Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Utah Law Makes Coins Worth Their Weight in Gold (or Silver)
FARR WEST, Utah — Most people who amass the pure gold and silver coins produced by the United States Mint do so for collections or investments, not to buy Slurpees at 7-Eleven.
“You’d be a fool,” Tom Jurkowsky, a spokesman for the Mint, said of the Slurpee idea, “but you could do it.”
After all, while the one-ounce American Eagle coin produced by the Mint says “One Dollar,” it is actually worth more like $38 based on the current price of silver. (An ounce of gold is worth more than $1,500.)
Now, however, Utah has passed a law intended to encourage residents to use gold or silver coins made by the Mint as cash, but with their value based on the weight of the precious metals in them, not the face value — if, that is, they can find a merchant willing to accept the coins on that basis.
The legislation, called the Legal Tender Act of 2011, was inspired in part by Tea Party supporters, some of whom believe that the dollar should be backed by gold or silver and that Obama administration policies could cause a currency collapse. The law is the first of its kind in the United States. Several other states, including Minnesota, Idaho and Georgia, have considered similar laws.
Mr. Jurkowsky said the new law “is of no real consequence,” and is purely symbolic, but supporters say it is more than political pocket change. They say that it is just a beginning, that one day soon Utah might mint its own coins, that retailers could have scales for weighing precious metals and that a state defense force could be formed to guard warehouses where the new money would be made and stored.
“This is an incremental step in the right direction,” said Lowell Nelson, the interim coordinator for the Campaign for Liberty in Utah, a libertarian group rooted in Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. “If the federal government isn’t going to do it, then we here in Utah ought to be able to establish a monetary system that would survive a crash if and when that happens.”
Utah has a strong conservative streak, but there are other reasons why it was first to pass such a law.
For many of its supporters, the new law represents an extension of the notion of preparedness that is nurtured by Utah’s powerful founding institution, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many of the law’s supporters believe policies like stimulus spending, the bank bailout and national health care will soon bankrupt the government, sending inflation soaring. Owning gold and silver, they say, will help protect people.
“It’s kind of written into our theology that we’re supposed to be prepared for any eventuality,” said Mr. Nelson, who was involved in early meetings with state lawmakers about the law.
Wayne Scholle, the marketing director for Old Glory Mint, in Spanish Fork, Utah, showed off a commemorative silver coin the company made honoring the new law, one he said he hoped could be a model for a future state-minted coin. The front — or obverse — includes an image representing “the miracle of the gulls,” an important story in Mormon folklore in which seagulls are said to have suddenly appeared and eaten insects that were destroying the first crops Mormon settlers raised, a year after arriving in Utah in 1847.
“Their messaging is spot on with this,” Mr. Scholle said. “It’s preparedness. It’s protecting yourself.”
Old Glory is not the only company that hopes to benefit. Craig Franco, a coin dealer south of Salt Lake City, said he was finishing an arrangement with a bank to create a depository through which people will be able to spend their gold and silver indirectly, by using a Visa credit card that makes charges against the value of their holdings. Mr. Franco noted that state law, for now, left it to the private sector to figure out how conducting business with gold and silver should work.
“The regulation of the system?” Mr. Franco said. “There is no regulation of the system. We are working out the nuances of it.”
Mr. Franco is among several supporters who say the law’s most important feature may be that it eliminates state capital gains taxes on the sale of gold and silver, a move he thinks will prompt individuals and large scale investors outside the state to move their gold and silver to Utah. But federal capital gains taxes would still apply.
“I would hope the federal government would simply concede: ‘O.K., you’re right, it’s money, so we can’t tax it,’ ” said Larry Hilton, a lawyer and insurance broker who first took the idea to lawmakers. “But that may not happen.”
Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution says no state shall coin money, though Mr. Hilton and some others argue that a phrase used later, saying no state shall “make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts” can be read as a license for Utah’s new law and, perhaps, for a state’s right to mint its own coins.
A spokesman for the Mormon church would not comment on the Utah law, but said in a statement that the church’s teachings related to preparedness were “simply a matter of encouraging people to practice sound principles of provident living and to save for a rainy day.”
State Representative Brad Galvez, the freshman Republican who sponsored the bill at the request of party leadership, said he was “not trying to push back against the federal government” but simply to “create an alternative” to the dollar that lawmakers hoped might send a message to Washington about fiscal policy. He noted that the law does not require businesses to accept gold or silver, but only gives them a choice.
Much of the logic of the law is rooted in the belief that the dollar is at risk and that gold and silver, coined around the world for thousands of years, are enduring, stable investments. That, too, is in dispute.
“From an investment standpoint, I’ve always found that if something is heavily advertised on television, it’s not a good thing to do,” said Gary P. Brinson, a philanthropist who spent 40 years as an investment strategist. “Right now, it’s hard to find anywhere on television where you don’t see gold and silver being advertised.”
For all the excitement, so far, it is hard to find anyone who is using gold or silver to buy anything. But here in Farr West, about 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, there is at least some precedent for such transactions.
Decades ago, the rambling Smith and Edwards store, a kind of giant 7-Eleven from the Old West that sells everything from survival kits to sporting goods and copies of the Constitution, had a special sale, offering a very favorable rate if people made purchases with “junk silver” dollars and half dollars. In the 1980s, the store sold a man a $1,200 air compressor for a little less than 4 ounces of gold, recalled Bert Smith, one of the owners, who is now 91.
Mr. Smith said that he liked the new law, and that he was ready to accept silver and gold. But he does not expect to see much brought to his registers.
“I don’t suppose there’s going to be a big run on it,” Mr. Smith said, “because people are going to hang on to their gold and silver more than ever.”
Monday, May 30, 2011
During the early 1930s Germany was transformed into a police state by the National Socialists—a democratically elected government, it's worth remembering. By the end of the war in 1945 it had become a prison, as had all of Europe under their control. As in any prison, mobility was not at the option of the inmate but by permission of the regime, or worse, at their command.
A police state, as Ayn Rand put it, is where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission. As Remus told you in the previous issue of Woodpile Report: with security forces now allowed to sign their own search warrants, with police no-knock home invasions, with random highway checkpoints and warrantless searches of our person at airports and rail stations, the militarization of law enforcement, the telephone taps and internet surveillance, the arrests for photographing police while their surveillance cameras photograph us everywhere, civilians disarmed with confiscatory "common sense" gun laws, de facto federalization of the Guard, zero tolerance lunacy in the schools, free speech zones (formerly, all of America), a perpetual state of emergency and constriction of liberties, with the DHS becoming a military police force, prosecuter and jailer faster than even its allegedly tinfoil hat critics thought possible; with all this, nobody should believe these are only photographs from the past.
Where the state's responsibility under the Constitution was limited to protecting transactions between free people, it has metastasized into dictating the economic, political and even the formerly private lives of the citizenry. Detention without trial under the Patriot Act can't be reconciled with the Constitution's requirement for due process of law for instance, nor can institutionalized Affirmative Action be in accordance with its provision guaranteeing all persons equal protection of the laws. Even the most passive citizen recognizes the imminent failure, or actual failure, of constitutionally limited government. Consent of the governed is now presupposed, assumed rather then solicited, which is a pretty good definition of illegitimacy in itself. Initiatives are justified with alleged cold, hard facts, meaning statistics. In turn the statistics are manipulated or plain bogus. The Will of The People has no standing other than as a contraindicator.
Nor is there a mystery about which way transparency works, just notice who's standing on which side of the one-way mirror. Other than lending an appearance of legitimacy by voting, the citizenry is kept out of the decision making loop by removing him and his putative representatives from the real legislative process. Even the cost and consequences of significant legislation are withheld or buried in crypto-speak, the health care reform bill for example, or ObamaCare as it's called, written in secrecy, sprung on the legislature fully formed and voted on in willing ignorance of its content. Who will say this was anything other than enabling act with bills of attainder, passed sight unseen?
We became a police state some time ago when government became anti-constitutional rather than merely unconstitutional. "What's not forbidden is compulsory" is the classic description. Nobody under the age of fifty remembers it any other way. If freedom is the exercise of options, and it is, if our options have been removed by protectionism, and they have, then we no longer are free. And we aren't. Protectionism—consumer protection and environmental protection and the rest—mainly protects the agency's budgets and their patron's ambitions. The citizen's part is to pay the bills and follow directions. Consider: the FDA recently stated outright we have no actionable right to choose our own foods. As things stand, they're not wrong. Franklin was right, we've traded liberty for security and gotten neither. We've gotten a police state.
After Hitler became chancellor of Germany, he persuaded his cabinet to declare a state of emergency and ended many individual freedoms.In the youth of today's adult citizen there were emergencies. He remembers where he was when they happened, maybe even saved the newspaper. In later life they came closer together. Now they've merged into a continuum, like shingles on a roof. He's told the Constitution applies in normal times, during a good growing season in peacetime Vermont, say, but it's too fragile to rely on in an emergency because these are exceptional times. He notices there's always an emergency and the times are always exceptional. It's the police state that's become unexceptional.
Photo caption, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md
The key feature of a police state is the multiple enforcement agencies with overlapping authority. They rely on overachieving to poach the contested authority of other agencies. Those agencies which take a cautious view of their mandate don't survive. And while this cannibalist furball is going on, the hapless citizen can't know his own legal standing because the agencies themselves don't know. He knows some things are always a crime and some things are sometimes a crime. Opposition for instance, always a crime. Dissent, sometimes a crime. Nor can he know what legal restraints the agencies are bound to observe, if any, not least because the judiciary has walked away from its responsibility to supervise law enforcement. And so it is he relies on the indoctrination he received in government schools with periodic refreshers from the mass media.
In prison states, as in police states, we find unannounced and warrantless searches of persons and property, detention without trial, gratuitous violence, identity papers, sanctions for resisting illegal intrusions, surveillance with electronic tracking and biometric identification and so forth, with one addition key feature: restrictions on travel. If a person absents themselves from their known places they want to know about it, which is why all of serfdom is required to submit to prison-like processing before boarding planes and trains. It's why the black box in your car records indictable human input and only incidentally the vehicle's response—and then only to acquit it, and why your GPS devices keep a record of your movements that's of no use to you, in fact, it's not readily available to you. Add the license-plate readers, facial recognition video, toll-paying smart cards and all the rest.
Kafka's novel centers around a man who is arrested but not informed why. He desperately tries to find out what triggered his arrest and what's in store for him. He finds out that a mysterious court system has a dossier on him and is investigating him, but he's unable to learn much more. The Trial depicts a bureaucracy with inscrutable purposes that uses people's information to make important decisions about them, yet denies the people the ability to participate in how their information is used.
Daniel Solove, Chronicle of Higher Education
The No-Fly list rightly gets the attention but the more efficient restriction on mobility is self imposed, meaning intimidation by low-level but continual fear, and to that end they keep cause for detention at the ready. The citizen knows he lives under a virtual indictment, its particulars constantly updated. We, The People have become we, the criminal class. The state considers us to be its property and they don't just let property wander around. They don't actually care if some of the herd wanders off to Vegas and plays the tables with public funds or welfare money, it's the wandering around part they care about. After all, we may be up to no good.
It was Nazi practice to pin a defeated populace in place by severely limiting mobility, notably by curfews and checkpoints, sometimes by cordoning off neighborhoods. Once confinement was established the inmates were abducted simply by going door to door, or taken at checkpoints or just plucked off the streets. At the end of the war millions of Europeans had been slave laborers. Needless to say, they were routinely starved, physically abused and worked to death.
It's significant that resistance movements in occupied Europe commonly started in response to the confinement and the roundups. Civilian undergrounds established courts where lists of collaborators and German agents were drawn up, tried in absentia and convicted. Death sentences were carried out at the rate of a few dozen a day. It was the reprisals and the rule of terror which led to the insurrections and large scale guerilla warfare. But take note, the crucial condition was the prison state. Should a genuine resistance arise in America, something beyond street theatre and manifestos, creeping confinement will have brought it about. Limiting people's mobility drives them together and underground at the same time.
In light of FEMA's performance during the Katrina incident, an ill-conceived trust in our bureaucracy to protect us is utterly outdated and foolish. In fact, FEMA's actions only made the situation in New Orleans worse, and caused substantial loss of life. NEVER, ever, put your fate in the hands of strangers, especially strangers from government organizations that have little to no vested interest in your well-being.There are lessons for resistance in all of this but the survivalist isn't about confrontation other than self-defense, nor is he a partisan or guerilla or military irregular, they have different rules and draw different lessons. The lesson for the survivalist is always Rule One: stay away from crowds. A crowd is a form of captivity, the crowd's fate becomes his fate. Avoidance is always the default but should avoidance fail, especially should he be forced into any sort of gathering, the survivalist will escape and then evade pursuit if necessary, even in so-called normal times.
Brandon Smith, Alt-Market
[It's been reliably reported that during Katrina law enforcement largely deserted, or confiscated legally owned firearms when they were most needed or joined in the crime wave. Take note, this was an emergency in normal times - Remus]
Sunday, May 29, 2011
DURHAM, N.C. — For decades, mainline Protestants have been beset by bad news: declining numbers, aging membership, waning cultural influence.A new study from Duke University Medical Center, however, gives these Protestants one reason for cheer: they seem to have larger brains than born-again Christians, Roman Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated.
By Gary Small, UCLA School of Medicine
A study of believer's brains, based on scans such as this image of a normal brain, finds size differences among denominations and those with no religious identity.
The study, which examined the hippocampus region of the brain, found that Protestants who did not have a "born again" experience had significantly more gray matter than either those who reported a life-changing religious experience, Catholics, or unaffiliated older adults.
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Templeton Foundation, included at least two MRI measurements of the hippocampus region of 268 adults between 1994 and 2005.
It found an association between participants' professed religious affiliation and the physical structure of their brain. Specifically, those identified as Protestant who did not have a religious conversion or born-again experience — more common among their evangelical brethren — had a bigger hippocampus.
Amy Owen, a psychologist who did a post-doctoral fellowship at Duke and was the main writer for the study, said she hoped others would try to reproduce the study or offer other reasons for the association.
"There may be more factors responsible for the correlation," she said of the study published on March 30 in "PLoS One," a peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication.
Participants, all 58 or older, were initially recruited for a larger study on the effects of depression in the elderly. That study is ongoing. For this study, researchers ruled out depression or lack of social support as reasons for the smaller brain size, or hippocampal atrophy.
The hippocampus is an area buried deep in the brain that helps regulate emotion and memory. Atrophy or shrinkage in this region of the brain has long been linked to mental health problems such as depression, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
So why would born-again Protestants, Catholics and those with no religious affiliation have a smaller hippocampus?
Researchers speculate it may have something to do with the stress of belonging to a minority group. Chronic stress floods the brain with hormones that, over time, may damage the hippocampus.
Sociologists of religion, meanwhile, aren't buying it. They say the researchers' theory flies in the face of U.S. religious demographics. While it's true that evangelicals are a minority, they're a sizable one — 40% of the U.S. population, according to Gallup Polls — and not exactly a stressed-out minority, especially in the South.
"There are probably more born-again Protestants than non-born-again Protestants, and just about as many Catholics as either born-again or non-born- again Protestants," said David Roozen, sociologist of religion at Hartford Seminary.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
You may think you understand how the Patriot Act allows the government to spy on its citizens. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) says it’s worse than you’ve heard.
Congress is set to reauthorize three controversial provisions of the surveillance law as early as Thursday. But Wyden says that what Congress will renew is a mere fig leaf for a far broader legal interpretation of the Patriot Act that the government keeps to itself — entirely in secret. Worse, there are hints that the government uses this secret interpretation to gather what one Patriot-watcher calls a “dragnet” for massive amounts of information on private citizens; the government portrays its data-collection efforts much differently.
“We’re getting to a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the American government secretly thinks the law says,” Wyden tells Danger Room in an interview in his Senate office. “When you’ve got that kind of a gap, you’re going to have a problem on your hands.”
What exactly does Wyden mean by that? As a member of the intelligence committee, he laments that he can’t precisely explain without disclosing classified information. But one component of the Patriot Act in particular gives him immense pause: the so-called “business-records provision,” which empowers the FBI to get businesses, medical offices, banks and other organizations to turn over any “tangible things” it deems relevant to a security investigation.
“It is fair to say that the business-records provision is a part of the Patriot Act that I am extremely interested in reforming,” Wyden says. “I know a fair amount about how it’s interpreted, and I am going to keep pushing, as I have, to get more information about how the Patriot Act is being interpreted declassified. I think the public has a right to public debate about it.”
That’s why Wyden and his colleague Sen. Mark Udall offered an amendment on Tuesday to the Patriot Act reauthorization.
The amendment, first reported by Marcy Wheeler, blasts the administration for “secretly reinterpret[ing] public laws and statutes.” It would compel the Attorney General to “publicly disclose the United States Government’s official interpretation of the USA Patriot Act.” And, intriguingly, it refers to “intelligence-collection authorities” embedded in the Patriot Act that the administration briefed the Senate about in February.
Wyden says he “can’t answer” any specific questions about how the government thinks it can use the Patriot Act. That would risk revealing classified information — something Wyden considers an abuse of government secrecy. He believes the techniques themselves should stay secret, but the rationale for using their legal use under Patriot ought to be disclosed.
“I draw a sharp line between the secret interpretation of the law, which I believe is a growing problem, and protecting operations and methods in the intelligence area, which have to be protected,” he says.
Surveillance under the business-records provisions has recently spiked. The Justice Department’s official disclosure on its use of the Patriot Act, delivered to Congress in April, reported that the government asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for approval to collect business records 96 times in 2010 — up from just 21 requests the year before. The court didn’t reject a single request. But it “modified” those requests 43 times, indicating to some Patriot-watchers that a broadening of the provision is underway.
“The FISA Court is a pretty permissive body, so that suggests something novel or particularly aggressive, not just in volume, but in the nature of the request,” says Michelle Richardson, the ACLU’s resident Patriot Act lobbyist. “No one has tipped their hand on this in the slightest. But we’ve come to the conclusion that this is some kind of bulk collection. It wouldn’t be surprising to me if it’s some kind of internet or communication-records dragnet.” (Full disclosure: My fiancée works for the ACLU.)
The FBI deferred comment on any secret interpretation of the Patriot Act to the Justice Department. The Justice Department said it wouldn’t have any comment beyond a bit of March congressional testimony from its top national security official, Todd Hinnen, who presented the type of material collected as far more individualized and specific: “driver’s license records, hotel records, car-rental records, apartment-leasing records, credit card records, and the like.”
But that’s not what Udall sees. He warned in a Tuesday statement about the government’s “unfettered” access to bulk citizen data, like “a cellphone company’s phone records.” In a Senate floor speech on Tuesday, Udall urged Congress to restrict the Patriot Act’s business-records seizures to “terrorism investigations” — something the ostensible counterterrorism measure has never required in its nearly 10-year existence.
Indeed, Hinnen allowed himself an out in his March testimony, saying that the business-record provision “also” enabled “important and highly sensitive intelligence-collection operations” to take place. Wheeler speculates those operations include “using geolocation data from cellphones to collect information on the whereabouts of Americans” — something our sister blog Threat Level has reported on extensively.
It’s worth noting that Wyden is pushing a bill providing greater privacy protections for geolocation info.
For now, Wyden’s considering his options ahead of the Patriot Act vote on Thursday. He wants to compel as much disclosure as he can on the secret interpretation, arguing that a shadow broadening of the Patriot Act sets a dangerous precedent.
“I’m talking about instances where the government is relying on secret interpretations of what the law says without telling the public what those interpretations are,” Wyden says, “and the reliance on secret interpretations of the law is growing.”
Automotive Black Boxes, Minus the Gray Area
Update 5:30 p.m. May 24: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will require that all new vehicles have an event data recorder. The agency is at this point only considering such a requirement.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will later this year propose a requirement that all new vehicles contain an event data recorder, known more commonly as a “black box.” The device, similar to those found in aircraft, records vehicle inputs and, in the event of a crash, provides a snapshot of the final moments before impact.
That snapshot could be viewed by law enforcement, insurance companies and automakers. The device cannot be turned off, and you’ll probably know little more about it than the legal disclosure you’ll find in the owner’s manual.
The proposal looks to some like a gross overreach of government authority, or perhaps an effort by Uncle Sam, the insurance industry and even the automakers to keep tabs on what drivers are doing. But if you’re driving a car with airbags, chances are there’s already one of these devices under your hood.
Automakers have long installed electronic data recorders in their automobiles, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has since late 2006 required automakers to tell consumers about the devices. That federal rule also outlines what information is recorded and stipulates that it be used to increase vehicle safety.
Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is considering a proposal that would “expand the availability and future utility of EDR data” — in other words, a possible requirement that all automobiles have the devices. The proposal is expected sometime this year. A separate discussion would outline exactly what data would be collected.
Both proposals follow rules adopted in 2006, and how they affect you depends upon where you live and what data points it records. How much it will affect you in the future may depend on a new set of standards that spell out exactly what data is collected and who can access it.
An Incomplete Record
On August 17, 2002, two teenage girls in Pembroke Pines, Florida, died when their vehicle was struck by a Pontiac Firebird Firehawk driven by Edwin Matos. The girls were backing out of their driveway; investigators accessed the vehicle’s data recorder and discovered Matos had been traveling 114 mph in a residential area moments before impact.
Matos was convicted on two counts of manslaughter, but his lawyer appealed the admission of the data recorder evidence, arguing it may have malfunctioned because the car had been extensively modified. The attorney also argued the evidence was based on an evolving technology. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the conviction, however, establishing precedent in that state that data gleaned from event data recorders is admissible in court.
There are two important facts to note in this case. First, Matos was driving in Florida, one of 37 states with no statutes barring the disclosure of such data. While car companies initially claimed ownership of the data, courts eventually ruled that it belongs to vehicle owners and lessees. No federal laws govern access to black box data, and state laws eventually clarified how much data other parties could access.
“The state statutes, starting with one in California, arose out of consumer complaints about insurance companies getting the data without the vehicle owner even knowing that the data existed or had been accessed,” said Dorothy Glancy, a lawyer and professor at Santa Clara Law with extensive experience studying issues of privacy and transportation.
In most of the 13 other states, however, Matos’ black box data still would have been available to police officers armed with a warrant.
“Law enforcement generally has access to the data,” Glancy said.
The second important fact is that, though the court denied Matos’ appeal, the question of the data’s validity remained. Most manufacturers currently use proprietary systems that require specialized interpretation, and many individual event data recorders do not survive crashes intact. Other courts have ruled against the admission of the data.
Setting a Standard
The lack of uniformity concerns Tom Kowalick. He chairs the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers P1616 Standards Working Group on Motor Vehicle Event Data Recorders, one of three panels aiming to set universal standards for event data recorders (EDR).
“Until recently, there has been no industry-standard or recommended practice governing EDR format, method of retrieval, or procedure for archival,” Kowalick said. “Even for a given automaker, there may not be standardized format. This lack of standardization has been an impediment to national-level studies of vehicle and roadside crash safety.”
Standards proposed in 2008 would ensure that data once available only to automakers IS publicly accessible. The new standards would make accessibility universal and prevent data tampering such as odometer fraud.
“It also addresses concerns over privacy rights by establishing standards protecting data from misuse,” Kowalick said.
The standards also propose specific guidelines and technology to prevent the modification, removal or deactivation of an event data recorder.
Those regulations would, in theory, make black box data more reliable than what is currently collected. But they also would prevent drivers from controlling the collection of information — information that they own.
“I am not sure why consumers would want a system in their vehicles that they could not control,” Glancy said.
For What Purpose?
Before shunning new cars and buying a 1953 MG TD to avoid secret tracking devices, it helps to see how the information gleaned from event data recorders is used.
General Motors has been a leader in event data recorder technology, installing them in nearly all vehicles with airbags since the early 1990s. It currently installs Bosch EDRs in all vehicles sold in North America. The technology has evolved and now collects as many as 30 data points, said Brian Everest, GM’s senior manager of field incidents.
“In the early ’90s we could get diagnostic data, seatbelt use and crash severity,” Everest said. “Currently, we can get crash severity, buckle status, precrash data related to how many events the vehicle may have been in and brake application.”
The newest vehicles also can determine steering input and whether lane departure warning systems were turned on.
That info is invaluable in determining how a car responds in a crash. With a vehicle owner or lessee’s permission, crash investigators with access to the data pass on the EDR records to GM, which can determine whether vehicle systems or driver error contributed to an accident. They also can discover what vehicle systems and technologies prevented serious injuries or death.
“It’s about trying to understand what a particular system’s performance did before a crash,” Everest said.
In addition to helping a manufacturer prevent future crashes or injuries, it can also help in defending an automaker against claims of vehicle defects.
“In a great many cases, we can use data to understand whether it had any merit to it or not,” Everest said.
Sometimes the information vindicates an automaker, such as in the case of Toyota’s recent unintended acceleration debacle. Investigators could look directly at vehicle inputs to determine what occurred in each case. In other cases — a problem with unintended low-speed airbag deployment in a 1996 Chevrolet Cavalier, for example — the data reveals a legitimate vehicle defect and leads to a recall being issued.
Safety In The Future
While automakers might like to examine every aspect of a crash, there comes a point where too much data would overload researchers and the relatively inexpensive computers used in vehicles. The last thing car makers — or consumers — want is to increase the price of a vehicle to pay for super-sophisticated event data recorders.
“We’re definitely supportive of additional data,” Everest said. “The drawback on parameters is that you want to understand how it would affect the system,” balancing the need for data with the computing power available from a low-cost EDR.
Other concerns involve law enforcement access to enhanced electronic data recorders or whether dealers or insurance companies could use that data to deny or support claims.
“It usually depends on state law whether they need a subpoena or a warrant,” Glancy said. “Lots of data just gets accessed at the crash scene or the tow yard, as I understand actual practice.”
Whether that information was accessed and interpreted by a trained professional would determine how it held up in court. Insurance companies’ access and use of the data would again be up to state law, said Glancy.
Several insurance companies contacted by Wired.com declined to comment on the issue, but Leah Knapp, a spokesperson for Progressive Insurance, offered that company’s policy. “Our position on EDRs is that we would only use that data in a claims investigation with customer consent or if we’re required to do so by law,” she said. Knapp stressed that manufacturer-installed EDRs are different than incentive programs run by insurance companies that offer a discount for customers who voluntarily install monitoring devices on their vehicles.
Though dealers have access to EDR records, Everest said he knew of no instance where the information was used to void a warranty claim by proving that a customer abused a vehicle.
“Automakers have a duty to warn vehicle owners about safety recalls and the like,” Glancy said. “But you would have to look at the particular warranty to see what would be covered and what would not.” Still, she said she’d “expect that they would” eventually be able to access such data.
It comes down to a balancing act between an individual’s right to privacy and automakers’ need for data to determine the cause of a crash, between the need for a robust reporting system and the computing power available, between state interests in protecting consumers and insurance companies. Whether that balance tilts in favor of drivers remains to be seen — but at least EDR standards ensure a level starting point.
Additional related story
Friday, May 27, 2011
Those who regard government "entitlement" programs as sacrosanct, and regard those who want to cut them back as calloused or cruel, picture a world very different from the world of reality.
To listen to some of the defenders of entitlement programs, which are at the heart of the present financial crisis, you might think that anything the government fails to provide is something that people will be deprived of.
In other words, if you cut spending on school lunches, children will go hungry. If you fail to subsidize housing, people will be homeless. If you fail to subsidize prescription drugs, old people will have to eat dog food in order to be able to afford their meds.
This is the vision promoted by many politicians and much of the media. But in the world of reality, it is not even true for most people who are living below the official poverty line.
Most Americans living below the official poverty line own a car or truck -- and government entitlement programs seldom provide cars and trucks. Most people living below the official poverty line also have air conditioning, color television and a microwave oven -- and these too are not usually handed out by government entitlement programs.
Cell phones and other electronic devices are by no means unheard of in low-income neighborhoods, where children would supposedly go hungry if there were no school lunch programs. In reality, low-income people are overweight even more often than other Americans.
As for housing and homelessness, housing prices are higher and homelessness a bigger problem in places where there has been massive government intervention, such as liberal bastions like New York City and San Francisco. As for the elderly, 80 percent are homeowners whose monthly housing costs are less than $400, including property taxes, utilities, and maintenance.
The desperately poor elderly conjured up in political and media rhetoric are -- in the world of reality -- the wealthiest segment of the American population. The average wealth of older households is nearly three times the wealth of households headed by people in the 35- to 44-year-old bracket, and more than 15 times the wealth of households headed by someone under 35 years of age.
If the wealthiest segment of the population cannot pay their own medical bills, who can? The country as a whole is not any richer because the government pays our medical bills -- with money that it takes from us.
What about the truly poor, in whatever age brackets? First of all, even in low-income and high-crime neighborhoods, people are not stealing bread to feed their children. The fraction of the people in such neighborhoods who commit most of the crimes are far more likely to steal luxury products that they can either use or sell to get money to support their parasitic lifestyle.
As for the rest of the poor, Professor Walter Williams of George Mason University long ago showed that you could give the poor enough money to lift them all above the official poverty line for a fraction of what it costs to support a massive welfare state bureaucracy.
We don't need to send the country into bankruptcy, in the name of the poor, by spending trillions of dollars on people who are not poor, and who could take care of themselves. The poor have been used as human shields behind which the expanding welfare state can advance.
The goal is not to keep the poor from starving but to create dependency, because dependency translates into votes for politicians who play Santa Claus.
We have all heard the old saying about how giving a man a fish feeds him for a day, while teaching him to fish feeds him for a lifetime. Independence makes for a healthier society, but dependency is what gets votes for politicians.
For politicians, giving a man a fish every day of his life is the way to keep getting his vote. "Entitlement" is just a fancy word for dependency.
As for the scary stories politicians tell, in order to keep the entitlement programs going, as long as we keep buying it, they will keep selling it.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
The bunny-selling business that John Dollarhite considered as harmless as a lemonade stand has led to an investigation by a federal agency and talk of a defense fund.
The Nixa man is facing a $90,643 penalty, based on accusations he sold rabbits and guinea pigs without a license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A proposed settlement agreement from the federal agency, which oversees the sale of animals, said Dollarhite sold 619 animals from April 3, 2008 to Dec. 21, 2009, despite being told several times that he needed a license. Dollarhite's business was called Dollarvalue Rabbitry. The business has been closed.
"I don't have any money," said Dollarhite, who runs a computer store in Nixa. "It doesn't matter if it's $1,000 or $100 million. I don't have it."
Dollarhite said he didn't know he needed to be licensed.
"There was nothing ever said that a license was required for a pet store to buy them," Dollarhite said. "No one ever asked, 'Are you USDA certified?'"
Dollarhite said the penalty he is facing isn't appropriate. The USDA has told him to pay the penalty by Monday or face possible litigation. Civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation could exceed the penalty he is already facing.
"What they're doing to me is absurd," Dollarhite said. "If I had been selling meth, I don't think I would be faced with this."
Dollarhite said he is interested in setting up a defense fund in hopes that people will donate money. Blogger Bob McCarty has been writing about Dollarhite, and the story has been picked up by other blogs.
"They're just being ridiculous," Dollarhite said. "I'm hoping I can get the whole United States and maybe foreign countries to support me. We're going to beat this."
USDA spokesman Dave Sacks said the agency learned about Dollarhite after an inspector looking at a licensed facility found that some of the facility's animals came from Dollarhite.
Sacks said licensed businesses are inspected regularly to make sure animals are properly cared for.
"Animal welfare is at the heart of everything we do," Sacks said. "So we consider it very serious when there is an activity regulated under the Animal Welfare Act that is being conducted without a USDA license."
Sacks said Dollarhite contacted a USDA office in March 2006, asking for a license application kit, which was sent to him. But Dollarhite said he didn't ask for a license application until fall or winter of 2009, and that he's never received it.
Dollarhite said the business originally was his son's. That son is now 18, and Dollarhite hasn't sold any rabbits since early 2010, after a meeting with a USDA inspector.
"It was a child's business just like a lemonade stand," Dollarhite said.
He said the business made about $200 in profit from April 2008 to December 2009 from selling rabbits for $10 or $12 apiece.
"Now they say we owe $90,643," Dollarhite said. "It's a little bit crazy."
Key Internet summit to discuss online rules
The world's most powerful Internet and media barons gathered in Paris on Tuesday in a show of strength to leaders at the G8 summit, amid rows over online copyright, regulation and human rights.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy kicked off the gathering in Paris, hailing the assembled players as the leaders of the "Internet revolution", but warning that with their power comes great responsibility.
He hailed the role of the Internet in helping protestors organise recent Arab uprisings such as the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, but insisted it must be underpinned by "values" and "rules."
"The people of the Arab countries have shown the world that the Internet does not belong to states," Sarkozy said. "The Internet has become the measure of credibility of democracies and the measure of shame of dictatorships."
Top executives from online giants including Google, Facebook and Microsoft attended the gathering to tout the economic potential of the Internet, which Sarkozy has put on the agenda of the G8 summit he is hosting two days later.
With blogs and Tweets oiling the wheels of revolutions in some countries and scans and downloads sparking trade disputes in others, the stakes are high for leaders seeking to promote and profit from the web but also to regulate it.
Authorities in several countries have clashed with Google, the world's biggest Internet search engine, notably in China, where the company accused the government of hacking dissidents' email accounts.
And, while acknowledging the net's power as a force for freedom elsewhere, western countries differ on how to harness or curb it on their own doorsteps.
Media freedom campaigners such as Reporters Without Borders have criticised moves by some European countries, such as a recent French law making web users liable to prosecution if they illegally download films and music.
German and Italian regulators have placed restrictions on Google's Street View, over privacy concerns for people photographed in its online street maps.
In France, several publishers accuse Google of scanning their copyrighted books for its online library.
Sarkozy touted the meetings of the e-G8 and the G8 as an unprecedented meeting of the online and political worlds.
He convened the e-G8 to draw up a declaration aimed at Group of Eight leaders who will meet at their annual summit on Thursday and Friday in the northern French resort of Deauville.
The e-G8 guests include the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt; the founder of social site Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg; and Jeff Bezos, founder of online retail giant Amazon.
Also attending is Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire head of the global media empire News Corporation, which includes Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, and dubbed by Forbes magazine "the man who owns the news."
Sarkozy was to host 22 of the biggest players for lunch at the Elysee Palace and Murdoch was due to address the gathering later on Tuesday.
Representatives from consultancy McKinsey told the gathering the Internet sector accounted for 3.4 percent of output and 10 percent of growth in the past five years in 13 key economies including the G8 and China.
"Your work can be considered historic and impacts civilisation," Sarkozy told delegates.
"With this in mind, your level of responsibility is undoubtedly the highest ever given to individuals who do not work in the public sector or as state representatives."
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
When people think about terrorism, they tend to envision bombs, hostages and hijackings. But the future of terrorism increasingly belongs to the humble gun. From Frankfurt to Mumbai and beyond, terrorists are making the gun their primary weapon of choice.
Nowhere is this threat more troubling than here in the United States. In the decade since the Sept. 11 attacks, 17 Americans have been killed by reasonably clear-cut cases of homegrown Islamist terrorism. Every one of those deaths was caused by a gun. And if Al Qaeda has its way, there will be many more.
Inspire, the online magazine published in English by Al Qaeda in Yemen, routinely sings the praises of Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, who in November 2009 killed 13 soldiers at Fort Hood using two handguns. Inspire's creators - cleric Anwar al-Awlaki from New Mexico and graphic designer Samir Khan, formerly of North Carolina - would like nothing better than to see other American Muslims follow Hasan's lead.
For two months running, the magazine has featured how-to articles telling their former countrymen how to care for and operate the AK-47 assault rifle. The advantage of the "firearms operation," wrote one Inspire contributor in its October 2010 issue, is that "no one else is involved. ... This eliminates the chances of the Feds catching wind of what's going to happen."
Those words are especially concerning in the wake of Osama Bin Laden's death, as law enforcement officials keep a close eye out for potential lone wolf terrorists who might seek revenge.
Guns have always been part of the terrorist landscape. Before 9/11, American jihadists were often expected to serve as cannon fodder in overseas wars such as Bosnia and Chechnya. Being able to handle a gun was a prerequisite.
When Al Qaeda training camps operated openly in Afghanistan (before the U.S. invasion), most would-be terrorists went through a standard course of firearms training. Jihadists on American soil during the 1980s and 1990s followed suit, practicing their aim at public ranges and secluded spots in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona and other states.
Some weapons were purchased legally, others at gun shows, on the streets or from private dealers. But with the exception of a handful of assassinations and bank robberies, most of these weapons were only used for practice.
No longer. In addition to Fort Hood, terrorists with guns have killed Americans in unconnected incidents at the Los Angeles Airport, a Seattle Jewish center and a Little Rock military recruiter's office.
Even more would-be shooters have been arrested before they could strike. New Jersey jihadist Carlos Almonte, caught last year, aspired to upstage Hasan. "I'm gonna get a gun. I'm the type of person to use it at any time," he said on an FBI surveillance tape.
Emerson Begolly, a jihadist living in rural Pennsylvania, videotaped himself training commando-style with assault rifles. When the FBI arrested him in January, he was reaching for a loaded 9-mm. pistol in his jacket pocket.
This list goes on. The Fort Dix Six planned to storm an army base using a small arsenal of handguns, shotguns and semiautomatics. A North Virginia jihad cell - linked to the same Pakistani militants responsible for the Mumbai massacre - stocked up on firearms and practiced tactics on a paintball range.
Just last week, Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh were arrested in New York after Ferhani bought three semiautomatic pistols, 150 rounds of ammunition and a hand grenade. NYPD surveillance recorded them discussing using the guns to shoot Jews, or reselling them to raise funds for a bomb.
Announcing the arrests, Mayor Bloomberg noted that Congress had - the same day - rejected a measure to prevent people on terrorist watch lists from legally buying guns.
Most jihadists and terrorists (including Ferhani and Mamdouh) obtain their weapons illegally or through gray markets like gun shows. Jihadists who bought guns legally - most notably Nidal Hasan - usually hadn't been watch-listed.
But 247 people who were most definitely on terrorism watch lists bought guns legally during 2010, the FBI reported last month. It boggles the mind to think that someone deemed too dangerous to fly should be untouchable when he wants to buy a gun.
Hijackings are difficult and generally require more than two conspirators. Bombs are dangerous to build and difficult to deploy. Guns are easy to get, easy to use, and effective even in the hands of a single terrorist.
The time is long overdue to, at the very least, integrate terrorist watch lists with background checks for gun buyers. It's not a perfect or complete solution, but it is common sense.
Berger is author of the new book, "Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam."
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Pile of debt would stretch beyond stratosphere
President Ronald Reagan once famously said that a stack of $1,000 bills equivalent to the U.S. government's debt would be about 67 miles high.
That was 1981. Since then, the national debt has climbed to $14.3 trillion. In $1,000 bills, it would now be more than 900 miles tall.
In $1 bills, the pile would reach to the moon and back twice.
The United States hit its legal borrowing limit on Monday, and the Treasury Department has said the U.S. Congress must raise the debt ceiling by August 2 to avoid a default.
The White House is trying to hammer out a deal with lawmakers to cut federal spending in exchange for a debt-limit increase.
Most people have trouble conceptualizing $14.3 trillion.
Stan Collender, a budget expert at Qorvis Communications, said the biggest sum most Americans have ever handled -- in real or play money -- is the $15,140 in the original, standard Monopoly board game.
The United States borrows about 185 times that amount each minute.
Here are some other metrics for understanding the size of the national debt and United States borrowing:
* U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said the United States borrows about $125 billion per month.
With that amount, the United States could buy each of its more than 300 million residents an Apple Inc iPad.
* In a 31-day month, that means the United States borrows about $4 billion per day.
A stack of dimes equivalent to that amount would wrap all the way around the Earth with change to spare.
* In one hour, the United States borrows about $168 million, more than it paid to buy Alaska in 1867, converted to today's dollars.
In two hours, the United States borrows more than it paid France for present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa and the rest of the land obtained by the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.
* The U.S. government borrows more than $40,000 per second. That's more than the cost of a year's tuition, room and board at many universities.
"That usually gets their attention," Doug Holtz-Eakin, who was chief White House economist under President George W. Bush, said in an email. "I have two kids, so every 10 seconds, the feds borrow more than I paid lifetime."
* The Congressional Budget Office projects the total budget deficit in fiscal 2011 at about $1.4 trillion.
"The net worth of Bill Gates, roughly around $56 billion, could only cover the deficit for 15 days," said Jason Peuquet, a policy analyst with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "The net worth of Warren Buffet, roughly around $50 billion, could only cover the deficit for 13 days."
Monday, May 23, 2011
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah legislators want to see the dollar regain its former glory, back to the days when one could literally bank on it being "as good as gold."
To make that point, they've turned it around, and made gold as good as cash. Utah became the first state in the country this month to legalize gold and silver coins as currency. The law also will exempt the sale of the coins from state capital gains taxes.
Craig Franco hopes to cash in on it with his Utah Gold and Silver Depository, and he thinks others will soon follow.
The idea is simple: Store your gold and silver coins in a vault, and Franco issues a debit-like card to make purchases backed by your holdings.
He plans to open for business June 1, likely the first of its kind in the country.
"Because we're dealing with something so forward thinking, I expect a wait-and-see attitude," Franco said. "Once the depository is executed and transactions can occur, then I think people will move into the marketplace."
The idea was spawned by Republican state Rep. Brad Galvez, who sponsored the bill largely to serve as a protest against Federal Reserve monetary policy. Galvez says Americans are losing faith in the dollar. If you're mad about government debt, ditch the cash. Spend your gold and silver, he says.
His idea isn't to return to the gold standard, when the dollar was backed by gold instead of government goodwill. Instead, he just wanted to create options for consumers.
"We're too far down the road to go back to the gold standard," Galvez said. "This will move us toward an alternative currency."
Earlier this month, Minnesota took a step closer to joining Utah in making gold and silver legal tender. A Republican lawmaker there introduced a bill that sets up a special committee to explore the option. North Carolina, Idaho and at least nine other states also have similar bills drafted.
At the moment, Franco's idea would generally be the only practical use of the law in Utah, given the legislation doesn't require merchants to accept the coins, either at face value - $50 for a 1-ounce gold coin - or market value, currently almost $1,500 per ounce. And no one expects people will be walking around town with pockets full of gold and silver.
Matt Zeman, market strategist for Kingsview Financial in Chicago, expects more people will start investing in gold as America's growing debt and bankruptcies in other countries continue to decrease the value of government-backed money.
"You've seen gold replacing these currencies as safety instruments," Zeman said. "If I don't feel good about the dollar or other currencies, I'm putting my money in precious metals."
Some supporters, including the law's sponsor, seek to push Congress toward removing the tax burdens that discourage use of the coins, such as a federal capital gains tax.
"Making gold and silver coins legal tender sends a strong signal to Congress and the Federal Reserve that their monetary policy is failing," said Ralph Danker, project director for economics at the Washington, D.C.-based American Principles in Action, which helped shape Utah's law. "The dollar should be backed by gold and silver, so we have hard money."
The U.S. and many other countries largely abandoned gold-backed money during World War II because they needed to print more cash to pay for the war. Later, during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took steps that essentially prohibited gold and silver as legal currency to prevent hoarding.
In 1971, President Nixon formally abandoned the gold standard.
Fifteen years later, the U.S. Mint began producing the gold and silver American Eagle coins, primarily aimed at investment portfolios and allowing people to trade them at market value but with capital gains taxes on profits.
Utah is now allowing the coins to be used as legal tender while levying no taxes.
Opponents of the law warn such a policy shift nationwide could increase the prospect of inflation and could destabilize international markets by removing the government's flexibility to quickly adjust currency prices.
"We'd be going backward in financial development," said Carlos Sanchez, director of Commodities Management for The CPM Group in New York. "What backs currency is confidence in a government's ability to pay debt, its government system and its economy."
Larry Hilton, a Utah attorney who helped draft the law, disagrees and says the gold standard would restore faith in American money at a time when spiraling debt is weakening confidence.
"We view this as a dollar-friendly measure," Hilton said. "It will strengthen the dollar by refocusing policy matters in Washington on what led to the phrase, `the dollar is as good as gold.'"
Barack Obama To Explore His Irish Roots
The Queen has just left but now President Barack Obama is visiting Ireland, ahead of his state visit to the UK.
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His trip to the Emerald Isle on Monday is being seen as a boost to the country amid all its economic woes, but it is also a chance for the US President to look up some family.
As well as undertaking diplomatic engagements in Dublin he is expected to travel to Moneygall in County Offaly, which prides itself as being an ancestral home of the 49-year-old.
The President's great-great-great-grandfather Falmouth Kearney was a shoemaker and lived in the rural village.
On the day he walks down the pavements of this village hopefully I will get to shake his hand and it will definitely be very real that day.
Henry Healy, an eighth cousin to Barack Obama
There's no doubt Americans love to have an Irish connection, and the Irish are loving this particular link-up too.
Local church records detail President Obama's family ties to Moneygall.
Records show that Mr Obama's great-great-great grandfather was born in Ireland in 1831 and left for America in 1850.
When the ancestral link was first revealed four years ago, the news was met with initial scepticism.
A T-shirt for sale in Moneygall ahead of President Obama's visit
But the villagers shrugged off the jokes and are now about to reap the rewards of a presidential visit.
Moneygall resident Henry Healy has traced a family connection and is an eighth cousin to Mr Obama.
Mr Healy said: "It's always been surreal but now again it is becoming more and more of a reality.
"On the day he walks down the pavements of this village hopefully I will get to shake his hand and it will definitely be very real that day."
Barack Obama posters adorn the walls of this Moneygall pub
The entire village has received a fresh coat of paint, with one resident going as far as to paint the American flag on the front of his home.
The pavements have also been replaced and fresh flowers are being planted in doorways.
Moneygall school principal Eugene Ryan said: "This connection was found out in 2007 and it has been brilliant for the whole community.
"I think it has resurrected the kind of parish and community spirit that may be was always there but maybe was dormant for a while."
We just never imagined this would happen in anyone's lifetime ... We are living history at the moment and it's brilliant!
Moneygall pub owner Majella Hayes
A bust of Mr Obama already sits proudly on the bar of the village pub and pictures have adorned their walls since he was elected into office.
Pub owner Majella Hayes said he can be sure of a warm welcome when he stops off for a tour during his short stay in Ireland.
She said: "There's absolutely great excitement, it's a kind of a feeling of something unreal happening because we just never imagined this would happen in anyone's lifetime and it's a huge thing.
Mr Obama's great-great-great grandfather was born in Moneygall
"And as we say here we are living history at the moment and it's brilliant."
President Obama has put Moneygall on the map and the villagers are putting him on t-shirts, which are for sale on the main street.
Some have a picture of the president holding a pint of Guinness, one simply says: "What's the craic Barack?"
This visit is not only about celebrating a seemingly unlikely family history, but it's also about giving a rural village and a country a much needed boost.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
On the rare occasion that New Yorkers talk about farming, it's usually something along the lines of what sort of organic kale to plant in the vanity garden at the second house in the Adirondacks. But on a recent afternoon, The Observer had a conversation of a different sort about agricultural pursuits with a hedge fund manager he'd met at one of the many dark-paneled private clubs in midtown a few weeks prior. "A friend of mine is actually the largest owner of agricultural land in Uruguay," said the hedge fund manager. "He's a year older than I am. We're somewhere [around] the 15th-largest farmers in America right now."
"We," as in, his hedge fund.
It may seem a little odd that in 2011 anyone's thinking of putting money into assets that would have seemed attractive in 1911, but there's something in the air-namely, fear. The hedge fund manager and others like him envision a doomsday scenario catalyzed by a weak dollar, higher-than-you-think inflation and an uncertain political climate here and abroad.
The pattern began to emerge sometime in 2008. "The Hedge Fund Manager Who Bought a Farm," read the headline on one February 2008 Times of London piece detailing a British hedge fund manager's attempt to play off the rising prices of grains in order to usurp local farmland. A Financial Times piece two months later began: "Hedge funds and investment banks are swapping their Gucci for gumboots." It detailed BlackRock's then-relatively new $420 million Agriculture Fund, which had already swept up 2,800 acres of land.
[More from The Apocolype Issue: Hipster Prophet Preaches Rapture and The Great Adderall Shortage of 2011!]
Even Michael Burry, the now-defunct Scion Capital founder and star protagonist of Michael Lewis' The Big Short-who bet against the housing bubble in 2008 with credit default swaps to enormous profit-gave a rare interview on Bloomberg TV last year, explaining that he's thrown his hat into "productive agriculture land with water on site" as it's going to be "very valuable in the future." (Like most of those asked to comment for this story to The Observer, Burry declined to discuss his investments in farmland.)
Three years later, the purchase of farmland both in America and abroad by outside investors has increased-so much so that in February, Thomas Hoenig, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, warned against the violent possibilities of a farmland bubble, telling the Senate Agriculture Committee that "distortions in financial markets" will catch the U.S. by surprise again. He would know, because he's seeing it in his backyard: Kansas and Nebraska reported farmland prices 20 percent above the previous year's levels and are on pace to double values in four years. A study commissioned by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and released in January estimated the amount of private capital currently committed to farmland and agricultural infrastructure at $14 billion. It also estimated that future investments will "dwarf" what's currently being thrown into land, by two to three times. Further down, the study makes a conservative projection that the amount of capital potentially entering the sector over the next decade will fly past $150 billion.
When asked if this is an end of the world scenario, the hedge-fund manager replied, “It really is. I tell my fiancée this from time to time, and I’ve stopped telling her this, because it’s not the most pleasant thought.’
This is happening in part because investors see their play as a hedge against hyperinflation. While the rest of the world uses the current calculation of the Consumer Price Index as a proxy for the cost of goods, some farmland investors are using a different equation, one from 1980. These investors assert inflation should be calculated the way it was before the Boskin Commission's 1996 reworking of the CPI formula-in which case, it would be much, much higher.
"The CPI supposedly today is something like 1.5 percent," says the hedge fund manager. "We think the actual rate of inflation is something closer to 6 or 7 percent on an annual basis. It's also not about what it's been over the last 10 years; it's about what it's going to be over the next 10 years."
So the logic is that not only is the dollar worth far less than we think it is, but everything is more expensive and will only move further in that direction. Especially food, the value of which may have risen due to population increases, especially in places like China, where a consumer-happy middle class has finally started to emerge.
The rising cost of food can be seen even in New York's yuppiest enclaves, where prices are high to begin with. Bloomberg food critic Ryan Sutton has been running a blog called The Price Hike wherein he measures the shifting costs of food at the plate in Manhattan restaurants. Mario Batali's Del Posto is charging 21 percent more per meal since October. Gordon Ramsay at The London? Sixty-nine percent more since last month. Michelin favorite Bouley? Forty percent. The Breslin, at the Ace Hotel? Thirty-three percent. And so on.
But farmland isn't an option for most investors. Farming is still mostly made up of family-run businesses, in the U.S., at least. Much of the farmland being purchased in America is purchased at estate sales. Pure-play farming isn't a readily available product.
You can invest in John Deere for equipment; you can invest in Monsanto for seeds and agricultural tech. You can even invest in Kraft, which puts the plants on the supermarket shelf. But for now, it's difficult to invest in a one-stop-shop farm. Additionally, there isn't much arable land out there, it's not increasing, and the quality of the land varies from parcel to parcel. And to make money off a farmland investment, you can't just sit on it. You have to know what to do with it. "If you farm it like we do, you can generate a yield," says the hedge fund manager. "We think the farmland will be worth 5 to 10 percent more every year, and on top of that, you get the commodities yield." In other words, hedge funds are growing, picking and selling corn.
Asked if the American public would eventually see a chance to invest in Old McHedgeFund's farm one day, the manager replied in the affirmative: "Yes. Without a doubt." He estimated it would be only a few years before this happened. Just two weeks ago, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that El Tejar SA, the world's largest grain producer, is planning on selling $300 million of bonds this year before a planned IPO. The plans for the IPO will be fast-tracked pending the sale of the bonds. If farming IPOs begin to emerge en masse, then farming-already often a dicey proposition simply on the basis of its being difficult to do correctly, the volatility of the weather and the possibility of entire crops going bad-may be vulnerable to a bubble.
There is, of course, a slightly more sinister reason to develop a sudden interest in agriculture. Last year, Marc Faber recommended to anyone: "Stock up on a farm in northern Norway and learn to drive a tractor." He sees a "dirty war" on the horizon, playing on fears of a biological attack poisoning food supplies. Those sort of fears drive capital into everything from gold (recently at an all-time high and a long-time safe haven for investors with currency concerns) to survivalist accoutrements. In this particular case, one might buy the farm in order to avoid buying the farm.
That may seem extreme, but even the lesser scenarios are frightening to some. When asked if this is an end-of-the-world situation, the hedge fund manager replied: "It really is. I tell my fiancée this from time to time, and I've stopped telling her this, because it's not the most pleasant thought." He pauses for a moment. "We just can't keep living the way we're living. It'll end within our lifetime. We're just going to run out of certain things. We'll just have to learn how to adjust."
Friday, May 20, 2011
Plans include enacting restrictions via executive order, bypassing Congress
While the Obama administration said it is committed to gun rights, a gun control advocate has spilled the beans, saying Obama is using stealth to work on firearms restrictions.
The Washington Post did a story on Steve Crowley, the White House gun control czar. Crowley is considered to be an expert on regulation and tort law. His approach to gun control appears to be a regulatory one.
According to the article, Jim and Sarah Brady visited Capital Hill on March 30, the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan; to push for a ban on "large magazines."
The couple reportedly were meeting with press secretary, Jay Carney, when, according to Sarah Brady, the President came in. She said the President told her he wanted to talk about gun control and "fill us in that it was very much on his agenda."
She went on to say Obama told her, "I just want you to know that we are working on it. We have to go through a few processes, but under the radar."
The statement reinforces an article in the Huffington Post describing how the administration is exploring ways to bypass Congress and enact gun control through executive action.
The Department of Justice reportedly is holding meetings discussing the White House's options for enacting regulations on its own or through adjoining agencies and departments. "Administration officials said talk of executive orders or agency action are among a host of options that President Barack Obama and his advisers are considering. "
Dudley Brown, president of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, says he is not surprised to hear the President is trying to unilaterally enact gun control regulations. "It’s clear that President Obama and Sarah Brady have been using the ATF to enact what they can’t get through Congress: a ban on the importation of self defense shotguns, new reporting requirements for multiple rifle sales, and the attempt to smuggle firearms across the border to Mexican gang members are just a few examples."
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
NEW YORK, (CBSNewYork) – A new national alert system is set to begin in New York City that will alert the public to emergencies via cell phones.
Presidential and local emergency messages as well as Amber Alerts would appear on cell phones equipped with special chips and software.
The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the system would also warn about terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
“The lessons that were reinforced on 9/11 is the importance of getting clear and accurate information to the public during a crisis,” New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Verizon and AT&T, the nation’s largest cell phone carriers, are already on board. Consumers would be able to opt out of all but those presidential messages.
The announcement of the new emergency alert system came in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death and an uptick in security and safety concerns around New York City.
For now, the alerts are capable on certain high-end cell phones but starting next year, all cell phones will be required to have the chip that receives alerts.
By the end of the year, the new system will be in place in New York City and Washington and in cities around the country by the end of 2012.
Bloomberg made the announcement about the new system Tuesday morning with FCC chairman Julius Genashowski and other federal and local officials.
This new emergency alert system is part of the Warning Alert and Response Network Act that was approved by Congress in 2006.
New York City already has an emergency alert in place called Notify NYC. Bloomberg says it’s the largest opt-in notification alert system in the country.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Launch Operation Sleeping Giant to wake up veterans to danger
Oath Keepers, the association of current serving and retired military, police, and fire-fighters who pledge to defend the Constitution, is now warning that America is at serious risk of an economic collapse. Oath Keepers is urging all veterans and dedicated citizens to prepare for that event at the individual, local, and state level in order to preserve our Republic.
As WND previously reported, Oath Keepers rocketed to national attention in 2009 after issuing their “Declaration of Orders We Will Not Obey.” Oath Keepers also gathered on Lexington Green, Massachusetts on April 19, 2009 to renew their oaths to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
As Patrick Buchanan predicted, Oath Keepers has been relentlessly attacked by far leftist groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, which considers anyone who renews their oath to the Constitution to be “extremists,” and even by former President Bill Clinton, who demonized Oath Keepers by name, calling them a “hatriot group,” in several public speeches. Oath Keepers Founder, Stewart Rhodes, an Army Airborne veteran and Yale Law School graduate, responded by saying “you know you’re over the target when you get lots of flack, and when they start hurling ex-Presidents at you, that’s when you know you are really ticking off the political elites.” Rhodes added “the power elites know they can’t destroy our Republic without the cooperation of the police and military. We are messing with their muscle.” As an historic example, Oath Keepers points to the refusal of the East German military to follow orders to use force against peaceful protesters in 1989, leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Oath Keepers has also proven that there were National Guard units that refused to participate in gun confiscation during Hurricane Katrina.
Oath Keepers now turns its focus to how domestic enemies of the Constitution, and their international fellow-travelers, could use an economic collapse as a pretext to scrap what is left of our Republic and impose on us a world-wide version of the Federal Reserve along with “world governance.” As Rhodes put it, “it’s not enough for us veterans to tell the current serving to obey their oath and refuse orders that would infringe on our rights. We have a duty to defend the Constitution too, and especially a duty to make sure our communities are strong enough to weather any economic storm so there is no pretext for a declaration of martial law. The current serving will be more likely to resist such orders if we are prepared and self-sufficient.”
Oath Keepers urges veterans and patriotic citizens to focus on four key areas:
1.Food, fuel, emergency medical, and communications security and independence (and general preparedness) – as individuals, within local veterans organization chapters, neighborhood mutual aid societies, churches, co-ops, farmers markets, and at the town, county and state levels. As a start, follow the advice on http://www.providentliving.org/ (you don’t need to be LDS to learn from their experience in food storage and preparedness, or to use their canning facilities). Grow gardens. Support your local farmers. Fight any regulation that would limit your ability to grow your own food. Why is food first? Because it is the hardest to improvise, and it is a great weakness of modern man, who, with few exceptions, no longer stores up for bad times. Ditto for fuel and medical supplies. And when it comes to communications, we must have in place an alternative system, such as HAM Radio, so if/when the internet comes down (or is taken down) we can still communicate (for example, if each VFW Hall had a HAM Radio, that would provide a state-wide network).
2.Physical security and Independence – again as individuals, neighborhoods, veterans organization chapters, towns, counties and states, to include forming neighborhood watches; mutual aid associations; a volunteer sheriff’s posse (staffed by self-supplied volunteers but under direct command of the sheriff); and county militias established by county ordinances but staffed by self-supplied and self-funded volunteers (as is done in volunteer fire departments all over this nation); state defense forces under command of the governor; and ultimately, a true state militia, established by state statute, capable of “repelling invasions” (using the research and model bills of Dr. Edwin Vieira). As for training, a great first step for the newbie or for those who are rusty would be to attend the Project Appleseed rifle instruction program, offered for a pittance in every state by traveling volunteer instructors. See www.appleseedinfo.org for details.
3.Economic security and independence – as individuals and communities, including barter networks, use of silver and gold as real money, and sound money bills at the county and state levels (as Utah just passed). This would also include each of us having a “liberty trade” – something you can do even in a very localized, back-to-basics economy, and we must support and build resilient local economies that can weather hard times. We must have an alternative to the fiat money system in place when it collapses, so we can resist what the globalists have in store for us next. See www.alt-market.com for details.
4.State sovereignty and nullification of unconstitutional federal laws and actions. Veterans must support only sheriffs, local and state legislators, and governors who have the knowledge, courage, and integrity to keep their oaths. To vote for an oath breaker, is to become an oath breaker. We must enforce the bounds of the Constitution and defend the powers reserved to the states and to the people (see the Tenth Amendment) by supporting state sovereignty resolutions and nullification of unconstitutional laws. See http://www.tenthamendmentcenter.com/. Likewise, we must defend the inherit power of the jury to judge the law as well as the facts and to acquit even in the face of the law (jury nullification). See www.fija.org. And eventually we must kick the bums out of DC and replace them with citizen legislators, as GOOOH recommends. See http://goooh.com/
Oath Keepers asserts that Americans should be doing all of the above anyway, because that’s what it means to be a free people in free, sovereign states, in a constitutional republic, but it is especially crucial as we face the prospects of a coming economic collapse. You can help Oath Keepers spread the message to all veterans and all Americans, and turn the tide.
Oath Keepers Founder Stewart Rhodes explains the vital two part mission of Oath Keepers, and especially the responsibility of veterans:
Message from Oath Keepers Founder, Stewart Rhodes:
What the elites have planned (as the Chairman of the IMF have openly stated) is to replace the dollar as the reserve currency of the world (which has already begun), and replace it with IMF Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), as an interim step on the way to a true world currency. So, when the corrupt Federal Reserve system they created collapses, the elites intend to replace it with a world-wide version of the Fed, with a world-wide fiat currency. If you think it is hard to end the Fed now, or even to audit it, imagine a world wide version, under a system of “world governance” that is even more remote, unreachable, and un-answerable to the people. If we submit to this, it will be the end of American sovereignty and independence, and the end of our liberty. Frankly, it will be the end of America.
When the Fed fiat system collapses, we MUST have an alternative, sound money system in place as an alternative to their “final solution.” What is that alternative? Nothing less than what we are supposed to already have under our Constitution. The Constitutional system of sound money and state sovereignty is still there. We just need to get back to it, and rebuild the institutions of a free Republic we have allowed to atrophy and die away. And WE must do it. The politicians and judges in DC won’t do it. It will be up to We the People in our local communities and states to do it, from the bottom up, not the top down.
If we reach veterans fast and “reactivate” them, with their leadership we can get our neighborhoods, towns, counties and states squared away so we won’t be weak and desperate when the fiat money system crashes. The stronger We the People are within our states, the less pretext there will be for “martial law” during a crisis and the less likely the current serving military and police will be to go along with it.
The more wide awake and prepared the veterans are, the more they can lead their neighbors in weathering the storm without sacrificing liberty on the alter of temporary security. And the veterans can lead the people in standing up and defending the powers reserved to the states or to the people (see the 10th Amendment), resisting the liberty crushing plans of the political and financial elites who intend to use chaos as an excuse to scrap our Constitution and national sovereignty once and for all.
*A word to non-veterans: We are all in this together, and we appreciate and welcome the commitment of non-veterans to stand for liberty and the Constitution. This mission is focused on waking up the veterans because they are a key part of our population who have sworn an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and they are people who have had vital training and experience in dealing with and planning for worst case scenarios. Just as in the days leading up to Lexington and Concord, they are a high-percentage audience when it comes to making a difference in the struggle to preserve liberty for our children. With them awake and on board, we can turn the tide.
Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” -- Thomas Paine
Each of you veterans has undergone the fatigue of supporting freedom. Unlike others in the population who have never risked anything for their country or for liberty, you have. It is what sets you apart from others. Unlike others, you have not just talked. You acted. You stepped up, put your feet on that line or in those footprints, raised your right hand and took that oath. And then you served, willing each day to undergo any hardship necessary and willing to give your life, if it came to it, in defense of our country and our way of life.
It is time, once again, for you to stand up, step up and undergo the fatigue of supporting freedom. We are honored to call you brother, and we welcome you to this brotherhood of the oath, where we each will do all we can, to the utmost extent of our power, to restore the Republic that was won and preserved with the blood of patriots who came before us. Now it is our turn to stand in the breach. We should all feel honored and privileged to have the chance to correct all of our past apathy and neglect. Yes, it is our fault that our nation is in the sad state it is in. Who else is to blame? We swore that oath. It is on our shoulders to keep this Republic, as Ben Franklin admonished us to. If not us, then who? If not now, then when? Will we leave it to our children to clean up our mess and do what we would not? You know the answer.
As the immortal Thomas Paine also said, "if there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace."
Let us recognize and accept that trouble is on its way. As they say in the infantry, "embrace the suck." Let us embrace and endure it now, in our day, so that our children may have peace, and freedom.
Please join Oath Keepers and help us to wake up all veterans and all patriotic citizens to what is coming, and what must be done to preserve our Republic. You DO NOT have to be prior service to join as an associate member. We encourage all patriotic, liberty loving Americans to join us and assist in our mission. Fill out the form below and take your place in the ranks of the defenders of the Constitution and the Guardians of the Republic!
For the Republic!
Stewart Rhodes, Founder of Oath Keepers
Friday, May 6, 2011
by DaveY on Apr.29, 2011,
The purpose of this notice is to allow for an additional 30 days for public comment until May 31, 2011. This process is conducted in accordance with 5 CFR 1320.10. To ensure that comments on the information collection are received, OMB recommends that written comments be faxed to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, OMB, Attn: DOJ Desk Officer, Fax: 202– 395–7285, or e-mailed to email@example.com. All comments should be identified with the OMB control number [1140–NEW]. Also include the DOJ docket number found in brackets in the heading of this document.
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Six Planets Now Aligned in the Dawn Sky
If you get up any morning for the next few weeks, you’ll be treated to the sight of all the planets except Saturn arrayed along the ecliptic, the path of the sun through the sky.
For the last two months, almost all the planets have been hiding behind the sun, but this week they all emerge and are arrayed in a grand line above the rising sun. Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter are visible, and you can add Uranus and Neptune to your count if you have binoculars or a small telescope.
This sky map of the six planets shows how they should appear at dawn to observers with clear weather and an unobstructed view.
Astrologers have always been fascinated by planetary alignments, and the doomsayers of 2012 have been prophesying a mystical alignment on Dec. 21, 2012.
The modern tools of astronomers, such as planetarium software, show otherwise: absolutely no alignment at any time in 2012. But they also reveal a beautiful alignment visible during the month of May this year. [Planet Skywatching Guide for 2011]
Six planets at one time
While astrologers view planetary alignments as foretellers of disasters, modern amateur astronomers look forward to them as nothing more than grand photo ops.
If you go out any morning for the next four days, you’ll be treated to a view of the crescent moon and all but one of the naked eye planets.
Because the moon moves rapidly from one morning to the next, it will only be part of the lineup for the next four mornings, but the four naked-eye planets will be there for the next few weeks.
Venus is, as always, the brightest and most visible of the planets, and it can be your guide to spotting the others. About half way between Venus and the rising sun is Jupiter, the second brightest planet.
Mars will be a tiny speck just above Jupiter, and Mercury another tiny speck about half way between Jupiter and Venus. Uranus is slightly more than one binocular field above and to the right of Venus, and Neptune is much farther to the right, about 40 degrees away in Aquarius. The Moon will be just above Venus on Saturday morning, and just above Jupiter and Mars on Sunday morning.
How to photograph the planets
Capturing a photograph of this gathering of the planets couldn’t be easier.
Just about any camera will do, though a camera with a telephoto lens setting will be better. Let the camera’s exposure meter be your guide, though a slight underexposure will help bring out the colors of the dawn sky. [Astrophotography Telescopes for Beginners]
Try to place the silhouette of some foreground object to lend depth to the scene. The best pictures will be on the next few mornings, while the crescent moon is part of the grouping.