April 9, 2014

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Michael Barone has a thoughtful piece on how history can determine thoughts and opinions.

… It seems farfetched to suppose that centuries-old events and migrations could be reflected in the election results of 2010 and the overthrow of a regime in 2014. But you can see the mark of history on current electoral politics elsewhere, in Europe and North America.

Take Poland. In its 2010 election one candidate carried the regions that were part of the German Empire and most that were in Austria-Hungary before 1918; the other carried the areas that were part of Czarist Russia except for metro Warsaw.

Or move west to Germany. In post-World War II politics, the Christian Democrats have carried most regions that were Catholic after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and the Social Democrats have carried most regions that were Protestant.

And then there is the United States. Southern whites remained overwhelmingly Democratic for almost 100 years after the Civil War. During that period, the Republican strongholds were northern areas settled by New England Yankees and their progeny.

Party allegiances were reversed in a process that took half a century, but the regions are still distinctive, with southern whites heavily Republican and the Yankee diaspora generally Democratic.

Many counties in the Appalachian chain still vote as they fought in 1861. Exceptions are coal counties, which swung Democratic with unionization and now swing Republican thanks to Barack Obama’s “war on coal.” …

 

 

Joel Kotkin calls it “the debate is over syndrome” and says the left is becoming increasingly totalitarian.

On climate and other issues, many in academia, media, government insist their viewpoint is unassailable and won’t tolerate dissent.

The ongoing trial involving journalist Mark Steyn – accused of defaming climate change theorist Michael Mann – reflects an increasingly dangerous tendency among our intellectual classes to embrace homogeneity of viewpoint. Steyn, whose column has appeared for years on these pages, may be alternatingly entertaining or over-the-top obnoxious, but the slander lawsuit against him marks a milestone in what has become a dangerously authoritarian worldview being adopted in academia, the media and large sections of the government bureaucracy.

Let’s call it “the debate is over” syndrome, referring to a term used most often in relationship with climate change but also by President Barack Obama last week in reference to what remains his contentious, and theoretically reformable, health care plan. Ironically, this shift to certainty now comes increasingly from what passes for the Left in America.

These are the same people who historically have identified themselves with open-mindedness and the defense of free speech, while conservatives, with some justification, were associated more often with such traits as criminalizing unpopular views – as seen in the 1950s McCarthy era – and embracing canonical bans on all sorts of personal behavior, a tendency still more evident than necessary among some socially minded conservatives. …

… Political uniformity is certainly in vogue. A remarkable 96 percent of presidential campaign donations from the nation’s Ivy League faculty and staff in 2012 went to Obama, a margin more reminiscent of Soviet Russia than a properly functioning pluralistic academy.

 

 

Writing in the Telegraph, UK, Christopher Booker says future generations will find it hard to understand the globalony hysteria of the left.

When future generations come to look back on the alarm over global warming that seized the world towards the end of the 20th century, much will puzzle them as to how such a scare could have arisen. They will wonder why there was such a panic over a 0.4 per cent rise in global temperatures between 1975 and 1998, when similar rises between 1860 and 1880 and 1910 and 1940 had given no cause for concern. They will see these modest rises as just part of a general warming that began at the start of the 19th century, as the world emerged from the Little Ice Age, when the Earth had grown cooler for 400 years.

They will be struck by the extent to which this scare relied on the projections of computer models, which then proved to be hopelessly wrong when, in the years after 1998, their predicted rise in temperature came virtually to a halt. But in particular they will be amazed by the almost religious reverence accorded to that strange body, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which by then will be recognised as having never really been a scientific body at all, but a political pressure group. It had been set up in the 1980s by a small band of politically persuasive scientists who had become fanatically committed to the belief that, because carbon dioxide levels were rising, global temperatures must inevitably follow; an assumption that the evidence would increasingly show was mistaken. …

 

 

Also in the Telegraph, Charles Moore has more on globalony.

… The theory of global warming is a gigantic weather forecast for a century or more. However interesting the scientific inquiries involved, therefore, it can have almost no value as a prediction. Yet it is as a prediction that global warming (or, as we are now ordered to call it in the face of a stubbornly parky 21st century, “global weirding”) has captured the political and bureaucratic elites. All the action plans, taxes, green levies, protocols and carbon-emitting flights to massive summit meetings, after all, are not because of what its supporters call “The Science”. Proper science studies what is – which is, in principle, knowable – and is consequently very cautious about the future – which isn’t. No, they are the result of a belief that something big and bad is going to hit us one of these days.

Some of the utterances of the warmists are preposterously specific. In March 2009, the Prince of Wales declared that the world had “only 100 months to avert irretrievable climate and ecosystem collapse”. How could he possibly calculate such a thing? …

… The origins of warmism lie in a cocktail of ideas which includes anti-industrial nature worship, post-colonial guilt, a post-Enlightenment belief in scientists as a new priesthood of the truth, a hatred of population growth, a revulsion against the widespread increase in wealth and a belief in world government. It involves a fondness for predicting that energy supplies won’t last much longer (as early as 1909, the US National Conservation Commission reported to Congress that America’s natural gas would be gone in 25 years and its oil by the middle of the century), protest movements which involve dressing up and disappearing into woods (the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, the Mosleyite Blackshirts who believed in reafforestation) and a dislike of the human race (The Club of Rome’s work Mankind at the Turning-Point said: “The world has cancer and the cancer is man.”).

These beliefs began to take organised, international, political form in the 1970s. …

 

 

Associated Press reports on efforts to clear the Great Lakes of ice.

U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard crews kept up their battle Monday to clear pathways for vessels hauling vital raw materials on the ice-clogged Great Lakes, where a shipping logjam forced a weeklong shutdown of the nation’s largest steel (mill).

Traffic remained largely at a crawl after a winter that produced some of the heaviest ice on record across the five inland seas, where more than half the surface area remained solid this week. Icebreaking ships slogging across Lake Superior were still encountering ice layers 2 feet to 3 feet thick. In some areas, wind and wave action created walls of ice up to 14 feet high.

United States Steel Corp.’s plant in Gary, Ind., had resumed limited operations after receiving a shipment over the weekend of iron ore from a company mill near Detroit, which was sending one additional load, spokeswoman Courtney Boone said.

Two ships were scheduled to arrive Tuesday with ore from mines in northern Minnesota following a two-week voyage across Lake Superior, which ordinarily would take three days.

Other companies were hoping their supplies would be adequate to avoid significant disruptions. …

April 8, 2014

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Time to have a look at the healthcare act. Peggy Noonan calls it “A Catastrophe Like No Other.”

… Support it or not, you cannot look at ObamaCare and call it anything but a huge, historic mess. It is also utterly unique in the annals of American lawmaking and government administration.

Its biggest proponent in Congress, the Democratic speaker of the House, literally said—blithely, mindlessly, but in a way forthcomingly—that we have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it. It is a cliché to note this. But really, Nancy Pelosi‘s statement was a historic admission that she was fighting hard for something she herself didn’t understand, but she had every confidence regulators and bureaucratic interpreters would tell her in time what she’d done. This is how we make laws now. … 

… There’s a brute test of a policy: If you knew then what you know now, would you do it? I will never forget a conversation in 2006 or thereabouts with a passionate and eloquent supporter of the decision to go into Iraq. We had been having this conversation for years, he a stalwart who would highlight every optimistic sign, every good glimmering. He argued always for the rightness of the administration’s decision. I would share my disquiet, my doubts, finally my skepticism. One night over dinner I asked him, in passing, “If we had it to do over again, should we have gone in? would you support it?”

And he said, “Of course not!”

Which told me everything.

There are very, very few Democrats who would do ObamaCare over again. Some would do something different, but they wouldn’t do this. The cost of the blunder has been too high in terms of policy and politics.

They, and the president, are trying to put a good face on it.

Republicans of all people should not go for the happy face. They cannot run only on ObamaCare this year and later, because it’s not the only problem in America. But it’s a problem, a big one, and needs to be hard and shrewdly fought.

 

 

Peter Ferrara documents how statistics are used to lie about the healthcare act. He goes on to propose alternatives.

The population of the U.S. is 314 million. On the day Obamacare was passed, the estimate of the uninsured was 60 million. So in this context, the supposed 7 million Americans signed up for insurance on the Obamacare Exchanges, even if that is a valid number, and all of those have actually started paying premiums, both of which are highly dubious, does not mean any significant success for Obamacare.

That is especially so since at least 6 million Americans have lost their health insurance due to Obamacare, so far, with more to come once the illegally and arbitrarily delayed employer mandate becomes effective, if it is ever allowed to do so. The estimate based on a new Rand Corporation study is that only 858,000 Americans signed up on the Obamacare Exchanges were previously uninsured. That is barely a dent of just over 1% in the original number of uninsured, from the historic Obamacare program that was supposed to provide “universal” coverage.

Yes, there are other sources of coverage under Obamacare. President Obama told us in his celebratory, hocus pocus, Obamacare address on April Fools’ Day that “more than 3 million young adults have gained insurance under this law by staying on their family’s plan.”

But that number is a publicly documented fabrication. It comes from a 2010 survey by the highly politicized Department of Health and Human Services estimating coverage for 19 to 25 year olds from all sources, including taxpayer financed Medicaid, and private insurance, which includes employer provided insurance and individually purchased plans, not just coverage from their parents’ health insurance, as David Hogberg explained at Spectator.org on April 2.

Moreover, that data is now outdated, as later HHS surveys show that health coverage for 18 to 25 year olds has since declined from 2010, Hogberg adds. That is why HHS has not released any new data on the point for almost two years now. …

 

… Obama doesn’t get it. He said further on April Fools’ Day, Obamacare is “helping people from coast to coast, all of which makes the lengths to which some critics have gone to scare people or undermine the law, or try to repeal the law without offering any plausible alternative so hard to understand. I’ve got to admit, I don’t get it. Why are folks working so hard for people not to have health insurance?”

Many readers are not going to understand this. But my job here is to tell the truth, not to play politically correct footsie with you. What our President is telling us here, actually, is that he has so carefully avoided hearing any of the debate on this issue, that he actually does not understand the issue, on which he imagines himself as the historic founding father of American health care.

The plan I support to replace Obamacare, root and branch, is the reform proposal developed by John Goodman, President of the NationalCenter for Policy Analysis. That proposal, unlike Obamacare, actually would ensure universal health care. But it would do so at far less cost. It would do so, again unlike Obamacare, while actually reducing health costs. That proposal is actually far more plausible than Obamacare, which has already proven itself implausible in the real world. That is why Obama has already acted to change the enacted Obamacare law without the approval of Congress, in violation of the Constitution and his own oath of office.

But Obama continued, “Many of the tall tales that have been told about this law have been debunked. There are still no death panels.” Mr. Obama, the death panel in the law is called the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). You have carefully avoided appointing members to this board and making it operative, until after the mid-term elections.

He knows what he is doing here, but not what he is talking about. …

 

… the tragedy of Obamacare extends beyond health care.

Obamacare has been a major drag on the economy, preventing full recovery from the recession. Employers trying to avoid the costs of the employer mandate have reduced many full time jobs to part time jobs. Or they have frozen hiring, and the associated costs due to Obamacare. This is contributing to income stagnation and decline for the middle class, the working class, and the poor. And it is actually increasing inequality.

The new taxes of Obamacare are also deterring job creating investment, or capital investment that would increase worker productivity, and consequently wages and incomes. The costly regulatory burdens of Obamacare are increasing rather than reducing health insurance costs, which is a further drag on the economy.

The alternative, John Goodman, NCPA plan would achieve universal health care, with no employer mandate, no individual mandate, reduced taxes and spending, and sharply reduced regulatory burdens and costs as compared to Obamacare. All of that would be sharply pro-growth, and promote more jobs, and higher wages.

But Obama says that would not be a plausible alternative. The real problem is that he is not plausible as President. Only once he leaves the White House can the American economy be liberated to grow, and American health care be liberated to once again serve the sick, especially the most sick and in need of health care.

 

 

During his April Fool’s Day remarks on healthcare, the president offered his ideas on what is news. Carl Cannon schools the bystanding president.

… As a student, Barack Obama attended ColumbiaUniversity, which has a world-class journalism program. Unfortunately, he didn’t study journalism. After graduation, he attended another famed Ivy League institution, HarvardLawSchool, where he honed his skills as an advocate. So he is well-trained to engage in adversarial discourse, and he excels at it. As an appraiser of journalism, however, he has neither training nor the temperament. So let’s help him:

When a president campaigns for his sweeping new law while claiming repeatedly that it won’t impact those who already have health insurance—and this turns out to be utterly false—that is news.

When the same president repeatedly assures voters who already have insurance that they can keep their doctors—and wins re-election while stressing this fallacious claim—that is news.

When it turns out that the federal government, despite a three-year rollout, isn’t competent enough to provide the service it is making people purchase – yes, that is news. If it keeps happening in the future, sorry, Mr. President, that is news.

When the president states that 7.1 million Americans signed up via the government-run health care exchanges because of his own selfless efforts and those of his allies—but his administration claims it has no idea how many of those people enrolled because their private sector plans were canceled—that is news.

When respected third party organizations estimate that between two-thirds and three-fourths of those who bought the government plan did so because their previous plan was canceled due to the Affordable Care Act—that is also news. …

April 7, 2014

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The fool John Kerry as SecState has been a perfect compliment to his boss. Throw in Hagel as SecDef and we have a hat trick of ignorance. The Pollard gambit was too much and is receiving the world’s opprobrium. It was kinda like a foreign policy “stinkburger.”  Jonathan Tobin starts our look at Kerry.

It was just a couple of months ago that Secretary of State John Kerry was being lauded as, in the words of CNN, “a surprise success.” He was hailed by the chattering classes as having exceeded Hillary Clinton’s record by showing daring instead of her instinctive caution. After all, hadn’t he managed to preside over a nuclear deal with Iran, saved President Obama’s face by negotiating a good deal with Russia about Syrian chemical weapons, and made progress on a withdrawal agreement in Afghanistan? Most of all, his audacious decision to restart Middle East peace talks when everyone was warning him it was a fool’s errand was seen as having great promise. As the Atlantic gushed, “It’s looking more and more possible that when the history of early-21st-century diplomacy gets written, it will be Kerry who is credited with making the State Department relevant again.”

But that was then. Today, Kerry is being rightly lambasted by the left, right, and center for his idiotic decision to introduce the issue of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard’s release into the Middle East peace negotiations. …

 

 

Tobin also posts on what he calls “the disturbing Pollard debate.”

… Anyone listening to the debate about Pollard being conducted in the last week must understand that his name is synonymous with charges of dual loyalty against American Jews who serve in both the U.S. government and its armed forces. As I detailed in my 2011 article, the damage that the cynical decision to employ a foolish and unstable person as a spy has done to American Jews and to the vital alliance between the U.S. and Israel is incalculable.

While after serving so much time in prison he is deserving of clemency, I stand by my previous conclusion about what should be the final word about this subject:

Long after his release or death, Pollard’s behavior will still be used to bolster the slurs of those who wish to promote the pernicious myth that there is a contradiction between American patriotism and deep concern for the safety of the State of Israel. It is this damning epitaph, and not the claims of martyrdom that have been put forward to stir sympathy for his plight, that will be Jonathan Pollard’s true legacy.

 

 

Which brings us to Krauthammer’s column for the week – “Kerry’s Folly – Chapter 3.”

When has a secretary of state been involved in so many disastrous, self-initiated negotiations? First, John Kerry convenes — against all advice and holding no cards — Geneva negotiations to resolve the Syria conflict and supposedly remove Bashar al-Assad from power. The talks collapse in acrimony and confusion.

Kerry’s response? A second Geneva conference that — surprise! — breaks up in acrimony and confusion.

Then, even as Russian special forces are taking over Crimea, Kerry goes chasing after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — first to Paris, then Rome, then London — offering a diplomatic “offramp.” Lavrov shrugs him off. Russia annexes Crimea.

The crowning piece of diplomatic futility, however, is Kerry’s frantic effort to salvage the Arab-Israeli negotiations he launched, also against all odds and sentient advice. He’s made 12 trips to the region, aiming to produce a final Middle East peace within nine months.

It is month nine. The talks have gone nowhere. But this has been a fool’s errand from Day One. There never was any chance of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas concluding a final peace. …

… To keep stringing along the Israelis, some genius decided to dangle Jonathan Pollard. What’s he got to do with anything? Why is he being offered as an incentive for Israel to accept otherwise unacceptable conditions?

Normally, the United States facilitates agreements by offering Israel compensation for the security risks it takes upon giving up territory, because the Arabs either cannot or will not offer security guarantees of their own. Thus the United States might try to re-establish the military balance with advanced weaponry or access to timely intelligence.

But Pollard? He is an American traitor who is up for parole next year anyway. It has long been a mistake for Israel to agitate for his release. He disgracefully betrayed his country. What kind of corrupt and cynical quid pro quo is this? …

 

 

We have been treated to the breathless accounts by Michael Lewis about the Wall Street skullduggery in High Frequency Trading. Lewis’s claims that we’re all cheated have been repeated for the week since he was interviewed on 60 Minutes. It is time for some grownups to consider these claims. Craig Pirrong of Streetwise Professor is first.

Michael Lewis’s new book on HFT, Flash Boys, has been released, and has unleashed a huge controversy. Or put more accurately, it has added fuel to a controversy that has been burning for some time.

I have bought the book, but haven’t had time to read it. But I read a variety of accounts of what is in the book, so I can make a few comments based on that.

First, as many have pointed out, although this has been framed as evil computer geniuses taking money from small investors, this isn’t at all the case. If anyone benefits from the tightening of spreads, especially for small trade sizes, it is small investors. Many of them (most, in fact) trade at the bid-ask midpoint via internalization programs with their brokers or through payment-for-order-flow arrangements. (Those raise other issues for another day, but have been around for years and don’t relate directly to HFT.)

Instead, the battle is mainly part of the struggle between large institutional investors and HFT. Large traders want to conceal their trading intentions to avoid price impact. Other traders from time immemorial have attempted to determine those trading intentions, and profit by trading before and against the institutional traders.  Nowadays, some HFT traders attempt to sniff out institutional orders, and profit from that information.  Information about order flow is the lifeblood of those who make markets.

This relates to the second issue. This has been characterized as “front running.” This terminology is problematic in this context. Front running is usually used to describe a broker in an agency relationship with a customer trading in advance of the customer’s order, or disclosing the order to another trader who then trades on that information. This is a violation of the agency relationship between the client and the broker.

In contrast, HFT firms use a variety of means-pinging dark pools, accessing trading and quoting information that is more extensive and obtained more quickly than via the public data feeds-to detect the presence of institutional orders. They are not in an agency relationship with the institution, and have no legal obligation to it. …

 

 

Joe Nocera is next. 

There is always something just a little frustrating about reading a Michael Lewis book. On the one hand, Lewis’s core point — whether it is that left tackle has become the second most important position in football (“The Blind Side”), or that the stock market has become rigged by high-frequency traders, as his new book, “Flash Boys,” claims — is almost always dead-on. His ability to find compelling characters and tell a great story through their eyes is unparalleled. He can untangle complex subjects like few others. His prose sparkles.

On the other hand, there usually comes a point in a Michael Lewis narrative when it all starts to feel just a little too perfect. “Flash Boys,” which is excerpted in The New York Times Magazine, is no exception. The book’s hero, Brad Katsuyama, is a young executive at the Royal Bank of Canada who realizes that something has gone awry with the stock market.

As he digs deeper, he realizes that secretive high-frequency trading firms, taking advantage of lightning-fast computers, willing accomplices in the stock exchanges and some poorly thought-out federal regulation, have effectively hijacked the equity markets. Roused to action by what he has discovered, Katsuyama quits his job and starts up a new exchange, IEX, which includes a clever “speed bump” that levels the playing field for investors.

So far, so good. But Lewis doesn’t stop there. To make his hero appear even more heroic, he casts Katsuyama as the only person on Wall Street to figure out the high-frequency trading scam, and the only person with the courage to do something about it. That’s not quite the case.

Nearly two years ago, Scott Patterson of The Wall Street Journal wrote a book titled “Dark Pools: The Rise of the Machine Traders and the Rigging of the U.S. Stock Market,” which also exposed the scam. The book is structured remarkably like Lewis’s — Patterson’s got a heroic central character who learns the tactics of the high-frequency bunch and then acts on it by going to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Except Patterson’s hero isn’t Brad Katsuyama; he is Haim Bodek. When I caught up with Bodek, he groused about how Katsuyama had only part of the picture, and how there were other elements of high-frequency trading that needed as much if not more exposure. …

April 6, 2014

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Good time to look at November’s voting for the senate. Jason Riley is first.

When Democratic Sen. Carl Levin announced that he would retire this year, few people saw a pickup opportunity for the GOP. Yet it’s turning into that kind of year for Republicans, who need a net gain of six seats in the fall to retake control of the Senate.

Terri Lynn Land, who’s running to replace Mr. Levin, was not the Republican establishment’s first choice (that would have been Rep. Mike Rogers), but the former Michigan secretary of state continues to perform above expectations. Yet another poll, out this week, has her statistically tied with Democratic Rep. Gary Peters in a state that President Obama carried by nearly 10 points in 2012.

In Colorado last month, a tea party Republican who lost a previous Senate race agreed to step aside for a more viable candidate, Rep. Cory Gardner. Suddenly, incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall isn’t as invulnerable as everyone thought when the cycle began. Scott Brown‘s decision to challenge Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire has had a similar effect. …

 

 

Jennifer Rubin is next.

To the dismay of Democrats, the playing field for control of the Senate has expanded beyond what even Republicans imagined would be possible. Let’s consider the total picture, and which seats are now in play.

While they won’t admit it, Democrats have all but lost Senate seats in West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota. Republicans recruited top candidates, and the Democrats are unlikely to spend significant money. That is in large part because there is a very good possibility they will also lose Arkansas (where incumbent Mark Pryor trails in recent polling), North Carolina (same there for Kay Hagan) and Alaska (where Dan Sullivan now seems the most capable opponent.) So stop there. If only these races go as expected and the Republicans lose no seats, then the GOP wins the Senate. It is very easy to imagine this occurring. And we haven’t yet mentioned the imperiled Mary Landrieu, who is trying to survive the association with the party of Obamacare and opposition to domestic energy production).

Take then the next level of races. …

 

 

Karl Rove devoted his weekly column to the races. 

With seven months until the midterm election, there’s little for Democrats to cheer in the growing number of polls on this year’s Senate contests.

Republicans have double-digit leads in the three races in red states Mitt Romney carried where the incumbent Democrat retired. West Virginia Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is up by 14 points, 49%-35%, over Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in a Feb. 20 Rasmussen poll. Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds leads Democratic congressional staffer Rick Weiland 51%-31% in a Feb. 26 Rasmussen survey. Montana Rep. Steve Daines is 14 points ahead of interim Sen. John Walsh, 51%-37% in a March 18 Rasmussen matchup. These public polls mirror private ones, suggesting Republicans are positioned to win if they keep the pressure on.

The next benchmark for these races is the April 15 Federal Election Commission fundraising reports for the first quarter. All three Republican candidates had a commanding financial advantage at the end of 2013. If they maintain the money edge for 2014′s first and second quarters, Democratic donors may start cutting their losses and shifting funds elsewhere.

Then there are the four red states where incumbent Democratic senators are trying to retain their seats. Each race is a dogfight, though every Democrat has much higher name identification than the Republican challenger. …

 

 

Tablet Magazine has a profile of Eugene Volokh and the Volokh Conspiracy. 

Last week, when the Supreme Court heard arguments over whether religiously owned corporations like Hobby Lobby should be exempt from providing contraception coverage to their employees, the government’s reply brief cited dozens of cases and statutes—and one blog with a weird name, The Volokh Conspiracy.

It wasn’t the first time the site made itself heard before the nation’s highest court. In the wake of the passage, in 2010, of the Affordable Care Act—the cornerstone of President Obama’s domestic agenda—libertarian writers for The Volokh Conspiracy were instrumental in building the constitutional challenge to the law’s individual mandate. “When the Affordable Care Act was going through the legislative process, most law professors agreed that the ACA was constitutional,” said South Texas College of Law’s Josh Blackman, who wrote the definitive scholarly account of the challenge.

Then The Volokh Conspiracy entered the fray, and everything changed. “Usually these kinds of legal arguments develop over the course of many years in law reviews, in conferences and symposiums,” Blackman continued, “but this was on warp speed. You had blog posts on the day where you could actually see the arguments shaping before you.” Soon the challenge was being hotly debated among law professors and was adopted by state attorneys general across the United States. What the legal establishment once considered an open-and-shut laugher turned into a 5-4 Supreme Court nail-biter.

It was, perhaps, the first time that a highly technical legal debate on a matter of national policy importance—the sort of discussion usually confined to law reviews, academic panels, and conference rooms at the Justice Department—played out in real time for the consumption of lay readers as well as professionals, and it cemented the site’s role as a public clearinghouse for cutting-edge legal debate. As Paul Clement, the former U.S. solicitor general who represented the 26 states opposing Obamacare, put it, “The Constitution had its Federalist Papers, and the challenge to the Affordable Care Act had The Volokh Conspiracy.”

Founded as a solo operation in April 2002, the site is now one of the Internet’s most-read legal blogs, boasting a diverse readership of scholars and policymakers—as well as Supreme Court Justices—across the ideological spectrum. (Justice Elena Kagan has said she reads it daily.) In January, The Volokh Conspiracy moved to the Washington Post, giving it an even more prominent role in the national conversation—and more power to shape the discourse surrounding issues currently being decided in the courts, from religious freedom to gay marriage.

How did a center-right blog written by libertarian-leaning professors become the most influential in American legal circles? The story begins with its founder and namesake, a Soviet Jewish refugee named Eugene Volokh.

In 1975, Volokh arrived with his parents in the United States from Ukraine. The family settled in California; five years later, Volokh was admitted to UCLA on a full scholarship after scoring 780 out of 800 on the mathematical portion of his SAT. It would have been an impressive achievement for any student, let alone any recent immigrant—but Volokh was also just 12 years old at the time. In 1981, the Los Angeles Times ran a profile in which the writer dubbed Volokh a “prodigy, a genius, or, simply, staggeringly bright,” and reported his IQ at 206. He chose to attend UCLA, the article noted, because he wanted to stay close to home—and because he wasn’t old enough to drive. …

 

 

The Economist has come around to the point of view that much of the money spent on higher education is wasted. Virginia residents will be heartened by the four most rewarding degrees. First is University of Virginia and fourth is William and Mary. And, this is further proof of Pickerhead’s sagacity since four of his children earned degrees at those two schools.

WHEN LaTisha Styles graduated from KennesawStateUniversity in Georgia in 2006 she had $35,000 of student debt. This obligation would have been easy to discharge if her Spanish degree had helped her land a well-paid job. But there is no shortage of Spanish-speakers in a nation that borders Latin America. So Ms Styles found herself working in a clothes shop and a fast-food restaurant for no more than $11 an hour.

Frustrated, she took the gutsy decision to go back to the same college and study something more pragmatic. She majored in finance, and now has a good job at an investment consulting firm. Her debt has swollen to $65,000, but she will have little trouble paying it off.

As Ms Styles’s story shows, there is no simple answer to the question “Is college worth it?” Some degrees pay for themselves; others don’t. American schoolkids pondering whether to take on huge student loans are constantly told that college is the gateway to the middle class. The truth is more nuanced, as Barack Obama hinted when he said in January that “folks can make a lot more” by learning a trade “than they might with an art history degree”. An angry art history professor forced him to apologise, but he was right.

College graduates aged 25 to 32 who are working full time earn about $17,500 more annually than their peers who have only a high school diploma, according to the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank. But not all degrees are equally useful. And given how much they cost—a residential four-year degree can set you back as much as $60,000 a year—many students end up worse off than if they had started working at 18. …

… What is not in doubt is that the cost of university per student has risen by almost five times the rate of inflation since 1983, and graduate salaries have been flat for much of the past decade. Student debt has grown so large that it stops many young people from buying houses, starting businesses or having children. Those who borrowed for a bachelor’s degree granted in 2012 owe an average of $29,400. The Project on Student Debt, a non-profit, says that 15% of borrowers default within three years of entering repayment. At for-profit colleges the rate is 22%. Glenn Reynolds, a law professor and author of “The Higher Education Bubble”, writes of graduates who “may wind up living in their parents’ basements until they are old enough to collect Social Security.” …

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.