Defence

Security measures in US schools – shocking stats

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Let’s get one thing clear. Whether victims of shootings are kindergarten kids, school students, work colleagues or old age pensioners, the sheer act of it points to an increasingly sick element of society. To take innocent lives because of one’s own sense of subjective injustice can’t be justified. That’s hardly an earth shattering revelation. However what is actually going on at schools when it comes to securing students safety? The stats are mind boggling.

A 2017 study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported the following,

In the 2013–14 school year, 93 percent of public schools reported that they controlled access to school buildings by locking or monitoring doors during school hours. Other safety and security measures reported by public schools included the use of security cameras to monitor the school (75 percent), a requirement that faculty and staff wear badges or picture IDs (68 percent), and the enforcement of a strict dress code (58 percent). In addition, 24 percent of public schools reported the use of random dog sniffs to check for drugs, 20 percent required that students wear uniforms, 9 percent required students to wear badges or picture IDs, and 4 percent used random metal detector checks.

Breaking down some of the categories in the chart 5.5% of primary schools use sniffer dogs to check for drugs!! Over half of high schools have random drug searches. 9% of high schools have metal detectors. How did it get to this? Is taking such preventive action having an impact?

In 1994, the federal government began requiring schools to introduce safety programs in an attempt to crack down on violence on school grounds. Many schools introduced metal detectors to check for guns, knives and other weapons. The year after the measures were introduced, violent deaths on high school campuses across the United States halved.

Then in 1999, the Columbine High School shooting reset the bar on violence inside the schoolyard. Armed with shot guns, machine guns, pistols and pipe bombs two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered 12 students and one teacher before committing suicide. Listening to interviews of those who survived, the answer was the same – the two were regarded as outcasts. It was later shown that they were on anti-depressant medication and had committed multiple felonies. An excellent documentary done by Zero Hour chronologically runs through their mindset

In May 2002, the Secret Service published a report that examined 37 U.S. school shootings showing strikingly similar signals. The findings were:

1) Incidents of targeted violence at school were rarely sudden, impulsive acts. Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and/or plan to attack.

2) Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to advancing the attack.
There is no accurate or useful profile of students who engaged in targeted school violence.

3) Most attackers engaged in some behavior prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.

4) Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Many had considered or attempted suicide.

5) Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack.

6) Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack.

7) In many cases, other students were involved in some capacity.

8) Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most shooting incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention.

Trump’s suggestion of arming teachers seems ludicrous to outsiders. To have holstered teachers (boils down to a question of how many would want to ‘carry’ in the classroom) or armed sentries in front of schools hardly sends the right messages about teaching respect. Then again with the ever growing surge of kids growing up in single parent households (currently 40% of white households and 70% of black households) in the US the psychological studies point to an increase in dysfunctionality in kids because of a lack a stable guardian to keep them on the rails.

Banning guns or enforcing gun free zones won’t prevent future massacres. Will America need 100% of schools to have airport style security with pat downs, ion scanners and prison style walls to prevent would be perpetrators breaking in? Maybe they will if families keep breaking down and disgruntled delinquent teenagers feel they need to vent.

Yet come between some Americans and the 2nd Amendment and all manner of excuses to justify ownership surfaces. As an Australian, my country is often highlighted as a success story of mandatory gun confiscation after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

Yes Australia hasn’t seen a massacre since yet there was never a big problem in the first place. 661,000 firearms were removed from circulation. Or 1 gun for every 33 people. In the US it is c.1 gun for every person in circulation. Even if a third of households have them we are looking at 1 gun per 3 people in the US.

The Aussie government offered $500/gun average. If Trump ran the same programme (albeit 21 years later) and taking into account inflation then conservatively at $1,000 a gun he would be looking at a cost of $320bn. To put that in perspective the annual US military budget is around $680bn. So a combined spend of $1 trillion.

Yet as tragic as the Florida shooting is, mainstream and social media has turned this into a cesspit of vile abuse and misinformation.

Whether it be the conspiracy theories of high school student David Hogg being a CNN planted child actor, Trump’s hand written  notes or kids threatening to march on Washington the whole tragedy is turning into a debacle. While we should be mourning the deaths of 17 innocent students at the hands of a lunatic, the media seems more focused on Trump bashing and posting memes of Republicans in the pockets of the NRA.

If guns in schools have been an issue since the 1990s, we have had ample numbers of administrations who could have acted but didn’t. If the 14 gun massacres that occurred under the Obama Administration when the Democrats had control of the House and Senate  resulted in no action being taken why the song and dance by Democrats today? Sounds like political point scoring at its worst.

This isn’t or at least shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This is an issue of a breakdown in social values. By allowing single parent households to simply and easily marry the state through generous subsidies, parental responsibility is being thrown out the window. To be fair automatic weapons are hardly a requirement for a civilian population but let’s deal with the real issues behind why so many students are being massacred rather than just the method of how they commit the atrocities.

Banning guns seems so simple to cure the problem but as the stats above make clear, the solution is far more complex than armed teachers, rent-a-cops at school gates and metal detectors. Parents need to start taking far more responsibility and the media needs to start focusing on keeping it real.

It is disturbing to turn a tragedy into yet another excuse to crank up Trump Derangement Syndrome. He may have handled the messaging poorly (as he does with most issues) but let’s look at the history. Almost 20 years have gone by since Columbine High and despite countless repeat events, where has the same level of outrage been? Exactly. Nowhere. Tragedies should never be used for political gain. Where is the dignity for the dead? Perhaps we can just boil the whole behaviour surrounding the awful event as merely “moving with the times”. It is the term we seem to hear for every other excuse to shut down sensible debate.

Ultimately it is for Americans to decide to vote for parties that will change laws for the greater good. The rest of the world can shake their head and waggle the finger at America’s gun laws but perhaps they should focus on how good they’ve got it at home by comparison.

Playing down a mass suicide note

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With the release of the Nunes memo, do top Democrats honestly believe that such collusion by the DNC with the nation’s judiciary and intelligence services doesn’t expose the hypocrisy of a party which proclaims its platform is all about equality and liberal ideals? Does it not expose that these politicians are only in it for themselves? Is it any wonder the Democrats are proclaiming this memo is ‘misleading’ or worse that Americans are too stupid to understand the memo? On reflection they probably had wished they’d stood and applauded during the SOTU address instead of childish frowns of bitterness and playing Candy Crush on their smartphones.

While many Americans probably suspected corruption (so brilliantly conveyed in ‘House of Cards’) for decades, they have had it transparently confirmed.  The DNC hope was that the illegal and doctored FISA application would sink Trump as a candidate and lock in a Clinton White House. By then the scam could be lost as easily as 33,000 emails. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Who could forget Bill Clinton’s chance meeting on a Phoenix tarmac with Attorney General Loretta Lynch the day before her testimony on Hillary’s email scandal? Did anyone honestly believe they just talked about grand children? Lynch downplayed the severity of the private server as ‘careless’. Conservative watchdog Judicial Watch has found 30 pages related to the encounter at the FBI, after being caught for hiding them in another lawsuit.

Obama was front and centre of the Clinton campaign. Hillary caught the jump seat on Air Force One numerous times. Are we to believe that this dossier was never discussed on board? That Obama, so obsessed with protecting his legacy,was in no way complicit in making sure Trump wouldn’t get in the Oval Office?

If we go back to mid 2006, news broke that the NSA was tracking the calls and emails of tens of millions of Americans to create  the “largest and most comprehensive database ever assembled in the world.” In the summer of 2007, the Bush administration pushed FISA amendments known as the “Protect America Act” through Congress which authorized the surveillance of any phone call or email by any American suspected of ‘suspicious dealings’ with ‘foreigners’.

As a presidential candidate in the 2008 election, Senator Barack Obama pledged that there would be “no more illegal wiretapping of Americans”. Post the election win, Obama reversed his position and continued the Bush-era surveillance via FISA. Obama’s Department of Justice aggressively defended court challenges from anyone who suspected their phone calls or emails had been illegally traced.

In his last days as president, Obama authorized the NSA to share its volumous databank on Americans with other federal agencies, opening a can of worms for politicians to dig up dirt. Talk about muddying waters in an already dirty swamp. This seems like a move that could badly backfire if a cleaning house of the FBI and DOJ is undertaken. What option has the president but to do it? What better way to talk of transparency to the American people than lop heads of such duplicitous people.

Therein lies the problem. When the state’s own intelligence services are working so closely hand-in-hand with political parties to keep dynasties alive one has to question democracy. Despite Wasserman-Schulz stabbing Sanders in the back, a mainstream media overwhelmingly behind Clinton, a p*ssy grabbing opponent, we now learn that not even a dossier paid for by the DNC in cahoots with the FBI and DOJ to cheat FISA got Democrats across the line – what a hatchet job.

Even Turkish President Erdogan would blush at the level of ‘duplicity’ of this scandal. This is abuse of power on an industrial scale.  One wonders whether the often made claim that the ‘Obama administration was one without scandal’ maybe tarnished with one of the worst. We haven’t heard the last of this.

At least China has a policy in The Pacific

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Australian International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has attacked China’s aid to Pacific nations. Her argument was that China was lending funds to Pacific nations on unfavourable terms and constructing “useless buildings” and “roads to nowhere” in the region. Even if that were so, doesn’t this expose the Minister’s own inadequate policy? Shouldn’t she be preventing such activity by offering more favorable terms and better advice on infrastructure? Isn’t it China’s business to decide whether it deems such spending a waste?

Fierravanti-Wells said to The Australian,

You’ve got the Pacific full of these useless buildings which nobody maintains, which are basically white elephants … I’ve gone to islands and you’ll be driving along on some back road and all of a sudden you see this Chinese road crew building a road to nowhere and you think ‘hmm, what’s all that about’,”

It is all very well firing pot shots at China for its active Pacific policy but at least it has one. Indeed if the end result is that Pacific nations end up agreeing to China’s influence they do so willingly. The Minister can’t claim that these nations are not happy about the situation. Afterall had the ‘international development’ portfolio team done its homework it could see that China has pursued this policy for decades in Africa, Latin America, Pakistan and the Middle East. Who knew?

China has been a poster child of stepping up and filling the void left by The West. China understands that the nations we won’t deal with on the basis of human rights records, dictatorships and the like make perfect bed fellows which leads to even juicier returns provided said despots get the right ‘incentives’. China is not working to virtues.

How can we be surprised? UN sanctions are slapped on North Korea to bring it to heel. Two weeks later Chinese oil ships are trading with North Korea. No cleaner example of China’s disregard for world opinion. China is a master of strategy. It knows it will be stronger than the US in time. 20, 30 or 40 years  is of little concern. Just get the chess pieces in place. Find vulnerable or willing nations off the radar screen and show them love so they reciprocate in ways that strengthens Beijing’s policy directives.

There should be little surprise with this ‘transactional’ Australian government in allowing this state of affairs to occur. Because Tonga or PNG rate less important than China, Japan or the US in terms of trade dollars we apportion the same relative importance to their strategic value. That is about the level of the thinking.

China has the opposite view. It knows that buying influence in Port Moresby with new roads or bridges allows concessions where they really want them. Naval ports. The Chinese have already got East Timor to agree to a trading port which will accept ‘visits’ from PLA Navy vessels.

Our foreign policy is so poorly thought out that even Obama censured us for leasing a port to China! When we’re getting lessons from Obama on foreign policy what more proof do we want for the clueless ineptitude of our government? We’re too busy trying to bribe electorates with multi billion dollar submarine programs where the contractor isn’t even sure it can design what it promised, not to mention arriving in 50 years!

So the Minister best just understand the world we live in. With 5 prime ministers in 10 years is it any wonder we can’t formulate a coherent long term strategy? Australia can moan all it likes about China but its the smug nature of our political class who need to wake up. Complaining to PNG about it’s wealthy sugar daddy is unlikely to find a soothing voice if we offer nothing in return.

By the way, China will only be inspired to keep at it. If anything we’ve only highlighted how our of touch we are in responding and that must bring smiles all around.

2018 – no more space for multiple ‘elephants’ in the room

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The Contrarian Marketplace wishes everyone a Happy New Year and prosperous 2018.

As oft the case people are busy making new year’s resolutions. CM mission doesn’t change. It aims to further energize the spirit of enquiry. To be the maverick voice that will not be silenced. We live in a world where we need to become comfortable being uncomfortable. We can no longer hide behind group think Because we feel it is dangerous to challenge consensus views. CM won’t buckle to identity politics, victimhood or social justice.

However that will never exclude us from criticism and we welcome feedback to improve the offering. We will not take The Guardian approach of refusing to acknowledge the content might be the problem when appealing for readers to ‘donate’. CM is self funded. It will remain so because it never wishes to be beholden to others to peddle tailored messages to keep the lights on.  If CM doesn’t survive on its own merits then it dies through market forces.

In 2017, Brandon Tatum showed what impact a Tucson, Arizona police officer can have on today’s media. His videos have gone viral (50mn+ views) on topics from the NFL, BLM to anti-Trump protests. He is now working for the Conservative Tribune such has been his impact. He speaks in cold hard truths. One doesn’t have to agree with what he says but he makes compelling arguments. No accolades from the journalist associations to self congratulate. As we used to say at high school sports competitions- “look at the scoreboard.”

CM started two years ago to challenge conventional thinking on all manner of topics.  It was born out of a growing realization that the mainstream media on both sides of the fence was too biased. Investigative journalism has all but disappeared, replaced with clickbait headlines and little more than biased piffle for what can only loosely be described as content. It seems that journalists are paid on the number of shares or likes rather than the quality of input.  As Ariana Huffington once said, “I’ve long said that those of us in the media have provided too many autopsies of what went wrong and not enough biopsies.”

2017 has been a continuation of the ridiculous pandering to political correctness and our lawmakers seem even more determined to avoid censure from social media, somehow thinking it speaks for the majority. Gender neutral toilets, removing statues and same-sex marriage take priority to the oncoming fiscal/monetary train wreck and a fracturing geopolitical landscape. It is almost as if our elected leaders have the blinkers on.

2018 is shaping up to be one that our political class is ill prepared for. Out of one’s depth is not a harsh enough criticism. Too many governments (including conservatives) are running up the national credit card trying to bribe bewildered constituents into tolerating more of their nonsense. However at some point, appeasement will not work because government’s can’t economically afford it.

Silent voices are increasingly pushing back. Traditional parties are seeing their constituents abandoning them. Australia’s conservative Liberal Party is Exhibit A. It is no longer a party true to its core. After the Turnbull coup it has taken its constituents for mugs but they have left in droves. While the Libs champion superior leadership, how is it One Nation has taken a huge bite out of it’s support base? It doesn’t add up and its this sense of denial that guarantees they’ll be destroyed at the next election.

Look at the growth in nationalist parties in Austria, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy and even America. While they may not have outright majorities in every case the reality is that all of these parties surged in the most recent elections. Mainstream parties can mark it down as a one-off or ‘they’ll be back’ mentality but this time is different. Take Trump. His GOP hate him almost as much as the Democrats. While the mainstream media ties itself into knots over the relevance of well done steak and tomato ketchup to running a country or the fact he paid millions in tax, his brand of political incorrectness is refreshing.

Sure his words are vulgar at times and Obama knocks the sports off him for eloquence or as a nice guy but we are in a world of ruthless people. The geopolitical landscape is rapidly changing. The last US administration allowed a free-for-all for nations such as China and Russia to roam free on the global landscape. Russia’s actions in the Ukraine, Syria and Iran or China building man made military bases in contested Asia-Pac waters have filled a vacuum vacated by the US. We should be glad that we have a Trump who is putting his foot down that things have changed.

While Trump’s use of ‘Rocketman’ to describe North Korea’s leader may seem juvenile, China hasn’t fully worked him out. They stroked his ego by allowing him to be the first President to dine in the Forbidden City after his rhetoric saying that if they don’t deal with Kim he will. The resumption of Chinese oil trading with North Korea in full defiance of UN sanctions tells two things. China thinks the UN is a waste of space and it is testing Trump’s resolve to carry out his threats to take care of business with minor provocations. China’s military is nowhere a match for the US so this could backfire badly if they miscalculate. This will escalate again in 2018.

Don’t rule out India’s growing frustrations with China. China’s built a naval port in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota. Recently the Maldives signed a FTA with China which should be ringing alarm bells in Delhi. For the last decade, China has been strengthening its armed (ground and air) forces to India’s north too, including the funding of the upgrade of the 1300km construction of the Karakoram Highway (aka China-Pakistan Friendship Highway). It is no surprise that Russia has been replaced by the US and UK as preferred arms suppliers to India.

As written several days ago, the Middle East seems to be an unstable powder keg. The way the stars are aligning with respects to the death of the former Yemeni President Saleh, the cleaning of the House of Saud, the repudiation of Qatar by the Gulf states and ructions in Iran point to something larger to kick off. Do not be surprised to see Israel and Hezbollah clash again in 2018. It won’t be an Arab Spring. Afterall this is more a shift toward a more direct clash between Sunni and Shia, not just played through proxy wars in Yemen, Syria or Lebanon. One can’t sink Saudi and Emirati naval vessels off Yemen’s coast with Iranian Revolutionary Guard support indefinitely.

These geopolitical problems will only put pressure on global markets which are already overstretched asset bubbles in almost every form – equities, bonds and housing. The realisation that unfunded pensions are likely to wipe out the retirements plans of millions causing even more pressure on economic growth. There is no escaping the fact that the can has been kicked down the road for too long. Whether 2018 is the precise year it unfolds is still a moot point but we are moving ever closer to the impending financial collapse which will be uglier than 1929.

Central banks have no plausible ammunition left to play with. Bloated balance sheets filled with mislabeled toxic assets (liabilities). Record low interest rates offer next to no policy flexibility and tapped out consumers face oblivion if asset prices keel over. A systemic banking collapse is absolutely plausible. No amount of QE will work this time.

Yes, it would be nice to see 2018 trump 2017 for good news (it wouldn’t be hard) but sadly the punch bowl at the party is empty and the hangover won’t be pleasant. No amount of painkillers will let one avoid a throbbing headache which will last a very long time.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Regime overthrow in Iran? Don’t get too excited (yet)

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The US State Department seems to be openly welcoming the outbreak of spontaneous demonstrations in Iran selling it as the early steps of regime change. In fact it is more likely to help President Rouhani force economic changes he has been prevented from making due to deep seated corruption within the regime itself. Rouhani has tried to make economic changes for years to boost the economy but the regime has kept monopoly power over multiple industries which has impeded his ability to do it.

The Iranian banking system holds 10s of billions of dollars in non-performing loans which is weighing down the economy and undermining the potential for private-sector-led recovery. Given the increasing vulnerability of Iran’s financial system, the government urgently needs to restructure and recapitalize the banks. Iranian banks were weakened by a sluggish economy caused by the sanctions, state interference in lending decisions and lax regulations causing excessive competition with unlicensed financial institutions.

The country’s recovery could well slow since Trump has raised the possibility that sanctions could be reimposed or new sanctions introduced. It should come as no surprise that this has deterred many banks and other foreign companies from operating in Iran.

The Iranian government directly owns and operates hundreds of state-owned enterprises (SoE) and indirectly controls many companies in the private sector. Inflation (9%), price controls (e.g. milk, energy) designed to tame it and rising unemployment (12.4%) are really behind the protests than a direct call to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Still don’t rule out the US State Department rubbing its hands with glee to try to throw a spanner in the works. Easier done by crushing its economy by redeploying sanctions given the financial system is in such a precarious position.

We shouldn’t ignore the timing of the assasination of former Yemeni President Saleh in the last month. His death now gives Saudi Arabia more will to take heavier action against the Iran backed Houthi in Yemen. Now that Saudi Arabia has recently cleaned house with the arrests of royal family members to tighten the inner circle, it almost seems the stars are aligning for the ante to be upped on Iran.

While much has escaped the mainstream media, at the narrow Bab al-Mandeb Strait separating Yemen and Djibouti/Eritrea, multiple US, Saudi and Emirati warships have been attacked by Houthi rebel forces. In January 2017 a Saudi al-Madinah frigate was sunk in the strait. An Emirati HSV-2 swift naval craft was also put out of action in late 2015. Cargo ships (10% of global trade) make their way up the Red Sea via the Bab al-Mandeb Strait to the Suez Canal, could suffer if tensions rise here.

While many are distracted by the decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem as an unnecessary ‘in-the-face’ action, most Gulf States want Israel on their side to help them defend against and ultimately defeat Iran. It is only 7 months ago that the Saudis pushed to expel Qatar from the GCC for keeping cosy relations with Iran and supporting Hamas and the Houthi in Yemen. The South Pars/North Dome Gas Condensate field – the world’s largest natural gas field –  is jointly owned by Iran and Qatar which means divided loyalties between the GCC and Tehran.

Get ready for lots of fake news. Something tells CM that there is something more sinister at play.

Pick your Pocahontas moments Mr President

There is a time and a place for everything. Using an event to celebrate the achievements of the Navaho ‘wind talkers’, who served bravely in WW2 in intelligence coding, by throwing in a jibe at Elizabeth Warren being ‘Pocahontas’ is just unnecessary. It is not about falling into outrage but in order to pay proper respects to people who risked their lives for America, it would be far better if President Trump just celebrated their achievements rather than used it as a platform to take potshots at his political opponents of which Elizabeth Warren isn’t much chop. It reminds of that Far Side cartoon when the Lone Ranger eventually learns what ‘Kemosabe’ means. Indeed it was a kemosabe thing to say.

Israel & Saudi cooperation a surprise to Bloomberg News

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Bloomberg has written a puff piece wrapped in surprise on how the Saudi’s are likely to seek Israeli approval for a bridge which crosses from a new city Neom to Africa. There is one reason and one alone – Israel has a naval base at the Port of Eilat (in blue) at the southern tip of the country. If the height of the bridge is too low and surface naval ships can’t pass then the navy would be boxed in. Almost like ships in the Black Sea. So of course the Saudis won’t do it single handedly.

As much as people might think the Saudis hate Israel, they acknowledge the security Israel buys them vis-a-vis defending against a mutual enemy in the form of the Iranians who are active on SA’s southern border with Yemen. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been active in Yemen, Syria, Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq in recent decades supplying weapons and training. So sometimes mutual benefits (peace between the two countries) outweighs trying to  pull a fast one on them. It is likely the US State Department might send a friendly reminder of what is at stake geopolitically. In actual fact this discussion has been ongoing for a long time.