Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Giving a shout-out to good holsters at a fair price

I'd like to acknowledge a holster company that does good work at reasonable prices.  They're not paying or compensating me to promote them - they don't even know (yet) that I'm writing this article - but I like to let my readers know about good deals, of which this is one.

We The People Holsters is based in Las Vegas.  They make Kydex inside- and outside-the-waistband holsters for most modern handguns, in both basic black and colorful printed designs.  (Why anyone would want a pink camouflage holster I really can't say, but apparently there are some who like them!)  The holsters are well made, and less bulky than some of their competition (which makes it easier to conceal a firearm under a shirt or coat):  and their prices are attractive.  I've bought half a dozen of their holsters so far (for myself and some of my students) at a cost of $47 each, which isn't bad at all.  Those I ordered were to fit three models of Glock pistol, the Springfield XDS, Ruger's SR9C, the S&W Shield 380 EZ and a revolver, and all have been accurately molded to those guns.  They appear adequately strong for normal concealed carry purposes.

I particularly like their holster for Glock pistols with the MOS slide cut (for reflex sights mounted on the slide).  Their OWB model for the Glock 17 is shown below.

I'm experimenting with slide-mounted reflex sights at the moment, and have found that there aren't many affordable and concealable holsters made for them.  The OWB model from We The People is cut well clear of the optic, yet holds the firearm securely (which is the whole point of a good holster).  I'm wearing it as I sit at the computer writing these words, and find it comfortable.

We The People Holsters gets my thumbs up for a quality product at a decent price.  I'll be buying from them again.


The real issue behind ALL our present discontents

The fuss over President Trump's taxes is largely an artificially-whipped-up political chimera, designed to stir up discontent among his supporters and buttress the opinion of voters already opposed to him.  However, it does remind us of a basic reality in America today, which is that there's been a $50 trillion transfer of wealth from the general population to the very wealthy since the 1970's - and it's been done deliberately, planned for and executed almost without people noticing.  Almost all of us are poorer as a result - and resentment is building.

Charles Hugh Smith puts it succinctly.

Do you hear the pathetic bleating of America's billionaires and their army of toadies? If not, you soon will, for a remarkable report has been released that documents the $50 trillion in earnings that's been transferred to the Financial Aristocracy from the bottom 90% of American households in the past 45 years.

The report was prepared by the RAND Corporation, and has a suitably neutral title: Trends in Income From 1975 to 2018. (The full report can be downloaded for free.)

. . .

The rallying cry to claw back a significant percentage of the $50 trillion is just beginning. The billionaires have the money and power, of course, and the best government that money can buy plus the loyalty of a vast army of well-paid toadies, lackeys, factotums and apparatchiks.

But once the citizens no longer accept their servitude, the pendulum will gather momentum. America's Financial Aristocracy has reached extremes not just of wealth-income-power inequality, but extremes of hubris. Their faith in luxury bug-out estates / private islands is evidence that even if the way of the Tao is reversal, they'll have their private bodyguards and stashes of fuel and other essentials.

The clawback might not be as easy to rebuff as they anticipate, nor will the pendulum swing that's just starting necessarily arrive at the opposite extreme in the orderly, predictable fashion they're accustomed to controlling.

There's more at the link.

The Washington Post provides two illustrations of what this means.  First, from an article titled "Wealth concentration returning to ‘levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,’ according to new research":

Then, from an editorial titled "The massive triumph of the rich, illustrated by stunning new data":

Those two illustrations should send shivers down the spine of anyone who studies history and economics.  If you do, you know that in every single society where such income and wealth inequality has taken root, there's been a strong, often revolutionary reaction against it from the broad mass of the people.  For example, that was one of the main reasons behind the French Revolution.  It's also behind much of what we've seen in American society over the past decade or more.  "Occupy Wall Street", Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and a host of other movements - they're all fundamentally Marxist at heart, when one analyzes them and studies the background of their leaders.  They're all fundamentally anti-capitalist, because they see this transfer of wealth as one of the biggest (if not the biggest) problems of US society today, and they want to undo it, by force if necessary.

It's hard to criticize that understanding of the problem, because it's all too accurate.  When you take away the prospect of a decent income from the broad mass of society, they're left discontented, angry and ready to fight for better prospects.  I think we're seeing more and more of that in the reaction against COVID-19 restrictions.  It's not just a reaction against unreasonable regulations - it's defiance of the authorities that people believe are responsible for the current mess (economic as well as health) in which we find ourselves.  Economic discontent is fueling all sorts of other discontents.

Commenting on the RAND Corporation report, Time magazine provides some extraordinary, even mind-boggling facts.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

A staggering $50 trillion. That is how much the upward redistribution of income has cost American workers over the past several decades ... had the more equitable income distributions of the three decades following World War II (1945 through 1974) merely held steady, the aggregate annual income of Americans earning below the 90th percentile would have been $2.5 trillion higher in the year 2018 alone. That is an amount equal to nearly 12 percent of GDP—enough to more than double median income—enough to pay every single working American in the bottom nine deciles an additional $1,144 a month. Every month. Every single year.

Price and Edwards calculate that the cumulative tab for our four-decade-long experiment in radical inequality had grown to over $47 trillion from 1975 through 2018. At a recent pace of about $2.5 trillion a year, that number we estimate crossed the $50 trillion mark by early 2020. That’s $50 trillion that would have gone into the paychecks of working Americans had inequality held constant—$50 trillion that would have built a far larger and more prosperous economy—$50 trillion that would have enabled the vast majority of Americans to enter this pandemic far more healthy, resilient, and financially secure.

As the RAND report ... demonstrates, a rising tide most definitely did not lift all boats. It didn’t even lift most of them, as nearly all of the benefits of growth these past 45 years were captured by those at the very top. And as the American economy grows radically unequal it is holding back economic growth itself.

. . .

It is easy to see how [COVID-19], and the draconian measures required to contain it, might spark an economic depression. But look straight into the eyes of the elephant in the room, and it is impossible to deny the many ways in which our extreme inequality—an exceptionally American affliction—has made the virus more deadly and its economic consequences more dire than in any other advanced nation. Why is our death toll so high and our unemployment rate so staggeringly off the charts? Why was our nation so unprepared, and our economy so fragile? Why have we lacked the stamina and the will to contain the virus like most other advanced nations? The reason is staring us in the face: a stampede of rising inequality that has been trampling the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of Americans, year after year after year.

. . .

On average, extreme inequality is costing the median income full-time worker about $42,000 a year. Adjusted for inflation using the CPI, the numbers are even worse: half of all full-time workers (those at or below the median income of $50,000 a year) now earn less than half what they would have had incomes across the distribution continued to keep pace with economic growth. And that’s per worker, not per household. At both the 25th and 50th percentiles, households comprised of a married couple with one full-time worker earned thousands of dollars less in 2018 dollars than a comparable household in 1975—and $50,000 and $66,000 less respectively than if inequality had held constant—a predicament compounded by the rising costs of maintaining a dignified middle-class life. According to Oren Cass, executive director of the conservative think tank American Compass, the median male worker needed 30 weeks of income in 1985 to pay for housing, healthcare, transportation, and education for his family. By 2018, that “Cost of Thriving Index” had increased to 53 weeks (more weeks than in an actual year). But the counterfactual reveals an even starker picture: In 2018, the combined income of married households with two full-time workers was barely more than what the income of a single-earner household would have earned had inequality held constant. Two-income families are now working twice the hours to maintain a shrinking share of the pie, while struggling to pay housing, healthcare, education, childcare, and transportations costs that have grown at two to three times the rate of inflation.

Again, more at the link.  It's well worth your time to read that article in full.

So, when you read the fuss and bother about President Trump's taxes, think of them in the context of the numbers provided above.  I don't blame the President for being a successful businessman, and hiring good accountants to minimize his tax liabilities.  As I said yesterday, anyone with enough sense and the means to do so is doing the same thing.  However, when one looks at the resentment of the average American when faced with our current economic reality, that fuss and bother takes on a new dimension.  Here's an illustration from that Time magazine article.

Economic discontent is real, and it's growing.  It doesn't matter whether you're conservative or liberal, left-wing or right-wing in your politics.  The disparity is a fact of life, and it's going to have to be dealt with, sooner rather than later - or it's going to become fuel for yet another revolution.  That's the lesson of history, and it's at the root of what we're seeing on our streets today.  Economic discontent fuels all other discontents.


Doofus Of The Day #1,066

Today's award goes to two dumb criminals in Brisbane, Australia.  A tip o' the hat to Australian reader Andrew for forwarding the link.

The “spectacularly unsuccessful” robbery of a Red Rooster by two ex-cons has been singled out by a judge as one of the “most inept” she has come across.

Jonte Thomas Holmes, 26, and Reece Charles Cummins, 29, took off from the Kelvin Grove fast food chain with what they thought was a cash register – only to discover their loot was nothing more than a wad of salt and pepper sachets.

. . .

Jonte Thomas Holmes has twice been jailed for attempting to rob Red Rooster chains.

“It’s breathtaking,” Holmes’ barrister Colin Reid said.

“He’s been spectacularly unsuccessful.”

Unbelievably, the court was told Holmes had been released one week earlier from prison after serving time for robbing a Maryborough Red Rooster while drunk.

Cummins had also just been released on parole.

There's more at the link (which may be blocked by a paywall).

After two previous larcenous failures at that restaurant chain, you'd think Mr. Holmes would have learned his lesson . . . but no, he had to try again.  Mr. Cummins probably egged him on.  It must have been enough to make both of them swear.  ("Oh, flock!")


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

"Old Three Toes — The Giant Penguin of Clearwater Beach, Florida"

That's the title of an article at the always interesting Old Salt Blog.  It brings us a piece of folklore I'd never heard before.

On a morning in February 1948, a local beachcomber was walking the beautiful white sand beach in Clearwater, FL, and was shocked to find large three-toed footprints in the sand coming out of the Gulf of Mexico. The tracks were large, 14 inches long and 11 inches wide, made a deep impression in the sand, and were widely spaced. Whatever made the tracks appeared to be heavy and very large. The tracks went on for close to two miles before returning to the water.

The tracks kept appearing on local beaches and created a considerable sensation.

. . .

Flash forward 40 years. In 1988, Clearwater resident, Tony Signorini, admitted that he and a prankster friend, Al Williams, had left the mysterious tracks all those years ago. A reporter from the St.Pete Times went to Signorini’s auto shop to interview him, and, while she was there, he showed her a pair of very large, cast-iron feet with three toes.

Signorini and Williams began by making plaster casts of what they interpreted as dinosaur feet, but the plaster was too light to make much of an impression on the sand. So, they had the feet cast in iron at a local blacksmith shop.

They bolted the cast iron feet to a pair of high-top tennis shoes, then loaded them into a rowboat and went to shallow water not far from shore, where Signorini would put the dino-feet on and wade out of the water.

To make the tracks so far apart, Signorini would balance on one foot, swinging the opposite leg back and forth to work up the momentum to make a jump to the other foot. Since each of the metal objects weighed about 30 pounds, the feat took some time and some stamina.

There's more at the link, including a photograph of the "footprints" in question.

That was an ingenious and effective scheme.  Apparently people were taken in by it for many years.  One can only applaud the pranksters' ingenuity.

However, I'm still wondering how the person(s) who made the metal "feet" was/were persuaded not to talk about it.  It must have been one of their more unusual work requests!

Perhaps the pranksters paid them enough to give them paws for thought?


Are we facing higher inflation, or even hyper-inflation, in the near future?

That's a very serious question.  We're in a very difficult economic situation right now in the USA, and one of the consequences might be - not "will be", necessarily, but might be - hyper-inflation, as seen in the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe during the past century.  At the very least, a severe bout of inflation is not unlikely, even if it doesn't reach hyper-inflation levels.

In an attempt to counter the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic and its (mis)management, the Federal Reserve is printing money (not necessarily on paper, but by creating funds out of nothing in its computer systems) like there's no tomorrow.  This year the USA will spend upwards of $6 trillion, against a taxable income to the federal government of less than half that amount.  All the rest is borrowed money, some financed by third parties buying Treasury bonds, but a lot paid for by the Federal Reserve "buying" those bonds with money that didn't previously exist.

In due course, those bonds must be repaid.  Some of that, of course, is a notional transaction.  A Treasury bond owned by the Federal Reserve is paid for in binary currency generated by the Fed, not by actual banknotes, and there need not necessarily be taxes or other income generated to cover the transaction.  Nevertheless, such payments reflect debt owed by the USA, part of its national debt.  Right now, that national debt is very high indeed, and getting higher by the day.  John Mauldin points out (bold, underlined text is my emphasis):

I’ve warned for several years now that our growing global debt load is unpayable and we will eventually “reorganize” it in what I call The Great Reset. I believe this event is still coming, likely later in this decade. Recent developments suggest it will be even bigger than I expected. You could even say I’ve been too optimistic.

Under these ... assumptions, the debt will breach $50 trillion in 2030. I bet it happens even sooner, because we probably won’t get through the 2020s without some other event blowing out the numbers—another recession or pandemic, an expensive war, who knows. But history suggests something will occur, with significant fiscal effect.

. . .

The next question is how will we finance all that debt ... The most obvious solution is for the Fed to buy whatever amount of bonds Treasury needs to sell using quantitative easing ... And the Fed’s willingness will not be lost on a future Congress, which could easily decide to test the limit. $50 trillion could just be the start.

The other question is what effect all this federal debt will have on private markets. Will it have a “crowding out” effect that reduces private lending? How will it affect legitimate business and investment activity? We’ll see the result in lower growth.

Remember, we aren’t just talking about federal debt. States and local governments owe over $3 trillion more, plus trillions more in unfunded state pension liabilities, some of which could easily end up at the Fed or Treasury. Then there are the wildly underfunded pensions (both government and corporate) that could easily default and force some kind of federal takeover. Plus corporate bonds, mortgages, student loans, auto loans, SBA loans…

I will probably be referring to this letter in five years when it becomes clear that the debt will be hitting $60 trillion or more as the US government takes on state and local liabilities and we find ourselves in another recession. I will be admitting that my $50 trillion projection was way too optimistic. Sigh. Double sigh.

You may be a debt-free, prudent investor but the fact remains, you are also a citizen and taxpayer. We are collectively in hock up to our ears. Some of this will end up on your shoulders and mine. Not a pleasant thought? Exactly.

. . .

I was explaining this to a friend last night. He asked me what we should do, somehow believing that there has to be an answer. There isn’t one. We have no good choices left. It is as if we are on a trip through a desert and know for certain we don’t have enough water to go back. We don’t know where the desert ends, but we have to go forward.

That’s the reality. Unless you want to cut Social Security and Medicare, ignore military pensions, sell the national parks, abolish departments like State and Treasury, cut the defense budget in half along with Homeland Security, Education, Labor, the Justice Department and the FBI, etc. we are going to have to live with the $2 trillion deficits. In good years. There are no better choices.

We are going to learn how much the US can borrow before it all collapses around our ears. I have no idea where that point is.

There's much more at the link (including larger versions of the graphics shown above).  Highly recommended reading.

The accrual of unsustainable government debt is precisely what sparked hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic.

The cause of the immense acceleration of prices seemed unclear and unpredictable to those who lived through it, but in retrospect, it was relatively simple. The Treaty of Versailles imposed a huge debt on Germany that could be paid only in gold or foreign currency. With its gold depleted, the German government attempted to buy foreign currency with German currency, equivalent to selling German currency in exchange for payment in foreign currency, but the resulting increase in the supply of German marks on the market caused the German mark to fall rapidly in value, which greatly increased the number of marks needed to buy more foreign currency.

That caused German prices of goods to rise rapidly, increasing the cost of operating the German government, which could not be financed by raising taxes because those taxes would be payable in the ever-falling German currency. The resulting deficit was financed by some combination of issuing bonds and simply creating more money, both increasing the supply of German mark-denominated financial assets on the market and so further reducing the currency's price. When the German people realized that their money was rapidly losing value, they tried to spend it quickly. That increased monetary velocity caused an ever-faster increase in prices, creating a vicious cycle.

The government and the banks had two unacceptable alternatives. If they stopped inflation, there would be immediate bankruptcies, unemployment, strikes, hunger, violence, collapse of civil order, insurrection and possibly even revolution. If they continued the inflation, they would default on their foreign debt.

However, attempting to avoid both unemployment and insolvency ultimately failed when Germany had both.

Again, more at the link.

A similar situation - massive over-printing or artificial generation of money - was seen in Zimbabwe.

A monetarist view is that a general increase in the prices of things is less a commentary on the worth of those things than on the worth of the money. This has objective and subjective components:
  • Objectively, that the money has no firm basis to give it a value.
  • Subjectively, that the people holding the money lack confidence in its ability to retain its value.
Crucial to both components is discipline over the creation of additional money. However, the Mugabe government was printing money to finance military involvement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, in 2000, in the Second Congo War, including higher salaries for army and government officials.

. . .

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe responded to the dwindling value of the [Zimbabwean] dollar by repeatedly arranging the printing of further banknotes ... neither the issuance of banknotes of higher denominations nor proclamation of new currency regimes led holders of the currency to expect that the new money would be more stable than the old. Remedies announced by the government never included a believable basis for monetary stability.

. . .

Over the course of the five-year span of hyperinflation, the inflation rate fluctuated greatly. At one point, the US Ambassador to Zimbabwe predicted that it would reach 1.5 million percent. In June 2008 the annual rate of price growth was 11.2 million percent. The worst of the inflation occurred in 2008, leading to the abandonment of the currency. The peak month of hyperinflation occurred in mid-November 2008 with a rate estimated at 79,600,000,000% per month. This resulted in US$1 becoming equivalent to the staggering sum of Z$2,621,984,228.

More at the link.

There are many economists who assert that the USA is in a different position to the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe, because the US dollar is the world's reserve currency.  It underpins the current world economic order.  We don't have to buy dollars to pay our debts;  we can simply print them.  However, there are strong pressures to change that, particularly from China.  If the dollar should lose its dominant position in international trade, a great deal of the support for its value would fall away.  The USA would then have to buy foreign currency with dollars to purchase goods and services from those nations that preferred non-dollar payments.  A weaker dollar would buy less foreign currency, greatly increasing costs - and giving rise to a greater rate of inflation internally.

There's also the fact that massive, artificial generation of currency without underlying economic activity to justify it has been a factor in every previous incident of hyper-inflation of which I'm aware.  We're doing precisely that in the USA today, on a truly massive scale.  I don't believe it's sustainable in the long term without similar consequences to those every previous offender has experienced.

What's more, I see inflationary signs all around us that make me very worried.  I speak from bitter experience.  I come from South Africa, which suffered under double-digit inflation for decades.  My starting monthly salary as a teenaged E-1 in that country's armed forces, way back in the '70's, was adequate for my needs at the time.  Today, that same sum will buy a basic burger (no cheese, no fancy sauces, etc.), fries and a soda at a typical South African fast food joint.  I mean that quite literally.  I went to the Web sites of South African restaurants and checked.

The Wall Street Journal notes:

If it feels like the price of everything you buy has been soaring, that’s because it has—even as central bankers everywhere worry about the danger of deflation.

The gap between everyday experience and the yearly inflation rate of 1.3% in August is massive. The price of the stuff we’re buying is rising much faster, while the stuff we’re no longer buying has been falling, but still counts for the figures.

. . .

If the government and Congress take up the free money from the Fed to finance more stimulus, this summer’s price rises could continue and become a serious worry for investors.

Equally, if the second wave of Covid-19 is followed by a third, heavy job losses and renewed recession could threaten demand and so prices again. In Europe, the three-month inflation rate fell back to exactly zero in August as a second wave hit Spain and France.

Maybe the government will deftly manage its way through the virus and the economy, providing stimulus when needed and pulling back just the right amount to prevent inflation picking up too much. Much more likely is that it goes wrong and we end up with too much or too little stimulus.

The test of that will be in how much inflation we actually get, and which parts of the economy feel it most.

More at the link.

I've argued for a long time that the "official" rate of inflation in the USA bears little or no relation to the actual rate.  Private sources such as Shadowstats or the Chapwood Index make it clear that the real inflation rate for most US consumers has been hovering around the 10% mark for years.  That's certainly borne out by my experience, watching our grocery and household expenses climb over time.  (Sadly, that climb in costs has not been matched by a corresponding rise in our household income.  I daresay most of my readers can say the same.  Most of us are worse off today than we were ten or twenty years ago, by that measure.)

I don't know for sure that higher inflation is coming, but when I look at the "signs of the times", and the lessons of history, and my own experience in South Africa . . . I'm seriously worried.  I think we may be closer to at least high inflation, if not hyper-inflation, than we like to think.  If the US dollar should lose its status as the world's reserve currency, that danger will become much greater - and very quickly.  It's astonishing how fast hyper-inflation can affect fiat currencies, which have no intrinsic or underlying value to support them.  Look at the value of the Weimar Republic paper mark (i.e. fiat currency) over time, compared to a single gold mark (i.e. with underlying value) (image courtesy of Wikipedia):

The US dollar has already lost 94% of its value over the past 76 years.  Who's to say that in three to five years, we might not be facing a total collapse in its value, similar to the collapse of the Weimar mark illustrated above?  Our economic fundamentals are not stable at present, and show no signs of becoming more stable.  We aren't nearly as secure as we might like to think.

I urge all my readers (if you aren't doing it already) to start watching your weekly and monthly grocery and household bills like a hawk.  Keep track of how much you're spending on necessities, and how much on things you could do without if you had to.  Watch how their price is changing over time.  If that change starts to average more than 1½% to 2% per month across most of your important purchases, look out!  At that point, economic hard times will likely be inevitable.  They won't just be a loss of purchasing power, either:  companies will have to lay off workers and cut expenses to the bone in order to survive.  Many of those currently employed will find themselves out of work, without an income to buy increasingly expensive goods.  That's already happening in Latin America.  Don't ignore that link - go read what's happening to people all over that continent.

I'm already seeing a few consumer prices rise more than 1% per month over the course of this year.  If and when the majority of prices show the same trend, I think it'll be a sign that we're facing very difficult inflationary times.  At that point, spend your money wisely, buy what you really need rather than what you merely want, and stock up on essentials before they get even more expensive.  The "preppers" among us, who've built up a reserve supply of food and essentials, will be better equipped than most to ride out such a storm, but even their supplies won't last forever.

What can high- and hyper-inflation do to us?
  • In Zimbabwe, people rushed to the shops, inches-thick wads of cash in hand, to buy what they need before their money became even more worthless.
  • In South Africa, I once bought a can of food (imported) with three price stickers on it, each superimposed on the one before it.  The price I paid was more than 50% above the price on the first (bottom) price sticker.
  • In the Weimar Republic, children played with bundles and stacks of banknotes, because their value was so small there was nothing better to do with them.  Go look at the images in this article.  They're eye-opening.
Food for thought, no?


President Trump's taxes: much ado about nothing

The New York Times published an "exposé" of what it claimed were President Trump's tax returns.  The article doesn't say how the newspaper came by his tax returns, except to note that they were provided to it.  The Grey Lady might well be reticent about that - because it's a felony offense to release anybody's tax returns to a third party without authorization.  One hopes that an investigation is underway into that.

Be that as it may, the allegations that President Trump paid little or no tax for years are simply that:  allegations - and badly supported ones at that.  In the absence of detailed information, including source documents (which the paper does not present to support its case), it's impossible to say from an individual tax return how much tax a business paid.  Most of President Trump's income during those years came from business dealings.  A whole raft of taxes would have been levied on them, none of which would be reflected in his personal tax return.  As Donald Trump Jr. pointed out:

“Listen, it’s ridiculous, my father’s paid tens of millions of taxes,” he said. “If he does things in certain years where you get depreciation, where you get the write-off, where you get historical tax credits like we did when we took on the risk of building the Old Post Office in D.C., it’s the perfect example. That was literally a government contract. We bid against every hotel company in the world, historical tax credits that you use to offset tax payments for taking the risk to build that. That was done under the Obama administration. It literally took an act of Congress to get it done. So with that comes historical tax credits. That’s the reality. People don’t understand what goes into a business.”

“It doesn’t include property taxes, it doesn’t include payroll taxes, it doesn’t include real estate taxes, it doesn’t include so many of the things that he’s been paying taxes on forever, as he’s also putting thousands and thousands of people to work on an annual basis,” Trump continued. “But, of course, The New York Times does this, they put out a selective, you know, picture of all of these things the day before a debate ... That’s the lens by which the media looks at anything that they can try to spin about Donald Trump.”

His description of business taxation and tax credits is exactly right.  I was a company director in South Africa before I became a pastor, and I run a small company here in the USA to handle my books and publishing income, so I speak from personal knowledge and experience in two countries.  There are all sorts of tax credits and deductibles a corporation can use to claim costs and expenses against taxable income.  I do so myself, to the maximum possible extent - legally, of course.  I don't cheat on taxes by doing so;  I merely take advantage of "loopholes" or exceptions allowed for in our tax laws.  The same applies to every business in the country, and to President Trump and his businesses as well (not that he's running them while he's President, of course).

The NYT report also appears to conflate cash income with taxable income.  Just because someone made (say) $100,000 cash income in a year does not mean that they owe taxes on all of it.  If they had legally justifiable and tax-deductible expenses of, say, $80,000 that year, they'll pay tax on only $20,000 cash income.  That's what all Americans do when we prepare our tax returns every year.  If you own a home, you're legally entitled to deduct mortgage interest from your taxes.  Tens of millions do so.  If President Trump takes advantage of similar legally entitled deductions, why should anyone complain?  (He can also afford to hire very expensive and very competent accountants, like most businesses, and they make sure he claims every deduction possible - including what he pays for their services.  That's their job, and judging from the limited information available, they appear to do it very well.)

Finally, I note that President Trump isn't taking a cent of his salary while in office.  He's donating it all to various activities and departments of the US government.  He'll be taxed on that salary, but allowed to deduct donations of that kind, so he'll end up owing no taxes on it for the duration of his term(s) of office.  His Presidential income, minus his allowable deductions, will be zero, as will the tax he pays on it.  Is that something of which he's supposed to be ashamed?

I find the whole NYT article to be nothing but an attempted partisan political take-down of an opponent.  It's inadequately sourced and justified, contains incomplete information (to put it mildly!), and is written from a clearly biased perspective.

(BTW, go read Larry Correia's fisking of the NYT report.  Larry is a retired corporate accountant, and has been through a number of IRS audits of businesses and corporations, so he knows whereof he speaks - and he does so in his usual pungent, profane and delightfully entertaining style.  As I write these words, Larry's blog isn't responding, so if you encounter that problem, wait awhile and try again.  It'll be back up soon.)


Monday, September 28, 2020

Fellow blogger Recce Rifleman has had a heart attack

Please keep him in your prayers.  He's written about his experience in three blog posts so far:

That's almost exactly how I experienced my second heart attack, in November last year;  and my treatment (stent inserted through the wrist) was almost identical to his.

I'm very glad he's OK so far.  Let's hope and pray that improvement continues - for both of us!


Give rioters an inch, and they'll take a yard - and the law may let them

A shocking video emerged over the weekend, showing a vehicle trying to get through a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Los Angeles, only to be chased down by BLM vehicles and attacked.  The victim (the driver of that vehicle) was then arrested - but the BLM attackers apparently got off scot-free.

First, look at the video.

Notice the blatant, in-your-face aggression of the BLM rioters.  They weren't afraid of police intervention at all, because they knew there wouldn't be any.  They knew that local law enforcement had basically been told to let them get away with it.

Matt Bracken analyzes the incident.

ABR [Antifa/Black Lives Matter/RevCom] used three vehicles to chase the white Prius down and attack it after it escaped the mob. A pickup truck with ABRs in the back got ahead of the Prius and cut it off from the front.

A convertible followed, packed with more troops. Both of these vehicles had guys ready to leap out for a fight or attack. And they had a dirt bike on the side to pursue anybody running away on foot, or keep up the chase if the other vehicles were blocked.

ABR tactics must not be underestimated. This was an Antifa QRF [Quick Reaction Force]: two fast “troop carriers” and a motorbike. Not random at all: this was a QRF in waiting, probably SOP [Standard Operating Procedure] for a standard ABR nighttime roadblocking mob.

Note the speed of the single motorbike, but numerous ABRs on mountain bikes arrive pretty fast too.

The black pickup / troop carrier was probably located as security on the forward end of the mob, because it was able to overtake the Prius very fast. The green convertible took a while to catch up, so it was probably on the back side of the mob, and had to get through “the comrades” before taking up the chase.

It’s important to note that on this date, ABR is using clubs and skateboards to smash vehicle windows. In a month or so, these can easily be replaced with pistols or other firearms as the SHTF escalation progresses. They could have easily shot the driver of the Prius. During a wide open SHTF / CW2 [Civil War 2], expect and plan for these ABR vehicle QRF tactics, but with the commies armed with guns instead of clubs.

As I've said again and again and again:  stay away from such conflict zones.  The chances of your being caught up in them increase dramatically the closer you are to them;  and there's no guarantee you'll be able to get away from them (particularly when the rioters set up quick reaction forces to chase you down if you try, as we saw above).

Furthermore, don't think that displaying a weapon will be enough.  When the rioters know that the local cops have been ordered to go easy on them, they won't care about your gun, because they'll be armed themselves - and they know there'll be more of them than you.  If you produce your weapon, they'll produce theirs, or try to take yours away from you (as they did to Kyle Rittenhouse).  If you actually use your weapon on them, no matter how legally and legitimately you were trying to defend yourself, you're very likely to be portrayed by the authorities (and treated as) the perpetrator of violence, rather than its victim.  (Again, see Kyle Rittenhouse.)

An armed security guard in Seattle recently learned the hard way that rioters are no longer intimidated by firearms.

Watch what happened in Seattle when the mob came across the armed security guarding a pot shop.

BLM & Antifa foolishly harassing an armed security guard outside what looks to be a pot shop. Coming soon to every city if the left gets its way. #Seattleprotests
— Kitty Shackleford (@KittyLists) September 25, 2020
They challenged him and harassed him.


Because the mob knows four things:

  • The armed guard knows that if he shoots a rioter, no matter how bad the rioter is acting, he (the guard) will face the full force of a weaponized, partisan DA’s office that sides with Antifa.
  • The armed guard knows that if he shoots someone in Antifa, they have him on video, they will doxx him, and they will probably burn down his house and try to murder him later.
  • The guard is more afraid of what happens if he pulls the trigger than what happens if he doesn’t.
  • Because of the above three things, the guard will not shoot.
So the guard drawing his gun is an idle threat, which is why they have no fear harassing an armed man.  Because he might as well not be armed.

. . .

We never expected the justice system to be so stacked against us and the mob be so organized against us that we couldn’t defend ourselves in the face of a violent threat because the outcome of winning a violent encounter is worse than losing it.

The mob may beat you nearly to death, but if you survive, they are done with you and you probably won’t go to jail.

If you shoot the members of the mob who are trying to split your skull with a skateboard, you will go to jail and/or the mob will come after you later for revenge.

There's more at the link.

As I've pointed out several times before (follow those 5 links for more information), many major US cities now have far-left-wing and progressive District Attorneys and prosecuting authorities who deliberately side with demonstrators and rioters (and other criminals) against law-abiding citizens.  City Journal goes so far as to call it a "culture of lawlessness in D.A. offices".

Compared with his predecessor’s average conviction rates, [Philadelphia District Attorney] Krasner either dropped or lost 26 percent more of all felony cases. More robbery cases (up 14 percent) and auto theft cases (up 37 percent) were dropped or lost. In drug sales (not possession) cases, Krasner dismisses or loses 55 percent of cases, compared with the 34 percent rate of his predecessor.

. . .

Krasner is not alone in presiding over rising crime while dropping or losing felony cases at a record rate. In a survey of six jurisdictions where progressive district attorneys serve, every city or county logged a lower overall felony-conviction rate, as well as a lower conviction rate for violent or serious crimes, than did their predecessors. On average, the profiled prosecutors dropped 20 percent more felony cases. Crime has risen dramatically.

In Baltimore, America’s big-city murder capital, homicides have increased 65 percent under progressive prosecutor Marilyn Mosby. Our report shows that Mosby drops or loses many more felony cases than her immediate predecessor, who enjoyed a lower crime and murder rate. A felony defendant is 23 percent less likely to be convicted under Mosby. Felons in possession of a firearm are 46 percent less likely to be convicted. Even when they are convicted, they serve less prison time than before.

Independent analyses of other cities bear out our findings. Progressive prosecutor Kimberly Gardner in St. Louis, who infamously charged a couple who brandished firearms at protesters threatening to invade their home, loses at trial or drops cases at an astounding rate. Trial conviction rates fell to approximately 53 percent under Gardner, from 72 percent before her arrival. Gardner is pressing charges in only 23 percent of cases filed by police. The rest remain “pending.”

Similarly, a Chicago Tribune investigation confirmed our earlier findings that Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx dismissed 35 percent more felony cases than her predecessor and dropped nearly 40 percent of all felony cases 2019. These offenses include serious and violent crimes like homicides, sex crimes, assaults by gun, and attacks on police officers. Sadly, in the Windy City, Jussie Smollett isn’t the only one getting away with crime. Homicides and shootings are up 50 percent over last year as criminals go free.

The media tout many of these progressive prosecutors as righteous crusaders for justice—but in fact, they don’t deliver justice to the public or to crime victims. Elected prosecutors like Krasner have a duty to secure public safety. As the results in cities across the U.S. show, failing to prosecute dangerous and violent offenders only begets more crime and erodes trust in the justice system.

Again, more at the link.

What Andrew McCarthy calls "the Progressive Prosecutor Project" has been one of the far left's most successful efforts to undermine US society.

The key to understanding the Machiavellian brilliance of the Progressive Prosecutor Project is this: As a matter of constitutional law, no legislature or court has the power to order a prosecutor to charge any crime against any person. In our system, prosecution is exclusively an executive call. Practically speaking, short of voting a rogue district attorney out of office, there is no remedy for abusive discretionary omissions—decisions not to prosecute. To be sure, if a prosecutor performs some affirmative illegal act while enforcing the law, there are legal remedies available—motions to suppress evidence, lawsuits against government, potentially even prosecution. But omissions are a different story. It is nigh impossible to force prosecutors to take enforcement action. Thus, a willful district attorney has enormous power to install non-prosecution as the default policy.

Realizing this, the left’s social-justice warriors have grasped that the control of prosecutorial power may be the most effective route to rapid societal transformation. It is transformation driven not by law, logic, or a half-century’s empirical data on offense behavior and policing methods, but by cultural Marxist narratives: the criminal-justice system and its law-enforcement agencies as a superstructure reifying America’s pervasive racism, xenophobia, and forcible oppression of The Other.

Equally important, prosecutorial power is attainable at the ballot box. For the most part, district attorneys, who oversee state prosecution at the municipal level throughout the United States, are elected officials.

. . .

In de facto one-party governance (Democratic), which controls most urban centers, the DA candidate runs virtually unopposed, the real contest limited to any intraparty vying for the nomination.

Consequently, DA positions have been ripe for the taking. Over the last few years, a network of progressive activists backed by big money has seized the day.

More at the link.

Go read Mr. McCarthy's article in full for a very useful summary of the situation.  He says flatly, "the nation's crime busters are becoming criminal enablers".  That leaves the rest of us - law-abiding citizens - in the lurch, particularly because progressive prosecutors will target us if we defend ourselves against their favored clients.  What's more, they'll go on doing so no matter who's in the White House, or which party controls Congress or the Senate.  They are, in so many words, laws unto themselves.  They enable criminals and rioters.

Fortunately, there are still many jurisdictions where such prosecutors have not taken office.  However, progressives are planning to expand their network across the nation.  We need to be on our guard to ensure that they don't succeed.  If you live in a place where they have succeeded, you need to take that into account if and when you're confronted with rioters and criminals.  Successful self-defense is likely to lead to criminal charges, no matter how unjustified they may be, so that the prosecuting authorities can send a politically correct message to their supporters - and to their opponents.

For preference, stay away from trouble spots.  If you aren't there, you can't get into trouble.  As noted firearms and self-defense instructor John Farnam has said:

The best way to handle any potentially injurious encounter is: Don’t be there. Arrange to be somewhere else. Don’t go to stupid places. Don’t associate with stupid people. Don’t do stupid things ... “A superior gunman is best defined as one who uses his superior judgment in order to keep himself out of situations that would require the use of his superior skills.”

Apply that to the situation discussed at the start of this article.  If the driver of that Prius in Los Angeles had turned around and headed the other way, he/she would not have found themselves in so dangerous a situation.  They made a poor choice, and they paid the price for it.  They were very, very lucky not to have paid more dearly.  The location of a rioting mob ("stupid people") is the quintessential "stupid place" to avoid!

If trouble finds you despite your best efforts, and you have no choice but to defend yourself, do so as quickly and discreetly as possible, then assess your options.  I'm not advising you to break the law.  Being a law-abiding citizen, I can't do that.  Nevertheless, if someone's name doesn't come to the attention of corrupt prosecutors, they can't charge them with an offense.  Knowing the legal and practical options available, and using them to the fullest possible extent, is no crime.

In particular, bear in mind that you have more legal rights in some circumstances than in others.  Depending on your jurisdiction, you may or may not have a "duty to retreat" in the face of attack, or you may be protected by "stand your ground" laws.  You may be permitted to use lethal force to defend your property under certain circumstances, or you may not be allowed to use such force except in defense of life and limb.  Know your local laws, and operate within them to avoid unpleasant legal consequences.  If possible, have security cameras and other recording devices to keep a record of what happened (e.g. in defending your home against attack), so that you can if necessary prove you acted within the law (and your attackers didn't).  Dashcams in your vehicle (particularly models that record an all-round view) are a very useful option if you have to drive in a riot-prone area.

Finally, if we want to clean up our streets and re-establish the rule of law, we're also going to have to clean up our prosecutors' offices.  That may be difficult to do democratically in the short term, particularly if a progressive District Attorney has packed his/her office with like-minded lawyers and prosecutors, so that even if the boss of the department changes, his/her employees will not be supportive of his/her new approach.  This will take time and effort to solve.  One hopes that suitable encouragement and incentives might be offered, to persuade the worst offenders to resign before they do too much more damage.


Memes that made me laugh 26

The harvest from around the Web over the past 7 days.


Sunday, September 27, 2020

Sunday morning music

Sky, which existed in various line-ups from 1979 until 1995, was one of the first so-called "supergroups", where established musicians from other groups and/or solo success came together to record and perform on an occasional basis.  Sky was a cross-genre group, with influences from classical, rock and jazz music.  Its original lineup included John Williams, Herbie Flowers, Kevin Peek, Tristan Fry and Francis Monkman, all well-known in their own right.

The "core" of Sky's work is generally considered to be their first four albums.  After that, with members coming and going, the quality of their work is largely agreed to have declined.  I've chosen one piece from each of those four albums, to introduce them to readers who may not have heard of them.

From their eponymous debut album, here's "Danza", based on a theme by Antonio Ruiz-Pipó.

From Sky 2, here's "El Cielo".

From Sky 3, a live performance of "Sarabande", based on a well-known dance form as interpreted by Handel.

And from "Sky 4: Forthcoming", here's "Fantasia", based on a theme by Renaissance composer Alonso Mudarra.

For their time, Sky provided a novel fusion of genres, performance styles and instruments that inspired many who've followed in their footsteps.


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Saturday Snippet: Self-esteem (yeah, right!)

The iconoclastic Fred Reed has been writing his columns and publishing his books for several decades now.  Lately he seems to be less humorous and more ponderous, although he's still worth reading.  However, I think I prefer vintage Fred.  He can make me laugh harder than almost any columnist, while still dispensing nuggets of homespun (?) wisdom in among the blarney.

Here's a column from his 2002 collection "Nekkid in Austin".  (I normally post a picture of the cover of books featured here, but this one is NSFW, so you'll have to click on the link to see it.)

Why Mama Doan’ Low No Self-Esteem Roun’ Heah

If I hear anyone say “self-esteem” again, I’m gonna get my duck gun.

What I figure is, we’ll catch all the varmints that talk about self-esteem— those pale radishy psychotherapists and feeble-minded educators and enormous talk-show ladies who look like slabs of fatback, only a scientist spilled radiation on it and it sprouted legs. Then we’ll get one of those medieval catapults, the kind that can chuck a ton for a mile. I reckon Oprah would carry at least twenty feet. We’ll fill it with the varmints. Then we’ll put it next to an alligator swamp and invite all the duck hunters, and holler, “Pu-ll-lllllllllllllllll!” What the duck hunters missed, the gators wouldn’t.

Then we’d go for beer and ribs.

This self-esteem business has gotten out of hand. Turn on the TV, if you don’t have better sense, and you’ll probably get some gal talking about how her self-esteem has gone rancid, and has warts on it, and maybe sags where it shouldn’t so she’s thinking about an implant.

Usually it’s a woman. Men doubt themselves, but they respond differently.

When a man gets to feeling sorry for himself he drinks himself into a stupor.  If he really means it, he loses his job and ends up living under a bench. He may get into bar fights. Maybe he’ll just get moody and sulk or inflict a short-man’s complex on everybody. But he won’t tell Oprah how pitiful he is on national television. He doesn’t want anyone to know.

Now, there are reasons for low self-esteem. If you’ve started a war, for instance, or burned down an orphanage for the insurance and forgot to take the orphans out first, or you’re a televangelist and got old people to send you their savings so now they’re living in cardboard boxes and eating Vienna sausages. Do the rascals who do these things feel bad about themselves? No. They’re happy as bugs on a picnic sandwich.

The folk with low self-esteem are perfectly good people who can’t get dates. (An awful lot of this self-esteem stuff seems to boil down to exactly that.) Or maybe they had unhappy childhoods (who didn’t?) or didn’t get as far in life as they had hoped to (who does?). At bottom they’ve got a case of ordinary life, which ain’t all collard greens and ham hocks. They don’t need low self-esteem. There’s nothing wrong with them.

Maybe the reason they have low self-esteem is that people think television is real. If you lived in a small town with no TV, you’d know that everybody was tolerably miserable—the banker was a drunk, the preacher cheated, the mayor and his wife hated each other.

But the fantasy box tells you that the world is chiefly populated by glamorous hunks and gorgeous babes. They live like James Bond and don’t have problems.  Maybe guys watch this stuff and start thinking, “Geez, I don’t have a Maserati, I’ve never been in a gunfight with international drug lords, and I’m the only man in America who hasn’t married Elizabeth Taylor. Oh, how I’ve failed.”

How many of us would worry about self-esteem if the box didn’t tell us we were supposed to? Personally, I don’t know whether I have any.

Further, I don’t care. If I’m not interested in my self-esteem, I can’t imagine why anyone else would be. I’ve just got other things to do.

Honky Tonk Confidential, my favorite bar band, is playing at Whitey’s next week. And I’ve got a new Glock in .45 ACP that I want to shoot.

Now, the way I figure it, if I went to a therapist lady to get my self-esteem checked, and found out I was a quart low, I’d still have the Glock and I’d still want to go to Whitey’s. On the other hand, what if she told me I had splendid self-esteem—triple-chromed, with low cholesterol and a good credit rating—I’d still want to go to Whitey’s, etc.

Suppose I found that I was nothing special? Just a semi-bald Presbyterian in a cowboy hat? Or that movie starlets were not lining up at my door in wild desperate hopes of carnal knowledge? I’m used to it.

The whole business gets worse. It isn’t just adults. The dumb lobby uses self-esteem as another excuse for making children into whimpering robotic imbeciles. I keep hearing about how teachers want to stop giving kids grades so as not to hurt their self-concept. It’s nuts. The schools won’t teach the white kids to spell, or the black kids to speak English, because being corrected might embarrass them. Really.

Maybe I’m just a country boy, and don’t understand things like I ought. But I have to wonder: Who is going to have the most self-esteem? A baffled semi-literate who reads four years below grade level and isn’t sure what country he lives in? Or a high-school grad who reads fluently and has the self-respect that goes with it? I guess I’m missing something.

It looks as if whimpering is replacing doing. Used to be, a stripling kid might have all manner of doubts about his manhood. So he’d join the Army and become a paratrooper. He’d leap out of airplanes and run seventy miles with a 1200 pound pack, uphill, in a snowstorm.

Backwards. That’s what paratroopers do. They don’t have any better sense, which is why they’re good people.

Today the kid would be sneered at, by people frightened of a dark night in suburbia, because he had something to prove. That’s exactly what he had. And he proved it. It works. Afterwards he doesn’t have to worry about what he’s made of. He knows.

Herewith a radical theory, copyright me and trademarked to the gills. It could put therapists out of work. (If the alligators miss any. I’m only going to use alert alligators.) It might restore learning to the schools, grow hair on bald men and eliminate cellulite. This is it: If you want to respect yourself, do something you will respect yourself for doing.

How’s that for forty-weight insight? You could lube a diesel with it.

I think that's a great idea - but it's not politically correct in today's world.  No wonder Hillary called us "deplorables"!  For a couple more examples, relevant to today's urban reality, see "Getting Shod at Berkeley" and "Race and the Inevitability of Behavior" in the same collection.


Friday, September 25, 2020

"Why do women still change their names?"

The BBC asks that question in a long article examining the history and current practice surrounding marriage, and women changing their surnames to that of their husband.

In the US, most women adopt their husband’s family name when they get hitched – around 70%, according to one of the largest data analyses in recent years. For British women, the figure is almost 90%, according to a 2016 survey, with around 85% of those aged between 18 and 30 still following the practice. Although these figures are lower than they were a generation ago, it’s clear it remains a strong cultural norm in large parts of the western world, despite today’s more individualistic and gender-aware era. While definitions of feminism vary, 68% of women under 30 describe themselves as feminists in the US and around 60% in the UK.

“It is quite surprising... [so many women adopt the man’s name] since it comes from patriarchal history, from the idea that a woman, on marriage, became one of the man’s possessions,” says Simon Duncan, a professor in family life at the University of Bradford, UK, who has been researching the practice of male name-taking. He describes the tradition as “entrenched” in most English-speaking countries, even though the concept of “owning” wives was scrapped more than a century ago in Britain, and there is currently no legal requirement to take a man’s name.

Much of western Europe also follows the same pattern (notable exceptions include Spain and Iceland, where women tend to keep their birth names when they marry, and Greece, which has made it a legal requirement for wives to retain their names for life since 1983). Even in Norway, which is regularly ranked one of the top countries for gender equality and has a less overtly patriarchal history, the majority of married women still take their husband’s name. There, however, around half of name-takers keep their maiden name as a middle name, which functions as a secondary surname.

“The question remains... is this just a harmless tradition, or is there some sort of meaning leaking from those times to now?” asks Duncan, who recently teamed up with academics at the University of Oslo and the University of the West of England to delve into the reasons for its persistence.

There's more at the link.

I've often asked myself the same question.  I agree that a woman changing her name to that of her husband is largely a patriarchal tradition.  It probably stems from the Biblical perspective that the husband is the boss:

"Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."

That passage doesn't go down very well with modern, "liberated" women!  Many people fail to put it in perspective.  It was written in a patriarchal society, where women had few (if any) rights of their own.  They were basically possessions, first of their fathers, then of their husbands.  It's not surprising that the patriarchally-minded men who wrote about faith would see life from that perspective.  It's still that way in many traditional tribal societies, particular in Africa.

Nowadays, we understand that men and women are equal as human beings, both in the sight of God and in their personal interactions.  They have different roles, sure, but those roles don't confer superiority or inferiority.  They're just roles.  They don't define the humanity of the person involved.

I see no reason, in modern society, why a woman should have to change her surname to that of her husband.  If she wants to, sure, why not?  However, if she doesn't want to, equally, why not?  For that matter, what if the husband wants to change his name to that of his wife?  I can't think of any reason why that should be forbidden when it's so common the other way around.  If there's no name change, there are a few practical issues - for example, what surname would the kids use? - but those can be dealt with.

What do you think, readers?  Let us know in Comments.