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L.A. Mayor’s Little Black Balls

August 21st, 2015 - 1:48 pm

Don’t read this post until well after breakfast:

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s plan to slow California’s drought by covering a reservoir with 96 million “shade balls” is sparking debate among experts, who say that the black balls could lead to disaster.

According to Fox News, Garcetti said that the balls, which cost $34.5 million, would block the evaporation of 300 million gallons of reservoir water. The plan is projected to save taxpayers $250 million.

Despite the projected savings, experts have dubbed the balls a “disaster.”

Matt MacLeod, founder of the California biotech firm Modern Moon Farms, said that the black color of the balls would create a “bacterial nightmare.”

“Black spheres resting in the hot sun will form a thermal blanket speeding evaporation as well as providing a huge amount of new surface area for the hot water to breed bacteria,” said MacLeod.

Ew.

You know, they could just build another nuke plant and wire it up to a few desalinization plants, but I suppose that would make too much sense.

Tank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)

August 21st, 2015 - 12:36 pm
Coming soon at a battlefield near you? (Shutterstock photo)

Coming soon at a battlefield near you?
(Shutterstock photo)

Russia has even more to say — surprise! — about the Army’s all-new T-14 Armata main battle tank:

Former NATO Allied Land Commander Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges said in a June 2015 interview with TASS that “the new Armata tank looks like a very impressive tank.” However, exactly how impressive this new tank is remains to be seen.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin claimed in May that an Armata shell “burns a meter of steel.” The tank’s main armament is the 2A82 125-mm smoothbore cannon, which purportedly has a greater muzzle energy than the German Leopard-2 Rheinmetall 120 mm gun. The tank is also equipped with fully automated ammunition loading and completely computerized targeting systems.

In addition, as I reported last week (See: “Is Russia’s Deadliest Tank Really Invisible to the Enemy?”) the deputy director of Uralvagonzavod, the largest main battle tank manufacturer in the world, bragged in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio station that the T-14 Armata is invisible to enemy radars.

The tank is allegedly also fitted with a new generation of explosive reactive armor (ERA) that, according to a Russian defense industry source, has “no known world equivalents.”

Uh-huh.

The minister doth brag too much, methinks.

Required Reading

August 21st, 2015 - 11:31 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

Ben Domenech on Donald Trump and the growth of Trumpism within the GOP:

At its best, these frustrations would be articulated by the Republican Party in ways that lead to more freedom and less government. At its worst, these frustrations cast aside Constitutional principles, encourage dictatorial behavior, and become the toxic political equivalent of the two Southie brothers who claimed Trump inspired them to beat up a Hispanic homeless man.

Dismiss Donald Trump if you will, but tonight in Alabama he is expected to draw 35,000 people. Try to do that with any other presidential candidate. The phenomenon is real, and the danger Trump presents for the Republican Party is real. Even without winning the GOP nomination, which is still a remote possibility at best, his statements have tapped into a widespread anger that has the potential to transform the Republican Party in significant ways. Ultimately, Trump presents a choice for the Republican Party about which path to follow: a path toward a coalition that is broad, classically liberal, and consistent with the party’s history, or a path toward a coalition that is reduced to the narrow interests of identity politics for white people.

Read the whole thing, please.

US to Ukraine: Stand Down!

August 21st, 2015 - 10:14 am
(Map courtesy Maps)

(Map courtesy Maps)

Here’s a curious new wrinkle in what we know about Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year:

As Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces took over Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in early 2014, the interim Ukrainian government was debating whether or not to fight back against the “little green men” Russia had deployed. But the message from the Barack Obama administration was clear: avoid military confrontation with Moscow.

The White House’s message to Kiev was advice, not an order, U.S. and Ukrainian officials have recently told us, and was based on a variety of factors. There was a lack of clarity about what Russia was really doing on the ground. The Ukrainian military was in no shape to confront the Russian Spetsnaz (special operations) forces that were swarming on the Crimean peninsula. Moreover, the Ukrainian government in Kiev was only an interim administration until the country would vote in elections a few months later. Ukrainian officials told us that other European governments sent Kiev a similar message.

The story (by Josh Rogin & Eli Lake) goes on to report that western capitals were afraid that if Ukraine fought back, “it would give Putin justification to launch greater military intervention in Ukraine.” Of course, and I do mean of course, Ukraine’s passivity in Crimea and elsewhere during the first half of 2014 only encouraged Putin to try and take more.

Kyiv’s seemingly wishy-washy attitude towards its own territorial integrity even had me convinced the country was a lost cause, and that our best course of action was to try and salvage what we could from Putin. But then came this year’s Summer Offensive That Wasn’t, and yesterday’s report that Putin has switched his main effort from the military to the political — and you realize that Crimea was given up unnecessarily. Had Ukraine been encouraged (and equipped) early last year, Putin might have been denied an important prize and suffered a major — possibly even politically fatal — embarrassment.

Putin at Crimea. Hitler at the Rheinland. Why do we never learn?

Another One Bites the Dust?

August 21st, 2015 - 9:41 am
Fate on line two. (AP photo)

Fate on line two.
(AP photo)

Colorado’s experiment with electing stuffed-suit Democrats to the US Senate may be coming to an end if Michael Bennet can’t turn these numbers around:

Polling results reported in the Washington Times released recently show that only 32 percent of voters surveyed think the Coloradan Senator should be reelected, with 40% saying he shouldn’t.

Bennet’s actually in worse shape than was former Sen. Mark Udall at this time last cycle, with an approval rating six points lower. Udall ended up losing his reelection to Republican Sen. Cory Gardener in a heated race.

“When examining former Senator Mark Udall’s approval and re-election numbers 14 months out to Bennet‘s, it’s clear that Bennet, even without a Republican challenger, faces an unfriendly political environment,” said Denver political analyst Floyd Ciruli on his analysis of the poll.

Calling Bennet’s Senate term “undistinguished” would be undeserved praise.

Hillary to the Slaughter

August 21st, 2015 - 8:33 am

That tweet from Wednesday gained added apropos after reading Anne Marie Slaughter’s USA Today op-ed arguing in favor of the Iran deal — in which she accidentally reveals too much:

It takes a tough person, and a tough nation, to accept the reality of limited power. It is so much easier to pound our chests and declare that the United States bestrides the world like a colossus and should be able to dictate any outcome it wants. That is no longer true, if it ever were. We found that out the hard way by launching a war in Iraq that we could not win. By prolonging a war in Afghanistan in ways that often made the domestic political situation worse rather than better. By toppling a government in Libya without any idea of what might come next.

Ouch.

Slaughter’s op-ed isn’t likely to move the needle on the deal, to which the American people will remain opposed, and which Bob Corker helped make practically inevitable.

So what’s Slaughter’s real point? This is only conjecture, but her “accidental” reveal is really the buried lede — a lede buried like a shiv between Hillary’s ribs.

If true, then this is yet another clue that the White House has hung Clinton out for the vultures in hopes that Anybody But Clinton is the next Democratic President of the United States.

And that’s especially cold, coming from the woman who Hillary herself appointed to serve as her Director of Policy Planning at the State Department.

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For good or ill (almost entirely ill), Barack Obama has always played an excellent long game. How long? Monica Crowley has a theory:

Gen. David Petraeus, who was prosecuted for mishandling classified material in much more innocuous ways, claimed to a source of mine that Mrs. Clinton faces a “very tough legal environment.” Particularly, if Mr. Obama used the Petraeus prosecution to set the precedent to prosecute Mrs. Clinton: “I’m so sorry about this, but my hands are tied. The law is the law.” (It would be the first time in his presidency that the “law is the law,” but that’s another matter.)

It may be that Mr. Obama set her up from the start, giving her the green light to use a private server. The White House refuses to say whether she got prior approval, suggesting that they probably granted it. After all, a number of top administration folks had private accounts: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, among others. But they didn’t use private email exclusively for government business the way Mrs. Clinton did, nor did they expose classified material. They also weren’t likely presidential candidates. It could be that Mr. Obama gave her the OK knowing that he could use it against her at the opportune moment. Which would be now.

Intriguing to be sure, but it’s difficult to buy completely into a plan hinging on a 73-year-old Joe Biden running and winning a national election after serving eight years as Vice President.

Of course it may also be that the Democratic nominee didn’t have to be Biden, so long as it wasn’t Clinton. Any future Democratic President other than the Two For One Couple might be easier for the Obama Camp to maintain sway over out past 2016.

Going back to Crowley’s theory for just one more brief thought — Obama and David Axelrod might have figured they have the country on a solid enough electoral lockdown that Biden or pretty much any other Dem is a sure thing next year.

So long, that is, as “any other Dem” isn’t named Clinton.

I don’t usually buy into conspiracy theories, but this one might just have some meat on it.

Your thoughts?

Good:

Amazon Advertising issued an update to its technical guidelines today declaring that it will stop accepting Flash-based ads starting next month. Adobe cited “recent browser setting updates from Google Chrome, and existing browser settings from Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari” that interfere with displaying Flash ads.

Lack of support for the Adobe Flash plug-in on iOS garnered much attention around the launch of the iPad five years ago as the full-sized tablet browser was criticized for presenting holes on the web where Flash content otherwise would be. Apple CEO Steve Jobs minimized the value of the missing content by noting that the ‘holes’ were mostly ads at the time. Now, Amazon is making sure that doesn’t happen to their ad platform.

Flash, as I’ve said on numerous occasions, borders on malware. Steve Jobs was derided as shortsighted and as a crank* for refusing to allow Flash on iOS devices, but the fact remains even eight years later that Flash is buggy, unsecure, and a CPU and battery hog.

Good on Amazon for refusing to allow Flash ads any longer.
(more…)

Sign “O” the Times

August 21st, 2015 - 5:05 am

The Chairman of the Fed has been called the Most Powerful Man (now Woman) in the World. But maybe not any longer:

The selloff in corporate bonds is deepening and investors are seeking safety in the longest-dated government debt, which does best when the economy does worst. Defaults are rising as oil tumbles and investors are looking for the best ways to hedge against credit losses.

All this comes as the Fed does, well, nothing much. Instead, it’s China that’s taken the lead with new rounds of financial stimulus in the face of slowing growth. But some days it’s a free for all, with even Kazakhstan wielding its influence.

“Financial markets are desperate for the Fed to drive trading themes, but the ‘world’s central bank’ has fallen to the second rank this summer,” or sometimes third, Jim Vogel, an interest-rate strategist at FTN Financial in Memphis, Tennessee, wrote in a note Thursday.

What little “recovery” we’ve “enjoyed” has been based in large part on the Fed being able to manipulate interest rates — but that power is eroding.

We’re in unchartered waters now.

Thought for the Day

August 20th, 2015 - 4:22 pm

Clinton Spox Can Barely Speak

August 20th, 2015 - 2:18 pm

Got that?

Distract, Distract, Distract

August 20th, 2015 - 1:35 pm

Here’s Politico’s Matthew Miller and his hot take on Hillary Clinton’s email woes:

Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email account for official State Department business was a mistake, but the revelation that Clinton’s emails contain upwards of 305 messages with potentially “classified” information is far less scandalous than the headlines make it appear. The most troubling part of this story involves the rules governing official secrets, not Clinton’s conduct as Secretary of State.

As a former Department of Justice official who regularly dealt with classified information, I am glad a team of officials from the FBI, the intelligence community and other agencies is not currently reviewing every email I sent and received while I worked in government. If they did, they would likely find arguably classified information that was transmitted over unclassified networks—and the same thing is undoubtedly true for other senior officials at the White House, the State Department and other top national security agencies.

Well, no.

It is true that our classification rules stink. It’s also true that simply too many things become classified, and un-subject to public debate. It also seems unlikely that Clinton was, say, passing around nuclear launch codes or Pentagon timetables for an invasion of Belgium through her unsecured server.

But that’s all smoke and mirrors to distract from the real issue.

Hillary Clinton kept a private and unsecure email server for purposes of evading the Freedom of Information Act and other public queries. When challenged, she has lied about every single issue regarding her server. She deleted tens of thousands of emails in violation of the law and of the public trust.

Even if our classification rules were clear and sensible, even if Clinton had never once held classified data on her private server, Hillary has proven through her bad judgement and her serial dishonesty that she is unfit to serve as President of the United States.

What Is to Be Done in Ukraine?

August 20th, 2015 - 12:23 pm

With his military options narrowing in Ukraine, and falling oil prices and sanctions hurting at home, Aaron Korwea says Vladimir Putin is turing to the old Soviet playbook he knows so well:

So what to do? Enter Mykola Azarov, Ukraine’s last prime minister under Yanukovych. On August 3, Azarov—now living in exile in Moscow—formed the “Ukraine Salvation Committee,” whose goal is “regime change” back home. Azarov is wanted in Ukraine for several crimes including embezzlement and abuse of power.

The committee’s president is former pro-Russian MP Vladimir Oleynik, who helped draft the infamous 2014 “dictatorship laws” granting Yanukovych vast powers to squash the Euromaidan. Another member is Oleg Tsarev, one of the first people to propose the “Novorossiya project” and former speaker of the so-called Parliament of Novorossiya. Yet another interesting character behind the committee is Igor Markov, recently arrested in Italy by Interpol at the request of the Ukrainian government for his role in organizing an assault on a protester against the installation of a monument to the Russian Empress Catherine the Great in Odesa in 2007. Without a hint of irony, Putin’s international propaganda channel RT accused Kyiv of going after “a dissident politician.”

The timing of the formation of Ukraine’s Salvation Committee makes perfect sense. Putin needs to make a new move, and now he has a full-fledged Ukrainian puppet government-in-exile that could lay claim to the entire country.

Ukraine has turned into something of a pleasant surprise. As unlikely as it seemed a year ago, Kyiv has put up a stout defense — or at least an occasionally stout enough defense. Now Putin is forced to switch to political maneuvering like this so-called “Salvation Committee.”

It will be interesting to see if the young government in Kyiv is able to withstand political treachery as well as it’s been able to withstand constant low-level fighting and the loss of Crimea.

Required Viewing

August 20th, 2015 - 11:43 am

Is it November 2016 yet?

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

August 20th, 2015 - 10:41 am

The Daily Caller has a tough-but-fair appraisal of the massive health insurance overhaul:

Accepting that subsidizing health care for those who cannot afford it is a good idea, why didn’t Congress enact a short and simple bill mandating such means-tested subsidies from the federal treasury? Obviously that would have required Congress to either raise taxes or cut other expenses – both political nonstarters. It was a lot easier to require insurance companies to do the dirty work of shifting costs, leaving the pols to take credit for forcing the big bad insurance companies to do the right thing.

The ACA was over 2000 pages long because, like most legislation now enacted by congress, it is larded with provisions that have nothing to do with affordable health care. The less well off benefit, but so do a whole lot of other interests who managed to influence the hastily drafted act. Indeed the complexity of the act (we all remember what Nancy Polosi said) virtually assures that health care costs will continue to rise for all but those who qualify for subsidies.

That Means It’s Working™

Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads

August 20th, 2015 - 9:46 am
(Full image available at PopularMechanics.com)

(Full image available at PopularMechanics.com)

I just caught this from yesterday’s Insty feed — America’s “unofficial” favorite cars, state-by-state:

If you were to take a list of the most popular cars in each state in the U.S., it’d be a pretty monotonous list. A bunch of Ford F-150s, some Chevy Silverado and Ram pickups, the odd Honda Accord or Toyota Camry here or there.

But we were curious: What car was the most distinctive in each state? What model of car did, say, California buy far more often than any other state in the Union? We turned to auto analyst Tom Libby of IHS Automotive to help us crunch the numbers. First, Libby pulled data about the make and model of every car sold in the U.S., and calculated the popularity of each by percentage using registration data. Then, he did the same at the state level, and compared each state to the national average.

“I compared the share for each model in, for instance, Alabama with the share of the same of model in the United States and came up with a ratio,” says Libby. “Then I basically ranked those ratios within each state. It’s an interesting methodology—you’re basically able to compare the individual demand of a model in a state with the individual demand at the national level, and see what ways is each state unique from the nation.”

Colorado’s secret love is the Nissan Xterra — which comes as no surprise to yours truly. The Xterra is a genuine off-road truck in a state where we actually take our trucks off-road.

You’ll also see more Wranglers here than just about anywhere else, including many lovingly maintained (if outrageously scraped and mud-splattered!) CJs from the olden times when Jeep was still an AMC brand.

One of the first things I did after Melissa and I decided to buy Casa Verde way up on Monument Hill was to pick up an old ’97 Wrangler TJ, on the theory that somebody was going to have to be able to go out and buy milk for the baby in any weather. A good thing, too, because 2006-07 was the Winter of the Four Blizzards, the first of which almost proved too much for that TJ and the (seemingly) ridiculous tires I put on it.

A second child and the need for more seating and cargo space meant I had to get rid of the TJ a few years ago, and trade it in for something slightly more practical — but still just as off-readable.

But I do miss that Wrangler sometimes, and understand the joy every local Wrangler and Xterra owner feels when they see the off-road less taken and say, “Why not!”

The Pursuit of Happiness: Part II

August 20th, 2015 - 8:45 am

It’s not true. These busybodies have no dicks.

How Can We Miss Her If She Won’t Go Away?

August 20th, 2015 - 7:21 am

WAZZUP

Noemie Emery tells of Hillary Clinton’s long goodbye:

“Dems will put up with a scoundrel, but not a loser,” the editors of this paper wrote earlier this year. They cited the undying support of Bill Clinton, who, to be fair, while he was in office never did anything like this. But the problem is that Hillary is becoming a loser because she’s a scoundrel, as her lies and the continued exposure of them seem to come more and more to the fore.

Her ratings took a predictable dip in 2013 when she left her old role as diplomat for the tumult of politics. Another dip came in 2014 when her book launch fizzled and she claimed to have been “dead broke” after the White House. But the holes in the hull were punched by the Clinton Foundation and then the emails, which made her approval ratings slide underwater and saw her fall behind many GOP rivals in many important swing states.

The Clintons survived the scandals and wars of the ’90s because in the ’90s there was a lot less cable TV and Internet and no Twitter or social media. In the ’90s, they controlled the White House and party and now they do not. In the ’90s, they were in office, not merely seeking it; and Bill was a skilled and adroit politician, which Hillary is not.

Comeuppance has been a long time coming for a Clinton, any Clinton — but even in your most schadenfreutastical moments should you allow yourself to think she can’t wriggle her way out just one last time.

Or at least, that’s what I keep reminding myself, just in case.

Party like it's 1995. (AP file photo)

Party like it’s 1995.
(AP file photo)

Allow Kelsey D. Atherton to take you back to a cold winter’s night in 1995:

On January 25, Norwegian and American scientists had warned thirty countries (including Russia) that they were going to launch a Black Brant XII four-stage sounding rocket (a research rocket that collects atmospheric data) from the Andøya Rocket Range on the northwest coast of Norway. This rocket was designed to simply collect data on the aurora borealis, but it had the unfortunate aspect of looking like something much more menacing due to its trajectory over the North Pole. To Russia, it looked like this could have been a nuclear missile launched from a Minuteman-III silo in North Dakota. It is important to note that even though Moscow was informed of the launch and trajectory, that warning never got to the Olenegorsk radar station, which only saw an alarming blip on their screens.

At this point in history, both the United States and Russia had a “launch-on-warning” policy of nuclear missiles. That is to say that if one nation believed it was being attacked, they would launch retaliatory nuclear missiles before the enemy rockets had a chance to impact; after all, the threat of mutually assured destruction only works if both sides participate. Russian nuclear forces were immediately put on alert, and a frightened country that had a stockpile of 27,000 nuclear weapons with 4,000 on a hair trigger was coming face-to-face with the possibility of using them to potentially end millions of lives with the push of a few buttons. Advisors rushed to Yeltsin and apparently woke him at 2 a.m. wherein he had less than 10 minutes to decide the fate of the world after arming his nuclear football, also known as the “Cheget”. My question to the world is this: Was the only reason the launch order wasn’t given (as it should have under the doctrine at the time) because Yeltsin liked to kick back too much vodka?

Vodka — is there anything it can’t do?

In any case, you’ll definitely want to read the whole thing.

Your Thursday Clinton Email Scandal Roundup

August 20th, 2015 - 5:07 am
Time to face the facts? (AP photo)

Time to face the facts?
(AP photo)

Let’s get the non-story out of the way first. I have no clue why Drudge chose to lead with this one, because there’s just no there there regarding the State Department BlackBerrys once used by Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin.

Read:

Mills and Abedin “were each issued BlackBerry devices,” department Executive Secretary Joseph Macmanus wrote in the filing.

The department, however, “has not located any such device,” and believes that they would have been destroyed or removed from the department’s control.

“Because the devices issues to Ms. Mills and Ms. Abedin would have been outdated models, in accordance with standard operating procedures those devices would have been destroyed or excessed,” Macmanus added.

It might seem suspiciously convenient that their BlackBerrys were destroyed, but in reality it’s SOP for State-issued smartphones. This one is all smoke, no fire. Let’s move on.

Here’s Jan Crawford at CBS News with a troubling question:

It is not just Clinton’s private server that may have contained classified information. The State Department filed court papers Wednesday afternoon saying it “does not believe that any personal computing device was issued by the Department” to Clinton.

“Anytime you’re bringing your own equipment and using it for work purposes, it’s not as secure as something that’s actually issued by the company,” CNET senior editor Dan Ackerman explained. “Because they take those laptops, for example, and they pre-configure them, they put their own software on them, tracking software, update software, and they distribute them.”

That raises the question, how secure were her personal devices, like her BlackBerry, since they weren’t issued by the State Department?

As long as they remain in your physical possession, a BlackBerry and an iPhone are pretty dang secure. I can’t vouch for Android phones, because security is in the hands of the OEMs and how quickly they choose to update security patches — which is oftentimes all-too-slow. But it doesn’t appear that Clinton ever used an Android device.

We do know however that Clinton’s private server was not secure, due in no small part to reliance on an outdated version of Microsoft Outlook Web Application. The server, not the smartphones connecting to it, was the weak spot — making it almost a sure thing that it had been compromised at some point, possibly very early on, in Clinton’s tenure as SecState.

And that’s exactly the question the FBI — in charge of our nation’s counterintelligence — will want answered:

“I think that the FBI will be moving with all deliberate speed to determine whether there were serious breaches of national security here,” said Ron Hosko, who used to lead the FBI’s criminal investigative division.

He said agents will direct their questions not just at Clinton, but also her close associates at the State Department and beyond.

“I would want to know how did this occur to begin with, who knew, who approved,” Hosko said.

Who knew? Likely anyone who exchanged emails with SecState and noticed the address she was using. Who approved? Likely nobody approved. The Clintons have long set their own rules and crushed anyone who questioned them.

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Thought for the Day

August 19th, 2015 - 4:43 pm
Lando'd again. (Image courtesy Lucasfilm)

Lando’d again.
(Image courtesy Lucasfilm)

You won’t believe this, except that after seven years of Obama you’re likely too jaded not to believe it:

Iran, in an unusual arrangement, will be allowed to use its own experts to inspect a site it allegedly used to develop nuclear arms under a secret agreement with the U.N. agency that normally carries out such work, according to a document seen by The Associated Press.

The revelation is sure to roil American and Israeli critics of the main Iran deal signed by the U.S., Iran and five world powers in July. Those critics have complained that the deal is built on trust of the Iranians, a claim the U.S. has denied.

This is like letting my kids inventory the cookie jar.

MORE, via Ace

Two leading U.S. senators are calling on the Obama administration to release secret letters to foreign governments assuring them that they will not be legally penalized for doing business with the Iranian government, according to a copy of a letter sent Wednesday to the State Department and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
….

The Obama administration is purportedly promising the foreign governments that if Iran violates the parameters of a recently inked nuclear accord, European companies will not be penalized, according to the secret letters.

“These letters appear to reassure these foreign governments that their companies may not be impacted if sanctions are re-imposed in response to Iranian violations of the agreement,” they claim. “While Administration officials have claimed that this is not the case, we think it is important for the American public to be able to read your assurances to foreign governments for themselves as their elected representatives review this deal in the coming weeks.”

Under the terms of the agreement, sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a paramilitary force known to commit acts of terrorism across the globe, will be lifted.

As I was saying

Russian Drones Sing!

August 19th, 2015 - 12:31 pm
(AP file photo from February.)

(AP file photo from February.)

Moscow says Russian troops aren’t fighting inside of Ukraine, but Moscow’s drones tell another story:

The $55,000 Eleron-3SV is a battery powered, 4.3 kg (7.49 pounds) UAV travelling at speeds of from 70 to 130 kilometers an hour. Flight endurance of up to 2 hours, and maximum altitude of 5,000 meters (16,000 feet). It is launched by throwing it and can land by flying close to the ground and shutting its engine off. One of these UAVs was shot down by Syrian rebels (from al Nusra). Russia long supported the beleaguered Syrian government and sending some Eleron-3SV UAVs was not unusual. It’s unknown whether the Eleron-3SV UAVs were operated by Syrian or Russian personnel, as Russia has kept technical, military and intelligence personnel in Syria before, both for its own ends, and as direct support to the Syrian government, which had problems with providing enough highly educated, well trained technical specialists to its military forces even before the civil war.

It’s slightly more worrying to Russia that several of its new Orlan-10 drones were captured in Ukraine. Somewhat larger and more capable than the Eleron-3, the damaged drones not only present reverse engineering for anyone who gets access to them, they are also weakening the Russian government’s official statements that Russia is not providing military support for the separatists, as the drones are new models that were not officially exported anywhere yet.

Has anyone anywhere ever bought into Moscow’s denials about its direct involvement in Ukraine?

I mean, other than for convenient purposes of not having to do anything.

Required Reading

August 19th, 2015 - 11:55 am

Ali Watkins reports on the White House’s High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which seems to be more — and less — than promised:

When President Barack Obama took office, he promised to overhaul the nation’s process for interrogating terror suspects. His solution: the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG, a small interagency outfit that would use non-coercive methods and the latest psychological research to interrogate America’s most-wanted terrorists — all behind a veil of secrecy.

Today, the HIG often gets the first jab at America’s most-wanted terror suspects. Since its creation in August 2009, HIG teams have questioned a bevy of top detainees, including Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Umm Sayyaf, the wife of a high-profile Islamic State leader killed in a drone strike.

But six years on, the Obama administration’s elite interrogation force is on shaky ground.

Read the whole thing.

Regime Change Begins at Home

August 19th, 2015 - 10:15 am
United States President Barack Obama, seen here in this August 15 AP photo, focusing hard on his legacy.

United States President Barack Obama, seen here in this August 15 AP photo, focusing hard on his legacy.

President Obama has been thinking a lot about himself lately — surprise! — specifically about his legacy. Eli Lake has a suggestion for the soon-but-not-soon-enough former president:

High on his post-presidential to-do list should be regime change for Iran. No, Barack Obama should not press his successor to invade Iran and set up an occupation government. But the president should use his time after office to nurture and support Iran’s democratic opposition in its struggle against Iran’s dictator.

For now, the president should hear from some people who disagree with him. The White House “vision committee” should invite Iranian dissidents who recently signed an open letter opposing the Iran deal. They would have interesting comments over late-night cocktails with the commander-in-chief. Obama’s aides could send for Gene Sharp, the leading theorist of nonviolent conflict, and Michael Ledeen, the conservative historian who has spent the last 20 years trying to foment political warfare against the regime.

As an elder statesman, Obama should busy himself with the fate of that regime’s political prisoners the way Jimmy Carter has taken up the cause of Palestinian statehood.

Uh-huh.

Lake is a smart guy, but this column is filled to the brim with WTF.

If Obama had any interest in regime change in Iran, he could have done something, anything more than give the cold shoulder to Iran’s Green Movement in 2009. But as students were shot and killed in the streets by rooftop snipers, Obama wouldn’t even provide lip service to those kids.

Instead, Obama worked publicly to lend legitimacy to the mullahs’ regime with his endless negotiations over their nuclear program, while working behind the scenes for years to legitimize those deadly ambitions. To top it off, Obama acceded to what amounts to a $100,000,000,000 bribe for Tehran to do little more than pretend a little harder that they aren’t developing nukes.

And those one hundred billion dollars are just the tip of the iceberg of the money to flow Tehran’s way once the sanctions are lifted — never, ever to “snap back” under any condition.

Nukes aside, try not to think about how much domestic oppression the mullahs can buy with that much money.

Obama has worked very hard as president to cement Iran’s Islamic regime firmly in place — what makes Lake think Obama has any interest, desire, or ambition to use his post-presidency to undo the legacy he already has?

Those Beijing Blues

August 19th, 2015 - 9:26 am
Up in smoke? (AP photo)

Up in smoke?
(AP photo)

So about that Chinese currency devaluation:

At the time of writing, China’s usually highly secretive monetary authorities are heavily intervening – selling dollars and buying yuan – to stop it falling much further. Or, at least, that’s what we’re told.

Having been explicitly pegged to the dollar until 2005, the Chinese currency has for 10 years remained closely controlled under a “managed float”. The central bank, in other words, has used its vast $3,700bn (£2,360bn) haul of foreign-exchange reserves, as well as capital controls, to keep the yuan within a strict trading band. Until last week, the largest single-day move against the dollar this year had been just 0.15pc. So a 4pc drop in just a few days is huge – the biggest shift since the mid-Nineties. What’s alarming is that, were this depreciation to get out of hand, with the Chinese currency dropping very sharply, import prices and inflation would spike.

That could force Beijing to reverse recent interest rate cuts, potentially bursting China’s property bubble and, at the very least, undermining the broader economy – which, for some years now, has acted as a locomotive, pulling along the rest of the world.

Along with cheap consumer goods, China has also been exporting deflation to the rest of the world — working at odds with the Fed and other Western central bankers, who have been furiously trying to bring inflation up into the 2-3% range.

(We’ll talk another time about the wisdom of setting inflation loose on purpose, with the hubris only a central bankers can have about keeping it under control.)

The point being that Beijing now finds itself in a very uncomfortable position where the only way to save their economy might disrupt the global economy — which would bring down their export-driven economy.

I’m going to need a bigger cup of coffee, or perhaps a liquid lunch, before trying to figure out all the ramifications of that scenario.

The Pursuit of Happiness: Part I

August 19th, 2015 - 8:16 am

This is the first of Bill Whittle’s three-part Trifecta on the most important issue of all: Pursuing your own happy.

Forgive the hideous video and audio quality. There were tech issues, possibly with the company — who typically does fine work — who provides the dedicated T1 lines into Scott’s home studio and into mine. Yesterday’s shoot ended up starting an hour late, as Scott and I jury-rigged boxes and whatnot to get laptops in just the right position that we could Skype into the PJTV HQ with our non-dedicated home internet services.

Somehow we got it all done — a testament to Director Dave’s patience and ingenuity.

But really the remarkable thing is that Trifecta just turned six years old, we’ve shot around 1,500 segments, and never once have we had to cancel a shoot due to tech issues, sudden illness, or for any reason at all. That’s a long time to maintain a perfect production record.

But, jeebus, there’s not enough Manly Man Brand TV Makeup for Men™ to cover up the inherent crappiness of a three-way Skype connection.

Security Theater Isn’t Even for Show

August 19th, 2015 - 7:36 am
Hands up, don't work. (Shutterstock image)

Hands up, don’t work.
(Shutterstock image)

The TSA has spent $160,000,000 on full-body scanners which somehow fail to detect bombs or weapons:

The TSA, which recently disclosed the costs to members of Congress probing the agency, on average spent over $150,000 per unit of body imaging technology since it first began purchasing the scanners in 2008.

The acting TSA head was reassigned in June after a security audit revealed that the agency’s devices failed to detect fake weapons and explosives 96 percent of the time in secret tests.

Members of Congress from both parties who have been probing the government agency are concerned with the costly but largely insufficient TSA body imaging equipment.

Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) said that the scanners are so unsuccessful—“These things weren’t even catching metal,” he warned—that they should be preceded by metal detectors.

“If you really want to keep using those, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t, at a minimum we should put a metal detector on the other side,” Johnson said. “Why not go through two? You’ve just gotta use common sense.”

If we were using common sense, we wouldn’t be relying on body scanners or metal detectors — or politicians or bureaucrats. Common sense would dictate we adopt something closer to the Israeli model, which identifies threats rather than merely locating objects.

Clinton Camp: No Bed Wetting!

August 19th, 2015 - 6:26 am


(Clinton campaign spokesperson Chip Diller delivers a message to worried Hillary supporters.)

Remain calm, all is well:

As questions mount about Hillary Clinton’s emails, her campaign is sending out a new message to supporters: “No bed wetting.”

The mantra is a familiar one, borrowed from President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, when top aide David Plouffe used the phrase to calm jittery Democrats in the face of hurdles.

The urging for calm from her campaign comes after news that the team of intelligence community reviewers looking at emails from Clinton’s private server have identified 305 documents that have been referred to their agencies for further consultation.

Clinton campaign officials argue that, given the growing number of agencies reviewing Clinton’s emails, it makes sense that there would be a debate about what should be considered classified. Aides continue to insist that Clinton never sent or received any emails that were marked as classified.

“No bed wetting” is hardly a sign of confidence over at Camp Clinton.

I’d also draw your attention to the Clintonian phrasing at play in the last graf — “marked as classified.”

Which begs the question, Who stripped the markings and on whose authority?

I’d also point out that whether or not the emails were marked as classified, possession of them on a private server is illegal. So is removing the marks. If you or I did these things, we’d have been fired and probably very quickly brought up on charges.

Hillary Clinton belongs in jail.

MORE: This ought to help.

Watch Clinton’s body language. Listen to hear engage by saying “mmm” and “mmm-mmm” over and over again.

But remember, no bed wetting.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

August 19th, 2015 - 5:18 am

♡bamaCare!!! supporters love to crow about how many more people have insurance since the Totally Settled Law of the Land™ kinda-sorta went into effect. But how much credit does ♡bamaCare!!! really deserve? Robert Laszewski reports:

A May, 2015 Rand Corporation study for a comparable period found about the same decline in the number of those uninsured but gave us the rest of the story. From the study summary:

Insurance coverage has increased across all types of insurance since the major provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act took effect, with a net total of 16.9 million people becoming newly enrolled through February 2015, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Researchers estimate that from September 2013 to February 2015, 22.8 million Americans became newly insured and 5.9 million lost coverage, for a net of 16.9 million newly insured Americans.

Among those newly gaining coverage, 9.6 million people enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans, followed by Medicaid (6.5 million), the individual marketplaces (4.1 million), non marketplace individual plans (1.2 million) and other insurance sources (1.5 million).

So, more than half of the reduction in the number of people who are uninsured is coming from an old fashioned increase in the number of people being covered in employer health plans. You will recall that the Obamacare employer mandate was delayed during 2014 so we can hardly credit the big employer gains to that part of Obamacare. Nor, is there much evidence that the individual mandate has had a big impact on enrollment–few people signed up by the special tax deadline extension. I will suggest those employer coverage gains could just as easily have more to do with a recovering economy and employment improvement.

As Rand points out, the Obamacare insurance exchange enrollment is tepid at best­­­­—accounting for only a gain in the number of insured of 4.1 million people.

Don’t bother asking how many more people would have private insurance if ♡bamaCare!!! hadn’t induced employers cut their work hours to 30 a week, because you don’t want to know.