Saturday, December 31, 2011

Drug Cartels Move Into Costa Rica

All of this — and Costa Rica's entire tourism-dependent economy — has been possible largely because of its reputation as a safe place that isn't like the rest of Central America.

"People say in Costa Rica God's always watching over us. We don't have a lot of hurricanes, we don't have devastating earthquakes, we don't have devastating poverty; instead of having tanks and military, we have teachers and schools," Damalas says.
But because there isn't a military and the police force has never had to be militarized, he says, "we are very vulnerable."

An Unprecedented 'Menace'

Recent polls show that crime and security are the leading public concern now in this country of 4.6 million people. The same laid-back attitude and openness to outsiders that draws tourists has also attracted Mexican cartels and their Colombia cocaine suppliers, who warehouse drug loads here and move them up the coastlines or overland toward the U.S.

Local contacts are increasingly paid in raw product for their logistical help, so drug use has jumped, especially for crack cocaine, and Costa Rica's homicide rate has nearly doubled since 2004.
The same article also mentions that Belize has been added to "the 'blacklist' of states considered major drug producing nations or transit countries."

AK74 Malfunction--Failure to Extract and Stuck Casing (Updated)

I thought that I would share a malfunction I had with an AK74 this past weekend and how it was resolved. [Note: It wasn't fully resolved--see my second update at the end of the post].

For some background, I had recently finished building the rifle. One of its 922r compliance parts is a U.S. manufactured barrel--plain steel, no chromium lining in the barrel or receiver. Although 5.45 mm ammunition is relatively inexpensive, it is not common. Most of what is available is East bloc military surplus, and so that is what I had to test the weapon. As you may or may not be aware, the Soviet-era ammunition is steel cased, with a green lacquer coating, and a red seal around the bullet and primer.

I had test fired the weapon several weeks ago without malfunction, putting approximately 100 rounds through it. Cleaning afterward was a quick pass through the barrel and chamber with cleaner, oil, and dry patches, and a general wipe down.

With one thing and another, I did not get back to using the weapon until this past weekend. Temperatures were in the mid-30s, so chilly but not so too cold. After setting up targets and other gear, I took my first shot and had a failure to extract malfunction. In examining the casing, the extractor had pulled the casing approximately 1/4 inch out of the chamber before the case had become stuck. The extractor had broken off part of the case rim, but the base of the case was otherwise intact. The primer did not evidence signs of overpressure. The hole in the target had a very slight oval shaped, but not keyholed, and the oval shape was so slight that I can't say for sure that it was anything other than because of a slight wrinkle or "wave" in the paper.

I made some attempt to remove the casing, but the cleaning rod I had was too short, and the multi-tool just couldn't give me enough leverage to work the casing out. So, I put the rifle aside and we shot some other weapons.

After returning home, I used a brass cleaning rod and used a light mallet to try and tap the case out. No good. I tried a heavier rubber mallet. No good. I tried a 16 oz. ball peen hammer. No good. I sprayed WD-40 down the barrel and let it sit overnight. The next day, I tried again with the rubber mallet and still couldn't get the casing to move.

Doing some research, I discovered that this is apparently not an uncommon problem when using the lacquer coated, steel casings. Apparently, when the chamber gets hot, the lacquer can melt and begin to build up in the chamber. Bits and pieces of the red sealant can also get stuck to the lacquer coating the chamber. So, with either a long shooting session, or a later shooting where this lacquer didn't get adequately cleaned out, the lacquer can build up to the point that a shell can get stuck--i.e., glued--in the chamber.

Obviously, in the future, I will need to pay particular attention to the chamber, and use a brush to make sure I break up and remove any lacquer. My only excuse for not already doing so is that (a) I don't shoot ARs, so I'm not used to having to do a full-out, brushes and solvent cleaning every time I shoot, and (b) I've used steel cased ammo for nearly 20 years in other rifles (albeit, with the original military chrome-lined barrels) and never had this issue before. Obviously this weapon, either because of the lack of chrome-lining and/or tighter tolerances will require a more careful and detailed cleaning regimen.

As for getting the case unstuck, my research indicated that the best method was to use a penetrating oil down the barrel to soak the casing and lacquer, and let sit overnight, then tap out with a rod and mallet. The general consensus was to use Kroil brand penetrating oil. Obviously, the WD40 had not worked.

I went to a nearby hardware store, but they did not have any Kroil in stock. They did, however, have Blaster PB "penetrating catalyst." I took that home and sprayed it down the barrel. The label indicated that just a few minutes should be sufficient before giving a try, and so I thought I would see if the advertising was true to its word. A few minutes later, after a  few hard taps on the rod with a mallet, the casing was free. The Blaster PB was true to its advertising and instructions.

A few lessons learned, and the discovery of a new product for cleaning and lubricating firearms, so there was a silver lining behind this whole thing. And I was glad to learn of this issue now, rather than later under different conditions.

Update: A review from Survivalist Blog on the Bulgarian AK74.

Second Update (1/25/2012):  A few weeks ago, I had posted about a failure to extract issue with an AK74 using a U.S. made barrel. The chamber was covered with what appeared to be a uniform brown coating, which was obviously what was causing the cartridge to stick. I thought the issue was solved when I made my earlier post, but the fact is that I could not clean the gunk (or whatever it was) out of the chamber with Hoppes, a copper solvent, or even carburetor cleaner.

I subsequently purchased two more cleaning products: "Goof Off," which is formulated to remove latex paint, asphalt and tar; and Rust-Oleum Rust Stripper (which I specifically selected because it was acid based). Alternating between these two products, which I applied to Q-tips for the actual cleaning, I was able to clean out the coating.

If it was rust, I am thoroughly embarrassed. However, I'm not sure it was. I have used corrosive ammo before in other weapons, and I've never seen anything like this before. There was no sign of corrosion in the barrel or on the gas piston--it was all in the chamber, uniformly distributed, and stopped in a clean circle about 1/8 inch from the bore. It came out somewhat irregularly, with jagged edges to some areas, and it truly appeared that something had coated or been applied on the interior of the bore.

Due to weather issues, it will probably be a while before I can test the rifle out again. Rest assured, I will report further extraction issues, if I have any. Given the lack of information I was able to find on the internet on solving this issue (even though I came across enough items to suggest that this is not an entirely rare issue), I hope that this is of some help to someone.

(Update: I was able to test fire the rifle again a couple weeks later and it functioned reliably--I shot 90 rounds through the rifle without any problems. After returning from the range, I immediately cleaned the bore with both the ordinary cleaners and the "Goof Off").

Update (7/3/2015): Currently I have dropped back to simply using Windex (with ammonia) followed by ordinary gun cleaner/oil without further problems.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Tactical Operations in a Winter Environment

Warrior Talk News has a new article entitled "Winter Warrior" discussing issues and concerns for the tactical operator in winter conditions, along with suggestions. Oh, and some cool pictures too.


Update (2/10/2014): Warrior Talk New/Taipan Magazine is currently down, and I don't know when it will be back up. But here is an alternate site that appears to have the full content of the "Winter Warrior" article.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

China's Growing Investment in South America

I never thought I would read an article from Aljazeera, let alone link to one (although I've linked to articles from the Huffington Post and Politico, so I guess I can't sink any lower), but I came across this one concerning Chinese investment in South America which seemed relevant in light of the recent article I linked to concerning the East India Company. Anyway, from the Aljazeera article:
"Across Latin America we are seeing that China is having an increasing importance in trade and investment," Ricardo Delgado, director of Analytica Consulting in Buenos Aires, told Al Jazeera.

"Brazil and Argentina produce and export many raw materials: soy, sugar, meat and corn… China is a very important driver of demand for these commodities."

Since 2005, China's development bank and other institutions have spent an estimated $75bn on financial investments in South America, said Boston University professor Kevin Gallagher. This is, he points out, "more [investment] than the World Bank, US Export Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank combined".

Chinese private investment, often coming from large state-supported firms that set-up operations in the region or buy local companies, has been about $60bn, Gallagher said.

In the past five years, Bilateral trade between China and South America jumped more than 160 per cent, rising from $68bn in 2006 to $178bn in 2010. In Peru, Chinese mining giant Chinalco spent $3bn buying "copper mountain" - an entire rock formation containing two billion tonnes of the precious metal. The firm expects a 2,000 per cent profit on its investment.

The Chinese state lent Petrobras, Brazil's national oil company, $10bn in 2009. And a plan from China's Beidahuang food company to lease more than 300,000 hectares of land to grow genetically modified soya, corn and other crops in Argentina's Patagonia region has locals furious about potential environmental damage.

As director of Mercampo, an agricultural consulting firm based in Rosario, Argentina, Gabriel Perez has seen the increase first hand. More trade delegations are coming from China, and tycoons from the world's second largest economy are eager to invest in agriculture and commodities.

"China has the strategic vision to ensure food security and energy in their country [as they worry] that long-term problems will be the supply of raw materials," Perez told Al Jazeera. "This is undoubtedly the primary reason for China's investments in South America."


Chinese firms often buy local assets or lock-in long term supply agreements, sometimes making deals in Chinese currency, rather than the US dollar which typically underpins international trade.
(Emphasis added).

As would be expected from Aljazeera, the article basically takes a pro-Chinese, anti-American tone. The authors do not seem to connect the dots, however. What they are describing is mercantilism engaged in by state-backed companies. That is, China purchasing the raw materials for export to China, while exporting finished goods back to the foreign "colony." (As implied by the reference to a "China town" in the article, China is not only importing raw materials from South America, but exporting its officials and managers to the South American nations).
Raul Prebish, an Argentinian economist and former director of the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC), argued that nations on the "periphery" of world trade were doomed to be primary commodity exporters unless they developed by building a domestic manufacturing base and closing trade links.

"In Brazil, China is an important competitor in low labour cost industries. Chinese prices are low and problems of dumping and subsidised exports are common," Delgado said. "Our industries are not prepared very well for this competition." China is frequently accused of keeping its currency artificially low to boost exports.

Brazil's real and other South American currencies have risen drastically due to the commodities boom in recent years. Brazil’s former finance minister went so far as to warn of a "currency war" as countries around the world tried to lower their currencies to boost exports.

"You hear lots of complaints from the industrial sector that competition has become very hard, because the exchange rate is misplaced," Cardoso said, adding that she thinks such concerns are minor compared to the country's growth.

Plenty of economists who do not have strong positions in debates about dependency think it's wrong to worry about Chinese investment because the terms of trade are squarely in South America's favour, as countries maintain large trade surpluses with China.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. If some of the trade deals are denominated in yuan, but the Chinese move ahead with devaluing their currency, as presently predicted, those deals are suddenly going to become worth a lot less. Also, the trade surplus is not necessarily to their advantage if the price of Chinese goods undercut domestic producers to the extent that the local South American manufacturers can't afford to compete. It must be remembered that one of the initial goals of British colonialism in India was to destroy local industry to make Indians dependent on British manufacturing. This appears to be what is happening here.

Radio Free Mexico

A reader pointed me to this article concerning the sophisticated radio communication systems used by the Mexican drug cartels. From the article:

Starting with high-end handheld radios in the hands of lookouts, relayed by concealed radio towers powered by solar panels, boosted by repeater relays and a network of powerful antennas across Mexico, this shadow communications system allows the cartel to coordinate drug deliveries, kidnappings, extortion and other crimes with the immediacy and precision of a modern military or law-enforcement agency.

The Mexican army and marines have begun attacking the system, seizing hundreds of pieces of communications equipment in at least three operations since September that offer a firsthand look at a surprisingly far-ranging and sophisticated infrastructure.

Current and former U.S. law-enforcement officials say the equipment was part of a single network that until recently extended from the U.S. border down eastern Mexico's Gulf coast and into Guatemala.

The network allowed Zetas operatives to conduct encrypted conversations without depending on the official cell phone network, which is relatively easy for authorities to tap into, and in many cases does not reach deep into the Mexican countryside.

"They're doing what any sensible military unit would do," said Robert Killebrew, a retired U.S. Army colonel who has studied the Mexican drug cartels for the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank. "They're branching out into as many forms of communications as possible."
The article mentions that the Mexican government disagrees that the network was a single network, but was actually a series of localized networks. This would suggest that the network was not as sophisticated as the U.S. authorities maintain. The only reason this may be relevant is that the article makes a point that the communications equipment used by the cartels were all legally obtained. Because of Gunwalker, I wonder if the Administration will use the existence of the Mexican network to justify restrictions on communication equipment in the United States.

Hizballah, Mexican Drug Cartels, and Used Cars

From the Investigative Project on Terrorism:

The law enforcement actions come amid a recent report citing Israeli intelligence saying Hizballah's funding from traditional state sponsors such as Iran and Syria has declined sharply. That financial crunch may be leading the Shiite group to build alliances with Mexican drug syndicates and increasingly fund its terrorist operations through profits from the lucrative South American cocaine trade.

If true, the U.S. law enforcement actions may further erode Hizballah's finances.

A Treasury designation, a criminal indictment and a civil lawsuit allege the Lebanese drug dealer Ayman Joumaa is part of a complex cocaine and automobile smuggling enterprise in the United States and West Africa that handles hundreds of millions of dollars each month. Some of those profits were routed to Hizballah through the Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB).

More than $300 million was wired into the United States through Lebanese financial institutions, according to the civil suit. The money laundering scheme allegedly involves at least 30 car dealerships throughout the country. As part of the investigation, federal agents raided a dealership in Tulsa.

"They're making big time money and it's going right into weapons acquisition, terrorist training, recruiting, corruption," DEA official Rusty Payne told Fox News. "Things needed to carry out terrorist attacks around the world. Some of the money is flowing back to the United States, back to these used car companies, to purchase more used cars to ship them to West Africa to sell those at a profit and then mix those used car proceeds in with the drug dollars."

The growing nexus between Hizballah and Mexican drug cartels allows the Iran-backed extremist group to make use of drug cartel transit routes to gain entry into the United States through its porous border with Mexico. Hizballah, in turn, offers Mexican syndicates expertise on smuggling and explosives as well as access to its drug trafficking networks in the Middle East and South Asia.

Iran-backed Hizballah and Mexican drug syndicates share "the same criminal weapons smugglers, document traffickers and transportation experts," former DEA operations chief Michael Braun told the Washington Times. "They rely on the same shadow facilitators. One way or another they're all connected."

Braun also alleged that members of Iran's Quds Force are "commanding and controlling" Hizballah's criminal operations in Latin America.
(Full story here).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gear Review -- Petzl "Tikka XP2" Headlamp



I've had the Petzl "Tikka XP2" Headlamp for about one (1) year now. (Note: the link is for convenience--I did not receive any compensation from Petzl or REI for this review). Before reviewing the particular light, however, I would like to address the use of headlamps in general.

Headlamps are intended as utility lights--they are not, nor should they be used as, tactical lights. First, they are connected to something that you don't want targeted--your head. Second, they cast a beam behind the weapon that can illuminate the weapon and, particularly with a rifle, cast a shadow from the weapon that can obscure the target. Third, and most important, they cannot be quickly and easily operated while using a weapon.

They excel as a utility light, however, for the simple reason that they (i) allow hands-free operations (which is critical when grabbing a load of wood, setting up a tent, working with tools under a car hood, or climbing into an attic) and (ii) they direct the light to where you are looking. I also use mine as a lamp for bike riding at dusk. (While I haven't used it for night riding, I'm sure it would work fine).

For most uses, it is not necessary to purchase an expensive model. We've picked up a few of the inexpensive 3-LED models on sale for $5 - $7 which seem to have held up well through Scout camp outs (and without the worry of them being lost or stolen) and offer a strobe mode for use for bike riding. 

The advantage of more expensive lights is generally greater durability (i.e., shock resistance), a more powerful beam, and other special features that may vary from model to model such as variable brightness settings, secondary red lights, water-proofing, etc.

Details: I'm not going to repeat all of the features for the lamp. If you want the specifics, see the web site that I've linked to above. However, it does have a white LED lamp with three settings: high, low, and strobe. It can also switch over to a red LED. Switching between the settings is done by pressing a single switch--press once for the high, twice for the low, etc. The red light is turned on by holding down on the switch for several seconds.

There is a diffuser "lens" that you can slide up over the lamp to provide a diffuse light over a narrower beam. Since I'm using the lamp for short range, I almost always use the diffuser.

It uses three "AAA" batteries, and seems to have a pretty good life if you mostly stick to using the low power.

There is a whistle on the head-band, which is a nice accessory.

The specs say that the lamp is water-resistant, although I have not had the opportunity (or mishap) to test this.

General Impressions: I would give the lamp a thumbs up overall. Good quality, comfortable to wear, and a long battery life. As I noted, I primarily use the diffuser lens, but I like the option of having a more narrow, longer range beam. I have also used the strobe setting quite a bit when bicycling. I have never used the red light.

Pros: I would give special mention to the easy adjustment of the attitude of the light, and the fact it stays in place. I don't mountain bike, so I can't say how it would hold up to the jarring in that use, but I've never had any problems when going over some serious bumps on the paved bike trails and streets that I use.

At 60 lumens (I think it actually brighter with new batteries, but I have no way of testing), the bright beam is sufficiently bright to light up a trail or path.

The lamp is well built and seems solid (although not heavy), like some of the cheaper lamps I've handled and used.

Cons: There are three things I don't like, but these are minor annoyances more than serious flaws. First, is the orange color on the band. That is an aesthetic issue, and fortunately the orange doesn't really stick out on the outside of the band. I'm sure I would change my mind if I happened to drop the lamp and was trying to find it in grass or brush.

Second, I have a hard time getting it to switch to strobe mode without first taking it off my head. May just be me, but if I'm wearing my lamp before turning it on, I have to stop my bike and fiddle with the lamp.

Third, the body of the lamp is partially clear, and when the lamp is pointed downward, I've had some light reflected through the clear portion and into my eyes. This is a minor issue, and is only when it is pointed down at a sharp angle, but still irritating.

Overall Impression: Good buy. Good lamp.

Excerpt of a Speech by General McCaffrey (Ret.)

Part of a speech by retired General McCaffrey concerning Mexico:
What we are facing now in Mexico is not a “war on drugs.” It goes well beyond that. What’s happening in Mexico is a struggle to establish the rule of law; not just on a police and military level, but also on a cultural level. We are struggling with a contradiction: on the one hand, you are trying to create a society that is internally democratic and self-governing; on the other hand, a significant element of that society has operated with impunity under the law. The short-term problem—chief among the realities they’re facing in Mexico—is that somewhere between $19-$35 billion a year of drug-related commerce is being generated there. The numbers vary depending on your source, but the impact is clear. That amount of money is a blowtorch that melts democratic institutions. It establishes a level of violence…a sophistication of violence…that is perpetuated in and among 120,000 people directly involved with the drug cartels.

Some of them are organized in platoon- and company-sized units—and I use those phrases provocatively to tell you that we are dealing with 50 to 70 people with automatic weapons, RPGs, other military-grade grenades, machine guns, and 50-caliber anti-aircraft guns, who will engage in direct firefights and engagements with Mexican Marines and Soldiers. And they will abduct squad-sized units of the Army and the Federal Police, torture them to death, decapitate them, and leave them as provocative gestures. And they will abduct Mexican general officers and murder them, and leave them with a sign around their necks. They have created an internal atmosphere of intimidation that is so pronounced that, in some ways, it has become impossible for local police (and to some extent state police) to deal with it. It is some kind of threat.

How many people have died at the hands of these elements? Again, the numbers vary with the sources you choose; but one could safely posit 42,000 murders during the current struggle to establish the rule of law.

To reiterate, it’s more than just drugs. It’s also prostitution, abuse of women in the immigrant population, violation of commercial control laws, and potentially (although I don’t think this is a dominant concern) it bears an associated threat with terrorism.

As Frank (Cilluffo) mentioned, we have just been through a Congressional hearing surrounding a report I recently released with (Major General–Retired) Bob Scales. As the hearing progressed the focus shifted to the cartel’s cross-border drug activity. There were a lot of sparks flying, with U.S. Congressmen in denial over this situation; but basically, I think, there is an unwillingness to accept the fact that the problem is not just internal to Mexico.

You have to start with the fact that there are seven major cartels and forty or so subsidiary groups which, combined, represent a peril to the United States. Yes, Stupid, they do. There are 280 some-odd cities in the United States whose dominant organized crime activity is Mexican cartel. They have associates in more than a thousand cities. I just did a seminar for the Portland (Oregon) Police. They are facing a Mexican cartel activity. I participated in the Alameda County “Urban Shield” exercise. They house another Mexican cartel activity. The cartel and their gang foot soldiers are all over the country. They are armed, they are dangerous, and instinctively (because they are a business) they don’t want to confront the FBI.

You and I ought to thank God for the FBI, because the other threat to U.S. democracy associated with the ones we are dealing with here is corruption. You know, when you are talking about the amount of money being offered at this level, it’s not “silver or lead” being thrown up against a U.S. Border Patrol agent—it’s silver. And we’ve had some problems because of it.

Some of our institutions are almost impossible to penetrate: not totally impossible, of course; but when you consider the Coast Guard, the FBI, the Marshall Service, the U.S. Air Force (with regard to radar operators)—it’s pretty hard to penetrate our institutions. That impenetrable nature keeps those institutions from crumbling.

But that cross-border threat from Mexico is real, and—as I said—is using gangs in America as its foot soldiers. There are 30,000 gangs in America, with a million gang members in them. In Texas alone there are 18,000 gang members. And unwittingly, we are contributing to their numbers. The United States has some 2.1 million people in our prisons—nearly the highest incarceration rate on the face of the Earth. Within those prisons we are providing a means for these gangs to socialize, recruit and expand. When the incarcerated leave the prisons (and we turn out a half million every year) many of them are schooled and prepared to enter into the Mexican cartels’ activities. We have found that to be particularly true along the southwest border. And the ranks of the foot soldiers grow, with guns and power distributed from the rural communities of the southwest to the streets of our major metropolitan areas.

And by the way, these are not hierarchical organizations. This is not an ideological struggle. This isn’t a religious struggle. It’s a criminal struggle. And that’s the threat we are facing.
(Footnotes omitted). The whole thing is here. (H/t Instapundit)

Richard Fernandez--"If Tomorrow Comes"

People have been writing about the "birth dearth," the "demographic cliff" or "demographic suicide" for a long time, and I've posted about it generally and specifically as to certain nations or regions. But here is another interesting piece on the demographic decline in Europe and the author's thoughts on its link to socialism. (H/t Instapundit).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Security Landscaping in 4 parts

Posted by Stealth Survival:

Part 1 -- An Introduction.
Part 2 -- The 3-7 Rule.
Part 3 -- The 3-7 Rule Continued.
Part 4 -- Types of Thorny Plants.

More information on Building and Using Hayboxes

I recently posted about different types of insulative cooking, including using hay-boxes. (See here). The Daily Survivor Blog posted some more information on the manufacture and use of hay-boxes. (Story here). There is even a link to a cook book for using hay-boxes.

Volcano in Chile Grounds Air Flights in Argentina

Volcanic lightning bolts form in the ash plume during the eruption of the volcano in southern Chile


Ash from a Chilean volcano is now stretching across Argentina to Buenos Aires, grounding most air travel to and from the country. State-owned airlines Aerolineas Argentinas and Austral announced that they have cancelled all flights until further notice. International air carriers Delta, American, United, Gol, and TAM air lines have cancelled flights to and from the airports in Buenos Aires as a precaution, and other carriers are expected to follow.

(Story here)

Syrian Protestors Demand Support from Arab League.

(Story here). Ah...the old, beg one dictator to help you against another one sham. The Arab's League's purpose is to figure out a way to control Syria's protests that do not risk inflaming their own population, but without out conceding any meaningful reform or sharing of power.

A Brief History of the East India Company

A POPULAR parlour game among historians is debating when the modern world began. Was it when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, in 1440? Or when Christopher Columbus discovered America, in 1492? Or when Martin Luther published his 95 theses, in 1517? All popular choices. But there is a strong case to be made for a less conventional answer: the modern world began on a freezing New Year’s Eve, in 1600, when Elizabeth I granted a company of 218 merchants a monopoly of trade to the east of the Cape of Good Hope.

The East India Company foreshadowed the modern world in all sorts of striking ways. It was one of the first companies to offer limited liability to its shareholders. It laid the foundations of the British empire. It spawned Company Man. And—particularly relevant at the moment—it was the first state-backed company to make its mark on the world.
The relevance to today?
Ever since its ignominious collapse the Company has been treated as an historical curiosity—an “anomaly without a parallel in the history of the world”, as one commentator put it in 1858, a push-me pull-you the like of which the world would never see again. But these days similarly strange creatures are popping up everywhere. The East India Company is being transformed from an historical curiosity into a highly relevant case study.

The Company’s history shows that liberals may be far too pessimistic (if that is the right word) about the ability of state monopolies to remain healthy. The Company lasted for far longer than most private companies precisely because it had two patrons to choose from—prospering from trade in good times and turning to the government for help in bad ones. It also showed that it is quite possible to rely on the government for support while at the same time remaining relatively lean and inventive.

But the Company’s history also shows that mercantilists may be far too optimistic about state companies’ ability to avoid being corrupted by politics. The merchants who ran the East India Company repeatedly emphasised that they had no intention of ruling India. They were men of business who only dabbled in politics out of necessity. Nevertheless, as rival state companies tried to muscle in on their business and local princelings turned out to be either incompetent or recalcitrant, they ended up taking huge swathes of the emerging world under their direct control, all in the name of commerce.

The Chinese state-owned companies that are causing such a stir everywhere from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (where they account for some of the biggest recent flotations) to the dodgiest parts of Sudan (where they are some of the few business organisations brave enough to tread) are no different from their East Indian forebears. They say that they are only in business for the sake of business. They dismiss their political connections as a mere bagatelle. The history of the East India Company suggests that it won’t work out that way.
Sort of the story of the once-and-future King. Read the whole thing.

Photographs of the Exclusion Zone around the Fukashima Nuclear Plant

Almost like an episode of "Life After People." (Story and photographs here).
Here's one of a hastily abandoned grocery store:

Expect More "Direct Action" from Occupy Wall Street This Coming Year

One of my readers sent me a link to this article of December 22, 2011, from MSN Money about the future tactics of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. The key point:
Listen to some of the specific guerrilla tactics they warn will be used in their 2012 "American Spring" assault: A "marked escalation of surprise, playful, precision disruptions, rush-hour flash mobs, bank occupations, 'occupy squads' and edgy theatrics." And in a New Yorker magazine interview shortly after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's "military-style operation," Lasn warned: "this means escalation, pushing us one step closer to a revolution."
The article doesn't just stop on reporting the OWS tactics, but actually lends support. For instance, the author writes:
But to truly understand how this class war is predicting what lies ahead, know that class war is not just between the superrich and the 99%. It is more a generational war between America's youth and a wealthy, entrenched establishment. The young helped elect the president and expected "change we can believe in." Unfortunately things got worse, and they're mad as hell.

Investors, especially, had better watch out: This pent-up energy in America's youth is building to a critical mass (as happened in Europe and the Arab world, and now in China and Russia), and it will explode across the economic and political landscape in 2012.

In the final analysis, however, you sense that in spite of their accelerating rage against the establishment, America's youth, our next great generation, also had a sudden epiphany and learned a crucial lesson. Oh yes. Because their enemies didn't just give them a great gift, but also inadvertently trained them in using a more aggressive special-ops, guerrilla, quick-strike strategy. Listen and you'll see what they learned in one night raid against them:

"Why can't the American power elite engage with the nation's young?

"Instead, they stayed aloof, ignored us and wished us away," then "attacked us in Zuccotti Park in the dead of the night.

"Bloomberg's raid was carried out with military precision. The surprise attack began at 1 a.m. with a media blackout. The encampment was surrounded by riot police, credentialed mainstream journalists who tried to enter were pushed back or arrested, and the airspace was closed to news helicopters. What happened next was a blur of tear gas; a bulldozer; confiscation or destruction of everything in the park, including 5,000 books; upward of 150 arrests; and the deployment of a Long Range Acoustic Device, the infamous 'sound cannon' best known for its military use in Iraq. . . .

"This kind of military mindset and violent response to nonviolent protesters makes no sense. It did not work in the Middle East, and it's not going to work in America either. This is the bottom line . . . you cannot attack your young and get away with it."

Repeat that "bottom line . . . you cannot attack your young and get away with it." And yet, that's exactly what Wall Street, America's superrich, their lobbyists and all their bought politicians are doing: "attacking our young." Attacking our next generation. Attacking America's future.

Our leaders are ideologically blind to the need to invest and invest big in jobs before this accelerating rage reaches a critical mass and ignites, triggering another American Revolution and the Second Great Depression.
OWS has so far proven itself to be nothing but rubes--and incredibly ignorant and unmotivated ones at that--for the liberal wing of the Democratic party. But perhaps they are waking up to the fact that Obama and the Democrats are the party of, by and for billionaires and their entrenched interests; ergo, the Democrats (including Obama) may not be able to rely on the youth vote this time around. In any event, it should make this coming year a little more interesting...if the OWS protestors can just follow through on their grand dreams.

What they don't understand is that the clash, when it comes, will not a simple clash between rich and poor. It will be the businesses of all sizes trying to provide valuable and useful products and services against those companies that make their money via bailouts, preferential laws and regulations, billion-dollar government loans,  subsidies and other forms of government protection, and otherwise feed at the public trough. It will be between the hard-working professional or blue-collar worker versus those whose incomes rely on tax revenues. And, unfortunately, it will be between those who rely on government pension systems and those who are paying taxes to support those systems. We are living in interesting times.

Monday, December 26, 2011

On Patrol with the Shadow Wolves

An article about Native American trackers working for the Department of Homeland Security to track drug smugglers and illegal aliens crossing the Mexico-Arizona border. After tracking down a vehicle that was abandoned in a hurry, one of the agents explained:
He explains that the spotters sit on peaks all the way from the border to Phoenix. They outnumber the Shadow Wolves and are equipped with night vision goggles, mobile phones and radios that deliver encrypted messages to drug mules on the ground. Other spotters work for people smuggling gangs and are in touch with the "coyotes" who guide groups of illegal immigrants across the desert.

"We're probably being watched right now," says Mr Garcia. "They see us coming and they get on the radio telling people we're coming." 
* * *
Drug smugglers use every possible option to get over the US border including horses, quad bikes and even ultralight aircraft. But the main delivery method is still the oldest, human mules carrying 40lb hessian wrapped bales of marijuana for payment of as little as $500 per trip. It can take them seven days to cross the desert.

The mules, and the thousands of illegal immigrants crossing, strap pieces of carpet to their shoes in an attempt to obscure their footprints. In response the trackers examine thorns for snagged fibres of clothing or hessian. They study the direction of indentations in the soil made by dislodged pebbles. Moisture from a carelessly squashed piece of cactus tells them how far ahead people are. Disturbed soil under a tree reveals how long ago someone stopped to rest, as the shade from the tree moves through the day.

The game of cat and mouse between the Shadow Wolves and the mountain-based spotters goes on daily, and at night, and the tracking methods are having some significant success. They seize an average of 60,000lb of drugs a year with a street value of around $60 million (£38 million). It is impossible to determine how much marijuana, and how many illegal immigrants, get through.

Chinese Provincial Governments Have Begun Defaulting on Their Loans

China's biggest provincial borrowers are deferring payment on their loans just two months after the country's regulator said some local government companies would be allowed to do so.
Also this:
As local governments delay payments for projects commissioned as part of the stimulus to ward off recession in 2009, less money is available for bank lending even as China is taking steps to inject more into the economy. The central bank has held interest rates at 6.56 percent since July to boost the economy, while the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan have kept benchmark rates near zero since 2008.

"When companies start to roll over debt they're not retiring debt, and banks aren't retrieving their capital, so you're crowding out new lending," Patrick Chovanec, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said in a Dec 13 interview. "This is a problem that's going to start to bite next year." 
* * *
Even after the reduction in interest payments, Gansu Provincial Highway said that interest and principal payments in 2011 will amount to 3.33 billion yuan, more than its 2010 cash flow of 3.04 billion yuan, according to bond-marketing materials.

"This prospectus is telling us that banks can expect to only receive roughly half of what would have been expected in interest payments," Charlene Chu, a Beijing-based banking analyst with Fitch Ratings, said of the Gansu disclosure.
 More analysis here at Zero Hedge. (H/t Instapundit)

Follow Up on Rumors that the FBI Wanted Customer Information from an LDS Cannery

I had posted earlier this week a statement from the Church that requests from the FBI for customer lists for an LDS cannery were nothing more than rumor. I didn't know what "rumors" the story was addressing, until today. From  SHTFPlan.com is the full story of what accusations were made, the basis behind the accusations, and the implications if the story had been true.

(Update: Link updated per the comments. Thanks).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Problem with Seeking a Naturalistic Explanation for Supernatural Events

Every year around either Christmas or Easter, one of the major news magazines such as Time or Newsweek will run some article summarizing historical research about the "real" Jesus, which inevitably are nothing more than an attempt to dismiss almost everything about Jesus and his ministry as fabricated or fanciful. 

Part of the problem is that the "scholars" relied on by these news magazines don't really believe in the divinity of Christ. But there is a problem with even believers--and I see this even in myself--wanting to provide a scientific explanation to every miraculous event in the Bible. It is possible to explain some--after all, much of our technology would be "magic" 2,000 years ago--but surely most miracles are so far beyond our scientific understanding to be, for all intents and purposes, "magic."

So, if you are interested, here is an interview with a Biblical scholar that tries to address some of these issues, both in making a historical review of the Bible, and as pertaining to modern day miracles. He notes witness accounts of miracles among Christians in Africa today.

Here is also a link to an Ensign article by Dallin H. Oaks entitled "Miracles." He explains:
The word miracle is used in different ways. We sometimes say that any happening we cannot explain is a “miracle.” To me, a computer is a miracle. So are cell phones and space travel. But these wonders are explainable by physical laws understood by some mortals. I call them miracles because I do not personally understand them and therefore cannot duplicate them at will.

Another category of miracles, so-called, are the tricks that some magicians and religious practitioners stage in order to produce astonishing events in aid of their professions or ministries. You will remember that the magicians in Pharaoh’s court duplicated some of the miracles Moses produced through the power of God (see Ex. 7–8). Perhaps these magicians were servants of the devil, using his power, but I think it more likely that they were simply skilled practitioners of magic tricks that they used to reinforce their position in Pharaoh’s court.

Religious practitioners have employed similar deceptions in our own day. About 40 years ago a professional dramatic production planned for a midwestern city had to be postponed because the producers could not find enough professional actors to perform the required roles. A great religious revival was under way in that city, and I was told the revivalists had hired all of the available professional actors to portray miraculous healings and conversions to enhance their position and goals with their audiences. Before we are too critical of such techniques, we should remember that we engage in similar deceptions whenever we exaggerate a happening in order to dazzle an audience into thinking we have experienced a miracle or to enhance our stature in other ways. Warning!

We know from the scriptures that persons without authority will use the name of Jesus Christ to work what seem to be miracles. The Savior taught that as part of the Final Judgment many would say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (Matt. 7:22). You will remember that these pretenders were rejected by the Lord (see Matt. 7:23).

Not every manifestation or miracle comes from God or from mortal deception. The adversary has great powers to deceive, and he will use these to give his corrupted copy of the genuine miracles worked by the power of God. I will say no more of this, since I believe it is not desirable to say much about the powers of the evil one. It is sufficient for us to know that his power exists and that we have been warned against it (see Rev. 13:11–14; D&C 28:11; D&C 50:1–3). 4

I will now describe two types of genuine miracles. These two fit all of the elements of the definition: they are brought about by divine power, mortals do not understand them, and mortals cannot duplicate them of themselves.

First, miracles worked by the power of the priesthood are always present in the true Church of Jesus Christ. 5 The Book of Mormon teaches that “God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles” (Mosiah 8:18). The “means” provided is priesthood power (see James 5:14–15; D&C 42:43–48), and that power works miracles through faith (see Ether 12:12; Moro. 7:37). The scriptures contain many accounts of such miracles. Elijah’s raising the widow’s son and Peter’s healing of the lame man are two familiar examples from the Bible (see 1 Kgs. 17:8–24; Acts 3), and there are many others. I will describe some modern examples later.

A second type of genuine miracle is the miracle worked through the power of faith, without specifically invoking the power of the priesthood. Many of these miracles occur in our Church, such as by the prayers of faithful women, and many occur outside it. As Nephi taught, God “manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith” (2 Ne. 26:13; see also 1 Ne. 7:12; James 5:15).

China's Growth Model Tests Its Limits

The IMF said outstanding loans have increased by almost 100pc of GDP over the last five years, roughly double the intensity of the credit boom in Japan before the Nikkei bubble burst or in the US after the subprime housing bubble burst. The boom has pushed house price-to-income ratios to 19 in Beijing, and 15 in Shanghai and other eastern cities.

This has become a threat to social stability. Poorer Chinese can no longer afford to buy or rent property. The government is rushing through plans to build 36m homes for low-income families at a cost of $850bn, but it is not yet clear where the money will come from.

Professor Victor Shih from Northwestern University said the government implicit’s debt is near 100pc of GDP when hidden borrowing by local authorities is included. It is questionable whether the banking system can easily pump up the economy again, even if ordered to do so.

Fitch Ratings warns that there has already been a "massive build-up in leverage", eroding the ability of lenders to generate genuine economic growth by expanding credit. The IMF says banks could be "severely impacted" if the soft-landing turns hard. The receding tide this year is likely to reveal whether or not banks are bathing naked.

Capital is already leaving the country. China’s $3.2 trillion foreign reserves have begun to shrink. Officials in Beijing have warmed of a "grim" year to come, muttering about the possible need for a weaker yuan. Any such currency move would set off a storm in Washington, risking a trade war.

The Politburo knows that China’s growth model has hit its limits, with over-reliance on exports. Investment is running at 46pc of GDP and the national savings rate is 54pc, both signs of a massively distorted economy.

The great task is to unleash consumption, and that in turn will require a cultural revolution. Not much happened on this front in 2011. Perhaps 2012 will show a flicker of movement.

Merry Christmas -- Remembering Other Christians in Your Prayers

I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.

And as we give thanks at Church or the privacy of our homes, please also remember those Christians around the world that are not so lucky to live in a nation tolerant of their religion, but instead face stiff persecution. Here is more on this topic from Mark Steyn:
On this Christmas Eve, one of the great unreported stories throughout what we used to call Christendom is the persecution of Christians around the world. In Egypt, the “Arab Spring” is going so swimmingly that Copts are already fleeing Egypt and, for those Christians that remain, Midnight Mass has to be held in the daylight for security reasons. In Iraq, midnight services have been canceled entirely for fear of bloodshed, part of the remorseless de-Christianizing that has been going on, quite shamefully, under an American imperium.

Not merely the media but Christian leaders in the west seem to be embarrassed by behavior that doesn’t conform to their dimwitted sappiness about “Facebook Revolutions”. It took a Jew to deliver this line:
When Lord Sacks, chief rabbi in England, rose in the House of Lords to speak about the persecution of Christians, he quoted Martin Luther King. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Mexico To Implement Strategy of Using Fortified Towns to Pacify Territory Lost to Cartels

From Borderland Beat:
This is a key new (and underappreciated) strategic component in the Mexican government’s response to the criminal insurgencies taking place in that country. The Mexican federal government is implementing a prototype program to reestablish its authority in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico overrun by the cartels and gangs.

Specifically, it is garrisoning an Army unit in a 100 acre modular base in close proximity to the abandoned town of Ciudad Mier. Ciudad Mier had been abandoned in late 2010, with most of its 6,300 residents becoming internally displaced persons (IDPs), due to the conflict raging between the Zetas and Gulf cartels. The establishment of the Army garrison (battalion size/600 soldiers) resulted in about two-thirds of the residents of Ciudad Mier returning back to the town.

The intent of the fortified town prototype in Ciudad Mier is to create an island of Federal authority and stability that can then be expanded to retake the surrounding lands that have been lost (what the Mexican government terms “areas of impunity”).

This will be undertaken by the creation of new vetted (and uncorrupted) police forces that will then be established in nearby communities. It is assumed that the Ciudad Mier garrison will patrol the countryside in its area of responsibility (AOR) and function as a rapid deployment force that can then come to the aid of these new police forces when they are threatened by larger cartel commando units.

No mention has been made of civilian defense forces (militias) being formed in support of the military garrison and police units— though such potentials exist and the creation of those units would have many benefits.
(Full story and analysis, including diagrams, here). (Additional background here).

Zetas Issue Open Challenge to the United States and Mexican Governments

Borderland Beat recently published the following communique from the Zetas drug cartel:
A communique from the special forces of Los Zetas

Message to the nation, the government, and all of Mexico and to public opinion: The special forces of Los Zetas challenges the government of Mexico and its federal forces.

Not the Army, not the Marines nor the security and antidrug agencies of the United States government can resist us. Mexico lives and will continue under the regime of Los Zetas. Let it be clear that we are in control here and although the federal government controls other cartels, they cannot take our plazas. You want proof? Look at what happened in Sinaloa and Guadalajara. If we can get all the way into their kitchen we are not going to lose control of our territory.

Sincerely, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales Z-40
(Link here) (More details here). Morales subsequently released another communique refuting that he had anything to do with the first message. The second stated:
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

With respect to the banner under my name, MIGUEL ANGEL TREVIÑO MORALES, that challenges the Mexican government and all the authorities and federal agencies
of both countries. To start with let me clarify that I did not order those banners to be hung. We do not govern this country, nor do we have a regime; we are not terrorists or guerrillas. We are dedicated to our occupation and what we least desire is to have problems with any government, neither Mexico or much less with the U.S.

That message must have been put by someone with nothing better to do; that person wants to set me up against the government and make the government believe that is my mindset.

Yes, I know and am aware that you cannot and should not fight against any government. Never in my right mind would I pick a fight against Samson, I have no motive to put such those stupidness on a message, nor do I think the government believes anybody with a brain would sign their name to such stupidness.

We also want to clarify that the Zeta cartel are not terrorists and we are against terrorism.

Not long ago the media said the DEA had an informant commented that we would make an attempt against the life of an ambassador. We would not now or ever have any such inclination.

That is not who we are or how we think. That messsage must have been put up by someone who wants to ostracize me. I don't know who put it up, nor am I going to say it was this group or that person because in reality I have no idea. But what is true is that I respect the Mexican and the American governments, and I reject those foolish comments on that messsage and I reiterate that I am not of that mindset nor is the Zeta cartel, now or ever. In regards to what happened at the casino royal in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon: those were not our orders, it was stupid what those people did. I don't think those idiost realized the damage they were doing to the families of the victims that died in that regrettable occurence. With our most sincere condolences we want it understood we did not order that. We know this will cause an outcry but what those idiots did was senseless and they did not realize the problems they were getting into.

Our respect to the Mexican government.
Whatever is going on, it is interesting to compare this type of challenge to the letter by the Gadianton Robbers to the Nephites in Chapter 3 of Third Nephi.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Religious Persecution by Palestinian Muslims Against Palestinian Christians

Of the 1.5 million Palestinians now living in the Gaza Strip, fewer than 1,400 are Christian and those who can are leaving. The church hopes reconciliation will bring them back.

There hasn't been a Christmas tree in Gaza City's main square since Hamas pushed the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza in 2007 and Christmas is no longer a public holiday.
(Full article here). 

This article brings to mind an op-ed piece from The Telegraph from a couple days ago about the persecution of Christians in the Middle-East. From that piece:
Father Immanuel Dabaghian, one of Baghdad’s last surviving priests, is expecting a quiet Christmas. To join him in the Church of the Virgin Mary means two hours of security checks and a body search at the door, and even then there’s no guarantee of survival. Islamist gunmen massacred 58 people in a nearby church last year, and fresh graffiti warns remaining worshippers that they could be next.

The Americans have gone now, and Iraq’s Christian communities – some of the world’s oldest – are undergoing an exodus on a biblical scale.

Of the country’s 1.4 million Christians, about two thirds have now fled. Although the British Government is reluctant to recognise it, a new evil is sweeping the Middle East: religious cleansing. The attacks, which peak at Christmas, have already spread to Egypt, where Coptic Christians have seen their churches firebombed by Islamic fundamentalists. In Tunisia, priests are being murdered. Maronite Christians in Lebanon have, for the first time, become targets of bombing campaigns. Christians in Syria, who have suffered as much as anyone from the Assad regime, now pray for its survival. If it falls, and the Islamists triumph, persecution may begin in earnest.

The idea of Christianity as a kind of contagion that is foreign to the Arab world is bizarre: it is, of course, a Middle Eastern religion successfully exported to the pagan West. Those feet, in ancient times, came nowhere near England’s mountains green. The Nativity is a Middle Eastern story about a child born to a Jewish mother, whose first visitors were three wise Iranians and who was then swept off to Egypt to escape Roman persecution.

His Apostles later scattered to Libya, Turkey and Iraq, to establish the Christian communities that are now under threat. For most of history, they have coexisted happily with Muslims: dressing the same way, even celebrating each other’s festivals. The rise of the veil, and other cultural dividing lines, is a relatively modern phenomenon.

These dividing lines are now being made into battle lines by hardline Salafists, who are emerging as victors of the Arab Spring. They belong to the same mutant strain of Sunni Islam which inspired al-Qaeda. Their agenda is sectarian warfare, and they loathe Shia Islam as much as they do Christians and Jews. Their enemy lies not over a border, but in a church, synagogue or Shia mosque. The Salafists may be detested by the Muslim mainstream. But as they are finding out, you don’t need to be popular to seize power in a post-dictatorship Arab world – you just need to be the best organised. The West is so obsessed with government structure that it doesn’t notice when power lies elsewhere, and Islamist death squads are executing barbers and unveiled women in places like Basra.
 I know that the Gospel is supposed to be preached to all nations (at least, all Gentile nations) prior to Christ's second coming. However, I have to wonder if the Middle-East already had its chance in the time of the primitive church. Nations such as Jordon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and so on, were some of the first to receive Christianity, and were the primary center of Christianity and Christian thought during the First Millennium. So, in a sense, they've already been the subject of missionary work.

British PM Promises to Protect Falkland Islands

Almost 30 years since Britain fought off Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands, the Prime Minister reassured the islanders that they would be allowed to decide their own destiny.

“Let me be absolutely clear,” he said in a radio address. “We will always maintain our commitment to you on any question of sovereignty.

“Your right to self-determination is the cornerstone of our policy. We will never negotiate on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless you, the Falkland Islanders, so wish. No democracy could ever do otherwise.”

Tensions with Argentina have resurfaced since a British company claims to have found large quantities of oil in the sea surrounding the islands.

Last week Argentina issued a new threat that it will put up an “eternal fight” for the islands, as Brazil and Uruguay also agreed to blockade ships carrying the “illegal” Falklands flag.
 (Full story here). This also:
Argentina has also taken offence that the Duke of Cambridge is set to start a posting in the remote Falklands early next year.

Prince William, a Flight Lieutenant with the RAF, will fly search and rescue helicopter missions.

Argentina’s Foreign Ministry interpreted this as a “provocative act” just before the islands are due to commemorate three decades since the Falklands War in April.
Neither country is in as good a position to fight a war now as they were 30 years ago. However, since Britain no longer has any aircraft carriers, Argentina may believe that it has the edge.

Magpul Introduces Accessories for the Remington 870.

The MOE Forend is a drop in replacement for the factory version and features extended length and front/rear hand stops. Since it’s MOE it’s compatible with current MOE rails, mounts, and accessories.

The SGA Stock features a spacer system for length of pull adjustment, improved grip ergonomics, recoil-reducing butt-pad, optional cheek risers for use with optics/raised sights, and other accessories.
Not much more detail than that, but the full story with pictures is here. (H/t The Firearms Blog).

Why Manufacturing is Necessary for Technical Innovation

For many people in industry, the connections between innovation and manufacturing are a given—and a reason to worry. "We have learned that without a foothold in manufacturing, the ability to innovate is significantly compromised," says GE's Idelchik. The problem with outsourcing production is not just that you eventually lose your engineering expertise but that "businesses become dependent on someone else's innovation for next-generation products." One repercussion, he says, is that researchers and engineers lose their understanding of the manufacturing process and what it can do: "You can design anything you want, but if no one can manufacture it, who cares?"
A specific example:
It turns out it's not necessarily true that innovative technologies will simply be manufactured elsewhere if it doesn't happen in the United States. According to research by Erica Fuchs, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, the development of integrated photonics, in which lasers and modulators are squeezed onto a single chip, has been largely abandoned by optoelectronic manufacturers as they have moved production away from the United States. Many telecom firms were forced to seek lower-cost production in East Asia after the industry's collapse in the early 2000s, and differences in manufacturing practices meant that producing integrated photonic chips was not economically viable in those countries. Thus a technology that once appeared to be just a few years away from revolutionizing computers and even biosensors was forsaken. Economists might argue that we don't care where something is produced, says Fuchs, but location can profoundly affect "the products that you choose to make and the technology trajectory itself."
(Full article here). (H/t Instapundit).

Near Riots Over Air-Jordan Athletic Shoes

The release of Nike's new Air Jordan basketball shoes caused a frenzy at stores across the nation Friday as scuffles broke out and police were brought in to stamp out unrest that nearly turned into riots in some places.
(Full story here).

Imagine if it had been something like a shipment of food after a major disaster, or rumors that "so-and-so" had been "hoarding" food in the midst a shortage.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"The Corruption of America"

Please read this article from Stansberry's Investment Advisory on the corruption of America and the coming collapse. Stansberry first points out that the per-capita wealth of America has been declining for decades. He writes:
Consider, for example, annual sales of automobiles. Auto sales peaked in 1985 (11 million) and have been declining at a fairly steady rate since 1999. In 2009, Americans bought just 5.4 million passenger cars. As a result, the median age of a registered vehicle in the U.S. is almost 10 years.

Our data shows that real per-capita wealth peaked in the late 1960s. Guess when we find the absolutely lowest median age of the U.S. fleet? In 1969. At the end of the 1960s, the median age of all the cars on the road in the U.S. was only 5.1 years. Even as recently as 1990, the median age was only 6.5 years.

Rich people buy new cars. Poor people do not.

Most important, our data "proves" something I know many of you have felt or perceived for many years. You've seen the decline of your neighborhoods. You've gone years without being able to earn more money in your job. Or you've seen your purchasing power decrease to the point where you're now substituting lower-quality products on your grocery list for the brand-name products you used to buy.

You can see how much harder it is on your children to find good jobs, to buy good housing or a new car. As a result, few people under the age of 40 have the same kind of "life story" as their parents.

And because they can't "make it," many have decided to "fake it." The average college student now graduates with $24,000 in debt... and by his late 20s has racked up more than $6,000 in credit card debt. Meanwhile, median earnings for Americans aged 25-34 equals $34,000-$38,000. (Source: Demos.org, "The Economic State of Young America," November 2011.)

Can you imagine starting your life out as an adult with a personal debt-to-income level at close to 100%? What does this say about the state of our economy? What does this say about the state of our culture?
 He then explains how the "War on Poverty" and other socialist programs have bankrupted the nation. And how the rise of public sector unions has undermined democracy:
We can trace the origins of these ultraliberal politicians and the beginnings of America's severe urban decline to the early 1960s. Yes, that was when the civil rights movement inspired the black community to take political power. But that wouldn't have necessarily led them to embrace socialism. Americans of all races largely rejected socialism for decades.

That all changed in the mid-1960s. Facing tough mid-term elections, the Democratic Party convinced President John F. Kennedy to allow the federal workforce to unionize. Executive order 10988 – signed on January 17, 1962 – permitted federal employees to organize unions and bargain collectively for higher wages and benefits. This set the stage for similar measures in cities and states across the country and led to a transformation of the union workforce. (Technically, Wisconsin became the first state to allow collective bargaining from state employees in 1959. But that's an outlier. Most states followed the federal lead.)

This represented a major change in both Democratic Party strategy and a major revolution in American politics. Even Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was the most liberal president in history prior to Barack Obama, recognized that allowing collective bargaining on behalf of government workers was incompatible with a free democratic system of government...
And, its not just the Democrats:
Our country's core problems are not found in only one political party.

There is just as much corruption, if not more, on the Republican side of the aisle. It was, for example, as I pointed out earlier, a white, Republican-appointed Treasury secretary (Henry Paulson) who tipped off 20 top hedge-fund managers about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's imminent collapse after assuring the public that it wouldn't happen.

For big business, the powerful role of government in our society is simply too valuable to ignore. And the amount of corruption it inspires is stunning. Few politicians even bother trying to hide the fact that they're bought and sold like furniture.

Take Newt Gingrich. The white, Republican former House speaker was paid $1.6 million for "consulting" by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac during a period of time the two firms were under constant attack by Newt's fellow Republicans. Were the attacks efforts to truly reform a major threat to our financial system... or were they merely shakedowns? All we know for certain is Fannie and Freddie collapsed, just as many Republicans warned they would. The Republican effort to reform the firms failed. Newt collected $1.6 million.

Fannie and Freddie could end up costing taxpayers as much as $500 billion. No, I'm not ignoring the colossal role the Democrats played in staffing Fannie and Freddie, lobbying Congress for the companies, etc. I'm simply pointing out that, in Washington, everything and everyone seems to be for sale, on both sides of the aisle.

I realize that's nothing new. What is new is the scope of the corruption and how brazenly our leaders have embraced it.
 His conclusion:
I do agree that the nation will soon face a choice between heading down the path towards fascism... or turning back the power of government and restoring the limited Republic that was our birthright. I continue to believe Americans will choose personal liberty.

I believe they will choose more freedom rather than more totalitarian rule. I don't believe Americans will tolerate martial law for long – even in the advent of a real emergency, which I do believe will occur.

What gives me confidence for the future? Gun sales, for one thing. U.S. citizens legally own around 270 million firearms – about 88 guns per 100 citizens (including children) today.

That's a hard population to police without its consent. America is the No. 1 country in the world as ranked by the number of guns per-capita. That plays a major factor in the kind of government you will see take root in America. Things might go too far in this country for a while... And I'd argue they've been going the wrong way for too long. But the government can only take things so far before they'll be faced with a very angry, well-armed opposition.

If the government attempts to take our guns... my opinion would change immediately. But that's one right the Supreme Court has been strengthening recently. It gives me hope that most people in America still understand that the right to bear arms has little to do with protecting ourselves from crime and everything to do with protecting ourselves from government...
I've only quoted a small portion of the article. Read the whole thing.

Chinese Stocks and Other Asian Stocks Falling.

The Shanghai Composite is down 1.3% right now, extending a three day sell-off. Investors seem to be getting increasingly worried about a hard landing scenario.

All of the other Asian markets are also trading down.
China’s stocks fell for a fourth day as investors speculated Europe’s debt crisis will worsen and lending to small companies may drop as banks hoard cash to meet year-end reserve-ratio requirements.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ratcheting Up the Tension in the Falklands

Last week I had noted the increasing tensions between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands, which have coincided with oil discoveries in the area. Tension continues to mount. From The Telegraph, a report on calls from Lord West, the former First Sea Lord, calling on the British government to send a nuclear submarine to the area, and also hold naval exercises.

The peer called for a nuclear submarine to be sent to the region to show Britain's determination to protect the Falklands and said that military exercises would leave Buenos Aires in no doubt about Britain’s attitude to the announcement.

“Far from trying to settle in a grown-up way and having better and better relationships with the Falkland islanders, they are upping the ante and becoming very confrontational,” he told the London Evening Standard.

Roger Spink, president of the Falklands Chamber of Commerce, said they were a small community and felt increasingly under blockade. ''If we were Palestine, the European Union would be up in arms," he told the BBC.

The latest row was sparked after the presidents of the South American countries announced they had reached the agreement to ban ships flying the Falklands flag.

In a communiqué, released at the end of a summit in Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital, said ships carrying the flag "should not dock in Mercosur ports, and if that were to happen, they should not be accepted in another Mercosur port".

They added that member countries would adopt "all measures that can be put in place to impede the entry to its ports of ships that fly the illegal flag of the Malvinas Islands [sic]".
(Brackets mine).

The Role of Modern Day Revelation

In various eschatological posts, I have referenced modern day revelation. I found this article on modern day revelation that I thought may interest some of you.

Church Dispells Rumors Concerning Tennessee Cannery

I hadn't heard any rumors about Federal officials visiting a cannery for information on who used the facility, but the Church reports that it is just a rumor. The official news release:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has received a number of inquiries about an alleged visit by federal officials to a Church canning facility in Tennessee seeking information about those who use the facility. The Church has investigated these claims and there is no basis for the rumors.
(Link here).

Syria is Melting

Walter Russel Mead writes about the slide into civil war in Syria. (Link here). 
Last night, Ha’aretz ran this headline: “Assad losing control as 10,000 soldiers desert Syrian military”. Other would-be deserters were not so lucky: On Monday, reports circulated that scores of soldiers were machine-gunned by their former comrades as they tried to defect to the opposition, according to survivors.

Despite recent desertions, Assad still commands the loyalty of most of the armed forces, especially including the well-armed Syrian Republican Guard. Damascus and Aleppo, centers of support for the Assad regime, have yet to experience the scale of the turmoil and violence that has been the norm in cities like Homs. Yet the resistance is getting stronger: even in Damascus, rockets have been launched at Army vehicles, according to Ha’aretz.
You may also want to look at this article from the New York Times about the killing of defecting soldiers mentioned above.

New H5N1 Virus (Bird Flu) Outbreak on the Way?

Hong Kong health authorities have slaughtered more than 17,000 chickens after three birds were found to have died from the H5N1 bird flu strain in the past week.

The city is on high alert having raised its flu warning system level to 'serious' after a chicken carcass found at a bustling market tested positive for the virus.

It follows the discovery earlier this week of the bodies of an oriental magpie and a black-headed gull, both found at Hong Kong secondary schools, which also tested positive for the virus.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Continued Bad News for China's Economy

On top of an increasingly restive population, China continues to show signs of a hard landing. First, China's manufacturing sector appears to be continuing to shrink for the second month in a row. Second, China may be running a trade deficit, which is not good for a nation that depends on exports to support its economy. (H/t Instapundit). Third, local Chinese governments have borrowed a lot more than previously disclosed, meaning that they may not be able to service their loans in an economic downturn:
The findings suggest China is failing to curb borrowing that one central bank official has said will slow growth in the world’s second-largest economy if not controlled. With prices dropping in China’s real estate market, economists warn that local authorities won’t be able to repay their debt because of poor cash flow and falling revenue from land sales they rely on for much of their income.

Besieges Chinese Village Claims Small Victory

As thousands of Wukan residents threatened to march on Thursday to demand the body of rights campaigner Xue Jinbo, who died in police custody, a top level Communist official brokered a meeting with the angry community.

Guangdong provincial deputy-Communist Party Secretary Zhu Mingguo will meet with unofficial Wukan representatives Lin Zuluan and Yang Semao on Wednesday.
Hopefully they aren't being too trusting:
Amid the growing volatility in the province, the authorities offered a goodwill gesture and agreed to dismantle one of the security cordons blockading Wukan village.

In response, the villagers tore down their crude barricades.

But as some residents clapped and unfurled a victory banner, a village elder angrily rushed over to tear it down.

"This is not yet a victory," he yelled.

Villagers are still on alert and fear snatch squads will seize their chance to grab the ringleaders of their unprecedented rebellion.

Groups of residents are now patrolling the sprawling coastal community.

How Long Until War in Europe?

The title to this post may seem a little over the top since the article I'm citing to is merely about Britain possibly facing a downgrade from Moody's:
Moody’s, one of the world’s largest rating firms, said in its annual credit report that, although the AAA rating was currently secure, it was based on the economy not deteriorating further or the Government being forced to bail out the banks again.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, has repeatedly stressed the importance of retaining the rating, which determines the rate at which Britain can borrow money on the international financial markets.
The article also mentions France's imminent downgrade, and other continuing problems. But this is what caught my attention:
France is currently facing a downgrading and last week senior French politicians demanded that Britain’s rating should also be reviewed.
With the increased friction between the European nations, and Germany demanding more say-so in how other Euro members run their finances, it heightens the possibility of political instability and armed conflict.

Closing In On the Fullness of the Time of the Gentiles

One of the key events of the end time is God withdrawing his spirit and gospel from the Gentile nations. As always, this is not due to God's wish or desire, but because the Gentiles will reject the gospel. See D&C 45:28-30. It is my belief that part of this involves and will involve expelling Christians and Christianity generally, and eventually the Church in particular, from the public places; not allowing them to participate in the body politic or publicly express their beliefs. 

I could point to the general assault on praying or reading the Bible in public, or numerous other incidents of persecution, but I think a perfect example of this is the following story about the National Christmas tree:
While the true meaning of Christmas is often lost among the festivities, you’d expect a government tree to bear some relevance to the occasion.

But no ornament can be seen with the word ‘Christmas’, ‘Jesus’, his picture or a nativity scene on the 63ft Sierra White Fir outside the U.S. Capitol.

However what is easy for people to view standing near the tree's base in Washington D.C. is an ornament with the phrase: ‘I love President Obama’
I would also note reports from several days ago that Representatives are forbidden to send mail to constituents wishing them a "Merry Christmas," although "Happy Holidays" is apparently okay:
A franking commission spokesman confirmed to The Washington Examiner that Members of Congress indeed cannot wish constituents "Merry Christmas" in any official mailing.

"Currently, incidental use of the phrase Happy Holidays is permissible but Merry Christmas is not," said Salley Wood.

So it's true, the elected representatives of the nation that puts "In God We Trust" on its currency are not permitted to use the greeting that has likely been uttered by every living adult American at least once in their lifetimes.

Just another demonstration that political correctness and freedom of speech, faith and thought are utterly incompatible.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Michael Bane Reviews the New Ruger .22 LCR

(Article here). Perhaps review is the wrong term, since he doesn't review the gun, yet, but discusses it. He writes that it would be a good starter gun for someone just getting into concealed carry:
A .22 option allows you to shoot them a lot, and cheaply. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if you're new to CCW and think a snub revolver might be the way you want to go, I might get the .22 LCR first...no, .22 isn't the world's best self-defense cartridge, but it is substantially better than harsh language. Secondly, you will have a gun that you can shoot a lot and that you will keep even if you decide to go to a semiauto for CCW. If you feel comfortable with the .22, it's an easy transition to the .38 (which I've been carrying for a couple of months now) or the .357 version.
He also notes that it would make a great "kit gun."

"Rebuilding Survivors"

An article at Survival Cache about the rebuilding of society following TEOTWAWKI. (Link)

New Useful Link--Food Storage and Survival Blog

I've added a new useful link to the Food Storage and Survival blog. Check it out!

A Recurring Theme

A library filled with rare books and manuscripts was destroyed in fights between the Egyptian Army and protestors. (Story here). Reminiscent of the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, first during a battle against Roman forces led by Julius Caesar (which was accidental), and the later deliberate burning at the hands of the Muslims.

EPA Grasping for Unlimited Power (Updated)

The Federal government and bureaucracy continues its remorseless acquisition of power, this time (or perhaps I should say, once again) under the auspices of the EPA. It is because Congress is too ready to cede power to a professional bureaucracy and too beholden to lobbyists and large campaign donors, and because the Courts have read too broadly the powers granted to the Federal government in the Constitution, that we find ourselves in this situation. Congress, the President, and the Federal Courts, as a whole, truly believe that there are no limitations on the power and authority of the Federal government. 

From the article:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to change how it analyzes problems and makes decisions, in a way that will give it vastly expanded power to regulate businesses, communities and ecosystems in the name of “sustainable development,” the centerpiece of a global United Nations conference slated for Rio de Janeiro next June.

The major focus of the EPA thinking is a weighty study the agency commissioned last year from the National Academies of Science. Published in August, the study, entitled “Sustainability and the U.S. EPA,” cost nearly $700,000 and involved a team of a dozen outside experts and about half as many National Academies staff.

Its aim: how to integrate sustainability “as one of the key drivers within the regulatory responsibilities of EPA.” The panel who wrote the study declares part of its job to be “providing guidance to EPA on how it might implement its existing statutory authority to contribute more fully to a more sustainable-development trajectory for the United States.”
Also:
What is “sustainability” in the first place? That is a question the study ducks, noting that it is only advising EPA on how to bring it within the agency’s canon.

The experts take their definition from an Obama Administration executive order of October, 2009, entitled Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance. It defines sustainability in sweeping fashion as the ability “to create and maintain conditions, under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations.”

The study specifically notes that “although addressing economic issues is not a core part of EPA’s mission, it is explicitly part of the definition of sustainability.”
The end result?
“EPA needs to formally develop and specify its vision for sustainability,” the study says. “Vision, in the sense discussed here, is a future state that EPA is trying to reach or is trying to help the country or the world to reach.”

The study offers up new tools for EPA to do the job. As opposed to environmental impact assessment, the study encourages the use of “sustainability impact assessment” in the evaluation of the hundreds and thousands of projects that come under EPA scrutiny to see whether they are moving in the proper direction

“Environmental impact assessment tends to focus primarily on the projected environmental effects of a particular action and alternatives to that action,” the study says. Sustainability impact assessment examines “the probable effects of a particular project or proposal on the social, environmental, and economic pillars of sustainability”—a greatly expanded approach.

One outcome: “The culture change being proposed here will require EPA to conduct an expanding number of assessments.”

As a result, “The agency can become more anticipatory, making greater use of new science and of forecasting.”

The catch, the study recognizes, is that under the new approach the EPA becomes more involved than ever in predicting the future.

“Forecasting is unavoidable when dealing with sustainability, but our ability to do forecasting is limited,” the document says.

One forecast it is safe to make: the study shows whatever else the new sustainability mission does for EPA, it aims to be a much, much more important—and powerful-- federal agency than it is, even now.
(Underline added). In other words, the EPA plans on becoming a super-governmental agency, not only concerned with environmental impact in the U.S., but world-wide; poking its head into every economic matter imaginable. But don't worry, like "Big Brother" in 1984, it will only use its power to help us.

Update: This is a good example of how the EPA is hurting our country. Closing down power plants that provide power to 22 million homes.