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A Most Unpalatable Meal

December 9th, 2014 - 9:51 am

I hate this, but I’ve warned of it before (and taken a lot of heat for it), and now Ramesh Ponnuru is saying much the same thing as I and others have:

The public is right to dislike Obamacare. It has achieved, at great expense, an expansion of health-insurance coverage, but much of this coverage is of a very low quality. The most committed defenders of the law try to credit it with lowering the rate of growth in health-care spending. The attempt is risible: The trend toward lower inflation long predates Obamacare. The law has a poor cost-benefit ratio even before we consider all the coercion and disruption it has entailed.

For all Obamacare’s justified unpopularity, however, the political branches of the government are not going to repeal it so long as someone committed to it is in the Oval Office. It is not even going to be meaningfully reformed. What Republicans can and should do is to prepare the ground for the law’s repeal and replacement by increasing the likelihood that a president committed to a credible plan to achieve that goal will be elected in 2016 and have a congressional majority to support him.

That means eating some crap sandwiches between now and then, unpleasant as that will be.

Winning complete control of Capitol Hill was only the warmup act for 2016. Everything else must take second place, if we’re to remove this ♡bamaCare!!! albatross from around the country’s neck.

Big Advance in Solar

December 9th, 2014 - 8:41 am

PLANTS

With a tip of the hat to Charlie Martin, a team of Australian scientists just blew away the previous record for solar conversion efficiency:

A team from the University of New South Wales, Australia, just set a new world record for solar energy efficiency by successfully converting 40.4% of available sunlight into electricity. And what’s even more remarkable is the fact that the record was achieved by using commercially available solar cells in a new way – which means, as the team explains, “these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry.”

The efficiency record was first set outdoors in Sydney, and was then independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Lab in the United States. The photovoltaic technology used by the UNSW team differs from conventional solar cell technology in one key way: it utilizes triple-junction solar cells. These cells, as Motherboard explains, “are basically a sandwich of differently tuned semiconductors with each one able to capture a different wavelength of sunlight.”

As the innerweb saying goes — faster, please.

Casa Verde has some excellent southern exposure, and my part of the state is famous for averaging 300 days of sunny skies each year. Melissa and I have looked just a little into adding enough solar panels to our electrical system to take the edge off those rising electricity prices.

If the Aussies really can deliver those efficiencies at affordable prices with COTS materials, then we might be able to make a decision sooner than we thought.

Or are we dreaming?

Thought for the Day

December 9th, 2014 - 7:57 am

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

December 9th, 2014 - 7:12 am

I’m taping Trifecta and will miss the live testimony, but here’s part of a pre-release from the House GOP caucus:

By now we’ve all seen the numerous videos of Jonathan Gruber admitting to deliberately deceiving the American people in order to get the President’s healthcare law passed. In his own words, he “relied on the stupidity of the American voter.” Make no mistake- Gruber’s remarks were not a slip of the tongue. He echoed the same sentiments on half a dozen occasions, to numerous different audiences. In a half-hearted mea culpa, he offered what could barely be described as an apology saying he had “spoken off the cuff” and “regretted those comments.” Yet more videos continued to surface of him echoing the same sentiments.

Gruber’s confession raises an important question: Did Gruber also deceive House and Senate Democrats into passing the Affordable Care Act, or were they complicit in deceiving the American people?

Ignorance of the bill is no excuse — of course they were complicit.

Rocky Mountain High

December 9th, 2014 - 6:03 am

IRIE TOURS

I suppose this was inevitable — a nicely appointed RV to take you and some friends on a tour to some of Colorado’s natural wonders, and to some of Colorado’s perfectly legal head shops.

They even do weddings.

(H/T, Colorado Rebecca.)

We are entering a Stoned New World here, as Colorado entrepreneurs come up with new ways to make money in the new… ah… atmosphere… of tolerance. It’s also an interesting test case for longtime proponents of legalization such as myself, to see what happens when perfect theory encounters an imperfect world. Our first stumbling block is that the state-sponsored growers and sellers cartels have kept prices artificially high (no pun intended), so we still have a black market for the green herb. That also means, as we’ve discussed here before, that tax revenues are not meeting expectations.

On the plus side, Colorado doesn’t seem to have gained any big new criminal element, and our headlines aren’t dominated by pot stories. Yes, there have been arrests for public intoxication and for dumb stoners doing dumb things — just as before legalization. Anecdotally, the last time I saw someone light up at a party also happened to have been before legalization. If there’s been a surge in pot use, it’s difficult to detect here in El Paso County.

In the meantime, we have some smart operators like Irie Tours, making money by letting people enjoy all of what my beautiful state has to offer, in a clean and presumably safe environment. Since daily news scans haven’t shown anything much different or any worse going on in Washington State, I’m guessing the situation up there is pretty much the same as it is here — tokers gonna toke, but without the risk of arrest or the dangers of the black market.

I’ll keep you posted with further updates, but not until after I’ve finished this bag of Cheetos and this episode of Gilligan’s Island.

Kidding.

The Golden, Deep-Fried State

December 9th, 2014 - 5:29 am

DUSTBOWL

Nobody can hide the decline in California’s rainfall, but who’s fault is the draught? Nobody’s:

“It’s important to note that California’s drought, while extreme, is not an uncommon occurrence for the state,” said Richard Seager, report lead author and professor with Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. The report, “Causes and Predictability of the 2011-14 California Drought,” was sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The report did not appear in a peer-reviewed journal, but was reviewed by other NOAA scientists.

“In fact, multi-year droughts appear regularly in the state’s climate record, and it’s a safe bet that a similar event will happen again,” he said.

Huh. It’s almost as thought the weather changes all on its own.

Vox Populi, Vox Dei

December 8th, 2014 - 2:47 pm

On the off chance that the “new” Congress hasn’t disappointed you enough already, a little something just hit my inbox from Julie Borowski:

FreedomWorks has heard that GOP House leadership has agreed to a deal with the Senate that drops the NSA reform amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Bill in the forthcoming omnibus spending bill.

Today, Rep. Massie wrote on his Facebook page:

Word is spreading that the Massie/Lofgren/Sensenbrenner/Holt #NSA amendment to stop backdoor spying will be dropped from the final government funding bill (omnibus). A veto-proof majority of Republicans and Democrats voted for my NSA reform amendment this summer. If this amendment is killed in a back room is that the will of the people?

If true, we are greatly disappointed that the House and Senate leadership have opposed the will of the people.

With a very nicely padded majority in the House and a functional majority in the Senate, now is the time for a real struggle for the heart & soul of the GOP.

It’s been a long time coming, and I hope my Tea Party friends have learned something from their wins and losses over the last five years.

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Facts

December 8th, 2014 - 1:30 pm

Here’s Allahpundit on the mess in Jackie’s story, Erdely’s account, and Rolling Stone’s lackadaisical editing and fact-checking:

What are we left with from all that? [Jackie] told her friends one thing around the time the attack, which supports the idea that something happened, but her story now seems to line up in most particulars with the RS version, which at least one of those same friends regards as false. Maguire thinks it’s more likely than not that something happened but that the post-traumatic stress she suffered afterwards left her memories of it a hash over time — which, of course, made it all the more important for Rolling Stone to talk to everyone involved in the case, friends and alleged attackers alike, to see what was real and what wasn’t. Erdely and the crack RS editorial team apparently didn’t do that. Nor, as it turns out, is this the first story that Erdely’s written where the details seemed sensational enough to arouse suspicion. Ed mentioned one piece from her archives that appears to have problems in his post this morning; Mollie Hemingway found another, about a housewife turned madam, with enough implausible twists and turns to support 20 Lifetime movies of the week. Maybe Erdely just has a nose for fantastic stories involving protagonists who, for one reason or another, can’t be identified.

There’s a fair complaint that whatever happened to Jackie, and it seems like something did, Erdely and RS have done real damage to other rape victims who might now be even more afraid than ever to come forward. Left unsaid though is what Erdely has done to Jackie. Here we have a young woman who might be the victim of some sort of attack, or who might be a fabulist, or maybe something in between. But thanks to Erdely “rape shopping” adventures to find the storyline she had preconceived, even Jackie herself may never know the truth of what, if anything happened to her at UVA.

France Surrenders — A Major Arms Sale

December 8th, 2014 - 12:25 pm

Good:

France has stood up to Russian threats and is sticking by its decision to not deliver the first of two Mistral class amphibious ships. This is all about NATO opposition to Russian aggression in Ukraine. Back in June France was willing to defy its NATO allies and deliver the first Mistral, as promised, before the end of 2014. But continued Russian aggression in Ukraine, including the shooting down of an airliner in July, persuaded France to halt delivery. Russia now threatens to sue in court, but the Russians may find themselves in court for war crimes, which would have an impact on the Mistral contract suit.

Back in June most European nations did not like seeing the France renege on their 2011 contract, worth over $1.8 billion, for the two Mistral class amphibious ships. This is the largest Russian purchase of Western weapons since World War II.

French arms deals are usually more mercantilist than strategic, which should give you a clear indication of just how worried Paris is about Moscow’s intentions.

News You Can Use

December 8th, 2014 - 11:21 am

CAUGHT

Shootout in Vegas:

A man police tied to at least four casino robberies in Las Vegas was shot dead by cops at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino on Sunday.

The serial robbery suspect had been under surveillance by undercover officers for four days when he was gunned down while resisting arrest near the guest elevators at 5:05 a.m.

Police initially used a stun gun on the man, but opened fire when he reached for his waistband, Metro police Capt. Matt McCarthy said.

In the old days, the casinos would have handled this as a strictly internal matter, happy to give the thief a choice — “You can either have the money and the hammer or you can walk out of here. You can’t have both.”

Vegas was a nicer place in the old days.

About That Jobs Report…

December 8th, 2014 - 10:52 am

Chart of Doom

In case, after six years of Obamanomics, you hadn’t yet learned to read below the headline numbers, maybe Jeff Cox help you with that:

Friday’s turbocharged jobs headline came thanks to seasonal adjustments and other wizardry at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reported that U.S. job growth hit 321,000 even as the unemployment rate held steady at 5.8 percent.

That big headline number translated into just 4,000 more working Americans. There were, at the same time, another 115,000 on the unemployment line. That disparity can be explained through an expanding labor force, which grew 119,000, though the participation rate among that group remained at 62.8 percent, which is just off the year’s worst level and around a 36-year low.

But wait, there’s more: The jobs that were created skewed heavily toward lower quality. Full-time jobs declined by 150,000, while part-time positions increased by 77,000.

Cox notes that analysts “mostly gushed over the report,” which should also teach you all you need to know about most analysts.

Required Reading

December 8th, 2014 - 9:41 am

Today’s installment is from Victor Davis Hanson:

The United States has slashed its defense budget to historic lows. It sends the message abroad that friendship with America brings few rewards while hostility toward the U.S. has even fewer consequences. The bedrock American relationships with staunch allies such as Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan and Israel are fading. Instead, we court new belligerents that don’t like the United States, such as Turkey and Iran.

No one has any idea of how to convince a rising China that its turn toward military aggression will only end in disaster, in much the same fashion that a confident westernizing Imperial Japan overreached in World War II. Lecturing loudly and self-righteously while carrying a tiny stick did not work with Japanese warlords of the 1930s. It won’t work with the communist Chinese either.

Radical Islam is spreading in the same sort of way that postwar communism once swamped postcolonial Asia, Africa and Latin America. But this time there are only weak responses from the democratic, free-market West. Westerners despair over which is worse — theocratic Iran, the Islamic State or Bashar Assad’s Syria — and seem paralyzed over where exactly the violence will spread next and when it will reach them.

A large war is looming, one that will be far more costly than the preventative vigilance that might have stopped it.[Emphasis added]

Isn’t that always the case?

“A Force Adrift”

December 8th, 2014 - 8:36 am

Hope Hodge Seck has written a long and excellent piece for MilitaryTimes.com, and I think you’ll want to make the time to read the whole thing. Here’s something to get you started:

The wars against America’s enemies gave troops like [Marine Sgt. Zack] Cantu a noble purpose. Their training had focus, their sacrifices were appreciated by a largely grateful nation. That gratitude was reflected from the White House to the citizen in the street, all of whom heaped praise upon military members for their service.

Congress lavished generous pay increases and expanded benefits on them while spending deeply to provide the gear and weapons they needed. Recruiters raced to grow the size of the services, and society vowed to never again undervalue the 1 percent of the country who stepped forward to keep them safe.

Today, however, that gratitude seems to be dwindling. The services have weathered several years of deep cuts in funding and tens of thousands of troops have been unceremoniously given the boot. Many still in uniform and seeking to retire from the military fear the same fate, as those cuts are not yet complete.

Meanwhile, tax revenue stands at a record this year, and the deficit is projected to come in at another half trillion dollars — still higher than Bush’s worst non-TARP year.

Where is the money going — because it certainly isn’t going to our military.

I’ll leave you with one final thought, courtesy of Will Collier.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

December 8th, 2014 - 7:24 am

MINILOVE

Scott Gottleib details the law’s damage to private practice:

A recent Physicians Foundation survey of some 20,000 U.S. doctors found that 35% described themselves as independent, down from 49% in 2012 and 62% in 2008. Once independent doctors become the exception rather than the rule, the continued advance of the ObamaCare agenda will become virtually unstoppable.

Local competition between providers, who vie to contract with health plans, is largely eliminated by these consolidated health systems. Since all health care is local, the lack of competition will soon make it much harder to implement a market-based alternative to ObamaCare. The resulting medical monopolies will make more regulation the most obvious solution to the inevitable cost and quality problems.

The key the the law’s hostility to private medical practices lies in the word “private.”

“Divide and conquer,” advised Ellsworth Toohey. “Then unite and rule.”

Gore Vidal’s Caligula put it more bluntly: “If only all of Rome had just one neck.”

Japan, Inc to File Chapter 11?

December 8th, 2014 - 6:14 am

MacArthur Shigemitsu

Simon Black:

The Japanese government is walking on a sword’s edge, though. On one hand they need inflation to be able to keep the debt repayments going, but on the other, by pushing for higher inflation they’re inevitably pushing for higher interest rates as well—meaning higher debt payments.

They’ve backed themselves into a corner.

This system clearly has an expiration date, one that’s long past due.

As it is, over 25% of Japan’s tax revenue goes towards just the INTEREST on the debt.

Remember, the late Ottoman Empire’s fiscal situation spiraled out of control just in a matter of years, to the point when they were paying 52% of their tax revenue just to pay interest on the debt in 1877. And at that point they were finished. They defaulted that year.

In April, the Japanese government raised the sales tax rate from 5% to 8%, which while doing nothing for the government’s ability to cover debt payments, did significant damage on the country’s growth in terms of GDP.

Clearly that didn’t work out very well, so they’re postponing the planned second increase in the sales tax.

But by doing that, the country’s credit rating was promptly downgraded by Moody’s.

While it’s astonishing that Japan’s rating is still as high as it is, the shift downwards is critical.

This is the beginning of the end.

That was Friday. This is Tyler Durden this morning:

Without doubt, the most memorable line from the latest quarterly report by the BIS, one which shows how shocked even the central banks’ central bank is with how perverted and broken the “market” has become is the following: “The highly abnormal is becoming uncomfortably normal…. There is something vaguely troubling when the unthinkable becomes routine.”

Overnight, “markets” did all in their (central banks’) power to justify the BIS’ amazement, when first the Nikkei closed green following another shocker of Japanese econ data, when it was revealed that the quadruple-dip recession was even worse than expected.

This is what the endgame looks like when a nation tries to spend its way to prosperity. I hope all the Krugmans of the world are taking note.

Trifecta Extra

December 8th, 2014 - 5:16 am

EXTRA

In which your Trifecta stalwarts tackle the most controversial issue of our day…

The proper way to eat breakfast.

Friday Night Videos

December 5th, 2014 - 10:27 pm

It took a long time to figure out this famous Rickie Lee Jones song, “Company,” the penultimate track of her 1979 debut album.

For years I didn’t bother with it, because I was a teen and it was one of those awful syrupy piano ballads. (“What about Billy Joel when you were a teen?” “Shut up. That’s different.”) And then when I got older and finally noticed how pretty it was, the lyric was bothersome.

In this part, it sounds like she’s grieving a dead lover. In that part, it sounds like her lover dumped her.

Well, which is it?

I finally figured out a couple decades ago, when coping with my first real heartbreak, that it doesn’t matter. Emotionally, the effect either loss is exactly the same: Something that was supposed to last forever is suddenly gone, and all you’re left with is the shock, the ache, the Big Empty in the middle of your gut, which also somehow feels like a medicine ball filling up your insides.

Filled up with empty, that’s it.

And this song captures that impossibility, flawlessly.

Sign “O” the Times

December 5th, 2014 - 1:26 pm

One of the weirdest places I’ve ever visited is Vienna. Amazing old architecture, and a very wealthy and storied city for such a small country. Of course, that was all just the echoes of empire. The strangest part was that everybody was so old — hardly a child to be seen anywhere.

That was Europe 30 years ago. This is America today:

We need more babies. American fertility rates are declining at a record pace. A new Wall Street Journal report citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that fewer births mean less workers to drive the economy and fewer people paying into a tax base to finance benefits for the elderly.

“This is one of the first signs we’re seeing of a real tangible threat to the long term economy,” says Yahoo Finance’s Jeff Macke. The U.S. needs 2.1 children per woman to keep the population stable. In 2013, women were only averaging 1.86. Fewer babies and a declining population means less consumer spending.

Forget what the politicians are trying to sell you. The most important indicator of hope is making a baby.

Two Years of Standard Orbits, Mr. Sulu

December 5th, 2014 - 12:36 pm

X-37B

This is a whole lot of robotic flying:

A U.S. Air Force X-37B UOV (unmanned orbital vehicle) landed October 17th under software control after 675 days in orbit. Previously an X-37B landed on June 16th 2012 after 469 days in orbit. The first mission ended on December 3rd 2010 after 224 days in orbit. The air force reports few details about the X-37B but has said it plans to launch another one in 2015.

The official endurance of the X-37B was originally about 280 days. The real endurance appears to be nearly three times that. The long endurance is largely because the X-37B carries a large solar panel, which is deployed from the cargo bay, unfolded and produces enough power to keep the X-37B up there for a long time. The air force has not reported what t the X-37B has been doing up there all this time. The air force has revealed that it is designing an X-37C, which would be twice the size of the X-37B and able to carry up to six passengers. Think of it as Space Shuttle Lite, but robotic and run by the military, not NASA.

My first question was, “What was it doing up there are that time?” But then I remembered that question was answered almost exactly 24 years ago by Dr. Frasier Crane on one of my favorite episodes of Cheers.

Woody landed an acting gig in a commercial for a new V8-type of vegetable drink. The problem was, he hated the stuff, and Woody being Woody he couldn’t in good faith star in an ad for a drink he didn’t like.

So he asked Frasier to hypnotize him into liking the stuff. Of course the hypnosis worked, and of course there were unintended consequences of a comedic nature, and of course “You can really taste the kale!” instantly became a part of my own personal vernacular.

But there was one gag, almost under the radar, and so lovely that it’s stuck with me all this time.

Frasier and Woody retreated to Sam’s office for Woody’s hypnosis session. Hours later, Frasier emerges and someone says to him something like, “It must have taken forever to get him to like that drink.”

Frasier replies, “No, just a few minutes.”

“Then what were you doing to him the rest of the time?”

And Fraiser, with a sly smile and that voice of his says, “Ohhhh, just poking around.”

The X-37B is the Dr. Frasier Crane of Air Force orbital vehicles.

The Oil Bubble

December 5th, 2014 - 11:03 am

From Charles Hugh-Smith via Tyler Durden:

Since 2009, central state/bank authorities have backstopped the private banking sector and the sovereign debt market with everything they’ve got. The Federal Reserve alone threw something on the order of $23 trillion in guarantees, loans and backstops at the private banking sector, and the other central banks have thrown trillions of yuan, yen and euros to shore up the banking sector and sovereign debt.

They did this because they identified the banking sector and sovereign debt as the sources of systemic risk. Now that they’ve effectively shored up these two risk-laden sectors with the full weight of the central state and bank, they presume the systemic risk has been eradicated.

They could not be more wrong. As I often note, risk cannot be disappeared, it can only be masked or transferred. The systemic risk will not manifest in the heavily protected banking sector or the sovereign debt market–risk will break out of sectors that are considered ‘safe”–like oil.

Yesterday, I described how The Financialization of Oil has followed much the same path as the financialization of home mortgages in the 2000s: a “safe” sector has been piled high with highly profitable and highly risky debt and leverage.

We just had a conversation an hour or two ago about what declining oil prices might do to Vlad Putin’s Russia, but Russia isn’t the only country at risk of financial ruin. Before we get to that though, a brief word about the Saudis.

The Saudis don’t enjoy so much control over the price of oil just because they have so much of it, although that is a part of their control. The other part is that their oil is the highest quality (light, sweet), easy to get to (scratch the sand and the oil comes forth), and easy to market (the oil fields are right there on the coast). So the Saudis can sell oil at a profit at prices which drive higher-cost producers out of business.

The fracking revolution has done wonderful things for our economy, but fracking is far from a low-cost method of oil production. See this from an October Reuters report:

ROBERT W. BAIRD EQUITY RESEARCH (Oct. 14)
“We estimate $73 as the weighted average breakeven point for
U.S. supply.”

SHALE FIELD BREAKEVEN OIL
PRICE PER BARREL
Eagle Ford Liquids Rich $53
Wolfcamp North Midland $57
Bakken Core $61
Niobrara Extension $64
Eagle Ford Oil $65
Niobrara Core $68
Wolfcamp South Midland $75

Bakken Non Core $75
Texas Panhandle $81
Mississippi Lime $84
Barnett Combo $93

At the time of this writing, crude oil is trading at under $70.

Much of our present recovery, lame as it is, is due to the revolution in fracking. The jobs pay well, the work requires lots of expensive equipment, and those benefits plus the benefits of cheaper energy ripple through the rest of the economy. So it’s great to watch Putin squirm as the rug is pulled out from under his imperial ambitions, but if Hugh-Smith is right, the US economy could be looking at an oil bubble ready to pop — a bubble every bit as big as the real estate bubble of 2007-08. The ripple effects we’re enjoying now could easily become the giant sucking sound of trillions of dollars leaving the economy.

Can we afford for the Fed to inflate its balance sheet by several additional trillions? Can we afford another trillion-dollar stimulus? Can we afford seven trillion more in debt? Can we afford negative interest rates?

Which begs further questions still.

Where would the Fed’s newly-minted trillions go? Who would be the beneficiaries of Washington’s renewed largess? Who would buy our debt? What happens to an economy when banks become the Fed’s enlarged syphons of middle class savings?

I’m not sure there’s ever been First World economy as dependent on the production of extraction wealth as ours has become under Obamanomics. We’re in uncharted waters here, but its plain to see for anyone willing to look that they are treacherous.

Thought for the Day

December 5th, 2014 - 10:21 am

GOP Contenders Call for Defense Hikes

December 5th, 2014 - 9:47 am

We can hope:

Prospective candidates Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R., La.) spoke at a Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) forum on Wednesday, while Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) discussed national security issues at a Wall Street Journal CEO Council’s meeting on Tuesday. All three backed increases in defense spending amid steep budget cuts, effectively endorsing the GOP’s role as the party of national defense. Some members had flirted with targeting the Pentagon to trim budget deficits after election victories in 2010.

Cruz said the defense cuts known as sequestration are “having a serious, deleterious effect on our ability to defend our nation,” though he noted that the Pentagon’s budget is “not immune from congressional pork.” Even Paul, who had previously expressed a desire to reduce defense spending and has generally advocated for a more noninterventionist foreign policy, said he would support a larger defense budget if cuts could be found elsewhere.

We have the money — Washington is enjoying another record take this year, despite another half-trillion dollar deficit.

The question is one of priorities, and the Wiggleroom Administration prefers welfare dependency at home to strength abroad. We’ve made this mistake before, and recovering from it was painful. But Carter never “stuffed the beast” to the degree Obama has, which means the next Reagan, should there ever be one, will have a much harder time starving it.

Can Putin Withstand Falling Oil Prices?

December 5th, 2014 - 8:34 am

That’s the question, isn’t it? And the answer is… it’s complicated:

“It is not clear,” writes Martin Feldstein, the eminent Harvard economist, whether Putin’s regime (or similar ones in Iran and Venezuela) “could survive a substantial and sustained future decline in oil prices.”

It depends on who has the more accurate view of authoritarian power dynamics: Yegor Gaidar or Emmanuel Goldstein.

Gaidar, who died five years ago, is best known as an economist, a senior official in Boris Yeltsin’s post-Soviet Russian government and a promoter of the thesis that the Soviet Union collapsed largely because of a sharp drop in oil prices, brought about by Saudi Arabia’s decision in September 1985 to increase production.

The Saudi move, which Gaidar portrayed as a deliberate attempt to loosen Moscow’s grip on what was then a Cold War battlefield in Afghanistan, cost the Soviets approximately $20 billion a year, “money without which the country simply could not survive,” as he put it in a 2007 essay.

The Soviet Union was arguably in a stronger position, even in the mid-’80s, than Russia is in today. Certainly the USSR enjoyed much greater strategic depth, surrendered when the polyglot empire dissolved into its constituent SSRs. The Soviets also had a governing philosophy, bankrupt as it was — Putin has only a cunning thuggishness backed up by petrodollars.

And the petrodollars are drying up.

That’s not to say Putin’s government will necessarily fall. Cunning thuggishness has been enough to keep plenty of cunning thugs in power for a very long time. But his imperial ambitions may very well have to wait.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

December 5th, 2014 - 7:26 am

One year later, security is still an issue:

A new report, dated Sept. 29 but released on Dec. 2 by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, says improvements are needed to ensure the security of information provided to the IRS by health insurers and pharmaceutical manufacturers for the Affordable Care Act program.

In an earlier report, TIGTA listed steps the IRS needed to take to protect consumer tax information on ACA health insurance exchanges (see IRS Told To Beef Up Obamacare Scrutiny).

Security control weaknesses identified in the TIGTA audit could affect the IRS’s ability to reliably process the electronic reports submitted by insurers and drug companies that are used to accurately determine the applicable fees, according to the report.

The TIGTA review, conducted between November 2013 and May 2014, found that the IRS conducted security and other tests of the core system for handling the information from insurers and pharmaceutical companies. But it found that “improvements are needed to ensure the long-term success of the … system.”

It’s the IRS. You can trust the IRS.

There’s an Illegal App for That

December 5th, 2014 - 6:16 am

EAZE

If pot is legal, a delivery service seems like a fine idea to me — let’s keep the stoners off the roads, shall we? But that’s not how they see it in the City of Buttinsky Angels:

The Los Angeles city attorney filed a lawsuit Tuesday to shut down a mobile phone application that arranges medical marijuana home deliveries.

The suit alleges that the iPhone and Android free app, Nestdrop, is a “flagrant attempt” to bypass restrictions contained in Proposition D, the medical marijuana law approved by Los Angeles voters last year.

Nestdrop links customers with delivery services. It started as an alcoholic beverage delivery service but added marijuana in November, promising arrival within an hour.

Pot delivery is currently only available in Los Angeles, but the company has said it wants to expand throughout Southern California.

California, the birthplace of beach music and hotrods, now takes the fun out of everything.

This is such a perfect teaser for longtime fans like me, that I’m just out of words.

Lame Duck Gone Wilder!

December 4th, 2014 - 1:14 pm

It’s Part II of Bill Whittle’s Trifecta Triple.

The ♡bamaCare!!! Bandwagon of Total Suckitude

December 4th, 2014 - 12:18 pm

First Schumer, now Harkin:

Sen. Tom Harkin, one of the co-authors of the Affordable Care Act, now thinks Democrats may have been better off not passing it at all and holding out for a better bill.

The Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, laments the complexity of legislation the Senate passed five years ago.

He wonders in hindsight whether the law was made overly complicated to satisfy the political concerns of a few Democratic centrists who have since left Congress.

“We had the power to do it in a way that would have simplified healthcare, made it more efficient and made it less costly and we didn’t do it,” Harkin told The Hill. “So I look back and say we should have either done it the correct way or not done anything at all.

Harkin’s comments are actually quite a bit more damaging than Schumer. Schumer only lamented the timing of the law, not its contents. Harkin is now on record saying the law is crap.

So my question to the Complicit Media (cough, Greg Sargent, cough) is: Does this mean ♡bamaCare!!! is working?

brokeniphone

Cyrus Farivar reports for Ars Technica:

Newly discovered court documents from two federal criminal cases in New York and California that remain otherwise sealed suggest that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is pursuing an unusual legal strategy to compel cellphone makers to assist investigations.

In both cases, the seized phones—one of which is an iPhone 5S—are encrypted and cannot be cracked by federal authorities. Prosecutors have now invoked the All Writs Act, an 18th-century federal law that simply allows courts to issue a writ, or order, which compels a person or company to do something.

Some legal experts are concerned that these rarely made public examples of the lengths the government is willing to go in defeating encrypted phones raise new questions as to how far the government can compel a private company to aid a criminal investigation.

Two federal judges agree that the phone manufacturer in each case—one of which remains sealed, one of which is definitively Apple—should provide aid to the government.

And here’s a bit more:

Alex Abdo, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, wondered if the government could invoke the All Writs Act to “compel Master Lock to come to your house and break [a physical lock] open.”

“That’s kind of like the question of could the government compel your laptop maker to unlock your disk encryption?” he said. “And I think those are very complicated questions, and if so, then that’s complicated constitutional questions whether the government can conscript them to be their agents. Then there’s one further question: can the government use the All Writs Act to compel the installation of backdoors?”

But, if Apple really can’t decrypt the phone as it claims, the point is moot.

If I understand correctly how iOS encryption works, then it’s true that Apple couldn’t crack your iPhone or iPad, even under court order and with Tim Cook being waterboarded.

But it’s still up to the user to password protect and biometric protect their devices.

If you have an iPhone 5S or later, and iPad Air 2, or an iPad Mini 3, you’ll want to add the extra convenience of using TouchID. The Feds have argued that the police may compel you to use your fingerprint to unlock a device, just like they may compel you to provide your fingerprints upon arrest.

But there are a couple things you need to know.

First, there’s some doubt as to whether the “thumbprint test” will stand. When taken into custody, your fingerprints are taken to establish your identity and to keep a record of it. But using your thumbprint to unlock your phone is an entirely different matter, enabling the police to rifle through your personal papers and effects without a warrant or even your permission. Yes, they’re both “just fingerprints,” but to entirely different ends — one constitutional, the other not.

Also, iOS devices automatically disable Touch ID after ten failed attempts, or after a power shutdown, or after any other loss of power. At that point, only your password can wake the device, and the courts have said that the police may not force you to provide your password without a warrant.

So use Touch ID, don’t use any obvious, easy-to-guess passwords, and shut down your device at the first sign of trouble. In the worst case, smash the thing on the ground, because they can’t force you to unlock a device which no longer works.

100 of Our Brains Are Missing!

December 4th, 2014 - 10:53 am

ABBY NORMAL

And no, this story wasn’t filed from the White House or from Capitol Hill. Read:

The University of Texas at Austin is missing about 100 brains — about half of the specimens the university had in a collection of brains preserved in jars of formaldehyde.

One of the missing brains is believed to have belonged to clock tower sniper Charles Whitman.

“We think somebody may have taken the brains, but we don’t know at all for sure,” psychology Professor Tim Schallert, co-curator of the collection, told the Austin American-Statesman.

My brain tells me they didn’t just get up and walk away.