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Beijing’s Starship Troopers

July 14th, 2015 - 8:41 am
Not actual Chinese starship troopers. (Image courtesy Sola Digital Arts, Stage 6 Films)

Not actual Chinese starship troopers.
(Image courtesy Sola Digital Arts, Stage 6 Films)

The future of combat infantrymen:

While powered armor suits are a big deal for futuristic soldiers in the Edge of Tomorrow and Alien, real world researchers are hard at work on giving the soldiers of near future battlefields exoskeletons. Right now, such exoskeletons, whether in the U.S., China or Europe, are generally intended for logistical and engineering purposes, due to their short range and battery life (most exoskeletons can only operate independently for several hours). But Chinese manufacturers express hope that upgrades to exoskeletons could make them suitable for frontline infantry in difficult environments like mountainous terrain.

The new Chinese exoskeleton has improved performance, including an add on crane/lifter on the upper body, to add in lifting heavy objects.

The 202 Institute of China Ordnance Industry Group first displayed its exoskeleton at the November 2014 Zhuhai Airshow; showing off its flexibility. At a June 2015 presentation, the 202 Institute’s updated exoskeleton showed upgrades, including a larger battery pack on the back, strengthened legs and more powerful, hip mounted hydraulic/pneumatic pumps to power leg movement. The exoskeleton can allow the user to carry over 100 pounds, with enough charge to walk 20 kilometers at a speed of 4.5 km per hour (Lockheed Martin’s HULC also has similar speed and endurance figures). Other photos showed that the exoskeleton had enough flexibility to allow lateral ground movement; ie crawling in the mud while under enemy fire.

India had best perk up on that bit about “mountainous terrain.”

You wonder if they’re working on an amphibious version, too?

Postcards from Pluto III

July 14th, 2015 - 7:21 am

Wow.

BIG BREAKING UPDATE:

No. Snap. Inspections.

We got nothing. Iran got everything.

I’ve never been more afraid that someday we’re going to lose a city or two, or that Israel’s existence will soon be threatened like never before.

Or both.

Our least bad hope now might be for the widest possible Middle Eastern war, one big and bad enough to bring down the Mullah’s regime and pummel every nuclear and military site in that country.

ORGINAL POST BELOW:

A deal is a deal — except when maybe it isn’t:

The Islamic republic has been negotiating with the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China for years, with diplomats most recently extending deadline after deadline in hopes of arriving at a workable plan.

President Barack Obama said the deal ensures that “Iran’s pathway to a nuclear weapon” has been cut off.

“Today… we have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region,” he said in an early-morning televised statement.

His remarks appeared aimed at reassuring close U.S. allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, who have vehemently opposed a deal and insisted Iran cannot be trusted with a nuclear program of any kind.

Obama said that if Iran violates the terms of the agreement, sanctions will be snapped back into place.

The deal is “not built on trust,” he explained. “It is built on verification.”

It took years to build the sanctions regime; it will not “snap back” once trading begins again. As for the verification process, that’s been a huge sticking point, with Iran refusing to consider unannounced inspection, or even
to acknowledge all of its nuclear sites. This morning’s early stories give no indication if the Iranians suddenly budged, or if the Obama Administration re-upped their demands after having previously walked them back.

Without instant and unfettered inspections of each and every one of Iran’s nuclear sites, this deal isn’t worth the 80 pages of paper it’s printed on.

Then there’s this massive lie:

“Put simply,” the president said, “no deal means the chance of more war in the Middle East.”

He said this as Iranian militiamen prepare to “help” Iraqi security forces retake the city of Fallujah from the Islamic State. Like the sanctions, will those Iranian forces “snap back” to Iran once ISIS is defeated? That seems… unlikely, given Iran’s longtime ambition to unite with its Shi’ite coreligionists in Iraq.

Then there’s expected resistance in Congress, although Obama has said he’ll veto any Congressional action to put a halt to the agreement.

Much, much more to come.

UPDATE: Details on the inspections provisions are still murky, but I did find this:

A senior Western diplomat says a landmark Iran nuclear agreement has been reached.

The diplomat made the comments Tuesday amid nonstop negotiations between Iran and world powers in Vienna.

The diplomat says it includes a compromise between Washington and Tehran that would allow U.N. inspectors to press for visits to Iranian military sites as part of their monitoring duties. Iranian state television earlier rejected such a demand.

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement, expected after a 10:30 a.m. final meeting between all negotiators.

“Allow U.N. inspectors to press for visits” — what the hell does that mean? Does it mean that inspectors must ask permission first, and that Iran is free to refuse?

Stay tuned.

MORE: This deal keeps getting worse all the time. Or at least that’s my takeaway from this graf from Politico’s writeup:

Iran has also agreed to modify a plutonium-fueled nuclear reactor so that its fuel cannot be reprocessed for use in a weapon. And it will allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency broad access to suspected nuclear sites, as well as cooperate with an IAEA investigation into its past activities, although many crucial details have yet to be released.

A plutonium-filled reactor? Do they have more than one? And why did Iran need a plutonium reactor in the first place?

And does “broad access” include immediate and unannounced inspections, or are UN officials just “allowed” to “press for visits?”

Crucial details, indeed.

Introducing the Leave Us Alone Coalition

July 14th, 2015 - 5:18 am

Seriously. Just go away.

This is the first of the set from PJTV, with about as fine a group of liberty-minded folks as you’ll find on internet TV.

Tsipras to Exit Stage Right?

July 13th, 2015 - 2:05 pm

Moe Lane explains the current situation between Greece and the EU:

I am really and truly trying not to laugh at this. No, seriously. I’m totally trying to cut out the schadenfreude this week. But Greece refuses to make it easy for me:

A week ago, Greeks partied in the streets after voting to resoundingly reject terms of a new European bailout. On Sunday, those same streets were filled with a dazed and confused populace struggling to understand how they were now faced with swallowing a deal even tougher than the one they had just snubbed.

The answer is, of course, that the European Union has almost certainly made it privately clear to the Greek government that the former is more than ready to cut the latter loose. That’s the problem with running a bluff; somebody eventually calls you on it, if for no other reason than the principle of the thing. Apparently Alexis Tsipras wasn’t really ready to nuke his country’s economy just quite yet.

There was crowing from the anti-austerity over the weekend that Merkel had somehow blinked by giving Greece an offer better than an ultimatum to pay up every last euro or else. But the fact is, Merkel/EU/ECB were going to have to accept something less than total surrender, because Athens can’t afford to pay the money back — they just don’t have the money. And won’t. Ever.

So the question wasn’t would Greece make 100% good. The question was what kind of economic and political reforms would Greece have to make in order to get down to an affordable payments schedule.

Now Tsipras must either nuke his country’s economy, or nuke his leftwing agenda.

Singing the Samsung Blues

July 13th, 2015 - 1:19 pm
(Shutterstock photo)

(Shutterstock photo)

It wasn’t that long ago — 2012 — that the South Korean electronics giant commanded half of all profits in the smartphone market. Then its share dropped to a third. Now Samsung earns only 15%, according to figures from Canaccord Genuity and reported by the Wall Street Journal:

Samsung, which for a time found success making smartphones in all price tiers, is suffering in the now-crowded industry. Last week, the company said it expects profits to decline for a seventh straight quarter in the three months ended in June. Samsung appears to have misjudged demand for its newest phones, ordering too many Galaxy S6 phones and not enough of its higher-priced curved-screen cousin.

The results demonstrate the rapidly shifting fortunes in the smartphone business, which Apple transformed with the iPhone in 2007. At that time, Finland’s Nokia was grabbing about two-thirds of smartphone-industry profits, Canaccord estimates.

By the end of the decade, Apple and BlackBerry Ltd. joined Nokia in the top tier. By 2012, Apple and Samsung essentially split industry profits 50-50. Now, Apple stands far above the others. “That high-end tier has really shifted away from Samsung to Apple,” said Mr. Walkley.

Apple took 92% of the profits last quarter, and if you’re wondering how 92 + 15 = 100, every other smartphone maker lost money — a figure which is included in the total anyway.

So if you want the “real,” percentages, Apple’s and Samsung’s were both somewhat lower than Canaccord Genuity figures them.

Iraq vs ISIS II: The Wrath of Rouhani

July 13th, 2015 - 12:04 pm
Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite and Sunni pro-government fighters prepare to attack Islamic State group positions in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, July 13, 2015. The Iraqi government began on Monday a long-awaited large-scale military operation to dislodge Islamic State militants from Iraq's western Anbar province, the spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, said. (AP Photo)

Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite and Sunni pro-government fighters prepare to attack Islamic State group positions in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, July 13, 2015. The Iraqi government began on Monday a long-awaited large-scale military operation to dislodge Islamic State militants from Iraq’s western Anbar province, the spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, said. (AP Photo)

Iraqi forces are battling hard in Anbar province:

The operation is under way to recapture Fallujah and Ramadi, a senior defense official at the Pentagon confirmed to Fox News Monday. The efforts are supported by Shiite militias, known as Popular Mobilization Units, from Iran and its proxy Hezbollah.

Photos of Iran’s Quds force Commander Qasem Soleimani visiting Shia militia units inside Iraq have appeared on social media since ISIS took over large portions of Iraq a year ago.

The defense official was unaware of any U.S. air support boosting the operation. It has been longstanding Pentagon policy to support only units aligned with the government of Iraq, but the line can be blurred as the chain of command for units operating in Iraq is not always known.

The kink is in the story’s lede, that the Iraqi troops are “supported by Shiite militias from Iran.”

I’m thinking now of the tragedy of the Second Battle of Fallujah, fought towards the end of 2004. Over 13,000 coalition forces — mostly US Marines, backed up by Iraqi security forces and the Brits, lost 107 killed and 613 wounded retaking the city from Iranian-backed insurgents.

Here’s what retired US Army intelligence officer and author Ralph Peters had to say about it:

Let’s be honest: The terrorists won First Fallujah. And for six months thereafter Fallujah was the world capital of terror–a terrorist city-state. It was evident to all of us who had served that we’d have to go back into Fallujah, but the administration–which I support–made the further error of waiting until after the presidential election to avoid casualties or embarrassments during the campaign. Well, fortunately, in the Second Battle of Fallujah the Army and Marines realized they had to do it fast, before the media won again and the politicians caved in again. The military had been burned once and they were determined not to get burned again. And they did a stunning job–Second Fallujah was a model of how to take down a medium-size city. Great credit to the troops, mixed reviews for the politicos.

Something akin to peace took hold in Fallujah — until President Obama threw it all away in 2011.

The tragedy of Second Fallujah is that the price paid in blood by our Marines, by British troops, and by the Iraqis themselves was all for naught. Here we are nearly 11 years later, and the Iranians seem poised to hold the city again — more directly this time, rather than entirely by proxy.

Our Marines and our allies were betrayed by the man sitting in the Oval Office, while his Secretary of State continues negotiating in good faith with Iran over its nuclear weapons program.

Sickening.

You’re Not the Boss of Me

July 13th, 2015 - 10:42 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

While all Californians are under mandatory water restrictions, CBS2 News cameras went undercover and found some federal facilities may be wasting water for hours at a time.

And government workers weren’t happy when Investigative Reporter David Goldstein tried to get answers.

“Can you shut that off? Or I’m going to have to confiscate your cameras,” Lina Satele of the VA Public Affairs Office told Goldstein and a CBS2 cameraman.
“No, you won’t,” Goldstein replied.

Satele claimed that since the investigative team was on federal property she could take the cameras.

Read the whole thing — you’d think it was satire if you didn’t already know better.

It’s true that California has a water problem, but droughts come and go. The Veterans Administration has an entitlement problem, which can be cured only by zeroing out its budget, firing its employees, and exorcizing all of its buildings before nuking the sites from orbit.

Our vets deserve vouchers for whatever health plans they choose — not to be ignored and/or bossed around by petty tyrants like Lina Satele.

A Pox on Both Their Wings

July 13th, 2015 - 9:14 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

National Review’s Kevin Williamson reports from Freedom Fest, where he documents WHINOs run wild:

You know the RINO — Republican In Name Only — but you may be less familiar with the WHINO. The WHINO is a captive of the populist Right’s master narrative, which is the tragic tale of the holy, holy base, the victory of which would be entirely assured if not for the machinations of the perfidious Establishment. Never mind the Democrats, economic realities, Putin, ISIS, the geographical facts of the U.S.-Mexico border — all would be well and all manner of things would be well if not for the behind-the-scenes plotting of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and their enablers, who apparently can be bribed with small numbers of cocktail weenies. The WHINO is a Republican conspiracy theorist, in whose fervid imaginings all the players — victims, villains — are Republicans.

Barack Obama? Pshaw. The real enemy is Jeb Bush.

That this is a deeply stupid view of the world should go without saying, but if you need evidence, consider that the WHINO vote has settled for the moment upon Donald Trump, a Hillary Rodham Clinton donor who supports Canadian-style single-payer health care and amnesty for as many illegal immigrants as he imagines to exist, who has 0.00 percent chance of winning a general election and who is, as if more were needed, a ridiculous buffoon.

Ask the WHINO to explain that and you will get the characteristic WHINO whine: “But what about the baaaaaaaaase!?!”

Williamson is far too harsh on the Tea Party element of the base. The movement was born in frustration against Democratic profligacy in 2009, only to find equal frustration getting the GOP Establishment to find — or perhaps even want to find — effective means of fighting the Democrats.

It is almost no wonder after years of frustration and even betrayal, that they’re grasping at straws.

As you’re well aware, I’m no fan of Jeb Bush — he’s no Reagan, he’s no Thatcher, he would do little or nothing to set back the leftward “ratchet.” But if Donald Trump represents the base’s “best” thinking, then the base may have a fatal case of rectal-cranium inversion.

This goes right back to Salena Zito’s Pennsylvania piece from earlier this morning, where the Democrats are in disarray but which the GOP seems unlikely to be able to do anything to win, anyway. Generally speaking, the GOP’s bad situation is in no small part because of buffoons like Trump, and the well-meaning folks who buy into his pretense of anti-establishmentism. On the other side of the equation lies the Bush Family, and their big government progressivism of the Right.

Meanwhile, Trump sucks the oxygen out of every room, and Jeb is hoovers up all the money. What’s left for principled small-government fighters like Cruz, Walker, Perry, or Paul?

It’s been noted since the fall of Rome that mighty empires can withstand attacks from without; it’s decay from within which destroys.

The same might hold true for political parties.

The Excitement Awakens

July 13th, 2015 - 8:43 am

This is the ComicCon real for The Force Awakens, and it ought to go a long way toward soothing any remaining concerns you might have about whether JJ Abrams & Co “get it.”

They get it.

This is real Star Wars, and I do mean real.

Shakespeare on Trial

July 13th, 2015 - 7:41 am

My friend Amelia Hamilton has for you a frightening tale of political correctness run (predictably) amok:

Dana Dusbiber, an English teacher at the largest inner-city high school in Sacramento, wants to stop teaching Shakespeare all together. Why? Because he’s white, and because he’s a man. As she wrote, “What I worry about is that as long as we continue to cling to ONE (white) MAN’S view of life as he lived it so long ago, we (perhaps unwittingly) promote the notion that other cultural perspectives are less important.”

She acts as though, by teaching the work of one white man, she will somehow be prevented from teaching the work of any women or writers of color. (Strictly speaking, “white” people are also people of color, but that’s a discussion for another day). This, of course, is simply not true.

Shakespeare still matters, even if it’s not politically correct to say so. In 1989, a production of Othello staged in apartheid South Africa spoke to black and white audience members. In 2005, a production of Love’s Labour Lost in Afghanistan had men and women performing together, at great personal risk, for the first time in decades. In the USSR, Hamlet was a popular tale of how an oppressive state can hurt the individual.

So it’s not just western white men who have studied, and benefitted from, the work of Shakespeare.

Read the whole thing, please.

I didn’t “get” Shakespeare until an enterprising English teacher (white, male, but possibly gay) showed his 9th grade students, including yours truly, Roman Polanski’s The Tragedy of Macbeth. Those words and phrases I’d found impenetrable on the page came alive for me on the screen, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Shakespeare holds up because his characters and themes are timeless — appropriate to all peoples at all times. We still laugh at his jokes, we still weep at his tragic endings. Shakespeare’s good guys are still good and his bad guys are still evil, because Shakespeare understood human nature better than almost any writer before him — and human nature is immutable.

It’s also no exaggeration to say that Shakespeare invented much of modern entertainment, whether it be drama, comedy, tragedy, or poetry.

To excise him from the Western Canon is to destroy the Western Canon — no exaggeration. Which is exactly what small minds like Dana Dusbiber intended to do.

When you see Dusbiber, or her many cultural-political allies trying to ban Shakespeare, or subvert republican government, or bring the churches to heel, or to destroy anything timeless and immutable — their motives should be perfectly clear to you.

They intend to make us mutable, subject to the political exigencies of the moment. Their means are subversive; the goals are totalitarian.

So if the schools won’t do it, it’s up to us to teach our kids Shakespeare ourselves — like Fahrenheit 451‘s Guy Montag if necessary, exiled into the abandoned countryside with our memorized books in our skulls.

And don’t think I’m exaggerating or being coy about this. Culturally and politically, the likes of Dusbiber hold the upper hand in a country gone mad with political correctness. We’re on a path already not just to remove the Confederate battle flag from a statehouse where it should never have flown, but to chuck the history of the Confederacy down the memory hole.

Who says Shakespeare isn’t next?

Is Trump for Real?

July 13th, 2015 - 6:35 am

Talkin’ Trump with John Phillips and Stephen Kruiser.

Required Reading

July 13th, 2015 - 5:17 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

Salena Zito on Democratic disarray in PA:

Down-ballot bench — Last year’s midterms and a special state House election in the spring boosted the Republicans’ lower-chamber ranks to 120, a 36-seat advantage over Democrats. Republicans also expanded their majority to 30 members in the state’s 50-seat Senate.

Pennsylvania Democrats led the nation in trouncing Republicans in 2006′s historic wave election, but their power didn’t last long. By 2010, their majority in Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation was wiped out; by 2012, Republicans held 13 seats to Democrats’ five.

Scandals — Two statewide-elected Democrats, darlings of the party just 18 months ago, have fallen from grace rather abruptly.

Former state Treasurer Rob McCord pleaded guilty to extortion earlier this year in federal court; his forced resignation came less than a year after his unsuccessful campaign for his party’s nomination for governor.

Then there is Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

The first Democrat and first woman to be elected as the state’s top cop has run her office like a script for a really, really bad soap opera. The drama with the former political golden girl, who was carried into office by the Clinton machine, has escalated over two years, leading to a statewide grand jury recommending that she be charged with obstruction of justice, official oppression, perjury and contempt in connection with documents allegedly covered by grand jury secrecy rules being leaked to a Philadelphia newspaper.

The last time a GOP candidate won Pennsylvania was George HW Bush during his first bid in 1988. That’s the same year a GOP candidate last won California. In the five elections since, the GOP has won the White House only two times — and the party looks like an underdog yet again in 2016.

California might have to go Full Michigan (“Everyone knows you don’t go full Michigan!”) before the GOP becomes competitive there again — and even then, only if the Republicans build a tent big enough to include California’s social libertarians.

If the GOP goes Small Tent, they can kiss Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia goodbye, too. And not just in the next presidential election, but for the next few presidential cycles, covering most of the rest of our working lifetimes.

Do the math for just 2016 though and you’re looking at Hillary Clinton starting with 292 Electoral College votes. Forget Ohio and Pennsylvania — you don’t even need to hold the national election. The GOP candidate would have to win OH and PA and peel off IA, MI, MN, and WI just to nab a slim 271-267 victory.

Anyone want to place odds on the GOP sweeping the Upper Midwest and beating the Democrat machines in OH’s and PA’s urban centers?

This is the electoral math faced by the Republican hopefuls next year, and you’d better hope they’re thinking a lot more about that than they are about the Donald Trump Roving Clown Show.

Friday Night Videos

July 10th, 2015 - 10:09 pm

Summer of Covers returns!

Was trying to remember the other day how I lucked into discovering Broken Social Scene before the days of digital music shopping — and I suspect, given that they broke around the turn of the century, that Napster or some other questionable sharing service might have been involved. Remember what that was like, being able to thumb through somebody else’s record collection by remote control? Some nights I’d stay at my desk for hours, almost until dawn, browsing strangers’ music from all over the country, all over the world.

It was thrilling, it was a little dangerous, it was the most amazing way ever to find new music.

That’s all over, and has been for a long time. But for a couple years there, it was like being allowed into living rooms everywhere, digging through their records, and making mix tapes of whatever you liked.

Somewhere across the digital world I came across Broken Social Scene, a massive — as in, it had like 1,000,006 members — alternative act from Canada. Leslie Feist (aka “Feist”) was one of the band’s lead singers, and also enjoyed a successful concurrent solo career. She hasn’t put out an album since 2011′s Metals, which is a situation I hope she rectifies, and soon.

I’d followed her from Broken Social Scene to her second solo album, Let It Die, which brought her no end of sales and critical acclaim. The title track is delightful, as is “Mushaboom,” which shows off Feist’s vocal …oddities… as well as anything she’s recorded.

But this is the Summer of Covers, so enjoy her electronica-influenced take on the Bee-Gee’s 1979 number one disco hit, “Inside And Out.”

More Postcards from Pluto

July 10th, 2015 - 11:39 am
(Image courtesy NASA)

(Image courtesy NASA)

Lovely:

As NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft closes in on Pluto, fresh details are emerging about the dwarf planet and its neighborhood. Added to the list is a new photo — snapped by New Horizons on Wednesday — which shows Pluto and its mysterious moon Charon together.

Although both icy worlds are believed to have been shaped by the same cosmic collision billions of years ago, they have unique characteristics that make them appear more like strangers than siblings, astronomers say. New Horizons captured the latest photo when it was about 3.7 million miles from Pluto and Charon.

“These two objects have been together for billions of years, in the same orbit, but they are totally different,” Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement.

While Pluto’s surface is covered with bright and dark features, Charon is mostly covered with a uniform light-gray terrain with only a single dark region at one of its poles. The image also shows reddish materials that color Pluto, but not on Charon.

This is the best solar system porn since the Voyager 1′s Jupiter flyby in 1979. 36 years ago, but I remember it all, pouring over every picture in National Geographic Kids magazine.

Knocking Nokia

July 10th, 2015 - 10:40 am

As expected, those rumored layoffs at Microsoft are coming mostly from the company’s doomed Nokia division:

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told employees in an email that the company will continue to make mobile phones, but will focus on three customer segments. They are Windows fans, value-phone buyers, and business customers who want phones optimized for security, [management and productivity.

Microsoft has faced stiff competition in smartphones from Apple’s iPhone and Google Android-based handsets. Apple and Google each have developed a critical mass of device users and software developers.

On Wednesday, Microsoft said it will record an impairment charge of $7.6 billion related to the Nokia assets it acquired last year. It also said it will cut up to 7,800 positions, mostly in the phone business, and incur a restructuring charge of $750 million to $850 million.

Microsoft is “postponing the inevitable,” says consumer technology analyst Jan Dawson, founder and chief analyst at Jackdaw Research.

A couple of years ago I theorized that Microsoft’s Surface tablets — another Ballmer Boondoggle — might be crushing the life out of Nokia’s Windows Phones. Maybe there really is room in the market for only two smartphone systems.

Whatever the case, buying Nokia was an expensive mistake — and the bleeding isn’t over.

Thought(s) for the Day

July 10th, 2015 - 9:20 am

Or maybe this.

Or this.

There might have been cocktails last night.

Over Four Million Have Now Fled Syria

July 10th, 2015 - 8:06 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

Good lord:

“This is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement. “It is a population that needs the support of the world but is instead living in dire conditions and sinking deeper into poverty.”

The last time a conflict produced so many refugees was during the 1990s civil war in Afghanistan, when the number of people driven from their country exceeded 4.6 million.

The massive exodus has stretched the resources of Syria’s neighbors to the breaking point.

“Worsening conditions are driving growing numbers towards Europe and further afield, but the overwhelming majority remain in the region,” Guterres said.

That bit about “Europe and further afield” might be worrisome, given that you never know who might be secreting themselves in with the actual refugees.

But don’t you worry — the 60 or so fighters we’ve trained in Syria will have a handle on this soon.

Is Murder the Price We Pay for Sanctuary?

July 10th, 2015 - 7:12 am

Talking immigration, sanctuary cities, and Donald Trump with Stephen Kruiser and John Phillips

Feds Can’t Hack iPhone

July 10th, 2015 - 6:18 am

Oh, shut up — it’s supposed to be hard to bust crooks:

In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the FBI, Justice Department and Manhattan DA’s office all asked for action from Congress to persuade or compel companies like Google and Apple to add law enforcement backdoors into their operating systems’ encryption. But only District attorney Vance put a number to what he described as the growing problem that iPhone security represents for his office’s investigators. Vance testified that in a total of 92 cases involving an iPhone running iOS 8, 74—or about 80 percent of all cases where an iOS 8 phone was involved—had been locked such that law enforcement couldn’t access the phone’s contents, thanks to Apple’s full-disk encryption upgrade, which it put into effect in September of last year. (A spokesperson for the Manhattan DA’s office clarified in an email that those 74 cases took place over the nine months ending on June 30.)

Apple takes your privacy more seriously than Washington does, which is exactly why corporations should resist Washington’s calls for backdoors or other hacks into your personal letters and effects.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

July 10th, 2015 - 5:15 am

Government is where bad ideas go to get resurrected again and again — but you can’t say the same for Medicare patients:

Six years after end-of-life planning nearly derailed development of the Affordable Care Act amid charges of “death panels,” the Obama administration has revived a proposal to reimburse physicians for talking with their Medicare patients about how patients want to be cared for as they near death.

The proposal, contained in a large set of Medicare regulations unveiled Wednesday, comes amid growing public discussion about the need for medical care that better reflects patients’ wishes as they get older.

More and more doctors are refusing to see Medicare patients, because the government’s reimbursement rates are oftentimes too low to cover their own costs, and the government’s paperwork requirements are too onerous.

But Washington seems quite pleased to pay doctors just for talking — talking to their old patients about dying.

Let’s admit what Medicare is becoming: Stealth rationing of health care for seniors.

Another Day, Another Hack

July 9th, 2015 - 2:00 pm
The new face of explanatory journalism. (AP photo)

The new face of explanatory journalism.
(AP photo)

Words alone cannot describe the enormity of the danger this country is in. Words, combined with a Mike Tyson uppercut to the crotch, might do the job. Words, combined with that Mike Tyson punch and a little something I just invented called the Turbo Anus Nuke, should probably get the point across.

Anyway, read:

More than 21 million Social Security numbers were compromised in a breach that affected a database of sensitive information on federal employees held by the Office of Personnel Management, the agency announced Thursday.

That number is in addition to the 4.2 million social security numbers that were compromised in another data breach at OPM that was made public in June.

Of the 21.5 million records that were stolen, 19.7 million belonged to individuals who had undergone background investigation, OPM said. The remaining 1.8 million records belonged to other individuals, mostly applicants’ families.

The records that were compromised include detailed, sensitive information about the individuals, including fingerprint data. OPM says 1.1 million compromised files included fingerprints.

Just in case you had any doubts, the US federal government is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of China and/or Russia.

IBM’s Dense-Pack Plan

July 9th, 2015 - 1:26 pm

IBM has succeeded in creating a 7-nanometer computer chip, using part silicon-germanium instead of pure silicon:

The development lifts a bit of the cloud that has fallen over the semiconductor industry, which has struggled to maintain its legendary pace of doubling transistor density every two years.

Intel, which for decades has been the industry leader, has faced technical challenges in recent years. Moreover, technologists have begun to question whether the longstanding pace of chip improvement, known as Moore’s Law, would continue past the current 14-nanometer generation of chips.

Each generation of chip technology is defined by the minimum size of fundamental components that switch current at nanosecond intervals. Today the industry is making the commercial transition from what the industry generally describes as 14-nanometer manufacturing to 10-nanometer manufacturing.

IBM effectively skipped a generation — or even better, considering the troubles Intel has had rolling out its 14-nanometer Broadwell line. The scary part is that the story notes that this new process, even if it does scale up for mass manufacturing, only takes Moore’s Law through 2018.

We’re nearing the physical limits of what can be packed into a chip.

So what’s next?

Sign “O” the Times

July 9th, 2015 - 12:12 pm

More than one in five Americans is on public assistance:

“Approximately 52.2 million (or 21.3 percent) people in the U.S. participated in major means-tested government assistance programs each month in 2012,” according to the Census Bureau’s report.

Means-tested programs include Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and General Assistance (GA).

The number of beneficiaries of these means-tested programs has increased significantly over the last decade. According to the Census, in 2004 there were nearly 42 million monthly recipients of these programs. Between that year and 2012, monthly participation increased by 24.9 percent.

The numbers are actually much worse than this story reports, given that taxpayers are also required to help support the 20% of Americans receiving Social Security and/or Medicare. Yes, retirees paid into those programs when they were still working, but Congress ruthlessly spent all that money at the time and stuck today’s workers with the bill. And even that number doesn’t include a few million more Americans receiving public assistance in the form of ♡bamaCare!!! subsidies.

But surely that won’t stop good Democrats from calling working Americans “greedy” for wanting to pay less in taxes, even while we struggle to support our families plus 85 or 90 million non-workers and their “entitlements.”

The Pause that Refreshes?

July 9th, 2015 - 11:02 am
(Shutterstock image.)

(Shutterstock image.)

Finally, maybe — some good news:

China’s stock markets posted their biggest one-day gain in over six years Thursday, as moves by the authorities to stop the panic selling of recent days began to bite.

The Shanghai composite index rebounded 5.8%, while the Shenzhen Composite, home to many of the country’s technology stocks, gained 3.8% in a sharp reversal of recent trading, while the Hong Kong Hang Seng index also regained 3.7%. But the mainland markets are still nearly 30% off their June peaks, after a rout that has wiped billions off the value of small investors’ holdings.

That’s huge, but needs to be seen in the context provided yesterday by Daniel Drezner:

The pre-panic run-up had all the makings of irrational exuberance. Furthermore, despite the large decline in equity prices, Chinese stocks are still massively overvalued compared to where they were last fall. So unless the “Xi put” is way larger than the “Greenspan put” was back in the day, Chinese stocks still have a long way to fall.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that financial contagion will infect China’s real economy. Chinese equity markets are pretty thin and small as a percentage of GDP compared to the developed world. Less than 20 percent of household assets were in the stock market. Financially, it would be difficult to argue that this is China’s Lehman moment.

So why would Beijing risk its own central bank reserves to protect illusory gains in a narrowly-held equities market from a much-needed correction which is unlikely to effect the economy as a whole?

My guess is the answer can be found in who holds those equities.

Here they go again:

Whether European leaders accept the Greek government’s application for more emergency loans at a crisis summit Sunday still depends on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras making a drastic turnaround on pension cuts, tax increases and other austerity measures after five months of often-acrimonious negotiations.

“The actual examination can only begin once the full package has been put on the table,” said a spokesman for German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who has pushed a hard line on Greece and made clear that Germany is prepared for a potential Greek exit from the eurozone.

His comments echo those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said Tuesday night that a new three-year aid program for Greece would require measures—including changes to labor laws, product markets and the privatization of state assets—that had been dropped from negotiations in recent months.

The very simple fact is that Greeks are incentivized not to work by their own government, which is incentivized to pay for it anyway by access to cheap euros. This has gone on long enough now that Athens no longer has the ability to even pay the interest on the euros they’ve borrowed, and no ability to print and inflate their way out.

What they’re hoping for is that the Germans will chicken out, fearing that Italy and Spain will go next, and continue paying for Athens’ profligacy. But given Merkel’s new demands, that seems like an unlikely way out.

So Greeks can either endure austerity imposed by their EU partners if they choose to keep the euro, or endure austerity imposed by a collapse in trade and credit if they bring back the worthless drachma.

But it sure looks like austerity either way.

It’s All Over But the Shouting

July 9th, 2015 - 8:28 am
The couple in happier times.  (AP photo)

The couple in happier times.
(AP photo)

Nuclear talks with Iran go nuclear:

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif got into a heated argument which evolved into a shouting match with his American counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, during nuclear talks this week, reports the Washington Free Beacon.

According to the report, the argument between the two was so intense that a Kerry aide “tip-toed into the room” to remind the men that everyone in the building could hear them shouting.

Zarif has lashed out at Western negotiators on many occasions, according to the Free Beacon. He reportedly “erupted” at EU negotiator Federica Mogherini when she mentioned Iran’s role in destabilizing the Middle East.

“Never try to threaten the Iranians,” Zarif yelled on another occasion when it was mentioned that the P5+1 could end the nuclear talks because of Iranian intransigence.

The Administration has already caved on most major issues, the sanctions regime is falling apart — what’s left to shout about?

Buddy, Can You Spare a Billion?

July 9th, 2015 - 7:11 am

John Podhoretz takes you on a tour of Bill DeBlasio’s New York City:

Take a walk down Broadway on the Upper West Side from the 100s to the 70s, as I did Sunday, and you’ll see it everywhere. It seems every barren storefront with a rental sign in the window has ­become impromptu outdoor housing for a homeless person.

There are many such storefronts — ironic signs of prosperity, not recession. Rents have risen so high that small businesses often can’t afford to continue and landlords will keep a storefront unoccupied for a very long time to secure a wealthy customer willing to take a very lengthy lease (i.e., a bank).

The number of people living on the street in the neighborhood, or at least taking up daytime residence to beg for change, has skyrocketed from a mere handful to several dozen or more.

Podhoretz says that, like the pre-Giuliani days, the city is filled with “a general feeling of menace.”

The feeling starts from the top down.

More Layoffs at Microsoft

July 9th, 2015 - 6:31 am
(Shutterstock photo)

(Shutterstock photo)

Ouch:

The job cuts will be in addition to the 18,000 staff the company said it would let go about a year ago, The New York Times reported, quoting people briefed on the plans who requested anonymity. The announcement of the cuts could come as early as Wednesday, according to the report, which did not specify the number of staff that will be laid off. Microsoft had over 118,000 employees globally at the end of March, the report said.

The move is said to be a follow-up to the “tough choices” the company would have to make in areas where things are not working that CEO Satya Nadella warned of in an email to employees in late June.

The cuts are expected to come from the company’s hardware units, which continue to produce sales clunkers like Surface and Nokia smartphones.

The Psychology of Suck: Part II

July 9th, 2015 - 5:27 am