Thursday, May 24, 2018

A Social Justice Warrior meets his/her/its match


Courtesy of an e-mail from reader Scott K., here's a wonderful takedown of political correctness and Social Justice Warriors.








Peter

Legal signposts on the road to destroying democracy


It's looking more and more as if there was, indeed, a "Deep State" plot, tightly embroiled with and controlled by the Obama administration (or, at the very least, certain individuals within it), designed to spy on the Trump campaign and, if possible, take it down.  Now that he's President, that same plot has switched focus to removing him from office at all costs, regardless of the facts (or the lack thereof).

Four important articles that I think are worth reading and bookmarking for future reference:

  1. Sharyl Attkisson:  "Collusion against Trump” timeline".  An exhaustive listing, from 2011 to the present, of events and incidents relevant to the situation.  Attkisson, remember, was the journalist primarily responsible for the in-depth investigation of the "Fast and Furious" scandal involving gun-running to Mexico by the ATF and (possibly) other branches of the US government under the Obama administration.  More is soon to come out about that scandal.
  2. Also by Sharyl Attkisson:  "8 signs pointing to a counterintelligence operation deployed against Trump's campaign".  This is important because counterintelligence operations are not subject to the same legal restrictions as law enforcement investigations.  It may be that the Obama administration deliberately used that distinction to attempt to avoid responsibility for its actions.  I don't think that's going to work.
  3. Kimberley Strassel:  "Was Trump’s Campaign ‘Set Up’?  At some point, the Russia investigation became political. How early was it?"  Read this in conjunction with item 1 above.  I think there's growing evidence that it "became political" rather earlier than most people think.
  4. Mark Penn:  "Stopping Robert Mueller to protect us all".  This is an opinion piece (with which I largely agree), but it has one very important sentence indeed, which I think is very true:
"Rather than a fair, limited and impartial investigation, the Mueller investigation became a partisan, open-ended inquisition that, by its precedent, is a threat to all those who ever want to participate in a national campaign or an administration again."

As Kurt Schlichter puts it:  "The question all boils down to this – is it acceptable for the party in power to use the intelligence and law enforcement communities against its rivals?"

Keep watching.  I suspect the fur is only just beginning to fly.

Peter

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Yes, I'm a prophet again . . . used car edition


Last year I warned readers about the dangers of unwittingly buying a flood-damaged car, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.  It looks like the problem is still very real.  Old NFO passed the word that the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has just issued this warning (link is to an Adobe Acrobat file in .PDF format):

More than eight months after Hurricane Harvey damaged an estimated 500,000 cars and trucks, Texans are still at risk of unknowingly purchasing flood-damaged vehicles.

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) is urging Texans to do their research before buying a new or used car.

“Too many Texans already get taken advantage of by people selling flooded, salvaged, and rebuilt vehicles as though they are in perfect condition,” said TxDMV Executive Director Whitney Brewster.

TxDMV uses a national title database under the United States Department of Justice to help stop title fraud and urges consumers to learn how to protect themselves when buying a vehicle. Brewster cautioned, “Don’t find a problem after you bought the vehicle. Protect yourself before you buy.”

There's more at the link, including a useful checklist of what to look for to identify suspect vehicles.

If you look at my earlier article, there's an impressive video clip of flood-damaged cars lined up nose to tail, awaiting disposal.  Don't buy one!

Peter

Cabin pron


I've seen posts on several blogs from time to time offering pictures of picturesque cabins in the woods, in the mountains, at the seashore, etc.  I was reminded of them when I found this image on Gab this morning.  Clickit to biggit.




Imagine waking up to that view in summer!  It'd be great.  Winter . . . not so much, I guess.  I imagine it'd be really cold up there!

Peter

An e-mail conversation with Intuit concerning their customers in the firearms industry


Following my two posts (linked below) about the Intuit imbroglio, I thought the following e-mail exchange between myself and Mr. Brad Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Intuit, might be of interest to my readers.  It began a couple of days ago, when I e-mailed him concerning the situation at Gunsite.

Dear Mr. Smith,

I understand that your company has chosen to discriminate against Gunsite Academy in Arizona by denying them the use of your financial services.  I might point out that Gunsite Academy is involved in training some of America's finest military personnel and first responders.  I speak as a retired military officer and Chaplain, who is well aware of the excellence of Gunsite Academy's offerings.

You are, of course, free to adopt whatever policies you please as a corporation.  However, so am I.  Last month I formed a new company in Texas, Sedgefield Press, to act as a corporate vehicle for my writing activities. I have published over a dozen books so far, and according to Author Earnings' statistics, I rank within the top 1% (by earnings) of conventionally- and self-published writers in the United States.

I had discussed accounting software with our accountant, who recommended Quickbooks to me.  However, following your decision to discriminate against Gunsite and similar institutions, I shall instead give my business to a company that does not discriminate against lawful commerce and industry for the sake of political correctness.  What's more, I shall advise my colleagues, fellow authors, and industry professionals to do likewise, for every product offered by Intuit.

You should be ashamed of yourselves for such blatant non-commercial discrimination.  However, I suspect political correctness is more important to you than a sense of shame.

Yours truly,

Peter Grant

This morning, Mr. Smith replied, copying his e-mail to several other individuals at Intuit, whom I presume are legal representatives or account managers.

Dear Peter,

Thank you for reaching out and sharing your point of view. There seems to be some confusion about this situation, so I want to be very clear about our policy.

In-person sales of firearms are permitted under our payment guidelines. However, there are transactions that are prohibited by our partner bank and our own policy if they take place in situations other than face-to-face. Firearms sales that do not occur in a face-to-face transaction are one of those situations. With that said, in-person sales of firearms are not prohibited.

This policy is not new and has not changed. Our small business customers are made aware of these terms, and must agree to them, before they begin using our payments processing services.

I hope this helps clarify our position on the matter.

Sincerely,

Brad

I have just replied, as follows.

Dear Mr. Smith,

You are misinformed, sir.  No, I repeat, NO firearm transfers can take place between a buyer and a Federally licensed seller (such as Gunsite) UNLESS the legally required background check form has been filled out and signed, the purchaser's identity has been checked, the background check has taken place, and a NICS clearance number for the transaction has been issued.  Mail-order firearms sales are no different.  If I order a firearm from Gunsite (or any other dealer), they are not permitted to ship it directly to me.  Instead, I must make arrangements with a licensed firearms dealer in my state.  Gunsite will ship it to that dealer, who will conduct the background check required by law.  Only when I have passed that check may I take delivery of the firearm from them (paying an additional fee for their work in processing the transaction).

I simply cannot believe that a large corporation such as Intuit, with its many legal representatives on staff, can be unaware of this legal requirement.  I therefore find your explanation disingenuous, at best.  Furthermore, your company's conduct w.r.t. the Lone Wolf - Flint River transaction, over and above the Gunsite imbroglio, implies that its fundamental philosophy is to make life as difficult as possible for its customers - those, at least, that it still has, and those probably not for long - in the firearms industry.  I find it hard to believe that this is the result of pressure from "your partner bank", as financial institutions must surely be aware of the legal situation.  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN OFF-THE-BOOKS, NON-FACE-TO-FACE FIREARMS TRANSFER when it comes to a Federally licensed dealer.  To suggest that there is, is preposterous.  If the face-to-face transfer does not take place at the originating dealer, it must and will take place at the transferring dealer in the buyer's home state.  Anything less will result in Federal charges and prison time for those responsible, on both sides of the transaction.  The same applies to a private seller.  If the buyer is from another state, he or she must send the firearm to a dealer in that state to conduct a background check.  Again, there will be severe consequences if this is not done.

In the light of your company's conduct, and its inexplicable refusal to give an honest, timely, truthful explanation to its customers of its actions and motives, I have publicly called for a boycott of Intuit and all its products and services.  I see no reason at this time to retract or modify that call.  You will find my comments on your company's actions at the following blog posts:

     https://bayourenaissanceman.blogspot.com/2018/05/clearly-you-do-business-with-intuit.html

     https://bayourenaissanceman.blogspot.com/2018/05/it-seems-it-really-is-risky-to-do.html

I have every hope that my several thousand daily readers will understand and respond to that call.  You will also find - a quick Internet search will reveal - that I'm far from alone in my reaction to your company's unbelievably inept handling of these situations.

I shall post your response, and my reply, on my blog later today, so that my readers can make up their own minds.

Yours truly,

Peter Grant

I leave you, dear readers, to make up your own minds.  If you wish to contact Mr. Smith for clarification, his e-mail address (available publicly on Intuit's Web site, so I'm not doxxing him in any way) is brad_smith@intuit.com .

Peter

Income, jobs, automation, and our future


I've written several times in the past about jobs, the impact of automation, the economy, and our future.  It's not a very comfortable subject, but it's becoming more and more critical for everyone in this country to be aware of what's going on and plan accordingly.

Two recent articles drive home this point.  They're long, and therefore likely to be overlooked by many who want a quick fix of information without having to work at it, but they repay our attention.  I'll quote from both at some length.  Even if you don't read both articles in full (which I hope you will), please read and think about these excerpts.  They're important to your future, and mine.  I've highlighted some points in bold print.

The first article is titled "The Long Death of America’s Middle Class".

The American middle class is dying.

In 2015, it dipped below 50% of the population for the first time since data collection started on the issue. It’s now an official minority group.

Meanwhile, nearly half of Americans don’t have enough money to cover a surprise $400 expense. Many are living paycheck to paycheck, with little to no cushion. And US homes are less affordable than they’ve been in decades—possibly ever.

. . .

The late 1950s was the golden age of America’s middle class ... Around then, a husband could support his family on an average income. He and his wife likely owned their own home, as well as their car. They had multiple children—and didn’t think much of the cost of having more. Plus, they had money to save.

Compare that to the average family today. Both spouses likely have to work—whether they want to or not—just to afford the same basic lifestyle.

Plus, it now costs well over $200,000 to raise a child, on average. And that doesn’t even include college costs. Back in 1960, it cost roughly $25,000.

This hefty price tag is one of the main reasons middle-class families are having fewer children… or none at all.


In short, the average American’s standard of living has taken a huge hit over the past generation or so.

For example, consider a typical high school teacher’s financial situation.

In 1959, the median annual salary for a US high school teacher was $5,276, according to the Department of Labor. Meanwhile, the median US home value was $9,627, according to the US Census Bureau.

That means a teacher made enough money each year to cover over half of the price of a middle-class home. Or 55%, to be exact.

Take a minute and think… How does your annual income compare to the price of your home? I’d bet many people make far less than 55%.

Today, the median purchase price of a US home is $241,700. To maintain the 1959 income-to-home price ratio, a high school teacher would need to make $132,935 annually.

Of course, the average high school teacher doesn’t make nearly that much. Not even close.
He or she makes around $48,290—just enough to cover 36% of the median home price.

. . .

Cars are another large expense for Americans. Debt has helped camouflage a big price increase there, too.

Americans are now over $1.1 trillion in auto debt. This figure has skyrocketed 2,954% since 1971.
Americans have also racked up more than $1 trillion in credit card debt. This debt explosion also started in the early 1970s. Credit card debt is up 14,281% since 1971.

So why are Americans going deeper and deeper into debt?

It’s simple: The cost of living for the average middle-class family has risen dramatically faster than its income.

Since 1971, there’s been a dramatic—and growing—split between work and wages. As the next chart shows, the average person’s real wages have more or less stagnated since the early 1970s.



With higher expenses and stagnating wages, people have made up the difference with debt.

There's more at the link.

When you combine that with the employment situation, the red warning lights are flashing ever brighter.  John Mauldin sets out the scale of the problem in an article titled "The Great Jobs Collision".

Bain thinks automation will eliminate up to 25% of US jobs by 2030, with the lower-wage tiers getting hit the hardest and soonest. That will be devastating, and it’s not that far away. Remember 2006? Right now, you are halfway between then and 2030. Time flies, and this time it won’t be fun. Interestingly, though, Bain predicts that the manpower needed to build out the technology that will ultimately eliminate all those jobs will be enough to keep us all working until 2030. The Bain team is a tad more optimistic than I am. But they have their reasons.

Why is this happening? Demographics and automation are mutually reinforcing trends. One we already see: Employers turn to automation increasingly because they can’t find workers with the skills they need in sufficient numbers. The Baby Boom generation is leaving the workforce (though many Boomers are delaying retirement as long as they can). The additional labor that came from one-time factors like China’s opening has mostly run its course. If sufficient numbers of qualified people aren’t available, employers turn to machines.

At the same time, technology is making the machines better and less expensive. Much of the job automation so far has been fairly benign, jobs-wise. It has replaced dangerous factory work or other repetitive, unpleasant manual labor. Often the automation makes human workers more productive instead of replacing them. That’s about to change as artificial intelligence technology improves. Machines will be able to perform cognitive tasks that once required highly trained, experienced humans.

Now, at any given company this trend can look like a good thing to the owners. Invest in machines, lay off people, mint more profits. But that’s short-sighted in the aggregate because someone has to buy your products. The workers your company and others just laid off won’t be able to spend as much unless new jobs replace the ones you just eliminated.

In theory, automation will enable lower prices, which will raise demand and create more jobs. Bain does not think it will happen that way. They foresee up to 40 million permanent job losses in the US, even accounting for higher demand.

In other words, in the next 10–12 years the US economy will swing from a labor shortage to a huge labor surplus. With the labor force presently around 160 million, this implies an unemployment rate around 25%. I find it hard to see how we could call that an economic boom.


But let’s be optimistic and assume other jobs do appear for many displaced workers. The situation still won’t be ideal for either them or the economy at large, because they will likely make less money and have less spending power. Karen’s report points out that wages will face downward pressure long before workers get replaced by machines. The mere existence of the new technologies will cap wages as the price of automating vs. employing humans falls.

. . .

As you might imagine, this doesn’t end well. The best case is that reduced consumer demand caps growth and we’ll see more decades of flat or mild growth. The worst? Economic dislocation and inequality lead to social breakdown and more calls for government intervention, higher taxes on the wealthy, and more generous welfare programs.

. . .

As we see large parts of jobs destroyed, displaced workers won’t meekly surrender, nor will they be happy that small numbers of highly talented, mostly older workers receive most of the rewards. They will want help, and in a democracy they will have the power to demand it.

This response means that the populist movements springing up all over the world will probably keep gaining momentum and, increasingly, taking control of governments. Resulting policy changes could be significant ... mild measures like job retraining probably won’t suffice this time. We could see major expansion and redesign of the “safety net” programs.

. . .

The potential for a left-wing populist movement to arise is at least 50-50. And those odds mean higher taxes. And larger government and more government controls ... populist movements look for a strong leader to be able to direct the country and the correct path.

. . .

How to pay for all this? Karen expects pressure for a wealth tax. Not an income tax, mind you, but a tax on all your wealth. That will be aggravating to many who have already paid tax once when they earned that wealth. Now imagine having to “donate” 1% or 2% of your net worth to the IRS every year. It could happen, and if it does, it will make it that much harder to keep your assets growing against other headwinds. I agree that we won't see a wealth tax under a Republican-controlled Congress and White House, but these things do not last forever. When a populist backlash takes us to a different state of mind, when a Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren type figure emerges, likely much younger and more charismatic than his or her predecessors, with the siren song of how the rich should be made to pay to make society more “just” and equal, because they benefited the most and the majority of the population did not, that message will resonate.

Again, more at the link.

We need to be thinking about these things now, and planning our futures accordingly.  If our jobs are likely to be affected by automation, we should be planning right now to get whatever education and/or training we need to move into a field where that's less likely to happen.  I suspect many so-called "service" jobs (e.g. plumber, electrician, auto service and repair, etc.) will remain in high demand, simply because people can't afford to do without them.  Increasingly, such jobs will be a lot more "automation-proof" than working at a call center, or customer service center, or shop assistant.

It's already reached a point where many of the "voices" you hear when you call a bank, or insurance company, or other major corporation aren't human at all.  They're artificial intelligence systems, designed to screen all incoming calls and direct them to the most appropriate department or person - or deal with them through a series of automated menus, so that no human contact is needed.  That's faster and cheaper for the company, so expect getting through to a human being to become more and more difficult - by design.  Expect the same automation-centered approach to dominate more and more businesses.

It's an "interesting time" to be alive, in the sense of the apocryphal Chinese curse.

Peter

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

It seems it really IS risky to do business with Intuit!


Yesterday I noted that "Clearly, you do business with Intuit (Quickbooks, TurboTax, etc.) at your own risk".  This followed Intuit's cancellation of its contract with Gunsite Academy, and its deliberate withholding of funds from that institution, returning them to its customers rather than paying the debts incurred at Gunsite by those customers.

It seems they're at it again - this time to the tune of $150,000 - for a non-firearms transaction!

On May 11th, Lone Wolf made two of what would be three transfers to Flint River. On May 14th they completed the third transfer. The transfers were made through Intuit’s QuickBooks merchant services; Flint River Armory had a merchant account for the purpose of credit card and ACH payment processing. At the time of the transaction, Flint River’s QuickBooks merchant account had been in place for around six weeks. According to Intuit’s own marketing blurb, merchants can use QuickBooks “to get paid 2x faster” – or not.

The transfer in question wasn’t for firearms, it was a separate business transaction. I’ll state that again: it had nothing to do with either components or complete firearms. The total amount of the three transfers: $150,000.

The money was withdrawn from Lone Wolf’s account by Intuit within thirty minutes. In accordance with standard business practices, it should have been deposited into Flint River’s account with relative speed. Instead, there was no sign of a pending deposit. Instead Intuit abruptly terminated Flint River’s merchant account.

Thus began several days of Flint River contacting Intuit three and four times a day. Finally, after approximately fifteen phone calls – each of which they documented – Flint River’s accountant got someone on the phone who would answer some of their questions. The accountant called John Heikkinen into his office, put the woman on speaker phone, and waited to see what she’d say.

Intuit had decided they would no longer do business with firearms companies, she told them. Flint River’s QuickBooks merchant account had been closed down because they’re a firearms company. Their other Intuit-owned services would also be terminated.

Intuit continued to deny John’s request for documentation of the transfer being reversed. In fact, they refused to provide documentation of any kind.

Meanwhile $150,000 of Lone Wolf’s money was being held by Intuit. That meant Intuit was earning interest on $150,000 they claimed they didn’t want (because, guns, even though, again, the transaction wasn’t for firearms or components). While their exact interest rate is unknown and bank savings rates vary widely – Capitol One’s is 0.75% APY and Synchrony’s is 1.05% APY – the current Federal Reserve Funds rate is 1.75%.

. . .

How would Intuit feel if we, as an industry, dropped them? No more QuickBooks, no more Mint, no more TurboTax. A little something to consider. A project for our readers: back, frequent, and support businesses that support the Second Amendment. Money talks, guys. Make yours sing.

There's more at the link.  Bold print in the final paragraph above is my emphasis.

I have no hesitation in calling this complete lack of response, and failure to return the funds immediately, as being at best ethically questionable conduct on Intuit's part.  Depending on the facts of the matter, I suspect it might even be legally questionable, as it was done without explanation or prior warning, and might therefore be portrayed as a deliberate entrapment of customers' funds in an effort to hurt their business.  I'd certainly be suing Intuit for every cent that they earned in interest on the money while they were holding it, plus damages for any opportunity cost to my company as a result of their holding on to my money, plus punitive damages.  I think I could make a very strong case in court.

Folks, it's now quite clear that Intuit doesn't give a damn about its customers - only for the politically correct flavor du jour out there, whatever it may be.  If it's firearms-related businesses today, it'll be Christian-related businesses tomorrow, or wedding organizers offering marriage services that adhere to religious rather than secular standards, or those offering rental accommodation who insist on criminal background checks for prospective tenants.

I personally plan to never again use any Intuit product or service.  In fact, I'll be asking prospective vendors whether they use Intuit's payment processing facilities, and if they do, I'll be taking my business elsewhere - after telling them why I'm doing so.  From now on, Quickbooks, Quicken Loans, TurboTax, Mint and Intuit's other offerings are on my "Do Not Use Under Any Circumstances" list.

I call upon all my readers to do likewise.  I can only describe Intuit's policies, behavior and attitude, as revealed in both these cases, as discriminatory, unfair, unjust, and intolerable.  If you agree, please contact Intuit by telephone and/or e-mail and/or snail mail to tell them so.

Peter

"How Democracies End: A Bureaucratic Whimper"


That's the title of an article by Victor Davis Hanson.  It's powerful stuff, and well worth reading in full.  Here's an excerpt.

We are all worried, on occasion, by nationalist and anti-democratic movements abroad in former democratic countries. We all sometimes wish Donald Trump would ignore personal spats and curb his tweeting and thus let his considerable accomplishments speak for themselves.

But that said, the current and chief threats to Western constitutional government are not originating from loud right-wing populists in Eastern Europe, or from Trump wailing like Ajax about the rigged deep state.

Rather, the threat to our civil liberties is coming from supposedly sanctimonious and allegedly judicious career FBI, Justice Department, and intelligence agency officials, progressive and self-described idealistic former members of the Obama national security team, and anti-Trump fervent campaign operatives, all of whom felt that they could break the law—including but not limited to illegally monitoring American citizens, and seeking to warp federal courts and even the presidential election because such unsavory and anti-constitutional means were felt necessary and justified to prevent and then subvert the presidency of Donald J. Trump. 

It is willful blindness for progressives and NeverTrump Republicans to overlook what has happened only to damn what has not happened. The dangers in America are not from transparent right-wing authoritarians (who are easily spotted in their clumsiness), but from mellifluous self-styled constitutionalists, whose facades and professions of legality mask their rank efforts to use any anti-constitutional means necessary to achieve their supposedly noble egalitarian ends.

This is the way democracies end—not with a loud boisterous bang, but with insidious and self-righteous whimpers.

There's more at the link.

I found Prof. Hanson's words even more powerful when read in conjunction with another article, this one titled "H.A.L.P.E.R. Spells Game Up for Obama's Spies".  The author quotes former FBI agent Mark Wauck as follows:

The FBI is asked--way back as early as 2015, but who knows? -- to be helpful to the Dems and they agree. What they do is they hire non-government consultants with close Dem ties to do "analytical work" for them, which happens to include total access to NSA data. Advantages? For the Dems, obviously, access to EVERYTHING digital. A gold mine for modern campaign research. For the FBI there's also an advantage. They get to play dumb -- gosh, we didn't know they were looking at all that stuff! They also don't have to falsify anything, like making [stuff] up to "justify" opening a FI [full investigation] on an American citizen and then lying to the FISC to get a FISA on the USPER [US person] and having to continually renew the FISA and lie all over again to the FISC each renewal. And the beauty of it all is, who's ever going to find out? And even if they do, how do you prove criminal intent?

So everything's humming along until a pain in the a** named Mike Rogers at NSA does an audit in 4/2016, just as the real campaign season is about to start. And Rogers learns that 85% of the searches the FBI has done between 12/2015 and 4/2016 have been totally out of bounds. And he clamps down -- no more non-government contractors, tight auditing on searches of NSA data. Oh sh*t! What to do, just give up? Well, not necessarily, but there's a lot more work involved and a lot more fudging the facts. What the FBI needs to do now is get a FISA that will cover their a** and provide coverage on the GOPers going forward. That means, first get a FI on an USPER [US person] connected to the Trump campaign (who looks, in [April] or [May] 2016, like the GOP candidate) so you can then get that FISA. That's not so easy, because they've got to find an USPER with that profile who they can plausibly present as a Russian spy. But they have this source named Halper.

So they first open a PI [preliminary investigation]. That allows them to legally use NatSec Letters and other investigative techniques to keep at least some of what they were doing going. But importantly this allows them to legally use Halper to try to frame people connected to the Trump campaign -- IOW, find someone to open a FI on so they can then get that FISA. However the PI is framed, that's what they're looking to do. It has legal form, even if the real intent is to help the Dems. And you can see why this had to be a CI [counterintelligence] thing, so in a sense the Russia narrative was almost inevitable -- no other bogeyman would really fit the bill, and especially on short notice.

So that's what they do, and Halper helps them come up with Papadopoulos and Page, so by the end of July they've got their FI. Problem. Their first FISA is rejected, but eventually, 10/2016, they get that.

And then Trump wins and Rogers visits Trump Tower. And the Deep State has a fit.

Again, more at the link.

I believe both of the articles cited above are really important reading for anyone wanting to understand the way in which the Obama administration "weaponized" the primary security agencies of the US government for partisan political purposes.  Unless this is stopped, decisively, and dealt with once and for all, it will become routine for every administration to do the same.  If that happens, our constitutional republic will be as dead as the proverbial dodo.

Peter

Lock your doors!


Greg Ellifritz issues this timely reminder.

Four years ago, I wrote an article titled Lock Your Damn Doors.  In that article I looked at a month’s worth of burglary and theft reports from the city where I worked and tracked how many theft victims had left their houses or cars unlocked before the thefts occurred.

The results?  83% of the theft victims had left their doors unlocked, making the criminals’ jobs extremely easy.

Another spring, another increase in theft offenses.  I decided to repeat the study to see if the victims in my city had learned any lessons in the last few years.  I tracked all the thefts from vehicles and burglaries reported in the city where I work (an upper-class Midwest suburb with around 35,000 residents) during the month of April.

Here are the numbers:

  • Number of vehicles entered- 25
  • Unlocked vehicles- 25
  • Locked vehicles- 0
  • Percent of vehicles unlocked- 100%
  • Number of houses (or garages) entered- 8
  • Unlocked houses (or garages)- 4
  • Locked houses (or garages)- 4
  • Percent of residences unlocked- 50%
. . .

This is the first year since I have been tracking that 100% of vehicle thefts occurred in unlocked vehicles.  Not a single car window was broken to steal anything.  I find that absolutely shocking.  You can safely assume that if there is nothing visible to steal in your car, thieves won’t break windows just to check.  On the other hand, if you leave your doors unlocked, thieves will open the door and see what they can find.  As the title of the article says: Lock your damn doors!  If you don’t want your crap stolen, keep your doors locked and valuables out of sight.

There's more at the link.

Mr. Ellifritz provides this video of a criminal 'casing' cars, looking for unlocked vehicles.





He's right, of course.  In conversations with criminals during my service as a prison chaplain, I routinely heard that they sought out neighborhoods and individuals who made their lives easier by leaving vehicles and buildings unlocked.  I recall one car thief who bragged that he'd made off with something over a hundred vehicles, during a criminal career spanning several decades, by simply watching to see who started their cars in their driveway on a cold morning, then went back inside to finish getting ready for work.  He could be in and gone before they realized anything was wrong.  His biggest complaint was the advent of remote-starting vehicles, that allowed their owners to start them without unlocking the doors!

The neighborhood in which I currently live is, sadly, an example of what Mr. Ellifritz is talking about.  It's very safe and secure - crime is so minuscule there are hardly any records of it for about a mile around.  Unfortunately, many who live here have become security-lax as a result.  If we ever do have an influx of criminals, they'll find easy pickings . . . but then, this is Texas.  As soon as someone notices, they're likely to get their fundamental jujubes shot off.

Peter

Monday, May 21, 2018

Dusty!


Courtesy of The Aviationist, here's an amazing video clip of a USAF C-5 Galaxy transport - the largest aircraft operated by that force - taking off from the just over 7,000 foot runway at Ilopango Airport in El Salvador.  For an aircraft that large, carrying an unknown cargo but clearly heavily laden, it's quite an achievement.

The wingspan of the C-5 is about 80 feet wider than the runway, hence the clouds of dust raised during the last part of the takeoff run, when the jet exhaust is angled down towards them.





I'd call that dusty in anyone's language!




Peter

Doofus Of The Day #1,011


Today's award goes to a felon in Florida.

A Lake City man was jailed after he reported that his son had stolen his rifle.

The problem? The man, James Denson, is a convicted felon who is not allowed to own a rifle, the Lake City Police said in a press release.

There's more at the link.

Uh-huh.  Before you call the cops to report a crime, make sure you're not implicating yourself in the same crime!




Peter

Clearly, you do business with Intuit (Quickbooks, TurboTax, etc.) at your own risk


Intuit - owners of Quickbooks, TurboTax and other widely used financial software products, as well as a provider of financial services such as credit card payment processing - has just dumped one of its customers firmly in the dwang, for politically correct - not legal - reasons.

A couple of months ago Gunsite decided to make a change to a new credit card processor, QuickBooks. It seemed to be a wise business choice at the time and may have been, had Intuit not chosen to go the way they did.

. . .

Then, a week ago – May 11th, 2018 – Gunsite got another phone call from QuickBooks. This time it didn’t go as well. The software company informed Gunsite that they were immediately ceasing all business with them. Why? Because they sell and promote firearms.

At first blush this was frustrating news, but Gunsite figured it could be handled. Then the other shoe dropped: in addition to cutting business ties with Gunsite, QuickBooks/Intuit refused to release the money from credit card charges currently in process from sales that had already made.

This amounts to tens of thousands of dollars from not only purchases made in the Gunsite Pro Shop – including hats, shirts, bumper stickers, and coffee mugs – but also money that had been paid for classes taken on gun safety and marksmanship.

Yes, you read that right. Tens of thousands of dollars in sales of products and classes, paid for in good faith, that Intuit has refused to release. Instead, Intuit stated they would refund those monies to the credit card holders. That means revenue for everything from pens to five-day level 250 pistol courses had just became door prizes, provided free to people who had the benefit of the training and took home products, all courtesy of the Intuit’s largesse.

Ken Campbell is matter-of-fact about the issue: “It is their right in the republic to choose not to do business with us. In fact, I do not want to do business with them or any company that does not support the Second Amendment. The issue is their refusal to release our funds to us.”

There's more at the link.

This is beyond stupid.  As far as I can see, it may verge on the criminal.  At least three lawyers of my acquaintance have observed that withholding funds for ideological rather than legal reasons may well be actionable - and if so, I hope Gunsite takes such action.

My own accountant had just (last month) recommended Quickbooks to me as good accounting software.  Needless to say, under the circumstances, I'll be using something else - there are plenty of competing products out there.  I shall also never again use TurboTax or any other Intuit product.  If they show such contempt for law-abiding businesses and citizens, they clearly hold me in contempt as well - so why should I give them my hard-earned dollars?

I strongly recommend to every reader of this blog that they should not do business with Intuit at all.  The company's decisions in the Gunsite case appear to be driven by political correctness, rather than the law;  and if that's the case once, it probably will be again in future.  Therefore, I intend to let them stew in their own ideological juice, and I suggest that we should all do likewise.  That may be the only language they'll understand.  I also recommend that you contact the company and tell them why you're doing so.  I already have.




Peter

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday morning music


You can blame a grackle for this morning's selection.  You see, I was working in the garden yesterday afternoon when one flew overhead and dropped a "souvenir" on me.  While I was cleaning up, I thought of the number of times I've been dive-bombed in similar fashion.  By far the worst offenders, in my experience at least, have been seagulls:  so, I thought, why not make this morning's music about them?  (Besides, I can't find that many songs about grackles!)

Perhaps it's inevitable that we should begin with an excerpt from Neil Diamond's music for the movie "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", based on the best-selling book by Richard Bach.





Next, Joni Mitchell's "Song to a Seagull" from her 1968 debut album of the same name.





For a change of pace, here's South African duo Des and Dawn Lindbergh with "The Seagull's Name was Nelson", which was a hit for them in that country in 1971.





Next up, rock group Bad Company didn't just produce hard rock.  Here's their acoustic number "Seagull".  It's available on several of their albums;  this one's from "Remastered".





Finally, let's have fun with English folk rock supergroup Steeleye Span.  This song, "Seagull", is from their album "Tempted and Tried".  This is an extended live version recorded in 2013.  As you can see, even though the group dates back to the 1960's, they still have a lot of fun together as they grow older.





Fun stuff!  And it's all due to an incontinent grackle . . .




Peter

Saturday, May 19, 2018

"You don’t have a right to believe whatever you want to"


That's the title of an article in Aeon.

Beliefs are factive: to believe is to take to be true. It would be absurd, as the analytic philosopher G E Moore observed in the 1940s, to say: ‘It is raining, but I don’t believe that it is raining.’ Beliefs aspire to truth – but they do not entail it. Beliefs can be false, unwarranted by evidence or reasoned consideration. They can also be morally repugnant. Among likely candidates: beliefs that are sexist, racist or homophobic; the belief that proper upbringing of a child requires ‘breaking the will’ and severe corporal punishment; the belief that the elderly should routinely be euthanised; the belief that ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a political solution, and so on. If we find these morally wrong, we condemn not only the potential acts that spring from such beliefs, but the content of the belief itself, the act of believing it, and thus the believer.

. . .

In exploring the varieties of religious experience ... the ‘right to believe’ can establish a climate of religious tolerance. Those religions that define themselves by required beliefs (creeds) have engaged in repression, torture and countless wars against non-believers that can cease only with recognition of a mutual ‘right to believe’. Yet, even in this context, extremely intolerant beliefs cannot be tolerated. Rights have limits and carry responsibilities.

Unfortunately, many people today seem to take great licence with the right to believe, flouting their responsibility.

. . .

Believing, like willing, seems fundamental to autonomy, the ultimate ground of one’s freedom. But, as Clifford also remarked: ‘No one man’s belief is in any case a private matter which concerns himself alone.’ Beliefs shape attitudes and motives, guide choices and actions. Believing and knowing are formed within an epistemic community, which also bears their effects. There is an ethic of believing, of acquiring, sustaining, and relinquishing beliefs – and that ethic both generates and limits our right to believe. If some beliefs are false, or morally repugnant, or irresponsible, some beliefs are also dangerous. And to those, we have no right.

There's more at the link.

The problem with this perspective is simply this:  Who decides what is factually, objectively, empirically true or false?
  • The pseudo-science of eugenics was so highly thought of in the early 20th century that it led to official "programs [that] included both 'positive' measures, such as encouraging individuals deemed particularly 'fit' to reproduce, and 'negative' measures such as marriage prohibitions and forced sterilization of people deemed unfit for reproduction".
  • The Nazi Party in Germany was convinced, on the basis of eugenics and other "sciences" that today we know to be false, that certain races were superior to all other races, and that the latter could (and should) therefore be treated as "subhuman".
  • Philosophers have argued for centuries about the foundation for human knowledge, awareness, ethics, etc.  So have theologians from various religious traditions.  There has never been consensus among them - but does that mean we can automatically judge any or all of them to be "wrong"?  On what grounds?  Religious belief has seldom, if ever, been founded on logic and fact - more on belief in and acceptance of some form of divine revelation, which by definition is not susceptible to scientific analysis.
  • Courts of law have to decide on guilt or innocence of suspects - but there are countless cases where their verdicts have been overturned, because they made their initial decision on the basis of faulty or fraudulent evidence, or false witness statements, or whatever.  They can only decide on the basis of facts as presented to them, and those "facts" may or may not be accurate.

I could go on, but the point is clear enough.  If you say that I don't have the right to believe whatever I want to, what gives you the right to say that?  If you argue it's because the facts are on your side, how sure are you of those facts?  Climate change is a good example.  The foundational elements of the eco-warriors' case have been systematically debunked over and over again, until their fanatical repetition of those discredited elements begins to seem more like religion than science.  There is no scientific consensus, as they claim, and the science is not settled.  Why, then, should I permit them to classify my skepticism as unrealistic or untrue?  From their perspective, likewise, why should they permit my skepticism to influence their belief in what they regard as "settled science"?

As soon as anyone decides that he, or she, or they, have the authority to decide whether or not my beliefs in any area are correct or not, and are therefore permitted or not, then I have precisely the same right to make that decision about what they believe.  There are two edges to that sword.  As to enforcing their beliefs over mine . . . that way lies civil war.  It's been tried before, and we all know the results.  And yet, we fail to learn the lessons that are so clear.  What are Facebook and Twitter doing now but imposing what they believe to be right upon their users, by blocking views that differ from theirs?  They are telling their users that they will decide what views they will be allowed to see, because they know better than their users what is right and appropriate.

This will not end well.

Peter

Tentacles and space-suits, oh my!


I had to smile at this report.

The paper ... attempts to tackle the question of how life originated here on Earth. The researchers embrace a number of proposed explanations and discuss their implications, but one particularly interesting note is their proposal that cephalopods (squid, octopus and cuttlefish) may have originated somewhere other than Earth. Whoa.

“Evidence of the role of extraterrestrial viruses in affecting terrestrial evolution has recently been plausibly implied in the gene and transcriptome sequencing of Cephalopods,” the researchers write. “The genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity with 33,000 protein-coding genes more than is present in Homo sapiens.”

The scientists challenge the belief that modern cephalopods evolved to their present form here on Earth and propose the possibility that those we see today are the descendants of creatures that arrived on Earth frozen in an icy comet.

“Its large brain and sophisticated nervous system, camera-like eyes, flexible bodies, instantaneous camouflage via the ability to switch color and shape are just a few of the striking features that appear suddenly on the evolutionary scene,” the paper says, pointing to the possibility that this “great leap forward” in complexity was due to “cryopreserved squid and/or octopus eggs” crashing into the ocean on comets millions of years ago.

There's more at the link.

I think that's been thought of before . . .








Peter

The war in Ukraine and its lessons


Courtesy of a link at Cdr. Salamander's place, I came across this article by Col. Liam Collins.

The situation in eastern Ukraine might best be described as “World War I with technology.” Venturing to the front line today, you would quickly learn the two greatest threats facing Ukrainian soldiers are snipers and Russian artillery. Unlike in 1915, however, soldiers on 2018’s “Eastern Front” receive text messages on their phones telling them their cause is hopeless and they must regularly attempt to avoid being spotted from an unmanned aerial vehicle.

The fighting in Ukraine during the past 2½ years provides great insight into the types of threats facing the U.S. Army today and sheds light on what a war with a near-peer enemy—or an enemy sponsored by a near-peer—would look like.

. . .

What’s Old Is New

Electronic warfare. Russia has deployed a wide range of electronic warfare systems in Ukraine, using them to jam communications, locate headquarters and subsequently target them with long-range artillery. Few active U.S. Army members grew up in an age worrying about the signals their antennas and radios produced. After visiting a battalion tactical operations center at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, a senior Ukrainian officer observed that the headquarters would not last long in eastern Ukraine. With its antenna farm located only meters from the tactical operations center, it would basically have been sending an “aim here” message to the Russians.

We have returned to an era where communications must be short and infrequent and tactical operations centers must run their antennas hundreds of meters away. Ultimately, this will make command, control and communications more difficult, and commanders will have to get comfortable in an environment where they don’t have information dominance and don’t know the exact status of each of their units at all times. Additionally, with a force largely reliant on GPS technology, it is time for soldiers to go back to being expert navigators using only a map and compass.

. . .

CAMOUFLAGE. Largely forgotten over the past 17 years, camouflage is back in vogue. With the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles that can serve as ISR platforms for artillery, an element spotted by a UAV may only have minutes to move before a rain of artillery fires falls. After witnessing Ukrainian and NATO units in training, it is clear the Ukrainians take this seriously while NATO units only go through the motions. Ukrainian vehicles look like giant, mobile vegetation clusters, with camouflage netting put up if a vehicle is stopped for any length of time. NATO vehicles, by contrast, are too often operated on the assumption that speed alone provides sufficient security during movement, and netting (often substandard) is more slowly put up after stopping.

There's more at the link.

I was very interested to read this article, having seen at first hand what it's like to fight without air superiority, in an electronic warfare environment, with camouflage an essential survival tool.  That was back in the 1980's, in Angola.  The tools and equipment we used were, of course, considerably less sophisticated than those in use today;  but the lessons we learned align very closely with those described by Col. Collins.

Even given such restrictions, it's still surprising how much can be achieved by simply "thinking outside the box", and turning what appears to be an enemy advantage into a millstone around their necks.  It also helps to consider non-technological solutions to a seemingly technological problem.  A few examples from Angola:
  • You can't buy sufficiently advanced radar equipment, and/or can't position what you have far enough forward, to monitor enemy air traffic landing at or taking off from an important air base?  Put human observers in the bush nearby, with scrambled satellite communications.  A radio call that a flight of MiGs are taking off, and turning towards the area of operations, is as good as a radar display, and just as accurate.  As a bonus, the observers can also direct artillery fire if you can get your cannon into range.
  • The enemy has spent billions constructing a supply corridor from the coast, across hundreds of miles of trackless bush, to supply their forces operating against yours.  Are the enemy's air defenses so strong that your own aircraft can't interdict the route?  Then interdict the ships before they're unloaded.  A few limpet mines, strategically placed by frogmen on the hulls of Soviet and Cuban freighters, can sink an awful lot of weapons and electronics and other things before they move even one mile down the trail.  As a bonus, while the enemy might be able to dry out, de-rust and re-lubricate AK-47's, electronics take less kindly to salt water.
  • Location, location, location.  If the enemy's area of operations can be determined beforehand, get to know it before they arrive.  Plot every significant terrain feature, know where they will have to go to get water, understand how terrain will affect their advance . . . then prepare your artillery fire plans and air interdiction operations beforehand.  If they can't advance a yard without taking damage or casualties, they'll advance a lot more slowly.  In many cases, the human cost will make their troops very, very reluctant to follow orders, knowing that those orders are going to get a lot of them killed.  A discouraged, fearful soldier is a lot easier opponent than one who's having it all his own way.
  • If the enemy has local air superiority, learn to camouflage your units and movements so well that he can't bomb you.  He may know the general area where you are, he may even have a reasonably good idea of your location, but if he can't pinpoint your actual position, he can't drop a bomb right on top of you.  He can only crap all over the area in the hope of getting lucky.  Sometimes he will . . . but most of the time, he'll convert trees and bushes into matchsticks.  This is expensive for him, and good for you.

There are many time-honored lessons of war that probably have to be re-learned in our technologically sophisticated environment.

Peter

Friday, May 18, 2018

The bleeding never ends for the Catholic Church


I'm sickened, disgusted, outraged and infuriated to read of the latest child sex abuse crisis involving clergy of the Catholic Church.

Every Chilean bishop offered to resign Friday over a sex abuse and cover-up scandal, in the biggest shakeup ever in the Catholic Church's long-running abuse saga.

. . .

It marked the first known time in history that an entire national bishops conference had offered to resign en masse over scandal, and laid bare the devastation that the abuse crisis has caused the Catholic Church in Chile and beyond.

Calls had mounted for the resignations after details emerged of the contents of a 2,300-page Vatican report into the Chilean scandal leaked early Friday. Francis had accused the bishops of destroying evidence of sex crimes, pressuring investigators to minimize abuse accusations and showing "grave negligence" in protecting children from pedophile priests.

In one of the most damning documents from the Vatican on the issue, Francis said the entire Chilean church hierarchy was collectively responsible for "grave defects" in handling cases and the resulting loss of credibility that the Catholic Church has suffered.

. . .

... there was "grave negligence" in protecting children from pedophiles by bishops and religious superiors — a reference to the many cases of sexual abuse that have arisen in recent years within Chilean religious orders, including the Salesians, Franciscans and the Marist Brothers community.

Some of these religious order priests and brothers were expelled from their congregations because of immoral conduct, but had their cases "minimized of the absolute gravity of their criminal acts, attributing to them mere weakness or moral lapses," Francis wrote.

But those same people "were then welcomed into other dioceses, in an obviously imprudent way, and given diocesan or parish jobs that gave them daily contact with minors," he said.

Such behavior has been the hallmark of the clerical sex abuse crisis worldwide, with bishops and religious superiors shuttling abusers from parish to parish or dioceses rather than reporting them to police or launching canonical investigations and removing them from ministry.

There's more at the link.

I detailed my actions in response to this crisis in a four part series of articles on this blog, several years ago.  What I said then remains true today, I think also for the church in Chile.

Let me be absolutely blunt about this.  The Catholic Church, as an institution, and its bishops acting as a collective, have lied, are lying, and will continue to lie to the people of God about this problem.  They have no interest whatsoever in resolving it - only in protecting their own power, and the institution of the Church as a whole, and its power and prestige in society.  They do not care about the individuals involved, or the victims . . . or the good clergy who have been tainted with the stench of this scandal.

How can I say that?  It's very simple.  Actions speak louder than words - and lack of action is, in itself, an action.  The Church, in the United States, in Chile, in the Vatican, and elsewhere, has taken little or no effective, meaningful action against those who were ultimately responsible for this scandal - namely, its bishops and administrators, who routinely concealed the extent of the problem, shuffled offenders around among themselves, and allowed them to continue to offend, rather than deal with the matter.  Even after the scandal blew up, many leaders of the Church continued to try to defend their offices and the institution of the Church, rather than admit that the situation was absolutely indefensible.  Many of the worst offenders were whisked off to Rome and given sheltered employment there, safe from extradition or any legal consequences of their neglect.  Many are still there.

The Church has also failed to act against the breeding-grounds for so many of these problems - its seminaries.  Rather than deal with that problem themselves, the US bishops cravenly abdicated their responsibilities to a Vatican commission, and little or no effective action has resulted from its report.  Many seminaries still tolerate, if not actively encourage, instruction that is at variance with (sometimes diametrically opposed to) Church teaching.  Modern theological experiments are emphasized over classical, and the traditional philosophical and spiritual underpinning of the priesthood appears to be conspicuous by its absence in the curriculum.  What there is of it is frequently corrupted to the point that it would be better not to offer it at all.  (For a valuable, albeit one-sided discussion of these issues, see here.)  Precisely the same problems appear to have affected seminaries in Chile.

By its lack of meaningful action, the Church has (in my opinion) condemned itself, and its current generation of leaders, to the most ghastly consequences, temporal and spiritual.  Millions of Catholics  - perhaps tens of millions - have left the faith.  I know I'm not the only priest who resigned in disgust and outrage over what was clearly no more than pious window-dressing to deal with the problem, instead of seeking real, meaningful solutions.  That has not changed, and it will probably never change under the present system of Church government.

The very fact that these scandals persist, all over the world, is the clearest possible sign that the Church does not care.  It has done nothing to truly deal with the problem.  It appears to be institutionally incapable of doing so.  Even the Chilean situation was obfuscated, glossed over, denied and dismissed, until the evidence became so damning that it had to be confronted.  My thanks, congratulations and condolences to those who worked so hard (and some of whom probably wrecked their careers in the Church) to ensure that the truth finally came out in that country.

May God have mercy upon his Church, and upon all those of her people who have tried to be faithful in the face of such criminal, ungodly indifference by those who were supposed to "tend the flock of God that is their charge".  Instead, they have proved to be worthy successors, not of the Apostles, but of another class of leader.  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity."

I . . . I'm just too sickened by this to find the appropriate words.  I would even use profanity, if I could, but I don't know any swear words or phrases strong enough.

May God have mercy on all of us for our sins . . . and upon his Church, which appears to have abandoned (at least among its leadership) the truth and Godliness he wished for her.

Peter

Mugshot of the week


For the benefit of overseas readers, in the USA a "mugshot" is a common term for the photograph taken of suspects/offenders by police when they're arrested, as they're booked into the local jail.

This one comes to us courtesy of the Oakland County Sheriff's Office in Michigan.  More information here.




Blue???




Peter

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A big "Thank You!" to all my readers


Thank you very much to all my readers who've bought, and helped spread the word about, my new novel, "The Stones of Silence".




It was uploaded to Amazon.com last weekend, and officially published on Monday, May 14th.  It shot up the charts very quickly, briefly reaching a peak at #935 in the entire Kindle Store.  To crack the top 1,000 books (out of over 6½ million in the Kindle Store, both paid and free) is very hard to do, so I'm grateful to all of you for making it possible.




It's currently at #18 (out of the top 100 books) in Hot New Releases - Space Opera, and #9 in Hot New Releases - Colonization, both part of the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre.




All of those ranks will change fairly quickly, of course, depending on day-to-day sales, and the entry of newer books that will push older publications down the ranks in their turn.  Nevertheless, I'm very pleased.

If you've read and enjoyed the book (or even if you didn't enjoy it), please leave a review at the book's page on Amazon.com!  They're critically important to the ongoing success of any independent author.  I'll be very grateful.  So far there are five reviews up, four five-star and one four-star.  To those five readers, a special thank you!

Now to finish editing the second and third books in the trilogy.  Look for them next month and in July, with print editions to follow.

Peter

The US national debt and its inevitable consequences


Following the report earlier this week about a proposal to increase Illinois' property tax to pay for that state's hundred-billion-dollar-plus shortfall in pension funding, Simon Black warns that the situation across the nation as a whole is just as bad.

On October 22, 1981, the national debt in the United States crossed the $1 trillion threshold for the first time in history.

It took nearly two centuries to reach that unfortunate milestone.

. . .

Today, the national debt stands at more than $21 trillion– a milestone hit roughly two months ago.

This means that the government added $20 trillion to the national debt in the 37 years between October 22, 1981 and March 15, 2018.

That’s an average of nearly $1.5 BILLION added to the national debt every single day… $62 million per hour… $1 million per minute… and more than $17,000 per SECOND.

But the problem for the US government is that this trend has grown worse over the years.

It took only 214 days for the government to go from $20 trillion in debt to $21 trillion in debt– less than eight months to add a trillion dollars to the national debt.

That’s an average of almost $52,000 per second.

Think about that: on average, the US national debt increases by more in a split second than the typical American worker earns in an entire year.

And there is no end in sight.

At 105% of GDP, America’s national debt is already larger than the size of the entire US economy. (By comparison the national debt was just 31% of GDP in 1981.)

Plus, the government’s own projections show a steep increase to the debt in the coming years and decades.

The Treasury Department has already estimated that it will borrow $1 trillion this fiscal year, $1 trillion next year, and another trillion dollars the year after that.

They’re also forecasting the national debt to exceed $30 trillion by 2025.

. . .

Last year the government spent HALF of its budget just to pay for Social Security and Medicare.

The situation is so dire that the government spends more than its entire tax revenue just on these mandatory entitlement programs, plus Defense and interest on the debt.

Even if you could eliminate entire departments of government, they would still be running a budget deficit and going deeper into debt.

. . .

It’s a financial death spiral.

Think about it: if the government is having this much trouble making ends meet when they’re paying 2% interest on $21 trillion in debt, what’s going to happen when they’re paying 5% on $30 trillion?

It’s foolish to think that this trend has a consequence-free outcome. No nation in history has ever become prosperous by borrowing record amounts of debt to finance reckless spending.

There's more at the link.

Sadly, it's not just the US government that is so profligate.  Governments around the world have made the same mistake.  Nor is it just at government level.  Private US debt is also at astronomical levels, so great that many families and individuals are borrowing every month from one loan account or credit card, in order to pay the minimum balance due on another loan or credit card.  That's just as much of a financial death spiral, and just as sure to end badly.

I've said before that debt is killing us.  I see no reason to change that grim prognosis.

Peter

Headline of the week


Found at Wirecutter's place, under the headline "Must be the British national fish":




Says a lot for the reputation of British dentists, doesn't it?




Peter

How not to do it yourself


Two of my regular cartoon reads had overlapping themes yesterday, and both made me laugh.  I thought you might enjoy them, too.  Click each image to be taken to a larger version at their Web pages.  (Note, too, the mouse-over text at the second page.)

First, The Whiteboard discusses how to repair something not worth repairing.




Next, XKCD provides a handy (?) repair flowchart.







Peter

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Not the Moodiest of Blues


I've enjoyed the music of the Moody Blues, particularly their original seven albums, for many years.  I was therefore intrigued to learn that an early version of their song "The Story In Your Eyes", slightly extended from the one that was released and with slightly different vocal patterns, had been recorded in 1970.  It languished unremembered until 2008, when it appeared on the remastered version of their album "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour".  It's different enough that it caught my attention, so here it is.





How young they were then - and how young I was . . . innocents abroad!

Peter

Millions of Minnesota taxpayer dollars defrauded every year?


A news report suggests that there's an organized racket in the Muslim immigrant/refugee community in Minnesota to defraud that state's government.

For five months, Fox 9 has been investigating what appears to be rampant fraud in a massive state program.

This fraud is suspected of costing Minnesota taxpayers as much as $100 million a year.

The Fox 9 Investigators reporting is based on public records and nearly a dozen government sources who have direct knowledge of what is happening.

These sources have a deep fear, and there is evidence to support their concerns, that some of that public money is ending up in the hands of terrorists.

SUITCASES FILLED WITH MONEY

This story begins at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where mysterious suitcases filled with cash have become a common carry-on.

. . .

Sources said last year alone, more than $100 million in cash left MSP in carry-on luggage.

The national, go-to expert on what is behind these mysterious money transfers is Glen Kerns.

“What we were interested in is where it was going,” Kerns said.

He is a former Seattle police detective who spent 15 years on the FBI’s joint terrorism task force, until his retirement.

“It’s an outright crime, it’s unbelievable,” he said.

Kerns tracked millions of dollars in cash that was leaving on flights from Seattle.

It was coming from Hawalas, businesses used to courier money to countries that have no official banking system.

Some immigrant communities rely on Hawalas to send funds to help impoverished relatives back home.

Kerns discovered some of the money was being funneled to a Hawala in the region of Somalia that is controlled by the al Shabaab terrorist group.

“I talked to a couple of sources who had lived in that region and I said, 'If money is going to this Hawala do you think it is going to al Shabaab?'" said Kerns. "And he said, 'Oh definitely, that area is controlled by al Shabaab, and they control the Hawala there.'”

He said when the money arrives, whether it was intended for legitimate purposes or not, al Shabaab or other groups demand a cut.

As Kerns dug deeper, he found that some of the individuals who were sending out tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of remittance payments happened to be on government assistance in this country.

How could they possibly come up with such big bucks to transfer back home?

“We had sources that told us, 'It’s welfare fraud, it’s all about the daycare,'” said Kerns.

FOX 9 REPORTED ON THE FRAUD FIVE YEARS AGO

To better understand the connection between daycare fraud and the surge in carry-on cash, you have to look at the history of this crime.

Five years ago the Fox 9 Investigators were first to report that daycare fraud was on the rise in Minnesota, exposing how some businesses were gaming the system to steal millions in government subsidies meant to help low-income families with their childcare expenses.

“It’s a great way to make some money,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said.

In order for the scheme to work, the daycare centers need to sign up low income families that qualify for child care assistance funding.

Surveillance videos from a case prosecuted by Hennepin County show parents checking their kids into a center, only to leave with them a few minutes later. Sometimes, no children would show up.

Either way, the center would bill the state for a full day of childcare.

Video from that same case shows a man handing out envelopes of what are believed to be kickback payments to parents who are in on the fraud.

When asked where the money was going, Freeman said, “I don’t know exactly where it went. But it adds up when you begin to look at how many people were involved."

There's more at the link.

My one question is:  if this has been known for years, why has Minnesota's government not cracked down on it?  Can it be they're letting political correctness and social justice concerns get in the way of enforcing the law and protecting taxpayers' money?  Say it ain't so!




Peter

Privacy? What privacy?


Yet again, we're reminded that we live in a de facto surveillance state.  It's just been privatized.

The digital privacy world was rocked late Thursday evening when The New York Times reported on Securus, a prison telecom company that has a service enabling law enforcement officers to locate most American cell phones within seconds. The company does this via a basic Web interface leveraging a location API—creating a way to effectively access a massive real-time database of cell-site records.

Securus’ location ability relies on other data brokers and location aggregators that obtain that information directly from mobile providers, usually for the purposes of providing some commercial service like an opt-in product discount triggered by being near a certain location. ("You’re near a Carl’s Jr.! Stop in now for a free order of fries with purchase!")

. . .

Currently, the Supreme Court is set to rule on the case of Carpenter v. United States, which asks whether police can obtain more than 120 days' worth of cell-site location information of a criminal suspect without a warrant. In that case, as is common in many investigations, law enforcement presented a cell provider with a court order to obtain such historical data. But the ability to obtain real-time location data that Securus reportedly offers skips that entire process, and it's potentially far more invasive.

Securus’ location service as used by law enforcement is also currently being scrutinized. The service is at the heart of an ongoing federal prosecution of a former Missouri sheriff’s deputy who allegedly used it at least 11 times against a judge and other law enforcement officers.

. . .

"Top officials at Securus confirmed to my office that Securus takes no steps to verify that uploaded documents in fact provide authorization for real-time surveillance, or conduct any review of surveillance requests," Wyden continued. "Securus claimed, incorrectly, that correctional facilities, not Securus, must ensure that correctional officers don’t misuse the Web portal."

There's more at the link.

Note that Securus does not get its data directly from the telecom companies, but from third-party aggregators.  What's more, anyone who can access it from a purportedly law enforcement account - whether real, or hacked - can request location information on any cellphone in the country, providing only an online assertion that the request is legal.  It's not checked or verified in any way.  Furthermore, the service doesn't depend on whether or not the phone's GPS is enabled.  It can track anything connected to the cellular network, anywhere.

Think of what this means for criminals.  For a major organization such as a Mexican drug cartel, or organized crime in the USA, it'll be child's play to set up or hack into a Securus account.  Once that's done, it can input the cellphone number of any individual it wants to follow or monitor, up to and including law enforcement personnel's private phones or tablets.  That done, it knows where they are on an almost real-time basis.  What better way to know whether they're following criminals, or meeting with suspected informers?  "That cop spent half an hour in Jaime's shop.  What was Jaime selling him?  Tortillas - or information?"  Too bad for Jaime if a cartel suspects him of being an informer.

On the personal level, too, this is frightening.  I can see this coming into play in divorces, civil court actions, and many other situations.  Parents may use it to track their kids, domineering spouses may use it to track their (in)significant others, private investigators may use it to track clients . . . the possibilities are endless.  At present, at least a nominal affirmation that the access is for law enforcement purposes is required;  but the time may not be far away that it can be done with no explanation or justification at all.  What if someone sets up a server in Canada, or Mexico, or the Caribbean, accessing the same third-party aggregation data and providing it to all comers, with no questions asked except the number of their credit card?

Once again, George Orwell is proved to have been prescient.

Peter