Thursday, April 26, 2012

Daily Briefing for Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Public Pension Plan Files For Bankruptcy?  Say It Ain't So?

It is.  Don't dismiss this story simply because it's from the Mariana Islands.  Many state pension funds in the U.S. are woefully underfunded. 

What kind of shape is your retirement plan in?  Are you sure?

Be Thinking About This

Many in the prepper movement insist that one must move to an isolated area of the country in order to be adequately prepared.  I share with you Jim Rawles' argument and guidance on this issue.  Do you believe that?  Why or why not?

Busy Weekend Ahead

I will be fairly busy this weekend and early next week.  I will try to blog when I can, but if I don't, you'll understand. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Daily Breifing for Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dude - Which Is It?

Today, Uncle Ben gave us a sliver of good news we've all been waiting to hear: The Federal Reserve has boosted its outlook for the year.  Yet in doing so,

Bernanke also expressed concern over the "fiscal cliff," a name he has given to the damage that would result if Congress does not reach an agreement by the end of the year on deficit reduction. Should an impasse prevail, automatic cuts and tax hikes would take place.


The Fed labeled economic growth as "moderate" and indicated that housing remains at a "depressed" level.

If a fiscal cliff and depressed home sales equal a better economy with an expected 7.8 to 8 percent unemployment rate for 2012, I'd hate to see what a bad forecast looks like.

Now compare these remarks to Uncle Ben's admonition in February of "an increased possibility of a sudden financial crisis." 

I hope you understand this.  If you do, please explain it to me.

As Details Emerge, Will It Change Opinions?  And Does This Story Make You Hesitant To Take a Role in Neighborhood Watch Activities?

What do you really know about George Zimmerman?  I suspect you didn't know this

The Reuters article paints a picture of Zimmerman few if any of us have seen before.  I felt sad as I read the story, as much of it resonated with me.  Many of you who regularly read this blog will feel the same way. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Daily Briefing for Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bear With Me

Blogger has a new look, especially for the person doing the blogging.  Still learning the ropes here.  May be a few days before I get this figured out.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Daily Briefing for Sunday, April 22, 2012

Required Reading

Every one of you needs to read this in its entirety.  Don't just skim it.  Let it sink in. Then read what I've written below.

This is where we are, folks.  This is our current situation.

Predictably, those who rely on government for their job, their benefits, their solutions to life's problems will be disappointed.  Those who rely upon big business for their job, their benefits, their solutions to life's problems may expect disappointment as well.  Those who make decisions which defy sound personal finance principles run the risk of financial injury.

Churches lose members, leaving the church to scratch its head and ask "why?" Meanwhile, church leadership fails to take its church off of autopilot, allowing it to continue to do the same thing its always done for the last fifty years.  Yet those churches who do find creative ways to meet the spiritual needs of the community find its parking lots full on Sundays, its pews occupied, its flocks being spiritually fed.

Charter schools are thriving.  Why are we surprised?  And why do we lament the creative destruction process of our public educational system?  Our nation, in its short history, has constantly changed, often at great expense to its people.  But in the long run, we have benefited.  Why should our educational institutions get a pass from the change so desperately needed to keep our nation's future leaders and workers competitive with the rest of the world?

People blame their politicians.  Yet an astounding number of those same people never vote.  For those who do, educating themselves beyond the party affiliation of the candidates isn't a priority. 

This is where we are as a societyAs a nation.

As we bail out of church pews, as we look to government to solve our problems, as we buy homes with no money down and expect the bank providing the mortgage to change the terms of the deal because we failed to educate ourselves of what the deal was in the first place, when it all crumbles around us, our citizenry's response is predictable and frustrating: It's someone else's fault.  The government.  Big banks.  Big companies.  Big labor.  We never say "I made a poor decision."  "I failed to save money."  "I didn't consider the consequences."  "The world is changing; I should not expect - or even want - my parents' lives.  I should strive for something better."

Those preparing for emergencies or harder times need to bookmark the article I shared above.  Read it again, perhaps every thirty days or so.  I plan on doing that.  Understand that if and when our economy gets worse or there's some sort of regional disaster, this mindset will permeate those around us.  You must understand what the population at large is thinking and feeling if you plan to be prepared to take care of your family and to help others in their time of need. 

This is a sad story.  I feel for these people.  Their pain is real.  Their situations are bleak. 

This is where we are.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Daily Briefing for Saturday, April 21, 2012

Taste Test Report - Freeze Dried Ground Beef

In my quest to bring you people more information you can use to get ready for whatever the future holds, I'm called to test things in my kitchen and back yard which my wife and stepdaughter find somewhat off putting.  Today's test clearly fit that bill.

I ordered a can of freeze dried ground beef from Emergency Essentials.  For $47, you get 20 ounces of freeze dried ground beef.  Doing the math, this represents 9.4 grams of protein per dollar, which isn't exactly cheap when compared to other types of food.

Preparation is easy.  Heat up some water (you don't even have to get it up to a boil), dump the meat in and let it set for five minutes.  Drain off the water and you have ground beef you can use for anything you'd use ground beef for.

My observations:

Preparation - very easy.  Used the solar oven to heat up the water and re-hydrate the meat.  It worked well and quickly.  Grid down, I'd keep the used water, throw in a little bouillon for a nice beef stock. 

Cost - It's pricey.  Then again, freeze dried anything is pricey.  This is something you'd use as an ingredient to a bigger dish, such as a pasta or rice based recipe.  It would be a good way to add true beef flavor and protein to a meal.

Taste - It's ground beef, so it taste like ground beef.  The only difference I noticed was in the texture.  The freeze dried beef, once hydrated, is a bit softer than the ground beef you'd buy fresh and brown in a skillet.  Mixed in with other ingredients, you'd be hard pressed to tell it wasn't fresh ground beef.

Additives - Interestingly, none whatsoever, according to the label.  No additives or preservatives.  Of course, the beef isn't certified organic, so whatever the cow got growing up in terms of hormones, feed, etc. is what you're getting in the ground beef.  But in an emergency situation when we have a true food desert (as opposed to the nonsensical ones declared by the USDA), how many of you organic-only types will turn your nose up at food just because Whole Foods didn't sell it?  I suspect there are no organic purists in foxholes.

Shelf life - The conventional wisdom here runs the gamut.  I've read articles claiming it's good from anywhere between ten to thirty years.  However, once you open the can, you'll need to consume it within 30 days, provided you keep it refrigerated.  If not kept refrigerated, you're looking at a "best by" date of about a week.

Overall impressions - I'll be using this can up over the next thirty days, using the meat as a condiment to other dishes.  If my impressions on the matter change, I will let you know.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Daily Briefing for Friday, April 20, 2012

Good Insights....Even If Is From Peggy Noonan

On again, off again conservative Peggy Noonan was apparently "on" this week when she penned this piece about the crisis of character our nation currently faces.  (Noonan's most famous "off" day came when she wrote a glowing piece about Obama just days before the 2008 election, for which she has now spent the better part of three years trying to undo.  It's fine for someone to write a pro-Obama piece if they so choose; what's not acceptable is for someone who calls themselves a conservative to do so).

But truth be told, are the litany of items Noonan cites as examples evidence of some new phenomenon, or have similar issues come to the surface over the last twenty years or so?  More importantly to you, what does this have to do with prepping?

It has a lot to do with being prepared.  Part of being prepared is being able to read the tea leaves and forecast what's coming ahead.  The slide we've been on for some three decades now - a devaluing dollar, growing budget deficits, erosion of personal freedoms and liberties, the growth of government, the increase in the number of people on government assistance, the abolition of winners and losers in our school systems, and on and on - has yielded the kinds of things Noonan cataloged in her piece. 

We need to be in the business of gleaning what these things mean for us if and when some sort of emergency, be it a regional natural disaster, a series of bank holidays, a massive recession or depression, or climate of hostility between races or other groups of people stemming from a controversial shooting like the Treyvon Martin case.  What would the masses of people do when things got tough?  How would it affect you?

The Food Desert

This is laughable.

A "food desert" is apparently a geographic area where there are low income neighborhoods with high concentrations of people who are far from a grocery store.  So sayeth the United States Department of Agriculture.

Regular readers like C.B. Fraser would be interested to know his town, Mufreesboro, Tennessee (where I once lived and practiced law) is a "food desert."  (Mufreesboro is the home of Middle Tennessee State University with several large employers in the area, including a Nissan manufacturing plant and a regional headquarters for State Farm Insurance.  It was also ranked the 20th best city in the United States in 2010 by Money magazine.).  Meanwhile, the tiny community where I grew up down the road from Murfreesboro, whose nearest grocery store is ten miles away, is strangely not in a food desert.

Take a moment to see where your nearest food desert is.  Then ask yourself:  Are people truly not able to get access to fresh fruits and vegetables in those areas?

And more than likely, you'll reach the same conclusion about this food desert nonsense that I did - it's laughable.  Even the New York Times ran a story calling the "food desert" crisis into question.

So why should we care about what the USDA is up to?  Because it's yet another example of a manufactured crisis designed to inject more government involvement into food production and distribution, invariably creating more bureaucracy and inefficiencies in the food markets.

Interestingly, in another missive from the Times, its editorial board sang the praises of efforts to end the food desert in New York City:

In New York City, where perhaps 750,000 people inhabit food deserts, officials are just beginning to find ways to help. The city has expanded its licenses for carts selling fruits and vegetables, provided $2 bonuses for people using food stamps at greenmarkets and encouraged bodegas to offer healthier items like low-fat milk.

I literally laughed out loud when I read this.  Do you mean to tell me there are 750,000 people living exiled in a magical "food desert," and despite the fact there's that many of them, city officials are "just now beginning to find ways to help?"  And the solution speaks volumes:

  • "expand[ing] its licenses for carts selling fruits and vegetables," (a clear sign that perhaps the city's licensing requirement was, in and of itself, a hindrance to the three quarters of a million people languishing in the government-induced food desert.)
  • "provid[ing] $2 bonuses for people using food stamps at greenmarkets" (Must it always be about food stamps?  And picking winners (greenmarkets) and losers (other stores which are not greenmarkets?))
  • "encourag[ing] bodegas to offer healthier items like low fat milk" (After all, the reason we have so many obese people in America is because bodegas aren't pimping low fat milk; it has nothing to do with the tremendous demand for beer and high calorie junk food, and precious little interest in exercise and healthy eating.) 

I could go on and on about this.  But I want you to think about this - as food inflation continues, and as agricultural yields continue to be in high demand from a fast growing population, more government involvement in our food distribution policy cannot help matters.  Be thinking now how you will hedge against the possible risks associated with such efforts.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Daily Briefing for Thursday, April 19, 2012

Food Stamp Rolls Grow Through 2014: CBO

We've experienced a 70 percent growth in the food stamp rolls since 2007.   Having so many people on the welfare rolls is a bad sign for the economy. 

Why We Should Watch French Politics

I know most people probably couldn't care less about the upcoming presidential election in France.  Generally, such an election would not have a significant impact or meaning on affairs of the United States.

But as you well know, things these days are different.  An ounce of bad news from the European Union often results in significant gyrations in the United States.  Depending on how the markets view the probable defeat of Sarkozy,  we may see ramifications both short and longer terms by political decisions made by various EU member citizens. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Daily Briefing for Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What If 2% Went To 4%?

Check my math here.  If a quantity goes from two percent to four percent, that's a 100% increase from the two percent total, right?

I heard some anecdotal evidence today that only two percent of Americans are preparing for emergencies.  If that figure went to four percent of Americans, that would be good, right?

Not so fast, say those in the know.  "Backlog" seems to be the order of the day for suppliers of various prepper gear and services.  Consider these reports concerning backlog orders for shelters and storeable foods.  If more people decide they need to start prepping, could the distribution system for prepper supplies sustain their purchases?

I doubt it.  Many of you may recall Mountain House, a major player in the storeable food business, alerted customers and distributors it would halt further sales of foods due to the large demand for them from the federal government.

Please remember this as you make plans to be better prepared.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Daily Briefing for Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Camp Gladiator

I can barely type tonight, as my arms and hands are rather fatigued from my first ever boot camp workout experience.  Despite the fact I lift weights two to three days a week and do cardio two to three days a week, the boot camp experience at Camp Gladiator's new CG Arena in Austin definitely hit me like a sledge hammer.  Within the first three minutes, I thought "Oh wow....I am not going to be able to finish this chest is already hurting." 

Alas, I managed.  In fact, it got better once I was completely warmed up.  It was still very difficult, but it taught me I am no where near the physical condition I need to be in to perform during an emergency.  I will definitely be going back.  And increasing the intensity of my normal workouts as well.

Query: what are you doing to improve your physical conditioning?  It costs very little to start getting in shape, and it will pay great dividends regardless of the challenges we face in the future.  Do it!

"He who bets against Meredith Whitney does so at their own peril."  -   Me

Parke "The Hammer" Morris, a Tennessee trial lawyer and good friend from our young lawyer days in Memphis, shared this story on the growing risk of municipal bond defaults.  Regular blog readers will know I have shared Meredith Whitney's cautionary tale on this subject in times past.  To be sure, bond prices recovered nicely and then some after she made her prediction, causing many to speculate she was either dead wrong or way off on her timing.  I still think it's the latter.  While it may not be the bond apocalypse she and others fear, today's article still demonstrates there's a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the markets.

"How Can There Be Uncertainty In the Markets?  Didn't You See Today's Dow Jones Close?"

I sure did.  It closed up an impressive 194.13, an increase of 1.5%. 

I also saw the volume of shared traded....or lack thereof.  Dow volume was a paltry 115 million shares.  And the trend over the last several months shows that volume continues to decline over time. 

In my neophyte opinion, that means one of two things is happening. Either the big boys know the markets are about to take off and are putting their money in, anticipating the rest of us will soon follow suit, OR we will soon face another market correction.  So which is it?

The contrarian financial newsletters I read say we should expect the stock markets to go higher in 2012, in large part because of inflation.  To that end, I continue to buy stocks I believe are well suited for such a possibility.  However, I am not fully invested by any means.

Add to this analysis that the great Jim Rogers who foresees a drop in gold and silver prices in the coming months, along with a rising stock market.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Daily Briefing for Monday, April 16, 2012

Rip and Read Alert....Much of below comes courtesy of KR Training's April 2012 Newsletter.

Sheldon Cooper Meets Harry Callahan

Sheldon Cooper: fictional PhD times two in physics and character on the TV show "Big Bang Theory."

Harry Callahan: fictional San Francisco cop, also known as "Dirty Harry."

Put these two together, and you get this report.  For those of you not interested in reading about ballistics, wound channels, and physics, here's the entire report in one sentence: For self defense purposes, a good 9mm round is as effective at stopping the bad guy as my beloved .40 S&W as well as the .45 round.  And 9mm is hella-cheaper than my beloved .40 S& much as 33% in many instances.  This is precisely why I am going back home to 9mm.  Until the next report that comes out which tells us (insert caliber here which isn't 9mm) will save the world, end cancer, end world hunger, etc.

"Sunday must have been her lucky day because the woman told police that was the first time she’d carried the gun."

A South Carolina woman carries her gun for the first time - a .32 caliber - gets one round off, and scares attackers away.

The good: she exercised her constitutional rights, and as a result, she's still with us to tell the story.

The bad: back pocket carry isn't the best place to carry your primary defensive weapon.

The ugly: It was a .32 caliber.  I know, I know: If you will do, then any gun will do.  Whatever.  Get a 9mm.  See linked article, supra.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Daily Briefing for Thursday, April 12, 2012

I'm Showing Immeasurable Restraint not gloating over the epic fail of the North Koreans to launch a rocket earlier today.  My restraint comes from the knowledge the North Koreans won't give up on their little science project.  Should they be able to successfully launch one, it would bolster claims by many that the North Koreans might plan to use a missile for an EMP attack on the United States. 

"Is Anthrax Bad?"

Dave Chappelle fans will recall the famous clip when Tyrone asked this question when he mistakenly ingested anthrax, thinking it was cocaine.  Classic.

C.B. Fraser sent me this article, which reminded me of that sketch.  Take three minutes and read the article.  Then ask yourself:

  • Should Americans be given access to the resources to prepare for bioterror threats?
  • Do you think the FDA and other government agencies will respond rapidly to an anthrax outbreak/attack?
  • Does the risk of someone taking the medications in an ill-advised fashion mean the rest of us shouldn't have access to it in our homes?
  • Are you scared/heartened to know your government is at least debating the issue of whether to make doxycycline available to you?

Five Takeaways from the Metroplex Tornadoes

In case you missed it on my Facebook page, here's a fantastic article on things we should learn from last week's devastating tornadoes in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Daily Briefing for Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Yes, I'm Still Alive

An email from a frequent reader, inquiring into my absence from blogging, was a nice reminder that a number of you read the blog.  It's been a busy couple of weeks, especially over the Easter holidays.

You may recall I mentioned in my January 2012 newsletter and prognostication for the year I intended to blog less.  I didn't really keep that promise in the first quarter of the year, so I am working towards that.  Less blogging means more time to work on other things.  I've written quite a bit lately, and one day soon I hope to share it with you.

What's On The Radar?

Here's a quick situation report of things I think you should be watching:

  • Where are all the buyers?  CNBC asks the question I've been asking for some time now.  Fewer and fewer shares of stock are being traded on the major exchanges over the last several months.  From my January 2012 newsletter: "In determining the overall trend of the stock market, it's important to look not only at the price trend, but also at the volume trend.  You'll note that the [graph showing the volume of shares traded] between October and the end of the year has a downward slope.  This means that despite the fact the stock market was going higher, fewer and fewer people were buying into the rally.  Seasoned traders will often tell you that lack of volume during a major market uptrend is a sign that the uptrend will likely fail."
  • Racial tensions stemming from the George Zimmerman case continue to percolate.  Regardless of what you think of this case, it's becoming evident that many are taking radical action as a result of it.  With these tensions rising during a presidential campaign season, we should expect things in society to become more contentious.  Be alert.  Don't be a victim.
  • Agribusiness is booming.  (Despite what you people think, I am not all doom and gloom.  I just lay it all out there, trying to make sense of it.)  This is good news in that it will continue to attract investment and technology into agriculture.  We need a strong ag sector for our own national security.
  • Are we entering a good time to invest in precious metals?  Some people think so, due to the Federal Reserve's latest decision not to inject more liquidity (a nice way of saying "printing more money") into the economy.  When the Fed takes this position, generally the dollar increases in value, often driving down the price of commodities like gold and silver.  Good buying opportunities on metals may be coming in the future.
  • Housing sales and starts continue to languish.  Check it (thanks to Jerid):

Keep Talking

Are you building a team or a group of like minded people to discuss these issues?  It helps.  I'm attending one summit this summer where we'll be discussing such issues.  Start looking for people who share your interest in this and share ideas with them.

    Monday, April 2, 2012

    Daily Briefing for Monday, April 2, 2012

    "It's Not My Intention To Depress You, But I Think We Have To Think Realistically.....I Think You Should Be Nervous."

    Marc Faber, aka Doctor Doom, spoke to CNBC's Squawk Box Crew this morning.  Predictably, he continues to forecast "massive wealth destruction" for the affluent.  His advice on investing these days?

    • Real estate, especially in the southern regions of the United States, notably in Arizona, Georgia and Florida.  These property values "will not collapse much more and will stabilize."
    • Gold. 
    • Equities.  The Fed will continue to print money, according to Faber, resulting in higher stock prices in a bad economy.
    The tipping point for Faber?  He doesn't know what the trigger will be, but he feels confident we will have increasing inflation over the next few years, followed by a sharp drop in asset prices.