Month: January 2015

Is the Collapse of the American Economy Just Around The Corner?

As many of us wake up every day feeling the extended hangover left by the over-indulgence of the late-20th Century party in the U.S., some of us are wondering if things may go from bad to worse yet. Will there be a collapse of the American Economy? Were the economic bubbles of the late 1990s and of 2008 just a warning of the bigger storm ahead?

eco recovery obama

 

Of course, if you read mainstream headlines or listen to the major TV networks, you’ll probably not know what I’m talking about. They say things are good and we’re in an economic recovery. The good old days are just around the corner – we just need to hold on a little longer. This kind of positive, non-thinking attitude was acceptable back in 2009, when we were all afraid that the housing market collapse might lead to another Great Depression. We were all afraid – afraid of losing our job, losing our home and losing our nation’s sense of economic greatness.  And we needed a good pep talk!

 

But now it’s 2015. The spending party has been over for a long, long time – especially if you believe the party started back in the 1990s and ended around 2000. At this point it’s just dishonest reporting to tell us all that things are getting better. Most people in America know that things are not getting better; they are getting worse (unless you are in the top 1% of earners in the US). The official unemployment rate (source: Bureau of Labor and Statistics) is less than 6%; however, almost 93 million people in the US do not participate in the labor force – a record number (source: October 3, 2014 Article – ZeroHedge.com), which is almost 1/3 of the population of the United States! Shocking! The inflation rate for the past 10 years has ranged from a measly 1-3% (source: Bureau of Labor and Statistics). According to Wikipedia.org,

 

In economics, inflation is a sustained increase in the general price level of goods and services in an economy over a period of time. When the general price level rises, each unit of currency buys fewer goods and services.

 

Yet, despite this low-level (almost zero) supposed inflation rate, the price of things such as food at the grocery store, housing, medical care and the like seem to have no upper end in sight and are obviously increasing at a much greater rate than 1-3% per year. And have you noticed that you aren’t making as much money as you perhaps thought you were? According to the data from the US Census Bureau, the median salary in the US has been declining since its peak in the year 2000, and is trending to return to pre-1990s levels (see image below). It’s really depressing…oops, I said the “D” word!

median income 

The bottom line is that despite what the mainstream news tells us every day, it is hard to ignore the low wages, inflation and higher costs that are thrust at us every week of our life. So where are we headed and is it going to get worse? The answer is that I don’t know, but I believe things will get worse before they get better. As a novice student of economics, it’s clear that we are in a recession or early depression state, as an economy. However, we have some tools in our corner that have helped us in the past, both of which may be only serving to delay the inevitable pain that may be coming. The tools I’m thinking of are Quantitative Easing (QE) and the Dollar as the global reserve currency. QE is the policy of the Federal Reserve to print more money, and in theory, prop up the economy by buying bonds. The reserve currency is considered the “go-to” currency for international transactions – which makes the Dollar more insulated from international issues and coveted as a safe haven from other currencies. Both tools are fine in the short term; but in the long term, they both will become obsolete and irrelevant. The fact is that QE has done little to improve the economy and many informed observers believe that the Dollar’s days are numbered as the global reserve currency.

 

Over the past 2-3 years I’ve heard a lot of predictions from different sources regarding an end to the Dollar, the demise of the US and a collapse of the world economy – and the resulting turmoil and lawlessness that would ensue if any of these predictions came to fruition. The speculation of collapse seems to get louder every year, and I tend to believe where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It doesn’t take a trained economist to see that the United States is not in a fiscally strong position. Our national debt is at a record high. Government commitments (liabilities) are growing astronomically for programs such as Social Security, Medicaid/Medicare, Military Spending, Social Welfare programs, etc. Yet how do we plan to pay for the programs to continue, much less expand? No one has a good answer to that question, and I believe we cannot continue like this. It seems clear that we’ll have to make severe cutbacks and changes as a government, or we are headed for a much uglier, more abrupt fiscal re-balancing.

 Participation of Labor

So where does privacy fit into all this? I usually blog about things that fit directly into the model of privacy and security. In this case I feel strongly about this topic. Financial collapse has been on my mind a lot lately and I would be remiss to not at least make one post on the topic. To me it would be akin to me coming to your home to give you advice about installing new locks on your doors when all the while your house is on fire. If the house is on fire, there’s no need to worry about the locks; let’s try to put this fire out first. My goal is not necessarily to be the fireman, but instead to be the warning, telling you to get out of the house.

 

It’s one thing to sense danger; but what if there were real reasons to think that our economy is in danger? I believe that there are underlying facts and information that support economic danger ahead. Despite the fact that the US unemployment numbers look misrepresented, the stock market is at an all-time high (red flag!), prices are clearly higher, the middle class is shrinking, as well as smaller factors, it appears to me that much of our economic woes can be explained in some part by our country’s demographic trends. After World War II, the “baby boom” generation was born – and what eventually followed is what may well go down in history books as the “Golden Age” of America. The average working person made more money (in general) and was able to purchase more things like new cars, houses, etc. Many people worked jobs that had good retirements and offered good benefits. It was not uncommon to have a “blue collar” job where one made enough to pay for a house, a new car and retire after 20-30 years of service. I personally know of many people who lived this life. Sure, there were exceptions and there were always those who struggled, but on average, the baby boomer generation came out of the “Golden Age” smelling like a rose!

stock crash 1929 

Fast forward to now; the baby boom ended long ago. Young students head off to college, incurring record amounts of debt for an education that does not guarantee any job or future career. In the 21st century, it is not uncommon for college graduates to be living with their parents indefinitely and depending on their baby boomer parents and grandparents for financial support. Those who don’t go to school have a sea of mediocre or low paying jobs to choose from (if they’re lucky) – jobs like working in the fast food industry or service industry jobs (like telemarketing, customer service, etc.). We all know that these jobs won’t pay the bills, much less buy a home or support a family. My point is that the Golden Age has come to an end. And in my mind, we’re sliding downward toward something worse.

 

Hopefully I’m wrong about my dire economic statements and we never have to live through a financial meltdown. And I hope my instincts are wrong. But I believe in a collective consciousness – meaning at some level we are aware of what others are doing and thinking. And at this moment in history I believe many of us sense that things have gone awry and things are getting worse each day. We, as Americans, have become spoiled – enjoying a Golden Age of technological developments, cheap oil and pizza delivered to our door. We forget that many of our grandparents endured grave hardship during the Great Depression of the 1930s, following the stock market crash of 1929. We should never forget that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Will you wake up and smell smoke, or remain asleep until it’s too late?

econ recovery flag

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Trains

Sometimes the privacy community and the prepper community have intersecting goals.  I’m sure some of my readers here are preppers so I would like to point out that I cater to the privacy crowd even though all are welcome and some of my writings are fitting for preppers.  Today is one of those days.   I want to add a few ideas you may need to consider about trains.
cargo train
Many times if you want to live a private life you would pack up your belongings and bug out for good.  That is in fact what I recommend.  The question is: how close to a railway do you want to be?   My place is about 10 miles from a railroad and I would say that is right on the edge of where I want to be.  I can hear the train faintly rumbling in the distance at night sometimes and it reminds me that if it was 10 feet closer I would be moving.
Author Joel Skousen recommends a bug out location as far away from an interstate highway as possible because when things go bad hoards of people will take to the interstates and will pick the countryside clean.  You may be thinking you can handle these people with your huge arsenal or that your place is super secure, but imagine that the city of New York or Houston or LA are evacuated in an unorganized fashion.  Imaging the possibility of 1Million individuals walking biking and driving their 4×4’s past your property.  Do you have enough ammunition for all of them?  Would you want the responsibility of defending your place against that many people?
Thousands clog elevated freeway in downtown New Orleans.
All that is a side note to consider but today I’m on the subject of trains.  However, the above subject is something to consider on a bit smaller scale with trains in your area.  The train in many areas comes through every 30 minutes and you may be surprised where these trains are coming from.  In the factual book by John Krakaur, “Into the Wild” the main character manages to navigate the west coast of the US with ease by riding trains from California intothe North West and back several times.  I myself, have snatched a wanted person off of a train on the East Coast.  I didn’t believe him when he told me he had been riding since San Diego California!  He had a map in his pocket and he had ridden a train all the way across the united states.  This guy was only wanted for check fraud but hopefully you are getting the picture of the types of people that may be freeloading on a freight train and riding past your property.  If they see something they like they may just get off and take it.
Conversely, some of you may see the railway as a great thing to have near your bug out property.  Perhaps it makes an escape route for you if you were to rig up your own rail car that has an engine or you could hook to the caboose.  Maybe you see it as an opportunity to get goods and services in a crunch.  You may see it as a possibility to get transportation for yourself.  I don’t recommend any of these things.
I just want to give you some things to think about.  If you buy a property near a rail system I want to advise you to keep anything of value out of site.  In fact it may be a good Idea to plant some fast growing tall trees around your house so that when a train hobo is riding by he doesn’t even see your home.  He will just think it’s a grove of trees.  If you have the budget I recommend putting central heat in your home.  You don’t want a train rider to see the smoke coming from your chimney. If you walk out your door lock it and keep all door and windows locked at all times; this includes sheds and cars you have parked outside your garage.  I also highly recommend a good guard dog and make sure he bites.
la bestia
If anyone gets the idea they can hop off the train and steal a few things they will. Some people get the idea that they can kill or rob someone and will not be caught.  Some times they are right.  So put up a good privacy fence and some cameras that are in plain view.  As always, even if you don’t live near a railway, check around from the window before you step outside.

Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR) Will Kill Thousands

I’m going to start this one out with a little quiz and I give you the answer at the end of this blog. Which is the only state that has a law against using ALPR?

For those who don’t know ALPR is a growing safety threat. When I say “safety” I don’t mean safety only in a privacy sense. I mean literally human beings are going to lose their lives because of situations related to these demonic little devices. There won’t be just one. There will be thousands; mark my words. You got it here first. Thousands of people will die as a result of the misuse of ALPR!

lic plate

The systems involved here are run by private contract companies and the data is collected through them and then redistributed to police departments that pay them for the service. The important thing to keep in mind here is that the private contract company (many times overseas) owns the data. They own your data!

The process works like this. A police car or other local, state, or federal vehicle constantly scans and photographs every license plate it passes and the information is then sent to the private contract company who in turn runs the tag for any connection to wanted people, expirations, theft or general criminal activity in a certain area. Out of all the tags being run by the high tech camera system the contractor computer instantaneously filters through and sends the police officer or other government agency the hit on any particular vehicle of interest. Seems legit…..Right? Well the problem comes when you calculate the filtered information that is not a hit for law enforcement and the fact that the contract company can sell any of that to the highest bidder. AND THEY DO.

Did I mention that ALPR also captures the GPS coordinates of anything it photographs? Why did I just say any “thing”? Well, I was recently shocked to learn that ALPR contractors now offer facial recognition software to go along with this scheme and law enforcement is paying for the service. So now if ALPR gets a shot at you through the window of your vehicle or out on your front lawn they have an ID on you. Hopefully you will make sure all of your traffic tickets are paid and you don’t have any relatives that are wanted before you walk outside to check the mail or water your lawn. You are now a suspect in America.

I think the scariest thing about this whole situation is that all of this information gathered by our public servants is for sale to the highest bidder. This is what I have always warned about. You don’t have to be a criminal to want privacy or to take steps to boost privacy. The need is right here. When high quality government equipment is allowed to be accessed by private parties a world of danger arrives.

I wish I could give you a bullet proof solution to this problem but I don’t have the magic formula. I can however offer a few suggestions. First off: do you have a garage? It’s time to start parking your car where ALPR passing by your house will not be reading your car tag. If you don’t have a garage, use a car cover as an inexpensive alternative. If you don’t have either of these then perhaps remove or cover your tag when you get home. If you want to have a little fun you can take some electrical tape and artfully change the tag reading. Maybe turn a 3 into an 8 or 4 to a 9. This is just while it’s parked. Don’t drive around like this. I also want to advise you that while you are having fun I take no responsibility if your altered tag turns out to match a wanted person or stolen car and your front door gets kicked in!

All these ideas do you no good if you are driving your car around. At present I don’t have an answer for you about the mobile situation. Your tag is going to be photographed and the camera will photograph you in the car (with facial recognition) and the date, time and GPS co ordinance will be recorded and sold to anybody with money.   If enough of these little snippets of your life get recorded somebody could probably figure out a pretty good routine on you.

free

I can tell this about facial recognition: This winter has been exceptionally cold and I want to make sure all of my readers stay warm, so be sure to wear a hooded sweatshirt and a nice warm cap with it. If you can grow any facial hair you may want to do that for warmth as well or perhaps wear a scarf. Although the winter has been cold, the sun has been extra bright this year and I don’t want any of my readers to have eye problems, so be sure and wear a really big pair of sunglasses when you are out in your car. Also get the windows tinted to the maximum legal limit.

You may also try car pooling sometimes with your privacy minded friends. That would be good for the environment and only 1 tag gets read. Just make sure you are not hanging out with known criminals because when the tag s and facial recognition get checked there is also a log of anyone in the close proximity of the known criminal and that person also becomes an associate criminal.

They have all the angles covered!

The answer to the question: New Hampshire; the “Live free or die” state. I’m more of a “get busy living or get busy dying” kinda guy myself! 🙂

The Equalizer: Lessons on How To Remain Hidden & Anonymous

I recently watched the Hollywood movie “The Equalizer”, starring Denzel Washington. I’m a big fan of Denzel Washington movies. He seems to gravitate to a particular style of movie that I find interesting. I was captivated by his performance in “The Book of Eli” and there are many other honorable mentions, such as “Man on Fire”. Mr. Washington’s characters tend to promote a commanding on-screen impression that somehow normally balances with some humility and an appeal to the strife of the common man. For example, in “The Book of Eli”, the hero is a quiet, religious man who seems, at times, to have super powers as he dodges bullets and defeats multiple attackers – all while not having the ability to see in a post-apocalyptic world!

 Equalizer b and w

The Equalizer seems to carry forward the hero persona of some of Washington’s other movies, but in a more subtle form. *SPOILER ALERT!* Stop here if you intend to see the movie, but haven’t yet.  He plays the part of a seemingly-average Joe (Robert McCall), who works at a big box, home improvement store and whose life is routine and boring; walking to the grocery store, reading a book at the local diner each night, etc. What we later surmise as the plot unfolds is that Robert (D.Washington) has a secret past and that he’s been in hiding, living a secret identity for some time (We later find out that he has CIA friends and his death was faked, including a real funeral). Did he work for Army Intelligence, CIA, Special Forces, etc.? He has the ability to disarm gangsters and hurt bad guys without being touched – not to mention his ability to gather intelligence and data. Despite the weak plot of the movie, it was still fun to watch.

 equalizer fight

But what struck me after watching the movie were the gaps in his privacy and security plan. By that I mean if bad guys, private eyes and government agencies are looking for you, what is your plan for remaining anonymous and not being found? The reality is that in order to remain anonymous, you must take on a new identity, cut all ties with the past and stay under the radar – all of which requires serious planning and commitment.

 

Here are some of the more obvious mistakes Mr. Robert McCall (D.Washington) makes during the movie, violating his privacy and security plan:

 

1.       Hanging out at the same public place every night. Robert went to the same diner every night to read and have tea. I see this as a problem because it’s a public place where the wrong people may run into him. Second, staff and regular customers may become curious about who this “regular” is and start asking questions.

2.      Getting involved in other people’s lives. Robert makes friends with a prostitute at the diner he frequents and eventually takes her under his wing of protection. If he’d not gotten involved with her, and ultimately sought her out, he would have likely remained anonymous.

3.      Keeping a low profile. Wherever Robert went, he seemed to want to help people and talk to them about their problems. When his friend from work abruptly quits his job, Robert finds out that corrupt cops have been harassing his mom’s restaurant. He promptly takes the cops to task for their misdeeds. Later, this action helps the Russian Crime Syndicate put together who he is. This was all avoidable, if he’d just kept a low profile and not engaged the bad guys, trying to right a wrong (though it makes the movie far more fun and interesting to watch).

4.      Not changing and moving when you need to do so. At the end of the movie, after Robert has single-handedly toppled a Russian Crime Family, dispatched corrupt police officers and saved the day for everyone at the local home improvement store, he still lives at the same apartment he did at the beginning of the movie. He broke the biggest cardinal rule of anonymity: when your identity is exposed, you must move. In the real world, someone bigger and bad would be coming for retribution and he wouldn’t be safe. When his identity was exposed he should have picked up his “go bag” and walked away from his apartment, never to return.

 

There are many considerations for those who wish to start a new life and remain anonymous or operate under a new identity. In fact, many people don’t choose to start anew; they are forced to do so because of threats, fear and harassment. A new life requires serious planning and a powerful will to not go back to the old life. Don’t think it could ever happen to you? People are enrolled in the US Marshall’s Witness Security Program (Aka: Witness Protection Program) every year. Enrollees never planned on such a drastic life-style change, but did so to stay alive.   

 

Why this is important to know is that everyone should be prepared to walk away from their life with a moment’s notice. This is difficult to grasp for most of us law-abiding citizens. But bad things happen to good people every day and my advice is hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Government programs such as the Witness Security Program have limited budgets and only apply to the highest profile Federal cases. That leaves you to take care of yourself when needed.  Make a plan and hope you never need to activate it.

book of eli bnw

Phone Burning

Is your phone burned?  By that I mean is your phone number attached to anything else?  Today I burned my phone because I was running a classified ad for an item in which my email and phone number were required.  It doesn’t matter to me because I can just recycle the number once I’m done selling the item but I hope you are all aware that if your pone number and an email or another phone number that is yours or a friend or family member cross paths you are burned.  All the privacy precautions you have worked for go right out the window when you allow a corporation, an acquaintance  or a website to get 2 forms of persona information from you.
evidence burner phone
In my case the site already had my email address and name but before I could run the ad they wanted to verify my phone number.  Now they have a cross reference.  Tracking somebody is all about connecting the dots.  Some times you can have a huge amount of information about somebody and all you need is that one final piece of the puzzle.  I would like to think that these web sites and corporations are only using this information for the single transaction in which a person is required to give personal information but we all know better than that.
Data mining is just what it says: mining, except it’s easier than other mining.  In the past you had to get a mule, some dynamite and a pic axe then head to the mountains and live without a woman unless you strike it rich after breaking several limbs and losing all but 3 of your teeth.  With data mining these guys just sit at a desk from 9 to 5 and take anything you give them and then sell it.  Your information is just like gold because your private information contains the clues to your hopes dreams and fears.  This information can be sold to advertisers or adversaries and you don’t get to pick.
data mining santa
Hopefully these are things you already know and this is just a reminder but I run into people every single day that blow my mind with their ignorance of data predators.  These people can kill you as well, so if you are stupid with your information count your lucky stars if you live through it.  I won’t give anybody any ideas about why an identity spy would kill you.