Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Passover is the time of the year that Jews commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. It is a very symbolic time representing our release from bondage and slavery, the gift of freedom, our nation becoming sovereign and self-sustaining...all the things good preppers should extol. Some of the customs of the holiday include, not eating leaven products, telling over the story of what happened in Egypt and eating different types of foods like bitter herbs and during Temple times bringing a Paschal Sacrifice. We also have a special meal called a Seder where we eat Matzah and lean on our sides (as freemen once were accustomed to do during their meals).
I think that, as always, there are many different levels of interpretation regarding our laws and customs. On one level our whole national metamorphosis from a nation of slaves to a nation of freemen teaches us a lesson that needs to be reviewed and reflected upon by each generation. (Our Rabbi's teach us that “In every generation one must look upon himself as if he personally had gone out of Egypt.) The Exodus from Egypt was much more than physical. It was a psychological transformation. It required a nation that for centuries lived subservient to another, to totally change their worldview overnight. Its hard to imagine what the Jewish people felt 'the day after', but one can picture a serious culture shock. Once one throws off the yoke of a dictator, it is extremely difficult to readjust oneself to living on their own, being responsible for their own destiny.
This point is something that happened to the founding fathers of the US after ridding themselves of the yoke of King George. More recently it is something that Eastern Europe had to go through after the collapse of the USSR and what Iraqis are going through after the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime. Each nation is going through a stage where they are trying to rediscover themselves and learn anew how to live freely.
This is also what the Jewish people have been struggling about during their over 2000 long years of exile. It is what the modern State of Israel has gone through in its relatively short lifespan and it is the personal struggle that each and every individual needs to overcome. We need to finally come to the realization that we are no longer dependent on any other nation for our survival. We need to become responsible, proud and self-sustaining, not reliant on the 'charity' of others. We must become individual Jewish Preppers and a Nation of Jewish Preppers!
May we merit the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of our Temple in Jerusalem speedily in our days (whether the US State Department likes it or not).
ps One point of Jewish law I would like to emphasize is that one is not only forbidden to eat leaven products on Passover, but to even own them. One method to prevent the owning of Chometz (leaven products) during the holiday is to sell your Chometz for the holiday. There is a very simple form to fill out that will take care of this for you and can even be done online. Here is the link to have a rabbi sell your Chometz. Enjoy!
pps This year we are trying to overcome my 'save everything' mentality. Whatever is being thrown out we are referring to as a "Paschal Sacrifice"!
ppps Another note. It dawned on me that what we are doing in the days and weeks prior to the holiday, cleaning out our houses and buying all the food we will need over the holiday in advance,is actually great practice for Prepping! We basically become self-sufficient for the week...
Monday, March 22, 2010
Jewish Preppers sells original Zimbabwe bills in order to demonstrate the dangers of hyperinflation. For more information contact us at: jewishsurvivor (at) gmail.com
***Go to the bottom of the article for a practical idea on combating hyperinflation...***
A quick tour of hyperinflation and the possible consequences for America
By John Silveira
"No one can predict the future," I heard a voice say as I walked into the offices of Backwoods Home Magazine. The speaker went on to add, "But there are a lot of reasons to believe we are in danger of entering a period of hyperinflation of the dollar."
I hesitated because I knew the voice and I followed it to Dave Duffy's office. Dave's the guy who publishes this magazine. But the speaker I was hearing was none other than our poker-playing friend from Southern California, O.E. MacDougal.
I walked into Dave's office and there was the pair of them, Dave and Mac, drinking wine and talking. After greeting me, their conversation seemed to drift to the subject of the steelhead that were making their way up the Rogue River just north of town. But I wanted them to get back to what I'd heard them discussing when I first came in. So I cut in.
"Hey, I heard you saying something about hyperinflation. I know I've seen references to it on the Net, but what exactly is it?"
Before Mac could answer, Dave interjected, "Inflation is when prices go up, hyperinflation is when they go up beyond all reason."
"But how do you know when you've gone from inflation to hyperinflation?" I asked.
"There's no hard and fast rule," Mac said, "and no exact number for determining when we've gone from one to the other—or bad to worse. But it's been said that inflation is reported annually while hyperinflation is reported more often, like monthly, weekly, or, in extreme cases, daily. It's not a bad rule of thumb. But let me make a quick comment about what Dave just said.
"It may sound like I'm nitpicking," he said to Dave, "but I'm not. Inflation isn't so much that prices go up—because that would imply that groceries and stuff like that have somehow become more valuable. Inflation is when money becomes less valuable so it takes more money to buy a sack of potatoes, a gallon of gas, or hire a babysitter. It's a distinction most people don't seem to get.
"In fact, in cases where commodities become more valuable, it's usually a case of supply and demand. When there's increased demand for something, or the supply of something we typically use runs short, the price of it goes up. For example, if a bad winter wipes out much of the citrus crop, oranges become more expensive that year. When the crop returns to normal, the next year, the price of oranges returns to where it usually is.
"Inflation, on the other hand, is an increase in the money supply that exceeds the expansion of the goods and services available to buy."
"That sentence sounds like a mouthful," I said. "Give me an example I can actually understand."
One hundred trillion dollar Zimbabwe note
"Let's use an analogy," he said. "Imagine a bunch of us are stranded on a desert island with a set of poker chips. Our first year there, we decide the poker chips are going to represent the total of goods and services on the island because we want to use them as money. Say some of us harvest coconuts and we decide each coconut should cost five white chips. Next year there's a bumper harvest of coconuts. If there are too many coconuts, each one is going to be worth less than they were in the previous year because the people harvesting them are going to have a harder time dumping them all, so the price may fall to three white chips apiece to encourage people to buy them. On the other hand, if there's a bad harvest, it's going to be harder to buy them, so if consumers want them they're going to be willing to pay more for them and the price will go up. Maybe they're going to be seven or eight white chips each. But we expect the cost of a coconut to hover around the average price of five white chips we pay for them in a normal year."
"What you're saying is the cost of coconuts depends on supply and demand, surpluses and shortages," Dave said.
"I can see that," I said in agreement.
"Now," Mac continued, "let's take the same island and a raft drifts in with another set of poker chips that's the same as the first set. So, we effectively double the money supply on the island. What happens to the value of everything?"
I thought a second. "Well, if we accept the second set of chips as part of our money supply, with no increase or decrease in the number of coconuts, the cost of each coconut is going to be doubled because there's now twice as much money—or poker chips—on the island."
"That's right. And think about this: Anyone who's been saving his poker chips for a rainy day is going to suddenly find his stash of chips have half the purchasing power they used to have. That's inflation: an increase in the chips or, more generally, in the money supply and a decrease in the value of each poker chip or dollar."
"So, as more chips are introduced, not only do prices go up, but it discourages saving," Dave said.
"That's correct," Mac said.
"Then tell me if this is right," I said. "If instead of more chips showing up, half the chips on the island suddenly fall into the ocean and are lost for good, each remaining chip would now have twice the purchasing power they previously had and coconuts would cost half as much, because we said the number of chips represent the value of all the goods and services on the island, including the coconuts. That's deflation; a decrease in the money supply makes each chip more valuable."
"You've got it," Mac said. "By the way, a recent real-world example of prices going up due to supply and demand, and not inflation, was caused by a mandate created by Congress a few years ago. It stipulated that a certain amount of our energy had to come from ethanol. To comply with this mandate, fuel producers started buying a large portion of the grain harvests to make fuel. That took grains out of the market and created a shortage of grains available for human and animal consumption. The result was an increased demand on them without a commensurate increase in supply and we wound up with five-dollar loaves of bread as well as more expensive chicken, milk, and steak because it also cost more to feed the animals those grains."
"So that jump in grain prices at that time had nothing to do with the money supply, but with how much grain was available to make fuel," I concluded.
"Right again, and later on the cost of grain went down based strictly on market forces. But a lot of people labeled the price jump inflation when it wasn't."
"What should it have been called?" I asked.
"There is no convenient word or words in our language to cover the rise and fall of prices based on supply and demand, so we use the word ‘inflation' indiscriminantly."
"Has this country always had inflation?" I asked.
"This may surprise you, but we've only had long-term inflation since the Federal Reserve was established in 1913 and they got control of our money supply. They have steadily increased the money supply faster than than the increase in the amount of goods and services that that money will buy. The result is that money has become worth less and less until, today, a dollar has about the same purchasing power as four cents had in 1913."
"Are you kidding?" I asked.
"No," Mac replied.
"But that means that a penny in 1913 had the same buying power as a quarter, today."
"What about before that?" Dave asked.
"Prior to the Federal Reserve, our currency had an amazing amount of stability for more than 100 years because it was based on gold. That is, prices remained pretty steady for over a century. The only thing that really happened is that prices went down as one technological advance after another made life easier, crops more plentiful, and businesses more efficient. There was a blip of inflation during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, but those passed when those wars ended."
"People like Congressman Ron Paul want to go back to the gold standard," I said. "Why's gold so special?"
"Because it's rare, pretty, and useful, and we've agreed it's valuable," Mac said. "All the gold ever mined in the world would form a cube that was only 50 feet on each side. So there's a limited supply and if money was based on it, currencies couldn't help but be stable."
"But consider this," he added. "If someone suddenly found a pile of gold as big as Mount Everest, the price of gold would plunge until it was all but worthless because it wouldn't be rare anymore, though it would still be pretty and useful."
"I don't mean to cut you off," I said, "but why do we inflate our money?"
"Oh, there are economic theories that say it's good, but basically we do it because governments like inflation."
I was surprised. "Why?"
"Governments like to tax us and inflation is a tax. Most people simply do not understand that."
"How's it a tax?" I asked.
"Let's go back to the analogy of the island. As I said, if a second set of poker chips arrives, as they're introduced into the island's economy, the prices of everything on the island will begin to rise to reflect the number of chips. But before they do, the person who found the chips gets to spend them while the prices are still low. In effect, they're stealing the value out of everyone else's chips.
"In the same way, when the government increases the money supply, without a corresponding increase in the amount of goods and services, they devalue everyone else's dollars—they're worth less and buy less as prices begin to go up. But government gets full value with this newly created money because they spend it first."
"So, with inflation, they're stealing value out of every bill I have in my pocket," Dave said,
"Stealing is exactly what they're doing. Keep in mind that if introducing more money were harmless, the government wouldn't care about counterfeiters."
"So inflation amounts to legalized counterfeiting," Dave concluded and the three of us laughed at what he'd said.
"You're catching on," Mac said.
This concept clearly intrigued Dave.
"What's worse," Mac continued, "is that the same people who would scream at a tax hike or a new tax imposed on us, blithely ignore inflation because they don't understand that it's caused by the government and it's another tax. It's the ultimate withholding tax because it comes out of everyone's pocket even if you're in the underground economy. But the worst thing is that it discourages saving and investment, the things that made this country great."
"But it would still seem prudent to save even in an inflationary economy, wouldn't it?" I asked.
"We should try to invest our money somehow," Mac said. "But consider the effect inflation has on some types of savings, say a savings account, a certificate of deposit, or a U.S. Savings Bond. The interest paid on any of these is low. In fact, they're often lower than the rate of inflation. On that basis, the more you save the further you fall behind in purchasing power. But what makes it worse is that the interest paid is also taxed, that is, part of the imaginary gains you've made are taken away from you by the IRS. So, saving that way becomes a loser's game. The more you save, the further you fall behind.
"Over the long run, even putting money into precious metals is a loser's game—that is, if you do it honestly."
"How's that so?" Dave asked.
"If you invest in gold or silver, it's a nonproductive investment; it doesn't even earn you interest. What gold and silver really do is respond to the value of the dollar and other currencies. The price of those metals will go up with the inflation rate so, over the long run, if you hold onto them you should theoretically break even in purchasing power. The problem is that when you sell your gold or silver the IRS sees your gain as a ‘real' gain and takes a chunk of it by taxing you. Thus, even precious metals are a losing position—unless you don't report the sale."
"So you're against holding gold or silver," I said.
"Oh, no. As a hedge against inflation they're terrific, but they're not making you money in the way stocks, bonds, or savings accounts would in a stable and noninflationary economy."
Hyperinflation in the past
"Other countries have already experienced periods of hyperinflation," Dave said. "The result of Germany having to pay war reparations after World War I led to that country's hyperinflation, and the hyperinflation led to Hitler's rise to power."
"The war reparations certainly contributed to Germany's inflation," Mac said.
"Were they intentionally inflating it to pay the war debt off with cheaper money?" I asked.
"No. Part of the Armistice agreement said the reparations had to be paid in gold or another stable currency, not the German mark. So inflating their currency didn't help them pay off the reparations at all. But paying the reparations did create part of the shortfall the German government had in its budget so they tried to make it up by letting the presses at the mint run, and it destroyed the German currency.
"However, hyperinflation alone wasn't the reason Hitler came to power. His ascendency was sort of a political perfect storm made up of the convergence of several important events, none of which, alone, was likely to produce a dictator. There was Germany's losing World War I coupled with the terms of surrender, the hyperinflation, the Great Depression, and other factors. There are those who want to say hyperinflation in this country could result in a Hitler of our own. But, again, it would take more than one event to make us that crazy. Not that it couldn't happen, but it won't just because of hyperinflation.
"Besides, Germany's hyperinflation was only one of several hyperinflationary periods that happened in many countries around the world during the 20th century, and none of those others led to the rise of another Hitler."
"How bad was Germany's inflation?" I asked.
"The German mark started losing value so fast that people were getting paid two and three times a day and they'd leave work each time so they could spend it before it lost even more value. They'd buy anything: Food, hard goods, knickknacks, who cared? If you didn't spend it right away, it was going to be worth a lot less in just a few hours. It got so bad that people not only spent their money as fast as they could, they often didn't bother taking their change."
"You're kidding," I said.
"You know how stores today have those little penny trays on the counter near the cash registers? ‘Take one; leave one?' You buy something for a dollar ninety-nine and give the clerk a two dollars. He gives you one penny change and you drop it in the tray because a penny is close to worthless, nowadays. Suppose in a hyperinflationary period the price of a loaf of bread goes up to $19,900, something not at all inconceivable, and you've given the clerk two $10,000 bills. He gives you back a hundred dollar bill. That hundred dollar bill now has the purchasing power the penny used to have. It's easy to leave it on the counter and leave, especially because in a few hours it'll be worth even less."
"I know what you're saying is true," I said, "But I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around it."
"In October of 1923," Mac said, "prices in Germany went up over 40 percent a day. Money was so worthless you couldn't buy heating fuel with it, so to keep warm many people took to burning the paper bills instead."
"Wow!" I said. "Can it get worse than that?"
"Believe it or not in Hungary, just after World War II, the Hungarian pengö lost its value even faster. Throughout July of 1946, prices tripled everyday. What cost 1000 pengö one morning cost 3000 the next and 9000 the morning after that."
"People must have been outraged," I said.
"I agree, but the circumstances also honed their senses of humor."
"Is this a joke?" Dave asked.
Mac kind of smiled. "There are stories about incidents during hyperinflationary periods that may or may not be apocryphal, but they give you a good idea of how people can find humor even in dire situations.
"The first one involves a man in Germany, during the post World War I hyperinflationary period of the Weimar Republic. He is said to have paid his fare upon boarding a bus. When he reached his destination, he was informed he'd have to pay more to get off the bus because the fares had gone up during the trip."
"Can they do that?" I asked.
"Who knows?" Mac replied and he looked at me as if I was crazy for asking. "Like I said, I don't even know if it's true, but it reflects how people felt about the rapidity with which their currency was being devalued."
"It sounds like the old Kingston Trio song, Charlie on the MTA," Dave said. "Charlie couldn't get off the trolley because the fare had gone up a nickel and he didn't have one on him." Both Mac and I thought that was funny because we're familiar with the song.
"Another story...and keep in mind, John, these may not be true...involved a student in Hungary who went into a coffee shop during their hyperinflationary period and ordered a cup of coffee. After he finished it, he ordered another cup. When he went to pay the bill, it was for more than he'd expected. When he complained, he was told he should have ordered both cups at the same time because, while he was finishing his first cup, the price went up on the second one."
Dave glanced at me as if expecting me to ask, "Can they do that?" again. But I'd learned my lesson.
"But to me," Mac said, "the funniest story is about a man in Germany in 1923. This one may be true. He put his money in a wheelbarrow and headed off to the store to buy a loaf of bread."
"All he was going to get for a wheelbarrow full of money was one loaf of bread?" I asked.
"Listen to the story," Dave said.
"Yes," Mac said. "It got so it took a wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread. But when he got there, the store was closed. He left his wheelbarrow outside the door, figuring he'd come back when the store opened, knowing the bundles of money in it weren't worth enough for anyone to steal. And he was right. When he came back, the money was still there, dumped on the ground, but someone had stolen his wheelbarrow."
That story was funny in a perverse kind of way, so funny that, for some inexplicable reason, I wanted to believe it was true, but I didn't say anything.
Mac continued, getting back to actual historical accounts. "Today, Zimbabwe is undergoing hyperinflation. Their hyperinflation started when the country's president, Robert Mugabe, took land away from the former white landowners to give to blacks who, unfortunately, were unfamiliar with agricultural practices. Crops failed and Zimbabwe began having problems feeding itself. As a result, food prices jumped and Mugabe started to run the presses to keep up with the price increases. Coupled with that was his decision to quadruple the pay of the police and the military, without putting it in the budget, and the presses had to run even faster and longer to make up for these and other budget shortfalls."
"I'm guessing he increased their pay to keep their allegiances," Dave said.
"That's my guess, too," Mac responded. "Of course, each jump in inflation sent all prices further skyrocketing and the presses were run to keep up with that, so prices climbed even higher..." He raised his arms as if he were lifting the prices himself.
"It becomes a vicious circle," Dave said. "Prices go up, so you print more money so the government can make purchases, but that makes prices go even higher, and so on."
Mac nodded. "There was a time when the Zimbabwean dollar was worth more than the American dollar. Today, it's possible to find 100 trillion dollar Zimbabwean notes, but no one wants them. You can't even bribe a Zimbabwean official with Zibabwean money."
"A 100 trillion dollar note? I'd love one," I said dreamily. "I'd be a trillionaire."
It may have been because of the wine, but they both laughed.
"Yeah, imagine the girls that would want you then, John," Dave said. "I'm going to get you one of those bills."
"Many South American countries," Mac went on, "Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia among them, experienced hyperinflation in the late part of the 20th century. All of it was the result of government overspending; when the bills came due, unable to pay them with taxes, the respective governments ran the printing presses and got caught in that same vicious circle."
"Do you think it could happen here?" I said thinking back to the comment I thought I'd heard him make as I was coming into the building—that we may be headed for hyperinflation.
He thought about my question. Then, he said, "In the past, common causes of hyperinflation have been war, when governments couldn't raise money fast enough through taxes or the sale of bonds to pay to keep its war machine running. But, that's changed. As you can infer from the examples I gave, nowadays, whenever governments have accumulated extreme debts that they are unable or unwilling to raise the money to pay off, either with the sale of bonds or the raising of taxes, they often resort to simply printing more money by running the presses, whether it's the paper presses or the virtual electronic presses of the computer age that create electronic credits.
"Governments have streams of commitments, and more often than not they're political promises politicians make to voters to keep themselves in power. And for them it's often only about staying in power. But, having made those promises, they often can't renege, even if there's no money in the treasury to keep them."
"Such as what happened to Mugabe in Zimbabwe," Dave said.
"So they order the presses to run and print money, oodles of money, to pay the bills. That's what happened in Germany, Hungary, Zimbabwe, and, in last third of the 20th century, several South American countries. They all experienced runaway inflation because they borrowed too much and couldn't pay off the debts, and they continued their high-spending practices.
"Do you see where this is going?" he asked.
"Their solutions were to let the presses at the mint roll," Dave said. "So, neither inflation nor hyperinflation can exist without the government having a hand in it," Dave said. And before Mac could answer, he added, "In fact, from what you're saying, government is the cause of both inflation and hyperinflation."
"Ah. If only the American electorate could understand that, we'd throw all the bastards currently in Washington, DC, out and get officials who care about this country. Well, throw out all but Ron Paul, of Texas, who is the only one there who both knows and cares about what's going on."
Neither Dave nor I said anything. We both know of Mac's respect for Paul.
"At some point, the politicians may try to blame it on the ‘greedy bankers,' speculators, and black marketeers, but none of them can run the presses," Mac added.
"What ends hyperinflation?" Dave asked.
"First, they've got to stop creating money out of thin air. Second, a new currency has to be established. Generally, issuing a currency backed by something tangible, like gold, will prevent the inflation of the currency in the future. Third, the government has got to get its spending under control. A balanced budget is the way to do it."
"What about the Federal Reserve?" Dave asked. "That's not a part of our government, but it manages our money. Are they doing a good job?"
"The Fed may as well be part of the government because Congress could dissolve it tomorrow, if it so wished. And is it doing a good job? As I said before, the dollar now has the purchasing power four cents had when they started out.
"But let's get back to whether hyperinflation could happen here. Consider our unfunded debts. These include the costs of Social Security, Medicare, national healthcare if it passes, the trade deficit, and the bailouts—for which trillions were manufactured out of thin air in a way a Zimbabwean strongman could only dream. We owe trillions in loans to foreign governments, most notably China. The responsibility for paying all of this off is being thrown on the backs of the young and those yet unborn.
"There's no way we can keep this up. In fact, when the younger generations of voters come of age and they realize what we and the other older generations of voters have voted ourselves, and that we've saddled them with the onerous task of trying to pay off these unpayable debts, they may just welcome hyperinflation and screw us the way we've been screwing them, for example, by making our savings and Social Security payments worthless.
"But not only do we have all this debt, a lot of our currency is overseas. Foreigners have been willing to hold American dollars for decades because it's been universally recognized and it's been considered stable. But, if all those dollars were to come back here and were spent in a short time, it too might lead to hyperinflation."
"It would be like the raft with a duplicate set of poker chips suddenly showing up on the island," Dave said.
"You mentioned Social Security," I said. "But in the beginning, Social Security was a good idea and it was self-sustaining. Right?"
"Actually, it was never self-sustaining. If any insurance company were to set up such a plan, the stock holders would revolt and the government would throw the officers in jail. In fact, in the early 1950s, several insurance companies approached Congress and showed them that Social Security, the way it was conceived, was unsustainable and offered to manage the system and turn it into something other than the Ponzi scheme that it is. You know what a Ponzi scheme is, don't you?"
Dave said, "It's a financial scheme where the people getting in early are paid off with money put up by later ones, rather than from some kind of profits, in order to encourage more people to come in and take bigger risks. And it falls apart when too many people want their money back and it's shown to be insolvent."
Mac seemed to be surprised Dave knew this. I know I was.
"At the beginning," Mac said, "when Social Security was set up, there weren't many people collecting, so the millions and millions of contributors had no problem supporting them, and only a little came out of each person's paycheck to keep it going. But, as the number of people collecting increased, and as Congress kept voting bigger slices for those who were collecting, those getting in later had to give up a bigger portion of their paychecks to support them.
"In the future it's going to reach a point where the amount taken out of workers' checks is going to be horrific and, ultimately, the system will start running in the negative. Young people coming into the workforce will be forced to pay huge amounts of their incomes to keep it going, with no chance of collecting anything meaningful when it comes their time to retire. Long before that point, I wouldn't blame them for revolting and it will be these younger generations that may welcome hyperinflation to pay the debt off."
"It sounds like we're bankrupting our country," Dave said, "and if we don't stop, the only way out of it may well be to let hyperinflation happen."
"But what happens if we do that?" I asked.
"There will be winners and losers," Mac said. "The prime winners may be future generations, including those not yet born, with whom we've been trying to saddle all these debts. You must keep in mind that the last few generations, including our own, have been the most selfish in American history. We've voted ourselves all kinds of benefits that are going to have to be paid by the young. But there's going to come a time when the young realize it. We can't hide it forever. And when they see what's happened, they're going to do something about it at the polls. As a result, it's likely to be the older people who are going to be hurt."
"Including our generation," Dave said.
"In almost every country where inflation has gotten out of control, many who had spent their lives providing for themselves with investments and savings found the purchasing power of their retirement nest eggs wiped out by the hyperinflation, the value of their savings stolen by a government. And those who watched their retirement disappear overnight had to return to the workforce in their old age."
"But won't young people be hurt, too?" I asked.
"The young are resilient and have their whole lives ahead of them. They may be better off if hyperinflation manages to wipe out the debts we've been trying to saddle them with."
"I heard hyperinflation might help a lot of homeowners who are behind on their mortgages because it would allow them to pay their mortgages off with inflated dollars," I said.
"Keep in mind," Mac said, "that the recent bailouts went through despite polls showing the public was against them. It's because Wall Street and the bankers have Washington's ear. So, for better or worse, Congress is likely to step in and make laws saying mortgages and other loans, such as car loans and credit card balances, would be inflation-adjusted."
"That would be tantamount to another bailout," Dave said.
"Isn't there a way to keep prices down despite inflation?" I asked.
"You mean like wage and price controls?" he asked.
"They don't work. At best they do nothing, at worst they destroy businesses and jobs. By instituting wage and price controls, policy makers force sellers, under penalty of law, to sell their goods and services for money that is worth less and less every day. They force workers to work for less and less of a living wage. The result is that sellers may wind up selling goods at a loss and may go out of business while workers struggle because they can't pay their bills. So we have scarcity of goods, lost jobs, and a burgeoning black market. Even if the prices stay down temporarily while the controls are in place and the government threatens penalties, once the controls are lifted, the prices shoot up to where they should be. If you'll recall, this is what happened when Nixon tried to impose price controls in the early ‘70s.
"Price controls also force businesses to either withhold their products from the market or they force them to sell on the black market in order to survive. Goods including food and clothing often disappear from the shelves, and people walk away from their jobs to work under the table. Politicians are against black markets because they expose political policies for what they are—shams—and they can't tax them."
"What could we have done differently to have prevented this?" Dave asked.
"We could have voted differently."
"It can't be that simple."
"It is. It's the Democrats and Republicans we've been voting for for the last several decades. They created the debts that may lead to hyperinflation, and the American electorate chose not to stop them and kept reelecting them year after year."
"How were we to know what was coming?" I asked.
"You should have turned off the sitcoms you watch, turned off the football games—just a few nights a year—and gotten yourself informed. The problem with the American electorate is that it doesn't want to inform itself of what's going on in the world, but it still wants the right to vote."
"I see what you're saying," Dave said. "Ultimately, we're responsible because we let it happen. Is there anything we can do now, before it happens?"
"Go back to the Gold Standard—it kept our money stable for over a century—and start paying our debts and stop expecting the as-yet-unborn to pay them for us."
"That's not likely to happen," Dave said. "Sooo..." and he paused, "What is O.E. MacDougal doing to protect himself?"
"Well, if we're lucky, we'll watch our currency inflate slowly and we can get rid of our dollars and turn them into hard assets. But I'm already hedging my bets. I buy hard assets, everything from junk silver coins and ammo for the guns I own to food and wine. I have lots of food, lots of wine. It's also good if you can get your hands on some stable foreign currencies like the euro. But, if not, the junk silver coins will be good, maybe better, because they'll be universally recognized as good currency because of their silver content."
"There was some gas station over in Medford, Oregon," I interrupted, "that was selling a gallon of gasoline for a quarter that was made prior to 1965. Those are the silver ones, right?"
"Yes, and we may see a lot more of that in the future," Mac said. "Especially if inflation is running rampant. You'll be able to buy a bag full of groceries for a few silver dimes while people are getting a mere loaf of bread for a thousand inflated dollars. Then you'll get another bag of groceries, a few days later, for the same number of dimes, while the price of bread has gone to $2,000 in almost worthless currency."
"So, you think it will happen," I said.
Mac smiled. "Like I said earlier, no one can predict the future. But let me add, it's prudent to hedge your bets."
A concrete idea for combating hyperinflation is by purchasing precious metals that can be bartered. Here is a great place to buy silver rounds: http://www.delvalleysilver.com/
Tell them Jewish Preppers referred you!
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Is Orthodox Jewish gun dealer Bill Bernstein an obnoxious right-wing agitator or a lovable curmudgeon? Either way, he's a progressive's worst nightma
Is Orthodox Jewish gun dealer Bill Bernstein an obnoxious right-wing agitator or a lovable curmudgeon? Either way, he's a progressive's worst nightmare.
By Jack Silverman
published: March 18, 2010
The loud pop of a semi-automatic rifle shatters the quiet of a still winter day. The sun is shining through the motionless branches of bare trees in a large wooded area, reflecting off the sunglasses of a slender, dark-haired German. He takes aim once more, then fires.
Just a few yards away, a slightly round, white-haired man lifts his weapon to his shoulder and eyes the target in his scope. This man, however, could have come from a Central Casting file marked "Hasidic Jew." He's wearing a black hat, and his peyos — the long sidelocks of hair that Orthodox Jewish men grow — are wrapped around his ears to keep them out of his way.
He squints, steadies his arms and fires. Moments later, just several yards away, the German sets his sights on his quarry, exhales deeply and squeezes his trigger, as he's been taught to do.
No, it's not a scene from Inglourious Basterds — even if they did see the film together. The setting is Cheatham County, Tenn. The two men, who've wandered off to indulge their mutual love of AR-15 assault rifles, have become unlikely friends. The German is filmmaker Gandulf Hennig, whose well-received Gram Parsons documentary Fallen Angel was a highlight of the 2006 Nashville Film Festival.
And the other man? That's Bill Bernstein, your run-of-the-mill right-wing, Ivy- and Oxford-educated, Orthodox Jewish East Nashville gun dealer and online provocateur. He's extremely opinionated, yet calm and unflappable. Soft-spoken, yet outspoken. A tad shy, though never one to shy away from a good debate. And one of the more eccentric and polarizing individuals you're likely to meet in the Bible Belt's buckle.
Bernstein does not suggest the stereotypical "gun nut" of anti-handgun straw-man arguments — a yahoo itchy to open fire for the hell of it, anytime, anywhere. That's not to say he doesn't share much in common with those who fall under that umbrella. He thinks Obama is a disaster. He agrees with Rush Limbaugh. (He has no opinion of Bill O'Reilly because he hasn't owned a TV in many years.) He loves goading liberals, and if the Tennessee legislature proposed to let kindergarten teachers pack heat in the sandbox, he would probably offer an MNEA discount.
But his calm demeanor, grad-school vocabulary and dry wit aren't typical of the breed. He's a progressive's worst nightmare — a hard-line, pro-gun Tennessee conservative who doesn't come off like a country bumpkin or raving lunatic. At least not in person.
When asked why people should have guns, he replies, "The bigger question is, 'Why shouldn't they?' Guns do lots and lots of different things, just like any tool. Some provide self-defense, some provide sporting opportunities, some provide hunting. ... Whatever activities that particular gun implies, people should have the right to do that."
As for gun-control legislation, he says, "Every gun restriction has been a failure at the purpose, which was to lower crime. There has not been a single measure that's been proven to reduce crime anywhere. Statistics are clear on this. ... The only thing it does is it gives politicians more control over people's lives, and that's a bad thing. And criminals are not deterred by this."
Don't even ask him about the hot-button topic of Tennessee's so-called "guns in bars" legislation.
"God, it is not 'guns in bars,' " he says, with almost an audible groan. "The law was never about guns in bars. In fact, specifically, it excluded any place you had to be 21 to get into. That's a bar. It's about guns in restaurants that serve alcohol. The law already exists that you cannot be consuming alcohol and in possession of a gun. And the feeling was that if that's illegal, why would you make somebody leave his gun in his car if he's just going to go eat dinner with his family? Because it's more likely that the car will be broken into and the gun stolen than if he has it on him."
Many of Bernstein's ideological opposites say that even though he hasn't swayed them, he's an unusually reasonable — and well-reasoned — advocate. Some who find his views intolerant nevertheless find him surprisingly tolerable. To others, that only makes him more infuriating. They say he's an online bully who fires off bellicose provocations on the East Nashville listserv just to bait people.
Either way, Bernstein has a stockpile of something pro-gun advocates have often lacked, ironically enough: rhetorical firepower. And at his headquarters, he puts his muzzle where his mouth is.
The nondescript brick building at 1048 East Trinity Lane, just a couple of blocks east of Metro Nashville Police Department's East Precinct, is mostly known to locals for the beloved meat-and-three Southern Bred. But along the building's right side, next to Dynamic Creations hair salon, is the Eastside Gun Shop. If you open the door and find the iron security gate locked, that means Bill Bernstein is back in his office doing paperwork, making calls or stirring up trouble on the Internet.
It's usually only a few seconds before he buzzes you in. He's 48 years old, medium height with a mild middle-age paunch. Though he appears to be in average shape for his age, his mostly white hair and nearly solid white beard suggest someone several years older.
Step inside his gun store, and it's clear that his extensive education — undergraduate work in English and classics at Vanderbilt, graduate work at Oxford, the University of North Carolina and Penn — didn't include any courses in interior design. Eastside Gun Shop is the retail equivalent of a post-college slacker's first bachelor pad.
His threads aren't any flashier. Each day, it's the same uniform: black yarmulke, black pants, black sport jacket, black shoes and white shirt, under which can be seen the tassels of his talis koton, a poncho-like religious undergarment. It's the standard male wardrobe for the Hasidim, a strictly observant sect of Orthodox Judaism.
The store's counter features a glass display case with a variety of handguns, among them a full-size 1911 .45, a Glock 27 and a Heckler & Koch (which Bernstein jokingly refers to as "Hitler Cock"). To the left of the munitions display is a paper target with a human silhouette. Further to the left, a small sign hangs on the wall, featuring a photo of Barack Obama and the NRA logo. The caption below reads, "Firearms Salesman of the Year."
Cerebral and pious, Bernstein is not the type to obsess over clothes or posh decor, mundane concerns of the material world. What he does obsess over is guns. Stick around Eastside Gun Shop, and you'll find Bernstein is not alone.
To your typical gun-averse liberal, the almost erotic infatuation some customers exhibit toward weapons seems perverse — the product of violent fantasies, maybe, or at least phallic insecurities. And to be sure, there's the occasional guy who leers at the merchandise like he's checking out the latest Barely Legal at the Purple Onion.
But for the majority of the almost exclusively male clientele — who ooh and aah over Bernstein's various semi-automatic pistols, revolvers, shotguns and military-style rifles — a less deviant but no less passionate impulse emerges. More than anything, these gun lovers' adoration recalls the way guitar collectors geek out over a '59 Les Paul, or motorcycle freaks effuse over a BSA Gold Star.
It's an analogy that Bernstein acknowledges, and one that partially explains his fondness for guns.
"Let me show you this 1911," Bernstein says to a customer. "This is a Citadel, made in the Philippines. Every time I get one they're better than the last one. Excellent slide-to-frame fit. Feel how smooth that is."
The customer, a slim 60-ish man who plays bass with a couple of old-school country acts, takes the pistol in his hand. "Wow."
"Feel the trigger? I've had Colts that didn't feel that good," Bernstein says. He sounds like a kid strumming a '61 Strat at Gruhn Guitars.
The customer's eyes zero in on an AR-15 on the wall. "I ain't ever shot one of these," he says, walking closer.
"You've never shot one?" Bernstein says in mild disbelief. "Oh, they're real pleasures. No recoil at all. They're loud as hell. You can feel the breeze coming out of them, but against the shoulder there's nothing. I took our rabbi's 60-year-old mother-in-law, who had never shot a gun before, out shooting, and of all the guns we shot, she liked my AR the best."
For every five or six customers who wander into Eastside Gun Shop and reinforce gun-owner stereotypes — older, conservative-looking white males with rural accents, younger black males — someone will walk in defying such preconceptions.
On a late winter afternoon, two twentysomething men walk into the store. Sporting clothing that splits the difference between college kid and hippie, they look like guys you'd see at a Dave Matthews concert. They both have longish hair, and one seems to be toying with white-boy dreadlocks.
As if on cue, they start discussing the previous night's concert by Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio at the Ryman. Descriptors like "awesome" and "killer jams" enter the conversation, and they mention that they're in a band of their own. They're looking for a particular handgun, a Sig P238. Bernstein doesn't have one, but he calls another store to ask if they carry it.
After the men leave, the unimpressed Bernstein pokes fun at their weapon of choice, the way a Harley dealer might dis someone asking about a Yamaha. Then he pulls back. Maybe he feels he was a little hard on them. "I'm sure it's a fine functioning gun for what it's designed for," he says.
Another afternoon, a man walks in, hoping to buy a gun he saw the previous week. He's Shawn Hancock, a 38-year-old country music video editor, and he looks like a typical East Nashville music type — someone more likely to sip coffee at Bongo East than shout down Jim Cooper at a town hall meeting.
He's obviously looking for something that isn't there. "Damn," Hancock says, dejected. "You sold the P226 too?"
"It went this morning," Bernstein replies.
"Someone bought that shotgun today too, right?" Hancock asks, already sensing the answer. "Because I came in with cash in my pocket."
"Yeah, about an hour ago," Bernstein says.
"And I came ready," Hancock says, tugging on a wad of cash in the pocket of his jeans.
"I can help you out of that," Bernstein says, perking up. "Take a look at that Mauser."
"I don't want it," Hancock fires back, playfully pouting.
"You don't want the Mauser?" Bernstein says, his tone suggesting Hancock would be a fool not to buy it.
"No," Hancock says.
"Geez!" Bernstein exclaims. No use. Hancock isn't biting.
Though a fiscal conservative, Hancock describes himself as socially liberal. He never thought he'd own a handgun, but some shady incidents near his neighborhood, around Fatherland and 14th, changed his mind. He says Bernstein made him think hard about whether he really wanted to own a handgun.
As Hancock recalls, "I said something like, 'I want a handgun, in case I need to shoot someone in the leg.' And his immediate response was, 'Don't buy one. If you're not ready to put him down, then don't have a handgun.' That's paraphrased."
"God, I'm so smart," Bernstein says, chiming in. "That's exactly right. I would say that today. ... No one wants to shoot someone. But are you prepared to shoot somebody?"
That's probably not a question Gandulf Hennig heard much before meeting Bill Bernstein. And yet he's become one of Bernstein's close friends, not to mention a steady, locked-and-loaded shooting companion. The saga of how a German filmmaker and an Orthodox Jewish gun dealer wound up in Middle Tennessee shooting AR-15s began when their paths first crossed two years ago.
Hennig, who grew up near Cologne, Germany, and spent most of his adult life in Berlin, had been living in Nashville for a couple of years at the time. While working on Fallen Angel, he'd spent time interviewing people in Nashville, and eventually he decided the city would be a good home base. (He's currently working on a Merle Haggard documentary slated to run on PBS' American Masters series in July.)
The motivation for Bernstein's move to Nashville was a little less grand. Given the slim job prospects in his chosen field, the Bronx-born classics scholar was working as a paralegal at a big Philadelphia law firm — "the worst job I ever had," he says. As his wife Heddy drove him one morning, he witnessed something that dramatically altered his life path.
"I see this old fat bum down at the end of the block," Bernstein says. "And as I'm watching him, he proceeds to lean over a fire hydrant, drop his pants, and have projectile diarrhea all over the sidewalk."
That in itself didn't bother him. "I'd felt like doing that myself many times," Bernstein says. "But what bothered me was that everybody walking by pretended like nothing unusual was going on. And I said to [Heddy] right then, 'That's it, we're leaving.' "
That was 1992. Fourteen years later — after a short-lived career as a carpet salesman ("Very difficult for a guy who was shy"), nine years in the mortgage business and several more home-schooling his son — Bernstein opened Eastside Gun Shop. If not for Gram Parsons and a homeless guy with the runs — and their mutual enthusiasm for firearms — the two men might never have met.
"I grew up in a completely gun-free country," Hennig says in fluent but accented English. "Only cops and robbers have guns where I come from. So I was somewhat interested in them. It was almost exotic to me, and I think a friend told me, there's a gun store around the corner. So I went and visited him, and we made fast friends right away. He's very interested in German culture, and I'm quite interested in American culture, so we just hit it off."
If you were a screenwriter pitching this story to Harvey Weinstein, you might say, "A heartwarming tale of reconciliation in which a Jew and a German help heal a nation's psychic wounds." Grandiose? Yes. Simplistic? Certainly. Absurd? Why, of course. (So much so that you might just sell it.) Still, Hennig says he got a startling lesson in their cultural differences the first time Bernstein invited him over for dinner.
"I wondered why he didn't pick up the phone when I was running late on a Friday night," Hennig says. "Well, it was Shabbat dinner. I didn't know that." On the Sabbath, it's forbidden for Orthodox Jews to talk on the phone, ride in a car or conduct business, to name just a few of the proscriptions.
"That shows you how little Germans know about Jewish culture," Hennig says. "If you go to school in Germany, you get taught a lot about the Third Reich and the Holocaust, and of course that's all important and good. But we somehow neglect to tell our kids what [Jews] actually are, beyond being victims."
For Hennig, who is completely nonreligious, the experience was eye-opening. "It was just an amazing experience to me," he says. "It was really nice, how they invited me into their home, and explained everything to me, all the ritual stuff. Which is still really interesting to me how you can spend that much time of your day, every day. But that's a different subject."
Bernstein's other invitation was far less holy. "Bill asked me if I wanted to go to some property where you can legally shoot in the woods," Hennig recalls. "I crack myself up thinking about that because it's so against anything I was raised on. And Bill brought assault rifles, so we were firing AR-15s."
The absurdity of the image is not lost on Hennig. "I felt like this is really like Monty Python," he says. "A German and a Hasidic Jew standing in a forest in Tennessee and shooting assault rifles together. This is just too weird to be true. And I tremendously enjoyed it."
Given the pleasure Hennig takes in shooting guns, he must be a right-wing NRA type, right? Wrong. "I am neither pro-gun or anti-gun or anything like that," he says. "I'm just more like the kid in the American candy store, where guns are freely available. I guess it's like an American going to Germany and going 180 miles [per hour] on the Autobahn."
His own politics, Hennig says, skew liberal. "I wouldn't say [Bill and I] disagree, because we don't argue over things," he says, "but we have different worldviews on a lot of things." He even betrays a slight twinge of lefty guilt over his newfound hobby. "You kind of know something's wrong with it, but since it's so freely available ... I don't have a — what's the expression? A dog in the fight?"
Since they're so vastly different — upbringing, politics, religious beliefs — you might suspect they'd butt heads. But that's not the case.
"It's never a problem," Hennig says. "Not because we don't go there, but because we both like debating, I guess. And that is something — if I may be the European smart-ass for a second — that I feel I am kind of missing in this country more and more. It was always, America is a great country, and you can stand for whatever you want. And now it's like you're either with us or without us, depending on what side you're on.
"That is something that I tremendously enjoy: that I can have a friendship and an active intellectual debate with somebody like Bill, although we know we will never be on the same side of the fence. We like each other more for that."
Not everyone on the other side of the fence shares Hennig's sentiments. In various corners of cyberspace, Bernstein has earned a reputation as an extreme right-wing agitator, promoting his views with commentary that runs the gamut from articulate to inflammatory to downright offensive.
As much as he likes to razz lefties, Bernstein has been known to poke fun at the hardcore paramilitary-wannabe crowd. Over at tngunowners.com, where some members lust after weapons used by Navy SEALs and such, Bernstein ruffled some feathers when he listed an ad for a classic deer rifle he was selling: "Winchester 30/30 lever-action deer rifle, used by Army snipers in Panama." Though he was obviously joking, he was booted from the site for false advertising.
But on the East Nashville listserv, where the readership is far more ideologically diverse, Bernstein has become a notorious lightning rod. With nearly 5,000 subscribers, the neighborhood message board serves mostly as a place to sell guitars, find lost dogs, talk about area restaurants or get the name of a good plumber. When political topics come up, though, a small but very vocal minority of members starts sparring. And Bernstein, who posts under his own name, is often in the center of the fray.
Never shy about displaying his considerable knowledge, Bernstein often infuses his posts with historical context and dry humor. He'll pontificate about the Manchu Dynasty's opium problem, or offer lengthy expositions on the history of capitalism.
But when he goes for the jugular, he's far more succinct. In a recent thread about health insurance, one commenter bemoaned the phenomenon of some grandmothers having to eat dog food. Bernstein's response: "Dog food? That sure sounds better than the shit sandwich the Dumocrats are serving up these days." When the topic of right-wingers comparing Obama to Hitler came up, he replied, "It's obviously false. Hitler was surrounded by competent people and was able to achieve much of his agenda."
A couple of belligerent Ted Nugent quotes Bernstein used as taglines were the last straw for many listserv members. One post featured the sign-off, " 'That Obama's a piece of @##$, and I told him to suck on my machine gun.' — Ted." Another Bernstein comment featured the following farewell: " 'I said to Hillary: Why don't you ride one of these, you worthless whore.' — Ted Nugent."
Frequent listserv contributor Mike Adkins, an East Nashville landscaper, isn't shy when expressing his feelings about Bernstein. He writes, "Closet racist, hateful, not well-informed, ignorant, fearful, given to lash out in an immature moronic fashion when presented with simple questions. ... There's a lot of folks around here doing positive things that merit a story, not fucking Bernstein. I say this with a sense of sympathy towards him."
Another regular commenter who goes by the name of "landotter" shares similar sentiments: "He's a religious fundamentalist arms dealer who pushes fear and racism, then offers weapons as a solution to that which he foments. Can you imagine the attitude towards him if he was a fundie Muslim? Might be a bit different. Giving him more exposure is shameful."
Asked if he's racist, Bernstein says, "The only people that are bothered by language that might be racial are people that are unsure whether they're actually racist or not, and they're afraid that they might be. People that know that they're not, really aren't bothered by it. People that are actually racist aren't bothered by it either." His adversaries would undoubtedly point out that he didn't answer the question.
So is he racist? Bernstein admits that one day shortly after the store opened in 2006, he had a couple of black customers in what he describes as "ghetto attire," and that he felt threatened at first. "But you know it went fine, they were OK, and they left and I never had a problem with them. It evolved into, not what people look like, but how do they talk, and how do they present themselves. In neighborhoods they live in, if they dressed like you and me they'd probably get beaten up on a daily basis. ... It's a state of mind, not a color."
And he's felt threatened by white customers too, including a couple of skinheads who come in from time to time. "I think to myself, if I met these guys in a dark alley, it would not bode well for me," he says.
He says he has plenty of regulars who are black — some older, some retired Metro cops. He gets Asian, Hispanic, even Arab customers. He's become friendly with one of them, a Muslim from Yemen. "Hey, they're here because they're trying to get away from all that crap in the Middle East," he says.
And the Nugent quotes?
"Personally, I think Ted Nugent is a nutjob," Bernstein says. "But he's our nutjob. ... It's fun to have people saying stuff that most people might think, but are generally too polite to say it. It's a naughty pleasure, if you will. ... [It's good for] a little shock value."
And does he think Hillary Clinton is a whore?
"They all are." he says. "If you're a politician there's a certain amount of that that you have to be."
To be sure, Bernstein has supporters on the East Nashville listserv — folks with pseudonyms like Wryker, King Jack, Rembrandt and Grizzly Reeves, who share either his political views or his twisted sense of humor. But more fascinating are the ideological opposites who have developed friendships with him.
"I can easily say I disagree with almost every political position he has, but I'm still one of his biggest fans," says web consultant Laura Creekmore, who started the listserv almost 10 years ago. "He really comes off as a curmudgeon, on the listserv in particular. Several people have said he's going to be upset [when the Scene story is published] because word's going to get out that he's a softie. And he really is.
"I first emailed with Bill several years ago when he was causing some ruckus on the listserv, and I had to email him and say, 'You know what? You've got to tone it down.' And we had a really nice conversation. He comes across personally as a very reasonable person but he has this habit of putting these inflammatory posts on the listserv. I really think he just likes to stir things up. And he's really good at it!"
Creekmore even got together a collection of donated baby clothes when Bernstein and his wife were expecting their third child. "It was really funny to meet somebody in person that you've had a somewhat antagonistic relationship with," she says, "but to meet them at a very human moment of their life. I guess all that is just to say I see beyond the gruff exterior and I love Bill," she says, laughing.
Guitarist, songwriter and hardcore vegetarian Damon LaScot, who stirs up his own share of controversy on the listserv, shares a similar fondness for his ideological nemesis. "Let's see ... can I opt for 'love to hate him'?" writes LaScot, who posts under the name "tradershort." "Aside from the fact that he is a dead ringer for NY Times columnist Paul Krugman, Bill is an Orthodox Jewish, gun-totin' redneck from the BRONX! To me, he is a complete and total enigma ... and I gotta admit, because he is so unique, I gotta like him."
Bill Bernstein: lovable curmudgeon, or fear-mongering, racist reactionary? Seeking answers, we followed him someplace even more sacred than his gun shop or rifle range — home.
It's Saturday, Feb. 27, the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, and the Bernstein family is preparing to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim. In the kitchen of a blue 1970 split-level ranch in Bellevue, Bernstein's wife Heddy is busy preparing hamantaschen, the traditional pastry named for Haman, the Purim story's chief antagonist. Like all married Orthodox women, she wears a head covering, and between her attire and her unadorned yet appealing appearance, you could almost imagine her preparing dinner over a wood-burning stove in an episode of Little House on the Prairie.
Daughter Gertrude, who will turn 17 in April, is doing homework at the kitchen table. (When boys from school come to visit her, Bernstein likes to say to them, "I've got a shotgun and five acres of land. You won't be missed." The boys don't always get the humor.) Son Viktor, 15, strolls in from his bedroom, where he's been on the computer. At about 7:30, everyone gathers at the table. Gustav, who's 3-and-a-half, comes and sits on Heddy's lap.
Heddy passes out copies of the Megillah, the biblical narrative of the Book of Esther that includes the story of Purim, and then distributes graggers, small hand-held wooden or plastic noisemakers. The Purim saga, simply put: Haman wants to kill all the Jews, but Queen Esther and her uncle, Mordechai, manage to foil the plot. During the reading of the Megillah, it's traditional to shake the gragger at every mention of Haman's name (and there are many).
A guest asks Heddy why she has no gragger. "Germans are known to be very staid," says Heddy, whose father was 4 when his family left Germany in 1940, among the last Jews to escape. "So there's an ongoing joke that when they hear the name 'Haman' they just," and she knocks the table with her hand.
Bernstein begins reading from a small rolled scroll. Like most Torahs, the Megillah Bernstein is reading has no vowels. (In Hebrew, the vowels are made up of dots and lines that appear under the consonants.) When Bernstein gets held up on a word or mispronounces something, Viktor, who's reading along on a version that has vowels, corrects him. Gustav, who has Down syndrome, gets restless and whines periodically, and Heddy patiently caresses and soothes him.
Thirty-one uninterrupted minutes later, Bernstein finishes the story. Heddy starts bringing out trays of hamantaschen in a variety of flavors: marzipan, poppy seed, cherry, strawberry, blackberry and lekvar (prune butter). After a guest says how much he likes the poppy-seed version, Bernstein laughs and says, "Don't take a drug test after this."
While Heddy is serving food, Gustav climbs up on Bernstein's lap. "This little guy is so cute," Bernstein says, beaming. "A little tired and crabby though." Heddy explains that Gustav is still recuperating from some oral surgery he had a couple of days earlier.
Somehow the topic of Inglourious Basterds comes up. "Unfortunately, someone here isn't interested in seeing it," Bernstein says, looking at Gertrude.
"I'm sorry, I would rather not watch people getting hurt and getting blown up," she fires back.
"But they're getting hurt in German," Bernstein says.
Soon Bernstein mentions that on Sunday, the family will go to a Purim carnival at Beit Tefilah Chabad, the Bellevue synagogue where he worships.
"We are?" Gertrude asks, surprised.
"We'll have dinner here and then show," Bernstein says. Then he turns to the guest to explain: "The thing on Purim is to drink a lot. That's kind of important to the holiday."
"So Rabbi's going to get wasted?" Gertrude asks in disbelief.
"No," Bernstein says. "I'm going to get wasted. And then I'm going to go. That's a lot of fun, because you show up and you can say anything."
"You want me to drive?" asks Gertrude.
In unison, her parents shout, "Yes!"
Though Bernstein worships every Saturday morning with Rabbi Teichtel at Beit Tefilah Chabad, he says he doesn't really buy in to the Lubavitch strain of Judaism to which that group belongs. "It's a geographical issue," he says. "I live in Bellevue, that's what opened up, that's where I went."
So is he Hasidic?
"It depends on how you want to cut it. I'm sort of Hasidic. But most people that look like this," he says, pointing at his clothes and beard, "would not live in a place like Nashville. In fact, when I said I was going to move here, I had friends say, 'I would never move to a place like that.' There's a huge fear of the outside world, which I don't share."
He describes his religion as "a weird mishmash of practices and outlooks. Some things I consider myself very modern on. Some things I'm probably fairly right-wing on. We don't have a TV in the house, which is kind of a right-wing Orthodox position. But I don't do it so much because of that. I do it mostly because I think TV is for idiots."
And most Hasids would never send their children to public schools. Gertrude goes to MLK Magnet School, Viktor to Big Picture — both public. (Viktor was home-schooled through eighth grade.)
There's no telling whether Bernstein's religious fervor had anything to do with it, but it's hard not to be struck by the closeness and warmth of his family. A 17-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy, at home on a Saturday night for a religious ritual, with nary a hint of complaint or restlessness?
"We worked very hard at that," Bernstein says, "What you're seeing is the result of a lot of work."
Of all the blows the family has faced, none was harder than the news that the Bernsteins' newborn had Down syndrome. "I was terribly anxious right after he was born and we got the diagnosis," he says. "I was almost nonfunctional."
The diagnosis wasn't a complete surprise. An ultrasound during Heddy's pregnancy revealed that there were some markers for Down syndrome. "They said we could go ahead and do the full genetic scan," Bernstein says, "but there would be some danger to him by doing it. And I thought, let's say it comes up, then what? Then you make the decision whether to terminate the pregnancy.
"And I thought about that for a brief second, and first off, that's a problem for Jewish people to do anyway. We don't believe in that. But more than that, life is very wonderful. And to deny a person that is, to me, unthinkable."
In the end, Bernstein welcomed the child and his unique traits into the crazy quilt of his home life.
"We knew he was going to have disabilities," Bernstein says. "You know, the other two have disabilities too. Viktor is never going to be a basketball player. Gertrude is never going to be a country music star. They don't have that kind of talent. That doesn't mean their lives are worthless."
It's an unseasonably warm Sunday morning in early March, a welcome respite from the worst winter Nashville has seen in 30 years. In other words, it's a beautiful day to whip out weapons and light shit up.
Which is exactly what draws Gandulf Hennig and Bill Bernstein out to Tennessee Clay Target Complex. But what draws the two men to each other is far more intriguing.
Spend some time with this curious duo, and it becomes apparent that, more than anything, it's their similarly twisted senses of humor that bond them. Clearly, they've found a perfect audience in each other — a German who can poke fun at his ancestors' grim legacy, and an extremely religious Jew who can joke about Hitler.
Hennig even downloaded "Hava Nagila" as a ringtone for calls from Bernstein. "I thought he'd think it was funny, and he did. But I'm standing in a long line at the post office one day, and had forgotten about it, and the phone rings and starts going, 'Daaaa Daaaa, dah-dah-dah,' " he says, mimicking the song's melody. He got some curious stares.
And curious stares aren't in short supply here, either, as the two men take turns shooting at orange clay targets flying across the sky — Henning with a Mossberg 500 12-gauge, Bernstein with a Browning SX Skeet. Though the two men share a sartorial single-mindedness about the color black, they couldn't look more incongruous. Bernstein is in typical ballistic-rabbi mode: black pants/black sport coat/white shirt/black shoes. Hennig, meanwhile, looks like he just stepped offstage at Springwater: black leather jacket, black jeans, black Chuck Taylors.
Under the leather jacket is an olive green T-shirt with an image of a fighter jet and the words "COMMIE KILLER — Better Dead Than Red!" Though it's what's known in hipster rock circles as an ironic T-shirt, the irony is lost on the clientele here. "I wear it to a shooting range, and people say, 'Hell yeah!' " Hennig says, laughing.
As the morning eases into afternoon and the two men begin packing up their rifles, the conversation turns once again to the time they went to see Inglourious Basterds together. Hennig says that in the scene where Hitler and his fellow Nazis are getting an ahistorical Big Payback from the Jews, all Bernstein could do was make comments about the guns they were using. "And when the girl shoots the young German Audie Murphy type guy, and he shoots her back, Bill said, 'That's what happens when you carry a .25. You need a bigger caliber.' "
Bernstein remembers the scene well: "She shoots him like five times and he falls down, but he doesn't die, and he has enough life in him to turn around, get up and shoot her instead. That's what happens when you carry ... actually, it was a .32, a PPK .32."
And much like Basterds director Quentin Tarantino, Hennig and Bernstein have concluded that maybe there's some therapeutic value in facing that gruesome chapter of history with gallows humor.
"When I go into the office here to pay, Bill calls it 'reparation,' " Hennig says.
"And sometimes I call it, 'paying it forward for the next time,' " Bernstein jokes morbidly.
The Jew and the German laugh as one.
Monday, March 15, 2010
I think it is noteworthy what can happen to a seemingly structurally sound society when there is even a scare of disaster. It is critical to understand this complete breakdown of society caused by a 'mob' mentality. This story is a repeat of the George Orwell's War of the Worlds. Just in case, you thought this can only happen in 1938 with Orson Welles' radio broadcast, this news story comes to teach us that panic can occur even in our 'enlightened' age of modern communication.
Just a rumor can start a chain reaction that can set off rioting, looting and general panic. As the article explains, "Gripped by panic, mobile phone networks crashed, people started fleeing the capital, crowds rushed to stock up on vital foodstuffs, and there were reports of volunteer fighters preparing to resist. Other TV channels interrupted their own broadcasts to show Imedi's footage and, for a short period, some Russian media began to broadcast the "news."
I hope that we can learn from this lesson. It can just as easily happen in our own state of Georgia as it did in the far away Asian state!
Sunday, March 14, 2010
EMP Attack Would Send America into a Dark Age
Wednesday, September 23, 2009 11:25 AM
By: Ronald Kessler
In a matter of seconds, an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack or a geomagnetic storm would set America back to the 14th century, Gale Nordling, president of a company that protects against such a catastrophe, tells Newsmax.
An EMP attack occurs when a nuclear bomb explodes in the atmosphere. The electromagnetic pulse generated by the blast fries all electronics in line of sight. EMP was first detected after the detonation of the Starfish Prime nuclear test on July 9, 1962. While the explosion occurred near Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean and was not designed to be an EMP blast, it blew out street lamps, television sets, and telephone communications in Hawaii nearly 1,000 miles away.
A single nuclear bomb exploded over the Midwest would generate an electromagnetic pulse that would destroy the chips that are at the heart of every electronic device. While military and intelligence networks may be shielded against EMP, the rest of the country’s technological infrastructure is not.
Geomagnetic storms emanating from the sun could cause a similar catastrophe. Such a storm occurred in 1859, but because a system for distributing electric power had not yet been invented, it did not do any appreciable damage. On March 13, 1989, a minor geomagnetic storm left six million people without power in eastern Canada and the U.S. for 12 hours.
“If a nuclear device designed to emit EMP were exploded 250 to 300 miles up over the middle of the country, it would disable the electronics in the entire United States,” says Nordling, president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Emprimus. “That would disable the entire electric grid. It would disable communications, it would disable fuel manufacturing and production, it would disable hospitals and medicines, it would disable 911 call centers.”
Everything else would be shut down, Nordling says.
“Water treatment facilities, food storage facilities, everything would be gone,” Nordling says. “Financial records would be wiped out. Your investments would be gone. Your medical records and prescriptions would be zapped.”
Forget about your computer and the Internet, heating and air conditioning, supermarkets, telephones, and radio and television. Banks and ATMs would shut down, credit cards would become useless, and hospital operating rooms would close.
While vehicles made before 1970 might still work, they would be useless. That’s because gasoline could not be obtained, and newer cars and trucks, disabled by the pulse, would block the roads and highways. In most cases, the damage to chips would be permanent. Because tow trucks would not operate, cars would never be cleared from roads.
The vast majority of Americans would die from starvation or disease or would freeze to death, according to William Graham, who was chairman of the bipartisan congressional Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack. Yet at a hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security on July 21, Graham testified that the government has done virtually nothing to address the effects of such an attack on the civil sector.
“People say it would bring us back to the 1800s, but it’s worse than that because in the 1800s there was a much larger sector that did farming and produced food, and there weren’t so many people living in inner core cities,” Nordling says. “All that has changed.”
Nordling cites a prediction by William R. Forstchen, author of “One Second After,” that an EMP strike would take the U.S. back to the 14th century. That is because when Thomas A. Edison invented the light bulb in 1879, the country had established police and fire departments, hospitals, and food and water distribution systems. Since an EMP strike would render those entities inoperative, the country would be in chaos, and disease, starvation, and lawlessness would prevail. The book is a fictional account of a town struggling to survive after an EMP weapon is used against the United States.
“Unfortunately the social order would break down so quickly, because you put people in an impossible position,” Nordling says. “Do they try to feed their family and do so even with violence and everything else? Or what do they do? Or does the family starve?”
Some people who are concerned about EMP stock supplies of food and water to last for months or even years.
Nordling, a lawyer and electrical engineer, became interested in EMP two years ago after learning that while military facilities are protected against EMP, the civil sector is not.
“It seemed like this was a very, very serious threat to everything in America, because everything is run by computers and computerized control systems, and there is absolutely no protection being designed into any of these systems,” Nordling says.
With 25 employees and associates, Emprimus claims to be the only company that designs and tests shielding against EMP for the private sector. That includes protection against devices that use high-power microwaves (HPM) to target particular facilities.
While a few financial institutions are engaging Emprimus to shield their backup data centers, the vast majority of banks and stock brokerage firms have no such protection of either backup centers or computers used by employees. Because of competitive pressures, Nordling says companies don’t want to invest extra sums in EMP protection and are as unprepared as the U.S. was before the 9/11 terrorist attack.
While the effects of EMP are catastrophic, Nordling says protection against it is relatively simple and reasonable in cost. As one example, data centers can be protected by encasing them in light weight copper mesh that is grounded. The outlay could be as low as one percent to 10 percent of the cost of a facility, especially if shielding is included when a structure is built.
Asked why companies like Merrill Lynch or Citibank don’t cite EMP protection as a selling point, Nordling says, “Perhaps for some businesses that would be a good idea. But I think at this point, companies are so concerned about this for security and other reasons they don’t even want to talk about what they’ve done with their data centers or where they are.”
Russia or China have the capability to explode an EMP device over the U.S., and countries like Iran or North Korea are believed to be working on acquiring one. Those countries also could launch a more limited EMP or HPM attack against selected targets like power plants, oil refineries, or Wall Street. Terrorists could appropriate such weapons from rogue states.
In the event of an EMP attack, the electrical power grid would be destroyed because its computers would be inoperative and transformers critical to it would take years to replace. Only a few countries build the transformers, and they take more than a year to make.
Aside from an EMP attack, “If a large geomagnetic storm occurred, you could have from 30 to 70 percent of these transformers being fried,” Nordling says. “So in essence, our power grid could be out for years just because of a natural event, versus a nuclear EMP event.”
In contrast to the U.S., “Over 300 companies in Europe have in fact protected themselves against EMP. They’re way ahead,” Nordling says. “Ten to 12 countries have now done work on different parts of their infrastructure to protect it.”
Unlike protection against a nuclear blast, shielding to protect against EMP is a relative bargain. For example, the 300 transformers that are critical to the power grid could be protected for $200 million to $400 million.
As noted in the Newsmax story EMP Attack Could Wipe Out U.S., neither Republicans nor Democrats have been willing to spend that small sum. In fact, the U.S. government is doing “nothing” to protect the power grid or the rest of the infrastructure from an EMP strike, confirms Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, a former staff member of the EMP commission who heads EMPACT America, which seeks to call attention to the largely unrecognized threat. But given the reasonable cost, Nordling says, companies could be held liable for not protecting against EMP and solar storms.
“As the word spreads about the danger of an EMP attack and how devastating it would be, I think that puts utilities and banks and other organizations that have customers at risk of lawsuits,” Nordling says.
On the other hand, Nordling says, “If we have an EMP attack, we would not have functioning courts where lawsuits could be filed.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
e-mail. Go here now.
copyright© Newsmax. All rights reserved.
For more information read WILLIAM R. FORSTCHEN's novel, One Second After http://www.onesecondafter.com/
Also check out: http://www.empactamerica.org/ (much of the site is under construction)
David suggests that you download this PDF for more in depth analysis:
Friday, March 12, 2010
Here’s a hint: start small. The fact that you are reading this shows you’re thinking about prepping or just voyeuristic. Here are some goodies for the former and perhaps the latter as it makes sense on several fronts.
Imagine while you’re away at work, your home is destroyed. Could be from a fire, a flood or the first strike of ET’s evil twin. Whatchya gonna do? Recovering would be far easier if you prepped a bit. Some basics:
Bank account #’s and routing numbers
Credit card numbers, PIN, and the 800 number
Recent tax returns (copies)
Marriage certificate (or divorce for that matter!) (copy, or copies)
Insurance (home/life/etc) (copies)
Copy of your driver’s license, insurance, registration etc
Social Security card, # or copy (or Green card)
Photo’s of family (hardcopies, for identification as well as memories, also consider a USB with pics in jpg format )
Copies of diplomas, certifications etc
Power of Attorney (copies, and if you don’t have one for yourself, significant other or parents consider it)
$1000 (or as much as squirrel away) for living expenses. (Don’t photocopy the cash!)
Copies of birth certificates
Copies of passports
List of prescriptions and physicians along with their office #.
Phone numbers of friends and families and others
The next question – where you gonna keep this stuff? I would suggest make enough copies to have at least 2 alternate sites. One would be in your safety deposit box at your bank. Note that these items might not be accessible for a variety of reasons and you need at least one alternative source. Another could be kept with someone you trust who lives within walking distance. And for the true prepper waiting to come out in all of us, in a water-tight container buried under the roses and a copy (if not already there) in your BOB (Bug Out Bag). I reduced the size of these documents through the magic of the photocopier and then made several more copies and then put them in waterproof zip-lock bags. I have a copy in a pocket of my GOOD (Get Out Of Dodge) bag, in a pocket of a gortex coat in the same bag, in my office desk and friend. When I would get orders in the USAF, the first thing I would do was to make 10 or 15 copies, it became a habit I continued after leaving the USAF.
Add to the list as you see fit. Start with a small list in response to a run-of-the-mill emergency – your house is trashed because you left the coffee pot on and you can’t get in until the firefighters say so –in about 24 hours. You can’t gain access to your neighborhood, let alone home for whatever reason(s). That sort of stuff. Once you have those basics covered, you may want to begin adding to the list as you think through your needs.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
- March 11, 2010
Inside Norway's 'Doomsday Vault'
In a remote mountainside on the Norwegian tundra sits the "doomsday vault," a backup against disaster -- manmade or otherwise. Inside lives the last hope should the unthinkable occur: a global seedbank that could be used to replant the world.
In a remote mountainside on the Norwegian tundra sits the "doomsday vault," a backup against disaster -- manmade or otherwise. Inside lives the last hope should the unthinkable occur: a global seedbank that could be used to replant the world.
It's a modern day Noah's Ark, in other words, full not of animals but of plantlife.
The Vault is dug into the Platåberget or plateau mountain near the village of Longyearbyen, Svalbard -- a group of islands north of mainland Norway. The arctic permafrost offers natural freezing for the seeds, while additional cooling brings the temperatures down to minus 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Should disaster wipe out a species -- or in the case of a large-scale global crisis -- its stockers hope the seeds stored there could be used to restore life.
This week, the Global Crop Diversity Trust that protects and stocks the vault tucked away new seeds in this modern-day Noah's Ark: mold-resistant beans, a German pink tomato and a wild strawberry plucked from the flanks of a Russian volcano. With these new deposits, the Svalbard "doomsday" Global Seed Vault will store a half-million seed varieties.
The Vault is kept safe by its remote location, for one thing. But if the mountain of snow enshrouding the storage rooms isn't enough protection, what better body guard than one of nature's biggest beasts?
"The region on Svalbard surrounding the Seed Vault is remote, severe, and inhabited by polar bears," according to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which helps to support the vault's operations.
The preciousness of the seeds there is also reflected in the inaccessible nature of the vault. "Anyone seeking access to the seeds themselves will have to pass through four locked doors: the heavy steel entrance doors, a second door approximately 115 meters down the tunnel and finally the two keyed air-locked doors," the Trust writes. "Keys are coded to allow access to different levels of the facility. Not all keys unlock all doors."
Other seedbanks in in Iraq and Afghanistan were destroyed by war, while a bank in the Philippines was flooded by the tremendous typhoon in 2006. The Svalbard bank is designed to survive earthquakes and even nuclear strikes. That it contains such a wealth of seeds is a tremendous achievement.
"Reaching the half-million mark brings mixed emotions, because while it shows that the vault at Svalbard is now the gold standard for diversity, it comes at a time when our agriculture systems are really sitting on a knife's edge," said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which partners with the Norwegian government and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center in Sweden in operating the vault.
Fowler added, "If crops and agriculture don't adapt to climate change, neither will humanity."
Like all seeds coming to the vault, the new ones are duplicates of those from other collections. Material directly acquired by plant breeders to develop disease-resistant and "climate-ready" crops, and to meet the challenge of rapidly growing populations, is maintained by genebanks, not the seed vault.
"Svalbard is a fail-safe backup to be used whenever a depositing seed bank loses part or all of its collection, but we should focus equally on averting the disasters in the first place," Fowler said.
Other seeds shipped to the doomsday vault include: semi-dwarf wheat and rice from the early 1960s; disease-resistant soybeans; and the German pink tomato, a hardy sweet-flavored tomato transported to Iowa in 1883 by a Bavarian immigrant.
"We're seeing in several of the soybean varieties intriguing traits that could allow farmers to confront such problems as drought or extreme heat, shorter or longer growing seasons, or higher levels of CO2 [carbon dioxide]," said Dave Ellis, curator at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation.
The giant icebox of sorts officially opened on Feb. 26, 2008.
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