• Lunchtime Photo

    As the week nears its close, here’s something to relax by. This is my last photo from our Yosemite trip earlier this year, but as I told you, it’s a good one: Half Dome and Point Ahwiyah taken in the warm, red glow of sunset. Beautiful, isn’t it?

    February 14, 2018 — Yosemite National Park, California
  • The House Leadership Battle Is Going Great

    Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom via ZUMA

    I’m very happy with the way the battle is going for Speaker of the House. I think the ideal outcome is (a) Nancy Pelosi wins, but (b) she has a hard enough time that it’s clear she needs to think about stepping down in 2020. So far, that’s how things are working out.

    I want Pelosi as Speaker because, by a mile, she’s the best legislative tactician Democrats have right now. She’s probably one of the most effective Speakers in history, and Democrats are going to need her skill and experience over the next two years. What’s more, there are really no other plausible candidates to replace her.

    However, she is 78 and she has been the Democratic leader for 15 years. This means the next two years really need to be about succession planning for a younger generation. I’m not even talking about Gen X here. I’m just talking about someone who was born after World War II.

    So that’s what I’m after. An agreement to keep Pelosi on, but with enough of a rebellion that Pelosi and her team are forced to recognize that they won’t survive the next one. So far, that seems to be about what’s happening.

  • Brexit Blows Up (Again)

    Is Theresa May sending us all a message? Or is her left hand just momentarily in an unfortunate position?Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire via ZUMA

    It’s been a tough week for British prime minister Theresa May. On Friday she called Donald Trump to congratulate him on his election victory, but didn’t realize that he had moved on from pretending he won big and was now in temper-tantrum mode over his big loss. So her congratulations just set him off, and he spent the next few minutes berating her over whatever came to mind. “May has endured Trump’s churlish temper before, but still her aides were shaken by his especially foul mood, according to U.S. and European officials briefed on the conversation.”

    Anyway, Brexit was one of the topics Trump brought up—presumably because it’s one of the two or three things he knows about Great Britain—and May assured him it was under control. And it was! On Tuesday May announced that she’d reached a 585-page agreement with the EU, and on Wednesday her cabinet approved it.

    But wait. Then on Thursday two cabinet ministers resigned, including the minister responsible for negotiating Brexit with the EU. WTF? Did they announce their intent to resign during the cabinet meeting itself? Or did they just grumble and go along, and then resign the next day? Just how dysfunctional is British politics, anyway?

    Anyway, the whole deal appears to be…nothing much. The border with Ireland stays open, which means the entire UK kinda sorta stays in the customs union. Britain also kinda sorta keeps all the EU’s social, environmental and labour regulations. It also kinda sorta confirms the rights of current EU and British citizen to continue residing outside their home country—for a while, anyway. But Britain loses full access to EU financial markets and will have to pay $50 billion for forcing the EU to go through with all this nonsense.

    On the bright side, Brits will once again have blue passports, and tariffs on fish will remain.

    I realize that no American citizen has the moral high ground to complain about idiotic politics, but jeez. Just find some excuse to call for a second referendum, vote Brexit down this time, and get on with things. This is ridiculous.

  • Ban All Semiautomatic Firearms

    Combat Handguns magazine thinks highly of this single-action, snub-nosed .22 magnum revolver from North American Arms. "Manufactured from stainless steel," the reviewer says, "the single-action revolver sports a short 1.12-inch barrel for deep-cover concealment." Needless to say, single-action revolvers are also available in many other calibers.North American Arms

    Rand Corp’s Benjamin Bahney writes today about my favorite solution to the problem of mass shootings:

    Recent history shows that mass killings in the U.S. don’t follow a single script. But there is one common element shared by many of these tragedies: legal access to semiautomatic guns. Domestic terrorists such as the mass shooters in Thousand Oaks, Pittsburgh and Parkland, Fla., come from different demographic backgrounds and have different characteristics….But all three killers used semiautomatic guns, which research has shown are more lethal on average in terrorist attacks than explosives or other weapons….A prohibition on sales of particularly lethal semiautomatics, such as the 1994 assault weapon ban, and on related assault weapon technologies (bump stocks, high-capacity clips and fast-clip replacement mechanisms), would make it much harder for terrorists to obtain their most effective means of killing.

    Sadly, Bahney loses his nerve toward the end, implying that we should ban only “particularly lethal” semiautomatics. By contrast, I would ban all semiautomatics. That would leave the gun owners of America with three types of weapons they could legally own:

    • Single-action revolvers
    • Shotguns
    • Bolt-action/pump-action rifles

    That’s plenty for self-defense and for hunting, but pretty slim pickings for mass murder. Problem solved.

    But don’t worry, gun nuts. This will never happen and I have zero power to make it happen. It’s just a suggestion to gun control advocates that they should think bigger. No one outside of the military or law enforcement really needs the high-speed shooting of a semiautomatic. What they need is low-speed shooting and better training.

  • Bitcoin “Plunges” Yet Again

    Whoever (or whatever) it is that keeps up the pretense that bitcoin is worth something is apparently losing its fortitude:

    I would normally call this a “plunge” in the value of bitcoin, but as near as I can tell the value of bitcoin is entirely artificial to begin with. However, it must cost something to keep the hoax going, and the funders behind this are apparently either getting tired or else running out of money or something.

    Alternatively, there’s money to be made from intermittent panic selloffs, so they engineer one every few months. Beats me. All I know is that I can’t think of any bitcoin “millionaires” who have bought a yacht yet.

  • Voter Fraud, Explained

    President Trump addresses the issue of voter fraud today:

    “The Republicans don’t win and that’s because of potentially illegal votes,” Trump complained. “When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It’s really a disgrace what’s going on.”

    If you buy a box of cereal — you have a voter ID,” Trump continued. “They try to shame everybody by calling them racist, or calling them something, anything they can think of, when you say you want voter ID. But voter ID is a very important thing.”

    Okey doke.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    I don’t know what this is. All I know is that it’s the last flower I have in my queue of lunchtime photos. I need to get cracking on pictures of vegetation.

    UPDATE: Apparently this is an oxalis, of which there are about a million species. Schafer guesses it’s Bermuda sorrel, so that’s what I’m going with for now.

    April 3, 2018 — Irvine, California
  • There’s Still No Inflationary Pressure in the Economy

    In case you like to keep track of this stuff, here are the inflation numbers for October:

    Ordinary CPI ticked up to 2.5 percent thanks to higher gasoline prices. However, oil prices are tumbling as we speak, so this will come down next month. Core CPI, which doesn’t include either food or energy, fell a tenth of a point.

    Ordinary CPI is, of course, useful if you want to know what ordinary people are actually paying for stuff. However, core CPI is more useful for gauging inflationary pressure in the economy. Right now, there just isn’t any. Core CPI has been hovering steadily around 2 percent for three consecutive years. Maybe someday that will change, but once again, that day is not today.

  • Military Experts Say We Should Cut Medicare to Fund Bigger Military

    Here is a very brief history of the US military:

    1976: “Team B” report concludes that we are woefully underprepared to fight the Soviet Union and that we need an enormous defense buildup.

    2001: After 9/11, military concludes that we are too focused on old-fashioned war against Russia and China. We need an enormous defense buildup focused on counterinsurgency, especially in the Middle East.

    2018: NDSC report says we have been too focused on terrorism and counterinsurgency in the Middle East. We are dangerously vulnerable to great power attacks and need an enormous defense buildup focused on Russia and China.

    Back and forth, back and forth. But perhaps you noticed the common thread here: the words “enormous defense buildup” in all three. Somehow, we always need an enormous defense buildup. In particular, a new report from the National Defense Strategy Commission says we are facing a “crisis” in our military posture and we need the following:

    The United States and its NATO allies must rebuild military force capacity and capability in Europe…. U.S. military posture in the Middle East should not become dramatically smaller…. The Army will need more armor, long-range fires, engineering and air-defensive units, as well as additional air-defense and logistical forces…. The Navy must expand its submarine fleet and dramatically recapitalize and expand its military sealift forces…. The Air Force will need more stealthy long-range fighters and bombers, tankers, lift capacity, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms…. The United States must maintain the Marine Corps at no less than its current size…. It is urgently necessary to modernize the U.S. nuclear triad and much of the supporting infrastructure…. DOD should invest in a robust R&D program to anticipate future threats, operate effectively from space, and enhance resiliency…. DOD must ensure a substantial, sustainable, and rapidly scalable supply of preferred weapons such as Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER), Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), and a longer-range High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM)…. DOD must invest in a more resilient and secure logistics and transportation infrastructure…. Congress should eliminate the final two years of caps under the BCA.

    Whew! That’s quite a shopping list. But how are we going to pay for it? I draw your attention especially to Recommendation 31:

    Defense spending, and discretionary spending more broadly, are not primary drivers of the federal deficit. Recommendation: Congress should look to the entire federal budget, especially entitlements, as well as taxes, to set the nation on a more stable financial footing.

    Translation for ordinary people: We should cut Social Security, Medicare, and the social safety net in order to pay for a massive increase in the defense budget. This is despite the fact that we have:

    • 11 carrier strike groups compared to 1 each for China and Russia
    • 12,000 aircraft compared to about 4,000 each for China and Russia.
    • 14 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines compared to 13 for Russia and 4 for China.
    • 51 nuclear-powered attack submarines compared to 22 for Russia and 5 for China
    • Several hundred fifth-generation stealth fighters compared to approximately none for Russia and China
    • 84 Aegis guided missile destroyers and cruisers compared to about a dozen for Russia and 30 for China
    • About 6,000 nuclear missiles compared to 6,000 for Russia and 300 for China.

    And so on. But we still need more. Ever, ever more.