…how to hide emails from Congress.
Tyler Durden on consumer debt:
Remember that epic spending spree that took place in March when consumers cleaned out their savings account and which resulted in a surge in March retail spending in consumer outlays? Now we know that in addition to borrowing from their savings, consumers also “charged” it, because as we reported last month, the April consumer credit soared by an unprecedented $8.8 billion, the most since 2007, and a clear outlier in recent years. April, incidentally is precisely when the credit card statements for March purchases would come due so while impressive, the surge in revolving credit wasn’t quite surprising.
However, what is perhaps more notable now that the Fed just released the May consumer credit numbers, is that the month after the March spending spree, funding largely on credit, consumers hunkered down once more, and the May increase in revolving credit was a paltry $1.8 billion, much lower than the April surge, and the lowest since February. In other words, after the spending binge, came the credit card bills, and with them, the spending hangover.
Auto sales were way up in June, too, with the additional debt that implies. As we discussed on Monday, there was an increase in the percentage of questionable auto loans, with terms as long as six or seven years. So the debt consumers didn’t add to the Visa card in May, they tried to make up for with new auto loans in June.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? The surge in part-time employment might be partially due to the fact that part-timers are cheaper and easier to get rid of, once the consumer debt merry-go-round stops spinning.
Samsung’s big profits are shrinking:
Samsung has long been the giant of the smartphone market, churning out phones like there’s no tomorrow. All good things must come to an end, however, and Samsung could finally be reaching that point. For Q2 2014, Samsung profits dropped 24% from Q2 2013. While the numbers, $51.5 billion in revenue and $7.1 billion in profit, are enormous, they represent Samsung’s slowdown in the smartphone market.
Samsung, though, sent along an explanation for the drop. The Korean Won’s up-and-up improvement is making exports much harder for Samsung. An over-saturation of the market in China and Europe has also led to a large drop in demand for Samsung devices. That issue is combined with Samsung’s struggle to gain a foothold in China. Samsung’s 3G Chinese devices aren’t selling well, because most Chinese consumers are holding out for the next-gen 4G LTE devices. On top of that, Chinese companies like Xiaomi are taking off and pushing out Samsung.
Samsung has relied on big marketing dollars to push big volumes of low margin devices. This makes them especially sensitive to low-cost competitors and currency fluctuations. Or as I wrote almost exactly one year ago today, “that’s not a sustainable operating model.”
At the time, many conservatives questioned whether the United States was overdoing things, lifting sanctions too readily and frittering away leverage it would later need to insure Burma stayed on the road to reform. To a large degree that is what happened.
Hillary Clinton personally visited Burma and now President Obama plans to, even amidst the deteriorating human rights situation. The president has appeared clueless about the decline and praised his Burma policy in late May at West Point. What did he miss?
The glib answer is that he didn’t miss anything he can’t be briefed on along the back nine. The more serious answer is that our lack of leadership has allowed so many crises to erupt or fester that it’s easy for Burma to slip unnoticed back into its bad old ways, and for the Burmese government to figure they can get away with it.
We’ll see more of this kind of thing over the next two-plus years.
Stupid elections are just a big popularity contest, anyway.
They’re coming to Minnesota, natch:
Self-serve beer stations are up and running in Target Field, so Minnesota Twins fans and those who attend the Major League Baseball All-Star festivities next week can decide what they want and even how much they want of it.
The machines, called DraftServ, are a partnership between concessionaire Delaware North and Anheuser-Busch.
My first (and only) experience with beer vending machines was as a 15-year-old on a monthlong summer tour of West Germany, where I and a gang of fellow 15-year-old boys spotted one in a train station in Köln. Dropped a 1DM coin in the slot, pushed a button, and out popped a can of staggeringly bad beer — and that was by the standards of a (relatively) inexperienced drinker.
Let’s hope Twins fans get a better selection.
Even some Democrats are starting to give up on one of ♡bamaCare!!!’s key provisions, the employer mandate:
West Virginia Senate candidate Natalie Tennant is a rare prominent Democrat to address repeal.
“Washington should be having a serious conversation about getting rid of the so-called employer mandate. The facts show it doesn’t do much good for the workers who need it most, or help many people get insurance,” Tennant said. “The longer Washington puts off that conversation by delaying the rule instead of getting rid of it, the longer small-business owners are stuck in limbo, waiting to plan for the future or holding off on hiring that extra worker.”
The story opens with a reminder from ♡bamaCare!!! architect Jon Gruber, that “The employer mandate doesn’t have a huge impact on insurance coverage. But it does raise a lot of money.”
Remember yesterday report on how ♡bamaCare!!! was going to balloon our already-massive deficits? It looks positively panglossian with just a single day of hindsight.
The face of justice is evolving in Israel:
For decades the settlers could be depended on to be passive after a Palestinian attack, letting the Israeli police and military look for the culprit. But now the settlers are increasingly launching “price tag” counterattacks. The price tag refers to what the Palestinians must suffer for every attack on Israelis, or for Israeli police interfering with settler activities. This is vigilante justice, and it does more damage to Palestinians than Israeli police efforts to catch and prosecute Palestinian attackers. The Palestinians are not accustomed to this kind of swift payback and they do not like it. Israel has been under growing public and international pressure to crack down more vigorously on the vigilantes. This became especially urgent because the attacks are much more common, and are even extending to feuds between factions of Jewish religious extremists. The Palestinians are still committing most of the terror attacks, but the Jewish terrorists are catching up and extremists on both sides back increased violence in the hope of driving the other side out. Some extremist settler groups have long called for the expulsion of all Arabs from the West Bank and that idea is becoming more popular among settlers and Israelis in general. It’s still a minority attitude, but as more Israelis become frustrated with the relentless Arab calls for destroying Israel, extreme countermeasures appeal to more people.
Whatever you think of the actual righteousness of this “price tag” justice, it is clearly a case of the Palestinians reaping what they’ve sown for decades.
With Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella battling to shoehorn Windows into more and more devices, the OS behemoth is forecast to swell by – er – half a percentage point from close of last year to the end of next.
Folks at Gartner told us Windows accounted for 13.96 per cent of the 2.33 billion devices shipped globally in 2013, and that they expect a dip this year to 13.7 per cent of the 2.43 billion units that will find a home. The analyst house added that the operating system is projected to climb to 14.4 per cent of the 2.59 billion PCs, smartphones, tabs and Ultrabooks estimated to be flogged in 2015.
“Microsoft is still trying to transition beyond PCs into ultra mobile and phones,” said research director Ranjit Atwal. “They are not making inroads, the volumes are still pretty small relative to the overall market.”
It’s a mobile world and Microsoft remains a desktop company.
Glenn Reynolds in USA Today:
Here in the United States, a lot of programs officially aimed at the poor look suspiciously like subsidies to the New Class, too. Among “means-tested” programs, Food Stamps, now officially called SNAP, cover about 46 million people up to 125% of the poverty line (set at about $16,000 for a single mother and child). Other programs, such as the Earned Income Tax credit, cover people at slightly higher incomes, up to 200% of the poverty line. When federal spending on the dozens of programs are added up and state and local contributions included, the budget for assistance is about $1 trillion.
If we simply handed those people, perhaps 60 million of them, their share of the cash, that would be more than $16,500 each. A single mom and her baby would get over $33,000, twice as much as a poverty wage. A family of four would land more than $66,000, $15,000 more than the average family income.
So where’s the money going?
Take a guess — and read the whole thing.
The new species, Pelagornis sandersi, had an estimated wingspan of 20 to 24 feet when its feathers are included. This is up to more than twice as big as that of the royal albatross, the largest living flying bird, which has a wingspan of about 11.4 feet. [See Images of Giant Flying Species & Other Huge Birds]
“It’s a really remarkable species,”study author Daniel Ksepka, a paleontologist and curator of science at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, told Live Science. “It really pushes the limits of how big we think flying birds can get. Getting a chance to add something like this to the avian evolutionary tree is really exciting.”
Until now, the biggest known flying bird was the extinct Argentavis magnificens, a condorlike titan from Argentina.
“It’s disputed how large Argentavis’ wingspan was we only have one wing bone for it,” Ksepka said. “We think the wingspan of Argentavis’ skeleton was a bit under 13.1 feet, while the skeletal wingspan of P. sandersi was about 17 feet. Now both of their wingspans would be longer once feathers are taken into account, but P. sandersi would still probably be larger than Argentavis.”
The story also mentions that the fossil, found in South Carolina, was “so large that it had to be dug out with a backhoe.”
My eight-year-old and I have spent a few lunches this summer on the sofa, eating cheeseburgers and watching the BBC’s excellent production Walking With Beasts on Netflix. The show covers the sometimes giant and usually deadly mammals that arose after the great extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. If the show covered Pelagornis sandersi, then I must have missed it — but I don’t think Pres would mind if I asked him to sit down and re-watch the series with me.
That’s the current state of the music industry, and the flux will keep going streaming’s way. I don’t get it myself — I like to own my tunes — but it’s clear that if I’m not in the minority yet, I soon will be.
Which brings us again to Apple’s Beats acquisition.
Tim Cook said of Beats Streaming, “We love the subscription service that they built—we think it’s the first one that really got it right.” Keeping in mind that the iTunes Store began its own streaming service last year (free with ads, ad-free for jillions of iTunes Match customers), which Cook, I presume, includes amongst the services which didn’t really get it right. Apple execs don’t often admit mistakes, even obliquely.
I’ve tried the iTunes streaming service (iTunes Radio), and it’s predictably slick and with a nice front end — at least on Apple TV which is the only place I’ve used it. If it hasn’t taken off, some of the blame might be that it’s trapped inside the iTunes store. It should have been spun out as a standalone app, right on the first page of every new iPhone and iPad. People don’t go looking to stream music from a music store, just like they don’t expect to find a lending library in the middle of a Barnes & Noble. That was a big strategic error right at launch, although I understand iTunes Radio will be a standalone app when iOS 8 debuts later this year.
But it’s difficult to recover from a ill-conceived product launch.
iTunes Radio was also supposed to serve as a means to get people to buy their music off the iTunes Store. “Hey, I like this new song!” and then click on the in-app link to pony up the 99¢ to own it. That was a misread of streaming customers’ intentions and desires. Besides, music sales are a vanishingly small fraction of Apple’s bottom line, so there is really no big need to try to awkwardly bolster them via Radio.
So where does Beats come in?
If iTunes Radio is spun out of the iTunes Store, then it would be very awkward indeed to put Beats Streaming up as a default iOS app, too, creating the kind of consumer confusion (“WHICH APP SHOULD I STREAM FROM???”) Apple is famous for avoiding. If Apple doesn’t make Beats a default app, then they won’t be able to fully exploit their semi-captive iOS market to grow Beats Streaming into a serious player.
From there, things get really complicated, when you remember that Beats will continue to function on Android devices, but that Android owners can’t buy off the iTunes Store. And there’s no way in heck Apple would open the iTunes Store to non-Apple devices.
So it looks like the company will have two standalone streaming apps. One, iTunes Radio, for people who like what Cook admits is a second-best app — but which will help drive iTunes Store sales. The other, Beats, which will be cross-platform — but which will not help drive iTunes Store sales.
I’m not much for giving advice to someone as smart as Tim Cook, but I’ll offer my two cents this time: Shut down iTunes Radio, make Beats Streaming a default iOS app, and connect Beats to the iTunes Store for iOS owners only. Android users would still get the full Beats experience of curated playlists and all the rest, while Apple’s iOS customers would get the added convenience of the iTunes Store — without the confusion of two default apps with overlapping functions.
Remember pre-9/11 when the Taliban went around destroying ancient Hindu and Buddhist sites in Afghanistan? Caliphate/IS is on a similar for-profit tear in northern Iraq and Syria:
The minions of the self-appointed caliph of the freshly self-declared Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, paid a visit to the Mosul Museum. It has been closed for years for restoration, ever since it was looted along with many of Iraq’s other institutions in the wake of the culturally oblivious American-led invasion of 2003. But the Mosul Museum was on the verge of reopening, at last, and the full collection had been stored there.
“These groups of terrorists—their arrival was a brutal shock, with no warning,” Iraqi National Museum Director Qais Hussein Rashid told me when he visited Paris last week with a mission pleading for international help. “We were not able to take preventive measures.”
Indeed, museum curators and staff were no better prepared than any other part of the Iraqi government. They could have learned from al-Baghdadi’s operations in neighboring Syria that a major source of revenue for his insurgency has been the sale of looted antiquities on the black market. As reported in The Guardian, a windfall of intelligence just before Mosul fell revealed that al-Baghdadi had accumulated a $2 billion war chest, in part by selling off ancient artifacts from captured Syrian sites.
Two billion will pay for a lot of warmaking, especially when you get to steal most of the matériel you need. Still, invading Spain seems like a bit of a stretch — for now.
There’s a fake “Star Wars VII location footage” video up on YouTube, which Jim Dalrymple praised as “really well done,” but I just can’t agree. It’s nothing more than Imperial ships and walkers flying and walking around the Frankfurt airport for a couple minutes. Once you get past the fact that amateur filmmakers can do digital animation like the pros, the thrill is gone. And we got past that fact years ago.
For a real treat, click on the video I posted above. It’s a Cops parody called “Troops,” set on Tatooine on the day Luke and C-3PO went looking for runaway R2-D2. There are just enough special effects to keep it grounded in the Star Wars universe — the joy is in the clever writing and the spot-on performances. Even more impressive, Kevin Rubio did all this with much more primitive computer equipment, way back in 1997. It’s only ten minutes long, but I remember waiting ages for each little clip to download from TheForce.net over a dialup connection. And it was worth the wait, too.
I bring this up for a couple reasons. The first is that I was just talking about this same issue — Hollywood’s reliance on special effects over quality storytelling — in a post from just a few weeks ago. But the second and more important reason is last week I got to see a rare instance in which a dazzling special effects sequence was used to delightful storytelling effect.
Melissa and I finally got ourselves out of the house long enough to see a movie, and we settled on X-Men: Days of Future Past. It wasn’t quite as good as its immediate predecessor, X-Men: First Class. The middle act needed some tightening, and how many times do we really need to see Magneto try and pass himself off as a good guy, only to revert to type at the end? For the next movie I hope they let Michael Fassbender go totally ape-stuff evil as Magneto, and drop the Conflicted Erik routine. That aside, the movie was still terrific entertainment.
I don’t want to spoil anything for readers who haven’t seen the movie yet, so I’m going to be vague. For those of you who have, what was your reaction to the sequence in the Pentagon, where we got a detailed look at Quicksilver in action against all those guards? Let’s call it the “Time in a Bottle Sequence,” or TIABS, for the Jim Croce song used on the soundtrack.
TIABS was eye popping, inventive, entertaining, taught us much about the character, moved the story forward, and didn’t overstay its welcome. It left me grinning ear-to-ear long after it was over. For my money, TIABS might have been the most inventive and most revealing SFX sequence since Trinity’s fight-and-flight at the beginning of The Matrix.
So take note, Hollywood — that’s how you do it.
Charles Blahous details what he calls the “unfolding fiscal disaster” of the ACA:
No sooner was the ink dry on the ACA than the law’s various “pay-fors” began to be tossed overboard, one after the other. The ACA’s CLASS Act (Community Living Assistance Services and Supports, a long-term care program) was financially unsound from the beginning, had to be suspended a little over one year later, and was eventually repealed. The original CBO score had assumed that CLASS would provide $86 billion of net financing for the ACA over the first 10 years.
Roughly $100 billion of financing in that first decade was also to come from penalties on individuals (for failing to carry health insurance) and employers (for failing to offer it). But the Obama administration has repeatedly postponed enforcement. Unsurprisingly, there is now a campaign to abandon the individual mandate penalty altogether, despite advocates having previously touted it as essential to the workings of the ACA. The administration has also been dropping cuts to Medicare Advantage required under the ACA, with the costs of these decisions still unknown.
Also unclear is whether the ACA’s reinsurance and “risk corridor” provisions will produce unexpected federal budget costs; these provisions were included in the ACA to protect insurers from financial losses if their exchange plan participants prove to be sicker and costlier than initially presumed. CBO assumes that the ACA’s risk corridor provisions will have net positive budget effects, based on previous experience with Medicare Part D. But Part D involved a very different incentive structure and participant pool; there is no telling whether the ACA’s exchanges will line up with that experience.
It’s almost as if those of us who have said for four years that you can’t enact a massive and Byzantine entitlement program without dramatically increasing the deficit were right all along.
Granted, he’s probably a better soccer player than his nation’s soccer team, but here’s what went down:
“Man, I just wanted to call and say you did us proud,” President Barack Obama told the goalie and his teammate Clint Dempsey in an Oval Office phone call.
The president said that, and so much more, during his conversation with the U.S. World Cup soccer team members on Wednesday congratulating them on their tournament run that ended in an exciting 2-1 overtime loss to Belgium a day earlier. He told them that they did great and that he played soccer as a kid and that the sport continues to grow and that Tim Howard should shave his beard and that he still has his jacket that the team gave him. In the two-minute conversation, President Obama talked for 84 percent of the time; Dempsey and Howard shared the remaining 16 percent…
That’s a real class act.
The National Organization of Women (NOW) has compiled a list of what they’re calling the “Dirty 100″ — organizations who have filed suit against the HHS Contraception Mandate. One of the “Dirty 100″ organizations that NOW claims is simply “using religion” to discriminate against women, is, in fact, a group of Catholic religious sisters called the Little Sisters of the Poor.
I’m neither Catholic nor pro-life, but what NOW has done is despicable, and the organization ought to be shunned by all decent Americans of any religion or political leaning.
Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador talking to David Gregory on Meet the Press yesterday:
As I was listening to Secretary Johnson, I kept thinking you just need to change your slogan at the beginning of your show. Instead of ‘If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press,’ it should be ‘If it’s Sunday, it’s another Obama administration official making stuff up on Meet the Press.’
I haven’t once watched any of the Sunday shows since PJTV cancelled Hair of the Dog, and as a result I’m better informed, saner, and happier.
E.J. Dionne praises our “progressive” Constitution. Really. He quotes a Boston University Law Review article by Joseph R. Fishkin and William E. Forbath:
“Constitutional politics during the 19th and early 20th centuries” was very different and the subject of democratic deliberation. In earlier eras, they say, the Constitution was seen as not simply permitting but actually requiring “affirmative legislation … to ensure a wide distribution of opportunity” and to address “the problem of oligarchy in a modern capitalist society.”
The authors remind us of Franklin Roosevelt’s warning that “the inevitable consequence” of placing “economic and financial control in the hands of the few” would be “the destruction of the base of our form of government.” And writing during the Gilded Age, a time like ours in many ways, the journalist James F. Hudson argued that “imbedded” in the Constitution is “the principle” mandating “the widest distribution among the people, not only of political power, but of the advantages of wealth, education and social influence.”
When you start by quoting FDR — whose ambitions got trumped by the Supreme Court so many times that he tried to “pack” it — you’ve already lost the debate.
It’s another big one, reported today for Politico by Edward-Isaac Dovere:
Aware that state insurance rate hikes could give Republicans a chance to resurrect Obamacare as a political liability just weeks before the midterms, the White House’s internal health care enrollment outreach apparatus immediately redirected into a rapid-response, blocking-and-tackling research and press operation geared toward preempting GOP attacks on the issue.
In what aides say is a sign of a changed approach within the White House — but also heightened concerns around the midterms — they’re even coordinating with Hill Democrats, funneling localized background analysis and talking points to each state’s delegation through Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. They’ve also relied on California Rep. Henry Waxman’s staff at the Energy and Commerce Committee to produce rebuttal reports, often in advance, on GOP claims about insurance.
“One of the lessons we’ve learned in implementing health care is to stay on it,” said Tara McGuinness, the White House senior communications adviser who has been spearheading the effort for the West Wing, reflecting on previous run-ins. “We are not going to let anyone distort the debate.”
Sorry, Charlie — but there comes a point where messaging is no longer enough. That point comes when people see their higher premiums instead of the promised savings. It comes when they lose the plan they were told they could keep. It comes when their doctor is no longer covered under their new plan. It comes when they learn the hard way that Medicaid expansion means fewer choices and longer waits.
That’s what’s happening now, which is why ♡bamaCare!!! becomes less popular as it comes into force — at least the parts the White House hasn’t delayed or waived or otherwise dispensed with. If ♡bamaCare!!! was working as advertised, then the White House wouldn’t have a messaging problem; the Republicans would. Instead, the Democrats furiously trying to get out in front of the train wreck they themselves set in motion four years ago.
So instead of a fail, I’m going to chalk up today’s news as a potentially big win.
Eli Lake says that “Team Obama was told, over and over, that the Iraqi army couldn’t stop a terror group that was ready to pounce.” More:
Maliki’s requests were rebuffed; McGurk’s warnings went largely unheeded. The problem for Obama was that he had no good policy option in Iraq. On the one hand, if Obama had authorized the air strikes Maliki began requesting in January, he would strengthen the hand of an Iraqi prime minister who increasingly resembled the brutal autocrat U.S. troops helped unseat in 2003. Maliki’s heavy handed policies—such as authorizing counter-terrorism raids against Sunni political leaders with no real links to terrorism—sowed the seeds of the current insurrection in Iraq. [Emphasis added]
Leadership oftentimes — maybe most of the time — means picking the least bad option, doing so quickly, and sticking with it to make it work as best you can. This is why real world experience is something we look for in leaders, as opposed to classroom experience.
Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom (has anyone given him a better nickname?) waits passively for the perfect solution, which of course never arrives. Then he belatedly makes a “little bit pregnant” move which usually accomplishes nothing but to reduce our prestige, confuse our allies, and embolden our enemies.
We’ve seen this scenario play out in Libya, in Egypt, in Ukraine, in Iraq, increasingly in the Pacific. I’m starting to think it might be dumb luck, or that our adversaries haven’t quite grasped the scale of their good fortunes, that we haven’t yet stumbled into a major regional war.
StrategyPage has the latest:
The army has been fighting to retake Tikrit from ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) for a week now. Despite regular pronouncements of victory the fighting continues. In Syria ISIL continues to spend more time fighting fellow rebels than the Syrian government forces. This is apparently because ISIL is trying to clear all opposition out of their stronghold in eastern Syria, which they used to share with other Islamic terrorist rebel groups. One impetus for this is the need for money and ISIL has recently gained control over most of the oil fields in eastern Syria. The oil is sold to smugglers, at a big discount, and the smugglers then truck it into Turkey and sell it to brokers who buy oil with no questions asked. ISIL has moved a lot of armored vehicles and heavy weapons, captured from the Iraqi forces in Mosul, into Syria to use against other Islamic terrorist groups and this has been a big help. ISIL also uses violence against any Sunnis in Syria or Iraq who appear less than enthusiastic about ISIL ruling them. Many Iraqi Sunni tribes have openly joined ISIL recently and that means government forces passing through tribal territory face ambush and a generally hostile population.
The report also notes two items I hadn’t seen elsewhere but I don’t find surprising: Caliphate/IS is destroying Shia shrines and mosques, and there are over a million Iraqi refugees fleeing south.
The Iraqi Army is still in the fight, maybe learned the hard way the same lessons we learned in places like Fallujah — that an “army” without much more than trucks and automatic weapons can be very difficult to dig out of urban areas. Ralph Peters was writing about this kind of post-modern fighting two decades ago for Parameters, and his predictions about the battlespace and the opponents was scarily dead-on.
As Peters predicted, it has become relatively inexpensive to arm an offensive fighting force effective enough to displace an unprepared force from a city, and incredibly difficult for an expensively-armed and -trained force, even once prepared, to dislodge them.
I’m pleasantly surprised that the Iraqi Army has shown endurance enough to continue the battle into a second week, but every day they don’t take back Tikrit is a victory for the Caliphate/IS.