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Day 34: Frankly, We Have a Lot Right Now

Still shaking my head over Trump’s interview with Tucker Carlson. While asked about evidence supporting Trump’s claim that President Obama wiretapped him, Trump said, “Frankly, we have a lot right now.”

Bring it, buddy. And with less bullshit because frankly, we have a lot right now.

While you’re at it, bring your tax returns as evidence you’re not violating the Emoluments Clause or in bed with Russia.

Reminder: you’ve got 34 days until we expect to see a 2016 income tax return.

Non-Tax Return Stuff:

UK’s PM Theresa May denies Indy Ref 2.0 before Brexit — When you need a break from American leadership stupidity, just take a look at May. Here’s an unforced error of hubris and hypocrisy; telling the Scots they can’t have a vote to leave the UK after the UK had a vote to leave the EU is just asking for the Scots to hold a referendum on their own. Nicola Sturgeon has already rebutted, calling May’s block “undemocratic.”

Fed Chair Yellen said, “The data have not notably strengthened” after rate hike — Between increases in energy and health costs not offset by decreases in food and apparel costs, the consumer price index rose 2.7% over the last 12 months. Private sector compensation only rose 2.2% over the same period. Consumer spending has been lackluster and businesses are not investing. The post-crash boom is petering out and nothing this administration or Congress is doing will help. A billionaire can only buy so many condos and yachts to keep the economy afloat, and workers can’t buy much on their chicken feed minimum wage at part-time jobs while they have to budget for increasing health care expenses. (I should point out here that the CPI detailed report won’t be produced after June 2017 thanks to Trump’s diktats. How convenient.)

Trump tells Michigan auto workers he’s fighting for their jobs — Sure he is. This guy is fricking clueless about manufacturing (ex: Carrier in Indiana) including the automotive industry. Detroit’s cheese is being eaten by entirely new entrants who don’t worry about emissions standards and whose mileage concerns are of an entirely different nature. After decades of Detroit’s inadequate R&D sunk into battery-powered vehicles combined with vacillating leadership on the future of fossil-fueled combustion engines, Michigan’s auto industry is now battling for market share with companies like Tesla, while Tesla is already seeing new competition emerge like Lucid Motors. Tesla and Lucid are both located in the U.S. Meanwhile, Trump’s budget plans revealed today are a shiv in Michigan’s back; why live and work here if the lakes aren’t clean, schools are underfunded, mass transit is suppressed?

Dispatcher punished in Tamir Rice case — What a bunch of crap. The officer who had the ultimate final and mortal power in Tamir Rice’s case — shooting Rice in seconds after arrival at the playground — should have been criminally prosecuted. Meanwhile, a dispatcher who never saw the victim or the scene of the shooting was suspended.

I feel awful now, after reading so much about Trump and writing about that last piece. Treat this like an open thread though I can’t look in again until I do something positive to get the Trumpish off me.

Friday: The End of the World

I wake up in the morning and I wonder
Why ev’rything is the same as it was
I can’t understand, no, I can’t understand
How life goes on the way it does


— excerpt, The End of the World, written by Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee

Jazz version of this song first released by Skeeter Davis in 1962 performed here by Postmodern Jukebox’s Scott Bradlee and band with Niia’s vocals.

A few people in my timeline have asked over the last several months, “Is this the end of the world, or does it just feel like like it?”

It’s the end of something, that’s for sure.

Z is for Zika

I can’t make this clear enough to Congress: you’re playing with lives here, and it’s going to be ugly. It will affect your families if anyone is of childbearing age. I haven’t seen anything in the material I’ve read to date that says definitively studies are underway to verify transmission from Brazil’s Culex quinquefasciatus to humans. There’s a study on the most common U.S.’ Culex pipiens species which showed weak transmission capabilities, but once it’s proven quinquefasciatus can transmit, it’s just a matter of time before more effective pipiens pick up and transmit the virus, and they may already have done so based on the two cases in Florida. GET OFF YOUR BUTTS AND FUND ADEQUATE RESEARCH PRONTO — or risk paying for it in increased health care and other post-birth aid for decades.

Still Brexin’ it

Clean-up duty

  • Looking for MH370 in all the wrong places — for two years (IBTimes) — Bad suppositions? Or misled? Who knows, but the debris found so far now suggests the plane may have glided across the ocean in its final moments rather than plummeting nose first.
  • Enbridge settles $177 million for 2010 oil pipeline rupture (ICTMN) — Seems light for the largest ever oil spill inside the continental U.S., and their subsequent half-assed attempts to clean up the mess. Check the photo in the story and imagine that happening under the Straits of Mackinac between Lakes Huron and Michigan. How did it take them so long not to know what had happened and where?
  • Broadband companies now have a real competitive threat in Google Fiber (USAToday) — It’s beginning to make a dent in some large markets where Google Fiber’s 1Gb service has already been installed. But it is slow going, don’t expect it in your neighborhood soon. You’re stuck with your existing slowpoke carriers for a while longer.
  • Cable lobby counters FCC pressure on set-top boxes (Ars Technica) — Sure, they’ll yield to the FCC on set-top boxes, but they won’t offer DVR service and each cable provider with 1 million subscribers or more will be responsible for their own apps. Cable lobby claims copyright issues are a concern with the DVR service; is that a faint whiff of MPAA I smell?

Beach-bound longread
Check out this piece in WIRED: David Chang’s Unified Theory of Deliciousness. I’m hungry after reading just a portion of it.

Hasta luego, mi amigas. Catch you Monday if the creek don’t rise.

Wednesday: Heat of Passion

Crazy stuff happens when there’s a full moon like last night’s. Crazier stuff happens under heat and pressure. Brace yourselves as the heat dome slides from the southwest to Midwest and east this week.

Hot wheels

  • A look at the whys behind Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal (DailyBeast) — Interesting read in which German and VW culture loom large as contributing factors behind the fraud that is ‘Clean Diesel’.
  • New York, Maryland, Massachusetts each file lawsuits against VW (Reuters) — Filings accuse VW of violating states’ enviromental laws. The suits claim VW’s executives knew ‘clean diesel’ technology would not meet states’ environmental standards, and that former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn knew about this failure since 2006. The suits also claim VW employees willfully tampered with evidence after they were told an order to freeze documents was impending. A DOJ criminal investigation is still underway.
  • VW set aside another $2.4B (BBC) — In addition to the previous $15.3B, the additional amount was set aside to address “further legal risks predominately arising in North America.” Hmm…was that about the states’ environmental lawsuits now popping up?
  • And yet VW’s stock price popped up because profits (TheStreet) — Uh-huh. Short-term churn, unsustainable, because VW hasn’t yet seen half of its legal exposures given the number of states’ lawsuits so far, let alone other countries’ claims. VW expects sales to lag over last year, too, not to mention all the other factors increasing market instability.
  • EU Competition Commission busts European truck cartel with $3.2B fine (Bloomberg) — Interesting push-pull inside this story: Scania AB, a Swedish truckmaker owned by Volkswagen, has been penalized after MAN SE, another Volkswagen subsidiary, squealed to the EU and got its $1.2B fine waived. Wonder if VW execs did the math on that in advance? Another interesting tidbit is Volvo’s reduction in production here in North America and abroad, blamed on stagnant market; this says something about consumption.
  • Mercedes’ self-driving buses pass 20-kilometer trip test (The Verge) — IMO, self-driving mass transport should have priority over passenger cars; there’s not much difference between a semi-autonomous bus on a scheduled route and a streetcar on a track like those in New Orleans or San Francisco, and we know they are successful. This distance test could mean a lot to cities the size of Detroit; now will U.S. transportation companies meet Mercedes’ challenge?

Miscellany

  • Feds seizing assets related to Malaysian theft, including Wolf of Wall Street (THR) — DOJ tracking down the $1B stolen from Malaysia; destinations of cash may suffer asset forfeiture including rights to artworks like recent pop music and films. Background on the 1MDb scandal here (not to be confused with Amazon’s subsidiary IMDb.com).
  • Oil bidness, part 1 — UK edition: Oil price crash plus Brexit accelerates capping of North Sea well heads (Bloomberg) — The uncertainty of UK’s future plans makes the country a good opportunity especially when the pound is low to shut down wells. It’ll only cost more to do the same when UK comes out of its funk, and the well heads must close eventually due to falling demand and a long-term glut expected. Oh, and Scotland. Don’t forget the risk of costly transition between a UK pound, the euro, and a possible Scottish pound in the future.
  • Oil bidness, part 2 — Russian edition: Oil price below $40/BBL will help Russia (Bloomberg) — Okay, this one made me laugh my butt off. Uh-huh, less cash is exactly what Putin wants in order to make Russia great again. Right. The real crux is and has been Russia’s access to cash for their defense (offense?), and it’s not Russia who wants less cash spent on that.
  • BEFORE meeting with UK’s PM May, Scotland’s FM Sturgeon suggested another indy ref vote next year (The Scotsman) — I think this is the match-up we’ll want to watch, the volley of words between Sturgeon and May as they jockey for best position. Sturgeon has the upper hand, period; she’d already had a chat with the EU about remaining in the community before May was named PM, though Spain was a sticking point (because of their own potential breakaway state, Catalonia).
  • Student researching WiFi brings center of Brussels to a screeching halt (Le Soir) — Good news, bad news story: Security took note of the young man wearing too long a coat for the day’s heat and halted traffic in the city’s center as counterterror teams were dispatched. Turns out the guy was just studying the city’s WiFi. Good that security wasn’t goofing off, bad that even looking odd while researching can stop a major city.

Stay cool — I’m considering popcorn for dinner at the local cineplex this evening until the sun sets and the temperature drops outside. Dinner tomorrow and Friday might be Jujubes and Good-and-Plenty.

Friday: Teh Stoopid, Still Burns [UPDATE-2]

Teh stoopid. So much, a bumper crop today. Put on your hip waders while we listen to a little ska-jazz from The Specials. [Go to bottom of post for update.]

LAST DAY OF THE MONTH
Don’t stand in front of the exit doors today at the House of Representatives. You’ve been warned.

Toobz filled with stoopid

Hélas, Nice
I’ve not forgotten Nice. I can’t go there. Picking my way through French language news to read in detail about the deaths of children and teenagers is a hard limit for me. With children’s blood on its hands from wars to drone killings, the U.S. has no moral authority here. It has doubled down on its authoritarian, racist, kill-its-way-out-of-trouble approach to foreign policy. What can I write here which isn’t utter hypocrisy?

The only observations I can make are that the attackers may be ramping up, as the numbers and methodology testify. 84 dead including 10 children and teens, 52 injured and 25 on life support, all hurt or killed by a driver who was not a known terror suspect. A civilian stopped the attacker by grabbing his hands as he aimed a gun at human targets. Que Dieu soit miséricordieux sur Nice.

Smarter, kinder finish
And now to purge the taste of stupid before I start my weekend…

That’s a wrap, have a safe and restful weekend, including all you peeps at #NN16. Back at it on Monday.

UPDATE — 2:50 p.m. EDT —

The previously-classified pages of the 9/11 report have been released, conveniently during the afternoon on a Friday smack in the middle of the summer during a general election year. Can you say ‘news dump’? Here’s a link to the document at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s site (pdf). Knock yourselves out with this beach read. Note the bit about the alleged Saudi intelligence officers, too.

UPDATE — 5:15 p.m. EDT —

An apparent coup is underway in Turkey; it began with reports of militarized road blocks about two hours ago. Social media platforms have had spotty service though landlines appear to be working. The Erdogan government initially denied a coup was in progress; media outlets in Turkey may not be accurately reporting events. Many European news outlets are still focused on Nice, France. Airports have been closed and a curfew declared. U.S. Embassy has asked U.S. citizens to shelter in place and stay indoors.

For more information about events in Turkey, here’s a selection of active Twitter feeds:
https://twitter.com/YourAnonNews
https://twitter.com/efekerem
https://twitter.com/zeynep
https://twitter.com/WashingtonPoint
https://twitter.com/Boutaina

Recent report at Aid works about Turkey’s treatment of refugees at this link.

If you have friends and family in Turkey, recommend they use Tor browser to follow news — this link in case Tor is blocked. See also this tweet from Tor about accessing social media.

Sony, the White House, and 10 Downing Street: What’s the Quid Pro Quo?

BrokenHollywoodLots of ugly things crawled out of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s emails leaked by hackers this past autumn.

The leak of emails and intellectual property, including then-unreleased film The Interview, was labeled “a serious national security matter” by the White House. In January this year, President Obama issued an executive order increasing sanctions against North Korea, the purported origin of the hack on SPE’s network and computers.

Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony Corporation, a Japanese multinational conglomerate. In offering retaliation on behalf of SPE, the White House placed SPE on par with critical U.S. infrastructure, though no one will be physically injured or die should SPE be hacked again, and the market won’t collapse if SPE loses money on all its movies this year.

If SPE, a foreign-owned, information security-challenged entertainment firm, is now entitled to military protection against cyberattack, what is it the White House and the U.S. will receive or has received in exchange?

What’s the exchange in this quid pro quo?

Which brings us to the matter of STARZ’ cable series, Outlander, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron‘s government.

In 2013, STARZ network ordered the 16-episode adaptation of bestselling historical fiction novel, Outlander by author Diana Gabaldon, from production companies Tall Ship Productions, Story Mining & Supply Co., and Left Bank Productions, in association with Sony Pictures Television.

While STARZ was the U.S. distributor, offering the series on its own cable network, SPE’s TV arm appears to have handled overseas distribution to broadcast, cable, and video streaming services.

Outlander’s cross-genre narrative is set mainly in 1740s Scotland; the story is sympathetic to a Scottish protagonist and his time-traveling English wife who are caught between the British and Jacobites in the ramp up to the 1746 Battle at Culloden. The Scottish people and countryside are treated favorably in the series’ production.

The program debuted on STARZ in the U.S. on August 9 last year — a little less than six weeks before Scotland’s independence referendum (“IndyRef”). Outlander began airing in Canada and Australia in August also, and in October in Ireland after the IndyRef vote.

Distribution deals in other countries including Germany, Hungary, Japan, and the Netherlands led to wider release overseas last year.

But Outlander never received a distribution deal in 2014 in the UK, in spite of its many Scottish and British fans’ clamor and the source book’s status as a renewed bestseller in advance of the show’s U.S. debut. To date the series has only released on Amazon Prime Instant Video in the UK, for paid video-on-demand streaming — not on broadcast or cable.

At least one email leaked by hackers revealed that SPE personnel had a meeting or meetings with Cameron’s government. In an internal email from Keith E. Weaver, executive vice president, SPE executives were told,

“Your meeting with Prime Minister Cameron on Monday will likely focus on our overall investment in the U.K. – with special emphasis on the jobs created by Tommy Cooper [the ITV show], the importance of Outlander (i.e., particularly vis-a-vis the political issues in the U.K. as Scotland contemplates detachment this Fall), and the growth of our channels business…”

The implication is that SPE would suppress any effort to distribute Outlander to the benefit of Cameron’s anti-independence position, in exchange for “growth of our channels business…”

What exactly does this mean?

And is the pursuit of growth confined to SPE, or did “channels business” mean something else? Were Sony executives also looking for opportunities for Sony Corporation, which includes Sony Computer Entertainment, Sony Music Entertainment, Sony Mobile Communications (once known as Sony Ericsson), and Sony Financial?

Did SPE executives and the Prime Minister agree not to seek broadcast or cable distribution Outlander in the UK before this month’s election? Read more