Friday, January 31, 2014

Remind Me Why Blacks and Other Minorities Vote Democrat?

I've seen this poster showing up on various conservative websites lately:

Source: Diogenes' Middle Finger

Massive Voter Fraud by 2016

The DiploMad offers the following:
We will see massive electoral fraud by 2016, at the latest. The manufactured "controversy" over voter I.D. and "pathways" to citizenship is really about getting millions of new Democratic voters casting ballots. It has nothing to do with black Americans, who demographically are in decline vis-a-vis other minority groups. To get this result, the progressives are more than willing to degrade the concept of citizen by making it available to just about anybody, while at the same time giving people without it the same rights and benefits.
And the key battleground states for this are Arizona and Texas.

U.S.-China Rivalry More Dangerous Than Cold War?

The Diplomat notes:
The prominent realist international relations scholar John Mearsheimer says there is a greater possibility of the U.S. and China going to war in the future than there was of a Soviet-NATO general war during the Cold War.

... In contrast to the Middle East, which he characterizes as posing little threat to the United States, Mearsheimer said that the U.S. will face a tremendous challenge in Asia should China continue to rise economically. The University of Chicago professor said that in such a scenario it is inevitable that the U.S. and China will engage in an intense strategic competition, much like the Soviet-American rivalry during the Cold War.

While stressing that he didn’t believe a shooting war between the U.S. and China is inevitable, Mearsheimer said that he believes a U.S.-China Cold War will be much less stable than the previous American-Soviet one. His reasoning was based on geography and its interaction with nuclear weapons.

Specifically, the center of gravity of the U.S.-Soviet competition was the central European landmass. This created a rather stable situation as, according to Mearsheimer, anyone that war gamed a NATO-Warsaw conflict over Central Europe understood that it would quickly turn nuclear. This gave both sides a powerful incentive to avoid a general conflict in Central Europe as a nuclear war would make it very likely that both the U.S. and Soviet Union would be “vaporized.”

The U.S.-China strategic rivalry lacks this singular center of gravity. Instead, Mearsheimer identified four potential hotspots over which he believes the U.S. and China might find themselves at war: the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan Strait and the South and East China Seas. Besides featuring more hotspots than the U.S.-Soviet conflict, Mearsheimer implied that he felt that decision-makers in Beijing and Washington might be more confident that they could engage in a shooting war over one of these areas without it escalating to the nuclear threshold.
The simple matter is that armed conflict between China and the U.S. is more likely is because there are more ties between China and the U.S., and thus more areas of potential conflict, than there ever was between the U.S. and an isolated Soviet Union. When China kept to itself, there was little chance of direct conflict. But the two nations and their allies are, or will be soon, be butting heads over access to sea routes, natural resources, trade issues, and so on...even U.S. and Chinese monetary and fiscal policies create tension because of the intertwining of the two economies.

Security Theater

Since everyone is linking to this article at Politico by a former TSA agent, I will do so as well. Among other things, the agent describes how ineffectual is the security--including the full body scanners.
We knew the full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed. Not long after the Underwear Bomber incident, all TSA officers at O’Hare were informed that training for the Rapiscan Systems full-body scanners would soon begin. The machines cost about $150,000 a pop. 
Our instructor was a balding middle-aged man who shrugged his shoulders after everything he said, as though in apology. At the conclusion of our crash course, one of the officers in our class asked him to tell us, off the record, what he really thought about the machines. 
“They’re shit,” he said, shrugging. He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket. 
We quickly found out the trainer was not kidding: Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.
Of course, the purchase and installation of body scanners was never about security, but about crony capitalism:
... George W. Bush’s former Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff has a personal financial stake in the production of full body scanners produced by Rapiscan Systems (a subsidiary of OSI Systems). Notably, the CEO of OSI Systems recently joined President Barack Obama on the recent trip to India. No doubt it was a great opportunity to convince Obama of the “necessity” of full-body scanners in the ironic battle to protect freedom.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Obama's Love for Elites

"I believe that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams," Obama said early in his remarks.

Looking at his administration, however, you would never know he believes that. Yes, as the president pointed out, both he and House Speaker John Boehner come from modest backgrounds. But as a graduate of Harvard Law School, Obama has shown himself more of that stripe, stuffing his administration with like-minded denizens of the Ivy League.

... A National Journal survey last year of 250 decision-makers in the Obama administration found that no fewer than 40 percent of them held Ivy League degrees. Moreover, just one-quarter of those officials held graduate degrees from a public university. In fact, more Obama administration officials secured advanced degrees from Oxford—you know, in England—than from any American public school. And more than 60 either attended Harvard as an undergrad or a grad student.

The survey also found than an overwhelming majority of administration officials hailed from the Northeast, with the West and South severely underrepresented. Just 18 percent came from a state that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. As the survey noted, "You're more likely to find someone who grew up overseas working in the top ranks in the administration than someone who grew up in Texas."
It is not hard to understand why. Simply look at his past. William Deresiewicz wrote a piece for the American Scholar on why those who attend elite schools are so conceited, lack real world skills, and have no empathy for the 99%. You should read the whole piece to understand the absolute sense of entitlement to power and money that the Ivy League schools instill in their graduates. But in the relevant part, Deresiewicz writes:
The first disadvantage of an elite education, as I learned in my kitchen that day, is that it makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you. Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely—indeed increasingly—homogeneous. Visit any elite campus in our great nation and you can thrill to the heartwarming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. At the same time, because these schools tend to cultivate liberal attitudes, they leave their students in the paradoxical position of wanting to advocate on behalf of the working class while being unable to hold a simple conversation with anyone in it. Witness the last two Democratic presidential nominees, Al Gore and John Kerry: one each from Harvard and Yale, both earnest, decent, intelligent men, both utterly incapable of communicating with the larger electorate.

But it isn’t just a matter of class. My education taught me to believe that people who didn’t go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class. I was given the unmistakable message that such people were beneath me. We were “the best and the brightest,” as these places love to say, and everyone else was, well, something else: less good, less bright. I learned to give that little nod of understanding, that slightly sympathetic “Oh,” when people told me they went to a less prestigious college. (If I’d gone to Harvard, I would have learned to say “in Boston” when I was asked where I went to school—the Cambridge version of noblesse oblige.) I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to elite colleges, often precisely for reasons of class. I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to college at all.

... Elite colleges are walled domains guarded by locked gates, with admission granted only to the elect. The aptitude with which students absorb this lesson is demonstrated by the avidity with which they erect still more gates within those gates, special realms of ever-greater exclusivity—at Yale, the famous secret societies, or as they should probably be called, the open-secret societies, since true secrecy would defeat their purpose. There’s no point in excluding people unless they know they’ve been excluded.

One of the great errors of an elite education, then, is that it teaches you to think that measures of intelligence and academic achievement are measures of value in some moral or metaphysical sense. ...
Notwithstanding Obama's references in the State of Union to having been raised by a single mother (his mother was single for only about a year or so during his childhood; and for much of his childhood he lived with his grandparents anyway), and working his way up, his actual life has been one among the elite. From the 5th grade until he graduated from high school, he attended Punahou School, a private college preparatory school. He later graduated from Colombia and Harvard Law School. (Source: Wikipedia).

Some More Foreign Policy Successes for Obama

If one views Obama's foreign policy strategy as one intended to weaken the United States, undermine its allies, and move the world closer to devastating wars, Obama has been very successful. Iraq is fragmenting, and unable to contain its political violence; Afghanistan will soon be returning to the fold of the Taliban; Libya is in chaos with significant amounts of ground to air missiles reaching the hands of terrorists; Turkey is drawing away from the West. The only bright note is that Egypt has, at least for now, stymied the hopes of the Muslim Brotherhood, although that was over Obama's objections.

So Obama should be pleased with today's and yesterday's news. First, the Times of Israel reports that Iran is in the position to build a nuclear weapon anytime it wants.
Iran now has all the technical infrastructure to produce nuclear weapons should it make the political decision to do, [U.S.] Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote in a report to a [U.S.] Senate intelligence committee published Wednesday. However, he added, it could not break out to the bomb without being detected.

In the “US Intelligence Worldwide Threat Assessment,” delivered to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Clapper reported that Tehran has made significant advances recently in its nuclear program to the point where it could produce and deliver nuclear bombs should it be so inclined.
If the Obama administration is just now reporting this publicly, it means that Obama has probably been aware of this for weeks, if not months. In other words, during the whole time Obama was touting his "deal" with Iran about stopping nuclear weapons, he probably had intelligence indicating that Iran had either reached a point where they could construct a nuclear device, or would shortly (i.e., a matter of weeks) be able to do so. If nothing else, Obama allowed Iran the additional time it needed to finish enriching nuclear materials.

And what about Obama's famous deal over Syrian chemical weapons? Reuters reports:
Syria has given up less than 5 percent of its chemical weapons arsenal and will miss next week's deadline to send all toxic agents abroad for destruction, sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
On the positive side, if Obama had been able to intervene in Syria like he wanted, those weapons would now be in the hands of Al Qaeda.

And while Obama continues his purge of U.S. military commanders, China continues to look forward to the future of warfare. From the Washington Free Beacon:
China is developing anti-satellite missiles and other exotic weapons that can destroy or disrupt vital U.S. military and commercial communications, space warfare experts told Congress on Tuesday.

“The current and evolving counterpace threat posed by China to U.S. military operations in the Asia Pacific theater and outside is extremely serious,” said Ashley J. Tellis, a former State Department and National Security Council strategic specialist.

“And the threat ranks on par with the dangers posed by Chinese offensive cyber operations to the United States more generally,” said Tellis, now with the Carnegie Endowment.
Space supremacy is key to future military security. Yet Obama, to my knowledge, has not publicly stated anything about countering China's militarization of space.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What Will Russia Do?

Things are getting dicey in the Ukraine. The Russian perspective, as set out in an article at Pravda, is:
... for Putin it is obvious that the West wants to swallow Ukraine up whole, leaving Russia without a buffer state against the military-political union of the EU and the USA. Putin called the interference of European officials in the Ukrainian conflict "not a very good thing," referring to the specific character of relations between Russia and Ukraine."
The EU couldn't even go it alone against Libya, so I'm not sure why Russia fears it so. Nevertheless, and with good reason, Russia has a strong historical fear of invasion.

The protests are having some results. The Washington Post indicates that the Ukrainian government has made some concessions to protesters:
Ukraine’s opposition movement gained ground Tuesday in its efforts to remake the country, with the resignation of the prime minister and his cabinet and the repeal of harsh new laws restricting freedom of speech and assembly.

Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, invalidated the anti-demonstration laws hours after Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned. Passage of the legislation on Jan. 16 had triggered street clashes in the capital, Kiev, after months of protests against government corruption and the closer ties to Russia favored by President Viktor Yanukovych.

The unraveling of the government has the potential to become a severe blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who strove to prop up Yanukovych and keep Ukraine from drawing closer to the West.

Parliament passed an amnesty bill Tuesday that would drop criminal liability for protesters who agree to leave the government buildings they have occupied. But the opposition objected to the terms, and the bill is to be reconsidered Wednesday. Vacating public buildings has been a key government demand, but Oleh Tiahnybok, head of the opposition Svoboda party, said protesters would remain in the buildings until Yanukovych’s Party of Regions leaves the government.
 However, there are reports that Russian troops have been secretly entering the Ukraine. For instance, Intellihub has the following:
As the protests and uprisings in Ukraine continue to grow, the government is outsourcing troops from Russia to help put down protesters.

“There is information that at 1400 Russian Spetznaz troops were disembarking at [Kyiv local airports] Boryspil and Zhulyany dressed in civilian clothing and that they were going to dress in [Ukrainian riot plice] Berkut uniforms and proceed to the Madan” Rada deputy Andriy Parybiy, of the Batkivshchyna Party said at a recent press conference.[1]

Government agents in Ukraine have had trouble contending with the the large numbers of protesters and have been resorting to the most brutal tactics in some cases. As we reported earlier this week protesters have been kidnapped from the hospital and taken into the woods where they are tortured and executed.[2]
 As I wrote recently, this could be 1956 Hungary all over again.

How Obama is Going to Use His Pen and Phone

Obama has proclaimed that with or without Congress, he is going to get things done. Obviously, as the chief executive, Obama has the ability to enact policy changes within the Federal government, and even its contractors (e.g., his recent requirement that government contractors pay higher minimum wages). But we have seen other examples that are more likely to be the real method he will use his pen and phone: by siccing government agencies, such as the IRS, on his enemies; and making it more difficult on the public, and "encouraging" private entities to work with him. He doesn't need Congress to pass new laws if he can bully his opposition to stay quiet, and bully businesses and corporations to follow his plan. For over 100 years, Congress and the Courts have been handing more and more authority to the office of the President. Now we have the tyrant our founding fathers warned against.

The LEGO App

Lego has teamed with Google to produce an application for the Chrome browser that allows you to build Lego structures in a virtual world, which other people can then browse similar to Google Earth. Given the price of Lego sets, this is long overdue. The website--Build with Chrome--is here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Urban Gangs Shoot Each Other--Who Knew?

The LA Times reports:
Twenty children or adolescents were hospitalized for firearm-related injuries every day in 2009, and 453 died of their wounds, a new report says. 
The study provides one of the most comprehensive recent efforts to tally the number of children hurt nationally in gun-related incidents. It was published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. 
A national database of patients younger than 20 who were admitted to hospitals in 2009 shows that boys represented nearly 90% of the total, and that the rate of gunshot-related hospitalizations for African American males was 10 times that of white males. 
Blacks ages 15 to 19 were 13 times more likely than their white peers to be injured by gunfire. And 70% of all black children hospitalized for gun injury (compared with 32% of all white children injured by firearms) were classified as victims of assault. Latino children and adolescents were three times likelier than white children to be hospitalized with a firearm-related injury.
Who would have thought that urban gangs were violent?

Next, the LA Times will stun us with the news that the Earth is round.

I wish I could find the article now, but I read recently that if you subtract gang violence from the picture, inner-city neighborhoods would actually be pretty safe.

The Imperial Presidency

Kevin Williamson writes at the National Review about the grotesqueness of the State of the Union Address, and the general pomp and ceremony of the ruling elite.
The State of the Union is only one example of the deepening, terrifying cult of the state that has taken root here. Many heads of state — and some royals, for that matter — fly on commercial aircraft. Presidents of the Swiss federation and members of the federal council receive . . . an unlimited train pass. They have occasional access to a Cessna maintained by the air force, but are known to use mass transit — just like the people they are elected to represent. An American president stages a Roman triumph every time he heads out for a round of golf. The president’s household costs well more than $1 billion annually to operate. The president’s visage is more ubiquitous than was Vladimir Lenin’s in his prime, his reach Alexandrian, his sense of immortality (they call it “legacy”) pharaonic. Washington has become a deeply weird and alien place, a Renaissance court with armored sedans and hundred-million-dollar paydays. 
It’s expensive maintaining an imperial class, but money isn’t really the object here, and neither is the current occupant of the White House, unlikeable as he is. Whether it’s Barack Obama or some subsequent pathological megalomaniac, Republican or Democrat, the increasingly ceremonial and quasi-religious aspect of the presidency is unseemly. It is profane. It is unbecoming of us as a people, and it has transformed the presidency into an office that can be truly attractive only to men who are unfit to hold it.

George Washington showed the world that men do not need a king. We, his heirs, have allowed the coronation of something much worse.
Truer words have never been spoken.

The Science Really is Unsettled

Roger L. Simon has written a piece about Obama's war on science by politicizing it. (Reminiscent of another leftist, Adolf Hitler, who used a bunch of pseudo-science to justify the Holocaust). Simon links to an article by Australian  atmospheric physicist Garth Paltridge, who writes about the fundamental uncertainties of climate science:
The World Meteorological Organisation of the United Nations took its first steps towards establishing the World Climate Program in the early 1970s. Among other things it held a conference in Stockholm to define the main scientific problems to be solved before reliable climate forecasting could be possible. The conference defined quite a number, but focused on just two.

The first concerned an inability to simulate the amount and character of clouds in the atmosphere. Clouds are important because they govern the balance between solar heating and infrared cooling of the planet, and thereby are a control of Earth’s temperature. The second concerned an inability to forecast the behaviour of oceans. Oceans are important because they are the main reservoirs of heat in the climate system. They have internal, more-or-less random, fluctuations on all sorts of time-scales ranging from years through to centuries. These fluctuations cause changes in ocean surface temperature that in turn affect Earth’s overall climate.

The situation hasn’t changed much in the decades since. Many of the problems of simulating the behaviour of clouds and oceans are still there (along with lots of other problems of lesser moment) and for many of the same reasons.
He goes on to describe some of the issues in detail, noting that climate scientists can only model climate at discrete points which, because of the courseness of the model, are larger than clouds or eddies. Thus, they have to guess on what averages between these data points will be. It would be like punching pin holes spaced say, half an inch apart, on a sheet of paper, overlaying a painting, then using the bit of color or shade you can use through the pin hole to tell you what the painting portrays. This is compounded by the model then using that initial set of data points to then extrapolate into the future. Small errors compound themselves.

Paltridge goes on:
In the light of all this, we have at least to consider the possibility that the scientific establishment behind the global warming issue has been drawn into the trap of seriously overstating the climate problem—or, what is much the same thing, of seriously understating the uncertainties associated with the climate problem—in its effort to promote the cause. It is a particularly nasty trap in the context of science, because it risks destroying, perhaps for centuries to come, the unique and hard-won reputation for honesty which is the basis of society’s respect for scientific endeavour. Trading reputational capital for short-term political gain isn’t the most sensible way of going about things.

The trap was set in the late 1970s or thereabouts when the environmental movement first realised that doing something about global warming would play to quite a number of its social agendas. ...

The scientists in environmental research laboratories, since they are not normally linked to any particular private industry, were forced to seek funds from other government departments. In turn this forced them to accept the need for advocacy and for the manipulation of public opinion. ...

The trap was partially sprung in climate research when a number of the relevant scientists began to enjoy the advocacy business. ...

Somewhere along the line it came to be believed by many of the public, and indeed by many of the scientists themselves, that climate researchers were the equivalent of knights on white steeds fighting a great battle against the forces of evil—evil, that is, in the shape of “big oil” and its supposedly unlimited money. The delusion was more than a little attractive.

The trap was fully sprung when many of the world’s major national academies of science (such as the Royal Society in the UK, the National Academy of Sciences in the USA and the Australian Academy of Science) persuaded themselves to issue reports giving support to the conclusions of the IPCC. ...

Since that time three or four years ago, there has been no comfortable way for the scientific community to raise the spectre of serious uncertainty about the forecasts of climatic disaster. It can no longer use the environmental movement as a scapegoat if it should turn out that the threat of global warming has no real substance. It can no longer escape prime responsibility if it should turn out in the end that doing something in the name of mitigation of global warming is the costliest scientific mistake ever visited on humanity. The current redirection of global funds in the name of climate change is of the order of a billion dollars a day. And in the future, to quote US Senator Everett Dirksen, “a billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon we’ll be talking about real money”.

Keep Deluding Yourself

In a massive show of hypocrisy:
CBS analyst Mellody Hobson, whose husband George Lucas is worth $7.3 billion, appeared on This Morning to slam excessive salaries for corporate bosses. Discussing income inequality and Barack Obama's planned discussion at the State of the Union, Hobson lashed out, "If you look today, the typical CEO makes 354 times more than the typical worker in his or her company, mostly his because there are so few women running companies."
But the last line is what really amazes me--that she believes that income disparity is the result of too few women running companies. Well, my own experience has not shown women to be any more altruistic than men (and probably the opposite is true). I couldn't find any articles or studies supporting Hobson's assertion, but the Ivey Business Journal discussed female executive compensation last year, and noted:
In 2009, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz received a pay package of $42.7 million, believed to be the largest in history for a female executive. Bartz was not the only female executive whose compensation raised a few eyebrows. That same year, Irene Rosenfeld, the CEO of Kraft Foods Inc., received $26.3 million in total compensation, while Indra Nooyi, the chair and CEO of PepsiCo (and Number One on the 2010 Fortune list of the “50 Most Powerful Women”) took home $14.9 million.

CEO compensation is based on a number of elements, including tenure, the ability of a CEO to return value to shareholders, and the competitive advantage they establish for the firm. The pay packages above might suggest that Bartz, Rosenfeld and Nooyi are the vanguard of a trend that will see significant increases in compensation for female leaders and that will erase the long history of significant gender pay disparity at the upper echelon level.

This trend appears to be supported by an examination of pay packages in some of the largest global companies. According to 2009 data compiled by Bloomberg News, the 16 female CEOs who headed companies included in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index had earnings that were, on average, 43 percent higher than earnings for males. These female CEOs also received an annual 19 percent raise, while their male counterparts experienced a 5 percent cut. And it is worth remembering that all of these salaries and increases were granted during a global recession.
So, income disparity was allegedly growing at the same time more women were being promoted to executive positions and being paid more.

I would also note that this is a different issue than the male-female income gap, which has been shown to be false at low and mid-level positions, and results at higher positions due to women choosing not to follow the executive path.

H/t Weasel Zippers

The Science is More Unsettled Than Ever

I was reading this article from the Daily Mail describing the weakening of the Earth's magnetic field, and came across this:
The Earth's climate [if the magnetic field reversed] would change drastically. In fact, a recent Danish study believes global warming is directly related to the magnetic field rather than CO2 emissions. 
The study claimed that the planet is experiencing a natural period of low cloud cover due to fewer cosmic rays entering the atmosphere.

The Sacrifice of Children

It has been confirmed that the ancient Carthaginians did engage in child sacrifice, just as their Roman critics had said (contrary to a popular documentary on the topic):
"This is something dismissed as black propaganda because in modern times people just didn't want to believe it," said Josephine Quinn, a lecturer in ancient history at Oxford, who is behind the study, with international colleagues, of one of the most bitterly debated questions in classical archaeology.

"But when you pull together all the evidence – archaeological, epigraphic and literary – it is overwhelming and, we believe, conclusive: they did kill their children, and on the evidence of the inscriptions, not just as an offering for future favours but fulfilling a promise that had already been made.

"This was not a common event, and it must have been among an elite because cremation was very expensive, and so was the ritual of burial. It may even have been seen as a philanthropic act for the good of the whole community."

... The Roman historian Diodorus and other ancient historians gave graphic accounts of Carthaginian child sacrifice: "There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus, extending its hands, palms up and sloping towards the ground, so that each of the children when placed thereon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire."

Diodorus even said that some citizens who bought children from poor people and reared them specially for sacrifice believed misfortunes had resulted because they had not sacrificed their own offspring.

... Quinn said many of her academic colleagues were appalled by her conclusions.

"The feeling that some ultimate taboo is being broken is very strong. It was striking how often colleagues, when they asked what I was working on, reacted in horror and said, 'Oh no, that's simply not possible, you must have got it wrong.'"

"We like to think that we're quite close to the ancient world, that they were really just like us – the truth is, I'm afraid, that they really weren't."
However, are we really that different? According to CNBC, Al Gore spoke at the Davos summit about the need to reduce the surplus population in order to control global warming. Although the CNBC article attempted to spin Gore's comments as referring to contraceptives, he spoke more broadly of "empowering women and making fertility management ubiquitously available," which is newspeak for abortions. How is Gore's position that we should kill children to save us from global warming any different from ancient Carthaginians sacrificing children to ensure a good crop?

Time to Crush OPEC

Bob Zubrin believes that the surge in oil production due to fracking and horizontal drilling will be transitory, and that the United States should take the breathing room it affords us to crush OPEC once and for all. He notes that OPEC has done incredible harm to the world's economy, including our own:
Before discussing the policies that could break OPEC, let us first examine how the cartel harms the United States, the global economy, and world peace.

From the end of World War II through 1973, while under the control of the big multinational oil companies, the countries that subsequently became OPEC increased their oil production by more than a factor of ten, from about 3 to 30 million barrels daily — keeping up, step by step, with the needs of the rapidly growing postwar global economy. Because of this, oil prices, adjusted for inflation, remained stable and even declined somewhat from 1947 through 1972, enabling one of the most spectacular sustained periods of economic growth in human history. Since the oil crisis of 1973, total world demand has grown even further, from about 57 million barrels per day to almost 90 million barrels per day in 2012.

Yet despite this dramatic increase in world demand for oil since 1973, OPEC has never produced much more than it did in 1973. In fact, OPEC currently limits its production rate to 1973 levels: At its May 2013 conference in Vienna, the cartel decided to “adhere to the existing production ceiling” of 30 million barrels per day, which is the same amount OPEC countries produced in 1973. Although the world’s non-OPEC oil producers increased their output by more than 60 percent since 1973, that increase has been insufficient to offset OPEC’s dominant position. As a result of OPEC’s constraint on supply, inflation-adjusted oil prices have more than quadrupled since 1973, and global economic growth has slowed accordingly. By limiting the amount of oil OPEC countries produce, the cartel’s leaders can control the total amount available to the world market, and thereby can essentially fix the price of oil wherever they wish.

The effects of oil prices on the broader economy are not complicated: when the price of oil goes up, everything that depends on oil becomes more expensive. This is not just a matter of the “pain at the pump” that consumers feel when they fill up their cars. Over 90 percent of the energy used in the U.S. transportation sector is derived from oil, which means that when prices rise, all of the goods and services that depend on cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships — which is to say, nearly everything — will become more expensive.

With higher energy prices eating into profits, businesses have to raise prices or find ways to cut costs — which often means firing employees. This can be clearly seen in Figure 2 (below), which compares oil prices (adjusted for inflation to 2012 dollars) to the U.S. unemployment rate from 1970 through 2012. Every oil price hike for the past four decades, including those in 1973, 1979, 1991, 2001, and 2008, was followed shortly afterwards by a sharp rise in American unemployment.

The economic damage goes far beyond the impact on the unemployed themselves. For example, in 2008, rising oil prices — exceeding $140 per barrel by mid-year — contributed to millions of Americans losing their jobs, which in turn made many of them default on their home payments, fueling the destruction of the value of mortgage-backed securities held by U.S. banks. This, in turn, threatened a general collapse of the financial system, with a bailout bill for $800 billion sent to the taxpayers as a result. But that is not all. The destruction of the spending power of the unemployed and the draining of funds from everyone else to meet the direct and indirect costs of high oil prices reduced consumer demand for nearly every type of product, wrecking retail sales and the industries that depend upon them. It is no surprise that, as University of California, San Diego economic historian James D. Hamilton has documented, ten of the eleven postwar U.S. recessions were preceded by sharp increases in oil prices.

The economic effects of rising oil prices are painful enough in wealthy, industrialized countries, but people living in poorer countries are even more vulnerable. The escalating costs of production, transportation, wages, and packaging all drive up the retail cost of food, contributing to greater poverty and instability. And governments paying higher energy costs have less funding available for life-saving investments in economic development, vital imports, public health, and poverty reduction.

To make matters worse, several of the OPEC member countries have a track record of using their oil profits to support activities inimical to American interests. Saudi individuals and “charities” have long funded jihadist groups. As recently as December 2009, the U.S. State Department noted (in one of the cables published by Wikileaks) that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” and that the country “remains a critical financial support base” for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, and other terrorist groups. The rulers of Iran, the cartel’s second-largest oil producer, are the great patrons of the Hezbollah terrorist organization, and are using their oil profits to fund the development of nuclear weapons.

So OPEC’s manipulation of oil prices is the equivalent of a severe regressive tax on the U.S. economy, and it threatens international peace and stability. How can it be stopped?
Zubrin notes that the key to crushing OPEC is to adopt methanol (wood alcohol) based fuels. It apparently is easy to adapt most modern vehicles to burn methanol, and it is already cheaper to produce methanol. Zubrin believes wide spread use of methanol would drive the price of oil down and breach the cartel.

I don't have any problem with adopting methanol to crush the cartel. It would also have the salutary effect of terminating the odious ethanol subsidies. But we also need to be prepared for the consequences. The OPEC countries heavily subsidize fuel, food, and other social services in order to maintain social order (i.e., the power of the corrupt dictatorships and autocracies that rule those countries). Most of those countries have to maintain hefty fuel prices in order to fund these welfare programs.

Zubrin expects that if the United States turned to methanol, oil prices would drop to half of their current levels. This is below what any of the OPEC nations could survive on. The result would be one Middle Eastern capital after another falling to revolution, wide spread civil war, and torrents of migrants. We need to be prepared to contained and isolate the violence.

If we are going to crush OPEC, we also need to be aware that the left will fight it with all of their heart. Leftists love autocratic governments, particularly those hostile to the West. Environmentalists love the money they get from the Middle-East. Establishment Republicans also enjoy the money and illusion of power they get from kowtowing to political cronies.

Interactive Crime Rates Infographic

I was recently told of a interesting tool--an interactive crime rates infographic for the United States.

On the main map, each state is color coded so you can see at a glance a rough comparison of that state versus the others.

Clicking on a particular state will then bring up more particular information for how that state compares against others (a low ranking--e.g., 5th--is good; whereas a low ranking--e.g., 40th--indicates a high crime rate) as to specific types of crime: violent crime, murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault (i.e., assaults with deadly weapons), property crimes, burglary, larceny theft, and auto theft. Anyway, check it out.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ball Lightening

From Ars Technica:
[A] team of researchers serendipitously observed ball lightning at a time when they had the right equipment to study it. Jianyong Cen, Ping Yuan, and Simin Xue were in the field measuring the properties of ordinary lightning when they happened to catch ball lightning with both their high-speed cameras and their spectrographs. They found the chemical composition of the event matched that of soil. That strongly supports the hypothesis (proposed nearly fifteen years ago) that ball lightning is basically a dirt clod dislodged and heated to incandescence by a cloud-to-ground lightning strike.
H/t Woodpile Report

And the Universe Yawned

Amy Glass says that she views stay-at-home mothers with contempt. She writes:
Every time I hear someone say that feminism is about validating every choice a woman makes I have to fight back vomit.

Do people really think that a stay at home mom is really on equal footing with a woman who works and takes care of herself? There’s no way those two things are the same. It’s hard for me to believe it’s not just verbally placating these people so they don’t get in trouble with the mommy bloggers.

... You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids.

I hear women talk about how “hard” it is to raise kids and manage a household all the time. I never hear men talk about this. It’s because women secretly like to talk about how hard managing a household is so they don’t have to explain their lack of real accomplishments. Men don’t care to “manage a household.” They aren’t conditioned to think stupid things like that are “important.”
Another Ibsen woman--spewing the same post-Victorian b.s. for the past 100+ years. I'm not even going to try and go into the misconception that raising children is easy. Glass obviously has no idea. And I suppose that I could explain that between modern conveniences and all-day public schools, "stay-at-home" moms eventually are the only ones that have time to indulge their creative sides and interests to any great degree.

I could also address that what Glass is really saying is that if you have adult responsibilities, you have to act like an adult. You can't just pack the bags and fly to Barbados or Paris. Except, most women without kids and husbands don't get to do that anyway. So it is really an empty promise.

But, I suppose, in the end, what I will say is that the Universe just doesn't care about women like Glass who choose to live in perpetual adolescence. She is an evolutionary dead-end. No offspring to pass on her genes or her values. A meaningless life that will disappear beneath the waves of time without even a ripple to show it ever happened.

Passive Resistance

Glenn Reynolds has a timely piece on passive resistance--citizens simply not going along with government edicts. He focuses on Colorado's passage of laws legalizing marijuana and the dismal enrollment figures of ObamaCare. He also separately links to an article discussing the failure of a recent Connecticut law requiring registration of so-called "assault weapons" and "high capacity" magazines.

I don't know whether the ObamaCare fiasco reflects passive resistance or sticker shock. I suppose in the end it doesn't matter, because the result is still a massive failure to comply with government edict--and given the way ObamaCare was passed in the face of strong public opposition, there is no other term to accurately describe it.

The criminalization of marijuana probably had broad public support when it was passed. But in doing so, no one asked the public if they wanted the 4th Amendment thrown out the window. Some supporters are probably people who just want their pot, but I suspect many more are people that have realized that the so-called "drug war" has been a failure at every level.

Of course, laws governing the registration of firearms have been increasingly ignored over the years because there is no mistaking the end purpose of such laws--confiscation. In fact, what I've seen over the years is a progression from passive resistance to contempt for the law. Not only ignoring the law, but a very active community intent on figuring out ways to work around the law. And, of course, the more the government tries to ban or restrict weapons, the greater the interest it generates in the public. Just from my own observations, in 1994 when the Brady Bill (aka, assault weapon ban) was passed, very few people outside of the survivalist community had any interest in "black rifles." By the time the law expired, such rifles had cachet. Now, its seems that everyone wants one.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Feminist Failure -- Biggest Obstacle to Social Mobility is the Single Parent Household

The Washington Examiner reports on a Harvard Study on social mobility and children.

A new study from Harvard University on the ability of low-income children to achieve social mobility found that the largest hindrance to moving up the income ladder is being raised by a single parent.

“The strongest and most robust predictor [of social mobility] is the fraction of children with single parents,” the study said.

Further, the study found that “[children] of married parents also have higher rates of upward mobility if they live in communities with fewer single parents.”

... The study found the prevalence of single parents to be a much larger factor in determining social mobility than income inequality -- something President Obama and Democrats speak of ad nauseum.

In fact, the study found that income inequality was not a statistically significant predictor of social mobility.
I guess Dan Quayle was right. The fact is that the left's policies are and always been horrible failures. And as for Obama's latest on "income inequality," I can guarantee that it is merely another excuse to rob the middle-class in order to buy the votes of the poor.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Was Noah's Ark Round?

The Daily Mail reports on recent translations of Babylonian flood stories that describe a round ark:
It tells a similar story, complete with detailed instructions for building a giant round vessel known as a coracle — as well as the key instruction that animals should enter 'two by two.'

The tablet went on display at the British Museum today, and soon engineers will follow the ancient instructions to see whether the vessel could actually have sailed.

... Finkel believes a round boat makes sense.

Coracles were widely used as river taxis in ancient Iraq and are perfectly designed to bob along on raging floodwaters.

'It's a perfect thing,' Finkel said. 'It never sinks, it's light to carry.'

Elizabeth Stone, an expert on the antiquities of ancient Mesopotamia at New York's Stony Brook University, said it made sense that ancient Mesopotamians would depict their mythological ark in that shape.

The tablet records a Mesopotamian god's instructions for building a giant vessel, two-thirds the size of a soccer field in area, made of rope, reinforced with wooden ribs and coated in bitumen.

Finkel said that on paper (or stone) the boat-building orders appear sound, but he doesn't yet know whether it would have floated.

A television documentary due to be broadcast later this year will follow attempts to build the ark according to the ancient manual.

Hawking Proposes That Black Holes Lack Event Horizons

From Nature:
Now [in lieu of an event horizon, as predicted by Relativity, or a firewall, as predicted by quantum mechanics] Hawking proposes a third, tantalizingly simple, option. Quantum mechanics and general relativity remain intact, but black holes simply do not have an event horizon to catch fire. The key to his claim is that quantum effects around the black hole cause space-time to fluctuate too wildly for a sharp boundary surface to exist.

In place of the event horizon, Hawking invokes an “apparent horizon”, a surface along which light rays attempting to rush away from the black hole’s core will be suspended. In general relativity, for an unchanging black hole, these two horizons are identical, because light trying to escape from inside a black hole can reach only as far as the event horizon and will be held there, as though stuck on a treadmill. However, the two horizons can, in principle, be distinguished. If more matter gets swallowed by the black hole, its event horizon will swell and grow larger than the apparent horizon.

Conversely, in the 1970s, Hawking also showed that black holes can slowly shrink, spewing out 'Hawking radiation'. In that case, the event horizon would, in theory, become smaller than the apparent horizon. Hawking’s new suggestion is that the apparent horizon is the real boundary. “The absence of event horizons means that there are no black holes — in the sense of regimes from which light can't escape to infinity,” Hawking writes.

... Unlike the event horizon, the apparent horizon can eventually dissolve. Page notes that Hawking is opening the door to a scenario so extreme “that anything in principle can get out of a black hole”. Although Hawking does not specify in his paper exactly how an apparent horizon would disappear, Page speculates that when it has shrunk to a certain size, at which the effects of both quantum mechanics and gravity combine, it is plausible that it could vanish. At that point, whatever was once trapped within the black hole would be released (although not in good shape).

If Hawking is correct, there could even be no singularity at the core of the black hole. Instead, matter would be only temporarily held behind the apparent horizon, which would gradually move inward owing to the pull of the black hole, but would never quite crunch down to the centre. Information about this matter would not destroyed, but would be highly scrambled so that, as it is released through Hawking radiation, it would be in a vastly different form, making it almost impossible to work out what the swallowed objects once were.

Yes, I would

Weasel Zippers caught a rather humorous tweet from Sally Kohn, suggesting that the lack of a black Oscar winner is evidence of racial bias. Since, as Weasel Zippers notes, the Oscar votes represent the far left, I would have to agree with Kohn. Yes, the left-wing suffers from a racial bias.

Democrats Channeling the Nazi Party Again

Ace of Spades notes some "coincidences":

Coincidence: Hollywood's only conservative group is getting close IRS nonprofit scrutiny
Another Coincidence: James O'Keefe Group Being Audited by NY. Again.
Yet Another Coincidence: Dinesh D'Souza Indicted For Election Fraud
Still Another Coincidence: IRS Proposes New 501(c)(4) Rules That Just Happen to Cover Most Tea Party Groups
Judge Strikes Down Wisconsin's 'John Doe' Subpoenas Secret investigations targeted coincidently at most prominent conservative groups in WI who can only now legally talk about their harassment. If you want to see what American fascism would look like, well this is it.
H/t Instapundit

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Japan and China -- Is War Inevitable?

The Business Insider has an interesting piece. Keep in mind, however, that the opinions are just those of one unidentified Chinese "professional", and does not necessarily reflect the dominant opinion among Chinese leaders.
I went to one of those fancy private dinners last night in Davos, Switzerland. 
Like most of the events here at the 2014 World Economic Forum, the dinner was conducted under what are known as "Chatham House Rules," which means that I can't tell you who was there.

I can tell you what was said, though. And one thing that was said rattled a lot of people at the table.

During the dinner, the hosts passed a microphone around the table and asked guests to speak briefly about something that they thought would interest the group.

One of the guests, an influential Chinese professional, talked about the simmering conflict between China and Japan over a group of tiny islands in the Pacific.

... The Chinese professional at dinner last night did not seem so much worried about a military conflict as convinced that one was inevitable. And not because of any strategic value of the islands themselves (they're basically worthless), but because China and Japan increasingly hate each other.

... He then explained that the general sense in China is that China and Japan have never really settled their World War 2 conflict. Japan and America settled their conflict, he explained, and as a result, the fighting stopped. But China and Japan have never really put the war behind them.

The Chinese professional acknowledged that if China asserted control over the disputed islands by attacking Japan, America would have to stand with Japan. And he acknowledged that China did not want to provoke America.

But then he said that many in China believe that China can accomplish its goals — smacking down Japan, demonstrating its military superiority in the region, and establishing full control over the symbolic islands — with a surgical invasion.

In other words, by sending troops onto the islands and planting the flag.

The Chinese professional suggested that this limited strike could be effected without provoking a broader conflict. The strike would have great symbolic value, demonstrating to China, Japan, and the rest of the world who was boss. But it would not be so egregious a move that it would force America and Japan to respond militarily and thus lead to a major war.
These comments are interesting in light of Japan's Prime Minister also suggesting that Japan and China are fast approaching war. From the Atlantic:
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday, Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, compared recent tensions between China and Japan to the rivalry between the British and German empires at the start of the 20th century. Like the Chinese and Japanese are today, he noted, the British and Germans were close trading partners in 1914—until World War I broke out. Abe argued that China’s military buildup is destabilizing the region, warned of “inadvertent conflict,” and admitted that the two countries didn't have an “explicit roadmap” to resolve one. Then the Japanese leader packed his bags and traveled to China’s rival, India, for an official visit.

LDS Church Releases Statement on Same Sex Marriage

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ("LDS" or "Mormon") has released a statement on same sex marriage after the recent holding of a federal district court judge legalizing such marriages in Utah. It states, among other things:
... Marriage between a man and a woman was instituted by God and is central to His plan for His children and for the well-being of society. Strong families, guided by a loving mother and father, serve as the fundamental institution for nurturing children, instilling faith, and transmitting to future generations the moral strengths and values that are important to civilization and crucial to eternal salvation.

Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established. God expects us to uphold and keep His commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society. His law of chastity is clear: sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife. ...
Just as those who promote same-sex marriage are entitled to civility, the same is true for those who oppose it. The Church insists on its leaders’ and members’ constitutionally protected right to express and advocate religious convictions on marriage, family, and morality free from retaliation or retribution. The Church is also entitled to maintain its standards of moral conduct and good standing for members.
I don't have much faith in the courts on that issue.

Hezbollah Involved in Int'l Money Laundering Operation

According to this article at the Brisbane Times, Australian authorities have busted a massive drug money laundering scheme which has ties to, and provides funds to, Hezbollah. The relevant part of the article states:
It's understood that dozens of ''exchange houses'' or money-laundering centres in the Middle East and Asia are then used to wash and distribute the money to overseas crime bosses. 
It is believed at least one of the exchange houses used in the Australian operation delivers a cut from every dollar it launders to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, whose military wing has been proscribed in Australia as a terrorist organisation. 
Last year, the US government identified two Lebanese exchange houses, Kassem Rmeiti and Halawi Exchange, as drug money cleaners financing Hezbollah.
It is not uncommon for terrorist groups to become involved in the drug trade. Killing innocent people doesn't pay very well. For some groups, what started as a side-line method of obtaining money becomes the very reason for their continued existence. Other groups, I imagine, are just absorbed into larger cartels. I, myself, am perplexed on why coalition forces did not take a more aggressive stance on destroying opium production in Afghanistan.

Ukrainian Opposition Sets Up Its Own Parliament

According to one of the resistance movements:

On the statutory meeting of the People’s Rada (People’s Council) of Ukraine the Declaration to announce the People’s Rada of Ukraine was ratified.

The People’s Rada of Ukraine is a representative organ of the people’s deputies of the protection of the Constitution, said MP of “Batkivschyna” Andrew Pyshniy.

The Rada incorporates oppositional and individual MPs, that stand by protecting the Constitution, constitutional order and democracy, parliamentarism and oppose dictatorship and the usurpation of power by the Yanukovych regime.

The People’s Rada will exercise legislative power to monitor the implementation of issues that according to p.4 of the Constitution are in the authority of the Verhovna Rada and “are now usurped by the Yanukovych regime”.

According to the Declaration, in the Crimea, every area of Kyiv and Sevastopol, in the cities and regions on the basis of oppositional party factions in the regional, city and district councils the People’s Radas are formed as inter-factional parliamentary associations, which will protect constitutional rights and freedoms along with the People’s Rada.

The People’s Rada of Ukraine plans to organize and convene a Public Constitutional Assembly as an organ to draft a new Constitution of Ukraine, which is to restore legality and law and order, the balance between the branches of government, their independence from one another and the introduction of real local self-government in Ukraine.

The establishment of the People’s Rada shall be confirmed by citizens of Ukraine by collecting signatures.

The declaration mentions that the People’s Rada of Ukraine will form the People’s Electoral Commission from oppositional MP’s who are members of the counting board of the Verhovna Rada. The People’s Electoral Commission will carry out the national polls and determine their results. In Crimea, each oblast, region, district, and city people’s electoral commissions of deputies of the city, district and local councils from opposition factions will be formed.
 An interesting solution to a non-responsive government--make a new one. We may be there after the next couple of election cycles.

(H/t Instapundit)

The Truth About Feminism ...

... It is about hypergamy for the well-to-do, and single-mother-hood or spinster-hood for the rest. The Wall Street Journal notes this about Wendy Davis' back story:

Which brings us to Wendy Davis, who turns out to be a personification of this feminist myth. Davis is the Fort Worth, Texas, state senator who became a feminist cause célèbre last year when she led a failed filibuster against a bill to impose modest restrictions on abortion. Now she is running for governor.

Davis's campaign has leaned heavily on autobiography: "Mine is a story about a teenage single mother who struggled to keep her young family afloat," she declares on her campaign website. "It's a story about a young woman who was given a precious opportunity to work her way up in the world. It's a story about resiliency, and sacrifice, and perseverance. And you're damn right it's a true story."

... Slater quotes Davis's website bio: "With the help of academic scholarships and student loans, Wendy not only became the first person in her family to earn a bachelor's degree but graduated first in her class and was accepted to Harvard Law School."

It turns out that in addition to "academic scholarships and student loans," she benefited from a marriage to a high-status man. Jeff Davis, a friend of her father's, was a successful lawyer 13 years her senior.
He paid for her final 2 years at Texas Christian University, and paid for her Harvard law education and raised their daughter by himself while she was at Harvard. Afterwards, he helped her in her political career through his contacts. Once he paid off the rest of her student loans, she didn't need him, and, literally the day after the last loan payment was made, she left him and abandoned her daughter.

Socialism in Action -- Higher Education Costs

The Daily Caller notes: "According to the College Board, the average cost for tuition, room and board at four-year colleges and universities has increased 28 percent during Obama’s presidency."

(H/t Instapundit)

The "Recession" Worsens

CNBC reports:
On Tuesday, Sears said that it will shutter its flagship store in downtown Chicago in April. It's the latest of about 300 store closures in the U.S. that Sears has made since 2010. The news follows announcements earlier this month of multiple store closings from major department stores J.C. Penney and Macy's.

Further signs of cuts in the industry came Wednesday, when Target said that it will eliminate 475 jobs worldwide, including some at its Minnesota headquarters, and not fill 700 empty positions.

Experts said these headlines are only the tip of the iceberg for the industry, which is set to undergo a multiyear period of shuttering stores and trimming square footage.

Shoppers will likely see an average decrease in overall retail square footage of between one-third and one-half within the next five to 10 years, as a shift to e-commerce brings with it fewer mall visits and a lesser need to keep inventory stocked in-store, said Michael Burden, a principal with Excess Space Retail Services.
I know that the story is trying to blame internet sales for the losses, but deeper in the story it acknowledges that this is a trend continuing from the 2008 "recession." The simple fact is that people don't have the money to spend anymore.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Media Distorts Portrayal of Egyptian Vote

Dr. Ashraf Ramelah, the founder and president of Voice of the Copts, has written an op-ed for the Gates of Vienna that discusses the recent Egyptian elections, taking umbrage at Western media portraying the current Egyptian government in terms similar to the Nazis or in other disparaging terms. What impresses me is that the Copts seem pleased (or at least at ease) with the vote, which is in direct contrast to how they have been treated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Anyway, read the whole thing.

Bangladesh in Brooklyn

Daniel Greenfield takes a look at one of the fastest growing minority neighborhoods in New York City, and what makes it different from other ethnic enclaves you can find in the Big Apple.

Wealth Disparity

From Bloomberg:
Oxfam International has released a new report, Working for the Few, documenting yawning global wealth disparities. Other findings:

• The world’s richest 1 percent control almost 50 percent of global wealth.
• In 24 out of 26 countries studied, the richest 1 percent has increased their share of national wealth since 1980.
• Only three in 10 people live in countries where economic inequality has not increased over the past three decades.
• In the U.S., 95 percent of post-financial-crash wealth generated (i.e., since 2009) went into the bank accounts of the richest 1 percent.
• Nine in 10 people in the U.S. control less wealth in real terms than they did before the financial crash.
Socialism at work.

China is Dependent on America's Fiscal Health...

... writes Steve Forbes. His argument is that China's amassing of U.S. dollar reserves and treasury notes makes it more dependent on the U.S., not less. He also argues that merely accumulating this wealth, rather than investing, bespeaks a different problem with China's financial markets--that they are too centralized and relying on outdated economic thought from the age of mercantilism.

Read the whole thing.

Even Chinese Officials Don't Trust Their Own Banks

The Guardian reports:
More than a dozen family members of China's top political and military leaders are making use of offshore companies based in the British Virgin Islands, leaked financial documents reveal.

The brother-in-law of China's current president, Xi Jinping, as well as the son and son-in-law of former premier Wen Jiabao are among the political relations making use of the offshore havens, financial records show.

The documents also disclose the central role of major Western banks and accountancy firms, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, Credit Suisse and UBS in the offshore world, acting as middlemen in the establishing of companies.

The Hong Kong office of Credit Suisse, for example, established the BVI company Trend Gold Consultants for Wen Yunsong, the son of Wen Jiabao, during his father's premiership — while PwC and UBS performed similar services for hundreds of other wealthy Chinese individuals.

The disclosure of China's use of secretive financial structures is the latest revelation from "Offshore Secrets", a two-year reporting effort led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which obtained more than 200 gigabytes of leaked financial data from two companies in the British Virgin Islands, and shared the information with the Guardian and other international news outlets.

In all, the ICIJ data reveals more than 21,000 clients from mainland China and Hong Kong have made use of offshore havens in the Caribbean, adding to mounting scrutiny of the wealth and power amassed by family members of the country's inner circle.

As neither Chinese officials nor their families are required to issue public financial disclosures, citizens in the country and abroad have been left largely in the dark about the elite's use of offshore structures which can facilitate the avoidance of tax, or moving of money overseas. Between $1tn and $4tn in untraced assets have left China since 2000, according to estimates.
 Socialism at work.

Why Cops Shouldn't Have Guns--Friendly Fire

BART officer killed in friendly fire incident, while raiding an empty apartment. This goes on more than we realize.

Planned Parenthood Honors MLK By Promising to Kill More Black Babies

There have been 55 million babies killed since the passage of Roe v. Wade. Black women have the highest abortion rates in America. Consequently, as many black babies (appox. 3,400) are killed in 4 days due to abortion, as the number of blacks killed by the KKK over a period of 86 years. So what does Planned Parenthood say about this:
"We honor Dr. King’s memory by continuing to provide services that allow people of all ages, races, and walks of life to reach their fullest potential – this is our part in ensuring a greater equality for all.”
Well, at least Planned Parenthood is true to their core Nazi-like eugenics mission.

Actual Unemployment Over 37%

From the Washington Examiner:
In a memo to clients provided to Secrets, David John Marotta calculates the actual unemployment rate of those not working at a sky-high 37.2 percent, not the 6.7 percent advertised by the Fed, and the Misery Index at over 14, not the 8 claimed by the government.

Marotta, who recently advised those worried about an imploding economy to get a gun, said that the government isn't being honest in how it calculates those out of the workforce or inflation, the two numbers used to get the Misery Index figure.
Marotta's figures are based on the number of working age adults that are out-of-work, no matter the reason or length of time. Federal figures don't count people that have been out of work so long that they have stopped looking.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rare 29.6 Carat Diamond Found

From BBC News:

The 29.6-carat stone was recovered by Petra Diamonds at its Cullinan mine, about 40km (25 miles) north-east of Pretoria. 
"This stone is one of the most exceptional stones recovered at Cullinan during Petra's operation of the mine," the company said. 
... "The stone is an outstanding vivid blue with extraordinary saturation, tone and clarity, and has the potential to yield a polished stone of great value and importance," Petra said in a statement on Tuesday. 
... In 1905, the renowned Star of Africa blue diamond - the world's second largest cut diamond - was discovered at the Cullinan mine. 
The pear-shaped 530-carat stone was presented to King Edward VII and became part of the British crown jewels.

The Ukraine Protests Have Erupted Again

I found a few articles that seem to explain what is going on.

Max Fisher, writing at the Washington Post, probably gives the most succinct explanation:
... Here are three reasons the protests came back. 
First, President Yanukovych signed a new law limiting basic freedoms. 
Nothing gets activists back out in the street like signing a law that imposes strict limits on the press, on peaceful assemblies, on Internet use and even on speech itself. ... 
Second, Yanukovych's government is seen as drawing closer to Russia. 
... The political crisis was in many ways over whether Ukraine would lean more toward Moscow or toward Europe – a dilemma it's been facing, and to some degree putting off, for its 23 years of independence. ... 
Third, the core problems driving the protests are all still there. 
Ukraine's politics have long been divided into two major factions by the country's demographics. What's happening right now is in many ways a product of that division, which has never really been reconciled. Just about every Ukrainian government since independence has been seen as representing one "side" of this divide, with the other hating him or her as a perceived foreign pawn. That's exacerbated by political corruption and by the fact that Ukraine's troubled economy does indeed make it reliant on outside countries. Today, Ukraine is still demographically divided, its government is still troubled by corruption and its economy is still in bad shape. As long as those things are all true, public unrest is likely to continue. 
One big caveat is that, while all of these factors are problems, not all of them are necessarily unpopular with all Ukrainians. After two months of protests, many Ukrainians are tired of the public demonstrations and would like to see a return to normalcy – something that also happened in Egypt after the first few months of protests wore out their welcome. Putin is not exactly beloved in Ukraine, but lots of Ukrainians speak Russian and a smaller portion are themselves ethnic Russian, so the country is not exactly the mass of Westward-facing Russophobes that it is sometimes portrayed to be.
This is complicated by the fact that some of the more violent protesters--the "Right Sector" movement--stand in the middle, neither wanting closer ties to Russia, nor Europe. Other protesters (or possibly the same) are viewed as thugs hired by the government to provoke the more radical protesters or drive off the more moderate protesters.

Russia has, in the meantime, warned that the situation in Kiev is spinning out of control, while blaming EU politicians for encouraging the protesters.

The Origin of the Chrystal Skulls

Crystal skulls figure prominently among UFO and psychic aficionados. However, there is nothing ancient or supernatural about their origin. As this National Geographic article explains:
Crystal skulls are not uncommon or terribly mysterious. Thousands are produced every year in Brazil, China, and Germany. But there are a handful of these rather macabre objects that have fueled intense interest and controversy among archaeologists, scientists, spiritualists, and museum officials for more than a century.

There are perhaps a dozen of these rare crystal skulls in private and public collections. Some are crystal clear, others of smoky or colored quartz. Some are actual human size and of very fine detail, while others are smaller and less refined. All are believed to originate from Mexico and Central America.

Many believe these skulls were carved thousands or even tens of thousands of years ago by an ancient Mesoamerican civilization. Others think they may be relics from the legendary island of Atlantis or proof that extraterrestrials visited the Aztec sometime before the Spanish conquest.

... Stories about the skulls focus heavily on their perceived supernatural powers.

Joshua Shapiro, coauthor of Mysteries of the Crystal Skulls Revealed, on his Web site cites claims of healings and expanded psychic abilities from people who have been in the presence of such skulls.

"We believe the Crystal Skulls are a form of computer which are able to record energy and vibration that occur around them," he writes. " The skull will pictorially replay all events or images of the people who have come into contact with them (i.e. they contain the history of our world)."
 The National Geographic article cited above generally notes that these skulls were produced in the 19th Century in Europe. However, this 2011 article from Der Spiegel asserts a more specific source--Idar-Oberstein, Germany.
There are plenty of crystal skulls, and the legends that surround them are fueled by their mysterious origins. To this day, doomsday believers and fans of esotericism assume the transparent heads are indeed products of Mayan or Aztec culture. 
Until recently, many scholars held the same erroneous belief. Respected institutions, like the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington and the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, purchased the skulls from dubious dealers and displayed them in their collections. Only in recent years have the specimens quietly disappeared into museum storerooms. 
... Most archeologists now believe that all of the earlier crystal skulls were made in the gloomy Hunsrück Mountains, near the French border -- not in the sunny realm of the Mayans. 
With tools made of stone and wood, copper and tin, pre-Columbian artists in Central America would hardly have managed to create such detailed sculptures out of crystal chunks. Studies a few years ago with a scanning microscope showed, in fact, that the skulls exhibit traces of a processing method which lapidaries have used only for the last 150 years. 
Rosendahl finds it surprising that the skulls became so popular only in the late 19th century. Even then there was no evidence at all that they were authentic artifacts from Mexico. 
The skulls were brought into circulation by shrewd figures like the Paris antique dealer Eugène Boban. Sinister characters like Boban profited handsomely from the story -- at a time when Western museums were furiously buying up treasures and artwork from the advanced civilization of the Mayans, which had recently become the focus of attention. "But they had very little knowledge about real artifacts," says Rosendahl. 
It was a rich seam for crooks and frauds. The British writer Frederick Albert Mitchell-Hedges claimed he had personally excavated a skull in the Mayan city of Lubantuun in Belize in the 1920s. Mitchell-Hedges was a writer of shady heroic epics, but with this cock-and-bull story he solidified his reputation as an adventurer. He advertised his alleged find as the "Skull of Damnation."
... Peuster, the lapidary, and his godfather Manfred Wild reconstructed the true story of these artifacts. In the past, a number of engravers and polishers from Idar-Oberstein received their training in the two centers of the rock-crystal industry, Milan and Paris. When they returned, they brought additional training to the technicians who had learned their trade in the German hinterlands. Around the end of the 19th century, the Hunsrück region had a reputation among insiders as an El Dorado for the crystal-cutting trade.

Documents confirm that crystal nodules from Brazil and Madagascar were being cut in Idar-Oberstein at the time in question. "And geochemical analyses show that the raw material for the legendary crystal skulls probably did in fact come from these two areas," says Rosendahl.

The isolated town must have attracted traders with fraudulent intentions. "The people here have always been a secretive bunch," says Wild. "When someone showed up and ordered a crystal skull, our ancestors made it -- and it was good."

Even today the success of the local lapidaries stems from this tradition of secrecy. Inexpensive products are displayed in shop cases for tourists. "The really good pieces are traded behind closed doors," says Wild.

He and his fellow lapidaries work anonymously for jewelers like Cartier. Wild understands why he's remained anonymous as an artist: "I can't tell these sorts of clients that their jewelry was made in a backwater in the Hunsrück Mountains."

In some ways, however, this is an even more interesting story than the made-up tales concerning the skulls. The careful craftsmanship, concocting a mysterious back story, and then trying to sell the piece to gullible buyers. What a con!

Not Again!

Tom Blumer notes that now that Chris Christie's brand is tarnished (although I never thought that he would have a chance), some Republican insiders are talking about trying to get Mitt Romney to run again.

I have a lot of respect for Mitt Romney. He is a genuinely good person, and has the humility to learn from his mistakes (unlike Obama, who genuinely believes that he is never wrong). I believe that Romney would have been a much better president than Obama, especially in advancing strategies to get the United States out of the current economic doldrums and in dealing with the serious foreign policy issues facing the nation.  I continue to believe it was a mistake for conservatives to sit out the election rather than vote for Romney.

However, I too would have preferred another Republican to have won the nomination because I think Romney was too liberal on too many issues. Blumer discusses these issues. Essentially, Blumer is calling for someone that is fiscally and socially conservative to be nominated--not a Democrat-lite. Read the whole thing.

Why Cops Shouldn't Have Guns--Officer Shoots Himself While Shopping

From Talking Points Memo:
A Connersville, Ind. police chief accidentally shot himself in the leg while doing some shopping at a gun store on Saturday, the Indianapolis Star reported.

“I need to pay more attention,” David Counceller said. “I know what the dangers are. It was pure carelessness on my part.”

Counceller, who was off-duty at the time, was comparing his 40-caliber Glock handgun with a newer model at Wullf’s Gun Shop. The trouble began when he began to holster his weapon.

“It got tangled in my clothing,” he added, as quoted by the Star. “I was wearing a sweatshirt and a fleece jacket. I felt (the gun) go in the holster and I pushed it, but it was tangled in the material which caused it to discharge. The bullet went into my leg and then into the floor.”
The story goes on to note that this is the second time Counceller has shot himself.

My own experience is that people without formal training are generally safer than those that have received formal training with firearms.

Monday, January 20, 2014

China Faces Financial Crises

From Forbes:
On Friday, Chinese state media reported that China Credit Trust Co. warned investors that they may not be repaid when one of its wealth management products matures on January 31, the first day of the Year of the Horse.

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China sold the China Credit Trust product to its customers in inland Shanxi province. This bank, the world’s largest by assets, on Thursday suggested it will not compensate investors, stating in a phone interview with Reuters that “a situation completely does not exist in which ICBC will assume the main responsibility.”

There should be no mystery why this investment, known as “2010 China Credit-Credit Equals Gold #1 Collective Trust Product,” is on the verge of default. China Credit Trust loaned the proceeds from sales of the 3.03 billion-yuan ($496.2 million) product to unlisted Shanxi Zhenfu Energy Group, a coal miner. The coal company probably is paying something like 12% for the money because Credit Equals Gold promised a 10% annual return to investors—more than three times current bank deposit rates—and China Credit Trust undoubtedly took a hefty cut of the interest.

Zhenfu was undoubtedly desperate for money. One of its vice chairmen was arrested in May 2012 for taking deposits without a banking license, undoubtedly trying to raise funds through unconventional channels. In any event, the company was permitted to borrow long after it should have been stopped—reports indicate that it had accumulated 5.9 billion yuan in obligations. Zhenfu, according to one Chinese newspaper account, has already been declared bankrupt with assets of less than 500 million yuan.

... A WMP 
[Wealth Management Product] default, whether relating to Liansheng or Zhenfu, could devastate the Chinese banking system and the larger economy as well. In short, China’s growth since the end of 2008 has been dependent on ultra-loose credit first channeled through state banks, like ICBC and Construction Bank, and then through the WMPs, which permitted the state banks to avoid credit risk. Any disruption in the flow of cash from investors to dodgy borrowers through WMPs would rock China with sky-high interest rates or a precipitous plunge in credit, probably both. The result? The best outcome would be decades of misery, what we saw in Japan after its bubble burst in the early 1990s.
The author dismisses arguments that a default won't happen because there is no "market," per se, since the Chinese government controls the market. He explains:
Because Chinese leaders have the power to prevent corrections, they do so. Because they do so, the underlying imbalances become larger. Because the underlying imbalances become larger, the inevitable corrections are severe. ...
Why will China’s next correction be historic in its severity? Because Chinese leaders will prevent adjustments until they no longer have the ability to do so. When they no longer have that ability, their system will simply fail. Then, there will be nothing they can do to prevent the freefall.

We are almost at that critical point, as events last June and December demonstrate. The PBOC did not try to tighten credit as analysts said in June and December; it simply did not add liquidity. The failure to add liquidity caused interbank rates to soar and banks to default on their interbank obligations. In the face of the resulting crises, the central bank backed down both times, injecting more money into state banks and the economy. So Chinese leaders showed us twice last year that they now have no ability—or no will—to deal with the most important issue they face, the out-of-control creation of debt.
 The author notes that even if Chinese authorities are able to kick the can down the road, it only delays the inevitable--there were nearly 11 trillion yuan in outstanding WMPs by the end of last year.


The New York Post quotes the President (or is it Present-ent?) as saying:
President Obama thinks some people don’t like him because of his race. 
“There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President,” Obama told The New Yorker’s David Remnick in the magazine’s Jan. 27 issue.
Just keep deluding yourself, Mr. President. People actually don't like you because they don't like your politics, your policies, or your philosophies.

Let Them Eat Cake!

It's well-known Beyonce and Jay Z are close friends with the Obamas, so it was no surprise that the pop diva was entertainment of choice for the first lady's star-studded 50th birthday bash Saturday night.

'I gotta tell you, it was literally a house party. It was a house party that happened to be in the White House,' Al Roker said during a phone interview with The Today Show this morning.

The morning show weatherman was just one of the famous faces in the crowd, which included a host of celebrity Obama supporters like actress Ashley Judd, Disney CEO Bob Iger, designer Donna Karen, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

... 'While Beyonce was performing, Paul McCartney was kind of talking or grooving with Stevie Wonder.

... For Michelle Obama's epic all-night celebration, Beyonce performed hits including 'Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)' and 'To the Left' while Stevie Wonder reportedly gave a more impromptu performance with songs like 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours' and 'Do I Do.'

Ledisi, one of Mrs Obama's favorite singers, also sang at the event and DJ Cassidy took over when the live talent were off the stage.

Pop star John Legend was given the honor of singing Happy Birthday, but perhaps the highlight of the night, in some guests' opinions, was President Barack Obama doing the 'Dougie' on the dancefloor.

... 'Amazing. Incredible party,' political analyst Donna Brazile told CNN Sunday morning of the festivities, which took up the entire State Floor of the White House – including the gilded East Room, the formal parlors, and the ornate State Dining Room.

... The bash was attended by actor Samuel L. Jackson, singer Smokey Robinson and basketball legend Magic Johnson.
Actress and singer Jennifer Hudson was also on hand as well as former Beatle Paul McCartney, former Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan and folk singing legend James Taylor. 
Singer Janelle Monae, actor Kal Penn, tennis great Billie Jean King, and the Reverend Al Sharpton were among the better-known guests. 
Business tycoons like Eric Schmidt of Google, American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault, Carlyle Group founder David Rubenstein and Blackstone Group COO Tony James were also in the mix.

... Political guests included former President and former Secretary of State Bill and Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, national security adviser Susan Rice, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.
 Of course, this isn't the first time the President has enjoyed lavish parties while ordinary Americans suffered.