VodkaPundit

VodkaPundit

ISIS Takes Credit for Botched Texas Shooting

May 4th, 2015 - 6:14 am

Well of course they do:

Isis has claimed responsibility for an attack on an anti-Islam art contest in Texas in which an unarmed security guard was blasted in the ankle by fire from automatic rifles and the suspects shot dead by police.

Two heavily-armed men suspected to have been carrying explosives were killed by police after opening fire outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Dallas, at around 7pm during an controversial event where caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad were being displayed.

The SITE Intelligence Group reported that an Islamic State (IS) fighter claimed on Twitter that the shooting was carried out by two pro-Isis individuals.

In a series of tweets and links, a jihadist named as Abu Hussain AlBritani, which SITE said was British IS fighter Junaid Hussain, claimed that ’2 of our brothers just opened fire’ at the Prophet Muhammad exhibition in Texas.

‘They Thought They Was Safe In Texas From The Soldiers of The Islamic State,’ added the tweet.

We’ve probably all entertained notions of how much damage a group like ISIS could do to this country’s psyche with just a few teams of gunmen at shopping malls or the schoolyards.

But they made a mistake, didn’t they, trying to shoot Americans who were on alert. An event like that in a place like Texas — that ain’t Charlie Hebdo, as ISIS just found out yesterday.

Or as Rick Blaine knew 70-plus years ago:

Major Strasser: Are you one of those people who cannot imagine the Germans in their beloved Paris?

Rick: It’s not particularly my beloved Paris.

Heinz: Can you imagine us in London?

Rick: When you get there, ask me!

Captain Renault: Hmmh! Diplomatist!

Major Strasser: How about New York?

Rick: Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.

Nowadays we just say “Don’t mess with Texas.”

Big Edit at the New Times

May 4th, 2015 - 5:12 am

Before turning off the light and going to sleep last night, I sent myself a bookmark from the NYT writeup of that fatal shooting in Texas. What I should have done was screencapped it instead.

Last night, Liam Stack’s story described Pamela Gellar and her American Freedom Defense Initiative as being “anti-Islamist.” This morning, they’re both “anti-Islam.” That’s some big difference. “Islamist” refers to the radicals, the terrorists. “Islam” is the entire religion.

Last night, Stack’s story ended with a quote from Gellar about the security risks she faced, in what read to me like an attempt to make her sound paranoid — even though two gunmen had just shot up her event and a security guard. That graf has now been replaced with this instead:

Ms. Geller described Sunday’s event as pro-free speech, and said that Muslims had become a “special class” that Americans were no longer allowed to offend.

“The media is self-enforcing a Shariah,” she said, referring to Islamic law. “Under the Shariah you cannot criticize or offend Islam.”

The story has been changed so that now Gellar just seems paranoid about media outlets like the NYT, who “self-enforce” in favor of a “special class.”

Well — shouldn’t she be?

Friday Night Videos

May 1st, 2015 - 10:24 pm

Dick Tracy never had a chance — and it’s a shame, too, because Warren Beatty’s 1990 comic book flick is tragically underrated.

The movie left audiences going “Huh?” in part because of Touchstone Pictures’ lousy marketing. Touchstone had hoped to ride the superhero wave launched the year before with Tim Burton’s Batman, with all the usual toy and fast food promotional tie-ins.

But Dick Tracy wasn’t a recently-reimagined (darkly so, by Frank Miller) comic book superhero for kids and teens; he was a comic strip cop trapped (delightfully so) in the 1930s. Touchstone might have had better luck marketing Geritol to surfer dudes.

Leave aside the facts that Touchstone got the marketing wrong and that Beatty directed a big-budget movie with a small potential audience, and what you’re left with is a solidly entertaining and visually arresting comic book movie. And perhaps uniquely, a comic book movie which organically looks like the comic book it came from. Even the color scheme is a perfect reproduction of the three-color printing process from the funny pages. The makeup jobs on the bad guys look as though Beatty waved a magic wand over a comic strip and made it come life. Al Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice, Dustin Hoffman’s Mumbles, and Paul Sorvino’s Lips Manlis make the movie work more than Beatty does as Tracy — in no small part due to the makeup by John Caglione, Jr. and Doug Drexler. They won an Oscar for their work.

Maybe Touchstone thought that having Madonna on hand as nightclub singer Breathless Mahoney would be enough to draw the kids in — which brings us, nearly, to tonight’s song.

Yes, Dick Tracy had Madonna, but it had Madonna singing showtunes. Gloriously, outrageously, incongruously singing showtunes.

Madonna. Via Stephen Sondheim. Brilliant!

Brilliant… except… what young Madonna fan wanted to see Madonna sing showtunes?

Damn few, if box office receipts are anything to judge by.

But the resulting soundtrack — I’m Breathless: Music From And Inspired By “Dick Tracy” — is one of only three Madonna albums that ever enticed me to listen to all the way through. And now and then, I still do.

Tonight’s pick, “More,” has all the clever lyrical and musical tricks you’d expect from Sondheim. It also has a much better vocal performance than you’d expect from Madonna. I mean, she’s actually pretty darn good here, proving that she has the ability to rise up to better material — when she can be bothered to look for better material.

Here’s a bit of that better material:

Once upon a time
I had plenty of nothing which was fine with me
Because I had rhythm, music, love
The sun, the stars and the moon above

Had the clear blue sky and the deep blue sea
That was when the best things in life were free

Then time went by
And now I got plenty of plenty which is fine with me
‘Cause I still got love, I still got rhythm
But look at what I got to go with ‘em

Those last two lines still make me smile, even after a quarter of a century. And so unabashedly materialistic — you think Sondheim would bother writing it today?

While you enjoy the song, I’m going to cue up Dick Tracy on Apple TV and enjoy it in full HD glory. If you’ve never seen it, not only is DT an underrated gem, but it also marks the return of Pacino to his scenery-chewing glory, after spending the ’80s mostly in the wilderness.

Check it out.

News You Can Use

May 1st, 2015 - 2:01 pm

Let’s say you have a rugby player with some missing teeth, a brewery in need of a great ad, and a dentist who might not be entirely ethical. Here’s what you’d certainly do:

The Salta beer ad, created by agency Ogilvy Argentina, documented how the company teamed with an oral surgeon “to reward players who gave everything they’ve got on the field — including their teeth.”

“We decided to give rugby players back the teeth they had lost in battle,” the ad says. “But we weren’t going to give them a simple tooth back we developed a unique dental implant, a specially designed tooth to open beer.”

You know… that’s kinda useful, actually.

Rock You Like a… Cyclone

May 1st, 2015 - 12:19 pm
The U.S. Navy Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships assigned to Patrol Coastal Squadron 1 (PCRON 1), USS Hurricane (PC-3), USS Chinook (PC-9) and USS Typhoon (PC-5), transit in formation during a divisional tactics exercise in the Persian Gulf.  (Photo courtesy US Navy via Wikipedia)

The U.S. Navy Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships assigned to Patrol Coastal Squadron 1 (PCRON 1), USS Hurricane (PC-3), USS Chinook (PC-9) and USS Typhoon (PC-5), transit in formation during a divisional tactics exercise in the Persian Gulf.
(Photo courtesy US Navy via Wikipedia)

The Navy wants to spend billions on an all-new and unproven littoral combat ship, but it already has one — and it’s cheap:

When Iranian forces seized a U.S.-flagged container ship in the Persian Gulf on April 28, for reasons that remain unclear, an American destroyer rushed to the scene, along with three Cyclone-class patrol boats.

These 179-foot-long boats, armed with guns and missiles, are now viewed as among the Navy’s most important ships. Remarkably, they’re also some of the least expensive — setting U.S. taxpayers back just $20 million apiece when the Navy originally bought them in the early 1990s. Most Navy ships — admittedly far larger — cost hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars.

The Cyclones, which each have two 25-millimeter cannons, machine guns, grenade launchers, batteries of short-range anti-ship missiles and shoulder-fired antiaircraft rockets, are cheap because they’re so simple. They don’t have high-tech sensors, complex weapons or experimental equipment and design features. They’re straightforward metal hulls packing lots of simple guns and missiles that rely heavily on their hardworking 28-person crews to function, rather than on fancy automated systems like on many larger vessels.

Build another 20 and base them out of the Philippines as a tripwire force against the Chinese. Build 20 more and stick them in Tallinn, Estonia, to keep an eye on the Russians. Japan could base another 20, and buy or build 20 of their own.

We need combat power in coastal areas, and Cyclone has it. Not lots of power, mind you — but nobody sinks a US Navy ship without expecting the rest of the US Navy to show up for some payback. And with small pricetags and tiny crews, it’s a vessel — speaking in the cold calculus of war — we can afford to lose.

In naval matters, presence matters. “Showing the flag” is a time-honored Navy mission for precisely that reason. It’s difficult to have a global presence with as few ships as we have today, and it’s impossible to build a sizable fleet when even littoral ships cost a jillion dollars.

Then there’s the Cyclone, packing some punch and able to show the flag in contested shallow waters — quickly. Assuming, of course, we had enough of them, and the proper forward bases in which to berth them.

However:

In September 2010, the decision was made to recall all of the remaining ships of the class due to fatigue damage to their hulls. The class was designed for a lifespan of roughly 15 years. All but the newest member of the class, Tornado, have been in service longer. The vessels will be inspected and a decision will be made whether to refit them or to decommission the ships.

These ships are so in demand that they’re on deployment halfway around the world, years after their hulls were deemed “fatigued.”

So we should build more Cyclones, lots more. And don’t gold-plate them with oodles of new equipment they don’t need. Build ‘em fast, build ‘em cheap, and give our Navy some of its presence back.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

May 1st, 2015 - 11:28 am

CNN Money reports what ♡bamaCare!!! opponents have long known, and what ♡bamaCare!!! mandate-customers are painfully learning:

Deductibles, co-payments, and drug payments are higher under the average Obamacare silver-level plans — the most popular — than employer policies, according to a CNNMoney comparison of reports by Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Education Trust. The reports looked at policies offered on the exchanges for 2015 and those enrolled in employer plans in 2014.

To be sure, having Obamacare coverage is often better than being uninsured, especially if you rack up big bills through a major illness or accident.

“Often better?” But I thought universal coverage was so fiercely important that Democrats had to shred the Constitution and precedent to pass this law so we could find out what was in it!

But, no, being forced to buy pricy coverage isn’t always better. Minus the (unconstitutional) mandate and (“it’s a tax!”) penalties, a lot of people would be better of paying out-of-pocket, rather than paying Cadillac prices for catastrophic coverage.

NASA Tests Warp Drive

May 1st, 2015 - 10:10 am
Not an actual NASA facility. (Image courtesy Paramount Pictures)

Not an actual NASA facility.
(Image courtesy Paramount Pictures)

Give me maximum warp, Sulu:

NASA, according to NASASpaceFlight.com, is quietly claiming to have successfully tested a revolutionary new means of space travel that could one day allow for such insane speed, and to have done it in a hard vacuum like that of outer space for the first time.

The technology is based on the electromagnetic drive, or EM drive.

The science behind the EM drive is, well, complicated to say the least, but the basic idea is to convert electrical energy into thrust without propellant (the fuel in rockets), which should be impossible because it violates the law of conservation of momentum. That law states that momentum can only be changed by one of the forces described by Newton’s laws of motion — that’s where propellant normally comes in with traditional rockets.

If you want to dive into the “hows” and “whys” of all this, they’re discussed at length — by amateur enthusiasts as well as Ph.Ds and one of the NASA engineers actually working on the EM drive — on this NASASpaceFlight.com forum.

Scientists from the US, UK and China have demonstrated the EM drive over the past 15 years or so, but it’s been controversial, since as mentioned above, the EM drive would seem to violate classical physics. NASA’s tests in conditions that mimic outer space, however, bring a new sense of possibility to electromagnetic propulsion.

The EM drive could reportedly boost a ship to one-tenth the speed of light, getting a human generational-crew to Alpha Centauri in less than a century.

But we shouldn’t settle for anything less than Warp 6 and a journey of just a few hours.

To Earth Day 2016 — and Beyond!

May 1st, 2015 - 9:17 am

TRIFECTA EXTRA

It’s Part III of your Trifecta Triple — and it’s for members only.

So don’t be a cheapskate. It’s not like “members only” means you have to wear a leather jacket with ridiculous epaulets and zippers all over the place.

Another Russian Sub Catches Fire

May 1st, 2015 - 8:56 am
(Image courtesy Wikipedia)

(Image courtesy Wikipedia)

Fortunately nobody was killed this time, but the Russians just had another fire during an SSGN missile sub refit:

On April 7th, for the second time since 2013, a Russian Oscar class nuclear submarine caught fire while undergoing refurbishment. This time it was in a shipyard on the north (arctic) coast. The one in late 2013 was in a Pacific coast shipyard. In both cases the fire was put out quickly and there were no weapons on board. The Russians are pretty strict about reactors being shut down and weapons removed before the shipyard work begins. Thus there was no radiation leak or damage to the sub’s reactor during either fire. In both cases the fire was started when tools or welding ignited some rubber insulation and spread to other flammable material. The 2013 fire took five hours to put out and killed 14 people. The 2015 fire did not kill anyone.

The Oscar-class boats were designed by the Soviets to perform exactly one mission: To launch bunches of high-speed anti-ship missiles all art once at our aircraft carriers. If Russia can’t keep those boats at sea, don’t shed any tears over them.

A Tale of Two Hillarys (And One Bill)

May 1st, 2015 - 7:16 am
Does he still have it? (AP photo)

Does he still have it?
(AP photo)

First up, Brian Beutler explains Hillary Clinton’s shift to the left:

There’s an ongoing debate in American politics over the extent to which the Obama coalition is unique to Obama, who is himself a unique historical figure. Are the younger, more progressive Democrats who swept him into office ready to do the same for a candidate who doesn’t check all of the same characterological boxes—youth, charisma, diversity?

Perhaps more importantly, Hillary Clinton also thinks the answer is yes—if, that is, you buy the cynical (but possibly accurate) interpretation of her leftward shift. In fact, this might be the most hopeful interpretation as far as liberals are concerned. Because if Clinton doesn’t have any core convictions, and is only saying whatever she thinks she has to say to win—if indeed she’s merely betting that things like campaign finance reform, same-sex marriage, and immigration reform will add up to a winning platform—then it’s a nod to her belief that the Obama coalition is stable, loyal, and larger than the Republican electorate.

Sean Trende however sees potential cracks:

I would call this the optimistic interpretation (from a liberal perspective) of her moves, even if you accept that this is simply cynical gamesmanship on her part. The pessimistic interpretation would stem from one of the theses of my book, “The Lost Majority”: that Obama modified Bill Clinton’s coalition into a narrower, deeper one. This enabled Obama to win a victory in 2008 that was almost as large as Clinton’s 1996 win without bringing Appalachians or working-class whites on board. The problem with such a coalition is that it doesn’t allow for much flexibility: At least for now, Democrats have to run up the score with different groups in order to win.

Under the pessimistic take, the Clinton Coalition is simply gone. Bill Clinton had managed to keep Appalachian voters and working-class whites in the Democratic camp through skillful positioning and a bit of luck. But over the course of the next decade, these voters finally broke with the Democrats.

I believe Clinton — Bill Clinton — could win back those lost voters, and he’s sure to be a strong presence on the campaign trail. My real “Oh crap” moment in 2012 was watching Bill’s keynote at the DNC. It was a brilliant speech, in which the beloved (for lack of a better word) former president gave voters permission to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, by telling them, “Even I couldn’t have fixed this economy in four years.” It was a classically Clinton speech — making himself the star of someone else’s convention, and it worked.

So the question for 2016 might not be whether the Obama Coalition can be transferred to Hillary. Her skills, her charisma, her appeal, are just not enough to get the job done. The question instead might be whether Bill still has the skill, the charism, the appeal to help Hillary (who belongs in jail) win back some of the old Clinton Coalition without alienating Obama voters.

Maybe Hillary then is the wrong target for the GOP, and for right-leaning bloggers like myself. Maybe the real target is still Bill, the star of everyone else’s show.

Springtime for Putin (Reprise)

May 1st, 2015 - 6:24 am
A man stands tied to a post by pro-Russian rebels, accused of stealing from local people, with a poster around his neck reading "I am marauder, I beat and steal from civilians", standing next to a highway in Krasnyi Partyzan, Ukraine, Thursday, April 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)

A man stands tied to a post by pro-Russian rebels, accused of stealing from local people, with a poster around his neck reading “I am marauder, I beat and steal from civilians”, standing next to a highway in Krasnyi Partyzan, Ukraine, Thursday, April 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)

Russia’s ready for trouble, according to our own NATO brass:

Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of NATO forces in Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, that the situation in Ukraine is volatile and fragile and urged Congress to bolster U.S. intelligence capabilities to better understand President Vladimir Putin’s intent in the region.

“Russian military operations over the past year in Ukraine, and the region more broadly, have underscored that there are critical gaps in our collection and analysis,” Breedlove said. “Some Russian military exercises have caught us by surprise and our textured feel for Russian involvement on the ground in Ukraine has been quite limited.”

He said the number of Russia intelligence experts has dwindled since the Cold War and intelligence assets of all kind have been shifted to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We cannot be fully certain what Russia will do next and we cannot fully grasp Putin’s intent. What we can do is learn from his actions,” Breedlove said. “What we do see suggests growing Russian capabilities, significant military modernization and an ambitious strategic intent.”

That’s the kind of the Mitt Romney was viciously mocked for saying not even three whole years ago.

It makes you hope Barack Obama has just one patriotic bone in his body — and that it aches enough to night to make him wish he’d lost to Romney.

*If you’re a progressive, that is.

Part II of your Trifecta Triple.

(Image courtesy Google Maps)

(Image courtesy Google Maps)

Iran? Cheating? On nukes? But we don’t even have an agreement yet!

Sigh:

Britain has informed a United Nations sanctions panel of an active Iranian nuclear procurement network linked to two blacklisted firms, according to a confidential report by the panel seen by Reuters.

The existence of such a network could add to Western concerns over whether Tehran can be trusted to adhere to a nuclear deal due by June 30 in which it would agree to restrict sensitive nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief.

Talks between six major powers and Tehran are approaching the final stages after they hammered out a preliminary agreement on April 2, with Iran committing to reduce the number of centrifuges it operates and other long-term nuclear limitations.

Every day Barack Obama and John Kerry continue on with this charade is a day when Barack Obama and John Kerry look like complete ass clowns to the entire world.

Personally, I’m long past any further embarrassment for my country, but I sure do hope for some change.

I’m Axin’ It

April 30th, 2015 - 12:51 pm
Wave goodbye to crap! (AP photo)

Wave goodbye to crap!
(AP photo)

McDonalds finally took the axe to eight unbeloved menu items — the Deluxe Quarter Pounder, six various chicken sandwiches, and the honey mustard and chipotle barbecue snack wraps. Here’s more from Bloomberg:

“It was a ‘rolling removal,’ meaning restaurants discontinued serving them as their supply depleted,” said Lisa McComb, a company spokeswoman.

McDonald’s new chief executive officer, Steve Easterbrook, is facing six straight quarters of declining same-stores sales in the U.S., along with pressure to sell healthier fare. While axing some sandwiches helps to condense the bloated menu, McDonald’s still has about 40 more items than it did in 2007, according to menu researcher Datassential in Los Angeles.

“They could cut their burger number in half,” said Michelle Greenwald, a marketing professor at Columbia Business School in New York City.

“If you have a good burger, a really, really good burger, you don’t need a million,” she said. “They should go for quality and not quantity.”

I tried the Deluxe Quarter Pounder a while back, and it was definitely an improvement over the regular QP, with better toppings. The lettuce and tomato gave the burger a freshness the regular one lacks. The next time I tried one, it was drowning in so much mayonnaise that I couldn’t eat it. Obviously, quality control remains a problem.

But McD might have been onto something with the Deluxe. If they could train their people to top the thing consistently, the Deluxe should be the new Quarter Pounder — but with the old name. In other words, make deluxe the new standard. The company could do the same with other standard fare, too. Put the beef tallow back in the fries, improve the quality of the buns, more fresh veggie toppings, and please do something with that miserable little standard hamburger patty.

Shrink the menu down to a sane number of favorite old items, but enhanced.

“Same menu, better food.”

Now that could save the chain.

Driven to Drink

April 30th, 2015 - 11:28 am

DRINKS

It looks like Tony Bourdain’s tell-all, Kitchen Confidential, was no exaggeration — the restaurant industry is a hotbed of booze & drugs. Especially drugs.

Wonkblog reports:

Now it’s important to note that much of this variation isn’t necessarily a direct function of the nature of the work in these industries, but rather of the types of people who work in them. For instance, we know that men drink and do drugs more heavily than women, and that young people are more into drugs and alcohol than older ones. So if an industry is dominated by young or male workers, it stands to reason that you’ll see higher rates of drinking and drug use in that industry.

For instance, the researchers write that one reason miners drink so much is that miners tend to be young and male. Construction workers, on the other hand, showed abnormally high heavy drinking rates even after controlling for age and gender. If some of that alcohol use is spilling over on to the job it could be a problem, given the potentially dangerous nature of that work.

However, the researchers found no difference in the distribution of drug use across the industries even when controlling for age and gender. Whether young or old, male or female, restaurant and hotel workers truly are the heaviest drug users in the nation.

Imagine you’re performing exhausting work for sometimes ungrateful customers, for too little money, and you get off work at oh-dark-thirty — when it’s just you and your brother and sister hospitality workers.

Pretty much nothing is open except for after hours bars and drug dealers.

What the heck else are you all going to do to blow off steam?

Killing Serial Killer

April 30th, 2015 - 10:14 am

GONE

The man who killed one of America’s most notorious serial killers explains why he did it:

Christopher Scarver — who fatally beat the serial killer and another inmate in 1994 — said he grew to despise Dahmer because he would fashion severed limbs out of prison food to taunt the other inmates.

He’d drizzle on packets of ketchup as blood.

It was very unnerving.

“He would put them in places where people would be,” Scarver, 45, recalled in a low, gravelly voice.

“He crossed the line with some people — prisoners, prison staff. Some people who are in prison are repentant — but he was not one of them.”

And on the killing itself:

“I asked him if he did those things ’cause I was fiercely disgusted. He was shocked. Yes, he was,” Scarver said.

“He started looking for the door pretty quick. I blocked him,” Scarver said.

With two swings of the bar, Scarver crushed Dahmer’s skull.

“He ended up dead. I put his head down,” he said.

He then casually crossed the gym and entered a locker room where Anderson, 37, was working.

“He stopped for a second and looked around. He was looking to see if any officials were there. There were none. Pretty much the same thing [happened] — got his head put out,” Scarver said of Anderson, who was serving a life term for killing his wife in 1992.

Scarver believes it was no accident that he ended up alone with Dahmer — since prison officials knew he hated the madman and they wanted him dead.

“They had something to do with what took place. Yes,” said Scarver, noting that the guards disappeared just before he clobbered Dahmer with the 20-inch, 5-pound metal bar.

Officially, I suppose Scarver deserves more prison time. Unofficially, I wonder if there’s some kind of fund people can give to, to make Scarver’s prison time more comfortable.

(Not) Leaving on a Jet Plane

April 30th, 2015 - 9:00 am
Grounded. (AP photo)

Grounded.
(AP photo)

Is there anything which that most perfect and noble of all men, Kim Jong-un, cannot do, comrades? Well, there is one thing — he can’t seem to leave the country:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has backed out of next month’s visit to Moscow for World War II anniversary celebrations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.

“We were informed of the decision via diplomatic channels,” Peskov said. “The decision is connected with North Korean domestic affairs.”

The visit was highly anticipated because it would have marked Kim’s first official foreign trip since inheriting the leadership of North Korea in late 2011.

My first guess — and it’s only a guess — is that Kim’s reign is not secure enough for him to risk leaving the country. That’s not exactly an uncommon problem for dictators, who in the early days usually owe their power to an unsteady coalition.

My second guess — still only a guess — is that whatever power block is the real power behind the throne doesn’t yet feel like Kim is ready to leave the country, or perhaps that their rule isn’t yet secure enough to risk letting the figurehead leave for a few days.

You have a third guess?

Samsung Takes Another Hit

April 30th, 2015 - 7:45 am

Samsung just reported another worse-than-expected quarter:

The company reported Wednesday that its January-March income was 4.63 trillion won ($4.35 billion), compared with 7.49 trillion won one year earlier.

That was lower than analysts’ consensus of 4.97 trillion won, according to financial data provider Factset.

Sales fell 12 percent from a year earlier to 47.12 trillion won while operating income dropped 30 percent to 5.98 trillion won, in line with Samsung’s earnings preview earlier this month.

The wider-than-expected drop in net profit was due to a big profit plunge in Samsung’s mobile business. The maker of Galaxy smartphones said its mobile division generated 2.74 trillion won in quarterly profit, compared with 6.43 trillion won a year earlier.

The new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge phones are supposed to be selling well, but apparently not well enough to bolster the company’s bottom line.

One good sign going forward is that I just checked on S6 prices, and they aren’t being discounted yet. If they finally have a phone built well enough to hold its value for more than a few weeks, the company has a good chance of getting back to its old profit margins in wireless.

No Rate Hike for You!

April 30th, 2015 - 6:30 am
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, attends the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) at the World Bank-International Monetary Fund annual meetings in Washington, Saturday, April 18, 2015.  (Not actually an AP photo)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, attends the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) at the World Bank-International Monetary Fund annual meetings in Washington, Saturday, April 18, 2015.
(Not actually an AP photo)

That June rate hike the Fed has been promising (threatening?) for months now? Yesterday’s recession-y GDP report has taken that off the table:

The Fed now needs time to make sure its expectation of a rebound proves correct after a spate of soft economic data. That means the chances a rate increase by midyear have diminished, a point underscored by the Fed’s statement released Wednesday after a two-day policy meeting.

“Economic growth slowed during the winter months, in part reflecting transitory factors,” the Fed said. The Fed also said that although growth and employment had slowed officials expected a return to a modest pace of growth and job market improvement, “with appropriate policy accommodation.”

“Transitory factors” again, eh? Janet Yellen has become the Roseanne Roseannadanna of central banking: “It’s always something.”

It’s my week to host the Trifecta Triple, and we’re doing “Earth Day: Past, Present, and Future.”

Assuming of course we have a future, because we’re all going to die of something, possibly, they just can’t quite figure out what.

Anyway, we had far too much fun on this first segment, so I hope you enjoy it, too.

Before we all die.

This next item came as no surprise after the dismal last couple of jobs reports:

WASHINGTON—The U.S. economy slowed to a crawl at the start of the year as businesses slashed investment, exports tumbled and consumers showed signs of caution, marking a return to the uneven growth that has been a hallmark of the nearly six-year economic expansion.

Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the economy, expanded at a 0.2% seasonally adjusted annual rate in the first quarter, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. The economy advanced at a 2.2% pace in the fourth quarter and 5% in the third.

Don’t be fooled by those “strong” numbers from Q3 and Q4 of last year — they were mostly the result of a surge in consumer spending on health insurance, as mandated by ♡bamaCare!!!. Being mandated into a milch cow for the insurance industry might not sound very fun, but it sure goosed the GDP figures. And now even that meager steam has run out.

I just happened to have come across that WSJ story right after reading Jeremy Warner’s Telegraph report on negative interest rates in the eurozone. It seems apropos to our own situation, so here you go:

What makes today’s negative interest rate environment so worrying is this; to the extent that demand is growing at all in the world economy, it seems again to be almost entirely dependent on rising levels of debt. The financial crisis was meant to have exploded the credit bubble once and for all, but there’s very little sign of it. Rising public indebtedness has taken over where households and companies left off. And in terms of wider credit expansion, emerging markets have simply replaced Western ones. The wake-up call of the financial crisis has gone largely unheeded.

One by one, all the major central banks have joined the money printing party. First it was the US Federal Reserve. Then came the Bank of England and later the Bank of Japan. Just lately, it’s the European Central Bank. Now even the People’s Bank of China is considering the “unconventional” monetary support of bond buying. Anything to keep the show on the road. It’s what Chris Watling of the consultancy Longview Economics has termed the “philosophy of demand at any cost”. A crisis caused by too much debt has been fought with even more of the stuff.

It makes the central bankers happy to think so, and it probably makes them feel very important as well, but as I’ve said here many times before: You can’t spend your way to prosperity.

Every con man runs out of marks, and every credit bubble runs out of takers.

Europe is a little ways ahead of us on this road, but make no mistake — we’re on the same road.

What Really Happened in the Persian Gulf

April 29th, 2015 - 12:26 pm
(Map courtesy The Diplomat and marinetraffic.com)

(Map courtesy The Diplomat and marinetraffic.com)

I’m still playing catchup on this one, due to a weird production schedule on the PJTV side yesterday and today, but The Diplomat has the most clear-headed report I’ve seen so far. Read:

Saudi Arabia-backed, UAE-based Al Arabiya was among the first sources to break the news in English. It reported that Iran had fired warning shots (true) and seized a U.S.-flagged vessel (false). Nevertheless, the initial reports sparked considerable online panic at the prospect that the United States and Iran could be headed for a major confrontation. The report also noted that the crew of the ship numbered 34 and were American. Needless to say, U.S. citizens being held against their will by Iran hits a raw nerve for the United States given certain historical events. We’ve since learned, thanks to Reuters, that the Tigris’ has a crew of 24, most of whom hail “from Eastern Europe and Asia.” In the process of the seizure, the IRGCN fired across the bow of the ship. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told CNN that “the master was contacted and directed to proceed further into Iranian territorial waters. He declined and one of the IRGCN craft fired shots across the bridge of the Maersk Tigris.”

Iran’s reasons for seizing the ship were at first unclear. Speculation abounded that the incident was a show of force intended to strike back at the United States after it sent the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) to intercept an Iranian arms shipment to Yemen’s Houthis last week. Additionally, others suggested that the seizure could have been a move by hardliners opposing Iran’s negotiations with the West over its nuclear program – an attempt to spark a broader crisis to derail those talks.

The Islamic Republic has been doing crazy-pants stuff since the crazy-pants took over more than 30 years ago and seized our embassy and everyone in it.

This ship seizure is less likely to be the crazy-pants scuttling the nuclear talks than it is just business as usual. Rather, the nuclear talks are the supposed to cover the fact that the crazy-pants are still in charge, always have been, and always will be so long as Iran remains the Islamic Republic.

Sign “O” the Times

April 29th, 2015 - 11:05 am

In1in5FamiliesNoOneWorks (1)

Sustainability:

A family, as defined by the BLS, is a “group of two or more persons residing together who are related by birth, marriage, or adoption. In 2014, there were 80,889,000 families in the United States, and in 16,057,000 of those families, or 19.9 percent, no one had a job.

The BLS designates a person as “employed” if “during the survey reference week” they “(a) did any work at all as paid employees; (b) worked in their own business, profession, or on their own farm; (c) or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a member of the family.”

Members of the 16,057,000 families in which no one held jobs could have been either unemployed or not in the labor force.

The chart accompanying the story shows that the 16-17% range is “normal,” but I cannot in my experience even imagine a household in which not one person earns a living.

That’s one in five households, in other words, which the workers in the other four must also support.

Working the Funeral Pole

April 29th, 2015 - 9:40 am
(Image courtesy WSJ)

(Image courtesy WSJ)

“Funeral Strippers” sounds like a great name for an all-girl Post-Punk revival band, but instead they’re the target of the latest crackdown in China:

In China, friends and family of the deceased may have to do without a special form of funereal entertainment: strippers.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Culture on Thursday, the government plans to work closely with the police to eliminate such performances, which are held with the goal of drawing more mourners.

Pictures of a funeral in the city of Handan in northern Hebei province last month showed a dancer removing her bra as assembled parents and children watched. They were widely circulated online, prompting much opprobrium. In its Thursday statement, the Ministry of Culture cited “obscene” performances in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, as well as in Handan, and pledged to crack down on such lascivious last rites.

In the Handan incident earlier this year, the ministry said, six performers had arrived to offer an erotic dance at the funeral of an elderly resident.

Chinese have been hiring strippers to boost funeral attendance.

I do not understand the Chinese.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

April 29th, 2015 - 8:15 am
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

This ought to help ♡bamaCare!!!’s approval numbers — H&R Block reports that most subsidy recipients (i.e., middle class folks now on the health insurance dole) had to pay back substantial sums to the IRS:

The tax-prep giant studied its own massive customer base and concluded that two-thirds of its filers who got subsidies from Obamacare were overpaid during the course of the year, and owed money back to the IRS on the April 15 deadline.

They repaid $729 on average, cutting the average refund by about a third.

As I’ve said before, ♡bamaCare!!!’s saving grace is that so few people are stuck with the exchanges. But that’s due to start changing in 2018, as the “Cadillac tax” kicks in, making it cheaper for employers to dump employees onto the exchanges — and into the tender mercies of the IRS.

That aside, put yourself in the position of an ♡bamaCare!!! mandate-customer. You go through the hell of the website, but maybe you find the narrow networks, higher copays and deductibles, and the loss of your old plan and your doctor are all worth it — because of that sweet, sweet subsidy. Flash forward to February, when your guy at H&H Block tells you that the government overpaid you, and as a result your tax refund — which you were planning on using for a little vacation somewhere — just got cut by one third.

The GOP House needs to start holding hearings, bringing in hardworking taxpayers to testify about their treatment by the IRS.

Required… Singing?

April 29th, 2015 - 6:55 am

Add this to the list of reasons why Scott Ott is one of my favorite people ever.

News You Can Use

April 29th, 2015 - 5:35 am
Fixed. (Image courtesy, I suppose, The Independent)

Fixed.
(Image courtesy, I suppose, The Independent)

Take notes on this one:

A mysterious dick pic vigilante who goes by the name of ‘Wanksy’ is spray-painting penises around potholes so that his local council has to come and fill them in.

Speaking to i100.co.uk the anonymous street artist said he has been working “on and off for a couple of years” but that the problem in Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester, has “got really bad recently”.

On one of the photos on his Facebook page, the activist explained that one pothole had been there for eight months without being filled in but after he drew a penis on it, the pothole was fixed in less than 48 hours.

When I saw the headline, my first thought was to go with the usual “You know you’re not supposed to do that, right?” But on second thought maybe “I don’t know art but I know what I don’t like” might have been a better fit.

On more serious reflection however, I realized this man is brilliant, and I’m going to give El Paso County one more week of good weather before I pick up a few cans of spray paint from Home Depot.

More F-35 Woes

April 28th, 2015 - 3:50 pm
(AP photo)

(AP photo)

This time it’s the engines, which turn out to be “so unreliable that U.S. plans to increase production of the fighter jet may be slowed.”

Read:

Data from flight tests evaluated by the Government Accountability Office show the reliability of engines from the company’s Pratt & Whitney unit is “very poor (less than half of what it should be) and has limited” progress for the F-35, the costliest U.S. weapons system, the watchdog agency said in a report sent to lawmakers this month.

The GAO cited the need to make design changes to the engines and then retrofit planes already built, along with continuing flaws in the plane’s software, in a report that warned the Defense Department’s “procurement plan may not be affordable.” The military plans to spend $391.1 billion for a fleet of 2,443 planes from prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.

The Pentagon’s inspector general issued a separate report Monday criticizing management of the engine program. It identified 61 “noncomformities” with Defense Department requirements and policies and called for the Pentagon office in charge of the F-35 to establish new quality goals and provide more oversight.

The F-35 is supposed to replace our F-16s, which aren’t getting any younger but which have seen a lot more combat than was expected when they were built in the ’80s and ’90s.

Meet the Press — Please

April 28th, 2015 - 1:40 pm

Zach Cohen performed yeoman’s work, collecting and collating every single question Hillary Clinton has taken from the press since launching her “campaign” two weeks ago — and each of her answers.

Actually, it wasn’t so much hard labor for Cohen as it was some copying and pasting, since it seems the “candidate” has fielded just seven questions from the mainstream media during her “campaign.” That is, she’s taken fewer than one question every other day. That’s not even four per week.

Here’s a sample:

Question 2: “…Regarding the play for pay allegations in the latest book, emails back in 2012.”— WMUR, a local ABC affiliate in New Hampshire.

Clinton: “You know, those issues are, in my view, distractions from what this campaign should be about, what I’m going to make this campaign about, and I’ll let other people decide what they want to talk about. I’m going to talk about what’s happening in the lives of the people of New Hampshire and across America. Thank you, all.”

All of her answers are like that one — evasive non-answers to substantive questions about serious subjects.

The press will take a lot of abuse from, and provide a lot of cover for, favored candidates. But like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, they will not be ignored!

That’s why I’ve been putting “candidate” and “campaign” in scare quotes for the last week or so, as Clinton has shown she’s not interested in real campaigning, and until and unless she does, she isn’t a real candidate.

Zach Cohen at National Journal seems to have figured this out, too.

Who’s next?

Apple Watch: Will it Blend?

April 28th, 2015 - 12:22 pm

Of course it will blend.

Philosophically, I’m opposed to the destruction of meticulously crafted gadgets just for the sake of destruction. But then I always watch these Blendtec videos anyway, and catch myself laughing.

There’s no accounting for humor.