December 20th, 2014

There is still time to order your Christmas and Chanukah gifts from Amazon through neo-neocon

Now we’re really down to the wire, aren’t we? But you can still solve all your gift-giving dilemmas by turning to that online colossus, Amazon.

And if you use those widgets on my right sidebar to click through for all your Amazon purchases (now and at any other time of year) you will also be giving a small but still not insignificant gift to neo-neocon (it adds up, folks), and all without spending any extra money yourself. What could be more wonderful?

I thank you all in advance. And I thank everyone who’s already ordered gifts through my Amazon portal. I am deeply appreciative.

[NOTE: In case you have ad blocker or something of that sort, and the Amazon widgets don’t show up on your computer, go here. You can also click on any Amazon book link within a post and anything you order during that click-through gets credited to me. I believe it’s true even for things you put in your cart but don’t order till a bit later, although there’s a time limit on how long they can be there and still get credited when ordered (I’m not sure what that limit is, though, so best to order sooner rather than later).]

December 20th, 2014

Closing times

When I was a child—which was not all that long ago—the supermarkets used to close at 5 PM.

You could also get almost anything delivered, too: meat from the butcher, fish from the fishmonger, vegetables and fruits from the man with the traveling truck. Likewise, bread from the bread truck (which the driver once let me ride in for a block—a memorable occasion that involved standing next to him, since there was only one seat).

Milk and butter appeared every couple of days in a small metal-lined box with a flip top that was permanently parked on our side stoop. Even the drugstore delivered, especially prescription medicines if you were sick.

But only during the day. It all closed down in the evening, and banks closed for business in mid-afternoon. If you wanted something later, tough. Wait till tomorrow. And on Sunday, wait till Monday.

I don’t even recall people imagining the concept of an all-night grocery, and I don’t recall anyone wishing (aloud, anyway) that stores stayed open later. It just Wasn’t Done. I don’t know what year this all changed, but it was fairly early in my life, and is linked in my mind with the installation in our supermarket of the first automatically opening door I ever saw. Magic!

I’m a night owl, and so for me the fact that stores stay open late is a wonderful thing. At least, if feels like a wonderful thing. But I also know the price we pay for it.

December 20th, 2014

Why single-payer died in Vermont—for now

I guess they ran out of other people’s money before they even started. Fancy that.

Vermont, the nation’s most leftist state, has given up on single-payer health insurance.

For now:

“It is not the right time for Vermont” to pass a single-payer system, Shumlin acknowledged in a public statement ending his signature initiative. He concluded the 11.5 percent payroll assessments on businesses and sliding premiums up to 9.5 percent of individuals’ income “might hurt our economy.”

Will there ever be a “right time”? Not according to some:

“If cobalt blue Vermont couldn’t find a way to make single-payer happen, then it’s very unlikely that any other state will,” said Jack Mozloom, spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Business.

“There will never be a good time for a massive tax increase on employers and consumers in Vermont, so they should abandon that silly idea now and get serious,” Mozloom added.

Mozloom aside, they will never stop trying. Never:

“It is time to put the interests of patients first, ahead of political expedience,” said Andrew Coates, president of Physicians for a National Health Care Program. Single-payer is “the only reform that will cover everyone, save lives and save money. Mr. Shumlin, of all our nation’s governors, knows this well.”

The rest of the article is devoted to proponents of single-payer saying why it is that although maybe the Vermont plan wasn’t quite right, single-payer is still a great idea. It just needs to be done in a different way, or at the federal level.

This really sums it up:

Gottfried has been introducing his New York single-payer bill every year since 1992. The cause is “not for the faint of heart,” he said.

And there is no question in my mind that leftists are not faint of heart. They are models of patience and dedication. The laws of economics are nothing in the face of their drive, and they see this merely as a temporary setback.

How can a thinking person make a statement like this one, and believe it? (That is, assuming the person actually does believe it, which may or may not be the case):

Oregon considered adding a public option — not the same as single-payer, but with similar challenges — to its Obamacare exchange in 2010, but ultimately decided the startup costs were too high, even if savings were forecast down the road.

“People have to ultimately understand that it’s going to cost them less even though their taxes go up,” McGuire said.

According to McGuire and those who argue similarly, the initial increase in cost will be reflected in taxes, but “ultimately” there will be savings. Based on what? Projections of folks like Jonathan Gruber? And what will the other costs of those “savings” be (in the unlikely event the savings ever do materialize), in terms of decreased choice and the decline in the quality of care for the majority of people?

What was that they say about a free lunch?

December 20th, 2014

More from the WaPo on Obama and Cuba

The WaPo’s editorial board keeps hammering home on this issue:

…[I]t’s important to know the reaction of those Cubans who have put their lives on the line to fight for democracy and human rights. Many have supported engagement and opposed the U.S. embargo. But they are now pretty much unanimous in saying that the way Mr. Obama has gone about this is a mistake.

Actually, “mistake” is the polite word used by Berta Soler of the Ladies in White, an astonishingly courageous group of women who march each week in support of political prisoners. “Betrayal” was the term used by several others, who asked why Mr. Obama had chosen to lift economic restrictions and dispatch an ambassador without requiring the “significant steps toward democracy” he once said must precede liberalization.

Guillermo Fariñas, the general director of the dissidents’ United Anti-Totalitarian Front, told reporters in Havana that Mr. Obama had promised in a November 2013 meeting with himself and Ms. Soler that any U.S. action on Cuba “would be consulted with civil society and the nonviolent opposition. Obviously this didn’t happen . . . they didn’t take into account Cuban democrats.”

The negative response from the people whom Mr. Obama portrays as the beneficiaries of his initiative is one reason to question his contention that Cuba should be treated like China and Vietnam, two Communist nations with which the United States normalized diplomatic and economic relations decades ago…

…Mr. Obama should have learned and applied some of the hard lessons of normalization with China and Vietnam — most notably that engagement doesn’t automatically promote freedom.

Much much more in that vein. It’s remarkable not so much for what it says but for who is saying it, and how clearly.

[ADDENDUM: Here’s a good interview with Marco Rubio on Cuba, a topic on which he certainly knows his stuff.]

[ADDENDUM II: I notice quite a few comments to the editorial from people who are hopping mad at the WaPo for going off the leftist reservation on this one.]

December 19th, 2014

What does Obama want?

Commenter “janetoo” asked a good question in the thread about Obama’s Cuba “negotiations”:

What I want to know is this: what is Obama’s end game? What does he want from all this discourse with our enemies?

My answer, which I will expand on a bit now, was this:

The transformation of America, just as he said. He wants to transform it by weakening it and its allies, and strengthening its enemies (particularly those on the left), and he wants to do it so thoroughly that there’s no turning back.

It’s easier to wreck than to build. A president whose attitude towards this country and its power is malignant, who has the support of the press (as Obama has most of the time), and who is immune from worrying about any election consequences (which he is now), can do a lot of damage in the two years he has remaining.

His motive is both ideological and personal. His ideology is leftist, his methods Alinskyite plus Orwellian rhetoric. He knows the attitude of the press towards him, plus his race, has made him immune from the usual checks and balances.

Some think he is also a closet Muslim, and that is part of it. I don’t know; that has never seemed quite right to me, although he does identify with Muslims because of his upbringing. I see him as an agnostic or atheist, however, who sees religion as a prop to use politically, rather than a believer of any sort.

Why does he want revenge on the US? Dinesh D’Souza has a theory about anti-colonialism that may have some validity, but I’m not at all sure about that one either, not as the leading motivator anyway. Leftism (and even liberalism, as I’ve observed it in recent years) involves hatred of America in general and seeing it as the source of much of the grief in the world. When I write “as I’ve observed” I’m not just talking about Obama or the more leftist members of Congress, I’m also talking about my relatively non-political friends and acquaintances who trash America with a certain kneejerk regularity. That attitude, writ large and augmented by true venom, appears to be the viewpoint Obama holds.

Obama could never have gotten elected if he’d been upfront about this in 2008. And even though discerning people realized it in 2008, and more realized it by 2012, even then not enough were paying close attention and/or not enough were discerning enough. Obama knows that, and was counting on it. Obama is the first president who didn’t merely disappoint and fail to follow through on certain issues, but who fundamentally lied about who he was in the most basic sense, and about what he had planned (sometimes he was just vague; “hope and change” doesn’t tell you what the hope is for or what the change is to).

I challenge you to find a president who offered a more basic lie about the self than this one from Obama in 2008, for example:

The biggest problems that we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all. And that’s what I intend to reverse when I’m president of the United States of America.

I called it a lie. But it was not necessarily a lie, it may have been one of those cleverly ironic hidden Orwellian messages. From David Bernstein at Volokh:

Some foolish voters thought that Obama meant that the big problem was that George Bush was bringing more and more power into the executive branch and not go[ing] through Congress. In fact, Obama obviously meant that the big problem was George Bush bringing more and more power into the executive branch and not go[ing] through Congress. So Obama kept his promise. George Bush is no longer bringing more and more power into the executive branch and ignoring Congress. President Obama is.

Here’s another comment worth discussing:

Sometimes I think we give Obama too much credit. He wouldn’t be able to transform America if she hadn’t already been teetering on the edge. He was just the right guy at the right time. If he was as talented as people make him out to be, what he is doing wouldn’t be so obvious (to those not willfully blind).

My reply:

I completely agree that Obama took advantage of already-existing weaknesses, many of them the result of the left’s Gramscian march through our institutions (education, media, entertainment, religion, etc.).

But he is also politically brilliant, or at least very very smart. Politics is his focus and almost nothing else, and in that regard he has finessed his opposition nearly every time.

Even the 2014 election meant absolutely nothing to him in terms of his ability to wreak havoc. He has understood that a very audacious president can trump Congress every time unless they have the votes to override his veto. Most of the time when government is split and the president is one party and Congress another, Congress lacks a supermajority. Previous presidents in that position have been more interested than Obama in public opinion and catering to it, in part because of fear of impeachment, in part because they are patriots, in part because they care about the election prospects of fellow party members, in part because of fear of the press’s criticism. Obama has no such reservations, and thereby exposed a weakness in our entire system of government (a weakness the Founders realized was there, but which was unavoidable).

And by the way, what Obama is doing still doesn’t seem to be obvious to the majority of people, although they may have some vague sense of unease and disapproval. The rest approve, because they believe the ends justifies the means.

December 19th, 2014

Sierra Leone: another top doctor dies of ebola

The ebola news has been quiet since the flare-up in the US has died down.

But ebola’s destructive power goes on.

Note that Dr. Willoughby died after treating a patient who was not known to have ebola, but who later was diagnosed with the disease. This is another indication of the fact that sometimes ebola is quite contagious before it is even recognizable as ebola.

In the US, because there were very few cases, this phenomenon was not at all obvious. But in countries such as Sierra Leone, where the disease is endemic, a certain percentage of cases will be of this hard-to-recognize variety, and that helps spread the illness.

December 19th, 2014

On Rolling Stone’s Jackie: it gets worse

Here’s an update for those who are still interested in the continuing subsequent unraveling of the UVA rape story.

It has now been revealed that the emails supposedly sent from Jackie’s attacker to Jackie’s buddy Randall/Ryan after the rape were not only sent from fake accounts she had set up, but their content was taken from various internet websites and was based heavily on scripts from the TV show “Dawson’s Creek.”

The ruse was very elaborate, it seems.

December 19th, 2014

And now for some good news

The bad news just keeps coming, so here’s an antidote—a shoulder-level double amputee has been fit with robotic arms whose movement is controlled by his mind. This process has involved a series of training steps:

In order to prepare his body for the devices, Baugh underwent a surgery called targeted muscle reinnervation. The procedure redirected nerves that once controlled his limbs to interact with the prosthetics.

Next, he trained on a computer, working with virtual models as pattern recognition software learned to apply signals from his brain to his intended movements. Then, Johns Hopkins researchers fitted him with a personalized socket to hold the prostheses to his body and translate his mental controls.

When they attached the robotic limbs, he performed a variety of two-handed tasks—becoming the first person to ever manipulate two independent arms with his mind at the same time.

This is the stuff of science fiction come true.

I also wonder whether, if Baugh had been plagued by phantom limb pain at any point, the re-training helped with that. I say this based on the evidence that what is known as mirror therapy can work to help phantom limb pain, as can mental visualization to a lesser extent.

December 19th, 2014

President Obama says that Sony “made a mistake”…

when it responded to the North Korean cyberattack by pulling the film that satirized North Korea. “I wish they had spoken to me first,” he said (the “they” referring to Sony, not to North Korea). He also again vowed to respond to the attack “in a place and manner and time that we choose.”

Perhaps. I can’t say I think the North Koreans are shaking in their shoes right now.

But my take on it is this: why wouldn’t Sony cave, when the supposed leader of the supposed free world has been caving right and left for six years? Obama has set the standard, and his “I wish they had spoken to me first” is almost comical.

December 19th, 2014

The Sony cyberattack: portent of things to come?

When I first read about the cyberattack on Sony I didn’t pay all that much attention.

That turned out to be wrong. This attack on a US company, almost certainly by the government of North Korea, is a devastating blow to which Sony—and, more importantly, the US—have offered no effective reaction so far. In fact, Sony has caved in the face of the threats.

Obama is promising an “appropriate response” to what the administration labels a “serious national security matter.” But it’s unclear what that could possibly be, unless it involves a retaliatory cyberattack on North Korea, or some cyber-activity that suggests that we at least have the capacity to do so if we wanted to.

A nation such as North Korea—or any of the other numerous hostile countries or groups in the world—could go to the heart of our economic system and strike a huge blow. Computers have taken over much of the record-keeping and communications in business and government, and the centralization that they have accomplished, while both comprehensive and convenient, is convenient for hackers, too.

The sophistication of the attackers seems to keep pace with all efforts to protect against them. The entire incident has pointed to a tremendous vulnerability as well as cowardice (at least so far) on our part.

Very very worrisome. Very.

[NOTE: This piece by, of all people, George Clooney, makes some very good points.]

December 18th, 2014

Read Fausta on Obama and Cuba

If you’re interested in some in-depth coverage of the Cuba news, go to Fausta’s blog and start reading. There’s a lot there to digest.

December 18th, 2014

The WaPo sees the light on Obama and Cuba

Lately the WaPo has been backing off from its kneejerk approval of the Obama administration, but this editorial along those lines is especially strong:

IN RECENT months, the outlook for the Castro regime in Cuba was growing steadily darker. The modest reforms it adopted in recent years to improve abysmal economic conditions had stalled, due to the regime’s refusal to allow Cubans greater freedoms. Worse, the accelerating economic collapse of Venezuela meant that the huge subsidies that have kept the Castros afloat for the past decade were in peril. A growing number of Cubans were demanding basic human rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly.

On Wednesday, the Castros suddenly obtained a comprehensive bailout — from the Obama administration. President Obama granted the regime everything on its wish list that was within his power to grant; a full lifting of the trade embargo requires congressional action. Full diplomatic relations will be established, Cuba’s place on the list of terrorism sponsors reviewed and restrictions lifted on U.S. investment and most travel to Cuba. That liberalization will provide Havana with a fresh source of desperately needed hard currency and eliminate U.S. leverage for political reforms.

See what I mean?

The WaPo goes even further, and departs from the somewhat bipartisan clamour of the “sanctions weren’t working anyway” crowd:

Mr. Obama argued that his sweeping change of policy was overdue because the strategy of isolating the Communist regime “has had little effect.” In fact, Cuba has been marginalized in the Americas for decades, and the regime has been deprived of financial resources it could have used to spread its malignant influence in the region, as Venezuela has done. That the embargo has not succeeded in destroying communism does not explain why all sanctions should be lifted without any meaningful political concessions by Cuba.

Read the whole thing; it doesn’t falter.

I’m not sure what’s going on at the WaPo, and I’m not sure whether it will encompass more than this issue (and their excellent reporting on the UVA story), but it’s something. At one point a while back, noticing some of the softening, I thought perhaps it was a set-up for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, but it’s hard to see how that factors in here unless Clinton herself starts to comment negatively on Obama’s Cuba move.

At any rate, I’m glad to see it. Mock and revile the MSM as you wish, but the WaPo and the Times are still very influential in shaping public opinion among legions of liberals. Contrast the WaPo‘s editorial with the one in the Times, which is a model of fulsome praise:

The administration’s decision to restore full diplomatic relations, take steps to remove Cuba from the State Department list of countries that sponsor terrorism and roll back restrictions on travel and trade is a change in direction that has been strongly supported by this page. The Obama administration is ushering in a transformational era for millions of Cubans who have suffered as a result of more than 50 years of hostility between the two nations.

Mr. Obama could have taken modest, gradual steps toward a thaw. Instead, he has courageously gone as far as he can, within the constraints of an outmoded 1996 law that imposes stiff sanctions on Cuba in the pursuit of regime change…

Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, deserves credit for his pragmatism. While Cuba remains a repressive police state with a failed economy, under his leadership since 2008, the country has begun a process of economic reforms that have empowered ordinary Cubans and lifted travel restrictions the government cruelly imposed on its citizens.

You get the drift—let’s applaud Raul! Sickening. I’d love to see evidence of these “empowered ordinary citizens”; au contraire.

[NOTE: The WaPo’s motive does not appear to have been to help Hillary, because she has come out in favor of the deal and reports are that she pushed it heavily when she was SOS.]

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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