Trade with China

The Chinese people grew accustomed over time to reading which way the wind blew from the Chinese Communist Party. It looks like those who are politically astute and involved in business are in “fire sale” mode with the West.

This is a very interesting development. Every time an Asian nation cuts itself off economically from the West it is eventually forced back into normalized trade. However that won’t stop the Chinese Communist Party from using international trade as a lever for domestic control, and looking hard for ways to alleviate diminished trade with the United States. They’ve been working hard for at least the last two decades now to build up regional trade relations to the point where the US becomes less of a threat to their national prosperity.

So why is this? Well the biggest reason is that Trump is lobbying to stop treating China as a “developing economy.” Trump is correct that China is not a developing economy. It might not be a fully developed country, but the economy is not the rate limiting factor for that. If China loses the special trade privileges of being a “developing economy” and has to fight fair as a developed economy, then Chinese manufacturing will slow, or possibly go into a temporary decline.

The second big thing is the tit for tat tariff tango that Trump and Jinping have been dancing. China actually holds the upper hand, as it really needs commodity crops like corn, soy, and wheat. Unfortunately, the US is such a player in the world grain commodity markets that adding additional tariffs on US grains only raises the price because Brazilian Soy and Ukrainian Corn become that much more valuable. Which is one of the big reasons why Russia is investing so much in non-traditional grains like corn, because it expects to have a “special relationship” with China to fill some of the void that the US will leave.

Russia became the worlds largest exporter of wheat in 2016, and exports are on track to continue to rise:

So, China needs raw materials, petrochemicals for feed stocks and energy, and more grain than it can grow itself. Russia, in the face of US led sanctions for actions against Ukraine, needs to sell grain, petrochemicals for feed stock and energy, and various ores and raw materials. China and Russia are already linked by rail, albeit not a standard gauge as trains need to swap wheel widths or cargo containers cross loaded, but the cost of doing so is trivial compared to business with the United States.

So, what you are seeing is China and Russia normalizing trade with each other, and focusing their economic might to boost each other up to provide a counter to the US and EU as trade blocs. The Chinese business men in “fire sale” mode are grabbing resources now for the inevitable down turn in economic activity that comes from doing business with Russia.

What does this mean to the United States? Well, cheap stuff is going to get more expensive. We’ll see manufacturing shift to South Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, and other smaller nations who still have “developing” economies, in order to keep “cheap stuff” prices in Walmart and Amazon. It will be an adjustment, but fundamentally will not change the US economy, we are kinda stuck in a “services” based economy for the foreseeable future (the dollar is just too strong to support exporting manufactured goods that aren’t major end items like aircraft, boats, vehicles or precision machinery).

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Ties to Ukraine

I came across the “scandalous” news that LTC Alexander Vindman was listed on Yorktown Solutions “Foreign Agent Registration Act” form. So I looked it up, and his name appears nine times on the document available online. So at least nine times a lobbying firm contacted LTC Vindman on behalf of their client, the Ukrainian Oil and Gas industry, once in a meeting and eight times by email. It could very well turn out that these contacts were perfectly benign, simply sending information brochures, or non-politically sensitive communications to spur investment in the Ukrainian infrastructure.  Still, there are at least eight emails I’d like to see in order to judge for myself whether or not LTC Vindman’s motivations for testifying as he has done are pure patriotism or self serving actions. Vindman’s name also appears on Signal Consulting’s FARA filing, and Signal Consulting is the firm retained by Ukrainian president Zelensky, and shows three contacts on three different occasions. Once again this is not a smoking gun proof of wrongdoing on the part of LTC Vindman, but shows a pattern of contact with foreign agents, and his own testimony showed that he worked with foreign officials in Ukraine to help them deal with Rudy Giuliani, which is pretty suspicious.

If you like, you can search through FARA filings to your hearts content here:

Meanwhile, Joe Biden and Hunter Biden might  have a history with Ukraine that makes it look like Hunter was paid by Burisma to serve as a private communications channel to the Vice President.

It is illegal to act on behalf of a foreign state or corporation without completing the foreign agent registration. It is also natural for a son to call his father and talk. So the appearance of impropriety is definitely there, although I have no evidence that anything actually criminal happened. Of course actual knowledge of a crime seems to be a non-issue these days.

Still, I highly doubt that any of the current drama over Ukraine or impeachment will actually go anywhere. The Democratic faithful want to see their party “stick it to Trump” and “hashtag resist” and the Republican faithful know that Trump is going to get re-elected as long as they keep him from being removed from office by impeachment. It’s political theater both ways, as both sides want to be seen as “fighters” rather than get anything done. Which isn’t so bad, when Congress is fighting itself, it’s generally too busy to screw over the citizens.

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Veteran’s Day 2019

Today I took my pickup in for a routine oil change and was given an additional two dollar discount because I was a servicemember and it was Veteran’s Day. I then went to Dollar Tree and spent two dollars on drinks for my elder son and myself. He got a “Chicago Style Root Beer” and I got a Rip It.

The Rip It energy drink is the unofficial energy drink for the “Global War on Terror.” The company has played off this and release tribute drinks, and I hope they continue to make their fine product for many years to come. After all, when I was in Iraq and Afghanistan, I found that a Rip It or two was often just the liquid motivation to get the brain doing the braining, so the soldier could do the soldiering. Lots of coffee too, and cigars on occasion, with dip as needed.

What was interesting is that the young fella who came out to ask what I needed before directing me to pull into bay three assumed I was a veteran because he glanced over at the passenger seat where my barely used M-65 field jacket lay. I’d been camping with my boys Friday evening to Sunday morning, and that old field jacket is great for camping. It’s in the woodland camouflage pattern, which ceased to be authorized for wear more than a decade ago. It’s funny but for the bulk of my career the field jacket hasn’t been that much of a comfort item because everyone got issued a Gortex parka from the central issue facility. When the Army finally gave the digital universal camouflage pattern the “kiss of death” for uniforms (but not issued gear) this year, the updated AR 670-1 regulation removed all references to the M-65 Field Jacket.

It’s kinda sad that the field jacket has left the inventory. Unlike the synthetic parkas and cold weather jackets we wear now, the M-65 was a bit more flame retardant, which is something that Soldiers appreciate. Heck, we had to do special issues of “Flame Retardant Army Combat Uniforms” aka “FRACUs” (pronounced Frack Yews) for deploying Soldiers to minimize their risk of body burn injuries from synthetic materials. And if you happened to be in an area where it was “bloody cold” you could always button in an actual field jacket liner and stay toasty (which is what I did this weekend when it dipped below freezing after sundown).

The field jacket isn’t a particularly stylish piece of kit, but it is functional, even if it is heavier than more modern lightweight synthetics. I remember reading in the book “The Guts to Try” about the disaster at Eagle One how the Delta operators war dark blue jeans and black field jackets. John Bernthal in his role as “The Punisher” wears a black field jacket, which was either a deliberate choice by the creative peoples to point to his past in “black ops” or because it looked cooler than woodland or MARPAT digital. Given Hollywood’s track record on authenticity my guess is “looked cooler.”  I guess that it is sort of how the “Dennison Smock” is associate with elite British units, like the Paras and SAS.

Black isn’t the only color associated with veterans. The Vietnam veterans came back with the original olive drab M-65 field jacket. The Desert Storm vets a combination of woodland, chocolate chip desert, and three color desert camo. The digital ACU pattern was the last issue camo on the M-65 of which I’m aware, but as far as I know the veterans of the “Global War on Terror” aren’t rocking that jacket for recognition.  A quick search and it turns out you can buy field jackets in all sorts of colors and camo patterns, some military issue and some clearly not.  I guess if I really wanted to mess with the Sergeant Major’s brain I could even purchase a new Operational Camouflage Pattern M-65 and get it set to the standard last published in AR 670-1. Although if I’m going to waste money on a pointless uniform purchase it will probably be on a set of “Pinks and Greens” when they come available. The wife mentioned that’s the uniform she wants me to wear for our 20th anniversary in a few years.

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Accidental firearm injury

I see crap like this all the time:

Screenshot_2019-11-06 (1) The Army's Fckups

Yeah…the prophets of “carry with a round in the pipe or don’t carry at all” have spoken their dogma over and over again. At this point I really just defend condition three carry to piss them off. And boy does it piss them off.

No one knows how many actual negligent or accidental discharges of a firearm occur in the United States every year, only that some do. Of those that do occur, we know that some people are killed, and some people are injured, based on national statistics (which don’t account for every jurisdiction).

Screenshot_2019-11-06 Firearm injuries in the United States

Source for chart: 

The numbers presented here do give some insight into accidental firearm discharge. If you are a male between 15 and 34, you are in the most likely group to harm yourself or others by accident, or at least claim it was an accident. For the 15 to 24 age bracket, 11.8% of all firearms injuries are accidental. For the 25 to 34 age group, 12.2% of all firearms injuries are accidental.

So…if I told you that you could reduce your risk of hurting yourself or others by more than 10%, would you consider listening? The trade off is 0.3 seconds, on average, of increased time to go from holster to first shot on target.

Now…0.3 seconds is not a truly trivial time. The infamous Tueller Drills showed that without any pre-attack indicators to tip off the mark, an attacker can close the distance before a uniformed police officer can draw and fire a service revolver. However, most attacks on police that are successful take place at less than 21 feet and are deliberate ambushes  and the “21 foot rule” is not what most people think it is.

Thankfully I’m not the only one interested in this subject, although the methodology of using only reported news stories suffers from the same “garbage in/garbage out” problem of not having any sort of controls on the population being studied, it also gives insight into the problem of accidental/negligent discharges:

However, not all reports are created with the goal of making firearms training better, sometimes they are done just to highlight how gun owners don’t really know how to go to the bathroom without shooting themselves:  Yes I know that hundreds of thousands of concealed carriers do not negligently discharge in public restrooms, but enough did that it drew attention. This article pointed out that there were 561 accidental firearms deaths in the US the preceding year for which data was available.

What I recommend is this, if you are a cop, you should carry with a round in the chamber and train every chance you get. If you are a citizen serious about training, then train to carry a round in the chamber.  However, do not belittle those who do not. A sudden ambush from nowhere is just as likely to kill you no matter how you carry, and if you are worried about a “mass shooter” unless you are the very first victim (unlikely) odds are you’ll have some sort of warning. So don’t belittle other concealed carriers, it’s unbecoming and ugly. If you strongly feel that someone is “concealed carrying wrong” then do your best to be helpful, because sometimes we meet that guy with an Uncle Mike’s nylon holster carrying a Hi-Point….

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Thoughts on LTC Vindman

Attacking the source, or an “ad hominem” attack is one of the logical fallacies. However, saying that someone is a “bad person” may be irrelevant as to whether their argument is valid or not, it is not a logical fallacy to judge the trustworthiness of testimony based on the character of the person giving testimony.

I served in Europe just a few short years after the incident outlined in the link took place. I’ve actually trained in the facility mentioned (although not with the Russians as they’d done the Crimean land grab at that point).

While I am not a close acquaintance of LTC Hickman, we did serve in the same theater together during overlapping periods, and I have no reason to question the accuracy of the his recollections about then Major Vindman.

Other military professionals have taken a cursory look at LTC Vindman’s fruit salad (ribbon rack) and come to a few conclusions.

If you read LTC Vindman’s testimony, you would know that he revealed nothing new, and provided no evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump. He wears his ribbons out of order of precedence (a punishable offense under the latest revision of AR 670-1), including his parachutist badge and Ranger tab out of order. The only reason to do that is to highlight the purple heart rather than awards for being on staff, and the fact that at one point as a much younger man he earned the ranger tab (like 70% of all Infantry Officers in the US Army, really, it’s not that big of a deal). His unit affiliation is the 2d Cavalry Regiment, a fine outfit to be sure, but not as distinguished as the 75th Ranger Regiment or any of the other “cool guy” units that demonstrate someone has “been there, done that.”

Additionally, the current state of the military blogosphere is oddly quiet with people jumping up to defent LTC Vindman. With a 20 year career, surely there is someone who would know him well enough to rise to his defense if he was truly a man of impeccable moral character.

And maybe he is, maybe he’s not a political animal who plays up a purple heart from a single combat tour to sell himself as a “decorated veteran” to the media. Maybe he’s not a guy who did the minimum time necessary in the Infantry before bailing to be a Foreign Area Officer and spend the rest of his career working out of embassies. But I don’t think so. An Officer of the United States military does not get to say the President is wrong about foreign policy. That didn’t work for Oliver North, and it certainly won’t work for Alex Vindman. Quite literally the sentiment I get from field grade leaders is, “a 20 year career and fewer combat stripes? Where was he hiding out? What the hell was he doing?”

In short, LTCs are expected to haul the water for those who are actually in charge of making policy, not attempt to make policy themselves.

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Nutrient Dilution in Plants, is it soil or atmosphere? Yes.

Is there anything that carbon dioxide can’t do?

If you read the linked article, you come away with the idea that carbon dioxide is making our vegetable and grains (other than corn) less nutritious. That may be true, but it is also irrelevant. Plants have two systems that are necessary for growth, roots and leaves. The leaves are the part that catches carbon dioxide via osmosis of gas and turns it into carbohydrates via photosynthesis, and adding CO2 to the atmosphere makes it easier for the leaves to do their job. The roots on the other hand, work through liquid osmosis, and the environment that they find themselves in determines just how many minerals are available for uptake.

With me so far? Good.

To restate, and make it plainly obvious, it makes complete sense that mineral uptake lags behind carbohydrate generation when there is more atmospheric carbon dioxide without an increase in aqueous mineral content available to the root system.

Plants use carbohydrates to form the bulk of their structural tissues. This means with more carbohydrates plants can grow faster. Faster growth without an increase in aqueous mineral content means that a larger plant will grow under enriched CO2 conditions, but have the same mineral content as a plant grown under normal conditions. This is a “dilution effect” because the mineral content of the entire plant doesn’t change, but the volume of the plant does.

If you grow a plant 8% larger through CO2 enrichment (artificial or not), you logically expect it to have 8% less mineral density. That we only eat a certain part of most plants, the fruit, stalk, root, or leaf, means that we are getting less mineral density per serving (because we aren’t increasing our serving size 8% to account for the mineral difference).

Now, all of this is “interesting” but irrelevant, especially if you are an omnivore. Three oysters will generally generally satisfy your daily requirement for zinc. An 8oz beef steak covers zinc and around half your iron requirement. If you are a vegan vegetarian, you’ll NEVER get enough iron from “natural” food, you will need supplementation to remain healthy (even the medical journal of Australia points out that iron fortification of cereals is recommended for vegetarians to maintain adequate iron intake).

The reason why we use mineral salt licks in raising cattle is to ensure that they get enough minerals fast enough to support growth and health. In Australia, there was a mysterious growth and health issue with cattle that was fixed by giving them mineral salt licks instead of standard salt licks. Originally the scientists thought it was an iron deficiency, but through feed analysis it turned out that it wasn’t iron, but cobalt. The only form of cobalt your body needs is as part of Vitamin B12, which is produced by the gut bacteria of ruminants (cows, goats, sheep, etc). The minute trace amounts of cobalt in the mineral salt licks were enough to get the cattle back into health, despite their grazing range being essentially devoid of cobalt.

So I don’t worry about the potential decrease in mineral content of tomatoes, potatoes, or wheat. As long as the plants are getting enough for them to grow, they will grow. If someone is REALLY CONCERNED about vegetable mineral nutrient density, they’ll need to start mineralizing the soil to create more aqueous minerals for plant uptake by the root system. Otherwise there is nothing to do but keep eating a variety of foods in order to maintain your health.

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How to Arm a Rebel Force (or not)

After the release of the book and eventual movie “Charlie Wilson’s War”, along with the movie “American Made” you would think that the citizens of the world would recognize that governments only bother to come up with the barest of cover stories when purchasing arms and supplying them to terrorists/jihadists/freedom fighters/moderate Muslims, or whatever.  After all, one man’s terrorist group is another man’s “freedom loving rebel” in Central America, or the Middle East, or various African countries.

Recently some journalists have been trying to create a scandal out of the United States supplying arms to groups in Syria, appropriate for a group named “Arms Watch.”

But…nobody cares. The former Soviet Satellite States manufacture arms and ammunition of decent quality, and as long as you don’t buy Chinese stuff and try to commit fraud by passing it off as Albanian, the way AEY enterprises of Florida did.

Despite the United Nations supposedly having some sort of interest in regulating the international arms trade, it takes a superpower to try to do anything about the “illicit trade” in arms.  Even then it may be slow to act, for instance this cable from 2009 didn’t seem to have any impact on the US blacklisting of Slobodan Tesic eight whole years later in 2017

But whatever. Arms from the former Soviet Satellite States shows up in Liberia, Lybia, Cameroon, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, and various other nations. Sometimes the United States was involved in the purchase, transport, and distribution of said arms (Syria for example) and sometimes other governments were involved. Sometimes arms deals are done on the up and up, such as the Steyr 50 caliber sniper rifles sold to Iran (that ended up in the hands of insurgents in Iraq), and sometimes they are smuggled in defiance of sanctions.

But nobody cares. There is money to be made, and people like making money.  And even if they didn’t sell the old combloc munitions off, someone else would. China, for example, doesn’t give a crap about selling to whoever they feel like. North Korea deliberately works to violate the sanctions against it.

And every once in a while, it makes sense to know an arms dealer who can get their hands on a lot of old Soviet stuff quickly, in case we need to arm some freedom fighters.

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