The Greater Implications of Bolivian Sea Access

Uruguay Signs Deal With Bolivia Granting it Access to the Sea

 

First, Jose Mujica of Uruguay is one of my favorite world leaders.  I can’t say I agree with him on everything, but I think it’s cool that he’s one of few politicians that can actually claim to be “one of the people”.   This guy cusses in public speeches, doesn’t pull punches, dresses in worn old clothes, lives on a ramshackle homestead outside Montevideo and drives an old VW bug.   Oh yeah, he also got into politics as a radical left-wing guerrilla, throwing molotov cocktails and kidnapping bankers.   It’s hard not to pull for the guy when you compare him to the cast of characters we get in the US.

In the Spanish speaking international media they bring this guy up more often than they do in the Anglosphere (makes sense) and the rumblings around South America for Chile to give Bolivia back access to the Pacific Ocean.    Mujica has been outspoken over the need for Chile to give them back a corridor to the ocean and just gave them (and Paraguay) open access to Uruguay’s ports to lessen Bolivia’s reliance on Chile.

A lot of South America’s recent growth has come from demand for agricultural and mineral products in China, so access to the Pacific or at the very least good ports has been crucial for the region.   I believe Bolivia and Paraguay are the two poorest countries in South America and I suppose more difficult foreign trade has helped put them in that situation.

I can see how this looks like an unimportant story, but to me it’s another sign of increasing solidarity among South American nations (well, ok, Chile is apparently being difficult) and increasing ties between South/Latin America and China.   Traditionally this has been our “back yard” and currently our approval ratings are about as low in South America as it is in the Middle East (which is low) and the Chinese have already put tentacles well into the continent and her resources.    Just another sign of the coming multipolar world, with increased Chinese influence abroad and Latin America clicking together as a populist-left alternative to neoliberalism with guys like Mujica, Morales, Correa and Maduro as heads of state and center-left Brazil kind of anchoring things for them.

Also, Montevideo has a nice, underused port.    I remember the main building being really cool.   Great architecture in that city.

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The Iraqi Dinar Scam Revisited

I think this subject gets brought up to me about once every six months or so.    Not too long ago I heard about an acquaintance in a financial rut who put more money than she should’ve into the Iraqi Dinar, hoping to ride the meteoric rise of the currency that should be coming any day now.   Sounds like she did it several years after the initial rumblings of this “opportunity” started making the rounds after the fall of Saddam’s government too.    Apparently she felt really stupid for putting money she didn’t really have to blow into dinars and it wasn’t panning out as they hoped.   I’m sure there’s a ton of people with similar stories out there.   I remember hearing quite a few people talk about investing in the dinar, either stating intent or that they already had purchased them.   Now I don’t hear many people talk about holding on to them, getting out of them, etc.

Looks like today it’s at 1200 or so dinars to the dollar right now.    When I was there in 2004-5, it was somewhere around 1400 and the last time I wrote about it exactly three years ago it was at 1300.   (The Iraqi Dinar Scam)   Everything is still the same with the currency though – you can’t really exchange it in any serious venue, only find some other sucker to buy them.    I think you’d be hard pressed to say that any fundamentals of the Iraqi economy have improved since then.   The Shiites ran it into the dirt again, the Kurds are about as close as they’ve ever been to jumping ship and ISIS is running around doing the things they do throughout much of the country side.     One guy I knew told me that Iraq’s ace-in-the-hole was a budding mercury industry, and to my knowledge that hasn’t panned out.    I don’t mean to talk down on the poor Iraqis, I’m just saying they haven’t become the economic miracle that was sold to potential dinar investors in the beginning.

The Iraqi Central Bank is worried about “dollarization” of the economy, a situation where the US dollar becomes the de facto or official currency of a country.   In this case, people don’t trust the dinar and would prefer the dollar or other currencies over Iraqi money.    I suppose this is probably part of the reason why you can’t exchange Iraqi dinars – because damn near everyone locally would try to GTFO and into pretty much anything else.   A bit of currency protectionism.

While looking up news on the dinar, I found this article from April Fool’s Day last year that I thought was kind of funny.    Some of the writing is a little cliche, but it’s still good:
APRIL FOOL:   Worldwide Celebrations as Iraqi Dinar Revalues

I like the snippet of the Iraqi Dinar dealer crying that he should’ve held on to his dinars instead of trading them for dollars.   Ha ha.

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Iran’s Navy Sinks Mock US Carrier

Iran’s Navy Blasts Away at Mock US Carrier

This week the Iranian Revolutionary Guard staged war games where they sank a model of a US Nimitz class aircraft carrier.    They basically swarmed it with about 50 missile-bearing patrol boats, helicopters and land-based missiles.

Some of the articles/comments I’ve read laugh off Iran’s military capabilities, but they actually have a decent navy and some fairly impressive home-grown technology.   They’re not as backwards as some people like to make them out.   Are they *on par* with the US Navy?   Definitely not…but do they have to have the same kind of numbers and technology to strike a serious blow against us?

I would imagine that in a real life scenario if the Iranians threw 50 of the fast moving patrol boats, helicopters and fired a few missiles at a single carrier, SOMETHING would get through, even if most of it was swatted down.   One Nimitz class carrier equals a couple thousand sailors and several billions of dollars at the bottom of the ocean.     So far a little over 2,000 US servicemen have been KIA in Afghanistan, so one carrier attack has the potential to trump that in terms of body count in a day.

I know the US Navy has contingency plans for lone fast-moving patrol boats, not sure if they’ve taken seriously the idea of a whole shitload of them coming at them.    We’re really bad at taking these kinds of things seriously.

Oh, and about 20% of the world’s oil gets shipped through the narrow Straits of Hormuz, where Iran always threatens to take their stand.   Impeding access means that we’re going to feel it back home and the Saudis aren’t going to be very happy, either.   Neither will the Kuwaitis or Iraq.

I was curious to see *how* they made the ship, because even if they made it out of paper mache it’s pretty big undertaking to just build it and blow it up.    Looks like it’s an old barge for the base and I’m not sure what else.   I’m sure the Iranian taxpayers are thrilled though.

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New York Towns Looking to Secede to Pennsylvania

New York Towns Are Plotting to Secede to Pennsylvania

 

This story caught my eye today.   I’ve talked before about some states and nations having political borders that don’t make sense and the state of New York is one of the first to come to mind with the divide between the rural/rust belt upstate and Long Island.    Here’s one factor I never thought of:  Fracking!   Right now 15 towns along the Pennsylvania border are talking about jumping ship and joining more conservative Pennsylvania over a recent fracking ban…and high taxes, of course.

Although I know there’s reservations about fracking, I get what they’re trying to say.  We’re talking about a rural and economically depressed area without many options and they get some dollars flowing in through fracking.   Then the wealthy liberals in NYC and the greenie-weenies in the Hudson Valley tell them they can’t.   I’m not necessarily saying fracking is a good idea, but I get the sentiments.

I’m sure nothing will come out of this in the immediate future, but I think this is the kind of social/economic divide that will end up causing big political problems in states like New York, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado and California.

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Twilight’s Last Gleaming by John Michael Greer

 

I absolutely loved this book. Over the past six months or so I think I’ve read four or five of John Michael Greer’s books, both fiction and non-fiction and have been impressed with all of them to varying degrees and for different reasons. This one stood out to me because it covered some of my pet-topics (secession, resource wars, military spending and American exceptionalism) and also because Greer did a great job covering the military, geopolitical and geographical aspects of the story – not too shabby for a bearded druid that rides the bus and writes about peak oil.
It’s been two months since I read it, so some of the details are fuzzy but here’s the general story: In the year 2025 (or something) the United States is a little beyond her prime and starts a war with Uganda – where coincidentally they had just discovered massive oil deposits offshore. The Chinese have been involved in Africa and US and Chinese interest bump noses with disasterous results for the US. The Russians get involved at some level too. When Uncle Sam tucks his tail and heads home, it leads to political and economic trouble back home.
This one is a real page-turner and I think it took me no more than two days to get through it just because it was so interesting.
So here’s a few of the strong points…
– Well written and plausible enough to make you think.
– I liked how under-developed the characters were. Yes, that’s right. They were pretty much just personal enough to tell the story. All the substance is in the ideas and facts intertwined into an interesting story.
– I believe the “fuck it, we’re America and invincible” attitude gets us into a lot of trouble and will get us into even more in the future and Greer does a good job tearing this sentiment apart. When everything is going to hell in Africa, take notice of how often the political/military folks say things like “once we regain air superiority” while they’re getting their asses handed to them. We don’t believe we can lose….and we can, or at least pay too high of a price.
– Great job describing Chinese, American and Russian national pysches.

There is room for a sequel here and I’d like to see it…

 

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Drastic Times Call For Semi-Drastic Measures in Greece

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30481307

If I remember right, Greece, like a lot of Europe, has four or five significant political parties.   There’s the two major center-right/center-left parties more or less similar to our Republicans and Democrats, a far-right party (Golden Dawn) and a conglomerate of leftists (think communists, Marxists, greens, etc.) , Syriza.

This week Syriza won an impromptu election in the Greek parliament and they’re now the majority party (not *the* majority), beating out the more “mainstream” parties.   It should also be noted that Golden Dawn didn’t do too bad in this election, considering some of the opposition they faced from the establishment in Greece and the rest of Europe over the past two years, ranging from media smears to jailing party leaders.

Although Syriza is several shades left of the center-left party (New Democracy? I can’t remember their name), they have rounded their edges off a little bit to be more populist.   Despite toning it down a notch, Syriza’s victory wasn’t exactly well-received in the rest of the European Union.   The Greek stock market dropped, more capital fled Greece, one of the big shots in Germany made a statement about how the Greeks could vote for whoever they wanted, but Germans shouldn’t have to pay for it (ok he’s got a point) and the media has been treating this like a bunch of bratty children with a list of impossible demands (ok, I’m skeptical of Syriza’s ability to deliver free lunches again too).   Of course there’s been lots of panic that this will lead towards Greece leaving the EU and bring on the economic apocalypse everyone has been fearing.

I think the victory of a party like Syriza (or Golden Dawn, for that matter) is only possible when the current paradigm is failing…and it sure is in Greece.   There’s 50% youth unemployment (I also think it’s interesting that Alexis Tsipras, HMFIC, is only 40), social services getting slashed, prices up and grim prospects of ever getting back to the “good ol’ days”.   No one seems to have a palatable plan to solve Greece’s problems, as many Greeks feel they’re getting shafted by austerity measures at the time they need it the most and the other Europeans aren’t happy about footing the bill for it.    Both sides have valid points, I believe.

At any rate, I thought this was a notable development in the world, starting to see the status quo crack a bit on the fringes of the western world.   If you would’ve asked me before this I would’ve figured that one of Europe’s far right parties would’ve been the first to really break through and I didn’t think about Syriza, even though I’ve been following the situation in Greece.

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Secession: The Storm by Joe Nobody

This is the first Joe Nobody book I’ve ever read.   Although I’m not exactly uninterested in the tactical/self-defense world, it’s not the first thing I gravitate towards and that’s how I have Joe Nobody pegged.   The concept of secession is a preoccupation of mine, so I figured I’d give him a shot with this one.

First, I think he did a much better job of “showing” over “telling” than most authors in the genre.   I think a lot of them get hung up on telling a story and can’t give it the punch it needs by making the reader feel the emotions/sensations that go along with the story.   In other words, he’s a pretty good writer.    Overall, it’s a good story and the dialogue is much more natural than others in the genre.

The story flashes between a disenchanted Texas Ranger, a presidential candidate (Hilary Clinton with her name tweaked a bit) and a small business owner who feels he’s been pushed around too much by the federal government after an incident in Hurricane Katrina and of course all of these stories intertwine during a period of political gridlock in the United States that brings the idea of Texas secession into public debate.

One of the major themes in the book is the role of law enforcement and some of the ethical debates that can come up, especially in a crisis and Nobody does a good job of addressing these dilemmas from all angles.   It’s easy to make up a constitution-loving friendly police officer character and paint everything black or white, but there’s a lot of gray in the real world.

Not exactly a spoiler, but the book leaves room for a sequel or two.   Texas does secede and Nobody lays out some of the arguments in favor and against it, but Texas as an independent nation really doesn’t factor into the story much at this point.   I am looking forward to this sequel when it comes.

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Gardening Year-In-Review: 2014.

So after about a week of bitter cold temperatures, it’s safe to say that the gardening season is over for me.   I like to take some time at the end of the year and reflect on the things that went right and wrong.   Overall, this year was better than the past two years but some things could’ve been better.

I put in several dwarf trees in the ground, as opposed to trying to grow them in containers.   This year I added a plum, nectarine, apricot, two apples, a crabapple and a cherry in addition to the cherry and peach I already have established.   I’m working on creating dense guild systems with vines growing up the trees, which will be surrounded by shrubs.   So far, so good.   I put in a few more aronia bushes, currants, gooseberries, serviceberries, gojis, sea buckthorn and probably something else I’m forgetting.     This is something that I hope to round the edges off over the next couple of years to build a sweet food forest.   So far, so good.   I filled in spaces this year with annuals like tomatoes and pumpkins.   The pumpkins did great and it was kind of cool to have our own instead of buying them from where ever.  I think I ended up with seven or so rouge d’vif pumpkins.

I would *like* to put a brick path through the yard around these trees.   We’ll see…   I’d also like a water feature but I don’t know about that.      Either way, I think the food forest is off to a good start.

I harvested quite a bit of aronia, which was pretty cool.   Got my first kiwi too.   Hopefully next year my vines will be loaded with them – they really took off this year.   I’m a little worried that they’re too wound up in themselves because I had a hard time keeping them trained.   No blackberries or raspberries this year, which was kind of odd.   I have no idea why.

I didn’t do too hot over the winter, but I was able to establish stuff very early on and had enough spinach, arugula, cilantro and lettuce in the spring.   Beets and turnips did ok.  I had enough tomatoes to eat fresh and have the occasional marinara, salsa or chili.   Pretty weak showing on the peppers, but probably enough jalapenos to last the year.

I grew a “three sisters” bed, which was alright.  I got some corn and sunflowers out of it.   Even if I don’t use the sunflower seeds, that stuff is still cool to look out and see.   I didn’t do so hot with squash and cucumbers, but I’d get the occasional one.

Green beans did great.  I harvested a ton of them and even developed a mild case of tendinitis snapping them and missed about a week of work.   I saved a bunch of Kentucky Wonder, Sultan’s Crescent and purple beans to plant next year.      Tomatillos did really well too, but they’re kind of a pain in the ass because there’s only one thing I know how to do with them (salsa).   I think sometimes it’s hard to tell if they’re *really* ripe too so green salsa can be hit or miss.

Something new to me that panned out well were jerusalem artichokes.   I planted a 4′ x 4′ square of them and probably dug up 50lbs of them.   I’ve been frying them in bacon grease, which is pretty damn tasty.    Like sunflowers, they look cool growing and I ended up getting spaghetti squash growing up them (and got a good crop of that).

I acquired a shit load of wood chips this year…because the city decided to cut down my ash tree before the ash borers got to it.   They threw the branches in the chipper and I had the guys dump about a quarter of the truck in my driveway.   Someone a few houses down got a huge load from their tree too, so I took about 10 wheelbarrows full from their pile too.   I have everything mulched real well and was able to throw a lot of chips down around my garden beds.   This should help keep things neat and tidy…and less muddy in the spring.

I couldn’t get much established for the fall, even though the weather was decent.   I’ll chalk this up to being busy with other stuff at key times.   Lots of little projects happening due to the upcoming baby, merging families, etc.    I’ll just try to get an early start on things next year.

Next year I’d like to have more herbs and I suppose I should cater to the kids’ tastes on what I plant so what I grow can be used instead of it being pretty much just me that eats everything.

I figured I’d take the year off from bees since they died and see where I’m at in the spring to see if I want new ones.   As of right now I’ll pass.   It seemed easier when there weren’t kids to worry about.   Plus I think I went into it a little half-cocked.   Sometimes that’s not a bad thing, but last year I figured I’d learn as I went but ended up getting sidetracked by life.    I’d like chickens, as I have more or less everything in place for them.

I say this every year, but I’d like to do a better job remembering what I planted where.   I think if I did some planning I would be able to better manage things and do a better job.   Although it wasn’t a bad year, it could’ve been a lot better.

So we’ll see what next year brings…   I’d like to have my backyard production account for a bigger percentage of my diet so hopefully it’s the best year yet.

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ISIS and Gold Backed Currency

ISIS Going Back To The “Gold Standard”

This is another story that is probably more style than substance, but ISIS is talking about introducing a gold-backed currency into a consolidated Islamic State.   They’ve released some images and plans for the different denominations so it’s a little more tangible at this point than just an off-hand comment.

I know turmoil in the Middle East is par for the course, but I don’t think the world quite anticipated a group like ISIS.   Middle Eastern governments are on thin ice, ISIS is gaining power, Turkey isn’t sure how to handle this (issues with the Kurds – long story short, they’re holding their own and it’s increasing chances of Kurdish secession), the West doesn’t know what to do, ISIS has a shit load of oil at it’s disposal.    There are a lot of wild card factors in this story and I don’t think anyone knows for sure how it’ll play out.

A gold backed currency would fit in with their plans of removing themselves from the world’s current financial system and still have a means to trade for the one thing they have, oil (oh, and concrete, dates and carpets.  Ha ha. ).    However, I think worrying about minting coins is a few steps ahead of where they are…or would it fast track them to some legitimacy?    We’ll see…

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Star’s Reach: A Novel of the Deindustrial Future by John Michael Greer


I’ve seen John Michael Greer’s name around and have probably heard interviews with him before, but this is the first time I’ve read one of his books.    A couple weeks ago I heard him on the Kunstlercast talking about his latest book and decided I’d check it out.

The story takes place about 400 years in the future in what the author describes as a period that would be towards the upswing of a Dark Age in America where society gets more stability and things are starting to look up.   The industrial age is long dead and climate change has radically altered the land.  The protagonist is a “ruinman”, one who makes their living disassembling the wreckage of the ancient (see: modern) world who finds a document that could uncover the mystery of “Star’s Reach”, a place where the ancients may have talked with aliens.   A quest begins to figure it out with all the usual trappings of a quest story.

The story itself is pretty good but what stuck with me about the book is the ideas in the way of language, mythology, culture and even astrobiology that the author weaves into it.    I think this book will stick with me for a while because of this.

The story mainly takes place in the Ohio River valley and the place names have changed but are still mostly recognizable.   If you think about it, a lot of our place names come from Indians and mean nothing to us except that specific place and the words we use have probably morphed a bit from their original pronunciation to suit our needs.    What’s an “Ohio” or “Cincinnati”?   I live in Des Moines, Iowa.    It’s two French words, but not pronounced like someone from France would and they don’t have any meaning to the people who live here.   “Iowa” is the name of a long-gone people who inhabited this general area.    I did feel kind of stupid for not getting one place described as a great center of learning from the ancient times name, even though it’s the city technically my degree was from (did it online so I never stepped foot in “Belumi”).

I also thought some of the mythology was cool, especially surrounding what we know today as the Washington monument.   We don’t always understand why people in the past did they things they did and do our best to explain them.    There’s a few instances in the book where seemingly trivial things from the modern world pass on into the future, especially circus related stuff (which is kind of funny, since a lot of that is holdovers from the Roman era).    It’s kind of interesting to think about what can be lost by time and what can make it through.    I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but we have tons of sayings, customs, etc. that we do today that come from the past that we don’t associate directly with their older meanings.

Greer predicts some major climate change to this patch of land we’re sitting on – modern day Arkansas becomes a jungle, Kansas a desert and the Ohio River Valley gets a rainy subtropical climate.  The coastline changes drastically to the point that a lot of the Gulf Coast and Eastern seaboard is underwater.     The major shifts in climate and the end of the current era leads to new religious movements and new holidays based around the weather patterns (as ours are today if you look back).   I didn’t know that Greer was a big shot in the druid world while reading this, but it makes sense now and that kind of earth-based spirituality runs through the book.

He also brings up a lot of interesting thoughts about astrobiology and who the aliens that humans may have contacted would be.

I read one of his books, “Not The Future We Ordered” after this one.   Interesting guy.   I’m going to have to pick up a few more of his.

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