Saturday, March 25, 2017

My wrist hurts just looking at this picture . . .


Received via e-mail from Jim H., this picture of a home-made shotgun pistol (a typical 'zip gun') found in the Dominican Republic.




My wrist is already aching, in sympathy with whoever tries to fire that thing!




Peter

The real issue in healthcare reform is neither Obamacare nor Trumpcare


Amid all the shouting and tumult over the defeat of "Trumpcare" in Congress, it's worth remembering that this is basically all political posturing.  Both sides of the debate are ignoring the real issue.

As Karl Denninger has pointed out:

Last fiscal year the Federal Government spent $1.417 trillion on Medicare and Medicaid, 9.3% more than the $1.297 trillion it spent the previous year. Last year was not an aberration; it was in fact very close to the historical expansion rate from the 1990s forward.  Spending has almost quadrupled on these programs since FY 1998.  Total outlays in 1998 were $1.651 trillion of which Medicare and Medicaid comprised 23%. Last fiscal year 37% of all fiscal expenditures were made on these two programs.  The ACA (Obamacare), for all of its warts, only managed to dampen that rate of expansion in spending for two years, after which it returned to trend.  At this rate of spending expansion within the next four years the government will attempt to spend $2.02 trillion on these two programs combined which will blow an approximately $600 billion additional hole, per year, in the deficit.  That will not be able to be financed since if you ignore this issue it will be clear that within 10 years the government would try to spend $3.4 trillion per year on the same two programs -- an utter impossibility under any rational expectation for economic expansion.  The impact on private health spending has been even larger on a percentage-of-increase basis due to the blatant cost-shifting that is well-documented in myriad reports and is responsible for a large portion of the stunting of economic progress in America that has occurred over the previous two decades.

. . .

We either admit to what we've been doing and stop the scam or it will overtake the economy and our ability to pay -- both in the government and otherwise, within the next 4-5 years.

We either stop it now or it destroys the economy, asset prices and the nation.

This isn't politics.  It's math.

The facts are what they are.  Demonstrating them is easy and irrefutable.

There's more at the link.

I'm unmoved by assertions of ideological purity.  I note with cynicism that the chairman of the so-called "Freedom Caucus", Rep. Mark Meadows, derived much of his election-year support from the health care industry, so he's hardly a disinterested party.

The health care industry is in this to make as much money as it can out of the pockets of ordinary Americans.  That's the only reason the current mess exists.  As many commentators have pointed out, Obamacare "enriches only the health insurance giants and their shareholders".  Its official name, the 'Affordable' Care Act, is a joke.  (As an interesting exercise, look at how much input the health care industry had when the act was being written.  The link leads to a very left-wing, progressive-oriented article, by the way - it's hardly conservative fear-mongering.)

I'm glad so-called "Trumpcare" did not pass.  It would have done nothing to fix this problem.  It would merely have stuck a few more fingers into a massively leaking dike.  Obamacare is a catastrophe.  It needs to go away - regardless of screams of outrage that it will leave this, or that, or the other many millions of Americans without healthcare coverage.  If those Americans stay with Obamacare, or Medicaid, or any other bureaucratically and politically approved form of coverage, they're going to find it worthless anyway, because this country will be so bankrupt it won't be able to afford to pay for it.

Obamacare is an abomination.  Trumpcare would have been the same.  Let's get rid of both of them, and return to sanity in healthcare - fiscal and otherwise.  We're already going broke as a nation.  If it isn't fixed, healthcare will merely bankrupt us faster.

Peter

Friday, March 24, 2017

More about the Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolver


My first blog post this morning, about a unique Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolver I found in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum a couple of weeks ago, has attracted a fair amount of attention.  Several e-mails have asked for more information about the gun, particularly because its widespread use in the 'Wild West' isn't as well known as its Colt Single Action Army rival (popularly known as the 'Peacemaker').

You can read more about the revolver at the links I provided in this morning's post.  Here's a video evaluation by YouTube user Hickock45, in which he demonstrates how it's loaded and fired, and goes into more detail about its features.





In my next Western novel, 'Rocky Mountain Retribution', due out in a month or two, you'll be able to read a lot more about these revolvers, and their greatest advantage over all competing weapons of the 1870's.  The only reason they didn't vastly outsell Colt's Peacemaker was that so many tens of thousands of the S&W revolvers were shipped to Russia and other overseas customers, instead of being sold locally.

Peter

Not a good day to be riding a motorcycle . . .




Ouch!




Peter

A fascinating piece of firearms history


Readers may remember that, a couple of weeks ago, Miss D., Old NFO and myself went up to Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle, where we met Alma Boykin and spent a couple of days doing research for future books.  One of the places we visited was the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, which has an outstanding firearms collection.  Thanks to their generously cooperative curator, we were able to spend a couple of hours examining that part of their collection that isn't on display, which contains some real historical rarities.

I was fascinated by one example of Smith & Wesson's Model 3 revolver, which looked as if it had started life as a second variation Russian model.  These were ordered by the Russian government for its army, chambered for the .44 Russian cartridge, progenitor of the later .44 Special and .44 Magnum rounds.  Most were manufactured in 1873.  A limited number were sold on the US civilian market as well.  Here's what the original second variation Russian model looked like.  The picture is courtesy of Mr. G. W. Leiper, whose Web site 'Russian Revolvers' offers encyclopedic coverage of that very interesting subject.  Recommended reading for firearms enthusiasts.  (Click all images for a larger view.)




The revolver in the Panhandle-Plains Museum has been extensively modified from its original configuration.  I'll show it to you first, then discuss what's been done to it.




This must have been somebody's cherished possession, because the amount of work put into it far exceeds whatever its monetary value may have been.  For a start, the 'hump' on the backstrap of the grips has been ground or filed down until it's almost round, much like the original 'American' variant of the Model 3 (scroll down at the link for photographs) or the first variation Russian Model 3's.  The spur on the trigger guard has also been expertly removed.

Next, the six chambers and the barrel have been reamed out and filled with inserts in .22 caliber.  I suspect that the unknown gunsmith may have turned down on a lathe the outside of a .22 rifle barrel, cut lengths off it to suit, and then sleeved the original barrel and chambers with it.  The chambers would then have been bored out to take the rimfire cartridges, and a new extractor star fitted, to eject the much smaller rounds.  Here's the back of the cylinder, showing the sleeves.  (The white-gloved fingers holding the gun are mine!  Old NFO took the pictures, for which my grateful thanks.)




The barrel is only 5" long, down from the original 7".  This is often referred to as the "Wells Fargo conversion", as that company bought a large number of Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolvers from US Army surplus stocks (usually the later Schofield variation), and cut down the barrels to issue to its stagecoach drivers and guards.  There are a great many forgeries in circulation, probably more than there were original Wells Fargo conversions, making positive identification difficult.  This may not have been a Wells Fargo revolver at all, of course;  any gunsmith could have cut down the barrel, re-crowned it, and remounted the front sight.

The engraving covers the surface of the firearm, but it's not as even or as high-quality as factory-engraved guns I've seen.  I suspect that either a gunsmith or artisan added it later, or perhaps the owner of the gun tried to do it himself.  I suppose we'll never know.  At any rate, the gun has also been nickel-plated, common in the days of blackpowder rounds, as nickel resisted the corrosive powder salts better than blued steel.  I suspect this gun was not originally nickel-plated, because the plating has filled up the letters and engraving to a certain extent.

Another interesting modification is the repaired hammer.  At some point, I suspect the gun was dropped and the hammer spur broken off.  Someone has formed a new hammer spur out of a piece of steel, ground and/or filed to approximately the same pattern as a standard S&W Model 3, but not exactly identical, as one can see if one compares it to an original hammer.  A dovetail was then cut into the broken hammer, and the new spur inserted and (probably) pinned and soldered into place.  Here's a close-up photograph of the repair.




The repair must have been made after the gun was nickel-plated, because the replacement hammer spur is still in blued steel.

I can't help but wonder what was so special about this gun, to make someone spend a great deal of time, energy and money converting it like this, and preserving it.  Was it carried by an Old West lawman or outlaw, whose descendants wanted to hold on to the memories it carried for them?  Why would someone have gone to all the trouble and expense of sleeving the barrel and chambers for a different caliber, and engraving and plating the gun, and repairing the hammer, when the cost of those repairs and restorations would have paid for not just one, but several new guns?  Who did the work, and when, and where?

If only this gun could talk . . . I reckon it would have a lot of stories to tell!

Peter

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Addicted to entitlement programs


Dennis Prager makes the point that entitlement programs are even more addictive, in their own way, than drugs.

All addictions — whether to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex or cigarettes — are very hard to escape.

There is one addiction, however, that may be more difficult than any other to escape, in part because it is not even regarded as an addiction. It is entitlements addiction, the addiction to getting something for nothing.

One indication as to the power of entitlements addiction is the fact that while great numbers of people have voluntarily given up drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc. — almost always at great pain — few give up an addiction to entitlements. For the majority of able-bodied people who get cash payments, food stamps, subsidized housing, free or subsidized health insurance, and other welfare benefits, the thought of giving up any one of those and beginning to pay for them with their own earned money is as hard as giving up alcohol is for an alcoholic.

Politicians know this, which is why it is close to impossible to ever reduce entitlements. And, of course, the left knows this, which is why the left almost always wins a debate over entitlements. Every American who is the beneficiary of an entitlement backs them, and many who are not beneficiaries of entitlements would like to be.

Aside from ideology, this is why the left constantly seeks to increase entitlements. The more people receiving government benefits, the more people vote left.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.

Entitlement programs have another, less commonly considered benefit;  they create thousands of jobs, all of which can be filled with those who support the politicians who enact the programs.  Just look at the size of the bureaucracies needed to administer Social Security, Medicare, food stamps and other welfare programs.  All those jobs depend on entitlements.  Take away the entitlements, and those reliable voters will be out of work - and their votes will no longer be reliable.

If you wanted to know why the vast majority of federal government employees think and vote Democrat, that's a pretty good indicator, right there.  Which party supports the constant expansion of government, and the creation of more and more government jobs - at taxpayer expense?

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Peter

Property: Follow the money (or the lack thereof)


A couple of days ago, I posted an article titled 'The Washington bubble continues to ignore fiscal reality'.  In it, I pointed out:

I already know that every dollar in my pocket today buys about half - sometimes less than half - of what it did in the year 2000.  I can go out right now, and go shopping, and compare what I get for my money today with what I got for it seventeen years ago.  Forget the "official" rate of inflation, and look at actual expenditure.  You'll find the same thing I do - your money today is worth less than half what it was then.  What's going to happen if that continues, and gets worse?

One of the things that's going to happen - is already happening, in fact - is that fewer and fewer people are able to afford to buy their own homes.

Fifty-two of the 100 largest U.S. cities were majority-renter in 2015, according to U.S. Census Bureau data ... Twenty-one of those cities have shifted to renter-domination since 2009. These include such hot housing markets as Denver and San Diego and lukewarm locales, such as Detroit and Baltimore, better known for vacant homes than residential development ... A 2015 report from the Urban Institute predicted that rentership would keep rising through 2030, thanks to demographic trends that include aging baby boomers who downsize into rentals.

. . .

Most low-income families don’t rent by choice, said Nela Richardson, chief economist at Redfin. And plenty of higher-income households rent because they can’t afford to buy. “We don’t have enough affordable supply in either rental or for-sale markets,” said Richardson, adding that cities interested in promoting renter-friendly policies can rethink their zoning policies to encourage more construction.

There's more at the link.

Housing prices are a problem, to be sure, but it's not so much the supply side that's preventing home ownership.  It's that average disposable incomes have declined in purchasing power.  As I said in my earlier article, the money in your pocket buys about half - sometimes less than half - of what it bought in 2000.  Your income hasn't doubled in that period, unless you're exceptionally fortunate.  Since housing costs have to come out of the same money every month that feeds and clothes your family, you simply have less money available to buy a house.  Q.E.D.

Miss D. and I faced this dilemma two years ago.  We wanted to buy a house of our own, but were price-restricted in Nashville, TN, where we lived at the time.  We were in the fortunate position of being able to move anywhere we chose, and we had good friends in a smaller Texas town, so we changed states.  By doing so, we were able to buy a relatively modern three-bedroom house, in very good condition, for approximately half what the same house would have cost us in a similar suburb in Nashville.  What's more, we deliberately bought a smaller home, one we could afford to pay off in a maximum of fifteen years, and took out a mortgage loan for that long only.  God willing, we'll pay it off in less than ten years, because we're making that a priority.  If we succeed in doing so, we'll instantly boost our disposable income - or, to look at it another way, we'll drastically reduce the disposable income we need to pay our bills every month.  It'll take a lot of financial pressure off us.

I know we're very lucky to have been in a position to do that.  Many people today aren't.  I fear that home ownership will become a pipe dream for them, just as it is for many people living in cities where housing prices are so high they're out of reach for most middle-class couples.  (It's not just US cities, either:  Australia is another good example.)

Another factor is that, with stock and bond market jitters as high as they are, many investors have turned to property as a "safe haven" for their funds.  Consider these headlines:

This institutional, investor-driven wave of purchases has actually prevented housing prices from dropping as far as they should have, following the 2007-08 collapse of the housing market.  That's all very well for investors . . . but it means many people like you and I, already struggling with declining personal purchasing power, can no longer afford the housing they want to buy.  They're reduced to renting it from the investors, instead, sometimes at a monthly cost equal to or even greater than what they might otherwise pay on a mortgage.  (Miss D. and I are paying about the same every month to service our home loan as we were paying to rent a much smaller duplex in Nashville.)

The housing market is going to remain very difficult for the average American until such time as our purchasing power is restored . . . and the odds are against that for the foreseeable future.  Batten down the hatches, hold on to what you've got, and don't buy property at inflated prices, is all I can suggest.  It's going to be a long and bumpy ride.

Peter

The London terror attack: same old, same old


I'm getting very fed up with the stupidity of the mainstream media when it comes to terrorist attacks such as that in London yesterday.  From the screams of alarm in the headlines, you'd think this was something new, unprecedented, a mortal threat to our society.  It's not, of course.  It's merely the latest incident in a long, long parade of them, and there will be many more in future.  Welcome to the reality of fundamentalist terrorism.  It's here to stay.

Another thing about the mainstream media:  why is it that so many of them have some sort of mental or moral block about using the word "terror" or "terrorist"?  For example, consider these headlines gathered at about 4 p.m. (local time) yesterday:

ABC News:  "Suspect shot dead after killing 4, injuring 40 in London"

The Atlantic:  "London Attack: What We Know"

Boston Globe:  "At least 5 dead in London attack, including assailant, and 20 injured"

CBS News:  "5 dead in car rampage, knife attack in London"

Chicago Tribune:  " 5 dead in London vehicle and knife attack, including police officer, attacker; 40 hurt"

CNN:  "London attack: Four killed in British Parliament carnage"

By that time it was as plain as the nose on your face that this was a terrorist attack.  Other media outlets were (correctly) labeling it as such . . . but not those mainstream media "big names".  Their politically correct policies prevent them from calling a spade, a spade, until it's been confirmed by a dozen independent "authorities" that it is, in fact, a human-powered earth-moving implement - and even then, they'd prefer to call it the latter, rather than use the simple, direct term for it.

As for what it means for you and I:  I've said it all before, as have many other commenters.  The advice applies to not just terrorist incidents, but any criminal threat.  Some of my previous articles include (but are not limited to):



All the suggestions and recommendations I made in those articles apply in the wake of the London attack, too.  As I said:  same old, same old.  We'll be reading similar headlines again in the not too distant future, I'm sure - and the same advice will apply yet again.

Be ready for this.  Terrorism is nothing new, and it'll be with us for a long, long time to come.  I daresay our children's children will be fighting it, too.

Peter

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Globular warming - the real deal


Fellow blogger Borepatch has written an excellent summation of the science behind global warming - the real science, not the fake stuff so many are peddling.

If you're in any doubt about this stuff, or need the information to discredit rumors and scare-mongering, it's a good article to have in your arsenal.  Recommended reading.

Peter

Don't just trim it - kill it!


The Federalist suggests a way for President Trump to deal with the bloated, overgrown bureaucracy of the federal government.

The presidential transition directory, known as the Plum Book, lists more than 4,000 politically appointed positions for a new administration to fill during its term (or terms). Those political appointees are supposed to go into the various departments of government and implement the new president’s agenda. But they leave when the president leaves, and in the case of conservatives, their meager reforms usually go with them.

It’s time for Republicans to have a reality check: do you really think that fewer than 5,000 appointees can win against 2.8 million federal government employees who have a vested interest in absolutely nothing changing? Maybe, if an administration had 20 years, but it doesn’t. It has four, maybe if they’re lucky eight, years, and as history has shown us, the odds of any party getting three straight terms of a single party in the White House are fairly slim. We have already seen bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, and State Department not only promise, but also begin to resist any reforms from the Trump administration.

But it’s worse than simply having millions of federal government employees trying to outlast a Republican administration. The overwhelming majority of those federal employees who donated to a presidential campaign, more than 95 percent, gave money to Hillary Clinton. Ninety-nine percent of contributions from State Department employees went to Clinton in the 2016 elections. You can be sure they aren’t excited to be working for Trump.

. . .

If Trump wants to devolve power out of DC, he has to shut departments down. Take the Department of Energy and put the nuclear weapons management under Department of Defense (or even Commerce, as Reagan wanted, to keep nuclear protection in civilian hands), split energy issues between Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Interior, then shut its doors. Roll any necessary parts of Department of Education into Labor and send other responsibilities back to the states, then shut its doors.

Once departments are shut down, bulldoze the buildings to the ground. Shatter them, plow them under, then build beautiful parks, Liberty Parks, over where the departments used to stand. Trump should also then consider “farming” some departments out to states, further breaking the leviathan apart.

. . .

President Trump and the GOP have a chance to conserve the original principles of the country, that government is limited to protect the rights of the people, not provide them everything they want or need. If Trump can change the rules, he’ll change history.

There's more at the link.

I can't argue with any of that.  The federal bureaucracy has grown to the point where it's essentially self-supporting and self-governing, illustrating the truth of Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

The only way to break that iron control of the federal bureaucracy is to get rid of it - controllers, bureaucrats, the lot.  Obviously, we can't do that to the whole thing;  but a few sacrificial departments, cut to ribbons and then destroyed entirely, will do much to concentrate the minds of those who remain.  Hopefully, they'll be reminded that they are public servants, not public masters.

Peter

The Two Fairies


Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch has another amusing and instructional video on shooting fast, and/or straight, to defend yourself.  PROFANITY ALERT:  Clint's a former Marine, and speaks like one, but he's very much to the point.





Clint has spoken of a third kind of fairy in the past, as those of us who trained under him at Thunder Ranch's previous premises in Texas will recall:

"If pointing an empty gun at your opponent makes him duck, you may live for an extra two seconds - and who knows? I may find another gun, the bad guy may give up, or the ammo fairy may drop me a magazine."




Peter

Is the "Deep State" at war with itself?


Charles Hugh Smith argues that it is.

I have long suggested that the tectonic plates of the Deep State are shifting as the ruling consensus has eroded. Some elements of the Deep State--what I call the progressive wing, which is (ironically to some) anchored in the military services-- now view the neocon-CIA (Security State)-Wall Street elements as profoundly dangerous to America's long-term interests, both domestically and globally.

I have suggested that this "rogue Deep State" quietly aided Donald Trump (by subtly undermining Hillary Clinton's campaign) as the last best chance to save the nation from the neocon's over-reach that the Establishment's Wall Street-funded leadership (Bush, Clinton, Obama, et al.) has overseen--including granting the CIA and its allies virtually unlimited powers unhindered by any effective oversight.

This profound split in the Deep State has now broken into open warfare. The first salvo was the absurd propaganda campaign led by Establishment mouthpieces The New York Times and The Washington Post claiming Russian agents had "hacked" the U.S. election to favor Trump.

This fact-free propaganda campaign failed--having no evidence didn't work quite as well as the NYT and Wapo expected-- and so the propaganda machine launched the second salvo, accusing Trump of being a Russian patsy.

The evidence for this claim was equally laughable, and that campaign has only made the Establishment, its propaganda mouthpieces and the neocon Deep State look desperate and foolish on the global and domestic stages.

The desperate neocon Deep State and its Democratic Party allies went to absurd lengths to undermine Trump via the "Boris and Natasha" strategy of accusing Trump of collaborating with the Evil Russkies, even going so far as to briefly exhume former President G.W. Bush from deep-freeze to make a fool of himself, saying the Trump-Evil Russkies connection should be "investigated."

Now the rogue elements have launched a counterstrike--Vault 7.

. . .

Vault 7 is not just political theater--it highlights the core questions facing the nation: what is left to defend if civil liberties and democratically elected oversight have been reduced to Potemkin-village travesties?

If there are no limits on CIA powers and surveillance, then what is left of civil liberties and democracy? Answer: nothing.

The battle raging in the Deep State isn't just a bureaucratic battle--it's a war for the soul, identity and direction of the nation. Citizens who define America's interests as civil liberties and democracy should be deeply troubled by the Establishment's surrender of these in favor of a National Security State with essentially no limits.

There's more at the link.

That's not a bad summation of the situation, IMHO.  My yardstick is always that openness encourages honesty;  secrecy encourages - or, at least, conceals - dishonesty.  That applies in almost any area of life, from relationships, through finances, through politics.  If it's out in the open, where it can be seen, weighed, assessed, examined, tested, evaluated, it's unlikely to pose a serious threat.  If it's not, then all sorts of things can go on in secret that shouldn't be happening.

I've used this approach a lot when it comes to counseling couples.  As a retired pastor, you'll understand that I base this on Scripture.  The first letter of St. John notes:

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

That last sentence above is the recipe for success in relationships - and note that it's a logical progression, a sequence of events.  We first "walk in light" - i.e. in honesty, openness and communication.  If we get that right, the second step follows;  we "have fellowship with one another" - implying that if we don't do the first, we won't achieve the second.  Finally, if we get both of those steps right, the third step follows;  we are in a position to be cleansed from sin - meaning that if we don't get the foundational steps right, we can't be cleansed of sin, probably because we can't even recognize it well enough to confess it!

That's a very simple lesson, but it works almost every time (in my experience) on the personal level.  If we scale it up to our national political level, it works pretty well too.  Of course, there are legitimate national secrets that should be safeguarded, for the good of the nation and the security of its citizens.  However, those things are - or should be - relatively small in comparison to the whole of the body politic.  If excessive secrecy or secretiveness becomes a way of life, the body politic gets screwed by those who do so.  (Who can forget Nancy Pelosi's infamous comment, "We have to pass the [health care] bill so that you can find out what’s in it"?  Well, they did pass it - and boy, did we find out!  Look how Obamacare has screwed us, ever since!)

The argument over the massive, seemingly ever-expanding 'security state' is basically one over civil rights, civil liberties, and personal freedom.  I, for one, believe the 'security state' is largely ineffectual, a rogue bureaucracy out of control, trying to arrogate ever greater power and authority to itself while ignoring the constitution.  I think Mr. Smith has the right of it.  It has to be stopped.  One hopes the dissent within the 'Deep State' will go at least some way towards doing that . . . but it can't do it all.  The American people have to stand up for themselves as well.  If they don't, if they just let this sort of thing slide, then the faceless bureaucrats of the 'Deep State' will win.  That would lead to an Orwellian nightmare.

Peter

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Heh - European bureaucrat edition


It seems even European Union bureaucrats can have a sense of humor - of a sort.  This adaptation of a Tintin cartoon has appeared on notice-boards at EU headquarters in Brussels:




It's an adaptation of this original:




Why is it, do you suppose, that a drunken, out-of-control Captain Haddock seems such an appropriate avatar for European Union bureaucrats, drunk on power?

Peter

The problem of raising expectations . . .


. . . is that, if you don't fulfil them, people are going to be disappointed.  Very.  Glenn Greenwald (the left-leaning journalist who helped publicize the Snowden revelations) makes the point.

The principal problem for Democrats is that so many media figures and online charlatans are personally benefiting from feeding the base increasingly unhinged, fact-free conspiracies ... that there are now millions of partisan soldiers absolutely convinced of a Trump/Russia conspiracy for which, at least as of now, there is no evidence. And they are all waiting for the day, which they regard as inevitable and imminent, when this theory will be proven and Trump will be removed.

Key Democratic officials are clearly worried about the expectations that have been purposely stoked and are now trying to tamp them down. Many of them have tried to signal that the beliefs the base has been led to adopt have no basis in reason or evidence.

The latest official to throw cold water on the MSNBC-led circus is President Obama’s former acting CIA chief Michael Morell ... on Wednesday night, Morell appeared at an intelligence community forum to “cast doubt” on “allegations that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.” “On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire at all,” he said, adding, “There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.”

. . .

Morell’s comments echo the categorical remarks by Obama’s top national security official, James Clapper, who told Meet the Press last week that during the time he was Obama’s DNI, he saw no evidence to support claims of a Trump/Russia conspiracy. “We had no evidence of such collusion,” Clapper stated unequivocally. Unlike Morell, who left his official CIA position in 2013 but remains very integrated into the intelligence community, Clapper was Obama’s DNI until just seven weeks ago, leaving on January 20.

Perhaps most revealing of all are the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee — charged with investigating these matters — who recently told BuzzFeed how petrified they are of what the Democratic base will do if they do not find evidence of collusion, as they now suspect will likely be the case.

. . .

What makes all of this most significant is that officials like Clapper and Morell are trained disinformation agents; Clapper in particular has proven he will lie to advance his interests. Yet even with all the incentive to do so, they are refusing to claim there is evidence of such collusion; in fact, they are expressly urging people to stop thinking it exists. As even the law recognizes, statements that otherwise lack credibility become more believable when they are ones made “against interest.” 

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.

This dilemma isn't limited to Democrats, of course.  Republicans have a number of similar issues;  for example, alleged wire-taps of Trump Tower, or the repeal of Obamacare (long promised to the party's base but now being resisted by those who want to replace it, rather than merely get rid of it).  In every case, vociferous arguments are made to get the base aroused and involved;  but if those arguments don't result in action, or produce an unsatisfactory result, the base is going to get angry.  Very angry.

There's a reason for the old proverb, "Let sleeping dogs lie".  I suspect some politicians and their surrogates are about to be reminded of it.

Peter

The Washington bubble continues to ignore fiscal reality


The most depressing thing about the partisan political gridlock in Washington D.C. at present isn't the one-upmanship being practiced by both parties against each other.  It isn't the competing policies and positions.  It isn't the posturing for the news media, or the intolerance of others' opinions, or the openly voiced contempt so many politicians display towards each other.

It's the avoidance of reality.

There is one single issue confronting the USA today that dwarfs all others.  Unless and until it is solved, all other issues will be essentially sideshows, because this one issue can bring them all down and destroy them all in a heartbeat.

That issue is our national debt - federal, state, local, corporate and private.

Consider:
  1. At the time of writing, according to the US Treasury, the federal government debt - money it's borrowed to pay for its programs and policies, but not yet repaid - stands at $19,846,009,616,285.34.
  2. At the time of writing, according to the National Debt Clock, the total debt of the fifty US states - what state governments have borrowed to pay for their programs and policies - amounts to $1,206,071,409,000.
  3. At the time of writing, according to the National Debt Clock, the total debt of US cities and towns - what local governments have borrowed to pay for their programs and policies - amounts to $1,925,789,975,000.
  4. At the time of writing, according to the National Debt Clock, total US debt - which "includes Household, Business, State and Local Governments, Financial Institutions, and the Federal Government" - amounts to $68,392,662,000,000.  That averages out to over $210,000 per citizen.  That's what every single one of us - you and I - owes, per capita, to repay this sum.
  5. It's not just government or commercial debt that's the problem.  At the time of writing, according to the National Debt Clock, total personal debt in the USA - which "includes all personal obligations:  Mortgage Debt and (Consumer Debt), which includes Car Loans and short term revolving Credit Card Debt" - amounts to $18,204,074,000,000.  That averages out to over $56,000 per citizen.

Let those numbers sink in for a moment.  The big ones are in trillions of dollars.  That's a big 'T'.  Add to them the unfunded liabilities of the US government.  "Unfunded" means that there is currently no money available to pay for these future financial commitments.  At the time of writing, according to the National Debt Clock, total US unfunded liability - including "Social Security, Medicare Parts A, B and D, Federal Debt held by the Public, plus Federal Employee and Veteran Benefits" - amounts to approximately $105,513,454,000,000.  That averages out to over $879,000 per taxpayer.

What's more, every one of those numbers is increasing, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.  Go to the National Debt Clock and watch the numbers grow.

It doesn't matter what policies, proposals, budgets, etc. are worked out in Washington if they don't begin by taking into account this fiscal disaster in the making.  It's all very well for President Trump to say he wants an additional $54 billion in defense spending, which he'll pay for by cutting other federal expenditure by the same amount.  That's chump change.  The real problem is the federal government debt as a whole, which is approximately 367 times greater than the proposed increase in defense spending.  Unless the latter is addressed, it will eventually swamp any and all federal programs.  It's simply unsustainable.

We've spoken of this problem many times before, so I won't go into all the sad, sordid details yet again.  Suffice it to say that if we had to pay a realistic rate of interest on our national debt, instead of the artificially low rates imposed by the Federal Reserve through its monetary policy, our current annual budget would be simply wiped out by interest costs.  Non-discretionary spending would be entirely consumed by interest on our national debt, and entitlement programs - including Social Security and Medicare - would be next on the list.  There would be no alternative.  It's all very well to say that "We paid into Social Security, and we want our money back!"  The money is gone.  There is no such thing as a Social Security trust fund.  That money was invested in US government bonds, and spent by previous generations of politicians.  All that's left is a handful of IOU's, payable by the US government - which will be bankrupt by the time it has to pay them.

There are only four ways in which this situation can be resolved.
  1. We can stagger along, ignoring the problem, until it overwhelms us during the next financial crisis, and all our government programs collapse into bankruptcy.
  2. We can "print money" to pay for all the programs we want - but that will destabilize and undermine the US dollar, and inflation will rapidly erode its purchasing power until it's no more than a shadow of what it is now.  The latter is, of course, already no more than a shadow of what it was, thanks to past inflation and other factors, as this graphic illustrates, courtesy of visual.ly.  (Click the image for a larger view.)


    This is how we've been coping with the situation up until now. I fear we'll continue to do so, because no-one in authority appears to be willing to consider any other alternative.
  3. We can declare bankruptcy;  effectively, refuse to honor our debts (i.e. US Treasury bonds and other instruments that have been sold to other countries, corporations and individual investors to fund our national debt).  However, this would utterly trash the USA's credit rating, and result in other nations refusing to extend credit to us for trade and other purposes.
  4. We can cut our coat according to our cloth;  in other words, set aside money in our annual budget to pay down the debt, and use what's left over to fund government programs we can actually afford.  This is the fiscally responsible thing to do, just as most families must do in similar circumstances, but it's the least likely to happen.  That's because politicians have made promises to the American people that they can no longer afford to keep;  but, if they break those promises, they'll be voted out of office by their aggrieved electorate.  Rather than risk that, they'll 'kick the can down the road', hoping they'll be out of office by the time someone else has to deal with it.

As Peggy Noonan noted in a 2005 article:

Do people fear the wheels are coming off the trolley? Is this fear widespread? A few weeks ago I was reading Christopher Lawford's lovely, candid and affectionate remembrance of growing up in a particular time and place with a particular family, the Kennedys, circa roughly 1950-2000. It's called "Symptoms of Withdrawal". At the end he quotes his Uncle Teddy. Christopher, Ted Kennedy and a few family members had gathered one night and were having a drink in Mr. Lawford's mother's apartment in Manhattan. Teddy was expansive. If he hadn't gone into politics he would have been an opera singer, he told them, and visited small Italian villages and had pasta every day for lunch. "Singing at la Scala in front of three thousand people throwing flowers at you. Then going out for dinner and having more pasta." Everyone was laughing. Then, writes Mr. Lawford, Teddy "took a long, slow gulp of his vodka and tonic, thought for a moment, and changed tack. 'I'm glad I'm not going to be around when you guys are my age.' I asked him why, and he said, 'Because when you guys are my age, the whole thing is going to fall apart.' "

Mr. Lawford continued, "The statement hung there, suspended in the realm of 'maybe we shouldn't go there.' Nobody wanted to touch it. After a few moments of heavy silence, my uncle moved on."

Lawford thought his uncle might be referring to their family--that it might "fall apart." But reading, one gets the strong impression Teddy Kennedy was not talking about his family but about . . . the whole ball of wax, the impossible nature of everything, the realities so daunting it seems the very system is off the tracks.

There's more at the link.

I continue to fear that, thanks to the fecklessness of our politicians and the refusal of US voters to elect better ones, "the whole thing is going to fall apart," just as Teddy Kennedy suggested.  I don't believe anyone in Washington can see a practical, feasible way out of this mess.  There are undoubtedly those who recognize the danger - President Trump not least among them - but their hands are tied by the far greater number of politicians who are living for the moment, not for the future, and who won't dare do anything constructive for the long term for fear that their careers will suffer in the short term.

Keep your eye on the fiscal ball.  It's almost lost its ability to bounce.  When that finally happens, we're all going to feel it.  I already know that every dollar in my pocket today buys about half - sometimes less than half - of what it did in the year 2000.  I can go out right now, and go shopping, and compare what I get for my money today with what I got for it seventeen years ago.  Forget the "official" rate of inflation, and look at actual expenditure.  You'll find the same thing I do - your money today is worth less than half what it was then.  What's going to happen if that continues, and gets worse?

It's going to be very, very painful, folks.  That's the reality we're all facing.  I can only hope and pray we'll be able to withstand the pain, and survive it, and come out on the other side of this crisis with renewed hope for the future.

Peter