Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter





He is risen! He is risen!
Tell it out with joyful voice.
He has burst his three days' prison;
Let the whole wide earth rejoice.
Death is conquered; man is free.
Christ has won the victory.

Come with high and holy hymning;
Chant our Lord's triumphant lay.
Not one darksome cloud is dimming
Yonder glorious morning ray,
Breaking o'er the purple east,
Symbol of our Easter feast.

He is risen! He is risen!
He hath opened heaven's gate.
We are free from sin's dark prison,
Risen to a holier state.
And a brighter Easter beam
On our longing eyes shall stream.

Cecil Frances Alexander, 1818-1895
Hymn No. 199 in the LDS Hymn Book

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Gay Marriage--The End Game


Rush Limbaugh recently announced that when it comes to gay marriage, resistance if futile. (Although some people disagree). Limbaugh said:
... This issue is lost. I don’t care what the Supreme Court does, this is now inevitable — and it’s inevitable because we lost the language on this. I mentioned the other day that I’ve heard people talk about “opposite-sex marriage,” or you might have had heard people say “traditional marriage.”
... I maintain to you that we lost the issue when we started allowing the word “marriage” to be bastardized and redefined by simply adding words to it, because marriage is one thing, and it was not established on the basis of discrimination. It wasn’t established on the basis of denying people anything. “Marriage” is not a tradition that a bunch of people concocted to be mean to other people with. But we allowed the left to have people believe that it was structured that way.
I would go so far as to say that there are some people who think marriage is an evil Republican idea, simply because they’re the ones that want to hold on to it. So far as I’m concerned, once we started talking about “gay marriage,” “traditional marriage,” “opposite-sex marriage,” “same-sex marriage,” “hetero-marriage,” we lost. It was over. It was just a matter of time. This is the point a friend of mine sent me a note about.
“Once you decide to modify the word ‘marriage,’ then the other side has won, or at least they’re 90% of the way home. The best thing that ‘marriage’ had going for it was basically what they teach you the first day in law school: ‘If you hang a sign on a horse that says “cow,” it does not make it a cow,’ although today it might.” That’s where we are: 5 + 5 could = 11, if it works for the Democrats. A cow could be a horse, if it works for the Democrats. The thing is, discrimination has never been a part of marriage.
It evolved as the best way to unite men and women in raising a family and in cohabitating a life. It’s not perfect. The divorce rate’s what it is. But it evolved with a purpose. It was not a creation of a bunch of elitists wanting to deny people a good time. It was not created as something to deny people “benefits,” but it became that once we started bastardizing the definition. But discrimination is not an issue, and it never was. No one sensible is against giving homosexuals the rights of contract or inheritance or hospital visits.
There’s nobody that wants to deny them that. The issue has always been denying them a status that they can’t have, by definition. By definition — solely, by definition — same-sex people cannot be married. So instead of maintaining that and holding fast to that, we allowed the argument to be made that the definition needed to change, on the basis that we’re dealing with something discriminatory, bigoted, and all of these mystical things that it’s not and never has been.
 If it is not about discrimination, why are progressives so obsessed with gay marriage? Is it to distract the public from our slowly deflating economic system? Or to make us overlook that the Middle-East is about to explode into total war? That the EU is on the verge of collapse or China is teetering on the edge of a demographic, monetary, and pollution cliff?

First of all, because gay marriage is, at heart, a leftist endeavor, it is rooted in a desire for powerDaniel Greenfield explains:
The only question worth asking about gay marriage is whether anyone on the left would care about this crusade if it didn't come with the privilege of bulldozing another civilizational institution.
Gay marriage is not about men marrying men or women marrying women, it is about the deconstruction of marriage between men and women. That is a thing that many men and women of one generation understand but have trouble conveying to another generation for whom marriage has already largely been deconstructed.

The statistics about the falling marriage rate tell the tale well enough. Marriage is a fading institution. Family is a flickering light in the evening of the West.
... There are two ways to destroy a thing. You can either run it at while swinging a hammer with both hands or you can attack its structure until it no longer means anything.
The left hasn't gone all out by outlawing marriage, instead it has deconstructed it, taking apart each of its assumptions, from the economic to the cooperative to the emotional to the social, until it no longer means anything at all. Until there is no way to distinguish marriage from a temporary liaison between members of uncertain sexes for reasons that due to their vagueness cannot be held to have any solemn and meaningful purpose.
... Every aspect of marriage is deconstructed and then eliminated until it no longer means anything. And once marriage is no longer a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman, but a ceremony with no deeper meaning than most modern ceremonies, then the deconstruction and destruction will be complete.

... In the world that the deconstructionists are striving to build, there will be marriage, but it will mean nothing. Like a greeting card holiday, it will be an event, but not an institution. An old ritual with no further meaning. An egotistical exercise in attention-seeking and self-celebration with no deeper purpose. It will be a display every bit as hollow as the churches and synagogues it takes place in.
The deconstruction of marriage is only a subset of the deconstruction of gender from a state of being to a state of mind. The decline of marriage was preceded by the deconstruction of gender roles and gay marriage is being succeeded by the destruction of gender as anything other than a voluntary identity, a costume that one puts on and takes off.
Destroying gender roles was a prerequisite to destroying gender. Each deconstruction leads naturally to the next deconstruction with no final destination except total deconstruction.
Gay marriage is not a stopping point, just as men in women's clothing using the ladies room is not a stopping point. There is no stopping point at all.
The left's deconstruction of social institutions is not a quest for equality, but for destruction. As long as the institutions that preceded it exist, it will go on deconstructing them until there is nothing left but a blank canvas, an unthinking anarchy, on which it can impose its perfect and ideal conception of how everyone should live.
Equality is merely a pretext for deconstruction. Change the parameters of a thing and it ceases to function. Redefine it and expand it and it no longer means anything at all. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but if you change 'rose' to mean anything that sticks out of the ground, then the entire notion of what is being discussed has gone and cannot be reclaimed without also reclaiming language.

The left's social deconstruction program is a war of ideas and concepts. Claims of equality are used to expand institutions and ways of living until they are so broad as to encompass everything and nothing. And once a thing encompasses everything, once a rose represents everything rising out of the ground, then it also represents nothing at all.
Deconstruction is a war against definitions, borders and parameters. It is a war against defining things by criminalizing the limitation of definitions. With inclusivity as the mandate, exclusivity, in marriage, or any other realm, quickly meets with social disapproval and then becomes a hate crime. If the social good is achieved only through maximum inclusivity and infinite tolerance, then any form of exclusivity, from property to person to ideas, is a selfish act that refuses the collective impulse to make all things into a common property with no lasting meaning or value.
As Orwell understood in 1984, tyranny is essentially about definitions. It is hard to fight for freedom if you lack the word. It is hard to maintain a marriage if the idea no longer exists. Orwell's Oceania made basic human ideas into contradictory things. The left's deconstruction of social values does the same thing to such essential institutions as marriage; which becomes an important impermanent thing of no fixed nature or value.
The left's greatest trick is making things mean the opposite of what they do. Stealing is sharing. Crime is justice. Property is theft. Each deconstruction is accompanied by an inversion so that a thing, once examined, comes to seem the opposite of what it is, and once that is done, it no longer has the old innate value, but a new enlightened one.

To deconstruct man, you deconstruct his beliefs and then his way of living. You deconstruct freedom until it means slavery. You deconstruct peace until it means war. You deconstruct property until it means theft. And you deconstruct marriage until it means a physical relationship between any group of people for any duration. And that is the opposite of what marriage is.

The deconstruction of marriage is part of the deconstruction of gender and family and those are part of the long program of deconstructing man. Once each basic value has been rendered null and void, inverted and revealed to be random and meaningless, then man is likewise revealed to be a random and meaningless creature whose existence requires shaping by those who know better.
The final deconstruction eliminates nation, religion, family and even gender to reduce the soul of man to a blank slate waiting to be written on.
That is what is at stake here. This is not a struggle about the right of equality, but the right of definition. It is not about whether men can get married, but whether marriage will mean anything at all. It is about preserving the shapes and structures of basic social concepts that define our identities in order to preserve those very concepts, rather than accepting their deconstruction into nullification.

The question on the table is whether the institutions that give us meaning will be allowed to retain that meaning. And that question is a matter of survival. Societies cannot survive without definitions. Peoples do not go on existing through the act of occupying space. The deconstruction of identity is also the destruction of identity.
And that is what we are truly fighting against.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Extinction of Christians in the Middle-East?

From Revelations, Chapter 6:
9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:

10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
The website RadicalIslam.org makes the following observations:
Across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Islam is on the march again and Christians are marked for annihilation. In lands once known as the heartland of Christianity, where the Apostles and early missionaries spread their faith, Christianity is a faith under fire and Christians themselves are a dwindling presence.

Nowhere is the Islamic assault against Christians more intense than the killing fields of Syria, where rebel advances by both the al-Qa’eda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated militias of the Syrian Free Army (SFA), inevitably result in pogroms against Christian populations in every town they capture from the Bashar al-Assad regime that previously had protected Syria’s minority Christians.

As Nina Shea wrote recently at National Review Online, the 2,000-year-old Christian Assyrian community in embattled Syria literally faces extinction, as an Islamic “ethno-religious cleansing” targets its defenseless members with kidnappings, murder, rape and threats.

Like Iraq’s Assyrian and Chaldean communities before it (some of whose members had fled to Syria for safety), the Christians of Syria are now fleeing in droves, many to Lebanon, and some even back to Iraq. The Chaldean Catholic bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Audo, reports that as many as 30,000 Christians have fled that devastated city alone.

Juliana Taimoorazy, the founder and president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, has highlighted the desperate plight of Iraq’s original people, the Assyrians and Chaldeans, descendants of mighty civilizations and Christian since the first century. Since the Council’s founding in 2008, Taimoorazy has made it her mission to document and speak about the devastation wreaked against Iraqi Christian businesses, churches and homes in the years since 2003, when the ouster of Saddam Hussein brought to power the jihadist forces of Shi’ite Islam.

Waves of violence, killing and forced displacement have slashed the pre-2003 number of churches in Iraq from 300 to just 57, and the number of beleaguered Christians from some 1.4 million to perhaps only half a million in 2013.

The situation in Iran is intensifying with a violent regime crackdown against Christians and other religious minorities, as well (especially Baha’is). In the March 2013 Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeld documents the shocking treatment of Christians in Iran, whose constitution describes it as an “Islamic Republic” dedicated to revolution and global jihad. Christians increasingly are being persecuted, arrested, jailed and mistreated for the “crime” of preaching or even simply practicing Christianity in an Islamic state.
 Gates of Vienna also posts a translated op-ed from a Danish newspaper decrying the persecution heaped upon Christians in the Middle-East during the past decade. It notes:
But Christianity is under threat in many countries, not least in the same Iraq that was the target of the war initiated by President Bush after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Since the invasion began, more than 70 Christian churches in Iraq have been bombed, over 700 Christians have been killed, 17 of these being priests, and an unknown number of Christians have been abducted. On Maundy Thursday of 2003, there were over one million Christians in Iraq. Today only one third of them remain, and most of those have needed to take refuge in the autonomous Kurdish regions in northern Iraq. Many have fled abroad. For years they have been unable to visit their relatives in Iraq.
But Christians also suffer difficult circumstances in countries other than Iraq. In most of the Middle East, the region that gave rise to the Bible, where Jesus lived and died as a person of the Middle East, Christianity is under pressure. Acutely in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, where the Apostle Paul gave Christianity roots outside of the Jewish world, and in Iran, where non-Muslims are forced to “submit or leave the country”.

Lebanon used to be a harmonious center for Christians, Muslims and Jews. It is now an Iranian vassal state, where Hezbollah, particularly in south Lebanon, is striving to remove every Christian cross, and where churches dating back to the time of the Apostle Paul have been torched, torn down or converted into mosques.

In Palestinian-controlled Gaza, Hamas is calling for “Islamic purity”, while Christian clinics are being shut down on the pretext that they are spy centers. In Egypt a couple months ago, a woman and her seven children were sentenced to fifteen years in prison for converting from Islam to Christianity — a warning of what Christian Egyptians may expect from the Muslim Brotherhood — and in Tunisia, militant Muslims cut the head off a young man who converted to Christianity. In Saudi Arabia, Bibles are being confiscated, while churches and Christian symbols are banned.
This article (h/t Gates of Vienna) also describes the situation in Iraq:
Non-Muslims in Iraq suffer violent attacks and discrimination. Many Christians, Yazidis and Mandeans have fled the nation. Only in the Kurdish north are religious minorities safe - except when they live in 'mixed' towns.

Violence, kidnappings and attacks on religious minorities are a daily occurrence in Iraq, where a national patchwork of religious and ethnic groups once existed, a sense of unraveling remains.

Violence against minority religious groups had already begun before the fall of Saddam Hussein. Hussein reached the apex of his in the midst of a bloody conflict between Kurds and Arabs, Sunnis and Shiites. Caught in the crossfire of those battles were Christians; Yazidis, a Kurdish ethno-religious group; and a group known as Mandeans.

Churches are now regular recipients of bomb attacks - as they have been for years. When Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako became head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq in March 2013, security authorities in parts of Baghdad were on high alert. The patriarch, however, is the leader of a congregation in decline.

In addition to many Catholics, Christians of other denominations are leaving Iraq. From what was once a group of roughly 1 million Christians in the biblical land of Babylon, a few hundred thousand remain. Iraq's other religious minorities have suffered a similar fate.
While Christians in the United States have largely been free from such physical acts of violence, that, too, may be in our future. Even here, Christians have largely become persona non grata in the eyes of the government, the media, and the popular culture.

We Are All Cypriots Now

The events over the last couple weeks in Cyprus have been like watching a horrible wreck--its terrible, and we don't want to think about it happening to us, yet it is too fascinating for us to avert our gaze. However, the difference between Cyprus and what is going on elsewhere is not a matter of degree or kind, but just how blatant and obvious it was done.

Instapundit has noted a couple articles discussing this issue over the last couple days, for which I want to provide a bit more detail. The first article is from Thomas Sowell at National Review. He writes:
The decision of the government in Cyprus to simply take money out of people’s bank accounts there sent shock waves around the world. People far removed from that small island nation had to wonder: “Can this happen here?”

The economic repercussions of having people feel that their money is not safe in banks can be catastrophic. Banks are not just warehouses where money can be stored. They are crucial institutions for gathering individually modest amounts of money from millions of people and transferring that money to strangers whom those people would not directly entrust it to.

Multibillion-dollar corporations, whose economies of scale can bring down the prices of goods and services — thereby raising our standard of living — are seldom financed by a few billionaires. Far more often they are financed by millions of people, who have neither the specific knowledge nor the economic expertise to risk their savings by investing directly in those enterprises. Banks are crucial intermediaries, which provide the financial expertise without which these transfers of money are too risky.


... After going back and forth, the government of Cyprus ultimately decided, under international pressure, to go ahead with its plan to raid people’s bank accounts. But could similar policies be imposed in other countries, including the United States?

One of the big differences between the United States and Cyprus is that the U.S. government can simply print more money to get out of a financial crisis. But Cyprus cannot print more euros, which are controlled by international institutions.

Does that mean that Americans’ money is safe in banks? Yes and no. The U.S. government is very unlikely to just seize money wholesale from people’s bank accounts, as is being done in Cyprus. But does that mean that your life savings are safe? No. There are more sophisticated ways for governments to take what you have put aside for yourself and use it for whatever politicians feel like using it for. If they do it slowly but steadily, they can take a big chunk of what you have sacrificed for years to save before you are even aware, much less alarmed.

That is in fact already happening. When officials of the Federal Reserve System speak in vague and lofty terms about “quantitative easing,” what they are talking about is creating more money out of thin air, as the Federal Reserve is authorized to do — and has been doing in recent years, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a month.

When the federal government spends far beyond the tax revenues it has, it gets the extra money by selling bonds. The Federal Reserve has become the biggest buyer of these bonds, since it costs them nothing to create more money.

This new money buys just as much as the money you sacrificed to save for years. More money in circulation, without a corresponding increase in output, means rising prices. Although the numbers in your bank book may remain the same, part of the purchasing power of your money is transferred to the government. Is that really different from what Cyprus has done?
 The second article is from Andy Sutton at ETF Daily News:
So what exactly happened in Cyprus that changed everything? The goal here is to provide something of a post mortem on the situation – with the recognition that it is still ongoing. However, some of the major decisions have been made and, fallout notwithstanding, are somewhat set in stone.

The Parallels with 2008 (And Before)

Make no mistake about it; ‘The Great Cypriot Train Robbery’ adhered closely to the now accepted methodology of conquest by fear used successfully in America in 2008 when the banksters wanted their $750 billion bailout from Congress.

While the purpose of this piece is not to relive that experience, it is critical that people see the progression in place just over the past 5 years. I must point out that all of these situations are able to happen because banks have outlived their usefulness in our society – at least in their present form. The whole purpose of having banks (of the Savings & Loan variety) in the first place was to solve one of the primary challenges facing a direct exchange economy – that of coincidence of wants. Or, to use more commonly accepted vernacular, to bring together those with savings and those with a demand for that savings. It allowed the saver to indirectly ‘invest’ in the commercial activities of the borrower. The bank acted as a conduit, charging interest to the borrower and paying interest to the saver – all at rates that made it economically feasible for all parties to engage in the transaction.

Today we have a system that is half-baked at best, born half improvised and half compromised. The improvisation created the moral hazards and the compromise allowed these institutions not only to leverage themselves into insolvency, but to attach the economies of entire nations to their activities as well. The main firewall preventing this, the Glass-Steagall Act, was torn down over a decade ago. The morphing that has taken place since then set the stage for the rampage of financial crises we’ve witnessed over the past half dozen years. The factor that should be most concerning regarding this aspect is the consolidated nature of the global banking system and the fact that nearly every nation of consequence allows the same types of risky activities that are permitted (and even encouraged) both in America and the Eurozone. There is no longer such a thing as an isolated incident. Everyone has exposure to everyone else’s bad bets.

What About Depositor Guarantees?

... The bottom line is there is no such thing as a depositor guarantee. ... What about FDIC? What about it? First of all it doesn’t apply in a Cyprus-like situation. FDIC is specifically for bank failures. And if the government taxes you to make your bank non-failing, then it is a tax and taxes just aren’t covered by FDIC. If you want to see who is going to guarantee your funds, look in the nearest mirror. Secondly, even if the FDIC wanted to, there is no way it could cover the kinds of losses depositors would suffer even under a modest ‘haircut’ type situation. ...

Obviously the bulk of readers of this periodical reside in the United States and as such are seeking input on the likelihood of such a scenario taking place here. ...

... I have been asked at least a hundred times since this Cypriot situation boiled over what people could do about this. The answer stays the same. We remain one headline from being in the same boat as the Europeans. Our economic transgressions are even more grave than theirs and are several orders of magnitude deeper as well. Our currency is the foundation that the other houses of cards that are currently collapsing have been built on.

While the Dollar may be the last to go in terms of the monetary cycle, a quick look at history says that it will in fact fail. Paper currencies, by their very nature, are doomed to failure. The biggest mistake we could make in America is to assume that for whatever reason we get a free pass on this. We don’t, so forget about it. What is also true is that this could easily take a bit longer than many of the folks who are commonly referred to as ‘gloom and doomers’ would have us believe.

Many feel hyperinflation and bank runs are imminent. I will say right here that a hyperinflationary event at this point is impossible. Why? What about all the debt? What about all the unfunded liabilities, etc.? Yes, all that is true, but the biggest piece of the ‘immediate hyperinflation’ scenario is missing and that is a wage-price spiral. Prices are certainly rising, but wages are stagnant. If there is to be a Weimar-style monetary event in America, then wages are going to have to start increasing, slowly at first, then assuming a parabolic-type growth pattern. We’re just not there at this point.

Right now, wages are the limiting factor. I’ve heard the argument that credit could step in place of wages and to a certain extent that is true, but there is a specific point where the credit function as it relates to the ability to spend becomes exhausted. There is no mistaking the government’s efforts to induce people to borrow money. All these shenanigans aimed at restoring the housing bubble to 2005 status are clear evidence of that. Not only is it part of generating the wealth effect, the continual accumulation of debt is necessary to drive a fiat monetary system such as ours.

All this said, our banks are very susceptible. The safety nets to protect depositors just aren’t there and the sad reality is that such a small percentage of our money supply exists as cash that it would be patently impossible for everyone in the nation to pull even 10% of their funds from the banks without causing a serious dislocation. Think about it. Even in a paper system, the banks can’t produce deposits on demand. This demonstrates the functional insolvency of the savings/loan bank model. Their assets are spread out in time while their liabilities (your deposits) can be called at any time. This is why so many banks are putting limits on cash withdrawals and imposing waiting periods to receive such withdrawals and so forth. They just don’t have the ability to meet their obligations en masse.
 More here.

The Disappearing Rivers of China

An official report from China’s Ministry of Water Resources released its first ever national census of water earlier this week found that the number of rivers in China with catchment areas of at least 100 square kilometres has dropped by half compared with 60 years ago.

The official study, conducted by around 800,000 surveyors said there were 22,909 rivers in China which had catchment areas of at least 100 sq km – as of the end of 2011. This is less than half the government’s previously estimated figure of over 50,000.
The large fall in the number of these rivers has prompted fears that China’s rapid economic development has also caused considerable water and soil loss.
China isn't as cheap for manufacturing as people think.  A lot of the costs of manufacturing are externalized (i.e., the pollution and work injuries), and simply not captured in the price charged by the manufacturers.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Vigilantes" Police Mexican Town

Sometimes self-help is the best help. From the Daily Mail:
Thousands of armed vigilantes have taken over a town in Mexico and arrested police officers after their 'commander' was killed and dumped in the street.
The self described 'community police' and [sic] arrested 12 officers and the town's former director of public security, who they accuse of taking part in the killing of Guadalupe Quinones Carbajal, 28, on behalf of a local organised crime group.
The 1,500-strong force has also set up improvised checkpoints on the major road running through Tierra Colorado, which connects the capital Mexico City to Acapulco, a coastal city popular with tourists less than 40 miles away.
A tourist heading to the beach with relatives for the Easter weekend was injured on Tuesday after the vigilantes opened fire on his car because he refused to stop at a roadblock.
The takeover comes amid a growing movement of 'self defence' groups in the region, which claim to be fighting against drug cartels.

X-Caliber Shotgun Adaptors

A company called X-Caliber has developed adapters designed to fit a single shot, break-action shotgun, allowing it to fire various pistol and rifle calibers. The Blaze reports:
It is composed of eight adapters that allow the 12-gauge to shoot 11 different caliber rounds. The adapters are each 7-inches long and made from chromoly steel.

... Calibers of ammo that the X Caliber allows a singe-shot shotgun to fire are .22lr, 38 special, .357, 9mm, 45 acp, 45 lc, .410 shotgun, 12 ga. shotgun, .223, 7.62×39 and 308.
According to the article, a full set of the adapters is $449.99, but individual adapters can be purchased for $50 each.

Drug Cartels Are The No. 1 Threat To Texas

Texas law enforcement apparently doesn't agree with the Federal government's assessment of border security. From the Blaze:
The Department of Homeland Security and the other federal agencies can continue downplaying the threat that an unsecure border represents to the United States of America — but that won’t keep Mexican drug cartels from operating freely in states like Texas.

Contradicting Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s claim that “our borders have, in fact, never been stronger,” a new report released by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) reveals Mexican drug cartels are operating in the Lone Star State and are the No. 1 threat to Texas.

“The threat to Texas is significant due to the prevalence of lucrative trafficking routes and smuggling networks throughout the state, as well as the state’s proximity to cities and towns steeped in cartel violence and influence just across the border in Mexico,” the report reads.

While Texas faces a full spectrum of “unique challenges to public safety and homeland security,” drug cartels are at the top of the list.

The Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas, La Familia Michoacana, Beltran Leyva and even the Sinaloa Cartel are all operating out of Texas, including Cameron, Hidalgo and Zapata Counties.

“These powerful and ruthless criminal organizations use military and terrorist tactics to battle each other and the government of Mexico for control over the lucrative U.S. drug and human smuggling markets,” according to the report. “The violence associated with this conflict has increased significantly since 2006. Some 60,000 lives have been lost, and cartel tactics in Mexico have escalated with the continued use of torture and beheading, improvised explosive devices, military-grade weapons such as grenades, and attacks against U.S. officials and diplomatic facilities.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cyprus Imposing Capital Controls (Updated)

Not-so-fun times for residents. From Reuters:
The east Mediterranean island fears a stampede at banks almost two weeks after they were shut by the government as it negotiated a 10 billion euro ($12.78 billion) bailout package with the European Union to escape financial meltdown.The rescue deal is the first in Europe's single currency zone to impose losses on bank depositors, raising the prospect that savers will panic and scramble to get at their cash.
Authorities insist that strict rules imposed to prevent a bank run will be temporary, but economists say they will be difficult to lift as long as the economy is in crisis.

... Strict controls, contained in a Finance Ministry decree, limit cash withdrawals to no more than 300 euros per day, ban the cashing of cheques and bar businesses from transferring money abroad unless they can show it is for imports.
The island's central bank will review all commercial transactions over 5,000 euros and scrutinize transactions over 200,000 euros on an individual basis. People leaving Cyprus can take only 3,000 euros with them.
Once your money is in a bank, it is no longer your money.

Update:

Zerohedge has the following observations of the eight steps we can expect from the government in a financial meltdown:
To anyone paying attention, reality is now painfully obvious. These bankrupt, insolvent governments have just about run out of fingers to plug the dikes. And history shows that, once this happens, governments fall back on a very limited playbook:

Direct confiscation
As Cyprus showed us, bankrupt governments are quite happy to plunder people’s bank accounts, especially if it’s a wealthy minority.

Aside from bank levies, though, this also includes things like seizing retirement accounts (Argentina), increases in civil asset forfeiture (United States), and gold criminalization.

Taxes
Just another form of confiscation, taxation plunders the hard work and talent of the citizenry. But thanks to decades of brainwashing, it’s more socially acceptable. We’ve come to regard taxes as a ‘necessary evil,’ not realizing that the country existed for decades, even centuries, without an income tax.
Yet when bankrupt governments get desperate enough, they begin imposing new taxes… primarily WEALTH taxes (Argentina) or windfall profits taxes (United States in the 1970s).
Inflation
This is indirect confiscation– the slow, gradual plundering of people’s savings. Again, governments have been quite successful at inculcating a belief that inflation is also a necessary evil. They’re also adept at fooling people with phony inflation statistics.
Capital Controls
Governments can, do, and will restrict the free-flow of capital across borders. They’ll prevent you from moving your own money to a safer jurisdiction, forcing you to keep your hard earned savings at home where it can be plundered and devalued.
We’re seeing this everywhere in the developed world… from withdrawal limits in Europe to cash-sniffing dogs at border checkpoints. And it certainly doesn’t help when everyone from the IMF to Nobel laureate Paul Krugman argue in favor of Capital Controls.
Wage and Price controls
When even the lowest common denominator in society realizes that prices are getting higher, governments step in and ‘fix’ things by imposing price controls.
Occasionally this also includes wage controls… though wage increases tend to be vastly outpaced by price increases.
Of course, as any basic economics textbook can illustrate, price controls never work and typically lead to shortages and massive misallocations.
Wage and Price controls– on STEROIDS
When the first round of price controls don’t work, the next step is to impose severe penalties for not abiding by the terms.
In the days of Diocletian’s Edict on Prices in the 4th century AD, any Roman caught violating the price controls was put to death.
In post-revolutionary France, shopkeepers who violated the “Law of Maximum” were fleeced of their private property… and a national spy system was put into place to enforce the measures.

Increased regulation
Despite being completely broke, governments will dramatically expand their ranks in a last desperate gasp to envelop the problem in sheer size.

In the early 1920s, for example, the number of bureaucratic officials in the Weimar Republic increased 242%, even though the country was flat broke from its Great War reparation payments and hyperinflation episode.
The increase in both regulations and government officials criminalizes and/or controls almost every aspect of our existence… from what we can/cannot put in our bodies to how we are allowed to raise our own children.
War and National Emergency
When all else fails, just invade another country. Pick a fight. Keep people distracted by work them into a frenzy over men in caves… or some completely irrelevant island.
"Steps" is probably the wrong word. These are plays from the government's playbook. They aren't necessarily in order, and a government may not use all of them. However, in Cyprus we see direct confiscation, capital controls, and increased regulation in just a period of a week.

See also this article at Zerohedge entitled "This Is How A Country Ends: Not With A Bang But With A Bailout." It notes that Blackrock is reducing its holdings of Spanish and Italian government bonds. Apparently they have read the tea leaves and don't like the portents.

China & Brazil Agree to Drop the Dollar...

... and exchange each other's currencies when trading between the two nations. When the U.S. dollar ceases to be a reserve currency, its value will drop dramatically.

Time to Prepare for the Worst

Tyler Durden writes at Zerohedge about why you should prepare now:
Preparation for disaster, whether natural or man-made, should be as vital as any ideal found in the various practices of religion and spiritualism. Preparedness should be treated with reverence, discipline and duty. The drive for preparation should be seated in the very heart of humanity. As individuals and as a society, we should hold preparedness dear, for it is an expression of the desire for survival and the key to maintaining our inherent freedoms. Without self-sufficiency, we set ourselves up for endless failure and enslavement.

Preparedness must be approached with passionate resolve; otherwise, there is no point. Halfhearted survivalists are just as likely, if not more likely, to get themselves killed as the average oblivious urbanite and suburbanite. Unfortunately, even in the liberty movement, I have come across many halfhearted and lazy survivalists who would rather hope for the best than prepare for the worst.
The primary issue has always been one of “distraction.” Even those who are fully informed of the very real and immediate dangers to our economy and our Nation as a whole find it difficult not to get wrapped up in the concerns of the old America. Mind-numbing job environments, superficial family dramas, television hypnosis, Facebook narcissism, consumer addictions, improving one’s perceived social status: all of these things waste precious time in our daily lives, making us weak and sapping our resiliency. They encourage us toward apathy. Always, we are telling ourselves: “I did nothing today, but tomorrow will be different.”
I hear many excuses and conflicts in my work as an economic analyst and preparedness adviser. Some come from people who are already in the liberty movement and should know better. Others come from people who for one reason or another seek to dissuade us from personal preparation. Here are just a handful of the many irrational arguments against survival planning that I am confronted with on a daily basis.
He then discusses why each argument against prepping is wrong. Read the whole thing.

Was the Cyprus Depositor "Haircut" for Naught?

As new President Nicos Anastasiades hesitated over an EU bailout that has wrecked Cyprus's offshore financial haven status, money was oozing out of his country's closed banks.

In banknotes at cash machines and exceptional transfers for "humanitarian supplies", large amounts of euros fled the east Mediterranean island before and after Cypriot lawmakers stunned Europe by rejecting a levy on all bank deposits.


EU negotiators knew something was wrong when the Central Bank of Cyprus requested more banknotes from the European Central Bank than the withdrawals it was reporting to Frankfurt implied were needed, an EU source familiar with the process said. "The amount the Cypriots mentioned... on a daily basis was much less than it was in reality," the source said.

... No one knows exactly how much money has left Cyprus' banks, or where it has gone. The two banks at the centre of the crisis - Cyprus Popular Bank, also known as Laiki, and Bank of Cyprus - have units in London which remained open throughout the week and placed no limits on withdrawals. Bank of Cyprus also owns 80 percent of Russia's Uniastrum Bank, which put no restrictions on withdrawals in Russia. Russians were among Cypriot banks' largest depositors.

While ordinary Cypriots queued at ATM machines to withdraw a few hundred euros as credit card transactions stopped, other depositors used an array of techniques to access their money.

Companies that had to meet margin calls to avoid defaulting on deals were granted funds. Transfers for trade in humanitarian products, medicines and jet fuel were allowed.

Chris Pavlou, who was vice chairman of Laiki until Friday, said while some money was withdrawn over a period of several days it was in the order of millions of euros, not billions.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the bank closure had limited capital flight but that the ECB was looking closely at the issue. He declined to provide figures.
While we are looking at what the EU is doing to Cyprus' depositors, we should keep in mind that the theft of deposits in the United States is much greater.

Cyprus' Efforts to Prevent Bank Run


Cypriot banks have been shut for more than a week while the government worked out the bailout and will stay closed until Thursday to prevent a run. Meanwhile, Cypriots have been queuing to withdraw cash from automatic teller machines, with limits at some shrinking down to 100 euros a day.
(Full story here).

Massive Cyber-Attack

A squabble between a group fighting spam and a Dutch company that hosts Web sites said to be sending spam has escalated into one of the largest computer attacks on the Internet, causing widespread congestion and jamming crucial infrastructure around the world.
Millions of ordinary Internet users have experienced delays in services like Netflix or could not reach a particular Web site for a short time.

However, for the Internet engineers who run the global network the problem is more worrisome. The attacks are becoming increasingly powerful, and computer security experts worry that if they continue to escalate people may not be able to reach basic Internet services, like e-mail and online banking.

The dispute started when the spam-fighting group, called Spamhaus, added the Dutch company Cyberbunker to its blacklist, which is used by e-mail providers to weed out spam. Cyberbunker, named for its headquarters, a five-story former NATO bunker, offers hosting services to any Web site “except child porn and anything related to terrorism,” according to its Web site.

A spokesman for Spamhaus, which is based in Europe, said the attacks began on March 19, but had not stopped the group from distributing its blacklist.

Patrick Gilmore, chief architect at Akamai Networks, a digital content provider, said Spamhaus’s role was to generate a list of Internet spammers.

Of Cyberbunker, he added: “These guys are just mad. To be frank, they got caught. They think they should be allowed to spam.”

Mr. Gilmore said that the attacks, which are generated by swarms of computers called botnets, concentrate data streams that are larger than the Internet connections of entire countries. He likened the technique, which uses a long-known flaw in the Internet’s basic plumbing, to using a machine gun to spray an entire crowd when the intent is to kill one person.

The attacks were first mentioned publicly last week by CloudFlare, an Internet security firm in Silicon Valley that was trying to defend against the attacks and as a result became a target.

“These things are essentially like nuclear bombs,” said Matthew Prince, chief executive of CloudFlare. “It’s so easy to cause so much damage.”

The so-called distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attacks have reached previously unknown magnitudes, growing to a data stream of 300 billion bits per second.
 H/t Drudge Report

China Uses Military Exercises to Lay Claim to Spratly Islands

China's increasingly powerful navy paid a symbolic visit to the country's southernmost territorial claim deep in the South China Sea this week as part of military drills in the disputed Spratly Islands involving amphibious landings and aircraft.

The visit to James Shoal, reported by state media, followed several days of drills starting Saturday and marked a high-profile show of China's determination to stake its claim to territory disputed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei amid rising tensions in the region.

Sailors joined in the ceremony Tuesday aboard the amphibious ship Jinggangshan just off the collection of submerged rocks, located 80 kilometers (50 miles) off the coast of Malaysia and about 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) from the Chinese mainland, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday. China planted a monument on the shoal in 2010 declaring it Chinese territory.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Libyan Man-Portable AA Missiles Still Unaccounted For

The U.S. has been unable to secure thousands of potentially dangerous shoulder-fired missiles known as "MANPADS" that were leftover from the Qaddafi regime in Libya, CBS News has learned.

MANPADS stands for "Man-portable air-defense systems." According to a well-placed source, hundreds of the missiles have been tracked as having gone to Al Qaeda Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an Algeria-based Sunni Muslim terrorist group fighting for control in Mali.

"I would imagine they're trying to get their hands on as many weapons such as MANPADS as they can," says CBS News national security consultant Juan Zarate. "It's a danger both to the military conflict underway in Mali and a real threat to civilian aircraft if, in fact, terrorists have their hands on these MANPADS."

Before his overthrow and death in the fall of 2011, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi was believed to have purchased 15,000-20,000 Soviet MANPADS. Concern over the whereabouts of the missiles - and the possibility that terrorists could buy them on the black market and even use them to shoot down American passenger jets - drove a U.S. effort to recover as many as possible. But only about 2,000 were accounted for prior to the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on Benghazi, Libya, according to the source. He describes those working to locate the missiles as "beside themselves" and "frustrated."

The program to recover MANPADS in Libya was funded by the U.S. and said to have been run by South African contractors. The contractors attempted to appeal to Libyans, many of them ex-Gaddafi loyalists, to turn over or destroy the MANPADS as a matter of patriotism and pride.

"We told them that 'if planes start dropping out of the sky, it will trace back to you and you'll have the international reputation for terrorism,'" says the source. "We offered them money, we tried talking them out of it ... The only successes they had were in western Libya, the Tripoli area. In the eastern half toward Benghazi, they were getting nowhere."
 The story goes on to describe MANPADS being smuggled into Syria, Algeria, and, of course, south into Mali. But that is not the extent of it:
For U.S. officials, the biggest fear is that terrorists or drug cartels would acquire black market MANPADS and use them in South America or even in the U.S. That was the burden borne by Ambassador Bloomfield in the mid 2000's. At that time, Bloomfield says there were estimates of upwards of a million MANPADS in the world. Most were presumed to be in "responsible military hands." However, an undisclosed number was known to be in countries under little to no official control.

During the Iraq surge, Bloomfield says many pilots sighted shoulder-fired missiles being launched at them. In 2007, he says the terrorist group al Shabaab in Somalia used a very sophisticated MANPAD to shoot down a U.N. transport plane and posted video of it on the Internet.

"These are missiles that can hit an airplane from any angle. They don't have to be lined up behind the head of the engine. They can reach 10,000 feet," says Bloomfield.

More recently, a source who was on the ground in Libya says Mexican crime syndicates were looking for MANPADS to purchase there.

Al Nusrah Front Siezes Border Area Along Golan Heights

The Al Nusrah Front, an Al Qaeda group fighting against Assad in Syria, is reported to have seized portions of the border with Israel near the Golan Heights.

Tensions Mount in Egypt...

... as prosecutors order the arrest of five prominent political activists accused of inciting violence against the Muslim Brotherhood. (Story here and here).

Religious Persecution at Florida Atlantic Univ.

You may have read earlier about a student at Florida Atlantic University who objected to a class activity where the students were to write "Jesus Christ" on a paper and then stomp on it. The University had previously indicated that the student was not being punished. However, Fox News is reporting that the student is, in fact, being disciplined by the University.
A Florida Atlantic University student who filed a complaint against his professor after he was ordered to stomp on the name of Jesus has been brought up on academic charges by the school and may no longer attend class, according to documents obtained by Fox News.
The “Notice of Charges” against Ryan Rotela [who is LDS] is contrary to a statement the university released late Friday night saying no one had been disciplined as a result of the classroom activity.

“We can confirm that no student has been expelled, suspended or disciplined by the university as a result of any activity that took place during this class,” the university said in a prepared statement.

However, according to a letter written by Associate Dean Rozalia Williams, Rotela is facing a litany of charges – including an alleged violation of the student code of conduct, acts of verbal, written or physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion or other conduct which threaten the health, safety or welfare of any person.”

“In the interim, you may not attend class or contact any of the students involved in this matter – verbally or electronically – or by any other means,” Williams wrote to Rotela. “Please be advised that a Student Affairs hold may be placed on your records until final disposition of the complaint.”

Cyprus Solution May Be Used in Other Eurozone Countries

The Telegraph is reporting that "[s]avings accounts in Spain, Italy and other European countries will be raided if needed to preserve Europe's single currency by propping up failing banks, a senior eurozone official has announced." 
The euro fell on global markets after Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch chairman of the eurozone, announced that the heavy losses inflicted on depositors in Cyprus would be the template for future banking crises across Europe.
"If there is a risk in a bank, our first question should be 'Okay, what are you in the bank going to do about that? What can you do to recapitalise yourself?'," he said.

"If the bank can't do it, then we'll talk to the shareholders and the bondholders, we'll ask them to contribute in recapitalising the bank, and if necessary the uninsured deposit holders."

Ditching a three-year-old policy of protecting senior bondholders and large depositors, over €100,000, in banks, Mr Dijsselbloem argued that the lack of market contagion surrounding Cyprus showed that private investors could now be hit to pay for bad banking debts.
As an aside, the article also notes that banks in Cyprus will remain closed until Thursday. (See also here). My guess is that they want to avoid a bank run, and want the time to arrange the "capital controls" that will be imposed in Cyprus and, perhaps, throughout the EU, to prevent deposits being transferred to other countries.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Has the Red Line Been Crossed?


House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers said this morning on CBS that "it is abundantly clear that that red line has been crossed." ...
"I think that it is abundantly clear that that red line has been crossed," said the House Intel chair, about chemical weapons being used in Syria. "There is mounting evidence that it is probable that the Assad regime has used at least a small quantity of chemical weapons during the course of this conflict."

President Obama has maintained that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a red line. But he is not yet willing to say whether chemical weapons were used last week in Syria.
With all due respect to Mr. Rogers, though, the recent chemical weapon attack does not appear to have been by Assad's forces. The Telegraph observes:
Whatever happened last week in the town of Khan al-Assal, west of Aleppo, it achieved something extraordinary in the Syrian civil war: unity among Washington, Moscow and Damascus.
All welcomed the rapid decision by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, to investigate an alleged chemical attack that reportedly killed 26, including Syrian soldiers.
Unusually, the request for that investigation came from the Syrian regime, which claimed that Islamic jihadist rebels launched a chemical weapons attack. Since then, precious little evidence in any way has come from the area despite an awful lot of diplomatic noise around the world.
However a senior source close to the Syrian Army has given Channel 4 News the first clear account of what he claims is believed to have occurred on Tuesday. He is a trusted and hitherto reliable source who does not wish to be identified.
The Syrian military is said to believe that a home-made locally-manufactured rocket was fired, containing a form of chlorine known as CL17, easily available as a swimming pool cleaner. They claim that the warhead contained a quantity of the gas, dissolved in saline solution.
 Obama's statement, if it can be trusted any more than anything else he says, was premised on Assad being the one to use chemical weapons, not the rebels.

Mursi Warns of Unspecified Action to Save Egypt

Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi warned Sunday of taking unspecified measures to “protect the nation” following violent clashes two days earlier between opposition demonstrators and Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo.
“I am president of all Egyptians and I will not allow anyone to tamper with the nation,” President Mursi said in statement posted on Twitter, adding: “If I am obliged to do what is necessary to protect this nation, I will do, and I fear I am about to do that.”
On Friday an office branch of the Brotherhood in Cairo was torched and ransacked in the clashes, while the Justice and Freedom Party (JFP) building in Alexandria was also looted. The party is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Opposition activists had called for the protest a week after they battled with the Islamists near the same building in Cairo. The movement vowed on Thursday it would protect its headquarters and bused in hundreds of supporters.
He's about to lose control, but I don't think he likes it.

The Culture War Is Getting Hot

It is important to note that the Cultural War in the U.S. is not just limited to abortion, or gay marriage, but encompasses all aspects of our lives, including firearms and the right to self-defense. For most of the period, it has been a cold war, fought in the realm of the courts and Congress. However, there are increasing signs it is edging toward a hot war. Just a couple articles on that point:

1.  A teacher in Oregon was removed from his classroom by police for refusing to allow pro-infanticide propagandists speak in his class-room.

2.  And this de-humanizing statement from Jim Carrey:
Actor Jim Carrey said Saturday that anyone who has bought an “assault rifle” since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School retain little that is “worth protecting.”
“[Anyone] who would run out to buy an assault rifle after the Newtown massacre has very little left in their body or soul worth protecting,” said Carrey on Twitter, Feb. 2.

Going After Ammunition

I was browsing through the print edition of "Wired Magazine" the other day, and noted an article suggesting that instead of focusing on controlling firearms, gun control advocates should focus on the ammunition--making it too expensive or difficult for the average person to obtain and store in any reasonable quantity.

Russia's Move Into the Mediterranian

Germany's insistence on a bank bail-out being financed, at least in part, by depositors, is still the prime news as to Cyprus. Now, the powers-that-be are trying to work out a deal where only large depositors will contribute toward the bail-out. From the New York Times:
With Cyprus facing a Monday deadline to avoid a banking collapse, the government and its international negotiators devised a plan late Saturday to seize a portion of savers’ deposits above 100,000 euros at all banks in the country, in a bid to raise money for an urgently needed bailout.
A one-time levy of 20 percent would be placed on uninsured deposits at one of the nation’s biggest banks, the Bank of Cyprus, to help raise 5.8 billion euros demanded by the lenders to secure a 10 billion euro, or $12.9 billion, lifeline. A separate tax of 4 percent would be assessed on uninsured deposits at all other banks, including the 26 foreign banks that operate in Cyprus.
An agreement was still far off, though, as Cyprus’s lenders left for the night without reaching an accord. The proposal still requires approval by the Cypriot Parliament and by the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and European Union leaders. Finance ministers from the 17 euro zone countries have scheduled an emergency meeting at 6 p.m. Sunday in Brussels.
The Daily Beast notes that this deal may be more politically palatable to Cyprus, but probably will still result in a bank-run--at the least, large foreign depositors will pull their money out. Such a contribution may be fair--certainly the depositors will get more of their money out than if the banks simply were allowed to collapse. However, I suspect that a banking collapse is inevitable. Either there will be no bailout and the banks will go belly up, or once the banks open, everyone will rush to withdraw their money, causing the banks to collapse.

Where the EU--and Germany, in particular--have been shortsighted is vis-a-vis Russia's ambitions. These events have paved the way for Russia to expand its presence in the Mediterranean.
Behind the financial tantrums, however, lurk geopolitical ambitions. ­Russia has long eyed Cyprus as a possible Mediterranean pied-à-terre. With its sole ­Mediterranean naval base at Tartus, in Syria, threatened by the precarious situation of the Assad regime, a move of just 200 miles to Cyprus would be very ­convenient. This month the Russian ­defence ministry announced plans to form a permanent rapid-reaction force to police Russian interests in the Mediterranean, composed of up to ten warships. Cyprus is among four possible re-supply bases being mooted. Russian links with Cyprus go far deeper than some questionable oligarchs’ bank accounts. As long ago as 1997 there was a “mini-Cuba ­crisis” when Cyprus agreed to buy 40 Russian-made ­S-300PMU-1 missiles. Turkey threatened a Cuba-style blockade; Russia replied that it had proposed the demilitarisation of ­Cyprus (with its British base) and refused to back down. Eventually the missiles were transferred to Greece.

... Even though the Cypriot parliament has voted for the EU’s ludicrous good bank/bad bank “solution”, with Draconian capital controls, as those controls imprison depositors’ money and hobble the economy, the Russian option may eventually become more appealing. Behind the ­capering pantaloons centre-stage – ­Barroso, Van Rompuy, et al – this is a proxy war between two enduring enemies: Russia and Germany. When Russian leaders look at Chancellor Merkel they do not see a dowdy housewife but a Panzer tank commander: old antipathies die hard. Yet it is Germany, via the ECB, that has demonstrated gross financial irresponsibility in raiding depositors, risking a bank run and imposing capital controls on Cyprus that effectively make it a separate currency from the euro. And all to defend the fools’ gold that is the euro.
Western politicians who struggle to under­stand Vladimir Putin should bin intelligence reports and buy some good biographies of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Nicholas I. Putin is a classical Russian nationalist; his rule is autocratic (to the gratification of the majority of his subjects) and he has re-forged the historical alliance between the government and the Orthodox Church by imposing socially conservative laws and repressing the homosexual-rights intifada. Like Catherine the Great and Tsar Paul he has Mediterranean ambitions. Unlike them, he faces negligible opposition from a bankrupt European Union and a geopolitical illiterate in the Oval Office who makes Jimmy Carter resemble Bismarck. We should not be surprised if, by the time the EU collapses, the Mediterranean has become a Russian lake.
 Obviously, I would prefer if the Mediterranean remained an American lake; but if that is not to be, I'm not sure if it matters if it is a German lake or a Russian lake. However, Russia will have to deal with Turkey. Maybe it can stir up ambitions in Greece to contest Turkey for control of the Bosporus, while strengthening its ties with Greece. It could be the 1800s all over again.

Before Christ's Return and the First Resurrection


Just a reminder of what is coming, and why we need to get our food supply put up. From Doctrine and Covenants Section 29:
14 But, behold, I say unto you that before this great day [i.e., the Second Coming and the resurrection of the righteous] shall come the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall be turned into blood, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and there shall be greater signs in heaven above and in the earth beneath;
15 And there shall be weeping and wailing among the hosts of men;
16 And there shall be a great hailstorm sent forth to destroy the crops of the earth.
17 And it shall come to pass, because of the wickedness of the world, that I will take vengeance upon the wicked, for they will not repent; for the cup of mine indignation is full; for behold, my blood shall not cleanse them if they hear me not.

18 Wherefore, I the Lord God will send forth flies upon the face of the earth, which shall take hold of the inhabitants thereof, and shall eat their flesh, and shall cause maggots to come in upon them;

19 And their tongues shall be stayed that they shall not utter against me; and their flesh shall fall from off their bones, and their eyes from their sockets;
20 And it shall come to pass that the beasts of the forest and the fowls of the air shall devour them up.

21 And the great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall be cast down by devouring fire, according as it is spoken by the mouth of Ezekiel the prophet, who spoke of these things, which have not come to pass but surely must, as I live, for abominations shall not reign.
(Underline added).

Counting Our Blessings....

A couple days ago, my wife and I attended the funeral of the husband of one of my co-workers. He had valiantly fought a battle with cancer, but it recently had moved to his liver and, mercifully, he did not linger. His wife and family were not LDS; I think they were Quaker. The minister and several family members spoke at the funeral, which was very moving and touching. However, there was something missing. Although they spoke at length about God's mercy, and returning to be with God, there was nothing about being again with family in heaven or the eternities. I wanted to tell her that she would see her husband again, but I couldn't--they hadn't been married or sealed in the temple for time and eternity.  Instead, I told her to be strong and told her that we would help her in any way we could. I pray that God comforts her and her family in their grief. And I thank the Lord for the ordinances that bind us together in eternal marriage, and the opportunity to seal our ancestors to us in an eternal family unit.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

More on the Syrian Chemical Weapon Attack


Western military sources have told DEBKA file that three chemicals were believed present in the Scud B rocket which exploded in the Aleppo neighborhood of Khan al-Assal Tuesday March 19: phosphorus, chlorine and Agent 15 or BZ. Although the Assad regime and the rebels charged each other with firing the rocket, which killed 15-31 people and injured more than a hundred, it was not possible to verify which side was actually responsible. The White House denied it was the rebels, while Moscow insisted that it was, in support of the accusation from Damascus.
The assumption in Israeli security circles is that either or both sides may have tried a one-shot use of a chemical weapon to test the limits of world-power tolerance. The incapacitating Agent 15 which causes choking is the least harmful of Assad’s chemical arsenal. A US army spokesman said the American armed forces had plans for intervening in the Syrian conflict if chemical weapons were used.

Another War?

Amid reports that chemical weapons may have been used in Syria, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is calling for the U.S. to do whatever is necessary to secure remaining chemical weapons in that country--even if that means putting boots on the ground.
Graham said he is deeply concerned that chemical weapons will used by the Assad administration or will fall into the hands "of extremists" mingled in with the Syrian opposition.

He said "America needs to lead" on this.
Graham made it clear that the U.S. needs to try to work with her partners to get the weapons secured. But he said that if no progress can be had through diplomacy then the U.S. must go it alone.

Cyprus' Plan "B"

From Yahoo News:
... The government said a "Plan B" was in the works. 
Officials said it could include: an option to nationalize pension funds of semi-government corporations, which hold between 2 billion and 3 billion euros; issuing an emergency bond linked to future natural gas revenues; and possibly reviving the levy on bank deposits, though at a lower level than originally planned and maybe excluding savers with less than 100,000 euros.
With Cypriot Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis also in Moscow, officially for a tourism exhibition, speculation was rife that access to untapped offshore gas reserves could be on the table as part of a deal for Russian aid.
Finance minister Sarris said talks with his Russian counterpart, Anton Siluanov, would continue, but there had not yet been any offers, "nothing concrete."
Cyprus is a haven for billions of euros squirreled abroad by Russian businesses and individuals - a factor, too, in the reluctance of Germany and other northern euro zone states to bail out Cypriots without a contribution from bank depositors.
The island's banking sector has been crippled by its exposure to bigger neighbor Greece. Athens said Greek branches of Cypriot banks would also stay shut till the weekend.
(Underline added).

The Fed Vs. The S&P

My sprinkler system is powered by a pump, which feeds from an irrigation canal. Lots of weeds, but the water is cheap. A few years ago, the water level in our canal dropped enough that the water ran out of the pump. Now, sometimes if the valves aren't closed all the way, the water will run out and I have to re-prime the system. Initially, I thought that was the problem. So, I went out and unscrewed the cap and used my garden hose to fill up the pump. Turned it on, and there was a huge gush of water out of the pump which quickly subsided. So I primed it again with water. Turned it on again, and there was another gush of water, which dropped to a trickle. Puzzled, I tromped over to the intake pipe, thinking that perhaps it had become clogged. That is when I noticed that the water level had dropped so low that the intake pipe had been exposed--there just wasn't enough water for the pump to pull in.

That's what this graph of the Fed's quantitative easing versus the S&P 500 stock prices reminds me:

(Source: Zerohedge)
(H/t Weasel Zippers)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Another Round in the Sunni-Shiite War

A wave of bombings tore through Baghdad today, killing at least 56 people in a spasm of violence on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the US-led invasion.
Most of this morning's attacks involved car bombs targeted on Shiite areas, small restaurants, labourers and bus stops in the Iraqi capital and nearby towns.
The attacks show how dangerous and unstable Iraq remains a decade after the war began - a country where sectarian violence can explode at any time.
The attacks that left 56 dead and more than 200 wounded came ten years to the day after Washington announced the start of the invasion on 19 March 2003.
Meanwhile today Iraq's Cabinet decided to postpone upcoming provincial elections in two provinces dominated by the country's minority Sunnis. Provincial elections are scheduled for April 20.
The prime minister's spokesman Ali al-Moussawi said the decision to postpone the elections for up to six months followed requests from the political blocs in the provinces.
The two provinces affected, Anbar and Ninevah, have been at the centre of nearly three-month-long protests against Iraq's Shiite-led government.

So Now What With Cyprus?

Business Insider seems to have the most stories, if not some of the most recent, on the Cyprus issue. As most of you probably have already read, the Cyprus parliament voted down the proposed bail-out plan, with zero (0) votes in support--although there were 19 abstaining votes.  The reaction from the EU is somewhat mixed. There are reports that the ECB (European Central Bank) may make use of its Emergency Liquidity Program to assist Cyprus. However, German officials seem less sympathetic. Reuters reports:
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Tuesday he regretted a decision by Cyprus's parliament to reject a proposed levy on savings in banks as a condition for a European bailout.
"We regret the decision," Schaeuble told ZDF television. "Cyprus requested an aid programme. For an aid programme we need a calculable way for Cyprus to be able to return to the financial markets. For that, Cyprus's debts are too high."
Schaeuble added that it was a "serious situation" now in Cyprus and said the country had no one to blame for its situation other than itself. He said he doesn't think its "business model" works anymore and warned Cyprus must act quickly.
Whatever, the outcome, it won't be pretty. David Zervos is reported as stating:
The die is cast. There is no going back for the Cypriots or the Eurozone leaders. As soon as the banks open in Cyprus there will be billions in withdrawals. The question of course is - "where will the money come from?". Well, if the parliament votes YES, then the Euros will have to come from the Eurosystem. But there is a glitch. The Cypriots have already borrowed 10b euro via the ELA and Target2. How can Mario just wire over 20 billion more (less the 10 to 15 percent haircut) for the Russians, and another 20 to 30 billion for the wealthy Greeks. What collateral will an economy with 20b in GDP post to get this cash? Unless Mario violates every collateral rule at the ECB, the Cypriot financial system will collapse even with a YES vote. Its a wonderful life - Cyprus style.
There are reports that Cyprus' banks will now remain closed until Tuesday of next week. (See also here for some possibilities for Cyprus).

Something I haven't seen, however, is that this is a perfect example of how a service based economy does not necessarily result in prosperity.

Could a "Cyprus Solution" Happen Here?

Some thoughts from Ed Driscoll, Investors' Business Daily, and Katie Pavlich. (H/t Instapundit).

More on Cyprus

Cyprus is attempting to put together a deal that will reduce the "tax" on small depositors (i.e., less than 20,000 euros). (See stories here and here). From the AP story:
Failure to pass the bill could mean no bailout money from the eurozone and IMF and lead to Cyprus's bankruptcy, which could reignite concerns in financial markets over the single currency's future. That would likely put deposits in the country's banks under even more threat.

Although Cyprus is the smallest eurozone country to be bailed out, the details of the plan sent shockwaves through the single currency area as it was the first time savers' banks accounts have been directly targeted. Other bailed out countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal have raised funds by imposing new taxes.

Proponents of the deposit seizure argue that this way gets foreigners who have taken advantage of Cyprus's low-tax regime to share the cost of the bailout of the banks, which have been hit hard by their over-exposure to bad Greek debt.

About a third of all deposits in Cypriot banks are believed to be held by Russians.
From the Reuters story:
Government spokesman Christos Stylianides said Anastasiades may also speak to President Vladimir Putin, who has described the deposit levy as "unfair, unprofessional and dangerous."

Russia's envoy to the EU likened the levy to a "forceful expropriation" that could wreck Cyprus's financial system.

"When the banks open, people will rush to withdraw their deposits - that's another threat - and then the whole banking system can collapse," said Vladimir Chizov.

Russian authorities have denied rumors that the Kremlin might offer more money, possibly in return for a future stake in Cyprus's large but as yet undeveloped offshore gas reserves, which have raised the island's strategic importance.

Stunned Cypriots emptied cash machines over the weekend and banks are to remain shut on Tuesday and Wednesday to avoid a bank run. The island's stock exchange also suspended trading for another two days.
Interestingly, New Zealand is now considering a similar plan in the event of a bank failure:
The National Government are pushing a Cyprus-style solution to bank failure in New Zealand which will see small depositors lose some of their savings to fund big bank bailouts, the Green Party said today.

Open Bank Resolution (OBR) is Finance Minister Bill English’s favoured option dealing with a major bank failure. If a bank fails under OBR, all depositors will have their savings reduced overnight to fund the bank’s bail out.

“Bill English is proposing a Cyprus-style solution for managing bank failure here in New Zealand – a solution that will see small depositors lose some of their savings to fund big bank bailouts,” said Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman.

“The Reserve Bank is in the final stages of implementing a system of managing bank failure called Open Bank Resolution. The scheme will put all bank depositors on the hook for bailing out their bank.

Chemical Weapons Used in Syria?

Syria has accused rebel groups of carrying out a chemical weapon attack in a suburb of Aleppo that is alleged to have killed 25 people.
The Russian foreign ministry said it also had information showing that the rebels had carried out a chemical weapons attack.
This afternoon the White House said it was "looking carefully" at allegations that a chemical weapons attack had taken place, with a spokesman saying there was "no evidence" yet to substantiate the claim that the rebels were responsible.
 However, the rebels have denied the attacks, and instead accused the Syrian government forces of carrying out the attack with a long range missile.
Neither of the accusations could immediately be verified, and a chemical weapons expert in the U.K. told CBSNews.com there was very little evidence to suggest any actual chemical weapons had been deployed. A U.S. official, speaking anonymously to the Associated Press, also said there was no evidence of a chemical attack. Also expressing doubts was the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which reported no independent information of chemical weapons use.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney told reporters the administration had no evidence to suggest the rebels had used chemical weapons, but added: "We are looking carefully at the information as it comes in... This is an issue that has been made very clear by the president to be of great concern to us."

The Syrian state news agency SANA said "terrorists" had fired a rocket "containing chemical materials" into the area around the village of Khan al-Assal in the northern province of Aleppo. The regime regularly uses the term terrorists to refer to rebels fighting to overthrow authoritarian President Bashar Assad. Russia, one of the Syrian regime's few remaining allies, joined the Assad regime in accusing the rebels of carrying out a chemical attack, calling it an "extremely dangerous" development in the crisis. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said rebels had detonated a munition containing an unidentified chemical agent early Tuesday in Aleppo province, without giving further details.
There are some no-so-obvious implications to this, if it is true. Both Israel and the United States have claimed to be carefully monitoring the stockpiles of chemical weapons to prevent them from falling into the hands of the rebel groups, or being used by Assad's regime. If this story is correct, it suggests that the U.S. and Israel have failed at passively monitoring the chemical weapons, and may not know where all of the weapons are located; or, that the rebels have been able to manufacture their own chemical weapons or obtained them from another source; or that the U.S. and/or Israel were unable to stop the capture or use of the weapons. The bottom line is that some of these chemical weapons may make their way out of Syria for use by Al Qaeda elsewhere.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fed to Keep Digging Its Hole

In a move to reassure investors, the Federal Reserve has announced that, notwithstanding the increase in stock prices, it will continue with the stimulus. Of course, the Feds priming of the economy is the reason stock prices are as high as they are.

Cyprus Fall Out

Just a quick review of Drudge paints a picture of a bail-out plan for Cyprus that was not well thought out, and which may be revised before the week is through.

CNBC News reports that:
Cyprus will put forward a new proposal on Monday under which a tax-free threshold or a lower tax rate for smaller depositors could be introduced, media reports said on Monday, in a move aimed at easing the pain of a bailout agreement which will impose an unprecedented tax on savers.

Banks in the country were shut on Monday for a public holiday, and would remain shut on Tuesday and Wednesday, the agencies said. The news comes amid fears that the decision to force uninsured depositors to fund part of the country's bailout could many prompt savers to withdraw their holdings.

Reuters cited a government source in Cyprus as saying that the country is mulling a tax-free threshold on the bank deposit levy for smaller deposits. It cited a parliamentary official as suggesting that deposits up to 20,000 euros could be exempt. Remaining deposits up to 100,000 euros would be taxed at 6.7 percent and those exceeding that amount at 9.9 percent, the official told the news agency on condition of anonymity.

Earlier Dow Jones cited two unnamed European officials as saying savers with 100,000 to 500,000 euros would face a 10 percent tax, while those with savings over 500,000 euros would be taxed at 15 percent. Those with savings up to 100,000 euros would be taxed at 3 percent, according the report.
Under the original plan, every depositor under 100,000 euros would be taxed at 6.75 percent and those over that amount would face a 9.9 percent tax. The Cypriot Parliament has delayed a vote on the plan to Tuesday, an EU official told Reuters, "to allow time for more negotiations".
Germany also wanted to make clear that taxing the smaller depositors was not its idea. I think this is a P.R. battle that Germany will lose. And the Euro has declined.

Wolfgang Münchau, writing at the Financial Times,warns that taxing the smaller depositors will lead to a bank run in Cyprus, and perhaps elsewhere:
The Germans rejected a loan which they were certain Cyprus would invariably default on. So the sum was cut to €10bn. A depositor haircut was the only way to co-finance this. When they did the maths, they found the big deposits would not have sufficed.

So they opted for a wealth tax with hardly any progression. There is not even an exemption for people with only very small savings.

If one wanted to feed the political mood of insurrection in southern Europe, this was the way to do it. The long-term political damage of this agreement is going to be huge. In the short term, the danger consists of a generalised bank run, not just in Cyprus.

As in the case of Greece, the finance ministers said: “Don’t worry, this is a unique situation”. This is true only in a very narrow legal sense. The bond haircut in Greece is indeed different to the depositor haircut in Cyprus. And when they repeat this elsewhere, it will be unique once more.

Unless there is a last-minute reprieve for small savers, most Cypriot savers would act rationally if they withdrew the rest of their money simply to protect them from further haircuts or taxes. It would be equally rational for savers elsewhere in southern Europe to join them. The experience of Cyprus tells them that the solvency of a deposit insurance scheme is only as good as that of the state. In view of Italy’s public sector debt ratio, or the combined public and private sector indebtedness of Spain and Portugal, there is no way that these governments can insure all banks’ deposits on their own.

The Cyprus rescue has shown that the creditor nations will insist from now that any bank rescue must be co-funded by depositors.

... There are some institutional impediments against bank runs within the eurozone. Some countries impose daily withdrawal limits, ostensibly as a measure against money laundering. Nor is it easy to open a bank account in a foreign country. In many cases, you need to have residency. You may need to travel there in person, and you need to speak the local language – or at least English.

But I would not take too much comfort from those impediments. Once fear reaches a critical mass, people will act, and then a bank run becomes a self-perpetuating process. There has been a lot of complacency about the eurozone crisis in the past eight months.

Many people even thought the crisis was over because Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, gave a lender-of-last-resort guarantee. Bank depositors now understand that if the crisis was over, then that was only because the eurozone had found a new source of funding: their savings.

I have no idea whether or not there will be a bank run in the next few weeks. But surely it would be rational.