Monday, June 30, 2014

More about the NSA's contempt for the Constitution

I'm sure many readers have heard about William Binney, who raised red flags about the National Security Agency's conduct and ineffectiveness soon after 9/11.  In a two-part video interview with Bill Still, he talks about the Snowden revelations and what the agency is doing.

Sobering stuff - and a call to action if ever I heard one!  Trouble is, our utterly ineffectual and/or bought-and-paid-for politicians won't take action . . .


EDITED TO ADD: The remaining three parts of Mr. Binney's interview may be found here.

Ten great photo essays about the Great War

Readers will remember our frequent visits in 2011 to the Atlantic's series of photo essays on the Second World War, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the US entry into that war in 1941.  The Atlantic's just followed that triumphant achievement with a 10-part photo essay about the First World War.  Here are just a few of their many images, reduced in size to fit this blog.

A French priest blesses an aircraft

British BL 8-inch howitzers in action on the Western Front

German A7V tank in action

US gunners with their French Model 1916 37mm. cannon in 1918

The battleship USS New Jersey in 1918

There are more images at the link, all in much larger sizes.  Great reading for history and military buffs, with many photographs I'd never seen before.


The Great War and our modern economy

David Stockman has two excellent articles on how the First World War changed and affected the world economy over the past century.  He brings to light many points and issues that I'd never seen connected in that way before.  Here are a couple of excerpts from the first article.

In fact, 1914 is the fulcrum of modern history. It is the year the Fed opened-up for business just as the carnage in northern France closed-down the prior magnificent half-century era of liberal internationalism and honest gold-backed money. So it was the Great War’s terrible aftermath—–a century of drift toward statism, militarism and fiat money—-that was actually triggered by the events at Sarajevo.

Unfortunately, modern historiography wants to keep the Great War sequestered in a four-year span of archival curiosities about battles, mustard gas and monuments to the fallen. But the opposite historiography is more nearly the truth. The assassins at Sarajevo triggered the very warp and woof of the hundred years which followed.

The Great War was self-evidently an epochal calamity, especially for the 20 million combatants and civilians who perished for no reason that is discernible in any fair reading of history, or even unfair one. Yet the far greater calamity is that  Europe’s senseless fratricide of 1914-1918 gave birth to all the great evils of the 20th century— the Great Depression, totalitarian genocides, Keynesian economics,  permanent  warfare states, rampaging central banks and the exceptionalist-rooted follies of America’s global imperialism.

There's more at the link.

In the second article, he continues and expands on this theme.

... the Great Depression was the step-child of the Great War.  American entry had unnecessarily extended it; had greatly amplified its destructive impact on the liberal international order; and had contributed a witch’s brew of Wilsonian nostrums to a Carthaginian peace that laid the planking for a new world war.  FDR then delivered the coup de grace,  extinguishing  the last hope for resumption and insuring that autarky, revanchism and rearmament would hurtle the world to an even greater eruption of carnage, and an even more debilitating rendition of the Warfare State.

World War II soon delivered another blow to the old-time fiscal religion. Not only did that vast expansion of war production fuel the illusion that New Deal statism had alleviated an endemic crisis of capitalism, but it also became heralded as a splendid exercise in Keynesian deficit finance when, in fact, it was nothing of the kind.

The national debt did soar from less than 50 percent of GDP in 1938 to nearly 120 percent at the 1945 peak. But ... the 1945 ratio was an artifact of a command and control war economy which had banished civilian goods including new cars, houses and most consumer durables, and tightly rationed everything else including sugar, butter, meat, tires, shoes, shirts, bicycles, peanut brittle and candied yams.

With retail shelves empty the household savings rate soared from 4 percent in 1938-1939 to an astounding 35 percent of disposable income by the end of the war.

Consequently, the Keynesians have never acknowledged the single most salient statistic about the war debt: namely, that the debt burden actually fell during the war, with the ratio of total credit market debt to GDP declining from 210 percent in 1938 to 190 percent at the 1945 peak!

This obviously happened because household and business debt was virtually eliminated by the wartime savings spree; households paid off what debts they had left after the liquidation of the 1930s depression and business generally had no ability to borrow except for war production. Thus, the private debt ratio plunged from 150 percent of GDP to barely 60 percent, thereby making massive headroom in the nation’s bloated savings pool for the temporary surge of public debt.

. . .

Compare that to the opposite circumstances of January 2013. Urged on by the Keynesian stimulators and election-minded “progressive” politicians, Obama signed a permanent extension of the unaffordable Bush tax cuts for the “bottom” 98 percent of households at a cost of $4 trillion in added national debt over the next decade. But unlike 1945, this came at a time when household, business and financial sector debt was 260 percent of GDP, not 60 percent.

Again, more at the link.

Both articles are crammed with historical facts and a cogent analysis of how they worked together to shape and form our modern economic crisis.  IMHO, they're essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how we got into this handbasket - and how to get out again.  Very highly recommended.


Advertising policy? Or social manipulation strategy?

Courtesy of a link from Jeff Soyer, I note that Google is about to ban advertisements for various firearm-related items from its Web search engine.  They're classifying all of them as 'Dangerous Products'.  Here's a screen capture of the relevant portion of their Web page (click the image below for a larger, more readable view).

Note that all the products whose advertising they intend to ban are fully legal.  They're not being banned because of their legality, but because of Google's own philosophy, or values, or whatever you want to call it.  In doing so, they're going to affect millions of people who clearly don't share their philosophy or values - but they don't care.  They're going to impose them on us whether we like it or not.  Furthermore, it's obvious that some of the products they list aren't dangerous at all in and of themselves.  A telescopic sight is no more dangerous than an actual telescope or a pair of binoculars.  It's merely a magnifying device. 

I think this is an example of corporate social manipulation.  I suspect that the top brass at Google think that if they can reduce or limit any mention of such items, they'll slowly but surely accustom people to never thinking about them - or, if they do, thinking of them in terms of the 'Dangerous Products' heading that Google has assigned to them.  If you can manipulate people's thinking in that way, you may eventually persuade a majority of them to vote for stricter gun control - even the modification or repeal of the Second Amendment.

That's what I think is really behind this change in policy.  Am I seeing something that isn't there?  You tell me.


Economic news

There's lots of food for thought this morning.

The Bank for International Settlements has released its annual report.  It warns bluntly that things are out of balance.  (Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.)

Investors, desperate to earn returns when official interest rates are at or near record lows, have been driving up the prices of stocks and other assets with little regard for risk, the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, said in its annual report published on Sunday.

. . .

The organization, which reflects a widespread view among central bankers that they are bearing more than their share of the burden of fixing the global economy, often uses its annual reports to send a message to political leaders, commercial bankers and investors. But the B.I.S.’s language in the 2014 edition was unusually direct, as was its warning that the world could be hurtling toward a new crisis.

. . .

The B.I.S. report said debt levels in many emerging markets, as well as Switzerland, “are well above the threshold that indicates potential trouble.”

. . .

The overall, somewhat gloomy message from the central bankers was that the world is drunk on easy money and has already forgotten the lessons of recent years.

“The temptation to postpone adjustment can prove irresistible, especially when times are good and financial booms sprinkle the fairy dust of illusory riches,” the report said. “The consequence is a growth model that relies too much on debt, both private and public, and which over time sows the seeds of its own demise.”

There's more at the link.  Highly recommended reading.  (For those with the time and the interest to read it in full, the BIS's report may be found here.)

Zero Hedge has a very useful selection of quotes from the report, which I also highly recommend reading in full.  Here are a few to whet your appetite.

  • Overall, it is hard to avoid the sense of a puzzling disconnect between the markets’ buoyancy and underlying economic developments globally.
  • Instead of adding to productive capacity, large firms prefer to buy back shares or engage in mergers and acquisitions. And despite lacklustre long-term growth prospects, debt continues to rise. There is even talk of secular stagnation.
  • In no small measure, the causes of the post-crisis malaise are those of the crisis itself – they lie in a collective failure to get to grips with the financial cycle. Addressing this failure calls for adjustments to policy frameworks – fiscal, monetary and prudential – to ensure a more symmetrical response across booms and busts. And it calls for moving away from debt as the main engine of growth. Otherwise, the risk is that instability will entrench itself in the global economy and room for policy manoeuvre will run out.

Again, more at the link - and well worth your time.  I note with a certain grim sense of vindication - but no pleasure at all - that the BIS is echoing what some economists, commenters and market watchers (including yours truly) have been saying for years.

On a somewhat puzzling note, self-styled 'plutocrat' Nick Hanauer warns his fellow super-rich that "The Pitchforks Are Coming" for people like them.  Here's an excerpt.

At the same time that people like you and me are thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history, the rest of the country—the 99.99 percent—is lagging far behind. The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 percent controlled about 8 percent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 percent shared about 18 percent. Today the top 1 percent share about 20 percent; the bottom 50 percent, just 12 percent.

But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.

And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

More at the link.  I suspect his trade union links and progressive views indicate someone far to my left on the political and economic spectrum, so I'm hesitant to accept his views unconditionally.  Also, I'm not sure about pitchforks, or even bullets.  In the event of a serious economic and political crisis, I suspect most of us will be too busy trying to keep our own bodies and souls together to worry about plutocrats . . . unless they try to get in our way.  That would be unwise.  (Besides, in a serious crisis it probably won't matter how much money you have.  You can't eat it, you can't defend yourself with it, and you can't run carrying enough of it.  If you try to hire others to do those things for you and get you what you need, you're going to find them competing with those who need such things for simple survival - a much stronger motivation than money.)


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Safely home

Miss D. and I enjoyed our last morning at LibertyCon.  I had a final panel at 10 a.m., where authors living in Tennessee got together to introduce ourselves to each other and potential readers and discuss how living in this state had influenced our writing.  I pointed out that having lived here for only a few years, I couldn't say the location as such had influenced me greatly - but that the discovery of Tennessee moonshine had definitely had an effect.  The audience seemed to enjoy the thought.  Another suggestion was that "y'all" should be officially adopted as a standard English term.  I pointed out that a 'yawl' was a type of yacht, which aroused suitable amusement.  Someone challenged me by pointing out that "y'all" wasn't spelt with a 'w', but I responded that it was certainly pronounced with one!

We left Chattanooga as soon as my panel was over, and headed north.  The drive was uneventful except for a real gully-washer of a rainstorm halfway back.  It was so heavy that traffic slowed down to 30-40 mph, and even at that speed with wipers going full blast visibility was difficult.  One poor motorcyclist had stopped beneath a bridge, and was standing disconsolately next to his bike being sprayed with water by every passing vehicle.  I felt very sorry for him, but I'm glad there was a bridge to shelter him.  It would have been very unsafe for him to be on his bike in the middle of the cloudburst.

We arrived home to find our cat alternately snubbing us for our heinous crime of abandoning her to the tender mercies of our housemate and his family for five days, and snuggling up to us, purring, trying to inveigle milk and treats out of us.  She's been getting progressively more snugglier and less aloof as we unpack and settle down.

We're exhausted after a hectic few days, so I'll bid you all goodnight and head for bed.  I'll put up more posts in the morning.

Sleep well, y'all.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Facebook users, how does it feel to be a guinea-pig?

That's clearly what you are in Facebook's opinion - experimental subjects, just like rats in a laboratory.  (Bold underlined text is my emphasis.)

Over 600,000 Facebook users have taken part in a psychological experiment organised by the social media company, without their knowledge.

Facebook altered the tone of the users' news feed to highlight either positive or negative posts from their friends, which were seen on their news feed.

They then monitored the users' response, to see whether their friends' attitude had an impact on their own.

. . .

Facebook were able to carry out the experiment because all users have to tick a box agreeing to their terms and conditions. These include "internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement."

In the study, the authors point out that they stayed within the remit of the agreement by using a machine to pick out positive and negative posts, meaning no user data containing personal information was actually viewed by human researchers.

There's more at the link.

I'm sure you're happy to know that agreeing to such an innocuous-sounding clause in Facebook's service contract might expose you to being the uninformed subject of psychological experiments.  Is that creepy, or what?  It's yet another reason why, IMHO, no-one in their right minds should be on Facebook at all.  They treat you like a laboratory rat in so many ways that it's become almost dehumanizing.


LibertyCon report

So far, apart from the hotel, the 27th annual LibertyCon has been a very enjoyable experience.  I've done two book-signing sessions, one general introduction session, one panel with Miss D. and one general panel, and I have a final session for local authors tomorrow morning.  I've enjoyed the interaction with readers, and I've definitely noticed a bounce in my book sales from convention attenders.  As of the time of writing, my latest book is third from the top on's list of 'Hot New Releases in Military Science Fiction' and seventh in 'Hot New Releases in Space Opera Science Fiction'.  Yesterday the new book topped 1,000 copies sold.  All that good news makes me very happy.

(On the other hand, there are some excellent restaurants in Chattanooga, and both Miss D. and I are feeling the effects of over-indulging in some very tasty meals.  We're going to have to go on a post-Con diet when we get home!)

It's been particularly nice to interact with other authors.  I'm finding myself fully accepted as 'one of the tribe' now that I've demonstrated success in publishing five books in just over a year, and selling a decent number of them.  For the general panel this morning, 'Rockets and Ray Guns: What Makes Space Opera Work?', I found myself in the company of several best-selling authors, including a long-standing favorite writer, David Drake.  I was able to thank him for the years of reading pleasure his books have given me, and present him with a copy of my latest book (in which one of the units, Drake's Regiment, is named for him).  I had to tell him that the eponymous unit was wiped out in the book, but he just laughed and said life was like that sometimes.  Nice guy.

I have a final panel tomorrow morning, at which local authors will get together to introduce themselves to each other and prospective readers;  then it's hi-ho for home.  It's been fun, but it'll be nice to get back to our own comfortable bed tomorrow night . . . and the cat who's waiting for us to lie down on it.  In our absence she's been deprived of her usual fun and games hunting hands and feet under the covers, so she'll have a lot of excess energy to work off.


Friday, June 27, 2014

A century-old murder solved?

I was intrigued to read that the notorious 1909 murder of New York City police officer Joseph Petrosino may have been solved at last.  The Telegraph reports:

Police in the Italian island of Sicily believe they may have solved the century-old mob murder of a New York detective.

Joe Petrosino, a New York police officer, was shot dead during a mission to the island to collect evidence.

The revelation coincided with the arrest of 95 suspected members of two clans involved in extortion rackets in the island's capital Palermo.

After two years of investigations, the arrests went after members of two mafia groups that have long operated in the western part of Palermo, the island's capital and largest city, court documents showed.

. . .

To a Sicilian mob decimated by arrests and seeking to rebuild, criminal pedigree is important, as the investigation demonstrated when it wiretapped a 2013 conversation between two suspected young mobsters talking in their car.

In the details of the conversation, which features in the 872-page arrest warrant published on Monday, one of the mobsters, Domenico Palazzotto, said his family had celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the 1909 murder of Italian-American New York policeman Lieutenant Giuseppe "Joe" Petrosino.

Petrosino had come to Sicily to investigate the mafia, then known as the "Black Hand" in New York, and was shot dead in a magnolia-shaded Palermo square near the port almost immediately after his arrival.

"We have been mobsters for 100 years," says Palazzotto, 33, according to a wiretap planted by police in his Audi A3.

"My father's uncle, whose name was Paolo Palazzotto ... was the first to kill a cop in Palermo ... Joe Petrosino, an American cop," he says.

Palazzotto shot Petrosino on behalf of his boss, Don Vito Cascio Ferro, the assassin's great-nephew said.

There's more at the link.

It seems that Lt. Petrosino believed the Sicilian Mafia would not dare kill a police officer, just as their American cousins would not do so.  He was wrong.


The dawn of 20th-century genocide

Tomorrow, 28th June 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by a Serbian nationalist.  The incident led directly to the outbreak of World War I.

 It can legitimately be argued that the event also foreshadowed and ultimately engendered all the genocides of the 20th century.  Consider:

  • Communism took over Russia after the fall of the Tsar towards the end of World War I, and all the massacres for which that political creed has been responsible can therefore be blamed on that event;
  • The Armenian Genocide in Turkey began in 1915, shortly after that country entered World War I, and continued after Turkey's defeat by the Allies and the collapse of its corrupt government;
  • Germany's defeat in World War I and its humiliation in the Treaty of Versailles led more or less directly to the Nazi assumption of power in the 1930's, the Nazi domination of Europe during World War II, and the Holocaust;
  • The redrawing of Middle Eastern boundaries along colonial lines, irrespective of tribal or ethnic realities, plus increased Jewish immigration to what was then Palestine after World War I (and later after World War II, when the survivors of the Holocaust went there), sparked intense internecine conflict in the Arab world.  Massacres over religious and racial differences became more common.  In the final analysis, the post-World War I division of the Middle East is at the root of the present crisis in Iraq;
  • Japan fought alongside the Western Allies during World War I, and against them during World War II.  Her deep suspicion (amounting to paranoia) about Western intentions, coupled with the militarism encouraged by her local successes, gave rise to her occupation of much of China during the 1930's, much of Asia and the Pacific region during the early 1940's, and many atrocities committed by her forces.  Again, World War I was a seminal influence in this litany of tragedies.

Gavrilo Princip has a lot to answer for . . .


That's about the size of it

I found this image over at Mike Miles' place (site often NSFW).

Can anyone doubt that most Americans now view the IRS in this light - as a partisan, biased, politically motivated agency that serves the Democratic Party rather than the nation?

I think this is an opportunity for those who favor the so-called 'flat tax' or 'FairTax' proposals.  Quite apart from the appeal of such ideas in other ways, their simplicity means that the IRS as we know it could simply be disbanded.  There would be no need for so great an army of regulators to wade through the morass of the current tax code, decide what individuals or corporations owe to the state, and enforce its collection.  The process would be greatly simplified - if not to the point that the IRS was no longer needed at all, at least to the point where most of its bureaucrats could be discharged, leaving only a 'rump department' of essential personnel.

I think many Americans will find that prospect eminently desirable in the light of the corruption that's been revealed in that organization.  Do they really expect us to believe that the e-mails of no less than seven people have all been irretrievably lost - even when they had a contract to back up their e-mail servers?  As George Will so memorably put it, "Religions have been founded on less".  Frankly, I don't think they expect us to believe it.  Rather, they don't care whether we believe it or not.  They're going to stick to their story and defy anyone to prove them liars.  They know the present Administration has 'got their backs';  therefore, they're not afraid of any potential consequences.

I wonder how many of the IRS's executives will seek a pre-emptive Presidential pardon prior to President Obama leaving office?  I can think of several people who'd be well advised to do so, lest their current and former misdeeds come back to haunt them under a more honest Administration.  (Of course, that won't help the thousands of honest IRS employees who must bitterly resent being made into political pawns rather than professional personnel.  They're as much victims of this scandal as the rest of us.)

Nor is the IRS the only agency to exhibit such brazen, uninhibited lawlessness.  As Mark Fitzgibbons points out:

Too many government bureaucrats believe that they are not merely above the law, but that they are the law. They are smug because they are beyond the reach of real consequences.

. . .

The IRS scandal highlights how bureaucrats violate constitutional and statutory restrictions. The problem has risen to epidemic proportions at the federal level, and has even filtered into state and local bureaucracies.

. . .

Given the totality of circumstances and even with America’s presumption of innocence for all, the IRS is objectively on the threshold of obstruction of Congress.

The breadth of what we already know about the IRS scandal highlights the level of law-breaking and contempt for the rule of law within government agencies borne of a long-developing breakdown of government accountability.

Law professor Jonathan Turley describes the larger problem this way: “Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.”

Courts long ago abdicated proper judicial review over government agency discretion and overreach. Now we have a Justice Department that is ideologically opposed to enforcing the law when government acts illegally.

Congressional oversight can no longer control the scope and depth of the problem. Bureaucracies are so big with so much discretion that elected officials are overwhelmed by the Frankenstein monsters of their own making.

Attempts to limit government agencies through the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, or closing loopholes in laws such as the Freedom of Information Act are about as effective as peashooters against a Death Star battle station.

Bureaucrats can be smug because they lack consequences. They have no “skin in the game.”

. . .

The way to control this epidemic of government law-breaking is to allow citizen victims to sue, and legislate personally liability for bureaucrats guilty of willfully illegal conduct.

There's more at the link.



Thursday, June 26, 2014

What happens when you don't train enough replacements

I note with interest that Japanese airlines are going to have to cancel thousands of flights this year because many of that country's older pilots are being forced to retire - and there aren't enough younger ones to replace them.  The same problem will affect US airlines to an increasing extent in the near future.

Like it or not, I think this will drive the development of automatically piloted aircraft to an ever-increasing extent.  Just as automatically piloted cars are now being tested, so expect this technology to extend to the airlines sooner rather than later.  At present each major commercial flight has two pilots.  I expect that within ten to twenty years, technology will have developed to the point that each flight will have a single pilot who's basically along for the ride.  He'll be there as a backup to the automated technology that's actually flying the plane - or as a backup to a pilot sitting on the ground somewhere, flying the aircraft by remote control, just as is now common with military UAV's.  Within another decade or two, I expect to see the first fully automated flights, without a pilot at all.

That's a scary prospect at present, with UAV's having recorded a far higher accident rate than manned aircraft.  However, like it or not, if there aren't enough pilots, this is the way the airline industry will have to go.


Yep - those are economic red lights, sure enough

Last week I published two articles dealing with our economic decline, which appears to be growing more precipitous by the day.

Yesterday came the news that the revised figures for US Gross Domestic Product during the first quarter of 2014 fell by a massive 2.9% (after being initially announced as much better than that).  Make no mistake - this is an economic disaster.  The pundits are already trying to claim that it's the result of bad winter weather, and that things will be better next quarter - but any improvement will probably be the result of deliberate data massaging.

I can't predict when the next crash will come.  There are all sorts of factors - not least among them being increasingly desperate politicians - that can and will influence events in the short term.  However, in the absence of massive inflation to eat away the present value of our indebtedness so that it can be paid off with increasingly worthless dollars, it's now a mathematical certainty that we're facing a crash sooner rather than later.  The cycle of debt and credit has gone about as far as it can go.  It's downhill all the way from here.

In particular, note Charles Hugh Smith's take on 'The Coming Global Generational Adjustment'.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

The Grand Narrative of the U.S. economy is a global petro-dollar empire that has substituted financialization for authentic, sustainable economic expansion.

. . .

Large cohorts generate their own self-referential feedback loops. A large cohort of home buyers drives up real estate as demand exceeds supply, and those who get in early are handsomely rewarded. Those seeking similar returns provide the fuel for further advances. This is the basic story of housing from 1974 to 2006 and the stock market from 1981-2014, as the Baby Boom cohort bought houses and saved for retirement via stock and bond mutual funds.

As the Boomer cohort sells its homes, bonds and stocks, supply will exceed demand and prices will decline, especially if household capital and access to credit are also declining. This selling cycle will also be self-reinforcing.

Central banks have masked this generational selling by becoming buyers of last resort. The Fed has purchased trillions of dollars of Treasury bonds and home mortgages, to push interest rates to zero and prop up a generationally unsustainable housing bubble. But central bank buying of assets to prop up valuations also generates unanticipated blowback: To quote songwriter Jackson Browne: Don't think it won't happen just because it hasn't happened yet.

Mainstream financial pundits were crowing that household assets recently topped $80 trillion in the U.S. Inflate bubbles in real estate, bonds and stocks, and it's not surprising that nominal net worth goes through the roof.

As a back-of-the-envelope calculation, I reckon $40 trillion or half of this sum is phantom, meaning that it will vanish into thin air when these enormous asset bubbles deflate.

These bubbles are all based on one-off conditions that cannot be repeated: the global boom fueled by a now-maturing China, the central banks pushing interest rates to zero and "solving" a credit crisis of phantom collateral by issuing an unprecedented flood of new credit and buying trillions of dollars of assets at bubble valuations, and a surge of new fossil fuels from Africa and North America.

The reality is that promises made two generations ago were made in circumstances that were not as sustainable as those making the promises believed. Extending linear projections in a non-linear world inevitably generates wrong conclusions. Promises made in one set of rosy circumstances are no longer valid in an entirely different and much less rosy set of circumstances. The citizenry will have to adjust to these systemic realities, and demanding we wuz promised is guaranteed to lead directly to failure.

All sorts of promises, explicit and implicit, were issued to win votes. All the promises are now empty, and we might as deal with this reality head-on--if we can muster up the almost-lost ability to deal with reality rather than rely on fantasy/wishful thinking.

There's more at the link.  Highly recommended reading.

If you are depending on the value 'locked into' your home, or investments, or other assets to fund your retirement (or future lifestyle), you're in trouble.  I've said before that if I had property, I'd sell it now for the best price I could get, not holding out for top dollar, because I expect the housing market to collapse again in the near future - probably worse than it did in 2007-08.  I've seen nothing to make me change that prognostication.  Furthermore, if you expect Social Security to fund your retirement and Medicare to look after your health costs, you're living in cloud cuckoo land.  There simply isn't enough money available for that to happen.  Everything you contributed over the past few decades to those programs has been wasted on other things by a spendthrift government.  You've got very little hope of getting much of it back.  See Charles Hugh Smith's take on this subject if you're not convinced - it's worth reading.

Folks, I think this is the calm before the storm.  Make sure you've got a hole to crawl into when it hits.


Need computer guru help, please

I'm trying to solve a friend's problem, and need some computer advice, please.

She has an Acer Chromebook computer, which has no built-in operating system, but runs off the Web using cloud computing and apps for all its software and data.  She would like to be able to run local applications such as LibreOffice, and also store data locally (e.g. large quantities of music, etc.).

I think it should be perfectly possible to load a variant of Linux onto her Chromebook, but would that also negate its use as a Chrome computer?  Which variant of Linux would work best on a lower-capacity system like this?  Can one have both systems (Linux and Chrome) on the same computer in a dual-boot configuration?  Has anyone 'rooted' a Chromebook to convert it to a Linux box, and if so, can you provide any helpful hints on how to go about it?  Can one plug in an external hard drive to use as local storage?

I'll be very grateful for your help.  Thanks in advance.


Jerry Seinfeld offers online etiquette advice

Courtesy of Wired magazine, here are some helpful hints from Jerry Seinfeld.


Don't stay at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel

For the second year in a row, Miss D. and I are staying at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, where LibertyCon is being held.  Also for the second year in a row, I'm already infuriated with the hotel.

Last year we had a catalog of errors and problems, ranging from an elevator that didn't work properly, through plumbing problems in the bathroom, extremely uncomfortable mattresses, and a carpet that looked suspiciously like it hadn't been properly deep cleaned for a very long time.  (When you daren't walk on it barefoot because your feet end up stained, that's a bad, bad sign.)  All this while being charged well over $100 per day as the 'special convention rate'.  It wasn't worth half that amount.

Yesterday we arrived and checked in, only to find out that neither of the key cards we'd been issued worked in our room's door.  We had to stand around in the corridor until a hotel employee (who, to be fair, did his best to be helpful) arranged to change us to another room, let us in with his master key card, and had new door cards delivered to us.  Unfortunately, the new room proved to have problems of its own - the paint on the ceiling over the shower is cracked and peeling, there's mildew in the corners, and the tub and surrounding enclosure have clearly been modified and repaired over the years, resulting in unsightly patches.  To cap it all, the shower curtain rail is rusty.

Paying over $150 a day (by the time all charges and taxes are included) is frankly ridiculous for such a low-quality room and the sort of problems we've encountered two years in a row.  No matter that LibertyCon will be held in the hotel's conference facilities - this is completely unacceptable.  I could pay less than a third of this room rate somewhere like a Knights Inn, or slightly more than that at a Motel 6 or Super 8, and get a far cleaner and more comfortable room - not to mention one where everything works!

I can only suggest that if you need a hotel room, or want to hold a convention in Chattanooga, TN, you should avoid the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel like the plague.  I'll be making that point to the organizers of LibertyCon as well;  and if we come to next year's LibertyCon, I'll be looking for a more comfortable place to stay from which to commute to the convention.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Made it safely to Chattanooga

Miss D. and I have arrived safely in Chattanooga for this year's LibertyCon.  We met up with Sarah Hoyt, her husband and sons, and went off to a Greek restaurant to stuff our faces indulge in some fine dining.  A very good time was had by all.  Some other Con attendees were also there - looks like we're not the only ones to arrive a couple of days early for socialization purposes.

After a very late evening of most enjoyable conversation, catching up on each others' news, we're going to turn in and catch up on some Z's.  I'll try to put up another post in the morning.

Sleep well, y'all.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

In Memoriam: Louis Awerbuck

It's with great personal sadness that I learned this evening of the death of Louis Awerbuck, soldier, fighter, firearms instructor, and a remarkable human being.

Louis was a soldier in South Africa, and a good one.  That's where I met him for the first time.  Most Americans who've benefited from his firearms and tactical instruction never learned much about what he did there, but it was 'good work'.  He came to the USA with the assistance of the late Jeff Cooper, who considered Louis one of the top half-dozen firearms instructors in the world.

If you had the pleasure of knowing Louis, there's not much I can tell you about him.  If you didn't, you'll learn a lot from these interviews with and/or articles about him.

In that last interview, in 2008, Louis said:

LA: I really don’t care about my death. I’ve had a hundred years packed into sixty. Why would I? I’ve got nothing to live for. I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ve got no Achilles heel. I’m not the average person. I’m an exception to the rule. The average person— wife and kids, lineage, wants to see their grandchildren play football or through college or whatever. Fine. I’m the end of the line. I’m the end of the blood line, completely.

Q: Most adults wrestle with some sort of fear or anxiety. It can be their financial well-being, their health, or their personal safety. What do you fear most in life?

LA: Probably physical incapacitation, if I were cognizant of it. Dependency, physical dependency, and being cognizant of it. Having Alzheimer’s and knowing I’ve got Alzheimer’s and not being able to [pauses] end it. That’s it. I don’t fear anything else because … Mr. Roosevelt said, “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” I don’t want to be dependent on anybody else. There is nothing else.

You can also read a very powerful post by Louis here.  He didn't mince his words about the things that matter.  He also wrote or co-authored a number of books that are still available.

Louis had been in poor health for some time.  He will no longer have to fear becoming dependent.  I'm glad for his sake his sufferings are now over . . . but he'll be sorely missed.

Rus in vrede, ou maat. Jy't dit verdien.


A wingtip ride aboard a MiG-31 interceptor

Here's a fascinating video filmed using GoPro miniature video cameras mounted in special housings aboard Mikoyan MiG-31 interceptors of the Russian Air Force.  You can see details of how it was done at this LiveJournal page.  I highly recommend watching the video in full-screen mode.

The MiG-31 is getting long in the tooth (it entered service in 1981), but it's been upgraded recently and is expected to continue in service until 2028, with a successor aircraft entering service before then.  This may be the Sukhoi PAK FA, or a new MiG design allegedly designated the MiG-41.


Off to LibertyCon!

Miss D. and I will be heading out to Chattanooga, TN tomorrow to attend LibertyCon.  I'll be participating in several panels, and she'll be co-presenting one of them with me.  If any readers plan to be there, make sure to stop by and say hello.  (If you want to know more about the con, this is a good place to start.  It's a fun gathering.)

Blogging will be lighter during the convention, for obvious reasons.  I'll try to post at least once per day, more if possible, but everything will depend on con activities, panels, etc.  There's also the LibertyCon Shoot on Friday - this must be the only SF/book convention with its own organized shooting excursion!  Much fun is had by all.  I'm not taking much this year, as I have a panel early that afternoon and have to get back in time for it.  The others will probably be busy well into the afternoon.

Thanks to everyone for all you've done to make the past year a publication success story for me.  It's why I'm going to this year's con as an author/presenter, not just a visitor.  I'll do my best to keep dishing up interesting, entertaining reading for you in the year to come.


"The US Has Unfinished Business in Ukraine and Iraq"

That's the title of an interesting and pragmatic article from Stratfor.  Here's an excerpt, republished with permission of Stratfor.

When we consider Ukraine and Iraq, they are of course radically different, but they have a single thing in common: To the extent that the United States has any interest in the regions, it cannot act with direct force. Instead, it must act with indirect force by using the interests and hostilities of the parties on the ground to serve as the first line of containment. If the United States intervenes at all, it will do so by supporting factions that are of interest to Washington. In Ukraine, this would mean supporting the former Soviet satellite states in Central Europe. In Iraq, it would mean applying sufficient force to prevent the annihilation of any of the country's three major groups, but not enough force to attempt to resolve the conflict.

Americans like to have a moral foundation for their policy; in the cases of Ukraine and Iraq, the foundation is simply a necessity. It is not possible for the United States to use direct force to impose a solution on Ukraine or Iraq. This is not because war cannot be a solution to evil, as World War II was. It is because the cost, the time of preparation and the bloodshed of effective war can be staggering. At times it must be undertaken, but those times are rare. Constant warfare with insufficient forces to impose political solutions in countries where the United States has secondary interests is a prescription for the worst of both worlds: a war that ends in defeat.

Limiting wars to those that are in the national interest and can be won eliminates many wars. It substitutes a much more complex, but no less realist and active, approach to the world. Underwriting nations that find themselves in a position of having to act in a way that supports American interests is one step. Another is creating economic bonds with nations that will shape their behavior. There are other tools besides war.

The simultaneous fighting in Ukraine and Iraq proves two things. First, the United States cannot avoid global involvement because in the end, the globe will involve itself with the United States. Becoming involved earlier is cheaper. Second, global involvement and large-scale warfare are not the same thing. The situation in Ukraine will play itself out, as will the one in Iraq. It will give the United States enough time to determine whether and how much it cares about the outcome. It can then slowly begin asserting itself, minimizing risks and maximizing rewards.

This is not a new strategy for the United States, which has vacillated from pretending it is immune from the world to believing it can reshape it. Dwight Eisenhower was an example of a U.S. president who avoided both of those views and managed to avoid involvement in any major war, which many would have thought unlikely. He was far from a pacifist and far from passive. He acted when he needed to, using all means necessary. But as a general, he understood that while the threat of war was essential to credibility, there were many other tools that allowed Washington to avoid war and preserve the republic.

Eisenhower was a subtle and experienced man. It is one thing to want to avoid war; it is another to know how to do it. Eisenhower did not refuse to act, but instead acted decisively and with minimal risk. Obama's speech at West Point indicated hesitancy toward war. It will be interesting to see whether he has mastered the other tools he will need in dealing with Ukraine and Iraq. It helps to have been a warrior to know how to avoid war.

There's much more at the link.  Interesting and recommended reading.


An amusing vignette from World War II

While researching something for a book, I came across this interesting story from World War II.

Sgt.-Pilot Sydney Cohen, RAF, who received the surrender of Lampedusa when he made a forced landing on the island, wants to be a sheep farmer in Australia after the war.

Cohen, who is aged 22, is a Londoner. The crew of the warship from which he flew his Walrus Amphibian plane, now calls him the "King of Lampedusa".

Walrus amphibious aircraft being launched from a cruiser's catapult

Describing his exploit, Cohen said he was not sure when he landed whether the island was Lampedusa because his compass was not working. An Italian officer wearing a large plumed hat, shorts, and high boots led a knot of men waving white' sheets to the plane.

"When I realised they were offering to surrender it was a bit of a shaker," Cohen continued, "but I put on a bold front and asked to see the commandant of the island. I tried to explain that I was not an emissary. They asked me to return to Malta to announce their surrender.

"Then another raid started and I was taken to the commandant in the operations room 75ft below the ground. There the Italians gave me a scrap of paper on which was written their offer to surrender.

"When my plane had been refuelled I took the surrender chit to an American camp in Tunisia. I still have the surrender document. It is a grand souvenir."

The formal surrender of the Island was negotiated by Lieut. Corbett, who went ashore from the destroyer Lookout. Within two minutes of his landing the Italians accepted unconditional surrender and Lieut. Corbett signalled a company of Coldstream Guards in a landing craft to come ashore.

There's more at the link.

The surrender of Lampedusa took place during Operation Corkscrew, the occupation of Pantellaria and nearby islands prior to the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943.  That must have been one of the few occasions - perhaps the only one - when a lone NCO, who was only there 'by accident' in the first place thanks to technical difficulties with his plane, accepted the surrender of an entire garrison!


Monday, June 23, 2014

Rockets galore!

From the oddly named "Tai-wiki-widbee" via a link at C. W. Swanson's place, here's a video clip from a rocket festival held recently in Thailand.  The YouTube version posted here doesn't give any details in English, but comments on the LiveLeak version state:

These are not bamboo rockets well the stick part is but the main body of the rockets is blue plastic water pipe , the first spinning item has bamboo around the edge but the main body is usually steel , all this is a celebration to mark the end of the summer and start of the wet or rainy season , villages and town compete to see whos rocket can stay in the air the longest and thereby please the gods the most.

. . .

This festival is usually held before the rainy season in May, Both held in north eastern Thailand and Laos. One of the bigger ones held in Yasothon, Thailand. Also seen in the vid is if your rocket does not make it you get dumped in the mud lake... hence the guys covered in mud.

Whether the comments are accurate or not, it looks like a lot of fun.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode - but with the volume turned down to minimize the irritating music and commentary.

It seems everyone enjoyed themselves, even when they had to run like hell!


Mashed roads?

I had to laugh at this report.

A busy road in North Yorkshire was turned into an “ice rink” after a lorry overturned – spilling its entire load of instant mashed potato.

The heavy-goods vehicle crashed at around 3.30pm on Saturday on a section of the A64, North Yorkshire, causing perilous driving conditions as the mashed potato began to swell.

The road was shut down in both directions at the Castle Junction for six hours.

. . .

A police spokesman said: "Instant mash is covering the road and cars have skidded as a result of the mash swelling up."

There's more at the link.

If several vehicles collide after skidding on a road full of mashed potato, would that be a new version of 'bangers and mash'?  (For those who don't know the English term, see here.)


Deflation? Or hyper-inflation?

Grant Williams' latest newsletter has a fascinating (and deeply worrying) article about the pent-up effects of quantitative easing on both present deflationary tendencies and possible future hyperinflation.  Money quote (you should pardon the expression):

Essentially, the central bank heads all around the globe are engaged in a must-win confidence game. They HAVE to make people believe that everything is under control and getting better, BUT at the same time they must ALSO make them believe that the accommodative policies currently in place will be here, essentially, forever (forever in market-time is normally about 18 months to two years).

If the general consensus becomes that they are wrong about either of those statements (or, God forbid, both) then they — and by extension, we — are in for a world of hurt.

On the other hand, if they do manage to convince people they are right and that they will ultimately be successful, then the inflation genie will burst forth from the bottle in which it has been imprisoned as the great credit deflation runs its course; and with the massive amount of kindling heaped on the fire in the shape of QE, the conflagration will be enormous.

But just in case you were still harbouring (yes I put a u in harbouring. I'm English. That's how we roll) a misguided faith in official CPI statistics, check this out:

There's much more at the link.

I think this article is a must-read for anyone seriously interested in their economic future.  There's not much most of us can do to prepare for that future apart from paying down debt, building up an emergency fund and stocking up on basic supplies;  but as I've said many times before, trouble is coming.  Personally, I think it's right around the corner.

Of particular concern to me right now is the price of oil.  If Iraq goes to hell in a handbasket, look for it to skyrocket - and such a shock can't be handled by the world's major economies right now.  It's likely to bring down the house of economic cards that the world has built with such attention to fraudulent detail.  That means, of course, that all of us living in that house are going to be exposed if it collapses.

At the very least, friends, keep a few basic foodstuffs in good supply, keep your vehicles fueled and a tank of gas per vehicle stored in gas cans at home (including a fuel stabilizer, of course), and have your personal finances in as good an order as possible - including an emergency supply of cash at home.  I'm going to be double-checking my preparations and adding a little to them over the next day or two.


Doofus Of The Day #778

How embarrassing is this?

An American student had an embarrassing ordeal in southern Germany when he climbed into a giant sculpture of female genitalia and got himself stuck.

Thought to have climbed in for a dare on Friday afternoon, the exchange student got his legs trapped inside a giant marble vagina sculpture, which has stood at the Schnarrenberg Institute for Microbiology and Virology in Tübingen for the past 13 years.

When the man found he could not free himself, fifteen of his friends tried to intervene to pull him out.

When they failed, they called the emergency services. In the end a total of 22 firemen in five fire engines were deployed to help the American out again.

There's more at the link.

According to the Guardian:

The mayor of Tübingen told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that he struggled to imagine how the accident could have happened, "even when considering the most extreme adolescent fantasies. To reward such a masterly achievement with the use of 22 firefighters almost pains my soul."

Again, more at the link.

I'd love to know how he's going to explain the photographs to future employers when they research his background as part of the hiring process . . .


Lessons learned this morning

It's been an interesting morning.  Lessons learned:

  1. If you're sitting in front of your computer, with a cat peacefully lying in the crook of one arm, it will go from fast asleep to ACTION STATIONS!!! in about one-tenth of a second when it hears the buzz of a passing fly.
  2. The transition will be painful for any portion of one's anatomy within reach of the cat's claws.
  3. It will also be hazardous to your keyboard, coffee mug, and anything else within a two-foot radius of the cat's position.
  4. When the fly disappears behind your monitor, so will the cat.  This is a clue to immediately hold on to your monitor for dear life to prevent its being hurled into the next county by an overenthusiastic feline.
  5. Having removed cat, salvaged monitor, deleted several strings of unintelligible text from your manuscript, and wiped up the spilled coffee, you will just have sat down again when the fly (presumably the same one) will once again descend onto your screen - closely observed by an interested cat at  your feet.
  6. Wash, rinse, repeat.



Sunday, June 22, 2014

Around The Blogs 2014-06-22

I haven't had as much time to surf the blogosphere as I'd like this past week;  but I found several interesting posts nonetheless.

# # #

Linoge tells us about Choate's Car Rescue Tool.  It's a combination window punch (to break automotive glass in an emergency), seatbelt cutter, and ice scraper - but the way it's designed makes it a very useful defensive weapon as well.  Take a look and see for yourself.  I was impressed.

# # #

Hugh Howey, best-selling independent self-published author, points out that in terms of the publishing industry, 'Big Publishing is the problem'.  He backs up his assertion with facts and figures, too.  He's certainly convinced me!

# # #

I had a lot of fun reading through the archives at the blog 'Young American Wisdom - And A Mom's Interpretation'.  It's a mother's view of the childlike wisdom (?) of her kids.  Some of the entries are very funny, such as her 11-year-old son's attempts to convince her to buy him a poker table.  Amusing and recommended reading for all parents.

# # #

A doctor who posts at 'Musings Of A Dinosaur' discovers something called 'Energy Wataah' and debunks its claims.  Ye Gods and little fishes, what will the marketing types think up next?

# # #

Dr. Grumpy discovers his patient is double- and triple-checking his diagnoses, and his wife (a school nurse) discovers that some parents will continue to drop their children and drive off, even when the school is on lockdown because an armed criminal is on the loose.  I could hardly believe people could be that stupid and self-centered, but I fear her account is probably all too true.

# # #

Brock Townsend links to a fascinating series of color photographs of the Korean War, emphasizing the aircraft of the era and the ships and airfields from which they operated.  Fascinating stuff for military and aviation history buffs.

# # #

C. W. Swanson brings us a photograph of the old and the new that set me thinking.  He also shows what happens when a cat's eyes are too big for its stomach (and the rest of its body too!).

# # #

Rev. Donald Sensing shows us what's happened to all the young workers in America.  It's a dismal picture.

# # #

Warren Meyer points out that D-Day was more important in terms of containing Soviet expansionism than it was in defeating Nazi Germany.  I've believed the same thing for many years.

# # #

Ballseye's Boomers reminds us to 'Always Have a Good Story Ready'.  That story's a lulu!

# # #

Wirecutter reminds us what to do if we're attacked by a pack of clowns.

# # #

Finally, Mike Miles (site frequently NSFW) brings us a moving video about a tattoo artist who specializes in restoring nipples on women who've had mastectomies and breast replacement surgery.  It's a story of hope and transformation for women who've undergone life-changing and frequently very unpleasant surgery and chemotherapy.  Recommended viewing for those who've had to deal with such trauma, and for anyone who might run into it in future.

# # #

That's all for this week.  There won't be an 'Around The Blogs' feature next weekend, because Miss D. and I will be in Chattanooga attending and speaking at LibertyCon.  I'll try to get back on track for the following weekend.


Doofus Of The Day #777

Today's award goes, jointly and severally, to the idiots responsible for this.

Some folks target shooting with high-powered rifles on a Johnson County farm this weekend apparently thought they were being safe, but four bullets ended up in two houses hundreds of yards away -- in children's rooms.

. . .

According to a Greenwood police report, 10 to 14 people were target shooting, but not the homeowner himself. Most of the shooters were teenagers, using AR-15 weapons.

. . .

The residents in the first home hit heard a bang, came into a room to find a puff of smoke that ended up being drywall powder still flying and eventually followed it to a toy box in a children's play room.

"Inside the toy box was a small stuffed animal that had stuffing coming out of it," the police report says. "A 5.56-mm bullet was recovered from the stuffed animal."

The residents of that home called Greenwood police, and while an officer was at the home, he could hear gunfire coming from the east. As he drove in that direction, he learned another home had been hit.

That home, several blocks farther west, was hit twice.

. . .

Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said his department handles incidents like this one about once a month.

There's more at the link.

Way to go, dumbasses.  Not only did you endanger lives, you also handed ammunition (you should pardon the expression) to every anti-gunner who wants to demonize responsible gun-owners by associating them with idiots like yourselves!


Saturday, June 21, 2014

OK, that's weird!

Here's an advertisement for All Nippon Airways, complete with dancing jumbo jets, to celebrate the opening of a new airport terminal a few years ago.

And I thought I couldn't get airsick on the ground . . . silly me!


Thank you to all concerned

I'm sitting here a little bemused - but very pleased - by the response to two recent posts.

First, my rant about the stupidity of 'educating rapists' has received more direct views than any other article I've ever written - well over 3,100 at the time of writing.  Many came from Larry Correia's blog, with a number of others from other bloggers, forum posts, etc. that referenced it.  I'm very grateful to all of you who visited - particularly those who decided to buy a book while you were here!  Thanks very much.

(On that subject, I've received a few e-mails asking more detailed questions about the incident I describe of the village brutalized by rapists in uniform.  For obvious reasons, I'm not going to provide such details.  I wrote it as circumspectly as I could whilst giving enough details to be informative.  I can't say more without crossing the "Too Much Information" line, and I really don't want to gross out my readers.  Besides, some things are better not brought to mind too vividly . . . )

Second, my request that those of you who'd read my latest novel should please leave a review at has been abundantly answered.  It had nine reviews when I put up that bleg;  as of the time of writing, it's up to 25.  Again, thank you all very much for your help.  That puts me in a position to use certain publicity tools and advertising media that insist on a minimum number of reviews (and a minimum average rating) before they'll consider you as a client.


Big Brother and his henchmen are getting bigger

The ever-more-intrusive centralized dictatorship that the United States has become is growing more so.  Three reports over the past week illustrate the extent to which Big Brother is preparing to dictate to us, the citizens of this Republic, whether or not there's constitutional justification for what's being imposed.

First, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has granted itself new powers to shut down any business at the stroke of a pen, without prior legal proceedings.

Last week the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, through the power of Dodd-Frank, passed a rule giving the agency unprecedented power to shut down businesses, no matter what the reason, at any time it wishes through a cease-and-desist order. Further, the rule puts businesses at the mercy of the CFPB and they cannot go back into operation until government approval or a court ruling is made over an issue. Subsequently because bureaucratic decisions and court rulings take a substantial amount of time to happen, businesses cannot survive during those waiting periods.

. . .

The new rule comes on the heels of revelations the Department of Justice has been smothering firearms dealerships and other "high risk" entities out of business by "choking" banks and stripping funding through Operation Choke Point.

Consumer groups are pushing back against the rule and issuing a warnings to businesses everywhere about what the rule means for them. The United States Consumer Coalition in particular is sounding the alarm:

"This unprecedented rule created by the CFPB grants the agency unilateral authority to literally shut down any business overnight. It is a doubling down of Operation Choke Point (OCP), the Administration's program to target lawful industries by intimidating banks from doing business with them. This rule allows the CFPB to immediately issue a cease-and-desist order, which terminates all business practices — and a hearing doesn’t have to be granted for 10 days, effectively shutting down businesses for at least 10 days. This is a 'guilty until proven innocent' tactic of the Administration that goes against every historical notion of justice under the law in America."

There's more at the link.  I think this is a vitally important report, essential reading for all who care about the ongoing rape of the US constitution and our civil and constitutional rights.

Second, the Federal Reserve has quietly revealed a significant change in its use of a traditional financial measure, one that has profound implications for our economy.  Casey Research reports:

The Fed’s claim that inflation is contained and that there is no need to raise interest rates is just a show put on for people who believe the government. If we applied a more accurate inflation rate to GDP calculations, real GDP would not be growing at all.

My point is that the Fed and the media tell us things are better than they actually are. Meanwhile, the Fed is taking secret actions that reveal where Yellen and friends really think the economy might be headed.

Traders have used Repurchase Agreements ("repos") for decades. A repo is essentially a collateralized loan. A borrower sells government securities to a lender and buys them back later at an agreed-upon date and slightly higher price. The lender takes on very little risk, to earn a small amount of compensation while it holds the government securities as collateral.

Repos can last for any amount of time, but they are often ultra-short-term. Overnight repos are the most common.

The Fed has announced that it’s using “reverse repos” as a new tool to manage monetary policy. Don’t let “reverse” confuse you: Reverse repos are just a way the Fed soaks up cash from financial institutions. The Fed is the “borrower,” swapping its Treasuries for banks’ cash. You might call it the opposite of quantitative easing: reverse repos drain money from the financial system.

I was surprised to find that the use of reverse repos has exploded since last September, by about $200 billion, bringing their total to $300 billion.

. . .

In effect, the Fed has sopped up $200 billion in the last nine months in “stealth tightening.” I use the word "stealth," because most investors, and even most Fed watchers, aren’t aware of the effects of reverse repos.

You’re probably wondering, "What’s the Fed’s ultimate plan here?" I think that the Fed is using reverse repos to build up a hidden source of funding so that it can unwind its tightening quietly, if need be. The Fed now has $200B in “ammunition” that it can deploy without much (or any) fanfare, because nobody is following this closely. “Reverse Repos” isn’t the headline grabber that “Quantitative Easing” is.

. . .

One last reason the Fed might be secretly building a rainy day fund: As my analysis in the newest issue of The Casey Report demonstrates, foreigners have recently stopped lending money to the US. That’s a huge problem for a country that had a $111.2 billion trade deficit in the first quarter alone, and will spend half a trillion more dollars than it takes in during 2014.

As I said earlier, the Fed has been very quiet about this repo program, so we can only surmise what its true motivations are. But as the US government’s lender of last resort, the Fed may be raising this source of cash so it can lend more money to the US government as foreign lending continues to dry up.

Again, more at the link, including some very useful graphics that explain the process visually.  Once more, I think this is very important reading, and I highly recommended you click over there and go through the whole article.

So businesses can now be shut down on a bureaucratic whim, and the Fed's quietly stashing away what looks very much like a secret war chest to fund the operations of the US government when the fiscal policies of that government drive the country to the wall.  Do these developments give you the same sinking feeling they give me?

Finally, vehicle license plate readers are now being linked to other databases.

Car-tracking technology is becoming ubiquitous in cities around the United States, and the types of data collected and analyzed with the help of license-plate readers is expanding into other realms of personal information.

Documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting show that a leading maker of license-plate readers wants to merge the vehicle identification technology with other sources of identifying information. Vigilant Solutions is pushing a system that eventually could help fuse public records, license plates and facial recognition databases for police in the field.

The Livermore company released facial recognition software last year for use in stationary and mobile devices. The technology uses algorithms to determine whether a person's face matches that of someone in a law enforcement database. Like license-plate readers, privacy advocates say, the technology can make incorrect identifications that ensnare innocent people.

. . .

Privacy advocates said combining historical plate-reader data with public records and facial recognition technology runs contrary to law enforcement's argument that license plates are not considered personally identifying information.

Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Los Angeles Police Department to obtain information about their collection and use of license-plate data, said Vigilant's plans could represent a major change in the technology.

By combining the location data from license-plate readers with public records such as court files and property records - as well as photographs of people from criminal or DMV databases - into one search tool that could be used with facial recognition software, license-plate readers could move into uncharted territory.

A plate reader could tag a passing car and the names of people associated with the vehicle and keep a log of where that person traveled.

Again, more at the link.

Once that information is collected, it can be accessed by almost anyone.  What if your spouse wants a divorce, and subpoenas such records to show where you were on any given date at any given time?  What if a crime occurred while you were demonstrably in the area, and police have no other suspects?  Automatically, such records would make you an object of suspicion, even if you had nothing to do with the offense.

So much for privacy and personal security . . .