Thursday, October 31, 2013

Israel Launches Air Strike Into Syria

The Telegraph reports:
Israeli jets have launched an attack inside Syria to prevent missiles being transferred to the Lebanese militant group Hizbollah, according to new reports on Thursday. 
An explosion at a missile base to the south of the regime-held port city of Latakia on Syria's north-west coast was first reported by Syrian activist groups. 
But the Lebanese government was also reporting that Israeli Air Force jets flew over its territory on Wednesday afternoon. Both CNN and the Saudi-backed news channel Al-Arabiya reported anonymous sources saying that the two events were connected.
The attack was reportedly intended to destroy surface-to-air missiles possessed by Hezbollah.

Saudis Don't Trust U.S. To Protect Their Interests

From the Telegraph:

Ever since Western powers sided with pro-democracy demonstrators in Egypt’s Tahrir Square and backed the removal of President Mubarak in 2011, there has been a growing sense among the Saudi ruling family that they can no longer trust their allies to protect their interests. If Washington would not support a friend like Mr Mubarak, who had backed America through thick and thin – from the first Gulf War to the September 11 attacks – then what chance would others have of withstanding internal calls for reform?
Anxious to head off any possible hint of anti-government dissent in their own country, the Saudis have embarked on a carefully orchestrated campaign to shore up the Arab world’s anciens rĂ©gimes, rather than allowing revolution to flourish. They helped to overthrow the short-lived Islamist government of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, and are working hard to ensure that other monarchies in Bahrain, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates survive the tremors sweeping the region. 
The mastermind of this strategy is Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former darling of Washington’s cocktail party circuit, where he served for many years as Saudi ambassador before becoming the country’s intelligence chief. By alienating long-standing allies such as the US, he and his colleagues are clearly taking a huge gamble, since it is unlikely that the likes of China and Russia would ever give them the same level of protection. But with the entire Arab world in such a state of flux, the Saudis are taking the fight to protect their interests very seriously indeed.

Administration Considering Withdrawing All Troops From Afghanistan

The general assumption is that as Washington and Kabul work to hammer out a long-term security agreement, a way will be found to maintain a US troop presence after 2014.
The two sides have reached a preliminary agreement on a deal. But a key US demand - that its troops be granted immunity from prosecution under Afghan law and be tried only in the United States - remains a major sticking point. 
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has put the final decision on a deal to a Loya Jirga - a traditional gathering of tribal, ethnic, and religious leaders - that will meet and give its verdict next month.  
Washington has made clear that the "zero option" of pulling its forces out entirely - as it did in Iraq after it failed to work out a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Baghdad - is a very real option.  
... The United States would not keep a residual force in Afghanistan to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Security Forces, nor would it maintain a counter-terrorism force there to pursue remnants of Al-Qaeda. Likewise, NATO would not keep a training mission, as that is dependent on Afghanistan and the United States reaching a security deal.  
The absence of any Western forces would deprive Afghanistan's nascent security forces of much-needed assistance with logistics, air support, and intelligence.  
A complete pullout would also likely see Kabul receiving much less of the $4 billion in annual military aid pledged by foreign donors to sustain the Afghan army and police. 
See also this commentary on the United States' inability to turn military might into tangible diplomatic gains.

The fact is that the current Administration has only been successful at one thing on the international stage--introducing instability. The military has been woefully misused over the last 60 years. There is a reason that the only war that was had a truly satisfactory outcome in the past 100 years was World War II--because it was fought as a total war, with a goal of unconditional surrender.

Using Chaos Theory to Predict "Dragon King" Events

From Wired Magazine:

Stop a stock trade and avoid a catastrophic global financial crash. Seal a microscopic crack and prevent a rocket explosion. Push a button to avert a citywide blackout.

Though such situations are mostly fantasies, a new analysis suggests that certain types of extreme events occurring in complex systems – known as dragon king events – can be predicted and prevented.

“A chaotic system may be in flux, and look like random behavior,” said physicist Daniel Gauthier of Duke University, co-author of a paper appearing Oct. 30 in Physical Review Letters. “But maybe there’s some internal structure we can identify that leads to destabilizing events.”
... in the last few years, scientists in many fields have been looking closely at the behavior of extreme events – very large fluctuations in a system that often leads to catastrophic results. These occur in many complex, chaotic systems: enormous rogue waves in the ocean, extreme weather in the climate, or global stock market crashes.

One particular class of these extreme events is known as a dragon king event. This is a catastrophic occurrence that falls far outside a normal expected probability. The name comes from looking at the wealth distribution in a medieval society. If you plot the number of people who have a particular amount of wealth, you would see many, many poor farmers and a smaller number of wealthier landowners and noblemen. Plotting the number of people versus a given amount of wealth would give you a straight line.

Now the medieval king, who typically has an enormous amount of wealth, would be outside this plot, far above the rest. Think of someone like Bill Gates or Carlos Slim whose wealth dwarfs even that of a modern one-percenter. While the rest of the population is described by the simple line plot, these people are outliers.

So why dragon kings? Because, like dragons, certain extreme events are entirely outside the normal classification scheme. “Dragons are extraordinary animals of extraordinary properties,” said economist Didier Sornette of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, another co-author of the work.

Dragon king events may be freakish, but they are not freakishly rare. In fact they occur much more frequently than you would expect. ...
 The article describes the history of the research into these events. It also notes that detecting an upcoming event doesn't mean that it can be stopped because it may be impossible to affect any changes to the system--the article uses the example where ocean temperature is a variable is not one we could change.

Review of the EnGarde T.R.U.S.T. Body Armor...

... over at All Outdoor. From the review:

What I received was their EndGarde T.R.U.S.T. plate carrier, along with two hard plates and two soft armor plates giving me a threat level IV. This means I can withstand most common rifle rounds, including .308 Win 30-06, 5.56mm and 7.62X39. The idea behind including the soft armor panels was to soften the blow from high-powered rifle rounds that strike the hard armor plates. The soft armor panels could also be used alone to stop many common handgun rounds.
The soft armor panels are made out of DYNEEMA, are curved, and can withstand multiple hits and grenade shrapnel. The hard armor plates are constructed out of a combination of Aramid and Ceramic. These plates are also curved and can withstand grenade shrapnel and armor piercing 7.62 NATO rounds, giving you a threat level IV protection.
EnGarde started out with one goal in mind: to create body armor that performs yet is comfortable and durable. I believe they’ve achieved this goal.

I wore my sample T.R.U.S.T. vest around for several days, and it was very comfortable. The Ceramic material makes these hard armor plates lighter than all-steel plates. EnGarde claims, and I have no reason to doubt them, that their armor outperforms standards set by the National Institue of Justice (NIJ) while still offering their clients very light-weight and comfortable vests. Their vests are also tested by H.P. White labs in the USA, Orgon Ballistic Labs in The Netherlands, Mellrichstadt ballistic labs in Germany — quite a feat, to be sure.
As I understand the review, you don't need the soft panels in order to have level IV protection--that comes from the hard plates--but the soft panels can provide cushioning if you happened to be shot.

Although I hadn't heard of anyone where I live doing this, the author mentions that he knows hunters that have started wearing body armor when hunting to protect against an accidental shooting. Given that fewer and fewer hunters wear blaze orange or red clothing anymore, this may be a good idea.

TTAG Reviews the Walther PPK/S .22

Review is here. The reviewer gave the pistol high marks. He notes:

The /S version was created by Walther to meet the new ‘sporting purposes’ importation requirement under the 1968 Gun Control Act. ‘S’ stands for Sport, and the frame is taller – i.e., the grip is longer – than the standard PPK. That actually makes the pistol a bit more pleasant for target shooting and plinking, as your otherwise-dangling pinky has a home. Probably a good choice for the .22 version, which I’d assume won’t be a popular CCW option where the extra size or weight would be less desirable.

In the black plastic Walther case, along with the PPK/S, is a 10-round magazine, a gun lock, an owner’s manual, warranty card, an NSSF safety pamphlet and a ziplock baggie with some parts and tools in it. Included are two replacement front sights – one taller and one shorter than the sight installed on the gun – for adjusting point of impact for elevation, a thin punch for pushing out the pin in the front sight, an Allen wrench for adjusting the rear sight for windage, and a wrench for removing the barrel nut. All in all pretty good kit, although I wouldn’t mind a second magazine. They’re available online for around $28.
 Interestingly, he also reports:

At the front of the barrel, a nut can be unscrewed in order to remove the barrel from the frame. Another reason to remove that nut would be to install a thread adaptor. For instance, to effectively extend the barrel out the front of the slide and provide 1/2×28 threads for mounting some sort of muzzle accessory like a compensator, fake suppressor for the easy secret agent look, or real suppressor to more fully satisfy your inner Bond. Thread adapters for Walther’s P22 fit the PPK/S just right!

Bat to Human Transmission of SARS

From the Wall Street Journal:

A decade after SARS swept through the world and killed more than 750 people, scientists have made a troubling discovery: A very close cousin of the SARS virus lives in bats and it can likely jump directly to people.

The findings create new fears about the emergence of diseases like SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. The virus spread quickly from person to person in 2003 and had a mortality rate of at least 9%. ...

While bats have previously been fingered as a host for SARS, it was believed that the virus jumped from there to weasel-like mammals known as civets, where it went through genetic changes before infecting people. Operating on that belief, China cracked down on markets where bats, civets and other wildlife were sold for food.

The new bat-to-human discovery suggests that the control tactic may have limited effectiveness because a SARS-like virus remains loose in the wild and could potentially spark another outbreak.

... "This paper indicates that the bat is the origin and that the virus can be directly transmitted to humans," said Charles Calisher, a virologist at Colorado State University who wasn't involved in the study. "It practically rules out the possibility" of an intermediate host.

Dr. Daszak described a potential scenario where close contact between bats and humans—such as when the animals are captured for food—could increase the risk of viral transmission. "They are bringing wildlife in from new areas. They are going to Yunnan where bats are still common."

Dr. Calisher said the finding was important because researchers will now be able to get clues about the danger these novel SARS-like coronaviruses pose. For example, if a bat carries a high load of the virus, it indicates that the potential for transmission to humans is also high.

... there is strong evidence that bats are a natural reservoir for a host of dangerous viruses, including Ebola, Nipah and SARS.

A year ago, scientists reported the emergence of a novel coronavirus, called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. It has since been reported in people in several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Italy, Britain and other parts of the Persian Gulf. Oman reported its first case on Wednesday, according to local reports.

In July, a WHO committee concluded that while MERS was of "serious and great concern," it wasn't a global health emergency. Research has suggested local bats may be a host for MERS, though the findings aren't definitive.

Nonetheless, the authors of the Nature study noted that the outbreak in the Middle East "suggests that this group of viruses remains a key threat and that their distribution is wider than previously recognized."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Stocks Head Up Based on Continued Printing of Money

From Reuters:

A gauge of global shares rose to its highest in almost six years on Wednesday on expectations that the Federal Reserve will keep its current stimulus program intact, while the U.S. dollar edged lower, giving support to gold and copper prices. 
Many traders expect the U.S. central bank to signal later in the day, at the end of a two-day policy-making meeting, that it plans to keep in place a stimulus program that has lifted equities and other risk assets, and boosted Treasury bond prices while weighing on the U.S. currency. 
Spot gold rose the most in a week after soft U.S. jobs data supported an expectation that the Fed will keep its $85 billion a month in bond purchases in place, in a bid to spark life into a lackluster economic recovery. 
Data showed U.S. private-sector employers hired the fewest workers in six months in October, and that tepid domestic demand kept inflation benign last month, suggesting the economy was still in need of stimulus.
I'm not sure how this is going to stimulate the economy. Stock prices are heading up for much the same reason as gold--the value of the dollar is declining, and the prices reflect that. The Fed's policies are keeping the interest rates on savings accounts near zero, but good luck borrowing money.  And so what if the value of your 401k is rising--you can't access that money either. In short, quantitative easing is not going to resurrect the moribund economy--the only ones benefiting are Wall Street and the big banks.

Is There A Coming Race War?

Initial skirmishes in that race war have already begun and have in fact been going on for some years. But public officials pretend that it is not happening, and the mainstream media seldom publish it at all, except in ways that conceal what is really taking place.
For American society, a dangerous polarization has set in. Signs of this polarization over the years include opposite reactions between blacks and whites to verdicts in the O.J. Simpson murder case, the “rape” charges against Duke University students, and trials resulting from the beating of Rodney King and the death of Trayvon Martin.
More dangerous than these highly publicized episodes over the years are innumerable organized and unprovoked physical attacks on whites by young black gangs in shopping malls, on beaches and in other public places all across the country today. 
While some of these attacks make it into the media as isolated incidents, the nationwide pattern of organized black on white attacks by thugs remains invisible in the mainstream media, with the notable exception of Bill O’Reilly on the Fox News Channel. 
... Some of these many attacks are covered in detail in a book titled “White Girl Bleed A Lot” by Colin Flaherty. ...
... That phrase was uttered by one of a group of black attackers who descended on a group of whites at a July 4th fireworks show in Milwaukee. But what happened there was not unique, either in itself or in the efforts of police and political authorities to play down what happened – and to say that race had nothing to do with it. 
When the Chicago Tribune was criticized for editing out the race of the attackers in a series of similar organized attacks in Chicago, it replied that race was irrelevant. ...
Sadly, what happened in Milwaukee and Chicago were not isolated incidents. They were part of a pattern repeated in dozens of cities, located in every region of the country. ... 
Other books are emerging that are more clearly a white backlash, in the sense that they attack behavior patterns among contemporary blacks in general. 
Perhaps the most clearly backlash books are those written by Paul Kersey, whose central theme is that whites have created thriving cities, which blacks subsequently took over and ruined. Examples include his books about Birmingham (“The Tragic City”) and Detroit (“Escape from Detroit”). 
It would be easy to simply dismiss Kersey as a racist. But denouncing him or ignoring him is not refuting him. Refuting requires thought, which has largely been replaced by fashionable buzz words and catch phrases, when it comes to discussions of race. 
Thought is long overdue. So is honesty.
On a related noted, World Net Daily also has this story about reductions in Food Stamp Benefits starting in November.

With 20 percent of all American households on food stamps, amounting to 23.1 million households and 47.6 million individuals in July, a little-known across-the-board cut in food-stamp benefits is scheduled to go into effect in November. 
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, the benefit increase granted by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to help people adversely affected by the recession is scheduled to expire Nov. 1. 
The USDA projects that the average monthly food stamp payment of approximately $272 per household will decline in November by $36 for a family of four.
$36 may not seem like much, but that represents a 13.2% decline in benefits (remember, too, that most of these families are probably the "working poor," not "welfare queens" who do no work). The article goes on to note the looting in Louisiana Wal-Marts when the EBT system crashed, and suggests that cuts in benefits could result in civil unrest.

Sacramento Police Point Guns At Innocent People

From Info Wars:

After a gang member shot and injured several law enforcement officials before going into hiding in a Sacramento suburb on Friday, police responded by setting up a checkpoint and aiming guns at innocent people’s heads, an AP photo shows. 
The photo, (credited to AP Photo/The Sacramento Bee, Randall Benton) is captioned, “A California Highway Patrol officer and another emergency responder stop a vehicle at a checkpoint near the neighborhood where a federal immigration officer was shot and three local police officers were wounded during a violent confrontation with a suspect in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville on Friday, Oct. 25, 2013.” 
After an hours-long standoff, the suspect, 32-year-old gang member Samuel Nathan Duran, eventually surrendered after leaving a nearby house in which he had been holed up. 
The felon responsible for the shootings was a wanted parolee and was already known to police having been seen riding a bike earlier in the day. His description would have been well circulated and known intimately by those tasked with hunting him down.

Number of Poor In Italy Double Since 2007

AGI reports:

The number of absolute poor in Italy doubled from 2.4 to 4.8 million between 2007 and 2012, said acting ISTAT President, Antonio Golini, during a Parliamentary Joint Budget Committee hearing. There has been a parallel worsening of the indicator of material deprivation, which had already dropped in 2011, and that doubled in only two years. 
  Almost half of the 2.347 million absolute poor, up from 1.828 million in 2011, reside in southern Italy. 

China Will Become Embroiled in the Middle-East

David Goldman writes about a possible "pax sinica" in the Middle East:

English-language media completely ignored a noteworthy statement that led Der Spiegel’s German-language website October 12, a call for China to “take on responsibility as a world power” in the Middle East. Penned by Bernhard Zand, the German news organization’s Beijing correspondent, it is terse and to the point: now that China imports more oil from the Middle East than any other country in the world, it must answer for the region’s security.  
... China’s capacity to exert pressure on the Iranian regime is considerable. Apart from its interest in avoiding nuclear proliferation in the Persian Gulf, China has a number of points of conflict with Iran, well summarized in an October 17 survey by Zachary Keck in The Diplomat. ...  
Iran sits between two Sunni powers -Turkey and Pakistan – that depend to a great extent on Saudi financing, and that also have excellent relations with China. Turkey’s still-disputed agreement to buy a Chinese air defense system represented a revolution in Chinese-Turkish relations, motivated by a Chinese promise to transfer the whole package of relevant technology to Turkey and to help the Turks to manufacture the systems, a more generous offer than ever Ankara got from the West. Turkey is the logical terminus for the “New Silk Road” of road, rail, pipelines and broadband that China has proposed to build in Central Asia. 
China, it might be added, also has excellent relations with Israel, whose premier technical university just was offered a US$130 million grant from Hong Kong magnate Li Ka-shing to fund part of the costs of building a branch in China. Chinese provincial and local governments will contribute another $147 million. The seamless interchange of ideas and personnel between Israel’s military, universities and tech entrepreneurs is a success story in miniature that China hopes to reproduce in scale. As Singapore-based political scientist Michael Raska reports, China’s military modernization envisions the spread of dual-use technologies to private industry. 
Without attributing any geopolitical intention to Beijing, the visible facts make clear that China has the capacity to exercise strategic influence in the Middle East, and it has an unambiguous interest in maintaining stability. What China might choose to do, Washington will learn after the fact, if ever. If China wished to influence Iran, for example, it has considerable means to do so, and a great deal else besides.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"29 Incredible Facts Which Prove That Poverty In America Is Absolutely Exploding"

The Economic Collapse Blog discusses 29 statistics showing that the "recovery" is largely a sham, and discussing the implications of increasing poverty in the United States.

Vigilante Attack on Drug Cartels

I missed this earlier, but Fox News reported yesterday:

Five men have been found dead and power has been cut to hundreds of thousands of residents of the western Mexico state of Michoacan, following clashes in which self-described "self-defense" forces are seeking to oust the Knights Templar drug cartel.

The clashes follow a daring march over the weekend by self-defense force vigilantes into the city of Apatzingan, the central stronghold of the Knights Templar.

In retaliation, gunmen believed to be linked to the pseudo-religious cartel mounted coordinated attacks on electrical facilities in 14 towns and cities throughout Michoacan on Sunday.

Tensions Higher Between Japan and China

Tensions between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea are once again running  high. This morning the Chinese Navy sent four Coast Guard vessels into the waters of the Senkaku / Diaoyu . It is a response to statements made by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who gave permission to his own troops to shoot down "drones or foreign aircraft entering our airspace without permission ." 
Soon after, on October 26, China issued one of the strongest statements in recent weeks: "if Japan fired on its unmanned aircraft it "would constitute a serious provocation, an act of war of sorts. We would have to take firm countermeasures, and all consequences would be the responsibility of the side that caused the provocation".

"Jay Z's American Fascism"

Ich kann gar nicht so viel fressen, wie ich kotzen moechte: I can’t eat enough to puke as much as I want to. The words of the  great German-Jewish painter Max Liebermann as he watched the Nazis march through the Brandenburg Gate came to mind as I saw Ron Howard’s Showtime documentary about Jay Z’s 2012 “Made in America” festival. We’ve seen this all before: the emotive orator with a twisted face evoking surge of rage from a mass audience that responds with rhythmic arm gestures. I’m late to this discussion, to be sure: 
This is the face of American fascism. Compared to the confessed crack dealer and knifer Jay Z, to be sure, Adolf Hitler was a man of high intellect and deep culture. Jay Z, our most successful and wealthiest performing artist, honored White House guest and proprietor of a pop-culture empire, is no Hitler: he lacks the talent to field a political movement, and, fortunately, does not appear to hate Jews. Fascism, though, is not ipso facto directed against Jews. Mussolini began as an anti-clerical socialist with support from a great deal of Italy’s small Jewish community, and did not persecute Jews until Hitler told him to. 
Who would have believed that a performing genre (it is a stretch to call it “music”) dominated by convicted and confessed criminals, brutally misogynistic, preaching and practicing violence, would come to dominate American popular culture? Jay Z, who brags of dealing drugs and shooting an older brother in his youth, and plead guilty to stabbing a record producer, could “help shape attitudes in a real (sic) positive way,” according to President Obama. Jay Z texts regularly with the president and is a regular White House visitor after opening Obama campaign rallies.

Goldman goes on to quote some of Jay Z's lyrics which openly call for violence. However, Goldman explains that Jay Z has struck a cord with a generation of young people that no longer can grasp the American dream. He notes the record (25%+ unemployment) among young adults, skyrocketing student debt paired with jobs that can't come close to paying for those loans, and the decline in real median income. Goldman observes:

It would be dangerous to interpret the surge of Jay Z’s political influence as an economic phenomenon. He is making a spiritual appeal–albeit a wicked and perverse one–in a growing spiritual vacuum. 
The answer is that we have failed–with some remarkable exceptions–to hold onto our young people. Harvard political scientist Harvey Mansfield likes to say that the big question in American politics is whether the red states can produce children faster than professors from the blue states can corrupt them.  The roots of conservative strength are deteriorating. ...

Goldman goes on to recite statistics concerning the decline of social conservationism among young people, even those that consider themselves to be religious...with one strong exception: Orthodox Jews.

... But the high retention rate of young observant Jews bears a broader lesson: the conservative movement is rooted in a set of values that cannot be separated from religion, just as de Tocqueville wrote in 1835. Without our own institutions and our own alternative to the prevailing culture, we will decline. 
We need to stick to our principles and strengthen our institutions. Again, from my Torah Musings essay: 
As the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore told the Wall Street Journal, Christians are becoming a minority. And what they best can learn from the Jews is how to be a minority, as I argued in a comment on a recent symposium on the future of First Things. There are some concessions that traditional religion cannot make without sacrificing its authority, and the character of the human family is one of these. Orthodox Judaism survived decades of cultural isolation when conventional wisdom predicted that it shrink to the status of an irrelevant sect. Orthodoxy has thrived, on the contrary, precisely because it refused to abandon Torah values, while progressive Jewish denominations are shrinking. Christians should take encouragement from the Orthodox example and remain true to their principles. 
This is a war in which there are no knockout punches, no decisive battles: It is an extended war of attrition to recreate a conservative majority from the grass roots up, in the face of a truly evil effort to exploit the rage and frustration of young Americans. It will last the rest of our lifetimes and more.
Goldman is correct, of course. Religious conservatism is slipping into a minority, and we need to be able to survive as a minority. Not only a minority, but a vilified minority.

I'm reminded of a statement from a recent article at PJ Media concerning a talk given at BYU by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The substance of the article was that interfaith dialogue does not require that one side concede that it agrees with the religious beliefs of the other in order to work together to protect shared values. Dr. Mohler's noted his disagreement with LDS theology, but stated his common ground as to protecting the traditional family. He stated:
 I do not believe that we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together. I do not mean to exaggerate, but we are living in the shadow of a great moral revolution that we commonly believe will have grave and devastating human consequences.
 (Emphasis mine). Similarly, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a senior religious leader within the LDS Church recently warned:
... Similarly, laws legalizing so-called “same-sex marriage” do not change God’s law of marriage or His commandments and our standards concerning it. We remain under covenant to love God and keep His commandments and to refrain from serving other gods and priorities—even those becoming popular in our particular time and place. 
In this determination we may be misunderstood, and we may incur accusations of bigotry, suffer discrimination, or have to withstand invasions of our free exercise of religion. If so, I think we should remember our first priority—to serve God—and, like our pioneer predecessors, push our personal handcarts forward with the same fortitude they exhibited.
(Emphasis mine). Elder Oaks was an attorney and a former justice of the Utah Supreme Court. He does not use the term "free exercise" lightly, but very specifically in reference to the "free exercise" clause of the First Amendment.

What Goldman, Mohler and Oaks are warning of is that the popular culture has reached its tipping point. Perhaps something will happen to catch it at the last minute, but it seems, given the momentum it has, that we will in fact tip over the precipice where traditional religious values will by wholly rejected by the majority of the population. We potentially face the threat of discrimination, pogroms, and government restrictions on our practice of our religion. I wrote in January 2012 how laws on public health and morals could be turned against practicing our faith. We may very well become a persecuted minority. It may be well worth looking at the history of the Jews, as well as LDS history, to learn lessons on how to survive as a persecuted minority while retaining our beliefs.

Terrorist Attack in China

The Daily Mail reports:

Police investigating the apparent car attack at Beijing's Forbidden City searched Tuesday for information on two ethnic Uighur minority suspects, a hotel employee said, a day after the vehicle plowed through a crowd and crashed, killing five people and injuring 38. 
Police released no public information about a possible motive for the incident at one of China's most politically sensitive and heavily guarded public spaces, and it was not immediately clear if the two suspects were among the three people killed inside the vehicle. 
Two bystanders, including a Filipino woman, also were killed when the sport utility vehicle veered inside of a barrier separating a crowded sidewalk from a busy avenue and then drove toward Tiananmen Gate, which stands opposite the sprawling Tiananmen Square. 
... The 38 injured were among the crowds in front of the gate, where a large portrait of Mao Zedong hangs near the southern entrance to the former imperial palace. Three other Filipinos and a Japanese man were among the injured, police said, but there were no immediate details on their conditions. 
Zhao Fuzhou, a security official at Beijing's Xinjiang Dasha hotel, said police had circulated a notice searching for information about two suspects with Uighur names in the aftermath of Monday's deaths. Unconfirmed copies of the notice also were widely circulated on the Chinese Internet. 
One of the men, identified in the notice as Yusupu Wumaierniyazi, was listed as living at the address of a town in Xinjiang in which 24 police and civilians and 13 militants were killed in an attack on June 26.

Deep Divisions and Persecution

ABC News has a poll out showing deep divisions among Americans. For instance:

While these issues divide a variety of Americans, this poll, produced for ABC and Fusion by Langer Research Associates, finds that the gaps in nearly all cases are largest among partisan and ideological groups – so enormous and so fundamental that they seem to constitute visions of two distinctly different Americas. 
•    Among all adults, 53 percent think women have fewer opportunities than men in the workplace. But that ranges from 68 percent of Democrats to 38 percent of Republicans, a difference of 30 percentage points. Comparing the most unlike groups, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, it’s 76 vs. 35 percent.
•    Forty-one percent overall think nonwhites have fewer opportunities than whites in society. Fifty-six percent of Democrats say so, as do 62 percent of liberal Democrats (more than the number of nonwhites themselves who say so, 51 percent). Among Republicans that dives to 25 percent.
•    Forty-three percent of Americans say it would be a good thing if more women were elected to Congress – but the range here is from six in 10 Democrats and liberals alike to just 26 percent of conservatives and 23 percent of Republicans. Instead two-thirds or more in these latter two groups say it makes no difference to them.
•    Just 23 percent overall say it would be a good thing if more nonwhites were elected to Congress; 73 percent instead say it makes no difference to them. Seeing this as a good thing peaks at 50 percent among liberal Democrats (far more, in this case, than the number of nonwhites themselves who say so, 29 percent). Among conservative Republicans, it’s 5 percent.
•    Thirty-nine percent of adults say they trust the government in Washington to do what’s right; six in 10 don’t. Apparently reflecting views of the Obama administration, trust peaks at 62 percent of Democrats, as many liberals and 69 percent of liberal Democrats. Just a quarter of Republicans and conservatives, and 18 percent of conservative Republicans, feel the same.
•    Support for legal status for undocumented immigrants, 51 percent overall, ranges from 77 percent among liberal Democrats to 32 percent among conservative Republicans. Views on this issue also show sharp differences among other groups – for example, nonwhites vs. whites, 70 vs. 43 percent; and adults younger than 40 vs. their elders, 61 vs. 47 percent.
 You will note, of course, that what the poll is really measuring is a person's belief and acceptance of the basic principles of identity politics. What is not discussed is the vitriol poured out on those that do not buy into identity politics, or other liberal philosophies.

A good example of this is the latest comment from the very liberal Sean Penn, who recently suggested that conservatives/Tea Party supporters in Congress are insane and should, by executive order, be committed (apparently a la the Soviet Union's method of dealing with political dissent). Like all tyrant wannabes, he is content to use government's coercive powers against political opponents.

Which brings me to the latest from Angelo M. Codevilla, an essay entitled "The War on Us." Codevilla begins by describing the increased militarization of the police (he makes one small error, which is assuming that open carry of rifles is legal in California, whereas it was recently outlawed). He goes on to write:

... In fact every US government agency, and most state and local ones now police their ever burgeoning regulations with military equipment, tactics, and above all with the assumption that they are dealing with people who should not be dealt with any other way [i.e., with extreme prejudice]. 
Modern militarized government stems from the Progressive idea that society must mobilize as for war to achieve “the greater good.” Hence we have “wars” on everything from hunger and drugs and ignorance and global warming. Reality follows rhetoric. Since the health of “the environment” is a matter of life and death, the Environmental Protection Agency must deal with “enemies of the planet” with armored cars, machine guns, and home invasions. Apparently, even the Department of Education has SWAT teams. 
... But governments, including ours, do not and cannot oppress citizens equally. 
Persons who possess the greatest power have the larger opportunity to direct blame and distrust, even mayhem, onto those they like least. Since the mid- 1990s, authoritative voices from Democratic President Bill Clinton to Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, echoed by the media have intoned a familiar litany: America is beset by racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious obscurantism, by domestic abuse, greed, and gun owners. These ills are not so different from those found in backward parts of the world where we fight “extremism” in order to fight terrorism. Indeed these ills argue for fighting extremism, indeed for nation-building in America as well as abroad. Who in America embodies extremism? Who is inherently responsible for social ills, including terrorism? Who will have to be re-constructed? No surprise: the ruling class’ political opponents: the conservative side of American life. 
... Today, computer searches find that the term “extremist” correlates in the major newspapers with “conservative” or “right wing” at twelve times the rate it does with “liberal” or “left wing.” 
The focus on “Homeland Security” has only added “terrorism” to our ruling class’ excuses for “going after” conservative Americans. And so, the Department of Homeland Security uses its intelligence “fusion centers” to compile ominously worded dossiers against such groups as “pro-lifers” and such “anti government activists” as “homeschoolers” and “gun owners.” The FBI infiltrates the Tea Parties as it once did the Communist Party. DHS conducts its “practice runs” against mockups of these groups. The IRS audits conservative groups. 
Why not? President Barack Obama called these very groups “enemies of democracy,” and Vice President Joseph Biden has called them “terrorists.” Obama Administration spokesmen have referred to them as “jihadists,” “hostage takers,” persons “with bombs strapped to their chests, etc. Indeed a Rasmussen poll shows that 26% of the Obama Administration’s supporters – possibly not the least influential among them – regard the Tea Parties as the top terrorist threat to America. 
No official act is needed for like-minded persons at the top of society to act in mutually pleasing ways. No law, no official policy, much less conspiracy is needed – only the prejudices and convenience, the intellectual, social, identity of those in power. Why should not officials all across the US government act according to their superiors’ opinions, to what they hear from the best people and what they read in the best media, indeed according to their shared beliefs?

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Myth of "I'm Bad At Math"

Miles Kimball and Noah Smith write at the Atlantic that intelligence is malliable, and it is a mistake for someone to categorize themselves as "bad at math" or any other subject. They write:

 For high-school math, inborn talent is much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence.

How do we know this? First of all, both of us have taught math for many years—as professors, teaching assistants, and private tutors. Again and again, we have seen the following pattern repeat itself:
  1. Different kids with different levels of preparation come into a math class. Some of these kids have parents who have drilled them on math from a young age, while others never had that kind of parental input.
  2. On the first few tests, the well-prepared kids get perfect scores, while the unprepared kids get only what they could figure out by winging it—maybe 80 or 85%, a solid B.
  3. The unprepared kids, not realizing that the top scorers were well-prepared, assume that genetic ability was what determined the performance differences. Deciding that they “just aren’t math people,” they don’t try hard in future classes, and fall further behind.
  4. The well-prepared kids, not realizing that the B students were simply unprepared, assume that they are “math people,” and work hard in the future, cementing their advantage.
Thus, people’s belief that math ability can’t change becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Read the whole thing.

Iran Two-Weeks From Enough Fuel to Produce Nuclear Weapon

The Times of Israel reports that former IAEC deputy director Olli Heinonen has said that Iran could be at a point where they can produce enough enriched uranium within two weeks to construct a nuclear weapon. 

In his assessment, which appears to concur with that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a critical level is reached when the Iranians have enriched enough uranium to weapons grade, in the form of hexafluoride gas enrichment, to create a nuclear bomb. 
“But you still don’t have a nuclear weapon,” Heinonen added. Preparing the highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb would take another month or two, “assuming that someone has all the knowledge.” After that, assembling an actual nuclear weapon that can be delivered with a ballistic missile would take perhaps another year, he said. 
Iran continues to install hundreds of new advanced centrifuges every month, drastically reducing the so-called breakout time it would require in order to produce weapons-grade uranium if it decided to do so, he said.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How the Dollar Could Collapse

From the American Spectator:

That challenge [i.e., a challenge to the dollar as the world's reserve currency] will almost certainly come from China. 
As holders of $1.1 trillion in American debt, the Chinese are the principal victims of our inflationary policies. So far, however, there’s not much they can do about it. In 2009, as the American economy was collapsing, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao warned “We have lent a huge mount of money to the US. Of course, we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am definitely a little worried.” The Chinese can’t rock the boat too hard, however, without endangering their own assets. As the great swindler Billie Sol Estes once said, “When you owe someone $1000, you’re in debt. When you owe them $1 million, you’ve got yourself a partner.” 
What the Chinese have been doing, however, is quietly building a financial infrastructure that would allow them and the rest of the world to free themselves from dependency on the dollar. They have suggested substituting promissory notes from the International Monetary Fund in world trade and struck deals with Russia and the OPEC nations to trade outside the dollar. They have established direct exchange of the yuan with Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Last spring Australia agreed to make its currencies directly convertible with the yuan and has since shifted 5 percent of its reserve holdings into yuan instead of dollars. The Chinese are negotiating a similar arrangement with New Zealand. And now they will be moving into London and the European market as well. 
All this may seem very distant but it represents an historical shift that could come about very quickly. “We hear arguments that China has a long was to go before they could become a major international reserve currency but let’s not kid ourselves. The process is already underway and a lot further down the road than most people think,” says Stuart Oakley, head of foreign exchange trading at Nomura, a global investment bank in Singapore. Michael Pento, president of Pento Portfolio Strategies, who writes frequently for Huffington Post, adds: “The No. 1 security issue we have as a nation is the preservation of the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency. It’s a thousand times more important than a nuclear bomb being tested by North Korea. Yet we are doing everything to abuse that status.” 
At any one time, up to 35 percent of the dollar’s value comes from its role in international trade. This is what differentiates us from Japan, which may have twice our national debt but does not have the same exposure in international markets. If the dollar were to be toppled from its role as the world’s reserve currency, it would set off a run on the dollar in which every American could lose up to a third of his net worth. 
At that point, people might start paying attention to what the Tea Party is saying. 

Are We In the Post-Antibiotic Era?

From the Daily Mail:

A high-ranking official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared in an interview with PBS that the age of antibiotics has come to an end. 
'For a long time, there have been newspaper stories and covers of magazines that talked about "The end of antibiotics, question mark?"' said Dr Arjun Srinivasan. 'Well, now I would say you can change the title to "The end of antibiotics, period.”' 
[He also] said that both humans and livestock have been overmedicated to such a degree that bacteria are now resistant to antibiotics.  
‘We're in the post-antibiotic era,' he said. 'There are patients for whom we have no therapy, and we are literally in a position of having a patient in a bed who has an infection, something that five years ago even we could have treated, but now we can’t.’. 
Dr Srinivasan offered an example of this notion, citing the recent case of three Tampa Bay Buccaneers players who made headlines after reportedly contracting potentially deadly MRSA infections, which until recently were largely restricted to hospitals.  
About 10 years ago, however, the CDC official began seeing outbreaks of different kinds of MRSA infections in schools and gyms.  
‘In hospitals, when you see MRSA infections, you oftentimes see that in patients who have a catheter in their blood, and that creates an opportunity for MRSA to get into their bloodstream,’ he said.  
‘In the community, it was causing a very different type of infection. It was causing a lot of very, very serious and painful infections of the skin, which was completely different from what we would see in health care.’ 
With bacteria constantly evolving and developing resistance to conventional antibiotics, doctors have been forced to ‘reach back into the archives’ and ‘dust off’ older, more dangerous cures like colistin.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Blogging "65 Signs of the Times Leading Up to the Second Coming" - Part 6

This is part 6 of my review of David Ridges, 65 Signs of the Times Leading Up to the Second Coming. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here. Part 4 is here. Part 5 is here.

In earlier installments, I had made it through Ridges introductory comments and discussion, and the first 30 signs. This time, I will summarize the 31st through 40th signs:

(31)  Famines, earthquakes, tornadoes, and natural disasters will abound. Ridges lists this sign as one currently being fulfilled. He notes, for instance, D&C 45:33 which states:

And there shall be earthquakes also in divers places, and many desolations; yet men will harden their hearts against me, and they will take up the sword, one against another, and they will kill one another.
Other scriptures he mentions are D&C 88:88-91 which also discusses earthquakes, thunderings and lightening, tempests, etc. I would also noted Matt. 24:7, Luke 21:11, Rev. 8:5, Rev. 11:13, and Rev. 16:18. Ridges takes the position that there has been increase in both frequency and intensity of these natural disasters. I actually have not seen anything other than anecdotal evidence to suggest an increase in natural disasters. In fact, it appears that the last couple of decades have been relatively benign, notwithstanding some disasters such as Fukushima, Katrina, and the tsunami in Indonesia. Some of the strongest earthquakes, volcanic explosions, and other natural disasters actually occurred in the 1800s and early 1900s. I've noted in a prior post that the deadliest earthquake recorded (actually a series of quakes) was in the 12th Century. What this indicates to me is that we are right now in a lull--a time I believe is intended as a last chance to turn from our (speaking of the world at large) ways--and that this lull will probably end soon, and suddenly.

(32)  Strikes, overthrowing of governments, gang warfare, violence, and disrespect for authority will increase. Ridges categorizes this as being fulfilled. Ridges notes for this a passage by Bruce R. McConkie explaining what "the whole earth will be in commotion" (D&C 45:26), and other scripture such as Isaiah 3:5, and 2 Tim. 3:1-4. This is one that has been happening for a long time. Socialism and progressivism is based on the basic premise that traditional culture, society, government, institutions, believes, etc., should be discarded as a matter of course, to be replaced by rule by an expert elite (essentially, philosopher kings). Because of strict government controls on drugs and alcohol, powerful black markets have arisen that have enabled the growth and spread of organized crime. In the past short time, we are even seeing normally respectful groups in society (conservatives) exhibiting increasing disdain toward government (and, vice versa). Native kingdoms and powers were overthrown by the great colonial powers, which, after exhausting themselves in world wars, were replaced by various tyrants, which are yet again cycling through more changes in the Middle-East and Africa. Thus, we are well and deep into this sign ... and it will only get worse.

(33)  Sexual immorality, homosexuality, lesbianism, and pornography will abound. Being fulfilled and, in fact, has greatly accelerated since Ridges penned his book in 2009. See, e.g., 2 Tim. 3:6, and Romans 1:24-31. Ridges notes that these sins, and many others, will be softened by use of political correct speech, noting this 1996 General Conference talk by Neal A. Maxwell. I would also note the October 2013 General Conference talk by Dallin H. Oaks, in which Elder Oaks stated:

There are many political and social pressures for legal and policy changes to establish behaviors contrary to God’s decrees about sexual morality and contrary to the eternal nature and purposes of marriage and childbearing. These pressures have already authorized same-gender marriages in various states and nations. Other pressures would confuse gender or homogenize those differences between men and women that are essential to accomplish God’s great plan of happiness. 
Our understanding of God’s plan and His doctrine gives us an eternal perspective that does not allow us to condone such behaviors or to find justification in the laws that permit them. And, unlike other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has identified as unchangeable. 
Our twelfth article of faith states our belief in being subject to civil authority and “in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” But man’s laws cannot make moral what God has declared immoral. Commitment to our highest priority—to love and serve God—requires that we look to His law for our standard of behavior. For example, we remain under divine command not to commit adultery or fornication even when those acts are no longer crimes under the laws of the states or countries where we reside. Similarly, laws legalizing so-called “same-sex marriage” do not change God’s law of marriage or His commandments and our standards concerning it. We remain under covenant to love God and keep His commandments and to refrain from serving other gods and priorities—even those becoming popular in our particular time and place. 
In this determination we may be misunderstood, and we may incur accusations of bigotry, suffer discrimination, or have to withstand invasions of our free exercise of religion. If so, I think we should remember our first priority—to serve God—and, like our pioneer predecessors, push our personal handcarts forward with the same fortitude they exhibited.
(34)  The disintegration of the family will bring prophesied calamities in the last days. Being fulfilled. Ridges notes the proclamation issued about the family, and in particular, the following:
Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
 I would also refer you back to the scriptures and talks cited as to Sign No. 33. I've written on this topic before, such as here and here. In December of last year, I quoted the following from an article written by Jonathan Last:

As Robert George put it after the election, limited government “cannot be maintained where the marriage culture collapses and families fail to form or easily dissolve. Where these things happen, the health, education, and welfare functions of the family will have to be undertaken by someone, or some institution, and that will sooner or later be the government.” Marriage is what makes the entire Western project​—​liberalism, the dignity of the human person, the free market, and the limited, democratic state​—​possible. George continues, “The two greatest institutions ever devised for lifting people out of poverty and enabling them to live in dignity are the market economy and the institution of marriage. These institutions will, in the end, stand or fall together.”
And this from Paul Rahe:
... Liberty requires a responsible citizenry, and the sexual revolution (very much like the drug culture, which was and is its Doppelgänger) promotes irresponsibility of every kind. It promotes dependence, and it fosters an ethos in which those who exercise the virtues fostered by the market are punished for doing so and in which those who live for present pleasure are rewarded.
 I've also previously noted the deleterious effects on children and society of families where the father is absent.

See also this article by David Goldman.

(35)  The Spirit will stop working with the wicked. Being fulfilled. I would have preferred the wording that the Spirit will stop striving with the World. Ridges writes that the substance of this sign is "[t]hat in the last days, because of gross wickedness, great numbers of people will cease to feel the natural righteous emotions, feelings, common sense, wisdom, appreciation of beauty, nature, environment, worth of humans, and so forth, which are instilled and nourished by the Spirit." See 2 Tim. 3:1-7 and Romans 1:29-32.

(36)  Peace will be taken from the Earth. Being fulfilled. See D&C 1:35-36, D&C 115:6.

(37)  Jerusalem will be a "cup of trembling" to those who attempt to fight against it. Ridges lists this as both fulfilled and being fulfilled. This is in reference to Zechariah 12:2:

Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem.
Ridges cautions, though, that although all nations will be involved with Israel, it is only those nations that fight against Israel that will be broken in pieces upon Israel.

(38) The righteous will be alerted by the signs of the times. Being fulfilled. This is less a "sign of the times," than a promise to the righteous. Ridges notes that:

[O]ne of the many good reasons for studying and becoming familiar with the signs of the times [is that] [n]ot only do they provide testimony that the scriptures are true, but they also provide strength and spiritual stamina for us against deception, discouragement, and despair as the prophesied punishments of God descend upon the inhabitants of the earth ....
(39) People will refuse to believe obvious truths and will instead adhere to fables and falsehoods. Being fulfilled. From 2 Timothy 4:3-4:

 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 
 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

Ridges comments that the absence of sound doctrine, or turning to "fables" is not only applicable to religious doctrine, but also to politics, business practices, and, in general, the philosophies of men.

(40) False prophets, false churches, and false miracles will abound. Being fulfilled. See Matt. 24:24 and Mark 13:22. Again, Ridges warns that this is not necessarily limited to just religious cults:

Media idols, liberal [i.e., socialist/progressive] philosophers, corrupt politicians and business people, and a host of other public and private "heroes" could well fit into this category. In fact, any in positions of influence who lead others astray could be considered to be in the category of false prophets and false Christs.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Review of the Bullpup Unlimited Conversion Kit for the 870

Chris Cheng reviews the Bullpup Unlimited Conversion Kit for the Remington 870, including a video.

Review of the Rossi Model 92 Lever Action

The Firearms Blog has a review of the Rossi Model 92 Lever Action. The model reviewed used .45 (Long) Colt, but the carbine is available in other calibers.

Declining Gold Prices Threaten West African Economies

The Voice of America reports on the impact that falling gold prices are having in Africa:

With the U.S. Federal Reserve expected to roll back its quantitative easing program, many analysts believe gold prices may fall further as investors switch to assets offering better returns.

For mining-dependent regional economies, the consequences could be dire.

Although Ghana's current economic boom is often chalked up to its new oil wealth, its gold exports were worth $5.6 billion last year, nearly as much as oil and cocoa combined.

Gold contributed 27 percent of the country's foreign exchange and furnished more than $700 million to government coffers, according to data from Ghana Chamber of Mines (GCM).

“We are not going to repeat that feat this year. Payment to the GRA (Ghana Revenue Authority) is going to shrink,” said Toni Aubynn, GCM chief executive.

The impact on Africa's third biggest producer, Mali, where gold accounts for 75 percent of export receipts and 25 percent of GDP, is potentially even worse. Just two mines, Sadiola and Morila, historically accounted for 80 percent of Mali's output.

The Welfare Scales

CNS News reports:

Americans who were recipients of means-tested government benefits in 2011 outnumbered year-round full-time workers, according to data released this month by the Census Bureau. 
They also out-numbered the total population of the Philippines. 
There were 108,592,000 people in the United States in the fourth quarter of 2011 who were recipients of one or more means-tested government benefit programs, the Census Bureau said in data released this week. Meanwhile, according to the Census Bureau, there were 101,716,000 people who worked full-time year round in 2011. That included both private-sector and government workers. 
That means there were about 1.07 people getting some form of means-tested government benefit for every 1 person working full-time year round.
... The 108,592,000 people who were recipients of means-tested government programs in the fourth quarter of 2011 does not include people who received benefits from non-means-tested government programs but not from means-tested ones. That would include, for example, people who received Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, or non-means-tested veterans compensation, but did not receive benefits from a means-tested program such as food stamps or public housing. 
In the fourth quarter of 2011, according to the Census Bureau, there were 49,901,000 people who received Social Security benefits, 46,440,000 who received Medicare benefits, 5,098,000 on unemployment, and 3,178,000 who received non-means-tested veterans compensation.
What the article doesn't relate is the amount of overlap--i.e., the number of full-time workers receiving means-tested government benefits. Also, it would be interesting to see how many of these people work part-time. Remember, the rolls of the part-time employees have been increasing due to various economic and government incentives.

This statistic should be troubling for various reasons. For one, it shows the relative weakness of the economy. It also demonstrates that a significant portion of the population is dependent on the government for their day-to-day survival.

Iran May Be Month Away From Materials for A-Bomb

USA Today reports:

Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear bomb in as little as a month, according to a new estimate by one of the USA's top nuclear experts. 
The new assessment comes as the White House invited Senate staffers to a briefing on negotiations with Iran as it is trying to persuade Congress not to go ahead with a bill to stiffen sanctions against Iran. 
"Shortening breakout times have implications for any negotiation with Iran," stated the report by the Institute for Science and International Security. "An essential finding is that they are currently too short and shortening further."

This time-frame--referred to as the "break out" time in the article--is the subject of negotiations. That is, the Administration is negotiating with Iran to cut back on the number of centrifuges it is using in order to extend the break out time. However, the article also notes that even if Iran stopped using fully 50% of its centrifuges, it would only extend the break out period to 6 months.

And then there is this:
Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican whose Senate Banking Committee is considering legislation to tighten Iran sanctions, said the report shows that Iran is expanding its nuclear capabilities under the cover of negotiations.
And, finally:
ISIS considered various scenarios, including if Iran decided to build a covert enrichment plant like it has under a mountain in Fordow, near the city of Qom, that was designed for optimal efficiency and minimal time to enrich enough uranium for bomb making. Such a facility built with current Iranian technology could produce enough material for a bomb in a week, according to the ISIS report. 
... If Iran moves ahead with installation of its more efficient, second generation centrifuges, it would be able to produce enough nuclear fuel for a bomb with so few of them, between 2,000 and 3,300 centrifuges, that they could fit in a small warehouse, Albright said.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Israel and Gulf States Drawing Closer?

Recent remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have fueled renewed speculation of behind-the-scenes links between Israel and the Gulf monarchies. 
Netanyahu, speaking at the UN, said that “the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the emergence of other threats in our region have led many of our Arab neighbors to recognize, finally recognize, that Israel is not their enemy.” 
He added: “This affords us the opportunity to overcome the historic animosities and build new relationships, new friendships, new hopes.” 
There have been subsequent rumors of visits by senior Gulf officials to Israel, to discuss matters of common interest. 
While it is difficult to acquire details of these contacts at the present time, it is a near certainty that they exist, on one level or another. Conversations with Israeli officials suggest that much is happening behind the scenes. 
Israel and the key states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (most importantly, Saudi Arabia) share core views on the nature of key regional processes currently underway, and their desired outcome.  These commonalities have existed for some time, and it is likely that the contacts are themselves not all that new. 
There are three areas in which Israel and the countries of the GCC (with the exception of Qatar) are on the same page. 
They are: the urgency of the threat represented by the prospect of a nuclear Iran, the danger represented by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood over the last two years, and the perception that the United States fails to understand the urgency of these threats and, as a result, is acting in a naive and erroneous way on both.
What the Administration doesn't realize (or care about) is that Israel and Saudi Arabia both view a nuclear armed Iran as an existential threat. Consequently, if there is nothing done about Iran, and it develops nuclear weapons, there will be a great sense of urgency--perhaps even panic--on the part of Israel and/or the Gulf States.

No posts today

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

More on the Fracture Lines...

Liz Peek writes:

This is the great divide in the U.S. today. It is not between blacks and whites – or rich and poor; it is between the elites in California or New York and ordinary people who wouldn’t know a Wagyu beefburger from an heirloom tomato. The pundits who cannot imagine how anyone can live in Nebraska’s farm country also can’t imagine why anyone ever voted for George W. Bush; they do not and cannot understand the Tea Party. And, they are scornful of what they do not understand. 
The elites do not celebrate the rich history of our plains states, the struggle to tame the frontier and to create the world’s most productive agricultural society. In their hearts, they also deride the assembly line workers who built our industrial base, the hard hats who kick back with Bud at the end of their shift, instead of cozying up to the New Yorker.

Worship Christ? You Are Probably a Terrorist...

Fox News reports:
Soldiers attending a pre-deployment briefing at Fort Hood say they were told that evangelical Christians and members of the Tea Party were a threat to the nation and that any soldier donating to those groups would be subjected to punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. 
A soldier who attended the Oct. 17th briefing told me the counter-intelligence agent in charge of the meeting spent nearly a half hour discussing how evangelical Christians and groups like the American Family Association were “tearing the country apart.”
This isn't the first time the government has labeled these people as potential terrorists.

Are Banking and Monetary Crises Inevitable?

Dr. Edwin Vieira argues, at News with Views, that they are under our current banking systems. 

The East Bloc fell apart--and had to fall apart, no matter what anyone did--because of an obscure principle of economics known as "the impossibility of rational economic calculation under bureaucratic central planning". Socialism failed--and must always fail--because, without prices for goods and services generated by a free market, central planners cannot allocate resources and manpower intelligently. But central planners cannot allow a free market to set prices (otherwise there could be no central planning). In the long run, this self-imposed bureaucratic blindness to the real values of people and things results in monumental waste, the failure of central plans to deliver sound capital investments and advancing standards of living, and finally the collapse of those societies that allow politicians and bureaucrats, rather than free entrepreneurs and workers, to direct the course of economic affairs. 

Although this principle had been recognized by other economists for almost a century theretofore, it received systematic exposition in Ludwig von Mises's seminal treatise, Socialism, first published in the 1920s. So, during the heyday of central planning from the 1920s to the 1980s, no one should have been unaware of the problem. Nonetheless, the political elite and the intelligentsiia ignored it, just about everywhere. In the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, where Stalin and his successors imposed industrial-strength central planning through police-state terrorism and slave labor in the Gulag, the price was higher than in (say) the United States, to which Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to administer only a diluted dose of the same poison. But a price there was, paid as usual by common people.

Economic theory also teaches that any scheme of fiat currency and fractional-reserve central banking is just as inherently flawed, incapable of permanent existence, and inevitably doomed to disaster as all-around, full-blown socialism, because fractional-reserve central banking systematically subverts the free market's structure of prices through expansion of currency and credit--which results in redistribution of wealth, misallocation of scarce capital, and collapse in either depression or hyperinflation followed by depression. This is no new insight. The problems fractional-reserve banking causes were widely discussed in the 1800s; and the whole subject of political versus free-market money was exhaustively examined by Ludwig von Mises, in his treatise The Theory of Money and Credit, first published in the 1920s. (Probably the best book on this subject now available for the average reader is Murray Rothbard's The Mystery of Banking.) But, throughout the Western world during the 1900s and even unto the present moment, the political elite, high finance and big business, and their hired intelligentsiia have generally ignored these problems--doubtlessly because irredeemable currency and fractional-reserve central banking have served their short-term interests, and the costs of the system have always been paid by picking the pockets of the common man.
Read the whole thing.

I agree with Vieira's basic argument that managed economies eventually succumb because it is impossible for any person or group to understand and direct the complete economic affairs of a nation. (This is the gist of Friedrich von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom). To the extent that Vieira attacks fractional reserve banking, however, I would contend that he is wrong.

Fractional reserve banking is actually one of the greatest accomplishments of Western banking because it freed up capital for use by people to purchase homes, start businesses, and so on. One of the reasons that the West so rapidly overtook other cultures (some more technologically advanced at the time) was because of the development of fractional reserve banking. I may be over interpreting Vieira's argument however.

To the extent that he focuses on central banking, he has a valid point. When a central bank engages in "managing" the economy, it is no different than the central planner attempting to manage the physical goods needed and produced. I believe that Friedman once pointed out that a monkey could have done as good a job at managing the money supply as the Federal Reserve. And, in reality, the Fed was not intended (at least by the majority of its supporters) to manage the money supply, but to step in and provide liquidity to banks that were experiencing bank runs, so that the bank would not collapse. It is moving away from this central purpose, and instead using the bank to implement national policy, that has created the monster we see today that is printing money like there is no tomorrow.

I still am in a toss-up over fiat currencies. Reliance on currencies backed by gold did not produce a golden age (excuse the pun) of economic stability. We still saw bank runs, bubbles, depressions, and so on. I believe most economists would agree that remaining on the gold standard would have placed extraordinary deflationary pressure on the economy, because the amount of gold produced has not kept pace with either the growth of the world economies or the growth of population.

Saudi Arabia Cuts Diplomatic Ties With U.S.?

The Daily Mail reports:

Upset at President Barack Obama's policies on Iran and Syria, members of Saudi Arabia's ruling family are threatening a rift with the United States that could take the alliance between Washington and the kingdom to its lowest point in years. 
Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief is vowing that the kingdom will make a 'major shift' in relations with the United States to protest perceived American inaction over Syria's civil war as well as recent U.S. overtures to Iran, a source close to Saudi policy said on Tuesday. 
Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that the United States had failed to act effectively against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said. 
'The shift away from the U.S. is a major one,' the source close to Saudi policy said. 'Saudi doesn't want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.' 
It was not immediately clear whether the reported statements by Prince Bandar, who was the Saudi ambassador to Washington for 22 years, had the full backing of King Abdullah. 
The growing breach between the United States and Saudi Arabia was also on display in Washington, where another senior Saudi prince criticized Obama's Middle East policies, accusing him of 'dithering' on Syria and Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The Saudis are not stupid. If they have advanced far enough to break off ties with the country that has guaranteed their existence for the past 50+ years, it is only because they have already found (or believe they have found) another guarantor. Probably China. But there could be much more to this. Part of the quid pro quo of the United States defending Saudi Arabia was that Saudi Arabia would conduct oil trades in dollars. Presumably, if the Saudis have obtained another guarantor, there would be an agreement to use that nation's currency for oil transactions, whether solely or in addition to dollars. Whatever the terms, our oil-backed currency could soon be a free-floating fiat currency in truth, with a resulting drop in value.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fire Control Measures

For those of you interested in military history and/or tactics, American Mercenary discusses the principles of fire control within larger units--i.e., designating targets, limits of fire, etc. Also, read his follow up post on front line trace.

The Ammo Shortage Will Continue

The Truth About Guns reports that the EPA has forced the last commercial lead smelter out of business. This means that lead will have to be imported, driving up costs.

CA Court of Appeals Says That 2nd Amendment Doesn't Protect AKs

The key portion of the decision:

Heller concluded the Second Amendment protected the right to possess a handgun in one's home, because handguns are a "class of 'arms' " overwhelmingly chosen by American society for the lawful purpose of self-defense (Heller, at pp. 528-530) and were the type of small arms " 'in common use at the time' " (id. at p. 627) that citizens, when called to militia service, were expected to bring with them when called to serve. However, Heller simultaneously approved  Miller's observation that the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, and specifically referenced M-16 rifles as weapons that could properly be banned without offending the Second Amendment under "the historical tradition of  prohibiting the carrying of 'dangerous and unusual weapons.' " ( Heller, at p. 627.) 
You see what they are doing here, of course. They are freezing what are "weapons in common use" through a circular argument. That is, the ban is being upheld because the firearm is not "in common use" (although that is debatable); but because of the ban, the weapon can never become one "in common use."

They are also being intellectually dishonest by comparing a semi-auto AK rifle, owned by the defendant, with the M-16, which is a select fire weapon (i.e., automatic weapon). This, even though in order to be imported, the rifle had to have passed the federal government's "sporting use" test, and thus one that could lawfully be used for hunting. In fact, but for the ban, there doesn't appear to be any indication that the defendant could not have lawfully used the weapon for self-defense or hunting, or that it would have been inappropriate for use in a militia.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The End Game

But don’t worry, a revolution would not be far behind. My guess is that it would kick off as generational rather than regional or factional, but it would eventually incorporate all three. A generation already swindled by the college loan racket must be chafing at the bureaucratic nightmare that ObamaCare instantly turned into at its roll-out, with a website that wouldn’t let anyone log in. Isn’t technology wonderful? I wonder when the “magic moment” will come when all those unemployed millennials join a Twitter injunction to just stop paying back their loans. If that particular message went out during this month’s government food fight, it would do more than just get the attention of a few politicians. It would crash the banks and snap the links in every chain of obligation holding the fiasco of globalism together. 
So far, the millennials have shown about as much political inclination as so many sowbugs under a rotten log, but it is in the nature of criticality that things change real fast. In any case, the older generations have completely disgraced themselves and it is only a question of how cruelly history will treat them in their unseating.  ...
What Durden is talking about is that we have entered a completely new world of imaginary foundations to our economy.  Marc Faber comments:

"The question is not 'tapering'," Marc Faber exclaims to his hosts on CNBC's Squawk Box this morning, "the question is at what point will they increase the asset purchases to say $150 [billion] , $200 [billion], or a trillion dollars a month." QE-4-EVA is here to stay, as Faber explained "every government program that is introduced under urgency and as a temporary measure is always permanent." Simply put, "The Fed has boxed itself into a position where there is no exit strategy," and while inflation may not be present in the 'chosen' indicators, Faber blasts, there's been incredible asset inflation - "we are the bubble. We have a colossal asset bubble in the world [and] a leverage or a debt bubble." There will be massive wealth destruction, he concludes, "one day this asset inflation will lead to a deflationary collapse one way or the other. We don't know yet what will cause it."
Michael Snyder writes:

The collapse of American society is accelerating.  For the moment, much of our social decay is being masked by the tremendous level of affluence that we are experiencing in aggregate.  It has been reported that 4 out of every 5 adults in the United States "struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives", but in general Americans still enjoy a debt-fueled standard of living that is far beyond what most of the rest of the world enjoys.  When that debt-fueled standard of living permanently disappears, it is going to unleash chaos unlike anything that America has ever seen before.

... So how can I be so sure that this is going to happen?  After all, the United States didn't descend into complete and utter chaos during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Wouldn't an economic depression unfold in a similar manner today?
Unfortunately, a lot has changed since then.  A lot more Americans were self-sufficient back in those days, and the truth is that the character of our nation has been rotting and decaying for decades.  ...

... Just last weekend, there were "mini-riots" in several U.S. states when "technical issues" caused the food stamp system to go haywire for a few hours. 
What would have happened if there had been an extended outage or if the political crisis in D.C. had caused food stamps to be completely cut off at some point in November?
Let's be thankful that we did not have to find out.
But even though major food stamps riots may have been averted (at least for now), there are a whole host of other signs that America is going to become a very unstable place during the next major economic downturn.  
Meanwhile, as the West relies on fiat currencies, China (and other countries) are buying up physical gold. 

Docent's Memo (May 16, 2022)

VIDEO: " S&W J Frame Trigger Spring Kit Install " (10 min.) If you want to lighten the trigger pull on a J-frame, this video s...