Which Came First, the Chicken or the Beak?

May 19th, 2015 - 8:49 am
(Image courtesy CNET/Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar)

(Image courtesy CNET/Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar)

Just because you have some time to kill is a fine reason for attaching inappropriate items to live chickens — but it isn’t the only reason:

Recently, a group of scientists from Harvard, Yale and several other universities focused on another part of the chicken, the beak, to determine how it got there over time. To do so, they grew dinosaur-like snouts on chicken embryos during their development stages. The results of their experiment were published Tuesday in the online edition of the journal Evolution.

Bhart-Anjan St. Bhullar, a developmental biologist from Yale University who co-led the research, said the goal wasn’t just to create a mutant chicken-raptor as part of some bizarre biologist’s bet. “Our goal here was to understand the molecular underpinnings of an important evolutionary transition, not to create a ‘dino-chicken’ simply for the sake of it,” Bhullar said in a statement released by Yale. Bullard co-led the research with his doctoral adviser, Arhat Abzhanov of Harvard.

I’m dying to see how they investigate the evolution of beaver tails.

This is fascinating work, and so I shouldn’t make light. Here’s how they did it:

First, the researchers had to determine the “gene expression that correlated with the transition” by examining the evolutionary history of the chicken through fossil records and other existing animals such as crocodiles, turtles and lizards just to generate a hypothesis of its location. They even examined and cloned fragments of DNA samples from animals such as crocodiles and emus to find the gene expression needed to form ancient bird beaks like those found on small dinosaurs such as Velociraptor and Archaeopteryx.

Then, they used small-molecule inhibitors to stop the crucial proteins that develop the modern chicken beak. Once they stopped the proteins, the embryos formed “the palatine bone on the roof of the mouth to go back to its ancestral state.” Not only were the scientists able to examine and pinpoint the exact moment in the chicken’s evolutionary biology when it developed its modern beak, but they also came up with a method that they say other evolutionary biologists can use to examine other species’ evolutionary histories and transformations.

What amazes me is that evolutionary processes are better understood than gravity, and can even be controlled and fine-tuned under laboratory conditions — and yet nobody ever raises a fuss about not believing in gravity.

Baghdad Bob Now Working at the Pentagon

May 19th, 2015 - 7:34 am
Displaced Iraqis from Ramadi rest before crossing the Bzebiz bridge after spending the night walking towards Baghdad, as they flee their hometown, 65 km west of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, May 16, 2015. Islamic State militants seized the center of Ramadi in western Iraq and raised their black flag over the government compound, local officials said. (AP Photo/ Hadi Mizban)

Displaced Iraqis from Ramadi rest before crossing the Bzebiz bridge after spending the night walking towards Baghdad, as they flee their hometown, 65 km west of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, May 16, 2015. Islamic State militants seized the center of Ramadi in western Iraq and raised their black flag over the government compound, local officials said. (AP Photo/ Hadi Mizban)

Mark Steyn on the fall of Ramadi:

Americans interested in an honest assessment of what’s happening are better off skipping the Pentagon briefing and listening to the locals hightailing it outta there:

“Ramadi has fallen,” Muhammad Haimour, a spokesman for the provincial governor of Anbar, told AP Sunday. “The city was completely taken. … The military is fleeing.”

Indeed. The Pentagon has an unrivaled comic genius when it comes to naming its operations. General Weidley is Chief of Staff, Joint Task Force for “Operation Inherent Resolve”. If one had to name the single quality most obviously lacking in local ground forces, in the “60-nation coalition” and in US strategists, that would be it. Iraqi troops fled their US-supplied government buildings and then, at the edge of town, abandoned their US-supplied Humvees to melt into the local population, hopefully with nothing US-supplied about their person to give them away. The Humvees and the buildings are now in the hands of Isis. That’s the great thing about taking on a “60-nation coalition”. When you roll over them in nothing flat, the stuff they leave behind is world-beating state-of-the-art.

Almost exactly twelve years ago, I spent two days in Ramadi – one coming, one going. I wandered around the streets, browsed the shops, ate in the cafes, all in the same suit-and-tie get-up you can see me in on stage and telly. And I got the odd surly look but no beheading. Because, in the spring of 2003, the west was still believed to be serious. Now they know we’re not.

It isn’t that ISIS isn’t beatable — it is. The problem is we can’t be bothered to take the fight to them seriously, and when we do we get it wrong. For more on that, here’s PJM’s own Richard Fernandez who says that despite its name, ISIS isn’t a state as we in the Westphalian world understand it:

Non-states have different needs vulnerabilities from Westphalian states. One analyst who understands this is former Army intelligence analyst Jessica Lewis McFate who writes: “ISIS is a state-breaker”. It doesn’t thrive on hierarchy or order and UN meetings. It thrives on chaos. She explains that the basic unit of jihadi control is conquered territory, which is not the same as a state territory. Conquered territory is the current area open to plunder and may shift as need arises. Such opportunities only present themselves in a collapse.

Control of cities … are not, however, the metric by which to measure the defeat of ISIS’s fighting force.

ISIS’s ability to remain as a violent group, albeit rebranded, has already been demonstrated, given the near-defeat of its predecessor AQI in 2008 and its resurgence over … a vast dominion across Iraq and Syria.

In this most dangerous form, ISIS is a counter-state, a state-breaker that can claim new rule and new boundaries after seizing cities across multiple states by force, an unacceptable modern precedent.

ISIS, despite its name, does not live to become a Westphalian state. On the contrary, it lives by breaking down Westphalian states. It gets its energy from the throes of a dying country; from ransoms, looting, extortion, smuggling, people trafficking, rape and pillage. Thus Obama’s decision to dismantle American hegemony in the Middle East, whatever its merits, had the unfortunate side effect of increasing entropy. That, plus the wayward consequences of the Arab Spring supercharged the rise of ISIS-like organizations.

Years ago, I wrote that the primary means (apart from killing and whatnot) to winning an idealogical struggle is to “prove the enemy ideology to be ineffective.”

Our actions and inactions in the Middle East are proving the enemy ideology to be quite effective indeed, as the residents of Ramadi are learning.

The first effective means of defeating a “state-breaker” is to establish and nurture states with institutions able to withstand attacks from groups like ISIS. Let us stipulate that President Bush made a world-class blunder invading Iraq in 2003, no matter how noble his intentions might have been — but “we broke it, we bought it,” as Colin Powell liked to say. President Obama however abandoned Iraq when we should have continued nurturing its still-fragile institutions.

The results of Obama’s callous pique are the refugees columns fleeing Ramadi.

Required Reading

May 19th, 2015 - 6:33 am
He's a slam-dunk for the nomination! (AP photo)

He’s a slam-dunk for the nomination!
(AP photo)

Marc Thiessen on the presidential race, and Iraq 2003 versus Iraq 2015:

Jeb Bush’s fumbled answer on Iraq is so troubling because the controversy is so unnecessary. The only people in the United States obsessed with re-litigating the 2003 decision to invade Iraq are on the left. Most Americans are far more concerned about what the next president is going to do about Iraq today.

And — news flash — the vast majority want to send ground forces to Iraq right now.

In March, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 62 percent of Americans support sending ground forces to Iraq to fight the Islamic State, while only 30 percent are opposed. Even a 53 percent majority of Democrats support sending ground troops to Iraq, along with 60 percent of independents. Among Republicans, support for boots on the ground is even higher, with 73 percent in favor and 18 percent opposed.

So let’s be clear: There is no groundswell among GOP primary voters for Bush or any of the Republican presidential candidates to disavow the 2003 invasion. What voters do want to hear from the presidential contenders is how they are going to deal with the terrorist threat from Iraq in the here and now.

Read the whole thing, especially the end where Thiessen notes how Bush flubbed what should have been a slam-dunk chance to turn the question around. He just isn’t prepared as a candidate.

While you do that, I’ll go back to waiting for the press to start asking Hillary Clinton (who belongs in jail) a few Gotcha! questions about Libya.


Be the Uber

May 19th, 2015 - 5:05 am

How can heavily-regulated cab companies hope to compete against agile and unregulated competitors like Uber and Lyft? In Long Beach, they’ll do it by becoming more like Uber and Lyft:

On the other hand, says Long Beach’s Mayor Robert Garcia “Uber and Lyft are both popular in Long Beach,” and show no signs of going away. Throughout Long Beach’s county of Los Angeles, locals say that ride sharing is transforming the local travel culture at lightning speed.

So working together with Yellow Cab, the city council of Long Beach (population: 469,000) this week approved a pilot program that removes taxis’ fare floor, allowing Yellow Cab to discount fares as conditions warrant, comparable to ride sharing services’ less expensive fares. The company will also get an ordering app, be allowed to increase its fleet size from 175 to 199 cars, and be permitted to add additional capacity at peak times. [emphasis added]

I wish Yellow luck, but it’s difficult to see how they’ll ever out-innovate the newcomers when their business model is still based on “allowed” and “permitted” by a slow-moving city council with entrenched interests to protect.

Not that the headline is exactly news, but here’s yet another damning instance of the former Secretary of State lying about her tenure as Secretary of State, and exactly how many private email accounts she used in her public service.

Hillary Clinton belongs in jail.

I Can See Your Smug House from Here

May 18th, 2015 - 2:30 pm
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

President Obama sees nothing wrong with “spreadin’ the wealth around a little,” and he’s also famously a fan of green energy. He might want to look into reconciling those viewpoints, as Brian Potts explains:

Well-meaning—but ill-conceived—federal, state and local tax incentives for rooftop solar give back between 30% and 40% of the installation costs to the owner as a tax credit. But more problematic are hidden rate subsidies, the most significant of which is called net metering, which is available in 44 states. Net metering allows solar-system owners to offset on a one-for-one basis the energy they receive from the electric grid with the solar power they generate on their roof.

While this might sound logical, it isn’t. An average California resident with solar, for example, generally pays about 17 cents per kilowatt-hour for electric service when the home’s solar panels aren’t operating. When they are operating, however, net metering requires the utility to pay that solar customer the same 17 cents per kilowatt-hour. But the solar customer still needs the grid to back up his intermittent solar panels, and the utility could have purchased that same solar power from a utility-scale solar power plant for about five cents per kilowatt-hour.

This 12-cents-per-kwh cost difference amounts to a wealth transfer from average electric customers to customers with rooftop solar systems (who also often have higher incomes).

Melissa and I looked into solar for our house, which enjoys 300 days of Colorado sunshine each year, and some excellent southern exposure. But the financials just didn’t make sense without the subsidies, and we couldn’t count on those remaining in place. So that’s on hold for the unforeseeable future — like when conversion rates go way up and panel prices come way down.

So if solar doesn’t make sense, why are so many homeowners doing it? For starters, the subsidies. But there’s also a vanity element, the “You can see right up on my roof from quite a distant just how green and morally superior I am!” factor. And getting other people to pay for it? Brilliant! The real topper though is getting other people who can’t afford it themselves to pay for yours.

Wonder why our middle class is dwindling? This program, and a thousand others just like it.

Call it “trickle up economics.”

Tom Clancy Drool-Fest

May 18th, 2015 - 1:20 pm


Meet the High-Speed Strike Weapon:

“We’re taking lessons learned from X-51 and using them in development of HSSW [high-speed strike weapon],” said John Leugers, the principal aerospace engineer at the AFRL munitions directorate.

HSSW is a Lockheed Martin Skunk Works concept under which the company plans to demonstrate hypersonic flight and to provide the basis for future hypersonic programmes, including both expendable missiles and reusable aircraft.

On 1 May 2013, the X-51 performed a successful flight on its fourth test. The vehicle detached from a B-52H and was powered to Mach 4.8 by the booster rocket. It separated from the booster and ignited its own engine. The X-51 then accelerated to Mach 5.1 and flew for 210 seconds until running out of fuel. The USAF collected telemetry data for 370 seconds of flight.

Leugers said the emphasis on hypersonic technology is based on a threat assessment and highlighted a particular need for long-range systems.

I’m picturing a world in the not-too-distant future, in which our defense is automated. Something bad happens here or to one of our friends, and 30 minutes later a bunch of bad guys and their stuff gets blown up by hypersonic weapons.

We could call it “Skynet.”

Steve Jobs Teaser

May 18th, 2015 - 12:12 pm

Michael Fassbender is a fine actor, but you had to wonder if he hadn’t been horribly miscast as Steve Jobs.

My take is that the voice is hit and miss, and it might be telling that we never really see Fassbender in action as Jobs — but I’d be happy to be proven wrong when the movie is released this fall.

What’s your impression?

Promises, Promises

May 18th, 2015 - 11:01 am
Something smells funny. (AP photo)

Something smells funny.
(AP photo)

Presidential “candidate” Hillary Clinton, who belongs in jail, goes back to “campaigning” in Iowa:

Clinton, who kicked off her campaign a month ago and then spent three days in Iowa, is returning to hail her team’s grassroots organization in the early caucus state, and to describe her vision for a U.S. economy that relies on small entrepreneurs to create jobs.

On Monday, she’ll meet grassroots organizers at the home of a supporter in Mason City, Iowa, and on Tuesday she’ll participate in a roundtable discussion with community lenders and business representatives in Cedar Falls. That discussion is to take place at Bike Tech, a bicycle and sports shop that outgrew its location on Main Street this year and moved to larger quarters in a vintage former post office a few streets away.

“I want to be the president for small business,” Clinton declared May 5 while speaking during a similar roundtable at a library in Nevada.

Sure. Lots of small businesses can pony up $200,000 to get an hour of Clinton’s time.

Where Did Our Growth Go?

May 18th, 2015 - 9:49 am

Alan Blinder wonders what happened to our productivity gains:

Are you worrying about America’s recent dismal productivity performance? You should be. Productivity gains are the wellspring of higher living standards, and the well has been running pretty dry lately.

How dry and how lately? I prefer to date the slowdown in productivity growth from the end of 2010 because productivity growth (in the nonfarm business sector) averaged a bountiful 2.6% per annum from mid-1995 through the end of 2010, but only a paltry 0.4% since. Other scholars prefer earlier break points. For example, productivity growth averaged 2.9% from mid-1995 through the end of 2005, but only 1.3% since.

Either way, the drop is large, and the scary thing is that we don’t understand why.

The decline actually started around the turn of the century, when the housing bubble began in earnest — sucking a trillion dollars or so out of productive investments and into the sinkhole of bad real estate decisions. We enjoyed a blip of robust productivity gains during the financial crisis, when American business shed jobs like a nudist sheds his clothes on the beach — and those of us who kept our jobs redoubled our efforts to keep from losing them.

In 2009, Americans elected the most “progressive” President and Congress in our history. The very next year, ♡bamaCare!!! was signed into law, along with Dodd-Frank. Both are dense with job- and growth-killing regulations. The Democrats also effectively gutted the 1996 welfare reform act, resulting in a huge and ongoing transfer of wealth from the productive to the idle.

Is there really such a mystery?

U Can’t Touch This

May 18th, 2015 - 8:18 am
GOP budget cutters in action. (Image courtesy

GOP budget cutters in action.
(Image courtesy

I started reading Kevin Williamson’s NRO piece because I’m interested in how Congress’s new dynamic scoring will — or won’t — work at CBO.

But then I got to this bit and halted:

The fundamental problem with the Republican approach to budgeting is that, with all due respect to such admirable men as Tom Price and Paul Ryan, Republicans have set themselves an impossible task: Balance the budget, forgo tax hikes, increase military spending, and increase spending on Social Security and Medicare. That means cutting your way to a balanced budget while saying that most of the budget has to be protected from cuts.

The House budget proposal would see Social Security spending increase from $921 billion in 2016 to $1.56 trillion in 2025; Medicare would leap from $571 billion to $916 billion; notional defense spending would jump from $523 billion to $687 billion, while non-defense discretionary spending — the “everything else” category of the federal budget — would be lower in 2017–2024 in total-dollar outlays, climbing just a hair north of its 2016 level in 2025.

It’s not just that the GOP plan is doomed to fail to achieve its goals, it’s that the GOP plan is insane.

That’s the only word for it: Insane.

Ever wonder why Washington can’t scrape together enough money to cover essential government functions like border control and infrastructure maintenance? Or why our Navy can’t get enough ships and our Air Force can’t get enough planes? Wonder why we can’t afford unnecessary-but-totally-cool things like moonshots any more?

Part of the problem is that our military procurement system is broken, and so we spend too much money on too few systems which take far too long to deploy. Another part of the problem is that the Department of Transportation is little more than a black hole of Democratic interests, from which not even cash can escape.

But the major problem is that Washington spends trillions it doesn’t have, robbing Peter to pay Paul. Or just as often, robbing Peter to pay Peter. Or even more often, robbing Peter’s and Paul’s grandchildren to pay for Peter’s and Paul’s votes.

That, in a nutshell, is the Entitlement State. Not only is none of it authorized by the Constitution, but it also has the deleterious effect of crowding out legitimate spending priorities. The phrase “non-defense discretionary spending” sounds like it must be the unnecessary stuff, the things Washington shouldn’t be spending on. In fact, it covers most of the things Washington should be doing (and more than a few things it shouldn’t).

A few words now about that spending which is oh-so-essential that Washington calls it “non-discretionary.” That is, the spending which happens automatically, without any of that meddlesome discretion Congress is so famous for.

Washington will spend about 1.2 billion per day on “Health,” a word not mentioned once in the Constitution. Medicare is a separate budget item and comes out to another 1.4 billion per day. Three days of “health” spending would more than pay for an additional Ford-class aircraft carrier for the Navy — an organization which is explicitly mandated by the Constitution. Instead of three days, each Ford has a life expectancy of about 50 years.

The GOP is supposed to be about limited government, yet here they are inflating the onerous entitlements we already can’t afford. The GOP is supposed to be about legitimate government, but its budget plan continues the decades-long process of crowding out legitimate spending.


Tsarnaev Family Values

May 18th, 2015 - 7:29 am
Right back at you. (AP photo)

Right back at you.
(AP photo)

If you want to know how the Tsarnaev boys became radicalized, look no further than dear old mom:

With her terrorist son sentenced to death, the mother of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sent raging messages to his supporters saying the United States will burn “in the flames of an eternal and terrifying fire,” her close friend told Vocativ.

“They think that they are killing us and they celebrate this, but we are the ones who will rejoice when Allah grants us the chance to behold them in the flames of an eternal and terrifying fire, an otherworldly flame,” Zubeidat Tsarnaeva wrote Sunday in a WhatsApp message to Zarina Kasenova, a friend and supporter.

This next bit caught my eye:

Vocativ discovered Zubeidat Tsarnaeva’s messages, written in Russian, via VKontakte, the Russian social media site, where she and other anti-American supporters of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have raised money for his defense and rallied around each other.

I’d like to see Defense or CIA hire American hackers and set them loose on some of these foreign social media sites. There’s tons of false flag fun to be had, sowing distrust and discord among these would-be killers.

Great Kid, Don’t Get Cocky

May 18th, 2015 - 6:11 am
Displaced Iraqis from Ramadi cross the Bzebiz bridge after spending the night walking towards Baghdad, as they flee their hometown, 65 km west of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, May 16, 2015. Islamic State militants seized the center of Ramadi in western Iraq and raised their black flag over the government compound, local officials said. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Displaced Iraqis from Ramadi cross the Bzebiz bridge after spending the night walking towards Baghdad, as they flee their hometown, 65 km west of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, May 16, 2015. Islamic State militants seized the center of Ramadi in western Iraq and raised their black flag over the government compound, local officials said. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)


Washington lawmakers from both parties on Sunday praised the U.S. raid that killed Abu Sayyaf, a key Islamic State leader in charge of the group’s oil and gas operations in eastern Syria.

“It’s good news,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Obviously, any time you can degrade or take away top leadership of an organization. It’s a positive step forward.”


Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants, known for their obliteration and wanton destruction of historical sites, have seized parts of the ancient city of Palmyra, a UNESCO world heritage site in Syria, according to reports.

“If [the Islamic State] enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction,” said Syria’s director of antiquities, Maamoun Abdulkarim, to Agence France-Presse before the news was announced. “If the ancient city falls, it will be an international catastrophe.”

And another chaser:

The key Iraqi city of Ramadi fell to ISIS on Sunday after government security forces pulled out of a military base on the west side of the city, the mayor and a high-ranking security official said.

The ISIS advances came after militants detonated a series of morning car bomb blasts, Mayor Dalaf al-Kubaisy and a high-ranking Iraqi security official said. The explosions forced Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters to retreat to the city’s east, they said.

It’s a wonderful thing, taking out ISIS leadership like our Special Forces did to Abu Sayyaf in that raid on Saturday. But at its heart, ISIS is a popular ideological movement — or at least just popular enough to keep its ranks and leadership slots filled. If we’re serious about defeating it, that means a much more sustained effort than pinprick air raids and the occasional commando raid. It also requires a sustained counter-ideological effort, rather than apologies and denials about the true nature of radical Islam.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

May 18th, 2015 - 5:02 am

Another day, another contractor has quit trying to make ♡bamaCare!!! function. Only this time it isn’t some tiny firm in just one small state:

QSSI, the politically-connected information technology firm that rescued the problem-plagued website unexpectedly announced Thursday that it is stepping down as prime manager.

The surprise departure of QSSI, the Columbia, Md.-based subsidiary of the IT health firm Optum and the health insurance giant United Healthcare Group, will raise new doubts about the future viability of the website for President Obama’s signature program, Obamacare.

Three IT companies will have managed in its brief two-year history once QSSI is replaced.

A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which manages Obamacare, declined to comment on QSSI’s decision, including whether the firm’s departure was voluntary.

The short version is, the website still doesn’t work. Mandate-customers in 38 states (I think, now that Hawaii has shut down its state exchange) rely on to buy health insurance, and the website still doesn’t work. Not after almost three years since it went live, and not after five years since ♡bamaCare!!! became the oh-so-settled law of the land.

And nobody can make the website work, not even a “politically-connected” tech company.

Imagine that.

Friday Night Videos

May 15th, 2015 - 10:52 pm

Everything good I could ever want to say about B.B. King is right here in this one song.

RIP, Mr. King.

The thrill is not gone.

John Schindler reports:

What I’ve termed the counterintelligence imperative just doesn’t seem all that imperative to IC bigwigs, who continue to regard CI as a nuisance and an afterthought. This reluctance seems an immutable law of the vast, sprawling, and expensive Intelligence Community, having long ago been institutionalized. A dozen years ago, a former NSA director bemoaned American CI’s “dismal performance,” noting that counterintelligence is fragmented, under-resourced, and neglected, and none of that has improved since. If anything, it’s gotten worse.

Counterintelligence continues to be regarded as something less than a full-time job by most IC leadership, who prefer not to think about it at all. Just how peripheral CI is to U.S. intelligence was made clear by an assessment done by the Congressional Research Service back in late April 2013. This detailed study, intended to be a primer on the Intelligence Community for Congress, was a walk-through of the entire IC, with analysis of which agencies do what as well as explanations of all the various -INTs. Yet, in this thirty-page study, the word “counterintelligence” never appears, not even once.

It’s too bad I already used up today’s “Required Reading” slot, because Schindler’s column deserves a “Read the whole thing.”

By its nature, counterintel is unglamorous work, which ideally shouldn’t involve any big headlines, or necessitate any sexy satellite launches.

But that doesn’t mean we need to suck at it, although clearly we do.

Thought for the Day

May 15th, 2015 - 1:21 pm

News You Can Use

May 15th, 2015 - 12:30 pm

Good lord:

A 33-year-old Oklahoma man has been charged with killing his stepfather by giving him an atomic wedgie, that caused the victim to suffocate on his own underwear. He pleaded guilty on Monday to first-degree manslaughter.

Brad Lee Davis was charged with murder in the death of 58-year-old Denver St. Clair in a drunken family fight at a residence just east of Oklahoma City, the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office said in an arrest affidavit obtained on Wednesday.

Police arrested Davis on Tuesday. The affidavit said he ‘grabbed St. Clair’s underwear and gave him an atomic wedgie. Davis allegedly pulled the elastic waistband of St. Clair’s underwear over his head and around his neck.’

Please tell me you know not to do that.

Required Reading

May 15th, 2015 - 11:00 am

Jonah Goldberg says that Democrats are getting “a taste of Obama’s arrogance.”


“Let’s suppose you are trying to bring a friend around to your point of view,” [Washington Post lickspit Dana] Milbank writes. “Would you tell her she’s emotional, illogical, outdated, and not very smart? Would you complain that he’s being dishonest, fabricating falsehoods and denying reality with his knee-jerk response?”

“Such a method of a persuasion is likelier to get you a black eye than a convert,” Milbank notes. “Yet this is how President Obama treats his fellow Democrats on trade . . .”

Yes, well, true enough. But lost on Milbank is the fact that this is precisely how Obama treats everyone who disagrees with him. When Obama — who ran for office touting his ability to work with Republicans and vowing to cure the partisan dysfunction in Washington — treated Republicans in a far ruder and shabbier way, Milbank celebrated.

Of course he did.

Anyway, read the whole thing, which includes the best short history of that all-too-revealing health care summit from 2010.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

May 15th, 2015 - 9:31 am

Dr. Scott Gottlieb has done yeoman’s work, trying to figure out just how many people are newly insured under the totally settled law of the land.

The answer?

It’s complicated:

Unanswered in all this is also the question of how many employers might have offered insurance for the first time, or expanded their coverage, but for Obamacare and the ability to move their workers onto the exchanges. In an expanding economy, the total share of employer-sponsored coverage should have similarly grown, if historical trends are any guide. Yet the number of people insured through work was flat by many other estimates, and according to the Goldman analysis, actually declined. This strongly suggests the ACA is displacing private coverage.

It could be that most of what Obamacare does to address the “uninsured” problem is obligate a whole lot more people to Medicaid, a program that already suffers from severe access problems owing to years of underfunding relative to its expanding mission, and the chronic health needs of its mostly indigent population. Obamacare only adds to the program’s strains. At the same time, on the commercial side, Obamacare may be mostly creating churn — by displacing people from their employer-sponsored coverage and moving them onto the exchanges.

It’s hard to know for certain, since the current figures – at least those released by Washington – can’t be compared to historical trends. The Census Bureau made a significant change in how it estimates the number of people who lack insurance, starting with its assessment for 2013. That means that after 2013, the results can’t be compared to those for prior years. The government’s new method conveniently results in a lower estimate of the total number of people without insurance.

It’s almost as if the Obama Administration doesn’t want us to know the facts about the President’s signature domestic policy achievement.

UPDATE: Fine, fine — some might say that expanding coverage is a paramount moral good, so it doesn’t matter how few actually get the benefit or how much it costs.


Even as premiums might be about to go up, a study published Thursday by the consumer healthcare nonprofit group Families USA showed that one out of four adults who bought health insurance through exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act skipped necessary medical treatment because the care was too expensive. These adults had paid monthly premiums, some of them subsidized by the government, for health insurance but were nevertheless unable to afford the very care it was supposed to provide.

Forced to pay for coverage they can’t afford to use — how’s that for a paramount moral good?

Sign “O” the Times

May 15th, 2015 - 7:29 am


Let’s talk about the recovery, which if it ever existed (it didn’t) ended at least two years ago. Jeffrey Snider writes for Alhambra:

If March was supposed to herald at least the beginning of the anticipated yearly rebound, April put that idea to rest. In terms of retail sales, one of the most important and largest segments of “demand”, April’s figures were mostly the worst of the recovery and some of the worst in the entire series – “beating” out February in every category. Even including autos, total retail sales gained just 0.72% in April more than suggesting there really is a major economic problem brewing.

Among the other segments, the figures are getting truly dire (all numbers are year-over-year not-adjusted): retail & food sales ex autos -0.35%; retail trade incl. autos –0.26%; just retail ex food ex autos -1.80%; general merchandise stores -1.52%. While these numbers are severe on their own, this is a contractionary environment that now stretches at least four months and in some cases five. Recessions are not spontaneous events but rather the accumulation of negative pressures and results. There can be no doubt that consumers in the US right at this moment are acting out of recessionary impulses.

Janet Yellen is gonna need a bigger printing press.

UPDATE: Whatever killed PJM this morning seems to still be messing up some images. There’s supposed to be a chart in that blank spot above — a wicked scary chart. Will get it fixed after I’m finished playing Superdad this morning.


May 15th, 2015 - 6:28 am

‘Libertarians of Convenience’

May 15th, 2015 - 5:31 am
Enjoy the fruits of progressive government, comrades! (AP photo of the Brewster-Douglass housing project, Detroit)

Enjoy the fruits of progressive government, comrades!
(AP photo of the Brewster-Douglass housing project, Detroit)

That’s what Aaron Renn of City Journal calls Matthew Yglesias and other “urban progressives” who have learned the hard way that zoning laws suck:

Nowhere has the liberal big-government, pro-regulation consensus weakened more noticeably than in housing policy, especially in New York and San Francisco, where housing prices have soared. Zoning—particularly rules limiting density—has become a regular target. Urban analyst Daniel Hertz, a onetime community organizer in Chicago, has struck a strikingly libertarian note on this theme. “In many neighborhoods,” he wrote in the Washington Post, “zoning laws prevent the construction of low-cost housing by, for example, allowing only single-family homes instead of apartments. . . . Researchers have found overwhelming evidence that restrictive zoning raises housing prices.” Writing in The Atlantic’s CityLab, and sounding more like Milton Friedman than a traditional left-liberal, Hertz noted that overuse of zoning had produced a pattern of “micro-regulations of the urban space, in which the size, function, number of windows, orientation, number of inhabitants, number of parking spaces, color, lawn space, and a million other details of every single building in the city came to be a legitimate state interest.”

The Washington State–based Sightline Institute, a liberal think tank, echoes Yglesias and Hertz: “This anti-density attitude remains, sad to say, the political reality in most of Cascadia’s single-family zones, and it yields a sort of collective pathology of scratching in the wrong place.” And the Michigan political blog Democracy Tree, in its “Progressive’s Guide to Talking to Tea Party Zealots,” finds an area of agreement with the “zealots”: “Zoning laws are just plain bad. They’ve got to go! They harm communities, create crime-zones, destroy schools, contribute to poverty, and de-humanize our existence.”

Give the progressives some credit. If they can learn this one lesson, maybe someday they’ll also learn that shoving millions of Americans into health coverage “exchanges” which present them a tiny selection of high-priced products designed to suit someone else’s needs, and allow them to see a narrow selection of bottom-scraping doctors at conglomerate health care centers is equally de-humanizing.

Not that I’m holding my breath, mind you.

And you might even show our newfound anti-zoning allies a little understanding, because being a principled libertarian, as opposed to being one of “convenience,” is hard. It really is. You must first develop a genuine tolerance for every stupid or distasteful or downright immoral thing other people might choose to do with their lives, and then spend the rest of your life nurturing that tolerance. The all-too-human itch to tell other people what to do is nearly irresistible to scratch — as is evidenced by the near-entirety of human history.

For a brief, shining moment, the United States ran counter to that history — but even that moment was tainted by the evils of slavery in the South, and by legally-enforced sexism almost everywhere else. The solution was to expand what I jokingly call “White Man Liberty” to all sexes and all colors, but instead Washington and the states are now in the business of putting new shackles on everybody, everywhere.

It was Progressives like Yglesias, starting over a century ago, who connived us into throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

But if even just a few of them are belatedly learning the lesson in one limited area, maybe we can help them learn it in others.

I’m still not holding my breath, mind you.

Rumble in the Suburban Jungle

May 14th, 2015 - 1:11 pm

Look out Amazon Prime, here comes Walmart:

Walmart is reported to be working on a three-day, unlimited shipping service that will cost consumers approximately $50 per year. This is half the price of Amazon Prime, but it’s unclear if additional benefits will be included beyond free shipping on most orders. Scheduled to being testing this summer by invitation, the three-day shipping offer will be applied to more than one million products sold on

Assuming Walmart can effectively harness the company’s existing distribution network to deliver products efficiently, the company may be in a solid position to compete with Amazon on speed of delivery. Of course, it’s going to be vastly more difficult to compete with the additional perks of Amazon Prime. Detailed by the Associated Press, Walmart spokesperson Ravi Jariwala mentioned that the company will not be able to compete with “free video or music streaming.”

Walmart shouldn’t even try to compete with Amazon on streaming services. Or at least Walmart shouldn’t try yet. Amazon’s digital cloud is probably the best in the world, and they have the rights to tons of content and cut-price streaming hardware and a much-used app for both Android and iOS. Walmart would just be competing against Amazon on price and content, they’d also be going up against Amazon’s ecosystem and huge base of happy customers.

What Walmart can and should leverage is physical proximity to their own huge base of happy customers.

That means one thing: Same-day delivery, the Holy Grail of virtual retailing. Amazon has been slowly building up infrastructure, here and there, in an attempt to deliver the goods on the same day. But doing so means losing the no-sales-tax advantage they enjoy across much of the nation.

Walmart customers already pay local sales tax, so that’s a wash. But if Walmart can undercut Amazon on price ($50 vs $99) and provide same-day delivery, thanks to the physical proximity of their customers to their stores…

Millions of Walmart customers could save $50 just in gas money each year.

That’s not to say it would be easy. A Walmart store is built so that the goods come in the back door, and leave through the front door via the cash register. Something, obviously, would have to give. They’d also need to either acquire their own fleet of delivery vehicles, or work out an arrangement with UPS, Fedex, the USPS, or all three.

But if they can get it done, same-day delivery combined with “everyday low prices” would be an enticing deal indeed.

Kim Jong-un: Panicked Tyrant?

May 14th, 2015 - 12:10 pm
Korean leader Kim Jong-un seen here in this AP file photo. (Image courtesy Home Box Office)

Korean leader Kim Jong-un seen here in this AP file photo.
(Image courtesy Home Box Office)

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself since this week’s horrific news of his recent execution-by-antiaircraft-gun of former defense chief Hyon Yong Chol. CNN’s Christian Whiton has more, but you might not like the answer:

It goes without saying that deciphering what is really going on in North Korea is extremely difficult — it is run by one of the most repressive regimes on Earth. Still, some analysts believe the recent activity suggests Kim is in a precarious position. The thinking goes that Kim is deeply fearful that his rule could be challenged, and thus is willing to kill anyone he sees as a potential rival. A sense of insecurity about his position may also explain the recent cancellation of Kim’s planned trip to Moscow for Russia’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of V-E Day — Kim had been scheduled to attend last week, but canceled due to what Russian officials described as “internal Korean affairs”.

But precariousness and insecurity are two different things. While no one on the outside really knows, there are signs that the Kim regime is actually stable. Rapidly expanding trade with China in recent years has helped the economy. (Beijing often says it is fed up with Pyongyang, but its actions tell a different story.) North Korea reportedly now has as many as 20 nuclear weapons and the ability to strike North America directly. It recently tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile. State propaganda casts Kim as a beloved figure jovially dispensing military, industrial, and social guidance to a degree that equals or exceeds his father’s and grandfather’s cults of personality.

Some of this suggests that contrary to the image of a panicky, unsure, inexperienced boy dictator, Kim may be perfectly in his element as an effective tyrant.

I’m thinking now of a bit of dialogue from Silence of the Lambs, as Clarice Starling and Jack Crawford discuss the profile they’re building of the serial killer known only as “Buffalo Bill.”

Starling: He’ll never stop.

Crawford: Why not?

Starling: He’s got a real taste for it now. He’s getting better at his work.

You get that same feeling about Kim Jong-un?

It’s the latest from Georgia GOP Congressman Tom Price, who happens to be a physician, and it’s a modification of the plan he presented in the previous Congress. Read:

To assist individuals with the purchase of insurance in the absence of Obamacare’s subsidies, it would provide refundable tax credits. In a change from Price’s previous proposal, which adjusted the value of the credits based on the income level of the recipient, the new Price plan would adjust the value of the credits based on age. The credits would range from $1,200 for those between 18 to 35 and $3,000 for those over 50 – with an additional $900 credit per child up to age 18.

It would also provide individuals with a one-time $1,000 tax credit to put in a health savings account, from which individuals could pay for routine medical expenses that aren’t covered by their insurance. The legislation would increase the contribution limits of HSAs to match limits on Individual Retirement Accounts.

The idea of tying the credits to age was featured in a proposal released by a policy group, the 2017 Project, last year. The thinking of doing it based on age is that because younger individuals can obtain cheaper insurance, by weighting the subsidies toward older Americans, it’s possible to cover more people. Also, it’s easier to administer, because the government doesn’t have to worry about estimating income.

Obama will never sign this — it isn’t bossy enough.

"Your cudgel is waiting, sir." (AP photo)

“Your cudgel is waiting, sir.”
(AP photo)

The Russians are a “Nyet!” on immediately reimposing sanctions on Iran, if they are found to be out of compliance with any nuclear deal:

Vitaly Chukrin, Russia’s United Nations ambassador, told Bloomberg News on Wednesday that “there can be no automaticity, none whatsoever” if Iran is found guilty of reneging on a pledge to dismantle and otherwise contain certain parts of its nuclear enrichment program. Iran maintains its nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful and practical in nature, a position disputed by the West.

Churkin did not elaborate on the “no automacity” principle Wednesday, but a so-called sanctions snapback mechanism whereby economic sanctions would be immediately reimposed on Iran if it fails to comply with the agreement is seen by Washington as essential for any nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.

On Tuesday, after Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, the American diplomat said the two nations were “closely aligned” in their thinking on the negotiations.

Of course, “snap back” sanctions were always a chimera, a useful myth for selling an unpopular deal to the American public. Here’s what the Washington Post had to say about it last month:

This would be relatively straightforward for the sanctions imposed by the U.S., as Congress is eager to keep the pressure on. But it is far from clear whether President Barack Obama can guarantee such action at the United Nations, which has imposed wide-ranging penalties that all U.N. members must enforce.

At present, there’s no firm agreement to how or when to lift the sanctions in the first place. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, and President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday they want all sanctions lifted on the first day of implementation. That’s not the position of U.S. and other negotiators, a major issue that still must be worked out.

Assuming it can be, that still would leave the big question of possible re-imposition.

It took years of careful negotiations to get the UN to agree to the current sanctions regime, and once lifted it would take just as long to get the UN to re-impose them — assuming the member states were still interested.

And assuming Russia, with its veto power, wouldn’t enjoy having Iran as an even bigger and more threatening cudgel with which to beat us.

Any takers on that?

Train Wreck of a WaPo Story

May 14th, 2015 - 8:50 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

The bodies from that terrible Amtrak crash were barely cold yesterday, when the Washington Post’s Philip Bump chose point fingers at the GOP:

The constant struggle of Amtrak to get funding derives largely from the fact that not very many Americans use the rail system. Ridership is heavily centered in the Northeast, in the corridor between Boston and Washington where Tuesday’s accident occurred. But more than that, ridership is unevenly distributed politically. Data from the National Association of Railroad Passengers shows the number of passengers that get on or off the train in any given congressional district, and reveals an obvious reason why Republicans might not be too concerned about funding the system.

“Republicans don’t care if blue staters DIE!” is a charming subtext, yes?

The actual cause of the crash is believed to have been excessive speed on the part of the engineer, not crumbling rails due to parsimonious GOP lawmakers.

Should’ve Said No

May 14th, 2015 - 7:40 am
(AP photo. Totally not altered at all in any way whatsoever.)

(AP photo. Totally not altered at all in any way whatsoever.)

The wrong, this story about lawmakers charing real American dollars to sit with them at a Taylor Swift concert, is filled with it:

At least four lawmakers have planned fundraisers at her upcoming concert, according to two invitations obtained by the Loop and two by The Sunlight Foundation. For $2,500 a pop you can enjoy the show with Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) or Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.).

But! If you’re not partisan, and you’re looking for a bargain, you could always go sit in the Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) suite. He’s offering a discounted rate of $1,500 per ticket. And for $2,500, you can bring a friend.

Obviously, Republicans aren’t as cool as Democrats, or there would be more of them charging more money to sit next to them at a Taylor Swift concert.

The Republic, by the way, is doomed.

What Has Been Said Cannot Be Unsaid

May 14th, 2015 - 6:30 am

I apologize for nothing, not even for nearly knocking Bill Whittle out of his chair.