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Friday Cat Blogging - 18 July 2014

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 2:55 PM EDT

In an awesome display of athleticism, Domino hopped into the laundry hamper this week. I was shocked. I didn't think she could do it. But I guess when you're motivated by the sweet, sweet prospect of snoozing among the delicate aromas of worn human clothing, you can accomplish anything. As for what she's looking at in this picture, I have no idea. Probably something in the cat dimension.

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Iran's Oil Exports Have Fallen By Half Since Sanctions Were Imposed

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 2:09 PM EDT

If you're curious about the impact of economic sanctions on Iran, OPEC's newly-released 2014 statistical bulletin provides a pretty concrete look. As the tables below show, in just the past two years Iran's oil exports have fallen by nearly half and the rial has lost a third of its value. If you want to know why Iran is negotiating over its nuclear program, that's the story in a nutshell.

The whole report is here. Plenty of interesting little tidbits there for inquiring minds.

Obama Slams Putin and Calls for Ukraine Ceasefire

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 12:32 PM EDT

On Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama demanded that Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine adhere to a cease fire, and he slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin for not keeping his vow to de-escalate in the Ukraine and for continuing to provide weapons and training to the rebels. Obama confirmed media reports noting that US intelligence has determined that a missile fired from the rebel-held area downed the Malaysian Airlines passenger plane, killing over 300 people. Obama announced that one US citizen was on the flight. Watch the speech here:

Blueberries, Gold, Inflation, and Professor Krugman

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 12:18 PM EDT

So Paul Krugman writes a column about all the folks who have been hysterically predicting runaway inflation for the past few years, and what does he get? This:

I know it's just a coincidence. The other 500 comments are quite likely perfectly sane. Nonetheless, this is what we're up against.

POSTSCRIPT: In case you're curious, food prices have actually risen 11 percent over the past five years. In other words, about 2.2 percent per year.

AK-47 Manufacturer Fires Back at US Over Sanctions

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 11:56 AM EDT
Everybody's favorite assault rifle.

When the US imposed more sanctions on Russia this week, some US gun owners assumed the move was a targeted assault on their constitutional rights. It's not. But according to Rostec, the Russian government-owned company whose Kalashnikov subsidiary makes the AK-47, the assault rifle will be much harder to come by for US customers. After Rostec was added to the sanctions list, it fired back. "For Kalashnikov...the US is an important market for selling arms," a spokesman told ITAR-TASS, a Russian government news agency. "It should be noted that the Kalashnikov products are very popular in the US... This means that the sanctions the US Administration has imposed on Kalashnikov contravene the interests of US consumers."

AK-47's, which are cheap and durable (though not terribly accurate), are the world's most popular gun. As many as 100 million have been produced since its debut in 1947—by Kalashnikov and a multitude of imitators in China and Eastern Europe. Kalashnikov's fully-automatic models are illegal to own in the United States without a special permit. But the semi-automatic version are regulated under the same patchwork of state and local laws that regulate hunting rifles. In recent years, as the Russian military has reduced its orders, Kalashnikov has shifted its focus away from the full-auto weapons and toward semi-automatic models for the gun enthusiast market in the United States.

Kalashnikov's Russian logo Wikimedia Commons

The new sanctions cut off the supply of AK-47s from the factory source, but gun stores with an old inventory and gun owners with one to spare are free to go about their business as before. The only caveat is that Kalashnikov can't make any money off the deal.

In an unsigned statement posted on its website, Rostec notes that its analysts are conducting a "full study" of the impact of the new sanctions on its business, and argues that sanctions are putting its partnerships with US businesses at risk: "Now it is possible to say that the measures taken by Washington will have a negative impact on the cooperation of several Russian and American companies, threatening to undermine mutual trust," the company maintains.

The AK issue came up during a State Department media briefing on Thursday. Asked if the Kalashnikov sanctions would affect customers in the US, spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded, "We take into account the impact on the United States, on US businesses and consumers, and certainly we feel that peace and political stability and respect for international law are of critical importance to the global economy and to US businesses."

Kalashnikov's exclusive US importer, RWC Group, has not yet issued a statement.

No More Saturday Shipments for Netflix

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 11:45 AM EDT

From the LA Times:

Netflix Inc. has quietly stopped shipping DVDs from its distribution centers on Saturdays, a cost-cutting move that signals the company is easing out of the DVD subscription service and keeping its focus on online streaming. The change comes as Netflix is shedding hundreds of thousands of its DVD customers every quarter, yet gaining as many for its online streaming business continues to grow.

And so it begins. A few years from now, I assume Netflix will be out of the physical disc business entirely, which means it will be impossible to watch anything more than a few years old. We'll still have Redbox for recent releases as well as streaming services that offer whatever they happen to offer. But if you wake up one morning and decide you want to watch The Naked City? Well, you're probably out of luck.

I suppose that eventually every studio's back catalogs will be universally available via one streaming service or another. Unfortunately, "eventually" seems to be a helluva long time in Hollywood. What will we do in the meantime?

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GOP Senate Candidate: I Forgot About My Bank Account With Oodles of Money in It

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 11:45 AM EDT
Terri Lynn Land speaks at the Michigan Republican convention in 2010.

Terri Lynn Land, the Republican candidate for US Senate in Michigan, has given nearly $3 million to her own campaign. That's perfectly legal—candidates can give as much as they want to their campaigns.

Here's the trouble: On the financial disclosure forms she filed last year and this May with the Federal Election Commission, Land reported she has assets of only about $1.5 million. So how could she give herself twice as much?

Don't fear, Land fans; her staff has an explanation. The other money was in a joint checking account she has with her husband Dan Hibma, a millionaire real estate developer. On Friday, the Land campaign told the Detroit Free Press (which broke this story) that in 2013 she "inadvertently" omitted the account from her disclosure form and in 2014 she "inadvertently" listed the account as solely owned by Hibma. In other words, Land claims she forgot about an account she had with an enormous amount of money in it—even as she was using that money to fund her campaign.

The Land campaign has not said how much money is in that joint checking account. "A candidate suddenly coming into possession of several million dollars raises questions," Paul Ryan, a campaign finance expert at the Campaign Legal Center (no, not that Paul Ryan), told the Free Press.

As Michigan's secretary of state from 2003 until 2011, Land was responsible for enforcing the state's campaign finance laws.

Ted Cruz Is Playing a Long Game on Immigration

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 11:06 AM EDT

Ted Cruz threw a bomb into the immigration crisis yesterday by demanding that any emergency bill to address the tide of minors surging across the border had to include a provision repealing President Obama's so-called mini-DREAM executive action. Formally known as DACA, it directs prosecutors not to spend any time trying to deport individuals who arrived in the US as children.

This is inconvenient for Republicans because DACA is pretty popular and they'd probably prefer to ignore it. So why did Cruz do this? Greg Sargent thinks there's a long game at stake:

I strongly suspect much GOP rhetoric over the crisis is designed to achieve maximum constraint on Obama’s sense of what’s politically possible on unilaterally easing deportations. Case in point: Ted Cruz’s declaration that any GOP response to the crisis must defund Obama’s deferred-deportation program. Cruz has a history of revealing underlying political calculations with unvarnished clarity. He justified the government shutdown to stop Obamacare by arguing that once the law kicked in, people would like it and it would never be repealed.

Something similar may be happening on deportations. As Frank Sharry argues, Obama action on deportations could “permanently cement the reputation of the Democrats as for immigrants and for the changing American electorate and Republicans as against it.” It’s unclear how ambitious Obama will be. But given Cruz’s fevered view of #ObummerTyranny, he probably expects Obama to go big, and he may agree so doing would lock in Latinos for Dems. Hence the move to preclude it.

....However, there’s a risk for Republicans. If they punt on their current response, it could persuade Obama he can position himself as the only problem solver in the room on immigration, giving him more space to act unilaterally. Of course, to reap these benefits, Obama will have to be seen as managing the current crisis effectively. And he has not accomplished this — politically or substantively.

I'll confess that I usually don't give politicians credit for thinking much beyond the ends of their noses. Even gaming things out one move ahead is beyond most of them. But Cruz is a smart guy, and going after DACA is probably a twofer for him: it's politically useful in the short term, marking him as the most aggressive conservative in the Senate; and it might constrain Obama in the future.

But as Sargent says, this cuts both ways. If Obama decides that Republicans, once again, are simply unwilling to deal in any way, then he's left with very little reason to moderate his actions. Compromise only makes enemies among Hispanic voters, after all, and it's worth it only if Republicans will give him something in return. If they won't, he might as well take the boldest action he can to help his party, and then dare Republicans to do something about it. That may well be how this plays out.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 18, 2014

Fri Jul. 18, 2014 9:12 AM EDT

Sgt. Louis Wood pays his respects to Sgt. Thomas Z. Spitzer, who was killed in combat in Afghanistan. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Scanlan)

Vladimir Putin's Games Finally Blew Up In His Face Today

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 12:11 AM EDT

Josh Marshall practically reads my mind with this post:

Were it not for the hundreds killed, it would also be comical the ridiculous series of events Vladimir Putin's reckless behavior led up to this morning. For months Putin has been playing with fire, making trouble and having it work mainly to his advantage....But the whole thing blew up in his face today in a way, and with repercussions I don't think — even with all wall to wall coverage — we can quite grasp.

Find extremists and hot-heads of the lowest common denominator variety, seed them with weaponry only a few militaries in the world possess — and, well, just see what happens. What could go wrong?

Read the whole thing. It's almost precisely what I've been thinking all day long. I'd only add one thing: It was sickening listening to Putin's bleating prevarications and denials after the plane was shot down. Really, truly revolting. If anything could expose him, once and for all, as the petty schoolyard bully that he is, this was it.