The Chicago Sun Times, according to a poll released on September 1, shows that Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, may be in serious trouble in Illinois, a solidly blue state. The poll shows that Durbin is only seven points ahead of Republican Jim Oberweis. More troubling for Durbin, this establishment Democrat boss in a Democrat state polls only 47% of the vote, well below the 50% margin usually considered healthy for incumbents. Even worse for Durbin, the Libertarian candidate, Sharon Hansen, polls over 4% of the vote so that Durbin, if Oberweis woos those voters to his right, polls only two points behind Durbin.

Durbin’s problems are aggravated by a deep and wide malaise among Illinois Democrats. Governor Quinn is losing his battle for re-election, and the polls show increasingly that this race will likely become a Republican landslide. Quinn’s administration is generally considered a flop.

How bad is the Quinn administration? He’s hardly even expected to go to jail, which is almost unheard of for an Illinois governor.

My gut says Durbin wins. But what’s strange for this Totally We Swear Not a Wave Election the pundits keep telling us about, is that almost all of the tightening is in the “right” direction.

The Best Next Navy

September 9th, 2014 - 6:28 am

CVNBG

I spent way too much time yesterday reading this James Holmes report for The National Interest, on what the US Navy would look like if we rebuilt it from scratch. Not totally from scratch — strategic and operational needs must still compete with budgets, public will, and existing technologies in which we’re already heavily invested.

So with those constraints in mind, a new US Navy:

Run silent, run deep. If Congress has indeed capped U.S. maritime means more or less permanently, undersea warfare promises the biggest bang for limited bucks. Nuclear-powered submarines, or SSNs, constitute an enduring U.S. naval advantage. They can deny an adversary the use of the sea. If nothing else, then, submarines could impose a sort of mutual assured sea denial while naval commanders try to neutralize enemy shore-based forces by other means. Subs cannot command the sea, but they can clear it of hostile surface fleets. That’s a major contribution if also a negative one. SSNs, consequently, should have first claim on scarce shipbuilding dollars. But undersea combat need not involve all nukes, all the time. To proliferate subs while holding down costs, why not, say, buy Japanese? The U.S. Navy could purchase some Japanese Soryu-class diesel attack boats — acclaimed among the world’s best — and create a standing combined squadron in Japan. Naval officials should explore such options.

Demote the surface fleet. Traditional prestige platforms such as aircraft carriers, cruisers, and destroyers would find themselves demoted in a rebooted U.S. Navy. Their capacity to spearhead the fight against a capable access denier — a power like China that fields a beatable navy but backs it up with a large shore-based arsenal — appears increasingly doubtful. Surface ships that have to await the outcome of the struggle for command? That sounds like Corbett’s definition of cruisers and the flotilla — large numbers of lightly armed combatants for policing relatively safe waters and projecting power ashore after the battle is won. Let’s act on his guidelines for platforms that exercise command. A mix of workhorse frigate- or corvette-like platforms for peacetime pursuits, combat platforms designed to operate in less threatening wartime theaters, and small missile craft for harrying access deniers in cramped Asian waters looks like the refounded U.S. Navy’s best bet. Naval leaders should fund the most capable, most numerous surface force they can — on a not-to-interfere basis with units that compete for maritime mastery.

Read the whole thing if you can spare the time; it’s fascinating stuff.

The need for the unequaled presence an aircraft carrier battle group provides won’t be going away in our lifetime. And the only way to provide that presence is with enough anti-missile destroyers, submarine hunters, and tenders to keep them supplied, afloat, and effective. I’m not sure what kind of amphibious capabilities we still need, given that another island-hopping campaign seems remote at best. And the V-22 Osprey changes in a very fundamental way what it means to assault a beach — why not go inland and grab an airfield first, then take the beach from behind, from land and well-supplied?

But the idea of using increased numbers of SSNs to perform the old sealane-control mission, safe from land-based antiship missiles…

…well, that’s just lovely.

Our Virginia-class boats can perform easily missions that were once difficult or dangerous for the Los Angeles-class subs they’re replacing. But we’re building too few of them to take on the role Holmes has envisioned.

Fewer destroyers and cruisers, more subs — is that a sane future for our fleet?

You’re Out, Barack

September 8th, 2014 - 10:55 pm

obama_clinton_godfather_9-8-14-1

Over at NRO, Elbridge Colby calls Barack Obama “our unrealist president” on foreign policy. It’s difficult to give justice to his piece with an excerpt, but I’ll try:

To be sure, Obama’s approach exhibits some elements of realism, most notably a caution about the overuse of force. Realists emphasize that force is an unpredictable and often costly instrument, and they tend to be conservative in their estimates about how well things will work out when nations reach for their guns.

But restraint is not what fundamentally characterizes realism. Rather, because realists see the international arena as innately competitive and often dangerous, they believe that strength is critical to a successful foreign policy. A domestic realist welcomes not only police restraint but also the appropriate vigorous application of police power; similarly, a foreign-policy realist knows that restraint alone is an invitation to chaos and peril. By this standard, Obama is neither an authentic realist nor a successful foreign-policy president.

But then comes the important question:

So what is the president if not a realist? Peter Berkowitz and Paul Saunders have persuasively described him as a progressive pragmatist. As the president himself has put it, his foreign-policy philosophy is “Don’t do stupid s***,” which would be a decent tagline for pragmatism. Consequently, the administration’s foreign policy has a distinctly ad hoc quality: It occasionally resembles realism but also sometimes looks like liberal hawkishness, as in Libya in 2011, or old-school progressive idealism, as in the president’s Cairo and Ankara speeches, which gave the impression that Obama believed he could talk people out of their interests, grudges, and hatreds.

I’d argue that progressivism and practicality are mutually exclusive, so either by accident or design, Colby has neatly encapsulated Obama’s wildly uneven foreign adventures.

To get a sense of what I mean, let’s look at one of the president’s foreign policy wins, even if it was a small one and we have to travel all the way back to 2009 to find it. For that, here’s David Ignatius reporting on North Korean freighter Kang Nam 1, which had been believed to be carrying proscribed weapons in support of the Burmese military junta:

The official told me that the Kang Nam 1, a North Korean ship bound for Burma with a mysterious cargo, had just turned back toward home — as a result of what he described as a behind-the-scenes pressure campaign from Washington. The official argued that the turn-around at sea was a sign the Obama administration’s firm stand had worked.

“The Burmese said no, we don’t want it,” the official said. He explained that Burmese authorities had contacted North Korea to refuse delivery using an open line — as if they wanted to make sure the U.S. got the message.

The Kang Nam 1 had embarked more than two weeks ago with a cargo that U.S. officials believed might include banned armed shipments. The U.S. Navy, operating under authority of a recent U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution, was monitoring the ship’s slow progress toward Burma.

Administration officials didn’t want to force an open confrontation by boarding the ship, especially when they weren’t sure what it was carrying. Instead, they pressured governments en route not to allow the Kang Nam 1 to dock at their ports. And the U.S. made clear it hoped that Burma would turn the vessel away if it tried to land.

Cool, patient, working behind the scenes, and not allowing himself to be drawn into an embarrassing overreaction — these are Obama’s best qualities. The problem is, they seem to be his only qualities. Even when he gets serious about going to war, the effort is either sluggish (think of the slooooow buildup of the Afghan surge), reactive (everything in the Middle East post-Libya), or resentful (“leading from behind,” getting called to account for golfing instead of strategizing). He can’t even be deigned to go to Congress first, as in the case of the Libya air campaign, and perhaps for whatever finally comes in the fight against ISIS. This behavior has invited aggression from Moscow, adventurism from Beijing, and encouraged whatever the hell you call it from wherever the hell it is headquartered in the deserts of eastern Syria and western Iraq.

We have a fundamentally peacetime president in a wartime world.

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Fire Fire Sale

September 8th, 2014 - 4:06 pm

Amazon-Fire-Phone

A swing and a miss for Amazon:

The e-commerce giant said Monday it’s now offering the 32-gigabyte version of its first smartphone, which went on sale just two months ago, for 99 cents with a two-year contract, down from $200. One year of Amazon’s Prime service is still included as a short-term promotion. A year of Prime, which offers free two-day shipping and streaming music and video libraries, usually costs $99.

Amazon also slashed the price of its 64GB Fire Phone to $100 with a two-year contract, down from $300.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that sticking a confusing UI on top of somebody else’s OS inside last year’s hardware at this year’s prices wasn’t exactly the smartest thing Jeff Bezos ever did.

Doomsday Is Broker Than You Think

September 8th, 2014 - 2:00 pm

HIGGS-BOSON

You might have read that Stephen Hawking warned that the Higgs boson particle could trigger a black hole big enough to destroy the universe, and that it “could happen at any time and we wouldn’t see it coming.” However:

But don’t quit your job and empty your bank account just yet. Such a black hole could take trillions of years to topple the universe, and scientists don’t yet have a particle accelerator large enough to create the conditions necessary for such a doomsday.

“A particle accelerator that reaches 100bn GeV [the required giga-electron-volts] would be larger than Earth, and is unlikely to be funded in the present economic climate,” Hawking added, according to the report.

Heh.

I admire Hawking as much for his dry sense of humor — and in the face of such personal adversity — as I do for how far he’s advanced (and explained) physics. Something tells me I’m far from alone in that.

The Kingdom of North Sudan

September 8th, 2014 - 1:39 pm

KINGDOM OF NORTH SUDAN

This story is strangely charming:

When Jeremiah Heaton trekked across the desert and planted a flag in an 800-square-mile patch of land between Egypt and Sudan in June, he staked a claim to the area, calling it his “Kingdom of North Sudan.” He said he wanted the barren, craggy swath so his 7-year-old daughter Emily could be a princess, and he vowed to start an agricultural center there.

A little kooky, but definitely charming.

What dad doesn’t want to make his little girl a princess — but how many actually travel to the desert with a makeshift flag to try and make it happen?

Hale Britannia?

September 8th, 2014 - 12:29 pm

SCOTLAND

Actually, she’s looking pretty sickly these days:

“You will see in the next few days a plan of action to give more powers to Scotland … Then Scotland will have the best of both worlds. They will both avoid the risks of separation but have more control over their own destiny, which is where I think many Scots want to be,” Osborne told the BBC.

“More tax-raising powers, much greater fiscal autonomy … more control over public expenditure, more control over welfare rates and a host of other changes.”

Osborne said the changes, being agreed by all three major parties in the British parliament, would be put into effect the moment there was a ‘no’ vote in the referendum.

I’m against any measure which might negatively impact the accessibility of single malt Scotch whiskeys on our fair shores, so my position on Scottish independence is no mystery. Of course, this being a strictly local issue, it’s not like I’m exactly passionate about keeping the UK whole. Just don’t mess with my Bowmore 15 deliveries, aye?

That said, London’s panic measure look exactly like panic measures, which seems likely to have opposite the intended effect with Scottish voters. For more on that, read on:

icola Sturgeon, deputy leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party, welcomed the YouGov poll as a “very significant moment” in the campaign but rejected talk of more devolved powers for Scotland.

“I don’t think people are going to take this seriously. If the other parties had been serious about more powers, then something concrete would have been put forward before now and remember the other parties were desperate to keep that option off the ballot paper,” she told Sky news.

Salmond described the plans as a “panic measure”.

“This is a ridiculous position being put forward by a campaign … in terminal trouble,” he told the BBC. “They have failed to scare the Scots, now they are trying to bribe us. That won’t work either because people have come to the realisation that we can take the future of this country into our hands.”

London — the Tories, Labour, the Queen — is flailing like a drowning man, and if I had to guess, Scots who haven’t yet made up their minds about the upcoming vote might prefer it a wee bit more not to remain tied to a drowning man.

I never thought before last week that independence had a real shot at passage. This story makes me wonder what chance is left that it doesn’t.

EXIT QUESTION: What happens to the Union Jack if Scotland goes?

UPDATE: Unnamed Royal Baby to save the Union?

Required Reading

September 8th, 2014 - 11:13 am

Salena Zito explains why Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom had no ISIS strategy:

Barack Obama, who won the presidency largely because he was not George Bush, desperately wants to be what his voters were looking for — a domestic president done with wars, and not preoccupied with big foreign policy and national security issues.

You can see it in his eyes, his voice, his body language, in the lack of conviction in his words.

The reason there is no strategy, as he said, about Islamist terrorists in Syria (and why there likely won’t be one) is that his brain trust — Valerie Jarrett and key people on his National Security Council — are nowhere near qualified to advise him on security issues; they focus more on domestic issues and politics than on national security.

This is why, the day before ISIS said it beheaded journalist Steven Sotloff, you saw Obama in Wisconsin, whipping up 6,000 union members, preaching in full campaign style, castigating Republicans as the opponents of everything he wants to do.

He was in his element, with thousands of supporters hanging on his every word. No questions, no speculation, no accountability, no “hard stuff” — just pure adulation.

Read the whole thing.

And if you missed it, Bill Whittle’s latest Afterburner, “Early Check Out,” makes a nice companion to Zito’s report.

The Real Rape Culture

September 8th, 2014 - 10:10 am

Ross Douthat (with a tip of the hat to Glenn) explains:

Show me what a culture values, prizes, puts on a pedestal, and I’ll tell you who is likely to get away with rape.

In Catholic Boston or Catholic Ireland, that meant men robed in the vestments of the church.

In Joe Paterno’s pigskin-mad Happy Valley, it meant a beloved football coach.

In status-conscious, education-obsessed Manhattan, it meant charismatic teachers at an elite private school.

In Hollywood and the wider culture industry — still the great undiscovered country of sexual exploitation, I suspect — it has often meant the famous and talented, from Roman Polanski to the BBC’s Jimmy Savile, robed in the authority of their celebrity and art.

And in Rotherham, it meant men whose ethnic and religious background made them seem politically untouchable, and whose victims belonged to a class that both liberal and conservative elements in British society regard with condescension or contempt.

I’m guessing that when a culture values, prizes, and puts liberty on a pedestal, including the universal right to self-defense, you get far fewer of these …antics… and a lot more would-be rapists on the slab.

Which would be fine by me.

Thought for the Day

September 8th, 2014 - 9:48 am

FRISE

Oy.

Increased Shrinkage

September 8th, 2014 - 8:44 am

Ouch:

Japan’s economy shrank more sharply in the second quarter than first estimated and the latest indicators suggest only a modest bounce back since then.

The world’s third-largest economy contracted at an annualized rate of 7.1 percent in the April-June quarter, according to updated government figures Monday. The initial estimate released earlier this month said the economy contracted 6.8 percent. Business investment fell more than twice as much as first estimated.

The economy’s contraction was expected after Japan increased its sales tax from 5 percent to 8 percent on April 1.

There’s no doubt that Japan’s sales tax increase was ill-timed, but when your “recovery” turns into a an alarming 7.1% rate of contraction, then I think what we have here is further evidence of my proposition that a country can’t spend its way to prosperity.

Apparently it can’t tax its way there, either — but you probably knew that already.

All the President’s Strategery

September 8th, 2014 - 7:33 am

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY

Are you ready for Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom’s Three-Year-Plan for dealing with IS/Caliphate? Well here it is anyway:

The first phase, an air campaign with nearly 145 airstrikes in the past month, is already underway to protect ethnic and religious minorities and American diplomatic, intelligence and military personnel, and their facilities, as well as to begin rolling back ISIS gains in northern and western Iraq.

The next phase, which would begin sometime after Iraq forms a more inclusive government, scheduled this week, is expected to involve an intensified effort to train, advise or equip the Iraqi military, Kurdish fighters and possibly members of Sunni tribes.

The final, toughest and most politically controversial phase of the operation — destroying the terrorist army in its sanctuary inside Syria — might not be completed until the next administration. Indeed, some Pentagon planners envision a military campaign lasting at least 36 months.

Air strikes against terrorists are always a good thing, so I’m not going to quibble with Step One, other than to say, “Step it up!” An increase op tempo would be nice, to catch whatever moves, as soon as it moves.

Skipping ahead to Step Three, we see that Obama isn’t skipping ahead to a premature exit strategy, which is also a good thing. But the only way to avoid helping the bad guys in Syria, even accidentally, is to adopt a strategy of Bomb Them All and Let Allah Sort Them Out — which seems somewhat unlikely from this or any other postmodern Administration. Lord, but I do miss Curtis Lemay sometimes.

Step Two though is just Ditherton Wiggleroom being Ditherton Wiggleroom. According to the report, we’re not going to get really serious until “after Iraq forms a more inclusive government.” That’s supposed to happen sometime soon, but suppose it doesn’t. Or suppose Iraq’s new government isn’t quite inclusive enough, or starts inclusive but becomes less inclusive. Who’s to say? And why is getting Iraq’s domestic crap sorted out (an ongoing event since the Dawn of Time) more important than getting weapons and training to Peshmerga forces?

Wiggleroom is still trying to get Middle Eastern thugs to stop acting so thuggishly by allowing even worse thugs to run rampant, even though we’re in this situation precisely because of this strategy. And one third of his new strategy is more of the failed old strategy.

Did I mention I miss Curtis Lemay?

Run, Jim, Run!

September 8th, 2014 - 6:15 am

Webb In The Middle

Could Jim Webb be Hillary Clinton’s “worst nightmare” in 2016? Here’s Al Hunt arguing just that:

If Webb decides to run — fearlessness and unpredictability are his trademarks — there’s plenty of ammunition against him. He’s against gun control, and he has made comments that angered feminists, many of whom consider Clinton a cause as well as a candidate, and environmentalists. He also has been involved in numerous personal controversies.

In a recent Virginia Senate debate, Republican Ed Gillespie sought to paint the moderate Democratic incumbent, Mark Warner, as too left, citing occasions when he didn’t join Webb in voting along a more conservative line.

The maverick lawmaker had a few notable successes, passing a major veterans’ education bill, putting criminal justice reform on the agenda, and calling for a pivot to Asia before Obama was elected. He has criticized executive overreach by both Bush and Obama.

He public mood seems to be turning against Webb on some foreign entanglement issues, but that part of his resume seems unlikely to hurt him with Democrat primary voters. The rest of his positions seems to fit nicely into the current zeitgeist, which is developing a libertarian or at least anti-authoritarian streak. His weak spots include that he can be prickly rather than warm, which might not be a huge handicap against Hillary. And most importantly he has no real power base within the party.

Webb is also a damn fine writer of popular fiction, and I can’t remember the last time we had one of those in the White House, or even as a semi-serious contender.

The Democrats could do a lot worse — and usually do.

Tom Clancy Drool-Fest

September 8th, 2014 - 5:12 am

HEL-MD

HEL-MD might be just what the doctor ordered, assuming you have a drone problem:

Boeing is building a laser cannon for the U.S. Army, and the new weapon has now proved it will be as capable at sea as on land. The High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD)—basically a high-energy laser mounted on top of a big truck—was successfully used to blast some UAV drones and 60mm mortars out of the Florida sky earlier this year, Boeing announced Thursday.

This test was done in a windy and foggy environment, an essential step to proving the technology is useful for naval deployment. The HEL MD used a 10-kilowatt laser—a much less powerful version of what it will eventually fire—to “successfully engage” more than 150 targets at Eglin Air Force Base, a Department of Defense weapons testing facility on the Florida Panhandle. In other words, it disabled or destroyed them.

I figure we’re not more than 10-15 years away from ordering a civilian version from ThinkGeek, capable of knocking down your fellow officer worker’s Nerf bullets in flight. But what I really want is a slightly larger model capable of defending my property from pesky Google drones.

Friday Night Videos

September 5th, 2014 - 10:29 pm

The problem with gimmicky songs is that the gimmick grows old, usually pretty quickly. But in the case of Tom Waits and “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)” the off-key piano gimmick is such a perfect part of the whole — the nonsensical lyric, the boozy delivery — that the song remains as fresh and entertaining as it must have felt in 1976.

If you don’t own any Waits, you really should. His three most accessible albums are probably 1973′s Closing Time, Small Change which features tonight’s selection, and Swordfishtrombones from 1983. I read once that the studio was aghast at the weirdness Waits had planned for that last one (and mind you that’s on the Tom Waits Weirdness Scale, which blows out even the VodkaPundit Cocktails Scale), but Swordfishtrombones ended up doing great business and earning him tons of new fans.

Before that though, Waits made his name making music like you’re hearing right now — honest, raw, witty, and self-aware that it’s an all act without being hipster-ironic about it. It’s the kind of music you’d expect to hear in the wee small hours at a seedy blues club in the seediest part of ’70s downtown Los Angeles.

Music reminiscent of such a particular time and place shouldn’t have proven so timeless, but doing just that is a part of Waits’s peculiar genius.

(I can’t recommend Bone Machine, even though it’s probably my favorite Tom Waits. Even as a dedicated fan it took me years to warm up to that album. As I think I’ve written here before, it sounds like it was recorded in an old barn, and instead of instruments, he and his band just banged away on whatever rusty implements they happened to find in there. And they did it at night. Under a full moon. It’s only for Advanced Level Waits Fans, although if you dare, “Black Wings” is one of the more approachable songs from that album.)

More in Anger Than in Sorrow

September 5th, 2014 - 1:01 pm

On this week’s Members Only Trifecta, I’m asking for your strategy for dealing with the Islamic State.

BONUS: Wisdom from the mouth of my eight-year-old.

Coalition of the Chillin’

September 5th, 2014 - 12:12 pm

COALITION

File this one under What’s Taking So Long? Read:

The United States said on Friday it was forming a “core coalition” to battle Islamic State militants in Iraq, calling for broad support from allies and partners but ruling out committing ground forces.

President Barack Obama sought to use a NATO summit in Wales to enlist allied support in fighting the Islamist militants, but it is unclear how many nations might join the United States in air strikes in Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told foreign and defense ministers from 10 nations on the sidelines of the summit that there were many ways they could help.

Forming a coalition against a group as hostile to everybody as IS/Caliphate is, shouldn’t be any more difficult or take any longer than a magnet takes to arrange iron filings in an arc. That is to say, it should just happen.

The Caliphate is so terroristically murderous to anything Not-Caliphate, that everyone in its path should align itself, just like those iron filings, to any strong force. Up until recent years, we were that force. Now the filings have nothing to align to, which is why we find ourselves struggling at this late date to put together a coalition.

Sign “O” the Times

September 5th, 2014 - 11:26 am

GOLDMAN SACHS

And the rich get richer:

Under President Obama, the richest 10 percent were the only income group of Americans to see their median incomes rise, according to a survey released this week by the Federal Reserve.

The Fed data covered the years 2010-2013, during which period Mr. Obama constantly campaigned against income inequality and won re-election by painting his Republican rival as a tool of Wall Street plutocrats.

“Data from the 2013 [Survey of Consumer Finances] confirm that the shares of income and wealth held by affluent families are at modern historically high levels,” the report said in noting that the median income fell for every 10-percent grouping except the most affluent 10 percent.

This is the direct result of pumping up equities owned by the few, while squashing the entrepreneurial activities which benefit everyone.

Bye-Bye Ukraine, Hello Novorossiya

September 5th, 2014 - 10:42 am

Krauthammer:

We’ll see whether Obama comes up with an ISIS strategy. But he already has one for Ukraine: Write it off. Hence the more shocking statement in that Aug. 28 briefing: Obama declaring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — columns of tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery and a thousand troops brazenly crossing the border — to be nothing new, just “a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now.”

And just to reaffirm his indifference and inaction, Obama mindlessly repeated his refrain that the Ukraine problem has no military solution. Yes, but does he not understand that diplomatic solutions are largely dictated by the military balance on the ground?

No, it’s clear he doesn’t understand that, or possibly more correctly, he refuses to understand it. Wishful thinking and temporary stances rule the day.

When it comes to Ukraine, Russia is willing to go to war for it and we aren’t. That has little to do with Obama, and most everything to do with the geopolitical fact that Russia believes it has great national interests at stake there, and we don’t. The proper course in that circumstance is for us to either turn a blind eye and shut up about it, or to have cut a bigger deal with Russia, one where Ukraine is the smaller stake, long before the tanks rolled in. Both options are ugly and more than a little sordid, yet preferable to the course of action Obama has followed.

Drawing self-erasing red lines and making unenforceable demands merely whets the appetites of a man like Putin. “Obama tried and failed to stop me in Ukraine,” goes the thinking, “so let me see where else he’ll fall back from.” It’s nice to see that NATO might finally be getting semi-serious about defending the Baltic States, but that’s a bit like jury-rigging the henhouse door shut after the fox has already taken one of the hens — he’s going to come sniffing around again, probing for weak spots.

Major wars have begun over less.

(Hat tip to Longtime Sharp VodkaPundit Reader™ JLW for that last link, which I seriously recommend you click.)

Peace Talks? What Peace Talks?

September 5th, 2014 - 9:35 am

BURN BABY

About that ceasefire

Witnesses reported heavy shelling north and east of Mariupol, a strategic city of about half a million people that lies on the Sea of Azov between Russia to the east and the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula to the west.

The seizure of Mariupol, which could provide a land corridor between Russia and Crimea, would give Russian-backed separatists a strong presence in the area just as talks aimed at ending the conflict are due to start later Friday in Minsk, Belarus. Representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the pro-Russian separatists and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are meeting in Minsk.

The latest fighting began around 2 p.m. Thursday, when six insurgent tanks and vehicles assaulted a Ukrainian checkpoint near the village of Shyrokyne about 14 miles east of Mariupol, soldiers on the ground said. The checkpoint was destroyed, and the Azov Battalion, Ukraine’s volunteer soldier brigade in Mariupol, fell back.

That’s on the heels of a story from last week I’d missed until just now:

Russian tanks have “destroyed virtually every house” in the town of Novosvitlivka near Luhansk, Ukraine’s military has said, as the EU considers fresh sanctions against Russia.

“We have information that virtually every house has been destroyed,” a spokesman said, without giving details on when the reported attack took place.

If the goal is to make eastern Ukraine ungovernable from Kyiv, that sort of thing ought to do it.

I’m reminded of a WWII history I read a decade or so ago, but can’t remember which one. The author examined the July ’43 Allied bombing of Hamburg and its aftermath. The city was so thoroughly destroyed — in no small part by a totally unexpected 1,500-foot-tall tornado of fire — that a postwar bombing survey found that Nagasaki hadn’t received such a beating from Fat Man in ’45. But the real crisis for the Germans, unknown to the Allies at the time, was the refugee problem. A major city had been wiped out, and the hundreds of thousand of survivors had to go somewhere, had to be fed, had to be sheltered. The author estimated that had we targeted two more cites of similar a greater size for similar destruction, the refugee crisis would have been enough to overwhelm and collapse the Nazi state — and end the war in Europe a year or more early.

How many lives could have been saved? It’s impossible to tell, but that half-forgotten book does make me wonder if Putin might be trying a smaller-scale version of victory-through-collapse in Ukraine.

Barack in Action

September 5th, 2014 - 8:30 am

NATO

Yesterday I wrote a column explaining that NATO lacks leadership. And what happened next? This:

President Obama was nowhere to be found during the beginning of a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine commission in Wales on Thursday.

Obama was “noticeably absent” from the start of the meeting, according to a White House pool report, although U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute was in attendance.

Empty chair, indeed.

Required Reading

September 5th, 2014 - 7:08 am

Senator Rand Paul wants to get serious about the Islamic State:

If I had been in President Obama’s shoes, I would have acted more decisively and strongly against ISIS

Some pundits are surprised that I support destroying the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militarily. They shouldn’t be. I’ve said since I began public life that I am not an isolationist, nor am I an interventionist. I look at the world, and consider war, realistically and constitutionally.

I still see war as the last resort. But I agree with Reagan’s idea that no country should mistake U.S. reluctance for war for a lack of resolve.

Read the whole thing.

It’s always been my hope that as more libertarian-leaning politicians rose to power, they’d see that there are bad people in this world in serious need of killing before they kill us. It’s called “getting serious” about foreign policy. Ron Paul, Rand’s father, never did that, not even when he was running for President. Rand is getting serious, and it’s good to see.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

September 5th, 2014 - 6:18 am

SURCHARGE

Eating out at some LA restaurants just got a little more expensive as some restauranteurs — surprise! — are passing their ♡bamaCare!!! expenses on to their customers:

The cost of offering these benefits is significant and the reality is that restaurants, particularly smaller restaurants like the ones many of us own, have a very high ratio of staff members to revenue and run on very slim profit margins. Successfully run restaurants generally make between 5-10% net profits so a health care benefit which eats away 3% of gross sales will take away anywhere from 30% to 50% of annual profits for a restaurant. We’ve discussed simply raising menu prices, but ultimately food prices are tied in many ways to the ingredients we purchase. Those ingredient costs have increased astronomically recently so we’re already struggling with working creatively to keep menu prices down and don’t feel it’s right to try to factor health care costs into menu prices as well. We’d rather keep our menu costs as an accurate refection of our ingredient prices so that customers know that if we have to raise them it’s because we can’t avoid passing on our increased costs.

It’s almost as if there’s no such thing as a free lunch.