HHS Secretary Sebelius is Baghdad Bob in Drag…

…and the Obama Administration is having a worse than “Hurricane Katrina” class credibility meltdown unseen in the West since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s political collapse in July 2008.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made the outrageously untrue statement in Congressional hearings today about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that: ‘The website has never crashed.’

As this Instapundit link makes clear that the split screen between her testimony and objective reality is well into the Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf AKA “Baghdad Bob” territory in terms of “Who are you going to believe, me? Or your lying eyes?”

The bottom line of Pres. Obama’s spokesman for his signature achievement as President getting laughed at as a Democratic Party version of “Baghdad Bob” is a “Pres. George W. Bush after Hurricane Katrina” moment.

The Obama Administration’s credibility on domestic policy is now as crippled as his foreign policy was after his Syrian Nerve Gas “Red Line” misadventure. It is all downhill from here.

The final fate of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert now awaits Pres. Obama.

Say Hi to the Whig Party, Boys

So, the main-line establishment GOP – apparently seeing the writing on the wall and determined to make themselves even more irrelevant – is now going to go all-out against Tea Party sympathetic candidates in the next elections. They have seen the enemy and they is us … that is, us small-government, strictly-Constitutionalist, fiscally-responsible, and free-market advocates, who were the means of ensuring certain outcomes in hotly contested races, and that Mitt Romney even had a ghost of a chance in the last round. Nope, obviously those partisans who feel that our government should be guided by strict adherence to the Constitution, not spend more than it takes in, and not be rick-rolled by crony capitalists and the lobbyists who do their bidding, are – to put it frankly – dangerous radicals who must be excised from the GOP organization.

Because, you know, it is so much better to be a meek and polite little opposition party occasionally allowed to dip a snout into the trough. Insisting on a degree of fiscal responsibility, adherence to the Constitution, and truly free markets is apparently just too dogmatic, too radical, and un-collegial within the rarified inside-the-beltway establishment GOP.

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The Replacements and the End of Buying Music

Recently one of my all time favorite bands, The Replacements, got back together and played three shows at Riot Fest.  Of the four original members, one of the Stinson brothers is dead, their replacement guitarist Slim Dunlop has a life threatening disease, and their drummer Chris Mars is a full time artist.  So the last two Replacements, Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson, played shows to rapturous reviews by fellow Gen-X’ers.

I am just kicking myself in the rear that I didn’t go see those shows.  The Chicago show conflicted with a bunch of other things but in hindsight I could have gone off and seen them in Denver (maybe).  Now I am waiting to see if they get back together (or even record some more music) and this time I’ll be sure to go, where ever they play.

After watching some of the songs on You Tube I went to put some more replacements on my iPod while working out and realized that I only had a few snippets from their albums in my collection.  Back when I first ripped the Replacements CD’s a long time ago I only put a few songs from each CD on my computer (trying to save space) and of course the quality was low, at 64 bit.  I realized that I didn’t even have “Tim”, my favorite album, at all.

I started looking around on itunes and now I need to buy these songs for a THIRD time.  I had them all on albums, then CD’s, and now I need to buy them AGAIN, on iTunes?  Really?  And all the while I can hear Dan’s voice in my head saying that he doesn’t buy any music anymore, relying on the internet and services like Pandora / Spotify and for me at least, Sirius / XM (I have it in my car and house and started paying a bit more to stream it and play on my “Jambox” speaker through my iPod or iPhone).

In this case I knew where my old CD’s were… I gave them all (more than a thousand) to my brother, and he was ripping them in some high fidelity manner.  He looked through the stack (they were all out of order because of a flood) and found three CD’s, which I took back, and I will re-rip again and put on my iPod.  After I got home I realized that I didn’t get “Let it Be”, probably my favorite, and I don’t have all the songs on my iPod.  Oh well, I may have to buy a few here and there.

But how long before I don’t buy any music at all?  It can’t be too long.  I don’t buy too many books anymore, and I probably buy less eBooks than I used to buy of the equivalent hardcover variety.  I am consuming paid media at a fraction of the rate that I used to, and can probably see a day when I get rid of everything (I got rid of all my CD’s a while ago, so these three are the last three in my house).

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Radical Islamic Terrorism in Context, pt. 1

How to make sense of radical Islamic terrorism? This violence is barbaric – but it is not senseless. When you understand the society from which savagery has sprung, the cold logic behind these attacks becomes all too apparent.

Image: Smoke rises from the Westgate Mall

Brendon O’Niell says it is time to recognize the sheer barbarity of 21st century Islamic terror attacks:

In Western news-making and opinion-forming circles, there’s a palpable reluctance to talk about the most noteworthy thing about modern Islamist violence: its barbarism, its graphic lack of moral restraint. This goes beyond the BBC’s yellow reluctance to deploy the T-word – terrorism – in relation to the bloody assault on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya at the weekend. Across the commentating board, people are sheepish about pointing out the historically unique lunacy of Islamist violence and its utter detachment from any recognisable moral universe or human values. We have to talk about this barbarism; we have to appreciate how new and unusual it is, how different it is even from the terrorism of the 1970s or of the early twentieth century. We owe it to the victims of these assaults, and to the principle of honest and frank political debate, to face up to the unhinged, morally unanchored nature of Islamist violence in the 21st century.” [1]

I applaud Mr. O’Niell’s frankness. Islamic terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab are savage, barbaric, and evil. Period. They should be seen by all and denounced by all as the monstrous brutes that they have become. Civilization has a pale; this lies beyond it.

But stating this is not enough. We cannot simply name a man a monster — we must try to understand why so many men want to be monsters in the first place. O’Niell is less helpful here:

Time and again, one reads about Islamist attacks that seem to defy not only the most basic of humanity’s moral strictures but also political and even guerrilla logic…. consider the attack on Westgate in Kenya, where both the old and the young, black and white, male and female were targeted. With no clear stated aims from the people who carried the attack out, and no logic to their strange and brutal behaviour, Westgate had more in common with those mass mall and school shootings that are occasionally carried out by disturbed people in the West than it did with the political violence of yesteryear.[2]

There are problems with this line of thought. In his zeal to denounce Islamic terrorism O’Niell makes two errors: 1) He assumes that indiscriminate slaughter of ‘the young and old, black and white, male and female’ is a ‘new and unusual’ development in human history and 2) that the sheer barbarity of these acts ‘defy logic.’

Perhaps the Khwarazmians also thought the slaughter they witnessed was something new under the sun:

The Mongols now entered the town and drove all the inhabitants, nobles and commoners, out on to the plain. For four days and nights the people continued to come out of the town; the Mongols detained them all, separating the women fiom the men. Alas! How many peri-like ones did they drag from the bosom: of their husbands! How many sisters did they separate from their brothers! How many parents were distraught at the ravishment of their virgin daughters!

The Mongols ordered that, apart from four hundred artisans whom they specified and selected from amongst the men and some children, girls and boys, whom they bore into captivity, the whole population, including the women and children, should be killed, and no one, whether woman or man, be spared. The people of Merv were then distributed among the soldiers and levies, and, in short, to each man was allotted the execution of three or four hundred persons.[3]

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Conservatives invented the mandate; say the Democrats.

The latest meme I’ve noticed on the Obamacare implosion is that the Republicans are to blame. After all, it’s Romneycare, or it’s the idea of the Heritage Foundation.

In fact, the mandate was promoted by Hillary in 2008 and opposed by Obama. Of course, he doesn’t know much about what is going on so we can understand. In fact, the entire website fiasco, slipped by him, unnoticed.

President Barack Obama didn’t know of problems with the Affordable Care Act’s website — despite insurance companies’ complaints and the site’s crashing during a test run — until after its now well-documented abysmal launch, the nation’s health chief told CNN on Tuesday.

Of course he may just rewrite the code himself. After all, he is so talented that he is bored.

David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, quotes White House senior adviser and longtime Obama friend Valerie Jarrett: “I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. … He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. … So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. … He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”

Oh well, at least we know if we really get in trouble, we have someone who can bail us out. I don’t doubt the comment about him never being challenged intellectually.

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Lou Reed, American Musician (1942-2013)

I was a little bit shocked to hear Lou Reed was dead. 71 is not old these days. I knew he’d had surgery recently, but since I hadn’t seen further news, I assumed he was doing OK. Yet another musical hero gone.

The Velvet Underground meant a lot to me, so I will put up a few words here.

I was a fan of sixties rock’n’roll and first wave punk rock as a teenager. This was pre-internet. You found out about things via college radio or some musical publication, like Trouser Press, Boston Rock, Subway News, Goldmine, Creem. But you could not just find any song, any time, the way you can now. It was a universe of scarcity, in a way that people already have forgotten and cannot imagine.

One name that kept coming up as semi-legendary precursors of punk rock, as a dark doppleganger to sixties rock was The Velvet Underground. I was on the look out for them, but I had not actually heard anything them by the time I got to college in 1981.

There was a guy in the dorm who had all their records. He was gay. He made a half-hearted pass at me. I told him that was just not my thing — but I loved him for his record collection! Which was true. And I am forever grateful to him for his generosity with the music he had accumulated. I got my Velvets fix from him.

I bought all the albums, too, starting with the first. I listened to The Velvet Underground and Nico over and over again.

For whatever reason, the Velvet Underground was undergoing a revival in the early 1980s, and I had the good fortune to be there for it. Various bands came along and you could hear the Velvet Underground in them, it was in the air at the time. The Velvet Underground had somehow permeated everything that was happening a decade or more after the broke up. There was a band on campus called the Rhythm Method — a great, great band. They were immersed in the Velvet Underground. They did various Velvets songs, and could probably have done all of them if they wanted to. I recallOver You as a standard. There was another band called Dumb Ra. I was not a big fan, but they were also saturated in the Velvet Underground, and did Heroin as part of their set. My friends formed a band called Fang Beach, and in their early shows that had a light show based on The Exploding Plastic Inevitable. My own band — Flemme Fatale — did a cover of I’m Waiting for the Man. Our name was a Velvet Underground reference, of course.

The Velvet Underground became a brooding musical omnipresence over my young adult life, and to a nontrivial degree over the rest of it as well, so far.

With the arrival of the Internet, various Velvet Underground bootlegs, which were fantastic rarities in the vinyl era, became available. I had this to say on the blog:

The various live bootlegs are simply mind-blowing. These guys were so in the pocket it is like they are all one group-mind, a single organism. They were not only ahead of their time, no one has ever really sounded like them before or after. Sterling Morrison said somewhere that the Velvet Underground were ten times better live than on record. I think that is right, and the bootlegs show that even more than the “official” live albums, as good as those are.

I was referring to this song, I’m Not A Young Man Anymore.

Discovery of these bootlegs has been a great pleasure in recent years. These bootlegs are the secret crown jewels of rock’n’roll.

The Velvet Underground have not lost their power to blow me away.

With this kind of music, you either hear it or you don’t. One friend had a cassette I sent him the Summer after our first year of college. There was a song on there by the Velvets, I Heard Her Call My Name, which is a storm of dissonance, with a catchy pop sung buried deep in the din. He listened to it once and couldn’t stand it. Then one day right before school started again he put it on … . And he HEARD it. And he became devotee from that day on. Sometimes it happens that way. It is like love at first sight.

Thank you Lou, for everything.

Thank you also to John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Doug Yule, the late Sterling Morrison, and of course, to Nico, for making the Velvet Underground the timeless and deathless phenomenon it is and always will be.

Appeasement, Then and Now

The Prime Ministership of Neville Chamberlain is closely associated with the word “appeasement.” The policy of appeasement followed by Britain in the late 1930s  is generally viewed as a matter of foreign policy–the willingness to allow Germany’s absorption of other countries, first Austria and then Czechoslovakia, in the desperate but misguided hope of avoiding another war.

But appeasement also had domestic as well as foreign policy aspects. In a post several years ago, I quoted Winston Churchill, who spoke of  the unendurable..sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their good will or pleasure…In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands” which “may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty.” A “policy of submission” would entail “restrictions” upon freedom of speech and the press. Indeed, I hear it said sometimes now that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians.”

Churchill’s concern was not just a theoretical one. Following the German takeover of Czechoslovakia, photographs were available showing the plight of Czech Jews, dispossessed by the Nazis and wandering the roads of eastern Europe. Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, refused to run any of them: it wouldn’t help the victims, he told his staff, and if they were published, Hitler would be offended.

I’ve just finished reading Niall Ferguson’s War of the World, and this book contains much more information about appeasement in British domestic society and politics. Some excerpts:

(Times Berlin correspondent Normal Ebbut) wrote regularly on…the (Nazi) regime’s persecution of Protestant churches. As early as November 1934, he was moved to protest about editorial interference with his copy, giving twelve examples of how his stories had been cut to remove critical references to the Nazi regime.


The Times was far from unique in its soft-soap coverage of Germany. Following his visit in 1937, Halifax lobbied near all the leading newspaper proprietors to tone down their coverage of Germany…The government succeeded in pressuring the BBC into avoiding ‘controversy’ in its coverage of European affairs…Lord Reith, the Director-General of the BBC, told Ribbentrop ‘to tell Hitler that the BBC was not anti-Nazi’…Pressure to toe the line was even stronger in the House of Commons. Conservative MPs who ventured to criticize Chamberlain were swiftly chastised by the whips or their local party associations.


At around the time of the Abyssinian crisis, the historian A L Rowse–who was just thirty-four at the time of Munich-recalled a walk with (Times publisher Dawson) along the towpath to Iffley, in the course of which he warned the older man: ‘It is the Germans who are so powerful as to threaten the rest of us together.’ Dawson’s reply was revealing: ‘To take your argument on its own valuation–mind you, I’m not saying I agree with it–but if the Germans are as powerful as you say, oughtn’t we to go in with them?

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History Friday: American High Command Politics, Sea Mining and the Invasion of Japan

Previous Pacific War columns on Chicago Boyz have explored all sorts of World War 2 (WW2) narratives. This column, like the earlier “History Friday: MacArthur, JANAC, and the Politics of Military Historical Narrative” column is about exploring a historical narrative that should be there, but is not. One of the issues I have never seen addressed to my satisfaction by either the academic “Diplomatic History” or “Military History” communities were the command style & service coordination issues for the proposed invasion of Kyushu, AKA Operation Olympic. They were going to be huge.

The US Navy’s Central Pacific drive and MacArthur’s South West Pacific Area drive had much different command and communications styles that had to mesh for Operation Olympic (Which was about to be renamed ‘Operation Majestic’ for security reasons as the war ended). While both commands had multiple staff groups working on current operations, future operations and the evaluation of combat reports of past operations for lessons learned _simultaneously_. Adm Nimitz and Gen MacArthur had fundamentally different approaches to running those staffs and this caused conflicts. MacArthur effectively won this “staffing style war” — at a cost to the Olympic planning that will show up in a future column — by staying in Manila rather than moving his headquarters to Guam and forcing the US Navy to come to him to do the planning for Olympic. That however was not the end of the fun and games. It was only the beginning.

Operation Olympic would not only force those two Pacific Theater commands to work together, it would effectively see a third major institutional & service player added to the mix for the first time. The US Army Air Force “Bomber Mafia” in the form of the 20th Air Force and Eighth Air Forces under General Spaatz was to come calling. The “Bomber Mafia” wanted as much of the action as they could get to justify a post-war independent air force and they were not shy in bending the rules or out right lying to achieve their aims, as a detailed examination of the “Operation Starvation” sea mining campaign will made clear. Gamesmanship between the US Army Air Force and the US Navy broke out over the execution of “Operation Starvation” with an eye towards post-war budgets rather than the Invasion of Japan. This competition contributed to the huge Japanese build up on Kyushu by not blocking the smaller wooden hulled Japanese sea traffic moving troops to met the expected American amphibious landing and guaranteed having to repeat the majority of the mining campaign had the war dragged into March 1946.

WW2 Sea Mine Deployment in the Pacific Theater.
During the war in the Pacific, 17,875 mines were laid by U.S. aircraft, 7632 defensive mines by surface ships, 3010 offensive mines by surface ships, and an additional 1020 by submarines — Source: Report of Surrender and Occupation of Japan

Historical Background
At the beginning of WW2, The US Army Air Force (USAAF) really didn’t want to do sea mining at all. This was not seen as a “strategic mission” for it’s heavy bombers. MacArthur’s SWPA theater was a perfect example of those bias. General Kenney allowed only a single mine mission with his American B-24 heavy bombers in 1943 using spare aircraft with scratch crews, delivering a total of 24 sea mines. Similarly Admiral Kinkaid, commander of the 7th Fleet, didn’t use any of his PBY Catalina or PV-1 Ventura patrol planes to lay mines. It fell to the PBY patrol planes of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to fill the SWPA mine laying role for MacArthur the whole war. The most strategically important of those Australian mining raids being a really spectacular night time Manila Bay mission done during the Oct. – Dec. 1944 Leyte Campaign, which was supported by one of MacArthur’s “Section 22” Radio-Countermeasures PBY “Ferret” aircraft.

The US Navy, like the USAAF at the beginning of WW2, was just as disinterested in air-laid sea mining. US Navy Rear Admiral Hoffman in a May 1977 U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article “Offensive Mine Warfare: A Forgotten Strategy,” described US Navy mine warfare readiness at that time as “pathetic…not much different from that existing at the end of the previous war.” This can be measured by the fact that the total supply of US Navy aerial mines on December 7, 1941 consisted of 200 Navy Mk. 12 magnetic mines, which were based on a German magnetic mine captured by the British, that itself dated from a 1920’s design!

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History Friday:War in the Borderlands – Juan Cortina

In the last few years before the outbreak of the Civil War, another war stalked the borderlands of the Rio Grande Valley, this one between Mexico and Texas, personified by a reckless young Mexican grandee named Juan Nepomunceno Cortina. He was the ‘black sheep’ son of a large and wealthy family with considerable holdings on either side of the border; a handsome, dashing and impulsive man, quick to take offense at insult. For a number of reasons, most to do with his family wealth and influence, he was also seen as the champion of the poorer Mexican residents, who were not infrequently stung by Anglo contempt and injustice. For his own part, Cortina violently resented certain Anglo ranchers, including one Augustus Glavaecke, who had often accused Cortina of helping himself to his and other Anglo rancher’s livestock.

In spite of this, in 1858, Cortina was living at one of the family properties near Brownsville – close enough that he rode into town every day and whiled away the morning at a popular local coffee shop, drinking coffee and reading the newspapers. But one mid-June day, a former employee of his – Tomas Cabrera was drunk and disorderly, disrupting the peace and quiet of the coffee shop. Robert Spears, the city marshal, tried to arrest Cabrera, over the objections of Cortina. Spears answered Cortina with an insult, whereupon Cortina whipped out his pistol and shot Spears in the shoulder. He then grabbed his horse, pulling Cabrera up behind him, and galloped out of town. It was a spectacularly theatrical exit, and made him even more popular than ever among the poorer Mexicans along the border.

Cortina lay low at the ranch for some month, while those Anglo residents of Brownsville – especially those who entertained lively suspicions about him – wondered what he would get up to next. He was buying horses and recruiting men for some purpose, probably nefarious. It didn’t come clear until the end of September, the morning after a grand ball in Matamoros, which practically everyone of means, Anglo and Mexican had attended. In the wee hours of the morning, Cortina rode into town with a hundred of his mounted, well-armed new best friends, and took it over, lock, stock and both barrels. He was after a number of his bitterest enemies, rancher Glavaecke and Marshal Spears among them. They escaped, but three other Americans and a Mexican who tried to shield one of the Americans died at the hands of Cortina’s men. They broke into the jail, liberating about a dozen prisoners, but murdering the jailor. They also tried to hoist the Mexican flag over the deserted American compound of Fort Brown.

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New Book Review at Pragati Magazine – The Violent Image by Neville Bolt

[cross-posted from zenpundit.com]

The Violent Image by Neville Bolt 

I have a new book review up at Pragati this morning. (Pragati magazine is India’s equivalent of The National Interest with some emphasis on freer markets and economic liberalism in the classic sense):

Lethal ideas and insurgent memory 

….One expert who does acknowledge a paradigmatic shift and posits a powerful explanatory model for the behavior of what he terms “the new revolutionaries” is Dr Neville Bolt of the War Studies Department of King’s College, London and author of The Violent Image: Insurgent Propaganda and the New Revolutionaries. Taking a constructivist view of irregular military conflict as the means by which insurgents weave an enduring political narrative of mythic power and shape historical memory, Bolt eschews some cherished strategic tenets of realists and Clausewitzians. The ecology of social media, powered by decentralised, instant communication platforms and the breakdown of formerly autarkic or regulated polities under the corrosive effects of capitalist market expansion, have been, in Bolt’s view, strategic game changers “creating room to maneuver” in a new “cognitive battlespace” for “complex insurgencies”.  Violent “Propaganda of the Deed”, once the nihilistic signature of 19th century Anarchist-terrorist groups like the People’s Will, has reemerged in the 21stcentury’s continuous media attention environment as a critical tool for insurgents to compress time and space through “…a dramatic crisis that must be provoked”.

As a book The Violent Image sits at the very verge of war and politics where ideas become weapons and serve as a catalyst for turning grievance into physical aggression and violence. Running two hundred and sixty-nine heavily footnoted pages and an extensive bibliography that demonstrates Bolt’s impressive depth of research. While Bolt at times slips into academic style, for the most part his prose is clear, forceful and therefore useful and accessible to the practitioner or policy maker. Particularly for the latter, are Bolt’s investigations into violent action by modern terrorists as a metaphor impacting time (thus, decision cycles) across a multiplicity of audiences.  This capacity for harvesting strategic effect from terrorist events was something lacking in the 19th and early 20thcentury followers of Bakunin and Lenin (in his dalliances with terrorism); or in Bolt’s view, the anarchists “failed to evoke a coherent understanding in the population” or a “sustained message”.

Read the rest here.


Quote of the Day

[C]ontrary to what liberals are saying, these technical problems [with Obamacare] are actually a sign of deep problems with the law itself. And I would go further: I think it is the sign of a deeper problem with government intervention in general. This is yet another piece of evidence that no matter how good lawmakers’ intentions are, no matter how much money government spends, government solutions are very likely to fall short of solving most of our problems, and often turn into massive disasters. Government fails to address most problems it tackles because the incentives are arranged in such a way that it favors interest groups and doesn’t reward success or punish failures in the same way as the market does.

Veronique de Rugy

“Boeing’s 747 is an icon, but future is in doubt”

An interesting article on the history and current state of the 747 market:

For decades, the Boeing 747 was the Queen of the Skies. But the glamorous double-decker jumbo jet that revolutionized air travel and shrunk the globe could be nearing the end of the line.
Boeing has cut its production target twice in six months. Just 18 will be produced in each of the next two years. Some brand-new 747s go into storage as soon as they leave the plant. Counting cancellations, it hadn’t sold a single 747 this year until Korean Air bought five on Thursday.
Boeing says it’s committed to the 747, and sees a market for it in regions like Asia. But most airlines simply don’t want big, four-engine planes anymore. They prefer newer two-engine jets that fly the same distance while burning less fuel.

(Via Rand Simburg, who tweets: “I remember when Boeing announced development of 747. It was a wonder of the world. Thanks, Juan Trippe.”)

On Being an IT Project Manager

My profession is much in the news at the moment, so I thought I would pass along such insights as I have from my career, mostly from a multibillion-dollar debacle which I and several thousand others worked on for a few years around the turn of the millennium. I will not name my employer, not that anyone with a passing familiarity with me doesn’t know who it is; nor will I name the project, although knowing the employer and the general timeframe will give you that pretty quickly too.
We spent, I believe, $4 billion, and garnered a total of 4,000 customers over the lifetime of the product, which was not aimed at large organizations which would be likely to spend millions on it, but at consumers and small businesses which would spend thousands on it, and that amount spread out over a period of several years. From an economic transparency standpoint, therefore, it would have been better to select 4,000 people at random around the country and cut them checks for $1 million apiece. Also much faster. But that wouldn’t have kept me and lots of others employed, learning whatever it is we learn from a colossally failed project.
So, a few things to keep in mind about a certain spectacularly problematic and topical IT effort:

  • Large numbers of reasonably bright and very hard-working people, who have up until that point been creating significant wealth, can unite in a complete flop. Past performance is no guarantee, and all that. Because even reasonably bright, hard-working people can suffer from failures of imagination, tendencies to wishful thinking, and cultural failure in general.
  • Morale has got to be rock-bottom for anybody with any degree of self-awareness working on this thing. My relevant moment was around the end of ’99 when it was announced, with great fanfare, at a large (200+ in attendance) meeting to review progress and next steps, that we had gotten a single order through the system. It had taken various people eight hours to finish the order. As of that date, we were projecting that we would be doing 1,600 orders a day in eight months. To get an idea of our actual peak rate, note the abovementioned cumulative figure of 4,000 over the multi-year lifespan of the project.
  • Root cause analysis is all very well, but there are probably at least three or four fundamental problems, any one of which would have crippled the effort. As you may infer from the previous bullet point, back-office systems was one of them on that project. Others which were equally problematic included exposure to the software upgrade schedule of an irreplaceable vendor who was not at all beholden to us to produce anything by any particular date, and physical access to certain of our competitors’ facilities, which they were legally required to allow us into exactly two (2) days per year. See also “cultural failure,” above; most of us were residing and working in what is one of the most livable cities in the world in many ways, but Silicon Valley it ain’t.
  • Not to overlook the obvious, there is a significant danger that the well-advertised difficulties of the website in question will become a smokescreen for the fundamental contradictions of the legislation itself. The overall program cannot work unless large numbers of people act in a counter-incentived (possibly not a word, but I’m groping for something analogous to “counterintuitive”) fashion which might politely be termed “selfless” – and do so in the near future. What we seem likely to hear, however, is that it would have worked if only certain IT architectural decisions had been better made.

This thing would be a case study for the next couple of decades if it weren’t going to be overshadowed by physically calamitous events, which I frankly expect. In another decade, Gen-X managers and Millennial line workers, inspired by Boomers, all of them much better at things than they are now, “will be in a position to guide the nation, and perhaps the world, across several painful thresholds,” to quote a relevant passage from Strauss and Howe. But getting there is going to be a matter of selection pressures, with plenty of casualties. The day will come when we long for a challenge as easy as reorganizing health care with a deadline a few weeks away.

Emmanuel Tea Party Goldstein

You know, the last eight years or so have educated me – at least socially and politically – as much as the eight years that I spent in high school, college and the first year in the military ever did. Who says you stop intellectually developing after your mid-forties? I suppose the most-eye-opening development is that I have now seen for real and in real-time that which I had only read about in history books; mainly the development, perpetuation, care and feeding of “The Big Lie.” As defined by the erratic but invaluable Wikipedia, that is “a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

But the ‘big lie’ has worked, over and over again – and most especially and effectively when it is chorused from every corner and by every authority. The latest example and the one which I find most personally outrageous is this one; (found through Legal Insurrection at the National Review); one Alan Grayson, a Democrat member of the House of Representatives has sent out an email to his supporters casually equating the Tea Party with the KKK. As a southern Democrat, Rep. Grayson is, of course, an expert on the KKK, seeing that they served as the shock troops of Southern Democrats. Other leading Democrat Party figures have passed remarks just as disparaging of the Tea Party; I suspect that they are actually mistaking the straw-man Tea Party construction of their own mind, rather than the earnest, hardworking and mostly middle-class fans of fiscally-responsible, strict Constitutionalist and free-market policies which made up most of the Tea Party members I am acquainted with. How such a body of people can be made out to be the sinister Goldsteins and calumniated with such vicious enthusiasm, solo and chorus is almost beyond belief – but they are, and it is only getting worse.

A good portion of the citizens of the United States are being ‘othered’ by those who disagree with them politically and philosophically – and by people you would have thought would know better. The establishment media and pop-culture organs are aiding and abetting this, not realizing that it is only a short step from ‘othering’ to declaring open season – literally. The next step is already being contemplated, although it is hard to tell how seriously the petition to arrest and try the leaders of the Republican Party for sedition, merely for having had the temerity to oppose the current administration. There is something bad in the water, when being in political opposition is considered ground for criminal charges. The comments appended to this story, and this one are dispiriting to read, for too many commenters voice enthusiastic agreement and approval. To be fair, a good few commenters warned against this criminalization of political dissent – since the sauce for the Tea Party goose might just as easily be served up with the progressive gander. Taken all together, this does not augur well and it certainly heats up the cold civil war a couple of more degrees.

Where health care may be going.

UPDATE: I posted this as much for myself as for others to read. Today, Peggy Noonan weighs in. In case this is behind the paywall, here is her conclusion.

Even though it’s huge, and those who are reporting the story every day are, by and large, seasoned and have seen a few things, no one seems to know how it will end. Because it’s new territory. Does anyone believe the whole technological side can be fixed quickly? No. The president may eventually accept a brief delay in implementation—it is almost unbelievable that he will not—but does anyone think that the economics of the ACA, the content as set out and expressed on the sites, will flow smoothly, coherently, and fully satisfy the objectives of expanding health-insurance coverage while lowering its cost? You might believe that, but early reports of sticker shock, high deductibles and cancelled coverage are not promising. Does anyone think the president will back off and delay the program for enough time not only to get the technological side going but seriously improve the economics? No. So we’re not only in the middle of a political disaster, we’re in the middle of a mystery. What happens if this whole thing continues not to work? What do we do then?

This is the Titanic, folks.

I have watched the failed rollout of Obamacare this past three weeks and wondered where it was going. I have some suspicions. There is a lot of talk about delaying the individual mandate, as Obama did with the employer mandate. Megan McArdle has a post on this today. I think it is too late to fix or delay Obamacare.

With Nov. 1 storming toward us and the health insurance exchanges still not working, we face the daunting possibility that people may not be able to sign up for January, or maybe even for 2014. The possibility of a total breakdown — the dreaded insurance death spiral — is heading straight for us. The “wait and see if they can’t get it together” option no longer seems viable; we have to acknowledge that these problems are much more than little glitches, and figure out what to do about them.

She has already described the insurance death spiral. I think it is here.

Am I exaggerating? I know it sounds apocalyptic, but really, I’m not. As Yuval Levin has pointed out, what we’re experiencing now is the worst-case scenario for the insurance markets: It is not impossible to buy insurance, but merely very difficult. If it were impossible, then we could all just agree to move to Plan B. And if it were as easy as everyone expected, well, we’d see if the whole thing worked. But what we have now is a situation where only the extremely persistent can successfully complete an application. And who is likely to be extremely persistent?

Very sick people.

People between 55 and 65, the age band at which insurance is quite expensive. (I was surprised to find out that turning 40 doesn’t increase your premiums that much; the big boosts are in the 50s and 60s.)
Very poor people, who will be shunted to Medicaid (if their state has expanded it) or will probably go without insurance.

Levin points out: It is now increasingly obvious to them that this is simply not how things work, that building a website like this is a matter of exceedingly complex programming and not “design,” and that the problems that plague the federal exchanges (and some state exchanges) are much more severe and fundamental than anything they imagined possible. That doesn’t mean they can’t be fixed, of course, and perhaps even fixed relatively quickly, but it means that at the very least the opening weeks (and quite possibly months) of the Obamacare exchanges will be very different from what either the administration or its critics expected.

The insurance industry is already reacting to Obamacare and this will quickly become irreversible. This article is from September.

IBM, Time Warner, and now Walgreens have made headlines over the past two weeks by announcing that they plan to move retirees (IBM, Time Warner) and current employees (Walgreens) into private health insurance exchanges with defined contributions from employers.

The article calls it “maybe a good thing” but that supposes the exchanges will function. What if they don’t for a year or more ? What will health care look like in November 2014 ?

What happens next — as we’ve seen in states such as New York that have guaranteed issue, no ability to price to the customer’s health, and a generous mandated-benefits package — is that when the price increases hit, some of those who did buy insurance the first year reluctantly decide to drop it. Usually, those are the healthiest people. Which means that the average cost of treatment for the people remaining in the pool rises, because the average person in that pool is now sicker. So premiums go up again . . . until it’s so expensive to buy insurance that almost no one does.

Will that be apparent a year from now ? I’m sure the administration, and the Democrats, will do almost anything to avoid that. What can they do ? They’ve already ignored the law to delay the employer mandates. It’s too late to delay the individual mandate because individual policies are being cancelled right now.

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Landmark Case Possibilities With Detroit Chapter 9

Today, the trial begins to determine if Detroit can enter chapter 9 bankruptcy. I have been trying to read a lot about what this means for the muni bond markets. As of right now, not much. But in the future, possibly a lot.

Here is a great piece on the subject and one that I will refer to through this post. It is written by the Chicago Fed, and explains what is going on, and how the Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr, is going about trying to right the ship. The document is short, but somewhat dense. I had to read it three times and making some notes helped me understand it better.

After making this diagram, I joked to myself that this is probably a better flow chart understanding of the City of Detroit’s debt than any sort of financial documents the city of Detroit had prior to the EM taking over. But I digress.

After the issue of letting Detroit go Chapter 9 is resolved (I guess I don’t really see any other option) there are several interesting issues that may affect the muni bond market moving forward.

The debt looks like this, in simplified form:

Water and sewer debt – $6bb

General Obligation debt (limited tax backed and unlimited tax backed) – $1bb

Pension Obligation Certificates and associated swaps – $2.3bb

Pensions – $3.5bb

Other Post Employment Benefit Obligations – $5.7bb

First, Orr has decided that the only things that he will be treating as secured debt will be the water and sewer system bonds (backed by a pledge of revenues from the utility system) and the “double barreled” UTGO (unlimited tax general obligation) and LTGO (limited tax general obligation) bonds. Double barreled means that these certain bonds have separate income streams derived from the State of Michigan. This is significant because no General Obligation bond in the muni universe in any Chapter 9 filing has ever been impaired (with the exception of the disastrous Jefferson County, Alabama filing in 2011). Basically, Orr is offering ten cents on the dollar to EVERYONE that is not secured. This includes pensions, OPEB (other post employment benefit) plans, pension obligation certificates, swaps, and all the rest. In the middle of this, the fact that Orr treated the UTGO debt (which can be funded by unlimited property tax levies) just like all of the other debt is a first. This will also be settled in court, and will affect the perception of a lot of other cities’ GO debt as relates to the backing by property tax levies.

The next Big Deal to the muni bond universe is that there is a conflict between state and federal law as to if Orr can pound down the pensions and OPEBs. Law in the State of Michigan says he can’t but federal law has no issue with it. There is no law on record that addresses this and I am sure it will be a bitter battle to the end. If there is some sort of sweeping Tenth Amendment ruling that says that you can’t touch the pensions, this will affect the debt of a LOT of large cities that have similar state laws in place, such as Chicago, LA and others that have giant unfunded pension obligations. But to me, winning this in court is one thing for the pensions, actually getting the money out of the city of Detroit, that has none, is quite another. I am sure that they would at that time try to get preferred secure status over the utility bonds, but I don’t think that will really happen.

So far, the markets have just shrugged their shoulders at this whole affair, with the small exception of punishing the bonds slightly from places in the State of Michigan. I am sure that as this disaster winds its way through the courts, that this may change. Being an investor in the muni market, I will be keeping a close eye on how this plays out, as well as the soon to be crisis in Puerto Rico.

Cross posted at LITGM.

“Let The Fire Burn” and Police in 1983 and Today

Last night I saw a documentary about the 1985 conflict in Philadelphia against the “Move” organization which featured a shootout and finally a helicopter dropping a bomb on a fortified building and 60+ row houses in a heavily populated city leveled by fire. The documentary was called “Let the Fire Burn” and it was primarily based on archival video from an inquest that the city of Philadelphia had after the sad incident, vintage news footage that was “live” at the time, and videotaped depositions of the survivors.

One angle that I found intriguing is the relative lack of sophistication of the police in 1985. Prior to the 1985 bomb incident, there was a 1978 incident where “Move” supporters were involved in a firefight with police where a policeman was killed and many others were shot. When police captured one of the “Move” members that surrendered, they beat him up on camera, in what was likely one of the first incidents filmed in this manner (the police were found not guilty). Thus during the 1985 incident, the Philadelphia police were heavily armed and on their highest guard when it came time to attack the “Move” compound.

“Move” built a bunker on the roof of a row house, apparently out of wood but reinforced with metal, with firing ports to command the street. When the police attacked, they used a water gun from a firetruck, but it wasn’t powerful enough to knock the bunkers off the roof.

At one point the police ran out of ammunition. During this siege they fired over 10,000 rounds into the house. A local news segment shows a county policeman showing up with a trunk full of ammo that is distributed to the police, in order to replenish their supply.

After giving up on randomly shooting into the building, and noting that the fire hose wasn’t working, they decided to drop explosives on the roof with a helicopter. The explosives didn’t blow up the bunkers. However, after 15 or so minutes, the building started to catch on fire until finally there were flames shooting ten stories tall (per a local news account). The title of the film “Let the Fire Burn” alluded to the supposed order (disputed by many) to let the fire burn in order to remove that bunker from the roof where the “Move” supporters could have fired on police. In the end, the entire building went up in flames and then 60+ buildings were burned.

It is interesting to consider how different this could have turned out in 2013. The police likely have many modern war veterans in their ranks who would be accomplished shooters (the modern war brought the sniper back to the fore) and could have likely picked off the “Move” supporters had they shown themselves anywhere without shooting 10,000 rounds to no avail. There are other ways to break into / destroy a fortified location, especially given that the order to storm the “Move” HQ was given in advance and they had time to prepare. The police are full of veterans who have stormed into heavy buildings and cleared them of enemies, basically “street fighting” experts.

The police accounts depicted in the documentary are often contradictory; no automatic weapons were found in the “Move” HQ and yet it seems that the original shots fired came from automatic weapons, implying that the police may have inadvertently started the shooting war.

I hope that a situation like this wouldn’t occur nowadays but I am confident that the police have the means to deal with an armed and fortified opponent, or could call in resources that could do this. By comparison the 1985 police in Philadelphia look outmatched by a simple bunker and a few older rifles. To fight them, the Philadelphia police ended up using the oldest of weapons, fire.

Cross posted at LITGM

Global Warming and Cooling.

I have been frustrated by the antics of the AGW alarmists. Scientific American, for example, has lost whatever reputation it once had for objective science. (pdf) In an another example, the actions of Michael Mann should make for an interesting discovery in his suit against Mark Steyn.

Today, I find a nice discussion of global warming and cooling over the past epoch. The Greenland ice cores are, or should be, the gold standard of temperature measurement. For example.

Records of past temperature, precipitation, atmospheric trace gases, and other aspects of climate and environment derived from ice cores drilled on glaciers and ice caps around the world. Parameter keywords describe what was measured in this data set. Additional summary information can be found in the abstracts of papers listed in the data set citations.

Now, to the data.

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Why Downtown Was Strangely Safe Today …

In spite of the widely popular beer festival going on in Exposition park …

(Story here)

My daughter wanted to stop at Schilo’s Delicatessen for lunch – and this was the first time we have ever been downtown where it wasn’t packed to the point of an hour wait for a table. So we got to Alamo Plaza after the participants had pretty well scattered. But there were a lot of them still, sprinkled here and there, among the tourists, AF Basic graduates, and beer enthusiasts.

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The Cuban Missile Crisis, as Viewed From a Soviet Launch Facility

(This is a rerun, with minor edits, of a post from 2012)

This month marks the 51st anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.

Last year I read  Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok, which I’m still hoping to get around to reviewing one of these days.

Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.

At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.

Chertok was greeted by his friend Colonel Kirillov, who was in charge of this launch facility. Kirollov did not greet Chertok with his usual genial smile, but with a “somber, melancholy expression.”

Without releasing my hand that I’d extended for our handshake, he quietly said: “Boris Yevseyevich, I have something of urgent importance I must tell you”…We went into his office on the second floor. Here, visibly upset, Kirillov told me: “Last night I was summoned to headquarters to see the chief of the [Tyura-Tam] firing range. The chiefs of the directorates and commanders of the troop units were gathered there. We were told that the firing range must be brought into a state of battle readiness immediately. Due to the events in Cuba, air attacks, bombardment, and even U.S. airborne assaults are possible. All Air Defense Troops assets have already been put into combat readiness. Flights of our transport airplanes are forbidden. All facilities and launch sites have been put under heightened security. Highway transport is drastically restricted. But most important—I received the order to open an envelope that has been stored in a special safe and to act in accordance with its contents. According to the order, I must immediately prepare the duty combat missile at the engineering facility and mate the warhead located in a special depot, roll the missile out to the launch site, position it, test it, fuel it, aim it, and wait for a special launch command. All of this has already been executed at Site No. 31. I have also given all the necessary commands here at Site No. 2. Therefore, the crews have been removed from the Mars shot and shifted over to preparation of the combat missile. The nosecone and warhead will be delivered here in 2 hours.

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