April 3, 2014

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Thomas Sowell says weak and vacillating foreign policies lead to wars.

Many people are lamenting the bad consequences of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, and some are questioning his competence.

There is much to lament, and much to fear. Multiple setbacks to American interests have been brought on by Obama’s policies in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Crimea and — above all — in what seems almost certain to become a nuclear Iran in the very near future.

The president’s public warning to Syria of dire consequences if the Assad regime there crossed a “red line” he had drawn seemed to epitomize an amateurish bluff that was exposed as a bluff when Syria crossed that red line without suffering any consequences. Drawing red lines in disappearing ink makes an international mockery of not only this president’s credibility, but also the credibility of future American presidents’ commitments.

When some future President of the United States issues a solemn warning internationally, and means it, there may be less likelihood that the warning will be taken seriously. That invites the kind of miscalculation that has led to wars. …



Mr. Sowell has Part II in his look at foreign policies.

Japan recently turned over to the United States enough weapons-grade nuclear material to make dozens of nuclear bombs. This was one of President Barack Obama’s few foreign policy “successes,” as part of his nuclear disarmament initiative. But his foreign policy successes may be more dangerous than his “failures.” Back in 2005, Senator Barack Obama urged the Ukrainians to drastically reduce their conventional weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles and tons of ammunition. Ukraine had already rid itself of nuclear missiles, left over from the days when it had been part of the Soviet Union.

Would Vladimir Putin have sent Russian troops so boldly into Ukraine if the Ukrainians still had nuclear missiles? The nuclear disarming of Japan and Ukraine shows how easy it is to disarm peaceful nations — making them more vulnerable to those who are not peaceful.

Ukraine’s recent appeal to the United States for military supplies, with which to defend itself as more Russian troops mass on its borders, was denied by President Obama. He is sending food supplies instead. He might as well send them white flags, to facilitate surrender.



According to Bret Stephens, dissing the president is in vogue.

I’ve never liked the word diss—not as a verb, much less as a noun. But watching the Obama administration get the diss treatment the world over, week-in, week-out, I’m beginning to see its uses. …

… Diss: On Friday, Vladimir Putin called President Obama to discuss a resolution to the crisis in Ukraine. The Russian president “drew Barack Obama’s attention to continued rampage of extremists who are committing acts of intimidation towards peaceful residents,” according to the Kremlin, which, as in Soviet days, no longer bothers distinguishing diplomatic communiqués from crass propaganda.

Mr. Kerry was immediately dispatched to Paris to meet with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart. Mr. Lavrov—who knows a one-for-me, one-for-you, one-for-me deal when he sees it—is hinting that Russia will graciously not invade Ukraine provided Washington and Moscow shove “constitutional reforms” favorable to the Kremlin down Kiev’s throat. And regarding the invasion that brought the crisis about: “Mr. Kerry on Sunday didn’t mention Crimea during his remarks,” reports The Wall Street Journal, “giving the impression that the U.S. has largely given up reversing the region’s absorption into Russia.” …

… Diss: “Rather than challenging the Syrian and Iranian governments, some of our Western partners have refused to take much-needed action against them,” warned Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.K. late last year. “The foreign policy choices being made in some Western capitals risk the stability of the region and, potentially, the security of the whole Arab world. This means the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has no choice but to become more assertive in international affairs.”

This would have been a diss were it whispered in the corridor of a foreign chancellery. The ambassador published it as an op-ed in the New York Times. All this in just the past four months. And all so reminiscent of the contempt the world showed for Jimmy Carter in the waning days of his failed presidency. The trouble for us is that the current presidency has more than 1,000 days to go.

I was wrong about diss. It’s a fine word. It means diss-respect. And connotes diss-may. And diss-honor. And diss-aster. (Kinda like ”clueless, hapless, feckless, and hopeless.”) 



Roger Simon calls it the “silence of the liberals.”

Am I the only one or have you noticed your liberal friends and family have been strangely silent lately?

I tweeted as much Friday and, given the number of retweets in a matter of minutes, I gather I am not alone.

So why are these normally voluble people suddenly doing a disappearing act? (I’m not talking about the politicians and pundits.  They’re being paid to move their mouths.)  It’s pretty obvious.

They are bewildered and embarrassed.  Some are even ashamed of themselves, not that they will readily admit it.  The man who was their hero has now been unmasked in every direction as the worst president since the Civil War and possibly earlier. Not only is he a cheesy liar, everything he has done, domestic and foreign, has failed, sometimes to extraordinary degrees. The domestic part is bad enough, but at least that might be reparable.  The foreign is another matter.  The world is spinning out of control.  Who knows where that will end?

Hence, the silence. …



Worse still, Craig Pirrong wonders why the new Ukrainian constitution was drafted by Kerry and Lavrov in Paris. Craig wants to know if Munich was unavailable.

Following up on Putin’s phone call to Obama, Kerry is making a detour to Paris to negotiate with Lavrov over the fate of Ukraine.

Lavrov has laid out Russia’s terms, and intimates that Obama and Kerry have accepted the principles underlying these terms.

First, Russia demands that Ukraine adopt a new constitution that establishes a federal structure that gives each region considerable autonomy.  Translate this to mean that these regions would be able to pull a Crimea.  Or, more accurately, that Russia would be able to pull a Crimea, slicing off pieces of Ukraine and splicing them onto Russia.

Crucially, Lavrov said: “I can say that ‘federation’ is no longer a taboo word in our negotiations.”  Meaning that if he is telling the truth (always a big if) Obama has conceded that Ukraine’s constitutional order is up for negotiation, on Moscow’s terms.

Second, Russia demands that Ukraine’s new constitution incorporate guarantees that Ukraine will not join Nato or any other alliance. …



Leaving foreign policy and heading for the president’s domestic mess, Andy Malcolm thinks Sebelius is gonna get thrown under the bus.

… Then, Obama thanked two — and only two — people by name — ex-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said we’d have to pass the bill to learn what was in it. And he thanked Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. Strangely, Obama did not thank the Senate’s top Democrat, Harry Reid, who runs that place for the moment.

Even more striking, however, Obama did not even mention Sebelius, the face of this long, painful implementation struggle. Not one word, though she was sitting right in front of him. …

… Sure, she made some gaffes, as all public officials do. With TV cameras rolling at a Florida photo op, Sebelius cheerily asked one ObamaCare navigator what she was doing. The worker’s reply: She couldn’t anything because the healthcare.gov website had crashed again.

Asked if she was going to resign in those anguishing days early last October, Sebelius told reporters the people she worked for were quite satisfied with her job performance. Later, she apologetically explained that she knew she really works for the American people.

If Washington was the Kremlin, Pyongyang or Chicago, such a glaring public omission of praise for a senior aide by the supreme leader would be a sure sign she was on the way out the door of the office or airplane. We’ll soon see.

Meanwhile, Obama unintentionally added a moment of humor to his self-celebration of how easily ObamaCare allegedly reached 7.1 million enrollment: “We didn’t make a hard sell.”



Nate Silver yesterday, and now Al Jazeera! What’s happened to Pickerhead? Shikha Dalmia moved her byline as she exposes the fraud in the healthcare numbers.

… First off, the exchanges: The 7 million enrollment figure that the administration is bandying about is misleading. The actual number of uninsured covered by the marketplace will be much smaller. For starters, if the current trend continues, 20 percent of the 7 million will drop out without paying. Out of the remaining 5.6 million, only about half were likely previously uninsured. Why? Because reliable early surveys found that a whopping 65 to 90 percent of those flocking to the exchange already had insurance. Even assuming that uninsured people were waiting until the end to sign up, it is hard to see how that figure would exceed 50 percent, given that 6 out of 10 uninsured people surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation recently didn’t know about the March 31 deadline and after being told about it, half of them still planned to remain uninsured.

Second, Medicaid. The administration claims that the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid has allowed 4 million to 4.5 million uninsured people to gain coverage. But a substantial portion of that stems from regular Medicaid growth (unrelated to “Obamacare”). In January, Real Clear Politics’ Sean Trende estimated the number to be closer to 400,000, although he expected that number to improve. And last month, Avalere, a health advisory company, put the new enrollees due to Obamacare at 2.4 million to 3.5 million. (Some states are reporting higher rates of uninsured Medicaid enrollment, but it is unclear how representative or reliable they are or how many of these uninsured might have been covered even under the old eligibility criteria.)

Things are not likely to get better next year. The new ‘Obamacare’ sign-ups are so skewed toward the old and the sick that some experts expect premiums to double. …



Econ prof from Cornell, Robert Frank, has interesting thoughts about the sale of Detroit’s art.

… Fortunately, costs are easier to estimate, and those for displaying a painting derive largely from its market value. Consider “The Wedding Dance,” a 16th-century work by the Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Detroit museum visitors have enjoyed this painting since 1930. How much would it cost to preserve that privilege for future generations?

A tidy sum, as it turns out. According to Christie’s, this canvas alone could fetch up to $200 million. Once interest rates return to normal levels — say, 6 percent — the forgone interest on that amount would be approximately $12 million a year.

If we assume that the museum would be open 2,000 hours a year, and ignore the cost of gallery space and other indirect expenses, the cost of keeping the painting on display would be more than $6,000 an hour. Assuming that an average of five people would view it per hour, all year long, it would still cost more than $1,200 an hour to provide the experience for each visitor.

Notwithstanding the crudeness of these approximations, we can say that even a very wealthy taxpayer would be reluctant to pay anything close to $1,200 an hour for the privilege of viewing this painting. And that suggests that most taxpayers think the same money could deliver much greater value if spent in other ways. Of course, the painting might still justify its cost if other indirect benefits were large enough.

Yet the point remains that prices affect the options we face. …

April 2, 2014

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First time we’ve had a post from Nate Silver’s blog FiveThirtyEight. That’s the number of votes in the electoral college. Silver posts on the gaffe in the Iowa senate race.

We recently published a forecast that described the GOP as more likely than not to win the U.S. Senate in November. But our analysis was less bullish on Republicans’ prospects of flipping the seat in Iowa currently held by Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who is retiring. There, Democrats appeared to have a strong candidate in Rep. Bruce Braley, who has cleared his primary field. Republicans, meanwhile, face a contentious primary with a number of candidates who have never won races for statewide or federal office.

After we published our forecast, the Republican PAC America Rising released a video of Braley, who represents the 1st Congressional District, referring to Iowa’s other senator, Chuck Grassley, as a “farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.” The comment might seem ill-considered in a state that generates the fourth-highest income per capita from crop production. It has sparked plenty of attention in the local news media; the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s newspaper of record, has published at least 14 pieces on Braley’s comment.

Is Braley’s remark another thing for Democrats to worry about — or is it the latest example of a purported “game changer” that will prove to have little effect?

Gaffes often resonate more with the news media than with voters. A reasonably large body of political science research has found their impact is usually overstated by those who cover campaigns. Take the examples of two other incidents that Braley’s comment has been compared to. …

… One problem for the GOP is that the Republican field in Iowa remains divided, with at least four plausible nominees. Joni Ernst, a state senator who has recently been endorsed by Romney and Sarah Palin, has so far done the most to play up her farming heritage and pivot off of Braley’s remark. But she was polling at just 13 percent before Braley’s comment. (There have been no polls of the primary since then.)

Furthermore, the decisions about which races deserve party resources involve trade-offs. Had Democrats lost Virginia by 9,000 votes in 2006, rather than winning it by that margin, their attention to the state might have seemed imprudent in retrospect.

But Iowais a more plausible option for Republicans than it was a week ago. Braley has made their path to a Senate majority a little more robust.



Peter Beinart says David Brock is wrong and that the media should be rough on Hillary. 

The media loves conversion stories. So when David Brock, who once rummaged through Little Rock in pursuit of Bill Clinton’s dirty laundry, returned to the city yesterday to speak at the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas, both The New York Times and Politico took notice. Brock, Politico reported, came to Little Rock to “explain his transformation” from Clinton-hater to Clinton-defender. But his speech inadvertently did something else. It showed that in his approach to politics, David Brock hasn’t changed much at all.

Brock’s core argument was that as we approach 2016, mainstream journalists must stay far away from the anti-Clinton attack journalism peddled by the partisan right. In explaining why, Brock cited his own work in the early 1990s for the Richard Mellon Scaife-funded “Arkansas Project,” in which he dug up “a kitchen-sink-full of preposterous allegations,” many of which entered mainstream publications, but “almost none” of which “turned out to be true.”

Really? Many of the Arkansas Project allegations—that the Clintons oversaw a cocaine-smuggling ring, that they ordered the murder of Vince Foster—were of course preposterous. But Brock also uncovered a woman named “Paula,” who later alleged that while working as an Arkansas state employee, she was escorted by Governor Clinton’s bodyguard to his hotel room. There, she claims, Clinton exposed himself and demanded sex. When Paula Jones leveled her allegations, mainstream reporters like The Washington Post’s Michael Isikoff and The American Lawyer’s Stuart Taylor did exactly what Brock now says the media should not: They looked into it. And they concluded that—although Jones was clearly being used by Clinton’s political enemies—her story had merit. (If you doubt that, read Taylor’s summary in Slate of his much-longer American Lawyer investigation into what likely transpired between Clinton and Jones on May 8, 1991. It’s horrifying). …



Der Spiegel interviews airline pilot and author about the fate of MH370.

SPIEGEL: Captain Palmer, was MH370 downed by terrorists?

Palmer: There’s no evidence at all for terrorism. All the information that has been disclosed publicly so far is consistent with a purely mechanical cause.

SPIEGEL: Are those pilots in your view heroes or failures?

Palmer: I believe they had a major malfunction and tried to deal with it. And they were unable to. …



John Fund spots a greenie who’s come to his senses.

Environmentalist and scientist James Lovelock has some cautionary words about the dire predictions in the new United Nations report on climate change. He tellsBritain’s leftist newspaper the Guardian that environmentalism has “become a religion” and does not pay enough heed to facts.

Lovelock himself became something of a guru to environmentalists in the 1960s when his Gaia hypothesis postulated that living and non-living parts of the Earth form a complex interacting system that has a regulatory effect on the Earth’s environment that acts to sustain life.

Now Lovelock says of his warnings of catastrophe in his 2006 book, Revenge of Gaia: “It’s just as silly to be a denier as it is to be a believer. You can’t be certain.”

“It [the impact from climate change] could be terrible within a few years, though that’s very unlikely, or it could be hundreds of years before the climate becomes unbearable,” he said. 

That’s not the end of the 94-year-old Lovelock’s heresies. As the Guardian reports: 

Lovelock reiterated his support for fracking for shale gas, which has been strongly backed by David Cameron and the government but vigorously opposed by anti-fracking activists and local people at sites from Salford to Balcombe in West Sussex.

“The government is too frightened to use nuclear, renewables won’t work — because we don’t have enough sun — and we can’t go on burning coal because it produces so much CO2, so that leaves fracking. It produces only a fraction of the amount of CO2 that coal does, and will make Britain secure in energy for quite a few years. We don’t have much choice,” he said.



Want to know what it was like when people prayed for global warming? The NY Times, of all places

CLIMATOLOGISTS call it the Little Ice Age; historians, the General Crisis.

During the 17th century, longer winters and cooler summers disrupted growing seasons and destroyed harvests across Europe. It was the coldest century in a period of glacial expansion that lasted from the early 14th century until the mid-19th century. The summer of 1641 was the third-coldest recorded over the past six centuries in Europe; the winter of 1641-42 was the coldest ever recorded in Scandinavia. The unusual cold that lasted from the 1620s until the 1690s included ice on both the Bosporus and the Baltic so thick that people could walk from one side to the other.

The deep cold in Europe and extreme weather events elsewhere resulted in a series of droughts, floods and harvest failures that led to forced migrations, wars and revolutions. The fatal synergy between human and natural disasters eradicated perhaps one-third of the human population.

There are two ways to consider the impact of climate change. We can predict the future based on current trends or we can study a well-documented episode of the past. …

April 1, 2014

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Krauthammer starts us off as it is now the turn of our favorites to look at clueless, hapless, feckless, and hopeless.

… The East Europeans know they inhabit the battleground between the West and a Russia that wants to return them to its sphere of influence. Ukrainians see tens of thousands of Russian troops across their border and know they are looking down the barrel of quite a zero-sum game.

Obama thinks otherwise. He says that Vladimir Putin’s kind of neo-imperialist thinking is a relic of the past — and advises Putin to transcend the Cold War.

Good God. Putin hasn’t transcended the Russian revolution. Did no one give Obama a copy of Putin’s speech last week upon the annexation of Crimea? Putin railed not only at Russia’s loss of empire in the 1990s. He went back to the 1920s: “After the revolution, the Bolsheviks . . . may God judge them, added large sections of the historical South of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine.” Putin was referring not to Crimea (which came two sentences later) but to his next potential target: Kharkiv and Donetsk and the rest of southeastern Ukraine.

Putin’s irredentist grievances go very deep. Obama seems unable to fathom them. Asked whether he’d misjudged Russia, whether it really is our greatest geopolitical foe, he disdainfully replied that Russia is nothing but “a regional power” acting “out of weakness.”

Where does one begin? Hitler’s Germany and Tojo’s Japan were also regional powers, yet managed to leave behind at least 50 million dead. And yes, Russia should be no match for the American superpower. Yet under this president, Russia has run rings around America, from the attempted ingratiation of the “reset” to America’s empty threats of “consequences” were Russia to annex Crimea. …



Craig Pirrong of Streetwise Professor also asks the question of where to begin.

Obama has given two major sets of remarks about Ukraine, one set on teleprompter, the other off.  Like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, each was appalling in its own way.  It is hard to say which is worse.

The off-teleprompter remarks were delivered at a press conference.  The statement that garnered the most attention, and rightly so, was Obama’s assertion that Russia was a mere regional power that is not a threat to the US, and invaded Crimea out of weakness.

Where to begin?

Part of the problem is the man’s preternatural pettiness.  He denigrated Russia in  part because he will not, cannot, concede that Romney might have been closer to the truth than he was when the Republican candidate named Russia as our number one national security threat, and Obama responded with a snarky “the 80s called and want their foreign policy back.”  A bigger man would have given Romney his due.  But that would be a different man than Obama.

But the bigger problem is the substance.  First, I would be the first to acknowledge that Russia’s military is decrepit and its ability to project power beyond the Eurasian landmass is limited.  But the Eurasian landmass is pretty damned big, and Russia’s region includes many areas of vital interest to the United States.

Second, Russia has many other sources of power that transcend those of a mere regional power (like Brazil, say).  Most obviously: It has nukes.  It has a UNSC veto.  It has extremely effective asymmetric capabilities, notably cyberwarfare (conducted in large part through private and criminal elements that work for Russian intelligence out of a combination of patriotic and mercenary motives) and intelligence. (Snowden, anyone?) …

… Russian troops are massing on Ukraine’s borders.  Russia’s most capable formations, its paratroops (VDV) and Guards armored/mechanized units are assembled there.  But don’t worry! Russian defense minister Shoygu assures that these troops are only there for maneuvers.  And the drunk who is our SecDef believes him:

At the Pentagon, there remains confidence in the assurances provided to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel from Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu that the Russian troops amassing on the border with Ukraine were there only for exercises.

“[Shoygu] told me that they had no intention of crossing the border into Ukraine,” Hagel said at the Pentagon this week.

Can we really be this stupid?  (Don’t answer that.  The question was totally, totally rhetorical.)

Just why, pray tell, need the Russians conduct maneuvers with 50K of their best troops on a sensitive border? And given that Putin repeatedly lied about his intentions in Crimea, why should we believe Shoygu-especially since there are serious doubts that Shoygu is in Putin’s decision making clique? …



Michael Godwin has more. 

Today’s quiz: What do Vladimir Putin’s aggression and ObamaCare’s troubles have in common? OK, that was too easy.

It is impossible to dismiss as mere coincidence the Russian Bear’s invasion of Ukraine and the continuing mayhem of the Affordable Care Act. In their own ways, each reflects the full flowering of the policies of Barack Obama.

His chickens are coming home to roost, and what a mess they are making.

Obama’s sixth year in the White House is shaping up as his worst, and that’s saying something. He’s been in the Oval Office so long that it is obscene to blame his problems on George W. Bush, the weather or racism. Obama owns the world he made, or more accurately, the world he tried to remake. …

… A Caesar at home and a Chamberlain abroad, Obama manages to simultaneously provoke fury and ridicule. He bullies critics here while shrinking from adversaries there.

He divides the country and unites the world against us, ­diminishing the nation in both ways. His reign of error can’t end soon enough, nor can it end well.



Howie Carr writes on the Dems getting indicted around the country.

… Last Friday, it was the speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives. …

… Next, the mayor of Charlotte, Patrick Cannon, another Democrat. …

… Then there’s state Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco. …

… Two-gun Yee is the third Democrat state senator to be arrested in California this week. Earlier it was state Sen. Rod Wright (perjury) and then Ron Calderon (bribery).

What a crime wave, in less than one week. So guess what most of the networks led with on their newscasts last night? The 5-month-old story of Gov. Chris Christie’s Bridgegate. Because it has one thing going for it that none of these other stories had, the only thing that matters to the corrupt American media.

Christie is a Republican.



Andrew Malcolm with late night humor.

Fallon: Obama has called for a united front with Europe against Russia. Obama promised that if Russia invades another country, America will stand behind Europe. Way, way, WAY behind Europe.

SethMeyers: Jimmy Carter says he sends no emails because the NSA is reading them. Also because he can’t find the “send” button on his typewriter.

Conan: Jimmy Carter says he’s stopped using email because the NSA was spying on him. And also because he’s 89 years old and what he thought was email was actually a thermostat.

March 31, 2014

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What do liberals think? Pickings’ favorites have often written on the administration’s foreign policy of “less”. That would be less as in clueless, hapless, and feckless. Here’s Ron Fournier of National Journal. 

On a playground or in a bar, the most important thing to know about a bully is his motivation. What ticks him off? Who’s his next victim? If it’s you, how do you avoid a butt-kicking?

On the world stage, Vladimir Putin is a bully—and President Obama not only seems clueless about the Russian leader’s inner drive, he embraces his ambivalence. “I’m less interested in motivation,” Obama said Monday in The Hague, “and more interested in the facts and the principles that not only the United States but the entire international community are looking to uphold.”

Taken at face value, it’s a disturbing response from a world leader who should lie awake at night concerned about the motivation of U.S. adversaries, whose first meeting of every day involves an intelligence briefing on the motivations of global actors.

It could be that Obama is playing mind games with Putin, looking into the soul that transfixed President Bush 13 years ago and seeing a man whose greatest weakness is parochial hubris. Want to hurt Putin? Say you don’t care about him. In a verbal equivalent of a groin punch, Obama might dismiss Russia as a “regional power” that antagonizes its neighbors “out of weakness.”

But it’s hard to credit Obama with such savvy calculation. I take him at his word: He doesn’t care. …



Major Garrett from the same publication.

Moments after deflecting a question about his diminished influence on the world stage, President Obama described Russia as a “regional power” operating in Crimea out of weakness, not strength.

Noting Russia’s long-standing influence in all of Ukraine, Obama said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea “indicates less influence, not more.”

I guess that’s why Ukraine’s defense minister resigned and Ukrainian troops bugged out of Crimea, leaving it to Russian forces. This is the only “off ramp” that matters in Crimea. Ukraine and its rhetorically florid Western allies took it. Not Putin.

Even as the White House insists Crimea is not “lost” (Putin can find it without satellite imagery, after all), the grudging language of concession seeps from every corridor of Ukrainian talks here.

“It’s not a done deal in the sense that the international community by and large isn’t recognizing the annexation of Crimea,” Obama said, before acknowledging the “facts on the ground” favored Russia. “It would be dishonest to say there is a simple solution to resolving what has already taken place in Crimea.”

Obama and European leaders are rattled and resentful, thunderstruck that the wispy bonds of international “norms” could be so easily shredded. Fearful of the precedent they appear incapable of reversing, and desperate to limit Putin’s ambitions to Crimea, the G-7 nations have effectively conceded Crimea. They threatened “sectoral sanctions” if Putin further bulldozed international law by gobbling up more of Ukraine or plowing into Moldova. Weak or strong, Putin enforces the new Crimean status quo. All he’s lost is Russia’s G-8 membership pin and decoder ring. …



Chris Cillazza from WaPo.

On Tuesday night, two things happened.

1. A trio of Secret Service agents were sent home from Amsterdam after one was found passed out drunk in a hotel hallway.

2. The Obama administration announced (another) extension of the enrollment deadline for Obamacare sign-ups.

At first glance, these two events have little in common. But modern politics is all about narratives and storylines. And both of these events confirm a growing concern from the public about President Obama: That he’s just not up to governing his administration and, by extension, the country, effectively.

A new CNN/ORC national poll reveals the problem. Asked whether Obama can “manage the government effectively,” nearly six in 10 (57 percent) say that statement didn’t apply to the president. Compare that to where Obama stood just before he was inaugurated, when 76 percent of respondents in a December 2008 CNN/ORC poll said he was an effective manager, and you see just how far he has fallen. Not only that but in the most recent CNN/ORC poll, Obama’s standing on the “effective manager” question was the lowest he scored on any of the 11 characteristic questions asked in the survey. …



And a repeat of a Washington Post editorial saying the president’s foreign policy is based on fantasy.

FOR FIVE YEARS, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality. It was a world in whichthe tide of war is receding” and the United States could, without much risk, radically reduce the size of its armed forces. Other leaders, in this vision, would behave rationally and in the interest of their people and the world. Invasions, brute force, great-power games and shifting alliances — these were things of the past. Secretary of State John F. Kerry displayed this mindset on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday when he said, of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, “It’s a 19th century act in the 21st century.”

That’s a nice thought, and we all know what he means. A country’s standing is no longer measured in throw-weight or battalions. The world is too interconnected to break into blocs. A small country that plugs into cyberspace can deliver more prosperity to its people (think Singapore or Estonia) than a giant with natural resources and standing armies.

Unfortunately, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not received the memo on 21st-century behavior. Neither has China’s president, Xi Jinping, who is engaging in gunboat diplomacy against Japan and the weaker nations of Southeast Asia. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is waging a very 20th-century war against his own people, sending helicopters to drop exploding barrels full of screws, nails and other shrapnel onto apartment buildings where families cower in basements. These men will not be deterred by the disapproval of their peers, the weight of world opinion or even disinvestment by Silicon Valley companies. They are concerned primarily with maintaining their holds on power. …



Last, and also least, here’s a NY Times OpEd

THE United States has once again twisted itself into a rhetorical pretzel. As when it threatened military action against Syria if a “red line” was crossed, the Obama administration’s rhetoric about Russia and Ukraine goes far beyond what it will be willing and able to enforce.

Earlier this month, President Obama warned that America would “isolate Russia” if it grabbed more land, and yesterday, he suggested that more sanctions were possible. Likewise, Secretary of State John Kerry said the Group of 7 nations were “prepared to go to the hilt” in order to isolate Russia.

But Washington’s rhetoric is dangerously excessive, for three main reasons: Ukraine is far more important to Vladimir V. Putin than it is to America; it will be hard for the United States and Europe to make good on their threats of crippling sanctions; and other countries could ultimately defang them.

First, the United States needs to see the Ukraine crisis from Russia’s viewpoint. Threats from America and Europe will never be the determining factor in Mr. Putin’s decision making. Ukraine is Russia’s single biggest national security issue beyond its borders, and Mr. Putin’s policy, including whether to seize more of Ukraine, will be informed overwhelmingly by national security interests, not near-term economics. …



Ann Coulter for a change of pace. She’s tired of the young and she’s tired of the NY Times.

… First of all, young people are idiots. I love them, I was one once myself -– but they’re idiots. We’ll be interested in their opinions on the basic rules of civilization as soon as they have one of three things: a household to run, a mortgage, or school-aged children. Being in college is like living in Disneyland.

Second, I’ve been reading that same column in The New York Times every few months for the last 20 years. Whether it’s abortion, gays, God, or drugs, Times reporters are like bloodhounds in sniffing out Republicans — often kids — who are “pro-free market on fiscal issues and libertarian on social ones.” If something has been trending for decades without ever really catching on, it’s probably not about to sweep the nation.

In 1988, the Times claimed Congress had “lost its taste for the social agenda” and quoted Sen. Warren Rudman of New Hampshire — one of the GOP’s last liberals and, consequently, the Times’ lodestar for all things Republican -– saying that people like himself “felt deeply” that the social issues should be dumped. …

… In 1996 — nearly 20 years ago! — guess what the Times said young voters cared about? Young people were: “Conservative on economic issues and liberal-leaning on social issues like health care and abortion.” It’s almost as if today’s generation of whippersnappers is exactly like their middle-aged counterparts 20 years ago!

In 1999, the Times reported that Republicans were “repositioning” themselves on the abortion issue, based on their recognition that “a more tolerant position” would help the GOP win the White House. The following year, pro-life Republican George W. Bush won the presidency. …

March 30, 2014

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We were going to ignore the criminal class for the week’s first Pickings, but a gaffe in Iowa is too good to pass up. Jennifer Rubin posts on Dem Bruce Braley who did a great job of stepping on his crank.

Should Republicans throw another log on the 2014 bonfire? Perhaps they should, given recent events in Iowa.

Recall that the GOP hasn’t been able to field a big-name candidate there for the election to replace retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Most GOP insiders therefore put the race as a longer shot than others (Arkansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, Montana, North Carolina, Alaska, Colorado, etc.).

Then Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley got caught on tape at a fundraiser disparaging incumbent Senator Chuck Grassley and – cringe! – farmers: “If you help me win this race you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice, someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for thirty years, in a visible or public way, on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Or, you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.” Republicans are calling it the Democrats’ Todd Akin moment, after the GOP Senate candidate from Missouri who blew the race with a horrendous comment about rape, abortion and God (a terrible combination for any politician to discuss).

Now the National Republican Senatorial Committee has swung into action …



Over in Nebraska, the editors of the Omaha World-Herald had a thought about the relative value of farmers and lawyers.

… Here’s what Iowa farmers do, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture: Its 92,200 farms in 2012 produced $13.5 billion in corn, $5.92 billion in soybeans, $3.84 billion in cattle, $6.98 billion in hogs, $990 million in eggs and $849 million in dairy production. A study in 2009 said one in six Iowans was employed because of agriculture, and ag-related industries were responsible for 27 percent of Iowa’s economic output and $1 in every $10 of personal income.

Businessweek looked at the current membership of Congress and found 128 lawyers in the House and 45 in the Senate, while only three senators and 12 House members listed farming and ranching as their occupations.

Americans all know how productive Congress has been lately. A few more farmers might help.



Jonathan Tobin says not all political gaffes are created equal. 

With this year’s Senate races starting to heat up, the media (and opposition research trackers from the campaigns) are going over anything said or released by anyone running for the kind of gaffe that can turn a race around. Examples, like former Senator George Allen’s weird “macaca” insult thrown at a Democratic operative in 2006 or Todd Akin’s obtuse comments about rape and pregnancy, keep staffers searching for mistakes like ’49ers panning for gold.

This week, we had two major gaffes by senatorial campaigns that left the candidates—Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley—with egg on their faces. But while both got considerable and deserved coverage, a close look at the two demonstrates that not all political gaffes are created equal. While McConnell was embarrassed by the error made by the people who produced a campaign video, Braley’s taped comments dismissing Iowa Senator Charles Grassley as a mere “farmer from Iowa” may well rank with Allen or Akin’s gaffes. Even worse, like Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” line, also made at a fundraiser to what he presumed was a friendly audience, Braley’s indiscretion may transform him from a likely winner to a candidate who may turn a blue seat into a red one in November. …



It wasn’t just the slam on farmers, Michael Barone spots the other bonehead play by Braley.

… But there’s another way in which Braley’s comment is boneheaded. That “farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law” is Iowa’s senior Sen. Chuck Grassley, first elected in 1980 and re-elected in 1986, 1992, 1998, 2004 and 2010. In his five re-election races, he has won between 64 and 71 percent of the vote. According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, Grassley’s job approval is 62 percent, while only 27 percent disapprove. That’s better than Harkin’s 55-percent approval and 31-percent disapproval, which themselves are very good numbers for an incumbent who is now serving his 30th year in the Senate. Both senators, by the way, were first elected to the House in 1974, a very Democratic year in which Harkin beat an incumbent in a Republican-leaning district while Grassley won an open seat in a less Republican-leaning district. My sense is that Harkin, often a tough partisan, has been very reluctant to criticize Grassley publicly. When you look at his numbers, you can see why. He understands that Grassley is hard-working, smart and politically astute. …



Now for the important stuff. NY Times says butter is back. 

Julia Child, goddess of fat, is beaming somewhere. Butter is back, and when you’re looking for a few chunks of pork for a stew, you can resume searching for the best pieces — the ones with the most fat. Eventually, your friends will stop glaring at you as if you’re trying to kill them.

That the worm is turning became increasingly evident a couple of weeks ago, when a meta-analysis published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that there’s just no evidence to support the notion that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. (In fact, there’s some evidence that a lack of saturated fat may be damaging.) The researchers looked at 72 different studies and, as usual, said more work — including more clinical studies — is needed. For sure. But the days of skinless chicken breasts and tubs of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter may finally be drawing to a close.

The tip of this iceberg has been visible for years, and we’re finally beginning to see the base. Of course, no study is perfect and few are definitive. But the real villains in our diet — sugar and ultra-processed foods — are becoming increasingly apparent. You can go back to eating butter, if you haven’t already.

This doesn’t mean you abandon fruit for beef and cheese; you just abandon fake food for real food, and in that category of real food you can include good meat and dairy. I would argue, however, that you might not include most industrially produced animal products; stand by. …



Bjørn Lomborg calls BS on earth hour.

At 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, people and public places across the globe will switch off their lights for one hour to raise awareness about the impact of energy use on climate change.

Unfortunately, this Earth Hour event is nothing but an ineffective feel-good event. It does little for the climate in terms of reducing CO2 emissions and distracts us from the real problems and solutions — especially giving light to those in the darkness.

While more than a billion people participate by shutting off their lights for an hour — and saving at most the equivalent of China halting its CO2 emissions for fewer than four minutes — 1.3 billion people across the developing world will continue to live without electricity as they do every other night of the year.

Almost 3 billion people still burn dung, twigs and other traditional fuels indoors to cook and keep warm. These fuels give off noxious fumes that are linked to 4.3 million deaths each year, mostly women and children.

In fact, it was the advent of widespread electrical power that freed us from these harmful practices that still affect large parts of the developing world. …



Politico’s Roger Simon with an ode to Chicago.

… When people ask me where I am from, I automatically say Chicago, even though I have lived on the East Coast since 1984. In a few days, my wife and I will drive back to Chicago, where I will be a fellow at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics for the spring semester.

The idea is to recount the mistakes you made and the pitfalls you fell into over the span of your career, so the students can repeat them.

I will be living in a rented house exactly 10 blocks from where I was born. I will continue to write my column.

In 1931, a notoriously corrupt Chicago mayor, William “Big Bill” Thompson, a Republican, who counted Al Capone among his friends, made a politically fatal mistake.

Thompson was running against Democrat Anton Cermak, a former coal miner who had been born in Kladno, Bohemia. Thompson’s campaign unleashed a barrage of ethnic slurs, including calling Cermak a “bohunk.”

This was not the Chicago way.

Cermak, who would win with 58 percent of the vote, responded with my favorite quotation by a Chicago mayor: “It’s true I didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but I came over as soon as I could.”

That is Chicago. …

March 27, 2014

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Paul Greenberg takes up events in Russia with “The Axe vs. the Icon.”

“I care not who writes a nation’s laws,” a sage once remarked, “but who writes its songs.”

On one of the last nights their country was still whole, well aware that it would soon be cleaved, and the conqueror would begin to pick up the pieces, a great crowd gathered at the Kiev Opera House for a concert in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko. It was a bittersweet occasion, mixing hope and fear, past pride and the humiliation now sure to come. It was a victory of the spirit even in the face of defeat in the field. For all knew they stood alone as their country’s “friends” offered only empty words of support. …

… The line between good and evil, as Solzhenitsyn once wrote, doesn’t run between ideologies or nationalities but down the middle of the human heart. And, to quote a lover of both liberty and order named Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Our current president is proving himself adept at doing just that — pretty much nothing — as he appeases one tyrant after another, whether in Moscow or Teheran or Damascus or … wherever the next threat looms.

Our president does take pains to cloak his impotence in fine words, but they fool fewer and fewer Americans or anybody else. And certainly not this new crop of aggressors, who always spring up like noxious weeds if the fields are neglected long enough.



Charles Krauthammer says the administration has found a role for the US.

Early in the Ukraine crisis, when the Europeans were working on bringing Ukraine into the EU system and Vladimir Putin was countering with threats and bribes, one British analyst lamented that “we went to a knife fight with a baguette.”

That was three months ago. Life overtakes parody. During the Ukrainian prime minister’s visit to Washington last week, his government urgently requested military assistance. The Pentagon refused. It offered instead military ration kits.

Putin mobilizes thousands of troops, artillery and attack helicopters on Ukraine’s borders and Washington counters with baguettes, American-style. One thing we can say for sure in these uncertain times: The invasion of Ukraine will be catered by the United States.

Why did we deny Ukraine weapons? Because in the Barack Obama-John Kerry worldview, arming the victim might be taken as a provocation. This kind of mind-bending illogic has marked the administration’s response to the whole Crimea affair. …



Jennifer Rubin wonders if the obama/kerry/hagel axis can leave their fantasy world.

… if we can all now agree Russia marches to its own drummer, can we also agree that Iran is not motivated by rational calculations either? For the mullahs, the 19th-century outlook would be a vast improvement. Instead, their motivations should — just as we have learned from Putin — be taken at face value. They tell us clearly in words and deeds what they want: Israel’s eradication, preservation of their nuclear program, support for terror groups and collapse of the Sunni monarchs. They don’t want to be included in the “international community” if the ground rules deny them these objectives. They cannot be lured out of their ambitions by relaxed sanctions. In short, the effort to paint the negotiations with Iran as simply an effort to dispel mistrust and find common ground is rooted in the same naiveté that afflicted the Democrats’ outlook toward Russia.

The Obama administration has not been practicing “realism”; the president and his advisers have been living in a fantasy world in which our foes are eagerly awaiting our hand in friendship and in which if we work hard enough we can align their interests and ours. Once we realize the flawed assumptions on which such a worldview rests, nearly every policy choice (e.g. not forcing out Bashar al-Assad, reducing our military, relaxing sanctions on Iran, prematurely exiting Afghanistan) can be seen as wrongheaded. Realism now requires we reject the president’s worldview and get about the business of defending American interests against real and formidable foes. It should also suggest the unrepentant architects of the mistaken worldview shouldn’t be entrusted with responsibility for our national security.



And, if they can’t change their world view, Jennifer wants to know if there is any chance the president can stop talking.

Just when you think our commander in chief cannot sound more clueless, he does it again. Tuesday’s utterance was this: “Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors — not out of strength but out of weakness. They don’t pose the number one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.” Where to begin?

President Obama tries vainly to insult Russia as a mere regional power, yet that regional power has defied him, the Western alliance and international norms. Does that make Russian President Vladimir Putin the leader of a lesser state or Obama the head of an enfeebled world power? The notion that Putin is the weak one and we’re the strong one sounds like third-rate spin from the blogosphere (now we know where the spinners’ material comes from), not the response of a mature world leader who needs to enact punishment so as to change Putin’s perceptions, not his own. When Obama talks this way, it sounds as if he is attempting to console himself, not project U.S. power or reassure allies. …



Townhall columnist Kurt Schlichter writes on the hard truths liberals won’t face.

… Now we are in the almost unimaginable position of looking back at Jimmy Carter as an example of comparatively sure, savvy leadership. The Russians invaded Afghanistan and Carter armed the rebels. The Russians invaded Crimea and Barack Obama went on Ellen to hear the hostess gush about how much America loves Obamacare.

It’s no surprise that both Carter and Obama were stunned to find that their counterparts out there on the Eurasian steppes were evil, violent thugs determined to maximize their own power by whatever means necessary. After all, in the liberal universe there are no bad people, except for conservatives and male college students who fail to obtain a notarized statement from their drunken dates authorizing them to advance to second base.

After all, human nature is just a construct. At heart, everyone is just a metrosexual college student sitting in a gender studies class, eager to work together with a diverse group of other like-minded individuals to forge a better tomorrow.

That a guy like Putin might act like a guy like Putin never occurred to them. But it occurred to conservatives. We understand that human nature is not a mere construct, that evil is real, and that the uniquely American understanding of the natural rights of man is the one true hope for humanity.

Liberals don’t want to face the truth that sometimes you can’t talk it out, or make a deal. They don’t want to face the fact that they must sometimes put away childish things – like the ridiculous climate change scam they push to enhance their own power – and deal with the world not as they wish it to be but as it is. …



Peter Wehner suggests he is unhinged. 

… I’m here to report that Mr. Obama’s dissociative disorder has become more, not less, acute. As evidence I would point to an exchange the president had yesterday with ABC’s Jonathan Karl, in which Mr. Obama made this claim: 

Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength but out of weakness… The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and laid bare these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more.

This is–and I want to be properly respectful here–crazy. Does the president really and truly believe that Russia has less influence now that it has seized Crimea without a single Russian casualty? Does he believe that in Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Poland, the CzechRepublic, Lithuania, and Latvia they consider Russia less influential and weaker since the conquest of Crimea? …

… I’m starting to be convinced this isn’t simply a talking point by a president on the defensive. I think he actually believes what he’s saying. Which means he is losing touch with reality. Which may be the most worrisome thing of all.



On a lighter note, we learn from Kevin Williamson that there are some Western leaders who are still firmly grounded.

Barack Obama showed up at his meeting with Dutch PM Mark Rutte with his usual caravan of armored limousines and the like. Here’s how Mr. Rutte got there: (On a bicycle)

Dutch leaders not only are better at republican manners than ours are — no caesaropapist trappings for Mr. Rutte — but also offer a standing rebuke to American cultural practices by reminding us that it is possible to ride a bicycle without special shoes, a helmet, or spandex.


The cartoonists are a hoot.

March 26, 2014

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Paul Ryan had the temerity to call attention to the poverty program’s failures and the left continues to attack him. Power Line calls our attention to George Will’s column defending Ryan.

George Will shows that Paul Ryan was right to contend that a “tailspin of culture, in our inner cities” plays a huge role in the persistence of poverty. Will finds the liberal outrage at Ryan’s unexceptionable remarks to be the product of “malice, ignorance, and intellectual sloth.”

I find them to be the product of ideological necessity. Ryan’s analysis is inconsistent with both the left’s narrative and its prescriptions. Therefore it must be denounced as racist.

Ryan’s analysis undermines the left’s indictment of American society. For example, the left insists that our criminal justice system is horribly stacked against young black men. As proof, it cites — even touts — the high rate of incarceration of this cohort. But if the breakdown of the African-American family in our cities is contributing to high rates of criminal behavior therein, then the left’s indictment of our justice system loses much of its force. …



Here’s Will’s column.

Critics of Rep. Paul Ryan’s remarks about cultural factors in the persistence of poverty are simultaneously shrill and boring. Their predictable minuet of synthetic indignation demonstrates how little liberals have learned about poverty or changed their rhetorical repertoire in the last 49 years.

Ryan spoke of a “tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work,” adding: “There’s a real culture problem here.” This brought down upon Ryan the usual acid rain of accusations — racism, blaming the victims, etc. He had sauntered into the minefield that a more experienced Daniel Patrick Moynihan — a liberal scholar who knew the taboos of his tribe — had tiptoed into five years before Ryan was born.

A year from now, there surely will be conferences marking the 50th anniversary of what is now known as the Moynihan Report, a.k.a. “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” In March 1965, Moynihan, then 37 and assistant secretary of labor, wrote that “the center of the tangle of pathology” in inner cities — this was five months before the Watts riots — was the fact that 23.6 percent of black children were born to single women, compared with just 3.07 percent of white children. He was accused of racism, blaming the victims, etc.

Forty-nine years later, 41 percent of all American children are born out of wedlock; almost half of all first births are to unmarried women, as are 54 percent and 72 percent of all Hispanic and black births, respectively. Is there anyone not blinkered by ideology or invincibly ignorant of social science who disagrees with this:

The family is the primary transmitter of social capital — the values and character traits that enable people to seize opportunities. Family structure is a primary predictor of an individual’s life chances, and family disintegration is the principal cause of the intergenerational transmission of poverty. …



Great post on the subject from Jennifer Rubin.

There has been so much political turmoil among Republicans that it is easy to lose sight of the intellectual disarray on the left. On social, economic and foreign policy, liberals are adrift — and sounding somewhat heartless. The party that envisions itself as a friend of the poor and oppressed is very confused.

The left has gone through five years of the Obama presidency essentially ignoring poverty (the topic was largely avoided in favor of the war on women theme at the Democratic National Convention in 2012) until the issue became reincarnated as “inequality” — a slogan with no programmatic content cooked up for election-year attacks.

Consider how reactionary the Democratic Party now is on poverty — going back pre-welfare reform and even pre-Daniel Patrick Moynihan to insist that the cure to poverty is simply “jobs,” ignoring that those mired in poverty lack the education and life skills to obtain and hold work. (This was the same crowd that opposed welfare reform, the most successful social reform in decades.)

The overlap between fatherless households and poverty seems not to concern them. Leave the poor alone, they seem to suggest. Alas, it’s the conservative reformers who care sufficiently to look at the root causes of poverty and provide educational opportunities available to wealthy children through school choice. The left seems to have forgotten that jobs are not a commodity to be handed out like food stamps. Employment and personal fulfillment are the end products for those who’ve enjoyed a safe, secure, organized and stable childhood in which their physical, intellectual and moral development has been cultivated. (The Jesuits call it “cura personalis” — devotion to the whole person.)

Having ignored poverty and offering no meaningful policy agenda, the left attacks conservatives who are focused and providing batches of policy solutions. It’s not liberals, but Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) who are addressing the issue with serious and varied policy approaches; the left caters to the green elites and defends a health-care plan that discourages work. …



Thomas Sowell points to issues like school choice and minimum wage laws that make it possible for the GOP to appeal to black voters.

Recently former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice added her voice to those who have long been urging the Republican Party to reach out to black voters. Not only is that long overdue, what is also long overdue is putting some time — and, above all, some serious thought — into how to go about doing it.

Too many Republicans seem to think that the way to “reach out” is to offer blacks and other minorities what the Democrats are offering them. Some have even suggested that the channels to use are organizations like the NAACP and black “leaders” like Jesse Jackson — that is, people tied irrevocably to the Democrats.

Voters who want what the Democrats offer can get it from the Democrats. Why should they vote for Republicans who act like make-believe Democrats?

Yet there are issues where Republicans have a big advantage over Democrats — if they will use that advantage. But an advantage that you don’t use might as well not exist.

The issue on which Democrats are most vulnerable, and have the least room to maneuver, is school choice. Democrats are heavily in hock to the teachers’ unions, who see public schools as places to guarantee jobs for teachers, regardless of what that means for the education of students. …



Restaurant CEO explains how the unintended consequences of yet another government over-reach could hurt those it is supposed to help.

President Obama on March 13 signed an order directing the Labor Department to expand the class of employees entitled to overtime pay. Currently, if a salaried employee makes more than $24,000 a year and is part of management—if he manages the business, directs the work of other employees, and has the authority to hire and fire—that employee is exempt from overtime coverage. The president wants to raise this salary threshold, perhaps as high as $50,000, demoting entry-level managers to glorified crew members by replacing their incentive to get results with an incentive to log more hours.

At issue is a growing inequality problem in the United States. Increasingly, Americans don’t have the career opportunities most took for granted a decade ago. Many are withdrawing from the labor force, frustrated because they’re unable to find a job and lured to depend on government rather than on themselves.

Rewarding time spent rather than time well spent won’t help address this problem. Workers who aspire to climb the management ladder strive for the opportunity to move from hourly-wage, crew-level positions to salaried management positions with performance-based incentives. What they lose in overtime pay they gain in the stature and sense of accomplishment that comes from being a salaried manager. This is hardly oppressive. To the contrary, it can be very lucrative for those willing to invest the time and energy, which explains why so many crew employees aspire to be managers. …

March 25, 2014

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Unaccustomed as we are to seeing good sense about the world’s resources come from the media, we sat up upon reading BBC publish something that suggests we will not run out of anything. 

Of all the world’s materials, which one will “run out” first? The more we consume as a society, the more we hear about how vital ores and minerals are dwindling, so it seems logical to assume that a few may be about to disappear.

Yet that may be entirely the wrong way of looking at the problem. According to natural resources experts, many of the materials we rely upon in modern life won’t “run out” at all. Unfortunately, the scenario they paint about what will happen instead in the near future is hardly rosy either.

Some of our most cherished devices – smartphones, computers and medical equipment, for instance – rely on a rich list of elemental ingredients. Mobile phones alone contain a whopping 60 to 64 elements. “Many of these metals are present in only minute amounts, a milligramme or less,” says Armin Reller, a chemist and the chair of resource strategy at AugsburgUniversity in Germany. “But they are very important for the function of the device.”

This includes things like copper, aluminum and iron, but also less well-known materials, like the “rare earth elements”, what the Japanese refer to as “the seeds of technology”.

The latter class of materials has come under particular scrutiny because they’re a vital ingredient in smartphones, hybrid cars, wind turbines, computers and more. China – which produces around 90% of the world’s rare earth metals – claims that its mines might run dry in just 15-20 years. Likewise, if demand continues for indium, some say it will be gone in about 10 years; platinum in 15 years; and silver in 20 years. Looking farther into the future, other sources claim that things like aluminum might run dry in about 80 years.

Other studies indicate that rhodium, followed by gold, platinum and tellurium, are some of the rarest elements in terms of their percentage in the planet’s crust and their importance to society.

As startling as these figures sound, however, the complete loss of silver, platinum, aluminum or any other mineral resource will likely never come to pass, according to Thomas Graedel, director of the Center for Industrial Ecology at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. We have never completely run out of a natural resource, he says, and we almost certainly never will. …




The above from BBC brought to mind the famous wager between Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich. We turn to John Tierney writing in the NY Times Magazine about the end of the 10 year wager. This article was first published Dec. 2, 1990. Yes, Pickerhead has a long memory.

In 1980 an ecologist and an economist chose a refreshingly unacademic way to resolve their differences. They bet $1,000. Specifically, the bet was over the future price of five metals, but at stake was much more — a view of the planet’s ultimate limits, a vision of humanity’s destiny. It was a bet between the Cassandra and the Dr. Pangloss of our era.

They lead two intellectual schools — sometimes called the Malthusians and the Cornucopians, sometimes simply the doomsters and the boomsters — that use the latest in computer-generated graphs and foundation-generated funds to debate whether the world is getting better or going to the dogs. The argument has generally been as fruitless as it is old, since the two sides never seem to be looking at the same part of the world at the same time. Dr. Pangloss sees farm silos brimming with record harvests; Cassandra sees topsoil eroding and pesticide seeping into ground water. Dr. Pangloss sees people living longer; Cassandra sees rain forests being decimated. But in 1980 these opponents managed to agree on one way to chart and test the global future. They promised to abide by the results exactly 10 years later — in October 1990 — and to pay up out of their own pockets.

The bettors, who have never met in all the years they have been excoriating each other, are both 58-year-old professors who grew up in the Newark suburbs. The ecologist, Paul R. Ehrlich, has been one of the world’s better-known scientists since publishing “The Population Bomb” in 1968. More than three million copies were sold, and he became perhaps the only author ever interviewed for an hour on “The Tonight Show.” When he is not teaching at StanfordUniversity or studying butterflies in the Rockies, Ehrlich can generally be found on a plane on his way to give a lecture, collect an award or appear in an occasional spot on the “Today” show. This summer he won a five-year MacArthur Foundation grant for $345,000, and in September he went to Stockholm to share half of the $240,000 Crafoord Prize, the ecologist’s version of the Nobel. His many personal successes haven’t changed his position in the debate over humanity’s fate. He is the pessimist.

The economist, Julian L. Simon of the University of Maryland, often speaks of himself as an outcast, which isn’t quite true. His books carry jacket blurbs from Nobel laureate economists, and his views have helped shape policy in Washington for the past decade. But Simon has certainly never enjoyed Ehrlich’s academic success or popular appeal. On the first Earth Day in 1970, while Ehrlich was in the national news helping to launch the environmental movement, Simon sat in a college auditorium listening as a zoologist, to great applause, denounced him as a reactionary whose work “lacks scholarship or substance.” Simon took revenge, first by throwing a drink in his critic’s face at a faculty party and then by becoming the scourge of the environmental movement. When he unveiled his happy vision of beneficent technology and human progress in Science magazine in 1980, it attracted one of the largest batches of angry letters in the journal’s history.  …


… Simon’s fiercest battle has been against Paul Ehrlich’s idea that the world has too many people. The two have never debated directly — Ehrlich has always refused, saying that Simon is a “fringe character” — but they have lambasted each other in scholarly journal articles with titles like “An Economist in Wonderland” and “Paul Ehrlich Saying It Is So Doesn’t Make It So.” Simon acknowledges that rising population causes short-term problems, because it means more children to feed and raise. But he maintains that there are long-term benefits when those children become productive, resourceful adults. He has supported making abortion and family-planning services available to women to give them more freedom, but he has vehemently opposed programs that tell people how many children to have. He attacked Ehrlich for suggesting that governments should consider using coercion to limit family size and for endorsing the startling idea that the United States should consider cutting off food aid to countries that refuse to control population growth.

Among academics, Simon seems to be gaining in the debate. …


… The bet was settled this fall without ceremony. Ehrlich did not even bother to write a letter. He simply mailed Simon a sheet of calculations about metal prices — along with a check for $576.07. Simon wrote back a thank-you note, adding that he would be willing to raise the wager to as much as $20,000, pinned to any other resources and to any other year in the future.

Each of the five metals chosen by Ehrlich’s group, when adjusted for inflation since 1980, had declined in price. The drop was so sharp, in fact, that Simon would have come out slightly ahead overall even without the inflation adjustment called for in the bet. Prices fell for the same Cornucopian reasons they had fallen in previous decades — entrepreneurship and continuing technological improvements. Prospectors found new lodes, such as the nickel mines around the world that ended a Canadian company’s near monopoly of the market. Thanks to computers, new machines and new chemical processes, there were more efficient ways to extract and refine the ores for chrome and the other metals.

For many uses, the metals were replaced by cheaper materials, notably plastics, which became less expensive as the price of oil declined (even during this year’s crisis in the Persian Gulf, the real cost of oil remained lower than in 1980). Telephone calls went through satellites and fiber-optic lines instead of copper wires. Ceramics replaced tungsten in cutting tools. Cans were made of aluminum instead of tin, and Vogt’s fears about America going to war over tin remained unrealized. The most newsworthy event in the 1980′s concerning that metal was the collapse of the international tin cartel, which gave up trying to set prices in 1985 when the market became inundated with excess supplies.

Is there a lesson here for the future?

“Absolutely not,” said Ehrlich in an interview. Nevertheless, he has no plans to take up Simon’s new offer: “The bet doesn’t mean anything. Julian Simon is like the guy who jumps off the Empire State Building and says how great things are going so far as he passes the 10th floor. I still think the price of those metals will go up eventually, but that’s a minor point. The resource that worries me the most is the declining capacity of our planet to buffer itself against human impacts. Look at the new problems that have come up: the ozone hole, acid rain, global warming. It’s true that we’ve kept up food production — I underestimated how badly we’d keep on depleting our topsoil and ground water — but I have no doubt that sometime in the next century food will be scarce enough that prices are really going to be high even in the United States. If we get climate change and let the ecological systems keep running downhill, we could have a gigantic population crash.”

Simon was not surprised to hear about Ehrlich’s reaction. “Paul Ehrlich has never been able to learn from past experience,” he said, then launched into the Cornucopian line on the greenhouse crisis — how, even in the unlikely event that doomsayers are right about global warming, humanity will find some way to avert climate change or adapt, and everyone will emerge the better for it. But Simon did not get far into his argument before another cheery thought occurred to him. He stopped and smiled.

“So Ehrlich is talking about a population crash,” he said. “That sounds like an even better way to make money. I’ll give him heavy odds on that one.”



Advising Paul Ehrlich on his losing wager was John Holdren who was science advisor to Bill Clinton and has the same position with the current president. So now you know why these Dem presidents are so ignorant. Here’s Holdren’s entry in Wikipedia.

… Holdren was involved in the famous Simon–Ehrlich wager in 1980. He, along with two other scientists helped Paul R. Ehrlich establish the bet with Julian Simon, in which they bet that the price of five key metals would be higher in 1990. The bet was centred around a disagreement concerning the future scarcity of resources in an increasingly polluted and heavily populated world. Ehrlich and Holdren lost the bet, when the price of metals had decreased by 1990. …

… Holdren served as one of President Bill Clinton‘s science advisors (PCAST) from 1994 to 2001. Eight years later, President Barack Obama nominated Holdren for his current position as science advisor and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in December 2008, and he was confirmed on March 19, 2009, by a unanimous vote in the Senate. …


And that’s where stupid presidents come from.

March 24, 2014

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Victor Davis Hanson knows why weaker nations like Russia thumb their noses at stronger states like the US.

… From Benito Mussolini’s invasions in 1940-41 of France, the Balkans, and Greece to Argentine Gen. Galtieri’s attack on the Falklands in 1982 and Saddam Hussein’s entry into Kuwait in the summer of 1990, there are plenty of examples of weak states attacking countries who have alliances or friends far stronger than the attacker. Why then do the Putins of the past and present try something so shortsighted—as the Obama administration has characterized the Ukraine gambit? 

Answer? Strength is in the eye of the attacker.

What might prove to be demonstrably stupid in the future, or even seems foolish in the present, may not necessarily be so clear to the attacker. The perception, not the reality, of relative strength and weakness is what guides aggressive states.

Obama looks to logic, reason, and morality in his confusion over why Putin did something that cannot be squared away on any rational or ethical calculators.

Putin, however, has a logic of his own. American intervention or non-intervention in particular crises is not just the issue for Putin. Instead he sees fickleness and confusion in American foreign policy. He has manipulated and translated this into American impotence and thus reigns freely on his borders.

Red lines in Syria proved pink. Putin’s easily peddled his pseudo-WMD removal plan for Syria. America is flipping and flopping and flipping in Egypt. Missile defense begat no missile defense with the Poles and Czechs. Lead from behind led to Benghazi and chaos. Deadlines and sanctions spawned no deadlines and no sanctions with Iran. Then there was the reset with Russia. Obama’s predecessors, not his enemies were blamed. Iraq was cut loose. We surged only with deadlines to stop surging in Afghanistan. Loud civilian trials were announced for terrorists and as quietly dropped. Silly new rubrics appeared like overseas contingency operations, workplace violence, man-caused disasters, a secular Muslim Brotherhood, jihad as a personal journey, and a chief NASA mission being outreach to Muslims.

Putin added all that up. He saw a pattern of words without consequences, of actions that are ephemeral and not sustained, and so he concluded that a weaker power like Russia most certainly can bully a neighbor with access to stronger powers like the United States. For Putin and his ilk, willpower and his mythologies about Russian moral superiority are worth more than the hardware and data points of the West. …



Jennifer Rubin wonders why NCAA Brackets are more important then serial disasters in foreign policy.

Other than finger-wagging, the administration seems to be doing precious little in the wake of the invasion and annexation of Crimea. Vice President Biden was sent to Eastern Europe to make platitudinous promises of mutual defense. He says, “I want to make it clear: We stand resolutely with our Baltic allies in support of the Ukrainian people and against Russian aggression. As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increasing political and economic isolation.” What does that even mean at this stage? The administration is not arming Ukraine to protect it from further aggression, it has yet to kick Russia out of international institutions and has made no move to flood the European market with liquefied natural gas, which would be reassuring to allies and undermine Russia’s economy.

Biden was not alone in the empty-rhetoric sweepstakes. The New York Times reports, “The NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said on Wednesday that Russia’s military intervention was the ‘gravest threat’ to European security since the end of the Cold War. ‘This is a wake-up call, for the Euro-Atlantic community, for NATO and for all those committed to a Europe whole, free and at peace,’ Mr. Rasmussen said in a speech at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday afternoon.” But has President Obama woken up — this happened on his watch, after all — or is he busying himself with his NCAA Tournament bracket, Obamacare and saving the Senate? …



Peter Wehner posts on the president’s world of make believe. 

For anyone who has observed Barack Obama over the years, it’s obvious that a fundamental part of his self-identity involves seeing himself, and having others see him, as pragmatic rather than ideological, reality-based, driven by reason instead of bias.

This has never actually been true. Mr. Obama is, in fact, unusually dogmatic, blind to counter-evidence, and mostly unable to adjust his views to the way things are. So when his worldview collides with reality, he often can’t adjust. He instead creates his own make believe world.

We’ve seen it time and time again with the Affordable Care Act. (Earlier this month the president declared,  ObamaCare “is working the way it should.” He may be the only person in America who believes such a thing.) We’ve also seen this in Mr. Obama’s dealings with Vladimir Putin, who with lightning speed has seized Crimea, threatens Ukraine, and whose top officials are now openly mocking the president (including with tweets ending with smiley faces). Yet President Obama insists that Putin is acting “out of weakness, not out of strength” in attempting to take control of Crimea. This is an effort to seek comfort by engaging in an almost clinical level of delusion. And it’s not isolated to Mr. Obama.

As Russia began its aggression against Crimea, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.” Except that Russia did exactly that. Earlier this week Mr. Kerry said Putin’s speech announcing the Crimean annexation “just didn’t jibe with reality.” But the reality is that Crimea is once again part of Russia. …



Paul Mirengoff says Susan Rice wants to bring affirmative action to Russia.

To date, Team Obama’s response to Russia’s takeover of Crimea has been criminally lame. But now Susan Rice reportedly wants to take affirmative action.

Unfortunately, the affirmative action she contemplates is affirmative action in the legal sense — affirmative action on behalf of women.

The post of U.S. ambassador to Russia has been vacant for three weeks. Al Kamen of the Washington Post reports “we’re hearing that national security adviser Susan Rice would like to place a woman in Moscow.”

If true, this report is a perfect demonstration of Team Obama’s lack of seriousness. While Eastern Europe worries about the emergence of a Russian empire, Susan Rice worries about doling out jobs to women.

It may be, of course, that the best candidate for brutally difficult job of “our man in Moscow” is a woman. But to inject consideration of gender into the selection process — which is what I take Kamen to be reporting — is to reduce the odds of selecting the best candidate.

It could be worse, though. Last week it was rumored that White House press secretary Jay Carney, who once worked in Moscow for Time Magazine, wanted the job. In what universe does unsuccessful sparring with the White House press corps qualify someone to spar with the Russian bear?

Still, I concede that it probably doesn’t make much difference who becomes the new ambassador to Russia. Obama, assisted by John Kerry and Susan Rice, will set our Russia policy. And they will set it with the same lack of seriousness that lends plausibility to reports that Rice wants to make an affirmative action pick for the post of ambassador.



Long an also ran in the ACC, UVA Men’s Basketball is having quite a season. NY times reports on the team that plays tonight at 8:40 in the third round of the NCAA tournament. 

If Ralph Sampson raised Virginia’s national profile and gave the men’s basketball program its identity in the 1980s, he remains the towering measure of every team that has come through Charlottesville since.

Yet in all the years after the Sampson era, which ended in 1983, few Virginia teams have come close to matching that success. Until now.

The Cavaliers, coming off their first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title since 1976, enter the N.C.A.A. tournament as the No. 1 seed in the East Region. Virginia will face No. 16 Coastal Carolina on Friday in Raleigh, N.C. …

… If there was any doubt about Virginia’s mettle, that was settled in the A.C.C. tournament. Victories against FloridaState and Pittsburgh set up a final against Duke, the only team Virginia had not defeated this season. How fitting. After all, you cannot become a blue blood in the A.C.C. unless you beat one.

Not that Virginia is in that category quite yet.

“U.N.C. and Duke are the two blue bloods in the conference,” Brogdon said. “We should be one, but we’re not. We’re not looked as one right now. But we’re getting there.”

And for now, that is enough for longtime fans who have waited decades to see Virginia become a factor in the A.C.C. and the N.C.A.A. tournament again. …

March 23, 2014

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Watching how Putin’s Russia gets things done, David Harsanyi reminds us why gridlock is good.

… Without a strong minority voters are awash in self-determination. Without any true division of power, courts function under a weak and malleable constitution and crony plutocrats work closely with Moscow for the collective good. There is little economic uncertainty and lawmakers are able “accomplish” much without hassle. The Russian Constitution, for example, already guarantees a citizen the right to free healthcare and medical assistance provided by the state. Not us. 1918 called, it wants its debate back.

In general, I’m not comparing the ambitions of Barack Obama and Putin. But Russian politics offers us another lesson on why gridlock is more useful than destructive. The Founders erected an elaborate system of checks and balances to impede the flood of power, bad ideas, and passions, the exigency of overcoming “gridlock”—the “fierce urgency” to get things done, as Obama might put it, seems trumps all other concerns here at home. Polarization in Washington is an organic safeguard against one party’s ability to fundamentally changing the institutions of the country, yet we’re schooled to be repelled by it. In a 2013 Gallup poll 78 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress was handling its job. The top concern offered was partisan gridlock. Other polls find that upwards of 95 percent have negative view of the GOP congress – who they blame for creating gridlock when, in fact, a diverse electorate is the guilty party.

Putin’s reprehensible play in Crimea exposes some of the problems with our knee-jerk support for majoritarianism, both internationally and domestically. …



While on the subject of governments without checks on their power, John Fund wrote a piece on hate crime laws.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia provide additional penalties for crimes that they classify as “hate crimes,” over and above what would have been available if the same crime been committed with a different motivation. In 2009, President Obama signed into law a federal hate-crimes statute that adds a third level of criminalization for violent crimes that occur “because of” the victim’s “actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation.”

Actual hatred is not required. It is enough that there is a causal connection between the crime and one of these grounds.

Like all federal criminal statutes, this one gives federal authorities the power to prosecute a defendant who has already been prosecuted by state authorities. They can even prosecute a defendant who has been acquitted. Double-jeopardy protections do not apply.

But can such far-reaching federal authority to try a defendant twice be justified under the Constitution, especially given how emotionally charged these prosecutions often are? In the absence of evidence that states are “falling down on the job,” shouldn’t such prosecutions be state-controlled? On Friday, the Supreme Court will decide if it will hear a case directly challenging part of the federal government’s claim of authority in this area. …



According to Glenn Reynolds more government abuse comes from “prosecutorial discretion.”

… with today’s broad and vague criminal statutes at both the state and federal level, everyone is guilty of some sort of crime, a point that Harvey Silverglate underscores with the title of his recent book, Three Felonies A Day: How The Feds Target The Innocent, that being the number of felonies that the average American, usually unknowingly, commits.

Such crimes can be manufactured from violations of obscure federal regulations that can turn pocketing a feather or taking home a rusted bit of metal from a wilderness area into a crime. In other cases, issues almost always dealt with in civil court, disagreements over taxes for instance, can be turned into a criminal case.

The combination of vague and pervasive criminal laws — the federal government literally doesn’t know how many federal criminal laws there are — and prosecutorial discretion, plus easy overcharging and coercive plea-bargaining, means that where criminal law is concerned we don’t really have a judicial system as most people imagine it. Instead, we have a criminal justice bureaucracy that assesses guilt and imposes penalties with only modest supervision from the judiciary, and with very little actual accountability. (When a South Carolina judge suggested earlier this year that prosecutors should follow the law, prosecutors revolted.) …



Joel Kotkin calls for a re-appraisal of our system of education.

… As for the effectiveness of college, a recent Rutgers University report found that barely half of college graduates since 2006 had full-time jobs. And it’s not getting better: Those graduating since 2009 are three times more likely to not have found a full-time job than those from the classes of 2006-08. Since 1967, notes one 2010 study, the percentage of underemployed college graduates has soared from roughly 10 percent to more than 35 percent.

What we need to do is rethink the notion, supported by President Obama and others, that the solution to our education woes primarily is “more.” More what? What are the job prospects for the new crop of ethnic-studies majors, post-modern English graduates and art historians, for example, particularly those from second-tier institutions? These kind of liberal-arts degrees are, as the New York Times recently reported, that tend to earn graduates the least, while those degrees that pay the most are largely offered by schools aimed at technology, mining and other “hard skills.”

First, we need to understand that educational differences and capabilities exist and cannot be easily adjusted simply by forever lowering standards. Our most competitive institutions need to make sure that people leave with the highest degree of critical skills. Grade inflation at Harvard may not produce unemployables, but it does weaken the value of the degree and, even worse, suggests that one can not expect too much knowledge, or reasoning capacity, from graduates. Indeed, many employers complain about the lack of “soft skills,” such as communication and critical thinking, as much as they do about applicants’ lack of harder skills such as math and science.

This suggests that even those of us who teach at more selective universities cannot just rest on laurels. Schools have to focus more on developing actual skills – notably in presentation and research – even among the brightest students. Instead, all too often, as the Manhattan Institute’s Heather McDonald has pointed out, political education – usually, but not always, tending toward the progressive left – actually predominates over learning how to think critically and express ideas coherently.

More important is the need to put greater effort in lifting students who may not be ideal for a classical liberal four-year education. This may include a greater emphasis on skills with practical applications, such as nursing, rehabilitation, technical and scientific areas of specialization. It also includes expanding innovative programs, such as at LaGuardia College in New York, that helps high school dropouts to get their diplomas. …



Andy Malcolm has late night humor.

SethMeyers: A Virginia Tech professor claims he can turn wood-chips into food. However, still no luck with kale.

Conan: Workers building the LA subway have discovered Ice Age fossils. The fossils belong to the last creature ever to use the Los Angeles subway.

Letterman: New scam in town. A ring of hardened criminals is selling counterfeit Chapstick. I knew right away it was counterfeit. The cap didn’t come off in my pocket.

SethMeyers: The world’s longest-serving ice cream man is retiring after 50 years. He plans to spend the rest of his life trying to get that song out of his head.