Friday, November 29, 2013

The Bubble

Peter Ferrara writes at Forbes about the latest scandal out of Washington--how the Bureau of Labor Statistics apparently faked employment data to make it appear that the unemployment rate at dropped in September 2012, just in time to boost Obama's reelection prospects. In doing so, he also discusses why such shenanigans were necessary in the first place--that the economy is not recovering. Ferrara notes:

That supposed drop in unemployment in September, 2012 was also wildly inconsistent with GDP growth at the time, reported as a meager 1.3% in the second quarter of that year, in long term decline from 1.6% over the first half of that year, 2% in 2011, and 2.4% in 2010. President Obama’s pitiful economic growth record has been only half of normal long term economic growth for America, and only a third or less of the historic growth from a deep recession, such as the Reagan recovery from the 1981-1982 recession.

The American historical record over the nation’s entire history has been the deeper the recession, the stronger the recovery. Too many people are giving Obama a pass on his disastrous economic performance because the recession was so bad when he entered office. That view is held predominantly among the low information voters who are literally clueless about the realities of the nation they live in. The severity of the recession was precisely the foundation for a booming economic recovery to come out of it, which the well informed Obama who does know that real American economic history was expecting. But Obama’s consistently anti-growth economic policies got in his own way, and prevented that recovery, which is still baked in the cake, and will break out spectacularly, once America is liberated from the current, Obama Democrat, economic repression.
Notwithstanding his long-term optimism, he also observes:

America is suffering today from a rapidly gathering stock market bubble that is even more obvious than the housing bubble was in 2006, if not 2007. And with the appointment of Janet Yellen to head the Fed, President Obama is doubling down on the very same policies creating that bubble, and recreating the foundation for a much bigger financial crisis and crash than in 2008.

Moreover, the foolish flower child Obama/Kerry policies regarding Iran’s development of nuclear weapons are creating the foundation for a much, much ruder awakening one morning than on 9/11. More on these developing American tragedies in future columns.

Just remember, you were forewarned here of the lies you were being told during Campaign 2012. And you can now be forewarned here of even greater, developing American tragedies than that election, the greatest political error of the American people in history, is turning out to be.

The Great Divide

These are politically segregated times.

Secession movements are active in several states, generally consisting of residents of rural red counties seeking to separate themselves from the more liberal and urban-centered policies of blue-state leaders.

And Democrats and Republicans are much less likely to live among each other than they were a generation ago.

Back in 1976 — the year of a close presidential election — just over a quarter of the population lived in "landslide counties," where the winning margin was greater than 20 percentage points, says journalist Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart.

Last year, more than half the country lived in landslide counties. And, while Barack Obama's margin of victory was less in 2012 than it was in 2008, the number of states decided by fewer than 5 points actually went down.

States themselves have become more polarized, with most legislatures and governorships controlled entirely by one party. As a result, not only are blue and red states tracking different courses on just about every issue, but some people are seeking to escape their states.

But if Americans are sorting themselves into like-minded communities, are they doing so on purpose? In other words, are people voting with their feet by consciously moving to states or counties that reflect their own partisan preferences?

Researchers at the University of Virginia and the University of Southern California suggest that, yes, they may be.
After discussing the research, the article concludes:

... It remains to be found out how many people, if you asked them, would say that they had moved or wanted to move because of politics. Liberals threaten to move to Canada every four years if the Republican presidential candidate wins, but few actually make good on it.

But other political scientists have noticed that Americans are tending to move into jurisdictions that share their worldviews and can become uncomfortable when they don't fit in.

"The structure of a place cannot only shape political attitudes. It can also attract very different kinds of people," writes Torben Luetjen, a German political scientist who has been studying liberal and conservative enclaves in Wisconsin. "America has split into closed and radically separated enclaves that follow their own constructions of reality."

However, a more important gap exists--that between our ruling class and the ruled. Victor Davis Hanson writes about our coastal "royalty":

The densely populated coastal corridors from Boston to Washington and from San Diego to Berkeley are where most of America’s big decisions are made.

They remind us of two quite different Americas: one country along these coasts and everything else in between. Those in Boston, New York, and Washington determine how our government works; what sort of news, books, art, and fashion we should consume; and whether our money and investments are worth anything.

The Pacific corridor is just as influential, but in a hipper, cooler fashion. Whether America suffers through another zombie film or one more Lady Gaga video or Kanye West’s latest soft-porn rhyme is determined by Hollywood — mostly by executives who live in the la-la land of the thin Pacific strip from Malibu to Palos Verdes.

... Rarely, however, do they see how their own necessities are procured. Instead, they feel deeply ambivalent about the grubbier people and culture that made them.

In Kansas or Utah, people do not pay $1,000 per square foot for their homes as they do on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They do not gossip with the people who write their tax laws, as is common in the Georgetown area of Washington. Those in the empty northern third of California do not see Facebook or Oracle founders at the local Starbucks any more than they bump into the Kardashians at a hip bistro.

The problem is not just that the coasts determine how everyone else is to lead their lives, but that those living in our elite corridors have no idea about how life is lived just a short distance away in the interior — much less about the sometimes tragic consequences of their own therapeutic ideology on the distant, less influential majority.
This, of course, mirrors Angelo Codevilla's 2010 essay at the America Spectator entitled "America's Ruling Class--And the Perils of Revolution."  Codevilla wrote:

Today's ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters -- speaking the "in" language -- serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America's ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.

The two classes have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century's Northerners and Southerners -- nearly all of whom, as Lincoln reminded them, "prayed to the same God." By contrast, while most Americans pray to the God "who created and doth sustain us," our ruling class prays to itself as "saviors of the planet" and improvers of humanity. Our classes' clash is over "whose country" America is, over what way of life will prevail, over who is to defer to whom about what. The gravity of such divisions points us, as it did Lincoln, to Mark's Gospel: "if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand."

... The ruling class's appetite for deference, power, and perks grows. The country class disrespects its rulers, wants to curtail their power and reduce their perks. The ruling class wears on its sleeve the view that the rest of Americans are racist, greedy, and above all stupid. The country class is ever more convinced that our rulers are corrupt, malevolent, and inept. The rulers want the ruled to shut up and obey. The ruled want self-governance. The clash between the two is about which side's vision of itself and of the other is right and which is wrong. Because each side -- especially the ruling class -- embodies its views on the issues, concessions by one side to another on any issue tend to discredit that side's view of itself. One side or the other will prevail. The clash is as sure and momentous as its outcome is unpredictable.

In this clash, the ruling class holds most of the cards: because it has established itself as the fount of authority, its primacy is based on habits of deference. Breaking them, establishing other founts of authority, other ways of doing things, would involve far more than electoral politics.
 This viewpoint predates even these two authors, however. Oswald Spengler, almost a century ago now, noted that all great cultures grow into civilizations governed from "world-cities" (or megapolises) characterized by their rejection of the commoner, religion, and traditional values. (I discuss Spengler's ideas in more detail here).

As Codevilla suggests, these divisions can be dangerously destabilizing. However, this is the great divide facing our country. Although, it may be something more fundamental than a mere divide.

I have been reading Spengler's works for myself, and Western Civilization (or more precisely, Faustian civilization, to use Spengler's term) is already in decline. I have been wondering, then, what culture will replace it? I have thought that the Second Coming and Millenium describe a different culture and civilization. But the seeds to such culture must be here already, growing under the detritus of the Faustian.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ammoman is offering "ammo by the pound" for Black Friday

Link here. This is ammo, that for one reason or another, had damaged packaging that was simply dumped into bins over the course of time. It has been sorted by caliber and that is about it.

(H/t The Weapon Blog)

Spengler--On the Deal with Iran and Obama's Obtuseness

David P. Goldman has a new essay discussing the tentative deal reached with Iran on nuclear weapons, and explaining the reason behind Iran's fear. As Goldman has written before, Iran faces a demographic disaster unfolding much faster than in the West, which will likely cause the collapse of the country within a single generation. He notes: "Iran must break out and establish a Shiite zone of power, or it will break down."

Facing this existential threat, Iran is much more dangerous than Germany before WWII simply because Iran has nothing to lose in the long run by going to war now. Goldman, rather, believes that war is inevitable at this point. Read the whole thing.

Goldman moves on to explore why Obama is so nonplussed by Iran. He writes:
What explains, though, the Obama administration’s obsession with a compromise at any cost with the Tehran regime? I have not changed my view of what an Asian leader privately called “America’s NGO president” since I profiled Barack Obama in February 2008:

"America is not the embodiment of hope, but the abandonment of one kind of hope in return for another. America is the spirit of creative destruction, selecting immigrants willing to turn their back on the tragedy of their own failing culture in return for a new start. Its creative success is so enormous that its global influence hastens the decline of other cultures. For those on the destruction side of the trade, America is a monster. Between half and nine-tenths of the world’s 6,700 spoken languages will become extinct in the next century, and the anguish of dying peoples rises up in a global cry of despair. Some of those who listen to this cry become anthropologists, the curators of soon-to-be extinct cultures; anthropologists who really identify with their subjects marry them. Obama’s mother, the University of Hawaii anthropologist Ann Dunham, did so twice."

Obama’s most revealing disclosure, perhaps, came in his autobiobraphy Dreams from My Father as he recounts his thoughts while visiting Chicago’s public housing as a young community organizer:

"And yet for all that poverty [in the Indonesian marketplace], there remained in their lives a discernible order, a tapestry of trading routes and middlemen, bribes to pay and customs to observe, the habits of a generation played out every day beneath the bargaining and the noise and the swirling dust. It was the absence of such coherence that made a place like [the Chicago housing projects] so desperate."

He deeply identifies with the fragile, unraveling cultures of the Third World against the depredations of the globalizing Metropole. So, I suspect, does his mentor and chief advisor, the Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett, and most of his inner circle. ...  For Obama, it is a matter of personal experience. His father and stepfather were Third World Muslims, his mother was an anthropologist who dedicated her life to protecting the traditional culture of Indonesia against the scourge of globalization, and four years of his childhood were spent at an Indonesian school. The same point has been made by Dinesh d’Souza, among others.

Obama’s commitment to rapprochement with Iran arises from deep personal identification with the supposed victims of imperialism. That is incongruous, to be sure. Persia spent most of its history as one of the nastier imperial powers, and its present rulers are no less ambitious in their pursuit of a pocket empire in the Shi’ite world. The roots of his policy transcend rationality. Israel can present all the evidence in the world of Iran’s plans to build nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and the Iranians can cut the Geneva accord into confetti. Obama will remain unmoved. His heart, like his late mother’s, beats for the putatively oppressed peoples of the so-called Third World.

No factor of this sort was present in 1938: Neville Chamberlain did not sympathize with Hitler. He simply feared him and needed time to rearm, as the Wall Street Journal’s Mr. Stephens observes. If Lord Halifax rather than Chamberlain had been prime minister then, the parallel to Obama would be stronger.

"Winter in Chernobyl"

The Daily Mail has a new photo-essay of the ruins of Chernobyl, this time with a winter theme. Unfortunately, some of the photos now seem staged in that it appears that books, dolls, and other items have been moved or posed for the photos.

New York Starts Gun Confiscations

The Truth About Firearms Blog reports that, pursuant to the so-called "SAFE Act," New York City has begun sending out letters to gun owners that own prohibited rifles instructing them that they must prove that the firearms have been moved to an out-of-state location, modified to accept no more than 5-rounds, or surrender the rifle to police.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Iran Disputes White House Summary of Agreement

So, let me get this straight. Obama traded away sanctions and the Iranians promised nothing--not even the measly restriction on not producing highly-enriched uranium?

A Cautionary Tale

On November 2, 2013, Renisha McBride, a nineteen-year-old African-American woman, was killed by a shotgun blast to the face. The information indicates that McBride had been involved in an auto accident about 1:30 a.m. in a suburb of Detroit. Since she had a blood alcohol content of .22 and traces of marijuana in her system two hours later when she died, the crash was likely because she was intoxicated. It is not clear what happened for the next two hours, but at about 3:40 a.m., she showed up on the stoop to the house of Theodore Wafer, 54, of Dearborn Heights. McBride's family claims she was looking for help. Whatever happened, she knocked or banged on the door, and Wafer opened the door. It is not clear what happened next, other than Wafer shot McBride in the face, killing her. He claims that the shotgun discharged accidentally.

I'm not here to speculation as to whether the shooting was accidental, the result of racial prejudice, whether Wafer was reasonably in fear for his life, etc. All this will be gone over (and over) by the media and other pundits. I've already seen comments where people are blaming "stand your ground laws" and race.

What I want to focus on is Wafer's statement that the weapon discharge was accidental. It is possible that the gun had a mechanical defect causing the discharge, but the more likely cause was that Wafer had his finger on the trigger. The discharge could have been accidental--he might have stumbled, McBride may have jostled Wafer or the firearm somehow (apparently, there was only a door screen between the two), or he may have involuntarily tightened his hand through fear or surprise. In any event, it seems he was pointing the weapon, even if unintentionally, at McBride.

My takeaway on this is muzzle control, keep your finger off the trigger, and if you don't feel comfortable opening your door to someone, don't open the door!

Sources: Detroit Free Press, New York Daily News, the New Yorker.

Lessons from the Westfield Garden State Plaza mall shooting...

... in Paramus, NJ. The Truth About Guns has some observations from one of the law enforcement officers which responded to the incident. Fortunately, the shooter was not interested in killing anyone but himself--he apparently was attempting to prompt a suicide by cop situation. However, it took so long for police to search and clear the structure that the man had given up and committed suicide before he was located. One interesting tidbit to me was the fact of sensory overload on the responding officers:
Once inside, he says he and the others were “bombarded with a stimulus overload.”

“Everything in a mall is designed to grab your attention,” he explains. “Mannequins are everywhere. You catch them in your peripheral vision or straight ahead when you’re scanning, and in your heightened state of alertness, they look like real people just standing there motionless.

“You’re trying to take in and evaluate information quickly, and the mannequins start playing with your mind. It was very frustrating the inordinate amount of time I had to spend looking at something to define it.”

The profusion of mirrors added to the distraction and confusion. Moving through one store, he says, “I was startled by my own reflection and almost shot it.” Also “wreaking havoc on perceptions” at times was glare reflecting off of large glass surfaces from strong commercial lighting and through skylights from helicopters sweeping the mall’s roof.
Something to think about.

Monday, November 25, 2013

China's Population Decline

Read the following in a a review of Josef Joffe's new book, The Myth of America’s Decline: Politics, Economics, and a Half Century of False Prophesies:

“China’s working-age population will reach its peak at the end of this decade and decades before the People’s Republic is supposed to overtake the United States.” Meanwhile, thanks to our fertility rates and immigration, the U.S. will have a population of younger workers. It has not escaped the attention of observers that, by 2025, China would account for less than a fifth of the world’s population, but almost a fourth of the world’s senior citizens.”

Chinese Aggressions

Paul Rahe warns at Ricochet:

There is trouble on the horizon, and before long it may turn into very big trouble.

In late August, I wrote at length about China's resolute turn back to despotism; about its vehement public repudiation of constitutionalism, the rule of law, and freedom of the press; and about the manner in which Chinese communist cadres are now expected to read Alexis de Tocqueville's classic The Ancien Regime and the Revolution as a warning against a relaxation of party discipline.

There is another dimension to what is going on in China, and it dovetails neatly with the first. In and for a long time after the time of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese talked softly while carrying a big stick. Deng and his immediate successors understood that the rise of China would elicit anxiety on the part of the Japanese, the Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Taiwanese, and the Filipinos, and they did what they could to allay that anxiety by refraining from doing anything that would suggest on their part aggressive intent.

In the last couple of years, however, all of that has changed; and everywhere where one goes in Asia, an old friend who travels in high circles told me earlier this week, one senses hostility -- not towards the United States but towards one's neighbors. The anger underlying all of this has been stirred by the Chinese, who have been throwing their weight around with ever greater force.

This weekend the Chinese upped the ante. In the South China Sea, between Korea and Taiwan, there are some uninhabited islands, which are called the Senkaku isles by the Japanese and the Diayu isles by the Chinese. Although there are other claimants, these have been controlled for many decades by the Japanese. This weekend, however, China extended its air-defence zone to include the islands ....
... This is a deliberate provocation, and it is clearly meant as a challenge to Japan. In that neck of the woods, the Chinese evidently intend to have their way, and those who do not acquiesce will be made to pay dearly. What we are witnessing is an attempt by the Chinese to assert and establish their hegemony over the entire region. What they aim at is something like what, in the years prior to World War II, the Japanese called the Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.
The author goes on to discuss that this aggression by China is based on the belief by Chinese leaders that the United States is well and truly in decline--unable or unwilling to do anything to hinder China's pursuit of regional hegemony--and that it is China's time to assert (or reassert, taking the long historical view) power over the region.

I don't believe that the Chinese leadership necessarily has to believe that the United States is too weak. Rather, the Chinese leadership may be pursuing a strategy that it can assert its dominance and expand its power via a series of pinpricks calculated to, individually, never be enough to threaten the United States enough to cause the United States to directly engage in hostilities. This is a risky strategy unless China is confident that it can quickly neutralize any direct threat from the United States (i.e., disable the Navy and/or American satellites).

It may be true that China is misinterpreting American resolve and capabilities. It is this type of misunderstanding of what America might or might not do which led to the first Persian Gulf War (when Saddam Hussein) underestimated American resolve to resist Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. A similar misunderstanding underlay Japan's attacks on the United States and its interests in 1941, and the invasion of Poland by Germany and Russia which kicked off World War II. But I would be concerned of the possibility that China believes that it can quickly neutralize any American threat.

Another Step Toward War in the Middle East

The Obama Administration has made a deal on Iran's nuclear weapons production that gives Obama the illusion of a victory, while doing little or nothing to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions. The Daily Mail describes the deal thusly:

Under the deal, Iran will curb many of its nuclear activities for six months in exchange for limited and gradual relief from painful economic sanctions. The six-month period will give diplomats time to negotiate a more sweeping agreement. 
The package includes freezing Iran's ability to enrich uranium at a maximum 5 percent level, which is well below the threshold for weapons-grade material and is aimed at easing Western concerns that Tehran could one day seek nuclear arms. International monitors will oversee Iran's compliance. 
For Iran, keeping the enrichment program active was a critical goal. Iran's leaders view the country's ability to make nuclear fuel as a source of national pride and an essential part of nuclear self-sufficiency.

As a different article reports,  "[t]he deal was struck after months of secret negotiations between officials from both Iran and the US, and finalized during talks involving five other world powers early Sunday morning in Geneva." Remember that fact--that this agreement was the result of secret negotiations between Obama's Administration and Iran--as the situation deteriorates 6 months hence. Also, neither Saudi Arabia or Israel were included in the peace talks.

The same article notes:

In addition to suspending further uranium enrichment, the country has also agreed to neutralize it's stockpile of near 20 per cent uranium, US officials said.
The regime will not install any new centrifuges, disable roughly half of the country's centrifuge capabilities, and limit production of machines to that only needed to replace damaged ones needed to continue a peaceful program aimed at producing nuclear power, said US officials. 
These actions include centrifuges at Natanz and Arak. 
'While today's announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal,' said Mr Obama.
The deal also calls for 'unprecedented transparency and intrusive monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program,' according to a White House statement.
This transparency includes allowing International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to all previously disputed facilities and the providing of all previously requested information about their operation.

As the first article cited above noted, Israel is particularly displeased by the deal.
While most Gulf countries remained silent in the first hours after the deal was reached in Geneva, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasted little time in criticizing it, calling it a 'historic mistake' and saying he was not bound by the agreement. 
Speaking to his Cabinet, Netanyahu said the world had become a 'more dangerous place' as a result of the deal. He reiterated a long-standing threat to use military action against Iran if needed, declaring that Israel 'has the right and the duty to defend itself by itself.'
The United States Congress also lacks faith in Obama's agreement:
Democrats and Republicans in Congress have finally found common ground - a lack of confidence in Iran keeping to the historic agreement reached Sunday to suspend nuclear weapons ambitions. 
Both sides of the aisle affirmed skepticism Iran will keep its word and promised to strengthen already crippling sanctions against the Middle Eastern country if the non-proliferation deal crumbles.
The article goes on to note that Congressional leaders, from both parties, are considering imposing additional sanctions against Iran once Congress reconvenes in December.

There are legitimate concerns with the yet-to-be-signed agreement. Roger L. Simon observes:
... the most egregious part indeed comes down to centrifuges. Iran has some 19,000 of them — more than three times the amount of longtime nuclear-armed Pakistan. The agreement forbids the Iranians to build anymore, but, much more importantly, it allows the Iranians to fix any of their centrifuges that may be broken and get them working again..

How many of those 19,000 are broken? I’m not sure anyone outside Iran knows, ... But now — thanks to the deal that Obama and Kerry have put together — the Iranians will have six unmolested months to get as many of them up and running as they can, enriching uranium.

Speaking of which, Iran’s “right to enrich” is supposedly still under dispute, the Americans saying one thing about the language in the deal and the Iranians another. Some dispute. The prologue to the “interim” agreement states that the amount of enrichment will be decided in future negotiation, not (nota bene) whether enrichment will be allowed or not. (The specific language reads: “a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program.” Uh-huh.) Meanwhile, Iran is able to enrich up to five percent, not the previous alleged maximum of 3.5%. Whatever happened to that other 1/5%? Confusing, no? Oh, well, that’s a long way from the 20% needed for weaponization.

No, it’s not. It’s not very much at all when you have 19,000 centrifuges. How much of a setback for the Iranian nuclear weapons program is this five percent permissible level then? According to the New York Times, about as pro-Obama a publication as you can get outside of a Chicago Democratic Party newsletter, the current agreement will retard the Iranian program only about one month.
 From the Tower:
Western concessions – according to Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies – will inject Iran with financial relief ultimately worth roughly $20 billion.

In exchange – per a quick New York Times assessment – Iran agreed to concessions that not only fall short of “roll[ing] back the vast majority of the advances Iran has made in the past five years,” but that shorten its breakout time by “only a month to a few months.” The interim deal allows Iran to continue enriching uranium to 5% purity and to keep building new centrifuges to repair worn ones. Iran will have to convert its 20% enriched stock either to fuel or to diluted 5% stock, but those processes can be easily reversed within weeks. The only way to put that material beyond use is to actually irradiate the stock, but Iran doesn’t have the capacity to do that. In any case experts from the University of Virginia and the U. S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) recently warned [PDF]) that Iran can sneak across the nuclear finish line using only its stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium. Inasmuch as Iran is not being forced to dismantle its centrifuges, there are fears it will either cheat or just wait six months and use them when the interim period expires.
 What sanctions that remain will likely be cast aside in coming months.

The arguably more significant danger, however, is that the sanctions regime cannot survive even the limited erosion that the deal entails. There are multiple scenarios under which the sanctions relief in the deal would trigger a downward spiral that irreversibly and substantially eroded the regime. The most immediate fear is that major powers and corporations will engage in a feeding frenzy to get into Iran: No one wants to be left behind as Iran’s market opens up, and so everyone tries to get in first. Pletka’s suggestion about the “psychology of impenetrable sanctions” is one mechanism for a downward spiral. Brookings Institute fellow Michael Doran earlier this week pointed to evidence that such a downward spiral was already beginning, with Paris looking to reopen a trade-related attaché office in Tehran next year.
Victor Davis Hansen has some thoughts on what happens in the likely event Iran doesn't live up to its bargain:
In the case of violations, will it be easier for Iran to return to weaponization or for the U.S. to reassemble allies to reestablish the sanctions? Will Israel now be more or less likely to consider preemption? Will the Sunni states feel some relief or more likely pursue avenues to achieve nuclear deterrence? Will allies like Japan or South Korea feel that the U.S. has reasserted its old global clout, or further worry that their patron might engage in secret talks with, say, China rather than reemphasize their security under the traditional U.S. umbrella?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Homeless Not Welcome

Michael Snyder at the Economic Collapse Blog writes about how many cities are waging a war against the homeless by enacting bans on feeding the homeless, bans on "camping," or by simply giving homeless people one way bus tickets to other cities (the out-of-sight-out-of-mind solution). This is not as bad as homeless are treated in other countries, but it shows a general lack of regard for the homeless--to cover up the homelessness problem--that wasn't present before.

I believe that there are a couple reasons for this disregard. First, we have a so-called "Progressive" in the White House that the rich and famous refuse to criticize. I'm old enough to remember the recession in the early 80's, and the intense media coverage, the songs from pop stars, movies, and the relentless criticism of the Republican Administration over a homelessness problem that is in no way as serious as now. But all we hear from the liberals now are crickets.

Second, the only organizations with a proven track record for helping the homeless are churches, but various governments and laws have hamstrung religious missions devoted to helping the homeless. Liberals would literally rather see homeless people freeze or starve than to allow religious groups help the homeless. I'm not speculating--I've seen that myself from die-hard liberals. They hate Christianity more than they care about the homeless.

Qatar Announces Fourth MERS Death

France24 reports:

An expatriate living in Qatar has died of MERS, bringing to four the number of deaths in the Gulf state from the coronavirus, health authorities said on Friday.

The 48-year-old had other pre-existing health problems, Qatar's Supreme Council of Health in a statement.

It was the second death reported in Qatar this week. On Tuesday the emirate reported the death of a 61-year-old expatriate.

Two other deaths were reported in early September.

In addition, a Qatari man died in a London hospital in late June after contracting the virus.

The World Health Organisation said on Wednesday that it has been notified of 155 laboratory-confirmed cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus worldwide so far, including 64 deaths, most of them in Qatar's larger neighbour Saudi Arabia.

"The Truth About Mental Illness and Guns"

From Reason:

Even the nation's premier gun lobby believes keeping guns away from the mentally ill is a good idea. It's a sensible-sounding proposal, a logical precaution. But some forensic psychiatrists, whose jobs include the task of identifying potentially violent individuals, say that targeting the mentally ill isn't as simple as it sounds.

A recent Mayo Clinic study points out that mass shooters tend to meticulously plan their crimes weeks or months in advance, undermining the idea that the mentally ill simply "snap" and go on shooting rampages while also complicating the notion of effective gun control through gun registries, since a methodical planner has plenty of time to obtain weapons through illegal channels.

A more basic problem with a strategy that targets mentally ill people is that the vast majority of them are not violent. When you control for substance abuse, a factor that exacerbates violence in all populations, only about 4.3% of people with a "severe" mental illness are likely to commit any sort of violence, according to a University of Chicago study. The violence rate among those with a "non-severe" mental illness is about equal to that of the "normal" population.

"In the absence of a history of violence or any of the other risk factors, it is impossible to predict who will become violent," says Stephen K. Hoge, a forensic psychiatrist at Columbia University.

Abandoned University (More Urban Ruins)

The Daily Mail has another article/photo essay of the abandoned science campus at Val Benoit University in Belgium:


Militarization of the Police (Updated and bumped)

There have been a lot of police departments, large and small, all across the nation loading up on military equipment, including MRAPs. A friend pointed me to this op-ed in the Idaho Statesman where the Boise City Chief of Police, Mike Masterson, responds to criticism of his department obtaining an MRAP. What is concerning is his anti-Second Amendment views and unrealistic expectations of what police face. After spending a couple paragraphs on the importance of protecting civil liberties, he writes:
Unfortunately, we live in an increasingly violent society. Boise hasn’t made national news for murder and mayhem, but we’ve had our stories, too. Just because we’ve avoided major headlines doesn’t mean we don’t see issues on the horizon that could affect our safety. Why is it that our laws don’t keep deadly weapons (guns and cars) out of the hands of the mentally ill or those who intend to harm our government and its most visible forms of authority? Why is it that guns made exclusively for the military are available in society for general use? When society addresses these issues and others equally important to public safety, there won’t be a need for police departments to acquire surplus armored vehicles.
Almost everything he says is incorrect. We do not live in an increasingly violent society--unless he is suggesting that the FBI has been lying to us, violent crime rates have fallen sharply over the past 20 years nationwide.

We have laws keeping the insane from obtaining firearms. Because "mentally ill" is such a broad and loose term, it is a dangerous road to go down to prevent anyone with a "mental illness" from possessing firearms. How many police officers suffer from depression or anxiety?

"Why is it that guns made exclusively for military are available in society for general use?" Besides being self-contradictory, I would like to know what he believes are military weapons being made available for public use. I think I know the answer to that, which are weapons based on the AR or AK platforms. However, the military versions of those weapons are banned from general use. All he is saying here is that Idahoans need more gun control.

What other issues of equal importance to public safety does he think justify having an MRAP? How can we have a discussion concerning these issues if he won't even reveal his concerns?

In the end, here is what we have: the department obtained a vehicle designed for military use and intended to protect soldiers from land mines and small anti-tank weapons such as the RPG. I challenge the Boise Police Chief to point to a single case of police officers in Idaho being attacked with land mines and RPGs. If he can, then perhaps there is an argument justifying such a vehicle. If not, then he is hiding his officer's desire to "play soldier" behind empty rhetoric.

Update (11/22/2013): From the Belgrade News, an op-ed by John Whitehead:

Why are police departments across the country acquiring heavy-duty military equipment and weaponry? For the same reason that perfectly good roads get repaved, perfectly good equipment gets retired and replaced, and perfectly good employees spend their days twiddling their thumbs—and all of it at taxpayer expense. It’s called make-work programs, except in this case, instead of unnecessary busy work to keep people employed, communities across America are finding themselves “gifted” with drones, tanks, grenade launchers and other military equipment better suited to the battlefield. And as I document in my book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, it’s all being done through federal programs that allow the military to “gift” battlefield-appropriate weapons, vehicles and equipment to domestic police departments across the country.

It’s a Trojan Horse, of course, one that is sold to communities as a benefit, all the while the real purpose is to keep the defense industry churning out profits, bring police departments in line with the military, and establish a standing army. As journalists Andrew Becker and G. W. Schulz report in their insightful piece, “Local Cops Ready for War With Homeland Security-Funded Military Weapons,” federal grants provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have “transformed local police departments into small, army-like forces, and put intimidating equipment into the hands of civilian officers. And that is raising questions about whether the strategy has gone too far, creating a culture and capability that jeopardizes public safety and civil rights while creating an expensive false sense of security.” ....
Whitehead notes that the practice is not only an incredible waste of money, but dangerous as well:

[T]his equipping of police with military-grade equipment and weapons also gives rise to a dangerous mindset in which police feel compelled to put their newly high-power toys and weapons to use. The results are deadly, as can be seen in the growing numbers of unarmed civilians shot by police during relatively routine encounters and in the use of SWAT teams to carry out relatively routine tasks. For example, a team of police in Austin, Texas broke into a home in order to search for a stolen koi fish. In Florida, over 50 barbershops were raided by police donning masks and guns in order to enforce barber licensing laws. 
Thus, while recycling unused military equipment might sound thrifty and practical, the ramifications are proving to be far more dangerous and deadly. This is what happens when you have police not only acquiring the gear of American soldiers, but also the mindset of an army occupying hostile territory. In this way, the American citizen is no longer seen as an employer or master to be served by public servants like police officers. With police playing the part of soldiers on the battlefield and the American citizen left to play the part of an enemy combatant, it’s a pretty safe bet that this particular exercise in the absurd will not have a happy ending.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gibraltar Continues to be a Rock of Contention

The Local (Spain) reports:

Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds said he wanted to de-escalate the situation but would not put up with "bullying and intimidation" of the British territory at the mouth of the Mediterranean.

Britain summoned the Spanish ambassador on Tuesday to explain the most serious incursion for months in the waters off Gibraltar, which Spain has long claimed as its own.

A Spanish state oceanographic research ship, backed up by three military Spanish police boats, ignored orders to leave for 22 hours before departing Tuesday, coming within 250 metres (273 yards) of Gibraltar's harbour.

Gibraltar's chief minister Fabian Picardo responded by urging Britain to deploy bigger military ships to deter similar incursions.
 More here.

Water Scarcity?

Live Science discusses the current drought in the American Southwest, then extrapolates that to potential (perhaps "imagined") water scarcity world-wide.

The article notes:
After 14 years of drought, Lake Powell is less than half full.

Water flows into Lake Powell, nestled between Utah and Arizona, from high in the Rocky Mountains via the Colorado River. More than 30 million people in seven states depend on the mighty Colorado for water to grow crops, fuel power plants and keep cities such as Las Vegas alive. But this year, the worst drought in a century has slowed the flow to a trickle.

In August, the federal Bureau of Reclamation cut, by 9 percent, the amount of water people in the southwestern United States could draw from Lake Powell. As states and counties squabble over their allotment of water in the coming years, hydroelectric plants (including the one on the Hoover Dam) could idle, and farmers are bracing for reduced crop production.

In western Colorado, water is fed to farms through a network of ditches. Because water is allocated based on seniority, some of the newest farmers saw their water turned off in July, before the end of harvest, said Kate Greenberg, the Western organizer for the National Young Farmers Coalition, a group that supports young and independent farmers. Greenberg is also part of a working group looking for agricultural solutions to water shortages along the Colorado River.

While small farms managed to keep going by using private water supplies, some of the alfalfa farmers have been hard-hit, Greenberg said. Alfalfa requires a plentiful, steady supply of water, and is one of the most prevalent cash crops in Colorado, she said.
 I don't want to digress into the causes for the water problems with the Colorado, suffice to say that water allocations between the various states that draw off the river were based on flow during a time of record flow volumes due to increased precipitation, and completely unrealistic. Moreover, because Nevada and Arizona used so little water in the early and mid-20th Century, California historically used more than its allotment without complaint until Phoenix and Las Vegas really began to boom.

However, this raises the issue of examining the carrying capacity of the area you reside. Las Vegas and Phoenix (and LA, for that matter) have populations far in excess of the carrying capacity of the land. If there was any interruption of the water supply, for what ever reason, or contamination of the water supply, people in those cities would be in a world of hurt because there is not enough natural water supplied in the immediate area. It is especially important in arid environments to store large quantities of water--sufficient for a month or more.

Turning back to the article, the author moves on to world-wide water issues:

The water woes plaguing the Southwest foreshadow a worldwide problem to come. Already, 2.7 billion people globally face at least some water scarcity, according to a 2012 study detailed in the journal PLOS ONE. Fights over water rights are causing political conflicts and instability in such places as the Nile valley and the Indian subcontinent. As population sizes rise, those conflicts will get more intense, according to a report by the National Intelligence Council, which advises the director of national intelligence for the United States about national security issues. 
And the latest population models predict that 11 billion people will live on Earth by 2100, according to a United Nations report released last summer. Given that the existing population is already taxing water supplies in many regions, how will the planet provide for all the new people who will be here next century? 
I've been following global demographic issues fairly closely, and that 11 billion estimate is way off because it relies on fertility rates that are, even now, higher than actually exist. Worst case, the population levels off at about 9 billion by 2100. More realistically, and this seems to be supported by most of what I've read, the population will peak at a little over 8 billion in 2050, and fall to 6.2 billion by the end of the century--less than the current population. In addition, new technologies are going to make it cheaper to desalinate water.

The Max Velocity Blog ...

... has moved. It's new address is here.

Venezuela--Down the Road to Serfdom

Reminds me of Nazi Germany. From Yahoo News:

Venezuelan lawmakers granted President Nicolas Maduro yearlong decree powers on Tuesday that he says are essential to regulate the economy and stamp out corruption but adversaries view as a power grab.
Hundreds of supporters of the ruling Socialist Party cheered outside the National Assembly as the so-called Enabling Law was passed, while a recording of Maduro's late predecessor, Hugo Chavez, singing Venezuela's anthem rang out inside the hall. 
The power to pass laws without congressional approval gives Maduro a political victory in the run-up to December 8 municipal elections, although he still faces a severely distorted economy with embarrassing product shortages and inflation surging to nearly 55 percent.
"I want to thank the majority of patriotic and socialist lawmakers for approving this law that will let us advance, over the next 12 months, in defeating the economic war being waged against our people," Maduro said.
"Tonight has been a victory for the people! ... Who says the revolution is over?" he added, flanked by ministers, to applause from a crowd outside the Miraflores presidential palace.
 His first two planned laws have to do with limiting the amount of profit businesses can earn, and his second will further create a board to oversee currency exchanges and sales.

And there is this justification: "'He told us to pass all the laws necessary to wring the necks of the speculators and money launderers,' Cabello said."

"Long Term Gun Test" of 5.56 AK

Chris Dumm, at the Truth About Guns, gives his impressions of the Arsenal Inc. SLR-106 (an AK style rifle in 5.56 mm) after using it for a year. His overall thoughts: "It was pretty damned good a year ago, and it has continued to prove itself rugged, reliable and accurate. Arsenals are probably a better deal now than they were in mid-2012, because parts-kit AKs have gone way up in price since then." He also writes, "If I could own only one modern sporting rifle, this would be it."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Blogging "65 Signs of the Times Leading Up to the Second Coming" - Part 7 (Updated)

This is part 7 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. Part 6 is here.

In earlier installments, I had made it through Ridges introductory comments and discussion, and the first 40 signs. This time, I will summarize the 41st through 50th signs:

(41)  People refuse to believe the signs of the times. 2 Peter 3:3-4.

(42) Some will fear that Christ's coming is being delayed too long. D&C 45:26

(43) There will be signs and wonders on the Earth and in the heavens. D&C 45-36-40; Acts 2:19. I would note that some of the signs in the heavens have probably already been seen. For instance, on August 28 and September 2, 1859, Earth was subject to two powerful solar storms, known as the Carrington Event. Besides burning out telegraphs, it also produced incredible auroras:
When telegraphs did come back on line, many were filled with vivid accounts of the celestial light show that had been witnessed the night before. Newspapers from France to Australia featured glowing descriptions of brilliant auroras that had turned night into day. One eyewitness account from a woman on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina ran in the Charleston Mercury: “The eastern sky appeared of a blood red color. It seemed brightest exactly in the east, as though the full moon, or rather the sun, were about to rise. It extended almost to the zenith. The whole island was illuminated. The sea reflected the phenomenon, and no one could look at it without thinking of the passage in the Bible which says, ‘the sea was turned to blood.’ The shells on the beach, reflecting light, resembled coals of fire.”

The sky was so crimson that many who saw it believed that neighboring locales were on fire. Americans in the South were particularly startled by the northern lights, which migrated so close to the equator that they were seen in Cuba and Jamaica. Elsewhere, however, there appeared to be genuine confusion. In Abbeville, South Carolina, masons awoke and began to lay bricks at their job site until they realized the hour and returned to bed. In Bealeton, Virginia, larks were stirred from their sleep at 1 a.m. and began to warble. (Unfortunately for them, a conductor on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad was also awake and shot three of them dead.) In cities across America, people stood in the streets and gazed up at the heavenly pyrotechnics. In Boston, some even caught up on their reading, taking advantage of the celestial fire to peruse the local newspapers.

November 12-13, 1833, saw the greatest meteor shower in history:

On the night of the 12th, many sky watchers noticed that there seemed to be an unusually high number of meteors in the sky heading into the morning of the 13th. Suddenly, as if someone turned on a switch, the sky filled with meteors to the tune of, according to some estimates, over 200,000 per hour! That translates to over 3,000 per minute or, even more mind boggling, 50 meteors per second. All across North America, people were woken by their bedrooms suddenly becoming filled with light thanks to the light of all the meteors. Now, the kicker: this lasted for 4 hours until the Sun started to rise.

(45)  The New Jerusalem will be built. See D&C 45:66-69. This will be in Jackson County, Missouri, near Independence.

(46)  Many temples will be built. 

(47) A temple will be built in Jerusalem. 

(48) The gospel will flourish in Egypt and temple will be built there. Isaiah 19:18-22.

(49) The rainbow is withdrawn. Ridges recites a prophecy given by Joseph Smith that "whenever you see the [rain] bow withdrawn, it shall be a token that there shall be famine, pestilence, and great distress among the nations, and that the coming of the Messiah is not far distant." (History of the Church, 6:254). Although Ridges does not speculate as to the cause of this, I wonder if it is related to the prophecy of the sun being dimmed.

(50) The Constitution will hang by a thread. Ridges notes that the Lord established the Constitution by the hands of the Founding Fathers (D&C 101:77-80). He notes several of the prophets that have spoken of the time when the Constitution will almost be destroyed, including Ezra Taft Benson, who warned: "Unfortunately, we as a nation have apostatized in various degrees from different Constitutional principles as proclaimed by the inspired founders. We are fast approaching that moment prophesied by Joseph Smith when he said: 'Even this nation will be on the very verge of crumbling to pieces and tumbling to the ground, and when the Constitution is upon the brink of ruin, this people will be the staff upon which the nation shall lean, and they shall bear the Constitution away from the very verge of destruction.'"

Update (11/21/2013): One thing I wanted to mention about the building of temple in Jerusalem. Currently Israel does not allow proselytizing, and there is currently an agreement that the Church will not baptize an Israeli citizens. So why will this change so dramatically before the Second Coming. As I read various commentators, the more recent consensus is that Christ will appear to people prior to The Second Coming. The Second Coming is the end of the wicked, when Christ returns in his full power and majesty. However, we know that he has appeared since his resurrection and ascension without it being his Second Coming. This may very well be the case with his appearance to the Jews when the Mount of Olives splits to provide an escape for the Jews. That is, this event may occur some time prior to the Second Coming, leading to the conversion of Jews and building of a temple. This is speculation, and may be completely wrong, but may be worthy of some consideration. I'm open to comments (even opposing views on this), so let me know what you think--am I barking up the wrong tree?

Merrill Lynch is Bullish

Not everyone is doom and gloom. Merrill Lynch believes that the U.S. economy is poised for strong growth.

Another Bad Retail Season

Bloomberg News reports:

Faced with wary shoppers and a shorter holiday season, retailers are piling on deals as they jockey for market share during the most important sales period of the year. For the fourth year in a row, disposable incomes in 2013 have only inched up. As result, low-income Americans will again have a less-merry season than affluent consumers, who are more flush thanks in part to surging stock markets.

... The disparity between wealthy and lower-income shoppers is already showing up in chains’ fourth-quarter profit estimates, with Tiffany & Co. projected to fare better than Wal-Mart and Kohl’s Corp.
And the only reason that the stock market is doing so well is because of quantitative easing.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Syrian Kurds Declare Autonomous Region

Asia News (h/t Gates of Vienna) reports:

Syria's tragic situation is getting even more complicated. The country's Kurds have announced the "formation of a transitional civil administration for the area of Western Kurdistan-Syria."

Yesterday's announcement by the Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD) was made in Qamishli, north-eastern Syria, and comes after Kurdish forces successfully seized border posts with Iraq, hitherto occupied by jihadist groups.

In July, Kurdish leaders had already announced plans to create a provisional government in the region after Syrian government forces decided to pull out a year ago to prevent Kurds from joining the rebels.

Syrian Kurds represent 10-15 per cent of the country's population, and are concentrated in the country's north-eastern Syria, next to Turkish and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Language, culture and a desire for a state of their own connects people in all three areas (four if we consider Iran's Kurdish region).
Assad was forced to give the Kurds autonomy out of political and military necessity--to keep them from joining the Syrian rebels. The temptation for the Syrian Kurds will be to join with the Iraqi Kurds. Assuming that Assad does not win and immediately turn on the Kurds, an economic union, of sorts, is inevitable between the regions in Syria in Iraq. Where it will become tricky is if either side seeks a political union. Turkey would see such a union as a threat to Turkey's control over its Kurdish regions, and I doubt Iraq would be open to allowing some of its richest oil fields to pass to another state.

I expect the Kurdish issue to begin assuming a greater importance moving forward because some sort of independent Kurdish state seems almost inevitable, yet carries a potential for civil war in multiple countries.

Fighting in Tripoli

France 24 reports:

Fresh clashes erupted on Saturday to the east of Libya’s capital as gunmen tried to stop vehicles loaded with fighters from Misrata entering Tripoli, where their base is under attack from soldiers and government-affiliated militias.
The gun battles between rival militias comes a day after Misrata gunmen opened fire on protesters demanding the disbandment of unlawful armed groups, killing 43 people.
The bloodbath prompted Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan to call on rival militias to stay out of Tripoli on Saturday.
Libya’s government and weak armed forces are struggling to control militias, Islamist militants and other former fighters who refuse to surrender their arms two years after helping to oust Gaddafi in a NATO-backed revolt.

November Gun Give Away Contests

Thanks to the Weapons Blog for compiling the list.

 And my condolences to Mr. Spuler (the author of the Weapons Blog) on his loss. Remember to keep Mr. Spuler and his family in your prayers as they lay to rest their second son this year.

Saudi Arabia and Israel Planning Action Against Iran?

Obama will soon come to regret not accepting all those calls from Netanyahu. The Sunday Times of London reports:

... Now Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency is working with Saudi officials on contingency plans for a possible attack on Iran if its nuclear programme is not significantly curbed in a deal that could be signed in Geneva this week.

Both the Israeli and Saudi governments are convinced that the international talks to place limits on Tehran’s military nuclear development amount to appeasement and will do little to slow its development of a nuclear warhead.

As part of the growing co-operation, Riyadh is understood already to have given the go-ahead for Israeli planes to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran.

Both sides are now prepared to go much further.
 Israel Today reports:

The arrangement reportedly being hashed out would allow Israel to use Saudi airspace en route to Iran. The Saudis would also provide logistical support by coordinating the use of drones, search and rescue aircraft and refueling tankers over their soil.

And it all of this sounds too fantastical, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already hinted at such a deal last week in an interview with with French daily Le Figaro.

There is a "meeting of the minds" between Israel and the "leading states in the Arab world on the Iran issue," Netanyahu told the newspaper, noting that it is "one of the few cases in memory, if not the first case in modern times" of Israel working side-by-side with these particular states.

The Israeli leader reiterated that the Iran nuclear threat is far more severe than Western leaders are willing to admit.
 Of course, Saudi Arabia denies the report, which they would have to do to avoid angering their populace or other Muslim countries.

Oprah's Final Solution

Oprah has a solution to end racism which, like most progressive ideas, seems inspired by Hitler or Stalin. From the Huffington Post:

Oprah did not hold back when talking about race in an interview with the BBC on Friday.

She was in the UK to promote "The Butler," and forthrightly told interviewer Will Gompertz that there needed to be some demographic pruning to stamp out racism more fully.

"There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die," she said.
I don't know if she actually was proposing or intending violence, but this should be a reminder that socialists are never more than a step or two from mass murder or genocide.

Sadly, however, she is correct that some cultural memes can only be eliminated by eliminating those that carry the memes. While God is more than willing to allow people to repent and change the incorrect memes they carry, the Old Testament and Revelations in the New Testament are replete with examples of where the Lord has through wars, pestilence, famine, and so on, resorted to simply physically killing the unrepentant in order to quash harmful memes.  (Note, however, that same events are used to try and strengthen the faithful and repentant).

More Thoughts on Dick Metcalf's Anti-2nd Amendment Op-Ed

As I've discussed before, Dick Metcalf (the former technical editor of Guns & Ammo) was fired earlier this month for an op-ed that was published in the December edition (the magazines are actually mailed out a month or so before the cover date). Since I get my copies second-hand, after my father-in-law reads them, I only just looked through Metcalf's editorial that got him fired--I've read excerpts on-line, but this was my first opportunity to read the whole thing.

It was actually worse than what I had expected. I won't rehash his misinterpretation and misapplication of the phrase "well-regulated" since it has been discussed at length by other writers. What I find appalling, and what I haven't seen discussed elsewhere, was the elitist attitude Metcalf expressed in the concept that a person "needed" training to use a firearm safely, and should be "required" to undertake training. Metcalf suggested that it would not be unreasonable to require 16 hours (i.e., two full days) of training to get a firearm permit!

Metcalf, like many other professionals, assumes the training by certified experts is required in order to safely and effectively use a firearm. There are many problems with this issue, but here are some major ones:

(1)  Certification. Who is to decide whether someone is qualified to teach firearms training, what minimum level of skills and ability, etc., are required to obtain certification? Ultimately, the government will make that decision. Who will keep track of who has passed such certification? The government. So, any certification program becomes a de facto method of gun control and registration.

(2) Necessity for training. Let's be honest here--it does not take significant training or practice to be proficient with a firearm. In the book Marine Sniper, a biography of Carlos Hathcock, one of the stories is how with just 5 or 10 minutes instruction, the snipers were able to train a single soldier to shoot accurately enough to strike a target more than an entire company could with just the standard Army training. My own experience is that it only takes a few minutes instruction to teach an adult the basics of how to use a firearm. I would note that firearms have been used for hundreds of years without any formal training requirements or licensure. They are relatively simple mechanisms to use. (Compare this with automobiles, which have been licensed almost since their inception, and require significant training and practice both to operate the vehicle and to learn the basic laws surrounding their use). Just like any sport, to truly excel requires training and practice. But the basics are so simple, a child can learn them.

(3) Training by experts. Tied to point no. 2 is that professional training is superior to informal training and practice. If this were the case, we would not see the constant stream of mistakes and mishaps from members of our military and police. Whether justified or not, the general impression I have from the gun blogs and forums, as well as my own observations, is that police are actually some of the least safe when it comes to handling a firearm. Certainly, I've never seen any evidence, anecdotal or from studies, showing that training by "experts" was better than informal training. While such training may be useful, or even desirable, does not make it necessary.

(4) Costs. Any requirement for formal training and certification will, of course, cost money which will come from the pocket of those seeking the training. There is an obvious conflict of interest with the firearms training industry, who push for such training and would benefit financially from it. But a deeper issue is that, all other considerations aside, this type of training requirement would act as a de facto restriction on people with lower incomes obtaining and using firearms for self-defense.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Venezuela Almost At Hyperinflation Stage

Steve H. Hanke writes at the Cato Institute:

Currently, official government data put Venezuela’s inflation rate at a mere 50% ...

... The implied annual inflation rate in Venezuela is actually now in the triple digits, coming in at a whopping 283% ....

What’s more, the implied monthly inflation rate has now ramped up to 36%, .... That’s dangerously close to the hyperinflation threshold of 50% per month. This is due to an accelerating depreciation of the bolivar, reflecting Venezuelan’s deteriorating economic outlook.

Problems with Using a Retreat--Social Issues (Updated)

I think its important to understand the original impetus for relocating to a retreat, or simply moving to a rural area in the first place--nuclear war. Then, after the riots of the 1960's and 70's, there arose the idea that due to social or economic upheaval, cities and suburbs would collapse into bitter war zones dominated by gangs and mobs, a la, Mad Max. While there are a few instances where rural peoples have prospered over those in cities in time of social upheaval or war, it is foolishness to believe that the gangs, looters, mobs, armies, etc., will simply walk around the small burghs and farmstead to attack the cities. To the contrary, there is a reason why people have historically fled to cities for protection.

However, my point today is not to rehash the physical or financial problems with bugging out. I've previously stated that, unless forced by flood, fire, etc., to leave, you should plan on bugging in. Numerous posts and articles discuss how, in disasters, roads will be clogged. Attempting to bug out on foot is more likely than not going to end in disaster--if you can't already live off the land like that, a disaster is not suddenly going to teach you the skills, and magically improve your conditioning and constitution to the necessary level.

My point is the social issues. Let's assume, for sake of argument, you actually make it to your retreat in or near some tiny town in the hills/forests/mountains of where-ever, and no one has appropriated your retreat and supplies. (When I was younger, there popped up on the national news for a time stories of people in L.A. who had weekend homes in the Mojave who would go out and find mobs of people having broken into their houses, just partying it up and eating their food, and stealing anything of value). Anyway, unless you are very isolated, and very self-sufficient, you will still have to deal with the locals.

I could tell you about how closed small towns are to outsiders, but I will let James Wesley Rawles explain it himself. This is from a recent posting on Survival Blog, and Rawles was responding to someone complaining about all the Mormons in Utah, and perceived favoritism. Rawles responded:

As for Mormon politics and clannishness in Utah, I don't consider that a major issue or impediment for anyone who is considering relocation to Utah or to southern Idaho. I've observed that there are are lots of non-Mormon small towns throughout the United States where newcomers get the cold shoulder socially, and where there is a de facto hiring preference for locals. That is just basic social dynamics and the We/They Paradigm in action. To illustrate: I've been a landowner living year-round in The Unnamed Western State for eight years, and faithfully attending the same local church for all of that time. But I'm still considered a relative newcomer. Many of my neighbors have lived here for three or four generations. So I can't expect to be "instantly integrated." That is just the way it is.
James Dakin gives somewhat of the opposite perspective--the oldtimer looking at the prepper coming from somewhere else:

Preppers are, obviously, preparing. Survivalists do the same. The main difference is that Preppers are preparing for the end of the Oil Age whereas Survivalists are preparing for the end of western civilization. Preppers are preparing for their luxuries to be disrupted and stockpile to make that happen as late as possible. ...  Survivalists are Mad Max. Preppers are middle class concrete fallout shelter dwellers. Survivalists are Rednecks whereas Preppers are Yuppies. ...


...  Meanwhile, Pete Prepper is tearing out the last three hairs he has trying to juggle a mortgage and a retreat land payment while still paying the minimum on the trophy wives credit card bills and liposuction surgeries. ...
 I'm not interested in delving into the semantics of "survivalist" versus "prepper." What I'm more interested in Dakin's general attitude toward the outsider setting up his retreat in Dakin's small northern Nevada town. The fact is, it is a somewhat typical resentment or dislike of the "outsider." I'm not putting Dakin down because, as Rawles acknowledges, it is part of human nature.

The point is that even with the money he has spent in the local economy and the attempt to put down roots, Rawles acknowledges that he is still somewhat of an outsider after living in the area for years. So, how much better can another prepper (or survivalist) do, especially if he only occasionally visits or uses his retreat property.

Update (11/21/2013): As noted in the comments below, Matthew Bracken has discussed this issue, and observes:
To begin: you do not want to live as a trapped and cut-off minority in what might become “enemy territory.” If you live amidst your civil war enemies, as defined and located within the CW2 Cube, you will be in mortal danger even if your immediate neighbors know, love and respect you. Those persons who have a stake in fanning the flames of CW2 (and their number shall be legion), will intentionally target those remaining “holdouts” who may be respected minority neighbors. (In this essay, minority means “the minority within a given group or area.” Blacks are the majority in some areas, and whites are the minorities in others, and so on.)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Copper Theft

A sign of the times (and the economy), copper theft has not decreased. This article, with Inforgraphics, is from April 2012, but gives a birds-eye view of the rise of copper theft. And it is still going strong. CNBC reported in July 2013:

Copper is such a hot commodity that thieves are going after the metal anywhere they can find it: an electrical power station in Wichita, Kan., or half a dozen middle-class homes in Morris Township, N.J. Even on a Utah highway construction site, crooks managed to abscond with six miles of copper wire.

Those are just a handful of recent targets across the U.S. in the $1 billion business of copper theft.

"There's no question the theft has gotten much, much worse," said Mike Adelizzi, president of the American Supply Association, a nonprofit group representing distributors and suppliers in the plumbing, heating, cooling and industrial pipe industries.

"There was a perception that copper theft slowed down after the recession, and the rise in commodity prices seemed to ease off," he said. "But that's not the case. The theft has only been growing."
 In September, Poly Steel (a metal recycling blog) noted:

From 2006 to 2008, there were close to 14,000 reported cases of copper theft. Even though prices have dropped since the recession, there have been more than 25,000 cases from 2009 to 2012.
As you’re well aware, copper is one of the more valuable types of scrap metal. About a decade ago, the price per pound of copper was only about 80 cents. In 2006, prices had increased dramatically up to $4 per pound. Nowadays cooper goes around $3 a pound. That’s less than it was right before the recession, but still dramatically higher than it was in 2003.

Right now the top states for copper theft are Illinois, California, Texas, Georgia, and Ohio. ...
... A major target for robbers has been the copper wiring in electrical power substations and utility poles.

"The typical theft is usually around 200 to 300 feet of copper wire," said Kristine Snodgrass, a spokeswoman for PSE&G, an energy company in northern New Jersey. "That's about $500 in a scrap yard."

In March, someone took off with $68,000 worth of copper from a PSE&G substation under construction in Montgomery Township, N.J., making off with several 1,000-pound spools of wire.

Chicago Bond Yields Rise

Chicago foreshadowing what going to happen all over the nation. From Investor's Business Daily:

As Chicago's public pension costs mount, the municipal bond market is starting to penalize the city for its inability to grapple with the problem. Yields on city debt have moved significantly above those of Illinois, which has the worst debt rating of any state.
Fitch Ratings on Friday announced a three-notch cut of Chicago's credit rating, following Moody's similar "super-downgrade" in July. Fitch cited the low funding ratios of the four public pension systems, which average about 32%, as well as the total unfunded liability of about $19 billion at the end of 2012. Fitch also cited the city's inability to negotiate a solution with unions or to lobby the state for relief.

"Disaster on a colossal scale"

The war in the Central African Republic:

Imagine a country with a population of 4.6 million, of whom nearly 400,000 people have fled from their homes in the past six months, driven out by war and insecurity. Imagine a country where lawlessness is rampant and disease is spreading.
Imagine a country described by its own Prime Minister as ‘an anarchy, a non-state’. Imagine a country where thousands of children are forced to join armed groups. Imagine a country whose descent into chaos and armed conflict is largely unknown in the outside world, because it is unreported.

Unfortunately there is no need to imagine such a country. It exists. It is the Central African Republic.

Once notorious for the rule of President Bokassa (1963-1979), who called it the Central African Empire and crowned himself as its Emperor, it has lapsed into obscurity and chronic instability. Its former President Francois Bozize was overthrown in a coup in March by rebels led by Michel Djotodia, the current and self-proclaimed President in this landlocked and ungoverned corner of Africa.

In the most recent violence, 60 people were reported dead in the village of Ganga, 125 miles north-east of the capital, Bangui. The village had apparently come under attack by supporters of the ousted President. Such random killings are everyday occurrences, despite the formation of self-defence groups and home guards.

The infrastructure is being destroyed. Disease is spreading unchecked, especially measles. Tens of thousands of people have sought refuge in the bush. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that 390,000 have been internally displaced, of whom about half are children. More than 60,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.

Long Forgotten Spaces

The BBC has a slideshow of abandoned buildings in the U.S.

Kuwait--First Case of MERS

The Kuwaiti government has confirmed the first case of MERS:

Kuwait's health ministry on Wednesday confirmed the country's first case of the deadly MERS coronavirus in a 47-year-old man, the official Kuna news agency reported.

"The first case of coronavirus has been discovered in the country for a citizen who was moved to the Infectious Diseases Hospital in a critical condition," Kuna quoted the health ministry as saying.
The patient suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure, Kuna and other reports from the region said, without stating his identity, laboratory that confirmed he had MERS or or how he caught it. 
The doctor who diagnosed MERS in the patient has also been infected, daily al-Rai reported, citing unnamed medical sources. 
Kuwait the fifth state in the Gulf to report cases of MERS, which has killed already killed 64 people worldwide, the majority in Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Russia's Long Term Economic Prospects

From The Economist:

A few examples illustrate the problems facing the Russian economy. Government revenues are likely to be squeezed in the coming years. Most people know that Russia is pretty dependent on natural resources. About half of government revenues come from oil and gas. That could well collapse: ...

Things do not look much better on the spending side. Today, around 13% of Russia’s population is 65 or older. By 2050 that figure will rise to 23%. That means a whole lot of pension payments (and lower tax revenues as the working population shrinks). And an ageing society will be one that spends more on healthcare: ...

Algerian Drought

Algeria is suffering a serious drought with several areas of the country having not received rain for months. One of the common factors (probably the most significant factors) in countries that have suffered from the "Arab Spring" are food prices.

Post Typhoon Chaos

Desperation gripped the Philippine islands devastated by Typhoon Haiyan today as survivors were crushed to death when thousands of desperate people stormed a rice warehouse and aid convoys were attacked by gunmen.

Five days after one of the strongest storms ever recorded slammed into cities and towns in the central Philippines, anger and frustration boiled over as and survivors panicked over delays in supplies of food, water and medicine, some digging up underground water pipes and smashing them open.

... Some areas appeared to teeter near anarchy. ANC Television said security forces exchanged fire with armed men amid widespread looting of shops and warehouses for food, water and other supplies in the village of Abucay, part of worst-hit Tacloban in Leyte province.

Aid envoys being escorted by the Philippines army are now engaged in firefights with members of the New People's Army, the militant wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, reported The Daily Telegraph.

Last night, two rebels were killed outside Matnog, a port at the southern tip of Luzon Island, after they attempted to hijack a Red Cross convoy bound for Samar.

Quantitative Easing Didn't Work

CNBC on  Andrew Huszar, a former Fed official, who apologizes for quantitative easing:

There's a real question as to whether the massive bond-buying program known as quantitative easing was worth the cost, former Federal Reserve official Andrew Huszar said Tuesday.

... Huszar apologized for his role in QE in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Monday.

"I can only say: I'm sorry, America," he wrote. "The central bank continues to spin QE as a tool for helping Main Street. But I've come to recognize the program for what it really is: the greatest backdoor Wall Street bailout of all time."

Huszar told "Fast Money" that the bond-buying program, which was supposed to increase credit availability to consumers and businesses, didn't do so.

"There was actually a net decrease in mortgage lending," he said. "In fact, until 2012 mortgage lending was at a 15-year low."

QE's de facto support of the stock market left out a sizable portion of the people it was supposed to help, Huszar added.

"Let's be honest, 50 percent of Americans don't own stock," he said. ...

Huszar also said that QE thwarted the idea of reining in banks "too big to fail."

"By virtue of reflating the markets, we've potentially taken the emphasis out of breaking up what is ultimately a banking cartel in the United States," he said, adding that "0.2 percent of banks control 70 percent of assets in this country."

Point of View Gallery

A gallery of photos of firearms showing what it would look like to sight the rifle--i.e., a view of the front sight through the rear sight. Interesting for firearms and history buffs.

China Attempting to Secure It's Access to Oil

From the National Interest:
In recent weeks, China has signed nearly $100 billion in energy contracts to increase Chinese access to the abundant petroleum resources of Central Asia. A major advantage of obtaining oil from Siberia and Central Asia is that it could travel to China overland—and thus beyond the reach of U.S. naval power.
Xi’s efforts are not limited to terra firma. He has also pressed for closer military and economic ties with Indonesia and Malaysia, the two countries which sit astride the Strait of Malacca, a crucial maritime “choke point.” Roughly 80 percent of China’s oil imports pass through this waterway, which is just two miles wide at its narrowest passage. By comparison, the oft-threatened Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has periodically promised to close to deny Persian Gulf oil to the global market, is twenty miles wide at its narrowest point.

An American naval blockade, most likely stemming from a conflict over Taiwan, is a nightmare scenario the Chinese regime clearly wishes to avoid. ...

Most observers believe China’s investment reflects the importance of petroleum access for sustaining the nation’s extraordinary economic growth ...

No doubt oil plays an important role in the Chinese economy, and by extension, the stability of its political regime. Yet this explanation overlooks a factor that is at least as important as prosperity: the crucial nature of oil for fighting modern wars.

In the past, military fuel shortages had disastrous effects on the battlefield, undermining both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan’s military efforts in World War II. Today’s conventional wisdom holds that such shortages are no longer a danger, based on the assumption that military oil consumption comprises only a tiny portion of a country’s overall petroleum demand. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I find that Chinese military fuel demand in a conventional conflict would be staggering—large enough, in fact, to strain its overall supplies. ... If a U.S. blockade cutting off oil imports coincided with a war against Taiwan, leaving China to fuel the war from domestic sources alone, China would eventually have to slash civilian aviation consumption by 75 percent to maintain a full military effort.
 Read the whole thing.

Docent's Memo (May 16, 2022)

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