Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Disease Mutations

I was reading this article about the Ebola outbreak in Uganda, and noticed this part:
However, Museveni said that the virus had not been immediately identified this time, resulting in a delay.

"The bleeding which normally accompanies Ebola did not take place initially among these patients," he said, adding that health workers at first did not therefore realise what the problem was.

"Because of that delay the sickness spread."
  
Unfortunately, there is little more information. So we don't know if the lack of bleeding was due to a particular strain of the virus, coincidence among the victims, or some other factor at play here. One of the problems that the Ebola virus faces is that it is so lethal that its victims die before they can pass the disease on. Historically, between mutations in a virus or bacteria, and increased immunity in the population, many diseases have become less virulent over time in order to more easily propagate. Perhaps this is a sign of a slightly less deadly version of Ebola that would, for that reason, more easily spread.

On a related note, there is this story of bird flu crossing over to seals, suggesting that it could infect other mammals.
It's a virus that originated in birds, but the newest strain of avian flu has killed 162 harbor seals in New England and scientists warn it could be even more dangerous if it jumps to humans.

Researchers revealed on Tuesday that the aquatic mammals, which washed up dead or dying on the shores of Maine and northern Massachusetts last fall, were infected with the H3N8 strain of influenza.

The seals suffered horrifying skin lesions, a previously unknown symptom in flu deaths, and pneumonia as a result of a virus that they contracted from North American waterfowl, according to researchers at Columbia University.

Even more worrying is the fact that the virus has mutated to develop the ability to infect the cells of mammals -- a first for the avian pathogen.
The story also mentions that there have been several outbreaks of swine flu in the United States.

Half of India Without Power

This is the second day of major power outages in India. Fox News reports:
India's energy crisis cascaded over half the country Tuesday when three of its regional grids collapsed, leaving 620 million people without government-supplied electricity for hours in, by far, the world's biggest blackout.

Hundreds of trains stalled across the country and traffic lights went out, causing widespread traffic jams in New Delhi. Electric crematoria stopped operating, some with bodies half burnt, power officials said.

Two hundred workers were stranded in three coal mines in West Bengal when the blackout cut off electricity to elevators in their underground pits, a mining company official told The Times of India.

"We are waiting for the restoration of power to bring them up through the lifts, but there is no threat to their lives or any reason to panic," Nildari Roy, a senior official at the mines' operator, Eastern Coalfields Limited, told The Times of India.

The massive failure -- a day after a similar, but smaller power failure -- has raised serious concerns about India's outdated infrastructure and the government's inability to meet its huge appetite for energy as the country aspires to become a regional economic superpower. The power failure affected people across 20 of India's 28 states -- about double the population of the United States.

Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde blamed the new crisis on states taking more than their allotted share of electricity.

 
Could that happen here? Of course. California already faces electrical shortfalls due to it failure to allow any new power plants. And it won't help that a record number of coal-fired power plants are going to be shut down this year.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Muslim Botherhood Plots to Overthrow Middle-Eastern Governments

From the Jerusalem Post:
Dubai's chief of police has warned of an "international plot" to overthrow the governments of Gulf Arab countries, saying the region needs to be prepared to counter any threat from Islamist dissidents as well as Syria and Iran.

The comments by Dahi Khalfan, one of the most outspoken security officials in the United Arab Emirates, follow the detention in the UAE since April of at least 20 dissidents, according to relatives of the detainees and activists.

"There's an international plot against Gulf states in particular and Arab countries in general...This is preplanned to take over our fortunes," Khalfan told reporters at a gathering late on Wednesday marking the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"The bigger our sovereign wealth funds and the more money we put in the banks of Western countries, the bigger the plot to take over our countries...The brothers and their governments in Damascus and North Africa have to know that the Gulf is a red line, not only for Iran but also for the Brothers as well."

Most of the detainees since April are Islamists, targeted by an official clampdown amid concern they may be emboldened by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in other Arab countries such as Egypt.

UAE Interior Ministry officials have not been available to comment on the arrests. Last week, UAE officials announced that authorities were investigating a foreign-linked group planning "crimes against the security of the state".

"I had no idea that there is this large number of Muslim Brotherhood in the Gulf states. We have to be alert and on guard because the wider these groups become, the higher probability there is for trouble," Khalfan said on Wednesday.

"We are aware that there are groups plotting to overthrow Gulf governments in the long term."
So why is the Obama Administration so supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood's role in the so-called "Arab Spring"?

The Riots in Anaheim

I haven't seem much attention to this in the major media outlets (at least, not top billing), so I thought I would post some links concerning the riots in Anaheim this past week:

First, the Orange County Register initialy reported:
Police battled "pockets of unrest" in downtown Anaheim late Tuesday night, hours after a large crowd attempting to get inside City Hall broke into violent protest.

About 20 minutes before Tuesday's 5 p.m. City Council meeting, a 200-strong crowd tried to get inside the packed City Hall.

They were rebuffed by police officers who cited fire standards and would not let anyone else into the crowded council chambers, where the council held its regular meeting and talked about what the crowd was upset about: two police shootings over the weekend.

A half-dozen officers blocked City Hall's entrance, while the crowd gathered around and hurled obscenities. As the crowd pressed closer, officers with helmets and batons came out the front door and pushed the protesters back, angering them.

After several minutes, some protesters called for everyone to hit the street.

For the next five-hours-plus, the tug of war between protesters and police persisted.

The crowd marched along Anaheim Boulevard to Lincoln Avenue, going into the street and blocking traffic.

Some pounded traffic signs and pulled trash cans into the street, while others pulled back the cans. One man with a bullhorn shouted how the protest was to be peaceful. A boy spray-painted a utility box. Some protesters grabbed sand from flower beds and a traffic cone and threw them at officers. Anaheim police were assisted by officers from Garden Grove, Tustin, Brea, Fullerton and other agencies.
In an update on July 25, 2012, they reported:
With more than 20 people under arrest, police reported restoring order Wednesday morning after a fourth day of clashes between officers and protesters angry over two fatal officer-involved shootings in Anaheim last weekend.

At least five people were reported hurt in the unrest, with crowds setting fires, smashing windows and throwing rocks and other projectiles at officers in riot gear who fired non-lethal rounds at demonstrators refusing to disperse.
Near midnight on July 24, the LA Times posted this:
Scattered crowds of protesters in Anaheim continued to roam the streets late Tuesday after violence erupted earlier around City Hall even as officials voted to ask federal authorities to investigate two deadly police shootings that have rocked the community.

The situation appeared to be calming down hours after police faced off with protesters as the City Council met before a packed audience.

Earlier, mobs smashed windows of stores and broke the window of a car belonging to a KNBC-TV Channel 4 reporter.

A mob set fire to Reel Lumber Service, a lumber yard, at Claudina and Santa Ana streets. The fire was knocked down by crews on two Anaheim Fire Department engines.

Earlier, just north of the intersection, a dumpster was set on fire. Paint cans on Claudina were also set ablaze.

As another crowd moved south of the intersection, some of the business' walls were spray-painted with expletives about the police.

Farther south, around 10:30 p.m., officers arrested two men at Water and Claudina streets. At Water and Anaheim Boulevard, police fired several rounds of less-than-lethal projectiles that sent a group of about a dozen people, including reporters, running. Police were shouting at remaining protesters to go home.

Anaheim Police Sgt. Robert Dunn said that at least five people were arrested after the violence broke out Tuesday afternoon.

Joel Mathew Acevedo was shot after he fired at an officer Sunday night. A day earlier, Manuel Angel Diaz was killed after running from police on Anaheim's east side.

The killings have sparked outrage among members of Anaheim's Latino community. So far this year, five people have been shot to death by police in the city.
American Power blog has more on the riots as well.

Airports and the Spread of Disease

It's long been known that airports are key hubs for spreading diseases, not just because they represent rapid transport to other nations or regions, but also because the close confines and recycled air on aircraft is conducive to spreading infections. However, this article at Medical News Today discusses a study that attempted to predict the most "influential" airports in the U.S. for spreading diseases.
A conventional random flow model would show that the biggest airport hubs in terms of traffic volume would be the most influential spreaders of disease.

But the team, with their more realistic model, showed that is not the case.

Honolulu Airport: Less Traffic But Big Influence

A random diffusion model would look at Honolulu airport, which has only 30% of the air traffic of New York's Kennedy International Airport, and conclude half its travellers would go on to San Francisco and half to Anchorage, taking the disease to those airports, passing it onto other travellers, who then in turn pass it on in further random travel patterns.

But the new MIT model looks at Honolulu airport and predicts, despite it having 70% less traffic, that in terms of disease spread, it is nearly as influential as New York's Kennedy International Airport.

This is because Honolulu airport occupies a unique position in the air transportation network. It is located in the Pacific Ocean and is well connected to distant, large and well-connected hubs. So it comes third, ahead of San Francisco, in the list of 40 US airports in terms of contagion-spreading influence.

Of the 40 US airports the model examined in terms of influence on disease spread, it puts Kennedy Airport in first place, followed by airports in Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Francisco, Newark, Chicago (O'Hare) and Washington (Dulles).

It's The Uncertainty, Stupid

I saw this article today, and it reminded me that the Democrat controlled Congress has not passed a budget in three years.
This inability to tackle the long-term horizon has left America facing a much more urgent debt fight that risks plunging the US back into recession and casting a long shadow over the rest of the world economy. As things stand, the world's largest economy will fall off what Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, has called a "fiscal cliff" at the end of the year.

In practical terms, the cliff has two main ingredients. Firstly, tax rises that come from the expiration on December 31 of cuts introduced by George W Bush and later extended by Obama. Secondly, the start of $1.2 trillion of spending cuts that will be split between defence and other government spending.

To give a sense of the steepness of the cliff, economists at Bank of America estimate that if the tax rises and spending cuts are all allowed to happen then it will produce a fiscal tightening equivalent to 4pc of US gross domestic product. That is bigger than anything David Cameron and George Osborne have tried since taking office.

And it is the uncertainty over whether the US will fall off the cliff that is worrying Pat Conroy and his software firm in Texas. The greater hesitancy among the businesses he sells to has left Conroy unsure whether he will convert the handful of contractors the company has added this year into permanent employees.

Nor is the fog just restricting the view of America's army of small businesses. With half of the spending cuts due to come from the military budget, the country's biggest defence and aerospace companies are rattled. No one appears to know which specific programmes will be targeted when the axe falls in January. "We're entering a time frame when the uncertainty is as onerous as the cuts themselves," Jim McNerney, the chairman and chief executive of Boeing, said. "I have no choice but to adjust my costs."

If it were just Conroy's 35-person operation or even the vast Boeing company affected that would be manageable. But an increasing number of economists expect a measure of paralysis to ripple across US businesses over the rest of the year.

Analysts at Bank of America believe it will bring the US economy to a virtual halt in the fourth quarter, when it is forecasting growth of just 0.25pc. "Businesses don't have any clarity and we think we'll see them respond," said Michelle Meyer, an economist at Bank of America. "It will start showing up in the data in coming months."

Worryingly, it is not just America's businesses that are stuck with a restricted view of how much they will be taxed next year and where exactly spending cuts will fall. It is consumers whose spending still accounts for the lion's share of the economy. Should all the tax cuts, including an emergency tax on salaries, be allowed to lapse, the Tax Policy Center estimates that 83pc of households will face an annual increase in their tax bills of $3,701.
It leaves Obama in somewhat of a Catch-22: He wants to "fundamentally transform America" (i.e., crash the economy so he can impose his socialist utopia) but he needs to get re-elected.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Slippery Slope Isn't a Fantasy

Datechguy's Blog sets out a great example of the slippery slope in action:
I have heard a lot of people on the left self righteously complain that conservatives are unwilling to agree to “common sense gun control” that we are unreasonable fanatics who would oppose restrictions on the ownership of Sherman Tanks.

Most of all; we are totally wrong to believe that the left is after our guns just because of the proposed assault weapon ban.

Why would we have such a belief, how can the folks on the right even think we on the left are after their guns, all their guns?

The answer: Chick-Fil-A

Twenty years ago there was nobody NOBODY nationally who was pushing the idea of gay marriage. If Bill Clinton had come out for Gay Marriage in 1992 he would have lost 49 states.

Then came the VT Supreme Court ruling requiring civil partnerships.

When people suggested that this was going to lead to Gay Marriage liberals insisted they were alarmist. Nobody in the mainstream was pushing Gay Marriage and the whole argument was absurd. This was just addressing inheritance and hospital visitation issues which were not unreasonable.

In 1996 the defense of Marriage Act was proposed, at the time it was suggested that instead of a law, a constitutional amendment formally declaring Marriage was between a man or Woman should be passed. Such people were dismissed as alarmists. Nobody was talking about legalizing Gay Marriage and there was absolutely no need of a Constitutional Amendment to define a word the meaning of which the nation had understood for centuries.

No amendment was forthcoming but DOMA passed 85–14 in the Senate & 342–67 in the house. Democrats overwhelmingly supported the bill (32-14 senate & 188-65 house). Bill Clinton signed the bill into law and that was that.

Until for the third time a liberal State (Massachusetts) by a 4-3 ruling declared Gay Marriage Legal. Again we were told not to worry, the legality of Gay Marriage was just a question of equality and it wouldn’t make any difference in the lives of those who opposed it.

Then came the persecution of parents who opposed it.

Then came the Catholic Church being given a choice, violate your beliefs or stop placing children for adoption: never mind how well you place the children hardest to find homes for.

And as the supporters of Gay Marriage lost vote after vote after vote (and continue to block any vote in Massachusetts) they became louder and more vitriolic even to the point of assault

Look at memorandum on given day. Any person who opposes Gay Marriage is not defined as against “Gay Marriage” they are defined as “anti-gay” a bigot.

And now comes the Mayors of two large cities, Chicago & Boston, declaring publicly that Chick-fil-a is not welcome. That Chick-fil-a for daring to have Biblical principles and support them have no place in their civilized cities.

And if Chick-Fil-A is guilty then so is every Catholic Church, every Orthodox Church, Every Mosque (well apparently not Every Mosque) and the vast majority of Protestant Churches in the country, (at least the ones that are growing). If they are not welcome neither is the business of any person of faith who doesn’t bend to the pressure media and money can provide, a pressure that the President wilted against.

We have reached the point from the legality of Gay Marriage in Massachusetts, to the Mayor of the largest city in the Commonwealth publicly declaring in effect: If your business dare oppose the liberal politically correct position , your enterprise doesn’t belong in our enlightened city.

This has happened in the space of a decade, after being assured that “Gay Marriage” would have no effect on anyone else.

So when you on the left tell us, assure us, and promise us that if we on the right agree to just a little bit of Gun Control, you have our word that we have no designs on your personal firearms or anything else, you’ll pardon us for declaring:
You Lie!

If we are stupid enough to believe you on gun control then we deserve to lose the rights we are fighting to defend.
(H/t Instapundit).

Spanish Unemployment At Record High (Updated)

Spain's unemployment rate hit record levels in the second quarter of this year, leaving one in four of the working population jobless as austerity continued to bite and fears of a national bailout grew.

Figures released by the national statistics institute revealed that the second quarter, traditionally a time when employment picks up for the tourist season, recorded a rise in unemployment to 24.6% as a further 53,000 people joined dole queues. That broke a previous record set during Spain's last major recession 18 years ago.

Some 5.7 million Spaniards are now unemployed. The under-25s are suffering most, with 53% unable to find work.

One in three people are now jobless in the Canary Islands and across a swath of western and southern Spain covering the regions of Extremadura and Andalucia.

Almost half of the unemployed have now been out of work for more than a year as the devastating decline in construction jobs that began four years ago shows no sign of improvement.

Cuts in government, regional and municipal spending have prompted the number of public sector workers to fall by 5% over the past year. Town halls have cut their workforces by 11% over the same period.
I like how the Guardian reporter blames it all austerity, as if government spending drives an economy rather than acting as a drag on the economy.

Update: Ask and ye shall receive. One of the reasons that Spain finds itself in this predicament:
On the way to the docks in Valencia, past rows of dreary blocks of flats, is a fabulously expensive opera house built to get the Spanish city noticed, no matter the price.

The building, centrepiece of the City of Arts and Sciences cultural complex, is the kind of experiment in contemporary architecture on which Spanish cities spent billions of euros during the giddy decade to 2008 - when the property bubble burst and the economy crashed.

An arresting, glimmering white building that looks as if it could have just flown in from outer space, surrounded by pools of cool blue water, it was supposed to rival the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao or the cityscape of Barcelona, up the coast to the north.

It seemed expensive at the time. But it is only now that Valencia understands the true price of architect Santiago Calatrava's bold vision. The city, Spain's third biggest, is so mired in debt that last week it had to turn to Madrid for a €2 billion bailout - setting a precedent for other Spanish regions.

Within days Murcia region had followed suit and much larger Catalonia, which is €42 billion in debt, is likely to do so shortly. Between them, Spain's 17 regions owe an estimated €140 billion. The dawning realisation of what this could mean for Madrid's own debt problem has driven Spanish borrowing charges to a dangerous new high, and raised new fears about the entire country's need for an EU bailout.
* * *

Excess during the good years, especially by regional governments, seems foolish now. "We are becoming beggars in a city of expensive wonders," joked one jobless man who sells chewing gum to make a bit of pocket money.

The City of Arts and Sciences, a complex of museums and performance spaces, is the most extraordinary example of excess. Construction began in the 1990s but the opera house did not open until 2005. The initial price estimate for the project was €300 million, but its cost rose steadily to €1.1 billion. Santiago Calatrava, the Valencia-born architect, was supposedly given carte blanche with the project.

But spending fever gripped everybody in those days. Mr Rodriguez remembers school friends who bought BMWs when they got their first job. Instead of going to university, many went to earn good money on building sites. Now they are all on the dole.

The big projects were not just a matter of municipal vanity. When Spain joined the euro its 17 regional governments had access to cheap money, and wanted to spend to attract the international tourist business. Fierce competition between cities drove up fees. Billions were lavished on theme parks, museums and art galleries. Every city had to have a lavish university, and be connected by an expensive network of high-speed trains. Politicians were under pressure to outspend each other, and Valencia was determined to outspend everybody.
Well, at least they got something tangible. All we (the U.S.) got where a bunch of bankrupt "green energy" companies and big banks so flush with cash that they didn't need to change their business practices.

DHS Orders Riot Gear in Preparation for Political Conventions

Prison Planet reports:
The Department of Homeland Security has put out an urgent solicitation for hundreds of items of “riot gear,” in preparation for expected unrest at the upcoming Republican National Convention, Democratic National Convention and next year’s presidential inauguration.

The DHS solicitation issued on Wednesday gave potential suppliers just one day to submit their proposals, with the equipment to be delivered to Alexandria, VA within a 15-day period after the award is made.

The riot gear will be worn by Federal Protective Service agents who are tasked with protecting property, grounds and buildings owned by the federal government.
* * *

This is by no means the only indication that the Department of Homeland Security is gearing up for civil unrest inside the United States.

Back in March, the DHS awarded defense contractor ATK a deal to provide the DHS with 450 million rounds of bullets over a five year period.

The DHS has also recently purchased a number of bullet-proof checkpoint booths that include ‘stop and go’ lights.

Earlier this year, the federal agency also hired hundreds of new security guards to protect government buildings

In January, residents were stunned to see FPS agents armed with semiautomatic guns stationed outside a Social Security office in Florida checking ID’s as part of an exercise.

The Federal Protective Service has also been used by the DHS to track the political activities of peaceful advocacy groups.

TARP Was Even Worse Than You Think

Glenn Reynolds linked to this article (and video) on how abysmal TARP turned out to be. (Note, the video plays automatically).
Most Americans have a sense TARP was a badly managed program that bailed out "fat cat" bankers at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. Well, it's even worse than you think, according to Neil Barofsky, former special inspector general for TARP (SIGTARP).

Officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations took the attitude "bankers know best," Barofsky recalls. "It was somewhat shocking how much control big banks had over their own bailout [and] the overwhelming deference show by Treasury officials to the banks."
* * *

In the accompanying video, we focused more on TARP's failings to live up to its promise to help individual Americans, not just the big banks.

Congress never would've passed TARP if not for programs included in the program to help homeowners facing foreclosure and generally spur bank lending. "TARP was an abysmal failure on those very important goals the reason why they got that money to give to the banks in the first place," Barofsky says.

TARP "did help prevent financial Armageddon," he concedes. "But there's a reason why Congress required and Treasury promised TARP would do a lot more. It's not complicated to take hundreds of billions [of dollars] and pour them into institutions ... and they don't fail. You really can't evaluate TARP" exclusively on how it impacted the banks.

Similarly, Barofsky takes offense to Treasury's repeated proclamations that TARP has been profitable.

While the big banks have paid back their loans, the overall program is now projected to lose somewhere between $32 billion to $70 billion, with $109.1 billion owed as of June 30, according to SIGTARP. Most of those losses are tied to AIG -- Treasury still own 61% of the company -- but more than half of the 325 banks that received TARP aid have missed dividend or interest payments.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Greek Bankruptcy in August?


The beleaguered country will have to refinance billions of euros worth of government bonds in less than a month and requires international assistance — which may not be forthcoming — to repay the money.

International inspectors arrived back in Greece on Tuesday to assess the country’s austerity programme with European officials warning that it was “hugely off track”.

David Cameron is now receiving daily written updates on the deteriorating situation and was warned earlier this week that a Greek bankruptcy in the next month is now a serious possibility.

Navy SEALS Lesson Learned from Aurora, CO

The SOFREP blog has an article on lessons learned from the incident in Aurora, CO:
As I continue to read about the terrible tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, I can’t help but think there’s some lessons from my time as a Navy SEAL that I can pass on to the average citizen. I want to make sure that the victims of the Aurora do not suffer or die in vain. As a country, we need to learn from this tragedy, raise awareness, and save lives in the future. So here goes… 
Don’t Make Yourself an Easy Target

When at sporting events, concerts, and the movies, choose seats that give you a tactical advantage always. What do I mean? Choose seats that allow good and east vantage points and a hasty exit point. Always stack the odds in your favor. It’s the reason I still combat park (back in to a space) and sit with my back to the wall when I’m eating.
 
Active Shooter Scenario Advice

Take cover and not concealment. Concealment hides, cover hides AND protects. It’s the difference between hiding behind a movie seat or a concrete wall.

Don’t lie there with your eyes closed and get shot. Think and move. In these situations you have to take charge and get in the mindset of self-rescue. You cannot wait for first-responders – it takes too long. A good decision executed quickly is better than a great one never executed. Violence of action, as we call it in the Spec Ops community, will often change the odds in your favor.

For close quarter combat drills we’d draw a gun with someone over 20 feet away running at us. In most cases you can be on someone before they can draw and take a shot. I’m not advocating running straight at someone but if you have the tactical advantage (jam, re-loading, distraction or the shooter isn’t paying attention) then take the shooter down or get the hell out of there. Remember that a moving target is extremely hard to hit, even for the well-trained shooter. Deal with the situation with your eyes wide open.

In Aurora, the shooter was severely weighted down with armor and his helmet would have also limited his vision. You can use all this to your advantage.
The author also recommends that you carry a tactical flashlight, and if in a jurisdiction friendly towards firearms and self defense, obtaining a concealed carry license. And, similar to what I've stated before, alter your lifestyle to avoid unnecessary risk. Anyway, read the whole thing.

Energy Department Favored Obama Donors

The House Energy and Commerce Committee released a report today on the Energy Department’s decision to subordinate taxpayers to private investors in the ill-fated Solyndra project. That is, the taxpayers would have to wait in line behind the private investors and let them recoup all of their losses first. Only after that could taxpayers could get any money back – assuming there would be any money to recoup at this point. In this case, that would be a reported $328 million of the $335 million federal loan guarantee to Solyndra.

This is significant because the plain language of the department’s own rules for loan guarantees states that taxpayers must not be subordinate and instead must come first. The committee’s report argues that Energy Department officials made a spur of the moment decision to violate this standard as part of a desperate attempt to keep the company afloat, then scrambled after the fact to justify their action....
 (Full story here).

Nation of Islam Patroling Streets in Chicago

The Chicago Sun Times reports:
Ignoring Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s history of anti-Semitic remarks, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday welcomed the army of men dispatched to the streets by Farrakhan to stop the violence in Chicago neighborhoods.
* * *

“The police have a role to play. Tearing down abandoned buildings has a role to play. Shutting liquor stores that are a cancer in the community have a role to play. Community leaders have a role to play. Pastors have a role to play. Principals have a role to play. And most importantly, parents have roles to play. They have decided, the Nation of Islam, to help protect the community. And that’s an important ingredient, like all the other aspects of protecting a neighborhood.”

For the last two Mondays, black men in dress suits and bow ties fanned out across violence-plagued Chicago neighborhoods — first Auburn-Gresham, then South Shore — to form a human wall of protection against any sudden outbreak of gunfire.

The army of men, know as the Fruit of Islam, were led by Farrakhan, who ordered the show of force in response to last month’s brutal murder of seven-year-old Heaven Sutton.
A few years ago, if someone had said that the Nation of Islam would be sending men out en-masse to police neighborhoods with the full blessing of the Mayor, that someone would have been labeled a "conspiracy nut."

Food Prices Expected to Rise Due to Drought

The New York Times reports:
On Wednesday, the government said it expected the record-breaking weather to drive up the price for groceries next year, including milk, beef, chicken and pork. The drought is now affecting 88 percent of the corn crop, a staple of processed foods and animal feed as well as the nation’s leading farm export.

The government’s forecast, based on a consumer price index for food, estimated that prices would rise 4 to 5 percent for beef next year with slightly lower increases for pork, eggs and dairy products.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Loving Families Produce Smarter Children

Researchers found that children in care have less grey and white matter - the two components of the central nervous system - than those brought up in a typical home environment.

Children in foster families have normal levels of white matter, which relays messages in the brain, but less of the grey matter which contains nerve cells and controls muscles, memory, emotions and speech.

Scientists believe the findings could explain why children who spend time in care are statistically more likely to develop issues such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and mental health problems.

People who have been in care also have, on average, lower IQ and language skills than those who grew up in loving homes.

The differences in levels of grey and white matter is most likely to be due to varying levels of stimulation required for normal brain development, researchers said.

Many children in care have been exposed to deprivation and neglect, which could be linked to their lower levels of grey and white matter.
From the context, I can't tell if the term "care" means simply "raised in an orphanage" or includes "day care." From the overall article, however, I believe the author means the former. Perhaps one of you reading this knows and can comment.

The Fall of Syria -- What It Portends

Stratfor has an interesting article on the consequences of the fall of Syria. Some highlights:
We have entered the endgame in Syria. That doesn't mean that we have reached the end by any means, but it does mean that the precondition has been met for the fall of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. We have argued that so long as the military and security apparatus remain intact and effective, the regime could endure. Although they continue to function, neither appears intact any longer; their control of key areas such as Damascus and Aleppo is in doubt, and the reliability of their personnel, given defections, is no longer certain. We had thought that there was a reasonable chance of the al Assad regime surviving completely. That is no longer the case. At a certain point -- in our view, after the defection of a Syrian pilot June 21 and then the defection of the Tlass clan -- key members of the regime began to recalculate the probability of survival and their interests. The regime has not unraveled, but it is unraveling.

The speculation over al Assad's whereabouts and heavy fighting in Damascus is simply part of the regime's problems. Rumors, whether true or not, create uncertainty that the regime cannot afford right now. The outcome is unclear. On the one hand, a new regime might emerge that could exercise control. On the other hand, Syria could collapse into a Lebanon situation in which it disintegrates into regions held by various factions, with no effective central government.
 
* * *

As the Russians withdraw support, Iran is now left extremely exposed. There had been a sense of inevitability in Iran's rise in the region, particularly in the Arabian Peninsula. The decline of al Assad's regime is a strategic blow to the Iranians in two ways. First, the wide-reaching sphere of influence they were creating clearly won't happen now. Second, Iran will rapidly move from being an ascendant power to a power on the defensive.

The Home Front

I had noted recently the first part of an interview at the Ulsterman Report concerning contingency plans by the White House to win the fall elections at any cost. The second part of that interview has been posted. 

Before getting into what various unnamed sources are supposedly stating, I want to make sure that you, the readers, understand that this is a situation where caveat emptor applies. I don't know if any of this is real and legitimate, or no more than fiction by someone that doesn't like the current Administration. While I disagree with many of the actions (or inactions) of the current administration, I'm reluctant to attribute the Administration's missteps to a nefarious plan when it can be explained by incompetence.

Returning to the interview, however. There are two primary points made in the interview. First, that certain power elites plan on emulating the crises in Argentina. From the interview:
WSI: Yes. Cristina Fernandez is a tyrant against free market capitalism. She advocates strongly for what is known as state capitalism – in essence a system by which all means of production is controlled directly by a centralized government. Merely a more friendly term for dictator.

So it is this dictator that the man calling himself Obama invited to the White House—

MI: (interrupts) —it was Jarrett who initiated the invite. Valerie Jarrett. Sir.

WSI: …Yes. Jarrett. And how then does the President of the United States publicly describe this dictator of Argentina, a woman who has personally taken billions in private industry value and given it over to her own government? What does the man calling himself Obama say of such a figure? He calls here a great friend and indicates all world leaders could learn lessons from her! That was in 2010.

But…her own time in power may now face its greatest challenge.

UM: How?

WSI: You mean who.

UM: Ok – who?

WSI: Leo Gerard. As I said, Fernandez no longer wishes to share power among the labor unions as her husband did – and so, she now faces the full on power of one of the most powerful men in the world – Leo Gerard. Gerard has been very busy of late. Despite Barack Obama’s faulting campaign, Gerard appears quite determined to carry on his own obligations to prepare for the culmination of one world governance. Gerard had a direct hand in the manipulations of the IMF that favored both Kirchner and global unionization, and placed Lagarde as the head of that institution. And now he continues his work, and has expanded his own personal influence across the globe…without little more than a whisper from media sources of course. Obama has become as much a tool of distraction as he is a tool of progressive power. Always dancing to the tune being played by Gerard – Leo Gerard is the organ grinder to Barack Obama’s dancing monkey.

UM: (looking shocked)

WSI: Please – you know better than to consider that statement as having any racial connotations. It is simply an effective visual regarding the relationship between Leo Gerard and the current false President of the United States. The hue of Obama’s skin has nothing to do with the premise – Gerard plays the tune – Obama willfully dances to it without question.

MI: Sir – if I might add something to this?

WSI: Yes.

MI: You should look into Botswana as proof of Mr. Gerard’s determination.

UM: Botswana?

MI: Yes – ongoing labor dispute. Began in 2011. Recently…the trade unions are overtaking the government there. And then…you can connect the dots directly to the Obama’s. The timing of it is all there. And again…Jarrett made the call. She sent the First Lady there…the trip was a cover for more direct involvement by the administration and it was all done at the demand of Leo Gerard.
The second item had to do with a strange incident at the 2008 Democratic Convention. (See here). The Military Insider seems to confirm this odd behavior:
WSI: What you know about Denver – the convention. Barack Obama’s behavior. You know the story, right?

MI: Yes sir.

WSI: True?

MI: (Looks over at UM)

…What you wrote about…that behavior…it would be…consistent with what others have witnessed. In private. Those very close to the president on a day-to-day basis. There’s personal behavior associated with this president that some find…troubling. Your report – what was alleged to have been witnessed…yes. I would consider it accurate.
However, Ulsterman is not the only one contending that he is receiving insider information.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Syria Threatens to Use Its Chemical and Biological Weapons

From USA Today:
Syria threatened Monday to unleash its chemical and biological weapons if the country faces a foreign attack, a desperate warning from a regime that has failed to crush a powerful and strengthening rebellion.

The statement — Syria's first-ever acknowledgment that the country possesses weapons of mass destruction — suggests President Bashar Assad will continue the fight to stay in power, regardless of the cost.

"It would be reprehensible if anybody in Syria is contemplating use of such weapons of mass destruction like chemical weapons," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said during a trip to Belgrade, Serbia. "I sincerely hope the international community will keep an eye on this so that there will be no such things happening."

Syria is believed to have nerve agents as well as mustard gas, Scud missiles capable of delivering these lethal chemicals and a variety of advanced conventional arms, including anti-tank rockets and late-model portable anti-aircraft missiles.

* * *

During a televised news conference Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi stressed that the weapons are secure and would only be used in the case of an external attack.

"No chemical or biological weapons will ever be used, and I repeat, will never be used, during the crisis in Syria no matter what the developments inside Syria," he said. "All of these types of weapons are in storage and under security and the direct supervision of the Syrian armed forces and will never be used unless Syria is exposed to external aggression."
Yeah, right.

Babylon Revealed?

Revelations seems to tie "Babylon" (the antithesis of the New Jerusalem) with mercantile and financial elements. (See Chapters 17 and 18). So, I found the following interesting:
A major new study has revealed that at least $21 trillion (17 trillion euros) of unreported private financial wealth was being held by the world's super-rich in tax havens around the world at the end of 2010.

Former McKinsey & Co Chief Economist James Henry conducted the research for the Tax Justice Network, a coalition that campaigns against tax avoidance and tax havens.

The study, entitled "The Price of Offshore Revisited" focused only on financial wealth rather than non-financial assets such as property, so the numbers are thought to be conservative.

"This new report focuses our attention on a huge 'black hole' in the world economy that has never before been measured - private offshore wealth, and the vast amounts of untaxed income that it produces," said Henry.

The study drew on data from the World Bank, the IMF, the United Nations, central banks, the Bank for International Settlements and national treasures.
* * *

Henry's also hinted that the banking sector itself was to blame. The so-called offshore sector specializing in tax dodging, said Henry, "is designed and operated, not by shady no-name banks located in sultry islands, but by the world's largest private banks, law firms and accounting firms."

The study reveals that the top three banks handling the most offshore assets are UBS, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs.
See 1Timothy 6:10.

China Moves to Extends Its Control Over South China Sea

A couple of news items caught my eye on the issue of China and its claims to the islands and waters of the South China Sea. First:
The People’s Liberation Army, China’s central military authority, has approved the deployment of a military garrison in the newly declared Sansha City in the sparsely populated West Philippine Sea, said a report posted on China’s Ministry of National Defense website.

China's announcement is just the latest in a series of recent actions that have expanded its physical presence in the vast disputed waters and defied condemnation around the region.

The report said that the military garrison will be “responsible for managing the city’s national defense mobilization, military reserves and military operations.”

The Chinese defense ministry likewise said that military troops to be sent to the newly established garrison will be under the dual leadership of Hainan province’s military sub-command and Sansha City’s civilian leaders.

China had envisioned Sansha City as administering the West Philippine Sea including the Spratly Islands.

The announcement came despite a diplomatic protest lodged by the Philippines against China over the establishment of Sansha City.

The Philippine protest said that “the extent of the jurisdiction of the city violates Philippine territorial sovereignty over the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc and infringes on Philippine sovereign rights over the waters and continental shelf of the West Philippine Sea.”

Aside from the Spratly Islands, Sansha City—which was established by the Chinese Cabinet last June 21—also claims political sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and Macclesfield Bank.

Portions of these territories are also being claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.
(Full story here).

Second, in a poke to the Philippines' eye, figuratively speaking, China has sent a fleet of 30 fishing vessels to the contested Spratly Islands, including two government vessels for supplies and security. (See stories here and here).

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Coincidence?

Not everyone is convinced that it is a coincidence that the Colorado shooting occurred just before a major vote on the U.N. small arms treaty. Oleg Volk writes:
For years, many Australians claimed that the 1996 Port Arthur mass shooting was a false flag operation. This week, many Americans are saying the same about the Aurora, CO mass murder. Not having enough information about either, I can’t say if those views are accurate. We should, however, consider something about our lovely federal creatures: Fast and Furious was very much an false flag operation with hundreds of murders to show for it. So before anyone says “how could you even think that people would do something like that?”, let me point out that they have done something like that — on a grand scale — already and got caught. Any sufficiently noticeable terrorist event now be viewed as a possible US government agency plot for influence or some other gain. A bit like the Waco church massacre done to get a larger budget for BATF. That’s quite a PR problem for the leaders of the free world.
There are also reports that there may have been a second person that assisted the shooter.

Interestingly, there was another shooting incident in Aurora, CO, in April of this year that was stopped by an armed member of the congregation (an off-duty police officer).

Oh, and here is useless thought from Mako Yamakura's op-ed in the Detroit Free Press--install metal detectors. You would have thought he would have actually read accounts of the incident before voicing his opinion. The attacker entered through a propped-open exit door. A metal detector at the front entrance would have done nothing.

U.S. Poverty Rate Expected to Climb to Record Levels

The ranks of America's poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.

Census figures for 2011 will be released this fall in the critical weeks ahead of the November elections.

The Associated Press surveyed more than a dozen economists, think tanks and academics, both nonpartisan and those with known liberal or conservative leanings, and found a broad consensus: The official poverty rate will rise from 15.1 per cent in 2010, climbing as high as 15.7 per cent.

Several predicted a more modest gain, but even a 0.1 percentage point increase would put poverty at the highest since 1965.

Poverty is spreading at record levels across many groups, from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest poor.

More discouraged workers are giving up on the job market, leaving them vulnerable as unemployment aid begins to run out.

Suburbs are seeing increases in poverty, including in such political battlegrounds as Colorado, Florida and Nevada, where voters are coping with a new norm of living hand to mouth.

By Any Means Necessary

I've noted before the blog The Ulsterman Report, which occasionally post interviews with the unnamed "White House Insider" and "Wall Street Insider." Recently, he published the first part of another interview with the "Wall Street Insider" ("WSI" in the transcript below) who had brought along someone with knowledge of the military realm, who he has referred to as the "Military Insider" ("MI" in the transcript below). Here is the relevant portion:
UM: So you’ve said – but getting back to the Agenda 21 thing…this whole globalization concept…it’s difficult to wrap my head around all of it without coming off…without sounding…

WSI: Crazy?

UM: Yeah – crazy.

WSI: That’s how it’s intended. Do that which you intend, and if any oppose that which you intend…mock them into submission while continuing on with your work. Call it outlandish, crazy, ridiculous, preposterous, all the while – continue doing the very thing they accuse of.

These Obama people are quite good at that.

UM: So the globalization thing…the plan…Agenda 21…it’s not just a Democrat thing?

MI: Correct.

UM: Republicans have gone along with it too?

MI: Correct. Let me clarify that a bit. If that’s ok?

UM: Please do.

MI: The architects are embedded within the various liberal sub groups, all of which are under the umbrella of today’s Democratic Party. They have been the ones to push this agenda – THE AGENDA…for the past several decades. There are Republicans…there have been Republicans, sympathetic to the superficial aspects of the plan.

(Long pause)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Not-So-Peaceful Transition in North Korea

Apparently, not everything is perfect in that worker's paradise called North Korea. From yesterday's Daily Mail:
Dozens of North Korean soldiers are reported to have been killed in a fierce internal gun battle following the removal from office of army chief Ri Yong-Ho.

Bullets smashed into nearby buildings as government soldiers and personal guards of the popular military chief turned on each other in an unprecedented affray in the secretive Stalinist country.

Reports of the gun battle emerged in South Korea today as the North’s state television showed hundreds of uniformed soldiers literally dancing in the streets as they celebrated the elevation of Kim Jong-Un to the role of Supreme Leader and head of the nation’s military.

It has not been established whether Mr Ri was injured or killed in the gun battle, which has been totally ignored by state television.

Celebrations for Kim’s appointment as head of the military are the main focus of news from the capital, Pyongyang.

But one source was quoted as saying that ‘we cannot rule out the possibility that Ri was badly injured or even died during the firefight when his guards possibly tried to protect him.’

Exactly why Mr Ri was removed from the high office remains unclear, even though the North Korean regime insisted that he had been allowed to step down due to illness.

In South Korea, analysts said they had no doubt that Mr Ri had been sacked and might even have had to be physically removed from office.

CALPERS Only Earns One Percent Return

Sucks to be a California taxpayer:
The nation's largest public pension fund collected a dismal 1 percent annual return on its investments, a figure far short of projections that will likely bring pressure on California's state and local governments to contribute more money, officials said Monday.

The return reported by the California Public Employees' Retirement System was well below its projected return of 7.5 percent for the fiscal year that ended June 30 and is prompting administrators to consider changes to investment strategies.

The investment returns are critical because taxpayers are on the hook for the difference if the pension funds fail to meet their performance targets.
(Full story here).

Whooping Caugh Outbreak Worst Since 1959

The CDC is stating that this year's whooping cough outbreak is the worst since 1959. From the Daily Mail:
Nearly 18,000 cases have been reported so far - more than twice the number seen at this point last year.

At this pace, the number of whooping cough cases will surpass every year since 1959.

* * *

Health officials attributed the rise in whooping cough to the cyclical nature of the disease where the number of reported cases hits a peak every three to five years.

'The cyclical nature of the disease is really something we don't completely understand, but it seems to happen in all states across the nation,' health department spokesman Peter Constantakes told Reuters.

Other factors include families who choose not to vaccinate their children and the fact that many teens and adults who have not been immunized catch the cough but ignore it and pass it on.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease.

The whooping cough often begins with cold-like symptoms like sneezing, a runny nose, or a fever and is accompanied by a mild cough that becomes more severe in the first or second week.

Coughing fits are often followed by a high-pitched whoop, giving the illness its name.

In rare cases it can be fatal, and nine children have died so far this year.

More on the Colorado Shooting (and tips on surviving an active shooter)

Fox News seems to have a fairly complete and succinct report on what is known (without the speculation on some other pages):
Authorities plan to enter the booby- trapped apartment of the suspect in the deadly shooting spree at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater Saturday.

The suspect, James Holmes is accused of going on a shooting rampage at the movie theater during Friday’s midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” He was packing as many as 6,000 rounds of ammunition with the ability to shoot up to 50 a minute, police said.

Holmes’ apartment is believed to be loaded with explosives. Attempts to enter the apartment Friday were unsuccessful and police postponed efforts until Saturday. The FBI, ATF and local authorities are working together to enter the apartment.

Sgt. Cassidy Carlson of the Aurora Police Dept. said that authorities have broken the mission down into three phases and plan to carry them out throughout Saturday.

"There are still unknowns, we're not exactly sure of everything that's in there," Sgt. Carlson said. The unknown includes jars that are believed to contain accelerates.

The first phase will be to render the area safe and address the immediate threat of the wire trip booby trap, which may include a controlled detonation. The public has been warned that parts of these phases may cause loud booms and have planned for reverse 911 calls for the area so that the public may remain informed.

Authorities say they will send a robot into the apartment.

The second phase will be to dispose of the aerial shells which will include placing the devices into sand trucks and taken to a disposal site for a controlled detonation. Authorities believe there may be up to as many as 30 shells.

The third phase will be the investigation of the apartment itself.

"There is no timeline, I can't give you an end time," Sgt. Carlson said. "We don't need to rush anything," she said.

Relatives of two of the twelve dead confirmed late Friday that their loved ones were killed during the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises."

The family of Alex Sullivan issued a statement confirming his death. He died on his 27th birthday.

Twenty-three-year-old Micayla Medek was also among the dead.

Her father's cousin, Anita Busch, says the sad news at least brought peace to the family.

The brother of Jessica Ghawi previously confirmed his sister's death.

"He looked like an assassin ready to go to war," said Jordan Crofter, a moviegoer who was unhurt in the attack early Friday, about a half-hour after the special midnight opening of "The Dark Knight Rises."

Holmes, used a military-style semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a pistol, stopping only to reload.

The suspect marched up the aisle in the stadium-style theater, picking off those who tried to flee, witnesses said. Authorities said he hit scores of people, with a few of the 70 victims suffering their injuries not by gunfire but in the ensuing chaos. At least one person was struck in an adjacent theater by gunfire that went through the wall.

"He would reload and shoot and anyone who would try to leave would just get killed," said Jennifer Seeger, adding that bullet casings landed on her head and burned her forehead.

Within minutes, frantic emergency services calls brought some 200 police officers, ambulances and emergency crews to the theater. Holmes was captured in the parking lot and remains in police custody. Police said they later found that his nearby apartment was booby-trapped.

Authorities gave no motive for the attack. The FBI said there was no indication of ties to any terrorist groups.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Scene of Colorado Shooting Banned Firearms

The Truth About Firearms blog is reporting that the movie chain where the Colorado shooting occurred--a Cinemark theater--had a policy of prohibiting anyone but law enforcement from carrying a firearm. In other words, they disarmed the very type of people that could have stopped this tragedy.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

TTAG on the Saiga Shotgun

One of the reasons I started reading The Truth About Firearms blog was because they didn't appear to pull the punches when reviewing firearms. So, here is what they said recently about the Saiga shotgun:
The Saiga shotgun is built roughly on the same design as an AK-47 – very roughly. Like, “I saw it on the internet and I think it works like this” rough. Some of the features are pretty close to the original design, but the gun had to be drastically modified to operate with shotgun shells.

The gas system, for example, uses a “gas puck” that functions much like the short stroke recoil design used in the M1 carbine from WWII instead of the direct gas operated piston system in the original design. And the bolt design uses a rotating shaft ... but a stationary bolt face in order to properly chamber a round.

Other additions like a bolt hold-open feature are unique to the Saiga design entirely. These modifications have introduced a number of areas where serious malfunctions can occur. And more often than not, they happen at the most inopportune moments.

In addition ... the build quality on Saigas is generally piss poor compared to other shotguns in the same or even lower price ranges (not even the Norinco 870 ripoff is as rough around the edges). ... Besides the finish being incredibly rough (and therefore rather abrasive to the moving components of the gun) the original parts themselves seem flimsy. It just feels like they cranked these guns out without the polish that their line of rifles gets.

... I asked around, and every single person I saw who was running a Saiga shotgun at the recent CT match had a major malfunction (“major” defined as taking 10 seconds or more to clear). One shooter’s shotgun even decided to disassemble itself in the middle of a stage, something that happened the day before at the practice range and was captured on film by yours truly (notice anything about that dust cover?).

Whatever speed bonus competitors gained by having detachable magazines was more than outweighed by the extra time needed to actually make the thing work. And before you say it was only the “bad” competitors that had malfs, I watched Jerry Miculek’s legendary Saiga shotgun have a meltdown in the middle of a stage that probably cost him a few positions on the leaderboard.

That’s the reason I ditched the Saiga shotgun when I did. I could see the writing on the wall — getting it “up to spec” was going to cost thousands of dollars and even then, the design was so inherently shitty that it probably was still going to malfunction on me. So instead of wasting money on the “upgrades” I bought a Mossberg 930 and haven’t looked back. The lesson: caveat emptor. If you buy a Saiga shotgun, be aware that you’re buying a project gun that even the best shooters of our day have tried — and failed — to make work in a competition setting.
C'mon. Tell me how you really feel.

America's Energy Future

Walter Russell Mead has been writing a multi-part series about how the discovery of huge (really huge!) oil and natural gas deposits in Israel, the United States, China, and Canada are going to reshape the energy, economic and political face of the globe--in a good way. (Part 1 here, and Part 2 here). In his third part, he writes:
Get ready for an American century: that appears to be the main consequence of the energy revolution that is now causing economic and political experts to tear up their old forecasts all over the world. The new American century won’t be a repeat of the last one, but in some very important ways the world now looks more likely to continue in the direction of global liberal capitalism that the US—like Britain before us—has seen as its geopolitical goal for many years.

Energy was critical to the geopolitics of the 20th century; energy shortages shaped some of the strategic decisions that led both Germany and Japan to defeat in World War II, and the struggle over the energy-rich Middle East played an important role in the Cold War. The assumption that the world was at or near “peak oil” has been a driving force behind predictions that the 21st century would be an era of U.S.-China competition as China’s desperate quest for more energy resources led it to push an aggressive global energy policy that would conflict with vital U.S. interests. The assumption that there were few major discoveries left to be made also led many to forecast that the Middle East and especially the Gulf region would continue to be a major fulcrum in global affairs; indeed, countries like Saudi Arabia, with the ability to increase production to meet the thirst of an oil-starved world, would become more important than ever as the geopolitics of oil scarcity took hold.

But as I’ve been writing recently, none of that looks true anymore. Advances in extraction technology have changed our understanding of the world’s energy future. As I wrote in my last post, the U.S. and Canada each may have more energy potential than the entire Middle East. China also has significant resources. So do Israel and Brazil.

It is too soon to tell just how much of this potential can be unlocked, but for several years now it has begun to look as if much more of these unconventional resources will be available much sooner than thought, and serious people now argue that the US could pass Saudi Arabia to become the world’s leading oil producer by 2020.

Even if some of the new sources prove difficult to extract at a reasonable economic and environmental price, the amount of available energy out there may be even greater than we now think. Because the extraction technology is new, and because it is still developing, much of the world has not been surveyed for these unconventional deposits. Both on land and under the sea, there is a lot of territory still to explore.
He goes on to predict:
But on the bigger stage of world politics, it’s the United States that benefits most from the energy revolution. To begin with, the core objective of the United States—a reasonably stable, orderly and liberal global system—is a lot easier to achieve in an era of energy abundance than in one of tough resource competition. Oil is a lubricant, and the more the world has, the more smoothly things are likely to run. A world in which jealous, competing states are trying to elbow each other aside to access the last few remaining pools of oil is a much nastier place than one in which the whole oil question is a lot more laid back.

Abundant energy will also promote global economic growth, an effect that strengthens and stabilizes the world system. It is easier for countries to cooperate when their economies are doing well. There is less nationalist pressure inside countries driving political leaders to take confrontational stands, and it is easier to negotiate win-win solutions and build functioning international institutions when all parties are relatively optimistic about their prospects.
I don't disagree with Mr. Mead's premise. I just believe that he underestimates the resolve of liberals to undermine and destroy the American economy. They have already shown by blocking the Keystone pipeline and the false vilification of fracking (on which this oil wealth depends) that they have no intent of allowing the U.S. to experience the prosperity that would come from lower energy prices.

Over the long-term, Mr. Mead is correct. One way or the other, the liberal environmental agenda will wither away and these resources will be developed. Over the short term, however, liberals will continue to demand, and will get, cripplingly high energy prices, which will impede our economic development.

Is Syria's Government on the Ropes?

Yesterday saw the rebels launch an attack against Damascus, while a suicide bomber killed several high ranking military and security officials, including Pres. Assad's brother-in-law. Now, it appears that Pres. Assad may have fled to the coast, while his wife is rumored to have fled to Russia. First, the Telegraph reports:
Opposition sources and a Western diplomat stated Mr Assad was in the coastal city of Latakia, directing the response to the assassination of his top lieutenants, according to Reuters.

Mr Assad, who has not made a public appearance since Wednesday's bombing, was said to be commanding the government operation but it was not clear whether Assad travelled to the Mediterranean Sea resort before or after the attack.

"Our information is that he is at his palace in Latakia and that he may have been there for days," said a senior opposition figure, who declined to be named.

David Cameron, the prime minister called on Mr Assad to give up power to avert more chaos and bloodshed. Speaking during a visit to Afghanistan, Mr Cameron said: "I have a very clear message for President Assad. It is time for him to go.

"It is time for transition in the regime. If there isn't transition it's quite clear there's going to be civil war."

Gen Daoud Rajha, the defence minister, Gen Hassan Turkmani, assistant to the vice-president and head of the crisis cell, and Assef Shawkat, the husband of Mr Assad's sister have been confirmed as casualties of the attack and a number of other senior leaders were injured.

Major Gen Robert Mood, head of the UN monitoring mission, warned that the violence was spiralling, as President Assad appeared to have gone to ground.

Security forces loyal to President Assad pounded rebel hideouts in Damascus on Thursday in retaliatory attacks for the blast that killed three top anti-insurgency leaders.

Hundreds fled Damascus flashpoint districts amid a surge of fighting following a bomb attack which killed three security chiefs, as residents reported shops closed and food shortages.

The troops used helicopters and heavy artillery against the rebels, while snipers took up positions on rooftops on the outskirts of the city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. "Explosions are heard throughout the capital," it said.
The Daily Mail reports:
Syria's embattled president and his British-born wife have fled the capital Damascus after rebels killed three of his top security chiefs in a devastating bomb attack, it was claimed today.

Bashar al-Assad is believed to be in the coastal city of Latakia, directing a response to yesterday's attack which killed his brother-in-law and two other members of his inner circle.

Rumours that his wife Asma, who grew up in London, has fled to Russia swirled around Damascus, where pro-government forces today fought back against an all-out rebel offensive.

There were signs today that the 16-month uprising had reached a potentially pivotal stage, with soldiers apparently defecting en masse.

But anti-regime activists said that government forces had begun shelling neighbourhoods in and around the capital in response to the suicide bomb attack.

More than 200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in violence across the country yesterday, including 38 in Damascus, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
We may see a repeat of Iraq and Libya, where large stores of chemical weapons have gone missing. From the Daily Mail article cited above:
Leon Panetta, US defence secretary, warned the Assad regime that it would be responsible for anything that happened to the country's chemical weapons.

He said: ‘What we may be about to witness is the collapse of a heavily militarised Middle Eastern state with a huge stock of conventional and chemical weapons.’
This AFP article similarly contains a warning from King Abdullah II of Jordan:
The king of Jordan warned Wednesday that his northern neighbor Syria was on the brink of all-out civil war and that in a worst-case scenario, chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Al-Qaeda.
I suspect that we are past the point of no-return unless Syria gets a substantial amount of aid (including troops) from Russia or some other ally. And, as has happened too often in the past two decades, the collapse will of the Syrian regime will produce true civil war as tribes, religious, and ethnic groups all turn on each other. It may be years before stability returns to the country.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Signs of the Apocalypse--15 Weird Animal Invasions.

"And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them ... to kill with ... the beasts of the earth." Rev. 6:8.

Actually, this is more in the line of the humor department. Outdoor Life has put together a slide show of 15 unusual animal incidents and invasions.

FerFal -- 5 "Awkward" Items to Have in a Survival Kit

Interesting article from FerFal's blog on why to include condoms, tampons, an emery board, pantyhose, and breast milk bags in a wilderness survival or bug out kit.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Is the LIBOR Scandal the Tip of the Iceberg?

The LIBOR scandal--involving the fixing and manipulation of interbank interest rates--may just be the tip of the iceberg. According to this report at The Telegraph, oil prices may have also been manipulated.
Concerns are growing about the reliability of oil prices, after a report for the G20 found the market is wide open to “manipulation or distortion”.

Traders from banks, oil companies or hedge funds have an “incentive” to distort the market and are likely to try to report false prices, it said.

Politicians and fuel campaigners last night urged the Government to expand its inquiry into the Libor scandal to see whether oil prices have also been falsely pushed up.

They warned any efforts to rig the oil price would affect how much drivers pay at the pump, which soared to a record high of 137p per litre of unleaded earlier this year.

Robert Halfon, who led a group of 100 MPs calling for lower fuel prices, said the matter “needs to be looked at by the Bank of England urgently”.

“We need to know whether the oil price has been manipulated in a similar way to Libor,” the MP for Harlow said. “This impacts on millions of people all round the country concerned about the price of petrol at the pumps.”

Petrol retailers use oil price “benchmarks” to decide how much to pay for future supplies.

The rate is calculated by data companies based on submissions from firms which trade oil on a daily basis – such as banks, hedge funds and energy companies.

However, like Libor – the interest rate measure that Barclays was earlier this month found to have rigged – the market is unregulated and relies on the honesty of the firms to submit accurate data about all their trades.
Just a few thoughts on this. First of all, since the Bank of England has been implicated in the LIBOR scandal, it doesn't make any sense to let it head up an investigation into other conspiracies to fix prices. Sort of like placing the fox in charge of the hen house.

Second, of course oil prices are rigged--that is the whole reason OPEC exists.

Third, I am suspicious of any government's motives here. Our own president vowed to raise energy prices, and pursued a vendetta against oil production. At first blush, the proposal of this story seems to be nothing more than an attempt to distract everyone from the LIBOR scandal, while giving governments more direct control over petroleum prices, to our detriment, I think.

U.S. Already In Recession

I hadn't really noticed that we were out of the last recession, but The Telegraph reports that the U.S. has already slid into another recession:
Output slowed to stall speed over the winter. The US economy tipped into outright contraction in the second quarter, even before facing the "fiscal cliff" later this year – tightening of $600bn or 4pc of GDP unless action is taken to stop it.

Nothing serious is yet being done to head off the downward slide. If ECRI is right, the implications for the global system are ugly.

It is never easy to read the signals at inflexion points. Washington is always caught off guard. As ECRI’s Lakshman Achuthan says, it took the Lehman collapse ten months into recession in September 2008 to "wake people up".

What we know is that retail sales rolled over in February and broader trade sales peaked in December. Industrial output peaked in April. The nationwide ISM index of manufacturing crashed through the break-even line of 50 in June, just as it did at the onset of the Great Recession in late 2007, but this time at a faster pace.

Job growth has slumped to 75,000 a month over the last three months, too low to stop unemployment rising again to 8.2pc, or 14.9pc on the wider U6 measure.

Albert Edwards from Societe Generale expects the US economy to shrink 2pc this year, leading to a 40pc fall in profits. He says the S&P 500 index of stocks will ultimately plumb fresh secular depths, below the 666 bottom of March 2009
.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review -- When All Hell Breaks Loose


Book: When All Hell Breaks Loose--Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes by Cody Lundin. (Amazon link). 450 pp., illustrated.

Overview: This book is about surviving post-disaster (i.e., it doesn't tell you what to do in the event of an earthquake or typhoon, but what to do afterward) for an extended period of time--one week to several months.

The book is divided into two basic parts: "Head candy"--dealing with the psychological and emotional aspects of survival, as well as some high level planning issues such as how much do you need for survival and for how long.

The second part, "Hand Candy" discusses the nuts and bolts of different survival skills and preparations. These include: shelter, water (storing, collecting and purifying), food, emergency sanitation, hygiene, lighting, cooking, first-aid, "sensible" self defense, communications, transportation, and whether to stay in place or evacuate.

Impression: I think this is the best and most important survival book that I own. As I had discussed in an earlier review, "survival" books often fall into different categories, ranging from pure wilderness or outdoor survival to what to do after the collapse of civilization. The outdoor survival book focuses on what to do when you are cut off from civilization with nothing more than a knife and string. The TEOTWAWKI survival books are, almost universally, intended for someone who is willing to move to a remote area and set up an independent, off-grid, homestead. The problem is in the middle--those people whose jobs (or other issues) prevent them from moving to BFE and/or expect a major disaster that may take weeks or months before normalcy returns, but not the complete collapse of civilization. That is, something major such as Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, the earthquake in Japan, or the mythical "big one" that will eventually hit California. This is where When All Hell Breaks Loose fits in.

It largely assumes that you will be staying in your house. Do you have emergency supplies of food and water stored away? Great! It will tell you how to gather those items, store them, and use them after a major disaster. And if you don't have those items, it will tell you how to scavenge your food and water and prepare them for safe eating; and how to improvise shelter and insulation. And what if some of your neighbors or, God forbid, your loved one's don't make it. He also discusses how to dispose of dead bodies, but document the death to (hopefully) the satisfaction of the authorities.

Now, I've read some other books on disaster preparation that are as dry as dirt in a desert. One thing I like about this book is that it includes some great quotes, and "illustrates" its principles with historical incidences of disaster, as well as the Mr. Lundin's personal experiences with using the techniques. In other words, it's readable.

As a counter example, several months ago I purchased Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family (I have the Second Edition, but apparently the 3rd Edition was released in May). It's a great book, filling essentially the same niche as When All Hell Breaks Loose, full of useful information and a great survival references. But it is also about as readable as an encyclopedia.

Finally, I like that Lundin not only explains what to do, but also why. 

Notable Points: It's hard to pick out just a few notable points in a book this good, but I will try.

One thing that I only appreciated after I had finished the book was the "Head Candy" section. Lundin spends a considerable amount of the book (some 83 pages) discussing the psychological and emotional issues with preparing and surviving a disaster. Not just stress and fear (although these are important issues), but also working with other people and adopting an "I can" attitude.

Lundin's discussion of water storage and purification is probably one of the best and most complete I've ever read and includes tips and information on solar purification that I've never seen anywhere else. The book is worth it just for this one topic.

If you have watched Lundin in Dual Survival on the Discovery Channel, you know that he is very much a hygiene "freak." However, I think the emphasis on hygiene, including tips on how to wipe your butt when you've run out of toilet paper, is critical given that dysentery is such a killer.

One of the most interesting chapters of the book to me was the book on self defense. Unlike many books, Lundin doesn't skip over this topic--he knows you may have to protect yourself from looters or gangs. However, he also recognized that he lacks the skills to discuss the topic. So, this is the one chapter that essentially consists of an interview with a self-defense expert. While I don't completely agree with the "expert," I appreciate Lundin's intellectual honesty in admitting he lacked the expertise in this one area--and it raises my respect and faith in his knowledge in the other areas discussed in the book.

In short, it is a great book and, I believe, a must- have for a survival reference.

Mystery Illness in Cambodia

Investigations continued yesterday into the mystery illness that has caused the deaths of at least 60 children in Cambodia since April, but answers were not yet apparent, health officials said.

A joint statement issued by the World Health Organisation and the Ministry of Health last night said the majority of cases had appeared in the southern part of the country and that neighbouring countries had been officially informed as the the “cause and source of the disease” were sought for “appropriate control”.

WHO public-health specialist Dr Nima Asgari said the UN agency was providing support for the Ministry of Health to investigate the cases.

“The investigations will try to identify any linkages in time, place and person between the cases and also if there has been exposure to similar factors and how that can be linked . . . to a possible causative agent.”

Dr Denis Laurent, from Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals, which first raised the alarm about the deadly illness, said the hospital was independently pursuing its own investigation.

“We are working very hard, but there is no update. We are still waiting for results, hopefully tomorrow,” Laurent said.

Communicable disease health officials from the Ministry of Health could not be contacted yesterday, and rapid- response hotline officials declined to comment.
(Full story here).

Middle East Roundup

The Middle-East threatens to explode into numerous civil war and regional conflicts.

First, Iran continues to pursue its nuclear weapons program notwithstanding that everyone in the region expects that Iran would use its weapons offensively, or a shield to allow it to attack weaker neighbours. Thus, it was announced earlier this week that the U.S. is moving to the Gulf of Arabia underwater "drones" designed to seek out and destroy sea mines.
The Navy is rushing dozens of unmanned underwater craft to the Persian Gulf to help detect and destroy mines in a major military buildup aimed at preventing Iran from closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the event of a crisis, U.S. officials said.

The tiny SeaFox submersibles each carry an underwater television camera, homing sonar and an explosive charge. The Navy bought them in May after an urgent request by Marine Gen. James Mattis, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East.

Each submersible is about 4 feet long and weighs less than 100 pounds. The craft are intended to boost U.S. military capabilities as negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program appear to have stalled. Three rounds of talks since April between Iran and the five countries in the United Nations Security Council plus Germany have made little progress.

Some U.S. officials are wary that Iran may respond to tightening sanctions on its banking and energy sectors, including a European Union oil embargo, by launching or sponsoring attacks on oil tankers or platforms in the Persian Gulf. Some officials in Tehran have threatened to close the narrow waterway, a choke point for a fifth of the oil traded worldwide.
In Egypt, it is increasingly looking like there may be a clash between the secularist military and Islamic Brotherhood.
Sacked MPs vowed to force their way through a security cordon in a bid to re-open parliament on Tuesday despite a hardline statement from the military.

In what was seen as a warning to President Mohammed Morsi, the military said it expected everyone to respect constitution

The military said it “was confident all institutions of state will respect constitutional decrees,” adding “the importance of the sovereignty of law and the constitution” to protect the state.

The Constitutional Court upheld its dissolution of parliament, escalating a power struggle between Mohammed Morsi, the new president, and Egypt’s generals.

The showdown represents an attempt by Morsi to reclaim much of the authority shorn from him by his military rivals, who claimed legislative power for themselves just before he took office ten days ago.

Its outcome could dictate Egypt’s immediate future.

In an open challenge to the generals, Mr Morsi on Sunday ordered parliament, which is dominated by fellow members of the Muslim Brotherhood, to reconvene despite a court order, made at the military’s behest, for it to dissolve.
By the end of this, the generals are going to wish that they had backed Mubarak. But, Obama will get his wish--an Egypt actively hostile to the West.

And Iraq once again demonstrates that the Middle-East is not really ready for Western style democracy, as it edges closer to a civil war based on religious and tribal affiliation.
A dramatic uptick in violence and political instability in Iraq have raised fears that Baghdad once again is tilting toward civil war.

A half-year after the U.S. military left Iraq, the war-weary country is beset by violence as insurgents take advantage of the power struggles between the country’s ethnic and sectarian factions.

“Iraqis are living in real tragedy every day. It is unfair to just leave the Iraqis facing such difficult circumstances,” Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said in an exclusive interview with The Washington Times.

June was Iraq’s second-deadliest month since U.S. troops pulled out Dec. 18, 2011, and a major bombing or shooting rampage occurs about twice a week. Many target Shiite pilgrims and carry the hallmarks of al Qaeda — although some Iraqis said they think other factions are responsible.

Clashes in neighboring Syria and lethal attacks by the Sunni-led opposition to President Bashar Assad’s regime are emboldening Iraqi Sunnis to attack government targets, exacerbating sectarian tensions in a “spillover” effect, regional analysts say.

“It’s quite remarkable to me that everyone is so concerned about Syria and the spillover that could take place with a Syrian civil war, but an Iraqi civil war would be worse,” said Ken Pollack, director of the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

“Iraq is an oil producer and is in the midst of one of the most important regions. The spillover could affect Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Pollack said. “All the things that make us concerned about Syria ought to go double for Iraq.”
 And the civil war in Syria took on a more serious and sinister note with the Syrian military has started moving its stockpiles of chemical weapons.
Syria has started to move part of its chemical weapons arsenal out of storage facilities, according to U.S. officials.

The country's undeclared stockpiles of sarin nerve agent, mustard gas and cyanide have long worried the U.S. officials and its allies in the region, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Western nations have looked for signs amid the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad's government of any change in the location of those weapons, believed to be the world's largest stockpile.

American officials are divided on the reason for moving the arsenal.

Some fear Assad may want to use the weapons against rebels or civilians, while others said perhaps he is trying to safeguard them from his opponents.
If the weapons are being moved to "safeguard" them, it indicates that the government fears losing territory to the rebels. That simply pushes Syria one step closer to using the weapons out of desperation.